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A Proud Alliance



THE HONOURABLE Felicity Travers stepped lightly down from the omnibus and strode out with vigour along the busy street. A man jostled her shoulder but she continued purposefully on her way with scarcely a pause. She dared not hesitate for a second or her courage might fail her entirely.

She had rehearsed what she was to say a dozen times. It was perfectly simple. Merely thank him for taking care of the business since her father’s death and declare that now she and Mama had returned his services were no longer required. The sooner they were rid of Blakeley, the better.

Lifting the skirt of her tropical white dress which, having come straight from the ship, she had not had time to change, she circumnavigated a puddle, only to be splashed by it as a cart drawn by a pair of Clydesdales rumbled by. Stacked high with women in wide hats, purple banners, streamers and posters declaring the delights of a weekly paper out this very day, the thirteenth of April, 1909, the vehicle looked as if it might topple over at any minute.

‘Votes for Women.’ The cry went up and Felicity tightened her lips with fresh determination. How dared she quail at her duty in the face of such fervour? She had never been one to do so in the past and had no intention of starting now.

For a moment, the pain of memory blotted everything else from Felicity’s mind as she recalled the dear face of her father and compared with disfavour the chill greyness of the Manchester street about her with the recollected heat and bustle of her beloved Calcutta. How she wished he were still with them, but he was gone and they must face life alone in this new drab world. She shivered.

The importance of duty had been instilled in her ever since they had first gone out to India all those years ago. Papa had been happy then, and Mama’s talent and beauty had charmed everyone, making it a great honour to be invited to one of her many social gatherings. How different from the wan, pathetic figure she now presented. But Lady Travers had protested vehemently that Felicity should make no move until after their appointment with the lawyer.

‘Dearest Mama, it will take no more than a half-hour.´ Felicity had countered as she was hustled aboard the hired brougham which was to take them to their hotel. ‘And I shall feel so much better prepared if I have at least lifted the curtain a fraction upon this mystery.’

‘I do not understand,’ Carmella Travers had moaned, not for the first time. ‘I really do not see how he could do this to us,´ punctuating her words with tiny dabs of a lace handkerchief to her swollen eyes and causing the mingled scents of sal volatile and eau-de-cologne to waft across the carriage, thus depressing Felicity’s spirits still further. ‘I was ever a good wife to him. Why could he not take me into his confidence.´

Felicity privately thought that she could guess very easily why Papa had kept such information to himself but deemed it wise not to say so. ‘Indeed, you were the very best of wives, dearest Mama, do not distress yourself.’ Felicity exchanged yet another anxious glance with the loyal Millie who sat stroking and patting her mistress’s hand as if calming a child. They shared concern for Lady Travers’s health. The shock of losing her beloved husband had been followed swiftly by the mystifying information that, not only had Sir Joshua surprisingly owned a Manchester fashion emporium of which they were in total ignorance, but also their lawyer had grave misgivings about the way it was being run. All of this had grievously affected her health. Felicity was anxious to learn the whole truth with all speed so that she could spare her mania further distress.

So here she was, tingling with nerves but none the less determined, gazing curiously across the street, wishing her eyes could penetrate the darkened interior behind the over-ornate facade and with it the mystery which shrouded its very existence.

She knew that Manchester, as the heart of the booming cotton industry, was a prosperous and hard-working city. On her short journey through its bewildering network of streets, she had seen numerous warehouses and manufactories, handsome Gothic churches, theatres, an opera house and the famous Exchange Building where all the financial dealings in the textile world took place. It was undoubtedly impressive. Yet in the narrower streets, glimpsed from the major thoroughfares, she had caught a very different picture of the other side of life in this bustling city. She had seen bare-footed children, weary work-worn women carrying bundles of laundry, their grey faces swathed in shawls against the biting north-east wind. Now, as she stared up at the four-storey building which towered over its neighbours, rows of tiny windows glinting in contrast to the grim stone walls darkened by time and the all-pervading smoke that filled the city, she experienced a sudden and inexplicable urge to turn and run away. But the noisy crowd in the street pressed in upon her, filling her nostrils with strange, not altogether pleasant scents and her mind with more images than it could assimilate.

‘Votes for Women,’ came the cry once again. ‘Come with us to Albert Square.’

If Felicity had known the profound effect the pamphlet was to make upon her life she would not have accepted it with such carelessness. But as her mind was fully engaged elsewhere her fingers closed upon it without question as she smiled vaguely at the purple-sashed figure, almost welcoming the distraction. No. There was no going back. Besides, once having decided upon a course of action, she disliked prevarication of any kind.

‘No doubt Mr Blakeley is merely a foolish old gentleman, when it comes to it, who will be only too glad to go,’ she said into the general hubbub, and, jauntily adjusting her new hat to a more becoming angle, she started to cross the street.

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The Honourable Felicity Travers learns she is expected to marry the entrepreneurial Jarle Blakeley, the man she believes responsible for her father’s bankruptcy. Inspired by the suffragette movement, Felicity intends to be a modern woman and make her own decisions. Blakeley proves persuasive, if somewhat lacking in romance. But with secrets still to be told, does the marriage have any hope of success?