CHAPTER 1 - Murder at Bray Manor
Ginger Gold folded the letter she was reading and dropped it on the side table. “Haley, do you believe in ghosts?”
Haley Higgins, an American student at the London School of Medicine for Women, lounged on the settee in the sitting room of Hartigan House as she sipped an after-dinner sherry. She arched a dark brow. “Why? Have you received mail from beyond?”
Ginger sighed as she put her feet up on the ottoman. She’d removed her strappy shoes but resisted the urge to unsnap her hosiery and revert to bare legs. The lace border of her turquoise chiffon tunic draped casually over her knees. This recent frock acquisition from a well-known Parisian fashion house had thick embroidery along the bodice and a cluster of sequins that sparkled in the firelight.
Boss, her Boston terrier, curled up on her lap. She petted his soft, black fur. “It’s a letter from Bray Manor—my sister-in-law, Felicia.”
“Still unhappy about living in the country?” Haley asked.
“Frightfully. And I can’t imagine Ambrosia moving from her family home. Even if Felicia was properly matched, Ambrosia would insist that the newlyweds live there with her.”
Haley clicked her tongue, commiserating. “Poor Felicia. How is the good Dowager Lady Gold anyway?”
Ginger pushed locks of her red bob behind her ears, picked up the letter, and read.
I hope this letter finds you well. News of your new shop is exciting, and I’m very keen on visiting it one day—hopefully soon!
I’m writing to you because I’m concerned about Grandmama. Her nerves since we last visited you have grown worse, to where she now believes Bray Manor to be haunted. I haven’t seen evidence of the supernatural, but Grandmama insists there is a poltergeist at work.
Oh Ginger, you promised to visit us and it’s already been weeks! Could I prevail upon you to come speedily? I’m at a loss at how to comfort Grandmama, and since you are so savvy at solving mysteries, perhaps you can figure this one out, too.
With sincerest affection,
“A poltergeist?” Haley said. A dark stray curl escaped her faux bob and her lips pursed to the side of her mouth as she blew it off her cheek. “It sounds as if the elder Lady Gold is starting to lose her memory. It’s quite probable that she moves things and forgets that she’s done it. Her only conclusion is the interference of a mischievous apparition.”
Ginger yawned, covering the chasm with the back of her hand. Since opening her new dress shop—Feathers & Flair—her days were long, busy, and exhausting.
“You’re probably right. Though, it’s quite unfair of me to expect Felicia to bear the burden of caring for Ambrosia alone. Felicia’s young and should be free to focus on her own life.”
“You make a good point, Lady Gold.”
Ginger had acquired her title through her marriage to the late Sir Daniel Livingston Gold, Felicia’s brother and Ambrosia’s grandson. He was buried in the family cemetery behind Bray Manor. She had yet to visit his grave since her return to London, but something knotted in her chest at the thought of it. She wasn’t quite yet ready to face the past.
Besides, a journey to Hertfordshire was the last thing Ginger needed at the moment. She had to fight against the irritation she felt at this new obligation.
“I just don’t know how I can leave Feathers & Flair right now,” she said. “It’s still in its infancy and needs constant attention.”
“Then don’t go.” Haley stretched, brushed down her tweed skirt that hung mid-calf, and moved to the fireplace to stoke the flames. “Surely, you can hire someone to check in on Ambrosia for you?”
“I suppose. It just seems so heartless, and I did promise to visit before the snow flies.”
Ginger cast a glance of annoyance at her friend. “Everything is so black and white with you.”
Haley shrugged. “I’m a scientist.”
Their conversation was interrupted by the sound of the telephone bell sounding in the hall.
“Who could be ringing at this hour?” Ginger asked.
Haley checked her wristwatch. “It’s only nine o’clock.”
“Really?” Ginger responded with another yawn. “It feels much later.”
Pippins tapped on the door of the sitting room and stepped in. “Telephone for you, madam,” he said. He was tall and slim with a bald head and skin sagging as it does when one is in his seventies. A loyal servant of the Hartigan family since Ginger was a child, she held the butler in high esteem and with much affection.
Ginger placed Boss on the floor. The dog stretched his hind legs then situated himself on the round Turkish rug in front of the fireplace and promptly went back to sleep.
“Who is it, Pips?” Ginger asked, using her pet name for him.
“Miss Felicia Gold, madam.”
A pang of concern spread across Ginger’s chest. First a letter and now a telephone call? She hurried to the hall and placed the receiver of the candlestick phone to her ear. “Felicia?”
“Oh, Ginger.” Felicia’s voice sounded thin and worried through the wire. “I’m afraid.”
“Why? What’s happened?”
“I thought Grandmama was losing her mind with her tales of moving objects, but now I’ve seen it for myself. The coat rack has moved, and I know Grandmama didn’t do because it’s too heavy for her—and none of the help admits to moving it either.”
“Oh, mercy,” Ginger muttered. “Don’t panic, Felicia. I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation.”
“I don’t mean to cause trouble, but would you come? Tonight?”
“Tonight? That’s frightfully short notice.”
“Tomorrow then? Please, Ginger, I don’t know what to do, and Grandmama is just beside herself with nerves.”
“Very well,” Ginger said, resigning. “I’ll come tomorrow.”
“Thank you, Ginger! I don’t think I’ll sleep a wink until you get here.”
Haley sat upright when Ginger returned to the sitting room. “Is everything all right?”
“I don’t suppose you’d like to join me on a short holiday to Hertfordshire.”
“Felicia is losing her head and I promised to come straight away.”
“It is the weekend,” Haley said, concluding that that she had no classes for the next two days.
“So you’ll come?”
“Only if we take the train.”
“I’m not a bad driver!”
“I’m sorry, Ginger, you know I get ill when you drive, and I don’t think I’ll ever get used to traffic running on the left-hand side of the road.”
“Fine,” Ginger huffed, annoyed that Haley didn’t trust her driving abilities. “We’ll take the train.” She was too exhausted to concentrate on the road for a long trip anyway. She might even be able to sleep a little on the way there. The rhythmic churning of the train wheels as the steam engine pushed on could make one quite drowsy.
Ginger patted her thigh and called to her pet. “Hey Bossy,” she said as she scrubbed behind his pointy ears. “How would you like to go ghost hunting?”