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Thoughtful

the 25th letter

Posted by valancy_s on 2006.06.08 at 16:41
Tags:
Hamper's Boarding House
No. 12 Bricksworth Road
London
Friday, June 28th


Dear Alice,

Your long letter arrived this morning, in all its apologetic and impatient glory. In the same post I also received a short letter from Aunt Sylvia. She says she wrote to you first (I expect you have that letter by now) but decided that, given the alarming nature of her discoveries, she had better write to me directly so I could consult with the Morrows as soon as possible. I have done so, and the short of it is, Florrie and Hannah and I will be leaving on the first train to Bath tomorrow morning.

What do we hope to accomplish there? Well, I do not expect us to actually find Arthur, but I have great hopes that we might instill his kidnappers with a healthy fear of discovery. Since I am beginning to suspect that their whole position depends on remaining unknown, this effort may well end in Arthur's being set free.

How to go about this is, of course, a home question. Aunt Sylvia's information is telling -- telling enough to warrant personal, on-the-spot investigation -- but hardly conclusive. We know from her research that the Repton family's house in Bath was heavily burgled about six weeks ago and that Roger Baker-Nelson's sixteen-year-old brother Terrance is inexplicably missing as well, though his family (like Arthur's) is doing their best to hush it up. We also know that Philip Parks' only relative, his widowed mother, also lives in Bath and is closely connected to the Repton and Baker-Nelson families. This is unsurprising, but one of my first points of inquiry will be whether or not Mrs. Parks has lost anything of value in recent months too.

If it is true, as gossip and our aunt surmise, that these three families rather suddenly increased in wealth just prior to Arthur Morrow's disappearance, I feel sure that we are close -- at last! -- to the root source of this mystery. If Repton, Parks, and Baker-Nelson, or their families, were involved with another party in some sort of shady money-making enterprise which went wrong, then these kidnappings and burglaries could be a method of exacting retribution. Or perhaps that other party is terrorizing them to keep quiet about something. In either case there is an unknown factor involved, and our surest road to freeing Arthur is to give that factor a face and a name.

The only part that doesn't fit in either of my lovely theories is that if the four young men who met so often in secret last term (by the way, pass on my heartiest thanks to Peter for undergoing such trials at Mr. Bexton-Page's hands so that the truth might be known!) were the originators of this 'scheme gone wrong' then why was Arthur himself kidnapped? Is he being used as leverage against someone else in the group?

But then... that's one more element that doesn't fit. I can't believe in Arthur being involved in any scheme, let alone agreeing to cheat a fellow schemer. We must go on the assumption that he was drawn in against his will, or a cat's-paw.

Oh, Alice, how I'd love to be describing my recent assignments for the Reader, painting word-pictures for you of my piquant boarding-house neighbors, or copying down Mrs. Hamper's unmatchable recipe for lemon pie! Mysteries are so wearisome and yet fearsome; I am beginning to think that I am not cut out to be the lady Holmes after all. But for the sake of Florrie, who trembled when I showed her Aunt Sylvia's letter but refused to remain behind when I offered to act for her in Bath –- and for the sake of Hannah, to whom I could never have made such an offer after seeing wild hope and determined rationalism fighting for control of her features –- I will continue to follow this trail. I do hope that our travels together will at least end in giving those two girls the comfort of each other's friendship. There are prejudices on both sides but if they're to be sisters those will have to be broken down, and I think their mutual care and concern for Arthur can bridge the gap, if they're not too stubborn.

One last thing. I met with Mr. Budge (who, going by his name, ought to be short and round and ineffectual-looking, but is instead enormously tall –- though still round –- and commands a surprising air of good-humored authority) and he gave me a good deal of information, some of it surprising, on Edmund Morrow. I must pack now but I'll share the pertinent bits when I write next. Oh, but I must at least tell you this; my 'snooping' has finally yielded some results! I know why he was sneaking off to that shabby building between the gentlemen's clubs, though to my knowledge it is not related to the his brother's disappearance. The building is a school: a school of card-playing! It is apparently something of a secret (though I managed to ferret it out through some Reader sources) and considered beneath the dignity of the upper class. Why is Edmund Morrow, rising star in the British political firmament, making regular visits to such a place? I will work on that question when I come home from Bath.

Poor little Whitty. I don't know what to do with him while I'm gone. Much as I am tempted to take him with me in his little fish-basket, even I am not rash enough to lug a kitten along on a criminal investigation. I suppose I will have to entrust him to Mrs. Hamper.

I have only five days before I must be back in London for the Ladies' Aid of Whitechapel grand auction and chicken supper; Mr. Marigold says he won't go, so I can't miss it. These are, after all, the things that matter! But if our investigations in Bath move smoothly, I dearly hope to return home via Oxford. Don't get your hopes up, of course, but how I would love to see you, even on a flying visit! If we could only put our stylish heads together, I'm sure we could crack this mystery right in half like a walnut.


With love and metaphors,

Polly


P.S. Mr. Budge also told some surprising stories about your friend Mr. Bradford. He is apparently a much subtler man than we've given him credit for, and if I were you I would not take anything he says -- or does -- at face value. But more on that if I'm able to visit!

smirk

the twenty fourth letter

Posted by tinuviellen on 2006.04.30 at 12:01
Christ Church College
Oxford University
Oxford, England
Friday, June 28th

Dearest Polly,
I am heartily ashamed of myself. I am so discomfited and sorry that I left you waiting for so long for such important news. Oh, I know I told at the end of my last letter my list of excuses - the delay in receiving Aunt Sylvia’s letter, Dora’s accident - but I am mortified to think of you, sitting so long in your charming but lonely boarding house fearing I had somehow forgotten you. My reasons don’t seem nearly good enough now.
So to make the slightest, tiniest beginning at amends, I here present you with Aunt Sylvia’s letter, unsummarized, in all it’s shocking glory and vivid Sylvian detail. I shan’t embellish a bit. It hardly needs embellishing! But what a deal of information - and what information! Did you expect it? I admit I did not.
All my love,
your chastised and repentant Alice
PS - I love kittens. And I love surprises. What strange depths to find in Walter Davenforth. How delicious. You will be pleased to know that you are not the only Windleigh sister inveigled in romance. (I do not refer to Hen and her mysterious attachment to Randall Hepplewhite - shocking taste on her part, worse even than her taste in clothes. I suppose that’s why it took me so long to see it.) Dora has last evening at dinner announced her intention to marry Albert Bligh. Our little sister has found her own (innocuous) Willoughby.

smirk

the twenty third letter

Posted by tinuviellen on 2006.04.30 at 12:00
Christ Church College
Oxford University
June 18th, 1891

