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Seeking to escape a possible murder conviction in England, Hannah's world is literally turned upside down as she boards a boat bound for Melbourne. Young and naïve, with some laboratory notes ...
Seeking to escape a possible murder conviction in England, Hannah's world is literally turned upside down as she boards a boat bound for Melbourne. Young and naïve, with some laboratory notes and a handful of medical instruments, she hopes Australia is a place of a new beginning and a fresh start, a place where she can begin a midwife practice.
Arriving during a period of enormous change in Australia, Hannah faces a myriad of challenges. Not only must she fight for acceptance as a medical professional, but she falls in love with and must decide between two men: Neal Scott, an American photographer seeking a new life in Australia, and Jamie O'Brien, a rowdy outlaw fleeing arrest.
This Golden Land presents a sweeping historical saga of Australia and a love story that neither time nor distance can erase.
Lying in the darkness, trying to determine the hour of the day, she heard the rain pelting the mullioned windows and remembered that she had decided to lie down before dinner.
She must have fallen asleep—
Another sharp pain. No! It's too soon!
With great effort—the baroness was eight months pregnant—she managed to sit up and swing her legs over the side of the bed. It had been daylight when she had come into the bedroom; now it was dark and no lamps were lit. She groped frantically for the bell rope and as she gave it a pull, she felt warm dampness spread beneath her.
"No," she whispered. "Please God, no...." Another sharp pain made her cry out.
By the time the housekeeper arrived, the pains had become stronger and closer together. Mrs. Keen rushed to the bedside, where the glow from her oil lamp fell upon bed sheets soaked in blood. And Her Ladyship-"Dear God," whispered the housekeeper as she eased the shockingly white baroness back down onto the pillows.
"The baby," gasped Lady Margaret. "It's coming...."
Mrs. Keen stared at her. Lady Margaret's long red hair, streaming down her back and over her shoulders, made her seem younger than her twenty-three years. She looked frail and vulnerable. And now the premature pains.
Earlier, when Lady Margaret had said she was feeling out of sorts, Lord Falconbridge had gone himself to fetch the doctor at Willoughby Hall. But that had been hours ago. Had the storm washed the road out? "Don't you worry, Your Ladyship," Mrs. Keen crooned. "Your husband and Dr. Willoughby will be here shortly."
Leaving a maid to sit with the baroness, the housekeeper flew down the stairs, calling for Luke, her husband, who was the estate manager.
Falconbridge Manor exploded with life as word of Lady Margaret's premature labor brought maids, footmen, the butler, the cook, and assistant cooks from their rooms and various tasks, some of whom had been in the process of getting ready for bed, with others still dressed in work uniforms. Lord Falconbridge was extremely rich, and the manor, dating back to William the Conqueror, required a large staff.
Luke Keen, having just come in from seeing to the hunting dogs, the cold and damp of the evening on his tweeds, said, "What's all this then?"
The housekeeper took her husband to one side. "Her Ladyship has begun labor. She is three weeks early. Something is wrong. You must send someone to find His Lordship and Dr. Willoughby. They should have been here by now."
He nodded gravely. "I'll send Jeremy. He's our fastest rider."
A scream from the second floor made them look up and then at each other. Luke twisted his cap in his hands. His sister, God rest her, had died in childbirth. "Should I go for Doc Conroy?"
Mrs. Keen bit her lip. Although John Conroy lived just on the other side of the village, and he was a doctor, he did not belong to the same social class as the baron and his wife. Conroy took care of the villagers and the local farm folk. And there was that other matter about Dr. Conroy, which Mrs. Keen knew displeased Lord Falconbridge. His Lordship would certainly not approve of such a man, doctor or no, laying hands on his wife.
But then, recalling Lady Margaret's miscarriage the year before that had very nearly taken her life, the housekeeper said, "Very well, Mr. Keen, ride into Bayfield yourself. And pray that Dr. Conroy is home!"
As Keen saddled his horse, he wondered if he was doing the right thing. Lord Falconbridge had a terrible temper and took it out on everyone when something was not to his liking. He was also a man to lay blame. Poor Mrs. Delaney, the cook who had been at Falconbridge Manor for thirty years—out on her ear because His Lordship insisted that it was her onion soup that had caused his wife's miscarriage. If something happened to Lady Margaret or the baby tonight, who would the baron blame? Keen and his wife could not risk losing their positions. Times were hard and jobs were scarce.
