Marked with silver

14 min read

FICTION SPECIAL

Hetty and Ellie were from different worlds – yet they were magically linked by myths and marvellous monsters

Hetty Barker tucked her hemline into her stout working boots. Then she carefully put the tools of choice into her leather belt – a trowel and her ‘digging hammer’, as she called it, though her ma called it something else.

Right on cue, her ma Judith bustled into the steaming kitchen. ‘Hetty, I asked you to watch the fire. Where do you think you’re going?’

‘To the beach, Ma,’ Hetty replied, robustly. ‘You said I could after washing all the skillets.’

‘The beach again?’ Judith sniffed. ‘You’ll get those boots in a state. Well, just don’t let Mrs Carroll see you. And is that my coal hammer?’

Hetty touched her belt. ‘You’re not s’posed to use it to break up coal, Ma.’

‘And you’re not s’posed to use it to dig up heaven knows what on a bloomin’ beach!’ clucked her ma. ‘Well, be quick about it if you’re going. I expect you back before three to lift down the drying rack. Understand?’ ‘Yes, Ma.’

Hetty was itching to be off. Although her ma didn’t understand her passion for ‘digging about on the beach’ they had reached an accommodation on the subject.

This was only because Dr Carroll, who employed her ma as a housekeeper, had expressed a passing interest in young Hetty’s ‘hobby’ and had told Judith that she should be allowed to pursue it, as long as it didn’t interfere with the completion of her household chores.

The day that Dr Carroll had taken over the big house on the cliff had changed Hetty’s life. And her ma’s.

Up to then, Ma had been a widow scratching a living from taking in washing and a bit of sewing – not enough to keep them in veg peelings, as Ma had often observed.

The fact that Judith Barker came burdened with a six-year-old daughter had not been the stumbling block to working at Cliff House that Judith had first feared.

With no one to care for Hetty at their cottage all day, Mrs Carroll had said Judith could bring Hetty to work with her, as long as she stayed in the kitchen to help sort the clothes pegs or watch the hob.

But staying put wasn’t Hetty’s way, even as a six-year-old. With her ma busy elsewhere in the house, she had soon wandered out of the kitchen and up the polished stairs, all the way to a room full of books. Rows and rows of them.

At first, she had only looked at the pictures as she leafed through pages. Then one day, as she sat on the floor flicking through drawings of incredible beasts, she’d heard a cough in the doorway and scrambled up to see an impossibly tall, grave-faced man.

‘Ah, a fellow bookworm,’ he’d said, his eye falling then to the coal smuts marking some of the pages she had turned. ‘You’re Judith’s girl, are you not?’

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