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Josephine Cox Sunday Times Bestsellers Collection

Josephine Cox Sunday Times Bestsellers Collection
Josephine Cox Sunday Times Bestsellers Collection Josephine Cox HarperCollins The Journey Journeys End The Loner Born Bad Three Letters The Broken Man Josephine Cox Copyright (#uc4d807b4-bc57-57a9-9eba-87bfa35ece1e) Published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF www.harpercollins.co.uk (http://www.harpercollins.co.uk) The Journey First published in Great Britain by HarperCollinsPublishers 2005 Journeys End First published in Great Britain by HarperCollinsPublishers 2006 The Loner First published in Great Britain by HarperCollinsPublishers 2007 Born Bad First published in Great Britain by HarperCollinsPublishers 2009 Three Letters First published in Great Britain by HarperCollinsPublishers 2012 The Broken Man First published in Great Britain by HarperCollinsPublishers 2013 Copyright Josephine Cox 2014 Jacket layout design HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 2014 Josephine Cox asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work. A catalogue copy of this book is available from the British Library. This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the authors imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins. Source ISBN: 9780007146147, 9780007146178, 9780007279548, 9780007290048, 9780007419975, 9780007419906 Ebook Edition July 2014 ISBN: 9780007590667 Version: 2017-05-23 Table of Contents Cover (#u6b524bbf-15b6-5394-ad2d-da426312138b) Title Page (#u790b5d2f-282b-5afd-b7c0-dfec8264cc79) Copyright The Journey (#u0ca39ba8-860c-5fb8-ae7f-8dfdd8547de0) Journeys End (#u3557c25c-be93-5aad-8b90-930f62a9bd7c) The Loner (#litres_trial_promo) Born Bad (#litres_trial_promo) Three Letters (#litres_trial_promo) The Broken Man (#litres_trial_promo) About the Author Also by Josephine Cox About the Publisher JOSEPHINE COX The Journey DEDICATION (#ulink_2bea0bbb-49d0-50bb-8c98-028cd6098828) For my darling Ken, as ever CONTENTS TITLE PAGE (#u97bf4227-ef28-52a8-b28c-8a4a137511a8) DEDICATION (#uedad7e08-28d3-56e0-8e79-aed428012a83) PART ONE (#u1d414f55-0395-5209-9ccd-a25925c292b3) CHAPTER ONE (#u0e02c649-65d9-5e42-b244-37582e9090c0) CHAPTER TWO (#u39f8449d-67cc-5846-b465-9773553af9d6) CHAPTER THREE (#u4fdd9b33-a084-5ca8-bfab-2ec4926cffce) CHAPTER FOUR (#u14765c16-fca8-5b30-a473-f6e4675c4f0f) CHAPTER FIVE (#udd8cbe08-053f-5096-87c2-05c4fc861101) PART TWO (#u4b600ace-9402-5c36-bb40-79ec047c42a3) CHAPTER SIX (#uf8548178-8bc0-5974-aee9-fd17b332cded) CHAPTER SEVEN (#ud178e847-ef2e-598f-a270-68ce7c81e4aa) CHAPTER EIGHT (#uaef9ffea-b72a-536f-bab5-d7863310b90d) CHAPTER NINE (#ua71746b6-9b60-577b-aeea-7044279ee783) CHAPTER TEN (#u70047c44-ae9c-5f34-8d1c-df4bdfd20874) CHAPTER ELEVEN (#ubf3f2f83-bb89-514e-9624-359038ee1a4d) CHAPTER TWELVE (#u8eff559d-cee5-5f55-b36b-1318efc8c43f) CHAPTER THIRTEEN (#u69b9880e-12a0-5ec7-aba3-2c8818fb304e) PART THREE (#ufb01b50b-761d-52d6-8fa2-3f56cce3af46) CHAPTER FOURTEEN (#u473fdf72-1941-5f70-b078-e9e4b5c7f8e5) CHAPTER FIFTEEN (#u2e30f5cf-da34-5ea1-b37b-5d06d87aa24e) CHAPTER SIXTEEN (#uae5516f4-93f1-5b5f-9d01-97abfc42be58) CHAPTER SEVENTEEN (#uae0915cb-7716-5511-a76f-2b4df76c8f61) CHAPTER EIGHTEEN (#u5503fb3c-f233-5705-aca6-4093be5bd02a) CHAPTER NINETEEN (#ua73fb400-dbd9-552b-84ee-8c386087422a) CHAPTER TWENTY (#u481e599c-448c-528d-b3a1-6b0d8dc70c63) PART FOUR (#ue8703aec-41d3-5b2c-9495-77752f06eded) CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE (#ub583980d-a2b5-5c30-bc1c-eea420611eb4) ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS (#u299beee4-9411-520c-a5b4-c2c4ec2362c0) Part 1 (#ulink_fb548221-9830-5d43-b4f8-6ff2cb23b4c2) January, 1952 The Woman Chapter 1 (#ulink_ba3c0a15-5160-5673-8449-310cfc7554ab) Salford, Bedfordshire HE HAD SEEN them twice before, and each time his curiosity was aroused. Arm-in-arm, the two women would come softly into the churchyard, place their flowers, and linger awhile before leaving in the same discreet manner in which they had arrived. Today, as his bumbling black Labrador Chuck tugged on the lead, the dogs nostrils twitching at the secret scent of rabbits in the churchyard, the women came again. He tried not to seem interested, but the moment they walked through the gate and passed him by, he could not stop himself from sneaking a glance. They acknowledged him with a polite nod of the head, then moved on, intent about their business. It was almost as if he was not there. In her own way, each of the women was beautiful. The taller of the two, who looked about fifty, had long chestnut-brown hair, grey in places, tied back with a ribbon, and lovely golden-brown eyes, a smart though ample figure and softly rounded features. Today, the bouquet of evergreens cradled in her arm seemed to accentuate her beauty; though it was not a virgin beauty, for the crippling seasons of time and emotion were deeply etched in her face. She walked with a stick, long and slender with bone handle and silver-capped toe. It was obvious that she was crippled in some slight way, though this did not detract from her air of dignity and sense of purpose. With her sombre bearing and her carefully-measured steps, she made a striking figure. He knew they were headed for the same headstone, where he himself had paused many times. In the shape of a cross, the headstone was small and nondescript, yet the words written there were so powerful, they raised that humble stone above all others. The words, carved deep, read: BARNEY DAVIDSON 18901933 A MAN OF COURAGE.HE MADE THE GREATESTSACRIFICE OF ALL. Having read the inscription and been intrigued by it, Ben knew it off by heart. It had set his thoughts alight with all manner of questions. What had this man done to deserve such an accolade? What did the words mean? And who had ordered them to be inscribed? Somehow, he didnt think it had anything to do with the heroism of war. This Barney Davidson would have been twenty-four when World War One broke out and no doubt the young man had played his part but he had died well before the second lot. His attention was drawn to the two women. With such tenderness that it took him aback, the older one stroked the tips of her fingers over the dead mans name. Her voice broke with pride as she murmured, Oh, my dearest Barney. In that moment when she lifted her gaze to the heavens, her brown eyes glittered with tears. So much pain, he thought. So much emotion. He sensed that, somewhere deep inside, she carried a terrible burden. What was that old saying? The eyes are the mirror of the soul. He wondered what sorrowful secrets were hers. The mans discreet gaze went now to the younger woman. Smaller, with a neat, if slightly plump figure, her fair hair was bobbed to the shoulders, and even from where he stood, he could see that her pretty eyes were the deepest shade of blue lavender. He imagined that normally, those eyes were quick to smile but not today. Today her concerned gaze was trained on the older woman. The two visitors were sensibly dressed. Like himself, each wore a long coat and sturdy shoes, for the weather had been foul of late, and in places the ground underfoot was treacherous. In the early hours of this January Sunday in 1952, ditches and paths had run high with the melting remnants of a heavy snowfall. By midday the wind had heightened and now, judging by the darkening skies, it seemed a new storm was gathering. Here, Chuck. Here, boy! he said in a harsh whisper, and tugged on the leash, quickly bringing the dog to heel. In a burst of affection, the animal jumped up and licked him, nearly sending him flying. Recovering, he patted the dog, then set off for the lych-gate and home. He was only a few strides away from Barney Davidsons tomb when the women left it and began walking on, merely an arms reach in front of him. Slowing his step, he continued to follow, the dog plodding obediently at his side. They were almost at the gate when the older womans stick slipped in the mud and she fell heavily, seeming to twist her leg as she did so. When her young companion cried out and immediately began struggling to bring her upright, he ran forward. Please let me help? Sliding his two hands under the older ones arms, he gently hoisted her up. When she seemed steady, he let go, recovered her walking stick and handed it to her. No real harm done, I hope? he said politely. Thank you. Her dark eyes appraised him. As you can see, Im not as agile as I once was. A softer voice interrupted. Yes, thank you, Mr ? The young woman frowned. How can we thank you properly, when we dont know your name? His warm gaze enveloped her pretty face. The names Ben, he revealed. Benjamin Morris. Holding out his hand in greeting, he was pleasantly surprised and thrilled when she put her small hand in his. Surprised, because he found her grip firm and strong, as though she worked with her hands in some way. Thrilled because she seemed to hold on just that moment longer than necessary. Having witnessed his reaction, the older woman gave a pleasant laugh. My daughter Mary has a strong grip for a little one, dont you think? Mary tried to explain. It comes from gardening, she said shyly. A few years ago our old gardener retired, and rather than take on someone new, I persuaded Mother to let me have a go at the job. Her face flushed with pleasure. Its hard work, mind, but I love every minute of it. Mary is a worker, all right, her mother declared. When shes not up to her eyes in the garden, she works five days a week in her flower-shop in Leighton Buzzard, and whenever the chance arises, shes out and about delivering the flowers herself, driving the shop-van. Tutting, she finished quietly, I dont know where she finds the energy! A busy lady then? Ben looked down into that bright lively face and wondered why she was not married. And may I ask what you do in this garden of yours? It was the mother who answered. She spends every spare minute shes got in it, thats what she does! From the reproachful glance she gave Mary, it was apparent that she thought her daughter should be enjoying her life and doing other things while she was still young. She grows all our own produce, she said proudly, and shes completely redesigned the garden, made it into a little paradise with delightful walkways and colourful blossom round every corner, except, she glanced at the ominous skies, of course, on days like this. Then it sounds like time well spent, Ben commented. He wondered why it was that Mary spent every spare minute in the garden. Did she never go out? Was she never approached by men who would like to enjoy her company? She was such a fetching little thing, he certainly wouldnt mind the opportunity to get to know her better. Oh, but the garden is so lovely! That was the mother talking again. Shes even managed to carve out a number of little nooky holes quiet places where you can escape the weather and enjoy your own company. The younger womans soft voice intervened. I just thought it would be nice to have a quiet place where you could hide from the rest of the world. Blushing under her mothers lavish praise, Mary made an effort to divert attention from herself. Do you like gardening, Mr Morris? For a long moment he gazed down on her, his heart turning over like never before. Why would you want to hide from the rest of the world? he asked, ignoring her question. Mary had not expected him to answer with a question of his own. Isnt that what we all sometimes need? she asked cagily. He wasnt sure how to respond to that, so he didnt. Instead he went back to her original question. I farm, he answered lamely. Im afraid there isnt a great deal of leisurely time left for gardening, or much else. Her smile was appreciative. In a way, farming could be called gardening, only on a larger scale dont you think? If you say so. When those lavender-blue eyes beamed as they did now, her whole face seemed to light up. Well, I never! With a quick, mischievous smile on her face, the older woman reminded them, Theres me badly injured, and you two exchanging pleasantries as if I wasnt even here. The pair of them were mortified. Whatever am I thinking of! Ben exclaimed. Im so sorry. He had been so occupied with the daughter, he had neglected the mother, and he was ashamed. I must get Mother home. With her eyes still on Ben, Mary shifted closer to the older lady. I dont know what I would have done if you hadnt been here just now. She had seen this stranger before, striding down the streets of Salford with his faithful dog in tow as she drove past in her van. Discreetly taking stock of him now that he was here, close beside her, she liked what she saw. Handsome, of manly build, with dark, expressive eyes, he seemed to be taken with her, and it was strange, but she felt oddly drawn to him. Im glad to have been of help. He wondered how he could sound so calm with his heart thumping fifteen to the dozen. He glanced at the older woman and caught the glint in her smiling eyes; he realised she was taking everything in. He gestured at her ankle. From the look of it, I dont think youve broken anything. She nodded. Its probably just a sprain. Once I get home and put my feet up, Ill be right as rain. Its best you dont put too much weight on that foot. Pointing across the fields, to the rambling, white-washed house in the distance, he informed them, Far Crest Farm, thats where I live. Ill help you up there, shall I, to take a look at the ankle and see what can be done. Sensing their reluctance, he quickly added, Or, if youd prefer, I could nip up and get my car and take you home. Its only a few minutes to the farmhouse. The older woman thanked him. Dont think Im not grateful. She had a natural friendliness in her manner that warmed him to her. But Ill be well taken care of. Look there? Gesturing to the long dark car that waited by the kerbside outside the church, she revealed, I have a car and driver waiting. Flustered, Ben apologised. Oh, Im sorry. I didnt realise How could you? Her smile deepened. I might be a frail old biddy walking with the aid of a stick, but as you see, Im not short of a bob or two. Ben smiled. You dont strike me as a frail old biddy, he remarked, holding open the lych-gate for the two women to pass through it. In fact, I imagine if anyone got on the wrong side of you, they might rue the day. The girl Mary had to smile at his comment. Youre absolutely right. What you see is not always what you get. She gave her mother a curious glance. Still waters run deep, isnt that what they say? The older woman nodded but said nothing, though her gaze roamed back to the headstone, and the name Barney. He had been a man amongst men, she thought. A man of such bravery it made her humble. Even now after all these years her heart wept for him, and for the unbearable torment he had endured, all in the name of love. Oh, look! Here comes Adam now. As the driver approached to help her down the pavement, she reached out and shook Ben by the hand. Youve been very kind, Mr Morris. Thank you again. Leaning on the arm of her driver, she set off for the comfort of the big car, calling as she went, By the way, my name is Lucy. She had taken a liking to this young fella me lad and, from the look on her daughters face, she suspected Mary had done the same. Goodbye then, Ben replied. Take care of yourself. Not goodbye, Mary said hopefully. Im sure our paths will cross again. He smiled into her eyes. There was so much he would have liked to say, but not now. Maybe not ever, he thought sadly. In a moment the women were gone, and he felt lonely, as never before. Retracing his footsteps to the simple headstone, he read out the inscription. He made the greatest sacrifice of all The words burned in his soul. Barney Davidson he mused aloud. Lucys husband, maybe? Her brother? Somehow he didnt think so. His curiosity heightened. What great sacrifice did you make, Barney? he wondered. Deep in thought, he almost leaped out of his skin when a quiet voice said over his shoulder, Barney was Lucys husband died soon after they moved here. And as for the inscription Ive wondered that myself, many a time. Swinging round, Ben came face to face with the new vicar, the Reverend Michael Gray. Oh, its you, Vicar! He greeted the older man with a sheepish grin. I dont usually make a habit of talking to myself, he explained, but I must admit, I am curious. You know what they say about a man who talks to himself? In his late fifties, balding and bespectacled, Mike Gray had the hang-dog look of a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders. And yet his smile was heavenly. When he began walking towards the gate, Ben went with him. As you know, Ive only been here a matter of a few months, the vicar went on to remind him, but like you, Im intrigued by that grave. Maybe you should ask the ladies? Ben suggested. Im sure they wouldnt mind it coming from you I mean, you being their vicar here at Saint Andrews. Mike Gray shook his head. There have been times when I was sorely tempted to ask, he confessed, and slid a finger round to loosen his dog-collar. Then I felt I might be intruding, so I thought it best to wait, at least until I know them a little better. Theyve been worshipping here for around twenty years, I believe. But of course, the war has occupied everyones thoughts, and that tombstone is old history now. Youre probably right, Ben replied. All the same, its a curious thing, an inscription like that. Yes. As you say, a curious thing. The Reverend paused to stroke Chucks glossy head. Our man obviously did something out of the ordinary. His features crinkled into a wry little smile. Its to be hoped we might all of us aspire to great things before were called. Raising his gaze to the skies, he gave a long, deep sigh. Sadly, a lot of poor devils had to be heroes in the war, whether they wanted to, or not. The truth of it is, most of us simply do not have greatness in us. By the time they reached the gate, the men had covered every possibility. Maybe he saved a life by forfeiting his own? Ben speculated. Mmm. The vicar nodded. Or he may have shown true bravery during the Great War. Certainly his age suggests he could well have been called up to serve his country. Ben considered that. Could be. Pausing in his stride, Mike Gray glanced back towards the headstone, now dim in the failing light. Whatever that inscription means, he declared soundly, we can assume that our Barney Davidson was a remarkable man. Hearing a scuffle behind a great yew that stood near the vestry, Chuck suddenly slipped his lead and raced off. While Ben called him back, the vicar had spotted a dark object lying on the ground. He stooped to pick it up. Well, I never! He wiped off the smears of dirt and dampness with the cuff of his sleeve. A knowing smile creased his face. This must belong to one of our ladies, he said. Maybe, if you were to return this, you might be privileged to discover the true nature of that inscription? Marys mother must have dropped it when she fell over earlier. I would gladly deliver the handbag. Ben recalled the young woman and those pretty lavender-blue eyes. It would be good to see her again, he thought. Only I dont know where they live. Couldnt be easier. They live at Knudsden House you must know the place, the Reverend Gray prompted. I recall admiring it when I came into the village for the first time. Its that big Edwardian house, with the large, beautifully kept gardens. You cant miss it. Ben had seen the place. An architect by training, he took a keen interest in the buildings around him. Of course! he cried. Its the one set back from the lane, behind tall iron gates. He shook his head in disbelief. I would never have guessed they lived there. Somehow, despite the elegant walking stick, and the chauffeur-driven car, he had pictured the women living in a large rambling cottage, with thatched roof and roses growing at the door. The vicar remarked thoughtfully, According to my housekeeper, Knudsden house used to belong to the village squire; he passed on some twenty years ago, and the house was put up for sale. Taking a moment to recall his housekeepers exact words, he went on, It was then bought by Mr Davidson and his wife. Their daughter Mary was just an infant at the time. They were a family who preferred to keep themselves very much to themselves. There was a silence as Ben digested all of this information. The vicar added thoughtfully, For a long time they rarely ventured out. In recent years though, they have concerned themselves more with the community, and have given generously to any good cause; the daughter with her time and labour, and the mother with cash donations. Hmh! For someone who knows very little about the family, you seem to have gathered a fair amount of information. So I have. The vicar had surprised himself. Dont forget, I have my spies, he said wryly. My housekeeper comes from a long line of gossips whove lived in this village since time began, so it goes without saying that what she doesnt know isnt worth knowing. Mind, the dead are good at keeping secrets and even she doesnt know the answer to the mystery of that inscription. When the Labrador bounded up, Ben grabbed his lead and wound it around his wrist. He shivered. The temperature had dropped, almost while they were talking. And what about the daughter? Ben asked. Did she attend the village school? No. Mary was educated at home. A tutor arrived each morning and departed every afternoon. The vicars voice dropped to a whisper. It must have been a very lonely life for a little girl. Ben was thinking the very same, and his heart went out to her. So, as far as you know, she never made friends? From what Im given to understand, the daughter has no close friends, but she does get on very well with the two women who help them out. Elsie Langton does a bit of housekeeping. Her married daughter Rona works in the flower-shop. Mary is closer to Rona, which is understandable when theyre at the shop together most days. Ben had heard the name. Is that the same Langton who keeps the smithy on the farm adjoining mine? Thats the father. He doesnt own the farm, I know that much, but he makes a reasonable living, what with his smithy and the market-gardening. The Langton family are closer to the Davidsons than anyone else in the village. What about the man who drives for them? Again, the vicar was able to satisfy his curiosity. Adam Chives is an old friend of Mrs Davidsons who comes from Liverpool. Hes a quiet, well-liked man who lives in the cottage next to the big house. He passed the handbag to Ben. I really must stop chatting and be on my way. Ill leave this with you, shall I? I wont be able to return it straight away. Ben took the handbag from him. Ive got hungry animals to be fed. Of course. I understand. Having worked all his adult life in rural parishes, the vicar was familiar with the way of things. The animals dont know or care what day it is, they still need tending. He gave a knowing nod. Much like my own flock, eh? Ben examined the handbag; it was an expensive-looking leather one. I wonder we didnt notice this on the ground before, he remarked. I mean, you could hardly miss it, could you? The vicar agreed, but just then he spotted a small, round person calling his attention from the lane. Thats Betty my housekeeper, he groaned. No doubt shes landed herself in another crisis. Last week she broke the new vacuum cleaner; the week before that she let the bathroom sink overflow and nearly flooded the Vicarage. He rolled his eyes heavenward. The Lord only knows what kind of chaos shes been up to now! He waved a hand to let her know he was on his way. Id best go, he grumbled, before the house comes tumbling down round our ears! His good-natured laugh told Ben he would probably forgive the housekeeper her latest mishap. What about the handbag? Ben called after Mike Gray. What if it doesnt belong to them? Then it will belong to someone else, I suppose, the man turned and answered. But we wont know until you ask, will we? Just take the handbag with you. You can return it to Knudsden House, after youve seen to your animals. His wink was meaningful. Besides, I saw you and young Mary chatting, and if you dont mind me saying, I thought you made a right handsome pair. Im sure she would be very pleased if you turned up on her front doorstep. Then he was away, rushing down the lane with a sense of urgency, following the small round person tripping on in front, shouting over her shoulder and seeming frantic about something or another. Smiling to himself, Ben went on his way. A vicars life wasnt as dull as hed imagined. Then he thought about Mary, and his mood softened. The vicar was right: he and the girl had got on very well, though whether she really would be pleased to see him turn up on her doorstep was another matter altogether. Away from the church-grounds and into open countryside, he set the dog loose. And dont go splashing through the brook! he called after the big animal. I havent got time to give you a bath today. He had more important things to do. Uppermost in his mind was the proposed visit to Knudsden House. Striding across the field, he kept a wary eye on the dog; when the Labrador took off after a rabbit, he called him back. Here, Chuck! Good boy. On his masters call, Chuck came bounding back, but was soon off again at the sight of another dog being set loose across the field. Seeing the reason for his pets excitement, Ben let him have his head, smiling at the sight of Chuck canoodling with the smaller, prettier animal. Casanova! Chase anything in a skirt, so you would, he said aloud. Covering the ground at a fast pace, he drew his coat tighter about him; the wind was getting up, the skies were darkening and the smell of storm was strong in the air. He called the dog to heel, but by now he was nowhere in sight. Chuck! Here, boy! He scoured the landscape, and called again, but the dog was gone. Ben was nearly home now. Quickening his steps, he made for the top of the rise. From there he had the world at his feet, and the dog in his sights. Cmon, fella! But Chuck was too engrossed in dancing after his fancy piece. With a sterner voice Ben caught his attention. Here, boy! he bellowed. With ears pricked and head bent to the wind, the dog raced up the hill and was soon close to heel. A few minutes later the two of them were hurrying down the path to the farmhouse. Im off now, Mr Morris. The old man came through the field gate and clicked it shut. I shant be sorry to get home, he told Ben. Its turned real chilly all of a sudden. Taking off his flat cap, he scratched his head and looked up to the skies. I reckon its blowing up a real nasty storm. Ben agreed. Youre right, he observed. Mind how you go and Ill see you tomorrow. When Ben bought the farm, old Les had been part and parcel of the place. Ben had never regretted agreeing to keep him on because he was hardworking and reliable, a real treasure; besides which he had a cheery wife to keep, and a lazy good-for-nothing grandson, who showed up from time to time looking for a handout, and though he was more trouble than he was worth, poor old Les never turned him away. Ive stripped the tree-branches and brought them down, Les informed him now. Youll find them all stood up at the back of the barn, ready for chopping. By the time youve finished, therell be enough to keep the whole of Salford in firewood. Oh, and Ive levelled that back field just as you asked though youll need a new axle for the tractor. If you ask me it wont last above another month at best. Quick to agree, Ben put a proposition to the old fella. I think its time we had a new tractor altogether. What would you say to that, eh? The old mans face lit up. Id say that were a blooming good idea! Right then. Well make arrangements to go and look at a few. Now get off home, Les, and take a well-earned rest. I could stay and help you with the animals if you like? From the moment he had shaken Bens hand, Les had recognised the good in him. His first impressions had proved right, for Ben was fair-minded, caring and generous, and though he had never worked on the land before he bought Far Crest Farm, he had taken to it like a duck to water. The missus wont mind, Les persisted. Just say the word and Ill be right behind you. Well have that lot fed in no time at all. Ben shook his head. Thanks all the same, but I can manage well enough on my own. Im not past it yet, Ill have you know, the old man argued. And it werent my fault that the boar took against me. I know youre not past it. And I also know it wasnt your fault that the boar took against you. But he did, and you were almost killed, and Im not prepared to take that chance again. Ben didnt want to hurt the old mans feelings, but if he hadnt managed to distract the boar that day, Les would have been killed for sure. As it was, he suffered a broken leg and had been left with a slight limp. Ben still felt guilty. Look, weve gone over all this time and again, and I wont change my mind, he said gently, then: Besides, dont you think you do enough round here already? I could do more, if only youd let me. Theres no need, Les. The arrangement we have works very well. We do the ploughing and sowing between us. I keep the hedges down, you bring in the old branches, and I chop them up. With the help of casual work when the harvest is got in, this little farm runs like clockwork, so lets not spoil a good thing, eh? The old man shrugged. If you say so, Mr Morris. I do, but dont think Im not grateful for the offer. Ill let you into a secret, shall I? I enjoy feeding the animals. He grinned. Theyve begun to think Im their mummy. The old man laughed. You certainly have a way with em, Ill say that for yer. He pulled the neb of his cap down over his forehead. If yer sure then, Id best make tracks. I expect the missus will have the tea on the table and the kettle already singing away. Before they parted, Ben assured him quietly, Les you do know I could never manage this place without you? That brought a smile to the old farmhands face, for he was well aware of how Ben Morris had bypassed younger, stronger men in order to keep him in work. Youre a good man, Mr Morris, God bless you. With that he was quickly gone, away down the path, off to the village, and home to his darling woman. For the next couple of hours, Ben was kept busy. He had a tried and tested feeding routine; despite this, it was not only a dirty job but a time-consuming one, too. There were two hundred chickens in the hen-house; twenty fat porkers in the pig-pens; the same number of milking cows in the small barn, and a small flock of thirty sheep in the big barn. Feeding them all took between two and three hours in the morning and the same at night, and when they were let loose in the fields, all the barns and sheds had to be mucked out, ready for when the weather turned and the animals were brought back in again. As he went inside the farmhouse, Ben gave a sigh of relief. He had fallen in love with the place the moment he set foot through the door. It was like a calm after the storm, a haven where he could lick his wounds and grow strong again. The year leading up to the move had been the worst of his life. After leaving the RAF, in which he had served for three years after his training, he had gone back to his career as an architect. When the company went bust through financial mismanagement and shortages of some basic materials, he took out a loan to start up his own business. Sadly, it never really took off. He sold the premises at a loss, and found work with the local council, but hated every minute of it. His wife grew distant because there were no longer the funds to maintain the kind of life she wanted. Then his lively, darling daughter Abbie, by then aged eighteen, moved out of the family home and he had missed her terribly. He hoped he and his wife Pauline would grow closer, and he believed this was happening until he caught her in bed with his best friend, Peter. There had been a long and unpleasant period when he didnt know which way to turn. His daughter had been his salvation, but she had already forged a life of her own; she shared a flat with two other girls and had a good job, working for a tea-importer in London. Thankfully, the break-up of her parents marriage had not seemed to interfere too much with all that. The divorce had been a messy business, and the only ones to come out of it winning were the lawyers. Still, Ben was determined not to slide into bitterness, because what was done was done, and there was no turning back for either of them. When it was over, he and his wife were left with enough from the sale of their family home to start again. She had gone to live abroad with her new husband, while Ben chose a completely different way of life. He was happy enough now. Perhaps happier, in a strange way, than he had ever been. Taking a deep invigorating sigh, he looked around the farmhouse. There was a warm feel of history in this delightful little place. He could not deny it had its disadvantages, though they were small compared to the joy he had found here. The whisper of a smile crossed his features as he recalled the number of times hed banged his head on the low cross-beams, and the wood-burning stoves caused more dust and dirt than he could ever have envisaged. The small windows were draughty, and when the wind drove the rain, it came right through the framework to soak the walls. The flagstone floors were sunk and broken in places and even in the height of summer there was a dampness in the air that got right into the bones. This was his first winter in the cottage, and once the better weather arrived, he knew he would have to put in many a long hour working on the house in between his other responsibilities. Yet in spite of all that, he would not have changed one single thing. As always, he went straight to the kitchen, where he turned on the gas stove, filled the kettle and set it for boiling. Now then, Chuck. Going to the pantry, he took out a lamb chop and dropped it into the dogs bowl. You chew on that while I see whos been writing to me. Returning to the dresser, he picked up the mail which had lain there since yesterday. There was a bill for animal feed, a card reminding him to return an overdue book to the local library, and a white envelope with a tuppenny stamp and a small pink flower drawn in the corner. We know who this is from, dont we, eh? He cocked an eye at the dog, who was far too busy enjoying his treat to worry about what the postman had brought. Ben took out the letter and unfolded it, his eyes scanning the words and his heart warming as he read them aloud: Dear Dad, Ive managed to get time off at last, so if its OK with you, I plan to visit for a few days. Its been too long since we had a real heart-to-heart, dont you think? Im not sure which day Ill turn up, but itll either be next Sunday or Monday. If that doesnt fit in with your plans, youll have to let me know a suitable date. If I dont hear from you, Ill assume its all right to arrive sometime on one of those days. Im really looking forward to seeing you. Meanwhile, take care of yourself, Your loving daughter, Abbie xxx Folding the letter, he slipped it back into the envelope before dropping it onto the dresser. Youll need to look to your laurels, he told the dog with a wag of his finger. Abbies coming to stay, and when shes about, no one gets any peace! His daughter was noisy, untidy and could be the most irritating creature in the world. More than a week of her company and he would likely be pulling his hair out. But oh, how he was looking forward to seeing her. He was so excited that he cut his finger when making himself a cheese sandwich, and then found he could only nibble at it, though he swigged down three cups of tea and ravished the jam-tart made especially for him by Less wife. In fact, shed made him a whole bagful only the day before yesterday, and this was the last one. Sorry, matey, he told the dog who had demolished his chop and was begging for a crumb. Youve had your tea. This is mine, and besides, there isnt enough here to share. Nevertheless, he was still shamed into throwing him a bite. With the jam-tart all gone and the teapot emptied, Ben put on his work-clothes and with the dog at his heels, made his way to the yard where he unlocked the feed room. Here he laid out three large galvanised buckets; one for the chickens; one for the sheep and another for the pigs. That done, he lifted the lids from three of the drums and scooping out several sizeable helpings of food from each of them in turn, he filled the buckets to brimming. Taking up the buckets, two in one hand and one in the other, he made his way over to the big barn. Knowing exactly when feed-time was, the sheep were already crowded round the food-troughs. On sight of him, they began pushing and shoving their way forwards. Get back! BACK, I SAY! Fighting his way through the bleating animals, he partway filled the various troughs, then leaving the sheep to sort themselves out, he climbed the ladder to the hayloft, where he threw down four slices of hay, making certain that they landed far enough apart for everyone to get a fair share without too much argument. Afterwards, he stood at the barn door for a minute or two. Satisfied that the sheep were all feeding and seeming content, he went outside to the tap, filled the bucket with water, returned inside and emptied it into the two water-troughs. That should keep you going for a while, he told them. Come the morning, I might let you loose in the fields. It was always a pleasure to set them free, for sheep were not indoor animals. Small-minded and built to eat, it was in their nature to nibble the pastures, get caught up in brambles and go lame at every opportunity. With the sheep fed and set up for the night, he tramped off to the undercover pig-pens. Here he went through the same procedure, but with a different and coarser food, for pigs were gluttons and required bulk. Ben was always wary when surrounded by the porkers. Weighing upwards of half a ton each, they were capable of doing a man some considerable damage if he got in their way. The boars in particular were an angry sort when penned, as old Les was quick to point out to Ben at the first opportunity. I once knew a man whose prize boar drove his tusks clean through the poor chaps thighbone; crippled him for life, it did. So dont go messin with them big buggers, cause if they dont get yer with their tusks, theyll have yer over and trample yer underfoot! Les did not have to tell Ben twice. It was ironic that poor Les himself came a cropper soon after hed issued that warning. With the pigs happily burying their snouts in the troughs, Ben attended to the other animals; first the cows, then the chickens. The cows were housed in the smaller of the two barns. The area had been divided up to provide eight large pens on one side and six on the other, with a birthing pen at the far corner. The beasts had more than enough room and as long as they were fed and watered and clean underfoot, they saw out the winter in comfort; though once the worst of the weather was over they, too, were always happy to be let loose in the fields. The spacious chicken-house was a vast, open area, which gave the chickens ample room to run. At night they would either roost in the lower beams, or retire to the many small wooden houses set along either side of the walls. Sadly, some of the chickens fell prey to the odd fox who dared to burrow under the wire, which was dug in and around the entire perimeter. Thankfully it had not happened just lately, and Les kept a wary eye out for weak links in the netting. A long while later, Ben made his weary way back to the farmhouse. At the door he kicked off his boots and overalls before going through to the parlour. First, he made himself a cup of well-earned tea, then it was off upstairs for a much-needed bath. Hed lit the geyser to heat up the water long since. I cant be going to see the ladies smelling of pig manure and chicken-muck, he told the dog, who simply rolled over, gave a long, shuddering yawn and fell into a deep sleep. In the bathroom he turned on the taps and let the bath fill while he stripped off. A few moments later he slithered under the water and lay there for awhile, luxuriating in the warmth and thinking of young Mary, with whose pretty lavender-blue eyes and the way her mouth turned up at the corners when she smiled Chapter 2 (#ulink_29b31395-155f-5663-987c-c51be948f370) AT EIGHT OCLOCK that evening, Ben arrived at the front door of Knudsden House. Standing on the top step of the little flight of stairs, he fidgeted nervously before reaching up and knocking briskly. The door opened and Mary stood before him. His breath caught. Divested of her heavy winter coat, she was wearing a lilac-coloured twin-set and a pretty knee-length skirt. The light from the hall and from her, too, dazzled him. Fumbling, he brought out the bag from where hed been hiding it under his coat. I found this, he said jerkily. Its my mothers! Thank you. The women had discovered the loss of the handbag once theyd arrived home. Fortunately, Mary had her own front-door key and could let them in. Adam had offered to go and look for it, after searching the car and not finding it, but Lucy had said no, not to worry. She felt far too unwell for any fuss, and the bag would turn up somehow. People round here were honest men and women. Wont you come in? Mary asked now. I expect Mother will want to thank you herself. Accepting her invitation without hesitation, Ben followed her through to the drawing room. Is your mother all right? I mean, has she suffered any ill-effects from the fall? She says shes all right. With Mother, youre never really sure. When Mary turned to smile at him, Ben felt foolish; like a shy young boy on his first date instead of a forty-year-old man of the world. For what seemed the longest moment, she continued to gaze on him, her quiet smile reaching deep into his senses. Suddenly the smile fell away and, slowing her step, she confided in him. The truth is, since she fell in the churchyard, she hasnt seemed well at all, she whispered. Im worried about her. Before she inched open the door, she confessed, I wanted to call Dr Nolan, but she wont hear of it. A sigh escaped her lips. Shes so independent and stubborn like you wouldnt believe. But Im half tempted to call the doctor anyway. Theres no use you whispering, my girl! Lucy called out from the inner room. I can hear every word, and therell be no doctor coming into this house! On entering the room, Mary was told in no uncertain terms, If I needed a doctor which I dont there is only one I would agree to seeing, and hes living out his retirement in Liverpool. So well have no more talk of doctors. Are you listening to me, Mary? Reluctantly, the girl nodded. Mr Morris found your bag in the churchyard. Hes brought it back. I thought you might want to thank him yourself. Mmm. Her reproachful gaze rested on her daughter for a second or two before switching to Ben. I love my daughter dearly, but she will fuss. Only because shes worried about you, Im sure. While he spoke, Ben was aware of how the room reflected Lucys personality. There was the solid furniture, reliable and stalwart, and then there was the colour and vibrancy in the curtains and the rugs. On following Mary into the room, he had felt her life all about him, in the lavish bright paintings on the walls, and the many figures, sculpted in china and pewter some in the throes of embrace, others dancing, with arms in the air and feet atwirl. They reminded him of Lucy herself; mature in beauty, yet very much alive. Shes no need to worry, Lucy snapped. Im fit as a fiddle, thank goodness always have been. Her thoughts went back to her youth, to the time shed gone astray, and the consequences that followed. Good times and bad, when life was lived to the full, when friends helped you through and nothing seemed to matter. And then there was Barney. Her heart grew sore at the thought of that wonderful man. Mentally shaking herself, she told Ben, Thats two kindnesses youve shown me in one day. So thank you again, young man. It was the vicar who found it, Ben explained. I simply offered to return it. He liked being called young man, though in truth, he was only about twelve years younger than Lucy, and indeed, had a grown-up daughter of his own. His feelings for Mary, however, were definitely not those of a father. When he turned to smile at Mary, Lucy was quick to see the spark between them. I dare say thats because you wanted to see my Mary again. Her face crinkled into that same mischievous smile he had seen at the churchyard. Taken a liking to her, have you? When she gave a naughty wink, he couldnt help but grin, despite his bashfulness. Mother! Marys face went a bright shade of pink. What a thing to say! Dont embarrass Mr Morris. Im sure he was thinking no such thing. But Lucy took no notice. Addressing Ben, she put him on the spot. Tell the truth and shame the devil, Mr Morris. You volunteered to return my bag because you hoped to catch a glimpse of Mary, isnt that the truth? Ben laughed out loud. Do you always see through people so easily? It was strange, he thought, how easy he felt in her presence. Yes, youre right. I was hoping I might see her again. There! I knew it! Clapping her hands together with excitement, the older woman said triumphantly, I knew hed taken to you, Mary didnt I say so? And here you are you havent even asked our guest if hed like to join us for supper. Shame on you, my girl! Shame on you, Mother, for embarrassing us both like that. Even though she was elated by Bens admission that he had been hoping for a glimpse of her, Mary was so mortified she wanted the floor to open up and swallow her. Whatever would Ben think of her now? She hoped he would refuse the offer of supper and make some excuse to leave straight away. Lucys instincts were meanwhile telling her that here was a good man, a fine husband for her daughter, if he were free. She had little doubt but that these two could make a fine, happy life together. Yes! Should anything untoward happen to herself in the near future, Ben Morris was the very man to take good care of Mary, for he reminded her of Barney, in his smile and his manner. Lately, she had been feeling very low in spirits and health, and Marys future had come to concern her deeply. Although Ben must be twice her daughters age, and would have his own story to tell about his life and the reasons for his arrival in Salford, he seemed a kind and honourable man. She had already noted the hint of sadness in his eyes, and his beautiful artistic hands, not yet roughened by farm-work. It was time to find out more about him. She would start with the most important question. Are you married? REALLY, MOTHER! Horrified, Mary sprang forward. One minute you invite Mr Morgan to supper, and the next youre quizzing him about his private life. Im sure he wont stay a minute longer than he has to and who would blame him? Over the past few years, there had been several young chaps who had shown an interest in her; to her dismay, Lucy had systematically sent them all packing. Yet there were good reasons for this: not one of them was good enough for her, Lucy said grimly, and had been proved right when each one had eventually shown his true colours. Nonsense! I mean no harm. Im just being my usual, nosy self, Lucy replied with a stay of her hand. Besides, I should be old enough now to speak my mind without offending anyone. Im quite sure our Mr Morris wont mind. After all, we need to know the calibre of the man whos crossed our path twice today. Addressing Ben she asked pointedly, Are you offended by my questions? Ben shook his head. I was married and now Im divorced, he said quietly. Not the most pleasant experience of my life, I have to admit. And have you children? A daughter Abbie. And where is she? Abbie lives in London, where she shares a flat with other young working people. I miss her, but she is due to come down to Far Crest Farm next week to spend a few days with me. Thats enough, Mother! Stepping forward as though to protect Ben, Mary told him, Youre welcome to stay to supper, but you can leave right now if you want to, and I wouldnt blame you. You see, Mother wont stop asking questions until she knows everything about you. Mary so much wanted him to stay, but it had to be his choice. Thats OK. I might even ask a few questions of my own, later, he said. Lucy laughed out loud. Now then, young man. Will you stay or will you run? Ill stay. His mind was already made up. Thank you very much. Should I go home and change for the occasion? He had an idea that Lucy Davidson might be a stickler for protocol. He was wrong. You look decent enough to me, so you can put that silly idea out of your head, she said. It wont take Mary long to rustle up a meal for the three of us. Meanwhile, just make yourself at home. If you say so. It was a strange thing, but her brisk, authoritative manner was not off-putting to him. His instincts told him it was all an act on her part. Im grateful to you both. When he and Mary exchanged smiles, Lucy was thrilled. The more she saw of Ben, the more she liked and trusted him. He was the one for her daughter; she was sure of it. So it was settled. Ben considered himself fortunate to be sharing an evening with Mary and her mother. He liked Lucy, she was a rare character. Though it was Mary at the forefront of his thoughts. For some inexplicable reason, the young woman had captured his imagination and possibly his heart, though it was much too early to tell, he thought warily. He had been in love before, and it had turned out to be a heartache. After that crippling experience with Pauline, he was not ready to throw himself in at the deep end with anyone. Chapter 3 (#ulink_97f57eff-f76c-5f35-a4e8-5837f90501fd) MARY PEERED OUT into the garden from the big bay window. Its light spilled out onto the lawn, where Ben was carefully picking his way along the path, looking at her handiwork. You dont need to send for Elsie, she told her mother. Im a poor thing if I cant organise a simple dinner for three. I know that, Lucy retorted. Its just that I want you and Ben to get to know each other, and you cant do that if youre in the kitchen cooking, can you? Oh Mam, youre a devil, you are! Mary couldnt help but smile. I know what youre up to, and I think youve embarrassed him enough, without trying to throw us together. If he likes me and I like him, then things might happen naturally, and if they dont, they dont. Though she hoped they would, for she had not met a man like Ben before. He seemed so mature beside her former boyfriends. And do you? Do I what? Lucy groaned. BEN! Do you like him? Id be a fool to tell you if I did. Mary shook her head. Think whatever you want, she said casually. You will anyway. Her mother was the rarest and most wonderful of characters. She never missed a trick. When Lucy Davidson was around, there was no use trying to keep secrets. Where is he now? Curious, Lucy stretched her neck to see out of the window. Hes not escaped, has he? Youve not frightened him off, I hope. Mary laughed at that. No! He wanted to see what Id been doing to the garden, thats all. Lucy tutted. Silly girl! Dont you know anything? Sometimes she despaired of her, and at other times she was proud of Mary and proud of herself because it meant that she had raised an intelligent, trusting girl who saw the good in everyone. What are you getting at, Mother? Its fairly obvious, isnt it? He wanted you to go with him. Oh, dearie me! Mary would not admit it to her mother, but she had been sorely tempted to join Ben in the garden. However, there wasnt enough time. If the women had been on their own, a bowl of soup and slice of cold apple-pie would have done them proud for supper, but having invited Ben to join them, they had to do better than that. Mary was planning to cook some pork chops, and serve them with mashed potatoes and homemade pickle. You forget, Ive a dinner to cook, she answered. Therell be time enough later for us all to get to know each other. A familiar tap on the living-room door curtailed their conversation. Hurrying to the door, Mary drew it open. Hello, Adam, she said, and hugged him. These past years, the small man had been like a father to her although, like the gent he was, Adam had always kept his distance. Lucys face lit up. Adam, come in. Come in! Dismissing Mary with a wave of her hand, she reminded her, I thought you were away to start supper? I was I am. Looking from Adam to her mother, the girl couldnt help but wonder what was going on. Whenever her mother wanted her out of the way like this, there was usually something brewing. But then she was always involved in some scheme or another, bless her heart. It was what kept her going. Go on then, Lucy reprimanded her. Adam and I have business to discuss, so be off with you. She had been unable to speak to him privately earlier, when hed driven her and Mary to the churchyard, and now she wanted a quiet word with him. She doesnt change, does she, Adam? Mary groaned light-heartedly. Same old bully as ever. Adams fond gaze bathed the older woman. Shell never change, he said softly. Thank God. The same age as Lucy, he had stayed with her through thick and thin, and every inch of the way he had loved and adored her from afar. Lucy knew it, yet she never said. She felt a lot of affection for him too. But it was not the same deep, driving passion shed had for Barney. That kind of love happened only once in a lifetime. And yet in her deepest heart, though he had taken good care of her and showed her nothing but kindness, she knew that Barney had not loved her back in the same way. How could he, when his own dearest love was thousands of miles away, probably still yearning for her darling Barney and suffering bitter-sweet thoughts of this wonderful man, whom she had adored more than any other, and who for reasons she might never know, had broken her heart and her life. It had been a tragedy; a cruel and sorry business that only the gods could have prevented at least, that was what Barney always claimed. Im sorry I had to use the key to let myself in, Adam explained. I did knock a few times, but no one answered. You obviously didnt hear me. No need to apologise, Lucy chided. The key was given so you could use it whenever necessary. It was necessary on this occasion, so well hear no more about it. Its no wonder we didnt hear you at the door, Mary remarked good-naturedly. Mother was too busy having a go at me, laying down the law and trying to fit me up with a man who was kind enough to return her handbag. Dear, dear! With an aside wink, Adam tutted loudly. Interfering again, is she? Mind you, I cant say I blame her. With her sound and wary experience of men, Lucy could tell the wheat from the chaff. Mary, on the other hand, was more trusting and less worldly-wise. The lass was not what you might call beautiful, but she was a good-looking young woman all the same, with a heart of gold and a great deal to offer. Adam had no doubt but that she would make some man a loving and loyal wife one of these days. With Mary gone, Lucy bade Adam sit in the chair opposite her. Have you done what I asked? she said in a low voice. He nodded. I have. I drove straight up to Liverpool early yesterday and went to see him at his house. Lucy gave a long, deep sigh. Thank you. I knew I could rely on you. Her eyes clouded with tears, she asked next, What did he say? Adam was reluctant to disappoint her. He was surprised to hear from me. I mean, its been a good few years, hasnt it? She nodded. Nigh on twenty, plus theres been the war and all. And is he well? None too bad, yes. What was his answer? The man had no choice but to relay the truth. Sorry, Lucy. Much as he would love to see you again, he cant visit. At least not yet. Lucy was dismayed at the news. Oh Adam, why not? Disappointment shook her voice. Why cant he come down here? Adam explained: Hes been ill for some time, see bronchitis and some sort of complication, like pleurisy. Hes only now beginning to come through it. Hes not as young as he used to be, think on. None of us are. Lucy nodded her understanding. He cant help being ill, I suppose, she said. But he sends his regards and says youre to take care of yourself, and he promises to come and visit at the first opportunity. Fishing in his pocket, Adam handed her an envelope. He asked me to give you this. Taking the envelope, Lucy tore it open and took out the letter, which she read aloud: My dearest Lucy, How wonderful to hear from you, after all these long years. I hope you are well, and that youre being your usual self living life to the full, the brave young woman I remember from my days as a doctor. I dont need to tell you how sorry I was to hear about Barneys death. Like you, I will never forget him, or what he did. When he begged me to keep his secret, I wrestled with my conscience but God help me, I could not refuse him. Over the years, I have often thought of Barney, and his impossible situation, but I have never regretted doing what I did; nor I imagine did he. Take care of yourself, Lucy my dear, and when Im well enough, I promise I will come and visit. It will be just the tonic I need, Im sure. May I say, I was most pleased and surprised to see Adam Chives; your dear friend who, as I understand it, is never far from your side as ever. Best wishes. May God bless you both, Raymond Lucas Lying back in the chair, Lucy closed her eyes. For a long moment she remained silent. Lucy! Adam knew she was bitterly disappointed. He will visit he said so, and as I recall, he was always a man of his word. I know. She opened her eyes, which were bright with tears. Poor Raymond. I dont doubt hes had his own fair share of problems, but oh, it would have been so good to see him. She paused, suddenly exhausted. Jamie she whispered. Concerned, Adam touched her on the hand. Are you all right, lass? Its brought everything back, thats all. Needing to reassure him, she gave her brightest smile, and for the briefest moment he saw her as she had been all those years ago young and vibrant; hardworking and so generous of heart. So tell me, Lucy, what was the real reason behind your need to see him? What dyou mean? Lucy demanded. Adam knew she could be wily. What I mean is this: are you ill and not telling? If I was ill, youd soon know about it, she lied. Carefully choosing her words, she went on, You remember how it was all those years ago, dont you? Of course I remember. Looking away, he saw it all in his minds eye. He had often wondered whether, if he had been put through the same test as Barney, he could have been as strong. I remember it all, he whispered. How could I forget? And you recall what a valued friend Dr Lucas was? Her voice shook. Oh, the memories! She swallowed hard and went on: I just thought it might be nice to renew an old friendship. The truth was, Lucy had other reasons for wanting him here, but she didnt want to worry anyone. Not yet. Although the doctors hereabouts were fine, experienced men, she could not bring herself to trust them for something this serious. If there was one man who would tell her the truth, it was Raymond Lucas. Im getting older, Adam. As each day passes, the memories become more vivid. She drew herself up. I need to thank Dr Lucas for what he did. I want to see him, thats all before its too late. Alarmed, the little man looked her in the eye. Are you sure theres something youre not telling me? Such as what? Dismissing her question he asked, What exactly did Dr Nolan say to you when he saw you at the surgery last week? She tutted. Ive already told you. He said I needed to slow down. That I was exhausted. And thats all? Nothing else? Tutting again, Lucy snapped, Stop fretting! Ive already told you, Im fit as a fiddle for an old un anyway. She chuckled, If they want rid of me, theyll have to shoot me first. There was a lengthy silence, charged with things unsaid. The bond between them was deep. Even though the passage of their lives was already well run, there was nothing Adam Chives wanted more than to make Lucy Davidson his wife. He longed to take care of her, spoil her, hold her tight when she was sad and laugh with her when she was happy. To be there when she went to sleep and waiting beside her when she awoke; to share every precious moment of her life. That was all he had wanted for a long, long time. Lucy knew it had been on the tip of his tongue to propose to her. She recognised the signs, the twinkle in his eye and the ache in his voice, and she had to disappoint him yet again. I dont want you worrying about me, old friend. You just need to remember, Im no longer a spring chicken and the same goes for you. Sometimes her bones ached until she thought they would seize up altogether, and on occasions, when she had walked with her stick too far, her fingers curled round the handle and would not let go. Reaching out, she took hold of his hand. Im a lucky woman to have such a friend the very best friend any woman could ever have. Except for Barney, she thought. But then he had been more than a friend. He had been everything to her: friend, hero, lover, soulmate and confidant. All the men in the world rolled into one could never replace her beloved Barney. Yet she owed this dear man so much. I could never have got through these past years without you. She squeezed his hand fondly. You have to believe that. Gazing at her, his heart flooding with all kinds of emotions, he said gruffly, You know Ill always be here for you, whenever you need me. His heartfelt promise touched her deeply. Oh, Adam! So many secrets, she murmured regretfully, so much pain. Whatever I do, I cant bring him back. I cant make it all better. Sometimes, when Im in my bed with the sleep lying heavy on me, the awful memories come flooding back, and I think about Barneys loved ones. She lowered her gaze. I should tell them, shouldnt I? Adam sighed deeply. You must follow your heart on that one, Lucy, my lass. I cant advise. No one can. If only I knew whether it would make matters better or worse. Her voice broke. God help me, old friend, I dont know what to do. You should ask yourself: if you were to tell them, would it be to ease their burden or your own? Lucy had already asked herself that same question many times. I dont think anything could ease my burden, she answered thoughtfully, but it pains me badly, to think they may never know what sort of man he really was. Sometimes the weight of it all was unbearable. For the rest of their lives, theyll remember what happened; theyll think of it and the bitterness will rise. They can never see the truth. Theyll see it the way Barney wanted them to see it. She gulped back the threatening tears. Thats a terrible thing, you know, Adam. It isnt fair to them, and it isnt fair to Barney. Weighing it up in his mind, Adam slowly nodded his head. You must do what your heart tells you, my darling, he reiterated kindly. Like I say, no one can advise you on that, though once the truth is out, therell be no going back. You do realise that, dont you? Only too well. The words sailed out on a long, quiet sigh. What would it do to them? Would they blame themselves? Would they blame me or Barney? And could they ever find it in their hearts to forgive? With both her hands she grabbed him by the arm, as though clinging to him for support. God help me, Adam, if I make the wrong decision, they could be hurt beyond belief. And that wouldnt be right, because none of it was their doing. What about Mary? Having seen her grow up, he had great affection for Lucys daughter. Will you tell her? She will have to know at some stage. Lucy had been giving it some thought for a long time now. Ive agonised about what it would do to her if she learned the real truth about her daddy, but Ive always known there would come a day when I would have to tell her the whole story. A look of pride flashed in her eyes. Mary is strong. What she learns will come as a shock to her, yes, but I truly believe that in the end, she might just be the one to hold it all together. For a moment, the two of them sat and held hands, united. Then, breaking the moment, Lucy let go and looked mischievously at Adam. Before I let you go, will you do me another favour? Of course! Knock on Elsie Langtons door and ask her if she wouldnt mind coming back to prepare a meal for three. He chuckled. You old fox! Youve got it all planned, havent you? Well, the two of them will never get together with him in the garden freezing half to death and her in the kitchen getting all hot and bothered. Its up to us old ones to show them the way. She gave him a little push. Go on then! Fetch yon Elsie back and tell her shell be paid double time for the pleasure. Standing up, he looked down on her with admiration. Consider it done, he said. She waved her hand impatiently. Get a move on, then! Dont stand there until Marys up to her neck in potato peelings and cabbage. A whiff of that and our Prince Charming will be gone for good! Adam laughed out loud. Marys right. You really are all kinds of a bully. With that he went away at a smart pace, chuckling and jingling the keys to the big car. Then he wondered once more about the real reason she had wanted to see Dr Lucas, and his heart sank. God forbid that anything should happen to her, for the world would be a darker place without his Lucy. Reaching the smithy, Adam parked the big black car and walked up the footpath to the front door. Knowing how Charlie Langton was a bit deaf, he made a fist and knocked soundly on the door. Gawd Almighty! Having rushed to see who was at his door, Elsie Langtons husband was none too pleased to learn the reason for this late visit. Cant you buggers look after yerselves for five minutes! An old Lancastrian who had moved down south many years back, Charlie had lost none of his accent, and even less of his attitude. But he was harmless enough and there had never been such a dedicated blacksmith; besides which he always gave sweets to the children and was straightforward to deal with. You always knew where you were with Charlie, and after a while, folks had come to respect and like him. Calling him inside he told Adam, The poor lass never stops! Shes rushed in from the big ouse, got the dinner on the table, gulped hers down, and now shes upstairs changing the bedclothes. An ordinary man with ordinary needs, Charlie suffered from a nervous twitch in his left eye whenever things got too much for him. The more agitated he grew, the more his eye twitched, and it was twitching now like never before. Bloody folks wi money think yer can do what yer like wi such as us! Being used to his ways, Adam took no offence. I havent got any money, he said loudly, and you know as well as I do that the Davidsons always do their best by this village. Charlie snorted and turning round, he informed Adam, Aye well, thats as mebbe, but I might like to ave the wife to mesel now an then. You buggers up at the ouse want to think o that. He gave the smaller man a shrivelling glance. Besides, I might be a bit deaf, but Ive still got one good ear, so theres no need to shout like a damned fishwife. To Adams amusement, Charlie grumbled all the way down the passage. Shell not want to come back, and I wouldnt blame er neither! If it were up to me, shed be in the chair warming her feet by the fireside, but shell not listen to me, so Ill not waste me time. Arriving at the bottom of the stairs, he raised his voice. ELSIE! Its the man from the big ouse to see yer! Giving Adam a scathing glance with the steady eye, he bawled again, WANT BLOOD, THEY DO! YOUD BEST COME AN SEE TO IM, CAUSE IVE OTHER THINGS TO BE DOING. Within minutes there was a flurry of activity from the upper level, swiftly followed by the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs. Whats to do? Round and homely, and looking flummoxed, it was Elsie. Oh, Adam! Her first thought was for Lucy. Shes not fallen over again, has she? No, he reassured her, its nothing like that. She just wondered if you might be able to come back with me and help cook a meal and clear it up afterwards. Raising his eyebrows in intimate fashion, he explained, Shes got a visitor yon chappie from Far Crest Farm and he seems to have taken a real shine to Mary, and Before he could finish, she gave a knowing wink. I see. And she wants me in the kitchen, sos the two of them can spend some time together, is that it? He smiled with relief. You know her almost as well as I do, Elsie, and yes, thats the general idea. And does Mary know what her mothers up to? Well, she doesnt know Ive been to fetch you, if thats what you mean. Shes in the kitchen as we speak, preparing the evening meal. I tell you what though, Elsie, she does seem to get on very well with the fellow in question. Elsie was delighted. In that case, how can I say no? Mary is a lovely young woman and deserves a good man to take care of her. Is this man a decent sort? Only Ive not met him to speak to. We exchanged pleasantries as we passed in the lane once, but he didnt linger, cause he was off on one of his long walks. Every morning come rain or shine, hes away across the fields with that dog of his. From his chair by the fireside, Charlie had seen their lips moving but heard not a single word. Whats he saying? he asked irritably. Whats going on now? Nothing for you to worry about, his wife told him sharply. Im off to do an extra shift for Mrs Davidson, thats all. Oh aye, I gathered that much. An how long will yer be? A couple of hours at the most, I reckon. He sat bolt upright in the chair. Dont forget to tell the buggers yer want double time! Lucy will give me that without asking, Elsie replied. Shes a good woman. An what am I supposed to do while yer gone? The old smith looked like a sulky child. Elsie chuckled at that. You can do what you always do, whether Im here or not. Oh aye, an whats that? Hmh! As if you need telling. You can lie back and snore, or listen to the news on the wireless and swear at the bits you dont care for. An if that fails, theres always your precious crossword. He gave her a fond smile. Cheeky bugger! Come ere an give us a kiss afore yer go. Adam thought this was all wonderful. The Langtons didnt have much in the way of luxuries, but they were content, and obviously still in love after all their years together. It was what he wanted for him and Lucy. But it wouldnt happen, and deep down he had always known that. With the kiss deposited and her coat on ready to go, Elsie was almost at the front door when Charlie came after her. Ill get yer bike for yer, lass. No need, thank you, pet. Im sure Adam will run me there, and fetch me back when Im finished. Oh no, he wont! Im not aving that, her husband retorted. Im not letting every Tom Dick nor Harry run yer about. For all I know he might be a shocking driver. Like as not hell get yer killed. Then where would I be? Hey! Im a good driver! I take Mrs Davidson and her daughter all over the place, as well you know. Charlie was having none of it. I dont give a bugger what yer get up to wi other folks. Yer not driving my Elsie, an thats an end to it. Climbing down the steps, he hurried to where Elsie had leaned her bike against the wall on her return home earlier. Taking it by the handlebars, he walked it back to Elsie and thrust it at her. For me, lass, he pleaded. Do it for me, cause it would mek me feel content, to know yer were safe, on yer bike, he sneered at the black car, stead o being rattled about in that there veickle. Put like that, Elsie could not refuse him. The trouble with you, Charlie, is that you refuse to catch up with the times. All you know is horses and bicycles. Aye, an thats all I need to know, an all! His parting words were for Adam and his shiny, new car. Orses will be ere long after then noisy damned things ave ad their day. All right, Ill go on my bike, Elsie assured him. Now you get back inside and put your feet up by the fire. Ill not be long. With that she set off on her treasured steed through the chilly evening air, with Adam following in the car and feeling like a right fool; though he had to smile at what he thought was a comical situation. Chapter 4 (#ulink_5e85054a-931e-5646-be34-2cc27911a0ee) THE FIRST MARY knew about the arrangement was when Elsie marched into the kitchen. Right then, miss, you get off and see to your visitor while I crack on with the meal. She cast an experienced eye over the preparations. Well now! Youve already done the vegetables and got the meat sizzling away in the oven. Theres not all that much left for me to do, is there, bar serve it and clear it all away. Ill make a nice drop of gravy, shall I? Caught unawares, Mary asked her, This is Mothers doing, isnt it? She sent for you. Poor Elsie, Im sorry for all the trouble youve been put to. Wouldnt you rather be at home with your Charlie? No. Id rather be here, cooking for you and earning double time, than listening to my old man snoring his head off. All right then, Mary conceded, but only on one condition. Whats that? Put a plateful out for yourself. Therell be more than enough, and if theres any left over, take it home to Charlie. I will, thank you. Mary gave her a hug. Thank you, Elsie. I wont forget this. Washing her hands and patting her hair, she asked the woman shyly, Do I look respectable? You look lovely. Elsie had always thought Lucys daughter had something special. Though she wasnt beautiful, she had a spark about her soft, shining eyes of the loveliest shade, and a kind of warmth that endeared you to her. Go on, miss go and rescue your young man. Ill have supper on the table in twenty minutes. Mary found Ben in the summerhouse. All the lights were on, and he was sitting in one of the easy chairs, deep in thought. Hiding from my mother, are you? Her smile lit up the evening. Having been miles away, reflecting on his disastrous marriage and the years hed wasted, Ben was mortified. What must you both think of me? he said. Im invited to supper and here I am, lounging in the summerhouse. I only meant to be a few minutes but lost track of time. On his feet now, he smiled down on her. Its your fault, you know. Oh, and whys that? It was strange, Mary thought, how she felt as though shed known him all her life. He gestured towards the garden. Your mothers right. Youve done wonders with the garden its just beautiful. So many lovely hidden places. It wasnt hard to imagine what a feast of life and colour it would be in the height of summer. If you wanted to, you could lose yourself forever here. And do you want to lose yourself? Just now when she came upon him unexpectedly, she had seen the sadness in his eyes, and it touched her deeply. It took a few seconds for him to answer. There was so much he could have told her, but that was all gone now, water under the bridge as they say. Besides, if he didnt let go of the past, how could he ever have a future? Turning to her, he recalled, It was you who said there are times when we all need to hide from the world. Her blue eyes shone with mischief. And here was I, thinking you were hiding from Mother! He chuckled heartily. For a moment he studied her upturned face, the full plumpness of her lips, the small straight nose and smiling eyes, and he felt a rush of contentment. If he let himself go, he could love this woman, he thought. But if he let himself go, he could lose his heart and be hurt, again. He looked towards the house. Have you come to fetch me? She nodded her head. Dinner will be ready soon. Do we still have a few minutes? She nodded her head again. Taking her by the hand, he asked light-heartedly, Would you care to join me? Leading her to the bench, he sat her down. Welcome to Paradise. For a little while they sat and talked and laughed, and when she gave a long, trembling shiver, he dared to put his arm round her shoulders, and like Ben, she was afraid, of her feelings, and of the future. Suddenly their private idyll was shattered, when a homely figure came rushing round the corner, calling out: Suppers ready. Your mammy says youre to come in out of the cold. Elsie chuckled merrily. Im to tell you, she doesnt mind you canoodling out here, but she doesnt want you catching pneumonia, and if I cant persuade you back into the house, shell be out here and shell chase you both inside with her walking stick. Whats more, Ive made a big jug of creamy custard, and Id like Mr Morris to enjoy my apple-pie while its hot. Its a deep-dish pie, stuffed with best cooking apples and covered in pastry thatll melt in your mouth. Its only reheated, mind, but I made it fresh yesterday. Bens stomach rumbled. Sounds wonderful. Im not one for singing my own praises, Elsie declared self-righteously, but I do make the best apple-pie in the whole of Bedfordshire, and woe betide them as says any different. The evening was a great success. The pork chops were succulent, and the vegetables done to a turn, and just as shed promised, Elsies apple-pie was the best Ben had ever tasted. Lucy had produced a bottle of wine and drank more than the others put together. She also did most of the talking. She told Ben about her hometown of Liverpool and got carried away with the memories though there was one particular memory she did not divulge. What did you love most about Liverpool? Ben asked, intrigued by her stories. Oh, the docks, and the Mersey of course! Taking another sip of her red wine, Lucy savoured it for a moment, rolling it round her tongue and smacking her lips, like a dog after a bone. Ben was ashamed to admit it, but hed never seen the Mersey. Maybe youd think she was nothing out of the ordinary just another river flowing away to the sea, Lucy speculated, but to the ones whove lived and worked alongside her for most of their lives, shes very special. She changes, ysee from day to day shes never the same. She has moods just like us dark moods, quiet moods and after a while you get to know her, and you cant help but be affected, in a kind of magical way. She gave a long, nostalgic sigh. If youve never seen the early morning Mersey when shes covered in mist, or stood beside her when the moonlight dances on the water and brings it alive, then your life is sadly lacking. I can see Ill have to take myself up there at the first opportunity, he said obediently. Quite right! Lucy applauded. Make sure you do! While Lucy and Ben chatted, Mary thought it amazing how well they got on together. But then, right from the start, she had felt comfortable with him. Maybe it was because he was older than her? Ben was so easy and natural, it would be hard not to feel at home in his company. Do you mind if I ask you something? With her engaging manner and interesting tales, Lucy had commandeered him, though he hoped that he and Mary would make up for lost time together later. Go ahead, young man. Ask away. Well, I was just thinking if you were so happy in Liverpool, why would you ever want to leave? Suddenly the air was thick with silence, and Ben immediately wished he had never asked. But then his hostess answered and her manner was curiously sombre. Life sometimes gives us problems that we arent equipped to deal with. So we run away like the cowards we are. Ben was mortified. Oh look, Im sorry. I seem to have opened up old wounds. She had that same look about her that he had seen in the churchyard; a look of resignation, a sadness that was almost tangible. Lucy, too, was mortified, for she had let them both see through her armour, and now she was afraid. Its all right, she assured him hurriedly. I did love Liverpool. I still do, but I cant go back. Her voice stiffened. I could never go back. Mary had never heard her mother talk in that way, and it worried her. From a child, she had known there was something in her mothers past that played strongly on her mind. Her own memories were unreliable; her early childhood often seemed tantalisingly out of reach. With Ben having opened a door to which she herself had never had access, secrets might come out and at last she would know what it was that haunted her mother so. Turning to Ben she confessed, Youre not the only one never to have seen the Mersey. I was born in Liverpool yet I cant recall anything about it. She glanced at Lucy. Time and again, Ive offered to go back with Mother, but we never have, and now Im beginning to think we never will. Lucy smiled. Oh, youll see Liverpool, she promised. Maybe not with me, but youll go down the Mersey and know the wonder that I knew as a young woman. Curiosity will get the better of you and one day, you will go back, Im sure of it. Mary asked her outright. And if I really wanted you to come with me, would you? Lucy shook her head. No. Why not? In spite of her mothers emphatic answer, Mary felt she might yet uncover the truth; until her hopes were dashed with Lucys firm reply. Because Im too old now. Travelling tires me, as you well know. She laughed as she told Ben, We went to London on the train. Dear me! What a trial. All that climbing in and out, up and down. You wouldnt believe the traffic in the streets there, and folks rushing about as though it was the end of the world It was all too much for me. Sighing, she finished, No, my travelling days are well and truly at an end. With dinner over, they retired to the cosy sitting room. Here, although the hour was growing late, they chatted on; among other things they talked of the introduction in America of the first colour television. The mind boggles! Lucy declared. Colour television, indeed! Whatever next? She herself thought the wireless was sufficient why would you need one of those big, ugly television sets? Mostly they talked about the grave illness of King George. He has been a good King, Ben said. Hell be sadly missed. Mary had her say and it was this. Youre right. He will be missed, but his daughter Elizabeth will make a wonderful Queen. And without hesitation, the other two readily agreed. Right! After tapping on the door, Elsie showed her face. Ill be off now. Ive washed the dinner things and cleared them away. Ill see you in the morning. Thank you, Elsie. Lucy was fond of that dear woman. Off you go and put your feet up. Elsie chuckled. Hmh! Chance would be a fine thing. Mary excused herself and saw Elsie out. When she returned to the sitting room, she saw how tired her mother seemed. I think its time you went to bed, she said affectionately. Nonsense! Lucy was bone-tired, though she would never admit it. Im getting to know our new friend, she said. The more I learn about him, the more I like him. Ben laughed. Im flattered, he told her, but I have to agree with your daughter, and then theres that business of you falling and hurting yourself in the churchyard. Its been a long, heavy day and no one would blame you if you wanted to rest now. He had noticed how every now and then she would close her eyes and relax into the chair, and occasionally she would fitfully rub her hands together, as though fighting some inner demon. I see! Looking from one to the other, Lucy smiled wickedly. Trying to get rid of the old biddy so the two of you can be alone is that it? Mary smiled, but in fact, she had been concerned about her mother these past months. She seemed to have grown frail, and less mobile, though she would not hear of seeing a specialist. Changing the subject completely, Lucy told Mary, I think Im ready for a nice cup of tea. What about you, Ben? Sounds good to me, thank you, he said, swallowing a yawn. It was high time he was in bed, too. The animals would be waiting to be fed at dawn. Go on, then! Get the kettle on, Mary, before we all die of thirst, and dont bring the teapot, theres a good girl too much fuss and ceremony. Just pour three cups, thatll do. Frustrated at her mothers insistence on referring to her as child or girl, Mary groaned. All right, Mother, Im on my way. Turning to Ben she confirmed, One sugar and a little milk, isnt it? She had remembered when Elsie brought him tea earlier. Thats it, yes. Thank you. He was surprised and pleased that shed remembered. There you are! Lucy chipped in. Already she knows how you like your tea. Thats the sign of a good wife, wouldnt you say, Ben? Id say your daughter has a good memory, he answered, and that was as far as he would go. No sooner had Mary departed for the kitchen than Lucy was quizzing him again. You do like her, dont you? He had got used to her directness and thought it refreshing, but now and then she would ask a question that took him off guard. I do like her, yes. What else could he say, when he had been drawn to Mary as to no other woman since his divorce. Lucy seemed to be reading his thoughts. I know I can be impertinent, and I know what you must think of me, but I do worry for my daughter, and when I see how well the two of you get on, I cant help but wonder if shes found her man at last Her voice trailed away and her eyes slowly closed. For a moment Ben thought she had fallen asleep, but then she suddenly straightened herself up in the chair and asked him another question. Do you think youll ever get back with your ex-wife? Ben shook his head. It was a long and messy business, and now its over, and so is our relationship. And the girl? You mean Abbie, my daughter? Yes. How does she feel about you and her mother splitting up? To Ben, the question was like a stab below the belt, but he answered it all the same. It was hard for her hard for all of us. In the end it was all for the best. And is she an only child? She is, yes. Would you like more children? Ben smiled, a long, lazy smile. You mean, if I ever got married again? Lucy nodded. Of course! When you and Mary get married, I want a whole horde of grandchildren. She grew wistful. A boy, especially. It would be wonderful to cuddle a little boy. At that moment, Mary returned with the tray. Here we are! Setting it on the coffee-table, she handed each of them a mug and pointed to the plate of chocolate slices. Help yourselves, she told them. Over the next half-hour, the conversation centred on Ben and his farming. So youve found a new way of life, is that it? Lucy was ever inquisitive. Its certainly a very different world from the one I knew, Ben answered. As you said yourself, London is busy and demanding. I used to get up at seven, struggle into the office He had expected her to interrupt, and she did. What work did you do? Im an architect by trade. Lucy was impressed. And were you good at it? Yes or so Im told. And was it your own business? It was, but I eventually went back to work for the local council in my home town. Mmm. She glanced at Mary, who was trying desperately to bring that particular conversation to a halt. So youre not short of a bob or two then? Mother, please! No more questions, or Im sure Ben will never want to set foot in this house ever again. Lucy addressed Ben. Have you had enough of my questions? He gave her a half-smile. Look, Ill make you a deal. Ill tell you all I think you should know, and then therell be no more need of questions. Lucy agreed. So, you were saying you got up at seven and struggled into work. Thats right. Then I worked until eight or nine at night and struggled home again. Hmh! Its no wonder your marriage broke up. MOTHER! Mary gave her a warning glance. Lucy closed her mouth and listened. Curiously relieved that he was finding it easier to talk about his troubles, Ben went on, One night I got home and found my wife in bed with my ex-partner, Peter. Apparently theyd been having an affair for almost a year. He gave a sad little smile. So, you could be right. Working all those hours probably was the reason for my marriage break-up. Lucy couldnt help but make a comment. I hope you leathered him good and proper? Oh, I was tempted, but it would have solved nothing. My wife wanted out, and I said yes. Dropping his gaze to the floor he said in a small voice, I think the love had long gone, on both sides. By the way, you were right, Lucy. I am worth a bob or two. But that means little when your whole life has been turned upside down. I didnt want to stay in London, so I packed a few things and set off. I looked far and wide before I found this lovely part of the world, and now Im settled and content. He laughed. Im a farmer and proud of it. These days Im up in the fields checking my sheep at five in the morning, and often fall into bed just before midnight, but Ive never been happier in my whole life. He paused to reflect before ending light-heartedly, So there you are! He smiled. I hope thats told you enough to be going on with? His hostess gave a long, contented sigh. Even I am satisfied with that, she said. Thank you, lad. Its been a lovely day today, all due to our having met you. And now, I really must go up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire! Chapter 5 (#ulink_dcfc8656-aeca-5574-8a83-7991d9c33da9) IT WAS STRIKING eleven when Lucy announced she was ready for her bed. As she got out of her chair, Mary handed her the walking stick and Ben hurried to open the drawing-room door for her. Ill take you up, Mother, Mary offered. No, you wont! Waving her stick at Mary, she ordered, You stay here with Ben. Im perfectly capable of taking myself up the stairs to bed without your help. Knowing how stubborn her mother could be, Mary did not argue, but walked on with her to the bottom of the stairs. Leave me be, lass! Lucy was growing agitated. Dont make me out to be a useless old biddy who cant even climb a few stairs. In fact, if truth be told, Lucy was beginning to feel the worse for wear. The wine, and the long evening, and her fall in the churchyard, had all caught up with her. Halfway up the stairs, she suddenly took a dizzy spell; aware that the two of them were watching from the foot of the stairs, she clung onto the banister and braved it out. Go on, be off with you! she complained impatiently. Youre making me nervous. Regaining her composure, she set off again, but when the dizziness returned with a vengeance, it seemed as though the treads were moving beneath her feet and the whole flight of stairs was spinning round. As she felt herself falling, she could only think of Barney and them. Marys voice lifted her senses. Its all right, Mother, Im here. She had run up the stairs to catch Lucys crumpling figure. For a moment, she staggered; her mother a dead weight in her arms. Mary was glad to let Ben take over. Sweeping Lucy into his arms, he followed Marys directions and took Lucy straight into her bedroom, where he laid her on the bed. Please, Ben, run and tell Adam whats happened, will you? He lives in the cottage at the side of the house you cant miss it. Mary wondered how she could sound so calm, when her insides were in turmoil. By this time Lucy was shifting in and out of consciousness. Tell him whats happened, the girl said. Hell know what to do. Lately, she and Adam had been so worried about Lucy that they were ready for any event. Startling them both, Lucy took hold of Marys cuff. No ambulance no doctor, she pleaded. Promise me! And she was so agitated, Mary could do no other than promise. In a quiet voice so her mother would not hear, Mary spoke to Ben. Tell Adam no ambulance, but hes to fetch Dr Nolan as quick as he can. Ben was already across the room. Dont worry. Though from the pallor of Lucys skin and the laboured breathing, he knew Mary had cause to be anxious. Although it was midnight now, and the whole village was asleep, Adam was still up and dressed. On hearing the news, the little man was beside himself with worry. I knew something like this would happen, he said as he bolted out of the door. I could see it coming, but like the stubborn devil she is, she would never admit she was ill. Climbing into the big black car, he asked of Ben, Go back to Mary. Tell her Ill be as quick as I can. He was as good as his word. No sooner had Ben returned to the house where Mary had got Lucy into bed and was now bathing her face with cool water than Adam came rushing in with the doctor in tow. Somewhat revived, Lucy was determined to fight him off. I told you, I dont need a doctor. GET AWAY FROM ME! Dr Nolan was equally adamant. You wont get rid of me so easily this time, Lucy. Having suffered her temper once or twice before, he had finally learned how to handle her. Turning to Adam and Mary, he told them, She might co-operate more readily if you were to wait downstairs. Reluctantly they did as he asked, and as they went they could hear Lucy ordering him out of the house. Just leave me be! Im not ill! The pair lingered on the stairs. Sounds like shes getting her second wind, Adam joked, then glanced at Mary, his eyes swimming with tears. Do you think shell be all right? he asked the dear girl beside him, his voice choked. The little man had never been afraid of anything, but losing Lucy filled him with terror. For the past twenty years and more, he had seen life through her eyes, laughed with her, cried with her, and through it all, he had loved her from afar. The ironic thing was, in the same way that he had loved her, Lucy had loved Barney. Yet Adam consoled himself with the belief that she had a different, special kind of love for him. It was that which kept him close to her, and always would. I hope so. Marys thoughts were on a par with his. She felt sick to her stomach. Shes fought with poor Dr Nolan before and sent him packing, she reminded him, crying even as she joked. But this time, hes as worried about her as we are. Each wondering what the outcome of this night would be, they continued down the stairs in silence. They were still silent and sombre as they came into the drawing room. How is she? Ben had not known Lucy long, but already she had won a place in his heart. Well know soon enough, Mary said quietly. She lingered at the door, her eyes searching the upper levels. Dear God, let her be all right, she prayed. Dont take her from me yet. Somewhere in the back of her mind she had always known there would come a day when she would lose the light of her life. But not yet, dear Lord. Not for many a year to come. The waiting seemed to go on forever, until at last the doctor walked briskly into the room. Shes sleeping now, he told them all. Ive given her a sedative. His long thin face broke into a weary smile. Shes hard work, he said, but I got the better of her in the end. Whats wrong with her? Mary cared nothing for his smile. The smile fading, he took a moment to consider his answer. I cant be sure Id like to take a blood sample and have some tests done in the hospital labs. What sort of tests? Well, he answered cautiously, shes unusually tired, and complaining of breathlessness: this could point to anaemia. She seems to have little strength. The smile crept back again. Though she did manage to fight me off once or twice. Knowing how all three of them were hanging on his every word, he continued on a more serious note, Im a little concerned about her heart and blood pressure, but I cant be sure about anything until we do those tests. For that Ill need her to come into hospital overnight. At the mention of hospital, Adam turned pale. But she will be all right, wont she? Careful how he answered, Dr Nolan momentarily lowered his gaze. Lucy Davidson was a legend in this hamlet; despite her reclusive nature, she had made many friends and as far as he knew, no enemies. She was generous, funny, honest and outspoken, and he understood why these good people should be so concerned. However, at the moment, he could only make a guess at her underlying condition. She was ill, though. There was no denying that. Had she not worked herself into a state, I would have admitted her to hospital tonight, he said. As it is, and because shes calmer now, therell be nothing lost if we leave her till morning. She needs plenty of rest. Let her sleep, thats the best medicine for now. Ill be back first thing. But will she be all right? Like Adam, Mary was desperately seeking reassurance. We can only wait and see. He chose his words wisely. I would rather not speculate, though I wont deny that your mother is ill, he said kindly. Shes very weak and, as you saw for yourself, her breathing was laboured. Before they could question him further, he put up a staying hand. Once we get her into hospital, well know more. As he left, he said, You may look in on her, of course I would want you to do that. But she must not be disturbed. Rest is the best thing for her just now. With the doctor gone, the mood was solemn. Ben felt as though he was intruding, but when he suggested leaving, Mary persuaded him to stay awhile. Ill go and check on Mother. Adam can put the kettle on, if he doesnt mind? The little man nodded his agreement and set off for the kitchen. Mary then turned to address Ben. We can all keep each other company for a while, unless you really want to leave? She thought of how he had come here to Knudsden House in good faith, to return her mothers bag, and had been quizzed relentlessly about his personal life; on top of that he had been made to think he was duty bound to ask her out one evening. Any other man would have been long gone, but she truly hoped he would stay; his presence gave her so much comfort. Ill stay as long as you like. Ben did not hesitate. Theres nothing urgent waiting at home. He had only offered to leave out of consideration, and was delighted that she felt need of him. I wont be long. While Ben went to join Adam in the kitchen, Mary ran upstairs and crept into her mothers bedroom. She gazed down on Lucys sleeping face. In the gentle light from the bedside lamp, her mother looked so much younger; her skin was clear and smooth as alabaster, and her lashes lay like spiders legs over the slight curve of her cheeks. Her long hair was loose about her shoulders and her wide, pretty mouth was ever so slightly turned up at the corners as in a half-smile. Reaching down, Mary laid her own hand over that of her mother. She could feel the warm softness of her skin, and beneath the tip of her fingers, the blood running through Lucys veins. Holding hands was not something she and her mother did all that often, so she felt privileged, and oddly humbled. Choking back the emotion, she slid her mothers hand beneath the sheets and covered it over. She then stroked her fingers through the long greying strands of hair where they lay nestled on the pillow like silken threads; so soft in her fingers. She gazed long on Lucys face, her eyes following every feature, every shadow and shape, and all the while she wondered about her mother, and about her father. What had transpired before she was born? What was the secret that she had always known existed? And why had she never been told of her parents true past? Her heart turning with emotion and the questions burning bright in her mind, she kissed the sleeping woman and made her way back downstairs to the men. Adam had brewed the tea and was busy pouring it out. Shes sleeping well, Mary told them, gratefully accepting the cup that was handed to her. I dont think Ive ever seen her looking so peaceful. Thank God for that. Adam knew what a restless soul Lucy was, and unlike Mary he knew the reason why. It will do her the world of good to sleep through the night. His voice fell until it was almost inaudible. If shes in a deep sleep, maybe she wont be plagued by the bad dreams. What bad dreams? Mary had heard his quiet words and they bothered her. Mother never told me about any dreams. Silently cursing himself, the little man tried to dismiss his remark. Oh, its nothing, he lied. I recall how she once told me shed had a bad dream, thats all. Mary wasnt satisfied. You said she was plagued. That doesnt sound like one bad dream to me. She knew Adam had known her parents long before she was born, and now she realised he was part of the secret she had never been privileged to share. Is there something youre not telling me? Sensing something too deep for his understanding, Ben wisely changed the subject. The fires almost out. Shall I put more logs on? Relieved that the moment was broken, Adam turned to him. I think it might be a good idea, he said, and to Mary, if thats all right with you? Having believed that she was on the verge of a long-awaited peep into the past, Mary now felt cheated. Yes, she answered, best keep the fire alive. I for one wont be going to bed tonight. Adam was horrified. You must get your sleep, he told her. Ill stay here and keep a check on your mother. I promise to wake you if needs be. Mary looked at Ben. A man of few words, he had such quiet strength. Will you stay? He smiled on her, a slow, easy smile that filled her heart and made her feel safe. Of course. Adams right, though. Your mother will need you to be bright and alert tomorrow. Youll sleep better in your bed. Mary would not hear of it. Im staying here with you two. Three pairs of ears are better than one, and we can take it in turns to check in on her. Look there are two big sofas and a deep armchair. We can