This page contains most of the content from the main 'story line' characters. It is designed to allow an easy way of keeping up with the story on slow connections (or for reading later). It is, of course, no substitute for the real thing!
Two So Far
In this episode:
Cuppa with Shirley
Damning and Not-So-Damning emails
Series Two So Far...
Stoney Grove owners Ann Simmons and Simon Tinsley split. Ann returns to the Caribbean and rents a house on Nevis from Doug Wood, an American ex-pat. She begins to explore the "other" Stoney Grove, a ruined eighteenth-century plantation house. She also spends several months transcribing an autobiographical account of the life of Stoney Grove's first lady, Fanny Rawlins Blake. Part is on Nevis; the rest is in a locked box in England that Emma discovers and opens. Simon makes an unexpected visit to deliver the manuscript to Ann. Under a moonlit Caribbean sky, he and Ann reconcile. Simon returns to Sussex; Ann remains on Nevis.
Back in England, Simon decides to channel his energies into making the house an important tourist destination. He's set up a series of regular meetings with the staff and other assorted residents of the property, and is working through a plan. The plan includes guided tours through the house and an agreement to let Segovia TV film an upcoming miniseries on the property.
Simon's longtime friend Phil leaves his wife Caroline to live the life of leisure with Simon. After several weeks of separation, he realizes that hes made a terrible mistake. Caroline takes him back, grudgingly. His former employers do not.
Emma Knytleigh, project historian, discovers that housekeeper Shirley Johnsons grandson John is the son of Jerry Anderson, a local antiques-dealer turned thief. She also learns that Frank Churchill, the resident hermit, is the illegitimate son of Ellen Hall. Shirley, infuriated with Emma's meddling in family business, discovers drugs in Emma's rooms and turns her over to the police. John admits that some of the drugs are his. The rest come from Ann, who sent them to England for analysis, suspecting that they are connected historically with the murder of Fannys husband. Emma leaves Stoney Grove as a result of the drug bust, preferring to live with Reverend Nigel Banks. Ann would like to come home, but must wait for her solicitor to have drug charges against her dismissed.
Martin Johnson reveals to Emma and Shirley that he's always known he couldn't be John's grandfather, and Shirley admits that Monty Hall was her lover before she married Martin. The two go off to do some soul searching about their marriage in the relative privacy of Lyme Regis.
Simon's involvement with the Puckering Gazette hits a low point as the Editor, learning of his imminent dismissal, publishes a final issue filled with accusations and innuendo. Simon is left picking up the pieces of his publishing empire and his relationship with Ann. He decides that fair maid was never won by faint heart, and heads towards the Caribbean once more.
Cuppa with Shirley (or Martin)
Quiet around here today. Been quietish all week, really, with Mr. Tinsley gone. Oh yes, hes off again, run down to the Caribbean with his tail between his legs trying to make light of his bumbling. The Gazette really raked the lot of em over the coals, and made him look worse than most. Now Im not saying I have a moments time to waste on him, hes made his own bed, as they say, but I dont think hes been trying to swindle Miss Ann. He does care for her, you know, in his own way. He sulked for months after she left, and only really perked up after his first trip down to see her. I wish him luck, I do. I know how it is to be on the outs with the Old Pot and Pan. Glad thats sorted.
I havent seen hide nor hair of John since we came home. I learned my lesson with him, I did. Ill not say a bad word if he runs off and marries that Emma. Ill even be her bleeding matron of honour if it makes the lad happy. Family is important you know. Thats what really matters.
Martin? He's out weeding the turnips. Has high hopes for that lot this fall. Silly fool.
John's futures a bit worrying, isn't it? I think he ought to press for his rightful inheritance, if you follow me. Now I know his granddad never acknowledged him properly, but you know, he did do his bit. Cant say what exactly he did, him not wanting it to be public knowledge and all, but Im thinking since he did "make provisions" so to speak, that must mean something legally if John was to pursue it. I think its only right that he should get at least part of the house. I mean, its in his blood. And its not like Frank wants it. Nice man, but hes always been a bit queer in the head. Must be the Blake blood. Monty was always more of a Hall.
Now whys that darn kettle not boiled yet? Sit tight and Ill be back Oh, never mind, there it is. Ill just pop out and fix it, shall I?
Simon's Tape[click] June 26th. This is Simon Tinsley, editor and roving reporter for the Puckering Gazette. I am following a story about one of the first ladies of Puckering, Fanny Blake, and her travels to the Caribbean. Recent evidence suggests Mrs. Blake fled to the West Indies after faking her death following the poisoning of her husband. Some questions remain however. What happened to her after she left? What of the daughter she abandoned? Did she feel any remorse for her actions? I will be travelling to the island of Nevis where I will be working (and hopefully a bit more than that!) with Ann Simmons, historian and recent documenter of Fanny's life. Simon Tinsley, giving you the story behind the story. [click] [click]. Or something like that, I'll get Twicks to fancy it up a bit. Anyway that should satisfy the Inland Revenue. Go see Ann, kiss and make up, all paid out of taxes. I am the man!
[click] Landing in Antigua which is unbelievably hot. I have a four hour wait until I get on the plane to Nevis.
[click] Five hours later. No sign of plane, it's bloody hot and I'm shattered. No information, no one to ask. Evidently the plane is delayed for no specified reason and I'm being rude to mention it. The only other passenger seems to be a West Indian lady of rather generous proportions. She is sitting next to what looks like a boxed refrigerator.
