Book Spotlight—Missing: Past and Present by Diana Jackson
Publication date: February 28th 2020 Kindle Release Date
Publisher: Eventispress (21 Feb. 2020)
Following the mysterious disappearance of her husband, Dorothy Gibbons, affectionately known as Lady Pink Hat, trudged the lanes around Drumford, homeless and directionless. Alone, she rolled a dice, reflecting on her life, times both painful and pleasant. She stumbled upon The Grange, which changed the course of her life. In her isolation and surrounded by old books Dorothy began to write ...
An 18th Century aspirant nun, Millie, ran away from The Grange ...
Jamal Hussain, a Syrian refugee and asylum seeker, was fostered under the careful wing of Dorothy until leaving school and finding work. He and his brother settled in a nearby flat until the misguided Ahmed Hussain also disappeared.
With three missing people, who will discover the truth? Is it Millie who is still haunting The Grange until her story is told?
Missing: Past and Present is available universally as an Ebook on Amazon.
Telling no-one of her plight, not even Evie, Millie ran away in the dead of one night in early August – a matter of weeks before her position as an aspirant nun was to be reviewed. That future was not to be hers; in fact it was far from her mind as she rushed to an unknown destiny.
Feeling sure that Jack would follow her, Millie kept her distance from The Grange, but close enough for Jack to find her. Surely he would come and make everything right, she thought. She headed west of Canbury, working alongside the poor - gleaning the grain left over by the farmers. At night she found all manner of places to sleep but on fine summer’s nights she slept rough. She had found a special place on the outskirts of the village, hidden from the lane by a tall hedgerow, a tiny meadow surrounded by saplings in leaf including an oak and a horse chestnut.
The Mother Superior sent out a search party for Millie and she was spotted one day and dragged unceremoniously back to The Convent. Once enclosed by gated walls, she seemed far removed from her more casual former life at The Grange. Millie was made a prisoner, unable to see or speak to anyone and food was passed through a hatch to her tiny cell.
All she was expected to do was pray for forgiveness and implore to her God to find some way in which she could pay penance. Each day she was taken to the Mother Superior and thrashed for her sins until she became too great with child to ignore.
Millie was distraught, but believing her punishment was the will of God she tried to forget Jack. It was only the child growing inside her that gave Millie a reason to live. That precious promise gave her a glimmer of hope for which she thanked her God for every day, praying that the child could be kept safe and well. One day, without pre-warning Millie was collected from the cell, a hessian cloth over her head hiding her shame, and she was bundled into a waiting buggy.
She could feel the vibrations as the cart jolted over every stone on the track and she wondered where she was being taken; almost, but not quite, past caring. Her baby stirred.
‘You are ready to come, my sweet,’ she whispered, under her confinement. ‘Wait a little while yet, I pray. It’s not safe here.’
Believing that Millie’s presence would taint the lives of the other novice nuns she was dispatched to Drumford Workhouse, none too soon, because her baby was delivered that very night. The infant was taken away from her at birth but Millie was forbidden to return to her old life. A well meaning benefactor arranged for Millie to become a maid in Belmont House. On her day off each week she would scour the streets of Drumford just hoping to catch a glimpse of her child, the tiny boy she had crooned over for precious moments on the day he was born, thanks to a kindly young nurse.
Millie tried asking at The Workhouse but was turned away three times until on one occasion a lady dressed in deep blue satin finery spotted Millie loitering outside. She waved for her coachman to wait before turning to Millie and asking,
‘Are you the girl who keeps asking of the whereabouts of her baby?’
‘Yes I am,’ Millie replied as boldly as she could muster.
‘Come with me and I’ll show you something that will reassure you.’
At first Millie hesitated but the lady had such a kindly non-judgemental face that she climbed into the carriage sitting facing her.
They were heading towards the village of Canbury.
‘Firstly, you want to know who I am. I am Lady Canbury, the benefactor who paid for your care, but I also oversaw the adoption of your baby, as I do with all young girls in your unfortunate situation who arrive at Drumford Workhouse.
There are a few young couples with good homes in the region who cannot bear children for all manner of reasons. I take it on myself to carry out the task of matching unwanted babies to their new parents, but I also visit regularly to ensure that the infant is well cared for. Now, if you tell me your story truthfully, then we’ll see what we can do to put your mind at rest.’
Millie told her full story, sparing nothing, including her maltreatment at the hands of the Mother Superior. Lady Canbury just nodded with what appeared to be sympathy, putting Millie at her ease. By the time her story was spent they had reached the village.
