Who does a young man turn to when he first falls in love?
It is 1880 and cousins John James Mackenzie and Sam Morling travel from their home in New Zealand to the Scottish Borders to make a new life for themselves. John James grows fond of Flora Brown, the estate manager’s daughter, and Sam is swept off his feet by their well-to-do neighbour, Isabella Gordon-Wright. Both men are sorely in need of their mothers’ advice, but Sophia and Lizzy are half a world away and letters may take months to cross the oceans.
Flora yearns to live in New Zealand, while Isabella will do anything to escape from her evil and over-bearing brother, Charles. Can John James be persuaded to take Flora back to Applecross? Can Sam’s love for Isabella flourish and bloom like the plants in the garden that they both adore
Meanwhile, at Applecross sheep station, James and Sophia Mackenzie are growing older, much in need of their son’s help. Sophia believes that her son will stay in Scotland forever, though James disagrees, but a sudden change of circumstances requires John James’ immediate return, bringing with him echoes of his father’s past.
Excerpts from ‘Flora Brown’
Some weeks later, back in the Basin, John James’ mother took a sharp intake of breath as she read the latest letter from her son. She had been thrilled to read about his visit to the school, especially when he mentioned that he had now met some of the youngsters who had sent their pictures to Applecross after Heather’s wedding. There was a Jack and Ginny. It was Jack who had drawn his father’s sheep. And there was an Annie, who John James said was a talented artist and had drawn a very good picture of her cat. But it was John James mentioning that he was to help the children learn to draw better that caused Sophia to take a breath.
“So, Mama, please tell my sister that I am to help out at school once a week,” his letter went. “Each week, we will observe an object and try to draw it accurately. If the weather is good, the children and I will, in the company of Miss Flora Brown, go outside to draw landscapes. I am looking forward to it very much indeed.”
“In the company of Miss Flora Brown,” those words echoed round and round in Sophia’s head as she went about her morning chores. “In the company of Miss Flora Brown,” she said to Daisy as they prepared lunch for the men. “In the company of Miss Flora Brown,” she told Heather after school, Amelie Pender and Lucy Cattermole overhearing the conversation as they collected their children from the classroom. “In the company of Miss Flora Brown,” she told James as they got ready for bed that night.
“Do you think he may bring her back with him?” she added, as James pulled back the covers to get into bed.
“My darling, I think you are getting a bit ahead of yourself,” James said, smiling to himself. After all these years, he knew his wife only too well. Once she had an idea in her head, there was no stopping her, especially if it involved a little bit of matchmaking. “All I will say is that we could do with him coming home soon anyway, with or without anyone else. There’s plenty of work to be done here, and I am not getting any younger.”
“In the company of Miss Flora Brown,” Sophia drifted off to sleep with those words echoing in her dreams.