Murder At Muirfield – Episode 01

I TRAMPED across the fields, the stubble of harvested crops hard under my thin-soled boots and the hems of my skirts damp and stained with soil.

It bothered me not one bit because the air was so sweet and sharp. The sun shone as brightly as if it were the height of summer, and a flock of birds skimmed by like tiny shadows in the sky.

And there it was, ahead of me. The cottage, nestling low amongst the heather and moor grasses, its whitewashed walls gleaming and beckoning me on.

I caught my breath. I still did not have my full strength back after the illness. Nevertheless, I swung my bags and hummed a tune as I walked the last stretch of beaten path home. I knocked once, hard, on the wooden door, then I pushed it open.

A familiar smell of peat smoke and vegetable stew wafted up. The room was dark and it was difficult to make out the figures inside. The cottage windows were tiny and the ceiling low-beamed, designed so as to keep in the heat. A person rose from the fire and came towards me. She grabbed me, gave me a fierce hug then looked at me with a frown.

“Hannah, what are you doing home? What’s wrong?”

I wanted to curl into her arms like I had when I was small. To let my mother take away my worries and protect me. But here I was, a grown woman nearly twenty years of age, so it wouldn’t do at all. Besides, her expression mixed concern with rising anger.

“Mrs Collington let me go. Can I come inside?”

She drew me in, taking my bags, and shut the door against the cold day.

As my eyes adjusted to the low light, I saw that nothing had changed. There was the fireplace, a log burning nicely and a couple of peat sods leaking grey smoke. The flagged stones of the floor were scrubbed clean.

The furniture was simple: a solid oak table and four chairs and Mam’s special dresser with its good pieces of blue and white china proudly displayed. They had been a gift from her employer. She’d worked most of her life for one local family of gentry until she’d given it up to get married to my father.

Kitty was grinning at me from her seat at the table. A mound of clothes was in front of her and her needle flashed as she sewed quickly and neatly on a white blouse.

“If you’ve been sacked, you can come and help me with this lot. Grab a seat and a dish of pins.”

“Give your sister a moment,” Mam said, turning back to me, then she pushed out a chair. “Sit down and I’ll bring you a cup of tea. You look peaky.”

“Where’s Dad?” I wanted to see him immediately.

She shook her head wearily.

“He’s asleep. You can go through later.”

They waited until I drank half a cup of strongly brewed tea and eaten a soft round of farl before insisting on hearing why I was back. Part of me kept listening for any sound from the next room. I longed for my dad. I’d missed him terribly.

“What did you do wrong?” Mam asked sharply. “You must have done something.”

“No, no, that’s not it at all,” I protested. “Mr and Mrs Collington were very pleased with me. They said I looked after little Arthur very well. He’s a lovely boy, very nicely mannered and with such a sense of mischief.”

“Well, what, then?” Mam asked. “If you were doing so well, why let you go? You’ve worked there for two good years. I thought you had a place there until young Arthur went to school.”

“There was influenza in the house. It started with the footman. He’d been visiting his family in Glasgow and brought it back with him. We all came down with it. Only it’s lingered with me. I couldn’t shake it off. Then Mrs Collington said she was very sorry but she couldn’t have her servants looking after me and having to get someone in for Arthur, too. She said I had to go.”

“Are you better?” Kitty asked, laying a gentle hand on mine with concern.

“I’m better now, but it’s too late. They got a new girl in – one of the housemaid’s cousins – to do my job.” I squeezed her fingers affectionately.

Kitty was a couple of years younger than me. She’d been born with one leg shorter than the other which meant she hadn’t gone into service the way I had. She helped Mam instead.

“You can’t stay here,” Mam said, her voice rising. “We can barely feed ourselves as it is. Kitty and I take in washing and sewing from the big houses around, but it’s hardly enough. If only your father . . .”

She pushed herself up from the table and stared at the fire, rubbing her arms as if she was frozen. I noticed she was thinner. Kitty, too, her face more angular, her rounded cheeks no longer apparent.

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!