Tiger Ragtime

Tiger Ragtime by Catrin Collier

Book: Tiger Ragtime by Catrin Collier Read Free Book Online
Authors: Catrin Collier
    ‘I wish I could stay the night with you in your bed –’
    ‘Stop right there.’ Edyth took her comb and lipstick from her handbag. ‘You promised earlier that you wouldn’t bring up that subject again until I was free.’
    ‘Sometimes I think you don’t want Peter to send those annulment papers.’
    ‘You promised.’
    ‘I did, didn’t I?’ He reluctantly sat up. ‘Will you be able to get away early any night this week?’
    She threw his vest and shirt to him. ‘Most nights, I should think. I’ve nothing special on. But Judy has an audition tomorrow.’
    ‘That’s strange; she hasn’t mentioned it to me – or her uncles, that I know about. Is it in London?’ he asked hopefully.
    ‘The New Theatre.’
    ‘That explains why she hasn’t said anything. She’s had six call-backs for auditions there in the last three months and none have resulted in an engagement.’
    ‘Let’s hope this one will be different. Although I’m worried. I know it’s selfish of me to want to keep Judy working in the bakery when she’s so talented, but frankly I wouldn’t have been able to manage without her the last six months. I dread the thought of trying to replace her.’
    ‘The selfish works both ways. If you hadn’t offered Judy a job and a place to live she would have had to move away to London where there are live-in service jobs even for coloured girls.’ He finished buttoning his shirt and picked up his sock suspenders. ‘As for replacing her, you’ll have plenty of girls to choose from.’
    ‘But they won’t be Judy.’
    ‘If she’s in the New Theatre, she can carry on living with you, so you’ll still see her, unless you need her room for someone else.’
    ‘With four bedrooms above the shop, she’s more than welcome to stay.’ She watched him pull on his trousers and clip on his braces. ‘Come on, slowcoach, I thought it was women who were supposed to spend a long time dressing.’
    ‘Nagging me before we’re even married,’ he teased.
    ‘I’ll ignore that remark.’
    ‘If Judy does get that job in the New Theatre there’s no guarantee it will last more than a couple of weeks.’ He picked up the rest of his clothes. ‘Then she’ll be back to auditions again.’
    ‘I know.’
    ‘If it’s a temporary worker you need, you could do worse than ask one of her uncles to cover for her. I know all three are finding it hard to make ends meet at the moment.’
    ‘I can’t afford to pay anyone more than I’m paying Judy now,’ she warned.
    ‘A pittance is better than nothing. And the way this slump is beginning to bite, you could pay people in bread.’
    She looked him in the eye. ‘Has Moody told you that I’ve had to cut back on production?’
    ‘He didn’t have to.’ He finished lacing his shoes and rose to his feet. ‘I walk around the Bay. I see the women shopping, and the men hanging around street corners. And I’ve not heard the sound of any spare coins jangling lately.’ He lifted the cushions back to the sides of the boat and heaved the table between them. ‘How much have you had to cut back?’
    ‘Ten per cent on bread, forty on cakes and biscuits.’
    ‘Can the bakery survive a lower turnover?’ He flicked a comb through his hair, and dropped his boater on his head.
    ‘Just about.’
    ‘You are managing?’ he asked seriously.
    ‘For now. It’s not just me; all the shopkeepers in Bute Street are complaining that trade’s down.’
    He slipped his arms around her shoulders. ‘You will tell me if you need help?’
    ‘What would you do?’ she asked. ‘Order all the Norwegian sailors who visit your mission to buy their bread from me when you deliver your Sunday sermon?’
    ‘I have a little money saved …’
    ‘I don’t know much about accounting but I do know that you’ll lose money if you try to prop up a business that has more going out than coming in. Things aren’t that bad, Micah – yet,’ she qualified. ‘Hopefully the ships will

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