Praise for Being Mary Ro
“A charming book.”
The Sudbury Star
“Being Mary Ro is a story about independence. . . .
Find out for yourself. Read Being Mary Ro.”
“I cannot imagine anyone not enjoying Being Mary Ro. The material is suitable for mature young readers, contains small sketches (by Melissa Ashley Cromarty), and is an excellent first novel for Ms. Linehan Young.”
The Miramichi Reader
“We’re only halfway through the novel when Mary pulls the trigger. The strength and courage required to shoot the pistol is the same strength and courage that afterwards allows Mary to travel to . . . and pursue an independent career as a . . . I’m not telling. Find out for yourself. Read Being Mary Ro. It’s first-rate entertainment.”
To my dearest loves, Samuel and Parker. I am truly blessed that you were born. I hope to share the most wondrous adventures as you grow (and maybe even be the cause of some of them). To your mommy, Shawna, and my other two daughters, Sharon and Stacey, you are my life’s blood. To Thomas, a simple thank you for holding my heart through the ups and downs. You make the good times so much better and the hard times more tolerable.
To my book collaborators—Mona, Bea, Brenda, and Georgette—thanks for being there for me.
To the “real” Erith, thanks for coming into my life. Thank you to Carla and Brian for introducing us and to the Clarkes for “loaning you out.” Your name is the inspiration behind this story, and you will forever be woven into the fabric of our family.
To my family and the people of North Harbour, your influence is always there.
For Marg: From my earliest childhood recollections through to adulthood, Marg was part of my life as my aunt, my godmother, my friend, and my mom’s best friend. I, as well as countless others, were drawn to her as if she were the moon and we the tides. There was always a happy, welcoming cloud surrounding her and in her home. My physical as well as my spiritual self were nourished by her. She was a teacher, social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist, counsellor, lawyer, doctor, nurse, tax auditor, an advocate, community leader, priest (and bishop), banker, and she was even a mortician. Marg was all those things, with a summer school teaching education when she was in her late teens, paired with an altruistic thirst for life. Most important to her, she was a wife, mother, and foster mother. Family, including her extended offspring, always felt valued, no matter our age or circumstance.
She was a woman ahead of her time, and she had the stuff that kept our small community of North Harbour alive and vibrant. Marg was happiest in what others might call noise and chaos. She shared, welcomed, argued, told stories, laughed, cried. She was real. She shaped me. Rest easy, Margaret Power née Collins (November 26, 1933 – July 28, 2018). Immense is our loss, for so deep was our love. I’m so fortunate and so grateful to have been in your life’s dash. You will never be forgotten.
In the late nineteenth century, Newfoundland was a large island colony off the east coast of Canada in the northwest Atlantic Ocean. Though a Dominion of the British Empire (along with Canada, New Zealand, the Irish Free State, and Australia), the island was self-governed and had its own monetary system until it joined Canada as a province in 1949.
In 1890, the population of the capital of St. John’s was approximately 25,000, but the island’s huge coastline (6,000 miles) had another 50,000 people attracted by the rich cod fishery and scattered throughout thousands of tiny communities in coves and bays. Typical settlements had between forty and 200 residents—by design the numbers could sustain a reasonable inshore trap fishery.
Labrador, the continental part of the Newfoundland Dominion, had another 4,900 miles of coastline which, with the exception of the small numbers of indigenous peoples, was migratorily settled in the summers and early fall for the Labrador fishery.
Newfoundland merchants gave material credit to local fishermen consisting of goods and gear necessary for their prosecution of the fishery and winter survival. At the end of the fishing season, the merchants’ ships collected dried salt cod as repayment. The cod was sent to Britain, Canada, and the United States through Boston and New York.
After the first snow, most of the settlements were isolated into clusters and cut off from civilization until the spring thaw. Residents lived on salt cod, summer-grown vegetables stored in root cellars, farm animals, merchant provisions (tea, flour, molasses, beans, etc.), as well as wild game, seals, and seabirds that were hunted during the winter and early spring.
