To Catch a Thief
Today I was drawn downstairs to the kitchen by the unmistakable and absolutely irresistible aroma of sugar cookies. It stirred up pleasant memories of my childhood, comfort from the homesickness I felt after leaving London. Mrs. Beasley had taken me under her wing and had even allowed me to help to decorate them, though I wasn’t to let Sally know.
As I got older, I made fewer trips down to the kitchen, but the smell of sugar cookies had my legs working before my adult sensibilities could stop me.
Voices reached me when I got to the foot of the stairs—a man’s I recognized as Father’s chauffeur, Cuthbert, and the parlour maid, Wendy. She was giggling.
“Miss Powell, there is a barn dance in Cambridge this weekend and it would please me if you’d agree to be my escort,” Cuthbert said.
Wendy giggled again. “All right, but only if there's more in the carriage besides me and you. It wouldn’t be right otherwise.”
Cuthbert clicked his tongue. “Ah, a chaperone, eh? Well, if you insist.”
More giggling pursued.
I smiled. I was pleased that romance was a pleasure to be enjoyed by all classes. I missed Daniel terribly and would give anything to have him here in the flesh. I’d even agree to going to a barn dance, if it meant being with him.
“I do have a small favor to ask, Miss Powell, if you don’t mind?”
I was starting to feel guilty about eavesdropping, however, if I continued on to the kitchen, I would be spotted by the young lovers, so my only recourse was to turn quietly and go back up the steps.
But then Cuthbert made his request and I stopped short.
“Oh, I couldn’t,” Wendy said, all joy sapped from her voice.
“It’s just a small thing,” Cuthbert cooed. “They wouldn’t even miss it. It’s not like the family is in need of money. Consider it a bonus on our wages.”
I knew it! My face grew hot with fury. Cuthbert was our thief, and now he was trying to use his charms to corrupt poor Wendy.
“Mr. Cuthbert!” Wendy exclaimed, and I could imagine her cupping her mouth in distress. Cuthbert belly laughed.
“I was only joking, Miss Powell. You should see your face. And what a relief that you said no. I’d hate to have to report you to Mr. Hartigan.”
The scoundrel! First, he tries to recruit innocent Wendy into his nefarious plans and now he hints at reporting her as if she was the one in the wrong?
I’d forgotten all about the sugar cookies and instead made it my mission to catch Cuthbert in this deplorable act of mistrust. Miss Powell may have refused to help him get what he wanted, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t try to get it on his own.
I spent the rest of the day adapting my usual routine so I could keep an eye on Cuthbert, waiting for him to make his move. When he went out to polish the carriage, I went to the garden to snip some flowers. When he returned to the servants quarters to polish boots, I conveniently went to the kitchen to make a special request of Mrs. Beasley for the dinner meal.
It occurred to me that Cuthbert was likely waiting until the dinner hour to make his move. Having all the members of the household together in one room would be an ideal time for him to sneak into Sally’s bedroom. It was Wendy’s duty to clean it every morning while Sally was at breakfast, which was why the rascal Cuthbert had deceived her into believing he was soft on her.
I decided to recruit Molly.
She was abhorred by my news. “Are you sure you heard him right, miss?”
“There was no mistaking his intentions, Molly. The laundry closet is just down the hall from Sally’s room. I want you to wait in there, leaving the door open a crack and watch for Cuthbert.”
“You want me to hide in the closet?”
“Well, yes. I know it’s an unconventional request, but Father and Sally will notice if I’m not at the dinner table. When you see him, go into my room and ring the bell. I’ll come up straight away.”
“Are you sure that will work, miss? It could be dangerous.”
“Catching him snooping in Sally’s room is all that needs to be done. With you as my witness, he won’t dare to deny it. I believe tonight will be the last we’ll see of Mr. Cuthbert.”
My plan went off without a hitch. As I expected, Cuthbert made his move while the Hartigan family was gathered around the meal; Molly bravely watched for him from her position in the laundry closet, then rang for me. For good measure, I convinced Sally that she was needed upstairs.
Oh, mercy! The expression on Cuthbert’s face when he saw me and Sally watching him from the doorway of her room with Sally’s pearls draped over his arm. Caught with his hand in the cookie jar!
