|“Ready, Jo?” Jack Maynard called up the stairs.|
“Nearly,” came floating back down. Jack smiled to himself. Picking up the suitcase, he took it out to the car and placed it in the boot. He went back inside to wait for Jo, as the weather was cool in the early morning. Eventually, he saw her start down the stairs, carefully carrying a large basket. Jack took it from her when she reached the bottom. Jo grabbed her outdoor things and followed him out to the car, locking the door behind her. Jack was carefully depositing the basket onto the back seat of the car when she reached him. Once he was satisfied it was safe, he stood back and Jo climbed in beside it. He closed the door for her and went and got in behind the wheel.
Soon, they were bowling along the country lanes towards the train station. Once there, Jack parked the car and went to get their tickets. When he returned, he helped Jo with the basket and rescued the case from the boot. Having made sure the car was secure, they walked over to the platform to wait.
The train came steaming in and Jack quickly found their compartment. He settled Jo into a corner seat, the basket at her feet, before stowing the case and sitting down next to her.
“Why don’t you try and sleep? We’re going to be travelling for a while.” Jo nodded and closed her eyes. Jack sat reading, until a noise from the basket disturbed him. He carefully picked the bundle out without disturbing Jo. When it was obvious he could do nothing he reluctantly turned to wake his wife.
“Jo?” he spoke quietly, but she slept on. “Jo?” Louder this time, accompanied by a shake. Jo slowly opened her eyes and looked at him. She was still a little groggy and couldn’t quite work out the whimpering noise she could hear.
“I’m sorry, Jo, but I think he’s hungry.” Jo sighed and held out her arms. Jack passed the baby to her and she discreetly started to feed him. They had the compartment to themselves, for which Jo was thankful. Once the baby was satisfied, she handed him back to Jack and promptly fell asleep again.
Jack winded the baby before gently laying him back in the basket. He looked anxiously at Jo as he did so. She had been battling tuberculosis since she was eighteen and, though she was so much better, now, he was still inclined to worry over her. They had been overjoyed to discover she was expecting a baby, especially since they were unsure if they would ever have children. She had been carefully watched throughout the pregnancy to make sure she didn’t overdo things, especially when Jack had been declared missing. Jo had been at home with Robin and Daisy when the telegram had arrived from the Admiralty informing her that he was dead. She had been confined to her bed for a number of weeks through shock, until Jack’s cable had finally arrived informing her that he was safe. Luckily, the stress hadn’t affected the baby and Jack had made it home early in the New Year. He was almost recovered from his injuries, sustained when he had been swept overboard from his ship.
The baby had arrived in the middle of February. Jo had had a long and difficult labour, causing Jack even more anxiety as she struggled through it. It had taken her a long time to recover from the birth but, she had finally been allowed up after two months, though she was under strict instructions not to overdo things. Since Jack was still at home on sick leave when she had finally been discharged, he had been able to enforce this, enabling Jo to slowly begin some sort of a routine.
The train started to slacken in speed and Jack realised they were on the outskirts of Southampton. He woke Jo once more. She pulled on her coat and hat and made sure the baby was warmly wrapped in the basket. As soon as the train came to a halt, Jo climbed out of the carriage and Jack handed her the basket, before grabbing the case and joining her on the platform.
Jack led them over to where the local train departed and they had a ten minute wait. He was glad he had insisted on travelling during the morning, as he didn’t want to be caught in a bombing raid with a young baby. When the train drew up, he was thankful to get on it. Twenty minutes later, they arrived at the local station and Jack could see the old trap waiting for them. He greeted the driver, before taking the basket from Jo so she could climb in. Settling it on her knee, he quickly jumped in beside her, wrapping his arm around her. The driver stowed their case before taking the reins and setting off for Pretty Maids. It was a fine day and the sun had finally broken through the clouds. The last leg of the journey was quite pleasant as they slowly wound their way along the lanes.
As the horse and trap trotted along, Jo was feeling a little apprehensive. They were going to spend the weekend at Jack’s family home, Pretty Maids. It would be Jo’s first visit as Jack’s wife, though she had been a number of times as a child. She had fond memories of her trips there, but it seemed strange to be visiting as an adult and, with someone other than her school mistress.
Before she had much time to dwell on it, they were pulling up outside the entrance. Jack thanked the driver, who helped them down before heading on towards the stables. The front door opened and they were being greeted by Jack’s parents. A maid appeared and took their case and hats and coats. They were led into the drawing room and made to sit down before they were allowed to speak. Jack had carried the basket in and, once they were all seated, he proceeded to gently lift out the sleeping baby and present him to Mrs Maynard. She took him carefully in her arms, with a smile for her son.