Poverty in Newfoundland was more prominent and constant than in any other colony under British rule in North America. Most impacted and vulnerable were the children. Childhood mortality rate was high. Fatherless or parentless children were housed in orphanages paid for by the Commission, by the churches, or through fundraising efforts in their support. The Church of England Widows and Orphans Aid Society of St. John’s, the Methodist Orphanage of St. John’s, Immaculate Conception Orphanage, Belvedere Orphanage, and the Villa Nova Orphanage all relieved, in part, the societal dilemma of the plight of the orphan in the Dominion of Newfoundland.
So tightly knitted joy and woe . . .
Newfoundland, early March, 1894
“Sorry for your loss.”
Mrs. Power, her prominent hump shrouded by a yellowed knitted shawl, took Erith Lock’s hands between her warm, twisted fingers and patted them in a gesture of comfort and condolence. Erith cast her eyes downward. Her thick, untethered mane of wiry strawberry blonde hair hid her face from the old woman. Her preoccupation could have been mistaken as some kind of sorrow. There was none. She chose to remain distant. Besides, she couldn’t settle her mind on anything except the persistent, maddening words that were like a briny liquid on her open sore.
Without making eye contact, Erith mumbled and nodded her way through several of the remaining mourners who were making their way out from the sitting room. She glanced farther into the room, at the plain pine box where her stepmother’s powdered face was propped on a pillow. A face that should have been relaxed in death still wore the grimace of an unhappy woman, a scowl etched forever in her granite features. For her entire fifty-seven years of life, Erith was sure, the woman didn’t smile. At least she hadn’t in Erith’s twenty-four years on earth.
She was sure that the neighbours, who were often the target of the woman’s bitter tongue, were being kind for her sake. Her stepmother obviously hadn’t revealed what Erith had done, or things might have been different. For as long as she could remember, she’d listened to her complain to anyone and everyone about the burden Ben left her when he died. That burden was Erith—the only child of Ben Lock. She vaguely remembered, or perhaps dreamed, his smile and his singing to her when he put her to bed at night. It was the last time that Erith was happy. At least, she believed herself to have been happy.
Tomorrow, when her stepmother was buried, she’d be free from the obligation she had inherited only out of respect for her father. For his sake, she’d endure the appropriate mourning period of the Roman Catholic community.
Now Erith had a big, empty, two-storey house, a dry goods store, and the mail service at her disposal. That realization should have thrilled her. It was exactly what she needed. But for now, she was supposed to be . . . what? Grieving? Did anyone really expect that? Besides, she couldn’t spare time to be excited about the new opportunity. She had another pressing need to deal with. Damn Kathleen Lock.
“Erith, do you hear me?” Startled, she almost thought her stepmother was admonishing her. “You should go to bed, dear. Get some sleep.”
“I’m all right, Mrs. Patsy. I’ll stay up.”
“There’s no need, child. Me and Jim will stay and sit with Kathleen, God rest her. It’s our Christian duty.”
Erith nodded her acceptance, knowing the tradition well—the dead weren’t left alone before they were buried. Although, foolishly, she was half afraid to go to sleep in case she woke up to it all being a dream. She even wondered if the consecrated ground would spew Kathleen Lock’s earthly remains back out after closing over her.
Mrs. Patsy and her sister had stayed up the night her stepmother died, after which they’d washed her, dressed her, and laid her out for the wake. Neither one had mentioned the horrible oaths and curses that her stepmother had shouted at Erith in the last moments of life. Both had patted Kathleen Lock’s hands and tried to soothe the ravings before the woman had succumbed to the cancer.
The doctor from Colinet had been through four weeks prior and left a bottle of laudanum to help ease her pain, but her stepmother had long since used that up. There was a doctor closer in the summer, in John’s Pond, but he was in Boston during the winter with his wife, who was studying medicine. They weren’t due back for another month or more. Local remedies couldn’t ease the pain, and her stepmother went out in a flurry of obscenities directed at Erith, cursing the day she’d come into her world.
When Erith told her what she knew, Kathleen had become extremely agitated and crueller than ever. Mrs. Patsy and Mrs. Helen had reminded Erith that her stepmother was out of her mind in pain, but Erith knew that wasn’t entirely true. Everyone in North Harbour knew her stepmother was a horrible woman, and no one was sad that she was dead—although those words wouldn’t be spoken aloud—and anyone who thought them would surely follow it with the sign of the Cross and a whispered, “God rest her.”
