As the investigation continues, Ursula is drawn into the shadowy world of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and a web of espionage and betrayal. She must race against time to clear Lord Wrotham’s name and thwart a plot that threatens not only British national security, but also her life.
About the Author
Langley-Hawthorne now lives in Denver, Colorado, with her husband, twin boys, and collie, Hamish.
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An Ursula Marlow Mystery
By Clare Langley-Hawthorne
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2014 Clare Langley-Hawthorne
All rights reserved.
CHESTER SQUARE, LONDON JANUARY 16th, 1913
It all started with a revolver. At least in Ursula's mind it did. Not the arrest. Not Chief Inspector Harrison's face or even Lord Wrotham's impassive response. No, it was the revolver that Harrison laid on the table that started it all, its blue tinged metal barrel glinting as it caught the electric light of the standard lamp that illuminated Ursula's front parlor. As the scene unfolded she felt as though she was watching herself on a Pathé newsreel—the horror of the situation creating an illusory distance between her body and her mind. But with her hand poised in mid air, like a half finished sentence, Ursula was close enough to read the inscription, Webley & Scott, Birmingham & London, stamped on the revolver's cylinder bridge. The diamond-checkered wooden grip was already worn from use and she shivered. Ursula could imagine the caption on the screen. Rather than risk dishonor, the Lord chose death.
"My Lord," Chief Inspector Harrison's voice cut through the close-held silence. Ursula's gaze shifted and searched Lord Oliver Wrotham's face for some kind of reaction, but his countenance refused to yield to scrutiny. He stood beside the mahogany side table, casting a long shadow across the Oriental rug. Amid the tangled vines and intricate scrolls of the pattern, his silhouette looked like a sleek black panther waiting in ambush.
The way Harrison had placed the revolver on the table as he announced he was making the arrest seemed an obsolete, chivalric gesture but one that appalled Ursula. There was no doubting the implication: Lord Wrotham had best turn the gun on himself rather than face public disgrace.
"You cannot seriously consider this an option!" Ursula exclaimed.
Lord Wrotham remained motionless. His blue-grey eyes fixed upon the gun, he gave no sign of having heard her.
"I can leave the room and let your lordship decide," Harrison said.
Lord Wrotham gave an almost imperceptible nod.
Ursula grabbed Lord Wrotham's arm. "What are you doing?!" she cried.
"Miss Marlow," Harrison said, stepping forward as if he were about to restrain a recalcitrant child. "You really should wait outside."
Ursula's grip tightened until Lord Wrotham, with slow deliberate movements, unfurled each of her fingers and moved her hand aside. Ursula rubbed her hand; his reaction had been like a slap in the face, only the sting was sharper. How could he fail to understand her anguish? Why did he not proclaim his innocence?
"I'm not going anywhere," she informed Harrison, "until you tell me the full details of the charges." Her head held high, hazel eyes ablaze, she tried to hold back her turmoil. She tried to replace it with outrage, but the distance the initial shock had brought, the sense that she was watching film footage, had gone. Lord Wrotham's reaction had ensured that. She felt battered by the weight, the full impact of that terrible word. Treason.
Harrison looked down at the floor and kicked one of the table legs with the toe of his polished black shoe.
"Chief Inspector?" Ursula pressed.
"If you insist ..." he said slowly, "though you would think a lady would rather not hear such things."
Ursula felt the old flash of indignation and was thankful. Maybe if she could claw back her anger she would find the strength she so desperately needed. Yet she knew Chief Inspector Harrison well enough by now not to overreact. Despite Harrison's continued distrust of Ursula's various causes, especially female suffrage and socialism, he had begun to show a begrudging respect for a woman who now ran her father's textile empire, and who had, on at least two occasions, helped him solve a murder investigation.
Throughout both of these investigations, Lord Wrotham had been a constant presence, one from which she drew the strength as well as the will to stand on her own. Now she felt as though all that resolve was little more than chalk crumbling in her hands. Perhaps anger would provide its own measure of comfort, thought Ursula, and she drew herself up, summoning its force, before answering.
"You know me better than this Chief Inspector. I'm hardly the sort to take to my smelling salts or be left in ignorance like some weak-minded fool who prefers to bury her head in the sand. How can Lord Wrotham possibly be expected to defend himself when he has no idea what these charges are?" Ursula's voice shook but refused to break.
"Oh, I think it's safe to say that his Lordship is well aware of the circumstances leading to these charges—and what is at stake here," Harrison responded coldly. "You only have to see his countenance, Miss Marlow, to know that's the truth of it."
Ursula's throat tightened. Hot tears pricked her eyes. God, why did Lord Wrotham not speak? Why did he remain tight-lipped and silent? She knew from experience that he had the strength to maintain his self-composure in the face of great upheaval but, even for him, this impassivity and silence was chilling. Had she misjudged him so badly?
"Regardless," Ursula replied, steadying herself with one hand on the back of the Mackmurdo couch. "I need to know what this is all about."
