26 Longhorn Walk
My own dear Josiah
I have had the strangest time and must commit my thoughts to paper before they are rattled out of my head by the carriage journey home. Whether this letter will reach you before I do is of no consequence – we both bear the same news.
I shall tell you my experience in the order it happened, the better to prepare you for my conclusions, my dear. But if you are not seated as you read this, I suggest you stop awhile and go straight to your Papa’s favourite chair.
Ready, Josiah? Well – I called in at Boo’s to unload the bags I would not need for Clacton. Her Boy helped Villiers carry my trunk into the house and then the two of them could not be found for a good ten minutes, so I let the driver water his horse. I was keen to get straight on, and Boo did not seem to mind my rudeness in not accepting tea. When Villiers reappeared we set out immediately for Clacton. I do think, Josiah, that when we return to Blindingham you might want to have a proper talk with him – he is not the butler he was before the Ball. Anyway, after another four hours of watching him gaze out of the window we were at the Excelsior.
That horrible man was on the steps, waiting to greet us with his wringing hands and his oily hair. He said he would be delighted to accompany me to the pawn shop – the man should surely be on the stage, he is so convincing – but that it had closed for the evening and we could not go there until after breakfast. Oh, but you can imagine how that vexed me! I had to spend the dullest evening in the parlour of his tawdry hotel, listening to old women talking about Clacton past. Villiers, having established that I had no real need of him (a situation I find increasingly to be the case these days) asked if he could have the night off. Quite how he amused himself about the town I do not know, but he was there at breakfast, apparently keen to look after me. I did not wish him to come with us to the shop, so I fabricated some errand or other. He was only too pleased to be despatched into Clacton and needed no second asking. So, I was alone with the man who had stolen my brooch…..
He walked briskly to the pawn shop and swept inside, pausing only to still the metal bell as I entered the shop behind him. After a few seconds, the most unpleasant character I have ever met came out from the back of the premises. Oh, Josiah – he was as fat as Cook’s hogs and twice as greasy! He wore a peculiar glass ring in one eye and his hair was as coarse as the servants’ sofa. Had I not been there on a matter of great personal importance I should have left the place at great speed. But I stood proudly at his grimy counter and told him my business. He looked at Mr Browne several times whilst I spoke and then stared at me in silence for a whole minute before he answered my questions.
He said, and here I shall try to record his tone exactly, the following:
“Madam, I do indeed know the brooch of which you speak and I can see that you are person of wealth and refinement – the very sort to own such an item. I must press upon you, though, that even if you do prove to be the brooch’s rightful owner, I cannot release it into your care without first being paid my 30 guineas. I have a business to run as you can see and will not feed my family by holding things in storage to give away without a care.”
I am a temperate woman, Josiah, as you well know, but I was sorely inclined to slap his jowly face. But then, oh, joy of joys, he produced my brooch and showed it to me – as shiny and lovely as the day I last saw it!
” This brooch was brought to me one evening last November by a gentleman who was not of my acquaintance. He was not a frequenter of my shop and, I believe, not a man who knew Clacton well at all.” I was puzzled by this, Josiah, since I thought Mr Browne must surely be familiar with the town, but I said nothing. He went on to say, ” I was happy to take care of the brooch for a while, in return for, as I recall, the sum in cash of 10 guineas. The gentleman professed himself delighted with that arrangement and I believe the whole transaction was conducted in less than five minutes.”
“Would you recognise this man if you saw him again?” I asked him. “Certainly, madam.” he said, “A memory for details, names and faces is vital in my line of work.”
“Do you see him now, in the shop with us?” I asked. At this, Mr Browne exclaimed a little and looked at me with a queer expression. I think until that point he had no idea I had deduced his nasty little plan. I felt quite light-headed, dear, and was sure that my father himself had never cross-examined a witness with more flair.
The man looked at me, and at Mr Browne and then said “No, madam, I do not.”
Well! What to say next? I asked him “If you are sure the gentleman who gave you the brooch is not present, can you describe him to me?”
“Certainly, madam. The man was tall, with a black hat and a frock coat. He had a small moustache and brown eyes. He told me he lived in a private country house and was just here in Clacton for one night, with his wife.” Josiah, I was beginning to feel unwell at this point. “He took a glass of port with me and after a convivial chat he took his leave.”
“Did he at any point mention his name,?” I asked.
“Indeed he did, Madam. He told me quite clearly that his name was Josiah Hatherwick.”
Your name! A description that your own mother would reconise! I was astounded.
I can think of only one explanation for this, Josiah and it troubles me greatly.
You must go to the Police at once, darling, and tell them that there is a man walking free who is pretending to be you!
I shall stay another night here at Boo’s – then Villiers and I will be back as soon as we can. I have the brooch, for which I paid in full. The Hotel man seemed delighted to have been of service. I confess I do not know what part he played in this – he is far too oily to have passed for you, but I do not trust him at all.
We absolutely must find out who this person is, Josiah, and they must be stopped forthwith.
Til Blindingham and my return!
Yr own Eff.