Erith gave a cursory nod around the room at the few remaining people before going upstairs for the night. Tomorrow her stepmother would be gone. Foremost in Erith’s mind were the words she’d said during her final moments of coherency—at least Erith desperately needed them to be lucid.
The words She’s alive, you know were spoken into her ear in a hushed whisper. Erith wasn’t sure she had heard it correctly, but her stepmother’s slight nod, her glassy, wide-eyed stare, and raised eyebrows told her she had. Was this true, or was it the woman’s last attempt to drive Erith out of her mind?
Danol Cooper was intrigued more than he should have been. His black felt hat covered his dark hair and hid his piercing blue eyes—eyes that didn’t miss much. He couldn’t help but feel there was something not right in the graveyard. His years as a detective with the Boston Police taught him to go with his gut, and it was rarely, if ever, wrong. The advantage of a tall frame allowed him to survey the mourners before him. Nothing stood out, yet something was bothering him.
He had come to the area a few years before to capture the criminal who had murdered his father, a New York City policeman. The killer had robbed a bank, slaughtered several policemen and his own accomplice, and attempted to flee to Europe with his new, ill-gotten wealth. Danol took a leave of absence in Boston, laid chase, and ended up near death on the shores of John’s Pond, two miles over the ridge from where he decided to put down new roots.
He’d had the good fortune of being concealed by a reclusive young woman, Mary Rourke. Mary had been trained by her mother in the art of nursing and surely saved his life, not once, but twice in just a few days. Danol grew very fond of the woman and wanted to repay her. He successfully convinced her to go to Boston and study to become a doctor. At first he thought it was because he had feelings for her, but he wasn’t one to yield to such nonsense, and soon he realized it was his own struggle with where his life was headed that confused him.
Once Mary settled in Boston, he used the reward money from the New York robbery to put a substantial down payment on a boat. Well, he guessed it was more than a boat, since it was outfitted as a medical ship. Each summer he brought Mary and her new husband, a doctor as well, to the little coves and inlets peppering the bays of Newfoundland, to care for those who would otherwise do without. They had saved many lives over the past few years. He was fiercely protective of Mary and her new family. Her husband, Peter, had become a good friend. Danol liked him, though it had taken some time. Mary was like the sister he hadn’t had. He was alone in the world except for Mary, but he was comfortable being alone. Danol guessed it was what he was used to growing up. His mother died when he was very young, and his father was a career policeman who spent very little time at home.
That was the reason he chose to settle in North Harbour, as opposed to John’s Pond. It gave him room. He needed room, though he didn’t really question why.
The first year that he’d wintered his boat, Angel Endeavours, in the harbour, many of the local men came to help him tow her up on the beach. He was going to rent, or even buy, a horse to do the chore, as would be expected back in Boston, but he wasn’t long learning that what was customary there did not belong here.
First, ten men showed up from both the north and south sides of the harbour. There were three horses and two hauling sleds loaded with sticks—wood to shore up the boat and to make a slipway to get her out of the water. As the tide was lowering, the men built the slip. They went home to eat and were back in greater numbers to pull up the boat when the tide was high.
Danol worked beside the men, not too proud to leave it to the more skilled to show him how it was done. When the boat was secure, he offered to pay, but the men wouldn’t hear of it. He opened a bottle of rum, and they all had a drink before heading for home. When he got back home, a plate of fried fish had been set on the table. He later learned that his neighbour, Mrs. Whalen, had dropped it off because she figured he’d be hungry after working all day.
Danol was a stranger but was welcomed. And he had learned rather quickly that, despite not being a God-fearing man, there were social obligations he would have to uphold if he wanted to survive in the community. That included attending funerals.
Mrs. Kathleen Lock was being laid to rest. He stood in the graveyard listening to the recited prayers, which were muffled by his thoughts of something being out of place. He had delivered goods to Lock’s on the north side several times over the past two years—his boat was used for making supply runs when not otherwise occupied with the medical trips. Mrs. Lock was one mean woman. She always accused him of having cheated her in some way, or of not bringing the right things, or of being late, or of being dim-witted. Always something. She didn’t smile. He learned to ignore her rants and get on with the business transaction. Trying to be friendly, as he was with the other shopkeepers on his route, was out of the question at Lock’s Dry Goods. He concluded business and left. That was satisfactory to Mrs. Lock and cut down on the aggravation for him.
