It is 1893 in Australia when a girl is dropped off at a boarding house with nothing but a few days' of rent money, a locket that states her name is Adelaide, and a plain brown dress. Without any memory of how she arrived, the girl soon learns she has been drugged, starved, and birthed a baby two days earlier. Now Adelaide is left with more questions than answers as she wonders if she has a family and whether she will ever know her baby.
After it is decided that Adelaide will become a wet nurse for the son of the wealthy James Billington whose wife has just died during childbirth, she carries out her duties and even has a passionate encounter with her boss until his son suddenly dies. But just as Adelaide returns to the boarding house to work, tragedy strikes and leads her in a different direction that includes an arranged marriage and an unexpected pregnancy. As life is created and other lives end, Adelaide is led down an unpredictable path where she learns of her secret past, finds true love, and valiantly struggles to achieve her dreams.
Gypsy Lullaby is a tale of tragedy, mystery, and love as a girl embarks on a coming-of-age journey that she hopes will lead her to the truth and the happiness she deserves.
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By Mazi Mcburnie
Balboa PressCopyright © 2016 Mazi Mcburnie
All rights reserved.
Lying on a bed in the semi-dark room, she could just make out the flower patterns on the worn curtains as the sun attempted to rise. She could barely discern the pattern on the clean but faded quilt. The bed's comfortable, she thought, grateful that the large net covering allowed her to avoid mosquitoes.
Where am I? She wondered what strange pain was gripping her chest. She touched her breasts; they felt hot and wet, as if a bucket of water had been dropped on her. Or, she mused, is the roof leaking? What's my name?
She tried to stand, but a dizzy spell forced her back onto the old four-poster bed. She felt weak, frightened, and incredibly tired. After a while, she stood again, a little stronger this time. The room was now filled with a muted half-light through the faded window; she was able to make out a cupboard, dresser, and washstand in the corner.
The dresser was bare except for a beautiful silver locket. She took the locket gently in her hand and opened it. Inside was a photo of a beautiful dark-eyed, dark-haired woman holding a baby. The inscription read, "I'll love you always, Adelaide." The baby had the same dark eyes and hair as the woman in the photograph.
Am I this baby? she wondered. Am I Adelaide? Or is that the beautiful woman's name? Her mind tried to sort out the meaning of the words in the inscription. If I'm the baby in this photo, someone loved me in the past.
A soft knock on the door diverted her attention from the locket. A shy young woman of about seventeen years entered the room. The girl had untidy mousy hair, a softly freckled face, and a pinny dragging down her leg. "Hello," she said. "My name's Cora. You all right, love?"
"Where am I?" she asked.
"Why, you be at Mrs. Croft's boarding house in Parramatta. You came in late last night by coach. They just dropped you off at the front steps," Cora said. "Can't you remember?"
"No," I replied. "I can't remember much. I feel so weary and dizzy, and my chest hurts something awful."
"Let me have a look-see, love," said Cora. "Why you are all wet? Let me go get Mrs. Croft." With that, Cora flew out of the room as if being chased by a herd of elephants.
Shortly afterwards, there was another bang on the door and a large woman with reddish hair and a ruddy complexion entered the room, followed by Cora. "I am Mrs. Croft, owner of this establishment!" she shouted.
"I am not deaf, madam," she replied, perhaps a bit curtly. "I'm just dizzy and weary, and I don't know my name or why I'm here."
Mrs. Croft advanced farther into the room. She enveloped her with a large body and skirt with many petticoats. "You came in here late last night," she said. "A coachman dropped you off with an envelope with some money, enough for your board — for a week anyway. You had no luggage, just the plain brown dress hanging in the corner, so I put you in my daughter's nightgown. There was nothing written on the envelope."
When she moaned in pain, Mrs. Croft said, "Here, let me have a look at you. I know a thing or two about doctoring." Mrs. Croft pulled back the sheet and let out a shriek. "Core blimey!" she uttered. "That looks pretty bad."
