Thursday, 22 May 2014

The opening chapters of Hope

The following is shared with the permission of the publisher, Currawong Press. For more information on the contents, click on the thumbnail of the picture you'll find on the Amazon Kindle Edition page when you click through from here.
Apologies for the occasional truncation of the text, 'hope' you enjoy the browse...

My name was Isaac. In my early years, when
I reflected on the meaning of my name, I was

reminded of the Old Testament, of Abraham and of

the challenge of sacrifice, and the great character

traits of humility and faith. As a consequence, I

grew up believing I must always live a good and

noble life. I wanted my children to know I believed

this principle. And I suppose it was this very fact

that led to my death.

     In the year of our Lord 1837, I became aware of

a new and remarkable movement, a new religion

brought to Queen Victoria’s England by a small group

of Americans. The Latter-day Saints—Mormons.

Their message was one of power, authority, and the

parting and knowing of the heavens. Their message

made known the might and majesty of a real,

resurrected Christ, the very Son of God preparing a

kingdom on earth in preparation for His millennial


     Inspired, I desired to join their church, but was

prevented from doing so when I was killed while

trying to rescue two women and a man from a

burning mill. Thus my desire for baptism was

thwarted. But, joy of joys, I came to understand

that my wish might yet be fulfilled by the living, if

my baptism could be performed by someone still in


    Naturally, I considered it best that my family

do this for me. But since I was dead, the work of

guiding them into the truth presented a significant

challenge. And it was made infinitely more so. In the

wake of my passing I was accused of maliciously

starting the very fire that had taken my life. I was

therefore an arsonist, and because others had died,

I came to be known as a murderer.

     My good reputation was destroyed. My name

became taboo, unspoken, my family tainted by their

association with a killer. With my memory ignored,

my wish for membership in the Lord’s kingdom was


     Yet the truth was that I had become the victim of

another man’s crime, and the true story behind the

fire was kept hidden. A young girl’s identity was

made secret and my wife and children’s shame

carefully preserved, allowed to remain because it

served a valuable purpose.

     Imagine again the pitiable shame of being

the murderer’s family. Imagine again my grief at

knowing this burden was borne unjustly, yet unable

to prove my innocence and another man guilty.

The misfortune might have remained forever

this way, except, at last, the grief itself created

a receptive heart in my youngest son: Ephraim

Immanuel Shaw—Manny. Thus it was that we

received our second opportunity.

     Manny had been born with a remarkable

gift—a powerful spiritual talent. And even in the

aftermath of all that had happened, his gift lay

only suppressed. His was an innate and childlike

strength: the discerning of angels and ministering


     There was, of course, a danger in attempting to

reach him this way.

     Manny worked in Ormley Mill where the fire had

happened. He was employed by a man with whom

I had formerly been friendly—a certain Edward

Reeve. Some five years earlier, Manny had ventured

to express his regret at the suffering his father had

caused, and sought permission to apologize in public

to the men of the mill. In addition, he sought to

understand why the fire had happened at all, and

had hoped that Mr. Edward Reeve who was master

of the mill, would take pity and help him to see.

But Mr. Reeve’s wife had been lost in the fire,

and he could never be brought to speak of it. So

he flatly refused Manny’s request, saying it would

be wrong to revisit the past, wrong to speak of the

dead, and wrong to dwell on the sins of the father.

Mr. Reeve said a person must be possessed with an

evil spirit to want to speak of these sins gone with

the dead, and everyone concerned would be grateful

to him for letting it rest in the past. When Manny

protested, insisting he had a right to understand,

Mr. Reeve became angry and took up a whipping

rope and beat him for impudence.

     What no one but I could see was that madness
hung over Reeve like the storm clouds that frequented
the village.
     Manny stumbled away, forcing back tears. His
mam (my wife Lucy) said little, only that Mr. Reeve
had always been kind and that they relied on his
goodwill, and that Manny should learn to act like
my eldest son, the steady and loyal Will.
     But Manny knew, as I did, that his brother also
struggled with the shame of their father’s crime. Will
rarely talked at length about anything personal and
often sat with his head bowed, his hands gripped
tight in his pockets as if he was clinging to the last
shreds of his dignity. So Manny humbled himself
and followed his brother’s lead, obediently burying
his need for answers, and tried to do right by his
mam all through the years after.
     Unpleasant though it was for him to continue
working there, Ormley Mill was where Manny
and his brother were securely employed—in spite
of their father before them and, no doubt, for the
sake of the unfortunate widow left behind. And
though the subject of wages was rarely discussed,
the higher-than-normal pay my sons received was
generally viewed as a noble act of charity.
And thus it was, until one Monday morning,
exactly sixteen years after my passing—three days
before Manny turned one and twenty.
Arrivals and Departures

Monday, 19 September 1853

Mr. Reeve was there, half hidden by shadow,

behind the mill window—watching, as he always

was. Manny clenched the damp iron railings and

took a long breath, clearing his mind and trying to

let go of his agitation.

