My cousin Amelia came to stay with us for the summer holidays. It was the year I turned ten. Amelia was a year younger, but being tall she looked older than me. She was everything I wasn’t. Apart from being tall, she was blonde, pretty, and very grown-up. And she had beautiful clothes. She was an only child and lived with her parents just outside Cheltenham. Uncle Robert, my father’s brother, was a doctor. Dad was always going on about how rich he was. And the reason Amelia came to stay was because her parents had gone on a cruise around the Caribbean.
We lived on a farm. It was a happy life, but I was aware that we were quite poor. This was brought home to me when Amelia hung her clothes next to mine in the wardrobe: mine were hand-me-downs, patched and shabby, whereas Amelia had pretty dresses which looked brand new. And she brought books with her, books with shiny covers and pretty pictures.
Amelia made me feel inferior. Her hair hung down her back like spun gold, and she moved gracefully like a princess. She always remembered to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.
We were a ragged lot, my brothers and sister and I. Ellie was the eldest at thirteen, mad keen on horse riding. Next was Gareth, eleven, always taking things apart and leaving a trail of destruction behind him. Then me, Bronwen, ten as I said before, and obsessed with my pets. The youngest, Huw, was six, and apprenticed to Gareth in the pursuit of destruction. Mum and Dad worked long hours trying to eke an existence out of the land, and we were mostly left to our own devices.
Amelia was installed in the bedroom with Ellie and me. I was demoted to a fold-up bed and Amelia was given my bed.
That first night Amelia got into bed in her white nightdress and looked about the room.
“This house must be very old,” she said.
“Hundreds of years I suppose,” said Ellie, unplaiting her hair. “It’s haunted, you know,” she added, shooting me a mischievous glance. Ellie spun a far-fetched tale about a woman who fell down a mine shaft up on the hillside, and whose spirit could be seen drifting about the farm from time to time.
Mum and Dad had already gone off to market next morning, so we got our own breakfast.
“Nip out and milk the cow, Amelia,” said Gareth with a grin.
“M-milk the cow?” she queried.
“Aye, if you want milk on your corn flakes you’ll have to learn how. Or else have toast instead.”
We all had toast. Amelia didn’t seem to notice that there was plenty of milk in the fridge. Gareth was a terrible tease.
“I’ve got to feed my animals,” I said, wiping crumbs from my mouth. “You can come with me if you want, but you’d better put on some old clothes or you’ll get dirty.”
“I don’t have any old clothes,” said Amelia in her superior voice.
I shrugged and pulled on my wellies. I washed the cats’ and dogs’ dishes and Amelia helped me dish out their food and give them fresh water. Then I took her out to the barn to feed the goats. She was very taken with the two little ones.
“Oh, they’re so sweet!” she trilled. Little Bertie must have thought she was sweet also, for he nipped her arm. She recoiled in horror.
Huw was hanging around. “Hey, did he try to make a-meal-o-yer - Amelia - geddit?”
She didn’t think it was funny. Unfortunately she slipped when she turned on her heel, and next thing she was down on her bottom in the farm yard. I stifled my laughter and took her indoors. Her dress was muddied and torn.
“I expect Mum can mend it for you. You’d better put on some of my clothes.”
The trousers were a bit short, and she looked like a scarecrow. But at least it wouldn’t matter if she fell down again. The next job was the pigs, and cleaning them out was always mucky.
I sent Amelia back to the barn to get a sack of turnips to feed to the pigs. A few minutes later I heard a shriek, and Amelia came hurtling round the corner.
“It’s the ghost! It’s the ghost!” she gibbered, sliding about in her oversized wellies.
I went into the barn to investigate, and nearly died laughing at the sight that greeted me. Bertie’s brother Benny had somehow pulled a sheet off the washing line and tangled himself up in it. He was whirling like a dervish trying to free himself, and in the gloom did look a bit like an apparition.
“It’s a goat, not a ghost,” I explained, still laughing. I hoped Mum would see the funny side when she came home, for Benny had managed to pull the whole line of washing down into the mud.
By Karenne Griffin
Last Modified on: 05-11-2015