CHAPTER 1 EXCERPT
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“I feel like a gooseberry.” Felicia Gold whimpered. “How daft of me to join you on your wedding journey,”
“You and many of other people,” Ginger returned with a smile.
Seated aboard the Flying Scotsman, England’s fastest train, opposite her former sister-in-law, Felicia shifted her weight and crossed her legs. “I could move to another compartment. Or even another carriage. I don’t mind second class.”
“Don’t be silly,” Ginger said. She turned to the handsome gentleman who sat as close as he could. “Basil and I love having you, don’t we, darling?”
Basil Reed’s hazel eyes twinkled as he gazed into his new bride’s beaming face. “Of course.”
“Your gushing happiness is starting to make me feel sickly,” Felicia said. “At least you’ll only have to put up with me half of the way.”
Ginger stroked the small Boston terrier curled on her lap. Boss, short for Boston, had been a gift from her father after the Great War. She’d returned to their Beacon Hill home from France without her late husband, Lord Daniel Gold, who had perished in battle. Boss snored softly and was quite unperturbed by the foreign surroundings on board the train.
Smiling at Felicia, Ginger asked, “Is Miss Dansby meeting you at York station?”
“Yes,” Felicia answered. “And her fiancé, Mr. George Pierce. I’m very curious to meet him. Irene describes him in her letters like he’s a god. Not a physical blemish or character flaw to be found.”
Ginger laughed. “Must be love!” She patted Basil’s arm.
Basil raised Ginger’s hand and kissed it. “You are perfection itself, Mrs. Reed.”
“Please stop!” Felicia moaned. “Or I just might have to throw myself out the window.”
“If you must, please do so before the train starts moving,” Basil said wryly.
Through the glass compartment door, Ginger caught sight of an elderly lady dressed in black apparel. Assisted by a stick-thin porter, she entered the carriage. She appeared trapped in the nineteenth century with her tight-fitting coat, her long, heavy skirt, and a boat of a hat pinned to white hair that was piled into a bun on the top of her head. Her face was concealed by a thick black veil.
Despite using a cane to assist her slow, stilted gait, the lady stood upright and was most obviously wearing a corset. Ginger had a fleeting thought of Ambrosia, Daniel’s grandmother and Ginger’s house companion. Had she not had the influence of the younger set in her life, Ambrosia would undoubtedly have continued to resemble this latest passenger. Unfortunately, Ambrosia’s new liberties didn’t make her any happier, and the perpetual scowl and overall distrust of “this wayward generation” remained.
The lady nodded at the empty burgundy upholstered seat beside Felicia and said in a rather husky voice to the lad assisting her, “This is far enough.”
When the porter opened the door, she said to Felicia, “You don’t mind, do you? I’d rather not walk more than necessary, and my seat is in the last compartment down the corridor.”
Basil answered for them all. “You’re welcome to join us.”
The porter assisted the lady into the plush seat. “Such lovely polished teak and brass! And these velvet chairs are simply marvellous,” she said. “Thank goodness someone had the brains to make the backs high enough to support one’s neck. I’ll warn you good people in advance; I might embarrass myself by falling asleep. At my age, one tends to nod off without intending to.”
The whistle blew, and the forest-green carriages of the Flying Scotsman slowly and laboriously inched forward. Loud rhythmic clanking came from the steel wheels. Gears screeched in response. With each rotation, motion increased in speed. White plumes of steam gushed past the windows and blocked their view of King’s Cross Station.
“I’m needed in Edinburgh, for a funeral,” their new companion offered.
“I’m sorry,” Ginger said. “Is it someone close?”
“No. I barely knew him. I just like going to funerals. I know it sounds morbid, but I do have a fascination with death. It’s my age, you see.”
Ginger shared a stunned look with Felicia. The lady was quite forthright and clearly dressed as one in mourning.
“I was at the hanging of Susan Newell, a year ago today,” the elderly lady continued. “What a spectacle that was! The first woman to hang in Scotland in fifty years. She refused the white hood. Her eyes nearly . . .” She opened her gloved hand by her eye and mimicked an explosion. “It wasn’t pretty, let me tell you.”
Oh, mercy. Ginger had to bite her lip to keep from laughing. “A funeral should prove to be rather boring after that.”
“Oh no. It’s a double funeral. The man was murdered. By his wife. Then she took her own life. A big family scandal with a bundle of money involved. When I read about it in the paper, I knew I had to go.”
Felicia’s eyes widened with incredulity.
“Do forgive my rudeness,” the lady said. “I’m Mrs. Simms.”
“I’m L—” Ginger stopped herself in time. She’d almost introduced herself as Lady Gold, a title she’d given up when she married Basil. “I’m Mrs. Reed. This is my husband Chief Inspector Reed, and my sister-in-law, Miss Gold.”
Mrs. Simms sharply turned her head towards Basil.
“Are the two of you acquainted?” Ginger asked looking between them.
“No, no. I do apologise for staring,” Mrs. Simms replied, tilting her veiled head towards Ginger. “Sometimes my mind goes blank, goes on a bit of a holiday. The lament of old age. What takes you to Edinburgh?”
Felicia answered first. “I’m visiting a friend in York.”
“We’re on our honeymoon,” Basil added.
“Oh, how marvellous. Congratulations,” Mrs. Simms said, beaming. “I’m sure you’ll have a lovely time. The highlands are splendid this time of year.”
“I was there as a child,” Ginger said, “but it’s exciting to take the Flying Scotsman.”
“Shaves off two hours,” Mrs. Simms offered. “Such a difference, especially at my age. And I love travelling on something so new.” She inhaled deeply. “Still smells like fresh paint and new fabric. It’s yet to be blighted with bad experiences like death and derailment. Or a robbery. You might be too young to remember, but the world’s first train robbery happened in England.”
“You’re referring to the Great Gold Robbery of 1855,” Basil said.
“Yes, indeed. It was quite a sensation. I was a youngster at the time and impressionable. My village talked about little else for months.”
Mrs. Simms didn’t, as Ginger was beginning to fear, talk their ears off and had, in fact, fallen asleep as she’d predicted. Felicia lost herself in a mystery novel. Boss, a terrific sleeper as well, jerked on occasion. A result from some adventurous dream, Ginger thought with a grin. She was content to lean into Basil and watch the scenery.
Presently, the conductor stepped into the carriage and announced loudly, “First sitting for lunch.”
Felicia put her book down. “I’d like to dine. I’m feeling rather peckish.”
Ginger took a moment to examine her reflection in the window, patted her red bob, and reinforced the curled tips that rested below high cheekbones.
Mrs. Simms’ head bobbed up. Ginger could barely make out her eyes behind the black veil except to notice that they had opened.
“What’s happening?” Mrs. Simms’ voice was pitched so high that Ginger thought to offer her a glass of water.
“It’s first sitting for lunch,” Ginger explained. “Would you care to join us?”
“I was having the most interesting dream. A dismembered body was floating alongside the train.” She turned towards the window as if she expected to see such a gruesome sight and then ducked her chin. “If you don’t mind, I think I’d rather fall back to sleep.”
In the dining car, Felicia confessed, “This shall sound snooty, but I’m glad Mrs. Simms didn’t join us. I dare say, her mind is frightfully alarming.”