Redwoods series#2 Kitty Barron no longer needs to fear losing Redwoods, her property at Bulahdelah, should she choose to marry again, but she is content with her safe and settled life – until a chance meeting with an old lover changes her mind. When her daughter Joy and her friend Lily go to England to enjoy a London Season, they both find romance but the experiences they encounter force the girls to grow up in a hurry, and raise new challenges for both Kitty and Joy.
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A different time, a different place, but you will live this story as if it were your own
It is 1893, time has moved on for Kitty Barron and she is content with her safe and settled life in country Bulahdelah, running the timber business she inherited from her husband William. Her daughter Joy is itching to leave Redwoods and explore the world. When she goes to school in Sydney Kitty is shocked to discover that Joy’s best friend, Lily, is the daughter of Rufe Cavanagh, the only man she has ever truly loved. But after fifteen years, can meeting him again bring her any chance of happiness?
In spite of Kitty’s misgivings, Joy and Lily go to England to meet Joy’s English family and to participate in a London Season, under the watchful eye of Lady Barron, a strict martinet. Both girls enjoy meeting young men and the social whirl, but when Lily falls for the dashing Captain James Pierce, she finds romance doesn’t work out as she expected. And could Joy really settle happily to life in England as the wife of the aristocratic Mr Quincy? Beneath the gaiety and excitement not everything and everybody are as they seem, and what happens to the girls during their stay will cause havoc to many lives, including Kitty’s.
In the meantime, Kitty’s old adversary Craddock has been released from gaol and is determined to seek revenge for the past. When it seems as if Redwoods stands to fall into his unscrupulous hands, it is up to Rufe and his nephew David to try to save it.
Kitty Barron shaded her eyes from the hot summer sun as she stood looking out from the verandah of Redwoods, the timber-cutting property that was her home. From here she could see the imposing Bulahdelah Mountain, or ‘old Bulladilla’ as the locals called it, but her eyes were, instead, on the figure astride the horse thundering down the driveway towards the homestead. How many times had she told Joy not to ride so fast, as well as not to ride astride?
Shaking her head in exasperation, she was, nevertheless, unable to suppress a tiny smile as she saw the look of exhilaration on her daughter’s face as she neared the house. How was she ever going to change her? But now she was thirteen and ready to leave the small town of Bulahdelah for school down in Sydney, it really was time for her to begin acting in a more lady-like manner.
‘That’s the fastest time ever to collect the mail,’ Joy called as she slid from her horse, pushing back wind-blown wisps of hair from her face. Reaching into her saddlebag she pulled out a bundle and handed it to her mother. ‘Here you are. In plenty of time for you to read the paper over your morning tea.’
Kitty took it with a cursory glance. ‘Thank you, but you didn’t have to risk breaking your neck to get it back here in time for that.’
Joy laughed as she patted her horse’s neck. ‘No danger of that with Dancer, she’s as surefooted as a mountain goat. I’ll just put her in the stall to cool off and I’ll be in to join you. Make sure you leave me a piece of cake.’
‘Then hurry up, you can groom Dancer later.’ After watching them go, Kitty went inside and dropped the letters on the desk in her study, before taking the newspaper into the dining room as Mary, her long time housekeeper and friend, brought in the tea.
Kitty scanned the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald, frowning, as she sipped her tea. It was the same dreary old news. She didn’t need to be reminded they were in a depression; she knew it every day in her own business. The slump had started in the major cities and spread to the regional areas of New South Wales, including Bulahdelah, her home town, which was her major concern. She read that arguments were still going on about the collapse of the Federal Bank back in January. Wasn’t there any good news in the paper?
As she turned the pages, the heading of a small paragraph towards the back of the paper leapt from the page. Her breath caught in her throat as she read it – twice, to make sure.
‘Goodness, just listen to this, Joy.’
The excitement in her mother’s voice made Joy look up from the book she was reading. She placed her hand on the open page, so as not to lose her place in Black Beauty.
‘What is it?’
‘At long last. I thought it would never happen. It’s a report of the Married Women’s Property Act that’s just been passed in Parliament. It says,’ “henceforth, when a woman marries, her property remains her own.” Kitty put the paper down, her face glowing. ‘I can hardly believe it. It’s a momentous victory for women. Just think what it means.’
Joy shrugged as she turned back to her book. ‘It won’t make much difference to you, Mother. Redwoods already belong to you.’
‘You don’t understand. That’s because I’m a widow. What it means is that every woman’s property is now safe, at least here in New South Wales. Up till now a husband took everything a woman owned when she married. It forced her to be totally dependent on him for everything, at the mercy of his every whim. You don’t understand what that can be like.’
