Murder At Muirfield – Episode 04

MURDERED?” Surely I hadn’t heard her right.
Gracie nodded. She looked scared.
“It’s been horrible. They sent a detective all the way from Glasgow. A big man with a cape. He questioned everyone and took lots of notes, but he didn’t find the murderer.”
“When did . . .?” I couldn’t bring myself to say “murder” again. “When did it happen?”
“A few weeks ago.” Gracie sat on my bed. “We’ve been managing without Ellen since then and I’m very glad you’re here. There’s too much work for me on my own.”
“What does Sarah do?”
“Oh, Sarah’s too fancy to help in the house.” Gracie wrinkled her nose. “No, she’s lady’s maid to Mrs Dawton and the two young ladies.”
“What are they like?” I sat beside her on the bed, hearing the springs creak.
“Alice is sixteen and thinks herself quite grown up and grand, but she’s a silly sort of girl. Emily is twelve. I feel a bit sorry for her in spite of her being from a good family. She drifts about looking lost most of the time.”
Gracie leaped up suddenly.
“Goodness, we mustn’t sit here gossiping. Mrs Smith will have our guts for garters.”
“Just one more thing,” I said, unable to leave it alone. “How did they know Ellen was murdered? Surely she might just as easily have slipped and fallen into the lake?”
“There were signs of a scuffle in the mud at the edge of the lake. Near to the summerhouse. They reckon she must have sneaked out at night to meet someone. They found her body the next morning.” Gracie shuddered. “She was my friend, you know. I’ve had awful nightmares ever since. I might wake you up at night with them. I scream and all sorts.”
She waited while I put on my new uniform. I hitched up the skirts at the waist as they were too long and promised myself to sew the hems that night.
I couldn’t put Ellen’s fate from my mind, even as we hurried downstairs and Gracie told me all the tasks I had to do. I was horribly intrigued. I was wearing the dead girl’s clothing and that night would sleep in what had been her bed. I was to carry out her work in the house. It was as if she was my shadow, or I hers.
It seemed that Ellen’s spirit was everywhere in the house. Gracie warned me not to mention her to the cook, Mrs Pearson, as she was the dead girl’s aunt. I didn’t need to because the cook brought up the subject herself.
I was set to peeling a mountain of potatoes and carrots in the kitchen. Gracie waved and ran off to clean upstairs. I stared at the vegetables and wished I were up in the main rooms, too.
Mrs Pearson was as round as a cook should be. She puffed alarmingly as she walked, as if her breath caught. Her rolling gait made me hide a smile. But she was a kind woman.
“Get these spuds done and scrub them roots. I’m making chicken and meat pies and glazed carrots and mashed potatoes for dinner.”
“Sounds delicious,” I said politely.
She winked at me.
“That’s for the family, but what they eat up there, we eat down here, too. I’ll say that for Mrs Dawton: for all her faults she’s generous with the food.”
That was a relief. The Collingtons had been, too, but I’d heard stories from friends about their places where they fed on scrapings fit only for the pigs.
“Now,” she said, “you get stuck into that lot while I make the pastry. Later, you’ll change into a fresh uniform and help Gracie upstairs. There’s a lot to do. My Ellen did a fine job and I’m sure you will, too.”
She stopped and sniffed. Her eyes were shiny.
“She was such a good girl, my niece. Such a help to me. Nothing was too much bother and no complaints from her. She carried my bags for me on my day off and kept me company sometimes. Imagine that, a beautiful young girl like that spending time with her old auntie. That’s how kind she was. She’d bring me little gifts, too. She didn’t deserve such a wicked end.”
It was clearly still raw. I didn’t know what to say so I kept my head down and peeled the potatoes.
Once I’d done the veg, I was allowed to help prepare the stewing apples. Yet more scrubbing and peeling to be done.
When the apples were set to simmering and a lovely aroma filled the kitchen, Mrs Pearson stopped our work. I was hopeful we’d eat, as I was starving. I’d missed lunch due to travelling. Mr Dawton hadn’t offered to stop to eat.
Bill came in to pick up a tray of afternoon tea and cakes for Mrs Dawton. I smiled but he didn’t return it. I made a face behind his back. What a grumpy sort he was.
“Now,” Mrs Pearson said, “the gardeners will have to have an early meal today. I’m behind schedule. Mr Crickett has his own girl to make his meals so you don’t have to take him anything, but the two under gardeners need their meals. It’s your job to take the food over to the bothy.”
“The bothy? What’s that?”
“You’ll find it. Take that covered basket and go out the back door. You’ll see a row of cottages, and the bothy’s over there.”
I wasn’t going to get more help. She turned away and stirred the large pots on the range. Her face was rosy from the heat and a wisp of greying hair stuck out from under her cap.
I took the basket and headed out. It was nice to be outside.

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!