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The September sun shone hazily on to the narrow garden. Its only occupant, who was busily weeding between the neat rows of vegetables, sat back on her knees and pushed her hair back from her forehead. Long hair, fine and straight and of a shade which could only be described as sandy. To go with the hair she had freckles, green eyes and long curling sandy lashes, startling in an otherwise ordinary face. She bent to her work once more, to be interrupted by her mother's voice from the open kitchen door: 'Your cousin Rachel wants you on the phone, Debbyshe says it's important.'
Mrs Farley withdrew her head and Deborah dropped her trowel and ran up the garden, kicked off her sandals at the door and went into the hall. She picked up the receiver warily; Rachel was a dear and they were the best of friends, but she was frowned upon by the older members of the family, they didn't approve of her life. That she had held down a splendid job with some high powered executive was one thing, but her private goings on were something quite different. 'Hullo?' Deborah said, still wary, and her mother poked her head round the sitting room door to hiss:
'She can't come and stayI have your Aunt Maud coming '
But Rachel didn't want to come and stay, she spoke without preamble: 'Debby, you haven't got another job yet, have you? You're free.?'
'You've heard me talk of Peggy Burnsyou know, the girl who married some wealthy type with a house somewhere in Dorset? Well her mother's ill and she wants to go to her, only Billher husbandis in the Middle East or some such place and can't get back for a few weeks, and there are these kidsterrible twins, four years old, and the babyjust beginning to crawl. She's desperate for a nanny and I thought of you. Marvellous lolly, darling, and a gorgeous house. There's a housekeeper; rather elderly with bunions or housemaid's knee or something, and daily help from the village.'
'Where exactly does she live?' asked Deborah.
'Not far from youAshmore? Somewhere between Blandford and Shaftesbury. Do say you'll help out, Debby. Have you got your name down at an agency or something?'
'Well, yesbut I did say I intended to have a holiday before the next job.'
'Oh, good, so you can give them a ring and explain.' Rachel decided.
How like Rachel to skate over the bits she doesn't want to know about, thought Deborah; the phoning and explaining, the packing, the getting there 'I haven't said I'll go,' she said a bit sharply.
Rachel's self-assured voice was very clear. 'Of course you'll go, Debby! Supposing it was your mother and no one would help you?'
'Why can't you go?' asked Deborah.
'I'm not a trained nanny, silly. Uncle Tom could run you over when he gets back from work; it's Coombe House, Ashmore, and here's the phone number so that you can ring and say you're coming.' Before Deborah could get her mouth open she went on 'I'm so grateful, darling, and so will Peggy bebless you. I must flyI've a new boy friend and he's taking me out this evening and I must wash my hair.'
'Rachel ' began Deborah, too late, her cousin had hung up.
Her mother said indignantly: 'But you've only been home a week darling, and the boys will be back for half term and you'll miss them. How like Rachel, arranging everything to suit herself without a thought.'
'Actually, she was trying to help,' said Deborah fairly, 'And I suppose I could go if its only for a week or two. I could ask the agency for a temporary job when I leave Ashmore and then be home for Christmas. I'd like that.'
Her mother brightened. 'That's true, love, and you haven't had a Christmas at home for a couple of years, have you? I don't know what your father will say '
Deborah said gently, 'Mother, I'm twenty-three.'
'Yes, Debby I know, but your father always thinks of you as a little girl even though you're the eldest. He always will until you get married.'
'Mother,' said Deborah with faint exasperation. She would like to get married and have a husband and children and a home to run, but she considered her chances slight. She had plenty of friends for she had lived in Dorchester all her life, but most of them were married or thinking about it, and those who weren't, girl and man alike, tended to regard her as a well-liked sister to whom they could confide their amatory problems.
She sighed and went back to the phone.
The voice at the other end was pleasant, tinged with panic, but hopeful. 'Thank God,' said the voice fervently, 'Rachel said you'd ring, you've no idea you're like a miracle, I'd absolutely no idea what to do. I'm not usually such a fool, but I seem to have gone to pieces.'
