Well, I seem to be making a habit of attracting prisoners! Today, James shares the letter he wrote in Ely’s gaol to Clare at Bethel Manor Estate. James is brought by Beatrice Fishback.
From: James Blackwell
To: Clare Shaw
Bethel Manor Estate
My Dearest Clare,
Through a small peephole in the thatched prison, I observe the blackened sky filled with stars. The vastness stretches like an ornate, handcrafted piece of velvet needlework. It contrasts with the stink of this gaol where I find myself being held without cause. I’m unable to come to terms with why God has forsaken me in this place of filth, and with two companions that reek of rotting flesh.
The beautiful night sky, and pinpoint of fresh cold night air are a stark contrast from what lies within these prison walls. Through the stars, I am reminded of how different you and I are. You are the sparkle, and I the unworthy. You are the beauty, and I am the ugliness. You live in a world of generosity and love, I grew up an orphan with parents who abandoned me.
Yet, one of my companions has spoken of how God can work in even the direst of situations. His name is Matthew, blind and thin as a skeleton he still prays when all seems hopeless.
I’m learning to be thankful in this place and counting the stars is a reminder of the many ways I have been taken care of in my life. Margaret and George Owen, at the orphanage in Bristol, loved me as if I were their own. I had a roof over my head and food to eat. I never had to beg or scavenge like an animal to stay alive. The other children in the orphanage loved me as if I were a brother, and we cared for each other when times were difficult.
It seems unimaginable that you and I could ever be together with our differing backgrounds, but in my dreams I long to hear your voice and see the glimmer of laughter in your deep, dark eyes.
Clare, in seeing the stars I am reminded of you. We don’t know what lies in the future, but I wanted you to know that for the moment you are the bright light that shines in my dark world.
With deep fondness,
About Bethel Manor
Bristol, England in the mid-nineteenth century is rife with change. For one young man, James Winthrop Blackwell, change is what he yearns for. Abandoned as an infant at Alpheton House orphanage in Bristol, he comes of age and struggles to make sense of the God of his youth, unable to come to terms with a mother and father who had deserted him.
From west to east—from Bristol the city of his youth, to Ely, the place of discovery—James’s travels take him on a profound spiritual and emotional pilgrimage. In the midst of his journey he meets Fredrick Shaw and his feisty daughter, Clare. Fredrick’s generosity includes welcoming James to Bethel Manor—an estate of magnificent beauty. But Clare’s animosity is both confusing and compelling to James.
What James thinks he’s looking for when he leaves Alpheton House is nothing compared to what he finds. He seeks retaliation for being left by his parents, but instead discovers the reality of his past, and the truth of God’s love.
About Beatrice Fishback
Beatrice Fishback, originally from New York, lived in the East Anglian area of Great Britain for over twenty years and traveled extensively in the United Kingdom and throughout Europe. She is the author of Loving Your Military Man published by FamilyLife Publishing and, with her husband Jim, is the co-author of Defending the Military Marriage and Defending the Military Family. She has been published in various compilations, magazines and online websites.
She and her husband have spoken to U.S. military audiences in the USA, Germany, England, Italy, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Korea, and Japan. They have also presented to international audiences in the Czech Republic, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Zimbabwe, Romania, Ukraine, Bulgaria, and Latvia.
Beatrice and Jim currently reside in North Carolina where scones are called biscuits and are topped with gravy, and sadly tea is served over ice.