Murder At Muirfield – Episode 13

GRACIE’S mum looked at me, then back at her daughter.
“It’s Alice Litton’s girl, May. She’s vanished.”
“Vanished? So there’s no body?” Gracie had found her voice. “How do you know she was murdered?”
“Stands to reason, doesn’t it?” her mother said darkly. “Girls don’t go missing just like that. There’s foul play involved. Why else would she up and go with no word to anyone and all her belongings left in the cottage?”
Gracie rolled her eyes.
“If it’s May Litton, then there’s all sorts of explanations as to why she’d disappear.” She turned to me. “I doubt she’s been murdered. May’s very popular with the local boys. It’s a lot more likely she’s gone off with her latest suitor.”
“And what would the motive be for killing her?” I asked, more to myself than to the others.
“Someone out there who’s pure evil. Don’t need a motive other than that,” Gracie’s mother said simply.
She had a point, but so did Gracie. It sounded as if this May Litton had decided to leave the village. If her suitor didn’t suit her family, then they might just flit away without telling a soul.
“I don’t like it. I want you to come home.” Gracie’s mother was firm.
“I can’t,” Gracie cried. “Firstly, we need the money I bring in, and secondly, I like working there. Especially now that Hannah’s with me.”
“You’ll do what you’re told!”
“And if I don’t?”
“Well . . .”
“How about this . . .” I interrupted as politely as possible before the two women started a fight. “What if Gracie could keep working at the Hall, but we both were very careful and kept a look out for anything suspicious? We could be wary of everyone and never let ourselves be alone with one other person at any time. It does seem a shame for Gracie to give up her job. I’m sure her wages must be very welcome.”
I hit a nerve, mentioning Gracie’s wages, I was sure. Gracie’s family were not well off. There were a lot of mouths to feed. The little house was ramshackle. I assumed Gracie’s father was one of the men harvesting in the fields. The work was seasonal and the income low.
Maybe Gracie had the only regular source of money coming into the household. Her mother’s fear had to be great to consider taking that away.
“I don’t know . . .”
“Oh, please, Mum. That’s a sensible idea from Hannah, you know it is,” Gracie wheedled.
“All right, for now you can keep working there,” her mother decided. “But should I think different, I’ll send for you.”
She offered more tea and a doorstop of bread but Gracie refused.
“Mrs Smith’s been kind to let me come here and I don’t want to take advantage of it. How will I tell her you’re not ill after all?”
“A wee white lie won’t harm her.”
“Oh, Mum, you’re terrible.” Gracie kissed her cheek and gave her a hug.
We parted on good terms and all the children came out of the wee house to wave goodbye to their sister.
“Honestly, she could have waited until my day off to tell me that.” Gracie puffed as we walked back up the slope towards Muirfield.
“I suppose May Litton’s vanishing act alarmed her so.”
“Mum’s very impulsive. I pray she won’t change her mind again and force me to leave the Dawtons.”
“We must make sure she doesn’t.”
I pulled at a grass stem while I thought about this, working it into a lover’s knot. A light drizzle of rain floated on the breeze. It moistened our coats and I smelled the damp wool and a waft of lavender and mothball.
The ribbons on my hat hung down until I pushed them back. A stitch was needed. My wages had not yet materialised and I made a mental note to ask Mrs Smith when I might receive them.
“And how do we do that?” Gracie asked.
“Do what?” I’d been lost in thinking what I’d spend my money on, apart from ribbon and wages sent home to my parents.
“You said we’d make sure Mum doesn’t send for me,” Gracie said impatiently.
“Sorry, yes, I did. I suppose we do it by being careful.” I didn’t want to tell Gracie that I was already playing detective. Besides, what had I done except try to find out what Ellen was like?
I had to try harder. I needed to find a motive. Why had someone stolen Ellen’s life? If I could find out, then Gracie could keep her job.
Suddenly it mattered a great deal. It was no longer a kind of a game, a mystery and a curiosity for idle hours. Gracie had become a good friend. I’d miss her terribly if she left the Hall.
“I can’t be more careful. Besides, when do I get the chance to be alone with someone? I’m so busy scrubbing on my knees or dusting the ceilings,” she grumbled.
“What about at the house party? When your young man comes calling,” I teased.
She blushed beetroot red.
“I can’t say I’ll be alone with Johnny, either. That wouldn’t be right.”
“Let life go on as it will,” I suggested. “But you can go home next week on your afternoon off and reassure your mother that all is well. If she sees you calm and happy each week, she’ll soon forget to worry about you.”
Gracie looked less than convinced, but nodded. Then she looked serious.
“I don’t agree with Mum about there being a man out there killing young women. I think Ellen knew something that got her killed. She was that kind of girl.”
“I think you’re right. But what was it?”
“Knowing Ellen, it could be all sorts of things. I told you she liked knowing stuff about people. Look at the way she found out about Sarah and that footman. I’ll bet there were others who could be hurt by what she knew. Someone’s secret was so powerful that they had to stop her.”
I thought, with surprise, how clever my friend was. How shrewdly she’d pinpointed my very own thoughts about Ellen.

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!