"Well, I'm no doc, but I reckon you might have just given birth and that mess on your chest is baby's milk and a bit of blood," Mrs. Croft announced in an authoritative voice. "Cora!" she shouted to the young maid. "Go get Doc Eames — and tell him to come quick." Cora ran from the room.
"Did you say I've given birth?" she asked quietly, almost under her breath.
"Yeah, love, looks like it to me. What do you remember?"
"I remember a lot of pain and riding a bumpy road in a coach. I think there were some other people in the coach, but that's about all. There's a locket on my dresser with the name Adelaide, but I'm not sure if that's me. I remember feeling very sleepy."
"Well, Adelaide it is, then, love. You have to have a name; it's as good as any," said Mrs. Croft.
A loud banging announced the arrival of Doc Eames, an elderly but kindly looking gentleman with a long beard. "Let's have a look at you, young lady," he said as he pulled the bedclothes off Adelaide. As he gently eased the nightdress over her head, he tried not to pull on the gown too hard, as some of it was stuck to her body because of the milk.
"Well, my dear," Dr. Eames said, "you appear to have a lot of milk. I'm thinking that you gave birth a day or two ago. I believe an infection might be present too, so we need to clean you up and bind these breasts until we can find the baby." He looked towards the mistress of the house. "Mrs. Croft, a word?" They moved to the corner of the room where they clearly thought that she couldn't hear them.
Whispering softly, Dr. Eames confided to Mrs. Croft that the young woman had indeed given birth within the last couple of days. "She's in a weakened, almost emaciated state," he said with pity in his voice. "In spite of that, I believe that with good care and food, she should be able to recover. Mrs. Croft, do you think you could care for her for a few days until she is strong again? I feel that she has been drugged as well as starved. Who would do such a thing to a lovely young girl?"
Dr. Eames had seen many awful things since coming to Australia, but he had never seen a person as starved as this one. Her arms looked like matchsticks, her ribs could be seen through her borrowed nightgown, and she was pale as well.
"Why, Doc," Mrs. Croft said, "you know these old bones have cared for many a sick girl in my day, but there is only money enough for a few days' board."
"I have an idea, Mrs. Croft, one that might solve our immediate problem," said the old doctor. "Do you know of the young missus from Hamstead Hall? The master took a frail English girl as his wife on his last trip home. Well, she died during childbirth yesterday. The baby came early and was breech too. The master is beside himself. He can't look at the boy. Perhaps we could offer Adelaide to him as a wet nurse."
"You mean the rich people on the hill, Doc?" asked Mrs. Croft softly.
"Yes. It might solve all our problems."
"But what of her own babe, Doc?" Mrs. Croft was plainly a kindly soul who wanted to help. "I realise that she will think of her own child, but until she remembers where she came from, I don't reckon we can do much."
"Very well then, Mrs. Croft. I will contact Mr. Billington and put the suggestion to him. Just give me time to get the horse and buggy out. In the meantime, it's your job to get her looking better than she does. She looks likes one of them poor convict lassies, just off the ship all those years ago. It's eighteen ninety-three, and convicts are no longer coming to Australia as they used to, but that's what I think of when I look at the poor thing."
Two days later, Adelaide was indeed looking better. Mrs. Croft had bathed her in front of the fire and combed the knots from her long dark hair. The doctor had left her some powder to take, and she had eaten some porridge that morning. Mrs. Croft had made her some hot milk and toast as well. She was so hungry and thirsty. She was still painfully thin, but her appetite was returning fast.
On the third morning, Dr. Eames announced to Mrs. Croft that Mr. Billington of Hamstead Hall had agreed for Adelaide to be a wet nurse to his baby son, James III.
Adelaide looked at herself in the cracked mirror in the corner. What she saw was a sad, serious young woman of around seventeen years of age. She did not see her amazing classical beauty and bone structure, the glorious dark eyes and hair, but Mrs. Croft and Doctor Eames had seemed to recognise it all underneath the scrawny body.
