31. Storm

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I watched as Agatha took both letters, pinching each on the side along the top crease, and held them up side-by-side for comparison.  

The deluge that had begun during dinner with a loud crash of thunder right over our heads, was still raging outside. The drumming of rain against the night-black windows and the soft glow from the gas lamps should have made me tired, but I was still a little too irritated to settle in. 

Agatha's room was pleasant, a mixture of traditional furnishings which had been in that room for ages, and a few modern additions. A row of charming china shepherd and shepherdesses lined the chimney piece, and a taxidermied owl stared down at me where I sat sunk into an overstuffed velvet armchair, my fingers running over the lace dust covers draped over the ends. 

Agatha didn't say anything for the longest time, her head only moving slightly as she looked from one letter to the other. Finally, she drew a deep breath and said, "Either Mr. Mead is appallingly careless with his paperwork, or our guest had access to the housemaid's letter before it was sent." 

"You mean, you don't think she's Mrs Thrower?"

Agatha looked at me. "Do you?" 

I shook my head. "No. But she must know her." 

"Indeed." Agatha folded the letters up and placed them on the arm of her own velvet armchair. "Did you notice her reaction when you mentioned a letter had already arrived?"

No, I hadn't. I'd been too worked up over Elizabeth's callousness. 

I shook my head. 

"She obviously didn't know a letter from the real Mrs Thrower had arrived and was temporarily unsettled by the news. That tells me she didn't know the real Mrs Thrower had made use of her reference. And, if I might make mention of it, you should have posted it back to her so that she could inquire with it again elsewhere." 

"I didn't notice it was there. I only read half of her inquiry letter, to be honest to facts."

Agatha raised an eyebrow.  

"Well, what use would it have been? We can't afford her, can we?" I said, a little more snippy than intended, but I was still somewhat nettled and was in no mood to be reprimanded for a etiquette slip. "At least not at full wages." 

"Which the faux Mrs Thrower has graciously renegotiated." 

"She's clearly attempting to sneak in here under false pretences." I told Agatha what I had observed from the Hutch window. "And you saw how she behaved at dinner."

We all had. 

It was natural for the men to take an interest in anyone new and be much more lively than usual, but the woman had really overdone it. She'd leaned forward and backwards in her chair like a door hinge on a public lavatory to speak to men who were as far as two tables away, largely ignoring her food in the process. And then, when the clap of thunder had sounded right over our heads, she'd shrieked and dropped her cutlery as if a bomb had gone off.  

That hadn't helped.

Most of the men who were severely bothered by thunder had noticed the rumbling when they came in and chosen to eat together in one of the smaller salons where Brooks could keep an eye on them, and they could hide or calm each other, if need be. Poor Pritchard had gone with them, and I was sure his stutter would be ghastly the next day. Sykes also wasn't fond of thunder, but he'd braved it out in the smaller dining room, seating himself at my table. 

"No the Bosch, lads. Just God rearranging the furniture," he'd said to no one in particular as the rain had seriously started to tap at the windows. "He'll be done 'fore we've cleaned our plates." 

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