Murder At Muirfield – Episode 22

A FEW days later the visitors had gone. The house was very quiet without the gaiety of the outings, card games, piano recitals and other entertainment that had gone on.
I had enjoyed meeting new people and being out of the daily routines of the house. We all had. But I had something to do.
It was soon to be Mrs Smith’s afternoon off. I’d heard her discussing it with Mr Joseph. This time I was going to follow her properly. I had my day off, too.
I had neglected my hunt for Ellen’s killer. Now I’d push forward by finding out what Mrs Smith had to hide.
I made my way down the driveway. There ahead of me was the gatehouse. There was no sign of Mrs Smith yet. I had made sure I was out of the house before her.
Once I reached the gatehouse, I turned left. There was the wagon, just as I had hoped it would be. The horse was grazing and the driver was chewing a doorstop of bread.
He stopped when he saw me.
“Good afternoon,” I said with a bright smile, “Where are you headed to today?” He took off his cap and named a market town. I knew of it, although I’d never been there. It was on the route back to my own home. I had passed through it with Mr Dawton on my way to Muirfield.
“That’s where I’m going.” I pretended to be surprised. “Can you take an extra passenger?”
He named his price. I had some money, having planned in advance. Most of my wages were sent home but I had enough put by.
So far, there had been nothing to spend it on. My days off were for reading or walking into the village with Gracie.
I paid the driver and climbed up into the wagon. It was a bare sort of vehicle, with no comforts on the wooden seat. I folded my coat tail under me for padding and warmth. My breath was white puffs.
I tucked my fingers into my sleeves, wishing I had a good pair of gloves.
Then round the corner came Mrs Smith. She stopped dead when she saw me. Then she quickly recovered and arrived at the wagon with a polite smile. She wore her habitual black coat and wide, black hat. In her hand was her long umbrella.
“Mrs Smith,” I said, “I do hope you don’t mind me joining you. I have an aunt to visit and the wagon is going to the right place.”
Some sort of turmoil showed in her expression before she nodded.
“Of course. I’ll be glad of the company on such a cold day.” She climbed up and sat opposite me.
The driver clicked at his horse and pulled on the reins until it lifted its head from the ground. The horse snorted and whinnied. Then, obediently, it began to move off.
The wagon swayed before settling into a rhythm. I quite enjoyed travelling along and seeing the world go by. Mrs Smith offered no conversation and I didn’t know what to say, so I contented myself with watching the countryside.
I could almost forget why I was there. It was a lovely day to be out.
Although cold, there was no breeze. The trees were beautiful colours, some bare

* * * * *

“Why is it up to you to solve?” Gracie had asked a few days ago.
We were up in our attic room at night, both lying awake in our narrow beds. There’s something vulnerable about life at those hours. It’s a time when truth and worries and fears abound. I had confessed to my search for Ellen’s murderer. Gracie was perplexed.
“It isn’t right that there’s a murderer going about his or her life, getting away with such a hideous crime.” I pulled my covers closer to me.
“It’s wrong,” Gracie agreed, “but that doesn’t make it your job to find out who it is.”
“Mr Sankey hasn’t made much progress,” I reminded her.
“We don’t know that. He’s not going to tell the likes of us, is he? For all we know he’s on his way right now to get the culprit.”
She sighed and I heard the creak of her bedsprings as she rolled over.
“It’s a dangerous idea, what you’re doing. What if the murderer finds out you’re looking for him?”
“I’m being careful. I don’t see how he could. Or she. It doesn’t have to be a man. That edge to the lake is very slippery. It wouldn’t need much strength to push someone in.”
“That’s horrible.” There was a pause, then she sprang up in her bed. “I can help you. We’ll be detectives together.”
I didn’t want to put Gracie in any danger, so I was reluctant to include her. But she was insistent.
“Very well,” I said, “the most important thing you can do is rack your brains for any unusual goings on in the weeks leading up to Ellen’s death.”
“I can keep my ears open, too,” she replied eagerly. “I hear all sorts of nonsense upstairs. Maids are invisible to the family.”
Why hadn’t I thought of the family as suspects? Here was me telling Gracie she shouldn’t get involved, when almost instantly she’d pointed out something enormous that I’d missed. The Dawtons. But what reason was there for them to kill Ellen? Same as any other, was the answer. She had known something.
“Gracie,“ I urged, “did Ellen seem to have a hold over anyone?”
“Do you mean like when she told Bill about Sarah?”
“Yes, like that.” I was pleased at Gracie’s quick wits.
She leaned on her elbow, facing me and frowning as she thought about it.
“I do remember a strange atmosphere between her and Mr Joseph. She didn’t get on well with Mrs Smith, either.”
“Tell me,” I demanded.
“It was more a feeling I got than anything solid. Just that she got away with stuff that wouldn’t be tolerated in me or the other servants. She was . . . cheeky. Like she knew she could say it and not lose her place.”

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!