all snatch a moments sleep when we grow tired. She smiled from one to the other. Meanwhile, well drink our tea and talk. She paused. The time will soon pass. While Ben and Mary sipped their tea and chatted about things other than the one which pressed on their minds, Adam became increasingly agitated. By referring to Lucys nightmares, he had almost betrayed his long-held loyalty to her. Mary must never know promise me you wont ever tell. That had been Lucys request to him, and though he had done everything possible for the woman he cherished, he had managed to avoid making an actual promise not to tell. Somewhere deep in his soul, he truly believed that one day, Mary would have to know the truth of what had happened; not least because she herself was part of that fascinating, devastating story, for without it, she would never have been born. Discreetly watching him, Mary saw how Adam was pacing the floor, faster and faster, until it seemed he would go crazy. She saw the panic in his face and the way he was rolling his fists together, much like her own mother did when anxious. And she knew, without a shadow of doubt, that old secrets were tearing Adam and her mother apart. While she watched him, Ben was watching her. And just as she had seen the anguish and pain in Adams eyes, he saw the very same in hers. Without a word he took her hand in his and, when she swung her gaze to him, he stroked her face, fleetingly. Your mother will be fine, he whispered. You have to believe that. Mary acknowledged him with an unsure nod of the head. She wanted him to hold her, and kiss her, and be the safe haven she craved; for in that moment she had never felt so alone in the whole of her life. Suddenly, Adam was standing before them. I thought I heard a noise Im sure it came from upstairs. Please, lass will you check on your mother again? See if shes all right? Mary didnt need asking twice. She was on her feet and out of the room before hed finished speaking. While she was running up the stairs, Ben grew concerned for Adam. Taking the little man by the shoulders, he sat him in the armchair. Here, sit down before you fall down. And when Adam was seated, head low in his hands and his whole body trembling, Ben dashed off to the kitchen and brought him back a glass of water. Drink this itll help calm you. By the time Adam had swilled down every last drop of the cool water, Mary had returned. Mother is fast asleep, she told them. She hasnt moved, except to pull down the covers a little. Lucy never did like being too warm, even in her sleep. Adam grabbed her hand. Are you sure shes all right? Yes, Im sure. Mary squeezed his hand comfortingly. Like the doctor said shes sleeping soundly. And then Adam was weeping, quietly at first, until the sobs racked his body, and when he looked up at them he was like a man haunted. I couldnt bear it if anything happened to your mam, he said brokenly. I love her, dyou see? I have loved her for a long, long time and always will till the day I die, and even after that. Mary sat on the edge of the sofa, opposite Adam and next to Ben, but she did not let go of Adams hand. Do you think I dont know how much you love her? she asked tenderly. Ive known it since I was very small. Ive seen the way you look at her, and Ive heard you whisper her name talking to her when you thought she couldnt hear. But I heard, and I know how much you adore her. She had a question. Why did she not love you back in the same way? Adam was curiously hurt by her question, though he understood it well enough. She did love me she still does! Yes, I know that, but why did she not love you in the same way? He smiled painfully at that, a sad, lonely smile that made her feel guilty. We cant always choose whom we love, he answered wisely. I didnt choose to fall head over heels in love with Lucy, any more than she chose to fall head over heels in love with your daddy. He gave a long, rippling sigh. And who could blame her for that? Ysee, Barney Davidson was a very special man. Not because he was handsome or rich, or even because he was exceptional in ways we mere mortals might understand. His eyes shone with admiration. No! He was more than that. He was deep, and kind Hesitating, he gave a shrug. Sometimes, words alone can never describe someone. Please, Adam, will you try to describe him for me? No one ever talks about him. Adam was shocked to see the tears running down her face and once again, was tempted to tell her everything. You never knew him, did you, lass not really? he murmured. You were only a wee thing when we lost him. He was my dear, dear friend the best pal a man could ever have, and I loved him for it. Afraid of losing the moment again, Mary persisted. Please, tell me what you know, what you and Mother have always kept from me. Her voice broke. I will never rest until I know what happened, and dont tell me there was nothing untoward in my parents lives, because in here she tapped the cradle of her heart I know there was. Deeply moved, he looked into those lovely, tearful eyes. Your mother should never have kept it from you, he conceded gruffly. Ive always known she was wrong about that. I told her you had every right to know, that you were Barneys child through and through. But she was afraid always afraid. Afraid of what? Mary gave a sigh of relief. At last she was getting nearer to the truth. I cant tell. He looked from her to Ben. I made a promise. NO! He shook his head. I never did make that promise. I thought it would be wrong, dyou see? I told her, Mary will have to know everything one day His words trailed away. Adam? The girls voice penetrated his deeper thoughts. That day is here and now. And youre right: I have to know, so tell me please. Snatching his hand from her grip, Adam scrambled out of the chair. He paced the floor awhile, then took a moment to stare out of the window at the night, but he said nothing for what seemed an age. Then he walked to the door, opened it and went out, and from the room they could see him standing at the foot of the stairs looking up. His lips were moving, but they could not hear what he was saying. Mary went to get off the sofa, but Ben reached out and, with a gentle pressure of his hand, held her there. Best to leave him, he whispered. Give him time. And, knowing Ben was right, she remained still until the little fellow came back into the room. Upstairs, Lucy thought she heard something. A voice. His voice. Half-asleep, her brain numbed by the sedative, she called out his name. Barney! Her voice, and her heart broke, and she could speak no more. Restless as always, she turned. Forcing open her eyes, and summoning every last ounce of strength, she stretched out her hand, and felt the hard edge of the bedside drawer Inching it open, she took out a long metal biscuit-box and drew it to her chest, where it lay while she caught her breath and recovered her strength. A moment later she had opened the lid and dipping her fingers inside, she lifted out a photograph and a long envelope, yellow with age and worn at the corners from where she had opened it many times over the years. Holding the photograph close to the halo of light from the bedside lamp, Lucy could hardly see it for the tears that stung from her eyes and ran unheeded down her face. Oh Barney, dear Barney! The sobbing was velvet-soft. No one heard. No one knew. No one ever knew. For nearly twenty years, she had kept his face alive in her heart and soul, but now, as her senses swam from the effects of the sedative, when she saw him smiling up at her from the photograph, it was as though he was real: the slight film of moisture on his lips, the pinkness of his tongue, just visible behind those beautiful white teeth, and the eyes, soulfully blue, and so sad beneath the smile; yet the smile, and the eyes, were so alive they twinkled. It was almost as though Barney was here in the room with her. The sick woman took a moment to rest, before in a less emotional state, she studied the familiar and much-loved features: the shock of rich brown hair, those mesmerising blue eyes not lavender-blue like Marys, but darkest blue, like the ocean depths. And the mouth, with its full bottom lip. The wonderful smile was a reflection of Barneys naturally joyful soul; through good times and bad, his smile was like a ray of sunshine. As he smiled at her now, Lucy could hear him singing; Barney loved to sing when he worked. She could hear him so clearly, his voice lifted in song and carried on the breeze from the fields to her kitchen. He never sang any song in particular. And when he wasnt singing, he would whistle. Barney was one of those rare people who, without realising it, could raise your spirits and make you feel good; even at your lowest ebb. Lucys heart grew quiet. Times had come when Barneys song was not so lilting nor his smile quite so convincing, and there had been other times, though they were few, when she had caught him sobbing his heart out. She knew then, that he was thinking of past events. And with every moment of anguish he suffered, she suffered it with him, and her love grew all the stronger. Over their short time together, Barney became her very life. He was her and she was him. They were one. Together they would see it through, and nothing would ever tear them apart. But it did. Death claimed him much too soon! And when she lost him, her own life, too, would have been over but for Mary, and Mary was a part of Barney. She saw him every time Mary smiled or sang, or chided her. And she loved that dear child with the same all-consuming love that she had felt for Barney. It was Mary who had been her saviour; Mary who was like her daddy in so many ways; Mary who had brought her untold joy. Adam had long believed that Mary should be told about the events which took place before she was born. But Lucy thought differently. The little girl was an innocent and must be protected, and so she was never told. But what of the other innocents? Dear God above! WHAT OF THEM? Weary now, she dropped her hands and the photograph fell onto the eiderdown. Too weak to raise her head, she felt about until it was safe in her grasp again, and then with slow, trembling fingers, she laid it down beside her. Unfolding the letter from inside the envelope, she held it up where she could see it in the light from the bedside lamp. She remembered receiving this, one dark damp day in her little cottage up north, and knew that only the truth could put things right. She had read the letter so many times, she knew every word by heart. She whispered them now, the sentences etched in her soul for all time: To Lucy Baker, It pains us to put pen to paper, but we must. Word has come to us here that you are now living with our father and have a child by him. Because of what you have done, we feel only hatred towards you. Hatred and disgust! Lucy, you betrayed us! We thought you were our friend, our sister. We all trusted you, especially our mother, but you were a viper in our midst. The day we left, we vowed we would never be back, and that vow remains strong as ever. We just want you to know what you and our father have done to all of us; and to our mother most of all. You helped to ruin our lives. You are a wicked, evil woman, and if there is any justice in the world, there will come a day when you will both pay for what you did. We pray with all our hearts for that day to come. We dont need to sign our names. You know them already. We are Thomas, Ronald and Susan Davidson. We are your conscience. Lucy shakily folded the letter away. Such hatred! she sighed. Her heart ached for those young people for them and their poor mother, because of all their suffering. But they didnt know the truth. THEY DIDNT KNOW! How could they? Carefully, she replaced Barneys photograph into the biscuit-box, then the letter into its envelope. What am I to do, love? she whispered. You said they must never know, but I feel I must tell them, even if it will be too much for them to bear. It is time to put things right, if God will grant me the time I need. Then weariness closed in and the sedative claimed her. But the dreams remained. Awake or asleep, the dreams were never far away. Adam went over to the fireplace and stood there for a while, his arms reaching up to each side of the mantelpiece, and his head bowed. Im not sure if its my place to tell you, he murmured. Mary felt instinctively that she ought not to speak. If he was wrestling with his conscience, then she must not influence him either way. So she waited, and hoped, and in a while he turned round, looked at them both, and slowly made his way back to them. I think Barney would want you to know, he told Mary heavily. I reckon youre right, lass, the time is here. The haunted look had finally left his eyes. So, will you tell me now? Her mouth had gone dry; she could barely say the words. He nodded. And will you tell me everything? Mary knew this was it. At long last she was to cross that threshold which, though it had never affected the deep love between herself and Lucy, had always been present between them. Excitement and fear mingled as she sensed the door opening to her, that secret door which had been too long closed, and she had no doubts that something wondrous waited beyond. I dont know if Im doing right or wrong, but I believe the truth is long overdue, Adam answered. Though I may live to regret it, and Lucy may not thank me for going against her wishes, yes, Ill tell you everything, sweetheart. I promise I wont leave anything out. Ben hastily prepared to leave. This is private family business, he said. I have no right to be here. Neither Adam nor Mary would hear of it. Please, Ben, I want you to stay, Mary told him, and Adam gave a nod of approval. I believe you should both hear what I have to tell, he said. The little man had a deep-down instinct that these two were made for each other. In the same inevitable way that Barney was woven into Marys past, Ben was destined to be part of her future. He had seen her look at Ben in the same way her mother had looked at Barney, and tonight in Ben, he had caught a glimpse of his dear friend. Something told him he was witnessing the start of another deep and special love, and he knew that Ben truly belonged here. And so he settled in his chair and cast his mind back over the years. Drawing on his memory, he mentally relived the story; of Lucy and Barney, and of course the others who did not, and could not, see the truth of what was happening before their eyes. But Adam had seen, and it had scarred him forever. Just as it had scarred Lucy, and the others; though to this day, those others had not learned the truth of what happened, and maybe they never would. Maybe the hatred and the pain would always be paramount. Adam thought that was a sad thing, because the tragedy that had taken place all those years ago had given birth to something glorious. As the night thickened and the story unfolded, Mary and Ben were in turn shocked and uplifted, and the more they heard, the more they began to realise that their lives would never again be the same. During the telling, Adam was at times joyful, then tearful, and when he recalled the awful sacrifice Barney had made, his eyes filled with pain. But above all, he was proud to be telling Barneys story. Because, in his deepest heart, he believed it to be one of the most powerful love stories of all time. Part 2 (#ulink_94d8b175-1372-5a04-8b0b-9f398a1716fe) Summer, 1930 Lucys Story Chapter 6 (#ulink_a3d4d21c-66f6-508f-9344-e052f8c0671d) THE SUMMER OF 1930 was proving to be one of the most glorious on record, as if to compensate in some way for the misery of mass unemployment on Merseyside. Today, 25 May, the docklands were almost deserted but the narrow, meandering backstreets were as busy as ever. Young children played; scabby dogs lounged in cool, shadowy corners; floral-pinnied women in turbans busied themselves white-stoning their front doorsteps, pausing only for a snippet of gossip as a neighbour passed by; and having emptied gallons of milk from churn to jug, the milkman was on his lazy way home, the wheels of his cart clattering a tune on the cobbles clickety-clack, clickety clack, drink your milk and Ill be back the children made up the song and as he passed by, they ran after him chanting the words, skipping away once hed turned the corner. Back down in the docks, sailors disembarked, glad to come ashore after being at sea for many months. Placards everywhere gave out the news: British Aviator Amy Johnson flies from London to Australia in nineteen and a half days. There you go, boyo. The tall, bony man with the unkempt beard had been at sea for too long, and now at last, he was done with it. While weve been conquering the seven seas, that brave ladys been conquering the skies. Hmh! The younger man was rough in looks and rough in nature. Id rather her than me, up there all alone. I never have been able to stand my own company. The older man laughed. Thats because youre a miserable bugger, and I should know, being the unfortunate that had the next bunk to you. What dyou mean? We got on all right, didnt we? Thats true but only because when youre on a ship in the middle of the ocean, youve either to get on with your shipmates, or jump off the ship. And I for one didnt fancy being the sharks next meal. So where are you off to now? Home to South Wales, thank God. What about you? Where might you be headed? A crafty smile flickered over the younger mans features. Ive a woman to see. A woman, eh? The other man knew of Edward Trents liking for the ladies, because hed witnessed it many a time in port. So, shes another one you left behind, is she? Whether I left her behind or not, shell still be waiting for me. Youre an arrogant devil, Ill give you that. I might stay this time make an honest woman of her, Trent boasted. The older man laughed out loud at the idea. Never! Ah, but this ones different. Shes full of fun, a real stunner. Moreover, shell do anything for me. He preened himself. A man could do worse than settle down with a woman like Lucy Baker. Well, good luck to you then, boyo. As for me, Im away to my beloved Wales. No more sailing the worlds oceans for me. Im finished with all that. So, what will you do? Theres mass unemployment, you know. It may not be much of a picnic in your part of the world, matey. That wont bother me. The older man took a deep, gratifying breath, and when he released it, the answer came with it. Ive not made up my mind yet, but what I do know is this: Ill spend my days as I please, tending my bit of land and fishing, and not be driven by money and command. Ive worked hard and saved my wages, and God willing, youll not see me again. With that he threw his kitbag over his shoulder and strode off, with never a look back. Watching him go, the other man laughed under his breath. Thats what they all say, he sneered, and youre no different from the rest. Dark-haired, dark-eyed and with a heart to match, Edward Trent was a regular Jack the Lad who fancied he should please every woman he came across, and he had done just that, in every port across the world. Were both going fishing, he thought as he walked on. Ill leave you to catch the ones with the tails, Taffy Evans, while I settle for the others the ones that pretend to fight you off when all they really want is for you to catch em and show em a good time. As he left the docks and headed towards the nearest lodging-house, he had only one woman on his mind: a young and spritely thing, with long flowing hair and a smile that could melt a mans heart from a mile off. Youre a lucky girl, Lucy Baker! he chuckled. He hoped shed kept her looks and taken care of herself, because Eddie boy was on his way! He called her up in his mind and smiled. Even after two years away and countless other women, hed still got a soft spot for her. Shed been a virgin when theyd met, a hardworking shop girl, still living with her parents, and shed fallen for him hook, line and sinker. Who knows, if she treated him right, he might even consider putting a ring on her finger. Somehow, she had got to him, where the others hadnt. Maybe it was her innocence and loyalty things in short supply among the women he usually had dealings with. He squared his shoulders and marched on. That doesnt mean to say Ill be staying for sure, he thought. Oh no! Like the man said, there are plenty of fish in the sea, and half the fun is catching them, then throwing them back for another day. An hour and a half later, he had drunk a pint, had a strip-down wash and bedded the landlords daughter, twice. And now he was on a bus, headed for Kitchener Street, a mile or so from the docklands number 14. He checked his notebook and scanned the many names there. Yes, that was it Lucy Baker at number 14, Kitchener Street, Liverpool. Will that be a return ticket, or one way? The conductor had his ticket-machine at the ready. I might be coming back, or I might not. Edward liked to hedge his bets, especially as he didnt quite know what awaited him. Ill have a return ticket, if you please. Return it is. Turning the handle on his machine, the conductor ran the ticket off. Thatll be tuppence hapenny. Twenty minutes later, the arrogant young seaman was strolling down Kitchener Street, checking the door numbers as he went. Here we are! He had remembered the street as being long, with every house looking the same; narrow doors and white-stoned steps, and netted curtains up at the windows. But yes, this was the one halfway down and looking exactly as he remembered. He rapped hard with the knocker. After a couple of minutes, a plump, red-faced woman flung open the door. What the devil dyou think youre playing at? she demanded angrily. Im not deaf but I will be if you keep rattling the door like that? Im looking for Lucy Baker. Hed forgotten that familiar lilt of the Liverpudlian tongue; it was a comforting sound to a man who had travelled a hostile world. The Bakers dont live here no more. Leaning forward, the red-faced woman looked up and down the street. Content that she would not be overheard, she confided, There was a bit of a to-do in the family, if you know what I mean. And seeing that he did not know, she went on, Ted Baker Lucys father he took another woman to his bed, dyer see? Then his poor missus chucked him out, and rightly so if you ask me! I dont need to know all the ins and outs, he told her irritably. I just need to find Lucy. Im coming to that. When Lucys dad was thrown out, he moved in with his new woman went to live on York Street, they did and good riddance to em! This house became vacant, and me an my Eric moved in. Been here a while now. So Lucy went with her father, is that what youre saying? Did I say that? She liked to tell her story properly, and wasnt finished yet. Well, soon after she gave him the old heave-ho, his missus upped sticks and buggered off and nobody knows where she went. So where is Lucy? Frustration rose in him. What happened to her? Oh, aye, you might well ask! I am asking, and Id be obliged if youd give me an answer. Trent had no patience with folks like this, especially after the travelling. Hed come a long way to get here, and no doubt hed be going a long way back, sooner or later. So, there was no time to be wasting. All I can say is, its a good job Lucy was the only child. Folding her fat little sausage arms, the woman rattled on: Ysee, her mam had such terrible trouble bearing a child. Lost four of em over the years, she did, an as if that isnt enough to be putting up with, er scoundrel of a husband ends up in some other womans bed. Shame on him, thats what I say! Thats enough o the chatter, lady! All I want is the whereabouts of Lucy. Another minute and he might end up strangling the old biddy. Not one to be bullied, she declared sharply, Hold yer orses. I were just getting to that! For Chrissake, woman, get on with it, then! Where the bloody hell is she? When he now took a step forward, the red-faced woman took a step back. Shes moved in wi Bridget. Who the hells Bridget? The fat little woman gave a wicked grin. Everybody knows Bridget! Well, heres one who doesnt. When he took another step forward, she took another step back. I couldnt give a toss about Bridget. Just tell me where my girlfriend is, and Ill trouble you no more. All right! All right! Theres no need to get aeryated. I already told you, I were coming to that. When he glared at her, she nervously cleared her throat and hurriedly explained, Bridget is a woman well-known in these parts particularly by the men, do you get my drift? Oh yes, she might be generous with her favours, but she charges well enough, and so do her girls, though o course we aint supposed to know about what goes on in that place. The bizziesll put her away if shes found out, an none of us would want to be responsible for putting Bridget away, nor any of her girls neither. She took a well-deserved breath. For all her wrongdoings, shes gorra good heart, has Bridget, and shell help anybody in trouble. Lives along Viaduct Street, number twenty-three. Youll find Lucy there. On seeing the question in his eyes, she quickly assured him, No, shes not one of Bridgets girls. Lucy Baker is a stray lamb. She met up with a no-good fella who promised her the world then cleared off to sea, and then she had nowhere to go when her mam and dad split up, so Bridget took her in. Ysee, as I told you Bridgets gorra soft heart and likes to help such folks. As he hurried away, she called after him. Hey! Theres summat I forgot to tell you! Edward was not in the mood for listening, however. Silly old fool! he muttered, and ignoring her, he walked on. Seeing him march away all the quicker, the woman shrugged her fat little shoulders. Dont listen then, she told his back. It wont matter to me. Anyway, I expect youll find out soon enough. The thought of him being caught unawares made her smile until she recalled how he had nearly banged her door down and then stared at her so threateningly. Her hackles were up. Shaking her fist after him, she yelled, And dont come bothering me again, Sonny Jim! I were busy at the wash-tub when you came pounding on my door with your damned questions. Its no fun washing blankets, but you wouldnt know about that, would you, eh? Oh no! You men with your damned questions. Go on! Bugger off and dont come back! When he turned to scowl at her, she slammed shut the door and scampered back to her wash-tub, grumbling as she went. If Lucy Baker gives that fella so much as the time o day, she wants her head examining! she muttered to herself. When Edward Trent reached Bridgets house, he knocked on the door with the same force that he had used in Kitchener Street. You dont need to knock. The woman who opened the door was in her late twenties, tall and slender, with a shock of dark hair and over-painted features. We dont stand on ceremony here. She ushered him inside. Its down the passage and first left. He went first and she followed at a quickening pace. It wasnt often the younger men came to visit, and this one was handsome into the bargain, if a bit surly. As she came into the room she quietly closed the door behind her. The other girls are out, she confided. Mandys having her hair done and Sandras got a day off. So Im afraid youll have to make do with me. Im Lynette. His frown became a smile. You think Im a client, is that it? The young woman shrugged. I hope you are, she replied. Giving him a knowing wink, she went on in silken tones, You make a nice change. We normally get the older men here the blokes who dont get treated right by their own women at least, thats what they tell us. She chuckled. So, whats your reason for being here? Wifey kicked you out, has she? Thinking that here was too good a chance to miss, he led her on. And what if she has? Well, I dare say Id have to cheer you up then, wouldnt I? As she spoke, she walked over to him and slowly, tantalisingly, began to undo the flies on his trousers. Did I say you could do that? He was enjoying every minute. Im sorry. Was I supposed to ask? Not now. Taking her blouse by the shoulders he ripped it clean off her back. Its too late to turn back now. Leaning forward he kissed her neck, then wiped his tongue along her throat. If youre game, then so am I. For the next fifteen minutes they played and touched and he took her without feeling or shame, with an insatiable hunger, and in the same aggressive manner that he might sink his teeth into a fat lamb chop or swill back a tankard of ale. Afterwards, while she was dressing, he threw a few coins on the bed. Thats for your trouble. He threw down another. And thats for what youre about to do. And what might that be? This time, Lynette was not so sure of herself. He had been unexpectedly rough and slightly cruel, and she was right to be wary. Fetch Lucy Baker to me. He wagged a finger in warning. One word to her about what weve just done, though, and your pretty face wont be so pretty any more. Astonished that Lucy would know such a man, she told him, Lucy isnt here. She had hardly finished when he caught her by the throat. Youd best not be lying to me! he hissed. Im not lying. Fearful, she began to struggle. She skivvies at the squires house, Haskell Hall all the way over in Comberton village. Shes there now. Let me go, please. Im telling you the truth. Throwing her on to the bed, he stood over her. What time will she be back? Im not sure. Five, maybe six oclock. She likes to work long hours. She needs the money for Shut your mouth! Taking hold of her he yanked her up and held her close, kissing her mouth, her hair, her eyelids. How do I get there? His voice resembled the soft, deadly hiss of a snake. Cringing at his touch, she told him, Across the fields at the end of this road towards the water-tower. How far? Take the bridle-path, alongside the brook, towards the village of Comberton-by-Weir. Its signposted. Head for the hilltop, and you wont go wrong. Once past Overhill Farm, go down the other side and youll find the squires house half a mile on. Its called Haskell Hall. You cant miss it a big old house with great trees lining the way up to the entrance. Its about a mile and a half in all. Throwing her aside he scowled. Ah, well. I suppose Ive come this far, another mile or two will seem like nothing. Before he left he warned her again. We had our fun and thats an end to it. But one word to anybody, especially to Lucy, and youll rue the day. Dyou understand me? Fearing for her life, Lynette nodded. I wont say anything. Good girl. For an unbearable moment he stared her out. I expect Ill see you when we get back. Grabbing her hair in a bunch between his thick strong fingers, he drew her head back and kissed her throat. Oh look, youre starting to bruise. With a devious grin, he screwed a straightened finger into her forehead until she winced. Not a word! he whispered. Then he went on his way, whistling merrily as he strode briskly down the pavement. So far it had been a good day, he thought smugly. Seeing Lucy would be the icing on the cake. Back at Bridgets house, the woman herself had arrived; large-boned, with her mass of fiery hair and eyes green as a cats in the dark, she was as Irish as the Blarney Stone, filling the front parlour with her presence. She was astonished to find one of her young people in tears. Hey now! She dropped her bag into the nearest chair. Aw, will ye look at that! she exclaimed. Youll have eyes like split walnuts if you dont stop the bawling, so ye will. Sensing a man was involved, she demanded to know, Who was he? What did the swine do to you? She banged her fist on the dresser. Sure, Ill have the bloody head off his shoulders if hes messed you up. And by the ample size of her, she was well capable of carrying out her threat. Its got nothing to do with any bloke. Afraid to reveal the truth, the young woman lied convincingly. Its just that Ive had this awful toothache all day and its giving me some gyp. Bridget relaxed. If thats all, youd best get yourself a drop of the hard stuff out of the dresser. That should see you through the night, and if youre no better in the morning, you can take yourself off to the dentist. All right? All right. Lynette gave a sigh of relief. Oh, and there was a man here not a client or anything like that, she added quickly. Bridget was disappointed. Pity. So what did he want? He was looking for Lucy. Was he now? And did you tell him where to find her? Yes. I told him she was working over at the squires house. Hes gone there now, to meet up with her. Mmm. Bridget did not like the sound of it. And what did he look like, this fella? The young woman shrugged, her bottom lip turning down as she pretended to recall his features; while in truth she would never forget them. Rough-looking, I suppose, but handsome all the same. That doesnt tell me much, does it? A description like that could fit anybody. Bridget threw herself into the chair opposite. Come on, Lynette what else? Well, he had a weathered face as though hed been in the sun a lot, and he was carrying a kitbag. As the images burned deeper into her mind, her speech quickened, as though she wanted it all said and done with as swiftly as possible. He was dark-haired and he had this look about him a real mean, peevish kind of look. I tell you what, Bridget, I wouldnt like to be Lucy if shes got deep in with that kinda fella. No, I certainly would not! Bridget was curious. For someone whos got a bad toothache, you seem to have found enough time to get a real good look at him. Well, o course I did, because he stood on the doorstep and wouldnt go until I told him where Lucy was. What, you mean he got nasty? No, I dont mean that at all. She had not forgotten his parting threat. He wanted to know where she was, and at first I wasnt sure whether to tell him, then he stood his ground and I had no choice. So you told him, and he went? Thats right. I had to get rid of him. To tell you the truth, I didnt like the look of him. Involuntarily, she shuddered. I see. Bridget detected a great deal of fear in Lynettes manner. He sounds like a nasty piece of work, she said quietly. You sure thats not why you were crying just now? No! Leaping out of the chair, Lynette laid the palm of her hand over her mouth. Its this damned tooth. Its driving me crazy. Bridget got out of her chair and wrapped her arms about the girl. Youre to fetch a drop of whisky out of the cupboard, then get yourself off to bed. Come down later, when youre feeling better. A good nights sleep, then its the dentist for you first thing in the morning. Before Lynette left the room, Bridget had one more question. This man was he a sailor, dyou think? He could well have been a matelot, the girl said. He did have a tattoo oh, and sailors do have kitbags, dont they? Bridget was quiet for a minute, as though she had just remembered who he was. Dark, with a mean kind of a look, you say. Mmm. Then, her tone brisk, she told the young woman, All right, darlin, dont worry. Get off and take care of yourself. Im sure Lucy will tell me all about it when she gets back. A few minutes later, with Lynette off to her bed, and the other girls not yet back, Bridget went through to the kitchen, where the young housekeeper, Tillie, having heard her come in earlier, was already pouring Bridget a cup of tea. Thought you might be ready for this, she said, pushing it along the table to where Bridget had pulled up a chair and sat down. Had a good shopping trip? Having been thrown out of house and home by a violent stepfather these four years past, Tillie Salter had found a welcome at Bridgets house of pleasure. At seventeen, innocent and plain-looking as the day was long, there was never any intention to recruit her into the business; so she was given a roof over her head and paid a wage to cook and clean and generally look after number 23, Viaduct Street, leaving Bridget free to keep a tight rein on her business, count her money, take care of her girls, and shop to her hearts content. During the four years she had been there, Tillie Salter had loved every minute, and had come to look on Bridget as a surrogate mother. Bridget was her idol her hero and her friend. She might run a brothel, but she was discreet in her dealings, she looked after her girls well, and had a heart of gold. So those who knew of her business said nothing, and those who thought she was a woman who had come into money legitimately, chatted with her in the street, and saw her as a kind soul, with a happy personality. Moreover, she seemed ever ready to listen to their problems when others would not. Bridget thanked her for the tea. She removed her light jacket and fanned her rosy face. Youve no idea of the crowds, she groaned. Pushing you this way and that treading on your toes and thinking its your fault and not theirs. Jesus, Mary and Joseph! What is it about shopping that makes martyrs of us poor women? Bringing her own tea, Tillie sat at the other side of the table. But you love it, dont you? she said shyly. You love the noise and bustle, and spending your money across the counter. And I bet you went down the docks, dreaming of your homeland across the water. Bridget squeezed her hand. Ah, you know me too well, so ye do. She gave a deep-down sigh. Aw, Tillie, there are times when I really do miss my Ireland. Tillie loved to hear the stories of Bridgets upbringing in Kilkenny. Tell me again, what do you miss most? she asked eagerly. Bridget was pleased to answer. I miss the rolling valleys and the way the sun goes down behind the hills of an evening. I miss my folks and I miss other people like the old fella that used to sit outside the pub of an evening and play his accordion, so the people would throw a generous handful of coins into his cap as they sauntered by. What else, Bridget? Tillie persisted. Tell me what else. Bridget laughed. How many times must I tell you, before youre satisfied? I shall have to be careful, so I will, or youll be up and off and across the water one of these foine days, so ye will! Just tell me about the music, and the dancing, Tillie urged, her grey eyes bright with anticipation in her homely young face. Ah, the dancing! Rolling her eyes, Bridget leaned back in her chair; she could see and hear the festivities in her mind and her heart ached. I remember the fair in Appleby, when the horsemen would come from all over Ireland and even across the Atlantic from Merica, just to show their horses and traps and watch the goings-on. And if somebody took a liking to one of their best horses, theyd offer a price and when the haggling was done, theyd do the spitting of the handshake and the deal was agreed. Tillie cringed. Ugh! I dont think Id want anybody spitting on my hand! She hid her hands behind her back as if to protect them. Bridget roared with laughter. Its the way things are done, so it is, she said. Sure its been that way for a hundred years and more, and likely itll be that way for many more years to come! Caught up in the housekeepers excitement, Bridget continued, When the deals are all done, the men go down to the pub and celebrate, drinking and singing and dancing, too and oh, the good crack they have! She threw out her arms with sheer joy. Im telling you, Tillie me darlin, it is pure magic, so it is. And what about the dancing, Bridget? Tell me about that! Bridget leaned forward. Sometimes it would be one couple on the floor and everybody watching, and when their feet got a-tapping and their hands got a-clapping and they couldnt watch no longer, theyd all link arms, so they would. Then they would all dance in a line, every one of them in tune with the other feet crossing and jumping, and going high in the air as though they were one, and the tapping and the rhythm, and the noise against the boards Her voice rose higher and higher and soon her own feet were a-tapping and her hands a-clapping, and, Sure, theres no magic in the world like an Irish jig! Suddenly she was calling for Tillie to clap a tune, and when the girl started, Bridget leaped to her feet and holding her skirt high, she began kicking out to the sound of the clapping. And soon the clapping got faster and faster and Bridget danced and laughed and it wasnt long before she fell into the chair, face bright red and aglow with delight. Come on! she told Tillie. Get up and Ill show you how to do it. But before Tillie could do so, the sound of a child crying brought the laughter to an end. Oh, the poor little divil, weve woke him, so we have! Quickly now she ran through to the cot and took the child out a healthy-looking little chap with a chubby face, startled from his afternoon nap by all the tapping and the clapping and the laughter that rang through the house. Ah, sure hes a bonny little fella, so he is, Bridget cooed, and soon he was quiet on her lap, his mouth open like a fish at feeding time and his small hand stroking her blouse as he woke up properly. Will ye look at him, she laughed tenderly. She handed the child to Tillie. Best get his supper ready, me darling, she suggested. Then you might take him upstairs for his bath. Itll soon be his bedtime, so it will. Tillie put him in his high chair and there he sat, quiet as a mouse, chewing on his knuckles and watching Bridget as she gazed down on him. I cant believe how hes grown, she declared. How old is he exactly? She was never a one for figures unless it was a strong man with a gorgeous arse and broad shoulders. Tillie looked round from buttering his fingers of freshly-baked bread. She added some little squares of cheese for Jamie to nibble on while she cooked his soft-boiled egg. Hes a year and six months old, she enlightened Bridget. A real little boy now, no longer a baby. She chuckled girlishly. He walked along the sofa-edge yesterday, and his fat little legs went all bandy. Bridget laughed. If he keeps on like that, it wont be long before hes off to work with his pack on his back, she teased. The women were tender with the little lad, as he had been born with one of his legs shorter than the other, and found it hard to balance. Bridget studied the childs features. Unlike his mammy, whose eyes were golden-brown, he had the darkest eyes; his hair, though, was the same colour as hers the shiny rich brown of ripe chestnuts. Like his mammy, the child had that same quick smile and infectious laughter; though these last two years Lucy had not laughed overmuch, because she was lonely and sad, though as with every deep emotion, she tried hard not to show it. But Bridget knew, and she wondered now about the man who had come to her door. There was a man here today, she told Tillie, who had returned with the egg-cup and spoon, and a small beaker of milk for the child. I know. Tillie was as discreet as ever. I heard him knocking the door down. He was determined to be heard. Lynette answered the door, didnt she? Bridget wondered if Tillie knew more than she was saying. Yes, I was changing this ones napkin. The others were out. Theyre still out, as far as I know. She held the beaker-lip to Jamies mouth again, cautioning him when he snatched at it and almost sent it flying. Why? Bridget thought a moment, then in a quiet voice she told Tillie, Lynette described him to me. Did she? The girl wiped the childs mouth and put the beaker to the floor. I didnt see him. But she had heard him. She had heard them. Yet she never spoke of what she heard in this house. Bridget had given her a roof over her head and she never questioned or judged what went on here. Bridget was quiet for a time, then she spoke, again in a quiet voice as though she was deep in thought. Ive a feeling its him! Tillie had spooned a helping of yolk into the childs mouth, but it was now all over his face, so she was wiping him with the flannel she had in her pocket. She looked up at Bridgets statement. Who? Edward Trent the babys father. I think Lucy told you how things started with him. He followed her home from Wavertree Park one day and was all over her, the bad bugger. Had his way with her, promised the earth then cleared off about three months later. After that, her parents split up and she lost her home. Fat lot of good her so-called boyfriend was then, eh? Having finished the feeding, Tillie lifted the child out onto her lap. Crikey! Her eyes grew wide as saucers. I thought hed upped and gone to sea. Got fed up wi working on the docks, didnt he? An he aint never been in touch since. Thats right and good shuts to him. But bad pennies have a way of turning up again. And he was a bad penny if ever there was one though she never saw it. She loved him, thats why. Lucy had spoken long and deep to Tillie about her sweetheart, the father of her child. He was good to her, wasnt he? Not all the time. Bridgets expression hardened. I reckon he used to hit her oh, not sos youd notice from the outside, but he hurt her all the same. Even her mam an dad warned her against him. She couldnt see what he was truly like, though. She loved him, ysee? She still loves him, even after he buggered off and left her with child. Bridget was afraid for Lucy. Afraid of why Edward Trent had come back. What was he after? As far as she was concerned, the man was no good, and never would be. He never even wrote to her, did he? Tillie had not forgiven him for doing that to her friend. Poor Lucy had been frantic for a long while, not knowing which way to turn, wanting to tell him about his son once Jamie was born, but with no idea how to contact him. Bridget didnt answer because her thoughts were miles away. Whats he up to? she mused silently. Why is he here after all this time? It seemed the very same question was crossing young Tillies mind. Why do you think hes come back? she said apprehensively. Her employer shrugged. Who knows? She recalled what Lynette had told her. He came looking for her, thats for sure. And hes gone to find her as we speak. She sighed. I only hope Lucy has enough sense not to be taken in by him a second time. Chapter 7 (#ulink_46ea611b-cea9-5ad7-b38c-6d53bbb72997) UNAWARE OF DEVELOPMENTS at home, Lucy drove her energy into the last task of the day. Almost done now, she told the curious magpie who had been watching her for the past ten minutes or so. Another few good wallops, and there wont be a speck of dust left. Raising the beater, she brought it down against the rug so hard that it danced on the clothes-line; another good hard wallop, and the dust flew in all directions, not as much as when she had first brought the rug out, but enough to give her a coughing fit, and send the startled magpie off to the skies. Cowardly creature! she called after it. Mind, if I had wings, Id be off too. Oh, and she would an all! Away above the chimney-tops ever so high, she would raise her head and flap her wings fast and furious until she was across the oceans, then shed keep going until she reached some tropical paradise. But she wouldnt go alone, oh no. Wherever she went, she would take her darling son with her. From the office window upstairs, the tall, elegant woman watched Lucy as she worked; the squires secretary could hear Lucys voice raised in song, but that wasnt unusual, because during her working day, whether inside or out, Lucys melodious singing could be heard all over Haskell Hall. Youre a good soul, Lucy Baker, Miss McGuire murmured, putting down her fountain-pen. Hardworking and happy as the day is long. As she watched Lucy hoist the rug from the line and drop it to the ground, she was taken by surprise when the girl suddenly looked up to see her there. I wont be long, she called out. Im finished just now. Lucy quickened her steps towards the house, the hot breeze playing with the hem of her skirt, her feet bare as the day she was born; with the rug carried in her arms, like a mother might carry a bairn, she made a fetching sight. When a moment or two later, Lucy burst into the kitchen, Miss McGuire was waiting for her. For the life of me, Lucy, I dont know why you beat the rug when you could use that new vacuum cleaner. It was bought to suck up the dirt and dust from the floor, after all, and to save the staff here from heavy work. I do use it, Lucy protested, but its not very good. Sometimes things get stuck in it and it wont work, and then old Jake has to see to it, and while hes doing that I still have to beat the rugs. She prodded the one in her arms. This one is no good at all. Its got long fringes and they go flying up into the workings and then its the devils own job to free them. Its much quicker just to give it a sound beating on the clothes-line. The squires secretary tended to agree, but did not say so. Instead she looked down at Lucys bare feet. Small and neat, they were covered in a film of dust, and there was the tiniest leaf sticking out between the toes. Never mind the rug, she retorted. Perhaps youd like to tell me why you arent wearing your boots? Exasperated at the times she had asked the young woman to always wear her boots for fear of hurting herself on the harsh ground, she groaned. Just look at your poor feet, Lucy covered in dust and picking up all the debris from the ground. One of these days youre bound to get an injury. Ive asked you so many times to wear your work-boots, Im worn out with it. Lucy looked down at her feet. Im a mucky pup, I know, she conceded, wiggling her toes to be rid of the leaf, but I feel so uncomfortable with the boots on. Im sorry, Miss McGuire. Ill try to wear them, I promise. And how many times have you said that? The secretary rolled her eyes. And how many times have I seen you running about in your bare feet? It isnt as though youre a child, Lucy. Youre a grown woman of nearly thirty, for heavens sake, and you have a little one to think of. What would happen if something fell on your feet and broke them? How would you go on then, eh? I know, and Im really sorry, Lucy repeated. I promise Ill try to keep the shoes on. Lucy hated wearing shoes of any kind, almost as much as she hated cold porridge. Mind you do then. The secretary was a kindly sort. She had little to do with the housekeepers staff here at the Hall, but she had always had a soft spot for Lucy. Anyway, enough of this. Its time you went home, she told Lucy now. There hasnt been a day in the past fortnight when youve left on time. Thats cause I like to finish all my work before I go, Lucy explained. I know that, all too well, came the reply. But you must leave time for yourself and the child. The secretary tried hard not to be shocked by the young womans situation as an unmarried mother. The squire never listened to gossip so he remained ignorant of Jamies existence; however, some of the other staff were aware of her status and shunned Lucy because of it. Oh, I do! Lucy answered eagerly. When Im not working here, I spend every passing minute with him. A look of sheer joy lit her face. You cant know how much I love him. No one can. Dorothy was fond enough of Lucy to tell her, Im sure I do know how much you love him. All Im saying is this: its no wonder you still havent found a man to take care of you and the child, what with you working all hours, and here you are already twenty-nine years of age. Most young women are safely married and settled in their own home at that age. This didnt apply to her either, she acknowledged sadly. When she saw the downcast look on Lucys face she was mortified. Ive spoken out of turn, my dear. I didnt mean to be cruel. Its just that youre such a lovely young woman and I do care what happens to you. Id hate to think you were destined to spend your life all alone. Its all right, Miss McGuire, I dont mind. But she did, and now her thoughts were filled with memories of a dark-eyed man who had quickly come into her life and filled her days with fun, and then just as quickly gone out of her life, without so much as a hows your father! But she had not forgotten him. She never would. Especially when hed left her with child, and it had caused so much trouble at home that she was made to leave in disgrace and soon after, her mother and father split up and went their separate ways. And now she had no family at all, save for her little boy, who was everything to her. Go on then! Be off with you, before the housekeeper finds you another job to do. And dont worry. Ill let her know youve gone. The womans voice invaded her thoughts, and when she looked up, the kindly secretary was already on her way down the long corridor. Dragging the rug through the kitchen, Lucy got it to the drawing room, where she rolled it out before the big fireplace. All done for another day. Sometimes Lucy sang, and sometimes like now, she talked to herself, and then there was the time when she got caught dancing on the sofa-table and almost got her marching orders from the housekeeper. It was the same at home. Often Bridget would say, For the love of God, will ye sit still and be quiet! But she couldnt. There was too much life in her, and it wasnt her fault. Without wasting any more time, Lucy ran to the cupboard where her two pairs of shoes were lined up: black lace-up boots for work, and daintier shoes with ankle-straps for going home in. Taking out the ankle-strap shoes, she put them on and, flicking her long hair out of her eyes, she hurried out of the back door, her voice raised in song and her feet skipping as she went. By the kennels at the side of the house, Lucy stopped to pet the hounds. She had a marvellous way with animals; whenever they had the chance, the squires hounds would follow her everywhere, and while everyone else would stay clear of the bull in its pen, Lucy could often be seen defying instructions to lean over the gate and stroke its nose. Lucy was halfway down the hill when she stopped to take off her shoes. The grass looked so warm, lush and inviting in the evening heat. Tying the ankle-straps together, she slung the shoes over her shoulder and went on in bare feet. She was almost at the brook when she saw the figure of a man coming towards her. It wasnt the squire, or hed have his dogs with him, and it wasnt Barney Davidson from Overhill Farm, because he was smaller-built. She often spoke with Barney when he was out on the hills with his sheep or doing other work on the land. She liked him; he had a kind, caring manner, and was easy to talk with. In fact, if he wasnt married and she wasnt still completely infatuated with Edward, she could have fallen for him herself. While Lucy grew increasingly curious about the man approaching from the bottom of the hill, he was also straining his eyes to see if it really was Lucy drawing ever closer, though when he saw that familiar wave of long hair flowing in the breeze and the cheeky swagger of her long limbs, he knew it was her and began to run. LUCY! The wind carried his voice across the valley. LUCY BAKER, ITS ME! ITS YOUR SWEETHEART COME HOME! Hearing the voice, but unable to decipher the words, Lucy stopped and stared. With the sun directly in her face she couldnt see his features. But she saw the long, confident strides as he ran to her, and when he dropped the kitbag from his back, there was something disturbingly familiar about the way he moved. Slowly but surely, realisation dawned. Edward? My Edward? She whispered his name; was it really him? Excitement coursed through her, but she didnt call out or run forward. She didnt dare trust her own judgement. By the time he got close enough for her to recognise him, she took to her heels and ran to meet him. When he caught her in his arms and swung her high in the air, she laughed and cried with sheer joy. Oh Edward, I thought Id never see you again! She looked into his dark eyes and thought she would never again be so happy. I told you Id be back. Breathless, he set her down. Ive never forgotten you, Lucy. Every day, every minute weve been apart, Ive thought of this day. Caught up in the excitement of the moment, he kissed her long and hard, and held the kiss until Lucy thought she would suffocate. Stop! Flattening her hands against his chest she remembered how he had walked out on her. What makes you think you can waltz back into my life and just pick up where you left off? You signed up and sailed away without a by your leave, and now youre back with the same damned cheek of it! Lucy had not forgotten the humiliation, the pain of it all, and then the despair. It had been a bad business for her, and then she found out she was with child and had to suffer in silence until she could hide the secret no longer. Her pregnancy which caused a great scandal in the neighbourhood created rows and repercussions between her parents, and in the end she witnessed the break-up of her family, and that was as much Edwards fault as her own. For a long time things had gone from bad to worse, and still she had hoped he might return. But he never did until now. And though she was thrilled beyond words to see him, she couldnt help but chide him. You let me down good and proper, Edward Trent! When he now looked desolate, she instantly forgave him and taking off at the run, shouted, If you want me, youll have to catch me! And catch her he did; on the little slope just above the stream. He threw himself bodily at her, and together the two of them went rolling down the hill, until they landed up right next to the brook. She cupped a handful of water and chucked it at him while he lay helpless with laughter. Youre a bloody lunatic! he screeched, and she couldnt speak for spluttering. Her heart was leaping about inside her like a crazy thing: after all this time, when she had given up any hope of ever seeing him again, Edward Trent was back. It was too wonderful for words. Her babys father was home to make a proper life for them. They would be a family at last, and if Lucy could have jumped over the moon right then and there, she would have done. Wrapping his strong sailors arms about her slim waist, he inched her towards the soft rich grass that lined the streams edge, and right there, with the clean, fresh water lapping over their bare feet, he laid her down and took her with a kind of animal hunger; not tenderly, not gently or cruelly, but the only way he knew how, driven by lust and the over-riding greed to be satisfied. This was his third partner of the day, his fourth coupling, and for a little while, his passion subsided. That was so good, Lucy, he said hoarsely. You dont know how long Ive waited to be with you like that. But Lucy had not yet heard the words she yearned to hear. Do you love me? she asked hesitantly. Really love me? Somehow she couldnt be sure, even now. He laughed. Thats a silly question. And then, as though to dismiss the thought, he kissed her mouth. Didnt I just show you how much I love you? Lucy drew away. But you didnt say it. All the time we were making love, you never once said you loved me. I did! Im sure I did. Bloody women, he thought. Are they never satisfied? Say it now. Lucy needed convincing. What? Say what? Anger trembled in his voice. That you love me say it! Jesus, but youre a persistent bugger. Suddenly amused, he grinned down on her. But then you always were a spirited devil. Its what I liked most about you. Say it then. Melting to him, Lucy traced his lips with the tip of her finger. If you dont say it, Ill know youre not serious about us. Twice he opened his mouth to say it, but telling a woman that he loved her did not come easy, mainly because his idea of love and hers were not the same. Where she might think of something precious to them both a sharing, giving emotion, with a deep-down need to build a life together he was a cold, selfish man who saw his own needs to be of paramount importance. Now, as he looked into that small, upturned face with the appealing brown eyes and the sunlight dancing off her long unkempt hair, he had to appease her. Silly bitch, o course I love you! Snatching her to him, he held her there for what seemed an age; until she drew away, to divulge a secret which shocked him to the core. Edward, Ive got something to tell you. She was so nervous, she could feel herself trembling. He kissed her again. Have you, now. Well then, youd best tell me, hadnt you? She nodded. When you were here before She hesitated, not knowing whether he would be pleased or angry. Yet, if they were to be married and start their own home together, he would have to know, and so she told him in a rush. We have a son, Edward. His name is Jamie, and oh, hes so beautiful. As she gabbled on, intent on getting it off her chest, she did not see how the light in his eyes had dimmed, or the set of his jaw had hardened. He has such a look of you, and oh, just now hes beginning to learn to walk She was silenced when he suddenly grabbed her by the shoulders. What are you saying, Lucy? His hands dug into her skin, hurting her. A son? Youre telling me that you have a child? Thats right, Edward we have a child. He was born nine months to the day you went away. I had no idea that I was expecting. I wanted so much to let you know about him, but I couldnt, because I didnt know where you were. Her voice faltered. I called him James Jamie after your middle name. Jamie Baker, he is but now we can change it to Trent. Only a few minutes ago, her heart had been singing, but now she could see what a shock it was to him, and she was fearful. Itll be all right, she gabbled. Well get married and rent a little house and Ill work at Haskell Hall like now, and oh, Edward, it will be so wonderful She paused, hope smiling in her eyes. It will be wonderful, wont it? The man didnt answer straight away. His mind was feverishly working. A child? A bastard to keep his feet tied to the ground while he broke his back working to keep him, and her. He didnt want that. Besides, how could he be sure it was his? He only had her word for it. For all he knew, he could be taking on another mans throwaway. Edward? her small voice persisted. It will be all right, wont it? Lucy had always realised that if he ever came back, the news would be a shock, but she had hoped that, in the end, he would be overjoyed to have a son. Of course, and why wouldnt it be? His quick smile belied the rage inside. If she thought he was staying now, shed soon find out different. And youre not angry? Angry? He held her close as though he would never let her go. How could I be angry? I wont deny it was a shock, but what man wouldnt be pleased to know he had a son waiting for him? Lucy was thrilled. Well be a proper family, and Ill make you happy, I promise. Even though there was still that little voice warning her to be wary, Lucy had to believe him. Where is he, this son of mine? Back at Bridgets house. Oh Edward, shes been so good to us. Some people say shes the worst of the worst because she has girls who entertain, but shes a good woman. Youll see when you meet her. She has a helper by the name of Tillie who takes care of our son when Im working I see. He stopped her there. And you say she has girls who entertain? He thought of Lynette, and smirked. Lucy nodded earnestly. Theyre my friends. Bridget looks after them like she looks after me. Took them off the street, did she? Something like that, yes. Lucy didnt care for the way the conversation was going. But theyre good girls I mean, theyre kind and thoughtful, and theyve helped me through a bad time. When my parents found out about the baby, they went crazy. My mam wanted to send me to a woman in the back streets who does away with unwanted pregnancies, and my dad said she was callous, and that we should wait until you came back and hed make sure it got sorted out. The memories had never gone away, though thanks to Bridget she had managed to push a lot of it to the back of her mind. Now though, it all came flooding back; the rows and upsets, and the terrible things that were said. Lucy had always thought her parents were happily married, when all the time they had just been rubbing along, as her mother had put it. When she told them she was pregnant, it was as though she had lifted a lid they had each been struggling to keep shut, and all the venom came to the surface. Oh Edward, it was awful. In the end, they split up, and I found myself out on the streets. That was when Bridget took me in. She was at convent school with my mam, but shes as different from her as chalk from cheese. Tears filled her eyes. Mam didnt want anything to do with me, or her grandchild, but Bridgets been both mother to me and granny to the bairn. Edward curled his lip at this description of a tart with a golden heart. Well, youve no need to worry now, he lied. Im here and like your father said, it will all be sorted out. In reality he was already wondering where hed dropped his kitbag, so he could go back and collect it and be gone like the wind out of here. If hed had any feelings for her at all, theyd been suffocated by the news shed given him. A bastard waiting to claim him for life, women who entertained and how could he be sure that Lucy herself had not entertained some man or another, and thats how she came to be with child? Oh no! He might be a fool for a good-looking woman, but he was not fool enough to truss himself up like a chicken ready for the oven. Edward? Lucy could see he was deep in thought. Whats wrong? She knew he was thinking of the news she had just given him. Oh, Im sorry, sweetheart. Scrambling to his feet, he took hold of her hand and pulled her up to him. Ill get my kitbag, then well walk back and you can introduce me to my son. Then well make plans. Its all going to be fine, Lucy. They got up and walked on, and she nestled in the curve of his arm, a spring in her step and a song in her heart. Edward was back. Everything would be fine now. As they walked, Lucy was full of plans. Well find a little house to rent with a good-sized garden, and well sit outside and watch our son playing, then of an evening, we can see the sun going down. Oh, sweetheart She looked at him and her heart was full. Im so glad youre back. The man cared nothing for her dreaming. He had plans of his own, and they certainly didnt include sitting around in a garden and watching somebody elses kid playing. But he didnt want Lucy to know what he was thinking, so he said all the right things and convinced her that if that was what she wanted, then so did he. And Lucy believed him. Look! Drawing his attention to the flock of sheep being driven to the brow of the hill, Lucy told him, Theres Barney Davidson. As he turned to see, Lucy gave him a playful push and ran on. Race you to the lane! You little sod! She had caught him off-guard, and he was thrilled. This was what spurred him on, a spirited woman fleeing and himself in full chase: and when he caught her, what fun it would be. Come on, Eddie boy, he said to himself. Get after her. Leave her with another mouth to feed and happen shell find some other poor bugger to take her on! For a moment he stood his ground and watched her running, bare-footed, with the pretty shoes dangling from her hand and her hair flowing behind, and the sound of her laughter exciting him and he had a moment of weakness. For one dangerous, fleeting moment, he actually thought she might be worth staying for. But when fear took over, the moment was quickly gone. Wickedness surged through him, and a sense of fun. There was no need to commit himself, not when he could have it all and walk away. Right now, Lucy wanted him to chase her and he would, and that was all right, because this was what he believed life was all about. Never mind responsibility. That was for other folks, not for a free-and-easy-living man like himself. With a shout to let her know he was right behind, he set off at the run. High on the hill, Barney saw the two of them careering across the field towards the stile; Lucy in front and going like the wind, and the man fast closing in. He could hear the young womans merry laughter and he smiled. Seems like shes found a bit of happiness, he told Jess, his red-setter bitch, who trotted beside him, keeping an eye on the sheep. Lord knows, she deserves it after what shes been through. He knew Lucy because the two of them often chatted as she wended her way to work, and last winter, he had taken her along the lane in his cart because the hills were snow-covered. That was the very first time she had confided in him. After that, they had often walked the hills in the same direction, her going to and from the squires house and himself to the outlying fields where he would check his flock. As they got to know each other better, Lucy had confided in him more and more. Then one day when his lovely Vicky was walking with him, Lucy came along and joined them. The two women had got on so well that Vicky invited her up to Overhill Farm for tea, and it had been a very enjoyable evening. I dont know if thats the boys father, he told Jess as they strolled on, but even if its not, Lucy seems content enough with him. Just then he heard a scream and on looking down again, he could see that Lucy had taken a tumble as she climbed the stile; he could see her lying among the big stones there and she didnt appear to be moving. Good God! Looks like shes hurt! As he ran forward the dog bounded in front, ears pricked, sensing danger. Lucy wasnt getting up! What the hell was the bloke playing at? Cupping his hands, Barney called out: You there! Is she all right? As Barney drew nearer he could see how the man was standing still, looking down on Lucy and not making any move to help her. Suddenly he threw his kitbag over his shoulder and, with a backward glance at Barney, he began walking away, slowly at first then quickening his steps, and now with Barney less than fifty yards away, he bent his head, lengthened his stride and took off at speed. I cant help her, Ive a ship waiting! he yelled as he ran. I dont even know the woman. Barney had a choice; he could either go after the man and teach him a lesson he might never forget, or he could help Lucy, who was lying in a crooked position with her head oozing blood against a boulder. His choice was no choice at all. He had to help Lucy. By now she was groaning; trying to move but seeming unable to. Coming nearer, he began talking to her, soothing her as he fell to his knees beside her. Its all right, Lucy, he said softly. Youve taken a knock to the head, but youll be fine, dont worry. Ill get you home to my Vicky. Shell know what to do. When Lucy gave no answer, he continued talking to her in a quiet voice, at the same time gently sliding his two arms under her slight form and collecting her to his chest. To him, she was but a feather in his arms, for he was a man possessed of strength that came from a lifetime labouring in the fields. The movement disturbed her. With dazed vision she stared up at him, her shocked eyes looking into his. Wheres Edward? she asked brokenly, but her voice remained silent. Try as she might, she could not make her voice be heard. And now she closed her eyes and let herself drift. Edward? Where was he? Lie quiet, Lucy. Sensing her agitation, he guessed she was wondering about the cowardly man. Ive got you now, he told her. Youll have to trust me. All the way home, he kept reassuring her, until she was limp and senseless in his arms. Barney was a fit man who would have normally taken ten or fifteen minutes to reach his home from that particular spot, but Lucy was now a dead weight and with his every footstep she grew heavier in his arms, until home seemed a million miles away. Go in front, lass! he called to the red-setter. Let her know Im on my way. Vicky was taking in the washing when the dog came running up to nuzzle her legs. A small, golden-haired woman with soft grey eyes, she greeted the dog with a stroke of the head. Whats the matter, girl, eh? she laughed. Jess was a devil for the play and leaping at her now, even though she had an armful of clean clothes. No! Get off, you unruly hound. The setter had run a long way at a fast pace and now her tongue was hanging out and slaver running from her jowls. Vicky feared she might drop the washing, and then: Youll slobber on the clothes, and Ill have to wash the blooming things all over again! When Jess continued to nuzzle her, Vicky dropped the clothes into the basket. Snatching it up into her arms, she chided the animal. Whats got into you? Behave yourself! Now, as she turned, she caught sight of Barney out of the corner of her eye; a distance from the house and treading every step with care, he was carrying what she at first thought was a dead sheep. BARNEY! Raising her voice, she ran forward. WHATS HAPPENED? Encouraged by the sight of home and his beloved, Barney hurried to her as fast as he could. Its Lucy, he panted. Shes taken a bad tumble. I reckon she needs a doctor and fast! Running before him, Vicky opened all the doors and in no time at all, Lucy was laid on the spare bed, with a blanket over her. You fetch the doctor, Vicky instructed her husband. Ill get her out of these clothes and make her comfortable. And so, while Vicky set about helping Lucy, Barney rode into the village of Comberton on his bicycle to fetch the doctor. By the time Vicky had bathed the wound on Lucys head, changed her into one of her own nightgowns, and tucked her up in bed, Lucy was more alert, though still dizzy and not yet able to focus properly. Jamie! Her first concern was for her son. Vicky quietened her. Hes fine, she said. If you want, Ill ask Barney to go over and bring him to you, but for now, hes safe with Tillie, isnt he? Shes taking good care of him. Subdued, Lucy cast her mind back to when she fell. I was running she tried to explain. Edward he She raised her head a short distance from the pillow and dropped it again as though it was too heavy for her shoulders. He was behind me when I fell. She tried to look into the room. Where is he? Vicky had no idea who this Edward was. I dont know, she replied kindly. I expect he wont be far away. Lucy despaired. Hes gone, hasnt he? she whispered sadly. Hes gone and hes never coming back. In her deepest heart she had always known he would be gone at the first opportunity, but she had so much wanted to be wrong. Her heart and her head had been at odds about Edward from the day he had set his sights on her. It was so hard to give up hope, to see things as they really were. I cant answer that, Vicky answered softly. Well find your Edward, Im sure, the minute Barney comes back. However kindly her intention, Vickys assurances gave Lucy small comfort. Desolate, she closed her eyes and let the sleep roll over her. He was gone. Edward was gone; and it had all been too good to be true. He hadnt even seen their son. When Dr Lucas arrived he gave Lucy a swift yet thorough examination. There doesnt seem to be any lasting damage, he concluded, though I would prefer her not to be too active, for at least a week. He handed Vicky a bottle of dark brown liquid. Bathe the wound in this morning and night, but it must not be covered fresh air is the best thing. Light food, and a little exercise, but she must rest. A week of that, and I expect her to be good as new. Having given his diagnosis and delivered the prescription, he bade them goodbye. You know where I am if you should need me, he declared, in that abrupt manner of any good doctor. Afterwards, while Vicky went downstairs to put the kettle on, Barney told Lucy what the doctor had said. It might be best if you stay here with us for the week, he suggested, and Lucy thanked him. If it isnt too much trouble? she said tearfully. No trouble at all, he promised. With a smile he added, With three offspring and yon Jess, I cant deny were a noisy family at times, but Ill make sure youre not too disturbed. One of usll nip over to the squires tomorrow morning and let em know youve had a little accident so they wont expect to see you again for a few days, all right? Lucy thanked him again, and when he left her to rest, she cried until she thought her heart would break. Edward was gone, and with him, her own chance of a proper family. Her son would never know his father, and she would never experience the true happiness that she had witnessed between Barney and his Vicky. Those two had something beautiful, a very special belonging that she could never even hope for. Chapter 8 (#ulink_f0f354b8-6d78-57f3-94e1-2374a649f5d6) IT WAS ONE of the happiest weeks Lucy had ever known. Having worked at the squires house for some time now, she had come to know the countryside well, but she had never lived as close to nature as she had done this past week. She loved it all: the sound of the pigeons cooing at early morning, the dew glistening on the grass and the sun coming up over the hill, sending out warmth and light, and making the heart feel good. After a couple of days, her concussion had passed, but the kindly doctor advised her to stay where she was. Bridget and Tillie had brought Jamie up to Overhill Farm and enjoyed some country hospitality. Out here, the shortages and hardships of the town-folk had, to some extent, been kept at bay. In the evening she could see the lake in the distance, shimmering and twinkling under the moonlight. It was all a new and wonderful experience and she found herself waking earlier than she had ever done. At 5 a.m. she would run to the window where she would see Barneys familiar figure as he went away to check his flock, the dog beside him and his masters merry whistle echoing through the quiet morning air. Later, when she was pushing Jamie on the old swing in the orchard, it was a pleasure to see Barney and his sons as they worked the fields, always with the dog running behind, and the lovely Vicky, busy all the day long, collecting eggs, tending her washing, cleaning house and baking treats for her large, loving family; ever busy, ever noisy, just as Barney had promised. Barney and Vicky had three children. Thomas, at seventeen, was a serious and hardworking young man. Like the others he was devoted to his father who, in his eyes, could do no wrong. A handsome fellow, with sincere eyes and dark hair, he burned with ambitions of one day owning his own farm, unlike Barney who managed Overhill Farm for the wealthy local landowner Leonard Maitland, who lived at The Manse, down in the village. Along with his brother Ronnie, Tom helped Barney run the farm; the two sons did all the basic tasks, like feeding the many animals, collecting food from the supplier, taking produce to market and chopping trees, selling some wood and logging the rest for the home fires. In addition it was their responsibility to generally maintain the house and buildings. Winter or summer, there was always work to be done, and come harvest it was all hands that could be spared. At fifteen, Ronnie was two years younger than his brother. With wild fair hair and his fathers blue eyes, he was accident-prone, fun-loving, sensitive, sincere and fiercely loyal. When he flirted outrageously, which was often, the girls fell at his feet. Though he loved his mother dearly, he was devoted to Barney, attempting to emulate him in everything he did. Quiet and thoughtful, Susie was the only girl. Thirteen years of age and looking like a smaller replica of her mother, she adored her parents especially Barney, who called her his little angel. Susie loved to do things for her daddy. She would polish his Sunday shoes before they all went to church; make daisy chains for him when they were picnicking, run and meet him when he came home of an evening. She would scold him when she thought he was not looking after himself and, except for when she was learning the art of hat-making under the scrutiny of an old eccentric by the name of Doris Dandy, over in Everton, she was never far from her daddys side. Id rather farm than make hats, she told him once, and because he wanted her to acquire a regular skill that would stand her in good stead for the rest of her life, he would hear no more of such talk. Lately, having become increasingly curious about the deeper things of the heart, Susie would often corner her daddy to discuss the mysteries and meaning of life. Sometimes out of his depth, Barney would talk and listen, and they would each learn from the other. As for Lucy, in the short week she had lived under their roof, she had come to care deeply for Barneys family. Everyone who knew them had a good word to say for them. The love and support they all gave each other was wonderful to see; even when brothers and sister argued, that bond of togetherness never broke. Witnessing family life at first hand made her own loss and disappointment all the more poignant. If only Edward had stayed, instead of running away again, she thought, maybe they could have had the same close family life. Yet in all her regrets, she did not hate him, though God knows she had tried hard enough to do so. She was bitter though; bitter and resentful of the fact that he could casually show up after all this time, only to turn her life upside down yet again. Thank goodness that the shock of the accident had brought on her monthly bleeding a week early. To have allowed Edward to make her pregnant again would have been a disaster. Today was Lucys last day with the Davidsons. While she got herself and her son ready, Vicky and her family were downstairs waiting for her to join them for the evening meal. I wish we could stay, Lucy told the child as she fastened his blue jacket. Its been so lovely here. Ill miss it all so much. In reply, Jamie ran his little wooden engine over the floor making train sounds. He loved being read to and petted by the older children in Barneys family; in turn, they all adored the little chap and had spent many happy hours showing him all the farm animals. Like his mother, Jamie would miss all of this. Lucy had been strong with every disappointment that life sent her way; Edward going off to sea; the discovery that she was with child, and having to tell her parents the truth; then her parents splitting up after weeks of rowing and fighting, and afterwards finding herself out on the streets. And only a week ago, when Edward had come home, her hopes had soared only to be shattered again; and as though to add insult to injury he had run off and left her lying hurt, leaving Barney to take care of her. That was a cowardly thing he had done. Through all of these events she had been strong. But now, as she prepared to leave Overhill Farm and the Davidsons, she felt so sad. It was one disappointment too many. Now her stay was over, and when the meal was finished, Barney would take her back to Bridgets and life would resume exactly as it was before. She would rise early, leave her son in the care of little Tillie, and trudge through the fields to the squires house, where she would work a hard day before trudging back again. She had never been afraid of work, but it was a lonely kind of life, and she missed her son. He was growing fast and she was losing out on his development. No home of her own, working every hour God sent, and no man to stand by her. Lucy thought it was not much of a life to look forward to. But that was the life she had been given and it was up to her to do the best she could with it. And she would, for what other choice did she have? She knew she should never have given in to Edwards wiles, should have kept herself pure for marriage, but somehow shed never met the right man when all her schoolfriends did, and in her mid-twenties had felt like an elderly spinster. And oh how Edwards caresses had thrilled her, and made her lose her head, heart, and virginity too. Oh well. It was true, the old saying that there was no use in crying over spilled milk that was for sure. And now it was very unlikely that she would ever find a decent man who was willing to take both her and Jamie on As she walked into the homely kitchen, Lucy was astonished to see the family standing round the table, waiting for her; Ronnie, she noticed, had taken time to tame his unruly hair, Thomas gave her a welcoming wink, and Susie was quietly smiling. Barney and his wife were standing together, he with his arm round her and she so content beside him. Come in, my love! She ran to greet Lucy, and as she led her and Jamie across the room, she said, Look. Ive made the table pretty for you. Overawed by what they had done, Lucy looked at the table and wiped away a tear. It was laid as if for a banquet. Normally the table was simply laid, with the meals already served on the plates. There was never any fuss or ceremony. Over dinner, everyone would get together, tuck into Vickys home-cooking and talk about the days events. This evening, though, was extra special to all of them. There was an air of excitement which Lucy could not understand; especially when they knew she was unhappy about having to leave. It was almost as though they were pleased at the prospect of having the house back to themselves. Yet even while the unfortunate thought crossed her mind, Lucy could not believe it. This past week, Barney and his family had done everything they could to make her feel like one of them, so why would they be relieved to see her go? No! She was wrong. All this fuss and excitement was their way of trying to make her feel better about it. That was it. This was their going-away present to her. They wanted her to leave on a good note. And, for their sake, she would smile and laugh, and they would never really know how wretched she felt. Well, Lucy? Vicky nudged her elbow. What do you think to my table? They wouldnt let me do it on my own. Everybody helped and even then, we were worried we might not get it all finished before you came down. Draped in a long, flowing tablecloth of crimson, the big old table was set like Lucy had never seen it. There were candles in pretty holders; glasses with long stems and a twirl of napkin in each one. In the centre of the table stood platters laid with all manner of meats; there were bowls of steaming vegetables and a long dish of small crisply roasted potatoes Lucys favourites; there was also a wicker dish filled with freshly-baked rolls, whose aroma filled the room, and right in the middle, two bottles of Barneys homemade elderberry wine. For what seemed an age, Lucy was speechless. Aw, Vicky. Its just beautiful! Now, as the tears threatened, she let them fall before discreetly brushing them away. You shouldnt have gone to so much trouble. It was no trouble at all. Vicky slid an arm round her waist. Its our present to you, she said, to show how much we love you, and this little one. She tickled young Jamie under the chin, laughing as he gurgled with delight. The childs response broke the atmosphere. Rushing forward, Barney took Lucy by the arm. Tonight, youve been allocated my very own seat, at the head of the table. And with no more ado he marched her there and sat her down. And as for this little chap Lifting the child out of her arms, he sat him in the homemade high chair, which had been finished only that afternoon, with sturdy legs and straps to hold the little fella safe. He can sit with the rest of us, like a grown-up, Ronnie declared with pride. Father made the structure, Thomas made the legs, and I cut the leather straps to hold him in. We were still working on it up to half an hour since. He groaned. In fact, if youd come down that much earlier, the babby might be rolling on the floor, because we only had the one leg fixed to it, and that would never have supported the fat little lump! Everyone laughed, with Susie protesting that Lucys Jamie was not a fat little lump. As always before the evening meal, Barney stood before his chair and said Grace. Being farmers and working closely with the land, they all understood how, with one dark mood, Nature could devastate a whole years crop, and leave them desolate. In all of Barneys experience that had only ever happened once, soon after hed taken up the post of Farm Manager here. He had never forgotten. Nor had he forgotten to always give his thanks. He gave his thanks now, For the food and warmth You send us. For bringing Lucy back to health, and keeping us all safe from harm. Looking down on his wife, he stroked her hair. And for this wonderful woman You blessed me with. Thank You, Lord. His words were spoken with such quiet gratitude that there seemed nothing more natural in the whole world. And in equally quiet voice, everyone echoed his thanks. When Lucy looked up to see Vicky taking a discreet hold of Barneys hand, Lucys heart was both sore and joyous. That small significant gesture between husband and wife was unseen by everyone else, but Lucy thought it the most touching thing she had ever been privileged to witness. It was obvious that, even after more than twenty years wed, and three children into the bargain, Vicky and Barney still adored each other, as much as on the day they first met. Theirs was a deep, everlasting love, and one which Lucy sensed that neither she nor countless others would ever experience in their whole lives. The meal was wonderful, and so was the company. They chatted and laughed and drank the wine, and when the child fell asleep in his chair, Barney lifted him out and made him comfortable on the sofa. Right! Returning to the table, he told everyone to fill their glasses and raise them for a toast, and when that was done he stood for a moment looking from one to the other, until his gaze rested on Lucy. We would have liked you to stay here with us, he said, and Lucys heart rose, but as you know, your being here meant that Susie had to sleep downstairs on the couch, and though she didnt mind that he looked at Susie and she nodded in agreement it isnt a situation that could continue for any length of time. He hesitated. You do understand, dont you, Lucy? Lucy understood, and even managed a bright smile. Of course I do, she assured them. I never really expected that I could stay here. Im just grateful for the time and help you all gave me. Ill never be able to thank you enough. Barney smiled at her. Look under your plate, lass. Lucy was confused. Under my plate? Thats what the man said! That was Ronnie, being his usual comical self. But there was a certain twinkle in his eye. In fact, as Lucy glanced at each family member in turn, she saw a twinkle in all their eyes. Go on then, Lucy. Look and see what hes put there. Susie was excitedly bouncing up and down in her chair. Gingerly, Lucy lifted her plate and moving it aside, took out an envelope that was folded there. She opened the envelope and dipping her fingers inside, withdrew a large, shiny coin. A guinea! Her eyes widened in astonishment. Whats this for? Barney told her fondly, Its your first months wages. Me and my Vicky have discussed it with the family, and we all agree theres enough work on this farm for all of us. When harvest comes theres no time to catch your breath; then theres the carting and stacking, and any number of other tasks that could do with another pair of hands especially for Vicky, whos always rushed off her feet. This house is too much when shes needed outside. Thats where you come in, Lucy. So, the jobs yours, if you want it? In a minute Lucy was out of her chair; running round the table she threw her arms round Barneys neck. Oh Barney all of you! You dont know what this means to me. Going from one to another, she kissed and hugged them in turn. Instead of passing this house every morning, and trudging all the way on to the Hall, Ill be turning in at your gate. The excitement was all too much. Ill be working with you all. Oh, its wonderful! She laughed through her tears. I cant believe it! She was sure that no one apart from Dorothy would miss her at Haskell Hall. At that moment there came a knock on the door. All right, matey, come on in. Barney appeared to know who it was even before the door opened. The door inched open and a man appeared; small of stature, with a kindly face and smiling eyes, he greeted everyone in turn. Hello, Lucy, he finished. I hope youre fighting fit after your accident? Lucy was not surprised to see him. Hello, Adam, she answered. Yes, Im well, thank you. A kindly man in his early thirties, Adam Chives was well-known throughout the village of Comberton-by-Weir. In fact, there wasnt a single house that he had not been into at some time or another, for he was the local handyman, tried, trusted and greatly respected by one and all. Lucy always suspected that he had a soft spot for her, on the quiet. However, he was far too much of a gentleman to say anything. Come on then, mladdo! Barney held out his hand. I trust youve brought it with you? I have, came the proud reply. Ive done everything you asked of me, and more besides. He handed something to Barney, winked at Ronnie, and said, I expect therell be a bonus in there somewhere for me, will there not? Barney took up the tease. There certainly will be in the shape of a roast dinner with all the trimmings if you want it, that is? Adam didnt need asking twice. Thatll do me, he told Vicky, who was chuckling at the pair of them. In fact, I could think of nothing else all the way here. Right then! You sit down and fill your plate while I have a quiet word with Lucy. Whatever you say. In fact, Adam was already privvy to the reason for Barneys need to talk with Lucy in private. Adam had known Barney for many years; in their childhood they had learned the times-table together; ridden side by side across the fields on whatever horse they could borrow; shot rabbits for the pot, and later sat many a while on the porch, exchanging tales of when they were lads. They knew each other as well as any brothers might, and loved each other the same. Leaving the others to chat, Barney rounded the table and taking Lucy by the hand, led her out to the back porch. They sat on the bench and there, Barney spoke his mind. Theres summat you need to think about. Lucy asked him what he meant. But she could never have imagined in her wildest dreams what he was about to say. Barney continued, I know its none of our business, but well Me and Vicky have been talking and what we think is this: its not good to bring a child up in a house of women if you know what I mean? Lucy had no doubts. You mean women who entertain? Sucking in his lips he took a deep breath. Afraid she might have taken him wrong, he answered sincerely, Its not for me to judge other folks. All Im saying is this: for little Jamies sake, and yours, it wont be a bad thing when you move out of there. Lucy gave a wry little laugh. Its easier said than done. She shrugged her shoulders. For a start, where would I go? He smiled. So, you would leave if you only had somewhere to go. Is that what youre telling me, Lucy? Oh, yes. Lucy was aware of her environment and knew as well as did Barney, that it was not a suitable place to raise a child. If I had somewhere to go, Id leave though I have to say, I would miss Bridget and the girls. Theyve been such good friends to me. I know that, he agreed. Havent they visited you time and again since youve been here? And havent I heard you laughing with them, when only hours before, you were fit for nothing? Believe me, Lucy, after you being so poorly, it did our heart good to hear you. Now then, lass, I want you to take this. Opening his hand, he revealed a heavy iron key lying in his palm. Take it! he urged. Theres no rush. Just give it some thought and let me know what you decide. Lucy was confused. Its a key. He chuckled. Well, of course its a key! But where does it belong? It belongs to the little cottage at the other end of the brook. The one where Leonard Maitlands gardener lived afore he threw him out for robbing him. Realisation began to dawn. What? You mean, the pretty one with the thatched roof and the little garden which runs right down to the brook edge? Aye, thats the one. She took the key, which weighed heavy in her hand. So, this is the key to that cottage? Barney nodded affirmatively. That one opens the front door. Ive another for the back. If you decide its what you want, Ill let you have the other key an all. The merest smile trembled on Lucys mouth. But I dont fully understand. Why are you giving me this key? Smiling into her inquisitive eyes, he explained, The boss, Mr Maitland, and me had a little chat yesterday. About me? Sort of, yes. He was aware of your accident you know how gossip flies around a village and being the kindly gent he is, he took the time to ask after you. I told him the way things were, and he said if I thought it would help to offer you the vacant cottage, he wouldnt mind one bit; though he would expect you to give him half a days work per week in lieu of rent a bit of cleaning, that sort of thing. Besides, the cottage needed living in, thats what he said, or it would fall to rack and ruin. Ysee, his new gardener has his own cottage and has no need of this one. In fact, the boss had a mind to sell it off with a parcel of land, but he never got round to it. Moreover, he mentioned as how its so tiny it wouldnt fetch much in the way of cash. He took a breath. To tell you the truth, Lucy, the cottage is of small interest to Mr Maitland, so its yours if you want it. Lucy gasped. I cant believe this is happening! Thrilled to her roots, she was astounded for the second time that evening. The cottage is mine? Really? Are you sure? Laughing out loud, Barney squeezed her hand. Well, arent you the cloth ears, he teased. Isnt that what Ive just been saying? Lucy was speechless. And now the tears she had managed to hold back all day ran down her cheeks and all at once she was laughing and crying, and telling Barney, I havent got a stick of furniture, but yes, oh, yes! She was beside herself. Well move in as soon as possible. Never mind a bed. Well sleep on the floor if we have to. Therell be no need of that. The cottage comes with its own furniture and such. Yon Adam has cleaned and aired the place all ready for you and young Jamie. All youll want is new bedding and certain silly bits and pieces a woman needs to keep her happy. And you neednt worry about the bairn when you work the half-day for Mr Maitland, because Vickys already said shell be more than happy to keep an eye on him. And it goes without saying that when youre working here for the rest of the week, the bairn is welcome as the day is long. And so it was settled. Lucy would move in within the next few days, and while she was getting organised, Barney would make sure the garden was cleared and all was spick and span for her and the child. A few days later, Lucy was saying her goodbyes in Viaduct Street. Ill never be able to thank you enough for what youve done for me. Emotion thickened her voice as she threw her arms round Bridget and hugged her so hard, the poor woman had to wrench her off. Be Jaysus, will ye get offa me! Are ye trying to strangle me or what? Holding Lucy at arms length, she looked into those sincere brown eyes and thought how much she would miss this young woman; with her impromptu singing and bright, happy presence, the house would be all the poorer for her not being there. Im truly sorry to see ye go, she told Lucy now, but Im happy for you, so I am. Youll have your own front-door key and Jamie will have his own little room, and when me and the girls come acalling, youll have fresh-baked muffins ready for us, and a big pot o tea waiting. She gave a wink. Unless o course youve a drop o the good stuff hidden away in the cupboard for an old friend? With the sadness lifted, Lucy laughed out loud. Oi will, she answered, mimicking Bridgets strong Irish accent. Sure Oill have a little bottle tucked away and ye can drink to your hearts content, so ye can. Bridget roared with laughter. Ye sound more like me than I do me self. Go on, ye little divil, be off wit ye! She gave her another hug, and craftily dropped a couple of coins into the palm of her hand. A little something to get ye started. Take care of yourself, mdarling, she said softly, and before she might start blubbering herself, she sent Lucy on her way. A few minutes later, along with her few belongings and the child on her knee, Lucy settled herself in Barneys wagon. Any regrets, lass? The young woman shook her head. Not a one. The only regrets she had were old ones, and now they didnt seem to matter quite as much. When he arrived at Bridgets house, Barney had greeted Bridget and the girls with his usual friendliness, and now he was leaving with Lucy beside him, he said his goodbyes with the same warmth, for that was his manner. All set, are we? He had witnessed the emotional scene between Lucy and her friends, but like Lucy, he knew her leaving was all for the best. All set, Lucy replied, a brief rush of sadness clouding her face. Then youd best hold on tight because once I let this wild animal have its rein, theres no telling where we might end up! His little attempt at making her laugh worked wonders, because she laughed so hard she couldnt reply. Pleased with himself, he gave her a warming wink, gently slapped the horses great wide rump to drive the bumbling animal forward, and told her in that quiet, no-nonsense manner, You did the right thing. And that was all he would ever again say on the matter. As the shire ambled away down Viaduct Street, Lucy turned to look at the four women standing on the