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The Fish Catcher - Excerpt

 

 

The Fish Catcher

 

Here are the first two chapters of this book if you would like to reach an extract.

 

One

 

The train screeched. It jolted and banged, and finally began to move. Everyone in the compartment was crying, except Mary Fissleborough. It would take more than that to make Mary Fissleborough cry. She was fourteen. Mary glanced through the dirty window at her mother who was walking beside the carriage. She was peering in through the mucky window and waving daft little waves with the tips of her fingers.

    Daisy cried too, not because she felt like crying but because everyone else was, especially the three la-di-da sisters opposite, it seemed the done thing. Skinny girls they were, the la-di-da’s, pasty, in green skirts, and what their mother would have called, sensible shoes. Then there was the boy, the only one there, opposite by the window. He was bawling his eyes out, but he had an excuse, for he was only eight, and by himself.

    The train picked up speed and cleared the end of the platform at Paddington station. The sun blasted through dirty glass, brightening the day, warming hearts, and the crying soon stopped, except for Robert, though even he was reduced to a snivel. 

   ‘Right,’ said Mary in her cockney accent, ‘who are we all then?’

   Everyone paid close attention because Mary was the eldest, that much was obvious, almost a grown woman, you could tell. The eldest of the la-di-da’s took it upon herself to introduce their side, though she would immediately regret it.

   ‘We’re the Knott twisters,’ she said; as she adjusted her thin framed brown spectacles. The youngest Knott twister giggled.

   ‘Sorry,’ said the eldest one and she tried again. ‘We’re the Knott ss-ss-sisters, ss-sisters.’

   ‘Yeah, I getcha,’ butted in Mary, ‘but what’s ya names?’

   This time the middle sister answered. ‘I’m Norah, she’s Edna,’ that was the eldest one, ‘and she’s Benny, the tiddler, that’s short for Benedicta.’

   Mary looked at Benny, and Benny peered back from between her Teddy Bear’s ears. The titch smiled a hint of a smile, a smile that melted Mary’s cold heart, though she would not let on. Instead she smiled back the tightest flicker of a smile that only titch could have seen. Now they were friends, friends for life.

   ‘How old are you?’ demanded Mary, determined to establish everyone’s rank and numbers before the train stopped.

   The middle twister spoke again. ‘Edna’s thirteen, I’m eleven and Benny’s eight.’

   As before, Mary’s eyes crossed with Benny’s, and as before they flickered.

   ‘I’m Mary Fissleborough, and this is me sis Daisy, I’m four’een and she’s twelve.’

   The twisters nodded as one as if they were taking in a new multiplication table, and before they could add anything else, Mary turned to her left and said, ‘So who are you lot?’

   These two looked like sisters too, dark hair and dark eyes, well dressed and scrubbed clean for the day by the look of them. The nearest one spoke, not exactly public school, but certainly not cockney either.

   ‘I’m Sarah Abraham,’ she said confidently, ‘I’m twelve and this is my sister Ruth, she’s eleven.’

   The second sister sitting by the window leant forward so that Mary could take a good butchers at her. The girl nodded, and Mary nodded back. Finally, she turned her attention to the little boy by the window, beside Benny.

   ‘So that leaves you mush. What’s your name?’

   The boy looked back without saying a word. He seemed terrified.

   ‘Come on, I aint gonna eatcha.’

   ‘I’m Robert,’ he whispered, ‘I’m eight.’

   ‘God blimey, it shouldn’t be allowed, eight year olds on the train by themselves.’

   ‘I aint by meself,’ he said courageously, ‘I’m with you!’

   ‘That’s right,’ said Daisy, ‘he’s with us.’

   Benny turned to Robert. ‘Do you want to see my bear?’

   Robert nodded. ‘I’m eight too,’ said Benny.

   ‘I know.’

   ‘He’s a nice bear. What’s his name?’

   ‘Teddy.’

   ‘Oh.’

   ‘Now the introductions are out the way,’ said Mary ‘let’s get down to more serious business. Anyone got any fags?’

   They all looked at Mary as if she was from a different planet. Of course they didn’t have fags.

   ‘I had some,’ continued Mary, ‘but me muvver took them off me, the old bag.’

   The Knott sisters looked at one another aghast. Fancy talking about your own mother like that. It was a look mirrored on the Abraham faces. Mary didn’t care what they thought. She knew what was what.

