?

Log in

December 2008   01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
smirk

The Sixteenth Letter

Posted by tinuviellen on 2006.03.16 at 10:03
Christ Church College
Oxford University
Friday, June 7th


Dear Polly,
I know I haven’t heard from you, and I really have nothing to report on our main topic of interest of late, but I must write you. You can’t imagine how badly I wish you were here. I have had such a night! Dr. Martin had his dinner, and Dr. Bradford and I have finally had words.
There is a bit of the picture to paint in first, however, or it may not make a cohesive whole. You will remember that after the odd walk on Wednesday, I became certain he meant to discover whether or not I had overheard him. He certainly set to the task with a vengeance. Thursday, Dr. Bradford just happened by the Bodelian, all flashing teeth and gregarious affability, glad handing this one and that one; underneath the rather ostentatious charm,however, I could sense a sharp watchfulness. All the while he was chatting with Father about Sarnac and coaxing Albert into actually expressing an opinion and teasing Dora, he was still watching me, testing out my responses. It was all extremely tense. Or I, at any rate, was extremely tense. It’s extremely tense, being constantly observed. I spent as much time as possible at my cataloguing, but could only absent myself so much without drawing as more attention than I could wish. Father even commented that I seemed out of sorts; I pleaded preoccupation with work, but I don’t believe it helped.
His Odiousness managed to manuever himself into our work tea. He was constantly addressing his comments to me, asking my opinion, and using it as a starting point for general conversations. It is as if the man made a vocation out of making me uncomfortable.
Friday morning, Dr. Bradford actually attended Father’s lecture. He sat with Peter and Albert. He commended me on my notetaking, Polly. And I heard him asking the boys about me. In any other man, I might say he was trying to make himself agreeable, but more is obviously at work. The more assiduously he charmed, the frostier it made me. I am certain my discomfort could not, by then, have been more obvious.
And so we come to Dr. Martin’s dinner party earlier this evening. It was certainly nothing on the scale of Dr. P’s - and you can imagine how inferior the food was - but by and large, good company which I ordinarily would have enjoyed. A few of the stodgier history types attended, as did a few dons who still think me a precocious child. Still, enough of the better sort were present to make the evening worthwhile if I could have only managed to avoid the American, which, as it happened, I could no. No, I had made my discomfort with his presence so clear, that he actually cornered me after dinner and asked if he might have a moment of my time in private conference.
“I very much enjoyed our talk at Dr Pomeroy’s party.”
I gave a slight, formal curtsey.
“But I see that you are displeased with me now. I can see that.”
“Do you?” I was still hoping to evade him at that point, and looking over his shoulder to see if someone might come by to rescue me.
“Wouldn’t you agree, Miss Windleigh, that honesty and openess are far greater virtues than mere politeness?
As if honesty without thought were such a great virtue! Vile man.
“You aren’t the only one with a passion for truth, you know.” He veritably smirked.
“Are you asking me to be honest with you, rather than polite?”
“Maybe it’s more American than English, but yes, I do. I believe I offended you - you act like you have been offended - and I would prefer to be friends, and set things right.”
“Somehow, Dr. Bradford, that does not surprise me.”
“What does that mean?”
“Simply that I am not surprised that you think slightingly of the laws of propriety, or that you value openess over circumspection.”
“So you are angry with me. ” He smiled at his success in forcing this admission, the smug, hateful man. ”I fear you overheard words that were not meant for your ears.”
His self-congratulation and his pronouncments were so patronizing, so overbearing and smug, that the combination pushed me quite beyond the pale. Perhaps I am more like Grandmother than I’ve previously supposed, for as they say, Polly, one might as well be sold for a lion than a lamb.
“I certainly did hear everything you should be afraid of my having heard. I heard enough to know you are no gentleman, sir.”
“Are all eavesdroppers so self-righteous? In Boston, we don’t think it proper for a lady to listen to conversations in which she is not included.”
“You walked into the room where I was - I had no intention of prying in anything, I assure you.”
“I am sorry you overheard me, but I was speaking privately, to a friend. I was not expressing views I wished to make public.”
“You are mistaken if you imagine that you were having a private conversation when you spoke to Oscar Braithewaite. Oscar Braithewaite, the biggest gossip at Oxford! Anything you might have said to him required no eavesdropping; it would have been whispered in my ear by a half a dozen people within the hour.”
“Is that true?” He had the grace to look shocked.
“Absolutely true. Do you not realize how many people know what you said? I only thank Heaven that my Father seems to have miraculously escaped hearing the tale, or he would know how false your flattery and friendship are.”
He blanched.
“You could not have picked a more inappropriate confidant for your slander. What man intimates such things to a virtual stranger, without knowing whether the aspersions are true, or his listener trustworthy? How long could you have known Oscar, that you would say such things to him? Perhaps a day? If you hadn’t already proved yourself no judge of character by the content of your speech, your choice of an audience would have confirmed it.”
He looked more shocked, and happily, more embarassed, the more I spoke; I was momentarily reminded of Tom twitching under Grandmother’s wrath when he commandeered that handsome cab. And even more happily for me, my little speech became the last word on the matter, for at that moment we were interrupted by Father and Peter, before whom Dr. Bradford almost immediately fled.
And yet, with all the justice I felt in setting him down, I cannot help saying that it doesn’t do away with the unpleasantness. I suppose the fact that he shadowed me for the rest of the evening didn’t help, either, not when he persisted in looking towards me with melancholy eyes (endeavoring to raise my sympathy, no doubt). I was determined not to pity him. He still had thought those things, still said them, still brought ugliness closer to our home. Yet I could see that finally knowing what he had done gave him pain. However justified I might be in chastising his behavior, it is so unpleasant to do so. Even though he practically begged for my real feelings, I still feel disquieted for having given them. Do you not feel as if other people should know how to behave on their own, without one having to tell them? It makes me most uncomfortable.
I think I am too tired and too distressed to make much sense, so I will close, and send the letter off tomorrow morning. Certainly it will prove an adequate picture of my tumultous mind! I cannot imagine how I shall sleep at all. How I wish you were here, dearest sister. If I had you to talk to I might feel less dissatisfied.
Your vexed and loving,
Alice

smirk

The Fifteenth Letter

Posted by tinuviellen on 2006.03.16 at 10:00
Christ Church College
Oxford University
Wednesday, June 5th, 1891

Polly Dearest,
What a thrilling, all consuming, utterly captivating letter. I could hardly sleep a wink last night, thinking of all you have learned. First of all, most of all, a final proposal from Dr. Pomeroy! Oh, my poor Polly. I really am dreadfully sorry you were made to suffer through yet another appeal, love, but I am filled with respect for both of you. Grandmother’s characteristically brutal frankness for once masks kindness. I understand your delicacy of the past - I understand it better than his Sisyphean persistence - but clearly the time had come for unequivocal firmness. Dr. Pomeroy’s grace in the face of a rejection finally understood as such raises him, for me, to a new plane entirely. So pitiful and yet so dignified in defeat, he merits my esteem as as well as my sympathy. And his proffered generosity touches me deeply. You are right: we have not valued him sufficiently. I shall endeavor to eradicate that unflattering nickname from my vocabulary.
At any rate, despite this newfound respect you could not, of course, do other than refuse him. And there can not be other than rejoicing that your refusal is finally made clear. Perhaps now you can visit home! Oh, how I long to see you, my Polly! I will not endeavor to describe the joy which would thrill through Gus on such an occasion. Of course, as noble as his gesture is, there remains the danger of turning poor Dr. Pomeroy from Sisyphus to Tantalus by a precipitous return. Perhaps it is still wise to absent yourself until the effects wear off. Or we shall just have to smuggle you in and out for a family dinner, because truly, Polly, it has been too long.
On the other hand, you must feel the pull of this riddle like a whirlpool, dragging you down into a sea of mystery. My, what a foolishly poetic sentence. I am near run away with hackneyed phrases, so astonished am I by all you have just learnt. Arthur Morrow secretly engaged! Edmund Morrow a petty tyrant! Arthur in both Scotland and also in Bath with James Repton! Staggering. Just staggering.
Your notion of students colluding to fake a kidnapping appears more and more plausible. Arthur has great reason to strike at this ruthlessly social climbing brother. (I’m rather surprised Edmund was willing to take tea with one of the eccentric, nefarious Windleighs, if he is so fastidious. Perhaps what Mrs. Morrow and Florrie feared on that unsettling occasion was that he would be rude to you! ) What your report of Edmund brings to my mind is his receipt - instead of his Mother - of the ransom note. If Arthur wishes to revenge himself against his brother, it seems quite natural that he would address the note to Edmund and hope not to alarm his mother at all. From the first I could not help but wonder if the kidnapper (in this supposition, Arthur) did not have some damaging information about Edmund, and I do still wonder. Arthur obviously would be in a position to call up a family scandal if such exists - but no, I think my morbid imagination has gotten the better of me, because if that were the case there would have been no need to fake a kidnapping. Arthur might have blackmailed his brother with greater ease and simplicity and less risk to himself.
So, to return to the main point, I can imagine Arthur and Repton hatching a plan over a pint or two, but if they did so, does it not seem likely that something has prevented it’s fruition? No second ransom note has appeared. Arthur returns from Bath, contacts his intended, seems to move freely about the countryside. He excitedly promises his lovely lady a delightful surprise, and then disappears. Again.
What can he have been so thrilled to show her, I wonder? A puppy? A letter of consent from his father? A marriage license? Pirate gold? His words as you have repeated them do not suggest that it was a person, and the fact that whatever it was was presumably there in the station, implies a certain compactness of size. It seems unlikely to be horse, for example. This Hannah Westcott seems to me a rather Romantic figure. You must tell me if I exaggerate, dear. I am quite haunted by the thought of her waiting in that station for her love, searching the crowds for his face, and finally being forced to leave alone. It must have been dreadful. I am very glad you like her, and that she seems no Lucy Steele. Arthur may be unfortunate in his classmates and his brother, but I’m happy to think someone as generally kind and well-meaning as he has at least one true friend.
I have been less active than you, I fear. The weekend passed without much of note occurring. We had one punting expedition only, due to quite a bit of rain. Hoppy’s weekly (on, somewhat unusually, Roman fortifications in Britain, such as Hadrian’s wall) passed without either drama, intrigue or great scholarly insight. The rain makes everyone dull. And your letter had me too distracted. The sun shines forth today, however, on all fronts! Be prepared for a stroke of genius. I think I have found our man. My several outings into Brasenose have given me a familiarity with many of its youth, and Mrs. Morrow’s description - a short, dusky, slim, aristocratic, almost feminine smoker - brought a form immediately and vividly to memory, and so this very morning, as soon as I could upon receiving you letter, I set off to test my theory. The sketches I have included are of one Andrew Bexton Page, scion of (I am told) impoverished nobility from Wells. Mr. Bexton Page occupies the rooms next door to Mr. James Repton. And from what Peter further tells me, he has just the sort of sly and malicious wit which would make him think giving Mrs. Morrow a valet’s name instead of his own very good fun. Showing this set of sketches to Mrs. Morrow I think highly likely to bear better fruit than our last endeavor.
The outing to get this sketch was rather an odd one. The weather, as aforementioned, was sunlit and glorious, just what a June day should be. Dora and Peter both accompanied me; they entertained me enormously, Dora by imaging all sorts of alarming and fantastical histories for the various folk who passed us, and Peter by providing the true stories, some of which were hardly less alarming than Dora’s speculations. I wish you had been with us, Polly, you would have laughed so. You can’t imagine how wicked Hugh Botolph is, more so even than he looks. And Frederick Richmond! I have tried and tried to find the words to retell the story, but even by setting Peter’s down verbatim I cannot do it justice. You simply must force Peter to tell you the tale of Fred’s braces and Mrs. Hartwell’s lemon curd; he may demure initially, but really, without his facial expressions, and emphasis, the story would lose half its hilarity. Once Mr. Bexton Page had made his appearance, however, we turned for home, and the afternoon took a decided turn for the worst. As is my wont, I had stopped for a moment to gaze on my hat, and who should walk by as I did, but Dr. Pomeroy and His Odiousness, the initially charming and broad Dr. Bradford.
Why had I not mentioned Dr. Bradford’s broad shoulders? I suppose I do notice such things in men I do not loathe. I would have thought my generous truthfulness in regards to his hair would be sufficient praise considering his behavior.
Both men regarded me somewhat warily - Dr. P. wondering, no doubt, what I knew of their London excursion, and Dr. B. perhaps meditating on your little hint. Dr. P - possibly because he has less on his conscience - spoke first, with tolerable cheerfulness.
“What fine morning for a walk! Especially after so many days of dreary rain. Charles, you know Miss Alice and Miss Dora, but I am not sure if you have met their Father’s assistant, Peter Lewis?”
The gentlemen in question bowed slightly at each other.
“Are you ladies shopping today, or just passing by?”
“We’re visiting Alice’s hat,” Dora interjected pertly. “Well, truly we’re solving a mystery , but just at this moment, we’re visiting Alice’s hat.”
The maddening, untroubled innocence of 11! I strongly suppressed my urge to throttle our youngest sibling for spilling our business in front of them, and necessitating explanations of all kind which I had rather not make. (I’m sure I was quite red with vexation; I do so admire Cecily’s ability to flush a becoming pink under duress.) That Dora! How can she turn from cunning to blithe candor in an instant? I don’t know which admission I was more vexed about, the hat I cannot afford, with all the larger pecuniary troubles that implies, or the Morrow riddle, a story not ours to publicize.
“Does your sister own one of these hats?” Dr. Pomeroy asked her. He was clearly quite perplexed, though I suppose I can’t blame him.
“Oh, no,” she told him - she is oddly fond of both men, considering, “It’s much too dear. But it’s a Platonic Form, so we must visit it.”
Dr. Bradford grinned broadly as if he’d never heard anything so charming. “The perfect realization of hat-hood, is it?”
“The veritable Holy Grail of millinery,” Peter added.
“Indeed it is,” I added firmly, hoping to end the discussion,”too perfect to own, and fit only for contemplation.”
Dr. Bradford took the hint, but of course varied only into the other topic I hoped to avoid.
“And what else did you say, Miss Dora - solving a mystery? Very important work for a spring morning.”
Dora positively beamed under his attention.
“Oh yes. Our friend Arthur has been kidnapped and held for ransom. It’s wonderful fun.”
Bradford turned a quizzical eye to me.
“The brother of one of our friends has yet to return from the Easter holidays, and so we’ve promised the family we would help them discover his whereabouts.”
“Yes,” said Dora, indefatigable, “so Alice has been sketching villains.”
Peter stepped in to smooth the implied drama down a bit.
“Let us say, rather, a mischief maker, likely unrelated to the whole.”
“A tangental villain, then,” Dr. Bradford laughed, and then gestured at my sketchbook. “May I?”
I don’t know that I handed it over with good grace, but somehow, I could not see a way around it.
He thumbed through the pages slowly and deliberately.
“These are very fine. A useful skill in our line of work, Miss Alice.” I’m glad he didn’t look up, for it cost me some pains to suppress the pride of that word “our”; whatever else he is, an opposer of the rights of woman Bradford is not.
Soon everyone was gathered about the sketchbook, with much attendant commentary from Dora, and eventually there was nothing for it but to submit to their plea to buy us lunch, if only to bring the spectacle out of the street. After a bit more skillful questioning, Dora lay bare the whole tale, perforce with clarifications from Peter and myself. Is all Oxford to know? I hope the Morrows will not be too upset. I tried to impress upon them the need for secrecy, and the possible dangers of the plot, but Polly, our small conspiracy of two has swollen to quite gross proportions. First Peter, than Dora, then her gang, then Walter, and now the Americans - not to mention those unwittingly in our employ, like Hoppy and Gill and Aunt Sylvia. Quite annoying, too, because though the Doctors both promised to give though to the matter, I can’t imagine what help they can be.
As we rose from an admittedly delicious luncheon, Dr. Bradford took the opportunity of handing me out of my chair to murmur, “I see what your sister meant when she said you had a passion for the truth.”
“Indeed?” I answered, a bit more frostily than perhaps I should have, since it would have been far simpler to leave him in this misapprehension. He looked rather more alert to my meaning than I would wish in retrospect. They insisted on walking us back to Christ Church, and I fear he is observing me more closely than before.
Now that I’ve wasted part of a lovely afternoon recalling the words of this morning, I’m going to send this letter, so that you can see Mrs. Morrow and prove my case. Then I will row myself out onto the Thames and set my mind to wondering how we’re ever going to find anything more out. All my love to you, Polly,
Your fond and foolish
Alice

