A/N: Part eight in the series. Andrew begins to come around. Sam makes a narrow escape. Foyle has an unexpected visitor.
A Glimmer of Hope
Sam was certain that winter had never lasted so long.
Cleaning houses for other women was depressing when all she wanted to do was keep house for Christopher. It was certainly honest work, and she was generally treated well enough, but Sam couldn't shake the feeling that she was being looked down upon just a tiny bit. One woman, taking notice of Sam's engagement ring, congratulated her heartily before commenting that it was too bad that she had to work so hard to save up for a proper wedding. Another, packing up a bag of old clothing for charity, suggested that Sam browse through her cast-offs.
And on those occasions, Sam had cleaned and polished with no small amount of vehemence.
"Honestly," she complained later to Christopher, "just because these women have a bit more money, there's no call for them to act like ladies of the manor!"
And Christopher would smile in regretful understanding, not wanting to encourage Sam to fly in the face of her father's request by marrying before December.
Andrew showed up unannounced one weekend in early February.
"Alone?" his father puzzled, seeing his son standing at the front door without female companionship.
"Yeah." Andrew tried to shrug it off nonchalantly, but blurted out the rest as soon as he stepped across the threshold: "I broke it off with Helen."
"I was – well, she was – that is – oh, damn. She was too young, Dad. Immature. You saw that, back on New Year's Eve."
"Mmm," Christopher said vaguely, unwilling to risk putting an abrupt end to his son's admission by saying anything that smacked of I told you so.
"In fact," Andrew continued, "that night we never – well, you know. I got a separate room."
"Too young, hmm?"
"Way too young."
"So do you have another woman waiting in the wings to take her place?"
"No? How will you live?"
"Ha, ha," Andrew muttered, but his heart clearly wasn't in the jesting. He looked longingly toward the kitchen. "Any chance of tea?"
"Of course. Go on through."
In the kitchen, Foyle filled the kettle with water from the tap while Andrew watched – a bit too quietly, he thought.
"What's on your mind, Andrew?"
"Me? Oh. Well..."
"Out with it."
"I've been thinking, Dad. Do you know what surprised me? That night – New Year's Eve – I was struck by how mature Sam is now. She was certainly more mature than Helen."
"I have socks more mature than Helen." Foyle couldn't resist.
"Fine, rub it in," Andrew grumbled from his seat by the kitchen table.
"I'm not rubbing it in. It's a statement of fact." Christopher lit the burner, blew the match out. "Does this mean that you'll stop badgering me about Sam?"
"I still can't quite come to grips with the idea of you and Saml as a couple, but I have to admit that the two of you seem to fit together in a bizarre sort of way."
"Should I thank you for that?" The corners of Foyle's mouth twitched.
"Listen, if the two of you do get married, —"
"Okay, when the two of you get married…"
"I won't put up a fuss, all right?"
It was as almost as good as an endorsement. Foyle bit back a smile.
"She's coming over for dinner. You'll stay, won't you?" When Andrew looked as though he wanted to put up a protest, Christopher added, "She'd like it if you did."
And Foyle felt that the tide had turned – at least on his side of the quandary.
Three days later, he came home on a rainy, dark evening to find Sam huddled miserably on his front steps.
"Sam? Whatever's wrong?"
"Could we go inside first? I'm freezing."
Foyle hurriedly unlocked the door and ushered a shivering Sam into the house. "How long have you been out there?"
"I don't know. I was about to give up hope and go home."
"Your teeth are practically chattering. What's happened?"
"I had a bit of a problem at work today."
Christopher helped her out of her sodden coat, his ex-detective's mind automatically whirring with possibilities. He could think of nothing beyond some wealthy housewife accusing Sam of trying to steal the family silver.
"Tea?" he asked, finally peeling off his own overcoat.
"In a bit." Sam headed straight into the sitting room, sank onto the sofa and began to remove her shoes. "Do you mind? They're a bit waterlogged as well."
"Of course not." Foyle angled toward the stairs. "I'm going to fetch you a blanket. You don't need to catch your death of cold."
He returned minutes later, draped a pink woolen blanket around Sam's shoulders. "I'll get a fire started."
"Thank you. That would be lovely."
"Now whatever is the matter, Sam?"
She took a deep breath.
"I was cleaning the Beardsley house today – Harriet Beardsley, who is actually quite nice, and her husband Richard. I'd only seen him a time or two before, just coming or going. But for some reason, he was there today while Harriet was out shopping."
He'd got no farther than picking up a piece of kindling from the pile next to the fireplace. Foyle tossed the wood back at once.
"Go on," he said grimly, a sinking feeling already forming in the pit of his stomach.
"Well, I was trying to clean the bath and I heard a noise and there was Mr. Beardsley standing in the doorway, watching me. He was – he had – I mean, he – uh…" Sam broke off, staring at her folded hands in her lap. Her cheeks had gone bright red. "His trousers were, well, undone."
"Did he touch you?" Foyle's tone dripped ice.
"Oh, no, no, not that," Sam reassured hastily. "But he said things. Nasty, horrid things about how I could earn more money."
