Chapter 19

October 14th 1834

I woke this morning with a start, following yet another uncomfortable night.  We have come to Pastor Philippo as instructed and he has greeted us with kindness. He is truly a passionate friend of the enslaved people of this island and his face glows red when he speaks of their plight, in great contrast to his white hair and whiskers. His eyes are constantly moving, seeking the next task he must set his hand to, and yet there is a gentleness amid his near constant activity which I have found most comforting. He has given us assurance of assisting us in finding a place to stay but for the time being I am sleeping upon a settle in the kitchen and Jacob is on a chair. I slept fitfully, partly from discomfort and also from not wanting to sleep late and miss this day. Fleeting whispers of dreams filled my mind, images of ships and distant shorelines, cries of distress and anger. Several times I woke to Jacob’s hand on my arm, bidding me to be still, telling me I was safe, reminding me of his presence.

When we left home there was not enough daylight for us to travel all the way to Spanish Town and so we stopped just outside Kingston, seeking shelter among a gathering of trees where we might spend the night undetected. Curled together on the bare earth we made ourselves as comfortable as we could before trying to sleep. Being used to considerably less comfort than myself, Jacob was soon snoring gently at my side, while I felt every piece of uneven ground on my back and lay awake for the longest time staring at the stars. I thought of Mama and Papa, picturing them asleep in our house surrounded by all that is familiar to me. In my mind I imagined Mama wakening in the night, stepping out to the veranda to look at the same night sky, wondering and worrying about where I might be at that moment. I longed to call out to her, to tell I was safe, to ask her for guidance and simply to hear her speak my name.

 At first light we gathered ourselves together and journeyed onwards to the pastor’s home. I was glad of the food we were offered on arrival as weakness had begun to overtake my body and indeed my spirit. I have felt at a loss many times over this past day and a half, looking around me to take in my surroundings, wondering how it was I came to be in this position. None of this was planned and so I find myself entirely unprepared for each hour I walk through. Jacob has been a great strength, wearing an expression of peaceful determination, as though he has stepped into the fullness of his being. I have been glad of his leading and feel proud to stand by his side. Last night in his sleep he murmured “Mi free, mi free,” smiling as his head nodded from side to side.

I need not have worried about waking in time this morning, as this is the busiest household I have ever known. No sooner had I opened my eyes than the room was a hive of activity with the fire being cleared and pots and pans clattering on to the table. Although we have been welcomed here I immediately felt in the way and out of place and so after breakfast we made our way out to the carriage and began the journey back towards Kingston and the harbour. Jacob and I did not speak much as we travelled. I believe he sensed my sorrow and left me to my thoughts. The sky was overcast with only glimpses of the pale blue beyond, peeking through the billowing grey. Coming close to the city, the familiarity of the surroundings brought a yearning in my heart. This was the place I knew, the place where I belonged. Or at least it was. A small voice inside told me there was still time to change my mind. I strained to see what masts were rising above the buildings, wondering which ship was the right one.

Down by the harbour there were two ships moored by the dock but only one getting ready to sail. Stepping down from the carriage I wrapped my shawl around me covering my face as the wind whipped the dust from the ground, and pushed my way through the crowds. At first I walked steadily but gradually my pace quickened until I was desperately running towards the ship, no longer caring for politeness or decorum. People went about their daily business paying no heed to this frantic young woman urging them out of her way, oblivious to the anguish and turmoil in my heart as I passed them by. Finally the throng were behind me and I found myself in front of The Black Rose as she waited silently, tethered to land but yearning for the ocean. Gulls cried overhead as the final boxes of provisions were loaded onto her deck, men called instructions to one another, ropes creaked and strained to hold her in place, waves hitting against the harbour wall as though eager to get things underway. For a moment I was entranced by the sights and smells before a deep voice brought me sharply to the present.

“All aboard”

I found myself making a dash towards the man in uniform standing at the bottom of the gangway with a ledger. He was checking the passenger list, casting an eye around for any latecomers. Stopping a few feet short of him, I was suddenly breathless and uncertain. I gave him the names of my parents and asked if they were already aboard.

“They are Miss. And there’s a Molly Mackenzie booked on this sailing too. Is that you Miss? Last chance to board.”

One small step onto the gangway and I would be back in the embrace of my parents and returned to the life I was born to. There was a place for me here, on this ship. My name was right there, on the sheet of paper, waiting for me to say yes. Once in Scotland this episode would soon be forgotten and I could find another love, one which would not come at such a heavy cost. Surely I could be happy there? Could I truly be happy here? Would Jamaica still be my home without the presence of my parents? Was there really a place for me here? With one foot on the walkway and the other on the harbour stone I felt my weight ebb and flow through my body, as though my whole being rocked back and forth in a final moment of decision. I looked up to the ship, ready to sail for a new world, then back over my shoulder. Jacob emerged from the crowds. His face was full of love and longing as he observed my silent wrestle yet he waited, leaving me to make my own decision once more. This was the last strand tying me to this place. One simple motion would set me loose to float away and never look back. I turned back to the ship’s officer.

“No Sir, I’m just here to say farewell, but it seems I have missed my chance.”

With that he called the ship ready for departure, the walkway was pulled back to shore and ropes cast off from their moorings. Slowly the Rose was pushed from the harbour wall and began to turn away from the island. Jacob came alongside me and together we stood to watch. Through the sailors still busy on deck I saw a figure emerge to stand at the back of the boat.

Mama.

Her eyes scanned along the harbour, searching. Lifting my hand I waved until she saw me. She waved her response before holding both hands across her heart. Neither of us moved an inch as the ship drifted further and further away, until we were only distant figures to one another. As they rounded the point of Port Royal and out to the open sea I could not bear to say goodbye. We returned to the carriage and I urged Jacob to make haste as we travelled out of the city along the coast in order to catch one final glimpse. By the time we were far enough along the road to see the open water the ship was half way to the horizon. I stayed planted to the ground straining my eyes to see her as she headed out of sight. Grief came upon me then, like a great wave threatening to overwhelm me. Jacob stayed beside me, steadying me as an anchor, until it was time to leave.

When we stepped up into the carriage I sat alongside him, no longer afraid of what anyone may think, no need to care for reputation or responsibility. I have made my choice, freely. I have chosen one love over another and my heart shall always have that scar. But this is our life now, together, to make of it what we will.

Chapter 18

October 12th 1834

Late yesterday afternoon I was reading in the study when I heard a great commotion along the corridor. Beatrice appeared in the doorway, face wild and arms outstretched.

“Mistress yuh muss come!”

“What on earth is the matter Beatrice? Take a breath and speak to me calmly.”

“No Miss! There is trouble. Di masta inna great rage.”

“You know my father by now surely, he is often in a rage about something.”

 “No Miss! It Jacob, yuh muss come.”

At the mention of his name I stood from my chair, the book falling from my lap.

“What has happened?” I asked, fear pulsing through every part of me.

She began to speak, calling over her shoulder as she led me from the house and pointed in the direction of the garden. Her words swam together making no sense as we raced across the lawn and out to the place where I first met Jacob all those years ago. My eyes blurred as I ran with all my might until I came crashing upon a horribly familiar scene. There was a small gathering of Negroes being held at bay by a snarling Thomas and in the midst of them, in direct opposition to one another, stood the only two men in the world of any importance to me. As I came closer I saw Jacob’s face, held high in defiance, becoming the recipient of my father’s fist. He fell to his knees as Papa raised the whip aloft ready to fall. Crying out I threw myself between them, shielding Jacob and cowering ready for the pain of the lash. Instead there was a stunned silence. I held Jacob’s gaze for a brief moment and his eyes registered with surprise and joy. Then fear. Daring to look around I saw my father’s face wearing an expression of confusion and shock. He had not yet grasped the fullness of the situation, thinking his daughter simply too compassionate to stomach more of his ire and violence, and in a moment his mood darkened once more.

“Out of the way Molly” he bellowed.

I stood and shook my head.

“No Papa. No.”

“What is this? What do you think you are doing?”

He was panting, breathless, anger still coursing through his veins and yet now he was unsure of where to place it. The whip twitched in his hand as I felt Jacob stand behind me. Instinct made me spread my arms that I might form a barrier around Jacob and then something of the sight of the two of us standing so closely together brought realisation and then disgust to my father’s face. There was no going back now.

“I love him Papa.”

The world seemed to stop. A breeze rustled through the cane, as though a great crowd was looking on, whispering among themselves to guess what might happen next. All emotion seemed to leave father’s body and he looked at me as though I were suddenly a stranger. Taking one small step toward me he lowered his voice to speak to me slowly.

“I don’t care who you love. This boy will be shot for his insolence, you will marry Robert McKay, and this family will keep its good name.”

Standing back he raised his voice for the rest to hear.

“And anyone here who wishes to keep his life will not breathe a word of this moment to another living soul.”

He began to back away, eyes flitting between us all.

“Thomas, take care of the boy,” he called, as he turned to go.

Thomas had no such opportunity. Instead he found himself the one being seized as the three other men with Jacob took hold of him, keeping him back from their friend, joining him in bold defiance of their master. Papa came rushing back towards the fray and for the first time in my life laid hands upon me, pushing me side to get to Jacob himself. This time it was Jacob’s turn to stand in front of me, protecting me from my father and pointing the finger back at his accuser.

“You will not touch her,” he screamed as I scrambled to my feet and stood behind him, looking across his shoulder at the contorted face of the man who once bounced me upon his lap. How had we come to this? Papa lowered his hands and tried, without much success, to regain some composure.

“Molly, you will come with me now and we’ll say no more of this.”

He held out his hand to me, beckoning me to follow him up the hill to home and the future he had laid out for me. I looked into his face, seeing both the tyrant master and my sweet Papa all in one fragile human body. His voice still held a hint of the softness with which he used to sing to me and yet the longer I delayed the gruff frustration in his breath truly frightened me. I saw just a glimpse of what it felt to be under the rule of the Masta. This was truly it, the moment of decision, the fork in the road. A life in society, surrounded by comfort and wanting for nothing, if I simply took my father’s hand and allowed him to lead me to Robert McKay. Or the other path, towards Jacob and an entirely unknown future, yet certain to bring shame and scandal, possibly even ruin to my family. I wished desperately for my heart to break into two pieces, so that all might have what they need of me and be satisfied. Instead it urged me on to the road I had moments earlier embraced, allowing it to finally be free whatever the cost.

“I’m sorry Papa,” I whispered, shaking my head.

He looked at his feet for a moment and then up at his surroundings, taking in the enormity of the scene before him, the possible repercussions of this wild and reckless act of betrayal, before a cloud of disdain drifted across his face and a cold note of hatred entered his voice.

“Then you are no daughter of mine.”

He turned to leave, a glimpse of defeat revealing itself in his shoulders as he threw his whip to the ground. I slumped against Jacob’s back watching my father walk away from me and with each step of distance I felt my strength fail me and the tears began to fall. The others backed away, slave and overseer both confused and uncertain of what had just happened and what it meant for them in the hours and days to come.  Jacob turned and wrapped his arms around me as my whole body heaved with sobbing. What had I done? Thoughts and fears flooded in, images of Mama, of a wedding dress waiting in my chamber, the whispers and the disgrace about to befall us.  And yet here I was back in the arms of the man I loved, the place I have longed for each night as I fell to sleep. Slowly we knelt together in the dirt, finding each other once more, holding each other desperately like two souls cast adrift on the ocean.

“What happens now?” I wondered aloud, my voice a weak blend of hope and fear.

Jacob’s body trembled but his voice was strong.

“Yuh come home wid mi an wi face di day togetha.”

Rising to our feet he led me by the hand through the cane, out to the slave village. As we passed the other Negroes they moved aside, a hush falling upon the place. Each person looked at this curious sight, uncertain of whether to be jubilant or terrified, some daring to smile while others looked away and shook their heads. Finally we came to one of the smallest dwellings I have ever seen, a simple hut with only a single door.  As my eyes came out of the bright sun and adjusted to the darkness my nose registered the smell of the earth beneath my feet, the stale straw which stuffed the bed and the sweat of Jacob’s body all around me. Tiny shafts of light found their way through the gaps where the roof met the walls, allowing a dim view of my surroundings. It took the briefest of moments to see all there was in the room – a single bed fashioned from mismatched timber with a hand-stuffed mattress and a simple linen sheet, a chair with a couple of shirts draped over the back, and an empty bucket by the doorway.  I had walked less than half a mile from where I was born yet had travelled into a new world and it was suddenly overwhelming. Exhaustion swept through my body and as I weakened Jacob lifted me in his arms and laid me upon the bed.

The turmoil in my body began to subside and as Jacob sat in the chair beside me stroking my hair I fell into the deepest of sleeps.

I awoke early this morning to the sound of Beatrice outside shooing chickens from the path and announcing herself at Jacob’s door with a mighty bang of her fist.

“Mi ave di Mistress tuh see Miss Molly,” she announced.

Jacob stepped outside dipping his head as Mama walked past him and came in to sit on the bed beside me. Silently we held each other for a long time, as she rocked me in her arms like she did when I was a little girl and had fallen and cut my knees. Everything about her had a softness that spoke of the world I had just left behind – her skin, her dress, her smell, her voice – all wrapped in a gentility entirely unfamiliar with the harsh reality in which we now sat together.

“Does Papa know you’re here?”

“No,” she said quietly, “he was still asleep when I left. I think he drank half the rum on the island last night.”

“I’m sorry Mama, I truly am.”

She shook her head.

“No my darling. You followed your heart. Although I fear for you in all that lies ahead and my mother’s love would want to keep you safe by my side all of your days, I know that you have chosen that which is true over that which is easy, and for that I could not be more proud.”

“And what of Robert and the wedding?”

I was aware of Jacob outside the door, could sense him leaning in to hear the answer.

“Your father went up there last night to break the news to them. I do not think he spoke to Robert directly but rather with Mr McKay who said that if we leave quickly and quietly and return to Scotland then he will smooth the way for as little indiscretion as possible. I believe there is a ship due to leave on Friday in which we are to seek a berth, leaving Thomas to run the estate for the time being.”

