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Authors: Glenice Crossland

Christmas Past

BOOK: Christmas Past
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Christmas Past

Glenice Crossland lives in Sheffield. She has loved writing from an early age, only taking it seriously after early retirement from her job in a leisure centre. She has read
one of her poems on BBC2, had several read on Radio Sheffield and more published in various anthologies. She is well known locally for her watercolours of churches and local traditions. Married
with one son and grandchildren she still lives a few hundred yards from the house in which she was born. She is also the author of
The Stanford Lasses.

 

Also by Glenice Crossland

The Stanford Lasses

 

 

This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically
permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or
use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

ISBN 9781409065968

Version 1.0

www.randomhouse.co.uk

 
Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

 

For my brother Bernard,
Dorothy and Simon.
With love.

 
Acknowledgements

With thanks once again to Georgina Hawtrey-Woore and all the Random House team for their continuing support. Also to Rob Hindle and the members of the WEA Creative Writing class
at Stocksbridge, for their encouragement and friendship.

Special thanks to Maggie Caine for patiently struggling through my first draft. And to Maureen Hall for taking the trouble to read my finished script.

 
Chapter One

‘Michael, you must let her go. It will be the making of the girl.’

Mick O’Connor made no response and the priest tapped his fingers on the oilcloth-covered table in frustration. He tried again. ‘It’s just what Mary needs. The finest fresh air,
nourishing food and most of all the treatment for her TB glands. Rowland Roberts is a fine doctor,’ he stressed.

‘She should be getting the treatment she needs here, from our own doctor, in her own home,’ Mick O’Connor said.

Mariah O’Connor gave her husband a look which spoke volumes. ‘Yes, we know she should be having treatment here, Mick, and we all know why she isn’t getting it: because
nothing’s been paid off the doctor’s bill since our Michael was born.’ She broddled the poker through the shining, blackleaded bars and riddled the ashes vigorously into the pan
below. ‘A shilling a week is all it would take.’

‘Just as I was saying,’ the priest continued, ‘Rowland Roberts will give Mary a course of injections which will put her right in no time. Besides, she’ll have a room of
her own.’

Young Mary O’Connor had been supposedly engrossed in a library book but she gave Father Flynn her full attention at the mention of her own room.

‘After all, the boys ought not to be in with the girls for much longer.’

Mick O’Connor shuffled nervously in the straight-backed chair. Father Flynn was right as usual. Although his sons Bill, Jimmy and Michael were younger than their three sisters it
wouldn’t be long before the sleeping arrangements would have to be looked at. Mariah had told him often enough, not that she nagged though the Lord knew she had good reason to do so. Oh no,
she wasn’t the type of woman to nag. Too good for the likes of him was Mariah. He would have to mend his ways, keep off the beer and move them out to somewhere better.

If he had but known it the same thought was going through the mind of every other person in the room. His wife Mariah was mentally exhausted by trying to make ends meet and had been driven to
waiting at the pit gates on a Friday in order to get her hands on the housekeeping money before the nearest pub landlord did so. Even so, if Mick had run short of beer money by Monday he would help
himself to anything left in her purse, in order to finance another day’s drinking, A collier’s Monday they called it, and it was rare for some of the miners to turn in for work on the
first day of the week. God only knew how Mick had kept his job. Still, he was said to be the hardest grafter in the pit on the days he did turn in. It made Mariah seethe inside to think of the
money wasted on beer when they could have moved out of the row and into somewhere large enough to house them all comfortably.

Young Mary at the tender age of sixteen and a few years older than Norah and Kathleen was having visions of a room of her own. To begin with she hadn’t really wanted to go and live with
the doctor friend of Father Flynn and his wife in a village somewhere in Yorkshire. She had begun to panic at the thought of leaving home and travelling halfway across the country. Admittedly the
thought of leaving the employment of the awful Mrs Brown and her two pampered daughters had been tempting, but not tempting enough to persuade her. The promise of a room of her own was another
matter. Mary had begun to dread the time of the month when her periods began. Smuggling the blanket squares in and out of the bedroom was difficult enough, but if the bleeding started unexpectedly
during the night, hiding the bloodstained sheets and nightie was virtually impossible. In fact only last week young Michael had asked if she had cut herself and sent his older brothers off into a
fit of giggles.

Another thing Mary hated was the thin wall against which she slept. When her da had been drinking he never cared how much noise he made, or how the bedhead knocked against the wall when he did
things to her ma. Mary would draw the blanket over her ears and pray that her ma wouldn’t become pregnant again and overcrowd the house even more. Then she would have to go to confession and
tell Father Flynn about her sinful thoughts. She blushed when she remembered some of the things she had revealed to the good father about her family.

