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Chapter Eight

A Day in the Life

In the large dining room Nancy was shown how to set out scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon, haggis, blood sausage, fried tomatoes, mushrooms, and toast in the various hot trays and racks on the enormous sideboard. She learned how to fill the glasses and cups with juice and coffee, what subtle signals to look for to anticipate a diner's need, and how to stand perfectly still until she should be needed to attend someone.

          The first person in to table was a voluptuous, beautiful young woman, immaculately dressed in a fashionable two-piece dress suit. One foot was bandaged and she walked with the help of crutches. She smiled at the servants and greeted them both. "Good morning, Lucy. Good morning, Nancy."

          "Good morning, Miss," they chorused back and both rushed to help her get breakfast.

          "That is Doctor Bess Marvin," Lucy whispered to her when they were on the far side of the room. "She is a celebrated scientist. She won the Nobel Prize for mathematics."

          Nancy looked upon Bess with awe. The Nobel Prize! It was an honor to be serving a person so distinguished! She tried to be even more attentive than before, until Lucy told her to calm down and stand still. Remaining at attention she noted that the Nobel Prize winner was not above quotidian earthly concerns, but was indeed a big feeder. Miss Marvin was disposing of a mountain of eggs, a tower of toast, and several rich pastries besides.

          The next to come in was another young lady, this one less overtly beautiful, but engagingly handsome in her own way. She was in the last stages of pregnancy and wore a bright green jumper of enormous capacity. Nancy helped her to get seated.

          "Thank you, Nancy," said the new arrival. "Can you bring me a heaping plate, please. I don't care what's on it, as long as it's heaping."

          "Yes, Ma'am."

          Nancy moved swiftly to the sideboard. This must be Mrs. Watson, concluded the astute under-housemaid. She felt herself strangely smitten by this lady and tempted, much against her conscious will, into the gross impropriety of rushing over to kiss the lady.

          "Wait a minute," called the expectant mother. "Leave off the blood sausage!"

          "Yes, Ma'am," she answered, as she devotedly fixed an appealing spread, suitable for one eating for two.

          Lucy moved over as if to help Nancy, but clearly intending only to impart sotto-voce information.

          "The pregnant lady is Mrs. Georgiana Watson," instructed Lucy. "She is first cousin to Miss Marvin."

          Nancy nodded. She was relieved that these ladies, casually chatting to each other at table, seemed pleasant enough. She tried to avoid listening to what Mr. Drew's guests were saying to each other, for she guessed that is what servants must be trained to do. But it was so hard to stand at attention thinking of nothing and she wished some relief from brooding over her own melancholy situation. So, little by little, her guard began to drop and then she found herself listening to the guests' chatter, though not comprehending what was being said.

          "You have to admit that she is a good actor," said Dr. Marvin, her mouth partly full.

          "She has been under my tutelage lo these many years," replied Mrs. Watson. "So she ought to be."

          "But I wonder if we can upset her performance?" wondered the mathematician in a calculating voice.

          "Would her father want us to try to do that?" responded Mrs. Watson. "I'm sure that he would not want us to do something that might damage her confidence."

          "It is a dangerous task that she will have to perform," concluded Dr. Marvin. "It is best, I guess, not to try to break her concentration."

          The two young women chewed silently for a couple of minutes.

          "One little test?" ventured Dr. Marvin.

          Her companion gave an almost imperceptible nod. Then both lapsed into a bout of more concentrated mastication.

          Suddenly Dr. Marvin ejaculated, "Calvin Coolidge!"

          Isn't that the name of a president, Nancy wondered to herself. From a long time ago? How do I know that?

          "Warren G. Harding!" shouted Mrs. Watson.

          What are the ladies talking about, the amnesiac maid asked herself. The ladies, whom she had supposed to be saner than herself, now seemed to be talking disconnectedly, making signs and winks to each other like young schoolgirls, then spouting forth random names, some from history and some not.

