Read A Second Chance Online

Authors: Shayne Parkinson

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

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On her first day at Amy’s, David came up to
the house within minutes of her arrival, attracted by the promise
of a morning tea.

Beth stood in the doorway to meet him. ‘Take
those boots off before you come in here,’ she said sternly.

‘I always take my boots off before I come
inside,’ David said, startled.

‘Well, I don’t want you forgetting,’ Beth
said, quite unrepentant.

She made a great show of setting the tea
things out nicely and making sure she gave David the largest cup
the kitchen held. They lingered over their tea and biscuits,
chatting about the happenings of the day and what they each
intended to do for the remainder of the morning, just as Beth had
seen her parents chat almost every day of her life.

When she judged it was time for her to get
on with her work, Beth shooed David unceremoniously from the
table.

‘You’d better get out from under my feet,’
she said, standing up to begin stacking their dishes. ‘I’ve got a
lot to do this morning.’

‘All right. I’ve got a fair bit to do
myself.’ David rose from his chair and started towards the
door.

‘Wait a minute!’ Beth said before he was
halfway there. ‘You have to kiss me goodbye first.’

‘Do I? Why?’

‘Well, you just do,’ Beth said, stating the
fact as one not to be questioned. ‘Pa always kisses Ma when he goes
outside. So you have to kiss me.’

‘I suppose I kiss Ma goodbye sometimes. When
I’m going to town or down to the factory, anyway.’

‘Come on, then.’ She tilted her face to
receive his kiss, which he placed very carefully and respectfully
on her mouth, somewhat awed by this new, unexpectedly
self-confident Beth.

‘All right, off you go, then.’ She spoiled
the effect with a sudden giggle.

‘What’s so funny?’ David asked.

‘Oh, I was just thinking about Ma and Pa
when they say goodbye.’ She giggled again at the mental picture of
her father giving her mother’s bottom a pat. ‘Pa does something
else sometimes, when he thinks none of us are watching.’

‘What does he do? Do I have to do it,
too?’

‘You’d better not,’ Beth said, trying to
appear stern. ‘And I’m not going to tell you what it is, either.’
She smiled at his look of confusion. ‘I might tell you another
day—if you promise not to tell Ma I said it. Kiss me again,’ she
ordered, enjoying the sense of power.

‘All right.’ David obliged, with perhaps a
little less reserve this time.

Beth stood in the doorway to watch him move
away. She went back into the kitchen and contemplated the pleasant
notion that it was completely in her power, limited only by the
contents of kitchen and safe, to decide what they would have for
lunch. This, she reflected, was going to be fun.

 

*

 

The boat did not leave Tauranga till well on
in the evening. Amy tried to will herself to sleep, wanting to be
as fresh as possible when she arrived in Auckland.

But sleep eluded her, and not just because a
swell off the coast of the Coromandel Peninsula sent her scrabbling
for the bucket thoughtfully placed near her bed by the stewardess.
Even when the sea grew calm again, she lay on the mattress staring
up towards the invisible ceiling of the cabin.

There were too many reminders. The smell of
the boat was the same; she had made it even more familiar now, by
adding the odour of her own vomit to the mix. The noises of the
engine, of sailors moving about on deck, of voices in other parts
of the boat, all seemed the same as on that other voyage.

Her hands slid down to rest on her belly,
smooth and flat beneath the flannel of her outer petticoat. Then it
had been hard and rounded, full of child. She had been violently
ill for much of the voyage, hidden away out of sight, shut below
decks even during the daytime to try and disguise her shameful
condition, with no relief from the stale smells of the engines, her
vomit, and the bodies of her fellow passengers.

The voyage had been bad enough, but it paled
in memory against what had come after. The journey had been made
for the sole purpose of being rid of her child.

Her fingers were digging into the flesh of
her belly, the pain throwing her memories into sharper relief. Amy
made herself uncurl her fingers and let her hands fall to her
sides. Her eyes ached from their futile staring into the darkness.
She closed them, and tried to make her body go limp.

As she lay in her berth, the sounds of the
boat faded; even the smells grew fainter. Now it seemed that she
was lying in another bed, on a hard mattress, looking about her at
cold, white walls. There was a cradle on the floor, creaking as it
rocked, but bare and empty. A faint sound came from just outside
the door. Amy was sure it was a baby crying.

