The Silver Dolphin - A Novel by Louise Cooper


Guard this stone that prisons me,
For if it should be cast away,
Then I shall come from surging sea
And turn your world to stormy grey…

Tamzin has come to stay with her artist Nan in Cornwall. When she first explores the house, in its valley above the beach, the last room she comes to is Nan's studio. And here she finds something very strange and intriguing…

Nan's studio was full of canvases, tubes of paint, rags and bottles — all the clutter of an artist’s workplace. Tamzin moved slowly round the room, looking at everything but being careful not to touch. In one corner stood a tall cupboard with a glass door. She paused in front of it, to see what was inside—
            And stopped.
On a shelf in the cupboard, roughly level with her eyes, was a little statue of a horse. It seemed to be made of a kind of rough stone, and in the shadows away from the ceiling light its colour looked granite grey. The horse was rearing high and, though it was quite crudely carved, it somehow seemed so realistic that Tamzin shuddered. Everything about it was angry, from its stiff mane and tail to its teeth, which were bared in a ferocious challenge. Chips of red stone had been set into the skull to make its eyes, and they glittered in the gloom with a strange, cruel light of their own.
            Tamzin stood motionless, staring. The statue fascinated her, yet at the same time there was something frightening and horrible about it. Part of her wanted to run out of the room and never look at it again. Another part, though, was urging her to open the cupboard door, reach in and pick the statue up. It was as if the angry little horse was calling to her, hypnotising her.
            Tamzin spun round as the spell shattered. She felt strangely guilty when she saw Nan standing in the doorway, and, confused, she babbled, `I’m sorry! I was only looking, I wasn’t going to touch it!’
            `Touch what?’ said Nan.
            Tamzin gulped. `The statue. The one of the rearing horse.‘
            `Oh,’ said Nan. `You’ve seen that, have you?’
            Tamzin nodded. `It’s... creepy,’ she said.
            `It’s that, all right.’ Nan’s face was suddenly grim. `And it’s very old. It’s been in the family for centuries. I keep it there out of the way because...’ She hesitated, and Tamzin ventured,
            `Because it’s so valuable?’
            `Yes,’  Nan agreed quickly. `Yes, that’s it. It’s very valuable, and it mustn’t get broken. So I want you to promise me that you won’t touch it.’
            Tamzin nodded. `I promise.’
            `Cross your heart?’
            Tamzin was surprised. Adults didn’t usually say things like that. But from the look on Nan’s face it was clear that a simple `promise’ wasn’t enough. She was waiting, and uneasily Tamzin nodded again. `Cross my heart,’ she repeated solemnly.
            `Good.’ Nan looked relieved. `Well, it’s getting late; time you were in bed.’
            Suddenly Tamzin knew that what she’d said about the statue wasn’t the whole truth. There was another reason why the little horse was kept out of the way, and Nan didn’t want Tamzin to know what that reason was. But Tamzin wanted to know. She wanted it very badly, and she started to say, `Nan, why is the statue—'
            Nan interrupted. `Never mind that now, dear.’ Her words were kind enough, but her voice was sharp. `I said it’s bedtime. Come along.’
            She hurried Tamzin out of the room and shut the door very firmly. As they walked away, Tamzin looked back. She felt uneasy, and she didn’t know why.
            But she didn’t like the feeling at all.
In bed that night, Tamzin couldn’t stop thinking about the little stone figure. Why had Nan made her promise not to touch it? She wasn’t going to break it; shewas old enough to be responsible, and much too careful to do anything silly. It was insulting. What right did Nan have to tell her what she could and couldn’t do? If she wanted to touch the statue, why shouldn’t she? 
            If Tamzin had been thinking clearly, she would have realised that it wasn’t at all like her to get so angry about such a petty thing. Somehow, though, it didn’t occur to her that there was anything strange about the feeling. And the last thought she had before she fell asleep was:
            I’ll touch it if I want to. I will. I will.
