First 300 words
On a summer’s afternoon in 1965, Adeline dips her sable brush into a glass jar and turns the water inside it pastel blue. The sky whips the fluffiest pavlova clouds and the privet hugs the snowiest flowers. Perched on the tip of a picnic stool and wrapped in a cotton apron, Adeline squints at the meadow ahead and dowses her canvas in green paint.
‘Gooseberries,’ she remembers. ‘I’ve forgotten mother’s blasted gooseberries.’ Adeline sighs. She lays her brush flat on the mixing palette and cracks her knuckles.
A male voice resounds an energetic hello. ‘Afternoon, Adeline. Beautiful day.’
Adeline turns to the voice. A teenage boy plucks his hat from his crown and tips his head from the sun. She would normally reply to such a polite salutation but today her throat is dry from the heat. His uninvited approach turns Adeline’s cheeks a shade of blush pink.
‘Adeline? That is you, isn’t it?’ He strides through the parched grass, pausing at the perimeter of her blanket. ‘Are you all right?’
Adeline wipes her hands on her apron, marking the cotton with a greasy rainbow. ‘Perfectly well Master Dolton.’
He extends his small hand. ‘Call me Henry.’
‘I’m sorry Master Dolton, was there something you wanted?’
Henry fumbles the pair of binoculars swinging from his neck. ‘Nothing in particular. Just passing.’
Realising her rudeness, she washes the paintbrush in the water and stands. ‘Are you looking for something? A bird, perhaps?’
Her desire to talk seems to delight him, and he pulls a pocket-sized book from his waistcoat. ‘This is a Golden Brambling,’ he says and points to a goblin bird.
Adeline squeezes her eyebrows together. ‘I thought those types of birds were a myth?’
‘I did too,’ Henry admits. ‘Can you keep a secret?’
‘I’ve found a Brambling nest in the willow tree—and it’s gold.’