#1 in the Australian
'Redwoods' series. A young woman in nineteenth century London yields to temptation and commits a crime. Fearful of punishment by the harsh laws of the day, she flees to Australia, taking her mother with her. She marries to find security for them both but her tyrannical husband makes life miserable. When she has a chance for love and happiness she must make a difficult decision that will affect the lives of others.
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It is often a spur-of-the-moment decision that can become a turning point in life.
So it is for Kitty Morland, a young woman in London in 1878. When she yields to temptation one fateful day the consequences of her action force her to flee to the other side of the world, to the small timber town of Bulahdelah in the mid-north coast of New South Wales, home of the giant cedar trees.
On board the ship carrying her to the other side of the world Kitty meets three men who will influence her future.
Beautiful and spirited, Kitty needs all her courage and determination to survive the ordeal of marriage to a bullying husband, but when she has a chance for love and happiness she must make a difficult decision.
The Osprey’s sails billowed, the canvas slapping in the wind as the pilot guided her through the Heads into Sydney Harbour. Kitty Morland looked up at the masts as she stood by the rail of the majestic clipper as it sped through the water, feeling as if her heart might burst. Excitement tingled through her as she turned to her mother, who stood beside her.
‘I can hardly believe we’re finally here. We’ve come twelve thousand miles, from the top of the earth right down here to the bottom, but we’ve finally arrived, ready to start a new life in a new country.’
Bella took a deep breath, her fingers twisting the beads that hung at her throat. ‘Let us hope it’s far enough away for you to be safe.’
‘Oh Mother, of course it is. Who would ever think to come looking for me in Australia? Besides...’ she paused, her hand tightening on the rail, ‘we’re not even sure they are looking for me.’
Bella’s brow puckered. ‘It is certainly very probable.’
Shaking her head to dispel the sudden flicker of fear at her words, Kitty grabbed her mother’s arm, giving it a little shake as she pointed ahead. ‘Forget about that for now. Look, just look at that!’
They were through the Heads now and they could see a huge harbour spread out before them. Kitty had never seen anything to match its beauty. The blue of the sky was reflected in the ocean, where the waves splintered the rising sun’s slanting rays, bouncing them up to dazzle their eyes. Cotton wool clouds dotted the sky above, scudding before a light breeze. In the distance they could see green wooded slopes surrounding the sea, tumbling down to little bays and inlets around the coastline, with dark rocks spilling out to encircle scoops of golden sand.
Small islands popped up out of the water here and there, and everywhere there were boats, all sizes and shapes. Ferry boats criss-crossed the waters, carrying early morning passengers, while yachts and fishing boats were already out and about. Another clipper passed them heading back out to sea, sails swelling, about to start its journey, and they could see several other ships, sails furled, tied up at the wharves ahead of them.
Directly in front of them lay the city of Sydney. Buildings lined the foreshore and spread out around it, while houses stretched up the hills behind. And over all the sun shone, bright and clear and warm.
Bella turned towards her, and Kitty was relieved to see the tension had faded from her face. ‘It’s certainly beautiful,’ she smiled. ‘You’re right, let’s hope that it is the beginning of a new life, that we can forget the past and start afresh.’
‘Poor Mother,’ Kitty reached across and took her hand. ‘I think these last years have been harder for you than they were for me.’
‘Things haven't been easy, I admit. ’ Bella drew a deep breath and shook her head. ‘And I could see little hope of things improving.’
‘Well, that’s all behind us now.’ Kitty patted Bella's hand. ‘And I’m glad I did what I did,’ she added fiercely. ‘It’s what has given us this chance, to come here to Australia and find Robert, and start afresh.’
Bella’s fingers sought her beads again. ‘We must hope it never catches up with you.’ Her voice shook. ‘I still have sleepless nights thinking about the consequences...if it does.’
Kitty took her hand again as a little knot of anxiety twisted inside her. ‘It’s all right,’ she insisted. ‘We’ll be safe here.’
‘I hope so. Thank goodness we were able to leave London so quickly. If we hadn't…’ her voice trailed away as she shook her head wordlessly.
‘Don’t even think about that – it’s all behind us now. We’re about to start a new life.’ She squeezed Bella’s hand before releasing it, her optimism returning. ‘And Mother, while we’re certainly not wealthy, we have enough money now to be able to buy the necessities of life, and even a few luxuries. Like some new clothes.’ Stepping back she studied Bella, thinking how elegant her mother looked in her soft blue dress with white lace trimming on the bodice. Her dark hair was piled high, emphasising her even features. ‘You always look lovely,’ she told her, ‘but it’s years since we’ve had anything new.’
Bella smiled and, reaching up, tucked back one of Kitty’s honey-gold curls that had escaped in the breeze, then patted her cheek gently. ‘Well, this dress has always been a good stand-by, but I know it’s old. And as for you, you’re so beautiful you look good in anything, but particularly so in that red dress. You must wear the beautiful hat you had made to go with it.’
