Read A Second Chance Online

Authors: Shayne Parkinson

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

A Second Chance (9 page)

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‘It’s… ahh… well, yes,’ Sarah said
uncertainly. ‘Yes, I’m sure it was very nice in its day.’ Her
attention shifted to the top shelf of the wardrobe. ‘And what do
you have in there?’ she asked, pointing to the hat box.

Amy replaced the dress in the wardrobe and
lifted down the box she had borrowed from Maudie. She would not
have dared bring the hat at all without the protection the box gave
it. ‘This is my special hat.’ She held her breath as she opened the
box and lifted the hat out, relieved to see that it had survived
the journey unscathed. She held it out for Sarah’s inspection, the
blue feather bobbing jauntily at the movement. ‘Isn’t it
lovely?’

Sarah gazed at the hat in silence. Her
shoulders gave a small, jerking movement, and Amy realised that she
was trying hard not to laugh. ‘It’s…’ Sarah stopped, gave a little
cough to hide the awkwardness, then let herself smile. ‘Yes, I
suppose it is lovely, in its way. I’m sure it was the talk of
Ruatane once. It’s surely contemporary with the dress?’

Amy stroked her precious hat. ‘It’s the same
age you are. Just the same age.’

Sarah looked at her quizzically. ‘Now, why
does that sound so momentous?’ she murmured, more to herself than
to Amy. ‘May I?’ she asked, reaching out for the hat.

She handled it with almost as much care as
Amy had, turning it round in her hands and studying it. ‘You’ve a
story in you, haven’t you?’ she said, addressing the hat. She
turned her attention back to Amy. ‘But it’s you who’ll have to tell
it to me, Amy.’

Could it really have been twenty-one years
ago? Amy remembered it so clearly: the dragging weakness and the
dull ache of loss that had made her dissolve into tears at the
sight of another woman’s baby in the park; the wonderful treasure
trove of a store that her father had taken her into, the beautiful
hat that seemed made for a fairy-tale princess, and her father’s
insistence on buying it for her.

‘Amy?’ Sarah’s voice broke into her reverie.
‘Are you all right, dear? Don’t talk about it if you don’t want
to.’

‘No, I don’t mind. I was just remembering
old things.’ Amy managed a smile with difficulty. ‘Pa bought me
that hat. It was just after you were born. He came to fetch me—he
came up from Ruatane on one of the sailing boats, he had to sleep
down in the hold with the cargo, I think. And he took me home on
the steamer that same day. Poor Pa, he must have been worn
out.’

‘It’s not a journey I’d relish,’ Sarah
remarked.

‘He didn’t complain or anything. He was so
kind to me. That’s why he bought me the hat—he thought it would
cheer me up. I was… upset. They’d taken you away. I woke up and you
weren’t there any more. Then the nurse took the cradle away.’ Her
shoulders heaved with the effort of holding back a sob. ‘I wanted
to go home. Pa came all that way to fetch me. We saw that lovely
hat in Milne and Choyce—it cost an awful lot of money, but Pa
bought it for me. It was to make up for not having you any more. He
thought it would make me happy, you see. Pa only wanted me to be
happy. That’s all he wanted.’

Sarah put the hat down on Amy’s dressing
table, slipped an arm around her and drew her close. ‘I see,’ she
said softly. ‘Well, I think I do, anyway. Sit down, sweetheart,
you’ve overreached yourself today.’ She guided Amy to the bed and
they sat down on its edge, Sarah still keeping one arm firmly
around her.

‘I know what I’ll do with you tomorrow, at
any rate,’ Sarah said, her voice determinedly light. ‘I’m going to
take you to my dressmaker—she has a milliner working for her, too,
we’ll need the services of both. I should have thought of it before
you came, but never mind. Mrs Stevenson can produce dresses
remarkably quickly when there’s a need. But no plays tonight, I
don’t think. Your wardrobe’s not quite up to it.’

‘Oh. I see.’ Amy bit her lip to hold back
treacherous tears, annoyed at the childishness of her reaction, but
feeling too weak to fight it. ‘Yes, you’re quite right, Sarah.’

She tried to stare fixedly at the floor, but
Sarah put a finger under her chin and lifted it to look into her
face.

Sarah sighed, and released her. ‘Well,
perhaps we could. Yes, I suppose the black dress will do—there
won’t be many people there in any case, with it being so early in
the week. Very well, Amy, we’ll go out tonight.’ She smiled at the
look on Amy’s face. ‘You’re easily pleased, aren’t you?

