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Authors: Alison Rattle

The Madness

BOOK: The Madness
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Title Page
Clevedon, Somersetshire: 1868

1: A Mermaid On The Beach

2: The Journal Of Noah De Clevedon

3: Inside A Seashell

4: The Rat-Catcher’s Boy

5: A Tart And Some Gingerbread

6: A Twisted Leg

7: The Boy In Blue

8: The Journal Of Noah De Clevedon

9: Goose Pimples

10: A Blue-Trimmed Straw Hat

11: The Journal Of Noah De Clevedon

12: A Scrap Of Scarlet Ribbon

13: The Journal Of Noah De Clevedon

14: Salt And Fish

15: The Journal Of Noah De Clevedon

16: Like An Empty Pocket

17: The Journal Of Noah De Clevedon

18: Not One For Gossip

19: The Journal Of Noah De Clevedon

20: A Change In The Air

21: The Journal Of Noah De Clevedon

22: White Silk Stockings

23: The Journal Of Noah De Clevedon

24: Soiled Washing

25: The Journal Of Noah De Clevedon

26: The Lodger

27: The Journal Of Noah De Clevedon

28: Clevedon Manor

29: The Journal Of Noah De Clevedon

30: A Long, Sweeping Staircase

31: The Journal Of Noah De Clevedon

32: A Walk Along The Esplanade

33: The Journal Of Noah De Clevedon

34: A Pot Of Tea In The Kitchen

35: The Journal Of Noah De Clevedon

36: Maid Of The Sea

37: The Journal Of Noah De Clevedon

38: Beady Eyes

39: A Lying Little Tart

40: The Journal Of Noah De Clevedon

41: The Last Kiss

42: The Journal Of Noah De Clevedon

43: The Handkerchief

44: A Bone Hairbrush

45: The Journal Of Noah De Clevedon


46: A Lick And A Spit

47: The Journal Of Noah De Clevedon

48: Banners And Flags

49: Marnie

50: The Journal Of Noah De Clevedon

51: Dippy Go Under, My Dears

52: Apples And Hot Sugar

53: A Dip Pen And Ink

54: The Journal Of Noah De Clevedon

55: The Journal Of Noah De Clevedon

56: Thin Barley Gruel

57: The Church Bells Chime

58: Shadows And Moonbeams

59: The Journal Of Noah De Clevedon

60: A Metal Hoop And A Hammer

61: The Journal Of Noah De Clevedon

62: Red-Hot Angry Words

63: The Journal Of Noah De Clevedon

64: Broken Shells

65: The Journal Of Noah De Clevedon

66: A Piece Of Bacon

67: The Journal Of Noah De Clevedon

68: The Journal Of Noah De Clevedon

69: The Journal Of Noah De Clevedon

70: Tiny Pieces

71: The Journal Of Noah De Clevedon

72: As Blue As Hedgerow Cornflowers

Alison Rattle

Clevedon, Somersetshire


Clevedon (so called because of the cliff or cleve here terminating in a dun or valley) is a pleasant watering-place on the south side of the Bristol Channel. The sea coast presents features of romantic interest, in some localities being indented with wild and craggy bays; in others furnishing a parapet of rocks over which the sea dashes in sheets of foam. The place offers the usual accommodation for sea bathing.
The Illustrated London News


A Mermaid on the Beach

By the time she was fourteen years old, Marnie Gunn could swim like a fish. Hardly a day went by when her flannel shift was not hung out by the fire to dry. Often as not, it was still damp in the morning when she pulled it back on and went to the beach with Ma to attend to Smoaker Nash’s bathing machines.

It was Ma that’d made Marnie go in the sea every day to begin with. ‘The best cure in the world,’ she said. ‘Make you strong and hearty, it will.’ Marnie was only five at the time and thought Ma was trying to drown her. She would yell and hit Ma with her small fists, and kick at her with her one good leg. But Marnie was only little and no match for her mother. Ma would put Marnie under her arm and carry her down to the iron-grey sea. She would grip Marnie tight around the waist and plunge her under the freezing waves again and again. Marnie’s voice would shrink to nothing with the shock of it.

‘I won’t have no cripple for a daughter,’ Ma would say. Marnie soon learned not to protest. For worse than the piercing cold of the ocean was the hot sting of the horsewhip that Ma would crack over the backs of her legs to ‘harden her up’.

Marnie had no choice but to learn to love the ocean. After a while Ma began to loosen her grip and Marnie was astonished to find she could swim. It was easy and natural.

Soon, Marnie couldn’t imagine life without her daily bathes. It was true what Ma said. She did grow stronger every day, and while she was in the water, she didn’t have to use her stick or think of her twisted leg or the cruel taunts of the village children who would spit and laugh at her because she was different.

When the children gathered on the lane to trundle their hoops or play tip-cat, Marnie would hobble past as quickly as she could. Sometimes, she would thrust her stick out into the path of a rolling hoop and send it toppling into the hedgerows. It felt good to spoil their silly games. She let their angry cries and nasty words wash over her as she hurried down to the sea. ‘
’ ‘

Marnie didn’t care. She had something they didn’t. She had the sea and its soothing whispers and comforting embrace. She could swim for further and for longer than any of them. When they hoiked up their skirts and rolled up their britches to splash in the shallows, Marnie would swim far out, past the breakers, where the screech of the gulls and the idle sighs of the waves were the only sounds she could hear. From that distance, the village children looked like nothing more than stray dogs and Marnie could see the bathing machines spread out along the shoreline and the figures of Ma and the other dippers standing solidly in the water.

