Well I thought I would kick off by posting something. It's probably far too long for here, at 5000 words... that's a great lump of text. It could be tedious. And I think there may be POV problems. If anyone has the time (and I understand if you haven't) feel free to pull it to bits. It's a chapter, (it may even be the opening chapter though I have written 8,) from a book based upon a true life story.
Chapter 3. Flood.
Royal Leamington Spa. December 31st 1899.
'Holy Mary Mother of God! Did you hear that?' said Catherine shaking James' shoulder.
'What… what's wrong woman? Can't a man have a lie in on a holiday?'
'Thunder, James! I'd better go and cover the mirrors. Surely, you're not sleeping through it.'
'No. It did 'wake me. And don't go covering the mirrors, it's superstitious nonsense.' He sat up and scratched the black bristles on his chin. 'What time is it? It's still dark,' he said, reaching for the matches on his bedside table.
'Oh Mam! Did you hear the bang?' Madge came running into the room, leapt into the bed, and snuggled down between them. She was holding a knitted woollen doll. 'I'm frightened,' she said laughing.
The match flared and the shadows flickered as James lit the candle.
'You're not frightened Mary Madeline Tandey, you're a cheeky little scallywag!' said Catherine tickling her tummy.
'Say good morning to Lucy,' said Madge waving her doll.
' Mornin' Lucy,' said Catherine poking the doll with her finger.
'Right young lady,' said James returning the matches to the table. 'You're for it!'
'Don't let Daddy tickle me! Please don't let Daddy tickle me, his hands hurt.'
'What do you mean Madge? I wouldn't hurt you.'
'Your hands prickle my skin Daddy.'
'It's your rough skin James. Her skin is sensitive.'
'Daddy prickly hands,' said Madge giggling.
The rain peppered the window.
'Listen to that James. Will the roof be all right?' said Catherine.
James got out of the bed. Pulling his nightshirt down he walked to the window. In the flickering gloom of the gas lamps, he could see the rain coming down in sheets, hitting the cobbles and bouncing back over a foot high. 'Haven't seen it as bad as this in a long time Kate. We better watch for leaks. It looks set for the day. We won't be going to John's or your Mother's…'
'…and I'll probably won't make Midnight Mass tonight. I'll take the children tomorrow, we'll wait and see.' Madge giggled as Catherine picked her up and went to James' side.
Lightning crackled, hissing through the air overhead silhouetting her slight form against the window. A few seconds later there was another deafening bang. The house shook , the windows rattled and Madge jumped and squealed. Catherine snuggled up to James looking up at him. 'I'm glad you're not going in to work today.' He grunted and smiled down at her. There was another flash, followed by an ear-splitting bang.
'Henry can't still be asleep surely?' said Catherine.
'No I'm not,' said Henry coming into the room. 'What a storm! I was looking out the back window. Do you want me to cover the mirrors Mam?
'No one is covering any mirrors,' said James. 'It's a superstion Henry and nothing more.'
'Maybe it's the Millennium,' said Catherine. 'Some people are saying it could be the end of the world.'
'That's rubbish,' said James. 'More superstitious nonsense.'
'Can I go out Dad?'
'Don't be ridiculous.'
'Oh please Dad… it will…'
'Don't argue with me boy!' shouted James cuffing Henry round the back of his head, 'I said no!'
'Now go and get dressed and light the fire.'
Catherine looked up at James. Her eyes pleading with him, 'Please go easy on the boy'. But his face was like stone. She held her gaze for several seconds before turning away. 'Right young lady,' she said. 'Let's get this hair untangled and brushed. One hundred strokes, your counting is coming along a treat, then you can do mine.'
'Well there's no point in going back to bed,' said James. 'Might as well get dressed. I shan't use a clean collar today Kate. Might as well save it.'
Madge was seated on the end of the bed brushing her hair… 'Seven, eight, nine…' James went to the chest of drawers and tipped the jug of water into the bowl.
'Now what are we going to do with you today Madge?' said Catherine.
'Baking! Let's make the bread!'
'Yes, good idea, then you can help me sweep the scullery floor. Now come on, out of here. We'll finish your hair and get you dressed in your room… leave your Father in peace.'