P.S. You have me quite suspicious, dear, by being quite atypically incoherent. Why ever did Henry Davenforth the lesser drive you home? How can that occur without comment? What an odd bit of condescension on his part! Is he still disapproving and cold? Did Sir Henry force him to drive you, or did he do it merely to glower at you? Otherwise I might think it was uncharacteristically thoughtful of him. It seems odd enough that you did not mention that Tom was in town - how peculiar that he should be a better correspondent on this matter than you. At any rate, you must tell me a great deal more about the circumstances before I am satisfied.

Thoughtful

the 14th letter

Posted by valancy_s on 2006.03.09 at 12:58
Tags:
Windleigh House
Hanover Square, London

Sunday, June 2nd


Dear Alice,

I've been sitting at the teak desk in my room in Grandmother's house, staring at this sheet of stationery for almost ten minutes. The harder I try to collect my thoughts the faster they seem to roll away. My whole brain is like a bag of dropped marbles. It's the one time of day that I get really good sunlight coming in my window (which faces the square) so I really must get writing before it's time for dinner. But I don't know where to begin.

Your letter is in front of me -- such dear, dainty paper, by the way! Where did you get it? -- and suggests itself as a safe and practical starting-point. There's so much in here I want to respond to. What first?

Ah yes, Hen. I wrote to her yesterday and confessed my slip, so I feel sure she will confide her secret to you soon. But please, please don't think yourself slighted! She's not being shy, keeping it from you; in fact I gather -- odd as this sounds -- that the little goose is somehow convinced that you in particular will disapprove of her choice. I've told her this must be nonsense; who do you, most good-natured of sisters, ever disapprove of? Other than a certain American, that is. Could her young man have stepped on one of your hems? I really believe she will find the courage to tell you herself, though.

Speaking of that certain American… I suppose I must plunge in to the events of this week. To think I once found Windleigh House stodgy and intolerable! Alice, no boarding house could play host to half the colorful incidents that have been occurring here. To begin with Tuesday. Grandmother saw the card Dr. P had left and came to my room (where, I'll admit, I was in the process of sacking my closet as if it were Rome) to learn why two men she had never met were about to descend on her home. I told her they were Americans, thinking that would be all she needed to hear before writing them off as general nuisances. Unfortunately, this tidbit reminded her of where she had heard of Cecil Pomeroy before. (By the way, I'll never comprehend how an American came by the name Cecil. Shouldn't it be something like Jack or Billy?)

'I understand from your Father that this gentleman has made an offer to you,' she remarked, her eyebrows arched at an impossible angle.
'Yes, Grandmother,' I replied meekly.
'An offer you declined.'
'Yes.'
'Then may I ask why he is coming to call? He must be of a very forgiving temperament.'
'Oh, yes,' I laughed. 'In fact, he's the most blithely optimistic man I know."
The brows came right down over her eyes. In all honesty, I was nervous. 'Pauline, I must believe there has been a great deficiency in your training. You should never toy with the affections of decent men, even Americans.'
This seemed unfair. 'I've refused Dr. Pomeroy four times. Can I help that he won't to take me at my word?'
She gave me a look which said plainly that no man alive would dare take Grandmother's words for anything but cold, inflexible fact. Then she laid a hand on my shoulder. 'I don't fault you for rejecting him, Pauline, but such things must be done cleanly. If his call this evening results in another proposal' (I winced at the thought) 'make sure that it is the last.'

I raged silently all the time I was dressing, all the more because I have always felt that I was not sufficiently firm the first time I refused Dr. Pomeroy. In my utter surprise, I only managed to gasp out something about being too young to marry and never imagining he thought of me in that way. I'm afraid he took this as an invitation to wait until time had remedied both complaints! If I had said then that I had no wish to marry a man fifteen years older than myself, and that our characters were irrevocably unsuited, it would have been much better for us both.

So take that as a lesson to you, young lady, should Mr. Wilberforce prove forthcoming!

At any rate, I was neat and fine when they called, though rather crumpled mentally. I settled on the new gown from Grandmother, by the way, deciding that it was worth the danger of being too attractive to Dr. P if I could have self-confidence on my side, facing Dr. Charles Bradford.

I must say, you didn't really make it clear how very good-looking he is. Ready as I was to dislike him, I couldn't help admiring the thick dark hair and classic profile. And though I myself have never favored the broad-shouldered type, I'm surprised you didn't mention it. You're right of course that the mustache is disturbing. Perhaps he could be hypnotised into shaving? It would be a good prank for the undergraduates.

We all went into the *sitting room* and the gentlemen, perceiving a certain frost coming from Grandmother's direction, both attempted to warm up the social atmosphere. Dr. P tried unimaginative compliments while Dr. Bradford wielded some rather thrilling stories of his archaeological adventures, so you can guess who had more success. After half an hour, Grandmother was almost cordial, though she still shot Dr. Pomeroy quelling looks from time to time.

Then she was called out of the room to answer a note about some charitable function she's organizing. Dr. P pounced on the opportunity to express how much he -- or rather Oxford -- had been missing me. I hope my polite dismissal of this flattery would have satisfied even Grandmother. To turn the conversation, I asked Dr. Bradford how he had been enjoying his stay in England. After a few commonplaces came this remark:

"I've had the pleasure of meeting your sister, Miss Alice. I have to tell you, I don't think I've met a smarter girl on either side of the pond."

I was taken aback, as you might imagine. What was this man, who had insulted our father so openly, doing paying you such a broad compliment? Trying to get back in your good graces through me, was my immediate guess.

"Oh, none of us can keep up with Alice," I responded. "My parents made a point of training us all to have sharp minds, but Alice has a positive passion for learning the truth of things."

I had the reward of seeing that too-broad smile of his flicker for a moment. "That's an admirable goal for sure," he replied. Then, exchanging a quick glance with his friend, he asked to be excused for a moment.

Probably my remark about 'learning the truth' was ill-advised, since Dr. P seemed to take as his cue to propose once more. He started in the moment the door swung closed behind his chum, repeating how Oxford longed for my presence and beginning on 'whether I might return if--' But I stopped him. Much as I hated to hurt his feelings, I knew Grandmother was right and the thing must be done thoroughly. I told him I was honored by his continued attentions, but that for his own sake they had to stop. And so on. I gave him the reasons I mentioned above, and took a pretty hard line. Alice, it was awful. I never want to be proposed to again, ever! He sat there on the green brocade chair, fidgeting with his glasses, trying with all his heart to find a loophole in my response. Finally I could see that it had sunk in, and I stopped.

There was a minute or two of silence before he spoke again. "Thank you for your honesty," he said, standing. "I have no wish to distress you further, but there is one more thing I must say." I nodded him on. "Given my natural interest in your family, I can't help but know what is, I believe, not yet common knowledge. Forgive me for mentioning this, but I know your financial situation. One of my joys, in thinking of our potential union" (even in this situation my inner imp smiled at how bravely he tries to sound English) "has been the idea that I would not only rescue you from these difficulties, but also be in a position to assist your respected father, should the need arise. I want you to understand that, though you will not be my wife, I am still your friend, and your family's friend, should you stand in need of one."

