Read A Second Chance Online

Authors: Shayne Parkinson

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

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‘It was made in the shape of an “A”. A for
Amy. It was gold, too, it must’ve been quite valuable. I thought it
was the most wonderful thing anyone had ever given me.’ And she had
worn it every day, hidden under her dress as it hung on its chain
between her breasts. She had thought it was a sign of his love.

‘I didn’t want it… afterwards. It didn’t
feel like it belonged to me any more. So I gave it to the baby. I
asked the woman who took the baby if she’d look after the brooch
for me, and give it to Ann’s…’
New mother
. ‘To the people
who were going to have Ann. A for Amy and A for Ann, too. I wanted
to give her something, and that was the best thing I had. And it
seemed like it belonged to her. I didn’t know if they’d even let
Ann have the brooch, but I hoped they would.’

She smiled at Frank and Lizzie. ‘And they
did let her have it. They told her it had been mine, and that I’d
given it to her. She’s still got it—she showed it to me. That’s how
I know she’s my little girl.’

There was a long silence when she had
finished speaking. Amy watched their faces as Frank and Lizzie
weighed up what she had told them. It was Frank who spoke
first.

‘Well, it sounds true enough to me. Don’t
you reckon, Lizzie?’

‘It’s… yes, I suppose it does,’ Lizzie said,
still looking mildly stunned. ‘Yes, it must be.’

Amy laughed aloud at their serious
expressions. ‘Look at you two! You’d think I’d told you there was
going to be a war or something. Aren’t you pleased for me?’

They both appeared to give the matter solemn
consideration. ‘It’s a lot to take in, all at once,’ Frank said.
‘But… well, it’s about time you had things come right for you, Amy.
Yes, we’re pleased all right. Aren’t we, Lizzie?’

‘I’ll say it’s a lot to take in,’ Lizzie
said. ‘I suppose it’s like getting someone new in the family. It’ll
take me a while to get used to the idea. I used to think she was a
bit odd,’ she said, with the air of one being scrupulously honest.
‘She’s got some funny ways about her. But she was that sensible
about letting me know I should get Dave back home for you. I said
then that the girl had a good head on her shoulders. It must’ve
been being brought up by those people in Auckland that made her a
bit funny.’

Lizzie nodded sagely, pleased to have found
so clear a reason for Sarah’s supposed strange ways. ‘Yes, that’ll
be it. But there’s plenty of you in her too, Amy. That’s reason
enough to be pleased.’

She enfolded Amy in a hug, careful not to
crush Benjy in the process, and Frank leaned across to put an arm
around Amy’s shoulders. The three of them sat locked in a shared
embrace, Amy basking in the warmth of their affection.

Lizzie detached herself first, and Frank
returned to his chair. ‘Now, about this going to Auckland,’ Lizzie
said. ‘It’s a different story, with her being family and all. It’s
only natural you want to go up there and see her. You’d better get
on with it before the weather gets bad, I know Frank’s said the
boat can be awful in the rough weather.’

‘I’d like to go soon,’ Amy said. ‘I promised
Sarah I’d go as soon as I’d got Charlie’s headstone organised, and
it’s meant to come by the end of the month. But there’s Dave to see
to, that’s the only thing.’

Now Lizzie was on ground she felt firmly in
command of. ‘Don’t you worry about that—I’ll see to all that
business. Beth’ll be the best one to look after him, I think. Now,
let’s see, getting his meals on, that’ll be the main thing.’

‘Are you sure you can spare Beth?’ Frank
said doubtfully. ‘I want you to have your trip and all, Amy, I just
don’t want Lizzie to go wearing herself out, trying to do too
much.’

‘Oh, don’t start fussing,’ said Lizzie.
‘Don’t take any notice of him, Amy, you know what he’s like for
worrying over me. I’ll still have Maisie, and Beth won’t be up
there all the time. Anyway, it’d do no harm for me to take more
notice of what those girls get up to with the work, I’ve been
leaving them to their own devices a bit much since Benjy came
along.

‘Beth can go up there of a morning, after
we’ve got the breakfast things sorted out here,’ she went on.
‘That’ll give her plenty of time to tidy things up at your place
before she gets Dave’s lunch on. She might as well have her lunch
up there with him. Then she can do a few more jobs and get his
dinner on before she comes home, and Dave’ll be able to dish it up
for himself. I’ll tell Beth to make things she can just leave on
the range for him, stews and suchlike. She can do roasts and chops
for their lunch. Yes, that’ll be no bother at all.’

