At just past mid-day, it was as if all of Edinburgh itself had come alive, like an anthill made from brick and steel. Over its surface and through its buildings, people hurried along to make deliveries, purchase goods, and otherwise perform their usual routines for the day. Activity was everywhere, most notably near the markets, Grassmarket being one. At the Grassmarket the vendors and merchants had brought their wares, from bread and fish to brass goggles and clockwork lanterns. They clustered along the wide street, their calls to patrons filling the air.
Just outside the Grassmarket, the nearby roads accommodated the vendors that either had not arrived in time to jam themselves into the crowded space, or did not care to. Along Victoria Street to the north, some of the flower peddlers had clustered together and formed a visual feast of color amid the grays and browns that dominated Edinburgh Old Town. William Falke walked down from High Street and onto the shapely curve that was the whole of Victoria Street as it gently descended towards the cacophony of sound, smells and sights of the main marketplace itself.
The young man paused at the top of the cobblestone bend to let his eyes wander idly over the flower vendors there. Because of the time of year, what with the wet and cold weather, much of what they might sell was limited. Even still, a modest variety of tiny light pink, reddish purple and magenta blooms decorated a waterfall of green heath that spilled from many of the grower carts. William sighed. He was no hand at decorative plants in general. He only knew the ones that could be used in a poultice for a wound, and he saw none of those before him.
Still, he needed to find out about the blooms left in the cattle shed, and standing along the side of the street staring at the flower peddlers like he had taken leave of his senses was not doing that. William looked over the collection of flower-filled carts from between a steady flow of patrons. Choosing the nearest cart, he slipped into the crowd, politely excusing himself along the way until he managed to get close to the vendor.
From behind the rows of flowers, an older woman with graying hair, bright hazel eyes and a round cherubic face smiled over at him. She wiped her hands on a soil-stained apron.
“An what can Ah do for ye, lovie?” She asked in with a Scots accent and a bright smile. “Would ye be buyin’ some flowers for a lady friend?”
William grinned, “A lady friend? I don’t have one, really. But I was wondering if I could ask ya a question?”
“Why certainly, lovie. Ask away.”
“I was wonderin’, if you know an Allison Newt? She was sellin’ flowers and the like along the Grassmarket down the road.” The young man asked, pulling open his canvas shoulder bag. “She was sellin’ some of these.” From the bag he withdrew a small cloth and unwrapped it to expose a delicate, reddish purple heath blossom. He handed the flower over to the woman. “That one’s from her cart.”
The woman took the heath blossom, holding it up to examine it closely. “Ah canna say it’s mine or not, Luvie. They don’ come with a stamp reading ‘bought at Sandra Givens’ cart’.” She handed the flower back to William.
Dejected, William wrapped up the flower and returned it to his bag. “Oh, well, I’d hope ya might’a known her, or at least heard news about her.”
“Now Ah didna say that at all.” She smiled brightly at William, then motioned for him to step to one side of the cart. “Be a sweet lad and wait o’er here. We can be talkin’ then.”
William nodded politely and did as he was told, slipping through the small crowd to stop in a small space next to the flower cart. The woman, whose name he learned was indeed Sandra, skillfully worked her way through the customers. One by one, the patrons each left with their selections, some heavily laden with foliage, others with only a small pot or two. With the last customer gone, Sandra wiped dirt from her hands onto her apron and stepped out from around the cart.
“Now that’s done, let’s you and Ah be havin’ a chat. Like Ah was tryin’ ta say, Ah know Allison. All of us here do. She comes around quite a bit ta buy flowers ta sell. Though Ah’ve na seen her in a number of days.” Sandra put her hands on her broad-hipped frame. “Now about that flower, a couple of things Ah can be tellin’ ye about it. One, is that it be fresh cut. No more’n a day. Two, is that Allison often bought a good bit o’ my heath. She told me more’n once that bouquets of it be sellin’ quite well.”
“Only a day?” William echoed with a small amount of surprise. He remembered that Miss Olivander mentioned Allison had been missing for several days from what she knew. “This one had been out in the weather, would that made any difference?”
It was Sandra’s turn to look surprised. “Only that Ah’m surprised it be lastin’ like it has. Our weather na be that forgivin’.”
The young man frowned a moment. If Allison had been missing for several days, how could the flower be so fresh? His mind turned that over a moment. Perhaps the flower was not from Allison?
“Miss Givens,” William asked, “How long would some cut heath last out and about in the weather?”
“Oh, only a day, no more’n two if ye take care of ’em.” Sandra answered in a matter-of-fact tone. “And it be ‘Mrs.’ na ‘Miss’, though Ah thank ye for the compliment.” She paused a bit, then eyed William warily. “Luvie, tell me the truth now. Has somethin’ gone and happened ta Allison? Ye be the third that’s come around askin’ after her. Has Allison gotten herself in some kinda trouble?”
“I really don’t know, Mrs. Givens.” William said with a helpless shrug. “Allison’s not been seen in a few days, and a friend of hers is sure worried somethin’s wrong.” Sandra’s words struck him then. “Who else has been around?” William asked, suddenly very curious.
“Three young women. One right young thing, named Lydia, an older lady named Vivian and another one who said she was Mary. She was quite the striking one, what with her long dark hair and eyes.” Susan replied.
“Did Mary mention anythin’ about her family name?” The young man asked quickly.
“No, Dearie, Ah’m sorry. She na mentioned her people at all.” Sandra replied.
William frowned in thought. “Do ya have any regular customers?”
Sandra smiled again. “Oh, right sure Ah do. Brian at the White Hart down the road, some o’ the housekeeper staff from the medical college, a few o’ the boardin’ houses here an around, like along Candlemaker Row.”
“Any come by recently? Like within’ the past day or so?”
“Brian stopped by two days ago. Vivian came by mid-day yesterday, and Anita be waitin’ on me when Ah set up me cart yesterday mornin’.”
“Anita?” William asked.
“Anita Monkhouse.” Sandra explained. “She’s married to Gilbert Monkhouse. He be the owner of a woolen mill about a few minutes walk from here ta the north.”
Brian Gilbert would be at the White Hart Tavern, William thought to himself, and Mrs. Carpenter would be at her boarding house.
“Where might I find Mrs. Monkhouse?” He asked.
Sandra shrugged. “Can’t really say as Ah know. Ah had heard she’s none too fond of her husband’s mill. So she’s na likely ta be found there. Other than that, Ah don’t know.”
William smiled thinly. It was some information at least, something to work with, even if it seemed a little shallow. He thought over the names Sandra mentioned and settled on Brian’s first. The White Hart Tavern was close by so it would be easy to slip in and talk to him.
“Mrs. Givens? Thank ya for bein’ open about all this. Ya didn’t have to.” William said at last.
“Oh no worries, Luvie.” The older woman said with a small laugh. Quickly, her jovial mood turned to a stern glance that riveted William to the spot. “Though, once you know about Allison, you be comin’ by here straight away. She be a well-liked girl here. We’ll all be wantin’ ta know.”
William nodded automatically. “Yes, Mrs. Givens, I will when I learn somethin’.”
The young man left the flower seller with a wave and hurried down Victoria Street towards where it ended at the broad Grassmarket. He sighed heavily, hoping that Moira and Hunter were having better luck than he was.