Mill House, Nuneaton, February 1919
Mrs Pegs had just settled down to enjoy a well-earned cup of tea when Gwen the young maid entered the kitchen to tell her, ‘There’s someone at the front door askin’ to see you, Cook.’
Mrs Pegs raised her eyebrows. ‘To see me?’ she asked in amazement.
‘Aye, it’s a lady wi’ a little boy. She’s very well dressed an’ when I told ’er that Master Farthing weren’t to be disturbed an’ the mistress were ill, she asked for you. Should I bring ’er through or show ’er into the drawin’ room?’
‘I’d best come an’ see who it is first.’ Mrs Pegs sighed as she dragged herself out of the chair. So much fer me tea break, she thought. There’s no rest fer the wicked!
She followed Gwen through into the hallway and peered ahead to where a woman stood on the step with her back to her. Just as Gwen had said, the needlecord costume and fancy feathered hat she was wearing looked to be of the finest quality, but she couldn’t for the life of her think what the lass might want with her.
‘Can I help yer, ma’am?’ Her voice cut through the silence – and as the woman turned towards her, still gripping the hand of the child at her side, Mrs Pegs’ eyes almost popped out of her head. ‘Good God! If it ain’t our Bessie . . . But just look at yer! I wouldn’t ’ave recognised yer, lass. Why, yer look grand.’
‘Hello, Mrs Pegs.’
The woman was amazed to find that Bessie not only looked different but she sounded different too. She was certainly a very far cry from the young maid whom had used to work for her and who had been forced to run away in the dead of night.
But the kindly cook didn’t want to think about that for now. She was just delighted to see the girl whom she had once looked upon almost as a daughter. Her glance then fell to the little boy, who was staring up at her from eyes that looked exactly like his father’s. Her stomach flipped. The child must be about three years old now, if her calculations were right.
‘An’ who might this bonny little feller be then?’ She tried to keep her voice light.
‘This is Roderick,’ Bessie informed her solemnly. ‘Roderick Ward.’
As Mrs Pegs gazed at her curiously, Bessie went on with a catch in her voice, ‘I got married to a wonderful man in Liverpool after I left here, but sadly he passed away last year so I thought I would bring Roderick back to my home town. There was nothing left in Liverpool for us after Malcolm died, and I didn’t know where else to go.’
Mrs Pegs could hardly take it all in and her mouth gaped open – but then clamping it shut, she ushered Bessie into the hallway, asking, ‘Will you come through to the kitchen, lass? It sounds like we have a lot of catchin’ up to do.’
Although she was delighted to see Bessie again she was also feeling very apprehensive. There was no mistaking who the boy belonged to, for he was a younger version of the man who had fathered him, but Bessie had clearly fallen on her feet somewhere along the way if the mountain of expensive luggage that was piled at the side of the door and the way she was togged out was anything to go by.
‘I think I’d rather see Mr Farthing first, if you don’t mind,’ Bessie answered nervously. ‘If I’m going to be living around here I think he needs to know why I ran away, so I may as well get it over with.’
‘I can understand that.’ Turning to Gwen, Mrs Pegs told her, ‘The master is in his study. Go an’ tell him there’s someone here who needs to speak to ’im, an’ that it’s very important.’
Gwen rushed off to do as she was told as Bessie stood clutching Roddy’s hand. She had dreamed of this moment for so long, yet now it was here she wasn’t looking forward to it one little bit.
‘The master says I’m to show yer into the drawin’ room, miss, an’ he’ll be along presently,’ Gwen said on her return shortly afterwards.
Mrs Pegs squeezed Bessie’s hand encouragingly. ‘Come through to the kitchen when you’re done,’ she murmured, and after nodding, Bessie followed Gwen into the drawing room.
When Max Farthing entered the room moments later, his face broke into a smile at the sight of the girl he had fetched from the workhouse to help Mrs Pegs so long ago. Bessie had been just a young lass then and he had grown very fond of her over the years and had been worried when she just ran off with no word of explanation.
And yet he was hardly able to believe his eyes, for the Bessie standing before him was nothing like the girl he remembered. Her hair, which was smoothed into a neat chignon on the back of her head, was shining and she held herself proudly. Her clothes, he noticed, were the height of fashion too and her voice was more refined somehow.
‘Why, Bessie. How lovely it is to see you – and looking so well and so grand too. I scarcely recognised you.’ His smile expressed his delight at seeing her again, and just for a moment she felt a pang of guilt at the hurt she was about to heap upon him, but it had to be done.
‘Actually it’s Mrs Ward now. Could you spare me a moment, Mr Farthing?’ she enquired.
His smile widened as he glanced down at the child. ‘Of course. But who is this handsome little chap?’
‘This, Mr Farthing, is your grandson.’ Bessie placed a hand on the little boy’s thin shoulders.