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the 25th letter

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

Dear Alice,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With love and metaphors,


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

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