What a good man he is! Alice, nicknames like "my lapdog" must stop from now on. He may, in truth, be a little ridiculous at times, but surely his goodness deserves more of our attention. Still, I couldn't let him think that we would presume on his kindness. I thanked him from the heart, but told him we were not in such straits yet and hoped never to be. "The only help I would ask of you," I ended, "is that you would continue to support my father as you have done. There are so many cruel and quick-judging people in the world; I worry much more about what he suffers at their hands, than I do about our family's wealth or consequence."

He took my hand and gave it a kind squeeze, but just as he did so there was a noise at the door. We separated immediately, and Dr. Bradford walked in. Had he heard my last remark? There's no way to know. If so, I don't know if he would even be sensible of its application to himself. At any rate, Grandmother returned a moment later and the gentlemen soon took their leave. They were returning to Oxford the next day, so we saw no more of them.

My, what a long story that made! I hope it didn't bore you, especially since the meatier business of Hannah Westcott is still to come. I will try to describe that interview more quickly! My emotions are still a bit ruffled from the Pomeroy/Bradford business, but writing it all out has helped. Now on to the Morrow Question.

It's late evening now and I'm writing by lamplight. I will be sleepy at the Reader tomorrow, but you deserve a full account. Hannah Westcott arrived promptly to her time on Wednesday afternoon. Jeffries showed her in to the little parlor, where I was waiting. I don't know what I was expecting… a handsome young barmaid, perhaps… but whatever my expectations were, Miss Westcott shattered them. She is a slight, blue-eyed, black-haired girl of about eighteen, with calloused hands but clothing that spoke of respectability kept up with struggle and care. Nothing further from the type of sonsy beer-wielding females could be imagined. She came in hesitantly, as if she doubted her right be to calling at Windleigh House, and I can't say quite why but my heart went right out to her. I said hello and gave her the most comfortable chair and some tea, and generally tried my best to set her at ease before beginning the subject of Arthur.

But she plunged right in at the first pause. "Miss Windleigh, I hope you don't think it's wrong of me to come here, but I am so very worried about Arthur." I must have registered some surprise at the use of his Christian name, since she added, as if in self-justification: "You see, we're engaged."

So your suspicions, and my own, are confirmed. A secret love affair! Certainly it didn't seem Arthur-ish, but her explanation (which flowed out immediately) made the circumstances clear -- and very extenuating, too.

It seems that Miss Westcott and Arthur Morrow grew up together, or nearly; her father was the Morrow boys' tutor. But if you're reminded of Sense and Sensibility, don't fear -- Hannah is no Lucy Steele! Despite her poor spelling and mediocre education (it would seem that her father spent all his time tutoring pupils, and rather neglected his own children in that respect), I would judge her to be a naturally intelligent young woman and a very moral one. She does some dressmaking now, I believe, but is quite ladylike. She and Arthur were great friends before he went away to school, and met again last summer when he spent a month at the house of an Oxford friend where -- as chance would have it -- Mr. Westcott was employed in tutoring the friend's younger brothers. I imagine the usual sort of thing happened: Arthur discovering his childhood sweetheart had blossomed into a lovely young woman and so forth. Before the visit ended they were engaged.

I asked why they chose to keep it a secret. There'd be a familial rumpus over his choice, but time couldn't be expected to lessen it, so why not have it over? And these are the nineties. Surely we've left such rigid notions of class behind us? But it seems they didn't keep it a secret. Arthur announced the engagement, and Edmund -- on behalf of his absent father -- flatly declined consent.

I'm not sure I properly disliked Edmund Morrow until I heard that. But really, what a beast! What right had he to meddle in his brother's affairs, and to claim paternal authority over him? If Mr. Morrow's consent had been applied for by letter and denied that would be bad enough, but it seems that Mrs. Morrow told Arthur that the matter must stand as Edmund, speaking in his father's voice, decreed it. Arthur wrote anyway, but Edmund also sent a letter which, Hannah believes, made her sound "ten times as poor" and stressed how his own chances of raising the family consequence would be damaged if his brother married Miss Westcott. We know how to interpret that. He thought Miss Knatchbull wouldn't have him if his brother made such a low connection! How on earth sweet Florrie and honest Arthur came by such a brother is really beyond me.

But now we come to the crux of the matter. Arthur refused to consider the engagement off, but the Westcotts wouldn't agree to the marriage unless he could bring his family around. And not only were Hannah's prospects hurt, but her father's as well. When his employers heard about the fuss, they dismissed him (afraid of their own son falling prey to Hannah's charms, I shouldn't wonder). But he found a new situation almost immediately, in Scotland. So during Easter when Arthur went to Scotland, he was -- you guessed it -- with the Westcotts.

However, Hannah tells me he left them to spend the last ten days or so of holidays in Bath with James Repton. This was all she heard of him until a telegram came on the tenth of April, asking her to come down to London on the 12th because he had something urgent to communicate in person. They were to meet at St. Pancras Railway Station. She waited for nearly two hours at the appointed spot, spying him at last at about a quarter to five in the evening. He ran up to her, she says, beaming from ear to ear. "I'm so sorry to have kept you waiting, my darling," he said, "but I have such a wonderful surprise for you! Wait here; I won't be a moment." He hurried off the way he came, almost dancing with excitement. And that, as they say in novels, was the last she saw of him!

Oh, I'm falling asleep. Must wrap up. Hannah (it seems natural to call her that, somehow) tried to contact the Morrows but thanks to Edmund no one would speak with her. I talked to Florrie yesterday and she confirmed Hannah's story (regarding the engagement) point for point. But the poor girl had never heard a word of the ransom business and when she saw him in London, hadn't the note already been sent? I could not be more puzzled.

I must go to bed. I hope you enjoy your punting. Don't believe any stories about me and Henry Davenforth the younger. He couldn't have meant anything by driving me home that day Tom was here. Sly, sarcastic man. How do all these troublesome men come by such pleasant brothers? Or sisters. Relations are such puzzling things.

Extend my best what-do-you-call-'ems to the Doctor duo, especially poor P., and kisses all around for the family. Write soon with clever insights. Much love,

Polly


P.S. I've got back out of bed because I forgot to say, I showed your sketch yesterday too. You're as good as ever, but it's not the same France. "Slimmer, more aristocratic-looking -- almost feminine" says Mrs. M. But Bannister can't be lying. No one named Bannister could tell lies. I thought he only told you the valet's name was France. Surely he didn't say he saw the valet talk to Mrs. M? Why on earth would he remember even if he had? I can hardly remember what I had for breakfast.

P.P.S. It was an omelette. I think.

smirk

the thirteenth letter

Posted by tinuviellen on 2006.02.27 at 14:41
Christ Church College
Oxford University
Oxford, England

Friday, 31 May

Polly, love,
Could you be a more exasperating wretch? I am really quite put out. Half divulging a confidence! I don’t know whether to be more vexed with you on Hen’s behalf or my own. Very well. I will have to be content with attempting not observe her minutely. I shall have to try not to notice whom she speaks with and for how long and with what emotion. Perhaps I can be as dull on purpose as I have been, concerning her, by accident.
I fear I shall have very little to say in this letter, impatient as I am to hear the results of your interviews with Hannah Westcott and the traveling American doctors. I am afire to know what transpired in both cases. You must write me posthaste and tell all. Whatever did they want? What did Grandmother think of your lapdog and the odious barbarian? I am agog just thinking on it. But my gracious, Polly. Of course I should have warned you, had I any knowledge they would arrive on your doorstep. Who is that is constantly bemoaning the the ease of rail travel? Of course, Grandmother. I’m sorry to have occasion to agree with her. Truthfully, I have been so immured with work the last several days I have escaped contact with them entirely. I even skipped Hoppy’s weekly, both from a desire not to be plauged with unpleasant conversation as well as the hope to actually do a little of my own work, finally. I was so pleased that I had managed to utterly avoid Mr. Bradford, and now I see that it was only because he had left Oxford. So much for my application and cleverness!
Enough about my own vexations, however. In absence of actual information, I will speculate a little on what the very existence of this Miss Westcott may mean. We know that James Repton is a liar and his friends are liars, but perhaps their lies are unrelated to our mystery? Mayhaps his time in Bath, whether sordid or innocuous, is the true red herring. Of course, that would not explain why Repton claims to barely know Arthur, which from all reports is not the case. And Arthur is still missing, and Repton is still being quite dodgy. No, no, you are right. There must be some connection, but what? As you say, it is so unlikely that one Oxford student should kidnap - or assist in the kidnapping - of another. And why, if he was spending time with Repton, should Arthur have told his mother he was traveling to Scotland, instead of Bath? Perhaps you are right that there is something amiss specifically in Bath, something that no one is meant to know about. Clearly an obvious conclusion is that Arthur lied to his mother about his whereabouts so he might spend time with a sweetheart, possibly a very unsuitable one? Slightly shocking of him, but not utterly out of character. But where did he meet her? Where might they have been introduced? Fascinating. What is your impression of this Miss Westcott? The spelling errors in her note suggests at the very least a lack of education, sadly not as unusual a situation for one of our sex as one would wish.
Too much of what I have found rebounds upon itself. I am frustrated with our lack of forward momentum. I don’t see where I should go yet, or what we can do. I do hate to be without a proper course of action.
I suppose I have not been utterly bereft of action. My one major outing of late brought me sketching at Brasenose in the hopes that Roger Park Nelson and his man might be seen. There at least I might be of some small use. Dora and her tribe, ever at pains to be useful, had prepared the way by letting me know when they might best be observed. It felt so lovely to have pen in hand again for something other than writing - I don’t think I’ve drawn since our last foreign expedition. I busied myself with the architecture while I waited. What a real delight! I have included my sketches of them - and another of James Repton - so that you might take it to Mrs. Morrow and see if she can identify any of them. Certainly they didn’t sit for me, but I think they are like enough for such a purpose. This should let us know, as best as we can determine, whether Baker Nelson’s France is the France in question.
Your skepticism on this subject is warranted, of course, and I will not at all be surprised if your surmise proves correct, but Mr. Wilberforce’s information was accidentally gained, and there is no reason for me to doubt it. I can not but agree with you as to the unlikeliness of Mrs. Morrow mistaking a servant for a student, but what is the alternative? Bannister Wilberforce, deceiving us on his own behalf or some other’s? An unknown agent posing as Mr. Baker Nelson’s man, lying in wait for Mrs. Morrow to arrive, for the sole purpose of telling her a truth she was unlikely to hear from Mr. Repton’s intimates? Unnatural, each. Fascinating, but unnatural. I wonder if there is anything you can do at The Reader - perhaps if we know what sort of families and situations Mr. Repton and his friends come from, we might have a better idea of the source of their lies and misdirection? I will see what I can find here, but I believe you might have more success. Much of what I could find here would depend on what our liars have told of themselves, and so would be compromised .
Though I can give you little new information on our larger mystery, I can at least sate your curiosity on one point. I have spoken to Cecily. You will understand when I say that I can not tell you all, since it was told in confidence, but I can tell you that Jane definitely has no expectations of Peter, nor he of her. I should be able to tell you more soon, I hope. Meantime's, as I have been confined in the Bodelian and have had no missions for him for the last few days, Peter has resumed his social duties in the college at large and with Jane specifically. All is presently as it was before.
And finally, as far as Mr. Bradford is concerned, Polly, you are perfectly right. I was weak. It was terribly weak of me to want to tell Father. In retrospect, I am annoyed with myself to have sought relief for my own feelings as the expense of his. How I wish Mother was here! She would have sent him packing instantly. Mother can cut through cant marvelously, and is so much less trusting than Father. This respite from the false politeness of the odious barbarian has made me stronger. Perhaps I shall act like the dragon you sometimes think yourself, and find a way to warn Bradford off Papa. That might do as well, if I can bring myself to do it. And yet I hate to lower myself to even acknowledge his slanders so. I shall have to devote some thought to the problem. Perhaps he will spend his time in London plaguing you, and I shan’t have to worry at all! But no, that cannot be, for he will certainly attend Father’s lecture on Monday, I have heard him say it, and Dr. Martin’s dinner later next week. I had forgotten. I shall simply have to deal with him when the time comes.
I must fly to the river for another punting session. It will be good to be back out under the sky. I’ve skipped several outings this week; staying out of the sun has made me peevish, I fear. I must exert myself, and perhaps on the broad, glistening water, inspiration will take me, and I will have more to tell you when next I write. The glories of nature will cure all that ails me (which is like only to be a lack of imagination from remaining too long indoors). Till then, Polly, I wait with great excitement to hear what you have learned,
Your Alice
P.S. What is this nonsense Tom writes about you and Henry Davenforth the younger? It IS nonsense, is it not? Brothers. What a puzzle! Too enigmatical by half.

