The Daisy Chain Line

Part Two: An­nie bat­tles jeal­ousy as well as fi­nan­cial pres­sures in her bid to save the fam­ily rail­way busi­ness

My Weekly - - Contents - By Tess Ni­land Kim­ber

More of our sparkling se­rial

An­nie was shocked – not only that Maria Wade could stroll in unan­nounced and make an of­fer for the Daisy Chain Line but that Steve would con­sider sell­ing! “I’ll think about it.” She kept calm. Maria blinked her false eye­lashes. “Of course, but Steve agrees it’s a good of­fer. Ex­ceed­ingly so, in this cli­mate.”

An­nie shot Steve a look, stretched out on the sofa. The at­mos­phere was hor­ri­bly in­ti­mate. Had they re­ally just met?

“I’m sure my hus­band and I will dis­cuss it later. No doubt you’re aware that the Line be­longs to me.”

She hated sound­ing pro­pri­eto­rial. Al­though she’d in­her­ited the Line, she re­garded it as be­long­ing to her and Steve but in­stinc­tively, she felt de­fen­sive – to­wards Maria and Steve.

“Well, the of­fer’s there. But, An­nie –” “Mrs Sil­ver­ton,” she cor­rected. “There are other Over­ton at­trac­tions we’d hap­pily in­vest in. Don’t take too long to de­cide.” “We won’t.” Steve glared at An­nie. “Now if that’s all, Miss Wade, I’d like to give our son his tea.” “Of course. Good day, Mrs Sil­ver­ton.” Steve rushed to show Maria out. “Come on, Ben, it’s cheesy pasta tonight,” she said, her heart pound­ing. “Yay!” His shy­ness evap­o­rated. “I’m sur­prised at you, An­nie,” Steve said, re­turn­ing.

“Sur­prised that I didn’t want to flog off my fam­ily’s her­itage?” “No, that you were so rude to a guest.” “I wasn’t rude, I was straight. Come on, Ben, you can weigh the pasta.”

Steve folded his arms and leaned against the Aga. He might be an­noyed but she was fu­ri­ous. If they were alone, they’d have one of their rare ar­gu­ments. How dare he dis­cuss sell­ing with­out her!

Anx­ious about Ben, she said, “Let’s talk later. Tea won’t be long.” His dark eyes held hers. “But Maria…” “Maria, is it?” She raised her eye­brow. “Leave my pasta in the oven. I’ve work to do.” He stomped out.

“Maria has a SID­ING SHEDLOAD of MONEY but we have DE­VO­TION”

It’s a great of­fer,” Steve re­peated later that evening. “So, you say,” An­nie said, curled in the arm­chair by the fire. “But I’m not sell­ing. To Maria Wade or any­one.”

Steve had re­turned as she put Ben to bed. Af­ter eat­ing, he joined her in the lounge, his mood much im­proved.

“Look. I don’t want to sell but times are hard. Last sum­mer was dire and we haven’t re­cov­ered.”

“Ben was ill, Eniko was away, I had to shut the tea­room. This year could be –” “Worse.” She sighed. “Maybe – but I think these Santa Spe­cials could work.”

“Hon­estly? A few mince pies and mulled wine won’t clear the over­draft.”

“No, but a few weeks of ex­tra busi­ness might. On this travel pro­gramme…”

“Dif­fer­ent place, dif­fer­ent line. How do we know it’ll work for us?”

She shrugged. “We don’t – un­less we try. Look, if Maria thinks she can make money from the Line, why can’t we?” This caught his at­ten­tion. “OK, Maria has a sid­ing shedload of money be­hind her but we have…”

“…ex­pe­ri­ence, duty, de­vo­tion,” he fin­ished. “Where’s your cost­ings?”

She leapt up and seized some pa­pers from the desk.

“If we charge this,” she pointed to the page, squeez­ing next to him, “and at­tract these num­bers…”

“OK.” He kissed her. “We’ll give it a go. But if the Santa Spe­cials aren’t prof­itable, we’ll ac­cept Maria’s of­fer and find our­selves jobs in town.”

She hes­i­tated. “OK – fine, if the Santa Spe­cials aren’t suc­cess­ful.”

As Steve hugged her, she thought, Iwon’t have to sell–be­cause the Santa Spe­cials are bound to make money!

The next day An­nie be­gan her Santa Spe­cial cam­paign. With a happy buzz in Jour­ney’s End, she baked mince pies to freeze while Eniko served cus­tomers and watched Ben.

As the pies cooled, An­nie found her grand­mother’s de­li­cious mulled wine recipe. The se­cret was in the spices.

