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Authors: Beryl Matthews

Two Strangers

BOOK: Two Strangers
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Table of Contents


Recent Titles by Beryl Matthews from Severn House

Title Page


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

Recent Titles by Beryl Matthews from Severn House














Beryl Matthews

This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

This first world edition published 2014

in Great Britain and 2015 in the USA by


19 Cedar Road, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM2 5DA.

Trade paperback edition first published

in Great Britain and the USA 2015 by


eBook edition first published in 2015 by Severn House Digital

an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited

Copyright © 2014 by Beryl Matthews.

The right of Beryl Matthews to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

Matthews, Beryl author.

Two strangers.

1. Slums–England–London–Fiction. 2. Poplar (London,

England)–Social conditions–20th century–Fiction.

I. Title


ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8447-3 (cased)

ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-553-7 (trade paper)

ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-600-7 (e-book)

Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.

This ebook produced by

Palimpsest Book Production Limited, Falkirk,

Stirlingshire, Scotland.


1920 Poplar, London

‘You will do as I say, girl!’

Victoria Keats faced her father’s wrath without flinching. He always called her ‘girl’, taking every opportunity to remind her that she wasn’t the son he wanted so much. ‘I won’t go and work for that man. Everyone knows why he takes young girls into his house.’

‘That’s just rumours spread by jealous people. He’s rich, and he’s willing to give you a job.’

‘No!’ Vicki glanced at her mother, hoping for help from her, but it was hopeless. Years of miscarriages and abuse from her husband for not producing a son had drained the spirit from her. Vicki doubted that this argument even registered with her. It was heartbreaking to see her in such a state. No one was going to do that to Vicki – not ever!

‘Don’t you defy me, girl!’ Eric Keats yelled, clenching his hands into tight fists of rage. ‘You’re fourteen now and bloody useless, so you’ll work like all of us have to.’

‘I’ve been working since I was ten, Dad.’

He snorted in disgust. ‘Running errands for shops ain’t enough. It’s time you got a proper job.’

‘I’m trying, but it ain’t easy for a girl to find work.’

‘That’s why you’ll take a job when it’s offered. I’ll tell Mr Preston you’ll start tomorrow, so no more of your nonsense.’ He turned and made for the door.

‘There’s no point you going to see him, Dad, because I ain’t gonna work for him.’

Eric Keats spun round, his face flushed with fury. ‘Then you get out of my house, girl! I ain’t feeding you no more. Get out! And don’t you come back – ever!’

Vicki was stunned and swayed slightly with the shock. She had always known her dad had never got over his disappointment that his only surviving child was a girl, but she had never imagined he would throw her out. One look at his face told her he meant it, but she wasn’t going to plead, or change her mind about working for that awful man. She knew what had happened to a couple of the girls he had employed, and there was no way she was going to allow that to happen to her. Once he had finished with them, they had been turned out to fend for themselves. She had no idea what had become of them or the babies they were carrying. They had just disappeared.

‘I told you to go!’ He stepped menacingly towards her. ‘You think you’re so good, don’t you? Well, see how you get on out there in the street. It won’t be long before you begin to think that a job with Mr Preston would be luxury.’

He thought that was funny, and Vicki was incensed. How dare he laugh! Well, he wouldn’t be getting the money Mr Preston was offering for her, and that gave her some satisfaction. Of course, nothing was ever said about money changing hands, but she knew it went on. She looked him steadily in the eyes, refusing to show the fear trembling through her. One day, I’ll make him regret this day, she vowed silently.

‘Clear off!’ he snarled, pushing her roughly towards the door.

Dodging quickly out of his way, she fought back tears. She wasn’t going to let him see how frightened she was so he could gloat over hurting her. ‘Let me get my coat and say goodbye to Mum.’

‘You can have your coat, and that’s all. Don’t bother with anything else.’ He glanced at his wife who was fast asleep in the chair, quite unaware of the commotion going on around her. ‘She don’t want you here, either. She’s expecting again and this one will be born without your disruptive influence around. And it will be a boy this time.’

Disruptive! Well, yes, he would see it like that, but all she’d done was try to help and protect her mum. And she had never been slow to tell this arrogant, selfish man what she thought about his treatment of the woman he had married. It was clear now that he had just been waiting for an excuse to get rid of her.

She ran out of the scullery and up the stairs. Her room was only big enough to hold a single bed and a small cupboard, but she’d done her best to make it comfortable. It had been her bolt hole where she had been able to find some peace to read, without insults being continually hurled at her. Taking deep breaths to calm her trembling emotions, she fought to clear her head. She must think clearly … As far as she knew, there weren’t any family members for her to go to and she’d never had much time to make friends. When she wasn’t running around trying to earn a few pennies, she was sneaking into bookshops to read. It didn’t matter what it was; her thirst to know things was insatiable, she had been told. That was a good word and she’d had to find a dictionary to find out its meaning. All the kids around here thought she was odd, but that wasn’t true. She just liked different things to them. So, it was no good thinking any of them would help her. The only person she could rely on was herself. She was alone.
Think, Vicki! What are you going to need?

