Final call for feedback

Hi everyone, I am about to embark on draft 3 of the novel so if you have any feedback that you haven’t sent my way yet then I’d really love to hear it.

Once I start on the next draft I’ll remove this one from the blog. If you haven’t finished yet then just let me know and I can send you the manuscript as one document, so you won’t miss the ending!

Any and all thoughts, comments, critcisms – however brief – can be sent to me at taradevlin1@googlemail.com .

Thanks so much.

Tara

A few final things

Firstly, if you made it to the end, thank you! Thank you for taking the time to read this draft of my book and for making encouraging noises along the way – I very much appreciate it.

Secondly, I’d love to hear back from you now that you’ve finished. Overall impressions are great, but can you tell me specifically what worked, and what didn’t? What parts/characters did you particularly enjoy and what things just didn’t work for you? What would you have liked more/less of? Please be as honest as you can, as that’s the kind of feedback I need to take into draft number 3. If you can email me at taradevlin1@googlemail.com with any thoughts you have, that would be great. Even if you don’t have a huge amount to say, just dropping me a line to let me know you read it would be lovely.

I will probably leave the book on the blog for another month or so, to allow everyone to finish reading it, and then delete it. If you know anyone who might be interested in giving it a read at this stage then please let them know and send the link. I hope to finish the final drafts in the first half of next year and then release it to the world in some shape or form – I’ll keep you posted.

Finally, I’d like to wish you all a peaceful and joy-filled Christmas.

Tara x

Final chapter & author’s note

The sun was gone but her lingering aura cast deep glorious colour across Kingston harbour, as the two friends drove their hire car away from the airport and along the thin spit of land towards the city. The Blue Mountains were a captivating sight, a silent inky backdrop to the lights just beginning to shine below as the darkness of evening crept across the sky.  

“I can’t believe we’re really here,” Anna mused, her eyes flitting between the road and the sky that was becoming more dramatic with each passing minute.

“And I can’t believe the driving in this country. Look at this guy!”

Julia gesticulated towards a car approaching them on their side of the road, only swerving to avoid them at the last possible moment.

“We’ve only been here five minutes and I feel like we’ve nearly died several times. Your Dad needn’t have worried about the gangs and the guns, if we’re going to meet our maker here it’ll be at the hands of a maniac driver!”

Anna laughed but realised she needed to keep her wits about her and resolved to admire the scenery tomorrow when she was rested and more importantly, when Julia was driving. Thirty minutes later, and after negotiating rush hour traffic and more car horns than either of them had ever heard in their lives, they pulled into the car park of the hotel. Walking into their room on the 8th floor Anna whispered a small thank you to her Dad as she admired the more than comfortable surroundings and slid open the door to the balcony. The final flash of colour was fading from the horizon as evening closed in around the city. The air was still and warm and she was suddenly aware of the ache in her body from being cooped up for so many hours. Noticing a small, well-lit park on the other side of the road Anna decided that a short walk and stretch was in order before dinner. Turning to invite Julia she saw her friend already starting to nap on the bed and so gave her a gentle nudge before whispering her plan and making her way back downstairs. Reception was busy and so she bypassed the desk and instead spoke to the security guard at the front door.

“Excuse me. Is the park across the way safe to go and walk in?”

“Yes man, perfickly safe. That’s Emancipation Park, very popular for walking and running an tings. There’s security there, so you’ll have no trouble.”

Anna thanked the man and made her way across the road and into the park which was a hive of activity. A walking track around the perimeter was busy with people in sports gear going at a variety of speeds and so she decided to instead walk through the broad path that cut across the centre of the circular park and headed towards the fountains in the middle. She paused to watch the water rise and fall, smiling at the little girl beside her whooping with delight as the dancing columns of light and noise put on a show. As the water subsided and the sound dimmed there was a ruckus in a nearby corner of the park, male voices passionately raised and as she turned her head Anna could make out arms spread wide and thrown in the air. No one seemed too bothered and so she wandered over that direction to see what the fuss was about. A group of about ten men were gathered around two small stone tables where a couple of games were taking place, one of chess and another of draughts. Finding a nearby bench she paused to watch and listen, amazed that such sedentary games could attract so much vocal support. As she listened closely, trying to understand what was going on, she realised that very little of the conversation was about the games being played. The talk was fast and furious and she caught about one word in five, but she understood enough to know that politics was the topic of the night. She stayed for a while, fascinated by their debate, watching how they seemed to disagree vociferously while still remaining friendly. Looking around she noted people strolling by with ice cream, while others power walked, headphones in and engaged in their own world. Everywhere there was activity and life, a buzz of conversation and laughter.

Feeling the tiredness in her legs she got up once more and followed the path back to the fountain and noticed a narrower and less crowded path off to the side of the main thoroughfare. It was lined on both sides by stone plinths topped with metal busts. She walked down one side, pausing to read who each person was, not recognising any of the names. At the far end was a sign telling her that these were Jamaica’s national heroes and she made her way back down the other side of the path with renewed interest. Coming to one face, as her eyes lowered to read the plaque she let out a small gasp before looking again intently into the eyes in front of her.

“Hello Sam Sharpe,” she whispered.

How incredible that on her first evening here she found herself standing looking the man she read about for the first time in a journal and letters from so long ago, a rebel and a renegade hung for his part in the Christmas slavery rebellion, and here before her now as a hero. She smiled to herself thinking how proud Jacob would have been to know the man for whom he named his son was now celebrated in Emancipation Park. For the first time the full significance of the park’s name resonated with her. She walked along the rest of the path taking in afresh the people celebrated along its length now that she understood something of their status. As she finished reading the final plaque and turned back towards the fountains tiredness and hunger came crashing over her body and she turned her feet back towards the hotel, suddenly desperate for food and bed.

The following morning, as Anna brushed her teeth after a late breakfast, she heard Julia calling from the bedroom.

“There’s a phone book in the drawer here. Do you think there might be a Mackenzie in there? You might be able to track down a long lost relative!”

Anna stuck her head out the door briefly with a look of scepticism.

“It was two hundred years ago,” she mumbled, toothbrush wedged in the side of her mouth, “so I think it’s unlikely. You could check though, just to be sure.”

As she leant over the sink to rinse she heard the directory thump open and the distinctive sound of pages turning and turning and turning. Wiping her mouth with the towel she called out to her friend.

 “Nothing there?”

“Eh, not exactly,” Julia responded slowly. “The very opposite in fact.”

She looked up from the page to Anna, eyes wide with surprise.

“Come and see.”

Standing above her friend Anna leaned over the book on the bed and saw column after column of Mackenzie listed in the national phone directory of Jamaica.

“It’s not just Mackenzies though Anna, have a look.”

Julia turned over page after page to show Mackie, MacLaren, MacLean, MacLellan, on and on. They thought of other Scottish names and searched for them. Addair, Aitken, Barclay, Cameron, Graham. Nearly every surname they could think of was represented in the directory multiple times. Every other page they seemed to turn to had a name of Scottish origin on it somewhere.

“Half of bloody Scotland was here by the looks of things,” Julia said, quietly and with a genuinely pained expression on her face. “I don’t understand. How can half of Jamaica have Scottish names and we don’t know anything about it?”

“I’m coming to realise that somewhere along the way we found certain parts of our history unpalatable and so they were just…” Anna paused, searching for the right words.

“Edited,” Julia offered.

“I think so. Either taken out or glossed over to look better. And as someone who has loved and studied history for as long as I can remember it makes me feel…”

Again there was a pause. There was clearly a word or words in Anna’s mind that she didn’t want to say. Finally she shrugged her shoulders and spoke.

“Foolish. Gullible. Angry.”

Julia nodded her understanding.

“I mean there’s evidence of this connection if you actually think to ask about it. Why do we have a Jamaica Street in Edinburgh? Why does the Kingston Bridge cross the Clyde?  We’ve been told that we’re the good guys and so we don’t think to suspect anything, but our dirty fingerprints are all over this island and who knows where else?”

Julia looked down the list of names on the pages that were open in front of her as the questions of the past and present hung in the air between them.

“Well,” she began, “we know now, and we’re here, so what do we do?”

“Explore and find out as much as we can I guess. I’ve made a list of places that could be interesting and then there’s a beautiful drive up the hills overlooking the city that we could do later. It’s supposed to be a fantastic place to see the sun set, but from what I can tell it sits above roughly where I think the Mackenzie’s plantation used to be.”

“Ok well that sounds like a plan. Let’s consult the list and get going.”

They filled the first part of the day with a visit to the National Gallery, from where it was a short walk to the waterfront. Several huge tankers sat in the harbour, some distance from the quayside, while pelicans soared overhead before making lunging dives into the water, hopeful for a catch. Anna paused, looking around her. Closing her eyes she did her best to erase the cars and concrete buildings and instead conjure an image of horses and carriages, masts and sails.

“You’re thinking of her, aren’t you?”

Anna nodded her response, eyes shut against the interruption of modern life.

“This was where she made her final choice, where she waved her last goodbye to her mother. I’ve formed a picture of her, in my head, and I can see her standing here with Jacob at her side.”