[click] The sun is going down ahead of me and we're skimming over a bright blue sea with a volcanic island rising up ahead. The plane looks like something I used to make as a model. Not in design, I was more into English Spitfires and German Junkers, but in actual size. There are three of us on board and it's full. We were delayed boarding as my fellow passenger argued over whether she could take the refrigerator as a carry-on. She finally checked it at the gate. I haven't told Ann I'm coming. I'll surprise her at her house for an evening meal, candles, drinks on the porch and maybe we'll wander over to the Bath Hotel. [click]
[click] Found the bar on the beach from my last trip. Very nice man, pay later, pay later. He was the pay later man. Theres no such thing as an English drink with fruit, but I had a cornucopia of tropical flavours this afternoon. I mean you have to experiment, don't you? Must go and see Ann again, but I think I got a bit of the sun as I feel a bit woozy. Rest for a minute, then I'll go. [click]
[click] Bugger, it's dark outside. Actually that's good since when I put on a light it hurt my eyes. Ill go see Ann tomorrow, let her cool off. They're playing Lady in Red on the tin drums outside, goodness knows what they're playing inside my head. [click]
Went driving today with Leeds, who took me around the island. He lived in England for a while but couldn't stand the climate. We talked about the cricket and the greatest batsman of modern times. He was all for Vivian Richard but my point was that Viv never had to face the West Indian bowlers. Graham Gooch however, was at his best facing the most awesome quartet of fast bowlers in test cricket history. We also had arguments with two donkeys, several goats and a bus, but they were more in the nature of vehicular disputes. People drive crazy here. [click]
[click] Reporting for the Puckering Gazette, Simon Tinsley. I can report that we found Fannys grave. It was a bloody great thing in Fig Tree Church. Ann had been scouring the graveyards, but I found it inside. Actually I was trying to cool off a bit! Strange grave really. There were some cherubs above her and she stood facing two blokes with a baby at her feet. Ann feels like it was symbolic. The inscription said "Let those who have cause against me judge me now". Whatever. Actually Ann and I had a great day, we work well together. This place is amazing. Ann was talking about the history and how important this island was in the past. Nelson got married here! I wonder if he has a Puckering connection? We saw a number of sugar mills, an Carib Indian site full of pottery, and two forts. We had a pleasant dinner and I got a brief kiss out of it. We agreed to meet for a day at the beach tomorrow. [click]
[click] June 30. Cultural observation, background colour for the newspaper story: I never really thought about it but Americans all wear shorts on the beach, not swimming trunks. Made me feel a little self-conscious in my speedos. Ann looked good though, she's got a great tan, looked very fit and healthy, I had to get back in the water. Anyway snorkeling was amazing. Striped fishes, spotted fishes, little fishes, ugly fishes. I did have to cut it a bit short when I saw a barracuda. I mean I know intellectually that fish have teeth, but it is pretty off-putting when you see them in the flesh. Bloody thing just appeared beneath me and grinned. I got out of the water pretty quick, I can tell you. Tomorrow were visiting the lady who gave Ann the Fanny manuscript, so it's back to work for the paper. It's really wonderful here, I told Ann I could stay here for ever. Still she had plans for the evening. So I'm on my lonesome for dinner and am now on the porch of the hotel fending of the attentions of a middle-aged American woman in a sarong. Evidently I'm "So British." Not sure whether to be offended or not! [click]
June 24, 2000
Amy told me today that shes decided to take Mande home to the States. She doesnt want to be part of a West Indian marriage. Shes tired of dealing with his family, who dont approve of her, and is afraid that if she stays, James will end up like most other men she knows with a mistress or two on the side. None of this augers well for a permanent relationship.
June 26, 2000
Simon is here, on Nevis. After all those emails he sent back and forward to his lawyers, he actually had the balls to show up on my doorstep tonight. Another few minutes with me and he wouldnt have left with them!
June 27, 2000
Doug just left me the final results of his enquiries. What an idiot I am. And what the hell was he thinking? I thought I'd been pretty clear when I said we should keep things on a friendly level several months back...
I need to find Simon. If he didnt catch the first plane out this morning, hes probably staying at the Four Seasons. I guess we ought to talk.
June 28, 2000
Amy and I spent most the day together. I told her again that she was welcome to stay with me as long as she wanted, but she's determined to leave. We went over to Doug's house and spent the morning on the web looking for airfares and trying to figure out how she could go home without too much hassle. We visited Sandra this afternoon, lounging around in her pool and playing with Mande.
I met Simon for dinner tonight at the VGFR, and brought Amy with me for moral support. I've spent much of the past two days thinking about that last set of emails. At least it was clear that Simon wasnt lying when he said hed broken things off with the lawyers.
It turns out that he hadnt contacted them since we saw each other in April, except to tell them not to proceed further. Even Amy believed him, which is amazing considering her present state of cynicism. We're going to meet up tomorrow morning and go exploring together.
June 29, 2000
Today was wonderful! Simon and I had a really nice day together.
Ive been trying to find Fannys grave, and had visited most of the graveyards here and on St. Kitts without much luck. Id gone to Fig Tree Church before, but there are a lot of old stones in pretty rough shape, so I thought it was worth another try. After a few hours trying to decipher the worst of them, Simon gave up and went inside to get out of the sun. There it was, inside the church! A huge marble monument. It must have cost someone a fortune. The inscription was simple:
Fanny Rawlins Blake
November 14, 1763-August 6, 1814
"Let those who have cause against me judge me now"
The monument shows a veiled woman facing the busts of two men, with an infant at her feet. Above her head are two cherubs, one male and one female. These must represent Mary and Ned, her children, while the reclining infant is the baby she lost (aborted?) when she poisoned William. He could be one of the men in judgement, but who is the other?
After we photographed the monument, we got some lunch and then I took Simon on a tour of my favorite places. We went to the Eden Brown estate, New River and Coconut Walk, then walked along the beach at Indian Castle. On the way back we drove up to Saddle Hill, then looked through the fence at Fort Charles. Id like to take him hiking up Nevis Peak and over to see Brimstone Hill on St. Kitts.
After last night's discussion we left things on the surface, and today just enjoyed being together and seeing Nevis. I met him later at the hotel for dinner and we sat by the sea and looked out at the stars. It was quite romantic. I left him with a kiss and a promise to meet him on the beach tomorrow. We're going snorkeling.
I feel a bit guilty about abandoning Amy, but she's caught up with her own plans, and doesn't seem to mind.
June 30, 2000
Simon is willing to give it all up. For me! We were lying on the beach today talking, and I told him I wasn't sure how I felt about going back to England. The drug case against me has been dismissed, so I'm free to go. I'm just not sure I want to. He pressed me for a commitment to come back with him, and I told him I liked Nevis. That wasn't the most honest reply, since I think my hesitancy was still wrapped up in insecurity about how he felt about me--about us--but it was a convenient answer. He thought a minute. Then he looked at me and said it didn't matter to him, if I wanted to stay on Nevis he'd come and live with me here. He was absolutely serious. I kissed him and ended the conversation.
I haven't been able to think about anything else since. He must love me if he'd come here to stay. No Jackie, no house, no English relatives or friends. I feel like I'm sixteen again.
I've got to get myself together here--Amy and I are going out tonight.
Damning and Not-So-Damning emails
Date: Friday, March 3, 2000 12:36 AM
Just found your old email. Is this still an option? What would I have to do?
|>>||Greetings from the firm of McBeal, Cage and Thomas.|
|>>||Everything's fine on the lottery thing, but I was thinking.|
|>>||How are things with you? In love? In Debt? Eyes wandering?|
|>>||If all's well, great. But if you need help getting out from under an|
|>>||emasculating partner we're here for you.|
|>>||Really. Just don't move out. The agreement you have is probably full|
|>>||of holes. I'm sure we can get you the house.|
|>>||Just a thought. Let me know.|
Date: Saturday, March 11, 2000 12:02 PM
Glad youre back in touch.
Whats important right now is the house. Dont let Ann move back. Its probably best if the house value falls, can you do that? If we contest the lottery win, we have to say that it would be an unacceptable solution that you should have to sell your home. You may have to give up some money but hey, you'll have to pay us too.
Remember faint heart never screwed fair lady.
Leave the moral posturing to us this is the time to think about you.
Were with you.
Cage, McBeal and Thomas
Date: Saturday, May 20, 2000 10:47 AM
What's going on? Lawyer talk in the bar, sex, drink, money, usual stuff when Stoney Grove came up. The guy wouldn't say who he was representing but was asking about wills and the rights of illigetimate sons and grandsons. Further flies in the ointment?
