Authors: June Francis
A family at war ...
Raising three boys and running the Arcadia Hotel almost single-handed are enough to keep widow Kitty Ryan busy. She has no time for romance – unless it’s in the form of a rare evening out at the local picture house.
Then along comes John McLeod, bringing with him a second chance at happiness. However, Kitty finds her sons unwilling to accept another man into their household.
Unless she can reunite her menfolk, the future looks set to be that of a family in conflict, in a world on the eve of war ...
June Francis was brought up in the port of Liverpool, northwest England. Although she started her novel writing career by writing medieval romances, it seemed natural to also write family sagas set in her home city due to its fascinating historical background, especially as she has several mariners in her family tree and her mother was in service. She has written twenty sagas set in Merseyside, as well as in the beautiful city of Chester and the Lancashire countryside.
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Kitty Ryan glanced around the room and was satisfied with its appearance. She had polished the tallboy and oval-mirrored dressing table with a power of elbow grease of which her mother would have been proud, and her cousin Annie had done the same to the linoleum. Kitty straightened a towel on the washstand before moving over to the window and gazing out on Mount Pleasant. It had once been called Martindale Hill and surrounded by countryside but now it was at the heart of Liverpool, only five minutes from Lime Street railway station and half an hour from the docks.
On the opposite side of the road a yellowish sun was reflected in the windows of the YMCA and below in the street a nun was panting up the Mount in the direction of the Convent of Notre Dame. The faint sound of her voice and that of Mr Fyans, theatrical wigmaker, exchanging greetings, came to Kitty but she did not heed them because out of the corner of her eye she had caught sight of her eldest son Mick racing up the cobbled road. Her heart seemed to leap into her throat because she had been expecting something else to go wrong and this looked like being it. Her mother had always said bad things came in threes. First there had been her death six weeks ago, then early this morning Kitty’s brother-in-law Jimmy had told her he was leaving. Now here was Mick in the devil of a hurry and that usually meant trouble.
Kitty fled downstairs and was in the lobby when the vestibule door was flung open, crashing against the wall.
Mick stood in the hotel doorway, red-faced and panting, his dark hair damp with sweat. ‘Ma, you’d best come quick! Our Teddy’s at it again.’
‘What’s he done this time?’ She did not pause to untie her apron strings but hurried outside, trying to make sense of Mick’s babbled explanation as they ran past the numerous temperance hotels, dental establishments and shops strung out down the Mount.
‘I told him not to do it,’ gasped Mick. ‘I said we’re both too old for that sort of game! But he called me a coward and told me to shut me mouth! I should have hit him but he’s smaller than me, Ma, and I don’t—’
‘It’s all right, son. You don’t have to explain.’ She marvelled at how this eldest boy of hers was ever ready to take on responsibility for his younger brothers, who seemed unable to recognise fear even when it stared them in the face. Mick was a gentler soul, more like his father who had died three years ago.
Roscoe Gardens came into view, named after one of Liverpool’s most famous sons who had instituted the Liverpool Botanical Gardens and found fame in America. Several grinning children, one with an elbow out of his frayed jacket sleeve and a couple with boots on but no socks, gathered where Teddy clung with both hands to a railing. He was trapped by a spike which had torn right through the fabric of his trousers and was sticking out near his groin.
‘Do you always have to be putting me to shame?’ said Kitty in a seething voice whilst her heart hammered in her breast. She could not see if the spike had caused any damage but she feared the worst and her fear made her speak more scathingly than she would have normally. ‘You think you’d have more sense at your age! You’re a blinking nuisance! How am I going to get you down from up there?’
Beads of sweat had formed on Teddy’s forehead despite the cold. ‘I’m sorry, Ma. You’ll have to cut me trousers and lift me off. I’m scared to move. The spike’s scraped the skin off right along the inside of me thigh an – and further in.’ He looked anguished.
‘I knew it,’ she cried and for a moment everything swam around her. Then she took a deep steadying breath and weighed up the situation, wishing not for the first time she was six inches taller.
A man in a pinstriped suit and a bowler hat paused in front of Teddy and wagged a finger. ‘Children have no respect for public property.’ His bulbous nose twitched and he sniffed. ‘Get your husband to give him a whipping, madam.’
‘My man’s dead,’ said Kitty in clipped tones. ‘And if you’ve got nothing better to say get out from under me feet and let me be thinking how to get him down.’
The man spluttered indignantly and said something about finding a constable.
Kitty turned her back on him and climbed onto the sandstone kerb into which the railings were cemented. Mick jumped up beside her and they both put a hand beneath Teddy’s bottom and attempted to push him up off the spike but they could not quite do it, despite his being small and wiry for his thirteen years. Then seemingly out of thin air came a long arm which barely brushed the flaxen hair Kitty had inherited from her Norwegian father and heaved Teddy from his perch, tearing his trouser leg apart in the process.
Kitty glanced up at least a foot into an austere, weather-beaten face and eyes which were more green than brown, before switching her glance to her middle son. There was blood on his underpants, which were also torn, and her stomach turned over.