“Friday?” I whispered, my voice stolen away by the shock of it all. “That is but two days away.”

Mama nodded and looked at her hands.

“And what of the money, the claim?” I asked, thinking that I may have ruined my family’s financial as well as social prospects.

“It is all settled, your father will get what he needs to pay off any debt and we shall still be able to live in some comfort. It may not be all that he hoped for, but it is more than enough.”

A heavy silence hung between us as we both searched for a compass to guide us in these uncharted waters.

“I cannot tell you what to do now Molly, and I cannot know what your father will say, but will you come and speak with him?”

 “To what end?”

Mama made to speak again but words failed her. She looked up and into my eyes and I saw her deep sorrow and fear.

“Let me gather myself and I shall be there presently.”

As soon as she was gone Jacob came into sit by me on the bed.

“Mi wud like fi come wid yuh,” he said, more a declaration than a request. “Yuh will nuh go an see yuh fada alone.”

“Mi ave worked haad an mi ave di money now tuh buy mi freedom. Mi wi ask yuh fada fi it an then as a truly free man mi ask fi yuh han inna marriage. Him wi nuh say yes, but mi wi ave done what is right an proper. Mi ave weathered many a storm til now. Yuh choose mi an mi choose yuh. Togetha we can face anyting.”

Within the hour we walked up the perfectly manicured lawn and approached the Great House, my home and place of refuge for the last seventeen years. Never could I have believed it possible that I would enter it with such trepidation, feeling adrift from all I had ever known. I stood in the hallway with Jacob at my side, the ticking of the grandfather clock marking each anxious second of our waiting. Beatrice had gone to fetch Papa and as she did I tried in vain to think of how I might begin the conversation. My mouth ran dry as agitation filled my body. And then in a moment he was before me, my sweet and loving Papa, the fearsome intolerant master of this place, looking back and forth between his daughter, his only child, and the slave she had chosen as her one true love. His hands were clenched by his side, his face tried to keep its composure but with each moment the mask slipped further to show his anger and confusion, hurt and disgust. I wanted to throw myself into his arms and have him spin me around and around one more time, to hear him laugh with his whole being as we would fall to the ground breathless and joyous in each other’s company. I cast around for something, anything to say, but no words came. Jacob stepped forward and as he did Father stiffened his body and hardened his face.

“Masta,” his voice faltered and he paused to compose himself. “Mi work hard fuh yuh all mi life, an mi work hard for miself, tuh grow vegetable tuh feed miself an also tuh sell. Mi ave been diligent an saved so mi come tuh yuh one day wid di means tuh buy mi freedom. Dat day have now come.”

He produced, from behind his back, a pouch full of coins and held it in front of him.

“Mi ave inna dis purse di price fi slaves of mi age fi be release. Mi ask yuh sir, fi mi freedom.”

Father said nothing but his nostrils flared as he puffed and panted like his finest horse being held back from wanting to cut loose and run wild. On not receiving an answer Jacob stepped forward and placed the pouch on the ground between himself and Papa.

“Go and be free,” Father growled slowly and quietly, “and never set foot on this property again.”

Jacob breathed deeply, a look of peace and satisfaction settling upon his face. But he was not finished.

“Now dat mi a free man mi wish tuh marry yuh dawta.”

The words hung in the air, like a spark released from a fire, dancing for a moment in the gentle breeze, carefree and mesmerizing, as each of us watched to see where and how they would land. What had smouldered in Papa was at once set alight as he contorted into a fiery rage, flying towards Jacob and calling for someone to fetch his rifle. I called to Jacob to run and I threw myself upon Papa’s back as he made to give chase, holding on until he stumbled and fell, his body surging with energy. He roared into the floorboards, thumping them with his fists until they bled, rolling on his back and spitting profanities to the sky. Kneeling nearby I watched, waiting in wonder for my father to return to himself. For a long time after the last curse had left his lips we stayed on the floor, close in distance but never farther apart. Eventually he got to his feet and began to walk away.  

“You shall return to Scotland with me or never more be called my daughter.”

It was then that I found my voice.

“You were satisfied to leave me behind with a man I did not love as long as I played my part in your game of fortune.”

Father spun around on his heel to address me.

“I was doing what was best for you. You’re young and foolish with no idea of what you need in this life.” He turned to walk away once more, thinking he had the final say.

“You were doing what was best for you! I know my mind and my heart very well. Scotland is not my home. This is the only place I have ever lived and loved. You have your blood money now, so take it and go. I have rolled the dice for myself and shall take what is waiting for me.”

He paused in the doorway and heard me out without turning to look at my face. Then he was gone. I stood for a few minutes utterly lost amongst all that was most familiar. Turning around I tried to take in my new landscape, the way one looks to find the familiar after a hurricane has shifted all the usual points of reference. Mama appeared at the top of the stairs and held out her hand beckoning me to join her on the veranda. We sat together, arms entwined, looking out over all that we were about to leave behind. After a time she turned to face me, full of tenderness and love.

“My darling girl, I cannot imagine what lies ahead of you, but you will need a friend. I have written to Pastor Philippo in Spanish Town. He is a friend of Pastor Knibb and a good man. He has many slaves in his congregation and is seeking to help those who are free to find somewhere to live. Go to him first, he will be expecting you. Take the small carriage and have Jacob drive it, so as not to arouse suspicion. I have told Samuel you will be coming for it and so he will not question you or stand in your way. Beneath your pillow is a small bag of coins. It won’t last you long but it will be enough to get by for a time. Go now, gather your things and meet me on the porch.”

I did as my mother had told me, gathering a small bundle of belongings together and packing them into my smallest trunk. As I was about to leave I stood in front of my wedding dress still hanging by the side of the wardrobe. I ran my hand across the delicate fabric appreciating the beautiful workmanship of Mrs O’Shea, sorry that her labour would be in vain and yet relieved to abandon the gown hanging where she was, now truly the ghost of a bride who would never be. For one last time I turned my back on Molly McKay and made my way downstairs to Mama.

“I will get Samuel to put your things in the carriage and drive it down to the gate. Jacob is waiting for you just beyond the garden. I shall write to you through Pastor Philippo once we are settled so that you can send me word of how you are.”

The enormity of the situation began to overwhelm me and my stricken face caused Mama to pull me close and hold me as tightly as she has ever done. Then taking me firmly by the shoulders and speaking intently she reminded me that the world was changing for the better.

“It is a slow and painful process Molly, not fast enough for either of our liking, but there is a different future ahead and we simply have to hold on until it is here. Then it might be possible for us to be together again. When all of this business is over I can send for you both. I will not lose you.”

We walked out to the garden together, arm in arm, drinking in every last moment in each other’s company. At the bottom of the lawn Mama stroked my hair, kissed my cheek and told me how proud she was of the woman I had become. Despite the fear in my belly and the grief in my heart I gave a final embrace to my mother and turned my back on the Great House for the very last time.

Chapter 17

May 12th 1834

These past months I have walked like a shadow, stepping towards a future that is drawing me in and which I have neither the strength nor substance to resist. During daylight my feet still take me to hide among the trees, to watch Jacob from afar as he toils and sweats in the sweltering sun. He has grown yet taller and stronger since last he stood in front of me, his face no longer has anything of the boy left in it yet his eyes still flash with fire. As far as I am aware he has never seen me watching and has no notion of how my heart still leads me to be near him.

Yet when the sun falls behind the far hills and darkness descends then I go to play the part of dutiful daughter, at least as well as I can manage. I sit at the table to smile and nod through dinner, offering the occasional hollow laugh when it is required. I dress as a lady ought and remember my manners, because to express what is truly in my mind would see us all ruined. Robert McKay has become a regular feature around our table, no longer coming with his entire family but as a man of the world entirely about his own business. He has been cunning in his approach, gathering my father as an ally in the first instance before wooing my darling Mama, that she might speak softly to me in his favour. She knows, she sees that my heart is not in it and at times her endorsement of Robert is transparently lacklustre, but I see now that she is also playing the part given to her and while both of us dream of choices far beyond our reach, reality binds our hands.

And so I have come to tolerate Robert McKay and his advances, trying to look for the good in him, willing myself to find some part of him toward which I can feel enough affection. He can be amusing, that is certain, and has the ability to tell a tale around the dinner table that has his listeners waiting with baited breath. There have been times of late when, in spite of myself, I have been wrapped up in his story and hanging on his every word to discover the ending, and he has looked across the table delighted in my attention. He smiles and winks with triumph at having drawn me in and at times I am disgusted with myself, and in others I find myself laughing in spite of that because I cannot deny the humour or the gift he has for delivering it.

Last night, towards the end of his visit, he spoke with me alone in the garden. It seems the plan is set in place and I am simply a pawn being moved on the board at will. In a few months, as we transition from a system of slavery to apprenticeship, the compensation fund will open and our two families shall apply, with Father riding on the favourable coat tails of Sir George McKay ensuring that we will find ourselves fully reimbursed for our loss of property and earnings. How can we speak of human flesh and blood as property? The very act of writing these words turns my stomach! Once this tawdry transaction is complete, Robert and I shall marry and remain in Jamaica to oversee both plantations, allowing our families to return to Scotland and enjoy their considerable wealth, the fruit of other people’s labour.

“Won’t that be marvellous my dear?” Robert asked, fully expecting my ringing endorsement. I could not speak, feeling suffocated by the future laid out for me. I tried to gather myself but a tear began to fall. Stepping forward Robert reached to brush it away.

“Oh I know it’s overwhelming and you shall miss your Mama, but we can be happy here, you and I. I wish this to be a good match for us both and I will play my part in making you happy Molly. This makes sense, you must see that? But that doesn’t mean it can’t also be a good and loving marriage.”

And like the sensible and obedient girl, I nodded before lowering my head to hide my despair. Robert put an arm around my shoulder and kissed the top of my head before bidding me goodnight. 

The die is cast, the deal is done. I shall be swept along with this tide of events and try to keep myself from drowning.

August 28th 1834

We have passed into a new era and almost nothing has changed. The slaves are now free but it is a counterfeit freedom, for they have neither choice nor opportunity of which to truly avail themselves. Their masters hold all the cards and have dealt them a rotten hand. They work the land, as they always have, with the same brutal punishments meted out as before.

The compensation claims are under way, but the sums of money being distributed are considered to be barely enough and so the slaves shall continue to work for nothing until such times as the planters are satisfied that they have their full worth from what they will lose. Papa has submitted his paperwork to the committee and he has been given reassurances of favourable consideration. Robert’s Father says there is no question of them getting their full amount, although it may take several months for the process to be completed.

“Be assured sir, that all of my connections are in the right places. We will not be seen to go short.”

This was declared with more bravado than I could stomach, chased down with more rum than was necessary. In the meantime, a wedding date had been set for mid-November, whereupon I shall apparently become mistress of all I survey.

October 3rd 1834

I daresay there was never a more reluctant and sullen bride than I, entering into Mrs Pettigrew’s haberdashery this morning. Mama and I had taken the carriage into town to inspect the latest fabrics recently arrived from Europe, hoping to find something suitable with which to make my wedding dress. During the journey we made polite conversation with each other about the weather and people passing by, neither of us wishing to acknowledge our heavy hearts or that this day is not how either of us imagined it would be. We pulled up outside the store and as we waited for Samuel to help us down Mama reached across to me and patted my hand. Such a small and seemingly insignificant gesture, but within it were a thousand words of understanding and sympathy. We paused by the shop window to gather ourselves, every part of me wanting to take a backwards step, but before I could move Mrs Pettigrew rushed to the door in a blaze of excitement to usher us inside. It took a little time for my eyes to adjust to the darker interior but I was led by the arm and shown to a seat as Mrs Pettigrew began to call her young and much put-upon assistant Edith to carry bolt after bolt of fabric for us to consider.

“The wedding everyone is talking about Miss Molly. You’ve made a wonderful match there. Master Robert is the most eligible bachelor on the island I’d venture to say – oh but not anymore, for you have stolen his heart that’s for certain. ”

She clucked and fussed about me until my head was spinning, Edith being dispatched again and again with instructions to retrieve corresponding ribbons and trimmings for each new material under consideration.  I had resisted coming to her store, preferring instead the smaller and more discreet Mr Franklin on Harbour Street, but Papa had scoffed at such a notion, insisting that I would not marry into the McKay family in the kind of plain garment that might be fashioned from anything available at such a small establishment. Pettigrew’s are known to be the best in town, and for all her many faults, the proprietor does have exquisite taste. She is also, unfortunately, known to be the biggest gossip in town and when not serving her customers, takes full advantage of her shop’s prime location on the corner of the busiest street in Kingston to keep an eye on everyone’s comings and goings.

“Why only this morning I saw young Annabelle Lewis making her way past here with not only a brand new parasol but also a couple of militia men, one hanging on either arm – and not the same two who escorted her last week.”

All of this was shared with a knowing glance and more than a hint of delicious disapproval. She delights in other people’s business with a distasteful amount of relish and can sniff out the faintest possibility of scandal at twenty paces. I can only assume that this is her only source of diversion as I have met her husband and he is the most unspeakably boring man I have ever encountered. He has an office upstairs from the shop and looks after the book-keeping side of the business, as well as attending to the finances of several other small store owners in town. I cannot believe that anyone craves his company as he seems to have next to nothing to say, however an hour spent with his wife makes me wonder if he has simply never had the opportunity. Perhaps he would be a great mine of fascinating information and a wealth of brilliant knowledge but, never having been afforded the space to contribute more than two sentences at any one time, his conversational muscle has been rendered utterly useless.  Poor man.

Mrs Pettigrew paused from her social commentary to gush over a new ivory satin that has just come in this week. As Edith obediently unrolled the cloth Mama declared it to be the finest she’d ever seen, running her hand along the length of its softness. That was all the excuse needed for me to be ushered to my feet so that it might be draped across my body to see how it held up to my complexion, as talk of styles and patterns, bonnets and petticoats swarmed in my ears. I cannot say for certain but I believe decisions were made about delivery and payment but I had simply begun to agree and allow myself to be carried along by other people’s knowledge and enthusiasm, having none of my own available in that moment.

