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.

Chapter 9

Anna stood on the first floor balcony overlooking the gallery as the midday sun flooded through the rooftop windows throwing shafts of amber light onto the pale boards below. A lone visitor sat on a bench encircled by a halo of shadows, seemingly deep in thought. Anna remembered the times she had come to that very bench in the years since her Mum had died. It had been their bench, the place they would pause in their tours around the museum, and open up their bags to pull out treats and a thermos flask of sweet tea. They shared together as pilgrims pausing on a sacred trail, taking in the wonder of their surroundings, satisfied with all they had seen and yet hungry for what was still to come. It did not matter how many times they came, there was always a sense of excitement – a mixture of visiting all that was familiar and favourite alongside discovering what was new and temporary. Anna wondered, not for the first time, what her Mum would say about her working here. She knew she would be proud but longed to hear her voice tell her that for herself. She felt close to her Mum in here, knowing that she was in a place her Mum had loved, where she had spent many happy hours. There were a few exhibits that shone clearly in her memory. She had learned the meaning of the word intricate as they studied the ancient brooches and jewellery in one of the design cabinets. When they walked through the animal kingdom the two of them would try to imitate the noises of the various creatures they encountered, each trying to make the other laugh with their impressions. But the place where Anna could see and hear her Mum most clearly was right down there on their bench.

“Time for a little something, don’t you think?” she would suggest, looking at Anna with a smile before leading her to sit down and opening up her bag on the bench between them. On taking out the flask she’d unscrew the cup lid and pour out a little before offering it to Anna, always singing the Doris Day song ‘Picture you upon my knee, Just tea for two, and two for tea, Just me for you, And you for me alone.’  This memory had come dozens of times before, but today it caught her right in the gut.

“Have you had your lunch break yet?” a voice asked, pulling her back to the present. Her colleague Stephen was gesturing her to follow him as he kept walking around the corner of the balcony.

“Eh no, I haven’t,” Anna replied, almost running to keep up with Stephen’s long strides.

“Right, well why don’t you stop now and then when you come back can you go to the Kingdom of the Scots for the afternoon please?”

Without waiting for an answer he disappeared into another gallery and towards another guide issuing further instructions as he went. Anna made her way back to the staff room to gather her bag and coat before heading out for some fresh air. Standing on the corner of Chambers Street she enjoyed a few moments of cool air while deciding where to go. Across the road a small gathering of tourists huddled around the statue of Greyfriar’s Bobby before making their way across the road and into the churchyard. It was a glorious October day, bright and clear, and Anna began to wander along the road reaching for the sandwich in her bag as she went. She took her time, still lost in the thoughts of the morning, until her feet led her to St.Giles. As was her habit she made her way right into the middle of the sanctuary, to a seat towards the front where she could sit and look up at the colourful window and drink in the quiet splendour of the place. Even when it echoed with the murmur of visitors and guided tours there was always a stillness here in which Anna found great solace. When the chaos and uncertainty of this life felt overwhelming there was something immensely comforting to be cloistered in these ancient walls where people had gathered for hundreds of years. In each visit Anna found a sense of peace that somehow sustained her when the rest of life was hard. Today she let her eyes drift upwards, following the stone arches to the vaulted blue ceiling above, letting her eyes dance around the sacred space as her heart followed in quiet contemplation. When the time came for her to leave, she gathered her things together before nodding her appreciation towards the altar. She wasn’t sure about belief in a higher power or deity but she was always grateful to the building itself and liked to acknowledge its steadfast welcome and strengthening presence.

Most of the afternoon passed without incident until shortly before closing time when a lady approached Anna wearing a look of consternation. Anna had noticed her earlier, making her way around the exhibition, occasionally muttering to herself in an agitated tone. When she finally spoke to Anna it was with a Caribbean accent and a strong sense of feeling aggrieved.

“This history you have here,” she began, gesticulating towards the room, “it’s not quite right is it?”

“I’m sorry?” Anna replied, a little taken aback.

“Well it’s all very nice and interesting, but it’s not the full story is it? Where’s the other side of Scotland’s history? Where do you talk about what you did to my country, my people? Is that in a separate exhibit somewhere else?

Anna searched her mind for some knowledge of what the woman might be referring to.

“I, eh… I’m not sure I understand.”

“No I didn’t think so. I don’t suppose you like to think about it. You need to know your history,” she continued, pointing a finger at Anna, “and tell the whole story, not just these bits that make you look good. A half-truth is no truth at all. Cha!”

Looking thoroughly disgusted she turned and walked away from Anna, leaving her feeling more than a little put out. In the time she’d been working at the museum she’d had a few unusual questions but no one had ever suggested she didn’t know her stuff. No one had ever been angry about an exhibit and certainly Anna had never felt personally accused of misrepresenting her country’s history. A prickle of indignation ran through her body, flushing into her face. Standing there, alone in the gallery for the last moments of the working day, the conversation played over and over in her mind, and each time she found her voice, interjecting to tell the woman that she did, in fact, have a degree in history and that it was very rude to speak to her in that way. By the time the museum closed, she had reworked the confrontation so many times as to feel satisfied enough to let it go for the night.

***

Cartons of Chinese take away lay strewn on the kitchen table as the two friends lay at either end of the sofa each nursing their third, or maybe fourth glass of wine. Julia struggled to reach across for the remote and switched off the tv as the credits rolled.