doorstep, and as they waved back, she blew a kiss. Ill miss you, she murmured. Barney glanced at her. Theres your past and ahead is your future, he said simply. Barney Davidson was known as a man of few words, but when he took a mind to speak, his few words said more than a vicar delivering a sermon. As they meandered along, Lucy considered his wise words, and she knew he was right. After everything that had befallen her, this was the start of a new life, where she could put all the bad things behind her and start over again. At long last, she had something to look forward to. Once they were beyond the city roads and were heading towards Comberton, she watched Barney take the old briar-pipe and his baccy pouch from his waistcoat pocket; letting loose of the reins he gave the horse its head, and after carefully packing the pipe with the baccy he struck a match on the sole of his shoe and lit up. He then drew leisurely on the pipe, the twirls of smoke rising to slowly evaporate above his head. Suddenly in the midst of his thinking, he turned to smile at Lucy in that comforting way of his. At the time, Barneys wonderful smile merely warmed her heart, though inevitably bonding her to him. It was many years later when, looking back on that magical, intimate moment, with the child asleep and the two of them gently following the narrow country lanes, Barney contentedly smoking his pipe and the sound of the birds singing all around, Lucy realised she must have fallen hopelessly in love with him then and she never even knew it. Barney Davidson. A wise and kindly man who knew the earth as if it was his own; a man who had the heart of a lion and could protect the weak, that was Barney. Just for now though, misinterpreting her deeper feelings, Lucy saw Barney only as a very dear friend. No more than that. Yet, even though many a moon would shine before she came to realise the true depth of her feelings for him, Lucy already knew in her heart and soul, that she would never meet his like again. Chapter 9 (#ulink_b4c31b63-ffed-5533-8c52-41a7fe6c5c1f) THE WEEKS PASSED and already it was the end of July. Lucy and Jamie had settled in well to Mr Maitlands vacant cottage. It was almost as though they had lived there forever. Lucy was happier than she had ever been; every day was like a holiday. Her life was filled with new experiences and here in the countryside where she was a part of the greater picture, what had previously seemed to her like mountainous problems, now seemed almost trivial. She counted herself fortunate to have such friends as the Davidsons; they were a joy to be with. Working or relaxing, every minute in their company drew her more and more into their family. Sometimes on a Sunday evening, Bridget or one of the girls from Viaduct Street would visit, and they would sit and talk, and laugh to their hearts content. Lucy made sure to keep a measure of the good stuff hidden away for when Bridget came. Oh, youre a darling what are ye? Tipping up her glass and warming the cockles of her heart, Bridget would dance and sing and go home all the merrier. As arranged, through the week Lucy worked with the Davidsons, and on Saturday morning she went up to Leonard Maitlands house, where she did the ironing and other jobs like cleaning his silver. After midday her work was done and the weekend was her own, to enjoy the cottage and play with her child. Each day saw Jamie grow more and more sturdy; he now was very active and the fresh air was doing him a power of good. He loved his new family and had begun to talk in his own way to them all. Everyone loved the little toddler and enjoyed having him around the farm. On this particular Saturday, Lucy was replacing the silver in the display cabinet, just about to finish her mornings work, when she heard voices in the next room. Sometimes Im not sure Im cut out to be a farmers wife. Hmh! I wish youd told me that before I put an engagement ring on your finger. There followed a girlish peal of false laughter and the light-hearted suggestion, Oh, Lenny! Why dont you sell everything this house, the land and cottages. We could move down to London or go abroad! It would be so wonderful to travel. We could stay away for a whole year see the world, do something exciting. There was a brief silence, then the woman demanded, Are you deliberately ignoring me? Another silence, then in sterner voice: Leonard! Did you hear what I said? I heard, and yes, I am deliberately ignoring you, Pat. Weve had this same conversation so many times Im beginning to tire of it. Only the thinness of a wall away, Lucy recognised the voices of Patricia Carstairs and Leonard Maitland. She tried hard not to listen and even softly sang to herself, but the voices grew louder and angrier, and she couldnt help but overhear every single word. Yes, and so am I tired of it! Anger trembled in her voice. Whenever I take the trouble to drive over and see you, youve either got your head buried in paperwork, or youre out with your man discussing tractors or some such thing, or overseeing a delivery. Yesterday, and not for the first time, I came here to find you ensconced in your office with two other men, and even when you knew I was here, you just popped your head round the door and excused yourself. My God, Leonard! You didnt come out for a full hour, and I was made to hang around like a dog at its masters heels. These days, you hardly ever have time for me, and that is not how it should be. I should come first in your life and I dont. And Im really fed up! Then listen to what Im saying. Leonard sounded weary. He was weary of her demands, of her chastising, and of her misguided belief that he, like her, had nothing better to do than socialise. Im a farmer, Patricia a busy man. You knew that when we met and you know it now. I cant change that. I wont change it. But you dont actually farm, do you? Her tone was cynical. Leonard gave a dry, angry laugh. You just dont understand, do you? he said. I may not often sit in the tractor, or plough in the seeds, or cut the corn when its grown. But Im a landowner and as such have certain responsibilities. I plan which seeds go into the ground, or which tractor suits the job best. I scour the country for the best price I might get for my harvest There are a multitude of things that come with working the land. I monitor every single thing. I buy and sell, and treat my part of the job with respect. But you have Barney Davidson. You sing his praises so often, Im sure if you let him, he would take a lot more responsibility from your shoulders. There was another moment of silence; a moment when Lucy felt uncomfortable, for she could almost taste the atmosphere. It seemed an age before, in a cutting voice, Leonard Maitland spoke again. You will never understand, will you, Patricia? You dont even try to understand the implications of what Im telling you. I bought this land because I needed to. If I didnt have land around me, I would simply suffocate. But land is not just for looking at, and when you take it on, you give yourself wholeheartedly to its well-being. You treat it like a living, breathing entity, because thats what it is. The land gives more than it takes, and it deserves to be cared for. But, like I say, you will never comprehend that, and I dont blame you for it. Im sorry, Lenny darling. True or false, the voice and its owner seemed contrite. All Im saying is, why not let Barney take over occasionally? After all, youve always said he knows the land as well as you do. I cant count the number of times youve remarked on how a capable man like Barney Davidson was meant to have his own farm, but that life had not treated him kindly enough. Yes, Pat, and I meant it. But this is my land. My responsibility. Barney is my partner in a sense. He is my eyes and ears, and while I organise everything else, he farms, and thats all right, because he has the same love for the land that I do. Oh Lenny. The voice grew whining. I know how passionate you are about this place No, you dont. Now he was calmer, wanting to explain. You live in town. You can have no idea of what it feels like to see the harvest being brought in, or to stride the fields on a winters morning, when the snow lies deep in the ditches and the trees bend and dip with the weight. His voice dropped. If you want us to marry, as I do, then you must accept that my work is important to me. All right, my darling, but why cant we go away for a month maybe? We will, he consoled her. Look, were due to be married next spring, and if it suits you, we can have a much longer honeymoon than planned. Hows that? And can I plan where we go? She was a spoiled child. If you like, yes. And moneys no object? He gave a sigh. Did his fiance not realise that most of the world was plunged into a financial crisis? It is our honeymoon after all, he said resignedly. Oh, Lenny, it will be so wonderful! Excitement coloured her voice. Then in the winter, can we go far away to the South of France or even further afield? My London friends spent last winter in Sydney and they said it was the best time they ever had. Oh, it would be so nice to get right away. I do get so bored visiting the same old places. Youre a mystery to me. A different emotion crept into his words. Youre infuriating and selfish, and sometimes I wonder what I see in you. But fool that I am, I cant help but love you. Ill remember that when you refuse me what I ask. You will have to remember something else too. For instance? For instance, that being a landowner, I must bow to my duties here. There will always be times when I cant just take off at your every whim and fancy. There came that soft trill of laughter again. We shall have to see, wont we? Now I think you should give me a kiss, by way of apology. Dont you think the apology should come from you? Aw, Leonard! Does it really matter who apologises? Kiss me, and well forget we ever quarrelled. Silence reigned for a moment, when Lucy imagined they were in the throes of the apology. Then came the sound of a door opening and closing, and when she glanced out of the window, Lucy saw them going arm-in-arm down the driveway to the long black car, recently chosen by Patricia Carstairs, paid for by Mr Maitland, and delivered only three days ago. Oh darling! Wont people be envious when they see us together in this! was Patricias parting remark as she climbed into the car. Lucy watched them drive off; the woman slim, beautiful, and arrogant to the quick, while the gentleman was attentive and homely, a gentle giant of a man. Lucy thought them quite unsuited. That ones trouble. He should drop her like a hot potato! Closing the curtains, she pranced across the room on tippy-toe, emulating Patricia Carstairs, one hand on her hip, the other swanking by her side, mimicking the womans voice to perfection. Oh darling! Wont people be envious when they see us together in this? She pitied the poor wretches who had no work and no money; to see a smart car passing by, occupied by that one with her nose in the air would be like a red rag to a bull. Breaking into song, Lucy returned to her work, gave the large silver teapot another rub with the cloth, then with the greatest of care replaced it in the cabinet, where she shifted the silverware about until the display was pleasing to the eye. She now closed the door, took up a clean cloth from her basket and giving the door-glass a good polish, gave a sigh of relief. All done for another week! A few minutes later, she was out of the house and running across the back lawns towards the fields. Now, as she rounded the brow of the hill, she heard the laughter from Barneys house. Pausing, she took off her shoes, set off at the run and before long was at the gate of Overhill farmhouse. Quick, Lucy! Vicky was beckoning her. Hurry! When the young woman ran into the garden, she saw little Jamie standing with his back to the trunk of the apple tree, arms wide and laughing as only a child can laugh. Hes trying to walk all the way over to us unaided, Vicky told Lucy. Three times hes started off and three times hes fallen. Ive stood him up again, but he loves this game, and he wants to carry on playing it. Lucy was delighted. Jamie was a good little walker now, but his gammy leg meant he often fell over. Falling to her knees, she opened her arms wide, coaxing the boy. Come to your mammy, sweetheart. He stopped giggling and stared at her, as though he might be giving it some thought. Then he looked up to excitedly point into the skies, at a hawk hovering nearby. Bird! he shouted. Big bird. Arms still wide, Lucy took a step nearer. Look at me, Jamie. Come on, sweetheart. The child would have none of it. Completely ignoring her, he scoured the skies with his big bright eyes, one finger pointing as he slowly but surely slid downwards, his back seemingly glued to the tree. Stay there, Lucy! Running forward, Vicky propped him up again. Try, sweetheart, she urged the little man. Slowly she backed away, one hand up flat, as though it might dissuade him from sliding down again. Standing next to Lucy, Vicky took a cooked sausage from the picnic hamper. Ooh look what Ive got. She waved the sausage from side to side. If you want it, youll have to come and get it. Lucy laughed. Thats a wicked thing to do. Suddenly the child was interested. He licked his lips and raising his arms, made an effort to shuffle forward. He means it this time, Vicky whispered. Hell do it now, you see if he doesnt. And he didnt, because when he spotted Barney appearing, he promptly sat down. Leave the little fella alone. Still in his work-clothes, his cap pulled forward, Barney stood beside the two women and looking at the boy asked, What are they doing to you, eh? Lucy straightened up. Were trying to coax him to walk over here without falling over, she answered. Vicky said he tried and failed three times. Is that right? The smile he gave Vicky spoke volumes; even when he wasnt saying he loved her, he still showed it in his smile, in his eyes, in the way he always stood by her side always there with her, even when he wasnt. Well, he looks proper fed up now, and no mistake. Poor little bugger, youve stuck him up against a tree and now he cant do nothing but sit down. And that was exactly what Jamie had done. Sitting on the ground he was pulling the grass up and attempting to eat it. Go on then. Stand him up again, but this is the last attempt, Barney insisted. Looks to me like hes had enough. Tipping back his cap he stooped to one knee, and waited until Lucy had propped up the child. Right then, Jamie, old son. Looking the child in the eye, he said quietly, Youre to take no notice o these women. Theyre like all women the world over nag, nag, nag. Anybodyd think youd only got a minute to learn the walking, when truth being, youve got all the time in the world. He feigned a deep sigh. But if its the only way you can get to sit down in peace and eat your sausage, then if I were you, Id give it another go. He raised his arms and stretching them apart, he gave the boy a cheeky wink, quietly chattering to himself. Its up to you, son. You can either come and give Uncle Barney a cuddle, or you can refuse to budge an inch and sit down. Like I say, its up to you. But youd best be quick about it. Ive been on the go since five oclock this morning and every bone in my body aches. I need a cuppa tea and five minutes in the armchair to put me right, so come on walk on them fat little legs o yourn. Do it for Barney, theres a good un. Vicky gave him a playful shove. Stop nattering to yourself. You have to raise your voice and talk clear, or he wont hear a word youre saying! In that moment, Lucy gave her a dig. Look at him, Vicky. Look at Jamie! Barneys nattering seemed to have worked, for the child had stood himself up straight and was now pushing against the tree, trying to get started. Arms outstretched towards Barney, he took one faltering step, then another, then a third step. When he saw Barney making faces at him, he burst out laughing and almost lost his balance again. A few minutes later, encouraged by the big mans coaxing, Jamie completed his walk across the orchard and fell into Barneys arms. Whos a champion then, eh? After giving him a kiss and a bear hug, Barney swung him round to Lucy. There yare. Now that hes walking so well, youll need eyes in the back of your head, and serves you right, the pair of you. With that, he gave Vicky a knowing wink and strode off, still nattering to himself. Poor little devil never had a chance. Women and their bullying whats a man to do, eh? But he wouldnt want to be without his Vicky for all the treasures in the world. Thrilled at Jamies performance, Lucy took him by the hand and the two of them slowly followed Vicky into the house. It was another special memory that Lucy would cherish forever. While the child slept soundly after all his efforts, the three of them sat together in the kitchen, each with a cup of tea and a generous slice of homemade fruit-cake; Vicky and Lucy at the table and Barney in the armchair. Once or twice, Lucy caught the two of them discreetly exchanging glances, as though they shared something she ought to know about. Wheres Susie? Lucy had grown fond of Barney and Vickys daughter, but she was hardly ever around. She was either out with her school-friends, or in town learning how to make hats. Shes gone on a picnic with a group of friends. Vicky worried about her young daughter. Though loving and giving, she seemed unsure of what she wanted to do with her life. Whenever Vicky spoke to Barney about her fears, he would tell her, Leave the child be, and shell find her way soon enough. Theres something Ive been meaning to ask you, Vicky told Lucy after a while. Its been plaguing me for some time. Barney looked up at her remark. Then youd best get it off your chest, he urged. Theres no use fretting about it. He knew exactly what concerned Vicky, because it also concerned him, though not to the same degree. What is it? For the first time in their company, Lucy felt uncomfortable. Is it something Ive done, because if it is, I cant know if you dont tell me. Or is it that you cant have Jamie any more? If that was the worry playing on Vickys mind, it would only mean the problem was shifted from her to Lucy, because Lucy had no one else, other than little Tillie, and she didnt really want the child to go back to Bridgets house. No, of course it isnt that! Reaching across the table, Vicky patted the back of Lucys hand. It isnt that at all. You know how much we love having the child. Good grief! Id be lost without him now. Barney laughed as he remarked to Lucy, Now that hes walking so well, he can help Vicky peg the washing out. Give him another few months and I dare say hell be out in that barn, chopping wood to his hearts content. Shut up, you daftie! Covering him with her smile, Vicky shook her head. Were talking serious here. Lucy was worried. What is it, Vicky? Whats wrong? So, as kindly and quietly as possible, Vicky told her, I know its not really my concern, and you can tell me to mind my own business if you like, only She gave a nervous little cough. Barney intervened to save her. Spit it out, love. Youve got Lucy thinking all sorts of terrible things. Taking a deep breath, Vicky said, Its just that well, Ive been wondering when you mean to have the boy baptised? There! Now that it was said, she quickly picked up her cup of tea, took a great swig and nearly choked on it. For a while, Lucy fell silent, and during the silence Barney and Vicky wondered anxiously whether she was angry or upset, or simply didnt want to speak about it because she considered it was none of their business. Presently, obviously feeling emotional, Lucy told them, Ive always meant to have Jamie baptised, only she paused to look at Barney, I kept waiting for his daddy to come home, hoping we might arrange for our sons christening together. Her quick, bright smile belied the upheaval inside. Only when he came back and found out he had a son, he didnt want either of us. The humiliation was still heavy in her, and when it now showed in the threatening tears, Barney told her softly, You and Jamie are better off without him. Its all water under the bridge now, Lucy girl. Let it go, or itll haunt you for life you and the boy. Wise to the event, Vicky lifted Lucys spirits. Ive got an idea! She went and stood beside Barney, from where she addressed them both. Why dont we have a double celebration? Barney laughed at her enthusiasm. Im sorry, love. You cant baptise me. Im already baptised. No! Tutting, Vicky returned to the table where she excitedly told Lucy, We could have Jamie baptised on his birthday. That way wed have twice the reason to celebrate, and twice the party. What dyou say, Lucy? Lucy thought it was an inspired idea. Its long overdue and that shames me, but like you say, its not too late, and it would be a wonderful time to have him baptised on his second birthday. And so it was settled and the date in November put in the diary. The two women agreed to go together to the church, to make the arrangements, then take the rest of the day off to go into Liverpool and do some shopping. With a crafty glance at Barney, Vicky gave Lucy a wink. Ill need a new frock for the party, she announced, running her hands down her thighs. I might go into that new shop on the corner of Victoria Street. Im told they have some lovely stuff there. Patting her hair, she glanced in the mantelpiece mirror. Oh, and Ill need a new hat for the christening an extra stylish one, with a little brim and a big flower on the side. Youd best get me one an all, Barney groaned. One with the biggest brim you can find, so I can pull it over my ears when you tell me the price of all this paraphernalia. With that he stretched out his legs, settled himself deep in the chair and fell asleep. With the preparations and the shopping, and all the work in between, the next few weeks flew by; autumn soon arrived, and with it came a revelation concerning Leonard Maitland that surprised even Lucy. On the Sunday afternoon, Lucy was pushing Jamie in the box-swing which Barney had slung from the big oak tree in the cottage garden. Well have to find a suitable christening gown for you, she was telling the child as he laughed and clapped and kicked his fat little legs as he sailed through the air. I dont suppose Ill find a baby gown to fit you now, she gave him another gentle push. Youre a big boy into the bargain, so we might have to think of something else, though I want you dressed in white all the same, because when the man takes the pictures I want you to look beautiful. Pausing, she thought of Edward Trent and how he had abandoned his own son. When youre older Ill be able to tell you why I waited so long before I got you baptised. She would tell him everything, but not with malice. After all, Edward was Jamies father and much as she would like to, she could not change that. Her thoughts deepened. Things could have been so different. They could have been a real family. Somehow she had known that would never be, but she had hoped, for their sons sake, that it might come about. Now that I know what hes really like, I never again want any part of him, she murmured to herself. But Jamie must make up his own mind. If its what he wanted when he was older, she would never stop him from seeing his daddy. Though she did not believe for one minute that Edward Trent would ever have the gall to show his face round these parts again. When the swing slowed, the child began kicking his legs and shouting, More! Lucy started pushing him again. All right. Just a few more minutes, then wed best get you ready for bed, she told him. Youve had a busy day and by rights you should be worn out. She wagged a finger. Barney was right. I do need eyes in the back of my head! Talking to yourself, is it? The husky voice was pleasantly familiar. Sure they lock ye away for less than that. BRIDGET! Turning to see her old friend coming across the garden, Lucy ran to meet her. Flinging her arms round the womans waist, she gave her a bear hug. Its so good to see you. Ye little lunatic, get offa me! Laughingly shoving Lucy away, Bridget straightened her hat a big black flowery thing with a long white feather. Havent I told ye before, youre not to hug me so hard; Im delicate as well ye know. She pointed to the child who was patiently sitting in his little box-swing. Enough o this nonsense. Ill get meladdo out and well go inside for a drop o the good stuff. She gave a naughty wink. I expect youll be wanting all the latest news. Without more ado, she went to the swing, drew the wooden bar back and lifted the child out. And as for you, young Jamie, Ill thank ye not to pee on me! she warned. You ruined my skirt the last time, ye dirty little article! As she carried him away, he became fascinated with the feather in her hat, and when he began tugging at it, she promptly gave him to Lucy. Will ye look at that? Not content with having ruined one o me best skirts, the little divils after ruining me hat. Chuckling to herself, and delighted to suffer Bridgets complaining, Lucy took the child and followed her into the cottage. The Irishwoman was striding ahead, in charge as usual, looking grand and important in the dark straight skirt, cut to just below the knee, and the smart peplum jacket that accentuated her curves. The big flowery hat was perched at an angle on top of her fiery red hair, all twirled and tamed and secured beneath it apart from the few wispy curls that had danced their way out. You look really nice, Lucy complimented her sincerely. Is that a new two-piece? Bridget sailed on. New and expensive, she replied over the shoulder. So youll understand why I dont want it peed on? Lucy did understand. Is it bought for a special occasion then? It certainly is! I have a gentleman collecting me any time now, so if youve anything you need to tell me, youll have to be quick about it. With an important backward glance, she went on, I might tell ye, Ive gone to a lot of trouble to get here. I caught a bus for the first time in ages and walked half a mile down the lane dogs muck and horse-dung everywhere! She glanced at her small-heeled shoes. Ill have you know, these were new only a few days since. This is the first time Ive worn them. Now look at em! Whooh! She had a whole gamut of wonderful expressions and the one she made now was priceless. Ill need to give em a shine before I leave. Ah! So this was the reason for the smart outfit and the new hat. Youve got a new fella then? Lucy teased. Whats he like? Bridget touched the tip of her nose. Youll know soon enough, she replied cagily. Ill tell you when Im good and ready and not before. Bursting into the cottage with her usual flair, Bridget filled the room with her presence as always. She waited for Lucy to settle the child down for a nap before tea; he wriggled about for a while before falling fast and hard asleep. Good Lord above, will ye look at that? Youve worn the child out, so ye have. Now that he couldnt snatch at her feather, she leaned over and kissed him. Hes such a wee, bonny thing. Though she loved children from a safe distance, Bridget was not cut out to be a mother and she made no secret of that. Making the child gives you pleasure, she had been known to say with a twinkle in her eye. Raising them breaks your heart. Lucy went to the cupboard. Large or small? she asked, the glass poised in the air. Ill have a large, Bridget started, then, No! Id best have a small. A devious little grin shaped her handsome face. Sure, Ive got to keep me wits about me today. As instructed, Lucy poured out a small measure of gin and brought it to her. Why? Whats happening today then? She handed her the glass and watched with amazement as Bridget took a delicate sip. It wasnt like her dear friend and benefactor to drink her gin sparingly. Normally, she would down one glass and be after another, before the first was hardly swallowed. Bridget smacked her lips and looked up, and after taking another delicate sip, she smiled at Lucy with her magic green eyes and raising her eyebrows suggestively, said in a whisper, Ive found the fella of my dreams, so I have. The slightly smug expression on her face told it all. Have you now? Lucy sat herself down. So, you really think hes the one? Oh, he is. I just know he is! Well, come on then. Who is he? Bridget opened her mouth to answer, then changed her mind. Get yourself a cuppa tea first oh, and another o these. She held out her glass. Ive a thirst come on me all of a sudden. She shrugged her broad shoulders in that apologetic manner which Lucy knew only too well. Lucy didnt argue, because she knew it would do no good. Instead, she took the glass, half-filled it and handed it back. Youd best make that last. Your fella might not approve of his woman being three sheets to the wind. Bridget took a ladylike sip. Why, ye cheeky young heathen! She then took another sip, this time longer. Ill be the best judge o that, so I will! She leaned forward in an intimate manner. Im so glad you like the two-piece, she said. I bought it special. I bought these special an all. Clambering out of the chair, she hoisted her skirt to display vast thighs, topped by the laciest pair of knickers Lucy had ever seen. Pure silk, Ill have ye know! Bridget imparted, wide-eyed. Cost me a small fortune, so they did. Well what dye think? Dye like them? Dye think hell like them? Lucy was lost for words, and told Bridget so. Ah, go on and make the tea, Bridget told her, disappointed. Sure, if he doesnt like them, hes not the fella I thought he was. Smiling to herself, Lucy retreated to the kitchen where she boiled the kettle and made the tea, then came back into the parlour with a plate of little fairy cakes. Have one of these, she suggested. Itll soak up the gin. Bridget laughed aloud. So now youre telling me what to do, is it? she spluttered. Seems to me youre getting above yourself, young woman. Seating herself in the other chair, Lucy leaned back, cup in hand and waiting. Well? Bridget frowned. Well what? Whats the latest news then? All in a rush as was her way, Bridget went over all the usual items of gossip. Little Tillies gone off on a weeks holiday to the Lake District. She fell out with her boyfriend a few days back and says shes finished with men forever, but she says that all the time and then shes off again, seeing some other lanky, pimply, no-good thing. Taking a breath, she proceeded at a faster pace. I said to her, I said, Will ye never learn, girl? The buggers are only after whats in your drawers, but will she listen? No, of course she wont! Lucy thought Tillie had done the right thing. The change of scene will do her good. The Lakes are so beautiful. When she comes back, she can stay with me if she wants to. Lucy had been through this all before with dear Tillie. What? Stay with you? Bridget was horrified. Shell do no such thing! I need her back at the house, I do. While shes been gone, Ive had to take on some useless woman from the other side of Liverpool. She gave a long, agonising groan. I wont even tell you what a pain she is. Rolling the palm of her hand across her forehead, she gave a trembling sigh. Sometimes I think I was born to be a martyr. Oh Bridget, dont be so dramatic. Wisely changing the subject, Lucy enquired, So tell me, what else is happening? Fast recovered, Bridget launched into the next snippet of news. Im having a new bathroom fitted upstairs all black marble and best cream carpet. Going posh, I am. She gave that naughty wink again. Thatll cost the clients a few bob more for their pleasure, I can tell ye. And what else? New curtains in the sitting room, o course. And Im considering whether to have the old Victorian fireplace out and get a new one fitted Lucy listened patiently while Bridget outlined all the changes she was having made to the house. Like I say, itll cost a bob or two, but no matter. Itll be the clients that pay, Ill make sure o that. And what news of the girls? Bridget took a long gulp of her gin. Thats what I meant to tell you, she said. Mandys only gone and got herself pregnant Drawing breath she launched into the lecture. Time and again Ive told them, You must never let yourself get with child, but will they listen? She gave a long, shivering shake of the head. Not at all! Now I know you wouldnt be without your Jamie for all the tea in China, the darlin, but youve got to admit, its not the easiest thing in the world, is it, having a bairn without a ring on your finger? Anyway, our Mandy has decided to marry the fella in question, and now shes gone off to meet his family, would ye believe? Of course she wont tell them about her job, nor will her fianc, who is a nice young man, Ill give him that. Nor will she let on that shes already with child or theyll immediately think shes a trollop, and shes not. She drew another, longer breath. Mandys a good girl, always has been. To tell you the truth, her hearts never been in her work, so it might be as well that shes gone. Lucy was pleased. I hope she remembers to write. Im sure she will, Bridget answered. But I dont really expect well see much of her again, because the fella is French, and thats where shes been whisked off to a place called Montpellier. She sighed. And theres me, left in the lurch, so I am. Lucy chuckled. Youll have to get your fella to comfort you then, wont you? She had wanted to ask after the gent, and this was her chance. Im sure hell comfort me if I ask him, came the confident answer. Hes a real gentleman, bless his kind heart. Bridget dredged her glass and held it up. Just a wee drop more? she suggested. Be a friend. Send me on my way with a smile. Shaking her head and thinking how Bridget would never change, Lucy poured her another drink. Ah, but arent you the lovely woman! Bridget said, gulping down the gin. When she again held out her glass, Lucy was adamant. No. I wont be responsible for spoiling your date. If you want another drink, youll have to get it yourself. I wish youd stop jumping to conclusions. Bridget was suitably indignant. Im only handing the glass back. It was just as well, because when she left half an hour later, her hat was tipsy on her head and her legs just the slightest bit wobbly. Ill see youse again, she told Lucy. Then she lifted her skirt and clambered into the open-topped car. Falling into the passenger seat, she plonked a smacker of a kiss on the man beside her; a gent indeed, with his tailored moustache and cream-coloured blazer, he looked a right dapper. He also had red blood in his veins because having caught a glimpse of her knickers when she cocked a fine leg to climb into the car, he took the liberty of stroking his hand along her stockinged thigh, all the way up to the suspender, quickly removing it when he saw Lucy looking on with amusement. She nodded a greeting to him and he nodded back. Hold onto your hat, my sweetie, he told the blushing Bridget. We could get up to thirty miles an hour if I set my mind to it. He set off with a roar and a squeal, with Bridget laughing and screeching like a silly schoolgirl beside him. Lucy held back the laughter until they were out of sight, then she collapsed in hysterics, mimicking Bridget as she was wont to do. Oh, how she hoped her friend could hold onto this one. He was an absolute treasure. Priceless! Going inside, she wiped the tears from her eyes and made herself another cup of tea. Thirty miles an hour indeed! she thought, then said aloud, I dont know about holding onto your hat. If you ask me, its not the hat youre in danger of losing so much as your pretty silk knickers! The laughter bubbled up again; the sight of well-upholstered Bridget in her wonky hat, flashing her lingerie, and the dandy-man goggle-eyed at this vision of heaven, was all too much for Lucy. She laughed so much that Jamie woke up! But if Bridget was happy, she thought, picking her son up and hugging him, then so was she, because if it hadnt been for Bridget, she would have been lost, long since. Chapter 10 (#ulink_b131075d-c2cc-5224-92e6-4d167091b5e0) THE FOLLOWING DAY, Lucys week started all over again. Rising early, she had her wash and got dressed; then she made her bed and collected the child from his cot. With that done she sat him in his chair at the table, made his porridge and while he plastered his hands and face with that, she burned herself a piece of toast which she covered in Vickys homemade strawberry jam. Your Auntie Vicky makes the best jam in the world, she told the child, who was far too busy licking his chubby fingers to pay attention. I need you to be on your best behaviour, she coaxed. Theres work to be done in Long Field, harvesting the spuds, and its a case of all hands to the deck. The crop is ready to be taken in, Barney says. The plants have died off and the soil is good and dry. This would be her first close experience of working on the land, and she was really looking forward to it. She glanced at the mantelpiece clock. We need to be away from here by seven, she took a great bite of her toast, so eat up, little fella, then Ill give you a drink and get you washed, and well be on our way. Reaching over the table she tickled him under the chin, and the little boy giggled. Vicky said she would make up a picnic for when we stop to eat. Well have it down by the river, thats what she said and wont that be lovely, eh? In fact, life itself was so wonderful these days, she could hardly believe her good fortune. During the next half-hour, Lucy went about her chores; she cleared and washed the breakfast things while Jamie played, then took her son and washed him, made sure she had everything they needed, then strapped him into his pram and parked him outside on the path while she secured the cottage behind her. Taking the bridle path up to Overhill Farm, she found the going hard; one minute she was pushing the pram and the next she was pulling it, until her arms ached from shoulder to wrist. But it was such a beautiful day, she didnt mind a bit. Besides, little Jamie was in his element, laughing and chuckling, until he eventually fell asleep and all she could hear were the birds singing and the river bubbling over the boulders. As they came through the spinney, the terrain became easier. Well-worn by travellers and locals alike, in parts the meandering walkway was rough and bumpy underfoot, but for the most part it was easy going. From the cottage to the farm, it took exactly twenty minutes; Lucy had timed herself on the first day. Vicky! Waving as she approached the house, Lucy saw Barneys wife hanging out the washing. Im not too late, am I? Waving back, Vicky took the wooden pegs out of her mouth. The boys have already gone to the fields, she replied. Barneys taken Susie into town for her hat-making, and hell come back straight after. We wont be needed for a little while yet. She was finished with the washing. My! You put me to shame! she exclaimed. You look lovely, Lucy. Bright and fresh as a daisy. It was true. Lucy did look very fetching in the long dark skirt and loose white blouse, worn to work in the fields, and something about the way she had swept her hair back into a thick plait made her seem almost childlike. And look at me hands red from rubbing the sheets in the dolly-tub, and hair all over the place. I must look terrible, Vicky laughed ruefully. You dont look any such thing! Lucy would have none of it. She looked at Vicky with her sun-kissed hair and those wonderful expressive grey eyes, and all she saw was beauty and goodness. You always look lovely, she said honestly. Its right what Barney says: you couldnt help but look pretty, even if youd just come up from the coal-mines. Vicky laughed. Thats my Barney, she said. He looks at me through rose-coloured glasses and cant see the wood for the trees. Thats because he loves you. Lucy wondered if she would ever find that kind of love. Ive never known anyone love his woman, like Barney loves you. For a moment Vicky was silenced by Lucys profound words. I love him the same way, she quietly confessed. Sometimes it frightens me, the way Barney believes well always be together. The thing is, Lucy, when youre part of each other, like me and Barney, there can never be a happy ending. Someone is bound to be sad at the end of it all. When she looked up, there was a kind of desolation in her grey eyes. You see, when either of us is taken, the one left behind will be totally lost. Lucy was amazed at the depth of pain in Vickys voice, in her eyes, in her whole demeanour. Youre neither of you going anywhere! she declared stoutly, in an attempt to break the moment. Not until youve made me enough strawberry jam to last me into old age, any road. The mood broke and Vicky laughed out loud. If you like it that much, youd best take another jar from the pantry. She then threw the pegs into her big basket and placing it under her arm, she put her other arm through Lucys. Come on, you. Her smile was content. The waters already hot in the kettle, itll take but a minute to bring it back to the boil. Weve time enough for a brew before we roll up our sleeves. In truth, both Vicky and Lucy had already had their sleeves rolled up these past two hours and more. All the same, it was nice to take time out for a cuppa and a chat, all girls together, and that was exactly what they did. Bridget came to see me yesterday, Lucy imparted, grinning at the memory. You should have seen her, all done up in a new outfit and a hat like you could never imagine. Vicky took a gulp of her tea. Got herself a fancy man, has she? Vicky was a broadminded woman who respected Bridget for her kindness, and welcomed her, when other townsfolk looked down their noses at her. Seems like that. While they drank their tea and Jamie slept on, Lucy relayed the gossip and the two of them hoped that Bridget had found a man who would take care of her, for she was a good-hearted woman and not as young as she used to be. Twenty minutes later, with both tea and gossip done, they set about the daily chores; Lucy seeing to the bathroom upstairs and making up the beds with fresh-laundered linen while Jamie helped her, and Vicky tackling the work downstairs. Some short time later, with the house all spick and span, they made their way to the fields, where Barney and his sons were already halfway down the potato field. Armed with light forks, each of them raised up the secret treasure of the potatoes, hidden beneath the rich soil. They were beauties no sign of rot or infestation and Barney was delighted. A bumper crop might cheer Mr Maitland who had been looking very preoccupied of late. RONNIE! Barneys voice could be heard shouting instructions to the younger of his two sons. Stop messing about and get on with it. With the work piling up, Barney was in no mood for frivolous behaviour. Weve the rest of this field to do yet! Unlike his father and brother Tom, Ronnie, free-spirited and happy-go-lucky, was too easily distracted. He would collect the potatoes in the barrow lined with sacking, then wheel it to the barn, where the crop was stored in the dark and cool, and on the way back, hed lark about, talking to the horse in the next field and playing tricks on his brother. Hes a good lad, Vicky remarked tolerantly as she and Lucy made their way to the men. But he still has a lot of growing up to do yet. Thrilled to be here, Lucy soaked up the atmosphere. Her attention drawn every which way, she took it all in: Barneys familiar figure bent over the long trench; the sunlight bouncing off the tines of the mens forks; the seemingly endless skies, and the bright warm sunshine. Here, now, it was as though she and Jamie and Barneys family were the only people in the whole wide world. Fine crop of spuds this year. Having worked many seasons alongside Barney, Vicky spoke from experience. As Barney took his turn with the barrow, he shouted, Are you here to watch, or work? He went away laughing. Youre no good to me if all youve come to do is admire the scenery. Cheeky devil! Vicky yelled after him. Another remark like that and you can do the spuds on your own, cause wed rather be in Liverpool, strolling round the shops! Vicky and Barney could bandy insults without getting offended. It was part of their deep knowledge of each other. The hours passed too quickly and every experience was new to Lucy. Working and laughing, stumbling in the trenches and clambering up again, getting into a rhythm with the digging, with the sun on her face and the cooling breeze a welcome relief. She wanted this day never to end. Ill be glad when we stop for a break. Vicky paused to wipe the sweat from her brow. Im all in. She stroked Jamies hair as he squealed, pointing excitedly to a worm. They were surrounded by birds, swooping down as the tubers were revealed. A short time later and aching through every bone, Barney paused to stretch his limbs. Taking out his pocket-watch he glanced at the time. Good Lord! Why didnt somebody tell me it was nearly one oclock? To everyones relief he called for a break, at the same time taking the opportunity to slide his arm round his wifes waist and give her a resounding kiss. Im proud of the three of you, he told Vicky, Lucy and Jamie. I might even go so far as to say youre as good as the men At that moment he saw Ronnie throw himself down some way off, to lie flat under a tree. And maybe better than most, he added with a light-hearted groan. Ronnie was the first to answer. Not bad, he said airily. It took Lucy a while to get the hang of it, but she got there in the end. They did well. Thomas gave his dad a knowing wink. In fact, they did so well, I reckon us men should go home and leave them to it. Come on, Jamie. You mind we dont leave you three to it. Vicky rose to their teasing. Here. She thrust a greaseproof pack of sandwiches at each of them. These should quieten you down. Everyone took off their sacking aprons and quickly sluiced their hands with water from a big enamel pitcher, before sitting down and unwrapping their lunch. The break, though short, was a pleasure, not only because they were famished and the thick sandwiches filled with cheese, ham and pickle were delicious, but because the company was pleasant and the day glorious. What about you, Lucy? Barney addressed Lucy who had fed the child and was now preparing his drink. Have you enjoyed your first-hand experience of market-gardening? Its tiring, Lucy admitted. I dont think Ive ever ached so much in all my life, but oh yes, Barney, I cant tell you how much Ive enjoyed it. She cuddled the child. Jamies enjoyed it too, she said fondly. Though he didnt like being strapped in his pram for most of the time. Well, Im proud of you, Barney said, and without hesitation the others echoed his sentiments. With the food all gone, Ronnie and his brother went for a quick dip in the river, to wash the dust and grime from their backs. Dont be long, Barney called after them. Well need to work till dark as it is. Shortly afterwards, Vicky followed with the plates and cutlery. Ill give these a rinse in the water, she told Lucy. I dont fancy the flies plaguing us all the way home. Left alone with Lucy and the child, who had dozed off, Barney helped to clear the picnic things away. How are things, he enquired, really? Things are fine, thank you, Barney. Though she had good friends in Bridget and the girls, Barney and Vicky were the only people she could really talk to; especially Barney. He had such a way with him, naturally attentive and caring, that Lucy felt she could tell him anything. So, did you do the right thing in moving out to the cottage? Looking tired and worn, he leaned against the tree. It was the best thing I ever did, and its all thanks to you and your family, she answered. Taking a rag out of his trouser pocket, Barney wiped the sweat from his face. And youre content, are you, working at the house with Vicky, and labouring in the fields under an Indian summer sun? he grinned. Seems to me, weve thrown you in at the deep end. Lucy smiled. Oh Barney, Im more than content. I dont know how I can ever thank you both. No thanks necessary, he answered softly. Just to see you smile like that, and know youre settled thats more than enough. Barney looked down on her and thought what a lovely woman she was. You and Vicky, you cant know what youve done for me, Lucy persisted. Ive never been so happy. Its only right that you should be happy. In a fit of coughing, he turned away, scarlet in the face. Lucy passed him a cup of water. When the coughing fit passed, he addressed her again, his voice still a little hoarse. You worked well today, lass. He didnt look round. I want you to know how much I appreciate that. Barney, can I talk to you? The young womans anxious voice caused him to swing round. Of course you can. What is it? Hesitating, she shrugged her shoulders. Its nothing Im sorry. Suddenly it seemed foolish to voice what was in her mind. Concerned, he came to kneel beside her. Come on, tell me, love. Whats wrong? Lucy looked at him, at his strong, kind face and the endearing look in his eyes and she opened her heart to him. Im afraid, Barney so afraid. What dyou mean? What have you to be afraid of? His expression hardened. That bugger Trent isnt back again, is he, because if hes bothering you Lucy shook her head. No, hes not back at least not that I know of. She gave a wry little smile, her heart sinking at the memory. After the cowardly way he ran, I shouldnt think hell ever show his face round here again. So what are you afraid of? In a small voice she told him, It might sound silly to you, Barney, but I feel Im too happy, and Im afraid because something is bound to go wrong, I just know it is. Aw, Lucy girl! Come here to me. Taking her in his arms, he held her close. Nothing will go wrong. I wont let it Vicky wont let it. The worst is over for you now. Weve got you safe with us. He held her at arms length. Promise me, Lucy, that whenever youre feeling worried youll talk to me or Vicky. Promise me you wont ever be afraid to share whats on your mind. Her heart full, Lucy slowly nodded her head. Thats my girl. He rumpled her hair, and let her go. A few minutes later, at Barneys suggestion, she left the child with him and made her way to the river. Here, she dropped to her knees and washed her grubby neck and face. Her fingernails were grimed with mud; shed deal with them later. She was shaking the river-drops from her hands when she heard a noise some way further along the river. She turned her head and there, where the weir rushed down and tumbled amongst the larger boulders, she saw Thomas and Ronnie clamber out of the water, their muscular well-toned bodies magnificently naked. Until that moment, she had seen them as merely Barney and Vickys two young sons: Thomas, serious and deep-thinking, and Ronnie a bit crazy a daredevil ready to have a go at anything. Now she saw them as men in their own right, and it came as a bit of a shock to her senses. Climbing to where they had laid their clothes, Tom and Ronnie took up their shirts and began drying themselves while, blushing to the roots of her hair, Lucy took flight and did not stop running until she was back to base. It was the very first time she had ever seen a man stripped off; even when Edward Trent had made love to her, it was a case of undoing his trouser-buttons and lifting her skirt. A virgin when she had met him at the age of twenty-seven, in many ways Lucy was still sexually inexperienced. She had only known brief couplings with Edward, which had heated her blood and brought her a child, but the richness and depth of married physical love was unknown territory. She knew now that what she had experienced was not lovemaking in the way it should have been; it was pure lust and nothing more, and she felt ashamed at having thought it was ever anything else. As she neared her son, still sleeping in his pram, she was amazed to find that there was no sign of Barney. She stood a moment, eyes scouring the area. That was strange. She hadnt thought that Barney would ever go off and leave Jamie on his own. Suddenly she could hear him, or at least she could hear something, because the harsh, rasping sounds were not human. They were more like the cries of some unfortunate animal caught in a trap. Leaving Jamie, she cautiously followed the sounds, and there, doubled up against the side of the tractor, was Barney. Obviously in pain and fighting for breath, he looked a frightful sight. Lucy ran to him. Barney what in Gods name is wrong? Breathless and exhausted, he couldnt speak, but when he looked her in the eye, she saw the anguish there and her heart turned somersaults. Dont tell Vicky, he gasped. Lucy gave no answer. Instead she held him until he was fully recovered, at which point he repeated his plea. Lucy you mustnt tell Vicky about this. Shell only worry, and its unnecessary. Lucy wasnt too sure about that. But youre ill! she told him gently. You couldnt breathe could hardly stand up on your own two feet! Seeing him like that had given her a scare. Youre wrong, Barney, she told him. Vicky should know about this. When she saw the look of panic on his face, she assured him, All right, I wont tell her. But you must. Theres no need! Barney was recovering his strength now. Im not ill. Its something to do with handling the tubers. They dont agree with me. Summat about them gets in and clogs up my lungs, hampers my breathing and makes me feel bad. It comes on quickly and goes away the same. Like I say, theres nothing to worry about. Right now, lass, lets get back to yon bairn. Im sorry I left him, pet didnt want to wake him, see? All right, Barney, if youre sure. She could see how agitated he had got when he believed she might tell the family. Look at me, Lucy. Raising his arms, Barney let his hands fall to her shoulders, his smile quick and confident. You can see for yourself, Im right as rain now. It was a coughing fit, thats all it was. I wont have Vicky or anyone else worrying about something and nothing. Lucy didnt argue. In fact, she was amazed at how quickly he had recovered. One minute he had looked so ill, she feared for his life, and the next he seemed fine. Youre sure youre all right? He nodded. Like I said, right as rain. Believing she might have over-reacted, Lucy took him at his word. Besides, though his colour wasnt fully returned, he did seem fine now. Barney called her attention to the three approaching figures; the two sons in front, obviously not aware that their mother was some distance behind. Remember, he urged. Not a word. While they were looking across the field, they saw the figure of a man standing beneath the dipping boughs of a tree. Its the boss, come to keep an eye on us, Barney said jokingly. So, while Leonard Maitland watched the family, Barney and Lucy watched him. What the devils he up to? Like Lucy, Barney was intrigued. I expect hes been out for a long walk and is taking a rest in the shade, she answered. Barney laughed. He may well be, he remarked, adding tongue-in-cheek, Hes also taking a long, leisurely look at my woman. Thrusting his hands into his pockets he seemed a proud man. I shouldve told him, he said casually. Told him what? It had not occurred to Lucy that Leonard Maitland was watching Vicky in particular, but now she could see that while he rested from the heat, Leonard Maitland did in fact seem more preoccupied with Vicky who, unaware of his interest, walked on, the plates cradled in her arms and with eyes only for Barney. Like the cat that got the cream, Barney wore a smile from ear to ear. I should have warned him, he said. Every man thats ever clapped eyes on my Vicky has fallen head over heels in love with her. His eyes shone with joy as he watched her drawing nearer. And all she ever wanted were me a farm worker who owns nothing and never will. His eyes widened with a rush of astonishment. What she ever saw in me, Ill never know. His voice dropping to a whisper, he spoke as though to himself. I just thank the Lord for bringing the two of us together. As always, whenever she witnessed the love between these two people, Lucy was humbled. She saw the adoration in Barneys eyes and the joy in Vickys face as she waved to him. Vicky may have been aware of Leonard Maitland or she may not. But it was Barney she was looking at. Barney, her man, her everything. She was one side of the coin; he was the other. Look! Hes going now. Lucy brought his attention to Leonard Maitlands retreating figure. Barney made no comment just then, but he noticed how Leonard Maitland continually glanced back at Vicky. And who could blame him, Barney thought as he brought his own tender gaze to the kind, caring woman he adored. Vicky always looked lovely, he thought, but today she was especially beautiful with the breeze playing round the hem of her skirt, lifting it and twirling it, her golden hair blown gently back from her happy face, oh and that smile. Even now after all these years, he could hardly believe that Vicky was his wife. From the moment he had first seen her, he wanted no other. And he never would, for the kind of love they shared came only once in a lifetime. Shortly afterwards, Barneys mate Adam arrived. Ive finished thatching Widow Masons porch, he told Barney, so I wondered if you might have use for another pair of hands? Barney thanked him. The more the merrier, matey, he said, and his pal threw off his jacket and got to work. Tired and sweating under the hot sun, Lucy soon forgot Leonard Maitland and his seeming infatuation with Vicky. Barney, however, for good reason kept it quietly at the back of his mind. Leonard Maitland needed a drink. Having hurried home, tired and hot, he had rushed in, closed the door to shut out the world, and was now helping himself to a small whisky. God knows what they must have thought! he muttered, gulping down the drink. Me standing there, gawping at another mans wife like some lovesick fool! Deep in thought, he wandered across the room, images of Vicky filling his mind: running, tripping, laughing, she was the essence of womanhood. Yet he had other, more urgent things to think about. A few days ago, he had received a letter from America, to do with his late grandfathers estate in Boston, Massachusetts. It seemed he might have to fight to retain the old mans house and lands. Things were happening which could send it either way. If it went one particular way, it could mean him selling up in this country and making a new life over there. Leonard had spent months at a time in his youth with his maternal grandfather, Farley Kemp, on the thousand-acre farm. He loved it out there although his English heritage meant that he loved it here, too, east of the Mersey. He considered for a moment. If he went to America, would he take Patricia with him? And what of Barney and his family and Vicky? Leonard might be well-off financially, but he didnt have endless funds. The last thing he wanted to do was put Barney out of work, but he might not be able to avoid it. If he had to, hed fight tooth and nail to keep it all together. But there were things happening out there which could mean he had little choice. If it went one particular way, it could mean his having to sell up in England and make a new life in Boston, America. He considered the prospect for a moment. He would almost welcome the challenge. It would mean he could keep his grandfathers beautiful house and vast estates. He had worked his way up from a farm-labourer to create one of the most successful businesses in Boston. Besides that, it was a wonderful home, warm and welcoming, filled with happiness and contentment, the kind of which hed never really known. The memories still came flooding back. When he was a child, the highlight of his year was going to see his grandparents. Those amazing weeks when he was there were the happiest of his life. His grandfather would take him across the estate; sometimes on the back of his horse and later Leonard would ride alongside him on a pony, and oh, what adventures theyd get up to racing each other across the headlands; climbing trees or riding to the top of a hill, so his grandfather could show him the house and lands from a distance, and even then they could never see the horizons of what belonged to him lands that were loved and tended, houses and homesteads nestling in the valleys, and cattle by the hundreds; all this, all painstakingly, lovingly forged out of nothing, with only the strength of his own two hands and the heart of a lion. He closed his eyes, his emotions in turmoil. When his grandfather lost his wife, he lost all sense of purpose, and now everything he worked so hard for was at risk. Going to the armchair, Leonard sat down and gazed into space for what seemed an age. He gathered his thoughts and knew what he must do. He wouldnt let it be lost. He couldnt let them take it. He didnt have so much here to fight for, but he could try and save his grandfathers dream, and given the chance, thats what hed do! Getting out of the chair, he smiled, at ease with himself. I think its time I had a new life, a new direction. There is little to hold me here. Ive gone as far as I can go, and now its time to face up to a new challenge. Dipping into his pocket, he took out a long, official-looking envelope with an American stamp. Unfolding the letter he began to read: Dear Mr Maitland, I am pleased to inform you that certain matters relating to the estate of your grandfather, the late Mr Farley Kemp, are now settled. However, several important issues remain which demand your urgent attention. As you are the only surviving relative of the deceased, it is imperative that you contact me as soon as possible, with a view to visiting these offices, in order that these issues can be dealt with. As you must be aware, time is of the essence, and the situation requires that you be here in person. I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest opportunity. Yours sincerely, Justin Lovatt, Attorney-at-Law Leonard knew the letter word for word, for hadnt he read it umpteen times since receiving it? Tomorrow, he must make arrangements to travel. Whats that youre reading? Patricias voice shocked him, invading his thoughts. Pat! Good God I didnt hear you come in. He swiftly folded the letter and slid it into his pocket. He hadnt heard the taxi pull up in the driveway. Crossing the room, she slid her arm through his. Is it something I should know about, darling? He gave a nervous laugh. Why would you think that? Because just now when I came in, you looked so worried, and as Im soon to be your wife, I should know what is bothering you. Really? He tested her. And if I were to tell you that I might have to make a difficult choice a life-changing choice what would you say to that? It would depend. Whys that? Growing flustered, she dislodged herself from his embrace. Well, for all I know it might change my life, and I dont know that I would be too keen on that. Not even if it meant you and I would be together? Isnt that all that matters when a man and woman are in love? Something in his manner, in the way he was looking at her, made her nervous. No, she answered defensively. Being in love isnt all that matters. What matters is that we both should be happy. Yes, he agreed, although he felt her resistance and was unnerved. But what if the choice I have to make is not really a choice at all, but something I feel obliged to do? She considered that for a moment, then like a child who wasnt sure of how to respond, she used her wiles and going to him, slid an arm round his waist. I think you had best tell me what you were reading, just now, she wheedled. Id rather not, Patricia. It isnt altogether settled, and it may not come to anything anyway. Hmh! Youre not about to do anything that would make me unhappy, are you, my darling? she pleaded prettily. I mean, you will let me have my say in this choice of yours, wont you? Holding her at arms length, he answered wisely, Of course you will have a say. But, like I said, there may not even be any choice to make. I wont know that, until I return from America. America? At once she was all smiles, confident that she would be going with him. I knew if I kept on at you long enough, you would take me away, but America! She laughed excitedly. What an adventure that will be! When do we leave? Seeing her pleasure, Leonard was half-tempted to take her with him. He thought that if she saw the vast and beautiful land outside Charlestown and the sprawling house his grandfather had built over the years, she might grow to like the prospect of moving there. But commonsense prevailed, and he said merely, Im sorry, Pat, but I shall be tending to important business. I cant take you with me this time. Its deuced inconvenient as it is, leaving Comberton at this time of the year. Oh, come on, Leonard! What business do you need to tend that means I cant come along? We are to be married after all, arent we? Of course we are, but I simply cant take you, not this time. Look, when I get back, I promise well see about a weekend in Paris would that suit you? No, it would not. Giving him a frosty look, she turned on her heel and stalked towards the door. I have shopping to do in Manchester. I imagine Ill be gone for at least four hours. That should give you plenty of time to decide whether I come with you or not. When he heard the front door slam, Leonard walked to the window, from where he could see Patricia climb into the taxi. She did not look back, but somehow that did not concern him. Instead, he took out the letter and read it through again. No, Patricia, he said aloud. I wont take you with me. His mind was made up. The reason he was going to America was too important. This wasnt just about him and Patricia. Thrusting his hands into his pockets he began to pace the room, his thoughts and loyalties all churned up. The decision was something he had to make by himself. If it turned out that there was, after all, no choice to make, then so be it. But if it came to a head, then he had to think of others who would inevitably be affected. The people who had been loyal to him over the years, these were the people uppermost in his mind right now. He thought of Barney, that good man, and his heart was sore. Then he thought of Vicky, of maybe never seeing her again, and the prospect was unbearable. He found himself searching for a way that would allow him to take the Davidsons with him, but at the moment that seemed quite unrealistic. His thoughts then flew ahead, and his heart sank. Whatever the outcome of his visit across the Atlantic, there was still Patricia. And so far he had not decided what to do about her. Chapter 11 (#ulink_b3e3a350-0f10-5230-b6c0-a378d0cb6405) YOURE THIRTY-NINE years of age and you still have the body of a young girl. Having climbed into bed, Barney leaned on his elbow and watched his wife undress. It wasnt often she undressed in front of him; for some reason she preferred the light out, and whenever he came upon her naked, she would blush and hide, and scamper into bed. You need never be ashamed of your body, he told her now. You should be proud. His voice dropped to the softest whisper. Youre very beautiful, Vicky. You always were. Having finished brushing her hair, she slithered into bed beside him. Im not beautiful, she protested, though with a smile. You only think that, because you love me like I think youre handsome, because I love you. Tenderly he placed a finger over her lips. No, then with his other hand he stroked a stray lock of hair from her eyes. You really are a lovely-looking woman, my darling. You may not see it, but I do, and so does every other man who looks on you. Stop it, Barney. She went rosy with pleasure. What will you say when Im old and toothless, and bent like a willow tree? His answer was to take her in his arms and hold her as close as any man could hold the one he loved. None of that would matter, he answered honestly, because you will always be beautiful to me. In the halo of moonlight shining in through the window, she could see in his eyes the depth of his love for her, and she was deeply moved. I love you so much, she said, her voice breaking. I love our children and I love the life we lead, but it would not be the same without you. He could feel the tension in her body, and he was shocked. Hey! Lifting himself up, he looked into her sad face and was afraid not for himself, but for her. You mustnt talk like that. We have each other and, God willing, well have each other for many years to come. Do you promise? she whispered. Do you promise never to leave me? Barney saw the tears rising in her pretty eyes, and was deeply moved when one plump, watery tear spilled over her cheek. I cant promise, he answered, wiping away the tear with the tip of his thumb. Why not? You know why not, he chided gently. We none of us can see what the future holds. She tightened her grip on him. You have to promise me, Barney. Whats wrong? Kissing her on the mouth, he wondered why she should ask him such a thing. Why do you insist, when you know a promise of that kind is impossible? Fear squeezed his heart. Had she heard him in a coughing fit? Did she know how ill he had been feeling of late? Had Lucy told her about that day in the field, when she found him gasping for breath? And now Vicky was asking him to make a promise of this kind. He couldnt do it. Nor could he voice his fears. Promise me, Barney, she entreated. Say you will never leave me, then Ill be content. Gazing into her quiet eyes, in the space of a single heartbeat he saw his whole life there, and somehow suddenly, the fear he had felt began to ebb away. I promise, he murmured. If its in my power to be with you forever, then I will. There! That wasnt so hard, was it? She smiled, and for no reason he could fathom, he was a man at peace with himself. Cradling her face in his hands he kissed her long and passionately, and she responded with the nakedness of her body against his, rhythmically pushing against him then pulling away, until he rolled her beneath him and placing a gentle hand round each of her legs, he drew them apart. There was no need of words; there was nothing to say that had not already been said a thousand times. Wrapped around each other, they made such wonderful love; not as they had done many times before, with tenderness, but with a wild passion and a desperate, painful hunger that drove them into each other almost as though they intended never to be separated. And then it was over, when their bodies were aching and vibrant and the life-juices still flowing, they held onto each other. For the rest of their lives they would remember this night; when for the first and last time they made love as never before, and Vicky drew from Barney a promise which, he knew in his lonely heart, he could never keep. Two days later, on a fine, breezy morning, Leonard Maitland boarded a liner for America. Ill be away for some time. An hour before setting off for the docks, he had called Barney to his office at The Manse. Im leaving you in charge as always, and should you encounter any problems, though I dont imagine you will, you do know who to contact? Yes, I do, sir, thank you. I have his name and address. As ever, Barney was well organised. Good man! As I already explained, the agent knows as much about my affairs as I do, and hes well-placed to contact me in any event. Ive arranged for the house to be taken care of, so there is no need for you to concern yourself about that. On the whole, I dont envisage any problems. Thank you for your trust. Over the years Barney had come to like and respect this man who was his employer. Rest assured Ill do my best to keep the farm running smoothly. I know you will, Leonard declared. You took excellent care of my interests when I was last in Boston. And now I must get off. I have a long journey ahead of me. Barney walked with him to the taxi, Leonard carrying his bag and briefcase, and Barney following with his portmanteau. Have a safe voyage, he said as Leonard climbed into the vehicle. I hope your trip goes well. Oh, so do I, Barney! Leonard declared. So do I! Gesturing for the driver to move out, Leonard caught sight of Vicky as she walked towards the river. He couldnt take his eyes off her. If only Patricia was more like her, he thought, he would be a much happier man. Seeing the taxi, Vicky waved, her face wreathed in a smile. His heart warmed and with her face in his mind, Leonard took the smile with him, all the way to Boston, USA. Well, it seems Mr Maitland went away at the right time. The whole family were gathered round for Sunday dinner a grand affair with the table sagging beneath the weight of a partly-sliced beef-joint, a ham shank ready for the carving, various deep dishes of crisp-roasted and boiled potatoes, cabbage, carrots, and a pile of Yorkshire puddings the like of which Lucy had never seen before. There were also two large boats of meat-gravy and a dish of homemade horseradish sauce, a particular favourite of Lucys. What makes you say that, Dad? That was Susie, seated next to him and already helping herself to a slice of beef. Because the weathers on the change, Barney explained. Once the cold wind starts coming in from the north, you can expect to see winter on its tail. Vicky tapped the back of Susies hand. Dont start eating yet. She gave Barney a reminding nod, and he immediately roved his gaze across each person at the table in turn; when they were suitably attentive, he folded his hands together, bowed his head and started Grace. We thank the good Lord for a healthy harvest, and for the food we are about to eat. God bless friends and family. He looked up, and already the dishes and plates of food were being passed round. Well! Vicky tutted. That was a short Grace. No matter, her husband replied, shovelling a heap of cabbage onto his plate. It was sincere, and were good and ready to eat the fruits of our labour while theyre still hot. Why has Mr Maitland gone to America? Susie was curious. Barney passed Lucy the potatoes and gave his daughter one of his impatient looks. You must have asked that question a hundred times or more, he chided. The answer is the same as it was before we dont know. Whats more, its none of our business. Still she persisted. It must be something important, because thats twice hes been this year. Rolling her eyes, Vicky smiled at Lucy, a smile that said, Wait until your son starts asking questions and you dont have the answers to give, itll drive you crazy. Well? Susie was like a dog with a bone. Well, what? Thomas asked, his mouth full of part-chewed meat. Dont speak with your mouth full! Vicky reprimanded. We none of us want to see what youre eating, thank you. Lucy loved having Sunday lunch with the Davidsons. This was a real family, with arguments and conflicting opinions, and questions without answers, and even half-chewed mouthfuls of meat. I think Susies right, she said, glancing at the girl. Mr Maitland must have important business to tend, or he wouldnt have gone away again so soon. She hastily rescued a potato that was about to fall on the floor from Jamies teaspoon. The little boy was quite good at feeding himself now, but he was staring goggle-eyed at Toms antics and wasnt paying attention. Lucy hoisted him straight. He was sitting on the high chair they had made him, and was in his element. But why did he go the first time? Susie played with her Yorkshire pudding, spinning it on the end of her fork and nibbling at the crusty bits. Hey! Ronnie leaned towards her. If you dont want that bit of pud, Ill have it. Having already demolished three, he still had an appetite like a lion. You will not pass food from plate to plate! Vicky declared, getting out of her chair. There are half a dozen more in the oven. Ill fetch them. Which she did, with Ronnie stealing one away on the prongs of his fork before she even got to the table. As Vicky sat down to resume her meal, Barney was explaining to his daughter, You see, sweetheart, we didnt make a big thing of it at the time, so you probably didnt know, but Mr Maitlands old grandfather passed away earlier in the year, and he had to go out and see to things. Susie was indignant. Why didnt you tell me? she asked petulantly. Im not a baby to be protected. I know that, Barney apologised. But it isnt the sort of thing you like to talk about, is it? Susie shrugged her slim shoulders. It doesnt bother me. Ronnie intervened. So why did you cry your eyes out when your pet rat passed away? That was different. Susies eyes filled with tears. Bobby was my friend. Of course he was, and of course you cried. Barney gave Ronnie a warning glance, before returning his attention to his daughter. Mr Maitland was upset about his grandfather too. Only when its a person, there are things to be done legal documents, matters o that kind. That was why he went to America last time. As to why hes gone this time, I dont really know, but I suspect it might have something to do with his grandfathers estate. Ysee, Mr Maitland was brought up in Boston. He spent most of his youth there after his parents died, and from what he told me, he loved every minute. Having finished his first course, and patiently waiting for his pudding, Thomas addressed his father. From what I remember, you said his grandfather had hundreds of acres of land and a great, sprawling farmhouse? Thats right, Barney replied, setting his knife and fork together and letting out a long sigh of satisfaction. Ronnie spoke up. Ive often wondered why he would leave the place if he loved it that much. For an adventure? That was Lucy. Ive always wanted to see the world. Maybe Mr Maitland felt the same when he was younger, so when he got the chance, he took it? That sparked another question from Ronnie. How old is he now? he asked Barney. Im not exactly sure. Barney cast his mind back to when Leonard Maitland had confided many things in him. Hes not much older than me forty-three, forty-four maybe. Crumbs! Susie groaned. Thats ancient. While Lucy laughed, Vicky feigned indignation. Hey, young lady! Ill have you know, me and your father are still young at heart. Barney laughed out loud. Weve aching limbs, a bad back and corns on our feet, but like your mammy says, were still young at heart. Everyone laughed, including Jamie, which made them laugh more. The jam pudding and custard was served by Susie and her mother, and afterwards there was the luxury of a Sunday glass of homemade wine each; all except for Susie, who moaned and complained and still got only a quarter of a glass. Just enough to wet your whistle, Barney advised firmly. Give it another year and if youre lucky, you might be allowed half a glass. When the meal was over and the women were clearing away, the men went for a tour of the farm, discussing their plans to prepare the fields for winter. There wont be too many more days like this, Barney said, looking up at the cloudless skies. In a fleeting thought, he wondered how many more days he would have. So far he had managed to carry out his work without anyone suspecting the truth, but deep down in his soul he believed there was something badly wrong with him. Lately, his only concern was the family. If anything happened to him, what in Gods name would it do to Vicky? Dear Lord! It didnt bear thinking about, so he pushed the thoughts from his mind. Maybe when all was said and done, there wasnt anything wrong that could not be put right, but the uncertainty was there, mainly because he still hadnt been back to the doctor. On a different issue, yet with the bad thought ticking away in the back of his mind, he turned to his younger son, Ronnie. Its time you learned the farming inside out, son. I already know the farming, Ronnie argued. Ive helped you since I were a little lad, Dad, just like our Tom. Ive helped you bring in the harvest and led the sheep in for shearing, and Ive walked that many times behind the haycart and made that many sheaves, Ive lost count. Thomas intervened. Dad means real farming. Ronnie laughed. I thought thats what Id been doing. And youre right, Barney agreed, but theres still much more for you both to learn. Such as what? Such as knowing the tractor inside out, every bit and bolt, how the engine works, how it should sound when running, and being able to put it right when it goes wrong. Then there are the implements, knowing which to use and when. He went on, When the sheep are brought in for the shearing, you stay with them. You talk with the shearer and watch the job is done properly, and when hes not able to get here at the right time, you shear the blessed things yourself, or the maggots will eat them alive. Thats right! Thomas exclaimed. The first time I saw a sheep with its back half-eaten, I didnt know what it was. I never knew maggots could get into the fleece and eat away the flesh. Ronnies mouth fell open. God! Thats awful! So, thats another thing youve learned. Barney took out his pipe and lighting up, began puffing away. Theyve to be dipped and theyve to be sheared. Its a cycle and if it goes out of rhythm, something suffers somewhere along the way. He blew out a halo of smoke. Youll both make good farmers, if thats what you want. But theres still much to be learned. Theres the wintering, and ordering of foodstuff, and keeping up with whats new. Then theres the paperwork, oh aye! Yon paperwork will keep you up till the early hours, and when thats done, its time to get up for the milking. He sighed deeply and pulled on his pipe. Its not like a job most other poor devils do if they can get it where you clock on in the morning and clock off again at night. He looked from one to the other. You work with the land and the animals; youre controlled by the seasons. He smiled contentedly. Its hard work and by, it takes it out of you, but I swear to God youll never find a better way of life. Taking his pipe out, he paused, before saying in a serious voice, I cant tell either of you how to live your life and I wouldnt dream of doing that. It might be that you dont want to work for Mr Maitland and stay here in Comberton. Youre both my sons and Im proud of you, but you must spend your lives the way you see fit. Ive already decided what I want to do. Thomas had been giving it some serious thought lately. At first I wasnt so sure, but now I am: I want to make farming my life. I want the kind of life you and Mother have had. Barney was thrilled. Ill not deny weve had a good life, me and your mother Ronnie interrupted with a quiet smile. With many more years to come yet, eh, Dad? Taken aback by Ronnies remark, Barney felt his heart turn over. Aye, lad, thats right many more to come yet. God willing, he thought. God willing. And Im the same. Like Thomas, Ronnie had missed the look of regret in his fathers eye. I want to farm an all. Winter or summer, its a great way of life. Barney was filled with emotion, that his two sons had seen such contentment in his own life that they wanted the same for themselves. Im glad, he answered gratefully. It were allus my wish that the two of you would follow in my footsteps. But it had to be your decision, not mine. Just then, Lucy and Vicky arrived to join them, little Jamie toddling between them. Barney grabbed hold of Vickys free hand. Is there any o that elderberry wine left over from dinner, sweetheart? Half a bottle. Vicky instinctively squeezed his hand. Why? His face beamed up at her. Cause weve summat to celebrate, thats why. He gestured towards his sons. You and me have talked long and often, wondering whether the boys might take up the farming as a way of life, and tonight, theyve given me their answer. When Barneys smile widened, Vicky gave a little squeal of excitement. Oh Barney! So they want to be farmers, like their dad? With moist eyes and a smile hovering between tears and laughter, she ran to hug them. Oh, Im so glad! And now the tears came. We did think you might eventually decide to go out into the big, wide world and do summat different, but oh, we did hope Ronnie held onto her a moment longer. If youre gonna start crying, we might have to change our minds. Stop it, Mam, youre scaring the little un. Laughing, she scooped Jamie up and said to Lucy, Well go and get the kettle on, shall we, and dig out the wine again. Good idea. Lucy went up to the two young men and gave them each a kiss. Its wonderful news. Back in the big farmhouse kitchen, with everyone sitting comfortably, Barney filled the glasses and Vicky handed them round. A toast! Barney raised his glass. To a fourth generation of the Davidson farmers. He thought with pride of his father and grandfather, and the ones who had gone before, all contented men who had lived well into their eighties. And now, his own two sons were to carry on the tradition. His sense of pride was mingled with regret. He couldnt help but wonder if he would ever see the next generation; his own grandchildren. That would be the greatest thing. Somehow, though, his instinct told him that he was not destined to live the long life of his forefathers. Chapter 12 (#ulink_f62a13bc-1c08-5f63-8bf6-0e8a07945ec5) LEONARD MAITLAND HAD spent several days trudging the many fine streets of Boston, going from one office to another, placating irate creditors and dealing with problems he had never envisaged. There was no chance for him to explore the city this time. As he strode along today, he thought how he would have loved to watch the Red Sox baseball team play at Fenway Park, as he had so often done with his grandfather, but there was no time, no time! His whole future depended on putting things right. Having studied everything with the lawyer executing the terms of Farley Kemps Will, he had been kept so busy his feet had hardly touched the ground. And now he was on his way to the lawyers office to tie up all the loose ends. Go right in, sir. Smart and efficient, the young woman behind reception had the sweetest smile. Mr Lovatt is expecting you. Good to see you, Lenny. Please come in. The big man with the horn-rimmed spectacles threw open the door of his inner office. I believe were as ready as well ever be. Having been a respected lawyer in New York before the Wall Street Crash last year, Mr Lovatts experience of matters relating to property was unsurpassed and, not surprisingly, his appointment book was invariably full. Gesturing to the big leather armchair, he informed Leonard, I dont know about you, but I sure could use a cup of coffee. Ill order it while you make yourself comfortable. With that, he pressed a button on his desk and said, Clara, a pot of coffee, please. Our client may also appreciate a few of those cookies your mom made that is, if you have any left? There was a pause, then, Thats great! Returning his attention to Leonard, the lawyer took up a thick file and slid it across the desk to him. Its all there names, addresses, the extent of debt and terms agreed. He grinned smugly. Weve covered a lot of ground, negotiated with the creditors, and now, with the meeting scheduled for tomorrow morning, the rest should be just a formality. Leonard nodded his appreciation. Youve done all the back-breaking work, and it goes without saying, Im very grateful. The big man settled back in his chair. As you know, I dont come cheap, he said with a disarming smile. Its my job to know the enemy. Once you know what youre up against, you can prepare for battle. He tapped his nose shrewdly. And win. Leonard was nervous, but he had done his homework and was ready. Its just unfortunate that it had to be this way. The big man also regretted the situation. Look, Lenny, with regard to your grandfathers Will, Im real sorry it turned out like this. It did come as a shock, Leonard muttered, casting his gaze to the papers in front of him. I always thought that Farley was a wealthy man. He certainly always lived like one. He spoiled me rotten when my parents died, and he and Gramma Sophie came over to England to take me back with them. A lump came into his throat. His parents had died when he was four, in an influenza epidemic in London. It shook me to the core when you told me he was in so much debt, he was on the brink of losing everything. When he looked up, his expression was pained. Why in Gods name did he have to be so proud? he said thickly. If only he had confided in me, I would have helped. Dear Lord, it must have troubled him so much! I pleaded with him time and again to contact you, the big attorney said sadly. I would have contacted you myself, but he absolutely forbade it. He threw his arms out in a gesture of helplessness. All along, he insisted he had everything under control. I wasnt privy to all your grandfathers interests, so of course I took him at his word. Just then, a tap sounded on the door and in came the young woman called Clara with a tray containing a big pot of coffee, a jug of cream and a plate of delicious-looking biscuits. She poured them each a cup, and said with a smile, If theres anything else, you will let me know, wont you? The big man held out the plate. Cookie? Leonard took one. However could my grandfather have got so deep into gambling? he mused aloud for the hundredth time, before drinking a sip of coffee and biting into the biscuit. You recall I told you about the two Irish brothers that Farley befriended? the lawyer asked. How they came to work for him at the spread and turned up drunk one night, with a racehorse theyd won on the gambling. Your grandfather had been awful lonely these past few years, ever since he lost his wife. He found a welcome distraction at the racetrack, and he had a few lucky strikes before it all went wrong. You see, like all gamblers, he always believed the next big win was just around the corner. He shrugged. An intelligent man like that He wasnt the first to get in above his head and you can bet your bottom dollar he wont be the last. Its a sad thing, Lenny but it happens. Deep down, if he was honest with himself, Leonard had not been too surprised at what the lawyer had told him. He always liked to place a bet on sporting events, he admitted. I recall Grandmother lecturing him one time, but it was never a problem, not then anyway. And why in Gods name did the banks let him get into so much debt? The attorney pointed to the file on his desk. As youve already seen, it wasnt only the banks, though they were by far the biggest creditors. Mr Kemp borrowed money from whoever would lend it, and no one refused, because they knew him as a respected and reliable man who ran one of the biggest homesteads in this part of Massachusetts. The Depression has affected everyone here in the States, as it has in your country, and these people want their loans repaying. They need that money, Lenny. And now, if we cant agree a settlement, everything may have to be sold. Leonard recalled the place where he had spent so many wonderful childhood years, and his face set grimly. I swear Ill behave honourably towards everyone who is owed money, but at the same time, Ill fight tooth and nail to keep the land. The other man heard the passion in his clients voice and saw how his fists instinctively clenched. Weve done all we can, he assured him. Tomorrow morning will tell us if it was enough. Despairing but not altogether without hope, Leonard returned to his hotel in Beacon Hill. So preoccupied was he, he hardly noticed the pretty cobblestoned streets and grand old townhouses that characterised this famed quarter of Boston. Feverishly, he went through his notes yet again, then packed them away into his briefcase. He glanced at the clock and, seeing how he had hours before he could sleep, slipped his jacket on and went out to find the nearest bar. Ordering a beer, he went to sit at a table in the corner, where he thought ahead to the imminent, all-important meeting with the creditors. How would they react to his offer? Would they accept it as the best course open to them? Or would they insist that the Kemp estate be sold and the monies split between them? Gulping down his beer, he felt nervous and worried. What if it all went wrong? What if the estate went to auction and was lost forever? Certainly he could never afford to bid for it. What if this what if that. His mind was in a whirl. With so much at stake, tomorrow could not come quickly enough. The following morning, Leonard climbed out of bed, weary from lack of sleep and eager to be on his way. He showered and shaved and put on a clean shirt and an expensive silk tie that Patricia had bought for him. Looking at his image in the mirror he shook his head. God Almighty, look at the state of you! With dark circles under his eyes and wisps of unruly hair protruding from behind his ears, he presented a sorry picture. Leonard Maitland, youre a damned mess. Slicking back the clumps of hair, he fastened his jacket, straightened his tie and turned away. He was ready to do battle. And with that he went smartly out of the room. Farley Kemp had borrowed money from many sources, but the largest slice of debt was owed to a major bank. The meeting was scheduled to take place there. The doorman whistled up a cab. Handing him a dime for his trouble, Leonard climbed in and gave directions to the bank. Settling himself into his seat with the all-important documents on his lap, he peered out at the Boston streets, seeing nothing. On arriving at his destination, he paid the cabbie and watched him drive away. For a long, pensive moment he stood on the sidewalk looking up at the building; an imposing structure with dark-suited businessmen arriving and departing through its doors. This was the place where his future would be decided. As he came out of the elevator, he could hear them: the shuffle and bustle of many people in one room; the scraping of chairs and the pacing of footsteps; and as he opened the door to the offices, he could almost smell their anger. Suddenly, a cloak of silence fell over the room as all eyes turned to look at him. Nervous and unsure, he nodded, his confident smile belying the turmoil inside. Very well, gentlemen. Justin Lovatt took the chair. Were all here now, so we may as well get started. Everyone present made their way to the large oval table in the centre of the room. When they were seated, Leonard noted that some men were softly talking, while others sat in silence, looking angry and morose. All had but one purpose in mind: to get their money back. When he had first entered the room, his eyes were instinctively drawn to a large, bespectacled man who, seeming to keep his distance from the others, was staring out of the window. It was he who now voiced what everyone else was thinking. Mr Lovatt, before you begin proceedings, can I just tell you this. All we want is to get back what we lent in good faith. His voice was surprisingly calm and soft. We all have businesses to run, so lets get on with it. Two hours later, they were still getting on with it. An hour into the meeting, the men were on their feet, declaring with raised voices that they wanted every cent back and would not settle for half measures. No amount of persuasion from Justin Lovatt could convince them of any other way forward. Deeply frustrated and losing hope, Leonard asked permission to speak. He was initially greeted with a hubbub of noise from enraged men who would not be pacified, but then the big, bespectacled man called for order. Let Farley Kemps grandson speak, he said firmly. He is not to blame for his grandfathers mismanagement, so give him a chance. Were getting nowhere like this. Standing up amongst them, Leonard looked round the table at the faces of these men whom his grandfather had known well; men who had trusted him to repay what they lent in good faith and he felt ashamed. Clearing his throat, he began to speak. Firstly, I want to say how I understand your anger. You trusted my grandfather and he let you down badly, and I apologise for that. I know that, despite the Crash, some of you could well afford to lose the money if you had to when they began loudly protesting, he put up his hand please, if you will just let me have my say. When they were again attentive, he went on, Im not saying that you will or should lose any money. Of course you want your money back and rightly so. And there are those amongst you who cannot afford to lose what you lent. I know that and Im here today to try and settle matters one way or another. He looked at the documents lying on the table before him, and a great sense of bitterness overwhelmed him. His grandfathers reputation was shattered forever; there was family honour at stake, and a debt to pay, and it was up to him to pacify these men who had put their trust in a man who had betrayed them and reneged on his debts. What could he say to appease them? How could he put things right? He was so deep in his reverie that he had not realised how long his lapse of concentration was; until he heard them shifting impatiently in their seats, and their exchanged whispers as they grew restless. See here, Mr Maitland: have you got our money or not thats all we need to know. That was the sallow-faced, grey-suited man on the far end. Thats right! another voice joined in. Have you brought our money from England? No! he answered truthfully. Strong and clear, his stark words echoed across the room, effectively silencing everyone. I have money for you, yes, but it isnt what you might have hoped. What in hell does that mean? The voices began to rise. If youre here to waste our time, we might as well leave now. All we want is our money back, God dammit. Gentlemen, this is the situation, Leonard quickly explained. I have a farm in England, which I can sell tomorrow and I will. But it wont make enough to clear all the debts. Since Ive been here Ive raised as much money as I can, but even with the sale of my own farm, it still isnt sufficient to cover the total sums owed. Before they could start protesting again, he went swiftly on. Ive gone through everything with Mr Lovatt here, and weve calculated that you will get back seventy per cent of whats owed Seventy per cent! The voices began again. What the hell use is that? We wont settle for less than what were owed! Plus interest! So, this is all a waste of our time? You got us here under false pretences. Jesus! Youre no better than your grandfather! The rage threatened to erupt. At this point Justin Lovatt stood up and called for quiet. Mr Maitland has come a long way, and gone to a lot of trouble to try and sort out his familys debts, which are not I repeat not of his making. I believe you are all men enough to appreciate what hes been trying to do. The least you can do now is give him a fair hearing. Something in his words seemed to calm them and with all eyes on Leonard they listened to what he had to say. He told them how he could do no more than he had already done, and that, If you wait for the Kemp estate to go to action, you may well end up with even less than Im offering you now. You have copies in front of you, showing the proof that I am in a position to deliver seventy per cent of what you lent out. Its signed, sealed and can be delivered. With an auction, you can never be sure; it all depends on the day and how many people want the property, or can afford it. As you know to your cost, the value of the property has been badly affected by the slump in the world economy. Hes right. One man who so far had remained silent spoke out. The farmstead is still a valuable asset, and sold to the right buyer, we may get lucky. But if there arent enough buyers to force up the price He raised his palms in a gesture of surrender. Like the man said we could end up worse off. Seeing how the tide might turn in their favour, Justin Lovatt intervened. Mr Maitland and I will leave the room for a while. You all have copies of the documents in front of you, which will verify whats been put forward: seventy per cent of what you are owed, without uncertainty, and without prejudice. Read the documents, and if youre in favour of accepting, well make it watertight in your favour. He paused, before going on in sombre voice, If, however, you decide to take your chances at auction, then so be it. The meeting will end right there. With that he summoned Leonard to go with him, and together they departed the room. In the outer hall, Leonard voiced his concern. There are a few in there who would rather wait and see what happens at the auction, he said. And who knows, maybe the estate will bring in more than enough to pay them off. All we can do is wait and see. The decision is in their hands and we have no choice but to abide by it. As a lawyer Justin was philosophical. He had seen it all before and there was no telling which way it would go. They had been waiting an hour and a half before the nondescript man in the grey suit came out to tell them, Weve come to a decision of sorts. As they followed him to the boardroom, Leonard looked at Justin and mouthed the words, Of sorts? Justin shook his head, meaning that he didnt quite know what that meant either. When they entered the room, it was instantly apparent that the men were more