The Scent of Bluebells
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Extract from The Scent of Bluebells

Chapter 1: Innocence and youth

Amy wore her sister’s hand-me-down dress because she didn’t own a proper ‘going-out’ frock of her own. She’d also borrowed Hetty’s best jacket, and wore it with the belt pulled tight, so it would fit more snugly around her slender frame. Tonight she didn’t notice the old fashioned shoes that dragged on her feet. It was March 1939 and a just a few days after her eighteenth birthday, which meant that at last, her mother had agreed that she could go promenading at the long causeway in town. It was Saturday night and she couldn’t believe she was actually there with all the other young lasses and lads. She giggled when the lads winked at her, feeling the excitement of life bubbling up inside her. She laughed with her friend, Lucy Ormsby, as they held hands and dared each other to smile at the young men. When one of them smiled back, Amy fizzed with happiness. She felt so free.

 “Who’s your friend, Lucy?” a skinny lad with fair hair asked.

He had a cheeky grin, and Amy dared to introduce herself.  “Me name’s Amy. What’s yours?”

“Forward ain’t she?” The young man directed his words to Lucy.

“I am not!” Amy defended herself before Lucy could reply.

“Shh, Amy,” Lucy squeezed her arm and leaned close to whisper: “He’s only having a bit of a flirt with you.”

“Oh,” Amy blushed, and realised she had a lot to learn about lads.

“Come back when you gain a bit of experience, lass,” the young man chuckled. “I like ’em fresh, but you’re straight out o’ the pram, aren’t ya?”

“Cheeky beggar!” Amy tossed her head and Lucy grinned.

“You’ll soon learn, Amy.”

“I don’t know that I want to.” Amy lifted her chin and turned her attention to the town hall clock. “I think I’ll just watch everyone for a while. They all look so sure of themselves and happy.” She flapped her arm at the milling crowd of young people. “Just look at them all.”

She had scarcely witnessed anything like it before, except maybe at the Easter and Whitsunday parades. Lucy excused herself and went off to meet her young man. Amy had known that Lucy had arranged to meet him. She’d been courting for a few weeks, and Amy had told her that she didn’t mind being left alone. It was a pleasure to be there at all. But all the same, when Lucy waved from the corner of the Town Hall, Amy watched her go with a little pang of concern. She really wasn’t afraid of being alone in this throng of young people, but she did feel that she stood out more as a single girl in the crowd. She sat on the low wall, clasped her hands together on her lap and crossed her ankles, trying to look like the pictures of elegant young ladies in the magazines. She wanted to make a good impression, and she was soon engrossed in watching the courting games the young folks played.

One of the lads snatched a girl’s purse and the others made a game of tossing it between them as the girl and her friends tried to get it back. The game provided plenty of opportunity for the young people to grab at each other, and some held on a little longer than was necessary. Amy was mesmerised by the way the girls and boys flirted and provoked advances from each other. She longed to join in, but didn’t know any of them. One or two of the lads looked at her with interest, but she quickly looked away, unsure how to respond without making a fool of herself again.

 The crowd thinned as the evening wore on, and Amy felt drained with the excitement of watching them all. She pulled her mother’s scarf tighter around her ears as the chill night air made her shiver. At last, Lucy appeared from the dark streets behind the town hall, and skipped toward her. “Have you been all right on your own, Amy?” her friend asked as she sat beside her on the wall.

 “I’ve been grand, Lucy. Has your young man gone home?”

 “Aye, he has to get up early tomorrow, he’s in the church choir, but you’d never take him for a choirboy, would you? They way he carries on wi’ me?” Lucy winked at Amy. “I’ll be seeing him next week, will you come wi’ me again?”

“If I can.” Amy’s cheeks glowed pink, but the colour had nothing to do with the cold, she had no idea what lads and lasses did in the shadows together, but didn’t want to show her ignorance. “I’ve had a lovely time watching everybody.”

“Well next time, maybe you’ll feel brave enough to do more than just watch.”

Amy wasn’t sure she’d ever feel confident enough to join in the fun, but she knew she’d be miserable if she weren’t allowed to go with Lucy the following week.

She wasn’t really looking for a lad. She wasn’t really interested in finding a husband like the other girls at the mill. It was the only thing that some of them could talk about. Lads were spoken of in terms of, ‘he’s a good catch,’ or ‘don’t bother with that one, he’ll never amount to anything,’ or ‘he’s a waste of time.’ She didn’t feel she was ready to get married. There was so much that life had to offer before she could think of tying herself down with a husband and the inevitable bunch of children that came soon after.  Besides, she knew her mother would have ten blue fits in a row if she thought her youngest had started courting. Ada told Amy often enough how important it was to keep herself to herself. ‘Time enough for shenanigans when you’re older, my girl,’ was one of her mother’s favourite sayings. ‘Just look where that kind of behaviour got your sister!’ was another one.

Her sister Violet had twin babies and lived in a big posh house with her husband. Violet had a nanny to help her with the children, and had regular trips to the seaside in her husband’s car. Violet had even been to France for a whole week. Amy didn’t think Violet had done badly at all, but it was clear that their mother didn’t approve of the way it had come about. Amy couldn’t think of a better future for her sister, despite a shaky beginning, it had all turned out fine for her. But if indulging in ‘shenanigans’, whatever that meant, would bring the wrath of her mother on her shoulders, Amy had decided long ago that she would do her best to avoid them for as long as possible.

The house was quiet when she let herself into the parlour. Her mother and sister, Hetty, were already in bed. She took her shoes off, tiptoed upstairs, and got undressed in the dark. She was careful to folded Hetty’s clothes as she took them off and laid them over the chair.

She lay awake, staring out at the dark sky through the gap in the curtains. She still felt little shivers of excitement from the memories of her evening out. Nothing much had happened, really, she told herself, but it was the first time she’d been allowed to go anywhere like that on her own. She led a very simple life. Her mother was very strict, and Amy was too timid to go against her wishes. Not like her older sister, Violet. Vi stood up to their mother and got her own way over lots of issues. The house was much more peaceful now that Violet was married and living at the other side of town. Hetty was quieter, but for some reason, she was allowed to go her own way, much more than Amy. Amy often thought it was because poor Hetty was so plain. She was the oldest, and at twenty eight years old, was still a spinster. As far as Amy knew, she’d never had a sweetheart. She worked in the office at the mill, and helped out with the classes at the Sunday school, but Hetty had never showed any interest in going promenading. Hetty’s idea of a good night out was treating her mum and Amy to the picture house on Saturday night. The large screen gave them a window to another world. Glamorous people leading interesting lives, living in huge houses in exotic places. Amy envied the actresses, and would often try to be like them. She practised the swaying walk and pouting lips of Dorothy Lamoure in her bedroom mirror, and wondered what it must be like to live the life of a film star. She knew she’d never reach those heights though. The closest she could hope to come to it would be to copy her sister Violet. Amy envied Violet’s lifestyle. She had it cushy with a well-off husband and two lovely baby boys. She was set up for a life of happiness. She even envied Hetty a little. Her oldest sister had a good position at the mill, and seemed content with her lot. She had a tidy sum of money put by, and was saving for a holiday. She’d spoken of taking a trip to Scotland to see the mountains, but Amy suspected it was just a dream for her sister. Hetty was very unlikely to go off anywhere further than Leeds.

Amy was happy with her work at the mill. She enjoyed the daily banter with the other girls she worked with, but she had a yearning inside her. She longed for something more. Something different. She craved some excitement in her life. She didn’t know what she needed to quench the feeling, but now that she was allowed to go promenading on the long causeway in town, who knew what might happen next?

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