Authors: Val Wood
Tags: #Divorce & Separation, #Family Life, #General, #Romance, #Family & Relationships, #Sagas, #Fiction
‘Can you gut?’
She looked up at him. ‘What a lot of questions. Course I can!’
He grinned. ‘I’m just considering whether you’d mek me a suitable wife.’
She gasped at his cheek and put down her mending. ‘I’m not old enough,’ she said pertly. ‘Even if I wanted to. I’m not yet sixteen.’
He appeared to consider. ‘Will you tek a walk wi’ me later on? What time do you finish?’
Jeannie looked towards the quayside and saw her mother coming back. ‘Not till about six.’
‘You didn’t say no, then?’ He grinned. ‘So will you?’
She licked her lips. ‘Dunno.’ Should I? she thought. ‘All right then. Do you … erm, do you know where the Grand Hotel is?’
He laughed. ‘Oh aye!’ He winked. ‘I stop there every year! Where is it?’
‘You can’t miss it,’ she said, glancing again towards her mother, who had stopped to speak to somebody. ‘Walk back down to the end of the Foreshore Road and it’s the biggest building you’ll see; it’s got four domes and is set back on St Nicholas Cliff. I’ll meet you near the entrance, about half past six.’
He hesitated for a minute. ‘You will come?’ he said. ‘It’s just that I’ve to get ’train back at ten past eight.’
She swallowed. She felt strangely excited. ‘I’ll come.’
I didn’t ask his name, she thought as he left. She felt rather guilty as her mother came back and sat by her side.
‘Everything all right?’ Mary asked.
‘Yes.’ Jeannie put down her net. ‘I think mebbe I’ll take a walk now,’ she said. ‘Just to stretch my legs. Shan’t be long.’ She set off in a casual manner away from the harbour and towards the Foreshore Road. She was curious to know if the stranger was alone, and where he would go next. She had suggested the Grand Hotel because it was a long way from the haunts of anyone she knew, especially Ethan, who would be down by the harbour later, preparing to sail.
And there he was in front of her, the stranger, walking with two other young men towards Blands Cliff which led up to the town, no doubt in search of a hostelry in which to quench their thirst.
Mary watched Jeannie, wondering where she was going. As she’d walked back from her break she had seen the young man talking to her and had deliberately slowed her steps, stopping to speak to an acquaintance.
She works hard does the lassie, she mused, turning her eyes away as she saw Jeannie start to head back; she deserves a little fun. But who was he? Not a Scarborough man, not one that I know at any rate, unless he’s from up town. I bet he’s a visitor come to flirt with the local girls. Still, no harm in that. She smiled as she recalled Jack’s flirting with her on her first visit to the fishing port. Little did he know that I was determined to have him right from the start. He didn’t stand a chance.
The afternoon seemed to drag for Jeannie. She made several mistakes with her knotting and had to undo her work and begin again, and at half past five she began to pack up.
‘I’ve had enough for today,’ she told her mother. ‘I’m going home.’
Mary nodded. ‘All right. I’ll just finish this and then come up. Put the kettle on to boil and we’ll have a cup of tea.’
‘I’m not hungry,’ Jeannie said. ‘I might go for a walk and have supper later. Shall I get a crab? I’ve got some change.’
‘Yes, good idea. Tom can have some cold beef when he comes in.’
Jeannie bought a crab from the fish market and dashed up the hill towards home. She didn’t want to tell her mother that she was going to meet someone but neither did she want to lie to her. But I won’t, she persuaded herself. I
going for a walk. Just not by myself.
She put more wood on the fire and swung the kettle over it, then quickly washed her hands and face and brushed her hair, which was tangled from the wind, and changed her skirt. She always wore a heavy apron but sometimes the nets caught her skirt hem and left a black mark. She knew that she probably smelled of fish. Would he notice, she thought, or if he was a fisherman perhaps he wouldn’t?
She had a quick cup of tea and a piece of bread and then told her mother, ‘I’ll eat later. Save me a bit of crab. Shan’t be long.’
Mary smiled at her. ‘Have a nice time.’
Jeannie stopped with her hand on the door. ‘I’m only going for a walk, Ma.’
