Murder At Muirfield – Episode 36

AFTER it was all done and Adam had been taken away, we sat in the kitchen. The whole household was up. Mrs Pearson, wrapped in her dressing gown and with her hair hanging in a long, grey plait, made cups of hot chocolate for everybody.
Emily wouldn’t leave my side. She nibbled on a ginger biscuit and took gulps of her hot chocolate as if she couldn’t quite believe she was having a midnight picnic.
Mrs Smith got Janet to stoke up the fire so that it was quite warm. Mr Joseph, complete with his pointed nightcap, sat looking bewildered.
Gracie looked simply cross. I didn’t blame her. I had some explaining to do. I’d broken my promise to her and it had very nearly ended badly.
I was suddenly and completely so very glad that it was none of them that were the culprit. They had all become so dear to me. Even Mr Joseph, despite his petty crimes. I realised I had to have a quiet word with him about that, but it could wait until the morning.
“How did you know it was Adam?” Bill asked.
Everyone leaned in to hear what I had to say. It was rather unnerving.
I paused to take a comforting sip of my drink before speaking.
“It wasn’t until I found Mr Dawton’s key that everything fell into place.” Then, of course, I had to explain about the key in the wax before going on. “I had gathered from what Mr Dawton said about his plant collections that they were worth a lot of money. And from Adam I learned that they were difficult to grow and therefore some of them were extremely rare.
“I found myself wondering what someone might do with that information. Especially a man who was as driven by ambition as Adam. He appeared, sadly, to have the strongest motive out of all of you for keeping Ellen silent if she found out his secrets.
“I couldn’t work out where he stored the seeds out of sight of Mr Dawton or Mr Crickett and Peter. I was drawn to the summerhouse. Adam had given me a flower there as if the place had a significance for him. I searched the cupboards but there was nothing. Then, when I found the key, I realised the same method could be used in the summerhouse, too. Adam must have seen the lantern as I passed. You all know what happened then.”
I stopped there. To my embarrassment, tears poured down my face and I cried. Bill rushed to my side to hug me. Mrs Smith opened her mouth to say something, but shut it again and smiled.

* * * *

Bill and I were married in the spring. The wedding took place in the church in my village where generations of Miller women had walked down the aisle. Our families and friends were all there to see us wed before we returned to the cottage for a late wedding breakfast.
The neighbours had been very generous, helping with dishes of food. Mam’s ex-employer had sent a hamper with gorgeous hams and cheeses, and the Dawtons, too, had sent enough for a fine feast.
“Well, it’s them that paid for it, but me that prepared it,” Mrs Pearson said, puffing along the lane back to the cottage.
“Thank you, Mrs Pearson. It’s very much appreciated by my husband and me,” I said, Bill tall and proud by my side.
I enjoyed rolling the word “husband” around in my mouth. Savouring it. It turned out that I was very much in love with Bill. My feelings for Adam were a pale, washed out emotion by comparison.
Bill argued that he’d loved me first. He’d loved me from the moment I’d bumped into him on my first day at Muirfield Hall. I told him he’d a fine way of showing it, being a grumpy sort who never spoke to me. He said to forget all that and enjoy what we had now. Being an excellent sort of wife, I had to agree.
“Looks like I’ll be preparing food for another wedding before long,” the cook said with a jerk of her head behind us.
Gracie and Johnny were walking along, heads together and talking. She caught me looking and threw me a very happy smile. I was sure Mrs Pearson was right. I was very glad for her.
Gracie had forgiven me eventually for breaking my promise. But it had taken weeks to get back into her good books. She said the pain of nearly losing me was too much to bear. It might have been heroic to tackle Adam that way, but it was also incredibly foolish. I knew she was right. I had been very, very lucky the way things turned out.
Mam and Dad came along the lane more slowly. He was looking better than in previous months and I hoped he’d continue to improve. The happiness my marriage had brought to our family seemed to have boosted his health.
It was a dry day luckily, because we wouldn’t have fitted everyone under the cottage roof.
From somewhere trestle tables had appeared. Mrs Pearson, with Gracie and Janet’s help, loaded them up with crisp white tablecloths and mountains of food and drink. Mr Joseph poured out wine. He had given up his idea of being head butler at the grand house beyond Muirfield.
After our little chat, he’d realised just how lucky he was to be butler there.
I never referred to our conversation ever again. I heard from Kitty, courtesy of her strange, long string of a grapevine, that all his dealings had stopped. After that he was a model butler and I think he was happier, too. Instead of always wishing to be somewhere else, he made Muirfield his project and worked hard for the Dawtons.

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!