‘Now, I am to visit your little baby this afternoon as it happens, to check that all is as it should be. I know the couple well. Their family has worked on our estate for generations.
I will take you with me as long as you agree to the following conditions.
‘Firstly, you do not try to hold the little boy or make any sign that he is yours while we are with the couple. Secondly you do not speak at all. I will introduce you as my assistant.
Just smile please. Thirdly, after we leave, you must promise me that you will never contact, pester, visit or even try to see the child again because he is not your child anymore. Do you agree and do you understand why I’m doing this?’
‘Yes Madam. I agree.’
Just in case Millie was in any doubt Lady Canbury reiterated, ‘I am taking you to reassure you that the child is happy and generously looked after, but after that you must leave him and the family alone. Do I make myself clear?’
‘Yes, I understand Madam.’
And so Millie visited her little baby and however difficult it was for her to walk away, she did so for the sake of her child, knowing full well that he had a far better life now than she could ever give him as a single maid. As she saw him in the lady’s arms her heart strings were pulled taught to breaking point, but she also understood that the little mite had no recognition of her as he cooed contentedly in this stranger’s arms.’
On the way back to Drumford they barely spoke but as they reached the gates of Belmont House Lady Canbury turned to her.
‘My dear, you have seen what you needed to see. You are one of the fortunate ones. At least you have the chance to begin a new life and not to look back. I can’t pretend that you won’t pine for your child for many months, even years to come, but the pain will be easier to bear knowing that he is content.’
‘You have been so kind Lady Canbury, but may I ask what my child’s name is now, do you think?’
‘His name is Thomas Croft. The Crofts have officially adopted him and given him their name now. He is their child. You do understand that Millie, don’t you?’ Lady Canbury looked upon Millie with a stern but kindly expression.
Millie nodded, staring out at the passing scenery as they sped back to Drumford where Millie thanked Lady Canbury and she was gone. In the months to come she tried not to dwell on her misfortunes, but to remember that she had a roof over her head, a job of work she quite enjoyed and that she’d escaped the life of a nun.
On her days off she just strolled to town and sometimes treated herself to a cup of tea with the little money she saved from her wages. One day, on her return, the master’s son found her strolling down by the lake, a place which was out of bounds to the servants.
‘What will you give me to keep silent in this affair,’ he grinned at her, slipping down from his horse and tying the reins to a tree trunk, while Millie attempted to run back to the house.
‘Not so fast you,’ Master Belmont called as he grabbed her arm and pulled her behind a large oak tree.
Unbeknown to both of them, the stable-hand Jack had been watching Millie from afar for a couple of weeks now and had been gathering up courage to speak to her. He leapt to her side, punching the Master’s son on the shoulder so that, to their surprise, he fell backwards and bumped his head on a tree stump as he landed in the fallen leaves.
Jack wasted no time. He bent down to check whether Master Belmont was breathing or not. He was not sure at first but then he felt a faint pulse. That was enough to stir him into action. Quickly Jack pulled Millie, almost dragging her towards the spinney. Once in the relative seclusion of the woods they ran a few hundred yards to a small gate, which he helped her to climb over, leading them to a path running out of Drumford beside the River Ree. Millie and Jack were on the run.
After six years in the wilderness, (wandering the Fife Coastal Path and finding her way back to writing, to be precise!) author Diana Jackson is about to launch the second novel in her Mystery Inspired by History series. A retired teacher of sixty one years, Diana Jackson has published five works since 2009. Her first, historical romantic fiction, Riduna, set in the Victorian era, was published by Pegasus Elliot Mc Kenzie in 2009 but was re-launched by Eventispress in 2012—a writer’s indie collaborative publisher, through which all her other works have been published:
2012 Ancasta, Guide me Swiftly Home ~ Riduna’s sequel
2013 The Life and Demise of Norman Campbell ~ a memoir
2014 Murder Now and Then ~ a mystery set in two time zones, 1919 and 2019
2017 The Healing Paths of Fife ~ a personal fantasy memoir
After moving to Fife from Bedfordshire in 2014, Diana has had a break from her life as an author to settle into her new life within the Kinghorn Community. The Healing Paths of Fife tells of that journey. Rejuvenated, she finally turned to finishing MISSING, Past and Present.
Diana writes, ‘This novel is special to me because it is influenced, in part, by my experience volunteering in a soup kitchen in Bedfordshire and also at a local food-bank here in Fife. My experience as a course team leader and personal tutor at a College of Further Education in the heart of Luton and a teacher of English as a Second Language is also reflected, where I gained valuable insights into social issues and difficulties some young people of today face.