“Please can I try some?” Ben asked, sitting at a ta­ble to “write” a Santa let­ter.

“Oh no, mulled wine’s a mummy and daddy drink,” she laughed. “But you can have a mince pie.”

Eniko was put­ting up posters for the Santa Spe­cials. Jour­ney’s End was busy with reg­u­lars, eat­ing hot lunches.

Al­though this made the tea­room prof­itable, hardly any were pay­ing vis­i­tors to the steam rail­way.

“What’s Santa Spe­cials, An­nie?” It was Pip Lan­caster, her dad’s old­est friend. She ex­plained. “My grand­chil­dren will love it. When do you start?”

“Soon,” she said, serv­ing him to­day’s spe­cial – sausage and mash .

“Be a grand present for my sis­ter’s brood. Reckon you’re onto some­thing, An­nie,” said Mimi Sal­ter at the next ta­ble.

“Hope so. Just need…” she mouthed, so Ben couldn’t hear, “… a Santa.” “How about Si­las?” Mimi sug­gested. “Si­las Dawkins?” Mimi nod­ded. “Since he lost his wife, he finds Christ­mas hard. He’s warm and kind. My chil­dren love him.”

An­nie con­jured up an im­age of the ex-phar­ma­cist. He’d cer­tainly the right look – white hair, match­ing beard and a twin­kle in his eye. “Would he do it?” “Ask!” Mimi laughed.

That af­ter­noon, An­nie left Ben at Over­ton’s in­door play cen­tre with her friend Ron­nie and lit­tle Jake. Ben was still hold­ing his Santa let­ter. “Thanks!” She hugged Ron­nie. “No, thank you – Ben will keep Jake amused. I’ll bring him home later.”

An­nie was buzzing. The Santa Spe­cials were com­ing to­gether, and Steve was be­ing sup­port­ive.

Si­las Dawkins still lived next to the phar­macy. When he an­swered the door, all her new-found pos­i­tiv­ity van­ished.

“An­nie!” Si­las smiled. “Come in.”

“How did you hurt your leg, Si­las?” “I didn’t – knee re­place­ment. Only just get­ting about. This weight doesn’t help.” He pat­ted his tummy. “Be weeks be­fore I’m run­ning about.” In the lounge sat an older lady. “Run­ning about? I don’t think so!” “This is my sis­ter, Frances.” An­nie shook hands with the smi­ley lady who was the im­age of Si­las – cud­dly with a shock of white hair.

“I re­tired in the sum­mer from teach­ing so I’m look­ing af­ter Si­las.” “Not that I need it.” He smiled. “You do – to keep me busy. Please sit down, An­nie.” “Cuppa?” Si­las of­fered. “No, thanks… I wanted a favour – be­fore I knew about your poor knee.”

“I’m keep­ing it quiet. Don’t want all Over­ton think­ing I’m past it.” He laughed, eas­ing him­self into a chair. “What was it?” She out­lined her plans. “Sorry, An­nie. I’m on crutches for an­other month.”

“Con­cen­trate on get­ting bet­ter… I’ll ad­ver­tise, al­though that will take time. We’d hoped to start straight away.”

“Well,” Frances said, “there is an­other so­lu­tion…”

An­nie was in­trigued as she ex­plained.

Frances’ idea was whirring through An­nie’s mind when Ron­nie brought Ben home.

“We had the best time!” Ben hugged her. “Jake and me went in the ball pit. And Jake loves my Santa let­ter.”

“Wow!” She turned to Ron­nie. “Thank you. Time for cof­fee?”

“You bet. How go the Santa Spe­cials?”

“Bril­liant ex­cept…” An­nie handed Ben and Jake the box of Lego. “Come in the kitchen. We’ll watch the boys from there.”

Fill­ing the ket­tle, she told Ron­nie about Si­las’ knee and Frances’ sug­ges­tion.

“Bit off-the-wall but it could work. Not sure Steve’ll agree in his present mood.” “Mood? Steve? You got the right guy?” An­nie laughed be­fore telling her about Maria Wade’s of­fer and en­su­ing ten­sion.

“We’re OK now and Steve’s agreed to try the Santa Spe­cials. But if they fail, he wants to ac­cept Maria’s of­fer. But the Line means ev­ery­thing to me.”

“Of course – it’s been in your fam­ily for

“I’m SORRY – But­ter­cup needs an OIL CHANGE, Dan­de­lion’ s boiler is leak­ing”

ages, hasn’t it?”

An­nie eyed the brass bell over the door. “That’s from Sir Ma­jor, the lo­co­mo­tive my great-grand­fa­ther Arthur Ri­ley used to open the line in 1892. Must have been mag­i­cal then.”

