Lady Farrington gripped her husband’s arm as she gazed beyond the pews to the entrance of the church where they had been sheltered since the disaster, along with dozens of others. There were piles of blankets, heaps of clothes and belongings everywhere, stacked up against the walls, crammed into corners and tucked under pews.
As always, the Red Cross volunteer had arrived early that morning, making her way to the nave. She bellowed above the clang and clatter of the makeshift soup kitchen set up in the vestry.
“Allen, Ashford, Bailey, Barnes!” Her shouts were punctuated by gasps and cries of joy from the lucky people whose friends or family members had managed to locate them.
Lady Farrington held her breath as names beginning with F came and went, but each day she regained hope, sitting forward in the pew and grasping her husband’s hand as he sat disconsolately beside her, his spirit nearly broken. The Ocean Shore Railway had tumbled into the sea in the early hours of that terrible April morning, taking with it his only hope of saving Farrington House and the promise of financial security.
This morning the names droned out again, reminding him of his school days.
“Fairacre, Fallowes, Farrington!”
“Reginald!” Lady Farrington leaped from the pew, nearly dragging him with her as they pushed past the crowds to the volunteer’s side to find out details. It was true – their dear Bunny had come to find them!
After that, the hours had crept agonisingly by, but surely, any moment now, he would arrive to take them home?
“Reginald, I do wish Florence were back. Where has that young man taken her?”
Under other circumstances Lady Farrington would have been overjoyed to know that Florence had met a suitable young man from the Home Counties. Walter Abingdon had been on a tour of America when the earthquake had struck. Visitors to the Palace Hotel that evening had been shepherded through the burning rubble to the docks, and when they had piled into a fishing boat Florence had found herself sitting beside him. As they’d sailed across the bay to the safety of Oakland he had captivated her with stories of his travels, and stolen her heart as he dramatically recounted his brave rescue of a lost baby goat on an Alpine hillside.
“It’s just as well they’ve gone out for the morning, dear. It does no good for her to be cooped up here. Walter will have her back soon.”
“But when Bunny arrives we’ll want to leave immediately! Oh, Reginald, what if there’s been some terrible mistake and Bunny isn’t coming at all?”
Then, amid the din and the blur of faces, he was there, standing at the entrance of the church. He looked taller and older somehow, and as he strode towards them a brand-new feeling of awe flooded through Lady Farrington. Their son had come to look after them, to sweep them up and take them home at last.
“Oh, my darling!”
She could hardly see him through her tears. But he was there, his arms round her. Then he stood back, and a moment later father and son were locked in an embrace.
Lady Farrington watched, her heart overflowing. Not even when he had gone off to prep school had Reginald embraced his son. There had been no more than a firm handshake with the frightened little boy, and a pat on the shoulder.
“Bertrand, I ” Reginald’s voice faltered and his son eased him down to the pew. “Oh, my son, I have failed us. We are ruined . . .”
“Father, you mustn’t say this. It isn’t true. You have never, ever failed us.”
“I have! I’ve lost everything. I have nothing to leave you. How can you ever forgive me?”
“There is nothing to forgive. You have always been the most sterling father. You’ve done nothing but good for us all, isn’t that right, Mother?”
“Of course it is,” Julia said, her voice breaking.
She touched her husband’s hand tenderly, but worry creased her forehead as she looked with distress up into her son’s face.
He put a hand gently on her shoulder.
“I’ve found a hotel, Mother. It has rooms for us all, just for a few days until transport becomes available. There is so much to talk about! Thea and I have worked it all out, you see. You must understand that she feels it a privilege to be in a position to help; to use her funds to get us back on our feet.”
“No.” Lord Farrington’s voice was unequivocal. “I could not bear the shame.”
“There is no shame in what has happened. Surely you wouldn’t rather lose our home, and the estate? Thea wanted me to explain to you how grateful she is to be part of the family. She feels this is her only way to express her gratitude, and her enormous respect for you. Please try to see that.
“Now,” he continued, making his voice light, “where the devil’s Florence? A fine sister she is, not here to greet me when I’ve gone to all this trouble!” He frowned in mock disapproval and Lady Farrington managed a smile.
“Your sister is out with a young man.”
Suddenly, Lady Farrington felt a little thrill bubble up. Soon there might be another wedding at Farrington House. Perhaps this winter, though next spring would be better with so much to do! Emily would have to design the gowns, and . . .
“Emily!” she shrieked. “My goodness, the poor girl! We must find her at once, and ”
“All taken care of, Mother. I’ve managed to locate her and send a message through the Red Cross. I will be meeting with Emily tomorrow morning. There are a few odds and ends to take care of, and then, before you know it, we shall all be on our way.”
“Oh, my dear Bu ” She paused for only a second before finishing. “Bertrand. We are so very proud of you.”