"But he didn't touch you?" Christopher repeated, trying to reassure himself more than anything else.
"No. I mean, I dropped my scrubbing brush and got out of there. I had to push past him to get through the doorway, but he didn't try to grab me. I thought he might, but he didn't, and as soon as I got into the hall, I ran for it. He just stood there and laughed at me, Christopher!"
Sam looked so desperately miserable that Foyle immediately sat down next to her and pulled her into arms.
"Oh, Sam… I'm so sorry, darling."
"I won't be able to go back there now," she said mournfully. "And Harriet paid me nearly as much as my other four houses combined!"
"It's all right," Foyle soothed.
"But it's not all right. I would have been paid at the end of the day, and now I have nothing to show for it. And my landlady has been talking about the high cost of everything and how she'll have to start raising the rent, and if I can't get another house to clean and my father catches wind of it, he'll insist that I come home!"
Christopher pushed Sam gently away to arm's length.
"Listen to me, Sam. It doesn't matter," he said calmly, "because here's what we're going to do: tomorrow we're going down to the Registry Office and put in an application to be married."
Sam stared at him, her eyes wide. "Really? Get married at the Registry Office?"
"Your parents will be less than pleased, of course. And you won't have a lovely wedding in Lyminster."
"Oh, Christopher, I don't care about a lovely wedding in Lyminster. I'd really rather forego all the fuss anyway. Could we really get married right away?"
"It's about a two-week wait, I believe, but yes. If you're willing."
"Am I willing!" Sam threw her arms around Foyle's neck and hugged him tightly.
"Don't strangle me before the ceremony, Sam," he croaked, only half-teasing as he tried to extricate himself from Sam's death grip.
"Sorry." Abashed, she settled back into the sofa.
"There is one thing, though…"
Sam searched Foyle's face, saw that the teasing expression was now gone. "You're going to insist that I write to my parents, aren't you?"
"Yes. It's the right thing to do."
"You mean before the wedding, I suppose," she sighed.
"Before the wedding, yes."
"What if they write back and ask us to wait?"
"We're not asking their permission," Foyle reminded her.
"No, that's true."
"And I'll enclose a note to them as well."
Sam's smile returned in force. "Then we're really going to do this, aren't we?"
"Absolutely. Now may I build a fire and put the kettle on? You're still freezing."
Her answer was a resounding sneeze.
The sneeze was the harbinger of a miserable head cold, but nothing short of pneumonia could have kept Sam in bed the next day.
"Are you sure you feel up to this?" Foyle asked warily, sizing up Sam's red nose and bleary eyes. "A few days' delay won't matter in the distant scheme of things."
"Absolutely," she pronounced through a very clogged nose. "We are going to get a license to be married, Christopher, and nothing will stop me."
"Fine, but you're going straight back to bed when we're done."
There was no shortage of paperwork for something as mundane as a marriage license. Sam sniffled, blew and coughed her way through, while Foyle tried to handle the bulk of the form-filling. The female clerk seemed intent on casting scandalous looks at the two of them; whether it was due to Sam's obvious physical distress or the age difference between the two was impossible to say.
"And what date would you prefer?" the clerk demanded once she had scrutinized the papers for completion.
"Date?" Sam blurted, bewildered.
"For the ceremony, dear."
"As soon as possible, of course!"
Foyle put a quieting arm around Sam's shoulders.
"The required wait is how long?" he asked calmly.
"Then sixteen days from now, please. That would be the… eighteenth?"
They decided on a time for the ceremony: eleven o'clock, so they might go for a nice lunch afterwards. The clerk reminded them to please be punctual, because the Registrar was a very busy man and didn't tolerate dawdlers, and that was that. They had barely turned to go when the clerk murmured to the woman working next to her, "Sad, isn't it? Settling for an old man like that?"
The remark was all too audible. Sam stiffened in her tracks.
"I told you this would happen," Foyle told her softly.
"I don't care," she retorted, then: "No, Christopher, I do care!"
But she had already turned on her heel and was marching back to the counter, where the clerks were laughing together.
"Excuse me," she wheezed to the clerk, "but we couldn't help overhearing you. Are you trying to insult us? Because if you are, you've failed miserably. My fiancé and I happen to love each other, and our ages are completely irrelevant. If that bothers you, then I'm terribly sorry. And it's absolutely none of your business anyway!"
The clerk's face reddened. "I – I – "
"Do you treat everyone who comes in here like that? You should be whipped!"
"I'm terribly sorry, I –"
"And if you had the slightest shred of common decency, you'd keep your opinions to yourself! That was positively the rudest display I've ever…ever… " The end of Sam's tirade was brought to a halt by massive, poorly-timed sneeze.
The clerk leapt back a good foot to dodge the spray of germs coming in her direction. Foyle, trying unsuccessfully to hide a smile, took Sam by the arm and led her gently away.
"Let's get you home, shall we?"
"Fine," she mumbled, wresting a handkerchief from her coat pocket and blowing her nose.
Behind them, the other clerk breathed, "She's a feisty one, she is!"
