Authors: Margaret Addison
by Margaret Addison
A Rose Simpson Mystery
Copyright 2015 Margaret Addison
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage or retrieval system, without prior written permission from Margaret Addison except for the inclusion of quotations in a review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Rose Simpson Mysteries (in order)
Murder at Ashgrove House
Murder at Dareswick Hall
Murder at Sedgwick Court
Murder at Renard’s
‘But this is a disaster. No less than a catastrophe. My clientele will be devastated and my reputation will be in ruins. It will lie in tatters. They will say that I have gone back on my word, that I promised something I could not fulfil …’ Madame Renard, proprietor of Renard’s dress shop, let her words falter and hang in the air before herself collapsing into a convenient chair. She was in the room she referred to grandly as her office but which, in actual fact, was little more than a glorified box room. She wrung her hands in front of her theatrically, her well made up face becoming unattractively distorted by her distress. This gesture was followed by the passing of a limp, but well-manicured, hand across her brow with the air of a doomed maiden in some Greek tragedy. Lips pursed, she regarded her employee, the bearer of such unwelcome tidings, with a mixture of sorrow and contempt as if it were all that young lady’s fault that her very world was falling apart around her ears.
Rose Simpson, being accustomed to her employer’s ways, had anticipated just such a reaction to the news she had to impart. She therefore merely sighed softly to herself and tried to smile reassuringly at the older woman despite feeling no less aggrieved and alarmed by the news than Madame Renard herself. She resolved however to keep her true feelings concealed from the proprietor, who she felt was demonstrative enough in showing her emotions for the both of them.
Renard’s, as Madame Renard’s ladies’ outfitters was rather unimaginatively called, was an establishment with grandiose pretentions of being a dress shop of the superior type despite its singularly unprepossessing location in a London back street, squashed between a tobacconist that had seen better days on one side and an equally run down cleaners and dryers business on the other.
Notwithstanding these various locational disadvantages, Madame Renard had made considerable strides to turn her premises into what she most coveted. True, the sign above her shop did not declare House of Renard as she would have wished, and indeed envisaged, in her dreams. Sensibly she had reined herself in from making such a claim no matter how well she regarded her merchandise. A couture house in Paris her establishment was clearly not. But still ‘Renard’s’
was written in impressive bold gold letters on a background of royal blue. The window displays were elaborate and boasted wax mannequins with glass eyes and fur eyelashes, moulded and painted eyebrows, dazzling eye make-up, and mouths that were inset with porcelain teeth and painted lips. Madame Renard had also invested in two or three of the full-length plaster mannequins which had newly become available and which had the twin advantages of looking more lifelike than their wax predecessors while also being more durable.
‘Please, Madame, I don’t think the situation is quite as bad as you might think,’ Rose said, trying to sound more confident than she felt. ‘Of course it is most unfortunate that Lavinia should choose this moment to become ill.’ She paused a moment to consider Lady Lavinia Sedgwick in not the most favourable of lights. ‘But it really couldn’t be helped. I understand she is very poorly and has taken to her bed. But as I’ve already said, she hasn’t left us in the lurch. She has made alternative arrangements.’
‘Alternative arrangements?’ Madame Renard removed her hand from her brow and looked at her shop assistant inquisitively and rather suspiciously, her manner still despondent. ‘What precisely do you mean by alternative arrangements? The clothes display is tomorrow night. It will be a disaster without dear Lavinia there to model Marcel’s gowns ... Oh, Marcel! How will he take the news?’ Madame Renard’s hand shot up to her mouth and her eyes bulged large and bright. ‘We must not tell him yet. Promise me, Miss Simpson, you will not breathe a word of this to him or to anyone. Not until we have decided what to do.’
‘But Madame, I told you – ’
Oui, oui, oui,’
Madame Renard said irritably. ‘But what do you mean? Explain yourself more clearly, come. Tell me
quickly. And do speak up.
You English, you always mumble. Can you not see how this news has affected me? I am quite done in as you say.’
‘As I’ve said already,’ Rose said slowly and with emphasis, ‘Lavinia has arranged for someone else to model Marcel’s gowns.’
