Molly presented the platter of roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and carrots as she always did for Sunday supper. She double checked the table to make sure all the condiments were there. They were of course. Her service had given no cause for complaint for over fifty years.
“Molly, a moment please.” Nightingale stopped her as she stepped back.
She waited expectantly for instructions. A change in routine was always pleasant. Perhaps Dr. Walid was coming to dinner. She could do up a nice leg of lamb from that halal butcher down the way.
“I'm going to ask the Commissioner tomorrow for permission to take on an apprentice.”
An apprentice! How wonderful! A step toward returning the Folly to it's proper functioning. Not only that but the boys who used to come up from Casterbrook with their unformed magic were precious. They made for more work of course. Eating everything in sight and clattering about disrupting things. She looked forward to it. Some of the boys had been frightened by her. Perhaps she should make up some sweets. That usually won over the most frightened boy.
“His name is Peter Grant and he's just finished his probationary period to become a full constable.”
Or perhaps not. A grown man becoming an apprentice?
“I met him while he was ghost hunting near St Paul's at Covent Garden.” Nightingale went on.
That at least was normal for an apprentice. They were all fascinated by ghosts.
“Seems that he had previously interviewed the ghost in regard to the Skirmish case.”
Actually speaking with a ghost showed a fair degree of magical aptitude for an untrained apprentice. Molly tilted her head.
“Indeed.” Nightingale agreed. “That is why I had him assigned to assist me with the investigation. He's proved to be brave, pragmatic and clever. His science background makes him objective, which should prove most useful. More than that he wants to know which is the most important thing in an apprentice.
“So I'd like you to make up a room for him so that we are ready if the Commissioner approves my request. I thought the room down from mine next to the stairs.”
No. Oh, no. Molly tilted her head indicating so. That room had last been used by Geoffrey Wheatcroft. Rooms kept some of the personalities of their occupants and Wheatcroft had been far too full of himself. Not to mention trying to take advantage of the maids. The last thing she wanted was for this new apprentice to be influenced by him.
Besides the window seal was poor and the room had a terrible draught.
“No?” Nightingale responded. “Well, I'll leave it to your judgment then.”
He shifted. Molly waited patiently to hear whatever it was he felt the need to tell her and was uncomfortable bringing up. For a terrible moment she wondered if this new apprentice was one of those vegans.
“He's London born. Kentish Town in fact.”
There had always been a few charity students at Casterbrook. With just Nightingale and herself there would be no issue of snobbishness.
“However, his mother is from Sierra Leone.” Nightingale
At Molly's tilt of the head, he elaborated. “It's in Africa. He's black. Although since his father is a cockney jazz musician I suppose he's actually mixed race, or... well truth to tell I've no idea what the polite term is for it these days. I probably should have taken one of those diversity training courses. I intend to avoid the issue entirely unless he brings it up.”
Actually she knew where Sierra Leone was. She did read the papers after all. Granted the Women's pages first and the International news only if she had time. She just was not sure why Nightingale thought he needed to bring it up. If the young man was an apprentice she would treat him as such. She understood the proper order to things. Unlike some of the old staff who had looked down their noses at that Irish wizard.
In the end she decided to put this new apprentice in a fourth story room. Giving him a bit of privacy while at the same time noting his position in the scheme of things. Picking the one with the best light and view she set to work immediately putting it to rights. Making sure not a speck of dust escaped her.
It was pleasing to once again be welcoming a new member of the Folly. It had been too long by far.
She remembered Nightingale's arrival at the house. The Great War had ended. During it she had been promoted from the scullery to upstairs maid. She would never have been allowed upstairs before the war, but there was a servant shortage and the housekeeper had decided that her cleaning skills offset any oddness.
Nightingale had just returned from an overseas expedition to India and been turned over to Inspector Murville to learn policing. Her duties had included looking after him and his room.
She still remembered that first exchange. “Molly isn't it?” He had asked her.
She nodded. Surprised to be remembered. To most of the Wizards she was just 'the odd one'.
