Her first chance came when she went with a few other families to gather firewood from the nearby hills. It was achy work—bending down and straightening back up, noticing a dry stick here, a fallen tree over there—back and forth, again and again. But the job seemed easier when they were doing it all together, laughing and singing and seeing who could tell the tallest tales.
|Fallen tree near Woodcutters path, a photo by Jack Picknell on Flickr.|
Alis was still feeling weak, and Cecily had insisted her mother stay at home while she worked with the Walpoles. The day felt more like spring than ever, and Pypa (a girl with fiery red hair and large lips) was whistling with an infectious, off-key enthusiasm that made Cecily want to do a little dance. But she noticed that Bess appeared more subdued than usual, almost colorless. She soon realized why: Robbie had joined their party and was gathering wood about thirty yards down the slope. Cecily decided to meddle.
The humming was broken by a yell. Blinking for the first time in three minutes, Cecily doubled over in pain as her eyes seemed to burn holes in her eyelids. She felt her dress whipping around her legs and looked down to see leaves scuttling over the ground, kicking around in a frenzied dance as a fierce, spiraling wind swept over the hill. The yell had come from Bess, whose hat had been swept off her head and gone swirling down toward the wood cart, carried on the wind within a few feet of where Robbie was standing.
Cecily didn’t move for two solid minutes. The wind abated almost immediately, slackening to a shivering breeze, but the humming only faded from her ears by small increments. Her heart raced like a horse gone mad, and she tucked her hands beneath her arms to stop their shaking. Pale and suddenly weak, she sat on a fallen tree for support. It worked—it really happened. She had wanted something to happen, believed it would happen, and it had. She felt lightheaded and her intestines were tangled into knots, but she was excited.
Once they had picked the forest floor clean, Cecily wandered over toward Bess to walk home with her as they usually did. This time, though, it was Robbie Brooker who took Bess’s arm and walked at a leisurely pace down the rutted road, leaving Cecily and Walpoles left to follow several paces behind.