Here's the second extract from my historical murder mystery.
The Killing of the Thousand and Second Night, A Harriet Huntley Mystery
As well as responses to her invitations, there were a few invitations for both Harriet and Henry to consider as a couple and on an individual basis. Being a popular former MP of the west end of Glasgow and now a member of the House of Lords meant that Henry was very much in demand for both social and official engagements. When he could free himself from the House of Lords, he attended as many of them as possible.
Lady Harriet had a busy schedule of her own, she was very much involved in the suffrage movement and of course, there was the charitable work she did for the Samaritan Hospital for Women.
Although Henry hadn’t asked Harriet to give up her position in the hospital when they married five years ago it had been one of the hardest decisions she had ever had to make in her life. But being the wife of a dignitary was a full-time job in itself and she would not have been able to give the patients the commitment they needed and deserved if she had remained.
Henry realised that giving up her post had been a great sacrifice, so it was he who suggested that she continue to help the hospital, but in a very different way. As the hospital, survived solely on charitable donations and subscriptions, she could raise funds for the hospital.
She now had the advantage of an influential position in society; she had new means of helping the hospital, at her fingertips. Therefore she wouldn’t be turning her back on the people she loved; she would be carrying on helping them.
So the ball she was busy organising would do just that, raise some more badly needed funds for the hospital. The Ladies Auxiliary Association, who undertook the door-to-door collection of subscriptions in aid of the infirmary, were always grateful for any help given.
Harriet checked the small gold fob watch she had pinned to her pale blue shirt blouse, it was fifteen minutes before one. My goodness, how the morning had flown by. She had better go wash her hands before lunch was served at one o'clock. She placed her papers and her journal in one of the drawers on the left-hand side of the desk. Locking it with one of the small silver keys she had attached to the keychain, that hung from the waist of her navy coloured, gored skirt.
Straightening the blotter on the mahogany flat leather top desk, she quickly looked around the book-lined room, just to check that everything was as it should. Yes, everything was neat and tidy, just as she liked each room in the house to be.
As she rose from the leather upholstered revolving chair, the door burst open and Ian the bellboy came running in, with Charles and Mary directly behind him.
“Mam, Mam. The polis, they're every whar. You’ve to go to her,” Ian ran straight to Harriet and began pulling at her arm.
“I’m sorry my Lady, we can't make any sense of what the boy’s talking about,” said Charles breathlessly, having tried to stop the boy before he barged into the library. But, the lad had proven too much for the butler's seventy-five years and easily won the semi-tussle they had in the hallway. Afraid that the boy was going to hurt their employer, Charles shouted angrily, “What on earth are you doing boy? Let go of Lady Huntley this minute.”
But Ian didn’t let go of Harriet’s wrist, even when Charles took hold of his ear and tugged at it hard. Harriet was flummoxed by the chaos that had erupted around her and she said,
“Charles, leave the boy alone. Calm down now Ian. What are you trying to tell me? And please speak in English.”
Before the lad could even answer his mistress, Mary said defensively,
“I told Charlie here that no one was to disturb you unless it was a matter of life or death Lady Harriet, I’m so sorry.”
“ Mam, I’m sorry for botherin yea. But as I tried to tell Charlie here, although it’s no a matter of life, it’s certainly a matter of death I need to tell you aboot. You see, Jeannie Vicars, The Ashdown’s servant has been murdered and they say there’s loads o blood,” Ian let go of his mistresses arm, now that he knew he had her undivided attention.
“Murdered, are you sure?”
“Aye, Mrs Ashdown’s in an awfy, I mean awful, state. Big PC. McTavish let me speak with Mr Ashdown and he told me to ask you to go o’er, I mean go to their hoose, right away. He said he needed you to help calm her doon. She’s wailing an greetin.”
“Oh, my word. Good lad. Charles take him to the kitchen and have cook give him some hot sweet tea. And, be sure and give him the rest of the day off.”
“Surely Lady Harriet,” Charles had regained his composure and said to Ian, “Come on lad, we’ll get you sorted out.”
Ian nodded and went quietly with the butler, out of the room. Slightly shaken at the events that had reigned in her household for several minutes, she took a deep breath and Harriet said calmly,
“Organise a cab for me Mary and get me my cravanette raincoat and boots, as it looks pretty wet out there.”
“Yes, Lady Harriet. But are you sure you want to go to a house, where someone’s been murdered?”
“The Ashdown’s are my friends and Charlotte is of a fairly weak disposition, so it’s my duty to support her, in her hour of need,” Harriet said obstinately. Her mind was made up and Mary knew by her employer’s tone that it would be disrespectful to say any more on the subject.
“Thank you for coming over, Harriet. Charlotte’s up in her room, having a lie down” John Ashdown rushed forward to greet his guest, who had been shown into the drawing room by PC. McTavish.
“Oh my goodness John, how is she? How are both of you?” Harriet took hold of John’s hand.
“I’m in a state of incredulous disbelief and Charlotte’s in a terrible state, crying all the time. But the police are demanding that they speak to her as soon as possible. I’ve tried to tell them that she won’t be able to tell them anything barely comprehensible. But Inspector MacGregor is insistent; I don’t know if I can stall him for much longer.”
“Guy MacGregor. is the officer in charge?”
“Yes Harriet, do you know him?”
“My goodness me, I didn’t know he was back in Glasgow,” Harriet could feel her face flush when the policeman’s identity was confirmed. But John didn’t seem to notice her reaction and he said enthusiastically,
“If you know him that’s all the better. Maybe you could try and persuade him to delay her questioning until the doctor can see her.”
“Yes, yes. Where is he?”
“In the library, I’ll take you to him.”
“No John, I can find my own way. Settle yourself for now. By the way, where’s your father?”
“In his room, he’s having a lie down too. He’s devastated, Jeannie was like a daughter to him. The police have already questioned him, but he didn’t have much to tell them. He’s now wondering if there was some way he could have stopped her killer.”
“But surely he didn’t know that she was in danger?”
“Of course not, but the fact that he didn’t find it strange that he hadn’t seen her for two days, should have alerted him that something was wrong. But it didn’t so it’s now praying on his mind.”
“Oh I see, poor man, how old is he now?”
“A good age for sure and he’s still so mentally alert.”
“Yes, it’s only his mobility that’s a problem. That’s why he’s now living on the ground floor.”
“Oh yes, Charlotte was telling me about making alterations to some of your downstairs rooms to accommodate him.”
“Yes, he was struggling with the stairs.”
“Yes, I know,” Harriet could hear the compassion in John’s voice when he spoke of his father. She decided it was time to and reacquaint herself with Guy MacGregor, so she said, “John don’t worry, MacGregor’s a good man, he’ll get to the bottom of this horrendous situation.” She left John looking into the roaring fire that filled the grate of the spacious room in his ‘Kirklees Garden’ home.