Murder At Muirfield – Episode 16

SARAH soon put a stop to my happiness.
“Oh, it’s you. What are you doing up here?”
“Mrs Smith sent me to help you. I’ve to lay out the young ladies’ dresses.”
“I can manage.”
“In that case, I’ll go back downstairs.” I made as if to leave.
I paused.
“Maybe there are some tasks I can set you,” she said haughtily.
I had to admire her spirit. She was making it quite clear who was boss. As lady’s maid, she was higher in the rankings than me, and she wanted me to know it.
“Let’s get started, then,” I replied with a smile.
Her green eyes flashed with anger. She didn’t like me talking back, but she needed me. She might not like to admit it, but there was too much for her to do that day.
I didn’t want to work with her, either, but there it was. Neither of us had a say in it.
“Come along.” She swept in front of me as hoity toity as a lady. Airs and graces learned from her mistress, I suspected.
I followed her along the corridor until we reached a beautiful, wide room. This was Miss Alice’s bedroom.
Miss Alice turned a sulky face to us at our arrival. She was very like her mother. The same dark, wavy hair and unkind blue eyes. Her full mouth curved in dissatisfaction with life.
Across the vast bed lay piles of materials. There were day dresses, evening dresses, stoles, scarves, bodices and stockings of every colour and shade. Cotton, linen, silks and velvets. I drew in a silent breath. What wealth there was in this one display.
“Do hurry up, Sarah. I don’t have all day.”
Even the imperious tone sounded just like Mrs Dawton. Her sixteen-year-old daughter had learned plenty from her mother.
Sarah curtseyed.
“Yes, miss. This is Hannah, who will help you with your dress.”
“Why can’t you?” Now her voice was querulous.
“I have to help your mother now. I’ll be back as quick as I can, miss.”
I was left with a stroppy young lady. Unsure what a lady’s maid actually did, I began by tidying the piles into some order.
Alice watched me for a while. I tried not to be unsettled by her glare. Then she threw herself into an armchair.
“What should I wear?”
“What colours do you like?” This was a good place to begin.
She looked surprised.
“I don’t know. Murray lays out my clothes each day.”
“Well, there’s a pretty green velvet dress here. Or perhaps you’d like this navy silk?”
She got up from the armchair. Nonchalantly, she drifted to the bed. I smoothed out the dresses for her to see.
Idly, she pointed at the navy silk. It was a beautiful creation with a neat waist and delicate needlework at the cuffs and neckline.
“That’s a good choice, miss,” I said.
A hint of a smile touched her mouth, before the spoilt expression returned. She shrugged.
“I don’t care what I wear. Leave it there and find me the matching stuff.”
“There’s a pretty shawl to go with it.” I held up a long, slim, silk shawl. It would be perfect draped over her shoulders.
“Yes, that is nice.” She sat on the bed near me, beginning to look interested.
The door was pushed open and Emily came in. She smiled when she saw me. “Hello, Hannah. How are you?”
“I’m very well, Miss Emily. And you?” She skipped around the room.
“I’m very excited, Hannah. Very excited. There’s going to be a party.”
Her enthusiasm made me laugh. At that, Alice frowned. She spun round to look at her little sister.
“Get out! You’re such a nuisance. You’ll mess my things up. You always do.”
Emily didn’t seem put out. She was perhaps used to this from her sister. She skipped out the door with a wave to me.
“That wasn’t very nice of you, miss,” I said.
“You can get out, too!” she shouted. “Leave me alone.”
I curtseyed politely and left. I’d sorted her clothes. If she wanted to brush her own hair that was fine by me. Sarah came running along the corridor.
“What now?”
“I’ve organised Miss Alice’s clothes and she asked me to leave.” She glared at me.
“You’ve hardly been in there half an hour.”
“I could help Miss Emily,” I suggested. That would be a happier job by leaps and bounds.
She shook her head.
“No, I’ve done that. Mrs Dawton wants me to do her hair now in the new French style. I need more pins.”
I gave a half shrug. It wasn’t my problem. If Sarah had been a nicer person I’d have attempted to help her, but she’d made it plain she didn’t like me. It was mutual. Her behaviour to Janet had been atrocious. As far as I was concerned, she could find her own pins.
Did some of this show on my face? Because she stiffened. Ready to lash out.
“You’re not the first to be taken in by his handsome face,” she said.
I stepped back involuntarily. There was pure acid in her voice. I knew at once she meant Adam. How did she know?
Had she been watching me? The views from the upstairs storey of the house were good.
“I’m not blind,” she went on. “None of us are. There are no secrets in this house.”
I thought how wrong she was. For it came upon me then what a place of secrets Muirfield House was. It harboured someone evil; I was convinced of it.
Whoever killed Ellen was here. I didn’t believe it was an outsider. Nor that the murderer was an opportunist. No. Ellen had upset someone here.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said.
She threw me a look of scorn.
“That’s right. Deny it, if you will. But I’ll bet you didn’t know that Ellen and Adam were stepping out. That’s news to you, isn’t it?”

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!