Danol hadn’t realized she’d been married, let alone had a child. He looked toward the daughter standing near the grave. There it was again. She was looking at him. Just glancing from beneath her hood, but definitely toward him. He moved a few feet, and her eyes followed him. He tripped on a white marble headstone and quickly righted himself. He was having difficulty focusing on the prayers, and a couple of the mourners cast him a look when he moved a second time.
She wasn’t crying. Maybe she was glad the shopkeeper was dead. He’d seen that before—relatives happy to inherit what others had worked so hard to attain. Sometimes, he surmised, helping the sick along to access the money more quickly than God intended. However, she was well-dressed, and his first impression was that she had an air of somebody who was well-to-do.
The Angel Endeavours was dry docked on the beach near his house waiting to be recorked. Except for that, he might have been on the mail run that had brought the daughter here. He had overheard one of the women say she hadn’t seen the young woman since she was fifteen or sixteen. It was common in coastal communities for young girls to leave, marry, and not return. With the temperament of her mother, he figured she was probably happy to have left.
However, she wasn’t crying, not even in pretense. While others had their heads bowed in prayer, she was taking quick glimpses at him. Surely he wasn’t the only new person here since she had left years ago, and even if that were the case, it seemed odd that she’d be noticing that now. Then again, he was looking around, too, so he shouldn’t fault her for that, he supposed. But his mother wasn’t being buried, either.
When prayers ended, he stayed behind to fill in the grave. He didn’t get a chance to speak to her because Mrs. Power ushered her home, out of the cold. The men covered Mrs. Lock, and they dispersed in silence. He walked the muddied path toward the crossing with Gene Burton, one of the only other men in the community as tall as Danol. Gene talked about the weather and asked when he was putting the boat in the water. After a bit of chit-chat, Gene tipped his hat and veered off toward home.
Danol crossed the ice, being careful to follow the markers. He was bothered by the woman in black. Erith was her name. He hadn’t heard that name before. There were many things about this Erith woman intruding on his thoughts, and he didn’t like it. She was pretty enough, although it was hard to get a good look with the hair flying around her face. She seemed a bit distant, or maybe she just wanted to get the whole thing over with. Who was he to judge? He was itching to get back on the water. The boat was ready now. He’d be heading for Boston before too long.
He took his hammer and decided to work on the room upstairs. He liked building things. The house was coming along nicely, and the loud echo of hammer hitting nail would keep his mind occupied for the afternoon. The second time the hammer tapped off his finger in a glancing blow, he knew it was time to give it up. He made his way downstairs to fill the woodbox. With the last armload neatly stacked, he turned to look out the window while deciding what to do next.
Danol thought his mind was playing tricks on him when he saw her. He stared, transfixed, when reality gave him a knock. What was she doing? He bolted from the house toward the beach.
“Don’t let me be too late,” he whispered into the arctic wind as he raced along the ice-littered beach.
Eight years earlier . . .
Erith had the sudden and unfamiliar urge to hug her stepmother. Barely sixteen years old, she was leaving the woman who had raised her.
Erith’s parents moved from England and settled in North Harbour shortly after she was born. They opened a post office and dry goods store in a house her father had built for his first wife. They had planned to fill it with children, a dream not realized.
His wife—Erith’s mother, Beatrice—had died in childbirth when Erith was almost five. Kathleen, the attending midwife, married her father, Ben Lock, within the year to help raise his daughter while he was away at sea. Kathleen had not been inclined to nurture, and Erith was sure that the woman was grateful not to have given birth herself. She often said she bore the wants of her husband because it was a wifely obligation. Erith’s father was supposed to take care of his new wife and not leave her with a young child and a business to run.
Now she’d get her wish to be rid of Erith. Although unspoken, Erith knew her stepmother wasn’t sad that she was leaving. She had, in fact, made the arrangements. A step-uncle, Dinn Ryan, whom she hardly knew beyond the two or three times he had come into the store over the years, needed a housekeeper in Dog Cove. His wife had died with complications from pleurisy during the winter, leaving him with three children to raise. Now that fishing was under way, he had sent word to North Harbour that he needed a housekeeper, and her stepmother had volunteered Erith.