‘But you might meet someone nice to talk to,’ was her mother’s rejoinder. ‘Ethan stopped by, by the way. He asked where you were.’
‘What did you say?’
‘Just told him you’d gone home.’ And he said nothing more, Mary thought. He just nodded and went to his boat and yet I felt that he was surprised that Jeannie wasn’t there as usual, as if her absence had changed his day from its usual routine. As if he took it for granted that she would be sitting there, as if she were part of his life, and yet, she mused as Jeannie went out of the door, he has never, to my knowledge, asked her to share it.
Jeannie wasn’t late for the meeting but she still hurried, anxious to be there first so that she could watch out for him. What if he doesn’t come? she thought, and gave a mental shrug. No harm done. At least no one will know me up there, and nobody will know I’ve come on a fool’s errand. But he was there already and standing on the hotel steps with his hands in his pockets as if he owned the place; as if he wasn’t concerned that it was reputedly the biggest hotel in the whole of Europe.
He saw her from across the road and waved, then ran down the steps towards her. He took hold of both her hands. ‘You came!’
‘I said I would.’
‘I bet fellers ask you out all ’time, don’t they?’
‘Maybe,’ she said. ‘Sometimes.’
‘Do you want to go in for a drink?’ He signified the hotel behind them by a toss of his head. ‘Or go for a walk?’
She pretended to consider even though she knew they would never be allowed in. Carriages were drawn up outside and elegant women and important-looking gentlemen were being ushered into the hotel by uniformed lackeys.
‘I’d rather go for a walk,’ she said. ‘I’ll show you Scarborough if you like?’
He put his arm round her waist and drew her near. ‘All right. Show me all ’best bits.’
She wriggled a little. ‘The best bits are by the harbour where I work; up here is where the visitors come. But we could walk by the Spa; there might be music playing and the gardens are lovely. And if you haven’t much time …’
‘Let’s do that,’ he said. ‘We can watch ’sea and listen to ’music and you can tell me all about yourself.’ His thumb stroked her hip bone and she moved away from him. ‘Don’t you like that?’ he murmured.
She flushed and shrugged. It was rather nice but she thought he was being forward. ‘I’ve only just met you. I don’t even know your name.’
He smiled. ‘Harry,’ he said. ‘Harry Carr. What’s yours?’
‘Jeannie. Jeannette Marshall.’
He put his arm about her again. ‘So now that we’ve been introduced, Miss Marshall, is it all right to do it?’
She couldn’t help but smile. She’d never met anyone like him before. ‘As long as that’s all you do,’ she said archly.
‘Oh – oh!’ He stood back and perused her. ‘What else might I do?’
She was embarrassed now. Did he think she was being bold? That wasn’t her intention.
He saw her confusion and was contrite. He held her hand. ‘Onny teasing,’ he said softly. ‘I won’t do owt that you don’t want me to. Come on, let’s walk.’
They walked down the hill, taking the path past the squares with their elegant houses and private central gardens and dropping down to the footpath to the Spa. They could hear music and the muted cry of sea birds, and the sea was gently lapping on the rocks below. Jeannie thought it was the most beautiful place she knew.
‘Don’t you think it’s lovely?’ she asked. ‘Is Hull like this?’
He shook his head. ‘Hull’s nowt like this. Hull’s a busy lively town. It’s a grand town to live in, if you’re in work. And there’re lots o’ shops if you like that sort o’ thing, and history, loads o’ history. This is nice, though,’ he conceded. ‘If you like living near ’sea. Bet it’s cold in winter!’
‘No more than anywhere else. It’s very bracing. So what’s special about Hull?’
‘Well, it’s home isn’t it? It’s where my family live, where my mates are, where ’fishing is. If you’re a fisherman in Hull there’s allus work.’
‘Same here,’ she said.
He suddenly turned towards her and pressed her against the sea wall, both arms round her. ‘Let’s stop talking, shall we?’ He bent his face towards hers. ‘I want to kiss you,’ he said. ‘I don’t want to talk about everyday things.’ He kissed her mouth hard, taking her breath away.
She pushed him away. ‘Not here!’ she said. ‘People will see!’
