Read A Second Chance Online

Authors: Shayne Parkinson

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

A Second Chance (8 page)

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Sarah gazed around the room with a satisfied
smile. ‘Yes, I’ve quite a good collection. Though I must warn you
that some of them are exceedingly dull legal texts and the like.
And I didn’t share Father’s interest in military history, so some
of his books tend never to leave their shelves.’ She ran her
fingers lightly over the spines of the books nearest her. ‘But most
of them are extremely precious to me. I hope you’ll enjoy them as
much as I do. Treat them as your own, Amy.’ Her smile broadened,
and she gave Amy a mischievous look. ‘Perhaps I should make you
stay with me until you’ve gone through the entire collection. That
would be one way of keeping you here.’

‘I don’t think I could read all these if I
lived to be ninety,’ Amy said, still awed. ‘I’d like to try,
though.’ She reached out a hand towards the nearest shelf, then let
it drop. ‘However will I know where to start?’

‘There’s an order to how they’re set out.
Novels are on these shelves, poetry’s there, and plays on the
top—there’s a stool, so even you should be able to reach them. The
rest are generally by subject. I’ll guide you through it, don’t
worry. I often just browse them at random till something catches my
eye, I suggest you try that approach, too.’

‘I’ll have a go,’ Amy said, eyes darting
around the shelves as she took in Sarah’s explanation.

‘Perhaps I’ll choose you one to start with.
But let’s leave it for the moment—I want to plan the next few days
with you.’

They sat down near a low table that Amy had
not noticed before. It held a collection of lead soldiers arranged
in a complex formation. Sarah followed her gaze; she leaned over to
pick up one of the soldiers and passed it to Amy.

‘An English officer from the battle of
Waterloo, I believe. Maurice apparently used to sit at this table
when he was small, playing with the soldiers while Father was
working. That was before I was born, of course. My turn came
later.’ Sarah smiled, her eyes staring into the invisible distance.
‘Father had a special chair by this desk, a nice, tall one so that
I could sit near him. I used to spend hours here, I think—Mother
suffered from migraines occasionally, and I’d always come to Father
when she had to take to her bed with them. He’d let me put my dolls
on the desk—I had my own corner of it where I’d dress and undress
them.’

‘He must have been very patient,’ Amy said,
moved by the description of the man who had shared his desk with a
little girl.

‘Yes, he was. I’ve photographs of him, see?
That’s Maurice with him in the earlier one.’

She fetched two photographs from the desk.
One was of a man with a boy of around five years old; the other
showed the same man, clearly many years later, sitting in an
armchair with Sarah standing beside him, her hand on his shoulder.
Sarah was wearing the same dress as in her portrait. The man’s hair
and moustache were white, but his eyes were surprisingly bright,
and, Amy thought, full of gentleness.

‘His nature shows in his face, don’t you
think?’ said Sarah. ‘Not that I knew it was anything out of the
ordinary. I just took it for granted that Father wanted me sitting
at his desk. I remember trying to use this once, though.’ She
gestured at the low table. ‘Father didn’t scold me, but he had an
odd look on his face when I put my doll there. Even at that age I
could tell he didn’t want me to disturb the soldiers. They reminded
him of Maurice, of course.’

‘They’re beautifully made,’ Amy said, noting
the delicate paintwork on the toy soldier’s uniform. ‘They look so
real. Even the horses look like they might gallop off any time.’
She turned the toy around to admire it from all sides. ‘Mal
would’ve loved them, especially the horses.’

‘Didn’t he have toy soldiers? I rather
thought all boys did.’

Amy shook her head. ‘No. My boys never had
any toys, really. Not proper ones from shops.’

She handed the soldier to Sarah, who
restored it carefully to its place.

‘Something of a waste, I suppose you might
say,’ Sarah mused, studying the toys. ‘Your Mal who would have
loved my soldiers but probably never dreamed such things existed,
and me with armies of them that hardly get touched except when the
maids dust them. But Father kept them in memory of Maurice, and I
keep them in memory of Father. That’s reason enough to treasure
them.’

She turned her attention back to Amy. ‘Well,
what shall we do, then? There are things Auckland offers that
Ruatane doesn’t.’ She smiled at her own understatement. ‘I want to
take you out, to something special. A concert, perhaps. Would you
like that?’

The sudden swell of excitement briefly
robbed Amy of breath. ‘Oh, yes!’ she said when she managed to find
words. ‘I’d love it.’

