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Two So Far
In this episode:
Cuppa with Shirley
Simon and Ann in Nevis (for the whole story, go to the Simon's office)
Series Two So Far...
Stoney Grove owners Ann Simmons and Simon Tinsley split last fall, and Ann returned to the Caribbean with friends Amy and James. After a short visit, she decided to find a place to live on Nevis and explore the "other" Stoney Grove, a ruined eighteenth-century plantation house. Doug Wood, an American ex-pat, befriended her, renting her a house, providing her with e-mail service, and giving her lessons in sailing, dancing and, well, who knows what else...Ann's more serious hours have been spent transcribing a document that she found at Nevis. It's an autobiographical account of the life of Stoney Grove's first lady, Fanny Rawlins Blake. A section of the document was found in a safe at Stoney Grove, and several Puckering residents have headed for the islands to deliver it into Ann's hands.
In Ann's absence, Simon decided to channel his energies into making the house an important tourist destination. He set up a series of regular meetings with the staff and other assorted residents of the property, and began working through a plan. After presenting a number of options, most of them unpopular, he decided to pursue a policy of creating a "virtual house" that will allow visitors to see each room's history at whatever period strikes their fancy. Whilst he was involved in ironing out a few minor technical glitches, Emma organized a group of volunteers to lead old-fashioned tours. Simon also entered into negotiations with a production studio who want to film an upcoming mini-series on the grounds of the estate.
Simon's longtime friend Phil suffered a bit of a mid-life crisis. He quit his job, left his wife, and came to stay at Stoney Grove until he decided what to do next. Simon, never known for his strong interpersonal skills, attempted both to sort him out and to re-establish contact with Ann. Towards that end, he took an unexpected trip to Nevis.
Emma, when not giving tours, continued to pry into more recent history, determined to uncover the story of John White's origins. John, housekeeper Shirley Johnson's grandson, learned that Jerry Anderson, a village antiques-dealer serving time in prison for theft, was his father. Jerry and Emma suspected that John's grandfather was not Shirley's husband Martin, but rather Montgomery Hall, a former owner of the estate. In searching for answers, Emma located a hidden safe in the house, and opened it. Inside were some eighteenth-century manuscripts relating to Fanny Rawlins Blake, a group of romance novels, a book on birdwatching in Sussex and a locked box. The box could not be opened, and has now disappeared.
Cuppa with Shirley (or Martin)
Excuse me sitting, but my feet are killing me. I've been up and down those stairs all day, and at my age, too! And now we're having more meetings. It's not like the old days. Everything's gone to the dogs since his lordship arrived. Actually, he's away now. Popped down to the Caribbean, he did, gone after Miss Ann. If she had any sense, she'd send him packing on the next plane out. Never been a sensible girl, though. Not that she's not good hearted, mind you. A bit of a wet blanket, maybe, but not like that Emma.
That one's gone accusing everyone of nicking the locked box from the safe. Well, I must say that the thought did cross my mind, but I never took it! I've asked around a bit myself, on the side, and there's no worldly explanation for where it's gone. Martin doesn't have it--poor man hasn't the wits to trap a mole on a rainy day. John's away. That bloke that's been hanging around, what's his name? Porkrump or something like that. He's Simon's mate. That's enough for me to rule him out--hasn't got the brains. Maybe Evelyn, but I doubt it. No motive. And there's no use in Emma nicking it. She's mad to get it open and tell the world what's inside. My guess is that SHE's been busy again. Has been quiet for all these months, hasn't SHE?
And you know that Frank's stopped talking. He gave Emma his story, and hasn't spoken a word since. It's sad really. I can't believe he's been here for as long as he has. Those were nice days. Monty listing to the radio in his study, John helping his granddad when he'd come down from Vera's. Still, we can't go back. The past is dead and gone.
Well, would you like another cuppa? I've got some chocolate bickies too if you fancy one. There's the kettle. Hang on, hang on, I'm coming....