Deborah heard a watery sigh and said hastily, 'I'll come just as soon as I can, Mrs Burnsmy father will drive me over as soon as he gets home, that'll be in about two hours. Can you go to your mother this evening?'
'Yes, oh yes. She lives in Bath so I can drive myself. I'll get all ready to leave shall I? And put the twins to bed and see to the baby. You're an angel. I don't know your name, at least I'm sure Rachel told me but I don't think I took it in.'
'Deborah Farley. Is your house easy to find Mrs Burns?'
'Yes, oh yes. Facing the village green. There is a green gate that runs up to the side of the house, if you drive in and turn off to the front door.'
'About half-past seven, Mrs Burns. Goodbye until then.'
Deborah hung up. She would have to pack; uniform and white aprons and sensible shoes. She decided to take some summer clothes with her as well, off duty seemed a little unlikely but she could change in the evenings when the children were in bed. She went and told her mother and then made tea for them both, glancing with regret at the half weeded border she wouldn't have the time to finish now.
'I daresay it won't be for long,' she observed philosophically, 'I mean, Mrs Burns' mother will either get better or die, I hope she gets better, Mrs Burns sounds nice.'
'I wonder what the children will be like?' Her mother wanted to know doubtfully.
'No worse than some I've had to deal with,' Deborah said cheerfully, 'and probably a good deal better. I'd better go and throw a few things into a bag.'
Her father wasn't best pleased, he had been looking forward to a quiet evening, reading the papers and watching the TV. He was a kind-hearted man inclined to be taciturn at his work, managing one of the banks in Dorchester, and good at his job, but at the end of the day he was glad enough to get home, potter in the garden if he felt like it, and enjoy the peace and quiet of the evening. He looked at his daughter with faint annoyance.
'Really, Debby you are supposed to be on holiday.'
'Father, dear, I know, but this Mrs Burns is desperate and as I explained to mother, I could take a temporary job after I leave there and then come home for Christmas.' She kissed his cheek and smiled at him.
So he got out the car again and she said goodbye to her mother and Thomas the cat and got in beside him. 'It's quickest if you go to Blandford,' she suggested. 'It's on the Shaftesbury road then you can turn off to the rightI looked it up.'
The village, when they reached it, was charming, with its duckpond and the nice old houses clustered around it. And the house was easy enough to find, across the green with the wide gate standing invitingly open.
Mr Farley parked the car precisely before the door and they both got out. The house was stone built, square and Georgian, sheltered by old trees, its sash windows open. Deborah, her father beside her with her case, thumped the big brass knocker, not too loudly in case the children were asleep, and the door was flung open.
The young woman who stood there wasn't much older than herself, a good deal taller and very slim, with a short mop of fair curly hair and a pretty face. 'Oh, golly,' she breathed, 'I could hug youyou are an angel. Come in '
She looked at Mr Farley and Deborah said: 'This is my father, he drove me here.'
Mrs Burns smiled widely at him. She said earnestly: 'Nanny will be quite happy here, I do assure you Mr Farley, there's the housekeepershe's getting supper actually, and there is plenty of daily helpit's just the children to look after. Come and have a drink.?'
Mr Farley, quite won over, said that no, he wouldn't as he had to drive back to Dorchester and his supper was to be waiting for him. He said goodbye to them both and got back into his car and drove off.
'He's nice,' observed Mrs Burns. 'My father died last year, he was nice too.' She wrinkled up her nose engagingly. 'You knowa bit fussy but always there. Of course, I've got Bill now, only he's not at home. He'll be back in a week or two though.'
She led the way across the hall into a comfortable room and waved Deborah to an easy chair. 'Do you mind if I don't stay for supper? I'll tell you as much as I can, then I'll be off I'll leave my phone number so that you can ring every day. Marythat's our housekeeper, will see to the house and the food and so on, she is a dear soul, but getting on a bit so the twins are a bit much for her. If you could cope with them and the baby she'll see to everything else.' She handed Deborah a glass of sherry and sat down herself. 'I'll tell you the routine ' She paused: 'Do you drive?'