The Daisy Chain Line was once a work­ing rail­way, re­lied on by trav­ellers.

“Could these Santa Spe­cials res­cue it?”

An­nie pulled a face. “Steve’s not sure, but I am. I promised Dad I’d keep the Line go­ing. It is get­ting harder. There’s a con­stant bat­tle to pay the bills. And now, a fight to stop Maria.” Ron­nie put her cof­fee on the ta­ble. “Steve loves the Line too, but the hours are long and if money’s not com­ing in, you can’t blame him for be­ing tempted.”

“But the Line’s more than a job. It’s a way of life – our her­itage.”

“It is, so keep the of­fer on the ta­ble while you try these Santa Spe­cials. And in­clude Steve at ev­ery stage. What do you need other than pies, wine and vis­i­tors?”

An­nie gri­maced. “For Steve to agree to Frances’ sug­ges­tion.” Af­ter Ron­nie and Jake left, An­nie de­cided to ask Steve about Frances’ idea. The Line was closed but she guessed he’d be in the shed. There was al­ways track to mend or an en­gine to ser­vice.

“Let’s take Daddy a cof­fee,” she sug­gested to Ben. “And show him my Santa let­ter!” Cross­ing the yard, Ben ran ahead, his let­ter flap­ping. Sud­denly he shot back. “What’s wrong?” “Noth­ing.” He reached for her hand. Be­mused, she led him into the shed. “Oh!” She un­der­stood Ben’s alarm. “Hello, Miss Wade – again.”

“Maria’s called about the of­fer.” Steve sat on the bench, al­ready drink­ing cof­fee.

De­ject­edly, she put her mug be­side him. Maria was dressed in skinny jeans and a black puffer jacket. She, too, was drink­ing from a flask. Yet again An­nie noted their re­laxed body lan­guage. “I was pass­ing.” Maria smiled. An­nie doubted it! She looked at Steve. “We talked last night, but we’ve come up with other ideas to keep the Line go­ing.”

“Well, I’m off.” Maria stood up. “Good to see you again, Steve.”.

An­nie smiled tightly. Re­mem­ber­ing Ron­nie’s ad­vice, she said, “Thanks for call­ing. I’ll ring – when we’ve de­cided.”

“Don’t leave it too long. My of­fer may be your best Christ­mas present.”

“If all our cus­tomers vis­ited as of­ten as Miss Wade, we could for­get her of­fer.” An­nie stared at Steve. “Fre­quent vis­i­tor, isn’t she?” “Like she said, she was pass­ing.” “You seem cosy.” “Oh An­nie, please. I’m try­ing to keep her of­fer on the ta­ble. If you study our ac­counts – prop­erly – you’ll see Maria’s throw­ing us a life­line.”

She longed to ask Steve how he knew her. Ben held out his Santa let­ter. “Look, Daddy!” “That’s… colour­ful.” Steve’s lack of en­thu­si­asm stung her. “Well, I think it’s bril­liant, Ben.” “Sorry… I’m busy. But­ter­cup needs an oil change and Dan­de­lion’s boiler’s leak­ing.” He picked up his span­ner.

“Come on, Ben,” she said, tears prick­ing. He’d time for cof­fee with Maria, but not to speak to her or read Ben’s let­ter.

An­nie stepped in­side Daisy Cot­tage and reached for her mo­bile. “That wo­man was here again,” she seethed to Ron­nie. “Maria Wade – the one who wants to buy the Line.” “Re­ally? She’s keen.” An­nie watched Ben play with his toy trains in the lounge. “And I’m wor­ried it’s not just the rail­way she’s af­ter.” “Huh?” “Steve – she ob­vi­ously likes him and he’s not ex­actly freez­ing her out.”

“An­nie Sil­ver­ton, Steve loves the bones of you. He’d not look twice at an­other wo­man. He’s be­ing charm­ing be­cause he’s con­sid­er­ing her of­fer.” Re­as­sured, she sighed. “Thanks Ron­nie. I’m be­ing silly.” “Not silly. Scared. There’s a dif­fer­ence.” There was a knock at the door. “Sorry, An­nie.” It was Eniko, look­ing wor­ried. “Door to tea­room not lock.” “I ex­pect it’s your key. I’ll use mine.” “Thank you. Is it OK if I leav­ing?” “Of course, you’re late enough. Thanks, Eniko. See you Mon­day.” An­nie found her keys. “Come on, Ben. We won’t be long.” At the tea room, she flicked the lights for one last check.

“Wow!” Ben shouted.

