Authors: Rosie Clarke
âYeah and I'll 'ave this un an' all.' Sheila grinned. âYou're all right â Lizzie, ain't it, same as the name over the shop?'
âYes, Lizzie Larch,' Lizzie said, using her professional name. She packed the hats carefully in tissue and a box, just as she would for customers who bought large orders from her. âI hope you'll be happy, Mave â and enjoy the wedding, both of you.'
They thanked her and went out, giggling and looking at each other as they walked off down the road. Lizzie wondered what Ed or Harry's uncle would say if they knew what she'd done. They would probably think she'd gone soft, but Lizzie hadn't forgotten what it felt like to spend almost the whole of your wages on a hat. Somehow she didn't mind whether she got her five bob or not, because those hats had suited Mave, and after all wasn't that what making pretty hats was all aboutâ¦?
Matt was sleeping peacefully when Lizzie got home that evening. His tummy trouble had passed and neither of the others had caught the bug. Beth had fed the children and put them to bed, and her mother had gone back to the hospital to visit Mary.
âDad's gone with her so I decided I'd stay home and look after the kids,' Beth said. âI gave Matt some more of that medicine the nurse made up for you and he seems much better. I didn't want to leave him with anyone, though, just in case.'
âVery sensible,' Lizzie said and hugged her. âHe's your priority for the moment, Beth. Mary will have your mum and dad, and I expect Dottie will call and see her too. You can go tomorrow if you feel like it.'
âBernie said he would sit with them for a few hours if I wanted.' Beth looked at her oddly. âWould you mind if he did that, Lizzie? I trust him to look after the twins, but it would mean leaving Betty as wellâ¦'
âPerhaps I could take her in with me,' Lizzie said. âIt wouldn't be so much for you to manage â and I'm sure the twins would be enough for Bernie, and it isn't fair to ask him to have Betty as well.'
Lizzie wasn't sure why she didn't like the idea of Bernie looking after the children, but something niggled at her. She couldn't tell Beth what to do, but she would prefer Betty to be where she could keep an eye on her rather than leaving her with a stranger. Bernie seemed perfectly respectable, but Lizzie had her reservations, even though she couldn't have said why she didn't quite like the man. It was just something about him that made her distrust him, but she hadn't voiced her feelings aloud, for Beth's sake.
Beth frowned for a moment. âWell, that's up to you â but won't she be in the way when you want to work?'
âI'm sure we can fix up a makeshift playpen for her,' Lizzie said. âEd loves her â he loves your two as well, Beth, but three might be too many. Yes, I think I'll try it and see how we get on. I may need to do it in the future sometimes, because I can't expect your mum to be responsible for my daughter all the timeâ¦'
âWell, if you want to,' Beth looked at her oddly. âBernie could put their carrycots in the car and drive me to the hospital.'
âIt's a good idea to see how he copes with the twins,' Lizzie said. âIf you do marry him, he'll have to help out a bit with them, won't he?'
Beth nodded but turned away to take the pie out of the oven. She'd made a fish pie with mashed potato on top and sliced carrots and chopped cabbage to go with it.
âGosh that smells good,' Lizzie said. âA lot of people don't like fish, but I think it's nice like this with a tasty sauce. I'm getting spoiled with you staying home, Beth.'
âMum showed me how to make it,' Beth said, looking pleased. âI'm quite a good cook, according to Mum.'
âYes, you are,' Lizzie agreed. âI think you're better than me, Beth. I've no idea what I shall do if you get married. It will be awful coming back here aloneâ¦'
âDon't talk about me getting married,' Beth snapped. âYou're as bad as my mother. That's all I've had from her today. Bernie popped over in his lunch hour and wanted to fuss round me, telling me that he'll have a girl in to help me with the twins when we're married so I'm not tied all the time â taking it for granted that I'm going to say yes eventuallyâ¦ you'd think it was all cut and dried the way he and mum went on about it.'