Anna’s eyes remained closed as a single tear rolled down her cheek. Julia moved closer, laying her arm across her friend’s shoulder.

“Are the tears for you, or for them?” she asked.

“I’m not sure. Both. And more than that, for the whole situation. Somehow we’ve told ourselves a story as a nation, that we’re fair-minded, tolerant, open, that our history is one where we’ve been on the receiving end of oppression, we’ve been hard done to, and anything negative of Empire, of slavery, or other such atrocities, were all someone else’s doing. But it wasn’t. It was us. We were in it right up to our necks, like everyone else. Did you notice some of the street names as we were driving around this morning?”

“No I was too busy being an extra pair of eyes on the road to help you swerve the dodgy taxi drivers.”

“It’s not just in the phone book where Scotland shows up. We drove past Caledonia Avenue, Dumfries Road, Hamilton Drive. Have a look at a map of this island – there are Scottish place names right across it. Our fingerprints are all over this place. I still can’t believe I didn’t know any of this before.”     

Together they stood in silence for a few moments. A local fisherman standing off to the side pulled in a catch from his line, while his companion lay on the sea wall dozing in the afternoon sun.

“Well we’re here now, and you have the opportunity to find out as much as you can. And then, who knows what you’ll be able to do with that information or how it will shape what comes next. Use your frustration to propel you forward in this adventure we’re on.”

Anna puffed out her cheeks and sighed in response to her friend’s encouragement.

“It’s a lot, I know,” Julia said in response. “And it’s absolutely roasting. I can feel my pale Scottish skin shrivelling as we stand here. How about a pit stop? I noticed an ice cream place just along from here. Let’s find some shade and cool off a little and then we can decide what the rest of the day looks like.”

Later that afternoon, having explored more of the city from the comfort of the air-conditioned car, they drove onto the campus of the University of the West Indies. The buildings on either side of the road were single story and of an older style while ahead of them new blocks of student accommodation dominated the landscape. Getting out to explore further on foot they walked across parched and dusty grass heading for what seemed to be the central part of the campus. They turned a corner and came suddenly upon a sight that stopped them in their tracks.

“Is that what I think it is?” Julia asked, a look of astonishment on her face.

“Yes. It’s part of the aquaduct from the plantation that used to be here. There are a few pieces of it left on this land with this being the most prominent.”

As they came alongside it Anna ran her hand over the rough grey stone, that familiar sensation of physically connecting with history no longer a source of excitement. While she didn’t know exactly where the Mackenzie plantation had been she figured it was in a similar area to this one. Were they neighbours to the people who lived here? She looked around as students made their way between buildings, taking in the stark contrast between what this place had been and what it was now. If the people who worked this land all those years ago could see it now what would they think?

“It’s quite something, isn’t it?” Julia remarked, looking along the length of the wall. Anna nodded silently.

“No better way to redeem a piece of land I reckon. Take it from a place of enslavement and suffering to a seat of learning and progress.”

“That’s true,” Anna agreed, still clearly lost in her owns thoughts.

“Let’s walk a bit more and see what else we find,” Julia suggested, taking the lead.

Followed the road through the campus they passing various different faculty buildings, a small café with some outside seating and the general buzz of university life happening around them. They walked on until another tumbled down stone building grabbed their attention. A sign next to the ruin told them that this was the remains of the old Papine Estate sugar works which ceased production in 1880. Other parts of the aquaduct ran behind the ruin, across a wide open grassy area dotted with lush green trees. The mountains rose behind them, offset by a bank of white cloud tucked at the base of a brilliant bright sky.

“What a beautiful place to study,” Julia commented, admiring the scenery.

Anna’s response was to turn around slowly taking in the full panorama of the old and new. She took a deep breath as if about to speak but nothing came. Instead she silently shook her head.

“It’s a lot for you to take in, isn’t it?”

Anna was glad to be with someone who knew her so well, who didn’t need to be told that in this moment, instead of talking gently to her as history usually did, it was shouting at her from every angle, asking questions and demanding answers all at once. History had always been a friend, an interesting companion on her journey through life, feeding her imagination and stimulating her mind. She had studied dark episodes of history before, but none that had brought her pain, and that’s what this was, she finally admitted. This was painful.

“Why don’t we head up the hill and get some perspective? It’s probably about that time. Come on, I’ll drive.”

Julia steered them back towards the car and set the navigation for Skyline Drive. Leaving behind the open spaces of the university they drove through a community where tiny shacks at the side of the road sold a vast collection of items, vendors sat on cool boxes next to their stalls offering drinks and snacks as children ran and played among them. At the top of the road the picture became busier and more chaotic, with people milling across the road and car horns blasting as the rush hour traffic filled the streets. It took both of them to be fully alert to avoid collisions with pedestrians and vehicles, as well as the many stray dogs that could appear out of nowhere. Finally they turned on to a narrow side road and immediately the hill began to rise steeply. Taking it slowly around hairpin bends to make room for the occasional oncoming vehicle, they were glad to be away from the madness of the city below. As they climbed higher the small wooden dwellings gave way to large impressive homes and as the view unfolded beside them it wasn’t hard to see why someone would want to live up here if they could. Finally the road straightened and to the left was a small parking area, some benches and the uninterrupted sight of the whole city sprawling beneath them. Stepping out of the car it was a relief to find that higher elevation brought the benefits of a gentle breeze. Up here the birdsong could be heard and the city looked peaceful and surprisingly green.

“Wow,” Anna exclaimed, a smile appearing on her face for the first time that day. “That is really spectacular.”

Julia stretched and rolled her shoulders, shaking off the tension of the drive as she admired the view.

“Where is it you think Molly lived?” she asked, trying to get her bearings.

“I’m really not sure, but she describes hills at the back of the estate and being able to see across to the ocean and Port Royal. I think that Port Royal is at the end of that strip of land you can see jutting out just there,” Anna explained, pointing to a hazy line cutting out across the harbour. “The airport is half way along there, so we drove part of it yesterday. This side of the city feels like it fits her descriptions and where there were a number of plantations. I don’t know exactly but we’re not far off the mark I think.”

“So down there somewhere was the Harlaw Vale plantation. How does it feel to stand here? To find your way to the end of the story?”

Anna paused and tilted her head at her friend, a silent question written all over her face.

“I mean I know you still have places on your list to see, but we’re here! You made it to Jamaica, you followed the trail that your Mum started and you’ve completed the picture. That must feel good, on some level, no?”

“It’s not just my picture though, is it? That phone directory in our hotel room makes that obvious. This is our picture, our shared story, all of us,” Anna waved her hands between herself and her friend and then out to the rest of the city. “I don’t think you learn a truth like this and then tuck it back in a box. This isn’t an end, it’s a beginning.”

“So what’s next?”

“I don’t know, but it starts by asking some questions and not walking away from the answers, no matter how uncomfortable they are. You know, Dad said something to me recently. ‘Your past will find you in the end, no matter how hard you try to outrun it. You have a choice then in how to deal with it. You can bury it and keep running, but it will poison the very ground beneath your feet. Or you stop and turn to face it, look it in the eye and make peace with it. Only then can it teach you something to carry into your future.’”

“I guess he’d been running for a long time.”

“Yes he had. And I see the change in him now that he’s stopped. It’s a work in progress, for sure, but he’s feeling the benefit of it, and so am I, so are we.”

Anna took a step back and sat on the bench to watch the sun dip down towards the hills in the west. Julia disappeared into the car for a few moments before emerging with a small bottle of champagne and two paper cups.

“I figured we should make a toast,” she explained, pouring a small amount and handing it to her friend. “To your Mum, who led us here.”

“To Mum,” Anna smiled, raising her cup to the sunset and taking a sip. “And to Molly and Jacob,” she continued, nodding in the general direction of the hill before them.

“I think tomorrow I’d like to drive out to Sligoville, where Molly and Jacob’s story ends. I don’t know if there’s anything there now that will be a specific connection to them, but I’d like to see it, to feel the same earth beneath my feet.”

“So that’s the next step,” Julia nodded, “and after that there’ll be another, and we just keep going and see where this takes us and keep answering the questions we find, as best we can.”

Beneath a darkening sky the two friends sat in silence for a time, lost in their own thoughts and pondering the stories and secrets of the past. Below them, somewhere amid the mass of green, an anonymous tree swayed gently in the wind, its reading nook still holding space for two or three books and beneath the aged bark the carved letters J and M.

Author’s Note

When I came to write this story I knew it would be important for the fictitious characters and plot lines to intersect with real events and people. Although the Harlaw Vale Estate and all inhabitants are imagined, the landscape on which they are placed did contain other plantations, alongside the Papine Estate on which sits the Kingston campus of the University of the West Indies.

William Knibb began his time as a missionary in Jamaica as the school master of the Baptist mission school in Kingston, where he also worked closely with James Phillipo. I have reflected his movements across the island (and indeed back to the UK for a time in 1832) within this story including, where appropriate, some of his own words. Such was his influence within his parish that he was accused of inciting the Christmas rebellion of 1831, which he strenuously denied. His church in Falmouth, where he remained as minister until his death, is still standing today. The William Knibb High School, just outside Falmouth, boasts none other than Usain Bolt as a former pupil. On the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, Knibb was posthumously awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit, the country’s highest civilian honour and the first white male to receive it.

