When Nelson Mandela was imprisoned in South Africa’s brutal Robben Prison, he tirelessly turned to the poem Invicitus. The inspirational verse was by the Victorian William Ernest Henley, penned on the occasion of the amputation of his leg. Still I Rise takes its title from a work by Maya Angelou and it resonates with the same spirit of an unconquerable soul, a woman who is captain of her fate. Just as Invicitus brought solace to generations so does the contemporary classic. It embodies the strength of character of the women profiled. Each chapter will outline the fall and rise of great ladies who smashed all obstacles, rather than let all obstacles smash them. The book offers hope to those undergoing their own Sisyphean struggles. The intrepid women are the antithesis of the traditional damsels in distress; rather than waiting for the prince they took salvation into their own hands.
Women celebrated in the book include Madame C. J. Walker-first female American millionaire, Aung San Suu Kyi-Burma’s first lady of freedom, Betty Shabazz-civil rights activist, Nellie Sachs-Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize recipient, Selma Lagerlof-first woman Nobel Laureate, Fannie Lou Hamer-American voting rights activist, Bessie Coleman-first African-American female pilot, Wilma Randolph-first woman to win three gold medals, Sonia Sotomayor-first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, Wangari Maathai-Nobel Prize winner, Winnifred Mandela-freedom fighter, Lois Wilson-founder of Al-Anon, Roxanne Quimby-co-founder of Burt’s Bees.
From the Book:
"Still I Rise
Maya Angelou, 1928 - 2014
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
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The aid workers fed the children and were attending to the needs of the mothers when Frank noticed a group of small boys kicking a football. He commented to John, “No matter how grim things may be, kids will always find a way to play.” One of the mothers told him that they had found the ball in one of the deserted, burnt out villages they passed through.
During a break, Emile was able to share a coffee with some of the aid workers. He was told that the North Vietnamese had set up overnight camps close to the Ho Chi Minh trail, right through the border region. They were usually under heavy vegetation cover and usually near fresh water. This particular camp was not used as it didn't have enough cover. However, it was used a few times. It was common practice for their camp to be surrounded by several land mine fields. The fields are usually well defined with signs in Vietnamese, along with “skull and cross bone” signs. They were made because they figured that any enemy would attack under the protection of darkness, and if this happened, they would not see the signs.
While Emile talked to the aid workers, Frank and John looked around the camp.
A group of small boys was kicking the ball when suddenly a gust of wind blew the ball into the land mine area. One small boy ran after it. He grabbed the ball and turned to the other boys. The huge grin on his face showed how proud he was. He then heard the other boys shouting at “Stand Still!” He looked bewildered until he saw the skull and crossbones sign. His grin turned into a look of horror as he realised where he was standing.
John was the first who heard the commotion and ran to see what was going on. Frank followed him. When they saw the boy in the mine field, John shouted to the boy. “Vẫn bình tĩnh, và chúng tôi sẽ đưa bạn trở lại đây một cách an toàn, nhưng bạn phải ở lại vẫn rất yên tĩnh.” which meant “Stay still, and we will get you back here safely, but you must stay very still.”
The boy nodded. John ran back to the Land Rover and grabbed a long piece of rope. When he returned, he tied one end around a large tree and the other end around his waist. He then said to Frank, “Feed the rope out as I go towards the boy, but make sure you keep it taunt.” He then shouted to the boy in Vietnamese that he was coming for him.
John carefully and slowly edged towards the boy, at the same time he was looking for any signs of the boy’s footprints. There were very few as the ground was fairly well compacted over time. Finally, he reached the boy who at this time was clearly frightened and a stream of urine running down his leg was obvious.
In one movement he picked the boy up and turned around and faced Frank. By now the entire camp had gathered at the site, including Emile.
John then shouted to Frank to pull the rope tight and tighten it around the tree. No sooner had Frank tied it around the tree, he walked out to John and the boy, using the rope as his guide. When he reached John, he took the boy in one arm and the rope in the other and slowly edged back out of the mine field. As he reached the edge, the whole camp roared into applause. He handed the boy to Emile and turned back to John.
John called to him to untie the rope from the tree and to place it on the ground. John then undid the rope around his waist and placed it the ground. He then took a step towards Frank and then another. Everyone was quiet until he took the third step and the sound of a “click.” John froze, and everyone else gasped. John had stepped on a Jumping Jack land mine.
John had a little knowledge of how it worked. He remembered his father telling him years ago that when someone stepped on it, the fuse was dislodged. Then, as the target person stepped off it, the main fuse ignited the first charge and propelled the unit about 2 metres into the air, where it then exploded. This way one mine could injure everyone within range.
He also remembered his father once telling him that, if you lie flat on the ground and a grenade was set off next to you, you would be unlikely to be hurt. This was because of the angle of the explosion. Provided that both you and the grenade were on the ground.
With this in mind, he shouted to Emile, “move everyone away for at least fifty metres, no, make it a hundred metres.”
“I am going to jump down and lie flat on the ground, If I am lucky, the explosion will go above me, and I should be alright. You both move back a bit!”
As soon as they moved back, John jumped forward, but before he reached the ground, the device exploded in the air.
John was killed instantly!
Frank and Emile were also struck! Emile had several shrapnel wounds on his arm, chest and leg. Frank had his left leg severed. Several of the aid workers gave first aid while their leader had called over the radio for help!
It was late winter in 1935, when the young Jewish girl gave birth to her baby girl, in the German town of Kitzigen. The child’s father, a soldier who decided that being the father of a Jewish child would not help his progression through the ranks of Hitler’s army, deserted her. Her family was not critical of her; instead, they showed understanding and supported her through the pregnancy. She named the child, Ruth. Ruth’s grandfather ran a successful civil engineering company that dealt with the British manufacturer, Sir William Bromfield. Sir William spent most of his time visiting German enterprises that dealt with his engineering supply companies. Their business relationship had developed into a genuine friendship.
For Jews, life became unbearable in Germany as it became the practice for any senior German Officer to just take whatever Jewish belongings they wanted. The ‘brownshirts’ were even worse. Claiming to be patriots, they were nothing but organised hooligans and thugs with no respect for human life or belongings, especially if Jewish. The government followed Hitler’s ranting that all of Germany’s troubles had been brought about by the Jews and now, payback time!
When they seized Ruth’s grandfather’s house, the family had nowhere to live so he moved them to nearby Frankfurt, some 130 kilometres away. Their British friend, Sir William, helped them as he seemed to have influence because he found rooms for them in Frankfurt. Ruth’s mother never knew what he did for a living, but Sir William travelled a lot, and she overheard him and her father mentioning his brother in England. His brother was a Church of England minister in a country town about three hours north of London.
By early 1938 the situation became unbearable for the Jewish community. Besides the constant harassment and beatings, many were arrested and thrown into prison for not showing allegiance to the Nazi party. Also, it was now impossible for them to leave Germany. Ruth’s grandfather suffered many beatings, and her grandmother became a nervous wreck. They had not been able to go to a synagogue for over six months, and the grandfather feared for Ruth and her mother.
One day a fight developed just outside the building they lived in, and the police arrested Ruth’s grandfather. Shortly after his release from the police, the Gestapo came and arrested him, and they never saw him again. Ruth’s grandmother pleaded with Sir William to help. He tried to find some information, but as he began to attract attention to himself, he stopped his inquiries. Realising that she would never be with her husband and unable to bear the pain, Ruth’s grandmother climbed to the top of the five-storey building and jumped.
Ruth’s mother was distraught. She had now lost both parents whom she loved, and she held fears for Ruth’s safety. She contacted William and pleaded for help and advice. He told her about the ‘Kinder transport’ movement being set up by the Jewish and Quaker communities in England, which rescued Jewish children.
The laws had been changed to allow unaccompanied Jewish children to enter England, provided they had a sponsor who would care for them. If Ruth’s mother surrendered Ruth, it would mean she would see Ruth again until after the war. After several excruciating days, she asked Sir William to find out what arrangements he could make.
Sir William took only two days before he returned with an answer. His brother, John Bromfield, would accept the responsibility for raising Ruth until they were reunited after the war.
Although a minister in the Church of England, John Bromfield promised that Ruth would learn about the Jewish faith during her upbringing. If she accepted the offer, John would meet them at Frankfurt railway station the following Friday. He would not be allowed to leave the train, and she would have to place Ruth on the steps of the train where John would take her. John should be able to talk to her through the window before the train left for Holland and the channel crossing. She agreed to this arrangement.
However, this arrangement tormented her over the next few days. What if she never saw Ruth again? Is it best she should be brought up by strangers than risk the horrors the Nazi regime seemed to pose?
Ruth’s mother was troubled further by a big question. How did William arrange everything so fast? William told her that when he was in England last, his brother told him that
“On 15 November 1938, five days after the devastation of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, in Germany and Austria, a delegation of British Jewish and Quaker leaders appealed in person to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Neville Chamberlain. Among other measures, they requested that the British government allows the temporary admission of unaccompanied Jewish children, without their parents,"
John indicated to Sir William that he would consider accepting one of these children into his family.
When Ruth’s mother told Sir William to make arrangements he got a message to his brother, John, and the reply came back. Sir William then told her he had contacts within the English defence community. What he did not tell her was that he was in effect an undercover intelligence agent.
Early that Friday morning Ruth’s mother packed a small bag of clothes along with a little amount of food for Ruth’s journey. Ruth thought that she was going on a train with a nice man for a long holiday and one day soon, mummy would join her. Sir William walked to the station with them. He was particularly on edge that morning and kept looking over his shoulder. Ruth had her identification card with a ribbon around her neck and seemed happy like any three-year-old would be, going on a holiday.
As there were many parents there to say goodbye to their children, the station platform was crowded. Most realised it would be the last time they would be with their children, and yet they held out hope for the future. A larger than usual contingent of soldiers on the station worried no one.
