Chapter 6

25th March 1830

I woke early this morning, just as the first strands of light were creeping across my floor. Lying for a few moments to listen to the birdsong, I was filled with anticipation about the day ahead. Mama and I were planning a trip to visit her friend for tea in the afternoon, a whole hour away by carriage. I do not think I have ever travelled so far! Father often visits other plantations around the island to meet with those owners who are still in Jamaica. He tells me that many have now returned to Scotland, or wherever they may live, to enjoy the high life, leaving an agent in charge of their dealings here. When I asked him why we are still here he said he liked to see that his affairs were conducted correctly, and there would be plenty of time for luxury in the future once our fortune was secure. I am not sure what luxury I might need, as I seem to have all that brings me joy right here. I decided to list in my mind all of the things that bring gladness to my heart. I have a comfortable bed, and books to read. I have a loving father and mother. Endless fruit in the gardens. Clarence my faithful mule. And now I have a friend in Jacob. I do not know what use I might have for pretty dresses or fancy parties. I suppose I could always have more books. That would be the greatest luxury indeed, an entire library of books all to myself! That’s what I shall do with whatever fortune may come my way – create my very own collection of literature and stories, picture books and maps. I think then I should be so deliriously happy that I would never leave that room. I would take my tea there, and greet my guests in my comfortable chair and then I would read all day, every day.

I hopped out of bed to open the shutters and let in the warm air of the dawn. I had every intention of returning to bed to read but the day was so inviting and my mind so very awake that I decided to take a stroll around the garden before breakfast. I walked the edges of the lawn to keep in the shade of the trees, absentmindedly humming to myself and stroking the delicate pink leaves of the trumpet flower when, before I knew it, I was heading towards the path leading to the boiling house. Father has made it very clear that this is not a part of the estate in which I am to wander, but I find myself drawn more and more to the places where I know that Jacob might be. I knew that were I to see him we would not be able to speak – indeed I should not even be able to show myself – but I longed to get a glimpse of him in the day just going about his business, and so I came off the path and in among the trees, getting as close to the activity as I dare before tucking myself up into one of the branches so as to be entirely obscured by the leaves.

The first thing that struck me was the noise. Aside from the grind of the machinery, the sounds that rose to meet me were a great swell of grunting and groaning, of extraordinary human effort, and layered on top of that the shouts of Thomas, our overseer, using the most profane and offensive language. It was as though I were encountering a stranger and not one who has shared our dining table on many an evening, regaling me with stories of his school days in London before bellowing with laughter at his own tales. Today his face was contorted with contempt and anger as he prowled around the working slaves, the whip twitching in his hand. The men working the machinery were gleaming with sweat, their muscles straining with the effort it took to turn the mill stone that was crushing the cane. One of them seemed so very old to be doing such work, and wore a look of tired defeat upon his face. He stumbled and fell to the ground but the others kept turning the mill as Thomas called for a replacement. I could not take my eyes off the man who was on the ground as he was kicked aside before slowly crawling away towards the boiling house. I watched him as he went, a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. My eyes then returned to the working party and I realised that the person who had come to take the place of the fallen man was Jacob.  In an instant I was restless and anxious. My heart had leapt to see him but was immediately overrun with fear. As I watched him push the arm of the mill round and round, he stared at the dirt and seemed to grit his teeth. Thomas paced back and forth, reprimanding the lack of speed and effort and cursing the lethargic attitude of the men. I saw Jacob’s lips move although I could not hear what he said.   Thomas heard the insubordination immediately and shouted with such ferocity as he pulled Jacob out from turning circle to stand before him. Jacob no longer looked to the ground but defiantly stood stretching all of his 14 years of height to its fullest and raised his chin to look up and into Thomas’s face. A swinging arm and a mighty slap from the back of Thomas’s hand had Jacob on his knees in seconds. I cried out before I knew it, then clasped both hands across my mouth. My voice had been drowned out by that of Thomas, growling and spitting into Jacob’s face with rage. Then came the whip, raised high and thundering down across the back of my friend. I could not bear to watch for fear that I would give myself away and so I ran as fast as I could until I emerged through the trees and back onto the lawn facing the house.

It felt as though I had been in another world just seconds before. The episode I had witnessed could not be more than two hundred metres away but it felt like a thousand miles. I slumped onto the beautifully manicured grass and sobbed in despair. Everything before me was quiet and genteel and yet I had left a world of pain and violence, and it was happening all at once and in the same place. The image of Jacob cowering beneath Thomas’s whip kept turning around and around in my mind until, before I realised it, it had become the memory of Papa beating Jacob’s brother. For the first time it occurred to me that it could easily be Papa whipping Jacob the next time, and my mind could not conceive of how to reconcile that truth.

There was a call from the house bidding me come in for breakfast. I dried my cheeks with my sleeve and gathered myself together as best I could, pushing from my mind all that I had just seen. I endured a few hours of lessons, during which I was distracted and in such unfavourable humour that Mama threatened to have me stay home this afternoon and not come out for tea. I would have been glad of the escape, but as it turned out the day brought further revelations to encourage my heart.

After midday we were driven into town by Joseph and before venturing to our luncheon we called to see if there were any letters awaiting us. There were several for Father and one for Mama from Pastor Knibb in which she seemed deeply interested. I enquired as to the content of the letter, at which point she adopted a casual tone telling me only that he and Mrs Knibb have had another baby and are recently moved to Falmouth on the north coast of the island. I could tell, however, that there was a great deal more and resolved to try and read the letter for myself at whatever point I could. I cannot say what has come over me in these recent times! The very idea of my reading my mother’s private correspondence would not have entered my head before and yet now I find myself with a growing fire inside which terrifies and thrills me in equal measure.

We returned home after a terribly dull visit with old Mrs Jacobs, consisting of two hours of complaints by our hostess. She was unhappy about the weather, the state of her gardens, the laziness of her overseer (not to mention her slaves), the immoral drunkenness being encouraged by the local tavern, the list went on. I do not believe she made one positive statement during our entire visit! I believe the lady to be incapable of smiling as her face appears to be forever frowning, as though her physical appearance has been dragged south with the weight of such negative words. Even as we were leaving and she declared how delighted she was with our company her expression was the epitome of gloom. If you had seen us you would have been certain that we were leaving her with sincerest condolences on the death of a loved one. Should Mama ever invite me to accompany her again I shall feign illness or insanity to escape such torture. On our journey home I asked Mama why she kept returning to visit with Mrs Jacobs when she is so unspeakably dreary, and she sighed deeply and simply said that Mrs Jacobs had been kind to her when she first arrived on the island and she had very little company these days. I can entirely see why.

As soon as we returned to the house Mama said she had a headache and would retire to her room for the remainder of the afternoon, but not before placing the letter from Pastor Knibb in her writing bureau. As Papa was gone for the day I had the freedom to execute the plan I had been preparing in my mind for several hours. I left time for Mama to settle down in her chamber before making my way into the drawing room, retrieving the letter from where I had seen it placed and taking it up to my room. I shall copy it word for word below.

My dearest Mrs Mackenzie, how long it has been since we enjoyed your company in Kingston! Although we are now at some physical distance, truly our hearts are knit with yours in the bond of Christian esteem. We have had a most eventful three months since our last correspondence. In January we welcomed the arrival of Ann Elizabeth and so I now have a brood of three on earth and one in heaven. My heart is glad and my home is full.

In February a vacancy arose in Falmouth due to the untimely death of the pastor there. The area being surrounded by plantations the parish has some 27,000 slaves and many are church members.  It was made known to me that the sizeable congregation there desired me to come and lead them. I believe they had heard of my work and that I am a champion of the Negro. A special church meeting was called, a gathering of four or five hundred persons, and I was proposed as minister and a show of hands requested to confirm their intent. The whole church immediately rose as one, raised both hands and promptly began to weep. It was a most profound and extraordinary moment in my life and a call I could scarcely ignore. Although it pained me to leave my charge at Savanna-la-Mar I sensed the hand of the Lord on my shoulder and I walk as his obedient servant.

Of course there has been much opposition from the planters in the parish, who also know of my reputation, but our Lord can and will support us under every trial. We are comfortably settled here now and are seeing much fruit in the ministry with new believers almost weekly. If you are ever able to come and see us we should be most glad of it, however I know that our company is not what may be encouraged by your husband. We know your heart, dear sister, and see that you are engaged in the same cause but your hands are somewhat tied. Know that your gentle influence and quiet prayers are not in vain.

I shall endeavour to write again, as time allows. For now please know that you are held fondly in the hearts of myself and my dear family.

Your faithful servant and friend,

William Knibb

What revelations about my own mother! Pastor Knibb says that she is engaged in the same cause – but what can he mean? Is Mama secretly in favour of abolition? If she is then I am guessing that father has no idea, other than that she entertained the company of the pastor and his wife while they remained in Kingston. Her good care to hide the correspondence suggests he does not know that the connection continues. As I write it occurs to me for the first time how very differently my parents treat the slaves in our home. Father sees them as objects in his house, there to serve his every need, bring him food, clear his plate, do his bidding. They are the machinery of the plantation. He doesn’t truly see them, merely what they do for him. Mother is pleasant and thankful towards them, more so when Papa is out of the house. I believe she cares about their wellbeing and treats them with as much respect as her circumstances allow.  Now that my curiosity is aroused I want to ask so many questions but dare not for fear of causing trouble for Mama. I shall instead keep a watchful eye on the letters that come and go to see what else I might learn.

This evening was long and the minutes seemed to go so slowly. I wanted to see if Jacob would come to meet me, indeed if he was even able. I needed to know if he was badly hurt and at the same time my stomach turned to think about coming face to face once more with what I witnessed this morning. As I made my way across the lawn to our tree I did not run or skip as before but rather walked with strides alternately purposeful and fearful. I waited for what felt like an age and at last, slowly and clearly in pain, Jacob came through the trees his head bowed, his spirit broken. When he reached me he slumped to the ground with his face in the dirt and began sobbing loud cries, raw and full of such sorrow. I knelt beside him, placing my hand gently on his head, as the tears ran down my face and dropped onto his neck. Leaning down close to him I glanced along his back and could faintly see the skin ripped apart and the glisten of still fresh blood. I could only think to whisper “I’m sorry” over and over again.  Slowly he began to quiet down until there was only the sound of our muffled breathing. Wincing, he straightened up and we knelt face to face. When we stand he is taller than me, and obviously older, but kneeling down we are the same height and tonight his face was that of a little boy. I reached across and gently wiped away the remaining tears and held his head in my hands.

What sorrow fills my heart! I cannot bear this pain and suffering. Here I lie safe and comfortable in my bed while my friend is in agony and there is nothing I can do. I have heard of slaves running away before – perhaps we could run away, Jacob and I. Load up Clarence with provisions and escape to the mountains. It is a fanciful idea, I know, but anything would be better than this.

I love my father dearly and cannot believe that he is a bad man and yet all around me the work of his hands would lead me to think of him as an unfeeling brute. How can one person be both? And how can I remain a dutiful daughter and still be a friend to Jacob? What is to be done?

6th September 1830

My days have taken such a different turn of late. I have become one who eavesdrops on every conversation and hides unseen to discover the truth. I am diligent in my schoolwork so as not to arouse suspicion and to be allowed the freedom of my afternoons. I believe that Mother thinks I ride or read during that time, but I can no longer entertain such simple notions. My eyes have been opened to the harsh reality of this world and I must decide now how to live in it.

For my Father I am sweetness and light and when he looks on me with tenderness I feel as though my heart will break. I see him as two people now, my Papa whom I love dearly, who rocked me in his arms with such gentleness and bounced me on his knee with joy, and the slave owner who I see is part of a terrible system that must somehow end. I believe a time is coming when he or I must choose a difficult path. I do not know when or how it will happen but in my heart I know it is inevitable.

There is talk among the slaves about dissent and uprising. Jacob trusts me enough now to know that I will not give them away and so I hear the chatter and desire for change. I continue to glean information from mother’s letters about the growing strength of the abolitionist movement, and overhear father’s heated debates with his fellow planters about how to quash the rebellious attitude arising among their workforce. Harsh treatment and greater punishment seem to be most readily suggested, although how much worse it can become I can barely begin to imagine. In recent months my eyes have become open to the reality of what goes on all around me, which has been hidden from me for so long. I find myself regularly hiding near the boiling house to see what I can discover, and it has been a most gruesome pastime. Beatings of every kind are a daily occurrence, to the point of becoming unnaturally normal. I have seen men, women and children punished with such brutality it has given me nightmares.

