Murder At Muirfield – Episode 34

GRACIE blew out a breath between pursed lips.
“So it was all for nothing?”
“Who did I think I was, setting myself up as a detective? It was a silliness, plain and simple. I’m just a housemaid. I’m not clever and I don’t have an education. Why could I work it out when a real detective couldn’t?”
I was getting quite carried away in my misery and self-condemnation.
Gracie half-heartedly scrubbed at a bit of floor we’d missed. Then she put down the brush once more. She kneeled there and contemplated the damp wooden floor.
“Do you feel the atmosphere at Muirfield lately? Like everyone’s on edge.”
“Yes, Mr Joseph was quite snappy with Mrs Pearson earlier when she wanted a couple of bottles of beer for her stew. Mrs Smith seems tense, too. She was complaining of a headache which is unlike her.”
“And Sarah’s in a foul mood,” Gracie said. “That’s down to Bill.”
“Why’s it Bill’s fault?” I scrubbed the floor in front of me, concentrating on the grain and whorl of the wood.
“Didn’t you hear? She wanted to get back together and was bold enough to suggest it. He told her no.”
Now why that should lift up my heart and make it sing, I don’t know.
“Doesn’t sound like Bill to be rude like that,” I said.
“Oh, no, he wasn’t rude,” Gracie said with a firm shake of her head. “I overheard them. He was very polite, but it was clear he meant it. Your name came up.” “What?” I was surprised.
“Sarah blamed you for his attitude. Said that ever since you arrived he’s been distant towards her.”
“That’s rubbish,” I said hotly. “It’s got nothing to do with me. Bill and I are friends, that’s all.”
“I know that. Sarah was using whatever ammunition came to hand. Don’t worry about it. Bill knows you’re sweet on Adam.”
We finished cleaning the floor in silence. Then we took the buckets of grey water downstairs and emptied them. Mrs Smith told us to take fresh water back up and clean out the insides of the cupboards but not to leave any wetness. There were books and papers and other items and they were to be taken out with great care then returned to their place without breakage or muddle. Once we had our marching orders, we did as we were told.
“She’s in a bad mood,” Gracie observed, puffing her way up the steps with the heavy bucket.
“It’s her headache. Poor Mrs Smith. I suppose it’s making her snappy.”
“She doesn’t have to take it out on us,” Gracie grumbled.
We decided to begin in Mr Dawton’s study. Usually it was hard to get time to clean in here as the master used the room so much. There were a good number of cupboards to clear. With an inward sigh, I began to work.
It was nearing mid-morning when I made a discovery.
I had turned out a shallow drawer in the study desk. The other drawers were locked and I supposed they held Mr Dawton’s important documents. This drawer, however, was unlocked.
Inside were a few general items. A pen and a bottle of ink, a blank book of paper and a map that was worn around the edges as if well-thumbed. I was glad there were few items. It meant the drawer was easy to empty and easy to return to good order.
I drew clean water on to my cloth and wrung it out so as not to soak the inside of the drawer. All I wanted to do was take away the dust and particles within.
All went well. I dried the wood with another clean cloth and carefully put the items back inside. Then I had the job of replacing the drawer into the desk.
With some adjustments, I managed to put it on the runners and began to push it gently into place. Something brushed the top of my hand. A rough edge on the underside of the desk where the drawer fitted. I felt for it, thinking it needed mending. Instead a piece of red wax fell into my fingers. Along with a key.
It was a good place to hide a key. No-one was going to find it there – unless a maid was asked to clean every nook and cranny of the desk.
I took the key to Mrs Smith, knowing it was impossible to get it to stick to the desk again without fresh wax.
“You did the right thing,” the housekeeper said, taking the key from me. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll ask Mr Joseph to stick it back in the desk. Mr Dawton doesn’t need to know it was found.”
“Thank you, Mrs Smith,” I said gratefully.
It had been an accident, after all.
It’s funny how the brain works. I carried on with my tasks, enjoying Gracie’s chatter and jokes. It was a good hour later before it struck me. And, like tumbling dominoes, everything fell into place.
I sat frozen like a statue, thinking about it. And then I knew exactly what I had to do.
* * * *

There was no bright moonlight that night. I stood at the foot of Gracie’s bed, hesitating. I wore my day clothes: my warmest dress and my coat, buttoned up tight, my stockings and boots and my bonnet. I was ready. I needed only a lantern, which I knew was in the kitchen.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered to my sleeping friend. “I promised you not to go out in the night, but I have to. It’s all changed now. Sleep well.”
Then I closed the attic door quietly behind me and went downstairs.
It was black as night inside. I felt my way by familiarity and made it to the kitchen.
There, I sought and found the lantern that Mrs Pearson kept by the door. There was a goodly sized stub of candle in it. I took matches and lit it with a shaking hand.
Then I was ready. My chest ached with tension. Nevertheless, I drew open the door and stepped out into the icy black night. The air tasted of the oncoming winter.
I followed the now familiar route. The horses made only small sounds as if daunted by the night.

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!