Thoughtful

the 12th letter

Posted by valancy_s on 2006.02.20 at 23:44
Tags:
Windleigh House
Hanover Square
London

Tuesday, May 28th


Dear Alice,

Oh, my. I hope you'll forgive me, but I'm beginning to feel a little overwhelmed, and I'd like -- with your indulgence -- to lay out what we know of 'the Morrow question' and see if some pattern emerges.

First, Arthur Morrow informs his family that he is going to spend the Easter holidays with his friend James Repton. His family believes him to have gone to Scotland. Two weeks later, a ransom note is sent to Edmund Morrow demanding payment for Arthur's return, at an amount to be stipulated later. A month passes with no further communications, no terms given. In the meantime, James Repton returns to Oxford, a week and a half late -- having been in Bath, not Scotland. But he and his friends claim he returned on time for the start of term but was laid low by a fever.

I'll pause a moment there and assess these facts. Inference #1: James Repton is a liar. Inference #2: He has friends who will lie for him. Conclusion: Repton stands to lose in some way if the truth of his whereabouts were known. To lose... ransom money? It seems incredible that one Oxford student should kidnap another for money. Far more likely that an Oxford student, being hard up, might fake his own kidnapping! But no one who has met good, solid Arthur could suspect him of such a design. Still, I will tell Florrie and her mother that their next inquiries should focus on Bath. As Mr. Repton is lying about Arthur and about Bath, the two must be connected.

Now, as to our other, more loosely connected facts. We know that the note was sent to Edmund Morrow rather than to his parents, as might have been expected; this suggests that the villains may have had particularly reason to wish the elder son ill. We know the composers of the note drink beer. We know that Mrs. Morrow went to Brasenose to inquire after her son's whereabouts and was directed towards his tutor's rooms by a young man she believed to be a student, who may or may not have been the valet of Repton's friend Mr. Baker Nelson. (You'll have to forgive me for not accepting this right off; of course I don't doubt your swain Wilberforce's veracity, but it may be a red herring. There may well be another France unaccounted for, and I have trouble believing that Mrs. Morrow, even under distress, could confuse a valet for a student. Also why would a valet be loitering around the college entrance? Not to put Mrs. Morrow off the track, since he gave her correct information! No, no… Baker Nelson is reprehensible, but that doesn't mean his France is necessarily our France.)

For all this latter info, by the way, I lavish credit upon the heads of you and Dora. And Peter. You are sleuths extraordinaire.

We know a few more things too, or at least I do and you will shortly. Something rather startling has happened. As you know, I was determined to use the resources offered by my position at the Reader, and made inquiries about the Morrow family. Initially I learned only tidbits, mostly useless: that the father is considered to be permanently lodged in India, dancing attendance on the powers that be in that region, and that heir is considered likely to complete his father's work of elevating the family, by bringing them out of their current moneyed obscurity into a solid reputation (through his political aspirations) and a high place in society (through his well-born bride). No real news there. But my inquiries bore unexpected fruit two days ago, when a Mr. Brinkley (gawky, freckled, carrot-haired editor of the agony column) brought an item that had been sent to him over to show me. It read: "Seeking information on the whereabouts of Mr. Arthur Morrow of Brasenose College, Oxford. Last seen April the 12th at St. Pancras Station in London. Reward for information leading to discovery!"

You can imagine my astonishment! I knew Florrie would have told me if she or her mother intended to place such an advertisement; and despite a whole month's silence, I believe they are still too frightened of incurring the kidnappers' wrath to investigate indiscreetly. And above all astonishing things, the writer of the advertisement actually claimed to have seen Arthur four days after the start of Trinity term!

Of course my immediate object was to find out who sent the item in. Mr. Brinkley, after some rustling through cards and telegraph slips, found that responses were to be forwarded to H. Westcott, Camden Town.

Since there was no proper address (letters or telegrams were to be left at the post office until called for) I couldn't rush right down there, as of course I was dying to. But I sent a note saying that I was acting for the Morrow family in regards to the investigation of Arthur's disappearance, and that if H. Westcott would care to call at Windleigh House, we might find some advantage in pooling our knowledge. I got a note back just now -- in women's handwriting, on some rather shabby stationery -- which I'll copy in here for you.

Dear Miss Windleigh,

Thank you for your note. I will call tomorrow (Wednesday) around 1 o'clock if that is convenint. I am very worried about poor Arthur and it will be a releif to be doing something.

Yours truly,
Hannah Westcott


As you can imagine, I'm all aflutter wondering who Hannah Westcott is and what she will have to say. An amour his family knew nothing about? I wouldn't have thought it of Arthur, but this business certainly has all the earmarks of romance. And best of all, she has more recent information than we do! I'll write again the instant I've spoken to her, I promise.

I must finish up quickly. Nothing would please me more than to keep on puzzling this out, but tea with the Reverend Mr. Whitson waits for no man (or woman). So, in brief... What a great pity you cannot escape the odious Dr. Bradford. However, I don't think you should tell Father what you overheard. It is horrid to think of him extending hospitality to a man who slandered him, but even worse to think of him being forced to think badly of anyone. And, knowing Father, he would probably feel conscience-bound to hide his change of feelings and continue his dealings with the man. So it would serve no purpose. As for Peter and Jane, let me know what Cecily has to say on the subject. I am far too much of a busybody to let any adventuring stand between me and gossip!

On the subject of Hen, I am quite ashamed. I reread her letter after receiving yours and realized that what she wrote about her affections was told in confidence. I'm afraid I was so surprised by her confession and read so quickly, I missed the request for secrecy. It's a lot to ask you to forget I mentioned it, but for Hen's sake could you try? I'm very sorry. Truly I feel awfully guilty.

In return for this unfortunate snafu, I feel I should reward you with some juicy news about my own love affairs. Only, there really isn't any. Your suspicions about Walter Davenforth are amusing, but I'm sure they're false. I'd be surprised to learn that he looks at anyone in that light; his mind just seems to be running on an entirely separate level most of the time. When he comes down from his academic cloud he can be pleasantly human, but that's an event I don't expect to occur often in my presence.

Grandmother has called for me twice, so I really must wrap up instantly. Tea will be boring, but at least there will be scones! Write back soon, dear sis.


Just got home from the Whitsons' to find a card waiting -- Dr. Pomeroy and Dr. Bradford called while we were out! Oh Alice, why didn't you warn me they were coming up to town? But I'm sure you would have if you had known. Oh, dear. There was a penciled note saying they'll call again tonight. Now I shall be subjected to smug contempt on the one hand, and probably a proposal on the other. If so, at least my refusal will at least give Bradford proof that I'm not dangling after Dr. P! Oh, what a horror. I must think what to wear.

Anxiously but still lovingly, I remain


Yours,

Polly


smirk

The 11th Letter

Posted by tinuviellen on 2006.02.12 at 13:42
Christ Church College
Oxford University

