Authors: Carol Rivers
Carol Rivers, whose family comes from the Isle of Dogs, East London, now lives in Dorset.
Also by Carol Rivers
Lizzie of Langley Street
Connie of Kettle Street
Bella of Bow Street
Lily of Love Lane
Eve of the Isle
East End Angel
In the Bleak Midwinter
East End Jubilee
First published in Great Britain by Simon & Schuster, 2012
An imprint of Simon & Schuster UK
A CBS company
Copyright © Carol Rivers, 2012
This book is copyright under the Berne Convention.
No reproduction without permission.
® and © 1997 Simon & Schuster Inc. All rights reserved.
The right of Carol Rivers to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act,
Simon & Schuster UK Ltd
222 Gray’s Inn Road
London WC1X 8HB
Simon & Schuster Australia, Sydney
Simon & Schuster India, New Delhi
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Hardback ISBN: 978-0-85720-829-3
Paperback ISBN: 978-0-85720-830-9
Ebook ISBN: 978-0-85720-831-6
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to
actual people living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Typeset by Hewer Text UK Ltd, Edinburgh
Printed and bound in Great Britain by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY
This book is for you, Vic and Jess.
My thanks go to Anne and Norman for all your support, to Margaret and Jim, a long way away but always in my thoughts, and to Island History Trust and its wonderful work in
preserving memories of a past and precious time – and from where the idea for this book first came. As always, many thanks go to my agent, Dorothy Lumley, to Emma, my editor, and to Maxine
and the entire team at Simon & Schuster for such a creative and artistic production of the Rivers novels.
Isle of Dogs, East London, Summer 1934
Marie woke in a cold sweat. The dream was always the same. She was staring up at a stranger, who was standing in the middle of a room. There were beads of sweat on his heavily
jowled face and his small eyes flicked suspiciously around. Beneath his large hooked nose was a thin, cruel mouth, which suddenly released an animal cry of fury. His concentration was focused on
his victim: a small, cowering woman, her arms folded protectively across the swell of her belly. Her pleas for mercy were ignored as she stumbled away from his outstretched hands.
Marie cried out, but always her scream was silent. She was terrified, yet she knew the man could not see or hear her, that she was invisible. And then Marie saw what she dreaded most. The
sobbing woman was grabbed and shaken with unbearable force.
How those powerful giant’s hands shook and squeezed. How they whipped across the delicate skin of her face. And when at last it was over and she lay still on the bare floorboards, again
Marie tried to scream, to bring someone to her rescue. But, as always in the dream, she was a powerless witness, trapped in a haunting silence until she woke and returned to reality.
‘Marie? Marie, wake up.’
Marie heard her twin sister’s voice and found the strength to lift her head. In the dream she had been unable to move and it was with relief that she wiped the sticky wetness from her
eyes. Her breathing was short and sharp as Vesta’s face, surrounded by a cloud of blonde curls, appeared in the faint light of the moon shining through the window.
‘Vesta, is that you?’
‘Course it is.’
Marie tried to sit up. ‘I was . . . dreaming . . .’
‘I should say you were,’ complained Vesta sleepily as she snuggled back down beside Marie. ‘You were shouting out loud.’
‘In the dream I can’t make any noise. I try to make someone hear me, but no one can.’
Vesta yawned, propping herself on the thin pillow. ‘So it was the same dream again?’
‘Yes.’ Marie pushed back her damp hair matted to her face. ‘This young woman is having a baby. A man beats her and she falls to the floor. If only I could scream and bring
‘But it’s a dream, Marie. Not real life.’
Marie sat shivering in her flimsy nightdress. It was August and very warm, but she felt cold inside, and the sweat on her skin was pure fear. ‘Why do I keep dreaming the same
‘I don’t know. I never have dreams like that.’
‘Well, it’s over now. Go back to sleep.’
Marie pushed away the bedclothes, trying not to make a disturbance. Their double bed always creaked when either one of them moved. ‘I’ll have to change me nightdress first.
It’s wet through.’
‘Hurry up, then, or else we’ll be awake all night.’
Getting out of bed, Marie put on the light. The furniture in their bedroom was solid good quality, though none of it belonged to her family. It was all Elsie Goldberg’s, their
landlady’s. Beside the wardrobe was a solid oak chest of drawers, on which stood their treasured Victor phonograph with its great brass horn and soft, velvety turntable. The heavy records
they loved to collect were all in a box beside it and were nearly worn out as the twins played them endlessly.
After exchanging her damp nightdress for a dry one, Marie was reluctant to climb back into bed. If she were to lie awake in the dark, the dream might haunt her. Had Vesta gone back to sleep?
