Authors: Pamela Kavanagh
â'Course you are.' Richard dropped a kiss on the top of her tawny head. âI got a text from the agent so I called him back during the interval. Remember the album? Apparently it's getting great reviews, even better than the guy thought. He wants us to do the round of the London clubs â maybe Germany later on next year.'
âWow!' Tracey flung her arms around Richard and hugged him in glee, all thought of Aisling Cleary and shady dealing fled. âThat's fantastic, Rick! Come on, let's break the news to the boys!'
âThat's more than my life's worth! No, the morning will do.' An arm around her shoulders, he ushered her along to her room, grinning down at her.
âGood, eh? Wait till they hear back home. If there's anything that'll make Dad see things our way, it's this.'
Geoff eased the cattle wagon up the exit from the M53 and signalled for Heswell and home. It hadn't been a bad day at the market, considering. The calves had fetched more than he expected, and a chap with an interest in pedigree Friesian stock had approached him about purchasing a promising young Roseacre bull they had been running on.
Wasn't afraid of paying the price, either. Wait till he told Dad!
It was drizzling rain, dusk drawing down, the wipers hissing busily, though the road was fairly quiet. Ahead, just before the interchange for Thornton Hough, Geoff made out what looked like a breakdown and slowed his pace accordingly.
As he overtook, the old grey car looked familiar, as did the slight, worried figure bent over the engine.
Geoff gave the horn a blast of greeting, chuckling to himself. Trust Bryony to choose her moment!
He pulled into the kerb and stopped, winding down the window.
âRun out of petrol?'
âOh, Geoff, it's you! Thank goodness! No, of course it isn't the petrol. The wretched thing just died on me.'
âCould be the electrics. Let's have a look.'
He jumped down and, getting Bryony to train the torch, tinkered with the engine. As he worked the rain decided to come down all the heavier. After a few moments he gave up.'
âLook, you're getting soaked and you've no coat. I'll take you on to the farm and come back in the truck with the towing ropes.'
âBut I need to get back to the flat,' Bryony said. âLiz will be furious if I'm late. We're supposed to be going out tonight.'
He shook his head.
âIt's not looking likely. Best thing would be to ring her from the house and tell her it's off.'
âI'm not being towed,' she said stoutly. âI've never done it before. I'd be useless.'
âNow there's a surprise!' He grinned at her good-naturedly. With her hair in rats' tails about her face and her mascara running down her doleful face, she still looked chocolate-box pretty.
âNot to worry. One of the lads will do the honours. Grab your bag and any other valuables you don't want to leave in the car and let's go. Look at it, belting down! Give me the keys and you get in the cabin. I'll lock up here and be right with you.'
Bryony's spirits rose visibly as they chugged along to Roseacre.
âI was so relieved when I saw the wagon. I thought it was you, but I hardly dared hope!'
âKnight of the road, me.' He grinned. âFor some obscure reason, that stretch is notorious for broken-down vehicles. I'm always rescuing damsels in distress. The last one was ninety if she was a day! She screeched at me to get a move on because she had to get home to feed her cats!'
âIt's true. Ah, here we are. This rain's in for the night.'
He paused, frowning towards the main yard to the big dairy
farm. All the lights were on and there seemed to be a lot of undue hustle and bustle. Geoff swallowed hard, his mouth suddenly dry with foreboding.
âWhat's going on here? I don't like the look of itâ¦.'
Parking the wagon in the big open-ended barn, they got out as the back door of the farmhouse opened and Geoff's mother emerged. Her face was very troubled and Bryony went immediately across to her, gripping her arm.
âMrs Sanders, what is it? Has something happened?'
Tears brimmed in Helen Sanders' eyes but she seemed incapable of speech, her eyes seeking her son. At last, the words stumbled out.
âGeoff â¦ it's your dad. He â he was found unconscious in the parlour. He
start the milking himself when I told him not to! I told him!'
âWhere is he now?' Geoff asked gently. âHow was he?'
âJim Stokes saw to him while I called the ambulance. They left about five minutes ago. Oh, Geoff! If anything happens.â¦'
Jim Stokes, the cowhand, hovered uncertainly in the background.
