Authors: Val Wood
Tags: #Divorce & Separation, #Family Life, #General, #Romance, #Family & Relationships, #Sagas, #Fiction
He gazed down at her for a second before saying, ‘Pity.’ He turned to go back on board, where the other men were filling the baskets ready to send them to the curers, but then he paused. ‘I was wondering – now that we’ve got a bigger boat would you consider working on our nets as a regular job? These nets are thinner and they snag quite a bit. Simon and I will do the soaking, shan’t expect you to do that, but if we knew that somebody reliable could do the mending it would free us up.’
‘Yes, I would,’ she said, delighted to be offered regular work. She was hardly ever idle, but there were lots of women just as capable as she was of mending and braiding and it would be a comfort to know she need not worry about slack periods any longer.
Fishermen were very particular about their nets and many preferred linen or hemp over cotton, but sea water rotted them all and, to prevent this damage, they were soaked in vats of chemical solution to deter further disintegration.
‘You wouldn’t mind if I worked on anybody else’s, would you?’ she asked, mindful that they would need as much money as it was possible to earn. ‘If yours were finished? Yours would be the priority, of course.’
‘No, course not. If you like I’ll ask Ethan and his partner if they’ll give you theirs on a regular basis too.’ Ethan had shares in a boat and seemed to be making a reasonable living.
She accepted gratefully, feeling less downcast than she had been, and tried not to dwell on the future and its problems.
The next morning Jeannie was up first and immediately went outside, where she could be heard retching.
‘What’s up with Jeannie?’ Tom asked. ‘Has she caught summat?’
‘I think she has,’ his mother admitted.
‘Hope it’s not catching,’ he said. ‘We’ve the launch of a new coble in a couple of weeks and I can’t take any time off.’
‘I shouldn’t worry about that,’ Mary said dismally, and when he had left for work and Jeannie was toying with her gruel she decided that the time had come for discussion.
‘Are you going to tell me, then?’ She sat down opposite Jeannie. ‘What’s making you sick?’
Jeannie’s face was white, and her lips were pale as she faced her mother. ‘I don’t know, Ma.’
‘Don’t you? Can’t you guess?’ Mary took a deep breath. ‘You must have some idea, Jeannie.’
Jeannie’s eyes filled with tears and her mouth trembled. ‘I’ve missed my flux three times,’ she whispered. ‘Ma, I’m frightened. Am I pregnant?’
‘Are you asking me, Jeannie?’ her mother said quietly. ‘There’s only one way to get pregnant and you are the only one likely to know. Did you and Harry …’
She couldn’t bring herself to ask outright if Jeannie had allowed this stranger to debase her. Had she been willing, or had he committed an outrage? She’s just a bairn, she thought. Just a wee bairn.
But Jeannie was nodding her head and reaching for a handkerchief to wipe her eyes and blow her nose. ‘I loved him,’ she wept, rocking to and fro. ‘And he said he loved me and that it would be all right. But now he’s gone and I don’t know if he’s coming back.’
Mary privately thought that there was no chance in the world that he would come back, and beneath her breath she cursed him with all the vile words she knew but never uttered.
‘We’ll wait another month so that we’re sure,’ she said. ‘And then we’ll think of what we can do.’
‘I’d want to keep it,’ Jeannie cried.
‘That you will,’ her mother agreed. ‘We’ll have no backstreet abortion. It’s a life we’re talking about, if in fact you have been caught.’ She sighed and stood up. ‘We’ll wait and see.’ She raised her head. ‘Now, get ready for work. You’ve a living to earn.’
‘Yes, Ma,’ Jeannie said meekly. ‘I’m sorry. I’m so very sorry!’
‘You’ll not be the first,’ Mary said. ‘Nor the last.’ Her eyes too were moist and her voice trembled. ‘But I never thought it’d happen to you, Jeannie. I feel as if I’ve failed you in some way. That what’s happened is my fault for not keeping you on the straight and narrow.’
Jeannie stared at her mother. ‘It’s not your fault, Ma. It’s mine – and Harry’s too. But I didn’t think of the consequences, I was just – just …’ How could she possibly explain to her mother how she had felt about him, how he thrilled her to her very being and that she had wanted him as much as he wanted her – or, she amended, as much as she had thought he wanted her. Perhaps, she thought miserably as she set off for the chandler’s shop, he didn’t feel the same way she did. Perhaps he only wanted the thrill of the chase, and not anything permanent.
