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Authors: Lyn Andrews

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BOOK: Sunlight on the Mersey
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She sighed and turned back into the shop, having caught sight of Maggie Connolly making her way up the street, a hemp bag over her arm. First customer of the day, she thought.

‘Morning, Maggie. How’s your Fred today?’ she greeted the woman pleasantly.

‘Said ’e felt well enough to go down ter the stands and see if there was a half a day’s work on offer. Give us two pounds of carrots, a swede and two pounds of potatoes, Kate, would yer? And if yer ’ave a few fades I’d be glad of them fer the kids,’ Maggie replied, leaning on the counter.

‘I’m glad to hear he’s up and about again. Let’s hope he gets a morning’s work.’ Kate began to weigh out the vegetables
and then tip them into Maggie’s bag. A hard life spent working in all weathers, without good warm clothing or enough nourishing food, had taken its toll on Fred Connolly’s health. Like everyone else, she deplored the system used on the docks where men were forced to congregate twice a day in pens and wait to be picked by the foreman for a half-day’s work – if they were lucky. It was humiliating and degrading but it was how it had been done for years. She picked out four apples from a wicker basket behind the counter. They were well past their best but rather than throw them away she sold them as ‘fades’ to her customers at a tiny fraction of their cost. ‘There you go, luv, they’re not too bad but I wouldn’t keep them longer than today.’

Maggie grimaced. ‘Fat chance of that in our ’ouse, Kate. The kids are always starvin’ when they get ’ome from school. Ow’s your Rose? I ’eard the doctor ’ad been yesterday.’

‘Much better this morning, thanks, Maggie. She’s got rheumatic fever though.’

Maggie sucked in her breath and shook her head. ‘Yer got ter be careful with that, Kate. It can be serious, leave her an invalid, it can. Look at Dora Foster’s youngest. Poor kid, ’e can ’ardly get up the stairs now, gaspin’ fer ’is breath an’ his knees all deformed, like.’

Kate nodded, thinking of poor little Billy Foster. The child was fortunate that he had survived but now he was virtually a cripple. Dora hadn’t been able to afford to pay for a doctor and so the child had been left in a terrible state. Thankfully Rose had received medical treatment and the best care. ‘I
know but Dr Mackenzie said she should make a complete recovery and I’m going to make sure she doesn’t overtax herself. I’ve got plans for our Rose when she’s on her feet again.’

Maggie held out the coins to pay for her purchases and looked very interested. ‘What kind of plans would they be then, Kate?’ she asked. Rose Mundy had always been far more spoiled than Kate’s other two.

‘I’ve got to discuss them with Bill first, Maggie, but you’ll be the first to know after I’ve done that,’ she informed her neighbour.

Maggie nodded but before she could comment further two other customers arrived, Ada Marshall and Sal Appleby, both of whom she knew well.

‘’As your Rose got the scarlet fever, Kate?’ Ada asked bluntly, nodding to Maggie by way of a greeting.

‘No. Why?’ Kate demanded.

‘Well, I ’eard she was took bad and I ’eard there’s at least four cases of it in Blackstock Street and that’s just round the corner, so ter speak.’

‘And yer know once these things get goin’ it’ll turn into an epidemic before long,’ Sal added.

‘She’s on the mend now, thank God,’ Kate replied. ‘Now, what can I get you, Ada?’ she asked, determined that she wasn’t going to show how much this latest piece of news had worried her. Sal was right, these things usually resulted in an epidemic and Rose was in no state to combat yet another disease. She resolved to speak to Bill tonight.

Thankfully she managed to get supper over early. Charlie went out with a couple of his mates for a pint and Iris had made arrangements to meet her friend from work, Florence Taylor.

‘She seems a lot brighter today, luv,’ Bill remarked as he brought down the empty jug to be refilled with barley water.

‘She is and she’s slept quite a lot so that’s a good thing. Dr Mackenzie is calling in the morning so we’ll see what he has to say. Now, there’s something I want to talk to you about, Bill. I heard today that scarlet fever is raging again and our Rose isn’t in any condition to contend with that too.’

