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Her Own Rules/Dangerous to Know
By Barbara Taylor Bradford
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Barbara Taylor Bradford
All right reserved.
Her Own Rules
The child sat on a rock perched high up on the river's bank. Elbows on knees, chin cupped in hands, she sat perfectly still, her eyes trained on the family of ducks circling around on the surface of the dark water.
Her eyes were large, set wide apart, grayish-green in color and solemn, and her small face was serious. But from time to time a smile would tug at her mouth as she watched the antics of the ducklings.
It was a bright day in August.
The sky was a piercingly blue arc unblemished by cloud, the golden sun a perfect sphere, and on this balmy summer's afternoon nothing stirred. Not a blade of grass or a leaf moved; the only sounds were the faint buzzing of a bee hovering above roses rambling along a crumbling brick wall, the splash of water rushing down the dappled stones of the river's bed.
The child remained fascinated by the wildlife on the river, and so intent was she in her concentration, she barely moved. It was only when she heard her name being called that she bestirred herself and glanced quickly over her shoulder.
Instantly she scrambled to her feet, waving at the young woman who stood near the door of the cottage set back from the river.
"Mari! Come on! Come in!" the woman called, beckoning to the child as she spoke.
It took Mari only a moment to open the iron gate inthe brick wall, and then she was racing along the dirt path, her plump little legs running as fast as they could.
"Mam! Mam! You're back!" she cried, rushing straight into the woman's outstretched arms, almost staggering in her haste to get to her.
The young woman caught her daughter, held her close, and nuzzled her neck. She murmured, "I've a special treat for tea," and then she looked down into the child's bright young face, her own suddenly serious. "I thought I told you not to go down to the river alone, Mari, it's dangerous," she chastised the girl, but she did so softly and her expression was as loving as it always was.
"I only sit on the rock, Mam, I don't go near the edge," Mari answered, lifting her eyes to her mother's. "Eunice said I could go and watch the baby ducks."
The woman sighed under her breath. Straightening, she took hold of the child's hand and led her into the cottage. Once they were inside, she addressed the girl who was sitting in a chair at the far end of the kitchen, reading a book.
"Eunice, I don't want Mari going to the river alone, she might easily slip and fall in, and then where would you be? Why, you wouldn't even know it had happened. And I've told you this so many times before. Eunice, are you listening to me?"
"Yes, Mrs. Sanderson. And I'm sorry, I won't let her go there by herself again."
"You'd better not," Kate Sanderson said evenly, but despite her neutral tone there was no doubt from the look in her eyes that she was annoyed.
Turning away abruptly, Kate went and filled the teakettle, put it on the gas stove, and struck a match.
The girl slapped her book shut and rose. "I'll get off then, Mrs. Sanderson, now that you're home."
Kate nodded. "Thanks for baby-sitting."
"Shall I come tomorrow?" the teenager asked in a surly voice as she crossed the kitchen floor. "Or can you manage?"
"I think so. But please come on Friday morning for a few hours. That would help me."
"I'll be here. Is nine all right?"
"That's fine," Kate responded, and forced a smile despite her lingering irritation with the teenager.
"Ta'rar, Mari," Eunice said, grinning at the child.
"Ta'rar, Eunice," Mari answered, and fluttered her small, chubby fingers in a wave.
When they were alone, Kate said to her five-year-old daughter, "Go and wash your hands, Mari, that's a good girl, and then we'll have our tea."
The child did as she was bidden, and went upstairs to the bathroom, where she washed her hands and dried them. A few seconds later, she returned to the kitchen; this was the hub of the house and the room they used the most. It was good sized and rustic. There was a big stone fireplace with an old-fashioned oven built next to it, lattice windows over the sink, wooden beams on the ceiling and brightly colored rag rugs covered the stone floor.