There was plenty of work on the nets, so Jeannie gave in her notice at the chandler’s. She saw Ethan several times and he always came over to speak to her, but she found she had nothing to say, nothing that would heal the breach between them.
Her sickness eased but she felt sluggish and lacking in energy, although she suspected this was because of her worry over the non-appearance of Harry rather than anything physical. Her shape remained the same and each morning she ran her hands over her waist and belly to check if there was any sign of swelling, but there wasn’t; yet still her flux didn’t appear and she was convinced that she was carrying a child.
Mary took Tom aside one evening just before he went out. ‘I want to talk to you, Tom.’
‘What have I done?’ he exclaimed, seeing his mother’s serious expression.
‘It’s not what you’ve done but what you might do,’ she said. ‘Sit down. I want to discuss something.’
Obediently he sat, glancing at the clock on the wall. ‘I’m meeting Sarah soon,’ he said.
‘It’s about Sarah I want to speak,’ Mary said, and Tom’s mouth dropped open. ‘It’s my duty as your mother to make sure you are treating her with respect. I know that you love her, but I want to say …’ She took a breath. This was something a boy’s father should do, not his mother.
‘I want to say that you must always treat her honourably—’
‘Crikey, Ma! I’ve known Sarah since I was six!’ Tom broke in.
‘I know that,’ she said, ‘and all the more reason why you must show her regard and not familiarity.’
Tom’s cheeks suddenly crimsoned as he understood his mother’s meaning.
‘What I’m saying, Tom,’ Mary went on, ‘is that it’s all right to have a kiss and a cuddle, but nothing more than that. Do you know what I’m saying?’
‘Yeh! Course I do,’ he mumbled. ‘And I won’t. Crikey,’ he said again. ‘Have you seen the size of her da? He’d have my guts for garters if I did summat I shouldn’t.’
‘Good,’ she said with a heave of breath. ‘That’s all right then. So long as you know. It’s not a good way to start a marriage if you’ve to wed in a hurry.’
He stood up and towered over her. ‘What brought that on?’ he asked. ‘You know I’ve been courting Sarah since she turned sixteen.’
The same age as Jeannie, she thought, and look at what’s happened there. She shook her head. ‘Just thought it needed mentioning, that’s all. I dare say Sarah’s mother has said the same thing to her.’
He gave a little shrug of his broad shoulders. ‘She might have done, but Sarah’s never said. But she’s never needed to, Ma,’ he said gently. ‘She knows that she can trust me.’
Mary held back her tears until he had gone and then gave way to them; she was just composing herself when the door opened and Jeannie came in. She was flushed and windswept, her thick brown hair wild and tangled, but she looked beautiful, Mary thought.
Jeannie smiled at her mother. She seemed relaxed yet buoyant, more cheerful than she had been for some weeks.
‘Ma,’ she said, ‘I’ve made a decision. I’m going to Hull. I’ve enough money for the train fare. I’m going to look for Harry.’
JEANNIE HAD DECIDED that evening, as she set out on her usual walkabout, that she would confront the demons which were holding her fast, and to this end she took the steep hill up to the castle. She entered the gateway and walked across the rough grass to the edge of the rocky promontory and gazed down at the well-loved view of the medieval town which had been built close to the harbour and now climbed up the precipitous limestone cliffs. The town had been founded by and named after the Viking raider Thorgills Skarthi, though Jeannie remembered being told at school that the castle had been built by King Henry II, who had granted charters to the town.
A fleet of fishing cobles and smacks was putting out to sea on their way to night-time fishing, and she wondered if Ethan was sailing tonight. From this distance she couldn’t see either the name of his ship, the
, nor the flag that it flew.
She turned round and walked back through the open walls of the castle, tracing her hands over the rough stone and remembering the last time when she had been here, with Harry. So much must have happened between these walls, but we know nothing of the human emotion, only the history we are taught at school. In a hundred years’ time, she thought, no one will know of me or of the anguish I’m suffering now.