‘It’s very good of you,’ said Amy. ‘I
couldn’t really go otherwise.’

‘Well, we’re family, aren’t we?’ Lizzie
said. ‘Now, you just get on with thinking about your trip. We’ll
see that Dave’s well looked after while you’re away. There’s no
need for you to worry about anything.’

 

*

 

David carried Amy’s luggage, which consisted
of a case borrowed from Frank and a hat box that Maudie had lent
her, onto the
Waiotahi
and stowed it in the ladies’
cabin.

Packing had not taken Amy long. She was
wearing her only warm mourning dress, covered by a blue cloak that
was dark enough to do service as mourning, and the other clothes
that had seemed worth bringing had not filled the case.

The one garment she owned that she
considered truly elegant was more than twenty years old; she had
worn it as a wedding dress, but before that she had worn it the
night she had lain under the stars with Jimmy. It was old, and
suffused with painful memories, but the fabric was of such quality
and she had looked after the dress so carefully that the years
rested lightly on it. She could not wear the blue silk as mourning,
but it would at least allow her to be well-dressed within Sarah’s
house if the need arose. For outings beyond the house, her warm
black dress would have to do. A plain work dress and the small
amount of underwear she possessed made up the remaining contents of
the case.

She and David rejoined the little group
assembled on the wharf to see her off. John had appeared
unexpectedly, arriving in his usual quiet, unobtrusive way. He had
muttered vaguely about having to be in town that morning anyway,
but Amy suspected that he had come in specially to farewell
her.

Frank and Lizzie were there, Lizzie
clutching Benjy to her and casting an occasional suspicious glance
at the sailors as they finished loading goods onto the
Waiotahi
, as if she half suspected they might steal the baby
if she did not watch him closely. But this claim on her attention
did not hinder her from giving Amy the benefit of her advice.

‘Now, you be sure and take care of yourself
on that boat. Don’t go standing too near the edge if it’s rough.
And watch those fellows,’ she added in a lower voice, plainly still
none too impressed by the sailors. ‘Oh, and make sure you don’t get
off at Tauranga by mistake. Frank, how will she know it’s Tauranga
and not Auckland?’

‘She’ll know. Anyway, you’ve got to change
boats at Tauranga. Someone will point out the right boat to you,
Amy, don’t worry.’

‘I’m not a bit worried,’ Amy assured him.
And it was true; she faced the voyage with bright anticipation.
‘Don’t worry about me, Lizzie, I won’t get lost.’

‘Well, you just be careful who you talk to,’
Lizzie said, clearly unconvinced. ‘Especially once you get to
Auckland. All those people there,’ she said, shaking her head
disapprovingly. ‘There’ll be thieves and goodness knows what sort
of rogues, keep an eye on your things. The roads, too,’ she said,
seizing on a fresh idea. ‘They’ll be busy as anything—didn’t you
say the roads get busy there, Frank?’

‘There’s a lot more carts and buggies and
things than we’re used to in Ruatane,’ Frank agreed.

‘You see?’ said Lizzie. ‘So watch yourself
crossing the roads. Oh, and have you got Miss Millish’s address
written down? You never know, if you get lost when you’re up there
and have to ask someone the way, they mightn’t even know where she
lives with Auckland being such a big place.’

‘I know the address by heart.’

‘You should write it down anyway. It’d be a
terrible place to get lost in.’

Amy suspected that, at least for the moment,
Lizzie had completely forgotten that Amy had made one other trip to
Auckland, long ago. Though there had been little enough chance for
her to get lost during that stay, confined as she had been to first
boarding house then nursing home.

‘You stick close to Miss Millish, anyway,’
said Lizzie. ‘She’ll see you don’t get lost.’

‘Oh, I’ll stick close to her, all right,’
Amy said, and smiled. That, she knew, would be an easy promise to
keep.

The sailors seemed to be making their final
preparations; it would not be long before the boat sailed. Amy was
thinking of boarding when her younger brother appeared.

‘Tommy!’ she said in delight, taking hold of
his arm and standing on tiptoe to plant a kiss on his cheek. ‘I
didn’t expect to see you here!’

