Authors: Kate Kingsbury
No Clue at the Inn
A Pennyfoot Hotel
By Kate Kingsbury
Copyright © 2003 by Doreen Roberts Hight
Cover by Rachel High
My grateful thanks to my wonderful, dedicated editor, Cindy Hwang, for all the times you've come through for me. Bless you.
To my husband, Bill, for your unfailing support and understanding. You are, indeed, the wind beneath my wings.
To Anne Wraight, in Canterbury, England, for all the incredible books, magazines, and brochures that give me so much pleasure and so much information. I'm truly grateful.
"I simply cannot believe we are almost at the end of 1912. How time does fly." Cecily Sinclair Baxter waited for a response from her husband, who sat at the opposite end of the breakfast table, hidden behind the pages of the
When he didn't answer, she picked up the envelope from the embossed silver platter and carefully slit it open with a slim ivory letter opener. The letter was addressed to both Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Baxter, and normally she allowed her husband to take care of such matters. Since Baxter was engrossed in his newspaper, however, she felt justified in taking matters into her own hands.
In any case, she was most curious to know why the cousin of her previous husband had gone to the trouble
of penning a letter to her, instead of ringing her on the telephone.
She was rather proud of the fact that her house, situated just yards from the common in the fashionable London suburb of Wimbledon, was one of the few to boast a telephone. It had taken weeks of arguing with the telephone company, but finally, thanks to Baxter having set up his business as a personal financial advisor right there in their home, the coveted line had been set up.
The problem now was that none of her personal friends had a telephone with which to ring her. Unless they used the public system, of course, which was terribly inconvenient and somewhat demeaning. Edward Sandringham, on the other hand, had access to a telephone right there at the Pennyfoot Hotel. With a sigh, she corrected herself. It wasn't a hotel now. Edward had turned it into some kind of motoring club. Thank heavens he'd at least kept the name of Pennyfoot.
She unfolded the single sheet of paper, noticing at once the crest embedded at the top of the page. A large scrolled
entwined with double
. Pennyfoot Country Club. She had to admit, the name did hold rather a ring to it.
Quickly she scanned the first few lines, then uttered an audible gasp that prompted Baxter to lower the pages of his precious newspaper.
"Is something wrong?"
"No . . . well, yes . . . that is . . . "
The pages rattled as Baxter laid them down on the table. "What
it, my dear? Not Michael, I hope? Andrew?"
Cecily stared at him, her heart beginning to thump with alarming irregularity. "No, no, not the boys. As far
as I know, that is. I haven't heard from either one of them in absolutely ages. You'd think they'd have the time to jot down a few words to their mother now and then, wouldn't you?"
Baxter narrowed his light gray eyes. "The letter?"
"So sorry, darling. You know how distracted I get when it comes to my two sons." Cecily smiled fondly at her husband. They had been married less than two years, yet at times it seemed to her as if they had been married forever. On the other hand, every detail of their wedding, so soon after the death of Edward VII, was still as vivid in her mind as if it had all happened mere days ago.
Baxter's eyes crinkled at the edges. "Yes, I do know how easily you are distracted, my love. But I am on pins and needles with apprehension, wondering what startling news could possibly be contained in that letter that is causing it to tremble in your hands."
Cecily took a steadying breath. "Perhaps I should read it to you."
"I think that is an excellent idea."
"I'll get straight to the important part."
She wrinkled her nose at him, then began reading. "'I have been called away on urgent business to South Africa, where I shall be spending several weeks. Unfortunately this means I shall be absent from the club during the Christmas Season. I recently lost my manager, and I haven't been able to find another one as yet. I hesitate to ask, but I was wondering if you both would consent to manage things at the Pennyfoot for me while I'm away.'" She looked up, studying her husband's face in an effort to gauge his thoughts.
He said nothing at first, but raised his hand and smoothed it over his dark hair.
She absently noted that the gray wings at his temples had widened somewhat since they'd left Badgers End. Her heart skipped with excitement. They had not returned to the Pennyfoot since then. It would be so marvelous to go back there for a short while, and relive all the wonderful memories.
Baxter, however, seemed less enthusiastic about the news. "Spend Christmas at the Pennyfoot . . .
"Oh, come now. It will be fun!" Cecily leaned forward, determined now to take Edward up on his offer. "We can have a reunion! We'll invite Mrs. Chubb and Gertie down from Scotland. It's been so long since we saw our godchildren. Goodness, the twins must be so big now. How I'd love to see James and Lilly again!" She clasped her hands and gazed appealingly into her husband's handsome face.
"But, my dear, think of the work involved. You must remember how tiring it was when you owned the Pennyfoot. You worked such dreadfully long hours for weeks . . . no, months on end."
"So did you. I really don't think I could have kept up with it all if you hadn't been my manager." Cecily breathed a sigh. "Those were wonderful days."
"Viewed from a distance, I suppose they do seem that way. I'm not so sure, however, that I would enjoy being at the beck and call of everyone again. In any case, managing a country club, I imagine, must be quite different from managing a hotel. We don't have the experience—"
"Piffle!" Cecily straightened her back. "What can be so different? People stay there, they eat there, they are entertained there, and they go home. We can hire Madeline to
help with the Christmas decorations, and we can put on a pantomime. I'm quite sure Phoebe would love to help with that. I wonder if the members of her dance team are still living in Badgers End. It will be so good to see them all again. I've missed everyone so much. Oh, there's so much to think about! I shall start making notes this very minute."