‘We’ll have our first outing this very week,
then—why, we could go out tonight if you wish.’ Sarah’s smile
broadened when she saw Amy’s eyes widen. ‘Well, why not? There’s
sure to be something on, this is Auckland, after all. Yes, tonight
it’s to be.’

She pulled the cord that summoned the maids.
Alice appeared, and was asked to fetch the newspaper, which she
returned with moments later. Sarah scanned the paper, then passed
it to Amy, pointing to the paragraphs that dealt with
entertainments.

‘We’ve a choice. Two plays, and a choir.
Which would you prefer?’

‘Oh, whatever you want, Sarah. I’m sure I’d
like anything you picked.’

‘No,’ Sarah said firmly. ‘The choice is up
to you.’

Amy did not protest; she already knew that
set expression of Sarah’s too well for that. She studied the
newspaper carefully, trying to decide which outing Sarah might
prefer, though she had known her own preference the moment she saw
the titles of the plays.

‘Would it be all right if we went to this
one?’ she asked, her finger marking her choice. ‘Only if you want
to—I’m sure I’d like any of them.’

‘What I want is for you to choose whatever
you’d like best, and for me to have the pleasure of taking you to
it. Yes, I’m sure this will be very pleasant,’ Sarah said, glancing
at Amy’s chosen outing. ‘I’ll send out for tickets. What made you
pick this one, dearest?’

‘It’s Shakespeare,’ Amy said, convinced that
that explained all. ‘I’ve wanted to see a Shakespeare play… oh, all
my life, I think.’

‘Well, tonight you shall have your wish.’
Sarah’s expression turned thoughtful. ‘Ah, what exactly were you
thinking of wearing?’ she asked delicately.

‘It’ll have to be my black dress, that’s my
only good one for outings.’ Seeing Sarah’s dubious expression, Amy
added quickly, ‘It’s looking much better than it did this morning,
Nellie made a lovely job of brushing it for me. It’s looking quite
smart now.’

‘But that’s a mourning dress,’ Sarah said,
her voice sounding carefully controlled. ‘Quite apart from any
other shortcomings it might have.’

‘Yes, Sarah,’ Amy said quietly. ‘You know
I’m in mourning.’

‘In Ruatane you might be. In Auckland
there’s no need to pretend.’

Amy closed her eyes for a moment, not
relishing the prospect of arguing with Sarah. ‘It’s not pretending,
it’s showing respect. I owe—no, I don’t owe it to Charlie, I want
to do it. It just seems the right thing to do.’

‘It’s dishonest,’ Sarah said, her face
hardening. ‘It’s pretending you’re sorry he’s dead.’

Amy shook her head. ‘No, it’s not. I don’t
go around crying or anything. I just dress respectfully. That’s not
so much to ask.’

‘But why? He’s dead, and no one’s sorry
about that. You of all people—you should be celebrating. After the
way he treated you, scarlet satin would be more appropriate than
black wool.’ Her eyes flashed as she spoke.

‘It was just the way he talked,’ Amy said,
taken aback by Sarah’s ferocity. ‘It didn’t mean anything.’

‘The way he talked? That would have been
enough on its own, wouldn’t it? But what about the rest of it, Amy?
What about the beatings?’

Amy was briefly startled into silence. ‘Who
told you that?’ she asked when speech returned.

‘Dave told me—well, I dragged it out of him,
I should say. It’s like drawing teeth, getting you or Dave to tell
me anything about that man. Just the bald statement that his father
used to… thump you, I think was the expression he used. Amy, it’s
not right for you to wear mourning for a man like that.’

Amy looked away from Sarah’s dark frown and
gazed around the room; at the toy soldiers, and at the desk where a
man had made space for a little girl’s dolls. No wonder that Sarah
could find no room in her heart to pity Charlie. ‘That was all a
long, long time ago, Sarah. I don’t even think about it. It does no
good, dragging up those old things.’

‘You can’t just forget something like that,’
Sarah protested. ‘It’s not possible.’

‘No, I haven’t forgotten. I just don’t think
about it. Charlie was sorry for it in the end,’ she added
softly.

That seemed to bring Sarah up sharply. ‘Was
he? It’s difficult to believe of the man.’

‘Yes, he was.’ Amy was surprised to find
tears pricking at her eyes. ‘He was very sorry. He told me he was,
the night he died.’ In his own awkward way he had told her;
clumsily, and not making an overt apology of it, but it had been an
expression of remorse none the less clear for that.

