The following day, the morning light shone its unforgiving glare through the soot clouds that lingered over Edinburgh. A yellow-brown sky greeted early risers, no matter if they rose for work early or had been up all night to witness the sunrise. Captain Hunter rubbed his eyes against the invasive glare that streamed through the narrow window of his room to where he sat upon the worn bed. He was accustomed to rising with the sunrise, but never could get used to the musty smell that clung to most large cities. After the brief meal the night before, he, Moira and William had searched the cattle market once more. However the search had born little fruit and had only served to exhaust and frustrate the three of them. After a fitful sleep, the captain was no less frustrated, but at least had some ideas on how to proceed.
Hunter rose to wash and shave. Once clean, he dressed for breakfast in a clean white shirt, a pair of his usual trousers, boots and customary long coat. Downstairs, Moira and William were already waiting at a table. Both had removed the layers of soot from the previous night and dressed in clean clothes. A blue pot of tea and the customary small plate of biscuits sat in front of them on the table. The captain nodded in greeting while he descended the dark wooden stairs from the floor above.
“Mornin’ Cap’n.” William said, looking rested despite the few hours’ sleep he likely had.
Moira, who had just taken a bite from one of the biscuits, waved a silent greeting while she chewed.
Joining them, Hunter poured a cup for himself. Outside, they could hear the sounds of horses, the muffled conversations of people, the call of the fishmongers, and other early morning activities common to any large city. The captain rubbed sleep from his eyes, then took a slow drink of tea.
“A thought struck me this morning that we’ll need to attack this from different approaches.” Hunter said as he set his cup down. “We’ve three trails of information to follow: the gear, the flowers, and to whom Miss Newt sold her gears and other wares.”
Moira poured some tea for herself, sipped it, then made a sour face. Quickly, she added a little milk before she drank again. “I can be askin’ about the gear. There be one or two shops I’m thinkin’ of who’d at least know about it.”
“Good, good.” Hunter replied.
“I can track down the flowers.” William shrugged and sipped his own tea. “They’re heather blossoms, and those grow all over the place here, but she had ta be gettin’ them from somewhere. Maybe she bought ’em or bartered fer ’em? If so, it’d be someone who remembered her.”
Hunter took another sip of his tea. “I’ll speak to the shipwrights nearby and ask about for any local parts-mongers. The Griffin does need some repairs, so it’s not that unusual I’d be inquiring for replacement parts.” He paused to eat part of a biscuit. “First, we should call upon Miss Olivander, if this isn’t too early an hour for her to receive callers, since she did say today was her day off. She might could suggest some likely places in the area to begin our search.”
They quickly finished their breakfast, and ventured out among the morning crowds that filled the Grassmarket. From fish monger to orcish fisherman, pickpocket to a broad-shouldered constable, a teeming mass of figures filled the streets between the horse-drawn cabs that navigated the major roads connecting either end of Edinburgh’s main marketplace. Slowly, the trio made their way through the growing crowds of people and livestock until at last they left the Grassmarket behind. Ahead, stretched the longer – and quieter – road of Candlemakers Row to the East.
Before long, Candlemakers Row turned South, leading Hunter, Moira and William away from the crowds that gathered for the marketplace. A few minutes’ walk later, long rows of boarding houses jammed close together along the the left side of the road, while on their right stood a somber, gray-granite wall. Behind the wall stretched a long, rolling field of green and brown grass, punctuated by ancient gnarled oak trees and the weathered granite tombstones of the Grayfriars Kirk burial ground that rose like discarded bones, half-buried in the greenery. Past the graves sat the modest gray church of Grayfriars, a refuge for the living among the field of dearly departed.
“Beggin’ ya pardon, Cap’n?” Moira asked midway through their walk along Candlemaker Row. “I know Miss Olivander’s needin’ the help, but I’m just wonderin’ why’d ya jump in so fast ta help? William and I been wonderin’.”
Hunter glanced over at Moira and William then looked away with a small sigh. “I suppose there’s no harm in saying why. Goes back to my sister, Heaven keep her soul.”
William and Moira exchanged a surprised glance. William spoke up first. “I didn’t know ya have a sister, Cap’n?”
