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Novel of Promise novel in progress award


Cassandra Krivy Hirsch's



Novel in Progress

Ay, these perils attending the fisheries! These it is which cause the heart
of the young maiden or wife to quake with fear every time her lover
or husband leaves port.

            - George Procter, The Fishermen's Memorial and Record Book, 1873

June 20, 1855

There is something about going to the milliner that offers renewal.  True, it is merely a hat to keep the sun off my brow, nose, and cheeks, though I do have freckles that would belie my ever wearing a hat at all.  Yet, each early summer I go to Mrs. Laughlin's Millinery to commission a new hat for the season, I am a girl all over again, tickled by the choices of ribbons and flowers that will adorn my hat.  There are also birds and feathers, things Mrs. Laughlin imports from exotic places.  I have chosen this particular milliner since being wed to James, for she is an older woman who always has a little yarn spinning in her head as she takes the things from me that I have chosen.  She weaves the yarn around the picture of the hat I will wear when she has completed it and when I return for the hat, she will have written it on a little piece of parchment she rolls and ties with the same ribbon she uses for the hat.  It is most delightful.

I will return to her shop three days hence.  My hat is to be straw colored, with a wide brim, wrapped with a petal green ribbon and a little posy of forget-me-nots at the side.  James will be as pleased as I, of this I am certain.

June 21, 1855

I have told Agatha not to wait so long before she hangs out the linens, for they grow sour-smelling.  The poor girl tucked her head down and whispered an apology, then hurried away.  I do not know if she will last, for she is very sensitive to the slightest censure.

June 23, 1855

Oh, the new hat is lovely!  And the tale Mrs. Laughlin wrote and tucked into the inside band is of a girl in a meadow who runs and runs, her hair flying behind her, until she reaches the end of it and then sits at its edge to weave a garland of all the flowers in the meadow until she has used up all but one of each blossom, leaving the meadow bare, a meadow she once loved and wished were her very own.  It is a sad seeming tale and I wonder how it occurred to her, how any of these tales occurs to a woman who fashions hats for ladies, and why she might think them suited to me and my rather more cheerful tastes.  I have heard Susannah Terry whisper that Mrs. Laughlin comes from a long line of witches, all of them burned or drowned when such was done. Novel in Progress CompetitionOf course, anything Susannah says is hardly more than gossip and I do like Mrs. Laughlin's stories.  Once, for an autumn hat of mine, she dreamed up a yarn that left me quite melancholy.  It was about a boy who loved to fish off the jetty until one day a mermaid beckoned him into the water. He followed, leaving his fishing line and trawl behind.  One day, a year later, he was caught in his very own net and could not escape until the mermaid came for him.  This happened every year to the boy, who now more resembled a fish, who now longed for the warm, dry rocks on which he had sat, whose family had long since despaired of finding him. 

Dear me, when I think of how forlorn these tales are, I wonder if Mrs. Laughlin herself tends toward melancholy when she is alone.  She seems jovial, yet she is a widow, and has been for nearly twenty years.  Perhaps she was a woman who wished for more than she possessed and this is the place from which such sad tales come.  I say this not with certainty, but with some knowledge of myself, for I have on occasion found myself wanting more than what I have.  Could it be that this kindly milliner understands my longings?

I do hope I am not as knowable as that.

June 27, 1855

As I looked from the cupola earlier today, James' flag, a proud and lovely blue, sagged at half-mast as they drifted into harbor.  I hurried down and out of the house, clasping young James tightly to me, and I felt the dread pool in my chest as Mr. Talbot hitched up the ponies to the trap so that we might get to the harbor in better time.

And indeed, when my beloved docked, I was there waiting with our boy to learn that he had lost two fishermen. One thing I have tried to tell James is that even as he tried and could not rescue his men, he must not blame himself.  He would not hear this, of course, for he is the captain and feels he ought to have prevented the men rowing out in the dory in poor conditions.  James was patching a hole in his mainsail, he said, and did not know the two men went out.  He would not have allowed it. His first mate was, along with the rest of the crew, below deck, though it would later be revealed that they only feigned sleep.

