Authors: Katie Flynn
Tags: #Fiction, #Sagas
Spring 1913, and seventeen-year-old Evie Murphy is leaving her native Ireland for the city of Liverpool with her baby daughter Linnet – but leaving Linnet’s frail twin, Lucy, behind.
But there are mixed fortunes ahead for Evie, and while Lucy grows up in the beautiful Irish countryside, Linnet is all too often forced to throw herself on the mercy of the enormous, impoverished Sullivan family. Life in a slum court during the thirties is far from easy – but when tragedy strikes it becomes the only existence possible for Linnet. Destitute, she disappears into the Liverpool slums like a teardrop in an ocean.
Lucy, meanwhile, urgently needs her sister by her side. But she has little idea, when she leaves the farm and sets off to look for Linnet, how their meeting will change their lives for ever...
Katie Flynn has lived for many years in the Northwest. A compulsive writer, she started with short stories and articles and many of her early stories were broadcast on Radio Mersey. She decided to write her Liverpool series after hearing the reminiscences of family members about life in the city in the early years of the century. She also writes as Judith Saxton.
A Liverpool Lass
The Girl from Penny Lane
Rose of Tralee
No Silver Spoon
The Girl from Seaforth Sands
The Liverpool Rose
For Olive Edwards, because she has promised to enjoy it!
As always, the staff of the Liverpool Local History Library on William Brown Street were both patient and helpful in finding me the material I needed, and Rosemarie Hague told me what Exchange Flags had looked like many years ago – and how to find it now!
And in Ireland, Elaine Walsh of Waterford was enormously helpful, telling us how to get where, and advising us not simply to head for one particular place but to wander, which is the best way to enjoy the country and to meet the people. We accordingly wandered down to Kerry and on to Cahersiveen, with its half-a-dozen different spellings, its fascinating sea-lough-cum-river, its gently rolling countryside and its weird, Eastern-looking barracks, to say nothing of the stump of a castle which I ‘borrowed’ for Lucy, Caitlin, Finn and Granny Mogg. Even the views are all there as described – and so is the delightful Evelyn Brennan, who, with her daughter, runs Brennan’s Restaurant in the town and not only introduced us to brack, which is absolutely delicious, but told me a great deal about her town and the surrounding countryside – and put me straight on the state of the railways in the thirties.
And thanks to Maggie O’Driscoll and Nick Evans, who shared their knowledge of Irish tinkers in the thirties with me and helped me with the language of the travellers and their ways.
As the faint chimes from the church clock stole across the dark waters of the lough, Maeve Murphy sat up on one elbow, struggling out of the depths of sleep. She did not know what had woken her, only that something had. A sound? A voice, perhaps? She turned her head cautiously and checked that Nora, with whom she shared her bed, was still fast asleep, then glanced across the small attic room towards the bed shared by two of her three younger sisters. Had one of them stirred, called out? But the girls slept, Clodagh curled up into a tight little ball, Éanna sprawled on her back, her beautiful lips just parted, a tiny snore curling rhythmically from her mouth. Maeve listened again. Yes, there had been a sound – a creak, and not just the usual creak of an old house settling either. This was the sort of creak, lively yet furtive, which meant that someone was awake and trying to move about the house without disturbing others.
Was it time to get up, then? Maeve glanced towards the uncurtained window; the sky was still dark, she could see stars twinkling, and there was not a sound from outside, not even a bird cheeped, forestalling the dawn chorus. Later the farmyard cock would start to clear his throat ready for his first cock-a-doodle, but right now the household should be wrapped in slumber, not prowling around. The last creak, Maeve was fairly sure, had come as a foot landed gently on the last stair but one.
Still, it was probably only a cat having a snoop round whilst the rest of the house slept. Maeve was about to lie down again when it occurred to her that her sister, Evie, who had slept in the small bedroom next door to their father’s room ever since her twin daughters had been born, might be up and doing. Immediately Maeve swung her feet out of bed, listening more intently than ever. Evie was barely seventeen and Maeve, the oldest of the five Murphy girls, had taken upon herself the care of the smallest, frailest twin. If Evie had gone down to feed them or change them she would appreciate Maeve’s presence.
Maeve shuffled a bit further down the bed and reached for her shawl, draped across the bedpost. She wrapped it firmly around her shoulders, glad of its soft, woolly warmth. Although the month was May it was still chilly in the early hours and her flannel petticoat wasn’t much protection against the cold. Then she stood up, carefully tucked her side of the bed in – Nora did not even stir – and tiptoed over to the door. It opened silently, because when five lively young girls share a house with an elderly father it behoves them to keep their door-hinges well-oiled, and Maeve slid out on to the steps which, ladderlike, descended to the upper landing.
Outside Evie’s room she hesitated; should she peep inside, just make sure? No one would burgle the Murphys because there was nothing to steal, but there was usually food in the pantry and there were always gipsies and tramps eager to fill their bellies. She put a hand on the door knob, then drew it back as a sound from downstairs reached her ears; there was definitely someone in the kitchen, she could hear quiet footsteps padding across the hard earth floor!
That settled it: they either had an intruder, in which case two people were better than one, or Evie had got up. Quickly, before she could change her mind, she opened Evie’s door. One glance at the bed showed her that it was empty, the covers pushed back, the pillow still dented from the impression of Evie’s head.
