Authors: Jean Houghton-Beatty
Tags: #Fiction: Romance - Suspense
Boson Books by Jean Houghton-Beatty
Published by Boson Books
An imprint of C&M Online Media Inc.
ISBN (ebook) 978-0-917990-76-2
Â© Copyright 2011 Jean Houghton-Beatty
All rights reserved
For information contact
C&M Online Media Inc.
3905 Meadow Field Lane
Raleigh, NC 27606
Tel: (919) 233-8164
email: [email protected]
Cover image by Drew De Porter
Designed by David F. McAllister
Kathleen McCreadie Conroy stood aft of the ship and leaned against the rail, her gaze focused on the small crowd cordoned off behind a makeshift barrier at dockside. In the middle of the group her family stood huddled together against the chill wind blowing upriver from the Irish Sea. She saw her older sister Nina look at her watch and whisper to their mother, who in turn glanced anxiously around and mumbled something back. Were they eager to be gone or just worn out from the pain of parting? Little Dorothy yawned and shifted from foot to foot, then giggled as big brother Kevin ruffled her hair and gave her an understanding hug. Dad stood slightly apart from the others and puffed on his pipe. Every now and then he looked up at Kathleen and gave her a thumbs up.
After the long drawn-out good-byes were over, her family would leave the dockside, comforting arms across each other's shoulders. They'd probably have a bit of a weep until some unforeseen happening distracted them, something to make them smile. Perhaps then they'd comment on the weather. Not a bad day after all, they may very well say, and here it was almost a week still to go until June. Then later, with the lamps lit and curtains drawn against the night, they'd sit around the table and talk about Kathleen and how happy she'd looked as she headed out to sea.
She half stretched a hand toward them, then drew it back and turned it into a sort of cheerful wave.
Shore men and deck hands yelled to each other as they went about the business of casting off. Any minute now and the SS Belgravia would set sail for New York.
“Don't forget to send chewing gum and chocolate,” Kevin shouted in his newly deep voice. It had broken only weeks earlier and he was proud of the new, grown-up sound.
“And don't forget the nylons,” shouted Nina. “You promised. Send as many pairs as you can.”
Dorothy put her hands around her mouth and yelled as hard as she could. “Come back Kathleen. Come back soon. Thanks again for giving me your pearl earrings.”
Her father waved his cloth cap above his head and laughed up at her with the saddest face she'd ever seen. Her mother sent her one last pained look then raised a suddenly frail hand and crossed herself.
“Good-bye, God Bless, we love you,” they all shouted together.
“Good-bye, I love you too.”
The siren sounded and as the ship eased away from the stage, a roar went up from the crowd at dockside. The harsh cries of the seagulls as they tore across the decks mingled with the noise. The birds dived screaming toward the river then lifted their wings just inches from the water to soar again up and over the ship. The little tugs pulled the huge ship toward the middle of the river and Kathleen watched her family grow ever smaller. They waved their big white handkerchiefs and she waved back until eventually they coalesced with the crowd. She stared at the spot until the Liverpool dockside itself melded into the miles of waterfront, then with a long, deep sigh, she crossed over to portside as the ship sailed out of the Mersey and turned left into the Irish Sea. Only when the Welsh hills were no more than distant mounds on the horizon did she finally turn and look about her. She wiped her eyes and blew her nose, and then put the smile back on her face.
As she headed for the Cabin Class stairs, she swung her handbag and even made herself hum a few bars of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” while she traipsed around B Deck searching for her cabin. She knocked softly on the door. After all, the ship had been underway for ages. It wouldn't be polite to barge in. A tall blonde girl answered her knock. She gave Kathleen a brief appraising look, then flashed a welcoming smile and opened the door wide. She extended an elegantly manicured hand and introduced herself as Georgina Nightingale from Chicago.
“I'm Kathleen McCreadie.”
She gave a little embarrassed grin. “I mean it's Conroy, not McCreadie.”
“I thought you'd gotten lost, or even missed the boat,” Georgina said as she closed the cabin door, “then I guessed you were probably up on deck telling your folks good-bye.”
Kathleen nodded. “My whole family stood on the dockside more than two hours. I knew they wouldn't budge until we sailed.”