A cold chill came over the whole platform as the train pulled into the station and almost at once the engine detached while another hitched at the other end. Sir William sighted John at the open carriage window and then with Ruth and her mother approached the window
In a brief conversation, John reassured Ruth’s mother that he and his wife, Madeline, would take good care of Ruth. He also told her he would make arrangements for a Rabbi to help with her education. Ruth’s mother finally felt relieved that Ruth would be taken care of by good and understanding people. Sir William had previously told John about Ruth’s family, so he was aware of the trauma she may have experienced.
Two soldiers stood at each of the carriage steps and checked the identification of the children before they boarded the train. Two additional soldiers were on each set of steps with their rifles at the ready in case any of the adults tried to board the train or, any of the passengers attempted to leave the train. John took Ruth into his arms, and they returned to his seat so Ruth would be able to wave goodbye to her mother.
The soldiers kept a three-metre gap between the parents and the train, but they could still talk to each other, but not touch.
As the train departed, three Gestapo officers grabbed hold of Sir William. John saw this in horror from the carriage and was even more horrified when Sir William broke free, and the Gestapo men shot him. If that was not distressing enough when Ruth’s mother leaned over William, they shot her through the head, and he heard them laugh and call out, “Die, Jewish whore!”
A new life begins
John was grateful Ruth had been distracted and did not see her mother murdered. Ruth noticed John muttering almost silently with tears in his eyes and making the sign of the cross. He hid his grief for Ruth’s sake.
The journey to Rotterdam became the first chance for John to get to know Ruth. He was grateful William taught Ruth some rudimentary English even though while at school he had learnt a practical knowledge of the German language. He thought she should know him as “Uncle John,” and he would introduce Madeline as “Aunt Madeline.” It was a slow journey and relatively quiet until they reached the border crossing near Het Kwartier. The Dutch border police were very civil while the Germans extensively examined the documents of every passenger. They seemed to glare with disgust at every child.
John was glad they did not search his bags as he had documents that included Ruth’s birth certificate, along with that of her mother and grandparents. Amongst the other documents was a declaration William had smuggled into Germany that would give John and Madeline the authority to act as Ruth’s guardian. Ruth’s mother had signed this and had it witnessed by a well-respected Rabbi in Frankfurt. Ruth wore a German Identity card around her neck, endorsed for one-way travel out of Germany.
When they arrived in the port of Rotterdam, the Dutch Quaker community organised tables full of hot food. John saw this as another example of good organisation in place.
The ship taking them to Folkestone in England was an old ship. A British member of the Jewish community had paid for the charter out of his own pocket.
Ruth slept on the boat, and when they arrived in England, Madeline was waiting at the dock for them. The immigration official, realising the trauma the children had experienced, looked only briefly at each child’s identification before stamping it and letting them into England. Their only concern was that appropriate responsible people were on hand to care for them. Ruth and the Bromfields boarded the train for the two hours journey to London, where they had a three-hour wait for their train to Millbrook.
It had been an unusually long day, and three-year-old Ruth was completely worn out. Even the excitement of a new home with a bedroom all to herself was not enough to keep her awake. John and Madeline looked at her asleep in bed, then knelt down and prayed that Ruth would not have to witness any more horror.
The next morning, Ruth woke to a brand new world. From her room, she saw daylight, and she heard birds chirping outside her window. She slept in a room all by herself for the first time in her life, and it was a beautiful place. A vase of flowers on it in the corner and the chair in the other corner sat a huge teddy bear. The door open and in came Aunt Madeline. “Goog morgen darling,” she said, “Haben Sie eine gute sleep?” Ruth laughed at the strange accent and replied in English, “Yes, thank you, I slept well.” Madeline knew at once that language would not be a problem.
She took Ruth to the bathroom and after washing her and cleaning her teeth, they went down to the kitchen. John was sitting down with his bowl of porridge, and he said to her, “Sie sehen schön Heute morgen.” She laughed and replied. “Mummy said that I must always try to speak English now, and I must learn twenty more words every day.” John smiled and replied, “Well, from now on it will be English only.”
Madeline put a bowl of porridge with a glass of juice in front of her, and Ruth replied. “Danke schön–er thank you.” They all laughed.
After breakfast, Madeline suggested that she take Ruth into nearby Bedford and go shopping for a new wardrobe for Ruth. Her mother had tried to look after her, but, new children’s clothing along with toys were luxuries in Germany. It had been hard enough to gather food. The only toy Ruth owned was the shabby rag doll that she carried with her. She did, however, have two dresses, a coat, and a pair of gloves. She also had the shoes she wore and three sets of warm underwear.
Madeline dressed Ruth, and they walked to the bus stop and caught the bus into Bedford. Ruth remembered in later years' how people were all smiling and laughing. Frankfurt people never smiled!
Ruth liked Aunt Madeline and clung close to her with her hand held tight. Madeline loved the feeling as well. When they went into any shop, Madeline asked her every time what she thought of each item. At first, Ruth said she loved everything. Madeline realised that although she was only three years old, Ruth had been taught to appreciate every gift and not to “turn her nose up” at anything she didn’t particularly like.
Madeline took her out and into a cake shop. She told Ruth to choose the cake she would like to eat. Ruth walked up and down the row of cupcakes many times. Madeline saw the smile she gave towards the cakes and the frown towards others. When Ruth finally made her choice, they sat at the table and Madeline ordered it along with tea for herself and a fizzy drink for Ruth.
Madeline then explained to Ruth that just like the cakes, she must choose the dress and shoes she liked best. Ruth could have four dresses and two pairs of shoes. She could also have two pairs of slacks and some singlets and underpants. She could also have a swimsuit. Ruth would choose carefully, and Madeline was grateful that Ruth was now beginning to show her individuality.
Although English was not Ruth’s natural language she chatted endlessly, and although she had a broad accent, Madeline understood most of what she said. After a morning’s shopping, they were heading back to the bus when Ruth saw all the dolls in the window of a toy shop. She said nothing, but she stopped and smiled as her eyes browsed all over the window display. Madeline smiled and said to her, “Uncle John may get mad at me, but you should have one new doll.” Ruth jumped for joy and said “Danke! Can I have that one please?” She pointed to a small doll in the corner. Madeline bought it and all the way to the bus stop Ruth held it tight. Madeline thought it was probably the first new toy she ever had.
When they arrived back at the vicarage, Ruth ran inside with the parcels and shouted, “Uncle John! Look what Aunt Madeline bought for me. Clothes! Dresses! Shoes! Gloves! A doll! Underpants! All for me! I am so lucky Uncle John, to be living here with you and Aunt Madeline.”
John smiled and winked at Madeline. The joy this little girl was bringing into their life overshadowed the events that developed overseas,
While they had been shopping John made arrangements for the Rabbi from Cambridge to visit them the following week. As there was no synagogue in Bedford, the Rabbi who was based in Cambridge, made regular visits and said that he would call on John during his stay.
John also had called his Bishop. He needed to be clear on the direction he planned to take on Ruth’s upbringing. With both the Bishop’s and the Rabbi’s blessings, John thought that Ruth should be baptised as soon as possible and attend Sunday school. At the same time, she should spend a part of Saturday with a Jewish family and occasionally join them on Friday evening for “Shabbat-dinner”.
It was decided that it would be nice although not essential if John and Madeline both accompanied her. Then when Ruth approached the age of twelve, she should be prepared for her “Bat Mitzvah” When Ruth became thirteen, she should be allowed to take her confirmation into the Church of England, if she wanted to.
If the Bishop and the Rabbi agreed, this ensured that Ruth has a spiritual upbringing, exposed to both faiths.
On taking her Bat Mitzvah when twelve, Jewish traditions are such, that she would then assume responsibility for her faith and morals. She would be able to be confirmed if she wanted to.
The next morning, after breakfast, Madeline took Ruth for a walk around the church grounds and the church. She explained to Ruth that she could play anywhere on the grounds, but not to go out of the gate, without a grown up!
The church itself fascinated her. Ruth loved playing outside, and she took three days before she had explored the entire grounds. Madeline made it appear that she was by herself, but, while she played outside, Madeline watched her like a hawk from the rectory windows.
Their first Sunday was significant, and yet Ruth went about things as normal. She woke up, went to the bathroom, cleaned her teeth and dressed for breakfast. All by herself! Ruth loved choosing what clothes to wear, especially as they always smelled nice and clean.
After breakfast, she heard the church bell for the first time. Madeline explained to her that John was the priest of the Village and on Sunday mornings people came to pray and learn about God in the church. John helped them pray and learn.
Ruth’s eyes widened, and she asked if she could learn to pray as well. Madeline laughed and told her, “of course you can.”
As they walked over to the church, Ruth saw many people going in. She noticed some children as well. They sat in the middle of the church, and most of the ladies waved to Madeline and smiled at Ruth. Ruth thought this was exciting. Whenever she was in a crowd in Germany, everyone was frowning and looking around. In this place, no one frowned, and everyone smiled.
Suddenly everyone stood! Then a voice from the rear of the church spoke. Immediately the church filled with music. She didn’t know it at the time, but that was the organ starting. Then everyone started singing, real loud! Ruth looked around (Madeline had sat her at the end of the pew so she could see everything). Some people were walking in from the door, holding books and singing.
She saw Uncle John immediately after the man holding a wooden cross high. She tried running to him, but Madeline held her hand tight. After that, she did not take her eyes off him for the whole service.
Near the end of the service, everyone walked to the front where Uncle John and two other people stood.
Everyone knelt down, and Uncle John gave them something to eat, and the other two people gave them something to drink from a shiny glass. She knelt next to Aunt Madeline, and when Uncle John came in front of them, he gave Aunt Madeline a piece of the bread (it was a tiny bit). He then put his hands on Ruth’s head. Ruth didn’t know what it meant but was sure it must have been significant.
Finally, during what was to be the last song, the people who were with Uncle John, started walking out of the church while Uncle John followed. All the other people moved and followed them. When they came to the door, Uncle John stood there shaking everyone’s hand and talking to them. Madeline held her hand tight as she spoke to the other women outside the church.