âMight be best if you went with the missus, Geoff,' he said quietly. âI'll see to things here for you. If I'm honest, lad, it didn't look too goodâ¦.'
'll need my bag!' Helen Sanders gasped, panicking. âAnd my keys. Where are they? Oh, poor Mike! Will he be all right!' She looked anxiously from one worried face to the other.
The ambulance had vanished into the stormy November dusk. Geoff had hurried off to fetch the car from where it was parked in the barn, leaving Bryony and Jim Stokes, the cowman, on the rainswept farmyard with Helen.
Agitatedly she turned towards the farmhouse where light spilled out from the spacious pine-furbished kitchen, then changed her mind and, oblivious to the deluge, began turning out the pockets of her lightweight trouser suit in a desperate search for the missing keys.
The rain continued to hammer down, dowsing the three of them thoroughly, whilst from the milking parlour came the forlorn bellows of cattle anxious to be rid of their burden of milk.
âI'd best get back to the cows,' Jim muttered, before making his escape.
Bryony, gathering her wits, took a firm grip of Helen's arm.
âMrs Sanders, let's get out of the rain and wait for Geoff. That's right. Look, here are your keys on the table. Now, why don't you sit down for a moment and let me fetch whatever you need?'
âThank you â¦ so kind.' Helen allowed herself to be guided to one of the tall ladder-backed chairs and subsided into it. Her skilfully made-up face began to pucker.
Bryony fetched a box of tissues from where it lay on the dresser and left them to hand.
âTry and keep calm. Mr Sanders is in the right hands. Is your handbag upstairs? I'll get it, shall I?'
âWhat? Oh, yes, please, if you wouldn't mind. It'll be on the chair by the bed. My coat's there too. Perhaps I should put a few things together for Mike.'
âI wouldn't right now,' Bryony soothed. âJust get yourselves to the hospital. Geoff can always slip back later for whatever you need.'
The sound of the car drawing up outside galvanized Bryony into action. She fled out and up the wide, soft-carpeted staircase, located the Sanders's bedroom and Helen's coat and bag, then sped back down to the kitchen again.
A blast of the horn outside had Helen jumping to her feet. Bryony hastily helped her on with her coat, handed her the bag and keys and ushered her back out to where Geoff held open the passenger seat door of the big family saloon.
â'Bye. Best of luck,' Bryony bid them as Geoff bundled his mother into the car. âDon't worry,' she told Geoff. âI'll stay here until I get some news.'
Geoff sounded brisk and in control.
âThanks, that's brilliant.'
Moments later he was pulling out of the farmyard, rain lancing in the powerful beam of the headlamps, muddy water from the swimming yard spurting from under the tyres. Bryony, watching them go, then turned and ducked back through the downpour to the house.
Pewter, the Sanders's sleek grey cat, lay comatose in front of the Aga, its long tail curled neatly around its paws.
Taking a few long breaths to calm her racing pulse, Bryony shook the raindrops from her springy blonde curls, removed her sodden jacket and put it on the Aga rail to dry, and glanced round. Helen Sanders had obviously been preparing the evening meal when disaster had struck. Half-peeled vegetables, a bottle of the coarse red wine generally used for cooking, and a freezer pack of what looked like diced beef lay abandoned on the worktop, beside an attractive country-ware casserole dish.
âBetter get on with that,' she said to the unresponsive cat. âThey'll need something to eat when they get back. Oh, heck, I nearly forgot. We were going out tonight â¦ I'd better phone Liz.'
She delved into her bag for her mobile and called her friend's number.
âBry?' Liz answered almost immediately. âWhat's going on? I thought you were getting back early?'
âSorry, Liz. Something's cropped up. My car packed in and Geoff came along and we ended up at the farm. It was panic-stations here, Liz. His Dad's been rushed to hospital. Geoff's just gone there with his mum. She was in such a state! I felt really sorry for her. Anyway, I said I'd stay here for now â well, you never know. I don't think things looked too bright.'
âThat's awful. What about your car? D'you want me to phone the garage?'
âNo, the chap who works on the farm's here. He might be able to sort it out for me. Look, I must go. You might as well carry on without me. I could be here ages.'
