|Madge Russell walked down the corridor towards the nursery, with a smile. It was a miserable day outside, but she had slipped away from her many household duties to visit the children. The older ones were in school, of course, but her daughter, Sybil and Jackie, her nephew, were painting pictures in the day-nursery with Rosa in charge. |
Josette was in her crib, and Madge spent some happy moments looking at her as she slept, admiring her black curls and perfect little face. With a gentle kiss, she left her newest daughter and carried on to see the others.
She smiled at Rosa, and said she could have a short break. Rosa nodded, and slipped out of the room.
“Mummy!” Sybil said, excitedly, abandoning her drawing and running over to her mother. “Are you going to tell me a story?”
“Mummy, look, I drew you!” Four-year old Jackie said, in his excitement forgetting to call his aunt by her proper title. Madge’s heart filled with love as she studied the drawing with care.
“Call me Auntie Madge, dear,” she said, gently. “What a wonderful drawing, thank you for drawing me! We’ll put it on the wall, shall we?”
“Yes, please,” Jackie nodded.
While his aunt was away, hunting for drawing pins, Sybil pinched her cousin, with some viciousness.
“She’s my mummy, not yours,” she said, hotly. “You’re only a cousin.”
Jackie looked at her confused, and rubbed his arm. “She’s mine too,” he said, but in worried tones.
“No, she’s not. You’re so stupid. Your mummy’s in India. She left you. Cos she didn’t want you.” Sybil sneered.
“Why didn’t she want me?” asked Jackie, horrified.
“Cos you’re a stupid boy.” Sybil, having shot her bolt, turned back to her own drawing.
“Auntie Madge?” Jackie had waited until naptime before he could whisper his questions. Sybil was asleep already and couldn’t hear
“Doesn’t my mummy want me?”
“Oh, darling, of course she does,” Madge hugged the small boy, wondering where this had come from. “Your mummy loves you very much. When you’ve had your nap, you can come to my room and we’ll look at the photographs again. Would you like that?”
“Sybil said -”
“Hush, try and have some sleep. Your own mummy will be here soon, I promise.” Madge had a good idea of what Sybil had said and resolved to have a stern word with her naughty daughter.
“I’m sorry I called you Mummy,” Jackie said, and the worry in his blue eyes made Madge’s heart constrict.
“You don’t need to be sorry, dearest. I’m looking after you like a mummy for the time being, after all.” Madge pushed his curls back from his face, and dropped a kiss on his forehead.
“I wish you were my mummy for real,” Jackie said, before his eyes finally closed.
Madge sighed as the thought flashed through her head; So do I.
“Jackie’s doing well at school,” Madge said, looking up from the report in Miss Linton’s pretty handwriting. “Gillian Linton’s very pleased with him.”
Jem made a non-committal noise, and Madge noticed he was still reading up some medical notes for a new patient. She sighed, Jem was so busy, it would be nice if he could occasionally leave the work to others and pay some attention to his family. The problem was that she always counted her brother’s four children as their family and Jem did not.
He wasn’t cruel to them, Madge reflected, as she put away the reports and busied herself with getting the tea things ready, it was just that he was so busy and therefore most of his meagre free time was spent with David and Sybil and small Josette. The Bettany children came a good third or fourth place with him. It was probably the way it should be, she thought, trying putting out her pretty china, but it was a difficult situation.
“Hallo, Jack! What have you got there?”
“It’s flowers – for Auntie Joey,” Jackie said, clutching the small bundle of bluebells and forget-me-nots. “I picked them in the meadow.”
“They’re weeds, my lad – no, don’t take them in. Leave them here for Anna to deal with. Come on then, don’t you want to see your new cousin?”
“Yes please.” Jackie nodded, solemnly, as his uncle ruffled his curls affectionately.
“Visitor, Jo!” Dr Jack Maynard said, cheerfully.