‘What people? I don’t see any people.’
‘I live here,’ she said, turning her head away. ‘It’s broad daylight. Someone might see.’
‘Hoity-toity! Don’t Scarborough folk kiss?’
She held his hand tight, for he was about to hold her round the waist again, but she could see that he was laughing at her.
‘Course they do – I expect, anyway. But not where their friends or family can see them.’
He grinned at her. ‘That’s ’first time you’ve been kissed, isn’t it? Didn’t you like it?’
I did, she thought, but said, ‘It was all right.’
‘Come on!’ He grabbed her hand and began to race her back towards the Foreshore Road.
‘Where?’ She laughed, exhilarated. Was this what being wayward was like?
‘I’ll show you!’ He ran with her, dodging people coming in the opposite direction. ‘I found somewhere earlier, a cut-through!’
Jeannie wrinkled her eyebrows. What was he talking about? But he raced on, dragging her with him.
‘Here,’ he said. ‘In here.’
‘What about it?’ she said. ‘There are lots of them. They’re short cuts up from the sands to the town.’
He pulled her into a narrow alley with a steep flight of steps at the end of it. ‘Yes,’ he said softly. ‘And out of sight of prying eyes. We’ve got them in Hull too; they lead from one street into another, except in Hull they don’t have steps. Come on. Nobody’ll see you in here – it’s too dark.’
‘But …’ Residents used these passageways all the time, but at this time of day most of them would be at home eating a meal, as she should have been doing.
‘But nothing,’ he murmured, taking her face in his hands and putting his lips close to hers. ‘Kiss me, Jeannie. Kiss me now, cos I’ve a train to catch.’
AND SO SHE did. She kissed him as passionately and fervently as he kissed her until she was dizzy and breathless and wondered at herself for never having guessed that it could be like this. If she had ever thought of Ethan kissing her, and she had, often, it had always been a tender and loving kiss, not full of fire and longing as these kisses were, so much longing that her legs felt weak and her body melted.
‘I’ve got to go,’ he gasped at last, pulling away. ‘I’ll miss my train. Wait for me, Jeannie.’
‘How long?’ she whispered. She swallowed, and licked her swollen and tender lips.
‘Until I come,’ he murmured in her ear. ‘Just wait.’
They ran up the steps and she hurried with him through the town to the railway station. His friends were already there, and two girls with them. The men called to Harry to hurry and Jeannie felt their eyes upon her. One of them grinned and the other winked as they drew near, and she didn’t know what they meant by it. Harry kissed her again, murmuring once more that she must wait, and dashed aboard as the guard waved his flag and the train got up a head of steam.
She waited until the train steamed out. The two girls glanced at her as they walked past. She didn’t know them. Town girls, she thought, noting their rouged faces and scarlet lips. Their gaze moved from top to toe as if they were assessing her, and both wore a cynical grin.
‘Night, darling,’ one of them said. ‘Time you were in bed.’
Jeannie thought they were drunk for they cackled with laughter, rolling from side to side with their ridiculous bustles swaying on their vast behinds and the feathers fluttering in their hats.
She walked slowly back home and cut down the Bolts on to Sandside. She had used these familiar passageways most days of her life; they were quite dark now as the light was fading and there were no gas lamps, but she had never been afraid, and now these ancient rights of way held a special significance for her. She knew that from now on whenever she cut up or down them she would think of Harry. Wait for me, he had said. And she would.
‘Where’ve you been, lassie? I was beginning to worry.’ Her mother got up from her chair to cut some bread. ‘You must be hungry. I saved you some crab.’
Mary’s glance was keen. Something’s happened. Jeannie’s face was flushed, animated. She’s been out with a lad, Mary surmised. But not with Ethan, for I saw him set sail.
‘Have you been out with friends?’ she asked. ‘You’re not usually so late.’
‘It’s only half past eight, Ma. That’s not late.’ Jeannie knew her mother would expect some kind of explanation. ‘I met a friend. We walked to the Spa and then up town. We were just talking.’
‘Would this be a new friend?’ Mary took the kettle off the fire and made a pot of tea as she talked. ‘You’ll be careful, Jeannie?’