‘Ah yes, that was when we were affluent,’ Kitty sighed, reflecting. Money. It all came down to money, didn’t it? With it you could have what you wanted – without it you were at the mercy of others. She clenched her fists so tightly the nails dug into her palms. She was determined they would become affluent again in this new country. She would do whatever was necessary to get enough money so they would never be poor again. Her mother would never have to suffer again as she had these past few years. She set her lips firmly. ‘Don’t worry Mother. We will be affluent again, I promise you.’
Bella smiled at her. ‘As long as you’re safe. That’s more important.’ She paused for a moment before she went on. ‘Kitty, I’ve been thinking - about William Barron. He’s been most attentive to you on the journey. He's obviously very taken with you, has he mentioned marriage?’
‘No. I keep heading him off whenever I think he might.’
‘So you think he will?’
‘I think it’s possible.’
‘And if he does, will you accept him?’
Kitty sighed. ‘He's very attentive, I know, and I suppose he's rather sweet really, in a hang dog sort of way, but I don’t want to be married to him, to have to spend the rest of my life with him…’
Bella interrupted her. ‘My dear, I know that type. Once you were married you wouldn’t have to put up with spending all your time with him, he would be at his club, or in his library…’
‘He thinks reading is a waste of time.’
‘Oh. Well then, hunting, or about the estate.’
‘He would still be my husband and I don’t love him.’
‘Love isn’t everything in marriage. Once babies come you would be content.’
‘Do you think that’s all I have to look forward to, marriage and babies? Surely there has to be more in life than that.’
‘It’s what most girls look forward to.’
‘Perhaps if our lives hadn’t changed the way they did, I’d have been content with that, too, but now…now I don’t know I want to marry anyone. I’ve been talking to many of the Colonials who are returning home, and Australia sounds an exciting place. It seems not everyone follows the same old patterns out here. I don’t want to be some man’s chattel. I want to be independent. I want to lead my life the way I want, not bending to a man’s wishes all the time.’
‘Kitty, you’re a woman. That’s the way it is for us. How do you think you’re going to live? The money won’t last forever, and as for your brother Robert, we don’t know what his situation is. First we have to find him.’
‘We’ll find him. And when we do, I’ve worked it all out. I’ll dispose of the rest of…our goods, and we’ll buy a business, with Robert. Robert can run it and we’ll both help. I’m afraid Robert’s hope of being a lawyer died with father, but at least now we can help him to create a good life in the new country. And it’ll be fun to be involved in a business.’
‘Kitty, aren’t you forgetting the danger you could be in. You may not be safe, even in Australia. But if you were married to William no one would dare accuse you, wherever you were, even back in England. You’d be under the protection of the Barron name, with Sir Alexander Barron as your father-in-law. They’re an important family. You would be safe.’
Kitty took a deep breath, seeking to reassure herself. ‘But it may never happen. Perhaps I was never suspected. And we’re twelve thousand miles away. I’m sure we’ll be safe in Australia.’
Bella sighed. ‘That may be so, but at least think about William. Promise me you will at least think about him, don’t .say ‘no’ without some thought.’
‘All right,’ Kitty conceded. ‘He may never ask me, but if he does I promise I’ll think about it. But I wouldn’t make any decision until we see Robert.’
‘Very well. I agree with that. I must say I am worried about him, it’s so long since we last heard from him.’ An extra strong gust of wind tugged at their skirts. Bella moved away from the rail. ‘Now let’s go inside. I could do with a cup of tea, and it will be breakfast time soon.’
‘You go in. I want to stay here a bit longer, I’m enjoying the sights.’
As Bella moved away, Kitty leant on the rail. The conversation with her mother had brought the past back to her forcibly. As they had put more distance between themselves and England, she had been able to push it to the back of her mind, but now the memory of that fateful night came flooding back.
It had been when she was employed as a governess in the house of George Arnold, a wealthy jeweller, back in Knightsbridge. It had started when Mrs Arnold wrongfully accused her of breaking a valuable vase, and dismissed her, refusing to give her a character. She could still see the spiteful look on the woman’s face as the malevolent words had poured out, and hear the satisfaction in her voice as she told her to leave the house. She had always realised the woman was jealous, resenting anyone younger or more attractive than herself, as well as those whose family background was better. But never had she expected her to carry her vindictiveness to such lengths. Shaken, she turned and left the room, knowing argument was futile, slamming the door behind her.
In the hall Kitty leant against the wall. Who could have lied about seeing her breaking the vase? She did not have to think long about it, it had to be Craddock, George Arnold’s valet and right-hand man. Her skin crawled as she remembered how he had tried to maul her one night, and how she had scratched his face as she fought him off, drawing blood. She knew he had hated her since, biding his time. Now, this was his ultimate revenge.
Kitty headed for the stairs. As she reached the study she heard loud snoring coming from behind the partly open door. Pausing, she turned and pushed the door open and looked inside. The master of the house sprawled in his armchair, fast asleep.