at ease; the big man actually smiled at them as they walked to their places. Weve looked through all the documents, he began, and it was obvious they had elected him to be spokesman, and Im afraid we still want our pound of flesh. Leonards heart sank, then rose again at his next words. We accept your offer but with certain conditions. He looked around the room, making sure everyone was still of the same mind. When he received the nods, he went on, No one here is prepared to accept any less than the full figure they are owed. Leonards heart sank again. The big man continued, To that end, we will accept the offer, but with a legal proviso that the remaining thirty per cent is paid within a period of two years. So there you have it. That is our unanimous decision. Accept it, or well take our chances at the auction. Realising it had come as a shock to Leonard, Justin spoke on his behalf. You all know my part in this, he reminded them. The decision does not rest with me. I cant say whether Mr Maitland can or cannot comply with what you ask. All I can say is, he and I need to talk. I request that you give us twenty-four hours to consider. A hush came over the room and all eyes turned to Leonard. Head bent and heart heavy, he was lost. He frantically sought a way out and could see none. He had been prepared to sell his farm in England and borrow money on top of that, in order to keep his beloved grandfathers homestead in the family, where it belonged, but now he saw it all slipping away. To consent to this would cripple him financially. A sense of urgency galvanised his thoughts. You only get one precious moment which can change the course of your life forever. This was his moment. If he let it go now, he knew there would never be another. Looking up, he saw them all anxiously waiting for his response. A kind of madness took hold of him. Straightening his shoulders, he thanked Justin then turned to sweep his gaze across the sea of faces all intent on him; his eyes falling on the big man last. I accept your offer, he said simply. One way or another, you will all get your money. There was a brief silence, then a cheer went up. The relief in the air was palpable. The big man came over to Leonard and asked if he could shake him by the hand. Farley would have been proud of you, he said quietly. Good luck. The next day, as he boarded the liner which would take him home to England, Leonard wondered if he had done the right thing. Even now he wasnt sure how he might repay the debt he had inherited from his grandfather. Yet he had given his word. The money was pledged and somehow, he would find a way. Once upon a time, the Farley Kemp holdings had been a thriving, lucrative business and it could become so again. Especially if he was to bring Barney across the Atlantic. They worked well together, he and his Farm Manager. If anyone could help him rebuild the estate and restore the place to its former glory, it was Barney Davidson. And the thought of having Vicky close at hand was wonderful. He had dreaded saying goodbye to her. With that in mind, Leonard locked his cabin door and made his way to the nearest bar, where he ordered a large whisky. Ive earned it, he told the barman. Ive just taken the biggest gamble of my life! Chapter 13 (#ulink_a65c4035-9675-5e38-af6e-6dcf1b73def7) HAVING INFORMED PATRICIA of the date he would return, Leonard half-expected her to be waiting for him when he disembarked at Liverpool. Unfortunately, she was nowhere to be seen, even though he lingered for almost an hour, walking up and down searching every avenue in case he should miss her. Finally he hailed a taxi and, bitterly disappointed, travelled back alone. He knew the house would be clean and tidy, thanks to his daily woman, Mrs Riley, who ran the place and used Lucy Baker on a Saturday to do any extra jobs. But it would be cold and lonely, too. Arriving at The Manse he paid the driver and went inside; where the warm, earthy aroma of fresh bread filled his nostrils and took him straight to the kitchen. Why, its young Lucy! He was astonished to see her, sleeves rolled up, taking a crusty-baked loaf out of the oven. Welcome home, Mr Maitland, she said with a shy smile. Vicky offered to look after Jamie so I could nip in and make you some supper, after your long journey. Theres mushroom soup to go with the bread. I didnt think youd want anything too heavy, so late in the day. Oh, and Ive lit a fire downstairs and one in your bedroom. I hope thats all right? She looked anxious. He smiled. Its more than all right its a wonderful welcome. Thank you, my dear, for being so very thoughtful. More thoughtful than his so-called fiance, he thought. Lucy took off her pinny and went to get her coat and hat. Dont slice the bread while its still warm, she urged. Itll only squash up and you wont get a clean slice. Ill let it cool, he promised. Now go home and get some rest. All he wanted was to be alone, put his feet up, eat from a tray and enjoy a strong drink. Theres a chill in the air. He held Lucys coat open for her. It was cold in Boston, too. Good night, Mr Maitland. Its good to see you back. Lucy hoped she wasnt being too familiar. She was rather in awe of Leonard. He smiled. Its lovely to be home, he told her. By ten oclock that evening, Leonard had bathed and changed, eaten three slices of the best bread he had ever tasted, dipped into a sizeable bowl of hot, thick mushroom soup; the whole lot washed down by two cups of tea and a tot of best whisky. God, it was good to be back by his own fireside. Yawning, he was thinking about going to bed when a moment later, he was taken by surprise when the door opened and in walked Patricia, done up in all her finery and looking especially beautiful. Purring like a kitten she wrapped herself round him. You smell delicious, she whispered, caressing him and deeply arousing him. Ive missed you, my darling. Summoning all his courage, he drew away. Did you now? he asked cynically. So, why did you forget to meet me at the docks? She gave a long, impatient sigh. I didnt forget, she answered rather petulantly. It was just well, I went shopping. I wanted to look my very best when you saw me. It got late, and by the time I reached the dock, you must have already left. So, you would rather go shopping than come and meet me, is that it? Her expression hardened. No but does it really matter? Im here now, arent I? Having moved away when she saw he was angry, she now came at him again, her avaricious eyes appraising his body and her roving hands touching him in all the right spots. Im really sorry. She put her lips to his ears and softly blew. Ive missed you I want you so much. He wanted her too. All the while he had been in Boston he had wondered if he should end his engagement the minute he got home. But now, when she was close like this, and his need was pressing, he had little control. He was a man, with a mans hunger, and here she was, a beautiful woman, his fiance, freely offering herself to him. So, he took her hand and walked her to the foot of the stairs, where he swept her into his arms and carried her up to his bedroom, lit and warmed by the fire Lucy had set earlier. He carried her inside and closed the door behind them. And they did not come out until morning. It was eight-thirty the next morning when he took Patricia home to her parents grand house on the other side of Liverpool. Ill see you later, she told him. We can talk more about your trip to Boston then. Im sure Daddy will loan you all the money you need, then there will be no need to sell Overhill Farm. Or you could still sell it and start a different business nothing to do with farming. I think that would be a good idea, dont you? Ive already said, I dont want you discussing my business with your father, Leonard said tightly. Why ever not? For reasons you would not understand. This woman was suffocating him. All right, but I think youre being selfish. Dear God. Like you said, Ill see you later. He couldnt trust himself to say anything else at that moment. As he watched her go inside, he thought, The more you open your mouth, the more I realise we will never be suited. At that moment in time, Leonard was not only concerned about his relationship with Patricia. There was Barney and his entire family to think of now. How would they take the news that the farm was being sold from under them? And what would Barneys answer be, when Leonard asked him to come with him to America? And even if Barney agreed, what of Vicky and the three children? Would they be prepared to leave behind everything they knew? Only now when he was home, did Leonard come to realise how huge a step he was taking, giving up his life here, moving back to the States, taking up his grandfathers crumbling business and starting it again from scratch, already deep in debt. In the end, for whatever reason, he was now embarking on a lonely, daunting journey. Early the following morning, Leonard drove into Liverpool. As always, the city was a busy, vibrant place, despite the serious problems of poverty and unemployment. When he found the address he was looking for, Leonard drew into the kerb and parked. A sign hanging above the offices read: W.H. Brewer & SonLand Agents Leonard had dealt before with the tall, whiskery-faced man inside, who greeted him now with: Ah, good morning, Mr Maitland. How can I help you, sir? He pulled out a chair in his office for Leonard to sit on. Mr Brewer was always very polite, particularly with a man of Mr Maitlands admirable character. Moreover, Leonard was a good customer, having piece by piece expanded his landholding until it was now some 400 acres in total. While shaking hands he informed Leonard, If youve come looking for land, Im afraid there is absolutely nothing at the moment. Investing in land is being seen as a reliable option these days; we have it one minute and its gone the next. Oh and the prices are on the up and up all the while. Leonard could hardly conceal his delight. He had been basing his own valuation of the land on rather pessimistic calculations. This is good news for me, he answered, because Im here to sell my entire holding. The other man was visibly shocked. Everything? Are you sure? he asked. The farm and the house and outbuildings, too? Everything, Leonard confirmed, although I havent yet decided what to do about my old gardeners cottage. Really? The agent was intrigued. From what I can recall, its little more than a ruin? Leonard nodded. Well yes, it is, and Ive done nothing to it since hes been left these past years. Its a tiny place, with only one bedroom, and a scullery a man can hardly turn about in. Im sorry to say its been left to the elements; the little garden is shamefully overgrown, and the whole place is somewhat tumbledown. But I may have a mind to hang on to it so Id appreciate it if you would exclude it from the sale. What about Barney Davidsons cottage? The agent knew how Leonard valued Barney and his sons. Hopefully, he wont be needing the cottage, came the reply. I have other, more rewarding plans for him and his family. Thoughtfully, Mr Brewer stroked his finger along his beard. I should think we could get a substantial amount for that lot, came the welcome answer. In fact, I could sell it tomorrow to a gentleman who has been searching for a property such as yours. But it would be best if we trod extra carefully on this one, he said sagely. Of course I shall inform the gentleman straight away, but I will also inform some of my other clients, who might be interested in acquiring smaller parcels of land rather than the whole. Leonard knew only too well that buyers ambitions were always dictated by the amount of capital they could raise. He thought of his own circumstances. If he had been able to pay off his grandfathers debts without selling his own land, he would not be in this office today. Sometimes, for whatever reason, a man may have more need of a smaller parcel of land, the agent went on. But this can work well in our favour. He explained. We could sell off say, three hundred acres either in a single lot, or if you preferred, we could separate it into smaller units. That would leave one hundred acres with the house which is a small farm in itself. This way, the sale will attract more money, or at the very least it will create competition, which will return a far more handsome price than if we went straight to the gentleman in question and sold him the entire holding. Leonard liked the idea. Let them fight it out between them is that what youre saying? The Land Agents smile was positively wicked. Of course, let them fight it out. And why not? So they got down to facts and figures, and when the meeting was over, Leonard dared to hope that if all went well, he might even be able to pay the US creditors every single dollar they were owed. With that in mind, he got back into his car and drove straight to Overhill Farm, where he found Vicky standing on a box, singing to herself and cleaning the kitchen windows. When he saw her, he slowed down, his mood brightening even further at the sight of the small, familiar figure, her long silken hair gently lifted by the cool breeze. And now as she stretched on tiptoe to reach the upper part of the panes, his eyes were drawn to her slim, shapely ankles and calves. Youre a lucky man, Barney Davidson, he whispered, and now, as she turned to look straight at him, his heart did a dance inside his chest so he could hardly breathe. Morning, Vicky. His voice gave nothing away as he climbed out of the car and went towards her. I wonder if I might have a word with Barney. Is he around? Sorry, Mr Maitland, hes out in Top Field, she said, preparing to clamber off the box. She was taken by surprise when Leonard reached his hands round her waist and lifted her down without effort. Hes checking the sheep, she said, her face flushing pink. I can fetch him if you like? No, its all right, Leonard said. Best not disturb him at his work. What I have to say can wait until this evening. Are you sure? It wont take above five minutes for me to fetch him. I can settle you with a cup of tea before I go? Vickys curiosity was heightened; it wasnt often the boss came down here to talk in the middle of the day. No, no, he told her. Its fine. But will you please tell him I called by, and that I have business to discuss with him. He paused, not wanting to alarm her. If you wouldnt mind, Vicky, Id like you to be there as well. In fact, what I have to say might concern all of you. Seeing her expression of concern, he quickly added, Id rather not discuss it now, but Ill be here at about eight. Will you have finished your evening meal by then? Well, yes, but what is it, Mr Maitland? Whats wrong? It all seems very serious. Youre not to worry, he said gently. Well talk this evening, then. Goodbye for now. Quickly, before she could ask any more questions, he climbed into the car and drove off, leaving Vicky in a quandary. Is everything all right? Lucy had seen Leonard leave and now, with Vicky seeming deep in thought, her happy singing silenced and the window-cloth hanging forgotten in her hand, she grew alarmed. He told me not to worry, Vicky answered, but its odd all the same. She raised her gaze to Lucy. Mr Maitland says he has business to discuss with me and Barney. Picking up her bucket she dumped the cloth in it and walked to the kitchen door. It all seems very serious to me, she told Lucy. Hes coming back tonight, after weve had our supper. Crikey! Lucy had become as close to this family as if she was born to it, and what affected them, was bound to affect her. What dyou reckon it could be, to fetch him out here at this time of day? And you say hes coming back again tonight There was something not right here, Lucy thought. Something was brewing and like Vicky she, too, was afraid. Her friend began pacing the kitchen floor. Im not sure what to do, Lucy, she said. Should I go and tell Barney now, or should I simply get on with my work and tell him when he comes home? Do you want my opinion? Lucy asked. Of course! Do what you just said wait till Barney gets home. Lets have a cup of tea and a sandwich like we allus do at this time of day, then well get on with our work and leave Barney to do the same. Tell him tonight, but not until after hes had his dinner, because if you tell him before, hell be so worried he wont eat. Youre right, lass, Vicky agreed. Thats what well do. While Lucy went to fetch Jamie from his nap, Vicky put the kettle on. Dear God, was there some sort of trouble in store? Just now, when everything was going so well, she prayed their lives were not about to be disrupted. In the sitting room, where Lucy was lifting the child from the pram, she had that same sense of dread. Mr Maitlands been here, she told little Jamie. It seems hes got business to discuss with Barney and Vicky. I cant imagine what it could be, but its important enough for him to come back and talk with them tonight. She tutted. I just hope it isnt bad news. She kissed his head and sat him on the little enamel potty for a minute or two chiding herself for thinking the worst. For all she knew, it might even be good news. And keeping that in mind, she took the little boy to join Vicky, who was just laying the table for the three of them. As she dragged the high chair across to the table, Lucy commented, Happen Mr Maitland is right and you shouldnt worry. I mean, it might be good news hes bringing tonight. Theres no reason why it should be anything bad, is there? No, there isnt! Vickys face lit in a smile. You could be right, lass it might be good news. The woman was glad of Lucys encouraging words. It could be something to do with buying another tractor, mebbe, or he might even be sending in the workmen to put a new roof on this place. Lord knows, its been leaking long enough. She gave a comical little laugh. Barneys repaired it so many times its beginning to look like a patchwork quilt. Going off to the scullery, she reappeared with a tray containing a pot of tea and four chunky ham-and-chutney sandwiches, together with a dish of soup for the child and an apple. Vicky took a hearty bite out of her sandwich. She chatted and laughed with the little boy and his mother, but all the while at the back of her mind was Leonards visit. Lucy liked to think the best. Vicky thought the worst. She also thought of that unexpected moment when their employer had put his hands round her waist and lifted her effortlessly to the ground Leonard Maitland is a kind man, she told Lucy now, unable to leave the subject for long. I cant imagine hes about to bring us bad news. Huh! Lucy spooned a helping of soup into her sons mouth. Its that woman hes chosen to be his wife whos the bad news. The poor man came all the way back from his long journey, and there wasnt anyone with him. Dont you think she should have met him off his ship? No, if you ask me, hell have a life of hell if he ever puts a ring on that ones finger. I hope not, Vicky answered quietly. Hes such a lovely man, he deserves a good marriage. Like you and your Barney, Lucy said. But not every marriage can be as good as yours, you know. Ive been fortunate, Vicky said wistfully. Oh Lucy, I love him so much! I dont know what Id do without him. God did a wonderful thing, when He brought me and my Barney together. Not for the first time, Lucy wondered if she would ever know that same kind of love. I wonder what Edward Trent is doing now? she said. Do you care? Vicky was surprised to hear the girl mention that mans name. Lucy shook her head. No. To tell you the truth, I dont know how I could ever have thought I loved him in the first place. Well, at least he gave you little Jamie. Vicky had come to love the child as if he was her own. Lucy gazed fondly at her son. I know its a sad thing to say, but I hope he grows up, never knowing his father. Vicky saw the bitterness in Lucys face and deliberately changed the subject. Uh-oh look at the time, she said. Lets finish the chores, and after that, you and young James should get yourselves home before it starts getting dark. Besides, you must be bone-tired. What with cleaning all the upstairs windows and changing every bed in the house, youve done two days work in one. I honestly dont know how I ever managed before you came to join us. Thank you, love. Are you sure? It was true Lucy was exhausted and there was nothing she wanted more right now than to go home for a well-earned rest. However, seeing how worried Vicky was, she offered, I dont mind staying to help prepare the evening meal. Im sure Barney or one of the boys would run me home. Vicky shook her head. Dont think Im not grateful, she told Lucy, but Im best off working. By the time Ive got the supper ready, Barney should be home. Soonever hes eaten, Ill tell him how Mr Maitlands coming by to visit. As she helped clear away the crockery, she added, almost to herself, I cant wait to know what business he has that he couldnt discuss with me especially as he said he wants me there when he talks with Barney. A short time later, Lucy left, holding the little boy by his hand. It wasnt far to walk back to the cottage. She often left the pram at Overhill Farm. I hope everything goes all right, she told Vicky. If you need me, you know where I am. At eight-thirty, Mr Maitland arrived. Welcoming him into the house, Barney took him straight through to the sitting room. Vicky tells me that this matter you need to talk through might affect us all. Thats right, Barney. Leonard glanced round the room. Your children not here then? Barney explained, My sons have gone to meet friends in Liverpool and Susie is taking extra tuition on the hat-making. There is no need for them to be here. If youre bringing bad news, its best that me and Vicky know first. That way we can talk to the young uns ourselves. I understand. Leonard had no way of knowing how all this might affect Barneys children. Even if Barney accepted his offer, the children might not. Youd best sit down. Barney gestured to the armchair, while he and Vicky sat side-by-side on the sofa. I might tell you, Ive been on pins since Vicky told me. Leonard sat down. He looked at the pair of them seated there, fine, kind-hearted people, hardworking as the day was long, and his heart sank within him. I have to tell you both he began. Then: This has not been the easiest day of my life. Barney looked him in the eye. So, it is bad news then? I suppose it all depends on how you see it. Leonard chose his words carefully as he went on, Ive come here tonight, firstly to explain the outcome of my trip to Boston, and secondly, to ask something of you both. He took a deep invigorating breath. What I have to tell you has been playing on my mind these past weeks. It will be a relief to have it out in the open. Im not like you, Barney, he said kindly. Ive always struggled to make friends. He smiled shyly. In fact, Id go so far as to say that you two are the nearest to friends that Ive got. I have no family no wife or children to talk things over with, so when I have problems, they often weigh heavy on my mind. When Barney seemed about to speak, he gestured for him to stop. I dont want you to say anything just yet, Barney. As you already know, I was summoned to Boston in order to learn the terms and conditions of my grandfathers Will, and to tie up any loose ends out there. He looked away momentarily as though in shame, and went on in a low voice: It was a great shock for me to learn that my grandfather had taken up gambling and was up to his neck in debt when he died, with all his land and properties on the point of being sold from under him. At the gasp of disbelief from Barney and Vicky, he got swiftly to the point. It means two things, he said, and each of them will affect you and your family, in at least one way that I can see. He went on in great detail, telling them how it had all come about, how he had worked every waking moment to save what he could. There had been sacrifices made, and his own future, as well as theirs, was now hanging in the balance. Im sorry to tell you that I have no option but to sell both The Manse and Overhill Farm. There was no other way to say it but straight out. Rendered speechless by the news, Barney stood up and with haggard eyes, he looked first at Leonard, and then at Vicky. His face white as chalk, he reached out for his wifes hand. Deeply concerned, she could only leave it to the men and hope they might salvage something worthwhile from this nightmare. Leonard would have given almost anything to remove the look of devastation on Barneys face. If there had been any other way, you know I would have taken it, he said helplessly, and wondered if there had been any kinder way he could have broken the news. He plunged on. I have many business contacts in the farming world, and Im sure I can get you a place locally, if its what you want. Oh, I know it will never be the same because youve been here all these years, but you only have to say the word and Ill find something you know I will. Barney nodded. Thank you for that, he said quietly, but youre right its small compensation. Ive been here so long, its as if Ive lived here all my life. My children have never known anything else. Leonard had one more thing to say before he left. There is one other option Pre-empting his words, Barney interrupted, If youre offering me first refusal of the farm, there is no way on Gods earth I could ever buy it. Im not a man of money, I never have been. Ive lived content year to year, raising my family and tending the land Leonard stopped him. Its not that, Barney. I know you havent the means to buy this farm, otherwise it would be yours. What Im asking of you now needs even more commitment from you, and your family. What do you mean? Barney was puzzled. What is it youre asking? Leonard glanced at Vicky; sad-faced and twining her fingers together in her lap, she was obviously deeply disturbed by events. Ive managed to save my grandfathers estate, he began. It took some doing and Ive never been in so much debt in my entire life, but I couldnt let it go without doing my damnedest to keep it. Im pleased for you, Mr Maitland. Barney was magnanimous in his own disappointment. I know how much you loved that place. Youve talked about it that many times, I almost feel I know it myself. Thats excellent! Barneys remarks took Leonard naturally into his proposition. How would you like to see it, Barney you and your family? He looked again at Vicky, who was intent on his every word. While Barney was momentarily taken aback, it was she who replied. What exactly do you mean? In tender, persuasive tones he told her what he had in mind. Its my dearest wish for all of you to come with me. I would like Barney and your sons to help me run the farm, and for yourself to take charge of the house. As for young Susie, there are any number of milliners in Boston its a very smart place who will teach her the trade, if thats what she really wants. With the two of them shocked into silence, he leaned forward, hands on his knees and his eyes pleading with them each in turn. Barney Vicky, please think about it. It would mean so much to me, if you would agree. When Barney spoke now, it was with a surge of emotion that trembled in his voice. But why? he asked. Why would you want me and my family, when you could employ the best that money could buy? In Barneys face, Leonard could see the tiniest glimmer of hope. Oh Barney, dont you know that youre the best there is! Thats why I want you because I know the calibre of you, and I know that the homestead would be in good hands. He grew tremendously excited. Not only would I be taking the very best, but Id be taking with me people I consider to be my friends good people whom Ive known for many a year. He actually laughed out loud. Oh, you cant imagine what its like over there. In Massachusetts, theres so much sky, you think it goes on forever! And the land You could ride for half a day before you reach its borders. Boston itself is the capital three hundred years old and full of history. Not everything in America is like Charlie Chaplin, you know! He chuckled merrily. By now he was on his feet. Say youll come. Please, talk to your family. Tell them how it will be. Youll have a house twice the size of this one, and a garden to lose yourself in. Theres an orchard yes, its overgrown now, but well soon get it round. Please! Say youll accept this challenge. I wont let you down, and if after a while youre not happy there, Ill pay for you to come back, and Ill find you a house and work into the bargain. What dyou say? Barney Vicky? Will you come? Suddenly Barney was laughing; the look of joy on Vickys face urged him on. A moment later he was shaking Leonard by the hand. If the family are all in agreement, then our answer is yes, oh YES! In the space of a moment his despair was replaced by a sense of joy. In the excitement that followed, Vicky kissed Barney and then she kissed Leonard, and he was overjoyed. Talk to your sons and Susie, he said. Tell them how wonderful a life it will be. Barney promised he would. Such an opportunity! he declared. A new start a new life. I cant thank you enough, he told Leonard. Its the most amazing thing! A short time later, Leonard hurried away to collect Patricia. Behind him he could hear the Davidsons old phonograph belting out some Dixieland jazz, and through the window as he drove off, he saw Barney take Vicky into his arms and wing her across the room. He smiled for them, the smile fading as he thought ahead to his meeting with his fiance. Would it ever be like that with him and Patricia? In subdued mood, he answered his own question: no. He couldnt see it somehow. Screeching the car to a halt, he did a three-point turn and took the lane that would lead him home. When he arrived at The Manse, he was surprised to find Patricia already there, emerging from a taxi. Once inside the house, she turned to him and said, Look here, Lenny. Ive decided I cant come with you to America, so if you want me for your wife, you will just have to forget your foolhardy plan. And is your mind absolutely made up? he asked quietly. It is. Then you dont give me any choice, Patricia. Whats that supposed to mean? It means our engagement is over. I know now that we can never make a future together. You cant say that! Youre not thinking straight. When he continued to stand his ground, even when she nuzzled him and tried her usual wiles, she took a step back and eyed him with suspicion. Theres another woman, isnt there? Her eyeballs stood out like two glittering marbles. Youve been cheating on me. American, is she? Met her over there, did you? With every accusation her voice rose until now it was at screaming pitch. There is no other woman, he answered steadily. Like I said, I can no longer see us in a future together. We want different things, Pat. Thats the truth of it. In a swift and spiteful move that caught him unawares, she brought her hand across his face, leaving her fingernail marks down the side of his cheek. YOU BASTARD! Still spitting obscenities, she stormed down the steps and marched off at breakneck speed towards the village. Breathing a deep sigh of relief, Leonard felt as though a great burden was lifted from his shoulders. Im truly sorry it turned out this way, he muttered after her; and he really was. Softly, he repeated her angry words. Theres another woman, isnt there? He smiled. Yes, Patricia, there is another woman. But she isnt American. In fact, shes only an arms reach from here. He knew now, without any doubt, that he was head over heels in love with Vicky. However, just as the relationship between himself and Patricia could never evolve, nor could the one between himself and Vicky but for very different reasons. Part 3 (#ulink_34a39a19-f7c4-552d-9ffe-908c5413b0c7) Onset of Winter, 1930 A Choice for Barney Chapter 14 (#ulink_6b1dfc46-3c88-5189-8b16-deabe2ef70d1) AFTER THEIR PARENTS euphoria, the Davidson children reacted to Leonards offer in different ways. Id rather stay here, Susie said, in confrontational mood. Look, love, Ive already told you. We cant stay here, Barney explained for the third time. Mr Maitland has been forced to sell this farm to help pay off his grandfathers debts. Listen to your father, sweetheart. Vicky despaired. Whether we like it or not, this farm is being sold. It isnt Mr Maitlands fault, and it isnt our fault. Its the circumstances we all find ourselves in. We would all love to stay here, but we cant, and so we have to accept things the way they are. Unlike Susie, Thomas was thrilled at the news. Youre being right selfish, he told his younger sister now. The fact is, were left with three choices. Either we take work in the Liverpool area, or we move away and hope something turns up that will suit everybody. Or we accept Mr Maitlands generous offer and be thankful. Think about it, Susie! AMERICA! There are many girls your age who would give their right arm for the chance weve been offered! They can have it then! Kicking the rug at her feet, Susie folded her arms and slumped into a chair. Because I dont want to go. Gesturing for the others to leave the room, Barney went and sat on the arm of her chair. What is it that worries you? he asked gently. Is it because youll be leaving your friends behind? If it is, you can always keep in touch. You can write to each other and later, maybe, they can even come and visit. How can they? Now the tears were falling. America is the other side of the world! Naw youve got that wrong, pet. Sliding his arm round her shoulders, he drew her close. I wont deny it is a long way, he coaxed, but its not the end of the world. Look at Mr Maitland hes gone over and come back twice this year, hasnt he? Susie looked up, her eyes swimming with tears. Im frightened, Daddy. It cut him to the quick to see his daughter upset like this. Theres nothing to be frightened of. Barney put his hand under her chin and raised her face to his. Do you think me and your mammy would want to take you, if we thought youd come to any harm? He smiled his reassurance. Trust me, well take good care of you, my darling. Kissing the top of her head, he drew her closer. When youve seen the ships going away, how many times have you said to me that youd love to be on one of them? Well, now you can! Looking up, she gave a shaky smile. I didnt think it could ever really happen. Well, now it has. Look, we can sail off to America and try to make a new life, and if it doesnt work out, Mr Maitland has promised to pay our fare back. But we have to give it a chance, because everybody is so excited to be going, and like Thomas said, its a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And later, when weve saved enough money, we can come back for a visit. Would you like that? With the tip of his finger he wiped away the tears that quivered on the end of her lashes. I think so. At last a brighter smile. Yes, Daddy, Id like that. Barney nodded. Then thats what well aim for saving enough money between us to come back for a visit. Do you promise? He hesitated, that small grain of dark instinct holding him back. I promise Ill do my very best. So will I, she said eagerly. You said Mr Maitland told you I could get work with one of the hat-shops, and they would teach me the trade? Yes. Thats what the man said all right. Barney was relieved to see a glimmer of enthusiasm. It would break his heart to force her into something that made her desperately unhappy. Maybe one day, I might have my own shop in Boston? Barney laughed. You might at that, he said. Work hard and save, and who knows what the future holds? For all of us, he added silently. He only hoped his health would hold up through the trials and thrills that lay ahead. Having placed herself where they could not see her, Vicky watched from the doorway. Deeply moved by Barneys understanding of his daughters fears she had wiped away a tear or two, but now that she could see how Barney had somehow managed to dispel Susies fears, she crept quietly away. Once Susie had run off to tell Vicky how she meant to have her own shop in America, Barney let himself slide down into the chair, where for a time he sat, lost in thought and deeply disturbed. Giving a long, shivering sigh, he instinctively placed a hand on his heart. No, Susie lass, none of us knows what the future holds. A dark premonition rippled through his soul. He was startled when his wife came rushing in. Barney Davidson, you could charm the birds right out of the trees! She threw herself into his lap. One minute shes refusing to go, and now shes full of dreams. Somehow shes got the idea into her head that shes going to own a string of shops, right across America! Barney smiled contentedly. Let her dream, he murmured, drawing her into his embrace. If we dont have dreams, how can they ever come true? His own dream had come true, the day he met this darling woman. Content to be silent, husband and wife sat awhile together. It was a moment of quietness in a love that was both deep and fulfilling; one of those rare and precious moments that each of them would cherish to the end of their days. The following morning, when Lucy was told the news by an emotional Vicky, she didnt know whether to be thrilled for the Davidsons, or sad for herself. Its a wonderful opportunity, she said, suppressing her fears. You must go, Vicky, you and Barney, and the family. While Vicky was explaining how it all came about, Barney strolled into the kitchen. Hello, Lucy, love. Vickys told you then? He had been concerned as to how the young woman might take the news. She ran to hug him. Im so excited for you! she told him sincerely. But Ill miss you all so very much. The tears were close but she would not let them be seen, not now, not when these good folk were so looking forward to their new adventure. Whatever will I do without you? At the back of her mind she couldnt help but wonder where she and her boy might live. Well miss you too dreadfully. Vicky looked at Jamie and her lips quivered. She hugged him, then opened the kitchen cupboard so he could sit and play with the saucepans and wooden spoons. Well, Ill tell you one thing, Lucy girl. Barney sat her down. You wont need to worry about being out of work. Ive just come from giving our answer to the boss, and Ive spoken to him about you. He says youll have work with whoever buys the farm, hell make sure its written into the contract of sale. It was a great relief to Lucy. Oh Barney, how can I ever thank you? She felt quite weak at the knees. Without a job and a home, she and Jamie would be in dire straits. Dont thank me, he protested. Thank the boss, and thank the fella whos buying the farm. Its good news all round. The Land Agent has already been out this morning to tell him hes got a buyer, agent whos been looking for such a property as this, and because he means to grab this place afore anybody else, and prevent it being split up and sold off hes offered fifty guineas above the asking price. Vicky was amazed. Good Lord! And did Mr Maitland accept it? He most certainly did. He gave an aside wink to Vicky, who was thrilled to hear Lucy would not be put out of work. Whats more Barneys smile grew wider as he looked at the two women in turn, Mr Maitland says Lucy can stay in the cottage, he told them, its because hes got such a good price, and Im to tell you straight off, hes not selling the cottage with the farm. Because its such a tiny place with so much that needs doing, it has little or no value so neither Mr Maitland nor the agent could see it as making any difference to the value of the overall holding. Its all been agreed. Unable to keep the news any longer, he blurted it out with a shout of triumph. Its yours, Lucy girl! he laughed with the sheer joy of it. He drew in a long breath and blowing it out through his nose he took hold of Lucy by the shoulders, his voice lower, more intimate. Now then, what have you to say to that, eh? For the moment Lucy could say nothing because not only had the news rocked her to the roots, but she was completely lost for words. Instead she stared at Barney with big shocked eyes, her lips quivering, and her heart pounding ten to the dozen. I cant believe it, the words stumbled out. The cottage is it really mine? Thats right, Lucy girl its yours. Mr Maitland says to tell you hell be along to see you shortly, and that youre not to worry, because everything will be done legal. This calls for another celebration! Rushing to the cupboard, Vicky took out the best glasses and a bottle of her homemade wine. Barney raised his glass. To our new life and to Lucy, our dear friend who, along with young Jamie here, will never again be without a roof over her head. It was the most bitter-sweet emotion for Lucy. She found it hard to believe her own good fortune, but while she was thanking the Good Lord, she paused again to think of how it would be when Barney and his family were gone. Even in the midst of her joy, the thought of losing them forever was a sad, lonely thought. Are you all right, Barney? It was two oclock in the morning when Vicky woke to find herself alone in bed. Half-asleep and bleary-eyed she rolled sideways, looking towards the window, where Barneys shadowy figure was just visible in the dim light. Whats wrong, pet, cant you sleep? Still breathless from the chest pains which had woken him, Barney sshed her. Go back to sleep, love. I cant. Not until you come back into bed. In the past weeks, Barney had learned to hide his pain and put on a brave face; it had become like second nature to him. Taking a deep breath, he painted on a smile and managing the few paces to the bed, he climbed in. Now will you go to sleep? He wriggled down the bed, avoiding touching her, having stood at the window for some time, he had become chilled. Instinctively, she turned and wrapped her arm around the girth of his belly. Brrr! she shivered. Youre freezing! How long have you been stood there at the window? Not long, he lied. Now go to sleep. Worry marbled her voice. Are you all right? Im fine. Are you worried about moving to Boston? Is that what woke you? No. I think it was a touch of indigestion. Before she could protest, he added, I ate a bite from a cooking apple, and you know how sour they are. You shouldnt eat them, then! I know, but they looked so tempting. There was a groan. Barney Davidson, will you never learn? Go to sleep now, Vicky. Its only three a.m. And are you really not worried about moving to Boston? No, why should I be? No reason. I just wondered, thats all. Are you worried, sweetheart? You can tell me if you are. There came a sigh. I would tell you if I was worried, but Im not. To tell you the truth, Im really excited! Oh, I know there are things and people here that Ill miss, but who wouldnt look forward to a brand new start? And like you said, its not the end of the world. Oh Barney! It will be such an adventure, and the children are all looking forward to a new life there even our Susie, thanks to you. She gave him a squeeze. Youre such an understanding father, Barney. That little chat you had with her did all the good in the world. In that quiet, opportune moment Barney might have confided in her; he might have confessed how he had been suffering such pain of late, and how sometimes he could hardly stand up straight for the cramp in his chest. But when he turned to her, Vicky had rolled over onto her back and was fast asleep. Barney did not sleep though. Instead he waited a while, then he slipped out of bed again and slumped into the chair, where he remained head in hands and his heart pounding, until the sun peeped over the horizon, then he got quietly back into bed. Even then he did not sleep, but planned his day. This morning, he had to call in on Adam. He had promised to lend his old pal a helping hand with the tractor he was working on. Afterwards, he would go and see Dr Lucas and tell him his troubles. Who knows? he thought hopefully. It might even turn out that he was worrying about nothing at all. Finally he slipped into a shallow, unsettled slumber, where he dreamed of ships sailing away and his family always just out of reach, and when he woke with a start, Vicky was already out of bed and dressing. Wake up, Sleepyhead, she teased him. Its time to start the day. As she went out of the room, she called over her shoulder, By the time you get downstairs, Ill have the ham and eggs on your plate ready and waiting. As always, Vicky was as good as her word. Twenty minutes later, the whole family was tucking into one of Vickys renowned and substantial cooked breakfasts. Thankfully, the endless chatter pushed Barneys worries to the back of his mind; while enjoying a generous helping of Vickys speciality, he took a discreet look around the table. There were Ronnie and Thomas, arguing as usual, this time about which one of them might beat the other in a horse-race. Youre even frightened to jump the brook at the narrow end, Ronnie tormented his brother, but not me! Im not afraid to jump my horse over anything. Thats only because youve got the best horse, his brother replied. You ride the mare, and she has the heart of a lion. You know how scared of water the stallion is. Ronnie sniggered. Its not the stallion thats scared, its you! Thomas put down his knife and fork. Right, little brother! What about a race across the wide end of the brook and up to the far end of Down Field? What? Not likely! Youve got to be out of your mind. Down Field is full of potholes. Whereupon Vicky cautioned them, and the subject was dropped. Barney loved family mealtimes, when everyone sat down together and talked, when laughter and noise and arguments happened, and you felt as though you belonged to something very special. He watched Vicky forking the two extra ham slices onto Ronnies plate and smiled to himself. She was the bedrock of this family. She was his first reason for living. His gaze wandered to Susie, and his smile became a burst of laughter. What in Gods name is that on your head? She thinks its about to rain, Ronnie teased. No! Thomas had another idea. Shes worried the ceiling might fall in, thats what it is. Indignant, Susie defended her new creation. Its my new design, she explained. Miss Dandy said I should take home this material and make a hat, the like of which has never been seen before. Is that so? Trying his damnedest not to laugh, Barney looked at the hat; it was a sickly green, with a white feather sticking out of the top and a brim so wide that Susies little face was almost hidden. He tried to think of something constructive to say, and came out with: Well, Ive never seen anything like it before, and I dont suppose anyone else has. So do you think shell be pleased? Well He huffed and puffed, and didnt know quite what to say. I just think shell be amazed! Flabbergasted, more like! Ronnie commented. Youve done well. As always, Thomas was supportive. Not everyone could make a hat like that. Suddenly Vicky was rocking in her chair, helpless with laughter, tears running down her face. Oh, darling girl. She couldnt speak for laughing. Its the most comical hat Ive ever seen. Open-mouthed, everyone stared at her. MUM! Thomas was shocked. Barney could hardly believe his eyes and Susie was close to tears. Ronnie, however, like his mammy could see the humour in what was the worst example of hat-making there could ever be. His face began to crumple and then he hooted and now he was laughing so hard he was bent double over the table. Youre horrible! Hurt, Susie stared from one to the other. It took me half the night to make this! But in that moment when she got up to storm off, the hat fell over her eyes and she couldnt see where she was going. In a moment the place was in uproar, with everyone shrieking with laughter; and now even Susie saw the funny side. I bet you lot couldnt make a hat like this! she spluttered, and they all agreed wholeheartedly. The meal ended as always, with good humour, and a short discussion as to what part each man would play in the days labours. Right! Ill leave you to it then, Barney said. As he went out, Lucy came in. Morning, lass. Like the rest of the Davidson clan, he had a real soft spot for her. Morning, Barney! Before Lucy had even got her coat off, Vicky had poured her a cup of tea and was already taking Jamies coat and leggings off. Barney gave Lucy a cheery parting wink and went merrily on his way, while behind him, Susie lost no time in telling Lucy how cruel they had all been about her beloved hat. Taking the horse and cart, Barney went to Caseys Farm by way of the back lanes. He had arranged to meet Adam there, to help him repair the tractor. A small, nondescript place, the farm was situated some three miles away. As they ambled along, Barney talked to the old shire-horse as usual. Dont you go taking off at a gallop! he warned him, even though at thirty years old, the elderly horse did not have a gallop left in him. Content to be with his master, he pricked up his ears and listened to what Barney had to say, and understood not a single word. On approaching the track that led to Caseys Farm, Barney spied his friend about to slide under the tractor. Adam, hang on a minute! he bawled. When the little man appeared not to have heard him, he shouted again, this time louder. ADAM! WAIT A MINUTE! This time, Adam heard. Scrambling to his feet, he waited for Barney to bring the horse and cart to a halt. Youre late, he grumbled. I expected you half an hour since. Barney jumped down from the cart. What the devil dyou think youre doing! You know how dangerous it is to be getting underneath a tractor without anyone else about. Old Casey needs this oil leak plugged before he can use the tractor, Adam explained. And being as hes got mountains o stuff to shift before the weather turns, he needs it right now. In that case, first well get it jacked up proper, afore somebody gets hurt. If we get a move on, it shouldnt take above an hour. Besides, Ive an appointment this morning and I dont want to be late. They completed the task within the hour and now, all that was left was for Adam to tidy away the tools and such. Leave it to me now, Barney. Ill finish up later, after youve gone off to your appointment, Adam told him. The old fellas left the kitchen open for us to get a drink and a wash, so well away in, eh? He led the way. I appreciate you helping me out on this one, he said as they went along. Id never have done it on my own. Its no trouble. These two were always there for each other, and it had been that way for many years. Thats what friends are for. Washed and thirsty, Barney sat himself at the table while Adam mashed the tea. You look tired, matey. Adam put the teapot on the table, together with a plate of sandwiches. Mrs Casey made these afore she went to the shops, he explained. The Caseys are not a bad old couple, but if you ask me, its time he called it a day. He doesnt walk so good these days, and his sight isnt what it was, but he still refuses to retire gracefully. Seating himself in the chair, he passed the bowl of sugar to Barney. Hes much like you work is his life. I dare say hell not stop till he drops! When Barney seemed to be deep in thought, his friend delivered a torrent of questions. Whats wrong? Didnt you sleep well? Are you worrying about the move is that it? Curious, he studied Barneys face and thought he had never seen him so worried. Youve changed your mind about going and you dont know how to tell them. Im right, arent I? You dont want to go after all? Barney smiled. Youre so wrong, Adam. Unbeknownst to anyone, Barney had a drastic plan, and though it would shatter his life, Barney believed in his heart that it was the best option for his family. Think about it, he urged. I have the most wonderful wife a man could ever hope for, a daughter who already has ambitions, and two fine sons with farming in their blood, but what is there here for them? The same as what theres allus been. Adam was a simple man with simple means. It didnt take much to make him happy; a good friend, a days honest work, his own little place to come home to, and a warm smile from Lucy though there wasnt a waking minute, when he didnt wish it could be more. Unlike Barney, he had no family to rely on him, and so he did not have the same responsibilities, whereas Barneys family was his entire world. There was no doubt in anyones mind but that he would lay down his life for them. Its a hard cruel world out there, Barney replied. England is beautiful. Its our home and we love it, we always will. But everybody knows the bigger opportunities are out there in America. Barneys instincts told him that his children would make it big in America. He smiled, a painful, wistful smile that betrayed his own regret at not being able to share in his beloved familys once-in-a-lifetime adventure. I can see it all now, he murmured. My two boys, riding across their own land with my Vicky watching from the house He looked up, the pride alive in his face. Oh, Adam! I know they can do it. Given the opportunity, I just know theyll grasp it with both hands. His excitement heightened. I can see it! I can feel it in my bones! I know you want the best for them, Barney, and so you should Adam had a gut feeling there was something going on in Barneys mind, something other than what he was telling. But, dont you think its a big step to take? Uprooting yourselves to sail away to a strange land when theres always a chance they might make it good here? Barney slowly shook his head. Ive worked hard all my life, he answered sombrely. Ive brought scrubland back to life, Ive toiled every godsent hour until my hands bled and my knuckles were raw. Ive sown the seeds and reaped the harvest, but nothing was mine. I did everything a man could be asked, but I never made enough money to buy even a square foot of land to call my own to look out across the fields and say this is mine, this is what Ive given my life for. He paused, his mind going back over the years. Its allus been the man in the big house whos been able to do that. He gave a long heartfelt sigh. Nothings changed. Theres no magic formula that says my boys will do any better than me, even though theyll work the same hours and give the same blood and sweat. But, Barney, dont you think theyll be content just to work the land alongside their dad? Even though he could see Barneys reasoning for going away to make a new life, he so much wanted him to stay. But that was selfish, and he felt ashamed. Barney tried to explain. You might well be right, old friend, he conceded. They are content to be working alongside me, but for how long, eh? Therell come a day when theyll need to strike out on their own. Thats when theyll realise like me, that nothing is for nothing. All they have is the wages I pay them, and Lord knows thats poor enough. What chance have they got of owning their own farm? The way things are, theyll be old and grey and still working somebody elses land. What kind of a future is that for two strapping lads who have it in them to do better? In the face of Barneys explanation, Adam was convinced but saddened. All I can see is the way the three of you work a well-balanced team, strong together, all pulling the same way, and all the while seeming to know what the other is thinking. He nodded his head. Happen I dont see the true picture after all. Barney corrected him. NO! You do see the true picture, and its a wonderful way of life. But cant you hear what Im telling you? None of it belongs to us and it never will not the land nor the cattle, not even the roof over our heads. There have been many times when Ive dreamed of going to America who hasnt? And now, weve been given an opportunity that may never come again. He went on quietly, I have little money certainly not enough to buy my own land. So if we stayed, Id be forever a tenant farmer, with no chance of ever owning my own farm, and that being the case there will be nothing for my sons to build on. Oh, yes, I accept that they might move on and somehow, sometime in the far distant future they just might get as far as owning something or another. But I can never be certain of that, and neither can they. As for Susie, if shes ever to fulfil her ambitions, shell need all the help she can get because sometimes talent and skill isnt enough. She needs opportunities to show what she can do; money to put her through the right kind of college, and then the means to ease her into her own little business. He paused, thinking of Vicky and their children, and his heart swelled with pride. I want them to have every chance, he murmured. I want them to see something of this beautiful world we live in. I want them to have every opportunity to make a wonderful life, and because of the generosity of one man, theyve been offered the best chance theyll ever have a new life, a bigger sky, new horizons and the way forward to make something of themselves. His eyes shone with love. Theyre so excited. They want the challenge. His voice dropped to a whisper. Who am I to deny them that? Adams tone changed to one of admiration. Youre right, old friend, but its a big step for anybody to be taking, and Ill tell you this Ill miss you all like the very devil, but I do envy you. Youre a brave man, Barney, Ill say that. Theres many of us who would love the same challenge, but some of us are forever dreamers while others, like yourself, have the courage to give it a go. He saw the sadness in Barneys eyes. All the same, its worrying you, isnt it? Barney shook his head. No, Adam. He took a sip of his tea. Its not that thats been worrying me, well, not for the reasons you might think anyway. Hmh! Ifs not that, what is it then? Barney paused, his expression serious as he caught Adams curious glance. What Im about to tell you now, Adam youre not to repeat it to a living soul, dyou understand? Concerned, Adam replaced his biscuit onto the plate. Ive never been one to spread folks business, he chided, especially when its an old friend confiding in me. You should know that by now, Barney. Barney was mortified. Im sorry, Adam. Its just that, Ive not told anybody else, and I wont. When I leave here, Im seeing the doctor. Ive not told Vicky, and I dont want her to know whatever the outcome. Now, as Adam began to grasp the seriousness of the situation, he gulped so hard, his Adams apple felt like a brick in his throat. I think youd best explain what you mean by that, he said. Barney felt such relief that he had been able to confide in someone, and as it was Adam, he knew his secret would go no further. Im sorry to put you in this situation, he said, only I had to talk to somebody. Deeply worried, the other man brushed aside his apology. What is it, Barney old mate? Whats wrong? Barney didnt want to frighten Adam unnecessarily, but on the other hand, should anything untoward come of his visit to the doctor, he needed someone outside the family to be in full possession of the facts. I reckon as how theres summat wrong wi me, he began quietly. Summat the doctors cant put right. Adam was visibly shocked. God Almighty, Barney, whatever makes you say a thing like that? Barney explained. For some months now, Ive been getting these crippling pains in my chest. Sometimes I can hardly breathe, and other times Im as sick as a dog at the slightest thing. Im allus tired, but I cant ever get a good nights sleep. Its summat serious, Adam, I know it is. And why are you so sure about that? His pal would have none of it. Youre no doctor, to say its summat serious that they cant put right. Good God, Barney, it could be any number o things. A glimmer of hope fluttered through Barney. What could it be then? Well, I dont know, do I? Adam replied irritably. Like yourself, Im no doctor. All I know is, you shouldnt go jumping to conclusions. It could be a simple little thing that can easily be dealt with. Such as what? Well, such as a bad bout of indigestion. I get it all the time it nigh doubles me up, but its nothing to worry about. Then theres the nature of your work; youre out all hours in all weathers, and how many times have I seen you lying on the damp ground, under a machine, or hanging on the edge of a ladder reaching for this or that, then another time youll be stacking hay up to the ceiling in the barn. Jesus! Youre allus up to summat, stretching your body to its limit and not giving a thought to the consequences. He wagged a finger. You know as well as I do, theres many a farmer gone crippled because of his work and the changing weather. I know that, but its not the same thing at all. Like as not youve overstretched a chest-muscle, or you might even have fractured a rib. Thats been known to happen afore now and not been discovered for many a week by which time its got worse. Barneys hopes rose. Youre right. I didnt think of all that. No, you didnt, Adam confirmed. You were too busy thinking the worst instead. So, do you reckon I should still see the doctor? It wouldnt hurt, not now that youve made the appointment. Barney nodded. Im glad I told you, Adam. So am I. The other man, though, was secretly worried. Youd best mek tracks, lad. Soonest done is soonest mended. A few minutes later, Barney was ready to set off. Ill call in and see you at home on my way back, he told Adam. Let you know what Dr Lucas says. His old friend waved him off. You do that, he advised. And stop your worriting! Long after Barney was out of sight, Adam stood at the door, mulling over what Barney had told him: pains in his chest, being sick, sleeping badly and at times hardly able to breathe. He had assured Barney it could be any number of minor things, but deep down he had to consider that it could be really serious far more serious than he had led the other man to believe. He was frightened for his pal. So frightened for him that he downed tools there and then and made his way home, intending to wait for Barney to let him know what Dr Lucas had to say. Expecting his appointment to last some fifteen minutes or less, Barney was in Dr Lucass surgery for a whole hour and a half. Having been pummelled about and then quizzed for what seemed an age, Barney dressed behind the screens and came out to stand before the mans desk. Whats the verdict then, Doctor? he asked. He needed to know, but was dreading the answer. Not for nothing had Raymond Lucas called in his colleague from the other consulting room, and each in turn had examined Barney yet again; in quiet tones discussing his condition while he quickly dressed. The doctor smiled. Sit down, Mr Davidson. His quick smile was not a reassuring one; instead, to Barney it seemed more of a consoling smile, and sure enough with his next words he confirmed Barneys suspicions. Im afraid its not good news. Suppressing the fear inside him, Barney asked tremulously, Its my heart, isnt it? Dr Lucas slowly nodded. Im sorry. Quickly adding, But its not all bad news. With proper medication and rest, you could go on for years yet. Shocked to the soul, Barney interrupted him. What youre saying is, if I stop work and spend the rest of my life doing nothing, then I might live a few years more? Well, Im not suggesting you should do nothing. Im saying you will have to take things a lot easier. No more building haystacks, or driving in the sheep on a frosty winters morning. You have a damaged heart. It isnt functioning as it should and thats a dangerous thing, especially for an active man such as yourself, whose very livelihood depends on him using his strength to carry out his work. A note of impatience marbled his advice. From now on, you must be sensible in everything you do, and I cannot emphasise that strongly enough. Barney wasnt listening. By now he was seeing the future in his own mind, and what he saw was more crippling than anything he had so far endured. Tell me, Dr Lucas he paused, hoping against hope that he might receive the answer he needed. Is there anything you can do to repair the damage? The doctor shook his head. Im afraid the damage seems to be quite considerable. The breathlessness, the pain and sickness it all has to do with the heart not doing its work. As far as we can tell, there is little that can be done, except to give you the advice Ive just given, and for you to follow it to the letter. He bent his head to his desk and taking out a notepad, began scribbling furiously. I can carry out any number of tests and no doubt get a fuller picture. But the heart is a complex organ and often it can be more dangerous to interfere with it, than to leave it alone. Looking up, he added in a serious voice, My opinion and that of my colleague is for us to treat the symptoms, and for you to do your part follow my advice, and take the medicine prescribed. That way, its certainly possible that you may enjoy a few more good years. Handing Barney the folded paper, he told him, Ive made an appointment for you to be admitted into the Infirmary first thing in the morning. His smile was sympathetic. Im sorry the news was not what you might have expected, Mr Davidson, but well do the best we can as indeed you must. Barney was devastated. In a kind of half-drunken stupor he left the surgery and made his way to the horse and cart, which he had tethered outside. Without his usual greeting to the old horse, he climbed aboard, took up the reins and clicking the horse away, sat back on his slatted wooden bench and turned his thoughts to Vicky and the family. As he left the village behind and came into the open countryside, he stopped the horse in its tracks, and climbing down off the bench, stood at the top of the valley, from where he could see the whole world. He stood for a long time, his mind numbed and his heart sore, and when the doctors words flooded back Its possible you may enjoy a few good years he lifted his face to the skies and with the tears streaming down his face, he accused that Great Master somewhere in the heavens: Every step of my life Ive always trusted You, and now when my life seems to be taking a turn for the better, You snatch it away. Anger roared through him. WHAT TERRIBLE THING DID I DO TO DESERVE THIS? Sobbing, he fell to the ground. In his minds eye he could see Vicky, and his children. He saw the joy in their eyes and the excitement in their voices as they spoke of their imminent new life in Boston, and it was as though a knife was twisting his soul. Sobered by the prospect of telling them, he climbed back onto the cart, but he did not take up the reins. Instead he sat hunched and desolate, without hope; without a future. Adam was sitting on the doorstep smoking his pipe when he saw Barney coming up the lane. At last! He had almost given him up. Knocking out his pipe on the porch column, he laid it beside his empty beer mug and ran out to meet his old friend. Whereve you been? Youve been gone an age, he told him as Barney wearily climbed down. I thought you were never coming back. Half an hour later, the dreadful news imparted and shared, tears shed and dried, and a pint pot of beer swallowed, Barney turned to Adam and confided his chief worry. How on earth can I go off to farm in Boston when Im in this state, fit for nowt? I cant see myself sitting about like an old-timer, gazing across the land, watching while the others work their fingers to the bone. When his voice broke, it took a moment to compose himself before he could go on. I couldnt do that to them, Adam, and I wont do it to myself. I think Ive known these past few months that my time on earth is short, but its so hard to think of leaving Vicky and our children. But Ill have to! Dear Lord, somehow Ill have to. When he now turned to look at Adam, the latter saw the sorrow in his eyes and the bitterness in the hard edge of his mouth. You above all people know I cant do it, Barney confided. I cant not bring in the harvest or go out in the tractor when the earth is just waking, seeing the dew sparkle like jewels on the ground and the night creatures running before me as I plough the furrows. As he spoke his eyes lit up. The joy of my life is bringing in the sheep, collecting the apples from the branches where Vicky cant reach, tending the land from first light to darkness. Its in my nature, its in my blood, Adam you know that! If I cant do it, my life might just as well be over. As he stood up to leave, Barney placed a hand on Adams shoulder. This is just between you and me, old friend, he said quietly. No one else need ever know. Slumped forward, shocked by Barneys news, Adam was lost for words. There was no man on this earth could change Barneys mind once it was made up. He knew Barney better than most, apart from Vicky who knew him like she knew herself. And he was aware that, whatever Barney decided to do, he would not embark on it without a great deal of thought and much agonising. Fixing his gaze on the clumps of mud he had earlier walked onto the path, Adam nodded. I shall be here if you need me, he said simply. It was little enough, he thought. But at a time like this, God help him, what else could he do? Chapter 15 (#ulink_824e7ccb-9f84-52aa-8fe6-8cbdc39be248) THROUGHOUT THE FOLLOWING week, Barney carried on as usual, though sometimes when he was out in the fields alone, he would take time to rest, not because he wanted to, but because he was tired, and ill, and stubborn as he had ever been. He had always loved the onset of winter, with the crisp clean air coming up the valley to pinch his face and make him feel alive, but on this particular day he found it all too much. His whole body ached, and for the first time in an age, he had felt the need to wear an overcoat. Things arent the same, are they, old fella? He wrapped his arms round the thick hairy neck of his four-legged pal. I thought I had years to go yet. Im not old, only in my mid-forties, and I still have ambition in me. I thought I might be going on the greatest adventure of my life, taking the whole family to America and starting all over again. But Im useless now, and growing more useless by the day. His voice carried a sense of irony. In horse years, you must be as old as the hills. He gave a wry little laugh. But summat tells me youll still be here, long after Ive gone. Drawing away, he went to the back of the cart and took down a nosebag of hay. After hed tied it round the horses ears, he walked to the top of the hill, where he stood and gazed around him, imprinting that familiar, magnificent panorama in his mind, in case he might never see it again. Lost in memories and regret, he did not hear the footsteps drawing closer. Hello, Barney. Vicky told me where I might find you. Startled, Barney swung round to find Dr Lucas there. I was out walking, he told Barney. Being that it was on my way, I thought Id call in at Overhill Farm and have a little chat with you, but youd already gone. He glanced at the cart, which was loaded down with branches, half-trees and all manner of debris, and wagging a finger at Barney, he said, I sincerely hope someone helped you on with that load? Barney didnt answer. His mind was still with the doctors greeting, and he was horrified. You say youve been to the house? I called in, yes. You havent told Vicky anything, have you? She doesnt know yet. No, Barney. I havent told anyone. You specifically asked me not to betray your confidence, and I wont. I cant. Raymond Lucas knew how badly Barney had taken the news and who could blame him? Its you Im concerned about. Twice now, over the course of the past week, Ive seen you from a distance, standing up here, on the edge of this very hill. He frowned. Today, I thought I might come and chat awhile. Barney couldnt help but chuckle. You thought I might throw myself over the edge, is that it? Dr Lucas shook his head. I would never think that of you, Barney. Whatever obstacle life puts in your way, I know youll face it head on. He smiled. Given the same disturbing news, some people might well throw themselves over the edge. But not you. Looking down, Barney nodded. Dont think I havent considered it, he said truthfully, kicking the ground. Because I have. The other man said nothing. Instead, he walked back to the cart with Barney, and listened to what he had to say. Its the family I fear for, Barney confided. I dont know how to prepare them. I know I should tell them, but I dont want them to know. Weve allus been close too close, mebbe, because that makes it all the more painful. As for my Vicky He sighed heavily. Shes been my reason for living ever since the day I first saw her. When his voice began to waver, he stopped, composed himself and when he was ready he looked up at Dr Lucas. Ive searched my heart and Ive turned every which way, to think of how I might break the news. Then I imagine what it will do to them, and I cant I just cant do it! They walked on in silence for a moment, the doctor filled with sadness, and Barney hurting like he had never hurt before. Im not sure yet how to deal with it all, but I will, he said softly, as though talking to himself. Ill find a way! Not for the first time, Raymond Lucas felt helpless. In latter years, there had been significant strides forward in medicine, but as yet, there was no way to renew a heart that was damaged beyond repair. Im sorry, Barney. I hope you know that. Barney slowly nodded his head. So am I, he said, and then he had a question. If I had come into the Infirmary like you wanted, could you have made me healthy again? Would I have come home, being able to do all the things Ive allus done? The other man shook his head decisively. No. Barney smiled. Thank you. Thats what I thought. Dr Lucas had heard the exciting news, about how the Davidson family were off to America. Have you decided what to do about Mr Maitland, and his offer of taking you all to Boston? Im working on it. Barney climbed onto the cart, took up the reins and reminded the other man about his promise. Dont you worry your head about that, he said firmly, but not disrespectfully. Its my business and Ill deal with it my way. Your part is to say nothing. Thats our agreement as I understand it. Am I right, Dr Lucas? Yes, you are, Barney. But you mustnt leave it too late before you tell them. It would not be fair not to you, or to them. That said, he waved goodbye and took the path to the forest, while Barney went the long way round, through the valley and down by the river. He wasnt ready to go home just yet. He had a lot to think about. By the time he got back to the farmhouse, Barney was his usual self. Whats all this then? The dining-table was piled high with all manner of things clothes and papers and odds and ends he had never seen before; even a leather football he had bought years back to teach his young sons the game. Im clearing out what we wont be taking to Boston with us. Flicking the dust from her hair, Vicky gave a muffled sneeze. You would not believe the things that have turned up, she chuckled. I even found that cowboy hat you wore to the first barn-dance we ever gave. Grabbing the hat from the table, Lucy plopped it on Barneys head. It suits you, she laughed. You should wear it when youre bringing in the sheep. Why dont I wear it to the celebrations? he suggested cheerfully. Great idea! Smiling, she turned to Lucy. Im glad you decided to have the child christened the day before his second birthday. Having both celebrations on the same day would have been too much. Lucy was looking forward to it all. There you are, Barney, she cried. Two parties in one. Youll never have a better excuse to wear that hat. Barney took it off and placed it on the pile. Look at this! Certain articles had slid to the floor and there wasnt a single spare inch on the table. It looks like a rag-shop in here, he said jokingly. He picked up a pair of trousers some two sizes too big for him now. I hope youre not expecting me to wear these an all, he said, making a face. I might, if you dont stop complaining, Vicky answered with a click of the tongue. Seeing the garments and artefacts piled high on the table was like the remnants of their lives together, and it shook him deeply. Why you felt the need to clear out wardrobes and such just yet, Ill never know, he declared. The ship doesnt sail until the sixth of November thats still well over two weeks away. If things had been different he might have been helping but now, it was too frightening how fast the days were rushing by. Thats not long, Vicky argued. Not when I need to sort every drawer and cupboard, throw some stuff away, give some to the church for the needy, and get the rest washed and ironed to come with us. It cant all be done in five minutes. Vickys right. Lucy had been helping all morning and still they had hardly started. Then theres the whole house to be gone over floors so well-scrubbed you could eat your bacon and eggs off them, cupboards washed and lined with fresh newspaper, and every window-pane polished to a brilliant shine And thats only the inside! Vicky was beginning to panic. You men havent got a clue, have you? Ive got a thirst though. Barney made his way to the kettle. I expect you could both do with a cuppa? You two sit yourselves down. Bringing him back, Lucy sat him in the chair. Ill mash the tea. Tired and weary, Barney didnt argue. I wouldnt mind a piece o that fruit-cake, if theres any left? There was, and when Lucy brought it in along with the tea, Barney wolfed it down. By! He washed it down with a gulp of hot tea. I reckon my girl is the best cook in the whole world, he said, smacking Vickys bottom as she walked by. Enough o that, Barney Davidson, she reprimanded. But there was a twinkle in her eye, and the twitch of a smile on her lips as she turned away. I wouldnt mind another piece o cake if youre going to the kitchen? he called out hopefully. I am going to the kitchen, she called back, but its no cake for you. Aw whys that? Cause your dinner will soon be on the table, thats why. For the next few moments while Vicky was clattering about in the kitchen, Barney and Lucy sat together as they often did, talking and planning and wondering what the future held. Ill really miss you, Barney, Lucy told him shyly. I know I shouldnt say it, not when youre all so excited and looking forward to it, but sometimes I wish Mr Maitland had never asked you. She was instantly mortified. Oh, thats a terrible thing to say! Im sorry, Barney, really I am. She almost hero-worshipped this man, and didnt want him to think badly of her. Instead, he said kindly, I wish you were coming too, you and young Jamie. Youre part of the family now. As you know, I even asked Mr Maitland if there might be a place for you, but hes already altered the contract of sale on your account. Lucy understood. Hes done a generous thing in leaving me secure with a job and a home. Youre not to concern yourself about me, she said. Ill be fine. Ive got Bridget, and Ive got little Jamie, and to tell you the truth, Ive never been happier though it will take some getting used to, not having you Davidsons just up the road. Reaching forward, she slid her hands over his. Im really glad for you, Barney all of you. Its wonderful whats happening! She allowed herself a little daydream. I dont know anybody whos gone to start a new life in America. Feeling the warmth of his hands through hers, she drew away. It was strange, the way she sometimes felt a thrill when he looked at her; and unforgivable, how she had come to think of Barney as more than a friend. Just then, Barney felt the pain beginning in his chest. When he tried to take a deep breath it sounded like a strangled cough, and now the pain was spreading, like two mighty hands squeezing the life from him. Bending forward, he got out of the chair, his face drained and his mouth half-open as though he was having difficulty breathing. My God, whats wrong? Lucy was quickly on her feet and helping him. She would have shouted for Vicky, but Barney gave her a warning glance. As quickly as he could before Vicky came back into the room, he brushed past Lucy and stumbled outside. Frightened by what she had witnessed, Lucy ran after him; thankfully, Vicky neither heard nor saw them as they went out through the front door. Lucy found Barney in the wood-shed; leaning over the pile of stripped saplings, he was still gasping for breath, but seemed to be recovering by the minute. Im sorry, lass. He afforded her a smile as she came rushing in. It were a raisin or summat out o the fruit-cake. Went down the wrong way, I reckon. Dont lie to me, Barney, she warned him. Ive seen you like this before. Youre ill, arent you? Tell me, Barney whats wrong? Whats happening to you? Fear struck at her heart. She could just about cope with the idea of him going to America, but if anything bad should happen to him no! The prospect was unthinkable. Its summat and nowt, he wheezed, trying to sound casual. Its just an upset. It comes and goes. Another spasm gripped him and he gasped. Have you seen the doctor? I have, yes. And if you dont believe me, ask Adam Chives. A thought occurred to him; he must remember to warn his pal not to let Lucy know the truth. You mustnt mention any of this to Vicky, he wheezed. Shes got enough on her plate at the minute, without worrying about me. Lucy came closer. Youre not lying to me, are you? Barney appeared shocked. Good God, woman! Why would I do that, eh? He stretched his arms out either side, inviting her to, Look at me, Lucy. Im fit and strong, and like I said, it were summat and nowt. Taking her by the arm he turned her round and walked her back to the house. Any minute now therell be a houseful. Happen youd best give Vicky a helping hand with the dinner, eh? Over dinner, Lucy watched Barney closely; he laughed and chatted and played with young Jamie and she began to wonder whether shed imagined it all. In the end she gave up the worrying and joined in the excited chatter about the forthcoming adventure. I mean to be a millionaire before Im thirty, Thomas declared. Not before me, Susie butted in. Miss Dandy showed me a map. She thinks I could have at least ten shops in Boston, before I start on New York. Lucy, will you dance with me at the party? Ronnie asked. Ive been let down and now Ive nobody to partner me. Well, thank you, Id be honoured, sir. Lucy laughed. She was thrilled. It was a long time since anyone had whisked her round the dance-floor. She thought of Edward Trent with a familiar flash of anger. All along she had loved him, and all along he had told her how much he loved her back. Like a fool she had believed him, and he let her down badly. Now, though, because of what he had done when she lay injured, she could walk by him in the street and not even turn a hair. Gently, unconsciously, she fingered the scar by her hairline where she had smashed her head against a rock. That reminds me! Barney had completely forgotten. First thing tomorrow, I need the pair of you lads to help me set out that wooden floor in the barn. It hasnt been used since me and your mam had our twentieth wedding anniversary. With all the invites that have gone out, Ive an idea we might need to make a couple or more extra squares. The excitement mounted. Christenings, birthdays and sailing off to a new land whatever next! Vicky raised her wine-glass for the umpteenth time. To the future! And everyone drank heartily. Everyone except Barney, who touched the wine against his lips and pretended to drink; Lucy, who saw him do it, wondered if he was hiding something after all. In that worrying moment he glanced up and smiled at her; and the smile was so beautiful and easy, it took her breath away. She smiled back and raised her glass. All right, Barney? She mouthed the words. He nodded, raised his glass and took a sip. Soon he was laughing, and all seemed well. The christening went even better than planned. The sun came out to brighten the day and the service was simple, yet awe-inspiring. Even when the sacred water was poured over his forehead, Jamie did not flinch. He seemed to enjoy the whole thing. Barney picked him up and held him; Bridget and Adam swore to be godparents, and the child was blessed. Now, how dyou feel about it? Barney asked afterwards, and Lucy told him she felt it had been the right thing to do. Vicky said he was now a child of God, and they drank to his future. Then, in all the excitement, Jamie wet his pants. Lucy changed him and he promptly fell asleep, exhausted from being the centre of attention, while family and friends held a simple little lunch. Weve still got the birthday party tomorrow to look forward to, Ronnie said, and Susie ran upstairs to check that nothing had happened to the pretty dress Vicky had bought her for the occasion. Later that afternoon, Adam was tidying up his porch when he caught sight of someone going across the headland. Convinced it was Barney, he put on his coat and climbed the hill towards him. When he got to the spot where he thought he had seen Barney, there was nothing there, not a bird or a rabbit, or anything, save for the winter-chill that swept across the land when evening came. Thats funny! Adam was sure hed seen someone up there. Cupping his mouth, he called against the wind. BARNEY! Where the devil are you! but there was no answer. Puzzled, he made his way back to Caseys Farm. I could have sworn He shook his head. Adam Chives, you must be losing your marbles. But then, he chided himself, was it surprising hed begun to imagine things, when his best and only real friend in the world had told him he would probably not live to see another Christmas? Further down the hill, the figure remained hidden until Adam had gone on his way, then furtively it emerged, to continue along the path in the direction of Overhill Farm. The two Davidson boys were in the barn and had been for the past hour. No, no! Barney rushed forward, just in time to stop Ronnie from laying the section too close to the corner. You need to leave room for the dancing, he said. If you take it too far into the corner, therell be no space for folks to swing about. Ronnie laughed at that. Oh, so you do intend well all be swinging about, do you? I hope so! Thomas brought forward another two sections. Im bringing the prettiest girl ever, and Id be real disappointed if we werent able to dance! He winked at Ronnie who told him he was fortunate, because so far, he himself didnt have a partner. Youve got Lucy, Barney reminded him. And if you think she cant dance then youd best think again, because from what me and your mammy have seen, she can cut a rug along wi the best of em! In fact, he had often caught Lucy when she was playing the gramophone and dancing on her own across the parlour. Whats more, he added, shes a fine-looking young woman. You should be proud shes agreed to dance the evening away with you, my lad. How many more sections do you think I need to make? Thomas had been making wooden-slatted squares all morning, and now it seemed his father was right and there wouldnt be enough of a dance-floor to cope with all the folks that were invited. Barney walked the area with him. Well need it right up to there, he said, pointing to the barn wall. Thats where the food will be. Then it needs taking to within three feet of the far end. Thats where the benches will be set out, and folks can sit if theyre not dancing. He scratched his chin and mentally calculated. I reckon if you could make another two, that should do it. As Thomas went back outside, Barney informed Ronnie, Thats your job when once youve finished laying the floor. Well need at least four long benches for folks to sit on. I like the way you say we, Ronnie quipped. I havent seen you lift a single thing yet, Dad! Cheeky young divil! Barney wagged a friendly finger. Some of us have more to do than prepare for a barn-dance. Theres plenty of other work wants seeing to. Just lately, Barney had found it increasingly necessary to delegate the work he was physically incapable of doing. Thankfully, so far he had managed to hoodwink everybody. Stop your moaning and get on with it, you young scoundrel. And be quick about it. Afore we know where we are, tomorrow will be here and so will all the folks. By the time evening came the barn was ready, with colourful trimmings hanging from the rafters, a long table set up to hold the food and a whole wall of benches to accommodate weary bottoms. Much to Barneys delight, the makeshift dance-floor was not only a job to be proud of, but large enough for the dancing of many partygoers. Youve done a grand job, he told his sons. I couldnt have done better myself. Ronnie reminded him that the tables for the guests to eat at were not yet put up. Therell be time enough to root them out tomorrow, his father said. If I remember rightly, the fold-up tables are buried under all kinds of rubbish at the back end of the wood-shed. It was gone nine by the time Barney and his sons returned to the house. Thats us done for the night, he told Vicky who, together with Lucy, was still taking trays of pork pies out of the oven. Its over to you now, girls. He was concerned at the late hour. It might be best if Lucy and the child stayed the night, he suggested to Vicky. She looks fair worn out you both do. Leave it all now, and get up early in the morning. The party doesnt start till evening. Therell be plenty of time to finish off whatever needs doing. Ive already asked Lucy to stay. With the back of her flour-speckled hand, Vicky wiped away a wisp of hair. Bless him, little Jamies fell asleep hours ago Lucys just about to go up. Bone-tired and ready for her bed, Lucy washed her hands at the pot sink, said her good nights and climbed the stairs to be with her child. After checking little Jamie she stood for a while at the window, looking at the night sky and thinking how strange life could be. One minute she was footloose and fancy free; then along came Edward Trent, who promised her the world, made her with child then cleared off; then back he strolled into her life, fooled her into thinking hed mended his ways and was ready to make her his wife and give his son a name, when he ran away again in the most cowardly fashion yet. Somewhere along the way, her life had gone very wrong, and now here she was, without a husband and Jamie without a daddy, and in a couple of weeks time, her dear friends would sail away and she would be left here alone. She worried about Barney. No matter how hard he tried to reassure her that things were fine with him, Lucy could not rid herself of a niggling doubt. Was he ill? Or was it, as he said, summat and nowt? Too weary and weighed down with regrets to make sense of it all, she undressed and, climbing into bed, drew the child to her. It was only a matter of minutes before she, too, fell asleep. Chapter 16 (#ulink_be73a956-9e02-5532-a16d-65321488c7ce) WHEN, AFTER A fitful few hours Lucy woke, it was to hear the stairs creak as someone crept down them. Darting to the door, she inched it open and saw Vicky on her way down to the kitchen. She turned to see Lucy and hissed, Go back to bed! Its only half past five. Ill call you in an hour. With that she continued on tiptoe down the stairs. Lucy went into the bathroom, had a wash at the basin and quickly got herself dressed. A look to make sure that Jamie was still deep asleep, and then she was down the stairs and after Vicky. I thought I told you to go back to bed? Vicky already had the mixing bowl out and the flour jar in her hand. You could have had another hours sleep. Grabbing a pinafore, Lucy wrapped it round her. While youre doing the scones, Ill make the apple-pies, she said, and before Vicky could answer, she was inside the pantry, collecting together all the ingredients. Over an hour later the men came downstairs, followed by a very sleepy Susie; the pleasant aroma of baking filled the air and Barney commented on the array of goodies covering the dresser. By! Theres a table fit for a king, he said, licking his lips at the pies, cakes, scones and joints of meat ready for the slicing. Vicky scrutinised him. Are you all right, love? Course Im all right. Barneys heart turned somersaults. Why wouldnt I be? He had suffered another bad night, pacing the floor half the time or propped up against the pillow, massaging the ache in his chest. No reason. Vicky shrugged her shoulders. You seemed restless, thats all. How dyou mean? Well, you shifted about a lot, turning this way and that. So, did I disturb you? He was afraid she might have seen him pacing the floor. Vicky chuckled. You know me, she answered. Once Im out, it would take an earthquake to wake me. No, you didnt disturb me, she assured him. Its just that when I got out of bed to visit the bathroom, you seemed a bit unsettled. I expect I was dreaming of all the things that could go wrong with this party. He looked round. Wheres the birthday boy? Still fast asleep. Lucy poked her head out from the pantry. So dont you go waking him. And dont you go worrying about things going wrong with the party! Vicky advised. Because everything is in hand. Its all been checked and double-checked; Jamies presents are all wrapped and ready, the birthday cake is setting and will be perfect for cutting tonight, the trimmings are up and the barn is all ready or so you say! It is! Ronnie grumbled, falling into the room. Apart from a few finishing touches whichll only take a few minutes. Hunched in his chair, unshaven, unwashed and with his hair standing on end, he looked like hed been fished out of the river. Right! Clapping her hands together to release a flurry of flour, Vicky went to the tap and filled the kettle which she then put on the stove. Lucy! A dozen rashers of bacon and a bowl of eggs, if you please. Weve a hungry mob waiting to be fed. Ill have three eggs if theyre going. That was Thomas, bleary-eyed and yawning. God Almighty! Look at the state of the pair of you! Vicky laughed. I hope you can both manage to recover for tonight. She did a little jig on the spot. Cause your mammys expecting you to give her a dance or two! Lucy saw how Barneys strained face lit in a smile at his wifes antics. There you go, Vicky. Placing the eggs and bacon on the side, she peeped again at Barney, and suddenly in that one precious moment, there was not another soul in the room but herself, and him. At 6.30 p.m. the first partygoer arrived. Im a bit early, Adam apologised. Only I thought there might be summat I could do to help. In truth he had wanted a quiet talk with Barney. Youd best come wi me. Barney guessed the reason for his early arrival. Well check the barn and see if Ive forgotten anything. In his grey corduroy trousers, best blue shirt, and with his unruly hair tamed to a shine, Barney looked good. The ladies are upstairs titivating theirselves and the boys are in the kitchen picking at the food. He chuckled. If Vicky catches them, theyll wish theyd never been born. As they strolled to the barn, Adam asked, How are you feeling, matey? If you mean am I looking forward to the party, Barney replied, the answers yes. If you mean have I accepted whats gone on with me He shrugged his shoulders. What choice have I got, old friend? Saddened to his heart, Adam nodded. And what will you do about America? He was reluctant to interfere but knew the dilemma Barney faced. Therell come a point when you have to tell the family. Im dealing with it. Adam sighed. Remember, youre not on your own, Barney, he said softly. Im here for you. Any time you want me, Ill be here. When the tears filled his eyes he blinked them away. I know. Throwing an arm round the little mans shoulders, Barney walked him to the barn, where he threw open the door. Well, what dyou think? Adam was mesmerised. The barn was festooned with colour from one end to the other: paper chains and streamers hung across the roof and down the walls, and in between, strategically hung so as to be safe, were a dozen long lanterns, all lit and twinkling. The benches were set out; the food table was dressed in a long pink cloth, and the dance-floor stretched away as far as the eye could see. Its like Wonderland! Adam marvelled and Barney laughed. They went inside and walked round the floor. Then Susie came running in. Mam says youre to come and help carry the food, she said, and ran out again. For the next half-hour it was mayhem, with everyone trotting backwards and forwards with plates and dishes of food, cutlery and jugs, dodging each other and making a second and third trip, and when the long table was filled to bursting, the guests started arriving: the butcher and his wife; Doris Dandy from Everton, various villagers and others who had known the Davidsons for many years. Jamie was getting very over-excited; dressed in his best clothes and overwhelmed by all the noises and strange faces. Lucy let him enjoy himself for a half-hour or so, then she popped back to the farmhouse with him and put him to bed, waiting until he had fallen asleep before returning to the festivities. Leonard Maitland arrived alone, his attention instantly drawn to Vicky, who looked very fetching in her new cream-coloured skirt and pink lace blouse, with her hair loosely looped up on top of her head, and long wispy strands curling round her face. She was a picture of loveliness. There were two neighbouring farmers and their entire families, and finally, arriving in a flurry of excitement with one of her new girls trailing in her wake, Bridget came waltzing through the doors. Jaysus, Mary and Joseph, will ye look at this! Its like heaven come to earth! she screeched with excitement. A moment later, taking the young woman aside, she reminded her, Youre not here to enjoy yourself. She kept her voice low. Sure, havent I suffered the bad atmosphere in the house these past few days, the pair of youse, fighting and arguing like two alley cats! Ive only brought you here tonight so I can keep an eye on you, while the other one calms down. She wagged a warning finger. Watch your tongue and keep yourself to yourself, Brenda. I dont want ye messing with the men tonight. She edged closer until they were eyeball to eyeball. I swear, if I so much as see you look at a fella, Ill thrash the arse off ye, so I will! Wisely, the young woman backed off. What am I supposed to say if anybody comes talking to me? Oh, youll think o something, Im sure. Bridget gave her a gentle shove. Now be off and fetch me a glass o that wine theyre handing out. With everybody safe inside and a glass of best homemade wine in their hand, Barney stood on the chair and welcomed them all. This is really a triple celebration, he said, winking at his wife. Not only is it to mark little Jamies birthday and christening although the little chap in question has gone to his bed, but as most of you will already know, the Davidson family are away to start a new life in America. Pausing for breath, he thought about the imminent journey, and his secret heart was heavy. Its good to see you all here, he finished. And now lets have a toast to Jamie and America! There was an almighty cheer. To Jamie and America! God bless you and your family, Barney, and all the luck in the world. Its no more than you deserve. The glasses were raised again, and when they were empty, Vicky and Lucy and Susie were on hand to fill them up again. While the toasts were given, Dr Lucas stood at the back of the barn and raised his glass along with everyone else. But, with the exception of Barney and Adam, he was the only one who knew that Barney might never be going to America. And if that was the case, then his family would not be going either. It wasnt long before the music started, in the form of old Victor and his accordion and beside him, the blacksmith, who could not only shoe a horse in record time but could also play a mean flute. Between the two of them, they played a merry tune and soonever the music struck up, the party-goers flocked to the dance-floor and let themselves go. Would you look there! Barney nudged Lucy, gesturing across the dance-floor to where the butcher was swinging his wife round on the edge of his podgy arm. I reckon he must think shes a side o beef, Barney joked, the way hes chucking her about! Lucys attention was caught elsewhere. It didnt take Leonard long to get Vicky on the dance-floor, she remarked, and when Barney looked across he was taken by the manner in which his boss held Vicky, close and tight, as though he did not want to let her go. The smallest surge of jealousy rippled through him. Come on, lass, lets show em how to do it! Grabbing her by the arm he ran her onto the dance-floor, and when the music suddenly changed to a waltz, he slid his arm round her waist and bent her to him. You look lovely, he whispered in her ear. I meant to tell you that soonever I saw you, all dressed up like a princess, with your pretty eyes shining. Lucy laughed. Why, thank you, sir, and you dont look bad yourself either. Secretly, she was thrilled to be in his arms, and as he moved her slowly round the dance-floor, she closed her eyes and imagined he was her real partner; having brought her to the dance, later, when it was over, he would take her home again. On the doorstep he would kiss her good night, and she would go