It was nine o’clock in the evening and Mary decided she would head off to bed. The night was dark and stormy, and the shutters on the big house were banging in the wind.
As Mary reached the top of the stairs and headed into her room, she could hear the wind howling in the trees outside. Winters in Northern England could be severe and snow would often fall deeply around Mary’s parent’s property. Sometimes they would be trapped in the house for days on end, and it would be difficult for Mary’s father Hamish to venture out to tend his stock. Mary’s brother Tim was only fifteen and he tried to help his father around the farm but his heart was not really into farming and had set his hopes in joining the navy one day.
Before getting into bed Mary walked across to her window to draw the heavy curtains. Just as she reached for the curtains she saw the figure of a man and a boy run into the barn outside.
Mary raced downstairs to tell her parents Hamish and Isabel. Hamish brushed it off, “It’s probably Jack and his farm hand from a couple of properties over. They must have got caught in the bad weather and decided to take shelter,” he said with a reassuring smile.
Mary was satisfied with her father’s answer and made her way back upstairs to her bedroom. She climbed into bed and blew out the candle and thought no more of it.
The next morning when Mary went down to breakfast, her father had already eaten and her mother said he had gone outside to check the barn.
About half an hour later her father returned.
“It appears we have a couple of guests in the barn and I need to take them some bread and water,” he said looking over at his wife.
“Oh is it one of our neighbours then?” Mary asked her father quizzingly.
Hamish shook his head and walked into the larder to get bread and water as his wife scurried behind.
Mary did not know what to think so waited to ask her mother.
Once Hamish was out the door Mary rushed over to her mother.
“Mother, who is in our barn? What has father told you?” she ask in a worried voice.
“I do not really know, all I know is that they needed food and shelter. The little boy is only seven, he is alone with his father,” her mother replied.
“Oh I see… that is sad of course, we must do what we can to help. Once the wind drops I will go to the barn if father will let me,” Mary said, feeling concerned particularly for the little boy.
Around lunchtime when the wind had dropped, Mary made her way out to the barn. It was dark, and over in the corner sitting on a hay bale Mary could see a frail looking boy. His hair was dirty and unkempt. His father moved over to him as if to protect him as Mary approached.
“Hello. I am Mary,” she said stretching out her hand to the little boy and his father.
The man muttered “Joe,” pointing to the little boy and “Ben,” pointing to himself.
Mary nodded, and asked if she could take the little boy inside for a warm bath and a change of clothes.
“Thank you ma’am, but we are just fine and we will be off as soon as the weather clears a bit.”
Mary frowned, “Oh, I think you should stay another night or two. The weather is going to be bad for a few more days, and I think your son could do with a rest…”
Ben looked wary but replied, “I expect you need to check with your father first before you go offering us shelter Miss.”
“Well I will. I am only thinking of the child’s wellbeing,” Mary replied curtly.
“Sorry miss, we are not used to such kindness…” called out Ben as Mary turned and headed back to the big house.
At first Mary’s father was not sure he wanted strangers staying in the barn another night but his wife stepped in and said it was the right thing to do.
Later in the afternoon Mary went back and told Ben that he and his son could stay in the barn while the weather was bad. She also invited them in to take a bath have a change of clothes.
After Ben and his young son had bathed they both looked much brighter and happier.
“We would like you to have supper with us this evening”, announced Hamish as the two strangers entered the room, “The lad needs a good feed.”
“We don’t want to impose…” replied Ben looking uncomfortable.
Hamish ignored Ben’s discomfort, “That’s settled then, around six. Until then you can go and rest in the drawing room. The young lad can look at some books.”
“Thank you sir, you are very kind,” replied Ben, bowing.
Little Joe tugged at his father’s jacket with excitement; he was keen to go and look at the books.
“Mary will take you upstairs. Now off with you, I have things to do,” called out Hamish as he left the room.
Mary beckoned to Ben and Joe to follow her upstairs. Joe’s little eyes were wide with excitement.
“It’s fine. You go and find some books to look at and have a rest, and I will go and fetch some tea,” said Mary as she gestured Ben to go into the room.
When Mary climbed the stairs she could hear Ben and his son laughing, they seemed happy.
“I brought you some milk Joe, and some tea and scones as well. Come over and sit down,” smiled Mary as she laid the tray on a table.
“Very kind of you ma’am, thank you,” said Ben, eyeing up the freshly baked scones.
Mary sat down with the father and son and watched them eagerly devour the scones. They must be very hungry, she thought to herself.
“After dinner you and Joe can sleep upstairs for the night, Mother has had a room made up for you. It’s too wet and cold to sleep in the barn tonight,” she said to Ben as she poured the tea.
“We are very grateful for all your kindness,” replied Ben, looking a bit embarrassed.
Over dinner Ben asked whether it would alright if he stay on a couple of days to help around the farm. He said he wanted to do something to repay their kindness.
“We can talk about that,” replied Hamish, “but I don’t expect you to do anything in return. We don’t mind helping in the least.”
Ben nodded politely. Both he and Joe were intent on enjoying their roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.
Joe rubbed his little tummy with delight while wiping away some gravy from his chin with his other hand.
