The Amulet’s Curse

The second instalment of Between the Trees begins a year after the Pritchard children found the magic trees in their local park.  Isabel and her best friend Jess are on a school excursion to Kew Gardens and they wander off and come across Kew Palace.  They have no idea of its history and curiously they sneak in and find a library.  When they look at all the paintings on the walls Isabel notices a painting of a man wearing the same amulet that her mother has at home.  She panics and races home to tell William.  As she and Jess are running through Kew Gardens Jess trips over a tree and when Isabel turns around Jess is gone!  Isabel realises that Jess has travelled through time and she has to find her.  

It’s another magical adventure for William, Isabel and Jess. However, instead of the three of them returning home to 2013, someone from the past goes home with them.  Who could it be?

Here’s the first chapter of ‘The Amulet’s Curse’

CHAPTER 1

2014

After their return from Victorian England, the Pritchard children settled back into the routine of family life.  William had turned seventeen and continued to do well in his studies and thirteen year old Isabel was now in year eight and spent her Sunday mornings working with a local charity by helping out in a flower shop just down the road from her home.  Her favourite subjects were history and music.  She played the violin, and loved being on the school swim team, just like her father when he was at university.  She still didn’t know what she wanted to do when she finished school but thought of studying history at University.  After all, her travels through the trees would make learning much easier and more fun as her in-depth knowledge of history would surely earn her top marks.  But for now she was content getting through secondary school and passing her grades.  She spent just about all of her spare time with Jess, her best friend, whom she had met in primary school.  They were inseparable and Jess seemed to fill the void of her father’s absence whom she missed so desperately.  Jess had a passion for music and was a gifted pianist.  Often Isabel tagged along to Jess’s music recitals and they performed duets at school concerts.  She was there to encourage Jess when she felt nervous performing her solo numbers.   They declared that they would be best friends for the rest of their lives and nothing would ever separate them.  

On Sunday mornings when Isabel worked at her local flower shop she got to know the locals very well and she loved seeing the joy on their faces when she made up their bouquets of flowers.  Lilies, chrysanthemums, orchards, tulips and freesias filled the shop with colour.  Every time the shop door opened the sweet smell of jasmine made Isabel think of the scented flowers that filled her grandmother’s garden every time she visited.   

Since William had sold the penny black stamp the Pritchard family had bought a lovely home in Richmond, a lively borough just outside London on the River Thames.  For the first time they had a big garden and Isabel filled it with all sorts of colourful shrubs and flowers.  The windows at the front of the house had window boxes and every spring Isabel planted daffodils.  Her mum was happy for her to do as she pleased and the whole garden looked lovely.  However, one thing was missing that you would usually find in a garden.  There were no trees.  After her travels through the trees in Bishop’s park Isabel had a profound dislike of trees, especially big oaks.  She used to think the big oaks in Bishop’s park looked lovely in the summer as they swayed back and forth in the gentle wind.  In autumn she would watch the leaves turn golden to brown as they fell from the branches onto the dewey grass on her way to school in the morning.  Something so wonderful and pretty that gave life to the small animals that made the trees their home now became an aspect of nature she absolutely loathed.  She hoped that one day she might overcome this feeling of dread and fear but in the meantime it was the sweet smelling flowers that made her happy. 

Early one Sunday morning Isabel went about her usual business of watering the plants in the shop.  She swept up the leaves and petals from the floor and scooped them into a rubbish bag.  While she tidied up the shop she wondered what mother would be cooking for dinner that evening. When she finished Isabel grabbed her coat and headed for the door saying goodbye to the owner of the shop, Mrs Petunia, on her way out.  Of course, Mrs Petunia wasn’t her real name but everybody called her that because she loved petunias and personally delivered them to the hospital and local care homes.  She had done this for almost twenty years and one day as she dropped off the flowers at the hospital a little boy was visiting his sick brother.  He bumped into Mrs Petunia and her flowers fell to the floor.  The little boy helped pick them up and loved how the colours burst from the stems.  He asked the woman the names of the flowers and she told him they were petunias.  When the boy had finished helping pick up the flowers he said “goodbye Mrs Petunia” and darted back into his brother’s room.  And so the name Mrs Petunia had stuck.