Samuel Sharpe was born into slavery in the Parish of St. James. He became a preacher and leader in the Baptist church in Jamaica, which welcomed enslaved members. He was a deacon at the Burchell Baptist Church in Montego Bay and spent time travelling to different parishes across the island. He organised a peaceful general strike across many of the estates in western Jamaica, where reprisals by the plantation owners led to the rebels burning the cane crop. The uprising lasted for 10 days and spread throughout the island, before being quashed by the military forces. The government tried, convicted and hanged many of the ringleaders, including Sharpe, in 1832. The severe reprisals in the aftermath of the rebellion are believed to have contributed to the abolition of slavery soon thereafter. As such Sam Sharpe is held in the highest regard, being proclaimed a National Hero in 1975 and his image is on the $50 Jamaican bank note.

James Phillippo, along with Thomas Burchell, came up with the system of Free Villages, enabling emancipated slaves to build houses and begin a new life free from the threat of eviction from their former estate masters. He hosted a vigil on the evening before the emancipation proclamation and in the grounds of Phillippo Baptist Church you can still see the place where the shackles were buried to mark the death of slavery.

Molly and Anna are both fictional characters but are used as a means to illustrate the journey of ignorance to discovery and the questions that await us all along the way. Our history is not a glorious one. The surnames in the Jamaican phone book, the streets and towns across the island, all reflect our shared history. At the very least that history should be fully acknowledged and then together we can perhaps move towards a conversation about what comes next. An apology? What about reparation?

The idea of reparation is one that often raises spirited debate. In the countries that would be due reparative justice for the time of slavery the conversation is a live one. When the subject is discussed here in the UK there are many who consider the idea ridiculous and highly impractical. How can a debt from so long ago and involving so many ever be calculated and repaid? Where do we draw the line on who is due reparation and for what injustices? These are good questions, but not if they are being raised simply as a deflection, to bat away the uncomfortable idea that there is work to be done here.

If we have wronged someone and are truly grieved by that wrong, the question we ask after we have apologised is “what can I do to make it right?” It is absolutely the question to ask, because it shows that our repentance is more than just words. The answer may not be one that we like, it may be difficult or costly, but if it will set our relationship back on track then we will do it. There have been statements of regret made in reference to our history with slavery but these have largely been seen as half-hearted attempts to make ourselves feel better, rather than genuine remorse backed up by the will to truly restore what has been broken. The ugly truth of the matter is that, as a nation, we became very rich on the back of a system that exploited other peoples. That injustice and imbalance of power didn’t end with the abolition of slavery as many would like to believe, but continued for many years, being perpetuated throughout the generations and feeding into more recent situations such as the Windrush scandal and race relations in this country.

Renowned researcher and author Brene Brown talked about what happens when a people don’t truly recognise their own history. She said that when people don’t own their story, it ends up owning them and they are never truly free of it – but when we do own our story we get to write the ending.

If we are to be people who live in a country that values justice and fairness then perhaps we can begin by walking humbly towards the neighbours we have wronged, offering them a heartfelt apology and then asking what we can do to make it right. I don’t know what kind of answers we will hear, or if those requests can or will be met, but I’m pretty sure that asking the question is the right place to start.

Chapter 26

Waiting in the concourse of Waverley Station Anna basked in the sunlight pouring through the glass roof. A buzz of activity swarmed around her as people came and went, everyone seeming to be in a rush to be somewhere. She often wondered about people’s lives and wanted to stop each person as they passed to ask where they had come from, where they were going to and why. This snapshot of city life on a random Wednesday morning intrigued her. She could spend hours simply sitting and watching the world go by, satisfying her curiosity by guessing what people were called, what they did for a living and where they were off to. Inevitably the scene before her would then begin to roll back in time as she imagined what this place was like fifty years ago or one hundred years ago. How were the people dressed then? How were names and occupations different to now? And what about the surroundings? Would she still recognise this place where she stood were she suddenly transported to this exact spot in 1920? In the train station she probably would. It had been standing since well before that date. That would be something to see, the romance and glamour of the roaring twenties and the age of the steam engine. Anna tried to conjure it in her mind, the style and grandeur of a different time.

“Mate, I’ve missed my train! What am I going to do?”

A loud London accent filled her ears as a young man pulled his case over to beside where she stood and lamented his predicament to a friend on the phone, a little too loudly. Snapped unceremoniously back to the present, Anna checked her watch and began to look out for her aunt whose train was due in a couple of minutes earlier. Sure enough, Abigail appeared a few moments later smiling and waving through the crowds. As she watched her approach Anna caught a small glimpse of how her Mum might have looked had she lived to see this age. The sisters had been very different in both their colouring and personalities, and yet pictures of them together as young women left you in no doubt that they were related. How might these two have greeted one another today if they’d had the chance? The thought made her smile, in spite of the feelings of trepidation buzzing around her stomach. Usually she looked forward to seeing Abigail but today was different. Today she would tell her aunt what she had discovered about their family history.

“What a glorious day!” exclaimed Abigail, wrapping her niece in a strong embrace.  “I haven’t been up to the city in so long and on a day like this I wonder why I’ve stayed away. Thanks for suggesting this.”

“Thanks for coming. Looking fabulous as ever Abigail.”

Anna stood back to take in the full ensemble of her aunt’s attire. A simple billowing dress was covered by the most majestic full length coat, intricately woven with pattern and colour, not too busy but it drew the eye for certain. Once again Anna marvelled at other people’s ability to wear what would make her look ridiculous. Abigail looked effortlessly regal, like she was born to wear it. Anna knew that, on her, it would look like a little girl playing dress up.

“Why thank you,” Abigail smiled. “Vintage you know,” she added, twirling for effect before leaning forward and whispering, “and when I say vintage, I mean I’ve had it in my cupboard for forty years. Now, shall we drink tea?” Sticking her elbow out towards her niece, Anna accepted the invitation and the two women linked arms and made their way up into city.

Two pots of tea later, as Abigail picked up the crumbs from her plate with her finger, Anna finished relaying the contents of the journal and letters she had found in Elie. There was a long pause as Abigail continued to stare at her plate, completely lost in thought.

“Well? What do you think about it all?” Anna asked, unable to bear one more second of silence.

“I… well,” she puffed her cheeks out and exhaled, “I don’t know where to start. I mean there’s so much to take in, so much that I didn’t know. I’m pretty sure she didn’t know all of this before our step-dad died but I wonder why she didn’t tell me what she’d found?”

“I’ve been wondering about that too. Perhaps she only pieced everything together just before she became sick and then there was no time. ”

“Maybe,” Abigail agreed while still obviously taking in the enormity of this revelation. She looked into the middle distance for a time, silently piecing together the fragments of personal history to see how they would fit.

“How do you feel? How do you think your stepdad would have felt?”

“I’m not sure – still figuring that out,” she began slowly. “There are definitely conflicting emotions. I feel ashamed but also proud all at the same time. I mean both Molly and her father are part of that family history, and yes a huge chunk of it is abhorrent, yet within it there are also those trying to do the right thing. I guess that’s how life can be at times, including how families operate. You can be the same blood but vastly different people, in all kinds of ways. Where and who we’re from is important, but not as important as who we choose to become.”

“I suppose,” Anna agreed with a degree of uncertainty. “But what if where we’ve been is treated like a dark secret, something to be forgotten and ignored, when really it needs to be acknowledged and spoken of? Not just by our family but by all of us? This is our collective history and I didn’t know it – how is that possible? How can I have studied the history of this country and this didn’t come up?”

Abigail slide her hand across the table to squeeze Anna’s arm.

“Now that I do know, I’ve done a bit more research and digging myself and there’s something I want to show you. It’s quite near here, if you’re ready to stretch your legs?”

“More intrigue?” Abigail raised her eyebrows. “Let’s see it then. Lead on.”

Leaving behind the busier streets of the New Town, with their stylish cafes, florists and gift shops, they wandered along a quiet cobbled side road of Georgian townhouses, their pale stone bleached in morning sun. Painted railings climbed sets of steps to smart front doors, potted shrubs stood on sentry duty while brass numbers and name plaques glinted hello as they passed.  Finally Anna stopped outside one property and turned to gesture up at the building.

“This is it.”

Abigail looked at the burgundy front door and then at the name plate beside it.

“Paterson Surveryors,” she read aloud.

“It is now, yes,” Anna explained, “but in the early 1800s this was the Mackenzie family residence. It was the home of Emily and John before they went to Jamaica and it was where they returned to when they left Molly behind.”

Abigail allowed her eyes to slowly take in the full height of the house before her.

“Goodness me,” she whispered, her brow furrowing in thought. “How on earth did you find this information?”

“When slavery was finally abolished, the only way it was made palatable to plantation owners was for them to be able to claim compensation for their loss of property.”

“And by property, they meant people, right?” Abigail asked with a look of distaste.