Dear Polly,

I am writing again, on the very same day, after a lovely punt, and a trip to the Pitt-Rivers to look at something completely different from my own work (which turned out to be shields - quite fascinating, really, in their typological catalogue - not how I would choose to arrange anything of mine but I can see the appeal when dealing with a broad ethnographic range of samples), to tell you all the news that I could not in my last letter. In fact, oddly, I had begun a letter with all this information - I do not know why I began a new letter before, and did not send you all, but it was unfinished, and required further explanation, and now it is so bound up in my hopes for things we would do together that I find I can not bear to send it to you. So here we are, begun afresh.
I must begin, straight off, with Peter’s illuminating evening with Mr. Bexton Page. I am still waiting to hear back from Aunt Sylvia, which surprises me; I shall probably wait to send this until I have that letter, since I don’t doubt it will light up the shadows cast by the latest bits of the puzzle. It’s not at all like her not to respond as immediately. But here I am, veering off topic once again! You must be so irritated with me - like a sticking plaster that makes you itch but prevents you from reaching the source at the same time.
Mr. Bexton Page, as it turns out, can hold his liquor. When I write of Peter’s illuminating evening with him, I must add that this illumination arrived on the third attempt at reaching it, after long labor at draughts of beer and karafts of wine, and by the dint of great effort. Page, if I have not mentioned it, plays at a delicate, aristocratic manner, precise and supercilious as well as languid and fey, laughing at one all the while. He appears the swaggering dilettante but has a keen mind and precise powers of observation. (I speak from my own limited experience with him, and from Peter’s report.) It does not suit him to trust until proper homage has been paid. Mr. Page led Peter on rather a merry chase involving 5 separate parties and 3 pubs - quite a varied history for only three evenings. It seems this Andrew is quite the disciple of Epicurus; and, I think, quite aware that he was to be pumped for information. I rather wonder whether Peter managed to pass some sort of test to obtain the eventual confession, and if so, of what sort. Perhaps it was his knowledge of wine that did the trick? I feel fairly certain there is much I don’t know about Peter’s means of convincing this fellow of his trustworthiness. I’m not entirely certain I care to know, either. Be that as it may, on the third evening of these drunken tests, Peter deemed the moment was right, and gently nudged the conversation toward Mr. Repton, and Mr. Page began to speak of the strange goings on of their corridor at the beginning of summer term and the end of the last.
It is clear, first off, that James Repton and Arthur Morrow spent a great deal of time together earlier this year, but far less of that time was in public than ensconced in each other’s rooms, and in the company of Mr. Baker Nelson and Mr. Parks. Page claims to have been constantly tripping over Arthur at odd hours. This might be relevant, or not. What does fascinate is that Page clearly recalls that Mr. Repton did not arrive back from his Easter holiday until April the 14th - which, as you must recall, is two days after Arthur disappeared from the Saint Pancras Railway Station. And when he did arrive, late into the evening, Page insists he was a ghastly, frantic mess. It rather sounds like Page was listening outside Repton’s door; that is not his account of it, but I wonder. He seems quite a sly fellow, just the sort to relish a good gossip and whatever mischievous pleasures he can derive from it. (This is just the sort of thing I mean when I say I don’t know what Peter traded for Page’s testimony - whose secrets did he have to tell? I suppose this does worry me a bit, for Peter’s sake as well as our own.)
At any rate his eavesdropping seems to have been rather more insightful than mine, for amidst what he refers to as rather hysterical ravings on the part of the three confederates, Page was able to distinguish the words “Morrow”, “Saint Pancras”, and several variation of “it is Him” or “what about Them?”. He or They seemed to inspire a great deal of fear and confusion, as if they were speaking of someone august or powerful. Someone capable of inflicting harm. Then, the strangest and possibly most important clue - Baker Nelson actually began to sob and shriek. “What will we do about the Grocer?” he wailed, according to our informant. At this point his blubbering became unintelligible, and eventually Page retired for the evening. After this point, Repton kept to his room as if sick, and Parks and Baker Nelson began to circulate the story that he had been immured at Oxford all of term. The fact that his room is a corner room, by a back stair, lent sufficient credence that most folk accepted he could have snuck back without notice. Or at least it seems that no one cared enough to confirm this story with the Brasenose Porter.
It is an oddly prosaic title to inspire such fear, is it not? I fear my first reaction was to giggle; Peter repeated this improbable epithet with such solemn and dramatic import. Where is the menace in a vegetable? I can’t help but imagine this fellow runs a gang, or some squalid betting agency or both, and that Repton or Baker Nelson or Parks is indebted to him. Certainly Repton has a reputation as a gamester. Perhaps he has laid up some of his friend’s money as security? I can not but feel that this supports my theory that, at least, initially, the friends meant to extort moneys out of Edmund Morrow. What say you, Polly, to this odd new development? Either way, I am pleased to have some sort of a name to put to our villain, be it ever such an odd one.

June 22nd
After these few days of waiting, Polly, I feel I must give up on Aunt Sylvia’s letter. I have waited too long as it is to send this. What must you think of me? I am rather puzzled at the delay from her; your confusion must be doubled.
I have in the days between determined that this Grocer is no Oxford Shylock or betting agent. Near as I can find (though perhaps by it’s nature this search must be unsuccessful) there is no society here with an officer of that title. The Grocer is not a horse. It doesn’t seem to be a personal nickname for anyone’s relation. I can’t imagine what other sort of person he might be and still be connected to the University. It is quite unsettling. You must use your journalistic contacts, and see if you have better luck. Or perhaps this moniker strikes fear in all hearts in the wider world, and it is only midst the ivory towers of Academe that it remains obscure?
Much love and contrition,
Your Alice

Postscript
June 23rd
Since writing the above, we have occasioned yet another delay. Poor Dora did me the kindness of taking this letter to post, and on the way saw the chance for a bit of extracurricular sleuthing when Mr. Repton and Mr. Parks ambled by in close conference. Our unfortunate sister immediately scrambled up the nearest and most propitious tree in hopes of gleaning some nugget of information. And indeed, as they passed beneath she managed to catch a few whispers about something not to be born, an intolerable lack of information, and had in fact just heard Mr. Repton declare he had positively decided something, and was hurrying to the post himself to take that decisive action; she strained so to hear what it was as they walked away from the tree that she rather predictably tumbled quite off of her branch. We are not blessed eavesdroppers, I fear. The poor child stilled her cries in an attempt not to draw her quarry’s notice (how successful she was I have little notion), where she was immediately set upon by some humorless poppycock of a don overcome with worry about possible injury to the tree and the dignity of Oxford. She stood firm beneath this criticism, as you would expect, but in the end her pain was too great and she had to be helped home. Thankfully Albert Bligh chanced to be near; he extracted her from the chastising don and carried her back almost the entire way. Of course Mother has rather a great deal of experience in setting bones, and she believes that the ankle will recover nicely in a month or two. In all the fuss and bother, this letter was forgotten until this morning (not by Dora, whom I understand tearfully pressed it upon Albert - but he so concerned with her health that he quite forgot he had it in his pocket) and so we have lost yet another day. Now I shall take it myself, and I promise not to climb any trees or otherwise put myself in harm’s way, at least until I have mailed it.

Thoughtful

the 22nd letter

Posted by valancy_s on 2006.04.20 at 16:34
Tags:
No. 12 Bricksworth Road
London

Wednesday, June 26th


Dear Alice,

I’ve held myself back from writing, thinking a second letter from you was bound to arrive at any moment, but it’s been five days since I received your last so I can only assume that you did not write again later in the day, or even the next day. Either that or I will shortly receive a letter from you with a week-old date and “apologies of the Post Office” scrawled across it. Such things have happened before! But I simply can’t wait to know: what is this exciting news you had to tell me? You can have no idea how much I regret tantalizing you with the bit about Walter’s kitten, since this is my repayment!

I shall atone by telling you the story immediately; and prepare yourself to be baffled. It was a Friday, you may recall, when I moved to my new boarding house (which I love already, although the little stove in my room does smoke and I must admit that for a room “to let furnished” there is a notable dearth of furniture). On Monday I gave my new address to the Reader, and on Monday evening I received my first male visitor – precipitate, no? It was, as I have indicated, Walter Davenforth. Mrs. Hamper sent her youngest daughter Mena up to deliver the message that “gentlemen callers” must be entertained in the downstairs parlor. When she knocked, I was sitting at the rickety little desk which leans against one wall of my room, pretending to look at dress patterns in a magazine but really resting my eyes. My supper that day had been less than filling (Mrs. Hamper had offered me a mutton stew, but you know I’ve never been able to relish mutton in memory of our old ovine friend Mr. Woolworth) and I was, I admit, feeling drained and not a little downhearted. The prospect of seeing Mr. Davenforth in such a languid, tired-eyed state was not a thrilling one, but after dawdling a bit and smoothing my hair I forced my feet to carry me downstairs.