A couple of the ladies asked Ruth her name. Then a small boy came up to her and said. “Little girl, can you play with me sometimes?” she looked up at Madeline, who then said. “Of course, you can”. Ruth turned to the boy and said, “My name is Ruth, what is yours?” Ruth had made her first English friend.
The Bishop called on John the following Wednesday. After the pleasantries, John outlined to him the plans he had for raising Ruth and that he had hoped to gain the Bishop’s approval.
The Bishop agreed with his motivation but said that he had reservations about a priest of the Church of England, raising a child as a member of the Jewish faith. John pointed out to him that he thought the protection of the child was his first responsibility as well as the promises he had made to her mother.
The Bishop pondered for a while, then he advised John. “If we baptised the child, her soul would be safe. If she were exposed to the Jewish faith and eventually took her Bat Mitzvah, it would not be a sign of rejection of Christ, as Jesus was a member of the Jewish faith. When a Jew turns to Christ, he is not asked to reject Moses’ teachings.”
“Although I still have grave reservations about your plan, I cannot fault it spiritually. I question the possible confusion for the child and the reaction of your peers and congregation.”
John replied that as long as there was no hiding the reasons for this journey, his peers being kind and loving Christians, would accept this. If he and Madeline adopted Ruth after the appropriate waiting time, and he addressed the congregation, he felt it would be a living example of Christian love. The Bishop agreed and suggested that after John met with the Rabbi, a meeting should be arranged between the three of them and an unofficial memorandum of understanding be drawn up. John agreed.
The meeting with the Rabbi the next day went even better. The Rabbi liked the approach that John proposed and did not find fault with it. He appreciated that John had taken Ruth in, and he agreed with her being baptised. If John were to be her father as a child, she should be raised in a Christian family. Exposing her to the faith of her mother and grandparents was the right thing. After Ruth’s Bat Mitzvah, she should be free to accept either faith or both.
The Rabbi thought he knew of a local Jewish family, the Goldberg’s, who would be glad to have John, his wife and Ruth join them sometimes for their Shabbat-dinner and other Jewish festivals. John thought to himself how lucky Ruth would be, to be able to share a Passover meal each Easter.
The Bishop and the Rabbi joined John, Madeline and Ruth the next week, then formulated the private memorandum of understanding. In a surprising move, the Rabbi asked the Bishop if he could attend Ruth’s baptism. The Bishop agreed and asked could he attend her Bat Mitzvah. They then all prayed for guidance and asked for God’s blessing on this unusual arrangement.
They arranged for Ruth’s baptism to take place in a month’s time. John advised his congregation of the agreement and announced that Rabbi Jacobs would be present. The Bishop would perform the ceremony. This way the congregation would know the Bishop’s approval and the Rabbi’s acceptance. They also would invite the Goldbergs, the Jewish family who would be sharing the Shabbat-dinner.
In less than three weeks of Ruth’s arrival in Milford, she had developed a small circle of friends. They were mainly children of John’s parishioners, but through Madeline’s sewing club, Ruth was also exposed to other kids. Madeline also allowed Ruth to play with other children in their homes. Her English was becoming perfect, and she rarely used German words. Her best friend was Jody, whose Dad was in the army.
John spoke to Charles Wilson, a solicitor and a member of his congregation, about the process to adopt Ruth and whether she would need to be naturalised. Charles advised him that some obstacles existed as there was no evidence of Ruth’s mother’s death.
The solicitor then made enquiries, and he advised them on the direction to take. It would possibly take six months to sort out. It seemed that after studying the rules, Ruth would need to be declared “abandoned” and made a Ward of the State. John and Madeline could then adopt her. All the preliminaries would need to be in place and all relevant declarations in the hands of the court. At the court hearing, there would be three separate rulings. Ruth would be declared abandoned. Then the court would appoint her a Ward of the State, followed by the granting of John and Mary’s adoption of her. All three rulings would take place in the same court and immediately follow the previous hearing. English law could be cumbersome, but with correct steering, the desired outcome could be achieved.
When John first addressed his congregation, he saw the confusion on the faces of some of them. They all praised and supported John for taking Ruth in and saving her from certain death, but some were confused about the “duel religion” situation. Madeline listened to their reaction and told John later. The one comment that amused both of them was that one woman had been overheard saying, “Being a Jew is not as bad as being a bloody Catholic!”
John brought them all around by ensuring all the readings over the next few weeks mentioned that Jesus came from a Jewish Family, and all the early disciples were Jews. The most convincing readings came from the Gospel where Jesus prayed in the synagogue. He drove this home further with Paul’s letter to the Hebrews.
On the day of Ruth’s Baptism, Madeline prepared a celebration feast. She was careful not to have any food that could be objectionable to the Rabbi and other Jews present. Madeline was already aware of the need to avoid ham and bacon from the day Ruth first arrived.
They had asked two members of the Parish Council to be Ruth’s God Parents. They did not expect many to attend the Baptism, but they did expect the Goldberg’s to be there.
John decided that he would not be wearing his robes as the Bishop would conduct the service. Ruth wore a new dress that Madeline had been saving for the occasion, and Madeline asked one of her friends to take photos with her Brownie box camera.
When they entered the church, they felt honoured to see it packed. Rabbi Jacobs and the Goldberg’s sat in the front pew. (The Bishop had discreetly told the usher to keep two pews for any members of the Jewish community)
John also noticed the Roman Catholic Priest and some of the nuns also there. They all wore street clothes because Catholics at that time did not go into Protestant churches. Other churches also had representatives mixed in with the congregation.
The support given to Ruth made John feel so humble, on this most spiritual occasion in her young life.
Even though John and Madeline had taken pains to explain the Baptism and the significance to Ruth, she was still in awe of the proceedings.
When the Bishop said “Ruth–er I baptise you in the name of...” Ruth said, “My name is Ruth Bromfield!”
Madeline smiled and wondered how Ruth knew their surname. It appeared Ruth had overheard a parishioner refer to John as Father John Bromfield.
The reception developed into an exciting affair. Everyone (except for the Catholic Priest and nuns) stayed for it. John made an extra effort for Ruth to meet the Goldbergs and their son Jacob. Jacob was just a little older than her.
The Bishop and the Rabbi seemed to get along with each other and, John was somewhat surprised when the Methodist and Presbyterian pastors joined them. By the time John joined them they were in deep conversations wondering what their responsibilities would be when the war started.
It later became apparent this occasion would become a starting point for discussions that will need to happen regularly between them if war broke out. Ruth’s presence had become a constant reminder of the evil that Hitler’s Third Reich was spreading in Europe.
Sir William Bromfield
Although John was genuinely shocked to witness his brother being murdered at the railway station, he was not surprised. William had known of the dangers, but his hostile hatred for the Nazi regime had driven him to take risks for his country.
The Bromfield family were wealthy industrialists who for the last three generations ran Bromfield Industries, a group of engineering and manufacturing companies. Traditionally, the family kept only a small proportion of their wealth to themselves. Most of the profits went to the Bromfield Charitable Trust, which supported many charitable organisations.
The company’s structure allowed for William as well as his brother, John, to be uninvolved in the daily running of its enterprises. John had entered the Church, while William pursued his interest in innovating machinery development. William had developed a reputation as a leading designer of farming equipment and other mechanical methods of farming. He had travelled extensively studying farming methods all over Europe and had established an extensive network of agriculture equipment manufacturers.
With the rise of the Third Reich and Hitler’s expansionist plans, many German farm equipment factories developed weapons and military vehicles. In time, British manufacturers followed suit.
William had been contacted by the War Department early in 1934 and asked if he would be willing to continue to travel to Germany. By using his connections, he was to note what developments were taking place. With the passing of time, this would be the basis of vital intelligence should war break out.
William could also use this information in the development of any equipment that the family companies may be required to manufacture for the British Government. Initially, it would be a low-key operation, and there would be minimal risks to William’s personal safety.
Later on, the War Department asked him to map out the locations of the German factories. Doing this increased his risk as he would then be conveying military information. They gave him a small camera, but he committed most of the information to memory and placed the locations on maps each time he returned home.
William did not raise any suspicion with the Germans until he was seen drinking coffee with Ruth’s grandfather. Although it was a casual observation, a minor official thought it worthwhile to find out who and why this foreigner was having coffee with a Jew. It then became apparent that as William’s business caused him to visit manufacturers, he warranted further investigation.
William remained under surveillance for the rest of that journey. The Gestapo continued their investigation, so they arrested the Jew William had been seen having coffee with. They grilled him with all the force that they could. Even though he knew nothing of William’s activities, other than being an English manufacturer. He was thought to have died under interrogation
On William’s next visit, (somehow the Gestapo missed him at the border) he noticed that his friend was not at the usual coffee shop. He did, however, run into the Jew’s troubled daughter who told of his arrest and her mother’s apparent suicide.
That is when William told her about the possibility of getting her young child out of Germany. He sent a message to England requesting the paperwork that would be needed to admit Ruth into England. When the woman agreed to send Ruth away, William crossed the border to France, where he met with a British courier. He also sent a message to his brother. His brother replied almost immediately and made arrangements to be on the next “Kindertransport.”
When William crossed back into Germany, the Gestapo expected him. Their agents in Paris had seen him receive a package from the courier. They followed him to determine where he was going before they apprehended him, planning to investigate what the messenger gave him.
Leaving the train at Frankfurt William caught a taxi, and the Gestapo followed him. Three blocks from the station a truck carrying a full load of bottles failed to stop at an intersection and crashed into the car carrying the Gestapo. The last thing the truck driver saw was the flash of the pistol, the injured Gestapo member held in his hand.
William, being unaware he had been under surveillance, met with Ruth’s mother and gave her the documents. He arranged to meet her in two days’ time at the station where Ruth would go with William’s brother John to England.
The Gestapo searched everywhere for William but had no luck until they saw him on the platform at the railway station. As there were guards at every door of the train, there had been no need to check everyone going onto the platform.
William met up with Ruth and her mother and then, after he briefly spoke to his brother through the carriage window, passed Ruth to him at the door.