“Yes. There’s a website documenting all of the claims that were made at the end of slavery, with details of who made the claim, for how many slaves on which plantation, how much they were paid etc., and the address in the UK from which the claim was being made. This was still the official residence of the family and so it came up on the site: John Mackenzie from the Harlaw Vale Estate in Jamaica claiming for 98 slaves.”

The two women stood for a few moments, gazing at the silent stone, lost in thought.

“It’s strange, you know,” Anna continued, looking around her, “I thought I knew this place, Edinburgh I mean, and now it’s like I’ve found a huge skeleton in her closet. There are addresses all over this city where people made financial claims for owning people. There are things that have been staring me in the face all my life and I’ve just accepted them at face value, never asking why they are there or what their significance is to our past or, for that matter, to our present. It’s…” her eyes searched the air around her trying to find the right words. “It’s unsettling. It’s deeply uncomfortable, and I’m not sure what to do with that.”

Abigail wrapped her arm around her niece and gave her a squeeze.

“I do so love your heart,” she smiled.

“It’s a strange piece of advice I’m about to offer, but don’t be too quick to run away from the discomfort. I think it’s right that you let it sit with you a while, and with me too. Let it speak to you. I think it’ll tell you what to do with it, if you give it time.”

“Yeah, perhaps. I do have one thought already.”

“Well I shall be delighted to hear about that, but perhaps over some lunch? It seems about that time, don’t you think?”

As though hearing the cue, Anna’s stomach growled loudly.

“I absolutely do,” she laughed. “Let’s do that.”

*

Steaming bowls of soup were placed on the table and a basket of freshly baked bread sat between them.

“Ah real butter, served in a dish and not little foil packets. This is my kind of place,” Abigail declared, scooping up a generous portion with her knife.

“So I see. Would you like some bread with that butter?” Anna teased her aunt for the umpteenth time on this topic. On the question of what items you constantly have in your fridge, top of Abigail’s list would always be butter. She put it in everything, and on everything – potatoes, ginger cake, digestive biscuits – there was nothing that couldn’t be improved with the addition of a layer of butter. How she wasn’t the width of a house was a constant marvel to Anna.

“So tell me, what does your Dad make of this plan of yours?”

*

“Are you mad? Do you think I’m mad? No daughter of mine is going wandering around Kingston on her own. You know it appears regularly on the list of most dangerous cities to visit?”

Anna stayed quiet and let him get it all out. She was slowly starting to learn that any interjection at this point would only lead to a full blown argument where neither of them would speak in a rational way and instead a solemn mood would hang between them for hours. She could live without that. By a process of elimination she had finally figured out that the best thing was to let him make all of his objections, passionately and vehemently in this case, listen patiently while making some tea, serve the tea to him and wait for the eruption to subside and cool. Then and only then would she speak, offering understanding of all his points but ready with carefully considered counter arguments, backed up with evidence and a plan. This is what it meant to be the daughter of a top lawyer. Even so, this particular situation would need delicate handling. Things were good between them, really good, for the first time in years and Anna didn’t want to ruin that.

“Dad, I won’t be on my own, Julia will be with me.”

He rolled his eyes, shaking his head in derision. Her best friend was clearly not the body guard he had in mind.

“We’ll be sensible, of course we will. I’ve done my research and taken a note of all the advice for travellers. Nowhere is as bad as its reputation and there are good people everywhere. We’ll only be in the city for four or five days and then we’ll go to Montego Bay and stay in an all-inclusive resort. We’ll be fine.”

Silence.

She could almost hear the cogs turning in his mind. He was contemplating his next move.

“What do Fran and Richard think about this idea?”

She was right back to being ten years old, bringing home the note from school about a trip to London. To hear her Dad then you’d think the suggestion was that they were taking a visit to a crack den followed up by a tour of the red light district.

“Well,” she began slowly, “They obviously share some of your concerns…” 

A look of ‘I told you so’ came over his face.

“However,” Anna locked eyes with her father and spoke gently but firmly, “they also realise that we are actually adults who can go where we choose and do what we like.”

Tapping his hands on the table, her father took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.

“I see,” he said rather grimly, before taking himself off to another room.

*

“Well he’s not delighted at the idea but is slowly coming to the realisation that he can’t do anything about it. The upside is that he’s insisted on paying for the hotel in Kingston to ensure that we stay in one of the best and most respectable places, so that he can sleep at night apparently!”

A look of deep compassion formed on Abigail’s face.

“Bless him. He’s had a lot of loss in his life. He just can’t bear the thought of something happening to you. It’s understandable, but good on you for handling the situation and pushing ahead with your plans. Your Mum would be proud of you.”

“I hope so. It’s a good feeling, to finish something that she started. It’s almost as though I can sense her holding my hand as I do it, keeping me company. Does that sound weird?”

Abigail smiled and shook her head gently.

“Not even slightly.”

They finished their lunch alternating between thoughtful silence and chit chat, both obviously still processing the recent revelations. On the pavement outside Abigail checked her watch and confirmed she had an hour before needing to catch a train home.

 “So what shall we do?”

“Well I haven’t been to the sun in a few years so I need to get a few things for my trip. I could make a dent in my list between here and the station if you don’t mind?”

“I’ve never objected to shopping in my life and I’m not going to start now.”

Anna offered the crook of her arm to her aunt and together they headed into the city streets.

Chapter 25

Anna sank back in the sofa trying to take in all the details from these letters. She wondered if there was anything left of the places being described in these pages. Even if the buildings were no longer there, the earth beneath would be the same. There was such a sudden urge to be there, to see it, to understand. She had been scribbling notes of place names, people and dates in order to do further research. Perhaps that was what her Mum had wanted to do but simply ran out of time. Once again the woman who spoke to her in the museum came back to her mind.

“I see it now,” she whispered.

Or at least she was starting to. This information had opened her eyes to the blind spots in her family history, and that of her city and country. What was she going to do about that? How would this change how she saw the buildings and streets so familiar to her?

There was one final letter waiting to be read, the one with different handwriting to the others. As she held it in her hands there was a sense of something drawing to a close. As far as she knew there was nothing more to read after the contents of this envelope and she felt sad about that. Over the course of many hours she had gotten to know Molly and Jacob, following their relationship and the impact it had on both of their lives. The contents of the journal and subsequent correspondence was having a profound impact on Anna as well and as she reached into the envelope she could almost feel a hand on her shoulder, as though her Mum was leaning in to share this moment with her. The date shown was 28th September 1838, not long after the last message and there was one simple sheet as opposed to the several pages of all the previous letters. The handwriting was larger and a little less refined than Molly’s and glancing to the bottom she saw Jacob’s name written there. Perhaps he had been given the honour of writing to tell of the child’s arrival? Or Molly had dictated the letter to him as she was weary or had her hands full? Anna took a deep breath and began to read.

28th September 1838

Dear Mistress Mackenzie

Mi hope yuh can read mi writing an understand all mi ave to say. Mi neva write a letter before. The Pastor have helped mi a likkle as mi ave important news tuh share.

Last Thursday Molly give birth tuh a baby boy, healthy an hearty. The three of us was together an mi heart was full of love an joy like mi neva experience before.  Molly was tired but happy an asked me tuh ave paper enuff fi tuh write yuh herself after she rest a likkle. We call di child Samuel James, after two great friends of di slave, Sam Sharp an Pastor James Phillippo. If di name of a child give dem any qualities of those who dem named for, then my boy be well blessed. Him wi need all di strength an courage dem man can offer.

Mistress mi can delay no more tuh writing di words mi know will break yuh heart. Later dat same day Molly did overcome wid a great fever. We care fi her as best we could inna di days dat follow, wid prayer an simple medicine but it did no good. Yuh precious daughter, mi loving wife, went tuh be wid God. Mi a wretch without her.

Mi know yuh a kind an gracious woman. Molly did talk of yuh almost every day an mi give God thanks dat yuh raise a daughter tuh believe di best of people. Yuh can be proud of who she was an di life she led. Mi cannot imagine how yuh will bear dis news. Likkle Samuel sleeps beside me as mi write an mi cannot guess what misery would be inna mi heart if something happen tuh him. Mi life has been full of hardship an loss but for a brief time mi was truly happy. Mi shall try mi best tuh raise mi son so his mother would be proud.

Mi send wid dis letter di gown yuh sent us. Samuel wore it wen we bury his mother. Mi hope it give comfort  fi yuh an a link tuh yuh grandson an daughter. Mi nuh know wha di future hold or if we shall eva meet again but di name an flesh of yuh family lives on in Jamaica. Pray for us, mi beg of yuh.

Jacob Mackenzie

Anna reached a hand up to wipe away the tears, her own loss mingled with that of people from generations ago who. She hadn’t even known they existed until recently and yet now, in this moment, she felt such a sense of connection to this long forgotten family. As she sat listening to the waves crash against the sea wall outside there was an emptiness in the sorrow, the deflation of an ending with so many loose ends and unanswered questions.