Things are crazy. Chester and the Reverend Banks came and brought the manuscripts. I've transcribed another section and enclosed it. Guess who else is here--Simon! He and Doug did not hit it off. I don't know what is going to happen, or even what I'd like to happen. It has been great to see him though.
Hope all's well.
Sorry I cant report to you on the contents of the box we found in the safe. It has disappeared. Ive searched the house for it, questioned the Johnsons, Frank, John, and Simons dad and his friend Phil, who is still hanging around. No one has seen it. I can only guess that Simon put it somewhere for safekeeping whilst he was away. You might ask him what hes done with it; Ive lined up a locksmith and would really like to have a look.
Im anxious to see the journal translations. Hope you have some time to work in between entertaining all your admirers!
My Youth and the Circumstances of my Betrothal
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.
6th meeting of the Steering Committee for Stoney Grove
Present: Phil Porkridge, Frank Churchill, Shirley Johnson, Martin Johnson, Mr. Tinsley Sr. and Emma Knytleigh.Phil: As you all now know, Simon is in the Caribbean. Im sure you all wish him well, as I do. I certainly know what its like to be estranged, but she wont return my calls. Anyway, Simon hopes to bowl a maiden over. Little cricket joke there. So whats new? Did we open the box?
Emma: The box has disappeared. No-one knows where it is, unless Shirley has found it in her occasional cleaning?
Shirley: I dont know where it is. I dont go snooping around people's rooms looking for things.
Emma: I cant even find the romance novels.
Shirley: Well, I did take them. Its wonderful that book, Adrift at Sea. Young people today dont know the meaning of commitment and sacrifice.
Emma: Does it talk about parenting?
Shirley: You watch your tongue young lady, those that dont have children have no right to go commenting on those that do. Ive enough sense to warn off my grandson from gold-digging hussies!
Phil: Well, I think that cleared the air. So we dont know where the box is? I dont suppose the archaeologist has dug it up with the other treasures?
Evelyn: Actually right now Im digging out utility line trenches. Yesterday we found a empty marmite jar.
Phil: So no actual treasure. What are you looking for? I mean the house is still here, so even I could find that!
Evelyn: Were testing the area west of the house. Primarily looking for evidence of early landscape design and outbuildings.
Phil: Oh well, never mind. I dont suppose everyone gets to do the fun Roman stuff. Still I suppose it gives the tourists something to look at. Actually weve had some complaints from the visitors. Evidently one young boy lost three pounds fifty playing with a funny old man in the library.
Tinsley Snr: Kids today. Theyve no sense, have they?
Phil: He was five Mr. Tinsley. I do think he was a little young for you to victimize in the shell game.
Tinsley Snr: I asked him if he knew cribbage. Anyway I was being historical, that game has been fooling people for centuries. Hed have only spent the money on ice cream and sweets.
Phil: I had to give him five quid to shut him up. The parents were really quite rude!
Evelyn: Well without being rude, do these meetings have a point?
Phil: Um, no I guess not. I think Simon will be back for next time. Bye.
Simon and Ann in Nevis
Simon: Are you awake?
Simon: I cant believe the stars here. The skys just full of them.
Ann: You see that set there? With the line and the twist? Thats Virgo.
Ann: No, I just made it up!
Simon: I missed you. Im spending all this time on the house and I dont know who Im doing it for.
Simon: Ann, Im sorry. I never would have gone off with her if you hadnt left.
Ann: It just got to be too much. You were crazy-- buying stuff, taking offI felt like Id lost you. And England looked so familiar and yet was so very, very different.
Simon: It was confusing for me too. Coming back and feeling like a stranger, being in the big house and everyone in the village thinking I was important. And then dad arriving and treating me like I was still his idiot son.
Ann: Well at least you had people like Phil around. All I had was Amy, miles away, and a village full of people thinking of me as the "ugly American" buying up their heritage.
Simon: Ann, thats not true. How could anyone think you were ugly? Youre beautiful.
Ann: So what do we do now?
Simon: Come back to England with me?