CHARLOTTE has nothing against men; she just doesn’t want to marry one. She dreams of adventure, but is pushed to settle for marriage to an unattractive suitor. She fights off an attempted rape, only to be branded a loose woman.
Full-figured and unstylish, Charlotte sees herself as the opposite to her stunningly beautiful sister HARRIET (HARI). Hari’s seemingly charmed life slides into ruin when she becomes addicted to laudanum and has an affair with her doctor. Her husband CHARLES, a man who will stop at nothing, even murder to achieve his political ambitions, discovers his wife’s affair and buys passage for both women aboard a brideship destined for the lawless gold fields of British Columbia.
Lacking social confidence, Charlotte is a naive young woman who tends to drift through life taking the path of least resistance. But during the voyage she begins to come into her own, feeling a new confidence, independence and zest for life to the point of recklessness. She declares a desire to become a woman of property and remain single when she reaches the colony, but acknowledges she has no real idea how she’ll manage to do so. On board ship she contends with a massive storm, a mutiny, a robbery and a mysterious roommate. When she meets the alluring JOHN SHEEPSHANKS, she rashly decides to have a shipboard affair with him.
Hari seeks help for her addiction from the ship’s surgeon ROBERT. He sees Hari as spoiled and privileged. In exchange for his help he wants her to see how the other half lives. Hari must assist him in his ministrations to the crew, a life-changing experience for her.
Charlotte feels deeply sorry for the group of 60 women who make up the “invoice” of brides. Unable to pay for their own voyage they are treated like cattle and kept in isolation from the other passengers. One night she is asked to help Robert and Hari with one of the “brides” who has hidden her pregnancy and is suffering through a difficult birth. Because of previous experience on her childhood farm, Charlotte is able to save both the baby and the mother.
When the ship stops in The Falkland Islands, Charlotte and John spend blissful days exploring the land and eventually fall in love. As the ship reaches San Francisco, Hari announces that she and Robert are going to take the mail clipper ship back to England. They plan to confront Charles and demand he make a financial settlement on Hari so that she can return to the colonies and start a new life. Meanwhile, the mail ship brings a letter calling John back to England. He makes a bungled proposal of marriage to Charlotte. She thinks he is only proposing out of guilt and angrily rejects him.
Pandemonium reigns upon the ship’s arrival in Victoria, British Columbia, as every red-blooded bachelor for miles around answers to the clarion call of “60 bundles of crinolines.” This is followed by a harrowing coach journey to Barkerville, “the biggest town west of Chicago and north of San Francisco,” an ungovernable outpost where thousands of men converged in hopes of finding the next big gold strike.
Impoverished, Charlotte is forced to make a living by dealing cards in a high stakes poker den. By overhearing talk among the gamblers she quickly learns that the real riches in the gold fields come to those who invest in mining shares, not to those who labour in the mines. After some disheartening failures she eventually buys into a wining gold strike and makes enough money to buy ranch land, but it is not enough to build the ranch.
Letters arrive from England, the first from John Sheepshanks who expresses a desire to renew their relationship, the second from Hari who rejoices that she has obtained a financial settlement from Charles and is returning to British Columbia. Soon after, another letter ominously arrives from Scotland Yard. Hari and Robert have been robbed and killed as they were boarding a ship and John was badly wounded. The police recovered Hari’s purse and sent it on to Charlotte.
The purse contains an old jewellery box that Charlotte knows has a small hidden compartment. Inside she discovers three gold wafers, Charles’s settlement on Hari. Hari’s murder is a galvanizing event for Charlotte. She emerges from her deep grief with a new resolve and focus. She is determined to build her ranch using Hari’s gold and then she will seek revenge on Charles. Fearing for her safety, Charlotte purchases a small revolver and hides it in the jewellery box.
Amid a devastating fire in Barkerville, a private agent sent by Charles to kill Charlotte seeks to make the death look accidental by trapping her in a fiery building, but she shoots him and escapes through an attic window. Burned by a flaming curtain she loses her grip on a ladder and falls, badly injuring herself.
After months of recovery, Charlotte, is finally able to fulfill her dream of living independently on her ranch. She has become a confident woman of high social standing and relishes her new friendship with a woman she idolizes, JANE, LADY FRANKLIN. Scotland Yard has opened an investigation into Hari and Robert’s death and Charlotte plans to leave for England to participate, while staying with Jane in London. John Sheepshanks arrives and Charlotte is a mass of conflicted emotions. She still loves him, but rejects his attempts to suddenly step back into her life and begin taking control. He is shocked that she is friends with Jane Franklin, a woman he detests. He tells Charlotte that Jane can’t be trusted. She is known to ruthlessly crush any who challenge her version of her husband’s legacy. John and Charlotte argue, but resolve to talk out their differences in good humour. Travelling back to England together, they will have months aboard ship to do so.
The stage is set for Book Two.
Dubbed “the family story teller” from an early age, Leslie often made up tales in the back seat of the family car as she traveled the British Columbia backwoods campaign trail with her politician-father. During those “crazy car rides with Dad” she grew to love the people, the stunning landscape and the history of this unique part of the world, and she yearned to write about them. But recognizing that a career in writing would not pay the bills she chose finance instead. She earned a degree in Economics and Political Science from Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario...
More about Leslie Howard