The man planted Teddy on the pavement and there were tears of mortification in the boy’s eyes as his rescuer knelt and inspected his injuries. ‘Let me go,’ said Teddy through gritted teeth.
The man released him. ‘Next time, laddie, don’t be worrying your mother. You nearly lost your manhood there. Think first and don’t be such a daftie.’ He nodded in Kitty’s direction. ‘He should see a doctor and have that wound cleansed and stitched.’
She cleared her throat. ‘Thank you. He will.’
A faint smile lightened the man’s eyes and he doffed his tartan bonnet before picking up a violin case from the ground and walking away with his kilt swinging, past the Shaftsbury Hotel and out of sight round the corner.
Kitty and Mick stared after him. ‘Wow!’ exclaimed Mick. ‘Fe-fi-fo-fum! Was he a giant or wasn’t he?’
‘I hate him!’ said Teddy, pulling the flapping trouser leg so that it covered his bloodied underpants and slashed inner thigh. ‘He shouldn’t have looked at me like that and, besides, men shouldn’t wear skirts. They’re for cissies!’
For a moment Kitty forgot Teddy had been hurt and clipped him across the ear. ‘You ungrateful little monkey!’ she scolded. ‘Next time you mightn’t be so lucky. Now get off up home and wash that blood off and change those trousers. I’ll have to take you to see Doctor Galloway.’
Teddy’s mouth set stubbornly. ‘No doctor’s going to mess with me there. Gran wouldn’t have allowed it. I’ll see to it myself.’
‘You’ll do as you’re told,’ she said firmly.
He shook his head and, elbowing a couple of kids aside, he ran limping up the road. Mick followed him swiftly but a still-shaken Kitty trailed slowly after them, wishing her mother was still there to turn to at such times. Tears caught her unexpectedly by the throat. Her mother had been so strong and it still seemed incredible to Kitty that she could have died so suddenly. Her husband Michael’s death had been so much easier to accept. He had been weak and suffered long. She eased her throat. What was the point of dwelling on sad times? There was work to do and Teddy to deal with.
She quickened her pace and hurried inside the Arcadia Hotel, which her mother had taken over seven years ago, three years before the Wall Street Crash. Times had been hard since then but somehow Kitty had managed to keep her head above water, although she had had to postpone the improvements she would have liked to have made. Still, having the hotel to run was what kept her going. The hotel was her boys’ future. It would provide them with jobs and an inheritance.
She went in search of Teddy but the kitchen and basement were empty. She ran upstairs and found the boys’ bedroom door closed against her. ‘Are you in there, Teddy?’ she cried.
‘Go away, Ma. I’m dealing with this myself.’
‘Don’t be silly. You could end up with septicaemia.’
‘No, I won’t.’
Mick spoke up. ‘I got him some whiskey, Ma, from the shelf. You know how Gran only ever used it for medicinal purposes.’
‘Don’t you dare be drinking any of that,’ commanded Kitty, rattling the doorknob.
‘We won’t,’ said Teddy. ‘Just go and get on with the dinner, Ma.’
Kitty gave in and went downstairs, considering how controlling her elder two sons had been much easier when they were younger. She went into the room she had been preparing for the Potters, whose liner from New York had been due to dock that morning, and checked once again that everything was spick and span. A rumbling of wheels on the cobbles and her brother-in-law Jimmy’s deep voice in the street below caused her to hasten out of the room.
Annie, with her rusty-coloured curls unruly beneath a mop cap, appeared in a bedroom doorway at the end of the landing. ‘He’s back, Kit. Is there anything else you want me to do up here or can I go down?’ she said eagerly.
‘You go.’ Kitty had guessed months ago that Annie was head over heels in love with Kitty’s good-looking Irish brother-in-law. If Jimmy did leave as he had strongly hinted then Annie was going to be upset.
In the lobby Jimmy was hauling a large trunk along the floor with Kitty’s seven-year-old son Ben doing his best to help. Since his father’s death he had followed Jimmy around everywhere. They had just been to the docks with the handcart for the Potters’ luggage.
‘Enough, Ben,’ panted Jimmy, coming to a halt near the foot of the stairs and collapsing on the trunk.
Immediately Ben scrambled up beside him. ‘Now give us a ride upstairs,’ he commanded.
Jimmy raised dark eyebrows, took a cigarette from behind his ear and lit up. He shoved the boy along with his backside until he fell off the other end of the trunk. Ben laughed before perching once more beside him.
‘Where are you putting them, Kit?’ asked Jimmy.
‘First floor. I take it you’re not going to manage that trunk on your own?’
‘Not on your Nelly! It weighs a ton.’
‘I’ll get Mick. Teddy’s hurt—’
‘Don’t bother.’ Jimmy got to his feet. ‘I’ve a job to do for Annie’s ma in Vine Street.’ He glanced at the girl who was looking at him with sheep’s eyes and away again to Kitty. ‘I’ll see to the trunk later.’