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Never Look Back by Lesley Pearse

One good deed takes her into another world . . .

Never Look Back was voted by readers as their favourite novel by the international bestseller Lesley Pearse. Read on for an excerpt.

Never Look Back

It pleased her to think that the stories of London Lil would remain in American folklore for all time, but she must leave her here, kiss Lil goodbye and forget her.

She began to cry as she thought about what was instore for them. While the rich got swept straight into New York, with no thought that they might be undesirable in some way, the poor had first to pass through 'assessment'. How many of those black­ coated men with long whiskers who looked hardly capable of carrying their own baggage would make it through the stringent medical? Then there were the literacy and competence tests for others to stumble on. In her time all were welcome. Maybe that welcome didn't run to decent homes or well-paid work, but at least they didn't face the humiliation of being turned around and sent home because they didn't fit the bill of what the American Government perceived as ideal immigrants.

Even above the sound of the sea, wind, seagulls and the tug's engine, she could hear the pitiful cries of hungry and sick children. Women with frightened eyes clutched babies to their breasts, scanning the sky-line on the other side of the bay in hope that the relatives who urged them to come would be there to greet them.

Sadly Matilda knew they had more misery and shocks instore for them. New York might be prosperous but a great deal of that wealth had been made out of people just like these. She knew the evils of those appalling East Side tenements built by unscrupulous speculators, their only thought to wring as many dollars a square foot out of them as they could. If she had her way she'd force those men to live there too. She wondered how long it would take to break the new arrivals, living in tiny dark rooms, one tap between four families and a privy shared by the whole block.

Yet today these immigrants would be lucky if they even got one of those hell-holes. Most would end up tonight sleeping in some squalid flop-house in conditions even more crowded and unsanitary than on that ship. Unless they were very smart they'd be robbed of their money and possessions too. There were infectious diseases to contend with, many of their children wouldn't survive a year, let alone to adulthood. If they thought they were starting a new life where racial, social and religious prejudice didn't exist, they were sadly mistaken. America was for the brave. It took a strong body, a stout heart and determination to make it.

Matilda shook herself out of such pessimistic thoughts. For those who had the will it really was a country where dreams could come true. Just a few miles outside the busy cities was a land of incredible beauty. She hoped that every poor immigrant trudging into that building today would get to see its sparkling rivers, its mountains, forests and endless prairies. They had arrived too late to see real wilderness as she had -the vast herds of buffalo were gone now, the Red Indians who had survived had been robbed of their hunting grounds and pushed into reservations. Trains sped people from coast to coast and the paths that had been taken by the early pioneers in their covered wagons had all but disappeared. But there was still so much to thrill, so much opportunity for those with the nerve to grasp it.

An hour or so later as the tug chugged back towards the piers in East River, Matilda wiped away the last of her emotional tears and turned her mind to her future.

She had experienced so much in this land - joy and sorrow, poverty and riches, great love and passion too. So many of those she'd loved were dead, their graves marking places she could never forget. Yet on balance the good memories outweighed the bad. She had had so many dear, good friends, lovers who had filled her heart with bliss, and she'd seen and done things few women of her generation could even imagine. Even the immense evil she'd encountered, the terrible anguish and pain, was in soft focus now, only the happiness, humour and sweetness remained important to her.

She was ready now for what lay ahead. Tomorrow she would book a passage home to England, a first-class cabin where a steward would wait on her, imagining she'd been born to such luxury, and she'd spend the voyage polishing up her role as a grand lady.

It pleased her to think that the stories of London Lil would remain in American folklore for all time, but she must leave her here, kiss Lil goodbye and forget her.

Up in the wheel-house Giuseppe was at the helm, and Fanny was silently watching Matilda. Several times during the last hour she had seen the woman crying and her heart went out to her. She wished she knew her full story. Was she a widow? Did she have children and grandchildren? Or was that Irishman she'd spoken of the only real love in her life?

But as she watched, Matilda stood up and moved right into the bows. She bent over, one hand supporting herself on the rail, while with the other she appeared to be fumbling under her coat. Fanny didn't draw her father's attention to this, thinking perhaps Matilda was adjusting her stockings. But suddenly there was something small and bright red in the woman's hand.

She brought it up to her lips, appeared to kiss it and murmur something to it. Then, lifting her arm, she threw it into the sea.

As Matilda sat down again, Fanny slipped out of the wheel­ house and looked over the side of the tug. The small red article was bobbing along on the surface of the water. Not a handkerchief or scarf, as she'd expected, but a red satin garter!

Fanny knew it must have some special significance to the old lady, perhaps a memento of her first love. She would give anything to know the full story.

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