Wednesday, December 12, 2012

COACHMAN - a spare chapter

Not all the scenes I wrote for COACHMAN made it into the final form of the novel. Here is an extract that might have been part of the final chapter:

The day they travelled north it was a sharp, bright morning, a day on which George was impatient to drive and irritable at the thought of sitting on a train with nothing to do. To make things worse, Lucy had remembered the smoked and sooted confinement of second class railway travel, and insisted he wore his oldest coat. Its shabby appearance laid another smudge across his mood.

A four-wheeled cab waited in the street with their belongings packed on the roof, the damaged writing case among them, strapped up with an old belt. However, George would not trust his whip up there, and carried it as always with the long lash looped and tied.

Mrs Bowe had wrapped herself in a shawl to lead the farewells. Tom Thetford stood by with a stolid face, and observed the fussing as though determined that no-one should have hysterics while he was about, while Mrs Bowe made sure that Betsy had securely wrapped her few possessions for the journey. Betsy herself was bundled inside a secondhand coat so large it appeared to be wearing her.

‘Now you girls,’ said Mrs Bowe, not really making any distinction between Lucy and Betsy, ‘look after yourselves, and make sure this coachman fellow does the same. I know what these driving men can be like. Betsy – you imp – behave yourself when you get to your new home – it’s a crying shame you leaving me to instruct a new girl from scratch – but it’s your good heart, I know – and I had rather see you go and look after Mrs Davenport than get yourself into trouble with young Robbie.’

‘I never went with ’im,’ muttered Betsy. She pretended to be engrossed in stepping on and off the doorstep.

‘I should think not,’ said Mrs Bowe. ‘I told you, you’re not allowed to have followers. You’re much too young.’

‘E’s walkin’ out with Lizzie Pearson now, anyway.’

‘Stop fidgeting,’ said Lucy.

George, with a wink at her, nudged Betsy’s shoulder. ‘There’ll be a score of sturdy lads come knocking at the door when we get to Kendal.’

‘Only if you introduce them to me first,’ said Lucy firmly, ‘and I arrange what evenings they’re allowed to call.’

‘There now,’ said Mrs Bowe, ‘that’s very fair, that is.’

‘But we shan’t let you hobnob with any old riffraff,’ added George. ‘They’ll have to present calling cards.’

‘Don’t be so foolish, Mr Davenport!’

‘Well, how else are we going to keep track of ’em all?’

Betsy giggled, and Mrs Bowe said, ‘Don’t give her ideas. Oh, dear, Lucy – I shall miss you! Go well and safely, my dear. Breathe deep of that north country air. I’m sure you’re going to have a beautiful healthy baby.’

‘I’ll write to you,’ promised Lucy, and hugged her, and all three women clung to one another.

‘Damned if I’d like to be seen carrying-on in the street,’ said Thetford, and turned to discuss the cab horse with George. ‘There’s been some quality there, y’know.’

‘Showing his age in the hind fetlocks, though.’

‘Ah!’ agreed Tom. ‘Well... I daresay it’s a good thing you’re leaving.’ 

George glanced at him, surprised by his quizzical tone. ‘I have to follow the work, if that’s what you mean.’

‘No. Not entirely. Seems to me there’s a young woman we both know, as gave a fair show of jealousy when she worked at the Swan. I recall as ’ow she come out special-like to travel with you on the Albion.’

George reddened, in spite of himself.  ‘She did.’

‘Kind of flattering, but I ’ope you didn’t do nothing about it.’ The wise old eyes gave nothing away.

‘I warned her off, Tom.’

‘I ’ope you did, for Mrs Davenport’s sake.’

George realized that Tom guessed what had happened, but the old man was a realist. Making a fuss over the truth would benefit no-one. As along as nobody asked him directly, he knew Tom would keep his suspicions to himself.

‘Mrs Davenport knows,’ he said, ‘And as for the young lady – she’ll get over it.’

The cabman, his gaze fixed on the horse’s ears, stolidly observed, ‘If yer party’s wishful to be at Euston for the ten o’clock train, better get in now.’

Tom took the hint, and shook George by the hand. ‘That proprietor in Kendal will be lucky to get you. I wish you all the best, I do, heartily, and Mrs Davenport and the baby too.’

George returned his handshake, liking the old man better than ever. The two of them stood irresolute for a moment before he said, ‘Well, I’d better disentangle these women, or we’ll be here the rest of the morning.’

Mrs Bowe startled him with a hug and a hard kiss on the ear, and when he escaped to help Lucy into the shabby interior of the cab, she showered advice on Betsy.

‘Remember to make yourself useful, gel! Get up early and don’t be to call – you riddle the fires and sift the ashes... make life easy for Mrs Davenport...’

George settled Lucy in a forward facing seat, and put Betsy opposite, where she sat excitedly waving farewell to Mrs Bowe and Thetford, even before the driver called to his horse and they set off. Lucy held her head high and felt for George’s hand, all the while staring rigidly out towards the great dome of St Paul’s. He knew she was struggling not to cry, and gave her tense fist a reassuring little shake.

He wasn’t sad to be leaving London. It wouldn’t be long before Sherman and Nelson and other less canny proprietors realized, as Chaplin had done, that the railway was an implacable competitor, and then they would sell out too, and the coach routes would die, and as they died he would have to seek work in more and more remote areas, and compete with more and more drivers out of place. He’d come here with an ambition to make his name, and instead he’d found that the best part of his driving career was over.

Lucy’s hand in his was a trust he mustn’t betray again. He wasn’t an irresponsible youth any longer, who could move on at a whistle and travel light.

They passed the Queen’s Hotel for the last time, and the Post Office, and somewhere in the clustered buildings behind it, the Swan. He watched as the cab bore him away, until it turned the corner into Newgate Street, and he couldn’t see even the buildings any more.

The complete book is available here: (Amazon USA)
or (Amazon UK)

1 comment:

Pauline Conolly said...

if this bit was left out the rest must be damn good Sue.