Title: Murder in Edwardian Suburbia
Disclaimer: Murder in Suburbia and its characters are the property of ITV. No infringement intended.
Note: AU. (You can take the girl out of the twenty-first century...) What if Kate and Emma had been born in Victorian times? What if they were companions living together in Kate's family home? What if the scullery girl was murdered and they decided to take investigative matters into their own hands? Not a time-travel fic.
Graphic: On profile page
Millie sat huddled on the eroded stone step set at the rear entrance to the kitchens. Making use of the gas lamp's dim but glowing light, she cast one shoe aside to grasp another large boot, which she clamped tightly between her skinny knees, feverishly working the blacking and spit deep into the soft leather. Her body shook with a momentary shiver, more due to the involuntary twitches that tiredness provoked, than the icy winds that cut at her cheeks like fine hair whips. Leaning back against the door frame, she looked at the star-speckled sky wistfully and found herself stirred by the sight.
Not long roused, her torso abruptly slumped with a large sigh as she rubbed at her face, leaving in her palm's wake several smears of polish along her pale, pinched nose. Catching sight of a shadowed figure approaching across the lawns, she hastily gathered into her arms the bundle of shoes, tins of cream and sodden cloths. As she rose, a single lace fell silently behind her, which, to her detriment, she failed to note. Rattling and creaking, like a clumsy household goods pedlar, her knees bowed to the sides as she waddled, struggling to bear the weight. "All done, Mr Clement. Jus' need t'lace up," she called with barely a glance over her shoulder, habitual servile indifference countering any natural instinct for due wariness.
"Millie?" came a soft, low, unhurried voice, the owner of which was now standing directly behind her. The stray lace was being twisted in figure eights around grey, leather-gloved fingers that creaked as the wearer flexed their hands. With a silent patience, the person watched as Millie tidied away, their breathing so steady as to be almost audibly absent.
"O'course, it's me," she chuckled, never once thinking to turn from her duties to confirm present company. "What you goin' -" A swift tightness scored across her throat and stopped her gaily spoken words. The makeshift garrotte cut with a hot, searing pain. Grappling with futility, Millie's slim nails dragged across her strained neck, leaving scores of pink, stinging flesh. Kicking frantically, her feet no longer touched the ground; dainty, worn shoes instead tapped silently at the air, treading imaginary waters. Her small, twisting frame was drawn hard against the chest of her assailant, suspended above the floor, hung by a boot lace noose.
Her legs ceased their aimless pace as her breathing ebbed to a hiss. Millie's lifeless form fell to the floor: a ghastly crumpled heap; a discarded cloth doll, limbs folded underneath her torso unnaturally, and eyes fixed in a sewn-on stare.
Emma slouched down into her usual armchair, preferring plump cushions wedged around her hips to produce the most comfortable arrangement. Turning her wine glass stem between her fingers and thumb, she watched through heavy-lidded eyes and mildly occluded vision as her companion, Kate, lunged for the ribbon-wrapped chocolate box positioned on the small walnut table between them. Unnoticed, a smile passed over Emma's lips as she observed Kate bite a truffle indelicately in half.
Lydia, Kate's mother, rose from her seat and began fussing with the line of her skirt. "Chennells?" she snapped, without granting the girl a look.
"Yes ma'am?" replied the maid, Ellen, with an automatic dip of her knees.
"The fire: stoke it, please. I would rather hear that roar than awful howling weather," Lydia requested curtly, twisting the silver lid from her glass pill pot with a noise that set Kate's teeth on edge. Ellen tended to her duties, and was then bid to leave with an ungrateful and sharp-toned: "Thank you." Lydia returned to her place by the window and quietly muttered to herself about the impending storm.
Emma watched Ellen leave as she continued to sip her wine. Her gaze fell lazily to the reflections caused by the fire's dancing flames that flashed across the detailed fretwork of the mantel. She raised her glass to watch the changing light through the crystal and began to feel satisfactorily drowsy.
Kate devoured another truffle, using her free hand to hold the novel she was consumed by. She splayed her cocoa-dusted fingers and smiled, eyes sparkling, upon reaching a particularly exciting passage. Rubbing her hands clean with a handkerchief, she placed a ribbon between the pages and snapped the book shut before striding towards the fireplace to smooth a fingertip across the marble. Smiling wistfully at the fire, she dreamt of what might be to come in the next chapter. After some time, Lydia made a huffing exit from the room, nodding a goodnight to the girls as she went. Now alone, Kate looked over to Emma and grinned widely.
"Rather happy, aren't you?" said Emma rhetorically, smiling back at Kate, whose own grin had spread to reveal her teeth, giving her an impish look.
