"Hello Janet." A careful peck on the cheek, and there was Abigail.
"Hello Abigail. So good to see you again. How was Halifax?"
"Good, thank you. Oh Malcolm, don´t toss Robert around like that; he´s still a bit sick from the ride. He has such a delicate stomach," she added to Janet.
To her, Lucky – or Robert – looked the picture of health, but Janet wisely decided not to squabble over such minor things. Instead she said: "Here, let me give you a hand with your bags."
But Malcolm waved her away: "Ah, don´t worry, Janet: I can take care of those." He took a bag from her. "Why don´t you go with Abigail to pick up the groceries?"
"Yes, I could use an extra pair of hands," Abigail agreed. "Robert, come along with Mummy now. And be a good boy in the store, remember?"
"Oh, Lucky can stay out here with me, Abby," Malcolm objected in his usual good-natured manner. "He´s been sitting still for so long; I'm sure he´s got some ants in his pants that are aching to come out."
Abigail looked doubtful, but Lucky was indeed running around in the snow as if his life depended on it. And she sighed. "Allright then, just for a moment. Now Robert, you stay on the porch, allright? And no rolling in the snow or you´ll catch a cold. And keep your hat and your gloves on, and don´t run away. And Malcolm, please make sure he doesn´t run out in the street! You never know what might happen, with all the busy traffic here nowadays. Oh, and Robert, stay away from the horses, do you hear me? And..."
"Oh, come on, Abigail, he´ll be allright." Exasperated by her sister´s firing off instructions, Janet pulled her into the store. "Malcolm is with him; he´ll make sure Lucky won´t get into trouble."
"But..." Abigail already turned to head out again for some more instructions, but Janet simply pulled her over to the counter where a smiling Elvira was waiting for them.
"Hello Abigail. So good to see you again. You´ve come to pick up your order? Let me get it for you; just a moment, I´ve put it in the back."
Elvira moved away, and at the same time Mrs. Potts and her satellites moved in on the unsuspecting Abigail.
"Abigail! How nice to see you again! And I bet Janet´s already told you all about her great news, hasn´t she!"
Janet sighed audibly, and rolled her eyes.
"What great news?" Abigail inquired distractedly as she tried to peer through the shop window to see what Robert was doing.
Clara Potts looked utterly smug. "About Felicity officially being courted."
Abigail´s head snapped back to look at Mrs. Potts. And in an equally fierce movement she raised her eyebrows at Janet, in surprise and alarm. "Felicity courting?! Isn´t she a bit young for that, Janet?"
Janet smiled through clenched teeth and shrugged. "She´s sixteen, Abigail. Really, that´s not too young to start courting, is it?"
"Well, no, maybe not..." Abigail sounded doubtful. "And who is her beau? A respectable fellow, I hope?"
"It´s the lighthouse-keeper," Clara Potts cut in before Janet could open her mouth.
And Abigail let out a cry of shock. "Janet! Surely you cannot let your daughter being courted by that Ezekiel Crane! Why, everyone knows the man is stark raving mad!"
Janet sighed with exasperation and gave Mrs. Potts a glare. "No, not Ezekiel Crane; Gus Pike! He takes care of the lighthouse, yes, but he´s got a steady job at the White Sands."
"As a waiter," Clara Potts informed Abigail. "Or else he works at the cannery. Poor as a church mouse he is! But he´s actually a sailor."
The effect was everything she´d hoped for: Abigail gasped for breath. "Janet!? A sailor?!?"
"Oh, it´s not that bad." Janet felt the angry colour rising to her cheeks again. "Gus is a fine young man." And as she saw Elvira returning with two boxes full of groceries, she quickly added: "Come on, I´ll tell you all about it on the way home." She grabbed one of the boxes and headed out of the door, with a distressed Abigail in her wake.
"Janet! What´s this all about? You must tell me everything, you hear me? You can´t let your Felicity be courted by a penniless sailor! Janet...!"
"Hey, what´s this? Has Felicity gone courting, Janet?" Malcolm expertly interrupted his wife´s rantings by taking the box of groceries out of her arms.
Janet placed her box in the buggy with a thump. "Yes. And he´s not a penniless sailor: he´s a respectable young man who works at the hotel."
Malcolm gave her an encouraging smile. "That sounds good."
"But Mrs. Potts said...!" Abigail started to protest.
"Clara Potts is a firebrand," Janet refuted with tight lips. "Now don´t you mind what she says. Gus has practically been part of the family for years. But I doubt very much whether someone like Clara Potts has ever even exchanged a word with him."
"Now why don´t you ladies get up in the buggy," Malcolm interrupted a second time, "and then Janet can tell us all about this Gus on the way home. How does that sound? Lucky, come here, boy! Time to go home."
