Lissa Turner kilted her thin cotton skirts and slid from the sheep-
‘Come in, it’s wonderful.’
She wriggled her toes, the stones grinding and slipping beneath her feet, and tried another step. Above her head a lapwing climbed on lazily beating wings, finishing in a dizzying display of joy in the May sky. Not always so blue in these Lakeland hills, it came as no surprise to Lissa to find it sun-
Today she was to see her mother.
All around them grew alder and silver birch, pale slender stems crowding the edge of the small gushing stream, eager perhaps to cool their own feet in the exhilarating flow from the rocky depths of the high mountains. Over the low hump of Gimmer bridge, built a century or more ago with painstaking care and not a scrap of mortar, as was the way in this part of Westmorland, she could see right along the rough track to the stile where the road divided. If she took one twisting path she would come to Broombank, her home, and where Meg and Tam lived. The other climbed up over Larkrigg Fell to the place she should live, Larkrigg Hall. The place where her mother would be preparing a special tea this very afternoon for their first meeting in years. Four years to be exact, not since just after the war when Lissa had been only seven and too young to understand anything.
But she understood now. In Lissa’s pansy eyes was more knowledge than she admitted to, certainly more than was considered good for her. Her stomach tightened into a knot of excitement. Lissa meant to enjoy this day, to wring from it every drop of pleasure she could.
‘What if you fall in?’ grumbled the boy, pausing in the act of unlacing one boot as he wondered if he would get the blame, if she did.
Lissa gave a gurgle of laughter. ‘Then I’d get wet.’ The idea at once took root and she wanted nothing more than to feel the icy water flowing and stinging over every part of her young flesh. Something tickled her toes and she wriggled them, seeing darting slivers of dark shadows race away.
‘Oh, look, there are millions of minnows here,’ she cried.
‘Don’t talk soft. Millions, my foot,’ he scoffed.
‘Catch some then, clever clogs. Bet you can’t’
‘I can.’ Lissa lifted the jam jar that had been hanging on a string about her neck and, still holding her dress with one hand, dipped it with the other into the gushing waters. The tiny fish fled. Not one was to be seen. The water that gushed into the jar was quite empty of life. ‘Oh.’ She sighed her disappointment.
‘You’re ignorant, Lissa Turner. All girls are ignorant. Can’t catch fish to save your life.’
She stopped caring about the sharp stones and swivelled about to splash him with a spray of the foaming water. ‘Yes I can!’
‘Here, give over,’ he protested and taking up a flat stone, tossed it carelessly into the beck, missing her bare feet by inches. The water splashed in great wet globs over her clean print frock and up into her face, making her gasp at its coldness.
‘Oh, you rat!’ But the imp of mischief in her could not resist retaliation, so she dipped her hands in the cold water and scooped up great washes of it. Though she aimed at the boy, laughing on the shore, she soaked herself more than him.
‘Nick, we could go for a swim. A real one. Why don’t we?’ She was breathless suddenly with the unexpectedness of her idea, eyes shining with excitement. Why hadn’t she thought of it before? The perfect way to celebrate a special day.
‘We can’t go for a swim.’ The boy sounded contemptuous, as if she was wrong in the head. ‘You know we’re not allowed to go alone up to the tarn.’
‘And our Daniel can’t swim yet.’
‘I can too,’ came a piping voice from some yards away but neither of them took any notice of the smaller boy, knee-
‘Anyroad, Miss Clever-
‘She’s not a witch,’ Lissa hotly protested, uncertainty in her voice.’ She’s my grandmother so how can she be a witch?’
Nick put on his superior expression.’ If she is, how come you’ve never been to see her before then?’
Lissa desperately searched her mind for a reason. Not for the world would she admit the truth, that her grandmother would have nothing to do with her. Any story was better than that.