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Authors: Margaret Dickinson

Twisted Strands

BOOK: Twisted Strands
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Margaret Dickinson

Twisted Strands

PAN BOOKS

 
Contents

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

Eleven

Twelve

Thirteen

Fourteen

Fifteen

Sixteen

Seventeen

Eighteen

Nineteen

Twenty

Twenty-One

Twenty-Two

Twenty-Three

Twenty-Four

Twenty-Five

Twenty-Six

Twenty-Seven

Twenty-Eight

Twenty-Nine

Thirty

Thirty-One

Thirty-Two

Thirty-Three

Thirty-Four

Thirty-Five

Thirty-Six

Thirty-Seven

Thirty-Eight

Thirty-Nine

Forty

Forty-One

Forty-Two

Forty-Three

Forty-Four

Forty-Five

Forty-Six

Forty-Seven

Forty-Eight

Forty-Nine

Fifty

Fifty-One

Fifty-Two

Fifty-Three

Fifty-Four

Fifty-Five

Fifty-Six

Fifty-Seven

Fifty-Eight

Fifty-Nine

Sixty

Sixty-One

Sixty-Two

 
One

Spring 1914

‘I’ll run away.’

The young girl, at that fledgling stage between child and young woman – gawky and awkward – stood in the middle of the yard watching her grandmother calmly peg out the washing on the
line. The older woman was taking no notice of her and Bridie believed she didn’t even care.

The girl promised not classic beauty, but an appeal that would be captivating rather than enslaving. Her lively spirit would attract friendship, loyalty, even love, but perhaps not idolatry or
blind worship. But at this moment the twelve-year-old showed little of the adult she would become. Her face was an ominous cloud, her mouth a sultry pout. Her deep blue eyes, fringed with black
lashes, flashed with bitterness and resentment and she flicked back her long, thick black plait in a gesture of impatience. Involuntarily her hands tightened into fists at her sides. She moved
nearer to her grandmother. Thrusting her head forwards, she muttered through clenched teeth, ‘I mean it. I will run away.’

‘Oh aye,’ Mary Carpenter was still hardly listening. She didn’t even glance towards the girl, but bent and picked up the end of a wet sheet. ‘And where would you run
to?’

The reply came promptly. ‘To me auntie Eveleen’s.’

‘Your auntie’s too busy to be looking after a troublesome child like you.’

‘I am not a child. I’m twelve. I’ve been working for seven months.’ Her mouth twisted in distaste. ‘And I hate it.’

Now Bridie felt her grandmother’s glance. ‘You’re just like your father,’ Mary said, but the words were an accusation not a compliment.

The girl bit down hard on her lower lip to stop it trembling, angry at herself that, not for the first time, the mere mention of her father could bring her close to tears; did, in the privacy of
her room. It was strange that reference to her mother, who had died at her birth, did not have such a deep effect upon her. Maybe it was because her mother had not been able to help leaving her,
whereas her father had done so out of choice. He had disappeared before her birth, refusing to marry her mother and deserting her even before their child had been born. As far as Bridie knew, he
didn’t know to this day whether he had a son or a daughter. Perhaps he did not even know of Rebecca’s death. And worse still, to the child’s vulnerable mind, he quite obviously
did not care. Not once had he come back from the sea to meet her. Though he had sent home brief letters and cards spasmodically over the years, he had never even asked about her. As far as her
father, Jimmy Hardcastle, was concerned, Bridie might as well not exist.

Now her chin rose defiantly. ‘All right, I am like him. ’Cos he ran away didn’t he? Well, I’m going to do the same, so there.’

Mockingly Mary asked, ‘What? Are you going to run away to sea then?’

‘I might.’

Pointing to the empty washing basket, Mary said, ‘Now stop all this nonsense, child. Take that back to the wash-house, then come in and have your breakfast.’

The girl did not move. Mary sighed. ‘It’s high time you were about your work. Josh’ll be needing your help. And besides,’ she added, and now there was a gleam in her eyes
as if she knew she was playing her trump card, ‘who would look after your injured creatures? What do you think would happen to them if you weren’t here? Josh hasn’t time to be
fussing with wild birds and rabbits. He’s enough to do with our own livestock.’

Mary turned and marched back into the farmhouse, disapproval in the set of her shoulders. At fifty-four Mary Carpenter still had the slim figure of a woman half her age, though her hair, drawn
back from her face into a neat bun at the nape of her neck, was now more grey than the rich brown it had once been. She wore a white apron over her long black skirt and a crisp, white cotton
blouse.

Resentfully Bridie watched her go. It was the only thing that Mary could have said that would touch her; the only thing that could keep her here. The best part of her work on the farm –
the part she really enjoyed – was caring for sick or injured animals. Bridie compressed her mouth and frowned. She took a step and then another and picked up the basket. She could not bring
herself to leave the blackbird with an injured wing nestling in the hayloft or the wild rabbit with a broken hind leg in a hutch in the yard. She would let the little things go once they were well
again, but for now they needed her. Her frown deepened; her grandmother knew that too.

Josh might look after them if she pleaded with him, but Bridie knew, even at her tender age, that once she was gone Mary would have her way. Bridie believed that Josh was fond of her, even
though he was only her step-grandfather and therefore no blood relation to her. But in any confrontation between herself and her grandmother, Josh, although he tried to keep the peace, would always
take Mary’s part in the end.

Bridie was not so sure of her grandmother’s affection. She had lived with Mary and Josh since babyhood and knew no other home, but as she had grown older she had begun to feel that she was
here on sufferance rather than because she was truly wanted.

Suddenly her heart lightened. There was one person who loved her.

