There was the stomp of boots and Joseph burst in, a bunch of holly in his arms. Sarah’s heart turned over at the sight of him, just as it always did.
“Happy Christmas, Joe.”
“And to you, my darling.” Setting the holly on to the table, he bent to kiss her, and she looked into his roughened face, loving every line and weatherworn crease. How wonderful it was to feel his mouth on hers, to breathe in the scent of the outdoors in his greying hair.
What was it that she still yearned for from him? Somehow, she sensed that something was missing from his feelings for her. But was she expecting too much? He treated her well, and heaven knew he’d been a warm and loving husband. If only she could put aside the haunting memory of the graceful lady who had once been the love of his life . . .
“Look at Pepper, Dad! He’s licking my hand!”
Joseph looked on tenderly, no doubt knowing he’d have to break his little girl’s heart. He sank into a chair and Sarah set a mug of tea in front of him.
“Snow’s on the way. That horse is as frisky as a billygoat in stays! The wind’s come up something fierce.”
“I’ve cut an onion for your chilblains, Joe. I’ll salt it now, if you like, and you can rub it in before you have your tea.”
“No, that meat and pudding smells too good to wait for!”
“Well, Ben and Jenny should be back soon, and Johnny’s outside somewhere,” Sarah said, tucking the branches of holly here and there. “Beth, leave Thea and the pups now, you promised you’d finish that glove.”
Beth sighed and dutifully pulled herself up, retrieving the glove from the sack.
“Good girl.” Sarah smiled. Beth was so obedient and eager to please, very different from Jenny!
At the outset Joe had thought that the problem of Jenny getting to Stockwood and back each day would scupper the whole daft idea of her working at the factory. When Jenny announced that she’d find a place to live in town, sharing with one of the factory girls, he’d scarcely been able to contain his fury. But Sarah had saved the day again, suggesting that Ben take Jenny into town in the cart each morning, and collect her in the evenings.
“I wonder when Davey will arrive, Joe? His letter just said Christmas Eve.”
Joe shook his head.
“I never thought the day would come when I’d be waiting at home for my children to come back from working in town. That Jenny’s got too big for her boots, and if she uses that language she’s picked up once more in this house . . .!”
“Oh, Joe,” Sarah soothed. “It wasn’t bad language, not really. And she’s bound to pick up a little of that factory talk.”
“It’s no place for a young girl.”
“But she’s getting on well, learning to use a sewing machine and all.”
It was a sad irony that Jenny’s factory work had dashed Emily’s hope of her sister joining her at Farrington House.
“Hasn’t it worked out a treat, with Ben taking Jenny back and forth! I’d imagine those rides are the reason he keeps himself clean and minds his manners!”
“Well, he’s a good lad and works hard for me, I’ll give him that.”
“That’s why he’s here, after all,” Sarah concluded. It was a welcome end to the discussion. “I think I hear them now.”