‘But whom?’ Madame Renard sat up, looking interested despite herself. However, she was not yet ready to abandon her portrayal of malaise. ‘If it is not another member of the aristocracy, it will not do. I promised my customers that the gowns would be modelled by the daughter of an earl.’
‘And Lavinia does not want to disappoint. Does the name Lady Celia Goswell mean anything to you, Madame? She is the second daughter of the Marquis of Perriford.’
‘Oh? I do not think I have heard of her. Let me see …
I have not seen photographs of her in the society pages. Tell me, the daughter of a marquis she is higher than the daughter of an earl, is she not?’
‘Yes, she is.’
The proprietor brightened visibly. If she was aware that Rose still looked troubled then she gave no sign of it.
‘No doubt she is a fine young lady like our Lady Lavinia, this Lady Celia
?’ purred Madame Renard. ‘Tall and elegant with the same slender figure and delicate features that become clothes so magnificently. Her complexion will be the English rose, will it not?’
‘Hmm … I’m afraid I don’t know,’ said Rose rather hesitantly. ‘I daresay she carries herself well,’ she added rallying a little, trying to forget the feeling of apprehension that she had experienced earlier that day following her telephone call to Sedgwick Court. ‘We shall soon see for ourselves. Lavinia was so good as to ask Lady Celia to come to the shop tomorrow morning for a fitting.’
‘A fitting?’ Madame Renard looked alarmed. ‘But we have not the time to make any changes to the outfits. The display, it is tomorrow evening.’
‘But even so it will be necessary, I think,’ said Rose firmly. ‘But don’t worry, Madame. I daresay only one or two very minor adjustments to Lavinia’s outfits will prove necessary.’
little adjustments, perhaps,’ Madame Renard agreed grudgingly, giving Rose a sharp look. ‘But remember this is couture. Marcel has designed these outfits to Lavinia’s precise measurements. It has taken several fittings and a number of days to produce such garments. Couture cannot be rushed, Rose, as well you know. These dresses do not have generous seams that can be let out to accommodate the size and shape of any Tom, Dick or Harry. No, they fit Lavinia to perfection. But as to whether they will fit or suit someone else … who is to say? Marcel has chosen and designed these gowns to accentuate Lavinia’s figure. On someone else the same outfits could look like the woman is wearing a sack of potatoes. Worse still, they could accentuate the very worst parts of her body. What you are saying, and this hesitating manner in which you are saying it, makes me anxious. You are keeping something from me I think? You – ’
‘I am sure we are worrying unnecessarily,’ Rose said quickly, despite her misgivings. ‘I am being silly, of course. There is no reason to suppose Monsieur Girard’s gowns will not fit Lady Celia as well as they do Lavinia, no reason at all.’
‘Is that so? But of course, you are right. Dear Lavinia would not be so unkind or so unthoughtful as to send us someone unsuitable.’
Personally, Rose was of the view that this might indeed be something her friend would do, not necessarily maliciously, but because she did not wish to be upstaged.
‘Ah, dear Lavinia,’ continued Madame Renard, rising majestically from her chair, suitably reassured and once more in control of her surroundings. She threw out her arms in a flamboyant gesture that encompassed not only the dress shop and the accompanying rooms, but also the girl who stood before her. ‘I knew she would not let me down. She was always such a dear girl when she was working here, so diligent, so obliging.’
Rose nodded while all the time trying not to laugh. It was true that Lady Lavinia Sedgwick, only daughter of the then Earl of Belvedere, had worked for a short time in Madame Renard’s dress shop. This had happened as the result of a bet that the lady in question had taken up with her brother, namely that she could earn her own living for six months. But Lavinia had been spared the most tedious aspects of the job of a shop assistant. She had not been expected to sweep the floor or wrap up garments in brown paper in preparation for their being sent out to customers on approval. Neither had she been required to deal with Madame Renard’s more awkward or demanding customers. Unlike Rose, she had not suffered sharp words from customers or the indignity of being ignored or looked down upon. Madame Renard’s treatment of her had been little short of deferential. For the proprietor had quickly ascertained that Lavinia’s presence behind the counter was good for business and had not wished to lose the most attractive addition to her shop by giving her too tiring or mundane work, or subjecting her to the niggles or complaints of the shop’s most tiresome customers.
