Authors: Jenny Holmes
Orphaned young, Violet Wheeler has been brought up by her aunt â but after Winnie's sudden death, she feels like she's lost everything. With no-one to turn to, Violet has to rely on the goodwill of the community to help her out.
At Jubilee drapers, amongst the spools of ribbon, skeins of silk and latest thirties fashions, Violet finds a refuge. She's offered the opportunity to get back on her feet, and with that an unexpected chance to discover love. It's only when a forgotten piece of jewellery with a mysterious note surfaces that Violet is thrown back in to the past again, and starts to wonder what might be hidden in her family's history.
As Violet becomes desperate to find answers about her mother and father, long-buried secrets threaten the stable life she's been building. Can her new friends steer Violet towards a happy ending against all the odds?
For my father, Jim Lyne, who took me on
unforgettable motorbike jaunts into
the beautiful Yorkshire Dales
Violet Wheeler posed in front of the full-length mirror set up in a side office at Timothy Thornley's brewery on the corner of Chapel Street.
âWell, what do you think?' she asked her Aunty Winnie, a knot of nervous excitement tightening in her stomach. It wouldn't be long now before she had to face the crowd.
âNot bad,' came Winnie's studied reply.
âIs that all?' A crestfallen Violet turned this way and that. She'd banked on looking better than ânot bad' this day of all days.
Her aunt stole up behind her. Short and stout, she had to stand on tiptoe to peer over her willowy, eighteen-year-old niece's shoulder. âNo, love, I'm only kidding,' she murmured. âYou look smashing.'
Violet wasn't sure. âDoes the shade of the shoes match the dress? They're not from the market â I had to go all the way into town.'
âAnd it was worth it.' Winnie met Violet's gaze in their reflection in the mirror and nodded her head. Here, in Thornley's dusty office, surrounded by ledgers and order books and with the smell of fermenting hops in their nostrils, she couldn't have been prouder of her niece.
Despite her nerves, Violet soon grew more confident about what she saw. Her sleeveless dress in cream rayon silk wasn't your usual Gala Queen creation of pink chiffon. No, Violet's Whitsuntide gown was altogether sleeker and more
Ã la mode
, as she liked to term it, with its V-neck, nipped-in waist and draped handkerchief hemline below which her trim ankles and satin shoes could just be glimpsed. The outfit was topped off with long cream gloves and for a headdress, a bold arrangement of silk lilies clipped into her newly bobbed, auburn-tinged hair.
Aunty Winnie relented. âDon't worry â you're a bobby dazzler in anybody's books.' She had one eye on the scene outside the window. Wilf Fullerton was in shirtsleeves, hitching a pair of grey Clydesdales to the decorated brewery float â the horses done up in shiny brasses and patriotic red, white and blue rosettes. The cart itself was transformed into a flower-decked arbour for the Gala Queen's slow progress up Chapel Street then across Overcliffe Road onto the Common where the Whit Monday celebration was to take place.
âShould I wear this pearl necklace?' Violet asked.
âNo pearls,' Winnie advised. âThere's no need to gild the lily.' Now she could see Wilf helping the Gala Queen's attendants onto the float â little Mabel and June Clough from Raglan Road in short white dresses, ankle socks and kidskin sandals, with bows in their hair. Then there was eighteen-year-old Kathy Land, Violet's good friend and rival for the Gala Queen crown, who this year had had to make do with chief flower girl. She was already up on the float and looking round for Violet to join her.
âYou need to get a move on if you don't want them to set off without you,' Winnie urged. âThen it'll be
without the prince.'
Violet took one last look in the mirror. She and her aunt had made the dress from a pattern in the latest Butterick catalogue. Oh, the hours they'd spent making sure that the seams were free of pulls and wrinkles across the bust and that the hem hung just so. They'd put everything into it, just for this one short day.
She's on her way!
Winnie mouthed through the window at Wilf who, having donned his tweed jacket and brown bowler hat, had climbed into the driving seat and taken up the reins. Hearing the horses stamp and their bridles jingle, she shooed Violet from the room, along the dingy green corridor, and down the stone steps onto the street.
âAbout time too!' Wilf called. âStan, give her a leg-up, there's a good lad.'
On cue and with a wink and an exaggerated bow, Stan Tankard was on hand to lead Violet up the small set of wooden steps at the back of the float.
âViolet, where've you been?' Kathy sighed accusingly from beneath the arbour. âAt this rate I thought I should have to stand in for you.'
âOver my dead body.' With a chirpy smile to disguise her nerves, Violet settled herself onto a faded throne borrowed for the occasion from the props department of the Hadley Players.
âIt won't rain, will it?' Winnie asked Wilf, who was raring to go. She looked anxiously at some wispy clouds gathered around the spire of St Luke's church on the brow of the steep hill.
âWhat am I, a bleeding oracle?' the brewery man grumbled.
âKeep your hair on,' Winnie retorted, dressed for the occasion in her best pale blue crÃªpe de Chine day dress and straw hat. âAre you all set?' she called up at Violet, who nodded.
Standing cheek by jowl with Winnie on the crowded pavement, several bystanders issued loud verdicts on this year's Gala Queen.
âBlooming lovely,' one old chap commented to young Stan who had removed the wooden steps. âIf I was your age, I'd be bagging the last waltz with her at the church hall later on tonight.'
