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Phinn tried hard to look on the bright side—but could not find one. There was not so much as a glimmer of a hint of a silver lining to the dark cloud hanging over her.
She stared absently out of the window of her flat above the stables, barely noticing that Geraldine Walton, the new owner of the riding school, while somehow managing to look elegant even in jeans and a tee shirt, was already busy organising the day's activities.
Phinn had been up early herself, and had already been down to check on her elderly mare Ruby. Phinn swallowed down a hard lump in her throat and came away from the window, recalling the conversation she'd had with Kit Peverill yesterday. Kit was Ruby's vet, and he had been as kind as he could be. But, however kind he had been, he could not minimise the harshness that had to be faced when he told her that fragile Ruby would not see the year out.
Phinn was quite well aware that Ruby had quite a few health problems, but even so she had been very shaken. It was already the end of April. But, however shaken she had been, her response had been sharp when he had suggested that she might want to consider allowing him to put Ruby down.
'No!' she had said straight away, the idea not needing to be considered. Then, as she'd got herself more collected, 'She's not in great pain, is she? I mean, I know you give her a painkilling injection occasionally, but…'
'Her medication is keeping her relatively pain-free,' Kit had informed her. And Phinn had not needed to hear any more. She had thanked him for his visit and had stayed with Ruby for some while, reflecting how Ruby had been her best friend since her father had rescued the mare from being ill treated thirteen years ago, and had brought her home.
But, while they had plenty of space at Honeysuckle Farm in which to keep a horse, there had been no way they could afford to keep one as a pet.
Her mother, already the breadwinner in the family, had hit the roof. But equally there had been no way that Ewart Hawkins was going to let the emaciated mare go back to the people he had rescued her from. And since he had threatened—and had meant it—to have them prosecuted if they tried to get her back, her owners had moved on without her.
'Please, Mummy,' Phinn remembered pleading, and her mother had looked into her pleading blue eyes, so like her own, and had drawn a long sigh.
'You'll have to feed and water her, and clean up after her,' she had said severely. 'Daily!'
And Ewart, the battle over, had given his wife a delighted kiss, and Phinn had exchanged happy grins with her father.
She had been ten years old then, and life had been wonderful. She had been born on the farm to the best parents in the world. Her childhood, given the occasional volcanic explosions from her mother when Ewart had been particularly outrageous about something, had been little short of idyllic. Any major rows between her parents, she'd later realised had, in the main, been kept from her.
Her father had adored her from the word go. Because of some sort of complication at her birth, her mother had had to stay in bed, and it had been left to Ewart to look after the newborn. They had lived in one of the farm cottages then, only moving to the big farmhouse when Grandfather and then Grandmother Hawkins had died. Phinn's father had bonded with his baby daughter immediately, and, entirely uninterested in farming, he had spent hour after hour with his little girl. It had been he who, advised by his wife, Hester, that the child had to be registered with the authorities within forty-two days of her birth, had gone along to the register office with strict instructions to name her Elizabeth Maud—Maud after Hester's mother.
He had never liked his mother-in-law, and had returned home to have to explain himself to his wife.
'You've called her—what?' Hester had apparently hit a C above top C.
'Calm down, my love,' he had attempted to soothe, and had gone on to explain that with a plain name like Hawkins, he had thought the baby had better have a pretty name to go in front.
'I'm not having my beautiful daughter called plain Lizzie Hawkins,' he'd answered, further explaining, 'To be a bit different I've named her Delphinnium, with an extra "n" in the middle.' And, to charm his still not mollified wife, 'I'm rather hoping little Phinn will have your gorgeous delphinium-blue eyes. Did you know,' he went on, 'that your beautiful eyes go all dark purple, like the Black Knight delphinium, when you're all emotional?'
'Ewart Hawkins,' she had threatened, refusing to be charmed.
'And I brought you a cabbage,' he'd said winningly.
The fact that he had brought it, not bought it, had told her that he had nipped over some farmer's hedge and helped himself.