“I was wondering if it would be possible to get an extra supply of coal for my room.” He looked a touch sheepish. “Haven't readjusted to English weather and I'm rather feeling the cold.”
After that she had made a point of always keeping his coal shuttle full. As well as having a good fire going for him when he came in and a hot water bottle tucked into his bed.
He had sought her out to thank her for it. “Most appreciated. I think I'm finally getting warm again.”
More than that he had praised her work to the housekeeper. Which, together with one of the senior maids leaving to marry, had gotten her promoted.
Throughout the 20s, Nightingale had worked as a police officer. His odd hours resulted in him missing meals and stopping off in the kitchen to cadge something. She took to keeping a plate for him when he was out. Always having some sandwiches and a thermos ready for late night stakeouts.
At some point she started to think of him as 'her' Nightingale
The 30s saw him transferred over to the intelligence services. Regularly being sent overseas to do all sorts of mysterious things. He would tell her of his adventures when he returned. Or at least those parts which were not secret.
Sometimes at night in those years leading up to the Second War, as the rest of the staff slept she would ghost through the halls taking care of this and that. Whatever the day had not seen time to do. While she worked she would consider how she would reorder things when her Nightingale was Master of the Folly and she was Head Housekeeper.
Afterward when it was just the two of them rattling about the Folly with the halls echoing with the after image of dead men's magic she was sorry she had tempted fate.
But now that was coming to an end. And a good thing too. It was not her place to contradict her betters, but even in the aftermath of the war, as the wizards broke their staffs or worse and left, she could tell magic was not dying. Muffled yes. Hiding even. But it was still there.
Then in 1966 it was if a dam had broken. The magic came rushing back. Nightingale started to come back as well. Slowly regaining his youth and purpose.
The only surprising thing about the apprentice when he arrived was that he already possessed a connection to the Folly. There was not a hint of magic about him yet, but he fit in the way all the Issacs did. She had always assumed that the fit was part of the magic. Apparently the Oath alone was enough to form the connection.
Otherwise he was just an average young man. Just like any of the others who passed by the Folly on any given day. Granted he looked a bit like the American President (better ears, thank heavens) but she had been expected something a bit different after Nightingale made such a point of his mother being African.
Well, the dog he brought with him was surprising. But she soon had the little beast understand the natural order of thing.
She made sure to lay on a proper welcoming breakfast for him his first day.
His clothes turned out to be a very odd mix of a suits and laborers' clothes. Although from what she had read young people these days frequently wore those jeans when they went out in the evenings.
Still the Folly had standards. So she cleaned and pressed all of the clothes and hung them neatly for him.
Resulting in him coming down to the kitchen in morning with, “Uhm Molly, thanks for doing my laundry. I really appreciate it. But it's really not necessary to iron my sweats. Or hang them up.”
She still made certain everything was neatly folded and put away.
She did her best to protect the Folly while Nightingale was in hospital after he was shot. She feared for awhile she might have to fight off that Tyburn woman. Even with the protection spells and on her home turf she doubted she could take on a river spirit, but she was prepared to try. Luckily the protections held and Frank Caffrey stood guard until Peter managed to sort it out.
Peter seemed not to be bothered by her loss of control during their attempt at Haemomancy. If anything he behaved with greater familiarity since then. Popping into the kitchen to ask if she had been clubbing lately.
The boy was turning into quite what the old cook used call a 'cheeky blighter'. No one had ever been cheeky to Molly before. She found she rather liked it.
In return she made a point of occasionally sneaking up on him. He almost always jumped in surprise when she did so. It was turning into something of a game. In which she was substantially ahead.
Not that she was keeping score, of course. That would be improper.
It came as no surprise to her that the changes that started with Peter brought more in their wake.
Another apprentice joined them in the fall. Much to Nightingale's consternation.
“I know it's the done thing now.” He told her over late night tea. “But I still can't help but feel that it's a bit improper having a young, unmarried woman, not a relative, under the same roof as Peter and myself. Especially since I'm fairly certain Peter fancies the girl.
“Not that I think he would take advantage.” He added hurriedly. “It's just... well you know how young people can be.”