“Hello, Jackie! Have you come to meet Charles? Nurse, be a dear and fetch him for me, won’t you?” Jo gave her nephew a beaming smile and patted the side of her bed for Jackie to perch on. He put his arms around her at once and she hugged him back. “Have you got a day off from school?”
“Just a half-day. Rix and David have stayed to watch the rugby, but Auntie Madge said I could come and see you.”
“Well, I’m glad you have.” Jo said, though inwardly she wished Jackie had stayed with Rix and David at school. He always seemed so solitary and it would be nice to see him as interested as they in normal schoolboy activities. “You were lucky there was the petrol to collect you.”
“Uncle Jem had to go to Armiford anyway,” Jackie explained. “He said it was OK, but I needn’t make a habit of it. Auntie said to tell you she’d be along later and she’s made a christening cake.”
“Marvellous! Now, here’s Nurse with Charles. What do you think?”
“He’s really tiny,” Jackie said, once Joey had unwrapped the precious bundle. “Can I hold him, please, Auntie Jo?”
“Yes, you may", quoth Jo. “He is tiny, but we hope he’ll soon grow out of it.” She tried to hide her anxiety from her eight-year old nephew, but Charles was frailer than her other babies had been and he was only ten days old. Her eyes filled with tears as she handed the baby over.
“What’s wrong, Auntie, why are you crying?” Jackie asked, alarmed.
“I’m just being silly, dear. Ignore me. Now – tell me all your hanes. How’s school? What did you get in the spelling test?”
“Twenty out of twenty, but I only got nine in my arithmetic. Uncle Jem said I had to do better.” Jackie looked troubled, remembering his uncle’s sarcastic remarks in the car.
“Never mind,” Joey nodded for Nurse to take Charles back to his crib. “Some people just aren’t good at maths. You’re like me – and your father. Dick was always hopeless at arithmetic, if I remember rightly!”
“Is he?” Jackie asked, carefully, adding this new information to the mental store, to take away and muse over at intervals. “Bye bye Charles. I hope he’s big soon, Auntie Jo, then he can come over to the Round House and play with us.”
“I’m sure he will be,” Jo said, smiling. “There’s Uncle Jack calling you, so kiss me and run along. I’ll be seeing you soon.”
As Jackie left her bedroom and went down to see Anna for his milk and biscuits, he noticed that the wildflowers had been cleared away by that capable person and wished his aunt could have seen them.
“Jem, dearest, there’s a letter from Mollie. She and Dick are coming home, at last!”
“Excellent – how long are they going to stay?” Jem looked up from his ever-present paperwork.
“For good! You remember I told you that Great-Uncle Tom had gone at last? Well, of course Dick was his heir, and so he’s decided to leave the Forestry and come home and manage the estate – oh, it’s a huge old house called the Quadrant, in Devonshire. Mollie says it’s the best thing, with the current situation out there. Oh, do listen, Jem!”
“I am!” Jem protested, with a smile for his wife. “That’s good news.”
“They’ll take the children, of course… Oh, how excited they’ll all be! It’s been such a long time.”
“Is Mollie going to tell them herself?” Jem asked, giving up on his reports.
“She says she’s going to write to the girls together, and Dick’s going to write to Rix and Jackie. I am pleased, Jem, but it will be a wrench. I’m so fond of them, and Peggy’s such a help to me.”
“They’re only moving to Devonshire,” Jem pointed out with calm practicality. “You’ll still see them, of course, and well, if this Canadian conference does come off in the next few years, then it will be for the best. We couldn’t take all of them with us! Besides, think of Dick and Mollie, they haven’t seen the kids for – what is it, seven years?”
“Eight. Jackie was only a baby, remember.” Madge could see his point, but it would be hard. She must remain positive, she decided, and not let her own selfish feelings stand in the way of the Bettany children’s reunion with their parents.
“Wake up, Jackie. It’s all right,” Uncle Jem said. Jack sat up and clutched at his uncle, still not entirely sure if he had woken up. The dream had been vivid – and horrible. It was the fourth or fifth time he’d had it and it seemed to be getting worse. He realised he was trembling.
