Authors: Janette Jenkins
About the Book
About the Author
Also by Janette Jenkins
Ten (Or More) True Things
Capturing the Nightjar
The Preservation of Meat
Be Good or Begone
Bringing Back the Past
Letters to Elijah
All Those Things that You Miss When They’ve Gone
The Angel of Brooklyn
Walking in the Dark
About the Book
It is January, 1914 and Jonathan Crane returns home from his travels with a new American bride, former Coney Island showgirl Beatrice. In the remote Lancashire village Beatrice is the focus of attention, the men captivated by her beauty, the women initially charmed by tales of her upbringing in Normal, Illinois with her father, an amateur taxidermist, and her brother, a preacher, although she will take the story of how she became the Angel of Brooklyn to her grave. But when the men head off to fight in the Great War the glamorous newcomer slowly becomes an object of suspicion and jealousy for the women who are left behind and as the years pass, and their resentment grows, Beatrice’s secret proves to be her undoing.
Beautifully observed, tragic, funny and so evocative that you can taste the candy floss at Coney Island and feel the chill of wartime England,
Angel of Brooklyn
is an extraordinary, heartbreaking story.
About the Author
Born in Bolton in 1965, Janette Jenkins studied acting before completing a degree in Literature and Philosophy and then doing an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, where she was in Malcolm Bradbury’s final class. She is the author of the novels
Another Elvis Love Child
. Her short stories have appeared in newspapers and anthologies, including
Magazine, and have been broadcast on Radio 4. In 2003 she was awarded an Alumni Fellowship by the University of Bolton. She lives in the city of Durham.
Also by Janette Jenkins
Another Elvis Love Child
Be not forgetful
to entertain strangers:
for thereby some have
entertained angels unawares
Anglezarke, Lancashire, England
A week before they killed her, Beatrice told them about the dead birds, the guillemot, the glass-eyed buzzards, the sparrowhawks in clusters on the mantelpiece. They were knitting scarves and balaclavas for the boys. Lizzie Blackstock was crying. She dropped twenty stitches.
‘All those birds,’ said Madge. ‘I can’t imagine such a thing.’
‘Do you think it’s snowing in France?’ Lizzie asked. ‘I can’t remember. Does it snow a lot in France?’
Beatrice smiled, a thick grey scarf was trailing down her skirt. ‘For sure it does, it’s winter. But it’ll be warmer in France. It’s further south than here. It’s always warmer in the south.’
‘But they have mountains in France,’ said Ada. ‘They have the Pyrenees. People go skiing in the bloody Pyrenees.’
‘Language.’ Madge pretended to frown at her.
‘My Tom doesn’t like the cold,’ said Lizzie. ‘It goes straight to his bones.’
‘You’d better keep knitting then,’ said Ada. ‘That looks more like a dishcloth than anything.’
They were quiet for a moment. Outside, the snow was falling fast, and the women were mesmerised by the fat dancing flakes, and the slow shutting out of the light.
‘It muffles things,’ said Lizzie. ‘Have you ever noticed how it muffles things?’
‘It’s pretty all right, until it freezes over,’ said Madge. ‘And I’m cold enough without it.’
‘Aren’t we all?’ said Ada, rubbing at her fingers.
‘I’m sorry,’ said Beatrice. ‘I tried.’
It was a draughty room, but she’d managed to light something of a fire. The women had arrived an hour earlier, with their needles and loose balls of wool. They were thinking of giving themselves a name,
The Anglezarke Army, The Warrior Ladies, or The Rescuers, but nobody could decide on one.
‘We don’t need a name,’ Madge had said. ‘Why do we need a name? It’s just us, doing our bit for the boys.’
‘It doesn’t seem the same without Jonathan,’ said Ada. ‘This house. Does it feel too big without him?’
‘I’m used to it now, though it still feels empty in the mornings,’ Beatrice told them. ‘No hustle and bustle, and all that English tea.’
‘China,’ said Madge. ‘The tea comes from China.’
‘Or Ceylon,’ frowned Lizzie. ‘It sometimes comes from there.’
‘Don’t you drink tea in America?’ said Madge. ‘What do you drink if you don’t drink tea?’
‘I like coffee,’ said Beatrice. ‘Good, strong coffee.’
‘Well,’ said Ada, slowly shaking her head. ‘You might speak English and have the same coloured skin and everything, but it’s the little things that turn you into a foreigner.’
Beatrice shrugged and wound the gramophone. The music made them smile, until it made them feel worse.
‘Poor Butterfly,’ said Lizzie. ‘We used to dance to this.’
For a while, their fingers moved faster, the clock chimed the half-hour, and they listened to the fire, the way it popped and snapped inside the grate.