‘It’s almost a year, is it not,’ continued Madame Renard, ‘since the dear girl worked here? It seems only yesterday that she was helping my customers with their ensembles. So very generous and unselfish. What Lady Lavinia does not know about fashion … But we will not speak of that now. We have not the time. Now, back to work we must go. Remember we are closing the shop early tomorrow to get ready for the show.’ She beamed at Rose. ‘We must therefore make the most of this afternoon, I think. Our customers are depending on us.’
‘Where’s Mama?’ enquired Jacques Renard, strolling leisurely into Renard’s,
a wide grin on his handsome face.
He was a dark-haired, bespectacled young man of twenty-three and was dressed in a smart wool worsted suit with silk stripes which he thought became him rather well. It was true that while he did indeed require the spectacles for reading purposes, he wore them also out of vanity, being of the opinion as he was that they gave him a rather learned air. Indeed, he was aware that glasses made him look distinguished because one or two of the girls of his acquaintance at Harridges had told him so. Such endorsement also proved beneficial to his eyesight. He was no longer inclined to screw up his eyes and squint, the effect of which had been rather detrimental to his looks.
‘I thought I’d find Mama out here in the shop cracking the whip and having you polish and clean every nook and cranny until the place shone. I’m surprised she’s left you to your own devices. Why, there won’t be a stroke of work done with her not here!’
‘You’re a cheeky one, so you are, Jack Renard,’ retorted Sylvia. ‘I’ll have you know I’m the most hardworking one of the lot. Your mother’s lucky to have me, and that’s a fact. I’m not like Miss Simpson with all her airs and graces thinking that she’s better than us just because she’s friends with the gentry.’
‘Rose isn’t a bit like that, as well you know,’ replied Jacques, pretending not to have heard Sylvia deliberately mispronounce his name. ‘Now, don’t be such a beast, my sweet.’ He perched himself rather uncomfortably on the edge of a table on which there was a display of angora berets and hand painted and braided band hats. ‘You’re just jealous because she’s done rather well for herself.’
‘And who’s to say she has?’ demanded Sylvia. ‘She’s still working here, isn’t she?’
‘Oh, do leave off, Sylvia. What’s Rose Simpson ever done to you? No,’ Jacques Renard held up his hand and laughed before she could protest, ‘I don’t want to hear any more about it. I didn’t come here to talk about Rose. Now, don’t scowl, it’s hardly flattering, you know. It will give you wrinkles which would be such a shame. It would spoil your fine looks and I came here just because I wanted to see your lovely face.’
‘And see how your mother’s faring with the preparations for this fashion show of hers, you said as much yourself,’ said Sylvia, permitting herself a smile in light of the compliment. ‘She’s out back with Rose in that little room she calls her office.’ She bent towards him conspiratorially. ‘I think something’s up with the show. Don’t ask me what, because I don’t know. But Rose telephoned Sedgwick Court a half hour or so ago and then came out of the office looking all worried and flustered although she tried not to show it. She asked your mother to go into the office and I’ve heard Madame’s voice raised as if she’s having hysterics.’
‘Now that does sound like dear Mama,’ Jacques said.
‘Likely as not Lady Lavinia’s changed her mind about coming. I wouldn’t put anything past that madam. Have I told you how she hardly lifted a finger while she was working here? Although I wouldn’t have called it working. Complained about the smallest thing, so she did, something rotten. Why, she – ’
‘Yes. Yes, you did,’ said Jacques quickly. ‘Hello, where’s Mary? Don’t tell me it’s her day off?’
‘Of course not. She’s out in the storeroom wrapping up the garments to be sent out.’
‘Well, I can’t stop here chatting.’ The young man rose from his makeshift seat on the table and hastily tidied the arrangement of hats that he had brushed so carelessly aside. ‘I only popped out for a moment to undertake an errand and took the opportunity to come here. They’ll be expecting me back in a few minutes otherwise they’ll dock my wages.’
‘As if they would! I don’t know why you want to work at that fancy department store. I’m surprised your mother doesn’t have you working here where she can keep an eye on you.’
‘She wants me to learn the trade, don’t you know. We receive specific training at Harridges, undertake proper training programmes and all that.’