When the alarm clock rang Eli turned over in bed and stretched out a hand for Jack but only encountered a crumpled dent in the mattress. This wasn't a new experience for Elli as Jack often took advantage of good weather to get an early start but, today, the absence caused an exasperated sigh. She gave a small, silent prayer that maybe, just maybe, Jack had changed his mind during the night but she wasn't holding her breath. Her husband was a wonderful man but he could be so bloody stubborn about some things. She could hear him clanking about in the kitchen and, by the sound of it; he was in no mood to listen to reason.
With a deeper sigh Elli shuffled to the edge of the bed and swung her legs over. Carefully she got up and wrapped herself in a voluminous yellow dressing gown. Sure enough evidence of Jack's mood was strewn all over the kitchen. When Jack was in a good mood there was golden toast, fresh coffee and a sparkling kitchen. Looking round the scorched porridge, the spilt milk and the wet towel dumped on the floor were clear indicators of his agitation.
" Elli," Jack scolded, straightening up from the fridge, " What are you doing up? I was going to bring you breakfast in bed."
Elli hurried over to rescue the porridge.
" That was a lovely thought dear but I'm up now and I'd like to help."
" We talked about this," Jack sighed. " You need to rest, Trent says you have to be careful."
"Jack," Elli pointed out," I'm not sick, I'm pregnant. I can do my share."
" Oh no, woman. I know what you're getting at, No way!"
" NO!" Jack was adamant, banging his hand down on the table.
" But poor Ariel." Elli pleaded with him.
" Poor Ariel, my foot. That creature damned near killed me yesterday." Jack rubbed a sore spot on his left leg where a muli-coloured bruise was forming.
" She's sensitive, she didn't mean it" Elli assured him.
" Sensitive! That animal is the devil incarnate." Jack shook his finger at her. " I'm telling you one more day like yesterday and it's the knackers yard for her."
" Oh Jack!" Elli was horror stricken and she sank into a chair tears springing to her eyes. Immediately he was sorry and put his arm around her.
" You know I don't mean love, I'm sorry," Jack soothed her, " But she burns my biscuit!"
" She just misses me," Elli insisted.
" I know, but there's no way you're caring for her until that baby's born and that's final. She could hurt both of you."
"She never has." Elli pointed out.
" And I'm not giving her the chance." Jack countered.
" Well," Elli dried her eyes and looked imploringly at her husband. " You know May has offered to help with Ariel."
" No!" Jack pulled away. " This is my farm and this is my problem. I've conquered every other thing this damned place has thrown at me. I will not be beaten by a bloody goat." With that he heaved his rucksack onto his back, reversed his hat and stomped out of the kitchen. Elli helped herself to a bowl of porridge, carefully picking out the burnt bits, and sat at the table to eat.
Ariel was a goat; a wedding present from her little brother, Stu, and Elli loved her with all her heart. From her very first day on the farm she had stolen Elli's heat and followed her around like a faithful puppy. Every morning Elli milked her and the pail of creamy goat's milk was highly prized in the valley. However, when Elli became pregnant, things changed. Not at first, it was fair to say, life went as on as usual at the farm but around her sixth month they'd had a scare. Elli had fainted while collecting the eggs and unfortunately, she had banged her head rather hard on the feed trough. Trent had come at once and declared that her blood pressure was too low and she was anaemic. Jack had immediately panicked and she spent several days in bed. Now, despite Trent's assurances that all was well, Jack had forbidden her to do anything more strenuous than lift a cup of tea.
This was fine for everyone but Ariel. The main problem was that, although she loved Elli, her feelings for Jack were another thing altogether. Those golden eyes that glowed with love for Elli narrowed into glittering slits when Jack approached with the milking pail. Yes, Jack could feed her or open the barn door for her but as for milking, no way. Open warfare was declared and, so far, Ariel was winning hands down. She bit him, bucked him, ran away from him and, once, she'd even knocked him into the pond. She took to lying in the long grass and ambushing him as he passed by. Any milk that he did succeed in getting from her went spinning from a well-aimed hoof to the pail.
As the morning wore on Elli jumped at every sound. She watched the clock drag slowly round as she cleaned the kitchen and made lunch. A series of loud explosive curses caused her to rise sharply from her chair but she stopped herself from going outside to see how things were going. Around ten the front door was flung open and she heard Jack come in. Holding her breath she waited for him to come into the kitchen. As she heard the door she shut her eyes and prayed.
" Elli, I did it!" The pride in his voice filled the room and she opened her eyes and started to rise to go to him. The sight made her gasp and bit her lip. Jack stood there in the kitchen doorway clutching a small milking pail a huge grin of triumph lighting his face, Apart from that he was a mess. His trouser leg was ripped, his cap was gone, he had the beginnings of a wonderful black eye, there was a fierce looking graze down one cheek and, for some reason, he was splattered with ripe cow dung. He stank to high heaven but he obviously didn't care as he thumped the pail down on the table.
" Oh, well done darling" Elli enthused.
" See, I knew it was just a matter of showing her who was boss."
" I never doubted you for a minute, love" Elli assured him. " Fancy a cup of tea?"
" I'll have a bath first," Jack said as he limped painfully towards the bathroom. Elli continued to bit her lip and didn't move until she heard the bathroom door close and the water start to run. Carefully she got up and looked at the pint or two of milk that lurked in the bottom of the pail and tried not to laugh.
" Would you like a sandwich with that tea?" She called out.
" Yes, please."
" Shall I call May then?" There was a long pause before there was a sigh of contentment as Jack eased himself into the hot water.
" Alright, dear. Perhaps it would be for the best."