The Pursuit of Mrs. Pennyworth(10)

By: Callie Hutton

“How long have you worked for Mrs. Pennyworth?”

Apparently, not expecting to ever need to converse with guests, she blushed and seemed to have a difficult time forming words. “I have been in service here since before Mr. Pennyworth married Mrs. Pennyworth.”

“And when was that?” He smiled, trying to put her at ease. “The marriage, I mean.”

“Last year, my lord. I believe October.”

He grinned. “I am not a lord, merely Mr. Baker.”

She blushed once again, her small hands fluttering at her side.

“What is your name, miss?”

She gave him a curtsy. “Bridget, my l—“

Yes, she looked like a Bridget. Flaming red hair, trying very hard to escape her white frilly maid’s cap. Deep blue eyes and freckles marked her as Irish.

“Tell me, Bridget, was there a package delivered here today for Mrs. Pennyworth?”

For the first time, the girl’s open demeanor closed down. She began to view him with suspicion. Her eyes narrowed. “I am not sure, and now I must return to my duties.”

Elliot held out his hand. “No, wait. I should have introduced myself. I am Mr. Elliot Baker, and Mrs. Pennyworth has hired me to help her with a problem.”

Her eyes grew large. “Are you speaking of the strange things that show up on the doorstep?”

“Yes. That is why I asked about packages this morning. Was there anything for her today?”

The girl shook her head. “I really do need to return to my duties. Mrs. Blanchard will have my head if my morning chores are not completed.”

“Ah, yes. Is Mrs. Blanchard the housekeeper?”

“Yes, and a fierce one she is.” She began to back away.

Elliot reached into his pocket and withdrew his card. “Will you be so kind as to present this to Mrs. Blanchard and ask her to allow a few minutes to speak with me?”

Bridget reached out and took the card, then giving another brisk curtsy, left the room. She was back in a matter of seconds. “Oh, my—Mr. Baker, I forgot to ask if you would like tea.” She fidgeted with her fingers. “Please don’t tell Mrs. Blanchard I neglected to ask before now.”

He smiled, hoping to put the girl at ease. “No, thank you, and do not worry. It will be our secret.”

In less than ten minutes, an older woman entered the room. She was a bosomy middle-aged woman, tall, with steel-gray hair pulled back into a painful-looking bun. She wore a long dark wool skirt, covered with an apron, and a white blouse, more fitting for a governess. “You wished to see me,” she looked down at the card, “Mr. Baker.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He waved to the settee in front of the cold fireplace. “Please have a seat, Mrs. Blanchard.”

She settled at the very edge of the settee, watching him expectantly.

“I have been hired by your employer to investigate an issue she is currently dealing with. How long have you worked for Mrs. Pennyworth?”

Mrs. Blanchard drew her brows together in thought. “Mrs. Pennyworth’s been here since last October when she married the master. For Mr. Pennyworth, I have been in service for nigh on ten years.”

Ten years the man had had his own household. He must delve more fully into Mr. Pennyworth’s affairs. There was always the possibility some connection to him was precipitating the packages. Although, why they would start now was the question. A question he needed to ask. “I understand Mr. Pennyworth passed about a year ago?”

Mrs. Blanchard nodded and tsked. “The poor man died only a month after his wedding to Mrs. Pennyworth. So sad for the young girl. She was quite happy when he first brought her here. I had expected years of continued happiness, with little ones arriving on a regular basis.” She touched the edge of her apron to her eye.

Apparently, Mr. Pennyworth had been well-liked by his staff. “Has Mrs. Pennyworth hired any new servants, say, in the last couple of months?”

Mrs. Blanchard glanced up at the ceiling, which he found many people did when they were thinking. “A new kitchen girl.”

“What is the hiring process?” Since he’d never had a full-time servant, he had no idea. The oldest son of a policeman, his path in life had been laid out almost from birth. His family of three brothers and two sisters had never starved, but they had watched their coins carefully. Clothes had been mended and handed down, meat had appeared at the dinner table only once a week, on Sunday, and they had all tended the garden at the back of their small London house.

But every one of them had had a decent education, thanks to the local vicar who ran a school for the nearby children, and his parents who had sacrificed their help while they were in school.