In the parlor, Walter was waiting, sitting in an armchair so huge and sagging that it looked as if it was in the process of devouring him. When I came in he tried to stand but had some trouble extricating himself. At last he managed it, and I went through the usual sort of welcoming remarks, though it was an effort not to say “What on earth are you doing here?” I saw he was making an effort not to let his eyes settle for a moment on any of the humbler aspects of our surroundings, but the contrast to the location of our last meeting (Windleigh House drawing room) must have been as present to him as it was to me. As usual though, I couldn’t read his expression. Contempt? Pity? Respect? His manner was certainly all the latter.

“Miss Windleigh, I’m sure I don’t have to explain how I knew to find you here.”

I smiled. “I’ve certainly been at your father’s paper long enough to know that news is passed around more quickly than a plague could be.”

“Exactly,” he said, returning my smile a little nervously. “My father heard about your--change of situation a few hours ago, and he sent me over to ask if there was any assistance we might offer you.”

Though I knew Sir Henry would never have sent Walter over to remonstrate with me or ask me to resign (surely his other son would be the one for that job!), I still couldn’t believe a he would offer me assistance in what those on the spot must recognize as a dispute between a young woman and her rich, respectable grandmother. It occurred to me to wonder if Walter could possibly be using his father’s name but without Sir Henry’s knowledge.

“Your father?” I repeated.

“Yes,” he said, without a trace of embarrassment. “My brother mentioned the news over dinner. My mother was very distressed at the thought that you might not have found a suitable place to stay on such short notice. She wasn’t satisfied until I said I’d check--er, call and make sure you were well.” I must have appeared as astonished as I was, because he chuckled at the look on my face. “My father specifically said to tell you,” he continued, “that he can’t afford to lose such a valuable reporter. If you need anything, an advance on your salary--”

“No,” I broke in. “I’m fine, really. Financially and--and all. The owner of this house is the aunt of a friend, and they’re taking good care of me. Really.”

“Well,” he said, and then paused, this time allowing himself a thorough gaze around the room. His face had that look of precise calculation that it so often gets, the outer suggestion of a vast internal factory of whirling cogs and turning wheels. Then he nodded approvingly, more to himself than to me. “Well, if you find you do need anything, please come to us. As a friend of Mr. Windleigh, my father sees himself as standing in your father’s place while you’re here in London.”

Stammering out some sort of thanks, I stood, taking this last remark was a cue that he was about to go.

“Wait,” he said, and then stood himself and went around in back of the monstrous chair. He bent down and picked something up, and then appeared with the sort of small basket one might use to carry fish home from the market. It wasn’t hard to read his face now: his ears were positively pink with embarrassment.

What could this be? I wondered. Surely he’s not going to offer me money? Then I had to laugh at myself. Surely no one would carry money in a wicker basket!

“On my way over here,” he said in a voice as plainly embarrassed as his ears, “I was thinking that” (and his words became quick and barely audible) “you might be lonely” (he gulped and his voice steadied somewhat) “and a little girl had these in a washtub and I thought, well, maybe you would accept--”

At that precise and perfect moment, an unmistakable mew issued from the basket.

“Oh!” I cried, leaping forward and pulling off the lid. In the wicker nest sat a tiny kitten, black and fuzzy with white socks and a white shirt-front, blinking up at me with big grey-blue eyes. Walter’s hands held the basket steady as I reached in and lifted out the tiny creature. Alice, he weighed less than my little feathered hat. And he just gave another mew and nuzzled right down in my arms and didn’t seem frightened at all!

It took a minute or two before I had any attention to spare for Walter, but when I remembered my manners and thanked him I expected to see him look pleased over the success of his last-minute gift idea. Instead, he still looked embarrassed. “Really, he’s perfect,” I said politely. “And it’s amazing how much he looks like my dear old Gus. Just the same coloring. You have no idea how much I’ve missed having a kitty.”

I bent my head to give the squirming fluffball a kiss between the ears. When I glanced up again, the warmth had gone out of Walter’s face -- he was even white at the lips. Had I said something wrong? If so, I have no idea what it could have been. But it was plain to see that the usual withdrawn Walter had returned all in a moment. “I had better be off,” he said. “My father is expecting me.”

“Oh, but...” I floundered, “I must thank you, I never would have expected—” I had been about to continue, any friends of my Grandmother to be as supportive as your family has been, but I realized the impropriety of such a speech and fell silent. Perhaps he had some idea of what I meant to say, because his expression became even more withdrawn, almost pained.
“Goodnight, Miss Windleigh,” he said, bowed, and left.

I am puzzled, puzzled, puzzled. What kind of young man treats a girl like a terrifying ogre -- and then, when she is in difficulties, shows up like a modern knight errant to offer his aid and to give her a kitten -- and then reacts to her thanks as like a blow to the face and scurries out? There must be an explanation. One of these days I must simply have it out with him.

Well, I should really move on to more important subjects now, but I’m so excited for your big news I hardly know what to say. I’ve been busy with my Reader work, but I have started my tracking of Edmund Morrow and feel certain to have something interesting to report soon. Three times in the past four days I have seen him enter a shabby little building between a few of the lesser-renowned gentlemen’s clubs, not at all the sort of street you would expect to see Edmund Morrow on. On the last of these occasions, I know for a fact that he told Florrie and her mother that he was going to visit Miss Knatchbull. And she definitely was not with him. Suspicious! Now I must find out what that building is. Expect to hear more soon.

Oh, and I have called on your Mr. Bradford’s friend Grover Budge (I can’t think of a use yet for Mr. Fletcher of the Bank, but I intend to pump Mr. Budge about Edmund); he wasn’t home, but I left the letter of introduction with a note of my own, and he sent a note back a few days later with an invitation to tea on Thursday. So tomorrow evening will hopefully find me much better informed on the politics and machinations of Mr. Edmund Morrow!

Now for your letter. What you say about Grandmother is horrible, though not completely surprising (except the part about her giving up her trip to Oxford -- I would have thought she’d be more eager to go than ever, to abuse me in front of you all as much as possible). Her comment to Aunt Sylvia is of a piece with the venom I got to witness firsthand. Dear Aunt Sylvia -- as you say, it seems like a miracle she and Papa turned out as well as they did, until one remembers Grandfather. When are you going to visit Aunty and search Bath for hints on the Morrow case? I am almost certain you suggested doing that at some point, and it sounds like a very good idea to me. Though perhaps you won’t want to part from Mother again so soon.

Though you say you think it unnecessary, I still ask that you keep the specific cause of my rift with Grandmother a secret. Mother I’m sure knows well what Grandmother thinks of her, but Papa will have put it out of his mind and I would not be the one to put it back again. As for the hoax, I’m not surprised that cautious, logical, honorable you would be shocked that people believed in Papa’s involvement, implausible as it would be to anyone who really thought about it. What you forget is that when most people (educated or otherwise) encounter gossip, they don’t look it as a scientific hypothesis to be researched and proven or disproved. They simply take it in and pass it on. The science of humanity is one few are adept at.

Oops, I very nearly closed this letter without tell you what I’m sure you’re eager to know: the name I chose for the kitten! I’ve decided to call him Dick Whittington, “Whit” for short. (Maybe this cat will bring me as much luck in my London adventures as his namesake had!) Alice, he’s the darlingest thing ever. I thought Mrs. Hamper might not approve, but she seems to have a soft spot for pussies -- said dogs aren’t allowed, but that a cat could stay as long as he didn’t scratch the curtains. They are certainly safe until he grows large enough to reach them! I’ve got him up on the desk now and he’s batting at my pen. Forgive the bite-mark on the corner of this page!