William and Ruth’s mother returned to the window, and as the train started to pull out, one of the Gestapo agents recognised William. Realising it was the Gestapo, William wanted to move away from the train and Ruth’s mother so she would not appear to be with him. They called out for him to halt, but he kept moving.
Three shots rang out, and the Englishman lay dead on the platform. Ruth’s mum saw all this and ran to help William. As she bent over him, she was shot with one bullet in her head.
Between John’s account, along with another agent’s (who was on the station at the time) report, the British developed an exact account of what happened.
The maps that William had provided turned out to be extremely valuable to the British after the war started.
The lessons William learnt and passed on to his company enabled a new division to be set up specialising in water storage and transportation, (Dams and Pipelines).
John needed to address the board of the company to inform them of William’s death and to assume the role of “non-executive president of Bromfield Industries.”
John would only need to attend board meetings four times a year and therefore, would not need to have any active role in the daily running of the company. He did, however, received regular reports and kept a keen interest in the “Water Storage and Transportation.” division.
She asked the driver to turn around. Her cabbie could not drive fast enough to suit her. When she walked through the lobby of the Cinema 18, everyone was buzzing. She ran toward the crime scene but authorities had closed the hallway where she had been attacked. Her superhero had vanished.
Too late. Now what? Brandi’s hands were still shaking. Her palm felt cold against her forehead. Then, deep in thought, she was startled to hear a raspy male voice behind her.
“Brandi? Hi, my name’s Cody.”
She turned around. Her stomach, still in knots, leaped into her throat. His chiseled face was handsome in a home-on-the-range sort of way. His sculpted cheeks were partially masked by a rough-hewn beard — the obvious cover-up for scars visible through his whiskers. His nose had been broken at least once. This guy had been in some fights.
The Pirates cap he had worn earlier was now in his back pocket and his sandy blond hair wet around the sides. Did he know that his shirt had turned pink on the front? The blood spatters had faded together, partially washed off by heavy rains.
Was she face-to-face with a superhero? He was not as tall as she remembered. His fiery eyes that could have intimidated Lucifer earlier were now softer, like quiet blue waters. He offered his hand, but his shallow, forced smile told her he was not certain how she would respond. Was his shyness just an act?
Whew! His extended hand was attached to a massive forearm. His neck was wide and muscular, his body built to last, rough-cut from head to toe — a description that would make good print in her eyewitness report for the Gazette.
“I wanted to thank you,” Cody told her, “for savin’ my life earlier.”
She could hardly believe her ears. Was it a come-on? Was his voice naturally that raspy, or just a poor attempt to imitate Batman?
“You want to thank me? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?”
She extended her hand. It was cold and unsteady. Would he notice? His handshake was warm, ardent, but gentle — the same paw that had just mauled three professional tough guys. She tried to swallow her stomach back down into place but her mouth was too dry.
“Well, I would’ve been a sittin’ duck if you hadn’t deflected that guy’s arm. You showed presence of mind and courage.”
“Presence of mind and courage?” She snickered. “You mean for a girl?”
A few months before Bess had been hanged, times had been happier for the Shoreman family, still far from easy but certainly a lot happier than this.
As a slave Marcus Shoreman had been a clever stud manager on a horse breeding farm and his owner had seen to it that his slave learned all the skills necessary to help him run a successful business. Since being able to read, write and work with numbers had served him so well in the past Marcus had every reason to believe it would serve him well in the future.
With freedom had come the risky chance to go into business for himself but he grabbed the chance and took the risk. He was one of the few who, in these early years, got lucky enough to find an investor, move away from the sharecropper settlement and into a rented place of his own. There he started a business as a horse breeder and livestock trader.
The Shoreman Holdings had a well-built but modest-sized horse barn which opened onto a corral with a fence strong enough for people to climb and sit on. There were a couple of paddocks and an area of pastureland fed by a small stream that was used to grow grass rich enough to make hay for winter fodder. The small but comfortable farm house completed the holding with its yard and cheerful vegetable garden. Even though Marcus hadn’t been able to find the money to buy a property for himself he thought that, all in all, he had made a good start on the road to real freedom, financial security for him and his family. But that road was proving to be bumpier than he’d expected.
As a free-man Marcus had married his wife Milly. She had been a house slave working in the plantation mansion and her life’s training had been mostly in the trivial concerns of a large southern house but she had learned some other important lessons too. Most of this education had left her skeptical but she had been smart enough to learn how to survive relatively unscathed in the petty world of rich, white landowners. By the time freedom had come around and she had met Marcus short and roundish Milly had grown into a strong, no nonsense sort of a woman, maybe a bit short on romantic notions but with a clear idea of what-was-what and how to get things done . That was especially true when it came to the business of her two daughters Leona and Bess.
Leona was their twenty three year old first born. She was bright enough like her mother but lacked imagination and, like her mother again, was a bit on the plain side and roundish. But unlike her mother Leona sometimes let her looks get in the way of her own self-confidence especially when she found herself around prettier, ‘more interesting’ girls. And there were plenty of those to be found – one of them was her own younger sister Bess.
Bess was a couple of years Leona’s junior and if Leona took after her mother then plainly Bess looked like her father. Her face was fine-featured with big, grey, oval eyes and her long-limbed and slender body got the attention of plenty of men who would have found her beautiful if only she didn’t choose to behave so much like a teenaged boy at least some of the time. Ever since she had been a small child she had been the one with an energetic intelligence as well as the looks but it was her unending search for answers that had stolen her father’s heart.
Bess’s open- minded approach to life had allowed her to find happiness in a whole variety of different ways in unlikely places and tonight, as she had many times before, she would find it here in a hidden corner of the old slave compound.
Close to the spot where the gallows would later be built freedmen celebrated an ancient religion whenever they got a chance. The tribal religion of Vodun had come from West Africa along with the slaves themselves but the practice of this ‘evil and pagan’ belief was illegal in the deep south at the time. None the less it was growing in popularity among the younger freedmen who were eager to blot out all memories of their enslaved past by re-finding their tribal roots. Out of fear of being found out and punished then these devotees held their ‘services’ where white people wouldn’t see them.
It was a joke among some of the younger, more cynical celebrants of the ‘old religion’ that the real reason they hid their activities from white people was because if they saw what went on the ‘crackers’ would want to join the party – and nobody wanted that.
Either way praying Vodun style certainly could be a lot of fun. Typically a rite involved drummers sitting in a circle around a fire while the ‘congregation’ danced around them giving themselves over to the complicated beat - and sometimes, depending on the minor god or ‘orisha’ being honored, to each other too. For some devotees the aim was to give themselves over so completely that there was room for an orisha to temporarily possess their body – then look out, anything could happen next. Usually, as bodies heated up from their exertions, unneeded clothing would get peeled away to reveal glistening skin, some with strange, decorative markings called ‘tas’ that adorned some body parts not normally on display in public.
On this particular night and wearing not much at all Bess danced right at the center of the devotions. She was in the middle of all those hearts happily at one with their roots but paying special attention to a good-looking young man called Robert. To be honest she had never been really sure about the sincerity of those that followed vodun but from the way she was grinding her hips and pressing the bottom of her belly against Robert’s thigh she appeared to be more than happy to give the ‘old religion’ another good try.
One early morning the hired hands were working horses in the corral while a couple of would-be horse-buyers hung on the corral fence and looked on unimpressed by what they saw. In the near-by yard Milly was taking dry laundry off the clothes-line while Leona sat on the front steps of the house reading a thick book. The light grey dress uniforms of the house slaves were still good enough for Milly but Leona liked to wear something brighter than she had been allowed to wear in the darker days of bondage.
Leona also liked to read but she had always found it impossible to stop talking for more than a few seconds at a time. Her way out of that was to share whatever she was reading about with anybody that would listen and that’s what she did now.
“Did you know Queen Elizabeth could speak six languages, play four different musical instruments and she died a virgin.” She gave that last part some extra thought then went on, “what do you suppose would make such an educated person want to rush to war all the time instead of having babies?”
She didn’t get a chance to hear an answer because she caught wind of what Bess was up to and was forced to duck, pull her skirt over her head to hide her face and yell at her sister.
“I’ve told you before, get that creepy thing away from me.”
But she was managing to complain and giggle both at the same time. Milly had a way of pretending to be irritated with the girls when she wanted to make a point – maybe she thought it would make them take what she said more seriously. But they could always tell the difference between a pretend telling off and the real thing – Milly had always made sure of that too. On this occasion she let her daughters see easily through her act.
“These chores would be going a lot quicker if you girls stopped your silly games and came over here to help,” she complained but she didn’t miss the opportunity to make them giggle by adding, “and you Leona could do with not showing your drawers to the whole world.”
Bess grinned but did as her mother asked and went to help her leaving the plate camera she had been focusing to go on staring blindly at Leona.
Bess’s clothes were different again from both her mother’s and her sister’s. She favored the same brighter colors as Leona but her dress was more form-fighting, more European in style. She had made it herself the way most of the sharecropper girls did but she’d copied the design from the latest Sears Roebuck catalogue. She was laughing but still remembered to answer Leona’s question.
“I can’t say for sure what would have made ‘Good Queen Bess’ into such an aggressive soldier but I’d guess staying a virgin your whole life could make you kinda’ uppity.”
Keeping up the act her mother pretended to add shock to her irritation.
“I’ve told you before Bess, watch that loose tongue of yours. What would other people think if they could hear you?”
That was when Marcus came out of the house – he had heard the women’s chitchat and as usual found at least some of it interesting so he added his own thoughts to the mix.
“Maybe not having a man does explain her life or maybe trying to be one, trying to be the strong son her father wanted so bad explains it better.”
Before Bess could answer she noticed the smile on his smooth, unlined face sag when he saw his customers walking away from the corral. He chased after them trying not to look like he was running and called out, “gentlemen, what else can I show you?” They didn’t even slowdown in their rush to get away. The women watched Marcus. None of them liked seeing the man they all loved struggling so hard to make a living for them all.
