Murder At Muirfield – Episode 05

I FOUND my way across the cobbled courtyard and through the stables. Then I came to the row of low cottages. Through the windows and doors I saw pots and implements and all the paraphernalia of a gardener’s work. The end cottage door was open and I saw two men inside. I went over and knocked. They turned and I lifted up the basket.
“Mrs Pearson’s sent your dinner.”
One man came to get the basket. A pleasant shock rippled through me. He was handsome. Not tall, but stocky and strong looking. His skin was tanned from working outdoors.
“Who are you?” he asked, those beautiful eyes roaming over me.
“I’m Hannah. I arrived today.”
The other man came out, too. He was older, with a grizzled beard on his chin and a balding head. But he grinned in a friendly fashion.
“Hello, Hannah, what goodies have you brought us? I’m fair starving. This is Adam as you see and I’m Peter.”
“Pleased to meet you,” I said and dipped a small curtsey.
I could hardly take my gaze from Adam. Luckily he didn’t appear to notice.
He took the basket and gave it to Peter. The older man took it quickly and rummaged in its contents. He began to lay the items out on the table in the bothy.
Adam stepped outside with me. He scratched at his tousled hair and I noticed the muscles flex in his forearm.
“So you’re taking on Ellen’s position?” he said.
I was almost sick of her name. Then I felt ashamed. The poor girl had been killed. It wasn’t her fault that she was everywhere at Muirfield Hall. Of course she was still in everyone’s mind. The killer had not been caught.
That thought froze me for a moment. He or she was out there somewhere.
“Yes, did you know her well?” I found myself asking.
He shrugged.
“No better than the rest of us. She was an unhappy girl.”
“Unhappy? What do you mean?”
He didn’t answer that. Instead, he gestured in the direction of the walled garden.
“Have you seen the gardens yet?”
“No, I haven’t seen them.”
“They are the best gardens in the region,” he said. “Full of fine, exotic plants you won’t see anywhere else. Mr Dawton’s a plant collector, you see. He’s got species from America to grow that won’t grow anywhere else in Scotland – or England for that matter.”
I wasn’t very interested in plants or gardening, but I was interested in Adam. He was glorious to look at. I’d never seen a man so fine looking. He exuded health and strength and . . . maleness. I didn’t care what he said as long as I could listen.
I helped the conversation along so I didn’t have to leave.
“They do sound wonderful, these gardens.”
He stared at me.
“One day I’ll be head gardener here. Or maybe somewhere else bigger and better than Muirfield Hall. One of the grand estates in the south, perhaps.”
“Isn’t Mr Crickett head gardener here?” I recalled Mrs Pearson’s instructions. Mr Crickett was so important he had his own house and a daily maid to tend to him.
Adam’s brows knitted together.
“He’ll retire sometime. And I’ll be ready to take over. I’ve got plans. They don’t include living in this bothy with old Pete for ever.” His gaze on me was assessing.
“It’s good to have ambitions,” I said with a smile. I didn’t have any myself, I was glad to simply have a job, but I admired him for it.
“I can show you the walled garden.”
“Yes, I’d like that,” I said, my heartbeat fast in my chest. Spending time with Adam would be no chore.
“When you get your half day, we’ll do it then.”
“I don’t know when that is.”
“Well, you’ll know soon enough, won’t you? Come back when you’re ready.”
He turned and went back into the bothy where Pete was tucking into his dinner. I felt I’d been dismissed. Not liking that feeling, I didn’t bother with goodbyes but went back across the stables to the kitchen.
Mrs Pearson wiped her forehead with her apron.
“You took your time. Don’t let Mrs Smith find you dawdling. Now, change your uniform. There’s dusting to be done upstairs.”
“When will we eat?” I asked.
“After the family’s eaten. We eat late, in the servants’ hall. Now, get going or you’ll be in trouble,” she said, not unkindly. I was curious to see the first floor of Muirfield. Here was where the life of the Dawtons was played out.
As I imagined, the rooms were lovely. The decor was fine and luxurious and the furniture and ornaments of high quality. I quite enjoyed my hours with Gracie, both of us with a feather duster, on tiptoes to reach the picture frames and the crystal glory of the wall sconces.
I let my imagination drift free as I lifted the dust from the surfaces. I thought about Mam and Dad and Kitty.
It wasn’t going to be easy visiting them. I wondered how long it would be before I saw their dear faces again. I comforted myself with the knowledge that at least I was not a burden to them. Goodness knows, they had enough problems without having to feed and shelter me.
Then I tried to imagine what it must be like to be a lady of wealth, living in such a beautiful home. That was a stretch I couldn’t quite make. No, it was certainly not in my future. I had to make do with cleaning and tidying for others.

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!