Anyway how's the Ann thing going? Decided to sue her sorry ass yet? Did you get any good info on the buying of the ticket out of her? That could be really useful but we need to know how to spin it.
Keep in touch
(By the way McBeal left, he's got a conscience and went public prosecutor, public enemy number one!)
Date: Tuesday, June 27, 2000 9:45 AM
Thanks for the latest delivery, it's here and we're happy. Sorry for the delay getting back to youbusiness presses on. The Tinsley thing is dead. He showed a lot of interest at first, but phoned near the end of May and said to drop it. Maybe too many other complicationsheirs popping out of the woodwork out of there, apparently. Thomas took the call, he may know more. I'll forward this to him.
Date: Tuesday, June 27, 2000 8:25 AM
You said you had more on the Tinsley matter. Things are moving here. If you've got it, now's the time to tell. I've got a friend who needs to know for sure. If he has moved forward, this may be my lucky day.
PS The delivery was on the last plane out of here on Friday afternoon. Have you got it?
Date: Tuesday, June 27, 2000 10:04 AM
Phil passed along the message that you needed more scoop on Tinsley. Bad news for youthe guys in love. Said he couldnt do it or something like that. Sucker. My guess is shes probably screwing him. You might know best, eh?
Keep it coming
For Mary Blake, from her mother, Fanny Rawlins Blake, who swears an oath to God that the following account is true and complete.
FRB, November 1804, written on the merchantman Marguerite.
An Account of my Birth and Childhood
My father, Edmund Rawlins, was born at Stoney Grove, on the island of Nevis, but considering himself an Englishman, he returned to that country upon his majority to find an English wife. This he did in the year 1757. The pair lived in the county of Essex, in the village of Thaxted, at Hundley Hall, the home of my fathers progenitors. I have not seen the house, being unwelcome there, but I recall my fathers descriptions of it, and am glad that I was fortunate enough to have been his daughter at Stoney Grove instead.
After he had been married some years, he grew impatient to return to the Caribbees. His wife refused the trip, and so he went out alone, spending the years 1762 and 1765 on Nevis, and returning to live out his days there after his wifes death in 1770. His three English sons he surrendered to the care of his brother, my uncle, fearing that life in the Indies would not prove agreeable to ones so young.
I was born on the 14th of November, 1763, at Barrowss Estate, on the windward side of Nevis. My mother named me for her mother, Fanny, who was brought to the island from Africa as a young woman. Though my grandmother remained a slave to the end of her days, her owner, my grandfather, freed my mother when she reached adulthood.
She went to work for Benjamin Barrows as a maidservant at his mansion, and it was there that my father met and bedded her. I never knew my mother well, for she died at the birth of my brother, Ned, when I was but an infant of three years. Mr. Barrows, though a great friend of the sire, was no friend of the progeny, and said he would be rid of us before my mothers body was cold in the grave. And so we were taken to live at Stoney Grove, the estate of my father, a short distance from Charlestown.
By the time that I was born, Stoney Grove was already an old estate, having stood in the shadow of Nevis Peak for nearly 50 years. The first house, like most built by men of the 17th century, was of wood, and stood only a storey and a half high. In 1710, my grandfather Rawlins replaced this rude structure with one constructed of rubble walls faced with hewn stone, and roofed with slate brought from England by ship. The thick walls kept it cool within, whilst the windows above and below admitted a steady breeze at all but the stillest season of the year.
He furnished the house with polished mahogany tables, gilt looking glasses and leather campeachy chairs, and although it was neither fashionable nor well appointed, I still recall it as tasteful and elegant in its simplicity. It slumbered beneath the shade of an ancient silk tree, on a small hill surrounded by pleasant grounds filled with fragrant bushes and fruit trees.
A short distance from the house sat a number of buildings: kitchen, laundry, stables and further still, the mill and sugarworks where the cane was broken and boiled and the sugar formed in great earthen jars. These I was forbidden to visit during the harvest, for many slaves lost their limbs, and indeed their lives, to the great grinding wheels that crushed the cane, or to the scalding cauldrons of boiling juice from which the sweet sugar was derived.As a child I was often alone, for my mother was dead and my father gone to England. At his insistence, I lived in the great house with Miss Craighill, an antique lady who had been nurse to him, and Sawney, my infant brothers wetnurse. Three other women shared the habitation with us, Juba the cook, and Maria and Latitia, the washerwoman and maid. Like my grandmother, Sawney was an African, Guinea born, with country marks on her face and arms. In the heat of the afternoon, when Miss Craighill lay abed and my brother slumbered too, we often sat beside the cool stucco walls of the cistern and she told me tales of Annancy, the spider, and of jumbies, and of crossroads on moonlit nights. Each morning, Sawney took us bathing in the warm sea near Pinney's Estate, and under her tutelage, I quickly learned to swim. Indeed, so pleasant was the water and so gentle the current that Ned joined the play of the fishes long before his skills on land surpassed those of the crab. Following our bath, we would dry ourselves on the warm sand of the beach, and then make our way home, rambling along the roadside in search of a mango or papaya to ease our hunger until the noonday meal.
These morning walks proved among the most valuable lessons of my childhood, for Sawney taught us about the world around us. She cautioned us to avoid the manchineel tree, whose fruits were poisoned and whose very shade was fraught with danger for, if wetted by a passing shower, the leaves dripped a caustic solution that blistered and burned the skin. She showed us the aloe plant that God had made to defeat the malice of the manchineel, and taught us to spread its gel on our faces and limbs if we had lingered too long in the sun. We learned how to cut cane and suck the sweet juices from it, how to break open a ripe coconut and scoop out its crunchy core, and how to avoid the centipede and the great spider that scurried through the wilderness.
Like all young girls, I was attracted to the beauty of the flowers that surrounded our house and grew wild along the roadside. Sawney taught me that these plants were put on earth not only to share their beauty, but to cure a variety of ills. We would gather leaves and flowers in great bunches, and she would carry them to the quarters to share this pharmacopoeia with mothers of ailing infants or adults crippled with years of hard labour. I learned to respect the mysteries of the earth, for like the aloe and the manchineel, she provided many things that a person adept in her lore could use to cure or to kill.
On Sundays, my grandmother came to visit me on her way home from the market in Charlestown. She kept grounds in the hills above Watkinss Estate, and sold bananas and tamarinds, mangoes and shaddocks, cassava and yams in town. From time to time she would take me to visit the grave of my mother, and we would carry small presents to leave for her there. One day I asked her if she were to be buried beside her daughter.
"When my breath leaves me, daughter, I will fly across the sea to be with my people," she replied.
"Is that where my mother is now?" I asked.
Her face filled with sadness and she told me nay, my mother was Nevis born, and had the blood of an Englishman in her. "Just as I bear my country marks, you and your mother bear yours," she sighed. It was not until years later that I understood what she meant, for my skin was smooth and no one had yet scarred me.Fanny Blake Manuscript, Part 2 When I was a girl of seven, my father came to stay at Stoney Grove. Though I did not remember him, for I had been an infant when last he had seen me, I heard of his coming, and solemnly prepared to meet him. The overseer, Mr. Grindle, took me and Ned to the harbour to greet his ship, and we rode back home together in a wagon piled high with goods from England.