Lizzie looked at her and saw that she was really upset and shook her head. âI'm sorry, love. I didn't know how you feltâ¦'
Beth stared at her for a moment and then gave a strangled sob. âIt's what both my parents want, Lizzie but â I sometimes feel as if I'm being trapped into somethingâ¦'
âYes, I know,' Lizzie gave her an understanding look. âPeople can be very thoughtless â me included. I was being selfish, thinking of how much I should hate living here alone.'
âThat isn't selfish,' Beth said. âYou've stood by me all this time and I don't want to fall out with you. I'm just tired and upset after sitting up the hospital all the time last night on those hard chairs â and Mary can't stand the sight of me. I think she hates me now, Lizzie.'
âOf course she doesn't hate you. She's just very sensitive right now because you've got two lovely children and she's lost her baby, but she doesn't hate you.'
âYes, I expect that's it. It's awful for her and I'm being unfair.' Beth sighed. âEat your supper and forget my silliness. I know you've got your own worries. How did you get on today?'
âI had a couple of girls from the munitions factory in today,' Lizzie told her. âOne of them is getting married and she wanted two hats, and her friend bought one.'
âCould they afford your prices?'
âI gave them a bit of a discount,' Lizzie said, âbut I told them not to tell their friends.'
âThey will,' said the practical Beth. âThey'll soon get told what's what if I'm in the showroom. I'm not as soft as you are, Lizzie.'
âYou've proved my point â I can't do without you.'
Beth nodded her head and they both started laughing. âYeah, that's what I'll tell Bernie when he next asks. I'll say Lizzie can't manage without meâ¦'
âRight, I'll get off then,' Lizzie said one evening a week or so later. âI'll leave you to lock up the workrooms when you've finished, Ed. I promised Beth I'd be home a bit earlier so that she could go to the hospital to visit her sister.'
âHow is the poor lass?' Ed said sympathetically. âThat was a terrible thing to happen to herâ¦ I remember how my Madge felt when we lost our son.'
âYes, of course you do,' Lizzie said and felt the tears sting her eyes. She'd been very fond of Madge and she still got emotional when she thought about her loss. âMary must feel awful. She's lost her baby and she hasn't heard from her husband for ages.'
âIt's worrying for her but the post from over there can be dreadful,' Ed said. âA lot of letters go astray for months, sometimes they just get lost altogether.'
âYes, I expect that is what has happened, but Mary thinks the worst, of course. Oh well, I'd better goâ¦'
âAre you sure you don't want me to walk you to the tram stop?'
âNo, I'm all right. I haven't seen anyone lurking about for a while now, so I should think whoever was following me has given up.'
âWell, if you're sure. I need to finish this cutting if we're to get Mr Johnson's order out on time and we don't want to let him down.'
âNo,' Lizzie understood his meaning. Two of their regular customers hadn't been in this month and she suspected it was due to Harry's uncle meddling. They really couldn't afford to upset the regulars who remained loyal. âDon't work too late, Ed. Goodnight.'
Ed bent over his work and Lizzie left him to it. He often worked late, perhaps because there was no one waiting for him upstairs in his flat. In his late forties, he was surely young enough to find someone else if he wished, but he was the faithful sort and he wouldn't rush into things. She could only hope he'd find happiness again one day.
Outside, it was chilly again even though it was officially spring, and Lizzie hugged her scarf tight round her neck, feeling the cold nip at her nose. Oh, she would be so glad when they got some sunshine!
She was almost at the tram stop when the back of her neck started to prickle. Turning, she saw him following â the man in the overcoat with the trilby pulled low over his face. He was back; she'd seen him three times now, he had to be following her! Lizzie sensed the menace in him and shivered. Her tram was just coming down the road and she hastened her step, but the man was quicker. He grabbed her arm just as the tram pulled to a halt.
âGot you, you little bitch,' he hissed. âThink yourself clever, don't you â but I'll always be there waiting and when I get the chance â you'll be sorryâ¦'
Lizzie didn't answer, because she was too scared. She pulled away from him, kicking out at his shins in desperation and he cursed her. His hand released her as swiftly as it had grabbed her and Lizzie rushed for her tram as it was about to leave the stop, managing to jump on board as it began to move.
âCareful there, lady,' the conductor said and grabbed her arm to steady her. âLeft it a bit fine, did we?'
