Murder At Muirfied – Episode 11

THERE was an odd-looking tree with flowers like bottle brushes. Another had great leaves with slashed gaps in them. These were unlike anything I’d ever seen before.
“It’s very sheltered here. That’s why it prolongs the growing season,” Adam said.
I nodded. Despite my ignorance, I found myself intrigued by the strange things.
“Look at this,” Adam said, taking my arm to guide me to a small tree.
I felt a thrill of electricity travel up my limbs. His touch, warm and firm, felt impressed on my very skin through the wool of my coat.
“There.” He pointed.
It was, as I say, a small tree but peculiar. I can’t rightly describe it, but it was jagged like a bundle of snakes on a stick.
“This is a very rare tree,” Adam said. “The pride and joy of Mr Dawton’s collection. They call it a Monkey Puzzle.”
“Why is it called that?” I asked, for want of something to say. He clearly expected me to be impressed with the tree.
“I suppose because it would puzzle a monkey to climb it,” he said. “It’s very prickly.”
“Of course.” I fell silent, unsure where to take the conversation and unwilling to let Adam go. Inspiration struck. “So, Mr Dawton . . . he’s very taken with plants, is he?”
He looked at me as if I was a fool. I blushed and pretended to peer at the Monkey Puzzle to hide my hot face. He’d already told me Mr Dawton was passionate about his gardens.
If only I could get Adam talking about some other topics. For example, what kind of food did he like? Did he enjoy walking in the countryside? Was he courting? I wouldn’t mind going to the village tearoom with Adam.
“I told you, he’s a plant collector. These are the best gardens around for miles. All these plants . . .” he spread his arms, “are exotics you’ll never see anywhere else.”
“Goodness,” I said, sounding silly. But what else was there to say?
His lip curled sullenly and he looked all of a sudden younger.
“Why did I think you could understand? You’re naught but a girl. You’ve never stepped outside the county. This is away above your head.”
I wanted to shout at him that, actually, I came from a county over, so he was wrong there! But I knew what he meant. I was an ignorant girl who knew nothing of the world. He was right. But I didn’t want to lose his interest. What small interest he had in me, that was.
“Adam!” I called desperately.
He turned around slowly, that curled lip still in place. His good looks twisted my gut somewhere deep down.
“Adam,” I called more softly, “teach me, then. You’re right, I don’t know much, but I’d like to. You know so much to tell me.”
In an instant his expression changed. Gone was the surly disappointment in me. In its stead, a grin slowly spread across his face with an assurance of his worth. I’d soothed his ego. I’d told him he was better than me. I’d humbled myself. It left a slight sour taste in my mouth, but anything was better than losing him.
“You see, it’s my cultivation of these plants that’s brought them to life. I’ve taken care of the seedlings that get sent here and experimented with how to care for them. It’s thanks to me that Mr Dawton has such a fine collection.”
“What about Peter? Does he cultivate them, too?”
“Aye, he does.” His voice was flat. I realised it was the wrong thing to say.
Keeping Adam’s attention needed only a prompt or two and he was quite willing to take the floor while I was quite willing to be the eager listener
“What do you do on your day off?” I asked.
He looked surprised. Then he shrugged.
“Not much. I tend the plants.”
I perked up at that. Adam had no girl he was courting. That was good news.
“There’s a good tearoom in the village, I’ve heard,” I said. “Perhaps we could go there.”
“I’m working.”
“Oh, I didn’t mean now.” Except that’s what I had meant. I was too keen.
“Anyway, I don’t go much to the village. I’ve got everything I need right here.”
“You must leave sometimes. What about your family? Don’t you visit them?”
“I don’t have family.” He was abrupt.
There was a silence between us. I’d run out of things to say. I was bored by Adam’s plants, and he was bored by me. I could tell by his vacant expression. He was thinking about something, but it wasn’t me.
“I’ve got to go,” he said finally.
I didn’t try to stop him. The truth was, I couldn’t think of a way to make him stay.
I went back to the house, thinking that I’d read my book after all.
Gracie grabbed me excitedly.
“I’ve been looking for you. Guess what?”
“A bit more enthusiasm, Hannah, please. I’ve just heard from Cook that there’s going to be a house party.”
“What’s that to the likes of me and you?” I was harsh with disappointment over Adam.
She ignored my bad mood.
“You’ve never experienced one at Muirfield. Mr Dawton invites his Glasgow friends to come for the game shooting. The wives are entertained by Mrs Dawton. There’s dancing and cards and huge dinners. But, best of all, the servants get a party, too, with such lovely food and drink. And . . .” She was almost curling up with happiness.
“And?” I smiled. It was hard to stay grumpy when Gracie was the opposite.
“And . . .” she plucked at my sleeve, “there’s a young man I like. He’s a footman with the Howie family and usually he comes with them. Oh, Hannah, I can’t wait.”
“It does sound nice.”
“That’s putting it mildly.” Then she frowned. “By the way, any idea what’s wrong with Bill? He’s in a terrible bad mood.”
I felt a flash of shame.
“No,” I lied, “I don’t know.”
From downstairs, there came the sound of a door opening and closing. Most probably it was Mrs Smith returned from her mysterious outing.
I resolved, there and then, to follow her again and find out where she went.

Tracey Steel

Having worked on a number of magazines over the years, Tracey has found her perfect place on The Friend as she’s obsessed with reading and never goes anywhere without a book! She reads all the PF stories with a mug of tea close by and usually a bit of strong cheese too!