Upon surveying us, he cautioned Ned that he must work hard in life so that he should not be a source of disgrace to his brothers, and then laughing, lifted him into the air and perched him on his shoulder. He told me that I was to grow up to be an English lady, and that I must learn to read and write, to dance and play the harpsichord. I told him I could read and write, and penned my name for him. With this he was well pleased.
He engaged a tutor for Ned and me, a young Glaswegian lady from Wilkertons estate by the name of Stewart. She instructed us for many years, and I came to master French, Latin and Greek, history, literature, mathematics and the domestic arts. When I grew older, the dance master, Mr. Pierson, visited weekly, and taught Ned and I the steps fashionable in London.
At my fathers return, we were introduced to the Anglican faith. I had not known the English God before, as Miss Craighill was an indifferent church-goer, and Sawney and my grandmother kept their own ways. Each Sunday Ned and I would ride with my father to Fig Tree Church and pass the day within its walls. The first time we entered the church, I was afraid, as I had never witnessed such a congregation of pale countenances. It seemed as though all the jumbies on the island had gathered together, but as I looked more closely, I recognized Mr. Watkins, Mr. Barrows, and some other acquaintances of my fathers who had come to call at Stoney Grove. They greeted me courteously, and I soon grew accustomed to this new society.
My father wished us to be instructed in the ways of the church, and added theology to our school-room regimen. As a child I did not understand how the English God could promise everlasting life, and take my mother, or preach goodness to our fellow man, and countenance the cruelty of the sugar works on Nevis.
Sundays being Church days precluded the accustomed visits of my grandmother, who, like others of her station, spent the day on the streets of Charlestown with her countrymen. As it was customary for slaves to conclude their labour each week at Saturday noon, she asked my father if she might be permitted to visit Ned and me on Saturday evenings. He agreed, and ever after we passed the appointed time in each others company.
At my father's return, the solitude of my childhood lessened, and I began to take the first of many small steps into society. In earnest he set about reviving the acquaintances of his youth, adding to them the business associates he had contracted during his years in trade, so that most evenings our little circle welcomed a new member. After a brief courtesy I withdrew to my small chair in the corner of the veranda, and sat exploring the unknown territory of some new face as he engaged the visitor in lively conversation and shared a glass or two of rum.
For the most part, these evenings were masculine affairs, for, in lacking a wife, and the inclination to procure a new one, my father lacked that which society required of him to draw the company of ladies to our estate. He and his guests never tired of remarking on the latest price of sugar, the growing unrest between the colonies and Britain, and the state of the island's defenses.
On the occasions when our visitors had lately arrived from England, I was welcomed into their circle, for my father admonished that I would soon enough be a lady living in that country, and I must become familiar with its customs and fashions.
One evening, when I was a girl of ten, I asked him if I should live at Hundley Hall with my English brothers. "I think not," he answered. "Will I live with Ned in England?" I pressed, to which I received the same response. I urged him to tell me how I should be a lady if I had no home, but he would not, or could not, give me an answer. My tutor chanced to overhear the conversation, and later that night told me to pay no heed to my father's words. "I'm afraid you'll never be a lady, whether 'tis here or in England," she sighed. As she had not only contradicted my father, but urged that I should be disloyal to him, I resolved that I would prove her wrong.
Fanny Blake Manuscript, Part 3
During the summer of my eighth year, Nevis was visited by a series of dreadful storms. I had already learned to associate such events with death, as the only other hurricane in my brief existence had closely followed the loss of my mother. The word conjured up dim memories of screaming wind, of darkness, and of the infant-howls of Ned.
The storms of 1772, I can recall, even now, with crystal clarity. The first was presaged by a clear, bright, cloudless day. Waves, ever increasing in size, began to beat against the beach, and sailors reported seeing schools of fish darting just beneath the surface of the sea. The wind that began as a gentle breeze grew to a steady gust. By nightfall it had begun to carry the shingles off of rooftops and palm fronds across the yard. As darkness fell, the rain set in, pattering, then drumming, then beating down in great stinging sheets that blinded and choked us when we ventured outside to rescue a toy, forgotten in the stillness of the afternoon. Soon the wind began to shriek like the wails of the undead, and the air was filled with sounds like gunshots as tree limbs broke beneath the strain.
Though our house had weathered eleven such onslaughts since its cornerstone was laid, we feared for our lives, and took refuge in the wine cellar, with Miss Craighill, Mr. Grindle and his wife and children, Sawney and the remainder of the domestic staff. My fathers slaves were left to seek refuge from the storm in the windmill tower, the boiling house, the distillery or the ruins of the lime kiln. A few lingered in their quarters, rude huts made of woven sticks and palm thatch. Not one of these withstood the elements, and when the morning light dawned, the wretched inhabitants were left homeless, exhausted, and without a shred of dry clothing or a morsel of food. All had been consumed by the wind.
We had barely begun to address the wrongs that this storm had inflicted when, just three days later, a second hurricane, nearly as fierce as the first, vented its fury upon us. No lives were lost at Stoney Grove, but the roof was ripped from its mooring, the garden was flattened, and the misery of the slaves was, at last, shared by us all. Indeed, such misery engulfed the island, for scarcely a house was left standing, nor a ship left afloat in the harbour. Those that had not run aground, pushed relentlessly against the shore by the pounding waves and violent wind, sank at their moorings under the sheer volume of water amassed from the rain.
When later that season a third storm struck, we despaired. Our rude repairs could not hold the wind, the sea, and the sky at bay. Mercifully, the last storm did not equal the strength of her sisters, and we survived once more.
In the wake of the second storm, the antique custom of fasting on Sundays was reintroduced. As there was little food in its aftermath, the Sunday fast extended, without the sanction of the Church, to the rest of the week as well. The livestock had all perished in the hurricane, and though hundreds of fish lay washed up on the shore, the hot sun of late summer quickly rotted their flesh, and the stench could be smelled for miles. Our fruits littered the ground, battered and smashed, and the cane lay flattened in a dense mat across the fields. We lived on sailors fare: salt cod, biscuits, Madiera and rum, sharing with our neighbors when their stores ran out. During this time, my grandmother ceased to visit, needing the time to forage for food and begin to rebuild her home and replant her garden. Finally, by early November, the season ended, and ships began to return to the harbour, laden with supplies.
We were to experience three more hurricanes that decade, each bringing their share of misery to the island. The first two, in 1775 and 1776, left minimal damage to our estate in their wake. By then I had begun to leave the irrational fears of childhood behind, and was able to provide some solace to my brother and to Mr. Grindle's children who gathered around us as we took shelter in the cellar. In the aftermath of each, I helped my father to organize the clean-up and repair of the estate and the distribution of new provisions to the labourers who had lost their homes. In this way, and many others under less trying circumstances, I began to exercise the skills of domestic management requisite in a West Indian housewife.
