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Authors: Elizabeth Gill

Road to Berry Edge, The

BOOK: Road to Berry Edge, The
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The Road to Berry Edge

Elizabeth Gill

First published in Great Britain in 1997 by Hodder and Stoughton

This ebook edition published in 2013 by
Quercus
55 Baker Street
7th Floor, South Block
London
W1U 8EW

Copyright © 1997 by Elizabeth Gill

The moral right of Elizabeth Gill to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN 978 1 78206 176 2

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places and events are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

You can find this and many other great books at:
www.quercusbooks.co.uk

 

Also by Elizabeth Gill

THE SINGING WINDS

UNDER A CLOUD-SOFT SKY

FAR FROM MY FATHER'S HOUSE

SHELTER FROM THE STORM

 

For Judith who loves books

Acknowledgements

The people who helped me with this book deserve a mention. Shortly after I moved to Lanchester near Durham I decided that I wanted to write something about the area, but I didn't know much about it. My friend of long standing, Norma McDonald took me around Consett, showed me the park and Blackhill, and the various streets and the big houses. She also introduced me to her mother and her sister and their reminiscences were very useful. Norma and I had some good times and some fun lunches.

Tommy Moore of Derwentdale History Society and his wife Norma took me to a slide show all about Consett, and Tommy gave me a morning of his valuable time, trying to get me to understand what goes on in a big steelworks. I'm not an apt pupil but Tommy was great. I would also like to thank them for loaning me two excellent books which Norma's father, Mr J. T. Carr, had written about his life in the Consett area. Mr Carr died so I had no chance to meet him but I gained from his work and knowledge. Tom and Olive, who live across the street from me, loaned me some books on Consett and told me a little about the old days. Dorothy Agar loaned me books and her precious Consett Iron Company magazines. The librarians at Crook and at Durham found me books about the area. The librarians at Lanchester were good enough to invite me to the twenty-first anniversary of the Old Court House library and cheer me up generally because they read my books. W H Smith's of the Victoria Centre in Nottingham deserve a mention because they were all over their shop hunting out various books on
old Nottingham. Center Parcs at Nottingham also come into it because it was there that I had the idea, as well as the staff at Newstead Abbey, Byron's beautiful house with the Japanese garden of which I used parts for the big house in my story. Durham County Records Office provided old maps of the Consett area.

One

That October Sunday was the first time in ten years that Faith had put off going to John's grave. It was mid-afternoon before she got round to it, and even then she hesitated. She could have excused herself with the knowledge that Sunday was such a busy day for her with chapel in the morning and Sunday school, and again in the evening, a big meal with her parents in the middle of the day and then sometimes visiting, but her reluctance had nothing to do with any of this. John's brother, Robert Berkeley, was coming home and the news had shocked her because it brought back many memories she would much rather have forgotten, memories that had for such a long time not mattered to her even in the churchyard, but she had known that coming here would make the memories more vivid and it did.

It had been one of those perfect autumn days, completely still, the birch trees half-clothed with lemon and lime coloured leaves, and where the wind and rain had done their work the sycamores had shed their bright orange covering. In the churchyard brown dead leaves were caught in tufts of grass behind the gravestones.

The sky was almost cloudless blue with tiny high wisps of white like thin trailing scarves. It would be bitterly cold later, she thought; already the air was turning sharp. On these days least of all could she bear to leave John's grave. Each turning away was like a fresh betrayal. Each Sunday
that passed was another Sunday without him, and yet it had been so long now. She stared in wonder at the dates on the stone –
1870–1893
. It was nineteen hundred and three now, a new century, ten years since he had died, ten Christmases without him. How could it be that long?

There was no one else in the churchyard but the grass was thick and damp and she heard the swish of skirts behind her. When she turned slightly from placing precious peach coloured roses, the last from her mother's garden, on the grave, Nancy McFadden stood behind her, smiling.

She had little to smile about, Faith thought, a baby in her arms and a small boy at her side. It was common knowledge in the town that Sean McFadden knocked his wife about and kept her short of money. Nancy was pretty. She was younger than Faith, in her early twenties; Faith was almost thirty. Nancy had bright yellow hair and deep blue eyes. Faith met Nancy often in the churchyard because Nancy came to see to her father's grave and Faith came to John's.

Faith always felt plain when she saw Nancy. They were both too thin, she thought, but her own hair was an ordinary brown and her eyes were a nondescript colour between brown and green. Nancy was ill fed and ill kept, but Faith couldn't help envying her because of her looks and beautiful children. They were both exactly like Nancy. The little boy had golden curls and the baby had skin like the roses Faith had held in her hands. She also felt lucky when she met Nancy because Nancy had no money and no comfort, whereas she had a home with her parents halfway up the hill opposite the park, plenty to eat and her work in the town and at the chapel. Her father had made some money in railways and was a gentleman now.

