“THAT is all I learned from the Widdecombes’ groom,” Rudge said to the gathered company in the drawing-room of the house on Saddler’s Row. “It paints a more favourable picture of the young man who was Emma’s sire, methinks.”
“Yes, it does,” Maisie agreed.
“Tes beside the point,” Gideon said brusquely. “The fellow’s long been food for the fishes by all account. Didst consult the harbourmaster, Rudge?”
“I did, sir. I traced the ship in question. As the groom said, the Lady Grey was a cargo vessel bound for the Americas, with cloth from Yorkshire and other sundry items besides. The ship was believed wrecked at sea with all hands.”
“God rest their souls.”
“I made a note of the names of the crew.” Rudge drew a folded sheet of paper from his leather satchel, handing it to Gideon. “As you will see, sir, there is no Guidman or Goodbone, as suggested by Baxter.
“But then, he did say his memory was not the best for names, and this was many years ago. Goodly is the closest, of which there are three. One was a boy, so he can be ruled out. There was also Jerome, the ship’s carpenter, and a Nathaniel Goodly, officer. Both were in their mid-twenties, so either could have been our man.”
Alfie gave a snort of impatience.
“This is leading nowhere. How can a person long dead be of any assistance?”
“I could try to trace the family,” Rudge replied mildly. “There is the possibility of your sister having discovered who her true sire was and gone on to contact his people.”
“A slim chance,” Hamilton objected.
“But a chance, all the same. Stranger things have happened. I shall also make it my concern to contact Emma’s maternal relatives. That is, with your permission, sir.”
Gideon gave Rudge a nod.
“Whatever you think. Us can’t stop now . . . though I have to agree with the boys. This has got something of a conundrum.”
The long-cased clock in the hallway struck the hour.
Rudge looked up.
“Seven of the clock. I must be keeping you good people from your meal. I shall continue with my enquiries and be in touch. Say, a week from now?”
“As you will,” Gideon said.
“Then I’ll bid you all good night.” Rudge stood up and Maisie made to rise and see him out, but was intercepted by Hamilton. “Be easy, Mama. I’ll attend to Master Rudge.”
The two men left the room. There was a murmured conversation in the hallway, the shutting of the front door, then Hamilton’s voice.
“Is that beefsteak pie I can smell? I can’t speak for anyone else but I’m ready for some supper!”
* * * *
They were halfway through the meal when there was a loud rapping on the front door. Maisie put down her knife and fork.
“Who can that be? Not Rudge, surely? Perhaps he forgot to tell us something.”
“I’ll go and see,” Hamilton said.
On the step was a tall figure, his face in shadow in the darkness of the Row.
“Good evening, sir,” the stranger said in a voice that held a trace of West Country speech. “Apologies for disturbing you, but would this be the residence of Gideon Trigg the saddler?”
“It is, sir,” Hamilton said. “Though I fear the shop is closed until the morrow.”
“That isn’t what I’ve come about. I have reason to believe that the daughter of Verity Dawne has connections here. My interest is more than a passing one. My name is Captain Nathaniel Goodly.”