"Hello, Alf!" Laura called, knocking on the open door. "Are you there?"
"I'll be down in a minute, Laura!" called Alf from upstairs. A few moments later he came thundering down the stairs.
"Laura!" he exclaimed, running forward and hugging her tight. "It's been ages since you come to see Minnie 'n' me. It's good to see you."
"You too, Alf," Laura replied, smiling. "I'm so sorry I didn't come sooner. The post office has been so busy lately! Miss Lane has had me doing one thing after another."
Alf smiled his big smile. "Well, I'm glad Miss Lane could spare you for a little bit." He pulled up a chair. "Care to sit?"
"Yes, I will, thank you." Laura sat down, and looked toward the stairs. "Where's Minnie?"
"She went out for a walk," was the reply. His face fell. " She been feelin' a bit out o' sorts."
"What do you mean? Is she ill, Alf?" Laura asked, concerned.
Alf sat down beside her. "You know my Minnie. Always smilin' and findin' things to be cheerful about. That's why I fell in love with her. That's…why I married her." He shifted in his seat. "But lately…lately she in't been so cheerful. She in't been smilin' neither."
He looked at his feet sadly. "An' I wish I knew what was makin' her so, but I don't, an' when I ask her, it just seems to make her more upset. And Laura, it fair breaks my heart to see her so."
Laura reached over and patted Alf's arm sympathetically. "I'm sure she's fine. Maybe…maybe she's just getting used to life as a married woman, you know?" Suddenly, her face brightened. "Or maybe…" she stopped, and stared off into space, a thoughtful expression on her face.
"What? Maybe what?" Alf looked concerned. "Laura, what is it?"
Laura's eyes snapped up. "Oh!" she exclaimed, trying to look nonchalant. "Nothing, Alf, nothing. " She stood up. "But if I see Minnie, I'm going to take her into Candleford with me for a bit, is that all right?"
Alf stood, and looked Laura in the eye. "Well yes, I suppose, but why?"
"Well, she…she, um…uh…" Laura stuttered. "Miss Lane misses her terribly, and is wanting to see her, that's all!"
"Very well," Alf said suspiciously. "You sure there in't nothin' wrong?"
"Alf Arless," Laura said, grinning. "Would I ever lie to you?"
Alf gave a chuckle of submission. "No, Laura Timmins. And I would never doubt you."
Laura smiled lovingly at her childhood friend.
"Anyway, I best be getting on with my rounds. It was good to see you, Alfie. You take care." She patted his cheek.
"You too, Laura," Alf replied.
"I'll come by again soon, I promise!" She called over her shoulder as she walked out the door.
It was late, and Minnie still hadn't come home. Alf was sitting in his chair by the fire, but he was getting increasingly agitated as the night wore on. He was just drifting off to sleep, when he heard the door open and close, and a small voice say, "Alfie?"
"Minnie?" Alf mumbled, blinking groggily. He sat up, and turned. "Minnie, where you been?"
"Oh, Alfie! I have such things to tell you!" Minnie giggled, scampering forward and standing in front of her husband.
"What is it, Min?" He leaned forward. "What have you got to tell me?"
Minnie clasped her hands. "Ooh! I don't even know where to begin! I feel as though all the excitement and happiness and goodness everythin' is just bubblin' inside me, and I shall burst, I know I shall!"
"Minnie! What is it?" Alf's tone was impatient, but he was smiling. Minnie's happiness was infectious.
"Alfie, I want you to think of the best possible thing that could ever, ever happen to us, and I want you to wish for it."
Alf raised an eyebrow. "Well go on!" Minnie urged.
"But what – "
"Just do it. Please, Alfie?" Minnie was swinging her hips in circles, like she always did when she was excited.
Alf closed his eyes. "There," he said, opening them. "Now, will you tell me what this is all about?"
Minnie giggled again, put her hands on Alf's cheeks and kissed him heartily. Then she dropped to her knees in front of him, setting her elbows on his knees.
"Alfie, I'm goin' to 'ave a babe!"
Alf's eyes went wide. "Are…are you sure, Min?"
"Oh yes!" Minnie exclaimed. "Laura went 'n' took me over to the Post Office, and then Miss Lane had a look at me, and then the Misses Pratt had a look at me, and then the doctor came and looked at me, an' it scared me, really, to have all these people lookin' at me, but then he told me that I was goin' to have a child, and I just fair screamed with joy!" She paused. "But it's strange," she said thoughtfully. "I in't been cravin' eggs like my ma was when she was going to have me."
Alf sat, speechless for a few moments, and then burst out laughing. "Oh Minnie!" he cried, and he stood up and whirled his little wife around the room.