"And are you in a hurry, Miss Valence? What destination awaits you? What burdens must you take up?" Mr. Kelmarsh smiled at the child, who ventured a small grimace in return.
Rebecca might have been flattered by his questions had she thought them occasioned by an interest in her, but she knew he was concerned only for the child's future. "I have been traveling, sir, for my own entertainment upon the continent these thirteen months. I am touring my own country a little before returning to my home in Sussex. I have no fixed plan, no one is expecting me, though I might decide to visit my brother and his family."
Mr. Kelmarsh only nodded. He murmured something to the child, and upon her response, seated himself on the window seat at her side. They continued to converse for some minutes, mostly in an undertone Rebecca could not discern. Her temper, never sanguine, began to rise.
Kelmarsh seemed to sense when her vexation was like to erupt, and forestalled her with information from across the room. "Her name is Maudie Fairmile. And, as you say she is difficult to understand. But I believe she has confided that you smell like her mama, Miss Valence." There was a hint of amusement in his deep voice. "It would be much to her benefit if you could delay your journey until we find Maudie's family."
Rebecca hesitated. She was affronted that her heliotrope scent, distilled especially for her by a Swiss perfumier, could be considered to have been approximated by some Shropshire apothecary. With some difficulty, she put the inconsequential aside.
The child was regarding her with beseeching eyes, and the gentleman with a considering gaze. She found she could disappoint neither. She nodded. "I will do that, Mr. Kelmarsh. I hate to see an infant in such distress. I have no experience but surely she is a beautiful child, sir? How could someone abandon her?"
"It cannot be so difficult as we imagine, madam. It is done all the time. The foundling hospitals are always full." The gentleman's voice was grim. "I shall set some enquiries afoot, and question the staff here. It may be something has been overlooked."
"I have not been able, myself, to question any one save the landlord. The child cries bitterly when I leave the room. "
"You have been very kind, Miss Valence. Maudie's family will appreciate it."
Rebecca could not recall the last time she had been praised for kindness. Reviled for harshness, belittled for flirtation, condemned for spitefulness, but never praised for altruism and courtesy. She rather liked the novelty.
"If you will wait here, I will return as soon as I may, with such news as I can glean." Kelmarsh patted the little girl's ginger curls, and exchanged a smile verging on a grin with the child.
To Rebecca he showed no such ease. He left the child's side, and bowed over Rebecca's hand. "I will return, Miss Valence." With the abrupt assurance he was gone.