“An absolute classic,” she declared slumping down into soft pillows and tucking her legs under the blanket stretched between them. This had been their Friday night ritual since primary school, although back then it tended to be burgers and milkshakes followed by popcorn and hot chocolate to accompany the film, but the feeling was the same. Many times at the end of the night Anna would ask to stay over, until it became the accepted norm and Fran would have the camp bed already made up in Julia’s room before she’d even arrived. When they were a little older Julia’s dad Richard had suggested that Anna might be more comfortable in the proper guest bedroom rather than squeezed into Julia’s room sleeping on something he’d had from his days in the Scouts. But all three women had looked at him with such scorn and incredulity that he quickly realised his mistake. As he recalled the happy times he’d had using the bed on expeditions with his troop, he remembered in those moments that if someone had offered him a comfy bed away from his pals he’d have given them much the same look as he received at the suggestion.

The noise of the front door closing and the rustling of keys and coats announced the return of Julia’s parents from their evening out. Richard appeared through the door first, striding over to walk behind the sofa and greeting both girls with a kiss on the tops of their heads. “Daughter number one, daughter number two,” he said in greeting before standing in front of the fire to face them, warming his hands behind his back. Anna looked up at him and wondered how he could be so similar to her own Dad and yet so completely different at the same time. Richard Cameron was tall and distinguished looking, with his greying hair and moustache, gold-rimmed glasses and penchant for colourful bow ties. With his warm and gentle manner, he was every bit the paediatric consultant. From the first time Anna fell in their garden and scraped her knee, his loving care and attention had told her that this home, this person, was a safe place for her. Like her own Dad he was obviously driven to excel in his chosen field and was a man who valued doing things well. He certainly didn’t suffer any fools, as several of Julia’s boyfriends had found out to their cost. Yet he retained a personable, even affectionate demeanour that drew you in to his company. As Anna looked up at Richard she recognised the familiar ache of what was lacking in her own home.

“Anyone for a nightcap?” called Fran popping her head in the door.

“Ooh yes please,” Anna replied as Julia responded with a thumbs up.

“What about you darling?”

“No I need to head upstairs. Early clinic in the morning. Shall I get the camp bed out for you Anna?”

“Yes please,” Anna smiled, acknowledging his kindness.

“Alright my loves, I’m off to bed. Sleep well.”

A chorus of goodnights rang in Richard’s ears as he made his way up the stairs, knowing he would fall asleep in the room above to the lullaby of gentle laughter from the three most important women in his life.

The fire crackled and hissed in the grate as Pickle the cat stretched and yawned before switching allegiance from Julia’s lap to Anna’s, her contented purr filling the room. Nudging the chin of her newest companion, Anna responded with a rub of her ears.

“Waifs and strays together again, eh Pickle?”

Anna hadn’t been the only one to find refuge in the Cameron household over the years. Pickle was the latest in a line of animals who had either been rehomed from shelters or picked up from abandoned corners of the city and taken into Fran’s care. Richard had long ago given up being surprised at the appearance of a new member of their household arriving unannounced, in the same way that he no longer commented upon the rearrangement of their furniture at the start of each new season or at whatever whim had overtaken his wife on any particular day. The house was his wife’s domain and she had a way of making it feel warm and welcoming that he recognised was truly a gift, as the constant stream of new arrivals and visitors confirmed. He was simply happy to be a quiet part of this beautiful world she created within their four walls. Julia had inherited her father’s easy warmth and gentle demeanour with her mother’s zest for life and eye for style as well as her love of animals. It had been no great shock when at the age of eleven she announced her intention to become a vet, never wavering from that plan until she had secured a place at Edinburgh University to do just that. Having just started her penultimate year she was currently on a placement with the practice they had always used as a family.

Fran backed through the door with a tray of steaming glasses and a plate of cheese and biscuits.

“It felt like a night for hot toddies so I did us some port. Is that ok girls?”

“Ooh lovely, thanks Mum,” Julia replied crawling across to the coffee table, never able to resist the lure of cheese.

“Here Anna, let me reach some across to you so you don’t have to disturb her ladyship there,” Fran offered, looking at the cat the way most people look at new born babies.

“How has the museum been this week?”

Anna let the rich aroma of port, cloves and orange fill her nostrils as she closed her eyes to cast her mind back over the past five days.

“Mostly fine, although today I had a bit of a strange encounter which left me a bit ruffled.”

“Oh? Tell us more,” Fran mumbled trying to keep hold of a cracker crumbling in her mouth.

Anna relayed the conversation she’d had with the lady that afternoon.

“I mean, history is my thing, it’s what I know. And she suggested we weren’t telling the truth, that’s what really needled me. She seemed really cross about it, whatever she was talking about. I don’t know. I was pretty put out about it at the time but now I don’t know what to think.”

“You know, I remember a young history student sitting around my table talking to me about how historians had to be careful because the accounts of what happen are always written by the victors or those with the most power and influence. She waxed lyrical about how good historians would dig that little bit deeper, always looking for the other side of the story, trying to get the fullest picture. Do you remember that?”

Anna looked sheepish.

“I do. I guess I just started to drink it all in at some point, believe what I was told from the people I thought knew best. There were exams to pass and jobs to get. Maybe somewhere along the way I’ve forgotten to ask good questions.”

“I don’t know what that lady was talking about, but we all like to show our best sides don’t we? There’s no reason why that wouldn’t apply to a country as much as to an individual person. Sounds like it’s time to dig a little deeper.” Fran winked across to Anna in the way she always had when Anna needed a gentle nudge to do better. “And what about the family tree? Any digging done there?”

