Authors: Vivienne Dockerty
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
The Polish Connection
A Woman Undefeated
Copyright © 2011 Vivienne Dockerty
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or criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright, Designs and Patents
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ISBN 978 1848765 955
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data.
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
Typeset in 11pt Aldine401 BT Roman by Troubador Publishing Ltd, Leicester, UK
is an imprint of Troubador Publishing Ltd
Katie tried in vain to get her very large mother off the mattress. She was quite a big girl herself, but her mother’s bulk defeated her.
“I’m going ter have to get a doctor to yer,” Katie gasped.“That leg is getting worse now. It seems to be growing bigger by the day and I don’t like the look of those running sores at all.”
Ruthie slapped at her daughter’s hand in frustration and fell back, grumbling in annoyance.
“Yer know we can’t afford no doctors, Katie. Just go and get some bilberries from that bush down the lane. They seem to ease me. You’ll have to get me up, girl, I need ter piss. Unless yer want me to do it in the bed. Can’t see how they made yer a nurse, when yer can’t even lift yer own mother. Oh, give me a minute, will yer? I’ll get there me bloomin’ self.”
Ruthie rocked from side to side until she eventually rolled off onto the cold flagged floor. She crawled on her hands and knees, swearing and muttering painfully, while Katie tried to keep her mother’s dirty, floor-length nightdress from catching on the uneven flags, or winding round her swollen legs.
It was a long and pitiful process, made worse by the distance involved in getting Ruthie to the lavvy anyway. It was housed in a shed attached to the cottage, a replacement for the midden that they had been used to before.
Life had not got any better for Ruthie Tibbs since the days that she was Maggie Haines, the Irish immigrant’s, neighbour. Ruthie was still allowed to live in Farmer Briggs’ tied cottage, even though Solly, her husband, had died two years before. He’d been found dead in a ditch on a cold winter’s night on his way back from his favourite hostelry, but Ernie, Ruthie’s grown-up son, was able to step into his father’s shoes. Ernie had never had a regular job, preferring to make his living as a wild fowler, paddling the punt he had carved himself along the coast of the Dee estuary. He was five feet ten, big framed, muscle-bound and just the person to fill the vacancy at the farm.
Ruthie spent most of her days lying on the mattress in the living room-cum-kitchen of Thistledown Cottage, counting the injustices that had visited her poverty-stricken life. Solly, her husband, had gone, and her elder son had joined the army and hadn’t even bothered to visit in nearly ten years. Her disabled boy, Lenny, God bless him, had been taken from her. Died in his sleep with no bother to anyone. Then there was Annie, a mouthy girl who’d got married to Sam Piper a few years before. She only came to visit on high days and holidays, too busy with those kids of hers to come along to see her Mam.
Out of all her family, Katie seemed to have made something of herself. Though her attendance had been poor, she had managed to learn to read and write at the local infant school and had been rewarded with a job as a probationer nurse, at the newly-built cottage hospital. She had found it hard going, working long hours and studying to the level needed to pass the staff nurse examination, especially as her mother’s illness left her relying on Katie more.
“Didn’t yer say yer were goin’ to ask one of them doctors at the hospital what could be wrong with me?” asked Ruthie, when she inched her way back from the privy.
“Mam, they’re like gods up there. Someone like me would never dream of even lookin’ in their direction, never mind askin’ them a question. No, I think I’m goin’ to ask the local doctor to call. You can’t go on like this, you know.”
“I told yer, doctors cost money and we got none. I’ve had legs like tree trunks fer years, though now I’m older they don’t seem to hold me up like they used to do. Will yer get more money when yer pass this examination? Maybe we could wait ‘til then or ask Ernie fer some.”
“I’ll get more money, Mam, but I don’t know how much it’ll be. I know me uniform will change though. From a grey dress with a white belt to a striped grey dress and a blue belt. I’ll still have me starched cuffs and apron with me lacy bonnet and warm woollen cloak.”
Katie puffed her chest out proudly as she explained the changes to her mother.