          "Melody Mike!" was the next subject not under discussion.

          "Chantelle McGee!"

          This is a strange breakfast-table game, thought Nancy. Is this the substance of quality or educated conversation? She hoped not, for if it was, she suspected that she would never quite get the hang of it.

          Mr. Drew came in at last. Never having seem him before, Nancy still knew he was a lawyer, by his bearing and manner. He was dressed as if for an important business appointment.

          "Good morning ladies!" He of course was addressing his company at the table and not his servants standing at the sideboard. The three at the table then had a long and animated discussion over their meal to which Nancy made a renewed effort not to listen. She could not avoid noticing, however, that they were planning a trip to Connecticut. She wondered how that excursion might impact her duties. The house might be relatively empty in a few days. Perhaps that would give her a bit of a respite, either to get her bearings, to get her memory back, or to go shopping for a new dress!

          When the two cousins had left the dining room, Mr. Drew lingered. He sent Lucy on an errand, then unexpectedly drew Nancy aside.

          "Nancy, it is good to see you in such cheerful spirits this morning," he said.

          Nancy had not noticed any such spirits in herself until this time. She had fancied herself, actually, as being rather sullen and despondent. But her employer's suggestion seemed to have an invigorating effect upon her.

          "Thank you, Sir," she answered, meaning every word.

          "Do you remember anything yet?"

          "No, Sir. Not much."

          "Well, it will come back to you soon, I am sure," Mr. Drew assured her.

          She smiled. I hope not until I have got a new dress, she told herself. I have to improve my taste while I am still not in my right mind.

          "Nancy, I have a special favor to ask of you," said Mr. Drew. "I am sending Miss Marvin and Mrs. . . . uh . . . Watson to a religious healing center in Spring Rock, Connecticut in a few days. They will need two servants to take care of them while they are there. I am sending Mrs. Gruen because I think she will be able to manage their financial affairs for me. I will need Lucy here to run the household while Mrs. Gruen is away. So I would like to send you to assist the young ladies and to act as a sort of personal maid to them both. Do you think you can manage that?"

          "Yes, sir," she said heartily. Away from the house, she thought, she might feel less disabled by her lack of memories. And the young ladies probably had less fixed ideas about the extent and nature of her duties than Mr. Drew and Lucy. Too bad Hannah was going along! But perhaps Hannah would be preoccupied with fulfilling her own special instructions.

          "Thank you, Nancy," said her employer genially. "I knew I could count on you."

          After he left Nancy hugged herself with glee. To get out of the house and go on this trip would be like going on a vacation! Who knows what could happen to her at a resort! She determined to buy that new dress before they left.

          That afternoon, after what seemed like several days of scrubbing, dusting, and polishing, Hannah gave her a full two hours off duty.

          "I have never seen you work so hard before. You deserve a little break. Perhaps a walk around the neighborhood and some fresh air will help your memory to pop back into place," the housekeeper ventured. "I'm sure it will do you some good."

          Nancy immediately raced upstairs and fetched her mock-leather handbag. She eagerly examined its contents. As she pulled them out one by one, she placed them on her bed. A broken but still partly serviceable enamel compact. Two lipsticks-one nearly spent. A tiny flashlight. She would need that tonight, she thought wrily. The upstairs hallway is so dim! Two packs of an unappealing black gum. Several chewed green ballpoint pens. What appeared to be a dog collar for a rather large animal. What was that for? She desperately hoped it wasn't an accessory for herself. Not wanting to know she quickly tossed it in the wastebasket. Matches, but no cigarettes. She breathed a sigh of relief. Kleenex. A small rope. For the dog? she wondered. A ratty plastic rain hat. Sunglasses, the same ugly shape as her regular spectacles. Sunscreen. High SPF. A small razor. Playing cards. Judging by how they rattled around in the box, not quite a full deck. A ball of hot pink yarn. Three Pokemon figurines. One was called "psi-duck." How did she know that? A dog-eared romance novel. A bobble-head football-player doll. A pen-knife. A nail file. A little first aid kit, with bandages, ointments, and various pills. A tiny toothbrush in a travel case. Keys. A comb and brush. A cracked mirror. A yellowed perpetual calendar. What use was that? A solar-powered calculator that apparently didn't work. A thin paisley scarf. Bus tickets. A plastic daffodil. Tampons. Pantihose with a knot tied in it. Not much use to wear, but serviceable as a garotte, she though morbidly. Nail polish. Nail polish remover. AA Batteries. A thermometer. And a compass. Boy, do I come prepared! The pile of items on her bedspread looked like they would never fit back inside her trim purse.

