THE STONE IN THE MEADOW

cover of The Stone in the Meadow by Karleen Bradford
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  • Canadian Children’s Book Centre Our Choice 1987/88

SUMMARY

The large, black stone in the meadow in Cornwall held a strange, hypnotic fascination for Jenifer. One day she found out why. Was it just a dream? Or could the stone really transport her back in time—a hundred years…a thousand years…?

If it were a dream, it was so vivid Jenifer knew that as long as she lived she would never forget Perran, that small boy from the past who had shared her adventure. And Fedelm—the Druid priestess who was the image of Jenifer, and who was so frightened of her. But, above all, she would remember Bron, with his blue eyes and flaming hair, who would remain forever her first love.

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REVIEWS

Reviewing Librarian

“...a poignant, beautifully-told story...”

Quill & Quire

“...compelling in its action and intriguing in the details of the Druids and their way of life.”

EXCERPT from THE STONE IN THE MEADOW

CHAPTER ONE
In the Shadow of the Stone

The wind caught Jenifer and wrapped itself around her. Thick, ominous clouds hid the sun. She shivered and rubbed her bare arms. For a moment she considered going for a sweater and half turned back toward the big grey stone house that dominated the hilltop on which she stood.

Greyrocks.

The home in Cornwall that had been in their family for over a hundred years and that she had never seen until yesterday.

The name suited it well, she thought.

The house stood solid and enduring against the frenzied wind. Beyond it lay the wide expanse of moor and beyond that the granite tors rose in the distance like a forbidding barrier.

The wind dropped slightly. Jenifer changed her mind and ran on across the wide expanse of grass in front of the house until she came to the edge. She was in too much of a hurry to start exploring to bother going back.

A narrow path angled down in front of her, leading to a flat meadowland criss-crossed with stone hedgerows. She stood for a moment, gazing at the neat fields below her. Something caught her eye. In the exact centre of one of the meadows a black shape stood out against the green grass. She peered at it, trying to make out what it was, but she was too far away. As she stared at it, a strange feeling began to prickle through her. She shivered again, then wrenched her eyes away from it with an effort.

Far in the distance to the west she imagined she could see the haze which was the ocean and she was sure she could taste the salty tang of it in the wind. From here, she knew, it stretched in unbroken waves until it reached the shores of Canada, but how very far away Canada seemed now. She and her Cornish-born mother had arrived in England only a few days ago to visit her mother’s brother, Jenifer’s Uncle William Courtenay, and they had driven down from London the day before.

Only a week since she had left Canada, and already her life there seemed distant and unreal. The little she had seen so far of England had taken hold of her feelings and imagination more strongly than she would ever have believed possible. It was strange—weird. She didn’t feel at all as if she’d come to a foreign country. She felt, instead, almost as if she’d come home.

“You look like the fair Guinevere herself, standing there like that,” a voice called out from behind her. Her Uncle William had come out of the house and was walking over to join her.

“Guinevere?” Jenifer asked. “You mean Queen Guinevere? King Arthur’s wife?”

“I do indeed. The wife of our own King Arthur of the Round Table. Though the Welsh will have it that he’s theirs,” he added almost under his breath. “The remains of his castle lie up the coast not fifty miles from here at Tintagel. I’ll take you over there to see them one day while you’re here.”

“But why do you say I was named after her?” Jenifer persisted. “My name’s not Guinevere.”

“Oh, but it is, my pet,” her uncle answered. “Jenifer is the Cornish way of spelling Guinevere. Here you are,” he added, “of good Cornish stock that goes back to the time of Guinevere herself at least, and possibly beyond that, and you know nothing of Cornwall at all. I see your mother’s been neglecting your education shamefully and I’ll have to do something about it,” he teased.

Jenifer smiled back at him. In the brief time she had known him, she had come to enjoy her uncle’s company. He knew everything there was to know about this part of England, it seemed, and liked nothing better than telling stories about what Cornwall had been like in years long past. That morning he had driven them into the nearby village and had greeted everyone there by name. He knew the history of every family in the neighbourhood, he said, and obviously every one of them knew and respected him.

“Would it be all right if I did a little looking around before tea?” Jenifer asked.

“Certainly, fair Guinevere,” her uncle replied. “Explore, and acquaint yourself with your kingdom.”

Jenifer laughed and with a wave of her hand was off down the path towards the meadows. Soon she was walking through a field of ragged grass and small purple and white flowers. It was more sheltered from the wind here among the hedgerows. She scuffed along, revelling in the damp, earthy smell of the fields and enjoying the peace and silence all around her.

Humming to herself, she started to climb over a low stile in the hedgerow at the end of the field, then stopped in surprise. There, in the middle of the field in front of her, loomed something tall and dark. Her heart leaped as she realized that this must be what she had seen from the top of the hill. The strange prickly feeling rushed over her again, more strongly than before and for one irrational moment she had an almost overwhelming urge to turn and run.

Don’t be dumb, she told herself . She stared at the shape for another long moment, then drew a deep breath and began to walk toward it.

It was a single, huge, black stone. As she drew nearer she was surprised to see that it was much larger than she had thought—easily twice as tall as she was and as thick around at the bottom as a full-grown oak tree. It tapered toward the top. The closer she got to it, the more uneasy she became.

It’s just a big rock.

Of course it was. But why couldn’t she shake off the strange feeling that was amounting almost to fear by now? She looked around. There wasn’t another stone of this size within sight. Cautiously, she reached out a hand to touch it, then snatched her fingers back quickly. The cold roughness of the stone shocked her.

It has to be a memorial of some sort, or a monument, she thought. She walked around it to see if there was a plaque or inscription of some kind, but although it had obviously been placed there deliberately she couldn’t find a thing. There was no clue at all as to why this stone should be standing in the middle of nowhere, stretching up to the sky like a lone sentinel.

