Read A Second Chance Online

Authors: Shayne Parkinson

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

A Second Chance (39 page)

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He looked startled, then annoyed. ‘May I ask
where you’ve heard such tales?’

‘That’s of no concern.’ Sarah knew that
correspondence relating to the transfer of Mr Hobbs’ account had
been sent to Taylor’s office; it did not surprise her that he
apparently remained ignorant of the matter. He probably considered
such mundane matters as the payment of invoices to be beneath his
notice. ‘What’s pertinent is that such behaviour is to cease at
once. Do I make myself understood?’

The smile had returned. ‘But my dear girl,
we
do
have a relationship! You can hardly deny that, given
what we are to each other.’

‘I most certainly can, and will, deny any
meaningful connection with you. Mr Taylor, I strongly advise you
not to attempt any deception of this sort again. If you do, the
consequences will be most unpleasant.’

She saw his smile harden. ‘And have you
thought about the possible consequences of any falling-out between
us, Sarah? Would you be quite happy with the details of your
background becoming public knowledge?’

‘Why ever should that concern me? I’m
fortunate enough to bear an honourable name that I attempt to be
worthy of. And I believe that if my “background”, as you put it,
became a subject for gossip, I would be considered an innocent
party in the matter. Unlike yourself.’

His expression hardened further. ‘Perhaps
you need to consider how others might be affected, my dear. Your
experience of the world has been rather narrow till now, but I can
assure you that in such matters society tends to judge a woman far
more harshly than a man. Think how this whole business might affect
Amy.’

Sarah felt herself give a start, and to her
annoyance she saw that he had noted it.

‘I imagine you might want to have her come
and stay with you again on some future occasion?’ he went on
smoothly. ‘Amy might find herself somewhat uncomfortable in
Auckland if her past became general knowledge. Especially if some
of the more interesting details of her behaviour were noised
abroad. I won’t sully your innocence with such things, but I rather
think it would attract a good deal of salacious talk.’

Sarah had thought she was angry with the man
before. Now, as she heard him threaten Amy, she felt as if she had
never in her life till this moment known what anger was. She could
feel her cheeks burning; the fact that she was sure he would take
it for embarrassment rather than the fury it was angered her all
the more. She made herself wait until her voice was under control
before she spoke; she would not allow him to hear any tremble in
it.

‘Mr Taylor, I could ruin you, financially
and socially. If you ever misappropriate my name again—and if you
ever attempt to harm Mrs Stewart, in even the slightest way—I will
have not the least hesitation in doing just that. Please do not
imagine that I am anything but serious in this.’

She rang the bell for the maid. ‘And now
I’ll ask you to leave my house. I don’t expect that we will meet
again, other than by chance.’

She could see little outward sign that her
warning had subdued his confidence. ‘But I expect we will, my
dear,’ he said, before the maid arrived to usher him out and leave
Sarah in blessed solitude.

 

*

 

It was to be a quiet Christmas at David’s
farm. Late in the morning Frank brought Lizzie over for a short
visit, leaving all the children except Benjy at home, but for the
rest of the day Amy, David and Beth had the house to
themselves.

With Richard’s permission, David had helped
Beth out to the parlour to lie on the couch, and Amy brought their
Christmas dinner through from the kitchen. Beth had little appetite
for the meal; ‘I don’t think there’s room for anything else in
here,’ she said, resting her hand on the mound of her belly. She
had brightened a little when her parents arrived, but soon lapsed
into the subdued state now common with her. Not long after lunch,
she asked to be helped back into bed.

 

*

 

At Frank’s house it was noisy and lively. As
well as his own children, Arthur’s household joined them for the
occasion. After lunch they overflowed the parlour and spilled out
onto the verandah. The children were forbidden to go further than
the garden gate, dressed as they were in their Sunday best.

Lizzie gathered most of her guests into the
parlour for the musical part of the afternoon, though Frank noticed
that his older sons, along with their male cousins, contrived to
stay out on the verandah where they could largely ignore the
music.

Rosie played first. Reluctant as he was to
acknowledge any flaws in his children, Frank had to accept that
Rosie showed no special gift for music. “Energetic” was the kindest
word anyone managed to find for her effort. Even Benjy seemed
unimpressed, wriggling in Lizzie’s lap and beginning to grizzle by
the time Rosie finished the thankfully short piece.

