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‘No, we’ll go home, Sarah. Our Joe and May’ll be expecting their suppers.’
‘Let ’em get their own suppers,’ Sarah scoffed.
‘And I’ve gotta be up early to light the fire under the wash boiler … Anyway, while I’m here I want to tidy up Isaac’s grave.’
Albert and Beccy bid them goodnight and joined the other group that included Ezme and Jack Clancey, ready to leave to attend the welcoming party at the vicarage.
Lizzie and Stanley deliberately lingered by the lych gate meanwhile, teasing each other and laughing in their new-found understanding that had transmuted them into another kind of relationship; more adult; more thrilling; where emotions could suddenly run amok; where your heart thumped ever so often, and for a long time.
‘Shall you come to our house with your mother and father on Wednesday night?’ Lizzie asked him, her eyes alight.
‘I don’t know,’ he teased. ‘Think I should?’
‘’Course. Why not?’ Her enthusiasm was fuelled by the witnessing of Jesse’s apparent shift of interest twenty or so yards away. He was talking intently to Sylvia again, and Sylvia was laughing coyly. ‘We could go for a walk. We could go for a walk over Oakham fields. To the Dingle.’
As they drifted out into the street through the lych gate Stanley foresaw the possibilities …
They made their way over to the rest of the group standing on the pavement outside. Lizzie felt quite breathless after her encounter. Eve was saying her goodbyes to Tom and Sarah, when Sylvia came flouncing towards them. As she approached in the reddening light she tried to act normally, but there was no hiding the self-satisfied look on her flushed face. She smiled self-consciously and, despite Stanley, Lizzie felt acutely aggrieved that one of her admirers might have defected to her pretty cousin.
‘You’d best go and fetch some fresh water from the butt for these flowers, our Lizzie,’ Eve said, and poured what remained of the stale water out of the enamelled grave vase onto the ground. ‘They could do with a drink, it strikes me.’
She handed Lizzie the vase and watched her step back towards the church up the steep slope, picking her way between the other gravestones in the lengthening shadows, lifting the hem of her skirt to avoid getting it dirty. A blackbird swooped down and perched on the arm of a stone cross surmounting another grave, and began its persistent song.
Eve contemplated Isaac. His grave lay on the north side of St. John’s church. Every time Eve visited it she had vivid recollections of the funeral more than four years ago that sometimes stayed with her for days afterwards. On the day of the funeral the wind had freshened, blowing in rain from the west, rustling the tops of the hawthorn trees and the bright bunches of daffodils that had been lovingly arranged on surrounding graves. Family and friends had stood around the hole in the lee of the church, each thinking their own thoughts, she reckoned, each recalling some moment of pleasure or pain Isaac had brought.
She’d tried hard to shed tears that day, for she felt she ought; but no tears would come. God knew she’d spilled enough already over the others. Nearly thirty years ago her second son had died of peritonitis at only five years old. Helplessness and grief had sickened her then. Why her child? The anger and frustration she’d felt was overwhelming, as was the seeming futility of loving and caring for a life that was tenuous and so easily snuffed out. Fifteen years ago her eldest son died at the age of twenty-one in a preventable pit accident at the Bunns Lane Colliery; another cherished life wasted. Two years later, her eldest daughter, unmarried, died in childbirth, and refused to name the man who devised her ruination. Another son died of typhoid in a field hospital in South Africa barely six years ago, his tragic reward for volunteering to aid queen and country in the Boer War. Had he died in battle, she could have accepted it more readily. And then there was the daughter she carried full term but was still-born.
Eve resented more than anything this useless waste of life; those sudden, unexpected ends that had made a nonsense of all her striving. Little wonder she had not been able to weep for Isaac.
Eve recalled that as the funeral service drew to a close she at last felt a tear roll down her cheek. But it was not a tear for Isaac; it was for herself. It was for all the doubts, the misgivings, the love she’d been prepared to give him which so often had been spurned. Yet in more recent years, since the birth of Lizzie, he had mellowed. He became more attentive, more appreciative of her efforts; life with him became easier and more agreeable, as if he was finally repenting of his waywardness. She was glad of the change in him, and had embraced it with all her heart.
Now she looked across the valley towards the castle on the next hill, as she had done that grey, gusting March day in 1902. A billowing cloud of white steam, spouting from a locomotive as it emerged from the Blowers Green tunnel in the middle distance, was instantly dispersed in the wind. So, too, was life itself dependent on the unpredictable consequences of other peoples’ whims, Eve pondered; and on events that do whatever they like with us.