“Don’t strangle me, that’s a good boy,” Uncle Jem sounded tired. “See if you can sleep, now.”
“I’m sorry…” Jackie said, drowsily. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“It’s all right. Go to sleep,” Jem said, quite kindly.
When his uncle had left, Jackie lay down again, rubbing his eyes. Ever since the nightmares had started, he had been moved to sleeping in his uncle’s dressing-room so that his aunt and uncle could keep an eye on him. Even though the nightmares were horrid, it was nice not to have to sleep with David and Rix, who had improved since they’d gone to Winchester, but still tended to tease him or act superior on occasion. They had spent most of the half-term talking about people he didn’t know.
He didn’t remember going back to sleep, but the next moment it was morning and Auntie Madge was there to wake him up with a cuddle.
“What are you dreaming about?” she asked, fondly.
“I don’t know,” Jackie said, truthfully. “I always forget when I wake up.”
“Good afternoon, Sir James, and Lady Russell, how do you do?” The headmaster of Armiford Cathedral School, Dr Kendrick, was on the drive, meeting the parents, or in this case, the guardians of the boys. It was the end of term.
Mollie had planned to accompany Jem to collect Jackie, but had woken with a slight headache and Jem had suggested she spend the morning resting. Dick had gone to Winchester to collect Rix and David. Madge had originally been intending to accompany her twin brother, but had changed her mind, knowing that Jackie might be disappointed not to have his mother arrive and hoping she could soften the blow slightly.
“I wonder where Jackie is?” she said, brightly, after Dr Kendrick had moved on to the next group.
“He should be here waiting,” Jem pointed out, impatient as usual. “I’ll go and sort out the luggage.”
“Yes, darling,” Madge scanned the driveway for her nephew, but he did appear to be missing.
Jackie was in his dormitory, oblivious to the time, re-reading his mother’s last letter to him. She had sent photographs, although he already had one of her and Daddy and the Second Twins in a frame, in the top drawer of his bedside cabinet. He was supposed to put it on top, but he never had. He might do after he met them, if they were nice. Mummy sounded nice in her letters, but she might not be.
The Quadrant also sounded decent, from her description. It was on a cliff, above the sea, with Exmoor around the back of it. He could have his own room and could choose from dozens, Mummy had written. He could have friends to stay in the holidays, not this first holiday, for that they would be by themselves then, but any holiday after that.
Jackie tried to imagine a house with dozens of bedrooms, it would be larger than the Round House, and he wouldn’t have Rix and David sharing and making fun of him. Second twins looked older in this new photograph and he studied it, carefully.
“Bettany, your people have arrived,” Forster, the dormitory prefect, came in, to collect his night case. “And you know you’re not supposed to sit on the beds.”
“Sorry, bye Forster.” Jackie stuffed the letter and photographs into his pocket, scrambled off the bed and went downstairs, clutching his own case, half-excited, half-terrified at the prospect of meeting his mother.
“Auntie Madge!” Jackie threw his arms around her, thrilled. “I didn’t know you were coming! Is – she here?” he looked around, half-fearfully, as if he expected someone to be lurking amongst the bushes.
“If by ‘she’, you mean your mother, then no, she’s still at home.” Jem said, sternly, but relented slightly when he saw his nephew’s disappointment and undisguised relief. “Give me your case. She’s waiting at the Round House for you, so the sooner we leave, the sooner you’ll see her. Had a good term? How’s the maths?”
“Mummy’s very excited about seeing you,” Madge intervened, with a smile. “And wait till you meet Maeve and Maurice, you’ll be able to play with them, won’t you?”
“Is – are they really here?” Jackie asked, doubtfully, as Jem put his foot down and the car pulled away.
“Of course they’re here, why are you talking nonsense?” Uncle Jem asked, genuinely puzzled.
“I just – thought – well, maybe they weren’t here from India yet, and you – well, you might not want to tell me?” Jackie floundered in uncertainty and secret hope.
