Authors: Millie Gray
He laughed. Rocking her back and forward he teased, ‘Are you saying I should look forward to tonight?’
Her thoughts were now in turmoil. She tucked her head under his chin. This gesture allowed him to gently stroke her cheeks and he smiled when he felt the fire of the passion that was now soaring within her. He smiled, knowing that tonight they would make passionate, true love for the first time. Quickly his thoughts turned to where he would take her. He loved her so much that he wanted their first union to be in a lovely place. A quick roll in the long grass that surrounded the railway along the Seafield track was not good enough for his darling Kate. Behind a tombstone in Seafield Cemetery was also a definite no-no.
Kate, on the other hand, felt fear arising within her bosom. The terror that she tried to control was not that she would be letting her mother and church down when she allowed Hugh to make forbidden love to her tonight. Oh no, she was scared this promised one night of passion would be all that she would ever have.
* * *
Later that evening they sought each other’s hands when they alighted from the tramcar on Princes Street. Hugh had already explained that they could not book in anywhere in Leith where they might be recognised. He went on to explain that, this being the case, in the early afternoon he had nonchalantly sauntered into the Imperial Hotel on Cockburn Street and booked them in for one night in the name of Mr and Mrs Hugh Brown.
On reaching the Imperial Hotel’s reception area, Kate hung back as she did not wish the receptionist to see how young and childlike she looked.
Treasured memories of the only night they had spent together rose up within Kate now and swamped her every thought. She just couldn’t believe that twenty-five years had passed since she had waved goodbye to Hugh on that draughty train station platform. The pain of their parting was as raw and as real today as it had been on the morning after their wonderful night of love-making. They truly hadn’t wasted a precious second of their stolen time together – in fact they were clinging to each other so much that they hadn’t even had time for breakfast. Indeed, they had to scamper down the brae so that Hugh could catch the very early morning train that he had been instructed to board.
Often Kate wished she hadn’t dissolved into tears when she had clung to Hugh for the last time. Somehow she thought he should have remembered her smiling instead of seeing her scalding tears as they gushed from her eyes.
Kate had kept looking warily at the guard who had been poised to blow the whistle that would signal that Hugh should jump aboard. She vividly remembered Hugh fishing in his pocket for a handkerchief to wipe her sodden eyes, cheeks and nose before whispering, ‘Thank you, love, for last night. And know something, darling, it won’t matter what happens to me in this war because I will remember every detail of our time together. Believe me, last night’s memories will see me through whatever befalls me.’ He had grown pensive then and, increasing his grip on her, he tenderly whispered, ‘Now, my sweet, don’t you worry because I was careful and got off at Haymarket every time, so I did.’ This remark meant nothing to Kate but to others in Leith who were acquainted with the facts of life it meant that Hugh had been careful not to go full steam ahead into Waverley and therefore put her in the family way.
Reluctantly her memories jumped to how she had watched her beloved Hugh board the train that would take him out of her life forever and all she had been able to do was stand on tiptoe for one last goodbye kiss. The accursed whistle blew and then the train slowly began its departure from the station. Before she knew it the puffing locomotive had vanished in a swirl of smoke and steam. Even although the train was gone from sight Kate had continued to stand and frantically wave and wave until the guard finally said, ‘He’s awa, hen. Noo is it no time you got yourself hame to your mammy?’
However, canny Kate didn’t go straight home because she didn’t wish her mum to find out that she hadn’t spent the night with her pal Sheila. Sheila always called in for her in the morning so they could walk together to their work in the Leith Provident Department Store. If Sheila turned up on Mummy Anderson’s doorstep looking for Kate, in no time at all the cat would be out of the bag. Two and two would be put together and made up to at least seven and Kate would be on the next train to Glasgow, where she would be sorted out by her mum’s elder sister, Aunty Katherine – a fate that no one should suffer.
, reasoned Kate,
that being the case and as the hour is still early I could call in for Sheila at her family home in Lorne Street. That would also give me plenty of time to work on Sheila and prime her as to what she should say, if she was asked, about where I spent last night
Kate had no doubt that Sheila would cover for her. After all, how often had Kate lied for Sheila, who was forever going up to the Corner Rooms Dance Hall and making merry with sailors when her mother thought she was at a Band of Hope meeting banging a tambourine?