Rockport MA fishing  - Novel competitionHe noticed after they made harbor and docked that one of the three demijohns of rum he had stowed in the hold of the vessel was missing. He inquired of all his men, even taking a smell of their breath.  It was then one of them spoke up.  That man, James told me, will be scorned and perhaps tormented by his shipmates.  An able sailor and fisherman, he would like to keep this first mate, knowing the man may suffer worse than ridicule for betraying even a foolhardy trust.

Foolish though men can be in tolerable and expected ways, I do not know how any man can watch as his mate endangers himself and another.  If it were me, I would have told my captain and put an end to the tomfoolery before it began.  I said as much to James who offered me a sorrowful smile and confided that while it is an admirable quality in a woman to want to avoid trouble, it is in the nature of men to invite it and that the enjoyment of it is often in the conquering, depending upon the circumstance.  Of course, I argued that to invite such trouble is one thing, to be conquered by it is quite another and held fast to my notion, to which he replied, putting an end to the conversation, that while my notions are noble, they would not win me a place on his vessel.

The men have not been recovered, yet their souls must be put to rest.  It has been decided by those they leave behind that a burial service take place two days hence.  Mr. John Caldwell was 38 years of age and leaves an elderly mother. Mr. Ike Matthias, a younger man of 29, leaves a wife and three small children, all under the age of ten.  I will take them foodstuffs and make it known to all who would care that these families will need assistance. I have already approached the First Congregational Church and hope to see good works performed as early as tomorrow.  I plan to make a visit then as well.

July 11, 1855

For the past fortnight James has been spending far too much time in his study and young James and I feel it acutely.  When I asked him last night after supper as I took a cordial and he a brandy in the parlor if he would join us for a stroll into town this morning, he was very distracted, reading the Gloucester shipping news. At first he said, ‘of course, my darling.' Yet, this morning when I cheerfully told him that we were delighted he would be coming along, he looked at me as if I had heard quite the opposite from his lips only the night before, then he begged to be excused! I had little choice and turned toward Young James sitting at the breakfast table with an eager smile that fell into his porridge the moment he caught my frown.

When his father is not working so diligently, his temperament is very pleasing.  James makes routine preparations for a voyage, attends to his paperwork in the necessary minding of his father's estate, which keeps our family robust and is added to with a yearly allowance from Mother and Father; these tasks make up much of my good husband's week and I have adjusted to this aspect, this part of him that can turn easily away from a more leisurely life with his wife and son. I do admire his hard-working ethic. Yet, now that James seems to be even more deeply preoccupied, he has grown noticeably distant, delivering thoughts he can scarcely recall after uttering them.  At times like this morning when he forgot the easy promise he had made to us the evening before, it is as if he does not know me.

July 13, 1855

Agatha has burned a hole in my best linen tablecloth.  She was near weeping when she told me, afraid I would release her from her position.  It is true, I loved that Irish linen, sent as a wedding gift from the Reynolds's, dear friends of Mother's and Father's. Oh, bother. It is only a piece of cloth.  Agatha need not have wept over it, though I suppose I have been short-tempered more recently, no doubt due to James' preoccupation.

July 16, 1855

I am, I must admit here, a scowling, jealous girl. How can one be envious of the ocean?  After years of marveling at its powers, I have come to understand that it can soothe and excite a man, vex and beguile him.  Novel of PromiseAnd yet, a sailor possesses a heart, so must he not also desire a woman to give him what the sea cannot possibly?  For, though it sings and whispers, its embrace is never as warm as that of a wife.  One might say it is deadly.  This brings me back to my fits of unease, though it seems foolish now to see it written here.

Mother would recoil at the sight of me.  Did I not marry this man as much for his love of the open waters as for his long understood love for me, mine for him, and for that heart of his that holds mine? 

August 23, 1855

I am worried for my linens!  Agatha has injured yet another, this one only muslin dyed a lovely pale blue, but one I chose for my own household.  My supply dwindles as she destroys each one with her efforts. I will have to do the ironing myself for now or tutor her further.  She is becoming a good and able maid in all other facets of housekeeping, but this is the one task she needs to study.
Honestly, I do not feel the need for her to do as much as she does. Other girls have come and gone over the preceding five years and have found I have given them too few tasks, at last leaving my employ for busier households.  Mother would have me bring in a laundress as she has, but Agatha and I seem to be able to manage.  Of course, as Mother continues to push I continue to push back.

