Francis St. Croix spotted it first, a black dot floating in an ocean of water and ice. When he and Ernie rowed alongside for a look, they couldn't believe their eyes. There was a baby inside a makeshift cradle on an ice pan, bobbing like an ice cube on the sea. How had a baby come to be in the North Atlantic? Francis wouldn't have been out here himself but for having signed on to a Lunenberg schooner, the Maria Claire. The fishermen had been hauling trawl lines into the dory when a thick fog rolled in, obscuring their view of the schooner as well as her marker buoys. All day long the men had rowed through fog looking for their ship and that evening, when it lifted and there was still no sign of the Maria Claire, decided to head for Newfoundland and rowed all night. Early next morning they came upon the child.
The cradle was a basket on top of a wooden chair. Black rubber sheeting was wrapped around the basket and tied with some fancy gold rope. On top of the sheeting was a woman's veiled hat. While Ernie steadied the dory, Francis removed the hat and lifted the chair and the basket into the boat, noticing how the sheeting had been rucked up at one end to make a hood. When he pushed back the hood, he saw the baby's face, white as the Virgin's. A girl, Francis knew it was a girl. Her eyes were closed. Was she dead, or asleep? He held his hand in front of her face, felt a wisp of breath warm his palm. May the Holy Mother keep her asleep. If she awoke they had nothing to feed her except hard tack and a bit of cold tea.
An angel must have been guarding the child, for she slept until the next day, and when she awoke there was no cry, no whimper of discomfort or distress. It was as if she understood that the men were delivering her to land as soon as they could. The sea cradle was on the dory bottom between Francis's legs where he could see the baby as he leaned to the oars. How long had those eyes been open? Blue they were, a clear regarding blue. When he looked again, they were brown. After she had memorized his face-so Francis liked to think-the baby closed her eyes. By the time she opened them again, Ernie was at the oars and Francis was kneeling beside the basket. The baby poked a finger into her mouth and sucked. Francis groped among the cradle cloths to test her warmth and found a jar of sweetened water and a bit of bread wrapped in a lady's handkerchief. This in turn had been wrapped in two flannel napkins and tucked at the baby's feet then covered with rubber sheeting, well away from sharp-eyed gulls.
They were too far out for gulls. So far they had only seen puffins, a small flotilla riding the swell. Though the worst of the ice was behind them, the air was cold. Francis slipped the jar beneath his shirt to warm it. The child was wet. He bent to the task with chapped and calloused hands. When his sons were babies, he had occasionally changed their napkins but he had no skill with such things, much less with a female child. But it had to be done. He chucked the soiled napkin overboard and fumbled a clean one between her legs. Before he bundled her tight, he rubbed her vigorously to bring up the colour but her pallor remained. He softened a pinch of bread in water and slipped it into her mouth. She smacked her lips and swallowed. Then she smiled. She had teeth, four miniature accordion keys. Twelve month old she was, maybe more. She was so little, her age was hard to guess. He fed her more bread and she closed her eyes while they rowed beneath a sky where a celestial compass guided them home. It was a two-day journey to Newfoundland, with each of them taking a turn at the oars while the other dozed.
Francis put ashore in the Drook with the cradle and the hat, and Ernie continued to Trepassey where he boarded a schooner that took him back to Nova Scotia, leaving the dory and the chair behind. Albert Sutton claimed the dory and his wife the chair, a collapsible wooden frame with a woven cane seat. Her mother sat in the chair for years to watch passersby, until a fire destroyed both the chair and the house.
Because no one was expecting Francis, his family was doubly astonished to see him walk into the kitchen with a baby in his arms.
"Mother of God! What have you there?" Merla St. Croix put her hand on the baby's forehead. "Ice cold."
"I found her on a bergy bit."
"A girl, is she?"
"As pretty as you please."
Four sons crowded around while Merla unbuttoned a wool bunting.
"Her little legs are that thin, they're like candle sticks," Merla said.
"She's been without food for a time," Francis said. "She'll be hungry."
No one thought to ask Francis if he was hungry or how he'd happened ashore earlier than expected. All that was told later, after the child had been changed and bundled in the basket, which was put on the oven door like bread set to rise. Merla dipped a cloth in warm milk and squeezed it into the baby's mouth. The child swallowed the milk and went back to sleep. Three days later she opened her eyes, one blue, the other brown, and looked around.
They named her Aurora because Francis had come upon her in a gleaming dawn.