Somewhere to review books I'm reading without giving away any spoilers!
A new stand-alone saga set in Yorkshire around out the outbreak of the second world war and the unlikely relationship between a master and servant. Read on to find out more about this book and its author. As a special treat, I have permission to share the first chapter of the book with you – see if that tempts you to get yourself a copy to enable you to read it all!
As a small child, Nellie Peace was always dreaming but sensed her mother’s rejection.
Abandoned and sent into service at Beaumont House at an early age, Nellie is lost and alone until she meets the unpredictable and reclusive artist, Lucas Harrington and falls in love with him.
This unlikely association between master and servant is encouraged by Lucas’s gentle natured Aunt Alice as Lucas sees something unusual in Nellie and is compelled to paint her.
Broken promises lead to inevitable heartbreak and Nellie flees Beaumont House in disgrace for London.
Alone again, Nellie must learn to live and fend for herself and her new-born child.
Can Nellie win a second chance of happiness and can she solve the mystery of her mother’s tortured past?
Rosie Clarke is a #1 bestselling saga writer whose most recent books include The Mulberry Lane series. She has written over 100 novels under different pseudonyms and is a RNA Award winner. She lives in Cambridgeshire. Rosie’s brand new saga series, Welcome to Harpers Emporium began in December 2019.
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Bookbub profile: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/rosie-clarke
Here’s Chapter One from the book . . .
‘Nellie Pearce, I’m warning you – if you don’t get yourself up here fast, girl, I’ll make you sorry you were born!’
I could hear my mother’s voice calling to me from the back yard of our terraced cottage; she sounded frustrated and angry and I knew I was in trouble. Standing in Grandad Barnes’ allotment, which was tucked behind a sheltering wall and out of sight, I was, for the moment, safe from her wrath and continued to eat the large, fat gooseberries, relishing their tart but delicious flavour as the juice spilled over and dribbled down my chin. My grandad had seen me there earlier and winked at me as he indicated the ripe fruit. I knew he wouldn’t scold however much I ate. The warmth of the early summer sun made me reluctant to answer her call, even though failure to do so would bring swift retribution.
Mother’s name was Rose Pearce and she was a sharp-tongued woman in her early thirties; tall, thin and attractive in her way, she nevertheless had a hard, unforgiving manner, seldom smiling unless it was at my younger brother Bob who was still only eight and the darling of her heart. For me, there was never a smile nor yet a word of praise; I might have been swifter to answer her summons if there had been.
I ought to have gone up to the house when she called me, of course, but she had been at me all morning, sniping and carping, and I’d sneaked away when her back was turned.
Even as I struggled with my conscience, I saw Grandad open the wooden gate that connected the allotment to our tiny yard and was spiked with guilt as I saw the way he was hobbling. His rheumatism had been playing him up for days; it showed in his face as he shuffled painfully towards me, his scuffed boots dragging over the rough paving stones.
Wilf Barnes had worked down the coal mines for most of his life, but every spare moment he’d had once his shift down the pit was finished, had been spent here in his allotment. My beloved grandad was famed for his vegetables and soft fruits, never failing to carry off half the prizes at the annual village shows. He had hoped to spend all his days working his small plot when he retired but the miseries had caught up with him too soon and now he could hardly walk. My father had taken over from him but everyone said that Sam Pearce did not have Grandad’s green fingers; it was true but neither Grandad nor I would have dreamed of repeating such talk within Da’s hearing: we two kept our secrets to ourselves.
‘Hello, Grandad,’ I called to him. ‘What are you doing down here then?’
As if I didn’t know, he had come to look for me, of course. He was a quiet man, saying very little when my mother’s temper got the better of her, but whenever he could he tried to shield me from the worst of it. He never said nor did anything to indicate that he cared for me more than my brother, but sometimes there was a special warmth in his eyes as he looked at me, and we had this understanding between us: a feeling that needed no words. When I was younger, he had often carried me around the village on his shoulders, and I loved the warm, peppery smell of him.
‘Didn’t you hear your mother calling?’ he asked, a faint reproach in his voice. ‘She’s on the warpath now, lass. You’d best get yourself up there and do what she wants.’
There was no escaping now, not after he had hauled himself from his chair and made what must have been a tiring journey in search of me.
