Murder At Muirfield – Episode 17

I HAD no more time to ponder Sarah’s words, as downstairs all was a bustling chaos. There was noise and people everywhere. The Dawtons’ guests had arrived along with their many servants.
Mrs Smith looked tense as she instructed them where to put their belongings. Upstairs, I knew that Mr Joseph was welcoming the family’s guests.
“What a commotion.” Bill stopped beside me. “Who’d have believed three couples would need all this lot.”
He gestured to the strangers milling about in the servants’ hall. Well, they were strangers to me, but they were chatting with Gracie and Janet who appeared to know them.
“Such a lot of people,” I agreed, smiling up at him. I was glad that he and I were now friends.
“I heard you were upstairs helping Sarah.” His expression was neutral.
“Yes, that’s right. Not for long, though.” I thought of Sarah’s parting sting.
He grinned. What a nice face he had when it lit up like that.
“She won’t like you on her territory.”
I laughed, thinking it a fine description. As if Sarah were a prowling tiger on the floor above us. It suited her tawny hair.
“No, she didn’t like it much,” I agreed, “but Mrs Smith sent me up and there was much to do. I helped Miss Alice choose her dress.”
“She’s a handful, Miss Alice,” Bill remarked. “Unlike Miss Emily, who’s a little ray of sunshine in this gloomy house.”
Before I could answer, he had moved on, one of the other footmen asking him for advice. Then Gracie was clutching my elbow.
“Look,” she whispered loudly. “Look over there.”
I followed the line of her sight. There was a young man standing there. He was laden with luggage. Mrs Smith was pointing to the servants’ stairs. He was thin with brown, tufted hair and prominent ears.
“Is that your Johnny?” I asked, already sure it was by the way Gracie turned a pretty shade of pink.
“That’s him.” She sighed. “Isn’t he gorgeous?”
“Yes, he is that.” I hugged her.
She giggled.
“He’s asked me to dance with him tomorrow night at the servants’ party.”
“There will be dancing?”
“Of course. There will be lots of food and drink and music and dancing. I can’t wait. It’s going to be such fun. You’ll enjoy it.”
I wondered if Adam would be there. I imagined us dancing together. It gave me a shiver right along my spine.
“How does that work? Surely Mr Joseph and Bill have to wait on the guests?”
“There’s shooting during the day and we have to bring out the food for when the men get back,” Gracie explained. “While the men are shooting, the ladies will want tea and cakes and will play cards. In the evening they have dinner, of course. After that we get our own party and Cook lays out a cold buffet for the Dawtons and their visitors which they help themselves to.”
She squeezed my arm and left, Mrs Smith calling her to help. I went into the kitchen where it was quieter. Mrs Pearson was puffing, red-faced, as she lifted out a large tray of breads.
“Hannah, stay here and get these cooled off. There’s two pheasant pies to come out of the oven in five minutes. They’re having a grand dinner tonight before the hunting tomorrow. I have to see Mrs Dawton about the menu.”
“Isn’t it rather late?” I said.
“She’s changed her mind about dessert,” Mrs Pearson said, sounding very annoyed. “I had them all made and now I’m going to have to start all over again.”
She rushed out of the kitchen. I sat before the hot oven, ready to take out the pies. There was a wonderful smell of game and gravy and hot pastry.
“Here you are.” Miss Emily danced into the room.
“Should you be here, miss?” I cautioned. “Won’t your mama miss you?”
“She doesn’t want her friends to see me,” Emily said. “So I came to see Cook.”
I was shocked. Did Emily believe that? Or had she overheard her mother say so? She was an odd sort of girl and I could quite imagine her not coming up to Mrs Dawton’s ideals. If it were true, it made Mrs Dawton a very cold woman indeed.
“Cook had to run upstairs but she’ll be back soon,” I said. “Do you want to wait here with me?”
“Oh, yes, please, Hannah,” Emily said, as if it were a gift I was handing her.
I remembered the pies. I lifted them out of the oven carefully. The steam rose up and dampened my face. The pastry was flaky and golden and perfect. Mrs Pearson was a great cook.
“No, this won’t do at all.” Mrs Pearson appeared, flapping her hands.
Both Emily and I were startled. I glanced at the pies. Was there something wrong with them? But it was Emily she meant.
“Come along, Miss Emily. Your father’s looking for you.”
Emily jumped up happily.
“Where is Papa?”
“Run upstairs and find him,” Cook said, giving the girl a little push.
Emily trotted away. Mrs Pearson shook her head darkly.
“She’ll get herself into trouble some day. Not a jot of common sense.”
“But a nice child,” I said, quick to defend her.
“A very nice girl,” Mrs Pearson said with a nod, “but she doesn’t belong down here. Just as much as we don’t belong up there.”
With that sage message she turned her attention to the pies.

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!