Read Fortunes of the Heart Online

Authors: Jenny Telfer Chaplin

Fortunes of the Heart (6 page)

Having delivered herself of her protest, Kate then
shepherded her brood across to the door opposite. Seeing this, Pearce burst out
angrily: “Oh, for heaven’s sake, woman. Did I say that our new home was on the
ground floor? Honestly, how stupid can you get? Come on, now, follow me. And
quick about it, for the carter is right behind you with the kitchen table
balanced on his shoulder. Follow me.”

As her husband made as if to start climbing the stairs, Kate
stopped him with a hand on his sleeve.

“Hold on a minute, Pearce. Are you saying that our new home
is upstairs? Mind you, I grant you it will be lovely to be one up and that bit
removed from the noise and stench of the Saturday night drunks, who as we all
know to our cost, use the common close as their nearest and most available
lavatory. Oh, yes, one flight up will be just grand. Just one slight matter,
we’ll need to take Hannah out of her go-chair. Maybe you could carry the wee
darling upstairs and Daniel can hump up the pram one step at a time. All right,
Pearce?”

With a face like sour milk, Pearce looked at wee darling
Hannah as if he could have wished her at the ends of the earth. Even so, he
bent down to untie the leather straps which held her and, that done, he raised
his head and looked Kate square in the eyes.

“Just one thing, Kate, before we start climbing the stairs.
Yes, the new house is above, but not on the first flight, as you so fondly seem
to imagine.”

Kate cocked her head on one side and, with a speculative
look on her face, waited for her husband to go on. Her instinct told her what
she was about to hear was not in any measure going to be to her liking.
Nevertheless, she still said nothing, but the tight, angry white line of her
pursed lips already spoke volumes. She did not have long to wait to hear the
words she dreaded.

Pearce, with a kicking, restless Hannah now in his arms,
peered over the child’s head and in a voice devoid of all emotion, said: “The
new room-and-kitchen is on the top floor.”

At this piece of news, there was a sharp intake of breath
from the already burdened carter. The man said not a word, but with a great
show of injured and betrayed feelings, he lowered the table to the damp floor
of the close. Then, fixing Pearce with a fish-eyed stare, he dusted his hands
down the length of his leather jerkin and said with great deliberation, in his
coarse but telling Glasgow accent: “Here jist a bloody minute, Mister Kinnon,
sur. When ye asked me tae humph all yer bits and pieces tae yer new hoose, ye
never said a fuckin’ word aboot any four flights of stairs. And because ye
yersel’ never mentioned it, I never thought tae ask. Ye see, man, most folk
roon’ aboot here when they’re daein’ a flittin’, at least hae the common
decency fur tae at least tell the cairter that’s he’s gonnae be daein’ a spot
of mountain-climbing. But, see ye, ye sneaky bastard that ye are, ye never let
slip a single word aboot me havin’ tae climb up and doon Ben Nevis with yer
bloody furniture. And speakin’ o’ which, even with all yer airs and graces,
I’ve saw better stuff gettin’ chucked oot at Paddy’s Market.”

By now, Pearce was fit to be tied. Heaving Hannah over so
her weight now rested on his left shoulder, thus giving him a better view of
the rebellious carter, Pearce said in his usual genteel voice, but one which
now dripped with ice and venom: “See here, my man, I’m paying you and paying
you well for your services. And as I recall the deal was that you would remove
and then reinstate my goods and chattel to my new home. Is that not factually correct,
my good man?”

The carter took off his flat cloth bunnet, and with
black-rimmed finger-nails enjoyed a good scratch at his balding head. That
done, and with a great show of mute insolence, he studied his fingernails, as
if seeking, if not actually counting, the day’s crop of head-lice. Only then
did he leer up at Pearce and say: “Maybe if ye took the gob-stopper oot yer
mooth, I’d ken better what it is ye’re trying fur tae say. But one thing Ah did
get ... that ‘my good man’ business. Weel, Ah’ll tell ye this, Mister Kinnon,
there’s one thing sure, Ah’m no yer good man. I’m a fine upstanding Irish
Catholic and let me tell ye this, boyo –”

Pearce hoisted Hannah back off his shoulder from where the
poor child was already dribbling a stream of saliva down his back, and instead
reseated her in the go-chair.