Then yesterday I witnessed a horror that will be burned in my mind for eternity. Early in the morning I was watching the cane crushing for the last hour of the nightshift. These men and boys had worked for almost twelve straight hours, walking in an endless circle to push the millstone, while another of their number fed the cane into the device, stalk after stalk after stalk. This young man was exhausted from his efforts and rested one arm on the edge of the mill while feeding the cane into the centre with the other. Slowly his head nodded in slumber to lean on his resting arm and in a moment I could see what was about to happen. In his one blink of sleep his right arm, still on the cane, followed it into the machinery. I have never heard a cry of despair and agony such as that which came from his mouth the moment his arm was caught in the crushing metal embrace. The overseer roared with dissatisfaction at the inconvenient pause in movement from the rest of the crew as he ordered them to continue turning the mill. Looking to the trapped man he nodded towards an axe resting on the stone beside him and I saw the young man’s wide-eyed fear and anguish as he understood his choice. The mill would keep turning come what may and if he did not wish to die or lose his entire arm then his only option was to cut it off.


The order was given one more time and the young man reached for the axe, screaming as he hacked at his arm to free himself from the torture. I did not see where he went for I was behind the tree being violently sick and when I looked back he was gone and another was working in his place, standing in the bloody shadow of his predecessor. The barbarity of this system is almost too much to bear, and I am but an onlooker. I may still be young but my mind is made up – I shall fight with every fibre of my being against what I see here. I do not know exactly how to do it but I will find a way.

Then last night I went to meet Jacob. He was on edge as he arrived, angry and accusing. He spat out insults and abuse towards my father, walking in a circle around me as he did so. I listened without saying a word until finally he stopped and pointed his finger in my face.

“An you? Wha yuh do? You play at being mi friend, coming down to grace mi wit yuh presence from di Great House. Wha yuh do bout how I am treated? Wha yuh do bout the beatings an di fact that we are worked to death? Wha will yuh do when di uprising happen? Whose side yuh ago be pan then? Cuz it coming. An mi nah back down wen it does.”

For a few moments I was silent, looking into Jacob’s face and feeling afraid for the first time. Afraid of him, his height and strength and anger, afraid of what I’d become involved in and the choices that lay ahead, afraid of losing everything I hold dear, no matter what happens next. I thought of the dream I had, where my feet rested on the logs in the river, and I felt myself start to be pulled apart.

“I don’t know what to do,” I whispered, “I don’t know how to change this. My voice is small and carries no weight. I am a thirteen year old girl! Who will listen to me? ”

“Yuh Fada might. Ave yuh even try? Ave yuh spoken one word to him bout what yuh say is inna yuh heart?”

My words stumbled in the face of the accusation as I searched for something to say.

“No, yuh haven’t. Not one word. How can yuh know how much weight yuh voice carry wen yuh have yet to speak?”

Jacob stood and stared me down. Anger gave way to disappointment and then hurt.

“Yuh nuh even tried?” he asked quietly.

I hung my head, no longer able to meet his gaze. For a few moments there were no words, only the slightest movement of a breeze through the treetops above us and the accompanying chorus of cicadas filling the silence.

“Dis is nuh a game Molly. Mi people are dying. Nelson lose him hand today an suffers a great fever. Him may nuh last di night. An still yuh say nuttin? Yuh are right dat yuh Fada will nuh listen to yuh. Mi nuh expectin change from dat conversation. But mi expect someting from yuh.”

I raised my eyes to his once more. He stood closer than I realised and I could feel his breath on my face. My heart pounded in my chest as I looked at him. In amongst the challenge of his words was something else, a tone that was different, new. Soft and familiar but with a depth of relationship implied that thrilled me. Despite the heat of the evening my arms ran like gooseflesh. I took a step back from him with a fresh sense of resolve.

“I will speak to my Father. He will not listen, but I shall have my say.”

A warmth of fondness spread across Jacob’s face and he nodded.

I began to walk away, still facing him, unable to take my eyes off his face.

“And I will pray for Nelson,” I called in a whisper as his shape disappeared into the darkness of the night.

This morning when I awoke my first thought was of Jacob. In my mind’s eye I could see him before me as he had been last night, could feel the warmth of him standing so close. And then I wondered what task he might be doing at this moment, imagining him in the same position as Nelson had been yesterday, hearing his screams of suffering and his fevered flesh succumbing to injury and giving way to death. In a moment my joy had melted into anguish and I did not even wait to dress before rushing downstairs and into the dining room where Father was at breakfast.

“Well my Molly, what on earth is the matter? You look as though you’ve seen a ghost! What distresses you so? Come, tell me.”

Papa beckoned me over and drew me into the crook of his arm, holding me closely to him.

“What bothers you my sweet one?” he enquired, reaching up to wipe away the tears that had begun to fall. “Tell me, what has made my Molly cry so?”

As my head was resting on his shoulder Papa enquired if I had awoken from a nightmare. I nodded, for it was partially true.

“Well well, you are safe now, see? No more tears.”

I sat wondering if I should speak what was on my heart. I decided that if I was to have the best chance of being heard I should address the subject when I was more myself and could make my points with reason and balance. I dried my face, squeezed Papa’s neck to say thank you and slipped from his embrace before returning to my room and beginning in earnest the task of gathering my thoughts. All day I wrote lines of argument back and forth, trying to decide how much I could say without revealing too much and placing Jacob in danger. Finally I settled on a plan and went to find Father late in the afternoon. He was out inspecting the horses and I watched him for a few moments before making my presence known. He ran his strong hand along the hind quarters of Bess, his favourite, whispering quietly to her and patting her down with real affection. In that moment all that I had planned to say left me and as I stepped forward I simply said what was in my mind.

“Papa how can you treat a horse with such tenderness and people with such disdain?”

He looked surprised and almost amused by the question.

“What people? Your mother always insists I must be polite and cheerful so as not to give us a bad name in society. And now my one daughter comes to tell me that I treat people with disdain! Who are these people who speak so ill of your good Papa?”

He was pretending to be offended by the accusation and being playful with me. I swallowed hard and gathered up all of my courage before speaking once more.

“The slaves Papa. I do not like how they are so cruelly treated. They are flesh and blood like you and me and should not be treated worse than animals.”

He stopped and stood still, seeing me with fresh eyes. Something was shifting in our relationship. I was crossing a line that had not been there before and he seemed unsure of what to do or say. He turned back to the horse walking around her so that she stood between us.

“Who has been putting these ideas in your head?”

“No one,” I answered quickly. “I am no longer a little girl. I live among all that happens here, it is not hidden from me. I see it, I see what goes on and I… I hate it.”

I had not meant to speak so passionately. The words settled between us like a gaping void stretching wider moment by moment. I felt my Papa slipping away from me but I had started now and there was no going back. He continued to inspect the horse before nodding at the stable hand to lead her away. Standing across from me he seemed to weigh up what approach to take next.

“You are young. You do not understand the ways of the world Molly. This is how the system works. They are not like us…”

“They are! They love and they hate, they cry and they bleed just like us. They are people!”

I had raised my voice and was almost shouting. I had never spoken this way in my life, especially not to my father. As soon as I stopped I was afraid of what I had said. Stepping closer but not catching my eye and speaking in a flat voice, Papa told me we would speak no more about it.

“Go and get ready for supper,” he said walking past me, making it clear that our conversation was over.

Dinner was an awkward affair. My parents made polite conversation with each other and my father didn’t look at me once. The moment he was finished eating he excused himself and left the room. I looked to my lap as silent tears began to fall. Mama noticed that something was amiss and called me to her side. Pushing my hair from my face with tenderness, she asked me what was the matter. I wanted in that moment to tell her everything, about all I had seen and heard, about reading Pastor Knibb’s letters, about my conversation with Papa, and about Jacob and our secret friendship, but I knew I could not. There is too much at stake. I sank to my knees and laid my head on her lap and cried like I had not done in a long time. All the while Mama stroked my hair and held me close, not pressing me for further details. When I was myself again we took our place on the wide seat on the veranda and enjoyed the cooler air of evening.  After a little while Mama approached the subject once more.

“Molly, do you want to tell me what’s wrong? What has upset you so?”

I decided to reveal a little of what was on my heart.

“I am sad about the slaves, mother. I do not think it is right how we treat them.”

I pulled myself upright to look Mama in the eye, deciding to be bold.

“I think you feel the same.”

There came a long sigh followed by a pause as my mother also seemed to weigh up how much she could trust me. Finally came the answer.

“I do.”

She shifted on the seat so that we now faced each other and as she did so I felt friendship enter our relationship for the first time.

“We find ourselves in a difficult place Molly.  William Mackenzie is a good man in so many ways, a loving husband and father, and we both esteem him greatly – but in the manner of the slaves, like so many of our countrymen and women, I believe that he is wrong. I did not feel so strongly about it until we came here and I began to see their treatment for myself. And then I met some of the abolitionists and became interested in their work and have encouraged and supported them secretly where possible. But I think you have seen for yourself that your father is immovable in this area and so my hands are tied. I do what I can, but it feels very little most of the time. And so I understand your anguish Molly, truly I do. It is why I have tried to shelter you from it as much as I can, because I did not want you to experience the same feelings of helplessness as I do – but I suppose that was only ever going to last for so long. You are a young woman now, with eyes and ears to take in the world as it really is, and in so many ways I am proud that you are doing so. I cannot tell you how to respond my love. In the years to come you will be able to make decisions for yourself. For me, I am tied to your father and so will love him as well as I can and work to change the things he disagrees with where I have the opportunity to do so and I will make my peace with that place of tension. But you must follow your heart.”

She reached across to take my hand.

“My girl,” she whispered, “my precious, brave and beautiful girl. Promise me this: make good choices, in life and in love. We women do not always have the say in our lives that we would like, but where you can, make good choices.”

“I will Mama,” I promised as I wrapped my arms around her and we held each other close.

Chapter 5

The late morning sun crept across the carpet towards Anna’s bed. It was her day off, the house was empty and she’d brought her coffee back to bed to soak up the peace and quiet. Her only company was Hector who had come as a puppy for Anna’s fourteenth birthday and been a faithful companion ever since. The golden retriever wasn’t as spritely as he used to be but he could still climb onto Anna’s bed where he would lie alongside her, resting his head on her legs. Anna held her book with one hand while absentmindedly twirling her fingers around Hector’s ear with the other.  The silence was disturbed by a buzz as Anna’s phone received a message. Hector raised an eyebrow at his owner, as if to question who was daring to disturb them. Reaching to her bedside table Anna read the message and sighed.

“I’ve been summoned,” she told the dog and in response he crept further up the bed to nuzzle in under her arm. The text was from her father suggesting that she come to his office so they could have lunch together.

“So much for my day of rest,” she grumbled, already anticipating the type of conversation that would accompany her meal.

Anna yawned and stretched her arms behind her, glancing up and touching the paper above her headboard. The simple floral pattern which adorned one wall of her room had been there since she was a little girl. Although some might say it was dated she loved it as much now as the day it first went up. Her Mum had helped her to pick out the pattern and after looking at dozens of prints in an afternoon they had finally settled on one they both liked. Anna always liked it when she and her Mum had similar taste, which had been a lot of the time. Not for the first time she wondered how her parents had begun a relationship. In her mind they were such different people with outlooks and ambitions that seemed to have no overlap – or at least as much as Anna could tell from the memories she had of her mother. She had no recollection of her parents arguing and they had seemed to socialise together, and yet somehow in her mind they were chalk and cheese. She wished she could ask her Mum about her Dad, what first attracted her to him and what made their partnership work. She had one vivid memory of the two of them heading out to a formal function, her Mum radiant and glamorous in a deep purple gown and her father coming down the stairs in his full dress kilt.

“Isn’t he dashing Anna?” her Mum exclaimed. “This is what your father was wearing when I first met him. Oh what a handsome sight he was – quite swept me off my feet he did.”

