Penelope sat shaking, her mouth too parched to speak. After performing several involuntary facial twitches, none of which had the desired effect of producing an audible answer, she stammered, “May I have a glass of water, please?”
“It’s a simple question, Miss Price,” said the scowling, buttoned-up man facing her. “Are you or are you not the grandniece of the deceased?”
“Yuh-y-yes,” Penelope whimpered, fidgeting with the clasp on her ponderous purse.
“Speak up!” the scowling man snapped.
“Yes, I’m a great niece.”
“I mean she was my niece,” Penelope answered, breathing in sharply and causing her corset to give a cobra-like squeeze to her ribs. She was certain she would faint.
“Miss Price!” the scowler bellowed, the veins in his neck straining against his starched collar.
“Rather, I’m her aunt … great aunt … grandaunt, that is,” Penelope said, the right side of her facing twitching again.
“This is ridiculous,” the man said, slamming closed his briefcase, his annoyance now bordering on rage, “and a complete waste of time.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Beekham. I get nervous when it comes to legal matters,” Penelope offered in explanation.
Her comment was made in understatement. Penelope Price went through life in a state of perpetual guilt, always fearing that she’d either just said or done something wrong, illegal, or uncouth, or that she was on the verge of doing so. Those who knew her only slightly tended to view this trait with suspicion. Those who knew and loved her well found the innocent quirk endearing, especially given that Penelope had never in her life broken the law—at least, as far as she knew.