She sat on a low wall and deliberated. But if I carry this child safely, then in another century there could be some other person connected to me who’ll walk on this grass and look at the view below and wonder how they got here. Just as I do sometimes. She thought of her mother coming from Scotland; of her father’s grandmother coming from Hull to live in Scarborough and marrying a Scarborough man; and now here am I, carrying the child of a Hull man.
And it was this thought which had decided her. She would go to Hull and seek him out, and if he rejected her she would return to Scarborough, brave the scorn and contempt, and bring up the child alone, or at least with her mother’s help, for she knew in her heart that her mother wouldn’t fail her. And if Harry did indeed honour his promise, then she would stay with him and live with him wherever he wanted to be.
‘Will you go alone, bairn?’ her mother asked anxiously. ‘Or shall I come with you?’
Jeannie shook her head. ‘I’ll go by myself,’ she said. ‘And I’ll decide what to do when I get there and if I find him.’
‘Do you have his address?’ her mother said practically.
‘Hessle Road,’ Jeannie said. ‘I don’t know whereabouts it is, but if it’s where the fishing community live, then anyone will know it and him, just as we do in Scarborough.’
Mary was doubtful. Hull was a very large town, much bigger than Scarborough, but she didn’t say so. Jeannie had enough problems to contend with without her adding to them.
‘When will you go?’ she asked, and then added, ‘Will you return the same day?’
‘Tomorrow,’ Jeannie said, ‘but I don’t know when I’ll come back. That’s why I want to go by myself. I might have to stay awhile. Harry could be away at sea and I’ll have to wait for him. But I will see him,’ she said determinedly. ‘I have to know his intentions.’
‘You’re a brave wee lassie,’ her mother said, and put out her arms to enfold her. ‘And you know, don’t you, that come what may I’m always here if you need me. But you must tell me, Jeannie. Don’t leave me in the dark. Don’t let me worry that something has happened to you.’
Jeannie hugged her mother tight. ‘I won’t, Ma. If I don’t return straight away then I’ll write as soon as I can. You understand, don’t you? I have to do this. I have to know one way or another. I can’t live a half life, wondering constantly if he’ll come back and if he really meant what he said.’
Early the next morning Jeannie set out for the railway station. She had waited until Tom had left for work, and her mother had told her that she would tell him about the child when he returned that evening and swear him to secrecy.
As Jeannie climbed the hill from their cottage to reach the main street she was appalled to see Ethan coming towards her.
‘Hello, Jeannie. Where are you off to? Are you not mending this morning?’
‘Erm, no. Not today.’ She saw a small frown crease above his nose and worried that he would ask her why. But he just gazed at her from his blue eyes, and she added, ‘Did you not sail out last night?’
‘No, I didn’t.’ He was almost as uncommunicative as she was until he said, ‘The ship’s gone in for repair. Didn’t Tom tell you?’
She was anxious to be off. ‘No. You know Tom. He doesn’t discuss much.’
He continued to look at her. ‘You know I named the boat after you, don’t you, Jeannie?’
! No, she didn’t. She gave a nervous smile. ‘Lots of Scarborough girls about, Ethan.’
‘Not for me there aren’t,’ he said steadily. ‘There’s only one.’
‘Has he been back? He’s no good for you, Jeannie. You must know that.’
‘I have to go,’ she said. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘I’ll be here when you change your mind.’
She nodded and turned away. You won’t be when you hear, she thought. When you hear that I’ve behaved like a harlot and am carrying a child. You’ll run away as fast as you can. You won’t want to hear of me then. And who’ll blame you? Not me and that’s a fact.
She hurried off but ducked into a shop doorway in case Ethan should turn round as he had done on a previous occasion; she peered out and sure enough he looked back, hesitated and then walked on, and she rushed on up Eastborough in the direction of the railway station.
But there was no hurry. She had a twenty-minute wait for the next train, and as she sat on the platform she thought that if her journey hadn’t been so vital she might have enjoyed the outing. She had been on a train only once before, when she had been taken with a party of other school children to Seamer Fair. They hadn’t enjoyed it, for it had rained and their clothes had got damp and their boots muddy. Their teacher had told them that it was St Swithun’s Day, and tradition had it that if it rained on that day it would rain for forty more.