“You’ve done a good job of that corner, love.” Sarah smiled.
Beth dropped a rag into the bucket and pushed a lock of hair out of her eyes, leaving smudges across her forehead.
“May I play now?”
“Yes. Best go out to the wash house first, then you can have a peppermint.”
Sarah sank into a chair. Her pregnancy had not been as easy as those of other women in the cottages. Mrs Bond had been midwife to nearly all of them, and yesterday when she’d seen Sarah she’d had an uneasy look.
“Two more weeks, I reckon. Keep up your strength. It’s never easy for older women, and don’t forget this is your first.”
As if Sarah could forget! The miracle of her and Joe having a child of their own filled her heart every day, despite the sickness and exhaustion. The Saturday cleaning had been increasingly difficult to accomplish, but little Beth had tried her best, and between the two of them the flags and table were scrubbed, the rag rugs had been shaken and the windows, with their newly painted frames, gleamed with spring sunshine.
Sarah gazed around the kitchen with satisfaction. There had been many improvements since that sparkling morning a few days after Christmas, when she’d opened the door to see Emily standing beside the American lady about whom they’d heard so much.
Beth came back from the wash house and Sarah opened the jar of peppermints.
“There you are, poppet. Mind you keep that dog and puppy out until the flags dry.”
“Do you think the other puppies are happy living at the big house, Sarah?”
“I’m sure they are!”
“They must miss Pepper and Thea.”
“They have each other. I shouldn’t worry.” Sarah still marvelled at how delighted Miss Allbright had been at the mongrel being named after her.
“Remember when they jumped up and got Miss Allbright’s beautiful dress all dirty?” Beth laughed. “And she just plopped them up into her lap!”
Sarah remembered, of course, but overriding the memory was the extraordinary sum that Miss Allbright had insisted on paying Joe for the two pups . . .
“But only if Beth can bear to part with them!” she had added, smiling. “Did you say that Pepper is your favourite, honey?”
Beth had been fascinated by the twang in the lady’s voice, and had loved being called “honey”. She had beamed, but Joseph had stood rooted to the spot, a suspicious look on his craggy face.
Soon, however, he, too, was under Miss Allbright’s spell.
“You have a divine family, Mr Callow. You must be very proud.” She looked at Joe with an admiration he’d never felt from anyone. And somehow, Sarah had known that the lady was speaking from her heart.
“Emily talks about you all such a lot,” Miss Allbright had continued. “Isn’t she a dream, with her talent and lovely ways?”
Sarah had smiled.
“We all miss her, so today has been a wonderful surprise. Where’s Jenny gone? Beth, run and tell her that Emily has brought a special visitor!”
“Do you know, Mrs Callow, all my life I’ve wished I had sisters and puppies. It seems that everything I’ve ever wanted is in this happy home.”