Andrew. Andrew loved her. If her grandmother didn’t want her and her aunt Eveleen had no time for her, then she would go to Andrew. She would even take her menagerie with her. Andrew lived
in a little cottage and, though she had never seen it, she was sure he must have a garden. Surely there would be room enough for her wounded creatures.

Her mind made up, she picked up the basket and skipped towards the wash-house.

He would be here as usual on Sunday and she would make him take her home with him. Back to the little village of Flawford, near Nottingham, where he lived. There would be plenty of room in his
little cottage, for she knew he lived alone.

Yes, Andrew would take her home with him. Bridie could get Andrew Burns to do anything she wanted.

 
Two

For the rest of the day Bridie skipped through her work about the farm. She milked the cows in the cowhouse, singing at the top of her voice. In the dairy she churned the
butter and she was still scurrying to and fro as she laid the table for their supper, whilst Mary and Josh sat on opposite sides of the hearth in front of the kitchen range. Josh warmed his feet on
the fender and sighed contentedly. His huge frame filled the Windsor chair and the firelight glowed on his fat, red cheeks. His large nose dominated his face, but his kind eyes shone with love
every time they glanced across the hearth towards his wife.

‘Well, I’m pleased to see you’ve changed your tune, miss,’ Mary remarked. ‘Your mood changes with the wind.’

From behind his newspaper, Josh winked at Bridie and the girl hid her smile. Even though he adored her, Josh was not blind to Mary’s little foibles. And if Bridie resembled anyone in her
family, she knew it was her grandmother. Mary’s own mood swings were like a weathervane. And then the words were springing from Bridie’s lips before she could stop them, ‘I must
take after you then, Gran.’

Mary’s head snapped up and her eyes widened. She half rose from her chair. ‘You saucy little madam . . .’

Josh crumpled his newspaper and now even he was frowning. ‘Now, Bridie, don’t cheek your gran. There’s a good girl.’

‘Sorry, Gran,’ Bridie said airily, with no real note of apology and as she hurried back into the scullery, she was smiling. Soon, she was thinking, I won’t be here to be cheeky
to anyone. Soon I’ll be living with Andrew in his little cottage.

It was an idyllic picture, but one that was purely in her mind’s eye for she had never visited Flawford. She imagined that he lived in a tiny cottage, similar to the one down the lane
where her friend, Micky Morton, lived with his parents. Micky was lucky, Bridie thought, and her mouth pouted involuntarily. He had been born only a few months after her, but his parents were
married and he had grandparents, too, who lived nearby.

A cosy, whitewashed cottage, Bridie dreamed. That was where Andrew would live. With ivy climbing up the wall and a path leading up to a front door framed with roses. Tiny leaded-paned windows
would sparkle in the sunshine from her polishing and a tantalizing smell of her baking would greet him as he came home each evening from his work as a framework knitter in the nearby workshop. Oh,
how she longed to be grown up so that she could be Mrs Andrew Burns.

It was all she had ever wanted; to be married to Andrew. For as long as she could remember, whenever he had visited, she had rushed to meet him, her arms wide. He would catch her and swing her
round and round, their shared laughter echoing around the farmyard. Then, setting her on the ground, he would kiss her forehead and press whatever little gift he had brought for her this time into
her hands.

And his gifts were not always little. On her twelfth birthday he had presented her with an exquisite shawl he had knitted on his machine especially for her.

‘I had to be careful the old man didn’t catch me,’ Andrew had laughed. ‘But I did it in me own time, so there’s not a lot he could say.’

Remembering, the smile faded from Bridie’s mouth.

The ‘old man’ Andrew had referred to was Bridie’s maternal grandfather. Someone else whom she had never met. Josh had explained it to her, so carefully, so gently. Perhaps that
was why she loved Josh, for he, not her grandmother, nor her aunt Eveleen, nor even Andrew, had taken the trouble to explain the past to her. For that reason, Josh was the only one she would regret
leaving.

‘It’s all a long time ago now, love,’ Josh had said as they walked alongside the beck together, taking the cows back to the field after milking, her small hand tucked into his
large one. ‘And although it’s not your fault, none of it – I’m afraid it does affect you. Quite unfairly,’ Josh said firmly as he glanced down at her. He took a deep
breath and seemed to brace his shoulders. ‘Before your gran married me, she was married to the man who was your grandfather, Walter Hardcastle. But you knew that, didn’t you?’

Bridie nodded. As they walked, she glanced down at the bubbling water. It was somewhere along here that her grandfather, Walter, had been found, face down in the water having suffered a heart
attack. That much she knew, for she saw his grave every Sunday when her gran laid fresh flowers on it. Her gaze lifted to Bernby church standing on the hill in the distance beyond the beck. That
was where he was buried.

‘After he died so suddenly, the family had to leave Pear Tree Farm,’ Josh went on in his kindly, rumbling tones. ‘They went to Flawford, to your gran’s family.’

‘Where is Flawford?’

‘It’s a village just south of Nottingham,’ Josh continued. ‘They went to live with your gran’s brother, Harry Singleton and . . .’

Bridie remembered interrupting him again at this point in her piping voice. ‘Singleton? But that’s my name. Why’s he got the same name as me?’

The big man at her side had mopped his brow. ‘Because your mother, Rebecca, was his daughter and – and . . .’ He faltered over the delicate matter. ‘You see, mi duck,
your mam and dad weren’t married, so you’ve got her surname.’

Bridie had been silent then, digesting the information, trying to work it out in her young mind. Then she said slowly, ‘But my dad was Gran’s son. I did know that much. So – so
were him and my mam cousins?’

‘Yes,’ Josh said. ‘First cousins.’

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