"Tell me about it," Foyle said over his shoulder, and steered Sam through the Registry Office door.
Dear Mum and Dad,
I wanted to let you know that Christopher and I have decided to be married at the Hastings Registry Office later this month. Problems arose at one of the houses I clean, and rather than search for another job just now, we felt that marrying at once was a wiser course to take. I'm sorry because I know you are disappointed in me, but I'm a grown woman and can make my own choices.
Dear Iain and Eleanor,
Please do not judge Sam too harshly over the news that we are not waiting until December to marry. The only reason we agreed to wait was because we did not wish to hurt your feelings. Sam has run into difficulties at her job – none of it her fault, by the way – and rather than struggle through another ten months, I suggested that we have a Registry Office ceremony. I'm sure you'll want to send your blessings, regardless.
Foyle posted the letters, and he and Sam settled in to wait for the protests to arise from Lyminster.
None were forthcoming.
Just when they had begun to wonder if the letters had been somehow lost en route, Aubrey Stewart showed up in Hastings, unannounced.
"Christopher, how are you?" The man beamed broadly from Foyle's doorstep.
"Aubrey! Come in, won't you?" Christopher stepped back to allow the man entry.
"Thank you. I was here in the area for a meeting, and I thought I'd pop in."
"Really?" Frank doubt was written all over Foyle's face. "Because I have to tell you, I've heard better excuses from hardened criminals."
"Oh." Aubrey's face fell. "I am an utterly abysmal liar, aren't I?"
"You're terrible at it. May I take your coat?"
"Yes, thanks." Stewart shed his topcoat and handed it over. "Well, it's not a complete lie, really. I suppose you could say that the meeting is a real one, except it's with you and Samantha."
"I'm not surprised. Drink?"
"That would be delightful. Oh, blast, I should have brought a bottle of my wine for you."
Already heading across the sitting room to his drinks cabinet, Foyle said nothing but silently thanked God for small favors. He poured two glasses of whiskey while Reverend Stewart arranged himself on the sofa.
"Here you go." He handed over the drink before settling into an armchair.
"Thank you ever so much." Aubrey raised his glass in a toast. "Well! To you and Samantha."
Foyle blinked in surprise. "You approve of our marrying?"
"Approve? Of course I do. I could see a spark between the two of you years ago. Can't say I was surprised at all when I heard you were engaged."
"And did you hear that we plan to marry at the Registry Office next week?" Christopher asked carefully.
"Oh, yes. Iain and Eleanor are in quite a dither about it."
"We've not heard a word from them."
"I know. That's why I'm here."
Nonplussed, Foyle studied the man before speaking. "I don't understand, Aubrey. You say you approve, yet Iain and Eleanor are upset. Why are you here?"
"I just wanted to see for myself, Christopher, so I can reassure Iain that you and Samantha are serious and sober-minded adults who can think for themselves." Stewart sighed. "I have no children of my own, you know, which is why I can perhaps see things in a rather different light. I think that my brother and Eleanor are guilty of a sin common to many parents, that of being totally unable to view grown children as independent beings. I know that Eleanor lived at home for a number of years prior to her marriage; it simply wasn't done for proper young ladies to go off into the world and make a living then. And Iain and I grew up in a home where our father dictated our behavior on a regular basis. His word was law and woe betide you if you failed to do as he said."
"And it doesn't help that Sam is a female, and the only child, as well."
Foyle sipped at his whiskey, a half-smile on his face. "Well, I, for one, am pleased that she's a female."
Aubrey chuckled. "And a rather pretty one, at that. I've always doted on my niece, Christopher, and I think she's made a smashing choice."
"Thank you for that."
"It was wrong for Iain to impose that year's wait on you, although he meant well enough."
Foyle fingered his glass. "It would mean a lot to Sam to hear you say that."
"I hoped it would. Will I be able to see her while I'm here, do you think?"
"Oh, yes. She'll be here soon enough. She's been cooking supper for me most nights – practicing, as it were."
"And how is she doing in that department, may I ask? Eleanor could barely contain her in the kitchen long enough to teach her many cooking skills, as I recall."
Foyle smiled wryly. "'Practice' is the key word there."
Aubrey looked dismayed. "Oh, dear."
"It's not so bad. She's learning. And I managed to keep from starving for quite a long time, so we'll be all right. Oh, here she is now." At the sound of a key in the lock, Foyle stood. He wondered briefly whether he should tell Reverend Stewart that he'd already taken the liberty of giving Sam a house key, then discarded the notion. It sounded far too much like an admission of guilt.
"Christopher?" Sam's voice came from the hallway.
"In here, Sam. You have a visitor."
"A visitor?" Sam peered warily around the door to the sitting room. "Uncle Aubrey! What are you doing here?"
"Why, here to see how you're doing, of course." Stewart climbed to his feet. "Come here and give your poor old uncle a kiss."
Sam did as she was told, bestowing the obligatory peck on Aubrey's cheek. "You're here to spy on us, aren't you?"
Reverend Stewart chortled. "Not exactly, my dear. I'm here to be your salvation."