On Marram Shore
A young girl goes in search of a new life in this atmospheric complete story by June Davies.
A period story by June Davies
Anwen was leaving everything she knew behind her, and setting off on a quest to find her family. What awaited her on the other side of the water?
Anwen took the battered sewing-tin from her cupboard and for a moment just stood, holding the precious item in both hands. Raising wistful eyes, she looked around the attic room that had been home since she was twelve years old. It was almost empty now, stripped of all but a rolled-up rag-rug and the dismantled narrow bed, its striped palliasse neatly folded and tied.
Anwen sighed. She had been happy here! And she felt very sad to be leaving Mrs Jenkins and this house in Glyndwr Square.
Mrs Elinor Jenkins had brought Anwen from the parish workhouse and given her a home and a situation. She’d begun as the lowliest scullery maid and had worked hard, gradually improving her education to become her mistress’s lady’s maid . . . and better than 15 years had flown by.
Now Mrs Jenkins was widowed, her sons serving in India, her daughters married and living far away, and the house in Glyndwr Square was being closed up.
For the first time since leaving the workhouse Anwen felt lost, and very, very alone in the world.
Hearing footfalls upon the landing, Anwen was taken aback to find Mrs Jenkins in the doorway, leaning heavily on her cane.
“Can I get you anything, ma’am?” she asked, her soft voice concerned. Smiling, Elinor Jenkins shook her head. “I wanted one last look around our dear old house, Anwen. My husband and I came here as newlyweds, you know.”
“This day must be difficult for you, ma’am.”
“Glyndwr Square is far too large for one person.” Mrs Jenkins sighed. “Now my sisters and I are widowed, it makes sense for us to live together. And it will be lovely returning to Beddgelert where we girls grew up. I’ve missed the countryside.”
Anwen glanced down through the attic window. Her mam and da’s little terrace house was but a few hours’ walk away. Da had worked – and perished – in the cavernous colliery pitting the austere landscape beyond the prosperous mining town.
Imperceptibly, Anwen’s slender fingers tightened around Mam’s little sewing-tin.
“There’s another reason I wanted to see you before my carriage arrives,” Mrs Jenkins continued. “It’s not too late for me to find you a new situation, Anwen. Several friends have enquired after your services.”
“No, thank you, ma’am. While I don’t know what lies ahead, I certainly will need to find employment somewhere and I’m greatly obliged for the fine references you’ve given me.”
“You’re quite determined to go to England?”
“Since I was a little girl and found Mam’s letter, I’ve longed to do this,” she replied simply. “I’m taking this afternoon’s coach to the coast.”
“You’re very brave,” Elinor Jenkins murmured, patting Anwen’s arm affectionately. “When does the packet sail?”
Anwen carefully placed the well-worn sewing-tin into her carpet-bag and followed Mrs Jenkins out on to the landing.
“Wind and weather permitting, ma’am, I shall sail for Liverpool on the morrow.”
Gusts of fine, cold rain were sweeping across the quayside next morning when Anwen boarded the Ellen Mary.
From the pit towns of Flintshire and Denbighshire, Liverpool by sea was both quicker and cheaper than travelling overland by coach.
Minutes before the packet set sail, a young lady and gentleman were welcomed aboard by Captain Mcguffie and shown through low doors to the shelter and whatever other amenities awaited within.
Anwen and the other passengers made themselves as comfortable as possible on the open deck.
She fell into conversation with a woman about her own age, who said she was heading home to Liverpool.
“How long does the journey take?” Anwen asked. The woman eyed the heavily laden deck. “We’ll not see Liverpool till past nightfall,” she opined in a broad accent. “The packet stops a fair few times, unloading and taking on cargo, as well as passengers. Let’s hope this bloomin’ rain gives over, eh?”
It didn’t. It fell relentlessly. The wind got up, and the packet was tossed and buffeted along her way. Anwen sat with her head bowed against the rain, huddled into her shawl.
She was soaked through and chilled to the bone, for despite it being early summer, the sea wind was keen and cut like a knife.
At long last, the Ellen Mary skirted the Lancashire coastline sailing southward for Liverpool. Still it rained. Daylight was fading fast and the tide choppy, with waves washing across the packet’s decks and drenching her passengers in icy salt-water.
The vessel suddenly pitched, her keel grating. Timbers groaned and splintered. Cargo was breaking loose, passengers shouting and screaming. Anwen grabbed for the side, but was flung across the slanting deck. She knew nothing more.