to bed and dream of him. She laughed as Barney swung her round again. She knew it would end, but it didnt matter. Tomorrow was reality. But tonight was a memory she would keep forever. While dancing with Lucy, Barney kept an eye on Vicky. Looking up at Leonard, she was talking, seemingly unaware that he might be holding her too close, or that he wasnt listening to a word she was saying. Instead he was looking into her eyes, discreetly content to be holding the woman he loved. Barney saw all this and now, as Vicky turned to smile at him, he smiled back and winked; pleased when his wife blew him a conspiratorial kiss. Barney laughed with Lucy, and swung her round like a young man with his sweetheart, yet all the while he was thinking of the future, and his lovely Vicky. He knew how devastating the news of his illness would be to the family, and to her, and he would have done anything on Gods earth not to have to tell her. If only there was a way, he thought. If only he could somehow save his family from the pain and anguish they were bound to suffer. In the darkness of his mind, an idea was growing; an idea which, in the fullness of time, would come to fruition and shape their destiny. During the evening, Lucy would return to the farmhouse every so often; an old dear from the village was there, keeping an eye on little Jamie. Hes the same as he was when you came in half an hour since. A widow these many years, old Meg now filled her life with looking after other peoples children. Hes sleeping, she told Lucy with a toothless grin. You go and enjoy the party, dear, and leave me to my knitting. Your little lad is safe enough with me. After going upstairs to check Jamie, Lucy gave the old woman a grateful kiss and returned to the party. Outside in the shadows, Edward Trent emerged from his hiding-place and crept stealthily towards the barn. Placing himself where he would not be seen, he peered in through the window. He saw Barneys son, Ronnie, hand-in-hand with Lucy as he led her onto the floor. The two of them danced wildly to the rhythmic sound of the accordion, Ronnie playing the fool and Lucy laughing at his antics while he flirted outrageously with her. When the music stopped and Lucy was making her way back to the table with Ronnie, his brother Tom came on the scene and grabbing Lucy, he led her back onto the dance-floor. The music changed to a slower tempo, and soon she was moving effortlessly round in his arms, chatting and smiling, and seeming at peace with herself. Edward saw all this and the rage inside him knew no bounds. Thrusting his fists against the window it seemed for one moment that he might smash it from its frame. Then the music stopped and everyone was clapping, and when in that moment a woman turned towards him, he ducked down and disappeared into the shadows again. What dyou think youre doing? Ronnie demanded light-heartedly of his brother. Stealing my woman from under my very nose? I rescued her, Thomas answered, stuffing a piece of pork pie into his mouth. I could see she was fed up dancing with a four-footed idiot, so I thought Id show her what a real partner could do. Lucy giggled. Stop it, you two, she said. Im having a wonderful evening. Youre both good dancers and you know it! Ah, youre just saying that. Ronnie searched the table for another chunk of fruit-cake. I bet youre really in agony from the number of times hes trodden on your toes. At half past midnight the evening came to an end. As they left, everyone said what a wonderful time theyd had, and how good the food was, and how they would be so sorry to see the Davidson family leaving. Standing side-by-side at the door as they saw everyone out, Barney and Vicky thanked them all in turn. Ill see youse out and about before you sail away, so I will! Having downed more booze than she was capable of holding, Bridget was four sheets to the wind. Oops! Laughing raucously, she hobbled out to the waiting car, clutching hold of her companion, her jacket stained with wine and her hitherto beautifully coiffured hair looking as if it had been through a wind-tunnel. Behind her, Barney and Vicky walked arm-in-arm back to the house with Lucy and Susie, who had danced with her friends until her feet ached. Leave all that till the morrow, Barney told his sons, who had a mind to start clearing away the furniture. As it was, he left them sitting on the barn floor, finishing off their drink and deep in conversation. Dyou think theyre worried about going to America? Barney asked Vicky. Not a bit of it! she declared. Theyre very excited, like the rest of us. In fact, Thomas said he would be brokenhearted if Leonard Maitland suddenly changed his mind and said we couldnt go after all. Her words did not help Barney. Instead he felt as though his own heart might break, because very soon he would have no choice but to confess the truth of his illness. And the more he thought of it, the more he dreaded the day. Inside the house, they found old Meg fast asleep in her chair, with the knitting on her lap and snoring like a good un. Barney chuckled. Well have to wake her, he said. The old dear needs her bed. Vicky gently shook her, and when she woke it was with a start that frightened them all and sent her knitting clattering to the floor. Whats up? What dyou want? With big eyes she stared at them. Oh, its you. Her mouth opened in a toothless grin. I thought for a minute it was me old man come back to haunt me. Come on, my old darling, its time you were tucked up in bed. Barney helped her out of the chair, Vicky went to fetch her hat and coat and Lucy paid her for the night. Ronnie came rushing in. Your sons here, he told her, and her old face lit from ear to ear. Hes a good lad, she said. He does look after his old mammy. No sooner had she been helped into the car than she was fast asleep. Salt of the earth, her son told Barney with a proud smile. Never stops allus on the go. Shes in her seventies now, but I reckon Ill be worn out long afore she is. After Meg had gone, Jamie woke up and started crying. Lucy ran upstairs and came down with him in her arms. Oh dear, hes wet the bed. I am sorry. Ive put the sheets in the pail to soak and Ill rinse them through tomorrow. The mattress is still dry thanks to your old rubber sheet. Look I think wed best go home. If you want to stay Im sure well find something suitable to wrap his little bottom in, Vicky said. And theres plenty o clean sheets you know where they are. Lucy thanked her but thought it might be best if she took Jamie home and saw to him there. Its been a very long couple of days and hell rest easier tucked up in his own cot. Well see you tomorrow then, Vicky told her, while Barney went to fetch his big coat. Ten minutes later, wrapped against the cold night air, she and Barney set off with the child, who by now had nodded off again. I dont know how to thank you, Lucy told Barney. Thank me? What for? He hoisted Jamie higher in his arms. For giving Jamie the party. It was a pleasure, Barney answered. And dont forget, it was also to mark our going to America. Something in his tone caused Lucy to ask, And is that what you really want, Barney, to go to America? The man chose his words carefully, not least because Lucy had already voiced her concern about his health. O course I want to go! Why wouldnt I? Lucy gave him a sideways glance; in the moonlight he looked incredibly pale, and there was a quietness about him that wasnt natural. Twice during the evening she had seen a kind of sorrow in his face that worried her. Whats wrong with you, Barney? she asked quietly. And dont fob me off with untruths. Ive come to know you fairly well, and Ive a feeling theres something up. What is it? You can trust me you know that, dont you? Barney didnt answer, nor did he look at her. Instead he kicked irritably at the roadway. Its high time somebody did summat about these damned ruts in the lane, he grumbled. Last week, old Ted Foggartys horse caught its fetlock in one and had to be put down! Lucy persisted. Talk to me, Barney. I am talking. He gave her a cursory glance. I havent said anything to Vicky and I wont, but I know theres something wrong, Lucy repeated. Bridget told me she saw you going into the doctors surgery some time back. Turning to look at her, he said, I wont hear any more of this nonsense, Lucy. Yes, I wont deny I went to see the doctor, but only because I was feeling run down. Ive been under the weather recently and I thought it might be a good idea to go and get some tonic. And did he prescribe some? Lucy was slightly relieved but still left with the feeling that he was not telling all. He did, and Ive been taking it religiously. And is it working? Barney was feeling trapped. Well, youve not seen me being other than fine, have you? Lucy shook her head. No. Enough was enough. Barney was getting grouchy. But Im not always looking in your direction, am I? Barney laughed it off. I should hope not! When they reached Lucys cottage, he helped her inside with her bag and the child. A few minutes later, he and Lucy emerged from the front door. Good night, Lucy girl, Barney said, and yawned long and hard. As always, he kissed her on the cheek. See you the morrow. Good night, Barney. She waved him off down the lane, and afterwards went back inside, her face still burning from the touch of his lips. It was a sad thing, she thought, to love a man who belonged to your best friend. But love him she did, and try as she might, she could not change that. Neither Barney nor Lucy had seen Edward Trent hiding in the shadows, watching and waiting. When Lucy was kissed good night, he was shaken by the look of love on her face as she waved Barney off. And his heart was black with jealousy. Having had a run of bad luck of late, he had heard through the grapevine how Lucy had been given a cottage to live in and regular work. With no sailings available and with nowhere to live, Trent had thought to foist himself onto Lucy by persuading her that he loved her and the child. Once hed got his feet under the table, hed plan his next move, while Lucy worked to bring in the wages and he worked to spend them. The thing that shocked him now was that, having come back with purely selfish motives, he had seen Lucy in other mens arms and realised he still had deep feelings for her. She belonged to him, by God. Hed taken her virginity, and by rights she was his, and the mother of his son not that he could even remember the brats name. Inside the cottage, Lucy quickly washed the child with a drop of warm water, talking to him as she did so. This is our home, Jamie. It might be small and cramped, but now that Barneys mended the roof and fitted new doors, and me and Vicky have polished the entire place till it shines, it might not be the poshest place in the world, but its cosy enough for me and you. In fact she loved its every nook and cranny. It was a good party, she said, slipping on his pyjamas. Barney and Vicky gave it just for you. She recalled what Barney had said. And it was to say goodbye to their friends as well, because soon they will be off to a new life across the water. Pushing the heartache to the back of her mind, she told the child, Youre christened now, sweetheart. She kissed his sleepy face. Its wonderful, isnt it? You have your name written down in the book for everyone to see. When she tickled him he chuckled and squealed, and she took him in her arms, hugging him as if she would never let him go. Youre Mammys big boy, she said. Well soon be losing the best friends weve ever had, so well need to look after each other, you and me, eh? Not when Im around to take care of you. EDWARD! Even before she turned, Lucy knew the voice, she knew the man, and could hardly believe he was standing right here in her house. You should always lock your door at night. His slow, dangerous smile enveloped her. You never know whos lurking about. What do you want? Instinctively, she held the child closer. When he took a step nearer, Lucy stepped back. I want you, Lucy. She had been afraid, but now she was over the first shock, she was angry. You didnt want me when you ran off, leaving me unconscious, like the coward you are! Cunning as a fox, he momentarily bowed his head as though with shame. Thats why Im back, he lied, his eyes sad with regret. I did behave like a coward, and I want to make it up to you. I dont believe you! Standing tall and defiant, Lucy looked him in the eye. Ive made a life for myself, Edward, and Im happier than Ive been in years. There is no place here for you now. Please, Lucy, dont say that, he whined. It took a lot of courage for me to come here after what I did. He glanced around the room, thinking it warm and cosy; a far cry from the dives where hed been holed up of late. We could have a good life together, he went on. Youve already got work up at the farmhouse, and Ill find a job, I promise. Weve got to give it a go. When he saw her expression he grabbed her roughly by the arm. Aw, look, Lucy. We were always good together, you know that! You used me! Shaking him off, she told him in a quiet, trembling voice, You lied to me all along, and when I needed you more than ever, you ran off. She stared at him, wondering what she had ever seen in him. We dont need you, Edward. We dont want you here. Please go. Leave us alone. He was desperate now. I love you, Lucy, its why I keep coming back. Ive always loved you. I didnt realise it until now. Darting forward, he grabbed her by the arm. I had you, and I threw you away, he said angrily. But Ive got you back now and I dont intend to let you go. Cupping her face in the palms of his hands, he whispered earnestly, I know I did wrong, but I do love you, Lucy. Youve got to believe me. And he did love her, as much as a man like him could ever love anyone. Get off me! Lucys instincts told her that at long last he might be telling the truth, but it was too late. Edward Trent no longer meant anything to her. Thankfully she was over him now, and could see him for the selfish, vicious man he had always been. I dont want you here, now get out! She put Jamie down and tried to distract him with a toy while she hissed, Go on! Get out of my house! Realising she meant every word, Edward shook his head and smiled. Im not going anywhere, he said softly. Not without you. Afraid now, Lucy had to think hard. She had to be rid of him, but how? Suddenly an idea came to her. For a long time I hoped and prayed you might come back, she lied, but you didnt. So I had to make a life for me and little Jamie, and now Im going away to America. Were leaving soon, Edward its all arranged. She added as an afterthought to appease him, Ill write to you. Give me an address, and I promise Ill write as soon as we get there. Visibly shocked, he took a step back. America! Looking into her eyes he gave her a shaky smile. I dont believe you. Its true. She was desperate to make him believe. Why would I lie? If you were hanging about outside, you must have seen Barney Davidson bring me home. Theres been a big party up at Overhill Farm to say goodbye to all the friends and neighbours. Mr Maitland has sold up here, and were all going with him to help run his farm in Boston, Massachusetts. If you dont believe me, ask anyone. Its common knowledge round here! You little bitch! Without warning he tore the child from her, and over the sound of his terrified cries, he said calmly: Youre not going anywhere, with Mr Maitland or anyone else. Youre coming with me. Were getting right away from here. Ill find us lodgings in London. Somehow well manage. Well be all right together, you and me and him. Though he had acknowledged his love for Lucy, he had little feeling for the child; so far he had not spoken to Jamie, or even looked at him. No, Edward! There was a time when I would have walked to the ends of the earth for you, but not any more. You see, I dont love you. The calmness in her voice belied the turmoil inside. Now give me my son. Reaching to collect little Jamie, who by now was screaming hysterically, she did not expect what happened next. Raising his hand, Trent brought it down hard against her temple and sent her reeling across the room. I must be out of my mind to want you back, he snapped. Dancing and laughing, and flirting with every man in sight. Youre nothing but a trollop! Hurt and dazed, she dragged herself up by the chair; somewhere in the chaos of her mind she heard Jamie crying. Give me back my son! she said hoarsely. Want the brat back, do you? He gave a low, grating laugh that sent shivers through her. You can have him but youll have to take me as well. Lucy was frantic. Please, Edward, it wouldnt work between us. All I want is to be left in peace. Clambering up against the chair, she went sprawling again when he thrust his booted foot into her side. You dont seem to understand what Im saying, he growled. You either come with me now, or Im taking him with me, and youll never see him again. So, whats it to be? Terrified that he might carry out his threat, Lucy was tempted to give in and let him stay anything to have little Jamie safely back in her arms. But what then? He might rape her get her with child again! Her flesh shuddered at the thought of his touch. He was repulsive to her. Anyway, he would soon discover that it was a trick on her part, and then his rage would know no bounds. What would happen to her and Jamie then? Well? He stood over her, his face dark with loathing. Lucy looked at her son, still sobbing with fear. She turned her gaze on Edward and begged, Dont hurt him, please. If you want to stay, you can stay, and well talk again in the morning. When she saw the look in his eyes she knew it wasnt enough. Please, Edward, youre asking me to give up everything I know and love, to go away with you. Im not saying no, but Im not saying yes either. Give me time to think about it; you owe me that much. She held out her arms. And now give me the child. As he cut across towards the river on his way back home, Barney thought his world was a beautiful place, when the moon was full and round and the skies speckled with a myriad of twinkling stars. All along the chilly hedgerows he could hear the night animals scurrying about, and in the distance, the unique sound of a barn owl. You made something wonderful when You made this earth, he murmured, his gaze roving the heavens. There was such peace and beauty on Gods earth, and he felt deeply privileged to be a part of it. Then, suddenly, Barney was made to stop in his tracks. Whats that? From somewhere close he could hear the sounds of human voices raised in anger. Turning this way and that, he tried to pinpoint where the voices were coming from, but it was difficult; the tumbling of water from the weir diverted his senses. There it was again! His attention was drawn back, towards the high bend in the river, not too far from Lucys cottage. It sounded as if somebody was in trouble! Quickly now, he made his way back, pausing every now and then to catch his breath, and taking off again when a childs wail shattered the night air. As he came round by way of the spinney, he saw a figure running in the moonlight; he was carrying something what was it? A sack a child? Dear Lord, it was a child! And coming up behind him was a woman, running and stumbling, and all the while calling out for the man to stop. When he recognised her, he was horrified. Lucy? He couldnt believe his eyes. The woman was Lucy, and the child must be little Jamie but the man who was he? His name appeared in Barneys mind like a lit beacon. EDWARD TRENT! It had to be! Lucy! Quickening his steps to a run, time and again Barney called out her name, but Lucy didnt hear. They were too close to that part of the river where the water tumbled over the rise and thundered down into the basin beneath. Gasping for breath, his chest afire, Barney took off again to gradually close the gap between them. He saw how, on reaching the river, Lucy launched herself at Trent. There was a struggle during which, with one backward swipe of his burly arm, Trent knocked her down. At the top of the rise, Barney had to stop again. He bent his head low, and with his hands on his knees, he took some long deep breaths, and after a moment or two, slowly regained his composure. When he set off again, he could see Edward Trent. With the child under his arm, he was using the moonlight to illuminate his way across the most dangerous part of the river a line of big boulders straddling the water. Doggedly pursuing him, out of her mind with fear, Lucy was yelling for him to give her the child. Jamie was frantically struggling in the mans arms, making the situation even more dangerous. When Trent ignored her pleas, she followed, slipping and sliding across the slimy boulders towards the far bank. No, Lucy, come back! When Barney yelled out, in a part of this nightmare Lucy heard, but she kept on going, because Edward Trent had her baby, and she would follow him to Hell if needs be. By the time Barney came to the river, Lucy and Edward Trent were locked in a fierce struggle on the rocks above the weir, with the terrorised child screaming hysterically. Desperate to get Lucy and her son out of there and with no thought for his own safety, Barney ran slithering over the boulders. Taking hold of her, he tried to get her to safety, but she wouldnt listen; all she knew was that her baby was in terrible danger. When driven by desperation she foolishly made a grab for the child, Trent lost his footing, and to her horror Lucy went with him. Wading through the water to get to them, Barney saw Trent scrambling towards the shore and when, with the saturated clothes clinging to her body, Lucy went after him, Barney warned her to stay back. Leave him to me, Lucy! He bellowed a warning. Youre putting the child in more danger! But with reason long gone, she took no heed. Everything happened so quickly there was nothing Barney or anyone else could have done. Going against Barneys advice, Lucy made another grab for the child. As she caught him safely in her arms, Trent missed his footing and fell into Lucy, who then lost her balance and in seconds the fast-flowing river snatched Jamie from her arms and whirled him away in its embrace. Lucy made a brave effort to rescue her son, but not being a strong swimmer she was buffeted against every obstacle, as her son got washed further away. Ahead of her, Barney got to the child first, but it was already too late. The force of water that had snatched him away and carried him downriver, had wedged him between two half-submerged rocks. When Barney found him, the water was swirling over his face, and there was nothing he could do. Desolate and bedraggled, he took the drowned child into his arms and waded upriver, to where Lucy was making her way towards them. At first she began shouting for joy. Youve got him! She laughed out loud. Oh Barney, youve got him! Her heart soared at the sight of her boy, safe in Barneys arms. With tears streaming down his solemn face, Barney looked into her eyes and slowly shook his head. When Lucy saw the expression on his face, it was as if the world had come to an end; there were no words to describe the horror that tore through her. For the longest, deepest moment, the silence in that place was awesome. As she tenderly took her baby from him, Lucy thought she would never again in her life know such pain. Half-blinded by her tears, she gazed on that small, still face and her heart-wrenching cry echoed across the valley, shaking the night and striking fear into the cowardly heart of Edward Trent, who by now was already some distance away. Chapter 17 (#ulink_67e0a121-f671-5e23-8303-c5ca88ca4557) LIKE EVERYONE ELSE in Comberton-by-Weir and far beyond, Leonard Maitland was deeply shocked by the events of that night. When Jamie Baker was laid to his rest, Leonard had been there for Lucy, along with her friends and neighbours; for with her parents split up and out of touch, with no thought or care for their little grandson, since he had been born and died out of wedlock, poor little mite, Lucy had no real family to help her through. The service was very emotional, and afterwards, when everyone gathered at Overhill Farm, the air was thick with disbelief. No one there could recall anything of such a tragic nature happening in their lifetime. In the dark days that followed, Lucy withdrew into herself; by day she wandered restlessly over the fields and hills, as though searching for her lost child, and at night she headed blindly for Barneys house, where he and Vicky and the children were waiting to give support and comfort. They, too, missed the little boy and were heartbroken. On this chilly day, with the date of departure fast approaching, Lucy and Barney prepared to visit Leonard Maitland. Lucy, love, are you sure you know what youre doing? Barney had worried about Lucys decision and had done all he could to change her mind, without success. He tried again to dissuade her, but she was adamant. You and your family have been kindness itself, Lucy told him, but soon youll all be gone away. I have to take charge of my own life now. Her voice broke. You know how much I love the cottage, Barney, but I could never go back there, not without my little angel. Taking a moment to compose herself, she said in a whisper, How can I ever forgive myself, Barney? Whatever dyou mean? But he knew well enough what she meant, for hadnt he told her time and again that she was wrong? I know you will never admit it, Barney, but it was all my fault. Gulping back the tears, she went over that awful night in her mind. If Id only listened to you and kept back, you would have saved Jamie, I know you would When emotion overtook her, she crumpled into him and he held her close against his heart, his two arms keeping her safe while she sobbed helplessly. After a time, when she was quiet, they walked on, with Barney keeping his arm around her shoulders. Listen to me, Lucy love, he said tenderly. What happened that night was no fault of yours. Evil took your baby, and the way things were, there was nothing more you or I could have done to prevent that terrible thing. We both tried our level best to save little Jamie, but it wasnt enough. He sighed from deep within. Sometimes, sweetheart, there are greater powers in force than we could ever hope to understand. Gently bringing her to a halt, he turned her round to face him. Looking into her reddened stricken eyes, he said emotionally, Im so proud of you, Lucy. We all are. Youve come through what will probably be the worst time of your entire life, and youve already begun to make decisions. He smiled wryly. I dont agree with the decision about moving back to Bridgets, but its your life, and you have to do what you feel is right. Lucy gave a little gulp. The truth is, I dont know whats right any more, she confessed tearfully. All I know is that I have to make a new start, and before I can go forwards, I need to go backwards. Even in her sorrow, she noted the change in Barney; the trauma of that night had made him look so terribly ill. Raising her hand, she laid it on the side of his dear face as though comforting him. You mustnt upset yourself on my account, she pleaded. You look so worn and tired, and I dont want to be a burden on you. Afraid that she might see how truly ill he was, he laid his hand over hers and, moving it from his face, held it tightly as they walked on. You could never be a burden to us, he said gruffly. We love you like family, you know that. Lucy smiled wistfully. I know, and I love you for it, but I wont always have you to lean on. I have to try and get my life together, if I can. You will. He was sure of it. But Im not happy about this business today. It will be all right, Lucy assured him. But he was far from satisfied. Some twenty minutes later, in Leonard Maitlands study, the pair of them explained what Lucy had decided, and like Barney, Leonard disagreed with her. Of course its your decision, my dear, but is it wise to return to your friend Bridgets house? Dont get me wrong, shes charming and kind, and I know shes been the best of friends to you, but she runs a bad house, Lucy. If you want my opinion, I dont think thats the right place for you to be. Its the only place for me to be, Lucy answered. Since she took me in, and right up until I moved into your cottage, she was like a mother to me. We understand each other, and I know that when Barney and his family leave, she will be my rock. Shes been kind enough to ask me if I want to stay with her, and Ive accepted. Well then, if your mind is made up, I have to ask if you will do something for me? If I can, I will, Lucy readily agreed. On arriving, she had placed the keys to the cottage on his table. He now took them up and held them out to her. Please take these back. I gave you the cottage to live in, with a secured tenancy, and though you may not want it at this moment in time, you may be glad of it later, when youre able to think more clearly about your future and security. When she hesitated, he lifted her hand and placed the keys on her palm. Take them, Lucy. If you cant go in yet, thats fine, but there may come a day when you find comfort there. Whether you like it or not, the cottage is yours to live in, legal and binding. With her hand still stretched out, Lucy remained unsure until, taking a step forward, Barney closed her fingers around the keys and pressed her arm to her side. Mr Maitlands right, he told her gruffly. There might come a time when you need that cottage. It was a moment before Lucy responded, and then she threw her arms round a startled but delighted Leonard Maitland. Thank you, she whispered, her eyes bright and sad, and her heart so sore she could hardly bear it. She had come dangerously close to being lost forever, but these kind, caring folks had brought her back from the brink of despair. Maybe after all, there was a future for her. Time alone would tell. On the way back, feeling unwell, Barney stopped several times on the pretence of watching a hare or seeing summat running through the spinney. Lucy saw nothing of what he pointed out, so deep in thought, she took him at his word. Im so glad Mr Maitland managed to delay our voyage and the signing of the sale for another two weeks. Having recovered for a while, Barney strolled beside her. Hes a thoughtful sort, dont you think? Lucy agreed. Youve all done more than enough for me, and now Ive prepared myself for you all to be leaving soon. An extra two weeks wont change that, will it? Mebbe not, Lucy love, but Mr Maitland is a real gentleman. He explained the circumstances to his solicitor, and out of respect for you, theyve managed to hold it back, but only for the short term. He had other reasons for being grateful that the leaving would be delayed. Vicky will be pleased when I tell her. Shes been that worried about you. When a short time later they relayed the news to Vicky, she was thrilled. At least now well have a little more time together and it will help you get used to the idea of us going. Whats more, I can satisfy myself that youre properly settled before we leave. While they carried on talking, Barney excused himself. Ive a few things to tend to, he said, hurrying away before Vicky could question him too closely. Dodging anyone who knew him, Barney made his way to the village and Dr Lucass afternoon surgery. There was no one else there, and he was quickly shown in. I trust youre here to tell me youre now ready to admit yourself for the tests? Having asked Barney several times to agree to go into the Infirmary, Dr Lucas never gave up hope that his patient would at last change his mind. Barney, however, soon shattered the mans expectations. If I came in for the tests, would it improve matters in any way? I cant promise that. He was the kind of doctor who answered straightforward questions with straightforward answers. As Ive already explained, your heart is badly diseased, but we cant tell how badly until we investigate further. Having already observed Barneys laboured breathing and the grey pallor of his skin, he was deeply concerned. I hope you realise how serious your condition is? Im beginning to. Barney was truthful. Ive noticed how quickly I get tired of late, and sometimes it hurts to breathe. He gave a bright smile. But Im still here and Im still fighting, so it cant be all that bad, can it? Giving no answer, but taking the stethoscope from around his neck, the doctor asked Barney to go behind the screen and take off his shirt. A moment later, he gave Barney a thorough examination. Right! You can put your shirt back on now, he said, walking away and perching himself on the edge of his desk. There was a look of apprehension on his face. Well? Barney, too, was apprehensive. Is it worse? Bad enough. Looking directly at Barney he told him flatly, Youre playing with fire, man. In what way? You havent followed my instructions at all, have you? Yes, I have, Barney blustered. Im taking the medication, just as you advised. Thats only part of it, and even that is only a short-term precaution until we know the extent of the damage. You havent slowed up much in your work, and Ive seen with my own eyes how you still slave away on the farm, even after I warned you not to exert yourself. Anger thickened his voice as he reprimanded his patient. Good God, man! Are you intent on killing yourself? Keep on the way you are, and I cant promise youll be alive a year from now, or even less! Barney had known he was ill, but to have it spelled out like that, shocked him to the core. Im a working man, Doctor, he said quietly. I cant stop doing what I do; the cows wont milk themselves if I cant do it. My sons are a boon, but they need me with them a while yet. The doctor did not mince his words. If you continue to ignore my advice, they wont have you at all. Then tell me this. Barney was torn all ways. If I stopped working right now, and sat about like a cabbage in a patch, would that prolong my life by any great measure? The doctor carefully considered Barneys question before giving an honest if vague answer. As I told you before, we dont really know with these things. Your heart is in bad shape, and if you agreed to slow right down, that could well improve matters. I cant be more specific than that. Barneys courage was never as low as it was in that moment; he was afraid for himself, but more so for his beloved family. When he spoke now, his words were sure and final. There will be no hospital, and no tests, he said gruffly. If I have a year, or less, then so be it. Standing to leave, he smiled wearily. Thank you for all youve done. Dr Lucas had known Barney well, and it pained him to see his spirit so low. Im very sorry, he said. I only wish there was something more I could do. There is. Then name it. Without me to drag them down, my family have the chance to start a new life, and nothing must spoil that. The doctor was astonished. What are you saying? Surely you dont still intend taking such a long and arduous journey? Thats for me to decide, Barney replied firmly. All Im asking of you is that what transpired between you and me goes no further. Dr Lucas nodded. I believe weve already agreed on that. And do I have your word, as a gentleman? As a gentleman and a doctor, yes. Barney shook him by the hand. Goodbye. I wont be coming to see you again. He left then, a wiser, sadder man. A man who knew what must be done, and had to find the courage to see it through. Chapter 18 (#ulink_9bbeb05d-acac-5c76-8084-dd26d169a540) EXCUSE ME, MISS I believe this is your stop. The bus conductor had noticed how Lucy was not watching the landmarks. Instead, she was sat deep in thought, in the far corner, sometimes looking out of the window, sometimes with her eyes closed. Now, staring ahead, she appeared to have no idea of her surroundings. Startled by his concerned tap on the shoulder, Lucy thanked him and made her way to the platform. When the bus came to a halt, she quickly clambered off. It had been comfortingly quiet on the bus, but now as she set off in the direction of the church, the noise and bustle of Liverpool was all around her; the clatter of horse and cart, the smell and sound of petrol-driven vehicles; the sight of rich women in furs, poor women in thin coats and men in suits, all going about their business. This was Friday, a day when people looked forward to their weekend and couldnt wait for the day to end. But for Lucy, since losing her child, every day seemed the same. Leaving the mayhem behind, she came up the rise towards the church. The further from the centre she got, the more the wind seemed to swirl and blow. Beginning to shiver, Lucy drew her coat more tightly about her. Taking the side path, she went along by the hedge and into the churchyard; little Jamies resting-place was to the right of the gate under the oak-tree. Lucy had chosen St Saviours as she had come to Sunday school here as a child, and had happy memories of it. The church at Comberton now seemed tainted, somehow, with the evil of Edward Trent. Removing a handkerchief from her coat-pocket she wiped it over the small cross, which was temporarily erected until a marble heart could be set there. After laying down the posy of pretty leaves, together with a small toy, she knelt down to tell Jamie how much she missed and loved him. As always, she imagined him in her mind; toddling in the garden and chuckling as she chased him, and the tears were never far away. After a while, when the cold seemed to penetrate her bones, she said a heartfelt goodbye. Ill see you again soon, my darling. In the church, she lit a candle to guide her child on his way to Heaven, and when the flame flickered and danced to life, she remained there for some long time, asking questions of the Lord. What had she done that was so wicked He had to take her baby? What would she do now without him? Why had the police not caught Edward Trent and brought him to a harsh punishment? And finally, would He please take care of Barney and the Davidson family on their long journey to a new life? A short time later, spent of emotion, Lucy made her way back to the bus-stop. As she clambered on the bus, she caught sight of Barney. Emerging from a public-house and somewhat unsteady on his feet, he had a woman clinging to his arm. Laughing together, they set off down the street and were soon gone. Falling into her seat, Lucy was riveted with shock. She had recognised the woman as being a close friend and colleague of Bridgets, and knowing the nature of her business, Lucy found it hard to understand what Barney was doing in her company. She suspected also, if his unsteady gait was anything to go by, that he had been drinking. That in itself was astonishing, because as far as Lucy knew, Barney enjoyed the occasional glass of something only when the occasion demanded. Convincing herself that there must be an innocent explanation, she vowed to ask him next time they met. On arriving home, she went into the kitchen to make herself a cup of tea. Make one for me while youre at it. Bridget almost fell into the room. Ive been trudging round the shops for hours and Ive got a throat like sandpaper. She threw down a heap of bags and sitting herself at the table, she told Lucy, Ive left the girls searching for new outfits. Theyve bagged a lucrative job for next week, escorting some London businessmen about town. Lord knows, if were to put the business on a more respectable footing, theyll need to look their best. With her mind still on Barney and the woman, Lucy heard not a word. Three sugars, isnt it? she asked, beginning to spoon it out of the bag. Best make it four, the woman advised. Im shattered, so I am! When Lucy placed her cup and saucer before her, Bridget noticed how preoccupied she seemed. Whats wrong wit you? Youve got a face like a wet weekend. Nothing. Lucy sat down with her tea and took a sip of it. Aw now, dont give me that. The big Irishwoman wagged a finger. Ive known you long enough to spot when something is wrong, so out with it! Whats on your mind? Hesitating for a second or two, Lucy told her, Ive just seen Barney Davidson coming out of a pub, and he was drunk or near as dammit. I see. Bridget raised her cup to her mouth and took a long slurp. And ye are sure it was Barney ye saw? Im certain. Bridget peered at her over the rim of her cup. Was he alone? No. He was with a woman. She hesitated to say it was one of Bridgets friends. I see. When Bridget next spoke, it was to give Lucy a warning. Dont get mixed up in what you dont understand, she cautioned. What Barney does or doesnt do is none of our business. From Bridgets reaction, Lucy suspected she knew more than she was saying. As the realisation dawned, she confronted her. You knew all about it, didnt you? she demanded. You knew Barney was drinking and womanising. Dont deny it, because I can see it in your face! All right, yes, I did. In fact, Im told its been going on for some time, and now it seems he doesnt give a bugger who sees him! But I didnt think it was my place to tittle-tattle. If Barney Davidson has a problem, hell deal with it. Doesnt he always? Not wishing to be drawn onto dangerous ground, Bridget quickly drank up her tea, took her shopping and went upstairs with it. Ill see youse later, she called back. Unable to get Barney out of her mind, Lucy vowed to visit the Davidsons that evening. Ive got to go and see him, she muttered as she helped Tillie to peel the potatoes for dinner. I need to ask him outright. She knew him well enough to do that. Barney had been preying on her mind a great deal of late; behaving strangely, going away for hours on his own, and now this. In the beginning, she had thought it might be the trauma of what had happened that night, but drinking in a public-house with such a woman; arm-in-arm in the street and laughing as if he didnt give a damn who saw him this was not the Barney she knew and loved. In the wake of Jamies death, her embarrassingly romantic feelings towards him had vanished; but now they had resurfaced and she couldnt help it, he was never out of her thoughts. It was getting to the stage where she was afraid to look Vicky in the eye, in case her friend read the truth on her face. Later that evening, when dinner was over and the kitchen at 23, Viaduct Street was spick and span, Lucy put on her hat and coat and set off for Overhill Farm. As she went up the path to the front door she heard raised voices and the sound of a door slamming. Suddenly, the front door was flung open and Susie came rushing out, straight into Lucys arms. Oh Lucy! Ronnie and Daddy are saying bad things to each other, and they wont stop She began to sob uncontrollably. Lucy held her close. Ssh, dont worry, itll be all right, but she could still hear the two men inside, and now Thomass voice, pleading with them to stop arguing. A moment later, the door opened and Vicky emerged, looking distraught as she searched for Susie. On seeing Lucy she was visibly relieved. Oh, dear God, Lucy, I dont know what to do. Its like my whole worlds falling apart. Trembling and distressed, she took Susie by the shoulders. Run inside, sweetheart, and fetch our coats. Calming herself for the girls sake, she suggested with a shaky smile, Well go for a little walk, eh, you, me and Lucy? When we come back, happen itll all have sorted itself out, eh? Relieved to see her mammy smiling and comforted by her words, Susie ran to get their coats. Whats happening? Lucy asked worriedly. Is it Barney? In her troubled mind she could still see him and the woman. Yes. Vicky shook her head. Theres something very wrong, she said. Barneys been so odd of late wandering off and not coming back till all hours. Hes not been sleeping easy, and sometimes when I wake in the middle of the night, I look out of the window and hes pacing the yard like a trapped animal. Hes suddenly got the devil of a temper on him, too, snapping and snarling and jumping down our throats at the slightest thing; he even smacked Susie last night because she came downstairs crying after having a bad dream. Its not like him, Lucy. Hes always been such a loving man. She took a long, weary breath. And now, Ronnie swears he saw Barney in Liverpool today arm-in-arm with a trollop, he says, and he swears that the pair of em were drunk. With raw eyes she looked into Lucys face as though searching for some kind of reassurance. I didnt believe it of him, Lucy. It couldnt have been your father thats what I told Ronnie. He would never do such a thing. Her voice broke. But to be honest, Lucy, somewhere in the back of my mind, God forgive me, because of the way Barneys been behaving, Im half-inclined to believe what Ronnie saw. When Susie returned and they had on their coats and scarves, the three of them wandered away to the spinney; these days they were reluctant to go near the river, because of the bad memories. Lucy made no mention of the fact that, like Ronnie, she too had seen Barney on the streets drunk and laughing with a woman. Instead she told Vicky, Ive an idea Barney might still be suffering the effects of that night. It was a terrible thing for him to witness. Grief and shock can affect us all in different ways, she said in a low voice. God knows, she herself was half-demented with it. Maybe Barney is not able to deal with the horror of what happened? Vicky had already considered that. Of course he suffers from remembering, as we all do. She reached out to squeeze Lucys hand. But its more than that, she went on sombrely. Now I think about it, Ive seen a few changes happening in Barney, long before that night. Hes been getting more preoccupied and distant, as though hes always got something on his mind, and none of us are a part of it. She shrugged. Hes been working so hard pushing himself until he hurts. Its as if hes trying to prove something. Hes changed, Lucy, and now its got so I can hardly recognise him as the man I married. In spite of her determination not to let young Susie see her upset, Vicky began to cry, softly at first, and when she could no longer hold it back, the crying became wrenching sobs that tore her apart. Im sorry, she kept saying. Im so, so sorry. For the first time in her married life, she did not know how to deal with Barney. Running to her, Susie threw her arms round Vickys waist; in a choked voice she told her, Dont cry, Mammy, its all right. Please dont cry. The normal roles of mother and child were reversed, and Vicky was ashamed. After a time they walked on; Lucy lost in her own thoughts, Vicky also quiet now, and Susie with her hand clutched in her mammys. All three were thinking of Barney. Lucy was determined to get him alone and have a heart-to-heart with him; Vicky wondered how she could win back the man she loved; and her frightened daughter silently brooded over the nights event, her heart alive with all manner of emotion and shockingly, even the smallest beginnings of hatred towards the father she adored. When they got back to the house, despite the cold, Ronnie was seated on the garden bench. With his head down and his hands over the back of his neck, he did not hear them approach. Ronnie? Going immediately to him, Vicky put her arm around his shoulders. What are you doing out here in the cold? Ronnie looked up. In the half-light from the windows she could see that hed been crying. What is it, love? She sat beside him. Whats happened? For a long anxious moment, Ronnie gave no answer. Instead he glanced back at the house, then he looked at his mother and the tears ran down his face. That man in there, he whispered brokenly. I dont even know who he is any more. Rising to Barneys defence, Vicky told him firmly, Whatever he says or does, and whatever you may think of him just now, he is still your father! Ronnie shook his head. No, hes not. I know my father like I know myself, and that man in there is a stranger. Vicky understood but was horrified all the same. Your father is ill, she said lamely. He doesnt seem to understand how hes hurting us. Barney is a good man. Hes stood by all of us at one time or another, and now its our turn to stand by him. Scrambling to his feet, Ronnie looked down on her in amazement. How can you say that? he demanded. I saw him with my own eyes! He was drunk in the street, in the company of a woman like that They went away laughing laughing at you, Mother! Hes not only cheating on you, but hes doing it openly. He gets himself drunk and then he comes home arguing and causing trouble in the family. His voice shook with rage. You can stand by him if you like, but I wont! I cant forgive him. Seeing her brother stride off angrily into the night, Susie wailed, Stop him, Mammy. STOP HIM! Grabbing her close, Vicky held her tight. I cant, she said, but hell be back. Youll see, sweetheart, Ronnie will be back. In her heart though, she could not be certain of that. Do you want me to go? Having witnessed the distress in this close-knit family, Lucy was afraid for them all, including Barney. She wanted to stay but sensed that Vicky needed to be alone with her family. Vicky nodded. Im sorry, Lucy, she apologised. Ill get Thomas to see you home. Because the night was cold and because she had great affection for Lucy, she invited her to come inside first. She led the way, with Susie at her side and Lucy following. When she walked into the sitting room, Lucy was shocked at the sight of Barney. Unkempt and unshaven, he sat in the armchair, his shirt undone to the chest and his head lolling sideways. Lucy thought he looked ill and quietly said so to Vicky. Thomas had been standing before the fire, his eyes alive with anger as he stared at his father. Hes not ill. He spat out the words. Hes drunk! Ill deal with your father. Taking hold of him by the arm, Vicky led him away. I need you to take Lucy home in the trap. Thomas nodded. Will you be all right? Ill be fine, she answered with a smile. Oh, and take Susie with you. When the girl protested, she told her gently, Lucy would like that, wouldnt you, lass? Realising Vickys intent, Lucy nodded. Yes, I would. Addressing Susie she told her, I need to know all about the new clothes you and Mammy have bought for the journey to America. At Lucys remark, Thomas gave a grunt. Thats if we ever go! Susie gave a cry. We are going, arent we, Mammy? Vicky nodded. Thats the plan, sweetheart. Though her heart was breaking, she smiled her brightest. In just over a weeks time well be boarding the ship for America. She gave Barney a sideways glance. All of us! On the way back to Viaduct Street, Thomas sat hunched on the driving seat, quiet and morose. He had only ever seen his father drunk once, and that was when his friend Adam had brought back some strong homemade cider to mark his birthday. It was a memorable night, which ended in laughter and good humour. This time it was different. And in all his life, Thomas had never felt so helpless. Over the next few days, Barneys hitherto good name deteriorated further. Cheating on his good wife, people tutted. Carrying on wi all kinds, and drinking himself into a stupor every chance he gets. I hear he stayed out all night a while back. Even on the bus they tittle-tattled about him. Lord knows what that familys going through, and them supposed to be leaving for America any day now. Seated behind the two gossiping women, Lucy could not wait to get off at her stop; though as she passed them she commented loudly on folks who cant help but gossip, even when they dont have a clue what theyre talking about! As she hurried home, she wondered where it would all end. Bridget was alone. The girls have gone on another one of these business appointments, she said proudly. Sure, havent we gone up in the world, dont you think? Mmm. Seating herself at the table, Lucy recalled what the women on the bus had said. I hear that Barney stayed out all night a while back. How on earth do folks find out so much so soon? Bridget plonked a cup of tea down on the table. What exactly are we talking about? Lucy told her about the two women and the conversation they were having. What on earth are we going to do about Barney? she asked. Im at my wits end. She gave Bridget a wary look. What if Vicky ever finds out he was here the night he went missing? I wont tell if you wont, Bridget replied. What was I supposed to do when he turned up, soaking wet and looking to come inside? He only slept the drink off while I dried his clothes, thats all. With big eyes she chided Lucy. Should I have turned him away is that what youre saying? Lucy shook her head. No, of course its not. All the same, she felt as though she was betraying Vicky by not telling her, and she told that to Bridget now. Bridget was angry with her. Now look here, young lady! Sure the man himself pleaded with you not to tell where he was for most of the night. You did right not to say anything, and besides, didnt they have the holiest of rows and didnt she get angry and lock the door against him? So Im told, yes. There yare, then! Even if hed gone home, he wouldnt have been able to get in. Hed have had to sleep on the garden bench, so he would! Once Bridget was in full sail there was no stopping her. I gave him a bed for the night and theres nothing to be ashamed of in that. You and I both know how hard Im trying to get this house respectable. It may well have been a house of pleasure a while back, but things are changing. She bristled with pride. Youll notice Im more of a businesswoman now, so ye will. Whats more, little Tillie has taken to her new job of bookkeeper like a duck to water. She gave a short whistle. I never knew she was so good at keeping proper accounts! And shes delighted with the shorter hours and the bigger wage-packet. Lucy had to smile. You always were ambitious, she said fondly. And happen youre right about giving Barney a bed for the night. If he had upset Vicky so much that she locked the door against him, she might have done worse if hed gone banging on the door in the middle of the night. Bridget beamed. Well, there yare then. Sure, isnt that what Ive been saying all along? She had a question. Did ye manage to have a quiet word with him about the womanising and the drinking? Lucy shook her head. Ive tried time and again to get him on his own, but he always manages to dodge me. This time she was determined. Ive spoken with Adam. Hes worried sick about Barney, but even he hasnt been able to talk any sense into him. Vicky and the boys will be up at Leonard Maitlands tonight. Apparently hes concerned about Barney and unsure about whats happening. Hes asked the family to come and talk it through, so tonight, Barney will be on his own. Bridget was doubtful. Will Barney stay in, dye think? Or will he be off out with his floozy? Lucy tapped her nose by way of a confidence. Its all been arranged. Barneys agreed to see Adam, and being as hes let Adam down twice before, were hoping that this time hell keep his word and be at home when his old pal arrives. Bridget got the picture. But it wont be Adam who turns up, will it? Itll be you, is that right? Lucy confirmed that was the idea. Seeing as he keeps avoiding me, this seems to be the only way. Well, I hope it works, because somebody needs to talk some sense into that foolhardy head of his, Bridget declared. Sure, if anybody can do it, you can. Just then the girls came in, dressed in their new outfits and looking like a million dollars. Ive just spent a whole afternoon in one of the best hotels in Manchester. Brendas tall, willowy figure was wrapped in the most expensive coat with fur collar and deep fur-trimmed pockets. And Ive been to the races. Shorter and perfectly formed, Lynette was better suited to the small-brimmed hat and brown silk two-piece. I hope you both behaved like ladies? Raising her eyebrows, Bridget gave them a warning glance. On hearing how they had been paid handsomely for their escort duties, Bridget congratulated them. Sure if we keep on like this, well have to move to posher premises, she joked. Now off upstairs wit ye, and out of those expensive clothes. Youll need them again, I hope, so make sure you hang them up nice and neatly. Shortly after the girls had departed, Lucy excused herself. Id best get ready, she told Bridget. Off ye go then, and I wish ye well. Her friend was concerned. Its a crying shame to see how Barneys hurting that poor family of his. If he doesnt come to his senses soon, therell be no America for him, and no family to speak of neither. With all that preying on her mind, Lucy got washed and changed and made herself ready to meet Adam. Having lately acquired a little black Ford, he was to run her up to the end of the lane and wait there until she came out again. She didnt have to wait long before the little car drew up outside number 23. What dyou think to it? he asked proudly. Cost me an arm and a leg, but it was worth it. Lucy told him she thought it was handsome, and smiling from ear to ear he helped her climb on the running board and then get inside, before taking the starting handle and thrusting it into the front of the car. Perspiring from the effort, Adam drove up the street erratically, with the car lurching and bumping. Im not quite used to it yet, he apologised sheepishly. But Ill get us there dont you worry about that. When they reached the end of the lane leading to Overhill Farm, they sat awhile. Have the family gone out yet, dyou think? Adam was on pins. Im not sure. Lucy, too, was nervous. If she did get to see Barney on his own, what would she say? How could she convince him that what he was doing was tearing the family apart? What about the future? What about America, and the family so looking forward to it now? And why was he doing this? That was the main thing. While they waited and watched, Lucy spoke her mind to Adam. I dont understand why Barneys suddenly started behaving like this, she said. Hes an intelligent man, compassionate and caring, and yet here he is, wantonly throwing away everything he cherishes. Adam had an idea, but he could not give her the answer. Its the strangest thing, he said thoughtfully. Ive known him a very long time, but I can never recall him acting the way he is now, hurting the ones he loves and seemingly hell-bent on destroying himself. One minute hes all fired up at going to America, and now its as though he has to destroy every chance theyve got of starting a new life. Ive tried to reason with him, but he just walks away. He wont listen to me. Reaching out, he took Lucys hand into his. Happen hell talk to you, he said, patting the back of her hand. Happen youll get through to him where I cant. In the half-light he smiled on her, trying not to show the love he felt. She was his good friend, and he was not prepared to spoil that by speaking his heart. Suspecting nothing of his true feelings, Lucy gave him a nudge. Here they are now, she said. The family emerged from the house; Vicky and Susie first, then the two sons. Huddled together, they set off on foot in the other direction, along the lane and on towards Leonard Maitlands house, The Manse. Well give it another minute or so and then youd best go in, Adam said. Dyou think hell open the door to you? Lucy smiled secretly. Reaching into her handbag, she drew out the key to Overhill Farmhouse. I never thought to give this back after I stayed there once, she told him. I knew it would be more polite to knock, but like you say, he might see me out of the window and be gone through the back door. So I shall just let myself in. She did not like the idea of doing it, but saw no other way. Climbing out of the car, Lucy softly closed the door and approached the house. She could see Barney through the window; slouched in his chair he was leaning forward, deep in thought and looking lost. Concentrating on what she was doing, she slipped the key into the lock, opened the door and went inside; and because she did not want to alarm him, she deliberately made a noise as she came towards the sitting room. Whos there? Barneys voice sailed through the house. Vicky! Is that you? When suddenly he was standing before her, his face fell with astonishment. Lucy! What the devil are you doing here? How did you get in? Sorry if I frightened you. When Lucy now took a step forward, Barney took a step back. Please, Barney. We need to talk. I dont want to talk. Go away, and leave me be. Seeing her there and knowing how, like the rest of his beloved family, she was worried out of her mind, he so much wanted to take her in his arms and open his heart to her. But if he did, then all of this would have been for nothing. How did you get in? Did Vicky let you in, is that it? Did she think you might get me to tell you things I cant tell her? His eyes bright with tears, he lowered his sorry gaze to the floor. Vicky doesnt know Im here, she told him. Look! I still have my key. She laid it on the coat-stand. There. Ive returned it now. As she walked towards him, he barred her path, his shoulders squared tall and his face blank, with no expression. I dont need you here. I want you to go. Now, as Lucy stared him in the eye, he looked away, as though he could not bear to see the pain and anxiety in her face. I said I want you to leave. Now! Lucy refused. Youll have to throw me out, Barney. The man was in anguish; he wanted to tell her the truth, but he darent. He couldnt. Talk to me, Barney. Laying her hand on his arm, she thrilled at his nearness, but for now all she wanted was to make him at peace, to let him know that he was not on his own. Why are you doing all of this? Her voice was like silk to his ears. You were always such a kind and loving man, concerned about other peoples feelings. Youre not a drunk, or a bad man. Youre a worker and a fighter. You risked your own life to save my baby and you were my strength afterwards. Was it that night, Barney? Was it because of what happened to little Jamie? Her voice broke. You said it yourself there was nothing we could have done. It was too late, Barney all too late. When she paused, choking back the pain of remembering, Barney looked up. He was so ashamed. How are you now, Lucy? His voice was merely a whisper, but it came from the heart. Looking up with bright eyes and a sorry smile, she told him, Im coping, Barney. But Im so worried about you we all are. What is it? Whats wrong? You have to let me help. You have to let us all help. She could sense that he was weakening, when suddenly the front door was pushed open and in walked a woman, tall and attractive, with wild hair and a ruddy complexion, and the smell of booze about her. You shouldnt leave your door open of a night-time, she quipped. And who might this be, Barney? I know its not your wife because you told me shed be out with the family. Jesus! Thrusting Lucy aside he took hold of the woman by the arm. What the hell are you doing here, and drunk into the bargain! She smiled. I remembered you saying your family were going out and that I should come and pay a call on you if ever I was passing. Well, I might not have been passing, but Im here now, and Ive brought us some cheer. Holding up a bottle of sherry, she taunted him with it. If you dont want to stay here, we can always go to my place. Ive got a car outside. Staggering sideways, she almost lost her balance. The driver is an old friend of mine she gave a wink if you know what I mean? About to throw her out into the night, Barney stopped himself. No! This might be his best chance. Just now, Lucy had almost got him to confide in her, and if his unwelcome visitor hadnt turned up, he might well had said things he regretted. And that would have been a disaster. Shes the woman I saw you with in Liverpool. Lucy was shocked and angry. Ask her to leave, Barney. Shes tainting Vickys lovely home. Enraged, the woman made a grab for her. Barney stepped between them. Turning on Lucy he sounded like a stranger. Good night, Lucy. I dont want to see you again. You can leave now. Lucy was taken aback. You dont mean that? He gave a slow, affirmative nod. Thank you for coming here tonight, but I dont need your help. Lucy could have argued with him, but there would have been no point. Instead she reached up and, placing her hands on his shoulders, she kissed him on the cheek. Think what youre doing, Barney, she pleaded quietly. We all love you so much. For what seemed an age he looked at her, and just for the briefest moment she really believed he was listening. Then he took her by the arm and led her to the door, where he pushed her unceremoniously onto the outer step. One hard, appealing stare, and then he closed the door. As she walked down the path, Lucy could hear their laughter. May God forgive you, Barney Davidson, she whispered. Climbing into the car she sat for a moment, unsure what to do. I saw the woman. Adams voice interrupted her thoughts. I wondered if I should come in, and then I thought it best not to. If youd come in, it would only have made matters worse. What about the woman? Lucy shook her head. Shes the one hes been seeing. Hes got her in there now, and hes not in the mood for talking. She turned to him, a sad little smile on her face. He almost confided in me, she revealed. If that woman hadnt arrived, he would have talked, I know he would. They sat a moment longer; Adam feeling as though he should go in there and throw her out, and Lucy thinking how low Barney had sunk. Whats wrong with him, Adam? she asked now. Why is he doing this? Adam didnt know any more than she did, although a suspicion lurked at the back of his head. Maybe we didnt know him as well as we thought we did, he answered thoughtfully. Or maybe hes pushed himself so hard, and then your awful tragedy He paused, making sure he had not upset her. Who knows what it takes to turn a man like Barney? Lucy had to agree. Weve tried, she murmured. We couldnt have tried any harder. Maybe therell be an opportunity later on. She gave a deep sigh. I dont know any more. Home then? When Lucy nodded, he started the engine, turned the car about, and went down the lane at a leisurely pace. They did not talk. For now, there was too much on their minds. Chapter 19 (#ulink_dc22fdaf-0f71-53b6-bd89-079bf915a556) LEONARD MAITLAND HAD welcomed the family into his home, and for a time they had enjoyed his hospitality. When the discussion turned serious, he asked Vicky outright, So, with the way things are at home, will you and the family still be able to come with me to Boston? Vicky looked at her sons, and her heart was breaking. Im sure you know whats happened with Barney? Leonard nodded. Im sorry. He was more sorry than she would ever know, he thought, because if he was going to Boston without Barney, he would be going without Vicky. He knew that, even before she told him. Im not sure if well be able to come or not, Vicky said solemnly. We so much want to in fact, weve all been so excited about it She would have explained, but Ronnie blurted out: Tell him the truth, Mother! Tell him how we might have to give up the greatest adventure were ever likely to have, and all because my fathers turned into a drunk and a laughing stock. Thats enough! Now, when Thomas put his hand over his brothers arm, Ronnie bent his head in shame. Its true though, isnt it? Getting out of his chair, he strode across the room and ran out of The Manse into the night. Go after him, Tom. Take care of him. Vicky was desolate. As Thomas went to look for his brother, she addressed Leonard with a degree of pride. Im sorry weve caused you so much concern, she said. If you have to look for someone else to help you with the farm in Boston, we will understand. Leonard stopped her there. Vicky, listen to me. Coming to sit beside her, he spoke with real compassion. I fully understand what you must all be going through at this time, and I wouldnt dream of rushing into looking for anyone else. Do you mean that? Of course. We still have a little time. Until then, Ill assume that Barney is going through some sort of crisis; probably stemming from the idea that he should have saved the child and couldnt. Hes a good man, and he did his best, thats all any of us can do. Pray it will turn out all right, Vicky said. Deep down she feared that Barney had gone so low he might never come back to her. All Im saying is, I dont want you to be hampered in your plans, especially when youve been so good to us. Outside, Thomas had managed to calm his brother, and when Vicky came out with Susie, the four of them began their way back down the lane. Its all gone, hasnt it? Ronnie was broken. Our happy family, our dream all of us wanting to go to America and start over all gone. Quickening his steps he walked on in front. Thomas kept a close eye on him, while Vicky walked between him and Susie, wondering why her happy, safe little world had been so cruelly shattered. Inside the house the woman was all over Barney. Youre not very friendly tonight, are you? Seated on his knee, she nibbled at his ear. Cmon. Want to make love, do you? Barney didnt answer. The touch of her skin against his was repugnant to him, and he could smell her boozy breath on his face. Best not, he said. Theres no telling what time the family will be back. In his mind he could still see Lucys downcast face. She had come here to help him, and he had turned her away. What kind of monster was he becoming? Yet what choice did he have? This was the worst time of his life and he desperately needed his family by him. Instead, for their own sakes, he was deliberately alienating them. When the door suddenly opened to admit his two sons, Barney was flustered; for a split second he wasnt sure what to do, but then he knew and with a sore heart he played his part well. Oh look! Kissing the woman soundly on the mouth, he pointed to his family who, shocked and disgusted, were now gathered at the door. Its my precious family, he laughed. Shall we ask them to leave? What dyou think? Brazen, the woman sniggered. A minute later and they might have caught you with your trousers off, she said. Get out of my house! White-faced, her fists clenched with rage, Vicky rushed towards the woman. Get out, or I swear to God, I wont be responsible for my actions! Realising he had tipped Vicky over the edge, Barney clambered to his feet. Taking hold of the woman he told her, Youd best go. I want you to go with her. Vicky spoke quietly, but the rage trembled in her voice. She did not look at Barney. She had seen enough. Youve gone too far this time, she told him. I dont want you near me any more. The tears were rising, but she would not let them see. He hesitated, hating himself, loving her so much it hurt. He wanted to take her in his arms and tell her it was all an act, that he had never stopped wanting her, that he would always love her. But he couldnt do that. Instead, he looked at her and drank in her beauty, knowing he might never again hold her in his arms. You heard what she said. GET OUT! Giving Barney a shove, Ronnie sent him sprawling towards the door. Before Barney could recover, his sons took one arm each and bundled him out of the door; the woman with him. What kind of man are you? Thomas was shocked to his soul by Barneys inexplicable behaviour. You must know what youre doing to us all. But its done now! You cant hurt us any more. As far as were concerned, the Barney Davidson we knew is gone forever. Outside in the cold, with the door to his own house closed against him, Barney was made to realise that at long last, he had earned the cold hatred of the family he adored. Dear God, what had he done? Not for the first time he questioned the wisdom of his own behaviour. Come on, handsome! The woman grabbed hold of his arm. Never mind them. Lets find somewhere to bed down for the night. Angry with himself, angry with her, he thrust her away. Get out of my sight! Well, yer miserable bugger, all Im doing is trying to cheer yer up! Realising it wasnt her fault, Barney softened. You said you have a car waiting? Thats right. She pointed to the small vehicle tucked into the lane. There it is. Barney took her by the arm and leading her to the car, told the driver, See she gets home safely, will you? The driver, a burly fellow wearing a trilby, gave him a nod. I got her here, and Ill get her back, he said. Barney helped her into the front seat, and watched them drive away. For a long time, he stood hidden by the window, watching as his sons comforted Vicky. Seeing her sob like that wrenched him apart. Suddenly, Susie saw him there and running out, she grabbed up a handful of mud and threw it at him, catching him hard on the neck. I hate you! Sobbing uncontrollably, she kept saying it over and over, throwing the mud and telling him, I hate you, I hate you A moment later, Vicky appeared to put her arm round the girls shoulders. Come away, sweetheart. She looked at Barney, covered in mud, forlorn and haggard, and for a while it seemed she might go to him. But then she said brokenly, I dont know who you are any more. Head bowed and with her daughter close, she walked away, and never once looked back. Barney was a finished man. He saw the curtains close against him, and he remained there until he felt the cold reach right into his bones. Broken, he turned away, and walked on through the night, not knowing where he was going, not caring. Having talked with Barneys family, Leonard Maitland set out for a walk across the heath, as he always did at this time of night. It was a sorry affair, he thought. Barney had a new life just for the taking, and now it all seemed to be thrown by the wayside. He couldnt know how fortunate he was, to have a lovely family and a wife like Vicky so beautiful, hardworking and totally devoted. Leonard would have given anything for such a woman, and here was Barney, casting her aside, like the bloody fool he was! He walked on; his usual route was to turn at the spinney and come back by the river. Just then, he saw a figure sitting on the ground. Leonard could hardly believe his eyes. Barney Davidson! What in Gods name dyou think youre doing, man? Coming forward, he leaned down. Are you all right? Are you ill? Sitting, arms folded with his back to a tree trunk, Barney was shivering uncontrollably. Leonard went to help him up, visibly startled when Barney took hold of him. You have to listen, Barney pleaded. You have to help me. Of course Ill help you. What on earth are you doing out here? Come home with me. Well soon get you warmed up and then Ill run you back to the farm. Heavens above, man, youre like ice! Taking off his jacket he wrapped it round Barneys shoulders. But Barney would not budge. You dont understand, he mumbled. None of them understand. Suddenly he was sobbing. I had to do it, ysee? I had to turn them against me, it was the only way. The booze, the women, the fighting it was all an act. I had to do it When the sobbing took hold and he could no longer speak, Leonard took him gently away. Come home with me, he said compassionately. Whatever it is, well make it right. I promise. Half-supporting, half-carrying him, Leonard took Barney through the night, and when they reached The Manse he settled him on the sofa in front of a roaring fire. Ill get a blanket keep you warm. Then Ill let your wife and family know that youre safe, he told him. Panicking, Barney stumbled from the sofa and taking hold of Leonard by the collar, he begged him not to tell them. I can never go with you, but the family can. They mustnt know about me. Nobody knows, except for Adam and the doctor, and they are duty bound not to tell. When he began fighting for breath and pleading with Leonard not to tell, the older man calmed him. Very well, Barney, your secret is safe with me, but let me get the blanket, and a hot drink, then well sit and talk, you and me, with no one else to bother us. All right? He was shocked and saddened by Barneys situation. Grey-faced and with his eyes all but sunk into his head, Barney looked more ill than Leonard could ever have imagined. Barney nodded feverishly. All right, yes, but I need to ask you something You can ask anything you like, Leonard promised. But not until I have you settled and warm. Lifting Barneys legs he laid him back onto the cushions before going off to the kitchen. Ill be as quick as I can. He returned within minutes, carrying a tray with hot milk with whisky and biscuits, and under his arm a blanket. Here we are! Setting the tray on the side table, he wrapped Barney in the blanket. Good! Youve stopped shivering. He was relieved to see that the mans colour was already returning. Handing the mug to Barney, he warned him, Be careful, now its very hot. But it was exactly what Barney needed. Now then. Leonard sat in the armchair facing him. Are you ready to talk? Barney gave him a wary look. Can I trust you? Leonard assured him, Im not one to betray a trust. Setting his mug of milk on the hearth, Barney threw back the blanket and edging his legs round so as to be sitting opposite Leonard, he sat quiet for a while, with the only sound the ticking of the clock. When he finally spoke it was to say in a low, secretive voice, I want you to take my wife and family to America. Leonard was curious. But isnt that what we have already decided? You and the boys are to help me run the farm, and Vicky is to run the house. I thought it was all agreed. He paused. Youve changed your mind thats it, isnt it, Barney? There was disgust in his voice. Thats why youve been behaving in such a shocking way because youve changed your mind and didnt have the guts to tell me. So you thought if you behaved badly enough, I wouldnt want you with me anyway? I wish to God that was the way of things, Barney said sadly. You asked me a moment ago if I was ill. Well, yes, I am ill very ill. In fact, there isnt much time. The thing is, Im concerned about Vicky, and my children. If they knew how desperately ill I am, they would never leave me, and Im so afraid for them. I want you to take them with you, Mr Maitland. Make a good life for them, and Ill be forever in your debt. Leonard was shaking his head in disbelief. I dont understand. Are you asking me to take them, without you? Thats exactly what Im asking. For Gods sake, man, whats going on in your head? Have you lost your mind altogether? For one thing, if youre so ill, you need your family more than ever. Vicky would never go without you. And theres another thing: I need you, Barney. No other man could help me put the farm back on its feet like you can. There was a long moment when Barney laid back on the sofa, eyes closed and wishing he was not having this conversation. However, he had no choice, not if his family were to have the chance of a new life in America. Leaning forward he told Leonard, Youre not listening to me. I want you to understand why Ive been behaving the way I have. More than that, I need you to help me, or it will all have been for nothing. Realising how serious Barney was, Leonard remained silent, attentive to his Farm Managers every word. Barney told him everything: that his heart was fading and that he could never recover. He had agonised over and again about how he might still give his family the chance of starting a new life without him, aware that if they were to suspect that he was seriously ill, they would never abandon him. He told Leonard of their great excitement and of his own despair because, Through no fault of my own, that wonderful opportunity you gave us has been snatched from me. But it must not be snatched from my wife and children. Thats why Ive behaved the way I have to turn them against me to make them hate me as they have never hated anyone. He paused again, unable for a moment to go on, and when he did, the tears spilled over. I know you love my Vicky, he said. When Leonard made to protest, Barney put up a staying hand. Please dont deny it. Ive known for some long time that you love her. Ive seen the way you watch her when shes in the field. I saw how you danced with her at our party, with love in your eyes and the tender touch of a man with the woman he loves. She has the children, but she will need you more than you know. Youre a good man, Mr Maitland. Take her, and look after her, I beg you. I will ask Adam to write to you and let you know when its all over, so you can marry my lovely Vicky in the fullness of time. He had one more thing to say, because now his strength was depleted. Im not strong any more, but my sons are. I cant help you bring the farm back to life, but they can. Ive taught them everything I know. Give them their dream, I beg you! Take them away, and never in your life tell them about our conversation this night. Exhausted, he lay back on the cushions. You have to promise me this, or the bad things Ive done will all have been for nothing. Leonard had been devastated by Barneys terrible news, and now this request had him in turmoil. Youre asking too much of me, Barney. With his head bowed low, he searched for the right words. How can I take a mans family across the Atlantic and leave him behind to He couldnt even bring himself to say it. How can I possibly do that? You can do it, Mr Maitland, because if you dont, theyll remain here, with no home and no one to guide them. God knows, Ill be gone soon enough, and its more than I can bear. Im asking you to help me. Who else can I turn to? You offered them a new life, a journey the like of which they will never know again. Its up to you. His voice weak, he pleaded for the last time: Surely you wont refuse me? Think of Vicky. Think of her, alone and unprotected. No, Mr Maitland, you cant refuse me this. For a time, Leonard paced the floor, back and forth, up and down, occasionally stopping to shake his head and turn the matter over and over in his mind. Presently, he came to sit in the armchair. What will happen to you, Barney? he asked worriedly. Who will take care of you? The sick man did not hesitate. Lucy will be there when I need her, Im sure. Leonard gave a long, deep sigh. I dont know, Barney, I just dont know. Youre ill, you need your family about you. You need Vicky What would she say if she ever found out that I had taken her away when you needed her most? Barney looked at him then, a world of understanding in his eyes. Vicky must never know. None of them must know. Leonard was humbled. Do you really trust me that much? I do, yes. I trust you never to tell, for as long as you live. I trust you to promise me and keep your promise. Will you do that for me, Mr Maitland? Will you promise to take them and look after them, and never betray me? Amazed at Barneys calm manner, Leonard observed him as never before; that ordinary man, with an extraordinary courage, and he was deeply humbled. Im sorry, Barney, he said harshly. Im sorry for whats happened to you, and Im sorry that your family will be losing the bravest man its ever been my privilege to meet. But will you promise all those things? Will you? Leonard got out of his chair and began pacing the floor again, his hand cupping his chin as he thought deeply about this unique situation. It was true that he loved Vicky, and it was true that he desperately needed men he could trust, like the Davidson youths, to help him restore his grandfathers farm to its former glory. Barney was the Farm Manager here, but his two fine sons were made in the same mould. The promise weighed on his mind. How could he promise never to tell Vicky about Barney, to say that she ought to be worshipping the ground he walked on instead of rejecting him? Everything Barney had done the bad things and the angry things, making them despise him while he was suffering so terribly all of it had been done deliberately, so as to save his family a world of further pain and suffering. Could he play his part in it, as Barney pleaded with him to do? And if he did, could he live his life, seeing Vicky and her sons every day; working alongside and getting to know them and keeping secret the amazing truth about their father? Was he that strong? It seemed a wicked, deceitful thing, and yet it was what Barney wanted, what he craved: to see his family settled and safe the only thing that could give him peace of mind and heart. While Barney patiently waited, Leonard continued to pace, and when at last he came to rest, his mind was made up. All right, Barney, if its in my power to grant you the peace of mind you seek, I promise to do as you ask. Visibly overwhelmed, Barney leaned back and closed his eyes. After a moment, his eyes shining with tears, he looked up at this man, and in a strong, quiet voice he told him, You cant know what youve done for me, my friend. You have my deepest gratitude. Whatever happens from now on, I know I can rest easy. On the pretext that his milk had gone cold, Barney asked Leonard if he wouldnt mind bringing him another glass. The man readily obliged, and while he was gone but a few minutes, he returned to find the front door open and Barney loping slowly along the lane, making his way through the darkness like a wounded animal. At first, Leonard started out after him. But then he thought better of it. No doubt you have things to think about, he whispered, closing the door. We all have much to think about now. Chapter 20 (#ulink_87472ffd-1af5-5399-a282-30fbc42ca603) IT WAS THE day before the Davidson family were due to sail. The mood in the farmhouse was one of excitement, though it was tempered with a sombre atmosphere. I never thought Id see the day when your father turned his back on all of us. Vicky had suffered sleepless nights since Barneys departure from their lives. Ronnie was unrepentant. I dont have a father any more, he declared angrily and, though his heart was sore at the thought, Thomas also agreed. Too much had happened. There had been too many tears and too much soul-searching, and now it was time to call an end to it. Hes chosen his way, and now we have to choose ours. Going to his mother, Tom put his arms round her shoulders and held her close. Well look after you, Mother, me and Ronnie and our Susie. Having gathered the last of her things to be laid out for packing, Susie looked up at her brothers words. Thats right, she said. We wont let you down, not like hes done! Shutting her father out of her life was the hardest thing Susie had ever had to do, but now it was done, and though there were regrets, there could be no turning back. Ronnie looked on, morose and bitter. He had said all he wanted to say on the matter of Barney Davidson, and now he was concentrating on the exciting prospect of a long sea-journey, and at the end of it, a new life; a life in which there was no place for the man who had once been their beloved and respected father. Although their mother assured them that everything was going to be all right and that they must not worry about her, inside she was broken up. Her love for Barney had never wavered, even through the terrible times when he had humiliated her, flaunted his women and driven her to the edge of sanity. Mr Maitland is coming for us early in the morning, she reminded them. Make sure you pack everything you want to take. Therell be no coming back once weve gone. The words stuck in her throat once weve gone. How casual it sounded, when all the time this remarkable journey to America would be the most frightening step she would ever take, especially without her beloved Barney by her side. I need to get a few things in town, she lied now. I wont be long. You all carry on with what youre doing and well go through everything when I get back. Ronnie walked with her to the door. Itll be all right, you know, he said quietly. We will manage without him. Displaying a bright smile, she nodded. I know, son. You still love him, dont you? The smile slid away and in its place came a bitter-sweet look of regret. Yes, Ill always love him, she answered softly. And so will you we all will. Feeling her pain, he took her in his arms. Neither of them spoke again, and when Vicky drew away, he helped her on with her coat and opened the door for her. And when she went down the lane he stood there for what seemed an age. Its just the four of us now, he murmured. Well have to take care of each other. Vicky had already done all her shopping and was ready to leave Liverpool forever. But she had to make one last desperate attempt to recover the Barney she knew, and rebuild the marriage in which she had found such great joy all these years. With that in mind, she made her way to Bridgets house. Lucy was in the sitting room talking with Barney when she heard the knock on the door. I bet thats Bridget, forgotten her keys again, she told him. Having taken Lucys advice these past few days, Barney was rested and feeling much better. When she opened the door, Lucy was astonished and delighted to see Vicky standing there. Oh, Vicky! Im so glad you came, she told her. I was going to come and see you later on, to wish you well. She stood aside. Come in. Please, come in. Vicky made no move. I wondered if you might be thinking of coming out to the house again. Her tone was unfriendly. But you would not have been welcome today, any more than you were yesterday. You know how we feel about Barney staying here. Her expression hardened. Youre the last person I would have thought to keep my husband away from us. Lucy was about to reply, when Barney himself appeared. Lucy has nothing to do with it, he told Vicky. Im staying here with a woman friend. Vicky looked at him, at this stranger, unshaven and thinner than she remembered, and in his eyes there was a look she did not recognise. Its not too late, she told him. You can still make amends. Now, as Barney gazed down on her tired face, he realised the pain she had suffered, and all because of him. His head swelled with love and he wanted so much to take her in his arms and tell her that he adored her still, and that his family meant more to him than anything else in the world. Instead, his expression stiffened. Why would I want to make amends? he asked cruelly. These days I have no worries or responsibility. Im free to do what I want, go where I want, and I dont have to break my back working to keep a family. His smile was wicked. Im shot of all that rubbish. Yes! He even managed to swagger a bit. I consider myself to be a fortunate man! For a moment, Vicky was at a loss as to what she could say. In the end she said nothing. Instead she walked away and Barney fell back into the hallway, his hands covering his face. God help me! he cried. How can I do it to her? How can I be so cruel? Lucy took him back into the sitting room. Its a terrible thing youre doing, she said shakily, but youve gone so far down the road and now that youve told me the truth about how ill you are, I can see how it might be the only way to protect and secure your family, even if it means sending them away, hating you. She held him in her arms while he sobbed. But youre right, Barney. Even though what youre doing is terrible, not only for them, but for you as well, I do understand. He turned to her then, his eyes scarred with pain. So am I right, Lucy? he asked. Am I right to do what Im doing? It was some small compensation when she smiled on him, a smile that was filled with love and sorrow, and hope. Yes, Barney, she said honestly. Youre putting yourself through the worst nightmare, and at the end of it, youll be left without family or peace. But yes, I do believe youre doing the right thing for them. Not for himself, she thought. Not for this darling man, who was making a sacrifice, the enormity of which she could not even begin to imagine. Thank you, Lucy, youre a good friend, he murmured. So, you do think Im doing the right thing. His smile was content. Thats all I needed to know. Early the following morning, Lucy walked with him to the quayside. From their vantage-point they watched as Barneys beloved family clambered aboard that great ship. To see them go without him was more crippling than anything he had ever endured. What he felt now, in that terrible moment, was the most desolate feeling in the world. Aware that Barney must be watching them from some secret, lonely place, Leonard Maitland looked repeatedly over his shoulder for a glimpse of him. He did not spot him because, reluctant to let his family see him there, Barney was well hidden from view. It was only when the ship began to move out, that Barney shifted his position, the better to watch as the big liner took his family further away from him. He gave a futile wave, but they didnt wave back. How could they? From the deck, Vicky stretched her neck to see if he was there. When she could see no sign of him, she returned to her cabin and there she sobbed until she thought her heart would break. A moment later, Susie came running into the cabin, excited about everything and, for the moment at least, seeming to forget about the man they were leaving behind. Come quick, come and see! she cried. Mr Maitlands taking us all to the bridge! Taking Vicky by the hand, she rushed her away. As they ran, Vicky discreetly wiped her eyes. She was all they had now. And unlike Barney, she would not let them down. Later that day, when Barney was sleeping, Lucy asked Bridget to keep an eye on him. Im going up to the cottage, she said. I think Barney would be more comfortable there. Its been shut up since Edward Trent came back. She still could not bring herself to say what had actually happened. Even though most days she visited the churchyard, it still seemed like some kind of a nightmare to her not real, not possible. Bridget agreed with her, not least because she could see for herself how desperately ill Barney was and she imagined the kind of care he might need before he was back to strength. Yet she did not know the truth, that Barney had so little time left to live. I expect the cottage will want airing, she told Lucy now. Youll need to light a fire, and there must be an inch of dust all over. Take what you want from the cleaning cupboard, and if theres anything else you need, let me know and Ill send one of the girls up with it. Lucy thanked her and as an afterthought she added, If its all right with you, Id like to keep the cleaning work; I will still need the wages. Bridget groaned. Ah, sure, who else would do it if you didnt? Tillies gone above herself with the bookkeeping, and the girls think theyre Gods gift, so they wouldnt dream of spoiling their delicate hands. No, the work is yours, Lucy girl, for as long as you need it. Who else would I want in me house, tell me that? On leaving 23, Viaduct Street, every step Lucy took reminded her of Jamie, and Edward Trent. I wont let that monster ruin my life any more, she muttered, nearing the cottage. Ill make a new life here, with Barney, and Ill care for him as long as he needs me. Opening the door to the cottage, she stood looking into the tiny sitting room. Her very first and only home of her own, it had been a bright, happy place, with its chintz curtains and pretty rugs, and the little seascapes hanging on the walls. Swallowing a sob, she flung open the curtains and let the afternoon light flood in. Bridget was right, the whole place was covered in dust. It was covered in memories too. Memories of Vicky and her family; memories of Barney when he was fit and strong and life was wonderful, and Jamie was everywhere toddling around the house, holding her hand, so full of love and trust. She wallowed in nostalgia and then she cried, and then she got on with the work. Within two hours there was a cheery fire in the grate, the furniture was shining and the place felt like home again. It was not the same as before it could never be the same but it was alive with memories she did not want ever to lose. Well be happy here, Barney and me. A sense of belonging came over her as she thought of that wonderful man. Ill look after you, she murmured. Well make use of every moment we have left. Well walk and talk; well sit by the river and watch the birds come to drink, and in the evening well laze in the garden and watch the sunset. Such plans. Such love. A great sense of peace entered her soul. Well be good for each other, she told the walls. And maybe, even after all thats happened, life wont be so bad after all. Later that evening, however, Barney was not so easily persuaded. With his heart and soul dented by the savage hand Fate had dealt him, he wanted only to curl up in a corner and die, for he could see little future without his loved ones. No, Lucy. The two of them had been given the privacy of Bridgets parlour. I cant move into the cottage with you. What would people say? Your reputation would be in tatters. I dont care about my reputation! Lucy argued. I only care about you. Lucy, sweetheart, dont think Im not grateful because I am, but the answer has to be no. I wont do that to you. Lucy was persistent. Please, Barney. Barney shook his head and said not another word. Lucy knew he would not be persuaded. When she departed some half an hour later, he went to his bed to rest, while Lucy made her sorry way home. I want you to need me, she murmured as she walked away. I need to care for you, Barney. But Barney was already sleeping. He was heart-weary, and for the moment there was only one thing on his fevered mind, and that was his family. God help me! he cried. Ill never see them again oh, dear God! Dear God! When he slept he dreamed, and his dreams were soul-destroying. Over the following weeks, Lucy visited every day. She and Barney sat in Bridgets parlour and talked. Occasionally she made him laugh and when he did, she knew it was the thinnest veneer over his hurting, but it was good to hear it all the same, and her heart soared with hope. Maybe the doctors were wrong and Barney would get better. Maybe there was a future for the two of them oh, not in the same way it had been with his Vicky, but in a warm, dependent way, with each filling a need for the other, because now they each knew what loneliness was. All too soon, though, her hopes were shattered. More and more Barney took to his bed, and though Bridget was a wonderful friend, she found it all too much. Much as I would like to, I cant run a business and take care of him, she told Lucy. And there is no room for you here, you know that. In a soft, caring voice she urged Lucy, He really needs to be where hell get proper medical help. Lucy was at her wits end. I wont let them take him away! she protested. I couldnt bear it. With a plan forming in her mind, she went to Barney. Let me take you home with me? she pleaded. Bridget has been wonderful, but now its my turn. Weak though he was, Barney was still adamant. I know shes been wonderful, and I know shes finding things difficult just now. But Im not totally bedridden, he smiled, that old cheeky, mischievous smile. So dont write me off yet, my girl! Come home with me, Barney. Let me take care of you please. So thats your plan, is it? he asked. To take care of me? Yes. And you think I cant take care of myself? I know you can, but for how long, Barney? Barney thought about that, because of late he had been growing weaker. And are you prepared to risk your reputation just to keep me from ending my days in a hospital bed? You know I am! Barney gave that same wonderful smile. Then how can I refuse? Oh, Barney! Thrilled that they would be together at last, even though she did not fool herself it would be for long, Lucy threw her arms round his neck. You wont regret it, I promise. Barney laughed. If you dont stop suffocating me, I wont be around long enough to regret it, he said. Lucy let go with a look of horror. You mustnt say things like that, she chided. In serious voice he told her, And you mustnt pretend Ill be around forever, because I wont. Subdued, she nodded, the joy gone from her eyes. I know, she whispered. But it will be so good to have you near for now. And so it was arranged, and surprisingly no one saw the move as anything other than Lucy looking after an old friend. Indeed, they admired her for it. Over the coming months, Barney and Lucy spent almost every minute in each others company. Im so glad you persuaded me to come here, he told her one night when they were seated by the fire. Being here with you has been a joy. I watch you sometimes when youre hanging out the washing, and I think of Vicky. Im deeply humbled by the way youve become part of my life he smiled wryly, whats left of it. The doctor told me a year at the outset, maybe less, but lately Ive found a new strength and its all thanks to you, Lucy. Im glad. Lucy had seen the way he had rallied since coming out to the countryside. But its not me, she said. Its the country air that suits you. Barney corrected her. Its not only that, Lucy, he said softly. Its the peace and comfort I feel, just being here, with you. I wish I could be Vicky, Lucy answered. I wish I could get your family back for you. If only she could restore his happiness and the family he adored, she would have given up every minute spent with him. You cant bring them back, he murmured, and even if you could, I would not want you to. I hope they never know the way things are with me. Thats why I sent them away so they would find the new life they so looked forward to, and not be made