Murder At Muirfield – Episode 18

WHEN Cook wasn’t watching, I slipped outside. A breath of fresh air was what I needed.
Adam came round the corner. My heart jolted. I didn’t expect to see him at the house.
“Will you come with me?” he said, without surprise, as if he knew I’d be there.
I glanced back at the kitchen door. I shouldn’t. There were many tasks to be done. Mrs Smith and Mrs Pearson would want me soon. Yet I couldn’t bear to say no to him.
I nodded smartly.
“Where are we going?”
He didn’t answer so I walked along with him, thrilled he was there. I managed sideways looks, drinking in his handsome face, the way his necktie showed off his tanned skin and the way his shoulder muscles strained his cotton shirt.
He took me back from the house, beyond the bothy and the row of cottages. We were heading for the summerhouse.
“It’s a beautiful day,” I ventured.
The breeze rustled in the trees. As we passed, the leaves dropped in ones and twos. The ground was carpeted with yellow, orange and burnt brown hues of autumn.
The lake was shimmering with ripples from the wind. The ducks were far out in the middle, a circle of bobbing, black shapes.
Following Adam’s lead, I climbed on to the wooden platform and then into the summerhouse.
“It’s quiet here,” he said, by way of explanation.
“Nice to be away from all the noise,” I said, waiting. Why were we here?
“I want to give you this.”
He pushed something into my hands. It was dry and papery. I looked down. It was a single flower. I don’t know what kind.
It had a sturdy, green stem and a yellow centre. The petals were white and frilly. I lifted it to my nose and inhaled. A faint scent, sweet as vanilla, came to me.
“It’s lovely,” I said.
“It’s for you.” He coughed and stared out at the lake through the small window.
“Thank you, I’ll treasure it always.” And I would. I’d press it between the pages of my book so it would last for ever.
My heart was singing. He liked me. More than liked me. I saw a future with him. But first, I had to ask him . . . “Did you and Ellen go out?” He recoiled.
“Who told you that?”
He mumbled something under his breath.
“Adam? It doesn’t matter to me. I don’t know why I asked.” I wished to take my foolish question back, seeing his annoyance. I’d spoiled our romantic moment.
“She liked me. That’s all. She and I were never a couple. Sarah’s a meddlesome maid.” He strode out of the summerhouse and I ran to the door to apologise. Then I hesitated. Here was my chance to see what was in the inset cupboards under the seating. Then I could chase after Adam.
I kneeled swiftly and pulled at the nearest knob handle. The cupboard door flung open. I ducked down to see.
There was nothing. It was empty. Rapidly, I pulled them all open. But all were empty.
Adam was standing at the edge of the wood, staring in my direction. As I hurried on to the path, Adam turned and walked into the woods. A petal drifted from my precious flower and landed on the ground.
Holding it carefully, I walked as fast as possible back to Muirfield.
* * * *
The gentlemen had all risen early and gone hunting. There was much male laughter and talk as they left with servants, guns and dogs accompanying them.
I wanted to ask Gracie about Adam and Ellen but I never got the chance. She was upstairs and I was kept in the kitchen.
Eventually Mrs Smith called for me to take up tea and cakes to Mrs Dawton and her visitors. I put on a fresh apron and took the tray. The ladies were in the pretty living-room overlooking the front of the house. There were five of them, including my employer.
Their day dresses were a rainbow of silks spread over the sofas and armchairs and the room was filled with sweet perfumes.
Carefully, I laid down the silver tray. I took the teapot and poured five cups. They chinked on their matching saucers. I prayed I wouldn’t spill a drop.
I managed somehow. The dainty cakes were Mrs Pearson’s best effort. There were vanilla sponges, chocolate and ginger. All were iced with tiny decorations. It made my mouth water to see them
“Don’t you find it dreary in the countryside?” one lady asked her hostess innocently.
Mrs Dawton’s lips tightened before she managed a smile.
“Oh, it’s pleasant enough when we have company, which we often do. And, of course, Herbert and I are planning to acquire a town house in Glasgow in the spring.”
There was a ruffle of silk and ribbons at this comment. It was news to me. So was the fact that they often had company here. It wasn’t my impression.
I stood silently, waiting as I’d been taught, in case I was needed further. Luckily, I wasn’t dismissed immediately. I could eavesdrop shamelessly.
“How marvellous,” a slim lady with looped brown hair said. “Will you live there? I suppose you will move your staff to town.”
“Very likely.” Mrs Dawton nodded, as if thinking about this herself.
I felt a pang of dismay while my face stayed still. I had to pretend I was deaf and blind to do my job properly. I had no desire to live in Glasgow. I wasn’t a city girl. It would be so far from home.
At that moment, Mrs Dawton noticed me. With a frown, she waved me off.
“That will be all.”
I went quietly from the room. Nothing endeared me to Mrs Dawton. Every time I met her, I disliked her more.

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!