Read A Second Chance Online

Authors: Shayne Parkinson

Tags: #romance, #historical fiction, #family, #new zealand, #farming, #edwardian, #farm life

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‘Well, you often do look as though you’d
like to go crook at me.’ He lowered his eyes and looked away.
‘Sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.’

‘Oh, please do speak freely, Mr Stewart.
This is your property, after all. And you and I will never learn to
know one another better if we continually stand on ceremony.’ She
saw the quick twist of his mouth that betrayed his thoughts. ‘Now
you’re wondering why on earth we should want to get to know one
another better, aren’t you?’

‘Sort of,’ David admitted. ‘I mean, Ma likes
you and all that, and I’m really happy for her. Ma hasn’t had it
too easy, you know.’

‘Yes, I do know,’ Sarah agreed feelingly.
‘That’s what I particularly wanted to talk to you about. Sit down,
why don’t you? Come along, I don’t often bite. There’s probably
room on this jacket of yours.’

‘No, over here’ll do. I don’t want to get
your fancy dress dirty.’ David squatted down on his heels opposite
her.

It was Amy she wanted to talk about, but
David’s odd manner intrigued Sarah. ‘I almost think you’re
frightened of me, Mr Stewart,’ she mused aloud. ‘Now, what have I
done to deserve that?’

‘I’m not really. Well, I suppose I… well, Ma
said you were a teacher.’

‘Yes, I was. I gave it up last year, when my
other obligations grew more demanding. Why does that trouble you
particularly?’

‘Well, you sort of remind me of this teacher
I used to have.’

‘Really? Aren’t you a little beyond being
afraid of school teachers?’

‘You never knew Miss Metcalf. You’re not
really like her,’ he added uncomfortably. ‘You sure don’t look like
her. It’s just the way you always look as if you want to tell me
off. I can just see you with a strap in your hand.’

‘I do know how to use one. I don’t think you
need worry on that account, though. If for no other reason than
that Amy would evict me from the house if I tried it.’

She saw the warmth of his smile at the
mention of Amy. There was no doubting David’s fondness for his
mother, though there still remained the mystery of why he had left
her alone for so long.

‘Amy works terribly hard, doesn’t she?’ said
Sarah.

‘Yes, she’s always doing something. It’s not
like when Pa was alive, though. He took a lot of looking after once
he’d got sick.’

‘And a lot of putting up with, I imagine.’
She saw David shoot a rapid glance at her, then look away. ‘Don’t
you agree?’ Still no reply. ‘Oh, come now, Mr Stewart, it’s a
simple enough question. Your father was not a particularly easy man
to get along with, was he?’

David chewed at his lip, opened his mouth
and closed it again. Sarah waited, drumming her fingers lightly on
her lap. ‘There’s no good dragging up all that old stuff,’ David
blurted out at last. ‘It’d only upset Ma, anyway.’

‘But she’s not here at the moment,’ Sarah
pointed out in her most reasonable voice. ‘And
I
want to
know one or two things. Why did you go to Waihi, Mr Stewart?’

She saw him shift uncomfortably. It was
clear that he did not want to discuss the matter, but Sarah held
his gaze coolly. ‘Well?’ she pressed.

‘There’s not many jobs I know how to do,
’cept farming. I wanted to go somewhere I could make a bit of
money. I thought the mines would pay pretty well.’

‘Yes, yes, I don’t mean why you specifically
chose Waihi.
Why
did you leave the farm? Why did you leave
Amy alone with your father? How did you expect her to cope?’

‘Do you think I wanted to?’ David startled
her with his sudden fierceness. ‘Do you think I was happy, leaving
her with the old man?’

As if his outburst had alarmed him, too, he
fell silent for a moment, and lowered his voice when he went on. ‘I
tried to make her come with me, but she wouldn’t. She said there
wouldn’t be anywhere for her to stay in Waihi—she was right, too, I
couldn’t have had her staying in the bunkhouse. I was going to send
for her as soon as I could get enough money to rent a house or
something. I kept thinking I’d be able to soon. I never did,
though.’

‘And why were you there yourself, Mr
Stewart?’ Sarah asked, relentless. ‘Why did you leave the
farm?’

David’s reluctance to answer was almost
palpable. ‘Ma says you shouldn’t speak ill of the dead,’ he said
under his breath.

‘I’ve always thought that of all people the
dead were least likely to be harmed by harsh words,’ Sarah mused.
‘Why did you go away, Mr Stewart?’

David slumped in defeat. ‘I didn’t have much
choice. The old man told me to clear out.’

