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Authors: Annie Groves

Connie’s Courage

BOOK: Connie’s Courage
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ANNIE GROVES
Connie's Courage

I would like to dedicate this book to my
mother who paid me the best compliment I
have ever had in being so impatient to read
Connie's story. Here she is, Mum –
I hope you like her!

PART ONE
ONE
1912

Connie admired her reflection in the old spotted mirror she had propped up on the small chest by the window to get the best light. Not that very much light did come in through the small, filthy window of the room she and Kieron were renting in one of Liverpool's poorest areas – a huddle of terraced houses in an airless court down a narrow back alley – but Connie preferred not to think about their surroundings.

She had begged the landlord of the pub where she worked as a barmaid to let her take the mirror when his wife decided to throw it out. It was her sister Ellie who had always been considered the pretty one, and not her. She rubbed anxiously at her lips with a cloth, to try to give them a bit of colour, before applying a thin smear of Vaseline to them. She and Kieron might not have any money, but that did not mean she had to let herself go completely.

They might be living in straitened circumstances now, but things would be different once they got to America, she assured herself, picking up her skirts and whirling round, the reality of her situation forgotten, as her natural optimism brought an excited glow to her face. America! Oh, but she just couldn't wait to get there!

‘We're going to America. We're going to America!' she sang at the top of her voice, dizzy with anticipation and happiness.

But her happiness turned to a sharp stab of discomfort, as the light from the window glinted on the cheap wedding ring she was wearing. A wedding ring she had no legal right to, because she and Kieron were not married.

In reality, she was not Mrs Kieron Connolly, but still Miss Constance Pride, daughter of Robert Pride of Preston. Not that her father cared anything for her now. No, he had a second wife to replace Connie's dead mother, and a new family to displace both Connie and her siblings from his affections.

Connie still hated to think about the unhappiness she had experienced after her mother's death. The four Pride children had been split up amongst their mother's sisters, without being allowed any say in their own futures. The Barclay sisters had been renowned for their beauty and grace when they had been young, and Connie knew that her aunts had never approved of her mother Lydia's marriage to a mere butcher.

When Lydia had died following the birth of her fourth child, Ellie, Connie's elder sister, had been sent to live at Hoylake with their Aunt and Uncle Parkes.

Mr Parkes was an extremely wealthy man – a lawyer – with a very grand house in the prestigious area of Hoylake where all the rich shipowners lived. Mr and Mrs Parkes had given a ball whilst Ellie had been living with them, and Connie had been invited to attend.

She had tried not to show how overawed she felt by the unfamiliar elegance of her aunt and uncle's home, or how upset and frightened she had been by the realisation that she and her sister Ellie were living such different lives. Her elder sister had seemed like a stranger to her, and she had felt so envious of her, and the wonderful life she was living.

It had seemed unfair that Ellie should be living a life of luxury with the Parkes, whilst Connie was stuck in a horrid, cold rectory with their parsimonious Aunt and Uncle Simpkins.

John, their brother, and the new baby, Philip, had been sent to live at Hutton with another aunt, and Connie hadn't had any contact with her family since she ran away with Kieron.

When Ellie found out that Connie had run away from their Aunt and Uncle Simpkins to be with Kieron, she had tried to persuade her sister to return to them, claiming that Connie would be socially ruined if what she had done should become
public knowledge. But Connie suspected that Ellie was thinking more about her own social position, rather than Connie's!

Ellie had gone up in the world through her two marriages: her first into a ship-owning family, and then, when her first husband died, Ellie had married her childhood sweetheart, Gideon Walker. Gideon was a craftsman who had inherited a considerable amount of money, and a house in Winckley Square, the smartest part of Preston. This was much to the resentment of their Aunt Gibson, who also lived in the same square with her doctor husband.

Since their Aunt Gibson was used to considering herself of a much higher social status than Ellie and Connie's late mother, she no doubt thoroughly disliked having Ellie as her well-to-do neighbour. Not that Connie had any sympathy for their Aunt Gibson. She was the one who had insisted on splitting them all up following their mother's death, after all, even if she had claimed she was acting on their mother's wishes. But Ellie had been the one who had let her!

Connie had hated her life with her Aunt Jane so much. The Simpkins' household had been so different from the jolly comfort of the home she had known. She had missed its warmth, and her mother and father's love. Her Aunt and Uncle Simpkins had certainly not loved her. They had forever been finding fault with her. When she had met Kieron, she had been so thrilled and relieved to meet someone who seemed to love her. Kieron
had certainly told her that he loved her. In fact, his boldness had overwhelmed her a little, and, if she was honest, made it impossible for her to think straight.

