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Authors: Irene Carr

Chrissie's Children

BOOK: Chrissie's Children
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Chrissie’s Children

Also by Irene Carr

Mary’s Child

Lovers Meeting 1998

Love Child 2000

Katy’s Men 2000

Emily 2001

Fancy Woman 2002

Liza 2003

Rachel 2004

Jailbird’s Daughter 2005

Chrissie’s Children

Irene Carr

First published in Great Britain in 1996 by Hodder & Stoughton
An Hachette UK company

Copyright © 1996 by Irene Carr

The right of Irene Carr to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written
permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent

All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library

Ebook ISBN 9781444765250
Paperback ISBN 9780340654354

Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
338 Euston Road
London NW1 3BH


Half-title page

Also by Irene Carr

Title page

Copyright page





























Summer 1923
. Monkwearmouth in Sunderland.

Chrissie Ballantyne felt fear clutch at her heart. She stood in the shipyard, a slender young woman with her dark eyes narrowed against the morning sunlight, and was cold
inside. The din of the riveting hammers beat around her head. The part-built hull of the ship held in the web of staging towered black above her. She sniffed the familiar odours of hot metal, coal
smoke, oil and salt air. There was soot clinging already to her day dress of silk taffeta and the clothing of her children as they clustered around her legs. With one hand she held on to her little
cloche hat as the wind from the River Wear tried to snatch it from her head.

Her husband lifted his voice against the din, stooped his broad shoulders and bent his head with its shock of black hair so that he spoke into her ear: ‘In 1920 there were sixty-seven
ships built on this river. This year there’ll only be sixteen. That’s the way it has gone – and is going. On this stretch of the river alone there’s one yard,
Blumer’s, closed down. The rest – Thompson’s, Crown’s and us – are fighting to stay alive.’ Jack Ballantyne sounded grim, and well he might. This was
Ballantyne’s yard, he owned it and he was staring ruin in the face.

Chrissie reached out to squeeze his hand and forced a smile. ‘We’ve come through bad times before.’ They had, surviving what was called the Great War.

‘You’re right.’ Jack nodded grim agreement and then the fine lines crinkled at the corners of his light blue eyes, startling under the black thatch of hair. ‘We’re
not finished yet.’

Then a foreman up on the staging bawled down, ‘Mr Ballantyne!’

Jack clapped his old trilby hat on his head. He wore a boilersuit and the jacket of his suit hung in his office. He was dressed now for climbing about the yard and he started away, heading for
the foot of a ladder that would take him up to the foreman. He called back over his shoulder, ‘I’ll see you later!’

That would be at dinner in the evening. Chrissie had given her instructions to her cook and knew the dinner would be a good one. Now she watched him go, tall and long striding, her husband and
lover, father of two of her children. The three of them were waving, and Tom, the eldest, called, ‘’Bye, Daddy!’ His voice was lost in the din but Jack turned and waved before
setting foot on the ladder, so that was all right.

Tom, just four and a half and dark like Jack, was fascinated by the yard. He loved to be taken there, to stand with his mother as now, but preferably in his father’s arms. Jack would carry
him all over the skeleton of the ship and down into its darkest depths. Jack himself had grown up in the yard this way and Tom would follow him.

‘Go home!’ Matthew was just short of four but going to be tall like Jack. He clung to his mother and demanded again, ‘Go home!’ He hated the noise and smoke.

‘Baa, baa, black sheep,’ sang Sophie. The clamour and smoke did not affect her. At two and a half she held on to her mother’s skirt with plump little fingers, smiled and beamed
her blue eyes coquettishly at every workman who passed – and they, faces grimed and sweat streaked from the yard, found themselves grinning at the blonde toddler.

Chrissie led her children out of the yard, past the stacked lengths of timber and sheet steel, the sacks of rivets. The Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, bought by Jack’s late father in 1909,
stood gleaming outside the time office where the workmen clocked on. Benson, the chauffeur, opened the rear door and touched his cap. Then with Chrissie and her brood sitting in the back he drove
out of the gate.

Chrissie maintained her outward calm, smiling and talking to Sophie sitting on her knee, Matt and Tom either side of her, but the fear was still there. What if Ballantyne’s did not get
another order to build a ship and had to close? It would not be the first yard on this river to do so. That would be a terrible blow to Jack, the fourth generation of Ballantynes to build ships in
this yard. He would feel responsible in some way for the failure – and for failing the men. Closure would mean poverty and near starvation for the hundreds who worked at Ballantyne’s,
and their families.

Chrissie stared out of the window, seeing the people in the narrow, cobbled streets, long terraces of houses that crowded close outside the yard. The Rolls slid past the women as they stood
gossiping at their doors in their aprons, or scurried to and from the little corner shops. The children, some of the smaller ones naked in the sunshine except for a grubby vest, played on the
pavement. This was the summer holiday but they would spend it here. Chrissie knew these people and how they lived. She had grown up in these streets.

