29. A Blow from a Lady

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I hurried upstairs and dug through the bag with my personal correspondence to find Mrs Thrower's original letter. 

War widow, small pension, position in the house or caring for the men . . . and a letter of recommendation. 

How odd. Why didn't I remember that? 

I took the letter I'd been given downstairs out of the envelope and laid it on my desk next to the one I'd just dug out. 

The letter itself was exactly the same, but written in dramatically different handwriting and ink. The one that accompanied the original letter was written in fine sepia and with a practiced, sober hand, whereas the one that had just been forced upon me in the grand salon was a careful, but uneducated, attempt at a copy in plain, black ink.  

That could have been explained away easily enough -- if it hadn't been for the signature. 

The recommendation that had come with the letter was signed Arthur J. Mead, butler, and was followed by an address in Bath. The letter I'd just been given was signed Lady Bucking-Coombs, and had no address.  

A forgery was right! 

I'd have to show both papers to Agatha as soon as I could. Perhaps in a few hours after dinner when Mrs Thrower -- or whoever she was -- was safely tucked away somewhere. 

An image of Brooks utterly submerged in his detective novels suddenly appeared in my mind. What would he make of our mysterious guest? A murderess on the run? A poor servant who had witnessed a crime and was now attempting to escape the long-arm of the perpetrator? 

Did I really want to know? 

No. I didn't. Because I knew where it would lead him eventually -- to my reputation. 

Wasn't Brooks always telling me I was famous in a way, and warning me to be cautious? Hadn't he been terribly suspicious of James, thinking he was a stranger attempting to take advantage of my kindness?  What had he said . . . 'do you remember him or did he tug at your sleeve and claim to be one of ours'? 

And this Mrs Thrower, what was it she'd written? 

I took up the letter once again and found the sentence. "I have heard your name be spoken in connection with the good Christian work you do for men damaged in the War."

Assuming this letter actually did come from the real Mrs Thrower, then the fact that an anonymous housemaid in far away Bath had heard, and remembered, my name in association with the Hutch more than proved Brooks right. 

Perhaps I did have a reputation that spread further than I knew. Perhaps I was known for being a kindhearted, but ultimately foolish, woman who could easily be duped by displays of pitifulness if they were crass enough. Or at least I might attract those who were on the prowl for such victims. 

Especially the kindhearted  and foolish with an estate and a last name known in Parliament, don't forget that part, Olivia.  No matter the embarrassing state of your grand salon.

Sighing, I shoved the two letters into the drawer of my desk, locked it, and made my way downstairs to check in on our other mystery -- Montgomery. 

I found him in the former sewing room room playing cards with Link and Rhys-Jones, who had been half-relieved of their duties to keep him company. 

"I shan't interrupt," I said, taking a seat on the sofa and watching the men as they finished out the hand. 

Montgomery looked more presentable than I'd seen him in a long while. I was prepared to be called upon to play barber, but someone had obviously seen to the jagged mop on his head already. He was freshly and correctly shaven, and wearing clean clothes. 

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