Struan had blushed silently at the praise but as they stood posing in the hallway while Anna took a photograph he gazed at his wife with a look full of love and kissed her. In that moment Anna remembered feeling so safe and proud that these were her parents. Even though the hallway was untouched since that time it felt to her like a different house and her father a different person.

She pulled herself up in the bed and looked around her. Back in her childhood bedroom she could have felt constrained but this room was her safe haven, her sanctuary. When her brothers had moved away she had the chance of a bigger bedroom but there was no question of her changing anything. Anna’s room was at the very top of the house, tucked away from everyone else, having been part of the attic conversion that was done after she was born. There was a set of stairs up from the main landing of the house and Anna’s room was on the right at the top, and across from her was a small bathroom which only she used. This made it feel like her own little apartment, her very own castle in the clouds. Her Dad never came up to Anna’s room any more, preferring to call to her from the bottom of the stairs if he needed to speak to her. She had one huge sash window right behind the door giving a view over the rooftops of Edinburgh’s New Town. There was a small ledge outside, just wide enough to perch on and in the summer she could throw the widow open and sit there for hours at a time. It caught the sun early in the morning, bathing the room in a warm and welcoming light and from her bed she could watch the clouds pass by and listen to the city come to life.

There wasn’t a great deal of furniture; a small bedside table with a jumble of books and an old lamp, a single wardrobe with her sports gear resting on the top, and a desk which doubled as a dressing table. At the foot of the bed, to the right of the window, was an enormous bookcase, a treasure trove of everything Anna held dear. Nestled among rows of novels and history books were framed photos of family and friends, stones and shells gathered from innumerable beach walks as well as trinkets and ornaments from past holidays and birthdays. On the middle shelf, directly in Anna’s line of sight when she woke up each morning, was a picture of her with her Mum, taken just before she became unwell. They were both smiling and embracing each other, and every time she looked at it Anna could still hear her Mum’s laugh and feel her arm around her shoulder.

The simplicity of her small attic hideaway was in stark contrast to the rest of the house. The Ferguson residence was a grand old town house over several floors with high ceilings and generously proportioned rooms. It had retained a sense of grandeur, being furnished with items in-keeping with its size and style but was beginning to look tired and dated. Not much had changed in the décor or layout for many years and although it still felt like home to her, since returning Anna had been able to see it with fresh eyes. Perhaps she would be able to persuade her dad towards a fresh coat of paint in places, or a new suite for the lounge.

“Pick your battles Anna,” she told her reflection in the bathroom mirror before stepping into the shower.

An hour later, she was walking through Prince’s Street Gardens on her way to her father’s office, gazing up at the castle towering above her. She was always astounded that people could walk around this city and not look up, not stop and marvel at what was all around them. Rather than take the most direct path, she allowed herself the time to wander through the grounds of St.Cuthbert’s Church, nestled in the corner of the gardens. Even when the rest of the area was teeming with tourists, the church yard was quiet and peaceful. This was the oldest Christian site in Edinburgh and the grave stones felt like grand monuments honouring those who had come before.  Anna loitered for a moment of serenity, enjoying the wild flowers and the warmth of the sun on her back. The clock began to strike the hour calling attention to the fact that she was about to be late and so she set off again at a quickened pace.

Not far beyond the walls of the gardens and up on Castle Terrace lay the offices of the French & Ferguson law firm. Walking through those doors always made Anna feel very small and insignificant. This was her father’s palace, the dominion over which he ruled and reigned. Every inch of the place was sleek and polished, each corner the epitome of corporate excellence. Anna glanced in the window at her reflection before going in. Her floaty skirt and denim jacket weren’t exactly going to help her blend in, but then even if she’d come dressed in a high-powered business suit she’d still feel like a school girl going to see the headmaster. She pushed the door open, checking her watch as she did so.

“Afternoon Miss Ferguson,” called a friendly voice from the reception desk.

“Hi Bob, how are you doing?” asked Anna as she crossed the lobby.

“Ah you know me, just keeping out of trouble,” came the cheery reply.

“You and me both!”  Anna smiled over at the man she had known for as long as she could remember. When she was younger and visiting the office was a great treat, Bob used to greet her with all the pomp and ceremony as though the queen herself had come into the building. He would bow dramatically as she came through the doors and escort her on his arm to the elevators. As she left he would always have found some kind of treat to present her with and wished her a very good day. Today she took the lift alone to the top floor and came into a small lobby area where an imposing front desk was manned by a very efficient woman called Natalie. Every part of her was immaculate and as Anna stood waiting for her to finish her phone call, she tried to smooth herself down and stand a little straighter. Natalie was relatively new and Anna an infrequent visitor so she still had to remind her who she was.

“I’m here to see my Dad.”

“Please have a seat and we’ll be with you as soon as we can. This meeting is running a little late.”

Feeling like an anonymous nobody, Anna sat on the plush sofa while twenty four hour news rolled on the big screen behind her. Tatler and the Financial Times lay on the glass coffee table alongside a beautiful vase of flowers. Every detail of the space told you that this was a place for important people doing serious business. She missed the days when this was Jeanie’s domain. Jeanie was of the same vintage as Bob downstairs and had retired five years previously. She was excellent at her job and could schmooze with all the high level clients, but she was also a trusted confidante and collaborator with Anna, tipping her off if  Struan had had a bad day and laying the groundwork for her if a difficult subject needed broaching. It was Jeanie who paved the way for Anna to tell her Dad about her first boyfriend, as well as the conversation about studying history rather than law. She had a handle on Struan which Anna found immensely helpful and now that she was gone coming here sometimes felt like stepping into the lion’s den without an ally.

A door opened along the corridor and several men in expensive suits came out each shaking Struan’s hand as they parted before making their way out of the office. As he followed them out towards the lobby he caught sight of Anna and waved at her with one hand to let her know he’d seen her, but finished his pleasantries with his clients and gave instructions to Natalie before finally turning to his daughter.

“Hello darling! You got my message, good, good. Shall we pop across to the Sheraton?”

There was never a chance of grabbing a sandwich and sitting in the gardens with her Dad, even on the most glorious of days. He ‘popped to the Sheraton’ for lunch the way that most people popped to Starbucks. He liked to sit at a table to eat, with cutlery and a cloth napkin, because anything else was simply uncivilised. As they left the building they made their way past the Usher Hall were dozens of office workers and tourists were crammed on to the steps soaking up the sun and enjoying the vibrant atmosphere of an August afternoon in Edinburgh. Crossing the square towards the hotel a few young children had been set free from their buggies and were squealing as they ran in circles, while their mothers watched on and chatted. In contrast the hotel lobby was quiet and sedate.

Just as they settled themselves at a table in the restaurant a deep, bellowing voice called out a greeting. Stepping away for a few moments Anna watched as her father and the other man clapped each other on the back, oscillating between golf-related banter and mumbled business talk. Sitting back down with a flourish of his napkin Anna could guess what her father was about to say.

“Watson’s old boy, you know. You can always…”

“…always spot a Watson’s boy,” Anna said, rolling her eyes and finishing a sentence she’d heard a thousand times before. “So you always tell me Dad.”

“Well it’s true. Good grounding you see. Sets you apart.”

Her father was snobbish about a number of things but none more so than the school he attended.  There were several well respected private schools in Edinburgh and it seemed to be the rule that whichever one you attended was considered to be the best. Anna’s two brothers had both gone to Watson’s ahead of her and she had come along behind, always in their shadow. Robert had been head boy and the captain of the First XV and James had rowed for the school, representing them in the British Rowing Championships before going on to become an Oxford blue. Anna had played some hockey and lacrosse but was not exceptional. She was a good team player but lacked any kind of real competitive edge. For her sport was about fun and keeping fit. Besides, there was little point in trying to compete with that kind of history.

“How’s the job going?” Struan asked, finally settling his attention on the person he had invited to lunch.

“It’s fine thanks. Interesting and diverse and with lots to learn, so it’s nice to have a day off. I’ll probably head over to the Meadows after this and read my book for a while and then I thought I’d take in an event at the parliament this evening.”

“A festival event at Holyrood?” Struan asked with raised eyebrows.

“It’s a mini festival of politics over the next few days and this one grabbed my attention. There are some prominent local historians speaking at it and I thought it sounded interesting.”

“I might have known there was some history in there somewhere. You need to stop living in the past and think about your future Anna. You need to take it seriously. I mean what are the prospects in this job, really?”

Anna braced herself for yet another lecture about how she was wasting her time and talent. Her father’s shoulders suddenly slumped.

“And then I hear your mother’s sweet voice in my head, scolding me and urging you to live your own life.”

As his voice faltered his eyes dropped to the table, avoiding his daughter’s gaze. The silence hung between them for a few moments, until Anna slid her hand across the table and laid it on her father’s forearm, giving it a gentle squeeze. At her touch Struan Ferguson stiffened. A few seconds later his face was buried in his hands. Was he crying?  Anna hadn’t seen him cry for years, since the night of her mother’s funeral. The mask had dropped for just a moment before he remembered where he was, took a deep breath and composed himself. As he bustled for his handkerchief Anna caught sight of the very badly embroidered pink initials in the corner, a gift from her eight year old self to her father. She started to laugh and then to cry.

“Dad,” she whispered through the tears, “you still have my handky?” Her wet cheeks beamed with joy as she glimpsed a connection that she thought had gone for good. She remembered how proud he had been of the gift at the time.

“I do,” he smiled weakly. “I try not to use it much as it’s getting a little thin these days, but it’s here nonetheless,” he continued, tapping the breast pocket of his jacket, before clearing his throat and straightening his posture.

“Well now, what shall we eat?”

The tenderness of the moment was fleeting but precious to Anna and made her hopeful for a way ahead. Her father, having recovered his equilibrium, moved them on.


They ate their lunch with some slightly stilted conversation about her brothers’ latest achievements before the topic came around to the festival.

“So tell me more about this event you’re going to tonight? A festival of politics – whatever will they think of next?”

In reply, Anna reached into her jacket pocket and retrieved the flyer, laying it on the table in front of her Dad.

 “It sounds interesting, don’t you think?”

“I honestly don’t know why you are so fixated with the past Anna. It happened and we’re here now. What’s to be gained by digging it up?”

“We understand ourselves by knowing where we came from. History made us. If we don’t look back we can’t make sense of now, or have any hope of going forward without making the same mistakes all over again.”

Anna hated to have the legitimacy of her chosen passion and career undermined like this.

“This is important to me Dad and I want you to understand that. I’ve also been thinking about investigating our family tree. I know Mum had been interested in that kind of thing. Do you know if she ever looked into it? In to her side of the family, or yours?”

“She wouldn’t have looked at my family tree, nothing much of interest there. I’ve no idea if she looked at her side.”

Struan Ferguson looked at his watch and retreated back into business mode.

“I don’t really remember, why don’t you ask your Aunt Abigail. She could probably help you there, and I’m sure she’d love to see you. Maybe you could go and stay for the weekend some time, really get into it. Anyway, I have a 2 o’clock meeting to get back for. I’ll see you later.”

He patted her on the shoulder briefly as he got up from the table and hurried for the door. Anna sat back bewildered at all that had passed in the space of one simple lunch. It felt like one step forward and two steps back. Emerging into the noise and chatter of the street she paused, unsure of where to go. The clamour of people and traffic collided with the questions swirling in her mind and she knew she needed to get out of the city, even just a little. Her original plan to go to the Meadows no longer felt appealing. On an afternoon like this the grass would be a patchwork quilt of people, sitting in clusters around barbeques and picnics, playing Frisbee and football, a sea of sociable fun. On another day she would have happily found her own small square of space in the midst of it and settled herself down with a book feeling entirely at home, but the lunch time conversation had put paid to that. She needed somewhere quieter to go and be by herself.

Crossing the road she waited for a suitable bus before hopping on board, climbing to the upper deck and collapsing into a seat by the window. The heat on the bus felt oppressive and all around her people were chatting, small children wriggled with excitement or frustration and the heavy traffic made progress achingly slow. Anna was aware of the shops and houses passing by but not really seeing anything, her mind a fog of confusion. Why did her father have to be so difficult to understand? How could they share intimacy and distance in such a short space of time?