   ‘Sod it! No fags. What about food then?’

   That was different. The faces all smiled together for they all had food, loads of it, sandwiches, apples, homemade jam tarts, and Robert possessed, tucked away beneath his clean underpants in his tiny case, a lemon curd turnover. Treasure indeed.

   ‘Shall we have a picnic?’ suggested Norah Knott.

   ‘Yeah, let’s,’ agreed Mary, and in the next instant they were all unwrapping their food to show and share, though for the moment the lemon curd treasure would remain locked away.  

   ‘Here, have one of these,’ said Mary, offering one of her best sandwiches to the Abraham girls.

   ‘What’s in them?’ asked Sarah.

   ‘Boiled ham, off the bone, beautiful it is, I made them meself.’

   Sarah’s hand retreated. ‘No, if you don’t mind, I’ll have one of my own.’

   ‘What’s in yours?’

   ‘Beef.’

   ‘Suit yourself.’

   The train rattled and banged as it crossed a complicated points system. The kids swayed back and forth, and laughed and yelled, before settling back to the picnic. This was good, better than being at school anyhow, better than being at home even. When all the food had gone and the lemonade bottles were empty, Mary burped. Edna had been dying to burp too, but hadn’t dared. Now she would, and everyone followed suit, and for a few moments the compartment sounded like a pig farm.

   When they had all finished, the two little ones fell asleep, leaning against one another’s shoulders, Teddy somehow astride both of their laps. Mary glanced at them and smiled. Leave ’em be, let ’em sleep. She glanced around the compartment again. There was a door on either side that opened out on to the track; and no corridor because they were in third class. And right at that moment as if serving a warning to them, the train increased speed, and the tracks and telegraph poles hurtled by. No one would get out of there alive, if they were ever foolish enough to try.

   ‘You know what’s going to happen next don’t ya?’ said Mary.

   ‘What?’ Edna managed to say without a stutter.

   ‘Nowhere to go for a Jimmy riddle is there.’

   ‘Oh hell,’ said Daisy. ‘If I’d have known that I wouldn’t have drunk all that lemonade.’

   ‘Daft cow, it’s your own fault.’

   Daisy pulled a face. She was not happy.

   ‘Does anyone know this place we’re heading for?’

   Mary’s question was greeted with five blank looks and two sleepy heads.

   ‘Might as well ask the blasted bear,’ she muttered to herself, ‘ ’Oniton, or whatever it’s called.’

   ‘Honiton,’ corrected Sarah. ‘It’s called Honiton.’

   ‘That’s what I said, ’Oniton.’

   ‘It’s in Devon,’ said Sarah. ‘It’s famous for lace making.’

   ‘Oh is it?’ said Mary sarcastically. ‘You’re a little swot aintcha. Ruddy miles away that’s what it is.’

   ‘Two hundred miles,’ added Sarah, ‘so papa says.’

   ‘So papa says,’ repeated Mary under her breath. Papa indeed. What the heck was a papa when you’re at home? Oh she knew it meant father right enough, it was the word papa that grated so. What type of people called their dad papa? It sounded daft, bleeding stupid in fact, but it didn’t matter to Mary, she didn’t have no papa, she didn’t have no father either, not one she’d ever seen, but that was her business, and she’d keep that to herself. The only thing she knew for certain was that her father was a different geezer to Daisy’s old man. That was one thing her mother did get right. “You keep your ears open, and your gob shut”, and “Our business is our business, and keep it that way”. Mary knew how the world worked well enough. Learn everything about others, but keep your own counsel, or was it council, she wasn’t sure of that, but that was the phrase she used, you keep your own counsel, and she would do precisely that.

   ‘Mary?’ Young Robert was awake. ‘I need to go.’

   She clicked her tongue and glanced at the dusty light on the ceiling. Several of the other girls copied her. Click, glance, click, glance.

   ‘What is it about boys? They can never stop peeing!’

   ‘I need to go Mary.’

   ‘Men are pathetic, not like gels, gels can keep it in. Boys are mucking useless.’

   ‘He’s hardly a man,’ said Daisy.

   ‘S’pose. Well you aint going in here. Don’t you dare piss your pants, or wet the floor. If you have to go, do it in the empty lemonade bottle.’

