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The three boys were obviously a special delight to her and she questioned them about the coming holidays. Frances caught a conspiratorial wink from Jenny as the boys discussed their favourite beaches. By the time the dessert of lychees was reached, plans for a holiday at Kaiteriteri beach were well advanced, much to the delight of three brown-haired boys. Gam had arranged a holiday house for three weeks from the eighth of January for herself and the boys. Only small Greg looked slightly anxious at the prospect of such a lengthy time away from his parents. He looked at his big brothers, who were so delighted at the prospect, and turned back to his plate with a worried frown. His uncle Ian, who had been observing him, said, ‘Greg, what if I come up and see you for a couple of days?’

The smile that lit the face was ample reward. His beam shot from ear to ear; everything would be all right if Uncle Ian was going to come and see them.

Frances had to admit that Ian loved his family and they loved him. He was wonderful with the boys, playing with them yet always fairly, assessing their capabilities with skill and judgment. With them he was quickly compassionate and full of fun.

 

CHAPTER FIVE

After
the meal Rupe and he cleaned up, insisting that Gam, Frances and Jenny had earned their rest. The three boys helped, then were taken off to bed by their beloved Uncle Ian, going willingly because he was reading them a story.

They had coffee and a liqueur and Frances felt pleasantly mellow. Gam was so likeable it wasn’t necessary to erect barriers against her, and Frances spoke of her family and friends. When Rupe and Ian rejoined them Jenny suggested dancing and Frances, unaware, went pale with horror at the thought. Rupe put the record player on and played a popular soft mood piece, pulling his wife into his arms despite her laughing protests. Ian danced with Gam and Frances was heartily relieved that she wasn’t having to dance. Then Rupe came and danced with her, thanking her for her assistance with Jenny. When Ian asked her to dance she hesitated, unwilling to go into his arms when she knew their traitorous power. However, it was abundantly clear he was doing it out of some sense of duty and, unwilling to spoil the happy occasion, she agreed. She could not relax and knew she was dancing badly, her thoughts muddling her concentration and missing the beat. Ian obviously was infuriated; she had danced so easily with him before and now she was a miserable non-rhythmic stiff bundle. His eyes gleamed as he looked at her and she turned away. They were both glad when the dance was over and she was reclaimed by Rupe, much to her great relief. Now that she had coped and the evening was almost over she moved softly and easily against Rupe, feeling relaxed and unafraid. After the dance she excised herself, politely saying to Gam that she had enjoyed meeting her.

‘I hope we see a lot of you in the future. Come over and see me later on, perhaps next week?’ said Gam.

She said goodnight to the others and nearly missed Ian’s quiet voice saying, ‘Want me to read you a story, water baby?’ before she fled.

The next morning Rupert called Frances. ‘On Monday Jenny has an appointment with her gynaecologist in Christchurch. Normally I’d go with her, but I’m hoping to get organised with the hay machines over the weekend and start on Monday. It’s early, but the first cut can usually be made before Christmas.’ He grinned. ‘Jenny’s going to throw a wobbly, but with the baby coming in January we’ll have to go to town for a while, so we must get ahead while we can! The weather’s been obliging, I must say.’

Later Frances was glad she had been warned. Jenny’s normally cheerful countenance paled when she heard and obviously recognised the sound of the big red machine. She threw the potato knife down and still clutching the potato went marching indignantly towards the garage.

Frances smiled at her wrath and wondered how it would turn out. It was some time before Rupe and Jenny returned to the house. Later Frances wondered aloud what had happened to the potato, but Jenny’s grin was unabashed. Rupe laughed too and kissed his wife passionately. ‘Peace, peace,’ she answered. It was an old formula and a happy one thought Frances as the three worked out details for harvesting.

It was only when she was in bed that she realised that she never did hear the end of the potato and her lips twisted wryly. She enjoyed being in Jenny and Rupe’s company. It was good to see a marriage which was working, both sides loving to give as well as take. Her own parents had been similarly blessed and Frances felt a pang of regret that she could not analyse. Her dream of Ian loving her and cherishing her was so sweet that she didn’t want to wake the next morning, but the noise of the boys dressing for school soon took her out of bed.

