During the trip from the Leith Docks in the horse-drawn cab, Moira launched into her explanation of what the constable and the detective had said to one another. Specifically, their suspicions that Captain Hunter might be to blame for Allison Newt’s disappearance. Meanwhile, much to the south of the Leith Docks, William had navigated the slow-moving river of people along the Grassmarket. As the day was well past noon, the crowds had thinned some, but the number was still congested enough that William was glad he was not in a terrible hurry.
Eventually he stepped out from the crowds, merchants, clockwork messenger owls and other activities into the shallow entrance of the White Hart Tavern. William looked behind him and gave a sigh of relief to be free of the close press of bodies before opening the door and walking inside.
Past the threshold, William hesitated a moment as the odor of heath blooms reached his nose. It was not that the smell was strong and powerful, the scent was actually rather subtle and seemed to fade rather quickly. By comparison against the scent of unwashed bodies, unearthed vegetables and animal refuse that permeated the Grassmarket it was an almost pleasant change. Some part of his mind thought back and could not recall smelling this scent in the White Hart yesterday evening.
Besides the scent, the tavern was much the same as it had been that morning. Only the light flowery smell, and a handful more patrons were different. The small sitting space was not packed with people. William knew that would come late in the afternoon. He looked around for Brian, the owner, and found him near the bar cleaning a set of glasses.
William remembered the big man’s ferocious temper from the other night. He did not want to upset him, but he needed to ask about the flowers. The young man took a deep breath to steady his nerves, then walked over.
“Sirrah? Have ya got a moment?” William asked carefully.
“Ah’ve got at least one ta spare.” Brian replied in a casual, off-handed way. “What can Ah be doin’ for ye?”
“I noticed a nice scent when I came in. Did ya put up flowers somewhere?” The young man asked carefully.
“That Ah did.” Brian admitted proudly. “Ah got a bit tired o’ the stale smell that never seemed ta come loose when scrubbed. This old wood just be hangin’ on ta past smells like a dog to an old soup bone. So Ah be getting’ the idea ta give it a new smell ta hang on to. Doesn’t seem ta last long, but Ah be hopin’ it’ll cut some o’ the sour smell out. Thank ye for noticin’.”
“Yer welcome. It smells nice.” William admitted. “Was caught off balance a bit when I walked in. What with a pub smellin’ of heath blossoms.”
The owner’s thick brows furrowed in a slight frown. “An what be wrong with that?”
The young man raised his hands in mock surrender. “Oh nothin’, nothin’. Just sayin’ I wasn’t expectin’ it, not that anythin’ was wrong.” When Brian grunted in response and returned to polishing a glass, William pressed on. “How long have ya been at your idea here?”
“The flowers?” Brian asked. William nodded in reply.
“Och, I’d say onto more’n a week, even if the smell don’t seem ta be lastin’ long. Ah stop by Sandra Givens’ booth up along Victoria Street. Ya know Mrs. Givens?” Brian asked curiously.
William nodded. “Ah cut along there on my way here an met her.”
Brian smiled and nodded. “Right grand lady, she is. And make no mistake, a true lady she be.” The tavern owner sat forward with a conspiratorial air. “Y’know, some say she even be high born.”
“Really?” William said in surprise.
“Aye, really. Noble blood an all. Word told by Jimmy Quick, who heard it from Dubney Parker, who himself heard it straight from Maggie Campbell, who herself said it was told by Eli Marner that old gossip, is that her people held deed to some o’ the land well north of a’ High Street. Somewhere along Silvermills Lane.” Brian explained in detail.
The young man felt his head spin a bit with the conversion. He was almost lost among the names. “Why doesn’t she own it now?”
“Some fallin’ out that caused the city ta annex her people’s land. Though, as Ah heard it told, it might na been done proper, so the deeds might still be valid.” The owner leaned back then, set down the glass he had been slowly polishing and lifted another one. “Mrs. Givens, bless her soul, she be na that kinda person ta cause a foul reek over it. Bein’ the salt o’ the earth like she be.”
William blinked and nodded in agreement. He almost followed all of what Brian had told him in that flow of conversation … almost. The young man did recognize a name or two, and something in the back of his mind screamed that it was important. However, both the name and its significance got washed aside in the current of explanation. He resolved to sit down and think through it all later to try and remember.
“About Mrs. Givens,” William said in a desperate attempt to bring the conversation back to more solid footing, “Ya bought heath from her, ya must’ve seen Allison Newt a time or two.”
Brian glanced at William. “Och, that be right, ye be one o’ them helpin’ that Miss Olivander over her friend. True enough, Ah did see her buyin’ flowers from Ms Givens time and again. Why ye askin’?”
William considered digging out the heath blossom from his shoulder bag, but decided against it. He shrugged. “Some flowers were found next ta her cart. They seemed pretty fresh an all, even though she was supposed ta be missin’ for a few days. They looked like what Mrs. Givens sells down the street. She mentioned that ya come by every so often and I was thinkin’ that maybe ya saw Miss Newt, or even spoke with her.”
The owner shook his head. “Sorry fer ya lad, but no. Ah’d seen her a time or two, but na spoke with her.”
William frowned, then sighed. “Thanks then fer takin’ the time ta talk.”
Brian smiled slightly. “Na trouble. Despite how ye Cap’n and meself got along … or not got along as it be … Ah’m hopin’ there’s somethin’ that can be turned up. Most along here be getting’ more nervous than usual, scared ta go out.”
The young man nodded once in agreement with Brian’s sentiment. “I’m hopin’ we’ll find somethin’ too.”
William left Brian to his glasses and slowly walked across the common room of the pub towards the front door. Just before he could leave, the barmaid, a lovely woman with long dark hair that cascaded in curls on her shoulders touched him on the arm.
“Ah couldna help but hear what ye be saying. Ah mighta heard a bit. But ye gotta be givin’ ye word that it’ll na get back Ah told ye.” The woman said in a quiet, Scottish accented voice.
Suspicious, William hesitated a moment. He was hungry for anything that might help, but he wanted to be careful, too. Like Captain Hunter had told him, if the constables got wind of what they were doing, it might not be taken as ‘help’.
“Ya’ve my word.” The young man finally replied.
“Right then.” The barmaid said, as if to close their bargain. “Night ‘afore last, or maybe even a day more, Ah be hearin’ a couple o’ men talk about seein’ a young lady like yer Allison. Somethin’ about her and the graveyard at Grayfriar’s Kirk. Ah’d have heard more but it was a usual night. Crowded, ya know.”
“Ya sure they described Allison?” Then a thought occurred to William. “How did ya know it was Allison?”
“Her friend, that Lydia Olivander?” The barmaid explained. “She’s been in here more’n once with her tale. Ah’d heard her describe her friend Allison then.”
“They make a mention, when they’d seen her?” William asked, hungry for more details.
The barmaid, shook her head sadly. “No, Ah’m afraid that be all Ah heard.”
William smiled broadly at her. “Thank’ya ever so much. I can’t tell ya how much that does help. If ya happen to hear any more …”
The woman smiled at William, her eyes sparkled with the grin. “A’course, Ah’ll tell ye.”