Bound by Loyalty – Excerpt
Book 1 of the Victoria Chronicles Trilogy © 2003 J. Robert Whittle
Book One: “Have a cup of coffee at the Balmoral Hotel and meet the locals … a tale of cunning and intrigue in Edwardian Victoria;
this delightful blend of fact and fiction will lead you on a fascinating tour of 1900s Victoria, BC.”
~ C.J. Pallister, City of Victoria Archives
Four-year-old Nancy Wilson is travelling with her father to Victoria, BC from England in 1900. They are befriended by a minister and his wife who look after Nancy when her father is taken ill during the treacherous voyage around The Cape. Our excerpt begins as they arrive in the Pacific Northwest at the end of their six month journey.
Excerpt from Chapter One
Finally, one sunny morning in early October, Captain Welch pointed out the rolling green hills in the distance, explaining they were trees … thousands of acres of larger and taller trees than they had ever seen before. This was their destination … Vancouver Island, he called it.
A great cheer arose but later in the day strong winds and a relentless rain restricted their time on deck as they entered the Straits of Juan de Fuca. It eased during the night and early the next morning they caught their first glimpse of Victoria … before black rain clouds enveloped them once again.
Lining the railing, the passengers watched expectantly as they sailed into a crowded and noisy Victoria Harbour … ‘whaling ships and gold seekers,’ someone said knowingly, but many were travellers and emigrants just like themselves. They had developed a preconceived idea of Victoria, and the lack of modern buildings, homes, and visible inhabitants, coupled with the distressing weather, now greatly dismayed them.
A depressing overcast sky matched Tom Wilson’s countenance as he clutched his daughter in his arms. He was still very tired from his long ordeal but he knew he must put on a brave front for the child. Tears were difficult to contain and several escaped, running down his haggardly pale face. Nancy clung tightly to his neck, kissing his cheek and brushing away each tear as it escaped. Tom found it difficult to look at her. He had tried to explain that he must find work and would return soon, but he had no way of knowing if a child so young could really understand and would ever forgive him.
The familiar bump was felt and the passengers began to line up at the disembarking area. It was still raining and the gangway was treacherously slippery as they helped each other down to the safety of the wharf. Underfoot, the solid nature of Victoria’s dock seemed strangely foreign as they disembarked and searched for their baggage and belongings, brought up by crew members. They found the sun comfortably warm when it came out momentarily, but it was not to last as ominous grey clouds brought rain once again and they were soon wet through.
And then it was time for Tom to leave. Tearfully, Nancy said goodbye to her father, holding so tightly to his neck Charles had to pry her hands away. Taking her into his own arms, her little body began to shake and her face contorted with pain as the realization of their final parting set in. As she watched the last of her family walk away, a heart-wrenching cry escaped her lips.
Her father turned for one last pitiful glance wanting desperately to stay but knowing it was impossible. With shoulders stooped and heart breaking, he turned and quickly disappeared into the rain and the jostling crowd.
Sobbing quietly now, Nancy held tightly to Charles’ hand as they left the dock area and walked up the hill to the main street, they called Government. It was a hazardous journey along the now muddy, pothole-strewn road. As they walked up the uneven boardwalk, greasy from the rain which had now stopped, a dreadful mixture of noises filled the air. All manner of transportation lumbered by often splashing pedestrians in their eagerness to get to their destination. Rough voices shouted and whips cracked coaxing on heavily-loaded drays that creaked and groaned from the strain, terrifying the little girl as she held more tightly to Charles’ hand.
Just as they reached Courtney Street, a stagecoach with the words Victoria Transfer Co. Tally-Ho emblazoned on the side, lumbered by causing them to hastily seek safety.
A stern-faced churchman dressed in a long, black cloak awaited their arrival at the corner. He offered the Reverend a lifeless handshake and grumbled at the sight of the child. “The orphanage is full,” he said coldly, upon hearing Rev. Garvey’s explanation for the girl’s presence. “And you, sir, force us to take in another one of these homeless waifs!”
In a show of temper, the sinister-looking churchman turned on his heel and slipping slightly on the slick surface, marched across the street, his long cloak dragging in the mire. Wondering if he should follow, Charles hesitated but Emilia carefully hoisted her skirts in a vain attempt to keep them out of the mud, and stepped from the safety of the boardwalk.
“Come, Charles,” she ordered over her shoulder, picking her way between the potholes. Then, noticing Nancy’s appearance, she added more gently, “Pick her up, Charles, the child can barely stay awake.”
He picked up the weary little girl and hurried across the road. Reaching the opposite side, he stopped to look about him and noticed for the first time the rows of shacks that purported to be businesses—many of them desperately in need of repair. For a fleeting moment, he was glad they were not staying.
With his temper wearing thin at the poor welcome being afforded them, Charles Garvey called harshly after the churchman who was hurrying ahead. “Good gracious man, could you at least tell us where you’re taking us!”
An arm appeared from under the churchman’s cloak, though he never turned his head nor spoke a word. He pointed through the mist to a brick church spire at the end of the block. Seeing their destination at last, they hurried on and soon found themselves standing at the entrance of a somewhat familiar-looking place of worship. The sign read, SAINT ANDREWS PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH. Although it was much smaller than most English churches, they were nonetheless grateful.
