Authors: Lyn Andrews
Tags: #Fiction, #Sagas
Copyright © 2013 Lyn Andrews
The right of Lyn Andrews to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
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.
First published in Great Britain as an Ebook by Headline Publishing Group in 2013
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 9970 3
Jacket photographs: girl © Head Design, background images courtesy of Getty Images, Mary Evans Picture Library and Topfoto
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Born at the turn of the twentieth century, Mae Strickland is only a few days old when her mother suddenly dies. Her aunt Maggie brings Mae up together with her own children, Eddie and Alice, and the girls become like sisters. In spite of Mae’s unhappy start, life feels full of promise.
Then, as the First World War looms, everything changes. While the local men – including young Eddie – leave to fight, Mae and Alice train as field nurses. As they travel to the front line in the wake of family tragedy, nothing can prepare them for the hardship that lies ahead.
Yet there is solace to be found amid the wreckage of the war, and for both, romance is on the horizon. But it will take great courage for Mae and Alice to follow their hearts. Can love win out in the end?
Lyn Andrews is one of the UK’s most popular authors and has now written thirty-four enormously successful novels, which are all available from Headline.
Lyn lives on the Isle of Man but frequently visits Merseyside to see her three children and four grandchildren.
By Lyn Andrews
The Leaving of Liverpool
The Sisters O’Donnell
The White Empress
Mist Over the Mersey
Where the Mersey Flows
From this Day Forth
When Tomorrow Dawns
Angels of Mercy
The Ties that Bind
Take these Broken Wings
My Sister’s Child
The House on Lonely Street
Love and a Promise
A Wing and a Prayer
When Daylight Comes
Across a Summer Sea
A Mother’s Love
Every Mother’s Son
Far From Home
Days of Hope
A Daughter’s Journey
A Secret in the Family
To Love and to Cherish
Beyond a Misty Shore
Sunlight on the Mersey
Praise for Lyn Andrews’ compelling novels:
‘An outstanding storyteller’
‘A vivid portrayal of life’
‘A compelling read’
‘The Catherine Cookson of Liverpool’
‘Gusty . . . a vivid picture of a hard-up, hard-working community . . . will keep the pages turning’
For Margaret Harry, owner of The House Beauty Spa, Liverpool, a lady whose generosity of spirit, enthusiasm, organisation and loyalty I greatly admire, who has worked tirelessly raising thousands of pounds for charities, particularly The Variety Club of Great Britain. Thank you, Margaret, for a wonderful evening at the Hope St Hotel.
Liverpool, May 1898
‘Maggie, I . . . I don’t think there’s much hope for her. I’m afraid she’s sinking fast,’ the midwife whispered.
Her words dropped like stones into the anxiety-laden atmosphere of the stuffy bedroom at the back of the small terraced house in Albion Street. And, like pebbles cast into a mill pond, ripples of fear and anguish washed over the two young women who now clung together, trembling with fatigue and shock. The flaxen-haired girl lying on sweat-stained sheets in the bed was beyond their help. Beth Strickland was dying, but she did not know it.
Maggie McEvoy felt tears pricking her eyes. Beth, her sister-in-law, was too young to die! Pretty, sweet-natured Beth had endured eighteen hours of agonising labour to bring her first child into the world. A daughter with soft, pale-blond hair and blue eyes like herself, a child for whom Beth it now appeared had sacrificed her own life. Maggie’s shoulders heaved as a sob welled up. Her brother John’s wife was the very opposite in looks and temperament to herself and yet they’d become so close. Dark-haired where Beth was fair, plump and buxom where Beth was slight and slim, Maggie knew she was inclined to be brash and outspoken whereas her sister-in-law was quiet and gentle. She herself was twenty-three; Beth had only just turned twenty.
‘Can’t we get a doctor?’ she begged the midwife. ‘Can’t we get her across to the hospital? The John Bagot isn’t far. We have to do
!’ She just couldn’t stand here and watch Beth’s life ebbing away.
The older woman frowned, creasing her heavily lined face even further, and shook her head. ‘Too late for that now I’m afraid, Maggie, luv. She had a bad time of it and she wasn’t as robust as the pair of you. These things happen; there’s nothing anyone can do once the fever takes hold. All we can do now is make her as comfortable as possible and . . . and let nature take its course.’
Agnes Mercer, Maggie’s close friend and neighbour who, at Maggie’s urgent summons, had hurried across from her mam’s corner shop, nodded slowly. Her mam had said more or less the same thing. Very few women recovered from the dreaded fever. Her heart went out to Maggie whom she’d known all her life: Maggie was close to John’s wife and would miss her terribly.
Maggie felt the weight of grief and despair settle on her shoulders as she crossed to the bed and bent and gently stroked the strands of hair, dark with sweat, from her sister-in-law’s fevered cheeks. She’d sat beside her all through the night, helplessly watching her toss and turn and cry out in her pain and delirium for John and her baby.