Eventually she was able to ring the bell for her stop and escape into fresher air once more. It felt good to stretch her legs as she walked away from the bus stop and turned into a residential street. After a few minutes she turned in through the wrought iron gates of the park, took a left up the steep path before emerging through the trees onto Blackford Hill. To her right the rooftop of the Royal Observatory became visible and so she cut across from the path to meet the sloping green hill as it came down from its peak to meet the historic building. Despite the fact that it was a glorious afternoon the space was relatively quiet. Blackford Hill had the same stunning views as Arthurs Seat, perhaps even better as you see the famous crags from here, and it was largely unknown by tourists. A young couple were sitting off to the side, arms entwined, ignoring the stunning views of the city as they whispered secrets to one another. An older lady came walking down the hill, her dog leading the way. He stopped to sniff Anna briefly and she patted his head, smiling at his owner before making her way towards an unoccupied bench.

Edinburgh lay silently before her. Although she could see it all she now felt a million miles from the frenetic energy the city had at this time of year. She cast her eye over the panorama with the castle sitting proudly above the city to her left, a myriad of spires and rooftops in the centre and over to the right the rugged mass of Salisburys Crags and the peak of Arthur’s Seat. Behind it all lay a thin sliver of silvery blue as the Firth of Forth cut across the landscape, separating the capital from the Kingdom of Fife. Anna took it all in and breathed deeply. She tilted her head back and closed her eyes, listening to the birds singing and enjoying the sweet joyful dance of their song. She looked over her shoulder to the Pentland Hills stretching away into the distance. From this vantage point she could also just make out the rooftop of Julia’s house. The two friends must have climbed this hill and sat on this bench hundreds of times over the years. On more than one occasion they had circumnavigated the park several times in the course of an evening, picking up the pieces of heartache or discussing the trials of life together. Anna smiled to herself, reliving some of those memories and allowing them to comfort and settle her conflicted heart. She sat for half an hour doing nothing but enjoying the view, the birdsong and the sun. Just as she was about to move she saw a familiar figure walking up the hill towards her and waving. 

Francesca Cameron, Julia’s Mum, looked a picture of vitality in her bright exercise leggings and t-shirt. In recent years she had been bitten by the fitness bug and now walked everywhere, usually at a speed no one could keep up with. Anna stood as she approached and was soon enveloped in a huge hug.

“Hi Fran,” Anna managed to say while most of her being crushed by the embrace, “it’s so good to see you.”

“Well now, other daughter of mine, where have you been?” Fran exclaimed. “We haven’t seen you in an age! Dissertation, finals, holidays and a new job – have you forgotten all about us?”

In truth it hadn’t been so long since she had last visited but compared to the regularity that had gone before Anna took Fran’s teasing with a smile. Julia and her Mum shared the same playful manner, but Fran’s came with an extra ounce of zest. She wasn’t one of those loud, irritating people, but you always knew when she was in a room. Effervescent was the word that sprang to mind. She was tall, with a strong physical presence, jet black hair and always wore bright, colourful clothes. She settled herself down on the bench beside Anna and put an arm around her shoulder.

“So tell me, what’s been going on?” Fran inquired.

“Oh nothing much,” Anna shrugged looking out over the city.

“No I don’t think so. Here, on this bench, on your own in the middle of an afternoon? Something has prompted this little excursion.”

Anna smiled ruefully and shook her head.

“There’s really no pulling the wool over your eyes, is there?”

“Anna Josephine Ferguson, after all of these years you’re only figuring that out now?”

Fran leant her head in until the two women were propped up against one another and began again, in a softer and more serious tone.

“What’s up?”

Anna sat back and told her about the lunchtime conversation, her questions and frustrations, pouring out her heart in a way that she only did to Fran. When she finished she looked down at her hands resting in her lap and waited.

“I’m sorry sweetheart. I don’t know how to fix the situation between you and your Dad. You’ll have to figure that one out between the two of you. But you have to be your own woman and follow the things that are on your heart. Embrace who you are and been unashamed about it. ”

The two of them sat for a few moments, silently enjoying each other’s company and the peace of the hillside.

“She’d be so proud of you, you know. If your Mum was here I think she’d want you to know that.”

“Thanks Fran.”

“And she’d love your choice of career – you know that – and the fact that you want to do the family tree. Don’t let what your Dad says take away from that.”

Anna smiled in gratitude.

“So, before you head off to this thing at parliament tonight do you have time for tea and cake?”

Fran asked as she stood and offered her arm to Anna.

“It’s what has got me through every other crisis in my life, so definitely, yes!”

The two women linked arms and made their way down the hill.

Chapter 4

18th August 1827

8 o’clock in the evening.

What extraordinary heat we are having! These last two weeks have been the hottest I have ever known. Yesterday I took Clarence and we walked up the hill at the back of the estate as far as we could go and when Clarence could manage no further I tied him to a post and went up the steeper part on foot.  I then climbed as high as ever I dared in the largest naseberry tree, all to try and find one breath of air to cool me down. But alas the world was as still there as it was below and all I became was more tired and hot and cross. I stayed among the branches and made myself as comfortable as I could so as to enjoy the view, not wishing to have entirely wasted my efforts. Our land rises behind the house at quite a steep incline and so I would venture to say that from my perch I had one of the best vantage points around. All of the plantation lay before me. I could see over our rooftop and out to the lawn, which leads down to the open land and then to the fields of cane forming the vast central area of the estate. To the left the aqueduct skirts the edge of the property and feeds into the mill and boiling house of the factory area. On the far side, and out of sight beneath the trees, is the slave village. I only know the details about these parts of the property because Jacob has told me. Papa has forbidden me to venture into the working parts of the plantation, saying it is not becoming for a young lady and that I should stay within the house and gardens. Jacob has said a great many things I do not dare to believe, yet in my heart I know he speaks the truth.

Further down the hill I follow the line of the road as it leads towards the rooftops of Kingston merging together in the distance. Just visible above them I can see the masts of the ships docked by the waterfront. The harbour is a wide silver grey bowl of water cut off from the sea by the thin spit of land leading to Port Royal. I love to hear the stories of that place, although Mama always says it is not suitable for young ears. They say it used to be the home of pirates and all manner of wild times were to be had there. Mama says it was a place of evil and villainy which was why God sent an earthquake to put an end to it all and send half the town into the sea. I am sure there must be treasure buried there, just beneath the waves, if only one had the means to go searching for it. Our home is approximately six miles from the ocean and the city, but many a time it seems to be a world away. Here is nothing but peace and quiet, whereas the city bubbles with life, adventure and excitement.

Today Papa had some business to attend to and, as mother was feeling unwell and unable to conduct my lessons, he bade me come with him to town. I was filled with joy. Most weeks I only leave the estate to attend church, and Sundays are the least eventful day to be on the road. I almost ran to the carriage where Samuel was waiting with the horse and helped me climb up to my seat. Papa cracked his whip and we headed down the drive at such a great speed I had to keep hold of my hat for fear it would be blown away! We made our way right down to the Parade where all of city life was to be seen: merchants and planters deep in conversations with furrowed brows, fine ladies keeping to the shaded boardwalks, traders on their way to market carrying great trays of fruit and vegetables on their heads, naval officers marching smartly in their uniforms, and all around the chatter of conversation, the clacking of wheels and pounding of hooves. Father told me he had some dealings at the bank and permitted me a half hour to wander alone as long as I kept to the same section of the street. He dropped a few pence into my hand to spend on whatever I chose – what a treat! I began to peruse the shopfronts to see what I might find. I considered the haberdashery, and perhaps a ribbon for my hair, but really what good is that? It will entertain me for a moment, nothing more. I walked along until I found a bookseller and knew that I had found my place. Nearly all of the books were beyond what I had to spend but I was simply enraptured to be in the presence of so many stories. I ran my eyes along the shelves at all of the titles, making a list in my mind of the ones I should very much like to read some day. Then I stumbled upon some pamphlets of shorter tales and as luck would have it they were exactly what I had to spend. I handed over my coins and skipped out of the shop to the bench outside determined to read until Papa was done.

The act of turning the first page brought Jacob to my mind and all the times we have read together. These last two weeks he has not come to see me on our allotted evenings and I miss his company very much. I have no way to let him know that I have new stories for us to discover but I decided to close the cover and wait until tonight in the hope that we might read them together. Just then there was a commotion along the street from where I was sitting. Try as I might I could not see what was amiss and so I risked a scolding and crossed my permitted boundary to get a better look. In the midst of the situation I saw Pastor Knibb standing between a man I recognised as one of our neighbours, Mr. Campbell, and a Negro on the ground with a gash across her face. Amongst the shouting I gathered that Mr. Campbell had beaten the slave girl for some insolence and Pastor Knibb, who happened to be nearby, stepped in to see if she was much hurt and to prevent further violence. Mr. Campbell had taken exception to this and unleashed a tirade of cursing upon the pastor, that most in the crowd seemed to agree with. I think the pastor saw that he was very much in the minority and raised both his hands as an acknowledgement of defeat. He turned to the slave girl and helped her to stand, at which point Mr. Campbell grabbed her by the arm and led her away with a warning to the pastor to keep to his preaching and nothing besides.

The crowd began to disperse, but not before several more bystanders had echoed the same sentiments in the direction of Pastor Knibb. I waited until all had returned to normal, before stepping forward. He stood with his head slightly bowed, brushing the dust from his hat.

“Sir? Are you hurt?” I enquired.

Looking towards me it took him just a moment to recognise who I was, at which point he smiled and reassured me that he was fine.

“A little shaken perhaps, but I shall live to fight another day,” he continued, placing his hat upon his head.

“Are you not tempted to give up? It seems as though you are on the losing side.”

He drew me over to sit with him on the boardwalk steps, before turning to me and speaking with great fervour.

“Everything within me finds the whole concept of slavery abhorrent. Furthermore I believe it to be abhorrent to my Lord. We are all one under God, regardless of race or creed. Why should my African brother or sister be treated shamefully? We are all children of the Almighty and he loves us all the same. It may look as though I am in the minority at this moment Molly, but those numbers are changing. Even if they do not, I shall still speak, still raise my voice against those monsters, regardless of the consequences.”

His words stirred and disturbed me in equal measure.

“Do you believe Papa to be a monster, sir?”

He paused.

“I believe that many people, blinded by profit and self-interest, have had their hearts hardened towards their fellow man. It is simply my job, and that of my friends, to try and change their minds. So no, Molly, I do not believe your father to be a monster, but I do pray with all my might for an end to the tyranny of the system of which he is a part.”

“And what will happen then?” I asked. “What will happen to Papa?”

“I am sure that all will be well. Why should we fear a world where all are treated with fairness and dignity?”

There seemed to be nothing more to say and so I stood up and told the pastor that I should return to where Papa would be looking for me.

“Indeed you should. Give my good wishes to your mother. And thank you for your kindness. You have a good heart. I pray it leads you well.”

He bowed and walked away, leaving me thinking of all that we had discussed. I made my way back to the bench by the bookstore and sat down to wait. Only a moment or so later Papa came looking for me.

“There you are, sitting pretty as a picture! And what have you been up to this fine morning Miss Molly?”

I stumbled over my words, unsure of how much to reveal. Thankfully Papa saw the pamphlet in my hands.

“Ah more stories for my very own bookworm. Have you been reading them while you waited for me?”

“I thought to leave them for later,” I replied, realising as I spoke that it was the truth but not the full picture.

“Good, good. Let’s be away then.”

And at that my adventure in town was done. We spoke little on the way home, but as we rode I would occasionally steal a glance at Papa as he drove the carriage, his strong arms slapping the reins and his powerful voice calling to the horses. I recalled all that Pastor Knibb had said. Was Papa greedy and unfeeling? I cannot say, but it is true that he does not see all of mankind as equal, otherwise we could not have slaves. And what do I think for myself? I know that Jacob is my friend and I do not think of him as a slave, but what of the others? I have not given much thought to their situation until recent days. They were simply part of my landscape, a company of players in my world, but I sense an urgency coming upon me that this can no longer be the case.

Papa looked aside to me and smiled and I felt an unsettling conflict rise in my heart. Looking up the hill the morning clouds had crept over the top of the mountain ridge and the path ahead was now shrouded in mist. We drove on into the rain.

After midnight.

Jacob came to see me! Oh I was glad of it.

