i e6a2876c557e1281

fenwick houses

by

catherine cookson

During the gruelling years of the depression, the spectre of unemployment was never very far away from the miners' doors.

Growingup, living, surviving, was difficult at the best of times, and for a girl like Christine Winter exceptionally lovely outstandingly

'different' the hazards were almost insurmountable.

FEN WICK HOUSES is a story of love and compassion, of unbelievable hardship, and of a woman whose strength and beauty finally enabled her to overcome the misfortunes that constantly beset her . Also by Catherine Cookson

KATIE MULHOLLAND KATE HANNIGAN THE ROUND TOWER THE FIFTEEN STREETS

MAGGIE ROWAN THE LONG CORRIDOR THE UNBAITED TRAP COLOUR BLIND THE

MENAGERIE THE BLIND MILLER FANNY MCBRIDE THE GLASS VIRGIN ROONEY

THE NICE BLOKE THE INVITATION THE DWELLING PLACB FEATHERS IN THE FIRE

OUR KATE

PUKE AS THE LILY THE INVISIBLE CORD THE GAMBLING MAN THE TIDE OF LIFE

THE GIRL THE CINDER PATH

The "Mary Ann' series

A GRAND MAN

THE LORD AND MARY ANN THE DEVIL AND MARY ANN LOVE AND MARY ANN LIFE

AND MARY ANN MARRIAGE AND MARY ANN MARY ANN'S ANGELS MARY ANN AND

BILL

The "Mallen' Series

THE MALL EN STREAK THE MALL EN GIRL THE MALL EN LITTER

By Catherine Cookson as Catherine Marchant

HOUSE OF MEN

THE FEN TIGER

HERITAGE OF FOLLY

MISS MARY MARTHA CRAWFORD

THE SLOW AWAKENING

THE IRON FACADE

and published by Corgi Books

^enwick Houses

FEN WICK HOUSES A CORGI BOOK o 552'll336 o

Originally published in Great Britain by Macdonald & Co. (Publishers) Ltd.

PRINTING HISTORY

Macdonald edition published 1960 Corgi edition published 1970 Corgi edition reprinted 1970 (twice) Corgi edition reprinted 1972 Corgi edition reprinted 1973 (twice) Corgi edition reprinted 1974 (twice) Corgi edition reprinted 1975 Corgi edition reprinted 1976 Corgi edition reprinted 1977 Corgi edition reprinted 1978 Corgi edition reprinted 1978 Corgi edition reissued 1979 Corgi edition reprinted Copyright 1960 by Catherine Cookson

Conditions of sale i: This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

2: This book is sold subject to the Standard Conditions of Sale of Net Books and may not be re-sold in the U.

K.

below the net price fixed by the publishers for the book.

This book is set in 10 pt Plantin

Corgi Books are published by Transworid Publishers Ltd.

Century House, 61-63 Uxbridge Road, Baling, London W5 5SA Set, printed and bound in Great Britain by Cox & Wyman Ltd, Reading CHAPTER ONE

I keep my eyes closed when Sam and the doctor come into the room for they expect to find them closed, and I can think better with them closed; think of the strange washed feeling of my mind, for it has just been catapulted out of hell. This feeling takes some getting used to, for I have been in hell such a long time . twenty years, and twenty years is a lifetime any time, but when it begins when the body is young and crying out to live it spreads itself into an eternity.

I was just sixteen when I realized that priests dont know everything.

You dont go to hell because you sin, but because you love; and you haven't to wait until you die, either, to meet the Devil oh no, he is your neighbour, I should know. Yet should I not say rather that I lived next door to evil as distinct from the Devil? For the Devil, poor soul, like myself isn't all bad. He is to evil as a commissionaire is to the film showing on the screen, someone you must pass before coming to the real thing. Sixteen and twenty are thirty-six. That is my age.

"Why can't she pull round?"

That is Sam's voice, rough, kind, squeezing under the bedclothes and patting at my body in soft, soft tones. Bringing comfort, always bringing comfort . kind Sam, dear, dear Sam. Sam, who is made up of love and sacrifice.

That doctor thinks he knows everything. Doctors do. He is not even bothering to whisper. Why is he so sure that I can't hear him?

