|Chapter 16 b|
Meg swept her sister into the flat firmly closing the door, to the acute disappointment of the next door neighbour who, on seeing Meg get out of the car, had decided this was the right moment to give her brass door knob and letter box their Hogmanay polish.
She sat Stella down on the sofa and held her close until the sobs began to subside. Meg took out her handkerchief and wiped the tears from Star’s face.
Stella gulped, “Oh, Megsy, I’ve been such a damn fool! How could I have been so taken in by him?”
“You weren’t a fool, Star, you were in love, you believed he was too – and maybe he was. Maybe his marriage is a sham but he hasn’t been able to end it.”
“Well, it probably is now but from what that poor woman said it wasn’t! They have two small children, one just a baby, and were about to move into a council house. When he was telling me he couldn’t see me because he was very busy at work he was at home playing the good husband and father.
Oh God, I should have seen the signs! It’s not as if he was my first boyfriend – Da always teased that he didn’t bother asking my lads for their name as it would be a different boy next week. Beyond the fact that everyone who cared about me, even my loyal wee Kate, loathed the very sight of him, I should have been suspicious that he always avoided telling me where he worked and that he told me nothing of his family background except that his parents were dead. Apparently they are not, by the way, as Jean was threatening him with what his mother was going to say about it all! That seemed to frighten him more than the tea tray!”
“If his mother’s anything like ours, he had something to frighten him!”
“That’s the worst thing of all, Meg, what I’ve done to Ma and Da and the rest of the family. I know it’s caused the only serious argument our parents have ever had. You should have seen Da when he came to meet me to offer me the money for my wedding! He’d got away from work early and changed into his good suit. He was so dignified and sad that I wanted to throw my arms round him but I was too proud and stubborn. And I’m so ashamed that I took his money because even then I wasn’t sure that Peter would pay for the reception. I was the one who paid the deposit for that and the rooms. I gave it to Kate to give back to him. God, what an idiot I am! Will they ever forgive me?”
Meg gave her sister a gentle shake. “Don’t be a daft lassie, you must know you’ll be welcomed with open arms. We are all hurt because you’ve been hurt but you are ours and we love you. And you won’t get a hard time from any of us, either. Eileen tells me that the Grannies and Aunties have threatened to horsewhip anyone who looks squint at you!”
Stella giggled, “I can just see them! Hardest thing is going to be going back to work, though. As Kate was too young and I knew Eileen really didn’t want to be party to it though, bless them, she and Pat were coming, I asked Jenny Gilroy to be my best maid. She agreed but wasn’t enthusiastic – oh, why didn’t that get through to me? Everybody I respect, my family, my friends, my workmates, could all see that he was a chancer and a rotter, why not me? Do you know, I am not even sure who was going to be our other witness? He said an old army pal but whether he was ever in the army.....Oh Stella, Stella, you fool! How I’m ever going to face them all?”
“Well, I have to go and work in London for the next three months. If you want, I’m sure I could get you a post in one of the maternity hospitals there – they are always desperate for good staff. It wouldn’t need to be for long, just till you were ready to come home.”
Stella looked at her sister with a rueful smile.
“It’s a kind thought, Meg, but you do realise that folk would assume I had left town to hide my shame and have the baby adopted.”
Meg was startled. “But you’re not...?”
“Of course not! I’m a midwife, Meg, I do know about the birds and the bees! I’d love to say that folk aren’t keeping us so they can please themselves what they think but we are both in in a profession where it’s not just our medical reputation that matters. You are so adept at keeping your private life private that I am not even sure that you know about it but I don’t want my good name dragged through the mud any more than it has been!”
Meg grinned at her sister, “Our Sensible Star! Eileen was right, you are the one in the family who holds everything together. I’ll try to be a bit more help when I get back! Now how about food, then we can get the cleaning done?”
“There’s not a lot to do. Kate’s kept the place like a new pin and she was down before daylight this morning to change the bed and get the sheets to the bagwash. I was a real besom to her this morning and told that poor good bairn I didn’t want to see her until the 2nd and that I was going to my bed at 10 o’clock!”
Meg put the soup brought down by Kate in a pan to warm.
“You would have been wakened at midnight! Pat was going to be on the doorstep at the Bells and he was sure you would open the door.”
“He was right! I would have felt guilty if I hadn’t let your first foot in!”
“Well, we can tell him he’s not needed. Ma and Da don’t know I am home, Pat and Eileen won't tell them, then you and I will be on their doorstep at midnight!”
“Oh, Meg, no, I can’t........”
“Yes, you can! You’ve said you feel really guilty about what you’ve put them through. It’s their first New Year in their new house so what better gift can you give them? Now, have your soup then you can dress my wound.”
“Your wound? What happened?”
Meg explained. Stella stared at her sister then went into peals of laughter.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Meg!” she said struggling to control her giggles. “I know it’s not funny, it was and is very painful, you lost blood - I thought you were a bit peeliewallie – but it’s just that here we‘ve all been worrying about you out there among the bombs and the mortars and you have to go and get assaulted by a light bulb.......let me have a look.”
It was a couple of minutes to twelve when the Kelly sisters reached the street where their parents’ neat little terraced house stood.
“Bit of a change from the Overgate, isn’t it? A bath in the house, big kitchen, central heating, washhouse across the street and just look at that view! Do you think we’ll hear the Steeple Bells from here?”
“Might do but we’ll see the rocket anyway! And there it goes! Happy New Year, Meg!” They hugged then turned and rang the bell.
They heard their father’s steps and his “An early first foot in our new house, what rare!” He opened the door and his jaw dropped. He pulled his daughters into his arms and into the house, shouting, “Maggie, Maggie, our lassies are home! Oh Happy New Year, my darling girls, what a party we are going to have!”
“....So, after all, Hilda, we did have a good New Year. Of course, Stella still has her sad moments but we met some of her nursing friends and they were very good, just said they were looking forward to her return from holiday, and didn’t mention the other business at all.
I’m glad to hear that Molly continues to do well but it will be a slow business. It’s unfortunate that Peggy will have to miss the rest of her year in the Oberland but she wouldn’t be happy if she had to worry about how her mother was coping and it sounds as if the Quadrant takes some looking after with all those rooms!
I am travelling down to London tomorrow and staying with Louise and Edwyn for a couple of nights before I report to Millbank. If I manage to get a long weekend at some point I shall try to get to St Briavel’s to see you all. The RAMC should let me go home in March but if they decide to extend my service I might even get to your Sale!
My half-filled suitcase is reminding me that I still have packing to finish so, as young Mickey says, I shall have to love you and leave you! Take care, Meg.”
Author's Chapter Notes:
Em, sorry about this but I forgot to add this chapter in here which meant I left Staella's tory haning in the air!