She did indeed. She had swapped duties with more than one maid to protect them from the unwanted interest of the young and not so young men of the Folly,
“Perhaps you could keep an eye on her.” Nightingale went on. “She'd no doubt baulk at any sort of chaperonage, but I am responsible for her and I would be more comfortable knowing there was a woman looking out for her.
“So would she I imagine. The Folly has always been a male bastion. There are probably all sorts of female things that would never occur to me.” He gave her a smile. “The disadvantage of a bachelor existence.”
After that Molly took it upon herself to give the young woman a bit of special attention. Starting by putting her on a completely different floor than Peter. Not that one of the other or them could not have popped up or down the stairs, it did set the suggestion of a barrier.
Lesley felt different from Nightingale and Peter. It might be because she was a woman. There had after all never been a woman wizard before. But somehow Molly doubted it. This felt more like the people Molly had met that had started out human and been changed by magic. That and her oath seemed to sit more lightly on her than the two men. That Molly recognized. She would break her staff if things got tough.
There was no shame in not having the fortitude to be able to cleave to ones oath in the face of hardship. Not everyone was like her Nightingale and had the strength of character to keep going against impossible odds.
When young Abigail started coming over Molly did make sweets. Apparently young girls were as easily won over by a plate of homemade treats as young boys. She liked the girl. Although Molly was itching to get her hands on Abigail’s hair. It was fine that the girl did not want to go to the fuss that Beverly did. (Which was apparently quite a fuss. Molly could not understand why. She herself would have given much to have a bit of curl in her hair.) Just a little styling and a trim would have done wonders though. Perhaps when Abigail became a formal apprentice she would let Molly do something more interesting with it.
With all the changes, Molly made an effort at updating her menus. If only to keep them eating at home. The first attempt at Eggs Benedict was not, even she was prepared to admit, a success. And involved so much work that she did not manage to have anything else prepared.
After Lesley was kind enough to buy her a new cookbook for Christmas she had greater success.
She also read an article saying yams were a staple of West African cooking. So she did some up that she thought came out rather well; mashed with onion gravy.
Peter even complimented her on them.
Things had not changed so much that she was about to leave the protection of the Folly though. Despite Nightingale's thoughtful invitation to join them at the River's Spring Court, she was not as sure as he that the river spirits would be able to hold her enemies at bay should they realize she were there.
Nightingale did bring her back a lovely bouquet of flowers from the Court.
She started assisting in training. Peter was working at perfecting his shields. So she would regularly accompany him to the range and poke at him with the handle removed from an old mop. It was rather fun. When the shield worked the magic cascaded from it in the most delightful way. And when it did not she got to poke Peter with the mop handle. A win either way.
After a particularly poor session Peter grumbled, “You're enjoying this too much.”
Molly gave him her most well trained maid expression. He snorted. “That may work with Nightingale, but my Mum used to take me to work with her. I know exactly what that 'Yes, sir, boss' look means.”
She raised an eyebrow. Peter said, “Yeah, I know, definitely not the boss around here. Still if it weren't that Lesley would be even harder on me I'd be looking for another training partner who didn't find me so amusing. 3:00 okay with you for tomorrow?”
Of course there were down sides to the changes as well. For one, that little goblin boy was sniffing around Lesley. Not even appreciating her cooking brought him up high enough in Molly's opinion to be worthy of an apprentice. Admittedly the Fortnum and Mason Game Relish that Nightingale brought home from him was quite a treat. Molly ordered a pheasant to make proper use of it. The news that accompanied it, a Night Witch loose in London, was not as welcome.
“We'll need to keep a wary eye on Peter and Lesley to make sure they don't run afoul of her on their own.” Nightingale informed her. “I've instructed them to stay together and not to approach her without me, but given Peter's proclivity for personal and property damage I am greatly afraid that won't be enough.”
Not to mention he had left out an important consideration. She made sure Peter understood that.
