At the shriek, she jolted back, and her heart jumped into her throat. She held tightly to Max’s lead. The hairs on his back stood up, and the phrase about hackles rising came to mind.
Edith wanted to run. There was evil in this place. All her instincts told her to get as far away as fast as she could. Her hand gripped Max’s collar as he stood stock still for a few seconds. The dog’s hackles stayed up and he strained against her hold. He was a dog that rarely barked, but now he emitted a low growl.
She couldn’t just leave, and as far as she could remember, there was no other house in the vicinity.
“Come on, Max,” She was probably mad, but she couldn’t walk away. She pulled the dog’s lead and went up the drive. Her hands and feet were like blocks of ice, despite her boots and gloves; her face was hot, and her stomach roiled as though she were on a fair ground ride.
The farmhouse at the top of the drive was built of stone like all others in these parts, but unlike other farmsteads, no attempt had been made to brighten the place. It looked as dour and forbidding as the moors a few miles away.
“Hello?” Edith’s voice to her own ears sounded tentative and weak. She was a fool. But there was no point in second thoughts at this stage. She’d come this far.
“Who’re you?” The voice was male, but she couldn’t see anyone straight away. Then he stood in front of her, having come out of a building at the side of the yard.
“I’m sorry. I’m Miss Horton from Ellbeck, just out walking with my dog. I thought I heard someone call out. It sounded like someone in distress, in trouble.”
“No trouble here, miss.”
His tone was sly, and Edith’s skin crawled as though a spider walked up her back.
Then, came another shriek. “No, mother, no, let me out, let me go.”
Courage, Edith told herself and fought against weak legs and a racing mind to appear calm. She called out, “Something’s obviously wrong. Can I help?”
The man didn’t answer, but the sound of a door opening came from the house and a woman emerged. “Get in here, Reuben,” she said. “Who’re ye talking to?”
The woman continued, “Oh, I know you, from village, doctor’s sister. Isn’t it? You’d best be coming in. ‘Appen, we need go fetch your brother.” She wiped her hands on a rough apron.
Edith swallowed, wished her mouth wasn’t so dry.
“Father’s dead,” the woman said. Her voice was flat, out of kilter with the words.
The man came up close to Edith, too close for comfort. What choice did she have but to go into the house? She gripped Max’s lead tightly, tried to send a silent message to the dog to protect her. Pretty stupid. Max was a Labrador, noted more for friendliness and eating everything in sight than fierceness. Maybe he would though…would protect her. Please God, he wouldn’t have to.