"Well, it's up to her now, but under the circumstances she'll likely take this way out, just slip away. She won't want to face the battle again. Once they've been on the track she's been on all these years, they can't turn back."

Thank you. Doctor. Somewhere far inside me I am laughing at the doctor.

"But I would help her." Sam's voice again, deep and eager now, its tone like a compassionate hand with pity dripping from its fingers.

Oh, Sam, you make my heart sore. But that doctor Dear! dear!

listen to him.

"I'm afraid, Sam, your's isn't the help that is necessary for her survival, she must find the help within herself. You know, when you feel you are no longer any use either to God or man, you give up. How long has she been in a coma this time?"

"Fifteen hours."

"They'll likely get longer, and she'll go out in one of them."

Thank you, Doctor, thank you, its nice to know anyway.

"Could the bullet have affected her brain, do you think, Doctor?"

"No, Sam, it went nowhere near it, and the wound healed beautifully.

No, she just wants to go and nobody can stop her but herself. "

Nobody but myself . nobody but myself. I have the power of life and death. I am greater than Father Ellis now, greater than a priest. I can command myself "Go' and I will go; I can say, " No more agony, no more body longings, or bottle longings and no shame of both. "

Constance wrote, "Shame is the fire that cleanses the soul." She must have thought a lot about it to write that at seventeen. But her shame was one kind and mine another. My shame didn't cleanse my soul, it burnt it up; shrivelled it up like fried bacon skin. Yet once it was done I laughed again most of the time anyway. Thank God for laughter.

They used to say I had a lovely laugh. Listen. Hear me? There's my laugh, echoing over the fells, over the river . The river. If I could open my eyes I could see the river.

Well you can open them now for they're gone. Go on open them. It is daylight and the sun will be on the water. Open them and look. Don't be afraid for you can close them again and slip away at any time.

Didn't he say so? , The sun is blinding, dazzling; I can see nothing but light. It hurts, but I want to see the river. There, there it is, like a string of herrings, all scaly and shiny. That's how our Ronnie used to describe it when we were children and stood looking; down on it from the fell.

"It's like a string of herrings," he would say. Were we ever children?

Of course, we were. Move;

your eyes and look there, right across the valley. Don't look at' the jumble of new red roofs, look past them, over Bog's End. Go on, lift your lids, look right up . high up. There it is, the fortress of pain wherein you were a child and you learned to laugh, only it looks nothing like a fortress, it's just a solitary little street called Fenwick Houses. Six of them, six of the ugliest, two-storey, flat-faced houses man could devise. Why did Mr. Fenwick place them up there, on such a height, with the end one pushing its nose almost into the wood? And why did he cut down the trees to give the front windows a clear view across Fellburn, right to Brampton Hill on the opposite side of the valley, and place the back windows so that they could suck in the wide expanse of sky that roofed the fells and the river?

When I'd asked this question of my dad, he had said, "Because old man Fenwick had a spite in for people, for only beggars or blasted fools would stick out a winter in Fenwick Houses." Yet he has stuck out forty of them, right from the day he married. And he's no fool and not quite a beggar. Well, I can give thanks for one thing . I was born up there, and ran out my childhood years like a wild thing in the woods and on the fells, and pledged in the river and laughed with the rock-trapped waters. If I listen hard enough I can hear myself laughing. I can see myself running down the hill to the river, our Ronnie after me, Don Dowling by his side, and Sam, fat and wobbling, coming up in the rear.

0 to laugh again. To laugh. To laugh. "I can race you, I can beat you... whoopee!"

"Got you!" Ronnie's hand gripped my arm and wrenched me round, and I fell on my face and he fell on top of me and Don on top of him. Don's weight seemed to knock me through the earth and break all my bones and I wanted to cry, but laughed until they got up. Then I did cry, yet laughed at the same time, and Sam, seeing my tears, started to cry, too.

Sam was only three, I was five, and my brother Ronnie two years older.

Don Dowling was the same age as Ronnie, and Don and Sam were brothers, and for years I thought they were my cousins and I called their mother and father Aunt and Uncle.

The Dowlings lived next door to us in number eight. We were the third house in the road, number six. On the Dowlings' other side lived the Browns. They were old, really old, al though Mr.