‘Keep the home fires burning?’ said Ada, rolling her scarf around the needles. ‘What do they know?’
It was almost dark when they left. The snow had stopped, but the air was heavy, and Anglezarke reservoir was shrouded in fog as the women made their way across the snowy lane, slowly, arm in arm, stopping now and then, taking long, hard looks at the sky. The water made a licking sound.
Anglezarke, Lancashire, England
IN ANGLEZARKE AND
Rivington, birds with beating hearts dived from the trees, startling her, the way they swooped so close, brushing over her shoulder. Jonathan laughed. He was leaning against the wall, lighting a cigarette.
‘So what do you think? This is it. Anglezarke.’
She stood for a moment, her small gloved hands on the cold stone wall, watching the water as the breeze sent ripples through it. She shielded her eyes. In the distance, the trees were fine black bones.
‘Yes,’ she turned. ‘I guess you were right, it is just like a picture, and so very, very quiet.’
‘That’s what you get for marrying an Englishman from the North,’ he grinned. ‘You get to live in that part of England where nothing ever happens.’
As they crossed into the lane, a horse and cart appeared around the bend, and the driver slowed down, clicking his tongue behind his teeth, pulling at the reins.
‘I told you I’d be back.’
‘So, what’s that place got that we haven’t?’ The man tutted as Beatrice went to pat the horse’s sweaty muzzle. ‘Oh, I wouldn’t be doing that, miss. He’s hungry. He’ll have all your fingers off.’
‘I’m used to horses. We have horses twice the size of him in New York.’
‘We have horses twice the size of him right here, but they eat too much for my liking.’
‘Jed, this is Beatrice, my wife.’
‘We’d heard you’d wed a foreigner,’ he said, flicking up the reins. ‘Brown, black, yellow, we didn’t know what to expect.’ And as the
stepped away, Jed looked over his shoulder. ‘Well I never,’ he winked. ‘You’re some souvenir. All I ever bring home from Blackpool is a stick of peppermint rock.’
That night in bed, he turned his face towards her, leaned on one elbow, and said, ‘I think we should rehearse.’
‘Now? Really? But I’m beat.’
‘It’ll only take five minutes.’
‘All right, all right …’
He sat a little higher. ‘So, Mrs Crane,’ he smiled, ‘tell me about yourself.’
She yawned. ‘Once upon a time, my name was Beatrice Lyle.’
‘Make it sound natural.’
‘How’s this? I was born in Normal, Illinois. My mother died in childbirth.’
‘My father was a teacher and an amateur taxidermist. My brother Elijah went to Chicago, where he became a preacher. I haven’t seen him since.’
‘And when my father was killed in a house fire, I moved to New York.’
‘Sounds terrible. How did it start?’
‘A lamp. They say it could have been a lamp. Either that, or there was something wrong with the chimney. It sometimes made a whooshing sound. In New York I worked for a man called Mr Cooper. He had a booth on Coney Island selling picture postcards. Of course, I had no real experience, but he could see that I was honest. And that’s where I met Jonathan. He was with Freddy, looking at the postcards. They were very popular cards.’
‘I think I brought some back. The Steeplechase. The Boardwalk. You could put them into a scrapbook?’
‘OK, I could do that.’
‘And then we fell in love?’
‘In Franny’s Oyster Bar.’
‘I couldn’t help myself.’
‘Neither could I. It was hopeless.’
They grinned at each other, pleased with the story, and lay back in the bed exhausted. Beatrice looked at Jonathan in the half-light; with his sweep of dark hair, his straight nose and teeth, he made her think of the man in the Arrow collar advertisements. She closed her eyes, resting her head on his shoulder. The bed had been made with fresh cotton sheets, and the dusky blue eiderdown smelled of English roses. She dreamed. After more than ten days at sea, she could feel the world tipping, but it was a comfortable kind of rocking, and the dreams were pleasant enough. Elijah was playing on the lawn whistling hymns through a fat blade of grass. The outhouse was there, with its pickling solutions and tubs of papier mâché. Her father was around, somewhere in the distance, waving his right arm, talking to a shadow. Then, just before she woke, she was back on the Island, laughing with Celina and Nancy, biting a chunk out of Marnie’s giant hot dog.
‘Grease!’ Nancy yelped. ‘You can’t be smelling of grease!’
‘Say, this whole place stinks of grease and onions.’
‘Not in here it don’t! Here, take this napkin, quick!’
The dream felt like real life, and when she opened her eyes, she put her fingers to her nose, but all she could smell was her sweaty morning skin, and the underlying hint of Pears’ soap.