Though far graver in its impact, the last great storm of the decade was providential, for in coming as it did on the 4th of September, 1779, it freed us from the grip of the French. Great Britain, our protector, being at war with the rebellious colonies to our north, had removed her fleet to northern waters, leaving Nevis and her neighbors vulnerable to attack from enemy nations. Seizing this opportunity, the French, under the leadership of Admiral Count d'Estaing, gathered a fleet of warships and laid seige. The hurricane broke the blockade, smashing her ships and sinking them without a trace. While we suffered greatly in the wake of the storm, our suffering was eased by our knowledge that our enemies had suffered more.
In that year I was a young woman, two months shy of my sixteenth
birthday. My childhood had ended, and the storm clouds of adulthood gathered around me.
Fanny Blake Manuscript, Part 4
As I reached womanhood, I became aware that Stoney Grove was at once a haven and a prison for me. Ned, always my charge, began to gain an enviable independence. Whilst my father insisted upon my diligent study and my seclusion from society, he gradually freed Ned from the classroom and set him to work as an apprentice to Mr. Iverson, a business associate who operated warehouses at St. George's Bay and in Charlestown.
My world continued to be populated by the same companions of my childhood; my father, my grandmother, Sawney, Miss Craighill, Miss Stewart and the others that operated the household and laboured on the estate. Whilst I met young women and their families at church, I was never invited to join them for tea or for outings organized by social-minded matrons endeavoring to promote the interests of their daughters. The sons of these same matrons often tried to engage me in conversation in the churchyard after services, or during chance meetings in the market, but my father forbade me to speak more to them than was considered civil, and their mothers ushered them hastily away if they evinced the slightest enthusiasm for my acquaintance.
My father conveyed every reluctance to engage in conversation upon the topic of my introduction to society, and so I turned to Miss Stewart to solve this puzzle. In spite of the efforts that he had made to shelter me from knowledge of the world, my father had not kept me in complete ignorance of Nevisian society, nor my part within it. Having grown up in so masculine a household, for example, I had not failed to learn that there were women within the community, who, like my mother, entertained male companions, and sometimes bore them children. These children, I knew, were of lesser standing than those born to the wives of married men, and were customarily unrecognized as their offspring. In this respect Ned and I were fortunate. My father, who took great pride in us, had given us his name and promised us a portion of his fortune upon his death. I was also no stranger to the term bastard, as on several occasions Mr. Grindle's children had addressed Ned and me by this pejorative. I did not, however, foresee the social consequences of such an identity in a society as conscious of wealth, rank, and birth as that of Nevis.
In clear terms, Miss Stewart laid out my future for me. I was a quadroon, she explained, one-quarter African. Neither my father's wealth and standing in society, nor my own beauty and accomplishments, could eradicate this essential taint in my blood. It was impossible that any Englishman, familiar with my circumstances, would marry me and elevate me to the station of lady. Indeed, no young men of respectable Nevisian families would woo me for a wife. By heritage, I was suited only to the role of mistress. Most of my kind, she stated, were kept by wealthy, dissolute planters who tired of their plain wives and noisy children. A few fortunate young women, of which she hoped I would be one, lived pure, solitary lives in the protection of fathers, brothers or uncles.
I related this conversation to my father, and to Ned, who grew angry and swore he would find me a reputable husband. My father was likewise angered by Miss Stewart's appraisal of my situation but had no ready answer in my defense. He had written to his sons in England, he admitted, apprising them of my existence and urging their assistance in the procurement of an eligible spouse. The shock of the discovery had proved beyond them, however, and he had not yet received an answer, though the query had been put forward nearly a year earlier. Had his health permitted, he would have sailed for England that very day and done the deed himself, but he had been afflicted by the gout in recent years and was not well enough to travel.
My father's health worsened, and within six months of this conversation, an attack of the bilious fever carried him off. We buried him in the churchyard at St. John's. The fever spread throughout estate, and three weeks hence, we returned to the churchyard, this time bearing the coffin of my beloved brother Ned. He was just fourteen years old.
I was truly alone in the world, with neither father nor brother to protect me. My father's solicitor advised me that I was in the possession of a small fortune, but that the estate itself had passed to my brother George in England. As I had not yet reached my majority, my future disposition was in his hands.
George Rawlins arrived on Nevis in November of 1780, a few days before my seventeenth birthday, impatient to settle the estate and return to Essex. He considered both the house and myself as great impositions thrust upon him by an unfeeling father. The facts of my parentage were repugnant to him, and he could not bring himself to utter a civil word in my company. I was a living stain on the good name of his family, a burden that must be shed as expeditiously as possible. Ironically, to be rid of me he entered into a bargain that was to result in my father's great ambition; he procured for me an English gentleman as husband, and, in so doing, made me an English lady.
Here then, was the bargain. A certain acquaintance, Mr. William Blake, had failed in a business transaction with George and his partners, and was indebted to them for a not inconsiderable sum. Upon learning of the death of his father, on the heels of the odious intelligence that he had in existence a negro sibling (for in this my father had not been honest, and did not burden his sons with Ned's history), my brother contacted the aforementioned Blake with the following proposal. If Blake were to agree to marry me, and to never introduce me to any of Rawlins's social circle, George would forgive his debt. This concession, in addition to my inheritance, could not be dismissed, and Blake readily agreed to the bargain. Whilst suspicious that his bride came to him tainted by some scandal, he was willing to accept the risk on the aforementioned terms. I was later to learn that my brother had not revealed the details of my parentage, but the telling of this part of the story must await its proper opportunity.
Upon leaving Nevis, I was allowed to remove a trunk of clothes, a few books, and the jewelry that my father had presented to me on my sixteenth birthday. From the time of my brother's arrival at the estate I was forbidden all connection with my grandmother, and so I quitted the place without the opportunity to bid her farewell, or the hope of ever seeing her again. I was also forbidden a final visit to Ned's grave, or that of my father. For these cruel acts, and others that followed, I have never forgiven my brother.Fanny Blake Manuscript, Part 5
On My Married Life
George Rawlins and I arrived in London in March of 1781, and I became the bride of William Blake that same month. My new husband was a man of fifty three years when I met him, of pale complexion and humourless countenance. Born of the merchant class and educated to take his part within it, he commanded neither the inclination nor the talent to explore the world beyond the bounds of accountancy and trade. He could decipher a ledger, and had he been a man of lesser fortune, that would have been enough. However, his betrothal to me had been followed by an unexpected upturn in other business ventures, and I found him to be in a state of greater wealth than I, my brother, or indeed he himself, had anticipated. An ambitious man, he quickly saw the advantages of his new situation, for not only had he acquired a wife on good financial terms, he had acquired one in possession of education and taste. With these attributes in his control, he was assured of a promising future in English society.
