Frederic gazed on the relics of his father’s life prominently displayed on the sideboard, for it kept him from staring at the casket on the dais. He saw none of it, concentrating instead on trying to put on a calm and detached public face. He was not ready to face anyone quite yet.
“Your father was a great man,” came a voice beside him. “I am sorry for your loss.”
Startled, Frederic whirled on the woman garbed in a mourning dress and veil. Swallowing his surprise, he stepped back. “I’m sorry, ma’am. I did not hear you enter.” He glanced up at the coffin. “My father was a great man, indeed. I don’t know how I can live up to his legacy.”
“I understand.” With a black-gloved hand, the woman fingered one of several medals arrayed in a velvet-lined tray. “Fellow of the Royal Society. Lecturer. Independent investigator.” That simple title hid so much. “Problem solver. Philanthropist. And somehow he found the time to do all that whilst teaching maths at Westminster School.” She cocked her head to gaze at him through her veil. “An inspired man.”
“And an inspiration to many, including myself,” replied Frederic. “Though I’ve largely failed to follow in his footsteps. I know not how he did it. He never neglected me, yet he did so much else. I cannot say the same for my own family.”
He picked up a worn journal and opened it to the end, leafing back to newspaper clippings and scribbled notes about a string of murders by the docks and strange goings-on at a city theatre. Shaking his head, Frederic clapped the book closed. “Even to the end, he searched for ways to help.”
The woman took the book from him and laid it back on the table. “It is a strange concept, inspiration. You are inspired by your father, and in turn, your father was inspired by another. Now view it from the other side. What do you think your father wished for you?”
“I do not know.”
“He wished the same thing that his inspiration wished for him: to become the best person he could be.” She placed a hand on his arm. “Your father did not want you to be him. He wanted you to be you.”
Frederic barked an incredulous laugh. “How could you know what my father wanted?”
The woman picked up a screwdriver, its bulbous wooden handle dark with age. “I knew a man much like your father and his inspiration both. He helped me become the best me I could be.” She placed the screwdriver next to a battered pocket watch. “Be the best you. That is what would please your father the most.”
Frederic bowed. “Thank you for your confidence in me. But who are you? Have we met before?”
“A friend, Mr. Lake. I am a friend. Someone you can talk to. Someone who listens.” She nodded. “A good day to you.” In a moment, she was gone.