The tiny girl who, because she’d finally arrived on the first of the month, Beth had said should be called ‘Mae’, was asleep in her makeshift crib downstairs. There was no possibility of John getting home in time to either welcome his little daughter or say goodbye to his young wife for the
wasn’t due back in Liverpool for another four days. Finally, overwhelmed with exhaustion and sorrow, Maggie broke down. ‘Oh, Beth, luv, I’m sorry! I’m so, so sorry!’
‘Now, Maggie, there’s no use laying any blame on yourself. There’s nothing anyone could have done,’ Lizzie Kemp stated firmly, rearranging her hair beneath its creased and grubby linen cap and wiping her hands on her apron, which was still heavily stained with blood from a birth she had attended last night. She’d delivered more babies than she’d had hot dinners and women frequently succumbed to childbed fever. It was a tragic fact of life. Childbirth was a dangerous time for mother and baby and Beth Strickland was a slight girl with narrow hips and the baby hadn’t been small. She didn’t hold with the practice of women going into the lying-in hospital with all their rules and regulations: the place for a baby to be born was at home and at least the child seemed to be thriving. ‘Now, if you two will give me a hand, we’ll tidy her up and straighten these covers,’ she instructed briskly.
‘She . . . she’ll . . . go in some comfort. We’ll sponge her down and change the sheets,’ Maggie replied, fighting down the sobs.
The midwife shrugged but made no comment. If they wanted to give themselves the extra work of washing all that bed linen that was their affair. She was tired; she’d been up all night with a woman in York Terrace who’d had a difficult labour and now this. She was beginning to feel she was too old for this work.
They worked quickly, in silence and with infinite care, though both girls were still in shock. When Beth was gently eased down between clean sheets, clad in a fresh nightgown, with her hair brushed free of its tangles, the midwife left.
‘She’s barely breathing and she’s as pale as the sheet that’s covering her,’ Agnes whispered, thinking that Beth looked as if every drop of blood had been drained from her body. Oh, neither she nor Maggie were strangers to death; it seemed to stalk these narrow streets of closely packed terraced houses that ran down from St George’s Hill to the docks, but not since her da’s death three years ago had it come so close.
The air in the room was foetid and she rose and crossed to the small window and managed to force it open a crack, the wood being warped and the sash stiff. A waft of fresh air penetrated the room, filled with the warmth of the spring morning but tinged with the smell of the soot that enveloped everything in the city. Slowly she came back to Maggie’s side and took her hand. ‘I can’t believe that only a few days ago she was sitting up, holding little Mae in her arms and smiling.’
Maggie nodded sadly and brushed away the tears with the back of her hand. ‘Neither can I, Agnes. Oh, how am I going to break this to our John?’ Her big strapping brother had been delighted that he was going to be a father, but anxious that he’d be halfway across the Atlantic Ocean shovelling tons of coal into a furnace in the stokehold of the
when Beth’s time arrived. Maggie had told him not to worry, that she would see to everything. Hadn’t Mrs Kemp assured them all that Beth would be fine, and she’d spoken from years of experience? She wondered bitterly now if she should have ignored the woman and encouraged Beth to go into the lying-in hospital where at least there would have been a doctor on hand. Guilt and regret added to her misery.
Agnes shook her head. ‘Big John Strickland’, as he was known, would be devastated. He’d idolised his pretty wife and always brought her some little bit of finery from New York each time he returned. He didn’t spend his few hours’ leisure time ashore getting drunk as most of them did; he’d go off to the cheaper stores looking for some little gift for his wife and usually Maggie too. There were few men in this neighbourhood who were foolish enough to deliberately antagonise him – six years of the brutal conditions of the stokehold had hardened him – but with his family he was always gentle and considerate. And she felt heartily sorry for Maggie too. Her parents had both succumbed to an epidemic of diphtheria when she’d been in her teens; John was her only sibling but he was away for most of the time. It was no wonder she’d fallen for the charms of Billy McEvoy and, despite John’s misgivings, had married him. In Agnes’s opinion he wasn’t good enough for her friend. He was too glib, too fond of wanting his own way and far too fond of a drink. He was what her mam called ‘a waster’ and she was thankful her Albert was of a steadier nature. He also had a regular job, in Ogden’s Tobacco factory, whereas Billy was a dock labourer and that was far from what could be termed ‘steady’ work.
She sighed as her thoughts turned to her friend’s predicament. Not only did Maggie have to bear the pain of the grief that now engulfed them both but she had to run a home and care for little Eddie who was two years old. It would fall on Maggie to rear Mae too, she reflected.