“I spoke to Abigail and she didn’t know too much, but she thought Mum might have done something on it if I can find some of her old paperwork. I’ll head over to Elie when I have a spare day or two this month and see what I can find. I haven’t been there in a while so it’ll be nice to go anyway and feel close to Mum.”

“Ah Elie. Did you know that’s where Richard first asked me to marry him?”

“First asked?” Julia exclaimed. “You mean he had to ask more than once?” Her eyes were wide and wild. “How have I not heard this before now?”

“Well,” Fran began, with a tone that immediately made you lean forward for all the details. “We’d had a lovely walk along the coastal path and it was a beautiful day and I think the mood just took him to ask. I was quite taken aback as we hadn’t discussed getting married, but I knew he was the one. He was a darling man even then, but he’d caught me off guard, and frankly I also wanted a little more fuss. So I told him I’d consider it.”

“Mum!”

“Well I had to be sure he’d really thought about it; I didn’t want to get engaged on a whim.”

“Poor Dad. He must have been crushed.”

“We talked about it in between times, now that he’d raised the subject, and made sure that we knew how we felt about certain things. He was in no doubt that when he asked again I’d say yes. And he did put in considerably more effort the second time around.”

Fran sat back with a satisfied smile.

“Don’t leave us hanging Fran!” Anna was sitting up now, on the edge of the sofa, sending Pickles scuttling off for a more peaceful spot in which to sleep.

 “It was Christmas Eve and he took me out for lovely meal at the Balmoral. We were all dressed up and it felt very special. I wondered if he might ask again but we got to the end of the evening and he hadn’t. We got a taxi back to my parents’ house where I was staying and he walked me to the porch. He dropped to one knee, produced the ring from his pocket and asked me to do him the great honour of becoming his wife. The Christmas lights were glistening, the wreath was on the door, it was really perfect.”

“That’s gorgeous,” Anna beamed, her face glowing from the fire and the story.

“Well then he led me inside and showed me into the living room where our parents were waiting with champagne. He’d set the whole thing up and I couldn’t have been more delighted.”

“Aw Dad. What a legend.” Julia raised her glass to the ceiling, toasting her father in the room above.

“I wish I knew that part of my parents’ story,” Anna thought aloud. “I can’t imagine Dad talking to me about stuff like that. I feel like I’m missing a part of myself in not being able to ask Mum these kinds of things. I get little bits from Abigail and from you Fran, but it’s like trying to do a jigsaw puzzle without the picture and one person holding lots of the pieces behind his back.”

Julia moved across from the other end of the sofa to link arms with Anna and the two of them leaned together resting heads on shoulders, love and comfort moving unspoken between their bodies. Fran looked across at the two of them entwined on the sofa, seeing in the young women the same girls who had sat that way over many years and was thankful to have such a friendship under her roof.

“You got a little something from him recently, when you went for lunch. I know it wasn’t much but perhaps it was a start. And maybe when you go to the house at Elie you might find some old photos or letters that will tell you a little more and may even open up the conversation with your Dad.”

“Maybe,” Anna pondered. “Thanks Fran.”

“Always my pleasure. Now, time for bed I think.”

They gathered the plates and glasses on to the tray and as Fran and Julia took them through to the kitchen Anna paused on the stairs, looking back at them standing side by side as they carried out the most mundane of tasks in effortless coordination, the well-worn familial path of a thousand small everyday movements that together carved out a unique space that was only for these people in this place. One bends as the other stretches, a silent dance that is uninterrupted by a bump of elbows or a mistimed step. This ordinary ritual which to its participants feels like the least noteworthy part of the day raised in Anna’s heart a profound sense of loss and longing as even in this house where she felt most at home, there were still reminders that she was on the outside of something looking in.

Chapter 8

27th October 1831

What a tiresome week it has been! We have had many visitors to the house, friends of Papa’s who gather and speak in such disgusting ways about the slaves that it turns my stomach. I see now why Papa thinks of himself as being a reasonable man among such people. Not only do they see slaves as animals to work for them, devoid of feelings or needs, but some of the men (I will not call them gentlemen for there is nothing gentlemanly about their conduct) treat the female slaves with such thinly disguised lechery. This is a vile business in every aspect, of that there can be no doubt.

I have begun to read the newspapers with interest, once Papa is finished with them, and see for myself the task that Pastor Knibb and other missionary preachers have before them. This island is against them at every turn. They are spoken of with abhorrence, both in the press and around our dinner table, although Papa is careful not to be too harsh on Pastor Knibb, I believe as a small deference to Mama. However I have loitered downstairs once she has gone to bed and father has been left alone with his compatriots and then the pastor comes in for a fair lashing from his tongue. I believe the missionaries must truly be sent by God for this task, for how else could they bear to work in the face of such opposition? They are remarkable people. Mama and I are here because we have no choice and we do what we can in the midst of it, but they have chosen to leave all behind and sail into a storm. I do not know how long this wretched system will continue, or what I can do to fight against it, but my resolve is strengthened daily to lend what little weight I have to this cause.

Tonight we had the current Governor dining at our table, amongst a few others, and so Papa insisted we dress in our absolute finest and bring out the very best of everything. What a pompous affair it was! Once the dinner was cleared away my father made a toast, to King and country, and then each man around the table took their turn and it descended into a drunken roar. Anything that was genteel about the start of the night evaporated into a slur of wine-soaked nonsense, with their language and behaviour towards the slaves becoming increasingly ugly with each glass imbibed. And to think that they consider themselves to be a higher, more intelligent species and the Negroes to be savages! Any fool could observe the scene in our dining room this night and tell you the opposite was true.

