Authors: Anne Baker
Copyright © 2013 Anne Baker
The right of Anne Baker to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
First published as an Ebook by Headline Publishing Group in 2013
Apart from any use permitted under UK copyright law, this publication may only be reproduced, stored, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, with prior permission in writing of the publishers or, in the case of reprographic production, in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency.
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Cataloguing in Publication Data is available from the British Library
eISBN: 978 0 7553 9961 1
Jacket illustration by Gordon Crabb
Author Photograph by Shaun Bloodworth
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About the Author
Anne Baker trained as a nurse at Birkenhead General Hospital, but after her marriage went to live first in Libya and then in Nigeria. She eventually returned to her native Birkenhead where she worked as a Health Visitor for over ten years before taking up writing. She now lives with her husband in Merseyside. Anne Baker’s other Merseyside sagas are all available from Headline and have been highly praised:
‘A fast-moving and entertaining novel, with a fascinating location and warm, friendly characters’
Bradford Telegraph and Argus
‘A wartime Merseyside saga so full of Scouse wit and warmth that it is bound to melt the hardest heart’
‘Baker’s understanding and compassion for very human dilemmas makes her one of romantic fiction’s most popular authors’
Lancashire Evening Post
‘A gentle tale with all the right ingredients for a heartwarming novel’
Huddersfield Daily Examiner
‘A well-written enjoyable book that legions of saga fans will love’
Historical Novels Review
By Anne Baker and available from Headline
Like Father, Like Daughter
Legacy of Sins
Moonlight on the Mersey
A Mersey Duet
A Liverpool Lullaby
With a Little Luck
The Price of Love
Echoes Across the Mersey
A Glimpse of the Mersey
So Many Children
A Mansion by the Mersey
A Pocketful of Silver
Keep The Home Fires Burning
Let The Bells Ring
Carousel of Secrets
The Wild Child
A Labour of Love
The Best of Fathers
All That Glistens
Through Rose-Coloured Glasses
Liverpool Love Song
Love is Blind
Daughters of the Mersey
A Liverpool Legacy
About the Book
On a spring day in 1947, Millie and Pete Maynard take their daughter Sylvie on a boat trip that is to end in tragedy. Poor Sylvie blames herself for the accident and Millie needs all her strength to comfort her children and overcome her grief. Then Pete’s will is read and further heartache lies in store . . .
Meanwhile, Pete’s younger brother and his good-for-nothing sons try to take control of the family business, but they’ve underestimated Millie’s indomitable spirit. She’s worked in Maynard’s perfume laboratory for eighteen years and is determined to protect her husband’s legacy no matter what obstacles are thrown in her way . . .
Late March, 1947
Emily Maynard, known to the family as Millie, leaned back on her hard seat, enjoying the bright spring sun on her face. The heavy old-fashioned yacht was slicing through the water at a good pace and the only sounds were the ripple of water against the hull and the rush of wind in the sails. This was sheer bliss after the pressure of work and the hard, bleak winter.
It was Saturday and her husband Peter’s sixty-fourth birthday. He’d taken a long weekend away from his business and brought the family with him to celebrate. He very much needed a break because he’d been working overtime, but this morning with his head thrown back and his chin thrusting forward, Pete looked at least a decade younger than his age.
‘You keep me young,’ he’d told Millie often. She was his second wife and at thirty-four was only two years older than his elder daughter from his first marriage. But Millie thought it was Pete’s personality that kept him young, he always threw himself into what he was doing and brimmed with enthusiasm and contentment.
Almost everybody else in Britain was in a lacklustre mood. They had just endured a bitter winter, Britain’s coldest and longest spell of heavy snow and severe frost for fifty years. Many schools and factories had had to close for lack of heating, but theirs had not, they’d all carried on working wearing their outdoor coats and scarves.
‘Sylvie, Sylvie,’ Pete called, ‘be a good girl and get my sunglasses for me. They’re in my bag in the cabin.’
Millie watched Sylvie, her seventeen-year-old daughter, come round from the bow to oblige. She’d said she wanted to sunbathe but hadn’t yet stripped down to the swimsuit she was wearing under her blouse and shorts.
‘Not much warmth in this sun yet,’ she said to her mother as she passed.
‘It’s only the end of March,’ Millie said.
‘And only a couple of weeks since the big thaw,’ Pete told her. ‘But it’s lovely to see the sun again.’
The whole family loved Sylvie, as an infant in her pram, as a charming little girl, her eyes alight with mischief, and now as a young lady trying to appear more grown up than she was. Sylvie had not done all that well at school and had wanted to leave and work in the business. After a year at commercial college, Pete, and James his brother and partner in the business, had taken her on.
Pete said that Sylvie looked very like her, but Millie knew she’d never had stunning beauty like her daughter’s. Both were petite and slightly built, but inevitably Millie’s figure had filled out a little with childbirth and maturity.