As soon as he was out of ear-shot Milly launched into her daughters. It happened this way sometimes, she didn’t mean to give them a bad time but it was, in her mind, a good way to take their attention away from some of the hardships in their lives, in this case from their father’s business troubles.
It was nearing dark, and the servants were lighting the torches while Godwine played chess with the King. They sat in Canute's favorite room—perfect for entertaining the early arrivals of the Yuletide celebration. Already, Earl Eric of Northumbria was present, tasting some of the breads at the sideboard. Tovi was in his usual place behind the King speaking quietly with two other Danes, and a musician was in the corner, plucking on a harp.
The door opened and Godwine, whose back was to the newcomer, concluded who it was from Canute's grimace. The sleek voice of Eadric Streona confirmed his guess. "Good even’, your grace. I hope you are well." All other voices in the room stopped.
Canute moved a piece, nodding an answer.
Two servants followed Eadric into the room, carrying a batch of firewood. For a moment, the sound of wood being stacked filled the silence. Then the servants left the room, bowing.
"And yourself, my Lord Eric?"
The Northumbrian Earl moved closer to the King, bending over the chess-board. "Considering the rare quiet within my earldom, I am content. And yourself, Eadric?"
Godwine heard the newcomer striding back and forth behind him. His concentration broken, the Saxon quickly turned around, watching Eadric rub his arms as though he needed more warmth. Godwine turned back to the board, but not before he noticed Eadric's mouth twitch.
"I could be better." Eadric’s tone brought Canute's head up questioningly. Godwine straightened in his seat but Canute caught his eye, nodding at the board. Eadric took a stick and poked the fire.
Taking a closer look at the Earl, Godwine noticed that his hair was unbrushed, his fingernails were cracked, his clothing wrinkled. He began pacing again, adjusting his belt.
“How is that Christmas pie?” Canute asked Eric, holding out a hand for a taste. The Dane cut a piece for him, holding it out on the edge of his knife. Taking a long time to sample it, Canute leaned back, evidently enjoying the taste. He licked all five fingers and wiped his hand on his tunic, then reached for another chess piece. Eadric stopped pacing and faced Canute, his arms crossed over his chest.
"And what might be the problem?" The King's voice sounded appropriately concerned.
"My earldom is restive,” he started slowly. "The populace has not yet recovered, the revenues are poor, and the people are hungry."
"That is a pity."
"More the pity that the King does not concern himself with their troubles."
"I see," said Canute, interested. "And what of the exemption I gave them from this year's taxes?"
Closing his eyes, the other gestured as if it were nothing.
"Eadric, this is not what is bothering you."
Stopping, the Earl glared at the King, unable to hide his antipathy. He came to the table, leaned over it. Godwine could smell alcohol on his breath.
"All right. I believe that I deserve better than this. You have given me the most devastated, the poorest earldom in the kingdom. You exclude me from your council. You treat me like a stranger. After all I have done for you."
"And what is it that you have done for me?"
Eadric straightened up, crossing his arms again. He took a deep breath. "You know damned well.”
Intrigued, Canute gave Eadric his full attention. "I know damned well,” he repeated softly.
The tension between them was so strong it felt as though there were only two people in the room. Everyone knew Canute was at his most dangerous when he was totally quiet. But Eadric seemed beyond caring.
“Ask Edmund Ironside, if you could."
Godwine gasped aloud, more in amazement at the man's blatant admission of the deed than its actuality. Even Canute had paled. Getting slowly to his feet, he faced Eadric so fiercely that the other stepped back.
"Then you shall get everything you deserve. You killed your own lord! My sworn brother! Your own mouth has pronounced you a traitor; let the blood be on your head.
"Eric, dispatch this man, lest he live to betray me as well."
The Earl of Northumbria was not loth to obey. Pulling an axe from his belt, the man moved purposefully toward his enemy, narrowed eyes reflecting his satisfaction with Canute's command.
For a moment, Eadric froze, unbelieving. Then his instinct for survival gained sway, and he pushed the table over, making a dash for the door.
But Godwine blocked the way—Godwine, this nonentity, who had barely rated his acknowledgment. The Saxon was standing with legs apart and drawn sword, opposing his exit.
Preferring to die under the blade of an equal, Eadric whirled, pulling his sword. But he was already too late. Eric's axe head was making its deadly arc, and Eadric's blade came up uncertainly, not even delaying the impact of the edge as it cleanly severed his head from his body.
Canute had been watching from the fireplace. "Throw the wretch's carcass from the window, into the Thames."
Eric was glad to do so. He had hated the Earl, and saw this as a fitting end to a despicable career. Seizing one of the convulsing legs, he dragged the body across the floor, oblivious to the gushing blood. Stooping, he hoisted the corpse onto the sill and dumped it unceremoniously into the river.
Godwine stared at the disembodied face, as it gawked back at him. Then he grabbed the hair and came up behind Eric, flinging the head through the window and far out over the water.
As he listened for the inevitable splash, Godwine felt an eerie satisfaction; at least this once, he had done his part in wreaking revenge on the betrayer of Edmund Ironside, and possibly his own father way back in 1009.
Both bloodied Earls turned to Canute, who had observed the scene dispassionately. "Thank you. You have done me a great service."
Godwine controlled his trembling with an effort. "You drove him to it, didn't you?"
"You might say that. Although I was expecting his demands in a more rational form...and at a better time." He glanced at the horrified servants, who were huddled at the newly opened door. "Yes, come in, come in. As you can see, it is time we met the queen in the great hall and started our celebrations in earnest. Send for some water and buckets and take care of this mess.
"Oh, and come, my friends. Let me arrange for some clean tunics before you present yourselves."
Fate has dealt me a mortal blow. I know it. Never in my life have I done anything I am destined to regret more. William the Bastard has gotten the better of me, and has forced me to give an oath to support his claim to the throne. He trapped me in a golden cage of my own making.
It seemed a hundred years ago when I left Bosham with my hunting dogs and my falcon. I may have pretended I was going on a hunt, but my real aim was to ransom my little brother Wulfnoth and my nephew Hakon. They had been hostages in Normandy long enough. I was so proud of myself back then—so sure I was ready for anything. And just as soon as I set foot on land, my world went to pieces. I could still be languishing in Count Guy's dungeon if it weren't for Duke William's timely intervention. And so, like Scylla and Charybdis, I was caught between the rocky shoal and the whirlpool.
For a while I became William's hostage, as sure as Wulfnoth was. How was I to know that the duke thought himself King Edward's heir, duped by that wily Robert of Jumièges? Who would have thought the archbishop would take such a far-sighted revenge on my family—no, on our whole country—because of his feud with father? I never would have ventured to Normandy if I had known about William's expectations. And once I was caught in his power, I had no choice but to do his bidding. I would have done anything to get away from there.
As soon as William got what he wanted, he let me fly away. But not Wulfnoth. Poor Wulfnoth. The duke of Normandy kept my brother as surety for my wretched oath. Sick at heart for leaving Wulfnoth behind—wondering if I was doing the right thing—I watched the Norman coast recede along with my brother's hopes. What else could I have done? I listened to the boat creak and the water splash in that comforting way which tells us all is well; though in my case this was an illusion. I put my arm around my nephew Hakon's shoulders, chiding myself for wishing it was Wulfnoth standing beside me and not him. But I never had any feelings for Swegn's son and it was too late to change that now. It wasn't Hakon's fault Duke William saw fit to retain my little brother as hostage. Ironically, it was Hakon's good fortune that he had no particular value to anybody.
I should have felt some relief that my mission wasn't a total failure. But I didn't. I may have gained freedom for my nephew, but I may have lost my soul in the process. And my self-respect. How could things have gone so wrong?
No matter whom the witan elects as next king, Edward's successor will have to face Duke William and his remorseless claim. But there was something more that bothered me. Archbishop Robert was friends with King Edward. He had served the king for years, and only left the country because he was forced out of power—by my father, of course. His first act of revenge was to snatch away poor Wulfnoth and Hakon as hostages. His second act was to promise the throne to William. It's possible that he and Edward planned my family's outlawry all along; could it also be that the king really did offer the crown to Duke William? I shuddered to think on it.
And how was I going to ask him? I would have enough trouble explaining myself when I got back to England without seeming to accuse him. What would be the point? As king, Edward could do whatever he pleased. But to give away his country to a foreign ruler? I just didn't see how that was possible. Even Edward had some loyalty toward his subjects. I hope.
Looking back, I would say my troubles with Harold started after he returned from Normandy, back in the late summer of 1064. While Harold was gone, things were so much better. King Edward and I spent a lot of time together, and I'm proud to say he treated me like a close companion. Without my brother's presence, Edward was quite another man; he was more relaxed, he would laugh more and even jest on occasion. Anyway, when Harold returned—already stinging from the trouble his pride had brought him—he made a quiet entrance into the great hall. He took one look at the king and I, drinking together and laughing, and his face turned three shades of red. My sister the queen told me about it later, because at the time I was turned away from him. What I would have given to see my brother's face!
The king looked up and saw Harold, and the change that came over him was immediate. His smile faded, his eyes took on that old guarded expression; his manner turned formal as he stood with a hand out for Harold to kiss. "Welcome back to court," the king said sadly. "You have been sorely missed."
Everyone except Harold could tell that Edward said the exact opposite of what he meant. But of course my brother chose to take him literally. "I am relieved to be back, Sire," he said. "Although I'm sorry to say my mission was only half-accomplished."
Harold had gone to Normandy to retrieve my brother Wulfnoth and our nephew Hakon, held there as hostages for the last twelve years. Edward had advised him against going, but my brother had to play hero, no matter what the cost.
I sat up at his admission. "What happened?" I exclaimed. "Where is our brother?"
I expected some sort of retort from Harold, but he actually hung his head. "Duke William allowed me to bring back Hakon, though he insisted on keeping Wulfnoth. He wanted security against certain promises he extorted from me..."
He trailed off. I jumped to my feet, angrily. "What's that! You left Wulfnoth behind in Normandy?"
