Alison Burnside's family have been luckier than most. The poverty of Glasgow in the 1930s has been kept at bay. So far . . .Alison seems content to graduate into marriage with teacher Jim Abbott, until she becomes entangled with fellow student Declan Slater who has an irresistible charm.'Stirling is a wonderful storyteller.' Bookseller 'Jessica Stirling's high reputation is well deserved.' Manchester Evening News
Release date: August 16, 2012
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Print pages: 359
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The Marrying Kind
There was nothing remotely mystical about the experience and, after a week or two with a blade in her hand, Alison thought little of it. Anatomy was the one aspect of medical training which the laity seemed to latch on to, however, as if the cutting up of a human cadaver was somehow an end in itself. Nobody ever enquired about chemistry or physics and the eyes of family and friends would positively glaze over at the mere mention of vertebrate morphology. But just a hint that Alison’s afternoon had been spent in the dissecting-room, slaving over old Tom’s diminishing remains, would lead to a barrage of indelicate questions. Somebody, usually her brother Bertie or sister-in-law Brenda, would ask precisely what portion of the corpse had been carved away that day and would shudder with delicious horror when Alison, with some reluctance, divulged the grisly details.
Admittedly when old Tom had been hale, if not exactly hearty, the first glimpse of him laid out stiff, bronze-tinted and naked on the slab had caused the students a certain temporary revulsion too. Also, on the fourth day of anatomy class, a definite rising of gorges and hasty blinking of the eyelids when Mr Strutt, the demonstrator, had unwrapped his instruments and, without much delicacy or tact, had arranged the blocks and boards to raise old Tom’s thorax to a convenient height. For a fleeting second it had seemed to the students that the poor old fellow was being hoisted up to give them the once over and when Strutt made the first incision along the middle line of the body there was among the group a universal wincing and an audible in-sucking of breath.
From one of the twenty tables behind them they heard a groan and a thud as some sensitive soul crumpled to the floor and just on the edge of Alison’s vision a burly young rugby player doubled over and was wretchedly sick.
Ally Burnside’s team, however, stood its ground manfully.
Declan Slater, who was almost as emaciated as the corpse, swayed not an inch from the table’s edge and glamorous Roberta Logie, daughter of a famous surgeon, even uttered a little ‘Huh!’ as if this initial reflection of the skin was nothing to write home about. Guy Conroy and Howard McGrath pursed their lips, pressed their tongues against their palates and stoutly ignored the sudden overwhelming stench of formaldehyde that rose about them like a cloud.
Old Tom was long gone, of course. All his bits and pieces had been carefully preserved and had been buried with due reverence and respect. He had been one of that band of down-and-outs who sign away their mortal remains to advance the cause of medical science and to earn a pound or two to spend on drink before departure. He had made an important contribution to Alison’s education, though, for under old Tom’s influence she’d come to appreciate why there was little or no larking about in the big, glass-roofed anatomy hall and why the odour of formaldehyde conferred a strange kind of privilege upon those to whose clothing it clung.
There was something different about medical students, some element in that branch of learning which distinguished its acolytes and separated them from the general ruck. Within limits, medical students were permitted to blow off steam in their social life while at the same time observing the sort of monasticism that went with long hours of study, extended terms, difficult examinations and a volume of practical work which constantly threatened to wipe them into oblivion.
Small wonder then that nobody at home could understand why Alison had changed or why on occasion she seemed impatient with family matters. Why she was irritated by her brothers’ squabbles, her father’s fussy demands and disinterested in the tittle-tattle that centred around the council house in the Glasgow suburb of Flannery Park. All the things that had seemed so vital to her in 1930 had become almost irrelevant by 1933. It was not that she looked down on her family. It was simply a matter of preoccupation, of being constantly, mentally, elsewhere.
Sometimes she envied Declan Slater his unsanitary basement in a shabby terrace house in Greenfield, envied him his exile, his absolute lack of distraction. She envied Declan more than she envied Roberta her big house by the tennis courts in Dowanhill or Howard his ‘digs’ in the privately owned Bankside Hotel. There was something noble about Declan’s suffering, his refusal to knuckle under to poverty, an edge, a necessity to his studies which Alison believed she lacked. Number 162 Wingfield Drive was just too comfortable and convenient to be inspirational, for Alison was looked after there by her eldest brother, Henry, and Trudi, his wife, and was expected to make only a modest contribution to the smooth running of the household.
