BY HAROLD N. WALTERS
Before Genevieve Laurier becomes the maiden from the sea she is a French scullion maid – scullion, there’s a dandy 17th century word. But since she is “growing up with a countenance too pleasing for her own good,” she is loaded aboard the Tempest and shipped off to the new-found land.
Then one night when she goes on deck for a breath of fresh air misfortune befalls her. Genevieve leans over the taffrail – that’s part of the stern, I think – to retch; the Tempest heaves and Genevieve a mere maiden of 17, pitches overboard, headfirst into the sea.
Come daylight a young fisherman, Luke, is gazing out the bay at an ocean that moves “seductively, like a blue satin gown on a mysterious form.”
Nice image, eh b’ys?
As you’d expect in a novel called ‘Maiden from the Sea’ (Pennywell Books), Luke spots Genevieve, the strings of her bonnet tangled in a growler.
Luke and his father fish Genevieve out and haul her into their boat and I fear author Nellie Strowbridge will hate me for this but I couldn’t help thinking about the story in an old reader – Grade 4? – in which a fisherman nets a magic fish.
I realize there are no parallels between that yarn of the magic fish and Nellie Strowbridge’s tale but there is no accounting for the foolishness that springs into an aged scribbler’s noggin.
Yet, there is something mysterious about a talking fish (who? which? that?) begs to be thrown back into the sea. And there is something mysterious about the maiden Luke and Joe rescue – she often hears a voice calling, “Elizabeth,” and she dreams of this unknown woman.
Anyway, you’d likely think it’s Genevieve’s lucky day. She’s been saved; her troubles are over.
You’d be wrong.
Next thing you know Luke and Joe are loading up their summer’s worth of dried fish and hauling it back around the cape to their mother ship, leaving Genevieve all alone in Ochre Pit Cove for the winter.
For the winter!
This novel is set in the days when it was illegal for folks to settle in Newfoundland. Genevieve is abandoned in an empty foreign land.
Or is she?
Think about it.
Right. There are Beothuk in the bushes.
Nasook discovers Genevieve. There is an instantaneous, magnetic (?) attraction between them and in short order they … well, they “have a relationship.”
As it turns out, Genevieve is tough as taps and with some help from Nasook she survives the winter, during which time she realizes she is … well, remember the ‘relationship’.
Halt the horses! I apologize. I’m revealing too much plot and – p’raps – making light of a serious story. But I’m whistling past the graveyard, so to speak.
Genevieve’s life is harsh, filled with horrors, hauntings – that Elizabeth woman?! – and tragedy, and not to be belittled.
So, change of pace.
When I was a callow bay boy – Grade 4 again? – I must’ve drawn the map of Newfoundland a hundred times. Its shape became so ingrained that eventually I could sketch it off freehand – and label all the bays and capes – without looking at a picture.
Not once though did I imagine the island’s birth and shape as Nellie Strowbridge does: “…a giant mammal rising up through huge sheets of ice in an Atlantic sea, settling its body on a grand shelf, a long neck reaching up from its large body lying on its bum, (Love that image! On its bum!) feet licked by the sea’s salty tongue.”
That’s a fine description, idden it b’ys?
If you Google ‘free range babies’ countless websites offer all sorts of information, but none mention the minor mishaps that might happen to a true free range baby as seen in Maiden from the Sea.
Genevieve changes her baby’s – frig, I’m revealing too much again! – poopy, double-T butt. The baby starts to wail: “Genevieve discovered a welt on her skin, likely from the sting of a stout in the wad of grass she had used to wipe her.”
The sting of a stout!
There are comforts for free range babies though: “Genevieve had given her a pierced skin tit fill with spring partridgeberries to suck.”
Fancy that! A patch-a-berry dumb tit! Top that Mr. Gerber!
Thank you for reading.
Nellie, forgive me for being silly. I enjoyed your novel, especially the genetic memory notion.
Harold Walters writes from Dunville, Placentia Bay.