“Are yer legs worse than usual today? Perhaps I could ask the chemist if they have some kind of salve. If not, I could borrow a little money from the Sheldon Loan Company to pay fer a doctor. They don’t charge much interest, I could repay it in a couple of weeks or so.”
Ruthie tried to pull herself up again in her agitation.
“Yer’ll not go anywhere near that place, our Katie! That woman has made her money off the backs of people like me. When yer dad was alive and he had spent all the wages up at the Wheatsheaf, I had ter go and see that Mr. ‘Arrinton. I didn’t know she owned that loan place then, I thought ‘Arrinton did, until yer dad telled me what she’d bin up to. It was talk of the village fer weeks, yer know.”
Katie pushed her mother back down gently and told her not to get so excited, just to take a good deep breath, relax and start again.
“This Maggie. Maggie Haines, her name is. She came over from Ireland with a load of other immigrants and her and her husband got a job with Farmer Briggs. Yer dad helped Jack, her husband, by setting up fighting matches fer him, ‘cos Jack was a pugilist. Anyway, we used to be good friends, me and Maggie. She lived at Lilac Cottage just up the way. We were always poppin’ in and out of each other’s cottages havin’ cups of tea. I was even the one who told her she was expectin’, that’s how close we were. Then, one night at a fightin’ match, yer dad got accused of stealin’ some money that belonged ter Jack and he got banged up in Neston Jail. Not one of them lifted a finger ter get him out and he sat in that stinkin’ prison fer two days. He was never right after, didn’t like being closed in, yer see. Then before we knew it they’d gone. Dumped all her unwanted things on me and went to live with the mother-in-law. Well, I never saw her fer months after, ‘til one day she came lookin’ fer our Annie. Wanted yer sister to be a nursemaid, fer this babby I said she was expectin’, but this time she was livin’ at Selwyn Lodge! That big place on Burton Road. Yer know where Ernie said they’ve built that thingy fer horses? Well, the house belonged to the dressmaker, Miss Rosemary, and that left-footer got herself in with her. Then our Annie told me the rest, though they never took her on as a nursemaid. It seems that this Maggie told everyone that her husband Jack had died and she started seein’ this man. He was a sea captain, who lodged at the Brown Horse Pub. Then it turns out, so that woman Madeline who lives at the pub as well said, that the husband wasn’t dead at all. The family had pretended he was dead, because he’d got some woman up the duff and he and her had gone ter America. Seems he’s back now and they’ve got even more money, ‘cos he came back a rich man as well! So, if I was dying of these legs tomorrer, yer not ter go to the Sheldon Loan Company. ‘Cos I’d rather be buried in a pauper’s grave like yer dad was then go cap in hand ter them.”
“I know who yer mean now,” said Katie. “There’s a son called Mikey and a daughter called Hannah. I’ve seen them together in the family’s carriage, or sometimes walking their great big dogs. I used to see them when I was comin’ home from school. In those days the nursemaid walked them down to the promenade, ‘cos they went to a private school down there.”
“Yeah, the local school wasn’t good enough fer them. When I think how I put meself out makin’ sure yer got a good education, takin’ yer up ter Lily’s barrow on the market and findin’ yer good clothes ter wear. I said ter meself, “Ruthie, I got a clever child here. Don’t know where she gets it from, but it’s not from Solly’s side.”
Katie smiled to herself. Strange how older people could look back and everything was rosy in their memories. As soon as Annie, her sister, had got a job as an alteration hand, it was herself who had taken over helping out her mother. She had been six at the time, but Ruthie had made full use of her. She looked after Lenny, her poor, now dead, brother; she went to the grocer’s for messages when she couldn’t even see over the counter to pay the man. Then, there was the school that Katie had demanded that she went to. She had seen the children playing through the railings and had asked a girl, what they did in there all day? Sums and reading, was the reply. For weeks she had nagged to be allowed to go, took the cuffs and blows from Ruthie and the nasty remarks from her dad, but eventually she wore them down. Though it had been very difficult, with Ruthie finding all sorts of reasons why she shouldn’t go, it had become a necessity to her. An urge to learn, to find out more about the world beyond the cottage. Her mother had never been out of Neston and she didn’t want to end up being the same.