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Authors: Val Wood

Tags: #Divorce & Separation, #Family Life, #General, #Romance, #Family & Relationships, #Sagas, #Fiction

The Harbour Girl (8 page)

BOOK: The Harbour Girl
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‘Of what?’ Jeannie washed her hands at the sink and sat at the table. ‘I said we were just talking.’ And kissing, she thought, her eyes glazing.

‘It’s just – well, if you don’t know somebody very well, you have to learn to trust first.’

Jeannie looked up at her mother and licked her lips. Could she tell? Does she know by my face that I’ve been kissing someone?

‘When you first met my father – how did you feel?’ she asked. ‘Did you know that he was the one you were going to marry?’

Holy Mother, Mary thought. Is it worse than I thought? She’s only fifteen! And you were seventeen, a voice in her head reminded her.

‘He was the one I hoped to marry,’ she said softly. ‘I was completely bowled over by him, but I asked around, tried to find out about him, asked who knew him and of course everybody did. Every lassie who lived on Sandside wanted him.’ She smiled. ‘But he wanted
me
, and nobody else!’

She gazed at her daughter, who was picking at the crab in a desultory way. ‘I thought that you and Ethan …’ she murmured.

Jeannie nodded. ‘So did I,’ she said. ‘I care for Ethan, but he never says anything. Perhaps he thinks I’m too young.’

‘Which you are,’ her mother agreed. ‘Does he see any other girl?’

Jeannie shook her head. ‘I don’t think so. I’d know if he did.’ But I think it’s too late, she thought. If Ethan had kissed me in the way that Harry did and asked me to wait for him, I would have done; but not now. There was a tinge of regret in the thought, for she felt that Ethan would have been true, whereas Harry … She heaved a sigh. I know nothing of him. He might be married already – except he did ask me to wait. Was he just fooling around with a girl from another town? I hope not, cos I’ll wait anyway.

And so she did. All of that autumn and winter too, past Christmas and into cold January, but he never came. Ethan suspected something, she thought, for once or twice she found him looking at her in an enquiring way when she made an excuse not to go for a walk when he suggested it.

‘Is there something wrong, Jeannie?’ he asked at last.

‘No.’ She shrugged. ‘It’s too cold. Don’t feel like going out.’ And it was true, she didn’t. The air was no longer bracing, but cold and raw, the sea no longer sparkling but dull and grey, reflecting the low sky.

In February she turned sixteen. The day was bright and sunny and bitterly cold and she made the decision that she would wait no longer. He wasn’t coming, that was certain. I can’t waste my life waiting for someone I don’t know. Someone who has a life that I know nothing about.

There wasn’t much work on the nets just now, not enough for her and her mother, so Jeannie applied for a job at a ship’s chandlers. It was warmer working indoors and she soon familiarized herself with the marine hardware, the navigation rulers, pumps and anchor chains which she couldn’t lift without assistance. She knew most of the customers and enjoyed the banter, and so one March Saturday as she left the shop at four o’clock she had more of a spring in her step than she had had for a long time.

She walked home along Sandside with her eyes on the sea as always; the sun had almost set and its rays suffused the waves, turning them to a sparkling flush. She turned her gaze landwards, and there he was.

‘Jeannie!’ He looked as she remembered him. The same grin, the same dark eyes, and the full mouth which had so enchanted hers.

‘I’d given up on you,’ she said softly.

‘Don’t do that, Jeannie. I said I’d come.’

‘You didn’t say when.’ She wanted to cry with relief that he was here.

‘I couldn’t. Work, you know.’

She did know. Fishermen had little time off. ‘You could have sent a postcard,’ she said weakly.

He pursed his lips. ‘I didn’t know your address. How would it have found you?’

‘Everybody on Sandside knows me.’ Except the postman, she thought. We hardly ever get letters.

He took hold of her hand. ‘I’m here now. Are you pleased to see me?’

‘Yes,’ she murmured. ‘I am; it’s just been a long time.’

‘Have you reached sixteen?’ His eyes stayed on her face.

She nodded. ‘Last month.’

Jeannie suddenly dropped his hand. Ethan was striding towards her from the harbour. Her mother always said that he looked like a Viking and he does, she thought. He wore a beard in the winter; it was thick and fair, and his long hair was the same.

