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The Dressmaker’s Daughter

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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‘If you promise to call me May, instead of Mrs Bishop … Mr Clancey.’

He felt the tension slough off him like a skin when the girls laughed, and he smiled openly. ‘Sounds fair enough to me. Look, I’m on my way home. Can I give you both a lift?’

‘Yes, if you like, Jesse. Better to wear out the horse’s shoes, eh, Lizzie?’

‘If it’s no trouble.’

‘No trouble at all.’ He mounted the float and took the reins. ‘Seems a shame to walk when I’m passing your front doors.’

This was fine as far as it went, but Jesse had not reckoned on May Bishop’s presence. It occurred to him, though, how much more difficult his task might be if she were not there. This at least was a start.

The two girls raised their skirts a little to step up onto the two wheeled float. ‘Giddup!’ Jesse called, and flicked the reins, causing Lizzie and May to lurch slightly as the ensemble pitched forward. They stood each side of him clutching the sides of the cart with one hand, their baskets with the other. He remained silent for a few seconds, looking straight ahead, desperately trying to devise some way of leaving May at her front door but keeping Lizzie on his float.

‘How’s our Sylvia, Jesse?’ Lizzie enquired. She had put down her basket and was holding onto her hat to prevent the wind taking it.

‘Sylvia? Oh, not too bad … I suppose.’

His lack of enthusiasm prompted May to turn down the corners of her mouth as a signal of surprise to Lizzie. ‘Any sign of you getting wed yet?’ She hoped he might give more away.

‘Huh! None at all. If I said it was serious between us I’d be telling a lie.’

‘Oh, you do surprise me, Jesse. Her mother’s already got you married off and no two ways. That’s right, ain’t it, Lizzie?’

‘To hear her talk it’s all cut and dried.’

Jesse shook his head. ‘She shouldn’t take too much for granted.’

The horse clopped on, steadily pulling the cart up the hill, its big grey head swaying rhythmically from side to side. Lizzie’s thoughts turned inevitably to the Clanceys’ horse that killed her father. This wasn’t the same one, she knew, but there was a bizarre irony in that its replacement was now drawing her home as if that incident five and a half years ago had never happened. She felt like mentioning it, but maybe it was best left unsaid.

Jesse’s comments came as a shock to Lizzie, since she’d always believed that Sylvia and he were devoted. ‘I’m surprised as well, Jesse,’ she said chattily. ‘I was only saying to some of my friends the other day as I expected you to be getting wed after Jack Hardmeat.’

‘You know who he’s marrying?’ he said.

‘No. We never even knew he was courting.’

‘He’s marrying Annie Soap’s youngest daughter, Maria. The one with the black hair.’

‘The one they call the Black Maria?’ Lizzie asked.

Jesse chuckled. ‘That’s her. I don’t know if they’ve got to get wed, but it all seems a bit sudden.’ He turned to May. ‘You must be about due to start a family, hadn’t you, May? You’ve been wed, what? … Nearly a year now, is it?’

May whooped with amusement at his candour. ‘Well I reckon everybody must think it’s about time, Jesse, but believe me, there’s no sign yet. Anyroad, there’s no rush. I’m only twenty-two, you know.’

‘’Course. You’re only a babby yourself yet, May.’

They travelled on in silence for a while, into St John’s Road. By Ivy Morris’s fish and chip shop they turned into Brown Street, where most of Kates Hill’s shops were. Lizzie quietly studied Jesse. He seemed more handsome each time she saw him. He was always well groomed, clean, and he always wore a clean collar and a necktie, even for work. His eyes revealed such a look of sincerity in their blue grey sparkle, and she still couldn’t help thinking how different things might have been. She knew she shouldn’t, because of Sylvia, but she couldn’t help this admiration she still had for Jesse. No, it was more than just admiration; it was a hankering. She felt a warm pleasure, a sense of awe, being in his company so unexpectedly, and was strangely gratified when she noticed him glancing at her from time to time. Yet he seemed tense, despite his easy conversation.

As they turned into Cromwell Street, they saw some activity in one of the shops. During the day it had been gutted.

‘Iky’s opening a fish and chip shop now,’ Jesse explained. ‘It’ll be handy, eh?’

Iky Bottlebrush’s real name was Isaac Knott, but he’d been given his nickname years ago. For years he’d owned the shop, a small grocery, but had provided plated hot dinners for the workers at the brass foundries and the other little factories in the immediate streets. Venturing into fish and chips seemed a logical progression, and everybody wished him well, since he was well liked.

Jesse called the horse to a halt outside Lizzie’s home. The two girls thanked him for the lift and turned to step down. Jesse braced himself, about to suggest that Lizzie stay on the float so he could talk to her. He could say he needed her advice on what to buy Sylvia for her birthday present. He said: ‘May, I wonder if you’d mind …’

‘No need to mention it, Jesse,’ May said, interrupting him as she and Lizzie stepped down. ‘I’ll not breathe a word to a soul. Nor will Lizzie. Will you, Lizzie?’ Lizzie shook her head. ‘Give Sylvia our love, just the same. We don’t see much of her these days. Not since you’ve been courting her, keeping her so busy. Why don’t you and Sylvia come and visit us, Jesse? Bring her round for supper one of the nights. Joe would like that.’