The next morning, finding herself outside a closed blue door, Beatrice rested her hand on the small brass knocker before giving it a tap; the door shuddered. Nothing. She tapped it again a little louder, and again, until eventually she heard footsteps and the door was opened by a surprised-looking woman wiping her hands on a dirty white towel.
Beatrice swallowed nervously. ‘My husband tells me this house is the store.’
‘What husband’s that then?’
‘Jonathan? Really? I’d heard he was back from his travels. They said he’d gone and got himself married, but I didn’t believe them. He wouldn’t do that, I said, but now it looks like he has done. And you must be her? The foreigner?’
‘Ada. Pleased to meet you. I won’t shake your hand, I’ve been gutting mackerel.’
Ada must have still been a young woman, but her scraped back mousy hair already had some grey in it; tall and angular, she had a long thin face and enormous pale green eyes.
‘You can come in the front way today,’ she said, ‘but usually, you’d have to knock round the back. This front part, you see, is our own private abode.’
Did young Englishwomen really talk like that?
Dipping her head, she followed Ada inside. The room was fuggy and, although the curtains were open, the windows were so small that the light had to struggle against the glass and the tightly leaded diamonds; she could just make out the embers in the grate, and the outline of the furniture. Ada watched her taking it in.
‘The shop is at the back. Through here.’
The other room was light and airy. There were scales and well-stocked shelves. An advertisement for HP Sauce had been pinned onto the wall, and on a scrubbed pine table was the row of headless mackerel and a plate of oily guts.
‘My husband does the meat down in the cellar. He’s not exactly a butcher. The butcher comes with his cart on a Friday. Eleven o’clock sharp. My husband can do you a rabbit, and the odd bit of game. But he leaves the bacon and such to the experts. He couldn’t kill a pig. He doesn’t have the know-how, or the equipment.’
Beatrice shook her head, not quite knowing what to say.
‘Whatever must you think of me?’ said Ada. ‘I must smell awful.’ She went to rinse her hands. ‘Anyway, what can I get you?’
Beatrice couldn’t think, then suddenly she remembered. ‘Eggs?’ she asked. ‘Eggs and orange marmalade?’
‘Hen eggs? How many? Half a dozen?’
‘A half-dozen would be good.’
As Ada busied herself with the eggs, two women appeared at the top of the cellar steps. They were giggling and talking, but as soon as they saw Beatrice, they abruptly stopped, looking flushed and embarrassed.
‘Got everything you wanted?’ Ada asked them.
‘Yes thanks,’ said the one in the grey tweed coat. ‘I’ll settle up on Thursday.’
‘Right you are then, Madge.’
‘Oh,’ said Beatrice, with a tremble in her voice. ‘You’re Madge? My husband’s mentioned you.’
Madge pressed her basket tight against her plump waist, looking worried. ‘And why would that be?’
‘Your Frank might owe him something,’ said the other woman, swallowing a smile.
‘Oh no,’ rushed in Beatrice, ‘it’s just that I only arrived here a few days ago, and he’s been telling me about the people here, the ladies in particular, and he happened to mention there was a Madge, and an Ada.’
‘What about a Lizzie?’ The other woman smiled shyly, pushing her hand through her springy brown hair.
‘Yes, Lizzie too.’
‘Lizzie might look like a baby,’ said Ada, ‘but she’s five years older than me.’
‘Well, I’m Beatrice. Beatrice Crane.’
‘You married Jonathan?’ said Madge. ‘You’re the foreigner?’
‘I’m an American.’
‘I can’t believe it,’ said Lizzie. ‘I really can’t believe it.’ Both women stared at her, their mouths slightly open in awe.
‘I don’t suppose you’ll be putting the kettle on, Ada?’ said Madge. ‘We should do something. We should celebrate.’
Ada Richards took down a packet of tea and scooped some into a pot.
‘American,’ said Lizzie, chewing over the word. ‘Do Americans marry in churches?’
‘As opposed to wigwams,’ said Ada, pulling out the chairs. The women laughed as Beatrice looked at them and smiled, her heart pounding, her face a little warm.
‘It’s just that we thought he’d marry at St Barnabas, like we all did,’ said Lizzie, quickly sitting down. ‘And his ma and pa are buried in its yard.’
‘We married in the town hall, in Brooklyn, New York.’
‘The town hall?’ said Madge, scratching her head.
‘It’s a fine town hall. Very grand and churchlike.’
Ada poured the tea. ‘Churchlike is better than no church at all,’ she said, pushing a cup towards Lizzie, who seemed most in need of refreshment. ‘And town halls are very important.’
‘Oh, I can just picture it.’ Lizzie spooned in some sugar and began to stir vigorously.
‘Bolton has a nice town hall,’ said Madge. ‘It looks like a palace.’