On Saturday she drove home again for the weekend, and as she went past Coppers she deliberately thumbed her nose at Ian’s house, sleeping in its magnificent setting of old trees. The childish gesture put a smile on her lips that remained over the weekend.

On her return on Sunday night she came back to an empty house. Jenny had left her a note telling her to drive over to Coppers on her arrival, if she wanted. Evidently they were spending the evening there. Frances was determined to stay out of Ian’s range, and although she would have loved to have seen Jenny’s former home she certainly had no intention of visiting there now. She sat in the cool of the garden, swinging idly on the lounge seat under the silver birch. It wasn’t much later that the family arrived home, the boys tired and sleepy.

In the early morning Frances checked the stock and irrigation on her own. This would be her principal task now that harvesting was starting. Everything was normal, much to her relief. Ahead lay the great spread of the river and she eased Greytor down to the shingle, letting the horse drink in one of the many tiny streams. The heat was trying already and she paddled her feet, but was not tempted to do more. Then she climbed back on Greytor and they cantered rhythmically back to the house. Frances arrived back at the house for morning tea and hastily showered and changed into town wear. Jenny was waiting for her and the two women were looking forward to the time in town. Frances dropped Jenny at the clinic and arranged to meet at Ballantyne’s for lunch at one o’clock.

She drifted in and out of shops, stopping to buy the boys some more sweets and a novelty candy necklace for Kathy. In a small gift shop she saw some exquisite hand-rolled silk scarves. One was in pink and deeper pink tonings and Frances knew it was just what her mother wanted. She eyed it dubiously, not liking its price, but then remembering the cheque for the modelling she decided to purchase it. It would make a splendid Christmas present. The salesgirl wrapped it neatly in tissue and Frances was pleased with her choice.

She wandered over to the cosmetic section, having decided to buy Kathy some lipstick. Earlier she had been to the theatrical suppliers and bought some stage make-up as her Christmas gift to her young sister. Kathy loved dressing up as a clown or a Black and White Minstrel, and both Mrs Elaman and Frances had suffered the loss of make-up from these occasions, so she knew Kathy would be delighted with her Christmas present. She selected a soft pink she knew Kathy would suit and having paid for it set out for Ballantynes. She had bought Martin a jersey and her father a new tennis racquet, an item he had been talking about for months but never done anything about.

Frances walked along Colombo Street and crossed the Square. The red tiles sounded under her high heels tapping quickly as she walked. She glanced about, as familiar with the scene as the pigeons and the seagulls waiting for scraps—the Regent Theatre with its attractive plasterwork and dome, the old Post Office which people were trying to preserve. The big gothic style stone Cathedral had just been repaired and its spire pointed heavenwards, contrasting its quiet dignity with the modern high rise buildings opposite. Frances stopped at a colourful fruit barrow and bought Jenny some rich ripe cherries.

Many folk were buying their lunch and had perched themselves round on seats or steps ready to be entertained. The well known black figure of the wizard declaimed in one corner, opposed in another corner by the diminutive figure of the Bible lady playing her violin. Many well dressed office workers had drifted out to the Square, enjoying its pedestrian areas.

A glance at the light clock above the Insurance building hurried Frances’ footsteps. She crossed to the side and joined the crowds on the footpath. Soon she entered Ballantynes large department store and met Jenny in the lounge by the restaurant. They enjoyed the smorgasbord provided and the cool air-conditioned comfort after the heat outside. Frances was delighted to hear Jenny’s excellent report from the doctor.

‘You must have worked the miracle! My blood pressure has gone down, so at the moment there’s no risk of having to be hospitalised. It’s made a big difference having you around.’

‘Well, you pay me for the privilege,’ chuckled Frances.

‘I know, but you do a lot more than you have to, it’s more like having a young sister around the place. Rupe says you’re trying very hard on the farm and the boys think you’re wonderful. We really will miss you in March. By the way, Gam thought you were a rather special person too.’

‘I’m afraid your brother doesn’t approve of me,’ said Frances, smiling.

‘No, you’re right—Ian has a thing about models, unfortunately. He’s been impossible lately. Still, I’m sure he wouldn’t be rude.’ Jenny’s eyes darkened anxiously, as she looked at Frances.

Frances quickly tossed off a wry, ‘I’ll keep out of his way!’ before changing the subject.