Ma was the best dipper in the whole of Clevedon. Ladies came from all over to take the sea-cure and they all wanted Ma to dip them. She had a way about her that had the ladies laying in her arms like docile babies.

The ladies didn’t look anything like Ma. Ma smoked a pipe for one thing. She was broad and stout with arms as thick and brown as the blacksmith’s. She was almost as strong as the blacksmith too, and could stand up to her waist in the sea most of the day, holding the ladies afloat on the waves.

The ladies came on the train from Yatton Junction. They brought huge leather trunks with them and piles of fancy bandboxes. All the ladies were pale and fragile-looking, like they’d never seen a bit of sun or wind. Marnie thought they wore far too many clothes. They were covered in layers of velvet and lace, with tight jackets and huge skirts that seemed to take up the width of the esplanade. They wore close-fitting bonnets decorated with frills, ribbons, flowers and stuffed birds. Their hands were enclosed in tight white gloves, even on the hottest of days. Marnie thought she would die if she had to wear that many clothes.

Marnie liked to watch the ladies, though. She would stand bare-foot at the top of the beach steps and stare wide-eyed as the pale creatures glided along the esplanade twirling frothy parasols in their gloved hands. Although she wasn’t aware of it, Marnie’s raw beauty drew the stares of the visitors too. With her yellow hair hanging down her back like thick ropes of tangled seaweed and with eyes as startling and blue as hedgerow cornflowers, she could have been a creature of myth washed ashore in a storm.

But then the visitors would glance down and spy her stick and twisted leg. They would recoil and move away to the other side of the esplanade, as though by being too close they could catch something nasty. A long time ago, the stares of the ladies used to hurt Marnie, like being struck by sharp stones. But now she was used to it and the disgust in their eyes bounced off her salted skin without leaving a mark. She had learned not to cry. It didn’t change a thing. Instead she would stick out her hand towards the ladies, making them back away even further. ‘Spare a penny, madam?’ she would ask, trying not to smile as they spluttered and blushed. On occasion she would be rewarded with a few coins and would treat herself to the biggest pastry in Miss Cranston’s shop window. She would eat her prize slowly, licking the cream from the centre and letting the buttery pastry melt on her tongue. It tasted all the sweeter if the village children walked by and saw her; she relished the greed and envy in their eyes more than the delights of a dozen of the creamiest pastries.

Marnie always made sure her lips were free of crumbs before she went back home to the cottage. Ma would have beaten her black and blue if she ever caught wind of her tricks.

It was a warm June morning and Clevedon was busy. The guesthouses were full to bursting and Miss Cranston’s Tea House was doing a roaring trade. Smoaker Nash’s bathing machines were fully booked now the tide was at its highest. Marnie knew she couldn’t go in for another swim, not now the water’s edge was packed with the machines. Ma had told her time and time again that the ladies needed their privacy. She couldn’t go over to Byron’s Bay either. That’s where the men bathed naked and now that Marnie was fourteen, Ma said it was high time she practised modesty.

Marnie was bored. She didn’t want to go and help Smoaker in his proprietor’s hut, although she knew Ma would expect her to. She was too hot and listless. She usually liked collecting the sixpences that each bather paid for a half-hour use of a machine. She liked to drop the silver coins through the slit in the top of Smoaker’s tin box and hear them rattle to the bottom like small pebbles. She liked to help clean out the bathing machines too, after the horses trundled them back up the beach and the bathers emerged, fully clothed again, but shivering and bedraggled.

Marnie would climb up the wooden steps of the machines and into the snug interiors that smelt of damp wood and the flowery scent of perfumed ladies. With the doors at either end shut it was dim inside, the only light coming from tiny windows set high up on the sides of the machines. After Marnie had gathered up damp towels, she would sweep wet sand from the floors and look under the benches that ran the length of the machines to see if anything had been left behind. Once she’d found a fancy button that shone like the inside of a shell. Another time she’d found a hair comb with broken teeth. It was carved with swirls and curls and looked as if it was made out of bone that had been washed by the sea. Marnie had put these treasures in the pocket of her frock and hidden them under an old firebrick in the backyard of the cottage in Ratcatcher’s Row.

But Marnie wasn’t in the mood for treasure hunting now, nor did she want to be carting about heavy armfuls of wet towels. She wanted to be back in the sea, cooling herself in the clean, bright water and imagining herself to be all alone; just a dot in the middle of the wide, wide ocean.

Marnie sighed. She wandered away from the esplanade and back down to the beach; she didn’t want Smoaker to spy her if he poked his head out of his hut. Marnie was tired of the busy season now. She couldn’t wait for the ladies to pack up their trunks and go back to Yatton Junction to catch their trains home. Then the sea would be all hers again for a while, and she wouldn’t have to share it or put up with anyone’s pitying stares.

BOOK: The Madness
7.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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