“Can you fit in some apple pie my mother made?” smiled Mary.
“Oh yes please!” Joe replied, still rubbing his tummy.
After dinner they all retired to the drawing room. Hamish offered Ben a brandy, which he accepted.
“Thank you sir, I have not had one of these in years,” he said as he took the glass.
Mary and her mother had a small sherry, while Mary’s younger brother Tim sat and read a book to Joe.
After half an hours chatting Ben bade the family goodnight and took his son off to bed.
Both father and son slept well, even with the heavy rain coming down outside. They were warm and safe, and a good night’s rest was what they both needed.
Ben and Joe were up bright and early. Joe was eager to eat some porridge and quickly made his way to the table.
Ben appeared embarrassed and hoped his son was not being too presumptuous.
Mary smiled and gestured to him to sit down and have breakfast.
“I think there is going to be much work to be done once this bad weather passes,” remarked Ben, looking over the table at Hamish.
“Yes I expect there will be lad. You can stay on a bit if you like and give me a hand. I can give you a small wage and lodgings in the house,” replied Hamish waiting for a quick answer.
“I want nothing sir. Your family have been ever so kind to us, and I do not expect to be paid for your kindness,” Ben answered.
Another couple of days passed before there was much break in the weather.
Ben found a few repair jobs he could do in the house in the meantime and Tim occupied Joe with a few indoor games and some reading.
One evening after dinner, when Mary’s parents had retired to their room early Ben started to open up to Mary.
“I once lived in a beautiful house like this…many years ago,” he said as he gazed around the room.
“Oh I see..” said Mary looking at Ben quizzingly.
“When I got married to Charlotte my parents disowned me. Charlotte’s family were poor and not of good repute and my family were upset that I wanted to marry her. They never forgave me,” Ben went on to say.
“That’s so sad. Where is Charlotte now?” Mary asked.
Ben bowed his head, “My wife died a year ago from consumption, so it’s only the boy and me,” he replied, his voice full of emotion.
“I am very sorry…”, Mary said, not quite sure what to say.
“We had a small farm but lost everything in a bad storm. I have been doing jobs here and there for the last three years. It’s been hard on the lad with no mother and just me doing my best,” Ben added as he wiped away a tear.
“My goodness, how awful for you. Do your parents know about Charlotte?” replied Mary.
“They may, I do not know. They have not bothered with me since I got married. I have a sister and a brother and I have not seen them either,” said Ben, with his face in his hands.
“That is very sad,” Mary whispered. She felt so sorry for Ben, she really did not know what to say. Life must have been very hard for him trying to raise his son on his own.
“Things must get better for you Ben. Never give up hope,” Mary said with a half-smile.
Ben smiled back and got up and called to Joe that it was bedtime.
A couple of days later the bad weather started to subside. The farm was a mess with broken down trees and fences. It was obvious it was going to take a bit of work to fix. Mud was everywhere and the flower garden was almost completely destroyed, much to Mary’s mother’s dismay.
As they surveyed the damage Hamish took Ben aside and said “I really need you to stay on and help me sort this mess out, if you are willing.”
“Of course I will. I am happy to help after you have done so much for me and Joe.”
With that the two men shook hands and made their way to the barn to put on coats and boots.
Tim looked after Joe and even helped him with reading. Tim felt proud as he had made progress in teaching him to spell, and it was nice to have another boy around the house.
Mary decided to tell her Mother about Ben’s misfortune. Isabel was shocked at the story. She could not understand how Ben’s parents could be so harsh.
“I will talk to your father and maybe he can find out more about Ben’s family,” said Isabel to her daughter reassuringly.
While the men were out on the farm repairing one of the fences Hamish decided to bring up the subject of Ben’s history.
“I understand you have had a bit of a rough time of it with your family, my boy,” he stated in a kindly voice, “Mary was not breaking your trust; she was just worried and confided in her Mother who told me. Nothing to be ashamed of lad. Have you ever tried to go and see them again?”
Ben looked at Hamish for a long time before answering, “No sir, I haven’t. I had an ill wife and a son to care for. I also had to work, so I decided to leave it well alone.”
Ben told Hamish his surname was Flarity. His parents were James and Gwendoline. They lived around eighty miles away in a different county.
“My father was the son of Miles Flarity who owned much of the property in County Ribbensdale. He had a very successful coalmine and employed a lot of men.” Ben went on to say his father inherited all the property and the mine when Miles died as the eldest son. Everything should have gone to Ben but would now go to his younger brother Archibald.
“I think I have heard the name Flarity…” Hamish said with a thoughtful look on his face.
The following week Hamish planned a visit to his brother Errol, who lived in the next county and he decided he would ask him if he knew of the Flaritys.
On arrival at his brother’s estate he headed into the drawing room for afternoon tea. During the brother’s catch up Hamish asked Errol if he knew of James and Gwendolyn Flarity.
“Yes I do but not well. They live about ten miles away from here, nearer to the coast. He has a big coalmine, I understand he is poorly.”
“Is that so…” responded Hamish.
“Why do you ask of them?” replied Errol.
Hamish told his brother about Ben and Joe and what had happened.