âWho says I haven't already?' Stan winked back. âYoung Violet's as pretty as a picture.' A stout, middle-aged neighbour sighed wistfully, no doubt recalling her own glory days.
âIf you ask me, she's skimped on material for the dress,' her less charitable friend complained. âShe'll be nithered if the wind gets up.'
A beaming Winnie was deaf to criticism. âGood luck, love!' she told her niece, as the horses took the strain and moved away from the kerb.
Violet breathed deeply and smiled down at her aunt. Then she raised her gloved hand and gave her first queenly wave of the day.
Despite Winnie Wheeler's fears, the sun shone on the Whit Monday procession as it set off up Chapel Street led by the sturdy Clydesdale horses and the float carrying the Gala Queen and her attendants. It was followed by a Sally Army brass band oompahing until the windows rattled in the small terraced houses and shops either side of the narrow, cobbled street. Then, striding out after the band, came a gaggle of Sunday School children in fancy dress for the traditional parade, tripping up over Wee Willie Winkie nightshirts and Little Bo Peep hooped skirts. Hard on their heels were pupils from Lowtown Junior School dressed as rats, capering up the street after a harlequin-clad Pied Piper.
Up the hill they paraded, past Sykes' bakery and Hutchinson's grocery shop to the junction with Overcliffe Road where a breeze swept down from the moors, lifting the delicate hem of the Gala Queen's dress and making the ribbons of the dray horses' rosettes flutter gaily in the breeze.
âNot bad.' Sybil Dacre's comment unknowingly echoed Winnie's teasing put-down of her niece. She and Evie Briggs sheltered from the wind in the doorway to Chapel Street Costumiers. Their special-occasion dress shop had been set up two years earlier by Sybil herself, with Annie Pearson and Evie's oldest sister, Lily. The successful enterprise was situated next to the Wesleyan chapel in what used to be Henshaw's haberdashers, and it was with an expert eye that the two needlewomen took in the details of the Gala Queen's dress. âThat bodice is nicely cut on the bias to show off Violet's figure.'
âI recognize the pattern,' Evie declared as they stepped out of the doorway to follow the float towards the Common. âIt's from this summer season's catalogue.'
âYou're right, it is. And I'll bet the rayon is from the market. I spotted something similar on a stall there last month.'
âViolet must have sewn it herself.'
âWith back-up from Winnie, I expect.' Sybil knew how much their neighbour from Brewery Road doted on her orphan niece. âAnyhow, between them they've made a good job of it.'
âToot-toot, stand back!' Stan honked a horn fixed to the handlebars of his bike as he wove and wobbled through the crowd. He was in a race with his pal, Eddie Thomson, to be first onto the Common, ready to hand Violet and her attendants down from their float.
âMay the best man win.' Eddie had accepted the challenge at the bottom of Chapel Street. He'd laughed to see Stan sneak off down a side alley to miss the crowd, only to re-emerge near the top of the street, back into the hurly-burly just a few yards ahead of him.
âYoo-hoo, Violet!' Stan roared above the Onward Christian Soldiers growl of Sally Army bassoons and the roll of drums. âYoo-hoo, Your Majesty!'
The queen for the day made out his smooth dark hair and sharp-featured face flushed from cycling uphill and gave a slow, regal wave. He was a card, was Stan, with his car klaxon and booming voice, wobbling alongside and resting one hand on the side of the float.
âRemember to save me that dance later on!' he called now. âWaltz, foxtrot, quickstep â whatever you like.'
âAnd me!' Eddie yelled from further down the road. But his voice was lost in the hullabaloo.
Anyway, it was impossible for Violet to give either Stan or Eddie an answer because with a jolt across the pavement Wilf had turned the horses onto the Common and she was greeted with a loud hurrah from the crowd awaiting her arrival. There were men and women in their Sunday best, a sea of smiling faces under caps and berets, cloche hats and jaunty straw boaters, the men in heavy jackets despite the sunny weather but the women in bright cotton dresses with frilled collars, lace and bows.
âWould you credit it?' A daunted Kathy took in the sight of the people jostling for a view in front of craft stalls, roundabouts, fortune-tellers and coconut shies. âHere's everyone and his aunt!'
Little June and Mabel Clough turned uncertainly to Violet. June looked as if she might burst into tears.
âDon't be put off.' Violet took a twin in each hand and coaxed them towards a waiting Stan as they made ready to descend the float. âLook at me â cool as a cucumber, never mind that people are staring at us. Just think like a princess and give them a wave.'
âThat's right, Princess June!' Stan swung the little girl to the ground while Eddie came up for her sister. âYou two wait there until we fetch their ladyships.'
âMe first.' Kathy nipped in front of Violet. When the hem of her dress caught in her heel, Kathy let Stan reach up to disentangle it, making sure he got a good view of her ankle and silk-stockinged calf.
âViolet?' Eddie was ready with a steadying hand but she scarcely noticed him, for she'd spied her aunt toiling across the rough grass.
âYoo-hoo â over here, Aunty Winnie! Where's Uncle Donald? I haven't spotted him.'
âHe's here somewhere. At any rate, he should be. He dressed up in his Sunday best to mark the occasion.' Breathless, overheated, but still brimming with pride, Winnie supervised Violet's descent from her arbour. âThat's right, Eddie â careful now. Keep her well away from that horse muck. Don't land her in the puddle, there's a good chap. That's it, take your time.'