Ashore in Marram, Joss Livesley sighted the Ellen Mary’s distress signal and ran to St Christopher’s, ringing the church bell and summoning the crew of the rescue gig.
Men downed tools in village workshops, left fields and farms, fetched horses and sped down to the boathouse.
Smooth as clockwork, coxswain and crew rolled the wagon bearing the gig from the boathouse, hitched up the huge horses and drove into the waves.
With the gig launched, cox Bernard Tyler took the tiller while his son, Harry, Joss Livesley and the rest manned the oars and struck out for the stricken ship.
Left alone on the rain-swept Marram shore, Nina Tyler led the horses from the shallows and into the stable, rubbing them down with straw before going through to the adjoining cottage to tend her daughter and pray for the safe return of her menfolk and the passengers and crew of the Ellen Mary.
GRADUALLY Anwen stirred to consciousness. Struggling to open heavy-lidded eyes, she glimpsed an unfamiliar room and a little girl in a patched pinafore hovering in the doorway. A silky white and black dog stood at her side.
“Mammy!” the child cried, bolting from sight. “Mammy, the lady’s woke up . . .”
Several hours later, Anwen was clad in some of Nina Tyler’s clothes and comfortably seated at the hearth, sipping the warmed honey posset Nina had prepared for her.
“Everybody was fetched safely ashore by the gig. Nobody else was hurt, save for a few cuts and bruises,” Nina explained as she darned a gansey. “You were hit by summat. Dead to the world, you were. Bernard – he’s my father-in-law and cox of the Marram gig – brought you here and sent for Doctor Seddon.
“The rest of ’em from the packet piled into the cart and Harry – my husband – drove them to the village. They spent the night at the inn and next day took the coach for Liverpool. All except the quality folk, of course,” she added as an afterthought. “Squire Alcott sent his carriage down here for the lady and gentleman and they went up to the Hall.”
Anwen strove to gain her bearings.
“I’m sorry to ask so many questions, but how long have I been here?”
“Ellen Mary foundered the evening before last,” Nina replied, smiling at her patient. “We’ve had a worrisome time waiting for you to wake, Anwen, so don’t you mind a scrap about asking me too many questions!”
Anwen returned the younger woman’s smile, watching as Nina disappeared into the pantry and emerged with a trug of potatoes.
“I can peel those!” she exclaimed.
“I daresay,” Nina remarked. “But Doctor Seddon said once you woke up, you were to take things easy.”
“It’s peeling potatoes, not dancing a jig!” Anwen persisted earnestly. “Let me help – please? I can’t sit doing nothing while you’re so busy!”
“I suppose you could shell the peas,” Nina agreed, taking up the potato knife. “If Millie and that dog of hers ever come back from picking ’em!”
“You have a vegetable garden?” Anwen queried. “Oh, it must be grand being able to grow things!”
“Boathouse Cottage has a good patch of land, so we have plenty of veg and fruit,” Nina replied enthusiastically. “I’ve beds of flowers and herbs, too, and Harry’s made me a bench so I can sit in the garden admiring them!
“We Tylers farm fields up beyond the village as well, but they’re not ours,” she concluded, slicing carrots into a pot. “Them fields belong to the squire.” “The squire?” “Squire Alcott of Marram Hall. Before Harry and me got wed, I was linen-maid up at the Hall. Grand place it is.”
“I’m in service –” Anwen began, then she stopped. “Well, I was. Until this week.” Nina’s eyes widened. “Is that why you were heading for Liverpool? Looking for a new situation?”
She broke off at Tinker’s excited barking and rose, looking from the window.
“It’s Joss – my brother. He must’ve been to Marram Hall. He’s wearing his uniform,” Nina added by way of explanation, glancing to Anwen. “Joss is Marram’s constable. Whenever he goes to the Hall on village business, he has to wear his uniform. Squire Alcott is particular about things being done proper.”
Drying her hands on her apron, Nina went out to greet her brother and presently they approached the open doorway.
“I came by to ask after the young lady,” Joss Livesley was saying, his deep voice grave. “Is she any better?”
“Aye, she is!” Nina replied as they came indoors. “Why don’t you sit down and talk to Anwen, while I make us a brew?”
Joss Livesley was a kind and considerate man, Anwen thought as they sat drinking their tea.