“Release my pearls at once!” Sally demanded.
Cuthbert dropped them to the floor, then pushed his way past us, nearly knocking Sally over. “Stop him!” she cried.
By then Father and Louisa were watching from the bottom of the steps.
“What’s all the commotion?” Father asked just as Cuthbert lost his footing and tumbled down the steps. I gasped, first at the thought that Cuthbert might be hurt, then again at the sight of the back of his trousers.
Louisa howled in a fit of laughter. “He split his pants!”
In vain Cuthbert tried to cover the open seam with his hands as he scurried through the green baize door.
“What on earth just happened?” Father said.
“Cuthbert is our thief, Father. We must notify the police. Perhaps we can yet retrieve your lighter and my locket.”
It was an exciting moment in the Hartigan household, more than the usual long, and often boring, dismally gray days of early winter.
Molly came to see me shortly after the constable had left after taking our statements.
“Miss Hartigan, the mail came this evening and with all the excitement, I forgot to give you this.”
She handed me a letter with the distinct postal markings of the Royal Mail Service and a stamp with the image of the king of England. My heart beat wildly.
“Thank you, Molly.”
I hurried to my room so I could read it privately. My hands trembled as I began to read.
My dearest Ginger. . .
December 1, 1912
The onion paper is wet with tears of joy and I can’t help but press the pages against my chest as I dance around my quiet room pretending my true love is in my arms. I’ve read it so many times, I practically have it memorized!
My dearest Ginger,
I am a hollow shell without you by my side. Since I’ve met you, I’ve not been the same. I’m incomplete. I am counting the days until we meet again and I can make you my wife!
Until then we must rely on letters—such a desperately slow and inadequate way to relate—but alas, my love, this is our current lot.
Enough of my pathetic pining and complaining. To take our minds off the ocean between us, I’ll share a bit of life here at Bray Manor.
The depth of his love reaches me through his penmanship. I can hardly contain it. The joy and pain of love What a paradox this life is!
It is cold here with winter pressing in. Not as cold as it is there, I hear. I think I will like snow. Not a stitch in London and only a few pathetic flakes have fallen here. Can you believe I’ve never built a snowman?
I stare out my window as the snow falls in fat, wet flakes. Frost frames my window pane in a fantastically beautiful design. I'll have to bundle up and go outside after this and make a snowman, just so I can boast about it when I write Daniel back.
Felicia is the only one amongst us who’s enjoying the dreary rain by making a game of stomping through the puddles. I bought her a pair of new wellies – rubber boots, in case you’ve forgotten how to speak Brit! -pink with butterflies, and a matching brolly. It’s the best we English can do to make the most of winter.
Grandmother is too proud to express her gratitude for your father’s generosity to our family and for virtually saving Bray Manor, but I notice the weight of worry that has fallen off her shoulders, and for that I’m grateful.
Don’t get me wrong, the Dowager Lady Ambrosia Gold is no gentle flower. She has a mind full of opinions she doesn’t mind sharing. Just yesterday she said, “Bray Manor will never be outfitted with electricity! God made the sun and if that’s good enough for Him, it’s good enough!”
I couldn’t help but laugh. Lady Gold sounds like a hoot. I really can’t wait to meet her. Daniel’s stories about little Felicia remind me so much of Louisa. Perhaps I should buy her a pair of wellies!
Bray Manor is damp and grey. Not a lot of wood to burn around here like you have in America and coal is so dirty. But I shan’t complain. We are warm and fed and in good health. Despite my grumblings, I’ve very fond of my childhood home and I can’t wait to bring you here on our wedding journey. Thankfully, it will be summertime!
I, too, can not wait until I journey back to England. Not only to visit Daniel’s Bray Manor, but to return to my own childhood home, Hartigan House, in Kensington. It’s been such a long time since I’ve been there, and my heart squeezes with a tinge of homesickness.
Have a happy Christmas, love. This is the last one for which we will be apart. We’ll have many, many happy Christmas’s together in the future, growing old and grey together! And how fun will it be once the children come?
With all my love and devotion,
PS. Please write soon.