Her eyes wandered across the table to the family tree laid out under the pile of papers and she noticed the details that were missing. There was no record of Jacob or Samuel beside Molly’s name. Why? Had her Mum not got as far as reading the documents she had found? Or had she read them but simply not updated this page? Looking more closely at the other names and dates in that corner of the page, Anna compared them to the date on this final letter. Emily Mackenzie died in March 1839, a mere six months after her daughter. She was only forty three. Had she succumbed to an illness, or simply died of a broken heart? Anna lifted the christening gown and tried to imagine how Emily would have received this letter and its contents. Did she hold the gown close to her, imagining the child she would never meet and the one she would never see again?

Anna had always been fond of filling in the blanks of history with her imagination, creating great stories around the facts that were known, but here for the first time she was dissatisfied with having only her own fancied notions of what might have happened. She scribbled more questions on her scrap of paper, knowing full well that she may not find the answers but needing a way to capture the thoughts flooding through her mind. What of Papa Mackenzie, she wondered, tracing her finger back along the page and doing some quick calculations around the dates in front of her. Five years after Emily died he remarried, aged 55, to Ella Green who was nearly thirty years his junior. Well Molly had always said he cut a dashing figure and now he would be very wealthy and possibly a respected man of society with any scandal long since forgotten. Together they had one son, William, and it was there that the rest of the family line progressed. So Molly was another step removed from Anna and yet she felt a sense of understanding of this long lost almost-relative, a bond she could not explain. Looking at the questions and notes, barely legible on the page beside her she realised that the person she wanted to speak to more than anyone else in this moment, the person she had most questions for as always, was her Mum. She was so thankful for this trail of heritage, knowing the painstaking work that must have gone into finding these details. Picking up her pencil she filled in the missing names beside Molly’s – her husband, her son and her year of death.

“There,” she said, with a momentary sense of completion.

Standing to stretch her tense body, a restlessness began to settle upon her, to the point that she began to pace around the living room, unsure what to do with herself. This wasn’t something she could simply set down and carry on. She would not allow this to be the end of the story. But where to turn to next? Where to begin with all of the questions? As she made her way in circles around the coffee table, the clouds of confusion began to clear from her mind and she finally knelt and reached once more for the old atlas. Tapping her finger on the tiny shape in the middle of the Caribbean Sea she saw her next move.

“I’m going to finish what you started Mum,” Anna whispered, “I’m going to go to Jamaica.”

Chapter 24

6th August 1838

Dearest Mama, I was so glad to receive your most recent letter and parcel but have managed to delay myself in replying almost a full two weeks as I knew you would want to hear of the recent celebrations on the island.

Thank you for sending gifts for the baby and for including my own christening gown! It is so beautiful and delicate, intricate in detail and of the finest cloth. I must confess that after I unwrapped it and ran my calloused hands across the lace frills and pearl buttons I began to weep. Such was the contrast between my rough skin and dirty fingernails to the pale ivory silk that I was fearful of ruining the garment simply by holding it in my hand. Such an item seems entirely out of place in our simple home yet as a physical connection to the family I have lost it is a treasured possession and this child, when he or she comes, shall wear it as we give thanks to God for their arrival.  Mary says it should not be long now, another month or so perhaps. She will act as my midwife when the time comes and I know I shall feel reassured by her presence, but oh how I wish you could be here beside me. In truth Mama, I am scared, and there is no one in the world whose comfort I long for more than yours.

Jacob has been attentive and delightful, lying alongside me each night and staring at my belly as it has grown larger, speaking of who this child might become and what great things they could do. He has no small ambitions for his offspring! He is overjoyed that his son or daughter will truly be born free, not only because he is a free man but because emancipation has come to Jamaica at last. Oh these have been sweet and joyful days indeed.

A great sense of anticipation had been building for many weeks towards the day of declaration itself. Hope and possibility were almost tangible among the Negro population as they shared a glance with one another, nodding and smiling as they silently celebrated that which they had longed for over a great many years, eager to taste all which had been denied them so long. Pastor Philippo, who as you know has worked tirelessly in pursuit of freedom for the slave population, made plans for us to mark the occasion together as a church, and so on the late afternoon of the last day in July we made the long walk to Spanish Town to join a vigil at his church that would last through the night. I daresay that walking so many miles in the heat of summer in my current condition would not be recommended by any physician, but I am no longer a delicate gentlewoman but rather one who has grown hardy by much toil and sweat and I should not have missed this night for anything. However by the time we reached Spanish Town I was overcome with weariness and so begged a little corner of Pastor’s garden in which to rest in the shadow of the great mango tree.

By the time the service began hundreds of people had packed into the church with many more craning their necks at every door and window, eager to hear each word and join with the hymns and prayers. The atmosphere began as jubilant with praises and proclamations being raised to the heavens. The singing was such as I have never heard before, deep, rich and full, words and syllables saturated with joy and lament, each person carrying with them their pain and sorrow for all that had been taken from them, before giving shouts of joy for what awaited them with the dawn of a new day. I confess that I cannot give an account of each moment as my body gave in to tiredness and I slept a while, leaning on Jacob’s shoulder as a sweet chorus of song lulled me to sleep. I roused at some point late into the night. The gentle glow of light from hundreds of candles and lanterns gave rise to dancing shadows as a soft breeze made its way through the sanctuary. No one spoke a word and yet the silence was a great testimony of sorrow. I looked up to Jacob’s face as the muted amber light caught the tears falling down his cheeks. In that moment, as people were together as one in grief and dignity, I experienced a holiness like no other and as all around me stood I felt compelled to kneel and confess my sins and those of my forefathers. In my mind I thought of those sweet souls who had populated our home in the hills of St. Andrew, of how ill-treated they had been over so many years, and all at the hands my own family. The face of Papa swam in my mind as my conflicted heart shed tears both for him and all that he had done. I saw his face before me, one moment laughing with joy at our table as we sat together and told stories and tall tales, and in another the look of scorn and anger contorted his features so that he was no longer my sweet Papa but the tyrant master, cruel and unyielding, the man experienced by my own dear husband. My sorrow felt in some way selfish or self-indulgent in that moment, and I know it does not compare with that of the many around me, but it was mine to carry and I laid it down at the feet of our Lord trusting that his arms are wide enough to take all our burdens from us no matter who we are or where we have come from.

Eventually the pale light of dawn began to wash the sky with the golden hue of sunlight and slowly each lantern was extinguished as we rose to greet the day. There was a great deal of chatter and embracing as we each filled our bellies with breakfast and our hearts with anticipation of the morning’s events. The time came for us to walk to the town square and we formed a mighty procession for the short stroll from the church. As well as those from the congregation we were joined by a great many school children and their teachers, so that together we filled the road to either side, before and behind. What a great sight it all was as thousands gathered before the steps of Government House. Every inch of the small square was full of bodies swarming together as an excited mass of humanity. Soldiers on horseback sat above us looking out over the crowd, their bold red uniforms in great contrast to the white stone buildings on each side, their buttons burnished to gleam in the morning sun. Expectation echoed between the walls of the square as people poured in from each corner eager to find a space to stand, hungry for the words they thought might never come. I was looking around at the sight, turning where I stood to capture it all in my mind, when a great hush fell over us. A number of men appeared between the grand stone columns of the portico before the Governor, Sir Lionel Smith, made his way from among them to the top of the steps and cleared his throat. If he was ensuring he had everyone’s attention he need not have worried. I believe that as one the assembly held their breath so as not to miss one letter of that which was to be spoken. His voice was strong and clear, the surrounding buildings providing the perfect amphitheatre for such an occasion, as he began to read the proclamation.

I looked at Jacob, his face as proud and noble as that of any gentleman I have ever met, his shoulders back and chin held high. I miss you Mama with all my heart, but I would not have been anywhere else in the world for that moment. I so wish you could have been here to see it. The jubilation that erupted in the moments following the proclamation would have rivalled any celebration anywhere I should say. People embraced, danced and sang, raising their hands to the heavens in praise. We remained in the square for quite some time, greeting one another and basking in the joy of the day, before Pastor Phillippo led us back to the church yard. The mood of the morning followed us along the road but as we approached the church grounds a quietness settled upon the crowd as we gathered beneath the tamarind tree for a final act of commemoration. A hole had been dug – a grave in fact – and with great solemnity a set of shackles were placed therein to mark the death of slavery. It was a profound and extraordinary moment. I looked to the face of the man burying those shackles in the earth and his face wore a myriad of expressions. Sadness gave way to a release of anger as he threw shovelfuls of soil with more and more urgency, working his way to quite a lather, before at last standing back with satisfied triumph. The pastor dismissed us with a prayer and blessing, urging us to give our whole, free selves to the glory of God and the betterment of ourselves and our fellow man. We gathered together with our friends from the village and made our merry way back home where the celebrations continued throughout the day. For me, my celebration came in slumber as my body ached from the many miles walked and the largely sleepless night, and so as I lay my head down to rest in the late hours of the afternoon I drifted to sleep with the sounds of a people rejoicing.