Lizzie returned with the vase filled with fresh water. ‘Is it true that cousins can marry, Mother?’
Eve put her hand to her ear. ‘What say, our Lizzie?’
‘I said, is it true that cousins can marry? I mean, for instance, Stanley and me might start courting by the looks of it. Could we marry? He says we could.’
‘Our Stanley?’ Eve’s expression was one of concern. ‘Stanley Dando?’
‘Oh, I wouldn’t want you to marry Stanley, our Lizzie. I definitely wouldn’t want you to marry him. You can do much better for yourself than Stanley.’
Lizzie was disappointed at her mother’s response, so decided it best to say nothing more. At least not yet. She picked up a flower and broke an inch off the bottom of its stem before stooping to replace it in the vase. She did another. Then another. Thinking about Stanley and what might come of a romantic interlude with him, it was some time before she stood up and spoke again to her mother.
She said, ‘Why did we come here to Father’s grave so soon? It was only Friday after tea we came last time and put some flowers on.’
‘I didn’t fancy going to The Shoulder of Mutton with your Uncle Tom and Aunt Sarah.’
‘Oh.’ Lizzie pondered the lost opportunity with bitter regret. ‘I’d have liked to have gone,’ she pouted. ‘I’d have loved to have gone.’
Eve did not hear, but she saw the disappointment in Lizzie’s eyes. Silently, between them, they rearranged the carnations and Lizzie picked up the ends of the stems she’d broken off, then stood up again. She read to herself the inscription on her father’s headstone; an inscription she knew by heart.
‘In loving remembrance of Isaac Bishop who died tragically and unexpectedly 15th March 1902, aged 59 years.They have sown the wind. Thy Will be done.’
Chapter 2 (#u0959affe-76a4-586d-9f5d-9f35f87c69ab)
Sunday’s fine weather continued into Monday. Lizzie Bishop walked to work without her coat, her head swimming with dreams and fantasies. The brief, romantic adventure last evening with Stanley Dando was devouring her. It had been so unexpected, but she had relished every minute. In a flash, her emotions had been relentlessly stirred like leaves in a gale, and it was heart-stopping. Now she could hardly wait to see him again, especially after they’d been so abruptly parted when the families went their separate ways. If only she could summon the patience to wait till Wednesday, when they would walk together across the fields by the Oakham farms to the Dingle, where it would be quiet and secluded. She hoped more than anything that he would have the courage to kiss her.
Stanley had set something in train that excited her beyond all expectations. Now she was determined that nothing could stop them or divert them. Strange, she thought, how she’d known Stanley all her life; but not until recently had she thought of him as anything other than family. His dark curls, his even teeth, and his lovely, lovely lips would surely break the hearts of a good many girls. It was up to her to make sure no one else had a chance. Stanley was drawn to her, too, just as surely as a buck is drawn to a doe; that much was obvious. And her eager appetite had been whetted enough.
The clatter and whine of an electric tram travelling through the Market Place roused Lizzie from her daydreams. Stall-holders were loading their trestles beneath the red and white awnings with everything from fruit, vegetables and rolls of velvet, to brass fenders, lamp oil and crockery. Horses clip-clopped over the cobblestones, drawing rumbling carts, and a motor car spluttered as it passed circumspectly in the direction of St. Thomas’ tall spire at the top of the town. A man riding to work on a bicycle took pains to avoid getting his narrow wheels caught in the tramlines. Already, awnings were out over many of the shop fronts and Lizzie could see others being drawn down. A hawker was selling fly papers outside the front door of E. C. Theedham’s, Ironmongers and Cutlers, where she worked, and bid her good morning.
She saw May Bradley walking towards her from the opposite direction, and waited. They entered the shop together and headed for the passageway at the rear where they generally hung their coats. Today, they had only their baskets to deposit before entering the small back-room to titivate their hair. May looked at herself in the mirror and rearranged a wayward wisp. Despite their age difference the girls got on well. They first met when Lizzie started this job, some couple of years ago, and soon they began to meet socially.
May was down-to-earth, with a ready smile, and a wit that was at first beyond Lizzie. She was an attractive girl with a slender waist and an ample bosom, and she had an abundance of dark, wavy hair that framed a pleasant but hardly striking face. When Lizzie invited May home to tea one Sunday afternoon to meet her mother, it was Joe Bishop, her brother, then twenty-two and looking more like his late father every day, who monopolised the conversation, amusing May with his humorous quips. Later, when it was time for May to leave, Joe offered to escort her home, since it was dark. He insisted there was no need for Lizzie to trouble herself accompanying her friend. May accepted bashfully, thanked Eve for her hospitality, and that was the beginning of their courtship. Eve was hopeful that Joe had found himself a nice, homely girl, at last.
