Letters from a Patchwork Quilt
by Clare Flynn
Cranbrook Press, September 2015
Paperback & eBook; 350 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
In 1875 England, a young man, Jack Brennan, from a large and impoverished Catholic family refuses to be pushed into the priesthood and runs away to fulfil his dream of becoming a teacher.
Jack falls in love with Eliza Hewlett, but his dreams and plans are thwarted when his landlord’s daughter, Mary Ellen MacBride, falsely accuses him of fathering the child she is expecting.
Rather than be forced to marry his accuser, Jack decides to run away to America with Eliza. Just as they are about to sail, Jack is arrested and dragged from the ship, leaving Eliza alone en route to New York with just a few shillings in her pocket.
“The story is different, original and touching. It’s interesting to read how the lives of Jack and Eliza unfold in different countries. The plot is powerful, the characters are well sketched, memorable, and their personalities will remain in the minds of readers even after they finish the story. It’s a story of love loss and tragedy; a heartbreaking and moving tale where readers will wish to see Jack and Eliza reunited and happy together. The narration is descriptive; it also speaks about the society that existed during that age and pulls readers into the story. It’s well written and the story is not predictable, making it a engaging read.” -Readers’ Favorite (5 Star Medal)
Jack lay on the bed trying to imagine what lay in store for him in his new life, nervous about the prospect of his first day as a proper teacher. His mind raced as he mentally planned his lessons. A gong sounded and he hurried downstairs and stood in the hall looking about him, wondering where to go. He was about to try the door next to the parlour, when he realised someone was watching him. A young woman was standing in the shadows, partly hidden by the coat stand, her voluminous skirts giving her presence away. Jack stepped forward, then hesitated. Was it polite to offer to shake a young lady’s hand? Not that she was that young. At least ten years older than him, he guessed. ‘You must be Miss MacBride?’
‘You can call me Mary Ellen.’
He was surprised that she was prepared to dispense with the formalities so early in their acquaintance, but said, as was clearly expected, ‘My name’s Jack, Miss, Jack Brennan.’
She stepped forward into the light of the gas lamp. Her dark hair was lustrous but with a small streak of premature grey at the temples. Her features were strong and pale as if sculpted from marble. He might have thought her beautiful, but for the dullness of her eyes and the absence of expression on her face.
She put her head on one side as if weighing him up, then turned and walked away, calling over her shoulder. ‘Hurry up, Jack Brennan. Papa hates lateness to table.’
He followed her along the hallway and into the dining room. Another gloomy room, although this time with a feeble fire burning in the grate. The dark green walls were hung with paintings: mostly featuring schooners making their way through stormy seas.
Mr MacBride was sitting at the head of the table. Without looking up he said, ‘Do you like paintings, Mr Brennan?’
‘I’m something of a collector.’
‘I can see that, sir.’
‘Know much about art do you, lad?’
‘Neither do I.’ He didn’t elaborate on the reason for the collection. ‘Have you met my daughter, Miss Mary Ellen MacBride?’
‘I’ve just had that pleasure, sir.’
‘Pleasure? Don’t be getting ideas, young man.’
Jack swallowed. ‘I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t mean – I was just…’
‘Spit it out, man. Say what you mean. Mean what you say.’
Jack swallowed, trying to summon the confidence that he didn’t feel. ‘What I meant to say was it is an honour to make the acquaintance of both yourself and your daughter. I do not wish to cause offence.’
Mary Ellen, standing beside him, started to giggle.
MacBride barked at his daughter. ‘Don’t be tiresome, Mary Ellen. Stop that or you can go to your room.'
MacBride’s tone was sharp and Jack was taken aback. The woman must be approaching thirty and yet her father spoke to her as if she were a naughty child.
She sat down, her brow furrowed by repressed anger. Mr MacBride said grace and then the supper was consumed in complete silence, punctuated only by the sound of MacBride masticating his food. The meal was simple: a mutton stew with boiled potatoes and cabbage, but the portions were generous and Jack had not eaten so well in his life. He wondered whether to initiate some conversation, but decided to take his cue from his host, who ate with remarkable speed.
Jack took the opportunity to study his companions. Mr MacBride was short and stout and clearly enjoyed his food, eating with relish, while his tall, slender daughter barely touched hers, playing with it rather than eating it. There appeared to be little familial affection between them. Dinners at Virginia Lodge were unlikely to be the source of intellectual stimulation or conviviality, but, while the company may have been taciturn, Jack had no regrets about running away from home.
Clare Flynn is also the author of A Greater World, set in Australia in 1920 and Kurinji Flowers, set in India in the 1930s and 40s. She is a graduate of Manchester University where she read English Language and Literature.
After a career in international marketing, working on brands from nappies to tinned tuna and living in Paris, Milan, Brussels and Sydney, she ran her own consulting business for 15 years and now lives in West London. Co-founder of the popular website, Make It and Mend It, and co-author of the 2012 book of the same name, Letters From a Patchwork Quilt is her third novel.
When not writing and reading, Clare loves to splash about with watercolours and grabs any available opportunity to travel – sometimes under the guise of research.
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