Authors: Iris Gower
High on the hills over Swansea stood Honey's Farm. There, young Fon Parks had come to nurse the frail invalid wife of Jamie O'Conner. When the sick woman finally died, it was only a matter of time before Jamie asked Fon to marry him, look after his small son, and help him with the backbreaking work of the farm. Fon adored the handsome Jamie and was happy to be his wife, even though she knew he did not love her. As conditions on Honey's Farm became more difficult, it grew apparent that someone was determined to destroy Jamie O'Conner - his home was smashed, his crops damaged, and finally Fon herself was threatened.
Supported by the friendship of Eline Harries, who had once lived on Honey's Farm herself and who was facing betrayal by the man she loved, Fon resolved to win through, to stand courageously against the dangers confronting her, and earn the love of her husband.
Continuing the compelling Cordwainers series, begun in
The Shoemaker's Daughter
The Oyster Catchers
To Zoe, Rachel, Joanne and Charlotte, with love.
It was her wedding night. Irfonwy Parks stared around her at the bedroom that was both familiar and yet so strange, fitted out as it was for a newly wed couple. The covers were freshly laundered, the pillowcases sewn with ribbons and scented with herbs. Flowers stood in a tall vase on the washstand, and everything gleamed with polish, the work, Fon guessed, of Mrs Jones, Jamie's nearest neighbour.
Shivering a little, she stood at the window, moving aside the laundered curtains that smelled of sunlight. Outside, she saw the soft rise of the Welsh hills, green and pleasant during the daytime, but now dark and mysterious. Shadows hollowed the falling away of the land into the floor of the valley. The thin gleaming line was the brook that meandered through the farmlands, faint now in the moonlight, a silver thread lacing the cornfields.
Honey's Farm had been her home for some eighteen months now, sweet, happy months when she had learned the ways of farm life; studied herbal remedies that would cure fevers in cows as well as humans; months when she had become a farmer's wife, in all ways except one. How she had yearned to be Jamie O'Conner's wife. She had sat with him during the evenings, working on the books, watching him covertly over her sewing.
She had come from Oystermouth on the southerly tip of Swansea, from the oyster village where the fishing boats bobbed on the tide and where the sea was a demanding as well as beautiful master. She had been so young then, not only in years but in experience.
She had not known, not then, how carefully Katherine O'Conner had chosen her, the pure, innocent girl, to care for Jamie, handsome, loyal Jamie, and for little Patrick their son. Katherine, knowing she was dying, had deliberately planned for a substitute mother and wife for her loved ones. As she had faded away with an incurable lung sickness, she had begged Irfonwy to stay at Honey's Farm for as long as she was needed, realizing in her wisdom that Fon was already tied by bonds of love.
Fon felt tears come to her eyes. Today, in accordance with all Katherine had wished, Irfonwy Parks had married Jamie O'Conner, plighting her troth at the chapel in the fold of the hills. She had married him with love in her heart and hope for the future carrying her down the aisle in a cloud of happiness.
Now, standing alone in the bedroom, with its newly laundered patchwork quilt covering the double bed, and the vase of fresh summer roses brightening the deep sill of the window before her, Fon felt a pang of misgiving, of apprehension. Doubts assailed her. Jamie was a mature, experienced man; would he be disappointed in her?
She forced her mind away from such fearful thoughts, and her eyes became dreamy. She brought to mind again the beauty of the wedding ceremony, the loving words spoken between Jamie and her, the vows they so readily made, and she was reassured. She imagined herself standing at the doorway of the old chapel and twitching the folds of her full skirts into place, fascinated by the sheen of the soft satin fabric. Her head had been high and she had been proudly aware of the sighs of admiration from the crowds standing around her. She had savoured the moment, for this was her day.
And now came reality. The dream had been fine and wonderful, but it had encompassed Fon working in the kitchen, making her husband's dinner and bringing up a brood of handsome children. It had not encompassed the intimacy of the bedroom.
The stairtreads creaked, and Fon tensed. She forced herself to think of Jamie, the fine handsome man she loved, had loved since the day she had set eyes on him â but it had been a loving of the mind, spiritual rather than physical. Soon, she would be his wife in fact as well as in name.
She heard the sounds of his footsteps with a feeling of panic; he was coming to bed already, and she still dressed in her wedding finery!
With shaking fingers she tried to undo the buttons at the back of her neck, but she was clumsy and the buttons eluded her.
If only Patrick was asleep in his room; she could have gone to him in the pretence that he had woken and needed her. Irfonwy sighed. Patrick was safe with her mother, tucked away under the eaves of the cottage facing the sea at Oystermouth.
Nina Parks had taken the small boy willingly into her empty arms.