     He relaxed his grip on the courtyard gates and

stepped away. He wanted so much to feel better.

The desire relieved the weight in his chest just a

little. If Job could be patient, so could Manny.

He set his mind on his work. He could manage

another day’s weaving, and another, and then

another day after that. Eventually it would all

improve—he would prove a faithful hand in the end,

Mr. Reeve would see. Encouraged by this thought,

Manny glanced over at the weavers, nodding his

good morning to the late ones who hurried on


     All around him, the smell of fog and river, of

moorland and wrought-iron gates, swept over the

courtyard, swirling around the burnt-brick walls of

the mill. And as he stood quietly there, a thought

caught him by surprise. It came softly but there

was no mistaking its urgency: Take up your cross
and leave.

     In the stillness of the morning, the idea came

into Manny’s mind with so much clarity that for a

moment he thought someone had actually spoken.

He looked around, but from his brother’s blank

expression it clearly had not been him. There was

no one else near them.

    Take up your cross and leave? Manny glanced

at the mill and wondered. Leave the mill? He

looked toward the open, inviting moorland. The

impression had been so definite. Was it a warning,

an urging?

     He considered leaving that morning but felt

the danger of changing, and concern at the idea

of jeopardizing his mam’s well-being. He might not

find another employment. If he left the mill like

this he might never be allowed to return. Mr. Reeve

could be harsh, especially to the men he didn’t


     The thump of his heart increased, the coming

unknown pounding up in his throat. No. It was

foolish to think of leaving. It was insanity to think

he could find another workplace that paid as well.

The idea was sheer desperation. True, he hated

having to work here, but how could he think of

walking away? His mam and Will depended on the

income they managed together to earn. In spite of

the permanent discomfort of being “Isaac’s sons,”

Reeve paid them well—in fact, Manny knew it

was charity, really. Except, he argued, they were

made to earn every last farthing. But he could not

avoid the reality that this decision would affect

his family for the worse. And yet he could not

explain why he knew there was so much more to

this feeling than just sheer desperation. It was

something he knew he would follow.

Take up your cross and leave. The words again,
more urgent than before.

     What would Will think? Manny knew his brother

was impatiently waiting behind him at this very

moment, accustomed to this ritual lagging behind.

Despite the frequent silences between them, they

valued their friendship. Manny knew that, like him,

Will merely wished to prove loyal, different from

his father, and trustworthy. But Manny also knew

his brother believed dreaming achieved nothing. It

was sheer hard work that mattered.

     And now Will stood waiting, scuffing his clogs

against the rutted highway. In this small detail there

lay a more recent point of tension: Manny wore not

clogs, but boots, a gift from the beautiful young

woman who had taught him to read, the ward of

an old yeoman farmer who lived on the edge of the

moor, just a short half-mile walk out of the village. A

girl both he and his brother had been smitten with

for years.

     He heard Will clear his throat and knew what

it meant. They must go in or they’d be late. He

looked at Will’s impatient face, and his heart began

to race at the thought of the impending departure.

In his soul, Manny knew he must go far away from

this place that threatened his sanity.

     The mill window was empty. Mr. Reeve had

gone. Manny knew he would have only a minute to

persuade his brother to come with him.

     Take up your cross and leave.

     He wondered if the pounding in his chest would

tell in his voice. “We’ve to leave, Will. I feel it.” He

gestured at his heart, then saw the shock in his

brother’s face. “We could all of us move away from

the village.”

     Will looked doubtful.

     “I swear I’m going to do it,” Manny continued

urgently. “We could all of us make a new start.”

It was not unusual for Manny to dream, even to

be unpredictable, but this strength of resolution,

this level of conviction seemed to have taken

his brother by complete surprise. For a moment

Manny believed he was entertaining the idea. But

the hesitancy lasted too long.

     Will shook his head, father-like, and walked

away toward the mill, leaving Manny standing there

alone. A final few weavers jogged away over the

courtyard and disappeared into the loom shed.

The trill of a blackbird rose over the silence.

Manny looked round to make absolutely sure Mr.

Reeve had gone, then took a sharp breath and

hurried away.

Early morning mist ghosted along the Orm,

trailing above the water, rising and twisting.