She tried to sit up, but she seemed tethered
to the bed by a wide band of cloth that went across her breasts.
The only sound she could make was a muffled sob. The sobs grew
stronger until they seemed to rack her body, and then abruptly she
was awake and retching, and scrambling for the bucket.

When she had recovered enough to look around
the cabin, she saw that the darkness had lessened. Whatever sleep
she had snatched had done nothing to refresh her, but she had no
wish to drift back into that dream of an empty cradle.

She waited until the cabin grew light enough
for her to see the opposite wall, then she rose and dressed
herself, moving as quietly as she could. She retrieved her hat from
under the bed, slipped on her cloak and went out onto the deck.

The sun was up, but in the west the sky was
still pale. They were passing close to a large island. Amy tried
without success to recall its name. They must be close to Auckland
now, but all she felt was weariness and an aching sense of
loss.

She found a seat where she could be
unobserved, and pulled her cloak more closely around herself as she
felt the pinch of a chilly breeze. Islands slid past, teasing her
with tugs at her memory. She should know their names. Her father
had named them for her. But that was on her journey home. On the
voyage to Auckland she had had no names for the islands glimpsed
through the porthole of the cabin where she had been shut away.

Her stomach was aching, but there was
nothing left to bring up, just a grinding emptiness. She could see
the wharves of Auckland now, jutting into the harbour. A few more
minutes and some of the larger buildings were visible. There would
be cabs waiting at the wharves, eager to pick up their share of the
disembarking passengers. Susannah had hailed a cab, and it had
taken Amy to the boarding house. Amy was not sure that she knew how
to hail a cab. How would she get to the boarding house this
time?

No, that wasn’t right. She lifted the veil
of her hat to let the cold wind sting her face, trying to clear her
head. She would not need to hail a cab for herself. She was not
going back to that lonely room in the boarding house.

How could it be so sharp in her memory,
after so long? She could see the empty cradle, and the nurse
carrying it from the room. She could see the mark the cradle had
left on the floor. She let the veil drop again, to hide the redness
of her eyes from any prying gaze.

The jolt as the boat bumped against the
wharf took her by surprise; she had been too lost in her thoughts
to be aware of the final approach. The blurring of her eyes and the
black net of her veil made the shapes around her seem
insubstantial, and she was startled when some of them began to
move: her fellow passengers, eager to be off the boat.

She should be gathering her things and
getting ready to disembark. She rose and took a few steps towards
the ladies’ cabin, but there was such a crush now that she was
unsure whether she would be able to force her way against the tide
of people. A man shouldered past, muttered an apology and hurried
on his way. Amy found herself standing by the handrail. She backed
against it, trying to retreat further from the crowd, until she
felt the metal of the rail pressing into her spine.

Before her, people pushed and shoved against
each other. Behind her she sensed the city, its buildings brooding
over her. The crush began to subside, and she managed to turn
around without being pushed more than once or twice. The veil still
made it difficult to make out the details of what she saw. A tall,
straight figure stood at the head of the steps leading from the
wharf to the street, its concentration obviously directed at the
boat. A tall woman in a dark blue dress.

Amy pushed back her veil, and as if that one
small gesture had caught the observer’s attention, the woman’s eyes
were suddenly on her. Even from her distance, Amy could see the
smile that lit up the woman’s face, and the mouth shaping her
name.

Sarah swept onto the boat in a whirl of blue
silk, the rustling of her taffeta skirts audible above the voices
around her. A lively-looking boy of about twelve was close at her
heels. She made no visible attempt to push her way through, but
people seemed to stand back to let her pass. She reached Amy and
enfolded her in an embrace so strong that it was like being hugged
by David.

‘You’re here,’ Sarah said, almost breathless
with elation.

Amy rested against her, weak from the
buffeting of emotions, and too happy to squander energy on
inadequate words.

Sarah sent the boy to collect the baggage.
With her arm still encircling Amy, she led her towards the
gangplank, and in a shorter time than Amy would have thought
possible the boy had joined them on the wharf with her luggage
safely under his arms.