Brown still went to the pit. They had two daughters who were married, and every Sunday these daughters came back to tea, and always without fail, or at least so it seemed to me then, they carried a new baby up the steep hill. I mustn't have been far wrong, because my mother said Sunday was the noisiest day of the week with the Brown squad racing around the street, for they never, like us children, made for the fells and the river. Mother said it was because they had been bred cooped up in the town and were afraid of open spaces.

Number twelve, the end house, was empty. It was often empty. On the other side of us in number four were the Pat- tersons. They had no children, and were funny because they were not Catholics. Everybody who wasn't a Catholic was funny. In number two, the first house, lived the Campbells. Cissie Campbell was three years older than me, and later I went to school with her. All the men in Fenwick Houses worked in the pit, and all the families were Catholics except the Pattersons, and everybody knew everything about every body, so everybody knew that everybody feared being stood off.

When I heard the term 'stood off', I had a picture of a giant grabbing my dad by the seat of the pants and flinging him through the air to land in the roadway outside the colliery gates. Then I would see him sitting on his hunkers, his bait tin dangling' between his knees, and on each side of him stretched a line of men, all sitting in the same position. To this picture I would add another. It would be that of my mother taking a heaped-up plate of dinner and standing over my dad, saying, "There, lad, get that down you." The sight of dad tucking away would make me happy again, and I would fling my arms about myself and jump off the floor, and everybody would laugh and say, "There, she's at it again."

The, day our Ronnie and Don Dowling jumped on me was not the first thing I can remember. My first memory was of waking up one night and hearing Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Jim fighting next door. Their room was next to mine on the other side of the thin wall, and in later years if I strained my ears I could hear every word they said. But this night the sound of Uncle Jim's high, angry voice frightened me, and I cried out, and mother came in and gathered me into her arms. And as she marched with me out of the room, she said to Dad, as he stood in the doorway in his shirt, dusting the sleep out of his eyes, "It's disgusting." I was picking up words then, and for days I went around saying, "It's dis... custin."

As I grew I gathered knowledge, if unwittingly, from the rows between Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Jim.

Our house was a happy house because my mother thought of nothing but our welfare and filling our stomachs with good food. Clothes didn't matter so much. These she patched and darned and cut down and re-made.

But the table did matter, and she was extravagant in this way.

Dad was of a happy, easy-going nature. He was a good two inches shorter than mother, and he adored her. I can see him now putting his arm about her waist and pulling her to him, saying, "If you're all right, lass, there's nowt wrong in Heaven or earth." And that was true for him. Even being stood off didn't hold the terror for Dad that it did for other men, for so great was his faith in mother that he felt she would find ways to provide for our needs. He had a saying, "Keep it up," and he would apply this to most things in life. To jokes until they became boring, to laughter long after it had ceased to ring true, but also to kindliness and to fantasies. Even when I was twelve I still believed in Santa Claus, for each year, as Christmas approached, he would regale us with this benevolent gentleman's kindness and generosity. Ronnie would play up to him, as we wrote letters to Dear Santa, and when our Ronnie read his out we would all double up with laughter. One such letter brought him a crack along the ear from my mother, for after asking for impossible and silly things, he finished up by saying, 'and, dear Santa, will you please put a man in Miss Spiers's stockin. " Miss Spiers was the spinster who had taken the end house, and from her first day in it it became evident that she didn't like children, particularly boys.

I knew that my Aunt Phyllis was jealous of my mother, and when I looked at them together I couldn't understand how they came to be sisters. It was years before it was explained to me that they weren't sisters at all. It had come about in this way. My grandmother died when my mother was a year old, and my grandfather married again. There were no children ii of this marriage. When my grandfather was killed in the pit, my mother's stepmother too married once more, and my Aunt Phyllis was born. My mother was three years older than my Aunt Phyllis, but looked ten years younger because she had a happy face. The house next door was where my mother was born, but when her stepmother died she left a will leaving all the furniture to my Aunt Phyllis. My mother was married at the time, and she told me, years later, that she hadn't minded my Aunt Phyllis getting the furniture; but I think she had, because in the first place it had all belonged to her own mother and father.

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