My Lady Deceiver -
Rosie Belsfield feels as if her life has ended when she is rejected from Ellis Island and put on the next boat back to England, leaving her family behind. But fate gives her a second chance when she befriends Lady Rosalind. Having boarded the ship with one identity, fate decrees that Rosie leave it with another . . .
As Rosie arrives in Cornwall as ‘Rosalind’, she finds herself increasingly trapped by her deception and the cruelty of those around her. Her only hope seems to be the enigmatic Bryce Tregowan, with whom the promise of a new life beckons. As she falls deeper into love and lies, can Rosie keep up the act, or will her secrets reveal themselves? And to what consequences?
It was the shudder of the ship’s engines slowing to a dull rhythmic beat which gave the weary passengers the first indication that they had survived. Packed as they were in an odorous pit where they’d languished for three long weeks of this perilous voyage, even the sickest traveller roused from their stupor sufficiently to whisper a quiet prayer of thanks.
‘Is it over at last? Are we there?’ they asked each other in stunned disbelief. Shouts were heard overhead, the sounds of men calling out instructions to each other, chains rattling and ropes being flung about.
Glancing into her mother’s pale face, Rose let out a sigh of relief as she hugged her tight. ‘We’ve landed, Mam. We’re in America at last.’ How they had longed for this moment, thinking that it might never come. In the strange eerie silence that followed when the engines ceased their rumbling at last came the raucous squawk of a lone gull wheeling high above in a blue sky which they, as steerage passengers, could scarcely glimpse.
A great cheer went up and, as one, people began to scramble to their feet, to gather their children about them, to collect their precious belongings which they’d guarded for so long. Rose too set about thrusting bags and bundles into the arms of her siblings. ‘You carry the heaviest bag, Micky. And Mary, you take this smaller one, and mind you keep tight hold of little Clara’s hand. You know what a flibbertigibbet she is. If she doesn’t behave, toss her overboard,’ she said, plonking a kiss on the child’s brow to show she was only teasing. ‘Mam will mind the twins and the bedding, while I carry the rest of our stuff.’
Each person was allowed one piece of luggage or bundle. Choosing what to take with them to their new life might have proved to be a difficult decision, were it not for the fact that they’d had few possessions to begin with. Even so, the little ones couldn’t carry much, so the task was largely left to Micky, Mam and herself.
Rose was already filling her arms with bundles of clothing, hefting the other brown suitcase, her excitement and the breath required to carry out this task such that she succumbed to a sudden fit of coughing.
Annie Belsfield rested a careworn hand on her daughter’s cheek. ‘Take care; that chill is worsening, if anything. We’re not in America yet, girl, and we don’t want no setbacks.’
Rose instantly sobered. They all knew they still had to face the much feared inspection, which would begin the moment they stepped onto Ellis Island.
‘Here, let me take that. It’s too heavy for a slip of a thing like you.’ A familiar voice at her side, and the heavy suitcase was wrested from her grasp.
‘I can manage,’ Rose protested, determined to do her bit. ‘We’re all supposed to carry our own.’
‘But why should you when you’ve me hanging around with nought to do but help?’
She looked up into the young man’s grinning face, round as a moon in the dim light with a smattering of freckles on nose and forehead, and, as her oldest friend, dearly familiar. Stocky and robust with a tousle of red hair, Joe was always at her side when most needed, like an elder brother. Rose trusted him absolutely, so relinquished the precious suitcase into his capable hands, together with some of her hard-
‘Just don’t start your bossing, all right?’
Joe grinned. ‘If I do boss you at times, it’s only because I know what’s best for you.’
Rose gave him a quelling glance from beneath thick brown lashes, pursing rosy lips tightly against a sharp response, as this wasn’t the moment for one of their squabbles.
At heart she was a rather shy and unassuming girl, despite having lived all of her twenty years in a common lodging house on Fishponds Road in Bristol. Thin and underfed she may be, but also capable and uncomplaining, well used to coping with difficulties, particularly since the death of their father. He’d been in the Rifle Brigade, killed in action in South Africa in the Boer War. Following his death, and with six children to care for, Rose and her mother had grown even closer, but the family had suffered near starvation, dependent as they were upon poor relief.
Then quite out of the blue her mother’s sister had sent them the money to join her in America. It felt like a gift from the gods, the answer to their prayers. They’d needed to pay six pounds and six shillings each for Mam and Rose, half price for each of the remaining five children. Which left them with the barest minimum to begin their new life. They could but hope it would be enough.
Joe, when he’d heard of their plan, had asked to come along as well, since he had no family of his own.
‘How would you manage without me?’ he’d teased, when Rose had expressed surprise over this decision. She’d guessed it was more likely the reverse since she was only too aware that Joe Colbert was sweet on her, which troubled her at times.
The battle over the suitcase turned out to be premature as it was some hours before the steerage passengers were even allowed out on deck. First and second class were naturally given priority, subjected to a superficial medical, and allowed to go on their way without too much hassle. The sick were being taken for a more intense physical examination at the quarantine facility on Staten Island.
Tension mounted, emotions running high by the time they eventually clattered up the stairs to emerge blinking into the bright sunshine, gazing in wonder at this new, much longed for land. Everyone was dressed in their best clothes, waiting with exemplary patience for their turn to disembark. They shared disturbing stories of those who had failed in their dream and been sent back home, like a faulty parcel. Many filled the long hours by practising what they might say in response to the dreaded questions, testing and advising each other. Others remained grimly silent, clinging on to the ship’s rails and their few belongings with equal tenacity.
Like Rose and her family these people had staked everything they owned on this enterprise. Many had left behind loved ones they might never see again, while gladly turning their backs on poverty, unemployment, congested living conditions and miserable oppression.
In America they hoped for a better future, free education for their children, a free vote, low taxes, high wages, and an end perhaps to religious repression or compulsory military service. Liberty and justice for all. Not to mention a more forgiving climate. But they never stopped speculating on the fear of not achieving that dream, of being turned away at the gate. What might they be asked? they worried. What would be expected of them?