About the book
1943 Mulberry Lane, London. In the midst of another bleak winter, life is hard for the residents of The Lane.
When Rose Merchant arrives at Mulberry Lane, she is carrying a secret that haunts her. How can she tell her landlady and the Lanes’ matriarch Peggy Ashley that she is the daughter of a murderer? As Rose learns that she is amongst friends she gradually learns to trust and even to love.
But when Peggy’s estranged husband Laurie returns home for good, both Rose and Peggy’s lives are once again turned upside down.
Can they both find their way through the heartache to find happiness?
Peggy watched the girl tackle the load of washing-up waiting in the large butler sink. She could tell by the way Rose rinsed the glasses in cold water after washing them that she’d done this sort of work before and thought that perhaps she’d been lucky. Peggy sensed that her new helper was basically honest, though she was obviously hiding something, but most people had secrets and she was desperate enough to take a chance on her.
The previous summer of 1943, Janet had decided to go and stay with her friend Rosemary in Devon, the widow of Mike’s commander, she had two sons to bring up alone and she and Janet seemed to understand each other’s feelings. After months of endless black despair over her husband’s cruel death, Janet had decided she could not go on living in the place where he had died.
Peggy understood her daughter’s terrible grief. Mike had seemed to be so much better, before suddenly dying in his sleep at Janet’s side, and that had dealt her a hard blow. Peggy had heard her daughter weeping night after night and knew that Janet was bitter and angry – even with those she loved. The only person she seemed to want was Maggie, who would be four that March, her birthday a few days earlier than Peggy’s twins. The little girl clung fearfully to her mother’s skirts, and their grief was hard to watch so in a way it had been a relief when Janet had taken the child and left.
‘I need to get away, Mum,’ she’d said and her eyes had begged for understanding. ‘I just can’t bear to go on every day knowing that Mike died here in this house, in my bed. Losing him for a second time was too much to bear…’
‘Yes, I know,’ Peggy had replied, but of course she couldn’t know really what that felt like and the accusation in Janet’s eyes cut her to the heart.
For some three years now, Peggy had been estranged from her husband Laurie, with whom she’d previously spent years running this pub. He’d had an affair while away working on some hush-hush war thing he couldn’t tell her about and Peggy had fallen in love with a young American officer, Able Ronoscki, in England on liaison work. Able had been reported dead more than two years before when his plane had been lost in foggy weather over the sea; Peggy hadn’t even realised she was carrying his babies when he went missing. It had hurt Peggy terribly, and her grief had never left her, but it wasn’t like having your husband back, only to wake and find him lying dead beside you in bed, and the twins had given her hope for the future, because they were his. Janet had been hysterical with grief after waking beside her dead husband.
Peggy had wanted to comfort Janet, to give her back the happiness she’d known for such a short time as Mike seemed to be regaining his life, coming back from the dark pit of forgetfulness that his severe wounds had cast him into. Perhaps the tiny shred of metal in his brain had moved, easing pressure on one part of his brain but then causing his death. The doctors hadn’t been able to explain it, only to say that because it was there and embedded too deep for removal it was always going to cause trouble – but that didn’t ease Janet’s pain nor did it erase the questions they all needed answered.
Why had a cruel fate given Janet back her husband only to take him again?
Peggy had agreed at once when Janet told her what she wanted to do.
‘I know it puts you in difficulty… with the twins and the pub to run…’ Janet had apologised, ‘but I can’t bear to be here, Mum.’
‘Helen will help me until she finds a job – and I’ve always got Nellie. She never lets me down and I can take on some part-time help. Maureen and Anne will come in when they can…’ Maureen and Anne were Peggy’s long-standing friends and they all helped each other in times of trouble.
Janet had accepted her mother’s assurances, because Nellie had been like part of the family for years, and so she’d taken her clothes and her daughter and caught the next train. Her eagerness to leave had hurt Peggy, but she knew that because Rosemary had also lost her husband in the same sinking that fatal night when Mike was injured, she would be able to share Janet’s grief – and perhaps it was what Janet needed, her friends rather than her family around her. Her letters in the intervening months seemed to suggest she was happier there and although she’d sent cards and presents she hadn’t come home for Christmas. Peggy missed her daughter but seeing the excitement and happy faces of the twins opening their gifts had made it easier for her.
‘I can’t face it yet,’ she’d told Peggy when she phoned to wish her Happy Christmas.
Helen had left the pub soon after Christmas 1943. She’d completed her training and wanted to live nearer her new job, which was as a secretary in a Government department in the city.
‘I’ll never forget your kindness, Peggy,’ she’d said. ‘I hope my leaving doesn’t make things too awkward for you…’
‘No, of course not, Helen. This was just a refuge for you – I’m happy for you to move on if you’re ready.’ Helen was the mother of one of Maureen Hart’s friends; her daughter had perished in the early Blitz and she’d come seeking sanctuary when she could no longer bear to live with her cold husband.
Helen’s husband had never come after her. Whether it was because he had no idea where his wife had gone or more due to his pride that would not allow him to chase after a reluctant wife, they neither knew nor cared. Helen had done her bit while she stayed at the pub and then she’d decided to move on.
Peggy wished she’d waited a bit longer to move out, because her efforts to find a new helper had not prospered. One young girl had come for three days and then complained the work was worse than the factory and returned to her old job. So Peggy had managed with help from her friends, but it hadn’t been easy with growing twins, who were born in the spring of 1942 and would have their second birthday later that year. In fact, she’d decided to dispense with her annual Christmas party the previous year, asking just a few of her closest friends to celebrate with her on the day itself.
About the author
Rosie is happily married and lives in a quiet village in East Anglia. Writing books is a passion for Rosie, she also likes to read, watch good films and enjoys holidays in the sunshine. She loves shoes and adores animals, especially squirrels and dogs.
Twitter handle: @AnneHerries