Edited by Malcolm Lowry’s widow and released more than a decade after his death, October Ferry to Gabriola is the sentimental story of two individuals striving for sanity, inspiration, hope, and purpose in the deep seclusion of the British Columbian forest. Once the couple finds a new home in the woods, their new, off-the-grid life together becomes their last attempt at finding stability... Illuminating and joyful, October Ferry to Gabriola is a striking ode to the struggle for hope amid the purity of the wilderness—a story made all the more poignant by Lowry’s untimely death before publication.
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October Ferry To Gabriola
By Malcolm Lowry, Margerie Lowry
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1970 Margerie Bonner Lowry
All rights reserved.
Farewell, farewell, farewell, eight Bells, Wywurk, The Wicket Gate. The little house looked all right. So we love forever, taking leave.
The October morning sunlight filled the swift bus, the Greyhound, sailing through the forest branches, singing straight out to sea, roaring toward the mountains, circling sudden precipices.
They followed the coastline. To the left was the forest; to the right, the sea, the Gulf.
And the light coruscated brilliantly from the windows in which the travelers saw themselves now on the right hand en-islanded in azure amid the scarlet and gold of mirrored maples, by these now strangely embowered upon the left hand among the islands of the Gulf of Georgia.
At times, when the Greyhound overtook and passed another car, where the road was narrow, the branches of the trees brushed the left-hand windows, and behind, or in the rearview mirror ahead reflecting the road endlessly enfilading in reverse, the foliage could be seen tossing for a while in a troubled gale at their passage. Again, in the distance, he would seem to see dogwood rocketing through the trees in a shower of white stars. And when they slowed down, the fallen leaves in the forest seemed to make even the ground glow and burn with light.
Downhill: and to the right hand beyond the blue sea, beneath the blue sky, the mountains on the British Columbian mainland traversed the horizon, and on that right side too, luminous, majestic, a snowy volcano of another country (it was Mount Baker over in America and ancient Ararat of the Squamish Indians) accompanied them, with a white distant persistence, and at a different speed, like a remote, unanchored Popocatepetl.
"Well, damn it," he said, "I don't think I'm going to."
"Not going to what, Ethan sweetheart?"
Ethan and Jacqueline sat, arm in arm, in the two back left-hand seats of the Greyhound and once when he saw their reflections in the window it struck him these were the reflections of some lucky strangers who looked too full of hope and excitement to talk.
"Register our tickets at the depot to insure return space. It seems to be tempting fate either way you look at it."
Jacqueline smiled at him with affection, absently, patting him on the knee, while Ethan regarded their ticket again.
Victoria ... Duncan ... Nanaimo hath murdered sleep.
And in Duncan too, the poor old English pensioners, bewhiskered, gaitered, standing motionless on street corners, dreaming of Mafeking or the fore-topgallant studding sail, or sitting motionless in the bankrupt rowing club, each one a Canute; golfing on the edge of the Gulf, riding to the fall of the pound; bereaved of their backwaters by rumors of boom. Evicted ... But to be evicted out of exile: where then?
The bus changed gear, going up a hill: beginning: beginning: beginning again: beginning yet again: here we go, into the blue morning.
The vehicle was rounding a high curve and as it turned down toward the valley below, Jacqueline leaned forward for a better view from the right-hand windows: the sea swarmed with islands, and one of them was surely Gabriola.
Gabriola! Ah, if it should prove the right place, her eyes were saying, the dreamed-of place, and the old skipper's house Angela had written about still for sale, and, more important, within their means to buy! Of course, there was this other "lot" they could almost certainly get, but then they'd have to build a house, and that would take so long.
For the Llewelyns, like love and wisdom, had no home.
Jacqueline, he knew, already saw the skipper's house as theirs, as their home. Small, but with big sun-filled seaward windows it stood for her, facing the Pacific and the blue mountains of the mainland, while behind, it was guarded by a forest of huge knotted maples and firs and ancient cedars and, against the sky, tall slender alders, swaying ...