They drank their tea in silence for a while. The tap dripped slowly into the basin until it seemed that Ada could no longer stand the noise and went to turn it off. Beatrice felt hemmed in, her elbows nudging Madge at one side and Lizzie at the other; she could feel her cup rattling in its saucer.
‘Your hair is very light,’ said Madge suddenly. ‘Have you used a rinse?’
‘No,’ said Beatrice, pulling at a strand. ‘This is how it grows.’
‘Well,’ said Madge, ‘it’s lovely.’
‘Didn’t you mind?’ said Lizzie. ‘Didn’t you mind, coming all this way, and leaving your family behind?’
‘My mother’s dead. And my father too.’
‘So you’re an orphan?’ Lizzie’s hand flew up to her mouth. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘You can’t be an orphan at her age,’ said Ada, not looking at Beatrice, but at the shelves behind her; she straightened a couple of tins. ‘The thing is,’ she went on, ‘if Jonathan’s father hadn’t passed away like that, he never would have got itchy feet.’
‘Still, it seems he’s always wanted to travel,’ said Beatrice. ‘He collects guidebooks, and you should see them all, it’s crazy, really, he has dozens of the things.’
‘He’s twenty-five years old,’ said Ada. ‘He went all the way to America. He came back. He’s scratched his itchy feet.’
‘Guidebooks?’ said Madge. ’What do you mean, guidebooks? He never goes anywhere. He won’t even come on our annual outing to Morecambe.’
‘And he loves potted shrimp,’ sighed Lizzie. ‘We always bring some back for him. Morecambe’s famous for its potted shrimp. They make it for the King. Do they have it in New York?’
‘We have all kinds of seafood.’
‘But potted shrimp? Made with real butter?’
‘Not that I remember.’
‘Thought not. You see, it’s a real English delicacy,’ said Ada. ‘So, what else have you got on that shopping list of yours?’
In the cellar, Jim Richards stood smoking a cigarette, his fingernails jammy with blood. Above his head, rabbit pelts hung like shapeless
, and across the scored table, the shiny limbs glistened in the swinging yellow lamplight.
‘I know who you are, Mrs Crane,’ he said. ‘I’ve been listening in.’ He sniffed, wiping his hands across his messy front, cigarette sticking to his dry bottom lip. ‘Hope all this gore doesn’t offend you?’
‘Not at all. In fact, I’m kind of used to it, my father was fond of taxidermy. It’s not for the faint-hearted.’
‘You’re not squeamish then?’ He raised his narrow eyebrows. ‘Rabbit only today. Mind you, there’s a lot you can do with a bunny. Have it on the house as a welcome-to-England present. And here’s a foot for luck.’
She nodded her thanks quickly, as he slammed down the knife. The foot felt warm and bony in her hand.
Back upstairs, Madge and Lizzie had gone.
‘Didn’t you want an onion?’ said Ada. ‘You can’t make a good rabbit stew without an onion.’
Later, sorting through her wardrobe, Beatrice stopped to press her cheeks against the collars of her dresses. She put her shoes and boots in pairs, slipping her hand inside, feeling the ridges her toes had made, examining the soles, wondering if a little piece of Coney might have made it over here. She found the menu from Franny’s Oyster Bar and, lying across the bed, she started reading it out to the wall.
‘“Open all year round! Walk right in and get yourself a real fresh taste of the ocean! We have the biggest juiciest clams. We have oysters with pepper sauce, oysters with lemon zest, West Coast octopus, sea urchin eggs, blowfish tails, crawfish, winkles, ink squid, barn-door skates, salmon cheeks, cod cheeks, cod tongues, sturgeon liver, blue-shark steak, squid stew, clam chowder, lobster tails.”’ She threw the menu down. ‘Franny Nolan was my friend and she’d have done potted shrimp if I’d asked her.’
Anglezarke stretched out into moorland, scrubby hills, grey, violet, black-brown in the distance. Its water sat brooding, waiting for the light to start bouncing off those small choppy waves, bringing it to life.
Liverpool felt as far away as America, with its docks, and the movement, that thick bitter brine, and the fumes that settled in the air, hanging like a stained piece of cloth, in yards where she’d seen couples kissing behind Costa Rican crates and off-duty sailors queuing for new
. Of course, she’d heard all the screaming, the belly-laughing, two boys fighting, then four, crashing, dark faces, men snapping braces, and women with too much rouge and feathers in their hair, weaving arm in arm, like showgirls after the show.
‘I thought that was England,’ she told Jonathan, who’d finally arrived home in the car, his face burning red from the cold.
‘Liverpool? What do you mean? Of course that was England.’
‘It looked interesting.’
‘What, that filthy place? No one goes to Liverpool, unless they’re on their way to somewhere else.’
