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Authors: Peter McAra

A World Apart

BOOK: A World Apart
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A World Apart

www.escapepublishing.com.au

A World Apart

Peter McAra

A sweeping Australian historical saga that crosses oceans to prove love conquers all…

April, 1820.

As children, they shared a schoolroom, but no education can remove the stain of being peasant-born. So when Eliza Downing begins to blossom into womanhood and the future Viscount de Havilland notices, his family steps in to intervene.

Once full of possibilities, Eliza's life spirals into shame and degradation, culminating finally in a false conviction and transport to Botany Bay. Through shipwreck, exile, secrets, and scandals, Eliza holds fast to the belief that Harry will come for her — but he doesn't come soon enough, and Eliza must learn to recognise her own value and become the heroine of her own story.

About the Author

Fed endless legends by an expat grandmother who never lost her love of England, Australian-born Peter grew up in the colonies with a pre-programmed urge to visit the Olde Country. During his first visit on a business trip, he caught the bug. Now, years later, he must occasionally scratch the itch where that bug bit, and write about the fabled Paradise Lost that was the rural England of a century or two ago.

Acknowledgements

If it wasn't for the sweet natured encouragement and coaching of his writers' group (Breathless in the Bush) over the past few years, Peter admits he couldn't possibly have written
A World Apart
. Next question: Where will it all end?

To Wendy, who sweetly copes with my endless hours at the computer when I should be mowing lawns, and more, as we live happily ever after in the rural NSW paradise we call The Love Nest

Contents

About the Author

Acknowlegements

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Bestselling Titles by Escape Publishing…

CHAPTER 1

The Village of Marley, Dorset, June, 1814.

‘I'm away to village, woman.' Charlotte Downing looked up at her husband as she sat at the cottage table in the twilight, shelling peas into an earthenware bowl. Silas Downing leaned against the doorpost, hands brown with soil from the field he had spent the day ploughing. His sagging body, the way he braced hip against doorpost, spoke of his mood. Charlotte's gaze shifted to his eyes. She read the anger of defeat, frustration, and braced herself.

‘Where in the village, Silas?'

‘To village. Must I tell a wench my doings?'

‘T'is just that I — we need flour. I must make bread. You could — ' If Silas went too far in drink, he might not return for a day or two. She knew she must plan ahead to keep food in the house. He would be hungry when he returned. God grant that he would not have spent all their precious pennies at the inn before she saw him again.

‘Silas. Please save a few pennies for flour. I'll — we'll be hungry.' He stiffened. His eyes burned.

‘So your man's a wastrel as can't provide for his wife. Is that what you say?' His face reddened. A movement in his hands caught her eye. His fists clenched and relaxed, clenched and relaxed. She must hold her tongue or she would have a black eye to compound her hunger and her shame. She turned away.

‘Don't turn your back on a man when he talks to you.' His voice swelled to a roar. ‘Listen, woman! Listen! Learn something for the good of your soul.' His eyes had smouldered. Now they flamed. ‘You truly knows how to make a man feel bad, you does. You and your holy looks. It's got so's the only place a man can get any peace is the inn.' He pushed himself away from the doorpost with one hand. Charlotte knew too well that he always stood in that spot, took that pose, when he reached the limit of his self-control.

‘Enough, woman!' His eyes rolled upwards. ‘I should have knowed when I courted you. Always fancying yourself above the village folk. All that reading and writing and books. Speaking with a sugarplum in your mouth. Like the cursed gentry. Everyone says you're touched.' He made as if to leave, then turned on her again. ‘Damn you for your looks!' He bit his lip, turned his eyes upwards again. ‘When you was a maid, you looked like a holy painting. One of them golden-haired angels, with light shining behind its head, flying into a cloud. And lips red like a cherub's, shaped like a bow, so they made a man near die for wanting to feast on them. You walked like you was floating on a cloud. A foot above the ground.'

He drew breath, straightened his body against the doorpost. ‘It's been pain. All pain. Nothing but pain. Worse and worse with each year that passes. Aaaagh!' His voice exploded into an anguished bellow. She braced herself. In a second, he might stride across the earthen floor and swing his fist into her face. He drew breath again, composed himself. She would be safe, at least for the moment. Too late to hide his tears from his wife, he dragged the back of his hand across his face.

‘Three years we been wed. And all the village laughing at me that you're not with child. The men be saying you're too holy to let me near you. And they be right.' His eyes burned into hers. ‘I loved you too much for mortal man to bear. I was a fool for you. A mongrel dog licking its master's boot. Now when I comes home, you locks the door against me.' He sniffed again,
wiped his sleeve across his nose, leaving a smear of dirt on his face. ‘You wonders why I has to take a drink now and again. I tell you, woman, you're the Devil's angel. You gives a man the torture of the damned. Curse you!' He swung the door open, turned and shouted. ‘You'll get what money I give you, when I choose to give it! If you're hungry, eat some humble pie.'