From there we called with Mrs O’Shea the seamstress, whose small workshop is in a quiet side street away from the noise and dust.  I stood in a daze as a tape measure weaved its way expertly around my person and my particulars jotted down by her slender, nimble fingers. Every other dress I have owned has been made by Mama or Kitty, her lady’s maid, but neither of them would dare take on a project so grand nor would it be deemed appropriate, I daresay, for such an apparently auspicious occasion.

Towards the end of our appointment Mama excused herself to run a short errand nearby and we agreed to meet back at the carriage once we were both finished. Mrs O’Shea stood behind me as I faced a mirror dressed only in my undergarments. Her delicate touch as she placed the end of the tape measure on various points of my body, along with her still, gentle presence was quite the contrast from the previous hour of frantic excitement. As I looked at my reflection I tried to imagine the dress I would wear in a few short weeks, of how it would feel to have Papa walk me up the aisle of the church and into a new life as Mrs McKay. All of the fear and uncertainty must have shown in my face as Mrs O’Shea made her way to stand in front of me. She paused and draped the tape measure around her neck before reaching forward and taking both my hands in hers. For the first time since entering her small room I looked into the face of what I now came to realise was quite an elderly lady. Her diminutive stature had me looking down into her kind face and she wore an expression of such understanding and empathy that I almost knelt before her to pour out all my heart and every secret it carries. Although I said not one word she reached up to place a finger to my lips. “Hush now Miss Molly.”

I found myself wondering how many brides she had dressed over the years, how many fears had been allayed by her calming spirit. She seemed to reach into my mind, sensing what I needed to hear most in that moment.

“There are many ways to make a good marriage my dear – kindness, cooperation and understanding – and in the midst of it all love will grow day by day. I have seen the most excited brides turn into bored and bitter ladies of leisure, and faces of concern and care can become the picture of happiness, given time and the right attitude.”

She finished her work around my body and stood back for one final assessment.

“Yes, that will be enough I think. I have all I need now my dear.”

We shared a warm smile and a sense of resolve settled upon me. Being with Jacob was a childhood fantasy and one which I entertained for too long. It is time to grow up and that means doing what is expected of me and making the best of it. Robert McKay is not a bad man, could be a good man with the right influence, and perhaps that shall come from me. He seems to have genuine affection for me and if I set my mind to it I am sure we could make a satisfactory partnership. I have seen Mama pursue her own interests, some of which even go against her husband’s wishes, and so I may still do some good in this world despite my circumstances. Robert is calling this evening and I shall look at him with fresh eyes, accepting him finally as my husband and determined to start making a path towards our future.

October 10th 1834

This week Robert has come calling most days, and with each visit he grows sweeter in his affections to the point that I now almost look forward to his company. There remains a stiffness and formality to our interactions at times, particularly when we talk alone, as his confident appearance falls away and he is more uncertain, and there are other times when he still can feel like a stranger despite the many hours spent in each other’s presence. There remain flashes of the arrogant and brash boy I first encountered, but rather than allow those to vex me I now intend using my position to soften those troublesome characteristics, as one polishes a rough stone into a gem. I noted how he recently amended his words and temperament favourably after I had walked into the room and even smiled across at me to see that I had noticed. If he truly wishes to please me then perhaps I can harness this intent for good.  I must certainly try.

I took delivery of my wedding gown yesterday morning and it hangs now in my chamber awaiting the day for which it was made, ticking closer with every moment. Last night as I lay in bed I tried to settle my mind to read. The moon cast her light through the window bathing the gown in a shimmering glow. In that moment it was as if she became another person in the room with me, silently pointing me towards my destiny. I longed to speak to her, to call out to the Molly who had worn her and ask if all was well. I tried to cast my mind into an imagined future, to life on the other side of her, as wife and mother. But alas I could not summon anything of substance to bring comfort or hope. Indeed as the time passed I rather thought she began to take on more of a ghostly quality, representing the girl who would step into her form in this very room, only to be left behind here forever. This thought troubled my heart to the point I could stand to look at her no longer and so I rose from my bed to place her on the other side of the wardrobe, where she could haunt me no more.

Chapter 16

October 15th 1833

What a blessed day this is!

It began ordinarily enough. Mother and I were in town this morning attending to some errands. She had gone into the haberdashers to inspect the latest delivery of materials as she has promised to make my father a new waistcoat.  I was idly casting my eye over the wares in the window of Mr. Clarke’s bookshop, my eye being drawn to a new title that sounded most interesting. I was about to go in and seek it out when I became aware of a great commotion coming up from the waterfront. Several men were waving copies of a newspaper aloft, making a great deal of noise and before long a crowd had gathered around them. One of the men stood upon an upturned crate and began to read aloud to anyone who could hear. I hurried over and stood on the tips of my toes at the back, craning my neck to see and straining to hear what was being said over the animated reactions of my fellow listeners. Additional copies of the papers made their way back through waiting hands until one made it to me and I saw for myself the extraordinary news. On August 28th the King gave royal assent to the Slavery Abolition Act and it shall be enacted next year. Freedom is coming to Jamaica!

I thought of Jacob and my heart ached. I longed to be the one to deliver this piece of news to him but knew that it was not possible – and even if it were I was unsure of what reaction I would receive. I thought also of Papa, who would surely respond in the same fashion as many of those around me, with great cursing and dramatic depictions of ruin and downfall. The agitation of the crowd began to build so I clutched the paper to me and hurried to find Mama. I saw her pacing the boardwalk looking out to the crowd obviously concerned for my safety. As I approached she looked ready to give me a scolding but observing the expression on my face her demeanour changed.

“What is it Molly, what has happened?”

As I showed her the front page of the newspaper her hand flew to her mouth.

“God be praised,” she exclaimed, before glancing around and ushering us both to where Samuel was waiting with the carriage. Away from the noise and clamour we read the full details of what had been decided and what will come to pass.

“Samuel, come and gather round with us and let me read to you what has been decided about your future.”

Mama laid the paper out in front of her and began to read the details aloud. The Slavery Abolition Act would become reality in August next year. We both glanced at Samuel whose face was a picture of wonder.

“Di King? Him mek us free?”

Neither of us could hide our delight.

“Yes Samuel, yes he did. You shall be a free man.”

Samuel could say no more, but kept scanning his eyes across the paper even though he could not read one word of what was written there.

“Let me see what else it says,” continued Mama scanning through the script in front of her while continuing to steal glances at Samuel’s beautiful smiling face.

“Now, there are some details here which change things a little…” she began.

“We still free?”

“Yes,” she continued more slowly, “but there will be a period of apprenticeship where you will stay working for the master for three quarters of your time and receive your board and lodgings and then you shall be able to work elsewhere for the rest of your time, so that you might earn some money for yourselves. It says here that this process will be part of helping the slave population learn how to be free.”

A hint of a cloud passed across mother’s face but she looked up to see if Samuel had understood all she had said.

“So you won’t be able to leave straight away Samuel, you understand?”

“Yes mistress. But di King did mek us free. So we shall be free.”

In that moment he stood a little taller and straighter than ever before, pulling back his broad shoulders and lifting his chin.

“You shall indeed.”

Mama spoke with a softer voice and a more subdued smile as she folded the paper away and stepped up into the carriage. This precious moment we had all shared together was over. Now there was a bigger picture to which this news must be applied, starting with Papa.

“Let us head for home Samuel,” she requested, clasping my hand into hers. The initial excitement was beginning to dispel as we made our way out of the town. I turned to ask the question which made me fret.

“What will Papa say? What will happen to him?”

Mama shook her head and sighed.

“Oh there’ll be a storm, of that I have no doubt, and it may last for some time. But when the quiet comes again your father shall be fine. They have some notion that this will ruin them all, but the government will not have passed a law to bring us to our knees, of that you can be sure.”

We sat back then, letting the carriage take us home while silent thoughts weighed on both our minds. I imagined Jacob as a free man at last, no longer shackled or beaten into subservience. I saw him dressed as a gentleman and coming to Papa for my hand. As the rhythmic sound of the carriage wheels hypnotised me into a trance I dreamed of my father placing his arm around Jacob’s shoulder to welcome him into our family as an equal, raising a glass to our future happiness and beaming with pride at his daughter’s choice of husband. Children, picnics and laughter blurred together in one happy tangle of possibilities. I was whipped back to reality in an instant at the sound of breaking glass. We had arrived in our courtyard where there was a great deal of shouting and what sounded like items being smashed inside the house. Looking over at Mama her face wore a grave expression.

“It would appear that news has already reached your father. Molly why don’t you take a walk in the garden for a time and let me speak with him. I’ll fetch you in later when all is calm.”

I needed no further invitation and slipped down from my seat and round to the front of the house. If word of abolition had reached my father already then perhaps some of the slaves had heard too, and Jacob would know that what he has longed for all these years is now within sight. We have never gone to our meeting place in daylight but it is where my feet took me. They had faith where my heart did not, walking to the spot that had been the scene of my happiest times but also my undoing. Would this news be momentous enough to smooth over all that had gone before? My pace quickened as I picked my way among the trees and my foolish heart began to hope in all the nonsense that had filled my mind on the way home.

He was not there, of course. I waited the whole afternoon tracing my finger over our names carved in the wood again and again, willing him to appear. I returned again this evening but stood alone, watching my childish dreams fall to the ground, as dry and dead leaves fall from a tree when they no longer have enough life left to hold on.

October 25th 1833

The dust has somewhat settled on the news of the King’s decree. A great deal of rum has been consumed to dull the pain of the planters, along with the realisation that they shall be compensated by the government for their financial losses. They say that the compensation is not anything like enough for everyone to receive what they ought and so there are those who are feeling further aggrieved. Whilst this news of emancipation is ultimately good for the slave population in the short term they are feeling the effects most severely as the frustration of their masters is forcefully felt upon their backs.

And so life goes on as before, at least for the time being. I have idled away my days, feeling little joy or purpose. The cause to which I was beginning to align myself has achieved its aims and for that I am truly glad. However I have even less idea of where to direct my energies now. My schooling is finished, I have no interest in frivolous society and I have lost my love. These past two days have largely been spent sitting on the veranda staring at a book without managing to read a single word. However this afternoon the stillness was interrupted with a most disturbing development.

I was lost in thought, enjoying a gentle breeze sweeping up the hill and providing refreshment for which I was most grateful, when I became aware of the clatter of horses from the far side of the house. This was not the sound of a single beast but several, followed but noisy male voices laughing and boots stamping their way into the house. I detected that one of the men was Papa but the others were, at first hearing, not so familiar to my ears. Being in no mood for company, least of all that of any friends of my father, I began to creep my way along to the door at the farthest end of the veranda so as to exit there and make my way up the stairs to hide in my chamber. However after just a couple of steps the exchange I overheard stopped me in my tracks. The assembled party had just entered the drawing room behind me when Papa exclaimed, “Now young Robert, I believe you have an interest in my daughter?” Father’s voice was jovial and not in the least bit challenging. Pinning myself to the wall I strained to hear what followed. There seemed to be much laughter and back slapping for several moments before another deep voice proclaimed “You won’t find a better young man in all of Jamaica I’d venture to say. Oh I know I’m biased because he is my firstborn but I believe it is the truth.”

If there is a man on this island more pompous and proud than Robert Mackay then it is surely his father, Sir George. Portly, red-faced and always sweating profusely, he has a view of himself and his family which appears to me to have only a slender resemblance to reality. He is indeed a most wealthy and powerful individual but seems to have equated money and influence to good character, handsome looks and a fine sense of humour yet I would say that all of these are missing entirely from every member of the Mackay family I have ever encountered. I have never been able to establish if Papa has any genuine regard for the Mackays or if his associations with them are purely for the purpose of business and social climbing. Whatever the reason, this latest interaction with them was leaving me cold, and things were only to get worse.

“Well now, let us see how well he drinks and then we can establish if he is made of the right stuff! I shan’t give her away to just anyone you know.”

I could not believe my ears! Papa was actually entertaining the notion of me marrying this pathetic excuse of a man? Was this real, or was he just using me as some kind of bargaining tool to further his prospects?

“Why don’t you call her in? I haven’t set eyes on the girl for the longest while and I should like to see this wild beauty my son has spoken of.”

I did not need to see him to know the leering expression on Sir George’s face. Taking my cue I quietly make my escape to the garden and far away from the group of men who seemed to hold my fate. I know that a woman’s lot is not one of considerable choice in this world, but I will fight with every ounce of my being against being married to a man who I could never consider worthy no matter how rich or influential he is. Surely father would not force me to such an unhappy state? He had assured me of such, but hearing him speak today he sounded so different. This was not the Papa who came home to us and with whom there was still some warmth and tenderness. No, this sounded more like William McKenzie the man of business, assessing the purchase of a new horse or piece of land, making jovial exchanges with the seller in hopes of striking a better deal. Am I simply an animal reared for breeding, who is fed well and cared for until the moment when that nurturing could be cashed in for profit?

I made my way to the reading tree, no longer with any hope of finding Jacob there waiting for me, but simply because it was my place of refuge and comfort. Tucking myself into the branches as I had a thousand times before, I picked up an old familiar story to while away the time until it was safe to return to the house. I needed the narrator to tell me of worthy adventures and lucky escapes, of gallant heroes and noble causes. Most of all I yearned to read of true love and happy endings.

December 12th 1833

I have been truly ambushed in the most distressing way. After no word of the McKay family for a couple of months, my father announced over breakfast that they were all coming to dine this evening! Despite my mother’s protestations that this was very late notice for such an affair, her complaints were waved away by Papa who simply called for all of the house slaves to assemble in the dining room and ordered them to do exactly as Mama instructed, before calling over his shoulder that he would see us this evening and we should both be sure to look our very best.

