The Winslowes are found
‘Get up, Jane. We have found them.’
I awoke to my friend violently shaking me and I cried out.
‘Oh for heaven’s sake, Jane, it’s me. Wake up. We have found the Winslowes and if we act, we may find the author of these letters.’
I got out of bed to find Charlotte and Mrs. Fitzhugh already dressed and awaiting me. Mary gave me coffee, which I greedily drank.
‘What time is it?’ I asked after a reviving sip.
‘It’s a little gone two,’ Charlotte said. ‘Get her into these clothes, quickly Mary.’
‘And why am I awake now. Oh my head, I think I had too much negus.’
‘Yes you did, now into this sleeve, Jane.’
I shrugged them off and said, ‘I demand to know what is going on!’
‘I already told you, Jane. My little urchins have located the Winslowes and if we act, we may find out who is sending these letters and if possible, catch them in the act.’
‘Oh,’ I said, finally awakening. ‘That is another matter entirely. You may dress me, Mary, if I might have another sip of coffee first.’
I was dressed while Charlotte related the events of the past hours. Shortly after our return from the ball, Donna and Charlie, the captains of our street Arabs, arrived at the servant’s entrance loudly demanding to be taken to Charlotte.
‘Luckily Mrs. Hutton heeded my admonitions and they were brought to me. They had located the Winslowes here in Bath, living a stone’s throw from here in the Circus, but under the mother’s maiden name Hazelton.’
‘Extraordinary,’ I said. ‘Living under an assumed name. There is desperation there.’ I could not help but think of the times I wished I could live under another name to escape my father’s shame.
‘Not quite as it seems,’ Mrs. Fitzhugh said. ‘Mrs. Winslow and daughter stay with the family of her sister, Mrs. Hazelton, her husband and their daughter.’
‘Oh,’ I said, ‘that explains it.’ I was a little disappointed that the explanation was so pedestrian.
We were now walking downstairs. ‘Very well, I understand all this, but why must we go in the middle of the night. Can we not visit them in the morning as civilised people?’
‘We do not go to visit. We go to catch our prey. Hurry Jane!’
A few minutes walk brought us to the Circus where it intersects with Bennett Street and No. 18, the house at the corner. We three …
‘Wait, there are four of us,’ I said.
‘Mary, what are you doing here?’ Charlotte asked.
‘I’m sorry, miss. I just followed you while putting a coat on Miss Woodsen.’
‘And left the house without a coat of your own, silly girl. Go back at once.’
‘Quiet,’ I hissed, ‘the door just opened.’ I motioned us back down Bennett Street out of sight of the young woman who had just exited the house.
‘What if she comes down this street?’ I asked Charlotte.
‘She won’t, but quick, into this doorway.’
We watched the young woman cross Bennett Street and continue south along the Circus.
‘Mary, I want you to return home immediately. Here take my coat and instruct Mrs. Hutton to have something warm for us on our return. And we may have a guest.’
‘How do you know where she will go,’ Mrs. Fitzhugh asked, as we followed the young girl.
‘Because the Ashby’s stay on Gay Street. Yes, she has turned.’
We followed the young woman at a distance for at this quiet time of night of footsteps echoed loudly, but we need not have worried for the singleness of her purpose did not dispose her to look back.
‘Yes, this is the Ashby’s address, No. 40. Down, we can surprise her on her return.’
‘What is she doing Charlotte?’ Mrs. Fitzhugh asked.
‘She is putting a letter under the door,’ I said. ‘She is the author! She’s coming back.’
The young lady approached us and although we were crouched low it seemed impossible that she could not see us and I could not help but think we were a comical group. But the next few seconds showed that her mood was ill suited to comedy.
Charlotte suddenly stood upright and said, ‘Miss Catherine Winslow? My name is Charlotte House and you will come with us to explain yourself.’
A sharp cry and a low moan prepared me and I was ready to catch the young woman as she fainted. Fortunately she was very slender and with Mrs. Fitzhugh’s help we kept her upright.
‘This should do the trick,’ Charlotte said, as she produced a vinaigrette and waved its pungent aroma under Miss Winslow’s nose. Its effect was immediate and the young woman regained her balance.