She had a passion for gardening, so for her a garden was all-important. But also the wide verandahs, big cupboards, a stone fireplace: all these delightful (and to Ethan, after their life on the beach in Eridanus, by now almost irrelevant) possibilities, combined with other "conveniences" not long since all but forgotten, would be taking shape in her mind, just as they had no doubt many times taken shape in her mind this last unhappy month of loss and searching—only for her to be confronted by the reality of bare treeless grassless yards, soulless desiccated war-built bungalows, or older houses yet more moribund, for the awfulness of having to live in which no "conveniences" whatsoever would even compensate, homeless homes with stoves full of old bones, and subaqueous basements, neglected and run down during the last years, houses once well situated, but now viewless as Shakespeare's winds, cackling, who knows, with poltergeists.
Yet this time, she would be thinking, ah this time it would be different, for surely a skipper of all people would be one to have rendered his own house shipshape, even if a retired skipper. As if shipshapeness were the entire question with her either.
Gleaming white cedar siding home
Clean as a pin from stem to stern.
Living room, dining room, kitchen with Sun room off. And two bright bedrooms.
It was an ironic little chant they had. At this point they would always pause and then add in unison, laughing: "Only ten thousand dollars down!"CHAPTER 2
The Magician of the Toodoggone River
Ethan Llewelyn was sharply reminded that he himself was "retired," and that his total income now amounted to not much more than $10,000 in two years. He was in an income tax bracket more compatible with the role of public defender he had so often, to his credit and the detriment of his pocketbook (Ethan was really thinking in this peculiar manner), assumed in the past, and for which he was still even nationally famous. A prosperous criminal lawyer, despite this, he had, though still a fairly young man, given up practice two years and four months ago, three summers and two winters, after one of the most gruesome and complicated cases he had ever defended. Well, it was not exactly retirement. Nor had he made the move because he'd lost this particular case: in part it was perhaps because, having for so long sincerely believed his client, a deceitfully benign watchmaker, innocent (and such was Ethan's genuine train of thought), it had only been to discover, after he'd saved him from the scaffold, locally in this instance a disused prison elevator shaft painted bright yellow, that he could not have been more guilty.
With means, if more than a little diminished means, of his own Ethan had done what his father before him, likewise a lawyer, had done, and had once in days past counselled him to do before it was too late, before this might spell an irrevocable retirement. He made a "Retreat." (To be sure he had not been bidden so far afield as had his father, who'd spent the last year of peace before the First World War as a "legal adviser on international cotton law" in Czarist Russia, whence he brought back to his young son in Wales, or so he announced, lifting it whole out of a mysterious deep-Christmas-smelling wooden box, a beautiful toy model of Moscow; a city of tiny magical gold domes, pumpkin- or Christmas-bell-shaped, sparkling with Christmas tinsel-scented snow, bright as new silver half-crowns, and of minuscule Byzantine chimes; and at whose miniature frozen street corners waited minute sleighs, in which Ethan had imagined years later lilliputian Tchitchikovs brooding, or corners where lurked snow-bound Raskolnikovs, their hands stayed from murder evermore: much later still he was to become unsure whether the city, sprouting with snow-freaked onions after all, was intended to be Moscow or St. Petersburg, for part of it seemed in memory built on little piles in the "water," like Eridanus; the city coming out of the box he was certain was magic too—for he had never seen it again after that evening of his father's return, in a strange astrakhan-collared coat and Russian fur cap—the box that was always to be associated also with his mother's death, which had occurred shortly thereafter; the magic bulbar city going back into the magic scented box forever, and himself too afraid of his father to ask him about it later—though how beautiful for years to him was the word "city," the carilloning word "city" in the Christmas hymn, "Once in Royal David's City," and the tumultuous angel-winged city that was Bunyan's celestial city; beautiful, that was, until he "saw" a city—it was London—for the first time, sullen, in fog, and bloodshot as if with the fires of hell, and he had never to this day seen Moscow—so that while this remained in his memory as nearly the only kind action he could recall on the part of either of his parents, if not nearly the only happy memory of his entire childhood, he was constrained to believe the gift had actually been intended for someone else, probably for the son of one of his father's clients: no, to be sure he hadn't wandered as far afield as Moscow; nor had he, like his younger brother Gwyn, wanting to go to Newfoundland, set out, because he couldn't find another ship, recklessly for Archangel; he had not gone into the desert nor to sea himself again or entered a monastery, and moreover he'd taken his wife with him; but retreat it was just the same.)
