Awaking; aware, without opening his eyes, of sunlight and a band of warmth lying across the bed, Bill Rawlins was pervaded with a sense of marvellous contentment and well-being. A number of pleasant thoughts crossed his mind. That it was a Sunday so he didn't have to go to work. That it was going to be a fine day. That the warm, soft body of his wife lay close to him, her head pillowed in the curve of his arm. That he was, in all probability, one of the most fortunate men in the world.
The bed was huge and downy. An old aunt of Bill's had given it to them as a wedding present when he had married Clodagh two months ago. It had been her marriage bed, his aunt had informed him with certain 0relish, and to make the gift more acceptable, had thrown in a beautiful new mattress and six pairs of 0heirloom linen sheets.
It was about the only thing in the house, apart from his desk and his clothes, that actually belonged to Bill. Marrying a widow had posed certain complications, but where they were to live was not one of them, because there could have been no question of Clodagh and her two small girls moving into Bill's two-roomed bachelor flat, and there seemed little point going to all the hassle and expense of buying themselves a new house when hers was already so perfect. His flat had been in the middle of the town, within walking distance of the office, but this house lay a mile or so out into the country, and had as well the advantage of a large and rambling garden. Besides, Clodagh pointed out, it was the children's home. Here were their secret hideouts, the swing in the 0sycamore tree, the playroom in the attic.
Bill needed no persuasion. It was the right and obvious thing to do.
'You're going to live in Clodagh's house?' his friends exclaimed, looking astonished.
'A bit tricky, surely. After all, that's where she lived with her first husband.'
'Very happily, too,’ Bill pointed out. 'And I hope she'll be just as happy with me.’
Clodagh's husband, and the father of her two little girls, had been killed in a tragic car smash three years ago. Bill, although he had worked and lived in the district for some years, did not meet her until two years later, when he was asked, as a suitable man to make up numbers, to a dinner party, and there found himself sitting next to a tall and slender girl, whose thick blonde hair was wound up into a knot at the back of her elegant head.
Her finely boned face he instantly found beautiful, and yet, at the same time, sad. Her eyes were grave, her mouth hesitant. It was this very sadness that caught at his tough and experienced heart. Her fragile neck, exposed by the old-fashioned hairstyle, seemed to him vulnerable as a child's, and when at last he made her laugh, and her smile came into its own, he fell, like any young man, head over heels in love.
'You're going to marry her?' asked those same astonished friends. 'One thing, marrying a widow. Another, marrying a ready-made family.’
'That's a bonus.’
'Glad you think so, old boy. Ever had anything to do with children?'
'No,’ he admitted, 'but it's never too late to start’
Clodagh was thirty-three; Bill was thirty-seven. A confirmed bachelor. That's what he was known as. A handsome, cheerful sort of fellow, good for a game of golf, and a useful player at the local tennis club, but definitely a confirmed bachelor. How would he manage?
He managed by treating the two small girls like grown-ups. They were called Emily and Anna. Emily was eight and Anna was six. Despite his determination not to be intimidated by them, he found their straight stares unnerving. They were both fair, with long hair and blue eyes of startling brightness. These two pairs of eyes watched him incessantly; moved around the room as he moved, showed neither affection nor dislike.
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