âThat manâ¦' Lizzie was still shaking as she sat down. âHe grabbed me and threatened meâ¦'
The conductor peered at her and shook his head; then memory dawned. âI recall you tellin' me the other week, miss. You want to go to the coppers. He sounds a nasty piece of work â did you know him?'
âNo. This is the third time I've noticed him following me, but this time he threatened meâ¦'
âTake my advice and go to the police,' he advised, issuing her ticket and moving on as the tram slowed down for the next stop.
Lizzie drew a deep breath and tried to stop herself shaking. What would've happened if she hadn't managed to get away from him? It was like being back in her nightmare and she felt sick. She was going to have to speak to someone about it â either the police or Ed. Ed thought Harry's uncle was behind it, and she supposed he was the most likely person to want to upset Lizzie â but it just didn't seem Bert Oliver's style. He could be mean and he had a sharp temper â but was he the sort to hire someone to frighten her? That spoke of a truly vindictive nature and she just couldn't see him going to those extremes. Telling lies about her was one thing, but paying someone to threaten and frighten her was quite another â and why else would a stranger follow her and make threats? Who would dislike her that much? Lizzie didn't think she had enemies, but someone must hate her. Could it really be Harry's uncle behind it all?
Somehow it didn't fit in Lizzie's mind, but she decided to go round at the weekend and speak to him. She couldn't just let things drift the way they had, and she was pretty sure the police couldn't do much to help her. It would need someone to keep watch over her wherever she went and the police didn't have time for such things. These days it took all their time to keep up with the looters and rescuing people from bombed-out areas. No, she was going to have to sort this out for herselfâ¦
Lizzie had calmed down by the time she got home and felt it would be wrong to distress her friend by telling her what had happened. Beth had more than enough on her shoulders as it was.
âMum says Mary won't stop crying,' Beth announced as soon as Lizzie walked into the kitchen. âThey need her bed at the hospital and the doctors are talking about sending her somewhere â somewhere they treat mental patients â if she doesn't calm down and stop accusing them of murdering her baby.'
âOh, Beth,' Lizzie sympathized. âYou'll have to talk to her, shake her out of it somehow. A mental institution is the last place she wants to go. Once you're in there it isn't easy to get outâ¦'
âYou went somewhere a bit like that when you had that trouble as a young girl, didn't you?'
âYes, and what I remember of it â and that isn't much, because they had me drugged most of the time â was horrible. Tell Mary that she wouldn't like it in one of those places, Beth. She has to come home. Losing a baby is bad enough; she doesn't want to lose her freedom or her sanity too. If Uncle Jack hadn't used all his savings to help me to move me to the private sanatorium, I might still have been a prisoner in that place. Even though I'd been raped, I was treated as if I was a bad girl just because I'd miscarried a child and I was only fourteen. It's all still hazy, but since Aunt Jane told me, I've half remembered things about that timeâ¦' A shudder went through Lizzie. âBut it's too horrid to want to remember it properlyâ¦'
âOh, Lizzie, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have reminded you,' Beth apologized. âIt's just that Mum is so worried about Mary.'
âOf course she is,' Lizzie said. âSpeak to Mary tonight, Beth, and if she won't listen to you I'll visit her and tell her where she's headed if she doesn't attempt to get better.'
âMum says she can't do anything with her. She thinks the doctor is right and Mary might be better off somewhere like that for a whileâ¦'
âNo, she wouldn't,' Lizzie corrected instantly. âTell your mum, and tell Mary, what it was like for me. If that doesn't make her stop nothing willâ¦'
âI'll try.' Beth sighed. âSo what sort of a day did you have today?'
âPretty quiet,' Lizzie said, not wanting to worry her about her narrow escape at the bus stop. She would tell Ed the next morning, but Beth had enough on her shoulders just now. âOnly a couple of customers and Ed finished the order for Mr Johnson. The order book is almost empty after that, Beth. Unless things changeâ¦' She sighed and took the cup of tea Beth offered. âI've done some new designs for the window. I can only hope that will bring some customers inâ¦'