I dearly hope your last letter wasn’t lost in the mail, because I am...


Dying of anticipation,

Polly

smirk

the 21st letter

Posted by tinuviellen on 2006.04.13 at 22:49
Christ Church College
Oxford University
Tuesday, May 18, 1891

Darling Polly,

Never think that we would blame you! I hope you would trust that in any case where Grandmother was involved, we would know where to lay the fault. Of course you have done the right, the only thing you could have done, Polly, and I am filled with pride for your having done it. Have you ever met anyone with such faith in their own utterly wrong, misguided notions as our Father’s Mother? Grandmother sometimes beggars belief. It is all of a piece that Grandmother insisted on staying home with Mother (fancying herself ill-used every moment); she fulfills her obligations out of spite. Sometimes I think she’d have just as soon Father never married; of course in the end, she does feel some affection for us, and I imagine she must be pleased to see Grandfather’s name move forward a generation. But truly, is this removal not what you have always wanted? No one would think that you had done other than fulfill your long held aim of complete financial independence. Of course the timing saddened Papa, but he is proud of you, Polly, as I am. If you insist upon my burning the letter of course I shall, but really that seems more melodramatic than necessary.
As for giving pain through complete disclosure - it is painful, but it is perhaps better to know the truth. And I must confess it does not come as much of a surprise to me as it did to you. I can’t imagine she did not say that much, or worse, to Papa at the time. It’s rather a wonder they still speak with her; Father truly has the most sainted temper. And I wish I had Mother’s talent for ignoring fools. (She looks so well, does she not? And her new dress is so marvelous. But I digress.) Aunt Sylvia has told me enough of Grandmother’s vile railings and jealousy of Mother (yes, jealousy) for me to see it only as another piece of the same cloth.
Poor Aunt Sylvia; she spoke much about Grandmother during the months I was recovering from malaria in her care. Sometimes I think removing to Bath (trivial a place as it sometimes seems) was the saving of her life. You can’t imagine the things she related! I shall tell you just one - a poor reward for your honesty, perhaps, to repay it in kind, but you might as well know the worst. You may want to prepare yourself, in fact. When she received news of the twins birth, Grandmother folded the letter, turned to Aunt Sylvia and sighed. “I suppose if she can survive this,” Grandmother lamented, “we’ll never get rid of her.” I hope you do not blame me for not telling you before; I had a long time to think about things that winter, and I wanted to be noble, I suppose, and bear the knowledge alone. I hoped, as well, that perhaps as time went on she would be sorry for her words and her attitude, but time brought Grandfather’s death and then the lawsuit, and not reform.
Can you imagine having grown up in that house? Poor Aunt Sylvia, stifled by their mother’s unthinking preference for her brother. Dear as she is, what might she have become with proper encouragement, I wonder? I think it is only our Father’s decency and love that kept poor Aunt Sylvia from feeling utterly bereft by her family. And of course Grandfather. It has not been so long since his passing, but I do forget his ability to counter Grandmother’s nonsense and excess. Had I no other reason, were his personal claims on my affection less, I would lament his loss out of selfishness; he could have made Grandmother see reason about the lawsuit. Without him, her imprecations against Mother move from grumbling to unchecked rage. I do not believe, from what I have been told, that Grandmother would have found any woman good enough for her darling son, even if Mother had not been an impoverished American; it enrages but does not surprise me that she resorts to inventing grievances against Mother when she can find no flaw in her actual conduct.
And what a preposterous absurdity her accusation is! She can have no understanding of Mother’s character, or even of what her cherished son does with his days if she truly believes that slander. Why, peat bog mummies are not at all in his field of study! Nor are Celtic or Gallic remains. The perpetrators of the hoax showed their ignorance in even choosing his name as their alleged expert. I ask you! I suppose it is that irrational aspect that renders the entire affair so maddening to me - it seems so patently amateurish that the number of otherwise reasonable people who believe it leaves me dumbstruck. No, I cannot countenance it.
And had Mother been involved in anyway, surely that would have come out at trial. None of the villains tried to so justify themselves, and did they not grasp at every other straw? Would they not have been quick to point her out, to claim her as their contact, their authority? Why ever would they not, if it were true? No, this is a foolish invention born of Grandmother’s bitterness at having lost her place in the center of Father’s affections. I could almost pity her, if she was not so resolutely poisonous in her suspicions. I have tried to pity her long enough, however. If her grief harmed no one else, it would be one thing, but to slander Mother to slight acquaintances! To be so lost to propriety, to decency, to family feeling, to reason! To attempt to win you away from Mother! The very idea makes me want to throw things again.
It is the only possible balm for such aggravation to have Mother home, and to see from her reunion with Papa how selfishly wrong-headed Grandmother has become. How I wish you could be here, Polly! What a maddening turn of fate that separates us again! Thank Heaven for placing Miss Westcott in your life, for I do not know how you would bear such isolation otherwise - let alone the practical assistance she has rendered in finding you a suitable boarding house. How I long to meet this stalwart new friend! Perhaps I can convince Father to bring me with him when he comes to London - for after all that has occurred, Polly, Grandmother has declined to come to Oxford, and ordered our Papa to her side instead. Her telegram arrived soon after yours (soon enough for suspicion, I must add); I am glad to have your letter to explain all. I shan’t make anything known to Mother or Papa if you don’t wish it, but do not be surprised to receive inquiries from them.
I will write again soon - perhaps later today, for I have news to impart, news that will interest and I hope please you - but at this moment I can think of nothing but what you’ve written here. Yes. I must take a walk to compose myself, perhaps punt so that I might do a small violence to something (be it only the blameless brown water of the Thames) and relieve my feelings so I may write you again as soon as may be. I’m so saddened, love, by what you must be suffering - but I also long to hear the details of your life in this hamper, and thrill for the adventure you are just beginning. God bless you, brave sister.
All my love to you and to your guardian angel,
Alice


Thoughtful

the 20th letter

Posted by valancy_s on 2006.04.07 at 14:28
Tags:
Hamper’s Boarding House
No. 12 Bricksworth Road
London

Tuesday, June 18th


Dear Alice,

This letter, the best I can produce in half an hour, may cross one of yours, but now things are settling down I thought it worthwhile to pull out your last letter (much crumpled from moving house) and give you a proper though condensed reply. No doubt my last epistle was flavored with more than a tinge of melodrama, but my mood is much improved, my philosophy returned, and I assure you that I can now see this as an adventure. More -- I can recognize that Grandmother’s offense, though deeply upsetting, has had the agreeable consequence of making me just what I’ve longed to be: independent and self-supporting.

Thank you for the letters of introduction, which I will put into use soon. My grateful thanks to Dr. P as well, though I still wish he were not involved (but should these prove miraculously useful, perhaps I will change my mind). I suppose I ought to thank his friend as well, but I’m afraid I am not that generous. Has that gentleman continued to avoid you? I hope so, for your sake.

You asked, in passing, if I still saw much of Miss Mitton. I will answer, in passing: not really. Clarinda is, as Miss Austen might have said, “a very good sort of girl” -- but I don’t think we’re destined to be great friends. Hannah’s friendship, on the other hand, has saved my soul alive this past week. I really don’t know what I would have done without her -- sat down on the stoop of Windleigh House and cried, I imagine, like Dora when she “ran away” from Hollyfield at the age of seven. As you say, I’m blest to have found a real friend here in London.

