Authors: Val Wood
ABOUT THE BOOK
For reliable, thirteen-year-old Bella, life isn’t turning out quite as she’d hoped. She lives at the Woodman Inn – an ancient hostelry run by her family in the Yorkshire countryside – surrounded by two older brothers who never pull their weight and a flighty younger sister. When Bella learns not only that her father is seriously ill, but that her mother is expecting a fifth child, her dreams of leaving home to become a schoolteacher are quickly dashed.
Times are hard, and when their father dies Bella also has to take on the role of mother to her baby brother. Her days are brightened by the occasional visit from Jamie Lucan – the eighteen-year-old son of a wealthy landowner in a neighbouring coastal village. Also grieving the loss of a parent, Jamie has more in common with Bella than she thinks.
When her mother announces out of the blue that she wants to move the family to Hull, Bella is forced to leave the only home she has ever known. They arrive to find that the public house they are now committed to buying is run-down and dilapidated. Could things get any worse? Or could this move turn out to be a blessing in disguise for Bella?
For my family, with love, and for Peter
‘HOW WILL YOU
manage, Sarah, when I’m gone?’
‘Don’t know how. But I’ll have to, won’t I? There’s nowt else for it.’
Joseph Thorp looked down at his wife. She was such a little thing, he thought, grown smaller over the years since they’d been wed. Having had four bairns must have shrunk her. She had been twenty-five to his thirty when they had wed in the spring of 1832, so she was now well over her middle years at forty. They had married in a rush and Joe, named after him, was born yelling and screeching a few months later.
Then just over a year later came fair-haired William, named after his father’s uncle, and thirteen months on Bella arrived with hair the colour of coal just like her father’s, and not named after anybody, but only because Sarah said she liked the name. Two years later she gave birth to Nell, named after Sarah’s mother, Eleanor.
She had miscarried two more children and then there were no more, which was as well, he thought now, for it will be hard for the lass bringing up the bairns on her own.
‘Will I be able to keep ’hostelry, do you think?’ Sarah asked him, not looking at him but keeping her head lowered. ‘Joe and William are old enough to help me, and so is Bella.’
She was always practical, he thought. He knew she would
her misery to herself; she wouldn’t want sympathy from anybody. He wanted to ask if she’d miss him, but he also knew that a wrong word might open the floodgates.
He hadn’t felt well for some months. Breathless when rolling a barrel of ale; a sharp pain when coming up the cellar steps. When he had keeled over as he helped the drayman unload the barrels from the waggon and heave them down into the cellar, Sarah had asked the doctor to call. A weak heart, the physician had said. Six months is the best I can offer you, maybe a year if you take it easy. Joseph didn’t know the meaning of the word. He was used to working hard. He’d been a coal miner when he was a lad, working at the pits in West Yorkshire like his father and grandfather before him. He had gone on a day’s outing to the seaside at Bridlington and met Sarah, also on a day trip from her factory work in Hull.
Joseph’s uncle William was an innkeeper, and it was he who had suggested that Joseph should apply for the tenancy of the Woodman Inn in a village east of Hull where the previous tenant, a friend of his, had just died.
‘I’ll give you some tips,’ he’d told Joseph. ‘It’s a better life than working underground and I should know cos I’ve tried both. Apply for the tenancy, tell them you’ve some experience, and if you get it, then I’ll show you what to do.’
They were in a hurry to be married and so he did. He’d dressed in his only suit and plastered down his black hair, and because he was familiar with the names of some of the ales and beer he came over as well informed. He was a big man and looked impressive, and the brewery agent guessed quite rightly that he wouldn’t have any trouble with his customers.
Sarah was delighted. She didn’t want to live in West Yorkshire. She wanted to stay close to the places she knew, and she thought the wife of an innkeeper had a better handle to it than the wife of a coal miner. And there would be less washing to do.
Joseph had put on weight over the years, drinking plenty, though rarely drunk, and eating well, for Sarah was a good
Reckon that’s what’s done it, he thought, but then, without good food and drink in your belly, what’s ’point of life.
‘We’ll not tell ’bairns yet,’ she said as they stood contemplating in the kitchen at the rear of the inn. ‘We’ll just say that you’ve to ease up. Joe will have to pull his weight a bit more than he does.’
‘Aye, he will,’ Joseph agreed. ‘He knows what to do, but getting him to do it is a different matter.’
Joseph worried over his eldest son. He was not as affable or as genial as he might be, essential if he was to be an innkeeper, but, Joseph thought, he’s young and mebbe when he’s a few more years on his back he’ll see that there’s a good living to be made here. William too would have to lend a hand, but whether the brothers would agree as to who would be the boss was another thing, and Joseph knew that the living might not keep them all, not once they were all grown.