That got a reaction from him. "You weren't there, Tostig. I tried my best." He was angry, but something was holding him back.
"And your best wasn't good enough. Poor Wulfnoth! We'll never get him back now."
King Edward put a hand on my arm, nodding for me to contain myself. I turned away.
"Was it such a difficulty, then," he asked Harold, "getting my cousin William to cooperate?" William was more of a second or third cousin to Edward, but our king spoke of the duke with great regard.
"Sire," Harold blurted, rushing his words together, "I must speak to you alone on this matter."
My brother's manner radiated desperation. Despite myself, I watched curiously as he followed the king from the room. My sister and I exchanged glances, and she slipped out after them. Edward never excluded her from his presence—nor indeed, do I think he could have.
Tostig was right. My husband never forgave himself for exiling me to a nunnery when he banished my father back in 1051, even though I think he was glad when father died two years later. Still, there was no denying the injustice of my imprisonment, and ever since then, Edward attempted to atone by admitting me to his presence on any occasion I desired. That is how I was able to witness the emotional scene between Harold and the king, when he confessed to his foul oath to support William's claim to the English throne... Editha
My sister was gone a long time, and the great hall gradually emptied out. When Editha came back she was very pale. She sat down on the throne and I moved to her side, taking her usual chair. She put a hand to her forehead.
"Prepare yourself," she said to me. "I have some very disturbing news."
"He's gone. There is nothing more for him to say right now."
I took her hand. "Tell me."
Editha gave a great sigh. "Edward had warned him not to go. But mayhap it is better this way. At least we know."
She was trying my patience. I forced myself to stay calm.
"About William's designs on the throne. He sees himself as Edward's heir."
I gasped. What was she talking about?
"From what Harold just admitted, Archbishop Robert of Jumièges told him Edward promised the throne, way back after our father's exile. Robert delivered Wulfnoth and Hakon into William's hands as hostages for this promise. All this time, William has schemed for the throne of England."
I was shocked. But then I was puzzled.
"What has this to do with Harold?"
"Our brother fell into William's trap. The duke would not let him leave until he swore an oath to support William's claim. A frightful oath. An oath on the relics of Normandy's saints."
I crossed myself, twice. This was indeed dreadful news. For all of us.
"Harold was lucky to get away," she added. "Hakon was lucky to get away. William kept Wulfnoth as hostage against Harold's promise. Now our brother needs to expiate his sin, for we all know he made that oath in vain. What will happen to poor Wulfnoth?"
No wonder he couldn't face me. We could only hope that Edward would outlive William, which would make Harold's oath moot. Otherwise...well, there was nothing to be done now.
My meeting with the king was just as distressing as I expected it to be. At least he let me tell him alone, with just my sister in tow. I wasn't strong enough to confront Tostig just yet; the few words that passed between us were almost more than I could bear. He has a way of making me uneasy; ever since we were boys, he has always been on the verge of fighting with me, and his sarcasm can be biting.
Unfortunately, I wasn't feeling much better around Edward, but for different reasons. We both remembered his warning when I originally announced my plans. And now I couldn't shake the uncomfortable feeling that even back then, he knew much more than I did about William's secret ambition.
The king offered me a seat; I was glad of it, for my emotions were exhausting me. I looked at the floor, waiting for him to speak. But of course, I was the supplicant here.
"Tell me, Harold," he said finally. His voice was not friendly.
I raised my head.
"Sire, had I known William desired the throne, I never would have crossed the Channel."
That was as close as I dared to make an accusation. I waited for a reaction.
Edward was much better at hiding his feelings since our outlawry. He rubbed his cheek, looking into the distance.
"The throne," he said quietly. "What about the throne?"
Could it be possible he didn't know? I looked at my sister but she shrugged her shoulders.
"Wulfnoth told me," I went on, "that Archbishop Robert made the announcement directly after he left England. With my brother." This was shaky ground, for I don't think Edward ever forgave our victorious return from exile. Many of his Norman friends left the country and never came back. Including Robert, who died a couple of years later. I'm sure Edward was thinking about this as well, but his face betrayed no emotion. I took a deep breath.
"The archbishop told William you wanted him to be your heir. That you sent Wulfnoth and Hakon as hostages to secure your promise."
I stared at the king. He blinked back.
"Do you believe that?" he said finally.
I didn't know. I took a deep breath. "Wulfnoth said Robert told the duke that my father and the other great earls agreed. I certainly don’t believe that!" His question was only half answered. I waited. He didn’t move a muscle. "He said Robert made it all up to wreak revenge on us," I added.
After a moment, Edward nodded as if in agreement. "I will tell you this, Harold. When your father was in exile, Archbishop Robert and I spent a lot of time together, much of it in idle conversation."
He paused so long I thought he was finished. Editha bent over his shoulder.
"No, my dear, Harold deserves to know. You deserve to know. There was a time I mentioned William's name, more as wistful musing than any desire to act on it. I know the witan. William would not be popular in this country. He would understand your customs less than I did."
I didn't know what to say. Where was the truth in this?
"And the hostages?"
He looked away. "They were in Archbishop Robert's charge. I was not involved."
I frowned despite myself. As I suspected, Edward took no responsibility for my brother at all.
"He was so brave." My voice shook. "I hated to leave him behind."
"What exactly happened?"
It was hard to look back at those months. "William treated me well, but I was never left alone. He set guards outside my door at night. He kept me at his side nearly every day. He took me on campaign with him. He even knighted me..." Those words were hard to say and I had to swallow. "When I finally tried to take my leave, he insisted that I do so in front of a grand assembly of nobles and ecclesiastics."
The king pursed his lips but said nothing.
"Sire, he made me swear an oath that I would be his man in England and support his claim to the throne." I put my hands over my face. "He made me swear that I would give him Dover castle so he could garrison it with his own men." Edward gasped.
"There was no other way." My voice was almost pleading with him to understand. "I swore that oath on the bones of his saints, though I did not know it until too late. And I don't even know which saints!"
Edward probably crossed himself, for I heard the swish of his sleeves though I could not bear to uncover my face.
"I forswore myself to gain my freedom," I said, still trying to control my voice. "I took that oath under duress."
Those last words served to calm me, for I truly believed I could stand behind this defense. But when I finally looked at Edward, I was not reassured.
"Your actions will have grave consequences, Harold. I fear for you."
I gasped. He sounded like a reproachful prophet. Or was it my own guilt ringing in my ears?
“William Charker, for your part in the burglary of the dwelling of Thomas Evans at St. Mary Lambeth and stealing goods to the value of £33.60 you are hereby sentenced, along with your accomplice, to 7 years transportation to the colony of New South Wales.”
William Charker was born in Winchester, Hampshire, England on 16th of December, 1774. The fourteenth child of a family of fifteen, his father, Edward Charker, a Tallow Chandler and his mother Elizabeth (nee Barr). The Charkers were wealthy traders and yeoman farmers and so William well educated and independent. On the 7th of December, 1800 he inexplicably became involved (with an accomplice) in a substantial burglary at the dwelling house of Thomas Evans at St Mary Lambeth stealing goods to the value of £33.6.0.
The two were arrested and tried on 25th of March, 1801 at the Surrey Assizes. Each sentenced to only seven years even though their crime being a capital offence. At his trial, his name given as William Charker, alias William Chalker, was is the first known use of the alias which became his general name in Australia, except on Legal Documents and Government Correspondence where he always used Charker.
William had known a little about New South Wales. He had said to Thomas “my knowledge amounted to little more than that after being discovered by the explorer James Cook in 1770,” New South Wales had become an alternate for transportation destination of convicts as the Americans were no longer willing to have convicts dumped there after their War of Independence in in1776.
Transportation had become a viable alternate both physical and financial to storing the excess prisoners that there was no longer room in the overcrowded prisons. The short term solution of holding prisoners in prison hulks moored in the rivers of southern England.
Hulks were retired naval or merchant ships that would still float but considered unseaworthy. In most cases, all the upper superstructure (Masts, etc.) had been removed and most of the below deck space converted into gaol cells. Because of the poor condition of the hulks, more guards were necessary as well as the continual outbreaks of disease created an unacceptable risk to the greater population.
Transportation costs would be about the same cost as keeping prisoners in hulks but once they arrived in New South Wales they could be put to work and the colony would become self-sufficient in a short time. Additionally, as there was no danger of escape back into the English general population, it became possible to cut a large number of guards.
On the 6th of December 1785, Orders in Council were issued in London for the establishment of a penal colony in New South Wales, on land claimed by Britain by explorer James Cook in his first voyage to the Pacific in 1770.
The First Fleet is the name given to the 11 ships which left Great Britain on the 13th of May 1787 to found a penal colony that became the first European settlement in Australia. The fleet consisted of two Royal Navy vessels, three store ships, and six convict transports, carrying more than one thousand convicts, marines and seamen, and a vast quantity of stores. From England, the Fleet sailed southwest to Rio de Janeiro, then east to Cape Town and via the Great Southern Ocean to Botany Bay, arriving in mid-January 1788, taking two hundred and fifty-two days from departure to final arrival.
William went first to the County Gaol and then on to the prison hulk HMS Protée. Protée started as a sixty-four gun ship of the line of the French Navy, launched in 1772. Captured by the Royal Navy on the 24th of February 1780 and converted to serve as a prison ship in 1799, then finally broken up in 1815.
William surveyed his surroundings and later he would recall to his children.
“The conditions on board the floating gaols were appalling; the standards of hygiene were so poor that disease spread quickly. The living quarters were so bad that it was like living in a sewer. The hulks were cramped, and we had to sleep in fetters. We had to live on one deck that was barely high enough to let a man stand. The officers lived in cabins in the stern.”
“When on arriving on board, we were all at once stripped and washed in two large tubs of water, then, after putting on a suit of coarse slop clothing, we were put in irons and sent below with our own clothes being taken from them.”
“We now were poorly dressed as well as unhealthy. They were supposed to give us a linen shirt, a brown jacket and a pair of breeches but the men who controlled the ships usually pocketed the money the government had given for our clothes.”