The four-in-a-block, two-storey council house was not as spacious as Roberta’s mansion but since Alison’s father had flitted across the drive to live with his new wife, Ruby, and brother Jack had married Ruby’s daughter, Brenda, number 162 no longer seemed quite so cramped as it had in the past.
Henry and Trudi occupied the back bedroom upstairs. Davy had taken over the upstairs front and Bertie reposed in solitary state in the small bedroom that opened off the living-room. ‘Princess Alison’ – Bertie’s term for his sister – had been offered a choice of rooms but for harmony’s sake she had elected to stick to the narrow bed-study which she’d grown used to over the years. How nice, she’d thought, to be able to look from the window across the little park and see the lights of the house where her father, Alex, and Ruby lived. How consoling it would be, she’d thought, to have Dad so close at hand.
In fact, Dad and Ruby spent most of their time in 162 and by the end of her first year at Glasgow University Alison had shed her sentimental notion of family bonding and could have seen the whole damned lot of them far enough. She no longer owed allegiance to the Burnsides. She belonged – the word was not too strong – to the team, to Declan, Guy, Howard, even to Roberta.
Why this assortment of personalities rubbed along so well was a mystery. They were not alike in breeding or background. Roberta was a snob, an intelligent snob but a snob none the less. Guy was handsome, well mannered and gracious, but he said little about his parents and the manner in which they lived in the rich, rural suburb of Bearsden.
Howard was rich, dashing and flamboyant. Son of a professional soldier, he had been raised in a mansion in the Border town of Hawick and groomed for the army from birth. At eighteen he had demanded the right to choose his own career and had elected to ‘do’ medicine at Glasgow instead of saluting the flag at Aldershot. ‘Good for you, lad,’ his father had shouted when Howard’s decision had been made known to him. ‘Royal Army Medical Corps – what!’ Howard’s reply had been quite unprintable. It had led to him being booted out of the house and warned never to darken the ancestral doorstep again, an order which he was only too happy to obey – provided his monthly remittance arrived on time.
In, say, the Faculty of Law, Alison’s council school education might have been held against her, together with the fact that her father’s ‘position in the city’ was only that of a maintenance man in the Glasgow Mercury’s machine-room. Alison, however, had a little money of her own. She was not vulgarly spoken and emanated an unobsequious confidence which was entirely classless.
Tall, with a solemn, oval face and dark brown hair, there were times when Alison seemed so studious that even Roberta was inclined to defer to her. She had an attractive quality which caught the boys off guard. And at the beginning of fourth term blonde, blue-eyed Roberta had her nose thoroughly put out of joint when both Howard and Guy confessed that they were falling for Miss Alison Burnside. Fortunately for community spirit Miss Alison Burnside was already spoken for.
Up to that point Alison had kept the facts of her domestic life dark.
Now the time had come to tell the team the truth.
They were gathered in Miss Osmond’s Lunch & Tearoom, a favourite haunt of students who could afford something better than standard Union fare. Housemen from the Western Infirmary, senior nurses and an occasional junior doctor could be found there too, slicing away at the Grosvenor pie or delving into a plate of the golden-brown chips for which Miss Osmond’s was justifiably famous. Service was brisk enough to suit folk who were pressed for time. Prices were reasonable. Even Declan Slater could afford the Scotch broth and was willing to put his pride far enough to one side to devour the two or three extra breadrolls that somehow found their way on to his plate.
‘I think,’ Alison began, ‘I should tell you lot something you don’t know.’
‘About what?’ said Howard. ‘Cervical ganglia?’
‘What can Alison possibly have to impart about ganglia that hasn’t been dunned into us, ad nauseam, by old Prof Collings?’ said Roberta.
‘Old Colly doesn’t know everything,’ said Howard.
‘He knows a jolly sight more than we do,’ said Roberta.
‘I don’t think Colly knows I’m engaged to be married,’ Alison said.
Silence around the table.
Guy slid his hand away from the proximity of Alison’s sleeve. Declan rolled his eyes as if Alison’s news was merely exasperating. Howard let out a short, sharp sigh.
At length Roberta exclaimed, ‘Good Lord!’
Howard was next to find his voice. ‘When’s the happy day?’
‘And who’s the lucky fella?’ Declan added.
‘When will you – um, leave?’ Guy asked.
‘Leave? I’m not leaving,’ said Alison. ‘I’ve been engaged for ages. I don’t intend to rush into matrimony.’
