- Vol. 09
- Chapter 01
Mother was always disappointed that I took after the Murphy side of the family. My father had been a burly feller, plain faced and ginger haired and I was a constant reminder of him. Fortunately my temperament was more like the Turners, stoical and hard-working, none of the easy come, easy go of my father's family who left us to get on with life as best we could after he left for the Americas with a girl on his arm, half his age and her belly already swollen.
My sister by contrast was a Turner through and through, slightly built, golden haired and pretty. No worries about finding her a decent man, mother said. She'd have her pick when she was old enough.
But of course, things are never that straightforward. If the living was hard for an abandoned woman with two young daughters, it was yet more difficult after a run of bad harvests, when even the most generous friends and family had nothing to spare. Hardly surprising that what weight she had fell from my mother's frame when the influenza struck; no wonder that she was one of the first laid to rest in the dark soil of the new churchyard.
So here we are, Elsie and I, just a couple more of the lads and lasses dependent on the charity of those rich businessmen, lauded by the city fathers for their generosity. There are a lot of us now, filling the poorhouses, working in the manufactories and on the railways for a meal a day, a roof over our heads and a few skinny coins in our pockets.
We're lucky, in comparison to some. The Turners were well spoken, well regarded. There's no history of drunkenness or violence and so long as the Murphy connection isn't mentioned, we get by. Even my resemblance to father isn't a problem - who's likely to give a dairymaid with my looks more than a passing glance?
But Elsie is another issue.
As she gets older she becomes more like our mother, and even in her uniform she sparkles. She's totally unaware of her beauty, the way her pale skin catches the light across her cheekbones, the rose of her lips on a cold morning, the soft hazel of her eyes. Why should she notice, she's only a child. But every day the woman she's about to become unfurls a little more, like a summer rose.
I see the great and the good on their regular visits, applauding one another for their fine works. I hear about the awards they've been granted for their philanthropy, the knighthoods and the lordships. I smell their self-importance and their greed.
Every day I keep Elsie close. Every day I become more watchful. And every day I keep her closer still.