The note from Miranda Fawcett arrived the following morning. Anthony was still at home when he got word from Louisa. He whistled for a cab and went to Arden Square immediately.
Anticipation and a disturbing heat flooded through him as the vehicle halted at the steps of Number Twelve. It dawned on him that the prowling excitement he was feeling had nothing to do with the coming interview with Miranda Fawcett. He was aroused at the prospect of seeing Louisa again, of sitting close to her in the carriage.
Damnation. What was happening to him? He could not recall the last time he had felt this way simply because he was about to take a ride with a lady.
Louisa was waiting for him in a black gown, black gloves, and a black net veil that concealed her features. He wondered if the clothes were left over from the death of her husband. The thought that Louisa had once loved another man irritated him for some reason. He pushed it aside.
He had to admit the gown and veil made an excellent disguise. Until now he had not realized how perfectly anonymous a widow in full mourning was on the street.
“Do you often find it necessary to go about incognito in the course of your work?” he asked, handing her up into the carriage.
“I have discovered that widow’s weeds are quite useful on occasion,” she said, settling onto the seat.
He sat down across from her. She looked at him through her veil, more invitingly mysterious than ever. He forced himself to concentrate on the matter at hand.
“What did you learn from Miss Fawcett?” he asked.
“There was only a name and an address in Halsey Street.”
She handed him a piece of paper. He glanced down, reading quickly. “Benjamin Thurlow.”
She crumpled the black netting up onto the brim of her black hat and looked at him. Her face was flushed. Behind the lenses of her spectacles her eyes were bright with excitement. He wondered if she looked that way when she was in the grip of passion or if it was only her work as a journalist that inspired such enthusiasm.
“Are you acquainted with this Mr. Thurlow?” she asked.
He reflected briefly and then shook his head. “No.” He stood, raised the trap, and spoke to the driver. “Halsey Street, please.”
The vehicle rumbled forward into the fog.
“Clearly the next step is to interview him,” Louisa declared. “But we must be subtle about it. We do not want to tip our hand.”
“I understand, Mrs. Bryce,” he said politely. “I will endeavor to be discreet. I feel certain that I can succeed by following the excellent example you set. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the training in investigative work that you are so graciously providing me. I was certainly very fortunate to meet up with you. Who knows what grave mistakes I might have made had you not come along to set me straight in the fine art of making subtle inquiries.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Forgive me. I should not have presumed to lecture you. I fear I am not accustomed to working with a partner.”
“It appears we must both make adjustments.”
“I suppose so.”
He stretched out his legs and folded his arms. “You take your profession very seriously, don’t you? It is not a lark or a game to you.”
“Did you think it was?”
“It is difficult to imagine why a woman in your obviously comfortable situation would undertake a career as a journalist.”
“I find it very satisfying.”
“Yes, I can see that. Do you have informants other than Miranda Fawcett?”
“Oh, yes,” she said. “Miranda is extremely helpful, of course, and, as you have seen, I also have the advantage of Emma’s social connections and her knowledge of Society.” She paused. “But from time to time I also rely on another source.”
“Who is that?”
“Roberta Woods. She is dedicated to helping women who, for whatever reason, find themselves forced to make their living on the streets. She manages a little establishment in Swanton Lane where she serves meals to women who cannot afford them. She also directs those who want help to a place she calls The Agency.”
“What does it do?”
“The people there give the women training on a new device called a typewriter. Have you heard of such machines?”
He smiled. “My father invented one. He is still working on improvements. He believes it will revolutionize many aspects of industry and business.”
“He’s right.” Louisa suddenly glowed with enthusiasm. “It is a marvelous device. The people at The Agency say that there will soon be a typewriter in every business establishment in the country. Of course, that means that there is a growing need for people who are skilled in operating them.”
“I see. The Agency supplies typists to employers.”
“Yes. Because the skill is rare, many businesses are only too happy to hire trained women for such positions. The people at The Agency tell me that typewriters are opening up a whole new field of respectable employment for females. It is very exciting.”
“I know that career opportunities for women are very limited.”
“Few are ever entirely safe from the threat of finding themselves on the street. Even ladies from the most affluent levels of society turn up in Swanton Lane. Very often they are widows whose husbands left them penniless or in debt. They are forced to sell themselves to buy food and pay for their lodging.”
“I can see that you take a great interest in Roberta Woods’s soup kitchen. How did you learn about it?”
“After I came to live with Emma I took over the business of managing her charities for her. She has provided funding for Miss Woods’s establishment for years. Miss Woods and I have become well acquainted. We share some mutual interests when it comes to exposing gentlemen in Society who take advantage of others.”
He studied her. “What sort of information do you learn at that place?”
She smiled bleakly. “You would be amazed by how much the women of the night know about the men in the Polite World.”
“I have never given the matter much thought, but now that I do, I can see that prostitutes would be an excellent source of information.”
She looked at him. “Swanton Lane was where I learned that Hastings became a frequent customer of Phoenix House several months ago. He now has a weekly appointment there. I am told that he never cancels it for any reason.”
Her brows came together. “Don’t you find it odd that a gentleman would have a standing appointment at a brothel?”
“I’m afraid that it is not that unusual, Louisa.”
He smiled. “If it matters, I can assure you that I do not have such an appointment.”
She reddened. “I never meant to imply anything of the kind, sir.”
He had embarrassed her enough, he thought. “Tell me more about the California Mine Swindle. I recall being impressed by the details that I. M. Phantom provided in the press. How did you learn so much?”
“As Miranda told you, I called upon her the day after I overheard the conversation. I did not really expect her to receive me, let alone trust my word. But to my surprise she not only invited me into her home, she listened to what I had to say. We came up with a plan.”
“What was that?”
“Miranda is nothing if not an excellent actress. When the men contacted her to get her to sign the final papers she acted the part of a na"ive female who was only too pleased to have an opportunity to be involved in an investment scheme with two such distinguished gentlemen. I hid behind a service door in the drawing room, listening to every word and making notes.”
“What was your next step?” he asked, fascinated.
“I sent a cable to the editor of the newspaper in the town in California where the gold mine supposedly existed. He was kind enough to reply immediately, saying that there was no mine anywhere in the vicinity. He strongly suspected fraud and urged caution. He also said he would like the details for his paper.”
“That was when you got the idea of becoming a correspondent?”
“Yes,” she said. “I immediately made an appointment with the publisher and editor of the Flying Intelligencer. We met and discussed my offer to write a series of occasional news reports from inside Society, as it were, beginning with the notice of a swindle perpetrated by two very prominent gentlemen.”
“I assume he leaped at the opportunity?”
“Mr. Spraggett did not hesitate for even a second,” she said with a note of pride.
“That does not surprise me.” He contemplated her for a moment longer. “If it is not too personal a question, may I ask what happened to Mr. Bryce?”
“Sadly, he was taken off by a fever shortly after we were wed.”
Smoothly said, he noted, and with just the right touch of regret.
“My condolences, madam.”
“Thank you. It has been a number of years now. The pain of the loss has receded.” She pushed her spectacles higher on her nose and assumed a determined expression. “We must consider how we are going to approach Mr. Thurlow.”
“It would be best if you remained in the carriage while I talked to him.”
He nodded, accepting the inevitable.
“I had a feeling you would say that.”