Authors: Pam Weaver
This book is dedicated to Tony and Audrey Hindley and Polly McLelland. Thank you for all the times you’ve encouraged me. If they gave out medals for encouragers, you three would share the winner’s podium.
Table of Contents
It was gone. Really gone. She’d spent the past hour hunting high and low for it, but it was no use. She couldn’t find it anywhere. She’d tried all the usual places first: the drawer, the kitchen dresser, her coat pocket, but she quickly drew a blank. She’d even been outside and looked down the street in the hope that it hadn’t fallen from her pocket, but she couldn’t see it. Her stomach was in knots. After everything else, this couldn’t be happening. Having tried the obvious places, for the past ten minutes she’d been looking in the pram, the toy box and the outside lav, places where she knew it couldn’t possibly be, and yet she hoped against hope that she’d find it.
‘Have you seen Mummy’s purse?’
Jenny pushed her silky brown hair out of her eyes and looked up at her mother with a blank expression. She was a pretty child with long eyelashes. Born in the middle of the war, she was Sarah’s first child.
‘My purse,’ Sarah said impatiently. ‘Have you taken it to play shops?’
‘Oh, Mummy,’ her daughter tutted, one hand on her hip and her mother’s scolding expression on her face, ‘I’m not playing shops. This is dolly’s tea party.’
Sarah frowned crossly. ‘Don’t get lippy with me, young lady. I asked you a question. Have you seen my purse?’
Her daughter looked suitably chastised. ‘No, Mummy.’
Sarah’s heart melted. She shouldn’t have spoken to her like that. She wasn’t having a good day either. Just an hour ago, Jenny had come into the shared kitchen with a worried frown. ‘Mummy, Goldie isn’t very well.’
Sarah had followed her back up to the bedroom and sure enough, her pet goldfish was floating on the top of the water. Slipping her arm around her daughter’s shoulder, Sarah had to explain that Goldie wasn’t ill; she had died and gone to heaven.
Jenny had stared at her mother, her wide eyes brimming with tears. ‘But why?’
Why indeed, thought Sarah. ‘It just happens, darling. Fish get old and die. It was Goldie’s time to go.’
‘Is that what happened to Daddy?’ Jenny’s words hung in the air like icicles and Sarah had swallowed hard. Her heartbeat quickened and she felt very uncomfortable. It was at that moment she realised she should have talked to her daughter before. She had no idea the poor little mite had been thinking that Henry was dead. ‘No, darling,’ she’d said, drawing her closer. ‘Daddy isn’t dead. Daddy went to live somewhere else.’
‘Why Mummy? Didn’t he like living with us?’
Sarah had taken in a silent breath, wondering how on earth she could answer that. She didn’t really understand herself, so how was she going to explain to a six-year-old why her father had simply packed his bags and walked out? Up until that moment she had thought Jenny was coping well. She’d seemed to accept that Henry had gone away, but as they’d talked Sarah could see that that Jenny hadn’t really understood after all.
‘I’m sure Daddy loved living with us,’ she’d said, kneeling down to look into Jenny’s face, ‘but he had to go away.’
Suddenly, Sarah’s youngest daughter Lu-Lu crashed into them and tried to kiss her big sister. Jenny laid her head on her mother’s shoulder. ‘Did it hurt?’
Sarah frowned. It was hard to follow the child’s reasoning. ‘Did what hurt?’
‘Did it hurt Goldie when she died?’
By now Sarah had drawn her arms around both her children. ‘No. I don’t think it did and I’m sure Goldie had a very happy life.’
Jenny had put her hands on the goldfish bowl. ‘Can we bury her?’
‘Of course,’ smiled Sarah. ‘I think I’ve got a little box we can put her in and we’ll bury her in the garden.’
They laid the fish on a bed of cotton wool inside a box which once held three man-sized handkerchiefs and Sarah put the lid on. Goldie was all ready for burial, but they couldn’t do it there and then. It was raining hard and Sarah didn’t have anything suitable for digging in their tiny courtyard garden so she promised Jenny they would bury the goldfish after school the next day.
‘Can I ask Carole to come to Goldie’s frunrel?’
Sarah hesitated. Her sister Vera made her feel that Henry’s disappearance was somehow her fault, and although Jenny and her cousin Carole got on well, she wasn’t too keen to have her sister around.
‘Please, Mummy. Please,’ Jenny pleaded.
Sarah nodded reluctantly. ‘I’ll talk to Auntie Vera,’ she promised.
It had brought a lump to her throat as she watched her daughter drawing a picture for Goldie, so she decided to give the girls a little treat. It was almost lunchtime, and the corner shop closed from 1 p.m. until 2 p.m. Sarah still had some coupons and if Mrs Rivers next door would take them in, she just had time to run and get some sweets.
Mrs Rivers was only too glad to have the girls. She was fond of Jenny and she loved spoiling Lu-Lu. Sarah had promised to be as quick as she could. She’d used her sweet ration for the first time in months to buy them a small bar of Cadbury’s each. Given their normal circumstances, it would have seemed extravagant, but with the guinea Mr Lovett had pushed into her hand, she told herself it was only 3d a bar and she knew the girls loved chocolate. The purse had been in her basket when she came out of the shop because she remembered stuffing it down the side. After that, she couldn’t remember seeing it again. She’d collected the girls and come home, so somewhere between the sweet shop, Mrs Rivers’ place and home, the purse had been lifted or dropped out of the basket. She shifted the pile of papers on the kitchen table. She’d already searched through them once but she was irresistibly drawn back to look yet again. The purse wasn’t there.
