37. Man Over The Top

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"What do you mean, disappeared?" 

Cullen looked over at Pritchard and said, "Gone. Not in his room. We think he might have gone back to his cabin, but. . ."

"You've told someone?"

"We-we informed Miss Agatha. She s-said someone would be-be sent to inform the gamekeep-p-per." Pritchard's stutter had clearly worsened since the storm. "That's-that's all we've been able to d-do."

Montgomery and his problems would have to wait, I wanted to inform the men of the latest development on the job front as soon as possible. I didn't want to risk letting Mr Stevenson wait too long for his new man. 

"Fine. Well. I can imagine he's worried about the state of his cabin after all the rain. If he's not back by meal time, we'll send someone out after him." 

Not all of the Hutch men were in the office, so I sent Pritchard out to round them up while I took off my traveling hat and pulled the order for the backbar out of my handbag  putting  it on his desk for processing.

It was going to be delicate informing the men about this, but after the initial surprise, they'd be terribly keen on the idea, I thought. When they were all assembled and, judging by their faces, ready for a routine announcement, I stood up and smiled at them. 

"As you all know, the purpose of Field Rabbit and indeed, the whole point of the programme here at Cloud Hill, is to train and find good, stable employ for all of you so that you may return to society and build up your lives again independently."

They'd heard this many time before, and no doubt they could quote it back to me if asked. 

"And as you also all know, finding positions for us is difficult. That's why I'm more than pleased to announce that one of you," and here I looked around at the whole group, "has a position waiting for him in London with an established printer! The position entails processing printing orders and general office work. The pay is good and suitable accommodation close by. One couldn't ask for a better start."

The expressions that now faced me rapidly changed from polite interest to shock and then to open-mouthed fear. Ruddy good health drained from their cheeks and was replaced by a pallor the likes of which I'd only seen them have during triggering episodes.

Cullen chewed his lip, Fitz-Roy looked like someone had just spit in his pudding, Rhys-Jones tugged at the fabric of his trousers and the other men looked to be hovering between being ill and needing a gasper.

Well, I hadn't expected cheers and somersaults.

For a long moment, no one spoke.   

"Congratulations Pritchard," Fitz-Roy said quietly into the silence. 

Low murmurs of congratulations followed. 

"No," I said, raising a hand, "sorry Pritchard, but this position is exclusively for a man who brings his own chair with him. You're the only one this doesn't apply to." I said, nodding at him. He seemed instantly relieved.

"Each one of the rest of you has an equal chance at the position. The only stipulation is that the candidate doesn't drink on the job and knows when work starts in the morning. I believe all of you can manage that." I smiled at them, hoping a small joke would lighten the mood. None of them smiled back.

 I told them more about the printing factory and what Morris and I had seen there, careful not to leave anything out.  

"So, I want you each of you to think this over carefully and tell me in the morning if you wish to apply. Mr Stevenson isn't particular, so we'll do all of the formalities here.  If everything works out, it's possible another position for a Hutch man will open up. That would be preferable, although we can not rush things." 

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