It was still dark when she arose, sleep numbed fingers fumbling with the lamp, the light finally casting a small gold halo and throwing deep shadows around the room. She dressed quickly, running a brush through her brown hair and splashed water onto her face, wincing at the chill of it.
Downstairs the kitchen still retained some heat, the banked fire giving a little light from the slumbering coals. Putting the lamp on the table she began to stir the fire into life, adding wood to it from the pile by the door – pile that would soon need replenishing, she noted.
Checking the pantry, she retrieved enough meat for breakfast, but was disappointed to find that the eggs had not been collected the previous day. Grumbling to herself she picked up a basket, threw a shawl over her shoulders and stepped out into the greying light. It had rained during the night and the yard was muddy, so she stepped carefully around the bigger puddles and made her way to the henhouse.
The hens were less than co-operative and complained bitterly, pecking at her as she reached under their warm feathers to find the eggs in the nests. The henhouse was dark and everything had to be done by feel – giving the chickens a distinct advantage. She winced as another sharp beak found its mark and the sudden flapping of a disturbed hen made her jump back and hit her head on a perch. She managed not to drop the basket of eggs, but her mood had certainly not been improved.
Back in the kitchen she set to work, drawing water from the pump, making biscuits, scrambling eggs and setting the breakfast table ready for when the men appeared. She dragged a hand across her forehead, trying to push an errant curl out of the way and realised with annoyance that she probably now had flour all over her face.
Setting a pot of coffee on the stove, she paused for a moment and glanced round the room, her gaze settling on the basket of washing that needed seeing to today. She wondered idly how Scott managed to get through so many shirts, seems like he must change every time he got even slightly dirty. And that pink shirt of Johnny’s – the material was so thin it was probably the darns that were the only thing that kept it in one piece.
The smell of burning snapped her out of her reverie and she grabbed at the skillet she had left on the stove, snatching her hand back when she touched the hot iron handle. Grabbing a cloth she moved the pan to one side and put the biscuits on to cook. Flushed by the heat from the stove, wincing when splattered with spitting fat, she set to work.
Scott was the first to come in, looking immaculately groomed as usual, blonde hair shining and dark blue shirt flattering his slim form. “Good morning, Theresa” he said quietly.
“Good morning, Scott” she replied, placing a plate in front of him and then returning with platters laden with food. He smiled a ‘thank you’ and started helping himself, while she poured mugs of strong black coffee and placed them on the table.
Murdoch appeared next, muttering a gruff “Good morning” that seemed directed at no-one in particular and pulled a chair out noisily, slumping into it and grasping a mug of coffee. He acknowledged the plate put in front of him with a grunt and set to filling his plate.
Johnny trailed in last, spurs clinking, from the direction of the front door. He was pushing his unruly dark hair out of his eyes and trailing his hat in his hand. He was also trailing muddy boot prints across the tiled floor. No need to guess where he had been before arriving at the table. The glare that was aimed at him went totally unnoticed as he snagged a mug of coffee and began heaping his plate with food.
She watched as they ploughed through the food, occasionally holding up a mug for a refill or pushing an empty dish in her direction. Dutifully she filled whatever was passed to her and put it back on the table.
Sipping her own cup of coffee, she watched, amazed, at the amount of food that was disappearing. In no time at all the dishes were scraped clean, chairs were pushed back and crockery and cutlery abandoned. Only Scott paused to push his chair back into place and left his knife and fork neatly on the plate. He was the only one who thanked her as he rose from the table and made to leave the room. Murdoch left with another grunt, Johnny with a smile and a chink of spurs on the tiles – and another trail of mud.
Looking at the devastation on the table, dirty plates, spilt food and coffee, the pile of washing and the trail of mud across the floor, she sighed and sat down, cradling her cup between her hands.
Closing her eyes briefly, she counted to ten and took a deep draft of coffee, shuddering at the bitterness. What on earth had made her think that Murdoch getting his sons home to stay had been such a great idea?