Faith kept sweets in her pocket. William knew that she did and had his gaze fixed in her direction but he hung on to his mother's skirt. Faith adored children and went to him, getting down to his level, talking softly, magicking the different coloured sweets from her pocket until she had him giggling.

‘I hear Mr Berkeley's due home,' Nancy said.

Faith got to her feet.

‘Apparently,' she said.

‘Do you think it'll make any difference, Miss Norman?'

‘I don't know.'

‘How's his dad?'

‘Not good.'

‘He's been bad a long time. I don't remember Mr Berkeley very well. Things are in a bad way,' Nancy said.

Faith didn't need Nancy to tell her this. Josiah Berkeley, John and Robert's father, owned the steelworks which provided most of the work in the town. He also owned the pits. The Berkeleys had owned all this since the pits and the old ironworks had started back in eighteen fifty. Josiah had been ill for almost a year now. He had collapsed in his office and had to be taken home. Even before then, Faith thought bitterly, since John had died, Josiah had not been the same man, people said.

Gradually in Berry Edge things had become more difficult after John had died and Robert had left. The demand for steel was not so great, or so she heard, and when the orders went down the men were put on short time. So were the pitmen, and it affected the other small industries in the town, the shopkeepers, the milliners, the bootmenders, the tailors, the builders, everybody.

Faith didn't know what to say, whether to be reassuring. Nancy was ready to believe, possibly the only person in Berry Edge, that a man she did not remember, a man who had been uneducated, a man who had caused his brother's death, shamed his family, left Berry Edge in disgrace and not returned, could save them because of his name.

Faith could never think of Robert Berkeley without anger. She had hated him for ten years.

‘I'm not very hopeful, Nancy,' she said.

‘People say he was a good workman.'

Faith smiled. ‘It was the only positive thing anybody ever
did say about him. John is dead because his brother was jealous and stupid, and his parents haven't been the same since. The works has gone down and dragged us all with it and now … If he doesn't come home soon there'll be nothing left.'

‘You would have thought he would have come back before now,' Nancy said. ‘Surely he knows how bad things are.'

‘I doubt his parents could stand the sight of him. They wouldn't have sent for him now if things weren't so difficult. He's living in Nottingham.'

‘What do people do there?'

‘He's probably got a job in some foundry, married with two or three children, quite happy, caring nothing for anybody else. Rob was like that, feckless, selfish.'

‘Somebody'll have to do something,' Nancy said.

‘I doubt it'll be Rob. The only things he was ever capable of were drinking and … you know the kind of things, Nancy.'

Nancy sighed.

‘Yes, I know. The kind of things my Sean's good at,' she said.

They began to walk back across the churchyard. William kicked at a pile of leaves close beside the wall and Faith thought of how she had loved this time of year when she was a child, how excited she had always been with the anticipation of Hallowe'en, Bonfire Night and Christmas.

At the gates they parted, Nancy to go down to the bottom of the bank, Faith to carry on climbing up past various houses, terraced at first on either side and then more prosperous, detached. Her parents' house stood alone in its grounds with big gates, one of several nearby, but she reached Rob's parents' house first just below it on the left side of the road.

Faith let herself think about Robert Berkeley. He had been twenty one when he left Berry Edge. She wondered
whether he had changed. John had been two years older, the kindest, gentlest man that she had ever met. John and Robert had hated one another. John had been the son that every man wanted, intelligent, good without seeming pious. He had graduated brilliantly from university and was set to take over from his father later and turn the steel foundry into something even bigger and better; whereas Rob had disliked school, had left as soon as he could in spite of his parents' protests, gone into the foundry at fourteen and made his way up. The men liked him. The girls had liked him too, Faith thought, remembering, because both brothers were attractive. They differed in that John had blue eyes and Rob had grey, but Rob was loud and careless and John was quiet and thoughtful. She and John had been four weeks away from their wedding when his brother had got him drunk and argued with him. John had fallen into the Wear at Durham and drowned. Rob had gone in after him, tried to save him but it had been no good. His brother was dead.

Faith wished that she and Rob never had to meet again. Having him there in Berry Edge without John would be hard for her. Not that Rob would care for that, he had never cared for anything.

She called in at his parents' house. She never stepped inside without thinking how happy she could have been there if she and John had been married, going for Sunday tea with John and their children. It was no longer a happy house and hadn't been those past ten years.

It was shabby, neglected, as though the people who lived there didn't notice. It was cold and dusty and Faith could not help but compare it with her own home. They were not rich but there was enough for good food, decent clothes, a carriage, servants. There was none of that here, nor had there been for a long time. The house had about it an air of hopelessness. Every day John's mother went to his grave and the rest of the day she spent upstairs sitting with her husband. He had for a time lost the use of speech and one
leg and was still unable to leave his bed, though he was getting better.

BOOK: Road to Berry Edge, The
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