The Killing of the Thousand and Second Night Chapter 5

    Here is another chapter of my unpublished novel.

    It was seven o’clock before Harriet, accompanied by Sarah, arrived back by cab to Devonshire Terrace. Although her housemaid was going to work at the Ashdown’s, Harriet thought it best, that her employee stay in her own room, she shared with Mary at Devonshire Terrace, for the time being anyway.
    On her return Harriet had been met by Mary, who informed her that Clarissa, the dress maker, was not happy at Harriet’s earlier absence. But Mary said that she had sent her off ‘with a flee in her ear.’ Harriet felt that there was some bravado being displayed by Mary’s recollection of events.
    “Charles, how’s Ian?” Harriet said concernedly.
    “He’s fine Mam, cheeky as ever,” Charles’s heavy Aberdonian accent made his bark much worse than his bite. He put down the heavy laden supper tray onto the rosewood gate-leg table, he had set earlier. Harriet had requested that she be served supper in her small sitting room. It was a very feminine room, it’s rose patterned wallpaper, chintz curtains and the blue oriental carpet surrounded by a lightly polished rosewood parquet floor, always filled her with a feeling of contentment. Her day hadn’t given her much to feel content about and she was glad to be home, amongst her own beautiful things.
    “What’s for supper Charles, something light I hope?”
    “Sole Gratin, Mam and a French bean salad, no potatoes. And for dessert, caramel custard.”
    “Tell cook, thank you, but I don’t think caramel custard falls into the ‘light’ category, but I’ll eat it,” Harriet giggled. She was famished, so the simple cold pudding was welcomed.
    As she rose from her silk embossed easy chair, the doorbell rang. Charles lifted the cover off her dinner plate and he said,
    “Are you expecting someone Lady Harriet?”
    “No I’m not. But today has been filled with unexpected events.”
    “It certainly has Mam,” the bell rang again and he continued, “ Sorry Lady Harriet, I forgot I’ve packed Ian off to bed. I’ll have to get that.”
    “Of course, on you go.”
    Charles quickly exited the room, leaving Harriet to settle down to her meal. Harriet had put her first piece of fish into her mouth, when the door knocked and she said,
    “Come in,” she swallowed hastily, before Charles came in and he said,
    “Excuse me Lady Harriet, but there’s an Inspector MacGregor in the hall. He says that it’s important that he sees you.”
    “Oh my goodness,” Harriet’s visitor definitely was unexpected. She wiped her mouth delicately with the lace edged napkin and said,
    “Show him in Charles.”
    “Certainly, Lady Harriet.”
Harriet looked at her watch, it was 8.45 pm, what on earth could Guy want with her at this time? She took another small mouthful of her supper and chewed hurriedly, before the door reopened, “Inspector MacGregor, Lady Harriet,” Charles stepped aside to let the policeman enter the room.
    “Excuse me if I don’t get up Guy, I’ve been anticipating this meal all day.”
    “I know how you feel, I’ve been looking forward to food too, but as yet haven’t got around to it. I just want to go over a couple of things with you, if that’s alright?” The Inspector looked at Harriet’s supper with envy. A pang of guilt overwhelmed Harriet and she said,
    “Oh you poor man, of course, I’ll do whatever I can,” realising that Charles was about to close the door over she called out, “Charles organise some cold cuts for the Inspector,” Harriet couldn’t allow her old friend to go hungry. 
    “Yes Mam, I’ll get cook to set a place in the kitchen, if the Inspector wants to make his way down there when he’s finished ,” Charles now having stepped back into the room said in a condescending manner. Surprised by her butler’s supercilious attitude towards Guy, Harriet said,
    “No, Charles bring it up here, the Inspector and I can chat whilst we eat,” this request from Harriet, now took Charles slightly aback. But he said respectfully,
    “Certainly as you wish, my Lady,” Charles exited.
Guy wished he hadn’t come, he now felt rather awkward standing in front of Harriet and he said,
    “Sorry Lady Harriet, I didn’t mean to disturb you, but there are things I would like to say to you in confidence and away the Ashdown’s ears,”
    “Nonsense, you’re not disturbing me and I think we can drop my title. Now take your outer coat off and sit down opposite me Guy; bring that chair over,” Harriet pointed to a chair in the corner of the room. She watched her ex-fiance as he fumbled with the buttons of his coat, her lips crinkled slightly in amusement, at his somewhat youthful behaviour. She now stifled a laugh as she watched him wonder where to put the garment, he had now successfully removed and she said,
    “Put it on the chair beside the door, Charles will hang it up when he returns with your supper,” she ate some salad, whilst waiting on her guest joining her.