They spoke for some time on the subject of Christmas presents, and Frances delightedly showed Jenny the exquisite scarf.

Idly. Frances glanced around. A couple had just taken a table a few seats away. She watched as the man drew out a chair for the girl, his hand lingering on her bare shoulder exposed by the blouse she wore, and Frances drew in her breath sharply as she recognised John Brooker.

Jenny followed her gaze. ‘Handsome-looking guy,’ she said lightly. ‘One of your beaux?’

‘I used to go out with him,’ Frances admitted. ‘Then I found out he had a wife and baby, so I finished it!’

‘What a skunk!’ said Jenny. ‘Thank God I’ve got Rupert. If he played around I think I’d go crazy. Come on, let’s get going. He’s quite put me off having any more.’

Out into the sunshine again they went. Jenny and Rupe had ordered a canoe for Thad and today was a good opportunity to pick it up. Greg was going to get his wish for a proper horse, his pony according to him being too slow. Ivan was to get a leather saddle and his old one would be passed on to Greg’s new horse.

‘It’s complicated, making thrifty use of things, yet making sure everyone has an equal chance of something new,’ explained Jenny. ‘I’m buying Rupe a lilo bed for the pool—he won’t be the only one to use it, though,’ she added with a grin. ‘As for Ian, I’m stumped. I’m determined not to buy him shirts or socks. Have you any ideas?’

Fleetingly, Frances thought of several, all unmentionable. She grimaced and thought of Jenny’s mentioning Ian’s boat. ‘Is there anything he’d like for his boat?’ she asked.

‘Frances, you’re a gem! I know exactly what he wants. Rupe mentioned the other day that the spare life jacket is in poor shape, so I’ll buy him that. I might get him something else at the sports shop too.’

They took the car back to the sports shop and lingered over the racks of interesting goods. The staff loaded up the canoe and the other items as they made their way back to the car.

‘You know, I just can’t face driving back into that heat,’ said Jenny. ‘Let’s go into Hagley Park and get cool. The car’s like an oven; at least we can park it under the trees till it’s cooler!’

They drove away from, the shops, crossed the river and headed towards the museum shortly afterwards.

They turned off the road and entered the drive of big trees that led the way into the heart of the gardens surrounding the museum. The car from the side window looked like a modern version of Santa Claus’ sleigh, so they locked it carefully before heading over the footbridge across the Avon. A small trout could be seen as a dark shadow against the stones. Some ducks were back-pedalling against the current so they could stay in line with the bridge, hopefully waiting for passersby to throw scraps. Realising Jenny and Frances were empty-handed, they ceased their efforts and paddled off to investigate elsewhere.

Once over the bridge they walked to the shade of a nearby Camperdown elm which Frances remembered. Under its capacious branches was a cool space that Jenny was delighted to find. There she could lie comfortably without worrying about the idle glances of others. ‘I must remember this tree again. We used to have one at home, but Ian and I used to keep pruning it by piling in and out so fast. The poor tree took a long time to recover. It wasn’t such a beauty as this magnificent specimen, though. We had a giant ash we made a tree hut in, though, and we still decorate it on Christmas Day. It’s enormous fun all round. We go to church at midnight, then have supper, and in the morning we go back to Coppers. I usually give Gam a hand, then we decorate the tree. This year I won’t be doing any tree climbing,’ she twinkled, ‘just supervising!’

After a half an hour’s rest Frances was pleased to see Jenny’s colour was back to normal. She walked over to the nearby cafeteria and bought a couple of soft drinks, which they sipped while walking slowly round the grounds enjoying the beauty of the trees. Jenny was an expert guide, knowing all sorts of fascinating things about the different specimens. Seeing Frances’ interest she regaled her with the botanical names, explaining the original references, and the whole garden was made much more interesting by her comments.

Seeing the swings and slides reminded Jenny of the boys at home and she looked at her watch. ‘I suppose we’d better get back home. It’s been good having your company.’

Frances drove the powerful car back to the farm. At the beginning she had been a trifle scared of the big silver machine after her nippy Mini, but she soon adapted and revelled in the power and acceleration of the Jaguar. Soon they were heading towards Coppers and Jenny instructed her Jo turn in.

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