‘Step through,’ said Rose. Her red kerchief was tied tight about her neck, cheeks flushing to match.
Maggie shook her head. ‘I don’t like it.’
‘Stop being a baby and step through.’ Rose’s heel stamped hard on the gravel.
Rose was always the same. Maggie – the more placid of the two sisters – usually let Rose have her way in the end.
But standing at Nick’s Hoop, with the chalk under her boots and the sound of the wind tearing through the oak trees made a storm blow inside her chest.
Rosie’s mouth twisted in irritation. ‘Remember what the rhyme says. You have to pass through the stone if you want to be wed in the year.’
‘Yes, Rose,’ said Maggie.
‘Do you want to be an old maid like Miss Stanhope?’
Miss Stanhope was the local school teacher. She had a long braid over one shoulder and read books that made the vicar’s wife tut. Maggie didn’t think being Miss Stanhope would be such a bad thing.
Reluctantly, she said, ‘No, Rose.’
‘Then step through. Bunch your skirt up as I did and it won’t snag.’
Maggie did as she was told, wrapping the layers of muslin round to free her ankles.
A flock of crows lifted from the stand of oaks, turning the air black. The wind blew up, catching her skirts, tugging them from her hands. The sun blinked behind foaming, inky rainclouds.
For the first time, Maggie wondered who they were going to marry.