‘Eh? … Oh, I will.’ He sighed with frustration. It must be God’s will. He must accept that Lizzie Bishop would never be his, and perhaps be thankful for it. Fate was preventing a liaison; and fate had prevented him making a fool of himself in the nick of time. How could he reasonably expect Lizzie to have anything to do with him when he was Sylvia’s sweetheart? They were a close family and no decent girl would stoop that low. In any case, any girl who would steal her own cousin’s man was not the sort he wanted. It was thus an impossible situation; if this girl, whom he yearned for so much, was prepared to take him under those circumstances, he ought not to want her for having him.

‘Cheerio then,’ he called and flicked the reins once more. As the horse moved on, Jesse turned and waved, and the two girls stood, waving back, smiling graciously. ‘There. I told you I was a bloody fool,’ he muttered to the horse, who responded with a turbulent emission of wind.

May chuckled as they walked into the entry. ‘If that was Jesse he needs a dose of liquid paraffin.’

‘May!’ Lizzie admonished with a snigger. ‘It was the horse.’

‘Let’s hope and pray as it was … But fancy that Jesse not being interested in marrying Sylvia, Lizzie.’

‘I know. It’s a bit of shock.’

‘Not half as much of a shock to us as it’ll be to Sarah. God, there’ll be hell to pay.’

‘He might not say anything, May. He might just go along with it – for years.’

They opened the door and went in the house. Eve was sitting in her usual chair, but she was pale, her eyes were rolling, and she seemed to be fighting for breath. Lizzie was at once alarmed.

‘Mother, Mother, what’s up?’ She went straight to her and felt her forehead.

Eve was sweating, but her skin felt cold and clammy. She looked up at her daughter. ‘Thank God you’m back,’ she said wearily. ‘Oh, I’m that hungry, our Lizzie, but I didn’t want to start me dinner till you got back.’

‘Sit there nice and quiet, Mother. May and me can put the sandwiches up. Have a biscuit to keep you going.’ Lizzie went to the cupboard at the side of the fire grate and took out the biscuit barrel. She opened it and put it in her mother’s lap.

‘The sandwiches am already done, our Lizzie,’ Eve remarked. ‘They’m under a cloth on the shelf at the top of the cellar steps.’

May brought them to the table.

‘D’you think I ought to send for the doctor, May?’

‘It’ll do no harm.’ May cast a glance at Eve who was tucking into her meal ravenously. ‘Is she often like this?’

‘Lately she says she starts to get weak just before mealtimes. She eats like a horse, yet I’m certain she’s losing weight. And drink? All the time she’s drinking water.’

‘It don’t sound right, Lizzie. We’d best fetch the doctor. I’ll get Joe to fetch him tonight after he’s had his tea.’

‘I’ll go and fetch him myself when I’ve had my dinner.’

‘No, leave it till tonight … I should … From what I can hear of Donald Clark you won’t catch him at his surgery yet awhile. He’ll be in The Shoulder of Mutton. You know he likes a drink.’

That afternoon Eve seemed to improve, though she had little of her usual energy. The two girls blackleaded the grate as usual and, when they lit the fire, the first thing Eve requested was that the kettle be put on to boil for a pot of tea. Lizzie scrutinised her mother carefully for other signs that she was unwell. It was not till then that she noticed how often she was getting up to go to the privy.

*

It was at about eight o’ clock that evening when Joe returned to his mother’s house with young Dr. Donald Clark, who had recently taken over his father’s practice. Donald was twenty-seven and a likeable young man. He wasn’t especially handsome, but neither was he repulsive. He had wavy, reddish hair, a ruddy complexion and a substantial nose. There was a gap between his two front teeth, which, when he smiled, seemed to enhance his affability. As they rode together to the Bishops’ house on the ancient dog cart that old Doctor Clark had always used, Joe anxiously described Eve’s symptoms. Donald knew the family well, and Eve had fed him often enough when he and Ted were pals. He was thus concerned about her, and eager to help.

After the pleasantries, Donald took out his stethoscope.

Without being asked, Eve undid the top buttons of her frock. ‘Should I strip off?’

‘No need, Mrs Bishop,’ Donald replied. ‘I just want to listen to your heartbeat.’ He slid the end of his stethoscope over her chest while he listened. ‘Mmm … sound as a bell … Now I want to smell your breath.’ He put his nose near Eve’s mouth and she breathed self-consciously into his face. ‘Mmm … Tell me how you’ve been feeling, Mrs Bishop. What sort of things that have been happening recently that don’t seem normal?’

Lizzie had to repeat the question for her.

‘I’m feelin’ tired all the while, Donald,’ Eve answered. ‘And every half hour I’m havin’ to make water.’

‘Are you having to do that in the middle of the night, too?’

‘Two or three times a night. I’m sick of emptying the slops of a morning.’

‘Are your bowels loose?’
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