Thank you very much for having me today, Amber.
A couple of years ago I read an interesting piece on the Bank of England. Wanting to know more, I checked their website and learned the bank was incorporated by act of Parliament in 1694 with the purpose of raising funds for England to wage war against France and the Low Countries. It was the first bank to initiate the permanent use of banknotes and during the American war of independence business was so good that George Washington remained a shareholder throughout the period. As an Australian, my knowledge of that war was minimal, except of course the Boston Tea Party. Intrigued I probed more and found a couple of archived reports on how terrible the living conditions were during the Siege of Boston.
In Britain, the women of that era were fully under the control of their father or guardian until they married, when control, including money or assets, was passed to their husband.
In The Woman Behind the Mirror, Sarah Forsythe is so desperate to be free of these stifling restrictions she elopes to the American colonies, where they are also breaking free from their ties.
Because of an arranged marriage to a man who repulses her, Sarah Forsythe runs away with the son of a minister. Not to Gretna Green, to the New World. Instead of a country filled with hope and possibilities, Sarah finds broken promises, abandonment, and shame. And her timing couldn’t be worse! After the infamous “tea party,” the siege of Boston worsens as the Americans rebel against Great Britain. Desperate for money, Sarah breaks open a safe only to find a bundle of Bank of England documents. Sensing they are of value, she guards them during the long, difficult journey from Boston back to England.
Bank of England fraud investigator Neil McAllister faces the biggest challenge of his career when a woman from Boston demands a reward for returning lost documents to the bank. Then two men with the same name and nearly identical stories arrive in England, each claiming ownership of them. Who is lying? Or are all three accomplices in a plot to swindle the bank? As the obstinate, secretive woman gets under Neil’s skin, he trusts that she was an unwitting witness to the crime of cold-blooded betrayal and treason before the fall of Boston. Now it’s up to Neil to protect Sarah because the traitor wants her dead.
When the small clock on her mantlepiece chimed seven fifteen, she patted her hair and opened the door. Taking a deep breath, she walked down the staircase again and into the small breakfast room.
“Good morning, may I join you?”
Robert put down the paper he was reading. “I prefer to breakfast alone if you don’t mind. Hannah doesn’t arise until after I leave.”
Sarah pulled out a chair and sat down. “I’ve been absent from England for some time, but I have not forgotten our customs. I want to speak with you about your holier than thou sermon to me last night, and I want to ask you a question.”
Robert’s face darkened. “I will remind you that you are in my home and if you wish to remain here you will abide by my decisions.”
Sarah reached over to grip Robert’s wrist. “I did a very stupid thing running away with David. I was young and so naïve it was pathetic. I have paid for my stupidity in more ways than you will ever know. However, I will tell you the siege of Boston was much worse than you, in your safe cocoon could imagine. Along with many others, I was forced into an infirmary for survival. The conditions were appalling but the alternative was starvation or disease or be murdered on the street for our clothes. Nova Scotia was not much better.”
Robert didn’t move.
“Your condemning letter was the only communication I had from home. You made it very clear I was shameful and shamed, and I could not argue with that. Then your letter inviting me here was a gift from the gods. I have paid for my sins and you have no right inviting me here to condemn me with your self-righteous judgements. Nor do I have to live here under sufferance listening to them. I have learned of Lady Webber’s new benevolent home for destitute women and I have decided to go there. It won’t matter to the inmates who I am or what I have done. What they and the benefactors will think of you is not my concern.”
Robert’s face was rigid with shock. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
Her fingernails dug into his wrist. “I can be as ridiculous as I wish. Now, I have a question and I’d like a truthful answer. You told me our father disapproved of Hannah. You defied him and married her. He decreed you’d married beneath your class and turned his back. How that must have hurt Hannah who has done no wrong. Tell me, why are you trying to be a replica of him? Pompous, autocratic, a dreadful snob and an unfeeling husband who delights in putting his nice, gentle wife down.”
Sarah sat back in her chair. “Papa decreed Hannah wasn’t good enough. I don’t think you are good enough for her.”
“You have no right speaking to me in such a fashion!”
“I have spoken to you and if you have half a brain you will admit I spoke the truth.” Her eyes narrowed. “I am not the innocent, protected girl running away from a prison of a home and a ghastly father who treated mama and all of us so badly. What I endured made me grow up and I learned that men are overbearing, selfish, spineless creatures. You are disappointed in me Robert? I am more than disappointed in you.”
“You’ve said more than enough,” Robert said icily.
“I’ve said exactly what I wanted to say. I had intended asking your advice on two important matters. One, some papers I found in Boston and two, a young woman I met who, I believe deserves some justice. However, I doubt you’d lower yourself.” Sarah stood up and walked from the room drained but relieved the load on her chest had lifted.
By the time she reached her room the steely resolve had dissolved into despair.
“Why?” she whispered. “One stupid mistake and I pay for the rest of my life.”
Yes, the voice in her head agreed. No one wants tainted, soiled goods. Live with it or enter a convent.
“Oh, shut up!” Sarah snapped but her throat was already aching. Dipping a handkerchief in the jug of water, she wiped her face and looked out the window. Spread out below were the rear gardens and orchard bathed in soft morning sun. She would love a garden like that.
A knock on the door made her jump.
“May I come in?” Hannah asked softly.
Hastily wiping her eyes, Sarah turned around. “Of course.”
“I wanted to speak with Robert before he left this morning. The door was slightly ajar, and I heard what you said.”
Jan Selbourne grew up in Melbourne, Australia. Her love of literature and history began as soon as she could read and hold a pen. Her career started in the dusty world of ledgers and accounting then a working holiday in the UK brought the history to life. Now retired, Jan can indulge her love of writing and travel. She has two adult children and lives near Maitland, New South Wales.
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Jan-Selbourne/e/B0184OSZ6E/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0