Chapter 12

10th March 1833

I do not think that I should ever wish to be a lady of leisure. It is so trifling and dull to only be concerned with dinner parties, lace handkerchiefs and fancy dresses. I refuse to believe that a woman’s place is to remain in the home like some helpless doll, all politeness and prettiness and without a word of substance! I dare say I should die of boredom were that to be my future.

Yesterday we received a visit from Mrs Cameron and her daughter who were in the city for a few days from St Mary. They have a vast estate on the north coast of the island and each time they come to tea there are condescending questions as to why our family did not select a piece of land on the more beautiful side of Jamaica, as well as many complaints about the dust and heat. Mrs Cameron is a strikingly beautiful woman, always impeccably dressed in the latest styles, but her demeanour is haughty and proud. I cannot see a person as a true beauty if, when they open their mouth to speak, there is only that which is spiteful and ugly. Her words are never directly rude, rather she wraps her insults in flowering language so that, at times, you do not see the offense until much later.

Today, for example, as she was invited to sit in the parlour for tea, she surveyed the available chairs with a thinly veiled look of disdain, taking an age to select which seat might be most suitable for her precious posterior. On finally choosing one she made such a performance of finding a comfortable position to sit in, adjusting her frame several times before she settled, painted on a smile and proclaimed, “Well isn’t this just lovely.” She took a few moments to cast her eye around the room as the tea was poured before commenting on how quaint and cosy our parlour was. After eating we retired to the veranda to enjoy the breeze and the view.

“You are such a long way from the sea here aren’t you? And the water is so dark! The shores of St. Mary are every shade of turquoise blue and green, it is quite a wonder to behold. It’s almost as though we are seeing a different ocean from here.”

“The view from the very top of the estate is even better”, I declared with great pride, not bowing to her insult. “I can take Isabella up to see it if you like?”

I had not thought for one moment that my invitation would be accepted, and Mrs. Cameron looked highly dubious of the offer, but to my great surprise Isabella said she would be delighted to come. Tenuous approval was given of the plan and we set off out of the house and towards the stables. Isabella is a year older than me and all prettiness and petticoats. She looked in horror as I bypassed the stables and coach house and made to walk up the path.

“Goodness me Molly, we’re not for walking, surely? We’re not savages. Do let us call your stable boy and he shall take us up in a more civilised manner befitting young ladies.”

She took charge, called to Kingsley who was working nearby and he escorted us into the back of the carriage. We set off up the hill at a most sedate pace. Isabella is a mirror image of her mother, beautiful but petty, full of complaints and without a positive word to say about anyone or anything. She bemoaned the lack of suitors coming to the house and told me that a return to Scotland was imminent, so that she might be fully immersed into society and find a suitable husband. She has an aunt in Edinburgh with whom she will go to stay until such times as her parents return.

“That damn man Knibb and his companions will be the end of us. Papa is at his wits end in attempts to thwart his efforts. There is talk of an emancipation bill in England. I do not know what will become of us all. How shall we live when all of this is pulled down?” she exclaimed while casting a melodramatic hand towards the rest of the plantation. Having reached the top of the hill we stepped down to fully admire the scene.

“Well Mama was right, it’s not a patch on our view but it is perfectly pleasant I suppose.”

I had many things I wanted to say in that moment but before a word could land on my tongue she turned to look me up and down before asking, “I don’t suppose you have any suitors either?”

“On the contrary, I have several,” I proclaimed, before breezing past her to the carriage and suggesting we return to the house.

I may have exaggerated slightly but it was entirely worth it to see the expression on her face at that moment. I sat down and stuck my nose as far in the air as I could manage while she huffed and brooded her way back to her precious mother. I was so thoroughly tired pretending to be interested in all their talk of who in society was marrying, what they were wearing and how large a house they were living in, that the only way to be done with it was to beat them at their own game! On returning to the house we found Mrs Cameron ready to leave and Isabella seemed entirely delighted to now be rid of my company.

As we escorted them to the door to say goodbye I swore an oath to myself never to become so interested in the fleeting things of this life that are nothing more than nonsense. I wish to be a person who always has something to say which carries some true weight and meaning. I want my words and actions to count for something. Surely life must be so terribly empty otherwise? I know that Mama is finding her path toward action in a difficult circumstance, and I am inspired by her. As I read the newspapers I see, with great interest, how others are practising resistance. This very week I have come across some writings on the boycott of sugar, which has been taking place these past years across Great Britain. Indeed there are entire anti-slavery associations consisting exclusively of women who have taken to promoting this action as a key strategy in their cause. They have been distributing pamphlets and going door to door across the country to persuade people of the wrongs of the sugar industry. How I wish I could join them and make some real use of myself! There is no doubt that the case for an end to slavery is growing by the day and although I am face to face with it here I feel there is little I can do or say to affect any real change.

