A Lady of Ashes Short Story

Violet Harper might be fearless when it comes to caring for the dead, but she trembles at the thought of boarding trains-those behemoths of belching smoke and screeching brakes. Nevertheless, she must travel via one of these beasts from Southampton to Portsmouth. The undertaker’s anxiety turns into horror when a fellow passenger is murdered as the train carriage enters a tunnel. Can Violet discover who the murderer is before the train reaches its next stop?  Note: this is a short story, not a full-length novel.

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Ebook | Paperback | Audio

Amazon       Barnes & Noble      Books-A-Million   

Chirp      Indiebound      Kobo      Scribd


This was my first attempt at a short story featuring Violet.  I submitted it for consideration in an anthology but it wasn’t accepted. So I decided to have a cover made and put the short story out for free (although sometimes book sites won’t allow you to do “free” and I had to give it a minimal price).

 I must admit that I find short stories to be much more challenging than full-length novels.  I’m used to have pages upon pages to twirl out a plot, the atmosphere, and characterizations.  With a short story, you must be terse with everything, while trying to provide the reader with the same “experience” as a full-length novel.  My hat is off to those authors who are regularly published in short-story format.

 Enjoy this little “extra” Lady of Ashes story.


     Violet Harper despised trains. She had no animosity for their smoke-belching stacks nor their screeching brakes nor even their oblong black carriages that should remind any thinking person of wheeled coffins.

     No, the entire problem with trains was that Violet Harper, an undertaker who had handled hundreds of corpses in her thirty-seven years of living, had been terrified of trains ever since she had narrowly escaped her own demise in a train crash nine years ago.

     Violet absentmindedly reached for her right arm, which had been badly scalded by steam in the wreck and continued to remind her of the accident with its periodic spasms and twinges.

     Yet here she was, standing at Southampton Docks station, waiting for her husband to arrive. Sam had returned to his native Massachusetts to take care of his father’s estate. Mr. Harper had left behind a large farm and, unfortunately, an even larger expanse of debt, and it had taken Sam several months to resolve it all.

     Violet herself had spent a couple of years in the American West with her then-new husband, but they had returned to London the previous year when Violet’s mother had taken ill. Although her mother had recovered, a series of unexpected investigative events had resulted in the Harpers remaining in Great Britain.

     Once she had received Sam’s telegraph that he would soon board a ship to return to England, Violet had taken a short break from her business, leaving it in the capable hands of her co-owner.  She had then gone to Brighton to visit her parents for a couple of weeks, having agreed to meet Sam in Southampton, where they would take a London and South Western train to Portsmouth, then switch and continue on back to London.

     A grimy-faced urchin with stained teeth offered her a copy of the day’s newspaper. She took one as a way to pass the time preferable to peering down the track and hoping Sam would arrive before the iron beast did. Her gloves were already smudged with ink when an article on page three caught Violet’s attention.

  The Standard                        Price: One Penny                   June 21, 1870      

Her Majesty’s Missing Brooch!

The queen’s Lord Chamberlain has finally admitted that Her Majesty’s prized piece of jewelry, a brooch given to her by Prince Albert himself as a wedding gift, is missing from its specially made casket at Osborne House. The Viscount Sydney said in a prepared statement to this paper, “It was just realized four weeks ago that the piece was missing, when staff attempted to retrieve it for the queen’s birthday this past 24th May. All household staff who were present at the time that the brooch went missing have been questioned, and it is believed the brooch was waylaid during a removal for cleaning.”

     The article went on to describe the brooch as a faceted oval sapphire of a blue to “outdo Her Majesty’s Navy,” surrounded by brilliant round diamonds and set in gold. The description was accompanied by an engraving of the piece, along with a second engraving showing Queen Victoria wearing it on her wedding day.

     Scotland Yard, the article concluded, was now investigating and was sure to solve it in a matter of days, but meanwhile the queen was desolate over the loss of a piece of jewelry given to her by her much-lamented dead husband.

     Violet folded the paper and tucked it inside her bag. She could well believe that the queen was beside herself.  Having endured several assassination attempts, she must feel that this was another invasion of her royal person. Combined with losing a cherished gift from her late—and yes, much-lamented—husband, it was probably sending Queen Victoria into a comatose state. Violet had been summoned by the queen on more than one occasion for investigations into matters too delicate for Scotland Yard, and was well aware of the queen’s sensibilities.

     Violet gave it no more thought, for Sam now held up his hand in greeting from across the station. Sam moved swiftly with the aid of his silver eagle-headed cane, which he had carried since the injuries he had sustained in the Civil War. He was accompanied by another gentleman, whom Sam introduced as Merrick Peck, a shipper with interests in both Great Britain and America. The men had met during the sailing from New York. Peck was a much older man with a firm stride and a well-groomed, snowy beard that did little to hide the pitting from a long-ago case of smallpox.

     “I was fortunate to meet your husband as we waited to debark, Mrs. Harper, and he regaled me with many stories of your undertaking exploits,” Mr. Peck said. “It is quite an accomplishment, being in service to the queen.”

     Violet nodded. “I believe my husband exaggerates my abilities, sir. I have simply been honored to be of some small assistance to Her Majesty.”

     Peck smiled at Sam, and the elder man’s eyes twinkled as though he were a mischievous elf, belying his advancing years. “Modest, as well. You are a fortunate man, Harper.”

     At that moment, the four o’clock train came shrieking into the station.


Excerpt copyright 2018 Christine Trent.