When lunch was served, outside on the patio instead of in the dining room, Brad and Max chatted together, leaving the women to make conversation about household things. Sarah was still not as chatty as usual, and did not eat very much, although she insisted in helping her aunt Julie feed baby Erin with the strained baby food that Chef had provided. Lucien just ate whatever was put in front of him and remained silent.
Afterwards, Nanny took Sarah and a rather reluctant Lucien back into the lounge to read them a story, while Brad and Carrie spoke further to Grace about the possibility of Lucien coming to play at the mansion with Sarah instead of the nursery school. It was decided to give it a trial run to see if the nervous little boy would settle.
Julie had asked Max to take a look at Erin, as the baby, although still as happy and smiling as she always was, had developed a rash on her tummy, which now appeared to be coming out on her face too.
“She isn’t ill,” she told the doctor. “So, it’s probably just a heat rash. I only noticed it when I changed her before lunch, but she seems to be getting it all over now.”
Max examined the baby thoroughly, and he was rather concerned. He marched into the lounge while Julie redressed the gurgling Erin. Nanny had allowed Brad to take over the reading of the story and both children were sitting on the floor listening in rapt enjoyment as he brought the fairy-tale characters to life with his interpretation of their speech. Even the fearful little Lucien was smiling now as the boy prince in the story saved the princess and all her little friends from the dragon with his magic sword.
When the story was finished, Max said quietly, “I don’t want to cause any unnecessary worries, but I’ve just checked the rash that Erin has. It looks very much like rubella to me, and I’d like to have another look at Sarah.” He looked at Grace, and added, “And your little boy too, if I may? It’s a communicable disease. Apparently, a few kids in Greenwood Primary School have it, but so far we haven’t had any here.”
“German measles?” Brad raised his eyebrows. “Sarah has been immunised against it!”
“So has Erin,” Max said. “Nevertheless, Julie has agreed that we take her to the clinic to test her. Maybe it’s a good idea to have all the kiddies tested.”
Grace frowned. “Oh, I don’t think Lucien has a rash, and he isn’t sick. But as far as I know he’s never been immunised against it.”
“Sarah won’t be very sick, even if she does have it,” Carrie said rationally. “And Vicki and her babies will be safe as she’s due very soon.” She looked at Lucien who was sitting next to Sarah, looking at the pictures in the book Brad had just finished reading to them, and she lowered her voice. “But, will it affect that child’s heart at all if he gets it, Uncle Max?”
” I doubt it, but I’m not really in a position to know that for sure, having never seen his medical reports,” Max answered.
“The valves in his heart are weak,” Grace said. “But German measles isn’t a very serious illness, is it? He should be fine!”
She saw Lucien raise his head quickly and she smiled encouragingly. “Dr Craig wants to have a quick look at you, darling.”
“I’m not sick,” he muttered, getting to his feet and going towards her. There was a look of panic in his eyes as he went into her arms.
“I just want to look at your face, Lucien,” Max said gently. “No need to be scared.”
“I’m staying with you?” the child asked Grace. “Please! I’m not sick!”
“You’re staying with me - always,” she replied, hugging him.
Sarah jumped up from the floor, running into Brad’s arms. “I not sick, Daddy,” she whispered.
He kissed her as she flung her little arms around his neck. “Grandpa Max wants to have a look at your throat, that’s all. Then we’ll go get you some more medicine at Uncle Mark’s clinic.”
“I not sick, Grandpa!” Sarah said solemnly. “I not go away!”
“We’re just going to the clinic, Sarah,” Max told her.
“I not sick,” she insisted.
Carrie reached for her. “Why does she keep saying that?”
“She thinks if she’s sick she’ll have to go away, like Lucien,” Grace said. “It’s happened to him so many times that he thinks it’s the norm. And now his fears are affecting Sarah too. I’m so sorry!”
“Not your fault,” Brad said quietly. “The children are a bit too young to understand fully. All we can do is keep on reassuring them.” He ruffled Sarah’s hair as she sat on Carrie’s lap. “You’re my little princess. But Daddy doesn’t need a magic sword to protect you.”
The child merely gazed back at him solemnly. She didn’t smile, and he shrugged, pulling a face. “Cheer up, sweetie.”
Little Sarah curled up on Carrie’s lap as Brad pushed the wheelchair along the paved pathways to the clinic. Grace kept a tight hold of Lucien’s hand. Julie followed with Erin in the pushchair, and Max walked beside her, chatting cheerfully.
Mark met them in Reception, and listened to what Max told him before ushering them all into a large consultation room, where nurses took swabs and did blood tests, and one of them gave Sarah and Lucien a lollipop each. They mumbled a ‘thank you’ but Sarah didn’t eat it, just kept it in her hand. She had cried a little when the nurse drew the blood, but she watched it flow into the vial and muttered tearfully, “I going be doctor.”