I had the misfortune to be placed at the table next to Mr. Shaeffer who, I believe, spat more of his food than he swallowed as he insisted on shouting his remarks to the far end of the table, interjecting where his opinion was seldom wanted. On the occasional moments when he remembered I was sitting next to him, he spoke with such condescension referring to me as ‘the little lady’. At one point I do believe I could identify five different foodstuffs in his mouth as he addressed me, despite my leaning back as far as was possible without falling off my chair. I counted each and every long and arduous minute in his company, leaving the table the very moment it was polite to do so and making my escape upstairs to wait.

Thankfully they have now gone, leaving in a raucous chorus of farewells and racing back down the hill in their carriages to the city and the house has returned to relative quiet. I can already hear father’s snoring, which is always especially loud after so much wine, but allows me the knowledge that I am safe in leaving the house to go and find Jacob. It is a beautiful night, clear and starlit with a cool breeze and a chorus of unseen creatures. I shall gather up a parcel of leftovers to take to the reading tree and we shall have a feast all to ourselves.

2am

My heart races and my hand shakes to write! I must gather myself to capture all that has happened this last glorious hour.

Jacob was waiting for me in the tree and, hearing me approach, jumped down to greet me. As I walked towards him there was a look on his face I had not seen before, a joy in my coming that contained an extra portion of delight, and it made my heart skip as I stepped towards him. We did not speak immediately but he stood and beheld me, taking in my whole self. I felt a little self-conscious then, realising I was still in my finest dinner attire, and I began to explain what had been happening up at the house. He bid me hush and looked again, this time with a strange, questioning expression. In a moment he seemed to have his answer and stepped towards me. Standing above me and looking into my face he reached around to the back of my head to find the slides holding my hair up and released them, allowing it to tumble to my shoulders. Then he took a step back and looked afresh, gently touching the edge of my curls that fell on to my face.

“There yuh are,” he whispered. “Mi like di wild Molly betta.”

We stood holding each other’s gaze for what felt like hours but must have only been seconds, with a thousand unspoken words dancing between our eyes. Then he looked down and saw my basket and asked what I was carrying and we made our way into the reading nook to enjoy the peace of the night and the food. We leant against each other’s bodies as we did when we were children but this time I could barely catch my breath with how different it felt. Jacob produced a sharp stone from his pocket and carved our names onto the branch beside us.

“Dis here is our tree. Nuh yuh father’s or anyone else’s. It is ours, yours an mine. It belong to us. Mi jus made it so. Now we be here forever.”

When it came time to leave we stood apart once more and I became uncertain and unsure of what to say. How ridiculous in the presence of someone who has been my best friend all of these years! I looked at my hands, at my feet, at my dress and then finally back at Jacob, who was waiting and smiling at me. Slowly, his expression changed to something deeper and he tentatively reached his hand across and held my face in his palm. At his touch my world tilted and to this moment has not yet recovered. I do not think it will. Indeed I do not wish it to.

Jacob leant in as he released his hand and bade me goodnight, his breath kissing my cheek, before disappearing among the trees. I remained on that spot just watching the space where he had been and it was all I could do to stop myself singing and laughing with delight. I do not think I shall sleep this night but rather lie on my bed and smile at the moon.

23 Dec 1831

We had the company of several other plantation owners at our dinner table tonight. As it often does these days, talk inevitably turned to the scourge of the abolitionist movement, with each of the company seeming to take turns at calling down curses upon the heads of, in the words of my father, “those damned missionaries”. Mama’s look of reproach bid him curb his language for the remainder of the meal, but the same cannot be said for his friends. Henry Campbell of the Rutherglen Estate made mention of a rumour that the King was about to set the slaves free. It was immediately dismissed as nonsense by those around the table – but not before the notion had been firmly planted in the ears of those slaves in attendance. My eyes darted between my mother’s face and those of Beatrice and Flora who were clearing the table and pouring wine. I saw the fleeting exchange of wonder and hope that went between them and knew this information would be throughout the plantation by the close of night. A knot appeared in my stomach with the knowledge that this moment would have implications.

I paced in my room for what seems like hours, waiting for the dining party to leave and for the household to settle to bed. I was anxious to speak with Jacob and urge him against any drastic action he may have in mind. In recent months I have seen a growing agitation in him, as news comes from the western part of the island where there is a swell of discontent among the slave population and a great many more preachers in favour of abolition. He is like a tinder box just waiting for a spark and I fear greatly what he may do when that fire comes. I wished to urge him to caution and common sense. Slavery must end and it is my great desire that it would be soon, but if it is not done right then a great calamity may come to us all.

As soon as all was quiet and settled I made my way out of the house and ran across the lawn and through the trees as fast as I was able. Jacob stood waiting for me, his face aglow, and as I approached him he placed his hands on my shoulders, almost shaking me with excitement.

“Is true? Mi going to be a free man?”

I tried to speak quietly and calmly, telling him there were only rumours and nothing more, urging him to patience. But he would not stand still and his voice was full of urgency.

“Mi done wit patience! There is time fi action and it comin soon. Him nah be able to keep wi down fuh much longa – yuh father will ave tuh step aside an give us the freedom that is rightfully ours. Oh wat a day that will be! Mi can almost taste di sweetness of it, like there is someting different in the air tuh fill mi senses. I will be free, and then…”

At that point he stopped his constant movement and stood opposite me, putting his hand to my waist and gently pulling me close to him. He held me there for a long moment before his other hand reached up to caress my face and he looked into my eyes.

“…then yuh an I will be equal. I will come tuh yuh as a free man an ask yuh to be mine.”