She woke in the morning to the sound of gulls screaming as they wheeled above the house and along the valley. The day was bright with a brisk wind, the air smelled fresh and salty, and from the garden it was just possible to hear the sea. Even Nan's black cat, Baggins, was friendly and purred at her. But Tamzin hardly noticed all these things. She was thinking about the little stone horse.
            `I’m going to the village soon,' Nan said after breakfast. 'Would you like to come?’
            Tamzin’s heart gave a strange, eager skip. `Um... do you mind if I don’t?’ she said.  
            `Of course not. Tomorrow, maybe.’
            Tamzin almost ran upstairs, and when she reached her room she shut the door and sat down on the bed. She felt breathless and excited. Nan was going out, which meant that she would have the house to herself for a while.
            And down below in the studio, the little stone horse was luring her...
            Nan left a few minutes later. Tamzin waited until the noise of her little car had died away in the distance, then she ventured into the hall. Her heart was jumping like a grasshopper, and she had a strong urge to go on tiptoe. How silly — there was no one to hear her. Yet she couldn’t shake off the feeling that another, unseen presence was in the house, following invisibly in her footsteps.
            In the hall, the sense of being watched was so strong that she looked back over her shoulder. But it was just her imagination, of course. There was no one there.
            She hurried to Nan’s studio. The curtains were pulled back and the view was wonderful, but Tamzin ignored it.  She went to the corner cupboard, and looked through the glass door.
            The stone horse was still there. She had been half afraid that Nan might have moved it, but it seemed Nan trusted her to keep her promise. Tamzin felt a pang of guilt. Deep down she knew it was wrong of her to break her word. Then the guilt faded. What harm could there be in just holding the stone horse for a minute? She would look at it more closely, then put it carefully back, and Nan would never know that she had touched it.
            The cupboard door wasn’t locked, but it was very stiff, as if it hadn’t been opened for a long time. When Tamzin finally managed to jerk it open, the whole cupboard rocked. The little horse teetered, too—then suddenly it tipped right over.
            `Oh, no!’ Tamzin made a desperate grab for the statue as it started to fall from its shelf. For one awful moment she thought it was going to slip through her fingers and crash to the floor, but at the last instant her hands seemed to close of their own accord, and the statue was safely caught. She breathed a vast sigh of relief, then, as her pulse slowed down after the panic, she looked closely at her prize.
            The horse was made of a granite-grey stone, and it wasn’t at all beautiful. In fact, she thought, it was ugly, with its heavy head, ears laid flat back and savage expression. It looked... what? Tamzin fumbled for the word she wanted, and found it at last. It looked cruel.
            She turned the statue over, and saw that some words had been carved on its base.
            `Gweetho An Men Ma...’ She murmured them to herself. Whatever did they mean? They were not like any language she had ever seen, and she could make no sense of them.
            A cold shiver went through Tamzin. Something about the stone horse was making her skin crawl. Why had she been fascinated with it—so fascinated that she had been ready to break her promise to Nan? All those feelings had suddenly winked away into nothing, leaving a sense of dread in their place. She didn’t want to touch the statue any more. She didn’t want anything to do with it. She just wanted to put it back, and try to forget that she had ever set eyes on it. 
            She turned quickly back to the cupboard, stretching up to the shelf—and the stone horse movedin her grasp.
            Tamzin gave a cry of shock, and jerked her hands up. She didn’t mean to fling the statue away from her but she couldn’t help it. In an awful frozen moment she saw it spinning in the air, and she knewwhat was going to happen.
            The statue hit the floor and shattered into pieces. As it broke, Tamzin had a second shock—for a chilly light flickered through the room, and she seemed to hear an eerie, bell-like sound that was almost like a horse neighing shrilly. She stood frozen, staring down in horror at the smashed statue. The light and the sound had gone in an instant, but she was certain she hadn’t imagined them. What did they mean? What had she done…?