I know how much you will be delighted by this report yet I wonder if you will be able to share this sentiment with any around you? Papa will certainly not wish to hear a word of it. How is he? Does he keep well? Does he know of my condition? Your lack of greetings from him in any of your letters tells me that he has not yet forgiven me or made any peace with the circumstances of our parting. I often replay our final conversation in my mind. Does he truly consider himself to no longer have a daughter? Would the knowledge of his first expected grandchild soften his heart towards me, even a little? Have you told him Mama, or dare you not speak my name? Oh to entertain that thought brings me such sorrow! I shall write as soon as the child is here and you will decide what to tell him. Oh I do hope and pray that this little one shall someday meet their grandfather, that they might laugh and play together.

Pray for me dearest Mama, as I pray for you. The next time I write it will be with the most joyful news.

Until that time I remain your devoted daughter, 

Molly

Chapter 23

15th October 1836

Dearest Mama, your letter arrived yesterday on what was the second anniversary of the last time I saw your face, standing on the deck of the ship that was to carry you away from me. You cannot have known the exact length of voyage your words would take to reach me and so I have taken this as an expression of God’s loving kindness, allowing me to mark the occasion by seeing my name written by your own sweet hand. How long these two years have been! Some days I feel myself to be an entirely different person than the one who lived before. That girl seems to me like someone from a dream, walking through a life so simple and carefree compared to the one I am living now. Oh in these last weeks I have so longed to be able to rest my head in your lap once more, to return to the innocence of childhood when the gentle song of a mother could sooth any ills. Only the other day I recalled the time when, as a little girl, I had grown fond of the tiny lizard who frequented my room from time to time. And then came the morning when his quick dash across the floorboards caused such a fright for poor Beatrice that she beat him away with her broom, cursing and scolding the tiny creature for his existence. Believing him to be no more I was terribly upset, heartbroken at the injustice of his untimely death. You sat me upon your lap and told me a grand tale of the daring escape my lizard friend had made, assuring me he was now living a good life in his new home on the nearest breadfruit tree. Oh that your words could banish the sting of death so easily for me in these days. 

The sorrow of that passing has been visited upon our small community and worst of all is it is a child who has been taken from our midst. We have worked hard these many months to establish ourselves as a village, to build, plant and share our efforts in order to make a life here. We are small in number and each simple dwelling is known intimately by the others. Little Evangeline Hamilton was but three years old and a delightful child. Her full cheeks were always bursting with laughter and chatter and she would rather skip than walk everywhere she went. I believe she held a special place in all our hearts, such was the joy she brought when meeting her. Then one month ago she took a fever and overnight all the vitality drained from her little body so that she resembled a rag doll resting on the bed, limbs lifeless, head falling from side to side. A physician was called for, and the pastor, and they brought all of their knowledge and faith to bear on the little mite but to no avail. Within a matter of a few days she was gone. I never heard such a painful clamour as that which came from her poor mother’s mouth when she was told the news. I believe that all the island must have shaken with her wailing as she beat the ground with a wild rage of grief. These last weeks she has walked as a shadow, her dark skin never without the glisten of tears, arms wrapped around her body as if physically holding herself upright and with great effort she places one foot in front of the other. A great hush has fallen upon us, a heavy blanket of communal sadness and reverent quiet fills this place now. Only yesterday I heard my friend Mary Jacobs scolding the birds for daring to greet the morning with a song, as though even nature should halt her natural rhythms in respect. It is such a cruel blow for a people who have endured so much to find their freedom still full to the brim of dark and difficult days. We shall go on because we must and I am sure that light will shine among us once more but for today these words come slowly and with great pains.

I have another reason for writing with a heavy heart, one which I shall detail here but which I know you have no power to help with. Jacob and I have had a trying few months, full of stress and strain with many arguments and cross words. We have had our tiffs before but always the day has ended with sweet words and kisses as we have apologised and made things right, but in recent weeks there have been nights I have gone to bed alone after a mighty row and have not seen Jacob until the next afternoon. I do not know where he goes or who he sees during these hours, which in turns makes my mood more fretful and leads to further strife. I often think of how you were able to be a compliant wife for Papa while also carving your own quiet path of resistance with such gentle grace and strength. Alas I think I have too much of my Father’s spirit in me to know how to behave in a genteel and suitable manner. I have such a fire inside me and it is stoked with the many frustrations we encounter both individually and together. I love Jacob so very much but there are days I do not recognise him, when his face contorts with anger and he issues such ugly words in my direction. I hope that by the time I receive any reply from you this storm will have passed us by, but I yearn for any wisdom you can share with me on how I should conduct myself as a wife in such difficult times. I shall try to follow your example as best I can but know it will be a struggle without your easy nature.

Thank you for sharing all your news and allowing me a glimpse into the activities that occupy your days. I should very much like to hear more of the dinner parties you attend and those with whom you sit at the card table. You cannot write too many words to describe the characters in your household or the colour of the turning leaves outside your window. Every detail delights me and feeds the landscape of my imagination. Thank you also for including one of your own paintings. I am so glad to have a piece of your work by my bedside. You say your skill is lacking as an artist but you have been able to give me a sense of Edinburgh’s grand buildings and scenic vistas. .It is such an alien landscape to me but knowing that I can now wake each morning to see something of the same view that greets you is of great comfort to me. The city sounds so very busy, a complete contrast to my rural existence. I confess that I find myself daydreaming of another life at times, where there is the luxury of idling my way through well-tended gardens or rushing with much excitement through crowded streets to see friends with whom I can laugh together with carefree abandon. I cannot recall the last time I truly laughed. Forgive me Mama for my melancholy – I am sure it shall bring you no joy to read it, but I must express that which is on my heart. There is no one here to whom I can speak of such things. I am not sorry for the choice I made, aside from the terrible distance between us, yet had I known the considerable trials that lay ahead I should have better prepared myself. However I am here now, in the midst of it with no going back, and shall simply have to make the best of this life that I can.

Do please write, as soon as you are able, and if you have any words of advice for me I am longing to read them. Pray for us Mama, for all of us. Deliver a kiss to Papa for me, even if you must administer it anonymously. Whisper my name to him as he sleeps so that he might not forget his sweet daughter who loves him still.

I remain, now and forevermore, your devoted Molly.

Anna unfurled herself from above the pages, releasing the tension that had crept across her hunched shoulders, the growling from her stomach reminding her that lunch was well overdue. As she stood, her eyes glanced back into the box at the christening gown still unaccounted for in the story. Molly and Jacob’s relationship was clearly under considerable strain as they experienced poverty and hardship. Could their marriage hold up under such circumstances? Their resilience and fortitude was admirable, but she wondered if they had ever regretted their decision. Molly said she didn’t, but were those just words to reassure her mother thousands of miles away? This was no fairy tale ending, that much was certain. Anna found herself willing them to make it, for their story to be worth the cost. Just a few letters remained to piece together what happened. Would the details they held be enough to finish the story, or would there be questions and lose ends? The temptation to keep reading was strong but Anna’s hunger won out, directing her feet to the kitchen.

Chapter 22

3rd December 1835

Dearest Mama,

The arrival of your letter and package was the sweetest moment in a long and tiresome few months. Despite having grown up in the heat of the island I confess that my current circumstances are considerably less comfortable on baking hot day. Does the sun seem so very distant to you? I was so glad to read that you are well despite the challenges snow and ice have brought to you. I recall how, as a small girl, you would sit me upon your lap and try to describe to me what such inclement weather was like. Such was your gift as a storyteller I confess it all sounded rather thrilling. The notion of being able to skate upon a frozen lake seemed to me the most adventurous and mystical of pastimes. However now as an adult, knowing that you are in that cold grey climate without your daughter, it sounds like the most miserable place on earth. Yet I should endure it gladly to be with you once again. I suppose it shall be a long time still before that is possible.

Is there much talk in Scotland of what goes on here? What is the feeling toward emancipation? In some ways the situation here has become worse, if you would believe that possible. The planters and overseers have responded to the prospect of freedom for their slaves with a good degree of harshness. It is widely reported among the Negros that beatings have increased in number and severity. I am so very glad that Jacob is now a free man. He always held himself with such dignity, even before, but now there is a look on his face through the toil and sweat, an expression of satisfaction, knowing that he works only for himself and his own household. I am so proud to call him my husband. I do not think I should ever have felt that way towards Robert. All of his wealth and status was handed to him through birth. What I have now most people would consider as nothing in comparison, but it brings me great joy knowing that whatever we have shall be earned by ourselves alone.

How is Papa? Has his heart softened towards me at all? I experience a great conflict within me when I think of him. I love him so dearly in spite of our great differences and yet the more I live among those who have spent their whole lives under the yolk of enslavement the more my sense of shame grows. Will you tell him how much I miss seeing his face and hearing his laugh? My heart aches to write of him knowing that he thinks ill of me. I cannot erase from my memory the look upon his face when we parted. How I wish it were an altogether different scene in my mind. And yet I cannot think I was wrong to act as I did. The Bible counsels me to respect my parents, yet how can I obey such a command when in every other way it sets me against God?

