Lucy wiped the paintbrush carefully on an old rag and laid it down. She put the lid firmly back onto the paint tin, pressing it down with her foot to make sure it was closed. Then she straightened up, pushing her heavy chestnut hair back from her face with one paint-smeared hand, adding more white streaks to those that already marked her small lightly-tanned features.
'That's it, Will,' she called, 'they're all done.'
The slight wiry boy crouched on the gravel drive looked across at her and grinned. He stood up and threw his handful of weeds into the heavy galvanised bucket beside him, which was already brimming over with tufts of grass and clumps of plantain. He sauntered across the lawn to where she stood, a smile splitting his thin face as he saw how bespattered with paint she was.
'You won't have any difficulty going on the war path,' he observed.
Lucy shrugged impatiently. 'You can't make omelettes without breaking eggs,' she countered tartly, and gestured about her. 'What do you think?'
Will turned slowly round, viewing the south lawn. It was dotted with deceptively casual groups of cast-iron chairs and tables, newly painted in white. A few cedar benches, shining with freshly-applied linseed oil, were backed carefully against the beech hedge which separated the lawn from the ha-ha.
'They do look good, Lucy. What a shame we can't eat them!' He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye, and then went on hurriedly, 'But what about the rest of it?' He pointed at the molehills that showed in places through the long grass of the lawn, and at the branches arching luxuriantly from the overgrown hedge.
'Oh, that'll be alright. Bert's going to see to it all when he's finished edging the drive.'
'This year?' muttered Will, avoiding his sister's gaze as she eyed him suspiciously, not quite sure of what he had said.
'Well, anyway, the house looks fine, doesn't it?' she asked him, looking proudly across the drive to the south front of the old house. Indeed, it did look particularly attractive, with the spring sunlight warming the mellow red bricks and sparkling on the leaded windows.
'Let's hope they don't see that the windows are loose and the roof leaks,' Will said gloomily.
'Must you be so pessimistic?' Lucy snapped crossly.
Her brother was immediately repentant. 'I'm sorry. It's just that I know so well what's wrong with it. But it does really look good, and, honestly, no one else will see all the bad things, not even if they need to have their teas in the hall.'
'No, they're not likely to,' Lucy agreed, her irritation forgotten. 'It's lucky we can use it if the weather is bad.'
Will opened his mouth, and then quickly closed it again, deciding that further comment would be unwise. Lucy had not noticed, and began to run over her arrangements again.
'I've got in six different kinds of tea, so there's plenty of choice. It'll be interesting to see what people like best. They're all leaf tea, but I've got some herb and fruit tea-bags too.' She caught Will's eye as he made a face. 'You must remember how keen Heinrich was on peppermint tea after meals when he stayed here with Daddy.'
Will nodded, but did not feel he should comment. Lucy waited a second and then went on, 'You know that Tilly ran a teashop for a time. Well, she said that it wouldn't be economical to provide milk in jugs and butter in dishes, because you could never know how many people would come and when. She always used packets.' Will snorted, and Lucy nodded. 'That's what I thought, so we'll try it properly at first and see how it goes.'
She paused to consider for a minute. 'Gran is busy in the kitchen. She's promised to have the freezer full of cakes and biscuits, so that it will just be scones to make freshly. No,' she added, poking her brother in the ribs, 'she's not making them for you to eat, pig.'
'Oh, go on, Lucy, weeding that drive is killing me. I'm just about starving.'
'Well, maybe when you've finished,' she said hardheartedly, 'Gran will find you something.'
Will groaned. 'But it's going to take ages. I might just as well have stayed at Gudwal's and risked getting the lurgy. I'd probably get more to eat in the sick bay, and I wouldn't have to work so hard either.'
Lucy ignored him. 'Simon's bringing up the crockery this morning.' She glanced at her watch. 'Soon, I expect. He's being very good about it, you know. He's not charging us for the things he's made, because if we display one of his cards he's likely to get a lot more customers.' Will snorted again and Lucy turned on him angrily. 'It is good of him,' she reiterated. 'It would cost us quite a lot to pay for four dozen sets of cups, saucers and plates, let alone all the rest of the stuff.'
'He's probably trying to get round you,' Will muttered cynically. Lucy flushed. 'Why should he?' she demanded.
'Well, for a start, I bet he wants to get you on his side about this detecting business. Graham was really mad when he found him down by the lake.'
'I can't see that it matters,' Lucy retorted defiantly. 'If he does mention it, I shall tell him he can take his metal detector wherever he likes in the grounds.'
'Well, Graham won't be pleased, that's all I can say, and for once I think he's right.' Will sounded annoyed, and as a thought struck him he added darkly, 'I bet he thinks Simon's going to find the old monks' treasure.'
