Johnny by his little hand. âCan I take the tea tray, milady?â she asked.
Opaline nodded and, getting up, went to the door. âIâm going to my boudoir,â she said. âIâll have my supper on a tray there.â
âOh Lord,â Frances said, picking up her son for a hug and then taking him to look out of the window onto the parkland. âThings are worse than I thought.â
âI know,â Maggie sighed. âI think the petrol business was the last straw.â
In the five days that followed, Frances saw her mother only a few times. Lady Parnell stayed in her room, reading and smoking, and whenever Frances passed her room, she could hear her talking on the telephone. Once, when it rang and Frances picked it up in the hall, a manâs voice, said, âOpaline, honey, Mabel said you were coming up to town next week. Great. Weâll do the shows.â
âEr â¦ itâs not Opaline,â Frances said, and would have gone on to explain that she was the daughter, but her mother came on the line.
âPut the phone down, Frances. This is my call.â
The coldness in her motherâs voice was chilling. She sounded like a stranger. Frances tackled her father about it when they were together leaning over the pigsty wall, looking at the big Tamworth sow that had recently farrowed. Ten piglets were attached to her teats, grunting and squealing over the abundant milk, and the old sow had a dreamy expression of contentment on her brown, whiskery face.
âBy God, those are healthy-looking pigs,â Lord Parnell said with a grin. âTheyâll bring in a few bob.â
âMm,â Frances nodded. âThatâs good.â Then she looked up at him and took a deep breath. âMummy is talking about leaving,â she said. âI think she means it.â
âShe wonât go,â he said. âSheâs just restless, thatâs all.â
âNot this time,â said Frances. âItâs different. Sheâs different.â
It was if he didnât care. âWell,â he said, turning away from the pigsty, âitâs up to her, isnât it? I canât stop her.â
The phone call Frances got that evening from Beau was a welcome relief from the strained atmosphere at the hall. âFran, darling, you have to come back to London,â he said excitedly. âOur plans have been altered. Weâre going to France earlier than we thought and I need you here to organise the gang.â
When she went back into the library, her father was on his hands and knees playing with Johnny and his cars. He had accepted the little boy absolutely, even if her mother hadnât. Only this morning heâd been talking about buying him his first pony.
âI have to go back to London tomorrow morning, Pa. Beau needs me,â Frances said, coming to sit on the arm of the sofa.
He sat back on his heels. âMust you, dear girl? Youâre such a help on the farm. The land girl isnât bad, but she needs telling what to do all the time. Not like you.â
âI must,â she said. âWe need the money. Itâs not much, I know, but itâs something. Besides, what Iâm doing is helping the war effort. Youâve no idea how much the servicemen and the factory people appreciate us.â
He sighed. âIâll miss you, and so will Johnny.â
Frances sat on the rug beside them and gathered the child into her arms. âIâll miss him too, but I know that you and Maggie will take care of him.â
âWe will,â he said, and gave her a kiss on her cheek.
She went up to see her mother. Opaline was sitting at her dressing table painting scarlet varnish onto her fingernails.
âWhat dâyou want?â her mother asked. âIf youâve come to try and persuade me to make up with your father, youâre wasting your time.â
âI hadnât, actually,â said
Thomas A Watson, Christian Bentulan, Amanda Shore