August 24, 1855

When James is attentive to me in the dark of our room, with our son soundly sleeping and Agatha gone home for the day, I forget all my grievances.  I am melted like candle wax when he turns to me in our bed and puts his warm mouth over mine, the lingering flavor of cherry tobacco still present so that I, too, can taste it.  Sometimes I feel like a little girl in his large hands, and when he embraces me in the quiet of our bedroom, his hunger is overwhelming.  It worries me that I cannot always match it, although I have tried to approach him at times, to begin things, and he refuses me. It is always at his urging that we come together and if I am not of a mind to return his ardor, it is my will to please him that urges me forward. His lovingness afterward is the most wondrous thing as he holds my head against his chest, the fingers of one hand moving through my hair, his other hand tracing small patterns on my back and shoulders. Before long, I will want to have him all over again and he will want the same.  We have hoped for another child to join Young James and have thus far not been rewarded.  Perhaps our boy is to be our only blessing after all.

Perhaps, too, I ought to learn from Mrs. Laughlin's little tales and not want so very much.

August 29, 1855

In the mercantile today, I stopped to speak with Susannah Terry.  I know I have said it here, but she is a haughty thing.  I do not understand why she must think herself somehow better than other women of her station.  It prompts the question, has her husband, the good Captain Joshua Terry, ever tried to bring her down a peg? I have the urge to ask him, but of course, will check that before it betrays me.  Of course, there is no pretense about him, which makes me wonder if he admires it in his wife over whom pretense rains like an overstuffed cloud. Novel competition James respects Captain Terry for his hard work, though when they are both going out for their catch, and I spy them through the telescope from the cupola, it appears they are racing.  Perhaps they are, but it must be a good-natured rivalry.

I feel a certain envy of men who can express such things in this very simple way. For women, it is supposition and suspicion, doubt and jealousies that lead only to pettiness on either part before an understanding is reached. Often enough, it may not be reached at all.

So, when I spoke with Susannah, her words amounted to little more than the crowing she must do about her husband's most recent catch, his successes of late, and no well-wishing for me.  Of course, this presents a further truth I cannot ignore, which is that her husband discusses in detail his days at sea with her, while James is most reticent on the subject.  She had, of course, heard of James losing two of his crew and was quick to point out that, while it is a tragedy, her husband has thankfully not suffered such a loss. 

August 31, 1855

James is out today setting and bringing in mackerel trawls.  It is only for a day and a night, which has been his habit in the summer season, but for his longer trips to the Banks and the Isle of Shoals.  Of late, when he is home, he spends more time in his study than with us.  I have long felt his absence when he is at sea, not enjoying the sounds of our home when he is not about.  Yet, it is an entirely foreign thing when he professes a need to be alone in his study rather than spend time with his family.  For, I hear his footfalls above my head and they seem as removed from me as if he were not home at all.

It is my habit to watch James from the cupola as he sets sail.  Young James was still abed early this morning as I made my way up the cupola steps to catch a glimpse of his father's stately vessel, named for me. Perhaps my attention was on the final step that would offer that magnificent view of our village, for it was as I took the first few steps with the speed and spring of the girl I am no longer, that I caught my dress on a loose peg jutting from one of the steps. My knee is badly bruised and has swollen to a frightful mound.  Mr. Talbot has already nailed the offending peg in place and I have applied a poultice to soothe it.

In the faintest evening breeze, I sit here now on the porch with a cup of tea, the pain in my knee quite persistent. I will be moving with great care from now on. Overhead, the leaves on the Linden shake on their branches as if to reprimand me for my foolish haste this morning.

September 18, 1855

James is readying for another voyage, this time to Georges Banks.  It is his annual late summer trip to those fertile southern waters.  He expressed his relief that his is a stellar crew, his two lost fishermen now replaced.  Novel in Progress competitionOne would think I had grown quite accomplished at being the well-wishing wife, waving from the cupola as I stand stalwart, denying any grim imaginings.  For, much as I know he has a muscled crew and he is a top-notch captain, the fisheries are not the place for any man who has a wife and child waiting at home, her heart perched between dread and hope.

September 20, 1855

Young James cried out in his sleep and I have tried all I can to soothe him, yet he clings so.  The only thing to do is relent. Now my son and Jack, too, who fidgets, like the pup he is, sleep in my bed.  It is a comfort to me to feel my boy's warmth, though I cannot rest now with so much rustling of boy and dog. Jack's tiny up-thrust ears point forward when he thinks he hears a stirring at the windows.  It is only the wind, strong this night.

