24th December, late evening.
“Rafaela, Evelyn! Put down those toys and get into your coats before I come and get you into them myself!”
Leaving the salon door open, Sarah rattled along the corridor and into the kitchen.
“I’m just off to Mass with the girls,” she said to the two men who were sitting either side of the kitchen table. “Either of you want to come?”
“I’ll pass, thanks,” said Matty over his book. “Not really one for Popery.”
“Why are you taking Evelyn?” asked Tristan, who had been fitting a new string to his violin and was frowning in concentration.
“When she heard Rafaela was going she wanted to go as well,” said Sarah. “You know how she follows her around.”
“But could Captain Humphries not have taken our girls as well as Robin? There is surely no need for you to go.”
“Oh, I couldn’t ask him to do that,” said Sarah with a slight blush. “It wouldn’t be fair. Anyway, I don’t mind. One Mass won’t hurt! Well, if neither of you want to go…”
She hurried out before the men could change their minds and went back up the hall, to find the girls buttoning up their coats and letting Susie cram their woollen tams down over their hair.
“I thought I might come with you,” said Susie. “I’ve never been to Mass.”
Sarah’s disappointment must have shown in her face, because Susie looked momentarily confused, then smiled knowingly.
“That said,” she said, “I expect you’ll be alright with Captain Humphries to look after you. And I suppose someone needs to keep an eye on those two.”
She jerked her head at the kitchen and Sarah lit up with relief.
“That’s right,” she said. “I don’t mind going alone.”
“Alright then.” Susie grinned good-naturedly and went back into the salon, and Sarah and the girls prepared to go.
“When we come back we can have our presents, can’t we?” said Rafaela.
“You may have your presents tomorrow,” said Sarah absently.
“But it will be tomorrow when we get back,” Rafaela said insistently, and Sarah scowled.
“When you wake up tomorrow morning!” she corrected herself. “Now come on, or we’ll be late.”
“Jesus wouldn’t want us to wait for our presents,” said Rafaela rebelliously as Sarah shepherded her to the door.
“Jesus had to wait until Epiphany for his presents,” said Sarah, “and if you don’t stop nagging me, I’ll make you wait as long for your own!”
She opened the door as she spoke and stepped back in surprise, as did Ted, who was standing on the other side with his hand raised to knock. He recovered himself first and beamed his warm smile.
“Good evening,” he said politely. “All ready?”
“Absolutely,” said Sarah, taking a firm grip of herself, and of the hands of the two girls. “Let’s go!”