“Mind yourself, now.” Her attempt at some sort of familiarity was lost in her pinched face and harsh tone as she stood, arms folded, on the bottom step of the stairs and looked down her nose at Erith. The grey hair that was pinned back in a tight bun seemed to be trained not to go out of place, a style she had forced on Erith after her father died, sometimes pinning it so tight Erith’s head would ache for days. “Make sure you have all your clothes.” She turned and went upstairs to perform a cursory check of Erith’s room.
Erith nodded. “I’ll be there shortly.”
She heard her stepmother at the top of the stairs. “Looks like you’ve got everything.”
Kathleen saw Mr. Hand. “She’ll be right along.” She dismissed him with a wave. He grabbed Erith’s bag, glanced up the stairs, and nodded.
The older woman ran the post office and the store, and she had added a boarding house to the business. In the winter she usually boarded the teacher, but this past year was different. Two men from Trinity Bay had been icebound off North Harbour Point in January after taking shelter in St. Mary’s Bay during a storm. They stayed with the Locks and fixed the ice-damaged boat as soon as the weather broke. With little money to speak of, they had made a bargain with her stepmother to get wood over the winter and codfish in the spring to pay their debt. An agreement was struck, and Mr. Hand and Mr. Noftle took up temporary residence in their large house.
Today they were heading out to the fishing grounds and, along the way, landing Erith in Dog Cove. It would be cold on the water. Erith buttoned her long, grey woollen coat around her plaid cotton dress. She tied the blue and white bonnet close around her pinned hair and took one last look around the kitchen. This was probably the last time she would see this place. She couldn’t imagine coming back here.
Many girls her age had a beau, but her stepmother had strongly discouraged any possibility of a love interest coming around. Her closest friend, May, had gone to St. Joseph’s to keep house for a Daley family last November and hadn’t returned. Erith wasn’t sad about leaving, but she suddenly yearned for what could have been had her father still been alive.
Her father was well-respected in the community. He had been a good provider, so her neighbours said. In January 1875, he hired on as an engineer with Captain Isaac Bartlett on the steamer Tigress to go to the seal fishery. Her father and twenty-one others were killed when a boiler exploded while they were icebound hundreds of miles from shore. Her father, badly burned, lived for almost a day before dying in what must have been horrific pain. Captain Bartlett had dictated a note that Erith’s stepmother threw in the stove shortly after getting the news of Ben’s death. Erith could barely remember being on her father’s knee, right here in the kitchen, while he sang songs to her. It seemed warmer then, too. That time was a distant memory now.
She didn’t look back at her stepmother as she closed the porch door. The wharf, built by her father, was just a few feet from the house. Erith trod along the worn path leading down to the edge of the sod. She refused to feel scared of what was to become of her in Dog Cove with her step-uncle and his family. She was sure she would treat the children lovingly and help them with the loss of their mother. Erith believed herself to have a caring nature. She held her head high and stepped from the grassy embankment. The old, worn sticks creaked and bent beneath her weight, but she was sure-footed and confident that they would hold her small frame.
Mr. Hand helped her down the ladder into the ribbed cage of the boat. Erith caught a faint whiff of pine tar from the new oakum her stepmother had supplied to seal the joints between the frost-warped planks. Despite her efforts to hold it at bay, fear washed over her, taking her breath. She swallowed hard to recover. She was going to a new and different world, even though all she knew was the one she tolerated and was leaving behind.
Mr. Noftle, a portly man in his early thirties with a crop of light brown, stringy, greasy hair, shoved the boat off from the dock. The two men grinned at each other. “Thank the Lord we’re on our way,” chortled Mr. Noftle.
“Good riddance to this place,” Mr. Hand said under his breath. Both men eyed one another. Erith missed the smile on Mr. Noftle’s lips as he winked at his companion.
Erith sat upright on the weather-worn forward thwart between the fish pounds. The boat was remarkably clean, with no sign to be seen of fish ever having been gutted or split.
“How long to Dog Cove?”
“We’ll be there for morning tea if we catch some wind,” Hand said.
