‘I think this could all be a horrible mistake.’
The two girls stood in the bare cobbled yard, a warm breeze riffling their thin shirts and blue denims, a battery of suitcases at their feet. It would have been plain to an observer, had there been one present, that they were not happy. One, rather small and softly rounded with short brown hair clipped steadfastly behind her ears, was almost weeping. The other, a mass of black curls bristling with temper, violet-
‘There’s no one in I tell you.’ Sarah hammered for the fourth time on the solid oak door. It was low with an oak lintel above and a threshwood below, leading into the ‘hallan’ or hall where animal feed might once have been stored but now was no doubt full of old coats and muddy boots. Sarah shuddered. Not her sort of place at all. What on earth was she doing here? ‘Didn’t you tell them when we’d be arriving?’
‘You can’t have done. Incompetent as ever, Beth. Don’t deny it.’ The taxi which had deposited the twins with their luggage in the yard of Broombank farm was rapidly disappearing down the long winding lane as Sarah beat on the unyielding door. Losing patience she set off round the back of the house to seek another while Beth emitted a sigh of relief, gazing about her in awed wonder. Lakeland was greeting them with one of her rare and perfect days in late May. Painted blue sky, clouds like white socks sauntering over the distant peaks, and closer at hand the soft bleating of contented sheep cropping impossibly green grass.
Broombank was looking at its best, the spiky bushes which gave the farm its name a blaze of gold on the lower slopes of Dundale Knot. Had she been more conversant with Lakeland weather she might have noticed cumulus clouds banking up on the horizon, but was too absorbed fighting the guilt which Sarah’s sulks always brought out in her.
Beth dug her toes into the cracks of the dry-
She’d forgotten it would be like this. So wild, so remote, so utterly beautiful. She could feel its beauty already soothing her and wondered why Sarah could not appreciate its majesty. But then Sarah was not in the mood to think of anything but her own discomfort. When was she ever?
Yet it was she, Beth, who had the greater reason to be miserable. Less than two months ago she’d been sitting at her dressing table in a white bridal gown, hand stitched by Miss Lester of Boston, when Derry had walked in.
Beth remembered she’d been dabbing at her nose with a powder puff for the umpteenth time, since it always turned rosy when she was excited. She’d felt giddy and carefree, filled with joy, her grey-
‘You don’t look half bad,’ Sarah was saying. ‘Though that dress would suit me far better. The train is a touch too long for your dumpy figure, darling, and white is not your colour.’
Beth could recall laughing at her sister’s outrageous vanity, untroubled by gnawing jealousy for once as she caught her stepfather’s gaze through the glass. She was about to laughingly beg his support, which he always readily gave to both girls in their numerous and petty squabbles, when something in his expression stopped the words on her parted lips. She could even now recall how she’d stared at him transfixed, like a rabbit caught in the glare of a searchlight.
‘It’s Jeremy, isn’t it?’ A tiny, breathless whisper, visions of some horrific car crash or similar disaster echoing in it. The room had seemed to turn ice cold.
‘I’m afraid so, my precious,’ then taking hold of both her hands told her she needed to be very brave. Yet her mind had simply refused to absorb those terrible words. When he’d stopped speaking she’d continued to sit there, a trusting smile of disbelief on her coral pink lips.
Downstairs, family and friends waited for the wedding to begin. The hum of their voices, the trill of laughter, the strains of a lilting tune as someone tinkered with the piano keys filtered through into her stunned mind. While out on the lawn, white painted chairs stood neatly in rows.
But there was to be no wedding. Not now. Not ever. Simply this dreadful humiliation.