Somehow, she knew she could read, so she picked up the Bible in her room. She had a strange feeling that she had a family somewhere. She had so many questions but no answers. Was I kidnapped? she thought. Was my child stolen from me? Why do I feel so weak and drowsy?CHAPTER 2
James Billington II stared out of the beautiful long timber windows of his new home. It was built in a style as close as possible to his ancestral home in England. Outside, the gardens now resembled those of his previous home. There was a beautiful rose garden accented with irises, nasturtiums, and hydrangeas, as well as eucalyptus and Norfolk pines, surrounding the main house, and closely clipped hedges lined the driveway. However, he saw none of the beauty of the hills and landscape, the glorious old gum trees and purple hills surrounding his property, not to mention the lovely lake at the bottom of the garden, where ducks were swimming.
He could not believe his delicate wife of only months was dead. She had found the journey by ship to be very trying, and being pregnant from the honeymoon, she had ceased to share his bed, due to her delicate pregnancy. Their doctor in England had warned James that the voyage from England to Australia could take a toll on her nervous disposition and delicate body, but James insisted that a new start in a warmer country would benefit and strengthen her. James did not appreciate advice from others. He was a strong and determined man who was not used to having his ideas questioned by anyone, least of all a doctor.
Now his wife was dead, and in the nursery lay a puny boy whom she delivered in great pain the day before. He could not bring himself to see the child whose life had caused her death.
The housekeeper, Mrs. Boxer, announced that Dr. Eames was here. Curse the man, he thought. Why could he not have done more to save Serena?
The elderly doctor was escorted into the grand library by the officious Mrs. Boxer, clad in her white starched uniform, a large woman, her sour face giving little away, to where James was quietly thinking. James looked up.
Dr. Eames said, "I am truly sorry that I could not save your wife, Mr. Billington. She was delicate and several weeks early, plus the baby was breech. I do not believe anyone could have saved her since she lost so much blood."
James Billington said nothing but merely motioned the doctor to a nearby chair. "Will you take tea?" he asked.
"Thank you, no," the good doctor replied.
"Why are you here today? Are there forms to sign?" asked James in an uninterested monotone.
"I come on behalf of your son, sir."
"What about him?" asked James, his voice filled with indifference.
"He would fare better with a wet nurse," said Dr. Eames, "especially in view of his early arrival."
"Why would I want a wet nurse? I don't care if he lives or dies."
"Do you believe that would be the wish of your late wife?" asked Dr. Eames.
"Perhaps, but had it not been for him, she might still be alive," James replied, thinking that Serena would wish him to do everything possible to assist the infant.
"You do not know that for certain," Dr. Eames said gently. "I have a young woman who has just given birth. She has lost her memory and has a good supply of milk. However, she is extremely thin and weak. She needs a place to stay for the present."
"Am I now to be asked to house a homeless woman, as if I do not have enough to contend with?" he almost shouted at Dr. Eames.
Dr. Eames responded with his calm, gentle voice. "I don't believe she will cause you any bother, Mr. Billington."
"So be it — let her come. I will inform Mrs. Boxer to prepare a room next to the nursery. She may come tomorrow, but I do not wish to be bothered with her. She will take orders from Mrs. Boxer." James stood up, indicating that Dr. Eames should go. He turned away as the doctor went to shake his hand, continuing to wallow in his grief in his own brooding way.
"Boxer!" he called to her. "It seems we are to have a wet nurse coming to feed the baby," he announced to the woman when she presented herself.
"Where is she from?" asked Mrs. Boxer curiously. I thought "I knew every pregnant woman in Parramatta."
"I do not know, nor do I care," replied James. You will be her employer and she will answer to you, as do all the other staff. She will have sole charge of the baby and will nurse him night and day. Apparently, she is very thin and weak, so I trust you to keep her fed with the best of food whilst she is feeding my son," he said.
"Which room shall I give her?" asked Mrs. Boxer
"Any room. I really don't care."
