Authors: Valerie Wood
Tags: #Fiction, #Sagas, #Romance, #General, #Historical
When Georgiana and her maid, Kitty, make the long sea-journey from their native East Yorkshire to America, they are seeking a new life of freedom. But in New York, Georgiana encounters an imposter posing as Edward Newmarch, her cousin’s womanising husband, who has abandoned his wife and fled to America. Edward himself seems to have vanished.
Meanwhile Edward, having escaped from a disastrous marriage in England, is now running from a bigamous union with the daughter of a wealthy plantation owner. His flight takes him through the Mississippi swamps, across arid desert and mountain ranges towards the gold fields of California. As Georgiana and Kitty journey to the hidden valley of gold, and Edward tries to flee his enemies, the dangers and passions of this new country and its people threaten to overwhelm them.
By the ever-popular winner of the Catherine Cookson Prize for Fiction.
For my family, with love
Thanks to Nick Evans, B.A., Maritime Historical Centre, Blaydes House, Hull, for information on nineteenth-century shipping and emigration to New York and New Orleans. Any fabrications or improvisations on fact are mine.
Thanks to Peter and Ruth for their constant support and to Catherine for reading the manuscript and checking my geography.
Books for general reading:
The Lure of the Frontier
by Ralph Henry Gabriel. Yale University Press, New Haven, 1929.
by Thomas D. Clark. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York.
History of the American People
by Paul Johnson. Phoenix Giant.
The American West
by John A. Hawgood. Frontier Library, Eyre & Spottiswoode, London, 1967.
Georgiana leaned her arms on the rails of the packet ship
and watched the shores of Hull receding. The vessel drew away from the Humber dock basin, down the estuary, heading towards Spurn Point and the open sea. She turned for a moment to watch the opposite shore, that of Lincolnshire, a county she had seldom visited. On its flat plain, smoke was issuing from factory chimneys. It seems so near, she thought, now that I am travelling so far.
Turning again she looked back for the last time at the buildings of Hull, the towers and turrets of the Holy Trinity, St John’s and the Mariner’s churches, and the towering Wilber-force Monument. She saw the thick smoke issuing from the tall chimneys of mills and factories which lined the banks of the river Hull, and the ships’ masts in the Humber dock which gradually receded, their silhouettes framed in the bright morning sky.
Am I doing right? she questioned herself. Cousin May and her parents are convinced that I am not and expect me to come back on the next ship! And they are right that I had a comfortable existence living with Aunt Clarissa, though it couldn’t be described as eventful. Oh, but I must be right! I couldn’t have lived in limbo any longer, waiting for someone to come along and rescue me and give me a different life.
She nodded her head vigorously as she confirmed her own decision. Surely, better by far to take this opportunity and shape something for myself, she thought.
‘Is everything all right, Miss Gregory?’ Her maid, Kitty, plump in numerous woollen shawls, cloak and bonnet, appeared at her side. ‘Wouldn’t you like to come inside? It’s so cold here on deck.’
‘No,’ Georgiana refused. ‘I might be seeing this for the last time. I must watch it disappear into the past so that I can remember it.’
‘That’s what I’m scared of, Miss Gregory. I’ve never known anything else but this place. Hull and Hessle, I mean. Born in Hull I was, though my ma and da were Irish.’
‘And you hadn’t travelled anywhere else until you came to work for my aunt?’
‘No, miss.’ The girl smiled, dimples showing in her cheeks. ‘And I thought I was travelling to ’ends of the earth when coachie drove me to Hessle.’ Her smile faded. ‘I wish Ma and Da could have seen ’fine house I was working in. They both died ’following year,’ she added with a catch in her voice. ‘Cholera.’
‘They would have been glad for you, I’m sure,’ Georgiana said softly, ‘and perhaps pleased that you are making this journey now?’
‘I don’t know about that, Miss Gregory.’ Kitty’s eyes started to water as the breeze freshened. She tucked a wisp of red hair beneath her bonnet. ‘They’d have been worried that I was travelling to America with just my mistress and no-one to look after us.’
‘Mmm,’ Georgiana said thoughtfully. ‘Everyone is worried about that, including me,’ she added. ‘I once said that I couldn’t imagine a time when a woman would travel alone, and,’ she remembered, ‘someone replied that there would always be some women who would be independent enough to do that. I took it as a kind of challenge!’
‘But you’ve never been afraid to speak out, have you, miss?’ Kitty said boldly. ‘With your Women’s Rights and suchlike. Not like me who daren’t say boo to a goose!’
‘You heard about that, did you, Kitty?’ Georgiana smiled. ‘Well, I suppose that was one of the reasons for my making this journey. I’ll be long dead before women get equality in England.’
But that is only partly the reason for leaving England to sail to the New World, she reflected. I do long for some excitement in my life, but it was Cousin May who made me take this drastic decision. She sighed. I was so heartily sick of her moaning and carping on about her husband who had gone off and left her after such a short marriage. May never thought that I might become weary of her constant demands that we discuss the rights and wrongs of Edward and her marital situation. Nor did she consider that I might have interests of my own! And of course I felt obliged to indulge her, as her father supports me.