‘Jeannie?’ Ethan spoke to her but looked at Harry. He towered over the two of them.

‘This is Harry Carr, Ethan,’ she said nervously. ‘He’s a fisherman from Hull.’

Ethan put out his large hand to shake Harry’s. ‘Looking for work?’ he asked and his eyes were like steel.

‘No, no. Just here for ’day. Ship’s laid up till tomorrow.’

That’s what he said last time, Jeannie recalled. Does he lose pay when that happens? To her knowledge, Ethan was never without work. If his boat needed repair then he usually worked on it himself.

Ethan nodded and turned back in the direction from which he had come. ‘See you later, Jeannie?’ There was a question mark hovering and she gave a slight nod.

‘Is he your feller?’ Harry asked, gazing at Ethan’s broad back.

‘I’ve known him since we were bairns,’ she said casually. ‘We’re really good friends.’

‘Aye.’ Harry looked at her. ‘I can see that. But he thinks you’re his girl.’

She laughed, nervously. ‘I don’t think so. He’s a bit shy is Ethan. He probably feels comfortable with me.’ Those were her mother’s words coming out of her mouth. In truth she still didn’t know what to make of Ethan and his feelings towards her.

‘So are you mine?’ he asked, drawing her close.

Jeannie felt her body melting, her legs weak and her mind numb. She nodded. ‘I said I’d wait, didn’t I?’ she said softly. ‘And I have.’

He bent and kissed her cheek. He smiled. ‘Good. Come on, let’s tek a walk.’

She held his hand along Sandside and didn’t really care who saw them; they stopped for a plate of cockles which Harry chewed and then spat out. ‘Yuck,’ he said. ‘Never did like them.’

Jeannie laughed; her spirits had been raised sky-high. ‘Staple diet on Sandside. Cockles and crabs – and herring, of course.’

He put his arm round her. ‘We won’t live in Scarborough then. We’ll have to live in Hull.’

She felt as if the breath was drawn from her body. ‘What do you mean?’

‘When we get married.’ He grinned down at her.

‘You’ll have to ask my mother first.’

‘All right. Now?’

‘No – not today! I’ve got to think about it.’

‘Fair enough,’ he said. ‘But don’t tek ower long. I’m an impatient man. I want you, Jeannie,’ he said softly. ‘Don’t mek me wait.’

Her mind worked swiftly. Her mother wouldn’t be pleased. She’d want to know all about him and what his prospects were, but Jeannie was determined to marry him. She thought of St Mary’s church up by the castle. That’s where she’d like to be married. A simple wedding, of course: they wouldn’t have much money. She imagined coming out on Harry’s arm and seeing her home town spread out below.

‘I won’t. I want to marry you, Harry,’ she said shyly. ‘Would you like to take a walk up to the castle? There’s a fine view from up there. You can see the North Bay as well as the South.’

‘All right,’ he agreed. ‘But I mustn’t miss my train. I’m catching an earlier one. I’ve been hanging around all afternoon looking for you.’

‘Are your friends with you?’

‘No.’ He seemed to hesitate. ‘I came on ’spur of ’moment this time. They’re all in work.’

She looked questioningly at him.

‘What I mean is,’ he qualified, ‘they’re on different ships from me. I might look for a different company to work with when I get back.’

‘I think you should,’ she said. ‘You need to be sure the vessels are seaworthy. It doesn’t sound to me as if the one you’re on is!’

He squeezed her waist. ‘Listen to ’expert!’ he teased.

‘I’m serious,’ she said. ‘My brother Tom’s an apprentice boat builder. I listen to him telling us how important it is. We all know the sea has to be taken seriously.’

‘I know that,’ he said sharply. ‘I’ve been working on ships all my working life.’

She’d touched a raw nerve and was puzzled, but said nothing more on the subject. They continued their walk up towards the castle, taking all the short cuts through alleyways and up steep steps, and she made him laugh when she said they were in Paradise. He stopped and took a breath and then kissed her passionately on the mouth. An old woman shouted at them to move on, and they laughed and continued.

