Table of Contents
About the Author
Iris Gower was born in Swansea, where she still lives with her husband in a house overlooking the sea she loves. The mother of four grown-up children, she has written over seventeen bestselling novels. She received an Honorary Fellowship from the University of Wales Swansea in 1999 and was recently awarded an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Cardiff.
Also by Iris Gower
THE LOVES OF CATRIN
WHEN NIGHT CLOSES IN
The Sweyn's Eye Series
The Cordwainers Series
THE SHOEMAKER'S DAUGHTER
THE OYSTER CATCHERS
THE WILD SEED
The Firebird Sequence
DAUGHTERS OF REBECCA
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Epub ISBN: 9781407083834
A CORGI BOOK: 0 552 14451 7
Originally published in Great Britain by Bantam Press,
a division of Transworld Publishers
Bantam Press edition published 2001
Corgi edition published 2002
3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4
Copyright Â© Iris Gower 2001
The right of Iris Gower to be identified as the author of
this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77
and 78 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All the characters in this book are fictitious,
and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead,
is purely coincidental.
Condition of Sale
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not,
by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or
otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other
than that in which it is published and without a similar
condition including this condition being imposed on the
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Printed and Bound in Great Britain
by Cox & Wyman Ltd, Reading, Berkshire
To my dear friend D.L. Anne Hobbs, M. Ed.,
the real expert on the Great Western Railways,
with much love
It was growing dark and fog crept between the rise of Kilvey Hill and the sheltering heights of the Town Hill. It blanketed the stink from the copper works, holding it low over the houses. In Swansea, candles and lamps were being lit but the lights scarcely penetrated the gloom. A fine rain had begun to fall and Katie Cullen shivered, pushing back a curl of dark hair that had escaped from under her bonnet. She was sheltered in the porch of St Joseph and she was the last one of the twenty members of the choir left at the church, except for old Tom Walters who was locking up.
âNight, Katie!' He slammed the door with an almighty bang, startling her out of her reverie. âI'm sorry I can't walk you home tonight, especially with those navvies from the Great Western Railway roaming the streets, but I promised my daughter I'd go round there for a bite of supper.' He hesitated. âI did tell you, didn't I? I'm so forgetful these days.'
Tom was the mainstay of the Bethesda choir, organizer, conductor and general dogsbody. He
forgotten to tell her and she would miss his company.
âNot to worry, Mr Walters.' Katie brushed a raindrop from her cheek but another dripped from her bonnet and splashed on to her fingers. âI'm big enough to see myself home.' She glanced up uncertainly at the lowering clouds.
âFound yourself lodgings yet, child?' Mr Walters said gently. âI know you've got to get out of that house by the end of the month now that your mammy's, wellÂ .Â .Â . you know.'
âYes, I know. I'll be all right, Mr Walters,' Katie said, brushing away his sympathy, touched but embarrassed by it. âGo on you, your daughter will be waiting for you. I'll be just fine, don't worry,' she said. âSee you next week.'
She watched the old man hobble away, leaning heavily on his stick, and suddenly felt lonely. âMammy,' she whispered, âwhy did you have to die and leave me by myself?' She rubbed her cheeks as tears mingled with the raindrops. She was so alone now, with no one to care if she lived or died. Except, perhaps, Mr Walters who would miss having a good contralto voice in the choir. She smiled and pulled her bonnet forward to shelter her face.
Yes, Mr Walters would miss her. It was a small consolation but warming for all that. She began to hurry towards Greenhill. She was not looking forward to letting herself into a cold dark house and spending another night by a cheerless fire built with nothing but sticks and cinders â the coal had run out almost a week ago and the weather had turned spiteful, as if to punish her.
Katie felt insubstantial, as if she did not really exist, for her footsteps were muffled by the rain and fog. She chewed her lip, telling herself that tomorrow she must concentrate on finding a job where she could live in.
As she reached the higher ground on the road running up from the town, she quickened her step as she passed the bar room of the Castle from where she could hear the sound of Irish voices raised in drunken song. She smiled: the choir could take some tips from the navvies, sure enough.
A gang of them was coming down the street towards her and Katie dodged into a doorway, not wanting to draw attention to herself. The railwaymen had taken over the town: they earned good money and were not shy of spending it, not on their women or their living quarters though â the navvies' homes were hastily built huts on the side of the tracks â but on beer.
Katie saw the camp women each time she ventured into town. They cooked outdoors when the weather was fine, the smoke from their fires adding to the stench of the copper works that dominated the town. Katie wondered what would happen when the railway line was finished. Would the navvies vanish from Swansea leaving a trail of broken-hearted women behind them?
Abruptly she stopped walking as the door of Tom's Tavern opened and men spilled onto the roadway. Two fell to the ground, limbs entwined, and began to punch each other with more enthusiasm than accuracy while the others cheered them on.
Katie attempted to sidestep them but as she edged past a hand shot out and caught her ankle. âA colleen, look, a sweet young girl and she's mine!'
The men clambered to their feet, fight forgotten. The one who had hold of Katie transferred his grip to her waist.
âLet me go!' Katie tried to slap his face but he laughed, holding her away from him with ease.
âDon't be like that, lovely. Seth only wants to take care of you.' He dragged her into the doorway of Taylor's grocery store and pressed himself against her. âYou're out looking for business, aren't you? Well, your search is over. Seth will pay you well for a bit o' pleasure but, for pity's sake, stop struggling.'
âI'm not one of the bad girls who roam the street so leave me alone!' Katie kicked out sharply and her booted foot caught the man's shin. He hollered with pain. âYou bad bitch!' He grabbed her by the throat and shook her.
âRight, Seth, that's enough.' The voice was low but full of suppressed anger. âIt's the likes of you get us navvies a bad name.'
The man spun round, releasing her at once. âRight, Bull.' He stepped away from her. âSorry, Bull, I got carried away, like.'
âAre you all right, miss? I'm Bull Beynon, foreman of the Swansea line, and I apologize for the way my boys are behaving. They're a bit drunk, that's all.'
He towered over her, dark and strong, his shoulders broad under his jacket. He had a kind voice but Katie was not taking any chances. She pushed past him and ran as fast as she could towards the lamplight further along the street. She heard shouting behind her as she darted out onto the road, unaware of the carriage and pair thundering towards her. And then the horses were on her, eyes rolling, hoofs raised. She scarcely felt the blow as everything swirled around her head and darkness claimed her.
âHell and damnation! We've hit someone! Stop the carriage, Jacob.' Eynon Morton-Edwards leaped down onto the road, his eyes straining to see the figure lying on the cobbles. He heard the roar from the navvies, and although he was one of the richest, most powerful men in Swansea he felt a dart of discomfort as he saw the crowd of men milling across the road.
âIt's the Great Western navvies, sir,' his driver shouted. âThey're drunk again, and this is no place for a gentleman on a Saturday night. Get back in the coach, sir, please.' He had to raise his voice to make himself heard.
âDon't be ridiculous, Jacob. Hold the animals still â it looks like we've run into a young girl.'