As Catherine and Madge went into the children's bedroom, Henry was coming out. He had dressed himself in a grey cotton shirt and short trousers and was holding a tallow lamp. It cast sweeping shadows as he went downstairs.
'Be careful with the lamp now Henry.'
As he entered the living room, the wind whistled and howled through the gaps in the window frame, making the flame dance and shimmer. Reaching up, taking care not to bump the ornaments, he put the tallow lamp on the mantelpiece. He brought a chair from the table and placed it in front of the fireplace. Climbing up, he took a spill from the mantelpiece, lit it with the lamp, held the flame up to the gaslight and opened the valve.
There was a loud pop as the gas in the shade ignited and the mantel glowed red. By the time he extinguished the spill, and returned the chair to the table, the mantel was beginning to turn yellow, filling the room with a soft pool of light.
A porcelain figure of a lady, dressed in a blue bonnet and yellow crinoline, smiled down at him from the centre of the mantelpiece and Henry always returned the smile with a greeting.
'Good morning Master Henry,' He said, answering himself with a high-pitched squeaky voice. Continuing the ritual, he raked out the ashes in the fire grate watching for sparks as they fell through the grate into the tin box. But what should he do with the ash? He couldn't take it outside to tip in the yard, the dust would blow straight back into the scullery and he would be in trouble.
'I can't take the ashes out Mam!' he shouted upstairs. 'It's too windy.'
'Tip them in the box in the pantry. You know where it is,' shouted his Mother.
'And make sure there are no embers alight Henry,' shouted his Father. 'We don't want the house on fire!'
'All right.' Henry shuddered, drew his shirt round him tight against the cold and carried the ash tin to the pantry.
Returning to the living room, he pushed the tin under the grate. He made nine paper knots, placed them in the grate and poured a few drops of tallow over them. Next came the kindling wood, followed by the lumps of coal from the bucket on the hearth. A final trickle of tallow over the wood and coal and it was ready to light.
His father had given him this job on his seventh birthday more than two years before and after a week of training he became expert, never failing to get the fire going first time. He lit the spill from the lamp and held it to the paper knots. The tallow hissed and bubbled as the flames took hold spreading through the wood and coal. Picking up the sheet of scorched tin, from the fireside, he propped it up over the grate with the shovel to increase the draw from the chimney.
The next job was to fill the pans and kettle with water and put them on the hob. For a brief second the room flashed into daylight as another sheet of lightning sizzled through the air outside. The thunder came almost simultaneously, indicating the storm was now overhead. Henry ran to the scullery window to see water cascading from the gutters and downspouts. A torrent gushed from the top of the toilet roof at the bottom of the yard. For a brief moment he toyed with the idea of going out to jump and dance under the waterfall, but the fear of his Father's reaction stopped him.
Henry's other morning chores consisted of putting his Father's jacket over a chair-back in front of the fire and throwing three handfuls of oats into one of the pots of water on the hob.
First, he remembered to go to the scullery and wash the coal dust from his hands. He didn't always remember, and this caused a fierce telling off from his Father. 'I have enough swallowing the spoil from grinding stone all day without eating coal dust for breakfast Henry!' he would shout, cuffing Henry round the back of his head.
Henry looked at the old clock on the wall. He liked winding it. All he had to do was reach up and gently pull the brass ring on the end of the chain. Pulling the chain down brought the lead weight up, and gravity did the rest keeping the clock going for another 24 hours.
He looked at the face… twenty past seven, and remembered it was New Year's eve. His Father had said he wasn't going into the workshop today. Looking at his Father's jacket over the back of the chair, he wondered if he had done the right thing. Not wanting to risk another telling off, he went to the bottom of the stairs.
'What is it Henry?'
'Do you want your jacket over the chair? You said you weren't going in to work today.'
'Of course not Henry. Do you expect I shall be going out unnecessarily in this foul weather?'
'Er… no Father.'
'Then use your brains boy. Besides, your Grandfather's also taking the day off, it being New Year's eve.'
'Right Father. I'll put your coat back on the hook.'
Soon, the others joined Henry downstairs and Catherine stirred the pot of oats on the hob. When it was ready, she brought it to the table and ladled it into the bowls. Henry was already seated at the table, waiting with spoon at the ready.