“Had, Will, past tense.” Captain Hunter replied solemnly. He nodded in greeting to a pair of scullery maids on their way with wicker baskets, and stepped aside for them to pass. Once they had gone by, he continued walking. “Sara married a man of means. One Turner Whitcomb. Nice chap. They were in London at the time. Two years into their marriage, Turner was taken by a case of cholera, which left Sara widowed with little money. Instead of telling any of us in the family, her stubborn pride insisted she work at a woolen mill to make her meals. The work there was so hellish, it eventually killed her. We found out too late, when she was dying of exposure from the work. Processing the dyes, if I remember correctly. So, I suppose I carry that memory a bit close at heart.”
“Oh.” Moira said sadly. “I’m so sorry, Cap’n.”
Hunter smiled a moment, then looked back in the direction he was walking. “Quite alright, you didn’t know. Impossible that either of you could, actually. I consider it a closed subject, one I prefer not to discuss.”
Moira and William exchanged a glance. William started to ask a question, but Moira elbowed him in the ribs and shook her head to keep him silent.
A few minutes later, midway through their walk along the cemetery wall, Moira glanced over to see a rough wooden sign hung from a rusted, wrought iron arm. Thrust out from the side of the building, the sign was very old, weathered and pitted on some spots near the edge. At one time there had been a figure of a lady painted on the long sign, but that had faded greatly with exposure. Only the letters for ‘Neily’s Boarding House’ were immediately recognizable at a distance. Pointing out the sign, she waved for Hunter and William to follow while she crossed the street.
The boarding house was a tall wooden box of a building, much like all the others along the road. Soot-stained, worm-eaten wood slats made up the outside walls with tall, narrow windows set on either side of the front door. Inset into a small recess in the front of the building, the door was a darker tone than the walls, stained a deeper chestnut color rather than the tired, weathered gray of the walls. With a glance at his companions, Hunter walked up to the front door and tapped the wooden knocker twice. A moment later, the door opened to reveal an older woman who eyed Hunter cautiously.
“Yes, Sirrah? Might Ah be helpin’ ye?” She asked from within the doorway. The woman was of average height, a stout figure with a modest dark green dress on. Her hair, a brownish-red shot through with some streaks of gray, was drawn up in a sensible bun on the top of her head. Her eyes, which seemed to miss nothing, hinted at a sharp mind.
Hunter smiled pleasantly. “We’re here to call upon Lydia Olivander? If it’s not too early for her to be having visitors?”
The woman gave Hunter a wary look. “She might be. It all depends on who be askin’ … and what ye be wantin’.”
Hunter looked surprised. “I’m Captain Anthony Hunter. The young woman with me is Moira Wycliffe, and the young man is William Falke. Well, we wanted to speak to Miss Olivander about her friend Allison and some work …”
“Work, is it?” The woman glared at Captain Hunter with a fury that rivaled any artillery barrage he had ever experienced. “So more o’ ye come ta speak on behalf o’ that bloody git she be callin’ a boss, haven’t ye? Him an his filthy cesspool o’ a factory! Ye can tell that git fer me that Vivian Carpender says …”
Any more of her explanation was immediately lost when a woman’s scream of anger, followed by a shout of pain, cut through the air. The woman in the doorway turned in shock, and Captain Hunter stepped up and around her.
“Pardon me, Madam, I think I know that scream.” Hunter replied quickly as he entered the room. The captain looked around, finding the foyer plain, but clean and well kept. A few feet ahead on either side of the hallway were two doors. At the far end of the hallway, a set of stairs lead to the upper floors of the boarding house. He was about to ask which way to Miss Olivander’s room when the woman shouted in anger again, followed by the crash of porcelain from upstairs. Hunter raced to the second floor, taking the stairs two at a time. Behind him, Moira and William ran close behind.
Hunter burst out onto the hallway of the second floor and nearly ran right into a man standing where the stairs opened up. He was a thick, broad-shouldered man, wearing a gray woolen coat, black trousers, muddy work boots and a woolen Irish cap. His bushy black brows and broken nose gave his ruddy, flat face an almost bulldog appearance.
“‘ere now! Nothin’ fer ya ta see here. Ya can just take yerself back down the stairs, quiet-like.” The man said with a thick Irish accent.
The captain scowled. Beyond the speaker he could see another man, dressed much in the same fashion as the first, standing in a doorway a few feet away. On the floor at that man’s feet sat Lydia. There was a fresh bruise on her cheek and she cradled her arm as if pain.
