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Authors: Sheila Jeffries

The Girl by the River

BOOK: The Girl by the River
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What readers have to say about
The Boy with no Boots

‘Stunning. Beautifully written, with an exquisitely poetic narrative’

‘One of those rare books that stays with you long after you’ve finished reading it’

‘The most heart-warming book I have read in a long time. I did not want it to end’

‘Fabulous read’

‘One of the best books I have read. I couldn’t put it down’


‘The prose is simply superb. When the sheer beauty of words can evoke tears, that’s the sign of a gifted writer’

‘Of all the books I have bought, this is the best’

‘I thought all the characters were brilliant’

‘A book to touch your heart’

‘Every page was a pleasure to read’

‘This novel is sweet and insightful and shows a good understanding of human emotions’


‘I thoroughly enjoyed it and the insight into the afterlife was so interesting’

‘Sheila Jeffries is an amazing storyteller’

‘A truly unique book, one that I would highly recommend. I can’t wait for her next’

‘Deep insight and understanding into the pain and fear many people live with. I heartily recommend this book to everyone who is tired of the violence and anger in so
many books now’

Also by Sheila Jeffries

Solomon’s Tale

Solomon’s Kitten

The Boy with no Boots

Timba Comes Home

First published in Great Britain by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2016
A CBS company

Copyright © Sheila Jeffries, 2016

This book is copyright under the Berne Convention.

No reproduction without permission.

® and © 1997 Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.

The right of Sheila Jeffries to be identified as author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act,

Simon & Schuster UK Ltd

1st Floor
222 Gray’s Inn Road
London WC1X 8HB

Simon & Schuster Australia, Sydney
Simon & Schuster India, New Delhi

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4711-5492-8
eBook ISBN: 978-1-4711-5493-5

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to
actual people living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

Typeset in Bembo by Hewer Text UK Ltd, Edinburgh
Printed and bound in Great Britain by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY

Simon & Schuster UK Ltd are committed to sourcing paper that is made from wood grown in sustainable forests and supports the Forest Stewardship Council, the leading
international forest certification organisation. Our books displaying the FSC logo are printed on FSC certified paper.

To the Earth Angels, with gratitude.




Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine


Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty


Author’s Note




Three o’clock. The chimes of the Hilbegut church clock cut through the heat haze that shimmered in the air. Above the village, on a south-facing hillside, the girl with
the chestnut hair was watching the sunlight glint on a wafer-thin Gillette razorblade she held between finger and thumb. It winked and flashed, triumphantly, she thought: the sharp silver blade
that was to bring her hated life to a glorious end.

Her chestnut hair rippled around the girl’s bare shoulders. Red flowers burned in the grass, scarlet pimpernel and sheep sorrel. Red, red, soon to be joined by the red of her blood. She
would lie down, and place her cut wrist on the springy turf, and let her life soak away into the earth she loved. Even the cushions of birds-foot-trefoil had flecks of red in their yellow petals.
She wouldn’t look at her blood draining into the wiry grass. She’d turn her head away, and wait for sleep.

A blue scabious flower nodded intrusively at her. She picked it and stared at the blaze of blue with a core of violet. It reminded her of her father’s eyes. Those eyes. They knew
everything. Even stuff she didn’t want them to know. Just thinking about those eyes brought her father’s face before her, one of his unexpectedly wise remarks bobbing to the surface.
‘It’s not the big things that break us,’ Freddie had said to his youngest daughter, ‘it’s the little things.’

The pain in his eyes, the memory of it, made her tighten her grip on the Gillette razorblade she had taken from his bathroom cupboard. She dropped the scabious flower and examined her wrist, the
blue veins of it like rivers in the sand. One cut, one sleep, and it would be over, there on the blood-soaked hillside.

The sudden, raw, stinging pain of the cut was shocking. Nauseous and trembling, she threw the red razorblade onto a patch of pink thyme. Light as a butterfly, it pitched there in the sun.
Gasping with fear, she pressed her slashed wrist into the turf, and turned her head away. She’d done it. The burn of triumphant anger drained away, transmuted into a ringing silence. Regret
dawned, fiercely, like the midsummer sun. The girl’s eyes gazed out across the land she loved, over the velvet greens of the Somerset Levels to the distant silk of the sea, the magic islands
of the Bristol Channel and the Welsh mountains beyond. With love too bright and hate too dark, her mind cracked open like broken china. She let go, and let the waves of giddiness take her floating,
the waves of her chestnut hair a drifting cloak of comfort.