‘Troth, though, has been plighted?’ Declan enquired.
‘Years ago,’ said Alison. ‘Before I came up. I should have told you before now, I suppose.’
Howard said, ‘It would certainly have saved Guy here from moping over his beer of a night.’
‘Nothing of the kind,’ Guy murmured in embarrassment.
When he tilted his chin and looked out of the window to the patch of wintry sky above the terraces of Ashton Street, he reminded Alison of film-actor Ronald Colman – minus the little moustache. She felt sorry for Guy. They all did. He was too earnest and wholesome for his own good.
‘You haven’t answered my question yet, Ally,’ Declan said. ‘Who is the lucky fella? Anyone we know?’
‘You don’t have to tell us if you don’t want to,’ Roberta put in.
‘It isn’t a secret,’ Alison said.
‘Then why haven’t you told us before?’ said Guy.
‘You don’t mean to say you’re ashamed of him?’ said Howard.
‘Certainly not,’ Alison retorted.
‘He isn’t, God help us, a doctor?’ said Declan.
‘He’s a school teacher. His name’s Jim Abbott.’
‘Where does he teach?’
‘Your old alma mater?’ Howard said.
‘What’s his subject?’
‘English and History. Jim encouraged me to apply myself and to pass my Higher grades.’ Alison was beginning to regret having raised the subject. It seemed as if she had put herself into the position of having to defend Jim. ‘You know that my mother died when I was sixteen. Well, I thought it was all up with me at that point. Jim encouraged me to keep going. He persuaded my father to let me remain at school and convinced my brothers that I had – well – brains.’
‘Take the brains as read,’ said Declan. ‘Go on with you.’
‘He tutored me privately in Latin.’
‘Amo, amas, amat and all that – hm?’ said Howard.
‘That isn’t funny, Howard,’ Roberta warned.
‘Anyway,’ Alison went on, ‘when I left school to come into medicine, Jim asked me to marry him. And I said I would – as soon as I graduate.’
‘You mean this fella’s willin’ to wait five years?’
‘Yes, Declan,’ said Alison. ‘Jim refuses to let me sacrifice my career.’
‘How old is he?’ Roberta asked.
‘Older than I am.’ Alison paused. ‘He lost an arm in the war. Shrapnel.’
‘How much arm?’ said Howard.
‘Everything below the lateral head of the left triceps.’
‘He was fortunate to survive,’ said Howard.
‘It’s a fair enough piece of surgery,’ Alison said, ‘considering it was done at a field hospital in emergency conditions. I hardly notice it now.’
‘Are you in love with him?’ Guy Conroy asked.
‘It goes without saying that he’s madly in love with you,’ said Roberta.
‘He wouldn’t have asked me to marry him otherwise, would he?’
‘Why choose now to reveal this fascinatin’ fact?’ said Declan.
‘I don’t want any of you to think I’m being stand-offish.’
‘Somebody asked her to the Union Palais dance, didn’t they?’ said Howard. ‘Didn’t they, Guy?’
‘What if they did?’ Guy answered.
‘Don’t you see,’ said Howard, ‘the lady’s letting us down gently.’
‘Paws off, you mean?’ said Declan.
‘It’s not that . . .’ said Alison again, though in fact it was just that.
She felt her cheeks redden and, to cover her confusion, reached for the teapot and dispensed tea all round.
They had been friends for the best part of three terms and she did not wish to risk losing their companionship. No more, though, did she wish to have to explain what Jim Abbott meant to her or why he gave her so much freedom. At thirty-eight – almost twice her age – Jim was terribly aware of the gap between them. He hadn’t prevented her from taking part in the social life of the university. Indeed, he’d encouraged her to become a member of the Queen Margaret Union and any other club or society which took her fancy. He made few, precious few, demands upon her, though Alison knew that every minute he spent away from her was a minute lost out of his life.
She remembered Declan saying, ‘When are we goin’ to meet this Socratic genius who snatches babes from the cradle of their youth?’
‘Oh, shut it, Decker.’ Roberta patted Alison’s hand. ‘I think it’s marvellous, absolutely marvellous.’
‘What is?’ said Guy.
‘Such devotion,’ Roberta said. ‘Alison’s chap strikes me as being like one of those knights who goes off on a kingly quest while the lady waits, chaste and modest, for umpteen years. Only the other way around, if you see what I mean.’