When Isabel opened the shop door to leave a big cold gust of wind blew in and it made her shiver.  She pulled the door against the heavy wind and slammed it shut.  When she turned and took her first steps she felt a tap on her shoulder.  She ignored it thinking it was just the wind.  Another tap followed, although this tap felt more like a push or a shove.  It almost pushed her into the door and she quickly spun around.  Nobody was there.  She stood on the step and looked left and right down the street and all she saw was an old lady pushing a shopping cart.  The feeling of being pushed frightened her, for she knew it wasn’t really a gust of wind.  Normally Isabel walked the fifteen minute trip home but today she decided to catch the bus so she hurriedly walked across the road and waited at the bus stop.  She was relieved to see the Number 33 in the distance rumbling down the road and she began to feel safe again.  On the bus she sat behind a little girl and her mother.  The little girl turned around and gave Isabel a steely glare. Isabel winked at the girl and cheekily poked her tongue out.  The little girl grinned sheepishly and nestled into her mother’s arms.  How cute! thought Isabel. 

Arriving at home Isabel hung her coat and bag and found mother in the kitchen.

“Ooooh….what’s for dinner?” she asked as she gave her mother a big hug.

“Oh just a little dish I’m whipping up.”

“Home made lasagne.  My favourite!” squealed Isabel.  “You know that I love you more and more each…..”

“….Each and every time I cook your favourite meals” laughed mother.

There was no doubt about mother’s cooking.  She cooked pancakes for breakfast and prepared banquets for dinner.  No matter how busy the Pritchard’s were, they always made sure they were home in the evenings to have their family meals together.  

“How was your day?” mother asked.

“Pretty quiet.  Although I had the strangest feeling that I was followed home.”

“Oh dear” replied mother.  

“Oh no, it’s okay, really.”  Isabel saw the concern on mother’s face.  “It was just a weird feeling, nobody actually followed me home.  I guess I’m just a bit tired.”

“Well that’s a relief” sighed mother.

Isabel decided not to tell mother about the strange shove she felt as she left the shop.  It would worry her to no end and after what the family had been through the last thing any of them needed was worry.  Isabel convinced herself that her mind was playing tricks on her because she felt tired.  Since she last travelled through the trees she became quite jumpy at the slightest thing and didn’t much like being on her own.  Jess popped into the shop every so often and the two chatted about everything.  They chose the same classes at school so they could sit next to each other.  Isabel never told Jess about the family’s time travel through the trees, for it was a family secret that must remain that way forever, or so she thought.

That evening, the family sat down to a delicious lasagne together.  They chatted about their day.  William talked about his studies and how pressured he felt in preparing for his final school exams as he needed straight A’s to get into medical school. However, every time he thought about life at university, he felt incredibly sad that his dad couldn’t be there to help him, to answer all the complex questions about the human body, and to have someone to spend time with and chat endlessly about sport and all the stuff that boys and their dads talk about.

“Have you everything ready for school tomorrow?”  mother asked Isabel.

“There’s no homework.  We have the excursion to Kew Gardens.”

“Of course!  I completely forgot.  That sounds lovely.”

“I told Mrs Petunia I’d bring some flower seeds for the shop.”

“My darling” replied mother.  “Always thinking of others.”

The following morning Isabel arrived at school and lined up with the rest of her class in the courtyard as they waited for the bus to take them to Kew Gardens.  Jess sprinted into the school grounds, late as usual, and ran to the line.  Her hair was bobbing up and down, her laces were untied as she managed not to trip over them as she ran, which made her look rather funny trying to navigate her way around the laces as they flopped this way and that on the ground.  

“Izzy!” said Jess, puffing and panting.  The bus had arrived and the children all hopped on.

“You’re always late!” laughed Isabel.  “Don’t you have an alarm?”

“Oh yeah, mum’s my alarm!  She comes in and shakes the bed and I say I’m coming and then when she leaves I turn over and go back to sleep.  And you know how much I love to sleep.”

“How could I forget!  Remember that time you missed the bus for swimming trials last year? I had to pretend that you were actually on the bus so you wouldn’t get detention.”

“Ha ha” laughed Jess.  “I remember that!  Mum had to drive me to the aquatic centre and I had to sneak in and pretend I’d just finished the first race.”

