Authors: Iris Gower
Shanni Price is a spirited, lively girl, but her tragic and poverty-stricken life has given her little chance to enjoy herself. Then, at a moment of dreadful despair, she is given protection by lovely, wealthy Llinos Mainwaring, and goes to live with her at the famous pottery in Swansea. Llinos, whose marriage to handsome, exotic Joe has run into trouble, is glad to have this strong-minded girl as her companion, but when they both meet the dashing Dafydd Buchan, young Shanni begins to regard her employer as her rival in love.
These are troubled times in South Wales, when the poor people are feeling the effects of repression and the Rebeccas, bold rebel leaders dressed as women, are storming the countryside. As Llinos begins to wonder whether her marriage to Joe is over, and Shanni becomes involved with the rioters, the life of the pottery is threatened as never before.
In this powerful new novel Iris Gower continues the story begun in
, set amongst the romantic china clay potteries of South Wales.
To Tudor, my husband,
for all his love and patience
THE SUN WAS
shining on the narrow, cobbled road outside number 13 Fennel Court, highlighting the motes of dust that grimed the windows so that the light failed to penetrate into the small kitchen at the rear of the house.
In the heart of Swansea Town the chapel bells were ringing for evening prayers but only the rich could spare time for the Almighty. The grand copper barons would take their seats in St Mary's and offer thanks to God for all their riches. And all that the Sabbath gave Shanni Price was a few hours to spend with her mother.
Shanni brushed the damp red curls from her brow and stirred the thin stew with more enthusiasm than expertise. She heard a stifled moan and looked up from the cooking pot. âSoon be ready, Mam.' Shanni bit her lip, staring anxiously at her mother who was lying on the narrow bed in the corner of the room. âI've done some nice
, Mam. This will make you feel better.' She attempted to smile, though fear clenched her heart. Her mother was sick, had been for months, and the talk around the courts was that widowed
Mrs Price was âin the way'. Shanni had tried to ask her mother if she was expecting a child but even as the words formed in her mouth her courage failed her.
âBryn the butcher has given us some ham bones,' Shanni said. âHe's even left a bit of meat on them. Kind man, Bryn.' If she talked, perhaps everything would be normal: her mother would sit up and smile and she would be well again.
Shanni tasted the stew and grimaced. She was no cook â in fact, she was not adept at anything, which was why she worked in the heat of the copper sheds fetching beer for the furnace men. Once the copper, red and liquid like hot blood, had caught her arm and she still had the scar. It was a hard job and it might be lowly but at least it brought some money into the house.
Shanni threw more salt into the pot. The handful of carrots, cabbage leaves and a few old potatoes did not make for a tasty meal but with the last of yesterday's bread it would do; at least they would eat today.
Her face was hot from the fire and Shanni paused to wipe the beads of perspiration from her face with her arm. She looked up as her mother moaned again, a low moan that seemed to start deep in her throat.
âWhat is it, Mam? Are you worse?'
âI think it's started. My pains are getting regular, see.' Dora Price was sweating and her knees were drawn up to her stomach. Shanni stood silent, unable to ignore the truth of their situation any longer. Her mam was about to bring a bastard child into the world and all Shanni
could think of was the shame of it, of another mouth to feed and not enough money to go around.
âOh, Mam, how could you?' She started to move towards the bed but she stopped suddenly, her head lifted in an attitude of listening. â
, Mam, what's that?'
The crash of tin kettles, the beat of wood against wood, the howling of human voices shattered the stillness of the evening. Shanni put down her spoon and wiped her hands on her apron. Her heart was thudding and she could hardly breathe.
The sounds grew louder and Shanni began to tremble. She stared around her in panic. She knew what the noise meant and she was terrified. She dragged the heavy pot to the side of the grate, careless of the soup splashing into the fire. âMam, what are we going to do?'
Dora Price pressed her hand across her swollen stomach and lifted her head wearily. âSounds like the
. They're bringing the wooden horse to punish me. Run, Shanni. Get out the back now, don't let them see you.'
Shanni ignored her mother and hurried to the small front window. She pushed aside the torn curtains and rubbed her fingers over the grimy glass. She took a ragged breath as she saw a crowd of women rounding the bend. They were carrying tin buckets, brandishing sticks and screaming abuse as they marched into the narrow, filthy court off Potato Street.
âGo on, girl.' Her mother had made an effort to rise from her bed. She stood swaying beside
Shanni, holding her swollen stomach. âNo sense in them getting you as well.' Though she spoke with studied calm, Dora Price was terrified and it showed in the pallor of her face.
âI'm not leaving you, Mam.' Shanni stood in the doorway, forcing the rotting wood into place. She propped a battered chair against the planking and picked up a broom ready to stand guard over her mother. âThey are not putting you on the
! That wooden horse was made to punish cheats and liars and loose women, and you're not going to be dragged through the streets like that, not when you're so sick.'
âLet us in, Dora Price!'