Sylvie had a childlike face, a neat small nose and rosebud mouth. They both had fair colouring but while Millie thought of her hair as being pale fawn, Sylvie’s hair shone golden in the sun, while her eyes were a very beautiful soft golden-brown – unusual with such blond hair. Her looks never failed to work their charm on Pete and her two much older half-sisters and she always got what she wanted. Millie thought Sylvie had been indulged all her life, possibly they’d overindulged her, but she’d always been a happy and loving girl.
Millie and Pete also had two young sons, Simon was eleven and Kenneth nine, but they’d not taken them out of school to bring them. This was just a short break, primarily for her and Pete to rest and recover from their grinding workload.
It was no great novelty for them to come to Hafod, the holiday home in Anglesey that had been bought by Pete’s father. James, his elder brother had used it in his youth but had long since lost interest. Other members of the wider Maynard clan occasionally visited but it was only Pete and his family who came regularly. They counted themselves lucky to be able to get away from Liverpool fairly often. The boat had also belonged to his father and the family all enjoyed sailing and fishing trips in it when they were down here, though they rarely went far.
In summer, the locals ran boat trips to Puffin Island for holiday visitors to see the seals, but it was some distance off and they knew a nearer place where more wildlife could be seen. Today they were heading to a tiny island, really just an outcrop of rock from the seabed, a mile or so off the coast. As far as they knew it didn’t have a name though the family had always called it Seal Island because it was inhabited only by seals and seabirds which they could watch from the boat.
Pete remembered his parents taking him to Seal Island once and landing there to enjoy a picnic. He’d decided they’d do that too, it would be something different to celebrate his birthday. Now wearing his sunglasses, he was at the tiller and in a very upbeat mood. He loved messing around in the boat. He could handle
’s thirty-four feet single-handed and sometimes did. His eyes were like the ocean, bluish green, and they challenged the world and sparked with confidence in his own ability. They’d been planning this trip and looking forward to it over the freezing winter months.
Winning the war had put Britain on the breadline. The population was exhausted, all its reserves had been spent. It had run up huge debts and everything was in short supply. The country had had to switch its efforts from fighting a war to earning a living again, and it was now facing an uphill struggle for survival. Austerity Britain, the newspapers called it.
Bread had been rationed for the first time last year. Heavy manual workers were allowed more than clerical workers and housewives. The wheat content had been reduced to the 1942 level so the bread was darker and was known sarcastically as Victory Bread. Worse, to save grain, the amount of brewing was cut and then cut again more drastically, so there was little beer to be had. Butter, margarine and fat rations were cut, and no rice was imported because it was sent to starving Europe.
The politicians were making huge plans to provide a free health service, better housing and a decent education for all, but they had no money to do it. Businesses were being harried to produce and export more to pay for a better life. William C. Maynard and Sons was working flat out, struggling to do this.
‘Dad, Dad.’ Sylvie was sitting on the cabin roof and shouting excitedly. ‘I can see the seals – over there.’
Millie straightened up to look. They were nearing the island, an inhospitable rocky cliff rising from the sea, with almost every ledge occupied by squawking seabirds.
‘We’ll have to go round to the other side to land,’ Pete said.
The cliffs soon gave way to lower land and more seals could be seen now. Pete started the auxiliary engine and gave the order to collapse the sails. Sylvie leapt to do it, she called it crewing for Dad.
‘I can see the inlet,’ she said. Pete nosed the
slowly into it. It was very sheltered and the water was calm. Millie kept checking the depth of the water to make sure they didn’t run aground. A quarter of a mile or so in, Pete said he could see a place where it would be possible to tie up. The bank overhung the sea loch and a scrub of tangled brushes grew along the water’s edge. He put out the old tyres he’d brought to act as fenders and said to Sylvie, ‘Here’s the painter, get ready to jump.’
‘What do I tie it to, Dad?’
‘There aren’t many decent trees, are there? I’m looking for a few feet of clear space where you can get a foothold, but with a strong bush nearby. How about this place coming up?’
‘Fine, how did you know about it?’
‘Put it down to experience.’ He edged the yacht closer until Sylvie could jump ashore to make the boat fast.
‘Will this do, Dad?’
He climbed out to test the holding power of the bush. Millie knew he wouldn’t be satisfied.
‘Throw me a line from the stern,’ he called. Millie did so and he tied the other end fast to a different bush. ‘Now let’s have the anchor.’ Millie heaved it up and he swung that into the bank too. ‘There, that should hold us. We’ll be safe enough now.’
‘I can’t wait to see what’s here,’ Sylvie said, climbing across the short wiry turf that covered this part of the island. Millie and Pete followed more slowly.
‘There won’t be much of anything,’ Millie said, ‘if it’s uninhabited.’
‘I think we saw the ruins of a house when I came with my father, so somebody must have tried to scratch a living here once.’
They climbed higher until they could see the whole of the island laid out before them. There were seals in plenty swimming in the surf but one half of the island had been taken over by a large colony of seabirds. Pete had brought his binoculars and they tried to pick out different species.
Millie found it fascinating. ‘I do wish we could take photographs,’ she lamented, but film was almost impossible to obtain. They found the ruins of the cottage, now reduced to a few stones shaped from the local rock.