‘We could travel? You have all those little guidebooks just sitting on your shelf.’
‘But we’ve only just got here, my darling. You’ll get used to Anglezarke eventually. Come now, hop in and I’ll show you some of the countryside in this beautiful motor car – my father gave it to me, you know, said I should enjoy it.’
Beatrice stepped into the passenger side, slamming the door behind her.
‘Forget the damn countryside. I want to see some buildings.’
‘Fuel isn’t cheap. We can’t go too far.’
‘All right, OK, any building will do, just so long as it’s not in a field.’
The thin gravel road circled the reservoir, winding into town, where the buildings were small, crouching against the road with all their shutters closed.
‘Look at them,’ she sighed. ‘They hardly scratch the sky.’
He showed her his office, above the printing shop, with its thick frosted glass and the painted gold scroll saying
. A shop selling neckties promised credit, value for money and real silk linings. A closed cafeteria had its board still up, with a chalked
High Teas, Bean Soup and Freshly Cut Sandwiches
At the edge of the pavement, boys folded their arms and squealed at the sight of the motor.
‘Are they loons?’ she asked.
‘Could have fooled me.’
‘Boys in New York are the same.’
‘In New York,’ she told him, ‘it takes more than an automobile to get them so excited.’
She wrote a letter home. She didn’t like the paper she found in Jonathan’s desk, it was far too thick and yellow; the ink smudged.
January 18, 1914
England is empty. I am always hungry. I miss the little things, like saltines, muscatel, and music. We have a whole house to ourselves and no one either side. Imagine that. It sure is a one-horse kind of town. The noise comes from the animals. Sheep, cows, and birds. Lots and lots of birds. I do miss Clancy’s ponies. I even miss the elephants. I never thought I’d miss the elephants.
The people here are strange. The young women talk and act so old. Oh you should hear them. They are wrapped up in each other and walk like the nuns at St Xavier’s. But I am trying, Nancy.
We are having a party here Saturday night, and I have promised J that it will be nothing like the night at the Alabama Hotel, but that was a good night, wasn’t it? The night when all the stars came out.
Well, Nancy, I must go heat more water. Washday here is a little like slavery, and I have the red arms to prove it.
Write soon like you promised.
Your best friend,
Your Bea x
Jonathan had six gramophone records.
‘Caruso? Say, have you nothing lighter than this?’
‘He’s really very popular.’
‘Sure he is, but he hardly starts the dancing.’
‘There won’t be any dancing,’ said Jonathan. ‘Remember? It’s not that kind of party.’
Beatrice was trembling as she paced up and down, moving things. She’d chosen a plain blue dress and matching kid leather shoes. She was wearing a bracelet of freshwater pearls, drop pearl earrings, jasmine scent.
‘Just keep things simple,’ Jonathan told her, fussing with his cufflinks. ‘No need for a neck full of clanking beads and whatnot.’
The kitchen was brimming with food, and she busied herself arranging it in the dining room.
‘The girl could do this,’ said Beatrice, straightening the plates.
‘The girl we need to help us run this house.’
‘We said we wouldn’t have a girl. We agreed.’
Sighing, Beatrice plumped up the watercress. She pushed the small veal pies into a circle, checking her fingertips for grease. ‘It’s hard for me,’ she told him. ‘I’m really not used to this way of life. Not any more. I lived in boarding houses, I bought all my food ready-made. We had radiators. Electricity.’
‘Well, that’s the New World for you,’ he said.
‘I have calluses.’
‘You have hand cream.’
‘Rose-scented calluses? Is that what I came to England for?’
By twenty past seven they were sitting side by side, hypnotised by the clock’s loud tick and the pendulum.
‘They’ll come,’ said Jonathan.
‘Still, they sure like to keep us waiting.’
‘They’ll be here.’
‘Does everything look all right?’ she asked, screwing up her forehead.
‘Everything looks perfect, my darling, and have you seen what I’ve put on the mantelpiece? I found those postcards. All of them. The Steeplechase. The Boardwalk. Luna Park by night.’
‘Luna Park by night?’
‘You sold me those postcards. That’s how we met. I thought they’d like to hear about it.’
The doorbell rang and Beatrice stood up before quickly sitting down. Jonathan went to open the door.
‘You stand when they come into the room.’
‘Oh, I know that,’ she said, standing up again.
They all came, as Jonathan knew they would. Before they’d had Beatrice to gawp at, they’d had his father, and, with their limp bunches of grapes and bottles of milk stout – ‘to put some flesh on your bones’ – they’d brought their curious eyes, weighing up the ornaments, the
, the red Persian rug that sat in the room like a thick flying carpet.
Beatrice smiled meekly at all the congratulations, and the talk about foreigners.
