Under the july sun, p.1
Under the July Sun, page 1
My thanks to so many people who have supported me in writing this novel, without whom I would probably have consigned it to the waste paper bin.
Enormous gratitude goes to my husband, Chris who has read and re-read the work relentlessly; provided endless cups of tea and meals while I typed and re-typed the manuscript.
Thanks also to members of Writers Reunited: Joan El Faghloumi, Caroline Harris, Maggie Edwards, Kathryn Greig as well as Todd Kingsley-Jones who helped with many editing suggestions.
Gratitude also goes to Steve Myers of Brighton Community of Writers for his input in editing and to Charlotte Cross for her technical help in solving formatting problems with the manuscript.
Finally I must thank Father Brennan of The Sacred Heart Church, Newhaven for his invaluable help with Latin.
This book is dedicated to my family: past, present and future.
Fethard Town, Tipperary
July 25th 1914
Had it not been for the recent murder, her decision would have been easier. But sympathy, Cat knew, could sway minds, and she could not afford to be labelled as callous; the town was too small for that sort of gossip. Torn with conflict about her situation, Cat steered Bessie along Cashel Road that sizzling hot Saturday afternoon, thoughts spinning in her head; one minute she felt she had reached a resolution, then would waver and wasn't so sure. The timing was all wrong.
Stopping the cart, she gazed across the river and watched people gradually making their way up Main Street towards the football field at the top of the town.
She slackened the reins allowing Bessie to pull the loaded cart at her own pace, and leaning back against the wooden seat, turned her face up to the sky. Not a hint of any rain clouds, just blue and white stretching forever.
It felt good being out in the fresh air driving the cart; it helped her put anxiety aside and she began to feel more relaxed.
As they crossed the bridge spanning the Clashawly River the sound of Bessie's hooves and grinding cartwheels echoed across the emptying town. It seemed to Cat that everyone was going to the football match.
All the houses had their windows open though the stillness in the air made little difference whether folk were inside or not. It was stifling. Cat listened to snatches of conversation as she passed by and aromas of newly baked soda bread drifted on the air, tantalising her hunger.
She waved at the O'Hara sisters, two aged spinsters dressed in black, creeping on spider-thin legs down the steps of The Holy Trinity Church, where Jesus in his stone garb waited in perpetual patience with outstretched arms. Cat shuddered at the thought of ending up like those old women and decided that sort of existence was definitely not for her. No family, no children waiting for them at home, just relying on each other for company - it was not what she would want.
But when she weighed up the alternative and thought about her fiancé Paddy Hogan, her mind returned to the same anguished problem. Why, although being engaged to a handsome man who was financially secure, did she feel she no longer wanted to marry him? Nothing made sense to her except she knew she could no longer pretend she loved him.
Despite his brother being murdered recently, each time she saw Paddy she felt that having to be endlessly compassionate toward him was making her feel even worse and just prolonging things.
A dream she had the previous night, though she knew it was only a dream, had disturbed her and it was as though her deepest worries had presented themselves to her in the form of a nightmare.
As they drew level with her sisters' shop, a normal stopping place, Bessie slowed. Cat knew she should carry on and deliver the potatoes but decided to call in on the girls, so pulled the donkey to a halt and jumped down from the cart.
The shop managed by three of Cat's four sisters, nestled between an abattoir and saddle shop on the hillside half way up Main Street.
When the sisters had taken over the lease it had been an ordinary house, but, with a speed that had surprised the residents of Fethard, they had converted the lower half into shops, stocked up and moved in.
Upstairs there were two bedrooms where the girls now slept; glorying in the freedom of living away from home.
Peggy and Mary had one side of the building as a sweet shop and tobacconist. Breda ran her tailoring service in the other half. Both shop fronts overlooked Main Street and the three sisters had spent a considerable time dressing the windows to attract customers.