   ‘I can’t do that!’

   ‘Why ever not?’

   ‘I can’t go, not in front of seven gels.’

   ‘Suit your bloody self, but don’t you dare wet the floor!’

   There was a moment’s silence and then Daisy said, ‘He could go out the winda Mary.’

   ‘I’d never reach,’ moped Robert.

   ‘He could go out the window if you lifted him up,’ said Sarah.

   Edna nodded at that idea. What fun. Daisy did too.

   ‘Will you go out the winda if I lift ya up?’

   Robert nodded enthusiastically; he would go anywhere, just so long as he could go.

   ‘Get ready then. Undo your buttons.’

   He gingerly adjusted his clothing as Mary stepped to the door and pulled the window all the way down. A fearsome rush of balmy air filled the compartment and blew the Knott sisters’ long hair every which way.  

   ‘Ready?’ said Mary.

   Robert nodded again. Everyone watched entranced.

   ‘Don’t go until I say. Understand?’

   Robert nodded.

   ‘And make sure it goes out the winda. I’ll belt ya if you go over me best jacket.’

   Robert nodded.

   She picked him up under the shoulders as if he was a baby. She was fit and strong and had no trouble lifting him. He managed to place his feet on the opened window and prepared himself.

   ‘Is it going to go out?’

   Robert nodded again.

   ‘Go on then.’

   ‘Aaahhh!’ Robert let go, and it did go out, but not far. The force of the wind blew it backwards, and inwards, through the open window of the following compartment.

   Mary heard a boy shout in a cockney accent, ‘Bloody hell shut that winda, it’s raining!’

   Another said, ‘It can’t be raining! There aint a cloud in the sky. That aint rain, that’s piss that’s what that is, some dirty oik’s pissing out the winda!’

   ‘Have you finished?’ said Mary, struggling not to laugh.

   For the final time Robert nodded.

   She pulled him in and shut the window with a bang.

   ‘Do up your pants,’ but he didn’t need to be told that, for his tiny fingers were already fiddling with the unmatched repaired buttons that lined his flies.

   Ten minutes after that the brakes went on with a judder and the train slowed.

   ‘We there already?’ asked Mary.

   ‘Can’t be,’ said the Abraham girls as one, ‘not so soon.’

   They were pulling into a station, and it was a large station too. The platform was crammed with milk churns, and soldiers smoking hastily made roll-ups, and basketed racing pigeons cooing in anticipation, and stuffed dogs in glass cases, mutts that used to collect money for the blind, working the platforms from one end to the other, the collecting box strapped to their backs as they waddled along between duly impressed waiting passengers.

   Mary leapt up and opened the window again and as she leant out, she almost knocked the peaked hat off a fat old guard who was walking alongside the train. He was shouting: ‘Salisbury! Salisbury! Toilet stop! Toilet stop! Last stop before Honiton. This train will be waiting for ten minutes. You have ten minutes!’

   ‘He could have waited until here,’ said Daisy.

   ‘I don’t think so,’ mumbled Robert.

   ‘Come on Benny,’ said Mary. ‘Wanna come with me to the loo?’

   Benny looked at Robert. ‘Are you getting off too?’

   ‘Nope,’ he said looking down at his comic cuts.

   ‘Will you look after Teddy then?’

   As was his habit, Robert nodded.

   ‘Be a good Teddy bear,’ said Benny earnestly. ‘We won’t be too long,’ and with that all the girls clambered down to the platform and disappeared into the bustling crowd, leaving the stuffed bear to look after little Robert.             

 

Two 

When they returned, Robert’s nose was still buried in his comic. Mary sniffed the air. Lemons, or more particularly lemon pastries, and by the sweet smell of them, just like her gran used to make. Lemon meringue pie perhaps, or possibly a lemon curd tart. She sat and glanced at the floor. Crumbs. Pastry crumbs, and she peered at Robert. He looked up at her, guiltily, she thought. Tiny pieces of pastry were stuck to his upper lip. There were traces of lemon curd clinging to his pyjamas and underpants too, though these items were safely locked away in his case.

   What the heck, thought Mary, perhaps he only had one tiny pie. He could hardly be expected to share it with seven others. ‘You all right Robert?’

   The boy beamed at her and then returned to the Adventures of the Tin Man.

