WHAT in the world was Jeanie thinking of, moving from that nice little house to this place, Archie wondered. It smelled of damp and stale food.
He knocked, and after a few moments the door opened a crack.
“Who is it?” her voice asked.
“Jeanie, it’s Archie.”
He heard her slide a chain from the door.
“Archie! What are you doing here? Nothing’s wrong, is it?”
Her voice was full of alarm, and he could have kicked himself. He should have warned her he was coming.
“No,” he said quickly. “No, there’s nothing wrong. I just came to see where you’d got to.”
“I’ve been busy moving.”
She stood to one side and beckoned him in. At least the room was better than the hallway, he thought. There was a bed against the end wall, with cushions standing up so that it doubled as a settee.
“Do you want tea?” she asked.
“Please.” He hesitated. “I went to your old home. Why on earth have you moved to this place?”
“It suits me.”
He studied her for a moment. She was lovely still, yet there was something missing. Where had that sparkle gone?
“What’s wrong, Jeanie?” he asked.
“Nothing’s wrong. The house was too big for me, so I moved.”
“Oh, I see. So you’ll move to this, but you won’t move out to the country to be with us.”
Hearing his challenging tone, her chin came up defiantly.
“Maybe I don’t want to live in the country.”
“And maybe I don’t believe you.”
This was going terribly, he thought. The last time they’d been together he’d held her, and in his cottage they’d seemed so friendly and close.
“I just need to know that you’re all right. That wherever you are, even if it’s not with us, that…” His words petered out dismally.
“Well, thank you, Archie. You can now rest assured that I’m all right,” she replied stiffly.
“Jeanie, don’t be angry. I’ve come all this way to see you.”
“Well, I really don’t know why.”
“Don’t you?” He could tell that the words were about to burst from out of his mouth, but felt powerless to stop them. “Are you really so blind, woman? Can’t you see that I love you?”
The silence between them stretched. To Archie, it seemed never ending.
Jeanie’s mind was far busier. Her thoughts were flitting from scene to scene, through all of her visits to the farm, in his cottage as he bathed her sore knees, working with him on the thresher, at the station on that dark night, right back to their first meeting when he’d had such a grubby hand. And all the pieces of her fractured life fell into place suddenly.
“Did you just say you loved me?” she asked finally.
He closed his eyes, and groaned.
“I believe I did.” When he dared to open them again, he saw her smiling at him.
“Oh, Archie!” Her arms were round his shoulders and they were kissing.
Finally he pulled away from her.
“Look,” he said patiently. “There’s an old cottage down a little country lane. It’s yours, if you want it. I’ll be in there, waiting for you. It’s your decision.”
On a sultry summer’s evening Jeanie and Archie walked hand in hand down the lane to the cottage. The hedges hung lush with blackberries: ripe and ready for the picking.
Spotting an especially huge fruit, Jeanie picked it and held it up to Archie’s mouth. He took it from her fingers, savouring the sweet juiciness as he bit into it.
“By this time tomorrow,” he said, gazing into her eyes, “we’ll be Mr and Mrs Sims.”
Smiling, she raised her lips for his kiss.
The wedding had not taken long to arrange. Maureen was to be Jeanie’s matron of honour, but Stella would not be there as she’d already left for America. She had left her favourite blue dress and corsage with Jeanie for the big day, telling her that it had always brought her good luck and happiness.
Reverend Edwards had arrived on today’s train, Jeanie having written to ask him if he would marry her. He was staying at the farmhouse, sharing the boys’ room with Russ. Marty’s bed had become vacant as he was spending the night in Archie’s cottage. He was to be best man! And, of course, Jeanie was to be given away by Russ.
It was anticipated the church would be packed to see Archie marry. He’d found he was more well thought of than he’d ever realised, and the whole village was thrilled to see him find happiness at last.
All that remained now, they said, was to see a little family grow and thrive in Blackberry Lane.