Lily’s daughter Emma was a good deal better.
She played two pieces, which were met with lively applause, then
helped Rosie and Kate pass round plates of biscuits. Benjy had
settled down again during Emma’s playing, and now sat contentedly
gnawing at a biscuit.

‘Emma’s good on the piano,’ Frank said to
Lily, who was sitting beside him. ‘She takes after you.’

Lily smiled. ‘Thank you, Frank, that’s very
kind of you. I think she does have something of a gift, and she’s
very good about practising whenever she gets the chance. Those were
simple pieces, though—I really can’t spend enough time teaching
Emma to be able to take her much further.’

‘Bring her as often as you like. You know
you’re welcome to come and use the piano any time.’

‘Oh, you’ve always made that clear. And I’m
very grateful to you and Lizzie. But…’ She cast a quick glance at
Arthur and Edie; Maudie was currently keeping them busy fussing
over Lucy. ‘I can’t leave Father and Mother alone, you see,’ Lily
said in a low voice. ‘Mother gets so forgetful now, I’m afraid
she’ll burn herself or leave something on the range. And before
Emma finished up at school, Father had a fall one day when I
happened to be outside and he tried carrying the tea things. Bill’s
very good, he insists on watching them himself at least once a week
so that Emma and I can come here together, but the rest of the time
either she or I need to be at home with them. I don’t mind,’ she
said, seeing Frank’s expression. ‘They’ve been so good to me over
the years, I don’t begrudge them the attention.’

It seemed a shame, Frank thought, that his
piano should sit idle most of the week, while Lily had to make do
with snatched opportunities to play.

Kate appeared at Lily’s side, and tugged at
her skirt. She was a quietly-spoken child, easily hidden in Rosie’s
shadow. ‘Can I play my song, Aunt Lily?’

‘When you’ve learned one, dear,’ Lily said,
smiling at the five-year-old. ‘I’m going to start teaching you
next year.’

‘But I know one already,’ Kate insisted. ‘I
learned it by myself.’

‘Did you really?’ Lily said, gently amused.
‘Well, we’d better hear it—if Papa says that’s all right,’ she
added, looking at Frank.

‘It’s the first I’ve heard about you playing
the piano, Kate,’ said Frank. ‘Let’s hear you, then.’

Kate clambered onto the piano stool, which
was rather too high for her. She screwed up her face in
concentration, then slowly but quite recognisably picked out the
tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” with her right hand.

Benjy had escaped from Lizzie’s lap and made
his way over to Frank, using various pieces of furniture and the
occasional human leg for support along the way. He balanced himself
against Frank’s chair while Kate played, listening with interest.
Frank gathered the little boy onto his own lap, and Benjy nestled
in comfortably.

When Kate finished, there was a
good-humoured burst of clapping. Benjy clapped his own chubby
little hands and sang the last few notes, raising a laugh from his
audience.

‘Did you learn that all by yourself, Kate?’
Lily asked.

Kate nodded solemnly. ‘I learned it in my
head. Then I tried and tried and tried it till it was right.’

‘Why, Lizzie,’ Lily said, still amused, ‘I
do believe your two little ones are the most musical of them all.
Kate’s obviously got an ear for music, and Benjy appreciates it as
well. Perhaps I’d better start teaching them both!’

Benjy recognised his name, and knew he was
being talked of. He giggled delightedly, and sang a few more
notes.

‘I never thought about getting any of the
boys to learn piano,’ Lizzie said thoughtfully. ‘I don’t think the
rest of them would’ve been any good at it. I expect Benjy would be,
though.’

‘Well, let’s wait till he’s a bit
older—perhaps when he starts school,’ Lily said, her tone
suggesting that she was taking the idea seriously, though Frank
caught the twinkle in her eye.

With the children having performed, Lily at
last allowed herself to take a seat at the piano. She started with
a few familiar Christmas songs, playing them from memory, then
arranged some sheet music on the stand. Frank was seated close
enough to have a clear view of her face, and he could see from her
expression that this was a piece she had been looking forward to
playing.