Having misjudged the nature of the scandal that compelled my brother to bargain me away, he took me to his marriage bed without a trace of the gentlemanly behaviour desired on such occasions. I thought him a brute, and did all in my power to evade his advances. This impression I held firmly until the day of his death, despite his attempts to see me comfortably situated.
In anticipation of finding a suitable partner for life, he had commissioned the building of an estate in the Sussex countryside near the South Downs. His nature tending to the conservative, and his tastes tending toward the antiquated, he favoured a style in house and landscape already a generation or two out of fashion. The construction of the great house began before he settled on a wife, but the resolution of that problem, and the fortune that followed the decision, greatly expedited the completion of the building, and we were ready to take up residency there at the turn of the New Year, 1782. To celebrate his good fortune, he named the estate Stoney Grove, and, in an effort to please me, furnished a suite of rooms within it in a style reminiscent of the West Indies. To the grounds he added a hothouse, and promised me my fill of fragrant blossoms and exotic fruits. I rebuffed the proffered olive branch with bitterness, for how could this unhappy place compare with the home I had know with my dear brother and father? The Downs were but poor reminders to me of the grandeur of Nevis Peak, the grounds sparsely furnished and dead, the sun a pale, washed out sister to the brilliant orb that had been the constant companion of my youth.
With the house itself, you are familiar. Though the skill of the architect and the fortune of my husband were united to secure tasteful appointments, the cavernous twilight of its interior afforded me little comfort. The rooms were draughty; the sun, when she showed her face, hidden behind leaden draperies. I kept to my rooms as often as possible, finding warmth by the fireside, and solace in books and in memories.
You were born in February of 1782, just short of a year after I wed Mr. Blake. I could not name you for my mother, Aminta, nor my friend, Sawney, so I settled on Mary in honor of my tutor, Miss Stewart. Your father was disappointed that you were not a son, and had little interest in your progress. In spite of the unwelcoming climate to which you were born, you thrived as an infant, and were a great source of happiness to me.
Fanny Blake Manuscript, Part 6
The Birth of Ned and Its Consequences
To my relief, Mr. Blake was often away from the estate, conducting business in London, and I gradually took up an acquaintance with Mr. William Heath, the architect who had designed the house and was completing work on the pleasure grounds. Though he shared the same given name as my husband, in this alone they were allied. Here was a man of broad knowledge, great generosity of spirit and delicate sentiment. There was about him a sense of sadness that I shared. He was a man who felt deeply. We began our acquaintance talking about the placement of shrubberies and the lay of the walks about the lake, but gradually began to converse more widely on botany, history, English literature and music. It was not long before the lasting bonds of friendship united us.
Being desirous of securing the goodwill of the neighborhood, Mr. Blake hosted a series of dinners at Stoney Grove during our first season of residence. Whilst adept at seeing to the comforts of the bachelor guests that my father had entertained during my youth, I was uncomfortable in the society of ladies, for I associated with them all of the ill will and contempt that I had experienced from their sisters and aunts on Nevis. However, not wishing to gratify their expectations of inexperience and provincialism, I observed their habits keenly, and learned to emulate them. Soon our household was deemed acceptable, and I was welcomed into the company of the Puckering worthies.
During your infancy, Mr. Blake began to entertain misconceptions about the nature of the relationship that had sprung up between Mr. Heath and myself. A chance comment by one of the household servants aroused his jealousy, and he banished Mr. Heath from the property. I was subjected to a steady stream of accusations, and as the time drew closer for me to deliver his second child, he threatened dire consequences if it should prove to resemble the darkly handsome features of Heath rather than his own common visage.
The child, when he came, resembled neither my friend nor my husband. Instead, through some mysterious power that sought to recall my early ancestry, the babe had the beautifully brown skin and eyes of my grandmother. Prior to his birth, I had settled on the name of Ned should I bear a son. I thought it the best tribute to my dear brother I could give when I first looked at the child's innocent new face. Yet whilst I greeted the tiny newcomer with great joy, I also knew great fear. I was ignorant of my husband's familiarity with my own history, and I had taken no pains to enlighten him about it. About his displeasure, there could be no doubt, and I dreaded his return to Stoney Grove.
Mr. Blake was away from home for a fortnight after the birth of the child, and as each day passed, the dread of the inevitable meeting grew within me. My fears were not extravagant, for when the father saw the son, he flew into a great rage, and swore to kill me and the babe. I was subjected to a thousand curses, and he paced the room furiously, racking his brain to arrive at a satisfactory solution to the paternity of the child. As no persons of colour lived in the neighborhood, he could not comprehend how I had betrayed the marriage vows. I pleaded with him, promising to solve the mystery if he would spare the child. To this he eventually agreed, his curiosity overcoming even his abhorrence of the infant or myself, and I explained to him the circumstances of my birth.
To this intelligence he could find no quick response, could place no blame, for he had never enquired about my family connections before, and I had never lied to him. The child, clearly, was his own, though how he would bear the shame of it was not to be seen. He departed my company, and went to brood in solitude, whilst I fell into exhausted sleep.
When I awoke and called for the nurse to bring me the child, she did not come. I rang for the maid, and receiving no answer, set out in search of some aid. In this I failed, however, for the door was securely locked, and I was a prisoner in my husband's house.
How many days passed in that state, I do not know. Periodically the nurse brought me food or drink, but I could not eat, thinking of my poor baby starved for want of his mother's milk. When it became clear that my health was endangered, the nurse sent word to my husband. "The child is dead," he declared, without preamble. "Don't be a fool, Fanny. You must eat. You've still got one child to look after, and she needs her mother." He paused, and then roughly added, "And you need not fear for your own life. I shall not die without an heir." And with these words, he quitted my company.
I did not see him again for many weeks, for following his callous declaration, he left the estate altogether. I cared not where he had gone, nor for how long. I cared little for anything. I sat in my rooms, nursing my hatred for him and for life in this foreign place. Carefully I reviewed my history, examined my actions, held myself accountable for the death of my son. What had I done wrong? How could I have saved him?
My life, upon reflection, had been one of virtue, obedience and humility. I had been a loyal daughter, a diligent scholar, a loving sister, a faithful wife. After painful self reflection, I resolved that my only sin in life had been this: that I had seen injustice and cruelty in the world, but had always thought it beyond my duty to oppose it. In my birth, I was blameless, nor should I feel guilt, for who had loved me more than my grandmother, my brother and my father? That society sought to punish me for the affections that passed between my parents was neither just nor defensible. That such condemnation of affection had resulted in the death of my son was insupportable. It could not stand unanswered.
The resolution of my deliberations, when it came, neither surprised nor frightened me. If a blameless child could die at the hands of his father, surely this cruel man could expect no better sentence, delivered by the hands of his wife. In short, I resolved to kill Mr. Blake, your father, quickly, elegantly, and without mercy.The English countryside was still unfamiliar territory to me, and although I settled on poisoning as the most efficacious means of arriving at my goal, the agent of his death eluded me for several days. Then the arrival of a long-awaited package put the question to rest. Some months earlier, I had written to Miss Stewart to beg her the favour of sending me the seeds and tubers of some of my favourite flowers from my father's estate. With the aid of Mr. Heath, I was intent on raising them in the greenhouse. The comfort I had sought in the gentle company of their blossoms and sweet aromas was replaced by the gratification I felt when it became clear that several amongst them were capable of delivering Mr. Blake from this world to the next with great subtlety and swiftness.