Sheila and Kate had linked arms as they strolled down Leith Walk and then on to Great Junction Street. ‘Do tell where you really spent last night?’ Sheila kept on urging.
‘Nowhere except in Leith Links and there were plenty of people about there.’ Crossing her heart before snuggling closer into Sheila, Kate then elaborated, ‘Believe me, Sheila, even if I was going to do what we must never do until we are churched, I couldn’t have done it in Leith Links last night. Honestly, you should have seen all the people milling about. Going on and on they were about the disaster.’ Kate had giggled. ‘And there was Hugh trying his best to make mad passionate love to me but the bench that could seat five always had six nosy parkers squashed up on it just gaping at us.’
Thinking back to that time, Kate was not convinced that Sheila had believed her story. They were both juniors in different departments in Leith Provident Department Store. Sheila was in the chemist part while Kate was employed in women’s undergarments, where Miss Stivens was the manageress and buyer.
Recalling the very name of Miss Stivens always caused Kate anxiety. So getting up off the floor and going over to gaze from the window, she wrapped her arms tightly about herself. It was as if she was trying to prevent Miss Stivens from invading her person.
From her first week of employment in the store people had whispered stories about Miss Stivens. The main story seemed to be that Miss Stivens had had an affair with a married man which had resulted in her having a child. The child was now the same age as Kate but she was in boarding school. Sherry Stivens had been residing in North Berwick with her wealthy widowed mother when she found herself pregnant. Unable to cope with such a shocking scandal her mother had immediately sold up in North Berwick before Sherry’s fall from grace became evident. Up until the baby was born, mother and daughter squirrelled themselves away in Melrose. After going through a long and troublesome labour, Sherry refused to give her baby up for adoption. This annoyed her mother, who wished to relocate back to North Berwick and renew acquaintance with her friends there. Left with no other option, as she saw it, Mrs Stivens purchased a house in the Trinity district of Edinburgh for herself and Sherry. As far as the people of Trinity were concerned, the baby, who had been christened Helen, was Sherry’s much younger sister.
The truth was Sherry Stivens had paid a high price for refusing to give up her baby. She was constantly at her mother’s beck and call and she couldn’t even go out for a cup of tea on her Wednesday afternoon off without her mother, her self-elected chaperone, trailing along with her.
When Kate arrived for work, the morning after the night she had spent with Hugh, everything seemed so unreal to her. Kate recalled in detail walking into the store that morning and there must have been an air about her because it seemed as if Sherry Stivens knew where she had been and what she had done. Kate remembered standing in the small, cramped staffroom and Sherry looking long and hard at her before she softy uttered, ‘You know, Miss Anderson, when a woman is in love and that love is returned by her suitor then that woman takes on an air of glowing beauty and a magic envelops her. Sometimes this results in her throwing all sense of decency and caution to the winds.’ She hesitated before adding in an almost inaudible whisper, ‘And the price for that could be exacted from her for the rest of her life.’
To say that Kate was startled by this announcement from Sherry Stivens was an understatement. She glanced up at the mirror that was hanging above the tea table to be assured that she looked no different from yesterday. She remembered thinking as she gazed at her image that she was right, there was no beautifying variation in her appearance. In fact, she felt that she looked so sad and dejected that she reasoned there was no way anyone could think she looked enchanting and sparkling.
Nothing more was said by Miss Stivens, but within three weeks Kate was panicking. Hugh had said he had been careful not to get her pregnant – alas not careful enough! All too soon Kate accepted that soon she would have to break her mother’s heart and own up to being pregnant. Why, she thought, was it that when a young lassie got into a scandalous mess that somehow the shame fell on her mother? People would judge that Kate had not been brought up properly. Every day that passed Kate wanted to shout, ‘It was me that indulged in sinful acts – not my mother. My mother does not deserve the red face and humiliation that I am going to heap on her!’ Kate also knew that if Hugh realised what had happened he would somehow get home to her. Make it all right for her and their baby.
