The New Tom Harper Is Coming, Part II

Just in case you think Annabelle Harper isn’t an important figure in The Iron Water…well, you’d be wrong. But her life has changed a little, as you’ll see. And a new character enters the series…

‘Let’s hope she doesn’t wake us during the night.’ She looked over at the crib next to the bed. Mary was sleeping soundly. Fourteen months old on Wednesday. Mary Grace Harper. Her smile, her hair, her eyes, her laugh… from him and Annabelle.

As soon as the pregnancy was common knowledge, the women around Sheepscar had frowned and clucked and tutted. She was too old to have a bairn. Something would be wrong. A list of the problems that could happen. If he’d believed it he’d have been terrified for her. But that was the way here, always some mutterings under all the care and the smiles. In the end everything had gone smoothly. The labour had been long, but the midwife had done her job and mother and daughter emerged hearty and hale. He could still scarcely believe it when he looked at Mary. She was his, a part of him, named for the girl who’d been his wife’s best friend as she grew up. Dead now but living on this way.

‘Shhh, don’t tempt fate,’ he whispered. Since she’d passed three months and the colic went, their daughter had been a good sleeper. Growing so fast, a hefty weight when he picked her up after arriving back from work. No real illness, touchwood; the worry always remained at the back of his mind.

Annabelle had insisted on feeding the baby herself. No wet nurse; she’d never even considered the idea. ‘Why wouldn’t I give her the breast?’ she asked as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. ‘I have milk, that’s what it there for.’  And that was what she did until she weaned their daughter at nine months.

No nanny either, and no talk of one. They could afford it, but she wasn’t interested. When she went to one of the bakeries she owned, she pushed the child in a baby carriage, wrapped up against the weather.

‘I’ll not have people saying I’m getting above myself,’ she insisted. ‘There’s enough round here work all the hours God sends and still bring up families. If they can do it, so can I.’

He was proud of her. Of both of them. He loved his wife; even now he was still astonished that she’d agreed to marry him. But until Mary was born he hadn’t known how loudly his heart could sing.

Annabelle curled against him. She’d been out this evening at a meeting; the new Independent Labour Party. He couldn’t understand how she found the time for it all. Running the Victoria pub downstairs, keeping an eye on her three bakeries, a baby, and her politics. She’d turned down the chance to become part of the committee of the local Suffrage Society, but she was still very active locally, helping to organize and speaking at meetings. Sometimes she took Mary with her, enjoying the fuss everyone made of the child. This time, though, she’d gone alone and he’d had his little one to himself for two hours, the first time she’d trusted him.

‘The experience will be good for you,’ Annabelle had told him briskly before she left. ‘I showed you what to do, Tom. Just you remember, women have been doing it for thousands of years. I think a man can cope for a little while. Oh,’ she added, ‘after you change her, there’s some lard to use as cream on her bum.’ She gave him a big smile.

He managed, even bathing Mary before reading to her from The Water Babies, watching as her eyes gently closed.

Remember, you can get your order in for the book here – the cheapest price I’ve found and you’ll be supporting independent bookshops. It’s out July 29.

the iron water 4 blue legs

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