Saturday 22 – Wednesday 26 December 2012
‘Somebody,’ Harriet cried, ‘tried to kill me.’
The talk in the room decreased to a hum and awkward gazes were exchanged. Everybody knew that Harriet was, more often than not, overly theatrical to the point of being melodramatic. Her cries of blue murder were commonplace during an average day so there was little reason to believe that she could actually be correct about an attempt on her life this time.
‘I swear that I’m telling the truth. Taste this.’ She held her crystal goblet at arm’s length, fully expecting at least one of them to take up her demand. Nobody stepped forward.
She waited impatiently for a volunteer, thrusting the goblet in the direction of a number of her guests.
‘Well,’ she said, ‘I see that not one of you will come to my assistance. And quite frankly, that leads me to consider two options. Number one, none of you believe that a ruthless and cold-blooded murderer is targeting me. Or number two, it’s one of you who is trying to bump me off.’
‘You seem to have failed to consider a third option, Harriet,’ a young woman to Harriet’s left commented.
‘And what might that be Georgina?’ Harriet snapped back.
‘Number three,’ the young woman said with a wicked smile lighting her face, ‘is that all of us here are trying to bump you off.’
Harriet briefly considered Georgina’s third option, but laughed it off with a grandiose wave of her hand.
‘My dear Georgina,’ she was patronising the younger woman, ‘I very much doubt that all of you are creatures desperate enough to want me dead. I am a well-loved woman in this village. I have friends in high places. That sort of talk is preposterous. However, I certainly know that one of you is as guilty as sin.’
‘Preposterous? Is it really?’ Georgina fired back.
She tried to fob it off, the doubt that was now gnawing in the back of her mind. What if Georgina was right, and everyone in the room was collaborating on her demise? She couldn’t trust anyone. Harriet attempted to casually gaze around the room at the faces all directed at her. She didn’t want any of them to know just how terrified she was fast becoming. No, it was imperative that all of tonight’s guests believed that she only suspected a single assassin.
‘Conspiracies are for the feeble of mind, Georgina,’ Harriet chided.
‘Think what you like, Harriet,’ the younger woman concluded the discussion and walked away to join a small circle of guests across the opposite side of the room to their hostess.
A young man who had been standing near Georgina when the exchange between she and Harriet had commenced sauntered his way across the room to join her. He smiled at each of the five people Georgina was standing with and then cautiously joined in their conversation.
‘Miss Cooper,’ he started.
‘How many times, Mr. Andrews, must I insist that you call me Georgina?’
He smiled and gave her a minute nod before continuing.
‘Georgina, pray tell, what made you consider that everyone in the room might be intent on causing bodily harm to Mrs. West?’
The wicked smile reappeared on her face.
‘Oh, Mr. Andrews, you really do have such a lot to learn,’ she replied.
‘I’m sorry, I don’t follow.’
‘No one in the room is, how did you put it? No one is intent on causing that awful woman bodily harm.’
‘But you –’
She interrupted. ‘No, you really don’t follow, do you? The only thing that’s in her wine goblet aside from wine, is a little hint of bicarbonate of soda, and possibly just a touch of salt.’
A sophisticated albeit flushed-from-too-much-drink gentleman snickered.
‘Rex, I was discussing our hostess’ idiosyncrasies with this delightful young woman earlier and I offered up a wager of ten thousand pounds if she could contrive a plan that would elicit the very response from Harriet that we all just witnessed.’ He turned to Georgina and offered her his hand. She took it and shook.
‘A bet, my dear, is a bet, and it would seem that I owe you a fortune,’ the elderly man said.
‘Indeed you do, Mr. Harwood,’ Georgina replied.
Having retreated to the kitchen, Harriet lowered herself into a chair at the old wooden table used at meal times by her staff. On the verge of hysteria, all manner of thoughts made their way in and out of Harriet’s mind, but continued to settle on only one course of action for the night.
None of her guests noticed Harriet’s absence. Not until the explosive shotgun blast was their attention pulled away from their gossiping. A parlour maid ran screaming into the dining room.
‘She’s dead,’ the maid yelled, ‘the mistress is dead.’