The Sea Captain's Wife: A Novel

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9780452296954: The Sea Captain's Wife: A Novel
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A gripping novel of love and adventure on the high seas that introduces an unforgettable young heroine.

Growing up on the Bay of Fundy in the 1860s, Azuba Galloway is determined to escape the confines of her town and live at sea. When she captures the heart of Captain Nathaniel Bradstock, she is sure her dreams are about to be realized, only to have pregnancy intervene. But when Azuba becomes embroiled in a scandal, Nathaniel must bring his young family abroad to save his reputation. Azuba gets her wish, but at what price?

Alone in a male world, and juggling the splendor of foreign ports with the terror of the open seas, Azuba must fight to keep her family together. Blending the high-tension drama of missed chances and unexpected twists of the sort that made A Reliable Wife a bestseller with the pluck and spirit of a heroine in the vein of Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Sea Captain's Wife will captivate readers and critics alike.

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About the Author:

Beth Powning's debut novel The Hatbox Letters was a national bestseller in Canada and longlisted for IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Her fiction has been published in a range of literary digests, and she is the author as well of the critically acclaimed nonfiction titles Home: Chronicle of a North Country Life and Shadow Child: an Apprenticeship in Love and Loss. She lives on a 300-acre farm near Sussex, New Brunswick on the Bay of Fundy with her husband, the sculptor Peter Powning.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1. Noah’s Ark
 
It was the fifth year of her marriage, when her child, Carrie, was four years old. The bleeding began in the privy. Azuba wiped herself with a square of newspaper and found a red gout. She ripped newsprint from the nail. More blood came, thick, flecked with black strands. She mopped, mopped. She stood, bent with pain, settled her hoops, petticoat and skirt.
 
Wind snatched the door from her hand. She left it unhooked, gathered her cloak across her breast. The house loomed against a grey sky, the path a pale string in the headland grass.
 
Blood surged, trickled down her legs.
 
She began to run, one arm clasping her belly.
 
 
“Hush, now, could’ve been worse,” the midwife said. “You were only four months.”
 
She set a tin basin on the floor by Azuba’s bed, stooped and gathered the rags. “Baby’s gone, but there’ll be more bleeding. Stay still.”
 
Azuba lay flat on her back listening to the midwife’s steps going down the stairs. Mother was in the kitchen, feeding Carrie her supper. Soon the whole town would know.
 
Azuba Bradstock lost a child, people would murmur. Years before she’ll have another chance. The next time she went into the village, women would lower their voices, clasp her wrist, touch her shoulder. Such a pity.
 
She rolled her head sideways to gaze at the candle flame.
 
Nathaniel. Oh, Nathaniel, my beloved.
 
She pictured her husband reading the letter she had recently sent. Perhaps he’d been in Cape Town, where he’d planned to stop for provisions. There he sits, she thought, at the rolltop desk in Traveller’s saloon, holding the letter over a mess of business papers. She pictured his fingers smoothing his moustache, wide mouth bent downward, studying her words. His eyes lighten, he smiles. He reads the letter again. Then he folds it, tucks it into its envelope. Presses it to his heart.
 
 
February 6, 1861
Whelan’s Cove, New Brunswick
 
Dear Nathaniel,
I am with child. Carrie is excited to think she will have a brother or a sister. Oh my darling, if only you could be home for this child’s birth.
 
 
Nathaniel had left six months after their wedding, and had been at sea when Carrie was born. Once he received news that he had become a father, he’d written to say that he’d be home as soon as possible. One thing, though, had led to another: a cargo of coal to Bombay; a long delay in port; a consignment across the Pacific. His letters became increasingly frustrated. Carrie had been a sturdy little girl of almost three when he’d finally arrived home.
 
Azuba thought of the tiny nightgown in her workbox. It was a smocked nainsook, embroidered with a red rose, its stem unfinished. Her needle, piercing the fabric. Carrie’s finger, tracing it.
 
“May I name the baby, Mama?”
 
The candle flame licked the air, blue at its base.
 
Azuba watched it through tears. She felt the heartbreak of motherhood— sorrow, now, not only for herself and Nathaniel, but for Carrie.
 
Ah, the day he left. He had been home for a one-year furlough and had left again just after Christmas. He’d carved Carrie a Noah’s ark with all the animals and, before leaving, had clasped her to his chest, gruff voice in her hair and a rare tear glistening in his eye.
 
“I’ll be home soon,” he’d said to her. “Don’t worry.”
 
There Carrie had stood, waving to her father going out to his ship in a rowboat. Returning home in the carriage, she’d knelt to look back down the bay, too stunned to cry. And then, when they returned to the house, she had climbed onto his chair and made herself into a ball, pressing her face to the brocade, refusing to speak, eat or be comforted. For days afterward she had stood at the bow window, staring out over the headland pasture, asking for Papa. Expecting to see his sails, coming home.
 
