Today I visited Father in his study where a number of disturbing things occurred. Father, looking fine in his navy pinstriped suit, sat at his mahogany desk, his spectacles propped on his nose, and snapped a newspaper open.
“I hope Woodrow is watching the baltic closely,” he muttered.
I delivered a cup of hot coffee placing it on the desk and perched myself on a leather wingback chair. “What do you mean?” I asked.
“The Balkan states mean to remove the Ottoman Empire – an empire that’s been in ruling for six hundred years. The unrest in Europe makes me uncomfortable.”
“I’m sure it’s unpleasant for the people who live there,” I said.
Father lowered the paper, dipped his chin and stared at me from over his spectacles. “It’s a tinder box that can start a forest on fire.”
“Surely, it’s not as bad as all that,” I said. “Hopefully, it will end quickly.”
Father grunted. I commiserated for the people in Eastern Europe, but their troubles could hardly effect us all the way over here in America, could they?
Father lifted his cup, but his hand rattled so badly he had to drop it. Coffee sloshed out onto the saucer. Alarmed, I couldn’t help but stare.
Father ignored me, let the newspaper fall to the desk, and used both hands to lift the cup to his lips.
“Are you all right?” I asked.
“Of course. I slept on my arm the wrong way last night. Pinched a nerve, I suspect.”
“I can call for a doctor to come to take a look,” I offered.
Father shook his head sharply. “No need.” He returned his cup safely to its saucer without shaking and my concern for his health was abated. He opened his cigar case and chose a cigar. “Now,” he patted his vest. “Where is my lighter?”
Father bought his silver Colibri kickstart petrol lighter in England. It had a fascinating relief artwork of a family eating dinner next to a brick wall that had a six panel window in it. It was unique in these parts, a conversation starter, and a favorite of Father’s belongings. When Father couldn’t find it on his person or in his desk, I entered into the search.
“When was the last time you saw it?”
“I can’t rightly remember.”
“Think back. Was it yesterday? Last week?”
“I’m not sure. Wednesday, perhaps. I’ve been smoking less lately.”
I blinked at the man who found joy in smoking regularly. He looked old to me suddenly, – deeper lines in his jowls, skin ruddy, hair thinning on his head – and I wondered when that had happened.
I forced my attention back to the mystery at hand. “Who’s been in your office since then?”
Father frowned. “I’ve had no visitors. Just members of my own household.”
My stomach lurched as I recalled my missing locket. Molly and I had search high and low for it to no avail.
“Besides Sally and Louisa, did you see anyone come in?”
“No, but the door is unlocked,” Father said. “The maids clean up and start the fire. Mrs. Bakker sometimes personally delivers a piece of cake. I believe she wants to see my reaction, which is always positive.”
“Mrs. Bakker is an exceptional baker,” I admitted. “What about Cuthbert?” James Cuthbert, Father’s new chauffeur was the most recent member of staff, and, coincidentally, items began to go missing after his arrival.
“Cuthbert came with the highest recommendation.”
Hadn’t all of our employees? I kept this observation to myself.
Father resigned his search and said, “Never mind it for now.” He sat heavily into his chair. “I have a spare lighter somewhere.”
“I’ll go fetch it for you,” I offered.
“Thank you, Ginger. Now, I best get back to work.”
Do you know where I found Cuthbert? Downstairs in the servants quarters flirting with the maids! When they noticed me watching, June and Wendy bobbed and scurried like frightened mice caught nibbling the cheese. Cuthbert became a statue staring over my head. I was glad I was wearing my blue silk dress with the modern square cut neckline and raised contrasting yellow sash. It made me feel mature and gave me courage to speak out with the authority I had.
“Mr. Cuthbert,” I began. “My father can’t seem to find his Colibri lighter. Have you seen it anywhere?”
“I’m not certain I know the lighter you mean, madam.”
I narrowed my gaze at him, unbelieving.
“It’s silver and has a distinctive relief art on one side.”
“Oh yes, I remember seeing it once. A lovely piece.”
“Yes, indeed. And it’s missing.”
“Oh. Shall I search the carriage? Perhaps it fell out of Mr. Hartigan’s pocket.”
“Please do, Mr. Cuthbert.”
Father’s chauffeur left me waiting in the servant’s dining room. I could hear Sally’s voice filter from the kitchen as she gave Mrs. Bakker instructions for the evening meal, and as bad luck would have it, she spotted me there just as Cuthbert returned, somewhat out of breath.
“I’m afraid it’s not in the carriage, madam.”
“What’s going on here?” Sally’s voice rasped in a way that put me on edge.
“Ginger? What are you and Cuthbert up to?”
Her use of my Christian name in front of Father’s chauffeur made me feel like a child. I was engaged to be married, for crying out loud!
“We’re not up to anything, Mrs. Hartigan.” I emphasized my usage of Sally’s formal address, hoping she’d catch on to how she slighted me, but I fear I’d have to write it out in bold print before she’d see it, and even then, I doubted she'd clue in.
I explained further. “Father’s lighter has gone missing and I’m trying to recover it.”
Sally scoffed. “It hasn’t gone missing. He’s misplaced it.” She pierced Cuthbert with a glare. “Surely you must have something useful to do.”
“Y-yes, miss,” Cuthbert stammered. I have no idea what else he could possibly be doing beside waiting for Father to go out somewhere, but I said nothing.
Mrs. Bakker produced a lighter on request and I brought it to my father as promised.
I’m no closer to getting to the bottom of things, but Mr. Cuthbert had better be on his best behaviour. I’ll be watching him closely from now on.