City Of Discoveries — Episode 05

The big clock in the hallway had just finished striking 11 when the doorbell jangled again.

Hetty dried her hands on her apron and struggled to loosen the strings. The tradesmen had been and gone long before this and besides, they pulled the kitchen bell.

Who could be calling this early? The minister?

She checked her neat bun in the hall mirror as she passed the parlour door and sighed. Why was this person ringing the front doorbell?

Battling through the curtain hanging behind the glass vestibule door and hauling away the bolt of draught excluder, Hetty managed to open the door.

A young lad in the livery of the city’s premier hackney service stood there. He removed his hat and bowed.

“Luggage from Earl Grey Dock, ma’am.”

“Luggage!” Hetty said faintly as realisation dawned.

The new lodgers had already stepped out of a second cab pulled up behind the first.

The horses snorted and stamped in the cold air, the boys bustled about unloading trunks and cases and two tall, elegantly dressed gentlemen watched from the flags.

Catching sight of her, they came into the garden.

“Miss Wilson?” the older man said. “Thomas Webster. I know we have not met so very often since I married Roberta, but I do see a family resemblance.”

He removed his hat and made a small bow.

“The Wilsons are thought to have small chins,” Hetty said, feeling instantly at ease with Thomas Webster. “And I think you must call me Hetty, sir, as we are family.”

“Only if you agree to call me Thomas and to accept my apology. We are a day ahead of our proposed arrival as the boat we joined made excellent passage from London.

“It arrived in Leith quicker than expected and the captain decided to take advantage of a fine wind to come on.”

“And here we are,” the other man finished in an accent Hetty did not recognise.

She thought he sounded as if he might come from North America, maybe Canada.

He was a couple of inches taller and his complexion a couple of shades darker than his companion.

“John Crombie,” he added, holding out a hand.

Hetty gripped it in hers and looked up into a pair of brown eyes that sparkled with amusement.

Is he laughing at my discomfiture, she thought, and straightened her spine.

Blushing is something other misses do, she silently reminded herself. I am equal to any man.

“Well, good morning to you, gentlemen. We aren’t quite ready for you, but come in meantime.

“If the rooms are not aired to your satisfaction, then others can be reserved at the temperance hotel in Reform Street until tomorrow.”

She turned back into the passageway, but not before she caught the gleam of admiration in Thomas Webster’s eye. She’d surprised him and that satisfied her hugely.

“Thank you, Hetty,” was all he said.

“A temperance hotel,”

Mr Crombie mused as they moved down the passage, “Surely in this land of such fine whisky, a temperance hotel is a strange thing?”

Hetty swung open the door of the front room.

“I think your luggage could be put in here,” she said, “but as the fire has not been lit yet, perhaps you would care to come into the breakfast parlour.”

Within a very short time the cabmen had unloaded all the portmanteaux and cases.

It was difficult to squeeze in and out of the room, but Hetty waited patiently while Thomas discharged the bill.

She led the gentlemen along the short hallway to the breakfast parlour.

“Oh, goodness!” Carrie exclaimed, looking up as the mess of her work and correspondence was discovered all over the table.

Papers and reference books were strewn everywhere. Hetty had forgotten she would still be working in here.

“Carrie, these gentlemen are my new guests.

Mr Thomas Webster and Mr John Crombie.”

She stood to one side as Carrie came forward to shake hands.

Did Mr Crombie hold on to Carrie’s a little longer than was necessary for politeness, Hetty wondered.

She noticed the shy upward glance the young woman gave him and was struck by how pretty a pale pink blush made her young cousin look.

Her light red hair was abundant and piled on top of her head in an untidy bundle, but with glasses slightly askew and an ink smudge on her cheek, she presented an endearing picture.

“I am a sea-faring man, Miss Smith,” Crombie was saying. “A whaler like Mr Webster here. But I work out of Newfoundland.”

“Newfoundland,” Carrie said in a whisper. “I think Newfoundland must be a very exciting place.”

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one aspiring tip to new writers is to “write from your imagination”.