When you read a book, have you ever wondered how subsidiary characters perceive and react to events in the book? To celebrate the publication of “The Elephant Girl”, over the next couple of weeks I’ll be writing a short piece from the viewpoint of three different characters. Today it’s…
Agnes Ransome accepted a cup of coffee from her secretary, then turned her attention to the papers on her desk. Although the family-owned auction house was now run very efficiently by her youngest daughter Letitia and her step-daughter Mimi, and she herself was officially retired, Agnes still kept her hand in once a week.
Whereas her other daughter Ruth… she glanced at the sleeping form on the leather sofa. After yet another argument with her husband, Ruth had slept in the office.
Agnes despaired at her daughter’s disastrous marriage. At least Letitia had had the good sense to remain unattached. Then there was Mimi whose husband had died far too young. Aside from her own few blissful years with William, the Ransomes had a terribly track record when it came to happy-ever-afters.
Abandoning the paperwork, she poured Ruth some coffee from the Thermos the secretary had left, then woke her up.
‘It’s 8.30. You might want to freshen up before the 10 o’clock auction.’ She noticed a cut on Ruth’s hand. ‘And get that seen to.’
Ruth shook as she reached for the saucer with both hands. ‘Thanks,’ she mumbled, and Agnes smelled the gin on her breath.
The door opened, and Letitia almost fell into the office, her face as white as a sheet. ‘Mother, it’s Mimi.’
‘What about Mimi, dear?’
‘She’s dead. Murdered!’
Agnes felt the blood leave her face, and she steadied herself against the desk. From the sofa Ruth made a strangled sound and dropped her coffee cup with a clatter. A dark stain spread on the Persian rug.
‘But that’s… how?’ asked Agnes.
‘Stabbed. In her car. The police want to talk to all of us.’
‘And the child? Where’s Helen?’
Letitia wrung her hands. ‘In hospital. Apparently she was on the back seat when it happened.’
‘Oh, my God!’ Ruth covered her mouth with her hand.
A tight feeling grew in the pit of Agnes’ stomach. ‘Was she harmed?’
‘She had a seizure, from shock I imagine, but no, she wasn’t harmed.’ Letitia sent her sister a hard look. ‘Well, that’ll make life easier for you, won’t it, Sis?’
Ruth glared back at her. ‘I won’t pretend to be heart-broken. And it’s not as if you’re going to miss her either, is it?’
‘Girls!’ Agnes snapped, although both in their forties they were hardly that. ‘This isn’t productive.’
Letitia turned to her mother with a brief panicked expression in her eyes. ‘But how will we cope, Mother? Without Mimi? We’re just about to float on the Stock Exchange.’
‘I’ll have to come out of retirement.’
‘But, Mother, your health – ‘ Ruth protested.
‘Don’t talk such nonsense. It’s the only thing that makes sense. Letitia is right, the company won’t succeed otherwise. And then we need to decide what to do about the child.’
The child, she thought. So many issues surrounding that little girl already, and now another: if Helen was on the back seat, how much had she seen?