Murder At Muirfield – Episode 26

IT was late. Mam had gone to bed. The fire still burned and Kitty added another peat sod. I wasn’t tired. It was cosy in the darkness with only the firelight and two dripping candles. The smell of peat and wax was so homely.
“Tell me all your news,” Kitty said, settling back in her seat.
“I told you about the house and the people already. There’s no more to tell.”
“Ah, but there is. You’ve met someone, haven’t you?” Kitty clapped her hands together.
“How did you know?”
“You’re my sister. I know you like I know myself. Now spit it out.”
“I’m getting married, “I said and was properly pleased when she hugged me.
“Who’s the lucky man?”
“His name is Adam. He’s one of the gardeners at Muirfield. Actually, he’s the best gardener. He’s ambitious. One day he’s going to be head gardener there or he’ll move somewhere bigger. We’ll move. We’ll have a maid to tend us and our own house.” I was getting carried away.
“And you love him? You are in love with him?” Kitty asked.
“Do you need to ask me that? He’s the handsomest man this side of the country.”
“As Mam says, handsome is as handsome does. Is he kind to you? Is he generous and loving?”
I paused. They weren’t the first qualities that sprang to mind about Adam, but I brushed that aside. He was perfect and he had chosen me. I was going to be Mrs Adam Fairlow. And nothing my sister Kitty said was going to dissuade me.
“Yes, he’s all that,” I said, not wanting an argument on my first night home.
“Then that’s all you need,” Kitty said sagely, older than her years.
“Och, what do you know?” I said rudely.
We both grinned. Her teeth gleamed in the firelight.
The grins turned to giggles. This was what I’d missed about home. The good times Kitty and I had shared growing up.
“When’s the wedding?”
“I want a spring wedding. Winter’s so dull and horrible. It’ll be nice to get married when the flowers are out.” Adam would like that.
“Where will you live?”
“I believe we’ll get a cottage on the estate. Mr Dawton thinks the world of Adam, so I reckon we’ll get a nice place.”
“And a maid to tend you,” Kitty teased.
I blushed.
“Well, maybe not immediately. But one day, when Adam’s in charge, then yes. I’ll be mistress of my own home.”
It wasn’t so long ago that I’d had no ambitions in life other than to have a job. Now I’d plans as long as my legs. It was lovely to share them with Kitty.
“I heard a few choice stories about Muirfield,” she said casually.
“What do you mean?”
“You know Brigid O’Connell?”
“Yes, Brigid who told you about the place at the Hall. Brigid who brings the washing.”
“That Brigid, the very one. Well, she knows a lass called Agnes Tiller who lives two villages over and Agnes has a cousin who lives in Muirfield village. And Agnes’s cousin, James, has a pal who works for a man who sells a bit of this and that.”
“Where are you going with this? I’m thoroughly confused.”
“What I heard from Brigid, is that the butler at Muirfield has a nice little earner going on.”
“Mr Joseph?” I was shocked. I’d thought it a few bottles of wine he was snaffling. But this was bigger.
Kitty nodded, satisfied with my reaction. She leaned further back in her seat to catch the fire’s warmth. The glow caught the copper tints in her hair and lit them up.
“Apparently he sells on food and wines from the Hall. Not in huge amounts, but a goodly trickle. James’s pal has seen it all.”
I could hardly believe it. Mr Joseph gave every impression of being principled and above everyone else. To think he was nothing but a common thief. If Ellen had found out, then she’d more than a few bottles of wine in a hold over him. Then I had a thought.
“If James and his pal and Agnes and Brigid and now you and me know about this, it’s not much of a secret, is it?”
“But who’s going to tell on him? If you tried when you get back, are they going to take your word as a maid over his word as the butler? I don’t think so. You and me, Brigid and Agnes and the others, we’re not important. No-one’s going to listen to us. Your Mr Joseph is in no danger.”
If that were true, then did Ellen have a sway over him at all?
“What is it?” Kitty asked. “Your face is all scrunched up, like when you’re thinking and getting nowhere.”
I told her about Ellen and my suspicions and concerns.
“It seems to me that Ellen had more power than us. If what you say is right, she was blackmailing people, or at least threatening them with what she knew. Mr Joseph’s crimes passed along to Mr Dawton by, say, the housekeeper, would work. Even if the housekeeper didn’t want to tell, she might have to, to prevent her own secrets coming out.”
“What a tangled web.” I yawned.
“You never told Mam and Dad you were getting married.”
“I forgot. I’ll tell them tomorrow. Right now, I need my sleep.”
We banked up the fire and took a candle each to light our way. I snuggled in next to Kitty and the years fell away. It was good to be 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!