He’d tactfully asked after her wellbeing, enquired if Anwen wanted him to send word to family or friends notifying them of her whereabouts, and stressed that as Marram constable, he was at her service.
Joss had no sooner left the cottage than Bernard and Harry Tyler came home from the fields. During supper, Anwen discovered it was Joss Livesley who’d risked his life boarding the stricken Ellen Mary and carried Anwen from where she’d lain unconscious on the shattered deck.
She also learned the packet’s cargo had been lost overboard, together with the luggage of her passengers.
Anwen retired early, exhausted, relieved to rest her head upon the smooth bolster. Sleep would not come, however.
Long after the Tyler family were abed and Boathouse Cottage fell silent, Anwen lay wakeful.
Her savings and all her belongings had been inside the carpet-bag. She’d lost everything, but it was for the sewing-tin and its precious contents she grieved that endless night.
Nina, I can’t stay here,” Anwen reasoned a few days later while they were pegging out washing. “I can’t impose any longer.”
“You’ve no choice – not for the time being,” Nina said practically. “Besides, it’s nice having another woman about this old cottage, so you’re to stay as long as you want, and that’s an end to it!”
“I need to find work,” Anwen persisted. “Any work!”
“There’ll be fruit-picking and plenty more come harvest-time,” Nina assured her. Then she beamed. “Remember me telling you I was linen-maid at Marram Hall? Well, every summer the Alcotts have a houseful of guests. Mrs Burnaby, the housekeeper, takes on extra maids and suchlike for three months. Mrs Burnaby and me are still friendly,” Nina went on excitedly. “Suppose you and me go up to the Hall and see if she’ll take you on?”
“My characters were lost with the rest of my belongings,” Anwen replied bleakly. “A household like Marram Hall won’t consider me without references, Nina.”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” she responded simply.
That afternoon, the two were weeding flower-beds while Millie and Tinker played on the sands. Tinker began barking joyfully and Millie rushed in at the garden gate.
“Mammy – it’s Uncle Joss! He’s come for the cart!”
With Tinker scampering at his side, Joss Livesley followed Millie towards the well-tended garden. Anwen looked up, shielding her eyes from the bright sunshine.
Constable Livesley was clad not in his smart uniform, but in sea-boots, fustian breeches and a coarse calico shirt, its wide sleeves rolled back over sun-browned forearms.
A battered cap, bleached by sun and salt-water, shaded Joss’s dark eyes, and he tipped its peak politely when he
reached the gate.
“Millie said you’re fetching the cart,” Nina said to him, sitting back on her heels. “Is it salvage from the Ellen Mary?”
“Perhaps,” Joss replied carefully. “There’s wreckage washing in with the tide at Prospect Bay. I’m going up to see what’s there.” He paused, meeting Anwen’s eyes. “I’ll retrieve as much as I can, Miss Lloyd, but it’s best not to get your hopes up.”
Despite his warning, Anwen couldn’t help hoping her belongings might be recovered.
“Constable Livesley – may I come with you?” Joss was taken aback. “Aye . . . aye, if you feel up to it. Prospect Bay’s a fair distance away. By the time we get there,” he went on, glancing across the shore to the spume-crested, billowing waves, “the tide will have ebbed and we’ll see what she’s left behind.”
Following the ragged coastline, they drove north towards Prospect Bay. As Joss had said, the tide was already out and Anwen saw broken timbers, spars and all manner of debris strewn across the expanse of wet, ridged sand.
“I fear we’re too late,” Joss muttered as, some distance away, three men fled the beach, each of them hefting a bulky pack. “Too late?” “Scavengers.” Joss’s face set grimly as he handed her down from the cart and they proceeded towards the tideline. “It’s all been picked over, Miss Lloyd. Anything of use or value will have been taken.”
Anwen was scarcely listening, her gaze lighting upon a misshapen object amongst skeins of seaweed and driftwood. “There’s my bag!” The carpet-bag lay wide open. Its contents were rifled. Her purse was gone. Her garments were discarded. With thumping heart, Anwen searched amongst her scattered belongings for Mam’s sewingtin.
It was there! Tangled up in the folds of a sodden petticoat – but the hinged lid was ajar.
She blinked back sudden tears. They’d taken her father’s bible with Mam’s letter.