‘We thought you’d have skin like a gypsy, and look, you’re whiter than me!’
‘Have you always spoken English?’ a man asked, narrowing his eyes.
‘Oh, I’m afraid I can only speak American,’ she smiled, but the joke fell flat, and the man backed away.
She tried to remember their names. Lizzie and Tom Blackstock. Madge and Frank Temple. Elsie Ward. Ada and Jim Richards (his bloody nails now scrubbed and full of carbolic, which he picked out all night). Lionel Bailey. Jed and Cora Matthews. The man in the corner was Jeffrey something. Then Mr Foxton from the quarry. Emily and Nathaniel. The man with the walking stick. Charlie.
Jonathan poured the ladies another glass of wine.
‘Oh, we never usually,’ said Madge, holding out her glass. ‘My cousin’s just joined the Temperance Society. What he’d make of all this, I don’t know.’
‘Ada makes a lovely lilac wine,’ said Lizzie. ‘It gives you such nice dreams.’
Candles filled the house with a buttery kind of light. Close to the fireplace, a man had all the attention. It was Lionel, with his small hunched shoulders and flat grey hair.
‘All this electricity,’ he was saying, ‘we don’t want it. It will make the birds fall out of the trees. Make fires. Create blizzards. And, you mark my words, it will hurt the innocent.’
‘You really believe that?’ said Frank.
‘Believe it?’ said Lionel. ‘I know.’
‘But electric light is just wonderful,’ exclaimed Beatrice. ‘It’s everywhere. In Luna Park alone there are a quarter of a million light bulbs. It’s a magical sight. Really it is. People stand gasping every night.’
‘It’s an amusement park,’ Jonathan explained.
‘An American amusement park?’ said Frank.
‘Yes. They call it the electric Eden.’
‘Good heavens.’ Lionel screwed up his eyes, as if all those lights had reached him.
‘It’s a marvellous place all right,’ said Jonathan.
‘Really? But what’s so wonderful about an amusement park?’
‘I don’t know. They make you feel alive.’
Frank rolled his eyes. ‘I like Blackpool. It tastes different.’
‘Not for me,’ said Lionel, putting down his glass. ‘I have to be getting along. Being out at such a late hour only upsets my routine.’
Beatrice glanced at the clock. ‘But it’s only just gone nine.’
‘Ah.’ He tapped at his pocket watch. ‘I’ve things to do. The dogs don’t know what a party is. They’ll want walking. And I have to read a certain amount of my good friend Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, before my brain will tell me that I’m tired enough for sleeping.’
‘You really know Conan Doyle?’ said Beatrice.
‘We correspond from time to time but we haven’t met, so to speak, in the flesh. Well, I’ll take my overcoat from you now, and bid you all goodnight. Another Mrs Crane in the house, eh? I’ll have to get used to it. I dare say that I will. You are indeed a pleasant-looking woman, I can’t deny you that. Goodnight to you, goodnight.’
Beatrice could feel the draught from the door, making the candles flutter like gigantic yellow moths, before grabbing the back of her neck.
‘Are people helping themselves to food?’ she shivered.
‘Oh, yes,’ Ada told her, ‘they’ve been nibbling all evening. The pies look very tempting. Pork?’
‘Well,’ she smiled, ‘they almost look too perfect.’
Beatrice found the men in a huddle drinking port and puffing at their cigars. Jonathan smiled as she walked into the small clouds of smoke.
‘Now here she is again. My wife. She’s quite the conversationalist. She’ll certainly tell you what’s what.’
‘Are ladies allowed inside the smoking room?’
‘Of course,’ said Jeffrey, offering her a chair. Pale and blond, with wide grey eyes, he moved between the furniture like a dancer with oil on his shoes.
‘What we’d all really like to know,’ said Tom, ‘is how did you find him? Was he somewhere making a daft silly fool out of himself?’
‘A what silly fool? What was that word?’ Beatrice laughed, scratching the side of her head. ‘Another strange English word?’
‘Well, it means thick in the head, of course. Acting silly.’
‘Oh, I get you,’ she smiled. ‘No, he wasn’t “acting daft” as you say. Not then anyway.’
The men laughed and sucked on their cigars.
‘So how did you meet?’ asked Jeffrey.
‘I sold him some postcards.’
‘You don’t look like a shop girl,’ said Frank.
‘I worked in a booth, on the boardwalk, at Coney Island.’
‘Promenade. She means promenade.’
‘I had to work. You see, my mother died when I was born, and my father was killed in a house fire. My brother Elijah went to Chicago to preach. He was drawn in by the church and I haven’t seen him since. After that, I just had to get away. And I chose New York.’
‘Why New York?’ Jeffrey pulled a strand of tobacco from his pale top lip.