Mama began at once, directing operations of menu setting, provision purchasing, cleaning and decorating our home and all the while I have felt sick to my very stomach at the notion of once more entertaining the company of Robert McKay. I do hope this is not some kind of forerunner to a proposal endorsed by my father, and yet I cannot shake that sense of dread as we have never before received the entire family around our table. Had I more warning I should have taken several days to gradually develop a truly terrifying sickness which would surely have kept me in my bed for a week or two, and from which I would need much rest and solitude to recover, thereby keeping all unexpected visitors at bay for a lengthy period of time – but alas, all have seen me fit and well this morning and so I fear that there is no escape for me today. I have been dispatched to inspect my wardrobe, ensure that my finest dress is clean and ready, and I am to be primped and brushed to my most respectable and ladylike self in preparation of receiving our visitors. I shall endeavour to paint on enough of a smile so as not to appear rude or disgrace the family name, but my heart and spirit shall remain as far out of their reach as I can keep them.

After midnight

What an intolerable evening! The three McKays sat around our dining table and were as full of their own self-importance as any people I have ever encountered in my life. They gushed with praise for one another but none more so than Robert who, if his mother is to be believed, is a prince among men, the finest catch in all of Christendom and oh how proud she will be on the day he marries but oh how desolate at having him leave her company! I am sure that I spent the entire duration of the meal counselling my face not to give away the thoughts of snorting derision that filled my mind.

Once dinner was finished, my mother and Mrs McKay made their way through to the parlour, after the men had gone for rum and snuff. I was about to follow Mama when Robert reappeared in the door blocking my way and requesting to speak with me on the veranda. I told him that my father would not approve of such liberties and he informed that that he had already sought and gained Papa’s permission. In the moment I could think of no way to extract myself from the situation and so gave the most curt response I could muster before turning on my heel and walking in a most business-like manner to the veranda. I stood facing out to the garden so as not to have to look at him and displayed every ounce of indifference within me. He could not surely now be encouraged to pursue whatever intention he had? But oh how I had underestimated his arrogance!

“Very well,” he chuckled to himself, “I see you’re going to make me work for this.”

He stood alongside me, adopting my same position of looking outward before leaning over to me and whispering, “I always get what I want. I shall win you over, and even if I don’t, we shall be married Molly. Your father needs my father’s favour in these changing times. The compensation being offered for the negroes is not enough for everyone to get what they should. It will turn into a mighty scrap before long. But of course those of us who know the right people, are the right people, will be at the front of the queue and will get all of what is owed to us. Your father needs to get every pound and shilling that is due to him.”

There must have been a look of confusion on my face and Robert took my lack of understanding and used it to press home his advantage.

“Ah you don’t know? Of course, why would you. Yes you see your father is in debt, considerably so. We can help. We will get him what he wants, but only if we also get what we want.”

Reaching across he stroked the back of my hand as it rested on the balustrade. I snatched it away and took a step back from him but he came towards me and I found myself pinned in a corner. Standing above me he leant in to my ear.

“What a fine pair we shall make Molly, gadding about this place like we own it. Think on that.”

As he stepped away he winked at me and headed back into the house where, before long, I could hear the raucous laughter of men from within. I spoke to no one, no longer caring for politeness or decorum, and ran to garden and amongst the trees to hide, tears coming hot and fast. Is this really my future? Am I part of a deal which sees my father ruined if I do not comply?

I stayed hidden even when I heard my name being called from the house as the dining party were making their way to leave. Only once the carriages were away and the lanterns dimmed downstairs did I dare to venture back, creeping into the darkness. 

Chapter 15

In the lull between Christmas and New Year, when the twins had gone back to their own lives and all anybody else seemed to want to do was shop, Anna packed herself and Hector into the car and headed away from the city and back to Elie. The revelations from her Dad were still fresh and the new found openness between them was something of an awkward joy in the household, but neither seemed to want to push their luck and so while Struan took his vulnerability hangover back to the office for several days, Anna took the opportunity to return to the box of family history, ready to explore its secrets. As she pulled into the driveway opposite the harbour Hector’s head appeared expectantly at her shoulder.

“Yes, yes, we’ll go to the beach first,” she reassured him, rubbing his nose and reaching for his ball.

The tide was out leaving several of the boats abandoned on the sand. The sight of them made Anna think of girls at an old fashioned dance, sitting at the side, forlorn and waiting for someone to ask them to dance. They would have to wait a while longer today as the beach extended far past their bows providing a vast and abandoned playground for Hector. These few days were always quiet here, but as the New Year approached more and more people would come roaring in from elsewhere to enjoy the peace and quiet of this tiny sleepy town. Anna knew it was all a bit of a cliché now, for the well-heeled from Glasgow and Edinburgh to have a holiday home in Elie, or to borrow someone else’s for the weekend. She took comfort in the fact that her family had been doing this long before it became fashionable, before you could buy ‘I’d rather been in Elie’ mugs and cushions in the local gift shop. Not for the first time she wondered what it must be like to be one of the residents here, watching your home being eaten up piece by piece, first by those with enough for ‘a little place by the sea’ but more recently by nameless, faceless entities turning one time family homes into anonymous holiday lets. It wasn’t only here that it happened. All along this coastline, tiny picturesque villages were having their prime seafront properties snapped up, renovated and rented out to visitors so that no local could afford to live there. Anna wondered what her Mum would make of it all.

With the sea in retreat Anna was able to walk the full length of the beach to the far side of the town and as she turned to make her way back her stomach growled. Clipping Hector onto his lead they made their way off the sand, meandering back through the town to see where might be open. Nautical-themed ornaments adorned windows and walls, while the sand crept along the edge of the road, carried inland by many feet and paws, a souvenir to the streets from the daily beach-dwellers. After stopping in the café to pick up a slice of carrot cake they made their way along the main street before turning back down towards the harbour. A couple of hardy kayakers made their way across the sand but apart from that the beach was still deserted. A short while later, fed, watered and satisfied, Anna was back in the lounge and ready for the task at hand.

“Now then,” she began, lifting the cardboard box from where it had been abandoned in the middle of the floor and placing it beside the coffee table. “Let’s see what we have.” Taking off the lid she lifted the large piece of paper containing the family tree, opened it out and placed it on the table. Next were the leather notebooks, followed by the Christening robe and finally the box of letters. The name Molly Mackenzie had been swimming around in her mind for days. Who was she? What was she like? Why had these particular artefacts been kept? And how did her step-grandfather’s family have a connection to Jamaica? Opening the first book, she turned through the pages with great care and realised she was looking at a diary spanning the years 1827 to 1833. The writing at the start was clearly that of a child but as the pages progressed the penmanship matured. The second volume was less complete, running only from 1833 until 1834. Next she unfurled the christening robe on the carpet in front of her, running her hands along the delicate lace, marvelling at how it had remained in such good condition.

 “Where do you fit in the puzzle I wonder?” she spoke to it, imagining it filled out with a kicking, cooing child. “Were you Molly’s, or someone else’s?” Folding it carefully, Anna placed it back in the box out of harm’s way, not wishing the dog or a wayward mug of coffee to do any damage. Finally she came to the bundle of letters and looked at the dates, trying to curb her greedy mind from reading something out of its timeline. The first half dozen or so letters were already in date order and seemed to come after the dates in the journals. The final envelope was inscribed with different handwriting and was the last date in the series. Anna felt the temptation to jump ahead in the story and so she tucked them away without looking to see who they were from, hoping that all would be revealed soon enough. Satisfied that all was now in order she lifted the first journal and took it to the sofa to read. Anna was used to dealing with historical documents and was always excited to get her hands on some authentic connection to the past, but sitting holding this diary suddenly felt very different. This ishistory with a very personal connection, she realised afresh. The person who held this book wasconnected to her family. Opening to the first page, she began to read.

 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. 

**

An hour later Anna closed the first volume of the diary, rubbing her temples to try and ease the fuzziness in her head. It had been a strain to decipher Molly’s faded handwriting and piece together the dates and gaps in entries and she had taken to scribbling place names and questions on a scrap of paper in order to do some further research once she was finished. The professional historian was in part thrilled to discover such insightful first-hand accounts and equally embarrassed by a clear gap in her own knowledge but the more she read, the inescapable and overwhelming personal revelation was that her family had been plantation owners in the Caribbean. It didn’t matter that it was a side of the family not related by blood. The connection was real. She had known about Britain’s past with slavery, but it had always concerned someone else, somewhere else. Not here. Not us. Not…her.

As Anna allowed the reality of what she had read to take hold, a deep sense of unease began to settle over her, forcing her up from the sofa to pace the room, back and forth, rolling her shoulders, moving her body, trying to shake off…what? What was she feeling? Stopping by the window she looked out at the sea and found herself no longer comforted by its presence. In a short space of time it had come to represent something entirely different, a dark highway to the unknown, to the past, to another place that held a painful connection. Memory of an old, dog-eared atlas sent her to the book shelf and she opened the cover turning first to the double page world map at the front. Tracing a line with her fingers from Scotland across the Atlantic, the elegant font of that ocean speaking only of noble adventure, hinting at awesome wonder, betraying nothing of bondage or suffering. Her hand moved slowly left, finding the correct region, then island and finally the small dot of the capital. For several minutes Anna simply knelt and stared at the tiny faded patch of yellow in the middle of the light blue Caribbean Sea. Finally she named the feeling that had been coursing through her veins these last minutes. Shame. A profound sense of shame. In her mind surfaced the woman from the museum, accusing her of not knowing her own history. Anna had been so sure of the story she’d been told, felt secure in all she’d been taught but she had been wrong, and the woman she met that day clearly knew things that Anna did not.  

Turning to the index to find a map of the island she found that this particular atlas had only a slightly larger picture of the entire region. Casting the book aside, hungry for information she opened her laptop and began to search. The internet fed her every kind of map and survey and as her appetite became more voracious she found herself following every link to a new angle, a fresh insight until she had gorged herself to the point where her head was swimming with knowledge and the words on the screen began to blur together. Lying back onto the carpet she stared up to the ceiling, gathering her thoughts. In amongst the disquiet a small voice of hope began to rise.

Molly.

Despite the facts of what she had been born into, this girl’s character was finding its own way, making her own path. Was there some redeeming part of this history to be found in the life of this young girl? Anna was intrigued by Molly’s strong sense of self, knowing that she was setting herself against her own father and the whole of the society to which she belonged. And what of her friendship with Jacob? The more that Anna allowed Molly’s personal story to take centre stage in her mind the more she felt driven back to the source, despite a strong distaste for the subject matter.

And so steeling herself for further unpleasant revelations she opened the book and began to read.

Chapter 14

The Saturday before Christmas Anna decided to use her day off to escape the crowds of the city and headed to the refuge of Abigail’s once more. If ever she struggled to feel in the festive mood, an hour spent in the home of her aunt brought back all of those child-like emotions of anticipation and excitement. Abigail’s house at Christmas was crazy but wonderful with fairy lights draped throughout, a simple tree covered with an eclectic array of ornaments and the scent of fresh mince pies an ever-present feature. Abigail loved this season with a passion and no corners were cut in making it special each and every year. For some people Christmas began once they’d seen the tree at Jenner’s department store or visited the market, but for Anna it didn’t truly feel like Christmas until she’d been to Abigail’s. She had a lovely memory of a year they all came for dinner, driving down after the early morning madness of stockings and presents to arrive in North Berwick for a feast of turkey and trimmings, films by the fireside and family games around a huge box of chocolates. Anna remembered it as the best Christmas Day ever and now as she walked through the town towards the harbour she smiled wistfully recalling the sleepy little girl who was carried to the car at the end of the night, cheeks rosy and belly full, unaware that it was one of only a few Christmases that would feel so special. Thankfully this year there was a glimpse of hope for something new, a different dynamic at play in the relationship between her and her Dad and the possibility that a touch of the magic of the season could be restored to their home once again. The previous weekend the two of them had decorated their tree together for the first time ever, that usually being the job of Anna and Julia. Standing side by side with the task accomplished they had admired their handiwork with shared satisfaction.

“Your mother loved Christmas,” Struan recalled, as though remembering something long forgotten. “I’ve always found it so painful since she left us. I couldn’t bear to decorate or celebrate, but I tried for you and the boys. I don’t think I did a great job though. Thank goodness for Fran and Julia.” He smiled and let his fingers lift an ornament on the nearest branch, a star made from ice lolly sticks with a few remaining patches of glitter still holding on after many years of use.

“Was this yours?”

“One of the boys did that I think.”

A festive hymn on the radio filled the space between them.

“Dad, there’s actually one more thing to go on the tree.”

Anna produced a small box from behind a picture on the fireplace.

“I just bought it. For you.”

She offered the gift to her Dad who looked almost confused by the gesture. Anna nodded encouragement as he fumbled with the ribbon before opening the lid, pulling out a purple glass bauble. Holding it up by the string and watching as it spun around, he saw the letter J written on one side in gold script. A glimpse of a smile appeared at the corner of his mouth as he watched it twist back and forth in front of his face.

“I think we should remember Josie on the tree. She’s a part of this family too.”

There was a pause as Struan gathered himself.

“Thank you,” he whispered, clearing his throat. “So where shall we put it?”

Anna cast her eye over the tree and found a spare branch on the side nearest to her father’s favourite seat.

“How about here? Then when you’re in your chair she’s on your right, exactly where she should be.”

He nodded, not quite able to speak. As she watched her father hang the ornament on the tree Anna had a sense of years silently being restored. She was profoundly grateful.

Standing on Abigail’s front step Anna admired the luscious wreath, verdant and rich against the bright yellow door. The blend of the fresh intertwined branches caught up with ribbon, cinnamon sticks and slices of dried orange came together to bring the aroma of Christmas to your nostrils before you’d even crossed the threshold. However because this was Abigail’s wreath, there were also a few unconventional additions; a small toy car, a thimble, several items once belonging to a dolls house and sitting at the top an ancient bear complete with festive jumper. If I had made this, Anna thought, it would look a mess. Shaking her head in admiration of her aunt’s creativity Anna rang the doorbell. The person to answer was Nigel, bedecked with an apron and Santa hat, sherry in hand.

“Welcome, welcome,” he declared with a flourish and a bow. “I am but a humble servant of this fine establishment. May I take your coat dear lady?”

Anna stepped inside and kissed Nigel on the cheek before playing along.

“Thank you kind sir, you may.”

