Maggie's Girl, page 1
For Poppy with love
By the Same Author
Castle Maine, Derbyshire.
The bus trundled over the brow of the hill, and pulled up. Holly Bates leapt the three steps and waved to her friend as it moved noisily away towards the better end of town, where Maisie lived.
Sometimes Holly wished Maisie lived nearer. It would be grand to have her best friend nearby, but there it was. No one else went to grammar school from round about. Most of the miners’ children went to the school in Castle Maine, which churned out factory fodder and boys for the mine, like Uncle Billy.
Holly would have gone to Castle Maine School if she hadn’t passed the scholarship. Gramps and Grandma Daisy had insisted she go to Nethercutt, but Mam left the final decision to Holly.
The wind was sharp this October day. Holly buttoned her coat, hoisted her satchel up and climbed the hill to home.
She loved living with Gramps. Home was home, wherever Mam and Harry were, but living with Gramps was best of all!
She unlatched the gate and ran up the path into the house, in a haste now to see him. He’d be waiting eagerly for her coming home, she knew. Grandma Daisy said it was what kept him going.
‘We dissected a frog!’ She burst in at the door, bristling in protest.
‘Did you, now, lass?’ William Oakes was sitting in his favourite chair by the fire, warming his hands. Gramps felt the cold nowadays.
‘Did it jump about, like?’ He had a twinkle in his eye.
‘It was dead, Gramps,’ she said solemnly, not sure if he was joking. ‘Is me mam still in?’
They exchanged glances. Both knew Maggie Bates would be glad to get the other side of this day. Anniversaries were always the worst, and it was nine years since Holly’s dad had died in a motorcycle accident.
It made Holly sad to think about her dad, but she knew it was worse for Mam. Sometimes, Holly even had trouble remembering what Dad looked like, though she didn’t tell Mam. Mam was always talking about Dad, Holly guessed because she was trying to keep his memory alive. Holly guessed far more than she ought to for her age.
In the bedroom, Mam was kneeling in front of a chest of drawers, sorting clothes Holly and Harry had grown out of long since. She was keeping busy.
‘All right, Mam?’
‘Of course, love.’
As she spoke, Maggie’s hand closed over the bluebird brooch Hughie had given her during their all too brief married life.
She stood up, smiling, feeling the smooth warmth of the enamel in her hand – a tall, austere woman who possessed a quiet beauty. Life had left its mark on Maggie Bates, everyone said.
‘I’ve seen John Bertram!’ Holly was unable to keep tell-tale colour from flooding her face.
She’d had a thing about John for a long while, as long as she could remember. John was just that little bit older, just that little bit more sophisticated. She hadn’t told anyone how she felt, not even Maisie.
Ever since Mam had been John’s nanny in Nottingham, and Holly’s own first faltering steps had followed him round his parents’ big house, she’d adored him. Of course, she didn’t see so much of him nowadays.
‘That must have cheered you up!’ Maggie knew exactly what was going on in her daughter’s mind. Holly had never been particularly good at disguising her feelings.
Seeing her blushing over John made Maggie remember how Hughie had put the self-same look on her own face once, many years ago. Everything made her think of Hughie today.
‘I didn’t see him to speak to, Mam.’ Holly prattled on, partly to keep her mother from fretting. ‘He was filling his car up at the petrol station the other side of Nethercutt. Cliff was there, an’ all.’
She’d waved, willing John to look up and see her. She’d been that disappointed when he hadn’t.
‘And his little brother looked well? And John?’
With John up at Oxford, the lad had little time for visiting his grandparents, let alone his nanny and her family.
Maggie pulled herself together. ‘I’m running behind, Holly. Go and get the tea started, there’s a love,’ she encouraged.
Shortly, Maggie heard the clatter of pots, and voices, as the two downstairs got chatting over the tea things. She gave herself a shake. She was worse than one of her own patients. If Sister Aspen could see her now!
Maggie didn’t want to think of the night Hughie hadn’t come home. Life went on, as Maggie’s mother so frequently pointed out.
The fact she herself was still here, surviving, making a life for herself and the children, and was a good nurse, spoke for her determination, if nothing else.
The years hadn’t been unkind to the rest of the family either, Maggie mused, stroking her bluebird.
They were better off now than they’d ever been. Since Silas Bradshaw had finally paid her granddad the compensation he’d been due, money was no longer a problem.
William had insisted Daisy use some of the money to set up a laundry business, employing outworkers from a little office in Castle Maine.
Maggie had never known her mother so happy, full of the knowledge she was doing something worthwhile, finding other women useful work.
Trust funds had been set up for the children, while Maggie herself had the insurance money Adèle Bradshaw had told her Silas took out on all his employees.
That was set aside for Holly and university. Holly was bright, though Lord alone knew exactly where she’d got it from. Maggie had never bothered much over school and neither had Hughie.
Maggie was determined Holly should have the chance of university, Harry too, if he ever decided to buckle down to some work.