He leaned towards me and gently brushed my lips with his, tentative and questioning in his manner, unsure how I would respond. My surprise lasted but a second as a swell of warmth filled my body and my mouth welcomed his kiss. We stood together, foreheads touching, bodies entwined, breathless and bold in our brave new world. The thrill of my heart was immediately laced with fear – fear of losing him through his own impulsive and impatient desire to be free, and the fear of what my father would do with him were we to be discovered. I held him close and urged him not to be foolish.

“Hush” he whispered, “all will be well”, and he kissed me once more.

“See there,” he pointed to the tree. “Our names carved as one, an no one can undo it. Keep faith now. We will be together.”

He had such conviction in his voice that I believed him fully in that moment, but as I lie here in bed once more my heart changes minute by minute between great swells of joy and crashing waves of anxiety. I believe there are dangerous days ahead.

27th December 1831

My heart is torn in two and my mind agonised with worry. The west of the island is ablaze. The slaves have revolted in the parish of St James, setting fire to the houses and plantations and all hell has broken loose. All additional men have been required for service in the militia. Father left yesterday and will now be in the midst of it.

Thomas has been given leave to act as brutally as need be to keep the rebellion from catching here. Whippings have increased tenfold and are now meted out for a mere sideways glance. But I also see a new determination on the faces of those at work, a look of grim, teeth-clenching strength to push through to the end, a sense of working towards something other than death. There is a dark undertone to the murmurings I overhear. I deeply wish this abhorrent practice to end, but for it to happen without further violence and bloodshed. I feel naïve to write that in the midst of such turmoil.

Last night I saw Jacob for a brief time. He was almost feverish with excitement.

“Mi ready. Mi ready to fight. Mi ready tuh lead. We not bow down nuh more. We will be free people. Mi will ave a new name, a name I choose, nuh a name given by a white man. Di Negro rising, do yuh see it? We cannot wait nuh more. Change comin, change is ere.”

All of this was said as he paced up and down before me, with words tumbling from his lips at a pace I could not keep up with. I felt afraid as I watched him, mindful of where these passions may lead.

When I slept, I dreamed once more of the river. I was in the water, the current pulling me back and forth as I struggled to stay my course. My limbs grew weary as voices called above me. I lifted up an arm for help as I saw Jacob and my Father come towards me, but instead of reaching for me they fell upon each other, tumbling into water as they beat one another furiously. Trying to call out, my head sank below the surface. I woke, gasping for air.

30th December 1831

The rebellion in St. James has been quashed and the ringleaders executed. Father is returned to us safe and well. My relief was almost immediately tempered by his triumphant posture. I had hoped this experience might be a sobering one for him, seeing the strength of feeling from among the slave population, but alas I am disappointed. He is more set in what he believes than before and there is a fresh hardness to his attitude and tone. There is a greater wedge between us than ever.

We have had word from Pastor Knibb, whose church was in the midst of the turmoil. It seems his life is also in danger, not from the rebels but from the planters in his parish. He is accused of inciting the slaves to action, when in fact he urged the very opposite, encouraging those in his congregation to defend their masters’ land and property from those who would bring destruction. However his reputation of being so outspoken against the current system has earned him many enemies and they have believed that which suits their own purposes. We wait for further news but in the meantime Mama has taken to pacing a great deal. She spends hours on the front porch walking back and forth along the length of the house, whispering prayers and looking to the heavens.

It feels as though there has been a mighty shaking throughout this island and we all wait to see how the landscape has shifted, that we might navigate our way ahead.

1st January 1832

I had not seen Jacob for several days, as a new regime of vigilance over the slaves on our plantation made it too dangerous for us to meet. However the turning of the year brought a great celebration, with much merriment for the household and our guests, and so while everyone had their backs turned and their minds distracted with too much wine, I took Jacob up the hill to my viewing spot and we lay on the ground amid the trees, looking to the stars and listening to the mingled sounds of merriment below and tree frogs above. I expected to find him disheartened after the events of recent days, but when I asked about it he looked somewhere beyond and said, “We nah finish.” His tone was determined, his voice steady.

“What did you mean before, about changing your name?” I asked.

There was a pause, long enough for me to wonder if he had heard me.

“Wah mek yuh call Molly? Who decide tuh give yuh di name?”

“I am named after my grandmother in Scotland, whom I have never met, but am led to believe there is quite a likeness.”

“An who decide tuh give mi di name Jacob? Nuh mi fada or mada. Mi nuh know dem.”

I felt foolish with my question. My privilege has blinded me to so much.

“Mi nuh know where mi come from,” he whispered.

We lay in silence for several minutes.

“But wen mi a free man,” he continued, his voice strong again, “mi wi choose a name fi myself.”

A gentle breeze swayed the branches, moving the leaves so they played a giant game of hide and seek with the moon above us. It brought a vivid, long forgotten memory rushing back to my mind, of playing such a game with my father when I was very little. He would enter a room and hide behind doors or furniture and when I came to look for him, as I always did, he would call to me softly and then emerge suddenly with a great smile on his face and arms raised aloft shouting “here I am!” and I would shriek with delight as he came to scoop me up and spin me round and round. Then I would say “More Papa, more” and he would move to the next room to begin the game again until we had made our way around the entire house.

Jacob rolled on to his side and asked me what was wrong. It was only then I realised I was crying. I tried to find words to give reason and explanation to my tears but where would I begin. My heart felt suddenly broken, recognising my family life as one that Jacob has never known, seeing the chasm between the man beside me and the one who first had my heart, knowing with certainty that I shall surely lose one of them. Jacob reached across and wiped away each tear with his hand before leaning down to kiss my cheek. I turned my face to him, rolled my body closer and allowed him to envelope me in his arms. Despite the danger I had never felt more at home. 

