Cissy curls up on the blanket under the apple tree. So typical of Megan to write out of the blue after four years. They had been inseparable. Twins, sisters, best friends but time and circumstance had torn them apart and now the world was again on the verge of annihilation but for Cissy all that could wait, she kicks off her pumps, scandalous, but so uncomfortable in the heat. She is thankful for her hat that provides shade but everything else feels uncomfortable on her. She is in the fourth month of pregnancy but has told no one yet. Even poor Harold doesn’t know. She fears the wrath of time. Already she has felt life begin to grow three times and always it has been snatched away but perhaps now, almost half way through she can relax and feel safe.
June 1st 1944
The Dove Cote
My dearest Cissy
I am a bad and undutiful sister, it is just awful of me to have left you so long without news. I can offer no valid excuse and expect you are now fed up with me so I will not offer an apology. I am sure you would think it false in any account. I will however say that despite my failure as a correspondent that not a day has passed without me thinking of you. Indeed I have only to gaze in a looking glass to see your smiling face and when I speak I hear my own voice but with your superior tone and inflection. It is as if we are never apart and for that I am forever thankful.
I am writing at long last with news of some import but before I get to that I must bring you up to date and give you a broad outline of your wayward twin’s adventures since last I wrote. And oh dear Cissy, it is so remiss of me to have left you pining for four years, it seems to me that only a month or two has passed since last I wrote. I will endeavour in future to be more prompt.
We have settled now on the Island, it is a wonderful place in the spring time Cissy, I so wish that you could prevail on Harold to bring you so we can once more spend time together. I am sure you would fall immediately in love with this wonderful magical place just as I have. How I long to show it to you.
The house is still under the tedious and ongoing phase of reconstruction, it is over four hundred years old and has in its times faced attack by man and beast, has weathered the ferocious Atlantic storms and stood up to its very window sills in snow.
But oh Cissy it is such a wonderful old place, so full of the character and the flavour of that age in which it was constructed that bless me but I do so expect to meet the spirit of the Macneill at every turn. I adore it and am content to wait out the horror of rebuilding and the constant upheaval as we must move from one wing to the next to stay ahead of the contractor who has been retained to oversee the reconstructions and renovations. And he is another character of note, more ferocious perhaps than the Macneill or the MacDonalds. Messrs Clintock is his title, a fearsome and grizzly creature who I am sure would gladly desert the project of rebuilding if he wasn’t so indebted to Thomas and to my wonderful father-in-law Edward.
But all of that aside he still makes excuses at every turn, complains about the quality of stone available to him, the idleness of the men he can employ on the island, the timeliness of deliveries from the mainland all are irritants to him and prevent him from meeting his obligations and I suspect eat into his profit which I believe to be considerable. I avoid him as best I can, find him to be a most disagreeable and dislikeable chap but Thomas has asked me to be patient and to speak to Clintock calmly and to endure his complaints as he is according to my dear husband the best at his trade available to us.
And so Cissy, here I am happily stranded on this island paradise which you have never seen. I will, so you can imagine it, describe it as best I can. The Island if you were to fly above it resembles the number three. The entire is thirty five miles long and along its fullest axis a range of hills and mountains. These rise like the spine of beast, rocky and rough, the land marginal, fit only for the sheep that the crofters allow to roam there. There are three prominent isthmuses, one on the northernmost extreme and another at the southernmost extreme. Both of those headlands are fertile and the land thereon is farmed by my Father-in-law Edward and runs to some twenty thousand acres plus commonage. The third isthmus is the most beautiful of all. It is as you will have surmised the one upon which New Harbour and the farm we are to inherit is located. It is to me the most exquisitely beautiful part of the island and indeed the most wonderful place I have ever laid eyes upon. From the sea the vista is enchanting, the house with its towers and turrets dominates the background, sitting majestically above the harbour and the small village. And can you believe it Cissy, the laneways here are edged with roses and fuchsia so one need not garden at all as the Island or at least our quarter is in itself a paradise of flowers that grow in abundance. But of course we do garden, more of that later.