Bella, he decided, would help her mother with the household chores and in the inn too when they were busy. It was high time she left school, in his opinion, but her teacher had made her a monitor and had asked her only a few weeks before if she would stay on and help with the younger children. Bella was thrilled and agreed even before asking her parents’ permission, and had excitedly told them that she would like to be a teacher.
She’ll have to give up that daft idea, Joseph decided. She’ll be needed at home.
Bella swung her school bag, which had contained her dinner and was now full of books, and practically skipped home from school. ‘I’m going to be a teacher,’ she hummed. ‘I’m going to be a teacher.’ Miss Hawkins had told her that she was very pleased with the way she’d handled the children and that when the summer holidays were over she would apply personally to the school governors, to ask if Bella could be considered as a teacher’s help and expect a small salary.
‘It won’t be much,’ she’d said. ‘Barely pocket money, but if you shape up and study hard, by the time you’re seventeen or
you might be proficient enough to train to become a teacher.’
Bella could hardly contain her excitement. The world was waiting for her. If she trained as a teacher she could travel, become a governess; maybe she could learn another language and even go abroad. She loved her home, her village, her family and friends, but there was so much more, so much to do, so much to see, and seventeen was only four years away. In fact it probably wasn’t enough time to prepare; she would have to read history, geography and literature, though probably not science. She didn’t know any woman who read science, not even Miss Hawkins.
‘Where’ve you been?’ Sarah, her back to her daughter, swung the kettle over the fire in the black range. Her voice was sharp, abrupt.
‘Nowhere,’ Bella said. ‘Coming home from school, that’s all. I helped ’young uns with their coats – those who had a coat,’ she added. ‘And then I had to discuss summat with Miss Hawkins.’
Her mother grunted and Bella frowned.
‘What’s up, Ma? I’m not that late. I’ll set ’table, shall I?’
Sarah nodded. ‘There’s pressed beef and some ham left. Start a fresh loaf.’
Bella glanced at her mother, who still had her back to her, but didn’t comment. She put down her bag and went to wash her hands at the sink and then said, almost casually, ‘Miss Hawkins said that—’
‘Never mind what Miss Hawkins said,’ Sarah interrupted. ‘She’s got no place here. Get a clean tablecloth out of ’drawer. I’ll not have standards drop.’
‘What’s happened?’ Bella asked. ‘Is our Joe playing up?’
‘I don’t even know where he is. He should be cleaning out ’cellar, but he’s not.’
‘So.’ Bella took a tablecloth out of the drawer and shook it so that it flew up like a white sail before settling on the kitchen table. ‘If it’s not Joe, then it must be Nell.’
She glanced out of the small square window and saw Nell out
the paddock with a friend, chasing the donkey. She heard their excited screaming and the donkey braying defiantly.
‘What would be Nell?’ her mother said irritably, turning round to face her. ‘You’re allus quick to blame her.’
Bella didn’t answer. Her mother always took Nell’s side. As the youngest she could do no wrong, not in her mother’s or her father’s eyes. But if it wasn’t Joe or Nell who was the cause of her mother’s tight-lipped manner, then who or what was it?
She sliced the whole loaf and placed it on the board, went into the larder and brought out the cold meat and the butter and put them on the table, then went back for a jar of chutney, her father’s favourite.
‘Where’s Father?’ she asked. ‘Is he setting up for tonight?’ It was Friday, always a busy night at the inn.
‘No,’ her mother muttered. ‘He’s gone for a lie-down.’
Bella stared at her, then, putting down the chutney jar, said again, ‘What’s up, Ma? That’s not like him.’ She had never in her life known her father to have a sleep during the day. ‘Has he caught summat? Cold or—’
‘He’s not well,’ Sarah said abruptly. ‘Doctor says he has to rest.’
‘Doctor! ’Doctor’s been to see Father?’ Bella was astonished. ‘When? When did ’doctor come?’
Sarah sank wearily on to a wooden chair. ‘This morning. Your father wasn’t well yesterday and I sent for him. He came this morning. He said your father’d been overdoing things, shifting barrels an’ that, so he’s to tek it easy for a bit.’
Bella considered. There was more to it than her mother was telling her, she was sure of it. Not only was Sarah’s behaviour odd, she was also pale and tired-looking, and as she sat in the chair she fiddled with the corner of her apron, screwing it into a tight ball and then smoothing out the creases.