And now with my son sleeping deeply beside me, the pup nosing around at my feet as he looks for his own place to settle, and the window pane quivering, I fear it may be light before my eyes close. The lark will have gotten more rest than I.

September 22, 1855

When I woke this morning, there was a chill and I knew that this might be one of the few remaining days left when a shawl for me and a light coat for my boy are not needed, I knew it would be best not to remain indoors. 

Accordingly, I asked Mr. Talbot to hitch up the horses so that I might take the boy with me to the Bedfords' mercantile on High Street and to tea at Mrs. Spencer's shop.

    There was much bustle in town today, with everyone doing their usual shopping, though it did seem as if there were more milling about than usual. Once inside the mercantile, I was greeted warmly by Mrs. Bedford who was busy setting out containers of spice on a shelf. She is a dear lady and, with Mr. Bedford, has raised a family in Rockport, coming over from England many years before when Rockport was called Sandy Bay.

I returned the greeting and she fussed a bit over young James as I looked about the store for nothing in particular, for I had only been looking to get out of the house as a diversion. On occasion, when I stop in, in hopes something will catch my fancy, I have made an impulsive purchase.  And indeed, today my eye was drawn to a corner near the counter. There was a tiny shelf with small jars of paintbrushes with shiny red handles, their blond bristles fine and smooth, and stacks of canvas beside them.

I took up my son, who had begun to pull at my arms now that Mrs. Bedford's attention had wandered back to her task, and brought him to the display.  I knew I would like to have it, even for a time when young James was older, and thought no harm would be done in encouraging him to take up the diversion.  I, too, would attempt it.  I also purchased some flour for biscuits, a book for Father, and another notebook for me so that I am prepared when the one that James gave me, and in which I now write, has no room for my thoughts.  Reasoning that the ink I have at home is dwindling, I purchased a bottle of walnut ink and a new quill.

On our way out of the shop I heard the voice of Susannah Terry and looked around to find her about to leave the store at the same time, having just tallied and paid for her things. Curious that I had not spied her before, though it seemed she was chatting with Mr. Bedford further back behind a shelf of grains.  She asked that I wait for her and I agreed, reasoning that a moment in conversation would do no harm.  We walked out onto the street together, my parcel in one hand, my son's small fist clasped in my other and I steeled myself.

“Is your husband out?" She asked and I told her indeed he was, that he would be home in two days.

publishing novel -- a competition“Well," she said, as if she were a young girl giving me a delicious secret and I her bosom friend."I have heard from some of the women in town that a storm is to pass through these parts."

"Susannah," I said, keeping to my more even nature, though I wanted to shake her for her thoughtless remark. "There is no harbinger of ill weather."  Indeed, earlier this morning I had stood before my garden appreciating its startling vibrancy, for my hydrangeas are in joyful, lingering bloom all around the sides of the house and in front, and my rose bushes are still as robust as they were all summer long.

Susannah pursed her lips, considering, and tilted up her yellow bonneted head, not enjoying the reproach of a clear sky.  I, too, looked up at the brilliant sun, but by then she had bent to tickle my boy's chin and he tucked his face shyly to his chest.
“Perhaps not, Marianne, but you and I know that the seas can change at will and we have no say in the matter."

That was quite enough for me."Susannah, do try to think of something more constructive to do than to deliver harsh reports."

Clutching my son's hand perhaps a little too firmly so that he whimpered and I bent instead to lift him, I told her good day and made toward Mr. Talbot, who must have noted my disposition. He wasted no time in conveying us home. In my fury, I had forgotten my intention to stop at Mrs. Spencer's shop for tea.

It continues to astonish me that Susannah Terry has nothing better to do than burden others with her gloomy predictions.  I spent a good portion of the rest of the day telling myself that I ought not to be troubled any further. 

September 26, 1855

We are forced indoors and the waves now crash over the jetty. I can see them from the cupola and, if I squeeze my eyes almost closed, the faint outlines of incoming vessels are just visible. James will arrive tomorrow and as it is almost suppertime and Agatha is stirring up some peculiar stew, I ought to go and supervise before she scalds the pot.

 novel of promise award



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