Murder At Muirfield – Episode 31

A charabanc had been hired for the servants’ day out. There was a buzz of excitement when it arrived, driven by a man in a battered stovepipe hat and pulled by a honey-coloured horse.
There were 15 of us to be carried in it to the seaside. A caretaker from the village was to stay behind for security. Miss Emily and her governess were not joining us, of course. But from the staff, even the young stable hands were coming.
There was a festive atmosphere as we climbed up and took our places. I sat between Gracie and Janet. In the row ahead were Mrs Smith and Mrs Pearson. Behind us were Sarah, Bill and one of the lads from the stables.
I looked anxiously for Adam. He was the last to arrive. I tried to catch his eye but he was busy finding a place at the back to sit so I gave up. I’d have all day with him when we got there.
The journey was only an hour along a reasonable road to the coast.
“It’s a pity the day out isn’t in the summer,” I remarked.
Gracie nudged me in the ribs.
“Well, if that were the case, you’d have missed it altogether.”
“That’s so,” I agreed with a laugh. “Still, we won’t be paddling or bathing today.”
“I don’t think Mrs Smith would let us do that even in the summer.”
“She can’t be everywhere at once,” I said cheekily.
Gracie laughed, too. Even Janet managed a weak, toothy grin.
The usual hierarchy was loosened. I heard Mr Joseph chatting to the driver, and the housekeeper and cook had their heads together for a gossip.
Behind us, Sarah was attempting to get Bill to talk. He wasn’t saying much, from what I managed to overhear. It didn’t put her off. She flirted with him and asked if he liked her new bonnet.
I hoped Bill wasn’t going to make the mistake of going back to her. She wasn’t good enough for him.
* * * *
My first view of the sea was breathtaking. The charabanc stopped on a rise and we all sighed and pointed. Despite the lateness of the season, the day was bright and warm. The sea was invitingly blue and the sky had only patchy cloud cover. I prayed it would stay nice. I wanted so very much to enjoy the day. I pictured me and Adam arm in arm walking across the beach.
The charabanc rumbled down the slope of the road and into the seaside village. The driver parked it near the promenade where there was a patch of grass for the horse to crop.
The men descended from the vehicle and offered help to the women. It was a bit of a step to get down, especially in long skirts. There was an awkward moment when it was my turn. I paused, waiting for Adam to step forward and guide me. Instead he chose that moment to turn his back to our crowd and stare out at the sea. The colour rose in my cheeks.
Bill stepped forward and gave me his hand. Sarah glared at me. Gladly, I let Bill help me down. He smiled.
“I hope you enjoy your day out. You know, there’s a very nice teashop on the seafront.”
“Perhaps we’ll all meet there later for tea and cake,” I said with a smile. “But first I want to touch the sand. It looks so lovely.” He grinned at my enthusiasm.
“I’ll come with you. It’s ages since I’ve been here. In fact, it was last year’s outing.”
Sarah cut in front of us with a sweet, icy smile.
“Bill, I’d like to visit the shops. Will you accompany me? It won’t do to go alone. Mrs Smith won’t allow it.”
“Of course,” he said politely. Then he turned to me with a wink. “We’ll catch up later on the beach. Save me a seashell or two.”
Sarah hooked her arm firmly in his and walked away. She threw me a look over her shoulder. It spoke of triumph.
Poor Bill, I hoped he knew what he was in for. She was clearly determined to win him back. He was such a nice fellow.
Before long, Bill and Sarah faded from my worries. I searched for Adam.
Mr Joseph was giving orders, waving his large pocket watch at the group.
“We will return to the charabanc at four o’clock precisely. Do not be late. Enjoy yourselves, but do remember that we represent the Dawton family at all times. There must be no unseemly behaviour.”
He’d hardly finished speaking before everyone dispersed. Bill and Sarah had edged away to the echo of his last words. The young lads were on the steps from the promenade to the sands. With a whoop, one of them jumped down.
Mr Joseph didn’t hear. He was busy escorting Mrs Smith and Mrs Pearson to the nearest teashop where I imagined they’d spend the hours until we went home. Gracie decided she’d go with Janet to look at what was for sale. She promised to find me later in the teashop.
“Adam.” I linked my arm with his, the way Sarah had with Bill. “Shall we walk along the beach?”
“If you will,” he said.
“What do you want to do? I’m happy to come with you.”
“There’s not much to do. It’s a dreadful waste of a day.”
“Why did you come, then?” I cried, annoyed at his attitude. His love of Muirfield and its precious gardens was irksome.
He shrugged.
“No choice. Mr Joseph insists all the staff attend. It’s stupid when I’ve got so much work to do.”
“Not so much that you can’t enjoy a day out to the seaside, surely?”
He fixed me with his blue stare. Even though he was clearly annoyed, I was drawn, as ever, to his handsome face.
“Every day, every minute that I breathe, is a determination to better myself. I’m not bound to be at Muirfield for ever. In fact, I’m not going to be there beyond a year. I’ve got big plans and I’m bent on carrying them through. And nobody is getting in the way of that. Do you hear?”

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!