I made my way out of the house, carrying with me a candle lantern from beside my bed so as to read the new stories tucked under my arm. The cooler air of night was a welcome respite from a hot and tiring day and I tucked myself into the reading tree and waited. After a short while I heard the faint tread of footsteps through the leaf-strewn grass and fixed my gaze in the direction of the noise. Out of the darkness came my friend until he was right in front of me. He said nothing but stood staring at me, and I at him. I knew that something was different but all I longed for was to read stories together as we had done so many times before. I held out the pamphlet to show him.

“I have new pages for us to read,” I began. He looked from me to the booklet in my hand. “I haven’t read any of them yet, so that we could discover them afresh together. I thought you would like that. I would like that.”

His eyes met mine once more.

“Will you sit with me?” I enquired, beckoning him to the spot beside me.

He came, his manner stiff and formal, and sat with me on the branch with a face full of serious thought. I feared that any closeness had gone for good, but as we began to read and the stories took hold of us, his body relaxed beside mine until we were as happy together as we had been before. How relieved I was at the return of my friend. Yet as our time together was drawing to an end, a thought had been circling in my mind and I knew I must speak it aloud, even though I feared it may dispel any of the goodness that had been restored between us. We stood opposite one another smiling and easy in our company yet my heart pounded in my chest.

“Jacob do you think I am a monster?”

His demeanour shifted at once. He studied my face and I could see conflict in his eyes. Slowly he replied.

“No. No mi nuh tink yuh a monster.”

“That is because I am your friend. We are friends, are we not?”

Jacob looked to the ground and sighed.

“We friends…inna manna of speaking.”

“And what manner would that be?”

“There nuh equal ground beneath wi feet. It belongs tuh yuh fada an I am his slave. Dis friendship costs yuh nuttin, but it cud cost mi everyting. Yuh ever tink of that? Mi yuh reading companion, that is all. You di daughter of my masta and di man who kill my brother. There will always be dat pain between us. Wi no di same, and neva will be, an suh dis friendship destined to falter. Soon yuh will be grown enough to realise that yuh muss choose a side. Yuh cannot be di friend of slaves an sleep comfortably inna yuh bed at di Great House.”

I stood in stunned silence as words had been put to the conflict of my heart. There is a choice, a line in the sand and someday, who knows when, I shall be called upon to declare my allegiance. I looked into Jacob’s face to see that the defiance of his last speech had evaporated into a softness I had not seen before. He took a step towards me so that we were almost touching and as my heart pounded in my chest he spoke in a whisper.

“Yet mi find miself drawn back tuh yuh, an to dis place, an suh mi muss conclude dat yuh friendship means a great deal tuh mi.”

After he had gone I stood for the longest time, certain that if anyone could see, my smile was lighting up the night sky.

Chapter 3


The sky above Edinburgh was a glorious shade of forget-me-not blue as Anna pulled the front door behind her, lifting her face to welcome the early morning sunshine. The Scottish weather was treating them to a break in the relentless rain that had been a feature for most of July. Summer in Scotland always felt something of a misnomer to Anna, when days that featured genuine warmth were few and far between. It didn’t ever deter the tourists, however, especially when the festivals rolled around. They came in their droves ready to devour culture and comedy in equal measure.  Making her way up Broughton Street towards the city centre Anna readied herself for the start of another busy festival season.  She had a love/hate relationship with this time of year. At the beginning it always felt exciting, Edinburgh welcoming the world with open arms, so much to see and do, then by the end she was jaded by the sheer number of people, always blocking her path as she tried to make her way home, spilling out of every pub and restaurant onto the pavements and roadways in every corner of the city. She felt a sense of quiet relief when they all returned home and the locals had the place to themselves once more.

This was her city and she loved it and knew it by heart. Perhaps growing up in a place so littered with history, as well as the influence of her dear Mum, was what had given Anna her love of the subject. History spoke to Anna. It helped that she had a vivid imagination, seeing stories where others saw only cold facts and figures. She heard the whisper of former residents around every corner, calling her to draw near and listen to their tales. Poring over old photographs and maps she would try to imagine what this place that she knew so well looked like eighty years ago or two hundred years ago. She particularly loved to imagine the past through the everyday lives of the people who lived it, what they wore and ate, where they lived or how they travelled.  Her job in the National Museum was the perfect vehicle for her passion, and a place where she could put her degree to good use. She had sensed her father’s disappointment in a job which he believed was no more than a glorified tour guide, but Anna swallowed his scorn because she believed that history explained everything about us and as such was an indispensable part of life.

Crossing the road and walking by the Conan Doyle pub, named for the author who was born across the road on Picardy Place, she passed the steps of St.Mary’s Cathedral and glanced above the roofs of the modern buildings to catch a glimpse of Nelson’s Monument on top of Calton Hill. She was glad that Edinburgh had this spectacular tower to commemorate the battle of Trafalgar rather than a column with a statue on top. For one thing it provided spectacular views across the city and was considerably less popular and as a result less crowded than the Scott Monument on Prince’s Street, and the design itself always made Anna smile. It was based on an upturned telescope, the piece of equipment most closely associated with Lord Nelson. Once you knew that you could never un-see the telescope when you glanced up at the iconic buildings rising from the east end of the city.

This was how Anna navigated the familiar streets of the capital, seeing more of the past than the present. She never got tired of Edinburgh’s spectacular skyline. One of her favourite vantage points was crossing North Bridge, and this morning she allowed herself a moment to pause and take in the full panorama.  To her left the famous backdrop of Arthur’s seat and Salisbury Craggs, rugged and dramatic against the blue sky. The Scotsman building stood in front of her at the end of the bridge and her eyes continued to scan to the right all the way along to the castle. As she continued to turn and look back towards Prince’s Street the Scott Monument rose like some ancient rocket reaching for the clouds while the Balmoral Hotel stood on the corner, the sun lighting its many cornices and sculptings. Not for the first time she reminded herself how lucky she was to live in such a place. There were people who had lived here all their lives who took the city for granted, going through each day as though they lived in any old unremarkable town, never seeing what was right under their noses. Anna didn’t understand them. Passing the Tron Kirk on the corner of the Royal Mile her hand ran slowly along the cold, rough stone walls as she wondered how many people had loitered there in times gone by. Who had gone in through the doorway to be married, baptised or buried? She looked with the eyes of her imagination to see what characters could be conjured up, trying to get a glimpse of the sights of the past, when the door crashed open and a young man wrestled a chalkboard down the steps to the pavement, advertising the indoor craft market now housed within. The present made itself rudely known but Anna knew there would be silent secrets still inside, waiting to be discovered. History was always revealing itself.

In sharp contrast to all that was ancient, every square inch of railing or lamp post was plastered in posters for the Fringe which had kicked off the night before. They had been going up gradually for weeks and now there were so many that the entire town had turned into one huge advert for comedy shows, ballet performances and literary walking tours.  The most eager tourists were already milling along the High Street in search of breakfast and craft stall holders were just beginning to lay out their wares. Although it was relatively quiet now Anna knew that by the time she made her way home later in the day she’d have to run the gauntlet of slow moving wide-eyed visitors, street performers and the obligatory bagpiper trying to earn a few pounds from appreciative standers by.  There would be a multitude of languages being spoken, as people chattered excitedly with their friends and family, and every few feet someone would offer her a flier advertising their show, trying to persuade her to come to along. At this time of year you couldn’t walk from one end of the High Street to the other without gathering a small sheaf of notices promising you the night of your life. She smiled remembering a time when a university friend had an aunt come to visit for the day around the time of the festival. They had walked together through the crowded streets showing her the sights and were passed by two young men in quite elaborate attire.

“Are those gentlemen making some kind of fashion statement?” she had wondered aloud.

“No it’s just the festival Auntie June, you’ll see all sorts at this time of year.”

And right on cue and entire troop of people in neon pink tutus had skipped past, followed at the rear by someone dressed as a bear. Standard festival stuff.

Just past St. Giles cathedral she turned the corner onto George IV Bridge and almost collided with a group of French students being led by their teacher. Anna pinned herself against the wall unable to find a way past as they kept coming and coming.

“Come on, come on,” she thought as she kept trying to squeeze her way through the crowd. The museum was only round the corner but she didn’t want to be late. Anna was nearly always late for everything. It was her most infuriating habit and one she had been trying her best to break ever since starting work. So far so good but she was still settling in and this opportunity meant too much to her. As she approached the round tower on the corner of the building she paused before crossing the road and glanced upwards, noticing with fresh significance the cross shape cut into the stonework. My church, she thought, as she made her way along the side of the building to the staff entrance. It had always been one of Anna’s favourite places to visit and now she got to work here. So much of her made sense when she stepped into this building. One of her new favourite moments of each day was to stand in the middle of the grand gallery before they opened the doors to the public and take it all in. The long oval room with white columns drawing your eye up to the glass ceiling had a cathedral-like feel to it. Even on the gloomiest of winter days this space had a quality of light that was hard to find anywhere else in the city.

There would be no time for wonder today, however, as she was cutting it fine. She had just enough time to put her belongings in her locker and head to her first station of the day. This morning she would be in the Early People section and then after lunch she would be at her favourite exhibit, Fashion and Style. For as long as she could remember Anna had been enamoured with costume and historical dress. She watched period dramas as much for the wardrobe department as anything else, and had done her dissertation on the role of clothes in social transformation in the early twentieth century. Any chance that she got to loiter near glass cases of exquisite frocks and handwoven garments was a great day in her book. And now every day she could walk past them, even if it was just on her way out of the building.

“Doors opening!” came the cry from the entrance hall. Anna straightened her name badge and readied herself for the day.


“Sorry I’m late,” Anna apologised as she hugged her friend and sat down at the table. “Today has been crazy. The place seemed to be full of large groups of foreign students all with the most enormous backpacks. Then I was trying to finish up an explanation to some German visitors about the use of snuff boxes while shepherding them towards the exit and they kept asking questions and…”

“…and of course your answers would have been short and succinct because you hate talking about that subject,” Julia winked playfully across the table.

“Well…” Anna began to gather her defence but then looked at her oldest, dearest friend and realised there was no point. “Yes ok, maybe they were the ones trying to get away.” Anna laughed at herself. “You know that once I start I get carried away. And it’s not very often that people actually ask a question, so I just took the opportunity and ran with it. Anyway, cheers!” Anna, lifted the glass of wine that had been ordered for her and smiled at the girl across the table.

“So that was work, but how is it at home?” Julia asked.

Anna paused, unsure of how to answer. She had moved back into the family home after graduating to try and save up some money. Both her brothers had long since moved away and so now it was just her and her Dad. Struan Ferguson had made his name by being one of the country’s leading lawyers and been anything but impressed by his daughter’s desire to study history at university, despite the fact that her mother had been a history teacher. What on earth would she do with a degree like that, he had asked? She could do better, he had declared with a tone of disappointment. She loved her Dad very much but at times wondered how they were part of the same gene pool. His son James had followed him into the field of law while Anna’s other brother Robert was in the cut and thrust of the city of London, trading, making deals and talking about sums of money that made her head spin.

“No point living in the past,” her father was fond of saying, “progress isn’t made by looking backwards.”

They had gone back and forth on many an evening, each fiercely and stubbornly defending their position. Eventually her father had relented.

“You’re a different kind of girl Anna,” he’d whispered, finally defeated, “a kind, old soul, like your mother before you.” He put an arm somewhat awkwardly around her shoulder and kissed the top of her head. “You’re her daughter for sure.” It was one of the few precious times they had spoken of her.

Anna’s Mum, Sarah, had died from cancer when Anna was nine years old. Although her memories of her were sometimes distant, Anna knew that she and her mother had been kindred spirits. She did not share that same connection with the rest of her family. When her twin brothers were home for a visit she felt like something of a stranger in her own home. It wasn’t just that they were so much older than her and so hadn’t really felt like siblings at all, it was that she was simply driven by different motivations and often felt as though they looked at her like a child who didn’t understand the real world. Anna cared about people more than money and this seemed to set her apart from the male Fergusons. She often wondered how things might have been different if her mother had lived. What she remembered most clearly was her Mum’s kindness and warmth, and their adventures through the city. She had given her that love of history for sure. It was Sarah who told her the grizzly tales of Burke and Hare, took her to see Mary King’s close and paraded with her down the Royal Mile, both of them pretending to be royalty waving at the crowds going by. Anna had vague memories of her father being with them on occasion and smiling and laughing along as they played make believe around the streets of the old town. Since her death that part of him had disappeared and he had thrown himself further into work. Finding an emotional connection with him these days seemed impossible. It made being his daughter very difficult at times. Anna knew that she was very like her mother – people were always telling her so. Well, other people. Definitely not her father. She could sometimes see the recognition behind his eyes when he looked at her, and could tell it was a moment when she particularly reminded him of his late wife.  Then he would busy himself with something else, trying to block the memory and the pain.

