Author’s Note: After yesterday’s day off from posting new bits to the possible serials, (I was feeling rather down and fighting writer’s block on all my projects. It was snowing, and it felt like a day to do… nothing. That’s not what I ended up doing, of course,) I used Three Word Wednesday‘s prompts to get me back on track with both of them.
Today there’s little trace of the blizzard except the lingering snow, but there’s fic, so I suppose that’s an improvement.
Detailed information on the whole pick a serial idea here. Three words for today: bask, grief, and raise.
“Ah, there you are, Mr. Winston. I was hoping to catch you before you left, since I had a few things to ask before you departed for the day.”
Robert turned away from the wall, guilty at having been caught staring at the small shrine dedicated to a son that must have died in the same war he’d survived. He did not know how to address the innkeeper, not now. He should say something, but words failed him where the war was concerned. He could not talk of its horrors or the rare bright moments with his comrades. He thought they were all dead now, him having escaped that fate because of his arm and being shipped home early.
He did not deserve to be standing here, and there was nothing he could say in the face of this family’s obvious grief.
“Oh. I—I must be mistaken. You can’t be Mr. Winston.”
“I am, actually,” Robert said. He studied the innkeeper, wondering if the name alone had caused the man to think he was the one who had come before, the one who’d impersonated him. He’d seen the photograph. They did share a bit of a likeness. “I’m sure that must be confusing.”
“More than a little, sir,” the innkeeper said. He swallowed, his hand going to his cuffs, fiddling with them as he grew more nervous. “You see, I had been on the verge of asking the impertinent question of why you were not staying with your wife and her family now that you’d returned, but I am confused. You are Robert Winston? The third? And yet… you can’t be. I met the fellow, and you are not him. Close, perhaps, but not close enough.”
Robert grimaced. “I am, in fact, the man who was born Robert Winston the third. It would seem that someone else has taken my name and made a mockery of it and Mrs. Winston in the process. I am here to do what I can about that situation.”
“Dear heaven,” the innkeeper said, shaking his head. “Oh, that poor girl. Never had no father, and now you say her husband’s done her wrong? And her with child, too. Such a terrible thing. Who could do something like that?”
“I’ve no idea, but I hope to find him.”
The innkeeper nodded. “Of course, of course. You must, if what you’re saying is true.”
“I know that you met the other Winston first and might be inclined to assume that I am the liar, but I can assure you that it has always been my name, and if you do not believe me, perhaps I should have my commanding officer speak to it, since I was overseas fighting while this blackguard stole my name and betrayed you all.”
“That’s not all he stole, sir.”
Robert frowned, thinking the man spoke of Mrs. Winston’s condition, but the innkeeper moved to the desk, lifting out his registry. “You had better see this. I was not present when you came in, but when my clerk told me someone had checked in, I looked and made the assumption I did.”
“I did use my full name, yes, and that would lead to some confusion—”
The innkeeper raised the book to where it was almost right in Robert’s face. “This is your signature last night. Here, though, is the one from before.”
Robert found himself staring at the page. That signature was the same as his. An exact copy. He didn’t understand. He would have sworn he’d never met the man, but how could that bastard have known the precise way he signed his name? It only looked that way when he used the whole thing, included “the third,” so how did the man know? How had he known that when he came here? Even his letters to Mrs. Winston had not included that. He did not sign that way unless he had to, and he’d thought that this stay was one such occasion, given that his imposter had likely not used the whole name. He was wrong.
That looked like he had signed it.
“Are they all like this? Did he sign it like this every time he checked in or out?”
Robert shook his head. “I don’t understand. It would seem he’s an expert forger, too, but how did he get hold of my signature to forge? I don’t write my name like that often. Hardly at all, in fact.”
“I cannot tell you, sir.”
“I have to go. Please excuse me,” Robert said, turning away from the accusing mark on the line and heading toward the door. He pushed it open with his good arm, needing to see Mrs. Winston as soon as he could. This was an alarming prospect at best. He’d need to wire back to his father and have a handwriting expert check, but those signatures looked so alike that he thought he’d have a hard time proving that they weren’t his.
He turned at the corner, going down the block toward the quiet house he’d visited the day before. This town was small, rather picturesque, all things considered, and the day was fine, the sort of spring that made one want to bask in the fine weather and surroundings, but he could ill-afford that just now. He had a terrible suspicion about what he’d see when he asked Mrs. Winston for a certain document, and it was going to complicate their situation a great deal.
He hurried up the steps, knocking on the door, impatience getting the better of him. The maid opened it, and he almost shoved her out of the way, as agitated as he was.
“You are here rather early, Mr. Winston. I fear we are not quite in a state to receive guests,” Mrs. Winston said, her hand on the rail as another woman assisted her down the stairs. “You do not look well, either. Please, sit down in the parlor. I will be along shortly.”
“Before I do—Were you the one to retain your marriage license? Do you have it?”
“I do, yes. Winston—that is to say, the man I knew as Winston—left it behind when he left. Why is the matter so urgent that it causes you this kind of distress?”
He ran a hand through his hair. “Do you have pen and paper that I might use?”
“Of course, but you are confusing me a great deal at the moment,” she said, her hand on her back as she crossed toward him. “Will you not explain what you mean by all this? You’re going to make my aunt so cross she’ll bar you from the house.”
“Violet, kindly do not speak for me. That is not your place.”
Robert took the younger woman’s arm, helping her the rest of the way into the parlor, to the couch she had used the day before. She gave him a slight smile as she sat, trying to make herself comfortable. He imagined that was rather difficult for her these days, as large as her stomach had grown. “Thank you. The license is—Oh. Aunt Beatrice has got your paper.”
He accepted the items, aware that the older woman was frowning at him. He set them upon the table and scrawled his name to the page. Done, he passed it to Mrs. Winston. “Does that look familiar?”
“That is—I fear you must get the license, Aunt Beatrice—but that looks like the way Winston signed everything, including the few notes we exchanged during our courtship. He did tell me he preferred Winston as the name he wanted me to call him, but that was the way all his letters looked before. I had thought perhaps your way of signing it was intentional, a means of furthering the lie I thought it was at first.”
Robert shook his head. “In most of my correspondence, I sign my letters the way I did the ones I wrote to you. For bank drafts and other more important documents, I sign with my full name, as you see it there.”
Her aunt gave him the paper, and he sighed as he saw it. “Damn.”
“I beg your pardon,” he said, taking the paper back from Mrs. Winston and holding both of them out to her aunt. “Still, I fear you must agree that it looks very much like I signed that license.”
“So it does,” the older woman agreed. “What are you going to do about it, then?”