          Yet, rich as she was with all these many shabby but utilitarian possessions Nancy was crestfallen. The one thing she felt that she most needed-money-was missing! She turned her bag upside down and inside out, yet could still find no sign of a wallet or even of any loose change.

          Just as she was about to dash her inverted bag to the floor in a fit of pique and frustration, the sharp-eyed maid spotted a tiny zipper cleverly concealed amongst the folds of lining fabric. Her fingers trembled as she tried to open the little secret compartment. Inside-success!-she found two carefully folded, crisp twenty dollar bills.

          Nancy restored her purse to its proper outside-out orientation, but did not have the patience to repack or otherwise dispose of the mound of detritus that stared back at her from the bed. Tonight I'll decide what to keep and what to throw away, she told herself. Now, I'll just grab what I need to go out shopping. With that she scooped up the money, the keys, the bus-tickets, the brush, and the compass, and tucked them in the bag. She untied her apron and partly obscured the nature of her working attire with a bright yellow beaded cardigan sweater.

          She had earlier ventured to ask Lucy directions to the nearest department store. Following these to the letter, and observing the compass on each leg of her journey, Nancy briskly made her way to the establishment of the well-known merchant, J. Q. Nickles. The dress department seemed unfamiliar to her, even by her own memory-deprived standards. I'll bet I have never shopped here before, she mused.

          Quickly Nancy spotted a rack with what looked like some quite presentable dresses. Plain in color, not excessively ornamented, and cut in a similar style to the frock that Dr. Marvin was wearing. She walked around the display until she found her size-funny how she remembered that!-then plucked out the item and held it up against herself as she looked in one of the mirrors so prolifically spread about. It is darling! she gushed to herself. Only then did she examine the price tag. Eighty dollars! That was twice what she had to spend, without even taking into account sales tax. She returned the dress to its place despondently. Would she be able to afford a dress at all?

          It took her nearly twenty minutes to find a rack hung with dresses that she could afford to purchase. But these seemed to be fashioned much like the garments she already had at home. The colors were too loud, the patterns bold and busy, the workmanship shoddy, and the entire effect seemed to her infantile. She couldn't buy anything like that!

          Looking at her watch, Nancy calculated that she had only a few more minutes left to decide upon a purchase, to try on a selected garment, and to make the financial transaction before she would have to set her feet homeward-or wherever it was that she lived. She had no time to look for another store. And she didn't know when another such shopping opportunity might fall her way.

          At that moment it struck her that she would not be able to soon discard the cheap, garish dresses she had in her closet in her room. If she were to take advantage of her upcoming vacation-well working vacation opportunity-she would need those two items, and more, if she were to socialize at all. She would just have to buy a dress that would be consistent with, and complement, the ones she already owned. There might even be young men in Connecticut who might fancy a plain girl in such an unfortunate dress. She continued her daydream. Perhaps she might meet a someone who might fall in love with her, marry her, take her out of service, and buy her an eighty-dollar dress!

          She then spun the rack and plucked out the first frock in her size. She might after all get used to this look in time. If her memory came back, she might appreciate having another piece of this kind of clothing. And soon, wearing this dress at Spring Rock, she would be on her own and looking for a good time. With this stimulating and consoling thought, she began to look forward to putting it on.