Speaking of friends, please give Jane Frederickson my heartiest congratulations. You and I may not admire the iron-grey style in men, but most people would consider Dr. Martin a fine catch… and if Jane is one of them, that’s what matters! I did think he was one who’d never marry, though. The ban might have been lifted twenty years ago, but it does seem like a lot of dons (even younger ones) still think of themselves as married to their bookshelves.

Did you know that this romance of Jane’s has set Oxford gossip spinning in more than one direction? Now it’s known that Peter Lewis was never courting Jane, people have begun to remark on all the time he’s been spending with another single young lady, who happens to be his mentor’s daughter! Or so my other correspondents tell me. You’ve shared every one of your (remarkably few) romantic entanglements with me, since you were five and confessed your starry-eyed passion for Aunt Sylvia’s boot boy, so I’m sure this is pure gossip (not unlike the case of myself and Henry the Younger). Still, I just thought I’d mention it.

Nor would I be against such an thing, mind you. Peter is a dear charming fellow. I daresay I might have fallen for him myself, were it not for his freckles.

Speaking of the dreaded Henry, did I mention that that gentleman specifically sought me out yesterday, after I registered my change of address with the Reader’s clerk? He was all concern and sympathy -- wanting to know if I needed to adjust my working schedule, or could use advice in arranging transportation -- with a smirk in his eyes all the while, I’m certain of it. Horrid cheek.

I don’t like your inference that he can “get the better of me,” though. Surely you know me well enough to know that would never happen! He may never acknowledge my competence as a reporter or a person, but I shall go on being competent all the same. If anyone can ruffle me, it’s that maddening brother of his! I believe one would require psychical gifts to comprehend his behavior. I have too few minutes before post time to tell the full tale, but I can’t help sharing the kernel of it: Walter Davenforth has given me a kitten. And no, before you attempt to repay me for quizzing you about Peter, it was not at all given in a spirit of affectionate tribute. But the rest must wait for my next letter...

...the pages of which will contain more important matters too. When I next hear from you I want to know what you’ve learned from Aunt Sylvia and from Mr. Bexton Page in vino. And when you next hear from me, Dr. Pomeroy’s friends will know my name (and tremble at it, probably) and Edmund Morrow’s secrets will be in my keeping!


Much love,

Polly

Emily

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

Posted by valancy_s on 2008.12.30 at 12:16
MAIN CHARACTERS AND FAMILY:
Pauline Windleigh - 21, living in London
Alice Windleigh - 20, living in Oxford

John Windleigh - father, Oxford don of classics and antiquities
Constance Windleigh - mother, native of Philadelphia
William - brother, 18 (twin of Hen)
Henrietta - sister, 18 (twin of Will)
Tom - brother, 15, at school
Dora - sister, 11

Grandmother - Mr. Windleigh's mother, lives in London
Aunt Sylvia - Polly and Alice's aunt

MISSING:
Arthur Morrow - Brasenose junior fellow, recently disappeared

IN LONDON:
Florence Morrow - Arthur's sister, close friend to Alice
Edmund Morrow - Arthur's elder brother
Mrs. Euphemia Morrow - mother to Edmund, Arthur and Florence

Sir Henry Davenforth - owner of London newspaper The Reader, friend of Mr. Windleigh
Henry Davenforth, Jr. - editor of the Reader, Sir Henry's eldest son
Walter Davenforth - Sir Henry's younger son, a scientist, childhood friend of the Windleighs
Mr. Marigold - editor of the Reader's society column, Polly's direct employer
Miss Clarinda Mitton - typist at Reader

Hannah Westcott - friend of Polly, and Arthur's clandestine fiancee

IN OXFORD:
Dr. Cecil Pomeroy - Harvard antiquarian lecturing at Oxford, suitor to Polly
Dr. Charles Bradford - friend to Pomeroy, eminent antiquarian
Peter Lewis - student and assistant to Dr. Windleigh
Jane Frederickson - friend of Alice
Cecily Follett - friend of Alice

James Repton - Brasenose scholar and possible villain
Roger Baker Nelson - friend of Repton
Philip Parks - friend of Repton
Andrew Bexton Page - wealthy, aristocratic Brasenose junior, lives next to Repton

Thoughtful

the 19th letter

Posted by valancy_s on 2006.04.05 at 22:06
Tags:
Hamper’s Boarding House
London

Saturday, June 15th


My sister,

By this time, Alice, you’ve heard what’s happened. I’m sure Papa looked crestfallen when he received my telegram, and even Mother must have been wishing she had managed to teach me self-control, but I know that you at least would have faith that my actions were justified. This letter is to prove you right. The story will bring you pain, as it does me, but as you well know, you’re the one person I can’t keep anything from. No one else can read this, though. You should probably burn it.

I’ll just jump right in. Last Thursday, Mother stayed the day at Windleigh House. It was Heaven to see her, of course. She looked more beautiful than ever in a scrumptious blue gown she got in Dover -- but no doubt you’ve seen it -- though, I thought, a bit paler than usual. But perhaps that was just because of Grandmother, who was at her frostiest all day. She stayed home from her committee meetings especially to entertain Mother, but seemed to resent her own hospitality the whole time. I wish she’d gone! I wanted to take Mother all around and show her the Reader and all my favorite haunts, and maybe introduce her to Hannah. But instead we had sit around, drinking tea and doing fancy work, and pretending to be polite. How I longed to go straight home to Oxford with Mother! If it hadn’t been for a very important society ball tonight which I faithfully swore to Mr. Marigold I would write up, I think I well might have.
At any rate, Mother left first thing yesterday morning. I saw her to the station, and then went to work for a few hours. Going back to Windleigh House knowing Mother wouldn’t be there would have been dismal, I think, had I not been delighting in the thought of seeing you all as soon as Monday. When I arrived, Grandmother was entertaining Reverend and Mrs. Whitson and another couple by the name of Foulkes, who were some sort of grand cousins of the Reverend. After a lot of dreary conversation about missions in Africa (which reminded me strongly of Bleak House), Mrs. Whitson remarked that they had missed Grandmother at a meeting the day before.

“Well, between usefully spent time and the duties of hospitality, you know what always comes first! My son John’s wife was stopping here on her way to Oxford.”

The two ladies made vaguely sympathetic noises. “This is your mother, Miss Windleigh? That must have been a pleasure for you,” said Mr. Whitson.

“Yes, Reverend,” I answered. “She was on her way home from Dover, where she was visiting friends. It was wonderful to see her.”

“The wonder is that she decided to go home at all,” said Grandmother. “John has suffered losses in recent years, and a house of declining comforts will never suit that one! But no doubt she’ll be off in a week or two.”

I was stupefied, literally without words. It was clear that the Whitsons were discomposed and that Mrs. Foulkes was questioning her hostess’s manners. But Mr. Foulkes, a rather stuffy, oblivious man, simply laughed and remarked, “Not one for the quiet pleasures of home, eh? Well it takes all sorts, you know.”

At this point the kindly Mrs. Whitson changed the subject, but I was seething with anger and escaped upstairs as soon as I could. How dare Grandmother criticise Mother in front of guests -- strangers, even? It’s one thing to make slighting remarks about someone among family (not a nice thing, of course, but slightly more forgivable), but in public! The more I thought about it, the more upset I got. I decided I simply had to speak to her about it.

After the guests left I went down to the little parlour, where Grandmother was writing a note. I knocked and received a rather dour “Come in.”

Though you know I’m not the best at controlling my temper, I really thought I had myself in hand by this point. I wanted to express a rational objection, not storm and rant. So I said, in as polite a voice as I could muster, “I would like to speak to you, Grandmother, about something that was said during the minister’s visit today.”