Erith looked over her shoulder toward the houses on the south side of the harbour. “Might as well be the moon,” she mumbled. The south side was a short row by dory from her house, but Erith had not been there since she was a child. She barely remembered her father taking her to a garden party in the lower meadows one sunny Sunday. She acknowledged that she might have even imagined that, after seeing the celebrations there the last number of years. Erith’s scope had since been limited to the fifteen houses that dusted the north side of the harbour and the families who lived in them. Every three months or so, when the Roman Catholic priest came through, the residents on the south side flocked to the little church that was coming into view through the trees. “Bye Mama, bye Papa,” she whispered and blessed herself when they passed the church and graveyard.
Erith looked forward, to where she was headed. All the scenery was new to her as they passed the last house. They hugged the shoreline close on her right. When North Harbour Point disappeared into the sea on the left, the vast ocean opened before her. Erith marvelled at the distant shore but had no idea what communities were there. Maybe that was the one where her friend May had gone. She couldn’t be sure.
Mr. Hand’s voice startled her. “I’ve been meaning to ask you where you got that name, miss.”
“My parents gave it to me. My father said I was named after a little town in England where my mother was born.”
“Your mother doesn’t sound English.”
Erith didn’t answer. The thought of the mother she hadn’t known was suddenly raw on her palate. She couldn’t speak as her mind flooded with a beehive of images and sounds of her father and a happier time. Instead, she gazed toward the shore, where towering cliffs rose from the ocean floor and then suddenly dropped off to show rocky beaches fold into tree-lined fields. They passed between the beach and two fishing boats from North Harbour. Mr. Walter Power and Mr. Gene Burton were busy hauling traps and hardly noticed their passing.
A small cove came into view a short time later, and Mr. Hand dropped the sail while Mr. Noftle took up the oars. Erith looked back at the two men from her perch on the pound board. “Is this Dog Cove? Where are the houses?”
“We’re not going to Dog Cove,” Mr. Noftle said.
“We’re not,” said Mr. Hand.
Erith was confused. She quickly looked back to the shore to see if she had missed the houses. They could be trying to play a trick on her, although she couldn’t imagine why. There was nothing ahead of her that showed any sign of life. Some trees in the sheltered cove, a small stream splitting the land, a green patch where the grass and clover were just getting a taste of the warmth of the sun—but no houses.
She looked back at the two men again. “So . . . we’ll be stopping here and then going on to Dog Cove?”
They didn’t answer.
“I’m not Hand.”
“And I’m not Noftle.”
Erith slowly shook her head from side to side. “I don’t understand.”
“You’ll understand soon enough,” the man she knew as Mr. Noftle said.
Something didn’t feel right, but Erith didn’t know if she should be afraid. “You’re dropping me off here?”
“Something like that,” Hand said under his breath.
The boat was going too fast, and it lurched when it struck the beach. Erith lost her seating and fell hard into the pound, hitting her head on the gunwale. She was sure she saw stars and felt the sting of a bump rising near her temple when she caught a glimpse of Noftle jumping over the side of the boat. What was happening? Erith tried to make sense of the situation.
“What are you doing?” asked Noftle, his eyes fixed on the man behind her.
Hand spoke behind her. “It’s a hanging offence either way.”
As she scrambled to get to a sitting position, she turned, following his voice. She caught a glimpse of movement and ducked, but not in time. Hand struck her a glancing blow to the head with the blade of the oar. Erith cried out. Her arms flailed as she tried to right herself, but she tumbled over the thwart into the pound. Blackness awaited.
Erith was dazed. She felt a cold dampness around her bare legs. Mortified, she opened her eyes. Pain stabbed through her head from the movement. Her skirt covered her face. She winced as she gingerly patted her cheek through the thick cotton. A tentative tug on the material caused a pain in her temple. Taking a deep breath, she gently pulled until it gave way and then threw it to cover herself.
She shivered as she swept her fingertips along the skin on her brow. Her hand felt sticky. Erith flinched when she grazed the swollen cheek. Her left eye wouldn’t open, and her jaw hurt.
Shame of her nakedness pressed her to move. She was lying in the low tuckamore. She forced herself to roll toward the sound of a nearby creek and felt the sting of the craggy branches clawing at her legs as they bent beneath her weight. The effort was excruciating. Erith instinctively pulled her coat around her and tried to sit up. The effort brought waves of pain to her head, and it was difficult to breathe.