I thought of you on Sunday past – in truth I think of you daily, indeed most every hour – as we attended church and sang your favourite hymn, “Jesus shall reign where’er the sun”. I confess to being so overcome by emotion I could scarcely make it through the first verse. When we arrived at verse four it was Jacob’s turn to lose his voice. You will, of course, recall the lines that read:

Blessings abound where’ere he reigns

The prisoner leaps to lose his chains

The weary find eternal rest

And all the sons of want are blest.

It was scarcely noticed that he was not singing, such was the swell of other voices around those words. I believe there were equal parts delight and longing in the rendition. Freedom is a most precious commodity and there are many here still waiting to bask in its light.

For ourselves, we have indeed been much blessed these past months, although it has been a wearying journey. Pastor Phillippo, being a man of great wisdom and foresight, has begun to set up so called free villages for those slaves who have already gained their freedom and, I believe, in anticipation of the greater emancipation to come. Freed persons will need a place to live and land to farm in order to keep themselves and yet they will not be at liberty to do so, as the balance of power lies with those who do not wish the Negro to succeed in any way. The landowners would never sell to a former slave and so our friend the minister has himself begun to buy parcels of land in order for them to be divided up and given to those who wish to begin a new life for themselves. I believe he makes the arrangement through a third party, so as not to arouse suspicion. Being so well-known on the island as a great ally of the enslaved, there are many who would not do business with him. To look at him he has all the appearance of a kindly grandfather, yet there is a sharpness of mind and such a desire for what is just, that he shall employ all manner of cunning and guile in the pursuit of what he believes is right.  

The first of these free villages has recently been established on a piece of green and fertile farming land in the hills of the parish of St.Catherine, about ten miles outside Spanish Town. We are part of this new dwelling, known as Sligoville, and have endured many weeks of building, digging and planting afresh in order to establish a permanent home here. There are many months of labour ahead to ensure a harvest will be successful. For now Jacob is working every hour, both here and in assisting others to build their houses. Come the day’s end he has barely the energy to eat some simple food before falling into a deep sleep of exhaustion. We are sorry to now live further away from the Pastor and his church, however he assured me of his plans to start a small congregation right here in Sligoville as soon as he is able. In the meantime we shall walk the ten miles when we are able in order to join them in worship. In due course I hope we shall set up a small school here where I can teach the children to read and write, thereby increasing my usefulness. There is a small piece of land at the end of the village which would be perfect in my opinion, however it may be settled for some other purpose.

A number of the freed slaves among whom we live still hold me with suspicion but I have made one dear friend for which I give God thanks. Mary Jacobs is an older woman, gentle in nature yet strong as an ox. She came from a plantation in St. Thomas having weathered many a beating and decades of toil and strife. In spite of it all she has a peaceful spirit and generous heart, taking me into her confidence almost the moment we met. She has become the matriarch of this new community and her friendship will, I am certain, make the way for further acceptance of me over time. For now I have much to keep me occupied in the work of ensuring we have enough to eat and in keeping our small and humble home as clean and tidy as is possible. I confess that I did not fully appreciate what effort it took to keep our grand house looking as perfect as it always was. The dry dust of the earth lifts with any small breath of wind and settles itself upon any surface it finds. I can only imagine the daily task it was for Beatrice and the others to sweep the floors and wipe the surfaces in order for all of our fine clothing to remain unspoiled. At least I can count my blessings in that my new home has no polished wood on which to gather dust and my clothing ceased to be fine many weeks ago. I have tried to set one of my three dresses aside for church, however as we have no wardrobe or such a place to it keep it, it is a challenge to keep it good. I am quite certain that, were I to find myself once again in any respectable company they should scarcely recognise me, and if they did would look on me with such withering pity I’m sure. But I shan’t worry, as that seems a most unlikely occurrence.

Jacob has just returned, wearied from his day of work and yet sits with me attentively, asking about my day, concerned for my wellbeing. He asks of you, and of Papa, which is a kindness I cannot fathom. His heart is good and true, he makes me smile every day and we declare our love for one another each night before we fall asleep. There are times we cling to each other, as if to a rock in a storm, certain only of the bond between us.  Do keep us in your prayers Mama, as you remain in mine. We need strength and courage in these days in order to keep strong and healthy as well as fed and watered. A great deal of sickness runs among many of the former slaves. Their bodies being weakened by years of hardship and not enough sustenance they become easy prey to whatever fever or disease finds them. I do hope that we shall not succumb. I long to live into such a time when true freedom rules in this land. I believe those days are coming, if we stand together. I know that you long for that too. We are one in heart and spirit although separated by oceans.

Write to me as soon as you are able and know that where written words take such time to travel, my love and prayers are with you always.

Molly

Chapter 21

17th March 1835

Dearest Mama

How wonderful it was to receive a letter from you at last. I am sure Pastor Phillippo had begun to dread the very sight me as each time I would eagerly ask for any word from you and he would have to disappoint me. Only last week he threw up his hands in exasperation, exclaiming, “My dear lady, the moment I hear from your mother I shall ride over to you myself and deliver the good news. If I do not call, you can be assured that no letter has yet arrived!” I fear from this outburst that I had begun to make a nuisance of myself, but only from an aching heart and deep, deep longing to know you are well. Oh I have missed you. I can hear your sweet voice in each sentence and have read your letter aloud at least twenty times already. I am certain I could recite it by heart.

Your words paint such a vivid picture of Scotland for me! Even after all you had told me in the stories at bed time and around the dining table, hearing about it now is like learning afresh. I cannot imagine what it is to be cold and although you spent a good number of years there before coming to Jamaica, I believe from your writing that your body had entirely forgotten the sensation. How miserable you must be to need so many blankets simply to sleep. The house in Edinburgh sounds very grand – I do so hope I shall see it someday. In the meantime I must make do with your descriptions, of which I shall plead for more. I shall be glad to read your description of every minute detail from the corner of the room in which you sit. I should be delighted to read of your cutlery, the patterns upon your china teacups, the drapes by the window, any number of everyday items which one would not normally share in a letter, I will devour with eager anticipation as they allow me to inhabit the place where you are. My mind shall take me there when my body cannot.  

How is Papa? Dare I ask – does he speak of me? Am I forgiven? You write that he is eager to establish himself in society – making amends for my actions I have no doubt. I cannot say that I regret my choice, even with all that has transpired, except that I am separated from you both.

Oh Mama there is so much to tell you I almost do not know where to begin. The first weeks without you were the most difficult of my life. I love Jacob with all my heart and was glad to have realised that fact before it was too late, yet I wondered at the sensation of having a heart so full and desolately empty at the same time. I cried every night for a month longing for you to be there to smooth my hair and sing your lullabies to me once more. Yet each day made me a little stronger as I had no choice but to embrace the life I have chosen and make the very best of it, however hard it may be. Jacob spoke to Pastor Phillippo about marrying us so that we might truly be together. I knew this would be important to you, and being under the protection of a minister I wished to honour his good name also. I do not want my actions to have further consequence for those I love and respect. And so it was that one Wednesday afternoon, with only a couple of witnesses from the congregation, we stood in the Baptist church and made our vows before God. It could not have been a more different occasion than the one planned for last October. I had no special gown and wore a simple gathering of wild flowers arranged in my hair. None of society were there to see it, there was no music and no banquet to follow – and none of that bothered me one bit. I was only deeply sad not to be on the arm of my father, nor to have your face smiling back at me as I took my vows. But as I looked into Jacob’s eyes and made my promises I knew you would be proud and that gave me great comfort. We were proclaimed to be man and wife and walked out of the sheltered stillness of the chapel to go about the business of making a life together.

We have been shown great kindness by the pastor in finding a small plot on which to make a home. Jacob got to work at once in building a suitable dwelling for us and digging out a patch of land where we might grow fruit and vegetables to sustain ourselves as well as some to sell. He has taught me all he knows about tending the land so that I might take that role while he hires himself to a local carpenter. He has great skill with his hands and learns quickly, but the rate of pay for a freed slave is still a pittance. I hope that I am as good a gardener as he is or we may go hungry – only time will tell. I know that I am diligent in my planting and watering, keeping a keen eye on every green shoot that comes through the soil, but this is not the light-hearted joy of maintaining a beautiful bed of flowers but rather the desperate need to fill our bellies.

Our home is simple and sparse yet full of love. The few items I brought in my trunk have helped lend a delicate and feminine touch to a dark and dreary interior, and the trunk itself serves as a small table or extra chair should anyone come to call, which they seldom do. I wish I had packed more books for I miss their companionship of an evening, but I am now so weary at the end of the day that I often fall asleep within the first few pages

Being far from the city and now in the most humble of circumstances I have largely been spared the prying eyes and tittle tattle gossip of those who would glory over this fall from grace, as I’m sure they would have it. However I am still quite the curiosity where we are, finding myself not to be entirely accepted by any group of people, experiencing glances of suspicion from the Negros and thinly disguised looks of derision from the white population. Jacob and I keep our own counsel and there is very little time for idling. However news has reached my ears of the new engagement of Robert McKay, a piece of information shared between two ladies in a dramatic and overly-stated whisper which I believe was solely for my benefit, given the comments that followed.