She looked up at me impatiently. “If this is about your mother, Pauline, I am far too busy at the moment to hear your self-righteous indignation.”

I drew myself up. “I can understand why you wouldn’t wish to remember it, Grandmother, but if you’ll take those remarks back then no more need be said.”

“My dear girl,” she said, standing, “unlike those who are incapable of saying what they mean, I have never in my life taken back any words I’ve spoken.”

“My mother loves my father and our family. She’s been visiting an old friend who was ill. Isn’t that a laudable enough motive for being away from home, to shield her from mean-spirited remarks like you made today?”

She gave a mean sort of laugh. “Oh, I’m sure she has the best reasons in the world for staying away.”

“As for our family,” I said, going on as if she hadn’t spoken, “we’re trying our best to get through this hard time, and if you think it makes it any better for my father to have his troubles discussed and his wife disparaged in front of strangers—”
At this she flared up, face reddening, eyes like daggers. “Don’t tell me about what your father wouldn’t like,” she said bitterly. “Don’t you think I know he’d do anything, give up his own reputation even, for that woman? I had such high hopes for my only boy, and look what’s come of them all—”

“What has?” I demanded. “What has my mother ever done but care for us all? Papa is happy with her, can’t you accept that? He’s happy.

She looked at me, and the terrible rage in her face seemed to smooth out into an acid sort of pity. “You don’t have any idea, do you?” she asked.

Of course, I didn’t. “What? Any idea of what?”

“The hoax. The scandal. The reason my son and his family can’t lift up their heads in the street. That was your mother’s doing. She was in on the scheme, she gave permission to use the Windleigh name in it.” She turned to face the wall, and said quietly, “It was a shameful day for the Windleighs when John gave our name to her.”

I was stumbling into my bedroom, groping for the latch, before I even realised I was crying. I sat down on the bed trying to gather my thoughts, but all I could find was furious, furious anger. I could not and will not ever forgive Grandmother for slandering our mother, her own daughter-in-law, in such an cruel and shocking way. And I knew I could not stay in her home for even one more hour.
I rang for Jeffries and asked him to bring my trunk from the garret. He probably assumed I wanted to start packing for Monday. I began throwing my small things into Mother’s old carpet bag, but I realised I was making a tangle and tried to slow down. I turned off my mind as best I could and moved methodically. It was strange, Alice, but all I was really thinking at the time was that I needed to leave the house. I just kept thinking over and over, this is a bad place, I can’t stay here. Anything more than that would have sent me into another rage and made me useless, I think.

Soon enough my packing was complete; I have so few things, and I was determined to take nothing of Grandmother’s. The biggest wrench was leaving my yellow-and-roses gown. But I shall not think of it. There lies weakness! When I finished, I sneaked off and asked Benjamin to help me carry out the trunk and to hail a cab for me. I knew Jeffries would do it, but he would tell Grandmother, while Benjamin is firmly my ally. In fact, he offered to drive me where ever I was going in the carriage, but I didn’t want to get him in trouble. When the trunk was on the cab, though, I had a moment of panic. Where could I go? Home had been my first, natural thought, but the memory of my promise to Mr. Marigold rose up to prevent me. Surely it would not be an advantageous start to this endeavor, if I began by breaking my word.

Then, like a veritable guardian angel, Hannah Westcott came walking up to the house. I had completely forgotten that we’d arranged to go glove-shopping together. In my extreme agitation it was hard to conceal my motive for leaving Windleigh House, but I managed to keep Mother’s name from my outpouring. Hannah is an amazingly practical and level-headed person, such as I can never even dream of becoming! She grasped my dilemma in a moment and provided a solution: a cousin of her mothers runs a ladies’ boarding house here in town. She suggested we go there immediately to ask if there was a vacancy.

There was. Apparently girls are always coming up from the country to find jobs in London and hating it and moving home again. The terms were reasonable terms and I accepted gladly. Hannah’s relation, Mrs. Hamper, is another practical, comforting sort of person, who fairly emanates respectability. Really, I could think this place was foreordained to receive me! Luckily I’ve been saving my Reader earnings with care, so I can stay here for some time without great struggle. Hannah helped me settle in, and I went to bed early, exhausted in body and mind.

That was yesterday. Today, now my emotions are cooling, I cannot feel any less sure that I acted rightly. To accept the largesse of someone who slanders one’s own mother is unthinkable. But no one must know my true reason for leaving. It would crush Papa, and distress Mother. I, and now you, must simply make it seem that I have gone off on one of my impetuous, unruly quests for independence. No one should find that at all difficult to believe…

How I wish I could have told you all this in person! Not being able to come home as planned has caused me more distress than anything. But you must understand why I could not stay even our house, with Grandmother. And now this letter forces you into that very position. I am so sorry. I couldn’t decide if it was more cruel to let you worry about me, or to share what could only make you hurt, angry and uncomfortable. I hope I made the right choice.

I’ll write again soon in response to your letter.


Your devoted sister,

Polly

smirk

the 18th letter

Posted by tinuviellen on 2006.03.30 at 16:34
Christ Church College
Oxford University
Thursday, 13 June, 1891