‘But first thing tomorrow, we’re going to
the dressmaker,’ Sarah announced. ‘It’s a good thing I made sure I
wouldn’t be caught up in meetings the first few days you’re here,
we’ll need the time to set your wardrobe in order. Goodness me,
Amy, my maids on their days off dress better than you’re able to,
and not just when I give them my cast-offs. However, we’ll see to
all that tomorrow. Tonight you’re to enjoy yourself.’

 

*

 

And enjoy herself she did, though the word
was too feeble for the delight Amy felt at her first ever visit to
the theatre. She sat perched on the edge of her seat through most
of the performance, only vaguely aware of the beautifully dressed
people all around her.
It’s like a dream
, she caught herself
thinking. But whenever the play released its hold on her attention
for a moment, the warmth of Sarah’s hand resting lightly on her arm
made the evening more full of joy than any dream could be.

She was still bursting with the excitement
of it all when they were back at Sarah’s house. ‘And the actors—it
was as if they really were those people, wasn’t it? I mean, they
must be ordinary people in real life—just people like you’d see on
the street—but you’d really believe they were dukes and soldiers
and things. They put such
feeling
into it. “Good night, good
night! Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say good night
till it be morrow.” ’

Sarah smiled indulgently. ‘Yes, it was a
good performance,’ she allowed. ‘Don’t let your milk get cold.’

Amy looked at the mug in front of her in
mild surprise; she had forgotten its existence for the moment. She
took a sip, and cradled the mug in her hands. ‘It’s still quite
warm,’ she assured Sarah. ‘I’ve nearly finished it, anyway.’

They were sitting in Sarah’s room; as she
had said, it was even larger than the one she had given Amy. The
fire was burning low, but the room was cosy. They sat in two deep
armchairs within the wide bay window that, in daylight, gave a view
over the surrounding houses and a glimpse of the park, but the
room’s blue velvet drapes were closed against the night chill. The
bed was an elaborate brass affair, with a quilted coverlet and a
lace bedspread over that. A small shelf on a table beside the bed
held a few books, Sarah’s current favourites.

‘Speaking of saying goodnight, it’s really
quite late,’ Sarah said, glancing at a clock on her mantel. ‘Do you
feel ready for bed once you’ve finished that milk? Take one of
those books with you, if you like.’

‘I’m not very sleepy.’ Amy took a last
mouthful of warm milk and placed the empty mug on a dainty table at
her side. ‘Weren’t all the lights at the theatre pretty? And so
bright! That electric light’s just wonderful.’

‘You’ll be sleepy soon enough, after the day
you’ve had. I know I always was after going back and forth to
Ruatane. Let me choose you something nice and soothing.’

Sarah went over to the books, and came back
with a slim volume bound in blue leather. ‘Here you are. Not as
soothing as all that, perhaps—and a little improper in places, I
suspect—but truly beautiful language.’ She opened the book at a
marked place and read aloud:

 

‘ “
Twice or thrice had I
loved thee,

Before I knew thy face or name.

So in a voice, so in a shapeless flame,

Angels affect us oft, and worshipped
be.”
 

 

She closed the book and smiled. ‘Let John
Donne sing you to sleep, but dream of me.’ She placed the book on
Amy’s lap. ‘Now, come along to bed.’

Amy followed her. When she tried to start
talking about the play again, Sarah put a finger on Amy’s lips to
silence her.

‘Not another word till tomorrow morning.
It’s after eleven o’clock.’

The bed looked inviting, and the room was
warmed by its own fireplace. Sarah sat Amy down in front of the
dressing table and once again removed the pins from her hair.

‘You really should go straight to bed,’
Sarah said when she had finished. ‘I intend to. Don’t read for too
long, either. Good night, dearest.’

She planted a soft kiss on Amy’s cheek, and
rose to leave. In the doorway she paused and turned back. ‘Thank
you for coming to me, Amy,’ she said softly, then pulled the door
closed after her.

Amy was undressed and in bed within minutes.
She read a few pages of the poems, but soon a pleasant drowsiness
crept over her limbs. She got up to turn off the light, enjoying
the novelty of having electricity at her command, then slipped
between those delightfully soft sheets.

The room did not have the pitch blackness of
nights on the farm; a faint glimmer from the street lights crept
through the drapes, and the damped-down fire still gave out a dim
glow. She had thought the light might keep her awake, but it only
made the room seem more warm and comforting. Amy closed her eyes
and fell into a sleep that held only comforting dreams.