to watch me suffer, or feel the anguish I feel. He reached out to take hold of her hand. You cant know how grateful I am to you, he said. Youve been the best friend anyone could ever have. I wish you could Lucys voice broke. I wish She was about to say she wished he could love her as she loved him, but instead the tears began to fall, and before she realised, he was holding her in his arms, and when he kissed her, she could hardly believe it. I know what you wish for, he soothed. Ive seen it in your eyes and somehow I just know He cradled her face. You are the sweetest person, Lucy The kiss was gentle. The lovemaking that followed was fumbled and tender, and Lucy gave herself to him with all her heart. Afterwards, they held each other, and Lucy cried, and he comforted her. We belong together now, you and me, he whispered. We could never be as Vicky and I were, but were together, and that must mean something. He smiled into her eyes. Do you understand what Im saying? Lucy nodded. I think Ive always loved you, she said. And Ive come to love you, but its a very different love from what I feel for Vicky. Ours is a quiet, gentle love. But is it enough for you? Is it, Lucy? Yes. Lucys heart was at peace. Its enough, she whispered, nestling contentedly in his arms. Over the coming weeks, Barney confounded the doctors by finding a new strength. Life was good; they took gentle strolls through the countryside; they sat long in the garden, and once a week they would go to the churchyard and lay a posy on little Jamies resting place. But in the back of their minds there was always the fear of Barneys relapse, and the growing weakness in his limbs. When Lucy found to her immense joy that she was carrying Barneys child, their happiness knew no bounds. But Barney was adamant. We cant let it be known that youre with child, he said. That would only set tongues wagging. God knows theyve already been busy enough, what with me being here and the two of us living under the same roof. It was true, Lucy thought. At first everyone had accepted that she was merely caring for Barney. But now, after months passing and the two of them being seen out together, the gossip knew no end, and it was not pleasant. Look, Lucy, I have a small amount of money put by. Lets move away rent a place somewhere far off, where folks wont point the finger at you or the child. It was just an idea, but Lucy was reluctant to leave the area. You need to be near the doctors, you know, she told him. You dont want to be starting over with someone new who doesnt know you like Dr Lucas. Youre doing all right for now. Please, Barney. dont take any risks. But you will think about it, wont you, Lucy? he urged. And the more Lucy thought about it, the less she liked the idea of moving Barney out of the area. He had Dr Lucas, who knew him like an old friend, and the hospital close enough to have him in quickly should it be needed. He had his old friend Adam, who came to visit regularly, and others who were concerned for his health. But none of this bothered Barney. All he wanted was that the child should not grow up where people pointed the finger. Lucys immediate concern, however, was for Barney, and so, for the moment she tactfully let the matter slide. When she told Bridget about the coming baby, and Barneys wish to move away, Bridget was thrilled and horrified at the same time. Oh, Lucy! I think its wonderful that you and Barney have found each other. Even though hell always pine for Vicky, at least hes found a measure of peace and happiness with you, and as for you, well, youre positively blooming! She observed Lucys bright eyes and the spring in her step when she walked and her heart went out to her. Ive always known you loved him, she confided. Anyone with half an eye could see it. Some months later, the child, a girl, was born to Lucy and Barney. They called her Mary, after Barneys late mother. Shes beautiful, he said, the joy written on his face. I know I will never see her grow to a woman but, God willing, I might be here long enough to see her as a real little person. And he did, for though his illness was a terrible threat hanging over all of them, he saw little Mary when she began toddling, and when she gurgled her first word it was for him alone. LUCY! One fine morning, Barney greeted Lucy from the garden with tears in his eyes. She called me Daddy. It was one of the most beautiful moments in his life, and Lucy thanked the good Lord for His mercy in letting Barney live long enough to experience the joy of it all. But on Marys second birthday, Barney took a turn for the worse. Confined to his bed for a week, he had time to consider his future, and that of his daughter and Lucy. Its time to leave here, he told Lucy one evening when they sat by the fire. I dont want Mary to know what happened to Vicky and the family. I dont want her to think me some kind of monster to have sent them away without me. I made them hate me, Lucy, I made them think I was a drunk and a womaniser. What kind of thing is that for our daughter to hear? And hear it she will, because Im certain everyone round here must know the truth. As soon as she can understand, Mary will hear it, and I dont want that. Dyou hear me, sweetheart? I dont want her to know until shes old enough to understand the tittle-tattle and to be able to forgive me for it! Lucy gently replied, Ill tell her when the time is right. Ill tell her what a courageous and wonderful thing you did for love of your family. Shell understand. But I want us to move, Lucy, he pleaded. I know its the right thing for Mary. Barney could not be dissuaded, and when she gave it more thought, Lucy could see the wisdom of his reasoning. So, she spoke to agents and even wrote away as far as Bedfordshire. Before Marys third birthday, the cottage was sold. The same businessman who bought Leonards farm wanted it to extend and then sell on with a minimum of five acres of pasture-land. He had competition from another source, and between them they sent the price up, enough for Barney and Lucy to secure a sizeable property further afield. It wasnt long before her efforts paid off. She got news of a house some two hundred miles away in a small hamlet near the town of Bedford. The house was of some substance, a proud and beautiful woman past her best was how it had been described to her. Apparently the house had stood empty for many years and had gradually fallen into disrepair. Consequently it was going cheap for anyone who had the heart to bring it back to its former glory, and if not, then it was still habitable, with no apparent structural defects. Because the journey would be too arduous for Barney, Lucy went with Adam to view the house. She fell instantly in love with it. There was also a small house in the grounds, that too brought to its knees by neglect and the elements. If I move with you and Barney, I could set up a business in the village. Adam grew excited. Meantime, I could work on the house. Im not a builder, but I do know how to use my hands. The truth was, he could not bear the thought of being so far away from Lucy in her hour of need, especially when Barneys health seemed to be failing fast. In truth, Lucy had seen Barneys health deteriorate so much of late, that even though he fervently assured her to the contrary, she feared he might not be strong enough for the move. On Lucys return, she thanked Bridget who had kindly stayed at the cottage with Barney while Lucy travelled south to view the house. So, what did you think of it? Bridget was excited, though she would miss her dear friend. Was it as grand as they said? Lucy described the house in detail, its strong Edwardian features, the high ceilings and panelled walls, the long windows with panoramic views across open countryside. It could be beautiful, Lucy told her. But it does need a lot of work, though Adam has come up with an idea. When Adam explained it to Barney, he was thrilled. That would be good, he told him. Ive been so concerned about Lucy and the child. I could rest easy if I knew youd be around to keep an eye on things. So the deal was done and plans were quickly underway. In a few weeks time Barney, Lucy, Adam and Mary were away to pastures new; though for Barney it would never be a long adventure; they all knew that. Part 4 (#ulink_95745b6e-e9bb-5151-9344-ab7b79674aed) Back to January, 1952 Mary and Ben Chapter 21 (#ulink_48367468-4109-538e-879b-5c488da17beb) WHILE LUCY SLEPT upstairs, Adam Chives sat by the fire in Knudsden House, his mind going back over the years, and his heart both proud and sad. Barney and your mother lived in that cottage together for more than two years, he told Mary, while Ben listened. The doctors had given him a year at the most, but Lucy brought him a degree of peace, and after a time they made a life together. He smiled wistfully at the memory, for he had loved Lucy as much as she loved Barney. To this day, she has never stopped loving him. You were born out of that love, Mary. Lucys quiet voice filled the room. Youre so much like your father. You have the same beautiful eyes and the same gentle ways. Lucy! Adam was horrified. Dr Nolan said you were to stay in bed. Nonsense, Im perfectly all right, she argued. There is nothing wrong with me, and Im far from in my dotage, for heavens sake! Doctors dont know everything. Ive simply been overdoing it, thats all. Hobbling but determined, she came into the room where she stood beside Adam, her hand resting on his shoulder and her gaze bathing every inch of her daughters face. Every time I look at you, I see Barney. Adam looked at Mary and he, too, saw Barney in her every feature softer and more feminine, yes but strong and handsome too. I was there when you were born, Adam said fondly. I waited in the sitting room with your father, while Dr Lucas was upstairs bringing you into the world. When he heard your first cry, Barney went up those stairs like he was born all over again. He took you in his arms and oh, he was such a proud, happy man. When Adam laid his hand over Lucys, she hardly noticed, though deep down she derived a measure of comfort from his touch. Deeply moved by everything she had heard, Mary went to Lucy and taking her mother gently over to the armchair, she sat her down. I never knew, she said. I never dreamed that was the secret you kept from me all these years. She had learned more about her father and her own background in one evening, than in all the years she was growing up. There was so much to think about. The revelation that she had three half-siblings in America, plus the sorrowful knowledge that her half-brother Jamie had died before her, was a huge shock to her system, and she knew that it would take a long, long time to come to terms with everything she had learned tonight. Lucy was glad that Adam had chosen to tell the truth. Its been such a burden all this time, she admitted now. But I gave my promise, dyou see? I gave my promise and I could never break it. Adam reassured her. You didnt break it, he reminded her. It was me who thought Mary should be told. Ive always thought it was her right to know. Lucy smiled. So you thought youd tittle-tattle while I was laid up, did you? Im not sorry the truth is out, he said stoutly. Im only sorry if Ive upset you. Lucy sighed. You did right, my old friend. You did right. She turned to address Ben, who had been mesmerised by the whole story. What do you think of my darling Barney? she asked. Do you think he was right in what he did? Lucy was testing him. In Ben she had seen something akin to Barney, but she needed reassuring. Ben considered her question, and when he gave his answer, he gave it with a sense of wonder. In all my life, Ive never heard of such a man, he said. What he did was incredible. For the sake of his loved ones, he belittled and punished himself beyond endurance. I understand now what the inscription means. He made the greatest sacrifice of all. Lucy asked him another question. In those circumstances, would you have done the same? Ben smiled inwardly. Already, because of what Adam had told of Lucys strength of character, and because he had witnessed it for himself from the moment they met, Ben knew he was being tested, and he suspected her view of him would hinge on the kind of answer he gave. Well, young man? As was her way, Lucy grew impatient. Ben considered the question again, and when he answered it was as straight an answer as he could give. Any man would be prepared to do whatever was in his power to protect his loved ones, he told her, but like a grain of sand or a drop of rain, each man is different. A man will be judged on his merit. Barney Davidson is the kind of man every other man would want to be, but Im not Barney, nor could I ever be. All the same, I would hope that, given the same circumstances, I might find the courage and fortitude to do what he did. Other than that, I cant say. There was a moment while they reflected on his words, before Mary asked of her mother, What happened to my father? How did it end? Lucy gave a whimsical smile. It ended the way we always thought it might end, she said. It was the most beautiful summers evening. We were sitting in the garden watching the sun go down, when Barney turned to me and told me how much he had come to love me but that he could never love me in the same way that he loved Vicky. She had been his life, while I had become his life, thats what he said. Lucy thought about Barneys words, just as she had done on that memorable night. I often wondered about that, she said. I thought it a strange thing for him to say, and for a time I couldnt understand his meaning. Looking up at Mary, she took hold of her hand. After a while, I did understand. What he meant was that he and Vicky had grown together, learned together and knew each others very thoughts She paused. With me it was different. When Barney and I met, I simply became part of the family that was already Barneys; I was an outsider coming in. But then suddenly it was just the two of us, and we learned to know and love each other. Like Ben said just now, he could not be Barney any more than I could be Vicky. Were all different and we touch each others lives in different ways. But love is love, no matter which way you look at it. Thank you, she said gravely, and he knew he had passed the test. Love is love, and thats what we had, me and Barney. We had such love to share, just talking and laughing and simply being together. And if I never have another day of contentment, I had more happiness in those years with Barney, than most women have in a lifetime. Suddenly, Lucy shivered. Im tired now, my darling, she told her daughter. Take me back to my bed? Mary took her upstairs and when Lucy was made comfortable, the young woman asked, Did you ever hear from Vicky, or the family? Lucy shook her head. No, never. Fearing that Mary had too many questions to which she might not have the answers, Lucy told her, For reasons I hope you now understand, Barney did not want them to know about you. So I have two brothers and a sister I may never see? Though Mary had been deeply touched by the story of her father, she felt cheated somehow, filled with all kinds of regrets, regrets that she had never known him, and regrets that she was never told the truth. But now she knew it all, and it was as though a cloud was lifted from over her head. But what of the rest of her family? Will I ever meet them Thomas and Ronnie, and my sister Susie? Lucy was not ready for this. Leave me now, love, she said. Let me sleep. Quietly, Mary left. Tomorrow, when her mother was rested, she would ask again. And she would keep on asking, until Lucy agreed to reunite her with the family she had never known. It was much later that Adam tapped on Lucys bedroom door to check on her. Ben had gone home and Mary was in bed. Lucy herself was sitting up in bed, awake but at peace with herself. Ben is so much like Barney, Lucy murmured. She had Barney strong in her mind tonight. Tell me something, Adam asked. Do you think you will ever contact Vicky? I made a promise never to tell them, she sighed. You made that same promise. I know, and Ive always regretted it. I kept it when Barney was alive, and Ive kept it all these years. I didnt even mention it when informing Mr Maitland of his death, as Barney requested in his last hours. But Ive never felt comfortable about it, Lucy. I think they have a right to know why he did what he did, the same as Mary had a right to know. God only knows how they have suffered all these years. When she remained silent, he asked her again. Will you tell them, Lucy? Will you contact Vicky? Unable to answer such a momentous question, Lucy thought fleetingly of her daughter and Ben, and her heart was glad. There was magic happening between those two. I love you, Lucy. Adams voice was so close to her ear, she felt his warm breath against her skin. I know. She turned to smile on him. Ive always known. You never said. Because there would have been no point and I might have hurt your feelings. You see, I didnt love you back. Do you love me back now? I think so. She turned away. You realise I could never love you in the same way I loved Barney? Will you marry me? Were too long in the tooth for that nonsense, she laughed. But secretly she felt quite excited. She had had two children by two very different men one full of darkness and one full of light and yet had never been married. Maybe that was the next experience that Fate had in store for her. For now, the moment passed and they were quiet again. When you get in touch with Vicky, Adam persisted, will you tell her what Barney did for them? Taking Lucy by the shoulders, he turned her round to face him. I know Leonard Maitland gave you his address. You can get in touch if you want to, he said. They wont have moved from the farm. Lucy patted the tip of her nose in a gesture of secrecy. I might and I might not. Her smile grew mischievous. But thats another story altogether, dont you think? Adam knew that when Lucy was in this strange mood of hers, there was no reasoning with her. He kissed her then not the kiss of a lover, but the kiss of someone who knew her well. Good night, Lucy. Smiling resignedly, he shook his head. Sleep tight. For a while after hed gone, she continued to gaze at the little photograph still lying on the eiderdown. It was the only picture she had of Barney, and it was her treasure. Taken on the day he took delivery of his new tractor, Barney stood beside it, a proud man, while Leonard Maitland recorded the moment forever. Taking the photograph into her hands and looking down, she let herself be drawn back over the years, to summertimes and harvests, and picnics and laughter, when Jamie was always at her side and in her heart. Moving pictures in her mind; warm and real in her heart. They were glorious times with the Davidson family, all together and not a cloud in their sky. Happy days, she murmured. But its not the end, my darlings. Replacing the photograph, she glanced again towards the window, where outside, new love was beginning. Your fathers story is the most remarkable Ive ever heard. Ben had been deeply shaken by the turn of this nights events, and if he lived to be a hundred, he would never forget this night nor the man who was Barney Davidson. I never knew, Mary answered thoughtfully. All these years and I never knew. Your mother said you looked like him. Ben observed her small pretty face, and he had an urge to take her in his arms. You have such a calmness about you, I can imagine you must also have inherited some of his character traits as well. Mary smiled. I hope so. Im glad we met. Reaching out he took hold of her hand, and to his delight she did not draw it away. Do you think we might have a future together, you and me? Thrilled by his remark, her answer was to lean forward and kiss him. She looked into those dark, sincere eyes and at the strong set of his jaw and that air of confidence about him, and she thought of all that had passed long ago. But that was not her life. This was her life, hers and Bens, and suddenly, when she felt his loving arms about her, she knew it was where she belonged, with this man whom she hardly knew, and yet she felt as though she had known him forever. You still havent answered me, Mary. His voice was soft in her ear. You havent said if you think we might have a future together? Turning her head, she looked up at him. Yes, her smile was content, I really believe we might. Lucy saw it all. She saw them kiss, and she saw the tenderness in his embrace, and it made her think of Barney. I hope you find happiness together, she whispered. Wearied and content, Lucy climbed into bed. For a while she lay awake, her mind back there where it all took place. It had been an amazing adventure. But it was not yet over. For now, though, it was time to reflect, and be thankful. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS (#ulink_38081e45-9080-55a2-893c-a174eb91721c) In September 2004, I was honoured to be asked if I would officially open a meadow in memory of all the many generations of Brogborough families. It was so wonderful to see all the familiar faces who came along for the occasion. This small, estate in Brogborough, where I first came when my parents split up, was a haven for me as a young girl. My husband Ken grew up there, as did many of our friends and members of our families. For me, Brogborough will always be special. Memories of that magical place will stay with me forever, not least because of the people who have moved on or moved away, and are always remembered in my heart. Brogborough was where I met my Ken; its where I grew and flourished; and its where every member of every household was family. I still have family there, and part of my heart will always be there. I hope the meadow gives the children and families great joy over the coming years. A big well done to everyone involved, and a heartfelt thank you to Tracey, Claire and Madge, for making me part of that very special day. God bless. Love you loads, Josephine JOSEPHINE COX Journeys End DEDICATION (#ulink_0c206ed2-6a5a-5241-ba32-e3051a8e286a) This book is for my Ken as always CONTENTS COVER (#u3557c25c-be93-5aad-8b90-930f62a9bd7c) TITLE PAGE (#ucd5ec789-a577-501e-9acb-475004c60d69) DEDICATION (#u47e8d684-dd82-5ab4-850e-9acfd21167a2) PART ONE (#uc9efa468-4135-58fd-a9fe-bb9e83e44874) CHAPTER ONE (#u5b71b471-29fa-5dd1-8a17-de1a2f934443) CHAPTER TWO (#u63bd15a7-575b-548e-8ec1-c663881997f1) CHAPTER THREE (#u2b50be49-e0cb-5b82-9b44-cc248943ceb5) CHAPTER FOUR (#u57dbbbef-1362-5651-b523-2897b54a3f7d) CHAPTER FIVE (#u6ebdf671-9c78-5a8b-b0e8-a629db6d4dbd) CHAPTER SIX (#u7c4b8040-0846-5aef-9ce8-8aff14272eae) CHAPTER SEVEN (#u202dd914-4b4e-56d2-8c41-a6b0908be518) CHAPTER EIGHT (#u060d5f43-a956-58f0-aba2-425c92e1cb54) CHAPTER NINE (#ud66423b5-faa1-5f7f-b63f-d37bcddb1e90) PART TWO (#ud69363d5-5596-56c6-90d9-3d14afea3de6) CHAPTER TEN (#ucbf528b4-7e9e-53ef-9875-39a96284405f) CHAPTER ELEVEN (#ub5ce3b63-ebca-517b-bbe0-0cfc6ff3e290) CHAPTER TWELVE (#u3eafb8f7-d5f0-5524-9f89-2d588ba4ea51) CHAPTER THIRTEEN (#ubfe70630-20c0-5234-b658-6e8a9258c808) CHAPTER FOURTEEN (#ub65a0ad9-014e-5552-9bd2-1fd1a350a3b2) CHAPTER FIFTEEN (#u3247b242-ea9f-5fa1-9cdf-fd49d3a70dc2) CHAPTER SIXTEEN (#litres_trial_promo) PART THREE (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER SEVENTEEN (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER EIGHTEEN (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER NINETEEN (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER TWENTY (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE (#litres_trial_promo) PART FOUR (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE (#litres_trial_promo) Part 1 (#ulink_750af014-53bc-57ae-8b66-6020c9490f89) Late March, 1954 The Telling Salford, Bedfordshire Chapter 1 (#ulink_7f072c80-a803-5f35-a4a8-ca7265dc730d) SHE WOKE WITH a cry. It was the same dream as before the same place, the same faces, the same jolt of terror; real in her dream, real in her life. Would it never leave her be? The sweat dripping down her temples and her whole body trembling, she clambered out of bed and went to the window, where for a moment she stood, regaining her composure, collecting her senses. Drawing back the curtains, she peered into the darkness, thick and impenetrable, like the deepest recesses of her mind. Dismissing the nightmare, she returned to the question that tormented her. Should she tell? Would it destroy lives and minds? Would they hate her or, as she desperately hoped, would they thank her? But then, why would they thank her when the news she had to reveal was so unbearably cruel? Dear God, give me the courage to do whats right, she prayed. Maybe it would be better if the truth was never told. Yet that would be the cowards way out, and she might be many things, but Lucy Baker was no coward. She glanced at the clock; it was five minutes past three another day beginning. Taking her robe from the back of the chair, she slipped into it and sat on the edge of the bed, where she remained for a time. She sighed, a long, broken sigh. Oh, my dearest Barney, my joy, my life. There was a murmuring of guilt, but never regret. I loved you then, and I love you still. Barney had been her only true love, and it was a love all-consuming, all-powerful. There was no way to describe how much she missed him. No words. Only memories. The smile slipped away and in its place came a look of hatred. While Barney had brought her joy, Edward Trent had brought her tragedy. Edward Trent monster! Her mouth curled with loathing, she spat out his name as though it was tainted with poison. His wickedness had caused such pain; she would carry the burden of it for the rest of her days. Lucy was no stranger to nightmares. A thousand times, she had awoken terrified and sobbing, reliving the night when Edward Trent had kidnapped her little son Jamie, and caused him to drown. In the sorrowful years that followed, Trent had haunted her every waking and sleeping hour. In the daytime she would be in the middle of a mundane task, like washing the dishes or drawing the curtains, and suddenly he was gnawing at her mind until she could hardly think straight. Then at night came the dreams which left her breathless and shaking. Eventually, over the past twenty and more years, she had grown used to them. Like the hatred, they had become part of her life. In the dreams it was always the same: the darkness, the water, and the chase that unforgettable chase, ending in such horror. This time though, the dream had been different. There was no frantic chase, no rushing water as it tumbled downstream, tugging at her ankles and throwing her off-balance; there wasnt even the soul-wrenching sound of her child crying. This dream was like nothing she had ever experienced. She had seen only his face, that swarthy, handsome face, his mouth frozen in an easy smile. Unlike before, he was not threatening her, nor was he reaching out. There was only the smile. And those mesmerising eyes, utterly chilling. And the silence eerie, absolute. Take a hold of yourself, Lucy, she said aloud. Grabbing the crumpled corner of the bedsheet, she wiped the sweat from her face. It was just a dream. He cant hurt you any more. So many times she had tried to convince herself of that. Even so, the fear never went away. It never would. In the adjoining room, in that lazy space between sleeping and waking, Mary lay in her bed and listened. She heard her mother open the curtains, and she heard her muffled footsteps as they paced the floor. The young woman did not attempt to go in: she knew that Lucy would not want that. Instead, for the next hour, she lay waiting, the only sound the ticking of the clock. This was not the first time she had heard her mother agitated, unable to sleep. The first time was many years ago, when she was just an infant. The sound of Lucy sobbing had disturbed her deeply. In her childish manner, Mary had gone to comfort her, but her mother sent her away. Since then, whenever she heard her mother weeping in the night, Mary would keep vigil, desperately hoping it would not be too long before her mother went back to sleep; as she always did. Mary had known there was some secret torment in her mothers past; some fearful thing that touched all of their lives in some way herself, her mother, and Adam, that dear kind man who had always been there to protect them. Only recently, Adam had taken it upon himself to tell the truth of what happened all those years ago. In the telling, he had betrayed Lucys trust and broken his vow to his old friend Barney. At the time he believed it was for the best. Now, he was not so sure. Mary was shaken to her roots by the story he told. Even now it was not ended. There were others who had to know: the ones who had gone away; the ones who had never known the truth of Barney Davidsons sacrifice. In Marys far-off memories, she recalled her father, Barney, who had died when she was a tiny girl. He had been a special kind of man, frail in body but powerful in spirit. She recalled how he would sit her on his knee and create magic through his vivid fairytales; he made her laugh with his comical mimicry, and sometimes when she woke crying, he would hold her up to the window and show her the stars and describe the beauty and wonder of the world they lived in. He told her she must never be afraid, because there would always be someone looking over her. She loved him so much, and then he was gone, and their lives were never the same again. When she was satisfied that her mother had gone back to sleep, Mary turned over and relaxed. Tomorrow, there would be no mention of this night. Mother and daughter would smile and chat, and talk of everything else, and it would be as though the nightmare had never happened. Because that was how Lucy wanted it. Chapter 2 (#ulink_327b1fca-a8ea-5879-8d63-e8d01c17576e) BY HALF PAST eight, Lucy was out of her bed, washed and dressed and sprucing herself in the mirror. Not bad for an old un, if I say so myself! Laying down the hairbrush, she ran her two hands through her short cap of greying hair, teased out a few stray curls and thought how, if it wasnt for the occasional lapse of memory and the age spots on the back of her hands, she could maybe pass for a young thing of fifty. Sighing wistfully, she shook her head. Wish all you like, my girl, she chided herself. It wont change the fact that youre past your prime, so stop fancying yourself in the mirror. Before you know it, the doctor will be here, she frowned, not that you need him, because you dont but it makes him feel wanted, so shift yourself, and be quick about it. She observed her image in the mirror. She did her best to keep what was left of her looks, but had not yet regained her strength since stumbling in the local churchyard a couple of years ago. The incident seemed to have sparked off a form of arthritis, but this was what you expected, wasnt it, at her age. You had to slow down, whether you wanted to, or not. She gazed critically on herself; the skin was not as glowing as it used to be, and there appeared to be more of it which hung in little loose swathes round her neck, and there were lines round her eyes and mouth. But the small straight nose and heart-shaped face were still pretty, and the blue eyes as bright as ever. She had never been a beauty, that much was true, but shed been better off than most women because, even though it was for a cruelly short time, she had had the love of a man like Barney Davidson. Thoughts of her beloved overwhelmed her. She knew that Barney had never loved her as he had loved his wife, Vicky. In the end, Lucy may have filled his heart, but it was only ever Vicky who filled his soul. Lifting the photograph from the dresser, she gazed down on herself and Barney, and the infant girl in his arms. It was a cherished picture, taken only a few months before Barney was lost to her, and even then, when the illness ravaged him, the goodness of the man, and his absolute joy of life shone out of his face still a handsome face for all that. Lucy choked back a sob. They had had so little time together, yet she thanked God for every second. They had shared everything the anguish of seeing his wife and children leave him; the guilt and tears afterwards; the companionship between him and Lucy that grew into a kind of loving contentment, then the sheer joy and pride when Mary was born to them. Through all the ups and downs of every passing day, they never forgot the others: Leonard Maitland, a man who had gone away knowing the truth, even though it meant he would never again have peace of mind, and Vicky and the children who had sailed with him, estranged from Barney and in total ignorance of the price he had paid for their new lives in America. Lucy recalled the day when they left. There was no other way, Barney, she murmured now. No other way The loud spluttering of a car engine brought her hurrying to the window. Adam! The brightness of a spring day was startling, and the skies above were blue and cloudless. For late March, it was unusually warm. Adam, whats going on? she called down. Covered in muck and oil, Adam was standing before the car in the drive of Knudsden House. He had the bonnet up and the starter-handle lodged into position. The damned things been playing up again, he called back, and now its completely given up the ghost. Ive done what I can, but I reckon shell need a new engine. Diving his head under the bonnet again, he fiddled with a few nuts and bolts, before returning to swing the handle for the umpteenth time. There was a shuddering and a spluttering, and a shout of victory when he thought hed done the trick, but then the engine fell silent again. Its no good. Defeated, he gave a shake of the head. Theres no spark at all now. Lucy shouted down: Leave it! Come inside Come on. His heart warmed by the invitation, Adam waved up to her. Ill be there in a minute. Closing the window, Lucy smiled to herself. No spark, eh? She hoped the day never came when they said that about her! Life might be a bit more of a challenge these days and her health was not as robust as she would have liked, but by God, she wasnt done yet. Not by any means! By the time Adam showed his face at the kitchen door, both Lucy and Mary were seated at the table, Lucy enjoying her eggs and bacon, and Mary toying with her scrambled eggs. Look at the state of you! Pointing to Adams mucky face and hands, Lucy asked him sternly: Have you had your breakfast? Not yet, no. Because the car had been playing up the previous day, hed got out of his bed early this morning to work on the engine. There was no time for breakfast, he explained. Two hours I messed about with that blessed machine this morning. He groaned. I honestly thought Id fixed it! Lucy felt as though she had known him forever. A loyal friend to them both, Adam Chives had been part of her life with Barney, and after Barney was gone, he had seen her through a bad time and remained ever close. Lucy had often wondered why he never married, until some time ago he confessed to her that she had always been the only woman he had ever truly loved. Time and again Adam had asked her to be his wife and time and again she had gently refused. But knowing how persistent he was, Lucy was in no doubt that some time in the not too distant future, he was bound to try again. Taking a gulp of her tea, Lucy discreetly regarded him. Homely, well-built, with thick greying hair and kind expressive eyes, Adam was an ordinary kind of man, but with an extraordinary sense of loyalty. When he made a friend it was a friend for life and when he fell in love, it was with heart and soul. Over the years, Lucy had prayed that he might find a woman who would bring him the happiness he deserved; though in the beginning she had never believed it was herself he needed. When some years ago, she expressed her hope that he might find a good woman to share his life, he told her he wanted no other wife but her. And that he would always be there for her as long as she needed him. His confession had touched Lucy deeply. Right then, if you go and wash up, she told him now, Ill see to your breakfast. Thank you, Lucy, but no thanks! Hungry though he was, he didnt want her fussing over him. I dont like to put you to any trouble, especially when youve got the doctor coming this morning. Brushing aside his protests, Lucy took another long gulp of her tea, before pushing back her chair and standing up. Breakfast will be ready when you are, she assured him. And dont worry about the doctor. I can handle him. She laughed. He seems a bit nervous of me. No sooner is he in the door than hes itching to get out again. Im not surprised. Poor devil! Adam chuckled. Ive seen how you boss him about. Only when he tries to tell me what to do! she retorted. I know Im not as young and foolhardy as I once was; my bones ache like the devil and there are times when I want to run and can only shuffle. Some days its like going through a fog one minute its clear as a bell and I can go forward, then the next I cant find an easy way and have to slow down. She smiled into his eyes. So you see, Adam, the bad times come and go, but Im not bedridden yet, thank God. If Im tired I rest, and if I feel all right Ill do whatever I please. She gave a wry little smile. Either way, I expect Ill pop my clogs soon enough. Rolling his eyes to the ceiling, Adam gave a boot-deep sigh. You cant be serious for one minute, can you? Whatever will we do with you, eh? He knew what hed like to do. Hed like to sweep her into his arms and carry her off. But you didnt do that with Lucy. She was stubborn and a law unto herself. But that was the nature of her, and he would not have it any other way. And dont leave the sink with a rim of oil round it neither! Lucys voice sailed across the kitchen. Right, boss. Bowing slightly, Adam gave a mock-servile tug of his forelock. Ill make sure I leave it ready for inspection. Having put the plug in the sink and taken the kettle from the hob, he began pouring the warm water into an enamel bowl. Looking over his shoulder with a cheeky wink, he made Lucy smile. Through all this good-natured banter, Mary had remained silent, but now she told Adam, Best do as youre told. You know shell examine your hands back and front before youre allowed to sit down oh, and dont forget to wash behind your ears, or youll be made to stand in the corner. Lucy wagged a finger. Behave yourself, young lady. I may be getting on a bit, and you a grown woman now, but Im still capable of clipping your ear. Mary chuckled. Im sure you are! At the sink, Adam took a moment to think. Getting on a bit? In his minds eye he could see Lucy Baker, as she then was, as a young woman running barefoot across the fields, her long flowing locks lifted by the breeze, and on her face a smile bright and warm as a sunny morning. Sometimes, before the world was wide awake, when he was out walking across the headlands, he would see her by the river, seated on a fallen log with her feet dipped into the water. He had loved her then and knew how, for the remainder of his life, he would never love another woman. What he felt for Lucy was a love that would endure forever. Nay, youre far too full of yourself to ever get old, he said cheekily. Well, thank you, Adam, Lucy replied. I shall take that as a back-handed compliment, shall I though I think you are seeing me through rose-coloured spectacles. Something in his voice and the look in his eyes told Lucy that he might be ready to ask her again if she would marry him, and just for the briefest moment, her heart seemed to turn over. They say beautiful women never really know theyre beautiful, he added softly. I reckon thats true where youre concerned. Get away with you, you old flatterer! Strangely embarrassed, she took a forkful of leftover egg and popped it into her mouth, and astonished Mary by blushing bright pink. Graciously refusing Marys offer to cook Adams breakfast instead, Lucy threw two more rashers of bacon and some mushrooms into the pan. In no time at all, they were sizzling away. A few moments later, having finished washing at the sink and making sure hed wiped it round afterwards, Adam seated himself at the table, where his breakfast was put in front of him. Cor! Look at that a real feast. He hadnt realised how truly hungry he was until the aroma of hot food flooded his nostrils. Thank you, Lucy. He turned to Mary with a wink. Your mothers not only beautiful, shes a good cook into the bargain. Lucy thought one fine compliment was enough in a day. Food is for eating, she said, placing a platter of toast before him. So stop chatting and get it down you, before it goes cold. Smiling to herself at the way these two seemed to fit together like a hand in a glove, Mary was already getting out of her chair. Ill make some fresh tea. She knew how much Adam loved her mother, and she also suspected that, although she didnt yet realise it, her mother had come to love him back. Leaving them to talk, she took her time making the tea, while occasionally glancing at the two of them, now deep in conversation and looking for all the world like any other husband and wife; though they were neither of them ordinary. They were special, at least to her. A short time later, having set them up with a fresh pot of tea, Mary excused herself. Ben will be here soon, she explained. Were going into Shefford to look at a new tractor. A new tractor, eh? Lucy was delighted at how her daughters friendship with Ben Morris, the owner of Far Crest Farm, had grown into a close and loving relationship. It had been her dearest wish for Mary to find a man who cared deeply for her, and she truly believed Ben to be that man. Talk of the devil, here he is now. Adam looked out of the window and drew their attention to the dark-haired, good-looking man on his way up the drive; with his tall capable build and long, easy strides, he looked like a man who could handle whatever obstacles life put in his way. A few years ago, emotionally and mentally drained by the break-up of his marriage, Ben had decided to uproot himself and build a whole new way of life. It was not an easy decision, but when he eventually moved to the area of South Bedfordshire, he kept in close touch with his only child, Abbie, who had a secretarial job in London and shared a flat there with friends. On first arriving in Salford, Ben, a former architect knew next to nothing about farming. But thanks to his practical nature, and learning as he went, he now had a comfortable income and a way of life he couldnt have possibly ever imagined. And he had never been happier. After the trauma and deceit that caused the end of his marriage to Pauline, he had not wanted another deep relationship. But then he met Lucys daughter, Mary, and had soon come to realise that not all women were the same. Where his wife had been dominant and deceitful, Mary was kind and caring; though she did have a fiery side. Last summer while they were strolling across the fields, they saw a man kicking his dog, and before Ben could intervene, Mary had snatched the dog away and confronted the man with a passion. This incident had only served to convince Ben that he was a fortunate man, because here was a woman he could trust and respect. And he had come to love her so much, it frightened him. BEN! Knocking on the window, Adam hoped to catch his attention, but the younger man was already out of earshot. Dont you two go running off before Ive had a chance to see him, he said to Mary as she hurried from the room, I want to ask the lad if hell have a look at the car. Theres nothing I dont know about tractors, but Im jiggered if I can fathom out whats wrong with this blessed car! He frowned. It starts then it dies away, coughing and spluttering. Ben knows his way round engines. With a bit of luck, hell be able to make more sense out of that damned vehicle than I can. Hey! Lucys voice followed them. Thats quite enough of that cursing, if you dont mind. Half-turning, Adam gave another tug of his forelock. Sorry, boss, he said nervously. Ill not do it again. Chuckling heartily, Lucy returned to her tea. A few minutes later, when she started to clear away, a feeling of total exhaustion overwhelmed her. Sudden pains shot down the back of her neck, and her spine felt as though it was being squeezed. This had happened before; thankfully, the attack always passed, though lately the passing seemed to take longer. Resting a moment to recover, she rolled up her sleeves and was soon up to the elbows in hot sudsy water. It was a hard thing to come to terms with, growing old, and she resented the years rolling away behind her. Life was too short, and love too fleeting. She thought of Barney wistfully. She would never again hold his hand or experience that wonderful surge of joy as he slid his arm around her when she least expected it. Life could be so cruel. But she had Mary, and so she still had a part of Barney in her life. Looking out of the window, she saw how content her daughter was. She saw Mary helping Ben off with his jacket, and she witnessed the way they briefly touched and held hands before he leaned into the car engine. They belonged together, Lucy had known that from the first minute she saw them together in St Andrews churchyard all those months ago. That was why she had deliberately dropped her handbag there for Ben to find. When returning it to Lucy at her home, Knudsden House, he had met Mary again, and their romance had begun on that long, fateful night. And neither of them had ever suspected her part in it! Ben reminded Lucy so much of Barney oh, not in his physique, for Ben was taller and bigger-built than Barney and their colouring was different. But the essence of the man was the same; they each had a certain commanding presence. They smiled with their eyes and had that same kind of trustworthy, open nature. Lucys heart swelled with love as she gazed fondly on her daughter. Mary would never know how thankful she was that the girl had found someone she truly loved, and who loved her back in the same way. She couldnt help but compare Mary and her sweetheart, to herself and Barney. She had loved her father in the same way the girl loved her Ben, deeply and without reservation. She could see it all in her minds eye herself, Barney and Vicky, his true wife, soulmate, and the mother of his three other children. It was a devilish triangle, destined to torment them all, and Barney the unwilling centrepiece of a cruel game that no one could ever win. She had often wondered what she could have done to save them all so much pain, and the answer was always the same: there was nothing. She could not have prevented what happened, at least not without hurting Barney, and she loved him so much she would gladly have died for him. God help her, she loved him still with every fibre of her being. Her eyes swam with sadness as she followed Marys every move. Oh, I dont fool myself, she thought, because even though for a glorious time we were together and you, my darling, were conceived out of love, your father was never really mine. Barney had loved her, in his own way, but it was Vicky of whom he dreamed. Even after he had sent her away, she filled his heart and soul. Lucy had always understood: Barney and Vicky were made for each other, and Lucy could never take the other womans place, nor would she want to. Vicky had been his first and only love just as you were mine, she thought. Chapter 3 (#ulink_9f7fa8a0-818d-5c20-85ea-4fa4f77dee43) AS LUCY CARRIED on rinsing the pots, dreaming quietly to herself, she heard Mary call out a greeting to someone. Lucy raised her gaze to see a familiar figure approaching up the path. Elsie! Lucy was not expecting her so early. Quickly now, she wiped her arms and rolled down her sleeves, and backing away from the sink, she sat at the table, for all the world as though she had been there all along. As was her way, Elsie Langton burst in through the door like a wayward wind, her sharp eyes going straight to the sink, half-filled with sudsy water and the few plates resting on the wooden draining-board alongside. Whats all this then? she demanded, indignantly folding her arms. Youve been washing up again, havent yer? For heavens sakes, can you never do as youre told and take it easy? Whats more, Id be obliged if you would stop doing my work. One fine day Ill come through that door and there youll be, waiting with my pay packet and a cheerio, hows yer father but I dont need yer any more. Then what will I do, eh? Tell me that if yer please! Lucy tutted impatiently. Dont talk so much nonsense, woman. Clambering out of her chair, she confronted the little person with a sense of outrage. Anyway, whos in charge round here, you tell me that. As the bantering continued, Mary stood by the door, quietly amused. There was no harm in these fiery exchanges, she knew that. Her mother valued Elsie as part of the family. And as for the little woman herself, she was hardworking, funny and lovable, and totally devoted to Lucy; but when she had a bee in her bonnet she could be a real terrier. Out with it, Elsie demanded grimly. What else have yer been up to? Sweeping the yard, taking down the curtains what? With a measure of dignity, Lucy stood her ground. Just listen to yourself. You above all people should know Im past doing those kind of things. Anyway, what if I had done everything you claim? Its my right. Its my house, isnt it? Exasperated, Elsie waggled her fat little head from side to side, which in turn wobbled the fat little shoulders. Its no use yer arguing with me, she retorted. You had strict orders from the doctor gentle exercise and the occasional walk, as long as its not too far, isnt that what the man said? Lucy glared at her. Good God, you make me sound like some poor old dog that needs to be put down! Dearie, dearie me! Elsie had a way of making you feel guilty even though you hadnt done anything wrong. If yer dont mind me saying, its you thats talking nonsense now. My only concern is that you keep strong and healthy. I dont want to see you standing at the sink to wash the dishes, or turning the mattress, like you did the other day. And if I hadnt arrived in time when you were struggling to get the vacuum cleaner out of the cupboard under the stairs, like as not youd have broke a limb. And only yesterday I caught you cleaning out the pantry. God give me strength, youre always meddling in places where youve no right to be. Cleaning, fetching and carrying is what Im here for. When again she shook her head, her chubby little chops shivered with irritation. Its why yer pay me, for goodness sake! They both looked up as Mary stepped forward from the doorway. Ill make us a fresh pot of tea, shall I? she suggested tactfully. Thats if nobody has any objections? Rona, Elsies daughter, worked alongside Mary in her flower-shop in Leighton Buzzard, and the two young women were fast friends. Shed be sure to report the latest exchange to her! Grateful for the intervention, Lucy gave a warm smile. Thank you, dear, that would be nice. But Elsies feathers were still ruffled. Ill have two sugars in mine, she snapped, and just a whisper of milk, if yer please. Theres some Garibaldi biscuits in that tin. Were keeping the homemade ones for Doctor Nolan. With that she took off her coat and hat and hung them up. Meanwhile, Id best make a start on cleaning the winders before somebody we all know takes a mind to do it herself! With that she threw Lucy a withering glance and departed. Lucy was left chuckling. Anybody would think I interfered with her daily routine. Mary turned with a wry little smile. You do. Well, maybe I do, but Im frightened that if I stop doing things, I might seize up altogether. Dont you know how hard it is for me to be still? I think I know that more than anybody. Dont forget, Im the one who has to live with you. Do you think I should apologise to Elsie? Shes such a treasure. It wouldnt do any good if you did. Why not? Lucy had not expected an answer like that. Coming to the table, Mary set the tray down. Because the pair of you will only be going at it hammer and tongs again tomorrow. Taken aback, Lucy stared up at Mary open-mouthed. Are we really that bad? Worse! When the laughter carried outside to the men, they stopped work to look towards the kitchen. Somethings tickled their funny-bones, Ben remarked with a grin. Sounds like it, Adam agreed; the merry laughter was infectious. That should do it. Laying down the spanner, Ben asked Adam to start the car, and when it spluttered into life and seemed to run smoother than before, the older man gave a sigh of relief. Dont know how to thank you, he said, and Ben told him he was only too pleased to have been able to help. Id best get cleaned up, and take Mary to approve my new tractor. Ben smiled at the prospect. After that, weve got the whole day to please ourselves what we do. Adam saw the gleam in Bens eye and his heart warmed. You really love her, dont you? Bens answer was instant and sincere. Like Ive never loved anyone in my life, he said. I cant recall what my life was like before she came along, and now I cant imagine a day without her. Suddenly, Mary was making her way towards them. Upstairs, hanging out of the window with her cloth, Elsie was shouting down to her, What were you two laughing about, eh? Its Mum. You know what shes like. Mary was still chuckling. She was saying how shed best teach you your place, because youre getting too big for your boots. Huh! Its the other way round, more like! When, a moment later, Elsie saw the doctor getting out of his car, she dropped her cloth into the bucket, ran to the landing and called down to Lucy, who quickly made her way upstairs, brushed her hair and sat nervously on the edge of the bed, waiting to greet him. Though deep down she knew it was unfair, Lucy harboured a certain distrust of doctors. It had started when Barney fell ill and they could do nothing to help him. To Lucys mind, doctors were all the same authoritative and full of good advice, but as yet they had not managed to instil any degree of confidence in her. There was one exception and that was Dr Raymond Lucas, from her old home outside Liverpool. He had been a true and trusted friend, and even now Lucy valued his letters and friendship. Interrupting her thoughts, the knock sounded on the door for the second time. Come in. Like a rebellious child, Lucy remained seated. The door inched open and a smiling face peeped in at her; with his cheeky grin and that ridiculous cap of thick brown hair, the doctor looked far younger than his early thirties. Am I all right to come in? he asked gingerly. Or am I likely to get my head chopped off at dawn? He knew Lucy well by now, and was aware that his visits were unpopular. Lucy laughed and the atmosphere eased. Im not that much of an ogre, am I? she asked, shame-facedly. There are those who might argue the point. Straightening his shoulders, he pushed open the door and sauntered in. Lucy asked him pointedly, Youre not about to put me through the grinder, are you? He took a deep breath. Ill do whatevers necessary to satisfy myself that you havent been overdoing it. He peeked at her with suspicion. And have you? What? Been overdoing it? I dont think so. Lucy hoped he would leave before coming into contact with Elsie, who was certain to have her say on the matter. Mmm. Slowly nodding his head, he made that peculiar sound that some doctors make when theyre not quite sure what to say. Mmm ah. You dont believe me, do you? I dont know what to think. He ventured forward. And if I dont believe you, its no ones fault but your own. What do you mean by that? I mean, I need you to be honest, but sometimes you tell me one thing and do another. How am I supposed to know if youre following my instructions when you wont tell me the truth? Huh! Lucy couldnt help but like him. So now Im a liar, am I? Fearing he might have got on the wrong side of her, he suggested meekly, Im sorry, Lucy, that is not what I meant at all. Perhaps we should forget the conversation so far and start again, what do you think? Lucy smiled her sweetest. I think thats an excellent idea. With a twinkle in his eye, he made the smallest bow and to Lucys amusement, greeted her with a bright, Good morning, Mrs Davidson. Good morning, Doctor Nolan. Bright as a button, Lucys quick smile betrayed her enjoyment. How very nice to see you, she lied beautifully. Placing the big black bag on the bedside table, Dr Nolan opened it and took out his stethoscope. And how are you today? Im fine, thank you, Doctor. Unbuttoning the top of her blouse, Lucy prepared herself for the shock of the cold stethoscope against her skin. Have you anything to report? he asked gently. No, nothing. Sensing the game was over she replied in serious tone, Everything is just the same as it was the last time you were here. She was determined not to reveal how her arm still hurt like the devil after trying to shift that heavy cleaner out of the cupboard, for which Elsie had rightfully given her a scolding. So, no aches or pains then? He proceeded to examine her, discreetly ignoring Lucys visible shudder as the cold receptacle pressed against the flat of her chest. Lucy shook her head. No more than usual, she answered. There are times when my joints feel as though theyve locked together, and other times when I feel I can carry the world. No change there then? he said, concentrating now on the job in hand of checking her blood pressure. Not really, no. She laughed out loud. I was flattered this morning when Elsie accused me of being ambitious enough to take down curtains, and clean all the windows. She rolled her eyes to the ceiling. Those days are long gone, mores the pity. Lucy remembered the time when she could throw a pitchfork of hay on top of a wagon, or carry an injured lamb on her shoulders, but that was in another life. If she could bring it all back, she would. But it was gone, all but in her sorry heart. A few moments later, after a thorough examination, the doctor put away his instruments and closed the bag. It seems youre no better and no worse, so you must be following my instructions after all. Lucy smiled triumphantly. Isnt that what I told you, Doctor? So it is, he replied. So it is but you need to remember youre not the young woman you once were and your joints arent quite so flexible. Im not saying you cant do certain things of course you can but you must take care not to aggravate your condition. And that includes getting all hot and bothered about things. I wont. Good. He wrote out a prescription. Your blood pressure is slightly up. Take one of these each morning, and an hours rest in the afternoon. Right? Whatever you say. Youre the doctor. Ill call again in a few days to check your blood pressure, just to be sure. Glad that the examination was over, Lucy relaxed. Are you ready for tea and biscuits? Need you ask? It had become a ritual; a bit of a banter, then the examination, before tea and biscuits. He had come to look forward to it. Thats the main reason I come to visit, the young man teased. He picked up his black bag. A few quiet moments in that delightful kitchen of yours sets me up for the day. Inching herself off the bed, Lucy slipped her shoes on. You havent forgotten how I like mine, have you? He shook his head. Strong, with a little milk and two sugars. Thats it. She waved him away with a gesture. Off you go then. You make your way down, and Ill follow on. By the time Lucy arrived in the kitchen, the doctor was pouring out two cups of tea and had got out a plate of Elsies home-baked shortbread. I cant stay long, he told Lucy. I must check on Maggie Craig; shes not too far away from giving birth. Lucy tut-tutted. Thats her eighth in as many years. If you ask me, its not Maggie as wants checking on, its her old man. Quickest way to help Maggie and cut your work down into the bargain, is to chop it off for him. Thatll give everyone a rest, wont it? The doctor laughed. Its a bit drastic, dont you think? Lucy shrugged. Hes a selfish bugger, though. If it was him having the babies, he wouldnt be so quick to make them. She thought of her dead son, little Jamie, drowned these past twenty years or more, and her heart was sore. Mind you, she went on in a softer voice, there is nothing more magical than holding a child in your arms. The doctor looked up to see the sadness in her eyes; he had seen it before and had been curious. Not for the first time, he sensed there was something in Lucys past that she was unable to let go. He might have asked, but the young mans instinct told him Lucy would not thank him for it. So he waited until the sadness had passed, and she was smiling at him, as though everything was all right in her world. I expect you have a busy day ahead of you, Doctor? I have, yes. Finishing his tea, he munched the last of his biscuit, and when he thought Lucy wasnt looking, he tucked one into his jacket pocket. I really must get on now, he excused himself. Remember what I said, wont you? Lucy nodded. I will, yes. Thank you, Doctor, and mind you dont crush that biscuit to crumbs in your pocket. Here. Taking a napkin from the drawer she gave it to him with a knowing little smile. Best wrap it up in that, eh? Looking like a little boy caught with his hand in the sweetie jar, Dr Nolan did as he was told, and went sheepishly on his way. Through the window Lucy watched him leave and when he was gone her gaze fell on Mary, who was walking with Ben towards the house. Were away now, Mother. Mary arrived to kiss Lucy cheerio. Bens just washing the oil from his hands, then were off to organise the tractor. Lucy laughed. And what do you know about tractors? Mary made a face. Nothing, she admitted. I know about cutting grass, about fertilising the soil, growing flowers and vegetables, plants from seed and collecting eggs from the chickens to sell at market, but thats as far as my knowledge stretches. She gave her mother a curious glance. What are you smiling at? Lucys memories had never jaded. She could remember Overhill Farm in the little Wirral village of Comberton by Weir as if it was yesterday, with Barney and his sons ploughing and seeding, and harvest-time, when the world was aglow with sunshine and the fields yielded their bounty. Somehow, without even knowing it, she had come to learn quite a bit about tractors and the way they worked. I was just thinking, she said vaguely. From the look on your face, they must be pleasant thoughts. Mary had often seen that look on her mothers face, a look of yesteryear, sometimes sad, sometimes warm with joy, and not once had she ever felt a part of it. What were you thinking about? Oh, things that happened before you were born. What things? Lucy was wary now. Even though Mary knew something about the secrets of the past, Lucy found it hard to discuss every little detail. I was just remembering how much I seem to have learned about tractors, thats all. Mary was intrigued. You loved helping Daddy on the farm, didnt you? How she wished she had been a part of it all. But not the heartache, not that. Lucy didnt get a chance to answer because now Ben was in the room, unrolling his sleeves and preparing to leave. If youre ready, wed best be off now, he told Mary, and to Lucy he suggested, Would you like to come with us? Lucy was tempted. Thats very kind, she said, but you dont want me limping along, acting the wallflower. Besides, Ive got things to do. You two get off and enjoy yourselves. You can tell me all about it when you get back. All too soon the two of them were climbing into Bens car, laughing and talking, and Lucy was thrilled to see them so happy and content. See that, Barney? she murmured aloud. That was you and me, in the short time we had together. Ravaged by emotions and memories she found difficult to cope with, Lucy went back to her room, slipped out of her shoes and lay down on the bed. Her gaze fixed on the ceiling, eyes closed, bittersweet tears trickled down her face. I want you back, she whispered. Oh Barney, even now, after twenty years, I still miss you so much. I want you back and I know it will never happen. For a time her heart was unbearably heavy. When she was quiet at last, she went to the bathroom and washed her face. Afterwards, feeling fresher and more able to face another day, she went downstairs, where Elsie was covering a large pie with pastry. Steak and kidney pie and mash for dinner tonight, she advised Lucy. Ill cover it with greaseproof paper and set it on the shelf in the pantry. Oh, and theres apple crumble for afterwards. Wont take a second for Mary to heat up the spuds with a knob of butter, and to boil up some custard. Lucy was astonished. Good grief! She stared at the pie and then at Elsie. Youve got your skates on this morning, havent you? She glanced about the kitchen, which by now was spick and span. Are you in a hurry or what? For a minute it seemed as though Elsie had not heard Lucys question, because she continued cutting the edge of the pastry to a pattern, then carried the pie to the pantry. Now she was at the sink, slapping her hands together to rid them of the flour before washing them under the tap. Lucy spoke again. Elsie! Did you hear what I said? I did, yes, and theres no need to shout. Well then, have the manners to answer. The woman turned. All right then yes, I am in a hurry. Why? Things to do. Elsie never used many words when a few would do. What things? Elsie carried on wiping the table. After replacing the tablecloth she looked Lucy in the eye. Very well, if you must know, Im taking Charlie to have his eyes tested. Lucy was open-mouthed. Cant he take himself? No. Why not? Hes a grown man with a tongue in his head, isnt he? Thats the trouble. What? The tongue in his head. Gift o the gab thats his problem! If Im not there to explain whats been going on, hell convince the optician that hes fine. Then therell be no spectacles and hell carry on the same as before. And whats wrong with that? Charlie is a fine blacksmith. Surely he doesnt need spectacles for shoeing horses? Hmh! Shows how much you know. Hands on hips, Elsie seemed ready for another fight. Last week, Ted Willis brought his old mare into the yard for re-shoeing and Charlie put the shoe on upside down; the poor animal went away limping worse than when Ted fetched her in. If Ted hadnt brought her back, shed have gone lame for sure. Lucy thought the woman was being a bit harsh. Charlie doesnt often make a mistake like that. Does it really mean he wants marching off to the opticians? Elsie bristled. I think Im the best judge of that, if yer please. And it werent the only time he got it wrong neither. Oh, youve always had a tendency to exaggerate, Lucy scoffed. Elsie was indignant. What about this then? she demanded haughtily. A few days ago, Larry Barker brought his cart in for a new wheel to be put on, and when he came back to collect it, Charlie had only ruddy well changed the wrong wheel! Then the week afore that, I asked if hed come into Bedford with me as I had a lot to carry home. We went round the shops and when we got back to the bus-stop there was a queue. When the bus arrived, blow me down if he didnt follow Maggie Craig on, grab her shopping-bags and sit himself beside her The silly article thought he were sitting next to me. I wouldnt mind if she hadnt got a backside the size of the gasworks and a gob to match! At first, Lucy thought she ought not to laugh. Then she began to titter and suddenly the pair of them were laughing hysterically. Now you know why he needs the spectacles, Elsie spluttered. And Lucy had to agree. Ive done all the chores for now, Elsie said finally, wiping her eyes. See you same time tomorrow. As the little woman put on her coat, Lucy told her: Be gentle with him, wont you? I know what a bully you can be when the mood takes you. Huh! Elsie gave her a scornful glance. Look whos talking! Off she went, shoulders high and head up, muttering to herself: Do this, do that never satisfied unless shes interfering! Besides, what does she know about my Charlie? Have you two been arguing again? Adam stuck his head round the back door. Lucy swung round. That womans getting more difficult by the day, she said. Does as she likes and wont listen to a word anyone says. Adam smiled. Like someone else we know then, eh? Lucy laughed. Youre right. I do have too much to say at times. Whenever she was in Adams company she felt content. Is the car all right? Running like silk. So, youll be away on your errands now, will you? That was the plan, he answered quietly. Go into Bedford and collect the curtains you ordered, then visit the Post Office and the bakers on the way back. Then Ive the rest of the day to put the new shelves up in the outhouse. How long will you be? I cant say for certain. Sometimes the road gets busy, sometimes it isnt. Sensing her loneliness, he asked, Dyou want to come with me? Lucy shook her head. No. Adam knew Lucys every mood, and at this moment he knew he should not leave her alone with her memories. Theres nothing so urgent that it cant wait till later, he said softly. Ill keep you company for a while if you want me to, that is? The tears still moist in her eyes, Lucy looked up. Thank you, Adam, Id like that, she whispered. No one alive knew her better than Adam, she thought fondly. Relief flooded through him. When Lucy was sad, he was sad. And he was always content to be with her even if only as a friend; though one day, God willing, she might come to see him through more loving eyes. He went over and settled himself in the chair opposite. Whats wrong? he asked. And dont say nothing, because I know you too well. What makes you think somethings wrong? He smiled knowingly. Youre thinking of Barney, arent you? His voice was kind. Lucy nodded. And youve been crying, havent you? She nodded again. Dyou want to talk about it? Drawing a deep sigh, Lucy confessed: I cant stop wondering about Barneys other family Vicky and the children. Lately I cant seem to get them out of my mind, wondering where they are, and if theyre safe. She gave a nervous smile. I wont always be here, Adam. Im getting old. How could I go to my Maker, with such a weight of secrets in my heart? Adam gave a slow, knowing nod. I understand how you feel, because I, too, often think about the others. To be honest, Lucy, Im not sure if it would be kinder for them to know how it all came about. Or would the truth ruin what small contentment they might have found? Adams concerns echoed in Lucys mind. If they are to be told, its me who should do the telling. And like I say, Im getting on now, and time is rushing by. I must soon decide one way or the other. The very thought of not having her around filled him with dread. Dont talk as though youre old and decrepit because youre not, he urged. God willing, you and I have many more years to enjoy, before our time comes. For a moment Lucy reflected on his words, and as always Adam had brought a kind of quietness to her heart. I hope so, she murmured. But I cant shut out the past, and I cant see a way forward. Adam felt the same, but his first instinct had always been to protect Lucy. All Im saying is, dont torment yourself. For all our sakes, try and let it rest. For now at least. Driven by doubts and guilt, Lucy reminded him, Some time ago, you insisted that Mary was entitled to know the truth, and you were right. So, dont you think they should know it, too? You say we risk ruining any contentment they may have found, but what if all these years theyve never known peace of mind? What if the children have grown into adulthood, still carrying all the pain and anger that drove them away. And what of young Susie? Dear God, she loved her father with all of her young heart. Lucy recalled the powerful bond between Barney and his daughter. I cant get her out of my mind. I see the two of them sitting on the swing in the orchard, talking and laughing happy and content in each others company. She was so young, Adam. She knew only what she saw and heard, and that was a shocking thing. She never knew how Barney was suffering how much he adored her. Susie was his darling little girl, and she went away hating him Her voice breaking with emotion, Lucy bowed her head. For a moment neither she nor Adam spoke, but when he reached out to lay his hand over hers, she grasped it tight, drew it to her face and held it there for a moment. To Lucy the moment was immensely comforting. Adam was right. He knew her as no one else could. He had travelled the years with her and Barney, and when Barney was gone, he was her beacon of light through days of darkness. Though he could never be Barney, Adam was a very special man. When the moment was gone, she released his hand and raised her eyes to his. I try, but I cant stop thinking about them Susie, the two boys and Vicky, that lovely gentle woman who did all she could for me and Jamie treated us like her own family. You know how devoted she and Barney were to each other, how they lived their whole life around each other. What happened to them, to the children, was so cruel, Adam so terrible! So many sunsets had come and gone since those days over twenty years ago, she thought. In her mind she cast her memory back to the time when she could run like the wind and her life was filled with sunshine and the joy of youth. But there had been pain too; such pain she had thought never to recover from it. But somehow life goes on and takes you with it, whether you want it to or not. Later, when everything else was lost, she and Barney had known their own joy together, and though it was for such a short time, Lucy had thanked the Good Lord many times over. After Barney had died from the heart disease that had destroyed his last few years on this earth, her life seemed desolate. But then Barney had left her with a new life: Mary, their daughter, had been her salvation. Along with her dear friend, Adam, that patient, endearing man to whom she owed so much. Sometimes I think Im the luckiest woman in the world. Speaking her thoughts in a whisper, she hardly even noticed that Adam was beside her. Lucy? Adams quiet voice invaded her thoughts. What are you thinking? She looked up at him, her quiet eyes bathing his face. I was just thinking how Barney and I had so little time together. The days went all too swiftly, and even when we were making love and Mary was conceived, I always knew it was Vicky he needed, and not me. Her smile was bittersweet. I didnt mind, not really. I would rather have had that small part of him, than live all of my life without him. Adam had never heard Lucy talk of her relationship with Barney in that particular, intimate way. He felt embarrassed and humbled, yet proud that she felt able to impart such a confidence to him. Suddenly she had his face cradled in her hands, her warm blue eyes hinting a smile. Im sorry. Relaxed in her gaze, he asked, Why should you be sorry? Ive been insensitive talking of private moments with Barney, when I know how you feel towards me. Adam did not want her to reproach herself, and so he led her away from that place. Have you always known how much I love you? Lucys smile was radiant. You were never very good at hiding it. Did you think I was foolish? Never! Besides, I always loved you back. But not in the way I loved Barney. Adams face crumpled in a smile. Its an odd world, he said. I love you; you loved Barney; and he loved Vicky. The eternal triangle. Letting go of him, Lucy sat back in her seat. We cant help the way we feel, she answered. With her touch still tingling on his skin, Adam waited a moment, before in a spurt of boldness he asked, Marry me? Momentarily taken aback, Lucy was about to answer, when he stopped her. You said just now you loved me, though I accept it could never be like it was with Barney. But Ive never loved anyone else and never could. Think about it, Lucy. Were so good together. We can talk easily to each other There was so much he wanted to say. Weve known some wonderful times, Lucy, he remarked thoughtfully. Some good, some bad. But weve lived through them together, always supporting each other. We make each other laugh, were content and easy in each others company. What more could we ask, at our time of life? And Ill always take care of you, Lucy. You know that. Lost for words, she took a moment to consider what he was saying. This was not the first time Adam had proposed, and she suspected it would not be the last. But this time there was a kind of desperation about his boldness, and it made her ashamed. Oh Lucy, Im so sorry. Wishing he had kept his silence, Adam was concerned that he had turned her against him. Now Ive spoiled everything, havent I? Lucy put his fears to rest. No, you havent, you darling man. Weve always understood each other, and weve always been able to speak our minds. That will never change. Youll always be very special to me. But you wont marry me? I cant. Never? Lucy had learned to count her life in minutes and weeks. Never is a long time. Sensing a kind of acceptance, Adam thought it wise to back away from the subject of marriage. I wont mention it again. Lucy chuckled. Yes, you will. Do you want me to? Loth to mislead him, she made a suggestion. Why dont we just leave things as they are for now? When I have a change of mind, Ill be sure to tell you. Agreed? She held out her hand for him to hold. Adam was thrilled. Lucy had said, when I have a change of mind. That was his first real glimpse of hope. Agreed! Reaching out, he took hold of her hand and kept it clasped in his for a moment longer than necessary, until Lucy gave him one of those reprimanding, twinkling looks that turned his toes up and set his old heart racing. The conversation took another direction. Lucy He hesitated. Will you let me take you back? Back? She knew what he meant, but could not bring herself to acknowledge it. What do you mean? Back there to Jamie. Before she could protest, he went on, For your own peace of mind, you must go back. Do you think I dont know how it haunts you? Sometimes, when your mind wanders, I know youre thinking of him, reliving that night, remembering every little detail. I feel your pain, Lucy. You need to be there. It isnt enough that youve arranged to have his grave looked after, and no, Bridget did not tell me about that. She didnt have to. Lucy felt the weight of his every word. Are you judging me? she whispered. Adam shook his head. I would never judge you, you know that, he assured her. We all need to deal with things in different ways. I knew you could never come away and not have someone look after Jamies resting-place. Bridget was the obvious choice; shes loyal and honest, and she thinks of you as family. Lucy gave a wistful smile. Shes always been there for me, and now shes there for little Jamie. I owe her so much. I know that. And its a good arrangement, but it isnt the same, is it? Forgive me, Lucy, but anyone can pay weekly visits and place the flowers there, and I know Bridget is a long and loyal friend, but she is not his mother. You are. Pausing a moment, he then went on in softer tone, I know how, deep down, you long to go back. Let me take you, Lucy. Please! Let me do that much for you at least? I cant! Why not? For a long moment Lucy lapsed into silence, her mind alive with the past, then in a fearful voice she asked, What do you think happened to Edward Trent? Adam snorted with disgust. We can only hope and pray hes already got his comeuppance. A man like that must incur enemies and loathing wherever he goes. Why do you think they never caught him after after he Her voice broke. Because like all rats he knows all the dark places where he can scurry away and hide. Do you think hes still alive? Adam shook his head. Who knows? If theres any justice, hell be rotting in the fires of Hell where he belongs! When now, Lucy turned away, her face cold and set with loathing, he asked tenderly, Let me take you back, my darling. It might help to lay the ghosts. But Lucy would not be persuaded. I dont want to talk about it any more, she replied quietly. Realising that Lucy had put up the barriers and he had no chance of getting close, Adam departed, leaving her to ponder on what hed said. Strolling to the dresser, Lucy held Barneys photograph and for a time she looked at his familiar face, the strong set of his jaw, the light in those wonderful eyes, and the boyish, mischievous smile that played about his mouth. A sigh rippled through her body. So much to think about. So much guilt. And what about Vicky and the others? Should she write to them, or should she leave well alone? The thought of revealing Barneys long-held secret was almost unbearable. Lucy asked him: How can I tell her how you put yourself through Hell, so she and your children could have peace of mind and security? She lingered a moment longer, tracing the profile of his face with the tip of her finger, and turning the whole idea over in her mind. If the truth must be told, I pray they will find the strength to deal with it, she whispered. As she walked away, Lucy turned back to the photo one last time. She thought of those on the other side of the Atlantic, and at last she knew what must be done. I know I will have to tell them, Barney, she said out loud, and I know it will come as a terrible shock. If I had it in my power, I would make it less painful for them. Her heart sank. But its not. Squaring her shoulders, she searched inside herself for an answer, but there was none. They would need to find the strength to live with it. The smallest hint of bitterness shaped her words. Just as we did, all those long years ago. Outside, Elsie was chatting with the coalman, conveniently forgetting she was in a rush and making him chuckle as always. I saw you in front as you came down the lane, she told him. I might have begged a lift only you were too far away. A bumbling, homely sort with a wonky shoulder got from years of carrying heavy bags, the coalman joked, So you dont mind your arse being covered in coaldust then? Not really, no, Elsie replied. I might tell yer, Ive had worse than that in my time. But Ive never had a ride in a coalcart. An would you enjoy two grown men fighting over yer? Hmh? Thatll be the day What would your Charlie say, if I let you sit on my cart? Elsie laughed. Ive no idea, but Im willing if you are. Id watch what you say if I were you. The coalman gave a naughty wink. Theres many a man might take advantage of a remark like that. You behave yerself, Bert Peters! Elsie chided. Im too old in the tooth to be flirting with the likes of you and besides, if I were to pounce on you now, youd run a mile. Dont deny it! Bert roared with laughter. Aye, an if you were to pounce on me now, Id more likely collapse. Ive carried that many bags o coal today, me legs ave gone. Back in Knudsden House, Lucy heard their shrieks of laughter echo across the valley, and couldnt help but smile. The world might be crumbling round your ears, she thought, but somehow, life went on. Her thoughts returned to what Adam had said earlier, and her mind was made up. Suddenly she knew what she must do. She looked up to the heavens, a deep yearning for peace flooding her heart. I will go back and face the demons, she declared. Maybe then, I can find some kind of peace. It would not be easy, she knew that. It had been a lifetime since she had travelled that particular road. When she left that familiar and much-loved place, she left behind a wealth of laughter, sun-filled days and happiness. The pain she took with her, for it had never gone away. Her train of thought turned to the monster who had snuffed out her babys life. Edward Trent, may you rot in Hell for what you did! You murdered your own son! She had no idea where he was. After the tragedy he had fled into the darkness of the night, and was never heard of again. Many times over the years, Lucy had prayed that, somehow, he had been made to pay for the evil thing he did. In the beginning, the hatred had eaten into her very soul, but now as the years caught up with her, after World War Two had changed everybodys lives forever, she had learned not to let it rule her life. By contrast, with the passing of time, memories of Barney and the personal sacrifice he had made grew ever stronger; as did the need to put things right before it was too late. She thought of how it had been, and her heart was sore. Im going back, Barney, she murmured. Then Im going to tell it all, to try and bring a measure of peace to Vicky, and the children. First, though, there was someone she needed to see. Chapter 4 (#ulink_4c953c97-cad2-537d-8069-e0245886dc59) THE GOVERNOR WAS busy poring over official documents when the knock came on the door. Yes, who is it? The prison officer told him, Ive got Carter with me now, sir. At once the Governors face betrayed his repugnance. Right! Lets have him. Momentarily disappearing, the prison officer threw open the door and thrusting Edward Carter inside, positioned him before the desk. All right, Carter! Stand up straight! he growled. Digging him in the back with the flat of his hand, he pushed the prisoner forward. For a seemingly long time, the Governor remained in his seat, his head bent and his long bony finger flicking over the pages of his document. He neither spoke nor looked up. When, beginning to tire, the prisoner lolled to one side, his hands sliding deep into his pockets, he was caught up short by another dig in the back, this time rougher and more meaningful. Without raising his head, the Governor peered over his rimless spectacles. Remember where you are, Carter. Hands out of your pockets NOW! he ordered. Wary of this new Governor, who had already proved himself to be a harsh disciplinarian, the man quickly did as he was told. After all, he had secrets to hide. Moreover, he had almost served his time and did not want to jeopardise his date of release. Intending to unnerve the prisoner, the Governor continued to stare at him, his observant gaze taking in every detail of the man: the strong, stocky build, the inherent arrogance, the thick shock of greying hair and the deeply-etched lines on the once-young and handsome face. Here was a puzzle, he thought. Carter was a devious cunning sort, capable of anything, a man seemingly without a background; though if it was ever uncovered, it would probably betray him as an evil and merciless creature. While the Governor studied the prisoner, the prisoner did the same in return. He observed the lank dark hair and the small beady eyes behind the spectacles; the long sinuous fingers now drumming on the desktop, racking his nerves and sending a ripple of murderous intent through his every sense. There were many men inside this prison he would like to strangle, but the greatest pleasure would come from feeling his hands round the Governors slender white throat. His train of thought was abruptly broken as the Governor smiled directly into his face. Youd like to kill me, wouldnt you, Carter? he asked tantalisingly. Youd love to get your two big hands round my throat and squeeze the life out of me. Im right, arent I? You hate me so much you can taste it. Gulping so hard his Adams apple bobbed up and down, the prisoner lowered his gaze, his thoughts going wild. Jesus! How did he know that? He must be a bloody mind-reader but he was right. The prospect of choking him until he stopped breathing filled him with excitement. The scraping of a chair told him the Governor was standing up. He could feel the coldness of his gaze as it fell on him. Look at me, Carter. The sound of air being drawn through his nose was oddly loud in that warm, uncomfortable room. LOOK AT ME, I SAY! Carter looked up. Sir! The Governor came close, so close his smoke-stained breath fanned the prisoners face. You broke both his legs, Carter. The voice was almost tender. You went into the showers and broke both his legs. Why would you do a thing like that? The big man looked up. I didnt do it. I never touched him. Liar! No, sir. Im no liar. So you say. The Governor put his hands behind his back and strolled about for a while, eventually coming up behind the prisoner. If you didnt do it, who did? Dont know, sir. It pays to keep yourself to yourself in this place. All I know is, it werent me. You were seen. No, sir. It werent nothing to do with me. There was a witness, Carter! You were seen slithering into the space beside him. One minute he was washing, and the next he was writhing on the floor and you were gone. No, sir! As he glanced up, rage fired his eyes. If ever he found out who had grassed on him, hed slit their throat without a second thought. Who was it, sir? Who lied about it being me? Silence fell, and in that moment the air was charged with a sense of danger. Eventually the Governor spoke, his voice so soft it was barely audible. Did I tell you to look up? The prisoner dropped his gaze. No, sir. Did I give you permission to speak to ask me questions? No, sir. Mmm. The smaller man remained still for a moment, then he strolled round the room, and after a time he returned to stand before the prisoner. You were seen! Cursing himself for almost losing control, the prisoner gave no reply. You had an argument with him earlier. Later, you saw your opportunity, and you viciously broke both his legs. Slowly shaking his head, the prisoner remained silent. They say you threw him to the ground and stamped on his legs, so hard that they cracked under the weight. Did you do that, Carter? Did you? Sweating profusely, the prisoner looked up and in hesitant voice denied it yet again. No, sir. I swear it. I see. Anger and disappointment coloured the mans voice. This is not the first time youve been brought before me, Carter, he snapped. Time and again youve caused trouble amongst the prisoners. Youre a nasty, evil sort who belongs more in a cage than a prison. He took a step away, as though he suddenly could not bear to be near such low-life. I know you did this, Carter, Id gamble my life on it. But youre such a devious devil, I cant prove it. Ysee, theyre all too cowardly to come forward, but you already knew that, didnt you? He leaned forward, his face almost touching that of the prisoner. You may be off the hook on this one, but there will come a time when I get you bang to rights. So watch out, Carter, because from now on, you wont be able to scratch your backside without me knowing. Turning to the officer, he ordered briskly, All privileges stopped for the foreseeable future. Now get him out of my sight! With that the prisoner was dismissed, and when he was gone, the Governor sat at his desk, muttering under his breath, Nasty piece of work! No background, no past. Its as though he was never born. Taking off his glasses, he placed them on the desk and with both hands he wiped the sweat from his face. I wish I knew what made the bastard tick. If I knew that, Id be able to finish him once and for all. Replacing his spectacles, he resumed his paperwork. But the leering face as it went out of the door burned in his mind, until a few minutes later, he had to stop work, go to the cabinet and taking out a bottle, pour himself a much-needed drink. There were times when he wondered if he really needed this job after all. That evening, when the lights were out and only the narrowest shaft of silver moonlight filtered through the window-bars, Edward Trent for Carter was only an assumed name lay in his bunk, his eyes closed and his mind full of thoughts about the woman he could not get out of his mind, and the child called Jamie, his one and only son, who was lying in a cold churchyard because of him. I dont suppose youve got a ciggie hid away somewhere, ave ye? The voice with the Scots accent belonged to the man in the lower bunk; young and bold, he feared no one, except maybe the man above him, who was renowned for his quick temper and cruel punishment of anyone who set against him. The answer was instant and sharp. If I had, what makes you think Id give it to you? Well, for one thing, I thought you might appreciate the way I kept my mouth shut when questioned by the Governor this morning. You had a choice. I didnt ask you to keep quiet about that weasel in the shower. There was a low peal of laughter. What dyou take me for? What would have happened if Id told them how I saw you go in, I heard him squeal, and then I heard the crunch of his bones? I also saw you come out and slink away. I knew what youd done, all right. I could have shopped you if Id wanted. Why dont you then? Hanging his upper end over the bedrail, Trent hissed at the young man, Go on! Call for the screw and tell him what you know, you Scottish nonce. Oh yeah? And have both my legs broken tomorrow? No thanks. Ill settle for a ciggie. There was a pause while Trent stared down on the bold young man. Then he swung away, delved into the curve of the wall and a moment later threw down a hand-rolled cigarette. Two draws and no more, he warned. If they get a whiff of smoke theyll be in here to search the place from top to bottom. He gave a devious grin. It wouldnt do for them buggers to poke about where theyre not wanted. The young man sat up. I need a light. Another moment and the match was thrown into his lap. Two draws and no more, he was reminded. Having struck the match on his shoe, the young man lit the cigarette. He took a deep, satisfying draw. Then: Dyou mind if I ask you something? I dont know till you ask me. Have you ever killed anybody? Taking a long smooth drag of the cigarette, the young fella looked up, startled when he was suddenly grasped round the neck and hoisted into the air. Woah, woah! I didnae mean nuthin. He was hoisted almost to the top bunk, shaken hard, then dropped to the ground where he lay for a moment, choking on the smoke he already had in his throat. Youre a damned lunatic! he gasped. Isnt a man allowed to ask a question without the wind being knocked out of him? Above him the big man leered over the edge of his bunk. Twice, he said softly. I killed twice; one was a thieving bastard who thought he could get one over on me Hmh! Clambering up, the young man brushed the dust from his prison nightwear. He wont be thieving from you again then, will he, eh? Too right he wont. Lying back in his bunk, the big man was in a confiding mood, especially as he knew his cellmate was not the gabbing kind. Ive got this temper, ysee? When folks rile me up the wrong way, I lash out. I cant help it. Is that right? No sooner had the young man taken another deep drag of the cigarette, than it was torn from his mouth. Jesus! Youve ripped the skin offa my lips! I said two draws. Its mine now. Who was the other one? What other one? You said youd killed twice. The answer was slow in coming. A child I killed a child, but it was an accident. Suddenly he was back there, the dark rage alive in him as it was then. The bastards should never have chased me! If theyd stayed back like I asked, it never would have happened. I knew she wouldnt come with me, so I took the kid, but she ran after me the other man was coming upriver and I felt trapped. I didnt mean for it to happen. It was as much their fault as mine. They should never have come after me! The last words were a howl. Whose kid was it? The young man knew his cellmate was a bad lot, but a child! That was a terrible bad thing. It was mine. Christ Almighty! You killed your own child? He might have said more but when two iron-like fists tightened round his head, he thought he too was about to die. All right! All right! It was an accident I understand. Let go, you crazy bugger, let go of me! In the second before the other man let go, the young Scotsman was sure his head would burst. Trent went on, his voice thick with emotion: His mammy was the best woman I ever had. I didnt realise how much I loved her until Id let her go, then she went off with some other man, and I couldnt get her back. She turned me away, told me she wanted nothing to do with me ever again. Anger quivered in his voice. Have you any idea how that makes a man feel? For a time he was silent, reliving that night. I was crazy out of my head. I grabbed the boy and carried him off, hoping shed change her mind and come with me, but instead she went wild! She came after me and I panicked. She tried to snatch the boy and somehow it all went wrong. It was the river, ysee? The river took him away. It was Lucys fault. If shed agreed to make her life with me, it never would have happened. His voice broke. I dont suppose Lucy will ever forgive me. What happened to her? I dont know. I ran as far away as I could went back to sea for many a long year. When war broke out I was over in Canada went to work in a logging camp for the duration. Didnt see why I should get a bullet in the arse from Hitler while I could avoid it. The other prisoner, who had been too young to fight, didnt think much of this attitude, having lost an elder brother and an uncle, both soldiers, in the war. However, he wisely kept silent, although something of his feelings came over when he asked: So, they didnt put you away then? No. And you got away with it? Yes. And the other one? What other one? The one that stole from you. I was clever. After Id killed him, I put him where hed never be found. He was a nobody, a thief and vagabond; it was easy enough to take on his name. I made sure I stayed away long enough to build up my new identity. Arrogant as ever he went on, Twenty year and more, I managed to stay out o the limelight, then one night on shore leave in Liverpool I got drunk and picked a fight which ended up nasty, and got me sent down. Is Edward Carter your real name? A moment, then: More questions, eh, Scotty? Trent grew cautious. Sounds to me like Ive said more than enough. Youre a lucky man. By rights you should have been hung from the neck for what you did. With amazing agility that belied his age, the big man swung himself down from the bunk, caught the young fella by the shirt-collar and yanked him to his feet. You should be honoured, Trent growled. Youre the only person Ive ever confided in. Maybe it was a bad idea. Maybe you know too much for your own good. Tightening his grip, he drew the younger man closer still. Have I made a big mistake? For all I know, you might be the sort who would like to make a few bob out of what Ive told you. Are you? Are you the gabby sort? Eyes wide with fear, the young man assured him, You know Id never do a thing like that. Id have to be some kind of a fool! I value my legs too much. I wouldnt want to be left crippled or worse, just cause I dont know how to keep my mouth shut. The big man hissed, What do you know about me? Not a thing! Not a single thing! Very wise. Flinging him aside, Trent hoisted himself back on his bunk. A moment later the cigarette end was thrown down to the other prisoner. I often wonder about her. Who? Thankful to still have the use of his legs and another couple of draws into the bargain, the young man was still shaking. Lucy Baker. She was the most exciting woman you could ever meet. She wasnt what you might call a beauty not dazzling or glamorous or anything like that. If she wasnae glamorous or beautiful, what attracted you to her? Lucy was different somehow, hard to forget. She was childlike pure and innocent, but mischievous, too. She was more alive than any other woman Ive ever met. Her smile was more radiant than a summers day, and when she laughed it turned your heart over. She was small and homely, with eyes that sang. They kinda latched onto you and wouldnt let go. What happened to her? I dont know. He dreamed of her. Shes older now, like me. I often wonder if she still has that magical quality, or whether shes all shrivelled and ugly. Ive taken good care of myself over the years, but I cant tell what she looks like. Ive still got this image in my mind might be a shame to spoil it with the real thing. He gave a wry little laugh. I daresay Id be shocked if I were to see her now. Have you ever been back to that place? No. I want to, though. Ive always wanted to, only I might stir it all up. There was a bloke, Barney Davidson his name was. Likely as not if he saw me, hed come after me. From what I recall, he wasnt a big man, but he had this bull-like strength about him. Theres bound to be trouble. I dont know if I should risk being carted off and strung up for what happened that night. So, you wont ever go back there then? The big man gave a gruff laugh. Ive been thinking about it a lot lately. I just might decide to go there and find out if shes still around. First though, I have to keep my nose clean and get out of here. He hung over the end of the bunk. But dont think I wont seek you out, if ever you open your mouth about what you heard here tonight. The young man handed back the tab end of the cigarette. I might be bold and reckless at times its what got me here in the first place. But Im not wrong in the head. Your secrets safe with me, so you neednt worry. His cellmate gave a soft, sinister laugh. I