Oh, my Polly,

I will explain the included envelopes presently, when I have thought for anything else but the best news you could ever send. You are coming home! You are coming home, you’re coming home, you’re coming home! I can even forgive you for variously chastising me because you are coming home! Grandmother is an angel - great and terrible as she may be, she has hints of divine kindness as well as majesty. How marvelous that the Davenforths and Mr. Marigold are willing to let you go! Perhaps you will have to cover what social and political events we have here at University whilst you are with us? You could uncover some sort of radical movement led by Banister Wilberforce, or write about the drunken escapades and gaming debts of a Lord’s son like Reginald Audsley. Less dangerously, you could introduce London to Father’s most dull and dreary student, Randall Hepplewhite, for he will surely never gain acclaim if you don’t. Nothing as fascinating as a meeting of the Geographical Society, certainly, but surely we can manufacture something as interesting as French politics! If you like, I could have Peter arrange a riot of some sort just so you have something to do.
Truly, though, I would just as soon wish for nothing to do but punt on the river and laughing with our family and oldest friends. We will have to have a very small party or dinner or tea while you are here, if we can afford it. I will have to discuss it with Father. And oh, Mother coming home, too! Perhaps Tom the troublemaker and Will can come home for a weekend. It isn’t as if one or other of us has not often been off on some adventure. It just seems so long this time, somehow. One bears these things because one must, but the relief when they end!
Ah, so sentimental of me. I know a week’s visit is not forever. You will go back and after all, my fondest visions of utopia would hardly include Grandmother, as this sojourn will. I don’t wish to be silly. Reason can not dampen my enthusiasm, however. A good visit is what we all need to brace each other up, so that we might go forth into the world with even more vigor and industry.
And, of course, so that we might solve our mystery more quickly. I can’t wait to show you Brasenose and Repton and all the other characters we have been observing. Of course, I have several tasks for you to perform before you come.
And that brings me back to the letters I have included. Despite my manifest skepticism, it seems that the Americans mean to be of some use after all. Dr. Bradford has happily made himself quite scarce after that scene at Dr. Martin’s, but Dr. Pomeroy has this morning delivered to me two letters of introduction to gentlemen who might benefit your search. The first is to a Harvard classmate of Dr. P’s, one Samuel Fletcher who like us is the child of an English father and an American mother. Mr. Fletcher is currently employed by the Bank of England, and may be able to help facilitate any searching you may have to do into devious financing and the surreptitious raising of ransom. The second is a friend of Dr. Bradford’s called Grover Budge who works for Lord Hollingsworth - Dr. P. did not explain in what way this Budge is in Bradford’s debt, but indicated the connection could be relied on implicitly. There seems likely to be quite a story behind that - perhaps Mr. Budge will tell you. With such a position, Mr. Budge could prove a highly advantageous acquaintance. (See, even I know a bit of politics more recent than Plutarch.)
Are you as surprised as I at Dr. P’s quick assistance? Both he and Dr. Bradford had offered their help, but I was quite dubious as to their means - yet here they have provided some quite useful contacts for you. I know you must meet important men through The Reader, but still I think these introductions will prove helpful. Dr. Pomeroy has certainly taken your most recent refusal to heart, Polly, for there wasn’t a moment of deluded hopefulness in our entire meeting. He mentioned you in the most restrained and respectful terms I’ve yet heard. His whole demeanor was unusually temperate, featuring none of the eagerness which once seemed his most salient characteristic. It made me a little sad. He did distress me slightly by alluding to his Friend; he made a sort of gentle, even pained reference to Bradford being overeager to help and protect those he cares for. I cannot help supposing this to be an oblique apology for Bradford’s quickness in assuming ill of our family. (And, as you say, it does seem hypocritical as well as vile. Give me a plain dealing villain!) I don’t know which of us was more uncomfortable, or shrank further from extending that topic.
And speaking of unpleasant topics, it rather dismays me to see what you write of the disapproving Mr. Davenforth hovering over you. Quite disturbing. Why will these overbearing fellows not leave us alone? Although I’m happy to hear that he has not been shadowing you quite as closely as Dr. Bradford was following me last week - but then, of course, I don’t work for Dr. Bradford, and am not forced to take his opinions into account. Thank Heaven for that! I hope Mr. Marigold can insulate you from him. Is the amiable Miss Mitton still your ally? You haven’t mentioned her recently. You know, Polly, though we never played much with Henry as children, it seems very vexing that Walter Davenforth should have a brother who could get the better of a Windleigh. Please try not to let him cow you, disapproving though he may be.
We truly are surrounded by alarming men and disagreeable topics. I am amazed at how many I have to cover. I’m rather shocked to hear of your encounter with Mr. Morrow. This is perhaps the most disagreeable of all. Edmund Morrow alarms me. Not as much as he must alarm you, after physically threatening you, but still, what impertinence and strange menace! I’m not surprised, of course, that beneath the genial veneer there seethes violence, but I’m more than sorry it was directed against you. I don’t doubt there is more going on with him than we know. It is entirely plausible that he has been in more communication with the kidnappers than his mother and sister know of. What a brilliant intuition, Polly. I am sure you are right. You must do what you can to, as you say, snoop on him. I adore that word. It has such onomatopoetic richness. Wonderful.
At the same time, you must be quite careful, dear. As if we didn’t have a low enough opinion of him from Hannah’s story! Too smooth and plausible by half, this social climbing villain. Does it not make you feel certain he has something to hide? Best to know as much about him as possible, I think. It always pays to know one’s adversary. We know he’s not too chivalrous to lay hands on a woman. I do wonder; do you think he was trying to protect you from the kidnapper’s evil attention, or did he threaten you on his own behalf? Either way, I think no matter what Grandmother says, you should start carrying your gun again. Assuming that you ever stopped, that is.
And I agree with you, that Arthur seems unlikely to purposely alarm his Hannah. That is not in his character as we know it. I do not think this rules out his initially having plotted a (to his mind harmless) ruse against his brother only to have it turn into something more serious. Were we not alike in wondering that? Do you now think that is wrong? Your most recent letter implies that you do, and yet I am certain you thought the same. I wonder if this is a sort of prank spun out of control, that is all - if Arthur has not gotten himself caught up in something larger than he knew. I am so glad that Hannah is proving a friend to you. I hate to think of you being lonely.
I have written again to Aunt Sylvia (who does not, I should affirm, know my reasons for asking) to discover whether James Repton and Arthur were actually seen together in Bath, and what she knows of the Repton family. I’m sure she must have insight if they are regular denizens of the place; when it comes to Bath and its people and ways, Aunt Sylvia knows all.
I have one delightful piece of Oxford gossip to offer up before I go. If you haven’t seen official notice of it yet yourself, please allow me to tell you that Jane Frederickson has just announced her engagement - to Dr. Martin! Can you credit it? Dr. Martin, the very type of an Oxford bachelor academic, run away with love for Jane Frederickson. I can hardly write for laughing. It seems that Peter hatched the scheme to squire her about to make the old don jealous, after coming upon her in a fit of tears over the good doctor’s unwillingness to come to the point. And as you see, it worked. His party of last week seems to have been the last straw. The world is far more strange than even I think it. How funny that we remarked about her dissimilarity of temper to Peter! I would have thought them a thousand times more likely a pair. However, it is so. I had some advanced notice of the plan (though not the target) from Cecily a few weeks back, but still cannot contain my glee and surprise. You cannot imagine how odd it is to hear her cooing about her dear Gerard and all his wondrous ways, his thoughtfulness and his romantic notions. She has a lock of his limp, graying hair that she will thrust under your nose at the slightest provocation; you will perhaps wonder how I can refrain from remarking how unremarkable his hair was while still attached to his head, and how much less interesting its removal renders it, but I have decided that would be unkind.
And with that notion, Polly, I am going to sleep. Joyful that each day’s end brings our reunion closer, I am,
Your Alice


P.S. I forgot to mention, but tomorrow Peter will attempt to get Andrew Bexton Page intoxicated and see what truth flows from wine. Or beer, as the case may be.

Thoughtful

the 17th letter

Posted by valancy_s on 2006.03.20 at 18:08
Tags:
Windleigh House
Hanover Square, London

Friday, June 7th


Dear Alice,

To start with the end of your last letter, I didn't write that I had seen Tom because it slipped my mind; we met for all of five minutes. He came to London on a whim, with a friend who had some shopping or business to do, and stopped by Windleigh House in hopes of catching me at home. He waited a while, but decided he had to leave to make his train -- at which moment I arrived, unfortunately in Mr. Davenforth's carriage. Tom and I barely exchanged words before he raced off... to start a rumor about me! Dear, dear Tom. There are times when I could cheerfully wring his neck, even if he is my favorite brother.

There is nothing to tell about Mr. Henry Davenforth and myself. I have no explanation as to why he picked me up as I was starting to walk home that day (poor Benjamin was driving Grandmother around to all her committee meetings) unless he fears -- based on our first meeting -- that I am incapable of walking around London without getting into a scrape. He was dreadfully patronizing the whole drive. And the worst of it is, he doesn't leave me alone at the Reader anymore, as he used to. One of my write-ups of a political meeting garnered some attention in the our department (no special cleverness on my part, really, but Mr. Marigold was ecstatic; apparently in my interview of one candidate I got a rather valuable 'scoop') and somehow it came to Mr. Davenforth's attention. He's been reading my pieces periodically ever since. It gives me a creepy feeling of being watched... like the canary must feel in his cage, knowing the cat is somewhere in the room!

Enough about him. By the casual way you remark that Dr. Bradford is at least 'not an opposer of women's rights' I think you can hardly grasp what a miraculous 'at least' that is, compared to the superciliousness I daily encounter from Mr. D and his cohorts. However, I still can't feel sanguine about your sharing Arthur's story with the Americans. Of course Dora began it, but couldn't you squashed her? On your long list of people who have been told about this business, only one did not get his information from you -- Walter -- and you're quite wrong in thinking that I told him anything that was supposed to be a secret. He only saw the ransom note, which has no names on it. If this story becomes the talk of Oxford, I hope you understand what severe distress it will bring on the Morrows, especially since they have been telling people that Arthur is gone to the Continent for his health. They believe the kidnapper's threats, and how can we be sure they're wrong to? And one more source of distress is just what they don't need.

