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.

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