He handed the ladies into the buggy, lifted Lucky onto his wife´s lap and jumped in himself. Without asking he took the reins and set the horse off in a slow trot. "Now, Janet, tell us all about this suitor of Felicity´s. Do we know him?"
Janet smiled, boldened by Malcolm´s genuine interest. "I'm not sure if you do, but I believe Abigail might remember him. He was with us that evening last year, after we went to that auction, remember? When Lucky ran away and got lost in a snowstorm."
Abigail frowned as she searched her memory, but then she slowly shook her head. "I do remember that awful day, but I don´t think I remember him."
"Tell us about him," Malcolm prompted.
"Well..." Janet pulled her plaid a bit tighter. "Where should I start?"
Malcolm shrugged. "What´s his name, where´s he from, what does he do for a living... Oh, that´s right, he works at the hotel."
Janet straightened herself. "Yes. Well, his name is Gus Pike, he´s nineteen years old, and I believe he´s originally from Nova Scotia."
Abigail gave her an incredulous look. "You believe he´s from Nova Scotia?"
"Well, you see, from what he´s mentioned he hasn´t exactly had a happy childhood. So I don´t really feel like prying too much into those memories. But he´s told us that his mother died when he was only six years old. And since his father was mostly away at sea, he was put in an orphanage in Naggetta Sound in Nova Scotia. So I suppose he´s from around there."
"So his father´s a sailor, too?" Abigail couldn´t help sounding terribly doubtful.
"Yes, he is." Actually, Gus had mentioned that his father was a criminal, and that the man had been in jail when his mother died. But Gus himself was so adamant about staying on the straight and narrow, and his character was so open and honest, that she didn´t think it fair to spill the aggravating facts of his background to others unnecessarily. So she continued lightly: "Gus hardly ever sees the man. But he, too, went to sea when he was twelve. But a few years ago he stranded here, and he´s been sticking around ever since. He´s been working at the farms around here, and in the cannery. And for the past year he´s been working at the hotel. And beside all that he´s going to school. He couldn´t even write his name when he came here, but you should hear Hetty sing his praises! He´s bright, and studious, and so ambitious! Anyone who knows him is convinced he´ll get far in life. He´s a real hard worker, and although a bit unpolished on the outside, he has the heart of a real gentleman. And he practically worships Felicity."
"Sounds like a good lad," Malcolm remarked.
But Abigail still had her doubts. "And what´s this about him being as poor as a church mouse?"
"Oh, that was before he got his job at the hotel." Janet shrugged. "He´s not exactly rich, no, but he manages to make a living for himself. Not enough to provide for Felicity yet, but we´re pretty certain that will be remedied by the time Felicity will have reached the marriageable age. At least he doesn´t have any debts."
"Well, at least that´s a relief." Abigail couldn´t help but sound rather sarcastic. "But are you sure this is what you´d want for Felicity, Janet? Someone of his descent? Surely she can do better than that; she´s such a pretty girl."
Janet stuck out her chin. "That´s exactly why we´re so happy with Gus. He has made her realize there are more important things in life than money and appearance. You know all too well how lofty and superior she could be – lording over others she deemed inferior to her own perfection. Well, I'm glad to say that she´s changing. Growing softer somehow this past year; less harsh in her judgement of others. And I'm pretty sure that´s due to Gus´s influence on her. He´s really very down-to-earth."
Malcolm nodded appreciatively. "Sounds like a real good lad to me, Janet. I'm looking forward to meet him."
"Yes, why don´t you all come over for a Ward family dinner one of these days? I have a surprise to show you anyway. If we schedule it for an evening when Gus is off work, I'm sure he´d be delighted to meet you, too!"
"Well..." came it hesitantly from Abigail.
But Malcolm overrode her possible doubts: "Of course we'll be happy to come, Janet. You just send over young Felix with a message once you know the date. And we'll be there, won´t we, Abby? It´s been ages since we last had a good family dinner."
Abigail sighed. "Allright then," she said as her husband pulled the buggy to a halt in front of the MacEwan home. "But I would advise you, Janet, to officially check up on that boy´s background. You never can trust people of that breed; for all you know he might have fabricated that pitiful story about his childhood to lure everyone into feeling sorry for him. Believe me, I´ve seen it before. But he might as well be the son of some criminal!"
Janet flinched, and quickly started climbing off the buggy to hide her blush. "Don´t be ridiculous, Abigail," she scoffed as soon as she´d reached the ground. "We´ve known Gus Pike for years; he´s as true as steel. And even if he would be the son of a criminal, that would only make his steady and reliable character more admirable. You needn´t worry about Gus – he´s as good as gold!"
Abigail mockingly raised her eyebrows. "Whatever you say, Janet. I'm sure you know him best."
And with that, she climbed off the buggy and took Lucky into the house.