Murder At Muirfield – Episode 12

BEFORE any start could be made on preparing for the house party, Gracie was called home. Mrs Smith told her that a message had come to say her mother was ill.
“You’re to go immediately.”
“It must be bad,” Gracie said, dismayed. The housekeeper shook her head.
“I don’t know. That’s just what the message was from the boy at the kitchen door. She’s to come at once, he said. Luckily the family are all out of the house so we won’t be as busy today. In fact, Hannah can go with you.”
Gracie glanced gratefully at me. Her eyes were shiny with unshed tears and my heart went out to her. If anything happened to my own mother I’d be devastated. Poor Gracie. I prayed that, whatever it was, Gracie’s mother would recover.
“Come, we’ll fetch our coats,” I said, putting my arm round her shoulders.
“I need you back here before dinner,” Mrs Smith said. “The family might be out but we are all here and Cook will need help to prepare the food. And I can’t have Mrs Dawton complaining tomorrow about the lack of dusting, can I?”
Her voice was strict but her face was kind and she touched Gracie’s arm in sympathy. I thought how lucky we were to have a housekeeper who cared for those under her rule. It all could be quite different.
All in all, I’d landed on my feet coming to Muirfield Hall and I wanted to keep my position. There were many terrible places hiring servants and treating them no better than slaves.
We put on our coats and hats and walked down into the village. The day was overcast and gloomy, matching Gracie’s mood.
A threat of rain hawked over us in the black clouds. The damp grasses brushed our skirts, leaving seeds on the material that we brushed away. The wood pigeons cooed sorrowfully in the branches. At one point, a fox leaped across the lane in front of us, making us both jump.
“What’ll I do without my mum?” Gracie said.
“You don’t yet know what ails her.” I comforted as best I could. “It may be nothing.”
“Can’t be nothing if I’m told to hoof it right away,” her glum reply came.
There was no reply to that, so I hooked my arm in hers and we walked as quickly as possible on the bumpy ground down into the huddle of village houses.
The village wasn’t much more than a crowd of dwellings, surrounded by hedgerows and fields. Harvesting was going on in the fields. There was a flurry of activity as hay bales rose up. Then the glint and slice of the scythes and the shouts of the men.
I followed Gracie down a muddy path to a small house. It was old and hunched as if the bricks were condensing in on each other. The slates were like grey teeth, overlapping in an overfull mouth.
She pushed open the grimy door.
I hesitated, not sure if I was to go in.
Gracie beckoned me.
“Come along, Hannah. Come and meet my brothers and sisters.”
Inside was small and dark and full of small children. I counted five. The youngest was a baby, crawling on the hearth while the rest were set to tasks. One girl was sewing while another stoked up the fire. A young boy cleaned boots and another was layering peat sods by the fireside.
They looked up curiously at us, but didn’t stop what they were doing. Gracie went and kissed each of them fondly. My eyes adjusted and then I saw a woman bustling forward, arms outstretched.
“Gracie, my darling, here you are.”
“Mum! What’s wrong with you? Are you going to be all right?”
“Sure I am, my darling, sure I am.” She gathered Gracie in a great hug, which set her cotton cap quivering. “And who’s this with you?”
“I’m Hannah Miller,” I said politely with a dip of a curtsey. “I work with Gracie up at Muirfield. We were sent on account of your illness.” I tried to keep reproval from my voice as it seemed to me there was nothing ailing Gracie’s mother at all. What was going on?
“Ah, yes. Don’t fret, Gracie dear, I’m as hale and hearty as always. Sit yourselves down.”
She wouldn’t say more until she’d cleared a few children, who’d clambered up to listen, from the ancient settle by the fire and made us sit there. She sat on a kitchen stool and smoothed out her apron before explaining. A child brought tea and I sipped it, hot and strongly brewed.
“I said I was ill because it was the only way I’d get you to come home quickly. I had to speak to you,” she said. “I want you to pack up at Muirfield and hand in your notice today.”
Gracie stared at her mother, open-mouthed in astonishment.
“Why would I do that?”
“Because you’re in danger there. It’s that murder, see. That Ellen Munroe getting herself killed. It’s not right. And it’s not safe.”
Gracie shook her head.
“But why now? Ellen’s murder was terrible, but it was weeks ago. Why are you suddenly wanting me home now?”
“Because he’s killed again,” Gracie’s mother said.
The dramatic echo of her voice rang in my ears.
“Who’s the victim?” I asked, when Gracie said nothing.

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!