Relief washed over Maeve in waves. She turned away from her sister’s room and ran down the stairs, not bothering to go particularly quietly. At the bottom, in the small, square hall, she turned at once to the kitchen, though she opened the door softly enough.
At first she thought the room was empty: moonlight streamed through the two low windows overlooking the farmyard, turning the room into a symphony of black and silver. Puzzled, Maeve took a step into the room . . . then stopped short, a hand flying to her heart.
By the fireplace, something moved. A figure stood there, on tiptoe, reaching up for the battered teapot which stood directly under the grandmother clock. A hand, white in the moonlight, was already curled round the blackened pewter pot.
‘Evie! What on earth . . . ?’
Evie spun round, leaving the teapot still rocking from her touch. Her face looked white as a ghost, her eyes black pits. She gasped, then relaxed. ‘Maeve! Dear God, girl, I nearly died. What are you doing down here at this time of night? I thought everyone was asleep, so I did.’
Maeve walked over to the fire and took a taper from the box by the hearth. She lit it, then held the flame to the candle on the end of the dresser. Her mind was working furiously; Evie was fully dressed, this was no trip downstairs to fetch something for one of her babies, this was . . .
doing, Evie?’ she said evenly. ‘I came down because I heard you creepin’ down the stairs. Where’s the babies?’
‘In bed, Maeve, me love, it’s the middle of the night; where else would me darlin’s be but in their bed?’
In the candlelight, Maeve looked hard and long at her younger sister. Evie was so beautiful, that was the trouble, it became difficult not to believe every word uttered by those pink, perfect lips!
‘Evie, you’re fully dressed,’ Maeve said, changing tack. ‘Where were you going?’
‘Were going, Maeve?’ Evie sighed and turned back to the mantelpiece. She reached up and took the teapot down, then stood there cradling it. And when she spoke again it was with more than a touch of defiance. ‘I
going. In ten minutes or so a cart’ll pull in off the main road. I arranged it a day or so ago, it’ll take me down to the station. Oh, Maeve, you know I can’t stay here for the rest of me life – you wouldn’t want it for me, would you? The disapproval’s enough to break my heart, and besides, I’m wasted here. I’ll never get anywhere, do anything . . .
anyone, come to that, whilst I stay in Cahersiveen. So I’m leaving, going to – to seek me fortune, you could say.’
‘And you’re taking the housekeeping money,’ Maeve stated calmly, jerking her head at the pewter teapot. ‘That’s stealing, Evie, no matter how you justify it. And what about your little girls, then?’
‘I’m taking Linnet with me, but I can’t burden meself with two of them,’ Evie said defensively. ‘Besides, what’ud you do, Maeve me darlin’, if I took Lucy as well? You’d miss them both sore, you know you would. And leaving Lucy shows I mean to come back – but I can’t take ’em both or I’ll never get rich and famous!’
The last words were almost a wail. Despite herself, Maeve smiled.
‘Oh, Evie, what does rich and famous matter, after all? Isn’t it better to be happy here, with your two little girls? To live a good life?’
Evie shrugged her shoulders and set the teapot down on the table. She took the lid off it and tipped the contents very gently out onto a cloth she had already placed there to receive it. Then she wrapped the money in the cloth and pushed the small bundle down into the shabby bag which Maeve now saw at her sister’s feet.
‘I can’t settle to it and never could,’ she said honestly. ‘Country living’s always drove me mad . . . I should’ve gone a year back, only it seemed a big thing to do. And then Jan didn’t want me to leave, said to wait a while, so I stayed . . . and look what happened!’
‘Jan Wilde’s a good feller and would have taken you and the babies on, if only you’d let him,’ Maeve reminded her sister. ‘But if you don’t want Jan why in God’s name didn’t you marry the Ronald feller from England? You let him give you the babies, so you must have liked him. Or at least you could’ve got his address, so our Dad could have sent someone looking for him, told him what he’d done.’
‘I don’t want to marry anyone,’ Evie said pettishly. ‘You don’t understand about babies, Maeve, that Englishman was dull as ditchwater; if I hadn’t been so bored I’d never have let him do more than kiss me, so there!’
‘Indeed, madam? Then why not marry Jan Wilde if you weren’t in love with that blackhearted English? He’d be good to you, treat you right.’
‘Because I can’t bear the thought of scratching a living from a poor little place all me life, because I know there’s more to me than Jan could possibly appreciate. I’m a good actress; I sing like an angel and dance like a . . . a dervish, and I can imitate voices so folk don’t know it’s me,’ Evie said definitely. ‘And it isn’t just me that thinks so, Maeve me love; that Ronald feller knew a thing or two and he said I was talented, in the right hands he said I’d go far.’
‘He was a big-mouth,’ Maeve said bitterly. ‘He comes for a holiday after an illness, turns your head, gets you pregnant and then leaves, never realising the harm he’s done. I hope the good God has shown him the error of his ways, even if ’tis too late for you to come to your senses.’
‘Well, I am talented, and I shall go far despite all of you,’ Evie said hotly. ‘Did you think I’d stay here for ever, rotting away, while other girls went to Dublin, to England, and had all the fun and excitement?’
‘Once you’d had the babies . . .’ Maeve began patiently, only to be briskly interrupted.
‘Oh, the babies, the babies! One little slip from grace and you’d condemn me for the rest of me life! You’re as bad as the others, Maeve Murphy, and I always thought you understood!’