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‘Oh, nothin’ serious.’ Self-consciously she wiped condensation from the window with one of her gloves.
‘Oh, I bet! Is it one of those chaps you were with on Sunday?’
‘Yes, the fair-haired one.’ Daisy peered through the patch she had cleared at passers-by trying to avoid stepping into puddles on the uneven pavement outside. ‘His name’s Jimmy Powell. I’ve been goin’ with him six months now. But it’s nothin’ serious, honest. He’s nice, but …’
‘Where’s he live?’
‘Tividale. That was his mate, Ben, who was with us. He’s a nice chap, an’ all.’
‘Mmm, I noticed him. He looked ever so nice, Daisy. I could’ve taken to him myself. He kept smiling at me, but I pretended not to notice.’
The two girls laughed easily.
Daisy said, ‘Fern – that’s his sweetheart – she noticed. She was ever so funny with him after you’d gone. I think she was jealous.’
‘Oops! But I did nothing to egg him on.’
‘You didn’t have to. Looking the way you did was enough. I thought you looked smashin’ in that outfit with your hair done up, an’ all.’
Lizzie smiled, acknowledging the compliment. ‘I’ve had that outfit ages. It’s due to be made into dusters.’
A rickety, old waitress brought their tea and sandwiches. They thanked her and continued talking, comparing their lives since last they worked together; laughing over the meetings they had with two lads they used to see after work, and wondering what had become of them. They talked about the other girls they worked with, and chuckled when they recounted the escapades with men they’d bragged about. They wanted to know about each other’s families; about births, deaths, marriages. There was such a lot to catch up on. It was two pots of tea later that the girls emerged from the Midland Cafе, still laughing.
‘You’ll have to come to tea one Sunday, Daisy. Mother would love to see you.’
‘That’d be nice.’
‘What about a week on Sunday? You could bring your sweetheart, if you wanted to. Mother wouldn’t mind. She wouldn’t mind at all.’
Daisy smiled. ‘All right then.’
Eve was indeed pleased to learn that Daisy Foster and her young man were coming to tea. It would be a nice change to entertain somebody different.
‘I wish I could have a new frock,’ Lizzie said. ‘I can never wear that outfit again.’
‘I wish you could, as well,’ Eve replied, having caught every word and understanding Lizzie’s frustration. ‘I’ll see if I can make you something new for then. Perhaps May’s got something as I can alter.’
‘There’s a frock in me wardrobe I never wear, Lizzie,’ May said, stirring her tea as she sat at the scrubbed table. ‘Have it with pleasure if you want it.’
Lizzie smiled. ‘Ooh, May, thanks. Can I see it after?’
‘’Course. If you like it, bring it back with you.’
‘I could do with a new coat, as well, Mother,’ she said with a plea in her eyes. ‘I’ve got some money saved. Enough to buy a new coat. Can I?’
Eve agreed. Tomorrow, in her dinnertime, Lizzie would happily scour the town for a new coat. Meanwhile, there was May’s discarded frock to inspect.
It turned out to be less than a year old and quite fashionable. May was a size bigger than Lizzie, especially around the bust, but with a couple of darts in the waist, some remodelling of the bodice and turning the hem up a couple of inches, it would be ideal. Lizzie thanked May and the two girls took it back to show Eve. At once they had to have a fitting, so Lizzie divested herself of her working clothes and put on the new dress. Eve reached up and took her pincushion from the mantelpiece and started putting a few pins in here and there, where she needed to alter it.
‘This is a beautiful frock, May,’ Eve commented. ‘How come you’ve never worn it?’
‘After I’d bought it Joe said he didn’t like it,’ May replied.
‘Our Lizzie, it’ll look a treat on you.’
‘Good. I can hardly wait for next Sunday to wear it.’
The dairy house, where the Clanceys lived, was a large detached house with no foregarden, but set well back from the footpath. A cobbled yard lay at the rear, accessed from the street by an entry broad enough to drive a horse and cart through with ease. On one side of the yard was a row of brick-built outbuildings, one of which was a stillroom for making butter, the rest for stabling the horses and garaging the carts. On the other side was the door to the scullery. Behind the brewhouse stood the privy, the ‘miskin’ where they deposited all their rubbish and a hen coop. When Jack Clancey first started up his business he kept cows in the field at the back of the house to provide the milk for his business. A picket fence and gate separated it from the yard. These days, because home-produced milk was unreliable, only the two horses grazed it now, accompanied occasionally by an odd vagrant hen in search of extra food.
In the front room, standing in the square bay window looking out over Cromwell Street, was Jesse Clancey. An hour earlier he’d watched Lizzie Bishop, in all her Sunday finery, walk towards Hill Street with another girl and a young man, no doubt heading for Oakham Road and a stroll through the meadows beyond. He was hoping they would return by the same route so he could catch sight of her again. Every time he saw the girl she looked more and more bewitching. Today she wore a cream dress with pale green trimmings, narrow skirted, with a high neck collar, under a cream three-quarter length coat. She looked so beautiful, her hair swept up on top of her head in the pompadour style and crowned with a fashionable cream wide-brimmed hat topped with pink roses.
If only there were some way of making Lizzie interested in him he would give up Sylvia Dando. Oh, Sylvia was a nice enough girl, and she’d make somebody a good wife, but not him. Sylvia was the same as all the others; somehow she failed to spark off any excitement in him, physical or mental. For him to even consider marriage there had to be some glimmer of passion, of yearning for her, of yearning to be with her. But he did not yearn for Sylvia. He’d courted her for many months now and they’d progressed beyond canoodling, and still he didn’t yearn for her. But he did yearn for this little Lizzie Bishop, Sylvia’s second cousin. Perhaps it was because she was unattainable; because she might think he was too old at twenty-six and because their respective mothers had always been at odds. At least, that was what he assumed; he did not know it for certain.