“The mistress is in the kitchen at a critical stage of baking process. If you’d like to follow me.”

They walked together through the house, Anna drinking in every twinkling light and festive flourish, feeling joy rising in her with every step. The kitchen was a riot of activity with mixing bowls and baking trays stacked precariously, a light dusting of flour or perhaps icing sugar covering every surface and in the midst of it all stood Abigail, sleeves rolled up, swaying to the carols playing on the radio while mumbling instructions to herself.

“You are now entering Christmas HQ Anna. Tread carefully,” warned Nigel. “I was handed a bowl and asked to stir, or maybe it was fold…whatever it was I did the wrong one and she nearly had my arm off!” he winked conspiratorially.

“I can hear you over here you know!” Abigail scolded, before offering apologetically to her niece, “I’m a little behind in my schedule today. How are you my love?”

“I’m good thanks. Can I help with anything?”

“Please. The butler here will get you sorted with a pinny and a sherry and then I’ll set you to work.”

The next couple of hours passed in cosy haze of stirring bubbling pots and rolling pastry, keeping a watchful eye on the baking shortbread and double checking instructions in the wine-splashed recipe book propped up beside the cooker. The three of them co-ordinated their moves around the kitchen with the nudge of a hip or a ‘watch your back’, falling into a rhythm of harmonious activity until finally Abigail could find no other tasks to be completed. The three of them sank into the large sofa in the living room and enjoyed a well-earned cuppa and some of the fruit of their labour.

“So, now that I’ve worked your fingers to the bone, tell me what’s been going on with you,” Abigail began. “Did you get to Elie to investigate the cupboards and boxes up there?”

“I went a few weeks ago and found some stuff. Mum had actually done a lot of digging into family history, but more on your stepdad’s side than your biological family. There were letters and a diary and a family tree that seemed to go back for generations.”

“That sounds fascinating. Did you read it all?”

“Not yet. There was something else I found that sort of distracted me. Did you know that Dad had a twin?”

Abigail’s eyes widened in surprise.

“I know,” Anna continued, “a sister. She died when they were seven, run over by a car. It seems he never really got over it. Mum found a way to get through to him, at least in some way, but when she died it brought everything back all over again. It’s why he fell to pieces like he did.”

Nigel sniffed beside her.

“Nigel are you crying?” Anna asked gently.

“Sorry, that took me a bit by surprise. I lost a sibling too, a brother. I was older than your Dad was, and he wasn’t my twin, but it’s still a devastating thing to happen. Like part of yourself is taken away, part of the landscape you’ve always known and navigated by suddenly disappears. You grow up knowing that someday you’ll lose your parents, but I hadn’t ever considered that I might lose my only brother. It just never occurred to me. ”

He took out his handkerchief, wiped his face and took a deep breath.

“Your poor Dad.”

He put his arm around Anna and pulled her close as she in turn rested her head on his shoulder. Abigail turned to face her friend.

“I never knew you had a brother. We’ve been friends for twenty years and I didn’t know this.”

Nigel shrugged apologetically.

“It was a long, long time ago. And it was painful, so …” his voice tailed off.

Abigail reached across to take the hand of her friend.

“Losing someone dear to us certainly shapes who we are. And who it is, and how and when it happens, has a huge bearing on how we experience it and how we navigate what comes next. It certainly gives me a new perspective on your father Anna.”

There was kindness in her voice, and a hint of regret.

“Yes it explains a lot, doesn’t it? We’ve had some good conversations around it all and things feel quite different now. He’ll tell the boys when they come home for Christmas. I’m so glad you sent me in the direction of Elie. Now that I know, I would hate to think we might have gone through the rest of our lives not understanding each other like this. Thank you.”

Anna leaned over to give her aunt a squeeze.

“So what about the rest of this family history?” Nigel asked. “When are you going to read the diary and letters? I’m intrigued!”

“Yes me too,” Anna smiled. “I might try and get back over between Christmas and New Year. I want to be able to take my time with them.”

“Well promise you’ll come back and tell us what they say.”

“Deal,” Anna nodded, reaching for another round of shortbread.

**

It was the loveliest Christmas Anna could remember for a long time. Both brothers were home for the holiday for the first time in several years, having previously been with girlfriends or working too late in London to get away. This Christmas Day the four of them sat over their meal laughing and telling stories, spurred on by the items brought back from the boys’ bedroom at Elie. It led them to naturally talk about their Mum and this time Struan joined in, finding himself able to speak about his wife in a way that he hadn’t for a long time.

“It’s nice to hear you talk like this Dad. It’s good to remember her when we’re together.”

Robert smiled across the table and raised a glass towards his father.

“To Mum.”

James and Anna joined in as Struan reached slowly for his wine with a simple “yes indeed” as he clinked glasses with his children. Feeling the need to break the emotional tension after an awkward pause, James drained the bottle of wine into his glass and nodded at his brother.

“Right then Rob, time for your customary whooping at chess. I’ll set up the board shall I?”

“Go for it. I’ll grab another bottle and bring it through.”

James swaggered through to the lounge quietly singing We Are The Champions and getting ready to beat his brother for the umpteenth time. Hector and Struan followed behind as Anna filled the kettle and dug out a tin of chocolates from the cupboard. Turning around she saw Robert leaning against the kitchen cabinets seemingly lost in thought.

“You ok?” she ventured.

She didn’t expect too much in return. Their ten year age gap meant that there hadn’t been too many meaningful conversations between them over the years.

“Yeah, good. That was nice just then, the moment with Dad. Thanks for bringing the stuff from Elie, Anna. It’s been a very long time since I’ve been up there. I guess Mum must have tucked those things away for us. How’s the old place looking?”

“Same as always. That’s why I go – helps me feel close to Mum because she loved it so much. You should come up some time.”

“I’d like that. Not sure I’ll manage it on this visit, but maybe we can go next time I’m here?”

Looking across at Robert she realised that the ‘we’ he talked about included her. The ‘we’ had always been the brothers as a unit and she had been the little sister tagging along far behind. It would never even have occurred to them that she wanted to join in with them, but she had. Always. Finally and perhaps for the first time she was being spoken to as something of an equal.

“Great, let’s do that then,” Anna smiled in response.

“Robbo?” came the challenging call from the front room.

A wicked grin spread across Robert’s face.

“What are you hiding Rob?”

Leaning closer and whispering to Anna, Robert confided, “I’ve been taking lessons. Little brother’s about to get his ass handed to him on a plate!”

Gathering up the wine, he relieved Anna of the chocolates and headed for the chess board. Left alone in the kitchen Anna surveyed the detritus of their Christmas meal with a deep sense of warmth and satisfaction. Perhaps she could find a true sense of home in this place at long last.

Several hours later James slept on the sofa still wearing the quizzical expression of one entirely surprised by an ambush he never saw coming, while his brother basked in silent glory by his side. Their father dozed in his favourite chair cradling an empty whiskey glass, having hypnotised himself to sleep staring at the new ornament twirling on the tree by his side, and Anna sat beside a panting Hector in front of the hearth. The buzzing of a mobile phone disturbed the brothers and James roused himself to take the call. A plan was made to go and meet friends for a late drink and as they prepared to gather themselves from the sofa Struan woke with a grunt.

“You boys heading out?”

“Just a quick drink with Stu and Mark. You don’t mind do you?”

“No, no, not at all,” he replied, his eyes drifting back towards the tree and then to the floor.

“Actually, before you go, could I have a minute? There’s something I need to tell you.”

The hesitation in his voice changed the expression on James’s face. He leant forward, nudging his brother to do the same.

“What is it Dad?”

“I should have told you all this years ago, but it was just too painful. And then when your mother died, well… it just made everything so much worse.”

A weighty silence filled the space as he searched for the right words.

“I was a twin too. I had a sister, Josie, and we were, well… you know,” he gestured between his sons.

“Closer than close. We were everything to each other. And then there was an accident when we were young and she died. At that point…” he shook his head, once more lost for any language to convey how he felt.

“You lost half of your world. Half of yourself.” 

Robert filled in the blanks.

“I can’t even begin to imagine Dad. I’d be a mess if that happened to me.”

Struan nodded in agreement.

“Exactly. Then at Watson’s I was given structure and discipline and that became the box in which I survived. Survived by striving, seeking to excel, to make up for what was lost. Except really, I was the one who was lost. Your mother brought me back to life. She helped put the pieces together, so when she left us, they all fell apart again and I didn’t know what to do.”

The revelation sat between the three men for several moments.

“So,” James began and then hesitated, rubbing his chin as he grappled for the right way to shape what came next.

“How did you feel when we were born? Was it hard? To watch us be twins I mean.”

Struan tilted his head back and exhaled deeply.

“I felt so many things. Of course I was overjoyed to have children, to have sons. And I was terrified that something would happen to one of you and the other would be left alone. And sometimes, yes, there was deep pain and envy as I watched you together, saw your connection and unspoken ways, and was reminded of what I had lost. It’s a strange thing, to love your children so much and yet feel sorrow at the same time. I’m sorry if it meant I was sometimes a bit distant with you. And I’m sorry that I didn’t cope with your mother’s death better. I didn’t know how.”

James came across and knelt on the floor beside his Dad, placing a hand on his arm. “You did the best you could Dad. We seemed to turn out alright. Well I did, you might have screwed Robbo up a bit but…”

Struan gave a short laugh and smiled in appreciation of the joke. He patted his son on the arm before glancing back towards the bauble hanging by his right hand. James looked across at it and joined the dots.

“J for Josie,” he nodded, “that’s why you’ve been staring at that ornament all night.

“It was a gift from your sister. She thought we should remember your aunt and have her with us.”

“Josie is short for Josephine,” Robert realised aloud. “That’s why you gave Anna that middle name.”

For the first time they all looked across at the hearth to see Anna’s tear-stained face looking back at them.

“I think this was harder for you than for us. We had each other and were away from home a lot.”

The emotion caught suddenly in Robert’s throat as he thought of his little sister and it finally occurred to him what she must have dealt with over many years. Anna scuttled over to the sofa and tucked herself under his arm and let herself be held. In this conversation, as in so many others through the years, she had felt on the outside. Being so much younger, a girl and not a twin and not driven by the same things as her father and brothers, all of these things had kept her on the edge of this family after her Mum had died. It’s why she had gravitated to Abigail so much, and to Julia and her family, because with them she felt a place of belonging. But perhaps now, now that the truth was known and real words had been spoken, she could find her place in her own family.

“Anyway, I’m glad you all know now. I should have done this years ago. I’m sorry I didn’t.”

Struan’s eyes met each of his children’s faces in turn.

“But for tonight you boys need to be heading out and this old boy needs to go to bed. Thank you for a lovely Christmas.”

He rose and gave each of them a tender kiss on the head before making his way out the door and up the stairs. Robert sank back into the sofa.

“Bloody hell,” he whispered, staring at the ceiling, taking it all in.

“Anna when did you find out?” James asked, coming to perch on the coffee table to face them.

“Just recently. I found a family tree that Mum had researched when I was up in Elie. Josie was on it and so I spoke to Dad about it when we were out for my birthday. It felt good to know the truth, like it explained so much about him.”

The fire popped and hissed in the grate as the light from the muted television danced around the room.

“We haven’t always been great brothers to you Anna. I guess we had our twin thing and then we were off living our own lives. Sorry if that’s been a bit crap for you.”

James wrinkled his face in apology.

“Yeah, we’ll do better now, promise,” Robert added, squeezing her shoulder.

“Thanks,” Anna smiled at them both.

Hector stretched himself from in front on the fire and nosed in on their trio with tail-wagging expectancy.

“And yes, you need to go out boy.”

“We’ll walk with you the first bit on the way to the pub,” James offered, extending his hand to pull her up from the sofa. A few minutes later, coats on and gloves in hand, the three siblings headed out onto the night, parting on the street corner for the first time as friends.

Chapter 13

Julia stood shivering between the stone columns of the National Gallery, stamping her feet in a vain attempt to stay warm. Through the bustling December crowds came her friend, late as always.

 “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” Anna called, approaching Julia for an embrace.

Anna could never seem to figure out why she was always running behind everyone else. Organised and efficient in so many other ways, she swore that she almost always left on time for where she was going, yet somewhere in between destinations things seemed to move more slowly for her than for other people, so that every time she looked at her watch she was late.

“Well just this once I’ll forgive you, seeing as it’s your birthday.”

“I think you’ve been forgiving me on a weekly basis for about seventeen years now,” laughed Anna.

“So I’m well practised in the art,” Julia grinned in response. “Anyway, which of our traditional birthday activities are we doing first? Burger, shopping, big wheel or hot toddies?”

The two friends had a regular practice for Anna’s birthday of coming to the Christmas market together, soaking up the festive atmosphere and buying each other a new ornament for their respective trees. It started with Fran as their guide, the year that Anna’s Mum passed away. The funeral had been a week before her birthday and if it had been left to her dad then the day may have gone entirely unmarked. There were gifts already bought and wrapped by her mother, but Struan Ferguson was missing in action, a shell of the man he’d been only a few months before. Fran had swept in like a fairy godmother, pampering both girls with sweets and snow globes, using every bit of distraction the city had to offer. What began in necessity became a yearly treat, still funded by Fran even after the girls decided they were old enough to go to the market on their own. In more recent years she left them to their own devices for most of the day, but insisted on joining them for a little glass of something later in the afternoon.

“You look like you could use some warmth,” Anna said, noticing Julia shivering despite her coat and scarf.

“It’s like you read my mind,” Julia nodded while her teeth chattered. “How about we start with a hot chocolate and leave the hard stuff for when Mum joins us?”

*

A couple of hours later they sat across from one another high above the city as the ferris wheel took them away from the clamour and chaos below and up to where they could enjoy the lights and sounds in their own little metal bubble. With stomachs full of burgers and waffles and shopping bags at their feet this was a small oasis of calm and quiet. Both sat back, enjoying the view and the well-worn path of this yearly practice.

“So, I assume it’s dinner with your Dad tonight?”

Anna sighed and nodded in response.

“You know that it’s your day and you can do what you want. If dinner with your Dad isn’t fun then you can ask to do something else.”