Deep down inside, Connie knew that their mother would never have approved of someone like Kieron as a husband for her. For one thing, they were of different religions, but, even more important in her mother's eyes, would have been the fact that Kieron had such a different background to her own. Connie's father was a respectable, hard-working butcher with his own business. A man who could hold his head up in any company. Connie's mother came from even more respectable stock. Kieron's family …

Connie had been shocked the first time she had visited his home, initially at the poverty of the small house itself, but later by the way she had witnessed Kieron's father treating his wife. Never would her own father have spoken to her mother in such a demeaning and unpleasant manner. Kieron's father had totally ignored Connie, and later Kieron had admitted that his family, especially his father and uncle, did not want him to continue seeing her.

‘Seems like me uncle has a wife in mind for us – a good Catholic she is, with her family having a bit o' business wi' me uncle.'

Connie had been outraged by his disclosure and told him so, but to her shock Kieron had refused to condemn his family.

She bit her lip unhappily. Running away with Kieron had seemed such a romantic and exciting thing to do at first. And she had assumed that she and Kieron would be married virtually straightaway, but he kept putting it off, saying that he wanted to get them a decent place to live before he married her.

‘But we are already living together, Kieron,' she had protested anxiously. ‘And you promised me that we should be married …'

‘Aye, and so we will,' he had agreed, taking hold of her and kissing her.

She began to pluck anxiously at the fabric of her dress. Kieron did want to marry her, she knew that. And he was going to marry her. He had said so!

But Connie knew that in the eyes of her family, especially her mother's family, she was now a fallen woman, someone they would refuse even to acknowledge if they should see her in the street. And it was not just so in the eyes of her family, but in the eyes of the world as well.

A sharp thrill of fear jolted through her. What had started out as an exciting adventure, had become something that, deep down inside her, Connie felt ashamed of, even though she stubbornly refused to admit it.

She twisted the cheap ring on her finger. Why should she care what anyone else thought? Especially her family! They had never cared about her, had they?

Anger and confusion darkened Connie's green eyes. She hated the starkness of the painful emotions that filled her whenever she thought about the life she had sunk to, and her family … Which was why she chose not to think about them at all, unless she had to.

Connie loved laughter and fun and excitement; she was in her element in the heady, giddy atmosphere of a music hall, or indeed anywhere where people gathered to have a good time.

Would there be music halls in America, she wondered naively. She was sure that there would. It was such a big exciting place, especially New York where she and Kieron would soon be going.

For the whole of the last month she had been bubbling over inside with excitement. She and Kieron were going to leave Liverpool and this horrid, dirty room they were forced to live in, and make a new life for themselves in America. And it had all been her idea! One of the best ideas she had ever had, she congratulated herself.

It had come to her when she had happened to pick up a copy of the
Liverpool Echo,
while clearing the tables in the pub. It had been left open on a page describing the wonders of the new liner, the
Titanic,
due to make its maiden voyage to New York, and Connie felt her heart skip with excitement as she read that the liner was going to be carrying steerage passengers at a very modest rate; ordinary people who would be able to travel to America to make a wonderful new life there for themselves.

In that moment, Connie's dream had been born. A dream of going to America with Kieron where they could live as man and wife, without the disapproval or interference of their families. At first, Kieron had rejected her suggestion, but Connie had gradually worn down his objections with her enthusiasm and her optimism.

Humming happily to herself, Connie deliberately refused to look at the grim poverty of her surroundings. She had always been an optimist, and never more so than now.

Where was Kieron? She wished he'd hurry up and return! He had gone out earlier to collect and pay for their tickets for the
Titanic.

Connie had been avidly reading everything she could about the liner – the papers had been full of its magnificence and elegance. Of course, she and Kieron could only afford the cheapest of the steerage tickets, but that didn't mean that they couldn't go and sneak a look at the glamorous first-class salons, she assured herself, before going to have another anxious look at her reflection in the mirror.

She wanted to look her best when Kieron came in. Not that it was easy to look pretty when the only clothes she had were little better than rags! She had seen the way the landlady at the pub had looked at them – and at her! Her face burned with angry resentment. She had had pretty clothes, but Kieron had taken them from her and sold them. She had begged him not to, but he had
torn them out of her arms, despite her pleas. He had insisted that they needed the money to pay their rent.

For all that she loved him, sometimes Kieron could be very unkind to her. And, as she had discovered, he had a quick temper – and he liked a drink! And, when he had had a drink, sometimes he flew into a terrible rage when he hurled angry and hurtful insults at her. Once or twice he had even raised his fist as though he was going to hit her. Not that he ever actually had! Connie gave a small shiver. On those occasions, if she were honest, she had felt slightly afraid of him. But she wasn't going to dwell on them. Everything would be all right once they were in New York.

BOOK: Connie’s Courage
9.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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