I have been steeped in the stories about my ancestors since my birth. They may have even seeped into me through the walls of the womb. Anna’s Secret is a story I’ve heard many times from various people. The latest version was from my Uncle Harold. He said that one of our own people was suspected of the crime of murdering Anne Beaton with a turnip hoe. It was said that she was no better than she should be and was doing a little marital wandering with someone in the community. For a long time the smithy was suspected. He was in custody for a period but was finally exonerated and left Prince Edward Island for good. Ultimately the authorities decided that the crime was perpetrated by a woman and was in fact, a crime of passion. This last was pronounced with great relish. They never found the person responsible. It seems that Anne had greatly riled a wronged wife, and probably several.
The story caught my imagination and I began to wonder: what if she wasn’t who they thought she was? What if the reason for her murder was entirely different? What if the murderer was discovered? Who would it be? Her husband? The wronged woman? The man she was said to be involved with? There was a lot to play with here. In a technical sense, how close to reality could I be without offending descendents? Not too close, I decided. Anyway, it’s more fun to write what pops into my mind and see how it plays out.
As I wrote, the narrative opened like a flower as I examined the individuals who I decided were involved. Who were they? What relationship did they hold to Anna and to her family and to each other? How did Old Annie figure into it? After all she was a daft old woman who had to be transported to gatherings in a wheelbarrow because she couldn’t be left alone. Most of the time she didn’t know anyone and lived in her mind very far in the past with people she knew in her youth. What did she have to do with Anna’s murder? After all, she and Anna had been life-long friends.
And what did it do to the community? Their sense of safety was shattered and people took to locking their doors, some even in the daytime. This was in a community that never locked its doors even in my grandmother’s time. I remember this from my childhood. The only time the door was locked was if they were going to be away for an extended period because, what if someone needed something and they weren’t home to give it to them? I remember my own mother telling me a story about an old man who peddled goods and trinkets door-to-door. He was a little simple as they say here. They woke up one morning and discovered him asleep on the lounge with a blazing fire in the stove. After the murder, people were afraid to walk out alone at night.
As the story progressed it took awhile for me to realize who the real perpetrator was and the denouement was almost as much a surprise to me as it will be to you.
Anna Gillis, the midwife and neighbour in Mattie’s Story, has been found killed. The close-knit community is deeply shaken by this eruption of violence, and neighbours come together to help one another and to discover the perpetrator. But the answer lies Anna’s secret, long guarded by Old Annie, the last of the original Selkirk Settlers, and the protagonist of An Irregular Marriage. Join the community! Read Anna’s Secret and other novels by Margaret A. Westlie.
Genre – Fiction, mystery, historical
Rating – G
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