‘I sneaked off for a minute.’ Seeing her
look of alarm, Thomas grinned and squeezed her arm. ‘I didn’t
really. Mr Callaghan said it was all right for me to come and see
you off. I thought I’d better wait till it got a bit quiet, though,
then everyone seemed to come into the bank at once. I thought I
might have missed you.’

‘You nearly did,’ Amy said, glancing at the
boat. ‘I’m glad you came, though. I was just thinking about you.’
Thinking about that other trip to Auckland, with all its dark
memories. Thomas had been with her on that voyage, though Amy was
unsure whether he remembered it. As a little boy of two years old
he had been more like her own child than a brother, and he had
cried miserably when Amy was left at the boarding house, while
Thomas and his baby brother were swept off by their mother to stay
with her parents. Looking back, Amy found it hard to believe that
she had actually been upset at parting from Susannah. Only the fear
of being left alone among strangers could have roused such a
feeling in her.

‘Mother said she’d try and come along too,
to see you off,’ Thomas said.

Amy gave a guilty start at having Susannah
mentioned aloud when she had just been recalling unpleasant
memories of her stepmother.

‘Oh, there’s no need for her to put herself
out.’ Amy wished her lack of any desire to see Susannah did not
sound out quite so clearly.

‘Well, she did say she felt as if one of her
headaches might be coming on. You know how she gets those. But she
sent her best wishes.’

‘Did she really, Tommy?’

‘Yes, she did.’

Amy studied the firm set of his expression
and decided that, surprising though it was, it must be true.
Susannah wished her well. Perhaps she had been thinking of that
other trip, too. Amy stored away the unexpected well-wishing as a
good omen for the journey.

Just as Lizzie had begun interrogating Amy
as to whether she had enough clean handkerchiefs with her, the
Waiotahi
’s captain approached them.

‘Excuse me, ma’am, we’ll be sailing
shortly,’ he told Amy. ‘If you wouldn’t mind coming aboard, I’d be
most obliged.’ He tipped his hat to Amy and Lizzie and went back to
the boat.

Amy found herself enfolded in a hug and
kissed by each of her well-wishers in turn. David had hung back
till last, and he hugged her more tightly than any of the others,
almost squeezing the breath out of her. Now, when the time for
reconsidering was long past, for a brief, painful moment Amy
wondered if she was doing right to leave him alone.

‘Take care, Davie. I hope you’ll be all
right on your own.’

‘Of course I will, Ma. Don’t you go
worrying—you just get on with having a good time.’

‘Don’t worry about Dave, he’ll be quite all
right,’ Lizzie put in. ‘Beth and I will see to that.’

Amy held on to David’s arm, only releasing
him when she reached the gangplank. She stood on the deck,
clutching the handrail with one hand and waving as the boat slipped
away from the wharf. Lizzie shook her head at her and gestured that
she should move back from the edge of the deck, but Amy pretended
not to understand.

When her arm grew tired she gave up waving,
but made no move to leave her place. She stared back at the wharf
as it shrank in on itself. Even when it was no more than a
shapeless grey smudge in the distance she still imagined she could
make out the figures standing there.

The boat crossed the bar, mercifully smooth
this morning. A tongue of land cut the wharf off from Amy’s view,
and there was no longer any use peering back towards Ruatane.

She carefully picked her way around to the
starboard side, her steps made clumsy by the unfamiliar motion of
the boat. The ocean opened out before her, an unruffled grey-blue,
the distant outline of White Island diamond-sharp in the morning
light. Amy shaded her eyes and stared out towards the horizon and
the island floating on it, and blinked against the brightness. In
the east, the sun was shining.

 

*

 

Beth had learned early in life that the
noblest creature in creation was a mother; more specifically, her
own one. As she had grown up, her imagination had broadened until
she could conceive of a person of more consequence than her mother,
but she had certainly never met one.

So it was not surprising that she should
have approached the task of keeping house for David with
enthusiasm. This was an opportunity, albeit temporary, to run a
house in her own way and to her own standards. Lizzie had said that
she would check up on her daughter’s work occasionally, but Beth
knew that, to all intents and purposes, for the first time in her
life she would be in charge.

Her mother, of course, was her model. Beth
took it for granted that no one knew how to run a household as well
as Lizzie did; it was a notion she had drunk in at her mother’s
breast. And if she was to play the role of a truly excellent
housewife, she was determined that David would also play his part
correctly.

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