“Its fine,” said Anna with a resigned shrug. “We don’t see a lot of each other really. He asks how the job’s going and I tell him. He nods and smiles. He tries to tell me something about his work but I don’t really understand, so I nod and smile back. It’s like we’ve lost each other somehow and even though we’re standing face to face we don’t know how to find our way back.”

“Oh Anna I’m sorry.”

Julia reached across the table and squeezed the hand of her oldest friend. In truth they were more like sisters than friends. Julia was smart and beautiful, with her own unique and quirky sense of style and Anna loved everything about her. Julia’s parents had become a surrogate family for her at the time when her Dad seemed unable to fathom how to bring up a daughter on his own. In the years when he was floundering they provided a safe place for her to feel at home. Julia’s Mum, Fran, had helped both the girls to navigate the trials of adolescence, providing wise counsel, a shoulder to cry on and cheering them on through late night study sessions with endless slices of cake.  Eventually Struan came out the other side of his grief and he and Anna found a way forward together. She knew that in his own way he loved her but right now the distance between them felt cold and uncomfortable.

 “It’s ok. I’m sure we’ll figure it out eventually. Anyway, what are we going to see? Any suggestions?”

 “Dinner then comedy followed by a stroll through the streets to find some handsome tourists,” Julia suggested with a twinkle in her eye.

“Done,” agreed Anna, lifting her jacket and following her friend out into the early evening sun.

Chapter 2

4th August 1827

Herein lies the diary of Miss Molly Mackenzie aged ten years old. I live on the Harlaw Vale Estate, in the parish of St.Andrew positioned outside of Kingston, Jamaica, in the shadow of the Blue Mountains.  I have been told that I am old for my years. I can only think it is because I have little company with other children and have instead been surrounded most of my days with adults. My mother teaches me most mornings before the sun reaches its full heat, at which point she retires to the shade and breeze of the porch to rest and I am left to amuse myself. I have my own mule, Clarence, with whom I sometimes take a ride to the boundary of our estate. At its highest point there is tree which is easy to climb, from where you have a splendid view of the city in the distance and the ocean beyond. It is hard to decide which is my favourite tree, this one at the top of the estate, or my reading tree nearer the house.

Yesterday was my birthday. Among a good many treats I received for the occasion was this leather bound book with my initials on the front. Mama said I could write my stories in it, but I have decided instead to use it for my own special thoughts. It shall be the place for my secrets, for I have no one to tell them to. Indeed there is one, but he is the biggest secret of them all. I will need to find a place to hide it well. Under the pillow? It will surely be found with little or no effort. Beneath the mattress? Not nearly safe enough. I will tuck it behind my dresser, between the back board and the wall. There it is right beside my bed but there is no reason why anyone would ever look there. It is settled then, that shall be the hiding place.

Last evening we had a supper with all of my favourite foods and I was permitted to stay up longer than usual, on account of now being so old.  After retiring to bed I waited beneath the covers fully dressed, to go and see Jacob. We meet on a Tuesday and Friday, after everyone has retired and if it is safe to do so. I suppose it is never really safe, as father would almost certainly explode or expire in a fit of rage if he knew, and wreak who knows what revenge upon Jacob, but we have decided to take the risk. I do not always know if he shall be there as sometimes he is working through the night, but I always hope to see him. Only last week we played our usual game of make believe, where one begins with a line of a tale and the other has to follow with the next line and so on, until we reach the end or one of us gives up at the foolish knot we’ve tied ourselves in. We like to try and out-do one another with strange and preposterous twists and turns in our stories and we make each other laugh every time we play.

I made my way down to the reading tree where he was already waiting. I had brought us some dainties saved from my plate so that we could share a birthday feast. We delighted in oranges and sweetsop and thought ourselves as rich as anyone alive. We took turns to share out the segments of the sweetsop, sucking the creamy juice from the pips and then spitting them as far as we could, aiming for the low-hanging breadfruit. I came close but on the very last pip Jacob hit the round target and was truly delighted with himself. Jacob does not know when his exact birthday is and so we have decided that he shall share mine. As best we can tell he is now twelve, and a full two inches taller than me. Afterwards we sat together in silence enjoying the night air, having no need of conversation for we were together and that was enough. It was the best birthday I can remember.

6th August 1827

A storm threatened for most of this afternoon and the heat was suffocating everything like a blanket. I wondered if a hurricane might come. People say it is terrifying but to me it sounds full of excitement. I love the sound of the wind howling through trees outside. When I am indoors listening to the ticking of the grandfather clock and the clinking of china cups I would much rather be outside being shaken alive by the wildness of the weather!

This evening I had been ordered in early because the pastor was coming to dinner. I was not at all pleased at the prospect. Church is extraordinarily dull and tedious and Pastor Knibb’s sermons seem to last forever. I was also requested to wear my best dress which I find hot and most uncomfortable. I suppose Mama simply wanted to make a good impression. Until now I have been deemed too young to dine with guests but as my bedroom is above the dining room I have heard raised voices and heated debates on previous visitations from the Pastor. I think Papa does not like him much.

I could tell Mama was tense as she fussed over the preparations so I tried to sit as still as possible and resolved not to spill anything on my dress. The back door slammed and there was a great deal of cursing in the hallway. A few moments later Papa opened the door and surveyed the room and the extra place settings at the table.

“What’s going on here? Who’s coming for dinner?” His tone suggested he was not in the mood for company.

“We spoke about this earlier my dear,” Mama said. She used her gentle voice, the kind you would use if trying not to spook a horse. “Pastor Knibb is paying a visit.”

I held my breath waiting for the eruption. Instead Papa’s shoulders slouched as if defeated in a fight. He looked at me in all my finery and asked if he should dress accordingly.

“That would be appropriate I think, don’t you?” Mama replied with a smile. “Mrs Knibb is joining us too, so hopefully we can keep the conversation light and cheerful.”

There was a long, silent glance between my parents which filled me with intrigue about what the evening would hold. I was not disappointed.

Papa bid me come and help him pick out a suitable waistcoat for the evening and I leapt from my chair with delight. On the days when he is in a dark mood we do not see him much, and when we do it is best to keep out of his way, but in the moments when he is of good humour there was never a more handsome man and I love no one else’s company more than his. On those days he is playful and pets me with such affection that it gladdens my heart to be near him. On reaching his chamber Papa opened the closet door with a flourish and bowed low.

“Well my good lady, what should a fine gentleman like myself wear for dinner this evening?”

I surveyed the garments with a hand on my chin, pretending to deliberate. “Well now let me see…” I  said, as I looked through the choices one by one, declaring one too drab another too fussy and a third to be a terrible colour.

“Madam has all of the opinions, doesn’t she?”

I smiled bashfully at him then, knowing that sometimes my strong personality vexes him. Some days he seems to delight in my spirit and quick wit. Mama says we are like two peas in a pod. There are times when I feel I understand my father better than anyone else on earth, and yet at other times he is almost a stranger.

“This one,” I proclaimed, pulling out the burgundy brocade waistcoat from the rail and holding it up for him to see.

“How did I know it would be this one,” he replied with a wink. “Now go back downstairs and make sure everything is ready. We wouldn’t want Pastor Knibb to find us wanting, would we?” He said all of this with a mock tone of superiority, but I knew there was more to it. I decided to ride my luck and father’s good humour.

“Why don’t you like him Papa?”

He took a deep breath.

“I’m sure he’s a decent man, but he has ideas that I don’t agree with, ideas that would ruin us, ruin everything.”

He walked over to the window looking out over our land.

“This is a system that works,” he said, pointing out to the fields of cane in the distance. “This is how we make our living, and he wants to upend it all. He’s a do-gooder who doesn’t know how the real world works and I don’t like a man coming into my home and telling me how to run my estate or treat my slaves.”

My attention sharpened when he said that and I felt suddenly full of nerves and uncertainty.

“What does he say about them?” I ventured.

He turned back from the window and smiled at me.

“Don’t you worry about that my Molly. Let’s simply have a polite dinner, make pleasant conversation and then when he’s gone we can get on with our lives as before. Run along now and help your mother.”

Despite what father suggested the dinner turned out to be anything but polite, much to the embarrassment of poor Mama. Pastor Knibb was indeed more agreeable face to face than in the pulpit. He took a great deal of interest in me and asked about my schooling. I told him of my favourite books to read and his wife was full of praise for my good manners. She then gestured to the portrait on the wall and inquired of me who it was. I was ready with my answer but Papa spoke first.

“That is my father, Colonel William Mackenzie. I inherited this estate from him. A brilliant soldier, astute businessman and a wonderful man.” There was a great deal of pride in his voice but also a note of challenge to his tone, and he seemed to reply not to Mrs Knibb but to the pastor. There was a heavy and tense pause before Mama ushered us all to sit and asked the pastor to say grace.

The first part of the meal passed without incident. There were comments about the weather and polite inquiries about Mrs Knibb’s family background and the Baptist school the pastor has started in Kingston. I kept looking between my parents seated at either end of the table, as they seemed to be having an entirely different conversation without saying a word. Half way through the main course the pastor cleared his throat several times before making an unwelcome announcement.

“I’ve been thinking of starting churches for the Negro population, travelling among the plantations to hold services for them in their lodgings. How would you feel about that sir? You can have no objection, surely?”

“No objection?” Papa replied slowly. A storm began to gather in his face. The pastor did not seem to notice, or if he did he chose not to care as he continued.

“Everyone needs salvation sir. The slaves have a right to our Lord as much as we do.”

“And where will it end I wonder?” Papa responded. “Will you want to give them schooling? The next thing you’ll be mollycoddling them into believing all kinds of nonsense. They have neither the sense nor the purpose for church nor anything else that you might have in mind.”

I thought back to last night, sitting in the tree with Jacob. I taught him to read soon after we met and he was eager and quick to learn. We take turns to read to one another now, whispering our stories so as not to be heard by anyone else. On the nights when there is no light from the moon we share our own tales. I tell him the old folk stories from Scotland that Mama has passed on to me and Jacob has told me the songs and stories of his ancestors. I know that he cannot be so unusual among the slaves that he is the only one who has an appetite for learning. Pastor Knibb continued his reasoning.

“It is no longer illegal sir. Pastor Phillippo has now been granted permission by the Baptist Mission Society to preach to the slaves and has begun a great work in that regard. Many are responding and he is considering starting a church in Spanish Town. The mood is shifting. I believe that change will come.”

“It will not come where it is not welcome, and I can assure you Pastor Knibb, you and your righteous friends are on a hiding to nothing.”

Papa wiped his mouth with his napkin and threw it down on the table in a defiant gesture, indicating to Beatrice to clear the table. Pastor Knibb decided to try a different approach. As she cleared his plate he asked her name. She whispered her reply before glancing fearfully at Papa and looking back to her task.

“Would you like to attend church Beatrice?”

This was a line well and truly crossed. Papa stood suddenly, his chair crashing to the floor behind him, the approaching storm about to be unleashed.

“How dare you!” he bellowed. His voice seemed to fill every part of the room. I had never heard a rage quite like it, and that is truly saying something.

“This is my land, my house, my property,” he said, pointing towards Beatrice, “and you come here and challenge my authority right before my eyes?”

Beatrice rushed from the room, eager not to become the centrepiece of the argument. Pastor Knibb was not to be stopped.

“This girl’s soul is on your conscience. Does that mean nothing to you?”

“Her soul?” father scoffed. “Her soul?  She has as much need of a soul as that chicken you just ate. She is a work horse, they all are. They need no religion, no schooling, no special treatment. They cut cane and keep the wheels of our great nation turning.”

Pastor Knibb drew breath to speak but was silenced by father lifting his hand.

“Enough. Enough of this idiocy and impudence in my house. You may finish your meal without me, after which you will be no longer welcome in this home.”