âWell, if you're sure. Cheers, Bryony. Good luck.'
Bryony clicked off, slipping the phone back into her bag. The kitchen seemed very quiet. Wondering how Geoff was getting on at the hospital, and trying not to think the worst, Bryony picked up the sharp little kitchen knife and began to peel the vegetables.
Cooking wasn't exactly her best skill, but she did her best, adding a generous dash of the wine and a couple of bay leaves from the spice rack on the wall. She put the dish into the Aga, then filled the kettle.
Outside, it was pitch black but the rain had stopped. Bryony ran across to the parlour where Jim Stokes was finishing the milking.
âAny news?' he enquired, his blunt, middle-aged face full of concern.
âNot yet. Kettle's on. Would you like tea or coffee?'
âTea, please. Milk and two sugars. The missus generally does toasted teacake or something as well.'
âWill biscuits do for now?' Bryony told him about her car, left apparently dead on the side of the road.
âDon't worry about that,' the cowman said kindly. âMy lad's a mechanic. He'll get it sorted. I'll give him a bell.'
âThanks, Jim. Have you any idea what the cat has to eat?'
âThere'll be something in the cupboard, no doubt. The missus is right fond of that cat.'
âI'll see to it,' Bryony said. âTea in, say, fifteen minutes?'
She was coming in from having shut in the hens for the night, gratified that the casserole she had thrown together now seemed to be simmering fragrantly from the oven, when the phone began to ring shrilly.
She snatched it up.
âBryony? It's me, Geoff.' His voice sounded strained. âIt's not good news, I'm afraid. The hospital did all they could but it was hopeless. Dad's gone, Bryony. I've just spoken with the doctor. She said it was a massive coronary.'
Bryony swallowed hard.
âI'm so very sorry, Geoff. He was a lovely man. He always used to tease me and make me laugh. Look, I'll stay here till you get back. I'll light the fire in the lounge, shall I? Your mum might be glad of it.'
Ringing off, feeling suddenly older and rather worn down, Bryony went out to tell Jim the news.
âMike Sanders â gone! I can't believe it,' Mae said to Chas. âPoor Geoff. And poor Helen. They'll both take this very badly.'
Chas, just in from the fields, went to the sink to wash his hands.
âAye, it's a bad do. Are you going round there?'
âI feel perhaps I should.' Mae was thinking aloud. âSending a card seems so inadequate, somehow. There might be something I can do to help. I'll go after lunch. I could take Helen one of my fruit cakes and pick up some flowers from the market garden on the way.' She shook her head again. âPoor Helen.â¦'
An hour later she was driving through the lanes to Heswell, some of her delicious home-bakes in a basket on the seat beside her. Mae was surprised, on reaching Roseacre with its wide concreted yards and mixture of ancient and modern cattle housing,
to see a familiar little car parked in the yard.
Standing there, undecided whether to go round to the front door of the big stone-built farmhouse or use the back, the decision was taken out of her hands when the door opened and Bryony emerged.
âMum!' Her daughter's face registered surprise, and then started to crumple. Unable to conceal her relief, she sprang forwards and gave her mother a hug.
âDarling! What a lovely surprise.' Mae kept a firm hold over her emotions and with great effort managed to give the impression of calm. âAre you all right?'
âYes thanks. Oh, Mum. Isn't it awful about Mr Sanders?'
âTerrible,' Mae agreed. âI know he wasn't a well man but it still comes as a shock. I've brought a few things for Helen. How is she?'
âOh, you know. But she'll be glad to see you. Mum, I'm sorry but I'll have to go. I slipped out during my lunch break to bring some shopping Helen wanted from town. They've been fantastic at the shop about letting me off early and so on, but I don't want to push things.'
âOf course not,' Mae said, noticing that the formal address of Mrs Sanders had given way to the more familiar use of the woman's first name. She thought her youngest girl had a maturity about her that had not been evident a few weeks ago when she had left home.
âYou run along. My love to Liz. 'Bye for now, Bryony.'
She dropped a kiss on her daughter's cheek and went on to the house. As she rapped on the door, Mae found that her hand was shaking.
