Letter 32 - Identification

Miss Adeline Westley
23 rue Saint Paul

10 March 1903

Dearest Addie,

Do you really think it could have been Eduard who saved you from that horrible man? Indeed, the idea is quite romantic! I had forgotten you said that Eduard wore a homburg--did he wear it often? But again, Addie, the homburg is quite popular this year. I can't claim to have a strong conviction of it having been Eduard, but I should hardly look to myself for an answer in this particular. You are the one who knows him. The most convincing evidence, to my mind, is the fact that whoever rescued you must either have been involved in the scheme, or have been watching you closely. Eduard, had he indeed returned to France in hopes of gaining your forgiveness, would very likely have been keen to find you alone, so as to have his chance to speak his mind and ask for your forbearance in the matter of his previous behaviour and abandonment--knowing, of course, that you would have refused to have admitted him into your presence had he called at your uncle's estate. So placed, he would have been well set up to observe your abduction, find you and release you from your imprisonment. I did not like to ask before, Addie, but I am curious ... what became of the man who committed this crime against you? Was he apprehended, or even discovered? Did the Frenchman chase him away? Do not answer, dearest, if it is too unpleasant to think on--but I should feel much better knowing the brute was safely locked up and quite without opportunity to steal you away again. Do not let it upset you, Addie, if he has escaped justice--I am sure your uncle has taken rigorous measures to ensure your future safety, having once realized how vulnerable you were. All the same, I hope the fellow is caught and punished within an inch of his wretched life, and left to mull over his heinous acts during a lifetime of incarceration when said punishment is complete. In fact, I am come close to being in favor of a return to public execution when I think on it! I suppose it was very good of Mr. Rousseau to take you to Montparnasse, but I find it difficult to admire him, Addie. I continue to wonder if he is not passing information to your father, for who can guess what sinister purpose? I will again beg you to be wary of confiding in him, although perhaps my caution is not necessary, as you seem to have discovered for yourself that he is capable of dishonesty and misdirection.

As for the letter to your mother! Why, indeed, should your uncle have it in his keeping? I felt almost indecent at reading the words--such an intimate note. But, as you said, rather less than cheerful. It makes me wonder what other intriguing missives you might find in that most mysterious hat box.

I admit to no little surprise that Peter acted upon my advice to write you--indeed, I had meant it more as an insult than advice, since I was rather irritated at the time, and thought it so unlikely to have any useful effect on him. Do not feel poorly if you were hard on him, for he has certainly been neglectful of you. I do not suppose I shall ever discover his reaction to your reply, since Peter is rarely to be found in the mews, and even more rarely to be found in any mood to converse with me beyond the usual courtesies. If I did not have Stuart, I should be quite lonely for want of his company.

And now, I have not breathed a word of this to anyone else, Addie, but I shall tell you that I have had something of an adventure, albeit of a different sort than I should have liked. I could not stop myself thinking on the fate of Mr. Collins, and concluded that it was really too unkind to allow his poor, broken body to remain unidentified, particularly in regards to his family. I had learnt not to consult Stuart in the matter, he having made his opinion abundantly clear, but I nevertheless felt it my duty to Mrs. Collins, wherever she was, to make it possible for her to properly mourn her son, and give him a decent Christian burial. At first I waited, and monitored the Times on the sly, but after six days had passed and the coroner's inquest had been held, the Metropolitan Police had still failed to determine his identity, despite exhaustive efforts on their part. In preparation for this eventuality I had gleaned what little information I could, without arousing too much suspicion, from Stuart and--as it turns out that Peter also knew Mr. Collins at Oxford--from Peter. His given name was Joseph, after his father, he hailed from Yorkshire, he had been a great friend of Stuart's, and only somewhat known by Peter, who is a couple of years younger than the two of them in any case. Most of this I learned from Peter, whom I thought the safer man to question, given Stuart's disinclination to speak of his old chum. Peter did not say so, but I began to suspect strongly that Mr. Collins had been rather a bad influence on Stuart, that perhaps they two had engaged in less-than-respectable activities together, and that Stuart's dislike of the topic stemmed from regret for this former association. If it were true, this would also explain somewhat Stuart's crude behaviour upon meeting Mr. Collins at the Market. Either way, however, I had succeeded in obtaining the information I required, and betook myself to New Scotland Yard. I know what you are thinking, Addie--that if Stuart himself, who knew Mr. Collins well, could not discern his old friend in the morgue photograph, it hardly seems likely that my own opinion (myself having met the man only once, and spent only a matter of moments in his company) should outweigh his. But what harm could it do? Were I wrong, and Mr. Collins remained alive, I myself would be the only one to suffer, and even then the wound would not effect more than my dignity. So I went, and was duly escorted to the appropriate mortuary by a young cadet, and steeled myself against what I knew must be a gruesome sight. The attendant removed the shroud only so far as to reveal the face, which appeared much the same as it had in the photograph, apart from the fact that the eyes had now been closed. I had prepared for a great shock, Addie, but it did not come. To be sure, it was not overly pleasant to behold the slack, pale face of a man I had last seen full of animation and colour--but neither was it ghastly. He was without his hat, of course, and I saw for the first time that his auburn hair was thick and wavy. The features, however, were undoubtedly a match. It was him, and I informed the cadet without further delay that here was Joseph Collins, son of Joseph Collins of Yorkshire, an Oxford man whom I had met some time ago through a mutual acquaintance. I had decided in advance to leave Stuart out of it, knowing how little he would approve, and I also thought it prudent not to mention how recently I had seen the deceased, not wishing to involve Stuart or myself further in the investigation--especially since we could offer no help, and had really only met him in passing. The cadet took down the information I offered, along with my own name and address, promised to submit my information to the coroner, and warned me that I might be summoned for further questioning at the coroner's request. He then thanked me handsomely for my assistance, inquired as to my next destination, and kindly walked me to the station.

I haven't much else to relate, Addie, as my days are pleasantly filled with exercising the horses and making plans for an October wedding. Sir John is quite set on a ceremony at St. Paul's Knightsbridge, and it is certainly a lovely church, but I have been applying to Stuart in hopes that the wedding could take place somewhere other than London, so that you might be more able to attend. Stuart has an Aunt in Surrey, on a charming estate at Rowledge, who would very likely be amenable to hosting the wedding brunch and sundry at Frensham Heights. Stuart describes the parish church at Frensham, St. Mary the Virgin, as quaint--but nevertheless tells me it is quite as beautiful as any church in London. Now I think on it, however ... if the man who wished to claim you as his wife is now in prison, perhaps there is no need! Do let me know, Addie, because I refuse to marry without you as my Maid of Honor.

Write soon--I am anxious to hear of your return to Montparnasse!


Maitland Bristow

14 Bathurst Mews

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