'Hungry as always Henry?'
'You don't seem to grow much considering what you eat,' said his Father warming his backside by the fireplace.
'He'll catch up. Won't you Henry?'
'Well I hope it's soon,' said his Father. 'You should be helping me in the workshop, but you haven't got the size and strength to lift a lump hammer, never mind a block of stone.'
'Lovely sloppy porridge,' said Madge, kneeling on her chair and letting the porridge flop off her spoon back into the bowl.
'Now behave young lady,' said her Mother. 'Get your cushion and don't you go making a mess.'
'She's all right Kate. She's not doing any harm,' said James coming to the table. His braces were dangling down his sides touching the floor as he seated himself. 'Is this with or without coal dust Henry?'
'Without, Father. See…' Henry held out his hands for inspection turning them over proudly. 'I washed 'em.'
'Good. I have enough swallowing the spoil from grinding stone all day without eating coal dust for breakfast Henry.'
'Yes Father.' At least it wasn't said in anger and he didn't get a smack round the head.
'Well done Henry. You remembered,' smiled his Mother.
The thunder and lightning stopped, but the rain didn't. It was relentless. A steady downpour, the likes of which the family had never seen before. By mid-afternoon the yard was ten inches deep and the water was lapping at the top of the back door step, threatening to invade the scullery. The floor in the living room was dry.
At the front of the house, in the street, water was swirling down the drains in whirlpools, but the road was still a couple of inches or so deep.
'Dear God,' said Catherine, looking out of the window. 'Do you think we'll be all right James? Do you think we should be moving the furniture and things upstairs?'
'I was thinking the very same Kate. It doesn't bode too well, but we are higher than some hereabouts. There will be people nearer the river in deeper water than us.'
'What about the workshop?'
'It's all up hill to Norfolk Street, it will be fine up there. There shouldn't be any inconvenience. Besides, it would be a sorry state of affairs if that stone didn't take the weather… given that it will all end up at the head of someone's grave.'
'We should be getting over to Mother and Father to see if they are safe.'
'Oh can we go out Mam? Will we go and see Grandma and Grandpa?' said Henry.
'Not at the moment,' said Father. 'They'll be fine, Kenilworth Street slopes upward from here. Maybe we'll go later if it stops.'
'I'd love to go and see the River…' said Henry.
'Me too!' shouted Madge. 'splash splash!'
'No. Children! It's not safe,' said Mother.
'Maybe later when the rain stops,' said Father. 'We'll see.'
'Oh yes please Father! Please!' said Henry.
'I've said we'll see. That doesn't mean yes.'
'We could take some plum pudding over to John's,' said Catherine.
'Maybe so. But we'll wait and see, do I have to say it again?' he was licking some porridge from his spoon, cleaning it with his tongue meticulously. 'Now I think we should be moving things up stairs, just in case.'
'We'll have a pot of tea first and then we'll all lend a hand,' said Catherine going into the scullery. Henry went to the front window to look out.
'What is it boy?'
'The lamps are still lit.'
'Ben hasn't been able to get round to snuff 'em. He lives near the river. I bet he's flooded.'
'James!' said Catherine from the scullery. Come and look!'
The water was coming under the back door from the yard, lapping on the stone floor. 'Right! Come on everybody; let's take what we can upstairs. We'll have that cup of tea afterwards Kate'.
Connecting sky to ground with solid sheets of water, the rain poured all through the night until the following morning. James learnt, for the first time, that their little house was on a gentle slope, for the water stayed in the scullery, not making it into the living room.
The storm drains did their job in the street at the front of the house, turning the roadway into a shallow, flowing river. Soon the waters receded leaving groups of puddles and mud on the road and pavements.
By daylight, Henry had done his jobs. The fire was lit, the clock was wound, the porridge consumed, this time in the bedroom; and Father's jacket was still on the hook behind the door. Henry came into the bedroom from downstairs. 'Is it safe to go out and have a look yet Father?'
'Oh yes let's go out, we could play in the water,' said Madge
'Will you stop pestering boy!' snapped Father. 'Maybe later, but mention it once more and you won't go at all!'
