Authors: Emma Lorant
C L O N E R
Emma Lorant: Tessa Lorant Warburg with Madeleine Warburg
Copyright © Tessa E Warburg 1993 for
Cradle of Secrets
Copyright © Tessa Lorant Warburg 2013 for e-book entitled
Copyright © Tessa Lorant Warburg 2013 for
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be in any way reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without prior permission from the copyright holder
This is a work of fiction. The characters and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination
To Colin and Richard, the wish come true
Table of Contents
It was when she found the four-leaf clover that Lisa Wildmore knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that she’d give birth to twins. What Lisa did not, could not, know was that that would just be the beginning.
She was walking Seb to Crinsley Farm for his first birthday party. Meg Graftley had absolutely insisted on it.
‘Born and bred in Lodsham,’ she’d laughed at them both, brown eyes twinkling, sleeves rolled up above her elbows. ‘That do call for a proper Somerset cream tea. Come along about four, when us be finished with churning butter.’
Seb’s legs dangled over Lisa’s bare shoulders. She clasped his hands and jogged him to their gate. Alec would be driving them back. No need to trundle the pushchair the long way round by road.
‘Look at that, Seb!’ Lisa called to her little boy, amused, as a lone duck plodded heavily along the road in front of their drive. ‘Look at that big fat duck!’
The drab bird turned to squawk annoyance, two V-shapes of open beak exploding curses at them, the flailing wings threatening attack.
‘Quack, quack; quack, quack!’ Lisa parroted, bouncing Seb up and down but keeping well out of the bird’s way. Beady eyes gleamed as the duck ruffled her feathers towards them. Lisa retreated hastily behind their wrought-iron gate.
‘Not being very nice, is she?’ Lisa asked Seb. ‘I always thought ducks were supposed to be friendly.’
A squeal of brakes made Lisa wince. The passing motorist slowed down for just a moment, swerved a wide curve towards the gate and away again, then revved up and roared off. To Lisa’s astonishment there was no flurry of scattered feathers, no limp body to be seen. The large and angry bird had disappeared. In its place she saw two ordinary farm ducks waddling contentedly along the road.
All the same, Lisa thought heatedly, the locals drive too fast. Some of the feedstuff lorries clattered along these meandering lanes at outrageous speeds.
‘Best jump on they verges,’ Meg had suggested, right from the start, when they’d first met Meg and Frank Graftley, running the farm across the field from them. ‘They drivers don’t go too near them rhynes if them can help it.’
‘You mean they’re afraid of drowning in those ditches?’ Lisa had wanted to know. ‘I’ve never seen much water in them.’
‘Well,’ Meg had shifted her eyes away, ‘that do depend. We’ve had mostly fair weather since you be settled here. There can be some nasty mishaps at times.’ Her face had brightened slightly, though Lisa had noted the lines around her mouth were deep with tension. ‘That’s mostly if a driver’s had a jar too many,’ Meg went on, her shoulders more relaxed. ‘What really worries ’em is they banks giving way when wet; the milk tankers’ll slip right in. Devil of a job to get they out again.’
Today, Lisa told herself briskly, pushing unwelcome thoughts away, was a red-letter day. She wanted to savour it, to walk with her little boy who had just learned to do so. Seb was a toddler now. She was the mother of a child; she’d brought him safely through babyhood. That first year had been hard work, but the rewards were all she’d hoped for. She radiated happiness.
Scanning right, left, right Lisa shut their gate, darted across the road and stepped the few yards more towards the metal field gate. Splinters of cracking paint spiked her fingers as she undid the latch. She could already see the chimneys of Frank Graftley’s farm, embraced by willows sifting the wind, four hundred yards across the moor.
Lisa squeaked the old five-bar open and walked through. She turned to click the bolt and caught sight of her home. The large late Victorian house she and Alec had bought nearly two years ago perched serene and confident on its little knoll. Mellow red brick, a slate roof, tall chimney stacks; it was set high above the wetlands to avoid winter floods.
