“Merciful heavens!” Mrs. Pepper barked. “Who’s be knockin’ at this hour of the mornin’?”
“Maybe it’s the bakery man.” Maudie suggested, glancing through the kitchen to the area door.
“I should say not.” Mrs. Pepper frowned. “I make my own bread without help from no bakery.”
“Want me to see who it is?” Maudie asked.
“No, let one o’ the men do it.” Mrs. Pepper shook her head. “Ah, then, here’s our Mr. Gurney come to the rescue.”
Gerard hurried across the servants’ hall and to the area door which he promptly opened. He frowned upon seeing Johnny Donnan on the other side.
“Beggin’ your pardon, Mr. Gurney.” Johnny began sheepishly.
“What is it Mr. Donnan?” Gerard asked gruffly.
“Only I didn’t have no where else to go. I’m a man without a home.”
“As I understand it, His Grace paid you handsomely.” Gerard narrowed his eyes. “Surely some of that could have gone to board. Or…have you drunk it away? You can tell me. I understand.”
“No.” Johnny replied, taking off his grubby hat and holding it between his two clenched hands. “If only I’d ‘a’ had such a chance. Only I was robbed on me way through Whitechapel.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, but His Grace is not your personal bank.” Gerard replied.
“No, no, I’ve not come for more gold. I only want to know if maybe Mrs. Pepper has a warm bit of food for a foolish old man.”
Mrs. Pepper came out of the kitchens, wiping her hands on her apron. “We don’t take in beggars.”
“Maybe I am a beggar, but you know me.”
“That we do.” Mrs. Pepper nodded, raising an eyebrow.
“Please, you showed me kindness once before.” Johnny pleaded. “If I don’t get some food in me belly, I’m sure to be a dead man soon ‘nough.”
Gerard and Mrs. Pepper exchanged glances.
“All right.” She sighed. “You can come in for a bite, but then it’s gone with ya. And, you ain’t to speak to none of the young ladies. If you do, you’re out on your ear.”
“Thank you ever so much,” Johnny Donnan replied.
Behind Gerard and Mrs. Pepper, the sound of one of the bells alerted them to activity upstairs.
Gerard turned around.
“They’re up.” Mrs. Pepper nodded.
“No. It’s the front door.” Gerard shook his head.
“Aye, I saw a gentleman comin’ up the stairs just now.” Johnny nodded.
“I’d best get it.” Gerard started up the stairs. “Mr. Speaight’s settin’ the sideboard in the mornin’ room and Charlie’s gettin’ the Duke’s duds ready.” He paused. “Will you be all right?”
“Oh, I’ll be fine.” Mrs. Pepper nodded. “In with ya, Mr. Donnan.” She turned to Johnny.
“I’ll be right back.” Gerard added.
He raced up the stairs to the front hall and quickly opened the door to find a valet standing there with a letter.
“Yes?” Gerard smiled.
“I’ve a letter for Miss Molliner from the Earl of Cleaversworth.” The man replied stiffly.
“Ah. I’ll give it to Miss Molliner.”
“Very well.” The man sniffed, handing the letter to Gerard. With no other word, he turned and walked away.
“So high and mighty.” Gerard muttered as he closed the door. “Just valet to an Earl. This is the home of a Duke.” He chuckled to himself and headed back to the servants’ hall to fetch a salver upon which to place the letter.
Once downstairs, he spotted Johnny Donnan at the dining table, shoving food into his mouth.
“Who was it?” Mrs. Pepper peeked out from the kitchen.
“A letter from the Earl of Cleaversworth for Miss Molliner.”
Johnny looked up.
“That’s nice,” Mrs. Pepper nodded her approval, not thinking of Johnny. “Looks like he’s gonna court her nice and proper.”
“Court her?” Johnny said, his mouth full.
Mrs. Pepper blushed, remembering that Johnny was Lennie’s natural father. “Never you mind, Mr. Donnan. It don’t concern you.”
“Aye, it does. The girl is mine. Maybe she calls herself Lennie Molliner, but she’s still my daughter.”
“A daughter you let be taken from you.” Mrs. Pepper snapped. “You got no right to worry ‘bout her life.”
“No!” Mrs. Pepper barked. “Now, finish your breakfast and be gone. And, do it without another word lest I have you removed from the house.”
Gerard inhaled. “Mrs. P? Have you seen the little salver Mr. Speaight uses for the post?”
“Wasn’t it on the hall table?” Mrs. Pepper asked.
“No.” Gerard shook his head.
“I’d wager it’s in the silver room, then. Maybe Mr. Speaight gave it a polish.”
“I’ll bet so.” Gerard nodded, placing the letter on the pass-through. “I’ll just fetch it.”
Mrs. Pepper nodded. Turning to Johnny, she added, “And, you, eat up. I’m givin’ you five more minutes.”
“Aye.” Johnny replied.
Mrs. Pepper turned back to her work as Johnny eyed the letter.
Did you miss Chapters 1-314? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 316 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square.