“Right then, Murphy, that’s quite enough of that. We’re not
needing to let the question of religion enter the lists, for what we’re talking
about is –”

The carter took a red spotted rag from his trouser pocket,
and after giving his bulbous nose, which matched the colour of his makeshift
handkerchief exactly, a loud blast, he then proceeded to study the contents of
the handkerchief in much the same manner as he had done his stock-taking of
head lice.

That it was a studied insult was not lost on Pearce. Now
free of his burden of Hannah, he advanced towards the man and, tapping the
latter on the shoulder with the head of his cane, he said in a voice which,
although overly polite, was nevertheless tinged with menace: “That’s quite
enough of that, Murphy –”

With a ham-like fist, the carter brushed away the walking
stick, at the same time saying: “Mister Murphy, if ye don’t mind, my good man.”

That did it. Pearce saw red. Throwing his stick to the floor
of the close, where the steel ferule clattered noisily, he then grabbed the
carter by the scruff of the neck.

“Listen you, I’ve met your sort before. No wonder you give
the Irish a bad name. You’ll neither work nor want. Now let’s get this
straight, I’ve paid you good money, ten shillings of my hard-earned cash, and
you’ll take my furniture up stairs to the topmost flight and do it now, do you
hear, Murphy?”

The man shook himself free, and with a murderous look in his
eyes, said in a voice which carried not only an air of authority, but also the
ring of finality: “Listen, yourself, Kinnon. Ah’ve met yer sort before. And if
ye want that bloody rubbish carried up four flights of stairs, then there’s
little problem and but one answer to it. Do the fuckin’ job yersel’, bastard
that ye are.”

The man turned away from Pearce with such force that he
crashed into the table, which in turn ricocheted off the wall with a
splintering sound as if one of the already not too stable legs had given way
under the strain. As all the while the man’s progress was watched in
open-mouthed horror by Kate and the children, they heard Pearce muttering dire
threats about sending for the police who would soon sort out a wild Irish Paddy
like that. But nothing would stop the man in his determination to leave the
scene with all possible speed. However, when he reached the end of the close,
the carter did take time to turn and with a strange, almost pitying look on his
face, say: “Listen, Kinnon, if ye find yoursel’ in a mess noo, then ye’ve only
yersel’ tae blame. A wee bit o’ common courtesy, not to mention an extra couple
o’ bob in ma haun’, an Ah’d hae been glad fur to help ye upstairs with yer
stuff. But, see ye, ye’re that bloody high-and-mighty – twisted, in fact. Weel,
ye’ve made yer bed, so now ye can just lie in it ... that is when ye finally
get it hauled up aw thay stairs.”

At his own witticism, the carter let out a great belly laugh
which shook all eighteen stone of him.

For his part Pearce was turning away to assemble his brood
and his worldly goods, and work out his strategy, when he again heard the
coarse voice from the still-chuckling carter.

“One thing Ah will dae and that’s tae lift yer stuff off my
coal-cart. Ah’ll leave it on the pavement here, to await yer lordship’s
convenience. And just one last thing; Ah must say it’s yer poor wee wife, a
real decent wee woman, that I’m sorry for. God help her. Lumbered with a bloody
milksop like ye. And as to how ye ever got up enough gumption for to father aw
those poor wee weans, weel, it fair beats me, so it does.”

At this point Kate had to lay a restraining hand on Pearce’s
arm as he made to race after the man. Even so, the carter had not yet finished
with him. He pointed a beefy hand at a by-now trembling Kate and in a voice of
doom, said: “Aye, that poor wee God-fearin’ woman. Heaven alone kens what she
ever done to deserve a man ... humph ... man, did Ah say ...more like a bairn
... like ye. And anyway, maybe ye’d better think on a bit, Mister Kinnon, sir
... just how the hell is that wee woman supposed to manage to struggle up and
doon aw thae stairs day and daily with that poor handicapped bairn and her
go-chair. Seems to me, ye’d hae been far better
aff
staying where ye were in yer single-end. At least there, ye were on the ground
floor. And noo Ah’ll bid good-day to ye, sir, and let ye get on with yer
flittin’ before the rain and dark sets in. Good-day, Mister Kinnon, sir, and
good luck to yer wee wife ... she’s gonnae be
needin

aw the luck she can get.”

With that, the man was gone, leaving not only a sour taste d
defeat in Pearce’s mouth, but also a very clear echo of his words in Kate’s
already overtaxed brain.