Your father himself removed another obstacle to his demise, for being displeased with the unfinished state of the grounds, and realizing that his judgment of Mr. Heath had been unfounded, he recalled the architect to work. With his innocent assistance, I set about sowing the seeds and nurturing them to maturity. Whilst this undertaking delayed the achievement of my aim by several months, it filled me with a deep satisfaction at the appropriateness of the punishment.
As the plants grew and flourished in their glass prison, I considered the method of administering the fatal dose. I resolved that it would not be food-borne, for the risk was too great that some vestige of it would be consumed by one other than the intended victim. However, bearing no great love for members of the household, who had refused me aid during my hour of greatest need, I decided that a brief bout of illness shared amoungst them would not be undeserved.
I completed my preparations, and awaited the signs that would set my
plan in motion. In early November, I awoke to a rainy, windy morning, and I knew that by
nightfall my husband would be dead.
Fanny Blake Manuscript, Part 7
The Death of My Husband
Throughout the day, the rain intensified and the wind gained strength. As the storm worsened, my confidence grew, for who would expect a young wife, herself indisposed, to travel out in such weather to fetch a doctor, when her husband's symptoms were at first so unalarming?
I entered the kitchen and sprinkled a generous portion of powder, made from the ground leaves of the mildest of my hothouse plants, over the food, then seated myself with my husband at the dinner table. We consumed the meal together, sent the remains to the servants' hall, and parted for the afternoon. Within hours, the meal produced the desired symptoms: fever, biliousness and headache. I mustered the energy to climb to the servants' quarters beneath the eaves, and found the staff taken to their beds in various stages of distress.
I returned to my room, gathered my medical kit, and went in search of my husband, who lay moaning and feverish in his bed. I summoned his manservant, and ordered him to fetch a doctor, but the man looked so pale and weak that I told him I would go myself. At this, Mr. Blake roused himself, for even in his illness he could see that I was little better, and he did not wish to risk my health, and that of his third child, beginning to stir in my womb, for the sake of his own.
He begged me to leave him in peace and return to my room. I left him for an hour, and then returned, offering to blister him to relieve the symptoms. To this he consented, and I withdrew from my kit a jar of cantharides, sprinkling them liberally across his back. They soon had the desired effect, and great welts arose whereever the beetles had touched his skin. I popped the boils, sprinkled them carefully with a dusting of more potent powder, concocted from my most toxic exotic, and bade him to lie still. He was dead before I'd left the room.
Upon returning to my chamber, the effects of the milder poison to which I had subjected myself took full effect, and in an agony of feverish pain, the nascent life within me was extinguished and expelled. Those who were able among the staff rushed to my assistance, and it was many hours before another soul realized that Mr. Blake was dead.On My Widowhood
Of the intervening years, you have some awareness, having grown from infancy to childhood to youth in my company. As you know, I sought no husband to replace the one I had destroyed. What comfort I had in life derived from my love of you, the small society of friends I cultivated in the neighborhood, and the affection of Mr. Heath. Though he traveled the country in the employ of other gentlemen who desired his services, he was never long from Stoney Grove.
As you matured, I began to detect more and more of your father in your countenance and in your spirit, and I despaired for the son I had lost. Though I never ceased to love you, I longed to be free of the burden of the man whose ghost haunted me in the paleness of your visage, the manner of your speech, and the thousand little habits that you were, no doubt, unaware that you shared with him. Moreover, though my better acquaintance with England greatly improved my esteem of it, I pined for the sunshine and beauty of my native land. I possessed the wealth to remove us both comfortably to Nevis, yet it was clear to me that by nature, you were ill-suited to life in the tropics. Having experienced the fate of a young woman, alone and without protection in the world, I could not subject you to the same or worse miseries in the hands of uncaring relations. And so in spite of my unhappiness, I remained mistress of Stoney Grove.
In the autumn of 1802, my friend William Heath departed this world. At the turn of the new year, the news of the death of my brother, George Rawlins, intruded upon my mourning. I had heard no word from him since the day of my marriage, and was greatly surprised to be notified of his passing. The letter came from his solicitor, informing me that my youngest brother James, whom I had never met, had inherited my father's estate. Shortly thereafter, the aforementioned James troubled himself to write to me, and the news that he shared pushed all thoughts of mourning from my mind.
In short, he revealed to me that these twenty years I had lived in the erroneous belief of a lie that my husband had so cruelly persuaded me to embrace as truth, and my brother George had, by his silence, allowed to continue. It seems that my son had not died in his infancy, but had been carried away to London in the company of my husband and a wetnurse, and there given over to the charge of George Rawlins. That blackard returned with him to Hundley Hall. Persuading the inmates of that estate that the child was the bastard son of someone towards whom he felt some charitable impulses, he reared him there as a servant until the boy was old enough to be shipped to the West Indies and indentured to a ship's master. The child arrived on Nevis in 1792, a year shy of his tenth birthday, and had not been heard of again. In reviewing his brother's correspondence, James had discovered this deception, as well as the unhappy circumstances of my marriage, and arrived at the conclusion that this child must be my son. The tone of his letter made clear that in this brother, I had found an ally, and though he had not until now had the courage to meet his sister, he was willing to make amends and help me to locate my missing child.
I immediately sent off a flurry of letters to the many acquaintances of my father's that remained on Nevis, begging them to share any intelligence they might have of an immigrant child by the name of Ned Blake. For months I waited in vain, as letter after letter was returned with variations of the same theme, "we have no news of such a child."
I despaired of ever finding him. I could not bear knowing that he was alive in the world, and did not know that he had a mother who loved him and would do all in her power to see the wrongs inflicted upon him set to right. Yet that knowledge was of more comfort than the alternative; that he had met a premature death, friendless and among strangers.
As I had no surety that the boy yet lived, I spoke not a word of his existence to you. The longer I waited and pondered my position, the more the resolve grew within me that I would not burden you with the rivalry and bitterness that bringing him to live at Stoney Grove would inevitably arouse. These feelings crystalised as I observed the attentions that Mr. Morcombe began to lavish upon you, and your evident pleasure at their receipt. At the time, he seemed like an honourable young man, and I trusted that he would make you a fine husband. But I would not test his affection for you by introducing a stranger into the household. If your brother lived, surely he had made a life for himself. And so I waited, and worried, and planned.
And then, a fortnight ago came the letter. A letter from him, in Ned's own hand, was delivered into my own. He was alive, on Nevis, and, having come of age, had settled in a small cottage on the island with a wife and a child on the way. This happy news I could not bear in silence, and in my gratitude and joy, I shared the outlines of the story with you.