Papa turned to Mrs Knibb, nodded and said goodnight before leaving the room and a few moments later we heard the front door slam as he headed out into the night. Muted apologies and a near silent dessert followed between those of us who remained before the visitors offered their thanks and took their leave. I hung back from the door and overheard mother offer whispered apologies and a promise to stay in contact. As they finished their goodbyes I wandered back into the dining room to find Beatrice clearing the final items from the table. Assured that the adults were still on the porch, I walked over to stand beside her.

“What would you have answered?” I whispered.

“Miss?” Beatrice looked confused.

“If you’d been able to reply to the pastor. What would you have said? Would you like to go to church?”

“Yes miss.”

She looked at me for a moment as though there was more to say but the sound of the front door closing broke the spell and instead she offered a glimmer of a smile before lifting her tray and hurrying from the room.

“Time for bed I think,” Mama called from the hallway. “That’s quite enough excitement for one night.”

I bade her goodnight and came to my room, slipping under the covers to wait. The wind had subsided but now the rain had begun to fall in large heavy drops. Sometime later I heard father’s footsteps climb the stairs. My door handle turned slowly and I lay perfectly still feigning sleep as Papa tiptoed clumsily into the room. He seemed to pause and steady himself by the closet before coming over to the bedside. As he leant over me I could smell the alcohol from his breath and the mixture of sweat from both Papa and his horse. On nights when he’s been at the tavern it is usually well that everyone is asleep on his return, such is his mood. This night, however, he sat gently on the edge of my bed and was still.  When I dared to peak I saw his profile against the faint light from the window, resting his head in his hands. I turned gently towards him and whispered.


It brought him back from his thoughts and he turned to look at me. Reaching over he brushed my cheek and considered me for a moment.

“I’m sorry Molly. Sorry.” He seemed to apologise for waking me, but also for something more.

“Go back to sleep now.”

He rose and retired to his own chambers and not long ago I could hear his deep snores mixing with the distant rumble of thunder outside. I will go to see Jacob tonight, though it is not a usual meeting time for us but perhaps Beatrice would have told the slaves what had happened in the house.

7th August 1827

After I finished writing last night I threw off the bedclothes and slipped back into my shoes making my way downstairs. I paused for a moment in the porch watching the rain fall as lightening began to crack across the sky. I didn’t care about getting wet as my clothes dry easily enough by morning if I hang them against my open window. I have been soaked before on my night escapes and so far have been able to cover my tracks.

I ducked in under the trees as soon as I could to gain some shelter. The noise of the rain on the canopy of leaves above was deafening. As I approached the reading tree Jacob was standing with his back to me looking out into the clearing, watching for me coming. I called his name and he turned towards me. Instead of his usual smile there was a seriousness I hadn’t seen before. He stepped towards me and put his hands on my shoulders. He spoke with a new tone in his voice.

“Is true?” he asked. “Pastor want to preach to us?”

“Yes – but I don’t think Papa’s going to let him.”

“Why? Why not?”

Jacob was angry. I had never seen him so before. Something was suddenly very different between us. I wanted to tell him everything but I couldn’t share what Papa had said about the slaves. I know that what he believes isn’t true as I have seen it for myself in Jacob. I tried to speak but couldn’t find the words. Jacob turned his back on me without a word and ran into the trees. I called after him but my voice was lost in the falling rain.

I walked slowly back to the house, allowing myself to become completely wet through. After wringing out my clothes on the porch I crept upstairs and hung them to dry before lying on my bed with such a sense of trouble in my heart. I did not feel at all tired as there were questions racing through my mind, but I must have slept at some point for I have just woken from a disturbing dream.

I was down by the river playing on the grassy bank. Cut tree trunks were floating on the water, all neatly lying together at the side of the river. I began to climb on them, balancing first on the nearest one and then walking across them until I was seven or eight logs away from the riverbank. Looking up to the other side of the water I saw Jacob smiling and waving to me. As I waved back I heard father’s voice call from behind me, beckoning me to come. I looked down to see that I had a foot on two separate logs which were now beginning to drift apart and the water beneath running fast and deep. Frantically I looked back and forth as Jacob and Papa called and gestured. All the while panic rose deep within me. I had to pick a log to jump to or I would fall between them into the now raging torrent. My legs slid further apart and the noise of the water was deafening as I began to feel myself falling.

I woke with a start and realised my pillow was soaked with tears. The first pale light of morning is creeping across my floor as the birds begin their song. Everything feels new and different, as though I have woken into another world. I remember what Nelly used to say to me as I helped her stir the porridge pot.

“Yuh dream laas night child? Dreams tell di truth, dem tell di future. Tell old Nelly bout yuh dream.”

I would share whatever sights and sounds had filled my sleeping hours and she would tell me what it meant. Mama scolded, claiming it all to be superstition and nonsense, and cautioned Nelly against putting fear into my heart, but on more than one occasion what Nelly told me about my dream came true. I cannot help but wonder what she would make of this one, were she still alive. I feel certain she would warn me of trouble ahead.

Chapter 1


Early evening sun danced on the water as the remaining beach-goers eked out the final moments of warmth the day had so generously offered. An hour earlier the scene had been teeming with life before families packed up bags and belongings, gathering in children and dogs to make the journey home, the school holidays all but done. Glancing behind her to the handsome row of houses overlooking the bay, Sarah was grateful for a place to call home that afforded them the luxury of extra time on days like these. She watched as her two boys paddled their way across the emptying sea, while towards her came the silhouette of husband and daughter, stacked together like those towers of interlocking cups, the smaller one fitting neatly on top of the larger below.

“Mummy look at me! Look how high I am!”

Anna waved her arms from her favourite seat atop her father’s shoulders, giggling with delight as Struan spun around and around on the sand.

“Careful you two! You’ll get dizzy.”

Sarah stood ready to receive them with a towel and a smile.

“No, not yet,” Anna pleaded on seeing the towel. “The boys are still out. Just one more sandcastle. Pleeeease?”

“Ok, just one more – but a small one this time. Dad’s going to call the boys in now.”

As she began the work of digging and building Anna was oblivious to her parents standing above her, Struan coming in to put an arm around his wife and kissing her on the forehead.

“I love you.”

His wife looked up into his face and smiled.

“I’m so thankful for you,” he continued. “I don’t know where I’d be without you.”

Sarah considered the man before her. She knew every inch of him, every freckle and scar. Running her finger along his nose and across his stubbled cheek, she tugged playfully on his earlobe knowing it signalled the start of what they would finish later. Continuing down his neck and to his chest, a faint white circle told of childhood chicken pox and a little boy who picked the scabs despite the warnings not to. Her hand stopped over his heart where she placed her palm flat to his flesh, knowing that beneath the skin the wounds ran deep. Her gentle devotion had soothed the pain over many patient years. To the outside world he was the picture of success and happiness, but she was the one who slept beside him and heard him cry out in the night. It didn’t happen often now, and when it did they were more murmurs than sobs. Only occasionally did it cause her to sit up in alarm at the anguish she heard from her husband. No longer did he waken from it, or remember it in the morning. The pain was etched on his soul, an integral part of him that he carried behind him daily like a shadow.

Struan Ferguson was a driven man, climbing his way up the ladder within his law firm, eyes firmly set on the top. An internal fire stoked his ambition, giving him a singular focus as soon as he walked through the doors of his office, but when he returned to the family home he gave all of his devotion to his wife and children. He was an attentive husband and a loving dad, playing sport with his sons and encouraging their efforts in school, but it was with their daughter that he came most alive. Kneeling beside her he accommodated her every wish, allowing himself to be transformed into a princess, a pony or, as had been the case earlier that day, buried in sand shaped as a mermaid. All decorum and dignity were cast aside in pursuit of Anna’s smile and she returned his affection in equal measure.

Sarah’s favourite pastime of late was to watch the two of them play together. These days her boys were usually running out the door on their way to some activity that would generate a mountain of laundry, and so as parents they had time to give to Anna in a way they hadn’t with the twins. Two at once had been a challenge neither of them was fully prepared for and Sarah spent most of the first seven or eight years chasing her tail. Just as soon as she thought she was getting the hang of it and considering a return to teaching along came the unexpected gift of Anna. Sarah loved her boys deeply and had told herself she didn’t care what she had second time around, but when the midwife smiled and handed her this tiny squawking bundle with the words ’congratulations, you have a daughter’ Sarah’s heart leapt in her chest. Instead of going back to her beloved history classes she found her most attentive student in this tiny brand new person who hung on her every word. This time she could enjoy every stage as she watched Anna develop and grow into a thoughtful yet strong-willed little girl who at this precise moment was project managing her current excavation on Elie beach with her father beside her, the ever-willing assistant.

Sitting herself down on the rug beside them Sarah lay back to enjoy the warmth of the sun on her face, relishing those moments of joyful calm as all of her people were content in their endeavours and she could have some time for her own thoughts and dreams. Letting her hands drift back and forth across the sand she felt anchored once more to this precious place. Some day she hoped this would be more than a holiday home, when the kids were up and gone to their own lives she and Struan could leave the city behind and potter their days away among the pretty towns and villages of Fife. She could never give up Edinburgh for good of course but she would be happy with more time here with less distractions to come between them. They would still pursue their own pastimes, him on the golf course and her with her writing and painting, but in between would be long walks along the coastline and dinner dates in local places they would find together. Some day.

A roar of teenage boys brought her back to the present as Robert and James dragged the dingy up from the shore, before dripping and shaking the sea over her on purpose because they thought it was hilarious.

“Argh!” she cried, playing along, “get off you rotten lot. Here,” she countered, throwing a towel in each of their faces, “get yourselves dried off and gather in here for a photo.”

Eyes rolled and there was a general muttering of disapproval as both boys gave a cursory rub of their heads with their towels before standing either side of her and plastering their faces with identical mischievous grins. Struan scooped Anna up from the sand and they hunkered down at the front as Sarah flagged down a passing stranger to do the honours.

“Ready? 3-2-1 cheese!”

Click. A moment in time, captured on a tiny screen. Using one hand as a shield against the light Sarah peered into the glass on the back of her digital camera to see the most perfect reflection of her family staring back at her. Robert and James, paused from their perpetual motion just long enough to show a glimpse of the handsome young men they would soon become, while keeping one hand on the tousled mess of boyhood. Tucked beneath her, cheek to cheek, were Anna and Struan, Anna’s arms wrapped tightly around her dad’s neck squeezing him in a way that could not possibly have been comfortable and yet he looked utterly delighted with his smiling limpet. And standing in their midst, the still and reliable axis around which this wheel turned, was Sarah. Mum. The early signs of crow’s feet were showing at the corners of her eyes and she noticed the laughter lines were more pronounced around her mouth. Where she could easily see the future in the faces of her sons she had to look more closely to find the girl she had been. Her wild and carefree younger self had been tamed and tidied away by marriage and motherhood and sometimes she missed that part of herself but she could not deny that this was a photograph in which she looked as happy as she had ever been. Standing with her family in her favourite place on a glorious day.

“Mum, what’s for tea?”

The eternal question broke into her moment of reflection. How did anyone keep teenage boys fed and satisfied? They had reached the point in the evolution of the mother/son relationship where she was most regularly cook and cleaner, part time tutor and regular taxi driver. She dare not begrudge it. At least when they were around her table she could look at their faces rather than their backs as they headed out the door.

“Well I thought that this could be a night for fish and chips. What does everyone think?”

A chorus of approval rang out from every member of the family and lent momentum to their efforts to leave the beach. The boys threw all of their belongings into the dingy and began to drag it across the sand while Struan threw a variety of garments across his shoulders before adding the finishing touch of his insistent daughter who was now apparently too tired to walk anywhere, not even the few hundred metres back to the house.

“Go on,” Sarah insisted, “I’ll get these last few bits.”

She stood alone among the detritus of the day basking in the sight of her most precious people scattered across the shore like jewels glinting in the sunlight. The twins raced ahead dragging the dinghy between them, carving a trail in the damp ochre along which followed their dad and sister, bound together like one merry creature singing their way towards home. Taking a moment Sarah breathed deeply, filling her lungs with the sea air and the satisfaction of what she had made. She wanted to stretch this day, to fill it with as many experiences as possible until it bulged to breaking point. Fish and chips by the harbour in Anstruther as the sun set, gathering on the sofa with a film and ice cream until little Anna’s eyes could stay open no longer. She and her husband would exchange a silent look across the body of their sleeping daughter and know which of them would lift her up to bed. The boys would be allowed one final night of staying up late while Struan would wink across at her before taking her by the hand and leading her to bed. Bending to pick up bags, buckets and spades she turned once more to face the sea.