'Ewart Hawkins!' she'd said again, but he had the smile he had wanted.
Hester Rainsworth, as she had been prior to her marriage, had been brought up most conventionally in a workaholic family. Impractical dreamer, talented pianist, sometime poet and would-be mechanical engineer Ewart Hawkins could not have been more of an opposite. They had fallen in love—and for some years had been blissfully happy.
Given a few ups and downs, it had been happiness all round in Phinn's childhood. Grandfather Hawkins had been the tenant of the farm, and on his death the tenancy had passed to her father. The farm had then been her father's responsibility, but after one year of appalling freak weather, when they had spent more than they had earned, Hester had declared that, with money tight, Ewart could be farmer and house-husband too, while she went out and found a job and brought some money in.
Unlike his hard-working practical father, Ewart had had little interest in arable farming, and had seen absolutely no point in labouring night and day only to see his crops flattened by storms. Besides, there'd been other things he'd preferred to do. Teach his daughter to sketch, to fish, to play the piano and to swim just for starters. There was a pool down at Broadlands, the estate that owned both Honeysuckle Farm and the neighbouring Yew Tree Farm. They hadn't been supposed to swim in the pool, but in return for her father going up to the Hall occasionally, and playing the grand piano for music-lover Mr Caldicott, old Mr Caldicott had turned a blind eye.
So it was in the shallows there that her father had taught her to dive and to swim. If they hadn't taken swimwear it had been quite all right with him if she swam in her underwear— and should his wife be home when they returned, he'd borne her wrath with fortitude.
There was a trout stream too, belonging to the Broadlands estate, and they hadn't been supposed to fish there either. But her father had called that a load of nonsense, so fish they had. Though, for all Phinn had learned to cast a fine line, she could never kill a fish and her fish had always been put back. Afterwards they might stop at the Cat and Drum, where her father would sit her outside with a lemonade while he went inside to pass time with his friends. Sometimes he would bring his pint outside. He would let her have a sip of his beer and, although she thought it tasted horrible, she had pretended to like it.
Phinn gave a shaky sigh as she thought of her dreamer father. It had been he and not her mother who had decorated her Easter bonnet for the village parade. How proud she had been of that hat—complete with a robin that he had very artistically made.
'A robin!' her mother had exclaimed. 'You do know it's Easter?'
'There won't be another bonnet like it,' he had assured her.
'You can say that again!' Hester had retorted.
Phinn had not won the competition. She had not wanted to. Though she had drawn one or two stares, it had not mattered. Her father had decorated her hat, and that had been plenty good enough for her.
Phinn wondered, not for the first time, when it had all started to go so badly wrong. Had it been before old Mr Caldicott had decided to sell the estate? Before Ty Allardyce had come to Bishops Thornby, taken a look around and decided to buy the place—thereby making himself their landlord? Or…?
In all fairness, Phinn knew that it must have been long before then. Though he, more recently, had not helped. Her beautiful blue eyes darkened in sadness as she thought back to a time five, maybe six years ago. Had that been when things had started to go awry? She had come home after having been out for a ride with Ruby, and after attending to Ruby's needs she had gone into the big old farmhouse kitchen to find her parents in the middle of a blazing row.
Knowing that she could not take sides, she had been about to back out again when her mother had taken her eyes from the centre of her wrath—Ewart—to tell her, 'This concerns you too, Phinn.'
'Oh,' she had murmured non-committally.
'We're broke. I'm bringing in as much as I can.' Her mother worked in Gloucester as a legal assistant.
'I'll get a job,' Phinn had offered. 'I'll—'
'You will. But first you'll have some decent training. I've arranged for you to have an interview at secretarial college. You—'
'She won't like it!' Ewart had objected.
'We all of us—or most of us,' she'd inserted, with a sarcastic glance at him, 'have to do things we don't want to do or like to do!'
The argument, with Phinn playing very little part, had raged on until Hester Hawkins had brought out her trump card.
