Early autumn sunshine slanted through the open doorway in golden powdery bands of light. It glossed over the ancient settle, dazzled upon the large copper plate which stood on the oak table and touched with gentle luminosity the faded silk colours of the big, square tapestry hanging on the wall beneath the gallery. A pair of short-legged gumboots, carelessly kicked off, stood just outside on the granite paving-slab and, abandoned on the worn cushion of the settle, a willow trug waited with its cargo of string, a pair of secateurs, an old trowel and twists of paper containing precious seeds.
The tranquil stillness was emphasised by the subdued churring of the crickets, their song just audible above the murmur of the stream. Soon the sun would slip away beyond the high shoulder of the cliff, rolling down towards the sea, and long shadows would creep across the lawn. It was five o’clock: the children’s hour.
The wheelchair moved silently out of the shadows, the rubber tyres rolling softly across the cracked mosaic floor, pausing outside the drawing-room. The occupant sat quite still, head lowered, listening to voices more than sixty years old, seeing chintzes scuffed and snagged by small feet and sandal buckles, an embroidery frame with its half-worked scene...
Hush! Someone is telling a story. The children group about their mother: Georgie and Mina, the two bigger girls share the sofa with their baby sister, Nest, propped between them; Josie lies upon her stomach on the floor, one raised foot kicking in the air – the only sign of barely suppressed energy – as she works at a jigsaw puzzle. Henrietta drags her stool close to her mother’s chair, eager for the pictures which embellish the story, whilst their brother, Timmie, still a toddler, pulls himself from chair to chair until, finding a patch of warm sunlight, he sits down suddenly, sleepily, and begins to suck his thumb.
“‘I’ll tell you a story,’ said the Story Spinner, ‘but you mustn’t rustle too much, or cough or blow your nose more than is necessary... and you mustn’t pull any more curl-papers out of your hair. And when I’ve done you must go to sleep at once.’”
Their mother’s voice is as cool and musical as the stream, and just as bewitching, so that the children are lulled, familiar lands dislimning and fading as they are drawn into another world: the world of make-believe, of once upon a time.