There was a carriage waiting, close to the
top of the steps. A man tipped his hat to Amy and helped her in.
Sarah got in beside her, while the luggage was stowed away in the
back. The boy scrambled up beside the driver, so like the man that
Amy was sure they must be father and son. Sarah took Amy’s hand in
both of hers and squeezed it, then glanced forward to the
coachman.

‘Home, Jenson,’ she called.

 

 

3

After what seemed only a few minutes, Amy
found herself stepping down from the carriage and standing before
Sarah’s house.

The building was two storeys high, with a
broad, curved entrance porch and a balcony above that. Used as she
was to the unpainted wood of the cottage, the white plaster seemed
almost dazzling to Amy. Large-paned windows patterned with lace
curtains softened the rigid lines of the house.

Their approach must have been heard by those
inside, for by the time Sarah led Amy up to the entrance the staff
had assembled below the front steps, ready to be introduced.

Sarah’s household staff consisted of a
cook-housekeeper (the wife of Mr Jenson), two housemaids and a
kitchen maid, with the outside work being taken care of by Mr
Jenson, who acted as gardener as well as coachman, assisted by his
son.

‘Mrs Stewart will be staying with me for
some months,’ Sarah told the staff when they had been presented.
‘And I’d like it understood that any instructions from Mrs Stewart
are to be treated as if they had come from myself.’

Amy was aware that she was being studied,
discreetly but carefully, and she sensed a deeper interest being
taken in her after these words. Sarah had mentioned having house
guests from time to time, but Amy suspected that the guests were
not usually accorded the status Sarah had just conferred on her.
She was grateful for the gesture, though it was difficult for her
to imagine herself giving orders to any of the staff.

One of the maids took charge of Amy’s
luggage, while Sarah ushered her into a large entrance hall, where
the other maid helped Amy and Sarah off with their cloaks. A
chandelier hung from the ceiling, a gorgeous thing of sparkling
crystal catching the light from the open front door. Amy had little
time to take in more details before Sarah led her to the foot of
the broad staircase that dominated the hall.

‘I’ll show you your room straight away,’ she
told Amy. ‘You’ll want to change, I expect. And you’ll need to
freshen up after that boat trip. Alice, some hot water to Mrs
Stewart’s room, please.’

‘The jug’s filled and ready on the wash
stand, Miss Sarah,’ the maid who had taken the cloaks said
promptly.

‘Good. That will be all for the moment.’

The staff dispersed to their various tasks,
and Sarah ushered Amy up the stairs and down a short passage to
where a door stood open.

Amy followed her into the bedroom, then
stood stock still, staring around open-mouthed. The cottage’s
parlour and David’s room together would not have filled this room.
An ornate brass bedstead stood against one wall, with a pretty
dressing table opposite it. There was a tiled washstand with
pink-embroidered towels and patterned china, and a wooden chair
with a carved back. Amy had never lived in a house with any sort of
wallpaper at all, let alone such beautiful paper as this room had,
intricately patterned with a design of birds and flowers. The
chaise longue
, something Amy had heard of but never before
seen, was upholstered in a fabric similar in pattern to the
wallpaper.

‘Sarah, you mustn’t give me your room!’ she
said when she had recovered her voice.

‘My room?’ Sarah looked startled, then she
laughed. ‘Don’t worry, Amy, this isn’t my bedroom. Mine’s a good
deal larger—yes, such a thing is possible, don’t look so doubtful.
I’ll show it to you later. No, dear, this room is all yours.’

She turned to the maid, who was unpacking
Amy’s meagre luggage and hanging the dresses in a wardrobe.
‘Nellie, you can finish Mrs Stewart’s things later, thank you.’

The maid bobbed a curtsy and left the room,
and Sarah turned her attention back to Amy.

‘Now, there are a few things here you won’t
be quite familiar with. The electric light, for one. Here, let me
show you.’ She demonstrated how pulling on a cord made the light
come on, while a second pull made it go off again. When Sarah told
Amy to try it for herself she stared in fascination at the light
that flicked on, off, on, off in obedience to a sharp tug, until
Sarah prised her fingers gently from the cord.

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