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Authors: Dilly Court

The Constant Heart

BOOK: The Constant Heart
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The Constant Heart


Dilly Court grew up in North East London and began her career in television, writing scripts for commercials. She is married with two grown-up children and three grandchildren, and now lives in Dorset on the beautiful Jurassic Coast with her husband and a large, yellow Labrador called Archie. She is also the author of
The Dollmaker's Daughters
Tilly True
The Best of Sisters, The Cockney Sparrow
A Mother's Courage


Also by Dilly Court


Mermaids Singing
The Dollmaker's Daughters
Tilly True
The Best of Sisters
The Cockney Sparrow
A Mother's Courage


Dilly Court

The Constant Heart


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.


ISBN 9781407005591


Version 1.0


Published by Arrow Books 2008


2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1


Copyright © Dilly Court 2008


Dilly Court has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs and
Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work


This novel is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product
of the author's imagination and any resemblance to actual persons,
living or dead, is entirely coincidental


This electronic book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser


First published in Great Britain in 2008 by
Arrow Books
Random House, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road,
London SW1V 2SA


Addresses for companies within The Random House Group Limited
can be found at:


The Random House Group Limited Reg. No. 954009


A CIP catalogue record for this book
is available from the British Library


ISBN: 9781407005591


Version 1.0


For Clive in memory of Peggy, a wonderful mother
and much-loved aunt



Chapter One

London, May, 1874


The small patch of sky just visible between the sooty clouds was the same shade of blue as the forget-me-nots and ribbons on her new bonnet: a birthday present from her father. Smiling happily, Rosina stepped onto the pavement outside the milliner's shop. She was eighteen today and life was wonderful. In her world the sun was always shining. She did not see the squalor, vice and poverty lurking in every dark corner of the Ratcliff Highway – the East End's most notorious street, where even the police were afraid to go after dark. She barely noticed the crush of horse-drawn vehicles with the drivers bellowing insults at each other. To her ears, the raucous cries of the costermongers, bootblacks, match sellers and hot chestnut vendors, all vying for trade, were as musical as the wheezing notes played by the hurdy-gurdy men.


She picked up her long skirts to prevent them from trailing on the filthy cobblestones, carpeted with horse dung, dog excrement, rotten fruit and mouldy straw. She was oblivious to the stench of steaming sewers and the sulphurous fumes from the river. She was so accustomed to seeing the slatterns hanging round in shop doorways touting for trade, and the ragged, pock-marked faces of the street urchins begging for money, that she barely noticed them. She stopped to look in a shop window where exotic seashells, shimmering and iridescent, lay on a bed of white sand. Her reflection smiled back at her, and she paused for a moment, primping and admiring her beautiful bonnet. A voice from within called her name, and Rosina poked her head round the open door. 'Good morning, Mrs Sanchez. Isn't it a lovely day?'


'Happy birthday, Rosie.' Mrs Sanchez heaved her large body from the stool behind the counter and waddled to the door. 'Hold your hand out, ducks.' She took a necklace of pink-lipped shells from the window display and hooked it over Rosina's outstretched fingers.


'Thank you. It's really, really lovely.' Rosina kissed her on the cheek.


Mrs Sanchez wheezed a gale of garlic into Rosina's face. 'It's not nearly as lovely as you, my pet. You're just like your dear mother, God rest her soul.'


Rosina knew that this was a compliment. It seemed that everyone had adored her mother. 'I wish I'd known her.'


'She was a real lady. A beautiful woman, Rosie. Too good for this earth.' Mrs Sanchez rubbed her hand across her eyes and her full lips wobbled. 'Look at me, silly old fool. Making you sad on your birthday.'


Rosina grasped her work-worn hand and gave it a squeeze. 'Nothing can make me sad today, Mrs Sanchez. Papa should be home on the tide and we're having a special supper. I'll wear my lovely present tonight.' She slipped the shell necklace into her reticule.


'Goodbye, dearie. Give my best regards to your daddy.' Mrs Sanchez disappeared into the dark interior of the shop with her stays creaking like the timbers of an old sailing barge.


Rosina blew her a kiss and walked on. A small child, covered in bleeding sores, sidled up to her holding out its hand. It was impossible to tell whether it was a boy or a girl, but the eyes were those of an old person, huge and beseeching in the pinched face. Rosina pulled out her purse and placed two pennies in the outstretched hand. Claw-like fingers closed over the coins and the child was gone, disappearing into the gaping mouth of a dark alley. Rosina sighed and a shiver ran down her spine. She had chosen to put it out of her mind, but she knew only too well that poverty marched alongside wealth in the great city of London. Misfortune, disease and death could strike anyone at any time. She walked on; she would not think about that now, and she would not be unhappy today. The month was May: her favourite time of the year, when the late spring sunshine warmed the cold pavements of East London and banished the pea-souper fogs into a dim memory. She had been born in May and her family name was May – the month truly did belong to her. She paused to stare at the brightly coloured parrots, waxbills, canaries and bishop birds in old Jamjar's shop window. They strutted up and down on their perches or fluttered about in cages, singing, cackling and squawking. She loved to look at them with their shiny boot-button eyes and bright plumage, but it made her sad to see birds trapped in cages when they ought to be free to spread their wings and fly away, far above the soot-blackened chimney tops. She tapped the glass and a green parrot cocked its head on one side; it seemed to wink its large eye at her and she laughed out loud.


'He likes the look of you, young Rosie.' Old Jamjar, the owner of the shop, whose foreign name had been too much of a tongue-twister for the East Enders and had been commuted to Jamjar, came out rubbing his bony fingers together. He grinned at her, exposing bare gums. His teeth had been knocked out in the days when he had been a prize fighter, or so the legend had it. Rosina had never had the heart to enquire if it were true. She laughed at the antics of the parrot: it seemed to enjoy entertaining her by standing on one leg and opening its beak to utter a string of swear words.


'I don't think I could take this one home, Mr Jamjar. Bertha wouldn't have him in the house using language like that.'


'That bird sailed with Admiral Nelson on the
, so it's said.'


Rosina frowned. 'That would make him older than my papa, older than . . .' She hesitated.


Old Jamjar chuckled. 'Older than me? He would be if it was true. But it's a good story. Maybe one day you'll buy all me birds and set them free, like you always said you would when you was a little girl.'


'When I'm rich, Mr Jamjar, that's just what I'll do. Now, I'd best be on my way.'


'Just wait a moment.' He disappeared into the shop, and came back moments later holding a scarlet, green and blue feather in his hand. He gave it to her. 'I hadn't forgotten. Happy birthday, Rosie.'


She studied the gaudy feather and smiled. 'It will make a lovely quill pen. Thank you.'


With a gummy grin and a wink of his one good eye, old Jamjar retreated into his shop and was greeted by a chorus of raucous bird calls. Rosina had always imagined that the jungles of Africa would sound just like that. She would not have been surprised if a monkey had leapt out to swing on the shop sign and tossed a few coconuts into the street. She was tempted to linger, but Bertha would be expecting her home soon. Even though she knew most of the shopkeepers and street sellers by name, Ratcliff Highway was not the sort of place where it was safe to linger. She stepped out briskly, stopping to accept an apple from a costermonger who had apparently dandled her on his knee when she was a baby, and a second-hand silk scarf from fat Freda who owned the dolly shop on the corner. By the time she reached Black Eagle Wharf, her arms were filled with small gifts from old friends along the way. She could tell by the stench from the manu-factories in Silvertown and the iron works in Bow Creek that the tide had almost reached the high water mark, and the arrival of her father's Thames sailing barge was imminent.

BOOK: The Constant Heart
12.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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