Lu-Lu toddled across the floor and sat down to eat a crumb which had fallen from the table. At fifteen months, everything went straight into her mouth. Sarah bent to take it from her hand before she put it in her mouth, and as she lowered herself back onto the chair, the terrible realisation dawned. Her purse with all her money in it was well and truly lost. What was she going to do? That purse contained the coal money and everything they had to live on for the next week. There was no nest egg to fall back on, no Post Office book with a secret stash, no money in the jar on the top of the dresser. She couldn’t ask her sister to help either. Since her brother-in-law had landed a job with Lancing Carriage Works, Vera had become rather sniffy. She’d been friendly enough when Sarah lived in the house in Littlehampton, but since she’d come to Worthing, Vera’s attitude had changed. If she didn’t know better, Sarah might have thought she was ashamed of her.
Lu-Lu asked to be picked up and Sarah pulled her onto her lap, kissing the top of her golden hair as she did so. Jenny had inherited her mother’s light brown hair and hazel eyes but Lu-Lu had blue eyes and fairer hair. Cuddling her daughter, Sarah shook all thoughts of Henry away. She felt the tears prick the backs of her eyes, but what was the use of crying? That never solved anything. She hadn’t cried when he’d buggered off and she wasn’t going to start now. Besides, it was no good going back over what might have been. That was all in the past and right now her most pressing problem was what to do about her missing purse. She didn’t have a lot before it went and now she had absolutely nothing. How was she going to manage? As a woman deserted, she had no widow’s allowance. Henry contributed nothing towards the care of his children. Every penny they had was what she earned. Thank God she’d already got the rent money together. That was tucked into the rent book on the dresser, but she still had the children to feed.
Their home was two rooms on the first floor of a run-down fisherman’s cottage in Worthing where they shared the downstairs kitchen and toilet with another tenant. They were just across the road from the sea, but being at the back of some larger buildings meant that there was little incentive for the landlord to improve the property. The old woman who lived below them had been taken to hospital a few weeks ago and it was Sarah’s greatest fear that she wouldn’t come back. If that happened, there would be new tenants. The landlord had intimated several times that once the other tenant, an old family retainer, passed away, he planned to sell the property. Even though the place was damp and badly in need of decoration, Sarah had done her best to make it a nice home.
‘A bit of soap and water works wonders,’ she told her sister Vera when she’d first moved in, but she couldn’t help noticing her sister’s look of disdain. It was a far cry from the lovely house Sarah had shared with Henry, but without his wage, and because of a steep rise in the rent, it was impossible to carry on living there. Sarah and her girls had moved here three months after he’d gone, and up until today, everything had been going fairly well. To save money, Sarah had always made the children’s clothes and it had been her lucky day when she went to Mrs Angel’s haberdashery shop to get some buttons and bumped into Mr Lovett.
The shop was a jumble of just about everything. There were the usual buttons and embroidery silks, but Mrs Angel also stocked ladies’ underwear in the glass-topped chest of drawers under the counter and a few bolts of material. She would also allow her customers to buy their wool weekly and would put the balls away in a ‘lay-by’ until they were needed.
‘Madam, I have a proposition to make to you,’ Mr Lovett had said as he spotted Jenny’s little pink dress.
‘Mr Lovett has been admiring your handiwork,’ Mrs Angel explained. ‘I told him how popular your little kiddies’ clothes are.’
‘If you could make another little girl’s dress like that and a boy’s romper suit,’ Mr Lovett went on, ‘I think I could find a London buyer.’
‘It takes me a week to make one of those,’ Sarah had laughed. ‘The smocking takes ages.’
‘I can tell,’ he smiled. ‘And before you say anything, there will be no monetary risk to your good self. I shall supply all the materials.’
Sarah hesitated. Could she trust this man?
‘I’m sure Mrs Angel will vouch for me?’ he added as if he’d read her mind.
‘Mr Lovett is a travelling salesman,’ Mrs Angel explained. She was a matronly woman with a shock of white hair. Rumour had it that it had turned that colour overnight after her beloved husband was killed by lightning on Cissbury Ring.
Sarah had been slightly sceptical, but with Mrs Angel only too keen to provide the cottons and any other material she needed, the deal was struck. When she’d finished making the dress and romper suit, Mr Lovett was as good as his word. He’d been right. He’d had no trouble selling her handiwork to a shop in London where rich women were willing to pay the earth for things of such good quality. She knew he’d kept back some money for himself, and yet each time he’d taken an order he’d given her a whole guinea, more money than Sarah had had in a long time. He’d extracted a promise that if the customer liked her work, she’d be willing to do some more. Sarah didn’t need much persuading, even though, without a sewing machine, she’d had to sit up all hours to get them finished on time. She’d been so pleased with the money she’d saved, she’d decided to buy half a hundredweight of coal.