Authors: Rosie Goodwin
A Mother’s Shame
Also by Rosie Goodwin
Home Front Girls
The Bad Apple
No One’s Girl
Dancing Till Midnight
Moonlight and Ashes
Our Little Secret
The Boy from Nowhere
A Rose Among Thorns
The Lost Soul
The Ribbon Weaver
A Band of Steel
The Empty Cradle
Tilly Trotter’s Legacy
The Mallen Secret
The Sand Dancer
A Mother’s Shame
Constable & Robinson Ltd
55-56 Russell Square
London WC1B 4HP
First published in the UK by Canvas,
an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd, 2013
Copyright © Rosie Goodwin 2013
The right of Rosie Goodwin to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental
All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
A copy of the British Library Cataloguing in Publication
Data is available from the British Library
ISBN 978-1-4721-0169-3 (hardback)
ISBN 978-1-4721-0499-1 (ebook)
Printed and bound in the UK
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Jacket images: Richard Jenkins/Alamy/Arcangel Images; Jacket design:
Welcome to the world Layla Rose, born 5 May 2013. A very
welcome, long-awaited and precious little granddaughter!
Thanks to the wonderful team at Constable & Robinson; to my great editor, Victoria; my lovely PR Laura Sherlock; the wonderful Joan Deitch, my copyeditor; and of course my brilliant agent, Sheila Crowley. Many thanks to you all for your support and encouragement.
Nuneaton, Warwickshire, January 1857
‘I feared as much. Is there something you need to tell me, Maria?’
The girl’s startled eyes flew to the doorway of the outside privy, where her mother stood wringing her hands together.
She forced a smile in the woman’s direction.
‘No, no, I’m all right, Mother . . . honestly. I think that rabbit stew you did us for tea last night must have disagreed with me, that’s all.’ Swiping the back of her hand across her mouth, Maria lurched unsteadily to her feet.
Running her hands down the front of her plain calico apron, Martha Mundy frowned. The girl looked dreadful. The bags beneath her eyes were so large that Martha thought she could have done her shopping in them, and her face was the colour of bleached linen. She seemed to have been in and out of the privy being sick for days – but then, Martha told herself, her suspicions must be wrong, Maria was a good girl. She had never been any trouble to her. Not like her younger brother Henry, who was always up to some mischief or another.
‘Well, if you’re quite sure that’s
it is.’ Her voice was still heavy with doubt. Nobody else in the family seemed to have suffered any ill effects, and they had all eaten the same the night before. Maria pushed past her into the tiny yard, nearly colliding with the tin bath that hung on a hook outside the back door.
‘Of course I’m sure.’ Maria’s voice carried across the yard, before it was whipped away by the biting wind. Then: ‘Come on, Mother,’ she urged lightly. ‘Let’s get in out of the cold, eh? Father will be home from chapel soon and all hell will break loose if his dinner isn’t on the table, as well you know.’
Sighing deeply, Martha followed Maria into their tiny cottage. Wet washing was strung on lines suspended from the ceiling from one end of the beams to the other and Maria had to duck her way through it to get to the easy chair at the side of the roaring fire.
‘I’ll just put my feet up for a few minutes and then I’ll help you dish the dinner up,’ she promised.
Once her mother had bustled away to stab at the cabbage that was bubbling in a pan on the range, Maria screwed her eyes tight shut to stem the tears that were stabbing her – like sharp little needles at the back of her eyes.
She felt so ill that just to stand was an effort, but worse than that was the fear that was growing daily. Her monthly course was way overdue, and with each day that passed she felt worse. Even now, the smell of the meal that was cooking was making her stomach revolt. Thankfully, Emma, her little sister, who was playing with her peg dolls on the rug, took her mind off her predicament for a second.
‘Maria, will you make me some more new clothes for my dollies soon? Mother’s got some scraps of material left over from the dress she made me for Sunday school and I was thinking you could perhaps use them?’
Maria smiled fondly as she stroked the girl’s fair hair back from her pale face. Emma had never been a robust child, in fact, she might have been termed sickly, but Maria had doted on her from the moment she was born. She could still remember that day eight years ago, and the terror she had felt as she huddled in the kitchen listening to her mother’s screams as the doctor battled to bring the child into the world in the bedroom above.
Now she promised, ‘Of course I will, sweetheart. At the weekend when I have more time we’ll set to, eh?’
Contented, Emma turned her attention back to her dolls as Maria flashed a glance at the tin clock that stood on the mantelpiece. It was almost six thirty, which meant that at any second, her father would be back from the chapel in Chapel End where he was a minister. Heaving herself from the chair, she dragged the table from the wall at one side of the kitchen across the red quarry tiles, and after lifting the wooden slats to open it out, she threw a snow-white tablecloth across it and began to set out the cutlery.
