The Reckoning

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Authors: Rennie Airth
ancestral seat, but it’ll cost a fortune to keep up and the only answer seems to be to hand it over to the National Trust. The trouble is, now that the Labour Party is in power I’m afraid they’ll just use it as an excuse to grab other people’s property.’
    â€˜Grab other people’s . . . Honestly, Violet.’ Helen couldn’t contain herself. ‘I don’t know where you get your ideas. For your information, the National Trust is run exclusively by Old Etonians, and although it was originally set up to protect the countryside, its only purpose now seems to be to preserve the aristocracy.’
    â€˜Well, bless them, if it’s true.’ Lady Violet was defiant. ‘But I’ve heard differently. And you can’t deny that this new government, which I know you voted for – and shame on you, Helen – is after our blood. Taxation . . . death-duties . . . there’s no end to it.’
    â€˜Oh, you poor darling.’ Helen contrived to appear griefstricken. ‘But never fear. When the tumbrels arrive, you can come and seek refuge with us. We’ll look after you.’
    â€˜Joke about it all you like, but one of these days you’ll see the red flag flying over Stratton Hall, and then you’ll be sorry.’
    Before going in to lunch Violet led them over to the window and together they looked down at the sad sight of the extensive gardens now reduced to a wilderness of overgrown borders and uncut hedges. The handsome lawns surrounding a lily pond choked with weeds, once the realm of strutting peacocks, had become little more than muddy strips where the grass tried vainly to recover from the war years when the Hall had been convertedinto a convalescent home for wounded servicemen and the young officers had used them for their football games.
    â€˜We’re going to have to put all this in order, and the house as well, before we approach the Trust. Peter’s asked me to make a start.’
    She took Helen’s arm in hers.
    â€˜Do you remember the parties we used to have before the war – the first war, I mean – and all those young men we danced with? Then they went away, and so few of them came back.’
    Later, as they were leaving, she came out with them to the stable yard where they had parked their car and showed them the coach house, now the repository of junk that had accumulated over the decades: a tractor with its innards exposed, a dog-cart missing a wheel; cracked mirrors and chairs without legs. In one corner was a giant cage, once home to a pair of exotic parrots, which Helen remembered from her childhood, and beside it a claw-footed bath piled high with moth-eaten rugs and carpets.
    â€˜I’m going to have to get rid of it all.’ Violet sighed. ‘I can’t bear looking at it. It reminds me too much of the past.’
    As Madden opened the front door, the sound of Hamish’s trumpeting bay came from the other side of the house, and when they went through the sitting room to the terrace they saw the spruce figure of Angus Sinclair, dapper in tweeds, walking up the lawn from the bottom of the garden twirling a walking stick in his hand and with the basset hound trotting at his heels. He hailed them from the foot of the steps.
    â€˜Tell me: does Cerberus greet everyone this way? Or am I singled out for special attention?’
    â€˜Angus!’ Helen greeted him with a kiss. ‘How are you? How is that awful cold you had?’
    â€˜It went of its own accord. I won’t say the Scottish air cured it, though Bridget might. She still can’t believe that I actually chose to spend my life south of the border with the auld enemy. And before you ask, my dear, my toe is in capital shape. I haven’t felt a twinge of gout.’
    He caught Madden’s eye. Helen sensed, rather than saw, the silent communication passing between them.
    â€˜We’ve just been to lunch with Violet Tremayne at the

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