‘Gerroff, yer little bugger!’ the driver of the pole-wagon shouted at Peter Robinson, but he took no notice. He was five years old, with brown hair cropped short,
worn and patched shorts and shirt. He ran barefoot over the cobbles in pursuit of the wagon carrying steel plates from the railway station to the yard. They were called pole-wagons because of the
long pole, like a huge roof beam some six inches square. It ran from front to rear of the open, flatbed wagon, and extended for another ten feet or so behind it.

A quick and tough five-year-old could catch up with the wagon as the two horses in its team hauled it over the cobbles. Peter caught it, jumped up and got his arms over the swinging pole and
rode along on it, legs dangling. Until the driver turned and cracked his whip, when Peter dropped off and trotted away, laughing. He went back to the gate of the yard to wait for another wagon.

‘That’s the way, bonny lass, get them clean!’ Isabel Tennant called out from the washhouse. It was built in one quarter of the back yard. The lavatory and the
two coalhouses, one for each family, backed on to the street behind and filled another quarter. The surface of the rest of the yard was cemented and coated with dust except where the only tap
dripped into the sink by the back gate. Isabel’s daughter, Sarah, played in the grime and looked up and smiled at her mother’s call.

She was two and a half, her brown hair tied in two plaits with pieces of ribbon. Her dress was woollen and worn thin because it had been bought for the previous winter. So was her other one but
that was in the wash. Sarah was washing, like her mother. Isabel had given her a tin of warm water and some rags. Sarah soaked them and wrung them out – then washed them again, dabbling
happily in the water.

She was oblivious to the thumping of the wooden poss-stick as the panting Isabel banged it up and down on the clothes in the tub full of suds. The hot water came from a coal-fired copper in a
corner of the washhouse, filling the room with steam. When the clothes were washed and rinsed Isabel fed them through the wooden rollers of the mangle, heaving at the handle, wiping at her brow.
She would pause now and again to peer through the steam and across the yard to the terraced house which they shared with the Robsons: the Tennants lived in the two downstairs rooms, and the Robsons

Sarah did not notice, but Isabel was always aware of the coughing. Her husband was in bed in the room at the front of the house but she could still hear the coughing that racked him.

‘Daddy!’ Helen Diaz stepped from the passage into the yard in another street, but still a carbon copy of the Tennants’ house. She was also two and a half,
with glossy black hair and dark eyes like her mother. Her father was swarthy with a long moustache, lean and narrow faced.

‘No!’ he snapped at her impatiently. He picked her up and dumped her back in the passage, then snatched the doll from the floor and shoved it at her. ‘You stay in here.’
Helen’s smile slipped away but she continued to stand looking out into the yard, the doll clutched in her arms. It was a cloth doll, made by her mother.

Paco Diaz had once been a seaman but had left his ship when it came from Spain into the river. He had married Lizzie – full name Elizabeth but always called Lizzie – Helen’s
mother, soon afterwards and worked as a nightwatchman at one of the yards. So he was able to play football during the day with his six-year-old son, whom he called Juan, though he was christened
John. He was a handsome child, and Helen could not be called pretty. Helen watched them play together, laughing and talking in Spanish.

Monday was washday, and Lizzie Diaz looked out of the washhouse once, saw her little daughter standing alone and sighed helplessly.

The Rolls carried Chrissie and her children back to the big house in a quiet, tree-lined street in Ashbrooke on the outskirts of the town. It was as she always remembered her
first sight of it as a small girl: the tower at its centre lifting high against the sky and the wide front of the house with its ranked tall rectangles of windows ablaze with light. She had never
dreamed then that this would become her home, that she would marry Jack Ballantyne.

‘’Bye, my pets!’ She kissed all three of her children and handed them over to their red-cheeked, plump and cheerful nurse. They waved to their mother as she climbed back into
the Rolls, then Benson drove her down into the town to the Railway Hotel.

The sight of the hotel lifted her heart. It stood in the High Street in the middle of the town and across the road from the railway station, so its stonework was inevitably darkened by the soot
of years. However, its windows were clean and sparkled in the sun, the curtains were bright, crisp and fresh, the brasswork on the two swinging front doors glittered. And it was hers. Chrissie had
worked her way up from the back streets of the town to ownership of this hotel before she married Jack Ballantyne. So now she entered it with pride as Benson drove the Rolls away.

‘Good morning!’ she replied and smiled as she walked through the foyer and was greeted by the receptionist and other staff working there. Then she hung up her hat and sat at her
desk, the mail waiting her attention before her. Usually at this time her mind would be buzzing with the things she had to do but now she stared across the room at the fire laid in the grate but
not lit in the warmth of the summer.

BOOK: Chrissie's Children
9.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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