In happier, much happier news, your wish for me to visit home has not fallen on stony ground! Miraculous as it might seem, Grandmother actually offered to take me with her on a week's visit to Oxford! She wants to discuss some business affairs with Papa, I believe, and suggested at dinner last night that we make a little trip of it. You know how in Pansy books and stories in church papers, there is always an old lady who seems stiff and unapproachable, but who the sugar-sweet heroine melts with patience and love? Well, Grandmother isn't one of those ladies at all... yet I do think that she might be much nicer than I once gave her credit for. She seems to respond positively to displays of spirit in other people -- perhaps because they remind her of herself. And she's taking me to Oxford! I couldn't be more delighted. Mother is stopping here for a few days next week on her way home from Dover, and then the week after that, we'll all be together!

As you point out that I shouldn't cut up Dr. Pomeroy's peace, I will have to try to stay out of his sight during my visit. It shouldn't be too difficult, since I don't think I shall want anyone but my own family for the few days I have with you! Dear Gus, he will be in ecstasies, won't he? I wish I could have him here.

The only disadvantage to going home is that I shall miss a few interesting events in London while I'm away -- a meeting of the Geographical Society which looks to be quite fascinating, a lecture on labour reform and the recent troubles in France, and a presentation by some doctors who have a groundbreaking new treatment for malaria. I know these will sound dreary to you, but I do find it so invigorating to be right on the edge of everything new. I know I'm the black sheep in this family: the only one to whom the oldest, moldiest things are not the most fascinating!

As for this inescapable Morrow business, I promise I'll make every effort to show your sketch to Mrs. Morrow very soon (though I have quite a lot of assignments this week so it will be a squeeze!) and will continue this letter when I have more to tell.


Monday, June 10th

Having just received your second letter of the week, I can't possibly talk about Morrow business just now! Oh, Alice! I hate to think of you tossing and turning over that horrible incident, with no one to talk to. I'm a wretch for or not being there in your hour of need.

I just don't understand Dr. Bradford. I didn't say this before, knowing how little you'd enjoy hearing his praise, but despite my anger with him when he paid his visit here, I felt the whole time that if I'd never heard of his comment about Papa I would have like him. His manners aren't perfect, but he has a rather jolly way about him -- not at all the fussy scholar I'd expected from Dr. P's stories. Anyway, I'm only saying this so you'll know how much your letter shocked me. From his conciliatory behavior before your little chat, I felt sure he was feeling guilty about his comment at the party -- had repeated slander thinking it was fact -- and was desperate to apologize. And then to scold you for eavesdropping, and never to apologize at all! Not even to seem sorry, except about being in your bad graces! Of all characters, the hypocrite is the most incomprehensible to me. I could never "smile, and smile, and be a villain;" when I have a bad opinion of someone, I can't help but show it. How could anyone be so friendly toward Papa, and be treated with kindness by him (and how else does Papa ever treat anyone?), and then show no guilt over maligning him behind his back? It is unfathomable.

I'm very glad your reproofs seem to have cut him, though I for one put no faith in his really taking them to heart. Probably his show of remorse was just that -- yet another show. But don't you feel bad over what you said! Uncomfortable as it is to have to tell folks how to behave, far better that than to let them wreak havoc on other people's feelings, unchecked.

On a lighter note, even amongst sentences of such disturbing import I couldn't help admiring the idiom you coined -- "might as well be sold for a lion than a lamb." So Biblical! But to preserve your reputation as the smartest girl on two continents, I feel I ought to mention... the common phrasing states that one "might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb." Yours is just as striking, though, and much more elegant.

And now on to the Morrows. I went to the Bell this afternoon, bearing your sketch, but found Mrs. Morrow out and Edmund in. I'd forgotten to mention it but I've seen Hannah several times this week and she really is the dearest thing -- so just the sight of Edmund Morrow was enough to get me fuming. I could barely keep my temper with him (no doubt this shocks you) for the few minutes I stayed, but there was no point in extending my visit since neither Florrie nor I could think of much to say beyond the topic that has consumed our conversation these past weeks. All I could hope is that she would find it encouraging just to see me and know that our work on her behalf goes forward. As I was leaving, though, I could not help making what I'm sure you'll say was a very ill-advised remark.

Edmund had risen and walked over to the door as I was saying goodbye to Florrie. When I left, he stepped out into the hall and spoke in an undertone. "You seem to visit my mother and sister quite often, Miss Windleigh."

"I do what I can," I said, pretending to take his remark as a compliment. "Florrie is lonely here in town."

"She has friends here."

"But not as many as she has in Oxford. And since she has finished her studies, it's a pity she could not at least have gone to the Continent with your brother. Don't you think she seems pale and tired lately? I'm sure the warm climate would have done her good."

I don't know quite what prompted me to make a reference to Arthur, but I was feeling more and more ill-disposed towards Edmund, and wanted to ruffle him. But I must admit, his reaction was more than I bargained for.

"If you value my sister's friendship, Miss Windleigh, you will stay out of her affairs." He grasped my arm for a moment and spoke in my ear. "You do much more harm than good with your overactive sympathy." He released me and was back in their rooms before I could even react.

I don't know what to make of this. Clearly, he knows I have been looking into Arthur's disappearance. Is he, too, afraid of what the kidnappers might do if the matter becomes public? I'm loath to give him credit for such amiable anxiety, but that may be prejudice on my part. On the other hand, perhaps he really is involved in this scheme somehow and was warning me off, threatening me. But though his voice was angry, there was something in it like fear too; if a threat, not a coolly delivered one.

I am reminded of your theory that the kidnapper might have something against Edmund Morrow. I don't believe for a moment, however, that the person responsible for Arthur's disappearance is, in fact, Arthur himself. It's not just that it would be totally against his character -- as you say, anger at his brother for ruining his marital plans could do much. But Hannah's fear for him is genuine, I'm sure of it, and if he had formed such an outlandish scheme of revenge wouldn't he have told her about it? Even if he gave her no details, that she might not be forced to reveal his whereabouts, the Arthur we all know would never have staged his own abduction and left the woman he loved in the dark, fretting and pining over him.

Suspicions -- theories -- hearsay -- lies -- intuition -- bits of fact that don't fit together -- that's all we have to work with. Not a single scrap of hard evidence in a month! I defy even the great Holmes to work under these conditions. The only tangible evidence we have is the ransom note: a four-line note, sent ages ago. The only new data is Hannah Westcott's testimony: weeks too late to follow the trail. And we know of a few Oxford students lying -- which, though circumstantially condemning, may in reality have nothing to do with Arthur's disappearance at all. Still, let me know what else you find out about this Andrew Bexton Page. We can only hope that something solid will turn up soon, or I'm afraid we're going to have to give up our private sleuthing and convince the Morrows to put this in professional hands.

What a relief it will be to talk all this over in person! The next two weeks are going to seem an age...


All my love,

Polly


P.S. I've just been looking at the ransom note and had a thought. We've been presuming that the kidnappers have dropped out of communication. Why? We know Edmund Morrow is not the most open of men. He would have to show his family the first note to explain his brother's absence, but if Arthur's kidnapping is really an attack on his brother, might he not have reason to keep further messages a secret? He may well have heard from the kidnappers again; perhaps he is even in communication with them! This may be all moonshine, but then again there may be something in it. There is only one way to find out. I must figure out a way to snoop on Edmund Morrow.


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