It was Baxter's turn to utter a deep sigh. "I can see you've made up your mind about this. Does Edward say exactly when he would want us down there?"
Cecily quickly read through the rest of the letter. "No, he doesn't. I shall have to ring him. He says he wrote the letter rather than using the telephone because he wanted to give us time to think it over." She looked up again. "But it will be Christmas in another month. We simply have to decide right away."
Baxter picked up his teaspoon and stirred his tea, even though Cecily knew quite well he had stirred it earlier. She watched him anxiously, prepared to argue against every one of his objections.
"Why don't I give the chap a ring," Baxter said at last. "I'll find out exactly what the duties would entail. Then we can make a final decision."
Cecily let out her breath. "Then you'll ring him today? He's very likely anxious to hear our answer."
The spoon chinked against the bone china as he laid it in the saucer. "I promise I'll ring him just as soon as I get into my office." He glanced at the pendulum clock ticking away on the wall. "Which I must do right now if I'm to get any work done this morning." He rose, bringing Cecily to her feet as well. "I will see you later, then?"
Cecily swept around the table and raised her chin for
his kiss. "Please don't bury yourself in there for too long. You know how involved you become in your work."
"I won't." He dropped a light kiss on her mouth. "I'll join you for the midday meal."
"You won't forget to ring Edward?"
"First thing, I swear."
"Thank you, darling." She watched him leave the room, then wandered to the window that overlooked the street. The light clip-clop of horses' hooves echoed across the pavement as a carriage swept by, while two ladies wearing warm coats and decorative hats hovered on the curb.
A thick, damp fog hung dismally in the air, almost obliterating the row of elegant houses opposite her. The clammy London fog was so different from the light sea mists of Badgers End.
Sometimes days would pass by before she saw the sun, whereas the ocean mists of Southeast England would dissipate as soon as the sun had warmed the sky, no matter the time of year.
How she missed the sweeping bay with its bobbing fishing boats—the white cliffs rising high above, topped by the cool green grass of Putney Downs.
When she closed her eyes, she could see so clearly the sparkling white walls of the Pennyfoot Hotel, with its roof garden nestled among the chimney pots, dominating the majestic Esplanade with its grandeur.
She missed the rose garden and the bowling greens. She missed the picturesque church and the vicarage. But most of all she missed her good friends—Phoebe Carter-Holmes, with her fussy little ways and her determination to keep up
appearances at all costs, and the gentle, sometimes mysterious, Madeline Pengrath, with her strange healing powers and her uncanny ability to see beyond the boundaries confining mere mortals.
The ache in her throat was almost unbearable, and she turned away from the window in an effort to dismiss the bittersweet memories from her mind. At that moment the door across the room was flung open, and Baxter charged in, his face reddened by his obvious agitation.
"I'm sorry, Cecily, but we will
be working at the Pennyfoot Country Club during the Christmas Season."
Dismay held her rigid. "Why ever not? I don't understand. It can't be that difficult? Surely Edward can—"
"Forgive me for interrupting, my dear, but I'm quite sure you will agree with me when I tell you what Sandringham has just told me."
A feeling of foreboding, such as she hadn't felt since her adventurous days at the Pennyfoot, chilled her. "What is it? What's happened?"
"Sandringham said in his letter that he'd recently lost his manager?"
"Yes, I believe he did. But what—"
"He didn't say
he'd lost him, I presume?"
"No, just that he hadn't had time to find anyone else, but—"
"Well, I can tell you where he lost him." Baxter sank down heavily on his chair then, apparently realizing that his wife was still standing, shot up again. "The poor blighter drowned in an abandoned well."
"A well?" Cecily frowned. "What well?"
"According to Sandringham, it was on vacant farmland
that was waiting to be sold. The chap was wandering around there and
Something in Baxter's tone of voice worried Cecily. She sat down, thus allowing her husband to do likewise. "Supposedly? Are you suggesting it wasn't an accident?"
Baxter dismissed the question with a jerk of his hand. "I don't know what to think. Sandringham seemed to think there was something odd about it. He said the chap was known to have one too many down the pub at times, but he wasn't a habitual drunkard. No one seems to know why the poor blighter was wandering around a deserted farm in the first place. It wasn't as if he had money to buy the place. All very suspicious if you ask me."
"What do the constables have to say about it?"
"Well, you know what Northcott is like. Ignoring the whole thing, as usual. Sandringham wanted him to notify the inspector, but Northcott told him there wasn't any evidence of foul play. Didn't satisfy Sandringham, though. He said he knew the chap rather well. Said he didn't think he was the sort to poke around a place like that on his own, much less careless enough to fall into a well."
Cecily felt a familiar tingling in her ears. It had been a long time, but she remembered well the tantalizing urge to delve into a mysterious situation and search for answers. That urge had landed her in more trouble than she cared to admit, but oh, how she missed the excitement of the hunt and the tremendous satisfaction of cornering the prey.
"You can wipe that bemused expression from your face," Baxter said, somewhat shortly. "I know what you're thinking and the answer is an irrevocable no. We are not going down to Badgers End this Christmas. I won't have
you risking your life, not to mention mine, in yet another reckless escapade. If this manager chap has met with a violent end by someone else's hand, then the constabulary can take care of it. And that's the end of it."