Chapter 7

As the train pulled out of Waverley Station, Anna cradled her coffee cup in an attempt to warm her hands. September had come in hard and cold sending everyone to their wardrobes and closets for jumpers and scarves much earlier than they had anticipated or hoped. Trees held their green leaves, determined not to give way to autumn just yet, providing the only colour on an otherwise bleak and dreary day. The journey to North Berwick would take just over half an hour and a short walk from the station would take her to Aunt Abigail’s house, her Mum’s older sister. She hadn’t been to see her for several months and a weekend away was just what the doctor ordered. It had been a long, slow week at work. The tourists had all gone home leaving the city quieter and the museum noticeably more empty. Anna still loved it, still got a thrill from working there, but some days that week had passed achingly slowly and she had begun to feel bored and restless. The promise of more activity around the half term holidays kept her going, as had the idea of coming to see her aunt. Now more than ever she needed to feel that connection to her Mum and she had questions which seemed to be becoming more urgent if she and her Dad were to forge any kind of normal or healthy adult relationship. Having lived out from home through her university days in order to have her own space and independence, the already existing gap between them had widened. Returning had been awkward and in many ways Anna hadn’t wanted to do it but it would take a while to save for a place of her own and so it was the sensible option. She was also starting to recognise that there was perhaps a moment of opportunity here. If she could figure out a way to connect to her dad then maybe they could fix the future, otherwise they may end up stuck with this distance between them indefinitely. However it was hard work and she was ready for a break. She was pinning a lot on this weekend, she knew that, but the fresh sea air, the familiar sights and smells of the harbour, and the comfort of being accepted for exactly who she was were exactly what she needed. Hector sat at her feet, resting his head on her lap and providing some additional warmth for which Anna was grateful. Stroking his head, her companion wagged his tail in appreciation.

“Yes, you know where we’re going don’t you? Auntie Abigail is going to spoil us both rotten, isn’t she? And I am ready for it.”

Abigail was a free spirit with more than a touch of the bohemian about her. She had never married, although there were many tales of love affairs and stolen kisses with inappropriate people, always told with joy and laughter and never a hint of regret. She had travelled all over the world and her small house was full of paintings and sculptures from her adventures. She had also been a teacher and an artist, adding a small studio to her house a number of years ago in order to fully indulge her passion. Well known locally for her work, several of the independent shops in the town sold her paintings. Anna always loved to visit her home as it was like entering a different kind of museum. Every room held a dozen things to look at and every piece had a tale to tell. There was always something new, something different either from her most recent trip or that she had found on one of her many antiquing expeditions with her friend Nigel. The two of them loved nothing more than to take off on a Saturday to a market or car boot sale seeking treasure, or at least something they felt had an interesting backstory. Anna had spent many a happy evening in their company as they told her of their latest finds and concocted elaborate adventures behind each one, falling into gales of laughter as they tried to out-do the other with their outlandish imaginings. But more than good company and great stories Anna needed answers. Her mind buzzed with questions of her Mum, her Dad, their marriage and what had held it together. She wondered about the wider family she came from and if her personal history would reveal anything exciting or noteworthy. As the train pulled into the station Anna gathered her belongings and led Hector onto the platform before tugging on her coat, holding it closed at the neck with one hand against the wind whistling in from the sea.

“Bracing isn’t it?” called a fellow traveller, their voice almost immediately stolen away by a huge gust as they raised a hood and dipped their head to barrel against the onslaught. Among all of the passengers alongside her only Hector looked delighted by the weather. He loved the wind, facing into it with closed eyes and a satisfied expression on his face.

Usually Anna enjoyed the short walk through the small town centre, taking a moment to look in various windows, popping into a couple of the establishments where she had gotten to know the owners because they stocked Abigail’s work, having a rummage in the charity shops, but today the brooding clouds spurred her onward towards the warm safe haven of Abigail’s cottage. She reached it just as the first large drops of rain started to fall, lending an urgency to her knock at the door. The cottage was right on the street leading down to the harbour, with no porch or shelter and in the time it took for the door to be answered the heavens opened and so the sight that greeted the hostess was of two rather sorry and slightly soggy-looking creatures, one hoping from side to side to keep warm, the other still wagging his tail as if nothing at all was the matter.

“Goodness look at you two! Come in, come in,” Abigail called before ushering them into the hallway. In a matter of moments they had pulled off damp outer garments and boots, unclipped leads and dropped bags at their heels before being led into the large kitchen diner at the back of the house. Anna stood in the familiar space letting the smell of freshly baked scones fill her nostrils as the sound of the rain thundered on the large skylight above, momentarily drowning out the ever-present Radio 4 gently murmuring in the background. Hector made himself immediately at home on the blanket beside the radiator, laid out just for him in his favourite spot with a bone-shaped biscuit as a treat. They would be spoiled indeed.

The kitchen was just like its owner, walking the line between stylish and eclectic. An old green Aga took pride of place on the back wall, deep terracotta tiles filled the space behind the countertops and an assortment of bright coloured bowls and plates peeked through glass-fronted units. An ancient dark wood dresser sat against the left hand wall of the dining space teeming with recipe books, photographs, trinkets and right in the centre of shelves, in pride of place, Granny’s best china, a set of delicate cups and saucers with a trim of duck egg blue and pale pink flowers complete with matching teapot and jug. Anna sat on one of the mismatched chairs around the large round table and drank in the scene she knew and loved so well. On the stove the kettle whistled and Abigail called for the tea set to be lifted onto the table ready for use. Anna no longer questioned this choice, after being told many times “We don’t save things for best around here. You are the best, today is the best, this moment is the best. What would you be saving it for? Live your life girl!” It seemed to sum up Abigail perfectly.

