Murder At Muirfield – Episode 21

I ADMIT I was nervous that evening, standing ready to go upstairs with a tureen of soup in my hands. Bill and Mr Joseph were already gone.
“Hurry up!” Mrs Pearson shouted, flapping her hands at me as if I were a stray chicken. “The soup will get cold with you hovering there. Get going.”
I clutched the tureen as if my life depended on it and went upstairs. I tried to remember Mr Joseph’s quick instructions. He’d snapped them out, distracted by his own tasks.
All I could remember was not to speak, not to lean over the guests and definitely not to spill the soup.
Despite my nerves, I enjoyed it. All I had to do was set the soup tureen on the sideboard for Bill to serve. Mr Joseph poured the wine.
The guests were chatty and didn’t care who gave them their food as long as they got some, or so it appeared.
Mrs Dawton’s flinty eyes darted towards us, but she was soon taken up in conversation by the gentleman next to her.
I stood as I’d been instructed, back to the wall, waiting to be ordered about. My face blank, I was able to observe all that went on.
What fun it was! I zoned in to Mr Dawton’s voice. He was stroking his bristling whiskers and telling his listeners about his plants. My senses prickled when I heard Adam’s name.
“He’s a fine gardener. I’m lucky to have him. He can make anything grow. Why, if I get a special package of seeds from America, he can take those fellows and within months I have a collection of plants worth a pocketful of gold. There is not a garden in Scotland that can match Muirfield’s for variety and exotic species.”
His dining companions looked suitably impressed. So was I. I’d no idea the plants were so valuable. A pocketful of gold. Really? That was interesting.
I was proud to hear Adam’s praises being sung by Mr Dawton. I was going to be marrying an important man. There was no doubt in my mind now that we’d get a cottage if Adam asked.
* * * *
Later, it was the party we’d all been waiting for. Cook and Janet had created a lovely buffet for the family upstairs. Gracie and I helped to lay it all out.
“It’s traditional, you see,” Mrs Pearson said when she saw me staring. “It’s only this once in the year. They help themselves and we get the evening off. And don’t you worry, there’ll be plenty of good food for us tonight, too. I’ve been working hard for this day.”
“You’ve done a wonderful job,” I said, and was rewarded with a beaming smile.
Gracie and I went up to our room to change.
I had one decent dress. It was a pretty shade of blue, like a summer evening sky. The wrists and collar had a tiny tracing of lace and I knew it flattered me.
I had no slippers and had to be content with my laced boots. They wouldn’t be visible under my hems, I hoped.
“You look beautiful.” Gracie sighed once I was ready.
“This is a hand-me-down from Mrs Collington, my previous employer,” I explained. “Luckily she was about my size and very generous with her cast-offs. I don’t have a shawl quality enough to go with it, but I’ll manage. You look very nice, too.”
Gracie wore a dove-grey gown. It was plain but clean and serviceable. I didn’t ask but guessed it, too, was a cast-off, perhaps from the church collections. It wasn’t as if Gracie’s family had money for good clothes.
I shook out my hair into a softer style and threw my cap on the bed. Gracie did the same and we laughed in our freedom.
“Let’s go and enjoy the party,” Gracie said, linking arms with me and pulling me along with her.
Downstairs, the Muirfield staff and the visiting servants were milling about. The table and chairs had been pushed to one side of the room.
Mrs Pearson, true to her word, had set out a feast. Gracie and I picked up plates and joined the queue. I glanced about for Adam. Surely he’d come? He knew I’d be there.
Someone had a fiddle and began to play. At once, couples formed and a dance started. It was cramped, but no-one seemed to care. I stared about, looking for that familiar face.
“He won’t come,” Bill said in my ear. “He never does. Will you dance with me? I’m a poor substitute, I know, but we’re friends after all.”
I hesitated. Bill had cleaned up well. Out of his footman’s uniform he looked older and more confident. It would be churlish to refuse a dance. So I nodded and he took my hands and led me on to the dance floor.
The tempo of the fiddle picked up. It was a country dance and one I knew well. It required gusto, stomping feet and whooping.
I let it all out and felt myself laughing. Bill’s shining eyes caught mine. For a while I forgot Adam and let the dance engulf me.

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!