Historical Books

Smith & Gracie: Victorian Detectives

Book One: Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

Here’s a wee taster of what’s to come…

 

PROLOGUE

India 1857

 

 

General Gracie sat forward in his chair and placed his elbows on the desk in front of him. He stared at his blood-stained hands for a heartbeat and then gently lowered his head to rest in them. His body convulsed inwardly as he fought to drive out the sounds of the woman slumped in the corner of the room who wailed incessantly.

 

‘You must stop, Malia,’ he said softly, never raising his head to look in her direction. ‘You must simply stop.’

 

Malia could not hear his words above her own cries of grief, above the screams and shouts from outside, and the gunshots that rang out so close, so very close. Beneath the distressed Malia, lay another body: the dead body of Lady Charlotte Gracie, the general’s wife.

 

She had been killed by a stray bullet, of all things; quite simply a stray bullet, probably from a sepoy’s British issue rifle. And she had died instantly, as she unwittingly crossed in front of an open window, with her young daughter wriggling in her arms. They had arrived at the barracks with the servant, Malia, on the direct orders of the general, who had sought to protect his family from the mutinous troops that roamed the streets.

 

There had been trouble at Barrackpore, just two months previous, when the sepoys had refused to accept the newly issued Enfield rifles. The rumour mill had been rumbling that the Enfield cartridges were greased with pigs’ and cows’ lard and so the Indian troops would not bite off the end of the cartridges to release the powder. The general had been dismayed to hear of how brutal the response of the Army had been, but never had he imagined that Delhi would be subjected to the horror of a full-scale mutiny in so short a time.

 

The door of the room was thrown open as Sergeant Hendry burst in, red-faced and out of breath. ‘Sir! sir! Captain Docherty says he’s not sure how long he can hold the gate, sir!’

 

The general lifted his head and sat back in his chair. He glanced across to the corner of the room where Malia still lay beside his wife. Young Charlotte Gracie had been dressed in her favourite pale blue dress that matched her eyes perfectly, and looked as beautiful in death as in life. The tone of her skin was still that of life, but it was changing quickly, paling with every second, as her blood ebbed away from the hole in her temple.

 

‘Bloody hell, sir! Is that…’

 

The general rose to his feet. ‘Yes, Sergeant, it is,’ he looked at the sergeant’s distraught face and swallowed down the vomit which pushed upwards into his throat. ‘Give me your report, Sergeant, if you please. No time to lose.’ The sergeant stood to attention and stared straight ahead as tears pricked his eyes, and gave his garbled report.

 

They all loved her; all the troops: from the officers to the privates. Charlotte had a kind word for everyone, and would not refrain from talking to all ranks, even though the general had often reprimanded her for doing so.

 

Henry Gracie heard none of the sergeant’s report. In his head he was replaying the scene. His daughter, giggling and squirming in her mother’s arms, had reached out to him, and he to her, as the unseen bullet punctured Charlotte’s temple. Her knees had folded, a gentle gasp escaped her lips, and Charlotte Gracie crumpled like a paper lantern to the floor. So quick. So serene. So brutal.

 

The sergeant waited. He rubbed one hand roughly over his face, and then followed it with his shelve, as he fought to stem the tears. He knew the general hadn’t heard him so he simply started again. What else could he do? This time his voice came out shrill, more like a squeak, which appeared to pull the general back into the moment. 

 

‘My apologies, Sergeant Hendry. Again, if you please.’ 

 

‘Yes, sir. As I was saying…’ the sergeant was distracted by a movement and his mouth fell open at the sight of a chubby, dark-haired child who peeped out from behind the general’s chair. She reached out and tugged at her father’s trousers. ‘Up, up,’ she said. Arianna’s expression was one of puzzlement; for she did not understand what had just happened. As her mother had fallen back, her father had caught her and Arianna had thrown back her head and giggled. She liked this game. It was fun. But then her father had thrust her into Malia’s arms, as he dropped to the floor beside his wife.   

 

The general reached down and lifted Arianna, as she had requested, up into his arms. ‘Sergeant Hendry,’ the general’s voice was steady and clear. ‘I need you to escort my wife’s maid, Malia, out of the compound.’

 

‘No, no, sahib,’ wailed Malia. ‘I will not go. I will not leave my Lady Charlotte.’

 

‘You will go, Malia. And you will go now,’ said the general with force, noting the tiny gold crucifix around her neck.  ‘You are in danger if you remain. I cannot protect you from your own people if you are found here. It is time for you to leave.’

 

Arianna’s face began to crumple. Malia was crying. Her father was angry. The sergeant looked frightening with his red blotchy face and she wanted her mother. ‘Ma, ma,’ she called and started to struggle in her father’s embrace, reaching with outstretched arms towards the pale blue dress in the corner.