“I know, I know, but it’s his way of connecting with me, which I do appreciate. And it is nice to get dressed up and go somewhere a bit fancy. It’s just that there’s something I really need to speak to him about and this is the first proper chance we’ve had to sit down together and talk.”

“Well at least you’ve got some conversation lined up.”

“Except,” Anna hesitated, looking across the city at the twinkling and hopeful lights below, “it’s not really a fun birthday chat. It’s pretty serious and I’m not sure how it’s going to go.”

“Are you ok?” Julia leaned across to place a hand on Anna’s knee.

“I’m fine. I just found some family stuff in Elie that I didn’t know anything about and I need to talk to Dad about it. I’ll tell you about it when I know more, but it’s really something I need to speak to him about first. I guess I’ll just see how this evening goes and decide in the moment if it’s a good time to bring it up. But I’ve been sitting on it for a few weeks now and it’s starting to drive me crazy, so I might just have to bite the bullet, birthday dinner or not.”

“Well let’s get you prepped then,” Julia suggested, lifting her mobile from her pocket to answer a text message. “Right on cue. Mum’s down at the bar and is getting the drinks in. Time for some Dutch courage and to toast the birthday girl.”

**

“To my darling daughter,” Struan smiled, raising his glass across the table towards Anna. “Happy birthday.”

“Thanks Dad.”

Glasses clinked and a nod towards the waiter produced a slice of cake complete with sparklers and a birthday message in chocolate script written around the edge of the plate. Anna beamed at the gesture while simultaneously feeling a little conspicuous and embarrassed by the fuss. They ate dessert in relative silence. Having chatted amiably for most of the meal they had finally run out of conversation. Or at least Struan had. Anna made an assessment of the situation and decided to make the most of the moment, hoping to harness the warmth between then rather than douse it to extinction.

“There’s actually something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about Dad,” she began tentatively.

“Oh yes? What’s that?”

“Remember when I asked about our family tree and you told me to speak to Abigail?”

“Mmm hmm.

“Well I did. But she didn’t know anything.”

“Ah. Well there you go.”

Anna sensed her father’s relief and desire to move on, even amongst his still cheerful manner. She paused and took a deep breath.

“She thought Mum might have looked into it and suggested I have a look in the house at Elie to see what I could find. So I did.”

Struan looked intently at his glass of wine, suddenly avoiding the gaze of his daughter.

“Did you know she’d researched her family? Her step-father’s family?”

“She mentioned something about it once. She did love her history.”

He was a peculiar blend of wistful and tense as he spoke.

“It seems she was good at it too,” Anna continued. “She found stuff going back generations.”

A silence sat between them littered with unexploded secrets. Tread carefully, Anna told herself.

“There was a box with some papers in it. And a family tree.”

Her father signalled for the bill and Anna could feel her grip on the conversation loosening.

“Dad.” She was calling for his attention, pleading with urgency. His eyes met hers and she saw before her a little boy, desperate and afraid.

“Let’s go home. This isn’t the place for this conversation.”

They made the short walk home in silence but arm in arm. For the first time Anna felt her father leaning on her, as though he had been carrying a weight and was now tired of it and ready to set it down. Entering the house they walked through to the kitchen where Hector rose to great them expectantly.

“Soon, buddy, we’ll go soon,” Anna reassured him with a pat on the head. She put the kettle on and made an offer of tea.

“I think I need something a bit stronger,” Struan replied reaching into the cupboard for a bottle of whisky. Pouring himself a large glass he settled into a chair at the dining table and waited for Anna to join him.

“Dad,” Anna began softly, “you had a twin sister.”

It was a statement but also a question. An offer to open the door to something locked away for a long time.

“Josephine. But I only ever called her Josie.” He took a deep breath and exhaled, still trying to keep a lid on things. “We were inseparable,” his voice faded away to a whisper and his face began to crumble. “I can’t remember the last time I said her name out loud.”

Having said it once, he suddenly wanted to say it again.

“Josie, my Josie,” he called quietly, swirling the whisky in his glass as the first tears began to silently fall. “I still see her in my dreams sometimes, still feel her right here,” he said searching in the air with his right hand. “She was always on my right, I could always reach for her. We slept entwined in each other’s arms for years, because it was how we were most comfortable. It was how we’d been formed. I was never without her. And then I was.”

Anna didn’t want to add to his misery, but there was still a question to ask. She moved around the table to sit beside her Dad and hold his hand.

“What happened?”

“She was knocked down by a car. We were seven years old and out for the day. She had a red balloon which my father had bought for her and she carried that balloon around all afternoon as though it was the most precious thing she’d ever owned. She would glance back at it bobbing along behind her as we went along the street.”

He smiled to himself at the memory before being overtaken with pain.

“We were messing about, teasing each other and laughing. In all the fun she let go of the string for just a second and the balloon slipped away from her. She didn’t think, didn’t look, just gave chase after it. She ran straight into the road and into an oncoming car. Just like that she was gone, right before our eyes.”

“Oh Dad. I’m so, so sorry.”

Anna waited, knowing there was more to come, instinctively letting her father speak only when he was ready. The whisky circled the glass several more times.

“If only I hadn’t teased her, if only I’d simply walked beside her instead of messing about, she’d have kept hold of that balloon…”

Finally the dam broke. Struan Ferguson hunched over the table and let go of a lifetime of tears. Anna wrapped her arms around her father’s shoulders and held him tight as Hector rose from his bed to stand sentinel on the other side. After a while the torrent subsided and a sorrowful peace settled upon the trio. They sat together in silence, truly comfortable in each other’s company for the first time in years, despite the uncharacteristic outburst.

“I don’t remember many details of the aftermath, just a sense of terrible sadness. In my heart I knew it was my fault that she was gone. When I was sent to boarding school it confirmed that my parents blamed me and so I tried be the very best at everything to somehow make amends. I never could of course, either for my parents or for me. But that didn’t stop me from trying. I’ve been chasing absolution ever since.”

He sat there slowly shaking his head, years of effort etched on his face.

“Dad, you were just a little boy playing with his sister. This wasn’t your fault.”

“But if I’d…”

“No, Dad,” Anna’s words were firm. Gently she lifted her father’s face to look at her. “It was an accident. A sad and tragic accident. But it wasn’t your fault.”

The clock ticked loudly in the background.

“That was what your mother said,” he whispered, a look of devotion and longing in his eyes.

“Somehow she found a way into my darkness and set me free. But when she died it was as though I fell through a trapdoor back into my worst nightmare and I had no idea how to get out. I’ve been stumbling around ever since unable to find my way. I’m so sorry Anna. It’s like there were times I could remember the father I used to be before she was gone and I longed to be him again but I didn’t know how. I could feel you slipping further away from me but I didn’t know how to draw you back. So I went back to what I knew, what I’d always done. Working hard, trying to be the best. If I couldn’t do anything else I could provide for you all, give you that platform. I know now that it wasn’t the best thing, but it was all I knew how to do. The boys were older and away, so it didn’t cost them as much. But it cost you a lot. And me.”

Anna saw everything differently now, as though finding the place for that one piece of jigsaw puzzle that sits to the side until the very end. You keep looking at it, sure that it doesn’t go anywhere in the picture your building, not seeing where it’s shapes and colours fit, until eventually you slot it into place and in the context of all the other pieces it finally makes sense. So much of who and how her father was crystallised right in front of her. She was heartbroken for him and for all that had been lost between them over the years. Wrapping her arms around him she hugged him tightly, allowing her own tears to surface as she did.

“You did the best you could Dad. And now that I know, I understand. I just wish you’d told me sooner, or maybe talked to someone who could have helped.”

“That doesn’t seem very like me now, does it?” he confessed with a wry smile.

“Well no, that’s true. But keeping all of this locked up inside you hasn’t done you any favours, has it?”

“No, no it hasn’t.”

“None of us can change the past. What’s done is done. We can either learn from it and grow, or bury it. But then it just festers and poisons our view of the world, and that’s no way to live.”

Struan took hold of his daughter’s hand and looked at her in wonder.

“How did you get to be so wise?” he smiled.

“History is a good teacher, if we pay attention.”

Anna leant her head on her Dad’s shoulder and he kissed the top of her head. Not wishing to be left out of the affectionate embrace, Hector began to paw at them both and wag his tail in anticipation.

“Hector old boy,” Struan placed a firm hand on the dog’s head, “you’ve been a good and faithful friend to Anna.”

“Yes he has,” she agreed, reaching over to rub the dog’s ears. “And he’s been very patient as we’ve talked, but I think it’s probably time for you to go out and stretch your legs, isn’t it pal? Will you be in bed by the time I come back?”

“I think so. It’s been quite an end to the evening, but I’m glad we talked.”

“Me too. I know it’s hard Dad, but some other time can we talk about Josie again? I’d like to hear more about her.”

“Of course. Actually I think I’d like that a lot.”

“And can we talk about Mum too? I have so many things I’d like to know.”

“We can – but let’s go gently? This is a lot for me Anna.”

“Sure.”

Anna pulled on her coat, clipped on Hector’s lead and headed for the door.

“Goodnight Dad.”

“Goodnight sweetheart,” Struan replied, raising his glass towards his daughter.

Hearing the front door close he drained the last of the whiskey, set the tumbler by the sink and headed for bed. Walking up the stairs he found himself lighter with each step, as a man lifting stones from his pockets and letting them fall to the floor. As he lay his head to the pillow his sister’s face swam before him, laughing and calling his name.

“Josie, my Josie.”

The words tumbled almost silently from his lips as he drifted off to the most peaceful sleep he’d had in a long time.

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.

Chapter 11

Anna felt the tension leave her shoulders as she drove across the new Queensferry Crossing and into Fife. Lowering the car windows an icy blast from the Forth sharpen her senses and she challenged herself to make it the whole way across without succumbing to the temperature. A shiver crept across her shoulder as the November morning made its presence felt and she cried out to urge herself onward.

“Come on!” she cried, thumping the steering wheel, “no cheating, you can do it. I believe in you.”

She clasped a hand to her mouth at the outburst, recognising the words her Dad would say to her as they crossed the Forth Road Bridge taking this journey years earlier, as he dared her to hold her breath for the entire crossing. Glancing across at the old bridge to her right she recalled them making that trip together as a family, Anna squashed between her brothers in the back, both of them well past the age of Dad’s games. As they approached the bridge Dad would catch her eye in the rear view mirror and ask if she was ready.

“This time Anna, you’ll do it this time. On my mark, here we go…..deep breath…now!”

She would gulp in as much air as her little lungs would carry and clench her fists together trying her best not to breathe. The first time she made it to halfway across the bridge her parents had given her a round of applause from the front seats, Dad reaching his hand around to squeeze her leg.

“That’s my girl,” he beamed, “let’s see if you can do it again on the way home.”

Each time they drove across the bridge her time improved, but she never did make it all the way. Mum was diagnosed and after that the few trips to Elie together were quieter affairs. The boys were off at university and so Anna was all alone in the back seat. The first time they approached the bridge and Dad didn’t give his usual speech she leaned forward.

“I’m ready Dad. Count me down.”

She remembered how he looked across at his wife, her eyes closed and face pale, before looking back at Anna with a sorrowful expression and whispering, “Not this time pet. Mum needs to rest.”

“I can try again when she’s better.”

Anna could hear her young voice speaking with such certainty and felt an ache for the carefree little girl she had been and the truth that was about to come crashing in on her young life. In the weeks that followed it became clear that Mum wasn’t going to get better and the day came when she sat on the end of her Mum’s bed with her Dad’s arms wrapped around her as she was told the truth. It was Sarah who had done all of the talking, reassuring her daughter that she was going to a good place and would always be looking down on her. There were encouragements to be kind, to find happiness and for the two of them facing her on the bed to look after each other.

“Will you be able to see me in the Christmas play at school?” Anna had enquired, concerned that Mum would miss her upcoming role as shepherd number 3 in the nativity.

“I don’t think I’ll be in the room darling, but you can be sure I’ll see it, and I know you’ll be brilliant.”

Somehow in the moment that was enough for Anna and she wriggled up the bed to wrap her arms around her Mum before going to practice her two lines. It was the last specific memory she had of her mother alive and speaking. There were several more weeks of hushed conversations, people coming and going, adults crying and trying to hide it from her and Anna tip-toeing in to stroke her Mum’s sleeping body, before one of those days held the news that she was no longer sleeping but had now died. She had very little memory of the days that followed, other than her Dad leaning over a coffin distraught before she was ushered from the room by Fran and taken to stay at their house. There was a trip to a headstone holding Abigail’s hand and placing yellow roses there, because Mum loved all yellow flowers. And there was her father’s haunted expression, trying to hold it together when she was in the room but never quite managing. Somewhere in those days something was lost between them, as though they both began to speak a different language and had no one to interpret for them and help them understand one another. Over time they learned enough words to get by but were never again fluent the way they had been when she was there.

Anna was well past the bridge and absolutely frozen when she came back to the present. Putting the windows up in the car, she cranked up the heating and the radio to chase away the cold and shake herself out of the past.  By the time she made the turning for Elie she had sung herself into a more cheerful mood. This was where she came to get away from everything. Her family had been coming to Elie for as long as she could remember, to a house overlooking the beach and the harbour. One of the reasons Anna loved to come was that it helped her feel connected to her mother. The house had belonged to Grandpa Mac who left it to Sarah and Abigail when he died. Having always preferred East Lothian to Fife, Abigail was more than happy for Sarah to buy her out of the property and, as such, the Elie house became Sarah’s project, renovating it inch by inch and stamping her personality in every nook and cranny. Being there gave Anna a warmth and peace that she didn’t experience anywhere else. Their home in Edinburgh was lovely but sometimes these days felt like a space where she didn’t truly belong. The Elie house couldn’t be more different. Fresh and eclectic in style, feminine touches here and there, with pieces that her Mum had gathered arranged together just so. Any time Anna brought someone to stay who hadn’t been before, they instantly loved the place and would tell her that her Mum had great style.