'Oh, yes. Only I haven't a car.'
'Good. We all take it in turns to take the children to school. It's about a mile out of the village, mornings only; it won't be your turn until next week, anyway.'
'The baby's feeds?' prompted Deborah.
'Ah, yes.' Mrs Burns then dealt with them. 'And the baby's name is Deirdre, but we all call her Dee. The twins are Suzanne and Simon.' She added, with devastating honesty, 'They're awful, but not all the time.'
'How long do you expect to be away?' asked Deborah.
'I haven't an idea. A week, two it depends.' She looked so sad for a moment that Deborah said quickly: 'Well, a week here or there doesn't matter much. I'm between jobs.'
Mrs Burns cast her a grateful glance. 'I'll never be able to thank you enough. Now here's the twins' routine.'
Within half an hour Deborah had been told all she wanted to know, been introduced to Mary, toured the house, peeped in on the twins and the baby in the nursery and shown her room next to it. A very nice room it was too; pastel pinks and blues and a thick carpet with the sort of bathroom Deborah had so often admired in glossy magazines. But she didn't waste time examining it instead she went back downstairs to where Mrs Burns was talking to Mary. She smiled as Deborah joined them.
'I'm going now, Mary's got your supper ready. There's one thing I forgot, she's going to a wedding in two days' time and she'll be away all day. Mrs Twist will be up from the village in the morningcould you cope for the rest of the day?'
Mrs Burns was looking anxious again so Deborah said bracingly: 'Of course I can, Mrs Burns, everything will be fine. I hope you find your mother better.' She urged her companion gently to the door and into the Porsche parked in the drive. A lovely car but surely not quite the right thing for a mother with three young children. Her thought was answered as though she had uttered it aloud. 'This isn't mineit's Bill's second car. I've got a small Daimler, it's safer for the children he says. But I'm in a hurry now and they're not with me!'
'Go carefully,' urged Deborah.
Mrs Burns nodded obediently and shot off with the speed of light. Deborah watched her skid round into the road and went indoors, hoping that her employer was a seasoned driver. She ate her supper presently in the panelled dining room at the back of the house and then helped Mary clear away the dishes and wash up, and by then it was time to give Deirdre her ten o'clock feed. She sat in the day nursery with the baby on her lap; she took her feed like an angel and dropped off to sleep again as Deborah was changing her. It would be too much to expect the twins to be as placid, thought Deborah, climbing into her comfortable bed.
It was. She went along, next morning dressed in her uniform and a nicely starched apron, to see if they were awake and found the pair of them out of their beds and on the night nursery floor, busy covering the hearth rug with a wild pattern, wielding their felt pens with enthusiasm. She knelt down beside them, wished them good-morning and admired their handiwork. They both peered at her, two small artful faces with the same bright blue eyes as their little sister.
'You're the new Nanny,' said Simon without enthusiasm.
'Yes, I am, and you're Simon,' she smiled at the little girl, 'and you're Suzanne.'
'Is Mummy coming back soon?' asked the moppet.
'Just as soon as your granny is better. Mummy's going to phone today so you'll be able to speak to her.'
Deborah wasn't sure if she'd been toldwas it China or Japan? Anyway it was some far flung spot which would take a day or two to get home from, even if he started that very minute. 'I don't know exactly, you could ask Mummy, but I'm sure he'll be home just as soon as he can. Will you start to dress while I change Deirdre?'
'Then if you're going to stay in your nightclothes, you'd better go to bed, hadn't you?' said Deborah calmly, and went over to see if the baby was awake.
'Will you tell Mummy if we're naughty?' asked Simon.
'I don't tell tales,' Deborah told him cheerfully, 'that's a nasty thing to do.'
'We'll get dressed,' said Suzanne, 'but I can't do my hair but I can tie a bow knot in my laces.'
'Clever girl. I'll do your hair when I've seen to Deirdre.'