Wide and sleek and almost silent, the river curled

through the valley, curved almost to the doors

of the stone-terraced cottages sunk tight in the


     As soon as he was beyond sight of the mill gates,

Manny ran, his step lighter, his boots crunching

against the highway. The village was quiet now,

and he could hear the faint cries of sheep on

the hillside. He felt suddenly exultant at having

acted decisively, felt the thrill of running away.

Then he reasoned with himself that he wasn’t

so much running away as running to something

else—something better—running away to take

charge of his future. He was improving his station

in life, looking for work of his choosing. Even the

imminent rain was exciting.

     Now at the age of almost one and twenty he

wanted to prove himself able, for her sake—the

old farmer’s ward, the young woman they called

Hope. He wanted to give her more than a lifetime

of dour, unchanging Ormley. He felt suddenly

reckless, free as the gulls wheeling high in the sky

above. He knew she aspired to become a teacher,

and he wished at least to be her equal. Through

the years since Mr. Reeve’s whipping, Manny had

slowly, relentlessly been made into something he

wished not to be. But he knew now that he could

and must change himself for Hope.

     She had always made him feel he could

be a different man than his father had been.

Manny was grateful and humbled by her faith

in him. And lately, he had been even more so.

In the last few weeks, Hope had discovered she

was adopted. Her guardian had been unwilling

to speak of the circumstances, and Hope, still

struggling with the shock of the discovery, had

not yet pressed him for details. And so neither

had Manny pressed her.

     He resolved to try Northwood first. The market

town was only a short journey from the village,

and there were mills and factories all around

the outskirts. It wouldn’t take him long to reach

them if he ran. There were two roads he could

take: the main highway, a simple, rutted road

that followed the river; or a higher, less-used

road—a narrow, untended hill track. He thought

of taking the latter to avoid being seen, and then

decided against it. He’d soon be out of the village


     Maybe if he had no luck in Northwood he’d

try Manchester, or Stoke, or even London. In any

event there must be no going back to the Ormley

Mill. Manny unclenched his fists. The breeze felt

cool against his skin, and he brushed the palm of

his hand against the dry-stone wall beside him.

One thing was already certain. He felt happier.

It was at the outskirts of the village that he saw

the man—a stranger, walking carefully down the

bridle path from the moorland and approaching

slowly from the other side of the river. The stranger

stepped nearer, a cloth bag slung across his back,

a brown book in his hand. It was something about

his manner that made Manny stop. The man was

tall, and his eyes burned like the sun. Manny

wanted to move on, yet felt impressed to stay where

he was. The man paused at the bridge. Then he

hitched his bag higher on his shoulder, narrowed

his eyes, and gazed around at the village as if he

were puzzled by it. Their eyes met, and his face
filled Manny with light. Then the man turned and

hurried away.

     Manny was so surprised at the intensity of this

vision that for a moment he forgot why he was

leaving the village. He ran, calling for the man

to wait. But the stranger strode faster as if he

regretted being seen.

     “Wait!” Manny called again.

     The man stopped abruptly and looked back,

seeming anxious not to linger.

     “Who are you?” Manny asked quietly. Somehow

he could not escape an overwhelming sense of


     “They call me an elder.” The voice was soft

and possessed an unusual lilt, and Manny

realized with a start that the stranger was an

American. “I’m Mormon, a missionary,” the man

explained. He looked unsure about saying more.

Then his face softened. “See here, young feller,

I’m preaching later, down over in Northwood—

aside the Orm, at the railway bridge on the east

of town. My name’s Armitage. Why don’t you

come and listen?”

     For a moment Manny didn’t know what to say.

The prompting he’d experienced earlier had urged

him away, and straightaway he’d met this man.

The man had filled him with such an intensity

of light. And then, though the encounter lasted

barely a minute, a feeling of such warmth came

over Manny that he knew he must agree quickly.

“I’ll come,” he said. “I know the place you mean.”

All notions of finding work had left him.

     Another rather unexpected idea began to form.

Perhaps sooner rather than later, he and Hope could

emigrate. Yet regardless of this, he knew she must

be informed of the elder’s arrival, and quickly.


They were just outside Northwood, as the elder

had said. Manny knew the place well and watched

the man preparing to address the crowd. Strangers

sometimes came through these parts, but this

American had gained more attention than travelers

usually did. The missionary’s strange aura was

still noticeable, though not quite as bright as it

had been in Ormley. Manny calculated that close

to a hundred people had come to listen—perhaps

a couple of dozen men, a lot more women, and at

least two dozen children. Some people stood on a

footbridge; others straggled along the river’s edge.