Peter was getting much better at understanding her. It took only a few head tilts and some gestures before he caught on. “Yeah, I get it. Make sure Nightingale has backup when we run into Varvara Sidorovna again. Although what you think I could do to protect Nightingale in that situation is beyond me.”
She was sure he could find something to blow up. He was good at that. She nodded encouragingly at him.
Then the wheels came off, as Peter would say. After managing to let Peter fall off the top of a collapsing building and tasering him, Lesley betrayed them and went over to the enemy. Molly would very much like to have a few minutes alone with that girl. Some things called for laying aside proper manners and reverting to ones origins.
She did what she could to assist. Keeping an eye on Varvara Sidorovna from the shadows and making sure she did not get up to anything she shouldn't. Molly regarded it as rather a pity Varvara did not try anything. After Lesley's betrayal, showing Varvara just where she stood in the scheme of things would have provided some welcome release. Instead Molly made a point of treating Varvara with excruciating correctness. Just as she had been taught by the old housekeeper.
From Varvara's behavior it was clear she understood precisely the message Molly was conveying. It did not keep her from reading the women's magazines Molly passed on to her or eating Molly's food though.
Peter was not taking Lesley's betrayal well. Neither was Nightingale, but he at least had seen it happen before and was able to take a more considered view. Not to mention Nightingale had not been half in love with the girl. Molly agreed that sending Peter out of town to assist with finding those missing girls was a wise idea. Particularly when Nightingale sent Beverly after him. (Not that she needed much encouragement.) Nothing helped a young man get over a broken heart faster than a pretty girl who fancied him.
If it had been infants missing, Molly would have a strong suspicion who had taken them. Particularly that close to the border. Raids crossed over from Wales all the time. Or at least that was what her Nana used to tell her. A century had passed since she had crossed over. She had no idea if any of them still existed. Even if they did, they did not take children that old.
Besides even if she was wrong and the Welsh had been raiding, what little she knew would not help. If she had known how to cross back into that world she would have done it as a child.
And died for her trouble. She dearly hoped those two girls had not somehow crossed over by accident. They would never find the bodies.
Peter, of course, managed to stumble into the clutches of a Welsh tribe. Sometimes she thought they should not let that boy out of the Folly without a lead. Toby had extras after all. Fortunately Beverly was able to find a way through to the other world and bring him back.
And then to top it off Peter went and drew the most absurd assumption.
“Molly, could we have a word?” Nightingale entered the kitchen. Peter trailed after him, notes clutched in his hands.
Something was about to change again. She could tell from their expressions. By now she was coming to welcome the challenges these developments brought.
Peter cleared his throat nervously. “You know I ended up in an alternate world during that last investigation?”
Yes. And she would be letting him know in no uncertain terms to take better care in future.
“The people that took me and the children, they were like you, Molly.”
He thought she was Welsh? She shook her head vehemently.
“No?” Peter was surprised. “They looked and acted just like you, Molly.”
Now that was just insulting. She certainly did not act like those people. She had been civilized even as a child.
“Are they are a different... group, than you're from?” Nightingale clearly caught her disdain.
She tilted her head.
“We could try and find your people.” Peter offered. “Do you know where you're from?”
Of course she did. She gestured outward toward the city.
“It would appear, Peter, that Molly shares your opinion of those unfortunate enough to live outside of London.” Nightingale was amused but trying not to show it.
“That would make it all the easier to find a way for you get back there.” Peter said.
Leave the Folly? She took several steps back to find the shadows. Her first thought concealment, but teeth bared in case she had to fight.
“The choice is of course your's, Molly.” Nightingale spoke quickly. “Peter only wanted you to know about the option. We certainly would be sorry to lose you.”
“You don't want to go back to your people?” Peter clearly wanted to be sure. “We don't want you to be alone.”
With the two of them, not to mention the dog and everyone else that had been traipsing in and out of the Folly of late? No chance of that.
She gestured to them and the Folly and patted the table possessively.
“Well I believe that settles that.” Nightingale said with relief.
The next day Peter presented her with an application to sign up for the Met Police Volunteers. “If you're an Issac, we should make sure Scotland Yard knows about it."