“How will she manage up and down all those stairs with a
handicapped bairn and her go-chair?”

How indeed? wondered Kate, to whom the thought had already
occurred that life four flights up with Hannah, her go-chair, buckets of
washing for the
steamie
, and bags of shopping to be
carried in every day to feed her growing family, was going to be no picnic.
Even worse, suppose the unthinkable happened and she ever became pregnant again
with another child, how on earth could she possibly cope?

Then, with a deep sigh, Kate turned towards the stairs. She
knew in her heart of hearts that somehow – as yet she had no idea as to how she
would achieve the miracle – but somehow, with God’s help she would cope. After
all, she had no alternative. As the carter had said, they had made their bed,
or rather, they would make it, once Pearce and little Daniel managed to
struggle upstairs with their burden. Kate gave her own burden – weeping, tired,
and irritable Hannah – a playful
tweek
of her tartan
ribbon, which she always wore as some sort of talisman, gathering the child
into her arms for the next stage of their journey.

 
 
 

Chapter
13

 

With her family eagerly gathered about her skirts, and a now
somewhat mollified Pearce at her elbow, they made the grand tour of their new
abode. As Kate already knew, there were definite and very real disadvantages to
living in such an eyrie high above the City streets. Even so, she was
generous-spirited enough to acknowledge to Pearce that, ‘yes’ she could already
see the good points about their new situation. First, of course, as she had
already surmised, was the more pleasant aroma at being thus far removed from
the stinks and appalling messes to be found in almost any Glasgow close. Not
only that, but with its being a room-and-kitchen this meant that the best front
room overlooked the street, and given the height of their window, they had an excellent
view of the surrounding district, even with what Kate was sure was a patch of
green in the far distance.

But surely the greatest benefit of all lay in the fact of
their now having their very own tiny water-closet which was wedged into a
corner of the minute hallway. This edifice was as the seventh wonder of the
world to Kate and her family, for it meant that never again would they have to
creep out in the dead of night – nor at any other time, come to that – to a
freezing cold, stinking lavatory on the stair-head. In her joy that never again
you’d she need to keep a chamber-pot under the bed, far less carry the
disgusting object down to the stair-head cludgie, Kate chuckled to herself:
Cludgie, indeed. No wonder the Glasgow folk call the communal outside lavatory
such an expressive, ugly name. It somehow describes it more accurately than a
whole dictionary of words.

Her thoughts were interrupted when Pearce, with a hand at
her elbow, said: “Well, we’ve seen the best front room and having now duly marvelled
at the glory of our very own water closet, shall we now take a look at the
kitchen?”

Kate, by now, already sold heart and mind on the new home,
allowed herself to be led into the back kitchen. As Pearce threw back the dark,
wood-grained door with a certain panache, she stopped in the doorway with a cry
of delight.

“Oh, no, Pearce. I don’t believe it. It’s ... why it’s all
truly wonderful. Wonderful. And quite beyond my wildest dreams.”

As she gazed through a blur of tears at the gleaming,
well-polished kitchen-range, a bigger, better and altogether much more
up-to-date model than the one she had left behind in the single-end, she found
that coherent speech was almost beyond her. But even so, the thought went
racing through her over-excited brain: Oh, Pearce, Pearce, you stupid man. If
only you had gone about it all differently ... treated us as a united, caring
family with rights, ideas and even wishes of our own, how very different things
would have been. If only ... if only you had thought of me as a person in my
own right, just for once. If you had let us– or at the very least, let me –
come to see the place first, rather than taking the law into your own hands,
then we would never have had that awful row. You would never have had cause to
hit me. I would have realised at once, the very moment I’d seen this, this
mansion, I’d have known you had our best interests at heart. Oh, Pearce, I can
hardly bear to think of it ... that terrible row ... and in front of our young,
impressionable children.

Kate wiped away with her sleeve the tears which were then
coursing down her cheeks, as she squared her shoulders and took comfort from
the thought: Yes, young, impressionable minds. But never worry, I’m sure that
no lasting harm was done. Couldn’t possibly be, for children soon forget and
move on to the next bit of excitement in their lives. Still, it is indeed
terrible to think that that ugly scene could have been avoided altogether. For
one thing’s sure ... although the children may forget, I never shall, not if I
live to be a hundred.

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