Dad didn’t come too often anymore. Perhaps for him the reminders were too painful, and so when he did come it was mainly to play golf before spending the evenings in the clubhouse or the Ship Inn with his old friends and several rounds of Glenmorangie. There were always Edinburgh people in Elie and he was sure to meet folk who he knew to pass the time with. The town itself was only really one main street with a few little shops, a couple of pubs, the golf club and the beach, but it held a great attraction to people from the city precisely because of its simplicity and beauty.  

Anna preferred Elie when she had it to herself, rather than having to share it with all of the other Edinburgh exiles who headed there every pleasant weekend or bank holiday. Today it was empty and wild, exactly what was needed. As she drove down towards the harbour the tide was in, crashing on to the rocks and throwing spray over the wall and onto her windscreen. Putting the car into the drive and turning off the engine, she sat for a moment to feel the car move with the wind. She stepped out to face the sea, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath of salty air, letting the wind whip her hair into a frantic mess.  Rather than head into the house she decided to stretch her legs with a walk along to the pier. Passing the sailing boats safely sheltered on land, Anna nodded to the couple of other hardy souls out braving the weather. On reaching the end of the pier she paused and gazed across at the town. A pale row of buildings formed a sliver of light between a dramatic and ominously murky sky and the green grey mass of waves swirling in the bay. A solitary red sail pulled its owner in towards the safety of shore as the first drops of rain began to fall. She had thought of walking in the opposite direction, to visit The Lady’s Tower, a 17th century summer house perched on the edge of the rocky coastline. Built for Lady Jane Anstruther as a place to recover from her sea swimming excursions in Ruby Bay, it was also the location of many a Ferguson family photograph, with five smiling faces clustered in the stone doorway. That visit would have to be postponed until tomorrow, and the rain began to fall in earnest.

Anna pulled her coat close to her body and hurried back towards the house, pausing briefly to lift her bags from the car before pushing past the mound of circulars piled behind the door and stepping into the hallway. She switched the heating on and tidied the mail into a pile on the old hallstand before making her way upstairs. The grand old house was split into two properties now and so while their entrance was at ground level, most of what was theirs were the first and second floors. Huge windows let in what little light there was on such a day but also provided the means for the now pouring rain to hammer against the glass, filling the whole house with noise. Anna put the kettle on and pulled the duvet from the nearest bedroom before curling up in the bay window to wait for the place to warm up. The world on the other side of the window had turned into a milky mass of indeterminate grey and Anna stared into the middle distance letting her mind freewheel.

After a while she turned her head from the gloom outside to the cosy interior of her mother’s creation feeling once again the nearness of her in every detail. The deep cornflower blue of the back wall was offset by a huge painting full of colour and vibrancy with the pinks and greens being picked up by carefully selected cushions filling out the cream sofa. Over the marble mantelpiece hung an enormous mirror and the hearth was covered with multiple candles in an array of golden or glass jars. Even though it was early afternoon the dullness outside prompted Anna to go hunting for matches to light some of them for additional light and warmth.

In the kitchen she turned on the radio for company and fixed herself some lunch before setting about the task at hand. She began a search of the house for paperwork or clues of any kind that her Mum might have unearthed about their family tree. Beginning with the bookcase in the lounge she established fairly quickly that there was nothing of note among the shelves or in the cupboard below. Picking up a framed photograph of the five of them at the beach, she paused to look at this family unit that seemed so fleeting. The boys must have been about fourteen and Anna four. She stared at her tiny arms wrapped tightly around her father’s neck with such adoration. What would happen if she showed him this photo now? Would he remember this day? Would it jog his memory for the closeness they had once shared? Making a mental note to take the photo home with her she set it to one side and moved on.

Upstairs she glanced into a couple of the bedrooms knowing full well they had nothing to offer before finally arriving at the room which held the most promise. The converted attic space was just big enough for some twin beds and an old mahogany box chest and it was into this that Anna went hunting for clues. Lifting the lid, she found something of a time capsule, not of her mother’s as she had hoped, but of her brothers. There were scraps of paper with rockets and footballers drawn in crayon, medals from swimming competitions and tiny toy cars gathered together in a draw string bag. She pulled out a school jumper and looked at the label which read Age 9-10. It struck Anna that these were the brothers she never knew, the ones who had an entire ten years of life before she made an appearance in the world. The big boys who so quickly became men to her and seemed so different now took on a new persona. As she looked at their childhood things, scrapbooks, toys and clothes, she felt a connection, a closeness to them as never before. She smiled as she opened the front of a reading book to find that Robert had written his full name at the top and underneath, just to be sure, had stated “This book does NOT belong to James.” Setting it to one side Anna began to gather a small pile of items to take back to Edinburgh ready to share them with her brothers when they returned home for Christmas. Perhaps it would open up conversations and reminiscences that would be helpful for them all.

Having established that the chest held only her brothers’ belongings she sat back on to the floor dejected. There didn’t seem to be any obvious places she hadn’t considered. Had her search been in vain? Noticing the ache in her back she lowered herself to lie on the floor and stretched her hands behind her feeling the satisfaction of her body releasing all of its stiffness. The tips of her fingers just reached the very short wall which rose to meet the slanting eaves of the ceiling and she absentmindedly tapped her nails on what she thought would be solid material, but the sound she made caused her to sit up, suddenly intrigued. Turning onto her knees she tapped the wall and realised it was actually a thin wooden panel and as her eyes followed along to the end of the room she saw behind the chair in the corner a handle. Pushing the chair out of the way she pulled the handle, sliding the wall to the left revealing an extra bit of storage space behind. A waft of cold air escaped, prompting Anna to wrap her cardigan a little more tightly around her body.  Two plastic boxes sat immediately within reach and she pulled them out into the room before activating the torch on her phone to check further and see if anything else was hidden in the darkness. Deeper behind the wall lay another two boxes and she had to crawl into the space to slide them towards her before wriggling back out of the door pulling her treasure behind her. One final sweep from the torch confirmed that the space was now empty and Anna slid the door back across to keep out the draft. On a quick search of the plastic boxes it was clear that they belonged to her brothers and were full of school reports, certificates and other long forgotten pieces of writing.

The other two boxes were cardboard and appeared to be much older. The first came wrapped in some cobwebs and Anna found a tissue in her pocket to give the lid a cursory wipe before diving in. The contents were disappointingly mundane, consisting mostly of old paperwork connected to her father’s legal practice. A quick sift down through the folders confirmed there was nothing of note as far as Anna was concerned.  As soon as she opened the lid of the second box Anna recognised her mother’s handwriting adorning the sheets at the top. She knew her mother’s hand well as Sarah had written several letters to her before she died ready to be opened at key points in her life. There had been one to read after the funeral, another when she finished primary school, as well as letters for significant birthdays. These were among Anna’s most treasured possessions and she revisited them often, not always to read the whole thing, just sometimes to run her hands along the lines of ink as a way of keeping touch with what was lost. Anna’s natural first response on seeing her writing again was to do exactly that, stroking the page before lifting it out to see what it actually was. On closer examination it seemed to be a collection of essays, probably from her history degree, and below that a series of teaching notes and lesson plans. Glancing at the dates Anna guessed they were from the first few years of her mother’s career when she had taught at a school in Fife. While it wasn’t exactly what she’d been hoping for Anna was warmed by the prospect of some time in her Mum’s company and so carried her find down to the warmth of the lounge, made herself a coffee and settled herself on the sofa to go through the contents at her leisure. She found herself smiling as little pieces of her Mum’s voice came to her so clearly. For a while she simply sat and held the papers gathered close to her chest, enjoying the feeling of her mother’s presence.

As she reached into the cardboard crate to lift another pile of folders, she noticed that underneath them was a large shoebox held together with an old red elastic band. Setting the folders to one side Anna carefully removed the band to release the lid. A familiar smell rose to her nostrils, a smell that thrilled her. History. Old cloth and ancient paper had a very particular scent and Anna knew immediately that she’d found something of note.

One half of the box held a bundle of letters bound together with a faded blue ribbon. The one she could see the front of was addressed to a Mrs E Mackenzie at an address in Edinburgh’s New Town. The other half of the box contained a yellowing piece of cloth and as Anna lifted it out she could feel that it was wrapped around something firm. Carefully she unfolded it to discover it was a baby’s christening robe – perhaps early Victorian? – and inside were two leather bound books, battered, delicate and clearly devoid of many of the original pages. As Anna opened it up her eyes swam greedily over the page catching first the date 4th August 1827, and the name of the author, Molly Mackenzie.

“Mackenzie,” she muttered to herself. So had her Mum explored her step-father’s family rather than that of her birth father? Scanning further down the page she saw where the book had begun its life.

“Jamaica?”

Anna was captivated. Who were these people? What had her Mum discovered exactly? For a few moments she simply sat and stared at her findings, a little overwhelmed by a discovery so much greater than she had anticipated. Glancing back into the shoebox she found that it held two more items sitting flat on the bottom. A smaller piece of paper lay face down on top of a larger one which had been folded in half. Lifting the smaller of the two she saw that it held a series of notes about the Chambers family. There were dates of her grandfather’s birth and those of his siblings and parents, along with scribbled places and jobs, possible leads for further information. Was this as far as her mum had managed to dig for information about the father she had never known? Had she hit a dead end, or was it waiting for her to return to when she had finished with her step-father’s family? Anna opened up the second, larger piece of paper and saw an extensive family tree. At the bottom there was her own name and those of her brothers and as her eyes followed the lines up the page she saw her step-grandfather George Mackenzie. She knew very little about him, as he had died before she was born. Her grandmother had been treated very badly by her first husband, Arthur Chambers, before he disappeared and left her with two young daughters. George Mackenzie had been a truly good man, marrying Mary Chambers and raising her two girls as his own. It was his family that filled the top half of the page as inch by inch, name by name they travelled back in time until finally at the top Anna recognised the name from the notebook.

Molly Mackenzie.

Anna beamed with gratitude and appreciation of her Mum’s efforts. She ran her finger down the list of names counting six or seven generations, with names and dates, some gaps and question marks, but overall a pretty complete picture. This was diligent work. How long had it taken her mother to gather all of this information? Where on earth had she found it?

Just as she was about to set the family tree aside and make a start on the other items her eyes came to rest on a name written alongside her father’s. Her brow creased into a furrow as she struggled to make sense of how there could be a name she didn’t know sitting right there on the page. Then she saw the dates beneath and a realisation dawned. Here was a significant piece of history from more recent times, and one that could explain so much. This was the key she’d been looking for, one that might help her understand a bit more of her closest living relative. In a moment Anna’s priorities changed. The secrets of the living had come to light. The dead would have to wait for another day.

Chapter 10

25th March 1832

A letter arrived this morning from Pastor Knibb. Father was gone for the day and mother called on a neighbour this afternoon and so I took the opportunity to visit the study and retrieve it from the secret compartment. I am not sure Papa has ever expressed interest in the contents of Mama’s writing desk, but she has taken to hiding her correspondence in these most restless of days. Running my hands over the ornate carvings of ships and anchors that adorn the desk front, I felt some connection with a homeland I have never known. This piece of furniture belonged to my grandfather and the one item Mama insisted on bringing with her from Scotland. I tried to picture him sitting in my place, writing to tell me about his life. He died long before I was born but I have a sense of him from hearing all Mama’s stories of his life and adventures on the high seas. He was a ship’s captain and this bureau sat on board his vessel, which is why the engravings have a naval theme.

Skimming my hand over the crest of his initials, caressing the carved waves that frame the edge of the wood, my hand moved up to the corner to pull down the desk. I found the panel on the left and pressed firmly in the top right corner until I heard the familiar sound of the catch releasing and the narrow compartment was revealed. Several letters were inside, mostly from Pastor Knibb, as well as some pamphlets from other abolitionists both in Jamaica and Scotland. I sifted through looking for the most recent arrival before copying the contents to read at my leisure and in the privacy of my own chamber. The details are cause for distress and hope in equal measure. I will write below the full transcript so that I might burn my original copy, ensuring it cannot fall into the wrong hands. I am now able to keep my journal in my own writing box, for which I am the only person with a key, and so this copy of the letter I believe to be secure and for my eyes only.

My dearest Mrs Mackenzie

These are indeed troubling and dangerous times and it is my fervent prayer that this letter finds you safe and well. I believe that the uprising did not reach as far as Kingston and so I have some hope that you all escaped without damage to flesh or property. As you know we were not so fortunate in St. James and although the rebellion was crushed in the most severe manner, the repercussions of those days continue. I wrote previously that those in power had assumed I was an instigator of the riots and I have been trying to persuade them of my innocence these past two months. While I have now received assurance of the knowledge that I only ever encouraged the peaceful resolution of the uprising, and the testimony of many slaves that I never gave any promise or hope that their freedom was imminent but rather counselled them to work as unto the Lord, it seems that I and my fellow missionaries are the worst of enemies to the planters of this island. Indeed it would seem now that they will not rest until they have driven each and every one of us from this place so they may continue with this wicked and mercenary practice unopposed.

However they will not find us so easily dispatched. They have plundered our homes, destroyed our chapels and dispersed and discouraged our flocks, but we are here under the instruction of the Almighty himself and shall not depart on the insistence of men. Indeed their actions of these past days have given us further resolve to stand against them. When I arrived on this island, although I found slavery to be abhorrent, I set myself on a path to work within the system to give religious instruction to the slave population, as were my orders from home. However it now appears that the powers of this land see true Christianity and its teaching to be in opposition to keeping the system of slavery intact and they wish with all their might to expel us from this place that they may continue without obstruction. Until this moment I have been sympathetic to the cause of the abolitionists but felt unable to directly align myself to their cause given that my employers had forbidden it– no longer. I will now raise my voice fully alongside theirs and shall not rest until this system is brought down.

