"Hugh dear," she called, walking slowly down the steps and trying not to slip where the sheep had trotted down to the yard. "We didn't understand." Stephen followed. "He's not . . . . " Limply, she pointed at Stephen.
Hugh's heart leaped and soared and the weathered creases in his face curled into a smile. In a fraction of a second he had run forward and was holding Stephen's hand tight in the friendliest grip he'd ever experienced.
“I knew it! I knew it! I knew from the moment I saw you in Church. Didn't I ask if you'd brought your wife and children? Didn't I just! Didn't I ask?”
“He’s not Robert dear" Camellia said quickly. "Just a friend.”
Hugh changed direction. “Precisely!” he said, unwilling to let go of this new excitement. “He’s their friend. An advance guard so to speak! Come to check us out, have you?”
“No, no,” said Stephen, surprised to see how happy Hugh was that Camellia seemed to have uncovered a spy. “They have no idea I’m here. Nor had I until a moment ago.”
It was Hugh's turn to be lost. His eyes prickled. Emotion was new to him. He was still too weak to hate it but since Rosemary's letter . . .
“You didn’t know you were here?"
Oh, this was frustrating! Stephen was sincerely sympathetic. Moved. But angry too. What was wrong with them?
“Chance. That's all," he said. "It’s one of those coincidences that don’t happen. But it has.”
Hugh wiped his hand across his face. Camellia worried for him.
“I think we should talk this over,” she said. "Let's go to the kitchen. I'll put the kettle on."
Stephen’s holiday dissolved. He barely noticed how it happened. He didn't realise what he'd said until later. Not properly. Not that he regretted it. It was just that he'd never intended it.
"I'll help", he said. "We can talk as we work.”
Camellia now knew what a pauper would feel like if offered millions. Suddenly, their problems could be solved. But at expense. Where was morality? Dignity? She wanted to grab. She knew she shouldn't. She wanted to ask for everything - but not too much. More than Stephen should willingly offer. She knew that. Look at his clothes! Look at his nails. Think of his time!
“It's very kind but I don't . . . ,"
"Think we could possibly refuse!" said Hugh, offering Stephen his hand again. Stephen took it.
This was more than shaking on a deal. Camellia glared. "Welcome to the family," she said bitterly. "I'll fetch you a shovel."
For the post before this - Twenty-one