Matilda Next Door - Kelly Hunter Page 0,1

have an orange tinge to it. She would go singing in the rain. Rain! Dear dog, she could almost feel it on her skin.

‘Matilda, why are you staring at the ceiling with your eyes closed—while humming?’

Tilly opened her eyes and there stood her mother, perfectly framed by the open French doors. ‘I’m singing in the London rain.’

‘I see.’ Her mother’s lips tilted. ‘You’re looking forward to your trip?’

‘You have no idea.’

‘Oh, I might have some idea.’ Grey eyes could be warm, her mother’s were proof of it, and those eyes were still bright amidst deeply etched crow’s feet. Her mother’s hair had been cropped short, and was almost white now, her striking bone structure making her even more beautiful with age. Tilly had inherited some of her mother’s looks, but not all. Eye colour and cheekbones, yes. A nice nose. But she had her father’s narrowness of face and wide brow, and her hair had never quite gone blonde, no matter how much sun shone on it. Spoiled-hay-bale was more her colour.

‘I got you something for your travels.’ Her mother held out a flattish white box with black edging. ‘I’d almost given up on it, but it came today in the post.’

‘May I open it now?’

‘It’s your birthday, isn’t it?’

Tilly blinked. ‘It is?’

‘This is why we have calendars, dear.’

Except that out here on the farm with each day almost exactly the same as the next, it was all too easy to lose track of them. No, out here they rarely did days of the week. Instead they had countdowns. Sixty days until the water in the house tanks ran dry. Twenty-three days’ worth of hay left in the feed shed. Twelve millimetres of rain in the past eighty-four days.

‘Your father and I are also giving you some birthday money for your trip, but we ordered it in pounds and the post office won’t have it in until next week. This is just a little something extra.’

Tilly-the-sturdy gave excellent bear hugs, and what better time than now? ‘Thank you. For the extra and the pounds. I won’t spend it all at once, and if we need hay let me know and I can access my savings and—’

‘Stop. We’re not broke yet.’ Her mother’s voice softened. ‘You work hard, and always have. Spend your money. Live a little. Meet new people. Make new friends. We want you to go have fun.’ The present box was poking a hole in Tilly’s ribs. ‘Open it. I want to see if it looks as good on as it does in the pictures.’

It was a silk scarf of the brightest blue, so soft and fine to the touch that Tilly was afraid she’d shred it with the none-too-soft skin of her hands. She opened it out, and out, and out. ‘It’s huge!’

‘Yes, but it’ll scrunch up small. There should be directions for ways to tie it in there, too.’

‘Ooh, origami.’ Tilly was a little more familiar with hitch knots. ‘It’s beautiful.’ She hung it around her neck and her mother was right, it did bunch up small and fall beautifully.

‘Have you heard from Henry? When’s he coming in?’

‘February fifteenth. Two days before I leave. Which is …’ She’d best start using the calendar. ‘…eight days away. I told him I’d pick him up from the airport in Melbourne but he said no.’

‘You’re not his chauffeur.’

‘Yeah, but I had to offer. I’m going to be living in his fancy Trafalgar Square apartment for a month for free.’ A saving of five thousand pounds, or near enough to it, and what with the exchange rate … ‘Anyway, he’ll be here soon. A week tomorrow. Tomorrow being …’

‘Monday,’ her mother said drily.

‘Exactly. And Wednesday next week I fly.’ She had a scarf and her arms for wings and the long wooden verandah was the perfect runway. She made a fist and raised it to her lips. ‘Matilda Moore, preparing for take-off.’

She spread her scarf, flapped her birthday wings and took off along the verandah with a shrieking woohoo. She would launch when she got to the end of the low-slung verandah. See if she could break her old long-jump record. Or potentially a leg.

Take-off or not, she still managed to hear her mother’s muttered, ‘God help us all.’


By the time Henry knocked on the door to the Moore homestead late Monday afternoon, Tilly had rearranged her travel bags three times over, baked a sponge (hand-whipped cream-and-lemon-butter centre, with a dust of icing sugar on top), and written a checklist