She tried to get up, but her legs betrayed her, and she tumbled on the grass. Her mouth was dry, and her lips were cracked. She wormed her way along the dampened turf to the little stream. Lifting the frayed hem of her dress, she dipped it into the cold water and carefully wiped her temple and eye. The coolness soothed her as she cleaned.
She carefully cupped water in her shaking palms and splashed it on her face. The shock helped clear her fogbound mind. Erith quickly patted herself dry with the sleeve of her coat and tried to stand again. By moving slowly, she managed to get herself upright. She hobbled to her shoes and stockings strewn on the tangled grass. The movement ignited a burning pain.
Where was she? How did she get there? How would she get out of there? Then a flash of memory stole through the pain. She froze in place. Her heart thumped in horror, and she uttered a wild cry. The meadow seemed to echo her misery with tears of its own as dew shimmered on the new clover. Her stepmother was going to kill her for this. She crumpled to her knees, sobbing until she fell into an exhausted state that was somewhere between sleep and death.
Cool dampness penetrated her clothes and drew her back to the reality of her circumstance. Something called to her from deep in her belly. A primal urge kicked in that wouldn’t allow her to give up. Erith slowly got to her feet and faced the ocean. Her head spun for a minute, and then the horizon settled and came into focus.
The sun was almost directly overhead now. She had left the wharf in North Harbour just after daylight. At least half the day had passed. Nobody was going to miss her. Her stepmother thought her gone, and her step-uncle wasn’t sure when she would be showing up and might think she had changed her mind. She willed the panic to settle. Erith was on her own, but she wouldn’t wallow in pity. She had to act. Clear thinking escaped her, but to stay here was sure to be her end.
It was less than half a day’s walk between Dog Cove and North Harbour in the winter. She knew this because people came for the mail or supplies every now and again after the boats were pulled up. She wished she had paid more attention. As near as she could figure, she guessed she might be halfway between both settlements.
What of Hand and Noftle? Panic flared as she scanned the sea and the shore to make sure they were gone. What would she do if they came back? Frantically, she limped to the edge of the woods to hide in case they steamed around the headland. She would spend the rest of her life in the woods before facing them again.
A million thoughts, from sensible to ridiculous, raced through her aching head. Surviving trumped them all. She had to get somewhere while it was still daylight. Erith realized that was vague and didn’t make sense, so she decided she would go back to what she knew. Her stepmother was cruel, but Erith was sure she would help her.
There was a trail somewhere inland that joined the two communities, but Erith didn’t know how far back in the country it was. She believed it wouldn’t follow the coastline. However, the coastline offered the chance that she would see someone tending their traps. But then, what of the cliffs?
Despite the questions, she had to get going, so she carefully crossed at the narrowest part of the brook. The movement was enough to make her vomit. She retched on her hands and knees on the silty embankment before getting her bearings again. Her head throbbed, her throat hurt, and she was dizzy. She picked up a long, thin piece of driftwood from the beach to help steady herself and, using it as a crutch, continued out of the cove toward the home she knew. The tide was falling. The beach rock skittered away under each footfall. She stumbled twice on the landwash, which forced her to solid ground.
Erith had to think. She carefully lowered herself onto the moss at the edge of the woods to ponder her predicament. She would have to find the winter trail. If she didn’t, then she would come back to the shore and wait until morning.
A few marshberries, which had survived the winter in the wet moss, assuaged her hunger. She pushed off with her makeshift crutch into the thick woods, following the river. Tangled tree limbs pulled at her hair and struck at her eyes, sometimes causing the blood to flow from her temple again. The terrain was rough. A scourge of blackflies and mosquitoes tormented her. Her stockings were ripped to shreds, and her legs, scratched and bleeding, were itching. She forced herself to ignore those particular pains and fixed her mind on home.
Erith was near exhaustion when she emerged onto the bleak barrens. The wind whistled and wailed through the yellowed grasses, cooling her. The mournful sound from the moor was like a death knell. Erith suddenly shivered when she thought of how alone she was. She would not be found.
The velvet touch of the scant, tall grass brushing on her fingers sought to calm her misery. The cry of an eagle in the distance urged her on. This couldn’t be the end of her.
