from 1 November 2010: Moorland House, Near Branwell, ---shire

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There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. Normally, her daily routine consisted of a good walk across the road, past the over-sized church and across the field, skirting the edge of the woods. It had almost been a ritual, every day since her graduation a few months back.

This day, a perfectly ordinary Tuesday for most people, had instead taken her on trains, buses and an airplane. Not what she would normally expect from a Tuesday, it has to be said, but there she was, arriving at an airport north of London, and she hadn’t even arrived in style; the bright colours of the budget airline being too garish to allow such a thing.

The walk from the plane to the terminal seemed to be at least a mile long, and of course the escalators were at a standstill on the final ascent to the main terminal. The officially dressed man at the passport counter gazed at her without a hint of recognition. She gave him a nervous smile back, uncomfortable under his scrutinising look, even though she had every right to be there.

Getting on the train had also been an adventure, almost getting on the wrong one, but after a while, once she had finally settled down in the allotted seat for her ticket, Julia Ljung allowed herself to relax and enjoy the ride.

So, this was it. England; the land of opportunity. She wasn’t entirely sure that being an au pair for a year or so was really that much of an opportunity for future greatness, but alas, it got her out of Sweden, which was always a plus in her book. For being born and raised in a country, she had never felt much affinity with it. The people were cold, superficial and there was never anything decent on TV, and if there was, it was always in the shape of a proper English murder mystery. Oh yes, she knew all the ins and outs of Midsomer and Oxford, while her own back yard never seemed to hold the same allure.

Finally, at the age of twenty, she had discovered a way out, by looking for a position abroad. Being an au pair would be something new and certainly a challenge, because what did she know of childcare? Her cousins were all her age or older, and never paid her much attention at the best of times. At the worst of times ... no, never mind.

The position she had found, or rather, that had found her, was to look after a little girl of five called Odelia, and apparently any language skills other than English were highly sought after, as the child was apparently a native German speaker. Julia looked at the letter confirming the address: Moorland House, outside Branwell, in Derbyshire. Imagination conjured up a dark, brick building with narrow windows and tall chimneys, set in an immaculate little garden with lawns trimmed like a golf course. There was probably a pond and everything, and a little statue of a chubby cherub with water pouring out of an urn or something along those lines.

The letter did not say anything about the girl’s family, only that the letter had been written by a Mrs. Mabel Deacon, and the fact that it was handwritten was ... unusual. Nowadays, everything was written on a computer and printed off, but this? An old-fashioned script with slanted characters, a little shaky in places, told her this was perhaps not the most technologically advanced lady in the world. Not that it mattered in the slightest. As long as she was nice and the child wasn’t too much of a hassle, hopefully the work would be enjoyable and she would be able to make some new friends.

The train eventually came to a stop, and as she moved off to stand on the platform, the overhead light seemed just as shaky as Mrs. Deacon’s handwriting. This was apparently the town of Matlock, hidden away between the rolling hills of the north Derbyshire countryside. Not perhaps a buzzing metropolis like London, and the deserted platform instilled no confidence in her. It was getting darker already, the clocks had just been turned back an hour to allow for winter time – a practice she found ridiculous, because it would have been so much better to just stick to summer time all the time – and the cold was drawing in as well. Luckily, not as cold as it would be back home, but it was still cold enough.

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