“Captain!” She cried out, looking up to see Hunter at the top of the stairs.
“Oh, ‘Captain’, is it?” The big man at the stairs said with a sneer. “Liam, look, seems he be a ‘Captain’.”
From the bedroom doorway, Liam snorted a pig-like laugh. The Irishman in front of Hunter glared at him. “Well, ‘Captain’, mind yerself and move along. The lady’s already got herself company.”
“Indeed? I believe she needs a better class of company!” Hunter growled, then shoved a hard right uppercut to the Irishman’s stout jaw.
Hunter’s fist hit the man like a hammer, the force of which drew the brute up on the tips of his toes. The Irishman dropped hard to the floor in a crumpled heap. Hunter glanced over his shoulder, shouting orders.
“Get Miss Olivander away from here!” From the floor, the Irishman came up with a roar like a bear. He clutched Captain Hunter about the midsection, then slammed him up against the wall. From the doorway, Liam stepped out into the hallway to help his partner.
Quickly, William ducked around the commotion and into Lydia’s small bedroom. Gently, he helped the young woman to her feet. They were about to leave when Liam stepped back into the doorway.
“So yer the one the ‘captain’ was callin’ to?” Liam laughed with the same pig-like grunt.
“True enough, and I’m escortin’ Miss Olivander out, just like the Cap’n said.” William snapped in reply, carefully placing himself between Liam and Lydia.
Liam put his large, thick fists on his hips. “Oh, and how do ya think you’ll be doin’ that?”
William smiled mischievously. “By waitin’ on a friend.”
The brute frowned, confused, then jerked in a sudden shock when Moira swung an oak-handled umbrella up and between the man’s legs with all the force she could muster. Liam’s eyes crossed while he turned a sickly shade of green. The big man slid sideways until he leaned against the door frame. Once out of the way, William took Lydia’s hand.
“This way, Miss Olivander! The Cap’n and Moira got a little cleanin’ ta do.” Without waiting for a reply, he quickly led her around Liam, past Hunter and the other Irishman, then down the stairs.
Against the wall, Hunter bounced once, then stumbled forward. Waiting and ready, the Irishman let go with a solid set of punches that rattled the captain to his core. Hunter staggered back a step, then shook his head to clear it. When he looked up, the Irishman had turned to slam Moira against the wall and away from Liam.
“C’mon, Liam, we’ve gone an outstayed our welcome!” The Irishman said, jerking his partner onto his feet.
Hunter hurried over to Moira, who waved the captain away. “I’m fine enough. I been hit harder by a warm cider. Don’t let’em leave, Cap’n!”
Liam gasped for air, his face still pale with a tinge of green around it. “Conor, what about the wee girl?”
“We’ll find her later… when she’s less … occupied. C’mon!” Conor, the other Irishman, jerked on Liam’s collar. The two men stumbled down the stairs with all the grace of cattle through a chute. Behind them, Hunter helped Moira to her feet, then both ran after them.
Hunter reached the bottom of the stairs first. He looked around and saw William, with Lydia seated at a table. William frantically pointed to the front door when Vivian walked into the room and set down a washbasin of water and a clean washcloth.
“Outside Cap’n! They just went outside!” The young man shouted. Hunter needed no other encouragement.
In the blink of an eye, the captain rushed down the hall and out the front door. Moira, who still brandished the oak-handled umbrella she had found upstairs, was right on his heels. Both of them leaped down the short stairs from the front door and hurried down the street towards the two ruffians, who were running ahead as hard as they could. Finally, they reached the end of Candlemaker Row where it joined the Grassmarket and its mass of crowds. By the time Moira and Hunter arrived, Conor and Liam were nowhere to be seen.
“Blast!” Hunter exclaimed aloud.
“We nearly had ’em!” Moira added as she shook her makeshift weapon in frustration, much to the dismay of nearby onlookers.
“Quite,” Hunter agreed with a frustrated sigh. He massaged a sore knuckle on his right hand and glanced over to Moira. “By now, they’ve lost themselves in that crowd. It’d take hours to ferret them from whatever foxhole they’ve buried themselves in. Besides, Miss Olivander is more our concern. We’d best return to see if she’s well.”
“Aye, Cap’n.” Moira said with a frustrated, disappointed glare in the direction that the brutes had vanished.