Authors: Ellie Dean
About the Book
In defending herself against her brutal husband, eighteen-year-old Ruby Clark is forced to flee London.
She has no idea where Cliffehaven is, or what she will find there, but she knows that she will never be able to return home again.
At first it seems she’s fallen on her feet. She gets a job at the local armaments factory, and the couple she is billeted with are kind and supportive. But when her host makes advances, Ruby is left homeless once more.
Until Peggy Reilly welcomes her into the warmth of Beach View boarding house and Ruby dares to hope for a brighter future …
About the Author
Ellie Dean lives in Eastbourne, which has been her home for many years and where she raised her three children. She is also the author of
There’ll be Blue Skies
Far From Home
Keep Smiling Through
Where the Heart Lies
Always in my Heart
Also by Ellie Dean
There’ll be Blue Skies
Far From Home
Keep Smiling Through
Where the Heart Lies
Always in My Heart
All My Tomorrows
Once again I give thanks to my wonderful editor, Georgina Hawtrey-Woore, and my equally wonderful agent, Teresa Chris. They have encouraged and supported me throughout this new adventure, and I know my work is all the better for it. Thanks, too, to the lovely readers who so enthusiastically review my Beach View Boarding House series, and who send me very encouraging and informative emails.
I am aware that the Royal Regiment of Canada was sent on the 20th May 1942 to the Isle of Wight which was sealed off during the rigorous training needed before the raid on Dieppe. I have taken artistic licence in this story so that the young Canadian officer is present in Cliffehaven towards the end of the book. I hope this does not spoil your enjoyment of
All My Tomorrows
East End of London, 1942
THE SMALL TENEMENT
room that Ruby Clark shared with her husband Raymond was musty with the odours of unwashed bedclothes, long-forgotten meals and grimy heat. An iron-framed bed took up most of the space, and apart from a table, two rickety wooden chairs and a dilapidated chest of drawers, there was precious little else, just a few pegs on the back of the door to hang their clothes.
This was where Raymond Clark’s suits hung from hangers, along with his carefully ironed shirts, and a line of his highly polished shoes sat on a sheet of newspaper by the meter for the gas fire. The superior pedigree of all this finery simply made the little room look shoddier than ever, but Raymond had a reputation to keep up and he thought nothing of spending his ill-gotten money on bespoke suits and handmade shoes, even though Ruby had to wear hand-me-downs she found in the Salvation Army clothes store.
As Ruby finished washing in the bowl of tepid water she could hear the shrieks and shouts of her neighbours penetrating the thin walls and echoing along the landings and down the concrete stairs. It was never quiet in the block and although she was inured to it from childhood, it seemed louder than usual today, making her long for just a few moments of precious silence in which to mourn.
A fly buzzed with annoying regularity against the single dirty window which overlooked yet another tenement block, and the ticking clock on the narrow mantel above the gas fire reminded her that she was in danger of being late. She glanced wordlessly at her mother, whose expression was as dark as the cup of tea she’d been drinking, and sank onto the thin mattress. The bedclothes were sweat-stained and in a tangle, but regardless of the trouble it might cause later, she simply didn’t have the energy or the time to replace the linen and tidy up.
Ruby dragged on her underwear, pulled the worn cotton frock over her head, tugged it down and, with trembling fingers, began to do up the buttons that ran from waist to neckline. It was an old dress, the once cheerful colours muted by too many washes, the material as thin and fragile as her spirit. Yet the softness of it comforted her, wrapping itself around her bruised body like a gentle caress.
She ignored the baleful glare from her mother and slipped her bare feet into the high-heeled shoes Ray liked her to wear when she worked behind the bar at the Tanner’s Arms. ‘I have to go to work, Mum,’ she muttered. ‘We need the money.’
‘It’s only been a week and you ain’t well enough, gel,’ retorted Ethel Sharp, her skinny arms folded tightly about her waist. ‘If it were up to me, you’d be back in that bed for at least another few days.’
‘But it ain’t up to you, is it, Mum?’ she said softly. ‘Ray said I have to go, so I’m going.’ She picked up the almost toothless comb and scraped it through her thick brown hair, her defiant words belying the awful dragging ache in the pit of her stomach, and the desperate yearning to climb back into bed and curl beneath the blanket.
Ethel’s metal curlers bobbed beneath her headscarf and the wrap-round pinafore quivered over her slight bosom as her pent-up anger could no longer be held at bay. ‘He’s a wrong’un, Ruby. No decent man would do what he done and then expect you to go—’
‘Stop it, Mum,’ she interrupted wearily. ‘I know you mean well, but he’s my husband, and there ain’t nothing you can do about it, so give it a rest.’
Ethel took hold of Ruby’s shoulders and gently turned her to face the scrap of fly-spotted mirror that was propped on the old chest of drawers. ‘Look at yerself,’ she said, her voice breaking with emotion. ‘You’re eighteen, Ruby, and yet you look as old and worn-out as me.’ Her tone softened, and there were tears in her eyes as they regarded each other’s reflection. ‘You gotta learn to dodge them fists, Ruby, and keep yer gob shut, or he’ll kill you one day – just like he killed that poor, innocent little baby you was carrying.’
Ruby flinched at the words that struck so deeply, but determinedly masked her emotions. To give in to the pain and the sorrow would be her undoing – and nothing could turn back the clock and save her precious baby. ‘He said he was sorry,’ she replied as she turned away from the mirror, ‘and he promised he wouldn’t thump me again.’ She sniffed back the tears. ‘I gotta believe him, Mum,’ she whispered.