And that night of his leave-taking. How I took his coat from the closet. She’d sat on the bed with her face buried in its black wool, breathing its smell of tobacco and cold air. And realized that her love for him had no expression now other than in words— scrawled or read.
 
Now she cried herself to exhaustion and lay staring at the ceiling. She longed to tell Nathaniel. Her shock, stumbling over the field. Her hired man, Slason, hurrying to the barn. How she’d waited, moaning, while the carriage went for her mother and the midwife. She longed to be held in his arms, to feel his hand on her forehead, smoothing, consoling. To feel the bitter comfort of shared loss.
 
Despair, she thought, was the inability to imagine. She pictured the nightgown she had been embroidering. The names she had thought to bestow on the new child.
 
I have no reason to despair.
 
The bedroom had two bow windows overlooking the Bay of Fundy with its spruce-cragged cliffs. At the age of nineteen, she had married Nathaniel Bradstock, who at twenty-eight was a seasoned captain. Her father had given them the house as a wedding gift, hiding it beneath a scaffolding strung with sails as it was being built. A big house meant to be filled with dogs, toys, music, guests, family. He had set the house high on a headland, fit for a sea captain’s wife, where Azuba could look down at Whelan’s Cove with its shipyards, hulls looming higher than the rooftops, gulls circling in clouds of sawdust; its harbour, crowded with fishing boats, coastal schooners, sloops— and farther out, in the deeper water, square-rigged merchant ships with their forest of masts and rigging. One of which might, on occasion, be Nathaniel’s Traveller.
 
She could look down at the farmstead of her childhood, set within fields of oats and buckwheat, and the ribbon of shore road. She could see the salt marsh where, as a child, she had run with her older brothers, Benjamin and William, and the dunes where compass grass scratched half-moons in the sand. She could see the beach where they’d chased stiltlegged sandpipers, jumped the ropes of froth, watched ships beating up the bay with billowed, patched sails.
 
She pictured herself as a child— dark-haired, impetuous, with black eyes, different from her fair-skinned cousins— and felt pity for her hope. Her innocence.
 
I thought I would sail away on one of those ships. Married to a sea captain. I’d be Mrs. Shaw, with her red-headed parrot.
 
Her days, now: as they would unfold tomorrow, and next week, and next month. She saw herself working with her hired girl, Hannah— planting, weeding, scrubbing— her own hair pinned back, sleeves rolled, scissors and knives jingling in the deep pockets of her wash dress. How she made her choice to work from the wearisomeness of its alternative: tea parties, visits, carriage rides. She pictured Slason, with his crooked leg and loose-lipped mouth. He tended the pigs, the horse, the cow. His voice, submissive. What do you need, Mrs. Bradstock? And the violent headland winds, different from the winds of her childhood. Clothes on the line, twisted into knots. Doors, pulled from her hand. Often, she paused on the porch and looked out at the blue line of Nova Scotia and the silver gleam in the southwest where the bay widened to the Gulf of Maine: the sea spread before her, thundered in her ears; and sometimes she loathed it, since Nathaniel was at its mercy. At other times, she closed her eyes, tossed back her bonnet and breathed deep of the world’s size.
 
Azuba drew up her knees, rocking from the ache in her womb, thinking of Carrie.
 
No brother. No sister.
 
The May wind blew onshore and there was a spring tide. Carrie was at her granny’s for the day.
 
Azuba sat in an armless chair, a Paisley shawl concealing the opening at the back of her dress; she had left her corset loosely knotted. She wore a brown dress with purple piping. Her black hair was unwashed, parted in the middle, caught up in a net at her neck. Beneath her eyes were blue shadows. After four days, she still felt a low cramp in her womb.
 
The new Anglican minister, Reverend Walton, had come to visit. He had heard she was unwell, but would not speak of the reason. He sat upright, his ankles crossed and his arms laid precisely along the chair’s carved arms. He was a slight, mild man, easily moulded by the parish women.
 
She and Nathaniel had paid a call at the parsonage when he had first arrived. He’d shown them his studio, a large room at the back of the house with an easel, drawing books and a table beneath a window littered with treasures he’d collected along the shore— feathers, shells, skulls.
 
Even when he’s old, she thought, he’ll still look eager, innocent.
 
Sunlight streamed through the windows, lit the carpet-draped table with its oil lamp and leather books; a japanned china cabinet; a pump organ.
 
“It’s a beautiful house, Mrs. Bradstock,” he said.
 
His composure was disarming and she felt an impulse to tell him her real feelings about the house. How, when her father had told her he would build it, she’d exclaimed, “No, no, we won’t need . . .” And then had paused. Mother had looked up from her sewing, shocked, her face revealing all she hoped for in a married daughter: help, companionship, grandchildren. Father’s smile paled. “What did you say, Azuba?” His voice was awry, like Mother’s fac...

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