She moved into the room and stood in front of him, hands clenched at her sides. This was the man she blamed for her father's death, and her own present circumstances. George Arnold. How she hated him. She stared down at him, filled with loathing. Middle age was upon him and his once muscular body showed signs of fat. He had slid down in the chair, his florid face slumped on his chest and his legs stuck out straight in front of him. One arm rested along the arm of the chair and the other hung limply across the front of his body. His slack mouth sagged open and his snores were loud and rhythmic.
This was the man who had shattered her life and that of her family. He had defrauded her trusting father, his friend, persuading him to put up money for a supposedly safe diamond shipment, telling him it was a foolproof way to recoup his dwindling funds, swallowed in the upkeep of his family estate. When he claimed the shipment was stolen, her now destitute father had taken his own life.
As Kitty watched Arnold sprawled in the chair, he stirred in his sleep, snorted, and flung his arm out to his side. Perhaps he was about to wake up. Not caring if he saw her standing there, she stood her ground.
His arm fell onto the top of a small table standing by the chair before he settled down again. His hand had just missed the half-empty glass of port standing on the table, but it had knocked over a small chamois pouch sitting near it. As it toppled sideways a stream of diamonds spilled out on to the table.
Kitty stared at them as they glittered in the lamplight. She drew in her breath sharply. Why, there must be thousands of pounds worth in the pouch. He had obviously brought them home with him from his jewellery shop and fallen asleep with them beside him.
The past raced through her mind. Their house in Hampstead, with its large grounds and handsome furnishings, had been sold over their heads, along with most of their possessions. Even her mother's jewellery, much of which had been left to her by her own mother, had been taken by the bailiffs, deemed by law to be her husband’s property. They learned later that George Arnold had bought most of their possessions for a fraction of their worth.
Kitty and her mother had been forced to move into two rooms over the top of a draper's shop in Bloomsbury. Her mother took in sewing and embroidery to earn a pittance to live on.
There was no money for her brother Robert, whom Kitty had adored since a small child, to continue his law studies at Cambridge. In desperation he decided to go to Australia and seek his fortune, promising to send for them when he could, and Kitty reluctantly accepted the offer of coming here as governess to the two Arnold children. Now, here was George Arnold, still living in luxury. And tomorrow she would be forced to return to the two rooms with her mother.
Without a character she would be unable to find another position. Despair filled her. The meagre amount her mother earned could never sustain them. What was to become of them?
Kitty stared at the diamonds, mesmerised. Biting her lip, she picked one up. Turning it around in her fingers, she watched the changing colours as the facets reflected the light. How much would it be worth? She didn’t know but guessed it would be enough to keep the two of them in food for months, maybe a year or more. Perhaps even enough to enable them to join Robert in Australia. And there must be dozens in the bag.
Looking around guiltily, she put it back with the others. There was no sound apart from the snoring. Going to the door Kitty looked out. No one was in sight. The servants would all be downstairs, hoping they were finished for the night. Moving back to the table she stood there again, looking, her heart pounding. Slowly she reached down and stood the bag upright. A scatter of diamonds remained on the table.
Kitty watched the sleeping man, thinking how easy it would be to help herself to the spilt diamonds. If she took them, wouldn't she only be repaying a fraction of what Arnold had stolen from her father? She rejected the idea. Then a picture of her mother, bent over her sewing in that cold and dingy room in Bloomsbury, flashed through her mind. Followed immediately by one of this man's wife, sitting by the fire. Wearing her mother's jewels. Abruptly she leant over and scooped up the loose diamonds and slipped them into her pocket. Her blood pounded.
She fled from the room, along the hall to the bottom of the stairs. Pausing, she looked around. Was that the downstairs door closing as she turned? Had she really seen it, or was it her guilty conscience playing tricks on her? Turning, she hurried up the stairs to her room on the third floor.
Once inside she closed the door and placed a chair beneath the knob to keep it firmly shut. Trembling, Kitty sat on the bed. Taking the diamonds from her pocket she examined them. There were twenty six in all, of varying sizes and shapes, gleaming brilliantly on her bed. If she kept them and sold them it would replace some of what Arnold had stolen from them. It would give her and her mother a new start.
But what if Arnold woke and realised some of the diamonds were missing? What would he do? Had he counted them before he fell asleep? Did he have a record at the shop of what he had taken home? If they were missed would she be suspected? And would he call the police? Almost certainly.
Perhaps there had been someone who saw her come out of the study. Perhaps she would be searched.
Kitty looked around the room. Where could she hide them? And what if her case was searched before she left in the morning? How was she to get them safely out of the house? Her glance settled on the glass of water on her bedside table.
Drawing a deep breath, she picked it up. Very deliberately, she placed a diamond on her tongue, took a mouthful of water and gulped it down, then repeated it, one by one, until the diamonds were all gone.
The next morning she had packed her belongings and left at first light, fear lending speed to her steps.