Guide A Woman Unknown: Number 4 in series (Kate Shackleton Series)

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When I married, I was earning four pounds, one shilling a week. Since then, we've had nothing but wage cuts. I'm down to three pounds, eight and six.

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Fitzpatrick drummed his fingers on the table. No, I have not. I took her out of poverty. Now she wants more than I can afford. Is she giving someone money? That is what made me wonder, is she out stealing? I had the impression that he was stressing the possibility of shoplifting only because this was what most disturbed Sykes. When he had recovered, I asked, 'Regarding your suspicions about your wife stealing, have you noticed any items in the house that you have reason to believe were obtained dishonestly?

She had this gramophone, and no explanation of where it came from. And now it's gone. She says it's being repaired, but she's sold it, or pawned it.

Well where did it come from? Who carried it for her? She has an old sweetheart who hangs about, making himself useful to her mother. He touched the Sacred Heart badge in his lapel. Sykes's jaw tightened.

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He said nothing. For a moment, the three of us sat in uneasy silence.

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Was Fitzpatrick here to admit that his rage was about to explode, that he might do who knows what if he did not find some explanation that satisfied his doubts, and jealousy? Fitzpatrick hunched, drawing his arms into his body. They are both gone to their eternal rest. I promised Deirdre that she would want for nothing. And I kept my promise. But I think she was disappointed that I did not agree to bring her mother to live with us. Perhaps I should have, only She can be very cruel.

Last year, when I knew how ill my mother-in-law was, I said to invite her. But then she wouldn't come, said she knew when she wasn't wanted. Sykes finally spoke. After all, I was the one who ensured no charge was brought against her. His lip twitched. If Deirdre sees it, she'll wonder what I'm up to. It was against my better judgement, but looking from Fitzpatrick to Sykes, I decided that it would not hurt to take a closer look at this young woman who aroused such strong emotions.

Deirdre sat next to her mother's bed in the small white-washed room, with its familiar damp amber patterns on ceiling and walls. The room smelled of camphor, essence of violets and boiled cabbage from last night's supper. She smoothed the familiar tufts of the counterpane. Mam had dozed off.

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In her sleep she murmured. Her eyelids twitched dreams.

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She would be back in the misty Ireland of her childhood, a place about which Deirdre heard endless stories but had never visited. What convinced Deirdre that her mother must leave this house was the time the rat came down the chimney. Now she spotted another bloody flea on the bed sheet. She snapped it between expert fingers, and then dropped it in the chamber pot, the only way to deal with the little devils.

Manual A Woman Unknown: Number 4 in series (Kate Shackleton Series)

They lurked in cracks in the walls, planning torments. You could murder half a dozen in a minute; there would still be a small army waiting to drop from the ceiling. There'd be none of that in the nursing home. Sometimes Deirdre transported a flea or two home in the seams of her dress. Fitz would complain that she came back stinking of poverty and trailing disease.

He worried about his health and his weak chest. Her mother opened her eyes and gave a gummy smile. I've brought you calves foot jelly. While you eat it, I've summat to tell you. She placed a towel under her mother's chin, and handed her the spoon and dish. Her mam swallowed a mouthful of the jelly. Then she said, 'I dreamed Anthony came. I'm sure he's on his way. She wanted to see her son once more, before she died. She had dictated a touching note to the little boy who had left for New York twenty-three years ago.

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The words had made Deirdre squirm. His locks hadn't been shorn. Your uncle did that, took the scissors to make a big boy of him. Deirdre said nothing. She had written to her brother Anthony every year since she was ten, and in a decade and a half had received two brief replies. Two months before marrying Fitz she developed cold feet and wrote to Anthony.

Would he send the fare for herself and Mam to go to New York? Answer came there none.

A Woman Unknown : Number 4 in series

She married Fitz. Her mother dug the spoon into the jelly and left it there. You'll build up your strength. There's a garden to look out on. Even before she reached Leeds Bridge, Deirdre caught the tang of the River Aire, a sharp, foggy, back of the throat smell. Lucky river, winding to sea. On this hot August Friday afternoon, wouldn't she love to be flowing in that direction herself? She ran her hand along the ironwork bridge, and for her pains muckied the creamy fingers of her glove.

Below, two bargemen called to each other. Looking along the riverbank, she saw Calls Landing, its name painted in glory-of-God-size lettering on the side of the building. It was grand to be in the town with its hustle and bustle. In the distance, the protestant parish church stood smug and certain, sharp against the sky. A used-up creature shuffled towards her. He caught her eye, as though one person with no legitimate business would always recognise another.