Murder At Muirfield – Episode 29

AS I went by the stables, I heard the snickers of the horses, restless at the person passing them.
Where the path met the trees it was different. The path was bright while the trees were almost black. I felt a stirring in the air as if I could sense someone had been this way. Had the figure in white gone on to the lake? Or were they in the woods, waiting? I took a step inside the shadow of the trees.
There was a muffled quality to the sounds now. A creaking of ancient boughs. The rasp of feathers as a bird flew. Scurrying noises as some small creature fled amongst the leaf litter. A light wind had got up, making the tops of the trees sway. I was glad of it. It meant I walked with less fear of discovery.
Ahead, I saw the shape of the summerhouse and the murky waters of the lake. The moonlight was so pretty as it glittered there. It was like diamonds scattered on black velvet.
But where was the figure? I hadn’t dreamed it, had I?
As I skirted round the summerhouse, I saw her.
Miss Emily, clad in only a white cotton nightgown, sitting cross-legged on the wooden platform and gazing out at the water.
Emily, what are you doing here?” I asked.
She didn’t reply. She didn’t even react. Instead, she continued to stare at the lake. I moved beside her and looked more closely. Her eyes were open but strangely glassy. I waved my fingers in front of her face. No response. She wasn’t shivering from the cold. She was trance-like.
Mrs Pearson’s words came back to me: “She doesn’t just dream, you see. She sleep-walks.”
She was asleep! But what had drawn her to the lake?
I followed her glassy stare. There was nothing but sinister-looking water.
“What do you see?” I whispered to her.
She whimpered in her sleep. I gently took her hand. It was ice-cold. I took her other hand and warmed them in mine. Should I wake her? I had no idea.
We sat together for a short while. It was oddly peaceful.
“We should go back,” I said eventually.
I didn’t know if she heard me or understood. I stood up and took off my coat. With some effort, I managed to put the coat on her.
We moved slowly round the side of the summerhouse. Now the woods were again visible. The lake was to our backs. I decided we’d walk slowly back to the house. With any luck I’d get Emily upstairs to her bed without disturbing the rest of the household.
Even as this went through my mind, an unpleasant prickling rose up on my skin. I had the oddest sensation of being watched.
“Come on, Miss Emily, we need to go.”
She muttered a few words, but they were so low I couldn’t make them out. Her fingers curled on mine. I hoped she understood she was safe with me.
I struck out towards the trees. There was no other way to go. To reach Muirfield Hall, we had to follow the path from the lake, through the woods, past the cottages and stables and finally the blessed safety of the kitchen door.
I was scared now. Something wasn’t right. It was nothing I could pinpoint – just a sixth sense of danger. A primeval part of me had flickered into life. There was nowhere to hide, so we had to go on.
She came with me, slowly plodding until I wanted to scream at her to hurry up. Did I really think someone was there? I didn’t know. I had a lively imagination, as Mam had told me often enough growing up. Wasn’t that a good part of the reason for my pursuit of the mystery of Ellen’s murder?
I liked to know answers.
“It’s going to be all right,” I said to Emily, pulling her with me.
We went slowly by the trees. If anything, she was moving slower. The black trunks were like sentries on either side of us. We moved on. Now I was certain someone was behind us.
I glanced back. There was nothing. Yet underneath our own breathing and the natural sounds of the woods I heard the snap of twigs and the rustling of dead leaves. A creature, large, moving about, off the path.
I saw, with thanks, the break in the cover that signalled the path breaking free into open ground. Beyond was the gardeners’ bothy and other buildings. Goodness, I thought with an inward grin, I’d be glad even for the company of the horses.
Something heavy shoved me from behind and I fell on to the ground. I heard running footsteps and, with a groan, I struggled up. Confused, I stared about me. Where was Emily? Then I was aware I wasn’t alone. Pete, the gardener, was crouching beside me, looking concerned.
“Did you have a fall? Why are you out here at this time of night?”
“Where’s Miss Emily?” I gasped.
“She’s right here,” he said.
Emily appeared from behind the nearest tree trunk. She was wide-eyed and awake.
“Did you see someone?” I asked Pete.
He shook his head.
“Only you two. Why?”
“It doesn’t matter. I’ll take Miss Emily back to the house. She’s been sleep-walking.”
“Right you are, Hannah,” Pete said. “I’ll walk with you as far as the cottages.”
We walked in silence, the three of us. My palms stung where I had landed hard upon them on the gritty surface of the path. I was convinced that someone had pushed me. Who was it? And was it a warning? Why had Pete not seen anyone? I didn’t know the answers to any of these questions.
I was never so glad to see the house. We left Pete at the gardeners’ bothy and made for the kitchen entrance ourselves.
I took Emily upstairs and waited until she was tucked into her bed. She, at least, was none the worse for the adventure. She’d only a pair of dirty feet to show for it.
I jumped at every shadow as I made for my attic bedroom. I was more afraid than I’d ever been. Someone didn’t want people roaming in the night at Muirfield, and I didn’t know who that was, or why.

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!