Bethany stared around in disbelief. What she had seen in that very spot, just two days ago, was all gone. The little house and the shed which had been William’s workshop had disappeared. There was no sign of the neat vegetable patch or the chicken run. The glade was overgrown with long tufts of grass, wildflowers and brambles. It was as if William and Ellen had never existed. She paced around the site chewing her thumb. Then she spotted a line of weathered, grey stones, some rough-hewn planks of wood and a large iron ring. But how could this be?
Bryony set the basket down on a pile of stones and watched as her sister crouched down to examine something. “I don’t understand,” Bethany said as she stood up.
“This can’t be the place. You must’ve taken the wrong path.
“Look, there was a wall here, and this would have been the door.” Bethany pointed.
“These are ruins, Beth. They must be hundreds of years old.” Bryony ran her hand over the worn stonework. It was clear that there had been a building here but not for a very long time. “Let’s go back. You said you weren’t sure which way it was.”
“No, I’m sure this is the place.”
“I don’t see how it can be though.”
“I’m sure!” Bethany stamped her foot. “Don’t you believe me?”
“I’m not saying that. It’s just… impossible.” Bryony went over to the basket and took at the bottles of lemonade. She twisted the cork from one and handed it to Bethany. “Let’s just sit down and have something to drink.”
They sat together with their backs resting against the old worn stones, sipping the not quite too sweet lemonade. Bryony closed her eyes feeling the sun on her face. Wherever it was, this place which Beth had found… she drifted off into her imagination.
Bryony came to with a jolt. A cry had disturbed her. Bethany’s half-empty lemonade was propped up against the stones where she’d been sitting, but there was no sign of her. Bryony got to her feet; she heard the cry again. Bethany! Holding her skirts up out of the way of the brambles, Bryony ran as fast as she could in the direction of the sound. It was the way they had come. To her relief she saw her sister; but what was she doing?
Bethany was standing on a fallen log. She was teetering as though she was trying to keep her balance, rocking backwards and forwards with her arms stretched out in front of her. The front of her pinafore was speckled with leaves and bits of sticks. Bryony watched her screw up her eyes. In the next moment she launched herself off the log, hitting the ground with a thump.
Bryony ran up. Her sister was lying on the ground, completely still, her long golden hair pooled around her head. Bryony gently pulled the hair away from her face. “Beth, are you all right?”
Bethany raised her head sharply and turned to her sister, he face screwed up with frustration. “Oh Brynee, you spoilt it. Now I’m going to have to do it all over again.” Bethany rolled over and sat up, brushing the debris from her hands. She jumped up and leapt onto the log again.
“Stop!” Bryony stood in front of her putting her hands up to bar her way. “Come down at once. Whatever are you doing?” She held out her hand. “Come on.”
Bethany stuck out her bottom lip and jumped down. “You know you sound just like Hodge.”
Bryony opened her mouth and shut it again. She shook her head.
“Just let me try again.”
“No. At least, not until you tell me what you’re doing.”
Bethany sat down on the log. “You know I’m sure this is the way I came. I remember running into this log and falling. You see I was watching where the rabbit was going and I didn’t notice it until it was too late. I managed to sort of get halfway over, but then I fell down. I seemed to be falling for a long time.” She looked up at her sister. “I told you, remember?”
“I remember you saying that you’d fallen. I was surprised that you weren’t covered in grass stains and whatever…like you are now.”
Bethany looked down and brushed at the front of her pinafore. It was really rather grubby. She looked up grinning sheepishly, then flapped her hands up and down in front of her face. “Oh never mind.”
Bethany rolled her eyes. “Well, anyway. I was trying to explain.”
Bryony was ahead of her though. “You thought if you did the same thing as last time, you’d…”
“…end up back where I’d been before.” Bethany finished, nodding her head vigorously.
“Just a moment…oh…” Bryony shook her head. “It can’t be…but…” She sat down on the log.
“It’s like in Narnia, you know, like going through the back of the wardrobe.” The two sisters looked at each other.
“But that isn’t real. It’s just a story.”
“I suppose so.” Bethany sat on the log frowning. “But there must be a way.”
Bryony shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s a mystery.” She turned to look at her sister. “You just could’ve taken a wrong turning of course. That is a better explanation, don’t you think?”
It was Bethany’s turn to shrug.
“Do you want to try looking around a bit more?”
“Actually, I think I’d rather have some lunch.”
After the girls had finished eating, Bryony carefully packed the empty lemonade bottles and sandwich wrappings into the basket. “What shall we do now?”
“I don’t know.” Bethany was still downcast.