Her gaze rested on Beth’s ashen features and she realised that there was very little time left now. ‘Maggie, luv, will I go and fetch Mam? She’ll be of more help to you now than me. I’ll take Eddie and the baby with me. I’ll put a notice on the shop door – people will understand – and the kids will be better off in our kitchen.’ She wondered briefly how her mam was managing having to serve in the shop and keep her eye on her own two boys, the twins Harry and Jimmy, who were the same age as Eddie and a handful at the best of times. She now heartily thanked God that both her own and Maggie’s pregnancies hadn’t ended like poor Beth’s.
When Agnes had gone, Maggie took Beth’s hand and held it against her cheek. She wasn’t even sure if her sister-in-law was still breathing. ‘Beth, don’t you worry about little Mae. I’ll take care of her, I promise,’ she said steadily. ‘I’ll love and care for her as if she were my own and . . . and John and I will see she never goes without. He loves you so much, Beth. We . . . we all do.’ She paused; the room seemed very still: even the noises from the surrounding streets were distant and muffled. ‘I . . . I’ll tell her . . . about you. I’ll not let her forget you.’ Her voice cracked with emotion and she bit her lip, wishing Agnes’s mam would hurry; she felt so alone, helpless and, in the light of what she was about to announce, a little afraid. She didn’t know if Beth could even hear her. ‘I . . . I want to tell you something. Something I’ve told no one else yet, Beth. I know – I hope you’ll understand and be . . . happy for me. I’m expecting again. So, please God, in time Mae will have a new cousin to play with.’
There was no response to her words. Beth’s eyes were closed and although her hand was still warm Maggie felt that her soul had already departed. She broke down and sobbed helplessly; the last hours had been traumatic and had taken their toll. ‘How am I going to tell our John?’ she whispered to herself, praying that when the time came she would somehow find the strength.
Maggie felt as though she were walking in a dream world as the day passed. Agnes had brought little Eddie and Mae back home after the women had been to lay Beth out. Then the neighbours had called in to offer condolences and help and one of them, who had a young baby herself, had offered to nurse Mae too. ‘It’s the least I can do, Maggie, for poor Beth,’ she’d said, taking the wailing child who was obviously hungry. Now, both Eddie and the baby were asleep.
‘I just feel so lost! I can’t seem to think straight,’ Maggie said wearily as she took yet another cup of tea from her friend.
‘You’ll be better in the morning. You’re worn out. You need a good night’s kip and at least after Annie Taylor has been down to feed the baby last thing she should sleep. I’ll have Eddie tomorrow morning – he can play with the twins and Mam will keep her eye on them all while I serve in the shop. There’s bound to be things you’ll have to attend to.’ She glanced at the clock on the mantel above the range. ‘Shouldn’t your Billy be in by now? Albert’s putting the kids to bed.’
Maggie sighed; she never knew exactly when Billy would get home. It always depended on whether he’d got any work that day, how much money he had in his pocket and how many pubs he had to pass on his way home. Like all their neighbours they never had enough money at the best of times; even though she considered herself to be a good manager, it was so hard to make ends meet. Few women went out to work for families were large and suitable jobs almost impossible to find. If a woman was really desperate she might take in washing or go out cleaning offices in the evening when someone was in to mind the kids. All Maggie had each week was what Billy didn’t spend, the small but regular amount old Isaac Ziegler paid her each Saturday morning for doing some chores and of course what John left her.
She’d known the Zieglers for years; they were Jewish and the late Mrs Ziegler had been good to her when she was growing up. Rachel Ziegler had died in the same epidemic that had taken her parents; Isaac, a tailor, lived with his son – who was also his business partner – above their shop on the corner of Albion Street. She enjoyed going there on Saturday mornings. Isaac always had a cheery word for her and their kitchen was so quiet and peaceful, but she doubted she’d be able to go this week. She hoped Billy wouldn’t be long. She didn’t want to have to sit here alone and Agnes couldn’t stay for much longer.
It was half an hour later when she heard him come in through the scullery, whistling. He obviously hadn’t heard, she thought dully, though he’d known Beth was very ill and that she’d sat up all night with her. She hadn’t been able to contact him all day – she hadn’t known where he would be – but couldn’t he at least show some concern?
He knew instantly by her expression that something was very wrong. He took off his jacket and cap and ran his hands through his mop of thick curly dark hair. ‘Maggie, what’s wrong? Is she worse? I’d have been home the sooner hadn’t I chanced to fall in with a feller I knew back in Belfast and we went for a wee drop or two.’
Maggie thought bitterly of the long grief-filled hours she’d endured. ‘She . . . she died this afternoon, Billy. There wasn’t anything anyone could do.’
‘Jaysus! I’d have come straight home, Maggie, if I’d known! The Lord have mercy on her.’ He was shocked. He’d realised Beth was desperately ill but women often were after giving birth and he’d not thought she would die. ‘Did ye get a doctor?’
Maggie shook her head. ‘I told you there wasn’t anything . . . Agnes and her mam have been very good and so have the neighbours. The women came to lay her out . . .’ She dissolved into tears and Billy came and put his arms around her.