Bill frowned as he sat down opposite his wife. ‘I’d heard that quite a few kids in Blackstock Street have come down with it but how will that affect Rose? She’s confined to bed; she’s not going to be in any danger of catching it.’

‘But we’re both in contact with so many folk from around here and who knows how these things are spread? No, as soon as she’s well enough I want to get her away from this neighbourhood, Bill. The weather is getting warmer now and you know what that means. Flies, rotting rubbish in the gutters and ashcans, people falling prey to all kinds of illnesses. I want to send her to stay with Gwen Roberts for a couple of months. She’ll be delighted to have Rose, I know.’

Bill stared at her, a bit confused. ‘You want her to go to Tregarron?’

Kate nodded. Gwen Roberts was an old friend who lived in a small village in Denbighshire. Granted she didn’t see her very often, usually only a couple of times a year when an
omnibus trip was organised from the village to Liverpool for shopping purposes, but they wrote regularly. As a young girl she had gone on a very rare holiday with her mam and sister to a farm in Tregarron. Gwen had been the farmer’s daughter and the same age as herself and they’d become firm friends. Her sister Molly had been recovering from a severe bout of measles, which had given her the idea to send Rose. Gwen’s parents were now dead and her brother ran the farm. Gwen, who had never married, lived in a small cottage adjacent to the village post office where she was the postmistress.

‘A few months in the country with fresh, clean air and good wholesome food will do her the world of good, Bill, you have to agree with that,’ she urged.

‘It will, but will she want to go, Kate? Will she be happy living in the middle of nowhere?’ he asked. ‘She’s a city girl, she’s used to all the shops, public transport and other amenities Liverpool has to offer.’ He wasn’t at all sure that his daughter would think this was a good idea.

‘Like dirt and disease!’ Kate added scathingly. ‘Thankfully she’ll get over this but it might leave her weakened and then she will pick up everything that’s going around. No, Bill, we’ve had enough worries over our Rose’s health to last a lifetime and I feel this will help her to get over that Jimmy Harper too. She’s been really cut up about the way he treated her, although if you ask me she’s better off without him, the little toe-rag seems to have the morals of an alley cat. A few months with Gwen will stand her in good stead, build her up, and when she returns we’ll think about her helping me in the
shop. I’m going to suggest it to Dr Mackenzie and I’m sure he’ll agree with me.’

Bill nodded slowly. ‘But we can’t expect Gwen to keep her free of charge, Kate. And what will Rose do all day?’

‘I’ve already thought about that. I’ve a few pounds saved, I won’t send her there empty-handed and I suppose she could give Gwen a hand in the post office at busy times. It’s not as if it’s going to be for ever.’

Bill sighed as he picked up the newspaper. ‘Well, the doctor can tell you when she will be fit to travel but I think you’d better see what she has to say about the whole thing first. She might well flatly refuse to go.’

Kate got up to put the kettle on, thinking that when she’d finished telling Rose about the gloriously happy time she’d spent in Tregarron the girl would raise no objections. She’d hint, too, that it would help Rose to get over the upset she’d recently suffered.

The following morning before she opened the shop Kate went up to see her daughter and outlined what she had in mind for Rose’s convalescence, putting great emphasis on the pretty, peaceful countryside, the benefits of clean air and good food and the possibility that if Rose were to find things a bit too quiet then she could help out in the post office.

‘It would be far, far better for you than staying here in Liverpool and going back to work in that hotel. You must find it quite a – a trial now, luv, having to see . . . certain people every day, and you know how hot the summer months can be and how the stench from the ashcans and privies would turn
your stomach. You’ll love it. You know Aunty Gwen and a few hours helping her wouldn’t seem like work at all, would it?’ she urged.

Rose had listened to the description of the village and the countryside with some trepidation but it was the thought of going back to Black’s and seeing Jimmy Harper again combined with the images and smells of the city in summer her mother’s words had evoked that won the day. She smiled. ‘It would be wonderful to get away from all that, Mam, and I do like Aunty Gwen.’ In fact she had only met the small, dark-haired, energetic Gwen Roberts – on whom Kate had bestowed the honorary title of ‘Aunty’ – a few times, but she remembered her as being a rather pleasant gossipy person, and her mam always talked about her affectionately.