‘I’m sorry,’ I said, and darted at him, kissing his cheek with lips still moist and sticky from the gooseberries. ‘I’ll go straight up – and thank you.’
He leaned on his stick, his eyes following my progress as I ran towards the yard. He would rest for a while before himself returning, dreaming in the sun of the days when he was a young man and courting my grandmother. He had told me so many stories of her that I felt I knew Dolly Barnes even though she had died before I was born. She had been a kind, good woman, who came from Malham, some ten miles distant from our village, and sometimes I wept because I had never felt the warmth of her arms about me.
I knew why my mother had been calling me. I hadn’t responded because if there was one chore I hated, it was helping with the washing. I hated washday altogether, hated the smell of the soda and the steam coming out of the dirty clothes as they boiled in the old-fashioned copper in the scullery; it stung my eyes and throat, making my head ache if I was in there too long.
Mother said it was only an excuse to get out of helping but that wasn’t true. I didn’t mind work; I rather liked peeling potatoes and cleaning the vegetables Father brought in from the allotment. I would quite happily peg the clothes on the line or wash the dishes; making beds and beating rugs weren’t high on my list because the dust got up my nose and made me sneeze, but I didn’t complain when I was asked to do these things. It was the washing I hated and my mother knew that.
Today was Monday, 6 May 1935 and a special school holiday had been granted – in London, King George and Queen Mary were celebrating their Silver Jubilee and there were to be street parties all over the country – but for me there was to be no escape and no idleness. I was a girl and girls were expected to help in the house. Sometimes I envied Bob his freedom; occasionally he helped with the allotment but most of the time he was allowed to run free in the village streets with his friends, getting into all kinds of scrapes. My mother turned a blind eye to his wildness, except for the time he’d come home with a bruised face from fighting with the tinkers on the common, and then she had made my father take his belt to him.
‘I won’t have you mixing with that trash,’ she had said, her face grim as he’d screamed and wept for the pain. ‘Let this be a lesson to you.’
Afterwards, he had been sent to bed without any supper, but she had relented and taken him up a slice of his favourite cake later. Now and then, I wondered why she liked Bob so much more than she liked me.
When I reached the washhouse, Mother had rinsed the sheets and was wringing them out by hand. She looked up as I entered but didn’t say anything, simply thrusting one end of a sheet at me. I took it and in silence we folded and refolded the wet linen, then I pressed the ends close to the great wooden rollers of the heavy mangle and began to wind the handle. It was hard work and I had to use two hands before the water started to drip into the tin bath beneath, splashing at first, then reducing to a trickle as the sheet was put through for a second time.
There were three singles as well as a double – Mother put top to bottom each week and washed the bottom sheet – and five pillow cases as well as the bolster covers, several towels, vests, long johns, shirts and Grandad’s combinations, all of which had been boiled until they were white.
‘That’s the lot then,’ she sighed with satisfaction. ‘Help me carry the basket out to the yard.’
The rush basket was heavy with so many damp clothes and sheets packed into it but I was tall and strong for my fourteen years. I would be fifteen on my next birthday and people often thought I was older.
Once outside in the sunshine, I could breathe more easily. I bent down to take my end of the sheet as we pegged it on one of the lines that ran the full length of the yard; soon the rows of spotless washing were flapping lazily in the breeze.
Mother’s expression was a mixture of triumph and tiredness; it was always a battle on washday with three men in the house and for a moment I felt sorry that I had deserted her.
‘Are you going to the party this afternoon, Ma?’ I asked. ‘Everyone will be there.’
‘Then they won’t miss me, will they?’ she replied sourly. ‘I haven’t got time for gallivanting – though I suppose you’ll have to go or there will be sulks?’
‘They gave us a school holiday so that we could.’ My cheeks were burning as I looked at her. It wasn’t fair of her to be so harsh; I helped her most evenings when I came home from school and I’d cleaned the bedrooms before escaping to the allotment that morning.
‘You’ll be leaving school soon,’ she said, a speculative expression in her eyes. ‘Fifteen next month, Nellie. You’re nearly a woman grown.’
