Liverpool, 1896: Harrison Calderwood has never given much thought to the poor of the bustling city until he accidentally runs into firebrand Daniel Harper. Through Daniel’s eyes he begins to see what could be done to improve the lot of the working people - at the same time he begins to feel an attraction towards Daniel himself. But Harrison's wealthy family have more conventional expectations
The woman had been pretty once. Now, pale and thin-faced, dirty blonde hair straggling free, she would be a pitiable sight even without the black eye and the cut lip.
Harrison's voice was gentle. "Is there nowhere you can go, no-one to take you in?"
"He'd find me. Kill me, like as not." She turned to hide her face against Rebecca's shoulder.
"Are there any children?"
"Two," answered Daniel. "They're with a neighbour; she didn't dare bring them here in case they said something to him about it."
"I see. Mrs Armstrong?" Harrison waited until he could see her face again. "Is there nobody at all that you can call on for help?"
"Me brother, but he's up in Shropshire." She twisted her hands together. "He won't want me and the kids."READ MORE
She bit her lip. "Ran away, didn't I? Argued with him and ran away."
"Have you tried to contact him?"
She shook her head and Rebecca spoke up for her. "Violet knows her numbers, but she never learned to write."
"I didn't know she had a brother," put in Daniel. "She always maintained there was no-one."
"There isn't! He don't want me."
"Does your husband know about your brother?" asked Harrison quietly.
She shook her head. "Never cared enough to ask."
"Would you like me to write to your brother on your behalf? Your husband will know nothing about it. If I can persuade your brother to take you back, are you willing to go to him?"
She looked to Rebecca who nodded encouragingly. "Yes," she whispered almost unwillingly.
Harrison smiled at her. "You give Rebecca the name and address and we will do everything we can to help."
Rebecca nodded. "Come on, come and get some hot tea; that one's gone cold."
Violet allowed herself to be led away, watched by the two men.
"I suppose she and Armstrong are legally married?"
"Yes. She wouldn't even consider going home otherwise."
Harrison sighed; you could multiply Violet Armstrong a thousand times or more, yet there was very little sympathy for their plight. Those who believed that it was a wife's duty to obey and support her husband in everything would have sent her back and left her to her fate, firmly convinced that they were doing God's work. In the face of such indifference, how many of these women would ever find the refuge or the help they needed?
"We do what we can," said Daniel quietly, as if reading his thoughts.
"It'll never be enough." Harrison ran his fingers wearily through his hair, leaving it disordered. "I'd better be going."
Daniel stood up at the same time and stepped forward, lessening the gap between them. "Harrison?"
In spite of the gravity of the moment Harrison smiled. This was the first time Daniel had used his given name; perhaps it was a sign that he had finally been accepted into this tightly-knit community.
"Yes?" He saw Daniel hesitate and said encouragingly, "You know you can ask me anything."
"I'd like to invite you to have dinner … at my house," was the somewhat surprising rejoinder.
Genuinely pleased with the invitation, Harrison smiled broadly. "I would be very pleased to accept."
Visibly relaxing, Daniel continued. "If you have no objection, my son will join us; we always have our evening meal together."
Daniel took a small notebook from his pocket and scribbled down his address. He handed the torn-out page to Harrison. "Would Friday at half-past-six be suitable?"
Harrison did not hesitate; whatever else was happening that day, it took second place to this unexpected invitation. "Perfectly suitable." He held out his hand. "I'll see you both then."
Their parting handshake lasted only a shade longer than was customary, but it warmed Harrison's heart to a quite unexpected degree.COLLAPSE
Rainbow Awards Honourable Mention (2013)
Length: 77,000 words/296 pages