that adjoined the room which overlooked the street, and the gold lettering on the spines of the books glowed in the soft light.
Rosie gaped, she couldn’t help it. This room was a wonderland, a fairy tale, something you would read about in a bairn’s book but never imagine seeing in real life. Her mother’s prim, cold front room with its uncomfortable horsehair suite and small square of carpet was one thing - such rooms were a status symbol for those housewives fortunate enough to be able to spare the space in the cramped, overcrowded houses where families of twelve and more were not unusual - but this was so far removed from that as to be incomparable.
‘Have a seat.’
Rosie came out of her stupor to realize the man was watching her, his eyes intent on her face, and she knew she was blushing as she sat down gingerly on the very edge of one of the chairs. But she needed to sit down, she was feeling very strange. Whether it was the heat of the room after the bitter cold outside, or the fact that she hadn’t eaten anything since the few spoonfuls of porridge first thing, she didn’t know, but suddenly the palms of her hands were damp and perspiration was pricking at her armpits.
‘Thank you.’ She could hear the wobble in her voice but she couldn’t do anything about it. ‘I’m sorry, but could I have a drink of water? I’ve been looking at rooms all day and . . .’ Her voice trailed away as she fought the faintness, panic high. She couldn’t faint, not here, not with him.
She was vaguely aware of him leaving the room but such was her physical distress that it barely registered. But then a cup of steaming liquid was thrust under her nose and a deep voice said, ‘It’s tea you need, lass, you look all done in. Get this down you while it’s hot, eh? I’d just gone an’ made a pot when you knocked at me door.’ She opened her eyes, which had been tightly shut against the nausea, to find him by her side, his face just above hers as he looked down at her with kind eyes.
‘I’m sorry.’ She had taken several gulps of the strong hot tea and was feeling more like herself. ‘I never have turns.’
‘Nowt to be sorry for, lass.’ He hadn’t joined her by the fire but had seated himself on the sofa across the room, and Rosie couldn’t help feeling he had sensed her initial reluctance to enter the house and understood the reason for it - even if she didn’t fully understand it herself.
‘It’s . . . it’s the heat after the cold outside, and I’ve been out all day. Not that it isn’t lovely in here with the fire, it is,’ she added hastily, in case he should misinterpret her words as criticism. ‘I’ve never seen a room like this in all my life.’
‘How old are you, lass?’ His voice was soft now.
‘Fourteen.’ Well she was nearly, give or take a few days.
‘An’ why are you wantin’ rooms?’
‘We’ve got to get out of our house, Mr Kilbride’s got another family moving in.’ She was gabbling, this was no good, she needed to start at the beginning. Rosie took a deep breath and began again. ‘It’s like this . . .’
He listened without saying a word, the blueness of his eyes expressing nothing, and she told him the whole story, but with a bit of embroidering about the jam factory, feeling if she didn’t say they had already got the jobs there was no chance at all of the rooms.
There was a deep silence when she finished speaking, and it seemed to grow and stretch before he said, ‘An’ your name is . . . ?’
‘Oh. Rosie. Rosie Ferry.’
‘Do you want to look at the rooms then?’
‘Can I?’ Her voice was eager. Suddenly the idea of rooms in this house was desperately appealing.
‘Aye, you can look, but afore you do I’d better explain how things are. There’s two rooms upstairs, an’ I live downstairs in this room, me bedroom, an’ the kitchen.’ He pointed to the far wall. ‘The netty is outside in the