‘I read plenty of magazines and people in magazines talk a lot about New York. And you know something, they’re right. It’s a wonderful tall place, full of opportunity. I was lucky. A man called Mr Cooper let me work in his booth. I hadn’t much experience, but he could see that I was honest.’
‘Aye,’ they nodded.
‘You look honest all right,’ Frank winked.
‘And that’s how we met. Jonathan bought some postcards.’
‘These,’ he said, fanning them out. ‘These are the very cards I bought from her.’
‘So, you sold him these postcards,’ said Jeffrey, ‘and that was it? Did Cupid shoot you right in the heart there and then?’
‘More or less,’ said Jonathan, looking at his wife.
‘Mary Pickford’s American,’ said Frank.
As they handed round the cards, they glanced at her, feeling the swell of the ocean, the taste of the exotic pouring through the ink.
‘It does wear you out after a while,’ said Jonathan, swirling his glass of port, throwing the last thick bite of his cigar onto the fire. ‘You never saw so many people at one time.’
‘Not like here,’ said Jeffrey with a frown. ‘I do hope you’ll like it here, Mrs Crane.’
‘Why shouldn’t she?’ said Frank. ‘Life’s just grand, and the air’s clean. There’s plenty of work for us and all the Irish. We’ve just bought ourselves a fancy new gramophone. Wonderful thing it is. We dance all night, me and Madge, and it sends the kiddies to sleep.’
‘I met your little boy,’ said Beatrice. ‘He gave me a daffodil.’
‘I’m sure he couldn’t help himself,’ said Jeffrey.
‘Aye,’ said Tom. ‘A flower, for a flower.’
By eleven, there was a lull in the house. Glasses stained with lines of red and amber had been pushed across the table. Ashtrays held pyramids of warm grey powder. There was a stain on the tablecloth, a tattered port wine daisy. Eyes were being rubbed. Lizzie had taken off her sister’s borrowed shoes.
Madge was in the kitchen. ‘I wonder,’ she said, licking pastry from her lips. ‘Could I make up a plate for Mary? It seems a shame she missed out. I don’t suppose you’ve met her? She’s ill. Never leaves her room.’
‘She doesn’t? Well, of course, go right ahead, take whatever you think she’ll like,’ Beatrice told her. ‘What’s wrong with her?’
‘No one really knows.’ Madge forked up some ham. ‘But she’s as pale as a sheet all right, and her legs are thinner than cotton. We all look in from time to time.’
‘Maybe I could too?’
‘Good idea. She needs entertaining.’
Beatrice watched Madge making up the plate with cold meats, Lancashire cheese and a broken slice of pie.
‘Have you got a tea cloth I can borrow?’ she asked. ‘To keep the food from spoiling?’
Ada appeared, grinning triumphantly. ‘Here, use this,’ she said, handing her a large paper bag, printed with the words
Swift & Son, Fine Bakers and Confectioners
‘Thanks,’ said Madge. ‘That’s very handy, that is.’
‘They were all mixed up,’ said Beatrice, looking hard into the fire. ‘Mr Cooper told me about the rich and poor in England, and those in between, and how they all lead very separate lives. Tonight they were all mixed up.’
‘It’s like that here. I admit that it’s strange, it isn’t at all usual, but everyone knows everyone.’
‘Apart from me.’
‘Apart from you,’ he said.
Jonathan yawned. He could feel his head crackling. The cigars had made his throat ache.
‘Congratulations, my darling,’ he said, stretching out his arms to
. ‘It was a success. You pulled it off all right. I’m going up. What about you?’ His shoulders made a clicking sound.
‘I think I’ll stay down here.’
He kissed her on the forehead. ‘Well, goodnight for now, my darling.’
As soon as he’d gone, she closed her eyes and pictured her America. She folded her hands in her lap and willed herself to relax, until eventually the images came floating, and she was standing outside the Galilee Hotel, 16 July 1911, wearing a cheap grey suit, her coat all creased, and a sign in the window (cardboard, handwritten) said ‘Be Good or Begone’. She didn’t go inside. She was just too tired for that.
Yawning, she thought of other, smaller things. Ice, spaghetti vongole, the sound of the breeze as it flicked at the awning, and those long afternoons sipping lemon-flavoured tea through little lumps of sugar held underneath her tongue.
She looked at the sky through the window and shivered. The wind was whistling through the trees. The party was still in her head, the women laughing behind their hands, the men clasping their fingers in knots behind their backs, rocking on their heels, faces twitching. Cold fish. That’s what Nancy called Englishmen. Tight lips. Insipid. Voices stuck somewhere deep inside their throats. And Nancy knew about these things, because she’d kissed at least half a dozen, behind McCauley’s Tavern, though a couple of those were Irish, with hair like wet coal, and eyes the colour of water.