“No, darling, of course they’re here. Your mother and the twins are at the Round House, with Bride and Peg, and your Daddy has gone to Winchester to collect Rix and David.”
“Oh – sorry,” Jackie looked out of the window, at the countryside flashing past, embarrassed
“Come on, Jackie, there’s Mummy waving, look!” Madge said, encouragingly. “Jem, shall we get out so you can park the car?”
Jem agreed, looking over his shoulder. Jackie looked utterly miserable; tears would probably be forthcoming shortly. He swallowed his impatience, knowing that if he were sharp it would make things worse.
However, as soon as Madge and Jackie had gotten out of the car and before Madge could say something, Mollie Bettany had appeared from the house and swooped down on her second son with so many loving exclamations, hugs and kisses that Jackie was quite overcome. He pulled away as soon as he could, and stood looking up at his mother, confused and frightened.
“Oh, I’ve missed you so much, my own little boy,” she said, holding out her hand for him to take.
“Why don’t we all go inside,” Madge suggested, wishing that Jackie wouldn’t look so terrified.
“Of course, Second Twins! Jackie, mavourneen, you must meet your little brother and sister, they’re dying to see you – Twins, where are you?” Mollie went in first.
Jackie’s throat hurt with the effort of keeping the tears back, he didn’t want to go to the Quadrant, and he was going to cry.
“Auntie Madge,” he said, as two fat tears rolled down his cheeks.
“Oh, no, dearest, don’t cry,” Madge knelt down, regardless of the muddy ground and her best silk stockings. “I know, it’s going to be fine, honestly.”
“I don’t want to go with her, I don’t want to go away, please don’t send me away, please… I’ll be good, I promise,” Jackie sobbed.
“Jackie, don’t say that, please,” Madge’s own eyes shone with tears
“What’s going on here?” A familiar voice asked, and Jackie looked up through his tears to see him uncle frowning over him and Auntie Madge.
“Oh, Jem…” Madge stood up, blinking rapidly, then giving up and dabbing at her eyes with her lace handkerchief. “Jackie’s a bit tired and – overwrought. Let me just take him upstairs, then Mollie can go in to him and – Jackie, ssh, darling, it’s going to be fine, you’ll see.”
“Madge, look at your stockings. Go and change them, and wash your face,” Jem’s tone was imperative, but the look he gave his wife was tender. “I’ll deal with him. Come on, young man, we'll go to my study," and with that he took Jackie by the arm and marched him indoors.
Uncle Jem stood by the window and motioned his nephew over to him. Jackie crept forward and froze when his uncle put a heavy hand on his shoulder and drew him closer.
“I’m sorry I was rude,” Jackie said, all in a rush.
“You weren’t rude. Look, your father’s arrived,” Jem said, pointing down to the driveway, where Rix and David were getting out of the car, with a tall, fair man who was laughing. He looked friendly, Jackie thought, looking down. Rix seemed to be laughing too, and Jackie knew from letters that he had been worried about seeing their father because of his bad report last term.
“Is – that him?” Jackie asked, just to make sure.
“Oh yes,” Jem replied. “Now, why don’t you tell me what all this is about? Don’t you want to go to the Quadrant?”
“I want to stay here,” replied Jackie.
“You can come here whenever you like, but the Quadrant will be your home now.” Jem explained, in kinder tones that Jackie had ever known him to use. “Your mother and father are so happy to have you all together again and you’ll be going to a home all of your own. You can still come here for holidays, you know.”
“Tell you what,” Jem sat down, his hand still on Jackie’s shoulder. “Why don’t you stay there for the summer and see how it goes. If you still don’t like living there after that, you can come back here.”
“OK,” Jackie said, cheering up. The summer wouldn’t last that long.
“Let’s go down. Your mother should have calmed down a little, and your father is here now and he’ll want to see you.” Jem hid a grin, knowing that Jackie would have the happiest summer of his life.
Which was, of course, how it turned out.