'Sorry Father I just wanted to…'
'…Now pay heed boy! That's your last warning. Once more and you'll be inside for a week!' Mother held her finger up to her lips and looked at Henry. 'Come on everyone,' said Father. 'Let's take the things down stairs. The danger is over and we have been amongst the lucky ones.'
The family murmured agreement and took the things down the stairs. The small table they had disassembled, four simple wooden chairs, an old hand-cranked sewing machine that had been in Catherine's family for years, the bottom half of a Welsh dresser - a wedding present from Uncle John, the hearth rug and a toy box containing Henry's and Madge's possessions.
Once things were returned to their rightful place, Madge ran to the toy box and pulled out her knitted doll, a Christmas present from Auntie Ellen. She ran to Henry pushing it in his face. 'Give Lucy a kiss! Give Lucy a kiss!'
'I'm not kissing a stupid doll…'
'Kiss Lucy now! Kiss Lucy Now!'
'Go away Madge! You're being a nuisance…'
'Oh Please Henry…'
'No! I won't! You are…'
'Sorry Father…' said Henry.
'Sorry Father… said Madge.
'Now come on you two, behave,' said Mother. 'Henry go and find something to do. Madge go and play with Lucy.'
'Poor Lucy. Henry doesn't love you,' she said stroking the doll's woolly hair. 'Are you all right now? Did you have a nice sleep in your box?' Madge was away into her make believe world. Chatting incessantly to the doll, she told it all about the thunder and lightning and the water on the scullery floor. Henry was leaning on the window-ledge gazing out.
People were appearing on the street, couples walking along, the women carefully lifting their skirts, picking their way through the mud and the silt, everyone seemed to be heading in the direction of the river. Henry reckoned his chums were already out there. Raggy Johnson would certainly be there, limping about splashing in the puddles and jeering at the horses and carts as they tried to pass through the flooded streets.
One advantage of living in the poorhouse was no-one wanted to know him, so he could be cheeky to the grown-ups. The poorhouse children were urchins, and Henry knew if his Father found out he had a workhouse boy as a friend he would be in deep, deep trouble. Catherine came into the room behind him.
'Don't worry Henry,' she whispered. 'I'm sure your Father will let you out to play later, don't you say anything again or you'll be in trouble.'
'If he doesn't, we could go over the river to see Uncle John then come back to call on Grandma and Grandfather. I'll mention it to your Father later.'
'Right Mam.' This wasn't what Henry wanted to hear. He'd much rather be let free to go and play with Raggy Johnson. But if that didn't happen, a trip to Uncle John's and Auntie Ellen's would be better than nothing and Uncle John always gave them a farthing to buy sweets at the corner shop.
Henry stayed by the window, watching the people come and go. He saw Raggy Johnson jumping up and down in a huge puddle on the corner and longed to go out and join him.
Catherine made some bread in the scullery showing Madge how to knead the dough. James spent the afternoon dozing by the fire. In the late afternoon, Catherine came in from the scullery.
'I think I'll take some plum pudding over to John then come back and see Mam and Dad. Come on James, let's go and wish them a Happy New Year.'
'I don't have a fancy for going to John's,' he said. 'You'll have to come back this way to Mam and Dad's so give me a knock and I'll come with you.'
'Very well. Come on you two, get your coats on, hats and scarves as well; it's cold out there.'
'Oh goody!' said Madge. 'I'm taking my Lucy with me.'
'Henry,' said Mother, 'there's a portion of plum pudding in a cloth on the scullery table. Go and get it for me while I put my coat on.'
Madge was jumping up and down in the lobby while Mother tried to tie her scarf round her neck. 'Stand still girl! You make it impossible!'
'Here's the plum pudding Mam,' said Henry.
'You carry it Henry.'
'Splish splash splosh!' shouted Madge.
'Mind you stay out of the water,' said James. 'I can't afford new boots for everyone.'
It was cold outside. Mud and silt was everywhere, lying between the cobbles. They walked along Livery Street, to Regent Street by the Regent Hotel towards The Parade. Seeing the grand pillars at the hotel entrance, with its royal crest sitting proudly above, reminded Catherine of the story her mother told her of when Queen Victoria granted the town a Royal Charter.
