The Woman from Dover - Exclusive Excerpt!
The past two weeks had been so distressful that Gladys felt she was living in a nightmare. The jogging of the carriage seemed to relax her a little, and she did her best to enjoy the trip, but memories of recent events kept creeping into her thoughts.
The last happy thing she could recall was sitting on the divan wrapping a favourite ornament that she and Tom had received as a wedding gift to take to Oaken Arms, the estate her father-in-law had built for the three of them to live in. The ornament was two beautiful china doves sitting on a branch, and she was trying to imagine what it would look like on the mantle in the sitting room of her suite in the lovely new mansion. Then she heard someone knock at her door.
She wished she could block the next scene from her memory, but she remembered opening the door and seeing Peter Pickwick standing there. She could still picture his sickly white, puffy cheeks as he took her hand in his and turned it over. When he saw the scar on her palm, he stared at her with an evil and smug look and said, “Aha! Gladys Tunner, I believe.”
As soon as she heard her old name, she knew that her past had been discovered at last, but she had no idea how devastating that information would be for her and her daughter’s future. The carriage stopped, interrupting her thoughts, and the driver opened the door. “We’re ‘ere at Forbes junction, Mrs Pickwick, mum. Would yer likes ter use the facilities? They makes a good cuppa tea ‘ere too, mum.”
Dolly woke when she heard the driver and sleepily asked, “Are we there, Mama?”
“No, dear, but we can get out for a stretch and have a cup of tea and maybe a biscuit, if you like.”
They only stopped long enough to partake of some refreshments and to use the outdoor facilities before returning to the carriage. Dolly went back to sleep a few minutes after resuming their journey.
Gladys’s thoughts returned to that fateful day once more. She hadn’t heard the name Tunner since she had left the slum neighbourhood of London known as Old Nichol some eleven years ago, and now it sounded foreign to her.
She had taken the name Tweedhope the day she ran away because it was the name of a dear lady in Old Nichol who had taught her how to read and write. Now, as the carriage rocked back and forth, she recalled how lost and frightened she had been back then, travelling incognito in a coach, to an unknown place called Dover with three strangers. There was something about the ride this day that was causing her to have the same feeling of trepidation.
She was not certain how much Peter’s detective had found out about her past, but she could not afford to challenge him when he ordered her to take Dolly and leave town for good. She might have had a chance if her father-in-law had been alive, but Peter had been only too happy to deliver the painful news that Andrew had been murdered during his trip to Ireland.
She was sure that Peter had enough damning information to blackmail her, and there was nothing she could do about it. Now, instead of becoming the mistress of one of the most prestigious mansions in Dover, Gladys and Dolly were homeless.
She vowed she would do anything, no matter how degrading, to prevent being sent to the poorhouse, where it was said that they separated mothers from their children. Fortunately, Lady Sorenson, an old friend of her late father-in-law, had told her of a widower named James Hornsby who was looking for a housekeeper for his estate near the town of Sandwich.
Although she knew she should be thankful, Gladys wasn’t looking forward to working as a mere servant again, but it seemed she had no choice. For a while she thought there may be an alternate solution.
Only two days ago, she had decided she would pay Hugh Mason, the minister’s son, a visit and ask him if he still desired her hand in marriage.
Hugh had been smitten with Gladys ever since he returned to Dover. Having been away at Divinity College, Hugh was newly ordained and planned on spending a year working with his father at St Mary’s Church in Dover before he sailed to North America to begin his life as a missionary. He also had hopes of finding a wife who would agree to accompany him.
Hugh was a handsome man, and Gladys hadn’t enjoyed the company of a young man since her husband was killed in India six years earlier. She was flattered by his attentions, and for six months she had enjoyed his company and the socials they attended, but when he surprised her with a proposal on Christmas night, she had to tell him that although she was fond of him, she did not love him, therefore could not accept his offer of marriage. Hugh hadn’t taken the refusal well, and he accused her of dallying with his affections. He had not spoken to her since.
Gladys was a member of St Mary’s Church and enjoyed singing in the church choir and playing the organ, but she received such a cold reception the Sunday after she rejected Hugh’s proposal that she hadn’t returned. Now, she reasoned that being married to Hugh, even though she didn’t love him, might be better than returning to the life of servitude. She knew Hugh would be a faithful husband and a good father. It would be a chance for her to leave England and her past behind—a past that had haunted her ever since she was forced to kill a lecherous landlord, steal his purse, and run away from Old Nichol, leaving behind the boy she had loved since she was four.