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but had been dying of drink, drugs and depression for the past forty years -- ever since she married him. That‟s according to G-Gramps, my great granddaddy, Maggie‟s father, who I live with now at the Lodge because his arthritis is seizing him up completely. It‟s only an amazing dandelion coffee concoction that he makes for breakfast that lets him move at all, he says, and that generally works off by lunchtime which means if you ever want to get in or out after that you‟ll probably get me on the gates – and because the Lodge‟s got Wi-Fi.

He sucked in enough air to keep going. “There‟s only the three of us now, compared to twenty-six who were listed as living in the Hall and Lodge in the1901 census, so the food bill is way down, and the heating and the laundry and all the rest of it, but not the Council Tax which Maggie talks about all the time now, in capital letters, and how every year it goes up by far more than inflation which is terrible for everyone on fixed incomes, or rather no incomes as in our case, which is why we‟ve got to start marketing ourselves, and there she is...”

Annie came to a halt on a reasonably dry-looking section of driveway, turned off the ignition and took a deep breath. Striding towards the car was a short, sturdy woman well into her sixties, whose plentiful grey hair was escaping dramatically from whatever device was meant to keep it in order. She wore a flowery blouse camouflaged beneath a flowery cardigan whose buttons were out of line with their holes by two; a knee-length tweed skirt; and white trainers smeared with fresh mud. She was carrying a trowel in one hand and trying to stretch the other out from her sleeve to check her wristwatch.

Annie got out of the car, and in going forward to shake hands she wobbled on her heels. Jeremy was beside her in a flash, steadying her with one hand on her forearm and the other across her back.

Maggie smiled cheerfully, clearly dismissing, or forgetting, any reprimand she might have been considering about her failure to make the appointment on time. And though Annie pulled away from Jeremy promptly, Maggie said bizarrely, “Such a natural couple.”

Annie told herself not to think Alzheimer‟s. It was becoming the Covinshire equivalent of seeing a juvenile in a hoodie and thinking anti-social behaviour. She said slowly, “I‟m Annie Clarke. I‟m here for the interview.”

“No need for an interview, my dear. You‟re the only person who answered my advertisement, and I can tell from your application that you‟re expert at what you do, and I can see that you are young and female as requested, although the newspaper made a mess of it and missed that bit out. And I can tell Jeremy likes you though it seems at the moment that he is absorbed by the appearance of your shoes. I think we‟ll have to find you something a bit more practical. But I‟m talking to myself again. Have we got a spare pair of wellies for Miss Clarke, Jeremy?”

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