Ecstatic crowds had gathered outside the Town Hall one morning in July 1838 and cheered as the announcement was made. Celebrations were continued at the Regent Hotel, the people were bursting with pride. It was said that Queen Victoria gave the Royal Charter because she had a wonderful welcome from the people of Leamington some years earlier when she stayed there as a young Princess. The Royal declaration brought even more prosperity to the town, which had grown rapidly over the past few years because of the popularity of the Spa waters. It was different now though. The fashion for taking the waters had been in decline for years and there had been many attempts to rejuvenate the old Pump Rooms. There were new tearooms, recently opened, but Catherine was thinking the river would flood them. And what would the gardens be like? Old Doctor Jephson would be turning in his grave, his pride and joy… probably ruined by the floods.
They were walking along The Parade in the direction of the river. Branches and debris were scattered on the ground left behind by the receding waters. Madge was skipping ahead swinging her doll. Henry was running from puddle to puddle stamping in them laughing, when a couple came round the corner out of Newbold Terrace nearly colliding with him.
'Sorry Ma'am, Sir,' said Henry.
'Take care boy! Good Morning to you Mrs Tandey,' said the man. 'Taking the air? May we wish you a happy and prosperous New Year.'
'Good morning Mr Gibson, Mrs Gibson' said Catherine. 'And the same to you both. Yes we're taking a small gift to the children's uncle across the river.'
'We have just been to look at the waters,' said Mrs Gibson. 'You must take care crossing the bridge, the water is almost up to the top of the wall.'
'My goodness. It was a fearsome storm,' said Catherine.
'Yes. The water came halfway up Augusta Place. Had we not been coming from the other direction, we would not have made it to Mass last night,' said Mrs Johnson.
'We did not attempt to go I'm afraid,' said Catherine. 'I feared for the children's safety.'
'You were wise Mrs Tandey,' said Mr Johnson. 'Though the waters only came to the Church door, it was dangerous under foot and many carriages were stranded, their wheels unable to grip in the mud.'
Catherine looked round, noticing Madge was out of sight. 'Henry. Go and watch your sister, quickly now.'
'Yes. Go to her Mrs Tandey,' said Mrs Gibson. 'We'll bid you goodbye.'
'Forgive me. She is a spirited child.'
Catherine left the Gibsons and walked briskly on to see Henry bringing Madge round the corner from Newbold Terrace.
'Madge! Don't you run off again!'
'Lucy wanted to show me a huge big puddle.'
The light was starting to fade as they approached the bridge and for the first time they saw the fast flowing river. Branches and rubbish even chairs and tables were sweeping along in the torrent.
'Holy mother of God!' said Catherine. 'I've never ever seen it so high.'
Henry stood there, in silence just staring ahead at the roaring water.
After a moment they carried on walking up the gentle slope of the bridge. Madge was trotting ahead of them when she tripped. As she stumbled forward, trying to stop herself from falling to the floor, her arm flew upwards releasing the doll. It shot high into the air and landed in a tree branch that was floating in the river just the other side of the parapet. Madge ran to the wall and climbed up… stretching for the doll. 'Madge!' shouted Henry. 'Don't lean over!'
'Come off that wall Madge! Come down NOW!' screamed Catherine. Madge was oblivious. She was busy reaching out, trying to get the doll before the river took the branch away. Her little fingers were grasping at the doll's leg when there was a surge of foaming water and the branch jerked free. She stretched again, inching forward and grabbing at the doll shouting, 'Lucy! Lucy!'
'Oh dear God Henry! Get to her, pull her back.' Catherine broke into a run but her heavy skirt and coat slowed her. 'MADGE! Don't lean over…'
'I'll get her Mam!' Henry raced up the slope as fast as he could. Grabbing hold of Madge's coat he yanked it backwards but she tripped and lunged forward, the coat slipped through Henry's fingers and she tumbled into the river. 'MADGE! MADGE!' he screamed. She surfaced spluttering and shouting, holding the doll in her hand. 'Henry! Henry…' but the river swept her away under the bridge into the gloom.
