Nineteen-year-old Susanna Elliot rebels against her strict Quaker background which alienates her from her family and community. Rejected by the doctor she admires and is refused permission to take her dead brother's place in the family business, she flees to join her two cousins on their mission to China. All three leave Falmouth for Shanghai aboard a schooner owned by Lowell Hawke.
Hawke’s daring exploits have made him a legend along the China coast and Susanna finds herself involved in terrible danger – and love...
"No!" Samuel Elliot quivered with agitation. "What you ask is impossible."
"But, father, I'm perfectly capable -"
"Did you not hear me?" He shook his head in despair. "You would try the patience of a saint." Susanna watched him reclaim control over both his expression and emotions. "I don't doubt your ability," he said with the careful fairness she admired and hated in equal measure. "But I cannot permit admiration for your achievements to influence my decision."
"Why not? How can you praise my intelligence and abilities yet refuse to let me use them? "
"Susanna, my position as an Elder demands every member of my family observe the same high standards of correct behaviour I set myself. Your reluctance to conform causes me great pain."
She felt her face flame. "I'm sorry." Guilt battled with resentment. "But please, may I not - ?"
"No. Assisting at a time of crisis is one thing. What you are asking is quite another. And out of the question." His stern features softened. "I am sure with thought and prayer you will find a more appropriate use for your talents among the many charities we support. Women have no place in business or politics. Both are worlds for which they are completely unsuited." He picked up his newspaper, signalling the matter closed.
Her eyes brimming with tears of disappointment and frustration she fled to the sanctuary of her room.
“Captain Willis must have gone mad, that's all I can say," the seaman in the corner bed shouted at his hard-of-hearing neighbour. "No good will come of it, you wait and see."
Startled out of her introspection Susanna thrust aside the memories and glanced quickly over her shoulder.
"Don't take no notice, Miss," gasped the sailor at whose bedside she sat. The congestion in his lungs made each breath a struggle but his exhausted face was creased in a grin. "He believes giving a ship the wrong name will bring her bad luck."
A stray curl fell across her forehead. She tucked it back out of sight beneath her close-fitting white bonnet and indicated the almost-full page resting on her writing case.
"Shall I give them your love?"
He nodded, wheezing. Susanna finished writing and turned the page towards him so he could sign it. But when he made no move to take the pen she understood at once. "If you're not feeling up to it..."
The sailor nodded quickly. "You sign it and put my name underneath."
Her visits twice a week to the Seamen's Home and Infirmary had started back in the Spring after her parents had insisted she accompany them to a Friends' Charity Committee meeting.
One of the speakers had been Doctor Edward Arundell. Supposedly in his early thirties, his springy thatch of rust-coloured hair and spattering of freckles made him look much younger. But his eyes swiftly shattered the illusion of boyishness.
His remarks about seamen whose families suffered keenly from lack of contact with them had persuaded her to make the Infirmary the focus of her charity work.
Hunger for knowledge and a series of excellent tutors meant she was, at nineteen, far better educated than most girls of her age and background. Her language skills enabled many of the foreign sailors to send word to their families and enjoy some conversation in their own tongue.
The seamen treated her with touching respect. But despite confiding intimate details about their lives and families, most hated admitting they could not write even their name. Her innate sensitivity enabled them to save face.
"I just want you to know, Miss," the sailor wheezed shyly, "seeing you do make my day. There isn't many would bother with the likes of us. Especially not girls as pretty as you."
Astonished, Susanna looked up. Pretty? Her? At every family gathering she attracted disapproval. No-one else in the family has green eyes. Something should be done about that hair, it's far too thick and curly. A mouth like that denotes a sensual temperament. She'll need a firm hand.
She hadn't chosen her looks. She didn't want to be different. So she tried hard to be as meek and decorous as her plain brown dress which had neither crinoline nor bustle to give it style and not a single ribbon or piece of lace as trimming.
"Thank you, Mr Roberts. I'm glad my visits help."
"Oh they do, Miss." he stifled another cough.
Printing the sailor's name beneath her own signature Susanna opened her writing and took out an envelope, angling herself to make the most of the wintry light.
There were two windows in this, the Infirmary's main ward, but no curtains to gather dust. A gas pipe circled the room just below the high ceiling with five thin feeder pipes running down the white-painted walls to glass-bowled lamps, one above each of the four beds and one just inside the door. A coal fire glowed in the black iron grate, brightening the gloomy November afternoon.
A well paced tale… lucid, effortless style with plenty of atmospheric period detail.