'Either Phinn goes to college or that horse goes to somebody who can afford her feed, her vet and her farrier!'
'I'll sell something,' Ewart had decided, already not liking that his daughter, his pal, would not be around so much. He had a good brain for anything mechanical, and the farmyard was littered with odds and ends that he would sometimes make good and sell on.
But Hester had grown weary of him. 'Grow up, Ewart,' she had snapped bluntly.
But that was the trouble. Her father had never grown up, and had seen no reason why he should attempt it. On thinking about it, Phinn could not see any particular reason why he should have either. Tears stung her eyes. Though it had been the essential Peter Pan in her fifty-four-year-old father that had ultimately been the cause of his death.
But she did not want to dwell on that happening seven months ago. She had shed enough tears since then.
Phinn made herself think back to happier times, though she had not been too happy to be away from the farm for such long hours while she did her training. For her mother's sake she had applied herself to that training, and afterwards, with her eye more on the salary she would earn than with any particular interest in making a career as a PA, she had got herself a job with an accountancy firm, with her mother driving her into Gloucester each day.
Each evening Phinn had got home as soon as she could to see Ruby and her father. Her father had taught her to drive, but when her mother had started working late, putting in extra hours at her office, it was he who had suggested that Phinn should have a car of her own.
Her mother had agreed, but had insisted she would look into it. She was not having her daughter driving around in any bone-rattling contraption he'd patched up.
Phinn had an idea that Grandmother Rainsworth had made a contribution to her vehicle, and guessed that her mother's parents might well have helped out financially in her growing years.
But all that had stopped a few months later when her mother, having sat her down and said that she wanted to talk to her, had announced to Phinn's utter amazement that she was moving out. Shocked, open-mouthed, Phinn had barely taken in that her mother intended leaving them when she'd further revealed that she had met someone else.
'You mean—some—other man?' Phinn had gasped, it still not fully sinking in.
'Clive. His name's Clive.'
'But—but what about Dad?'
'I've discussed this fully with your father. Things—er— haven't been right between us for some while. I'll start divorce proceedings as soon as everything settles…'
Divorce! Phinn had been aware that her mother had grown more impatient and short-tempered with her father just lately. But—divorce!
'I'm not going to change my mind, Phinn. I've tried. Lord knows I've tried! But I'm tired of the constant struggle. Your father lives in his own little dream world and…' She halted at the look of protest on her daughter's face. 'No, I'm not going to run him down. I know how devoted you are to him. But just try to understand, Phinn. I'm tired of the struggle. And I've decided I'm not too old to make a fresh start. To make a new life for myself. A better life.'
'Th-this Clive. He's part of your fresh start—this better life?'
'Yes, he is. In due time I'll marry him—though I'm not in any great hurry about that.'
'You—just want your—freedom?'
'Yes, I do. You're working now, Phinn. You have your own money—though no doubt your father will want some of it. But…' Hester looked at her daughter, wanting understanding. 'I've found myself a small flat in Gloucester. I'll write down the address. I'm leaving your father, darling, not you. You're welcome to come and live with me whenever you want.'
To leave her father had been something Phinn had not even thought about. Her home had been there, with him and Ruby.
It was around then, Phinn suddenly saw, that everything had started to go wrong.
First Ruby had had a cough, and when that cleared she'd picked up a viral infection. Her father had been marvelous, in that he'd spent all of his days looking after Ruby for her until Phinn was able to speed home from the office to take over.
The vet's bill had started to mount, but old Mr Duke had obligingly told them to pay what they could when they could.
Phinn's days had become full. She'd had no idea of the amount of work her mother had done when she was home. Phinn had always helped out when requested, but once she was sole carer she'd seemed to spend a lot of her time picking up and clearing up after her father.
And time had gone by. Phinn had met Clive Gillam and, contrary to her belief, had liked him. And a couple of years later, with her father's approval, she had attended their wedding.