Within these past weeks I and several missionary friends have discussed the need for one of our number to travel to England and plead our cause with the British people. It has been decided that as I have the most intimate acquaintance with the mission in the disturbed part of the island and my knowledge of the circumstances immediately connected with the rebellion, that I should be the one appointed for that purpose. I had hoped I should not have to leave my people here. Their current sufferings would make a heart of stone surely weep. However many of the Christians in Britain have aligned themselves to the wrong side of this cause and must be persuaded to see things as they really are. I will therefore give myself at this time to the greater purpose in the hope that it shall bring about the downfall of this stain upon our land. I plan to sail on 26th of next month and shall be accompanied by my wife and family. Do pray for my safety in the weeks ahead. I have been obliged to run for my life two or three times of late as I believe the local planters have a desire to murder me, such is the strength of feeling toward me.

I also have a grave concern that having left, the missionary society may not approve my return after everything that has transpired. My deepest hope and prayer is that they might join with us in cooperation to bring about the overthrow of slavery and agree to sustain us in this work for however long it may take. I will endeavour to keep you connected with my efforts as and when I can.

In the meantime, I know your heart is with us and that gives us great comfort.

Yours in Christ Jesus our Lord,

William Knibb

The very idea that people would want to murder a peaceful pastor is shocking to me. We seem to be sheltered from the worst of that conflict in this corner of the island and this letter stirs an anxiety in my heart once more. Equally, the idea that an eloquent and godly man such as Reverend Knibb is now in full-throated support of the abolitionist movement gives me great hope. However this is not something I shall share with Jacob. I fear that this piece of information could embolden his already strengthening desire to fight for his liberty. The physical fires of the uprising may have been quenched but the sentiment smoulders on. The slaves now have heroes among those they consider martyrs to their cause, none more so than Samuel Sharpe, one of the ringleaders of the rebellion. I hear his name whispered among them as they work, spoken with reverence and admiration, a verbal talisman from which they draw strength and courage. Only yesterday as I saw a Negro mother nursing her baby boy, I passed by close enough to hear the whispers she made in his ear, I believe spoken for my benefit.

“Rise up mi baby. Dem leg grow strong, dis heart be bold, di spirit of Sam Sharpe be like a fire in yuh belly. Hush mi pickney, yuh soon be free.”

Part of me longed to stand with her in that sentiment, yet as soon as that thought had entered my head it was overshadowed with a strong sense of foreboding. For one to win, another must lose. For this child to be victorious, my Papa must be defeated. I believe with all my heart that he is wrong but I do not wish to see him ruined. Is that what would happen were slavery to end? Would all of this on which I stand come to nothing?

And then another thought came, one which had not entered my head until this moment. If slavery was over would we return to Scotland? Would I be forced to leave the only home I’ve ever known and the man who has my heart? I long for Jacob to be free, but if he is then that may mean we shall be separated, never to be together. Yet if he remains a slave we can never truly be united. It seems that every which way there is heartache, but I know in the depths of myself the choice I shall make. I would rather him be a free man standing on a distant shore than enslaved by my side. I now see without doubt that there will come a time to choose and when that day arrives I pray I will have the courage to do what I know is right.

8th December 1832

This morning was full of smoke. The cane was ready to be harvested and so orders were given to set the fires. This is done so as to burn the leaves that the stalk can be more readily cut. A time was chosen when the air was calm and therefore smoke would not come towards the house, but after the flames caught hold a breeze began to blow, carrying it up the hill. There was a great scolding from the house slaves, realising they must immediately drop their current chores and  hurry to close up the house so as to not have us all engulfed in a stinking fog. Other estates which are considerably larger than ours have less of an issue, as their fields of cane are at some considerable distance from the main property, but our plantation is relatively modest and so we are at the mercy of the wind with each harvest. Mother decided this was a perfect opportunity to visit Mrs Mackay on their coffee plantation further up the hill and so we readied the carriage and set off down the drive. As we rounded the bend towards the gate a small group of slaves were making their way up the hill, including Morag who works at the house. Mama stopped the carriage so as to speak with her about some domestic matters.

As we came to a standstill I realised that Jacob was among the group and while they waited, clustered together at the side of the road, he stepped forward as though waiting for Morag but it placed him more naturally in my line of sight. Our eyes met and I could tell we were both straining to keep our faces in a repose that would not give us away, but I swear that if my Mother had examined my expression in that moment she would have known every ounce of the truth.  It was well that I remained seated as I felt a weakness in my body at the very sight of him. As we began to pull away we passed where he was standing and I held his gaze as we went by. At the final moment, when no one else could catch our exchange, he lifted his head and winked at me before turning back to the group. A short while later Mama looked at me and saw me still smiling and asked what I was so cheerful about! I spoke some nonsense about the beauty of the day and the joy of a ride off the estate but I was certain my cheeks were flushing red as I spoke for my mind could not rid itself of Jacob’s face. We are due to meet tomorrow night but I wish with all my heart it was tonight, especially after what followed later this afternoon.

We arrived at the Mackay estate around noon and as luncheon was prepared we were sitting on the porch taking refreshments with Mrs Mackay when her eldest son Robert appeared. He was introduced with some ceremony, as he is the heir to the fortune recently arrived having finished his schooling in Scotland and here to learn about the coffee business from his father. There was such gushing pride from his mother that to hear her you’d think the crown prince himself had arrived, but I saw nothing so note-worthy standing before me. He was thin and pale but with an arrogance that puffed out his demeanour with a sense of importance and entitlement. I am sorry to say I disliked him immediately. Mother has always taught me to look for the good in people and withhold judgement but I do not have her kindness nor her gentle spirit, and in this case I have to say I am glad, for I was proven absolutely right in my assessment.

Robert was encouraged by his mother to take me for a short ride around the estate before we ate and although I could think of nothing worse my mother’s exclamation of “Oh how kind, that would be lovely,” put paid to any chance I had of refusal. What a hideous bore he was. He spoke of nothing but himself for most of the time, telling me of his great achievements at school while interjecting with details of how a coffee plantation differs from one which grows sugar. If I could have found the space to say one word I might have pointed out that I have in fact lived here for a full fifteen years now and know better than he does what plantation life looks like. Finally, towards the end of our time, he turned to me with a question.

“Do you have any siblings?”

I told him it was just me alone. And then I could not believe my ears at what he said next.

“I’ve been told that it would be good to marry in the next year or two, which I’m not opposed to. If I married you we could combine our land and I would become one of the biggest landowners on this side of the island. And being in both the coffee and sugar business makes a lot of sense, especially in these turbulent times, wouldn’t you agree? Doesn’t that sound like a fine idea? I shall speak to my Father this evening to hear his thoughts on the matter.”

I may have been silent for several moments, such was my shock at his suggestion but when I recovered my voice I left him in no doubt as to what I thought.

“Thank you sir,” I began, only barely remembering my manners. “I am sure you consider your offer to be one I should be glad of, and there may be many other foolish girls on this island who would look only at your wealth and thereby forgive your ignorance and arrogance, but not me. I intend to marry for love or not at all.  I neither esteem nor respect you and indeed would not agree to be your wife were you the last bachelor in Christendom!” 

From his expression I’m not sure he’s ever had anyone speak to him that way but by the end of my little speech he was laughing at me.

“My, my, you are a spirited one aren’t you?  The best horses often are when you first get a hold of them, but with some firm handling they soon learn who’s in charge. My Father knows that and so does yours. He’ll want a good man to hand his affairs on to. I’ll speak with them and take care of it.”

He was saying all of this as he handed me down from the carriage before driving off and leaving me in the courtyard without any right of reply. I stood where I was pulsing with anger, trying to calm down before returning to the house. He spoke about me as though I were a commodity, a silent pawn in the world of men to be moved from place to place with no choice of my own. I do not know what power I have but I absolutely will not agree to such a plan! This will not be my future, of that I am sure.

Regaining my composure I joined Mama and Mrs Mackay in the dining room suffering through them fawning over the wonderful Robert. I do believe that mother was simply being polite and agreeing with all that her friend had to say, but to listen to Mrs Mackay you would be forgiven for thinking there was no better man on the face of the earth. I have to conclude that familial ties really do make one entirely blind to what is standing before them. I did my best to smile along with the conversation while inwardly replaying what had occurred a short while before, resolving to speak to Papa and seek his assurance that I shall never be required to marry such a man.

By mid-afternoon we thought it safe to return back down the hill and so took leave of our hostess, but not before Robert appeared once more to ask Mama to relay his finest greetings to Father and that he would be sure to call with him in the very near future. As we sat together in the carriage I had time to reflect on Robert’s words. I realised that what I thought to be the fanciful notion of an arrogant boy may indeed be what my life has in store. I fought every urge to throw myself on Mama’s mercy and plead with her for my happiness, instead biting my lip and beginning to rehearse my speech to Papa. He will be the one who decides how to receive Robert when he comes to call and will weigh whatever suggestion he might make about our potential union and so I shall go straight to him. He has been gone for most of today and did not dine with us this evening and so I shall have to hold my thoughts captive until a suitable opportunity arises.

I long to see Jacob tonight. Lying here in my bed I can see his face lifted to me this morning and the smile and wink which left me weak. I replay in my mind each touch and kiss of the last months in the hope that they shall fill my dreams and sustain me until tomorrow.

9th December 1832

Today was one endless stretch of waiting – to speak to Father, who was once again gone for a lot of the day, and longing for the night so that I might go and meet Jacob. I idled the time away unable to settle to any one task. My mind was too distracted for reading, I could not still myself to paint and so I took to roaming the estate, by late afternoon sitting in a spot from where I could see the road up to the house to be sure of the exact moment when Papa returned.

Eventually, as the sun began to sink low in the sky casting shades of pink and peach across the horizon and lighting up the clouds with a golden trim, my eye caught a flurry of dust moving up the road through the fields of cane and I knew for certain that it was Papa. I have never seen anyone else ride with such fury and passion. He travels much more sedately when accompanied by myself or Mama or when held back by the carriage, but when he is alone with his steed it is as though he wishes to fly and as he rounds the final bend into the courtyard he only pulls up his horse at the last possible second causing anyone waiting there to dash for cover lest they be trampled by stampeding hooves. His face in those moments is a picture of exhilaration and joy, of unbridled freedom, and his laughter as everyone scatters in his wake is as deep and full of mirth as you will ever hear it. I knew this was my best chance to catch him in a fine mood and so hurried down to be ready for his arrival. I had not quite made it into the courtyard before he came thundering up the road, pulling up his horse at the sight of me and calling my name with delight.

“There’s my Miss Molly! Have you come to meet your Papa? Come. There is still light in the sky, climb up behind me and let us take a final race around the grounds before supper.”

This is not something I have done for many a year, and I know that Mother would be horrified. There was one occasion when I was much younger where she witnessed Papa and me racing towards the stables and she scolded him in a manner like I had never heard before or since. She forbade us to ever be on horseback together again, and until this day that decree has stood. But my Father’s face wore such an expression of delight in the invitation that I could not refuse, nor indeed did I wish to. When I was younger I would ride in front of him, with his arms forming a barrier around my sides, but now I stepped up and sat behind him, wrapping myself around his torso and holding on with all my might. This is not how a lady should ride, but I do not enjoy sitting side-saddle. It is uncomfortable and impossible to travel at any speed. Father kicked his heels and we took off up the hill at such a pace that I screamed with the perfect blend of fear and joy. I had not felt this close to him, in any way, for a very long time. I felt the strength of his body steering the horse and could sense the powerful force of man and beast in full flight. When we reached the highest part of the road he brought us to a slower pace before pausing to take in the view of the land below. We sat together, breathless and laughing, taking in the last moments of the setting sun.

“Where you scared Molly?”

“No Papa.”

He looked over his shoulder to check my expression.

“Well maybe a little – but the good kind.”

“That’s my girl.”

He said this with such gentle tenderness. I have missed this closeness and until this moment had not realised how much. He patted my hands, still clamped around his waist.

“Step down and let me look at you. It seems a long while since I really looked at you.”

I slid down and waited for Papa to join me. He stood opposite me, tall and broad, with his cheeks flushed and hair wild from the ride. He had never looked more handsome. Reaching across he brushed my hair back from my face.

“There’s my girl. My but you are a beauty. You have grown to a woman before my very eyes and I have not noticed. There will be young men calling before too long I have no doubt, but I shall keep you with me as long as I am able.”

At his compliment and mention of a suitor tears began to swim in my eyes. I tried to hide them but it was too late.

“Molly, whatever is the matter?”

Where would I begin? I would speak of Robert, of course, but in that moment there seemed so much to say, so much that I longed to reconcile in my heart but I knew it was impossible. All of my prepared protestations floated from my mind and I found myself lost for words. Taking a deep breath I gathered myself as best I could and recounted the conversation from yesterday. When I was done with the facts I simply looked to my father’s face hoping my expression would impart all that was needed. I need not have feared.

“So this young upstart seeks my daughter as well as my land? I can see that there are a few things schooling has not taught him, but he will learn soon enough! Fear not my Molly, his presumptions shall not be satisfied on either of us. Dry those tears now, your Papa will not let you go so easily.”

He wrapped his arm around me and kissed the top of my head. So it seems I am safe from Robert Mackay but how much longer can I stay sheltered in Papa’s arms before my true heart is discovered? We returned down the hill at a more sedate pace so as not to cause a disturbance and the rest of the evening passed uneventfully. At the first available opportunity I excused myself and retired to my room eager to be alone with my thoughts of Jacob. I whiled away the time trying to read but unable to settle my mind to even one paragraph. With each passing minute my heart quickened and my stomach tied itself in knots.

Eventually I could wait no longer. I raced across the gardens and when I saw him standing by the reading tree I could not hide my delight. We spoke not one word but any sense of decorum or pretending evaporated in that moment as we held each other’s gaze. Everything else melted away, Robert Mackay, my Father, the impossibility of our situation, nothing else seemed to have any weight or substance. Slowly he reached for me with one strong arm, putting his hand around my waist and pulling me close. My body felt as though it were on fire as he lifted his hands to hold my face and kissed me with such extraordinary passion that I could no longer feel the earth beneath my feet. Eyes, lips, arms, bodies, all were entwined as though we were one and could not, would not be separated.  I cannot say how long we were together. Time meant nothing in those moments. When he left I was breathless and weak in body, and yet my will had a new found strength. As I lie here alone I cannot imagine what lies ahead but I know this for certain – my future is him.