‘But it’s not going to affect you now.’
‘Perhaps not. But it may well affect you in the future.’
Joy looked up again. ‘Me? How?’
‘It means that, now, Redwoods will always belong to you, if I’m not here. And that gives you the security to be able to do whatever you want in life, knowing no-one can ever take it away from you, whatever happens, not even when you marry. It will always be yours.’
‘Yes, I suppose that’s good, but Redwoods isn’t the whole of the world, is it? I don’t want to spend the rest of my life here. There’s so much more I want to see; there’s a big world out there, I can’t wait to find out what other places are like.’
Kitty shook her head impatiently. ‘Well, I doubt you’ll ever find anywhere better than Redwoods.’
Joy rolled her eyes. ‘I’m sure you’re right, but I want to find out for myself, I want to see the rest of the world.’ Joy closed her book as she finished her tea. ‘I’m looking forward to going to school down in Sydney, that’ll be a start. Now, I must go and groom Dancer. Will you excuse me?’
Kitty sighed ‘Of course, dear. Run along.’
She read the article again. Joy would never understand what it was like to marry a man for security, to become his chattel, to have to submit to whatever treatment he handed out, including violence if he wished, because she had no means of her own. She knew it only too well. And Joy would never know what it was like to refuse marriage to a man you loved, because you feared to risk losing what you already had.
Standing, she crossed to the window and looked out to where Joy stood brushing Dancer, the brush moving rhythmically over the chestnut mare’s already shining coat. Her mind went back thirteen years, to when Joy had been a baby. If the Married Women’s Property Act had been in force then, how different would her own life have been?
As Kitty stood there, a rush of sadness filled her. After all these years the loss of the one man she had ever loved, Rufe Cavanagh, still had the power to hurt her. She had rejected his marriage proposal to ensure that Redwoods would remain solely her property, after the death of her bullying husband William. It was both home and livelihood for herself and Joy, and she had been afraid to run the risk of it being controlled by a husband, under the laws of the day. Rufe had stormed out and married someone else within days of her refusal.
Closing her eyes, she pushed the bitter memories away. That was a closed chapter in her life. It was now time to begin her working day.
When Joy left her mother she went to the kitchen to pick up a carrot and then, tucking it into her pocket, hurried across to the horse stalls. Dancer tossed her head and whinnied, stamping her foot impatiently as she approached.
‘Oh yes, I know you’re in a hurry,’ Joy laughed, as she stroked Dancer’s neck and rubbed her ears, then slipped on a halter. ‘Well, I’m here now, and we’ve got all the rest of the day together.’ She led the horse out into the yard, with Dancer nuzzling at her pocket. ‘Maybe I didn’t bring anything for you today,’ she teased, ‘what would you think about that, eh?’
Dancer tossed her head and nudged again at the pocket. Laughing, Joy pulled out the carrot and held it out to her. ‘All right, here you are.’
When the treat was eaten, Joy led Dancer into the shade of a wattle tree and began her job of grooming.
As she worked, she was thinking about the change about to take place in her life, viewing it with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. She was eager to go to Sydney, seeing it as her first step into the wide world, a world of new experiences, and she looked forward to it with enthusiasm. But of course a new school meant new people, new teachers, new school mates. Would they like her? Would she find new friends? That was the scary part.
Then she started to think about the people she would leave behind. Her mother, the most important one of course. She was clever and pretty. When Grandma said she looked just like her, it made Joy really happy. But when she looked in the mirror she couldn’t see it, even though she had the same honey-coloured hair and deep-green eyes. She supposed she would miss her. Mother always made time for them to be together, even when she was busy, but she was often strict, and she didn’t seem to realise that Joy wasn’t a baby anymore. Now she was going down to St Catherine’s School, she would have to realise she was almost grown-up.
Then there was Grandma and Grandpa. She knew Jack Morgan wasn’t really her grandfather. He had married Grandma before Joy was born and they had both lived here in the house ever since. She knew he had chosen to be her real grandfather as soon as she was born. Grandma was lovely. Her hair was nearly all white now, but her eyes were really bright and sometimes it seemed as if she could see right inside you. She was never too busy to spend time with her, and she always explained things.
Mary was their housekeeper, but she was much more than that, more like another family member really. She knew that Mother and Grandma had met her when they first arrived in Australia, and she had come here with them when Mother and Father were first married. Mary had met and married Patrick here on Redwoods. Patrick was great fun, always ready with a funny story. He loved horses and he told her he would have liked to be a jockey if he hadn’t been too big.