The idea that Hugh could come home to rescue her reputation was tragically beyond his control because during the latter part of June 1915 he and most of his battalion were led like lambs to the slaughter at Gallipoli. Kate had been inconsolable when she learned of Hugh’s death. She couldn’t bear to be in the house with her mother, who was going to feel so wronged when she confessed. How was she going to find the courage to tell her dearest mother that she was pregnant with Hugh’s baby? She had been grateful that it just happened to be stocktaking that heartbreaking weekend. This had meant she would be out at work both Saturday and Sunday and on Monday … Well maybe, just maybe, she would find the courage to speak to her mum.
Sherry Stivens and Kate were up in the attics of the department store going over the records and they seemed to find that six whaleboned corsets and half a dozen pairs of pure silk knickers were missing. To be truthful, Kate, who was now feeling wretched, wasn’t in the least bit concerned about the corsets having been spirited away. Nor, unlike Sherry Stivens, did she have any interest in who was wearing any of the six pairs of silk knickers. Rising laboriously up from the floor she sighed deeply. All she could think of was trying to ward off the faint feeling that was now overwhelming her. Instinctively she knew she was going to fall backwards down the steep worn wooden steps of the attic and she remembered holding out her hand to Sherry in the hope she would grab it. Sherry did at first appear as if she was going to take hold of Kate’s outstretched hand and save her. However, without any warning, a perplexed look of sorrow and regret crossed over Sherry’s face. Clenching her fist tightly she then withdrew her hand and clasped it to her chest. These actions, of course, resulted in Kate tumbling down and down into merciful oblivion.
Kate also remembered Sherry holding her as they waited for an ambulance and she knew she did not imagine it but Sherry’s tears washed down on her as she whispered, ‘You and your mum would not have coped. This is a godsend of a way out. Believe me, it is.’
How, wondered Kate, did Sherry discover her plight? It was one thing that she had stumbled upon the truth, but why did Sherry judge that because Kate’s family had not the resources of her family that the child would be better to stay unborn? Of course, the baby – Kate and Hugh’s child – would have been called bastard and Kate herself labelled a whore and easy meat. Kate knew all of that. In addition, if she claimed that Hugh was the father then Hugh’s parents would have been deeply offended that she was besmirching the memory of their hero son. They would have proclaimed that she was nothing but a lying whore who had accused their son when he was incapable of defending himself. It would also have meant the breaking up of the important and long-time friendship between the Anderson and Brown families.
Now, still standing, and gazing unseeing from the window, Kate shrugged. No use going over and over that awful year, the year to end all years when she lost the love of her life as well as the right to be a mother, and these two happenings had left her filled with deep melancholy.
Turning, she looked down at her niece. Poor Kitty just sixteen and saddled with Rosebud. Wouldn’t it be right, she thought, for her now to take the burden from Kitty and accept the responsibility of rearing the toddler herself? Was this not an opportunity to get retribution for all she had suffered?
Having made up her mind to suggest to her brother, Johnny, that Rosebud would be better off being brought up by her, she lightly tiptoed from the bedroom.
Striding back into the living room, Kate found Johnny had just finished brushing his hair. Without uttering a word he then proceeded to put on his jacket. Kate immediately pulled on his sleeve whilst sharply uttering, ‘Here, brother dear, where do you think you’re going?’
‘Over to the Learig pub to wet my whistle,’ retorted Johnny as he swept Kate’s hand from his jacket.
‘No, no, you’re not,’ Kate decreed, ‘because I want to speak to you.’ Kate glanced around the room. ‘As a matter of fact I want to speak to everybody in this house.’ She hesitated before emphasising, ‘Right now.’
‘What about?’ huffed Jenny. ‘And if you’re going to go on again about me not doing enough for the war effort, then let me tell you, I bloody well am. I mean, who do you think keeps the welcoming stations going?’ Jenny, who was obviously offended, sniffed long and loudly before continuing her tirade. ‘None other than the churches’ Women’s Guilds, of which I am proud to be a full participating member.’ Jenny, her eyes now ablaze, exhaled through gritted teeth. No one spoke because they knew she was not finished and no one was brave enough to stop her from concluding her sermon. ‘So that means three nights a week the women in South Leith Parish Church are up there making soup, sandwiches, tea and just talking to the laddies and lassies before they catch a train out o’ the Caledonian or Waverley stations and only God kens if they will ever come back alive.’