dont intend to, he replied confidently. Id rather let you do the worrying. Long into the early hours, the young man lay awake to consider his companions veiled warning. There was no doubt in his mind; if he ever talked of what was discussed this night, he would be made to pay a terrible price. All the same he was intrigued by what hed heard of the child and the woman; and how, even now after all this time, the big man was still besotted with her. This Lucy: she sounded like the woman every man needed in his life not glamorous enough to attract other men, but with a special inner beauty that shone out. What was she doing now? What did she look like? Was she shrivelled and ugly as Carter feared, or was she still the same magical person she had always been? Most of all, what were her feelings towards him? After all, indirectly or not, he had murdered her child. One thing was certain. It was only the fear of capture for what he had done that had kept Carter away all this time. Glancing up to make sure his cellmate was asleep, the Scotsman mulled over the story hed been told. He muttered softly as though talking to Lucy direct, Seems to me, the madman still has a craving for you. Closing his eyes, he made the sign of the cross on himself. God help you, lady. Ive got a feeling youre not rid of him yet! Chapter 5 (#ulink_f7546eb9-fa94-5452-9b4f-72c04918e429) DO YOU WANT to help? Emerging from the barn at Far Crest Farm, Ben made his way over to Mary, who was leaning on the fence. Look what Ive found. Holding out a pair of wellies he told her, Theyre a bit big, but Im sure youll manage. With his brown cords tucked into his own wellingtons and wearing a woolly polo-neck jumper under his knee-length coat, she thought he looked every inch the farmer. What? You want me to help round up the sheep? she said nervously. I wouldnt have a clue how to start. He smiled patiently. And you never will if you dont let me show you how. With the confidence of a man who was content with his lot, he came up beside her and slid an arm round her waist. In each others company they were quiet and easy, lingering a moment to enjoy the feast of Nature spread out before them. This is the time of day I love the most. Ben never failed to be amazed at how quickly he had forgotten the city life. His work and his heart were now firmly rooted here in Salford. There are three times in the day when I feel closer to the land, he confided now. First thing in the morning when the world still sleeps and the dew is on the grass; the end of the day when the sun is going down and the sky is shot with colour; and now when its turning midday, with the morning slipping into afternoon. Reaching across, he kissed Mary softly on the face. Before I met you, I was a lonely man, he murmured in her ear. I watched the days change and pass, and with the ending of each one, I felt even lonelier. Because there was so much beauty around me, I learned to live with my loneliness and enjoy what I have here. But now I have you to share it all with, and Ive never been happier, or more content. Taking her by the shoulders, he gently turned her round to face him. For a long moment he looked on her face, on those deep, lavender-blue eyes and the shock of thick fair hair that framed her pretty features. I love you, he whispered. Now that Ive got you, I never want to be without you. If I have my way, Mary teased him, I promise you will never be. Her thoughts turned to her parents, Barney and Lucy. Sometimes though, I cant help but feel frightened, she added. Ben held her close. Frightened of what? Of the way we are, you and me. Why should you be frightened? Because of my parents. They loved each other too, yet after a pitifully short time they were parted. After years of waiting for the right man, Ben had brought her alive, and at the same time made her more afraid than she had ever been. I couldnt bear it if I lost you, Ben. Ben held her close. He understood her fears, for didnt he feel the very same? When you love someone, the feel of her silky hair against his face was wonderful, you have to take each day as it comes and live it to the full. The truth is, you have two choices, my darling: on the one side, you have to accept that there can never be a happy ending for one or the other of you unless somehow you were to leave this earth at one and the same time. Mary had not thought of it that way, but now she realised how starkly true that was. You said there were two choices? He nodded. On the other hand, you can choose never to commit yourself to anyone. But if you do that, you will never know what its like to love someone the way your mother loved Barney, or the way we love each other. He slowly shook his head. I wouldnt want to miss out on what we have now. Mary had no doubts either. Id rather suffer pain and loneliness for part of my life, than never know what it was like to love you, she told him. Holding her at arms length he was astonished to see the tears bright in her eyes. With the tip of his finger, he wiped them away. You and I have been very lucky because somehow, we found each other. So, for the moment lets just be grateful and, as I said, take each day as it comes. Having returned from his wanderings, Bens faithful old Labrador Chuck ran to meet them, excitedly yapping. I think hes trying to tell us something, Mary laughed. Ben leaned down to pacify the animal. All right, all right! Calm yourself down. Looking up to Mary he asked, So, are you willing to give it a go? Do you want to help with the sheep? Never having done it before, Mary took a moment to answer, but when she did, it was with enthusiasm. Very well. Ill give it a go. I knew it! Ben exclaimed. Well make a farmer of you yet. As it turned out, Mary had never enjoyed herself so much. The dog was a master at rounding up the sheep. Gently now, boy! Ben kept him under control so as not to send the sheep into a run, which could damage the pregnant ewes. In no time at all, the flock were teased into the pen, ready for Ben and Mary to weed out the more heavily pregnant sheep and release the others. With great care and tenderness, though never losing authority, Ben examined each and every one. The heavily-pregnant ewes were given over to Mary, who then led them into the smaller adjoining pen which ran behind the field-gate, while one by one the others were returned to graze the main field. When the flock had been sorted, Ben and Mary took a breather. Im proud of you, Ben told Mary. Youre a born farmers wife. The twelve pregnant ewes were next ushered into the smaller paddock nearer to the homestead, where Ben could keep an eye on them. I think weve earned a break, he yawned. Mary agreed and the two of them made their way to the cottage, where they kicked off their boots, hung up their coats and washed the smell of sheep and muck off their hands. Inside the cosy parlour, Ben soon had a cheery fire going, while in the kitchen Mary made the tea. She loved this pretty little place; with its low-beamed ceilings and big open stone fireplace, it was like a cottage you might find on a picture-postcard. When the fire was roaring up the chimney and each of them had a warming drink, Ben sat in the armchair, while Mary curled up at his feet, her face aglow from the fires heat, and a contented smile on her face. When she lapsed into a long silence, Ben leaned over her shoulder. Whats wrong, sweetheart? Mary shook her head. Nothing. But Ben knew different. Hey! This is me youre talking to. Somethings playing on your mind. If youre worried, Id like to know. Reaching up, she took hold of his hand. Im sorry, Ben. She didnt want to spoil the moment, but she really did need to talk. Its something you said about my parents. Its been a year since we were told, and I still cant take it all in Barney sending his family away like that, making them hate him while all the time he was so ill, and in desperate need of them. And Mother, loving him like she did, when all the time he loved someone else. That must have been so hard for her, Ben remarked thoughtfully. To work all the day long with someone you love, and to know that he only has eyes for his wife although thats exactly how it should be in a happy marriage. Mary had been thinking along the same lines. It must have been Hell for her. And yet she stayed, content enough just to be near him. She and Barney were together in the end though, Ben reminded her. And I for one am grateful for that, because if they hadnt, then you would never have been born, and I would never have known you. What will she do, Ben? Will she ever bring herself to tell Barneys other family what happened? Or will she leave them to live out their lives, in ignorance? Trusting him implicitly, she opened her heart. I need to know where they are. I need to meet them and talk with them, about my father, and the way it was. I want them to know what he did for them that he never stopped loving them, and that he sent them away because he didnt want them to lose the opportunity of a new life in Boston by finding out that he was terminally ill. Since Adam had confided the truth, Mary had thought about little else. Do you understand what Im saying, Ben? Do you think its wrong for me to meet my other family Thomas and Ronnie, and Susie? As for little Jamie, he was just a baby of two when he drowned, and Mum wont talk about him. I have to know my roots, where I came from. I want to go back there, to Liverpool where it all happened! Her voice broke. Oh Ben! If only I could remember clearly. Why wont she take me there? Is she trying to protect me? Is she afraid Ill be hurt by it all? But Im hurting now, cant she see that? Why doesnt she understand that I desperately need to see where it all unfolded, if only to gain some peace of mind? I only know half the story and she wont talk to me about it. I need to stand in the fields where they worked; I have to walk by the river where they fought to save little Jamie. I have to see where he lies and make my own peace with him. Taking her in his arms, Ben quietened her. I know its hard, but its hard for your mother too. She lived through it, and now shes having to live with the consequences of it all. Give her time. It will take a lot of strength for her to face it all again, but your mother is a strong, determined woman. She will go back. She will show you where it all happened, I know she will. Be patient, my darling. She needs to be sure; when the time comes for her to face all those demons, shes bound to want you there beside her. Because youre hers and Barneys child, and because going back will be one of the hardest things shes ever had to do. The two of them talked a while longer, until his embrace tightened and the kisses grew more urgent, and soon, right there on the rug, they made love for the very first time. It was a joyful, fulfilling experience, a bonding of heart and body, when the love between them was forged even stronger. Afterwards, with passion melted and bodies exhausted, they lay in the warm glow of the fire, thinking and dreaming of their future together. They didnt speak for a long time, because their hearts and minds were in harmony. There was no need for words. After a time, while Mary was dressing, Ben ventured outside. A moment later, he was calling her. MARY! Quickly come and see! Not knowing what to expect, she ran out to find him beckoning to her, his face alight with excitement. Look! He pointed to one of the ewes. Head down, almost on her knees, and with the whole of her weight pressed against the fence, she was in labour, and seemingly oblivious to their presence. The next few minutes were magical. Inch by inch, the newborn appeared. Bathed in fluid, the lamb wormed its way out until, with the slightest plop, it slid to the ground. For what seemed an age, the mother did not move. Instead she stood, head hanging, resting. Then suddenly she turned to her offspring and began licking away the slimy, covering membrane. Moments later, the lamb stood up, its legs unsteady and its head seeming far too large for its tiny body. It gave itself a shake, fell over and struggled up again, and in an incredibly short time, it was searching out its mammys teat. Mary was thrilled. Its beautiful. Have you never seen a lamb born before? Ben had seen it many times now, and each time was just as wonderful as the last. Ive never seen one actually being born, Mary admitted. Ive walked the fields at different times and Ive seen the newborns playing and skipping, but Ive never actually seen a ewe giving birth. Have you ever touched a newborn lamb? Never. Would you like to? She was surprised. Wont the mother be hostile? Ben shook his head. No. Then yes, Id like that. They waited a while, until mother and newborn had bonded and the young one had its fill of milk. Then, with great care and talking to the mother as he went, Ben led Mary across the paddock. He did not take the newborn straight away. Instead he gestured for Mary to be still; he murmured to the sheep that he was just as proud of her baby as she was, and that he meant no harm except to show her off and then return her. But the mother displayed little interest in them, and when he reached down to lift the newborn into his arms, she merely stood and watched, almost as though she knew he meant no harm. At first, the little one struggled, but Ben secured the squirming bundle and holding it towards Mary, told her to smell its coat. Nervously, Mary leaned towards the tiny creature and sniffed at its coat. It smells warm, and tangy like fresh-made marmalade, she laughed. Can I touch her? When he nodded, she reached out and stroked her fingers over its fleece; the sensation was like nothing she had ever experienced. Beneath her touch, the tight curls of fleece felt hard and wiry. She was amazed. I thought it would be soft to the touch, she said in wonderment. Before returning the lamb to its mother, Ben dipped a finger in the fluid which had cradled the newborn and was now lying in little pockets in the grass. He then wiped it over the back of the lamb and returned it to its anxious mother, who ran her tongue over its back before leading it away, contented. Mary was curious. Why did you do that? Ben explained, Sometimes, a ewe will reject a lamb if shes not sure its hers. Weve both handled the lamb and weve left our smell on it. By wiping the fluid on its back, I made sure she could smell and recognise her newborn, so there would be no doubt in her mind. This had been a day that Mary would always remember. She had made love with her husband-to-be and witnessed the miracle of birth, almost as a sign of the babies that she might have, one day in the future. But for now, she was anxious to get home and talk with her mother. For the moment, there were other important issues that needed to be resolved. Lucy saw them arrive. Theyre back now, she told Adam, who had been polishing the car and was now enjoying the sandwich Lucy had brought him. Good! Finishing his sandwich, he excused himself. Ill away and get out of these overalls. Dont be long, will you? Strange how with every passing day, Lucy needed him to be more a part of everything she did. Adam was thrilled but doubtful. Are you sure you want me to stay? Yes, Adam, Im sure. Lucy had no doubts. Youve always been a part of all this. Right then. Ill go and get washed up. Give me ten minutes or so. Oh, and thanks for the sandwich. He handed her the plate. It was tasty as always, though a bit more pickle would not have come amiss. With that he gave a mischievous wink and hurried away. Lucy went outside and waited for her daughter and Ben to climb out of his car. Youve had a delivery this morning, she told her daughter. Its near the greenhouse. Mary, who was looking more beautiful than her mother had ever seen her, had completely forgotten. What sort of a delivery? A load of rotting manure, Lucy groaned. Adam helped to fork it off the cart, and by God does it stink! I can even smell it from the kitchen. You wont grumble when Ive dug it into the ground to produce fat cabbages and juicy carrots, Mary grinned. Anyway, we had another sort of delivery today, didnt we, Ben? Ben was absent-mindedly running the flat of his hand along the side of Lucys car. Adam keeps this car beautiful, he said. Its a credit to him. Ben! Mary gave him a nudge. I was just saying, we had another kind of delivery today, didnt we? We certainly did the first of the spring lambs decided to make an appearance, he announced proudly. And we saw the whole thing, from birth to suckling. Mary eagerly imparted the bones of her little adventure. I stroked its coat. I always thought it would be soft and downy, she told her mother excitedly, but it was harsh to the touch, and tight as a coiled spring. I could have told you that, Lucy teased. Your daddy once had a whole flock of sheep. Spring was always the best time, when the lambs were born and I could sit on the tree-stump by the edge of the woods and watch them frisking and leaping about. Before her memories could overwhelm her again, she announced briskly, Come inside. I have something to tell you. By the time they strolled to the kitchen door, Adam was already there, washed and changed and looking apprehensive. Hello, you two! he greeted them. Stepping aside, he waited for the family to pass before following them across the hallway and into the drawing room. When they were all seated Ben and Mary on the sofa together, Adam in the leather armchair and Lucy in the matching chair beside him, she told them all, For a long time now, Ive been toying with the idea of going back North. As she went on, the nervousness disappeared and a calm strength emerged. It wont be an easy thing for me to do. There will be other people living in Barneys old house now, and strangers farming the land. She grew wistful, eyes downcast. The memories will still be there though, in the fields and the cottage. Memories that will never leave me such joy and regret, and oh, the laughter we all shared. Such laughter, such joy, friendship and the yearning for a man she believed could never be hers. Swallowing hard, she looked up to see her daughter silently coaxing her to go on. Bracing herself, she cleared her throat and in a firm voice told them, A visit is long overdue, and now with time seeming to pass ever more quickly, I wont leave it any longer. I have a very old friend in Doctor Lucas, as Im sure youre all aware of by now. He knows me well, glancing at Adam, she instinctively reached out and took hold of his hand, almost as well as my good friend, Adam. Turning a deep shade of pink, Adam smiled. Doctor Lucas is a fine man, he remarked. It will be good to see him again, Im sure. Mary had a question for Lucy. Have you told him youre coming? Not yet, no. When do you intend going? Lucy shook her head. Im not sure. Ive only just made the decision. In a couple of weeks time, maybe? Ill write to Doctor Lucas. There are any number of good hotels in the area. Mary had another question. Mother? Yes, dear? Can we come with you me and Ben? Lucy quickly reassured her. I wouldnt dream of going back without you, she said. When we left there, you were too young to remember what it was like Nostalgia flooded her senses. I need to show you the fields where your daddy and the family worked alongside each other, and the cottage where we lived. I cant wait to see Bridget, either. From her letters, shes still full of life, with the dancing and the singing and the shameless flirting. Shes married four men and dumped them all one after the other, and doesnt seem to have changed one bit. But oh, how wonderful it will be to see her again. I bet shes grown old disgracefully, and made a fortune out of everything shes ever touched. Ben was intrigued. Have you never met up in all this time? Lucy shook her head. Bridgets been too busy making her fortune, and until now, Ive never really mustered enough courage to go back. She laughed heartily. I wouldnt mind betting she looks exactly the same, and as far as I can tell, shes still up to her old tricks, wheeling and dealing, and playing havoc with the men. Caught up in Lucys enthusiasm, Mary ran to sit on the arm of her mothers chair. Oh Mum, Im longing to meet her! And I want to see it all the fields and the cottage, and the river She paused when Lucy looked at her through agonised eyes, almost as though her mother knew what was in her mind at that moment. Will you take me to see where he is, Mother? Sliding a hand into Lucys, Mary gently persisted, Will you take me to the churchyard where little Jamie lies? In her mind Lucy saw it all that night, and the horror and thrusting it to the back of her mind, she avoided the question. So there you are, my dear, she said brightly, and turning to Ben, she asked, You will come with us, wont you, Ben? Just as she had hoped, Ben did not hesitate. Id like that. Thank you, Lucy. Lucy clapped her hands. Good! Thats wonderful. Im sure Adam will organise it all. She winked at him. Of course, it would be nice to have a date for the wedding too, so we can start planning for that as well. Bens daughter Abbie will make a beautiful bridesmaid, dont you think, Adam? Mary flung her two arms round her mothers neck. Youre a conniving old biddy, she chided, but I wouldnt swap you for the world. Lucy would not be deterred. Well, Ben? Is there soon to be a wedding or not? Delighting in Lucys character, Ben promised, I think you should get your hat and outfit ready. I wouldnt be at all surprised if it didnt happen before too long, isnt that right, Mary? Mimicking her mother, the girl was a little coy. Well have to wait and see, wont we? With that, she took her leave. Who wants a cup of tea? For now, the discussion was over, but there was much to look forward to. And much to fear. Chapter 6 (#ulink_f422e4ed-a866-5c6a-bb07-55a5b02b3178) BRIDGET HAD TAKEN flowers to the churchyard every Saturday, and this Saturday was no different. Twenty years ago, she had made a promise to a friend, and though she had been many things in her life, some of which she was not proud of, it was not in her nature to break a promise. Stooping to lay down the posy of white and yellow narcissi, she dug into her pocket and took out a white envelope. Then she held it up, almost as though she thought little Jamie could see it. I had a letter from yer mammy this morning, she murmured in her soft Irish lilt. At long last, shes coming to see us. What dyou think o that, eh? Ah, sure, it wont be easy for yer mammy what with a family in the cottage an the river only a spit away, as if nothing bad ever happened there. But we all know different, dont we, eh? Drawing a deep breath through her nostrils, she blew it out in a great sigh. Ah, but shes a brave woman, yer mammy. After you were took, she went away with dear Barney. She made a new life and though weve written time and again, weve not clapped eyes on each other these many years. When a dewdrop appeared on the end of her nose she cuffed it away. Theres a chill wind brewing, she said. Id best be going, or my knee will seize up again. She chuckled. Im not so young as I was, mores the pity, but I cant let the years get the better of me, cause once I do that, Im finished. She squared her shoulders. Inside, Im still the young woman who fought and clawed her way to the top. After rearranging the posy in a nicer position, she clambered to her feet, groaning as she straightened up. The old bones are beginning to complain, but the minds as quick as it ever was. Bridget was thankful for the good health she enjoyed. It meant she could keep to her schedule and stay one step ahead of advancing years. She rubbed her sore knees and for a moment was quiet in contemplation. In some ways it might be better if yer mammy never came back, poor wee thing, she said, but then I wouldnt see her, would I? An she wouldnt see you, an that would be a terrible shame, especially when its taken her so long to make this particular journey. The mans kindly voice startled her. You know what they say about people who talk to themselves? Swinging round, she almost fell over. Jaysus! I almost had a heart attack. What dyou want to creep up on me like that for? The man apologised. I wasnt creeping up on you, he said. Its just that Ive seen you so often down here, I thought I might come up and say hello. Slim and tidy, with a pleasant bearded face, something about him jogged Bridgets memory. Have I seen ye somewhere before? she asked. You look familiar. He laughed at that. Isnt that what the men are supposed to say when they see a woman who takes their fancy? Bridget could see the funny side. Ah well now, its not that Im after taking your fancy, she joked in return. I really do believe Ive seen ye somewheres before. Offering the hand of friendship, he introduced himself. The names Oliver Rogers. Bridget shook his hand. An how dyou do then, Oliver Rogers. Suddenly she was blushing to the roots of her hair. Ah, now I know where Ive seen ye. Thats it! You used to visit my old place Gawd Almighty! Sure, thats more years ago than I care to remember. He laughed. Youre right. It must be at least twenty-four years since I climbed the steps to spend an hour or so with one of your girls. Bridget nodded. If I remember aright, you always asked for Judy. Thats right, I did. He seemed embarrassed. But only because she was the nearest to you I could get same red hair and that wonderful bubbly nature. It was always you I wanted, Bridget. You were the loveliest of them all, but you were always just out of reach. Like a young schoolgirl on her first date, Bridget protested, Away with you! Why would you want me, when you could have the pick of my girls? He gazed at her for a moment, before answering softly, We cant help who we fall in love with, can we? For the first time in her life, Bridget was lost for words. When she did speak, her voice was alive with anger. Soft talk, is it? I expect youve found out that Ive made it good and you want a slice of it. Well, arent you the cunning blighter, eh? In love with me, you say? Hmh! I know what youre after, so I do. She wagged a finger at him. Im far too canny to fall for all that nonsense, so yed best be on yer way, before ye see a side to me you wouldnt like! Go on, be off with you! Ive no wish to renew our acquaintance. Whats more, I cant be wasting the day talking to the likes o you. Im a busy woman, so I am. With that she turned on her heel and went smartly down the path, muttering to herself and cursing. Bloody maniac! Coming up behind me like that. Does he think I were born yesterday? Sure, Ive worked hard to get where I am today. I started with nothing and fought my way up. Now Ive got a good life and a healthy bank-balance, Im not about to share it with some crafty, grasping old bugger! She stole a glance behind. Looking very sorry for himself, the man was standing right where she left him. Be Jaysus! Ive a good mind to go back and smack him one, so I have. She clenched her fist and thrust it into her pocket. Just let him try it again, thats all. Bridget! His voice followed her. I didnt mean to offend you. Come back lets talk. Sod off! Please, Bridget! Im sorry if I spoke out of turn. Ye heathen! Youd best be gone, or ye will be sorry! Dont go BRIDGET! Ignoring his plea, Bridget climbed into her beloved Hillman Minx. Losing no time in case he might follow her, she shut the door and turned on the engine. Bloody cheek! Stamping her foot on the clutch, she slammed the car into gear. Lurching forward, it jerked into a spasm and for a moment she almost lost control. Come on, come on! She kicked on the accelerator and it took off at a crazy pace, throwing her back in the seat. Oliver Rogers was right behind. When the car shot forward, with the wheels skidding and squealing, the hail of dust and muck thrown up from the hoggin-path covered him in a thick cloud. Youre still a damned lunatic! he yelled. But Bridget was already out of earshot. He brushed himself down. Thats my girl, he chuckled. You might think Im after your money, but nothing could be further from the truth. Walking the few steps to the large, sleek Humber, he climbed in and watched as Bridgets car skidded and danced all the way down the road. Youre a bit older, with a few more wrinkles and greying hair, he nodded approvingly, but youre still the same lively little devil you always were. Slipping into gear he manoeuvred the vehicle onto the road. Youre a right handful, he laughed. Thats what I like most about you. And thats why I mean to have you before were both too old to enjoy whats left. Driving like one demented through the streets of Liverpool, Bridget had pedestrians leaping out of the way. Dont you swear at me! she had snapped at an angry young couple who had the misfortune to step out in front of her, and now she didnt see the old dear who ran back to the pavement in fear for her life. Sorry, love, but ye should have the good sense to look where youre going! Bridget tutted as the old woman waved her stick at her. Hmh! From the way she scooted up onto the pavement, she doesnt need that stick at all. As she slowed down a little, Bridget grinned to herself. I wouldnt mind betting she only carries it about to whack folks on the head, she said aloud, and was still laughing as she pulled up outside an imposing office. Situated on a wide quiet street just a brisk walk from the city centre, it boasted her name above the entrance: The Bridget Business Agency Climbing out of her car, Bridget stood for a moment as she always did, filled with pride and a sense of accomplishment to see what she had achieved. The Bridget Business Agency. Even now, after so many years, she could hardly believe that this imposing building was really hers, paid for lock, stock and barrel. Youve done well, Bridget my girl, she told herself. It was a far cry from that little house in Viaduct Street, with its poky rooms and second-hand furniture. At one time, these offices had been two shops; one a mans tailors and the other an ironmongers; the upper floors provided spacious living accommodation. Having outgrown her previous offices, and wanting to stay fairly central, Bridget bought the two shops and gutted them. She redesigned the building and filled it with the most expensive furniture, creating the air of discretion and professionalism that her clients preferred. She had eight attractive young women working for her, and nowadays, the business was of a more respectable and lucrative nature. Most of the work was done over the telephone and through appointments, with the majority of clients being genuine businessmen needing escorts; though of course there was always the occasional gentleman who wanted a little more than that. After thoroughly vetting them, Bridget did occasionally turn a blind eye. But that was the exception rather than the rule for she had built up an admirable reputation in Liverpool and protected her standing like a tiger protecting her cubs. Making her way upstairs, Bridget burst into reception in her usual robust manner. Top o the morning, Amy, me darling. She strode across the room. Youre looking pretty, I must say. Off out, are you? Middle-aged and still single, Amy had taken the place of Tillie Salter as Bridgets right-hand helper. With her baby-face and sad eyes that made a body want to hug her, she never over-dressed or went out of her way to show herself off; in fact, quite the contrary. At home, she would wear anything and everything as long as it felt comfortable. But while at work she was always smart and trim, with her hair tied back and her white shirt stiff and starched. But not this Saturday morning, for she had her hair washed and loose, and curled up at the ends, and she wore a soft blue blouse with a little daisy brooch on the lapel. Will ye look at you! Bridget loved to tease her. Dont deny it youve got a date, so ye have. No, I havent! Why else would ye be done up all pretty, with yer eyes shining and a smile on yer little face? Amy blushed to the roots of her hair. Youre imagining things, like you always do. Im not going on a date. Hey now! Bridget wagged a finger. You might be in charge when Im not here, but Im the boss and Im allowed to think and say what I like. So dont you forget it, young madam! In charge of the offices, Amy had been with her for a good while now. She was an excellent organiser and had a flair for figures which had never been Bridgets strong point. Amy explained, I thought I might go to the pictures this afternoon, thats all. Its a Norman Wisdom film. Bridget glanced at the clock. In that case, youd best make tracks or youll miss the matine, she told her. I should never have asked you to come in on a Saturday. It was unfair of me, so it was. Dont worry about it, Amy assured her. I didnt know myself about the film until I got out of bed this morning. When the postman told me that he was going to see it, I just thought it would make a nice treat for me too. Bridget chuckled. So, it was the postman put the sparkle in yer eye, was it? No, it was not. Ah, dont gimme that now. Ive seen your postie and hes a fine body of a man, so he is. She made a smiley face. Its him thats taking you to the pictures, is it? Pretending to tidy some papers, Amy looked away. Hes not taking me, she protested, though its likely we could bump into each other When Bridget opened her mouth to speak, Amy cautioned her, Dont leap to conclusions, because theres nothing going on, and thats an end to it. Sure, I wasnt about to say anything at all. Yes, you were. I saw it in your face. Well, all right, yes, I was about to speak. But it was nothing to do with the postman. She couldnt resist another little jibe. If you fancy a torrid affair on the quiet with him, who am I to judge? Ignoring her teasing, Amy asked, So, what were you about to tell me just now? Feigning indignation, Bridget pouted, Ah, sure, Ive changed me mind. Im not telling you now. Amy laughed. Youre itching to tell me. So, come on. What is it? Leaning over the desk, she folded her arms. Im not doing any more work until you tell me. So! Refusing to work now, is it? Bridget was enjoying the little exchange. I hope ye realise, I could sack you for that. But you wont. Bridgets smile grew wider. I got a letter this morning. Oh? An old boyfriend, was it? Amy knew how to turn tables. No, twas not! Waving the letter under Amys nose, she said, Youll never guess who its from. Aw, Bridget, stop teasing. With sleight of hand, Amy tried to get at the letter, but Bridget was too quick for her. Dont be impatient. She could be a real torment. Amy tried another tack. Well, Id best be going now. Ive updated the appointment book. Theres just a bit of filing to be done, but that can wait until Monday. She began to turn away. Horrified, Bridget grabbed hold of her arm. Aw, go on then, she said, and thrust the letter at her. Open it, why dont ye? A moment later, Amy was clapping her hands and shrieking, Oh my God, its Lucy! Shes coming to see us! Running round the desk she caught hold of Bridget and wouldnt let go. Then she was crying and laughing all at the same time. Tears of joy ran unheeded down her face. Behave yourself, Bridget chided. Sure, I know youre thrilled and so am I, but will ye stop the damned bawling oh, now will ye look at that! Youre plastering snot all over the sleeve of me coat! Amy wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. Im sorry, she whimpered, but I cant believe it. All this time, Lucy kept her distance, not wanting to see us and not wanting to come back, and now shell soon be here, and I cant believe it. Oh Bridget! Hey! Taking her by the shoulders, Bridget warned, Dont start bawling again, or Ill have you locked away somewheres, then you wont see her at all, will ye? Amy laughed at that. Oh, but isnt it wonderful? The other woman agreed. It is, yes though Im not sure why the sudden change of mind after all this time. Amys eyes widened. Youre right. She hasnt said why shes coming to see us. Oh no. You dont think shes poorly, do you really poorly, I mean? Oh Bridget, I couldnt stand it if she was coming back to tell us that. Although the very same thought had initially occurred to Bridget, she immediately put Amys mind at rest. Oh for heavens sakes, will ye stop yer blathering! Think about it. If Lucy was that ill, she wouldnt be travelling all this way to see us, would she, eh? Instead, Im sure wed be asked to go to her. Amy gave a sigh of relief. Youre right. Oh, and it will be lovely to see her, wont it? Bridget smiled, that deep-down smile that spoke more than words. Yes. Now get off, or youll miss the start of the picture, so ye will. While Amy went to fetch her coat, Bridget threw herself into the high-backed leather chair. Im away now, Amy said, then had a sudden thought. Lucy wont arrive today, will she? O course not. I only got the letter this morning. You read it yourself. Shell write again with a date to expect her. So, get off now, or youll miss the postman. She winked knowingly. And ye wouldnt want that now, would ye? Bridget! You shouldnt be saying things like that. It could cause all manner of trouble if that kind of silly gossip got out. Bridget tutted. Oh. Married, is he? No, hes not married, and as far as I know, hes not planning to, though from the sound of it youd have us both marching down the aisle whether we want to or not. Bridget gave a naughty wink. Whatever gives you that idea? Amy shook her head in frustration. Ill see you later. That said, she hurried out of the room. Wait on! Behind her, Bridget gave a loud groan. Oh Amy, you little darlin, I dont want you to miss the Path News, but you couldnt fetch me a bowl of hot water, could ye? All that walking. Jaysus! Me feet are like two roasted chickens. Amy looked at her watch and gave a shrug. I dont suppose it will matter if I miss the first ten minutes. She returned to make Bridget more comfortable, though on delivering the bowl of hot water she gave her a lecture. Youre too hard on yourself, she chided. You do too much, always on the run, and frightening the life out of anybody who gets in the way of you and that mad machine. You need to remember, youre not getting any younger. Bridget was indignant. I didnt build this business by sitting on my backside, she retorted. And because theres more competition ready to muscle in on me, I need to work at staying on top. I havent got time to grow old, thank you very much, and I dont need reminding how Im not getting any younger. Dipping her bare feet into the bowl, she gave a long, delicious sigh. As for my mad machine, that car is a godsend to me. It saves my legs and gives me the freedom I need. Leaning over, Amy gave her a peck on the cheek. Im sorry, she told her. I worry about you, thats all. If she lost Bridget it would be like losing her best friend, and entire family. Well, theres no need. Bridget dismissed this with a wave of her hand. Now, be off with ye. As she went, Amy remarked once more on Lucys imminent visit. I cant wait to see her, she said. I wonder if shes changed? Well, o course shes changed! Bridget scoffed. We all have. Were older and slower, with wrinkles and greying hair. Amy laughed at that. Not you! she called out as she went through the office. You have your hair dyed and slap enough make-up on to frighten the devil. And youre still as mad as a hatter. With that she closed the door and went on her way, leaving Bridget wondering about Lucy, and remembering how it was, before she went away. Aw, Lucy my old friend, you had it hard, so ye did. What with losing the bairn and then Barney, and ye never even told us about him until a year later. But I think I understand why you needed to shut us out. She lounged deeper into the chair. You thought to save us any distress, and like a wounded animal, you needed a place to hide. She closed her eyes and gave up a heartfelt prayer. God willing, you maybe found a measure of peace, in your far-off hideaway. Chapter 7 (#ulink_49cd2bea-4be2-5914-8d7d-1453720fd0ee) NORMALLY, ON A Sunday, Bridget would not see hide nor hair of Amy, and if by chance she did pop round to see her boss, it was never before midday. I like my extra hour or two in bed of a Sunday, Amy would declare. And if truth be told, Bridget also enjoyed her bit of a lie-in. But not today, because on this warm, bright Sunday in April, Lucy was coming to see them. What time do you think shell arrive? Amy was like a cat on hot bricks. Sit down and stop wearing out my floor, if ye please, and turn that blessed wireless off. Im in no mood to listen to the Goons! Bridget groaned. Like Ive told ye for the umpteenth time, Lucy has a long way to travel. Who knows how long it might take. Shell be here when she arrives no sooner, no later. In fact it was a quarter to four when Adam drove through the main streets of Liverpool; on this Sunday as on every other, the heart of the city was quiet, with only the odd window-shopper strolling about. All this time and nothing seems to have changed, he remarked. Adam had hardly got a word out of Lucy all the way up from Bedfordshire, and now as he tried hard to draw her into a conversation, he could only imagine the emotions raging through her. His own heart, too, was churning at seeing his familiar old hometown. Loth to betray her feelings, Lucy was deeply moved at seeing all the familiar haunts. Greedy to keep and hold it forever, she took in everything; the church on the corner, the avenue of shops, the street-lamps, and even the kerbs and pavements worn down over the years by the feet of many, including Barneys and her own. Youre wrong, Adam, she answered quietly. It has changed. There was a time when I thought Liverpool would always belong to me. When I last walked down these streets, they were comforting and friendly, because Barney was still alive. If I was out shopping, he was always at the back of my mind, and I knew that when I got home he would be there, waiting for me that warm, wonderful man. Yes, Liverpool was still here, she thought, and yes, it looked the same the proud old buildings, the old cobblers on the corner, and the tearooms where she and Vicky often took a rest from the shopping. Even the pub where she had seen Barney and the street-woman on that dreadful day that was still there. Everything looked the same, but it didnt feel the same, because now they were all gone her darling boy Jamie, Barney, Vicky and the others. It was gone four by the time they booked into the hotel. Do you want to rest before we do anything else? Adam was concerned for her. We could give it an hour or so, before we go to Bridgets. I could order tea and sandwiches, and you could have half an hour or so in your room resting. Are you tired, Adam? Not really, no. We had an hours stop. That was enough to refresh me. Good! Lucy was adamant. Therell be time enough for us to rest later. I really do need to see Bridget, and Amy, and She paused. Leave the porter to take up our bags, Adam. Id like to go to Bridgets straight away. The porter was instructed and they climbed back into the car. Do you know where youre going? Lucy asked. If I remember rightly, Duke Street is situated in the posh area along by the marketplace then second right, turning past the cinema. Adam laughed. Unless theyve moved the streets, I know every twist and turn, he assured her. Well be there in a few minutes. Adam was as good as his word. In no time at all, they were turning into Duke Street; tree-lined and flanked with expensive houses. Id forgotten how posh this area was, he said. As he drove slowly by, Adam carefully read the names and numbers of each house. Every one was different some with high gates, others with no gates at all, but each one oozing money and affluence. Bridget wasnt exaggerating when she wrote and told you she was comfortably off, he said. Lucy smiled at his remark. I always knew Bridget would move up in the world, she said proudly. This is all a far cry from the old place. Having been back and forth to the window this past hour and more, Bridget saw the car draw up and Adam get out of the drivers seat. At first she didnt recognise him, but then as he opened the rear door for Lucy, he looked towards the house and Bridget was sure. Its them! Raising her voice she called Amy, who had been keeping vigil at the window but had now gone to sit by the fireside. AMY! Its them! Excited, Bridget hurried to the front door and flung it open, and there after all these years was her dear friend Lucy, still strong, still defiant against all odds. Even though she leaned on her walking-stick, there was a grim determination in her step as she began her way up the path. Her hair that once hung thick and loose over her shoulders, was now gathered into a clip, and she appeared slimmer, her shoulders upright and straight. Over the years, Lucy had carried a great burden on those slim shoulders, but she had borne her troubles well, and never once had she leaned on others who would have helped if only she had asked. Now, as she paused in her steps to look up, her eyes were warm and clear, shining with goodness. Hello, my darling Bridget. The voice was Lucys. The woman was the girl again, and the girl was the same, with this precious moment frozen in time. They were young again, and the years were as nothing. Bridget had vowed not to cry or be emotional, but as she ran to meet her old friend, the tears flowed, and when she called Lucys name her voice broke and faltered. Oh, Lucy Unable to speak any more, she snatched Lucy to her, and they held each other in a close embrace; it was the most magical moment. One brief moment, born out of tragedy and joy, and a friendship which from a distance had spanned a lifetime. Adam stood by, a lump in his throat and his heart soaring. These two should never have been parted, he thought, but Lucy had done what she felt she must do, and now thank God, she was back. With her arm secure round Lucy, Bridget opened her embrace to include him. Oh Adam, you dont know how wonderful it is to see you both. He went to them and they stood a moment, holding each other as though they would never let go, and the pain in Lucys heart was eased. This is right, she thought. This is how it should be. When Amy came running down the steps, Lucy took her into her arms. Amy! She kissed her face and smiled. You look taller, and smarter. Amy had made a special effort to look good for Lucy. She had on a pretty cream-coloured jacket and brown skirt, her hair was especially bobbed and she had on a touch of lipstick. You look every inch the businesswoman. Lucy had been told how Amy ran Bridgets business almost single-handed. But to me, youll always be shy little Amy. Amy laughed. Not so shy now, she said. And not so little, either. Ive put on a few pounds since you last saw me. Come inside. Bridget led them onwards, Amy and Adam talking softly behind, with herself and Lucy in front. Were like two old soldiers, Bridget joked tearfully. Back from the wars, licking our wounds and ready for the next battle. Lucy smiled at that. All my battles are done, she mused. But then she thought of Edward Trent, and her heart fell. Inside the house, while Amy went to the kitchen, Bridget took Adam and Lucy on a tour; first stop was her large office overlooking the garden. This is the room where I enjoy a drop o the good stuff, put me feet up and think o the old days, she confided. Back there I had a humble little place with a backyard and men who visited discreetly for pleasure, and now I have a house with beautiful gardens and a posh office, and Im still in the same business of providing lovely girls for lonely men, only this time its more business than pleasure. She shrugged philosophically then confided, And would you believe, Im making ten times the money. I can see that. Lucy was taken from room to room, in and out of five large bedrooms, all furnished in the latest style; two enormous bathrooms shaped in marble and glass, and then down the wide staircase into a drawing room with French doors leading out to a magnificent garden. You have a beautiful house, Bridget. Lucy fell thankfully into the wide armchair; Adam sat close and when Amy brought in the tray of sandwiches and tea, the four of them reminisced about the past. Will you ever come back here to live? Amy asked hopefully, and Lucy told her she would not; that though she had fond memories, the bad ones were still too real. Besides, she said, Im too old in the tooth to be moving house and starting over. Adam told them he felt the same. Liverpool will always be where my roots are, he confessed, but my home is in the south no one missed the adoring glance he shot in Lucys direction, with Lucy and her daughter. And how is your daughter, Mary? Bridget enquired of Lucy. Sure, I thought you were bringing her with you, and this young man of hers Ben, isnt it? Theyll be along shortly, Lucy promised. Mary called on us this morning before we set off and said how Bens sheep had all started lambing. The pair of them were up all night, and the lambs were still coming when we left. And do they know where to find us? Adam intervened. I copied out the directions you sent to Lucy, he said. Im sure theyll find you, no trouble. Good! Like Amy, Bridget was longing to see Lucys daughter. Oh, I cant wait to meet her, she told Lucy. When you took her from here, she was just a tiddler, so she was. There was something else Bridget wanted to know, but she wasnt quite sure how to broach it. Anticipating the question, Lucy enlightened her. We didnt go to the churchyard, she said quietly. If thats what youre wondering? Bridget nodded. You read my mind, pet. I was just after asking if you might have called there first. When emotion threatened to creep up on her, Lucy merely shook her head. The memories were vivid as always: after little Jamies second birthday party on that joyous November night, Trent had appeared at her cottage, wanting her back, beseeching her to leave Liverpool with him. Then, when he realised that her love had turned to hate, he had snatched her child and disappeared into the night. Mortally afraid for little Jamie, Lucy had pursued him, but he was like a madman fleeing through the pitch-dark fields. Stumbling and calling, she had gone after him, but he was always a distance away. And then he was crossing the river, carrying the child over the slippery boulders that straddled the water above the weir, now in full flood. Screaming hysterically, Lucy had followed him. And it was while grappling with him that Edward Trent began to lose his footing in the raging torrent. It all happened so quickly. She pleaded with him to give her the child, but he was so crazed and evil there was no reasoning with him. Then Barney came out of the darkness and shouted for her to go back, to leave it to him, but instead, fearful for little Jamie, she followed her instincts and reached out for her baby. Then suddenly it all went wrong. In one frantic, desperate moment, she and Trent lost their footing, and their son was gone. And as the water carried him away, she prayed, like she had never prayed in her life before or since. Caring nothing for his own life, Barney had gone after the child but it was all too late, and since that terrible moment when he had carried Jamies lifeless body to her, she had blamed herself. If only she had listened to Barney when he told her to get back. If only she had not pursued Edward Trent, he might have returned her child safely. If only he had not made for the river if only. If only. Dear God, would the heartache never end? And now here she was, where it all happened, and for her own peace of mind, she must visit little Jamies last resting-place. The prospect was unbearable to Lucy, and yet she desperately needed to stand where he lay, to speak with him and in her heart and mind to hold his hand and reassure him that she had not forgotten, that she still loved and remembered him and would do so until the day she followed. So often she had mentally prepared herself for this day, when she would be with him, yet each time she had resisted. Because she knew how hard it would be, how devastated she would feel. But it was ever in her mind and heart. These past twenty years and more she had thought of little else. So, will ye go? Soft and encouraging, Bridgets voice entered her consciousness. Lucy nodded. You know I will. Of that there was no question. Not today though, eh, Lucy? Adam could see how tired she was. He above all others knew what an emotionally draining experience it would be when Lucy finally returned to her babys resting-place. I think we should go back to the hotel and take it easy for the rest of the evening. As always, his only thought was for Lucy. Ill take you to the churchyard first thing in the morning, when youve had a good nights sleep. What do you say, Lucy? Its been a long journey. You need to take it easy now. Lucy took a while to answer. To the others, she appeared calm and controlled, while inside, her heart and mind were in turmoil. How could she go there? How could she not? Yet she must. She must! Oh, but where in the name of God would she find the strength? Suddenly her heart was open and her mind at peace. From Barney, she realised; thats where she would find the strength. Youre right, Adam. She smiled on him and his heart warmed. It might be best to leave it until morning. Bridget had a suggestion. I wouldnt mind betting ye havent had a good meal all day, am I right? Up to now, Lucy had not felt hungry, but suddenly she was famished. Why dont we all have dinner at the hotel? she suggested, perking up. Well, I never! Bridget cried excitedly. You took the very words out of my mouth. Itll be my treat, so it will, and no arguments. Neither Adam nor Amy needed much persuasion and so it was arranged. You take yerselves off, and me and Amy will be there soonever weve painted our faces and put on our glad rags. At seven-thirty they gathered in the hotel bar. Having rested awhile, Lucy was now bathed and changed. She had on a black straight-skirted dress with blue collar and cuffs, and her hair was swept back into a loop and fastened with a daisy-chain pin. You look lovely! Even if she was dressed in sacks, Adam would still think the same. In his eyes, Lucy was everything perfect. All the same, Lucy was flattered. You dont look so bad yourself. In his dark suit and pale green shirt, he made a handsome figure. Amy and Bridget arrived on time; Amy looking young and fresh in a brown two-piece, Bridget painted to the eyeballs with dark rouge, crimson lipstick, and the smartest bright green two-piece. Dont tell me, she laughed. I look like a leprechaun. She cast a scathing glance at Amy. Sure, havent I already been told that? Doing a twirl she fished for compliments, and got them a-plenty. Spending a few minutes in the bar for a premeal drink, they were delighted when Mary and Ben came through the door. What a lovely surprise! Youre just in time for dinner. Lucy gave them each a hug before proudly presenting them to Amy and Bridget. Gawd love us! Bridget wrapped herself round Mary and squeezed her so hard, Lucy warned her shed have her eyeballs out. Look at her shes all grown up, so she is! There was no stopping Bridget once she started. Oh, and isnt she like her daddy! Oh Lucy, I cant believe it. Becoming emotional, she was almost in tears, until Lucy told her firmly, Behave yourself, and let the young uns get ready for dinner. An hour later, they all went through to the dining room. The evening was perfect, the food was done to a treat, and the conversation at different times both sparkling and nostalgic; with Bridget unable to take her eyes off Mary, and Mary content to see her mothers eyes shining with pleasure at being with her old friends. Later, when they had a few minutes alone, she mentioned to Ben that tomorrow would be a difficult day for Lucy. God only knows how shell cope when she goes to the churchyard and sees little Jamies grave. Its bound to bring it all back with a vengeance. Ben had few doubts. Your mother will cope like she always does, he assured her. Shes the strongest, most determined woman Ive ever met. Looking down at Lucys daughter, he observed the fine straight features and honest clear eyes, and his voice softened. And you, my lovely, are a chip off the old block! The next day started badly for Lucy. She had not slept well. She saw the dawn light the skies and she heard the first birdsong, and for a time, she sat gazing out the window, her mind shot with all manner of mayhem. This morning she would see the little cottage given to her by Leonard Maitland, her employer up at The Manse in the village of Comberton by Weir. This was the cottage where she and Barney had lived for a while before moving down to Salford, the cottage where Mary had been conceived, in love, in anguish. The same cottage where she had spent several idyllic months with her young son, enjoying the countryside and the company of their friends, the Davidsons. The cottage where she had shed so many tears, mourning the loss of his bright presence. Bittersweet memories that would never leave her. Oh, why ever had she come here to this place which she had deliberately shut out of her life for so long? How would she cope? How could she force herself to go through with it all? Had she made a terrible mistake? All the yearning in the world could never bring back what she craved; her firstborn son, her youth, Barneys love albeit a love that could never be as powerful and absorbing as hers was for him. It was all gone now. Time had rolled it away, out of sight but not out of mind. And some day, time would roll her away too, and Adam, and everything else she cherished. It was a sobering thought, which made her even more appreciative and protective of the family she still had Mary and Adam, and now Ben and she still had her friends friends she did not deserve, for hadnt she deliberately distanced herself from them all this time? After washing and dressing, and feeling more settled in her mind, Lucy went downstairs, where Adam was already waiting. Sleep well, did you? His wide smile was all-enveloping. Not too badly, she lied. What I need more than anything right now, is a refreshing cup of tea and a plate of scrambled eggs on toast. That should set me up for the day. Then you shall have it. Holding out his arm he escorted her to the dining room, where they were led to a small round table by the window. In no time at all, Lucy had her eggs and a handsome pot of tea, with the daintiest cup and saucer, and a jug of milk filled right to the top. Just what the doctor ordered, she said, and Adam agreed, while eagerly tucking into a full and generous breakfast. Talking about doctors, he remarked, when do you intend seeing old Doctor Lucas? Lucy had been thinking about that. Later, she said. First of all, Id like to show Mary the cottage where she was born, and the fields where her daddy and the rest of us broke our backs to bring in the harvest, but oh, Adam, they were such wonderful times, werent they? They certainly were. His eyes dimmed with emotion. The memories were powerful, painful in their beauty. Reaching out, he laid his hand over hers. Wonderful times, yes, he agreed. Sadly, long gone. He smiled encouragingly. But were still here, you and me, and Mary, and soon, God willing, once she and Ben are wed, you might be a grandmother, and how would you like that, eh? Lucy smiled wistfully. Grandma Lucy. Who would ever have thought it, eh? That young wild creature running barefoot across the fields a grandmother. Just then Mary and Ben showed at the door. Catching Marys attention, Lucy gave a wave and the two of them came across. I slept like a log, Mary said. I think the long drive must have tired me. Ben told her jokingly how he was the one who should be tired, because he had done all the driving. The waiter came across and they ordered bacon and eggs for Ben, and toast for Mary. Through breakfast they discussed plans for the day, and while Adam explained how Lucy wanted to take them to see the cottage and the fields, Lucys courage began to falter; until Adam sensed her dilemma and winked at her in his usual cheeky manner. The intimate gesture seemed to harden Lucys determination. Well go out to the cottage, she declared. Then well visit the churchyard, and after that its on to see Doctor Lucas. Lucy and Adam finished their breakfast and left Ben and Mary to finish theirs. Well see you in the foyer in half an hour, Lucy said. With that she took her leave, and Adam went with her up the staircase. When they reached Lucys room, he excused himself. Ill see you downstairs in half an hour then. With that he hurried away, thinking how he would have preferred to be going into the room with her. But maybe that was for another day, when he had persuaded her into being his wife. Some short time later, the four of them climbed into Bens car; they drove away from the city of Liverpool and on, towards the outskirts and the open fields of Comberton. Lucy was apprehensive, but knew that she must not shirk from doing what she came here to do. Just once, that was all, and afterwards she would never visit the old places again. Sitting in the back of the car with Adam beside her and her daughter and Ben in front, she felt strangely isolated, and so incredibly lonely, it was almost unbearable. Then Adam reached out and, tucking her hand into his, he shifted closer to her. His nearness, the touch of his hand and the way he looked at her, as if to say, Youre not alone, were all here with you, gave Lucy a warm feeling. In all her life, she had learned never to lean on anyone. But now here she was, leaning on this dear man. And somehow it felt so natural. Following Lucy and Adams directions, Ben headed the car away from the main road. As they trailed the curve of the lanes, she was taken back to those far-off days when she worked in those same fields with Barney and his family. In here, Ben. Excitement trembled her voice. Pull in here. On the way over, Lucy had known every twist and turn, and now as they neared the cottage, her heart lurched as she recognised the meandering avenue of oak trees, and the orchard where little Jamie had so often played. When the car was stationary, she climbed out; for a moment she stood by the gate, her hungry gaze taking it all in. Instinctively now, she went through the gate and following the very same path she had so often followed before, she climbed to the peak of the hill, her every step a trial. Behind her, Mary prepared to get out of the car. Not yet. Adam felt for Lucy and he knew she would need to be alone. Lets give your mother a few minutes, eh? Mary nodded, and so they stayed. They watched the small figure climbing and saw how her steps occasionally faltered. At the top of the rise, Lucy stood tall and proud, her face turned towards the cottage and her gaze marking the spot for all time. In her minds eye she saw herself outside the cottage, laughing and playing with Jamie, swinging on the branch of the tree, and gathering fruit from the orchard. She saw Barney and Vicky, sitting on the swing-seat that Barney had created out of old rope and fallen trees, and then there was the party; the barn was still there, its roof sagging and the door hanging lopsided on its hinges. She could even hear the music and the dancing. It was all there, caught in time forever. And she was content to have been a part of it all. Its still here, Barney, she whispered. This wonderful place, that gave us all such happy times. Rolling down her face and wetting her lips, the tears burned her skin. I came back, Barney, she murmured. I came back. Suddenly she was sobbing, unable to speak for the emotion raking her soul. With her hands over her face, she took the moment to feel his presence and when she looked up again, she was calmer. I came back to see if it all really happened, she whispered, but I can never come back again, Barney. Its too much too painful. Ill take it with me, but I know now, its time to say goodbye. She gave a small, choking sob. Ill always love you, Barney, you know that, dont you? After a restful interlude, she looked up to find the others beside her. Its beautiful here. Sliding her hand into Lucys Mary admitted, The descriptions you gave were so lovely, I thought you might have exaggerated. But you didnt, because its everything you said. In her distant memory she felt a part of it, too, yet not in any detail. It was more a deep-down feeling of belonging. And so they stayed awhile. Drenching her mind with images she had never forgotten, Lucy told them stories of how it was. Adam also had a few comical tales to tell. I remember when me and Barney were painting the outside walls of the big barn. We ended up with more paint on us than on the walls and another time he hosed out the pig-pen and didnt see me in the corner. Talk about a drowned rat! Everyone roared, and then he added, Its a wonder I didnt go down with pneumonia! So many memories, alive as though they had happened only yesterday. Another time, he nearly killed me when he felled a big old tree that was rotting from the roots up. If Vicky hadnt called out, Id have been flattened like a pancake on the ground. They talked and smiled and laughed out loud, and Lucy felt the anguish draining away. People often said that anticipating an event could sometimes be worse than the doing, and so far it seemed they were right, she thought. Instead of pain, the visit had brought a measure of joy. After a while they walked on down to the river. On the night they lost little Jamie, the river had been a raging torrent, but now it was unusually quiet, with the shimmering waters gently rolling over the boulders before leaping and dancing on their way down to the valley below. In her mind, Lucy relived that awful night for the ten-thousandth time, right up to the sight of Barney walking towards her through the water, the tiny lifeless body in his arms and his desolate face preparing her for the worst. Dear God Almighty, how had she lived with it since? How could she go on living with it? Come away, my dear. Lucy was startled by the touch of Adams fingers as they closed gently round her arm. Youve lingered enough, he told her. Please, Lucy come away now. Turning away from the waters, Lucy assured him she was fine, though at that moment, she wished she could be anywhere but here, in this particular place. It was not over yet, she thought. The next stage of her journey would be the worst. The flowers that Bridget had taken to Jamie on Saturday morning were still fresh and colourful. Even from a distance, the yellow and white spring blooms brightened the little boys grave. As she walked through the churchyard, Lucy kept a steely determination not to break down. In truth, it was Mary who broke down. Having learned only a year or so ago about her baby brother, she was very emotional. You did wrong, she said, rounding on Lucy, her voice shaking. You should have told me long ago. I had a right to know, she sobbed. Though this trip had been an ordeal for her mother, it had proven difficult for her, too. Before she could run away, Lucy took hold of her. Im sorry, sweetheart, she whispered. Youre right, I should have told you about him our little Jamie. But it was so hard. I couldnt bring myself to speak of it. I thought if I shut it all out it wouldnt hurt, but it did, and now youre hurting, and I wont forgive myself for that. For what seemed an age, Lucy held her daughter, as the scent of narcissi rose in the air and surrounded them like a prayer. She let her cry and cried with her, and afterwards, Ben came and took Mary away, while Lucy stayed with Jamie for a while longer. Ill always love you, she murmured. As long as I live, I will never forget you. I had to come back, to see you one last time. Wiping away a solitary tear, she then stroked her fingers tenderly over the name on the granite stone. My darling little boy, thank you for the joy you brought me. After a while she walked away; leaving the car and the others far behind she went to the edge of the churchyard, where she leaned on the fence and let her mind wander over the fields, as though drawing every memory to her, so that when she left this place it would come with her. She didnt hear his footsteps as he came to stand beside her, nor at first did she realise he was there, until he spoke softly. I cant help you, Lucy, my darling. I want to help you but I dont know how. His words touched her deeply. Turning to him, she smiled with all her heart. You have helped me, Adam, she said. All these years youve been there for me. He was leaning on the fence, with his hands clasped before him, when suddenly she reached out and slid her hand into his. Youre a remarkable man, Adam; kind and caring, always backing me up, always there for me. She paused, searching for the right words, wanting to convey her feelings. The truth is, you mean far more to me than you could ever know. When it seemed he might speak, she put her finger over his lips. No, Adam, I need to tell you how I feel. She took a deep breath. Coming here, seeing everything again, things I tried so hard to shut out for so long, has made me realise what a fortunate woman Ive been, and still am. There have been two men in my life Barney and you. Both good, unselfish men. After faltering a moment, she regained her composure. You know I could never love you in the same way I loved Barney, but lately Ive come to realise just how much I do love you. Her eyes told him all he needed to hear. Dear Adam, I couldnt bear it if I lost you. Youll never lose me, he promised. Because wherever you are, thats where Ill be. He saw the tears shining in her eyes and he felt the honesty of her words, and he was the happiest man on Gods earth. He ached for her to be his wife; he needed to know that she loved him that much. But his instincts told him that this was not the time nor the place. And so he kept his silence, slid a protective arm round her shoulders, and together they made their way back to the car. Mary and Ben saw them coming. Look at the pair of them, like two sweethearts, Ben remarked. Who knows? We might be having a double wedding, eh? Calmer now, Mary was thrilled to see how easy they were, talking and smiling and so comfortable in each others company. Coming here must have made them realise how quickly time flies away and that we must take whatever chances life brings us. Those two were always meant for each other. At one time when I was small, I even thought Adam was my father. He was always around, always looking out for us. She paused. But there was always Barney. Mother made sure I knew my father, she spoke of him all the time, until I could see him clearly in my minds eye; I felt as though I knew him as well as she did. There was never any other man for her. But Adam is special. He knew Barney like a brother. Then afterwards, when Mother was left alone, Adam was there; he has grown old with her, and with every year his love for her has become stronger. I know, because I saw it, every day of my life. Ben was intrigued. And now theyre together here, putting the past to rest. Their story was amazing, he thought. And now, he too was a part of it, and proud to be so. Chapter 8 (#ulink_fc481808-77d1-516f-a2db-d0ce75b298d2) THAT EVENING THEY paid a visit to Dr Raymond Lucas, their former local doctor of twenty years ago. He knew all of them Barney and his family, Lucy and Adam. The old man was delighted to see them. Still the same pretty girl that went away, he said, kissing Lucy on the cheek. She laughed. You old flatterer, you. That girl is long gone. What you see before you is a woman past her prime, carrying a stick and aching from top to toe. I feel as if Ive climbed mountains today, she groaned. Oh, but its so good to see you. She thought he had not aged too well. His skin was creased and leathery, his hair almost all gone, and his shoulders had sagged, but his smile and friendly manner were the same. You already know Adam Chives? She brought him forward. My dearest friend and confidant. The elderly physician shook hands with Adam. Its been a long time, he said. Im glad you brought her to see me thank you. Adam chuckled. Its more a case of Lucy bringing me, he declared. What Lucy wants, Lucy gets. But Im so glad were here. To my mind, this visit is long overdue. Drawing Mary forward, Lucy was proud to tell him, This is Mary mine and Barneys daughter. The old man was visibly taken aback. Good heavens above! She has a definite look of him. He held out his hand in friendship. You were a beautiful child and youve grown into a lovely woman. Your father would have been proud of you. Mary thanked him and linking her arm with Bens she explained, This is Ben, my fianc. We plan to wed very soon. Then we must celebrate! Tugging on the bell-rope by the fireplace, Dr Lucas summoned the housekeeper. Lizzie, are you able to squeeze another four in for dinner? Lizzie did not hesitate. Of course, she replied indignantly. Dont I always make extra, and isnt there always enough of this or that in the pantry to conjure up a fine meal? Large-boned and formidable, she gave the appearance of being an ogre, when in fact they discovered afterwards that she was a real gem, and that the doctor valued her above all else. Lucy was horrified at the doctors suggestion. We cant put you both to all that trouble, and besides, were not dressed for a social occasion. Dr Lucas would hear none of it. You look all right to me, he protested. Youre here now and weve so much to talk about. Theres a great deal I want to ask, and besides, I need to make the acquaintance of your daughter and her good fellow. And so it was settled. Brushing aside Lucy and Marys offer of help, Lizzie advised them firmly, I was a master cook in my time. Worked in a top hotel, I did! At times we were lucky if we got half an hours notice to prepare food for upwards of sixty guests; hard work, but good training. Ever since then, Ive always been prepared, never caught offguard, and if the spare food isnt eaten, itll always warm up and do for another day. That understood, she marched out and set about preparing the meal. Ive never dared to argue with her, the doctor confided jokingly. And I dont mind telling you, she frightens the life out of me at times. But shes worth her weight in gold. A real treasure, she is. After making sure they were settled and comfortable in the drawing room, he poured them each a drink; a gin and tonic for Lucy, a glass of sherry for Mary, and a measure of whisky each for Ben and Adam. Thatll warm the cockles of your hearts, he remarked jovially. For the next half hour they discussed anything and everything from the old days, content just to reminisce. At first the talk was light-hearted and there was much laughter. But then the talk grew serious, and the doctor recalled how, I was devastated when it was discovered that Barney was so ill. Of course, I couldnt tell anyone. Barney made me promise not to, but even so, I have an oath to my profession, so of course I couldnt tell not even when I saw him falling apart. He sighed from his boots. What happened to Barney was tragic, he muttered. In all my years as a doctor, I have never seen a man so hellbent on hiding his condition from his family; especially when he desperately needed them, more than at any other time in his entire life. He glanced at Lucy, who had been intently listening to him. I found his actions so hard to comprehend. I could understand why he was reluctant to tell them how ill he was until the last possible moment, but to make them hate him! To deliberately make them believe he was a drunk and a womaniser; to alienate himself from the family he doted on, so they would embark on a new life without him. Dear God! I can only imagine what that must have done to a man like Barney so in love with his wife, and doting on his children the way he did. Anyone could see how Barneys family were his entire world. He glanced at Mary. Your father was a remarkable man. Im beginning to realise that more and more. Mary answered him softly, her thoughts taking her back to the daddy she remembered, the kindly man who would sit her on his knee and enthral her with magical tales. An anger took hold of her. He needed them so much! Why didnt he tell them how ill he was? He should have told them. HE SHOULD HAVE TOLD THEM! No, Mary. Lucy calmed her. Youre so wrong, my darling. Lucy herself had often wondered why Barney did not put himself first, especially when he was so desperately ill. Deep down though, she knew he had done the right thing for his family if not for himself. If he had told them how ill he was, they would have stayed. They would have seen him suffer the way I saw him suffer, day and night, hurting, fading away until he was like a helpless baby. She paused and swallowed, then went on in hushed tones: After they were gone, he was so lonely. He would have given anything for it not to have happened. He desperately needed Vicky and the children to be with him to the end, to support and help him, and lift his spirits when he was down. Then why didnt he tell them? Because he was a bigger man than that. He sent them away, out of love. He knew he was not able to go with them; that the opportunity had been cruelly snatched from him. But, by turning them against him, he gave them all their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a chance to go to America and build the kind of life they would never be able to find here. Adam intervened. I cant begin to imagine how he must have suffered, to see his beloved family sail away without him. Barney Davidson loved his family like no other man I know. Yet he made them believe that he didnt care for them any more that he despised them. He wanted them to believe that he was rotten to the core, a drunkard who preferred the company of street-women to his own darling wife. He took another swig of his whisky. God only knows where a man could find the strength to do a thing like that. The talk now focused on Barneys family, with the doctor asking, His daughter Susie will be what He did a mental calculation, thirty-five, six? Older, I think, Lucy answered. Ronnie would be about thirty-nine, and Thomas, a couple of years older. She shook her head in disbelief. It seems incredible. In my minds eye I still see them as young people. I often wonder, if I saw them in the street, would I even recognise them? She thought of Barneys wife, that lovely, vivacious creature he adored, and her heart was sore. As for Vicky, she was a few years older than me. Adding up the years, she was shocked. Good Lord! She must be well into her sixties by now. Do you think theyve made good, the way Barney hoped they would? That was Marys question. Lucy pondered for a moment. Yes, she answered. No doubt Susie will have gone on to be a designer of sorts. Thomas was always the shrewd businessman there was a lot of Barney in Thomas. As for Ronnie, well, I wouldnt like to say. He was headstrong and never seemed to have a particular direction in his life, and after what happened with Barney and everything, I dont know. There was a lot of bitterness in the end. Who can tell how they all survived the trauma of what happened? Mary acknowledged her mothers words with a thoughtful nod of the head. Youre right, she murmured. It doesnt bear thinking about. The old doctor remembered each family member with affection, but as he recalled, Barneys wife was an exceptionally delightful creature. Vicky has managed to survive intact, I believe. Marriage to Leonard Maitland has given her security and companionship. Lucy said stoutly, Yes, Vicky would have kept them all together. She was strong in nature, and very protective of them all. On that last day when she came to see Barney, it was to plead with him. Even after all he had done, she was ready to forgive him. But he played his part well. He sent her away, and that must have broken her heart; it certainly broke his. But, yes! I think somehow or another, Vicky would have kept them all going despite their problem. You did know that Leonard Maitland was in love with Vicky? the doctor said. Lucy smiled. I think most people knew that even Barney. He would tease Vicky about it. But it made no difference to either of them, because they had eyes only for each other. She imparted a secret she had kept for too long. One day, soon after Mary was born, Barney and I were sitting outside on the swing, when he spoke of Leonard. He told me how he had always known Leonard was a good man, that he had confided in Leonard and made him swear never to tell anyone the truth. He also said that he had asked Leonard to take care of Vicky, and marry her when he was dead, because he knew how much in love with her he was. Adam nodded. Knowing that Leonard had promised to take care of Vicky would have given Barney some peace of mind. During the course of the conversation, they touched on most things. There was talk of Lucy writing to Vicky, and she said it was something she had to do, and very soon. One thing at a time though, she said. Coming here has taken up all my energy. But I have it in mind to contact Vicky. She looked at the old doctor. I havent been able to write before, because I had no way of knowing where they were. But I have a sneaking feeling that you have their address. Am I right, Doctor Lucas? A shy little smile crept over his features. Youve caught me out, he admitted. I do have the address of Leonards office in Boston. On the day he sailed for America, he said if there was anything that Barney needed, I was to let him know straightaway. He gave a long, drawn-out sigh. Of course, I never asked him for anything. Firstly because Barney would not have wanted me to, and secondly, because there was absolutely nothing that Leonard could have done for him. When all was said and done, I thought it best to cut away from them, for the familys sake, and because Barney had gone to such horrendous lengths to make sure they would not come back. Would you mind giving me the address? Not at all. I know exactly where I have it. He struggled out of his chair and picked up his stick. In fact, I may as well find it now, and then we can simply enjoy our evening together. As he went from the room, Mary crossed to the window and peered out. Such an interesting garden, she observed. I do love the conservatory. Stroking her chin with the tips of her fingers, she mused aloud, I wonder if there might be space for us to have one built at home? When she beckoned for the others to come and see, Lucy and Ben made their way over to join her. Adam, however, had other ideas. Leaving the room, he stood a while in the hallway, listening intently. When he heard the doctor muttering and moaning, he followed the sound down the passage towards the old mans study, and tapped on the open door. Do you think we could have a word? he asked as the doctor swung round to face him. But of course. Come in! Adam thought he had never seen such a chaotic room. The study was piled high with boxes of old files and documents; boxes on the desk, boxes against the wall, and more boxes on top of the filing cabinets. Im always meaning to set about tidying this place up, the old man explained, but somehow, I never seem to get round to it. Lizzie kindly offered to sort it all out, but I cant let her loose on this little lot. The poor darling would not know what goes where, or how to decipher half of it. Besides, most of these are patients private records. They need to be carefully gone through and meticulously filed, and thats my job. He carried on muttering as he threw boxes out of the way. Then: There it is! Digging into one of the half-open desk-drawers, he waved a piece of paper in the air. I knew it wouldnt be far away. I just need a minute of your time, if thats all right? Adam thought that Raymond Lucas was more like an absent-minded professor than a doctor. Sorry! He sat on the edge of the desk. You have my full attention now, so please fire away. Whats on your mind? May I close the door? Dr Lucas frowned. If you must, yes close it. Adam quietly did so. Its just that I wouldnt want Lucy to overhear this. Well, go on then, man! What is it? Its just that, well, as you have the contact address for Leonard, I wondered if you might also have information regarding another ghost from the past. He lowered his voice. Edward Trent the man who caused little Jamies drowning. Lucy still has nightmares about that. She doesnt know whether hes alive or dead, or even if he might turn up at any minute. So, if it turned out that somebody had finished him off, it would give us all some peace of mind. The old man understood immediately. That was a terrible thing and no mistake, he said sombrely. So, have you any idea what happened to him? No, the doctor apologised. None whatsoever. Its a mystery to me why they never caught him, but then we knew him to be a cunning fox. Either he had an argument with some other lowlife and was left for dead in some dark, God-forsaken place, or he managed to get far enough away to escape the law. So, God forbid, he could still be on the loose somewhere? Adam was bitterly disappointed, because even though many years had passed, Edward Trent still cast a dark shadow over their lives. Though Adam would never mention it to Lucy, not a day went by when he didnt fear for her safety. When Lucy rejected him that night, he seemed to lose his sanity. I would feel much safer if I knew where he was today. Somehow, I dont believe hes a man who would easily forget being rejected by a woman. A thought occurred to him. I hope you never give out Lucys address? The older man was wounded. Good God, man, what do you take me for? Havent I kept her address safe these many years? Adam apologised. Im sorry. Its just that I do worry about her. Theres always the chance that he might come back and look for her. I doubt that. He may be dangerous, but hes not mad. Even if he is still alive, why would he take a chance like that now? All the same, he understood Adams concern. Lets hope well never see hide nor hair of him again, and Lucy can learn to forget. But Adam was unconvinced. She will never forget, he murmured. And neither will I. Chapter 9 (#ulink_7ac672b9-6b11-561f-839a-9a22a0a64e5b) LUCY HAD RETURNED home to Salford with the intention of writing to Vicky at the earliest opportunity. Unsure of how to start, she took a moment to reflect. Looking out across the garden of Knudsden House, her mind was alive with memories of her incredibly eventful life. Where had they gone, all those years? How did they fly away, without her even noticing? Tears of regret burned her eyes. Fate was so cruel. She brought you joy, filled your heart with love and hope, then just when you were beginning to feel safe and content, you turned around and it had all been taken away from you. Releasing a great sigh that seemed to move her very soul, she stood before the desk in the sitting room, her gaze falling to the blank page awaiting her, her voice whisper-soft as she spoke her thoughts aloud. Oh Vicky, Im so sorry! Slowly shaking her head, she let her gaze momentarily drift to Barneys photograph. For a long, agonising moment she soaked the contours of his familiar features into her senses, the bright eyes, the winning smile, the wonderful energy in his face. Such a man, she thought. Such a joy. She returned to his smile, though whilst his was sunny, her smile was sad. You should never have left me, she chided. Oh, dear God, Barney! Look how long I waited to be with you then suddenly one day when I wasnt looking, you were gone. When emotion threatened to overwhelm her, she sat herself down at the desk, and picked up her fountain pen. Three times she started the letter, and three times she tore it up and threw the remnants in the waste-paper bin. Leaning back in the chair she closed her eyes, let her mind reshape her thoughts and started again. My dearest Vicky, I know this letter and its contents will come as a shock to you, and for that I deeply apologise. But there is something you should know. All those years ago, you left for America, wrongly believing that Barney had forsaken you. He made you think he did not love you or his children, that he wanted rid of you all. You must have been heartbroken. I cant even begin to imagine how desperately hard it was for you. Sadly, Barney had a reason for wanting to make you believe he had turned bad. I knew the truth and I wanted to tell you, but I could not, until now Throwing down her pen, she snatched up this page, too, and tore it into the tiniest fragments. Its not right! She was angry, with Vicky for not being here where she could explain face to face, with Barney for having created such a dilemma, and with herself for not being strong enough to do what she knew in her deepest heart must be done. Why cant I say the right things? she asked herself. Why cant I say them in a way that wont cause her any more heartache? She gave a wry little laugh. Look at her trying to protect Vicky, when what she really wanted to say was that, whatever Barney had done or said, Vicky should have trusted and loved him enough to know that when everything bad was happening, she should have questioned it more. As his wife, Vicky should have known that being cruel or spiteful was not in Barneys nature. Pushing the chair back, Lucy began to pace the room, her own heart beating fast in agitation. Vicky should never have left him! Never have doubted him! When he needed her, she should have been there for him. Instead, his wife had left him alone deserted him and sailed to the other side of the world, just when he needed her the most. After a time, anger and confusion subsided. She regained her composure and returned to sit at the desk, where she laid out a clean sheet of paper and began to write. It has to be done, she murmured as she formulated her thoughts. Painful or not, Barneys family must be made aware of the truth. As she wrote, the years rolled away and memories sharpened into focus: of Barney, Vicky, their three lovely children and the times they all enjoyed together. Though determined not to avoid what she now considered to be her duty, Lucy was later to recall writing that letter as one of the most painful episodes in her life. The room was small. Smelling of new polish and aging leather, it had magnificent panelled walls and narrow high windows, and behind the long table, the four men talked amongst themselves in whispers. Eventually one by one they straightened their shoulders and all raised their heads to look at Edward Trent; though of course he was known to them as Edward Carter. Pay attention, Carter, the Governor snapped. We have looked at the facts and examined your record here. Unfortunately, it seems you have excelled yourself in making trouble and undermining the discipline of this establishment. Grim-faced and unforgiving, the man who spoke recognised that he had a personal dislike of this particular prisoner; though it would jeopardise his own position if he was not seen to be impartial. In our view, and it is unanimous, your record is such that you should consider yourself fortunate not to have your sentence lengthened. Youre a threat to every prisoner here; whenever there have been stabbings or punishment attacks, your name comes up time and again. His expression hardened. We know youre behind it, Carter, but you have such cunning that so far youve managed to escape blame. He finished with a dire warning. Youre being watched, man. Its only a matter of time before youre caught red-handed. His stiff gaze rested on the prisoner a moment longer, before stamping the document with a flourish. Appeal denied! Instructing the officer to take him away, he was deeply shaken when at the door, the prisoner turned to stare at him, and in those brooding eyes, he saw a glimmer of pure evil. With the prisoner gone and the room plunged into silence, he turned to the men around him. There goes a bad lot! He deserves to be locked up for good, said one. Two men scarred for life; another terrorised out of his mind, and another in hospital for three months. And we all know whos responsible. Yes, but hes so devious, said another. The other prisoners are in such fear, weve never been able to prove anything against him. The Governor had to agree with his colleagues. We all know hes the culprit, and so far weve managed to keep him detained. But Im very much afraid there will come a time when we cant keep him under lock and key. Anger coloured his voice. Unless he happens to slip up, or some brave man steps forward to point the finger. There was a lull in the conversation, during which every man there felt helpless. When after a few moments someone spoke out, it was with deadly earnestness. So, what youre saying is, we may have to let him go, the next time hes brought before us? A quieter voice intervened. Even if he gets out, hell be back soon enough. A man like that its only a matter of time before he kills. Part 2 (#ulink_b61ba33c-ed25-5cb3-b8d5-81e3ecbc3ad4) October, 1954 Barneys Family Boston, Massachusetts Chapter 10 (#ulink_fea42eb4-a559-52e1-9987-236bcd3d2682) LATE AUTUMN IN Boston was a time when the magnificent colours of the trees, which had created magic to the eye only a few weeks before, were already drifting away as their leaves fell, heralding the onset of winter. But in spite of all that, it was Mrs Vicky Maitlands favourite season. I always enjoy our evening walks alongside the water, Vicky tucked her arm through her husband, Leonards, but autumn is best. The trees may be shedding their leaves, but the beauty never fades. She playfully kicked the leaves along under her feet. Its just different, she mused. A quieter, deeper kind of beauty. Leonard smiled down on her. You see beauty in everything, he said lovingly. But yes, I know what you mean and youre right, as always. They strolled on for a time, eventually sitting down to rest where the overhanging branches of a giant tree dipped into the water. For what seemed an age, not a word passed between them. Over the years they had grown so close, they almost knew what the other was thinking. And just now, in that moment, Vicky was thinking of another stretch of water, the Atlantic Ocean, and a journey that she would never forget. It seemed a lifetime ago when she and her children boarded the liner that would carry them away from their homeland forever. She thought of Barney, and the way their marriage had ended. What he did had broken her heart. It had almost ruined one of their sons, made the other forever bitter, and taken away their daughter Susies childhood. Each and every one of them had changed because of what Barney had done, and for that, Vicky could never forgive him. In the beginning, there was deep shock, and a yearning to punish him for splitting the family asunder. But though she might blame him for the pain he had caused, Vicky could never stop loving him. Barney was her first and last real love. Nothing could ever change that. Eventually, she forgave him for what he had done to her. But she could never forgive him for what he had done to the children Susie in particular. She had been made to grow up before her time. A penny for them? Leonards voice cut across her thoughts. Oh Leonard, Im sorry, Vicky apologised. I was just thinking. You were miles away. Sliding an arm round her shoulders, he drew her to him. You were thinking of Barney again I can always tell. But its all right, my dear. I understand, I really do. Vicky felt ashamed. Youre such a good man, she muttered. I dont deserve you. No, you dont, he agreed, because you deserve the best and in your eyes that will always be Barney Davidson. I dont pretend to match up to him, because I never will, nor would I want to. Yes, I know he caused you all such pain. But its never the bad things we remember about the person we love. Its always the good times the laughter and the joy. Pausing to gather his thoughts, he watched the rowboat go past. He saw some children running along the riverbank trying to keep up, and it made him smile. We do the best we can, he said. We strive and struggle, yet sometimes its not enough. We must never forget, Barney was very special. A strong, determined man, he was totally devoted to you and the children. You cant dismiss a man like that and no one would expect you to, least of all me. In the deepest recesses of his mind, he recalled the night he had found Barney huddled by the tree trunk, desperately ill and almost out of his mind. That night, he had made a sacred promise to Barney, and for Vickys sake he had kept that promise; though with every passing year, the burden of guilt weighed heavier. Deeply moved by his quiet words, Vicky reached up to kiss him softly on the mouth. You know me so well, she chided. I can never keep a secret from you. She needed to tell him something now something she had never said before. What you say is true, Leonard I do still love Barney, and I will love him to the day I die. But I love you, too. I love being your wife, and I love the way you took me and the children under your wing. Youre kind and thoughtful, and Im so glad you were there for us. She moved closer to him. Have I been a good wife to you, Leonard? He squeezed her tenderly. You know you have. I always knew you had a fancy for me, she chuckled. Barney was the first to notice it, and he would tease me mercilessly. Its strange how things worked out, she mused. Do you think some things are meant to be? In what way, exactly? You and me do you think there really is something called Fate, which channels our lives into a particular direction? In answer, he took her by the elbows and stood her up. Im certain there is, he replied. I think it was Fate that made me get rid of that monstrous fiance of mine; it was Fate that made me fall in love with you, and it was Fate that brought us here to this land of America, where I won your heart not your soul because that belongs to Barney. But were here together, safe and secure. And yes, I do believe we have Fate to thank for that. Vicky nodded. Or some almighty hand that guides us to our destiny. They resumed their stroll in silence. After a time it was Vicky who spoke. Leonard? Yes, my darling? Will Ronnie ever come home to us? Leonard nodded his head. I hope so. Hes already made a start by coming to work on the estate. I really thought he would go to gaol after that last court hearing. Drunk in the road cursing and fighting with the officers when they tried to arrest him. In some ways, you would think he was seventeen, not a man of nearly forty. Oh Leonard, I wish now that we had let him fight in the war, even though it would have broken my heart to see him go. It might have got rid of some of his demons. Her heart turned over at the thought of it all. He carries such anger inside. I know. But he does seem to be coping with life better these days. Perhaps hes turned the corner at long last. In his heart, Leonard held out small hope. Ronnie had always clung to his father; all his young life he had modelled himself on Barney, and after they were made to leave him behind, Ronnie never really got over it. To hell with it! Sliding out from underneath the tractor, Ronnie threw the wrench across the ground. The damned thing was rotten right through. Its snapped in half now and I cant shift it no way! Having stood patiently by while Ronnie tried to replace the bolt in the floor of the tractor, Thomas picked up the wrench. Dont get all worked up, he told him sternly. Youre always in too much of a hurry, thats your trouble. Huh! Well, thats rich, I must say. Ive been working at it for half an hour. Getting down to his knees, Thomas peered beneath the tractor. Ten minutes, not half an hour, he reminded his brother. Youve been at it for ten minutes, and in that time youve managed to cause chaos. You caught the fuel pipe and almost ripped it off in a panic, and now youve chopped the bolt off so there isnt enough left to grip hold of. He gave a weary grin. Do me a favour, will you? he asked light-heartedly. Ronnie groaned. Now what? While Im under here, I want you to stay right where you are. Dont do anything! Dont try to help, and dont move, not even an inch. Do you think you could manage that? Ronnie had to smile. I reckon so, he answered sheepishly. Im sorry, Tom bad night, worse morning. One o them days, eh? Thomas crawled under the tractor. I know what you mean, he remarked cynically. Since first light this morning youve been a right pain, moaning and groaning, dropping this and throwing that. To tell you the truth, Id rather you stayed away when youre in one of those moods. All right, all right! Theres no need to keep on, dammit! Kicking the tractor with the flat of his foot, Ronnie cursed under his breath when his foot began to throb. Its just that, well, these days, Ive got things on my mind. I cant seem to concentrate. A wry smile lifted the corners of his mouth. Everything I touch seems to go wrong. Thomas smiled up at him. Youre a walking disaster, he agreed. Now just remember to stay right where you are at least until I get out from under here. Thats