She stared into the long bevelled mirror on the wardrobe door reflecting her slender five foot seven inches, hidden under the thin cotton nightdress. Though she and Vesta were not identical
twins, their mother had always dressed them the same. They both had tumbling, shoulder-length wavy blonde hair and blue eyes.
Marie smiled at the memory of the tricks they used to play on people. Only their mother, Ada, and Elsie had been able to tell them apart. But last June they had turned eighteen, and now they had
their own taste in fashion; if one pinned up her hair, the other would wear hers down. If one wore a dress, the other would choose a skirt.
The one thing they both still shared was a love of singing and dancing to the latest tunes. They’d made up a double act, and often talked about one day going on the stage. Their mother had
made them promise to wait. She wanted to see them have a trade and they knew she wanted them to get married and settle down. She hoped their theatrical dream would fade.
As Marie sat on the edge of the bed, avoiding the most creaky bit, she gave a deep sigh. Her mother pulled them one way and their father the other. Hector had left his Kent home at fourteen to
join a travelling theatre group. With his strong, clear voice he’d become a good singer and performer, taking many famous parts as the group toured the length and breadth of Britain. But
after he’d met and married Ada, a Stepney girl, things had to change. With a wife and family to support, he only earned a few pennies busking on the streets of London.
‘Girls!’ he’d boom, using his powerful stage voice. ‘You can achieve anything with talent like yours. You’ll knock ’em dead!’
Ada would shake her head and purse her lips, and Hector would subside.
Marie frowned. She’d always known there was something – some pact between her parents – which meant that it was Ada’s word that counted, not Hector’s. But what was
this secret? They never talked about it. And she knew she could never ask.
‘What are you doing now?’ asked Vesta impatiently. She wasn’t asleep!
‘Sitting with a straight back and improving my posture, like Dad taught us.’
Vesta pulled the bedclothes over her head.
Marie gazed again in the mirror. Her damp and tangled waves fell around her ears to her shoulders. She shook them back, stiffening her spine and lifting her chin. What would it be like to sing
and dance on a real stage? She would give anything to become a performer! All she ever thought of was singing and dancing. She practised all the time, making her own the steps she’d learned
in dancing class at school. She looked at pictures of ballet dancers in books in the library, trying to copy their elegance and poise. In her head, she saw herself and Vesta performing the popular
songs of the day to the delight of a vast audience. There was never a moment when she didn’t think about a career on the stage. And yet she wasn’t unhappy at the factory. It was dusty
and dirty work sometimes, but she liked most of the girls and enjoyed their company. Even so, how wonderful it would be to achieve the dream the sisters shared. Marie imagined herself staring out
at the audience, the spotlights dazzling as they stood breathless and excited. She did a little twirl, followed by a curtsy, imagining the applause.
‘There’s an elephant in the bedroom!’ bellowed Vesta, throwing back the covers.
Marie came sharply back to the present. ‘I’m as quiet as a mouse!’
‘Mice don’t do curtsies in the middle of the night.’
Marie giggled. ‘They might.’
They both fell about laughing, until Marie switched off the light and climbed into bed.
‘Thank goodness for that,’ sighed Vesta as Marie lay beside her. ‘Now I can get me beauty sleep.’
‘Once, you would have got up and practised with me.’
‘Not in the night, I wouldn’t.’
‘You poor old lazy bones,’ smiled Marie, closing her eyes.
The minutes ticked by and Marie was still awake, thoughts whirling in her mind, one minute to the stage, the next to her nightmare. Who was the woman in it? Could it be herself? She’d read
somewhere that people could have dreams that foretold the future. But she wasn’t anywhere near being married or even falling in love! Did she want to get married if that was the fate that
She turned and flopped on her back.
Vesta did the same. In the darkness, they began to laugh again.
‘I’m wide awake now, thanks to the elephant,’ giggled Vesta.
Marie gave a yawn but it was Vesta who now kept her awake.
‘I can’t wait to hear Teddy sing,’ she breathed excitedly. ‘I hope he can see me from the stage. It’s going to be wonderful going to the Queen’s
Marie, too, was excited. As a birthday treat from their landlady, Elsie Goldberg, who was more like a grandmother to them as they’d known her since they were very young, she and Vesta and
Ada were being taken to see handsome singer and fellow-lodger, Teddy Turner. And though Teddy had been living at Sphinx Street for only six months, it was no secret that Vesta had a crush on him.
As for Marie, he was too full of charm and not her type at all. Which was good, as they weren’t going to fight over him!
‘What shall we wear?’ asked Marie, knowing this was going through Vesta’s mind too.