The butterfly arrived just as her eyes began to close. It was the last thing she saw as it pitched on her hand. She felt its delicate legs clinging to her skin. It sat attentively, its red and
purple wings fanned out, its antennae glistening stiffly, its tiny pointed face watching her with blue-black eyes. Questioning her. Why?

How had it come to this?

Chapter One


‘Why is Mummy screaming?’

Freddie looked deep into the questioning eyes of the child on his lap. Then he looked away, gazing at the autumn sky outside the window. He tensed, watching a sparrowhawk hovering against
wine-dark clouds. It came closer until he could see its cream throat and the beat of its brindled wings. The red of the rising sun glinted on its sharp claws. Level with the window, it glared in at
Freddie, a clear, yellow chill of intention in its eye.

‘Daddy? Daddy, why is Mummy screaming?’ Three-year-old Lucy pinched the tweed sleeve of his jacket in her chubby hand. Freddie stroked the child’s white-blonde hair, letting a
strand curl around his finger and marvelling at the rose freshness of her, the purity of her eyes in the dawn. He didn’t know how to answer her question. There was only the truth. And truth
could hurt and frighten a young child.

He had a go at distracting her. ‘Look at the big bird. A sparrowhawk. See it? Down it goes – look!’ The sparrowhawk dived like a stone falling, and flew up, satisfied, with a
tiny, rumpled sparrow cheeping in its claws.

‘Bad bird!’ said Lucy and turned her frightened eyes to look into his face. They both froze, and clung together, as the longest scream rang through the walls. It went on and on, and
Freddie could hardly bear the way it echoed through his heart. He picked up Lucy and walked about with her, his feet tramping the brown lino floor, his voice whispering an assortment of desperate
prayers to a God he wasn’t comfortable with. ‘Please, please, don’t let her die – please God – I need my Kate – I need her.’

He was grateful for the way Lucy wound her soft little arms around his neck and clung to him until the screaming stopped and sunlight swept across the garden and through the square panes of the
eastern windows. The silence was a moment when the colour of fear became an intense gold. Then the sky darkened over Monterose and a new cry soared above everything, like the sparrowhawk, a cry of
challenge and anger.

The cry pierced Freddie’s calm. In a moment of clarity he heard a message encrypted in that wild cry, and it said, ‘I’m BACK,’ and even as he raced up the stairs there
was dread tangled with hope in his heart. What he had seen in a vision, years ago, in the eyes of a drowning woman. Pale blue eyes with a core of gold, like the sparrowhawk.

‘You can come in now, Freddie.’

Dykie, the midwife, met him at the bedroom door, her wrinkled face looking up at him brightly, her papery cheeks flushed and smiling.

‘Is – is Kate all right?’ Freddie asked.

Dykie searched his concerned eyes, shuffling the responses in her mind. ‘She’s tired – but she’ll get over it. It was –’ Dykie hesitated, then beamed
reassuringly, ‘And you have a little girl, Freddie – another one – a sister for Lucy. How about that?’

Secretly, Freddie had hoped for a boy, and he knew Kate had too. They’d chosen a name – Robert Levi. It had a ring to it – Robert Levi Barcussy. ‘Well,’ said
Freddie. ‘Two little girls – I hope to God they don’t grow up to be nurses and school teachers.’

Dykie laughed. ‘Come on – in you go – I’ll go down and tell Lucy she’s got a little sister.’

Freddie pushed the bedroom door open a crack and peered in nervously. Kate was waiting for him with a radiant smile. As always, he was caught off guard by her beauty – the way her skin
seemed luminous like the top of a church candle. The flame in her eyes drew him into the bedroom, their love nest with the red tasselled curtains, the colourful rag rugs Kate had made, and the
picture of two Shire horses pulling a loaded hay cart against the sunset. On the deep window sill stood the stone angel with her sweet face and praying hands, Freddie’s first ever stone

BOOK: The Girl by the River
11.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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