all Im asking. Ronnie nodded. Sure. Oh, and by the way, what happened to that good-looking woman I saw you with at the park Norma, wasnt it? Ronnie tutted. Nancy! Her name was Nancy. OK, so what happened to Nancy? It wasnt working out. Thomas slid out from under the tractor. What you mean is, she got fed up with your fiery moods and quick temper, and she dumped you. Am I right is that what happened? Something like that, yes. Ronnie shrugged his shoulders. She went off with some wagon-driver. It doesnt bother me, though. She wasnt so perfect either, when it came right down to it. Truth is, I think Im well out of that one. Tapping him on the shoulder with the wrench, Thomas warned his younger brother, One of these days youll find somebody you really love. Youll drive her away with that raging temper of yours and live to regret it. So what? Ronnie gave the tractor another vicious kick. It wouldnt be the first thing Ive lived to regret! With a parting shot he strode off. Tell Mom Im staying in town tonight. Why dont you stay home, just this once? Thomas asked angrily. You know thats what she wants. Oh yeah? Ronnie turned on him. Well, we dont always get what we want out of life, do we, eh? I wanted her to stay and work it out with Dad, but she refused. When we got here, I wanted her to go back and try again, but oh no! And when it was too late and we heard that Dad had died, it didnt take her long to marry Leonard, did it? All women are bitches, in my opinion. It wasnt like that, and you know it! Grabbing him by the shirt-collar, Thomas reminded him, Leonard has been good to us. If it hadnt been for him, God only knows where we might have ended up. As for Mom, she was devastated when Dad did what he did parading himself through the centre of Liverpool with tarts and drunks. And dont forget how he turned on her when she tried to reason with him! Ill never know why he changed like he did. But he did, and it hurt. It hurt us, and it hurt her more. Dont tell me she didnt try to rebuild the family, because she tried time and again, belittling herself for our sakes, but Dad was so far gone he didnt want to know! As for her marrying Leonard, what would you have her do, eh? Spend the rest of her life being lonely, brooding over what happened? He gave Ronnie a shake. Did you really want her to go back and beg Dad to change his mind? Did you want her to suffer another round of shame and rejection? Is that what you wanted? Is it? There were tears in both mens eyes. Thomas, too, had been affected by leaving his father in Liverpool, but through it all he saw himself as the man of the family. With Susie and his mother in pieces and Ronnie getting involved with all manner of bad things, it was up to him to reassure the others, when all the time he was feeling heartbroken and bitter. He loved his father. But seeing him turn into a stranger had been devastating. To his dying day he would never understand why it happened the way it did. But it did, and they had to live with it Ronnie included! Suddenly, the younger man was crying, loud bitter sobs that shook Thomas to his roots. I didnt mean to blame her, he wept. I know it wasnt her fault. Wrapping an arm round him, Thomas held him in a brotherly hug. Just remember, she did what she could, he said quietly. She secured us a future, and I for one am glad she has somebody else to look out for her. Leonard is a good man, you know that. Ronnie didnt look up. Instead, he nodded his head. Then he turned and walked away. Thomas watched him go. He saw the hunched shoulders and the dogged steps, and it tore him apart. Ronnie, come back RONNIE! Instead, Ronnie broke into a run. He ran down the dip and on towards the lane, where he jumped the five-bar gate, and was quickly gone. Behind him, Thomas leaned against the barn door, his sorry gaze following Ronnie as he disappeared out of sight. He was torn two ways. He knew how hard his younger brother had tried to stay out of trouble, and for a time he had managed it. He stayed home and worked the land with Thomas. He slotted back into the family fold and was even forging a friendship with Leonard. But like always, this period of peace was short-lived. Somehow he always drifted back to the bad ways, hanging out with ruffians on the wrong side of town, getting drunk in bars and causing mayhem wherever he went. Seeing his brother so damaged, was deeply troubling to Thomas. There seemed no peace for him, no salvation. Inevitably his thoughts returned to the day they sailed out of Liverpool, when he had seen young Ronnie hiding behind a column on deck, looking back, tears in his eyes as he searched for the figure of his father; there was no sign of Barney, only the Mersey docks, getting smaller and smaller, until they disappeared altogether. Time and again over the years he had tried to reach out to Ronnie, but when he was in one of his black moods, there was no reasoning with him. The boy had gone, the man had emerged, but the heart was still raw with loss. And because Barney was not here to ease his pain, he blamed everyone else his brother, his mother, and most of all, Leonard. Susie was the only one he would talk to, because she knew how he felt. She, too, had gone through all the emotions, the bitterness and hatred, the longing and regrets. But over the years she had poured all her energy into work, and somehow had managed to come to terms with the upheaval that had turned all their lives upside down. On seeing his mother return with Leonard, Thomas quickly went into the barn and resumed work on the tractor. When he heard a noise at the barn door, he looked up to see his mother standing there. Is everything all right? she asked worriedly. Was that Ronnie I saw running across the fields? Thomas told her that Ronnie had been helping him service the machines. He had to go, he explained. Things to do, or so he said. Vicky came closer. Dont fob me off, young fella, she said. Ronnie was running like the devil was on his heels. Somethings wrong, I know it. She saw the pain in her elder sons eyes and her heart sank. Whats wrong this time? Where was he headed? Please, lad, tell me the truth. Thomas straightened his shoulders. Hes gone, he said simply. Gone where? God knows. Why did he go? WHY? Who can tell? Anger and frustration rippled through him. One minute he was working under the tractor, then we were talking and now hes gone, like you say running as though the devil was on his heels. Vicky didnt need to ask but she did anyway. What exactly were you talking about? Nothing in particular, he said cautiously. This and that. It was Barney, wasnt it? Where Ronnie was concerned, her instincts were always right. You were talking about your father, and he got himself all aerated? Thomas was stuck for an answer. So many times hed been caught in the middle, not wanting to hurt Ronnie, not wanting to hurt his mother. All right, yes, we were talking about Dad, or at least Ronnie was, he said finally. She nodded an acknowledgement. And he was blaming everyone. You, for not persuading me to go back and try to reunite the family, and Leonard for marrying me? Look, Mom, Ronnies got it all wrong. He took it bad when the family broke up. Vicky put up her hand to stop him. We all took it bad! she reminded him. You, Susie, and me. Weve all had to deal with it. Did you tell him that it was twenty years ago, and that he must learn to come to terms with it? Otherwise it will ruin him, and if it ruins him, it will ruin us too. A thought crossed her mind. What else did he say? Thomas knew his mother would not let it go until she had the whole story. He said you should never have married Leonard, he muttered, hating to say the words. I see. She bowed her head. He still dislikes him, doesnt he? No, I dont think he dislikes him. Its just that he sees him as having taken Dads place. Vickys quiet voice reflected her thoughts. He doesnt know how wrong he is. No one could ever take the place of Barney. Her sorry eyes belied the bright smile on her face. Ronnie will be back, she assured him. He needs us, just like we need him, so lets not worry too much, eh? As she walked away, the tears burned brightly in her sad eyes. In the curve of the lane she paused to look up at the skies; just then the clouds shifted and from somewhere deep in the Heavens, the sky was lit with a warm glow. Help him, Barney, she pleaded. Hes so bitter and unhappy, and he wont let any of us near. Hes your son, my darling, and hes in turmoil. Help him, please. After a while she blinked back the tears and walked on. She knew how Ronnie felt and she could not blame him. There were times when she, too, felt the pain and loneliness of not having Barney in their lives. Yes, she had made a new life with Leonard, and yes, she had her family around her. But every day, every minute something was missing. That something was Barney. In the beginning she had often been tempted to go back, to make contact with him and talk it through, until she reminded herself that it was Barney himself who had made the choice; it was Barney who had broken all their hearts and sent them away; and it was Barney who had cruelly rejected her, time and again. For whatever reason, their happy life together had been poisoned for all time. That was when the pain turned to anger, and she hardened herself to move on, away from the past and into the future. For all their sakes, it had seemed the only way. Chapter 11 (#ulink_9046b8d7-c272-5701-9c0d-73f8fa54fc02) SUNDAY-EVENING DINNER with the family had become a regular event. This Sunday was no different, except by the time Vicky had set the table ready for serving, Ronnie had still not shown up. Hes deliberately staying away again, isnt he? She was at her wits end. He cant even bring himself to sit at the table once a week with his own family! Leonard had seen it all before and try as he might, he could not get through to Ronnie. Im sorry, sweetheart, but you know what hes like. Hell either turn up or he wont. Either way there is little we can do. We cant frog-march him here. Vicky still blamed herself. If only he would talk to you, it might help. No, it wouldnt. Leonard shook his head. Ive tried to be a father figure, but hes not having it. I cant force myself on him, sweetheart. Its got to come from him. Leonard had kept his promise to Barney. In all this time he had not once betrayed that amazing man. It frightened him that if they ever discovered he had known the truth all along, none of them would forgive him, least of all Vicky. So he remained silent; though there was not a minute in the day when he didnt feel the weight of that fateful promise he made to Barney. There was an element of guilt, too. Through no fault of his own, Barney had lost everything the family he cherished and his own precious life while he, Leonard, had gained everything a new life here in America on his grandfather Farley Kemps huge farm, now restored to its former productivity and wealth, and most of all, he had Vicky. He observed her now, her slim figure, the pretty hair that was once rich and golden with youth, now plaited back, the telling streaks of grey betraying her age. The handsome features were still strong, and just as he had done since the first moment he saw her, he loved her with every fibre of his being. With luck hell turn up, theres still time. Vicky set her younger sons place along with the others. Id best get back to the kitchen, or the meat will be like charcoal. Vicky had not changed from the woman she had been; always happiest when caring for the family. I dont know why you wont have a cook to do all that for you. Leonard had tried in vain to persuade Vicky to have more help in the house. Its a big place for one woman to run by herself. I dont run it by myself, Vicky reminded him. I have Beth. Yes, but she only comes in twice a week to do the bedrooms. You take care of the rest polishing and cleaning, cooking and gardening. Theres no end to it! Im a born housekeeper, Vicky told him with a smile. Now, will you please stop nagging, and put the glasses out. The family will be here soon. She glanced out the window. Ronnie too, I hope. It was eight-thirty when the family started arriving. Thomas was the first, along with his wife. Tall and willowy, with bobbed black hair and dark eyes, Sheila was a stunning beauty, even at the age of forty. Married these sixteen years, she and Thomas lived close by, in a fine house they had designed themselves. Unbeknownst to Thomas, who adored the ground she walked on, Sheila had indulged in several affairs, all of them brief and sordid. When the novelty wore off and the fun was over, she would pay off her sexual partners with a wad of money to keep their silence. Vicky, how are you? Kissing her mother-in-law on the cheek, Sheila made a show of affection. Youre looking wonderful as always. She observed Vickys long red dress and that ever-slim figure, and though Vicky was far older than her, with her best years behind her, she could not suppress a vicious surge of envy. Thank you, Sheila, I do the best with what Ive got. Vicky was always pleasant and friendly, but she had no illusions where her daughter-in-law was concerned. She had long entertained suspicions about the womans fidelity, but thats all they were suspicions. She so much wanted to believe that Thomas and his wife were truly happy together. Certainly Thomas was, and for that she must be grateful. It had been a bitter disappointment that there were no grandchildren on the scene. It was probably too late for Thomas and Sheila, but there was still Ronnie; and though Susie was edging past the child-bearing years, there was time enough for her to become a mother. Having devoted all her time and effort to her business, Susie had yet to find the man she loved, but God willing, he was out there somewhere. Like a caged cat looking for an escape route, Sheila glanced about the room, her eyes alighting on Leonard. Oh, there you are, Lenny, she gushed. And how are you? Leonard got out of his chair to kiss her fleetingly on the cheek. Im fine, thank you, Sheila. She traversed her gaze around the room. No Ronnie then? Not yet, no. Vicky showed no concern. But Im sure hell be here any minute. Really? Sheilas sly grin made Vicky clench her fists. You know very well he wont turn up, she gloated. He never does. Thomas stepped in. Sheila! Thats a hurtful thing to say. Maybe, but its true. He doesnt give a damn about anybody but himself, least of all his family. Enough said! Stepping forward, Vicky thrust a tea-towel into her hands. The roast potatoes need taking out of the oven. Would you mind, please? The two women stood eyeball to eyeball, the older one smiling calmly and the younger one silently seething, but she knew better than to show her resentment. Of course I dont mind, she replied with a shrug. But Im surprised youre so behind with the cooking, Vicky, honey. Normally you have the food all ready for serving. Turning on her heels she went away grumbling. I guess it dont matter that Ive just painted my nails, and if the grease spills down my new expensive jacket, who is there to care? Vicky knew her daughter-in-law was goading her, but she did not retaliate. She had more important things on her mind than exchanging verbal blows with the spiteful Sheila. What she really wanted was for Ronnie to show his face. But she was not fooling herself. Sheila was right; he probably would not turn up, mores the pity. A striking figure in a blue pencil skirt with matching bolero and cream-coloured blouse, Susie climbed the three flights of stairs to her brothers apartment in the heart of Boston. As she climbed, she kept a wary eye about her. This was not the best of neighbourhoods. Yet again the elevator was out of order, and on the stairs that wound up the outside of the building, a lone visitor was a prime target for the hopeless bums who frequented this area. Ronnie Davidson, youre a hopeless bugger! she muttered as she traipsed upwards. Hiding in your room skulking Im fed up with it! You live in a slum, you think the worlds against you, and you abandon your family at the drop of a hat. I wont have it, dyou hear? Youre still my brother and God help me, I care about you we all do. Tripping over an empty box flung across her path, she kicked it aside. You can moan and grumble all you like, but I dont intend to let you waste your life like this! Holding onto the handrail she followed the row of doors; damaged doors with broken windows, doors without any windows at all; doors that were kicked in and hanging on their hinges and when she reached the door that had the name RONNIE painted on it in big, clumsy letters, she stopped, took a deep breath and knocked. Ronnie! Its me, Susie. Open up. After a few more determined knocks and a series of loud shouts through the letter-box, the door slowly inched open, to reveal Ronnies unshaven face. I thought I told you never to come here, he said in a surly voice. Its not safe for a woman on her own. Susie pushed past him into the sitting room. You know what they say: if the mountain wont come to Mohammed and all that? He glared at her. What dyou want, sis? What do you think I want? I wont know if you dont tell me. Scratching his head, he sauntered across the room. Banging on the door, yelling through the letter-box like a crazy woman! Ignoring his rantings, Susie instructed him to get dressed. I am dressed! Shaking her head, she regarded his appearance: the shirt-tail hanging out, the crumpled trousers and the hair standing on end. Im not taking you out to the spread looking like that, she said. Youve got ten minutes, she warned. I want you washed and dressed and fit to sit at the table with ordinary human beings. Im not going to Moms house. You are! No, Im not. And theres nothing you can say that will make me change my mind. All right then. Hands on hips she gave it her best shot. What if I was to say that if you dont come with me now, I will never visit you again? Ill forget I ever had a brother called Ronnie, and when you need me which you frequently do Ill refuse to see you. Ill cut you out of my life and leave you to sulk and hide and feel sorry for yourself, and when they drag your worthless body out of here, with your clothes stuck to your back, your teeth all rotten and your hair all gone, Ill look the other way and make out I dont even know you. Now then, what dyou say to that? Ronnie burst out laughing. Youre a lunatic! But he loved her. When he didnt want his mother to know how deep he had sunk, and Thomas was driven to distraction, it was always Susie he turned to, always Susie who would sit for hours and listen to his sorry tale, and never judge or condemn. She simply came to his rescue, without question or reprimand. But not today. Today it seemed he had overstepped the mark with her. Susie cocked a thumb towards the bathroom. I assume you have soap and water? Somewhere, I suppose. Then go wash! Ronnie was still laughing at her previous remark. I think Id better, he said. I dont want to end up being dragged out of here with my clothes glued to my back no teeth, no hair whatever would the neighbours say? Then: Youd make a good horror-writer, sis. I have to say, you certainly paint a gruesome picture. Still chuckling, he made his way to the bathroom, where he ran the tap and stripped off, with the intention of making himself respectable. While he was splashing and scrubbing, Susies voice sailed in from the other room. This place is a disgrace! The holes in the carpet, if you can call it that, are filled with cigarette butts, the springs in the sofa are poking through, and the curtains are hanging by a thread. There was a pause while she ran the tip of her finger along the window-sill. Dust an inch thick everywhere. Dirty socks in the corner. The place stinks to high heaven. How in Gods name can you live in a dump like this? While she went about the room tidying everything away, Ronnie mimicked her in the bedroom, where he was sorting a decent pair of trousers from the pile on the bed. The place stinks dirty socks, raggedy curtains, holes in the carpet. He chuckled, I should think myself lucky to have a carpet not everybody round here has that luxury. A moment later he burst out of the bedroom. Right then, kiddo, do I look human enough? He made a handsome figure; tall and slim, with his thick mop of fair hair brushed back from his face, which was now shining clean and free of whiskers. Susie approved of the new Ronnie. Where did you get the trousers from? Ive had them for ages, why? Theyre too big. Susie observed how the belt was too long to fit the buckle-prong into the holes, so it was wrapped round and round, with the tail end tucked into the pocket of his trousers. Ive lost weight. Thrusting his hands into the pockets, Ronnie looked set for a confrontation. So now youre about to have a go at me for that, are you? No doubt youd rather have me fat and flabby with drooping jowls and a huge belly hanging over my belt. Oh, dont be silly! Youre right, I am silly. Silly to think that somewhere in that hard heart of yours, you might find a snippet of praise for the effort Ive made. Is that the only belt youve got? Fraid so. With time marching on, Susie was considering how she could rectify the situation. Have you by any chance got a pair of scissors? Nope. A sharp knife then? Nope. What do you use to cut your cheese? I dont. I just take a bite whenever I feel the urge. Thats disgusting! No, its not. He cocked his head. You should try it, he advised. It tastes better when you tear off a chunk with your teeth. While he ranted on, teasing and taunting, Susie dug into her handbag. Got it! Brandishing a pair of nail scissors, she advanced on him with a determined gleam in her eye. Hey! Backing off, Ronnie demanded to know what she was about. Stand still, and stop your moaning! Grabbing hold of him, she whipped the belt from his trousers and while he struggled to hold them up, she gouged a couple more holes in the belt. Here, try it now. He slid the belt round his waist and was delighted to find that it fitted snugly with the new holes. Youre not just a pretty face, are you, sis? Snipping off the tag end of the belt, she stepped back to view her handiwork. There that looks better. Grabbing his jacket from the chair she threw it to him. Wed best get going, or well miss dinner altogether. He frowned. Do I have to come? Her answer was to drag him out of the door. If anybody needs a good meal inside him, its you. So come on, move yourself, and when you get there dont sulk in a corner, and dont refuse the drink Leonard is bound to offer you. As they went down the fire-escape to the sidewalk she was still giving out her orders. And dont drink too much, or youll only end up saying the wrong thing. Gee, Suze, I never knew you were such a nag! Get in the car. In minutes she had him inside with the door shut, and after scrambling into the drivers seat she went off down the road at such a speed he hung on to his seat for dear life. Slow down, youre driving like a damned lunatic! Rubbish! Im only doing fifty miles an hour. Thats what I mean. Im too young to die. The banter continued all the way out of town and on towards the big farmstead. If you get us there in one piece Ill eat my hat! Ronnie promised. For Gods sake, shut up and relax. I know what Im doing. By the time they arrived, Vicky was about to serve the first course. Placing the tureen of soup on the table, she ran out to meet them. You decided to come after all. Oh Ronnie, Im so pleased. Your bullying daughter dragged me here, he moaned. She also made me wash and shave, she cut off a chunk of my belt, and nearly killed us both on the way here. Take no notice of him, Mom. Kissing Vicky on the cheek, Susie explained, It wasnt my driving that made him a shivering wreck. He was already like that when I found him. Leonard was delighted to see Ronnie. Your mother was worried about you, he said. Ronnie never had much to say to Leonard, and tonight was no exception. Without replying, he addressed Vicky. Theres no need for you to worry. Im quite capable of taking care of myself. I only wish that were true! Vicky knew her children like she knew herself, and she never cared much for the way Ronnie deliberately excluded Leonard from any conversation. But Im glad youre here, all the same. We all are, arent we, Leonard? His stepfather smiled at Ronnie, a smile that said, Even if you dont accept me, Ill still be here whenever you need me. I think Ronnie already knows, he replied. Im always glad to see him. Vicky gave Susie a grateful glance, discreetly thanking her for bringing Ronnie home, even if it was only for a short time. He was the stray sheep that had not yet found its way back to the fold. Right, she announced, dinners ready. Theres pea and ham soup to start, thick and rich, the way you all like it. It had been one of Barneys favourites. The evening went just as Vicky had planned, with everyone together, all eager to catch up with the latest news and gossip. Now that weve managed to secure Barons Farm, that will bring our holding up to close on a thousand acres of prime productive land. Leonard had been after the 200-acre farm for some long time, and now that he had secured it into the family holding, he was desperate to persuade Ronnie to come back and work with them. It was what he wanted and, more importantly, it would make Vicky a contented woman. Vicky picked up immediately on his piece of news. Addressing Ronnie, she told him, Leonard has it in mind to renovate the old farmhouse. Its yours, if you want it. Under the table she kept her fingers crossed, hoping he might leap at the chance. You know the place, she reminded him. Its in a lovely spot, and you can be as isolated as you want. Please, Ronnie, we all want you to come home. Say youll take it. All eyes were on Ronnie as he seemed to be considering the proposition. When at length he gave his answer, it was not the one Vicky wanted to hear, yet it was the one they all expected. Not yet, Mother. He gave a determined shake of the head. Im not ready. Its not that I dont want to, you know that. So, what is it then? Thomas was quick to lose his temper where Ronnie was concerned. You dont seem to know how lucky you are. Leonard is offering you a tidy house, and a chance to come back where you belong. At least give it a try. If it doesnt work out, then youve got choices. But Ronnie could not be persuaded. Like I said, Im not ready. Its a wonderful offer and I appreciate the thought, but I cant be shackled. I need the freedom to work when I can and wander when the mood takes me. He looked at his stepfather. Sorry, Leonard. Like I say, its not that I dont appreciate the offer. While Susie had kept her silence, Sheila was bolder. You must be mad! This was the first shed heard of Barons Farm being sold to Leonard. If its not wanted, well take it, wont we, darling? Snuggling up to Thomas she made cow eyes. We could really do something with that old place, and like Lenny says, its in a lovely spot. Like everyone else, Thomas ignored her comment. He, more than most, knew how Sheila was never satisfied with what she had. To her, the grass was always greener on the other side. The house was not offered to us, he said coolly, and even if it was, we dont need two houses. End of discussion. The farmhouse is yours, whenever youre ready, Leonard assured Ronnie. Youre an important part of the family business, and we all want you with us, like I say whenever youre ready. At the moment, the house is being totally renovated. The builders reckon it should be finished in about six months time. Take it or leave it, but its yours. The deeds will be in your name, and the keys put aside for when you decide to come and collect them. Theres no pressure. Its entirely up to you. Ronnie thanked him sincerely, and now that the discussion was over and the mood had lightened, Susie had a thing or two to say. I wouldnt give him a choice, she teased. Id lock him up in the house until he came to his senses. Anywhere is better than that hellhole he lives in. Grinning, Ronnie shrugged his shoulders. Its my hellhole, he objected. Its where I want to be for now. Vicky had listened to all of this, and her heart ached for Barneys youngest son. Like the rest of them he was still hurting, but instead of getting on with life, he had immersed himself so deeply in the past, he just couldnt let go. All she could do was wait and pray, and hope that sometime soon, Ronnie would find peace in his heart and the need for his family about him. More than that, she could not do. She now turned her attention to her daughter. And whats happening in the world of hats? Susie swallowed a forkful of potato. Well, I too have bought property I acquired the old butchers shop, and Im already having plans drawn up to change it into a fashionable milliners. Its in a good area, on a corner position, with two panoramic windows and huge floorspace. Its got great potential. Well done, sis! Thomas exclaimed. Im proud of you. Everyone raised their glass in celebration, even Sheila, though her comment was a touch sarcastic. What will that be your fifth shop now? Soon youll own the whole of Boston and we wont be able to walk down any street without seeing your name in lights. Her face fell with Susies second revelation of exciting news. You know Ive been after that contract to supply the French house for the spring season? Ronnie groaned. We should do, he said jovially. Youve been harping on about it these past nine months! I told you then the French have cracked it where hats and fashion are concerned. Youve no chance. Might as well forget it, sis. This time youve lost out. Ah, well thats where youre wrong! Susie took delight in telling them all, I sent them half a dozen samples and theyve all sold. I have now secured the contract to supply for the coming two seasons. There! I told you Id get it and I have. Vicky leaped out of her chair. Oh Susie, you clever thing. Glasses were raised for the second time, and everyone congratulated her. All but Sheila, who skulked in her chair, loathing Susie as never before. She envied the girl her dogged determination to succeed in business; she resented her natural talent and skills, and the warm caring nature she had been blessed with. But mostly she envied her natural prettiness; with her gently-rounded figure, childlike features and soft shining hair, Susie was attractive in an unassuming way. Yet in spite of the fact that she was no striking beauty, Susie had caught the eye of many an admirer. As yet though, none of them had captured her heart. To her lazy, ungrateful sister-in-law, Susie appeared to have everything, when all she had was a husband who lacked imagination and ambition. From the start, the loyal, hardworking and generous Thomas had never been enough for her. He knew that and because he loved her, he reluctantly accepted it. Grudgingly accepting that for now at least, Thomas was the best meal-ticket she had, Sheila raised her glass to show willing. Congratulations, Susie! she cooed. Im sure we all hope your luck will continue to hold out. No one missed the hidden meaning of her words, least of all Susie. Thank you, Sheila, she said sweetly. I, too, hope my luck holds out. And she did, because even though she worked hard and long, there had to be a measure of luck to bring it all together. Her business was thriving, yes, but she was often lonely, especially at night-time when the days work was over and she could sit for a while before starting on the neverending paperwork. It was then, when she was relaxed and alone, that she would reflect on her hard-earned achievements and wish that somewhere along the way, she could have found someone to share her success with, to share her life and be there when she needed just to talk. Someone to come home to of a night; some kind and loving man who would help plan their future together. But as yet, there was no sign of it, and Barneys older daughter was beginning to wonder if she would ever find her soulmate. Chapter 12 (#ulink_187b1a4f-23b3-54f5-8345-b5721ee371ff) LEONARD MAITLAND SIPPED his wine and watched the family as they chatted, and he felt like a man blessed. Since coming back to Boston with Vicky and the children, he had known happiness of a kind he had never dreamed would be his. Years ago, against his every instinct, he had made a promise to Barney that he would never reveal the real reason why Barney had deliberately driven his beloved family away. Through all the long years, even after Barneys death released him from that promise, and in spite of many times being tempted to confide in Vicky, he had remained silent. Now, his greatest fear had come true. A few days ago, a letter from England had arrived at his office. Deeply unnerved, he had left it unopened, his mind in turmoil as to who might have sent it. The postmark was smudged and gave him no clues. He did not recognise the handwriting. There were only three people who might be writing to him from England. One was his solicitor. Another was Raymond Lucas, who had known the truth and with whom, over the years, Leonard had exchanged letters, which of course he had hidden away for fear that Vicky or someone else might inadvertently come across them. The only other person who might have reason to write to him was Lucy Baker. She had been the closest to Barney after his family left. In the early letters exchanged between himself and Dr Lucas, there had been much mention of Lucy, of how devotedly she had cared for Barney. He knew that some time after the familys departure, Lucy had borne Barneys child; the couple had moved away soon after. Yet Lucy had not known this address, so how could she have written to him? Lately though, she had been in touch with Dr Lucas; he knew that much because in the last letter from the doctor, he had written of her visit to Liverpool. So, had the doctor given her this address and, if so, why? What did she want with him? In the mist of his thoughts, Leonard could hear the family laughing and talking, and his feelings were anguished. This was his family now, and had been for the past twenty years. Was Barney reaching out to take them from him? No! His imagination was running riot. Barney was gone. For their future security and happiness, Barney had willingly entrusted Vicky and the children to his care. So now they were his family, but the letter had made him fearful; was something about to happen that might take his loved ones from him? It was unthinkable. He couldnt lose them. He must not! Instinctively, his hand went to the letter in his breast pocket, and his heart pounded. Are you all right, my love? Vickys voice filtered into his mind. I called you twice, she said curiously. You were miles away. Mentally shaking off his thoughts, Leonard looked up. Sorry, darling. I must have dozed off. She glanced at the tumbler in his hand. How many glasses of wine did you have? Three, I think. In truth hed had only one. Vicky was horrified. Oh Leonard! You know how wine affects you giving you such bad heartburn you cant sleep. Somewhere in the back of her mind she did not altogether believe him. She had not seen him take more than one glass of wine. Moreover, just now when she was calling him, he didnt appear to be asleep. Instead he seemed to be in deepest thought. Are you sure youre all right? Although Barney was always with her, Leonard had earned a part of her heart, and she had come to love her second husband dearly. Im fine now. Getting out of the chair, he rested his head for a moment on her shoulder. Why were you calling me? Susie wants to know if you would do her the honour of opening her new shop, when its ready? Leonard was thrilled. Of course I will. Raising his glance to the far side of the room, he saw Thomas and Ronnie talking, and over by the drinks cabinet, Sheila was helping herself to a measure of brandy. There was no sign of Susie. Where is she? She must have gone outside, Vicky said. Giving him a little push, she suggested, Youd best go and find her. Leonard found his stepdaughter seated on the bench by the pond. It was pitch black now, and the wind was freshening. Fancied a quiet spell on your own, did you? Sitting down beside her, he took hold of her hand. Mom says you would like me to open your shop when its ready. Susie smiled up at him. If you dont mind? Beaming from ear to ear, he said, Why ever would I mind? Im flattered youve asked me, though I dont know what Ive done to deserve the honour. You saved me, she murmured. When we came here, you saved us all. In the twilight Susie observed this man who had been their salvation, and a great surge of love filled her heart. When she was just a child, frightened and confused, he had taken her under his wing, and where her beloved daddy had caused her pain, this kind and gentle man had healed the wounds, though the haunting memories could never be erased. Leonard sensed her emotions. Youre lonely, arent you, sweetheart? She gave a wry little smile. Sort of. Sometimes. You wont always be lonely, he said assuredly. One day, sooner or later, there will be a certain someone for you, I just know it. She smiled at his words. Do you? He nodded. A bright young thing like you, I know youre not meant to live your life alone. Therell be someone somewhere, just as lonely, looking for a lovely young woman like you to share his life. Fate will bring you together. You must believe that, my dear. They hugged for a moment, then he walked her back to the house. One by one, the family left, until only he and Vicky remained. Its been a wonderful evening, dont you think? she said dreamily. Vicky began to clear away the dinner plates. And wasnt it nice to have Ronnie here? Just like old times. I shouldnt pin too much on that, her husband warned. Dont forget, it was Susie who dragged him here. And remember how hes twice tried to live in the family fold. It didnt work out for him then, so theres little reason to think it might work out a third time. I live in hope, Vicky answered confidently. Im just relieved that Susie gets through to him, where no one else can. Yes but you mustnt be too disappointed if it doesnt happen. Brushing aside Vickys protests, Leonard helped her clear away the dinner things, then helped to wash them up and put them away. Afterwards, while Vicky made him hot milk and honey to help him sleep, he sat up in the drawing room, listening to her moving around in the kitchen and pondering about the letter in his breast pocket. Should I open it? he muttered. Or should I burn it? Sliding his fingers into his pocket he took out the letter and stared at it for a moment, his anxious eyes scanning the handwriting: Mr Leonard Maitland,Office of Farming and Land ManagementNumber 16, Roiter Place,Corner of Derwent and Launceston,BOSTON,U.S.A. Try as he might, he could not recognise the handwriting; it was not the hand of his solicitor, and certainly not the almost indecipherable scrawl of the doctor. In fact, he began to wonder whether he had got it altogether wrong in thinking it might be from Lucy. With newfound confidence, he decided to take a peep inside. First though, he listened, making certain that Vicky was still busy at her tasks. Satisfied, he took the letter between his fingers and began to open it, almost leaping out of his skin when Vicky suddenly rushed in through the door. Ive made a whole jug full, she told him as he hurriedly thrust the open letter into his pocket. Its been such a hectic day, I thought a mug of honey and hot milk might help me sleep, too. She placed the tray on the small table before him. For a while they sat and talked, of Ronnie, and Thomas and Susie. Im proud of them all, Vicky said. Thomas has taken to helping you manage the estate like a duck to water. She cast her mind back, as she often did, more so as she grew older and the memories sharpened. Mind you, he had good training with his dad, she said fondly. Though managing a small farm is different from managing a vast estate like this. Leonard nodded. It is, he agreed. But when you get right down to it, the principle is the same: you plough the land, set the seeds, and reap the harvest. He gave a contented smile. Im fortunate to have a man like Thomas working with me, he admitted. I have good people in the office, but outside in the fields I can leave it all to Thomas and know everything will be taken care of. He works hand-in-hand with the office, orders the right machinery for the job, brings in the right mix of seed, and oversees the working of the land. Hes good with the men, and has an instinct for the seasons. Moreover, he knows every machine inside out; theres nothing he cant fix and hes always ready to pass his knowledge on to the men. Matter of fact, I dont know what Id do without him. After a while, Vicky shifted the conversation to Ronnie. I only wish that lad would settle down. He doesnt seem to have the heart for anything. Leonard was philosophical where his other stepson was concerned. Hes still coming to terms with lifes disappointments, he said kindly. Give him time, hell come round. Do you really think so? Yes, I do. Like Thomas, hes a good man. Lonely though? Well, yes, there is that. But some people like their own company. For different reasons, all of her children worried Vicky. There was Thomas working all hours God sent, with a wife who thought only of dressing herself up and trawling the most expensive shops. She wanted for nothing, she had a husband who doted on her, and still she wasnt satisfied and, if Vickys instinct served her right, Sheila was in the throes of yet another affair. Sometimes, I wonder if Thomas ever suspects that his wife sees other men? The words were not meant to be said out loud, but they just popped out. Leonard was not surprised. So, you think the same as me, do you that shes being unfaithful to him? Im convinced of it. Vicky told him of her fears. I think shes had several affairs. If Thomas knows, he must love her so much, he cant bring himself to confront her in case he loses her though if you ask me, that might be the best thing all round. Well, I dont think she would leave him, whatever he said to her. No, youre right! she conceded angrily. Why would she leave him, when she has everything all her own way a husband who adores her, money to fritter on clothes and fancy furniture, a house she helped to design. Anything she asks for she gets holidays, jewellery and on top of all that, whenever she fancies a fling, she just goes out and finds herself a man. Clenching her fists, she almost spat out the words. Sometimes, Leonard, I feel like pinning her against the wall and making her confess what shes been up to. I hate what she does to Thomas. I despise the way she takes advantage of him and gives so little in return! Seeing how upset she was becoming, Leonard reached out and closed his hand over hers. Its up to them, he reminded her. Theyll sort it out between them. One day, Thomas will wake up and realise what she is. When that happens, hell deal with it in his own way. Oh, I do hope so! Trust me. For now, hes taking a beating, because he loves her. He probably knows what shes up to, but Thomas is nobodys fool. He wont put up with it forever. Regaining her composure, Vicky sighed. Susies doing well, isnt she? He nodded. Shes a born businesswoman. Do you think shes lonely? Maybe. Vicky was sad about that. The trouble is, she works such long hard hours, she never has time for a social life. So, she never meets anyone outside of work. Well now. Leonard had also given it a lot of thought. Maybe when she meets her man, it could be the very one shes been working alongside all the time. Its been known to happen. Vicky smiled. So, that could be any one of about ten. There you go! Somehow, Leonard always managed to say the right thing. Shes got a healthy choice right there on her doorstep. The couple sat quiet and content for a time, their faces pink and warm in the heat from the cheery fire. In the background, the grandfather clock struck eleven, and Leonard began to nod off. Hey! Vicky gave him a nudge. That milk and honey seems to be working well, but dont go to sleep yet, she said. You lock up, and Ill put the guard in front of the fire. Then well away up the stairs and into bed. You go, he said. Ill be along shortly. He needed to stay down for a while. He needed to think. Vicky put the guard in front of the fire, gave him a kiss, and made her way upstairs. She thought nothing of him not going up with her. Often Leonard would work in his study long after shed gone to sleep. Upstairs, she made her way to the bathroom, while downstairs Leonard remained in the armchair, his hand spread over his jacket pocket where the letter was safely tucked away. He wanted to open the letter and read it, but his every instinct once more urged him to throw it into the fire. After a time, common sense took over. He knew he should read the letter, if only to make sure it contained nothing that could harm himself or his adopted family. And if it was a threat, he might need to deal with it as quickly as possible. Taking out the letter he glanced towards the door; he could still hear Vicky pottering about in the bedroom upstairs. He got out of his chair and went across the room, where he quietly closed the door. Returning to his chair, he sat a moment, the letter in his hand, his gaze mesmerised by the flames dancing in the coals. Come on, old man, he chided himself. Open the damned thing and see who its from! With trepidation he opened the letter, surprised to find another envelope inside, which was simply addressed to Vicky. Unfolding the accompanying letter, he thought he might have recognised the sweeping scrawl, but that was not the case. Instead his fears were made tenfold by what was written there: Dearest Leonard, I hope you will not think badly of me for writing to you after all this time, but lately my conscience has been troubling me, so much so that I feel compelled to make contact with you. Ive spoken with Dr Lucas, who very reluctantly gave me your address in Boston, but please dont blame him for that. I can be very persuasive when needs must. All I ask of you is that you give Vicky the enclosed letter. It tells of the tragic circumstances that made Barney send his family away. I know from Dr Lucas that you have faithfully kept the promise you made to Barney, and I respect you for that, as I realise what a heavy burden you have had to carry alone. Now though, before the truth is lost forever, I believe it is time to tell Vicky and the family. If you give her my letter, in which I have written about Barney and the way it was, you will not be breaking your promise. I could have addressed this letter to Vicky and sent it via your office; the doctor stopped short of giving me your home address. But I believe it is right for me to send the letter to you, and leave the choice to you and your conscience. If you decide not to give her the letter, I will of course accept your decision and I will never again contact either of you. However, I am hoping that over the years you have been tempted to tell her, and were not able to because of your promise. This way, if you do give her the letter, it will be me who tells and your promise will remain intact. I believe the time is right for Barneys family to learn that he never stopped loving them. For the remainder of his short life, he talked of them, and longed for them, and his heart remained broken up to the day he lost his fight to live. I can imagine you reading this letter now, and being torn in two by it, and I am deeply sorry for that. You may pass the letter to Vicky, or you may dispose of it, and she will never know. Please, Leonard, dont be rash in your judgement. We saw what happened, you and I, and we know what pain it caused both Barney and the family. Surely, in your heart you must accept that it is their right to be made aware of the facts. I have enclosed my address here. Please let me know what you decide, Yours, with fondest memories, Lucy Shaken by what he had just read, Leonard made no move for what seemed an age. After a while, he read the letter again, and again, until every word was burned into his mind. I cant tell her, he murmured. How can I hurt her like that? How can I tell Barneys children that they deserted their father when he was so desperately ill? A great burst of rage surged through him; slamming his fist on the arm of the chair he cried out, I CANT DO IT TO THEM! I WONT! DO YOU HEAR ME, LUCY? I WONT HURT THEM LIKE THAT! Taking the envelope addressed to Vicky, he crumpled it in his hand. When, emotionally broken, he bent his head and began to sob, the crumpled letter slipped from his grasp and fell to the ground, and as it did so, the door opened and there stood Vicky, alerted by his cries and looking shocked to see him so upset. Before he could prepare himself, she had walked towards him, on the way recovering the crumpled envelope from the floor. What is it, Leonard? she asked worriedly. I heard you cry out. Whats wrong? Has something happened? Is it Ronnie? Of all her children, it was always Ronnie she worried about the most. Realising there was no way back, Leonard looked up with haggard eyes. Im so sorry, my dear. So terribly sorry. Holding out the letter, he pleaded forlornly, Read it. Read them both, and I hope you can find the generosity of heart to forgive me. Confused and anxious, she took the letter from him, and as she prepared to read it, he could see his whole life slipping away. As Vicky read Lucys words, a sense of horror came over her. When she had finished reading, she looked at Leonard in disbelief, her face set like stone. She said not a word, and her expression gave nothing away. She walked to the table, where she set down the letter addressed to herself and with slow, measured movements straightened the envelope so it was readable. Leonard watched her open it and read the letter. With a broken cry, she leaned forward, hands on the table, eyes closed and her whole body seeming to tremble in shock. Lucys words were emblazoned on her soul he never stopped loving them he talked of them, and longed for them, and his heart remained broken up to the day he lost his fight to live Her pain was crippling. I didnt know, she sobbed and gasped over and over. I didnt know, I didnt know. Dear God, we none of us knew! For one aching moment Leonard was tempted to go to her and hold her. But his instincts warned him against it. Instead he watched and prayed that she might understand the reason why he had deceived her for so long. After a time she collected both letters and, without a glance at him, walked across the room and out of the door. Then she was gone, leaving him alone and afraid. What have I done? he whispered. Dear God, what have I done? Afraid for her, afraid for the family, and for his part in their lives, he went after her. As he came out onto the verandah, he saw her, some short distance down the garden, leaning against a tree, bent double as she sobbed his name. Why did you do it, Barney? Her broken voice echoed in the still night air. Why did you send us away why did you make us hate you, when all the time, all we ever wanted was to be with you? The sobbing became uncontrollable. Oh Barney! Barney! Why didnt you tell me? Vicky? Unsure and anxious, Leonard approached her. Barney did it because he didnt want to hurt you. I made him a promise not to tell. Im sorry it had to be this way. Well get through this, you and me, and the children He stopped in his tracks as she turned to look at him; in the light from the verandah he was shocked to see such raw anger on her face. As she spoke, slowly and with cold precision, he knew the hatred she felt for him. You let me think bad things of him. You took me away, when he needed me most. No! Listen to me, Vicky. It wasnt what I wanted it was Barneys wish. He made me promise. He did it to save you the pain of seeing him suffer. He knew what it would be like for you Shaking her head, she gave the saddest smile. All that time, you knew, and you never told me, because if you had, you knew I would go back. And you didnt want that, did you? Her damning words froze his heart. As long as I live, I will never forgive you. Brushing by him, she returned to the house, packed an overnight bag, collected her car keys and passed him on her way out without a word or glance. All she could see was Barney. At that moment he filled her heart and soul; there was no room for anyone else, especially the man who had kept her from him, when Barney desperately needed her. As she drove away, Leonard called after her. She didnt hear him. Instead, all she could hear was Barney calling out to her; Barney in pain; Barney left behind, his entire family gone forever. She needed to hold him, to tell him she was there, that he was not alone. But it was too late. Barney was gone, and she had never had the chance to say a proper goodbye. Another thought crossed her mind. The children! However was she to tell them this devastating news! Chapter 13 (#ulink_39ebe3b1-a8dd-5539-9e88-402887e66ab4) IT WAS 8.15 A.M., the morning of 4 January 1955. The streets of Liverpool were still fairly quiet, some shops were not yet open and only the keenest of shoppers had braved the bitter cold, to catch the early sales bargains. Warm and cosy inside the offices of Bridgets empire, Amy and Bridget had been up since the early hours. On a day when the offices were still closed and there was no one to interrupt them, this was the perfect time for the two women to go through the books and prepare them for the accountant. Having already been ensconced in the office for almost two hours, Bridget was ready for refreshment. Stretching and groaning, she leaned away from the desk. I think well down tools for a while, Amy me darling, she said now. Its been a long two hours, and the old bones are threatening to seize up. Pushing the ledger away, she gave Amy one of her winning smiles. Im ready for a drink, so I am. I couldnt agree more. Getting out of her chair, Amy began her way across the room. Fancy a nice cup of tea? Bridget was horrified. Have ye lost your mind? Its not tea or coffee Im needing. Its a drop o the good stuff Im after. Its in the top drawer of the filing cabinet, same as always. An dont be sparing with it neither. When it came, Bridget took a tiny sip, then another longer one. Ah sure, theres nothing like a wee dram to warm the cockles, she said, smacking her lips. Unless its a randy man with a trim body and no clothes on. Grinning like the Cheshire Cat, she went on to tell the bemused Amy, Did I ever tell you about the time me and Oliver found a quiet spot in the countryside? Well now, he got to feeling frisky, so we climbed into the back of his car and ye know theres not much room there at all. Amy couldnt help but chuckle. Honestly, when will you ever grow up? Dont you think youre too old to be rolling about in the back of a car? Youre right, and I wont be doing it again, I can promise ye that! Only the dear Lord knows how I ached from top to bottom for weeks after. But ysee, poor Oliver was so frustrated. He tried Gawd knows how many times to get his leg over, and well youve never seen such a carry-on in all yer life! First off, he got his foot caught between the front seats, then he couldnt get it out She could hardly talk for laughing. When I say that, Im not just referring to his foot, though that was the divil of a problem, so it was. No, I mean he couldnt get his little pecker out neither, whichever way he turned. Amy tutted. Its a wonder you werent arrested. Ah, but thats not all. Taking another healthy measure of her good Irish whiskey, Bridget got a fit of the giggles. When we realised it was no use, we got out of the car and laid on the grass. Within minutes we were fleeing for our lives, him with his trousers round his ankles, and me with me drawers in me hand. Amy could hardly contain her curiosity. What happened? Did the police come along and find you? Oh no! It werent the police. We were just getting down to business, if ye know what I mean, when we must have disturbed a nest of wasps. Sure I never ran so fast in all me life, and as for poor Oliver, he got bit twice on his dangly bits. Jaysus! They came after him like he was their next meal. And him screaming and shouting like a banshee. Never mind that I was falling behind and likely to be got any minute. As far as that bleddy coward was concerned, I could get stung to Hell and back! Amy almost fell off the chair laughing. I always knew you were mad as a hatter, she roared. Whatever will you get up to next, I wonder? Well, I can tell ye one thing. Next time he feels amorous, he can bugger off. So, does that mean youve finished with him? Oh no! Sure, I never said that. But its the last time he manhandles me in the back seat of a car. And as for pulling up in the hedgerow and rollicking in the long grass, he can forget it. She took another helping of her drink. He can have his wicked way any time he wants, but I told him, I did. Im a lady with taste, I said. From now on, its a bed covered in silk sheets and a feather pillow under me, or its nothing at all. And what did he say? Amy was enthralled. He liked the idea. Especially when he couldnt sit down for a week, seeing as his precious little bits were all full o bumps and lumps. There was a flurry of laughter and more naughty talk, before the conversation ended and the two of them returned to their work. Shortly after that, they had completed the accounts and having filed away the paperwork, began to pack up for the day. Isnt it tonight when Vicky arrives? Amy recalled Bridget telling her as much earlier on. Bridget nodded. Yes. She disembarked at Southampton last night, and will be in Salford by tea-time tonight. With the effects of drink beginning to wear off, her face reflected the seriousness of Lucys situation. Itll be a strange meeting, thats for sure, she remarked thoughtfully. Theres been a lot of water under the bridge since those two last met. Oh aye, theyll have a lot to talk about, so they will. Do you think Vicky will be resentful? In what way? Because Lucy never told her about Barney? Oh sure, theres bound to be resentment. Of that Bridget had no doubt. According to what Lucy wrote me, on the night she discovered the letter to Leonard, Vicky walked out on him and shes never been back since. Cleared off for two whole months, thats what Ive heard. But then she got in touch with Lucy, and today is the day they finally meet after all these years. She shuddered. I dont mind telling ye, its thankful I am that it isnt me who has to explain why I didnt get in touch with Vicky long before now. Amy was torn two ways. Do you really think Lucy should have broken her word to Barney? Thinking deeply, Bridget took a moment to answer. For what its worth, I believe Lucy did what she thought was right, for Barneys sake, and for the sake of the family. I mean, look now at the heartache and trouble thats been caused by the telling after all these years. Vickys life seemingly in tatters, and Lucy riddled with guilt at having sent the letter. Its a tragedy, isnt it? Amy agreed wholeheartedly. I for one wouldnt want to be in Lucys shoes when she meets up with Vicky. Bridget was momentarily preoccupied in thinking of Barneys children. Isnt it strange how Vicky never even mentioned the children when she contacted Lucy? She wrote of how she and Leonard had split up, but there wasnt one word on the three children. Amys heart went out to Thomas, Ronnie and Susie. I know what its like to see your family torn apart, she said. Its a terrible thing and those three had the added agony of being sent away believing their father was a drunk and a womaniser, a bully who thought nothing of hurting them every which way he could. And now, they discover that he was nothing of the sort, and that he loved them all along. Whatever did they think when they learned how desperately ill he was? Bridget mused. And that what he did, he did for the love of each and every one of them. He saved them from the pain and anguish of seeing him deteriorate with every passing day. Moreover, he secured them a decent future. If that isnt love and courage of a very special kind, Im sure I dont know what is. They each reflected on that, and after a time they shut up shop and went their separate ways. And dont get up to any hanky-panky! Amy quipped as she went. Away with ye, Bridget replied haughtily. Why would I ever want to be doing that? Sure, Im a woman in the sunset of me life, so I am. Amy laughed. Sunset nothing! You might have been around a long time, but youve not lost the come-on twinkle in the eye yet. Sixty going on sixteen, thats you. Bridget prided herself on keeping active and fit. You know what the secret is, dont you? she said cagily. No, whats that? When the hair goes grey and your face is so dry and wrinkled it resembles the sole of your shoe, you dip your hair in dye, pile on the make-up and go out and get your man. If ye think old and done with, youll be old and done with. If ye think young and randy, you can hold off the years for as long as you like, and bugger them as thinks youre mutton dressed as lamb. As she got into the car she had another piece of advice for Amy. Theres something else ye should know. Oh yes, and whats that? If you turn up late in the morning, youll be sacked. With that daunting piece of news, she drove away, leaving Amy shaking her head. You should be locked up, she muttered with a smile. A woman your age should be at home with her feet up and a shawl over her legs, but oh no, not our Bridget, shes got more important things to do. You defy old age, you scheme and fight and lie through your teeth to get what you want, and you show no mercy to anyone who tries to muscle in on your territory. The truth is, if you werent running a legitimate business, youd make a first-class villain. As she walked away, Amy thought to herself, Ive a good mind to turn up late, just to see if you really would sack me. Youre a bully and a slave-driver, and you make me tired, just watching you run around. Bridget was like no one she had ever known. But, warts and all, she would not have her any other way. At that moment some short distance down the street, Bridget was engaged in a heated exchange with the milkman. Having pulled up in front of her at the junction, his horse had taken the opportunity to dump a load of manure all over the road in front of her; in the process splashing the bonnet of her Hillman Minx. You filthy heathen! Shaking her fist at the man, she told him in no uncertain terms, Look what your damned horse has done to me car. You should be put away, you and the horse along with ye! When the milkman took not the slightest notice, she roared off, making a most unladylike gesture as she went. Time was when old women stayed at home and waited on their menfolk! shouted the milkman. But I dont imagine theres a fella this side of Australia that would take on a harridan like you! After making another rude gesture, Bridget wisely put a fair distance between herself and the milkman. She didnt want to cause too many upsets, especially with a policeman strolling nearby, and even more especially when she had never applied for a driving licence, nor ever had one granted. Coming into the quieter part of town, her thoughts soon turned to Lucy, and the ordeal she was about to face. God bless you, Lucy girl, she murmured. I hope it all goes well with you and Vicky. Like Amy, she did not envy Lucy the task ahead of her. Adam had been awake since the early hours. Concerned about the arrival this evening of the woman he still looked on as Barneys wife, he decided to go across to Knudsden House and make sure Lucy was all right. From the front window, Lucy saw him coming. She too had been awake since the early hours. Only a few hours to go, she told him as he walked in the door. To tell you the truth, Adam, in my entire life Ive never been so nervous. Occasionally stopping to glance at the mantel-clock, she paced up and down, back and forth, now pausing at the window and looking out on the bitter-cold January morning. Im not sure if Ive done the right thing. What if Ive ruined all their lives? You cant turn back the clock now, Lucy my dear, so dont torment yourself. Adam had the same worries, but he did not want to convey that to Lucy. Instead he was doing his best to encourage her, because right now she was beginning to make herself ill. I cant help worrying, Lucy argued. Ive already caused a split between Vicky and Leonard. She said in her letter that I shouldnt blame myself, but if Im not to blame, who is? After all, it was me who put the cat among the pigeons so to speak. Look, Lucy, what you did was certainly not done out of malice. It was done out of concern: you thought they had a right to know. Well, I agree with that and so, it seems, does Vicky. Lucy was still not convinced. It might have been better though, if I had left well alone. Ah, but in the end, my dear, the truth has a way of sneaking out. Whos to say Vicky or her children would never return home at some time in the future, even for a visit. They would find out then, wouldnt they? There cant be a single person in Liverpool who hasnt learned the sad story of Barney Davidson, and they would tell it to anyone, neighbour or stranger. No, Lucy, you did right. What happened between Vicky and Leonard is something aside, which only the two of them can sort out. Eager for peace of mind, Lucy nodded. Maybe youre right, she conceded hesitantly. Maybe it would have come out sooner or later. Are you ready to face her tonight? Lucy nodded. Ready as Ill ever be, I suppose. Early that evening, the car was out and as he arrived Lucy was waiting at the door, looking smart and sophisticated in her high-necked cream-coloured jumper and skirt, with a coffee-coloured winter coat and dark shoes. Her greying hair was swept up in a loop of straying curls that framed her face, and she carried her best silver-topped stick; though she half-hid it in the folds of her coat. Even now she had a reluctance to show her slight handicap. You look lovely as ever, Adam commented as he held open the door for her to climb into the back. Whenever he saw her, morning, noon or night, it was always the same; his old heart would leap to his throat and he had to stop himself from taking her in his arms. As they travelled through the country roads towards Bedford town and the railway station, Lucy wondered aloud, What will she look like, do you think? Adam glanced at her in the mirror. Im sure I dont know, he answered. She was lovely as a young woman, but not everybody stays as handsome as you. Lucy laughed. You old flatterer, she said. Truly though, Adam, do you think well recognise her? Dont know. Cant say. Do you think shell recognise me? I think so. Your hairs a little greyer, youre slower of foot, and we all know youre not the young thing you once were, but then none of us is Vicky included. Lucy had to smile. Well, thank you. Is that supposed to make me feel better? Adam made no apology. All that aside, he said, youre still so vibrant and your features havent changed all that much. You have the same slim figure and those wonderful, smiling eyes. I think she would have to be looking in the opposite direction not to recognise the Lucy Baker we all know and love. For the remainder of the journey, Lucy fell silent, with Adam frequently glancing in his rear-view mirror to make sure she was all right. When at last they arrived at the station, he pulled up as near to the entrance as he could. Do you want me to come with you? Lucy thanked him. Yes, Id like that, Adam. But try if you can to keep a discreet distance when the train arrives. I dont want her to think were there in force. Adam understood. Trust me, he said. You wont even know Im around. But if you want me, Ill be only a heartbeat away. Lucy gave him a friendly peck on the cheek. What would I do without you, eh? Adam was always there when she needed someone to share her fears and dreams. More and more she had come to rely on him. And today was particularly unnerving, for she was about to meet Vicky again for the first time in many years; Vicky, the beautiful person whom Barney adored above all others, and who had been cruelly robbed of her chance to say goodbye to him. Vicky, who had welcomed young Lucy and her little Jamie into the very heart of her family, and shown them both nothing but kindness. Adam was still pondering on her remark. What would you do without me, eh? he mused aloud. Let me think now. Feigning a frown, he told her, Youd have to find a careful new driver for a start. Then thered be no one to fetch and carry for you, or collect your orders from the shops when you dont feel like being in a crowd. Youd have no one to boss about or moan and grumble at, and when you feel lonely, therell be no one there to hold your hand. Lucy laughed. Ive always got Mary. Ah, but its not the same. Think about it, he urged. Here you have a big handsome man ready to answer your every call; a man whos besotted with you, ready to marry you at the drop of a hat, and on top of all that, he can make the best hot cocoa thats ever passed your lovely lips. Youre incorrigible, Lucy chided. But you love me, dont you? Course I do. But not enough to marry me? Behave yourself. Go and park the car, and Ill get the platform tickets. Only if you say youll think about letting me put a ring on your finger. Go on with you! Dismissing him with a wave of her hand, she walked away, the merest of smiles curving her mouth at the corners. She had long thought he would make a wonderful husband, though it would never do to tell him that. One day hell wear me down, she thought. One fine day, hell ask me and I just might say yes. But she couldnt see that day in sight for a very long time. Maybe never. Waiting for Vickys train to arrive from London was nerve-racking. Lucy had lost count of the number of times she had walked the entire length of the platform, looking this way, looking that way, shivering in the bitter cold and beginning to despair. Will the blessed train ever arrive? she asked Adam. Maybe Vickys changed her mind. Maybe shes decided not to come after all. Adam was more concerned about Lucy. Dont panic. The train isnt even due to arrive for another half hour, he reminded her. Look! I want you to come along to the caf and get a hot drink down you. Its perishing cold out here. But what if we miss the train arriving? If were not here waiting for her, she wont know what to do. Listen to yourself, he advised. We wont miss the train arriving, and even if we did, shes a grown woman, intelligent enough to get a taxi. She has your telephone number and address. So come on now, Lucy. He gently cupped the palm of his hand beneath her elbow. Ten minutes, thats all, to get you warmed up and comfortable. I dont want you catching pneumonia. Stop fussing, Adam! Shaking him away, Lucy was adamant. Im perfectly all right. You go if you like, but Im not moving. Adam knew from old that once her mind was made up, thered be no shifting her. I only wish Mary was here, he grumbled. Shed make you go inside, and no mistake. Lucy shook her head. I wouldnt listen to Mary, any more than Im listening to you, she replied haughtily. Im here to meet an old friend whos travelled many miles, all the way from America. I will not have her arriving in a strange place, all alone and me not there to greet her. All the same, at that moment in time she wished she was any place but here. Vicky had been robbed of precious time with Barney, while she herself had earned a measure of his love, and had even borne him a child. How would Vicky react to that? What would she think? Was she bitter? Did she blame Barney? Did she blame her? Lucy was so frantic, it was all she could do to restrain herself from turning tail and fleeing from the station. Adams voice resonated in her ear. Lucy Baker, will you stop fretting! Lord help me, I love you more with every day that passes. Youre the most caring, considerate, aggravating woman Ive ever come across. And youre beginning to get on my nerves. Let me bring you a hot drink then, and Ill not say another word unless, of course, you want me to? I dont want you to. But Id very much appreciate that hot drink. Honestly, Adam, I cant imagine why you didnt think of it before, instead of causing such an almighty fuss about me leaving the platform! While Adam went to get the drinks, Lucys anxious gaze scanned the far-off track, hoping to see the train as it appeared down the line. What will I say? she fretted. How will I greet her? We were close at one time, but its been so long, I dont know how it will all turn out. Her nerves were jangling. In her mind she could see the old Vicky, pretty as a picture and lovely in nature. But what was she like now? Had she hardened over the years? Had she turned cold and resentful because of the shocking way her idyllic marriage had come to an end? And what of the letter that had ended her present marriage? It was Lucy herself who had written it, and now she was beginning to regret it deeply. Maybe Adam was right after all. Maybe she should have let sleeping dogs lie. Suddenly the shrill tones of the announcer came out of the loudspeaker: The ten forty-five from London St Pancras will be arriving at Platform Two in precisely ten minutes. There are no delays. On board the approaching train, a similar announcement was given over the air. Ten minutes! Vicky had grown more nervous with every passing mile. With only two other passengers in her compartment, she had found a seat next to the window, and managed to collect her thoughts. She had never been one for travelling. In all of her life she had only ever made two long journeys; the first had taken her away from everything she had ever known. The second was bringing her back. At least when she sailed away from Liverpool, she had believed Barney to be alive and well, although it had come as a terrible shock to learn of his death, a mere three years later. Doctor Lucas had relayed the news to Leonard, who in turn gently told her and the children. Yet part of her, a very deep part was not surprised. How could her beloved Barney survive without her love, and without the love of his children? God knew, it had nearly killed her to be without him, and look at the effect on their three children. She glanced out of the window at the darkening rural landscape. Nothing here was familiar, though the patchwork of fields and the occasional spinney reminded her of the fields up North where she had worked alongside Barney. This area of Bedfordshire should have been meaningless to her, but it was important now, because this was where her husband had spent his last days, with Lucy, and their daughter, Mary. She was not surprised that Barney had turned to Lucy, for the latter was not only a lovely-natured person, but she had been a close friend of the family, and like all of them, Barney had a soft spot for her. But for Lucy and Barney to become lovers and conceive a child? That would never have crossed her mind in a million years. It was a bitter pill to swallow. Yet for all that, she looked forward to seeing her, and strangely, she also looked forward to meeting Barneys other daughter. She wondered if Mary had a look of him, and if so, she would have a look of Susie, because Barneys first daughter was more like him in appearance than any of his other children. Thinking about her children brought a degree of pain to Vicky. When she needed them most, they had not been ready to forgive. Unable to deal with it for now, she closed her mind to them and forced herself to remember the days when she was with Barney, happy, carefree days which would never come again. It made her heart sore to think they had gone forever, but gone they were. Her fretful thoughts were submerged into the rhythm of the train wheels as they hurried along the track Clackety-clack, marches the army, clackety-clack, I love you Barney. The sound of iron against iron merged with the hiss of steam and somehow it became a song in her heart, and the song created in her a soothing sensation. Lucy was grateful for the cup of tea in a thick white mug that Adam had brought. Did you water the plants on your way here? she quipped, staring into the cup. Its half-empty. An accident, Adam told her sheepishly. There were people pushing and shoving at the ticket-desk. I dodged past them, trying my best to keep out of their way He rolled his eyes. The truth is, this infant ran in front of me and I tripped over. But I managed to keep hold of the cups. Lucy was at once sympathetic. Are you all right? Did you hurt yourself? No. Having given Lucy one cup, Adam placed his own on the bench and brushed himself down. There was help at hand. He pointed to a child now climbing onto a platform bench, and with him was a woman the size of a ten-ton truck, arms like a navvy and a turban wrapped round her hair, tied so tight her eyes seemed to pop out. She picked me up, he said with some embarrassment. Just then the woman turned round and gave him a wonky smile. Adam smiled back, his face bright red as he frantically brushed the dirt and dust from his best trousers. That woman there? She was the one who picked you up? Lucys face crumpled. Her unruly infant knocked you down, and she picked you up? In her mind she had this hilarious image of the elegant Adam going flying across the floor, arms in the air, and that enormous person who looked more like an all-in wrestler than a woman, manhandling him as he fought to keep the cups upright. It was all too much. The laughter sparkled in her eyes and then Adam was giggling, and now as the woman sat herself on the bench, legs apart and bloomers showing, Lucy quickly had to walk to the waiting room where she erupted in a fit of laughter, tears streaming down her cheeks. After a time, she managed to compose herself and return to Adam. I would have given anything to see it, she told him. Youre a wicked woman, he told her, still laughing at himself, and she gave him a kiss for being so entertaining. Now, as the train-whistle blew, Lucys mind was focused once more on Vicky. Its here, she told Adam excitedly. The trains here! Standing their cups beside a bench, the two of them moved closer to the edge of the night-dark platform, where the train was already beginning to pull in. As it chugged to a halt, the steam rose and all the doors opened. People spilled out and it was hard to distinguish them through the billowing clouds. Where is she? Lucy strained her eyes, searching for Vicky. Oh Adam, what if she changed her mind at the last minute? Philosophical as ever, Adam calmed her fears. If she has, then there is nothing we can do about it. People thronged past and soon there was no one left. The station seemed suddenly eerie. Look there! Adam pointed to the figure climbing out of the train. Is that her, do you think? They watched as the passenger stepped down to the platform. As the slim figure of a woman came out of the night, it was like watching a ghost materialising from the past. It must be her. Lucys heart was in her mouth. It has to be Vicky Davidson. Chapter 14 (#ulink_40a65e84-d7b8-5935-9169-5795fa944996) FEELING ANXIOUS NOW that her journey from Boston to Salford was over, Vicky had lingered on the train a moment longer. She still harboured a measure of resentment towards Lucy, because if she had not sent the letter, then everything would have stayed the same. Now though, her life had changed and there was no going back, and it was a shattering thing. Pulling herself together, she gathered up her suitcase and got off the train. In the chill night air she caught a glimpse of them, Adam and Lucy, waiting for her as they had promised. She could not mistake them, for those familiar features though now older like her own were etched in her memories of the past. As she walked towards them it was almost as though she had turned back the years and that somewhere nearby, Barney would be waiting to take her in his arms and hold her as before. But no! That wasnt to be. Her heart was like a lead weight inside her. It was all too much too much! She gave an involuntary sob. Never again would Barney embrace her, his heartbeat close to hers. From the other end of the platform, Lucy watched her approach. Strange, she thought, how she knew it was Vicky straight off. The walk was the same, the petite figure and the way of holding herself that was the Vicky she knew and remembered. As Vicky came closer, she passed beneath a platform lamp, and Lucy could see the tears glinting in her old friends eyes. Her heart leaped, and when she turned round to speak to Adam, he was gone. She glanced about, and there he was, standing over by the gate, sending her strength, sending her love, watching over her like a guardian angel. Now Vicky was standing before her, and the emotions that ran through Lucy were overwhelming. Im so glad you came, she said, choked. Vicky did not could not answer. Instead, she stood motionless, her suitcase still clutched in her hand, tears rolling freely down her face as she began to realise at last that she was here, in the company of someone who had been part of her, part of Barney and the family. Lucy. Her voice broke. My God, its Lucy Baker. The two widows fell into each others open arms. All those long years between, from that fateful day when Vicky and the children sailed away, to this, long-awaited moment, were as nothing now. When the embraces were over there remained a certain awkwardness. There are so many questions, Vicky said huskily. So much I need to know. Lucy nodded. I understand. Of course there would be questions, about herself and Barney, about how it was between them. Questions asking why Lucy had not told her earlier; why now, after all this time? The prospect of all those questions made Lucy deep-down nervous. But so too was Vicky, who walked beside Lucy as they made for where Adam waited. By then, they were chatting and smiling, but he sensed the undercurrent between them, and wondered if too much had happened for them ever to be friends again. Hello, Vicky, my love, he said warmly, and his arms opened and she went to him. Its so good to see you again, she said, and the barriers between them were no more. They talked for a few moments, and then they were in the car, driving back to Knudsden House. You might want to rest and freshen up before dinner, Lucy offered. Ive organised it for eight thirty. Youll meet Ben and Mary then. Im looking forward to that very much. Vicky was anxious about the meeting with Mary, but curious all the same. However, before that, there was something else she must do. With no further ado she blurted out: Will you take me to see where Barney is? Lucy had half-expected this to be Vickys first request. Ive already arranged it with Adam, she explained. The churchyard is too far to walk from the house, yet its only a matter of ten minutes in the car. First though, I thought you might like to catch your breath, offload your suitcase and give us a chance to talk. I thought tomorrow morning might be a good time to go there, but well go straight to Barney, if thats what you prefer? That had been Vickys plan, to arrive and go straight to Barney. Now though, she did feel the need to catch her breath, as Lucy suggested. She wanted to see where Barney was laid to rest, and yet she wanted to pretend it had not happened, that somewhere, somehow, he was still alive. Youre right, she told Lucy. After that long journey, a few hours here or there dont matter. Good! Then thats settled. And the two women exchanged a deep look of shared sorrow and an acknowledgment of the very special bond that united them. It will be wonderful, to meet your Mary, Vicky told Lucy as they settled themselves into the comfortable back seat of the car. Although, funnily enough, Im nervous, too. You said in your letter that she lived with you. Is that still the case? Lucy nodded. Not for much longer though. She and her fella, Ben Morris, are to be married soon. Marys had such bad luck with men in the past, but now it seems shes found the right one. She waved her hand, as though to bring the conversation to a halt. Now then, I hope youre hungry. Our Elsie has really gone to town on our supper tonight. Whos your Elsie? Vicky asked. Elsie Langton is the wife of our local blacksmith. She lives in the village and comes to me every day, Lucy explained. Its too big a house for me to manage on my own these days and well, what with Marys flower-shop being so successful and all, we can just about afford dear Elsie. To be honest, wed all be lost without her. Lucy knew she was gabbling on but Vicky seemed genuinely interested. She takes care of the household things cleaning and cooking and suchlike. Shes an almighty chatterbox, shes even bossier than me, and at times she can be so infuriating you could happily strangle her, Lucy chuckled. But shes the salt of the earth, honest and hard-working, and totally reliable. She has a heart of gold and excels at everything she does. Vicky was impressed. She sounds wonderful. Oh, she is! In fact, shes an absolute treasure. You will just love her, I know you will. Does she look after the grounds as well? Vicky was beginning to wish she had such a paragon back home in Boston. She would, if she could get her hands on them. But no, the grounds are Marys domain. She grows all of our flowers, fruit and veg, plants them herself, digs and hoes, and spends hours out there, weeding and working in all weathers. The lass sells most of it in her shop or at market, and theres still enough left over for the local charities. Vicky was thrilled. She really must take after her daddy, with such love for the land. Yes, I can tell that she must have green fingers, just like Barney, because even in this wretched weather, its easy to see how beautifully kept it all is here. They were pulling into the drive of Knudsden House by then. Lucy was delighted by the compliment to her daughter. Marys also got a couple of cows, which she milks by hand, she added proudly, and a dozen hens that lay enough eggs to feed a whole congregation. So, your Elsie is never short of milk or eggs then? Not sos youd notice, no though if shes not complaining that shes got too many, shes moaning that shes never got enough. You cant please our Elsie no matter how hard you try. As it happened, the very person herself was waiting for them as Adam helped them out of the car. Youll be the old friend that Miss Lucys been going on about from morning to night, she said, rushing forward, the hand of friendship outstretched. Im Elsie, general dogsbody and hard done by. How dyer do? Before Vicky could get a word in, Elsie was rushing on; I expect that ones already blackened me name, saying as how Im a lazy good-for-nothing who cant cook, cant make a bed without leaving lumpy bits, and doesnt know one end of a yard-broom from the other! Cant keep quiet for a minute at a time, more like! Lucy laughed. Behave yourself. Our guest is starving hungry and tired from the long journey, so be off and keep an eye on our dinner, please. Elsie tutted. See how she treats me? she enquired of Vicky. Bossing and bullying. Do this, do that. Rolling her eyes to the clouds, she went inside and locked herself in the kitchen. Vicky laughed heartily. You were right, she said. She is an absolute treasure. Adam went on ahead of them. Ill put this suitcase in your room, he told Vicky, then Ill make myself scarce for an hour. You dont have to, Vicky told him. I think it might be best, he answered. Knowing how these two had a lot of catching up to do, he insisted, Ill see you both in an hour or so. And before they could argue, he was quickly gone. As they walked into the hallway, Vicky looked around at the wood-panelled walls and long casement windows. Oh Lucy, this is so lovely! she exclaimed. So full of character. Is this where you and Barney lived together? There was a wonderfully warm, inviting atmosphere in this house, she thought. We lived here, yes, Lucy replied thoughtfully, for the short time we had. Poor Barney was in the last stages of his illness then. I sold the cottage that Mr Maitland kindly gave to me and and Jamie thanks to you and Barney and we managed between us to buy this place, as it was very rundown and going cheap. Dear Adam has put his back into restoring it, over the past twenty years. And were you happy, the two of you? As much as we could be, under the circumstances. Lucy thought that a difficult question to answer. Resentment rose in Vicky. It must have been very hard for you both. But her voice sounded tight. It was. But we lived one day at a time, and somehow we managed to find a deal of joy in every moment. Vickys thoughts were with Barney, and her heart ached. I should have been here, she burst out. I should have been with him! Unsure how to deal with the situation, Lucy spoke her mind. I wouldnt blame you if you felt bitter about me and Barney, I mean. Vickys features hardened. I am bitter, she replied hoarsely. Im angry because you didnt think to bring me back earlier. Her voice rose in a cry of anguish. You can have no idea of the heartache and regrets that haunted me haunted all of us and still do! Turning away, she began pacing the floor. And now when its all too late, I discover that Barney was ill when he sent us away that he turned to you instead of keeping me by his side. Her eyes alive with suspicion, she swung round. It makes me wonder how long the affair had been going on. Tell me, Lucy. Were you lovers right under my nose all the time making a fool of me? Is that it? He had come to need you more than he needed me even when he was dying? The last words came out as a howl. Horrified, Lucy took a step forward. No, Vicky, youre wrong! It was never like that! As she reached out to touch her old friend, Vicky began sobbing, all the pent-up emotions let loose in a vehement tirade. How can I believe you? You! A woman who took my husband to herself and bore him a child, when all the time none of us knew why he sent us away. She was almost screaming now. You knew, though, and still you didnt think fit to bring me back. I missed him so much Oh dear God! My Barney, so desperately ill, and me so far away on the other side of the world! Burying her face in her hands, she sobbed like a child. And when Lucy reached out, this time she did not flinch. Instead she fell into Lucys arms and clung to her, until the sobbing eased and her pain was bearable. Deeply saddened, Lucy continued to hold her. The tears ran freely down her own face and her heart was heavy with sadness. Eventually, Vicky raised her head and whispered, Oh Lucy, I was just hitting out I didnt mean it. Lucy nodded. I know. Vicky took a deep breath. Its just that oh, I have so many regrets. After a time, when the two of them were seated and quiet, Lucy had a question. Did you find at least some measure of contentment with Leonard? Vicky did not hesitate. Yes, I did. But it was a strange contentment. It took a long time for me to regard him as anything other than a friend. Even then, it was as though there was something else, someone else, always there, between us. She looked away, her thoughts going deep. Even when I was with Leonard, laughing, working, building a home for the children, Barney was always there. Leonard knew it and I knew it, but it was all right, because Barney had sent me away, and Leonard had taken me under his wing taken all of us under his wing. She paused, her thoughts going back over the years she shared with Leonard. We never had a child, she murmured softly. I suppose it was never meant to be. Sensing a deeper sadness, Lucy gently reminded her, Leonard was a good man and a good and loyal friend to Barney. I know that. But I still cant forgive him for lying to me. It isnt as if he lied outright, Lucy suggested lamely. He just never told you. But dont you see its the same thing! Lucy hesitated. Will you ever forgive him? Vicky shook her head. Never! I will never forgive or forget, until the day that I die. And Lucy bowed her head in shame for her part in Barneys secret sacrifice. Chapter 15 (#ulink_8378a7d4-92dd-5709-acfa-0f6dd2aaed36) WHEN LUCY HAD shown her up to her room, Vicky rested a while, then washed and changed, ready for dinner. Somewhere in Knudsden House, a grandfather clock was striking eight. Got to make a good impression, Vicky said to herself, and she did a slow, dignified twirl in front of the bedroom mirror. The cream-coloured dress she had brought with her from Boston was well-suited to her slim, upright figure. You dont look too bad for your age, my girl, she thought approvingly. Leaning forward, she wiped the tip of her finger along her lips, evenly spreading more of the light-coloured French lipstick that brought out the colour of her slate-grey eyes. Her hair was swept back and kept in place by a sparkling diamant clip in the shape of a curled leaf. Vicky knew how to dress for dinner. It was one of the social niceties that were part and parcel of her marriage to Leonard. Whereas her life with Barney had been simple and easy, her position in Boston as the wife of a land baron moved her in different circles. Her values and principles had never changed, though. Forging a strong family bond and being there when needed had always been her priorities. Down the landing, Lucy was beginning to panic. Her hair wouldnt go where it was supposed to, and the shoulder-strap on her dress had just snapped as she slipped it over her head. Damn and bugger it! she cursed. Slinging the dress over the back of a chair, she stood a moment, contemplating what to do. She could wear the white dress, but that didnt seem appropriate somehow, or she could simply put on her brown skirt and blue top no, she couldnt turn up for dinner looking like a school-marm! Flinging open the wardrobe door, she flicked through the many garments hanging there. Why is it I can never do anything right? she hissed aloud. Its nerves, she decided. Its all too much in one day and now Ive got an attack of the heeby-jeebies. Finally, she settled on the emerald-green dress, the one with little puff sleeves and a pretty lace neckline. When she slithered into it now, she felt just right; the waist sat snugly and the skirt flounced just the teeniest bit. Not too frumpy, not too sassy, she said, sliding her feet into a pair of black slip-on shoes. There was a gas fire in her bedroom, and a good coal one in the sitting room, but all the same she arranged a mohair stole around her shoulders to keep out the draughts. With the shoes on and the dress in place, she almost tumbled over while attempting to check that the seams on her stockings were straight; next she brushed her hair and rolled it into a halo round her head, while teasing out just the tiniest curl here and there. A touch of rouge and just the smallest brush of mascara and she was ready to face the world. Now, if your bones dont ache too much, and you dont fall asleep at nine oclock, youll be all right. Twice she had done that and never been allowed to forget it. But that was when she had first come out of hospital so that didnt count, or so she told herself. It wasnt old age creeping up fast. It was the after-effects of lying about in a hospital bed. Well, anyway thats what she made herself believe. At ten minutes past eight she made her way downstairs. Five minutes later, Vicky followed. As women do, they admired each others choice of dress, and compliments flew in all directions, all genuine and all accepted graciously. Is Mary here? Vicky was on tenterhooks. Im sure shell be down in a minute, Lucy replied. According to Elsie, she didnt get back from the sale until an hour ago, though I think she stayed at Bens a while before she made her way back. Shes a considerate young woman. She so wants to meet you, but I know she was thinking to give us more time together. Having poured two sherries, Lucy handed one to Vicky. Shes a wonderful daughter. Vicky thanked her for the drink and after taking a sip she asked, How long has she known, about me and the family? Not long. A couple of years. So, Mary was kept in the dark too, was she? Im afraid so. And how did she take it, knowing that she had a whole new family? She welcomed it. Was she bitter, that she had not been told earlier? No. She understood my reasoning. As a matter of fact, it wasnt me who told her. I was ill in bed at the time. It was Adam who decided the time was right to put her in the picture. Adam? Vicky was surprised. Why would he do that? Because hes always believed that she should be told, and as hes been with us since before Mary was born, hes almost like family. He remained Barneys best friend right up to the very end. He came with us to this part of the world. He helped me nurse Barney, and from as far back as she can remember, Mary has loved him like a second father. Vicky smiled. Adam was always a good man. Lucy wholeheartedly agreed. And in case youre wondering, there was never anything between us, but he was always there, always helpful and caring, taking responsibility for us. He never forgot you, or the children. In fact, it was Adam who persuaded me to contact you. She paused. I can understand why Leonard didnt tell you. It was such a hard thing for me to do, breaking my word to Barney, and even now, with you and Leonard split up, Im not sure I did the right thing. Vicky disagreed. It was the right thing, she declared. Im here now, and I shall make my peace with Barney and I can never thank you enough for that. What about the children? Lucy thought it strange that Vicky had made little mention of Tom, Ronnie and Susie. Vicky shrugged. Thats another story, she muttered, and for now at least, no more was said on the subject. At half past eight, Mary came downstairs to meet the long-awaited visitor. Vicky caught sight of her as she came round the bend in the staircase, and her heart leaped as she looked up to see Barneys daughter; with her easy walk and smiling blue eyes, she was the very essence of her father. And now as she spoke, even the voice had a resonance of Barney. Hello, Im Mary, she said softly. Vicky was momentarily lost for words. She looked at this homely, pretty creature, and all she could see was her late husband. With her bobbed fair hair and those lavender-coloured eyes, the resemblance to Barney had shaken Vicky to the core. Holding out her arms, she invited the girl into an embrace. Youve no idea how good it is to meet you, she said, holding Mary at arms length and gazing into those familiar, smiling eyes. You have such a look of your father, she said, and youre so like my Susie, its uncanny. Mary told her that she, Vicky, was exactly as she had imagined, and that she, too, was glad that they had met at long last. It was a warm, satisfying exchange and, as they made their way into the dining room, Vicky felt more at peace than she had done for a very long time. Oh, so youve decided to show your faces at the table, have you? Elsie came out of the kitchen like a hurricane. Theres me slaving away in that kitchen, while you lot drink the sherry and chat the chat. Well, youre here now, thank goodness, so Ill away and bring in the first course. Not so fast, Elsie, my girl! Lucy called her back. Are you hinting that its all too much for you? Because if you are, Ill start the girl from the village on Monday morning. Ive checked her credentials and she has excellent references. She appears to be a hard worker and an honest soul, and if youll only give her a chance, Im sure shell be a godsend to you. Elsie was horrified. I never asked for no girl. Dont want her, dont need her. I happen to think you do. Youre not as young as you used to be. You need someone to fetch and carry. Even Charlie agrees with me. Well, hes wrong, and if yer dont mind me saying, so are you. I dont want no slip of a girl in my kitchen. Look, Elsie, youre on edge all the time, losing your temper at the drop of a hat, and you never stop work from morning till night. Youve a home of your own and a husband who wants your company from time to time. The little woman gave a hearty guffaw. Ive a husband who sits on his backside in front of the fire every night, and spends his days looking up the horses rear ends. He hardly notices me unless its to have a grumble. If I talk, he grunts from behind the newspaper, and as for a sensible conversation, I might as well go down the park and talk to the ducks. Like as not Id get more response out of em. Why dont you just try this girl? Thats all Im asking. You can ask till the cows come home, Miss Lucy, but Im not listening. Now, if you feel the need to send me packing, thats another thing altogether and theres nothing I can do about that. But if Im staying, Ill not ave no snotty-nosed slip of a thing under my feet all hours of the day. . . , (https://www.litres.ru/josephine-cox/josephine-cox-sunday-times-bestsellers-collection/?lfrom=390579938) . Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, , , , PayPal, WebMoney, ., QIWI , .