Then, from the corner of her eye, Anwen caught sight of the dog-eared book, just a yard or two away, its wafer-thin pages fluttering. Carefully, she picked it up. Mam’s letter was still there, tucked safely inside the back cover. Clutching the bible to her chest, Anwen just stood there on the beach, heedless of Joss Livesley’s methodical collecting of whatever remained of Ellen Mary’s cargo and goods and loading them on to the cart.
He matter-of-factly gathered up the strewn garments and packed them back into Anwen’s carpet-bag before going to her side. “How much is lost?” She turned to him and smiled, her eyes shining.
“My savings are gone – but the precious things are safe, Joss! I have them still!”
“I’m glad,” was all he said, offering her his arm.
“I was only little when Mam passed away,” she began as they started away from the tideline. “But I have such lovely memories of her. Mam was always sewing. Always. While she sewed, I’d sit playing with the buttons from her sewing-tin. This sewing-tin was very special to Mam because it had belonged to her mam.”
“No wonder it means so much to you,” Joss murmured, helping her clamber aboard the laden cart.
“There’s more to it than that. Mam was English. When she married my da, she fell out with her parents and they never spoke to one another ever again,” she explained.
“Years ago, after Mam and Da were both gone, I found a letter she’d written to her parents while she was ill.” Her quiet voice faltered. “She must’ve passed away before . . . The letter never was posted,” she concluded briskly. “I’ve had it all this while inside my da’s bible, and kept them both safe inside Mam’s sewing-tin. These keepsakes – and my memories – are all I have left.”
THE setting sun was pouring molten gold on to distant, rippling waves when the cart trundled down on to Marram shore. Shadows were already clinging to the boathouse, and lamps burned at the cottage’s low windows.
“Anything of value is long gone to scavengers,” Joss was saying. “But I’ll be writing to Captain Mcguffie and the Ellen Mary’s passengers, so that they might come to Marram and claim what’s theirs.
“Miss Lloyd – Anwen,” he went on hesitantly. “You’ve lost your savings and, well
– will you let me provide the fare and suchlike so you can get home to Wales?” “I couldn’t possibly –” “I meant no impropriety,” he interrupted earnestly. “I only want to help. I’m sorry if I’ve spoken out of turn.”
“You haven’t!” she exclaimed. “It’s such a kind thought, Joss, and I do need money – but I’ll not be going back to Wales.”
Anwen explained about leaving her situation with Mrs Jenkins, and went on to tell Joss about seeking work and Nina’s plan for them to call at Marram Hall.
“Although I’m sure the people at the Hall will not take me on, not without –”
She broke off, diving into her carpet-bag for the sewing-tin. From beneath the needle-cases, yarns, scissors and buttons, Anwen fished out Elinor Jenkins’s neatly written character reference, waving the sheet of paper in delight.
“I’d put it there for safekeeping!”
Joss Livesley’s lean face creased into a broad smile, but before he could say anything Tinker began barking, the cottage door swung open and the family spilled out to greet them.
Explaining that he had letters and the salvage report to write, Joss declined Nina’s invitation to supper, and as he made to leave, he turned to Anwen.
“Will you be coming to church on Sunday?”
“Oh, you must come with us!” Nina chipped in. “Reverend Holmes preaches such good sermons!”
“I’d like to come,” Anwen responded, glancing across the expanse of dark shore to the moon-washed thread of sea, then to the kindly faces gathered about her. “I have so very much to give thanks for.”
ON Sunday morning, Bernard Tyler led the family from Boathouse Cottage into Marram village. Joss Livesley was waiting for them at St Christopher’s, talking with a cluster of folk.
Nina barely had time to introduce Anwen before they all went inside for worship.
Afterwards, Joss fell into step beside Anwen and they strolled together, following the Tylers down the winding lanes towards the shore.
“It’s grand Mrs Burnaby’s taken you on!” He beamed.
She looked at him in amazement.
“However did you know? I was looking forward to telling you the news myself!”
He laughed, his dark eyes sparkling.
“Marram’s a small place – the whole village knows! I’m pleased for you, Anwen. And very glad you’ll be staying here for the whole summer,” he went on, serious now. “I’d thought you’d be in a hurry to get down to Liverpool.”
She shook her head vigorously.
“I was sailing into Liverpool so I could take a coach to Durham.”
It was his turn to look amazed.
“Durham? That’s clear across country!” Now Anwen laughed. “Mam came from Durham. That’s where my parents met. Da was working in the mines,” she went on quietly. “As you know, the letter in the sewingtin is for Mam’s mother and father – my grandparents – but Mam died before she could send it, so . . ”
“You want to take her letter to them?” Joss finished thoughtfully, his steady gaze never leaving Anwen’s face.