When they arrived back at the mansion Doug was already there to pick his wife and Lucien up, and Sarah waved rather sadly to her little friend as she watched the truck pull away.
“He will come back to play tomorrow,” her mother told her. “Did you have fun?”
The child nodded, but still didn’t smile, leaning up against Carrie. Brad wheeled the chair into the lounge, to find Luke and Nanny trying to comfort a very distressed Vicki, who, upon hearing that Max suspected baby Erin had contracted German measles, was immediately sent into a frenzy of fear about the well-being of her unborn triplets.
Max took her aside and explained that, as her babies were due to be born within the next three weeks, and she herself had been immunised against the virus when she was still a child, it was highly unlikely that the triplets would be affected in any way.
“Unlikely, but not impossible?” Vicki wailed. “I’m scared, Dr Max.”
“Vicki, your babies were extremely healthy at your last scan. And we’re not even sure that it is rubella. Mark will have the results of the blood tests shortly, and then we will know what to do. Relax! Stress is the thing you should avoid right now.”
“I can’t help but be stressed! Do I have to avoid the children? Poor little Sarah will wonder what’s wrong with me!” She glanced at the child who was sitting so quietly on Carrie’s lap, still clasping her unwrapped lollipop.
“You don’t need to avoid either Sarah or Erin. Relax Vicki!” Max told her.
“Your babies will be fine,” Brad said firmly, lifting Sarah from Carrie and setting her down on the lounge floor before he approached.,
Vicki looked at him quickly. “How do you know?”
He shrugged. “I knew I was going to walk again, didn’t I? I just know!“.
She drew in her breath as she stared at him. “Has - has God told you something?”
He smiled. “Let’s just say that I have no doubts about this! Trust me, Vicki. Or rather, trust Him!” But he swallowed hard as he said that, concerned about his own sudden lack of faith,
She looked at him quizzically for a moment, and he winked. “They’ll be fine, don’t worry!”
“But - but you didn’t trust Him after Carrie’s accident! Does He speak to you, Brad? Is that the understanding you’re so secretive about?”
He was silent for the longest time, and everyone in the room looked at him, but the smile didn’t leave his face. Finally, he said, “I have only heard God speak audibly once, and what He said was for my ears alone! I made some promises then which I have probably broken more times than I’d like to admit. But He is still gracious enough to forgive my short-comings. Carrie’s accident is one of those times I failed in my trust. And of course, God forgave because that’s who He is! But your babies are going to be perfectly fine, and that, my darling sister, is a direct promise from the Lord Himself!”
She blinked, and gasped, “So He does speak to you? You’re amazing!”
Brad forced a laugh. “Yes, everyone says that!” Then he sobered and said seriously, “I have more reasons than most to trust Him, I suppose, but I believe that everyone can hear that Still Small Voice if they learn to listen. Prayer is not only about speaking to Him, you know. You have to let Him be part of the conversation too, and listen to what He says.” He grinned. “Argue with Him if you like, but keep in mind that He knows better than you and will always be proved right!”
Vicki swallowed and remained silent, and Max smiled.
“Is the sermon over now? Can we get back to assuring Vicki that those babies are going to be okay, whether or not it turns out to be rubella?”
Brad gave another forced laugh, wondering whether the words that had come so glibly from him, had been so etched into his brain that they became automatic. “Sorry. Was I preaching?” To his sister, he said, “The triplets are going to be beautiful, I promise.”
“Of course they are,” Luke smiled, putting his arm around his wife. “Just like their mother!”
Mark joined them for tea with the news that his little daughter, Erin, did indeed have rubella, but, although Sarah had a minor inflamed throat, there was no sign of the virus in her bloodstream, and Lucien was also virus free. By this time, Erin’s chubby little face was covered in the distinctive pink rash, but she was still the smiling and happy baby she had always been. Sarah, on the other hand, was clingy and miserable. She sat on Brad’s lap, her mother beside her on the couch. The child was half-heartedly nibbling on a chocolate biscuit, but still gripping onto her lollipop as if it was some sort of life line. She surprisingly refused to go with Ian when he wanted to take her with him to the stables after tea.
“I stay here,” she insisted, leaning closer against her father and holding tightly onto Carrie’s gown.
Brad compressed his lips and shrugged. “She’s a bit insecure at the moment,” he told Ian very quietly. “She thinks we’re going to send her away if she gets sick. I don’t know how to make her understand.”
Ian smiled and patted Sarah on the head. “Ok, angel girl. You stay with daddy and mommy if you like. Maybe you’ll feel better tomorrow.”
“I not sick,” she muttered.
He grinned. “Of course you’re not! If you were sick, you’d be in bed, and mommy and daddy would be having tea in your room with you.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Why?”
