Tongues are wagging this week in the exclusive enclave of Belgravia as news spreads of one of their own caught in the midst of a dishonest deed. I overheard The Countess B relating the details to her good friend Lady J whilst taking tea at the Imperial. With a lightning fast hand, I faithfully recorded their conversation for you, dear readers.
“I swear I am in earnest, Lady J. I heard it from a most reliable source.”
“I cannot believe it to be true. I have always thought Mr T to be most upstanding. His late wife’s family were of an excellent lineage. Why, I even had his delightful daughter, Miss T, to dine only a week past.”
“I, too, have received them and that is what makes the whole situation so distasteful. How could he steal from the very people who have welcomed him and his children into their homes and treated them as equals?”
“This is, without a doubt, the most shocking and outrageous thing I have ever heard. I will be speaking to my husband this evening. I expect he will remove our business from that bank without delay.”
“As will mine, I am sure.”
“It is as I have always feared. When you allow merchants and traders into society, you do not know to whom you open your doors. These people may have money, but they have no breeding. You can put a Saville Row suit on a man, but that does not make him a gentleman. From now on, I will only be admitting into my home those whose pedigree I am confident of. One must learn to draw the line, don’t you think?”
“I completely agree. Would you like to hear what has become of them?”
“I suppose so, if only to be aware of which establishments they frequent so I can be sure to avoid them.”
“They are to immigrate to New Zealand.”
“New Zealand? What fate will befall them in such a place? Particularly Miss T; even with her father’s low birth she, at least, had some hope of an advantageous marriage because of her mother’s connections.”
“And she is so pretty.”
“She’s passable I suppose. But I did find all that curly, red hair most off-putting. Such characteristics are often an indication of wild and unsavoury tendencies in a person.”
“Who do you suppose she will find a match with now?”
“If she is fortunate perhaps a gentleman farmer will take her. I don’t imagine that she will be able to hope for much better.”
“Perhaps she will wed a native with a bone through his nose.”
“Oh, Countess, you are a card. How shocking.”
Excerpt from ‘The Moral Compass’ by K A Servian
Having gathered her few most precious possessions in her reticule and pinned her mother’s brooch to the neck of her dress, Florence peered at Jack sitting astride his Clydesdale. He reached down to her.
“You cannot be serious, you don’t even have a saddle.” Her eyes narrowed. “Why do we not take the cart?”
“Poor old Nellie needs a break from dragging that thing around.” The corners of his mouth lifted. “And I thought I’d be more fun this way. Give us a chance to get to know each other.”
Rolling her eyes, she reluctantly grasped his hand and placed her foot onto his. He hauled her off the ground as if she were weightless. There was only just time to twist her body as she landed sideways with a thump on Nellie’s wide rump.
He peered over his shoulder at her. “You’ll be more secure if you sit astride.”
She shook her head. Despite the fact that her seat was precarious, there was no way that she would sit in such an undignified way and she certainly did not want to be any closer to him than absolutely necessary. At least in this position, she could retain her decorum and keep some distance between them. “I have ridden side saddle since I was a child, I am sure that I will be able to keep my seat, thank you.”
He shrugged. “Suit yourself. You’d better hang on to me. It’s a long way down.”
“No thank you.”
Jack shook his head as he pressed his knees into Nellie’s sides and she lumbered across the grass towards the gravel road.
Florence felt for something to grip onto as her body lurched from side to side. Nellie moved quite differently from the thoroughbreds Florence was used to riding. She eyed the ground. It was a long way down.
“Tell me,” said Jack. “How did you and your brother end up here?”
She frowned. “I’d prefer not to speak about it if you don’t mind.”
“Were you running away from something? Most people I’ve met here in New Zealand are running away from something.”
“As I said, I’d prefer—”
“—not to speak about it.” He shrugged again.
A stream ran across the road and Nellie stepped sideways to avoid a crevice created by the water. They lurched and an involuntary cry escaped Florence’s lips as her backside slid. She scrabbled to hold on and as it seemed inevitable that she would fall, a strong arm wrapped around her waist, catching her just in time.
“Will you stop being so damned stubborn and sit astride,” Jack snapped as he hauled her up. He eased Nellie to a stop and slid forward.
Florence scowled at him as she manoeuvred her leg over Nellie’s back whilst grappling with her petticoats in a vain attempt to maintain her modesty. Finally, after a few very undignified moments, she was securely astride.
Jack slid backwards closing the gap between their bodies and Nellie resumed her slow amble. “Hold onto me it gets a bit rough up ahead.”
Florence glared at his back as she wrapped her arms around his waist, gripping the rough linen of his shirt.
“See, that’s not so bad is it?”
The slow roll of Nellie’s gait combined with Florence’s previously sleepless night had a soporific effect and soon she found her eyes growing heavy. Leaning into the firm warmth of Jack’s body she inhaled the mingled scents of linen and something spicy that reminded her of Christmas. She tightened her grip and snuggled closer as she drifted off to sleep.
About The Moral Compass
The Moral Compass is part one in the Shaking the Tree Series in which several generations of women from one family battle for their independence and learn how to love.
Florence Thackeray has a charmed life. The poverty and filth of Victorian London are beyond her notice as she attends an endless round of balls, suppers and parties.
However, when her father suffers a spectacular fall from grace, Florence’s world comes crashing down around her. Forced to emigrate to the other side of the world leaving behind the man she loves, she faces hardship beyond anything she could have imagined.
Florence becomes a working-class wife when she is given no choice but to marry Jack Cameron who is ‘the wrong sort of man.’ She learns that there is more to life than parties and pretty dresses and that love can sneak up on you when you least expect it.
But a piece of the spoilt little rich girl still remains within Florence and when she is offered the opportunity to escape the drudgery of her daily life, just for a short time, she takes it. However, she soon discovers that the offer is not all it seems. There is a high price attached and she must live with the heart-breaking consequences of her decision.