‘Yes, Ma.’ Her eyes were greenish in colour – very like my own. We were alike in some ways, both tall and stubborn – though I was much heavier than her and she made me very aware of my size. ‘I’ll be able to help you more then, won’t I?’
I spoke apologetically, wanting to take that tired, strained look from her face: she seemed to have so little joy in life and I sometimes wondered what had made her the way she was. It wasn’t that she had an especially hard life, for my father was a gentle man and good to her. In the scullery, the whitewash was peeling off the walls because of the damp but the rest of the house was comfortable enough. We weren’t rich but we certainly weren’t poor and most women in our village would have been grateful for what they had, but there was always a downturn to her mouth and a bitterness that spilled out when she was weary or angry.
‘That’s as maybe,’ she said now, her eyes flicking away. She scooped up the empty basket, tucking it under her arm. ‘You can go to the baker’s for me and take a message to your dad at the same time.’
I nodded, saying nothing as I followed her inside; that kind of chore was much more to my liking. Most days Mother made her own bread but not on washday; for just that one day she grudgingly bought from the small bakery at the bottom of the hill. Mr Robinson delivered to all his regular customers free of charge but we did not belong to those privileged few: Mother would have thought it wasteful to buy when she could make. She took some coins from her purse in the dresser and pressed them into my hand.
‘A large white, and make sure you don’t lose the change.’
‘Of course not.’ I felt resentful as I pocketed the money. Did she think I was so foolish that I could not be trusted to do a simple errand? ‘What shall I say to Dad?’
‘Tell him not to forget his promise,’ she said, and once again her eyes slid away from mine. ‘He’ll know what I mean.’
I wondered what all the mystery was about. She usually said what she meant straight out and I sensed something hidden, almost furtive, in her manner.
Once I was out of the house, though, I soon forgot the small mystery. Walking down the road my spirits began to lift and I hummed a tune from the music halls. Grandad had taught me several and they made me laugh inside.
‘I’m Burlington Bertie, I rise at ten-thirty
And saunter along…’
I too sauntered along as if I had all the time in the world.
The village was grouped into two huddles of terraced grey houses by the steep hill that divided Lower Stonckton from Upper Stonckton. Set in the shelter of the impressive Pennines, the houses were mostly built of tough, abrasive stone with slate roofs and small, perpetually closed windows through which the cold winds penetrated in winter but the sun seemed never to shine, making the rooms dark and cheerless – even now, in early summer.
The sun was warm out of the wind, birds sang in back gardens that had just begun to burst with colour after the long winter, and all was right with the world as I hummed my songs and thought about the likelihood of my father giving me a penny or two to spend at the shop. He did now and then when my mother wasn’t around to remind him that sweets were a waste of money and ruined your appetite for proper food.
I thought about something she had said at breakfast that morning; it was what had upset me, the real reason I had taken refuge in the allotment.
‘You’re a great lump of a thing,’ she had grumbled as I spread strawberry jam on my toast. ‘Is that the third round or the fourth you’ve had?’
It was only my second and I had left it uneaten on the plate.
‘It’s puppy fat,’ Grandad had defended me. ‘She’ll grow out of it. Besides, there’s many a man prefers an armful in bed on a cold night to a bag of bones. Our Nellie won’t go short of offers when she’s older, you take my word for it.’
‘You just wash your mouth out with carbolic!’ Mother’s reply was predictable. ‘Giving the girl ideas… whatever next?’
I knew what they were both referring to, you couldn’t live in a small village like ours and not know the facts of life. Mother was a good neighbour; she helped out with births, sicknesses and deaths, and I often had to run errands, boil water and be prepared to fetch the doctor or the undertaker, whichever proved necessary. So I had a good idea of what went on when babies were born even if I wasn’t quite so sure of how they got started, but I didn’t see why Grandad’s remarks should give me ideas. Like most girls of my age I dreamed vaguely of marriage and a home of my own one day, but took little notice of the opposite sex except for my family – which may be why I didn’t notice the young man until he planted himself firmly in the middle of the path, preventing me from walking on.
‘Where are you off to then, young Nell?’
I looked at him consideringly, a little annoyed at the cheeky note in his voice. Just who did he think he was? Talking to me like that!
‘You’re back then,’ I said flatly. ‘I thought your family had gone for good.’
