The devastating consequences of the slave trade in 18th century are explored through the powerful but impossible attraction of well-born Frances and her slave, Mehuru. From the bestselling author of The Other Boleyn Girl.
Bristol in 1787 is booming, from its stinking docks to its elegant new houses. Josiah Cole, a small dockside trader, is prepared to gamble everything to join the big players of the city. But he needs ready cash and a well-connected wife.
An arranged marriage to Frances Scott is a mutually convenient solution. Trading her social contacts for Josiah’s protection, Frances enters the world of the Bristol merchants and finds her life and fortune dependent on the respectable trade of sugar, rum and slaves.
Once again Philippa Gregory brings her unique combination of a vivid sense of history and inimitable storytelling skills to illuminate a complex period of our past. Powerful, haunting, intensely disturbing, this is a novel of desire and shame, of individuals, of a society, and of a whole continent devastated by the greed of others.
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“Philippa Gregory is a very good storyteller indeed”
“Rich, melodious and supple prose… compelling and intelligent”
Philippa Gregory is an established writer and broadcaster for radio and television. She went to school in Bristol, has a history degree from the University of Sussex and a PhD in Eighteenth-century literature from the University of Edinburgh. She has been widely praised for her historical novels, as well as for her works of contemporary suspense. The Other Boleyn Girl has been adapted for BBC television and is now a major film, starring Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman and Eric Bana. Philippa Gregory lives in the North of England with her family.
Philippa Gregory’s historical novels include The Other Boleyn Girl (developed into a BBC adaptation as well as a Hollywood film), The Queen’s Fool, The Virgin’s Lover, Earthly Joys and Virgin Earth.
Meharu woke at dawn with the air cool on his outstretched body. He opened his eyes in the half-darkness and sniffed the air as if the light wind might bring him some strange scent. His dream, an uneasy vision of a ship slipping her anchor in shadows and sailing quietly down a deep rocky gorge, was with him still.
He got up from his sleeping platform, wrapped a sheet around him and went quietly to the door. The city of Oyo was silent. He looked down his street; no light showed. Only in the massive palace wall could he see a moving light as a servant walked from room to room, the torch shining from each window he passed.
There was nothing to fear, there was nothing to make him uneasy, yet still he stood wakeful and listening as if the coop-coop-coop of the hunting owls or the little squeaks from the bats which clung around the stone towers of the palace might bring him a warning.
He gave a little shiver and turned from the doorway. The dream had been very clear – just one image of a looped rope dropping from a stone quayside and snaking through the water to the prow of a ship, whipping its way up the side as it was hauled in, and then the ship moving silently away from the land. There should be nothing to fear in such a sight but the dream had been darkened by a brooding sense of threat which lived with him still.
He called quietly for his slave boy, Siko, who slept at the foot of his bed. ‘Make tea,’ he said shortly as the boy appeared, rubbing his eyes.
‘It’s the middle of the night,’ the boy protested and then stopped when he saw Mehuru’s look. ‘Yes, master.’
Mehuru waited in the doorway until the boy put the little brass cup of mint tea into his hand. The sharp aromatic scent of it comforted him. There had been a stink in his dream, a stink of death and sickness. The ship which had left the land in darkness, trailing no wake in the oily water, had smelled as if it carried carrion.
The dream must mean something. Mehuru had trained as an obalawa – a priest – one of the highest priests in the land. He should be able to divine his own dreams.
Over the roofs of the city the sky was growing paler, shining like a pearl, striped with thin bands of clouds as fine as muslin. As he watched they melted away and the sky’s colour slowly deepened to grey and then a pale misty blue. On the eastern horizon the sun came up, a white disc burning.
Mehuru shook the dream from his head. He had a busy day before him: a meeting at the palace and an opportunity for him to show himself as a man of decision and ambition. He put the dream away from him. If it came back he would consider it then. It was a brilliant cream and white dawn, full of promise. Mehuru did not want such a day shadowed by the dark silhouette of a dreamed ship. He turned inside and called Siko to heat water for his wash and lay out his best clothes.
In the Bristol roads – where salt water meets fresh in the Bristol channel – the slaving ship Daisy paid off the pilot who had guided her down the treacherously narrow Avon gorge and cast off the barges which had towed her safely out to sea. She put on sail as the sun rose and a light wind got up, blowing from the west. Captain Lisle drew his charts towards him and set his course for the Guinea coast of Africa. The cabin boy had laid out a clean shirt for him and poured water for him to wash. He poured it back into the jug, holding the china ewer carefully in grubby callused hands. It would be two months at least before they made landfall in Africa and Captain Lisle was not a man to waste clean water.
Cole and Sons,
Monday 15th September 1787
Dear Miss Scott,
I write to you Direct on a delicate matter which Perhaps should best be address to his lordship. However since I have not Yet his lordship’s Acquaintance, and since you indicated to me that you have to make your Own Way in the World, perhaps I May be forgiven for my Presumption.
I was Delighted to meet you at my Warehouse when you applied for the Post of Governess, but your Family Connexions and own Demeanour convinced me that I could Never think of You as an Employee of mine. It was that Realisation which prompted me to draw the interview to a close.
I had an idea Then which I now Communicate to you: Namely that I wish that I might think of you as a Wife.
Some might say that as a Bristol Merchant I am overly Ambitious in wishing to Ally myself with your Family. But you say Yourself that your circumstances do not permit the Luxury of Choice. And tho’ I am in business – in ‘Trade’ as I daresay his lordship might say – it is a ‘Respectable’ Trade with Good prospects.
You will be Concerned as to the House you would occupy as my wife. You saw Only my Warehouse apartment and I assure you that I am moving Shortly, with my Sister who will remain living with Me, to a Commodious and Elegant house in the best Part of town, namely Queens Square, which his lordship may know.
As to Settlements and Dowry – these certainly should be Arranged between his lordship and myself – but may I Assure you that you will find me Generous if you are Kind enough to look on my Proposal with favour.
I am Sensible of the Honour you would do me, Madam, and Conscious of the Advantage your connexion would bring me. But may I also hope that this Proposal of mine will Preserve you from a lifetime of employment to which your Delicate talents and Aristocratic Connexions must render you unfit?
I remain, your most obedient servant,
Back Cover copy
Bristol in 1787 is booming, a city where power beckons those who dare to take risks. Josiah Cole, a small dockside trader, is prepared to gamble everything to join the big players of the city. But he needs capital and a well-connected wife.
Marriage to Frances Scott is a mutually convenient solution. Trading her social contacts for Josiah’s protection, Frances finds her life and fortune dependent on the respectable trade of sugar, rum and slaves.
Into her new life comes Mehuru, once a priest in the ancient African kingdom of Yoruba. From opposite ends of the earth, despite the enmity of slavery, Mehuru and Frances confront each other and their need for love and liberty.
‘The great roar and sweep of history is successfully braided into the intimate daily detail of this compelling and intelligent book’
Penny Perrick, THE TIMES
‘Philippa Gregory is a very good storyteller indeed’
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Book Description Harpercollins (Mm), 1996. Mass Market Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # P110061094331
Book Description Harpercollins (Mm), 1996. Mass Market Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0061094331
Book Description Book Condition: Brand New. Book Condition: Brand New. Bookseller Inventory # 97800610943301.0