Kate smiled back with relief. ‘I knew you’d agree. Now, let me tidy you up a bit and change those pillowcases before the doctor comes and we’ll see what he says about the idea and when he thinks you will be well enough to go.’

Dr Mackenzie thought it was a very sensible idea and assured Kate that Rose would be fit to travel in about two weeks, depending upon how quickly she recovered, and Kate determined to write to Gwen that very evening asking would she be kind enough to have Rose to stay for the summer months.

That evening the news of Rose’s proposed convalescence in Wales was received with astonishment by Iris and a little resentment by Charlie.

‘And she’s quite happy to go, Mam? For the whole summer?
Won’t she get bored stiff after a couple of weeks?’ Iris asked, wondering just what her sister would find to keep her occupied for months in a tiny village with the nearest town over ten miles away.

‘She’s delighted with the idea,’ Kate replied firmly, folding up the gingham tablecloth and putting it away in a drawer of the dresser. ‘And I’m sure she has no wish to see that . . . that Harper lad again.’

‘Oh, I’ll bet she is! She’ll be spending her time getting waited on and reading those penny dreadfuls she’s always got her nose stuck into,’ Charlie muttered, wondering who was going to pay for Rose’s extended holiday – for that’s what it appeared to be to him. He did feel some sympathy for Rose, she was ill and she had been hurt by that young fool, but surely she had to learn to take the knocks life dealt? He certainly had.

Kate rounded on him. ‘Charlie! You know our Rose has always been delicate. She won’t be getting waited on and she’ll be helping in the shop.’

This information did nothing to mollify Charlie. ‘And who is going to pay for her keep? Miss Roberts can’t be expected to foot the bill and I don’t think it’s very fair to either me or Iris if we have to contribute to this . . . this . . . holiday of Rose’s.’

Kate pursed her lips, annoyed by Charlie’s words. ‘It’s
not
a holiday and no one is expecting you or Iris to pay a penny towards it.
I
will make the financial arrangements with Gwen. Now, I don’t want to hear any more of your complaints,
Charlie. And, Iris, don’t you go upsetting her by telling her what he said or putting her off the idea. It’s for the good of her health.’

Iris nodded her agreement whilst casting her brother an annoyed glance. ‘I won’t, Mam. I think it’s a great idea as long as Rose is happy about it. I have to admit that it would drive me mad living in the country – all that
silence –
but she might enjoy it and Aunty Gwen’s nice and she knows everyone in that village.’

Kate smiled at her eldest daughter. There wasn’t a jealous bone in Iris’s body but she wished Charlie could be a bit more sympathetic. He’d changed, she thought sadly, he’d never been as moody or self-centred before. It was the fault of the war. Would they never be free of its shadow?

Chapter Three

I
RIS DISCUSSED HER SISTER’S
visit to Wales in detail with her best friend Florence Taylor, who worked in the accounts office of Frisby Dyke’s. Florence’s father was a successful coal merchant and they lived in a far better area of the city than the Mundys; her friend had received a far better education than herself, which was why Florence had a responsible job in the office and Iris was just a counter assistant. They had become friendly when Florence had asked her advice on some lace she wanted to purchase and after that they’d begun to spend all their breaks together and walked to the tram stop each evening. Florence was much quieter and more reserved than Iris was; she’d been almost as shocked as Iris’s mam when she’d had her hair cut short.

‘Oh, I just wouldn’t have the courage, Iris. What if it
doesn’t turn out right and looks awful?’ she’d exclaimed when Iris had informed her of her intention to visit Marcel’s, a very modern hairdressing establishment in the city centre. ‘And I dread to think what my father would say!’ Florence had long fair hair which she wore in a neat chignon for work and her blue eyes had been wide with amazement at Iris’s drastic decision.

Iris had shrugged and laughed. ‘It would always grow again, Florence,’ she’d replied. ‘And, you never know, your dad might like you with short hair.’ But Florence hadn’t been persuaded.

BOOK: Sunlight on the Mersey
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