“He’s lovely, Jack,” she murmured as she admired the sleeping baby. “What have you called him?”
“Stephen John,” Jack announced proudly. He sat back down next to Jo, slipping his arm around her waist. He could feel her trembling and wondered at it. Apart from the greetings, she had said nothing else, so nervous was she. Suddenly, Stephen started to whimper. Jack felt Jo tense, though she didn’t move. His mother smiled at her, understanding.
“Here, Jack, he wants his mother.” Jack took Stephen back, passing him to Jo, who felt relieved to be able to concentrate on her small son instead of feeling nervous. When she had tried, unsuccessfully, to calm him, she looked up.
“He needs changing and feeding, I think.”
“Of course. I’ll show you to your room and you can sort him out in peace.” Mrs Maynard stood up and Jo followed her out into the hall. They went up the old oak staircase and into a wood-panelled room. The view looked out over the fields to one side of the house. It was simply furnished with a double bed, armoire, dressing table and an armchair. In the corner there stood an old cradle for Stephen.
“Here you go, Jo. Take your time and come back down when you’ve finished.” Jo smiled her thanks and sank into the chair to feed him as her mother-in-law departed.
Jo was missing for a good two hours and Jack came to seek her, worried. He found Stephen asleep in the cradle and Jo doing the same on the bed. He left as quietly as he had entered, knowing Jo needed all the sleep she could get. He returned to the drawing room and explained that they were both asleep, before beginning a conversation with his father about what he was doing now he had been discharged from the army. Jo still hadn’t appeared when tea was brought in, and he went to wake her.
“Jo.” He shook her gently. She rolled over and muttered something. He sighed, before, shaking her more vigorously. This time she opened her eyes and looked at him.
“It can’t be time to get up, yet, surely?”
“It’s tea time, Jo. You need to eat and drink, or you’ll be too ill to nurse Stephen.”
“Where is he?” Jo felt a sudden panic rising.
“He’s asleep in the cradle. Come on, up you get and I’ll show you the bathroom so you can tidy yourself up a bit.” Hauling her to her feet, he then led her along the corridor to where the bathroom was. Jo quickly tidied herself up and went back along to the bedroom. Jack took her arm and they headed down the stairs together.
Jack made sure that Jo ate an adequate tea, before he ran back upstairs to check on the baby. Stephen was just waking when he looked in at him. Picking him out, Jack took him back downstairs for the short time until Jo needed to feed him again. She had relaxed a little during tea and was now talking to his mother about what her sister, Robin and Grizel Cochrane were all doing now. Jack was glad. He had worried about their visit as it had been such a long time since Jo had been to Pretty Maids and she had been through so much in the past few years. Although they were invited to their wedding, Mr and Mrs Maynard had been unable to make it to Guernsey. Mr Maynard had been seriously ill a few months before and had been unable to travel. Then Jack had been called up and Jo had been reluctant to visit alone. Jack had understood this. He had called in a couple of times on his way to Jo, when he had leave. When Stephen had arrived, they had decided that it would be a good time to visit for a weekend, though Jack had insisted on waiting until the baby was five months old and Jo was able to cope with the journey.
Stephen placidly kicked in his basket for a good half hour before he finally decided he was hungry. Jo bent down and picked him out as she continued her conversation. This tactic worked for another five minutes or so but, then he decided enough was enough and started to cry loudly. He was hungry and he wanted feeding, now! Mrs Maynard laughed.
“He’s just like his father,” she smiled. “He wouldn’t stay quiet when he was hungry either.” Jack looked faintly embarrassed at this, but said nothing. Jo just smiled at him and excused herself. She reappeared an hour later, having satisfied his hunger and put him back down to sleep.
Dinner was a quiet affair with only the four of them. Jo departed to bed not long after they had returned to the drawing room, stating she was tired and that Stephen would also be waking again before long. They wished her a good night and she went up to the bedroom. Glancing in the cradle, she saw he was still sleeping. She quickly undressed and climbed into bed. She was sound asleep within minutes, never hearing Jack when he crawled in beside her.
Stephen’s cries woke Jo about one o’clock in the morning. She went and picked him out of the cradle, taking him over to the chair. The nights were still on the chilly side, so she wrapped a shawl around them both. She dozed as he fed, unable to keep her eyes open. Once he was satisfied, she winded him and put him back in the cradle. She slid back into bed, snuggling up to Jack’s sleeping form for warmth.
I originally wrote this about 18 months ago, so I shall apologise in advance for the melodrama which abounds, though not quite as bad as the first draft! Many thanks to Kathryn for reading that first effort (and laughing at the melodrama!) then helping me to reduce it to a little more in keeping with the rest of Jo's Challenge. It's in 4 parts.