Dear Polly,
Your second letter has sent me back to my writing desk, and sent the shreds my half written letter to you into the waste heap. Between what has happened since I last wrote and the many things I long to answer from your own letters, I hardly know where to begin. But begin I must, for the Morrows need information, and so do you. I have no time for elegant construction today; I hope merely to spill it all out quickly so that we might all continue with this puzzle. Business first, and then there must be some personal notes; your letters have given me much to think and wonder about. No - first let me be frivolous, and say that Grandmother’s unexpected gift sounds lovely, and I require you to sketch me a picture of it. In return, I will draw for you a picture of my perfect hat, which is sadly much too dear for birthday money, these days.
Then, I must tell you that I have seen Doctor Kenyon. I had a lovely letter neigh finished detailing the arts by which we found him, but since you already know who he is, I will tell you only in brief, and even then merely to detail Dora’s cleverness, for it was she who found him, and she is justly pleased with herself. You will never guess. I don’t know if you remember that Oliver Clarke is part of her little gang? (A gang, which, by the by, now includes the little Knyphausens - Brigita, Eidletraut, and Marcus) Well, perhaps you know that his father is John Wesley Clarke, the historian. We knew from Peter that this is Repton’s field of study, and from Oliver that Doctor Clarke keeps meticulous records of all the history students here at Oxford, in order to seek out new assistants. Dora and Oliver actually snuck into Doctor Clarke’s study, and, as they put it, knicked his lists. Perhaps I shouldn’t encourage this, but they are quite useful, and ever so pleased with themselves. I’m sure there was a much easier and more straightforward way to do this, but Dora spied on Peter and I as we discussed the problem, and the next morning, brought me the lists as a fait accompli, so my approval and my ingenuity were both rendered unnecessary. Through them we learned just what you already know.
From there, however, we were able to proceed further. What do you think I did? I’ve become subtle in my old age, I think. I casually suggested to Hoppy that a fine topic for his weekly historical dinner would be the battle of Thermopylae, by way of discussing my recent rereading of Heroditus, and so had only to arrive, with Father and Peter, to meet the noted expert on that very battle, Doctor Tobias Kenyon. Large may be a misleading description; Dr Kenyon has a tall, broad frame not filled in, and a prodigious leonine mane of silver hair. He looks like he might have been quite handsome once, and looms most imposingly now. He speaks quite expertly on the Pelopenesian wars and Grecian history in general. And he is a don of the most donnish sort. He holds forth quite forcefully on all subjects. During dinner Peter, as planned, mentioned his acquaintance Repton, ever so cavalierly. “Repton? James Repton?”
What followed, Polly, was perhaps the finest iteration I have ever heard of the classic Oxford diatribe on the degeneracy of the new generation and of ones students’ in particular, and I have heard a great many. The classical rhetoric employed! The precision of his diction! The keen insight into his audience! The passion with which he spoke! The man could be in politics, Polly, and hold Parliament in the hollow of his hand. It was quite moving. And the substance was this - that this man, Repton, a scholar of such unusual promise, has wasted his gifts. At first, he was a devoted historian, but as the years have rolled on, he has been seduced by more commonplace charms, and his attention taken from it’s proper pursuits to rest merely (for shame) on gaming and horses and women and drink. If you ask me, I can’t imagine that the Repton I saw had to be seduced away from the muse of history or any other high calling, but since Kenyon has a greater acquaintance with him, and so his assertions (elevated as they were in the telling) must be given weight.
And what did he say with relevance to our concern? It is not as clear as one could hope; he says that Repton missed all lectures for the first several weeks of term, but his indefatigable friends Parks and Baker Nelson claimed that he was mewed up in his rooms, brought low by some sort of strange fever. Yet another depth to this strange puzzle. Is this a fiction put out to disguise Repton’s absence from Oxford, or is it finally a truth which reconciles Mrs. Morrow’s side of the story with Repton’s own?
None of this illuminates the Bath question, however, and to do so, I have finally come up with a plan. Why have we never thought to ask Aunt Sylvia, Polly? Is that not an odd omission on both our parts? How could we have been so remiss? Aunt Sylvia knows everyone in Bath, and all it’s concerns, and no one relishes a good mystery more than she. I have corrected our mistake, however; I have written and asked her to find out all she can about the Reptons, and whether one James Repton was in Bath at easter and if so for how long. I think we shall soon - finally! - have a definitive answer.
To answer another of your Oxford questions, I have had Peter and everyone else I can think of make inquiries, and there seems to be no young man of Brasenose with a name like France fitting Mrs. Morrow’s description. As you say, Bert France and Charles Francis cannot be the man. John Kellogg, Martin Thell and Lazlo Havel are short and dusky; so is Robert Patkin, but he is famous for never smoking, and in any case, the names are all too dissimilar. We have not come up with a single man that meets both descriptions, even casting our net through all of Oxford. No, Polly, unless Mrs. Morrow’s memory has been grossly mistaken by her distress, the short and dusky young smoker must have given her a false name. OR the name is true, but the man is not of Oxford. So strange! I have the strongest suspicion something this duplicitous must be connected to Arthur’s disappearance. We have set Dora’s gang on the look out for anyone meeting the description, perhaps a tradesman from the town, and hope that their search will gather fruit. If nothing else, this intrigue prevents them from indulging in more dubious ones of their own devising.
I am quite disconcerted by what you write of the odd visit you paid to Florrie and her mother. Does it not seem likely, Polly, that this supercilious Miss Knatchbull is the cause of the uncomfortable secrecy? Well, I suppose I can think of another - that Florrie does not want her brother to know she has consulted us - but it seems as likely, if not more so, that they are most intent on trying to conceal the disappearance from Edmund’s betrothed. Would you agree? It is your impression of the scene that makes me think so, so I unless I have misread you I think you must. Perhaps they fear she will not marry him if she knows the truth, that she (or her father) would be shy of anything close to scandal? Or perhaps, if Arthur was indeed kidnapped to exert some sort of pressure on Edmund, the pressure has to do with Miss Knatchbull or the baronet. Or a secret in Edmund’s past, or a family secret, he would not wish known to the Knatchbull family? Fascinating, fascinating.
It may be terrible to speculate thus about our friends, to - as you wrote, Polly - derive such interest from their misfortune, but I own I am enthralled. So many questions!
How vexing, and peculiar, that you had to wait so long to look at the note. Perhaps Edmund had it in his possession and Florrie had to steal it back? One thing is certain, the writing smacks strongly of bitterness. Whomever it is feels they have a claim on Morrow’s attention, time, service? Pay us our due - what can that mean? What do they believe they are owed, and by whom? And clearly acts as if Morrow should know and acknowledge them. Do you not think so? Is Florrie so very, very positive that her brother has no idea who the criminals are? I think he must, Polly. I don’t think I will be happy until you corner him and force him to list his possible enemies for you. Do you think you can? Then, how can anyone explain the oddity of the kidnappers not writing back for so long. Is it possible, do you think, that they want something which is tied to an event? I’m not sure I say that as clearly as I could wish - I mean that, perhaps they want influence in some situation which has not arisen yet - something, perhaps, to do with his job or his marriage. On the other hand, perhaps there is a falling out amongst the villains which is responsible for this silence! Perhaps they have lost Arthur.
I fear my imagination is just going to run away with me. We will simply have to ferret out the truth, so I can stop extrapolating.
I adored your adventure with Walter and the note, Polly. Stained with beer, was it? Well, that certainly sounds like something we do see every day. I’m going to add his ready identification of that amber liquid to my list of ways to make Walter Davenforth blush when next we meet. If you were here, I’m sure I would tease you horribly about making yet another conquest. You may think he still finds you a dragon, but there is another explanation, one not so very difficult to believe, for a man being rather baffled by the presence of an intelligent and pretty woman which would reflect a little better on you both. However, I shall not plague you (or at least not any longer) on the subject, but shall simply say that whether or not you are correct about Walter’s state of mind, I am quite of your opinion in general. No matter what someone has done to me, and no matter how much I enjoy overturning the expectations of the stuffy and shallow-minded, it plunges me deeply to think that any one has a poor opinion of me.
Which brings me to mind of another unpleasantness. Try as I might - and for several days I did actively try - I cannot avoid My Friend Bradford. What misery! We attend too many of the same lectures, too many of the same parties and dinners, too much of everything. Father actually brought the ill-judging barbarian (how I love your description) to tour the Ashmolean the Monday day after that infamous dinner, and I was forced to endure all his questions and false smiles, and to smile falsely back at him myself. Though perhaps I should not say false. There is a sort of questioning look about him which makes me think him unsure of what I heard.
The first time we met after Dr P’s party, that Sunday after Church, he seemed to expect a renewal of our earliest, most lively conversation. And in truth, I didn’t know how to react. Is it best to pretend I heard nothing? It made me wonder if the horrid fellow wasn’t testing me in some way, pushing me to admit if I had heard him, almost daring me to rudeness. I couldn’t speak with him with ease or enjoyment - and yet, I could not cut him, either. And then, to see Papa take him in hand, giving him the grand tour - what could be more odious than seeing Father extend his usual kindness to such a viper? Perhaps I shouldn’t, since my eavesdropping was accidental, and since his comments were so egregious as to obliviate all reproof, but I feel so mortified in his presence, not least because I loathe allowing someone to so unsettle me. I wish I could be entirely cold and cut him, but I fear provoking Father’s comment, and Father is unfortunately quite enthusiastic about his company. And of course it would inspire even more commentary than the unfortunate dinner party incident did. I did not throw anything at his head, as you suggested (lovely image), but I wonder, Polly, what you think I ought to do. Should I speak to Father about what I overheard? Oh, Polly, I don’t know what is best. I think I could bear anything rather than hurt Father, and yet, to see him with such a man, not knowing his vileness... It quite upsets me. I think I am nonsensical today, and fret too much about everything.
Your question about Peter and Jane makes me feel rather guilty, for the Morrow question, as we have come to call it, has consumed much of his time this past week or so. I hope Jane does not take it ill. They are truly quite dissimilar, are they not? I have no idea if either means to make a go of it; I think perhaps because they are so dissimilar, I haven’t particularly assumed either meant anything by it. There is no fervor that I can see on either side, no poetry, no longing. They are both fine, bright people, however, and I’m sure could do well together if they wished. Perhaps I will ask Cecily if Jane has admitted to more serious feelings.
When I said that I find it impossible to make Hen my confidant, I little thought that she must feel the same way. Otherwise, how could I not know that she is in love? I have not had the least suspicion. Even to write it seems extraordinary - Hen in love? I am dumbfounded. You must tell me with whom, Polly, and relieve my maddening curiosity; in return, I will tell you all I know about this young man. I own I cannot imagine who it is. I wonder if that isn’t the reason for all the whispered conferences with Evie, and the sudden interest in punting. I begin to suspect we are not lolling about on the Thames for the healthful exercise and fresh air, but rather to see someone, or be seen by him. How strange, to be party to an intrigue and never know it.
We have begun quite a fad in ladies boating, by the by. You would love it - it’s quite a spectacle. The young men are just entranced.
Your loving Alice

P.S. Aunt Sylvia’s letter has arrived just in time for me to read it and send it to you. I am NOT going to rewrite my letter, though now I feel as if I should. For what has she found but that James Repton was in fact in Bath for a week and half into term. As you can see from her letter, she is quite positive. Which means that Mrs. Morrow’s first information was correct. I have even stranger news for you, however, Polly. We have found out the identity of the mysterious France. France is Roger Baker Nelson’s valet.
How Mrs. Morrow came to take him for a student is far less clear, as well as what he was doing loitering and smoking and trading stories that his master, clearly, would like to keep secret. And you can’t imagine to whom I owe this intriguing knowledge. It was mentioned to me in an entirely unrelated conversation by, of all people, your fat and charming beau, Bannister Wilberforce. Fascinating.
To sum up, we are utterly surrounded by falsehoods at every turn. Repton lied to his tutor, and lied to Peter and I about the length of his stay away, though not his location. I can understand his lying to his tutor, but why to us? What had he to do in Bath that he could not explain? His friends lied to everyone. France might have lied in claiming to be a student. If nothing else he did not act as befits his station, and possibly did not dress so, either, or else how would Mrs. Morrow so mistake him, and is that not yet another form of falsehood? Then, clearly someone lied about Arthur. It seems likely that Arthur lied about Arthur. Florrie and Mrs. Morrow are dissembling, if nothing else, to Miss Knatchbull and possibly to Edmund. I cannot imagine, Polly, where this slithering mass of lies will take us.

Thoughtful

the 10th letter

Posted by valancy_s on 2006.01.09 at 18:31
Tags:
Office of The Reader
Fleet Street, London


Alice,

I'm just returned from interviewing Mrs. Morrow and want to write while it's fresh. She asks me to stipulate, however, that she was greatly distressed during the visit to Oxford and her memory may not be fully reliable.
Mrs. Morrow arrived at Brasenose around two o'clock and went to the main entrance, where she stopped a 'short, dusky' young man who was loitering outside with a cigarette and asked if students were likely to be found with their tutors at that time of day. She introduced herself as Mrs. Morrow, and the young man asked if she was a relation of Arthur's. She said she was his mother, but that it was Mr. James Repton she wished to find. The young man, who said his name was France ('or something like that'), told her he knew both Morrow and Repton and directed her to the rooms of the latter's tutor, Tobias Kenyon. When Mrs. Morrow asked if France had seen either of the young men recently, he said no and took his leave. She went inside and found Dr. Kenyon's rooms. He was just coming out of the door when she arrived. She describes him as a 'large, silver-haired gentleman' and he seems to have behaved quite brusquely. When Mrs. Morrow asked if he had seen James Repton, he said he hadn't set eyes on the fellow since last term, and stalked away. Convinced (perhaps prematurely) that Mr. Repton was also missing, Mrs. Morrow left Oxford.

You can picture how long this account took to draw from Mrs. Morrow (like a cork from a stubborn bottle!). I have left out all her comments which did not bear directly on the subject -- a blend of anxiety and self-importance which you can easily imagine for yourself.

Though I know nothing of Dr. Kenyon, I can't justly call his unhelpful behavior suspicious, since his manner characterizes many dons I do know. But you have perhaps already met him, and can tell how to read his remarks. As to Mrs. Morrow's undersized informant, I can't think who he could have been... but then I can scarcely claim to know all, or even most of the young men at Brasenose! Pale, bulky Bert France certainly doesn't fit the description. Charles Francis of Magdalen knew the Morrows, didn't he? -- but no, he's away on the Continent till autumn. Well, the tutor is the main thing. Do write immediately with any new discoveries. Is it terrible of me to derive such interest from our friend's misfortune?

Now I must get back to work! I've been typing at this instead of my society news for the past half-hour, and Mr. Marigold is sure to scold if he catches me.


Excitedly yours,

Polly

Thoughtful

the 9th letter

Posted by valancy_s on 2006.01.04 at 11:27
Tags:
Windleigh House

Monday, May 20th


Darling, much-abused Alice,

My pen is shaking. What an odious, despicable, insensitive, ill-judging, tasteless barbarian! I am amazed at your restraint -- I would have hurled the broken pot at his head. He wouldn't have put on his hat for a month without flinching. Believe me, when I wished that Mr. Bradford might be memorably horrid, I certainly never meant his horridness to be directed at you and our family! I feel quite put out with Fate for taking me so literally.