“That’s why I came to England,” she replied, as they reached Marram shore and followed the family into Boathouse Cottage.
Their companionship deepened during that summer. Anwen lived in at Marram Hall, but she saw the Tylers and Joss at church every Sunday, and she and Joss spent her weekly half-days out wandering hand-in-hand through the pinewoods, picnicking amongst the dunes above Marram shore, or simply sitting together in the seclusion of Nina’s flower garden at Boathouse Cottage.
It was upon such a day late in August that they bumped into Nina bustling down the lane with her shopping.
“I saw Mrs Burnaby in the village,” she began at once, beaming at Anwen. “Singing your praises, she was! Saying how hard you work below stairs, and how pleased the mistress is with you being able to step in as lady’s maid when need be. Don’t you be surprised if Mrs B wants you to stay on at the Hall after summer ends!”
Although she wasn’t surprised when Mrs Burnaby offered her a permanent situation, Anwen was deeply troubled by the choice before her.
She enjoyed working at the Hall, and Marram was a fine place. She felt at home here. She’d found dear friends – family, almost – with the Tylers. And Joss. There was Joss . . .
“With you not being local, you’ll need time to think on it,” the kindly housekeeper had told her. “Let me know one way or t’other by morning.”
After her duties were completed that evening, Anwen slipped away from the Hall and went to St Christopher’s. She didn’t go inside, but sat within the lychgate.
She sorely needed to gather her thoughts, and the stillness helped soothe her agitated mind.
Presently, she heard footsteps and immediately recognised their steady pace. Her face was upturned, catching the silvery moonlight, when Joss entered the lychgate.
“Mrs Burnaby said I’d likely find you here,” he began awkwardly. “Do you mind company?”
She shook her head slowly, smiling up at him.
“I was just thinking about you.”
“Good things, I hope!” he replied with a brightness in his eyes. “What are you going to do, Anwen?”
“I don’t know,” she murmured, her eyes downcast. “I’ve been trying to think clearly . . .”
He reached out, hesitantly taking her hand.
“I came to ask you to stay – to stay in Marram. With me. Will you stay here, Anwen? Will you –”
“I can’t, Joss!” she blurted out, interrupting him before those words could be spoken.
The intensity of her feelings for him was almost overwhelming. To love and to be loved was something she’d never believed would happen to her. Now it had, but . . .
“I’ve saved enough for the coach fare to Durham. I must go. I must, Joss!” she whispered miserably, gazing up into the darkness of his eyes, desperate for him to understand. “It isn’t that I don’t care for you – I do! I care for you very much.”
“Not enough to stay with me!” Joss retorted bitterly. “Why must you go to Durham? Why can’t you write first? Your grandparents might have moved. Or suppose they’re . . .”
“I believe Mam knew she was dying, and wanted to make peace with her family,” Anwen said softly. “One or both of my grandparents may well have passed away by now, but at least I’ll have tried to find them and give them Mam’s letter.”
He did not speak, merely stared down at her. The sadness and disappointment she saw in his expressive brown eyes tore at her heart.
“I’m sorry,” she mumbled brokenly. “I can’t stay.”
“Then there is nothing more to be said,” he replied. “I’ll see you safely back to the Hall.”
CHILL sea mist was rolling in over the dunes that early September morning, drifting like wraiths around the quiet village while Anwen waited alone outside the inn to board the northbound coach.
She’d said affectionate farewells to the Tyler family, been wished Godspeed, and promised to write and keep in touch. She hadn’t seen Joss since that night at the lychgate.
Clutching her carpet-bag, she climbed aboard, wondering if she was making the biggest mistake of her life.
But as she settled into her seat, Anwen saw Joss striding through the village towards the coach and immediately she scrambled out, running to meet him.
“I couldn’t let you leave Marram with angry words between us,” he began at once. “You’re very dear to me, Anwen – I wanted to tell you that. And for you to know I wish you well on your long journey and in your quest to find your grandparents.”
“Joss, whatever happens in Durham, I’ll come back to Marram and –” She faltered, gazing up into the warmth of his brown eyes. “And more than anything, I’d like to stay here . . . if you still want me to, that is?”
“Here I shall be, my love,” he whispered, for the first time tenderly touching his lips to hers.
“Here I shall be, waiting for you . . .”