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‘Emily, Luke! Come on – time to go!’ They appeared from the kitchen, squeezed past him in the hall, then headed out to the Land Rover. John didn’t bother locking the door; his dog would deal with any trespassers. A large, shaggy-haired Alsatian cross was looking at him intently. He called the dog to him: ‘Rock’. The dog stood by his side and waited as John
checked the long chain to his collar. Rock was quiet now, but John knew that as soon as he left, the dog would be snarling at the end of his chain at the first sign of a visitor. Rock had gained some notoriety with the locals. The postman now delivered to the large mailbox by the gate, and other visitors just waited in their cars until John came out.
Emily and Luke were on the front bench seat, their seatbelts fastened. John drove onto the road and turned down the hill towards the village and St Mary’s Primary. The moorland colours were faded and washed with the heather a pale, rusty brown and cotton grass still showing patches of red. Further down the hill the trees were bare,
apart from the solid green of Scots pine.
Emily and Luke sat quietly until they drew up to a long line of cars blocking the lane. There was no point trying to go any further, so they unclicked their seatbelts and climbed out. Before they could get to the school gate, though, a teacher appeared.
‘In you go now.’ She gestured sharply to the gate, and the children obeyed. John was trying to remember her name.
‘Mr Salter, could I just have a quick word?’ Her eyes were flicking around, trying to
take in every potential accident before the children were safely in school. Then she looked at him and dropped her voice. ‘I tried to talk to your wife yesterday. Luke hasn’t been himself the last few weeks. He’s normally so outgoing, but just seems quiet and withdrawn now. Is everything alright at home?’ John looked at her. The teacher and Cathy were wasting his time. He gritted his teeth.
‘Yes, fine. I’ll have a word with him.’
John knew everything was not alright at home. Cathy insisted on going for the job. John knew she’d fail, then things would get back to normal. Hadn’t they kept it to themselves?
‘That might not help. Perhaps it’s best to talk to your wife first.’
John didn’t want to be having this conversation. He felt his anger return. What business was it of a school teacher? But before he could reply, she was stretching out a hand.
‘It’s Sue, by the way. Sue Thornton. We’ll keep in touch, yes?’ She turned to shepherd in the rest of the children. The lane was now blocked with cars, and John sat behind the steering wheel, staring down the road until it all cleared. He drove back up to the house to find the under-keeper Sam squatting down next to Rock, stroking his back.
‘Dog needs a bit of exercise, John.’
‘Aye, maybe we should take him along to Mr Hawston, give him the run around.’ Sam wasn’t sure who was going to get a run around, the dog or the Agent. ‘Come on then Sam, let’s see what we’ve done wrong now.’
They drove a short distance up the road and turned into the Lodge. It was built with the same stone seen on all the outcrops here, with the black pollution-scarred crust removed and restored to a warm yellow colour. Solid and permanent on the outside, the inside was sumptuous; all deep plush carpets and fittings which didn’t see any boots.
The Land Agent was expecting them in an office around the back of the building. They knocked on the door and stepped through onto the stone slabs of the office. Michael Hawston was sitting behind a desk, perched on the edge of his chair with a straight-backed concentration learnt from public school. The laptop had his full attention. John and Sam stood and waited, hands clasped in front of them. Eventually Hawston relaxed back into the soft leather, emphasising his luxury – and their discomfort.

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