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Embarking from England in the early 1800s, seventeen-year-old Lavinia Andrews and her family land in the tiny Newfoundland settlement of Cape Random, a remote fishing outpost set in a stark, rocky landscape on the edge of the sea. Here the Andrewses find themselves among a strange and intriguing group of outcasts with whom they must eke out a living. As the community grows—struggling to survive against the dangers of starvation, accident, and illness—deep friendships develop, as do marriages, rivalries, and ...
Embarking from England in the early 1800s, seventeen-year-old Lavinia Andrews and her family land in the tiny Newfoundland settlement of Cape Random, a remote fishing outpost set in a stark, rocky landscape on the edge of the sea. Here the Andrewses find themselves among a strange and intriguing group of outcasts with whom they must eke out a living. As the community grows—struggling to survive against the dangers of starvation, accident, and illness—deep friendships develop, as do marriages, rivalries, and intrigues, all set against the backdrop of the magnificent and wild ocean. Epic in scope, luminous in language, Cape Random is a lyrical tribute to the decency and kindness possible among people even in the most difficult circumstances.
This title was previously published in Canada as Random Passage.
Copyright © 1992 Bernice Morgan.
All rights reserved.
Lavinia Andrews stops at the rock, the like of which she has never seen before, rising out of the sand, tall as a house, shining smooth and curved at the tip like a great, black finger pointing up to God. She circles the rock slowly until she finds a spot from which she can see neither the endless ocean nor the desolate huddle of people far back on the wharf. She slides down with her back tight against the black surface and discovers it to be slightly warm. Does this mean that the sun sometimes shines in this grey forsaken place?
Dropping her face onto her knees and wrapping her arms around her head, she weeps like a child. Eventually her crying gives way to small gulps, then stops. But she stays, hunched against the rock, face hidden in the tweed of her old skirt. The rough cloth, still smelling faintly of home, soothes her. She begins to relax, to examine what has happened, to think about where she is, what she might become.
She has never thought of herself this way before, as a person alone, separate from her mother and brothers, unrelated to the family standing back on the wharf surrounded by their boxes and barrels. She reflects, for the first time, on Lavinia Andrews ("A clean, decent girl who can read, count and scrub floors," Mrs. John had said), a girl sitting on a sea-swept shore, husbandless, friendless, penniless, a sack containing all she owns lying beside her on the sand.
"I'd be better off if Ellsworth hung Ned like he threatened." The thought has been there, just below the surface for five weeks.
"I don't care, it's true—I'm here now and I'll never get back! How could I face it again? The empty, heaving sea—day in, day out, the slimy water, the dirt and stink. None of the women will get back—the men might, but not the women. We'll stay in this place 'til we perish."
The enormity of what Ned has done to them all, and her own heedless following, sets her weeping again. She tries to comfort herself. Maybe they will move away from the water. Inland there might be warm valleys, green fields.
"That's right, girl, tell yourself tales. You're as bad as Ned. Would people be living here on the rocks if there was a warm green place nearby? I'm seventeen, I could live fifty years yet. Fifty years! God, what will become of me?"
The question plays over and over in her mind, but there is no answer. She sits, face pressed into her skirt, sniffing, dozing a little, exhausted by crying and by nights and nights sitting awake beside Hazel.
Take a good look at her now. Lavinia Andrews, all alone on the long beach, hiding from both her own people and from the strangers, afraid of the cold ocean behind and the desolate land before. A cheerless November day it is. The only colour on all the sea-washed beach is in the green wool scarf the girl has wound around her head and the puffs of dirty orange hair that escape from beneath the scarf.
Five weeks ago, all in one night, Lavinia Andrews was uprooted from her own country, a soft, settled place compared to this. Five weeks ago she left a sure job with good prospects. Five weeks ago she left the handsome boy she'd seen selling puppets from a barrow—they had never spoken but would have. For five weeks she has sailed through two thousand miles of black, moving water, across the stormiest seas on earth. A rough passage in the hold of a merchant ship, a space built to transport pigs and sheep to French colonies in the New World.