After a noisy bus ride on the oldest school bus that possibly existed in the whole of England, the children had arrived at Kew Gardens.  At the entrance gate the teacher ushered the children through the gate and followed the path towards the glasshouse.  As Isabel stood on the steps outside the glasshouse she remembered the Crystal Palace at the Great Exhibition of 1851 and how similar they looked.  Both had a big glass dome in the centre and hundreds of panels of glass on either side of the big rectangular structure.  However, the glasshouse at Kew Gardens was dwarfed in size compared to the gigantic Crystal Palace that Prince Albert had painstakingly commissioned.   A gust of warm air surged into Isabel’s face when the doors were opened.  The glasshouse was filled with tropical plants from the world’s warmest climates and the room was warm and humid from the underground heating system that had been installed in the early nineteenth century.

“Hello there!” came a nearby voice.  “Pop yourselves over here.”  The children shuffled slowly towards the woman.  “Hurry up now.  We have a lot to learn” said the voice enthusiastically.

A woman with an apron around her waist and a pair of secateurs in her hand stood at a bench.  The children mingled around the bench with their pens and papers and the woman introduced herself as Mrs Struber.

“Good morning class, I’m Mrs Struber and the building you are in is called ‘Temperate House’.  It was built in 1862, is six hundred and twenty eight feet long and houses over fifteen hundred species of plants.  She continued telling the class about the tropical plants and how they came to be in Kew Gardens.

“When Joseph Banks travelled the world on the Endeavour with Captain James Cook in 1768 he brought back thousands of species of plants, many of which were planted right here” hollered Mrs Struber.  “The enormous glass and iron structure was not only the largest greenhouse in the world, but home to plants and trees from Australia, the Pacific Islands and The Americas to name just a few.”

As the children stood there, they looked utterly bored.  Some fidgeted with their smart watches, some looked out of the glasshouse windows behind Mrs Struber and watched the gardeners carrying plants in wheelbarrows around the pathways and some children just stood silently, probably counting down the days until the end of term or wondering what they were planning to do on the weekend.

By lunchtime the class had made their way over to the Orangery cafe, a long white building with rows of arched windows alongside the front.  The children sat at tables scattered around the cafe and ate their lunch from their backpacks.  As they ate their lunch they chatted in little groups while Mrs Struber ate her lunch with the class teacher.  When lunch had finished, the children were free to roam the gardens and meet back at the entrance to return to school. They had one hour to find a plant and research all they could as part of their homework.

Isabel and Jess decided to walk over to the other side of the gardens and see what they could find.  It was a beautiful day to be outside, for the sky was blue and the flowers in Kew Garden were in full bloom.  It was lovely to walk past rows of yellow daffodils as people wandered around the gardens chatting happily.  

The pair walked around the gardens arm in arm.  Jess pulled a bag of sweets from her purse and they ate them as they walked.  They stopped when they found themselves in front of a big red house.  The grand house was three storeys tall, had more than twenty windows and no less than fifteen chimneys pots on the roof.  It was massive and looked even bigger as it stood alongside the banks of the Thames River.  When the sun shone over the house it changed in colour to a bright terracotta.

“What’s that over there?” asked Jess.

“Not sure.  Looks like a big old house.”

“A bit odd in the middle of a park.  I wonder if anyone lives there.”

“I wouldn’t think so” said Isabel.  “Maybe a few hundred years ago.”

“It’s quite beautiful, don’t you think?”

“Yes it’s very pretty.  Shall we have a look?”

The two girls walked up to the grand house and stepped inside.  A rope intertwined on metal poles had cordoned off sections of the house.  It looked somewhat like a museum and the girls walked into the first room on the left, which had obviously been used as a library in a bygone era.  A big mahogany desk sat in the corner with a big leather chair behind it.  The room smelled old and musty.  Isabel noticed some paintings on the walls.  One grand looking painting showed a regal-looking man wearing a military uniform while other smaller paintings showed a mother and her children sitting around her.  Judging from their clothes they were wearing Isabel assumed the paintings were at least two hundred years old.  The little boys wore knickerbockers and the men wore tights.  They had enormous white wigs perched on their heads.

Isabel poured her eyes admiringly at all of the faces in the paintings.  She was fascinated with all of the people gazing back at her and when she slowly moved past the painting, it was as though the people looking at her were also looking back at her.  In the far corner of the room another painting caught her attention.  She walked closer to it and all of a sudden she began trembling.  The man in the painting wore long red robes and a gold crown sat neatly on his head.  It was clear he was a king.  He proudly showed off the shiny rings on his fingers as he clutched the sceptre. He looked very important and he held his head high.  Isabel stopped and stared.  There was something about this painting that felt odd.  She couldn’t put her finger on it so she stood back and looked at it from a different angle.  