‘Who are you?’ she cried. ‘Why do you frighten me so?’
‘Miss Winslow, you have much to explain. We know you to be author of poisonous letters directed at the Ashbys.’
‘Why do you wish them ill?’ I asked.
‘Ill? I do not. I only hope that another will not suffer as have I.’ She gave another low moan and I readied myself to support her again. Charlotte opened the vinaigrette.
‘No, there is no need,’ she said, stopping Charlotte’s hand.
‘We will take you to your home,’ Charlotte said.
‘No, please do not. It would distress my mother.’
‘Then we shall take you to our home and there you can answer our questions.’
It was a long trip back to our home. Even with our assistance, Miss Winslow walked slowly and I ached with a desire to ask her further questions, but I knew that she needed rest and something warm in her before she could talk. And despite the knowledge that she threatened the happiness of another, I could not help but feel sympathy for the burden she seemed to carry.
Mary, the other maid Alice and Mrs. Hutton all awaited us when returned home.
‘Mary, get some blankets for our guest and Mrs. Hutton, some brandy all round,’ Charlotte ordered. We brought Miss Winslow into the sitting room and soon had her wrapped in blankets while Alice stoked the fire. Mrs. Hutton returned with the brandy.
‘This should warm you,’ Mrs. Fitzhugh told Miss Winslow. After a swallow, the warmth came back to her cheeks and she nodded her thanks. Finally Charlotte thanked our helpers and closed the sitting room doors. We all sat, Charlotte directly across from our guest, and we drank our brandy and I realized how cold I was despite our exertion helping Miss Winslow.
‘Now, Miss Winslow, perhaps you will tell us what you meant, that you did not mean the Ashbys ill.’
‘It is for their sake that I wrote those letters, to keep them from danger.’
‘Ah, I began to suspect as much,’ Charlotte said. She leaned back in her chair and steepled her fingers before her. ‘And that danger is?’
‘And what has that man done that makes him a danger,’ Charlotte said in a very cool voice. Mrs. Fitzhugh and I exchanged looks and I knew my eyes were as wide as hers.
‘He is not a man. He is a monster.’
The sob in Miss Winslow’s throat stabbed at my heart. Mrs. Fitzhugh started to rise to tend to her, but Charlotte’s single raised finger stopped her.
‘You are among friends, Miss Winslow. Tell us what Lord William has done to you.’
‘He has used me and left me unsuitable for any other.’ Her hand stole to her left breast. We all noticed her movement. All was silent in the room save the crackle of the fire and the distant ticking of the hall clock.
‘Let us see, please,’ Charlotte said, in that tone of command at which I had earlier laughed. Miss Winslow slowly pushed back the blanket from her shoulder and then pulled back the edge of her bodice. I heard Mrs. Fitzhugh gasp as we saw the angry red scar that started at her shoulder blade. Her hand continued around the edge of the bodice and we could see that scar continued diagonally across her upper chest. Her hand stopped.
‘It continues,’ she said.
‘Mrs. Fitzhugh,’ Charlotte said while dropping her raised finger. Mrs. Fitzhugh rose and attended Miss Winslow, returning the poor woman’s hand to her lap and wrapping the blanket tight against her body.
‘This was last year, when there was an understanding between yourself and Lord William.’
‘And then shortly thereafter your father died and you removed from Bath.’
‘Yes. My mother and I returned this season with my uncle and aunt.’
‘And then you read of Lord William’s betrothal to Miss Ashby.’
‘Yes. I could not let another …’
‘But why …’ I stopped and looked at Charlotte to see if I might continue. She nodded and I added, ‘Why defame Miss Ashby?’
‘Because no one would believe me when Lord William … defiled me.’ She spoke the last with a bitterness at odds with her previous demeanour. ‘I am sure my father died from shame of it. I could not say anything that would make the world believe the truth of it. All I could hope is that Lord William would not hurt another.’
‘But you could not bring yourself to irreparably harm Miss Ashby. That is why you sent the letters only to her and those closest to her, that the harm might be contained.’