   ‘Bleeding hell, there was a queue in the whatnots. Didn’t think we were ever going to make it, did we ladies?’

   The last of the girls had returned to their seats and the guard closed the door with a fearsome bang and an ugly stare through the filthy glass.

   ‘I couldn’t have waited much longer,’ said Daisy.

   ‘Nor me,’ said one of the Knotts.

   ‘How long is it to ’Oniton from here d’ya thinks?’ asked Mary.

   ‘I heard the guard say another hour and half,’ said Ruth, leaning forward as she spoke, so everyone could see her.

   ‘I think I’ll have a kip,’ said Mary. ‘Make sure you wake me when we get there.’

   She closed her eyes, but did not sleep. Too many images were racing around her head. The bombing at the house opposite for a start, the Mulryne’s place, Irish they were. She’d heard the crash and the bang, and though she shouldn’t have, she ran outside to see what the flip was going on.

   The Mulryne’s house was a handsome Victorian house, and it had become a heap of rubble in an instant. Jackie Mulryne had come stumbling out. He was holding his head, and blood ran from his cracked bonce as if someone had turned on the tap. He was moaning and wailing about his little girl, Orla, a cute little thing. She was only two. The bomb had struck the small front bedroom, Orla’s bedroom, and she never stood a chance, bless her. Took his wife and her mother too, and not long after that, Jack Mulryne fell down dead in the middle of Charrington Street in a bloody mess. God love us, what a sight that was. Up until then, Mary had resisted being “sent to the country” tooth and nail. After that night, she became more amenable to the idea.

   She shook her head as if to banish the images and wondered where they were heading. She imagined a beautiful big house by the river with cats and dogs for company. She had never had a cat or dog of her own, but sometimes Mrs Pugsley would let her take Brewster for a walk. He was a big hairy hound with a shaggy coat and a wicked sense of humour. He was always dancing around on the tips of his toes, especially when Mary arrived, for he knew that she was about to take him to the park. Brewster adored Mary Fissleborough, though now he would have to do without her, and their wonderful shared walks. Poor Brewster, but we all had to make sacrifices, ma said so, though she wasn’t prepared to cut down on the nights she spent in the Golden Bell until closing time. Sacrifices were what others had to make, or so it seemed to Mary and Daisy.

   Mary’s thoughts returned to their destination. Perhaps it would be a farmstead; perhaps there would be boys there, six strong brothers, all competing to impress her, like in a Hollywood flick. She smiled at the thought. She could handle boys all right, the bigger the better, it might be fun at that, better than being bombed out in Poplar anyway.

   Just so long as she did not have to muck out the pigs. Harry Jarvis, one of ma’s many best friends, had teased her unmercifully that she would have to “muck out the pigs”. ‘Stinking job it is,’ he’d say, ‘you’ll pong of pig poo forever more! Make sure you don’t get the “mucking out the pigs” duty,’ and he would laugh a wicked laugh. Mary wasn’t sure whether he was joking or imparting serious advice. Truth was, she had never seen a pig, except in a book, or being sliced up in the Co-op on Saturday mornings.

   ‘Bit of belly this week Mrs Fissleborough? Nice and lean it is. Half a dozen streaky rashers on the top?’ 

   Mary dozed. She hadn’t slept much the night before, partly through anticipation of the day ahead, and partly because Harry and ma were arguing something rotten over who owned the last bottle of stout. Adults were mean sometimes. They did not think twice about keeping the kids awake all night arguing over a bottle of poxy beer. Stinking stuff it was too, that Malkin’s Magic. Black and sickly, truly horrible, how anyone could drink that, Mary couldn’t imagine. She promised herself there and then that whatever the future held for Miss Fissleborough, drinking Malkin’s Magic would not be included.

   ‘I think we’re nearly there,’ said Norah Knott. The words came to Mary as if from far away. Dreamland, drifting over the cloud covered mountains. ‘I think we’re nearly there,’ repeated the middle Knott. ‘Do you think we should wake Mary?’

   But none of them dared do that. It didn’t matter because Mary opened her right eye. She always opened her eyes one at a time, a strange thing to do, but that was Mary Fiss all over.

   ‘I am awake,’ she said finally.

   ‘I think we’re nearly there,’ repeated Norah Knott for the third time.

   ‘I heard ya the first time.’