Catherine screamed her name again and again. Henry's stomach churned with fear. The light was fading and he could just make out her hand still holding the woollen doll. Suddenly there was a surge of white water and the doll floated away on its own, spinning, tumbling and bobbing along until he could see it no longer 'MADGE! WHERE ARE YOU?' the scream tore at his throat. Henry turned to his Mother for guidance, not knowing what to do next, but she was running up and down the bridge in blind panic.
Should he run for help or dive into the river? Suddenly he saw something... there she was, on the other side of the bridge tossing and bobbing along at speed. He shouted at the top of his voice, 'Madge! Keep your mouth closed. Keep your head up. I'll get you, don't worry!'
He raced down the slope of the bridge and along the edge of the water, trying to judge the best place to jump in. Looking ahead he could see a fallen tree jutting out into the river. If only she could get to it. He knew he would never be strong enough to swim against those currents. Maybe he could guide her; maybe he could swim with the current… if he could just get to her. He had to get ahead of her and wait to catch her in the water.
Running as fast as he could, he raced along the river bank overtaking her. Fear gripped his young heart as he made the decision to jump. He had swam in this river many times… always on a hot summer's afternoon, splashing his way back and forth, or playing with a ball with Raggy Johnson and Sam Wilson but that was a different place, a peaceful, lazy place… a long way from the raging torrent that was before him.
Steeling himself, putting his fear to the back of his mind and focusing all his attention on the bobbing bundle of rags that was Madge, he took a deep breath, ran along the tree trunk and hurled himself into the river. The shock of the bitter-cold water drove the breath from his body and he surfaced, gasping for air. Fighting to keep his head out of the white foam and trying to stretch up and see Madge through the gloom, he struck out to try and intercept her. He knew he would have just one chance to grab her as she raced past him. 'Madge! Madge!' he spluttered, trying to call out to her.
The River was shallower here; he could feel the rocks and mud under his feet. If he could only hold his feet against the rocky bed, it would give him some purchase.
Bracing himself as she came tumbling towards him, he made a desperate lunge in the water and caught her by her hair. Righting himself, he pulled her towards him and put both arms round her small body, trying to stay as high in the water as possible he kicked out with his legs for the tree trunk. She was limp, in his arms… for a fleeting moment he wondered if she was dead but the thought didn't linger; he had to get to that tree.
His strength was failing and his chest heaving, he gulped at the air between spitting out mouthfuls of water. By now, crowds were gathering on the bank and some men were forming a human chain. The man at the end was trying to reach out to him. But it wasn't working. They were trying to stand in the water… they were top heavy, the flow was too powerful and they kept slipping and sliding to their knees.
Henry was now out in the middle of the river. Caught against an upturned table and jammed against a rock, he was yards from the tree trunk. He lay there gasping and holding Madge tight to his chest with the raging water pounding over them. He turned his body round to shield Madge from the force of the river.
'Hold on young lad! Just hold on! We'll get to you!' shouted one of the men. The chain was now ten men strong. Five were linked arm in arm, with another five behind them bracing them against the weight of the river. Two other men crawled out along the fallen tree.
The man at the end of the chain reached Henry and pulled them away from the table. Slowly working backwards, he managed to pass the children to the men on the tree trunk. They hoisted the children out of the water and crawled back with them to dry land.
Catherine was there, tears streaming down her cheeks. 'Oh Madge! Dear Madge…'
There wasn't a glimmer of life on the little girls face as the men laid her on the ground. Henry shouted at her, 'Madge! Wake up Madge!' and turning her over on her side he slapped her between her shoulder blades with all his might. Madge spluttered, water spewed from her mouth, she gasped for air, coughing and choking. As her breathing settled, she burst into tears whilst Catherine wrapped her arms round her, hugging her and rocking back and forth saying her name over and over.
Henry was crying. 'Madge! Say something Madge! Are you all right?' Madge's eyes flickered and recognition dawned…'Lucy…' she said, 'where's Lucy?' One of the men produced a dry coat and draped it over Madge and Catherine. Another man did the same for Henry.
'Come on now,' he said gently. 'Let's get you all in front of a warm fire with a bowl of soup or something. My house is just round the corner.' Then looking straight at Henry, his eyes moist with tears he said 'You're a hero… you deserve a bloody medal for that lad.'