‘A square house,’ Rex Smollett, the local builder, had pronounced it approvingly. Somerset dialect for solid, she and Alec had gathered. ‘Plenty of space for a good-sized family,’ the builder had added, eyeing Lisa’s slim body.
Much later Lisa was to realise that it had all started then, almost from the moment when they first arrived. The omens were there, if she’d only known how to interpret them. A jungle of elders had overshadowed their long drive, twisting, menacing. Some said elder was the tree Judas hanged himself on. The juice of elderberries stripped by birds had stained the drive a bloody red, a darker liquid oozing out as the Audi’s tyres crushed them. Alec had arranged for the landscape gardeners to uproot the unsightly hedge as soon as possible.
‘You don’t want to cut they down,’ Rex had warned them, reverting to the vernacular, a curiously urgent tone edging his voice. ‘Them be a good safeguard.’
Rex, remembering himself, had looked uncomfortable. ‘It’s only an old saying,’ he’d muttered. ‘Now these here drains…’
‘A safeguard against what?’
He’d shrugged broad shoulders. ‘Witches,’ he’d mumbled. ‘Spells and suchlike. As I were saying – ’
‘But I thought the Witch Laws were repealed in 1954.’ Alec had smiled that rather condescending smirk Lisa could do without.
‘Witch Laws?’ Rex had repeated scornfully. ‘Which laws, more like. Laws don’t matter; you can’t never be sure what they get up to on the moor,’ he went on, looking glum. ‘There be a tarring and feathering in my old dad’s time,’ he said. ‘I don’t live on the moor, now. I live in Glastonbury.’
a feeling of a bygone age in the village. Lisa could sense it, hovering, like the white mist which often ghosted the Levels.
She giggled nervously, thinking back. Seb joined in with her, kicking his little legs. Lisa began to tire and eased him on to the low stone wall built on to a little hump-backed bridge. A sea of green to cross before they reached the next field. Grass pollen rose in clouds as they waded through. Nothing but sedgemoor stretching as far as the eye could see, and only Glastonbury Tor, crowned by St Michael’s tower, to break the flat landscape. All permanent pasture, the ancient wetlands drained by willow-fringed rhynes first dug around two hundred and fifty years ago. They edged the roads and skirted the fields, trickling their waters into wide straight drains, then on into the rivers. But the tougher sedge grasses had long gone, eradicated by modern weed killers.
Lisa coaxed her little boy on, walking him slowly, patiently, through the tall sweet-smelling grasses. Her hands idled through meadow foxtails, Yorkshire fog and the abundant velvet bent, all in full bloom. She flicked thumb and forefinger across the seed heads just beginning to form, enjoying the sensation of juicy kernels digging into delicate finger tips. Sow thistles speared yellow everywhere, and blue cornflowers glinted through the hazy brown-crimson of flowering knapweed heads. Frank Graftley was cherishing an old-fashioned sward, profuse with local wildflowers.
‘No fertilisers in t’home meadow,’ he’d told Alec earnestly when they’d first really got to know the Graftley family, early last year. ‘Not even organic ones. We be keeping this meadow just the way my old granddad kept un.’
‘Only one cut of hay,’ Meg had explained to Lisa. ‘Later, when the season’s getting on.’ The farmer’s wife had screwed perceptive eyes into her slow widening smile as she walked Lisa round her henhouse. ‘Here, have a dozen; we got that many.’
Meg kept the eggs from her special flock of Rhode Island Reds for her own family. ‘We give a few to neighbours,’ she’d told Lisa. ‘But we don’t sell they.’
Lisa had basked in the warm glow of friendship.
‘The wildflowers be really coming on,’ Meg had said. ‘And there’s that many butterflies.’
Lisa felt established here, walking her little boy through the Graftley meadow on a glorious late-summer day. She thought there could be no greater happiness in all the world: Sebastian’s first birthday, another baby on the way.