âI hope you will give me my own grandchildren before too long, Fon,' she had said softly. âI know I haven't been a perfect mam to you, but I do love you and want the best for you, my youngest.'
The stairs creaked and Fon sank on to the bed, defeated by the buttons and with butterflies cramping her stomach. She knew all about a man's lust for life; hadn't she seen it all before with her mam and Joe Harries?
She recalled even now the shame of it all, living in sin they'd been, Nina Parks and Joe Harries, who had a wife already. The scandal had been the talk of the village, Nina expecting Joe's child at an age when she should have known better. Gossip had raged for months until, at last, the villagers had accepted Joe and Nina's irregular union as just another fact of village life.
But as if to punish her, the fates had taken away from Nina both her child and her man, leaving her alone and lonely, a woman who evoked no pity because of her rebellious, independent spirit. Poor mam, Fon thought; she always was her own worst enemy.
But she had tried to do right by her youngest daughter. Knowing Fon was about to be married, she had taken her to one side and tried to prepare her for her wedding night.
âThe thing between a man and a woman is beautiful, love.' Nina's voice had caused nothing but embarrassment.
The door opened. Startled, Fon felt rather than saw Jamie come closer. She looked up at him almost pleadingly.
âWhat's wrong, colleen?' he asked in concern. âAre those tears I see?'
âI can't undo my buttons.' Her voice was small. Jamie sat beside her and turned her face to his.
âYou're trembling, Fon. There's no need to be afraid of me, love.'
Fon stared into his beloved face. He was so handsome, his dark hair curling around his broad forehead, his eyes looking into hers with compassion. She loved him, there was no doubt about that, but this thing between men and women, she didn't know if she was ready for it.
Fon had always been reserved, keeping herself to herself. She supposed by the standards set by both her sisters, she was immature, naÃ¯ve perhaps.
Sal, a full-bosomed, hearty woman, was ripe with the love of her man; and as for Gwyneth, she panted for the attentions of the boss of the boot-and-shoe shop where she worked, even though Will Davies was out of her reach.
âLook,' Jamie said softly, âI'm not a bull pulling at the ring in my nose. I'm a man with feelings. I won't force myself on you. I know you are an untried girl, and I respect you for it. Come on, I'll undo your wretched buttons and then I'll sleep in the other room. I won't lay a hand on you, not until you are ready.'
When Jamie had gone, Fon stared up at the moonlight on the ceiling, wondering why she felt so empty. How Sal and Gwyneth would laugh if they could see her now, the bride, alone in her marriage bed. What a fool they would think her.
And Jamie, what of him? Where was the eager lover she had supposed him to be? Despairingly she turned over and faced the wall. He couldn't love her very much, not if he didn't want to lie with her on the instant they were alone. Perhaps he would never love her as he'd loved Katherine.
Suddenly, she forced herself upwards, pushing the bedclothes away angrily. She stepped out of bed and on to the cold boards and stood for a moment to still the panicky rush of blood to her head.
In the other room, the room that used to be hers, Fon stared down at the man in the bed. His eyes were closed; he was breathing easily, one bare, muscular arm flung out towards the empty pillow.
Fon slipped quickly into the sheets and took a deep breath as she felt his warm, naked flesh against her arm. She almost recoiled, but then, making a supreme effort, she leaned forward and pressed her lips to his cheek.
The scent of him was of freshness, of sweet grass and flowers. He turned and took her in his arms so easily that she wondered if he had been asleep at all.
His hands reached beneath the starched cotton nightgown and touched her, gently. He touched her breasts and she trembled; his fingers made a pathway over the flat of her stomach and towards her thighs. Fon sighed a little, fear warring with the desire that suddenly spread a languor throughout her limbs.
âThere, my colleen, nothing to be afraid of, is there?' he said softly. âLoving is the most natural thing in the world.'
He touched her intimately, softly, teasingly, and Fon relaxed a little, wondering why she had been afraid; this was Jamie, her love â he would never do anything to hurt her.
His breathing became ragged, and she felt his flesh hard against hers. âIt will be beautiful, my love, you'll see,' he said, his mouth warm and sweet against hers.
She pressed close to him, not minding when he gently eased the nightgown from her shoulders, pushing it away impatiently.
âYou have a little maid's body,' he said wonderingly, âso beautiful, so sweet. I'll always treasure you, my love.'
She wrapped her arms around him, clinging to him, her face hot against his shoulder.
âAre you ready for me, colleen?' His voice was hoarse. âI can wait no longer.'
She was suddenly trembling again. âI'm feared of the unknown, Jamie,' she whispered.
He caressed her then as though gentling the animals in the field. He spoke softly to her, and she seemed to melt against him. She smiled wanly to herself in the darkness; the time had come when she must act like a woman, be a real wife to her strong, lusty husband.