Through the open door, Charlotte glimpsed the first stars of evening, felt its chill. Silas stepped into the lane and slammed the door. Quietness wafted over the cottage like a down blanket. She looked round the room. Stains ran down the lime-washed walls from the leaking thatch. The pockmarks in the crumbling mortar, the loose stone above the lintel, the broken lath hanging from the corner above the window, were in their accustomed places. The darkened beams of axed oak, the dull paleness of the whitewashed ceiling, arched above her head. By the light of the lamp, she saw that all was in place, all as it had been the day Silas had carried her over the threshold after their wedding feast. She had made her bed. She must lie in it.

‘Charlotte! Charlotte!'

The pounding on the cottage door startled her as she sat, eyes heavy, lamp beside her, reading a book Silas had forbidden her to touch. The voice betrayed a sobbing effort to control panic. Charlotte stood, smoothed her hair, tucked the loose wisps inside her cap. She flicked the crumbs off the table with her skirts and opened the door.

‘Martha. What is it?' Charlotte looked into the village woman's white face. Saw it was drawn with horror, eyes wide.

‘Oh, Charlotte. It's…your Silas.'

‘What — ?' Charlotte's heart skipped. She peered into the woman's eyes again. They were wide with panic, staring at nothing. Martha was her neighbour — slow, reliable, living in a world which extended only to the edge of the village, circumscribed by home, husband and children. ‘What is it, Martha?' Charlotte whispered.

‘Oh, Charlotte! Poor Charlotte! Poor, poor Charlotte!' Martha clutched at her neighbour, crushed her in her arms, rained tears onto her amazed hands. Charlotte shook her by the shoulders, stared into her shocked eyes again. Her neighbour struggled to take hold of herself. After a steadying breath, she spoke.

‘The wagon. It — rolled right over him. He…he's gone, Charlotte.' Martha hid her face, sniffing like a hurt child.

Charlotte looked down the lane into the night. Her still-sobbing neighbour urged her out of the cottage and down the cobbled road. In the light from a lantern she saw a cluster of villagers gathered round a wagon piled with hay. Two men knelt beside the wheel. The horse between the wagon's shafts stood quiet, head half turned, studying the commotion behind it. As Charlotte drew closer, she saw a shape on the ground — a man's head. She stared at the broken eggshell spilling its crimson yoke onto the cobblestones.

The certainty it was her husband grew as she recognised the homespun trousers stretched over stiffly protruding legs, the worn boots, the work-stained shirt with the frayed cuffs. A gnarled red hand, shocking in its familiarity, was flung to one side, its fingers spread across the road's rounded stones. Time stopped. Charlotte stood still, stark, like a leafless tree in winter. Silas Jeremiah Downing was dead.

There
is
a God, she thought. The prayer she had hardly dared to breathe had been answered. Feeling the blood drain from her limbs, she stepped forward. The knot of people parted. Faces looked away without acknowledging her. The dark pulp that had been her husband's face was splayed into the cobbled road by the iron wheel. As she looked down, blood flowed between the stones, spreading into darkening red rivers. She knelt beside his body and laid her head on his shoulder. Her eyes caught the back of his grizzled neck as she hid her face in his coat, smelt the familiar stale tang of his clothes. She rubbed her cheek on the coarse cloth, sensing the lingering warmth beneath it, half expecting him to move, breathe. The body lay utterly still. An unbidden spasm stung her eyes and gripped her chest. She began to weep. She abandoned herself, let her body sag onto the stiff mound of Silas's corpse. As she nuzzled into the roughness of his coat, her silent weeping began to soak it with tears. She heard again the last words he had flung at her, two hours before, his voice gagging on a snarl. ‘If you be hungry, eat some humble pie!'

It was dark when Charlotte, still lying face buried in her dead husband's coat, responded to the plucking at her sleeve, turned her face upwards. Her neighbour Martha bent over her. Charlotte took in the stars, the silhouettes of the trees beside the road, the dark bulks of the nearby cottages, the points of candlelight winking from their windows, the ribbon of cobblestones stretching into the blackness; Martha alone had stayed, standing vigil beside her as she clung to the stiffening corpse.

‘He's gone, Charlotte. All the tears in the world won't bring him back.' God forbid, Charlotte thought. God had heard her cries for mercy, and acted. She released her arms from the body and stood. Her back was stiff. The cold of the night had soaked through her as she lay on the ground. She looked towards her cottage, saw its dark outline contrasted with the lighted windows of its neighbours, and took a breath. The widow's lot would be hard, but it would be a sight better than her life of the past three years. She was a sought-after seamstress and she owned a cow. Bessie was old, but she might be coaxed into giving milk for a few more years. If Bessie had a healthy calf, Charlotte could rear it. And now that she was a widow, perhaps, perhaps... She hardly dared let the ecstasy take form in her mind.

She smoothed her skirt and saw by the starlight that it was stained dark. Her hem had soaked in the pond of thickening blood while she knelt. She would attack that stain with wood ash, pound the skirt with stones, then in the stream scrub, rinse, wring, until the last trace of Silas Downing was washed away forever.

BOOK: A World Apart
12.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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