The peaceful drone of bees gathering nectar mingled with Seb’s little shouts of delight. ‘’Ut’er’y.’ Seb clapped his hands while a painted lady butterfly sailed serenely past his nose. ‘’Etty.’
The meadow was alive with the beautiful insects. Small tortoiseshells, settled on cornflowers, teetered drunk with nectar.
‘Butterfly, Seb.’ Lisa moved to the side of the meadow and sank thankfully on to a hummock at the edge, a sudden heaviness in her legs confirming her new pregnancy. She watched her first-born crawl, grasping ineffectually at two slow drifting scarlet admirals. Meg was quite right; the luxuriant growth was attracting masses of fluttering insects. A great flock of high brown fritillaries soared up as Seb stood and blundered further into the meadow. The butterflies seemed to be everywhere, flaps of warm umber speckled brown waving against the light, flying a halo around him. Enveloped in beauty, Lisa thought tenderly, eyes soft with love for her son. They hardened into surprise as she saw Seb standing up, his chubby fingers crumpling cinnamon wings.
‘’Utter’ly,’ Seb said.
The child balanced uncertainly on buckling legs, both hands now grasping the flailing wings. The furry wormlike body between them looked bloated, almost twice its normal width. Seb’s fingers trickled a yellow liquid as the body throbbed and broadened. Lisa gasped to see the butterfly appear to split in two. Brown-flecked wings twirled out and whirred.
,’ Seb insisted, pulling his hands apart. He was holding a fritillary in each hand, wings beating, flapping against small fingers.
‘Let them go!’ Lisa cried out. ‘You’ll kill them, Seb,’ she said, lowering her voice, wondering why she was so distraught. The child must have chanced across a mating pair and separated them. She brushed aside the fleeting impression that both insects had been males as she irritably waved overhanging clouds of butterflies away. They seemed dense enough to cast shadows, almost obscuring the intense sunlight with their outstretched wings.
‘Let’s clean your fingers on this tuft.’ Breathing deeply to calm herself, Lisa used grass to clean off the worst of the yellow mess, then used her handkerchief on the rest. She pulled the little boy back to the meadow edge with her and sank down again, kissing his curls, cuddling him close to her.
A soft breeze stirred the grasses into graceful dance. Lisa looked up and around; a billow of woolpack cumulus crossed the blazing sun, darkening patches of meadow, saturating greens into viridian and jade. Yellowing willow leaves, first signs of autumn, feathered on to rhyne water, floated, then sank away to mud.
Seb twisted away from Lisa and teetered back into the meadow. She noticed a large rabbit near the child, standing on his hind legs, long ears erect, unblinking eyes. A buck, she supposed, he was so enormous. The eyes glittered bright, fixed steadily ahead, completely unafraid. As Lisa stared, astonished at how close the animal stayed, she noticed several more. All the same size, all simply standing there, staring with gleaming eyes. She felt a tremor of unease, a momentary fear.
‘’Unnies,’ Seb prattled, stretching a hand towards the furry shape nearest to him.
Lisa was nervous of his touching them. Those eyes glowed mean and, somehow, menacing. She clapped her hands to chase the animals off. At first they didn’t move, just glared at her. Then, relieved, she saw the whole warren scatter away.
Relaxed once more, Lisa sank back and looked around. Lush clover, beloved by the clouded yellow butterflies, was growing near her feet. Red clover heads swayed drunkenly above the fine sheep’s fescue and a thicket of trefoil leaves. Lisa tossed her sandals off and examined the leaves. Each one, three lobes of vivid green, seemed to wink at her. So fresh-looking, so healthy, she thought.
She looked past the barbed wire fence which separated the meadow from the field beyond and her eyes, bored with green, searched colour. Flecks of creamy white seemed to beckon to her as she became aware of slightly different vegetation - white-veined clover leaves, larger, almost gross, growing in clumps a little further off, right where the meadow edged on to Frank’s trial pasture. Lovely, unusual, she thought vaguely as she caught sight of an especially large clump of leaves growing by the barbed wire.