Murder At Muirfield – Episode 28

MISS EMILY was unsettled by all the chaos. She wandered the house, pale and wan. Cook was at her wits’ end as the girl inevitably was drawn to the warm comfort of the kitchen.
“I’m for ever tripping over her,” Mrs Pearson grumbled.
“She doesn’t like the noise. She had her hands over her ears when I came in,” I said.
“Poor mite, I must be more charitable.” Cook sighed. “In fact, I’ll make some of her favourite ginger biscuits. That’ll cheer her up.”
Despite her occasional shouting, Mrs Pearson had a heart of gold.
“Did Ellen like your ginger biscuits?” I asked.
Her eyes widened.
“What a funny thing to ask. What made you think on my dear niece?”
Ellen was never off my mind. But I could hardly say that to her aunt.
“I don’t know. She was lucky to have you as her aunt. Must have been nice to have a close relative working in the same house.”
“It was,” Cook agreed. “She came down to the kitchen such a lot. Interested in everything, she was. Such a curious, bright sort of girl. It’s hard that she’s gone.”
I’ll bet she was interested and curious. No doubt she was gathering fuel for her power games. She came to the kitchen where she could spy on Mr Joseph and Mrs Smith and pick up gossip on all the people in the Hall. But now, Cook was speaking again.
“Is it true that you and Adam are courting?”
“We are,” I said cautiously. Partly this was because I wasn’t sure myself any more what was between me and Adam. He was reluctant to commit but yet he liked me. Was my love for him driving all before me?
I reminded myself that he hadn’t said no to us getting wed. Therefore he must love me. I was cautious, too, in that Ellen had been involved with him. I didn’t want to upset Mrs Pearson.
She shook her head.
“Well, Hannah, I’ve become fond of you. You’re a hard worker and don’t complain. So I’ll give you a piece of advice. The same advice I gave Ellen. Take care.”
“I don’t understand.”
“He’s not the marrying kind.”
“But he and Ellen were going to be wed. I thought that was so.”
Hadn’t Gracie said that? I tried to remember. She’d said they were lovebirds, that although it had cooled a little it was bound to end in a wedding. I wondered why things had cooled between them.
Mrs Pearson set out the ingredients for the ginger biscuits. Her hands must always be busy, even when she was conversing. Mixing bowls, wooden spoon, flour and sugar. Sweet smelling ginger spice and a block of fresh butter.
“He asked her to marry him, that’s true. Ellen told me herself. So happy, she was. I’ve never seen her smiling so much. But why then was there no preparation for the marriage? A girl must get her bottom drawer ready. I saw no sign of sewing or laying down of goods. He never came to talk to me about it. And I was her only living relative. It was downright odd.”
“Did you ask Ellen about it?”
The cook scratched her head through her cap.
“I did. I never got a straight answer. She was confident it would work out. And look how things did turn out. My darling girl, gone for ever.”
I felt a sudden chill despite the cheeriness of the kitchen. Instead of a wedding there had been a funeral in Ellen’s future.
* * * *
I found myself thinking about it a few nights later. The Dawtons were to set off early the next morning. Everything was packed and ready.
There was an air of anticipation amongst the servants. Without the family in residence, it was going to be easier with lighter workloads. We might even get an extra afternoon off. Besides, the day out to the seaside was coming up. I couldn’t wait.
I was surprised to feel utterly awake. I stared at the attic ceiling. There were black, jutting shadows and, when I turned my head to the window, I saw there was a full, bright white moon like a circle of good cheese. It was the middle of the night.
Gracie’s snores echoed in the room. None of her was visible except a tuft of hair.
What had gone wrong between Ellen and Adam? It popped into my head and didn’t leave. It had woken me up. Things had cooled. But why?
I rubbed my eyes, turned my face to the pillow and attempted to sleep. But it refused to come. I was too alert. With a sigh, I sat up and got out of bed. Perhaps I might light the candle and read a little.
Reaching for the candle, I glanced out of the window. The moonlight made the view of the gardens clear. There below, a patch of white floated across my gaze before disappearing into the dark trees. I blinked.
What was it?
The candle quite forgotten, I pressed my nose to the glass trying to see more. The black shadowed woods had swallowed any movement. Beyond, there was a glitter of moonlight on the waters of the lake.
I picked up my coat and put it on, and laced up my boots. Then, tiptoeing quietly so as not to wake Gracie, I slipped out of the room. Someone, dressed in white, had walked in the gardens, through the woods towards the summerhouse and lake. Who was it, so late at night?
It was strange to be sneaking through the house in the silent, small hours. My heart was thudding. The ornaments and furniture made odd shapes. I half expected a figure to leap out and grab me.
I pressed down upon my imagination. I was no child to fear the darkness. The house was full of people. It was safe.
The main entrance to Muirfield was bolted. I knew it would be so. Mr Joseph was very particular about that. However, on checking the kitchen door, I found it to be unlocked. Not only that, it was ajar.
I hesitated only briefly, then pushed it open and stepped outside. I closed it behind me. The night air was cold and sharp and the moonlight made it easy to see. Curiosity pushed me on. I hurried round the corner towards the potting sheds and greenhouses.

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!