About the Author
Iris Gower has been described as the Catherine Cookson of Wales because she writes with such insight and power about the world where she was born and bred. She is the author of the highly successful
series of novels. Iris Gower has two sons and two daughters and writes full time.
Also by Iris Gower
The Loves of Catrin
Sins of Eden
The Shoemaker's Daughter
The Oyster Catchers
The Wild Seed
Sweet RosieCOPPER KINGDOM
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Epub ISBN: 9781446472286
Published in the United Kingdom in 1999 by Arrow Books
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Copyright Â© Iris Gower, 1983
The right of Iris Gower to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
This novel is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product of the author's imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental
First published in the United Kingdom in 1983 by Century
Arrow Books Limited
Random House UK Ltd
20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London SW1V 2SA
Random House Australia (Pty) Limited
20 Alfred Street, Milsons Point, Sydney
New South Wales 2061, Australia
Random House New Zealand Limited
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Auckland 10, New Zealand
Random House South Africa (Pty) Limited
Endulini, 5a Jubilee Road, Parktown 2193, South Africa
Random House UK Limited Reg. No. 954009
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
ISBN 0 09 927912 6
and our family
The sounds, repetitive and ominous, echoed through the squat, whitewashed cottage, reverberating from the sparsely furnished parlour and along the cold flagged passageway. Hammer upon nail, pausing and continuing, penetrating the thick, drystone walls to the kitchen where the scrubbed table gleamed like raw bones in the shaft of winter light probing the dusty glass of the single window.
The rhythm, like a pulse gone awry, brought father and daughter together in an unexpected slant of January sun that washed over the cobbled yard at the rear of the building. The two stood as though frozen in a moment of heavy stillness, eyes refusing to meet over the stark shape of the coffin that stood between them.
Both were dark and vital but David Llewelyn was a bull of a man and everything about him was large from the breadth of his shoulders beneath the leonine head to the hands that wielded the hammer with more strength than skill.
As he crouched now over his task, his thighs bulged hugely beneath the coarse flannel of his trousers. His entire body seemed coiled like a spring. There was a tension in him and a deep sadness that was reflected in the lines around his mouth.
Mali had her father's darkness. Her hair, thick and abundant, fell like a cloak to below her trim waist. But her features were more delicate, beautiful even now with fatigue and despair etched into them. And her most striking resemblance to her father was in her eyes, which were clear green, large and luminous.
She was almost seventeen but might have been taken for little more than a child for she was small boned, with tiny hands and feet. And yet her carriage was upright and she had an air of dignity that belied her youth.
Mali breathed in the scent of pine shavings that lay strewn like bright curls over the yard, and a great pain filled her as she remembered Mam's hair, so fair and silky even to the end.
The grating sound of metal against stone brought Mali's attention back to where her father was sorting nails, his big fingers so clumsy that she knew he was not concentrating on his task. His head was bent, his big neck exposed so that he seemed very vulnerable. He turned to look at her questioningly and sweat ran from his face into the open collar of his striped shirt, dampening the springy dark hair on his chest. He was persevering with a job that was foreign to him in every way and suddenly she was achingly proud of him.
The long box was almost finished. The wood, clean and sweet with fine patterns of grain running its length, had somehow taken shape. She caught his glance and knew he did not like her watching and yet she longed to help him so that their grief might be shared.
âThere's some hot tea brewed, Dad.' The words came out harshly and not at all in the way she'd intended. Her father shook his head, resuming his efforts to strike home the nails, and Mali turned away, feeling that she was dismissed. Her eyes were suddenly bright and her throat ached with the effort of holding back her tears.
Indoors it seemed dark and gloomy after the brightness outside. She glanced towards the steep wooden stairs and to the bedroom door above, a door that was firmly closed.
âMammy.' Her voice was a strangled cry to which there could be no answer, not ever again. Mali hurried into the warmth of the kitchen, shivering. A fire burned brightly behind the blackleaded bars of the grate and she crouched before the flames, feeling as though she would never be warm. It was here in the kitchen that she felt most alone, for the room had once been the hub of the house in Copperman's Row.
Now Mali must work alone. This morning she had been up from bed early, unable to sleep. And the brass fender glowed with reflected light from the fire for she had worked fiercely, rubbing the metal with an abrasive made from ashes and water.
Restlessly Mali rose to her feet; the hammering seemed to be within herself and her head began to ache. She stared around her, wondering what she could do to keep her thoughts occupied but water had long since been fetched from the pump in the yard. Dishes were washed and dried, the plates set out neatly on the dresser, the cups hanging in uniformity from the brass hooks on the shelf. The mundane tasks that had always been part of the pattern of her life had offered a sort of solace but she had worked at them too eagerly and now there seemed nothing left with which to fill the silent, aching void.
She would pour herself tea from the brown earthenware pot, she decided, and watched the fragrant liquid spill into the cup. She bit her lip, worrying about Dad. He had eaten little, for he was bent on continuing with his job of making the coffin. Not that he confided in her at all, rather he was dumb and silent in his sorrow.
The tea warmed her a little but her hand shook and drops of liquid patterned the blue slabs of slate underfoot and they gleamed briefly, spots of gold caught by the glare of the fire.
The outer door opened and her father was in the kitchen, filling it with his size and presence. His great hands pushed back the dark curls from his forehead and his eyes looked hauntedly about the room as though he was searching for somebody.
âI'll have some of that tea now, girl.' He spoke harshly and she knew that it was not anger that coarsened his voice, but pain. And yet in spite of her concern for him, she felt irritated because even now when they were alone, he did not use her proper name. She wanted to tell him that she was a person, not simply the girl child he had got from love for his wife. He sat down, resting his arms on the scrubbed wood of the table, and sighed wearily.
âA cart,' he said. âI must have a horse and cart.' He did not look up. âYou will have to go and ask Tom Murphy for a loan of Big Jim.'
Mali trembled as protests rose to her lips. Mam could not go to her rest with such a lack of dignity.
âMr Murphy's cart is for fish, Dad,' she said reasonably.
Davie did not reply but his fingers were suddenly twisted together so fiercely that his knuckles showed white. With swift insight Mali realised that the cost to her father's pride in asking for anyone's help was great indeed.
âYou can use a scrubbing brush, can't you, girl?' He shook his head from side to side like a wounded beast and Mali longed to go to him, put her arms around him, lean against his broad shoulders, but she knew she would be rebuffed for Davie was not a man to make a show of his grief.
She took a deep shuddering breath and moved woodenly towards the back door. There, with her hand on the latch she paused for a moment, struggling for words of comfort, but her own hurt was so hard to bear that she was afraid the tears might come.
âI won't be long, Dad,' she said hoarsely. In the bleakness of the yard she stood for a moment, breathing in the cold air. The sun had gone and shadows lay thick and heavy beneath the shallow back wall. Mali clenched her small hands into fists, it was going to be hard to ask anything of the rough-hewn Irishman for he had always put the fear of God into her. Sometimes in the night, his voice would ring out in anger, sending the rats scurrying into the crevices between the walls, and in her bed Mali would shiver.
The Murphy house, although joining the cottage where Mali lived, was not part of Copperman's Row at all but was the beginning of Market Street where the small traders of the area lived. Willie the Bread occupied the tall building next door to âMurphy's Fresh Fish', which sounded grand but was only a house with the front room turned into a shop, and Dai End House lived at the corner of the dusty lane running behind the cottages.
As Mali opened the gate facing the Murphys' back kitchen her heart was beating so loudly within her that it seemed to echo the knocking of her knuckles against the door. She stumbled so badly over her request that she was forced to repeat her words several times before Tom Murphy could make sense of them.