   Mary sat up in her seat. The train was indeed slowing. It was gliding along an embankment thirty feet above green fields. On one side were coffee coloured cows munching for England, on the other, a herd of black and whites equally busy, as if in competition, as if they didn’t have a moment to lose, as if the fate of the nation rested on the content of their stomachs. The train slowed to a crawl and houses appeared on either side of the line. Neat little houses with clean windows, and window boxes filled with marigolds and tulips. An old lorry rumbled down a lane struggling under the weight of fifty sacks of something or other. The sun was still shining, and it was as if the war had never happened.

   At last, the train crawled into the station, a pathetic single platform on the left hand side. It wasn’t like Paddington at all; not even a tea-bar. The train slowed to almost a stop and some of the girls stood. It stopped suddenly, and as it did so, it lurched backwards and two of the Knotts fell into Mary’s lap.

   ‘Steady, steady! Haven’t you ever been on a train before?’

   ‘Sorry Mary.’

   A younger altogether more cheerful guard walked rapidly past the window and he was shouting, ‘Honiton, Honiton, this is Honiton, home of the Honiton lace. All alight here. All alight! This train terminates here!’

   They all stood and Mary began lifting the gas masks down from the luggage rack. Edna carefully put Benedicta’s face through the leather strap so the square box could hang down neatly at her side.

   ‘Come here you,’ said Mary, friendly like, to Robert. ‘Take your cap off a mo,’ as she fixed him up with his mask. 

   ‘Everyone right?’ she said, and they all looked at her as if she was the sergeant major, and nodded respectfully.

   ‘Everyone got their cases?’

   Robert nodded too, but another tear was not far away.

   ‘Do you think we’ll be staying together?’ asked Sarah.

   ‘Course we will,’ said Mary. ‘Stands to reason, they wouldn’t split us up now.’

   ‘I wouldn’t like to be on my own,’ moped Robert, ‘I couldn’t bear that.’

   Mary opened the door and they began stepping down to the platform. There was a sea of kids walking in the same direction like the river Thames flowing down to the sea. Benny clutched her bear; Robert held his case in one hand and with the other, held Benny’s hand, as if they were crocodiling at school.

   The bigger girls followed, and then they were off the platform, through the ticket point, and flooding into a large area of open concreted ground. It had once been the cattle market, but a gang of surly men had come some months before and had wrenched out all the metal rails. Commandeered to be melted down to make tanks, they said. Now all you could see was fresh concrete in the holes where the rusty poles had once stood.

   Someone not far away was mowing a lawn with a push me – pull you, or perhaps they were haymaking. Either way the kids could hear the contraption, and smell the sweet aroma of freshly cut grass. Afterwards Mary always swore that standing in that yard, she could smell the sunshine too. 

   ‘Over here!’ she shouted. ‘Keep together!’

   They found a bank at the edge of the yard, and stood and waited. There were adults there too, ladies; older ladies who fussed up and down like mother hens. Some of them were shouting, but in the commotion, Mary couldn’t hear anything of what they were saying. A man appeared, a vicar, and he clapped his hands loudly and called for hush.

   ‘Quiet please everybody, while we get everyone sorted out!’

   Beside where they were standing, a lad was sitting on the bank, and he looked as if he had been there for ages. Mary glanced at him. She looked him up and down; he must have been about thirteen, but he was very dirty. His knees were muddy, his short trousers were ragged and worn, his sandals had holes on the holes, and his hair hadn’t seen a comb since Whit Sunday. His eyes were sad, his whole demeanour one of sadness, and he appeared to be by himself.

   ‘Watcha,’ said Mary. ‘What are you doing?’

   ‘Been waiting,’ he mumbled.

   ‘Waiting for what?’

   ‘Some family called the Timpsons, they aint come and collected me.’

   ‘How long have you been here?’

   ‘Couple of hours, came down on the last train.’

   ‘What you gonna do then?’

   ‘Might jump a train back up to town.’

   ‘You don’t want to do that, it’s getting worse. Where do ya come from?’

   ‘Bethnal Green.’

   ‘We’re from Poplar.’

   ‘Lucky you.’

   ‘Wanna come with us?’

   A hint of a smile seeped on to his fox like face. ‘Can I?’

   ‘Course. What’s your name?’

   ‘Billy Grimes.’