Sarah nodded. ‘I suppose that shouldn’t
surprise me, really. I saw enough of your father to know he was
capable of that. But you surely could have made some effort to get
on with him, couldn’t you? For Amy’s sake, at least.’ She
steadfastly ignored the weak flutterings of her conscience as it
reminded her that she had found herself incapable of tolerating
Charlie in polite silence for more than a few minutes. ‘Why did you
have to go squabbling with him?’

‘I did try and get on with him,’ David said
in a low voice. ‘I put up with him for years and years so’s not to
make it harder for Ma. I didn’t care what he said to me—I didn’t!’
he insisted, as if Sarah had contradicted him. ‘But I wasn’t going
to let him talk to Ma like that any more.’

‘Talk to her like what?’ Sarah prompted, her
interest stirred.

David made a noise of disgust; for a moment
Sarah thought he might be going to spit on the ground. ‘Dirty talk.
I wouldn’t repeat it in front of you.’ His forehead creased in a
frown that seemed to hold as much puzzlement as anger. ‘Awful,
awful things he used to say to her. I don’t know why. He used to
talk as if she was… well, never mind that. You wouldn’t want to
hear it.’

‘No, I wouldn’t. Though I rather think I can
guess some of it well enough.’

‘Maybe,’ David said doubtfully. ‘Anyway,
this last time I was fed up with him. He’d been more of an old
so-and-so than ever since Mal died, I was just about sick to death
of him. And then he started carrying on with his dirty talk to
Ma—it was the worst he’d ever been with it. I told him to shut up,
but he just kept going on and on. So I made him shut up. I knocked
him down.’

He heard Sarah’s sharp intake of breath. ‘Pa
wasn’t old and sick then like when you met him,’ he said quickly.
‘I wouldn’t have done it if he’d been like that.’

‘Oh, please don’t apologise. I think all the
better of you for it.’ And it was true. As Sarah pictured David’s
fists slamming into Charlie’s face, silencing the filthy words with
a crunch of bone on bone, it was as if they were her own fists
cramming Charlie’s filth back in on himself. ‘It probably wasn’t
particularly sensible, but one can’t always be sensible. Tell me—I
can see you’re not comfortable with the subject, but bear with me a
little longer—did he often talk to Amy like that?’

‘Yes,’ David said grimly. ‘As far back as I
can remember. He did more than just talk when I was little, too.’
He saw Sarah’s expression; she sensed that he had not meant to let
slip that particular information.

‘Do you mean,’ Sarah said in a tightly
controlled voice, ‘that he used violence against Amy?’

‘He used to thump her, yes. That was only
when I was little, though,’ David added quickly. ‘He stopped years
and years ago—I don’t know how Ma made him stop, but she did it
somehow. I’d never have left her with him if he’d still been
carrying on like that.’

‘I’m pleased to hear it.’ Sarah was aware of
the tremble in her voice. How could she have been so naive? she
berated herself. How could she not have guessed what Charlie had
been capable of?

‘And I told him he’d better not try it
again, too. The day I cleared out of here, I told him if I ever
heard he’d laid a hand on Ma I’d come back and I’d kill him.’

‘I see.’ Her response sounded hopelessly
inadequate in her own ears, but it was the best she could summon.
They both fell silent, David staring at the ground while Sarah
studied him.

‘Yes, I do think better of you,’ she said at
last. ‘And I think perhaps I understand things a little better now.
Thank you for that.’

David shrugged. ‘I don’t know. Ma doesn’t
like people bringing up that old stuff. And he got so sick and
everything… well, you couldn’t help but feel sorry for the old
beggar.’

‘I’ll take your word for that. It wasn’t
quite my experience. Mr Stewart… oh, that sounds ridiculous! It
makes me think of your father, too. May I call you Dave?’

‘I wish you would. It sounds like you’re
going to tell me off or something when you keep saying “Mr Stewart”
all the time.’

‘Does it? I hadn’t intended that. And I
won’t tell you off unless you give me good reason to. Dave, then.
Will you call me Sarah?’

‘All right,’ David agreed readily. ‘It’d
make you not seem like a teacher so much.’

‘Perhaps it would make it easier for us to
be… well, friends, I suppose. I think we should be friends, don’t
you?’

‘If you want.’ David looked somewhat puzzled
by her overture.

‘Yes, I do want to—for Amy’s sake, if
nothing else.’ Sarah smiled thoughtfully. ‘You and I have quite a
lot in common, you know.’

‘Do we?’