“Miserable state of affairs…now come to think of it, I may have heard something about that,” Errol said as he shook his head.
“Well I would like to call on them, would you come with me?” asked Hamish, looking at his brother hopefully.
Errol was hesitant at first, but they decided they had nothing to lose calling on them.
Early next morning they set up the horse and trap and headed off. It was a pretty ride, with rolling hills and green countryside.
Shortly they arrived at a set of imposing gates, flanked either side by well-established hedging. Fixed to the gate was a large brass sign with ‘Edgewood Manor’ engraved on it. An imposing house was just visible at the end of a winding driveway. The two men looked at each other.
“A grand estate. They have to be worth a pretty penny,” mused Hamish.
His brother nodded in agreeance.
The two men rang the heavy door bell and a butler came and spoke to them.
“I would like to speak to your master please,” announced Errol.
“Wait here please,” said the round ruddy faced butler.
After a few minutes, the indifferent man returned. “You may come in gentlemen. Into the library please,” the butler said, as he looked the two men up and down.
A few minutes later a fine looking, but frail man walked in to the room carrying a black cane.
“Good afternoon gentlemen, how can I help you? Please take a seat,” he said as he gestured to the chaise lounge.
The two sat down as Errol looked to his brother to start the conversation.
Hamish proceeded to tell James about how he met Ben and his son. Hamish could see that James was visibly upset at the story of their circumstances.
“I am not here to upset you or your wife, but I felt you might like to know about your son and grandson. Life has not been kind to them both and I felt you should know that,” Hamish assured him.
James nodded and then put his face in his hands. When he looked up again he had tears in his eyes.
“It’s been a long time since he left us on bad terms. I don’t know what to say, I must talk with my wife,” he said as he stood, “Can you leave me details as to where he is and I will discuss the situation with my family.”
“Of course. The decision is yours, sir,” replied Hamish as the men made their way to the front door.
“Thank you for calling on us,” called out James as the men walked down the front steps.
“What will be will be. You have done your best,” said Errol as he put his hand on Hamish’s shoulder.
Three weeks after Hamish’s visit there came a knock at the door at dinner time.
This was in fact a special dinner. It was going to be Ben and Joes last night at the big house. Ben had spent the last six weeks working on repairs around the farm and had managed to save some money, and now he felt it was time to move on. He felt he had accepted the families kindness for long enough.
Mary could hear her father talking to people in the entrance hallway. Hamish then walked back into the room and told Ben that someone had arrived looking for him.
“I have shown them into the drawing room Ben. Go and see them in there,” Hamish said as he gestured Ben to go.
Ben looked puzzled, no one knew he was staying here.
When he walked into the drawing room he could only just make out the shape of two figures as the light from the window obscured his vision.
The man walked over to Ben and reached out for his hand.
“Son,” he said with a quiver in his voice. The lady started to cry.
“Father, Mother what are you both doing here?” said Ben, hardly believing his eyes.
“Let us just sit for a while. We have much to talk about,” replied Ben’s father.
After an hour Ben excused himself and went to the dining room.
“I am so terribly sorry, I ruined dinner. It is my parents who are here.”
“I know,” said Hamish and then he explained he had visited Ben’s father three weeks prior, “Bring your parents to the dining room and we can all dine together, then your parents can stay the night.”
“Thank you,” said Ben, “We are going to try and make up for lost time. It’s going to take time to repair what we lost, but I thank god I have been given this chance.”
Everyone lifted their glasses to better days. The next morning Ben and Joe would head for Edgewood Manor with his parents.
Over the next few months Ben got involved in the running of his family estate. His father was not well enough to do much around the property anymore. Joe was happy. He now had a governess to help him with his school work and a grandmother who adored him.
Once a month Ben would take a visit to see Hamish and his family. He would never forget the kindness shown to him all those months ago.
He appreciated that had it not been for this family he would most probably never have been reunited with his parents and siblings again.
Life for Ben and Joe at the manor was going to be good. Little Joe’s future would be secure.
After Ben had been settled into his new life for over a year he began to go over to see Hamish and his family more often. He would bring fresh produce and meat which he felt was a way of thanking the family for all their support.
Mary thought the ‘new’ Ben was charming. He no longer looked tired and sad. His careworn face had gone, he looked tanned and healthy.
On one of the visits he asked Hamish if he could take Mary for a walk in the garden. Hamish gave a nod of approval.
Mary was flushed with excitement. She adored Ben and revelled in his company.
It was obvious Ben was keen to get to know Mary more as well. Mary was invited to dinner at the manor and it gave her opportunity to catch up with Joe as well.
As the months passed it was clear the young couple had strong feelings for each other. At the beginning of spring their engagement was announced at a ball at Edgewood Manor. The young couple only had eyes for each other as they danced the night away.
During the summer they married in the garden of the manor. The roses were in full bloom and the fragrance filled the afternoon air. Mary looked beautiful in her lovely white gown. Music played and all the guests applauded the happy couple as they had their first dance together as husband and wife.
Life was going to be kind to them both. Out of the darkness came sunshine and all the clouds of the past had rolled away.
By Kay Rayner. Read more here.