Authors: Margaret Dickinson
This book is a work of fiction and is entirely a product of the author’s imagination. All the characters are fictitious and any similarity to real
persons is purely coincidental.
With the deepest admiration this book is respectfully dedicated to the fishermen of Grimsby, their wives and families.
‘Let me go. I’m not what you think.’ The girl’s terrified voice echoed along the dark, wet streets. ‘Please – no – please
‘Don’t lie to me. You’re one of Aggie Turnbull’s sluts.’ The man holding her laughed cruelly. ‘I saw you come out of her house just now.’
‘No – no. I’m not.’ The girl struggled but was no match for his grip.
From an alleyway opposite, Jeannie watched the figures silhouetted against the light that spilled out from the windows of the Fisherman’s Rest.
She had been hurrying along the deserted streets, anxious to find lodgings, when she had seen five or six young men lurch out of the pub on the corner. The sound of laughter from inside followed
them into the night. Immediately, she had melted into the shadows until they moved on. But the group stood on the pavement, gathered around one of their number who seemed even worse for drink than
‘We should get him home,’ one of the young men said. ‘If he doesn’t get to the church for eleven in the morning, upstanding and sober, there’ll be hell to
‘Oh give it a rest, Edwin,’ was the disdainful answer. ‘It’s his last night of bachelorhood. Let the poor chap have a good time, eh?’
‘Sorry, I’m sure. But I’d have thought you of all people, Francis, ought to be looking after Robert. That’s what a best man is supposed to do, isn’t it?’
The other laughed loudly. ‘Maybe, but it’s high time our brother cut loose the apron strings and had a little fun. And if tonight’s his last night of freedom then . .
Jeannie heard the one addressed as Edwin mutter some reply, but, from across the street, she could no longer distinguish exactly what he said.
His brother’s voice was clear. ‘Then you run along home to dear Mama, Baby Boy, and leave us men to drink this town dry before the morning.’ She saw him raise his hand and pat
Edwin on his cheek with such a condescending gesture that Jeannie herself almost stepped out of the shadows and slapped him back.
They were beginning to move off down the street, half carrying, half dragging the befuddled bridegroom-to-be between them. Still Jeannie stayed hidden. Then she noticed the figure of a girl
emerge from one of the houses a few yards down the street. Pulling her shawl about her head and hunching her shoulders, the girl tried to scuttle past the young men, but a hand shot out and grasped
‘Oho, what have we here?’ Jeannie heard Francis’s languid voice raised again. ‘A little bit of skirt for you, Robert, my boy. One of Aggie’s girls.’
It was then that Jeannie heard the girl’s frightened denial. Instinctively, she moved forward out of the shadows.
‘Leave her be, Francis,’ came Edwin’s voice, but his protests were drowned by the general shout of approval.
‘If she’s one of Aggie’s trollops, she’s fair game.’
There was laughter now from all except Edwin and the bridegroom who seemed barely conscious. He was unable to stand without support and his head lolled against one of those who held him
The girl began to struggle, her screams echoing down the street.
‘Leave her alone,’ Edwin persisted. Still fast hold of the girl with one hand, Francis turned and shoved his brother in the chest. Edwin fell backwards into the road as the others
dragged the girl and the semi-conscious bridegroom towards an alley between two houses.
Jeannie dropped the bundle of her belongings and ran forward.
Pausing only a second, she heard their crude comments.
‘Prove yourself a man.’
‘Your bride’ll thank you tomorrow night, Robert.’
‘My turn next.’
And then again came the petrified girl’s screams that now went on and on.
Enraged and without thought for her own safety, Jeannie ran past Edwin, struggling to rise from the roadway, and plunged into the blackness of the alleyway.
She pushed and shoved her way amongst them, her fists flailing, not caring whom she hit, just forcing her way through. ‘Let her go. You’re animals . . .’ She was standing now
above the two on the ground. The young man lay motionless, sprawled on top of the girl. Squatting beside them, Francis was tearing at the girl’s clothing, ripping away her blouse to expose a
white mound of flesh and then pushing the face of his drunken brother into her bosom. ‘How’s that feel, eh, Robert? Good, is it?’
Jeannie reached out and grasped Francis’s hair with her strong fingers, jerking him with such unexpected force that he gave a cry of pain and fell backwards, clattering against a bin and
its surrounding mound of rubbish. Then she bent and pushed the inert young man away. There was not an ounce of resistance in him and he slid off the girl and rolled over on to his back, his eyes
staring up at Jeannie with a glazed, stupid look. She bent over him, straining in the darkness to see his features. She intended to remember him and all his cronies. He blinked once or twice as if
trying to focus on her face.
‘I dinna know who you are, but I’ll no’ forget you,’ she hissed at him. ‘You should be ashamed of yoursel’.’
She straightened and now pulled the girl up. Turning, she made to return to the street, but Francis had regained his feet and was barring their way.
Through clenched teeth, Jeannie said, ‘Get oot of ma way.’
There was a strange silence for a moment and then Francis threw back his head and laughed. ‘Why, it’s only a fisher lass. A Scottie. And we all know about them, don’t we,
chaps? Following the herring fleet down the coast, like camp followers . . .’
