Murder At Muirfield – Episode 27

WE were up with the dawn. The cockerel screeched his morning welcome to the world.
I helped Mam make porridge and set out four bowls, hot and steaming. I roused Dad from his slumber.
“Breakfast’s ready.”
“The sight of your face is food enough for me.”
“I wish I could stay,” I said, “but I must get back today.”
I helped him sit up and offered to bring the porridge to him. It was a sign of his health that he agreed. We ate together in companionable silence. Then, empty bowls in hand, I left him to get ready.
“Must you go so soon?” he said.
“I’m sorry, but yes. I’ll walk over to the crossroads. The farmer’s going to pick me up on his way. I mustn’t miss him. Mrs Smith needs me back. There’s always work to be done.”
I made sure to sound bright and cheerful while inside my heart was breaking. For when would I see him again?
I told Mam about my wedding plans at the kitchen table. She and Kitty had left their porridge to cool and now tucked in. I took the heavy kettle from the fire and poured tea for all of us.
I sat, savouring the moment. Tucking the memories deep into my head, to be taken out and mulled over in my attic bed at Muirfield. They were chatting about the next bundles of sewing and washing to be done.
“You want to stay this morning and scrub a few blouses?” Kitty teased.
“Only if you come back with me and dust a storey of the Hall and peel a mountain of carrots,” I said.
“I wish I could.” There was envy in her voice. I’d forgotten that what to me was simply work, to Kitty was a strange and desirable activity. She was for ever stuck at home because of her leg.
“It’s not as much fun as it sounds,” I said.
“I’d much rather be here than there.”
There was a long pause. Then Mam rapped her knuckles on the wood.
“Kitty says there’s something you have to say to me.”
“I’m getting married.” Mam’s jaw dropped.
“You never mentioned it last night.”
“I forgot, I was so pleased to see you all.”
“It’s a big thing to forget, all the same.” She stared at me carefully. “Who’s the fellow?”
“His name is Adam,” I said, letting his name roll off my tongue, for the joy of saying it. “He’s the gardener at Muirfield.”
“They’ve just the one, for such a large place?” Mam was quick off the mark. Too shrewd.
“No, there’s Mr Crickett, he’s the head gardener, and there’s Pete, but Adam’s got the most talent.”
Kitty and Mam shared a glance. They didn’t quite roll their eyes but I saw Mam’s mouth quirk like she wanted to laugh. I was boasting about my man. It was true. I couldn’t help it.
“Dad and I want to meet him.”
I hadn’t thought of that. As I was barely able to get Adam to leave the garden for the village teashop, what chance had I of getting him to undertake the journey here?
“And you’ll get married in our church in the village.” This was said firmly, allowing no room for argument.
“I’ll ask him.”
“You won’t ask him, you’ll tell him. It’s traditional for the wedding to be from the bride’s home. Besides, Dad can’t travel far.”
That put an end to any discussion. Mam was right. Dad was too poorly to go any distance. And I wanted him to see me wed.
“You’ll marry in the church and have a meal here, right and proper.” Mam sighed, but it was a good sigh, not her usual sad one.
They waved me off as I stepped out towards the crossroads. My emotions were mixed. I was eager to get back to Muirfield and to Adam and my friends Gracie and Bill.
Yet, underneath, there was a current of unease. Like darker, more treacherous currents in an otherwise peaceful river.

* * * * *

The house was in an uproar. Mrs Smith was right. The family’s visit to Glasgow meant a lot of packing boxes. They were to be away for a month.
Mrs Dawton was the happiest I’d ever seen her. She flitted from room to room, barking orders.
Whilst her spirits were high, Mr Dawton’s were considerably lower. Any glimpse of the master showed a bowed figure with drooping features. He couldn’t bear to be away from his beloved gardens.
It turned out that Miss Emily was not going. According to Mrs Dawton, the child was poorly so must remain at Muirfield. She was to be cared for by her governess and Mrs Smith was to oversee the rest.
I didn’t think Emily was ill, rather that her sleep was more and more disturbed by nightmares and night walking. I imagined it was an embarrassment to her mother and not behaviour likely to sit well amongst their Glasgow hosts.
“The master has left a list of instructions,” Adam grumbled, when I sneaked out to see him. “As if I don’t know what I’m about. I don’t need him telling me.”
“He is the owner of the gardens,” I said, thinking this a bit much.
“He’s a fool,” Adam muttered. “He doesn’t know the half of what he’s got in here. Little tender plants I’ve brought on, he don’t have a clue about. He likes the showy blossoms, the unusual colours, but he’s missing what’s important.”
I didn’t understand him but, bored with plants, I didn’t ask further.
“My mam and dad want to meet you.”
“This is going too fast.” He kicked at a set of pots and one fell, chipping its rim.
I held my breath. What did he mean?
“You still like me?” I whispered.
“I like you, Hannah, but let us take this slowly. The best plants grow from small shoots.” His fingers curled on mine and their warmth and strength thrilled 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!