   ‘This is Billy Grimes everyone,’ said Mary urgently to the others. ‘He’s with us.’

   The girls smiled at the scruffy lad with the hole in his pants, though they weren’t at all sure about him. What a to do.

   A tall woman in trousers with tied back grey hair began walking up and down at the front. She wore a tweed jacket and around one arm was an orange felt armband. On the band in black print in capitals were two words: “Evacuee Warden”. She was shouting herself hoarse trying to make herself heard: ‘Listen up everyone!’

   Mary thought she had a posh accent, as you heard when you went up west at Christmas, she sported that same sucked lemons face.

   ‘I’ll read out your names, and after that, the name of the family you will be billeted with.’

   ‘What does billeted mean?’ asked Daisy.

   ‘The family you stay with,’ said Mary. ‘Your new mum and dad for the duration, as ma said. These people will be your new mum and dad.’

   ‘I don’t want a new mum and dad,’ mumbled Robert.

   ‘Neither do I,’ said Benny. ‘I’ve already got one of each.’

   ‘Geraldine and David Alderson!’ the woman yelled. Everyone stared at everyone else. ‘You will be staying with the Dennings!’

   Two kids to the right of where they were standing stood on tiptoe, suddenly alert, and looking for their future. A man dressed in a suit leaning on the far wall, self consciously raised his right hand, and waved a couple of times, and the Alderson kids ambled reluctantly towards their new keeper. He spoke to them briefly, took their hands, and led them away towards an old black Standard car. Everyone watched them getting in the back, the car starting, and drive off. The kids inside peered back through the windows at those that remained. They looked terribly frightened, and it did nothing for those standing around waiting.

   Other names were called, and some more, and kids slowly disappeared, and then the lady shouted: ‘Edna, Norah, and Benedicta Knott, you will be with Mrs Gurnard!’

   ‘Crikey, we are being split up,’ said Norah. ‘Oh heck!’

   They began saying their tearful goodbyes. ‘You look after yourselves,’ said Mary, as if she was their mother. ‘You take care of Benny now.’ At that, Benny began to cry, heavy tears that no one had seen from her before that day, and that set Robert off again, as they put all their energy into a howling competition.

   ‘Come here you,’ said Daisy to the little lad. ‘You’ll be all right with us.’

   Mrs Gurnard was heard to say loudly, ‘At least we have the nice children, thank God for small mercies.’

   ‘Stuck up cow,’ said Mary, and by then the Knotts had gone. Disappeared. The last they saw of them was little Benny clutching her bear as she glanced tearfully back at Mary and Robert and the rest.

   The roll call continued.

   ‘Sarah and Ruth Abraham! You will be staying with the Reverend Jackson and his wife.’

   The Reverend grinned sheepishly and peered into the throng, anxious to discover his new children.

   ‘We’re with the vicar,’ said Ruth.

   ‘Oh good. Papa would have wanted that,’ said Sarah.

   ‘Good luck girls,’ said Mary. ‘Hope to see you again soon.’

   ‘You too,’ said Sarah. ‘Thanks for everything,’ and then they too, were gone.’

   ‘Robert Glassiter!’

   No one in the crowd moved a muscle. Complete silence, but for the chugging of a distant 0-6-0 locomotive going about its puffing business.

   ‘You Robert Glassiter?’ said Mary whispering to little Robert. He nodded, for her eyes only.

   ‘Robert Glassiter!’ shouted the woman impatiently.

   ‘He’s here missus,’ shouted Mary, and all eyes turned to look at the little lad who was now clutching the skirt of the big girl.

   ‘He’s to go with Mister Green, the blacksmith!’

   ‘He aint going on his own!’ shouted Mary.

    The woman pushed her way through the crowd. ‘What’s your name?’ she barked into Mary’s face.

   ‘Mary Fissleborough, but he aint going on his own, it aint fair, and it aint right.’

   ‘Orders are orders,’ she said, glancing down at her clipboard, ‘and you, and he, will obey them, just as we all have to. There’s a war on don’t you know.’

   ‘Pardon me, I think we bleeding well know there’s a war on a darn sight more than you do down ’ere.’

   ‘Don’t be impertinent,’ screamed the warden. ‘Mister Green, take the boy. We haven’t all day!’