To be as scrupulously fair as yourself, I will say it does not surprise me that he had heard the slander and believed it. Many people, not all evil, seem to have. And that Dr. Pomeroy's paeans in our family's defense did not hold weight with him... well, one can't in fairness hold that against him either. But that he should mention the slander at a party where Papa's daughters were present; that he should patronize your intelligence and insult my motives (as if I could have done more to escape his friend's attentions!) at all, let alone among our acquaintance! Inexcusable. If he had called you 'not handsome enough to dance with' I would have been less offended. Indeed it is your offense I feel for, Alice. You hardly deserved the traditional punishment of the eavesdropper in return for doing clumsy Cecily a good turn.

At least Hen seems to have enjoyed the party. Please send me your impressions of this young man -- her remarks are too exuberant to make sense of. Odd to think of reserved Hen falling in love. In fact, I find it hard to accept that the twins are really old enough to have lovers... though I'm sure it's very unfair of me, since when I turned eighteen Stephen Carmichael had already made his ill-judged proposal. At least Will does not write to me about young ladies (when he writes at all); I would worry for them, poor hypothetical girls, if he did. And while my heart goes out to Dora, left at home, I'm only too glad that we have two or three years before she's mobbed with suitors. Speaking of love, though, how expensive is this expensive hat you're smitten with? Beyond birthday-gift range?

Now the party is dealt with, may I tell you how in awe I am of your detective work? To think that Mr. Repton should actually be strolling around Oxford, feigning ignorance of the whole affair! I suppose he really could be ignorant, but he sounds like a fishy character. Let me know the moment you turn anything further up. What a stroke of brilliance to ask Peter Lewis to help you. He's not still squiring Jane F. around, is he? I could never understand the attraction there. They're so dissimilar. But then, he has always seemed too generally agreeable to focus his attentions on one girl for long. In any event, write when you've spoken to Mr. Repton's tutor, and in pre-payment I'll reveal what little I've learned about this mysterious affair. But I shall tell it in order.

On Friday morning, the day after my last letter, I called on the Morrows. I happened to arrive at a time when Edmund and his betrothed were visiting. Their presence is the only explanation I can think for the change in Florence and indeed her mother, since last I saw them. Instead of being overwhelmed with concern for Arthur, they seemed fretful and anxious to avoid the subject. I tried several times to lead up to it, but was steered forcibly away with a question about the social engagements I have been attending for the Reader, or some other nonsense. If Edmund was the cause of this reticence, he certainly didn't show it with any displays of severity; in fact I found him far more charming than I expected. Miss Knatchbull is less agreeable -- very supercilious. Yes, there is a baronetcy of Knatchbull, you dear innocent girl. And I would have been amazed if you'd heard of it.

By the end of my call I was so determined to talk to Florrie alone that I artfully left a glove behind. She spotted it so quickly that I think she must have been hoping to contrive the same thing, and came into the foyer almost at my heels. The moment their chamber door closed behind her, her face took on its familiar distressed expression.

'Florrie, what's wrong?' I asked. 'Have I pried too much into your family troubles?'

'No, no!' she exclaimed, and then dropped her voice to a whisper. 'You have no idea how much we value your help.'

'I haven't been of much help yet,' I said, 'but I think Alice is in a fair way to discovering something.' She looked cheered at this, so I continued, 'If you have any new information--'

There was a rustle on the other side of the door and she held up her hand rather dramatically to hush me. Then we heard the murmur of conversation resume, and she shook her head in answer to my last remark. 'Well then,' I whispered, catching her agitation though I had no idea of its cause, 'Might I at least look at the ransom note myself? --in the envelope, if possible.'

'I'll send it over directly,' said Florrie. Then she seemed overcome, almost to the point of tears, and after pressing my hand gratefully, went back into the room. Really, where has she picked up these little mannerisms? If I were not so sympathetic to her situation, I'd guess she had been studying the heroines of novels.

All that day and evening I expected every ring at the door or servant's footfall to herald the approach of Florrie's packet, but it never arrived. The next night was Grandmother's dinner for the Davenforths.

Goodness, I haven't even told you about that yet, have I? Grandmother decided that, since the Davenforths had had us to dine, we had to return the courtesy. I was pleased, until it occurred to me that Mr. Henry Davenforth might attend. To be patronized and sneered at abroad is bad enough, but to be patronized and sneered at in one's own home! 'Home'... such as it is. In fact Grandmother does a fair bit of both, but she's family. And I will say, she had another of her moments of surprising one with niceness, and ordered me a new gown for the dinner party. It's a dream! Creamy yellow silk with a pale blue train, spotted over with roses. Mother would faint to see me dressed in yellow after all she's done to keep me us of it. Absurd to have a prejudice against a colour, especially such a scrumptious one.

In any event, Saturday night was set aside for the party and the Davenforths were duly invited. They accepted for all except the heir, which pleased me to no end. Dinner was pleasant, with the parents as loquacious and the son as remote as ever. Sir Henry asked a positive barrage of questions about the Reader. By the way, don't compare my work there to what's done at the Town Crier. Working for the society column of an intellectual newspaper is surprisingly interesting, since our readers want to hear about the proceedings of political, musical, and scientific gatherings as well as the latest gala. Mr. Marigold gave me an assignment for next week, to write up a meeting of the Fabians -- I'm thrilled at the very thought! But I have digressed. Back to the Morrow business.

As soon as we retired to the drawing room there was a ring at the door, and in a moment Jeffries came in with a packet for me. When I saw that it was from Florrie I begged permission to read my letter and went into the study. It was Grandfather Windleigh's study long ago and is still fitted up in a masculine style, with a huge wooden desk that seemed well-suited to my labours. Shelling the outer page (Florrie's usual stationery) I examined the inner envelope with care. I hoped that the direction, or even the stationery, might give some clue about the sender if I examined it in a careful, scientific fashion. Sadly, I learned very little. The envelope was plain and heavy, sealed with ordinary-looking candle wax (Mr. Holmes would no doubt be able to determine the type of candle and possible the chandler's name, but my scope of knowledge in such matters is, alas, limited), addressed in plain manly writing to Mr. Edmund Morrow. It had been sliced along the top with a letter opener, and as it seemed evident that I could learn no more from the envelope I pulled out the letter. It was a single half-sheet of similar thick paper, folded once. Inside, the writing was more childlike and blocky than in the direction--I presume, to disguise the author's hand. The contents were as follows:

IF YOU WANT YOUR BROTHER ALIVE
PAY US OUR DUE
YOU WILL HEAR SOON WHAT TO DO.
TELL NO ONE OR HE'LL WISH YOU HADN'T.

Who and how many is that 'us'? Does 'our due' imply a perceived debt of some nature, or is simply a way of speaking? Or a blind? Why haven't the villains written again as promised? Too many questions, and no answers.

As I turned the sheet over in my hands, pondering these questions, I noticed a brownish stain in the lower right corner of the page. Looking at it carefully and holding it up to the light, I guessed that it was spilled liquid of some sort (I have, as you know, some experience in the area of blotched letters). It seemed a very long shot, but I wondered if I could identify the liquid--and if so, if this would tell me anything about the author or the place in which the note had been written. I hunted through Grandfather's desk until I found a clean sheet of paper of similar weight, and then rung for Jeffries. As you can imagine, he looked rather shocked when I asked for glasses of whiskey, rum, bourbon, and any other brown liquors he happened to see. I suppose I could have given him some explanation but I'm afraid I enjoyed the look on his face far too much. When he returned I busied myself for several minutes, pouring spots of each liquid onto the paper, sniffing them and holding them up to the light. No doubt I made quite a spectacle when Walter Davenforth walked in.

'Oh!' he said, and then seemed at a loss for words. I was in a similar position, having fondly hoped that I would not be missed or sought for some time longer. I had just made up my mind to encourage his departure with icy hauteur when he gathered his wits and remarked 'I had no idea anyone--hem--Mrs. Windleigh said there was a copy of Carlyle's French Revolution in here.'

'You're interested in the French Revolution?' I asked, quite forgetting to be icy in my astonishment.

'No, my mother and Mrs. Windleigh wish to settle a bet... concerning Robespierre's height, I believe.'

I very nearly laughed aloud. I'm afraid I'll never master good manners. 'It's above the mantelpiece,' I said, pointing, 'and I wish them luck in finding the answer.' He hunted on the shelf and, securing his prey, was about to leave when I had the most improper but irresistible idea. A distracting ink-stain on his sleeve put the thought into my mind that Walter Davenforth (as a student, a chemist, and a less than tidy person) was probably quite familiar with the subject of my study.

'Mr. Davenforth, do you think you might do me a favor and look at this stain? I'm trying to determine what liquid it might have come from.'

For a moment he just gazed at me unreadably. Then his eyes shifted to my sheet of piebald paper, and he began to look intrigued. He drew up a chair next to me and asked what each of the spots were, and did a few of his own. Then he took the letter, and not only looked at the spot but scratched it and rubbed it between his fingers as well. 'Fascinating,' he murmured. I was torn between excitement at the prospect of gaining some clue, and amusement at this change from his usual abstraction. He pointed to a cleaner, semicircular mark by the edge of the paper and commented: 'Bottom of the glass.' Then he indicated the larger stain. 'Sloshing.' He sniffed the mark once more and then unknit his brows. 'It's beer, Miss Windleigh,' he announced rather proudly.

Beer! I hadn't even thought of that, and yet now that I looked at the stain I realized I've seen just such a mark on many of the essays Papa brings home from his students. Without thinking, I exclaimed at my own stupidity. 'Of course! Why didn't I recognize it? It's not as though I'm unfamiliar with beer!'

He grinned widely -- so widely, in fact, that one saw many more teeth than is customary -- but the overall effect, on his usually studious face, was surprisingly pleasant. I suddenly realized what I had said, and felt myself colouring. I murmured something about Oxford and Papa, but the more I said the more amused he seemed. Alice, you know I cannot bear to be embarrassed. But when I managed to meet his eye, it occurred to me that he didn't seem afraid of me anymore -- which was certainly a pleasant discovery. I do hate feeling like a female dragon. Just at that moment, Jeffries came in to say Grandmother was asking for me. All amusement and, well, I suppose I could even call it chumminess, fell away from Walter in an instant. It was as if he suddenly realized whom he was treating like a human. We went into the parlor, me dying to stay with the letter and he, it seemed, just dying to be anywhere else. The rest of the evening was rather a bore.

I believe I'm learning quite a lot about myself in this time away from my darling, comfortable family. For instance: that while I love to shock people, I can't bear to think someone has a truly poor opinion of me. Doesn't make much sense, does it? Yet it's so. Grandmother, for instance -- if I was meek and conciliatory I suppose I might eventually win her affection, but I won't do it... yet I am unreasonably hurt by her disdain.

Speaking of disdain! My mind keeps running on your last letter and its mustachioed villain. I am really out of patience with Dr. Pomeroy for having such a friend. 'No fault of mine made me his toast,' as all Oxford knows, but when a man thinks you perfection it's disappointing to find he's a bad judge of character!

Now then. I shall cast off this pointless reiteration of unpleasant subjects, and throw myself into the pursuit of villainous beer-drinkers responsible for Arthur Morrow's disappearance. With that as our only clue, we must head up our suspect list with undergraduates and cabmen!