“Can I do anything to help?” Anna offered, knowing exactly the response she would get.

“No, no, all under control here,” as a tray laden with scones, jam and cream appeared, the pot filled with tea and the whirlwind of activity finally came to rest before her. Aunt Abigail was a riot of colour, her simple purple dress offset with a vibrant emerald green scarf complementing her long silver hair currently piled precariously on top of her head secured with a paintbrush.  Earrings in the shape of tiny teacups dangled either side of her smile. Pouring the tea, she offered Anna a scone (insisting she took two, as they were really very small) before sitting back and enjoying the fruit of her labour. The two women smiled together, relishing the companionship in this well-worn ritual between them. Tea and scones were Abigail’s answer to most of the ills in the world. She had often told Anna how she had shared a simple cup of tea with all manner of people around the globe and found it to be the best way to make friends. “No one ever goes to war over a cup of tea, it’s simply impossible,” she was fond of saying.

 “Well now my sweet girl,” Abigail began once they each had a mouthful of scone, “how are you? Tell me everything. How is the job? How is your father?”

“He sends his regards,” Anna began with a slight shrug, knowing that she didn’t have much more to offer on that topic, and aware that her dad and aunt had a strange relationship. If her parents had been a case of opposites attracting then she wondered why these two didn’t get on better, as you couldn’t find two more different people on the planet. She also in that moment recognised the mystery of the human heart, that one person could have two such characters in their life and love them both dearly, despite them being so different in almost every way possible.

“Well that’s lovely,” Abigail smiled, “do please return my best wishes.” And then with a raised eyebrow she enquired, “Does he know you’ve come to see your wild and reckless aunt?”

“He suggested it actually.”

Abigail feigned choking on her tea.

“Goodness me, what moment of weakness did you catch him in?”

“Well it’s funny you should ask,” Anna began, before telling her aunt all about the conversation in the Sheraton and the brush off she’d received when asking about their family tree.

“I just don’t understand him, I wish I did,” Anna continued. “There are moments of small connection but most of the time there’s a distance, a formality almost. Yet when I think of Mum I remember warmth and laughter and a tangible sense of love in our home, and Dad being a part of that too and it just isn’t there anymore. How on earth did they get together, let alone get married? Can you shed any light on that? She must have talked to you at the time.”

Abigail tilted her head to one side and looked at her niece with kindness and understanding, sharing some of the same confusion.

“I wasn’t here when they met,” she began.

“I was living in Turkey, and so I didn’t see them together, but she wrote to tell me all about him. This was in the days of handwritten letters, mind, none of your emailing back and forth. I used to love getting her letters. She wrote of a man who was charming and sweet and who had entirely swept her away with romantic gestures. She knew that they were different but they shared a love of Edinburgh, of the outdoors and a deep desire to have a family. I was in no doubt of her love for him. When I finally met him he was very quiet, standoffish almost, but polite. They were engaged by this stage and although he and I never made a great connection I could see how much he loved your mum and she him. I also knew that so much of a relationship happens in the intimate unseen places, that people can present one thing to the world and have an almost entirely different persona when they are alone with the one who has their heart. For some unfortunate people that secret is a dark one, but for many it is the place of their deepest joy. I believe that was the case with your mum, that there is more to your father than he presents to the world and she had found the key to unlock that part of him.”

Anna looked down at her cup, slowly swirling the dregs of her tea around the bottom, watching the thin pale line of liquid turning circles at her command. She took a deep breath and sighed.

“I don’t always remember exact details about her. I can’t always recall the sound of her voice. But her presence…” Anna raised her eyes to meet her aunt’s. “I miss that every day.” Abigail reached across the table and took hold of her hand. “I do too my darling, I do too.”

“I wish we’d all had longer with her, you especially. I was always fond of her growing up, but there was a six year age gap between us and so we weren’t really friends. We became more like that as adults, but by then we had our own lives in different places and so didn’t get to spend a huge amount of time together, but we spoke a lot on the phone. I’d give anything for one more call from her.”

Anna sighed and Hector took his cue, rousing from his slumber and plodding over to Anna to sit by her side. Setting down her cup, and with one hand clasped across the table and the other resting on her ever faithful companion, she allowed the grief to sit with her once more. It felt good to connect with someone who understood. A little later, after they’d shared a few tears, Anna stood in the kitchen looking across at Abigail and smiled.

“Thank you, I needed that. I can’t remember the last time I cried about her. Weirdly it feels good to have done it.”

“She was worth the tears,” Abigail replied softly.

“I wish I could talk like this with Dad. There’s obviously still pain there but he’s locked it away and won’t let it out. I guess that’s his choice, or just his way, but it makes trying to talk to him like trying to have a conversation with someone behind a closed door.”

“I know sweetheart. But your Mum managed to find a way to the core of who he was, enough to fall in love with him. That same man is in there somewhere, he’s just buried deep under the façade. He’s shown you a little of that already, however briefly. Stay patient and maybe more will come.”

“I suppose so. Doesn’t seem like I have much choice right now anyway.”

Abigail paused before rising to her feet.

