Chapter 1

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Pansy rocked herself, scuffing her leather booted toe over the worn boards of the veranda. She must remind her son it would need new boards and staining before the next rainy season, that was if they had one. The last few years rain had been scarce. It was time to tell her story to another generation. Pansita was the only one of ten great-grandchildren who was curious, a pity. Maybe she should tell it sooner, a gentler version of what she was about to share now.

She fingered her long silver white braid. It was as long and thick as it ever was, but no longer pale blond like the best fresh churned butter. It used to gleam with silver and gold in the sun; she remembered how her dear Mauro used to tell her it was the flash of her braid, as she came aboard the convict ship that first caught his attention. The gentle motion of the chair soothed her aches, and she stroked the armrest of polished wood. She thought of the birth of her first child and the surprise waiting in the nursery. A cradle and rocking chair, both of the finest walnut.

The door creaked behind her and Pansita brought tea mugs and warm scones. The aroma of the apples and pecans mixed into them made her mouth water. Helping herself, she buttered half and popped the first bite into her mouth. After savoring the cinnamon-flavored treat, she spoke.

"Do you have a free hour?"

"It's Christmas break Grandma, I've finished with reading for university. I'm studying for my ground school exam. Papa said I can take my pilot's training as soon as I pass it. Nick at Billabong Station will be my instructor. Besides, I've been wanting to hear your story for months now." She'd heard whispers of how everything started for years, but each time she'd asked her grand-mere, she'd been told, you're too young ma fille, grandma Pansy will tell you in her own time.

"It's time you knew. It isn't a tale for the faint of heart. I promise you it will be well worth the wait."

"How old were you when you came to Australia?" Pansita knew it had to be younger than she was now.

They threw me into jail when I was sixteen. But I should start at the beginning." Pansy shook her head, remembering the daring plan she'd concocted to find a place where she could become anything she dreamed.

"Tell me. I'm all ears." Pansita settled on the porch railing. The shade was cool, and she leaned against the pillar. Window boxes of pansies bloomed below the sparkling crystal of well-polished windows. They were everywhere around the main house and barns at New Hope Station.

"I am Pansy Montiga now, but I was born Pansy Maria Anne Nelson."

"Nelson? As in Admiral Nelson?" Pansita wondered.

"The one and same, but we were many generations removed. My father was a well-to-do merchant, my mother, I remember little about her. She was the light of Papa's life and when she died of consumption after my brother was born, things quickly changed. Papa married almost immediately, bringing me a new mother who only saw me as a hinderance. Papa buried himself in his work and wouldn't even look at me. I look back on it now, I think I reminded him of Mama. I have only one portrait of her, the miniature in the silver locket in my jewelry box."

"I've seen it, I look like both of you too!" Pansita fingered her own waist length braid.

"It was my sixteenth birthday when my life changed. Mother Aileen was done with me. Papa hadn't spoken to me in over three years. He looked right through me as if I was transparent as glass. She had two daughters of her own, and I was clearly in her way. She told me often enough I would amount to nothing more than a chambermaid. She even stopped my lessons the year before and drove me mercilessly to clean and polish. I'd become her housemaid, nursemaid, and scullery maid."

"That's disgusting! Was there no one you could tell?" Pansita's mouth turned down in an angry frown.

"If I'd had an aunt or uncle or if any of my grandparents had been alive, perhaps. As it was, not even the priest was on my side. And when she handed me the big valise with all my clothes and pressed five sterling pieces in my hand, I looked at her and asked her why? She said get out. You have enough to get you to London and pay for a room until you find work. Find some rich woman who needs a chambermaid. Become a servant, I don't really care, but out!"

Pansita stood up to pace up and down the long porch. Coming back to face Pansy, she said, "How could she? I'd never even dream of turning out family. Family is precious."

"I've taught my children well. I never wanted anyone I loved to feel as unwanted and unloved as I did. My mama died, and all the love in our family went with her. In some ways, I couldn't wait to leave."

"I can't even imagine being in your shoes. What did you do?"

"I dragged that damn suitcase down the walk to the street and looked for the farmer who brought milk, cheese and eggs around to sell. I'd seen him often enough as Mother Aileen always sent me out with exactly enough coin to pay for our order. It was the same each day except Friday. One can of milk, I brought the empty one back to the farmer each morning, two dozen eggs, a pat of butter and on the last day of the week, a pound of hard cheese." Pansy took a long swallow of tea.

"I begged a ride with the farmer, and since I had the coin for that day's order in my pocket from the night before, I asked him for a bit of cheese to nibble on as we went around to the other houses he sold to. We giggled together a little, I think my stepmother was so glad to be rid of me, she forgot all about the regular order and the two shillings and sixpence in my pocket were a welcome addition to my meager horde of funds."

Pansita settled back on the rail. The beginnings of this story were like the start of a grand adventure. She'd heard many such stories, but to think her beautiful great grandmother held such a secret was surprising. Pansy hadn't been away from New Hope Station in decades. She stubbornly remained within its barbed wire fences, refusing to leave except to visit the town for the dentist or to see a doctor for as long as she could remember.

As she sat there listening to the story, she closed her eyes imagining the experiences as the soft mellow voice continued to describe the events and misadventures of an unchaperoned teenager left to fend for herself.

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