With love for my pretty genius of a sister (who need not rely on boorish Americans for proof of her merit!) and kisses to Gus, I remain,

Yours affectionately,

Polly


P.S. I shall call at the Bell tomorrow and ask Mrs. Morrow who at Brasenose told her Mr. Repton was not there. I'm afraid I'll be too occupied at the Reader to write at length, but expect a note in a day or two.

smirk

the 8th letter

Posted by tinuviellen on 2005.12.18 at 11:57
May 11,1891
Christ Church College
Oxford University

Dear Polly,
When was I last so angry? I am finding it difficult to think past the last day’s fury. The white slavers - nothing. That drunken oaf Harry Keene last autumn? Less than a grain of sand. No, I cannot think when I was last so angry. Then again, no, of course I can, and so I’m sure can you; it must be the first day we heard that terrible report circulate about Papa.
I must sound nonsensical. Let me endeavor to be rational for you, dear sister, as I introduce you to my madness. Last night - indeed I should say, earlier this evening, for in truth I write now because I’ve been too cross to sleep - Dr Pomeroy gave his long awaited party, to herald the long anticipated arrival of My Friend Bradford. His joy in his friend is such that your lap dog entirely filled the upper room at the Lamb with a larger assortment of the usual scholars - not merely members of the House but including several noted mathematicians from Balliol, Dr. Carlisle of Campion, a brace of historians from Merton, and every antiquarian within a ten miles radius. I’ve been reliably informed that he even invited Dr Ruskin, though of course he did not attend. At any rate, Papa, Hen (yes, even Hen ventured out - and I might add that her evening passed rather more happily than mine) and I anticipated a more than usually pleasant evening. Dora was so furious to be left at home. We donned - but of course you know just what we were wearing, don’t you, and could inform me just as easily as I could recite it to you. I shall simply say we were creditably crimped, starched, pressed, and that we arrived just when we ought. Inevitably I felt a trifle shabby. Cecily Follett wore a perfectly charming new hooded coat, in golden silk with such lovely embroidery. It took me some moments to overcome my envy.
With so many outsiders invited, the conversation was agreeably varied, and the hor d’ouerves excellent; the evening began quite as nicely as I’m sure Dr. P intended. We enjoyed the food, but the press was such that I caught only glimpses of the guest of honor for almost the first hour - enough to see that he had lovely clothes and a rather alarming mustache. I was having a cozy chat about Matthew Arnold’s theory of criticism with Hoppy and Dr Martin, when Dr Pomeroy finally brought over the man himself. He introduced me as Father’s daughter and (of course) your sister, “whom he had said so much about.” Hoppy, bless him, began to enumerate my personal claims to attention, all of which (bless him again) centred on my scholarship, and soon resumed our former debate. Dr Bradford entered into the discussion easily; from a closer vantage point I was able to admire the extremely fine cut of his clothes, and lament the horrible, prodigious, and most ill-judging mustache. He’s really much too young to have such a large mustache - I might guess that he wants to appear more dignified than he is, because otherwise it quite defies interpretation. I will be scrupulously fair - his hair is thick and handsome. He does not make an unpleasant initial impression. His accent is more like Dr Pomeroy’s Bostonian than like our Mother’s, yet not inharmonious. There, my conscience is clear.
Both Hoppy and Dr Martin were almost immediately called away to end a furious debate springing up between George Prow and Allister Bacon - quite the usual sort, with all its usual claims to attention. After a moment of watching the fracas, I asked Dr Bradford about his book; initially he seemed merely flattered that I had read it, but as my questions became more detailed, his conversation expanded most informatively. This exchange evolved into a rather stimulating conversation ranging from the relative features of Assyrian and Etruscan tumuli, and the various merits of Harvard’s museums versus our own, to a number of entertaining anecdotes about your Dr P. Later when I am not so vexed I will have the patience to tell you some of them. The one about a novel use for shoe wax is immensely entertaining.
Dinner began soon after. Dr Bradford was seated with relatively near, with Father and the Lydells and the Frys, whilst I was paired with Marcus Pilcherd; one can only hear so much about his new bicycle and it’s system of gears and pedals, before one attends more to the conversations of one’s neighbors instead. The duck was captivating, however. After dinner I staged a delightful escape from the verbose Mr. Pilcherd with Cecily and Jane Frederickson.
Little more than a half hour later, I was concealed behind a potted palm trying to sponge red wine off the lap of Cecily’s gown (an all too common occurrence which makes me wish for its own sake as well as mine that I was the owner of her new coat), when the words “the Miss Windleighs” drifted to my ears on an American accent.
“Alice!” Cecily hissed, “listen!”
A quick glimpse through the palm fronds proved the speaker to be My Friend Bradford, in close confederation with of all people the odious Oscar Braithwaite.
“...I didn’t expect such heights of erudition from them, I must confess.”
“Surely Pomeroy told you of the excellent reputation for scholarship the three Miss Windleighs hold?” Oh, to be defended by Oscar Braithwaite! There was an elegant sarcasm and mockery underlying his praise which stiffened my back more thoroughly than my corset. By now Cecily was peering out above me.
“Well,” drawled Bradford with an enormous, uncomfortably conscious smile, “yes, he did, but my good friend Pomeroy sometimes runs away with himself. His accolades seemed - excessive. I was expecting that this Miss Pauline’s ornamental graces were the real source of her grand charms.” Braithwaite sniggered.
“You think their reputation is exaggerated? ”
“I did. After meeting to her sister, though, I could be mistaken. Not what one usually expects in a bluestocking, just as decorative as reported, but she’d read my book, understood it, asked more intelligent questions than you usually hear from the dons. Surprisingly sensible. ” This was annoying as well as gratifying. He was surprised I could understand his book? The ignorance of men, I thought, truly knows no bounds.
And then he proved me right by continuing to speak.
“No, I didn’t expect that from the daughter of the Haverford Hoax. I thought it was more likely they were after Pomeroy’s money to pay the father’s debts.”
The barefaced effrontery! What man could ever say such things, heaping slander upon slander? That a stranger would canvas the topic so coolly, here in Oxford of all places, though it has been proved over and over in court and in the papers that Father’s name was used in the swindle without his consent! I know you will tell me that so many of our former friends do not credit his exoneration (even at its grievous cost!), but I did expect that at least his fellow antiquarians, especially one unlikely to be prejudiced by professional jealousy, who must get at least some of his information from the laughable but innocuous Pomeroy, did believe in his innocence.
Upon hearing such mention of the slander which has so nearly undone our dear Papa and done away with so much of our family’s comfort (and, in so many eyes, Father’s respectability and reputation), and such a gross misinterpretation of your own behavior, I actually straightened up completely and knocked the back of my head into Cecily’s chin. Cecily reared back in surprise, backed into the wall, and I lost my balance completely and ended in a heap on the floor, covered with dirt and pottery shards from the dratted plant. And nothing would complete the humiliation further than Mr. Friend Bradford being the first to assist me to my feet, bringing me to a chair, bringing water. There was an abominable bustle about me just as I most wanted to sink through the floor. Cecily muttered about her clumsiness, and the stain on her skirt, but Braithwaite’s ungentlemanly laughter made it clear that he at least knew we had been eavesdropping. I couldn’t once raise my eyes to Bradford - and how maddening, to expose oneself to derision in front of such a person. I hardly know if I was even marginally polite, and how maddening to have to care! Oh, my Polly, it was so mortifying.
The rest of the party was a blur. All of my enjoyment in Dr P’s excellent arrangements was spoiled, and we left soon after.
What a relief to tell you this, Polly. Of course I could say nothing about my real distress to Father, and I find it impossible to confide in Hen. I rather wish I had something to break, or that I could feel it wouldn’t be unbecoming to stamp my feet like a petulant child. As it is I feel like nothing so much as an angry, spitting camel. Perhaps I should not have told even you, my closest confidant, for I don’t wish to give you fresh pain over his vile insinuation, but I do so need an outlet for my vexation. If others share such an ugly, spiteful misapprehension, I hope your removal to London has cleared your name. Cruel, impossible man - and foolish Alice for minding so much to hear what I know must be spoken (or thought) so often.

May 15
What else is there which is more exciting, more invigorating, than research? What a joy to have such useful employ - not only my own work with our excellent Father, but a pressing favor to do for a friend! This is so much more satisfying than social engagements. And how much fun to be able to tell you all that I’ve found through dint of application in these last few days. I’m so glad I didn’t send the letter whilst I remained a ranting Fury. I am happy to ignore that myself. This addition will make your reading so much more pleasurable. It’s really been quite thrilling, Polly, that I find myself wishing even more than usual you were with me to share the adventure. I have to remind myself that the mystery is serious and urgent, or I would float away with the giddy thrill of the chase.
I don’t know that I’ve done more than increase the oddness of the puzzle before us, and yet there’s such charm in a project taking me outside my beloved museum and into the sun. Yesterday after Father’s morning lecture, Peter Lewis and I went for a very informative walk. As you might imagine, Peter is a little acquainted with James Repton, and several of his close companions. Peter is a little acquainted with everyone. You don’t think I was wrong to consult him, do you? After all, he knows Arthur as well, and had noticed his absence. There could hardly a more perfect ally for such an intrigue. I don’t know how he find enough hours in the day to make all the acquaintances he does, or how he could many secrets, and yet completely lack the sort of low manners one might expect in someone so well informed. At any rate, he and I had a conference on the subject after church on Sunday, and late Tuesday morning set off through the sunshine in search of Repton’s friends, two Brasenose juniors called Philip Parks and Roger Baker Nelson.
We had quite a lively, cheering tramp through Christ Church Meadow, chattering about the mystery and about Homer. We had moved into High Street when Peter stopped and strained forward, peering at a knot of young men outside a shop.
“It can’t be,” he muttered under his breath.
“What? I asked, failing utterly to catch his attention.
“Repton?” he cried out.
A black haired, rather saucy looking young man turned at his call, waved, smiled, spoke briefly to his companions, and began walking towards us.
“Repton!” I whispered to him. “You can’t mean that this is James Repton?”
“I do,” he said, “there is no question.” And before he could say more, the man was upon us.
“Lewis!” he said. “Good to see you. What a fine morning! ” and then, with the sort of oily, insinuating manner I loathe, his gaze flicked between Peter and myself. It was all I could do not to flinch. “You seem to be having an especially fine morning.”
“Indeed I am!” Like Father, Peter can talk to anyone. Astonishing. “Let me introduce Miss Alice Windleigh - Miss Windleigh, Mr. James Repton.”
“How do you do?”
“One of the famous Miss Windleighs! This is a fine morning, indeed. All of Oxford must envy you - and now me.” He lingered rather too long over my hand. “Enchanted, Miss Windleigh.”
I made a slight curtsey and smiled. Much better to sit back and let Peter talk, whilst I watch; Repton didn’t at all seem the sort to speak honestly to a woman.
No, I couldn’t resist. What will you think of me?
“The famous Miss Windleighs. Come now, Mr. Repton -I think you must mean the infamous Miss Windleighs?”
Archness had just the right effect. His oiliness was much encouraged. He responded with a tiresomely familiar panegyric to our (or I suppose my) better than reported looks. I did my best to respond as Laetitia Fry might, though I had I brought a fan, I might have done better.
“Where have you been hiding this flattering soul, Mr. Lewis? How can we never have met before?”
“I fear he hasn’t been here lately.” Peter responded with a perfect touch of affected jealousy. I felt quite as if I were performing in a play. “I didn’t know you were back, Repton - I didn’t expect the pleasure of seeing you.”
“Back? Of course I’m back. Term started two weeks ago! Nose held firmly to the grindstone and all that.”
“Oh. Excuse me - so sorry - Gill said you were delayed. Weren’t you off in Scotland with Morrow?” (I’m so pleased Peter wasn’t tempted to be completely honest. Do you recall his friend Robert Gill, Polly? Medical student, glasses, large clammy hands, but expansive and jolly nonetheless. I feel sure you’ve met.)
“Morrow? Who? And why ever would I be in Scotland?”
“I’m sorry - I thought Gill said you’d gone home to Scotland with Morrow, you know, Artie Morrow, and hadn’t come back for start of term. I was rather jealous - thought you might be having some sort of adventure.”
“To Scotland for the holiday? I’ve never been to Scotland in my life. I’ve been to Bath. Never went anywhere with Morrow. Not that he isn’t a pleasant sort of chap, just not my sort.” I rather shudder to imagine what snobbish thing he meant by his sort. Ghastly.
Peter made noises about being glad to see Repton back, sorry he hadn’t run into him sooner, and wouldn’t they see each other soon at Old Ralph’s party, and with some strong hints about wishing to see me again, and another oily glance, we were allowed to detach ourselves relatively unmolested.
After a few moments incredulous conference, we immediately decamped in search of Repton’s friends after all; this news was so surprising that we felt we ought to have such independent confirmation of it as might fall within our power. We did proceed into Brasenose, found Mr. Parks and Mr. Baker Nelson. I won’t bore you with the details of our search, or descriptions of their persons or the places we met, or even the arts we used to wheedle out this information, as they are all unremarkable. I will only say that both young men separately corroborated Mr. Repton’s story, that both insist he has been here at Oxford since the start of term, and both agree that Repton hails from Surrey and that his holiday was spent in Bath.
Well! Can you imagine? Now I don’t know what to think. Can none of the information we have had from Florrie be trusted? Is Repton lying? I might just as soon as about what Repton is lying! Are his friends lying for him? Does this mean that Arthur Morrow lied to his mother about his companion or his destination, or that he was lied to himself? Was Repton his excuse or his deceiver? Is Repton as unconnected with the disappearance as he claims? Did Arthur really go to Scotland, or did he go to Bath with Mr. Repton, or to yet another, as now unknown location? Are Parks and Nelson lying? The possibilities for duplicity multiply. I would not judge the man a criminal because his manners don’t suit my taste - he may be oily and still not so very low. There are too many questions, Polly, and no clear way to answer them. How delicious, to have such food for thought.
You must ask Florrie immediately where her mother heard that Mr. Repton had not yet returned from his holiday. Was her information correct? Did someone intentionally deceive her, or is it our information that is farther from the truth? You must find out in the most specific and minute detail possible. Then we must think who we can write in Bath to see whether Mr. Repton’s presence there can be verified. We must still have some acquaintance there who can assist us with such a small question.