The blackflies rallied against the breeze as if to test her will. She grabbed handfuls of black bog and coated her exposed areas to keep them from their feast. Erith couldn’t escape the wretched pests in her eyes, nose, mouth, and hair, but they wouldn’t bite through the rapidly drying cover.
A half-mile or more into the marsh, she spotted an impression on the land. Could it be the trail she sought? Or perhaps an animal path? Erith followed it to the embankment and along to where the river narrowed. Someone had thrown sticks across the watery divide as a makeshift bridge. This was what she had been looking for. She quickly crossed the weathered wood. With renewed energy born from hope and desperation, she headed along the trail toward the trees.
After entering the mantle of the treeline, she had a few minutes’ rest on a windfall. She stumbled on and almost fell more times than she could count and rested frequently, though sitting was as much a chore as standing. Each time she felt the trickle of blood down her cheek and onto her neck, she took a break. She tore a strip from the tattered hem of her dress and tied it around her head, wincing as the cloth tightened.
Erith had almost given up the notion that she was going in the right direction, when she climbed a small rise and let out a deep sigh of relief.
Looking out at the expanse of the harbour, she saw that the north side, her destination, was tucked in somewhere beneath her vantage point. The sun would soon be veiled by the horizon behind her, but she figured she could make it before being swallowed by the night since it was all downhill.
She could clearly see the houses on the south side and North Harbour River, which split the community in half. There were two sandy points of land that almost touched to form the harbour, and then the land hourglassed out beyond to the brackish pond at the mouth of the river. From here the pond looked comparable in size to the harbour, but there were no houses on the near-landlocked body, and the sandy points often shifted with the tides and river currents.
People with business to conduct on either side of the harbour usually crossed at the points. The Ryans, Singletons, and Daltons kept dories there, and residents used them whenever they needed. Erith knew it wasn’t a great distance, because people would joke how it took them a few minutes to row and many times longer to walk to the store for the mail.
The trail went over the rise on the distant shore. John’s Pond was a few miles farther. Erith hadn’t ever seen the path as clearly as she did from this height. She knew Colinet would be the next community, a few miles farther on. It was out of her view, mixed somewhere in the trees.
After catching her breath, Erith faced the trail. The hill was steep and rocky from water runoff, and she felt a downward pull. As daylight waned, she abandoned her cautious step for a faster, wilder, almost frantic gait. She tripped and stumbled on exposed roots and loose rocks, sometimes spearing herself with the piece of driftwood she continued using as a crutch. Suddenly, she broke out of the trees and almost ran into a fenced potato garden. The house below, near the shore, was Mr. Art Power’s place. The last remnants of a will to survive outweighed her exhaustion by just a fraction as she scaled the five rungs of the fence. The weathered wood buckled despite her small size.
Erith nearly cried out with relief as she reeled down the steep hill toward the house. One more fence and she would make it. Unable and unwilling to stop, she hit the barrier hard and toppled over the top rail without her feet having touched the bottom rail. She collapsed in a pile on the grass and rolled down the lesser incline, folding around the rocks at the base of the aging clothesline pole. Her eyes closed. When they opened, a moonless night had taken hold of the land.
Erith was unable to get up. This couldn’t be it. She was so close. Mr. and Mrs. Power would surely be home and their three young children in bed. She tried to shout, but no sound came out. Gasping for breath, she tried again. A hoarse whisper frustrated her efforts. She untangled herself from around the cribbing and tried in vain to get up. Her muscles wouldn’t co-operate, and her ribs ached—a new pain. Mr. Power would find her dead in the morning.
The cold ground awakened her once more. No. There was a sound. Somebody was on the step. Mrs. Power was throwing out the dishwater.
Erith weakly flailed her arms in the blackness. She thought she screamed, but Mrs. Power didn’t answer. Erith slapped the ground hard with her open palm. Mrs. Power, a dark figure outlined in the dim light from the lamp, turned over the pan, and water splashed near the step. She paused for a second. Erith slapped the ground two more times.
“Who’s out there?”
Erith repeated the motion. Mrs. Power went back inside. Erith put her head down, and with every ounce of strength she could muster, she dragged herself toward the door. If she could get to the step . . . just a few feet.
She heard the hinges creak as the door opened again, and Mr.