She sighed. He’d be in any minute! With neat, quick movements, she knelt and folded the clothes, ready to be taken down to the Women’s Institute. Somehow, Maggie couldn’t think of Harry as an academic. Her precious son was far too harum-scarum.
She stood up and shut the drawer, putting the brooch away carefully, picked up her uniform from on the bed and began to get ready for work.
‘All right, love?’
Daisy Bridges dumped the basket of shopping on the table and called through to Peter. If he was in the kitchen he’d already got the dinner on. She was running late. Maggie was on nights, so she’d be needed up at her dad’s shortly. Daisy always kept an eye on things when Maggie was on nights.
‘Is there anything I can do?’ she called again, thinking he hadn’t heard.
Peter came through, wiping his hands on a tea towel. She could tell by his face there was something wrong.
‘Things are mostly under control.’ He looked at the ceiling, and then back at his wife.
‘Is our Mary back already?’ Daisy knew at once what he meant. ‘She’s never spoiled your precious afternoon off?’
‘She’s been back a while.’ There was nothing Peter hated more than trouble, and Mary was usually the cause of it.
‘I think you ought to have a word with that young lady. She’s been up to her tricks again.’
‘Now what?’ Daisy went to the foot of the stairs and shouted.
‘You’ve no need to shout, I was coming anyway.’
Mary was too attractive by half, Daisy thought as her daughter sauntered into the room. Two broken engagements and a steady string of wounded hearts behind her at twenty-one, quite unknowingly, if you believed Mary’s side of things.
Daisy had yet to fathom how her dear daughter could have entangled herself enough to become engaged to a lad only to break it off – and then do the same all over again.
Perhaps it wasn’t Mary’s fault men fell in love with her. According to Mary, nothing ever was her fault. She’d only to bat her wide blue eyes, and boys fell at her feet.
Daisy thought it high time she settled down, and said so. There had been numerous arguments, and here was another.
‘What have you been up to now?’ Daisy’s tongue had lost none of its sharpness over the years.
‘Nothing much.’ Mary’s bright blue eyes sprang suddenly to life and stared her mother out.
‘It wasn’t my fault, Mam! Mr Ableforth says he won’t have cheek from the factory girls, and sent me home, pompous little man. I only said—’
‘I don’t want to hear!’
‘And he’s docking me wages—’
‘Oh, Mary, love!’
‘I won’t go back! It isn’t as if I like the factory anyway. Can’t you find me work, Mam? Even laundry work would be better than the factory.’
Daisy could read her daughter like a book. At some of the bigger houses she sent the laundresses to, there’d be the opportunity to meet young men with money in their pockets, not averse to finding someone to spend it on.
‘You’ll get yourself straight down there first thing tomorrow morning and apologise,’ Daisy ordered.
‘It’d be different if it was our Billy,’ Mary muttered, and noticed her mother’s eyes soften at the mere mention of his name.
‘Billy can do what he likes!’ Mary grumbled.
‘Billy doesn’t want to go down the mine any more than you want the factory! We all have to do things we don’t like.’
‘I’m fed up with it, so there! Why should I work there if I don’t like it? Anyhow, I’m going into town.’
‘Listen to what I say, mind,’ Daisy called, but too late. The door slammed.
Daisy pulled out a chair and sank down into it.
‘Peter, whatever are we to do with this child?’
‘She’s not a child, love, that’s the problem.’ Peter always kept his temper, a perfect foil for Daisy who often didn’t.
‘She’s growing up over-fast, that’s all! She’ll settle down.’
‘If only she was more like Maggie, Peter.’
‘She’s herself.’ Unfortunately, he could have added, but he didn’t.
‘And Maggie’s herself, too. All the problems she has – two bairns to bring up and no man about the place – and it’s Mary who causes all the trouble.’
At least Maggie was settled financially. Daisy’s dad was leaving the house to Maggie, so she’d be well looked after.
Adèle Bradshaw had settled a tidy sum of money on her, too, after Hughie’s death. Never mind that Maggie believed it was Hughie’s insurance money. The things folk didn’t know in this family!
How else to explain Adèle’s desire to help the girl? She couldn’t bear to think of poor Maggie worrying over money on top of everything else Adèle had said. And Daisy couldn’t deny her. Though Maggie had no idea, Silas and Adèle Bradshaw, the richest couple in Castle Maine, were her grandparents.
It was better there were some things her daughter didn’t know. There were enough complications as it was, Daisy thought.
‘If only our Mary would settle down, Peter! As if there isn’t enough to fret over.’
It was all very well Chamberlain coming back from Munich, waving his piece of paper and beaming for the photographers. Billy was of an age – Daisy couldn’t bear the thought of her lad embroiled in something not of his own making. Thank the Lord, Harry was still a boy.
‘It won’t come to war,’ Peter reiterated doggedly, as if saying it often enough would make it true.
He came to stand by Daisy, only a slight limp recalling the pit accident he’d suffered years since. He stooped and planted a kiss on her cheek.
