“I still cant make hear nor tail of it.” I said. It was the next morning and Gladys had packed us up a morning tea to have out in the garden so we were enjoying it in our favourite spot.
“It’s a mystery all right.” Jo said. “But I’ve been working on it.”
“Are you getting any where?”
“Grasping onto pieces of the puzzle, but I know a few things you don’t.”
“You do?” I sat forward.
“I didn’t want to say last night, but the name Eddie Cooper rang a bell. I didn’t recognise Edmund, but you remember Frankie called him Eddie once? Far too familiar if you ask me, why once my neighbour had this girl– but I’m sure you don’t want to hear about all that. At any rate I’m glad she did because it made me remember.”
“Remember what?” I prompted, wanting her to get to the point already!
“This.” Jo pulled a letter out of her pocket. “It’s from Michael.”
“You asked Michael about the Coopers?”
“No, but listen and you’ll see.” Jo unfolded the letter and began to read. “Well Jo, isn’t it rum staying at school for the holidays? It’s better for us boys, we have proper adventures not just dramas like you girls. Well, I say that but we almost had some drama here. I thought it might be a story you’d enjoy so I thought I jolly well better write it down and send it to you, you’ll see why. It was the last day of term and we had the afternoon off to ‘pack’. Why they give a whole afternoon I never know. Naturally we spent it down at the creek. We weren’t the only ones who had thought this was a jolly good idea.
He introduced me to his friends Baxter and Cooper and I introduced him to mine.”
“Did you just say Cooper?”
“Yes, now listen.” Jo continued with the letter. “There were some older boys from his school there too, but they preferred to lounge on the bank smoking so us lively young chaps left them and spent our time catching tadpoles and having a right old time of it all. The boy Cooper sat down on a rock with a bit of a crunching noise and his hand flew to his back pocket. “Blast.” He said. “I forgot about this letter!” We teased him a bit thinking it was from his mother but it was from his brother so we thought it fine for him to read it there. Letters from brothers may be read in public, but letters from mothers must not get in the hands of other boys as they are want to tell you to ensure you wash behind your ears and sign themselves mother dearest and lots of love and all that.
“So here we are catching tadpoles when Cooper exclaims “well I never!” “Well I never what?” we ask him. He calls out “Bertie, come look what Eddie just sent.” Well, I think it may be something interesting so I start looking for tadpoles a little closer. Well, I won’t repeat the whole conversation for you, but what happened was this. Cooper’s younger brother uncovered an old photo at home with some people he didn’t recognise in it, including a baby. He thought that maybe he had a baby brother or sister that died that he never knew about. Wouldn’t that be a fine bit of drama to have?
Well, we’re pleased (but you may not be knowing you girls!) but nothing so exciting, the oldest brother recalled it was an infant they were caring for for a time or something like that. But the interesting part is that he identified the parent’s friends as Mr and Mrs Hilton that he hasn’t seen since the day that photo was taken. Well, Hilton rung a bell but it wasn’t until we were back at school that I remembered, that’s the name of your new roommate, isn’t it? What a small world it is. I thought you would like the coincidence.
“Do write and tell me if you managed to put that snobby girl down! Not that I’m interested of course, just being an attentive brother. Try to have some fun these holls at that school of yours! I know I will!
“Well I never!” I said when Jo finished. “The baby, do you think it could be Francesca, the real one?”
“When did your parents last see the Coopers?” Jo asked me.
“When Francesca was a baby!”
“Well, it must be! Oh if only our brother had told us all the story about her!”
“Could your parents have just assumed she was their daughter?” Jo said.
“No—” I started.
“No, listen. Jo hushed me. “Lets say that our Frankie and this Francesca are the one and the same, then maybe it went like this. The Coopers moved to save money, Frankie was born on their estate and they cared for her until they could find a family to foster her with. In the meantime your parents visited and they were too ashamed to say they’d moved because they were poor and said it was for the babies health, your parents assumed the baby was their daughter, your parents left and after they left the Coopers found a foster family for her.”
“But Jo, the Coopers always talked about Francesca in their letters. Mother always talked about how she was looking forward to me finally meeting her. That doesn’t fit the theory that she was only there for a short time.”
“Any other theories?”
“Oh, heaps, but that was the best.”
“But they must be the same family. Even Frankie said so and she should know. And there’s the painting. Why did Mr Cooper hide it I wonder?”
“He didn’t like the look of it I expect.” Jo said and we both giggled.
“I wonder if the oldest Cooper brother can tell us any more.” Said
“Well, I can write to Michael and ask.” Jo said.
“Talking about which, when I first started being interested in this mystery, you weren’t.”
“Oh, I like a good mystery me. I just didn’t realise this was one, I just thought you were imagining a mystery out of nothing. It’s a right proper mystery now. Just like your wand. Don’t forget that if we’re keeping promises.”
“We’ll show it to Henri when she gets back.” I said. I’d almost forgotten Jo’s fascination with my wand.
“What was that you were saying yesterday about Miss March? Who’s she? Is she from the agency?”
“Not from it, no. She runs a house for girls inbetween positions. They can live there while she finds them a position and when she finds them one their pay is docked to pay for their board in the time they spent at her house. Mind, they’re not there for a holiday, they work jolly hard for her there.”
“Well, that doesn’t seem that bad. She reports to the agency then? Wouldn’t Frankie still have to have papers?”
“She’s meant to. But everyone knows she doesn’t always. Frankie should have papers, but considering her birth and childhood… Well, it’s possible that when she started helping up at the house that the coopers never informed the agency and had her put on their books. Then if Miss March took her off the books then she still wouldn’t—”
“Oh Jo, I’m sure the Coopers wouldn’t do that!”
“They’re friends of my parents! They’re good people!”
“Maybe your parent’s didn’t know them as well as they thought.”
“Oh but Jo, if Frankie isn’t registered with the agency, well, it protects them, doesn’t it?”
“Supervises treatment and housing and wages.” Jo nodded.
“But then it’s bad for her if she isn’t registered. Can she register herself?”
“I don’t know… lets ask Henri that when she comes back. She’ll know. But yes, it is bad. There’s no one to make sure people pay their servants enough so they could pay a lot less and work them too hard. Stuff like that.”
“We’re not really any closer to the truth, are we?” I asked glumly.
“Well, we know where we should be looking and asking questions. That’s a start.”
“Will you write to your brother and ask for the full details about who that boy said the baby was?”
“Of course. Say, I’ll tell you what else I’ll do. I can ask Michael to tell the Cooper boys that his sister is rooming with the daughter of his parent’s old friends. Her parents are at sea and she’d love to have a new friend to write to.”
“Oh, would you? Would that be allowed?”
“Well they couldn’t send letters here, it wouldn’t do to receive mail from an unrelated male, if you’d even be allowed it, but they could write to Michael and he could pass the letters onto me. You could pass letters on in the same way. Then we could figure out what sort of boys they are and what they know and ask them about Frankie.”
“Or Francesca.” I said. “Oh, Jo, write to Michael, do!”
“All right! First lets finish this morning tea or else it will be time fore lunch before we’re through.”
Finish it we did and Jo, as promised wrote to her brother. And who knew? Tomorrow’s post might just have a letter for me.