“Six-hundred of us were confined in this floating dungeon nearly, most of us were double-ironed, and I saw the horrible effects arising from the continual rattling of chains, the filth and vermin naturally produced by such a crowd of miserable inhabitants, the oaths and execrations regularly heard amongst them…. The sick were given little medical attention and were not separated from the healthy.”
“I felt elated when finally in January 1802, I was transferred to the convict transport Coromandel. Us convicts were housed below decks on the prison deck and often further confined behind bars. In many cases, we were restrained in chains and only allowed on deck for fresh air and exercise. Conditions were cramped, and we slept in hammocks.”
“We departed from Spithead in company with the Perseus on 12 February 1802.”
As soon as they cleared, England conditions aboard improved. They were now no longer considered a threat of escape, and so the restrictions were somewhat eased.
As they sailed south to and past the Canary Islands, the daily routine was beginning to set in. At four in the early morning, the prisoner cooks (three in numbers) were admitted on deck and at five-thirty. The captain of his division (the convict nominated as a senior convict) joined the other captains on the upper deck for the purpose of filling wash tubs while the remaining prisoners commenced taking up their beds and hammocks. By six, William and the first half of the prisoners were admitted for the purpose of washing their person. Within half an hour the other half were allowed to wash. Breakfast was at eight and during breakfast, the ship’s crew were cleaning upper deck and water closets
While heading southwards across the Atlantic to Rio de Janeiro, they ran into the first of many storms.
William managed to keep his food down, but the ship became awash with vomit. The seasoned sailors joked about how convicts predicament. It must be realised that the majority of the convicts had never been to sea and were still recovering from the cramped conditions aboard the prison hulks.
Aboard the Ship were several families of free settlers, but as they were kept separate from all the convicts, William knew nothing about them. He wondered what people would voluntary take their family to this unknown place that reportedly had very few refinements and facilities.
“The clouds seem to rise from the water, turning day into night. Then suddenly the wind began to howl, and initially the ship lurched dangerously to starboard before the helmsman could correct the list. I thought that we were goners. Then came the driving rain, It was so fierce I was sure it was cutting into the deck timbers above them. The unbearable stench of the vomit from my fellow prisoners seemed to cover the whole deck. We would have preferred to be on deck instead of in that hell hole we were confined.”
The storm abated after about 10 hours and then the weather calmed. The days were becoming warmer as the travelled through the tropics and the many tropical storms did not seem as bad as that first one not long after they sailed past the Canary Islands.
The daily routine continued and to Williams first surprise as well as cleaning and general “housekeeping duties” there was a regular schooling and religious instruction. He could not figure out if this were to subdue the convicts and keep discipline or did the authorities think that a better education and religious training would cause them to “change their bad habits.”
Not long after he sighted land off Brazil, he noted that the course turned to south-eastward and followed the westerly winds across the Atlantic to the Cape.
The seas were beginning to roughen up, and the temperature had dropped, but it was still a lot warmer than when they had left England.
The journey across the southern Atlantic was reasonably uneventful until they drew nearer to the Cape. The wind increased dramatically causing the ship to pitch and roll. Even the sight of land on the port side did little to raise the spirits of William although after they had sailed a day into the Indian Ocean, the weather improved.
It was during this time that one of the convicts became violently ill and despite the efforts of the crew, he passed away.
It amazed William to how all the crew and every convict lined the decks while the poor soul was given a decent burial at sea.
“We all lined the deck. Prisoners, officers, crew as well as the free settlers. The body was on a plank leaning over the side and covered with the Queen’s flag. As the captain said those words that committed the body to the sea, two of the crew raised one end of the plank, and the lifeless body slid from underneath the flag and into the deep.”
In reflection, William pondered as to how different the voyage was as compared to the horrific stories that had been circulation in the gaols and prison hulks in England.
He noted that the crew at no time had acted as guards, and a few of the crew showed great symphony for the convict’s predicament. He had also admired the respect that the crew had shown the female convicts and how some of them entertained the children of the female convicts.
By the end of May they had crossed the Indian Ocean and at times over the next few weeks, they kept seeing land to the north of the port beam.
The land kept on appearing as they turned north and there was an air of excitement mixed the in trepidation of what lay ahead.
Finally, on the 13th of July 1808, they sailed into Port Jackson.
As they sailed through the heads, the captain decided to allow groups of convicts on deck. Each group was allowed fifteen minutes. The captain knew that if he kept them confined he would run the risk of rioting because if they saw a glimpse of their destination, they would start to relax and possibly an air of excitement would replace the feelings of despair some must have been feeling.
“It was unbelievable.” William later recalled “This big harbour that seemed to go for miles. The soft green grass behind the mixture of rocky shores and small golden beaches and the thick bushland behind the shores made this place seem like paradise.”
They had sailed nonstop, the first convict ship to do so, Governor King on the 9th August 1802 was so impressed with the treatment and the condition of the prisoners that he wrote the following report:-
“The healthy state in which the Coromandel and Perseus arrived requires my particularly pointing out the masters of those ships to your notice. It appears by the log books, surgeon's diaries and the unanimous voice of every person on board those ships that the utmost kindness to the convicts. This, with the proper application of the comforts Government had so liberally provided for them and the good state of health all the people were in, induced the master of the Coromandel to proceed without stopping at any port. He arrived here in four months and one day, bringing every person in a state of high health, and fit for actual labour.And although it appears that the Perseus necessarily stopped at Rio and the Cape, yet the convicts were in as good condition as those on board the Coromandel. Nor can I omit the great pleasure felt by myself and the other visiting officers at the thanks expressed by the prisoners and passengers for the kind attention and care they had received from the masters and surgeons, who returned, an unusual quantity of the articles laid in by Government for the convicts during the voyage.”
William’s first sight of Sydney Cove was as they were disembarking at the rickety wharf.
“I was amazed at how the settlement had developed after only 14 years. Although rudimentary it was a thriving village.”
William was at first extremely unsteady on his feet due in part to a long sea voyage on rolling seas but also with the cramped conditions on board.
“The smells of shore are amazing. Clean, crisp air, the pleasant aromas of real food cooking but most importantly the lack of stench from humans living so close for so long. I could begin to see that it wasn’t going to be as bad as I had thought to live in this so called hell hole. I see that it may be possible eventually to have a real life in this colony if I behaved myself.”
Much of the town's buildings and infrastructure were centred on the military. The stores and trade were managed mainly be members of the New South Wales Corps and the whole town had a “garrison town” feeling about it.
“My initial thoughts are that the officers New South Wales Corps, seem to have too much influence over the running of the colony and appears that the governor’s office is just to rubber-stamp their decisions. Even the granting of pardons, as well as the allocation of land, seemed to be in the hands of the Corp’s officers.”
“My first night on land is an eerie experience. The lack of movement of the sea along with the entirely different sounds makes falling asleep terrible.”
“Awaking in the morning to the sounds of the native birds chirping along with the clatter of a bustling colony preparing for the task of the day was music to my ears.”
William was assigned shortly after his arrival, to work as a farm labourer for Jonas Archer and Mary Kearns at Mulgrave Place in the Hawkesbury district.
As he travelled to the farm, he was bewildered by the sights and sounds that he encountered.
“My first glance of kangaroos and other native animals give me discomfort although the aboriginals are causing me even more.”
As it turned out before long, he would build a bond and understanding with the local tribes that would lead to a long and peaceful relationship. It was unfortunate that all the settlers were unable to establish this relationship, and distrust disintegrated into bloodshed on many occasions.
Mary Kearns had been convicted of theft in Dublin in 1792 and was sentenced to 7 years transportation. She arrived in Sydney on 17 September 1793 aboard the "Sugarcane".
After completing her sentence, she was granted 65 acres of land in the Hawkesbury area at Green Hills, now known as Windsor.
She had been joined by her lover Jonas Archer and together they had started up clearing for the farm. Jonas was subordinate to Mary as he probably was reminded on many occasions that it was Mary’s grant and, therefore, her farm.
“It was incredible that in two short years, Mary and Jonas were able to clear the land and build a moderately successful farm on these river flats about 20 miles away from Sydney Harbour. Mary was a hard worker, and yet at the same time a very attractive woman, who was trying to build a real future regardless of her poor start.”
Having William assigned to their farm was a Godsend. William was a hard worker and built trust with them. He was always able to make positive improvements, and because he had been raised on farms by his yeoman farmer parents he had a natural gift for mixed farming. “If we plant the vegetable patch between the house and the storage shed, we should have more control over where the animals may roam,” he remarked to Mary shortly after his arrival.
Jonas, on the other hand, had a dislike for farming as well he was proving to be a liability with an extremely bad business attributes.
This untimely led to in 1803, Jonas Archer fled to avoid his creditors and Mary became the sole owner of the farm. Mary always had a liking for William, so it was no surprise that in a short time after Jonas left, she married William. The farm was then known as Chalker’s Farm.
The Rum Corps vs. Governor Bligh
Governor William Bligh reached Sydney on 6th August 1806. He had been sent to replace Governor King, who was looking forward to returning to England. (It was thought that he was disappointed that during his time in office, the officers of the corps had overridden his authority and left him somewhat dejected.
Bligh had a reputation for being extremely autocratic, and he did suffer insubordination from anyone at all.
Losing control of the HMS Bounty to his crew 20 years previous had made him even more ruthless.
Bligh had discovered to his dismay on his arrival that the New South Wales Corps ran most of the commerce under the command of Major George Johnson with the close cooperation of a former officer and now grazier and merchant John McArthur.
Resident farmers of the Hawkesbury region, in particular, had complained to Bligh about the high prices being charged by the Corps for staple goods. The restrictions on availability of mutton by McArthur and, therefore, the high prices for meat further raised their concerns along with the fact that the Corps had attempted to introduce alcoholic liquor (that the Corps had full control of) as a currency. This led the Corps being often referred to as “The Rum Corps” The name being a misnomer as whiskey was the only alcohol used as currency.