For five weeks she has delayed both thinking and weeping. No time for vain regrets, not with children to wash and feed, to keep from drowning, to hold and comfort; with Hazel, who hadn't moved from her bed since the voyage started, to attend to. Picking lice from heads and blankets, scraping mould from bread and prying maggots out of meat, killing rats, scrubbing boards, lugging water down below and disposing of feces and vomit over the side had left her without energy to think about the life she left behind or the life waiting ahead.
Lavinia wakes with a start, feeling afraid, sure someone is nearby, sure someone has been watching her. But there is no one. Nothing but empty sand ending in deep shadows where sea and wind have gouged shallow caves into the overhanging banks. The sky is still grey and on the other side of the rock, the sea still pounds against the shore, slow and persistent as the heartbeat of a giant. An hour could have passed, or a lifetime, or minutes, or maybe she hasn't slept at all.
Since early morning, as La Truite came nearer and nearer to the empty coast, Lavinia had watched, wondering if people live in such places.
"Do not worry so much, Mademoiselle, I will set you down in a snug harbour," Captain Benoit said when he came upon her gazing forlornly at the dark coast.
"The hills are so black—like it's forever nighttime in there," she whispered.
The hills were not black but green, he told her. "Evergreen, you will have evergreen hills," he said and his broad, false smile frightened her even more.
When she asked where the town was, the place Ned had told them about, the place where they were going to open a store, the Captain made an awkward, uncomfortable sound. "Not here, not here." He held his fingers in a kind of triangle, "St. Jean de Terre Neuve there ... we are here."
Only then did she discover they were not going to that part of Newfound Land nearest England. La Truite was making for what the Captain called "the French Shore." His agreement with Ned was to put the Andrews family ashore in some English settlement along the way.
They are town people, how can they possibly make a living out of sea and rock? She reviews the possessions her family has brought: crockery, a few blackened and dented pots, a collection of old clothing and one or two coins, probably even now being bartered for a place to sleep. Not a cow nor a horse, not a seed nor tool among them all. How pitiful their belongings look piled on the wharf. How soft they look compared to the people who'd stood silently watching them come ashore.
Her mother had been the most brave. Jennie Andrews had walked right over to the woman, a short little body who wore so many layers of shaggy shawls draped around herself and her baby that she looked like a mouldy haystack with a tiny head on top.
"God's blessings on ye, Missis—I'm some glad to see a woman here." Her mother had bent forward to peer at the baby, just as she would have done on Monk Street. The round apple face atop the haystack had smiled, a wide, almost toothless, smile, and in a minute the two women were talking as if they had been neighbours all their lives.
Lavinia and Meg had hung back, hovering near Hazel, who had been carried ashore in Ned's arms and now lay on the wharf in a pile of bedding. Meg carried her own baby and held the hand of her nephew Isaac. The boy had gotten to be a real sook since his mother's illness and cried in fright as he was led down the narrow plank stretching between ship and wharf. The older youngsters, Isaac's sister Jane, and Ben and Meg's three girls, Lizzie, Patience and Emma, stood in line gazing solemnly at the children on the wharf, who, just as solemnly, gazed back.
Even the men had faltered, Ned hesitating beside Hazel's pallet before going forward, his hand outstretched. Ben, of course, had watched Ned, waiting to see what his brother would do before making any move himself.
Lavinia supposes that by rights the oldest son is responsible for all of them. But what could anyone expect of Ben? Ben, who since he was nine has spent every day sitting in the cart behind Old Bones, riding through the streets of Weymouth, bartering his motley collection of merchandise.