 

‘Sergeant, take Malia, by force if need be, and get her out of here. And when you’re done, Sergeant, find Private Smith and report back here.’ Sergeant Hendry hesitated. ‘We have little time. In haste, man!’ The general could see the utter confusion etched across the sergeant’s face. ‘Do not come back without him. Am I making myself clear?’

 

‘Private Smith, sir?’ the voice was a mere series of squeaks.

 

‘Yes, Sergeant, your fellow countryman. Remember him. Private Jedidiah Smith. I need him. Now!’

 

6 weeks later

 

The carriage swayed through the eerily quiet streets of Calcutta as it made its way to the port. It was early in the morning and the occupants were subdued and thoughtful. Colonel Charles Brandon, his wife Agatha and their two children, Hope, aged four and Oliver, aged six, were leaving India and returning home to England: for Colonel Brandon was being invalided out of the army.

 

On the day of the Delhi mutiny, when Lady Gracie had died, Colonel Brandon had received two gun shot wounds to his right thigh. And although the surgeon had repeatedly stuck his finger down both holes, in search of the elusive objects, he had only managed to locate one bullet; retrieving it with the aid of copious amounts of whisky and his favourite pair of pincers.  

 

The second bullet was snuggled so close to the colonel’s femur that they were now inseparable. Charles Brandon complained little, though the occasional spasm of sudden pain could reduce him into a sweating heap and had drastically shortened the already short fuse of his temper. However, he knew it could have been worse and was happy to still be in possession of two legs. He had developed a limp, but it was nothing too disfiguring, and Agatha had expressed the view that it afforded him gravitas. 

 

Colonel Brandon rubbed his thigh distractedly and looked across at the other passengers who shared their carriage. Private Smith sat beside his young charge, Lady Arianna Gracie, who lay with her head upon the private’s knee and dozed. Private Smith kept a protective arm across the child’s body and feeling the colonel’s eyes upon him, drew his gaze from the window to meet his look.

 

The young man appeared ill at ease, and well he might be, travelling in such close proximity to a colonel and his family: not an everyday occurrence for a private in the British Army.

 

‘Do you think she is old enough to know what is happening, Private?’

 

‘I don’t rightly know, sir.’

 

The lad had all on to be sixteen years of age, if that, thought the colonel. He was a Jock, that was evident from the way he rolled his r’s and the sing song flow of his words. The young man’s shako was on the seat beside him but he couldn’t quite make out the regimental badge in the poor light.

 

The colonel smiled to himself remembering a time when he had joined forces with a regiment of Highlanders in Crimea; the 78th or was it the 79th he couldn’t recall. But what he could recall was that the bastards could fight. By God they could fight. He had struggled to understand a damned word most of the men in the ranks said, but when they announced their presence on the battlefield with their pipes and drums, screaming their Gaelic battle cries and foul-mouthed obscenities, they were a joy to behold.

 

‘What’s your regiment, Private Smith?’

 

‘It’s the 74th, sir.’

 

The colonel sat back in his seat. ‘Of course it is.’ He smiled. ‘A long prestigious history – the 74th. Been at all the major battles if my memory serves.’

 

‘Yes, sir.’ Jedidiah spoke softly and nodded his head.

 

Private Smith didn’t know the long prestigious history of the 74th and didn’t exactly care. He’d heard stories on the ship coming over and heard mention of Waterloo and the like. But he figured that most of the willing conscripts were just like him: they were running away from something or someone. One of the sergeants had repeatedly told them they were scum; ‘the scum of the earth,’ he had screamed at them and that they were lucky that the 74th had taken pity on their ‘poor, miserable, bastard souls’ and allowed them to join their illustrious ranks.  Jedidiah couldn’t exactly argue with any of that as he guessed that most of the men that he now ate and slept with were a fine mix of murderers, thieves, rapists and drunkards. 

 

He had left Dundee in a bit of a hurry early in 1857; walked to Perth, and then decided it was still too close for comfort, so carried on to Glasgow and joined the army. And after six weeks of training he was packed off on a ship to the other side of the world.

 

‘Bit of a favourite with Wellington back in the day, by all accounts,’ added the colonel.

 

‘Yes, sir, I believe so.’ He nodded again.

 

It seemed somewhat odd to the colonel that the general had sent a private to do what surely would have been a duty more fitting for a nannie or a governess. But it mattered little to him. What did matter to him, however, and was most welcome, was that the general had gifted him a substantial sum of money for escorting young Arianna home to England, and ensuring her safe delivery into the hands of the Gracie’s of Yorkshire.

 

The colonel had tried, not too forcibly, to refuse the general’s money, stating that it was an honour to be of service. But then he had remembered what he was going home to: a sprawling old house that leaked like a sieve, complaining tenants, a truculent mother-in-law, a number of long standing unpaid debts and rain. The money was almost like a gift from heaven and would ease him back into civilian life at a far more comfortable level than he had left it. Indeed, he even had a fancy to build his mother-in-law a small house of her own; preferably some distance from the main house. 

