I started by questioning Maeve who was otherwise quite happy with her job as cook’s assistant. “I thought you were going to be an upper parlor maid?”
“I did not take to it Master John and so I started cooking for the staff downstairs and Cook fancied my gingerbread and pastries. You know Master John! All of the sweets Weasel so loved me to cook have come in right handy here! Got me the job it did.
We took turns kneading the bread as we punched it down in the rising bowl and then massaging it into cinnamon rolls lavish with brown sugar and dates and currants. Cook watched as she drank tea along with Housekeeper. “Ah Master John! A bonny cook you be!”
“Thanks Cook” I replied as I rolled the dough expertly. “Maeve taught me how to cook. And I hear there are new recipes now to teach me!”
“Oh indeed Master John! Mr Hogg brought back wonderful recipes for the most amazing curries he did!. But he declared no one can made such turkish delight as I did. He has me make the candy once a month and Mother Hogg sends it to him in London express post!” Maeve beamed with pride. “He serves it to fellow East India Company board members! My turkish delight!”
“So when did the poltergeist appear?” I asked.
“Oh master John!” Maeve replied shaking her head. “Tis a dreadful thing!”
“It started nearly two months after you left Master John” Cook said.
“And it as vandalized nearly the whole of the upstairs” Housekeeper added.
“What about downstairs?”
“Oddly no!” Housekeeper replied. “Give or take the Silver Pantry.” Housekeeper and Cook were the types who always kept a deadpan look while commenting ironically on the going-ons at Hogg Heaven.
“Other than the one meal when salt ended up sprinkled on the tart instead of sugar but I could have done that myself being flustered on account of the dining room being recently turned upside down.” Cook added.
“Did anything happen just before things went topsy-turvy?”
“Not that I can think of” Cook said.
“Normal as normal is around here” Housekeeper replied dryly. “Depending how one defines ‘normal’.”
I grinned. “Tell me what happened the day before. Does anyone have any records. Post. Letters. Calling cards. Vendors. Any…”
“Wait!” Maeve said. “I remember! The seamstress came from that fancy there department store. She brought the nice new dresses for Miss Mary she did. Oh Mis Mary looked so beautiful in her brand new clothes! Sure she did! Too bad the poltergeist shredded them to pieces!”
“Miss Mary does not believe in showing any gratitude” Housekeeper snorted as she drank her tea with Cook who nodded in agreement.
“Mary was always a lemony girl” I added. “Me! I am a gorilla. Mary screams that I am just a big bully and I yell back that if she doesn’t stop puckering up her face like a lemon it will get stuck that way and she will shrivel up into an old maid. We are screamers. Brats. I say this ahead of time to save you time saying it when I behave like a pig.” I eased the rolls onto a buttered pan and Maeve put the pan on the window sill where the sun was coming in bright and warm. She covered it with a tea cloth. “I love the smell of fresh bread” I said as I rubbed the flour off my hands on my shirt.
“Oh Master John! We simply cannot have that!” Cook exclaimed. “I don’t mind you cooking downstairs but exposing the fact you can cook by dusting yourself with flour is beyond the pale of acceptability.”
Cook and Housekeeper grinned as Maeve and I poured tea into mugs and sat down around the kitchen table. I felt oddly at home. Usually I pulled into myself with people. But through Maeve I had gotten to know the staff. I did not know if they liked me or just endure me but their sardonic wit and jaded roll of the eye whenever something bizarre occurred in Hogg Heaven delighted me. So I was not shy with them which came off as arrogant or snotty nosed.
“You seem calmer Master John” Maeve said.
“Actually I am! Amazing! So do you! Change of haunted houses. Hogg Heaven is —- was — will be again Hogg Heaven. We just have to figure this out.”
“But school is good now? You are happier?” Maeve asked.
“Not as bad as Gallstone School. It is mostly my fault. I can’t blame anyone. No one likes me there but no one abuses me either. Mother can’t flog me anymore. The wind seems to have gone out of her sails. Defanged and declawed.”
“She spends most of her time in her bedroom reading her bible” Housekeeper replied. “Her brooding is not shared except with the maid who is responsible for her room. We pay her extra to put up with it” she added dryly.
“Mother has a vile temper. Me too. We just explode. Mary always buried her vexation behind her lemony sourness. I mean as a girl she could not afford to lose it. Her temper I mean. She bottled everything up inside. She was the oldest and the one most responsible for mediating between Mother and us kids. At least I could just blow up like a steam kettle. Then I would get locked in the attic! But Mary had to continue to hold on, for the other kids, keep things together somehow. And no one ever thanked her for it. Keeping things together I mean.”
Everyone nodded and drank tea until the Butler came up from the silver pantry. “Dreadful! That damnable little devil of poltergeist threw lime from the washroom all over the silver. I don’t know what I am to do!” The butler, a balding man with an apron over his severe frock coat and silver polishing sleeves over his jacket sleeves, sighed.
“Sit down and have some tea” Housekeeper said patting a chair.
“Oh cinnamon rolls!”
“Ahh!” Maeve jumped up and rushed to the oven to pluck out the first pan of the day. Fresh rolls filled the air pipping hot and delicious. “I will ice the next batch.” She cut the hot rolls into squares and served everyone at the table in order of seniority starting with me.
“It should be Butler” I said. “Isn’t he Senior Sahib?”
“No. Upstairs. Then Downstairs. Butler. Housekeeper. Cook.” Housekeeper said. Everyone dived into mid morning delight finished off with tea. So far, my investigation was going nowhere.