   By then, Mister Green was standing beside them. His arms were bulging beneath his soiled rolled up shirtsleeves. He wore a dirty leather overall, and he looked as if he had come straight from the forge, but for all that, he seemed a kindly enough gent. He smiled a loving smile and said, ‘Come on little ’un, you’ll be all right with me, come along now, the wife’s making you a lovely tea, and after that, I’ll show you the horses if you’d like.’

    He took Robert’s hand and led him away, but Robert never once stopped grizzling.

   ‘I’ll come and see ya,’ shouted Mary after them. ‘I promise I will!’

   ‘Mary and Daisy Fissleborough!’ bellowed the woman, as she stood before the sisters, staring into Mary’s face. ‘You’re with Mrs Petheridge from Wolfdale Hall.’

   A middle-aged lady dressed in beige trousers and a tight woollen jumper who had been talking with friends on the far side, jumped to attention. ‘That’s me,’ she said in a happy high-pitched voice. ‘I’m here. Let’s see what the good Lord has brought us.’

   ‘Come on Daisy,’ said Mary. ‘It’s our turn. Come on Billy, you’re with us.’

   Reluctantly they strolled towards where the named Mrs Petheridge stood.

   ‘Hello children,’ she said.

   ‘Hello.’

   ‘We’ve a fair way to go, so we’d best get started.’

   They began edging away from what remained of the crowd, Billy tagging along behind, and it was then that she first noticed the boy.

   ‘Who’s this?’

   ‘He’s Billy Grimes, ’ said Mary, ‘he’s with us.’

   ‘I couldn’t possibly take a third,’ said Mrs P. ‘He’s not on the list.’

   ‘He’s with us,’ repeated Mary. ‘It’s all three, or nuffink.’

   Mrs Petheridge noted the defiance in the girl’s eyes and in her voice too. Defiance and impudence. That would not do, that would not do at all. Oliver would soon knock that out of her. And anyway, the boy could always share with the maid, and an extra pair of hands might prove useful at that. He could be set gardening chores, heaven knows Wolfdale Hall could do with another pair of hands, and unpaid at that.

   ‘All right,’ she said reluctantly. ‘But he’ll have to behave himself.’

   ‘He will.’

   ‘If he doesn’t, he’s out.’

   ‘He’ll behave.’

   They followed her around to the back of the yard, where her wagon lay, and the horse stood quietly. He was a huge piebald animal with fluffy tufts of white hair around his feet. He seemed twenty foot tall to them, with feet like dinner plates, and eyes as dark as HP sauce, eyes that peered out at them through his curly lashes.

   ‘This is Jeremy,’ she said. ‘He’s a darling; he’ll take us all the way home.

 

Three

You can read more on the back story to The Fish Catcher by clicking here

 

Here's a book review on "The Fish Catcher"

 

The Fish Catcher - Book Review

 

There are several clichés that come to mind while reading this murder/mystery, ‘what goes around, comes around there are skeletons in everyone’s closet.’

You will have to read this novel to understand the full impact of what I mean. In September 1939, massive evacuations of England’s major cities began with pregnant women and children. During this devastating occurrence in history, how often do we think about the children?

Their lives are/were forever changed, their thoughts moulded for ultimate survival. Based on several young characters that become evacuees, banished to rural areas to escape the bombings in England, we are treated to an inside and well researched version of the possibilities that may have occurred while they were supposedly in the care of ‘Evacuee Wardens.’

Torn from their homes and loved ones, these children of World War II were abruptly thrown into a foreign world. Fiction combined with truth keeps this story flowing.

The reality and personal insight into bombings and devastation of houses, which were actually the homes and lives of real families, mixed with the logic behind two fictional murder cover-ups, entices the reader to a rational understanding of each story.

The author, David Carter has accurately described the devastating effect of bombs and opened the imagination to the plight of an evacuee’s peril, yet understanding the need that ‘life goes on.’

It is truly a powerful story of how children bond together to protect each other in order to survive personal upheaval.

David Carter is a well established English author who also has an extremely interesting web site with published articles varying from writing tips, the sport of cricket to identity theft. Obviously multitalented I am sure we will hear from him many times to come.

A well-written mystery with a touch of historical fact. A novel suitable for both older children and adults which I would Highly Recommend to either generation.

Reviewer: Cheryl Ellis.