Jour­ney’s End had been trans­formed. The tree was dec­o­rated with sil­ver baubles and tin­sel, foil chains stretched across the ceil­ing, and ev­ery ta­ble had gold can­dles in fes­tive hold­ers. “Eniko left her Santa let­ter,” Ben said. She read, Dear An­nie–hope you like present. BoldogKar ac sonyt! Enik ox

She could cry. How thought­ful! Weren’t the best presents made with love and time? No won­der she’d fin­ished late. As she guessed, the door locked eas­ily. Eniko’s gift lifted An­nie’s mood. She was stir­ring curry when Si­las phoned.

“Sorry, but Frances won­dered if you’d ac­cept her of­fer? Her friend just in­vited us for Christ­mas. Ac­tu­ally, Frances would rather help you but…”

An­nie hes­i­tated. Maria’s visit had stopped her ask­ing Steve. Hadn’t Ron­nie ad­vised, “in­clude Steve at ev­ery stage”?

But did Steve in­clude her, lately? She’d caught him dis­cussing the sale with Maria twice now with­out her. Couldn’t she now de­cide this with­out him?

“Tell Frances it’s… yes!”

An­nie was plan­ning how to tell Steve when he fi­nally came in. Soot cov­ered his brow and shad­ows haunted his eyes. “You’re tired. Shower while I dish up.” “Thanks, love. I’m starv­ing.” When he re­turned he wore a cream jumper over black jeans.

“That’s bet­ter,” she said, slip­ping her arms around his waist. He smelled divine. “Now where’s this chicken curry?” An­nie laid the ta­ble as Steve lifted Ben into his chair. For the first time in days, the at­mos­phere in the kitchen felt re­laxed. Should she tell him now?

“Bet­ter eat while you still have an ap­petite,” he said, sud­denly. “You’ll lose it when I tell you about Dan­de­lion.”

Dan­de­lion was prob­a­bly their old­est work­ing diesel shunter. “Go on.” She swal­lowed. “Her boiler’s fin­ished. It’s se­ri­ous money to re­place but if we don’t – we’ll drop to two rolling stock.

“That’s not enough for the sum­mer or even Christ­mas, if your Santa Spe­cials take off.” “Oh Steve – what can we do?” He tore some naan bread. “Go back to the bank. Or we could ask for an over­draft ex­ten­sion. But as I re­call there was only one mir­a­cle at Christ­mas, and that was ages ago.”

“The bank won’t agree – not to what we’d need for Dan­de­lion’s boiler.”

“Then we’ve only one op­tion – ac­cept Maria’s of­fer and sell the Line.”

They talked into the night. “Even if we source a good sec­ond­hand boiler, it’ll need fit­ting. I can’t do it alone. Imag­ine the labour costs.” “Ron­nie could help out.” “But she’s work­ing.” “Yes, part-time over Christ­mas… I’m sure she’d wel­come the ex­tra money. I could look af­ter Jake with Ben.” He shrugged. “Pos­si­bly.” “If the Santa Spe­cials take off we’ll have money for the boiler.”

“I ad­mire your spirit, An­nie, but face it, we’re beat. Even if they’re a goer, I’m tired. Christ­mas off with you and Ben ap­peals more than serv­ing mince pies and cheap parcels to scream­ing kids.”

She wanted to ar­gue, say the Santa Spe­cials were an un­known. But Steve looked ex­hausted. Was she be­ing selfish?

“Show me Maria’s fig­ures again. I dread sell­ing but we can’t go on like this.”

“It’s heart­break­ing, but wouldn’t it hurt more to lose the rail­way through bank­ruptcy? This way we have con­trol. It makes sense, An­nie.”

It makes sense, An­nie… Steve’ s words res­onated as she un­dressed for bed. Sud­denly Ben cried out. She ran to him. “Bad dream, Mummy. A big spi­der was eat­ing our poster.” “Spi­ders aren’t that big.” She smiled. “The spi­der tried to stop the Santa Spe­cials. Can I go on the first ride?” “Of course.” She stroked his hair. “And meet Father Christ­mas?” “There might be a spe­cial Santa…” “I love the Daisy Chain, Mummy. Santa will, too. When I’m big like Daddy I’ll drive But­ter­cup and Dan­de­lion and Prim­rose.”

She pulled up the du­vet. “Sleep now, lit­tle man.” “Night, Mummy.” She kissed him and left his door ajar. When I’ m big like Daddy I’ ll drive But­ter cup and Dan­de­lion and Prim­rose.

That was the first time Ben had said he wanted to carry on the Daisy Chain Line in the foot­steps of his Ri­ley an­ces­tors. How could she now sell to Maria?

She wanted to ar­gue but Steve looked EX­HAUSTED. Was she be­ing SELFISH?

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