“What we do have a choice in right now is how we spend this weekend. So how about we start by tidying away these cups and making the most of the break in the rain to head out and blow away these cobwebs? Then we can settle in for the night with some dinner and a film or something?”

“Sounds perfect. What do you say Hector? Time for a walk?”

The dog’s tail signalled his approval.

The following morning broke bright and clear so before breakfast, and what she knew would be a day involving a lot of food, Anna took herself out for a short run around the town finishing up at the harbour. She ran to the end of the pier and climbed up the stone steps to the top level, catching her breath as she looked back across the bay. Berwick Law rose up behind the neat row of houses along the beachfront, the rocky green pyramid gently lit by the early sun. A spire peaked its nose above the roofs at one end of the buildings and the clock tower of St. Andrew’s church bookended the scene in ecclesiastical symmetry. Turning to take a gentle stroll back along the pier over to the lookout point, the glorious Bass Rock came into view, gleaming white against the brilliant blue sky. A misty memory surfaced of standing here as a young girl, posing for a photo with ice cream in hand and her mother’s arm around her shoulder. Who was taking the picture? Dad? Abigail? She couldn’t remember, but she was glad of the image in her mind. 

That evening, after a lazy day of perusing a flea market and craft stalls in a nearby village, eating ice cream despite the cold chill in the air and generally grazing their way around the local area, they settled once more around the kitchen table but this time with Nigel for company. He arrived at the door unannounced but brandishing flowers and wine and entered the kitchen with an eccentric flourish.

“I heard tell that there may be a stranger in town and I came to see for myself, bringing flowers in case she was beautiful, which I see that indeed she is,” and he leant to kiss Anna’s hand with a smile and a wink.

“Thank you for the flowers Nigel, that’s really kind. I know I haven’t been down in a while, but I hope I haven’t become a stranger!” Anna countered, ready for the gentle teasing that existed between them, glad of the light-hearted mood and easy company they all enjoyed together.

Nigel was always impeccably dressed, regardless of the occasion. Debonair and charming without being stuffy, he exuded an old time, easy sophistication which gave him an air of mystery. He seemed to belong to a different era, one that was infinitely more interesting than the present.

“That’s enough you old smoothie,” called Abigail from the stove, throwing a corkscrew in his direction. “Here, make yourself useful.”

“Your servant Madam,” he bowed, to the smiling eye roll of his longest dearest friend.

Once the plates were cleared and the second bottle of wine had been opened, when the stories had been retold for the umpteenth time and the laughter had given way to a satisfied lull, Anna suddenly broke the silence with a start.

“Oh I almost forgot! The two of you have been such a distraction I nearly forgot the main reason I came. I wanted to ask about our family tree. I want to look into it and Dad said to start with you.”

“So you mean you didn’t come for scones or the company?” Abigail enquired playfully.

“I do think the company has improved significantly this evening,” Nigel added with a wink.

“Seriously you two!” scolded Anna with a smile. “No, I’ve been thinking about it for a while but was just too busy before, but now I really want to make a start. Do you know anything that might help?”

“I don’t know a lot I’m afraid. Obviously there were my parents and grandparents, and I can give you what little information I have about them to get you started. It was your Mum who was into all that. I think she did try and look into it all at some point, but how far she got I have no idea. I know that our step-dad, who you just knew as Grandpa Mac, was interested in his side of the family and spoke to your Mum a lot about it before he died so she might have checked out something of his family. She might not have wanted to look into the past of our birth father at that point, simply to honour the man who brought us up, but if you want to find out anything then his name was Chambers.”

“I wonder where she’d have kept the things she found. Dad doesn’t seem to know or care, so I might just have to start over again.”

“Well, you could try having a look in the house at Elie,” offered Abigail. “That was her special place, and I’m sure there are boxes of things there that your Dad has never been through. Maybe you’ll find something there.”

“I hadn’t thought of that. That’s a great idea, thanks. Maybe the next weekend I have free I’ll head up there and have a look.”

Hector stretched and shook himself out before interrupting their conversation with an expectant look.

“Yes I see you,” Anna called to him, “I know you need to go out.”

“Why don’t you take him while myself and the butler here tidy this kitchen.”

Anna stood in the hall pulling on her coat to the sound of gentle chatter and laughter seeping through from the kitchen. Opening the front door she glanced back to see to the old friends dancing together, their bodies swaying gently in the candlelight.

Chapter 6

25th March 1830

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your faithful servant and friend,

William Knibb

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

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

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

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

6th September 1830

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

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

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

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

“Turn!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yuh nuh even tried?” he asked quietly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He looked surprised and almost amused by the question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I think you feel the same.”

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

“I do.”

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

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

She reached across to take my hand.

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

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

Chapter 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m here to see my Dad.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well now, what shall we eat?”

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anna smiled ruefully and shook her head.

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

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

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

“What’s up?”

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

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

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

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

“Thanks Fran.”

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

Anna smiled in gratitude.

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

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

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

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

Chapter 4

18th August 1827

8 o’clock in the evening.

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

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

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

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

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

“Sir? Are you hurt?” I enquired.

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

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

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

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

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

His words stirred and disturbed me in equal measure.

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

He paused.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good, good. Let’s be away then.”

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

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

After midnight.

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

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

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

His eyes met mine once more.

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

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

“Jacob do you think I am a monster?”

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

“No. No mi nuh tink yuh a monster.”

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

Jacob looked to the ground and sighed.

“We friends…inna manna of speaking.”

“And what manner would that be?”

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

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

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

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

Chapter 3

2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh Anna I’m sorry.”

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

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

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

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