. She dragged the threadbare blanket off the bed, placed her one change of clothes in the middle with her hairbrush and wrapped it up into a manageable bundle. Then she slipped on her coat. Under the cupboard she kept a small rusty tin, and inside was all she possessed – tuppence farthing. Tucking that safely in the pocket of her frock, she sat on the bed, head bowed as she struggled to overcome the sudden feeling of sickness. It was four o’clock now, and, with so little money, it would mean spending the night outside. Thankfully, it was May and not too cold, but she wasn’t daft and knew it could well be dangerous out there for a young girl alone.

Picking up her bundle, she edged towards the top of the stairs and listened. There wasn’t a sound. Knowing her dad was on a late shift at the docks, she hoped he had gone and her mother was still asleep. A couple of stairs creaked badly and Vicki stepped cautiously over them as she made her way downstairs.

Much to her relief, the scullery was empty, and she didn’t stop to wonder where her mother was as she quickly cut off a large chunk of bread and wrapped it in a towel with a piece of cheese. There was an empty beer bottle on the table which she filled with water. She put that in her coat pocket along with a small piece of soap. She also included the brush she used for her teeth. That dealt with the need for food tonight and a way to keep clean; now she needed something for protection. In the back of the kitchen drawer she found an old pair of scissors, slightly rusty from little use, so they wouldn’t be missed. They also went into her coat pocket. Then she slipped out of the house.

Her stride didn’t falter until she reached the end of the street. She stopped and glanced back at the row of dingy houses, wondering if she would ever come back here again. It hadn’t been much of a home, lacking laughter and affection, but it was all she had ever known, and it was still hard to leave. But her dad had thrown her out, not caring what happened to her, so she had no choice. She focused her attention on where she was. Left or right? Did it matter? She had no one she could turn to for help and nowhere to go. The loneliness that hit her at that moment was almost unbearable, but she had to cope with it. If she didn’t, then despair and hopelessness faced her.

No! No! That wasn’t going to happen. She was only fourteen, with her life in front of her, and it would be what she made of it. The immediate future facing her was bleak, but if she was sensible and careful, she would get through it.

Vicki gripped her bundle firmly. She had food for tonight, and a blanket, but it would soon be dark and she must find somewhere to sleep. And quickly, because it looked as if it could rain at any moment. But where to go? She knew of a couple of places where the drunks and homeless gathered, but the thought of going to one of those frightened her. Fights and even killings weren’t unusual.

Without realizing she had even moved, she found herself turning left and walking quickly in that direction. There was a derelict warehouse about a mile away. It had been empty for years and was undoubtedly already occupied by the homeless. But it was huge, so there was a chance she could find a spot away from anyone else. It was worth a try, and nothing else came to mind.

It was drizzling by the time she reached the building. The doors and windows were boarded up, but she found a small window round the back that had only glass. It was closed, but when she pushed, it shuddered open, and, clambering up, she managed to wriggle through it. The light was fading fast but it was still possible to see where she was, and she let out a ragged sigh of relief. It was a large room, littered with broken furniture and old benches, and no one else was there. The only door was closed, but the lock was broken. Opening it cautiously, she peered out, and then, catching the sound of men’s voices, she eased it shut, not wanting them to know she was here. As quietly as possible, she began dragging anything heavy to rest against the door. Finally satisfied that the room was secure, she sat on an old piece of bench and surveyed her work. If anyone tried to open that door, it wouldn’t move, so she could relax and try to get some rest. The bench was hard but it kept her off the cold stone floor. Before settling down to eat her meagre meal of bread and cheese, she wedged wood against the small window so no one else would open it from the outside. With all that done, she wrapped the blanket around her and settled down. Tomorrow there would be a lot to do because she didn’t intend to live like this any longer than could be helped.

It had been a restless and uncomfortable night, but at least no one had tried to break into the room. Her stomach growled with hunger and she would have to find something to eat by using what little money she had and hope that she could replace it during the day. Brushing the dust off her crumpled frock, she grimaced; sleeping in her clothes had not been a good idea, but she had been too frightened to get undressed in case any of the undesirables had found her and she’d had to run. Staying clean and tidy was going to be difficult, but an absolute necessity, as it had always been for her. She had never believed that you had to be dirty just because you lived in the slums. She had been the one who had scrubbed and cleaned the dingy little house until it had been spotless, but it wouldn’t stay that way now.

BOOK: Two Strangers
12.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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