the door on the ground floor, three windows above and a grey slate roof which was glinting now in themorning sun, crowning the house with silver.The sound of a quad-
bike’s engine made her turn and across the valley on the hillside opposite she could
see her husband Bill taking a trailer of feed out to the pregnant ewes which were bundling along behindhim as fast as their woolly bulk permitted, the collie Meg rushing round importantly at their heelsalthough in fact no herding was needed. Bill stopped the bike and jumped off, a big man, solidly built,though he had kept himself fit and still looked too young to have just celebrated his forty-third birthday.There was a thick ground-
mist which suggested that the sunshine wouldn’t last for long, but it gave an
unearthly beauty to the landscape where the shoulders of the soft hills seemed draped in glisteninggauze and the tops of bare trees emerged spikily from a swirling lake of vapour. She allowed herself amoment to admire the place she had known and loved all her life
‘God’s private backyard’, as her
father described this tranquil corner of Scotland, bypassed by the busy world.
‘Mum! Mum!’ Her reverie was broken by Catriona’s agitated shout from the farmhouse door. ‘Hurry up!We’re going to be late!’ A conscientious eleven
-year-old, Cat lived in a state of permanent terror thatshe might make herself conspicuous by some appalling transgression like being a couple of minutes latefor school.
‘Just coming,’ her mother called over her shoulder. ‘Round up Cammie, will you?’ Cameron would no
doubt have to be prised away from his GameBoy; at nine, his mind was untroubled by any tediousconsiderations of duty.Putting two fingers to the corners of her mouth, she emitted an ear-splitting whistle which echoedacross the valley. Bill looked up; she waved goodbye and as he sketched a salute in response, turned andplodded back to the house. She wiped her boots on the hedgehog scrubber by the mud-room door, then
went in to pull them off and stack them on the wire shelf which ran along one wall. Cammie’s boots
were, of course, lying on the tiled floor; she tidied them automatically as she passed, padding in herthick woolly socks through to the kitchen.Cammie was sitting in the sagging armchair beside the elderly Aga, the inevitable GameBoy in his hands.
Cat was trying without success to pull it away from him; she had her father’s fair hai
r but was slim andlong-legged, while Cammie, big-boned, tall for his age and already a star in the local mini-rugby team,
certainly took his build from the paternal line although he had dark hair and eyes like his mother’s.
‘Geroff!’ he was complaining, shrugging Cat away. ‘I’m just finishing this one game, so chill, OK?’
‘We’ll be late! Mum, make him—’
‘Cat, it’ll be quicker to let him finish. Cammie, see you’re at the front door, ready, in three minutes oryou don’t see that thing again for twenty
‘Sure, sure,’ he grumbled, getting up and walking towards the cloakroom, still clicking, while his sister