I have enjoyed writing these books and the final one, All Well That Ends Well will be out next year sometime. The first three have been set in East End of London and Colchester, my home town. Made research so much easier. The final book will be in East End again and in Chelmsford.
Her name was Sarah Cooper – she could hardly believe she was no longer a Nightingale like her brother Alfie. She twisted the thin gold band around her finger and smiled shyly at her husband.
'Well, Sarah love, you've made me the happiest of men.' He didn't kiss her but pulled her hand through his arm and led her back down the aisle.
'I can't remember ever being so happy, Dan, and to think that only two years ago…'
'No, lovey, put the past behind you. You're my wife now, ma to our three boys, and it's my job to look after you all.'
She emerged from the church just as the heavens opened. Was this a bad omen? Then the children threw themselves at her and she forgot her silly fears.
'Are we going to get wet, Ma?' Joe, the eight-year-old, asked as he danced around clinging onto her hand.
'Fraid so, son, but it's not far from the church to our house. If we all run it won't be too bad,' Dan said as he ruffled the boy's hair.
The youngest, John, held out his arms to be picked up. 'You're a bit too big to be carried, young man, and we can run faster holding hands.'
'Yes, Ma, I'm the bestest runner.'
Davie, almost as tall as his brother although he was a year younger, grabbed John's other hand. 'We're blocking up the doorway, Ma, we'd better set off.'
Dan took the lead with Joe close beside him; she raced along behind holding her skirts up with her left hand and clutching Davie's with the other.
The weather had been clement when they had set out to St Leonard's Church but the clouds had rolled in whilst they were inside exchanging their vows.
Dan already had the door open and they tumbled in laughing and shaking the rain from their clothes and hair.
'Joe, stay by the door so you can open and close it when anyone arrives. Would you look at that – blooming rain's stopped now – we could have waited and saved ourselves a deal of bother.'
'Never mind, at least our guests won't get wet. It's a good thing we didn't put out any of the food before we left or it would have been quite spoiled.'
'You get the kettle on, love, and I'll get the boys to start taking out the sandwiches and cakes. I still think we should have had some beer to celebrate the occasion.'
The front door opened and shut and her brother Alfie, and her best friend Betty Thomas, burst in laughing. They seemed a bit too cosy to her, Alfie was only sixteen and in her opinion far too young to be courting.
It was different for her, she had married an older man, someone with a good job who could take care of her and the boys. Alfie had done well for himself in London, come back with his pockets full, but he wasn't properly established in Colchester as yet and must be living on his savings.
'You should have waited a bit, Sarah, the rain stopped and the rest of us have walked here without getting wet.' Alfie was a head taller than her and looked older than his years.
'Don't just stand there, you and Betty have got jobs to do. I'm the bride – I shouldn't have to be waiting on you and everyone else today.'
Betty hugged her and dashed into the kitchen and Sarah heard her put the kettle on the range. The mugs, milk jug, teapots and sugar were all waiting. All that had to be done was boil the water and tip it in.
Dan joined her in the front parlour where they had decided to greet the guests as they came in before directing them outside. 'Is the backyard very mucky after that rain? Do you think we should stay in here?'
'Don't fret, sweetheart, no one will mind getting a bit of dirt on their boots. The boys are wiping down the benches and chairs so they won't be wet to sit on.'
'I can hear others arriving. I wish my ma could have been here to see me wed.'
He squeezed her shoulder and she wiped away the unwanted tears. Nothing was right about this marriage – although she loved the children, and was very fond of Dan, theirs wasn't going to be a proper marriage – at least not for the moment.
All his mates, and their families, from the timber yard crowded into the small house as well as Mr and Mrs Davies, and a dozen or so other friends of Dan's. She and Betty had made plenty of food so no one would go hungry. In pride of place, on the trestle that served as a table, was the cake. She had made this herself and was proud of her efforts – she hoped it tasted as good as it looked.
Halfway through the afternoon Mrs Davies drew her to one side. 'Sarah, lovey, I reckon one of the menfolk went to a beerhouse and brought back a few jugs.'
'I thought the noise was getting louder. There's nothing I can do about it, I just thought with so many children attending my wedding breakfast that alcohol wasn't a good idea.'
The front door had been left open to allow a welcome breeze to drift through the house. There was no danger that uninvited visitors would come in as Alfie's huge dog, Buster, was guarding the opening. It would be a brave person who tried to step past him.
The dog barked and she stepped back into the passageway to see what had disturbed him. 'Good heavens, Ada, I'm so glad you have come after all.'
Ada Billings had taken her in when she had been all but destitute and Sarah had kept in touch with her. 'Come out of the way, Buster, let my guests come in.' The dog heaved himself to his feet and stood there, waist-high, his long grey tail wagging.
'I hope you don't mind, I brought my oldest son, Robert, with me. He's a pal of your Alfie and has just got back from Harwich after his last voyage.'
'Have you not brought any of the children? There are more than a dozen playing in the yard with my three boys.'
'No, bless you, you wouldn't want my brood racketing about at your wedding breakfast. The neighbour's keeping an eye out for them so I can't stay long.'
Her son was tall, had broad shoulders, a pleasant face and startlingly bright red hair. He held out his hand and she shook it. 'I'm delighted to meet you, Mrs Cooper, Alfie has told me so much about you I feel we're friends already.'
'Please call me Sarah, everyone else does. Come in, the tea and ginger beer are in the kitchen and I'm pretty sure there's beer available in the yard.'
Robert smiled and wandered off – she wasn't surprised he ignored the tea and ginger beer. 'Ada, you look so much better. I can't believe the difference in you since I saw you a few months ago.'
'I told Billings there would be no more babies in my house and if he wanted a bit of how's your father he'd have to find it somewhere else. He's moved in with his fancy woman in Barrack Street and good riddance to him. My Robert is taking care of us now.' She beamed proudly. 'He's going up in the world you know, is taking exams and everything. I reckon he'll be a captain of a ship before he's finished.'
'He's a cut above his brother and pa, then? I didn't know the sons of ordinary folk like us ever got to be a captain of a ship. I'm pleased for you – your life will be so much easier from now on.'
A sudden burst of laughter outside interrupted their conversation. Sarah led the way into the yard to see what was causing all the commotion.
'Good heavens, they're playing the Reverend Crawley's game. I'm going to join in,' Sarah said, and ran across to take her place in the circle. The object of this game was to join hands with the people in the ring, but you couldn't hold the hand of anyone standing beside you.
She found herself attached to Robert Billings with her right hand and an unknown child with her left. It took a considerable time for everyone who wanted to play to get themselves in position. Now the fun started as the object was to untangle themselves without letting go.
She couldn't remember laughing so much in her whole life and when eventually the knot was undone to her astonishment she discovered there were two separate circles of players, one inside the other.
Dan put his arms around her and she leant back into his embrace. He rested his chin on top of her head and sighed.
'Is something wrong?'
'No, my love, I couldn't be happier. When everyone's gone, I need to show you something. Alfie and Betty are going to take care of the boys whilst we're out for a bit.'
Fenella J Miller
Blurb: Better Bend Than Break is the third book in The Nightingale Chronicles, a series of four, Victorian family sagas. Sarah Nightingale marries Dan Cooper and becomes mother to his three boys. They move to a fine house of their own and Sarah has never been happier. Alfie Nightingale is obliged to do the right thing by Sarah's friend Betty, so now there will be two babies in the family. Then one disaster follows another and Sarah and Alfie have dreadful choices to make if they and their families are to survive.