In Weymouth, Ben had no worries. His wife Meg and his brother Ned made all the decisions in his life, which suited him. He had no boss and that suited him too. Ned and Lavinia, and indeed almost everyone he knew around Monk Street, worked for the Ellsworth brothers. Ben, though not a churchgoer like his wife, thanked God daily that he did not have the Ellsworths lording it over him. This fact, however, was no help on the day Richard Ellsworth came to Monk Street pounding on the table and carrying a great book with Ned's mark in it.
Ned's mark in Richard Ellsworth's book landed them all in this dismal place.
Lavinia has always loved Ned most. Everyone has loved Ned. Her brother had been coddled, admired, surrounded with love—spoiled with love—since he first learned to speak. Lavinia and Ned look alike. Both have the same pale skin, the same bright curly hair, the same loose, disjointed bodies, the same ability to weave magic with words.
This attribute, which is to turn up again and again in the Andrews family, attracts great admiration. Stories can be told anywhere: deep in the holds of ships, in jail cells, down mine shafts, in rooms where people wait for birth or for death, in the mud of trenches, on ice floes and even, many generations later, beneath strobe lights and on the flickering screens of television sets. Ned uses this wonderful gift more than Lavinia, who is still in awkward transition between childhood and womanhood.
For seven years, Ned had sailed on Ellsworth ships. He returned from each voyage full of stories about terrible storms with waves taller than the masts, stories of ghost lights that hover above the water, of sea monsters with horns like unicorns, stories of beasts that live in the north country, creatures so wild and curious that they have no names.
When Ned told his stories, the kitchen on Monk Street would fill with neighbours. Every chair would be taken—people would even sit on the floor between chairs. Children would be shooed off to bed, not because anyone cared that they were missing sleep, but because they could not fit into the room. No one would leave until the end, which sometimes took half the night, because Ned loved watching faces change from dread to delight then back to dread again and could expand any story indefinitely.
Ned at least knows something about the sea. It is the only skill they have that might help them survive here. Does this mean they must all now depend upon Ned? For Lavinia, sitting on the edge of her cold new world, this is a bitter thought, one she does not want to dwell upon.
She pulls a book from the bag lying beside her on the sand. The words, "Ellsworth Brothers" and beneath, "Record of Shipping 1810 to...." are written in gold on the cover. She begins to write. The first sentence comes quickly. She has been saying the words over and over to herself for five weeks. They bite into the heavy paper and she underlines them with a slash.
"It's Ned's wickedness that's brought us to this terrible place and I'll never forgive him."
She stops. In Sunday school she had copied out texts from the Bible, but this is the first sentence of her own she has ever written. The look of it, black and clean on the creamy paper, gives her a feeling of satisfaction, but she is unsure of how to continue.
Aside from Bible verses, Lavinia has written only lists, the interminable lists of Ellsworth household items. Even writing these had been a pleasure: "Ten petticoats, five white, two black, one purple, one rose, one blue. Twenty tea cups edged in gold with green leaves. Three nightshirts, two white...."
Lavinia is the only member of her family who can write or read. She has read the Bible (or parts of the Bible approved of by the Church of England Society for the Improvement of the Poor), an Infants Primer (which, together with the Bible, the Hymnal and a Book of Common Prayer make up the Sunday school library), and The Little Folks Book of Saints and Martyrs (contributed by the minister's kindly wife to relieve the tedium of the primer).
Lavinia pulls her cold hands back into the sleeves of her jacket, folds them under her armpits and thinks. Where to begin? With Ned making a thief of himself? With the moment young Lizzie called to her down the coal chute? When that terrible ship pulled away from the docks in Weymouth? Or just now, coming ashore in this Newfound Land, stiff and pale, their poor things piled all around on that rickety wharf?
She tries to recall the first words of the three books she is familiar with. The Primer, she remembers, had a large "A" on the first page with the words "A is for Adam the first man to fall." There had been a thick black picture of a sorrowful Adam, his head hunched forward, his hand holding a large leaf against his middle and at his back an angry angel. In one hand the angel carried a flaming sword, with the other he pointed beyond Adam to something unseen, unknown.
