Fear in the Cotswolds

Fear in the Cotswolds by Rebecca Tope Read Free Book Online

Book: Fear in the Cotswolds by Rebecca Tope Read Free Book Online
Authors: Rebecca Tope
to the left, rather than dive into the warmth of the shelter, where she might have found him sitting on the donkey’s hay. Puzzled, her gaze followed the wavering line of prints which went away to the left, and the neighbouring field.
    The donkey seemed to have grown resigned to the weather, and had even made a little track of his own, where he had emerged for a short walk at some point. Not his usual circuit of the paddock, but at least a brief bit of exercise, down the slope towards the big new gate. The snow was scuffed, as if the animal had been frisking as he went – and he must have retraced his own tracks, creating quite a definite pathway. ‘You’vebeen walkabout, I see,’ Thea said. He nuzzled her amiably, and ate the hay she gave him with slow crunching movements. Quite how animals made soft hay crunch was a mystery she had stopped trying to solve some time ago.
    Outside again, she took another look at the footprints that had so alarmed her. Where had the person gone? What kind of a struggle must it have been to walk across open fields, negotiating fences and hidden hummocks? And why ? Was it a recognised short cut?
    Belatedly, she recalled Lucy’s reference to ‘Old Kate’. Was there an even more isolated and struggling woman than Thea herself, further down the track? Had she made the footprints, walking home late at night, for some reason? In an instant, the walker was transformed from a sinister threatening stranger, male and aggressive, to a floundering elderly woman, stoically traversing the snowy expanses in an effort to get home.
    Hepzie had obviously exhausted her playfulness, and had not followed Thea to the donkey shed. Instead she remained in the yard, idly sniffing at the rabbits in their own quarters. Were they all right, Thea wondered? Did rabbits freeze to death in weather like this? They had seemed fine the day before. The niggling worry was swamped by the much larger concern aboutthe maker of the footprints. Instead of rushing indoors in such a cowardly fashion, she should have thought about the poor person out in the cold, who obviously had no harmful intent.
    Doggedly she accepted that she ought to investigate. She ought to go to Old Kate’s and make sure she was all right. After all, it would be good to share the difficulties, and talk to another person, even one with a formidable temper, according to Lucy. And so she set out cautiously to follow the footprints and see where they led.
    It took ten minutes to traverse the paddock beyond the donkey shed. When she reached the wire mesh fence, she found no way through. The unknown walker must have climbed over, which a close examination of the prints confirmed. ‘Must have longer legs than mine,’ she muttered, before throwing one leg over the wire and finding herself uncomfortably straddling the fence, with no alternative but to pitch herself over, landing on her hands. Thankful for the woolly gloves, she picked herself up and pressed on.
    The field tilted downhill, the tracks following the fence down to a shallow bowl, typical of the Cotswolds where the ground undulated crazily like a rumpled duvet on an untidy bed. In the same field, but at some distance, she could see a small group of Hereford cattle, their red coats shaggy against the white snow. They werestanding up to their knees in snow, and Thea paused a moment to worry about how they could find anything to eat. They had trodden down the snow for a wide area from the fence almost to a patch of trees at the other side of the field.
    But they had not followed the human track closely enough to obscure it. Thea spied it snaking away to the right and down a sudden slope. As she began on the same course, she could see something dark in the snow, huddled in the hollow, close to the point where the new fence turned at a right angle to form the northern boundary of the donkey paddock.
    Rapid movement was impossible, every step a heave and a plunge, the snow almost reaching the top of her

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