Helen Sanders seemed pleased at the visit and was touchingly grateful for the offerings Mae had brought.
âThat's so good of you,' she murmured. âPeople are so kind.' Her face, bereft of make-up, looked pale and wan.
âI have to say what a boon Bryony has been. I really don't know how we would have coped without her.'
âReally?' Mae stammered, her eyes widening in surprise. She heard how Bryony had comforted the older woman and kept
house and even given Jim Stokes a hand with the milking whilst Geoff saw to the hundred and one formalities required.
Mae, astounded and bursting with pride, couldn't wait to get home and tell Chas.
âI always said she was the one with the most heart,' Chas agreed later. He had greeted her news quietly and had been thoughtful for a while. The evening meal was now over and they sat in front of the television set, curtains drawn against the inclement November night.
âHow did she look? Spiked hair and nose-bobs like her friend, what's-her-name â¦ Liz?'
âNot at all. She was dressed for work and you know how particular they are on appearances at the shop. She seemed â¦ well, older somehow.'
âDid she mention coming to see us?'
âNot as such. Chas, there was hardly time. I told you. She had to get back to work.'
Chas grunted, though Mae had not missed the pride that had sprung to his eyes when she had repeated Helen's accolade about their daughter. It was now replaced by the bleakness that had been so much in evidence this autumn. Bryony's rejection of her family had gone deep.
âDid Helen mention what their plans were for the farm?' he asked abruptly.
âWe didn't touch on it. Geoff will take over, I suppose. He was doing the bulk of the work anyway during the latter months. Mike wasn't fit to do more than potter, and Helen sees to the secretarial side of things. They'll manage, I'm sure.'
âIt's a shame Thea and Geoff couldn't make a go of it,' he grumbled. âThea could have turned her hand to anything on that farm, including all the blasted red tape and paperwork.'
âBut Thea has her own career,' Mae pointed out fairly. âTalking of Thea, have you any thoughts on what is to become of the Harbour House?'
âShould I have? It's not my concern any more. The property was made over to them by the solicitor, all square and legal. It's up to Thea now what she does with it.'
âI expect she'll have to buy Geoff out. As I understand it he put quite a lump sum down on the house.' Mae's brow creased. âOh dear. It's all so complicated. I'm none too happy over Thea, either. She's lost weight. She works too hard, all those extra hours she puts in at school, then the ponies and the history group to run. It all takes its toll.'
âHard work never hurt anyone, love. It's stress that causes the problems. Thea will be all right. She's going through a sticky patch but she'll cope.'
At that moment the phone rang from the kitchen.
âWho can that be at this time of night,' Mae grumbled, getting up to answer it.
She heard the television set being turned up as she left the room and Chas flicking through the channels.
She lifted the receiver.
âHello? Woodhey Farm.'
âMae? It's Roz. Jam stall next to yours at the Heswell Market?'
âOh, Roz, hello.'
What now, Mae thought, her heart missing a beat.
âHave you heard the news?' The woman's voice throbbed with excitement. âRemember that petition we got up contesting the threat to close us down? Well, it's worked! The town committee have allocated us a new venue off the main road. It's more spacious than the other. There's adequate parking and the rent's not so high. Better all round, in other words.'
âWell, that's marvellous!' Mae said. âI thought for a moment you were about to tell me something awful had happened!'
âNot this time.' Roz laughed. âNice to have a bit of good news for a change, isn't it? We've the customers to thank as well. Apparently they made a huge fuss when word got out that we were going. Good, eh?'
âI'll say. What a relief. And here I was wondering whether to put my name down for one of the other markets, Nantwich or Whitchurch. Either would be a long way to drive and heavier on the expenses. Now, I won't have to. Fantastic!'
âI thought you'd be pleased. I know I am. No doubt we'll be
hearing officially from the market committee in due course. It was the woman who headed the Heswell shoppers' protest who told me.'
âSo when do we start at the new place? Not immediately.'
âOh no. It won't be until the contract runs out at the end of the year. We'll start at the other venue in January.'
âFingers crossed until all is signed and sealed then.'
âWell, I can't see a problem, myself. I'd better ring the others. 'Bye, Mae, see you Tuesday.'