“Was it hard?”
“A bit, but it's to be expected. You see I've never gone away before, never had to say good-bye. Anyway, I'll be over it soon. There's such a lot to look forward to. First New York and then I'm headed for South Carolina.”
“Ah. I've never been there,” Georgina said. “Never been further south than Washington, DC.”
“My husband's home is in South Carolina,” Kathleen said.
“And I'll lay you two to one, you're a brand new bride.”
Kathleen smiled. “How'd you guess?”
The tightness in her shoulders eased. Georgina was about her own age and friendly too. The next twenty minutes were spent sorting out sleeping arrangements, moving suitcases and deciding on drawers in the tiny cabin's single dresser.
Georgina kicked off her shoes and flopped on her bed. “I think you're very brave to leave your home and family. I don't know if I could do it. I've only been gone a month and can't wait to get back home.”
“I wouldn't call it brave,” Kathleen said. “I've married a wonderful man. Bob, well, he's marvelous, and besides, I've always dreamed of going to America. I'm very excited.”
She delved into her handbag and pretended to search for the keys to her luggage. Why hadn't her mother-in-law answered her mother's letter, or the one she herself had written? And on her wedding day, why hadn't Bob's family sent even so much as a congratulations card? Did they disapprove of their son marrying an English girl? Was there a girl in Eddisville, South Carolina they would rather he'd married? She shook off her uneasiness, remembering all those tender love letters Bob himself had written.
Kathleen and Georgina hit it off right away. The American girl had sailed from New York a month earlier and knew the ropes. She knew how to book for second sitting meals and made sure the table they got was near the band.
* * *
As Kathleen lay in bed that night and listened to the gentle deep breathing of Georgina, she snuggled down and focused on Bob. She relived that magical January night they'd met in the Rialto. In his American soldier's uniform, Corporal Bob Conroy was the handsomest man she'd ever seen. She hadn't believed in love at first sight until that night. When he told her he'd joined the army in July 1943, on his eighteenth birthday, she'd done a fast mental calculation. It was now 1952, which made Bob twenty-six years old.
Theirs had been a whirlwind romance. When she told her parents only two weeks later that Bob had asked her to marry him, she'd been unprepared for their negative reaction. How could she even think about marrying a man she'd only just met, they'd wanted to know. And wasn't it just last week she'd been madly in love with Ron. Bob didn't just live across the road, her dad reminded her. He lived across the Atlantic. What were his prospects, and what did Kathleen really know about him? Not much, Kathleen had to admit, but couldn't they see how shy he was and how he hated to brag. Had her parents forgotten how it was when they were young, how nothing else mattered except the wonder of it all?
The last thing Kathleen remembered before the soft swell of the ocean lulled her to sleep was Father O'Kelly smiling gently at her and Bob as he pronounced them man and wife.
* * *
Late the next night, Kathleen brought out an envelope of photographs and spread them on her bed to show to Georgina.
“This is my favorite.”
She held out a picture of her and Bob with Buckingham Palace in the background. “We were on our honeymoon. He left for Texas the day after we got back to Chester and I haven't seen him since.”
Georgina said Bob was handsome all right, then picked up one of the pictures at random. Kathleen told her it was a picture of her father's bakery in Chester, with the family standing in front of the building. Yes, that was her Mum and Dad in the center, arms around each other. Dorothy and Kevin were still in school, and Nina, her older sister, was a hairdresser.
Georgina looked at the picture more closely. “Who's the gorgeous hunk on the end with his arm on your shoulder? That's not Bob is it?”
“No, he's just an old flame.”
Kathleen tried to sound off-handed. She'd loved Ron Velnes once but that was before Bob came on the scene. On their wedding day, as she stood with Bob on the steps of Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church, she'd stared in surprise at Ron standing across the road. She'd thought she was over him but the sudden unexpected sense of loss had caught her off guard. He'd held her gaze as he crossed the street toward them. Then, with awful nerve, he'd taken her in his arms and kissed her full on the lips.
“Good-bye, Kath. Be happy, and think of me once in a while.” He'd smiled that crooked smile of his but somehow it didn't reach his eyes. Then he'd dropped his arms to his side and walked almost casually away.