They had all been here when her father was alive. In fact, she knew it was Grandpa and Patrick who had dived into the flooded river to try and save Father from drowning, but he had been swept away by the fierce current.
That was all before she was born and so she had never known him, and that made her feel sad, whenever she thought about it. In her mind, she weaved ideas of what he was like. She had seen the wedding photo, sitting on top of the piano, so she knew what he looked like, and she built up a picture of him. He would have been brave and strong, yet kind and gentle. He would have loved Mother, and always looked after her, and they would have had wonderful times together. Probably the reason Mother never talked about him was because the memory of losing him made her sad too.
When Kitty entered her study, she seated herself at the desk and picked up the letters she had dropped there. The first one she opened was from the NSW Railways, and as she read it she felt a sinking feeling inside. It was cancelling their order for railway sleepers. It meant she now had a thousand sleepers produced by her mill ready for delivery and no purchaser for them.
On top of the fewer orders from the boat builders on the Myall Lakes, it meant a severe downturn in business. She needed to find someone else to buy them, and she needed more orders, quickly, or there would be no more work for the men at the mill.
The prospect of having to lay off workers filled her with dismay. Times were hard, as they had been for the last two years. The men would be unlikely to find other work in Bulahdelah, or anywhere else for that matter, and their families would suffer.
At that moment there was a quick knock at the door and her mother, Bella Morgan, entered the room.
‘Good morning, Kitty. It looks like you’re busy already. And so is Joy, I see,’ she added as she looked outside.
‘Yes, she wants to spend as much time as possible with Dancer until she goes down to Sydney. Do sit down, Mother. There’s something in the paper you’ll find interesting.’ She handed the paper to Bella and indicated the article.
When Bella had finished reading, she dropped the paper and clapped her hands, smiling. ‘Splendid,’ she exclaimed, ‘this is the first step on the road to liberation for women.’
‘It is indeed. And now I can be certain that Joy’s future is secure. She’ll always have Redwoods as her home, her security, no matter what happens, no matter who she marries.’
‘And what about you, Kitty?’ Bella scrutinised her daughter’s face. ‘I know you never wanted to marry before, because you worried about losing Redwoods, but now that worry is gone you can marry again if you wish. You’re too young to spend the rest of your life alone. What about Harry Osborne? I’m sure the reason he has been here so often, since losing his wife last year, is because of you. If he asks you, will you consider him?’
Kitty thought of Harry Osborne, a faithful, dependable friend as well as a good customer over the years. Since the death of his invalid wife last year, he had called here far more often than before, and she had sensed a change in his attitude to her, in his attentiveness, in the way he looked at her.
She believed he might propose marriage soon. More than once he had pointed out how it would make good business sense to join their two enterprises, his boat building and her timber mill. But marriage? She didn’t think she wanted to marry again.
‘I don’t know. Probably not. Marriage would mean I couldn’t do as I like, when I like. And I’ve grown used to that. I don’t know that I want to give up that freedom. I don’t need a husband and besides, although I enjoy Harry’s company and value his friendship, I don’t love him.’
Bella sighed. ‘Well, I know better than to try and change your mind. However, while we’re talking of the future, have you thought about Redwoods’ future? The timber’s disappearing and it would take many, many years to grow this sort of timber again.’
‘I have thought about it. It would take far too long to re-grow to a size for it to be of any use to me. Of course, we have the mill, and there’s enough timber in the area for that to be in use for many years, probably well beyond my lifetime. But now the land’s becoming bare, I know I’ll have to decide what to do with it.’
Pausing, her mind turned over the problem. Perhaps Jack Morgan had some ideas. Kitty respected Jack’s opinions, he’d been the manager of Redwoods even before she and William arrived here themselves. As well as that, he’d won Kitty’s affection by becoming a fine husband for her widowed mother.
‘Have you spoken to Jack about it? Does he have any ideas?’
‘Yes, we have spoken of it. It seems that farming of some sort is growing in the area as the timber is cut down. Cattle seem to be the most popular choice, although there are sheep over near Stroud.’
‘Hmm. Cattle, sheep – I’ve even heard of sugar cane being tried nearby too. I’ll really have to think seriously about it, but at the moment I have more important things to consider. We need more work for the mill. The Railways have cancelled their order for sleepers, so I have to find a buyer for them.’
‘Oh dear.’ Bella’s fingers twisted the beads at her throat. ‘What will you do?’
‘Go out and find a buyer.’