“Come on, let’s go back to the glade and pick some bluebells for Hodge. It might take some of the wind out of her sails when she sees what you’ve done here.” Bryony prodded her sister’s grubby pinafore.
Bethany frowned as she looked down at herself. She nodded. “Yes, let’s.” She took one last look around and followed Bryony who was striding back up the path swinging the basket as she walked, grateful that she’d made an attempt to mark the way by knotting some of the long strands of grass together every so often along the path. All the woodland was deceptively similar looking, and it would be easy to get lost.
But lost they became. Unfortunately, Bryony’s efforts at marking the way had started too late and after they ran out, it wasn’t long before they realised they had no idea where they were. Each time they struck out in a different direction, sure that the bluebell glade must be this way, they ended up back at the same crossroads in the path which they were both certain they hadn’t passed on the way from the glade to the clearing.
“We must be going round in circles.” Bryony leaned on the truck of a slim rowan tree, just as she had done the previous time. “This is the same tree, isn’t it?” She pointed to a pile of white petals at the foot of the trunk. “That’s where I pulled on that branch.
“What are we going to do?” Bethany’s bottom lip started to quiver.
“We just have to be methodical.”
“Well, let’s just think for a moment.” Bryony looked up through the tree canopy. “It’s past the middle of the day, so the sun will be over in the west,” she said, turning to her left in the direction of the sun. She closed her eyes. Now the wood is to the west of Bluebell Wood House, the sun sets over the orchard, doesn’t it?” Bethany nodded. “So,” continued Bryony. “We need to go east, keeping the sun behind us.” Bethany nodded again. “It’s just like it says in that handbook of Papa’s. You know, the one that’s meant for boys.”
Bryony checked her bearings again and took Bethany firmly by the hand. As they pressed on through the trees she stopped at intervals looking up to make sure the sun was still at their backs. They’d walked for some time without returning to the rowan tree and Bryony was becoming more confident that her strategy was working. Then without any warning a shot rang out. Both girls screamed. Then another shot, louder this time. A huge grey rabbit with a green tinge to his fur hurtled out of the underground. Alarmed, the girls followed, charging though the woodland away from the gunshots.
Eventually Bryony was forced to stop running, bending over with a stitch in her side. Bethany came to halt behind her. “Look Brynee,” we’ve found the bluebells.
Sure enough they were standing at the edge of the bluebell glade. The rabbit was perched on the fallen log. He looked at them with his head on one side, and then hopped off into a tangle of brambles. Bethany started towards him, but Bryony put out a restraining hand. She looked over her shoulder. “I think that perhaps we should be getting back.”
“What about the bluebells?”
“All right, but if we hear any more shots we leave straight away.”
The present of the bluebells went some way to placate Hodge when they arrived home. But she wasn’t very happy about the state of Bethany’s pinafore or the loss of the picnic basket. With a great deal of ‘humph-ing’ she’d unbuttoned the offending pinafore before marching off to the scullery to put it in to soak.
Bryony was just wondering how to explain how they’d come to leave the basket behind when Tom came through the kitchen door. He looked at the girls. “And where have you been?”
“Just up by the orchard, playing hide and seek.” Bryony answered quickly.
“That’s funny because I found this when I was shooting rabbits in the woods.” He held up the basket.
“Oh, did you see the big green rabbit?” asked Bethany. “You didn’t hurt it did you?” she added anxiously.
“No it got away, great big rabbit too. You’re right Miss Bethany, it looked like it had green fur, but it must’ve been a trick of the light.” Tom paused. “Now,” he said pointing his finger at both girls in turn and putting on his sternest face. “You both know very well about going into the woods. I could’ve shot one of ye.”
“Sorry, Tom. You won’t tell Hodge will you?” Bryony asked.
“I won’t, but only because I don’t want to worry her.”
Hodge returned from the scullery. “I’ve a good mind to make you scrub that yourself, young lady,” Hodge said crossly, looking at Bethany, “but I’ll let you off since Mr Eyre’s arriving tomorrow.” She looked across at Tom.
“I found this in…” he glanced at the girls, “…the orchard,” he said, holding up the basket.”
The two girls were on their best behaviour for the rest of the day. As they were preparing for bedtime, Bethany took the robin from its daytime perch on the bookshelf.
Bryony watched her. “Can I have another look?” Bethany handed into to her. “You said all the colours were bright when William gave it to you.”
Bryony stroked the little carving. “Perhaps it’s faded with age, like the buildings we found today.” She said thoughtfully, handing it back. Then she sighed. “I wonder what Mr Eyre will be like.”
©2019 Chris Hall
From my latest work-in-progress. What do you think? I really appreciate your feedback.