Tom Herries was one of the tinker family; it was fighting with one of his younger brothers that had got Bob into such hot water with Mother.
‘Hoped you’d seen the last of me, eh?’ He grinned. ‘Can’t stop a bad penny turning up – that’s what they say, ain’t it?’
I supposed he was a bad penny, my mother would certainly say so. She had no time for the Herries family and nor had most of the local people. Tom’s father was a surly-looking man who had come and gone over the years, living quietly in his horse-drawn caravan; he’d mended pots and pans, undertaken odd jobs and then wandered off again with his pasty-faced wife and brood of noisy, dirty children, but the previous winter there had been trouble. One of Tom’s elder brothers had become involved with a local girl – a girl who had hitherto been highly respectable. Her father had warned the tinker off but he wouldn’t be told and they’d fought, the older man ending up with a broken head and the girl running off with her lover, her father’s curses ringing in her ears. The incident had turned folk against the tinkers and several of the men got together to warn the Herries family that they were no longer welcome.
‘You weren’t the cause of the trouble,’ I said after some deliberation. I hadn’t thought about it before but in the past I’d found Tom good company. We had gone fishing for frogs and newts in the pond some years back and he’d once beaten off some bullies who were pulling my hair as I walked home from school. I supposed I quite liked him. ‘The quarrel wasn’t your fault, was it?’
Tom’s dark eyes sparkled with humour as he gazed down at me from his superior height. He was taller than most lads his age – which was a little over eighteen – broad-shouldered and handsome despite the way his black hair straggled from under a filthy cap and his threadbare trousers were tied around his waist with string, his black boots worn down at the heels and cracked beneath their layers of mud.
‘Your ma wouldn’t agree with that,’ he remarked cheerfully.
‘No, I don’t suppose she would – but Ma doesn’t agree with much I say.’
That made him laugh out loud. He had very bold eyes and they roved over me, bringing a flush to my cheeks and making me uneasy.
‘You’re all right, young Nell,’ he said, a quirk to his mouth. ‘When I’m rich I might come back and marry you.’
‘Who says I’d have you?’
Tom chuckled deep in his throat. At that moment something in his eyes made me want to slap him but I was afraid that he might hit me back. I had heard somewhere that the Herries were a violent lot, though I had never seen any evidence of it in Tom, still, it wasn’t worth taking the risk.
‘You’d have me all right – that’s if I asked.’
‘You’ll never be rich.’
His self-confidence was irritating. Anyone would think he was the son of a lord rather than a tinker’s lad.
‘Now that’s what you think.’ His mouth curved in a cocky smile. ‘Tinker’s blood might flow in my veins but I’ve got what it takes up here.’ He tapped one finger against the side of his head. ‘I’m not going to live the way my folks do. I’ve got brains and I’m going to use them to make a better life for myself.’
‘How?’ I fixed him with a straight look. ‘Not by thieving, I hope?’
‘There’s more than one way to skin a cat – and more than one way to get rich.’
‘Not for the likes of you, Tom Herries! You’ll end up in prison or at the end of a rope, that’s what you’ll do.’
‘Then I’ll be in good company.’ His eyes mocked me. ‘There’s been many a gent caught with his fingers in the pie, but I shan’t get caught.’
‘Sez you! Rogues always pay for their sins in the end.’
‘You’re still wet behind the ears if you believe that. You can get away with anything if you go about it in the right way.’ His cheeky grin was back. ‘You remember me, Nell Pearce – one day you’ll know I was right.’
I stared after him as he strolled off. ‘I’ll never marry you, Tom Herries!’
He glanced back over his shoulder, an infuriating gleam in his eyes, but didn’t say anything. I threw him a look of disgust. He was like the rest of his family after all: thieves and rogues, that was what Mother said, and for once, I was inclined to agree. I had thought Tom might be different but there was no way for a man like that to get rich – not honestly.
My father was the local shoemaker; he had his own small shop and he earned decent money, enough to keep us all in clothes and food and to put a bit by, but he wasn’t rich, not like the gentry, not in the way Tom had meant. When the rest of the country was celebrating the royal occasion, Da had gone to his shop and worked just the same. The baker was the only other man in the village to work that day, and like Da he preferred to make money to sitting at home twiddling his thumbs.
