Yes, I do love Catherine Cookson books :P or at least the ones that make for TV. Hence all the historical inaccuracies etc, because I work, and cannot be bothered to come home and research. (not that I did any when I was unemployed).
Dean takes his belongings along in a flour sack, his one spare shirt (one of his father's cut down) tin cup, razor and rolled up socks. The journey from his family's home in the hamlet to the big house out over the fells is a long one, almost twenty miles, and by the time he gets there his feet are so sore he winces with every step.
His home was a three room cottage with its own paddock and cattle wade, a bit of ground for vegetables, a beehive. There were no cattle, no bees, and vegetables planted, but they had the land. Their father had let it go since their mother had died, giving birth to the third brother who was even now rotting at the margin of the churchyard. Between them, Sam and Dean had just about managed to bring in that year's planting and sell off the cattle. Now they had nothing left to sell, or pawn, or trade. Their family was flat broke and John had decided that, now that he was alone, he could only support one of his boys. So, Sam would stay behind with John and sell up the cottage, buy a little piece of the land they were cutting out of the hills thirty miles away.
Dean was going to be a hired hand until things picked up.
The big house was actually the home of the Milton family, and Dean had heard a lot about them because they were the only thing anyone in the hamlet, or the villages nearby, ever talked about. Specifically, the story of the youngest son had been passed around and around for years, it was the only ghost story anyone ever told.
The big house in an ivy covered monstrosity, in miles of land and grounds. Dean comes up the gravel walk towards the huge iron studded double doors. It looks more like a fortress than a house.
At the door, there's the man his father set him on with, Robert Singer, the grounds keeper. Dean's going to be working for him, keeping the grounds tidy, bringing fowl and fish in for the cooks, harvesting vegetables and carting goods to market.
"Room's this way," Singer says, taking Dean around the back of the house, and to where the stables are. Over the hay filled stalls, with the sweetish smell of horse shit in the air, is a loft with a compartment spaced off with planks. Inside the little three walled space is smell like pine and leather, and Dean can still hear the horses when he's sitting on the rough wood that he's going to be sleeping on.
"You have your meals in the kitchen, there's a room for staff just off it. You get paid at the end of every year, work five 'till eight, and don't think there's nothing to do once the sun's down, because I will find you something. There's always something around here."
Robert looks him over, "well, at least your father brought you up polite. It's Bobby, but it's Singer if anyone from the house is around. That's another thing, don't talk out of turn around the family, or get in their way at all. There's a mean streak a mile wide in the Milton blood, and you don't want that on you."
Dean nodded. Any family that could do that to their own kin was a family he didn't want to get on the wrong side of.
As if reading his mind, Bobby eased himself into a seat on a bale of straw.
"You've heard the stories?"
"Do I need to tell you not to mention it?"
"Good. Because it doesn't pay to ask questions, or even think them, not around here. But, I will tell you one thing. On a full moon night, lock the door to this place tight as you can, and place this by the door."
He passed Dean a scrap of paper with a rough image on it.
"Scratch it in the dirt, or chalk it over your bed, just don't go to sleep without it."
Bobby shook his head. "All I know is, I'm the oldest member of the staff, and I was given this sign to protect me from the evils of this house. They never told me why, save that it had to be done." Bobby clasped his hands and looked at them. "Only one person I know of has ever disobeyed, and she was found the next morning in the hallway of the west wing, dead as dust."
Dean shivered, and felt the terrible loneliness of this new life close around him. Had he been with Sam, he could have made a joke of the house's bizarre history, the way he had done all his life. But, alone and friendless, he was afraid, as if he'd never before heard about the Miltons. He clutched the paper tightly in his hand.
"Don't go scaring yourself," Bobby advised, "use the signs, you'll be safe. I've worked here twenty years, and nothing bad has befallen me."
Dean didn't say anything, but he thought that twenty years at the Milton house seemed bad enough.
He ate his dinner that night with the rest of the staff, Bobby sat at the head of the rough trestle table, the cook, Ellen, and the skivvy, Rebecca, were next to him. Josephine and Ruby, the maids, kept to themselves, giggling and swapping stories of the things they'd seen upstairs. There was one other man on staff, besides Bobby, and that was Garth, the groom. For such a large house, the staff was barely above what Dean would expect of a mid-sized mill. He said nothing, but it added to the feeling of abandonment and strangeness that he felt emanating from the house.
That night, he went to bed on a straw pallet in the hay loft, listening to the horses breathing and stamping in the darkness below. He missed Sam and his father, missed the sounds their house made, and the smells it had. Everything felt terrible and unfamiliar.
At every sound he started, and, though it was a new moon, he dug out the scrap of paper, and practiced the sign on it, over and over again.
The worst moment came when he had to get up in the small hours to relieve himself outside. He walked, heart in his mouth around to the back of the building, and pissed into the weeds on the bit of ground by the end of the kitchen garden. Walking back, eyes wide to take in the almost non-existent light, starting at every shadow, every sound, he glanced up at the hulking shape of the house that stood over him. The leaded windows like dark jewels, and the almost black veins of ivy hanging over it. It looked like an elaborate mausoleum.
Dean stopped, his heart shot through with cold iron.
There's a face looking down at him. Pale, a smudge behind one of the windows on the top floor, but it's there, and the two dark hollows of its eyes are fixed on him.
He can't move, can hardly breathe, all he can think is that, whoever it is that is looking out on him, they do not wish him well. The face doesn't turn away, but moves back from the glass, as its owner draws back from the glass, slowly and silently.
Dean runs to the barn, bolts the door, and, as big as he can, he scrawls the sign on the straw covered dirt.