Garrison Fields

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Chapter 13 - Back home

There would be no quick return to work for Albert, they had over the years been modest with finances, reserving a small amount each month. Indeed, even after all that had gone before them that year, they would still be able to survive several months without a wage and meet all creditors. That would give time for Albert’s shoulder to also recover properly. She blessed how fortunate they still were. Or was it the fact that they had always been very practical with their finances, making their own luck where possible, taking the opportunity where it lay.

The next few days were a strange mix of highs and lows. Albert in bed, the children at home, his strong medication curtailing the pain which he was in; but making him confused. He was eating like a sparrow, but then again, his appetite was never huge. Day by day he became more coherent and seemed to be getting stronger, by the end of the first week, he was beginning to move his shoulder gently.

She had had no choice but to chase Derek out of the house, after the first week, as he had appeared to have taken up residence, from early morning to last thing at night, he was to be found either with Albert or fetching and carrying for Jane. No job was too menial, he even helped wring out the weekly wash on the old mangle in the wash house in the back yard. As they were nearly through the whites, which had just been boiled to an inch of their life in the copper, Jane remarked, while stopping for a moment to scratch her nose with the back of her hand.

‘Why is it that you always get an itch when your hands are wet?’ They giggled for a second then Jane added.

‘Derek I was wondering - if you were going to take out the Lady Jane while Albert’s laid up?’ Derek stopped twisting the sheet in his hands which he was relieving of the excess water, so he might get it through the mangle.

‘Well, I hadn’t rightly been thinking of it. You knaw, its takes two good fellas to handle her. And I wouldna’ fell reet wi’out Derek being with me.′

‘Aye, y’re right -’ she looked at him with the face that said, she had already made her mind up.

‘But still, needs must and it wouldn’t be for long,’ she continued.

‘I was thinking about Maddie Hopkins boy he must be seventeen now and he’d been helping his Da up until his drowning last year. He’s been working at it since he was ten, I’ve seen his Ma and she would be more than happy for you to give him a chance until Albert’s fit like. It would be a few more shillings for them as well and you know how times are at the moment!’

‘Ay you’re right there, that sounds like a reet good idea, i’ll pop round and see the boy this evening.’

‘There’s no need i’ve arranged with his Ma for him to come round in an hour, you can talk to him then.’

‘By lass, you’re a fast worker.’

‘Well I can’t have two grown men cluttering up my house, day-in and day-out now can I,’ and with that they both laughed out loud, and finished the last of the washing.

‘And you’ll be tak’ng off the pinny before you meet him - he’ll be asking his Ma what sort of a boat you’re running!’

All went according to plan Derek met Maddie Hopkins boy George, he was the spitting image of his father not a tall boy, five foot four inches at the maximum. Although he was short, he was stocky and had that weathered look of someone who has spent a lot of time in saltwater air, his young skin was already starting to dry to that parchment look that mariners gain twenty years before their land locked cousins. His hands were stubby but showed the strength of being brought up by kind as the local saying would say. He had the strength of his youth and above all, even at such a young age he had several years’ experience being out with his Da’ in the foulest of weather. He may have been young, but he was not a child when out at sea.

They chatted for over half an hour in the kitchen. Jane left them to tend to the children, as soon as she heard the door go she was down the stairs in a flash, to find out what had transpired. After all this was her house, she had arranged the meeting and it was now her prerogative to find out what had transpired.

‘Well he’ll be coming down to the quay tomorrow early, I’ll take him out and get him used to her, and then once he’s used to her we’ll look to catch us a nice big cargo ship, I’ll catch her and he’ll do my old job and bring her back in.’

Shortly after she made dinner for them all and then he left. He wouldn’t be able to return until Sunday, the only day they usually took off and as he was not a chapel follower, who was to say if he had wind of a ship coming in that he would not go out on the Sabbath as well. She was sad to see him go, he had been both a true friend and a rock for her to rely on, she knew that unless she made him go, he would stay with them at any personal cost to himself.

She felt his loneliness, indeed she had been present several years earlier when his wife had died in childbirth and during those morbid times when she thought that life would be too much for him and yes, he did drink, the public house was now part of his family. But this only dulled his pain and filled the vacuum, she knew he felt. He was as, they were to him, closer than family could have been and so as day slid into night, a fleeting happiness returned to her, that she had done the best she could do for them all that day.

Everything must have gone very smooth as Derek was occupied with his new charge for the next few days. Several of the neighbours had made it their business to enquire how things were going and Jane was glad of the chance to share some time with others, where she could just talk. Albert’s parents were also good and where possible had the boys round after school, they also visited daily, always with the question,

‘Do you need anything at Turpin’s?’

The local grocery store for daily provisions was Turpin’s named after the owner’s family, and the head of the family and shop was Richard Turpin, no one called him Dick to his face, though many compared his prices to highway robbery.

In the first few days she relied on them heavily with such small errands as this but as the days came and went she accustomed herself to her new workload, and she would just ask them to stay in the house with Albert and Ted, her youngest in the house while she would quickly pop to Turpin’s to get a bar of Sunlight and then to the ironmongers to get sundries such as a new washing brush to scrub the boys shirt collars with.

All parties concerned new what had happened and would enquire in that familiar way as North Country people do - of dropping the voices nearly to a whisper and leaning forward - as if imparting or asking for a secret. This after all, although a large town was a small local community, one in which her family had been present for many years.

The Turpin’s proffered to her on one of her visits a bag of biscuits made up from the many varieties that they kept in glass containers in front of the counter that ran the length of the shop.

‘For the boys’ lass.’ She thanked and accepted them in the spirit in which they were given. Mrs Turpin looking around to make sure that they were not being overheard, then remarked.

‘If you run a bit short at the end of the week, you can always put it in the book.’

The book or slate as it was known was used by many of the families in the area, even some who seemed to be above all that were in it. With many of the local families, this was a natural state of affairs where they were permanently in the book and running from to week always one week in arrears. It may have been a vicious cycle and indeed this act of not paying directly did make some of her clients extend themselves more than they should have. But you could not find a grocer in the town, who did not run a similar scheme and besides it guaranteed them customers for many years.

Jane thanked Mrs Turpin and left the shop, she hoped she would not have need of this service, but only time would tell.

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