Sunday, 27 April 2014

Guest blog: Anna Jacobs - 'The Trader's Reward'

1871. When Fergus Deagan's wife dies in childbirth, she makes him promise to take their family to Western Australia to join his brother Bram, also to marry again. She's right. His young sons and newborn daughter do need a mother's love and he needs something different.

Disowned by her father for becoming pregnant, Cara Payton bears a stillborn baby. She's in deep despair, until a plea to wetnurse a motherless baby gives her life new purpose. When Fergus proposes marriage, she accepts. She respects him and is happy to stay with the baby she now loves.

During the voyage to Australia, she and Fergus draw closer. Then her past rears its ugly head and they face a terrible crisis.

When they finally get to Fremantle, Fergus and Bram, always rivals, struggle to make friends. To make matters worse, Bram has financial problems and there is no railway where Fergus can find engineering work. Can the two brothers solve their problems? Will the newcomers find a way to build a new life?

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The family she was to help lived in a terrace of bigger houses than the one Cara had been living in for the past few months, and these houses were all in much better repair. Mrs Sealey had told her Mr Deagan was assistant to one of the engineers at the Swindon Railway Works and this house showed that he was doing well.

She’d had only a tiny attic room for the past few months, with a privy across the communal back yard and a tap next to the back door. Mr Deagan had a whole house for his family and there were private yards behind each of these houses.

Taking a deep breath, she followed the midwife inside.

‘I’ve brought you a wet nurse, Mrs Grady. This is Cara Payton. Her baby was stillborn two days ago. She’s a widow. She has plenty of milk, so she can feed little Niamh, but she’ll need housing. And paying, too, of course.’

Alana Grady studied the young woman, who looked wan and weary, but healthy enough. If she’d lost her own baby, no wonder she looked sad. ‘What happened to your husband, dear?’

‘An accident at the railway works—’ Mrs Sealey began.

‘I won’t lie to them,’ Cara said, staring defiantly at Mrs Grady. ‘I was attacked by a man as I walked home from the shops at dusk. I was too ashamed to tell anyone. And then . . . I found I was expecting a child. I didn’t even know what was happening to me. My mother had to tell me. My father threw me out, said I was a fallen woman now and he wouldn’t have me or my bastard under his roof.’

Alana looked at Mrs Sealey, not sure what to say to this.

The midwife went to put her arm round the girl. At twenty-two and so unused to the ways of the world, she seemed a mere girl to her. ‘I know Cara’s aunt. She and I believe the girl about the attack, so we’ve helped her as best we can. But with the baby dead and the money running out, Cara needs to earn her daily bread.’

There was a wailing cry from the corner of the room and they all looked across at the squirming bundle. 

The baby continued to cry and Cara moved slowly across the room, as if she was sleepwalking. 

Mrs Sealey held Alana’s arm and shook her head, mouthing, ‘Let her.’
Cara stared down into the drawer they were using as a cradle. The baby was tiny, smaller than her poor dead baby, even. It looked sad and lost as it wept for sustenance. Its distress touched her heart as nothing else had done since the attack all those months ago – nothing except her own child’s death, that was.

She bent down instinctively to pick up the infant and comfort it. ‘There now. There.’ As she cradled it against her, it stopped crying and stared up at her, blinking as if the light from the kitchen window hurt its eyes.

The light hurt her eyes too, because they were sore and swollen from weeping.

She turned to face the two older women. ‘If I can save this baby’s life, I will. It’ll bring good out of evil, at least.’

She waited, rocking the baby slightly, an instinctive action which seemed to soothe it.

The midwife nodded. ‘Very well. Let’s see if we can get her to feed. Let me help you unbutton your bodice.’

Cara looked round, blushing. ‘Here? What if someone comes in?’

It was the blush which made Alana’s mind up. Suddenly she too believed the 
girl’s story. ‘We’ll go into the front room. I’ll make sure no one else disturbs us.’

‘I’ll show you how to do it,’ Mrs Sealey said in her usual brisk tone.

Exposing her body to a complete stranger was a further humiliation to Cara. But when the baby began tugging desperately at her breast, when the milk started to flow, so did her own tears. But this time they were tears of hope and healing.

She looked at the midwife. ‘I really might be able to save her life, mightn’t I?’ 

‘Nothing’s certain with babies that small, dear, but you can give her a chance, the only chance she’s likely to get.’ And that child can save you, too, Mrs Sealey thought, but didn’t say that.

By the time Fergus came home from making arrangements to bury his wife, the two older women had settled everything between them.

Cara was to stay in the Gradys’ house with the baby until after the funeral, then the boys would move into their father’s bedroom, and the Gradys would move their things to Fergus’s house, into the front room downstairs, leaving Cara and the baby with the back bedroom. 


Anna Jacobs has had almost 70 novels published in the genres of historical, modern and fantasy fiction, as well as short stories and articles. She is one of Australia’s most successful authors and brings riveting story lines and heart-warming writing to a legion of fans around the world.

Anna Jacobs lives in both Western Australia and the UK, spending time in each country every year. She uses her love of these areas to produce powerfully written modern and historical novels that span those countries. She receives numerous fan emails each week, and her readers most commonly tell her that they can’t put down her novels!

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