May 18
You will have to tell me, Polly, if this letter is sufficiently full of my self to suit your demands. I fear it is stuffed too full for me to add much more, even if it’s subject is not wholly to your specifications. Perhaps it does fulfill your requirements: it’s hardly my usual style. I can answer a few more of your questions. That My Friend Bradford was memorably horrid you already know. I’ve been studying Heroditus, as well as a new paper of John Evan's’, and few bits of poetry in my spare time. Hen has a great new friend whom she’s brought for family dinner on occasion, a new Somervillian called Evie Francis, a spare, dark, mysterious looking girl. Her conversation is well informed and decidedly opinionated, but I don’t as yet feel certain of her principles. There is an odd slipperiness to her. There must be a more comfortable balance between thoughtless openness and this seemingly artful reserve.
As for Father’s students, I shall save them for the day when they distinguish themselves in thought or deed, which I’m afraid may mean that you will never hear more of them. Truly, Polly, wouldn’t you rather hear a fine story if I have it, than hear a few names paired with hair color and height? I’m sure you don’t want to hear the violence they do to the classical languages, or you would have said so already. Father has had me correcting their translations of late, so I’m in a position to inform you with frightening precision.
Otherwise I walk a great deal, and talk with Peter and Hen and Albert and our other friends, and care for Father and Dora and Gus, who misses you as dreadfully as I. And there is something else, a bit embarrassing to admit. I have - oh, but I can hardly write it - I have falled in love with a hat. Of course I can’t afford to buy it, but I make a point to visit it almost every day in the window at Barkers. Even though I may not own it, it pleases me to know that this lovely, perfect hat exists.
Wishing you happiness less tempered with stoicism,
Your Alice

P.S. It took a surprising amount of effort to discover the identity of James Repton’s tutor, but I have found him, and hope to coax him into revealing Mr. R’s recent whereabouts. Was he late for term or not? I hope to have precise information for you - and an interesting tale of my methods in obtaining it - tomorrow or the next day. I hope by then you will have more information for me, as well, at least as to the kidnapper’s timetable.
And I fully forgot to say, but I agree with you completely about Mr. Edmund Morrow - I cannot help but suspecting that the kidnappers either know him, or want something specifically from him. It does seem telling, does it not, that he was the recipient of the note? I am just as sure you didn’t expect me to have heard of this engagement or Miss Knatchbull. Is there are a baronetcy of Knatchbull? In England? Why ever would I know that? How odd that you avoided The Town Crier only to write society notes for a finer paper.
And now I am off to join Cecily, Hen and Evie for a nice athletic punt about the river. Let us hope that Miss Francis is less slippery with an oar than with conversation!

Thoughtful

the 7th letter

Posted by valancy_s on 2005.12.05 at 16:43
Tags:
The House of Chill Wind(leigh)
Hanover Square
London

Thursday, May 16th


Dear Alice,

Before anything else, I want to insist that the next time you write, you set yourself to the task of composing a letter all about you. I mean it! It may be fair of poor Florrie, in her great distress, to commandeer all your attention; but it is certainly unfair of me to do so with my petty problems. So no more generous advice and loving concern. Tell me about any friends you may have made amongst this term's crop of new students, tell me about all our old acquaintance and how you are bearing up under the strain of entertaining them all, tell me about your own research and the classes you attend, and above all tell me about Dr. Pomeroy's dinner! No doubt My Friend Bradford will be horrid, but with luck he may prove memorably horrid. Your last few letters have been generous and self-sacrificing to a wonderful degree, and now it is time to be lovely and self-absorbed.

I'm sure you will wonder how I can say such frivolous things when Florrie's situation is so present and dire. Dear sis, I can barely believe it's true. All she said in her brief visit the other day was that her brother Arthur had been missing for two weeks and that they had come up to London to hunt for news of him--which was quite bad enough! Your tale of abduction and ransom notes horrifies me, even as I struggle to believe it. Doesn't it sound like something out of a serial novel, or one of those Gothic romances our grandmothers quivered over? (Though not Grandmother, of course. I'm sure she disapproved of such things, even in her giddy youth.) But if I was inclined to disbelieve the situation, the memory of Florrie's near-hysterical distress that day she came here would convince me. Action is certainly necessary, and since I am, as you say, favorably placed to assist them, I will do all I can. The day after I received your letter, I called on Florrie at the Bell. Unfortunately, she and her mother were out. The maid informed me that they had gone to have tea with Edmund Morrow. Apparently they are making the best of their enforced stay in London, using the time to get to know Edmund's fiancé. You may have heard of the engagement; Miss Knatchbull is the baronet's second daughter, and society considers her a surprisingly smart match for a nabob's son. I've never met either of the parties involved, so I can't offer a personal opinion on the subject.

How do I know of this, you may ask? I'm sure I never exhibited any remarkable knowledge of society news before, so well might you wonder. Dear sis, it's all part and parcel of my new profession. Now I'll be disappointed if you can't guess what department I have been assigned to at the Reader! But more on that later.

To continue about Florrie. I left her a note offering my aid and the Reader's resources in any investigation they may have going forward, and asking for more information. I haven't heard back from her yet, but expect to at any time. I'd like to begin asking around myself, but her story as you forwarded it affords few material leads. I considered going straight to Edmund's flat to speak to the whole family together, but... Alice, I know you'll say I've been reading The Moonstone too long and too late, but I can't help feeling that the ransom letter being sent to the elder son instead of the parent could well be a key to unraveling this ugly tangle. It certainly flies against all kidnapping traditions I ever heard of. Do you think it is possible, just possible, that Edmund Morrow was addressed because the kidnappers were particularly familiar with him? I of course don't mean to imply he could be involved or responsible in any way. But he is, as you say, a wealthy young man with a reputation for being a sharp, practical, well-connected businessman. If he has somehow drawn less savory attention... well, I felt it would be wise to organize these thoughts before interviewing him.

Incidentally, I really have been rereading The Moonstone. Why are so few writers of our day carrying Mr. Collins' torch of intelligent sensationalism? I could do with some more fictional shivers, to take the edge off those I'm encountering in reality. Which reminds me--I know you don't go in for penny dreadfuls, but what have you been reading? Poetry still, or have you branched out? I've been meaning to ask.

With the Morrow concerns looming it seems wrong to talk about anything else, but I'm sure you're eager to hear how my career at the Reader is flourishing. It's early days to say how I shall like it, but so far the work is interesting, even if my position is not quite what I expected. As I hinted above, I have been assigned to the society column. My duties mainly consist of organizing Mr. Marigold's notes and composing wedding and birth announcements. He has promised, though, that he will soon begin sending me out to attend and 'write up' minor events like lectures and lesser balls, such as the Chief Society Reporter cannot spare the time for. I'm looking forward to this, though of course am glad to have the work I'm doing now. I go to the office at least four days a week. Grandmother has arranged for Benjamin to drive me there in the morning and call for me in the early afternoon, so I will not shame the family or endanger myself by walking. The drives are pleasant; Benjamin is a terribly amusing storyteller. Of course, Grandmother objects strongly to my 'associating with the help' and thinks I have 'low tastes.' I yearn to point out to her that Mother was once what Grandmother would call 'the help,' before Grampy Harris made his money (governesses being quite as low as servants in Grandmother's estimation). But I bite my tongue in her presence, and ease my mind by encouraging Benjamin in his tale-telling and sending little things home with him, on the sly, for his children. I do wish I could have gone to stay with Grampy and Granny Harris in Pennsylvania instead of coming here! Can you imagine what fun it would be? If only the transatlantic passage wasn't so expensive!

But back to the Reader. I am doing interesting, if not challenging, work there--and earning a wage. How could I be anything but contented? There are small trials of course, such as I should really have expected. Miss Mitton, being a typist rather than a reporter, and engaged to be married to boot, is treated with cordial respect by the male staff. But I can't help noticing an edge in their address to me. This is probably my own fault; I have trouble remembering that all gentlemen are not like Papa and his friends, and I'm afraid I don't always behave with the reserve expected of a lady interloper amongst male strangers. No one is uncivil, though! Just a bit patronizing. Mr. Marigold pats me on the head (figuratively, of course) and sets me assignments like a schoolteacher. Mr. O'Halloran stands up at staff meetings and gives speeches about crumbling societal morals. At least Mr. Davenforth does not regularly attend the meetings! I can take condescension, but sarcasm withers me. I love your idea of impressing him so with my brilliance that I convert him to the cause of Women against his will... but I'm afraid there's a hitch. Mr. Davenforth takes absolutely no notice of my work, brilliant or otherwise. And I rather think I prefer it that way!

So all in all, I am really quite lucky in my new position. I'm sure I shall prove myself to those of my coworkers who are worth impressing. And if I do my job and my direct employer is satisfied, I will be too. Examining my finances, though, I think I may have to sojourn in Grandmother's hallowed halls a little longer. A boarding-house may be beyond my means for some time yet.

Which reminds me. I wrote as I did about our family finances because, despite Papa's wish that even his children be kept in the dark as to the extent of our distress, I felt that you had the right to know (as Mother felt about me). Clearly I misjudged; be assured that this is the last you will hear from me on the subject.

Do please send the Alice-full letter I've begged for. I miss you and the whole family very much. I don't suppose there's any chance of seeing any of you in London, even for a day or two, some time soon? In the meantime, I'll pursue poor Arthur Morrow's plight with all the means available. If you have trouble getting information about Mr. Repton, I will ask Mr. Murtaugh, the Crime reporter, to look into his disappearance. And I will undertake to learn what I can about Edmund Morrow's connections, for my own curiosity if nothing else. Do forgive the unfortunate delay of this letter (I have been working on it in bits and pieces as my time off from the Reader allows), and write soon!


Ever so affectionately,

Polly


Previous 10  Next 10