Murder At Muirfield – Episode 06

WHY did you leave your last position?” Gracie asked, stretching up to touch her feather duster to the chandelier. It made a pretty tinkling noise.
“I was asked to. Not for any scandal, “I added hurriedly when I saw her expression. “No, I got ill and I didn’t get well quick enough. They had to let me go.”
“That doesn’t sound very fair. I’ve heard of people like that. They don’t think nothing of what happens to their servants after they’ve sacked them. It’s awful.” Gracie shook her head glumly.
“The Collingtons weren’t like that,” I said. “They were lovely to work for. I had to look after little Arthur, their son. He was a bright wee lad. We had many a laugh together. They paid me well and the food was good and plentiful. I even had my own room. What’s it like working here?” I asked, moving on from the Collingtons in case I burst out crying for what had been. “Are you happy?”
“Happy?” Gracie said, as if she’d never considered this. “I suppose so. I’m content, if that’s what you mean. It’s all right, really. Mrs Smith is strict but fair, and Cook, that’s Mrs Pearson, is kind even if she does shout a lot. I’ve got my parents in the village so I can visit them on my day off.”
We finished with the chandelier, leaving it gleaming like diamonds. I hoped that a member of the family might come by so I could see them, but there was no sign of anyone except ourselves around.
“What now?” I asked.
“Now we roll up the rug and dust the floorboards. Then we get that big tin of beeswax and rub it into the chair legs until they look like chestnuts.”
I felt already immersed in the life of Muirfield Hall. I hadn’t met the mistress or the young ladies yet, but I was curious to see them. I liked the people I’d met today. But somewhere a murderer lurked, and I couldn’t help but wonder if he or she lived on the estate. Was it possible they would strike again?
* * * *
I was exhausted by the time Gracie told me we were to eat. I followed her into the long servants’ hall, which was dominated by a dark wood table and rows of hard-backed chairs.
A scrawny girl with thin blonde hair was putting down dishes of soup. I guessed she was Janet, the scullery maid. Her apron was stained with food and her cap was awry. She had dark circles under her eyes and a haunted expression.
As we came in, she slipped and one of the dishes crashed to the floor, sending soup and shards of ceramic flying. There was a stifled laugh and I glanced round to see a young woman, hand over mouth and eyes sly with mirth. Her maid’s uniform couldn’t hide her curves and glossy, red hair. Her eyes were a cat’s green and she had pale, lustrous skin like a lady.
“That’s Sarah,” Gracie whispered, nudging me.
“What a butterfingers,” Sarah said. “Hurry up, Janet, or Mr Joseph will see what a mess you’ve made.”
Janet looked terrified.
“Here,” I said, going forward, “let me help you.”
I almost collided with another person who’d stepped in, too. It was Bill, the footman.
“Sorry.” I smiled. “I’m making a habit of bumping into you.”
He managed a small nod. Then he kneeled and began to pick up the pieces of china.
“Get a wet cloth,” he told the frightened girl. “We’ll need to mop up this soup.”
“I’m starving,” Sarah said loudly behind us. “Are we going to have to wait all night to get our food?”
I saw Bill’s shoulders tense.
I looked round at her and tried for a friendly tone.
“Why don’t you help us clear this up? More hands make lighter work.” She laughed – a high, brittle sound.
“No, thanks. It looks like you and Bill have it under control. I’ve spent all day slaving away and I’m ready to be served myself, whenever Janet’s ready. In fact, Bill, why don’t you sit with me and let the new girl here clear up? I’ve got something I want to tell you.”
We had, in fact, picked up all the pieces by now and both stood up. Bill hesitated and I gave him another smile of thanks and took the china from him.
Sarah flicked her fingers in the direction of the empty chair beside her. Bill’s mouth tightened, but I noticed, as I went out towards the kitchen, that he had indeed sat beside her.
Her deep red curls fell against his shoulder as she leaned in and whispered to him.
I threw the broken dish into the bin while Cook was serving up the main courses on to plates.
“Come on, Hannah, take these in for me, please.”
Janet had cleaned up the soup and I set the laden plates down on the table. No-one offered to help and I realised it was probably my job to do this. After all, I was both kitchen and housemaid. A maid of all works, it seemed.
I was about to raise my spoon and attack my soup when there was a scrape of chairs and everyone stood up. An older man, somewhat stooped but with an air of authority, had come in.
“Mr Joseph, the butler,” Gracie whispered.
“Sit, everyone, please. We will say grace and then we can eat.” His voice was slow and steady and used to being obeyed, I thought.
Despite the length of the table, we were a small band. There was Mr Joseph at the head of the table. To his left was Mrs Smith, the housekeeper. To his right was Mrs Pearson, the cook. Bill sat between Mrs Smith and Sarah, the lady’s maid. Gracie sat next to Mrs Pearson, then there was me and finally Janet who slid into her place as quietly as possible.
The soup was rich and excellent, made from a meat stock and generously filled with vegetables and cream. Beside me, Janet supped hers and nearly licked the dish clean. I was hungry, too.
All the new experiences of the day flashed in front of me and I was filled with tiredness. I felt that once I’d eaten my fill, I’d like nothing more than to fall asleep.
I glanced up from my musings to meet Bill’s stare. For a moment we gazed at each other uncomfortably before he looked away. He had brown eyes, as dark as autumn chestnuts, but not a patch on Adam’s blue gaze, I thought.

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!