Cat was impressed with the sweet shop display. There were jars placed along the windowsill showing a mouth-watering array of honey-coloured barley-sugar twists, blood-red aniseed balls, black and white striped humbug chunks, black liquorice sticks and russet-coloured toffees. She could smell toffee apples and knew Mary must have been busy making her specialty.
She approached the shop and cupped her hands around her eyes to peer through the glass. Seeing Peggy standing on a stepladder handing down a jar of bulls-eyes to Mary, she tapped on the windowpane. Both young women looked towards her and beckoned, but Cat indicated that she was going next door and moved away to look through the other window at Breda. She knocked on the glass but her sister's head was bent down concentrating on her machining, so Cat strolled inside.
'Have ye finished me skirt yet, Breda? I need it for the dance tonight.'
Breda looked up, her mouth full of pins and pointed at a skirt hanging on a hook. She took the pins from her mouth and asked Cat if Paddy was taking her to the dance.
'No. Not now. We were goin' together…but with his brother bein' killed an' all, God rest his soul.' She crossed herself, and then moved to stare out across Main Street. 'Anyway, ’twould have been the last time,' she said and waited nervously for Breda's response.
'And why's that?'
Cat did not want to tell her the reason, as she knew Breda would be furious. She was jealous that Paddy had chosen her to court. As a result, Breda never missed an opportunity to scorn her for being too casual about her feelings towards Paddy.
So Cat hesitated to answer Breda, but then her conscience pricked her and she knew she should tell the truth, so decided it was best to get it over with and explain how she felt.
Taking a deep breath she said quickly, 'I'm kinda fed up with him.' She waited for Breda's reaction.
'Ye're a fool,' Breda snapped, 'ye know he's got plenty of cash.' Her face reddened and she turned the cloth over that she was machining. She did not look up at Cat. Lifting the lever on the sewing machine to raise the needle foot, Breda placed the material beneath it and lowered it before continuing. 'But 'tis up to ye, I s'pose!'
Cat winced and felt her face flush before turning round to face her. She hoped her sister would at least listen to her point of view, but Breda began machining again without even casting a glance in her direction, so she stood watching her for a while, feeling like a schoolgirl admonished by a teacher.
Minutes passed in silence except for the sound of the sewing machine. Eventually Cat decided there was no point waiting for Breda to resume the conversation so she slipped quietly through the doorway and crossed the hallway into the sweet shop.
When she entered, Cat raised her eyebrows at Peggy and Mary and inclined her head in Breda's direction, but though Peggy and Mary exchanged glances, they did not comment.
Cat settled down on a chair by the counter, unscrewed the lid to the bull's-eyes and helped herself to one, then shifted the sweet to the side of her mouth where it bulged through her cheek. She crossed her eyes and pulled a face in Breda's direction.
Peggy tutted. 'Stop that, Cat. Ye look like ye've a carbuncle in yer mouth, and yer eyes'll stay like that one day.'
Cat laughed, spattering saliva and bull's-eye juice down her chin, which she wiped away with her hand. '
Mary put up a hand to stop her. 'Wait, don't start yet, we'll get Breda then ye won't have to go repeatin' it for her.' Mary called out, 'Breda, c'mon in here - Cat's had one of her dreams.'
They heard the sewing machine stop and Breda appeared in the doorway, so Cat related her nightmare in shocking detail, telling how a grizzly bear had chased her. When she reached the part where the beast bit off her breast, the sisters shrieked, covering their ears, yelling for her to stop.
'But I haven't finished.'
'Ah well,' Breda said, 'just leave out the gory bits. Sure we'll all be havin' nightmares at this rate.'
'That's about it really, except Paddy Hogan just stood there watchin' and didn't lift a finger to help me.'
Breda drew in her breath. 'Ye let Paddy Hogan see yer bare breast?'
'Don't be stupid. ’Twas a dream and I can't control me dreams.'
Mary looked solemn. 'Ye'll have to go to confession on that score, Cat. They're impure thoughts and ye'll go to Hell if ye don't clear yer conscience.'
