Murder At Muirfield – Episode 10

IN this season, as autumn took its grip, there was little colour to be seen. The shrubs were brown-leaved and the grass dull. The air was light and cool and I took great breaths of it, glad to be outside.
A small cough made me spin round, my heart beating faster. I was edgy and hadn’t realised just how much so.
The person standing there was a surprise. The last person I’d expect. It was Bill.
“It’s your day off,” he said. Not a question but a statement.
I nodded.
“Finally, it is. I’ve been here weeks, stuck in the house.”
“Apart from your daily trip to the bothy with the gardeners’ lunches.”
“I don’t think that a ten-minute round walk is enough each day,” I said tartly.
He flushed slightly. I was a little annoyed with him. How dare he comment on my visit to Adam? Not that I’d seen much of him. Usually it was old Pete who was there to take the basket of food.
Usually no-one was around and I’d leave the basket in the bothy, disappointed yet again not to see Adam.
“It’s my day off, too,” Bill said.
“That’s nice. Does Sarah get the same hours off?” I assumed he and Sarah would spend their free time together.
His eyebrows fused for a moment in confusion. “No, she doesn’t. Why does
that . . . Anyway, I wanted to ask you . . .”
At that precise moment, I glimpsed the short figure of Mrs Smith hurrying down the long driveway.
As Cook had described, she was wearing a black coat and wide, black hat, and in one hand she carried a long, thin umbrella, also black. She was prepared for all weathers.
I had to hurry before I lost sight of her. Bill was standing there, trying to say something, but I didn’t have time to listen.
“I’m sorry. I have to go.”
“But I haven’t asked you yet – would you like to go into the village with me? There’s a very nice tearoom there.”
“I really have to go,” I said, seeing Mrs Smith reach the bend in the trees. I left him there and walked fast, almost at a trot, to catch up with the housekeeper. All my focus was on her. Bill was forgotten. Even Adam was pushed to the back of my mind.
I sped up to the bend and then slowed as I turned it. There she was. She was making good speed for a small woman.
I waited until she reached the gatehouse and turned left. Then I hurried forward. I wasn’t worried. I knew I could walk for miles now I was returned to good health.
It never occurred to me that she might have arranged transport to get away from Muirfield. I had assumed she’d walk over the fields to wherever she was going. The village wasn’t far away – about a half hour’s walk through country lanes. But when I reached the gatehouse and turned left, I saw Mrs Smith climbing up into a wagon.
I flattened myself against the stone wall as the wagon passed, the horses clip-clopping merrily as the driver flicked the reins.
She didn’t notice me, as she was too busy arranging her skirts, then sitting up with a straight back as she was whisked away.
With a gloomy mood, I walked slowly back up the drive. My adventure was over for the day and my previous notion to have a walk and read my book didn’t appeal any more.
Bill had gone from the garden. I didn’t blame him. I’d been rather rude in my rush to follow Mrs Smith. He probably would never speak to me again.
Then I remembered Adam’s promise to show me the walled garden. On my half day, he’d said.
Was it me, or did the day suddenly brighten?
My steps took me round the back of the house to the bothy and the greenhouses.
Where was Adam?

* * * *

I found Adam in the second greenhouse. He didn’t see me at first and I was able to drink in the sight of him.
He was pruning plants in pots on a shelf. His hair looked carelessly mussed and his shoulders were broad as he went about his work. He wore a leather jerkin and breeches that showed off the powerful muscles in his legs. There was a butterfly flutter in my stomach as I approached.
“Hello,” I said, leaning in at the greenhouse door.
He flicked me a glance, looked away for a minute at his plants then back at me. He grinned and lowered his hands from his task. I noticed they were brown with soil, the fingernails blackened. They were working hands.
“Hannah Miller. Your day off, then?” He nodded at my coat.
I touched the rim of my hat and nodded. I hoped he liked my look.
He wiped a dirty hand across his forehead, leaving a soil smear. Strangely, it added to his good looks. There was a smell of male sweat and it prickled at my nose, not unpleasantly.
“Yes, my day off. You said you’d show me Mr Dawton’s walled garden,” I said boldly.
He eyed me. To be the attention of his intense gaze was glorious.
“So I did,” he said slowly.
“Shall we?” I moved back from the greenhouse on to the slabbed ground.
It was oddly like enticing a large cat to play. A fleeting fancy that made me smile inside. Adam was perfectly polite as he followed me out and indicated the way to the walled garden. In fact, he seemed eager to educate me about it.
“It’s Mr Dawton’s pride and joy,” he said as we reached the green-painted door inserted into the thick, stone walls. “Wait until you see the plants we’ve got growing in here.”
I knew I wouldn’t understand a thing about them. One plant looked pretty much like another to me. In fact, I’d never really considered plants. They existed, but they never entered my thoughts.
The opposite was true of Adam. He was a fount of knowledge about them. And he shared it with me.
As I listened to him, I decided that wasn’t entirely true. He wasn’t waiting to see if I understood, or even if I was interested. It was as if I was a soft surface off which to bounce his voice. I stifled a yawn.

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!