‘His promises don’t mean nothing, and you know it,’ her mother retorted.
Ruby looked into her mother’s careworn face and silently acknowledged this truth before she embraced her. ‘You know what it’s like, Mum,’ she murmured. ‘There’s no point in going on about it.’
Ethel remained silent as they held one another, perhaps remembering her own black eyes and bruises that had been meted out by Ruby’s stepfather, Ted Wiggins. ‘At least Ted’s gorn for a soldier,’ she said eventually as she drew back from the embrace and shot her daughter a wry smile. ‘It’s just a pity your Raymond don’t do the same, then we’d both get a bit of peace.’
‘Well, that ain’t gunna happen, is it?’ she replied with a sigh. ‘Ray’s got flat feet and poor eyesight. The army wouldn’t have him.’
‘For all his bluff and bluster he ain’t worth a light to no one but them cronies of his what run the black market.’ Ethel sniffed with derision and folded her arms more tightly beneath her scrawny chest.
Ruby silently agreed with her, but would never dare voice it. Ray’s fragile pride had been severely dented by the rejection, making him a very angry man – and even in her silence, she was terrified he would imagine he could see the same scorn in her eyes that his uncles had shown when he’d been assigned to the Home Guard. It was like walking a knife-edge every day, and she wondered if she would ever learn how to endure it.
Ethel seemed to realise there was no point in carrying on this conversation and reached into her apron pocket. ‘I brought the last of me face powder,’ she said as she handed Ruby the tarnished compact. ‘You need to cover them bruises.’
Ruby gingerly dusted the powder over the yellow and purple bruises and eyed her reflection without much joy. She’d been quite pretty once, with lively green eyes, a cheery smile and shining hair the colour of cobnuts. Now she looked dowdy and drained of any spark of life, and living in this shabby room with a man who could lose his temper in a heartbeat was slowly defeating her.
Ethel seemed to read her thoughts, and her expression softened into weary acceptance. ‘You made yer bed, gel, and now you got to lie in it – just like we all do.’ She sighed and gently cupped Ruby’s cheek with her work-roughened hand. ‘It ain’t easy being a woman, love, but you always got me to turn to when things get too bad.’
Ruby momentarily nestled her cheek into the warm hand and then turned away. Her mother could do very little but patch her up and offer tea and sympathy – and if Ray caught her here, there’d be ructions again. ‘We gotta go, Mum.’ She returned the compact, slipped on a knitted cardigan and picked up her cheap handbag.
‘I’ll stay and clean the place up a bit,’ said Ethel as she eyed the grubby bed and polished one of the brass knobs with the hem of her pinafore. ‘Don’t want him coming home to this and losing his temper again.’
Ruby gave a deep sigh. ‘Better not, Mum. You know he don’t like you coming in here.’
‘It comes to something when a mother ain’t allowed to visit her only daughter,’ sniffed Ethel. ‘If your dad were alive he’d have his guts for garters and no mistake.’
Ruby didn’t reply as she held the door open and waited for her mother to step outside. Her dad had been a tough, no-nonsense docker who had never raised a hand to Ethel or Ruby, and considered men that did to be beneath contempt. He would certainly have defended Ruby and seen to it that Raymond got a taste of his own medicine – but he’d been dead for over ten years and there was little point in wishing things were different. She and Ethel had both made mistakes, and now they had no choice but to live with them.
Ruby locked the door and dipped her chin so her hair fell forward and shadowed her battered face. The knowing looks and sympathetic smiles from the other women they passed on the landing spoke silently of sisterhood and understanding, but Ruby had never wanted membership to such a club – had vowed she’d never be like them. And yet, from the moment she’d met Raymond Clark, it seemed it was inevitable.
They weaved past prams and bikes as they headed along the narrow fifth-floor landing and down the concrete steps. Neither of them looked at their surroundings, for they did little to raise the spirits, and they were inured to the sounds and the odours to the point they hardly noticed any more.
Tenement building 41 was an exact copy of the others which lined the mean little streets of Bow. It formed a square around a grubby concrete yard where washing lines had been strung across it from every landing. Having miraculously escaped from too much damage during the Blitz, it still teemed with life – although not all of it was human.
Fleas, lice and cockroaches were a part of everyday life. Rats skittered through the rubbish and the overflowing communal lavatories on the ground floor; dogs fought over scraps and cats prowled in search of mice while grubby, half-naked urchins played on the broken concrete beneath the lines of defeated-looking washing as their mothers gossiped by the taps which provided the only clean water. As ugly as sin, scarred by enemy bullets, blackened by fire and soot and mouldering from lack of care and grinding poverty, the tenement was home to hundreds.
Ethel lived on the third floor with a couple of young lodgers, and Ruby said goodbye to her and continued down the steps until she reached the yard. She felt light-headed and had to pause for a moment before she hurried towards the narrow alley which led to the main road. She was already late and knew there would be trouble if Ray turned up at the pub before her, but it took every ounce of her determination to put one foot in front of the other.
The East End had taken a pounding over the past two years and a great many of the buildings had been reduced to burnt-out shells. The spring day had been unusually warm and now a pall of dust clung to that lingering warmth as the evening closed in, and she could smell the acrid stench of smoke which still rose from the blackened skeleton of a nearby warehouse.