Aside from being warm and welcoming, even cozy, it was a neat and tidy room. Everything was in its proper place; pots and pans gleamed, and the two windows behind the freshly laundered lace curtains sparkled in the late afternoon sunshine. Kate took pride in her home, and this showed in the care and attention she gave it.
Mari ran across to the table in the center of the floor, which her mother had covered with a white tablecloth and set for tea, and scrambled up onto one of the straight wooden chairs.
She sat waiting patiently, watching Kate moving with swiftness, bringing plates of sandwiches and scones to the table, turning off the whistling kettle, pouring hot water onto the tea leaves in the brown teapot, which Kate always said made the tea taste all that much better.
The child loved her mother, and this adoration shone on her face as her eyes followed Kate everywhere. She was content now that her mother had come home. Kate had been out for most of the day. Mari missed her when she was gone, even if this was for only a short while. Her mother was her entire world. To the five-year-old, Kate was the perfect being, with her gentle face, her shimmering red-gold hair, clear blue eyes and loving nature. They were always together, inseparable really, for the feeling was mutual. Kate loved her child to the exclusion of all else.
Kate moved between the gas oven and the countertop next to the sink, bringing things to the table, and when finally she sat down opposite Mari, she said, "I bought your favorite sausage rolls at the bakery in town, Mari. Eat one now, lovey, while it's still warm from the oven."
Mari beamed at her. "Oooh, Mam, I do love 'em."
"Them," Kate corrected her softly. "Always say them, Mari, not 'em."
The child nodded her understanding and reached for a sausage roll, eating it slowly but with great relish. Once she had finished, she eyed the plates of sandwiches hungrily. There were various kinds--cucumber, polony, tomato, and egg salad. Mari's mouth watered, but because her mother had taught her manners, had told her never to grab for food greedily, she waited for a second or two, sipped the glass of milk her mother had placed next to her plate.
Presently, when she thought enough time had elapsed, she reached for a cucumber sandwich and bit into it, savoring its moist crispiness.
Mother and child exchanged a few desultory words as they munched on the small tea sandwiches Kate had made, but mostly they ate in silence, enjoying the food thoroughly. Both of them were ravenous.
Mari had not had a proper lunch that day because Eunice had ruined the cottage pie her mother had left for them, and which had needed only to be reheated. The baby-sitter had left it in the oven far too long, and it had burned to a crisp. They had had to make do with bread and jam and an apple each.
Kate was starving because she had skipped lunch altogether. She had been tramping the streets of the nearby town, trying to find a job, and she had not had the time or the inclination to stop at one of the local cafes for a snack.
Kate's hopes had been raised at her last interview earlier that afternoon just before she had returned home. There was a strong possibility that she would get a job at the town's most fashionable dress shop, Paris Modes. There was a vacancy for a salesperson and the manager had seemed to like her, had told her to come back on Friday morning to meet the owner of the shop. This she fully intended to do. Until then she was keeping her fingers crossed, praying that her luck was finally about to change for the better.
Once Kate had assuaged her hunger, she got up and went to the pantry. The thought of the job filled her with newfound hope and her step was lighter than usual as she brought out the bowl of strawberries and jug of cream.
Carrying them back to the table, she smiled with pleasure when she saw the look of delight on her child's face.
"Oh Mam, strawberries," Mari said, and her eyes shone.
"I told you I had a treat for you!" Kate exclaimed, giving Mari a generous portion of the berries, adding a dollop of cream and then serving herself.
"But we have treats only on special days, Mam. Is today special?" the child asked.
"It might turn out to be," Kate said enigmatically. And then seeing the look of puzzlement on Mari's face, she added, "Anyway, it's nice to have a treat on days that aren't particularly special. That way, the treat's a bigger surprise, isn't it?"
Mari laughed and nodded.
As so often happens in England, the warm August afternoon turned into a chilly evening.
Excerpted from Her Own Rules/Dangerous to Know by Barbara Taylor Bradford Copyright © 2007 by Barbara Taylor Bradford. Excerpted by permission.
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