“Still time for a final dip.”

An older man walked past her on his way back from the water, droplets clinging to his freckled shoulders. Her eyes glinted in response and they exchanged a knowing smile. He noticed her hesitation and so took a step closer and whispered.

“Go on girl. It’s never too late and you’re never too old for a paddle.”

He nudged her arm playfully before moving on. Walking a few steps further up the beach he glanced behind to see the woman running with absolute abandon towards the waves before diving beneath them fully clothed. He threw his head back and roared with laughter as she waved to him from sea, her smile as wide as the sky.



Thick, heavy heat weighed on the afternoon, the Blue Mountain breeze powerless to shift it. Red Poinciana leaves blazed against deep blue sky, like a flock of tiny vibrant birds taking flight. Mangoes swayed gently until a soft rustling thud told of one breaking free, landing on the grass below. A small, pale hand reached out from the shade and into the glare of the Jamaican sun just long enough to scoop it up, snatching it back like treasure.

Molly hid her Scottish complexion under the leaves of the neighbouring breadfruit tree, doing her best to escape the relentless heat and the thunderous mood of her father. Hopping back onto the branch of her reading nook she bit into the fruit. Succulent orange juice filled her mouth, running down her chin and along her forearm. She lifted her skirt to wipe her hand without thinking of the stain it would leave. Another scolding for the mess would be waiting at the end of the day. Her sticky hand reached down from her seat. At the base of the trunk by the roots was a little gap just big enough for three books, four if they were slim volumes, perfect for days like this when she preferred to stay away for a while. Curling herself up and out of the way she let the story take her to distant lands and adventures. Often she dreamed of Scotland, as though it were a mythical place, her mind dancing with tales her mother had told her each time she tucked her into bed. She had cousins there, and grandparents. Sometimes, glancing at her mother in an unguarded moment, there was a faraway look in her eyes and Molly knew she was missing her homeland. “One day we’ll go back, my love, and you’ll see for yourself,” she would whisper wistfully. Molly thought her mother seemed lonely. They were far from company here, tucked among the hills with only a distant view of life and activity far below. Glad of her books, the warmth of the day wrapped around Molly like a shawl and the lilting lullaby of leaves took her away.

She woke with a start. Sitting upright her ears identified a great commotion nearby. Recognising the voice of her father roaring with disapproval she turned to peer through the leaves. He was striding with great purpose, face red, arms gesticulating wildly. In one hand he carried his whip. Molly flinched. What did Papa mean to do with the whip? One quiet hop landed her on the ground and she peered around the tree truck, her eyes following her father’s direction of travel. A young man knelt with his hands held up in defence, his head bowed towards the dirt. Molly could not make out what her father said as he leant over the kneeling man, but a moment later there was a whistling sound and a mighty crack as the whip fell across his shoulders and the man cried out in pain. Molly’s face contorted in horror. Again and again came the awful noise until she could stand it no more, and sinking to the ground she covered her ears with her hands, and buried her face in the mango-stained skirt murmuring all the while, ‘no Papa, no.’

She stayed in that position until everything had been quiet for some time. Slowly, turning on to her knees, she peered around from behind the tree. Her father was no longer there and the man he had beaten was lying face down on the ground, unmoving. Two others came and, lifting him gently by the arms, carried him away. His feet left a trail as he was dragged along and Molly thought it looked like a very long snake. Could the man be dead? She examined the sombre faces of those nearby and felt an ache in the pit of her stomach. When everyone had gone she got to her feet and walked across to where he had lain. The dry and sandy earth was wet with blood. She could almost make out the shape of him on the ground, could see where he had placed his head. Following the outline of his body, the part she could see most clearly was a handprint, right by her feet where she stood.  Carefully, trying not to disturb the man’s dusty reflection, she sat beside him, placing her small hand into the ghost of his. Softly she began to hum the lullaby Mama sang to her before she went to sleep, as her tears fell to stain the ground, sentinels of silent protest.

As the song finished she had the feeling of being watched. Glancing towards the shadows of the tree line directly ahead of her, she was aware of a slight movement in the darkness. She sat waiting, never taking her eyes from that spot, until eventually the watcher appeared. A boy of about her age stepped out into the glare of the sunlight and stopped. Staring across at Molly he held her gaze with sorrowful eyes as he slowly walked towards her, until he was standing on the other side of the invisible body. His expression held an intense curiosity, a question on his lips unable to be spoken. Molly could make out the faint trace of tears on his dark cheek. She had never seen one of them cry before.  Out of the silence a woman’s voice called from afar and he glanced suddenly, looking around as if anticipating danger, before running off in the direction of the snake trail. She watched him go until he disappeared among the trees.

The sun began to cast long shadows and Molly’s stomach growled telling her it was almost time for supper. She did not wish to be in trouble today. Lifting her hand from the dirt she kissed it, and patted the place where the man’s head had been. Rising to her feet she dusted herself down, noting the yellow and brown marks of dirt forming a dull rainbow of stains alongside the orange from earlier. Turning her back on the scene she walked towards the Great House.

Later, as she lay in bed, Molly listened to the sounds floating in through her open window. Jamaica was never really silent, especially not high up towards the mountains. There was always the faintest of breezes rustling the palm trees and sugar cane, and at night the place was alive with insects and creatures singing and calling to one another. The cicadas were especially loud tonight. Molly envied them. They clearly had a lot of each other to speak to and plenty to say. She was on her own, miles from anyone who might be a friend.

Wide awake and with the house in silence, she threw back the bed clothes and tiptoed over to the chair where her shawl was resting. Wrapping it round her shoulders she made her way carefully to the door, avoiding the squeaking floorboard, before gingerly turning the door handle. The darkness was cut by a wide shaft of moonlight coming through the window at the end of the hall, perfectly illuminating her path down the stairs. Molly took it as an invitation.

Once on the porch she paused to feel the cool tiles under her feet and allow the gentle wind to caress her cheek. Then making her way down the grand stone staircase to the garden, she fully embraced the freedom of the night, running down the grassy lawn away from the house. At the bottom of the slope she tore down the steps leading to the wide open clearing before stopping suddenly, seeing a figure in the darkness in front of her. Were it not for the light of the moon she would have run straight into him, but as it was she could just make out the shape of a small person on the ground ahead of where she was standing. And then she heard the sound of gentle sobbing. For a moment she thought of turning around and going back, but something drove her forward. As she approached she realised it was the same spot from earlier, and she could see that this person was stroking the ground where the man had been.  Leaning forward she placed a hand on the shoulder, which immediately flinched and stood up. It was the boy. Now that he stood directly opposite her she could see that he seemed a little older than she first thought.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.”

Blinking back tears, the boy looked from Molly and back to the ground beside him.

“Who was he?”

The boy didn’t raise his eyes, but stared intently at the dust as though seeing the person still lying there.

“Bredda,” came the reply.

“Your brother?”

A nod came in response. Molly didn’t want to ask the next question, but she needed to know.

“Is he… alive?”

Silently the boy shook his head before collapsing to his knees once more and laying his cheek on the dirt. Unsure of what to say or do, Molly knelt beside him and together they kept vigil over the shadow until the first signs of light crept into the sky.

“I had better go. The house will be stirring soon.”

“Yes miss,” agreed the boy getting to his feet.

Shaking her head she rose to face him, she offered her hand to be shaken.

“I’m Molly.”

The boy took a step back as he looked at her hand and then back at her face in horror. With an urgency in his voice he replied, “No miss, no!”

“There’s no need to fear,” Molly reassured him, “it can be our secret.” Looking at her feet and with a slight shrug of her shoulders she added, “I need a friend.”

Clouds of doubt gathered in his mind as he searched her face, weighing all that he knew against the words being spoken.

“Please?” she entreated, her voice filled with loneliness and longing.

Tentatively the boy slid his hand into hers and held on.

“Jacob,” he said gently.

“Pleased to meet you Jacob.”

He nodded before letting go of her hand. Without a word they turned their backs on each other and made their way into the dawn.

Readers wanted!

Up until now this blog as been used (although not for a long time) for my reflections and musings on life. However in a break from our usual programming, over the next few months I’m going to commandeer it for something different.

Some of you will know that I am in the process of writing a novel. I finished the first draft a while ago and invited a small group of people to read it and give me feedback. I now face the task of taking their thoughts and suggestions and creating draft two. I could easily dawdle over this process for an inordinate amount of time but, as this project has already taken years to reach this stage, I need to set myself a goal and put in place some accountability!

So, from next Monday (12th Sept), I will post two chapters a week on here (Monday and Thursday), making the changes as I go. I am looking for some readers to come along with me and, when we reach the end in mid December, to give me some further feedback. This isn’t about proof-reading or finding grammatical errors, but giving your thoughts on the storyline, plot points, characters etc. If that sounds like your cup of tea, then please sign up on the email list via the sidebar, or like the Cultivating and Creating Facebook page, if you haven’t done so already.

If this isn’t what you came here for, feel free to unfollow or ignore these posts for the foreseeable future!

Thanks, Tara x

Photo credit – Nick Morrison on Unsplash

A prayer for the working day

This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.

Jesus you are before all things and in you all things hold together.

I give you this day of work.

Go ahead of me into every decision and conversation, every process and problem. You have ideas, answers and creative solutions for everything I will face today – help me to stop and ask you what they are.

Show me your priorities for this day Lord and, where they differ from mine , let me defer to your superior plan.

May I speak with patience and grace to all those I encounter and use my time and talents with passion and integrity.

I aim to end this working day with no regrets and a sense of satisfaction – Father grant me all that I need for that to be so.


Hanging around

A number of years ago I accompanied a group of children on a school trip to an outdoor activity centre. Most of the time there was only enough space for the kids to actually participate and so the adults stayed nearby and watched. Thus when we came to the abseiling tower I settled myself and my fear of heights on the grass at the bottom, merrily encouraging the little ones who were scared to give it a go, safe in the knowledge that I wouldn’t have to take my own advice. Then Rich the instructor appeared and informed us that on this activity there was plenty of opportunity for everyone take a turn and invited me to join in. Small smiling faces turned toward me expectantly.

Darn it.

The climb up the tower was hard enough and so on reaching the top my face told Rich that I wasn’t kidding when I revealed how scared I was. He clipped me in and then demonstrated just how secure I was.

“I’ve got you. You’re not going to fall” he assured me.

I believed him.


Somehow I got over the edge and began my descent. Although the instruction I’d been given was to let the rope slide through my hands, allowing my arm position to act as my brake, everything about that sensation felt counterintuitive. I kept grabbing the rope, despite the encouraging words being called down to me and the calm, reassuring face of my instructor above. Fear took over until eventually it had me in a bind. My arm was completely out of position and no longer able to do what it needed to do.

“Ok,” Rich called down to me “there’s only one thing you can do now. Let go of the rope completely.”

Although that seemed ridiculous, I also knew that I was safe, and so I let go of what I was trying to control and for a moment simply hung in mid-air half way down the wall, letting the expert take over. At that point I couldn’t have gotten myself down even if I’d wanted to. My descent was now entirely in someone else’s hands. Slowly and patiently he got me going again until I reached the bottom.

That experience was probably about twenty years ago but it came back to me yesterday in the midst of what is a strange season of unexpected hanging in between places. A number of weeks ago, after I knew I had to let go of the rope, everything within me wanted to rebel. Oh I knew I’d be safe, knew that I was held fast, but holding the rope gave me some illusion of control – but that control was doing me no good. One by one my fingers were prized away but each time I took it back until eventually I learned to stop trying and just let the instructor lead.

At first, dangling in the in between place is deeply uncomfortable, but as I’ve let go of Being In Charge I’ve experienced a release, a freedom, and a sense of stillness. I’m not sure how long I’ll be here and I do keep having to resist the temptation to take back control and make things happen, but something of the peace of this place stops me and reminds me that all I have to do is look up and trust. At the right time and at the right pace he will get me moving again and until then I simply have to stop striving and trust the one who holds me.

(Photo credit – Brook Anderson on Unsplash)