“Ouch!”Beth dropped the needle and poked her finger into her mouth, the half-sewn glove clutched in her other hand. “I wish we had a ‘donkey’, Sarah, it would be so much easier! Other people have them.”
“We don’t need those contraptions, love. It’s best you learn to do proper hand sewing. Now, mind you don’t touch that glove until your finger stops bleeding. It’s only a ‘second’, but if you do a fair job we’ll get paid something for it.”
The vice-like wooden frame had never looked much like a donkey to Sarah, but nevertheless that was its nickname. Beth was right – most of the women had them in their cottages, and counted the money well spent. With the edges of a glove held in its grip, the donkey certainly made it easier to get a regular stitch as one passed the needle in and out between the teeth.
But Sarah had always prided herself on her skills with a needle. Her prickseams were twelve stitches to the inch and perfectly even. It was no wonder that Flora, the local “bagwoman” who was in charge of allocations from the factory, always brought her such a good consignment to finish off.
Like the other women who lived on the estate, Sarah’s glove work brought in extra pennies to boost the family income. But she knew she’d never be the artist that Elizabeth Callow had been. She remembered all too well the beautiful embroidery on the bed linen, which had not only been monogrammed but also bordered with flowers. Sarah had carefully packed it away after she and Joe had got married, a tiny part of her almost wishing she could lie beneath such a drift of femininity.
Now, with Emily in service and Jenny at the factory, Sarah hoped to pass on her sewing skills to Beth. It would be wonderful if the child could develop a sense of achievement, and Sarah felt she owed it to the memory of the children’s mother.
“Let’s have a look at that finger. My goodness, your stitching’s got much better! Let’s see if you can finish that off before your dad comes in.”
“I promise I’ll finish it later, Sarah. Please may I play with the puppies?” Beth’s eyes were huge with longing.
Sarah sighed. The last thing they needed was the stray that had found her way to the cottage a few days before, much less the litter she’d produced in the corner of the kitchen! It had been a sad blessing that only three of the six had survived, though Beth had been in floods of tears. To Sarah’s dismay, the child had insisted on calling the mongrel Thea, as she’d been fascinated by everything Emily told them about the lady from America.
“Sarah, look at Thea! She’s cuddling little Pepper again. I do love him best of all.”
Sarah sighed, knowing there was no way that they could keep even one of the pups. The child had lost her heart to the black one, the runt of the litter. No wonder, as she’d been heartbroken over the eventual fate of each piglet that Joseph brought home to rear.
Sarah put a hand to her swollen abdomen as the new life that was growing inside gave a kick. How wonderful it would be if Beth lost her heart to the baby! But in any case it wasn’t due until spring.
“All right, love, but put that work away carefully.”
Beth leaped up, dropped the glove into the sack under the stairs and fairly flew to the corner of the kitchen. For a moment all was quiet except for the hiss of meat juices dripping from the trivet into the batter pudding. They’d saved up for the joint, and the annual extra bag of coal had been delivered from Farrington House. Although it somehow looked smaller than last year’s, still there would be the promise of fuel for the holiday.
From far across the fields there was the faint sound of church bells chiming for Christmas Eve, and Sarah felt a glow warming her heart as she thought of all the blessings that had come that year.
If only her sister, Mary, could be here with them! But earlier in the week Sarah had posted her a letter with news of how well Ben had been doing. That would certainly bring her sister reassurance.