‘Oh, come on, Bobs!’ said Howard. ‘Let’s not get carried away.’
‘In any case,’ Alison said, lamely, ‘now you know.’
‘All cut and dried,’ Declan said.
‘Your future,’ Declan said.
And Alison, as she recalled, had nodded gravely.
Now, in the thirteenth term, when lecture-hall was giving way to ward, cadaver to patient, theory to practice, how ingenuous those second-year upstarts seemed. They were still close friends, though, still a team. And it startled Alison to realise that in thirty months she had managed to split her life into two quite separate and distinct halves, neither of which appeared to have much relevance to the other.
On one hand there was a constant scramble for class tickets, cramming for exams, fear of ploughing anatomy, chemistry or physiology, fear of being faced with autumn re-sits or suspensions. Also rag days, carnival processions, union debates, rugby matches, all the usual carousal of university life which, even if economic depression and slump had taken a toll, remained vivid and vital on Gilmorehill.
On the other hand was Flannery Park. There Daddy, Henry, Bertie, Davy and Jack were the men in her life. Trudi, Ruby, Brenda and the brand-new twins made up a decent, go-get-’em suburban family which rode high on the troubled waters of industrial Clydeside.
There was also, of course, Jim Abbott.
Jim still taught in Flannery Park, cooked bachelor suppers in his council house in Macarthur Drive. Waited patiently for Alison to finish her education and marry him. But, come the cloudy autumn of 1933, Miss Alison Burnside had grown so used to Jim’s devotion that she betrayed him by having a fling with a younger man.
Music, Brenda had decided, was okay if you were Harry Roy or Arthur Mountsey and got broadcast over the wireless once or twice a week from the Mayfair Hotel, London, or the Palais de Danse, Aberdeen. But nobody, especially her husband, could hope to make a decent living playing the trumpet with fat Kenny Cooper and his bunch of dead-beats at the Cally Hall every other Saturday night while living in hope of a job with a theatre orchestra in the pantomime season or summer gigs down the coast.
Nor, Brenda had made clear, was she all that keen to have him galloping out every night in the week to play with the Partick Burgh brass band which paid nothing at all, except so-called ‘perks’, which only meant free beer now and then or a pass to see Thistle play at home on Saturdays.
Nothing, as Brenda had put it, to butter the bairns’ bread or keep her in the style to which she felt she ought to become accustomed. Besides, Glasgow Corporation’s housing allocations department wasn’t going to hand out the keys of a brand-new council house in a highly desirable garden suburb like Flannery Park unless you had something more behind you than the ability to busk your way through ‘My Little Wooden Hut’ or ‘Muskrat flamin’ Ramble’. What Jack had to do was find himself a job, a decent, respectable, nine-to-five job that would bring in a wage-packet regular every Friday night. And if he couldn’t find a job for himself then, damn it, Brenda would do it for him.
And, Brenda went on, if Jack didn’t fancy settling to married life and its responsibilities – hard cheese! He should have thought of that before he dragged her along to Kenny Cooper’s fiftieth birthday party and got her so drunk she didn’t know what she was doing. She didn’t expect to be taken advantage of by one of the Burnside boys. The Burnside boys were supposed to be so respectable that butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths. How did he think she felt having to tell her mother that it wouldn’t be a white wedding after all but that it had better be quick, whatever shade she was married in, because if they waited much longer they’d have to roll her down the aisle in a barrel?
Oddly enough, Ruby, Brenda’s mother, hadn’t gone up in a blue light when Brenda had imparted news of her pregnancy.
‘Are you sure, Brenda?’ Ruby had said wearily. ‘This time, are you really sure?’
‘Look,’ Brenda had said, arching her back and thrusting out her tummy. ‘An’ that’s only, you know, three months.’
‘Is Jack definitely the father?’
‘Of course he’s the flamin’ father. What do you take me for?’
‘I’ll tell Alex tonight.’
What Ruby had actually said to her spouse – who also happened to be Jack’s father – would have wounded Brenda deeply: ‘She got him.’
Alex’s rejoinder would have wounded Brenda even more.
‘Not before bloody time.’
The employment of a down-at-heel lawyer to ensure that some quirk of Scots law didn’t see Jack charged with incest and shipped off to Barlinnie prison for twenty years had cost the Burnsides a pretty penny. After a great deal of hemming-and-hawing and raking about in dusty tomes, the lawyer’s conclusion was that Mr John Burnside and Miss Brenda McColl were not in default of the marriage laws, morally or legally, since they had not been raised as siblings in the same household and, a priori, neither one of them was insane.
