Nuneaton, May 1926
‘Whatever are you doing, Dilly?’
Glancing up from the basket she was in the process of filling, Dilly saw Max Farthing standing in the open kitchen doorway.
‘I’m just putting a basket of food together for the people of the courtyard where Nell and I used to live,’ she explained as she placed a cabbage in the basket. ‘Nell visited them the other day and with the miners’ strike some of them can’t afford to eat, let alone pay the rent.’
‘Hmm, it must be very grim for them,’ Max agreed. ‘And it will only get worse if the strike goes on for any length of time. What you’re doing is a very kind gesture but I fear it won’t sustain them for long.’
‘Well, as they say, “every little helps”,’ Dilly replied.
Some years before, Dilly had lived side by side with the people she was trying to help but now she was a successful businesswoman who owned a string of dress shops – Dilly’s Designs – that were doing very well indeed. Max found it endearing that she could still concern herself with those who were not so well-off as herself. Not that it surprised him. Dilly had a heart of pure gold and always went out of her way to help people, which was just one of the things he loved about her.
Nell, her one-time neighbour who now shared the fine house Dilly had purchased in St Edward’s Road, entered the kitchen then and she smiled a greeting at Max. He was a regular visitor and they were all at ease with each other.
‘Bad do, ain’t it, this strike?’ Nell remarked with a sigh. ‘An’ there but fer the grace o’ God would go I, if it weren’t for our Dilly ’ere.’
‘Rubbish,’ Dilly chided. ‘I don’t know what I’d do without you, pet.’ Nell flushed at the praise as Dilly then commented, ‘And you’re looking very smart today.’
Nell self-consciously ran her hands down the sides of the black skirt Dilly’s seamstresses had made for her. With it she was wearing a crisp white cotton blouse; she liked to look neat when she was going to work in Dilly’s Nuneaton dress shop, but it hadn’t always been that way. Once upon a time Nell could only have been described as slatternly – but Dilly had changed all that. She’d changed Nell’s whole life, in fact, and the woman would have walked through fire for her if need be. Their friendship stretched back many years, and at one time it had been Nell who had helped Dilly through the most difficult period of her whole life.
When Dilly’s family were young, her husband Fergal had been crippled in a terrible accident at work on the railways, and for a while, Dilly had feared that she would have to place her children in the workhouse. But Nell had helped in any way she could until a terrible solution was found. In 1900, Dilly had given her newborn daughter to Max’s wife, Camilla, following the death of Camilla’s own little daughter, Violet, in exchange for a sum of money, which she had used to get her remaining children safely over to their grandparents in Ireland. In addition Dilly had been given a permanent full-time position as a maid in Max’s home, Mill House, which had enabled her to earn enough money to get the family back on their feet and eventually fetch the children home again. Dilly had worked tirelessly to keep her family together, and she had made a grand job of it.
Max had marvelled at the way Dilly had coped with seeing another woman bring up little Olivia, with never a word of complaint, and over the years his esteem of her had grown. Sadly, Dilly’s decision to give up her baby daughter had had disastrous consequences. Both Dilly and Max had suffered because of their deception to Olivia, but neither felt that they could admit to her true parentage because of the oath Dilly had made to Camilla. Even now, when Camilla was incarcerated in Hatter’s Hall, the local mental asylum on the outskirts of the town, Dilly couldn’t bring herself to break her promise – and Max doubted that she ever would. Dilly Carey was a woman of her word.