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A Terrific Scandal

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"It's been three days," said Kitty, hoping to shine a light of reason on the situation. "He didn't show up for the mission on Sunday, he hasn't been to the office and Mr. Durham says he hasn't heard from Maurice since the cricket game. This could be our only clue to his whereabouts!"

"I don't know," Mrs. Hall clutched the telegram to her chest protectively. "Maurice never liked anyone to get involved with his business affairs."

Kitty was growing increasingly exasperated with the older woman's resistance. She couldn't understand it. Both of the girls knew how concerned Mrs. Hall was for her only son. She hadn't been sleeping well, having took vigil over the telephone for half of the night, every night. With her appearance disheveled and shadows forming under her eyes, she began to look frail and somewhat diminished. If what was sitting in her hands could possibly tell her where her son is, why not look?

"Perhaps Kitty is right," said Ada, assenting to her sister's point. Even she was showing signs of the strain, drooping at the edges like a wilting flower and a perpetual frown marking her mouth. "How do we know that Morrie didn't get involved in some kind of trouble?"

"You shouldn't say such things about your brother," Mrs. Hall scolded, but her resolve was visibly wavering. "Maurice might have been a bit stubborn about having his way, but trouble?"

"If you won't open it then I will," Kitty said, striking with an almost vicious relish at the first sign of weakness. She hated what her brother was doing to their family. It was time they did something besides sit about in anticipation of his return. "He can yell at me until he's blue in the face if he likes."

"No Kitty, I won't have it." Mrs. Hall shot her daughter a stern look before prudently adding, "I will open the telegram."

This was not the time or place for a triumphant smile, so Kitty bit her lip as her mother toyed with one corner. When she could hardly bear the suspense any longer, the missive was torn open with little more ceremony. Mrs. Hall's eyes made quick work of scanning the lines and gasped audibly at what she read.

"What is it?" Kitty craned forward.

"I- I-" Mrs. Hall looked up in her direction, but didn't seem to see Kitty or anything else. "Ada... call Dr. Barry, if you would."

"Mummy?" asked Kitty, nearly sliding off the edge of her seat.

"Not now, Kitty. Ada! Dr. Barry," her mother insisted sharply, snapping back to attention. "Ask him to come straight away."

With a nod, Ada fled her chair in a rustle of skirts and picked up the telephone. She didn't have to wait long for an answer. After a brief exchange, Ada cupped her hand over the mouthpiece, "He'll be over shortly."

***

She didn't know how long it took for the good doctor to arrive, but it felt like an eternity. After three days, Kitty would have thought she'd get used to the constant build of suspense. However, it was not so and she felt that she could now appreciate the suffering of those stuck in limbo.

"Dr. Barry! Thank you for coming."

"What can I do for you, Mrs. Hall?"

"It's Maurice--"

"Have you heard word from him?"

"I'm afraid not, but we received a wire on Saturday, the day he went missing. I didn't open it immediately since it was addressed to him but..." Mrs. Hall trailed off before handing the telegram over.

"Hmm," the doctor hummed, a deep frown marring his face as he read.

"What does he mean by this? And who is the man that wrote it? I don't recall anyone in Morrie's acquaintance by the name of Scudder." Her face suddenly lit up in hopeful speculation, "Would Dickie--"

"No," Dr. Barry said gruffly. An ill-feigned cough didn't do much to cover his offense at the implication that Dickie Barry was in some way tied to the matter. "My nephew wouldn't know a thing about it."

"But Morrie has always been so fond of him, perhaps he mentio--"

"Mrs. Hall, I can assure that Dickie knows nothing." He rubbed his forefinger and thumb roughly over his eyes, obviously unnerved by the conversation. When he looked back down at the woman, he seemed to come to a conclusion.

"Ladies? If you would please give me a moment alone with your mother."

"And the telegram?" inquired Kitty. She had been burning with curiosity of it's contents since the first night Maurice didn't come home.

"I think it's best if I held on to it. No need to get you girls worked up any further," said Dr. Barry, steering Mrs. Hall into a chair.

Kitty opened her mouth to argue, but yielded to Ada's gentle tug on her sleeve. The doctor didn't appear to notice and began to speak in a hushed tone to their mother. The expression on his face was almost apologetic.

"I didn't wish to speak of this to you, but some time ago your son had approached me to discuss... something of a delicate matter. At the time I had dismissed it as rubbish, of course. Maurice has always been a good boy if with a few strange ideas..."

The doors closed behind the girls, effectively shutting them out of the conversation. Kitty immediately reeled on her sister with indignation, "I don't see why we had to leave."

"Perhaps it doesn't concern us."

"He's our brother! And he's missing! Of course it concerns us."

"I'm sure they'll talk to us when they're--" Ada yawned expansively, "--finished. For now, I think I'll lie down for a bit. Wake me before dinner?"

Kitty felt a pang of remorse for making such a fuss when everyone was just as run down as herself. "Of course. Sleep well."