A few bystanders, their voices dissenting and

mocking, heckled the man on account of his being

American, but the elder seemed unperturbed and

smiled good-naturedly.

The iron underside of a railway bridge rattled as

a train leaving Northwood thundered overhead, its

shrill whistle piercing the air. A layer of dust and

dirt shook loose from the girders, and the clack of

freight carriages faded as the train steamed into

the moorland.

     The missionary looked up, his face suddenly

serious, as if he was ready to speak. The crowd

was silent. Somewhere a baby cried out, and then

it was hushed.

     “Brothers and sisters,” Elder Armitage called

boldly. His voice echoed back from across the

river. “My brothers and sisters, I come to preach

a message of peace, of prophets, of a living Christ,

of a kingdom of God that can save you. I invite

you to be baptized, for it will change you—” He

stopped as though interrupted by a sudden

thought. “But before I speak of this . . . I feel to tell

you that forgiveness springs from understanding.

Understanding does not mean approving, nor

does it mean granting permission for injustice to

continue, but it does allow us to have compassion.

In understanding we find freedom, the strength to

abandon resentment. Forgiveness grants us the

power to possess and then be consumed by our

Savior’s compassion. And His compassion, my

brothers and sisters, is freedom—a freedom from

anger, a freedom from hate, and, in the end, the

only perfect freedom.”

     The same thrill of warmth Manny had felt in

Ormley washed over him again. He looked around,

wondering if anyone else felt as he did. He could

see from Hope’s face that she was also moved by

the elder’s words. She stood with her head held

high, dressed as she so often was in a high-necked

gray calico dress, her black hair pulled back into

a neat bun. A few loose strands of hair lay gently

against her cheek, her pale skin contrasting the

blue of her eyes. Manny felt his heart leap and

then guiltily averted his gaze.

     She’d seemed just as excited as he’d been by

the elder’s arrival, and Manny had felt an intense

pleasure at inviting her to come with him to the

town. He looked at her once more and noticed a

tinge of pink on her cheeks. The same light he’d

seen in Elder Armitage was beginning to emanate

from Hope as well. A sense of peace filled Manny,

and he reached out to take hold of her hand. He

knew they would both be baptized.


Elder Armitage stood waist-deep in the river,

close to the edge where the water was calmest.

Manny slid down the embankment toward him,

his hands catching against briars. The river was

swollen, and driftwood tumbled past in the froth.

He made a silent pledge. This baptism would

signify a new beginning. He would strive to become

a man of peace. “‘Blessed are the peacemakers,’”

he thought, “‘for they shall be called the children

of God.’”

     It was enough. He was ready to commit.

The cold water pushed at Manny’s legs and

then his belly. He grinned and shivered. The crowd

had gathered above him, on the footbridge—some

smiling, others frowning and turning away, shaking

their heads.

     Elder Armitage raised his arm and spoke slowly.

“Ephraim Immanuel Shaw . . .”

     All became silent as Manny sank under the

water, his heart pounding. The river sealed above

him, closed over his face. For a moment he lay

in the elder’s grip, immersed in the thundering

water. He felt the current beat at the riverbed,

rushing and humming all about his head and

arms and legs, his old life rushing away. Then

he rose.

     Hope was still smiling as she too emerged from

the river. Her face flushed as she climbed up the

embankment toward Manny, and he felt a surge

of pride at seeing her so happy, so alive. Gentle

clapping broke out behind them, and the crowd

rippled as people moved away.

     Manny handed Hope his coat, then helped her

wrap it around her shoulders. It was good being

so close to her. Even though he was shivering, he

felt warm, confident, renewed. He thought of the

marriage plans they had laughed at so many times,

imagined the bite of salty sea air on the deck of a

schooner, the captain performing the wedding.

     Now was the time to ask. Gently, Manny took

hold of Hope’s hand. “Will you . . .” But his heart

was racing and he stalled. He couldn’t tell whether

she knew his intent, but she blushed as she looked

up at him, and he saw tears welling in her eyes,

her face alight with anticipation.

     He wanted to say something more profound,

something more eloquent. The words he had

prepared seemed awkward, inadequate. “I’d like to

ask your guardian a question.”

     He felt a hand on his shoulder. It was the elder.

He was holding a Bible and smiling. “We need to

confirm you now,” he said, “and bestow upon you

a gift—the Holy Ghost.”

     Manny looked at Hope and saw in her eyes a

mixture of disappointment and excitement.

“Come, come with me before you catch your

death of cold,” Elder Armitage urged. “Come and

meet Sister Aitkin.” He gestured toward a woman

who stood smiling down on them from the bridge.

