“But I don’t see why you want to give all these things away, Professor.”
Maisie stood in the middle of Professor Tobin’s rooms and gazed at the boxes stacked up around her. Wooden packing cases were shedding straw all over the carpet, which Maisie would have to sweep. But she didn’t mind—she was very fond of the professor and quite often lingered over the dusting in his rooms so he could tell her stories about his expeditions.
In return, Maisie would tell him all about the latest mysteries she’d solved. Like how she had discovered that the old lady who lived at the end of the road had a secret addiction to toffee bonbons.
“Won’t you miss all your things?” Maisie asked. She lifted up a glass case containing tiny stuffed birds perched on a branch and carefully tucked it into one of the boxes. She would miss the amazing objects they were packing away, even if the professor wouldn’t. Although it would be nice not to have so many glass cases to polish.
“Oh, of course, of course.” Professor Tobin nodded as he patted a wooden carving lovingly. “But I’m running out of room, Maisie. No more wall space.” Then he beamed at her. “A museum is the best place for them. Most of the animal specimens will go to the new Natural History Museum, in Kensington, now that it’s finally finished. And the masks and carvings to the British Museum. There’s to be a Tobin Room,” he added, smiling shyly. “Besides, if I give most of my collection to the museum, I shall simply have to go on another expedition and find some more artifacts, won’t I?”
“I suppose so,” Maisie agreed sadly. She hated the idea of the professor leaving. His last expedition, which he’d returned from several months before, had been all across South America, and he had told her that he’d been away for years.
“I won’t be off for a while, Maisie—don’t worry. I haven’t finished my book yet. And when I do go away, I shall keep my rooms here in your grandmother’s house, and you must promise to look after Jasper for me.”
Maisie sighed quietly. Jasper was the professor’s parrot, and it was one of her jobs to clean his cage and fill his bowls with water and seed. Maisie had always thought that parrots were intelligent, but Jasper most definitely wasn’t. He was very handsome, with beautiful bright red feathers, but he was certainly a birdbrain. He had a terrible tendency to sit in his water bowl and tip it over, and then shiver pathetically in the corner of his cage until someone came and dried him. He didn’t talk much, either. He would look hopefully at anyone who came into the room, and squawk, “Bikkit?” That was about it, though.
Maisie’s gran couldn’t stand the parrot, but the professor was her best lodger. His rooms were the most expensive in the boarding house. Plus, he always paid his rent on time. So she pretended not to notice Jasper at all.
“Yes, I’ll look after him,” Maisie said. She glanced over at the big cage, which hung from a stand by the window—the professor was convinced that Jasper liked to look out. “Oh, he’s upside down,” she said in surprise, peering at the parrot, who was clinging to the top of his cage with his knobby gray claws.
“Don’t tell him! Oh, too late.” Professor Tobin flinched as Jasper panicked, let go, and crashed into his food bowl, spraying sunflower seeds everywhere.
“I’ll fetch the broom,” Maisie sighed.
While Maisie swept up the mess, she told the professor about her morning’s work. She had actually been paid for her detecting, for once—a whole shilling. Mr. Lacey, father of Maisie’s best friend, Alice, had employed her to investigate Alice’s new governess. Mr. Lacey had wanted to make sure the new governess was nicer than Miss Sidebotham, who had left her post after a disastrous stay in the country with Alice and Maisie.
Maisie had lurked in the hallway, with a duster, to look at the candidates as they came to be interviewed. “Mr. Lacey just wanted to know what I thought about them, you see. He said I’ve got a good eye,” she added proudly. “It wasn’t easy, though. I mean, what do I know about governesses? I did tell him not to even think about the one with the fox-fur collar on her coat, because someone who could walk about with a beady-eyed dead fox around her neck all the time absolutely has to be horrible, don’t you think?” she asked the professor.
He nodded solemnly. “They’d have to be.”
Of course, the job was made more complicated because Maisie was secretly working for Alice at the same time (although Alice was only paying her in toffee). She wanted to be sure that none of the possible new governesses would try to marry her father. Alice had always claimed that Miss Sidebotham was trying to do exactly that.
It was unfortunate that Mr. Lacey was kind, rich, hardworking, and in possession of a most attractive and curly mustache. Maisie had a dreadful feeling that even the most hard-hearted governess would fall in love with him. Maisie had suggested to Alice that perhaps she should go to school instead of having a governess. Not the ordinary school that Maisie had been to before she left to work in Gran’s boarding house, of course, but a smart establishment for young ladies. Alice rather liked the idea, but then she had realized she would have to leave her darling white cats behind.
“So Alice said she’d just have to take her chances with a new governess instead, you see. There!” Maisie glared at Jasper as she swept the last of the sunflower seeds into her dustpan. “Don’t do it again, you silly creature!”
“I’ll be glad when those dratted stuffed animals are all gone,” Gran snapped. “You spend half your time up there dusting them, and now on top of that we’ve got sightseers hanging around outside!” She peered around the heavy velvet curtains and sniffed crossly. “I never thought I’d live to see the day—my respectable boarding house being written up in the newspapers.”
Maisie leaned around her gran to look through the window of the sitting room. Hardly anyone used the little front room, but Gran insisted on keeping it dusted and polished till all the furniture shone. It was where she interviewed new lodgers and important visitors—as she said, she could hardly talk to them in the kitchen, which was where she and Maisie and Sally the maid spent most of their time.
“I think it’s quite exciting,” Maisie said as she watched a young man in a smart overcoat point up at the rooms on the first floor. He could probably see Jasper, she decided. That was if Jasper hadn’t fallen off his perch again. “And they aren’t saying anything bad, Gran. Just that the famous Professor Tobin lives here. And he’s giving all his specimens to the ...