Emilia’s clothes were now quite wet and streaked with mud. She was barely able to contain her anger as they arrived at the side door. Her husband tightly gripped the distressed child who now whimpered in fitful sleep on his shoulder. Their guide rang a bell and they waited. By the time the Chinese houseboy opened the door, Emilia was fuming. The thoughts in her head were anything except charitable. Charles, who was normally a patient man, was making a feeble attempt to calm his wife without waking Nancy.
Stepping inside the dark hallway, it was quite noticeable that their guide had been left outside in the rain. Emilia sighed, biting her lip as they slipped wet coats from tired shoulders, finally waking Nancy when they removed her cape. Frightened by the dark room, she clung even more tightly to Charles.
The houseboy showed them into a comfortably furnished parlour, and disappeared. Polished maple floors were scattered with oriental rugs arranged in an orderly fashion about the room. Dark leather upholstered chairs with enough embroidered cushions to suggest a women’s hand, and heavy vases, stood on miniature tables. A large, unhealthy-looking plant spread its branches from a dark corner. Pictures of horses and hounds adorned the walls in true English tradition. Several long, narrow windows were draped with dark velvet curtains, allowing little light to penetrate the room.
The houseboy returned quickly leading them down a short hall and into another, cheerier looking room. Teacups of fine china were laid out neatly on a low centre table. The short, kindly-looking, but portly, resident clergy, stood with his back to the fire peering over his spectacles, hands clasped behind him. His wife sat stern-faced in an overlarge chair, giving the impression she was casually reading the Bible, which lay open on her lap.
“Come in, come in,” Rev. Gosworth’s powerful voice boomed. “Now what have we here?” he asked, moving closer to study the now wide-awake child in Charles’ arms.
Nancy recoiled and the clergyman stopped, noting her distress. Instead, he inquired of their voyage as he rang a bell and a young maid quickly entered.
“Take the child to the kitchen, Jane, and feed her,” he ordered. “She is no doubt hungry and Rector Swift from St. John’s will soon be here to collect her.” When the maid had left the room, he turned to Charles and growled, “Your promises are most inconvenient, sir!”
The last they heard of Nancy was a pitiful cry as the maid carried her down the long hallway toward the kitchen. “You’ll feel better with something in your stomach, little miss,” she said, charitably.
Shocked alert by the recurring thread of impoliteness, Emilia took a deep breath. “Our luggage should be arriving in a fine state after sitting on the dock in all this rain. I daresay you have a most unwelcome manner of treating guests!” she said, forcing a cold smile.
The biting comment was not lost on the clergyman’s wife. Frowning, she slammed her Bible shut with a thud. Seeing the danger, her husband quickly interceded by assuring Emilia, their trunks would be arriving shortly … they had been well taken care of. Noting the fire in the eyes of this gentle-looking English lady, he decided it would be better not to raise the ire of this women for the steamship to the mainland would be leaving in a couple of days.
“I think the tea is steeped, Gertrude dear. I’ve no doubt our guests have not had a decent cup of tea in months,” said the Reverend, prodding his wife into action.
In the kitchen, Nancy picked at the food on her tin plate. Finally, unable to hold her head up any longer, she fell into merciful sleep—her lovely, but frightfully matted, red hair almost covered her tear-stained face as it rested on the table. Jimmy, the houseboy, looked sympathetically at the child, gently patting her shoulder. Suddenly, the bell for the front door bounced frantically on the end of its spring, ringing just once before Jimmy leapt into action.
At the door stood the tall figure of Rector Swift. Framed in the light and with water dripping liberally from his wide-brimmed hat, he made no effort to enter. “There’s a waif, I believe, a girl from a ship.”
Jimmy nodded and closed the door. Soon it swung open again.
Looking disdainfully at the dripping man, Rev. Gosworth snapped, “Back door, man, you’re wet!”
Grinning to himself as the door banged shut, the old rector of the Iron Church, more formally known as St. John’s Anglican, slowly made his way to the servant’s entrance. It would have come as a tremendous shock if the minister of St. Andrews had invited him in—they were colleagues, in a manner of speaking, yet decidedly different, and obviously so. Rev. Gosworth was a social climber, entertainer of the rich and powerful men of the city, and intent on being ordained a Bishop as a just reward.
But the rector of the Iron Church had no such illusions. He was getting old and happy to serve the Lord and his congregation as the hard life of the working class would allow. The flock to whom he administered in the rattling, old corrugated building he called a House of Worship at the corner of Douglas and Herald, was set amid the sprawling shacks of the poor. They came from different countries, most seeking their fortune or already losing it, in the goldfields of British Columbia and farther north. His habit of befriending the Indians often raised the ire of his parishioners. The Iron Church had served its purpose, but like him, it was getting old and soon would be cast aside in the name of progress.
Arriving at the back door, he tapped lightly. The door opened and the sleeping child was thrust into his arms along with a small suitcase. He heard the door bang shut behind him and he shuddered at the thought of this innocent waif all alone. He looked into the face of the beautiful little girl and turned his solemn face toward the sky. “Lord,” he whispered, “please help this poor, lonely child.”
© 2003 J. Robert Whittle
Back to Victoria Chronicles