“Oh my!” she shrieked.

“What is it?” asked Jess, startled.

“Oh my!” was all Isabel could say.  She was in complete and utter shock. She took a closer look and there it was again, as clear as daylight. 

As Isabel stood there in utter shock, and Jess wondering what on earth was going on, a man entered the room.

“Who are you?” he bellowed.  “What are you doing in here?”  With his hands on his hips he waited for an answer.  Isabel was in so much shock she didn’t even notice the man standing there.  

“Errr…..we were just leaving” stammered Jess as she grabbed hold of Isabel’s hand and pulled her away from the picture.  “Come on Izzy, let’s go.”

The girls scurried past the man and out the front door.  

“What was that about?” asked Jess.

“I’m sorry Jess, I have to get home.  I can’t explain it, I just need to go.”

The girls ran through the gardens and back into the glasshouse. As soon as they were inside they stopped to catch their breath. 

“Right” said Jess.  “You can tell me what’s going on later.  The nearest exit is through those doors and straight to back to the bus.”

“I can’t wait for the bus!” cried Isabel.  “I have to get home now!  I need to see my mum!”

Isabel ran through the glasshouse and pushed the doors open at the other end. 

Jess ran behind her. “Wait!” she said.  “We have to wait for the class!  We can’t just leave!”

Isabel ignored Jess and kept running towards the exit.  She ran around a tree and literally ran into a gardener.

“I’m really sorry” said Isabel as the gardener looked nonplussed.  

“Look where you’re going” he muttered and walked off with his wheelbarrow. 

Isabel continued running and soon started to feel tired.  Her legs felt heavy and she began dragging her feet.  She ran past a tree and tripped over its roots ending up face down on the ground.  Jess soon caught up with her. “Are you okay?” she asked, puffing and panting.

“I’m okay, I just tripped over these stupid roots.  Stupid tree.”

“Let me help” said Jess.  “Here, give me your hand and I’ll pull you up.”

Jess tried to heave Isabel up from the ground she also fell down and burst out laughing.

“It’s not funny!” Isabel was quite upset that Jess thought the whole incident was so entertaining.

“Sorry” replied Jess.  “I know you need to get home.  Come on, let’s go.”

Around Isabel’s neck small was vial of liquid which was given to her by mother who instructed her to take it everywhere she went.  The liquid was a very special potion that mother had created. It was the only potion she had made since she went through the trees as a young girl and decided to live a normal life as a mortal.  Isabel and William didn’t need magic potions to travel through the trees, but mother often wondered how long the trees would be open for the children to travel through.  When William couldn’t get back home from 1851 because Raven had wickedly removed his tree, mother wasted no time in ensuring the safety of her children.  So she made up her own spell and the potion was created.  If the children ever got stuck without their tree it could be used to travel.  Isabel carried the vial around her neck and although she never used it, she felt safe knowing that it would always there, just in case.

Isabel didn’t notice that the vial of liquid had cracked for she was too preoccupied in what she had seen at the big red house.  Jess grabbed Isabel’s arm and when the girls managed to stand up Jess placed her hands on the tree to balance herself.

Isabel eventually found her feet and when she stood up she brushed the dirt and grass from her trousers. 

“Right.  Let’s get out of here.”  Isabel said as she scooped her backpack up off the ground.

When Jess didn’t respond Isabel looked around. 

“Jess?”

She looked here and there but Jess wasn’t anywhere.  

“Jess!” hollered Isabel.  “Jess!  Where are you?”

Where is she?  she wondered as she looked around the gardens.  She can’t have gone far.

How strange thought Isabel.  Then she realised the collar of her top was damp.  She quickly pulled the chain from under her top and opened her hands.  The vial was broken and small shards of glass glistened in her hand.  The vial was broken.  The liquid was all gone.   

“Nooooooo!……no..no…no….no!!!” was the only word Isabel could speak when she looked up and saw the tree.  She then realised that Jess had travelled.  To where she had no clue.  All she knew was that she had to find Jess and bring her home.  She could be anywhere, in any century.  What a predicament!  She had to find Jess who had no knowledge of travelling through the trees and who would be absolutely distraught by now.  Isabel could go through the same tree and bring her home, but what if something awful happened and she couldn’t get back?  She would never be able to see her mother again and her family would never know what had happened to her.

Regardless of the danger she was faced with she knew what she had to do.

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