Breda glanced at Cat then turned to Peggy and Mary. 'Has she told ye she's fed up with Paddy?'
Cat looked down, sighed and began picking mud from beneath her fingernails while crunching on the bull's-eye. Peggy and Mary looked at her in surprise, waiting for an explanation.
Her shoulders slumped and she realised she would have to give a reason for her decision. 'Sure, I cannot imagine meself bein' married to him.'
The sisters looked at each other, then back at Cat, waiting for her to continue.
'I liked his company once, but that's all gone now. I feel as though I'm missin' somethin' and I cannot go on pretendin’. I'm not in love with him!'
Breda was first to speak. 'Ye don't know a good thing when it's lookin' ye in the face!' She blurted out. 'If ye're not serious about him, then tell the man and let one of us have him!'
Yes, Cat thought, that's what she'd like isn't it? But she just laughed. 'He's all yers. Take yer pick ladies, which of ye will take him off me hands?'
Peggy spoke up suddenly, surprising them all. 'Quit jokin' about it, Cat. Be serious! Ye'd be an absolute fool to pass Paddy up, especially now his brother's dead. That makes him the sole heir to, let me see now, the stud farm, gun shop and all the other businesses. Ye know the Hogans have their fingers in every pie. Anyway, neither Breda nor I would get a look in if ye were to pass him up; Bernadette Cullen is waitin' in the wings, so to speak.' She folded her arms and looked at Mary and Breda who nodded in agreement.
Cat listened, but knew in her heart that she would make her own decisions without her sisters' opinions. If Bernadette was to hook Paddy - then so be it!
* * *
Much later than intended, Cat left the shop and Bessie moved off at a steady pace. She toyed with the engagement ring hanging on a cord around her neck, thinking how much she wanted something special to occur. To experience some excitement. I love living here, but nothing happens, she thought to herself. One day she decided, she might spread her wings and go to live in London, like some of the other girls had. The thought cheered her and she poked Bessie with a twig to make her trot.
Delivering potatoes to the barracks for her father had meant she missed lunch, but she planned to join him later. They would eat their sandwiches and cheer her brother Tom on as he played football for Tipperary. Well, I'd better get a move on, she thought, and shook Bessie's reins to make her gallop up to the top of Main Street where the barracks stood at the end of the shops.
She stopped daydreaming about escaping from Fethard and scrutinised the town walls, remnants of the oldest walled town in Ireland, still with a semblance of its medieval past. Standing at the top of the town, the barracks looked both impressive and menacing with huge wooden gates that remained closed at all times.
Cat had learnt at the convent school that throughout history the town had been occupied. From its foundation in the thirteenth century it had been invaded, most devastatingly by Cromwell’s army.
And how the nuns had driven that lesson home to her class, she reflected. Now the English army was again in occupation in the run up to Home Rule. Supposedly, they were there to keep the peace between opposing parties, though recent events had increased tensions. It seemed to her that many people were on edge. Cat sighed, wondering why the English government didn't just give them back the whole country and finish with the matter, but she knew this had gone on for centuries unresolved. Now Irish Nationalists were causing major problems around the country trying to force the issue with violence, a peaceful solution looked a long way off. She wondered how much longer the army would be there and whether Ireland would ever really be free.
Seeing her approach two guards jumped to attention, pointing their rifles at her.
'Put down yer toys, boys,' Cat laughed and, after climbing down from the cart, pulled the reins over Bessie's head to lead her forward.
One of the soldiers demanded to know who she was and would not let her pass. She smiled at them and began to move ahead but suddenly the soldiers slammed their rifles across her chest, their faces only inches from hers. One of them bawled into her face.
'Who are you?'
Annoyed, she yelled back. 'Get outta me way.'
But undeterred, the soldier demanded her name and what reason brought her to the barracks.
