Murder At Muirfield – Episode 19

I HURRIED along the corridor, trying to out-race my thoughts. I nearly had a heart attack when Emily jumped out in front of me.
Pressing my hand to my chest, I scolded her.
“Oh, Miss Emily, what a shock you gave me. Why are you hiding in there, waiting to scare me?”
Her face crumpled.
“I didn’t mean to scare you, Hannah. It was a joke. I like hiding. I can hear people. They say things they wouldn’t say if they saw me.”
I stared at her. Miss Emily was part of the secrets of the house. What had she overheard, sneaking about?
“That’s not a good idea,” I told her. “You’ll not hear good about yourself if you listen in when you’re not meant to.”
Then I thought how insincere I was, having just listened in to Emily’s mother’s conversations. I could hardly condemn Emily for something I’d found useful myself.
“They never saw me,” she said with a cunning look.
“Who?” I said, already thinking about the work waiting for me downstairs.
“It doesn’t matter. You don’t like me. You’re like the others.” There were tears forming in her big, blue eyes.
“Now, Miss Emily, that’s not true. I do like you very much.”
She brightened. What a mercurial creature she was.
“I like you, too, Hannah.”
“What did you mean that the others don’t like you? What others?” I asked.
She found sudden interest in the tassels on her dress.
“She didn’t like me. She pinched me on the arm.”
“That wasn’t nice of her. Tell me her name.” Was this real or was Emily’s imagination taking over?
“She got punished. She deserved it.” For a fleeting moment, an expression slid over the child’s face that made me shiver.
“What are you talking about?” I wanted to grab her and shake the truth out of her.
She stepped back at my sharp tone. The tassels on her dress were limp.
She stuck her fingers into her mouth and chewed at her nails. I realised I’d get no more sense from her. I dipped a curtsey.
“Well, miss, I must get on with my duties.”
I skirted past her, uneasy in some way. As I reached the top of the back service stairs, she shouted after me.
“She died. That’s what happened.”
I gasped. Was she talking about Ellen? If so, I wanted to know more.
I turned just in time to see the soles of her soft slippers and the white froth of her petticoats as she fled to her room.
* * * *
The gentlemen returned much later, surrounded by the smells of mud and blood and gunpowder. It was a bright, dry day and we were to take food outside to a long trestle table. There was a shelter with seats behind the trestle.
I met with Gracie as we hurried to settle the picnic on the table. It looked enticing. There was a red and white cloth to hide the rough wood; there were flagons of wine and beer.
The centrepiece was a grand, raised pork pie with honey glazing. Then there was thick, good bread and churned butter, blackberry jams and other delicious things.
I saw then why it was an outside affair. Firstly, they were hungry from their exertions. They wouldn’t want to take the time to clean up, change clothes and eat in a civilised way. Secondly, their blood was still up from the chase, which was clear in the pitch of their voices and their bragging.
A nausea welled up in me at the sight of the limp bodies of rabbits and pheasants slung over the menservants’ shoulders. These were laid in a line along the gravel path.
“It’s a sorry sight.” Someone spoke behind me. It was Bill.
I nodded.
“I don’t like to see them. It’s horrible.” I liked him all the better for his sympathy towards the animals.
“But they’ll taste good.” He grinned. “It’s not all in vain.”
I found myself smiling back at him. His grin was infectious somehow. It brought a crease to his cheek in a charming way.
“Your face is muddy,” I said.
He swiped at it with his sleeve.
“Not a wonder, since I’ve been dragged through the hedgerows and brambles, beating for this lot. It’s tiring, flushing up the beasts.”
“I suppose so. Not as dull as taking tea to the ladies, though,” I said pertly.
“Don’t tell me you’d rather be beating for the gentlemen. I won’t believe that.”
“I’d much rather be outdoors and feel the wind on my face than stuck in all day,” I told him with feeling.
“Well, you’re out now,” he reminded me.
“Will you eat?”
“I daresay Mrs Pearson will have something set for us lads.” He touched his cap to me and went on his way.
I marvelled at how our friendship had blossomed. He no longer seemed the grumpy, unfriendly sort I’d tagged him as. I began to see what Sarah was attracted to in him. Not that I felt that way myself. My attraction was all for Adam.
I hugged the image of the flower he’d given me. He loved me, I was sure. And I loved him, too.
I was ready to wed and I thought perhaps the Dawtons might give us married quarters on the estate. There were empty cottages, I knew. One of those would be perfect.
I saw us there, growing old and contented in each other’s company. I’d have my sister Kitty come to stay. She might even get work here. She’d do light laundry or take in sewing just as she did at home.

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!