‘I’ll know when I’m in paradise, and it won’t be here in full view of everybody,’ he whispered in her ear, and once again she felt weak at the thought of what he was suggesting.

They paused by St Mary’s church. ‘This is an ancient church,’ she said solemnly. ‘My parents and grandparents were married here.’

Harry glanced at the clock on the tower. ‘Come on. We haven’t much time before I’m due back at ’station.’

She was disappointed that he hadn’t said that here, then, was where they would be married too. But perhaps, she thought, men are not as romantic as women about continuity.

They reached the castle grounds and headed towards the edge of the cliff to look down. Jeannie pointed out the North Bay, accessible by a pathway down the cliff, and the red-tiled roofs of the town in the South Bay.

‘It’s the best place in the world,’ she sighed.

‘How do you know?’ He laughed. ‘Where else have you been?’

‘Nowhere,’ she said. ‘But I still know.’

‘You must come to Hull,’ he said, his arm round her waist. ‘You’d like it there.’

She allowed him to lead her back across the grass towards the ruined castle and they entered its broken walls. ‘I’d like to come,’ she said, and didn’t object as he unbuttoned her blouse. ‘Wh-whereabouts do you live?’

‘Hessle Road,’ he murmured, fingering her nipples. ‘All ’fishing community live there.’

Jeannie swallowed. ‘I don’t think you should do that,’ she whispered.

‘Why? Don’t you like it?’ He gently pushed her down on the grass and ran his hands over her belly. ‘I’m sure that you do, Jeannie. It’s what you want, isn’t it? Say that you do and you’ll make me a very happy man.’

His hands roamed her body, beneath her blouse, beneath her skirt, touching her flesh so that she wanted to moan. There was no one to see or hear; not another single person was there, only the two of them and the sea birds and the family of rabbits she could see from her position on the grass.

‘I do like it, yes,’ she breathed. ‘But – I think we should wait.’

‘I’ve waited.’ His voice was hoarse. ‘Waited and waited and I want you, Jeannie. Do you know what that means?’

‘I think so.’ She could barely speak.

‘And you needn’t think that I’ll change my mind about marrying you, cos I won’t, but I need you now. I’m desperate for you, Jeannie. I need to show you how much I want you.’

He pressed himself upon her and his warm moist mouth found hers, his tongue found hers and his fingers found places that she hadn’t known were there.

She cried, ‘I love you, Harry.’

‘I know,’ he said. ‘I know. So everything will be all right, Jeannie. Everything will be all right.’

CHAPTER EIGHT

ETHAN CALLED AT their house the following morning. Mary opened the door. ‘Won’t you come in, Ethan?’

The two families had become quite close since the death of Ethan’s mother. Susan had taken on the role of mother to her sisters and baby brother Stephen and Mary had helped as much as she could, but it was quite unusual for Ethan to call unless for something specific.

‘Will Jeannie come for a walk?’ he asked, hovering on the doorstep. ‘I need to talk to her.’

Jeannie appeared behind her mother. ‘I’ll just get my shawl,’ she said nervously, and Mary looked from one to another. They were both tense, and Jeannie had hardly spoken last evening when she had come in late from work. Had they had a quarrel? she wondered.

‘Where do you want to go?’ Jeannie asked, once they were outside.

‘Don’t mind,’ Ethan said. ‘Up to the castle if you like?’

‘No,’ she said quickly. ‘Not the castle. Let’s go up to town.’

She couldn’t bear to go to the castle, not after yesterday. She would always think of it now as her and Harry’s special place. He hadn’t allowed her to accompany him to the railway station, saying that he hadn’t much time and would have to run, but she hadn’t gone home immediately. She had sat by the sea taking deep breaths and thinking of how wonderful it had been with Harry; she had been nervous and doubtful but he had been tender, though persuasive, constantly assuring her that it was perfectly all right because they loved each other.

She and Ethan walked in silence for a while until at last Ethan said, ‘How do you know Harry Carr?’

‘Oh, erm, I met him last year. We just got talking, you know how it is. And then we bumped into each other again.’

‘No, I don’t know how it is,’ Ethan muttered. ‘He seemed very familiar considering you’ve only met twice.’

BOOK: The Harbour Girl
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ads

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