On the other hand, Keen told himself as he mounted the horse, His Lordship could be generous with rewards. If the Keens, by their quick action, saved Lady Margaret's life, and the baby's, there was no telling what favors His Lordship could bestow on them. Perhaps a retirement cottage of their own, and a small pension....
As Luke Keen rode off into the rainy night, he prayed that he wasn't about to make the worst mistake of his life.
It was good to be home, Hannah Conroy thought as she set the table for supper. Good to be back in Bayfield, back in her own home where a fire burned cozily against the miserable night, while her father worked in his small laboratory off the parlor. This past year in London, the intensive training in midwifery at the Lying-In Hospital—with the lectures and demonstrations and exams, the long hours on the wards, taking care of patients, emptying bedpans, mopping floors, and living in cramped quarters in a dormitory with one afternoon off each week for church and personal laundry—it had all been worth it. Perched on the fireplace mantel and ready to be hung out on the lane was the freshly painted new shingle: Conroy & Conroy ~ Physician & Midwife.
For as long as she could remember, Hannah had wanted to follow in her father's footsteps as a healer, but since the medical profession was closed to women, she saw midwifery as a back door into that world. When she turned seventeen, her father had sent letters of recommendation to the Lying-In Hospital in London. Hannah had then gone to the city for entrance exams and, having passed, was enrolled. She started the course on the morning of her eighteenth birthday and received her certificate of completion one year later, when she turned nineteen, one month ago. Hannah dreamed of someday having a modest practice of her own and had already been informed that Mrs. Endicott, wife of a local egg farmer, was willing to have Hannah attend to the delivery of her ninth child, due in a week. Mrs. Endicott, Hannah had no doubt, would then refer Miss Conroy to friends and neighbors.
Hannah was also happy to be home for another reason—in the year that she had been away, her father's health had declined, so much so that she was going to suggest that he scale back his medical practice and take care of himself for a change.
At forty-five, John Conroy was a tall, attractive man with dark hair touched with silver, his shoulders square, his back straight. In his way of dressing "plain" whenever he went out—long straight black coat over black trousers, black waistcoat and white shirt; no cravat, shirt buttoned to a simple collar; and a low-crowned black hat with a wide, flat brim—John Conroy cut a striking figure. When he walked through the village, ladies' heads turned.
With tenderness, Hannah recalled how, after her mother died, the women of Bayfield and surrounding areas had come around—the widows and spinsters and mothers of marriageable daughters—bringing quilts and food to the handsome Quaker widower. But none could penetrate the wall of grief nor break through the barrier of dedication to a new cause that was born the night of Louisa's death: to find a cure for what had killed her.
Hannah paused in slicing the bread and listened to the wind and rain. Had she heard the sound of horses' hooves in the distance? She prayed it was not someone coming to fetch her father for an emergency. He would go, of course, as there was no other doctor around.
The village of Bayfield, in the county of Kent, was located halfway between London and Canterbury on a brisk stream that branched off the River Len. Although it was speculated that people had lived in the area since the Stone Age, and that possibly Caesar's legions had marched through here, the settlement could be specifically traced back to the year 1387, when a group of pilgrims returning from Canterbury had rested "by a hay field" and decided to stay.
Hannah listened to the horses' hooves draw nearer until they arrived in the courtyard. Opening the front door to see a lone rider jump down from his mount, Hannah recognized Luke Keen from Falconbridge Manor. "Mr. Keen! Please come inside."
As Hannah closed the door behind him, he removed his soaked cap and dashed it against his leg. "Is your father home, Miss Conroy? He's needed at once."
John Conroy's voice came from the parlor. "Hannah, did I hear—Oh, good evening to thee, Luke Keen."
"Sorry to bother you, Doc, but there's an emergency at the Manor."
"I'll be right along. What is the problem?"
"It's her Ladyship, Doc."
Conroy turned. "What did thee say?"
"She's in a family way and something's wrong."
Conroy exchanged a look with his daughter. Although they had been to Falconbridge Manor, it was to tend to the household staff. They had never been summoned by the Falconbridges. "Where is their own doctor?"
"His Lordship went to fetch Dr. Willoughby hours ago and they ain't returned. My wife says it's bad. She thinks Her Ladyship might die!"
Luke Keen helped them hitch their horse to their buggy and then he left, to ride ahead and let Her Ladyship know that help was on the way.