“Who in the hell was that?” Bob had asked, as he glared after Ron's retreating figure.
“Just an old friend.” She'd smiled up at Bob and reached for his hand. “Don't worry. I'll never see him again.”
Still, she'd been unable to resist that one last look as Ron disappeared around the bend in the road.
When Georgina handed the picture back to Kathleen, she shoved it in the envelope without even looking at it.
The Atlantic was unusually calm for May, and every day the sun shone warm out of a cloudless sky. The crossing began to take on an unreal quality for Kathleen. Was this girl really her, this girl sitting every day by the pool of a great ocean-going liner, soaking up the sunshine with her brand new American friend? And at night in the ballroom, did she actually dance with everyone from the chief purser, to the leader of the band, to a university student from India? But always at midnight, when the band played the last waltz, she closed her eyes and pretended her partner was Bob. Her time was winding down. In less than a week she'd be with him and she couldn't wait.
The biggest thrill of all came at the farewell party on the last night when the ship's captain stopped by the Cabin Class ballroom. He strolled in and began chatting with a few passengers here and there, and when he passed by the girls' table, he leaned forward to wish them well. He made as if to walk away then almost as an afterthought, he smiled at Kathleen.
“May I have this dance?” he said with a casual smile.
Kathleen beamed as she got to her feet and let the captain lead her around the floor. He was a good dancer and Kathleen closed her eyes with the wonder of it all.
When she finally returned to the table, Georgina smiled. “Well, that's something to remember for the rest of your life,” she said in a good-natured way. “Wish he'd asked me too.”
Kathleen nodded and stared straight ahead, unable to believe that she had just danced with the captain of the SS Belgravia. This was really something to write home about.
* * *
“I haven't made a hotel reservation in New York yet,” Georgina said as they packed their things before going to bed. “How do you feel about me coming to the Hillshire with you? It'll save us both some money if we share a room, and since neither of us is leaving till the next day, we can do some sightseeing together. Would you like that?”
“Would I? Oh, Georgina, you know I would. And you can help me buy a new dress. It has to be extra special, something that'll make me look like a million dollars. I want to be wearing it when I step off the bus in Eddisville. That's when I'll meet Bob's family and first impressions are so important don't you think.”
Early the next morning, the SS Belgravia sailed up the Hudson River toward New York Harbor. Kathleen put on her sunglasses against the blinding glare of the sun's reflection on the water and looked toward the Manhattan skyline. As tugboats guided them in, weaving through the sea traffic, gulls screamed around their ship, while other ships sounded their foghorns to welcome one of Great Britain's ocean-going liners into port.
“I can't believe I'm actually here,” she said to Georgina. “See there, that building, the tallest one with the spire? That's the Empire State Building. I'd have known it anywhere. Will we have time to go up?”
“If you like,” Georgina said, laughing. “We're docking early. That gives us most of today and nearly all of tomorrow to see the sights. Your train doesn't leave till late in the afternoon.”
And now, as the ship sailed past Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, they had their arms across each other's shoulders and cheered along with everyone else. Somebody started to sing “My Country 'Tis of Thee,” and because it was the same tune as “God Save the Queen,” Kathleen hummed along. Soon everybody was singing and as they belted out “The Sidewalks of New York,” she joined in because she knew the words.
She was here at last. Dreary England, with its bombed out buildings and shortages, even though the war ended years ago, was now an ocean away. She was surrounded by America, the richest, most glamorous country in the world, land of opportunity and movie stars. Tomorrow, she'd board the train for South Carolina to be at last with Bob, who at this very moment could already be heading out of Texas for Eddisville, his home, their home. This was where she'd start her new life.
She looked across the ever-narrowing stretch of water. The tiny yellow ants crawling along the dockside took on shape and became the famous yellow cabs she'd seen in a hundred films.
An American voice boomed over the loudspeaker. “Will all persons other than those holding United States passports please form an orderly line outside the library entrance?”
Georgina held Kathleen's arm. “You'll probably be held up here for ages,” she said, “but don't worry. I'll wait for you in the lounge.”
Kathleen looked toward the library. The queue was already snaking along the quarterdeck. “No, you go on ahead to the hotel. I'll have no problem with this.”