“Because they love you very much. They wouldn’t want you to be alone or sad.”
“Because Jesus gave you to them, silly! Jesus gave them a little girl to love and look after forever!”
He laughed, and ruffled her hair. “Yes, you! You’ll always be their little girl because you are the gift that Jesus gave them!”
A tiny smile hovered on the child’s lips and she turned her head to look Carrie straight in the face. “I a gift?”
Carrie smiled at her. “Oh, yes, my baby. A very precious gift!” she said softly.
And the smile that they all knew, returned to the child’s face!
Brad was staring at Ian. “How do you do it? I think she actually understands now, and yet I’ve told her that we love her so many times!”
Ian shrugged, grinning. “Hmm. I seem to remember you once telling us all, before Mom and Dad died, that it was a gift from God to have brothers and sisters. Then, after the accident, you insisted that everything God gave was a gift! Maybe it’s my gift to be able to converse with children. They think I’m wise, you know! And strict! But they seem to like me anyway!”
He was whistling as he left the house for the stables. Sarah scrambled down from Brad’s lap and ran to the window to watch him as he and the twins disappeared from view. She appeared to be a little happier, and even ate another biscuit and asked Nanny for more juice before the tea trolley was wheeled away. Then she approached Brad as he chatted to Max and Carrie and waited for a break in the conversation as she’d been taught.
“We play outside now?” she asked solemnly, her eyes going to each of her parents in turn.
Brad glanced at Carrie, and smiled at Sarah. “Ask Mommy if she’s well enough. Maybe we can just walk in the garden.”
“You ok, Mommy?” she asked. “We go walk?”
Carrie nodded gravely. “That will be lovely. But I must first use the bathroom, and you need to go too!”
Brad helped Carrie to the toilet and they waited for Sarah to finish drying her hands.
She waved her lollipop in front of Brad. “Open please, daddy,” she said.
He took it from her and removed the wrapper, but before he gave it back to her he smiled and said, “You need to sit on Mommy’s lap if you’re going to eat this! No running around with it stuck in your mouth. It’s dangerous if you fall.”
“I not fall, daddy. I sit with mommy.”
It was pleasant for Carrie to be outside in the garden. When Sarah had finished her lollipop, she walked on the wall around the fountain, singing a song she had learnt at Sunday school a while ago about Jesus seeing Zacchaeus in a tree. It didn’t matter that she got a lot of the words wrong and made up her own as she sang. Her parents were pleased that her mood had undergone a radical change. They chatted to old Angus, the head gardener, and Brad asked to borrow his secateurs and cut a magnificent red rose which he presented to Carrie with a flourish and a kiss, much to Sarah’s delight!
Close to the equestrian centre and stables, they watched the twins practising for the local show-jumping competition. Sarah climbed onto the fence of the arena and waved to them, and Ian approached on foot, grinning at Carrie.
“Come for a lesson?”
She smiled. “Not a chance! The boys look good though.”
“Hmm. They’re both better at jumping than dressage. But yeah, they’ll do well, I think.” He winked at Sarah. “Want to show Mommy how you ride?”
He heard Carrie’s quick intake of breath, and added, “Maybe just show her your pony?”
Brad squeezed Carrie’s shoulder as Sarah’s face lit up in glee. He went on his haunches next to the wheelchair, whispering, “She wants to surprise you, darling!”
Carrie gave a nervous smile. “I - I’d love to see your pony, baby.”
“I ride Ginger, Mommy! I show you!” Sarah squealed.
She ran off towards the stable, and Ian grimaced. “Sorry. I should have asked you first. But she’ll be fine, I promise.”
He followed after Sarah and Carrie took a deep, shaky breath. “Oh, Brad! I don’t know! She’s so excited to show me - and I’m - so scared!”
Brad put his arm around her. “I’m here with you, love. It won’t be as scary as you’re anticipating! Try to relax. From what I understand, it’s a Shetland. It won’t be very big.”
“But Sarah’s tiny! What if she falls off?”
“You don’t know that!”
“Ian won’t let her fall off! He says she’s quite good in any case.”
“She’s only three years old, Brad!”
“The twins were riding at her age! Don’t worry, Carrie! All the Conway clan ride!”
She swallowed. ”I don’t! I always chicken when out you ask me to come up in front of you on Geisha. I’m such a coward!”
He turned her face towards him, and smiled into her tear-filled eyes. “You’re no coward! We all fear some things. And you’ve had to face more than your fair share! But look how far you’ve come already! I’m so proud of you, my darling.”
His lips came down on hers and she wound her arms around his neck, relaxing against him. He knew her so well, she thought, this wonderful husband of hers! He knew that his kisses could quell the worst fears in her. She didn’t need to be scared when he was there. He would always protect her, - with his life if he had to!