Becky hovered outside the Senior’s Room until Tilly caught sight of her, and waved her in. Looking around, she could see they had it good in there. Comfy chairs, a TV with an X-Box, and a couple of laptops on a desk under the windows. At the back, in a small kitchen area, she could even see a coffee machine, and a microwave. All the stuff was donated by parents and local businesses, apparently. Tilly pointed to a seat opposite hers, and smiled. “Sit down, I got you a cappuccino. I hope you take sugar?” Although she didn’t usually drink coffee, Becky nodded. She sipped the creamy liquid, and thought it was delicious. Two older boys were shouting at each other as they played on the X-Box, and three girls sitting nearby studiously ignored Becky, as if she didn’t exist.
“So, tell me all about it. A woman drowned near your house, and you were with her? How exciting! What happened?” Tilly leaned forward as she spoke, flicking her hair to one side. Becky had already thought about what to say. She had decided on a series of half-truths that would outline the events without giving away any secrets. “Well I wrote to a local woman to ask for help with a history project. She arranged to meet me on Saturday, and we went for a walk along the river to talk about it. Then she stumbled, and fell in. I ran home and got my Mum to ring for help, but they couldn’t find her. They said the river was flowing too fast, and was too deep at that point. Maybe they won’t even find her body”.
Tilly looked disappointed, and Becky couldn’t blame her. Reeling it off like that hadn’t made it sound very interesting or unusual. She gulped down some more of the lukewarm coffee as Tilly seemed to be pondering her reply. The older girl smiled, her attitude changing as she sat back against the cushion.
“So what’s the project about? Maybe I could help you with it?” Becky wasn’t about to mention the name Oliphant, but was happy to talk in generalisations. “Well, the old mill we live in has been around for centuries, and I thought it might be interesting to research its history, and the families that used to live there. I have seen some old paintings and drawings of it online, and I think it would be something good for my school-work”. Tilly didn’t look genuinely interested, but after nodding for a while, she acted as if she had suddenly thought of something. “It’s called Wright’s Mill, isn’t it? You should try to talk to Bessie Wright. She’s like a hundred and five or something, a bit of a celebrity around here. She lives in Woodlands, that big house behind the church. It’s an expensive care home now”. Before Becky could reply, Tilly stood up. “Well, thanks for coming to see me. Let me know how you get on with the project. I’ll see you on the bus I expect”.
That was the signal for her to leave, Becky understood that. “Okay, I will see you on the bus, on the way home”. If she had been hoping for anything else from her contact with Tilly, it was very apparent that no more was on offer.
After school, Becky was once again first at the bus. The woman driver smiled at her. “You sat next to the Vosper girl. Tell me, are you two friends?” Becky was taken aback at the comment. “Well, not really. Sort of, I suppose. I hardly know her”. Throwing away the stub of her cigarette, the driver looked around, to make sure she was out of earshot. “Be careful girly. You’ve got to watch that family, especially Matilda. Take my advice and keep away from her”. The others started to arrive, and she stopped talking and climbed into her driver’s seat. Tilly didn’t appear for the return journey, so they left without her.
When she got off the bus at the village stop, Becky walked straight across the green, and then up the lane behind the church. She saw the big house with a large name-plate fixed to the wall, and went up the driveway into the impressive entrance. A foreign-looking woman about sixty years old was standing behind the reception desk. She was wearing a pale blue polo shirt with ‘Woodlands’ embroidered on it. “What can I do for you, young lady?” Becky couldn’t place the accent, possibly Spanish or Greek. “I would like to know if I can talk to Bessie Wright, please. It’s about a school history project I am doing”. The woman smiled. “I know you are not family, and it’s Miss Elizabeth Wright. She’s very particular, I should warn you. Stay here, and I will go and find out if she will see you”.
She came back quite quickly. “Miss Wright will see you on Saturday morning, after breakfast. She said ten o’clock would be suitable. I wouldn’t be late if I were you”. Becky thanked her, and made her way home. As usual, Mum was busy on the computer. “Something easy for dinner later, Becks. I might just hot up some soup, if that’s okay with you?”
Up in her room, she got changed out of her uniform, and slowly slid the canvas bag from its hiding place under the bed. It was full of stuff, and heavy. Becky tipped the contents out onto the bed. Two large notebooks came out first, followed by lots of loose papers, and a few crumpled photographs. There was a big purse, a bunch of keys, and even a D-lock for the bicycle. Some sort of ancient-looking amulet attached to a leather cord, a mobile phone, and a copy of a book about being a clairvoyant. The author, unsurprisingly, was Sara Hope Oliphant. Unsure where to begin, Becky started by unfolding some of the loose papers. There was a copy of a will, in the name of Tobias Wright. That might be interesting, she thought. Next were some pages of notes, presumably written by Sara herself. The handwriting was small, and the lines close together. They might require more careful reading another time.
At the bottom of the pile was a large document. The edges were sharply folded, and the paper a brilliant white. Becky slid it out and unfolded it carefully. As large as a map, it covered most of the bed, with the bottom half riding up to touch her waist. She had seen enough similar things on Mum’s computer to know what it was. A copy of an architect’s drawing of a proposed development. And it was obviously the mill conversion, with the old original wheel prominent at one side of the drawing. At the bottom left was a box full of writing, in neat lines.
‘The conversion of the existing mill into a house and three apartments at Wright’s Mill, Lincolnshire.’
‘Developer: Samuel Vosper and Sons.’
‘Planning Officer: Mr T. Hargreaves, Lincolnshire County Council.’
But it was the last line that caught Becky’s attention.
‘Architect: Catherine Webster’.