Chapter 23

15th October 1836

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

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

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

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

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

I remain, now and forevermore, your devoted Molly.

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

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