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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

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.

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