‘Yes, we do. Well, we’ve Amy in common,
anyway—I mean, we’re both fond of Amy. Perhaps I didn’t realise
before just how fond of her you are.’

‘Yes, I am.’ David’s attention seemed
suddenly absorbed by a roughness on one of his fingers; he picked
vigorously at it rather than meet Sarah’s eyes. She sensed the deep
feeling behind his words, for all their plainness.

‘And that fondness we share should be reason
enough for us to make an effort to get on. For Amy’s sake.’ She
paused, trying to guess the reaction she might get to her next
words. ‘I want to take Amy to Auckland with me.’

David’s head jerked upright. ‘Eh? What do
you want to do that for?’

‘Because I want to look after her. Because I
think it would make her happy. You don’t grudge her that, do
you?’

‘But…’ She saw David swallow with
difficulty. ‘You mean take her up there for good?’ His voice was
tight with emotion, and Sarah was struck by how young he suddenly
looked. For a moment she feared he might cry.

‘No, no, of course not—you surely don’t
think I’d be able to talk Amy into that, do you? No, I’m only
trying to persuade her into staying a few months.’ No need to tell
David just yet that she was thinking beyond a single visit to a
time when Amy might divide her year between the two of them. And
not necessarily on the basis of six months spent in each place;
nine months in Auckland and three on the farm Sarah considered
might be a reasonable balance. ‘I think Amy deserves a holiday.
Don’t you?’

‘I don’t know,’ David said, clearly taken
aback. ‘I suppose she does. She works hard, all right. Especially
all that time she was trying to run the place on her own.’

‘So a trip to Auckland would be just the
thing for her, wouldn’t it?’ Sarah went on briskly. ‘She wouldn’t
have to lift a finger in my house. And I could take her out and
about to all manner of interesting places. I’m sure she’d enjoy
herself immensely.’

‘It sounds pretty good. I think Ma would
like that.’

‘Yes. And I know she wants to come, she
admitted as much. So what a pity it is that she won’t.’

‘Won’t she? Why not?’

‘Can’t you guess? Because of you, of course.
Oh, don’t look so startled, you know Amy well enough. She won’t
come because she thinks she has to stay here to look after you.
That seems a little hard, doesn’t it?’

‘She hasn’t said anything.’

‘No, of course she hasn’t. She’d rather keep
quiet and do without her holiday than risk upsetting you.’ She
studied David, gauging his reaction. Mainly bewilderment, she
decided.

‘But I wouldn’t mind her going,’ he said,
shaking his head in confusion. ‘I wouldn’t make a fuss or anything.
I’d
like
her to have a holiday.’

Sarah snatched hold of the advantage offered
her. ‘Good. You can help me tell her she’s to come. She won’t try
arguing against both of us if we band together.
And
you can
tell me who should be roped in to look after you while Amy’s
away.’

‘I suppose I could do for myself.’

‘Have a little sense!’ Sarah snapped. ‘We’re
hardly going to persuade Amy that you’re fit to be left to your own
devices if you talk such nonsense.’

She had the satisfaction of seeing David sit
bolt upright, his eyes studying her nervously. Sarah let her face
relax into a smile. ‘Goodness me, I almost thought you were going
to hold your hand out for me to strap it. Now, come along, be
sensible. Would I be wrong in assuming that making a cup of tea is
about the limit of your culinary abilities?’

‘I can do a sandwich. I don’t suppose I’d be
much use at getting dinner on, though,’ he admitted.

‘No, I’d guessed as much. So, what shall we
tell Amy you’ll do about your meals?’

‘Well, next door’s closest,’ David said
after a moment’s consideration. ‘I could go over to Uncle John’s or
Uncle Harry’s, maybe. But Aunt Lizzie’s the best one for organising
things. I mean, even if I was to say I’d go to Uncle John’s, she’d
probably think of something else and tell me I was to do that
instead.’

‘Just as I thought,’ said Sarah. ‘Perhaps
I’d better pay your Aunt Lizzie a visit this afternoon. Then we’ll
have it all settled.’

David went back to his work. Sarah rested on
her elbows, enjoying the feel of the sun through her dress, and
watched him finish off covering the potatoes. A movement caught her
attention; she looked up towards the house, shading her eyes
against the light.

Yes, that was Amy approaching, taking quick
little steps across the paddock. As she grew nearer, Sarah could
see her anxious expression.

‘Amy’s worried I’ve been upsetting you,’ she
remarked. ‘Now, you’re not going to let me down, are you?’

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