Harrison drew out the arrest warrant from the inside pocket of his dark grey jacket. The normally creaseless three-piece suit looked crumpled and worn and Ursula noticed there were mud splashes across his shoes and trouser cuffs. She felt some satisfaction when she saw Harrison's hands shake as he unfolded the arrest warrant—he was no more immune to the horror of the situation than she.
Harrison began to read aloud.
"Lord Oliver Wrotham, Seventh Baron of Wrotham, King's Counsel and Member of the House of Lords, is hereby charged with high treason against His Majesty King George the Fifth and his government in that he did willfully and of his own volition conspire to assassinate members of His Majesty's government and family and sell vital information pertaining to British naval fortifications to representatives of Kaiser Wilhelm the Second, the Irish Republican Brotherhood and other foreign interests. In exchange for said information, Lord Wrotham is charged with seeking promises of military assistance from Germany for an armed uprising in Ireland, with aiding and abetting in the overthrow of the British administration in Ireland, and, by extension, the overthrow of His Majesty's government."
Harrison paused. Ursula waited but there came no defiant disavowals, no challenges from a man who spent his life as a barrister. Lord Wrotham remained rigid, his eyes like polished granite, saying nothing.
The allegations set out in the arrest warrant, at least, provided Ursula with some measure of relief.
"I've never heard anything so ridiculous in my life!" she exclaimed. "Lord Wrotham's views on the 'Irish Question' and Ulster are well known. As a Unionist he is hardly likely to seek aid for an Irish rebellion—and as for conspiring to assassinate members of the government or the Royal family—that's utterly preposterous!"
Ursula and Lord Wrotham held diametrically opposing views on the 'Irish Question' and she was sure Lord Wrotham would never change his pro-Unionist beliefs. He could no more be a supporter of an Irish Republic than she could be a supporter of the anti-suffrage Primrose League.
Harrison's jaw clenched. "Men are not always what they seem," he answered. "It is the mark of a traitor that he can so easily deceive those who are close to him." The bitterness in his voice was a reminder of how deeply felt Lord Wrotham's betrayal was for him. Although Ursula had never discovered the precise nature of the debt owed by Harrison to Lord Wrotham, she knew their friendship stretched back to the time when Harrison's family was tenant farmers on the Wrotham's Northamptonshire estate.
"You cannot honestly believe these charges," Ursula urged. "They are patently absurd. You, who have known him for years, cannot believe Lord Wrotham is a traitor to his country."
"Ursula, please." Lord Wrotham's voice cut through their exchange. "As much as I appreciate your stalwart defense, Harrison is just performing his duty."
"How can you remain so calm?!" she asked hotly, spinning round to face him once more. Lord Wrotham's physical presence, normally so unfaltering appeared to waver. In the fading afternoon light, as the recesses of the room grew increasingly dim and spectral, she was no longer sure she could distinguish the shadow from the man.
"Believe me Miss Marlow," Harrison intervened. "This is no easy task for me." His hands were still unsteady as he folded the arrest warrant and placed it back in his pocket. "I promise you, these charges are not without adequate foundation. We have both witnesses and documentary evidence that clearly implicates Lord Wrotham. If Admiral Smythe was here, he would, no doubt, reassure you that a man such as he would never bring such charges lightly."
Lord Wrotham watched Harrison's face closely. "You've spoken with Admiral Smythe?" he asked. Ursula frowned, there was a hidden implication beneath his words that she could not grasp.
Harrison's raised his eyebrows. "Admiral Smythe was reported missing by his housekeeper this morning."
Lord Wrotham inhaled sharply and for first time since Harrison's arrival, his composure slipped. "But I saw him just yesterday. He and I dined at the club together."
Ursula sensed his fear and dug her fingernails into palms of her hands. She had certainly heard of Admiral Smythe, but, apart from knowing that he and Lord Wrotham were old friends from Balliol College, Oxford, she knew little else about him. As far she was aware, Lord Wrotham and Admiral Smythe met exclusively at the Carlton Club and, despite her recent engagement to Lord Wrotham, she had never been introduced to the Admiral.
"You sound surprised," Harrison replied coolly. "And yet it was Admiral Smythe's file that led us to you. Perhaps you know more about his fate than anyone else." There was a cold edge of suspicion in his voice. The two men regarded each other warily. A lock of dark hair fell across Lord Wrotham's face and he brushed it away roughly with his fingers.
"The file was found in his study," Harrison continued, watching Lord Wrotham's reaction closely.
Lord Wrotham gripped the edge of the chair. "And just what does this file purport to contain?"
Harrison frowned. "Surely you must know? Or at least had your suspicions? Why else would the Admiral now be missing?" Ursula noted that the East End accent Harrison tried so hard to suppress was creeping back, coloring his words with its rough nasal inflection.
"Lord Wrotham is hardly likely to arrange Admiral Smythe's 'disappearance' and then leave an incriminating file to be found, now is he?" Ursula interjected but neither man seemed to be listening.
"Have you any idea where Admiral Smythe might be?" Lord Wrotham asked Harrison.