When one disembarks at the harbour, they are, in just a moment’s walk, in the heart of the village. Here are the houses built by the mariners who make their crust from the seas along the coast. Here live the boat owners, skippers and hands that ply their trade in search of shell fish. Oh Cissy if only you could sample these offerings that taste so wonderfully briny and remind one of the scent of mud and salt that mix here so well as to be pleasant to the senses. I have become unashamedly addicted to the taste and the very nearness of the ocean. I cannot now imagine life away from it.
From the village a carriage takes you by the narrow lanes towards New Harbour, here you pass the cottages of the crofters, shacks so small and so humble and yet they are home to families who wrest a living from small holdings and mountain commonage. Many of the men currently in service to the aforementioned Clintock are from these lanes. Crofters who by their nature are masters of many trades for they are the rulers and lords of their own small domains and must through need build and repair all of their own structures. They must be masters at thatch, clay building, fencing and stock keeping. They must be their own vintners and victuallers and butchers too for it is only through total self-sufficiency that they can survive. I admit to being fascinated by them Cissy. I envy them the freedom to live beyond the need for manners and decency and decorum to which we, the decent people, have become slaves. I hope you do not think badly of me for speaking thus for I am sure that your heart beats just as wildly as mine and that you of all will understand my fascination. I envy them the mastery of their small kingdoms where no man can order them hither or thither, I long too to be a master of my own domain and to stand there in strength so that none can remove me or issue orders to me. I wish to be viewed as a mistress of my own estate not as a woman or the chattel of a husband. But forgive me I mean in no way to speak ill of Thomas who within his own perimeters treats me as an equal and a partner in our enterprise here at New Harbour.
And so Cissy the road you will travel when you come at last rises from the harbour to an elevation of, I am told by my dear and loving husband, about one thousand five hundred feet. At the end of the narrow lane you will come to the pillared and gated entrance of New Harbour, the entrance to my husband’s ancestral home that is now the home in which I hope to live and in the fullness of time die for I can think of now better place. The land within comprises some twenty thousand acres plus commonage, it is the most fertile of soil for it is formed of dead wood and vegetation that has over eons migrated down the mountains and settled here as rich black earth from which lush green grass grows. The principle enterprise on the estate is the farming of various livestock, cattle and sheep in the main but some swine are also kept in the yards beyond the house and gardens and Thomas has also taken to the breeding of horses both for hunting and for the sport of racing of which I know little. The gardens about New Harbour and the house are extensive and contain woodland wild gardens which are a pleasure to roam in the early mornings when the mist is washed a vibrant vermillion by the power of the rising sun and again in the evening when the stars that are here so numerous come out and cheer me. I have seen also the aurora Cissy, the wondrous lights that dance and shimmer on the northern horizon, they defy description my darling sister so you will have to come if it only to see this wonder.
The formal gardens have fallen into disuse and are to be rejuvenated I am proud to say by my hand. Thomas has set me the task or laying out the formal gardens that will comprise walkways and avenues and long swathes of colour provided by perennial flowering dainties and various shrubs. I have taken to the study of gardening Cissy. I cut quiet a dashing figure in breeches and shirt, I have shocked the older crofters and possibly thrilled some of the younger ones who have been brought in to help with the clearing of the land that will eventually be our flower garden.
I am much interested in the kitchen gardens which are to be located to the rear of the house. I have brought my interest to Thomas’s attention and have insisted, against his wishes to have a hand in the construction and lay out of this most important of gardens which will supply our own table.
I am seated now in the Dove Cot, a cottage which was once home to the grand old lady who cooked for Thomas’s grandparents. It has been renovated and furnished for my convenience and gives me a refuge from the house when the renovations and the temper of Clintock become unbearable. The light is fading now and I find writing by lamp light tiring and a strain on my eyes which I am sure are already damaged. I now arrive at the reason for my correspondence my darling sister. I am I believe, with child, about fourteen weeks or a little more so I expect that by Autumn you will be an aunt and I a mother. I am so looking forward to being a mother and yet I am also I admit a little terrified, I wish I had you here by my side during this time. I sometimes lie awake at night and I am sure I can feel your heart beat against mine and I can feel your breath on my face, our heads sharing one pillow.
I miss you every day my beautiful twin.
Always and forever your other half