To disappear while walking on the moor was not unheard of in these parts. In fact Henbrooke Moor had once been notorious but in recent years, not so much.
Jago Willard had his own thoughts on the subject. The disappearances he’d studied had one thing in common, they had all been unhappy with their lives on Henbrooke Moor.
A few may have been wandering along lost in their misery and just kept walking. Some of course would have met with foul play that had already been proven in the past. But Jago honestly believed that most folk had just gone to make a new start in another part of the world.
At this time of the year the moor was beautiful there were wild flowers in abundance, right to the edge of the cliffs where the seagulls swooped and dived. This was somewhere Jago spent a lot of his time painting the endless beauty. Each canvas captured the essence of the moment in time.
Jago lived at the southern end of the moor in the family’s old farm house. It was a ram shackled ancient building but it was home and it was comfortable.
In years gone by smuggling had been rife in the area and Jago’s family had been raided many times by the authorities because of the house’s closeness to the cove below the cliffs. Nothing had ever been found but then they hadn’t known where to look. A slow smile would spread over Jago’s face when he remembered the tales his grandfather had told. These days he was lucky if he saw anyone in these parts and that’s the way he liked it.
The roar of the ocean lulled him to sleep every night and in the morning a wet nose on his cheek was his alarm clock. Benson his trusty Labrador and sole companion was never late. No matter what the weather he still wanted his walk. This morning being no different with the rain pouring down.
Jago dragged himself out of bed; he’d had a bad night. He’d tossed and turned but sleep had eluded him. The last time Jago looked at the clock it had been three thirty. That was when he heard the first drops of rain.
“I need a hot drink before I venture out with you, Benson.” He opened the back door to let the excited Benson out to water a bush or two.
Jago put the kettle on to boil while he got dressed. He splashed hi face with cold water in the bathroom. The water pressure has dropped again. He made a mental note to pump water from the well up to the holding tank later in the day.
The morning walk always took the same route ending up at the village shop to pick up the daily newspaper.
The village of Henbrooke was a typical country outpost. It had one of everything that was essential so choice was sparse in a lot of things. For anything more that this it was an hour long drive to the city.
Flora Granger always had a bowl of water ready for Benson and a cup of tea for Jago plus the Flora catch up conversation of the previous day’s happenings in Henbrooke.
“They found a body yesterday afternoon,” she said, busy herself with Jago’s shopping list. “I’ve only got a large jar of coffee till next week, will that do?”
“Oh yes, Flora, that will be fine. Do they know who it is?”
“No, not yet, it was more of a skeleton than a body according to Doris’s hubby.”
“Who found it? Hikers?”
“Yes, a group from the college came out early yesterday.”
“Oh well, that’s one more to cross off the list. How much do I owe you?”
“Can you change fifty?”
“No, I’m short on change. I’ll give it to you tomorrow.” Jago gave her the fifty.
“See you tomorrow then. Thanks for the tea. Come on Benson.”
Benson had one more stop to make to get his daily biscuit from Millie Jones so he raced off ahead of Jago.
When Jago caught up with him he found a dejected dog sitting in front of a closed door.
“Well there you go, Benson, I told you before that you can never rely on women.” Jago knocked on the door, it opened and there stood a very distraught Millie.
“Can you spare a few minutes, Jago?” she moved aside to let him in. “You’ve heard about the body? I think its Matthew”
“What makes you think that?”
“I had a feeling of dread all day yesterday afternoon, my stomach rolled and rolled.”
“I still don’t know why you would think its Matthew. We both know you received a letter from Australia saying he was there to make a new life.”
“How do we know it was really from him?”
“Of course it was, why would anyone else send a letter like that?”
“I don’t know, Jago, why did he run off like that? I thought we were fine and happy.”
“Bridie disappeared around the same time and they’ve never found her. I always thought she ran off with the insurance fellow that was staying at the Fox and Hounds. That little bitch was supposed to be mine. When Bridie disappeared she had my mother’s locket around her neck. It was in lieu of an engagement ring.”
“Oh dear, I wish I knew for sure,” said Millie gazing off into nowhere.
“Perhaps we’ll never know, Millie. Now, I have to get home. I’ve got things to do.”
“Here you are Benson.” Millie gave him his patiently waited for biscuit.
Jago walked home with an uneasy mind. What if things hadn’t gone as he’d thought? Overtime his thoughts had become fact in his mind, like a safety net making things okay. A parcel all tidied away in its place.
Next morning Jago learned from Flora that more remains had been found, of another body. They had been found in the same hole.
“The moor is giving up some of its secrets, it seems,” said Flora.
“I’ve often thought that most of the disappearing folk had gone overseas to start a new life.”
“Well there’s two more been found that didn’t get away. Here’s your change from yesterday.”
“Thanks, Flora, see you tomorrow. Come on Benson, let’s see if there’s a biscuit waiting for you at Millie’s.”
The front door was ajar so Jago called out,
“Millie are you home?” Benson nudged the door open and padded inside. “Benson! Where are your manners?”
Jago heard Benson whining, something was wrong. He came back to Jago and barked. Jago followed Benson through the house. He found Millie hanging from the old meat safe gang hook in the out- house.
“Oh God! Millie, whatever made you do this?” Jago knew he’d never get her down on his own she was too big a woman. Who would be the nearest he could call? He went to the kitchen to phone Flora. She’d know who to get.
On the kitchen table he saw his mother’s locket with a note beside it. ‘Oh Millie what have you done?’ He read the note:-
‘Jago, I know you will be the one to find me. I found out that Bridie was a three timing little bitch. She was never true to you, as I found out by smelling her cheap perfume regularly on Matthew’s jumper and then there was the insurance man. Australia was where I wanted to go to make a fresh start away from her but Mathew said no. My life has never been as I’d hoped for. I always had to worship you from afar Jago, my love.’
The Australian Literature Review