11 Feb

hatsChapter 7
The night of her meeting with Bernie and Colleen at the gate, Catherine developed a fever, crying deliriously into the darkness of the freezing room, her hot breath forming clouds of condensation.
It was Rosie who came to her bed and carried her limp, feather light body to the infirmary, which was swamped by fever. Rosie stayed with her and sponged her with cool water. In the morning Catherine awoke to find the young woman who had terrorised her life during the early days of her workhouse confinement, sleeping exhausted, on the floor beside her bed.
‘Wake up young lady’,
The tone was kind and the nurse gently stroked Rosie’s head.
‘Your patient is going to be fine.’
Catherine was weak but the fever had gone, leaving in its stead a bond of friendship strong enough to last a life time, between the two.
It would be a week before Catherine was strong enough to return to the dormitory, and Rosie visited every day, telling outrageous stories about life on the streets of Liverpool, which made the innocent young girl blush and had the other patients laughing out loud.
‘Don’t mind me Cathy. I’m a whore! It’s all I know! But it’ll be different for you. You’ll have a better life.’
‘Right now Rosie, life’s not looking too great for either of us.’ Catherine observed.
Nine years older and infinitely more world weary; Rosie assumed a motherly roll towards the waif of a girl whose life she had undoubtedly saved that night in February, and Catherine found that beneath the rough, defensive exterior lay a good nature, and a willingness to listen to her story.
‘I’m sorry your mam passed away, Cathy, and your dad disappeared, but you’ve got some good memories and that’s an ‘elp. Your dad’ll come back, I know he will. But if he doesn’t, you’ll be fine, I promise.’
Rosie’s resolve strengthened Catherine and she emerged from her illness, a changed person. Those words, ‘If he doesn’t, you’ll be fine’, became her cornerstone. It had never occurred to her that she could move on from this misery, without her father rescuing her. But if Rosie had no such dream, why should she?
Miss Clancy was pleased to see Catherine return to the sewing room. She recognised talent in her pupil, whose work had always been outstanding.
‘Catherine dear, how nice to see you back,’ Miss Clancy gushed.
‘Thank you Miss.’
Catherine’s response was cautious. She had witnessed Miss Clancy’s darker side when dealing with girls, like Bernie, who were not so good at stitching, and consequently, she had a terrible fear of being on the receiving end of the pious woman’s wrath.
‘I have a proposal for you my dear. Don’t look so afraid; it’s a good proposal. I have a friend who is a milliner. She is seeking an apprentice; someone able to wield a needle, and I’ve already secured you the position. You will start on Monday in her divine little shop which is situated on Church Street. It will be a trial for two weeks which I am confident you will pass, after which you will lodge above the shop while in receipt of your training and a small stipend. Now you may resume your work.’
Miss Clancy permitted herself to smile briefly and Catherine, dizzy with shock, silently returned to the seat she had occupied for two years, stitching seams, which would stretch the length of the Mersey and then again for Bernie. She had never experienced sheer elation, but now it welled up from some dark untapped depth within her and she wanted to scream with joy. But instead she fought back tears and stitched her joy and prayers of thanks into her work; just as Miss Clancy had always instructed.
‘You’ll be makin’ ‘ats for posh people.’
Rosie declared on hearing Cathy’s news.
‘That’s what milliners do.’
‘But I’ve only ever sewed a seam. I’ve no experience of hats.’ Catherine had a sudden memory of her mother scolding her for calling a hat an ‘at. “Don’t drop aitches Cathy, its common.’ She had warned her. Perhaps my mother had a premonition that I’d work in a hat shop, Catherine mused, she smiled at the thought.
‘’ats are more interestin’ than seams luvy. All them feathers and lace. When I get out of ‘ere I’ll come and get an ‘at you’ve made. Black an’ red with an enormous brim.’
Rosie had placed a shabby pillow on her head and tied it with a piece of string she found in her pocket.
‘I hope it won’t be long before you’re out Rose. Come and see me when you can.’
‘I don’t think your posh boss will want the likes of me in the shop, but I’ll get a message through and if anyone gives you any trouble, let me know. I’ll deal with them.’
‘I’m sure you will Rosie Fistycuffs, but I’d rather talk myself out of trouble thank you.’
‘Please yourself then. But if anyone ‘arms you sweetie, they’ll answer to me.’ Rosie strode off to her bed.
Catherine was so elated to be moving back to the world of the living, that she had not given much thought to her little brothers. Restless in her bed, she was aware that not only was her life about to be transformed, but this was an opportunity that could enable her to make plans for a future which would include Alfie and Billy. She recalled Rosie’s wise words; ‘If your father doesn’t return, you’ll be fine.’ And now it seemed that, thanks to Miss Clancy, arch enemy and persecutor of all those wretched souls who struggled to sew a straight seam, she may indeed, be fine.

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