Murder At Muirfield – Episode 24

I WAS in a sombre mood as I returned to the market town. I looked at the clock tower. There were hours to fill before Mrs Smith and the wagon returned. I walked about the town, peering into windows at the wares within.
I found a haberdashery and purchased a length of blue ribbon. A woman with a basket of fruit approached. I bought a bag of ripe plums to share with Gracie and Bill.
I idled my time away until I saw the wagon arriving. The driver was rosy-cheeked and friendly. I’d no doubt he’d been in an alehouse or two.
The horse seemed to be in charge, stopping the wagon in just the right place. It snorted and then chomped at the weeds sprouting amongst the cobbles.
I climbed up and sat in the wagon. The driver dozed. I was beginning to feel anxious when I saw Mrs Smith hurrying towards us. She looked unhappy but managed a smile to greet me.
“I’m sorry to be late,” she said, as she took her seat. “It’s most unlike me but was outwith my control.”
The driver hid a belch. That was his only answer. He made noises to the horse and we were off.
“How is your aunt?” Mrs Smith asked me.
“She is very well, thank you.” I was becoming a proficient liar.
Feeling ashamed for deceiving her, I asked if she had enjoyed her afternoon. For what else could I do? I didn’t wish to upset her, but her face fell before she managed to hide her emotions.
“It was very profitable,” she said with a brief nod.
I searched for further conversation and, finding none, offered her a plum. She was extraordinarily pleased by this.
“Thank you, Hannah. What wonderful plums, such a rich colour. And so tasty. It quite cheers one up.”
I didn’t mention her slip of the tongue. She needed cheering up. An innocent bystander might ask why on such a clear, frosty and perfect day, but I imagined the grim interior of the prison and how its inmates must be and wished it was otherwise for her.
“What a coincidence your aunt living in the town,” she said, wiping her fingers with a handkerchief to remove the sticky plum juice. “You will no doubt visit her again.”
That was a tricky one. I had no need to come back here. In fact, I never wanted to see that prison again. Or meet the horrible old woman whose brother worked there.
“I won’t be back for a while. My aunt doesn’t like visitors often. She likes to keep herself to herself. I won’t go again for some weeks. In fact, I was hoping I might ask you if I could go home soon?”
Now she frowned openly. I squirmed on my hard seat. My fingers were crossed.
I longed to see Mam and Dad and Kitty. It was a long journey and I’d need a couple of days away. It was a long shot.
“You are asking quite a favour,” she said. “It’s whether we can manage without you for two days. Still, you’ve worked hard since you arrived. Leave it with me.”
I had to be content with that. I hoped she’d say yes. I wasn’t homesick exactly. I loved being at Muirfield, despite the murky goings-on. But it would be nice to see my family.
Soon we were dropped off at the entrance to the estate. The driver mumbled sleepily and waved the horse on. Mrs Smith shook her head at his behaviour.
“Now, it’s back to work. We’ve shared an outing today and I liked having your company. I was feeling sorry for myself, and it was nice not to be alone. But now, remember your place. I’m the housekeeper and you’re the maid. That being so, I will go up the driveway first and you may wait here. Give me five minutes before you start up. Do we understand each other?”
“Yes, Mrs Smith,” I said. We understood each other perfectly.

* * * * *

A couple of weeks later I was granted leave to go home. I was so excited I hardly slept. When I woke early, my thoughts turned to Adam.
After the gift of the flower at the summerhouse, we’d met in passing. I continued to take the gardeners their lunch. Adam was rarely about until I sought him out. He’d be clearing out the greenhouses or pruning one of Muirfield’s high hedges. There were many jobs to be done before the winter, he explained.
I was pleased to watch him work, but I was careful not to overstay my welcome.
Mrs Pearson had a loud shout and short tether. I didn’t want to be banned from taking lunch to the bothy. I longed for a day together.
“Wouldn’t you like that, too?” I asked him.
He shrugged, concentrating on deadheading some plants withering in pots.
“There’s such a lot to do in the garden, I can’t be away from it.”
“You can’t stay here for ever.” I forced a laugh. “What about us?”
“Us?” He sounded strange.
“Yes,” I replied hesitantly. “You gave me the flower.” He grunted. Encouraged, I went on. “We’re together, aren’t we?” He didn’t deny it.
“So, all I want is for us to go somewhere away from Muirfield.” I named the market town as a possibility.
“Not there. I don’t like crowds.” He shook his head.
“Where, then?”
He put down the pot with the sick plant.
“I don’t know. What’s wrong with here?”
“Because we’re never on our own,” I said, taking a handful of the soil from the work bench and crumbling it to dust. “I’d like us to go to a tearoom or take in a show.”
“No shows around here.” His lip curled in amusement.
“Oh, you’re impossible!” I flung down the dirt and stomped off.
When he didn’t follow or shout for me to stay, I came back the next day.
I gave Pete the lunch basket and asked for Adam. The old man threw me a kindly look. Adam was in the walled garden and didn’t want to be disturbed.
We’ll see about that, I thought, heading straight there. I was ready for an argument. I was impatient to move our relationship forward.
He hadn’t even kissed me yet, and I wanted a spring wedding. Between then and now I needed to get to know him better. My heart was set on this.

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!