But not any more, she thought gleefully. I have my freedom! Though my uncle has been generous towards me in funding this voyage. But I’ll pay him back one day. I swear I will. I’ll show him, and everyone else who has said that I’m out of my senses, that I can stand on my own feet, even though I’m a mere woman who has never lifted a finger in her life.
‘I want freedom and independence, Kitty,’ she said aloud. ‘To change my life if it is possible.’
‘Yes, ma’am,’ Kitty agreed, then, glancing at her employer, said bashfully, ‘we’ll be all right, don’t you worry. I’ll look after you in that new country of America.’
Georgiana nodded. ‘We’ll look after each other, Kitty.’
Kitty went off to check their luggage, first putting one of her own shawls around the shoulders of Georgiana’s travelling gown and jacket, to save her catching a chill. Georgiana wanted to catch a last glimpse of the villages on the edge of the Humber banks. Places such as Paull with its dilapidated medieval fort and shrimp boats, the strange-sounding Sunk Island, reclaimed from the river bed, and the tongue of Spurn at the mouth of the Humber which two years before had been breached by a great storm, changing its shape and making it almost an island.
What will I do when I get to this new country? she wondered. I’ve heard such wild rumours that some of it is untamed with ferocious natives, but also that the cities of Philadelphia and Boston are well established. New York is a fine city, so it is said, a melting pot of nationalities. I should like that, to meet people from other cultures.
Perhaps I could teach, she considered. English or French. Or open a shop! How appalled Cousin May would be. At any rate I must think of earning a living for the first time in my life.
It was a sharp cold morning and she started to feel chilled in spite of the extra shawl, and returned to the cabin, where she found Kitty boiling a kettle on a small oil stove to make a drink.
‘There’ll be food in the saloon at two o’clock, Miss Gregory,’ Kitty said. ‘I’ve been talking to some of ’other passengers, them as have travelled this way before. There’s about fifteen of us all told. Some are businessmen, and they said that going to London by ship is better than by train. There’s some bullocks on board,’ she added, ‘and a pack of dogs, they’re all howling!
‘We’ll have got our sea legs by ’time we arrive in London, I expect,’ she continued, pouring boiling water onto tea leaves in a pot as she chatted. ‘Proper sailors we’ll be by then. Put that blanket round you, miss, you’ll soon get warm.’
Georgiana laughed. ‘I’m glad you came with me, Kitty. You’ll cheer me up when I’m worrying whether I’ve made the right decision.’
‘Well, look at it this way, miss.’ Kitty poured tea into a cup, added milk and handed it to Georgiana. ‘What would you have gained by staying? You might have got married, but there’s no guarantee you’d have been satisfied with that, and me neither,’ she added. ‘There’s been nobody that I’ve fancied enough to tie myself to for life. And look at your cousin, Mrs Edward Newmarch. She picked a wrong ’un there – if you’ll pardon my impertinence.’ She blushed and stopped, conscious that in her chattering she had overstepped the mark.
‘I suppose everyone has heard of that?’ Georgiana asked. ‘Everyone downstairs?’
‘Oh yes, miss. It’s been gossip for weeks in ’kitchen. How Mr Newmarch had a mistress and wanted her to travel with him to America. Onny she wouldn’t go, so he went on his own anyway and left his wife behind to fend for herself. But they don’t talk about them now, they talk about his brother Martin and how he’s marrying a woman who’s pulled herself up from poverty and made a name for herself.’
‘Yes.’ Georgiana drew in a breath, then took a sip of tea. ‘So he is.’ And Martin would have married me, she thought, if I had held him to his offer. Only I couldn’t. He is too nice a man to be married to someone like me, a restless soul looking for who knows what.
They went back on deck as they approached Spurn Point, holding fast to the rails as the ship dipped and rolled and made headway into the open sea. Other passengers came on deck as they passed the Spurn lighthouse, and waved goodbye to the returning pilot boat and the eastern shores of England.
‘That’s it, then, Kitty,’ Georgiana murmured as she clung onto her bonnet and huddled into her cloak. ‘We’re on our way.’
Kitty’s face was turning a shade of pale green. ‘Yes, miss,’ she whispered. ‘Excuse me. I think I’m going to be sick!’
They disembarked at London Bridge, their legs decidedly unsteady for the passage had been unseasonably rough. A porter called to them as he stood by their luggage. ‘Come on lady, you and your gel! You going to the Brunswick? Yes? Take this growler.’ He whistled to the driver of a four-wheeled hire vehicle, who drew up on the wharf in front of them. ‘Brunswick Hotel, me lad,’ he shouted, ‘and look snappy.’
‘There’s no real hurry,’ Georgiana began, for they were not sailing for two more days, but they were no sooner seated and their luggage on board than the driver was cracking his whip and they were buffeted around as the carriage wove in and out of other vehicles, gigs, hansoms, waggonettes, victorias, waggons and handcarts.
‘What bedlam, miss!’ Kitty exclaimed. ‘What a row.’ A barrage of sound had hit their ears: the raucous tones of porters and dock workers, the clatter of iron hooves and racket of wheels on cobbles, the lash of whips, the shrieking and crying of children and the strident voices of harassed adults as they tried in vain to quieten them.
Georgiana put her hand over her nose. ‘And the stench!’ she said. ‘It’s dreadful.’