This last point was debatable. Highly debatable. And, oh, how the Burnside boys had debated it.
Tirelessly, noisily, night after night, they’d squabbled over How This Could Have Happened, until finally, one evening just a week before his wedding day, Jack had lost the wool, had leaned over the supper table and punched his brother Bertie on the nose.
Trudi had screamed at Henry to put a stop to all this nonsense. Davy, grabbing his cap and a lead, had announced that he was taking Pete the dog for a walk, while Bertie, poor old Bertie, had bled all over the corned-beef hash and tipsy cakes until Trudi had slapped a compress on his neck and told him to stop snivelling and to try to pretend that he was a man.
A week later, in Martha Street Registry Office, Brenda and Jack had been spliced for life in a furtive little ceremony attended only by the immediate family, which did not include Bertie, who claimed he had to attend a Co-op management meeting and couldn’t possibly get away, or by Alison who was that afternoon delving into old Tom’s cranial cavity.
Looking rather grim and distant, Alison did have the decency to turn up at the City Bakeries’ Tearoom in Dumbarton Road, however, where Henry had laid on high tea for twelve, which included bridesmaids Vera and Doris, from Brenda’s former place of employment, and Alison’s ‘intended’, Mr Jim Abbott.
‘Don’t you wish it was us, Ally?’ Jim had whispered when groom had kissed bride to the accompaniment of half-hearted applause.
And Alison, who regarded the whole affair as unbearably squalid from beginning to end, had dutifully murmured, ‘Yes.’
Squalid though it appeared to Alison, Jack’s marriage to Brenda McColl was not without compensations. Brenda might be small and a little on the stout side but she was, none the less, a cuddlesome bundle and had none of the inhibitions which many of her contemporaries lugged to the marriage bed.
Jack did not enquire how Brenda had gained so much expertise in ‘private matters’. He reckoned her answer would be the same as it was to so many of his questions – ‘Vera told me,’ or ‘Doris said.’ Jack was happy enough to accept what had been given him, to stroke Brenda’s whisky-coloured hair and feel her warm flanks against his thighs on a cold winter’s night.
As time wore on, he would put his fingers lightly about her swollen stomach and lightly drum out the rhythm of ‘Two Little Girls in Blue’ or one of Borodin’s less strenuous overtures while Brenda, who had been groaning in discomfort a moment before, would relax and grumble quietly, saying, ‘For God’s sake, Jack, what d’you think you’re doin’?’
Jack would laugh and blow lightly in her ear until she told him to cut it out. ‘They can’t, you know, hear you,’ Brenda would say, for the doctor had recently confirmed that she was carrying twins.
Jack would laugh again and say, ‘Oh, aye, they can,’ for the notion of fathering sons filled him with delight and he felt that the sooner he made contact with the wee rascals the better.
When girls were born instead of boys Jack didn’t mind at all.
‘They’re lovely, dear,’ he said. ‘Just lovely.’
They were lovely too.
Everybody, except Bertie, said so.
They were small but uncommonly shapely for babies. One had a dressing of jet black hair, the other a dusting of silvery blonde. Thus Dad and Mum, Burnsides and McColls, were equally represented and, as it were, had a very special favourite allocated to them at birth.
Only Jack resisted the temptation to favour one over the other. He loved them both equally. He loved the little dark one because she reminded him of his sister Alison and he loved the wee blondie because in every way that mattered she was her mother’s absolute double.
In due course the twins were christened at the font in the local church, with Davy and Alison as godparents.
The blonde was named Ruby, the brunette Alexis.
But it did not take long for the little girls to find their voices and rechristen themselves. Bee and Lexi they became.
If, among the Burnside boys, Henry had always been rated the most handsome, Jack, as he grew older, ran him a close second.
He was not so tall as Henry but had a strong square jaw line, broad shoulders and a direct, head-up way of looking at you that indicated candour. He walked briskly and whistled cheerfully as he did the round of Partick’s back streets and the streets of what had once been Greenfield burgh.
The old burgh had recently been absorbed by the city of Glasgow and was tucked away, shabby and neglected, in an elbow of docks and warehouses. Jack didn’t mind the Greenfield beat. He wasn’t afraid of dark alleys and shadowy close-mouths. Jack was just glad to have a steady job. There were worse companies to work for than Manchester Crown General Life Assurance and he was a damned sight better off than most of the lads with whom he had served his apprenticeship in Ransome’s shipyard, young men who were barely scraping by on the dole now.