But in any case, what would her mother think if he were to suddenly start walking out with her, little more than a child at seventeen? Like everyone else, she would no doubt consider the age gap unseemly; she would accuse him of cradle-snatching. Yet all he wanted was to love her and for her to return his love. He wanted to marry her, to be the father of her children, and provide her with a decent standard of living; a standard of living befitting a girl so worthy.
Lizzie Bishop was becoming an obsession. She was the only reason he still went to church, albeit accompanied these days by Sylvia. And who would credit it? Who would believe that he could be longing for this Lizzie Bishop, whom he had watched grow up from a skinny little kid to this vision of femininity? Who would believe it, when he had a pretty girl like Sylvia on his arm, who evidently thought the world of him?
The problem was that there was never an occasion when he might meet Lizzie Bishop to tell her how he felt, or to ask her if she would like to step out with him. Even if there were, would she listen? If only he could find some way of making his feelings known before somebody else claimed her, for somebody surely would, and soon. Otherwise, how could she ever know how he felt? And, knowing, she might even respond positively …
All at once his pulse rate quickened. Lizzie came into view again with her two companions, strolling leisurely towards the dairy house. The other girl was holding the lad’s arm proprietarily. Jesse stood back a step out of the bay to avoid being seen, and watched from behind the huge aspidistra as Lizzie conversed intently with her friends, her eyes lighting up her lovely face which was vibrant with expression. He could hardly fail to notice her feminine curves contrasted against the darker lining of her open coat, the gentle swell of her breasts giving way to her rib-cage, to her flat stomach. He could hardly fail to notice her small waist; the youthful slenderness of her hips; the way she held her head; the way she walked. This yearning was turning, irrevocably turning, into an intolerable ache.
Then, the very antithesis of Lizzie appeared from the opposite direction. It was Phyllis Fat. He watched as they met and talked.
‘… and the new vicar said as it’d have to be the Sunday after,’ Phyllis was saying. She was telling Lizzie that she was getting married because she’d missed three months in a row.
‘Who are you marrying then, Phyllis? Is it somebody we know?’
‘I don’t think so. It’s a chap as works with me, name Hartwell Dabbs.’
‘I haven’t heard the banns read out in church. But yours’ll be the second wedding I’ve heard about this week.’
‘Oh. Who was the first, then?’
‘Jack Hardmeat, the butcher, of all folks. He’s getting married next month. Nobody knew he was even courting.’
‘Jack ’Ardmate? And who’ll be the third, d’you think? They say as everything comes in threes.’
Daisy cast a hopeful glance at Jimmy.
But Lizzie nodded towards the dairy house and all eyes followed. ‘Jesse Clancey, for a guess. My Aunt Sarah says it won’t be long before him and our Sylvia are wed.’
Chapter 5 (#u0959affe-76a4-586d-9f5d-9f35f87c69ab)
Jesse Clancey knew enough of Lizzie Bishop’s comings and goings to know that most Wednesdays she finished work at one o’ clock. So, this last Wednesday of September he decided to do likewise. He’d delivered his empty milk churns, all rinsed out and clean, to the railway station for return to the farm that supplied them, and waited in the road known as Waddam’s Pool, hoping to catch her as she walked home. She should be passing him in ten or fifteen minutes, assuming she stopped to gaze into a few shop windows on the way.
The day was overcast and chilly. The best of the summer had long gone. All they had to look forward to was a dubious October, with more dense fogs to herald the bleak winter. While he waited, Jesse debated with Urchin, his big, dappled grey horse, yet again, the wisdom and the folly of this ploy. He’d been preoccupied with thoughts of how best to approach Lizzie these last few days, till he was sick of thinking about it and the only way to get some relief, and some sleep, was to actually tell her how he felt. She might turn him down flat but, at least, he’d have tried. If he never tried he would never know what his chances were.
‘I’m old enough to know better,’ he muttered dejectedly, confiding in the horse. ‘I could end up looking a proper fool – she’s little more than a child.’ Even if Lizzie fell over herself to accept him he could hardly expect the emotions of one so young to remain serious and constant. It was a major concern. ‘If some fresh-faced, handsome, young lad came along I doubt she’d be able to resist him; and where would that leave me?’
The horse, sensing his unease, nodded as if in agreement and fidgeted, scraping his huge hooves uneasily on the cobbles. Jesse’s confidence drained away as this train of thought persisted, and so did his resolve. He rested his back against the side of his milk float, loosely holding the reins, contemplating his stupidity and feeling strangely conspicuous to the world, as if the world was listening and could hear his thoughts.
There was no point to all this. He would make a move and return home.
Then, in that same moment, he saw Lizzie Bishop walking towards him with Joe Bishop’s young wife. The sight of her smiling eyes immediately revived his spirits and rekindled his ardour. ‘By Christ, she’s here, mate.’ He slapped the horse’s flank affectionately. ‘And looking as pretty as a picture. Damn it, let’s have a go, eh? I’ll try me luck after all, what d’you say, old mate? If I end up looking a fool forever, so what? If I never try, I’ll never win her.’
So he waited till the two girls reached him.
‘Morning, Mrs Bishop. Morning, Lizzie,’ he acknowledged nervously, touching his cap.
Lizzie returned the greeting and, anticipating no further conversation with Jesse, was about to walk on.
But May stopped to pass the time of day. ‘You mean good afternoon, Mister Clancey,’ she said with a hint of good humoured sarcasm. ‘Mornin’ passed above an hour ago.’
‘You’re right, you know.’ For effect, he took out his fob watch and glanced at it briefly. ‘You lose all track of time on this job, And I’d be obliged if you’d call me Jesse, Mrs Bishop. Everybody else does.’
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