They retraced their steps back to the boat because Sylvie said she wanted to have her first swim of the year, but dipping in her toe made her decide the water was too cold. ‘Too early in the season.’ Pete smiled and clambered on board. ‘I’m not going in.’
‘What about lunch then? I’m hungry.’
‘It’s gone one o’clock, Dad.’
Millie opened up the hamper that Valerie and Helen had packed for them. Pete loved his daughters and wanted to keep them close, he always included them in family celebrations. Esme, their mother, had died of leukaemia after a long illness when they’d been teenagers, but Pete had managed to be father and mother to his girls for several years.
‘I’m afraid they’ll think of me as a wicked stepmother,’ Millie had confessed nervously to him when she was first married. ‘I can’t be a mother to them.’ She’d been barely eighteen herself at the time and couldn’t imagine it.
Pete had laughed. ‘Sweetheart, you won’t have to be.’ He’d dominated them all, she didn’t doubt he’d dominated Esme, but with him they’d coalesced into a happy family unit.
‘We aren’t going to eat on the boat, are we?’ Sylvie asked now.
‘This is a celebration birthday picnic, and it won’t be a picnic at all if we stay here.’ The cabin was small and cramped and didn’t have a table. ‘We’ve got to eat in style today.’
‘All right, you find us a more stylish place, but don’t forget we’ll have to carry everything.’ Peter filled the kettle with the water they’d brought and picked up the Primus so they could make tea.
‘If it’s to be a proper picnic we should light a fire,’ Sylvie said.
‘There aren’t any trees here so where would we find wood?’
Millie brought the car rugs, and she and Sylvie carried the hamper between them. ‘We shouldn’t go too high,’ Millie said. ‘The wind is still cold up there.’
Sylvie chose the first level spot and shook out the rugs to sit on while Millie unpacked the hamper. Yesterday afternoon, Pete’s older daughters had baked a sponge cake and a Scotch egg each to provide what luxury they could for the picnic. There was salad and bread to go with it.
Valerie and Helen were staying in the house with them. Both were married, Valerie had twin toddlers and Helen had a four-month-old baby to care for. They’d decided against the boat trip, it would not be suitable for the babies.
‘Valerie’s given us a tablecloth,’ Sylvie enthused, ‘so we can sit round it and make it a bit special.’
Pete lit the Primus and settled the kettle to boil. ‘It would be more special if she’d given us chairs,’ he said, lowering himself stiffly to the rug. Millie knew he found it more comfortable to eat on the boat where at least he had a seat, but it was a jolly meal. They all had hearty appetites and agreed the lunch was excellent.
When they returned to the boat, Sylvie stripped down to her two-piece swimsuit and settled down in the bow with some cushions and her book. ‘I’m hoping to get a tan,’ she said.
Pete baited some fish hooks and cast them over the side. ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could catch enough fish to take home to feed us all?’ he said. But he was yawning and before long he had stretched out on one of the bunks in the cabin.
Millie was left to sit in the sun and keep an eye on the fish hooks. Helen had lent her a book and she was enjoying it. She glanced up and saw one of the lines twitch and leapt to pull it in, but it was only a three-inch tiddler so she threw it back into the water and rebaited the hook. It was soporific in the sun and she could feel herself dozing off too. She woke up to find Sylvie wearing her pullover again, helping Pete to pull in another of the lines with a silver fish jerking on the hook.
‘It’s quite big, isn’t it? What sort is it, Dad?’
‘Codling, I think.’
‘There’s another on this line,’ Sylvie screamed with excitement. ‘Gosh, Dad, I can see a whole lot of them in the water down below.’ Millie jumped up to help.
‘A fish this size would make a good dinner,’ Pete chortled. ‘So we need five, and if we could get six we could feed the twins too.’ Within half an hour they’d caught six. ‘The best afternoon’s fishing I’ve ever had,’ he said happily. ‘That was a real treat. Have we got some paper or a towel or something to wrap them in?’
Millie found a clean tea towel for him and for the first time realised it was much cooler, the sun had gone and the sky was grey and darkening. She looked about her and felt a moment of disquiet. Her husband and daughter were still admiring their gleaming catch. ‘Just look at this one, it must weigh over a pound.’
‘Pete, I think there’s a storm brewing,’ Millie said. The wind had got up and could be heard whistling through the inlet.
Sylvie shivered. ‘The sun went a long time ago.’
‘Goodness!’ Pete was frowning, clearly troubled. ‘This is a surprise! It wasn’t forecast.’
‘We’ll be all right, won’t we?’ Sylvie asked.
‘I’m going to walk a little way down the inlet until I can see what the sea looks like,’ he said and set off scrambling over the rocks. They both followed him.
When it came in sight Millie couldn’t stop her gasp of horror. ‘What a change since this morning!’ The sea was pewter grey like the sky and was hurling itself at the rocky shoreline in thunderous crashes, resulting in lots of seething white foam. Beyond that they could see the huge swell and the white-crested waves, but they couldn’t see far, the weather was closing in. ‘It’s raining over there,’ Sylvie said.