"It is a course the wisdom of which should not be impugned because its objectives, briefly, may often be expressed only in clichés," his Scottish father-in-law, a not unexpected ally, had observed in his solemn oratorial burr. Ethan smiled to himself; the thought of Jacqueline's father, when he could bring himself to believe in the existence of such a man on earth at all, afforded him keen pleasure. The British Isles beget bizarre sons: and examples of her most fabulous were to be found in Canada. And if Canadian policy (as once with the strategy of the Battle of Britain) was never, according to reliable report, formulated by its higher ministers without recourse by its highest to counsel from the angelic host, and if there were, and their friend the gamewarden in Eridanus swore there were, Englishmen in British Columbia who lived up trees, why not a Scotsman in the Dominion of whom it was said, like Virgil, that he was a white magician? Fantastic though it sounded, Angus McCandless was or had been a cabbalist, and one of high degree, even a sort of Parsifal: this once accepted, if you like cum grano salis, his interior life seemed, to a layman, of a transcendent, an almost unapproachable seriousness, though he could discuss aspects of it with anything but seriousness; the humor of the situation entered for Ethan via the fact that the old practitioner of ceremonial magic was also a hard-fisted and tough rancher, farmer, ex-soldier (precisely how he squared his magical activity with his conscience Ethan had never understood, for The McCandless, besides having been a Mason, was also a Catholic). "Before the amassing of money, and in Canada the law is a method of making it appallingly facile," The McCandless had gone on, "you may now consider your own, and my daughter's deeper needs. You may now place health and the pursuit of happiness first, it being a providential thing that your grandfather saw fit to provide in his will for your son's education. Aye. And I am profoundly glad that you are anxious to know yoursel', to discover, if possible, other, profounder capacities in yoursel'. Perhaps after all," he had added with unconscious sarcasm, "you are not essentially a lawyer, even if it is to be hoped you will never lose your affection for the paradoxes and absurdities of the law itself." (Indeed Ethan still lectured occasionally—or had until these last months—on Canadian law, to the changing of which, in certain horrendous items, he yet hoped to contribute.) Another peculiar thing about Jacqueline's father was that, a Scot of Scots, he had not been born in Scotland at all, but in Bordeaux, being directly descended from a Scottish laird who in the ancient days of Bordeaux greatness, was a knight-at-arms in the retinue of the Duke of Berwick, the son of James II and Marlborough's sister, who once held there what approximated to a court-in-exile. One branch of the family had never left the old seaport, and it was on his own parents' visit to these relatives that Angus McCandless had been born. Still half loyal in his heart to the victor of Almanza and the House of Stuart, The McCandless had emigrated to Canada after being informed that several original letters of Montesquieu, discovered in the family archives, were his property. These had been sold to the library of the Arsenal in Paris, though the proceeds didn't get him very far. "As for me," the old magician said, "my life has been full of retreats. In this country I started at eight dollars a month in 1905 on a stock farm working from daylight to dark. There was a retreat for you ... The following year I got forty dollars a month breaking horses on a ranch in Saskatchewan. Then I rode herd on the Toodoggone River Ranch for twenty-five dollars a month and board. That's two more retreats. In 1908 I took up a homestead sixty miles from Dumble, Alberta. I sold that for twenty dollars an acre after three years homestead duties, which was worse, on the whole, than the Montesquieu Letters. I went overseas in 1914, more in pity than in anger still faithful to Old England—the most unusual bloody retreat of the lot ... I was invalided home with a leg wound in November 1917 and in February 1919 I bought a poultry farm at Onion Lake, where I lost heavily on account of the low price of eggs."