She cannot remember the first fearful words of the Saints and Martyrs but she knows how the Bible begins. She turns the book upside down and begins to write. She begins on the last page, writing toward the front of the book—toward a future she does not dare to imagine.
"In the beginning we all lived on Monk Street in Weymouth, in England, and we were all happy ..." she writes.
And so they were. In the four room flat over Mrs. Thorp's bread and pie shop, the lives of the Andrews family had a comforting order. In recent years, with Ned sailing regularly in Ellsworth ships and Lavinia earning three shillings a week up at Ellsworth House, Jennie Andrews had begun to feel she and her children were safe from starvation or the poor house. Jennie, a woman of great inventiveness, was inclined to attribute this not to her children's having, grown and started to bring in money, but to the fact that old mad George, who had been king of England for all of her life had finally died.
Jennie had rented the flat on Monk Street the very day she and Will Andrews wed. They had not really wed, but had run away from home to live under a bridge on the outskirts of town, eating and selling vegetables which they got from nearby farms—sometimes in exchange for work, sometimes by stealing. In the fall, the bridge could not protect them from the cold, and Jennie was pregnant, but they had saved enough for two weeks rent. Through the years, however, Jennie has told so many people about the wedding, about the straw hat she wore and the crooked old minister who refused to ring the church bells, that she quite believes the story. Will died before Lavinia, their third child, was born, but by then they owned the horse and cart. Jennie had managed somehow to pay the rent and to feed herself and the children until Ben was nine, old enough to take over the job of peddling used clothing, worn costumes of failed theatre groups and goods bought from burnt-out shops.
After the boys married and settled their wives in the flat, and after children began arriving almost yearly, the four rooms became crowded, but no one ever gave a thought to moving. Ben and Meg, their three girls and Willie, the baby, all slept in one room; Ned, Hazel and their two in another.
Jennie and Lavinia, who now spent only every second Sunday at home, shared the back room. They slept surrounded by crates, baskets and barrels stuffed to overflowing with unsold clothing, rolls of scorched cloth, silent clocks, chipped china ornaments, garish pictures in broken frames and a hundred other useless household items. This mixture of goods emitted a smell of age, of old fires, stale perfume, of cats long dead and meals long eaten. For Lavinia it was the smell of comfort, of sleep, of home. When, many years later, she read the word 'sandman' in a children's book, she immediately thought of the smell in the room she and her mother shared on Monk Street.
The kitchen in front was the room where the Andrews women knitted; made rag dolls, tea cosies and cushion covers from unsold garments; sorted and mended the old clothing; cooked, ate and cared for the children, all the time keeping a sharp lookout on the narrow, busy street below.
There were many advantages to living on Monk Street. Jacob Spriggett's blacksmith shop and livery stable was just around the corner, so Ben did not have far to walk on winter nights after he'd bedded Old Bones. They were near the docks where Ned could keep an eye on the comings and goings of vessels, watching for a good berth.
Excerpted from Cape Random by Bernice Morgan. Copyright © 1992 by Bernice Morgan. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Posted October 20, 2002
Bernice Morgan writes a book about material that she obviously knows. If the Canadian award-winning mini-series is shown in the States, you will see this book fly to the top of the charts. It is immensely readable as it combines the history and geography of Newfoundland with a rich stable of characters. I am now reading the sequel, Waiting for Time, and am enjoying it. If you read Shipping News, you will enjoy this story. In fact, I think it has better balance and is artfully written.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 28, 2002
Having READ the book, I can say it's excellent. It is a great tale of a family and it's individual members surviving the horrible winters on the East Coast of Newfoundland in the early 1800's. I'm an avid reader and this my first encounter with Morgan's writings and I will be reading more. The story is well written, the characters very real and endearing and the story itself teriffic. Try it!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 1, 2002