I will close now, only pausing long enough to assure you that I hold no ill will towards you for the events that followed these revelations, and to thank you for your aid in my escape. I do not hope to see you again in this life, as I cannot now return to England, and I do not expect you to leave your homeland. However, be assured of my constant affection.
Your loving mother,
Fanny Rawlins Blake
Fanny's Journal 1780-1799
Entries 1780-1782 (translated from the original French and transcribed)
November 8, 1780
Stoney Grove, Nevis
I am to be the property of an Englishman. Not as another of his country owned my grandmother, for that ownership would not serve his means. My brother loathes me, is shamed by a father who could create me, frightened by a mother who did not envy his English ways nor honour his English laws. For this shame, this fear, he would sell his sister.
March 15, 1781
London, my wedding day
I am a teacup, a bolt of kersey, an ass, a cow, a goat, goods to be bartered or sold to seal a strangers bargain and make him rich, make him master, make him father to my unborn sons. I am dressed up in Homer, in Euclid, in Herodotus, but I am still a merchants whore.
February 2, 1782
Stoney Grove, Sussex
I dream of light. Night upon night I close my eyes and light shimmers, dances, beats upon me. It dances through water, dazzling bright. It flashes on the silvered glass of my fathers drawing room in the brilliance of noontime, it beats against the pure white stucco of the mansions walls. I see the white-gold belly of a giant fish in my grandmothers leather-brown hands. I see the light of bonfires, great infernos burning the sand and the still waters of the bay into a brightness that quenches the stars. I move in the light, towards the light, I am the light. And then I awake in the darkness that is England in winter.
Entry 1784 (translated from the original French and transcribed)
December 14, 1784
Stoney Grove, Sussex
Ive won the battle in this war of ours. I sleep alone in his house whilst the moonlight whispers to me of death and of another life.
Entries 1785-1788 (translated from the original French and transcribed)April 17, 1785
We churn the earth, we two. Like children building castles on the beach we dig, we shape, a miniature kingdom of mottes and baileys, but not for war, not for bloodshed. We will create beauty where there was none before.
June 8, 1785
Stoney Grove, Sussex
I have been asked, by my dearest friend, to be a wife again. How can I refuse him, this man that I love dearer than I have loved anyone but my own children? How can I accept him, he who thinks me pure, a flower, but does not know the danger that lies in all of living things? I cannot begrudge him a wife, I cannot be a wife. How shall I live?
August 17, 1785
Stoney Grove, Sussex
Waiting, always waiting. For his voice, for his eyes, for his touch upon my hair, my cheek, my lips, for his laughter, in the silence of his absence I wait.
March 14, 1786
Stoney Grove, Sussex
Sickness has returned to Stoney Grove. My child lies abed, feverish and fragile. My physic refuses to heal her, the doctor says he can not help. My friend paces outside the door, powerless in this arena. I must join him, for is not action better than silently awaiting death?
March 17, 1786
Stoney Grove, Sussex
She is well. Her face has lost its flush, her skin is cool and dry. I am still mother, though by what grace I do not know.
October 23, 1788
Stoney Grove, Sussex
Crows pushed across the sky like black rags before the wind. Leaves in whirlwinds rustling, their dry brown fingers reaching for the warmth of the fire, consumed by their greed. Darkness inching nearer as the sun withdraws her face from me. And then a giggle, a warm small hand upon my arm. The white fuzz of a dandelion pressed against my face, a gift from the dearest gift of all. A stirring in the breeze, and it is gone in a thousand tiny splinters.
Entries 1791-1792 (translated from the original French and transcribed)
May 1, 1791
Stoney Grove, Sussex
I see him when I look at her. She frowns and he is there, her smooth skin turned to wrinkles, her child-eyes turned hard. Quickly he is gone, and she is innocent again. Ere long he has returned, an upturned nose, an impatient wave. Though I sent him from this place, stubbornly he returns.
February 5, 1792
Stoney Grove, Sussex
I dreamt of Ned last night, at the crossroads by a great hollow tree. He looked at me, his soft infant eyes on mine, and then he flew across the sea, like my grandmother before him.
Entry 1799 (translated from the original French and transcribed)
May 7, 1799
Stoney Grove, Sussex
I stand in a thicket of gentle blossoms amidst the faded beauty of the hyacinth, the tulip, the flag. I breathe the sweet scent of the rose, welcome harbingers of summer. I watch the clouds drift by, stark white against the deep blue heavens. I feel your fingers entwined with mine. I know happiness.
January 15, 1805
My dearest Brother,
I write to assure you that I did not perish at Stoney Grove, but live and am now reunited with my dearest son Ned on the island of my birth. I beg you to believe that I strove to deceive others, but never you, with the staging of my recent "demise." Here then, is my tale.
I received a letter from Ned in early November, declaring that he had discovered my search for him and was anxious to meet the mother from whose breast he had so cruelly been torn. In my joy, I confided to Mary the story of her brothers birth, my betrayal, his kidnapping, and my revenge upon his father. She could not accept the truths that I shared with her, and chose to deny the existence of her brother and the circumstances of my birth so that her own blood could thereby remain untainted. I pleaded with her for acceptance and forgiveness.
In her anger and confusion, she confided the story to Mr. Morcombe, a young man who had until that time exhibited every sign of love and matrimonial intent toward her. Without the slightest consideration for her affections, he swore to expose my ancient crime and bring her family name into disrepute. When his nature was thus unmasked, she repented of her anger and told me of his intentions. Together, we planned my "death," knowing that, once drowned, there could be no proving of his tale and no glory to be gained in the telling of it. I packed a few belongings and fled the house on foot, meeting a stage for London in Lower Puckering. I was delivered to the dock and purchased a passage to the West Indies on the merchantman Marguerite. Mary, I fear, will bear too great a burden for my sins. She has, in one week, lost mother, suitor, and worst of all, self-knowledge.
I beg you to attend to her, when possible, and bear with you the greetings of her loving mother. I have enclosed herein a history that I wrote whilst aboard ship, to expand on the hasty explanation of my actions that I imparted to her in England. Please see that it is delivered into her hands.
I pray for your health and happiness.
Your loving sister,
Fanny Rawlins Blake
June 30, 1814
My dearest Brother,
I am comfortably situated at Stoney Grove, thanks to your kindness and generosity. I write to you whilst sitting on the veranda that I once shared in the evening with our dear father and my brother Ned.
I am, again, a grandmother. My sons wife was delivered of a daughter twelve days ago. She is a fine child, and has much the look of her great-great grandmother Fanny, for whom she is named. I have ridden over to Newcastle twice to see the family since her birth, but am fatigued today and do not believe I shall stir beyond the shade of the silk tree.
I dream at night of the garden in Sussex, and wonder if, when my time comes, I shall fly across the sea to be there once more. I fear that I cannot fly, being too much an Englishwoman, and will instead find my peace here in this place. I do not regret this--only that I will never see Mary again, or have the chance to visit, one last time, the grave of my dear friend William Heath.
I am thankful to you for giving me a home when my son could not, and being a true and loving brother.
Fanny Rawlins Blake