Mrs. Boxer left the room and went to prepare a room for the new wet nurse. There were two beautiful rooms on either side of the nursery, plus a small walk-in cupboard next to one of them. Mrs. Boxer moved an iron bed into one of the other rooms and said to herself in a nasty tone, "That's all the room you are getting, missy." Mrs. Boxer also moved a tiny cupboard and washstand into the dressing room. It had been mainly used for storage in past times and was just big enough for a bed and a tiny chest. There was no way Mrs. Boxer was going to put an unknown young miss into one of the luxurious rooms on either side of the nursery. She might start getting ideas above her station, and that would never do. Mrs. Boxer was determined to remain the queen of Hamstead Hall.
James Billington was known to be a most eligible bachelor in England prior to his first journey to Australia in 1883, ten years before. He was considered a most desirable match by many of the mothers whose daughters were of marriageable age. He had had to endure endless balls and parties where young women of marriageable age were paraded in front of him like cattle awaiting slaughter.
His father was Lord Billington of Hamstead Park, and his mother was Lady Mary Billington, who had been one of the debutants of her set, being of great beauty and presence. Hamstead Park was one of England's stately homes, not far from London, in beautiful surrounds with age-old trees and sweeping lawns surrounded by magnificent gardens.
Lady Billington spent most of her time at her London residence, where she entertained frequently, relying on a large staff of servants to meet her every need. She was hardly the motherly type. Her only interest in James was ensuring that he made a "suitable" marriage that would not shame or embarrass the Billingtons in any way.
James had an older brother, William, who died in a boating accident twelve years before. Whilst James was present when his brother died, he was in no way to blame. Nevertheless, James Senior never forgave James for being the one who lived. William was his favourite son, and nothing James II did would ever please his father.
James was expected to follow his father as master of Hamstead Park; however, the death of William left Lord James a broken man, and in order to escape his bitter, unhappy father and flirtatious party-going mother, he left Britain to move to and make his fortune in Australia.
Whilst Lord James mourned his favourite son, Lady Mary continued her useless life of parties and balls, just as she had done prior to William's death. Her way of coping with her son was to ignore him.
James tried to make his father proud of him, but there was no way he could replace William in his father's eyes. Indeed, he did make his fortune, mostly through buying and selling gold, through property investments, and large farms growing merino wool for his home country in his new country, where land was abundant and convicts ending their sentences built roads and fences.
His decision to take a wife was mainly one of convenience, to put an end to the constant parade of possible brides and to provide an heir to his already great fortune, and he returned to England, where he courted many eligible young women, deciding on the daughter of Sir Ronald Wells, one of his neighbours. He found none of the women who pranced before him desirable as a wife, so it might as well be Serena, whom he had known since childhood.
Serena, although delicate and standoffish, was a good choice for a future lord. He thought his parents would be pleased with his choice. James hoped his union with Serena Wells would in some way heal the rift between him and his father since Lord James blamed James for William's early death.
James was now thirty-four years old. He was blessed with an heir who might or might not survive, and his only interest was making more and more money to add to his considerable fortune. He cared nothing for the child. He had not looked at him and did not care if he ever did, such was his hatred of the child who had been responsible for the death of his wife. It was not that he was even in love with Serena. She was too delicate to live in a new land, and he felt that had she lived, she would have returned to her home country, with or without him.
Excerpted from Gypsy Lullaby by Mazi Mcburnie. Copyright © 2016 Mazi Mcburnie. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Family Tree, xi,
Chapter 1 Parramatta 1893, 1,
Chapter 2 James Billington, 6,
Chapter 3 Jamie, 12,
Chapter 4 Mrs Boxer, 18,
Chapter 5 Mrs Croft, 34,
Chapter 6 England, 40,
Chapter 7 The Preacher, 43,
Chapter 8 Return to Australia, 51,
Chapter 9 Youngtown, 58,
Chapter 10 The Gypsy story, 61,
Chapter 11 The Pick family, 65,
Chapter 12 A baby, 68,
Chapter 13 A tragedy, 73,
Chapter 14 The Bombay family, 77,
Chapter 15 The miracle, 84,
Chapter 16 The boarding house, 90,
Chapter 17 Trust, 100,
The Gypsy Lullaby, 109,