Lily had barely finished setting out the
music when Bill came to her side.

‘I think we’re going to have to take Pa
home,’ he said, keeping his voice low so that there was no risk of
Arthur’s hearing him. ‘His leg’s playing up.’

Frank looked around and saw Emma hovering
near Arthur, attempting to adjust the cushions on his footstool.
Arthur was insisting there was no need for anyone to be fussing
over him, but his expression made it clear that he was in some
discomfort.

Lily at once began tidying away her music.
‘Of course. I’ll be ready in just a moment.’

‘Sorry, love,’ said Bill. ‘You didn’t get
the chance to play any of your fancy stuff.’

‘Oh, I could do with practising that one a
little more before it’s fit for public performance,’ Lily said,
determinedly bright. ‘Don’t worry, Bill. It’s high time we left,
anyway—Mother and Father will be getting sleepy before long, they
often have a doze around now.’ She closed the lid of the piano and
allowed her hand to rest on it for a moment; Bill’s eyes followed
the gesture.

Lily sent Emma out to find her brothers and
tell them to bring the buggy around. Arthur deigned to allow Bill
to help him out of his chair and pass him his walking stick, and
Frank’s family saw the Leiths out to the gate.

‘Tell Beth we were sorry not to be able to
see her today,’ Lily said as Bill helped her up into the buggy. ‘I
thought we might call in on her, but we’d better get straight home.
How’s she keeping?’ she asked, too quietly for the children to
hear.

‘She has her ups and downs,’ said Lizzie.
‘She wouldn’t be up to seeing you all at once, anyway.’

‘Poor dear,’ said Lily. ‘She’ll be so glad
when it’s all over.’

‘We all will be,’ Lizzie said; Frank agreed
whole-heartedly.

 

*

 

At Jimmy’s club, the food was excellent and
the company for the most part congenial. He often found it
preferable to his own home as a place to pass the evening, though
it had to be admitted it was not an inexpensive choice. But
Charlotte had been indulging in one of her weepy moods lately, when
she took to fretting over how far she was from her father and
brothers back in Melbourne. There was a time when such moods had
usually included laments over her childlessness, but that seemed to
have ceased over the last few months, for some reason.

He studied the brandy glass in his hand, and
idly considered what he might do with the rest of the evening. Luck
had not been with him at the card tables earlier; nothing he
considered serious, but perhaps it would be better not to seek
expensive female entertainment tonight.

The deep armchairs were comfortable, and the
brandy had given him a pleasant feeling of languor. Perhaps he
would spend another hour or two here, then go home. With luck,
Charlotte would have gone to bed by then, and he would not have to
hear her complaints.

‘Ah, Taylor, there you are,’ came a hearty
voice. Jimmy looked up to see the portly figure of the club’s
manager, Mr Ballard, standing over him. ‘Can we have a word in my
office, if you have a moment?’

Jimmy swallowed the last mouthful of brandy
and hauled himself upright. The room gave a disconcerting tilt as
he did so; he reached out and grabbed at the back of the armchair,
hoping Ballard had not noticed. There had been a particularly fine
claret served with dinner that evening; he had perhaps had a little
more of it than was his wont, especially as he had enjoyed one or
two glasses of port at the card tables afterwards. He found himself
having to watch his footing as he followed in Mr Ballard’s wake,
and briefly considered whether it might not have been wiser to have
stopped at one brandy once he had settled in to the lounge.

Still, there was no use worrying about that
now. He followed Ballard into a small but well-furnished room, and
hoped the man would not be too tedious over whatever it was he
wanted to ramble on about.

Mr Ballard closed the door behind them, sat
at a desk and indicated the chair nearest it. ‘I’ve just been going
over the accounts.’ A large book lay open on the desk; he patted it
with one pudgy hand. ‘You seem to have overlooked settling up for a
while, Taylor. I know these things can slip one’s mind,’ he said,
smiling benevolently. ‘But when they start to mount up, it’s best
to put matters back in order.’

‘Oh, certainly,’ Jimmy said, making an
effort not to show his irritation. The man had dragged him from a
comfortable chair for this nonsense. ‘Yes, I’ll look into it when I
get home. Must have mislaid the account, eh?’

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