Mr Silverthorne sat bolt upright in the back of the taxi, unusually tense, breathing shallowly with his briefcase firmly clenched in his hand. He didn't like being driven - especially at this speed - but the courage that he would need to drive himself anywhere, should he ever need to consider it, had long gone. As the vehicle accelerated without any warning, Mr Silverthorne felt the car lurch and swagger, straining in mid-gear to pull away and overtake the single-decker rusty brown and green painted coach, before the curve in the lane was upon them.
Soon the high wall that accompanied him on the last mile or so of the journey receded, so that he could see over and, recognising the ash and the elms that marked the land he knew, he told the driver to pull up alongside the unruly privet hedge adjacent to the lodge that marked the entrance to Shabbington Hall.
Mr Silverthorne had considered asking to be dropped off here, hoping to catch a word with the occupant about a small matter, but the sharp wind that bit made the idea of a pleasant stroll up to the house, past the watery meadows to see how the dredging of the lake had gone, a poor idea. His rheumatism was never good at the best of times. About half-way along the pot-holed drive, he slowed the car and wound down the window. He thought he saw a figure hanging about the boathouse but he convinced himself it was a mirage formed by the amber streaks of winter sunlight at the edge of the lake where the bulrushes grew.
After being deposited at the front door, Mr Silverthorne stood looking around, wondering, thinking hard about how he was to break the news to Lord Martlesham that the grant they had applied for to replace the roof had been refused. At least there might be a decent lunch and a bottle of faded claret from the cellar to mellow his Lordship's mood. As he stood staring up at the failing guttering, the sight of Tamzin striding away lowered his spirits as he concluded that would mean cold meat and salad from the fridge. Perhaps when she returned with her basket brimming with produce from the town, dinner - if he was invited to stay - would be more satisfying. And perhaps then he might be able to tackle Lord Martlesham on the real problem that needed to be faced.
Mr Silverthorne rang the bell and waited. A long moment passed. He tried again. Not waiting any longer for it to be answered he gave the ancient iron handle a clever twist and pushed his way inside. Just as he was closing the door, he caught sight of a coach load of schoolchildren being driven too fast up the drive. He exhaled painfully, realising what day it was, and shuddered nervously at the thought of it.
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