 

 

4

Sarah’s dressmaker, Mrs Stevenson, was a
tall, grey-haired woman in her late fifties, with bright eyes and a
pleasant smile. When an assistant ushered Amy and Sarah into a
comfortable sitting room, Mrs Stevenson greeted Sarah with an
enthusiasm that suggested Sarah was one of her more valued
customers.

The young girl assistant was despatched to
fetch morning tea, and Sarah explained that it was Amy rather than
herself who was to be outfitted.

‘Mrs Stewart was unable to bring a great
deal of luggage on the boat,’ she said. ‘And as she’ll be staying
in Auckland for some months, she’ll need a range of outfits.’

‘Just a few things,’ Amy put in timidly, but
the other two women ignored her for the moment.

‘So we’ll need to look at day wear as well
as evening, of course,’ Mrs Stevenson said, clearly delighted at
the thought of producing a complete wardrobe of garments. ‘Tea
gowns as well as costumes for visiting?’

‘Oh, certainly,’ Sarah agreed. ‘One or two
cloaks, as well.’

Mrs Stevenson opened a notebook and began
writing. ‘Two evening outfits, would you say?’

‘Three,’ Sarah said decisively. Amy gave a
gasp, and was about to protest, but Sarah raised a finger to
silence her. ‘Let me,’ she said, smiling at Amy’s stunned
expression.

‘Three evening outfits,’ Mrs Stevenson
repeated as she wrote in her notebook. ‘Tea gowns?’

‘Two should be enough for now,’ Sarah said.
‘And two walking costumes. Two for afternoon visits, as well. We’ll
talk about hats when we’ve the dresses organised. Oh, and one other
thing,’ she added, giving Amy a brief, sidelong glance. ‘Two sets
of lingerie.’

Amy felt herself redden, and wondered if
Sarah had inspected the contents of her underwear drawer. Her
second-best chemise had a small patch, while her spare corset cover
was frayed around the neckline.

She was rescued from her embarrassment by
the distraction of the girl’s returning with tea and a plate of
dainty biscuits on a tray.

Mrs Stevenson produced a tape measure from
her pocket and placed it on a small table by her chair. ‘I’ll take
down your measurements when we’ve had some refreshments. Then we’ll
look at fabrics, so you can decide what you might prefer. Ah, I
must just ask,’ she said delicately, eyeing Amy’s black dress, ‘are
you in mourning, Mrs Stewart? It makes a difference to what fabrics
I should show you, of course.’

Sarah cut in smoothly before Amy had a
chance to answer. ‘Mrs Stewart was in mourning earlier in the
year—light mourning, that is. She’s in the process of returning to
dressing normally.’

‘Ah, I see,’ Mrs Stevenson said, clearly
relieved. ‘That does make things simpler.’

‘Except I don’t think I could wear bright
colours,’ said Amy. ‘I’d rather not—it wouldn’t seem right.’

Sarah made a small grimace, but she nodded.
‘If that’s what you want, dear.’

‘Hmm,’ said Mrs Stevenson. ‘Well, of course
if that’s the case… it’s rather a pity, when… ah well, it can’t be
helped.’

Sarah pounced on the dressmaker’s hints.
‘What were you about to say, Mrs Stevenson?’

‘Oh, it’s just that with your pretty
colouring, Mrs Stewart, there’s a lovely red velvet that suggests
itself to me. Now, you have the same colouring, Miss Millish, but
with your statuesque build red could be rather overpowering. But
for Mrs Stewart with her neat little figure, it would be just
right.’

‘Not red,’ Amy said, steadfastly thrusting
the tempting image from her mind. ‘I couldn’t wear that.’

‘Perhaps not,’ Sarah said.

Mrs Stevenson noted down Amy’s measurements,
then ushered her and Sarah along a passage and into a larger room,
one wall of which was lined with bolts of fabric. The fabrics were
arranged according to some system that Amy could not grasp, though
Mrs Stevenson seemed able to go straight to the bolts she wanted
without the least difficulty.

‘Now, what shall we start with? Day dresses
or evening wear?’

‘Day, I think,’ Sarah said. ‘We might have
trouble coming back down to earth if we start with evening dresses.
Do you have any special preferences, Amy?’

Amy shook her head, too awed by the sight of
so much satin and velvet, braid and lace, crowded into one room.
‘I’m sure any of these things would be lovely. You decide for me,
Sarah.’

‘I have every faith in your taste, Mrs
Stevenson,’ said Sarah. ‘What would you recommend?’

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