'It would be a good thing if he did,' Lucy declared. 'We wouldn't have to worry about all this then.' She waved her arm generally in the direction of the house.
'Huh, the only things he's ever found have been real rubbish. I wasted a whole morning going over the south field with him, and all we found were rusty old bits of metal that he said were nails from horseshoes, and bits of broken plough. Not even an old coin.' 'There you are then,' Lucy said triumphantly. 'It can't do any harm to let him look around.'
An outburst of loud barking made them both turn quickly. The door in the west kitchen wing was only slightly open, but a large black curly-haired mongrel squeezed through it and erupted into the courtyard. He rushed past them to stand barking defiantly at the green Morris van that was picking its way slowly up the gravel drive. A small brown and white spaniel came racing after the bigger dog, and stood beside him adding her shrill yapping to the general hubbub.
'I'm off,' Will said abruptly, after a quick look at the van. 'Hugh's bird-watching up on the cliffs, and he said he'd show me how to use that long-distance lens on his camera.' He turned away before his sister could say anything, and added over his shoulder, 'You'd better hang on to Juno, she can be a pest if we're busy.'
Whistling up Hades, so that the black dog came bounding eagerly after him, he strode across the lawn, skirted the beech hedge and jumped over the ha-ha, leaving Lucy to scoop up the indignant Juno and wait for the van to stop.
I wonder where he is, Will thought, slowing down once he was out of earshot of the house. He brightened up as he remembered that Hugh had mentioned the cormorants, and his step quickened as he crossed the fields towards the cliff path. The cormorants were likely to be digesting their catch and drying their wings, perched on the ridges of the Devil's Teeth like a group of prehistoric creatures.
The cliff path was separated from the fields by a low stone wall, which was patched with a natural quilt of multifarious lichens. The primroses nestling in the shelter of the wall were already opening their pale flowers in the warm sunshine, and Will noticed them as he climbed the wall, using the stones which jutted out as steps. Lucy would be pleased, he thought, she wanted flowers to put on the tables.
Although he had scrambled up the steps as a puppy, Hades disdained them now and sprang effortlessly over the wall to join his master on the cliff path. Will turned to the west and Hades bounded eagerly ahead of him, disturbing some dozy early bees which circled just above him.
The dog snuffled happily over the short turf and through the clumps of heather, his long tail waving wildly as he poked his nose into innumerable holes. Seagulls drifted in circles on the air currents above them, white against the clear blue sky. Below them the sea gleamed in facets of turquoise, emerald and sapphire, while the breakers pounded unseen rocks beneath the cliff, so that there was a constant booming roar in Will's ears and spray was flung high in a fine mist.
The cliff path rose steeply ahead of them as they approached Hope Point. Will scrambled up the zig-zag route with the ease born of long practice, passing Hades who had stopped to drink noisily at the stream that burbled down from the heights. Hades, though, did not like following in second place, and he shadowed Will closely, breathing hotly on his heels, waiting for a chance to overtake and gain the lead once more. Will soon grew tired of this and trod off the rocky path onto the springy scented thyme, allowing Hades to bound joyfully past.
They reached the more level ground at the back of the Point, and Will turned, as he always did, to look down on the valley where his home lay. The red Tudor manor house had been built by Harry Rossington when he acquired the priory and its lands from Henry viii, and now lay glowing warmly against the surrounding greenery. West and east wings sheltered the stone-flagged courtyard, where two small figures moved backwards and forwards from the green van to the large oak door in the centre of the house. When a third figure came out of the estate office in the east wing and stopped to speak to them, Will grimaced and looked beyond them.
From this angle he could not see the grandiose white Jacobean front and porch that one of his many times great-grandfathers had imposed on the north front of the house. The family had often felt grateful that he died before he had time to implement the other fashionable changes he had planned for the interior. None of his successors had shown a similar urge to alter their home, or perhaps they all had more pressing demands on their income.
North east of the house, a hint of spring green brightened the scattered clumps of oak trees protecting the home farm beyond the lake, which shone like polished steel. A narrow tree-lined brook flowed south from the lake, and circled east below the crenellated tower of the little church, which still doughtily guarded the old Cistercian priory buildings. As Will's gaze followed the line of the brook eastward alongside the back drive a flight of rooks flew raggedly in over the uneven slate roofs of the village and alighted beside the nests in the tall beeches opposite the lodge. The ensuing cawing and flurry were faintly audible where he stood.
A louder, nearer, sound of frenzied barking disturbed Will's reverie, and he spun round to see Hades at the far end of the Point. He was bouncing up and down with glee, darting ecstatically forward to lick the face of a man sitting comfortably against a large boulder. Fending off the excited dog with a tolerant arm, the man looked around and, catching sight of Will, waved to him. 'Come and keep this wild animal of yours quiet, will you?' he asked Will, as the boy approached.
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