Just as she finished, the door banged inwards, making the fire roar up the chimney – and Edward Mundy barged into the room, large as life and twice as nasty.
Thankfully, tonight he seemed to be in good spirits and they all heaved a sigh of relief as he sniffed at the air appreciatively. ‘Is that a steak and kidney pie I can smell?’
Martha nodded as she wiped a strand of faded fair hair back from her face. She had been a good-looking woman in her day, but living with a bullying husband and sheer hard work had made her old before her time. Although she was only in her mid-thirties she could have been taken for fifty at least. Turning away from the stove, she wearily poured the kettle of hot water she had ready into a tin bowl for him to wash in.
Slinging his coat across the back of a chair, Edward, a great bear of a man, placed his Bible down on the sturdy oak sideboard and plunged his huge hands into the water.
‘Have you had a good day, dear?’ Martha ventured timidly.
‘Huh! How good can a day be when my parishioners are dropping like flies?’ he retorted. ‘The flu epidemic that has spread from London is getting worse by the minute. Word has it that fifty a day on average are dying there. Three little ones drew their last breath here today
two more men from the pit cottages in Chapel End. The undertaker is having to work through the night to keep up with the demand for coffins.’
Martha chewed on her lip as she handed him a rough towel that no amount of boiling would ever get white again, then turned away to drain the cabbage into the deep stone sink.
When Edward had finished his wash and was drying himself he glanced around the kitchen before asking, ‘Where is Henry?’
‘Oh, he er . . . just ran an errand for old Minnie Hickman,’ Martha lied glibly rather than tell the turth and provoke his wrath, but underneath she made a mental note to give Henry an earful when he did finally put in an appearance. Their son had been working down one of the local pits for three years now and hated every single second of it. Martha wished there was some other job he could do that would allow him to be out in the open air, but jobs were scarce and the whole town relied on the ribbon-weaving factories and the pits for their survival. It was mainly Henry’s wages that kept their home afloat. Edward’s stipend as a preacher was barely more than a pittance, augmented by modest donations from his parishioners. Sometimes she despaired, wondering how they would ever manage when Henry was of an age to wed. Even now he was certainly never short of admirers. Still, Martha had decided that that was a problem she would face when she came to it.
Henry was never on time for anything, and his mother feared he would be late for his own funeral – an event that would come sooner than he expected if his father ever got to know of even half of the pranks he got up to. Henry would sneak off and go poaching on the local squire’s land when he finished his shift down the pit each evening, and Martha was painfully aware that should he ever be caught, they would be thrown out of their cottage. But then the rabbits and pheasants he caught came in more than handy. And at least Edward seemed to be in a good enough mood tonight, so she quickly carried the pie to the table as he took a seat, and thanked the Lord for small mercies.
Once everyone was seated, Edward clasped his hands and bowed his head as a hush fell on the room. ‘For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful. Amen,’ he muttered, and then he fell on his food as if he hadn’t eaten for a month. Maria kept her eyes averted and tried desperately to swallow something, aware that her mother was watching her like a hawk. Luckily, Henry barged in only minutes later and Martha’s attention turned to him as she flashed him a warning look.
‘Did you manage to get what Minnie wanted from the shop, son?’
‘What? Oh er, yes I did, Mother.’ As he slithered onto a seat he gave her a grateful smile, glad that his father was too intent on eating his meal to have noticed his hesitation. At fifteen, Henry was a tall lad with huge brown eyes and hair as black as coal, and his mother adored him – although the same could not be said for his father. The two were as different in nature as chalk from cheese. To the outside world beyond the cottage walls, Edward Mundy was a fine, godfearing man. But within the walls he was a domestic tyrant, ruling his wife and family with a rod of iron. Henry on the other hand was gentle-natured, if somewhat mischievous, with a heart as big as a bucket. Many a time he had stepped between his parents when his father raised his hand to his mother, and Martha had long since given up hoping that the two of them would ever get along, although Edward was far more lenient with his son than he was with Maria. The two girls took after their mother, being blonde and blue-eyed, though Martha’s hair was now prematurely streaked with grey. Sometimes when Martha looked at them, particularly Maria, she could see herself as she had once looked: young and light-hearted in the days before family life had taken its toll on her.
Her life with Edward Mundy had not been easy, yet for all that she still tried hard to be a good wife to him. Deep down she knew that she had never truly loved him, but she had envisaged a life of ease when she had married him. After all, how hard could the life of a minister’s wife be? At first, she had felt fortunate – but she had soon learned differently. In many ways it was true: they were better off than most of the village people. They had their own small terraced cottage in Coleshill Road for a start, and woods and fields surrounded them rather than the tiny cramped yards that many of Edward’s parishioners were forced to share. But money had always been short, and with five young children to feed it had been hard to make ends meet, which was why she had begun to take in washing some years back from the wealthier folk who lived on the outskirts of the town.