“Just look at him, Joe. He smiles in his sleep!” Sarah tucked Joey into the wooden cradle.
Joe felt a prickle behind his eyes as he gazed at his son.
“He’s a happy lad. But who wouldn’t be, with such a mother?” He pulled Sarah to his broad chest. “Don’t know why you agreed to marry me, but thank heavens you did.”
She laughed and looked into his eyes. These last months had been the happiest in her life. The baby’s birth had allowed Joe to tuck the memory of Elizabeth Callow into a special place deep inside, and there it had remained while he and Sarah discovered more about each other, their love growing stronger every day.
With only younger children Johnny, Beth and baby Joey to look after, the rhythm of their days were simple and contented, though there had been times when Ben’s unpredictable moods made Sarah almost wish he hadn’t come to stay. But the knowledge of her sister’s hardship was all she needed to wipe any uncharitable thoughts from her mind.
Joe kissed her.
“Are Johnny and Beth asleep?”
“I expect so. Ben’s still out on one of his long walks, and it’ll be dark soon.”
“Strange lad. Doesn’t have farmer’s blood in him, that’s for certain, and you never know where you are with him.”
“Yes.” It was certainly odd the way Ben had disappeared so often during the past weeks, but she couldn’t help but welcome his absences, as it meant more time alone with Joe. And if he were getting into mischief, surely they’d have heard about it.
“Ben is troubled, Joe. He’s full of guilt and sadness about his mother living the way she does, and yet whenever I suggest our trying to help Mary, he gets angry. He wants to look after her himself. He hates feeling beholden to us. He’s always been in one sort of trap or other, and I suppose it helps him to go for long walks. And he misses Jenny.”
“Jenny’s too good for him and he has sense enough to know it,” Joe said gruffly.
“There must be a lot of good in him, though. He’s my sister’s son, don’t forget. He’s bright, too, and could have done well at school if he’d tried. He needs to find his own way, be his own man. He hasn’t had the benefit of a loving father to look up to.”
“Do those things go hand in hand? I love my children, but as for looking up to me, it’s clear that Davey doesn’t. He couldn’t wait to leave home. I always thought . . .”
“Thought what, Joe?”
“That he’d follow in my footsteps. I thought that’s what sons did. But I have a feeling that Johnny won’t want to stay on the farm, either.” He gazed once more into the cradle and shook his head. “And what about this little one?”
“Joe, you can’t measure how much you’ve given your children by whether or not they want to be like you, or whether they want to leave home! You’ve given them some of the most important things of all – curiosity to see what the world has to offer, and the will to want to live their own lives.”
“How could I have given them curiosity?” He chuckled. “I don’t have much myself. I’ve got no need for it as long as I have you, darling Sarah.”
“You always will, and a lot else as well.” She smiled and reached for his hand. “You love God’s earth, and it’s a part of your soul. You take pride in cultivating it and helping create its bounty. All that is wonderful. Maybe it isn’t exactly curiosity, but it’s a relation to it, one every bit as valuable. You know what you’re here to do. By example, you’ve shown Davey how important that is. But he had to leave home to find his own answer.”
“Sweetheart!” He could say no more. Pulling her close he enveloped her in his arms and kissed her, a wave of passion flowing between them.
But the magical moment was interrupted as Ben burst in the door.
“Sorry!” He turned away, embarrassed, then said, “I’ll be off to the wash house.” He paused uneasily.
“What is it, Ben?”
“I have to go away tomorrow morning for a couple of days.”
Sarah felt a shiver of alarm. He had that furtive look that always made her nervous. And was she imagining it, or was he hiding something under his coat?
“Where are you going?” Joe demanded.
“I can’t explain now, but it’s important.” He looked straight at them both and it was clear there was no point in asking questions. He would go, whatever they said. He added haltingly, “I’d be grateful.”
There was a long silence and Joe felt Sarah press his elbow.
“All right,” he said. “But be careful.”
Meanwhile, at Farrington House, sparks were flying.
“Electricity below stairs? Over my dead body!” Mrs Wiggan stood before Mr Runciman, her head high.
“I will have a word with Lord Witney, but ”
“I should have more than words with that boy! This is my kitchen!”
“I’m afraid that since the Marquess is away, Lord Witney is in charge.”
“Stuff and nonsense!”
“Now, Mrs Wiggan ”
But the butler’s measured tones were cut off by another succession of deafening bangs which echoed through the house, followed by frantic barking from the Countess’s dogs.
“Is it possible to delay staff tea, Mrs Wiggan? I sense I am needed upstairs.”
“I couldn’t eat a morsel!” Hester wailed, while Dorie cowered in the scullery and Alice clapped her hands over her ears.
Mrs Wiggan waved her hands in exasperated agreement, and Runciman mounted the stairs.