As she stared at it, the sun came out. The wind had torn a rift in the banks of clouds, and the rays broke through, striking down upon the stone. Jenifer shivered again.

This is ridiculous, she thought. The sun’s out and I’m colder than ever. Then she realized she was standing in the dark pool of shadow cast by the stone.

Even so, she thought uneasily, I shouldn’t be this cold now. As she looked up at the grey granite looming over her, she became aware of faint singing. It was more like chanting than a song, really, and didn’t seem to be coming from anywhere in particular, just hung in the air around her. There was a mystical, almost churchlike, quality to the sound as it grew louder and louder. She stood still, listening. The chanting seemed to surround her completely. She felt as though she were drowning in it. The air around her shimmered and shifted out of focus. Then, without warning, the chanting stopped.

Jenifer looked around, confused, with a sense that something had changed—was out of place—but everything seemed to be exactly as it had been before. The field was the same, and back along the hilltop she could still see Greyrocks. But as she stared at the old house, something niggled at the back of her brain. There was something different about it . . .

The porch. Of course! The wide, screened-in verandah that her Uncle William had added across the front of the house was gone. Greyrocks itself looked newer somehow—almost as it had looked in a picture her uncle had shown her the night before of when it had first been built a hundred years ago. There were more trees around it. She stared, trying to make sense of what she was seeing, then she noticed a young boy standing almost hidden by one of the trees, staring at her. He was dressed in breeches that buckled just below the knees and a long-sleeved shirt. The clothes looked odd and old-fashioned. At that instant he realized that she had seen him. He turned and darted away toward Greyrocks.

“Stop!” Jenifer cried, starting to run after him. “Please stop!” Then, as she left the shadow of the stone and the full heat of the sun hit her, she checked herself. The Greyrocks that the boy was heading for was not her Greyrocks, of that she felt uncannily certain. She turned back almost in panic and reached out for the stone. Immediately the singing rose around her again and blocked everything else out.

Then it stopped.

She turned around slowly, not knowing what to expect. Greyrocks was there—her own familiar Greyrocks. The verandah was back. The hill was bare of trees again. This time she ran from the stone toward it, almost sobbing with relief when she reached the edge of the lawn and saw her mother and her Uncle William walking across the grass.

That night after dinner when they were all sitting around the fire, she brought up the subject of the stone in the meadow, but she determined not to say anything about what had happened to her there. Or what she thought had happened. Back here in the safety of the house, tucked up on one of the comfortable armchairs, she couldn’t believe that it had been anything but her imagination. She certainly wasn’t going to risk having her uncle laugh at her.

“Uncle William,” she began, choosing her words with care, “there’s a stone down in one of the meadows . . . A big, tall stone. It looks as if it had been put there on purpose. What is it? Do you know?”

Her uncle smiled. “Ah, something else for me to teach my Guinevere,” he said. “It’s a megalith, or a menhir, as they’re sometimes called. A single stone set in a certain spot for some reason—no one really knows why, now. There are a lot of them spread around Cornwall and the southwestern parts of England—probably set up in the Bronze Age, about the same time as Stonehenge, I should think. Did you stop at Stonehenge on your drive down from London?”

“Yes, we did,” Jenifer answered. She and her mother had explored it thoroughly. A great circle of huge stones in the middle of Salisbury Plain. All around it were the burial mounds—barrows they were called—of the ancient peoples who had lived in the area two thousand years before the birth of Christ. It had given Jenifer a strange feeling to stand there amidst all those reminders of a past so far away she couldn’t even imagine it.

“Some people think that the stones were used in religious ceremonies by the Druids, too,” her uncle went on, “although they came along much later when the Celts came over to Britain from the continent—around three or four hundred years before the birth of Christ, I believe—and they certainly didn’t have anything to do with the building of them.”

Jenifer remembered the chanting she had heard. “I’ve read about the Druids,” she said slowly. “Didn’t they have something to do with some kind of old religion?”

“Yes, they did,” her uncle replied. “The Druids came from the higher classes of the Celts, who were a very class-conscious people, by the way. The Druids were their priests . . .”

“And priestesses,” her mother put in.

“That’s right,” her uncle agreed. “The Druids were tall, fair-haired people, according to legend,” he went on, “and dressed in white tunics and robes. Probably looked a lot like our own little Guinevere here, as a matter of fact,” he added as Jenifer stood up to go over to the fireplace next to her mother.

She was still wearing the white, tunic-styled sundress she had had on that afternoon, and her long fair hair fell down past her shoulders. She didn’t look at all as if she came from the same family as her mother and her uncle, who both had dark, almost black hair. “A throwback,” her father, who was also dark, called her teasingly. “But we won’t throw her back, we’ll keep her.”

“The Druids were teachers and judges as well as priests,” her uncle went on, “and they were supposed to have been possessed of supernatural powers.”

Jenifer’s mother suddenly interrupted him.

“Goodness, it’s late!” she exclaimed, looking at her watch. “I’m for bed. It’s been a long day. I think we’ve had enough history for one night, William.” She looked up at Jenifer. “And I should think this Druids’ descendant must be tired too.”

Jenifer was. Nevertheless, for a long time after she had gone to bed, she lay staring into the darkness. Had the stone in the meadow really taken her into the past somehow? Not as far back as ancient times, obviously, but a hundred years back to the time when Greyrocks was new? That boy she had seen—he was dressed exactly as the children had been dressed in the pictures her Uncle William had shown her. Maybe he had even been one of them!

Now, in the darkness, the foreboding she had felt at the first sight of the stone rushed back. She burrowed down under the covers and shut her eyes, trying to close it out, but she could still feel it. And she could still feel the presence of the stone—standing, bathed in the moonlight, waiting for her.