May turned away from the mirror to speak to Lizzie. ‘When you was at church last night with your mother, me and Joe went for a drink in The Junction, and while we was in there, we saw Arthur Dowty, your next door neighbour. He says as how him and Bella am flittin’. He says it’s ’cause of Jack Hardwick’s pigs. Anyroad, when we got back I said to Joe as we ought to think about rentin’ that house ourselves. If we could have it, we’d get married. That way, we’d still be close to your mother.’
Lizzie fastened the ties of her pinafore behind her. ‘Wouldn’t the pigs bother you as well?’
‘Oh, I’m used to pigs. Me father always kept pigs. He’s a pig himself. Anyroad, if the pigs was there afore we, we couldn’t rightly complain.’
Lizzie shrugged. ‘I suppose not. But how soon are Bella and Arthur flitting?’
‘As soon as they find somethin’ else, they said.’ May continued to fiddle with her hair in the mirror. ‘There’s plenty houses to rent. It shouldn’t be long.’
Lizzie’s smiling eyes lit up her face. ‘Another wedding to look forward to. Oh, I’m that happy for you, May. I’m sure that our Joe’ll make you a lovely husband, though I say it myself.’
‘Yes, and if you get him a big enough piece of wood, I daresay he’ll make you one, Lizzie.’ May tried to keep a straight face.
‘Oh, I think I’m a bit too young yet, May,’ Lizzie replied innocently, not having caught the humour in May’s comment. Then she said coyly, ‘I think me and Stanley Dando might start courting, though.’
‘Oh, young Stanley, eh? What’s brought that on?’
Lizzie sat down and explained excitedly how Stanley had all but abducted her to the back pew in church, even held her hand, and told her that cousins could marry. But she failed to say that her mother seemed not to approve.
‘Well, he seems a pleasant enough lad. He’s nice lookin’, an’ all, there’s no two ways. But remember you’m only sixteen, Lizzie. It’s no good courtin’ serious at sixteen.’
‘I know that. But when I’m eighteen, I’ll be old enough to get wed. That’s less than two years off. A good many girls get wed at eighteen.’
‘Not if they’ve got any sense they don’t. It’s generally ’cause they’ve got to if they’m that young. You’d break your mother’s heart if that happened, you know. Just remember she’s been through all that before with your sister Maude. And look what happened to her.’
‘Oh, May, I wouldn’t do anything like that. What sort of girl d’you think I am?’
‘Like any other, I daresay, so liable to get carried away.’
When Lizzie left school at twelve years old she had found a job at the Dudley Bucket and Fender Co-operative and made a friend of another girl, roughly the same age, called Daisy Foster. They soon bettered themselves at another firm, operating small guillotines, cutting coils of brass into lengths ready to be pressed into parts for paraffin lamps. They stayed for two years, not just learning the job, but learning about life, listening to the other women gossiping over the hollow rattle and thumps of hand presses, and the fatty smell of tallow. Most of the girls they worked with were older, and Lizzie was amazed at the unbelievable things some of them used to tell her about their men, the amazing antics they performed with them and, most surprisingly, how often. Lizzie didn’t know such things were possible, but it all sounded intriguing. Those girls told her things she would never have known about had she stayed at home. By autumn, however, the two girls had tired of the oil lamp factory, and found jobs at Chambers Saddlery in Hall Street. Lizzie, however, did not take to working with leather and its dark, sickly odour, whereas Daisy did. Thus they split up when Lizzie left to seek other employment.
‘I know a lot of girls do do it, May … you know? … before they get wed I mean … But I wouldn’t, even if I wanted to. I’d be too afeared of getting caught.’
‘Yes, well … It’s somethin’ you need to bear in mind, Lizzie.’
‘Do you and our Joe do it, May?’
May registered no outward change in her expression, continuing to preen herself. ‘That’s between Joe and me.’
‘Well, have you ever done it? With anybody, I mean?’
‘It isn’t that I’m being nosy,’ Lizzie persisted, trying to justify her questioning, ‘but I can talk to you about things. I’ve got nobody else to talk to, and I want to know about things like that. I want to know what it’s like, and everything. I need to talk to somebody about it.’
May turned round and grabbed her pinafore from the hook on the back of the door. ‘You’ll learn soon enough when you do get wed, Lizzie, and not before if you want my advice. There’s no rush … Tell me about Stanley, eh?’
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