‘How dare you—’ Jeannie began and then she did what she had been wanting to do since she had seen this man’s attitude towards the young man called Edwin. She smacked
Francis’s cheek so hard that it stung her own hand.
For an instant he gawped at her, unable to believe her audacity. ‘You little—’ he began, but whatever he had been about to say, or do, was cut short by Edwin stumbling into the
alleyway and calling urgently, ‘Come on, there’s a policeman walking down the street. Let’s get out of here.’
Suddenly, there was a lot of pushing and shoving and scrambling towards the opening into the road and Jeannie and the girl found themselves pushed backwards so that they fell over the prostrate
young man and sprawled on the cobblestones beside him.
The superior voice of Francis rang through the night air. ‘Just a little fun, constable. Out on a stag night and we encountered these two street girls . . .’
Red rage misted Jeannie’s eyes as she struggled to her feet once more. ‘I’m no such thing. I’ll tell you what happened . . .’ Emerging from the darkness, she pushed
her way through to stand facing the black-uniformed officer.
‘Now, now.’ The man held up his hand, palm outwards, placatingly. ‘We don’t want any trouble. You and your friends be on your way, Mr Francis, and as for you, young
woman, you’d best not let me catch you on any street corners for the rest of tonight.’
‘How dare—’ she began again, but felt a warning hand on her arm and heard Edwin whisper, ‘Leave it. For heaven’s sake leave it, else he’ll run you
Jeannie clamped her mouth shut but her eyes flashed in the darkness. Edwin was pulling her arm and saying quietly, ‘Come on. Let’s get them out of that alley and home.’
To her surprise, when she walked back into the alleyway, it was to find the girl trying to help the young man up.
Jeannie paused. Had she made a terrible mistake? Was this girl what the young men had implied? Maybe she was known to them. At Edwin’s next action, this thought seemed to be confirmed.
‘Here,’ he said to the girl. ‘I’m sorry about tonight. You’re not hurt, are you? Please.’ He pressed something into her hand. ‘Please take this. We
– your dress is spoilt. I – I am sorry, truly I am.’
Silent now, Jeannie stood back, just watching as Edwin pulled his brother to his feet. The young man stood there swaying, shaking his head as if trying to clear it.
‘Come on, Robert old chap. What Mother will have to say about this, I dread to think.’
Staggering a little as the one leant heavily upon the other, they moved towards the street. As they passed close to Jeannie, the bridegroom-to-be raised his head and looked straight into her
eyes. She saw him open his mouth, lick his lips and then in a cracked whisper, he said, ‘I’m so sorry.’
‘So you should be,’ Jeannie muttered, still outraged. ‘But I dinna suppose you’ll mind anything about it by the morning.’
‘I’m hoping very much that he won’t remember,’ Edwin said with feeling.
As they emerged from the shadows, the constable said, ‘Oh ’tis you, Mr Robert and Mr Edwin. Ah well, I see now . . .’ The man laughed and nodded towards Francis. ‘But
you’d best be getting him home, Mr Francis, if you’re to get him to his wedding tomorrow.’
And then they were gone, lurching down the street to hail a cab on the corner and disappear.
‘Good riddance,’ Jeannie muttered and then turned to the girl, who was still standing in the shadows, sniffling miserably and trying to cover herself with the torn fabric of her
‘Come on,’ Jeannie said, kindly but with a hint of the exasperation one might use to a wayward child. ‘Let’s get you home. Where d’you live?’
‘Where’s that? Is it far?’
‘No, no. It’s the next street but one.’
‘Right. I’ll see you safe home and then . . . Now, where did I drop ma things?’
On her arrival in Havelock earlier that evening, Jeannie had felt compelled to go down to the docks, to walk along the quays out to the end of one of the piers until she stood
surrounded by the sea, willing her father’s boat to appear on the horizon. But in the gathering dusk, there was not a single vessel coming in from the heaving sea, past the lightship and into
the mouth of the Humber.
Behind her, alongside the jetties, a forest of masts and funnels swayed with the motion of the water beneath them and the wind that howled around them. The local trawlers had all made safe
harbour on the evening tide and already their crews were gone, enjoying their brief time ashore before sailing for the fishing grounds once more. But now came the lumpers, the men who unloaded the
fish on to the pontoon for the early-morning fish market on the dockside. Already several were beginning to gather in the hope of a night’s work.
And with the morning tide would come the Scottish herring boats. Perhaps her father’s little steam drifter would be amongst them.
Jeannie clasped the shawl that was in danger of being whipped away and drew it around her head and shoulders. Instead of giving warmth, the sodden garment made her shiver and, with sudden
determination, she picked up her bundle, turned and marched along the pier, without glancing back, even just once more, towards the sea. She hurried along the quayside, taking care to keep her
bright red hair hidden beneath her shawl. Maybe this far south, she told herself, the fisherfolk did not have the same superstition, but back home in Scotland, she knew of two fishermen who refused
to put to sea if they saw a red-haired woman just before they were about to set sail. Jeannie had no wish to upset the folk here. She needed to find work and even if it meant tying a scarf around
her head so tightly that she appeared bald, then she’d do it. There was no way she could hide the peppering of freckles across her nose, nor her green eyes, but in the dusk of the September
evening she was just a tall, slim figure hurrying home, even though, as yet, she thought ruefully, she had not found a place to call ‘home’.