Genres: Historical Crime Fiction, Scottish, Georgian, Early 19th. Century
1812 – Recovering in Naples from the intrigues of Scottish politics, Charles Murray is drawn further afield by urgent news of an old servant in distant Mughal India. Going to the aid of one woman, he finds another and is pursued by a third. But that is no recipe for an easy life, and with imperial spies on the streets of Delhi, Murray must investigate the murder that brought him to the East, and redeem himself in his own eyes.
The Tender Herb is the sixth in the Murray of Letho series.
Mary was in trouble.
The words, echoing like gunshots, had been bouncing around Henry Robbins’ head since the letter had arrived in Edinburgh – well, since it had reached him in Queen Street, a few days later. Mary was in trouble, and everything since had been a scramble, a rush, as near a panic as Robbins ever came, to think of and prepare for the best way of extracting her.
Part of the problem, even with hurrying, was that the letter had taken ten months to arrive. That was not a bad time for letters from inland India, but it still mocked his urgency. Then, even when the ship had arrived in Leith, he had not been there to collect the letter, had not even been expecting it. Patie, the groom next door, had happened to be at Leith waiting for a horse and had picked up the letter from a shilpit manservant who was trying to see the contents against a watery sun. He had delivered it triumphantly to Robbins and had then hung around for nearly an hour, clearly wearing to find out what was in it. Robbins, however, was impervious to Patie’s hint-dropping blather, and Patie eventually left unrewarded, except by a tankard of very good ale.
Robbins did not touch the ale. Instead, he waited until he had heard the mews gate close behind Patie, and then, alone in the big blue-green kitchen, he broke the seal and drew a breath.
Mary’s handwriting, as sharp and black as her extraordinary triangular eyebrows, strode forcefully across the cover, undeterred by whatever horrors the letter had seen on its travels through the Presidencies of the Honourable East India Company. She had left Edinburgh for India with her new husband, Aeneas Maclachlan, in the autumn of 1810, so this must have been written almost as soon as she had arrived. Robbins, losing in the one woman a fellow servant and a friend, had done his best to forget all about her: he had not expected a correspondence. Now that it was here, he was almost reluctant to open it.
Since he had, and had read the determined lines inside, he had scarcely paused to eat or sleep. In the course of a day or two, he had visited Simpson, his master’s man of business; he had written to his master’s estate in Letho to summon a servant to replace him in the Edinburgh house, and he had called on his master’s oldest friend in the Old Town, seeking information and advice, and receiving it. Finally, he walked down the hill to Leith, and purchased himself a passage – not to India, but to Italy. Then he went back to Queen Street, to pack.
‘I don’t care if you have to turn Hindoo, Daniel: you’ll still marry the girl.’
Daniel, his usual confidence somewhat diminished in the face of his master’s anger, stood looking sheepish in a pool of hot July sunlight. Murray had opened one of the tall wooden shutters, hoping for a breath of air to drift in from the rose-pink Neapolitan piazza, but even in his shirtsleeves he felt stifled. Daniel was wearing his usual thick coat and, irritatingly, did not even seem to be sweating. Daniel had adapted to the Neapolitan life very well – perhaps a little too well, to judge by the present situation.
‘When is the child due?’ Murray asked reluctantly.
‘In October, she reckons, sir.’
‘Then you haven’t much time, have you? You’d better find an accommodating priest.’ Murray rose and stalked over to the window, wishing Daniel had announced his unplanned breeding in a colder season. He stood with his back to the hot light, and studied his manservant. The room about them was solid, spare and a little severe, old white walls, stone floor and wooden furniture anciently dark. Daniel was a contrast, though: young, cheerful and daft. The trouble was – well, there were several troubles, for the girl so inconveniently expecting Daniel’s child was also Murray’s cook – the trouble was that you could not help liking Daniel. He was even becoming quite a competent servant, and given a few decades might make a reasonable husband and father. ‘Do you love the girl?’ he asked in the end.
He half-expected Daniel to shrug, to look bewildered as he searched for some meaning in Murray’s words, but instead an expression of determination came over his healthy face.
‘I do, sir,’ he announced. Murray nodded.
‘Then try Father Piero at Santa Croce – I hear he is a kindly man. You’d better go now, Daniel. Wait – is the girl keeping well?’
‘Aye, sir,’ Daniel beamed suddenly. ‘She’s blooming like – like a morning glory!’
‘My, Daniel,’ Murray remarked drily. ‘Off you go before you start writing poetry.’ He turned back to the window, and his sharp intake of breath stopped Daniel in his tracks.
‘What’s the matter, sir?’
‘You’ll never believe who’s just appeared in the street,’ said Murray, a worried frown on his face. Daniel’s eyebrows asked the question for him. ‘It’s Robbins,’ announced Murray, ‘unless I’m very much mistaken, it’s Henry Robbins.’
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About The Author:
Lexie Conyngham is a historian living in North-East Scotland and has been writing stories since she knew people did. When she can escape from teaching, she divides her time between writing, gardening and knitting.