14th March 1833

Several days ago we received a letter from Pastor Knibb telling us of his efforts in the cause of abolition. It is of course only my mother he addresses, however I have come to feel such a sense of affinity with his work that I consider his words written to me also. He has most recently been in Scotland where he travelled the country for several months being received with great kindness and warmth, finding many on the side of the African slave. He included in his correspondence a piece from his recent address to an assembly in Glasgow. These few lines struck such a powerful chord with me that they have been echoing in my heart since I read them. He said, “I call upon you by all the tender sympathies of your nature – by your patriotism – by your justice, your humanity, and your religion – to unite in a great and holy bond, and never desist till the West African slave shall stand forth as free and unshackled as yourselves. I call on children to join in their efforts to relieve from bondage the children of another land.”

He calls the children to action! He asks the young to have a part to play in the end of slavery. I find myself stirred, ready to put my hand to something I cannot find. What is my part here? To whom do I raise my voice? I have tried speaking to father before but those words fall on deaf ears. Perhaps if I were in Scotland I could make more of a difference, like Pastor Knibb is doing. In a few short months I turn sixteen, no longer a child, yet without any great influence or place of purpose. If only I were a boy, then I might be taken seriously. I could make plans and see them through, I could fight or run for office. Alas, my lot as a girl does not afford me such luxury. What can I do?

17th March 1833

Tonight I was with Jacob. We sat side by side, backs against the tree, hands entwined listening to the sounds of the night, quiet and content in each other’s silent company, or so I thought. When it was nearly time to leave he leant in close to me. 

“There is talk of emancipation. It coming. Mi can smell freedom inna di air Molly. Wha become of us den?”

He sat up, looked at me with such expectation and in that moment my heart sank like a stone. My father may be prepared to keep me from a match with Robert Mackay, but only because he thinks that both he and I can do considerably better. In what fanciful childhood world have I been living to think that Jacob and I can have a real future together? Even if tomorrow he were declared a free man, does that really mean that we could be as one? Would I suddenly bring him to the great house as my suitor?  All this talk of emancipation had blinded me to a foolish notion which suddenly seemed utterly impossible. Something of this doubt and realisation must have shown in my face, for Jacob unclasped my hand and sat back.

“Wah dis now? Yuh nuh want mi to be free?”

“Of course I do! I just don’t think that as much will change as you might hope for.”

He stood to his feet with purpose and I followed him as quickly as I could.

“Mi will be free Molly. Freedom is everything. Yuh think it not change mi whole life?”

There was a pause and something in his voice changed.

“Of course yuh cannot possibly know or understand dis. Yuh a privileged an spoilt child of a planter. Ave mi just been yuh plaything all these years? A likkle pet fi yuh tuh pick up an down when it suits yuh, an now that other young men come calling mi cast tuh one side?”

“Other young men? Which other young men? There are none!”

He stepped closer to me and lowered his voice.

“We hear things Molly. Yuh forget dat we everywhere. Yuh not see us or pay us any attention an so yuh all speak freely, bout rebellions, an freedom – an suitors.”

Despite the heat a great frost crept across my flesh as I recalled my boast to Isabella about the number of young men seeking my attention. Of course I had included Jacob within that, and had never thought it to be anything more than idle chatter, and now here it was coming back to me in the worst possible way.

“Jacob,” I spoke gently and reached for him but he stepped back and my hand dropped down to my side. “There are no suitors, at least none that I wish for. You have my heart, you must know that. This is just a silly misunderstanding. It’s just…”

I searched around for words to explain the confusion in my mind but none were to be found. In my silence Jacob made his own conclusions.

“Mi understand,” he said coldly, backing away from me. “A silly misunderstanding dat mi as only a slave would not understand.”

I tried to interject, to tell him how he was taking my words and twisting them but he cut me off.

“Goodbye Miss Molly.”

He turned abruptly and left. I stood dumfounded, not even able to call his name such was my shock. I have been lying on my bed these past hours replaying the conversation in my mind, unsure of how we descended so quickly to this. Was Jacob right, have I thought of him only as a toy for my amusement? I do not believe so for my heart is crushed and tears have soaked my bedclothes. I know I love him with a heart that is true but it is my mind that has been foolish. I have let myself believe, and worse have let Jacob believe, that our love could carry us and topple any barriers that might be in our way. I see now how childish these thoughts are. My heart ruled my head and now my heart is broken.

30th April 1833

I have visited the reading tree on all of our usual nights these past six weeks and Jacob has not come. I fear he is lost to me for good.

20th May 1833

We received news this week that an Emancipation Bill has been introduced in parliament. A new era is approaching, yet there are many who oppose its coming.  I hear the house slaves whispering with excitement among themselves, breathless in anticipation at what awaits. At the same time I watch Papa, an ever deepening scowl across his brow, barking orders and slamming doors, cursing and kicking any creature that has the misfortune to get in his way.

This afternoon I made my way to hide by the mill and see if I might catch a glimpse of Jacob. He has stayed away from our meeting place these past two months. Not even the recent news has brought him to see me. I have come to realise that, although our circumstances may be impossible and we shall most certainly never be together, my heart shall still beat for his while there is a breath in my body. I try to catch a sight of him when I can, longing to call out and wave, hoping he might lift his face and smile to see me. Instead I watch from afar and the chasm between us seems as wide as it has ever been.

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