As the Conroys set off into the night, the rain pelting the leather roof of the small carriage, John snapped the reins and the chestnut mare broke into a fast trot while Hannah clasped her bonnet to her head. She searched her father's face for signs of fatigue. Although Hannah was not herself a doctor—nor could she ever be—years of assisting him had given her sharp diagnostic eye, especially when it came to detecting the onset of a condition he had developed during the course of his research. Because of experimenting on himself with infections and test cures, her father now suffered from a chronic heart ailment for which he had concocted a medicine—an extract of the foxglove plant that was called digitalis because of foxglove's resemblance to a human finger, or "digit."
But there was no fatigue on his face tonight, no telltale perspiration or pallor. He looked rugged and healthy. And then Hannah was wondering how Lord Falconbridge was going to react to their presence at the manor. The few times she had seen the baron, he had not looked pleased. It was because, when he rode through Bayfield, the citizens removed their hats out of respect. But Hannah's father did not. Like all Quakers, he refused to pay "hat honor" to any man, believing that all people were created equal in the eyes of God. She recalled the look in His Lordship's eyes on those occasions when he had looked back at the impudent Quaker—a look that now chilled her to the bone.
"Here we are," John Conroy said when the lights of Falconbridge Manor appeared ahead through the light rain. As stable boys ran up to take their rig, Conroy and his daughter were met by an agitated Luke Keen, who led them to the tradesmen's entrance, which opened into the kitchen. Instead of being taken to the back stairs which led to the servants quarters, where John Conroy had seen to many an injury or illness, they were led through a corridor into the grand baronial hall that was the heart of Falconbridge Manor. It was the first time Conroy and his daughter had been in the residential part of the mansion, and Hannah tried not to stare at the suits of armor, fabulous paintings in ornate frames, and collections of exquisite porcelain and military memorabilia in glass display cases.
After relinquishing damp capes and hats to a maid, the Conroys were led up the vast, curving stairway by the housekeeper, a somber woman in black bombazine who was pale-faced and shaken.
The Conroys found Lady Margaret in a vast and luxurious bed chamber with magnificent tapestries, handsome furnishings, and flames roaring in the fireplace. The baroness was lying on a massive four-poster bed, her rounded body covered by a satin counterpane.
John Conroy said to Mrs. Keen, "I shall need a basin of water."
"Yes, doctor," she said stiffly, and disappeared into an adjoining room, where Hannah glimpsed beautiful gowns, hats, and shoes.
Conroy went to Lady Margaret and, laying a hand on her clammy forehead, said in a soothing tone, "Margaret Falconbridge, I am John Conroy. I am a doctor. Can thee speak?"
"Is thee in pain?"
"No ... pains stopped...."
Conroy shot his daughter a look. The cessation of birth pains could be a serious sign. "Margaret," he said quietly. "I am going to examine thee. Do not be afraid."
Conroy opened his black medical bag that contained tongue depressors, silk sutures, gauze and bandages, as well as arsenic tablets, powdered cocaine, and vials of strychnine and opium. He brought out his stethoscope. It was the latest design, made of rubber tubing and equipped with a listening bell and two ear pieces. With this he was able to hear the desperate faint galloping of the baroness's heart.
"Hannah, if thee will please," he said, drawing back the white satin cover and gesturing for his daughter to lift Lady Margaret's blood-stained nightgown. Out of deference to his patient's modesty, John Conroy would have Hannah conduct the visual examination.
Hannah did so and then said in low voice, "Lady Margaret is not in labor, Father. But she continues to bleed. I suspect placentia previa." It meant that the placenta had broken free from the uterine wall and was blocking the birth canal. If intervention was not initiated soon, the lady would bleed to death and the baby would perish.
Mrs. Keen returned with a porcelain basin filled with water. Setting it on a small writing desk, she watched in curiosity as Dr. Conroy retrieved a bottle from his bag. As he decanted a dark purple liquid into the water, the housekeeper wrinkled her nose at the pungent smell that rose up. When Conroy removed his coat and rolled up his sleeves to plunge his hands into the horrible stuff, her eyebrows shot up. What on earth was he doing?
She was suddenly alarmed. Quakers weren't like normal Christians. Was John Conroy going to do something unorthodox to Her Ladyship?
