Cecil and Sion had been playing in amongst the tall fir trees for a while. The smell of pine scented the air and Sion was having such fun that he had completely lost track of time. The shadows of the trees were long on the ground by the time he realised it was nearly tea-time. He only realised that because his belly was grumbling.
“Bye, Cecil!” he said hurriedly. “I really have to go. My aunt will be furious if she finds me gone.”
“Oh,” said Cecil, looking sad. “Will you come back tomorrow? You can come any time you want. It’s not trespassing if I give you permission, because it’s my park.”
“I promise,” said Sion, and he ran as fast as he could back to the hole in the hedge. He squeezed through and popped out on Aunt Maud’s lawn, just in time to see her walking down from the house. Her brow furrowed when she saw him, and Sion braced himself for a row.
“Where’ve you been? I was worried sick.”
“I was only down the Dingle.”
“That’s private property. You’re not to go there.”
“The boy who lives there said it was all right. He said it wasn’t trespassing if he gives me permission.”
Aunt Maud’s frown deepened. “There’s no boy living in the Dingle,” she said. “There’s not been a boy there for twenty years or more. Now come inside and wash yourself for tea. You look like you’ve been down the mines.”
Sion decided not to say any more. But he also decided to ignore Aunt Maud’s instruction not to return to the Dingle. After all, Cecil had asked him specially to come back. And he’d looked so sad when Sion had left. So he really needed to go back, to keep him company.
The very next day, when Aunt Maud went for her afternoon nap, Sion squeezed through the hedge into the Dingle again. He found Cecil quite easily. Cecil’s red scarf was bright enough to show through the trees even with all the flowers blooming.
It really was one of the best days Sion had ever had. Cecil showed him the best trees to climb. They made the best mud pie Sion had ever made. Cecil knew so much about the flowers and the trees and the wildlife in the Dingle.
It was true, Sion thought, that Cecil sometimes spoke oddly, like he wasn’t from this time at all. He didn’t seem to know anything about the war, for instance, and was surprised when Sion told him how he’d been evacuated to stay with his Aunt. In fact, Cecil didn’t seem to even know that it was 1940. He seemed to live in a different world. He often talked about things that Sion had no idea about, or things that happened a long time ago, as if it were yesterday.
Sion thought that probably Cecil didn’t get out much. He must spend all his time here, in the Dingle. But that would be all right, he thought. The Dingle was lovely enough to spend all your time there.
Sometimes, Cecil would say odd things. “The swimming pool is mine,” he said once. “It was built to make me better.”
Sion realised Cecil was talking about the pond, the one you’ve just walked past. But you’ve seen it too. It’s full of water weeds and lilies and reeds. How could it be a swimming pool?
This time, Sion made sure to leave the Dingle in good time so he could get back before Aunt Maud had finished napping. But he was so hungry from all his exploring that he ate three helpings of mashed potato alongside his pie. Aunt Maud looked a bit suspicious as she cleared the plates away.
“What have you been up to?” she asked him.
“Nothing,” he said. “Just doing sums, like you said I should.”
“I’m not as green as I look,” she told him. “Have you been down the Dingle again? Just be careful. It’s private.” Then, she sighed. “I used to go down there a lot as a girl. I had a friend who I’d meet down there. What was his name again? Ah. I can’t remember. Too much time has passed. But I remember he always had a scarf on. A red scarf.”
Sion felt a sudden chill run down his spine.
“He wore a red scarf?”
“Yes. He wasn’t very well, you see. He always had that scarf on, to keep him warm, even in summer.” She eyeballed him suddenly. “Time for a bath, young man. You’re filthy.”
Sion went upstairs, heart hammering. He couldn’t quite piece together what Maud had just told him. But he wasn’t sure that he wanted to go back to the Dingle. Not just yet. Something had scared him.
If you want to find out what happens next, you’ll have to be braver than Sion and keep exploring. Follow the path away from the pond until you come to a little stone bridge.