My only experience of the gentry was the Harrington family. They lived in a big, ugly slate grey house near Malham. I knew that because Father had taken me to the sheep sales in Malham a couple of times; these sales had been held there for nearly two hundred years and they attracted ordinary folk as well as the farmers who came to buy and sell stock. Once, Father had called at the Harringtons’ house on the way to the sale, to deliver some shoes he had made for a member of the family. I’d sat outside in the van he had borrowed for the day and waited for him, knowing he was pleased because they had asked him to make the shoes.
‘It was a pleasure to make something from the very finest leather,’ he had told me afterwards. ‘And they’re a good family, an old, local family.’
Sometimes, when my father had the use of a van, which belonged to another of his regular customers and could only be borrowed occasionally, he took me for a ride with him, showing me things I would otherwise never have seen.
All around Malham was an area of extreme natural beauty, with the Pennine Way and, eastward, Gordale Scar, where waterfalls plunged down a ravine so deep that it had made me dizzy just to look at it. Then, high on the fells, there was Malham Tarn, its waters cold and mysterious, sometimes even threatening, which might be why the author Charles Kingsley had been inspired to write The Water Babies – one of my favourite stories at school – while staying at Malham Tarn House.
For some reason I was thinking of that day at the sales as I completed the last few yards to my father’s shop at the end of the street and wondered if he had made any more shoes for the Harrington family. If he had, I hadn’t heard him mention it.
As I entered the shop with its clutter of tools, boots and shoes in various stages of repair, I inhaled the strong but pleasing odour of fresh cut leather and smiled at my father sitting behind his workbench, feeling the familiar warmth inside as he greeted me with his serious gaze.
‘Well then, our Nellie,’ he said, glancing at me over the top of the gold-rimmed spectacles he wore for his work. ‘Why aren’t you at school – not playing truant, I hope?’
‘It’s a holiday. Surely you haven’t forgotten – for the Jubilee?’
‘Ah, yes.’ He removed the glasses and rubbed his nose. ‘I mustn’t forget the party this afternoon, I’ll see if I can get along. So what have you been doing with yourself then?’
‘I’ve been helping Ma with the washing. Now I’ve come with a message. She said to tell you not to forget your promise… whatever that means?’
I was hopeful that he might enlighten me but his expression closed up and it seemed as if the message had touched a sore spot, reminding him of something he would rather have forgotten.
‘As if I’m likely to forget after she went on about it the way she did,’ he muttered to himself. ‘She would never let me hear the last of it.’
His gentle brown eyes dwelled on my face and his expression puzzled me; it was as if he were regretting something, as if his thoughts were causing him distress.
‘Here you are, lass.’ His hand went to his rusty black waistcoat. ‘Take this and buy yourself a treat.’
‘Thanks, Da.’ I held out my hand, exclaiming as I saw what he had given me. ‘It’s a shilling!’
‘Aye, I know.’ He shifted uncomfortably on his stool. ‘You’re a good lass, you deserve it – but don’t tell your mother.’
‘No fear of that,’ I said. She might have taken it away from me! ‘Thanks, Da. Is there anything I can do for you, an errand?’
‘No.’ His eyes seemed glued to the bench in front of him. ‘Get off and enjoy yourself while you can.’
‘I’ll be away then.’
I was filled with a warm glow of gratitude as I left the shop. My da was that good to me! I loved both my father and grandad so much that sometimes it hurt; I wanted to love my mother that way but she was too sharp-tongued, too ready to slap first and ask after. Bob was a little pest at times but he was my brother and I felt protective towards him – as long as he wasn’t telling tales to Mother.
I wouldn’t spend the whole shilling on sweets, I decided, though Bob would get a penny’s worth of liquorice bootlaces. Most of it would go on a few Woodbines or some baccy for Grandad, if Mr Brown at the corner shop would let me buy them. He often refused requests for single cigarettes from young lads of around my age, but he usually let me have them because he knew they were for Grandad.
I was happy as I walked into the dim interior of the tiny corner shop with its curious mixture of smells – soaps and paraffin warring with spices, fresh cut flowers, fruit, vegetables and strong cheeses – pleased that I could take home a surprise for my grandfather.