'D'ye want to eat tonight, or not?’ she asked, irritated by this ridiculous behaviour. She knew her father never had to put up with this nonsense when he delivered produce to the barracks, so why do it to her? She wanted to get the delivery over and be away as quickly as possible, but these two idiots were delaying her.
From behind them a smaller door beside the gates opened and an officer approached and spoke to the soldiers.
'Private White. Private Smith,' he said, ‘it’s all right, I’m expecting the lady.’
The soldiers stepped back looking straight ahead, as though oblivious to Cat's presence.
The officer turned to her and she simply stared at him, captivated. There was something about him that took her breath away. He was, she estimated, over six feet tall with a tanned complexion and dark brooding eyes beneath finely shaped black eyebrows. She thought he was a good-looking man and liked the sound of his voice.
'Open the gates,' he commanded.
Cat noticed that though his voice was quiet, it was authoritative, and the soldiers lowered their guns.
'Sir. Permission to go off duty?' One of them asked.
'Yes, Private Smith you may.'
They saluted each other and Private Smith disappeared through the gates while Private White opened them fully, then stepped back to allow the donkey cart entry. Bemused, Cat stood waiting to see what she should do. Then the officer smiled and stepped towards her. She felt her heart pounding in her chest as he spoke.
'Miss Delaney? Captain Ross at your service.' He tipped the edge of his hat with his hand, and then looked at the cartload of potatoes. 'I take it these are ours?'
'Sure. Indeed they are.'
'Your father told me last week you would be delivering our order so I've been expecting you, though I thought you'd be earlier. I had hoped to go to the football match. I hear your brother's playing.'
Surprised he not only knew she would be delivering the potatoes, but also about Tom's important match, Cat began explaining that she was late because she had a devil of a job digging them up. 'Sure the ground's like concrete,' she said, avoiding telling him she had been malingering in her sisters’ shop blathering on about her nightmare and Paddy Hogan. Her father must have had it planned all week she realised, though he'd only asked her today to do his delivery!
She looked at Captain Ross and he smiled at her as he began leading Bessie through the gates. Cat fell into step alongside him.
The barracks had always intrigued her from the outside; it was a place of fear yet curiosity to all the girls in town. Now she could tell her friends she
Captain Ross turned to her, interrupting her thoughts and said he'd find someone to unload the cart.
'I'll do it meself.'
'You'll do no such thing. It's a man's job.'
'I can work as well as any man I'll have ye know!'
'Maybe,' he smiled, 'but who earth would keep a dog and bark himself?'
Something in his eyes exhilarated her and she grinned back at him, while an embarrassing blush mushroomed across her neck and face, swathing her skin in a poppy-red glow.
'Would you like tea while the cart is being unloaded, Miss Delaney?'
'Cat,' she said nodding.
'Where?' he asked, looking round for the animal.
‘'Tis me name. Cat. And thanks, I would.'
'I'm sorry. I've never heard anyone with that name!'
‘'Tis a nickname for Catherine.'
'Oh! I thought Kate was.'
'Yes, 'tis, but Kate's fine with me too. Whichever ye like.'
'Good, then Cat it is! By the way, call me Louis,' he said, 'I'll just go and arrange for someone to come and unload the cart. Don't go away,' he laughed.
'Sure I won't,' she said amused, 'after all ye have me donkey and cart.'
He turned and smiled at her again, before disappearing through a door.
Suddenly she felt alone and vulnerable as she stood watching two soldiers rubbing down horses. They spotted her looking at them and began to grin and push each other, murmuring comments she couldn't quite hear. She looked away, thinking they were probably being lewd. Perhaps, she decided, she shouldn't have agreed to the tea.
Cat saw one of the men sauntering towards her. She noticed that his shirt was undone and his chest hair glistened with sweat, so she averted her eyes, mortified at the sight of his bare flesh.
'’Ow do Miss. Doin' anythin' special tonight?'
by Barbara Jones have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes