photograph of D.E. Stevenson from a dust wrapper
  D. E. Stevenson's "Jean Erskine's Secret"

An excerpt from one of the new 'found in the attic' books by D.E. Stevenson [Dorothy Emily Peploe] Click to order.

Prologue: Jean introduces herself and her parents, and relates, amongst other things, the reasons for the removal of the Erskine family to Crale.

WHEN I first thought to write a book about Diana, every­one gave me so much advice on the subject that I got quite muddled. They all had different ideas as to how it should be done, and I found that it was impossible to please everybody and very diff­icult to please anybody, so eventually I decided to tell my own story in my own simple manner. But then, for reasons which will transpire, I suddenly saw that none of these people could ever read my story, not even my family and least of all Diana herself.  For I have been guarding a secret, a great dark secret, which would ruin the lives and destroy the happiness of the people dearest to me in the world.  So though I will write Diana’s story, I will keep it safe, and hidden away for others to find when we are all gone to a better place and these things will no longer matter.

    I have always kept a copious diary, and this fact makes my task much easier than it would otherwise be. As I look back, turning the well-thumbed pages, many incidents flash before my eyes like pictures. Things which I thought valueless at the time now take on a peculiar significance;  others which I thought important, drop into the background.

    How differently do we see events when we have outgrown them, when time and distance have given them their true proportions! How often do those events which we most dread turn out to be the happiest times in our lives, while those to which we so eagerly look forward are often disappointing in their fulfilment.

    My thought on looking back is - how I have grown! What a queer, immature child that was who, less than three years ago, masqueraded under my name! With what tears and self-martyrdom did she enter upon the happiest and most interesting time of her life!

    My chief difficulty lay, as I have said, in too much advice, and this especially with regard to the point where I should take up my pen; for, unlike fiction, there is no beginning and no end to the stories of real life, they start long before our birth and do not finish with our death, as many people imagine. How far back was it necessary to go to make all things as plain and straightforward as possible?

    After many sleepless days of thought - as Diana would say - I decided to start my story with our removal to the country in May 1913; but to do this it is necessary for me to give a little résumé of the conditions which led up to this removal, and, not less im­portant, to introduce my family.

    I was more than distressed when we finally decided to leave Edinburgh and move down to Crale, a tiny fishing village on the east coast. I called it exile, bid a tender farewell to all my friends, and hugged to myself the blackest side of the cloud, denying that there was any silver lining at all. I was very young then, though it was only three years ago, and very young people are apt to look on the darkest side of their troubles; they hate change of any sort, not realising the transitory nature of this life and all its trials and pleasures. Experience alone teaches us that no cloud is as black as it looks, and that all things work to­gether for our good.

    I was sure that I should never be happy again, and Edinburgh, ­which until now had appeared to me in the light of a very ordinary town, became in my eyes a veritable paradise, from which one poor shivering little Peri was being shut out for good and all.

    Yet, in spite of this kicking against the pricks, I was reasonable enough to see that the big Edinburgh parish was getting too much for Father. The wind whistling down the draughty streets had laid him low with more than one attack of bronchitis during the winter. Then the long distances that he had to go from one sick parishioner to another and the steep hilly streets, all this had tried him to breaking point, and I felt that to pass another winter under the same conditions was not only unwise, but impossible.

    “Take him to the country,” said the doctor, with professional airiness; and the offer of the vacancy at Crale had come a few weeks later with an opportuneness that both Father and Mother felt was Providential.

    Besides my parents, my only relations were Aunt Ellen and her son Andy. When, therefore, we thought of moving to Crale, Father looked about and succeeded in finding for her a small farmhouse at Gordonburn, within easy distance of our new home.

    Andy Erskine, who was the apple of his mother’s eye, was an Erskine through and through; in fact, I had always thought him ridiculously like my father. At the time my story opens he was about seventeen years of age. He was a steady quiet boy and his matter-of-fact outlook upon life had a very beneficial influence on Aunt Ellen, who was always happier and quieter when Andy was near her. It was in view of this fact that Father arranged for Andy to spend his weekends with his mother at Gordonburn, return­ing to Edinburgh on the Monday morning and working hard with his tutor all the week.

    This arrangement worked very well, for Andy was one of those naturally hard-working people and took life’s responsibilities very seriously. In spite of that he was as full of fun and mischief as any other boy and we were great friends and had pulled through many a scrape together.

    He always came to me in trouble and what does a woman love more than extricating her man from the consequences of his own folly? We were more like brother and sister than mere cousins - possibly because we were both only children and were therefore thrown more into each other’s society. I had always been the leader in all our games for I had the advantage both in age and quickness of brain.

    The only bright spot in all the darkness of exile was the nearness of Andy. He could often bicycle over and see me, for Gordonburn was only about four or five miles distant from Crale Manse across the moor. We could have picnics together on Saturday afternoons; I imagined myself looking forward to these expeditions all through the week.

    But then I did not yet know Diana.

Without Diana this book would never have been written; she is the principal person in the story, all the others group themselves round her and are coloured by her strong personality. If I have shown her truly and made her live - with all her lovable whimsies and straight impulses - I shall have accomplished all, nay more than all, I hoped to do, and shall not have dipped into my old diaries in vain. 

"Jean Erskine's Secret"

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