Bligh started to attempt to stop these practices and tried to restrict the commercial activities of the Corps but had little success. The impasse continued until on the 26th January 1808 Major Johnson (egged on by McArthur) led a troop in full military regalia accompanied by the regimental band to government house and arrest Bligh. Major Johnson installed himself as the acting governor.
For just under two years Bligh remained under guard until Lachlan Macquarie arrived to assume the position of Governor.
Macquarie was the first non-naval governor and just before his arrival the New South Wales Corps (now known as the 102 regiment of foot) was recalled to England and replaced by the 73 regiment of foot. Major Johnson was court marshalled in England while McArthur was put on trial in Sydney.
Through all this William mostly ignored what was happening in Sydney as he was still a convict and he needed to keep away from controversy for fear of being relocated to another work area. He did, however, hold contempt for the Rum Corps and even more for Bligh, who seemed too weak to control them.
By 1806, they were prospering, but all was about to change with a devastating flood in March of that year in which the settlers lost everything that could not be quickly moved to higher ground. William was driving his stock when he heard the call “HELP.” Looking toward the overflowing river, he saw three of his neighbours struggling in the torrent along with a small child. Without pausing, William ran to the riverbank where his little boat was tied up and rowed out to the middle of the river. He rowed to the child first and after he was aboard William then rowed to save the three men in turn. When it overturned, the adults drowned, but William swam to the shore with the child on his back.
He was rewarded with a Conditional Pardon in August 1806. Conditional pardon meant that although free he was not able to leave the colony until his pardon became absolute. To be pardoned said that William was no longer to be regarded as a thief sentenced to 7 years, but instead, a free man whereas Mary was always to be considered as an ex-criminal.
The Blue Mountains
After the harvest of 1806-7, their marriage ended with a legal separation notified in the Sydney Gazette of July 1807.
The marriage had endured only three years. When it ended, William left took only his horse and left all other property and goods with Mary.
William was granted an Absolute Pardon on April 7th, 1808.
He was now free to return to England but instead chose to remain and enter employment with Gregory Blaxland as his farm overseer, probably at his Brush Farm property and later at his more extensive South Creek holding. William made a good supervisor and had built himself a reputation as a hard worker and a very honest employee.
Along with his Absolute Pardon, William received a grant of 30 acres of land at the Cooks River but did not take up the grant. Instead, in August 1812, he applied for and received a grant of sixty acres at South Creek. The South Creek farm was used mostly to raise cattle while he pursued his other sources of income.
After leaving the employ of Blaxland, he also worked as an overseer for William Lawson at Prospect from 1810 to 1814.
Lawson and Wentworth, as well as being neighbours, were good friends. They were both visionaries who saw the need for the colony’s further expansion in the area. The Blue Mountains to the west had become a barrier to this development of the settlement which was now requiring more farming land to meet its needs, particularly after the droughts of 1812 and 1813.
“The local Indigenous people know at least two routes by which to cross the mountains,” William told Blaxland. The first was along Bilpin Ridge, later followed by Archibald Bell with the assistance of the local Darug people (now the location of Bells Line of Road), and the second was along Cox’s River.
Unfortunately too many of the landholders and free settlers would not believe William as they had all come to distrust the aboriginal people.
Some even believed that the aboriginals were of a sub-human race and therefore not capable of knowing such things. William had long since made friends with a lot of them and as such he appreciated their knowledge of the land. However, he was unable to influence those around him to allow the aboriginals to show the way.
Until 1813 however, the settlers remained unaware of how to cross the mountains, despite several attempts, including two by Blaxland himself. Early in 1813 Blaxland, who wanted more grazing land, obtained the approval of Governor Lachlan Macquarie and approached Lawson and Wentworth to secure their participation in a new exploratory expedition following the mountain ridges.
“Mr. Lawson was able to go with the other two knowing all too well that his farm was being looked after by me,” William told his son at a later date.
Blaxland, Wentworth, and Lawson led an expedition party, which included four servants, four pack horses, and five dogs. Two of the four men who assisted the party have been identified as James Burne, a guide and kangaroo hunter, and Samuel Fairs, a convict who arrived in Australia in 1809. The two others also thought to be convicts, remain unidentified.
The party left from Blaxland's South Creek farm near the modern suburb of St Marys in western Sydney, on 11 May 1813 and crossed the Nepean River later that day. They made their way over the mountains, following the ridges, and completed the crossing in twenty-one days. The explorers' success has been attributed to the methodical approach and decision to travel on the ridges instead of through the valleys. The three explorers and two of their servants would set out each day, leaving the other two men at their campsite, and mark out a trail, before turning back later in the day to cut a path for the horses and allow the rest of the party to progress.
The party first saw the plains beyond the mountains from Mount York. They continued to Mount Blaxland 25 km south of the site of Lithgow, on the western side of the mountains. From this point, Blaxland declared there was enough forest or grassland “to support the stock of the colony for thirty years,” while Lawson called it "the best-watered Country of any I have seen in the Colony.” The party then turned back, making the return journey in six days.
John Arnold and Lily Smoot sat on a bench in the Santa Fe Plaza early that evening....
He looked at her in the dim light. “What are you doing running around with guys like Cummings and Damours, Lily?”
“Cummings is a U.S. Marshal, John. And I wasn’t running around with Damours. We were chasing him. What’s your point?”
“Cummings is not much of a Marshal and you know it, Lil. Is it true you worked in the Nevada brothels?”
She looked up at his face. Clearly his feelings had been hurt.
“Yes, John. When I left Utah, I looked into all the political and military and business management jobs open to teenage girls, but they were all filled. I didn’t meet any guys like you who were single and sitting around that I could safely live off, so I got a job where I could save some money.”
She looked closely and caught his scowl. “John, you're married, and unless you’re offering to adopt me or to start taking care of me, I have to look out for myself. And for my ranch.”
He looked down at her. For the first time ever, he hugged her. “I’m sorry, Lil. You’re right. It might not be appropriate, but I care about you and want to see you succeed.”
She stood up. Bent down to him and kissed him gently.
“Appropriate,” she said, “Is overrated.”
Bruno runs to the platform between the train cars chasing Jack and smashes him across his face with the big pistol. Jack falls back against the rail separating the cars and slumps to the steel floor. The train lurches and Bruno stumbles backward against the door trying to keep his balance. He grabs the door to steady himself and charges back toward Jack. The train slows and then speeds up as it crests a hill. Bruno stumbles on the uneven steel plates of the platform. He is off balance again and comes toward Jack with his head down and his arms outstretched to catch his fall. Jack pulls his knees to his chest, his feet catch Bruno in the stomach. Using Bruno’s own momentum, Jack pushes his legs up and vaults Bruno’s helpless bulk over the rail. The scream abruptly stops as he plummets under the thundering steel wheels.
Maddy bursts through the door and helps Jack to his feet.
“I was sure he was going to shoot you Jack, he seemed to go over the railing in slow motion and then get sucked under the train. That was awful but I could not take my eyes away.”
Jack puts his arms around Maddy and hugs her to him tightly. “It’s ok now baby, we need to think about getting off this thing before we get to the next station. We can’t be far from the border now. We’re coming into another turn let me see if I can see what’s up ahead.”
As the train goes around the turn, Jack can see past the line of cars.
“We are going up another hill with a turn at the top of it. The train will be going pretty slow as it makes the turn. It looks like a hay field on the outside of the turn. That should make for a pretty soft landing. Make sure you clear the road bed.”
Maddy looks down as the countryside flashes by at what seems to her to be an impossible speed. She looks back at Jack with her eyes wide. “What, Jack? Do you think I am going to jump from this train?”
“We’re gonna have to jump off this thing. Don’t think about it, just jump when I tell you. Let’s go, Maddy. Roll when you hit the ground. Come on, get ready it’s slowing down. Jump!”
“Mornings were steel edged now, water on the village font ice-crisp. Instead of clear blue skies, tatters of clouds stuck fast between firs on the mountain slopes and leaves on the beech trees dropped yellow and rust to the forest floor. Some days our village floated upon a sea of clouds, forming an island, heralding the separation from the rest of the world that winter would bring.
Before I drifted into sleep, I lay on my sack mattress stuffed with dried corn-cob leaves and contemplated the stars. I wondered if the sky would look the same down on the Maremma plains. It was time to leave.
Tomorrow the men and older boys would be setting off. Boots had been mended; in fact I had lost count of how many old shoes I had studded with nails to help them last the eight-day journey down mule tracks and dusty mountain roads. Paolo, our neighbour, had a new pair of goatskin breeches and had proudly shown me his stick, whittled from chestnut wood in the evenings by his fireside. On one end he had skilfully worked a hook to yank necks of wayward sheep. Rossella, his wife, had wrapped chunks of pancetta in cloth and he had bought himself a sturdy green umbrella from the fair at Ranco.
I believed Mamma had no inkling I would soon be gone. Part of me felt bad; she wanted me hear her now she understood our brother, Francesco, was never coming back from the battle of Asiago. One of the shepherds who had come to have his clogs repaired told us the newspapers had reported the deaths of 147,000 men. And all for what? At the seminary, during a geography lesson, Fra Alonso had shown us the range of mountains called Altopiano where the battle had been fought. I remember hoping, for my brother’s sake, that those mountains were as beautiful as the Apennines he had left behind here. On the newly-erected monument in the square in Badia Tedalda, when everybody had disappeared after the commemoration service, I had crouched down and run my fingers over the raised letters of my older brother’s name: Francesco Tommaso Starnucci. I wanted to feel close to him, have some sort of connection. But instead all I felt were twenty five cold, metal shapes.
Since the episode with Fra Domenico, I vowed never to return to the seminary in Arezzo and I’d been making secret preparations. I removed Nonno’s moth-eaten wool cloak from the wooden trunk at the end of my parents’ high matrimonial bed. I’d been squirreling away morsels of pecorino cheese and wild boar sausage whilst Mamma wasn’t looking and wrapping them in a rag in readiness for my departure. And nothing was going to stop me.”
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