‘And so he jolly well should have been
sorry,’ Sarah said, but the force had gone out of her censure.
‘Perhaps he wouldn’t even have wanted you to wear mourning,’ she
tried half-heartedly.

‘Oh, I think he would have.’ Amy watched
Sarah, noting the firm set of her mouth and the slight movement of
her fingers on the arm of her chair. That meant Sarah was carefully
thinking the matter through, Amy knew; “mustering the facts”, as
Sarah put it.

‘You don’t wear mourning on the farm,’ Sarah
said after a few moments of this reflection. ‘Only when you go out.
Why is that?’

‘Well, I can’t wear my good black dress for
working, and I haven’t got any plain ones warm enough for winter. I
made a cotton one, and I wore that the first few months—I suppose I
could make one out of wool, but it seems a waste. Mourning’s to
show respect, and there’s no one around to see what I wear when I’m
on the farm—well, except Dave, and he knows how I feel about
respect.’

‘Exactly,’ Sarah pounced. ‘And in Auckland
there’s no one in the entire city who even knew the wretched man,
so no one to notice whether you’re in mourning or not. Except me,
and I, too, know only too well how obstinate you are about this
respect nonsense. So it’s just like being on the farm, isn’t it?
There’s absolutely no need for you to wear mourning. You do see
that, don’t you?

Amy smiled at Sarah’s expression, a mix of
settled conviction and anxiousness. Pleasing her seemed more
important than a gesture to a dead husband. ‘I expect you’re right,
Sarah. It doesn’t really matter what I wear up here, with not
knowing anyone. Except for church—I’ll still wear mourning to
church. I wouldn’t feel right otherwise.’

‘Thank Heaven for that,’ Sarah said with
exaggerated relief. ‘You really can be very stubborn. And I’ll let
you have your way regarding church.’ She smiled. ‘I do know how to
recognise an unwinnable argument.

‘But
not
out to the play,’ she added
firmly. ‘Your first outing definitely demands something more
cheerful than black wool. So what do you think you’ll wear?’

Amy’s heart sank; cold reality made a
nonsense of the whole discussion. ‘The trouble is, that black dress
is the only good one I’ve got. Well, except my blue silk, but I
think that’s a bit old, really.’

Sarah nodded thoughtfully, and stood up. ‘I
think we had better check your wardrobe.’

Amy followed her up the stairs. Sarah set a
pace Amy could not match, and when Amy went into the bedroom she
found Sarah standing before the open wardrobe, staring at its
scanty contents.

‘This is all?’ Sarah asked. ‘This is
everything you brought with you?’

‘Except for the underwear and things, that’s
in one of the drawers. Yes, that’s everything.’

Sarah shook her head, and turned to Amy.
‘You’ve only brought three dresses,’ she said, speaking slowly and
deliberately.

‘I know,’ Amy said, feeling that she had
unwittingly committed an offence against decency. ‘But I haven’t
really got any others—not ones that were good enough to bring,
anyway.’

‘I see. Yes, I suppose I should have thought
of that before. Well, I’d better see this blue silk dress, then. If
nothing else, it’s not mourning.’

Amy lifted the dress out of the wardrobe,
handling it with the care she felt the fine fabric deserved. ‘It’s
quite old,’ she said, trying to excuse the dress in advance. ‘But
it’s not worn out or anything.’ She held it up against herself,
flattening the bodice over her chest with one hand while with the
other she spread the skirt wide.

Sarah stared at the dress. ‘Goodness, this
must be almost as old as I am.’ She took her chin in her hand,
tilted her head to one side and smiled, clearly amused.

Something in Sarah’s eyes, the odd mixture
of affection and amusement, gave Amy a jolt. She found herself
unexpectedly and painfully reminded of Jimmy; the way he had gazed
in admiration when she had appeared before him in this dress for
the first time. His admiration had been unfeigned, certainly; but
when she called to mind his face it was the hint of amusement she
remembered most clearly. Had she ever been more to him than a
pleasant diversion in an otherwise boring summer?

But Sarah’s amusement was too thoroughly
suffused with kindness for her resemblance to her father to give
Amy more than a moment’s discomfort. ‘It’s a little bit older than
you,’ Amy said, and saw Sarah’s eyebrows lift in surprise. ‘I got
it before you were born.’ She stroked the dress reverently. ‘It was
my first silk dress—it’s the only dressmaker dress I’ve ever
had.’

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