Oh, she did wish her da would keep off the beer. She loved him dearly from Tuesday to Friday when he had no money left and came straight home from the pit. Black as hell’s kettle was how
her ma would describe him. There he would sit in the old tin bath in front of the fire whilst her ma scrubbed him with the hard brush, but even the scrubbing brush and carbolic never managed to
remove the blue slivers of coal embedded in his flesh.

Father Flynn’s thoughts were taking a similar turn. ‘They’re a good couple, Michael.’ He was still bent on persuasion. ‘They were never blessed with children of
their own; Mary will be treated like their own daughter.’

‘Aye, don’t you see, man, that’s the trouble? She isn’t theirs. She’s mine, my Mary, and I love her.’

Mary was shocked to see that her da looked close to tears.

‘It’s all right, Da, I won’t go,’ she said. ‘I don’t want to leave Newcastle anyway.’ But she did. The idea of going on a train and out of Newcastle for
the first time in her life had begun to seem like an adventure.

Father Flynn ignored her. ‘Yes, Michael, you love Mary, you love all your offspring. The trouble is you love the drink more.’

The living kitchen suddenly became deathly silent. Michael O’Connor sat with his head in his hands, for once lost for words.

‘I’ll make a pot of tea,’ Mariah muttered, and filled the kettle at the low stone sink.

‘I’ll help you, Ma,’ Mary said, lifting the cups from the hooks beneath the shelf in the corner.

Father Flynn realised he had overstepped the mark. He wasn’t an interfering man, nor did he usually moralise. Besides, he felt immense pity for the man across the table, who hadn’t
been a drinking man at all until a few years ago. It was the explosion at the pit that had begun his downfall. The priest couldn’t condemn him, not after what had happened: it had been enough
to drive any man to drink. Michael O’Connor had dug, sometimes with his bare hands, to free the trapped men. And then to find his twin brother almost sliced down the middle would have landed
many a man in the asylum; in Michael’s case it had sent him to the bottle.

The four of them sat, Mary and her mother clutching their hot teacups between their hands, the men facing each other with the steaming brew in front of them, all lost for words. It was Mariah
who finally broke the silence.

‘You’re sure they would look after her, Father? If she went, I mean.’

‘Ma, I’m sixteen,’ Mary pointed out. ‘I can look after myself.’

‘Do you think I’d let her go otherwise, Mariah? A lassie I’ve watched blossom since the day she was born?’

‘And she’d get the course of injections the doctor says she needs?’

‘She would.’

‘And she wouldn’t be worked to death like she is at the Browns’?’

‘A few light duties is all that would be required of her. Why, if I know Gladys Roberts, Mary will be the one who’s waited on hand and foot.’

Father Flynn knew all about the longing Gladys had harboured for many years, the yearning for a child of her own. He considered it a tragedy, a couple with so much love to give and no child to
lavish it upon. When he had written to Rowland asking for advice on how to treat TB glands, he hadn’t really been surprised when his friend replied with an invitation for Mary to go and stay
with them, and he hadn’t been fooled for a second by the explanation that they were in need of a maid.

Mick O’Connor spoke at last. ‘She shouldn’t have been at the Browns’. A bloody slave-driver, that woman – I never could abide her. The hours she worked, no wonder
she’s suffering. I should never have let her go.’

‘It’s all right, Da – she’s not all that bad. I get paid regularly, and look at the clothes she gives me.’

‘Aye, so she can brag about what a charitable woman she is.’

‘More like it’s an excuse to buy more finery for her two horsey-looking daughters. Dress them in as many fancy ribbons as she likes and they’ll still look as though they ought
to be pulling a plough.’

Mary giggled, pleased that Father Flynn was back to his normal jovial self.

‘Ten hours a day my lass worked for that woman, and I let her carry on. If she hadn’t collapsed in church she’d still have been doing it. What sort of father does that make
me?’

‘Now then, Michael, you weren’t to know the girl was ill. It was nobody’s fault.’

‘Would she . ..’ Mick looked embarrassed at his sudden thought, ‘would she be able to come home? if she didn’t like it, I mean.’

‘She’ll have a return ticket if and when she needs one. The Robertses promised me that.’

‘What do you say, lass? Do you want to go or not?’

Mary felt a surge of excitement wash over her but tried not to appear too eager. ‘Only if you think I should, Da,’ she said. ‘And only if I can come home if I don’t like
it.’

‘You’ll like it, Mary, I promise.’ Father Flynn was almost as excited as if he was going with her. ‘Wait till you see the place. I won’t tell you any more. Let it
be as much of a surprise as it was for me the first time I visited my old friend. The best friend I’ve ever had, even if he is a blooming Protestant.’

The priest thought back to when he and Rowland Roberts had first met on their arrival at university. He chuckled to himself as he remembered some of the antics they’d got up to in those
carefree days.

Mary grinned. She had known Father Flynn would persuade them. He could get blood out of a stone, that man; her da had always said so.

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