Jenny breezed in, her cheeks and lips crimson with cold and her hair a mass of windblown curls.
“Come in and get warm!” Sarah smiled as Ben trailed in behind Jenny, his dark eyes following her every move as she unwrapped the scarf from her neck, shrugged off her threadbare coat and tossed back the luxurious tumble of hair.
“Happy Christmas,” Jenny said briskly, but Sarah could see that, although her cheeks were glowing, her eyes were tired, with dark smudges below. She was working hard, and indoors, too, which was something she wasn’t used to.
“How about some tea, you two? And how was your day, Jenny, dear?” Sarah said.
“My day? It was absolutely fine, why shouldn’t it be?” Jenny said airily. She glanced at her little sister and added, “That stitching is going to take you for ever, Beth. You know, soon the factories will take over gloving work altogether.”
Beth looked up in an agony of frustration. Joseph opened his mouth to reprimand Jenny, but Sarah stepped in.
“Never mind, Beth, run along and find Johnny. We don’t know when Davey will arrive, so we’ll begin now and I’ll keep something hot for him.”
* * * *
“Are you still cold? I’ll move your chair nearer the fire.” Ben’s eyes hadn’t left Jenny.
What a baffling lass she was, so different from one moment to the next. At first she’d been very quiet as they’d ridden along in the cart, her usual determination and spirit strangely wilted and her lovely mouth set in a tight line.
And then she’d suddenly turned to him.
“Oh, I feel I want to scream!”
Her eyes had flashed as she’d looked straight into his face, and he felt his heart begin to thump madly as she continued.
“Sitting there day after day, stitching round glove after glove – the same two inches here, the same curve there, and all on that wonderful machine. What a dreadful waste!”
He’d gazed in puzzled rapture into her eyes, and her voice rose.
“Don’t you see? Sitting at that machine, I feel I’ve been given a new pony but I’m only allowed to take him at a snail’s pace round some tiny yard, when what I want to do is gallop!”
“The sewing machine?”
But she’d carried on, moving a little closer to him as she became excited by her thoughts.
“Just imagine, you press your foot on a pedal and feed the fabric along. It makes such a smooth whirring sound, like a big cat purring! The stitching appears, absolutely perfect and even. Oh, Ben, it’s like magic!”
She’d trailed off and he’d realised then that, for all the time they’d spent together going back and forth to Stockwood, this was the first time she’d actually spoken his name.
“It must be a right treat,” he had managed to say, but she’d shaken her head, interrupting him again.
“No! It’s absolutely terrible, that’s just what I’m trying to tell you! All I can think of are the things I wish I could do with that machine. Why, it would take just minutes to sew a seam as tall as you are! And do you know, I’m sure there are ways to get those gloves stitched even quicker, but every time I do it my own way, I get shouted at. The other girls don’t like me. I’ve tried to fit in, but, oh, I wish I’d never . . .”
She’d stopped and had turned to him, her eyes blazing again.
“If you dare tell Sarah or my father . . .! I’d sooner die than have them know what a fool I’ve been.”
“I’ll never tell them, I promise, Jenny. And you’re not a fool, you mustn’t think that.”
He’d wanted to gather her into his arms and comfort her, and had felt so weak with longing that he’d barely been able to pull the reins and draw the cart to a halt as they’d reached the cottage. She was hiding her feelings from her father and Sarah, but she hadn’t hidden them from him. He hardly dared hope what that might mean. If only he could be alone with her again!
Now, he put a hand on her chair, ready to move it should she want him to, but then, as Beth opened the door to go on her search for Johnny, a strange sound from the distance caught everyone’s attention. It was a kind of low moan.
Joe screwed up his brow.
“That’s not a bull, is it?”
The moan grew louder, turning into a coughing and spluttering. Everyone watched in astonishment as a moving figure in the mist came closer, and Davey emerged, huddled on the back of a mud-splashed motorcycle and grinning from ear to ear.