Finally he'd bought another farm: "And I may say this was all bushland and took me nine years to pay for it working out, which was another retreat for you, and by then of course we had young Jacqueline to look after."CHAPTER 3
Ethan had met her one winter afternoon of thunder and snow in 1938 within the foyer of a suburban Toronto cinema, where they were showing Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., in Outward Bound. This was a merry euphemism; they had shamelessly picked each other up, a cause of much later laughter between them, since it was a movie house that showed "serious films for high-class audiences," and it had struck them both simultaneously that this of course sanctified such giddiness. Slim and supple, dark-eyed, dark-haired, and incredibly young and passionate-looking—Ethan was not capable of more detailed asseverations in regard to women, as he explained it to her afterwards, her legs were so beautiful he felt as if he had swallowed a bolt of lightning—and lounging by the velvet curtains of the entrance, smoking a cigarette, she greeted him gaily and almost as if they were lovers already. Rouging her lips, she told him she prided herself on her independence, went everywhere unescorted if she felt like it, was a chain smoker, liked to drink gin and orange juice, loved good movies and taught school in an Ontario village: music, French, botany, literature, everything, and had twenty-two pupils.
"It's a little school just outside Norway, about a mile off the main highway."
"—Norway's the town where we used to live part of each year, in Wales, on the Caernarvonshire coast."
"My Norway's just a little place east of Toronto."
Ethan suggested that perhaps she'd consider him as her twenty-third pupil, and added that talking of twos, he'd left Canada when he was two, having been born here in Ontario itself, and hadn't returned until he was twenty-two, which was six years before.
"And how do you find your native country after so long?"
She said that her father came from "the old land," and Ethan, taking her cigarette and putting it out in the sand-filled trash stand, remarked that he'd returned largely because of the depression in order to help disentangle his father's affairs in Canada.
"I feel lonely," he said. "Everybody takes me for an Englishman and they seem to hate the English like the devil. Myself, I take pride in saying I'm English even though I'm half Welsh, even though strictly speaking I'm a Canadian."
Excerpted from October Ferry To Gabriola by Malcolm Lowry, Margerie Lowry. Copyright © 1970 Margerie Bonner Lowry. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Contents1. The Greyhound,
2. The Magician of the Toodoggone River,
3. Outward Bound,
4. Isn't Life Wonderful,
5. A Devilishe Pastime,
7. A Grey Hair in God's Eyebrow,
8. "Really, Serving Mother Gettle's Soup Is Lots Simpler",
9. Called to the Bar,
10. The Hound of Heaven,
13. The Tides of Eridanus,
14. A Bottle of Gin,
15. Isn't Life Wonderful,
16. Lake of Fire,
17. A House Where a Man Has Hanged Himself,
18. The Element Follows You Around, Sir!,
19. Fire Fire Fire,
20. The Wandering Jew,
21. Go West, Young Man!,
22. "A Little Lonely Hermitage It Was ...",
23. Adam, Where Art Thou?,
24. "The Wretched Stalking Blockheads—",
25. But Still the Old Bandstand Stands Where No Band Stands,
26. "... Stalked Fatefully ...",
27. Useful Knots and How to Tie Them,
28. Wheel of Fire,
29. Just Behind the Bastion,
30. The Ocean Spray,
31. Twilight of the Raven,
32. Twilight of the Dove,
33. The Dock,
34. Outward Bound,
35. The Perilous Chapel,
36. Not the Point of No Return,
37. Uberimae Fides,
A Biography of Malcolm Lowry,