“She owns the lodging house where I’ve been

boarding, and while we’re there we can find new

clothes for the both of you.” He held up his Bible.

“We can talk more comfortably there as well.

Besides, I have a doctrine I’m longing to share,

something that will help you in the future.”


Storm clouds rolled in over the moorland,

making the late afternoon seem like evening. Will

swung his fist again, smashing it against Manny’s

mouth. “Where have you been, lad?” he spat.

“You’ve been gone all day.”

     Blood trickled down Manny’s chin. He was

grateful Hope was not here with him, that he’d

agreed to her request that she wait in Ormley.

This was not a spectacle he would have wanted

her to witness. He wiped his mouth, trying to stop

the blood dripping onto the shirt Elder Armitage

had lent him. As Will looked disdainfully at

the new clothes, Manny swallowed, his breath

punctuated by his heartbeat, his knuckles red

and swollen.

     The brothers stood alone on the rutted highway,

just outside the village. Manny clenched his fists,

his jaw tight. He’d been surprised that Will had

come looking for him, but even more surprised at

his brother’s response.

     “We’ve done right,” Manny insisted. The shock

he’d felt at Will’s reaction was turning to anger.

     “We’ve found peace. And no one, most of all you, is

going to take it from us.”

     His brother laughed and then stared at him

scornfully. “You’ve been tricked, lad. You should

never have left.”

     “No, you’re wrong. I won’t go back on this.”

    “You’re sick in the head, lad—that’s all there is

to it.”

     They circled each other in silence, stepping

over the ruts and stones in the road. Behind them,

the storm moved over the village. Thunder volleyed

across the moorland, and the cloud split, spewing

rain into the valley.

     The rain swept over them, drenching the highway.

Manny held up his hand to shield his eyes. “Maybe

you don’t care who lives or dies here, Will. But I

swear Hope and I do.” He turned, bowing his head

against the rain, and hurried toward the village.

     Will rushed up behind him and yanked him

back. They tripped and fell heavily. “You and

Hope?” Will demanded. “You ain’t right. Have you

no pity for your mam, or me?”

     Pushing and pulling at each other, they scraped

over stones, slipped in the mud. They had never

fought like this, and Manny felt sick to his stomach.

     “What’s happened to you, Will?”

     Shaking, he leaned in close, and Manny could

smell his stale breath. “It’s not what’s happened

to me, lad. It’s what’s happened to you,” Will

whispered. “But you can’t run away from who we


     Manny tried to wriggle loose, but his brother

had him pinned.

     “You’re scared, Will, that’s all. You’re scared of

what I’ve done. But it could be for the best. And

one day, you’ll regret you didn’t come.”

     Will looked suddenly weary, resigned, as if

overwhelmed by a weight he would never divulge.

He turned his head away for a moment and then

looked back, determination to hold his family

together etched into his face again. “I swear I’ll hurt

you worse than this if you don’t do as I say. Now

just you think about our mam. Remember her,

will you? And by the way, Mr. Reeve said he’d even

increase your wages if you stay. Don’t forget it.”

     Will stood up awkwardly, spat on the ground,

and hobbled away.

     Manny watched his brother go and grimaced at

the throbbing in his mouth. The rain fell heavier,

stinging his face. He didn’t move even though

mud seeped slowly into his clothes. Then the rain

ceased as abruptly as it had begun, and the clouds

pushed on toward the moorland.

     There was the sound of horse hooves and carriage

wheels splashing through puddles. It could only be

Mr. Reeve; no one else in the village could afford

such transport. Manny took a deep breath as he

tried to put the turmoil out of his mind and prepare

for the inevitable interview. The mill owner’s black

coach drew closer, and the driver pulled back on

the reins. The horses shook their heads, snorting,

pawing at the ground. Mr. Reeve leaned out of the

window, looking amused. But Manny thought the

man also seemed disconcerted.

     “Whatever’s the matter?” Mr. Reeve asked. “Do

you need help?”

     Manny winced, pushing himself up, and

managed a rueful smile. “No, sir, it’s nothing.”

Mr. Reeve stared at him. It was clear he did not

believe this response, and he looked as if he was

trying to read more into the answer. But he only

declared, “I’ll say no more about it then. And I’ll

not inquire into the matter of your disappearance

this morning. I trust you’ve seen your brother and

that he’s conveyed to you my offer?” It was more of

a statement than a question and was immediately

followed by another. “Do you know if your mother’s

at home?”

     “I expect she will be, sir.”

     Mr. Reeve touched his hat and smiled. “Then

I’ll leave you.” He looked toward the driver. “Stop

at The Fold.”

     The driver flicked the whip, and the horses
clipped away.

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