About the Author

Sally Armstrong

Books by this Author
Ascent of Women

Ascent of Women

A New Age Is Dawning for Every Mother's Daughter
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
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Bitter Roots Tender Shoots

Bitter Roots Tender Shoots

The Uncertain Fate Of Afghanistan's Women
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
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The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor
Excerpt

Chapter 1
The Ocean
1775

It’s just an hour after dawn on the first Monday in May 1775 when the Anton lurches its bulk away from the docks at Bristol and sets sail for the West Indies. Charlotte Taylor is at the rail, rivetted to the huge square sails puffing out like bullies in the wind and bucking the ship into the open sea. A tall woman with ­flame-­red hair tied in a knot at her neck, she keeps her eye to the bow as if setting her own course and her back to the land she has left behind. Standing beside her at the rail is Pad Willisams, her lover and ­co-­conspirator in the hurried exit from Charlotte’s family, Pad’s job as butler in the Taylor household and a truth they each had only a part ­of.

A hastily packed trunk is stowed with the cargo. The calico sack she’d prepared for the voyage, and now realizes is pathetically inadequate since the trunk cannot be opened again until they reach shore six to eight weeks from now, is slung over her ­back.

A scrofulous man of indiscriminate age eyes her repeatedly from his place by the forward capstan. He’s one of the woebegone collection of humanity she’s travelling ­with–­mostly men in their twenties and thirties and one young boy with freckles on his nose who seems to be in the employ of the haughty Captain Skinner. They all stare shamelessly at the white woman and the black man by her side. Pad has pulled together all the stiff dignity of the butler he had been just days earlier, but she can feel the anxiety that thrums through him. She is somewhat surprised to realize that she isn’t daunted by the stares, the days ahead or the consequences of leaving her family’s country home outside of London. Standing in the brisk wind on the deck of a sailing ship just a week after her twentieth birthday, Charlotte Taylor is ­unafraid–­maybe even ­elated.

She’s still leaning on the portside, watching the water, letting the wind blow on her face when she allows herself to cast her thoughts to what she has run away from. The terrible row with her father when he learned she’d been “consorting,” as he called it, with Pad. The endless rounds of tea, the suffocating rules and her mother’s predictable attacks of the vapours whenever there was a hint of excitement in the household. She smiles in anticipation of the life ahead. A marriage to the dashing Pad, a home in the tropics. She’s grinning at the prospects when Pad interrupts her reverie to suggest they go below and secure their living ­quarters.

The quarters are cramped; the ceiling is so low they have to duck their heads. The bunks are arranged in two rows, one on each side of the dreary lower deck with damp curtains hanging between them to lend an illusion of privacy. There are hooks on which to hang their possessions and a lopsided stove in the centre. The only light and fresh air is from the hatch to the upper deck; the quarters smell of mildew and rotten wood. Indeed, the black streaks of rot crawling up the legs of the cots speak of the months at sea, the flourishing business of carrying human and other cargo across the ocean as many times as the weather will allow between May and October, never stopping long enough to refit or ­repair.

They pick a bunk at the end of the row and tie their sacks to the hooks before exploring the rest of the lower deck. There are stalls toward the stern filled with ­animals–­two steers, four sheep, a ragged flock of chickens and three fat pigs. Charlotte looks at each and lingers on the soft, uncomprehending eyes of the steers that will become meals for the passengers and crew. Tucked under the bow in a ­wedge-­shaped hold are the ship’s ­stores–­burlap sacks of flour, sugar and grain, cases of biscuits, salt and limes. Charlotte and Pad walk back to midship, where a wide hatch is battened shut on the ­deck.

“What’s down there?” Charlotte asks a stocky sailor who is hurrying ­aft.

“Cargo, madam,” he says. “Plenty a’ cotton cloth and wool. That’s what makes ’em rich, madam, shippin’ the likes a’ that.”

My trunk is down there too, Charlotte thinks ­ruefully.

The young lad who’d caught her eye when they left the dock is friendly, puppyish and not too shy to tell her his name is Tommy Yates when she finds him exploring the lower ­deck.

“Me dad was the one who got me on board,” the boy confides gravely. “He brought me to the dock and hired me out to the captain. He told him I was sixteen, an’ I’m but thirteen.”

“Thirteen?” Charlotte looks at him closely. “Are you even that?”

“Oh yes, madam. Honest, I am.”

She had thought him no more than a scrawny ­eleven.

When he is not scrambling up the rigging at the captain’s orders or crawling through the hold below the sleeping quarters to fetch something the captain needs from the cargo, Tommy finds his way to Charlotte’s side. In the first week at sea, she heard about his fourteen brothers and sisters, the drink that made his father what he was and the mother who was so sickly she could hardly manage to stagger from her ­bed.

Charlotte shares her own story with ­him–­putting a more varnished spin on her departure than is the case. She tells Tommy that she and Pad are married and that her father, General Taylor, doesn’t approve of the relationship so they decided to leave home for the West Indies and start a new ­life.

She entertains the winsome boy with details of the world she left behind, imitating her nanny’s priggish etiquette. “She insisted I sit like this all day long,” says Charlotte, perching herself on a bench and exaggerating the ­pose–­her back ramrod straight, her legs bent at the knee and turned slightly sideways and her hands folded together in her lap. She makes him laugh when she describes her antics in the straitlaced ­household–­refusing to marry the man her mother had chosen for her, looking contrite when her father admonished her, galloping around the estate on her horse and lingering at the stable with Pad. Tommy thinks it’s a blissful life she’s left, but even this boy can see the rebel in the woman he has ­befriended

From the Hardcover edition.

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Veiled Threat

Veiled Threat

The Hidden Power Of The Women Of Afghanistan
edition:Paperback
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