“I am so delighted he has found a good match this time, much more suited in standing and temperament. Miss Lucy Jones will prove a worthy choice I am sure.”

I do not know the young lady of which they spoke but I can only hope she has made her choice of husband willingly and freely, or if not that she shall enjoy the fruit of their wealth that it might bring her much satisfaction and joy. That choice was not for me but perhaps it shall be perfectly adequate for another. I am sorry for Father that he could not have a more compliant daughter. At times he seemed to delight in my strength of spirit which I believe must have reminded him of himself. I am certain he did not anticipate the ways in which passing on that particular trait would have such a sting in the tail. Poor Papa. Will you tell him I have written? Will you read this letter to him as I have read yours to Jacob? Perhaps that is not wise, now that I review it. There is much here that would only serve to keep his anger and disappointment alive. Perhaps it is best to tell him I am well, that I am loved and that I am sorry. Oh you will know what to do for the best sweet Mama. I shall leave it in your hands.

Have you received word from Pastor Knibb? It seems he arrived back to Jamaica at the same time you were departing. I have heard from Rev Phillippo that he received a mighty and overwhelming welcome from his congregation who came to meet him at the harbour as he sailed into Rio Bueno and accompanied him by road to Falmouth. Despite finding his chapel in ruins he held services which were overflowing with thankful participants. The local press, as you can well imagine, have been less than pleased by his return and rail against him and the other abolitionists with the same venom as before. There is still much work to be done in this new era. Slaves are free and yet they are not, at least not in any way that you or I understand the word. My social standing, being what it is now, I shall have very little opportunity or influence to assist in the continued struggle, but if I might be an encouragement in any way to Pastors Knibb, Phillippo or their friends I shall surely do it.

Will you write to me as soon as you are able? It is an insufferable amount of time to wait for ships to cross the ocean with news. Knowing that these words shall not reach you for many weeks is a torture for one who, not so very long ago, could wander to the next room and merrily chat a while, passing time with conversation of such little consequence. If I knew how precious those talks would become I should have stayed for hours, discussing every detail of life and drinking in your voice and wisdom with each and every word. Tell me all you can in your letters – I am eager to know more of Edinburgh and our home there. Nothing shall be too mundane for me to read if it has been written by your hand.

Oh I must finish these pages to send them to you, knowing the sooner I do then your reply shall come all the faster. Yet I am loathe to lay down my pen for as I write it is as if I keep your company, despite the fact that we are separated by so many miles. Rest assured I hold your close in my heart each and every day.

Your loving daughter,

Molly

Chapter 20

The coffee machine gurgled in the background as Anna’s eyes followed a droplet of water meandering its way down the windowpane by her side. Having been in desperate need of air and exercise she had left the house intending to make a short loop of the village and return to her reading, only to be caught out part way round by a sudden heavy rain shower. It was all the excuse she needed to duck into the café on the corner and treat herself to a slice of something sweet and a change of scenery. As she waited for her order to be brought over the stiffness in her back prompted her to roll her shoulders trying to release the knots. Not only had she been hunched over Molly’s journal for the past couple of hours but she felt sure that she had barely drawn breath in the last few pages. The finality of the parting between mother and daughter had caught her off guard and she had been unaware of her tears until one fell onto the delicate paper, sending her scurrying for a tissue to blot it away from the precious words beneath. Standing up also drew her attention to the headache beginning to tighten around her temples and so an escape to the beach was the medicine required.

Pacing out her thoughts by the lapping waves Anna had begun to wonder which was the more difficult way to lose a mother – for her to die and be gone from your life completely, or to know that she was alive but parted from you by such insurmountable distance, estranged indefinitely by impossible circumstance? Would she rather her Mum was out there, standing on some distant unreachable shore, but alive? Still thinking of her and loving her from afar? Without a doubt, yes, thought Anna. That pain would at least be laced with the hope of one day, perhaps, maybe things could be different. Did Molly and her mother ever get that reunion? Anna suspected she knew the answer. And what of the pain in the loss of her father? He had rejected her, cut her off as his daughter. Was that pain worse for her to bear? It certainly gave Anna a profound sense of gratitude for the slow stitching together there had recently been between her and her dad. There were still plenty of moments of awkwardness and times when he reverted to his well-worn path of burying things that needed to see the light of day, but gradually, inch by inch, they were making progress.

“Here you go love.” 

A giant mug of hot chocolate was set in front of Anna with an accompanying slice of Victoria sponge.

“Ooh thank you!”

“Hopefully it’ll not last long.”

“Well it might take me a while, this is huge,” Anna replied, looking at the size of her mid-afternoon snack.

“No, I meant the rain,” the waitress chuckled, “but maybe it’ll last long enough for you to take your time with that. Enjoy!”

Anna was quite happy to savour every mouthful as she continued to digest the fullness of Molly’s story. Such an extraordinary situation for a young woman to find herself in. Yes she had chosen love and not a marriage of convenience, but it had come at such a cost. Reflecting on her own tense conversations with her dad she knew that following her own path and choosing her own career had been fraught with difficulty. She had weathered his persuasive reasoning, cajoling and ultimately his disappointment, because she knew that to choose anything other than what she loved would have been a long slow path to resentment. So far she had no cause to regret that choice, even though it was not the most lucrative career to embark upon, but there was more to life than money. Would she still have chosen the same if the cost had been higher? What if she met someone of whom her father did not approve? Would she still choose who she loved knowing it could drive a wedge between them? With gratitude she acknowledged that she lived in a time and place where that choice was freely hers to make, but all choices have consequences and people still had to make decisions here, today, about who to love and what to do with their lives, decisions that could cut them adrift from their families, sometimes forever.

Her thoughts ebbed back and forth as she watched the rain ease while swirling the remainder of the melted cream and marshmallows at the bottom of her mug. Before long a shaft of bright sunlight burst across the shop floor marking the end of the shower and the arrival of a patch of blue between the clouds. Anna stepped outside and breathed deeply. There was something so pleasing about the smell of the world bathed in sunshine immediately after rain, like everything has been rinsed clean and sits fresh and full of possibility. The street was still empty and for a moment it felt as though Elie belonged to her and her alone. Walking down to the road overlooking the harbour she made her way back towards the house, admiring the tiered gardens stepping their way down towards the sea. The road was almost entirely in shadow and the coolness of the breeze found her wrapping her jacket more tightly around her body and deeply regretting leaving her scarf behind. She quickened her pace, noticing the bruising look of the sky ahead and surmising that the break in the rain would be short lived.

Sure enough, as she reached the front door the first heavy drops began to fall. By the time she was upstairs and standing in front of the French doors out to the balcony the rain was battering down on the glass as though throwing a tantrum at not being allowed inside. She stayed there for a few moments, enjoying the anger of the weather from her safe, warm vantage point. Leaning forward she breathed on the window, clouding her view, before writing with her finger on the pane J + M. Is this what Jacob had carved on the reading tree all those years ago? Could that love weather the storms that surely must have come their way? How many young lovers have carved their initials in wood believing it to be a permanent testimony to their unending passion, only to have those crude markings outlive their ardour? There was so much stacked against Jacob and Molly – was it really possible they had made a life for themselves in Jamaica? And what kind of life would it have been? Nothing of the comfort and security that Molly had known all of her days. As she boiled the kettle Anna began to wonder if Molly had ever regretted her choice. Clearly she had swithered for a moment standing by the ship, with almost a literal foot in each camp. Were there days she wished she had simply kept walking, up that gangplank and into the arms of her waiting mother? Did she replay that moment in her mind on the days that were difficult and long to go back and do things differently? Hopefully some of the answers lay in the pile of letters waiting to be read, the final pieces of the jigsaw puzzle.

Curling up under a rug on the sofa Anna pulled the box to her knee and opened it. She understood a little more of the context now. These were all letters written to Emily Mackenzie in Edinburgh after they had left Jamaica. A quick glance at the first one confirmed they were from Molly except, she assumed, the final one which was clearly in a different style of handwriting. Anna’s curiosity nearly got the better of her but she tucked the final letter once more to the back, determined not to know the author or contents until the appropriate part of the story. Still she wondered, could it be Jacob’s writing? Or Pastor Phillippo? William Knibb? Whoever it was, the fact that it was the last in the series and clearly not from Molly gave Anna a sense of foreboding.

Holding the first letter for a moment, she tried to imagine the circumstances in which it was written and received. How was it possible to pour all that would want to be conveyed into a few pages of words? Anna knew what it felt like to hold on to the handwriting of a loved one after they had gone, how the stroke of the pen became something you could almost feel. She had spent hours looking at her mother’s style of writing the letter j, so sweeping and elegant, and could imagine that same hand curving gently around the side of her face, brushing her cheek and lifting her chin. Did Emily sit at some dining table in Edinburgh pressing these flimsy bits of paper to her breast as though somehow physically receiving the touch of her daughter? Did she keep the pages with her as a way of holding her near? How long did she wait before writing the reply, knowing the time it would take her words to travel the ocean? Anna felt her heart ache as she thought of it, the separation and the longing. She could wait not longer. Carefully she unfolded the fragile papers and began to read.