One voice, more raucous than the rest, rang out stridently into the sudden silence. Trembling, Shanni peered through a crack in the door and stared into the bulging eyes of May O'Sullivan. âWhere's your mam?' the woman demanded, kicking the frail door in her fury. âLet us in, Shanni Price. There's no stopping us and our quarrel is with her, not you.'
âShe's very ill!' Shanni called. âWhy do you want to punish her? She's done nothing wrong.'
âNothing wrong? The woman is a harlot, a stealer of husbands. We'll show her right from wrong.' May O'Sullivan began heaving and kicking at the battered door. She was joined by others from the crowd and, in a few moments, the frail door splintered and swung on its hinges, broken beyond repair.
May O'Sullivan pushed past Shanni, sweeping the broom from her hand with little effort. âOut
of the way! You're only a child. You must pray you don't grow up a wanton like your mother.' She confronted the sick woman. âYou know the charge, Dora Price, that of tempting a married man, making him be unfaithful to his wife.'
Shanni looked at her mother. Dora's face was white and her lips trembled so much she could not answer. âIt was the other way round!' Shanni shouted. âMam has done nothing. That Spencer man has been round here telling my mother he loved her, that he would leave his wife for her. I've heard him myself!'
âLies!' May pushed her aside and hauled Dora upright. âThat's my poor sister's husband you're talking about and her crying her eyes out over a weak man.' She spat on the floor. âYou're a whore, Dora Price, and we're taking you out to make an example of you â and don't think that your belly will save you. Spawn of the devil you got in by there, see?' She prodded Dora's stomach with spiteful fingers.
âDon't do that! My mam is having the pains â you can't take her out of her bed.' Before she had finished speaking Shanni was knocked to the ground by the rush of women fighting to get their hands on Dora Price.
âWe'll teach the whore a lesson she'll never forget,' May shouted.
Shanni struggled to her feet and screamed in anguish as her mother was dragged outside into the dusk of the evening air.
Shanni stared through the shattered door at the roughly made
. It was made of old wood and bits of cast-off clothing with a carved
head jutting from the front, painted eyes rolling. Beneath the hangings at the back four legs were visible, men's legs. Shanni recognized the polished boots of one and pushed her way forward. âSo, Dan Spencer, you would carry my mam to her shame, would you? After you coming here lying and cheating, telling us what a harridan your wife was. You evil devil, you!'
Her attempts to lift aside the rags were obstructed by May O'Sullivan's meaty arm. She smacked Shanni in the face and she fell backwards on to the filthy ground. She stared up at her mother, white and pleading, her lips forming the words âHelp me.'
The procession wound out of the court and on to the main street. The throng of women shouted abuse and May laid into Dora Price's back with her own broom. Other townsfolk joined the procession, anxious to see an example made of a loose woman. More than half of the women in Swansea had suffered the same fate as poor Mrs Spencer, that of a wicked woman taking advantage of a married man. But not all culprits were found out in their sin and this was the first time a woman pregnant by a bewitched husband had been exposed.
Shanni followed at a distance, tears running down her cheeks. She knew what came next for she had seen such acts of vengeance before. Her mother would be stripped naked, her shame exposed for all to gaze upon. She would be tied to a horse post and pelted with mud. The mud would be rubbed into her skin and chicken feathers daubed all over her. Her mother would
be forced to stand there until she dropped from exhaustion.
When the women reached the square, the procession halted. Spoons were rattled against the sides of pots and kettles; the noise was deafening.
Shanni cried out as her mother was dragged from the horse and tethered like a beast. She saw her mother moan and hang her head as the ragged clothes were torn from her and she was made to stand silent and bowed.
May O'Sullivan was the first to throw a clod of earth; it caught Dora squarely on her protruding belly. Other women joined in the sport of tormenting a fallen woman, and all the time Dora stood silent, her long greying hair hanging over her face.
âStop it!' Shanni cried, as her mother's thin legs buckled under her. Dora lifted her head and her eyes met Shanni's.
âGet off her!' Shanni picked up a piece of wood that had fallen from the
and laid into the nearest women with it. She was almost at her mother's side before a straight blow to her head felled her.
Half-conscious, Shanni slumped to the ground, clutching the gritty earth beneath her fingers with a feeling of despair. âYou'll kill her!' she sobbed, but no-one was listening.
Shanni was struggling to her knees, shaking her head to clear it, when she heard a voice, cultured and strong, ring out over the heads of the women.
âStop this obscenity at once!' Mrs Mainwaring, pottery owner, was pushing her way through the crush. âWhat in the name of heaven is going on
here?' Shanni got to her feet and a faint stirring of hope began to burn within her as she saw the richly dressed woman make her way to the front of the now silent crowd.
âYou.' She pointed a riding crop at May O'Sullivan. âRelease that poor woman at once before I have you thrown in jail!'
âThis is no business of yours, Mrs Mainwaring, if you'll pardon me saying so.' May O'Sullivan had lost some of her bluster. âThis is a matter for we working folks to settle.'
Mrs Mainwaring took no notice. âMy coachman and his boy are gone to fetch the constable so I would advise you to go about your business, if you do not wish to be flung in the castle dungeons. Now, go before you find yourselves in deep trouble.'