Sleep did sound rather tempting, but that itch to do something wouldn't allow her much respite.

***

Walking through the house, Kitty suddenly noticed how quiet it had become and picked up her pace, if only to make some noise. The Hall residence was of a more modest scale compared to some, so it wasn't long before her feet had carried her to Maurice's room. At the sight of the slightly ajar door, she was bombarded with the same questions that had been playing over and over in her head.

Where has he gone? Why hasn't he called? Did he leave of his own violition? What if he had left something behind that could tell us where he went? Or who he was with?

In all likeliness, she wouldn't be disturbed until dinner. If she found something, then she'd tell Mother and they'd be doing something. If not then no one would have to know, but she'd feel better for having checked. Decision made, Kitty slipped inside, carefully closing the door behind her with a quiet snick.

Where the house had been awfully silent, her brother's bedroom had an empty stillness about it that sent a shiver down her spine. She pointedly refused to think of it as dead. Instead, Kitty moved briskly in to take careful stock of the room.

As she searched, Kitty couldn't help but wonder if Ada's suggestion had been correct. Had Maurice gotten himself involved in something he ought not to? Were his kidnappers bidding their time, waiting for desperation to build before demanding ransom? Would they later discover his body floating in the Thames?

Kitty banished the thought as soon as it entered her head. Her mother would probably scold her for reading too many fanciful stories -- she frequently commented on how Gothic mysteries were not suited for a lady -- but Maurice must have met plenty of shady characters in London. Even Mrs. Hall was never comfortable with the idea of him boxing for the mission in East End.

It was frustrating to realize that nothing drew her attention as irregular or inspired a clue. It looked as though nothing had been touched since he left Saturday morning. Huffing below her breath in irritation, her eyes fell on the one place she had left to look, the wardrobe. It had occurred to her that he may have forgotten a letter or something in one of his pockets. Throwing the doors open, she found that some of Maurice's clothing was missing, the room's only signs of his intention to leave.

Well, it's not likely that he was kidnapped against his will if he had time to pack. Though he must have been in an awful rush to take so little.

She rifled through what remained, diligently searching every fold. It wasn't until she reached the bottom that she discovered a solitary black box. She pulled it out from beneath the layers of winter items -- a wool coat Clive had given him last Christmas, it's matching scarf from Pippa Durham, an extra blanket and more -- under which the box was hidden, and settled it on to her lap.

It could have been something innocuous -- a pair of boots, a special suit, a collection of socks and underclothes. However, Kitty felt it must be something more, torn as she was between excitement and anxiety. What did Maurice have to hide? Could this be what she was hoping to find?

She hesitated a moment, holding her breath to better hear any footsteps that may be approaching. When she was met with silence, Kitty removed the lid. Inside she found several letters, an unmarked envelope and a few books -- Tchaikovsky: A Biography, Symposium and Phaedrus.

Not knowing the relevance on the books, she discarded them in favor of the letters. Thumbing through, their nature became clear when Kitty realized that they all contained words like longing, affection and love. Each were signed by Clive Durham.

Clive and Morrie? Could they be--?

Her mind ran wild with suspicions. It's true that they had spent a great deal of time together. She hadn't believed that Clive encouraged him to leave school, but his influence was clear in the way Maurice pulled away from his family, acting higher in station than he had a right to be. Kitty may not have always got along with her brother, but he became nigh insufferable after meeting Clive in Cambridge.

If they'd once been... together, then Clive must have left him for Anne. That would certainly explain the falling out they had after Clive had returned from his trip to Greece. So once Clive married, Maurice ran off with another man. A man by the name of 'Scudder.'

Though there was little evidence to support this theory, one thing is for sure: Clive must know more than he's letting on.

Not sure what to do with the letters just yet, Kitty picked up the envelope. There was nothing extraordinary about it, no name or marking. A look inside proved that handwriting on the paper -- perhaps four or five pages -- inside belonged to Maurice.

As soon as my body developed, she read, the obscene imaginings began. I thought that some individual curse had descended on me. My schooling was pure enough. A terrific scandal there before my arrival meant that we were drilled all day and policed all night. I had little chance, therefore to talk about such experiences --

One would have thought she held Pandora's box by how quickly she shut everything back inside. It may as well have been. Once again Maurice had done the incredibly foolish, risking everything for what he alone wanted. Nevermind that if so much as one letter fell into the wrong hands, they'd all be ruined. It was dangerous for her to have forgotten that even for a moment.

Kitty felt tears burn her eyes, but stubbornly dashed them away. It would be time for dinner soon and she had to wake her sister. She stood, but moved no further toward the door.

It wouldn't do if someone were to read the contents of that box. And if she could find it, then so could Mrs. Hall. No, it wouldn't do to upset Mother any further. She'd find a place for it in her room. Kitty had always been better at hiding things than Maurice anyway.

She left her brother's bedroom with his box tucked under her arm. Tomorrow she would go to Pendersleigh and beg a private audience with Mr. Durham.