Jonathan couldn’t sleep. His skin felt tight with whisky and tobacco, and the starch in the sheets made the cotton creak. Before America he’d slept in this room. From here, through the walls, he’d heard the nurse padding up and down, his father’s chest wheezing, then coughing, retching, and crying out for Eliza, his long-dead wife, and sometimes a woman called Margaret. Was the nurse called Margaret? She was known as Miss Hopkins. He’d asked her once. ‘No,’ she’d said, ‘I’m Catherine.’
Now all he could hear was the wind outside, pushing at the glass. He could see his old bear with its broken leather nose sitting on the washstand. A gift from his father the week his mother died. It was a stiff old thing, with a bony woollen spine and chipped glass eyes. He was seven years old, and of course, the bear hadn’t made it any better.
‘Still awake?’ said Beatrice, suddenly standing in the doorway.
‘Well, I’m here now,’ she smiled.
‘I can see that.’
‘Are you glad?’ she said. ‘Glad I came to England?’
‘Of course I’m glad. England’s always needed a Mrs Beatrice Crane.’
‘Is America missing me?’
‘America?’ he said, loosening the sheets. ‘I’m sure all the men on the Island are wearing black armbands and weeping into their whiskey.’
St Barnabas Church, in nearby Heapy, sat cold and grey in the drizzling Sunday morning.
‘Where’s the steeple?’ said Beatrice, tipping back her head. ‘I thought all English churches had a steeple? It looks more like a schoolhouse to me.’
‘It doesn’t matter what it looks like, darling,’ said Jonathan, carefully avoiding the puddles. ‘It’s what goes on inside that really counts.’
They walked side by side up the path, Beatrice folding her hands deep inside her sleeves as the rain fell like a web.
‘My family’s grave.’ He suddenly pointed to a tall white slab beside a bent lilac bush. ‘My mother, father and my baby brother Thomas are buried there, though today is certainly not the day to be standing mourning beside it, we’d only catch our death of cold and be joining them too soon.’
Inside, people shuffled and coughed. Women rattled through their handbags, rooting for lozenges. Men’s hands ticked and trembled wishing they held cigarettes. Of course heads turned, Beatrice was the striking foreigner, the talk of the village; they’d been waiting to catch a glimpse of her, and now she was right here in front of them. She recognised Jeffrey and he waved with his fingers. Ada and Jim pretended they hadn’t seen them arrive, but of course they had, and Beatrice could see Ada nudging Jim’s elbow, his neck flushing into his collar.
As the Reverend Peter McNally stepped behind the lectern he lost his footing and dropped his sermon sheet. He had oiled black hair, a narrow white face, and Beatrice wasn’t impressed with his voice, a droning monotone, but she went along with him, singing the hymns, the numbers chalked up on a board, religious arithmetic, screwing her
at all the tiny grey print in the prayer book.
‘Let us pray for all the lost souls in the world. Those poor damned natives who have never heard the name of Jesus Christ Our Lord.’
After the final hymn, an out-of-key ‘He Who Would Valiant Be’, the reverend shook hands with his congregation, sheltering from the rain inside the vestry.
‘Oh, I’ve heard all about you,’ he said, taking Beatrice’s hand with a playful kind of squeeze.
‘Word travels fast.’
‘Like a telegraph. You are the American? The new Mrs Crane?’
‘You make it sound like I come from the moon,’ she smiled.
‘But, Mrs Crane, I have seen the moon. I have never seen America.’
‘Well, it does exist. Really. First port of call after Ireland.’
‘Her brother is a preacher,’ Jonathan added a little too brightly. ‘And although he’s a lay preacher, he trained for many years with the Church.’
‘The Church of the United States of America?’ the reverend winked. ‘A most inventive branch.’
February 18, 1914
I have never been much of a letter writer, but here goes. The last real letter I wrote was to Stanley, telling him it was over. You remember that? I was too much of a coward to tell him face to face. I was in love with that fiddle player. The Russian. That lasted all of five minutes.
We are all fine here. I’m still with Cooper and Co. A girl called Jessie has your old job. She’s pretty enough, and fair, but she’s the argumentative type. She used to work the trapeze at Eli’s Circus, but then she put on weight. Don’t get me wrong, she isn’t even plump, but you have to be as skinny as a six-year-old to go up on the wire.
Marnie says hello. She’s been busy these last few months and has just got herself married, so she sits all day in the beauty parlor, preening, drinking hock, and buffing up her nails. She went and married Lenny the barber. You know the one? He has a scar on his face like a sickle? She’s already wife number three,
him not yet forty. I’ve told her to be careful. Well, we all have.