Daisy looked up into his dear, calm face and thought abruptly that they were getting old. Too old for all the troubles brewing in the world.
‘Behave, you two!’ John Bertram half-turned in the driving seat of his neat little sports car – hot from his stepfather’s factory – and grinned at the boys larking about on the back seat.
He and his young half-brother had been on their way to see their grandparents. When Cliff spotted Harry Bates dawdling idly home from school, they’d stopped to offer him a lift.
He’d jumped at the chance. Harry and Cliff, of an age, were friends of old from the Bates family’s time in Nottingham, and despite their different circumstances, still played together whenever Cliff came to Castle Maine.
All at once, quite inexplicably to the boys, the car slowed and pulled up. Cliff cottoned on first and smirked, nudging Harry in the ribs, and Harry frowned.
It was his Auntie Mary, sauntering down the high street in the way only she could, her fair hair ruffled by the autumn breeze, all the men’s heads turning as she passed.
‘Did you want something?’ she asked teasingly, waiting for John Bertram to blush – confirmation of his interest, if she needed it.
John was grown up now, right enough. She gave him the once-over – a thing she did with every young man she saw. Unfortunately, he was too young – though nice enough looking. She must be at least two years older. Shame.
‘It’s Mary, isn’t it? Can I take you anywhere?’
Oh, that upper crust voice. It seemed even more cut glass since he’d been to Oxford, but there was no doubting the appeal of his soft brown eyes.
‘I’m only going down the shops, and I’m practically there already. What a shame …’ She caught sight of Harry, and frowned.
‘Does your mam know where you are?’
Harry grinned. His mam didn’t know, and he knew full well he should have asked first.
‘Don’t say anything, Auntie Mary,’ he begged. ‘I’ll be back before she knows owt about it.’
‘He’ll be home soon.’ John seemed unable to tear his eyes from Mary’s face. ‘We’re just off up to see my grandparents. We won’t be long.’
Mary Bridges was just about the most gorgeous girl he’d ever seen. Why hadn’t he realised how pretty she was before now? He’d been round Castle Maine often enough.
‘Nothing I can do to make you change your mind?’ he persisted.
‘Hurry up, John,’ Cliff grumbled. It was cold with the roof down, and this was soppy grown-up stuff.
‘I’ll see you around, then?’
He was back in Oxford again in a day or two. Still, there was always next vacation.
‘We’ll see.’ Mary couldn’t resist teasing. It was automatic, like breathing.
John Bertram smiled, his eyes full of regret. Mary watched the car roar off, a calculating look on her face.
There couldn’t be much fun down at the university, and Mary was in search of a little fun before she got too old to enjoy herself.
One day, she thought, she would just up and away – anywhere, so long as it was away from Castle Maine, where nothing ever happened. Even Oxford would be better!
She started to walk again. Dr Hardaker, passing in his Ford, on his way to the City Hospital, pipped cheerily and put up his hand in greeting.
Now there was an attractive man. Mary waved back. Pity he was even older than her sister. Mary had no intention of growing old alone, like Maggie.
She reached the chemist’s, which had in a new shade of lipstick that the counter girl said was just the thing to go with Mary’s particular colouring. And she needed new stockings for the dance at the Palais tonight – so long as she could get round Mam …
The look Silas threw her was an odd one.
She’d been only too quick to point out he was seventy-five, yet he was still fit and still had a fine head of hair. And he didn’t fall asleep in front of the fire.
Adèle had finally coerced him into bringing in a younger man to run the factory – as if he was incapable! Sitting here twiddling his thumbs when there was work to be done …
‘You’ll put that fire out,’ Adèle warned, seeing he was in a temper.
Silas frowned, but put the poker down.
‘You’re awake, then?’
‘So it seems.’ She wasn’t going to argue; she wanted to talk to him anyway. She picked up the newspaper and looked at the picture of Chamberlain on the front, waving his precious bit of paper.
‘Silas, will this peace pact hold?’ It had been preying on her mind.
‘It probably won’t.’ She’d asked the question – Silas believed in a straight answer. ‘Perhaps for a while, that’s all.’
Wasn’t the last lot bad enough?
‘Don’t you go worrying about John.’ He was sure he’d winkled out the trouble, his sharp eyes narrowing. ‘I’ll see he’s all right, don’t you bother. That lad’s not going anywhere.’
‘If there’s a war, how can he stay at home?’
‘There will be war,’ Silas said calmly.
It was a good job he’d hung on to the engineering works. If he’d listened to all Adèle had to say about things becoming too much for him, they’d have lost a pretty packet! The works, put to munitions, would be worth a mint. Added to the factory turning out uniforms, the coffers would be overflowing.
‘We’ll get John out of university and set on in the factory. I’ll pull a few strings,’ he said. ‘There’s more important work for him here than—’
What he was going to say next, though Adèle could well guess at it, was lost as voices came from the hall. Silas was already getting up as John came in, followed by Cliff and another boy. Young Harry Bates.