"Just a thrilling part of the story. It's perfect." She gestured wildly with her hands as she spoke about her story of medieval times; a fairly childish work considering Kate's considerable intellect and upbringing.
'So animated. She would make a brilliant public speaker,' thought Emma as she imagined Kate as a renegade atop a park bench: fists high in the air, speaking out to the masses about injustice and rights. "Shame, though," she said aloud, twisting a lock of her blonde hair around a crooked finger.
"That white knights don't exist nowadays," said Emma musingly, biting at the inside of her cheek to prevent herself from gigging at Kate's previous enthusiasm for a trashy, romantic novel.
"Yes," Kate replied before sucking at her bottom lip. "However," she blurted, "if such a breed of men had survived, they would no doubt be as entirely callous, ruthless -"
"Dull." Emma smiled wryly.
"- as the men of Middleford." Sighing, Kate collapsed into the chair her mother had previously vacated, ensconced herself in a shawl and glared through the window. Wind pulled hard at the panes of glass making them rattle in their frames. While no expense had been spared on the contents of Ardmoore Grange, the house itself had been the sacrifice and, despite its beauty, the faults shone through. It is for that selfsame reason that the house had been without a butler for a number of years; the Ashursts' much advertised, but bogus attempts to find a befitting staff member were simply carried out to avoid abasement.
"You will always have the affections of Peter Mulgrave," Emma whispered, hiding behind her glass as she took a large swig to stifle a laugh.
Kate looked over and scowled. "Petulant perfumier Peter? Thank you for that perfect pearl of perspicacity. Not a chance."
"Well he's certainly persistent perfumier Peter; you've to give him that." She looked up, a coltish, teasing look in her eyes.
Kate sneered and rose for another chocolate. "I trust that you are being sarcastic. Had you genuinely been acting as his proponent, I should have to disown you as my confidante instantly." Before she reached the table, they heard a door slam loudly and subsequent sounds of voices rising from the direction of the hallway. Feeling curious, they bounded, in a fairly unladylike manner, towards the foot of the stairs and were greeted by chaos. Gerald Clement, the footman, held Ellen in his arms as she sobbed noisily into his waistcoat. Her tears soaked the fabric to such an extent that he felt the need to retrieve his fobwatch from the pocket before allowing her to continue dampening his chest. Patricia Whattle, the housemaid, talked heatedly with Kate's step-father, while Kate's mother stood rigidly beside her husband, wringing her hands.
The cook flew past.
"Mrs Beechley, what has happened?" asked Kate, reaching out to stop her.
"Oh, Miss Kate, Miss Emma, never did I see such a thing," she yelped quietly, her native Suffolk accent affecting her speech more than usual. "Who could do such a thing to poor Millie?" she called back to them as she sped off again, crying and tearing at her apron with her hands.
Emma knocked on the adjoining door and entered Kate's room wearing her nightdress, dressing gown and slippers. Firmly pressing the finger plate, she forced the heavy door to a close. "I'll finish that." She took the fine ivory-handled brush from the maid's trembling hand.
"Are you sure, Miss?" asked Ellen hesitantly, her face pale and clammy, her eyes distant and distracted.
"Quite sure. No one would ask you to complete your duties tonight." Emma flashed a look at Kate, who raised her eyebrow, then rolled her eyes. "You've been through enough," Emma continued. "Go. You've had a horrible, horrible fright. I need to speak to Miss Ashurst anyway." Ushering Ellen away, she made a flapping action with her hands, as if she were shooing a pigeon.
"Thank you." Ellen turned to Kate who was sitting at her dressing table in a ruffled peignoir. "Anything else, Miss?"
"That will be all," Kate responded tersely.
Emma and Kate were left alone for the second time of the evening. Tucking the hairbrush under one arm, Emma began to pull out the various clips and pins that held Kate's dark-brown curls and tresses in place. Kate spoke first: "I saw Doctor Vandrill as he left. He's going to inform the police directly."
"I don't mean to belittle Millie's death, but isn't this all very exciting? I mean." Emma's teeth nipped at her bottom lip. "A murder investigation." She almost bounced with joy.
Kate raised a finger in the air. "If there is a investigation at all. The culprit may have been apprehended or simply turned themselves in," she explained pragmatically.
Emma roughly took the brush to Kate's hair. "Do you think, perhaps, she had a lover?" she asked, giddiness subsiding.
"The girl? I didn't know much of anything about her."
"A lovers' quarrel turned to violence," Emma surmised. "It's all very romantic."
Kate turned to look up, catching Emma off guard so she almost lost the brush from her hand. "Hardly."
"Well, it's intriguing anyway. You have to give me that." Emma forced Kate by the shoulders, swivelling her on her seat so that Kate faced the mirror again and Emma carried on brushing her hair, which had begun to shine.
"I hope for her sake that she did die for love and not thievery or something equally despicable," Kate mused, looking at the backs of her hands. "Or perhaps not." She frowned deeply.
"Do you think that the murderer is still on the grounds?" Emma wandered to the window, cupping her hands around her eyes in an attempt to better see the garden.
"Don't. That's a horrid thought." Kate joined her and they stood side by side in silence for some time.
"Oh, what was that?" said Emma, pressing a finger firmly on the glass, excitedly.
"It's a fox, you goose." Kate placed a hand either side of Emma's waist and pulled her away from the window. "Come. You'll catch a chill and no doubt you'll be wanting to be fresh for the police visit?"
"I will. Goodnight Kate." Emma pulled her shawl further round her shoulders, then leaned in to place a brief kiss on Kate's flushed cheek. She left by the adjoining door to her room and closed it behind her. Kate, ignoring her own good advice, returned to the window to continue her night vigil for a little longer. Out of sight from Kate, Emma went to her own window to stand a while looking for lurking figures herself.
All members of the household slept fitfully that night, the undeniable crackle of tension in the air caused the hours to drag and, come dawn, the inhabitants of Ardmoore Grange were beyond fretful.
Upon hearing the bell, Lydia leapt uncharacteristically to her maid's side; swiftly, they marched down the hallway towards the front entrance.
Two elongated shadows, one shorter and plumper than the other, fell over the intricately tiled floor and imposed another level of foreboding upon the house. As the door swung wide, the taller and more traditionally handsome of the two men spoke first. "Good day, Mrs Ashurst. I am Detective Inspector Sullivan of Middleford Police. This -" he indicated his colleague "- is Detective Sergeant Gallimore. We request to interview your staff first, if you would kindly allow us entrance," said the purse-lipped, sharp-eyed detective, gesturing towards the footman and housemaid, who proceeded to take his hat, coat and gloves.
"As you wish, Inspector Sullivan," replied Mrs Ashurst accommodatingly, seeking only to address the superior of the two men. "Such a bad business." Sullivan entered the majestic hallway and was closely followed by Gallimore, who nodded briefly at the lady of the house. "For the sake of the family and for the reputation of the house," she continued, "I do hope the matter will be cleared swiftly."
"Matter? Let's have a little more concern for the dead, madam. Investigation," he corrected, his voice carrying a note of deep concern. "I promise you, you have nothing to worry about."
"Oh, well, good." She clamped her hand to her collared throat and smiled.
"Indeed. Should the cause of your servant girl's death mar the opinion of your good family in the eyes of the local societies, it shan't hinder my work whatsoever," Sullivan responded coolly, a devilish twitch of a smile lurking at the corner of his mouth.
Kate sat perched on a window seat set into one of the south-facing bay windows. She sipped her morning coffee and looked out on the foggy but bright morning. Emma waltzed into the room and began lifting up dish lids to see what was left for breakfast, never the one for rising early.
"Good morning," Kate said quietly, silently irked by the clanking of porcelain and metal.
"G'orning." Emma's voice was muffled by the piece of toast she had just wedged between her teeth.
"The police are here."
"That was fast of them." Collecting a plate of scrambled eggs, she sat at the table closest to Kate.
"Mother was talking to a detective. He is down with the staff, carrying out interviews." Kate nodded towards the door.
"Anyone would think the King had arrived with the fuss your mother caused. I do hope he interviews me; this is the most interesting thing that's happened in years." She checked her reflection on the flat of a large butter knife.
"Emma!" Kate said, mildly shocked. "If you will continue making such remarks, then -"
"Well, you know what I mean." A large cloud passed over the dawn-breaking sky, and the tone of light in the room dulled. "Would you like more coffee?" asked Emma as she rose for a cup of hot chocolate, leaning her hip against the credenza as she poured.
Kate blinked as the sunlight returned, streaming brightly through the window. "Please."
"Now, tell me." Emma nudged a space beside Kate and sat down. "What does this detective look like?"
Kate took a deep breath. Earlier in the day, she had clung to the landing banisters and, like a child, peeped through the spindles to watch the grand entrance of the police detectives. She considered Sullivan to be particularly handsome. "I only heard them speaking, really," she said, blurring over the truth.
"Well, did he sound eligible?" A twinkle appeared in Emma's eyes.
Kate rose, rubbing away the effects of an assumed shiver from her neck. She strode away, the proximity a little too close for her liking. "He sounded somewhat... laconic. It was hard to tell his manner; they didn't talk for any great length of time before he strode in and left my mother in the doorway."
"He's brave. I like him already." Emma smirked. "In her world, that's tantamount to ostracism. She'll hate him; it'll be brilliant."