Mrs. Keen opened her mouth to protest when loud noises exploded in the hallway beyond—booming shouts and stamping feet. The door to the bedchamber flew open, and Lord Falconbridge rushed in. Still wearing a wet cloak and top hat, he fell upon the bed and drew his wife into his arms. "Maggie, my love. I am here! The main road was washed out. We had to go around. Maggie, are you all right?"
A second man entered the chamber at a more sedate pace—portly and white-whiskered, calmly handing his top hat, cape and walking stick to Mrs. Keen. He barely glanced at the Conroys as he went to the bed, standing opposite His Lordship, and lifted one of Lady Margaret's wrists between his thumb and finger. Hannah and her father recognized him as Dr. Miles Willoughby, doctor to Bayfield's wealthy and privileged.
"If Your Lordship will permit me," he said in an authoritative voice.
Falconbridge eased his wife back onto the pillows. Margaret was unconscious now, her face as white as the sheets.
Pulling out a gold pocket watch, Willoughby counted Her Ladyship's pulse, then laid her arm down. He pursed his lips as he looked at the rounded abdomen beneath the white nightgown. He then looked at Margaret's face. "Mrs. Keen," he said to the housekeeper without taking his eyes from his patient, "when did the labor cease?"
"About half an hour ago, sir."
"Very good," he said. "Now if Your Lordship won't mind giving us some privacy?"
"Save her, doctor," Falconbridge pleaded as he rose from the bed. "I could not bear to lose her." The baron's face was the color of cobwebs.
"Do not worry, Your Lordship. A little blood-letting is what Her Ladyship needs."
John Conroy stepped forward and said, "Friend, blood-letting is not wise. Margaret Falconbridge has suffered a separation of the placenta and is hemorrhaging. What must be done is to deliver the child and stop the bleeding."
Willoughby barely looked at him. "Mrs. Keen, I suggest you assist His Lordship to his private chambers."
"Yes, Doctor," she said and waited anxiously while Falconbridge tore himself away from the unconscious Margaret. The baron was a thin, severe looking man in his forties, known for being humorless and a crack shot at pheasant shooting, and not very popular among his tenants and the villagers. Margaret was his second wife, and he was as yet without an heir.
Falconbridge turned to John Conroy, noticing him for the first time. "What are you doing here?"
"I was summoned," Conroy said.
The baron nodded vaguely, cast a final woeful glance at his wife, and then strode out of the room with the housekeeper close on his heels. When the door closed behind them, Willoughby set his medical bag on the bed and undid the buckle. "You can go, too," he muttered without looking at the Conroys. "I'll take over now."
Excerpted from This Golden Land by Barbara Wood Copyright © 2010 by Barbara Wood. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted March 10, 2011
I am very surprised that Ms. Wood's books are hard to come by. I first discovered her reading a Spanish translation of her "Green City in the Sun" and I was hooked. Since then I have read at least ten of her books, which I had to hunt down over the internet. She always brings her heroines (who are almost always involved in some form of healing) to life in very interesting, romantic and well researched settings. "The Golden Land" didn't disappoint, I loved it.
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Posted December 20, 2012
Posted May 2, 2011
In "This Golden Land," Barbara Wood takes a love story and fills it with vivid history and fascinating facts, making every page as informative as it is exciting. Not since "The Thornbirds" have I enjoyed any novel about Australia as much as this one. The land and the people come alive in this wonderful story about Hannah and the many things she loves. There is her love for her physician father, for his research, for her goal to improve medicine, for her many women friends, and especially for two handsome men who enter her life at differing times. Who will she end up with? You won't be disappointed in the outcome. I found Barbara Wood's portrayal of the Australian aborigines and their way of life to be particularly gratifying, educational and fascinating. Her attention to detail made the Outback real for me. I could almost feel the heat and see the shimmering mirages as Neal struggles to survive. This is also a story about 1800's European class distinctions and about the taming of Australia. It is the tale of strong men and women who prevail over adversity to achieve success and happiness in an astounding country. Barbara Wood is one of my favorite authors, and "This Golden Land" is an exceptional book. You will love her characters. This novel has my highest recommendation; I didn't want it to end. By the way, we'd love to see a sequel that re-introduces Jallara with her child, and also Jamie O'Brien. They're wonderful characters we'd enjoy meeting again. Thanks for the great read! Special thanks to Sharon Stewart and Barbara Wood for providing a review copy of this wonderful novel to Summit Book Reviews.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 18, 2014
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Posted December 27, 2012
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