    “Harriet there are some things that just don’t add up at the Ashdown’s and I hoped that maybe you could help,” Guy had placed the spindle backed chair at the table and was now seated opposite his hostess. He leaned forward in his seat and rested his forearms on the table top.
    “I see, I thought you didn’t want me to interfere.” Harriet was somewhat surprised by Guy’s request.
    “Please ignore my harsh words, they were said in haste. The reason I’m asking you to help Harriet is that you know these people, I believe fairly intimately. I know I can trust you to tell me the truth; with no embellishments. And the most important factor is that I know this conversation will not be repeated to them or anyone else,” the tone of his voice had been official sounding, but then it changed and he said huskily, “ I would trust you with my life Harry,” Guy’s last words, made Harriet’s heart flutter all at once, she knew he was flirting with her. No-one else had ever called her ‘Harry’ and she found it rather unsettling, to hear him say it; but she kept her sentiment hidden and said,
    “I  believe I do know Charlotte fairly intimately, I took her under my wing, when she first came to Glasgow. John I met initially through my husband, with whom he had business dealings, at that point I didn’t know him well at all. Then as my friendship with Charlotte grew, my friendship developed with him also. I believe I could now confidently say, that we  feel comfortable in each others company.
    I’m afraid that I normally only pass pleasantries with Alexander Ashdown. That is until now. Everything I know about him has been either been confided in me by Charlotte or John.
    “With what Charlotte has told you in the past, are you able to shed some light on,  why Alexander agreed to look after himself for two days. I mean with his mobility being so bad ?” Guy’s manner was official once more.
    “I’m not sure what you mean, I thought Jeannie just disappeared?”
    “That’s what John and Charlotte say, but Alexander tells me that Jeannie had asked to have a couple of days off. He said, he agreed to her request because he had felt rather guilty that she had been looking after him non-stop, since his daughter-in-law and son left had deserted him three weeks prior.”
    “Why on earth would she ask for time off, just a couple of days before Charlotte and John were due to return, she would get her days off then?”
    “ Precisely, loyal Jeannie had agreed with them to look after him, until their return. So what happened to change that arrangement?”
    “I’m sorry I don’t have the answer Guy. I can see why you’re puzzled, the facts as you present them, don’t make sense. If he’s so dependent on others for example, how did he eat?”
    “He said that Jeannie had prepared some cold meals in advance and that they had all been stored in a large hamper in the larder.”
    “Guy, John, didn’t tell me any of this.”
    “I know he didn’t, and you were there when Charlotte was questioned, she never mentioned it either. This version of events has only come from the old man.”
    “Maybe he didn’t tell Charlotte and John, maybe he forgot, goodness I have no idea. But Charlotte did say to you that her father-in-law was forgetful, suggesting that he suffered from some sort of senility. Although it was the first time I had ever heard this suggestion. And  the conversation I had with John, when I first arrived today,  contradicted this insinuation. Now I didn’t have any in depth conversation with Alexander earlier today, but in my opinion and of course I am not an expert in diseases of the old, Alexander is as mentally alert as you and I are.”
    “I agree, I saw no signs of forgetfulness. He was alert and plausible. Note I use the word plausible.”
    “I can see why you don’t believe his statement.”
    “Not a word, in fact I don’t believe any one of their statements.”
    “Oh, my goodness, do you think that one of them killed Jeannie”
    “I do; I think Alexander killed her, for reasons at present unknown and I think that your friend and her husband are perverting the truth.”
    “Good gracious, what’s your next step?” Harriet was shocked by Guy’s disclosure and as she anticipated his reply, the door knocked and in came Charles with a plate of cold cuts for Guy. The policeman lifted his arms off the table, slid back in his seat and said,
    “For now, have some supper and catch up with an old friend, because tomorrow’s another day.” He smiled cheekily and filed the case evidence to the back of his mind; for now he didn’t just want have supper and catch up with an old friend, he wanted to sit back and study the woman that broke his heart.