"We have no information about his whereabouts"—Harrison hesitated—"No one has seen him since he left the Carlton Club yesterday. His housekeeper called Scotland Yard this morning when she discovered he had not come home last night. Given who he is, we started our investigations immediately."
Ursula opened her mouth to speak but Harrison silenced her with his hand.
"I think we have wasted enough time. My Lord"—Harrison directed himself to Lord Wrotham now—"I can take you down to the Yard directly or"—he paused—"if you would prefer?" Harrison motioned his head toward the revolver that still lay on the table.
"I appreciate that, Harrison," Lord Wrotham replied and even his voice seemed to have lost its resonance. "This won't take long."
"Very well," Harrison replied somberly. "Miss Marlow, if you will kindly come with me."He gestured for her to follow.
Ursula shook her head. This was not how it was going to end. She may feel like a terrified animal caught in a snare but, by God, she would not leave this room until she had the truth from Lord Wrotham. She was not about to let the man she loved leave her. Not like this.
Harrison, white-faced and defeated, seemed unable to summon the strength to argue. His own inner struggle was etched on his face. The thought of leaving a man to his death, especially a man whom Harrison had known and trusted for the last ten years, had taken its toll.
"Could I prevail upon you to allow Miss Marlow a moment with me alone?" Lord Wrotham interceded. "You have my word I shall make no attempt to flee or in any way compromise your investigation, but Miss Marlow deserves at least an explanation before ..." Lord Wrotham let the implication hang in the air. Harrison, his face contorted by emotions barely held in check, nodded quickly and exited the room.
Lord Wrotham picked up the revolver, holding it first in one hand and then the other.
"You aren't actually thinking of going through with it?" Ursula asked.
"I see no alternative," he said.
Despite his words, he placed the revolver back on the table.
"How can you say that?"
Lord Wrotham did not reply. There was no explanation. Only grim silence.
"You didn't even question the charges," Ursula said, lowering herself onto the sofa before her legs gave way altogether. The cool folds of the silken upholstery provided a welcome respite.
"No," Lord Wrotham eventually replied, and she noticed the slight tremble in his hands as he lit and raised a cigarette to his lips. "If it has come to this then it can mean only one thing."
Ursula closed her eyes. "And that is?"
"I shall hang."
Ursula's body started to shake uncontrollably. "How can you be so?—" she could speak no further.
Lord Wrotham sat down beside her on the Mackmurdo sofa. He closed his eyes for a moment and let the cigarette fall limp between his fingers. Ursula reached out and clasped his wrist. She closed her eyes and let the world, in all its senses and sounds, fade away. The rhythm of his pulse under her thumb seemed to be the only thing that stirred in the stagnant stillness of the room.
"This cannot be happening," Ursula whispered. Lord Wrotham sat motionless beside her. "I thought we had finally found happiness ..."
With a flash of anguish across his grey-blue eyes, Lord Wrotham yanked his hand away from hers and the world, in all its cacophony, came crashing back into the room. The call of the newspaper boy on the street corner, the shriek of tires as a motor car drew up next door, the muffled voices of the policemen in the hallway—all seemed deafening to Ursula's heightened senses.
Lord Wrotham pressed the palm of his hands against his temple, the cigarette between his fingers still smoldering, unnoticed. "God, Ursula. If there was any other way ...I would do anything to save you from this, but I have no choice. I will not risk exposing you to society's utter condemnation. I cannot face a trial knowing what it will do to you and my family."
"Even if you are innocent?" Ursula voice was hoarse. "For I cannot believe—"
The clock on the mantel struck the hour with four long, solemn chimes. Ursula stared blankly at the fireplace adorned with glazed green and blue tiles. Above the fireplace, framed against the eggshell blue walls, was a simple silver mirror, juxtaposed by two paintings by Kandinsky. Her eyes caught sight of the Liberty Tudric pewter bowl Lord Wrotham had given her, and their latest acquisition, the first piece of pottery they had ever bought together—A Ruskin high-fired, blue-vein vase.
She blinked back her tears once more.
Lord Wrotham tossed the cigarette into the fire. "What would you say if I told you the accusations were true?"
His face was inscrutable.
Ursula stared at him. "Then you may as well hand me the revolver and I will shoot you myself. Because if what Harrison said was actually true, then all that I know about you, all that I love about you, would be false."
They faced each other squarely. Lord Wrotham's eyelids flickered.
Ursula held her breath.
"I am no traitor," he said slowly, "but I am bound by an obligation of secrecy which I cannot break. All I can tell you is that Admiral Smythe's disappearance makes that obligation all the more confounding. Without him, I cannot defend myself against the charges made."
Ursula felt a surge of adrenaline accompanying his words. At least now there was something tangible, something solid, she could grasp. He had confirmed his innocence and, amid all the uncertainty and fear, maybe this was her opportunity to prove herself worthy of his confidence. There were many locked doors in Lord Wrotham's life. She was determined to open this one.
Excerpted from An Ursula Marlow Mystery by Clare Langley-Hawthorne. Copyright © 2014 Clare Langley-Hawthorne. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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