The Burnsides had been lucky, very lucky. Ransome’s closure had propelled Henry into journalism, Dad into a secure job with the Mercury and, indirectly, had promoted Bertie to deputy managership of the local Co-operative store where he seemed to be as happy as Bertie could ever hope to be.
Only Davy had been spared occupational upheaval. He had served his time as a bricklayer and, because of Glasgow Council’s ambitious building schemes, had never been out of work a day in his life.
It was Brenda who had found Jack the post with Manchester Crown. Jack could never have imagined himself as a brown-suited, white-collar insurance agent. He had passed the company’s simple tests in English and arithmetic with flying colours, however, and after two weeks’ instruction on the street he was turned loose with cash books, briefcase and collection bag to introduce himself to the good folk of Greenfield and Partick South.
The district was notoriously poor in commission pickings. Jack didn’t mind that either. He earned enough to keep his head above water and the wolf from the door. He was affable, open and sympathetic and consequently extracted weekly payments on threepenny and sixpenny policies without too much effort or commotion. Some clients in Partick remembered him from the days when he’d been Mavis Bumside’s ‘boy’ and lived round the corner in Sutton Street. Others recalled him as a solo cornet player with the Old Burgh band or the trumpeter at Cally Hall dances and would ask him if he still played.
Jack would shake his head, grin and say, ‘Nah. I’m a married man now,’ as if music was a pastime for uncommitted youth, like kick-the-can or leapfrog.
He had the twins, Brenda, a steady job, a council house of his own.
And he could still whistle.
By God, he could whistle. He could whistle anything you cared to name, from the latest hit tune to Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto.
At first he whistled only to entertain himself but sometimes he got caught in full flow and some urchin would yell, ‘Hey, if ye’re gonna do that, mister, geez ‘Fonso instead.’ Jack would pause, wet his lips and render the Gracie Fields chestnut, ‘Fonso My Hot Spanish Night’, with all the vibrato he could muster, sliding the tune about to make them laugh.
After several such encounters Jack learned to whistle unabashed. He would let his symphonies and serenades go before him from tenement to tenement so that the wives would know he was in the neighbourhood. The women would smile and say, ‘It’s Mr Burnside, come to collect the insurance money.’ And the men of the house, not unkindly, would shout out, ‘Aye, here’s Whistlin’ Rufus lookin’ for his dough. Huv ye got the birdseed ready, Agnes?’
Friday evenings and Saturday forenoons Jack was at his busiest. Like all collection agents he preferred to tap his clients while payday cash was still hot in their hands. On Fridays he would work until nine or ten at night. On other days of the week he would undertake a more leisurely round of thrifty households or deal with death-benefits, fire claims and matured endowments.
On that particular Friday afternoon, however, the promise of new business took him early to Greenfield.
After a long, stifling summer the autumn’s cool breezes were welcome. The stench that had hung over Glasgow since June had been all but swept away. That scorched metal smell of cinders and coal smoke, petrol fumes, horse manure, tram-sparks and tar lingered only faintly in the air over Walbrook Street’s terrace of once-genteel dwelling houses. Number 27 was no better, no worse than the rest of the houses on the street. It stood behind the maze of tenements which flanked Dumbarton Road and the only building along its length which seemed to have retained any dignity was the little, clean-cut, Presbyterian church of St Anne’s.
Jack had only one client in Walbrook Street. Elderly Miss Henderson, who still forked out sixpence a week from her meagre income to keep up an antique burial policy, had recommended Jack to her friend Mrs McCusker who, at some point in the dim and distant past, had inherited one of the terraced houses and now rented out rooms there. According to Miss Henderson, Mrs McCusker was keen to invest in a burial policy too. Though Jack had already learned that elderly ladies were a breed apart when it came to financial matters, he had too much integrity not to pursue the business.
The oblongs of grass which had once adorned the fronts of Walbrook Street had been killed off years ago by palls of smoke from the railway. Most of the windows were veiled with torn net curtains or faded paper blinds, grey and secretive, as if the inhabitants were ashamed of their straitened circumstances.
Jack did not whistle in Walbrook Street. He walked in silence past the grim, bashful houses and, hoisting his briefcase under his arm, turned on to the little path that led to the doo
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