Mumsy Abigail sat in the Brunel Hotel restaurant, Goodbye Muirsheen Durkin, watching Mr. Palmer shovel food into his mouth, followed by a glut of wine. She wondered why a solicitor should have such an impulse to eat as if he’d not been fed for weeks.
“You say that Juniper has purchased land for a house?” she asked.
Palmer nodded and dabbed his mouth daintily with a napkin, much more so than Mumsy would have expected for someone who otherwise ate like a horse.
He cleared his throat as he nodded. “Yes. Yes, the papers have been filed and the title transferred. Your nephew-in-law sent the funds and it has all been arranged.”
“Good. It’s about time.” Mumsy took a sip of her wine. “The sooner I can get out of that house, the better. I can’t move a muscle without her asking me if I need help. Bah!”
Mr. Palmer sat back in his chair, apparently sated, and looked at her with curiosity. “Mumsy Abigail, I must say that she has carried out her responsibility to you much more conscientiously than you led me to believe she would. She seems genuinely concerned.”
The old woman narrowed her eyes and shook her head. “No, no…not you too, Palmer. I didn’t hire you to get all dewy-eyed over my niece. Don’t be fooled, sir. She is only interested in an inheritance! That is the only reason any of them tolerate me.”
She fussed with her napkin, and then her skirt, shaking her head and harumphing in apparent disdain. “These people,” she muttered. “Only after a handout.”
“Tut, tut,” Mr. Palmer said, condescension in his voice. “Surely you can’t mean that, mum.”
She glared at him and shouted, “They’re only waiting for me to die!”
Mr. Palmer covered his face with his hand as the other patrons in the restaurant turned and glared. “Hush, woman! You’re going to get us thrown out!” he whispered.
“Hmph,” Mumsy said, returning to her fussing. “I certainly couldn’t care less. All of these people, going about their business, eating, drinking, breeding, making merry, dancing like idiots, building their infernal machines. It’s a disgrace.”
“But Mumsy,” Mr. Palmer pleaded. “You used to love New Babbage. You told me about your life here with your husband so many years ago. I wanted to bring you back here so you would enjoy your pensioning years.”
She thrust a crooked finger in his face. “I have my own reasons for coming back here, Palmer! Don’t flatter yourself to think that you influenced my decision in the least. You sir, are a means to an end, and no more.”
Mr. Palmer looked at her with a slight air of amusement. “Oh, pshaw, Mumsy. You’re so unkind. I’ve half a mind to leave you on your own with your niece. How would that do?”
She glared at him and was silent for a number of moments. The other diners went back to their meals and Mumsy changed the subject in a lower tone of voice.
“Have you finished reviewing the ledgers I gave you?”
Mr. Palmer nodded and moved his tongue about inside his cheek in an apparent attempt to dislodge a bit of food. Mumsy scowled as she watched him, waiting for his response. He made a slight sucking noise with his lips and finally deigned to answer.
“Yes, Mumsy, I have. And I believe you will be surprised by the results.”
“Is that so? Do tell.” She folded her arms across her chest.
Palmer leaned forward and put his elbows on the table. He spoke with an air of superiority. “You, my dear lady, are flat broke. It appears that someone has been skimming off of your funds for a great many years. Were it not for the fact that you’re paying me with the allowance you receive from your nephew-in-law, I wouldn’t be able to be of any further service.”
Mumsy was stoic.
“You wouldn’t happen to know anything about this, would you Mumsy Abigail? You wouldn’t happen to be hiding any sources of income?”
She grunted in response, and then asked, “Just why would I do such a thing? My son is gone, my nieces have their own incomes, and I have no other family. Wouldn’t it follow that any extra income would do the most for me in my pockets?”
Mr. Palmer shrugged and sat back in his chair again, motioning for a waiter to bring more wine. He leveled his eyes at the old woman sitting across from him. “One never knows, Mumsy. I’ve found that the elderly among us sometimes have motivations that we younger folk do not understand.”
Mumsy met Mr. Palmer’s eyes briefly before her expression changed suddenly from that of a shrewd old woman to a smiling grandmother. “Do you know what I’m going to do Mr. Palmer?”
He regarded her with suspicion. “No, madam, I can honestly say that I have no idea.”
“I am going to knit a wool scarf for you. Winter is coming, and it will be cold. You need a good muffler to help you stay warm.” She smiled childishly.
Mr. Palmer rolled his eyes. “You are as mad as a hatter sometimes, woman. I often wonder why I continue to put up with your antics.”
The old woman sitting across the table from him in Muirsheen Durkin continued to grin, and began to gently wave her hands around before her, as if knitting in the air. Mr. Palmer thought he saw a glimmer of understanding in her eyes, but he brushed the thought aside. If she was cunning enough to act like an old fool he had to give her credit, but he was reasonably certain it was just senility.
Only a little while longer, he told himself. Once I know she has no money stashed away I can leave New Babbage for more….promising opportunities.