Murder At Muirfield – Episode 08

THE days went swiftly by and soon I’d been there a fortnight. I learned all the tasks I had to do. It was hard work, but I liked spending some hours in the kitchen and some upstairs. I found plenty to look at. Besides, I had Gracie for company, at least upstairs. She was becoming a good friend.
Downstairs, Mrs Pearson was too old to be a friend, but was kind to me. Janet was too young and anxious. So at those periods I was left to my own thoughts a lot. Bill was in and out of the kitchen to fetch trays of drinks and pretty snacks. I wanted to talk to him but he ignored me.
Upstairs, Sarah ignored me, too, whenever she had to pass me in the corridor. But with her it was with an uplifted nose as if she smelled something bad.
A few days after I started, I met Mrs Dawton.
I was feather dusting the painting frames in the long corridor on the second floor. I had to stand on tiptoe to try to reach them. Some were so high up, I knew I’d have to fetch a chair to dust them.
I was considering which chair would be allowed, when a door was flung open and Mrs Dawton appeared in a rustle of silk crinoline.
She was wearing a gorgeous dark pink dress with a rose-coloured tasselled shawl over her shoulders. I remembered to curtsey.
Instead of a friendly nod, she told me coldly to bring Mrs Smith to her. Her dainty cap quivered with annoyance.
I hurried to find Mrs Smith. She came back upstairs with me.
As I stood there, invisible, Mrs Dawton asked Mrs Smith to remind me that when members of the family were met with, I was to turn my face to the wall and remain entirely still and silent until the person had gone.
I felt my face turning red. I had to stand there, like an idiot, while Mrs Smith repeated what her employer had just said.
If Mrs Dawton was horrible, then her daughter Emily was quite the opposite.
I was scrubbing dirt from carrots one morning when she floated into the kitchen. She was a dainty creature with tiny wrists, high cheekbones and a halo of yellow hair.
Mrs Pearson greeted her warmly.
“Hello, Miss Emily, how are we today?”
“Who’s that, Cook?” Emily asked, pointing at me.
I was taken aback by her bluntness, but there was nothing but curiosity in her round, blue eyes.
“That, Miss Emily, is our new maid, Hannah,” Mrs Pearson said with a wink at me.
“Hannah.” She considered that, her head tilted. “I like that name.”
“Well, that’s nice,” Mrs Pearson laughed. “I’ll let Hannah bring you a biscuit while I go and see Mrs Smith about all the lovely things you’ll be dining on tonight.”
She left me alone with Miss Emily. I took the lid off the biscuit tin and offered her one of the cook’s fine baking treats.
She took her time, slowly gazing at its contents before taking a ginger biscuit. Then she nibbled on it, seemingly savouring each tiny bite.
What an odd child. For a child she was, despite being twelve. At twelve, girls like me were already in service or working on a farm or elsewhere. But for the rich there was more time. I had the feeling that, whether rich or poor, Miss Emily would be a child young for her years wherever she was.
“I have dreams,” she said suddenly.
“Do you, miss?” I wasn’t sure how to react.
“Yes, Hannah, I do,” she replied solemnly. “I see things.”
“Are they nightmares, then?”
“They are shadows and empty gardens. There’s people, too, very big people.”
That made no sense at all. I put the last of the carrots to one side.
“Would you like another biscuit, miss?”
“Yes, please. Cook makes the best biscuits.”
She worked her way through another ginger round quietly while I cleaned up the sink. She was easy enough company. Whether she should be in the kitchen wasn’t for me to decide.
I wondered what Mrs Dawton would make of it, though. Her younger daughter, chatting with the kitchen maid.
“Thank you for the food, Hannah,” she said politely, hopping up from the stool she’d sat on. “I have to go now.”
“Goodbye, miss.”
“I’ll be back to see you,” she said with a frown, “so, it’s not really goodbye.”
When she’d gone, I shook my head at her strangeness. Mrs Pearson appeared with her list and a frown. She looked around.
“Miss Emily gone, then?”
“Yes, she ate a couple of your ginger biscuits, told me about her dreams and that she’d be back to visit again.”
“Ah, her dreams.” Mrs Pearson nodded sagely. “Poor wee soul.”
“What’s wrong?”
“She doesn’t just dream, you see. She sleep-walks. She’s been found in various places in the house. If the door’s open, she can get into the grounds, too. No-one knows why she does it. Mr Dawton had the doctor in. He gave her a draught which made her sleep very soundly, but then it made her sick. So they stopped that.” “Couldn’t they lock her door at night?”
“They tried that but she got very agitated. So now we are to look out for her and, if we see her, to take her back to her room.”
“I’ll remember to do that.”
“I should have told you sooner,” Mrs Pearson said, as if reading my mind. “It didn’t occur to me because she’s been fine the last while.”
I was sent by Mrs Pearson later to ask Mr Joseph for a bottle of poor wine to steep the beef in. I knew that the butler kept the wines and spirits in a locked cupboard and wrote what was used in a ledger. He raised an eyebrow at the sight of me.
“Cook sent me for a bottle of wine,” I said hastily. “She’s making a meat stew.” I added that in case he thought Mrs Pearson wanted to drink the stuff instead.
“Come in.”
I went into the butler’s domain. He took a key and unlocked a large cupboard.
His body blocked my view, but as I moved aside I caught a glimpse of the contents.
He looked over his shoulder and a flash of anger and something else rippled over his features. At that moment I had no idea what I’d done to deserve this.

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!