 

The colonel glanced around the carriage once more and noted that his wife was wearing the inane smile that she always wore when possessed by a need to display her Christian credentials of goodness and charity. 

 

‘You are so very good with the little one, Private Smith,’ she said with a slight nodding of her head. ‘So very good indeed.’

 

Private Smith smiled weakly back.

 

‘There’s no need to worry about your charge, she will be like one of my own. One of my very own,’ she sighed. ‘Though it is a most unfortunate start in life, so very unfortunate indeed, to lose your mother so young…’  The inane smile grew more inane as she leant forward and lowered her voice. ‘… and in such a way.’ The nodding continued.

 

‘There’s little need to whisper, my dear,’ added the colonel flatly. ‘The child is far too young to understand that her mother was shot through the head by a heathen bastard.’

 

The Brandon children giggled. And Agatha, appearing as if stung by a bee, recoiled back into her seat.

 

‘So where do you go from here, Private Smith?’ asked the colonel.

 

‘My orders are to return immediately to my regiment, sir.’

 

The colonel felt a sudden pang of regret. There would be no return to his company for him. Those days were over and all that he had loved about this exotic, wild and colourful country: the smells, the heat, the busyness, and those obliging dark-skinned women with their almond-shaped eyes, would be no more.

 

The carriage fell silent again.

 

They arrived at the port just a little after five o’clock, as a shaft of golden light split the horizon in two and Calcutta awoke to a new day.

 

The Brandon children stepped down from the carriage to stand beside their father, and shielding their eyes from the sudden light with cupped hands, they followed his outstretched arm as he gestured towards the mighty Princess Isabella. This then was the ship which would take them home to England.

 

Agatha Brandon was overseeing the unloading of their immediate belongings as Jedidiah lifted Arianna from the open doorway of the carriage. The bright shiny buttons on his jacket sparkled in the sun and Arianna’s eyes grew wide as she grabbed at one with both hands and pulled.

 

‘Hey there little miss; you’ll get me on a charge, stealing my buttons.’ He grinned at her and she laughed. She tugged again at the button and watched his face in anticipation of another grin.

 

Mrs Brandon walked towards them. ‘Well now, Arianna.’ Her smile firmly fixed once more. ‘We have to say good-bye to Private Smith.’ She nodded towards Jedidiah and reached out towards the child. Arianna tightened her grip on the button and began to frown.

 

‘You’re going to go with Mrs Brandon now. You’re going on a big ship.’

 

Arianna swung round to look at the ship. ‘Big ship,’ she repeated.

 

‘Yes, yes, that’s right, dear; big ship with Auntie Agatha.’ And with that Agatha Brandon placing her hands under Arianna’s arms attempted to lift her from Jedidiah’s embrace.

 

Arianna’s frown darkened and became a scowl. ‘No big ship,’ she said.

 

Jedidiah felt her tiny body tense. He saw the alarm in her eyes which began to fill with tears. She pulled again on the button and brought her head to bang against his chest. ‘No big ship,’ she repeated.

 

‘Come, my dear, it’s a lovely big ship.’ Agatha Brandon attempted to pull the child towards her, but Arianna threw back her head, arched her back and howled towards the heavens.

 

Jedidiah struggled to hold her; such was the force of her growing distress. ‘No big ship. No big ship,’ she chanted. Her legs began to peddle in the air as if she were trying to get purchase and walk up his body away from Auntie Agatha. And still she held on to the button. Jedidiah wanted to soothe her with comforting words, but he couldn’t find any, before she again banged her face into his chest and hauled once more at the button. Her small body was getting hot and sticky and her sobs shook her slight frame. She arched again and threw back her head. ‘Now, now, Miss Arianna, it’s alright,’ whispered Jedidiah.

 

‘What the Devil is going on, Agatha,’ demanded the colonel who had come to see what the commotion was all about.

 

‘No big ship. No big ship,’ sobbed Arianna, her breath catching in her throat. Tears ran freely down her face now, mucus from her nose and saliva from her gaping mouth as her face grew ever more scarlet.

 

‘Good Lord, woman, do something!’ demanded the colonel. ‘Relieve Private Smith of his charge and let’s be gone. This is woman’s work, Agatha. See to it!’

 

At this stinging rebuke, Agatha Brandon appeared to grow in stature and strength. As she hauled with all her might at the incandescent, heaving body that was Lady Arianna Gracie, there was suddenly less resistance. The cries stopped. The button had come away in her hand and the shock had stunned the child into silence. She looked down at the button in her hand as Agatha Brandon bore her away.

 

The cord had been broken and Private Smith had been cast adrift. He raised his hand in a feeble gesture of farewell and looked down at the space where the button should have been. A couple of broken threads and a damp patch of facial fluids were all that remained.

 

And Lady Arianna Gracie was on her way to England.

 

 

 RELEASE DATE: 2023