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Thursday, 11 April 2013

Historical Book Fair - A Salt Splashed Cradle

Life and Love in 1830s Scotland

Belle is brought to live in the fishing community by her new husband, Jimmie Watt. The villagers resent her as a newcomer and when Jimmie leaves for the Arctic on a whaling ship, she becomes increasingly isolated.

She embarks on a tempestuous affair with Lachlan, the Laird’s son, but when Jimmie returns she struggles with her feelings for him and for Lachlan.
The women in the village turn against Belle, regarding her as a Jezebel who will tempt their men away. A mood of hysteria engulfs them and they turn against Belle to force her out of the village.
What will Belle do? And will she survive?

This historical saga is set in a Scottish fishing village in the 1830’s and reflects the living conditions and the morals of the ordinary fisher folk of that time.

Author information 

Chris Longmuir is an award winning novelist as well as an established writer of crime novels, short stories and articles.

Review quotes

There is some beautiful poetic writing and the complex life of the heroine, Belle, had me gripped from the beginning. Some of the loveliest writing is in the whaling sequences -one can feel the cold - and among the whalers she creates some outstanding characters. Eileen Ramsay, novelist


Jimmie and his father pulled hard on the oars of the small boat as they fought the river current which was threatening to pull them off course. Water splashed over the bow as the angry tide swirled round the small island which sat in the middle of the river, and the two of them were breathless and sweating as they approached it.
‘We should’ve asked Ian and Angus to come with us,’ Jimmie paused to spit on his hands. The boat swung as the current caught it again, but he grasped his oar with both hands and forced it back on course.
‘After we’ve rounded the point it’ll be easier,’ James panted. ‘The tide’ll carry us part of the way to Invercraig, and we can row to the harbour.’
‘Aye,’ Jimmie muttered. He looked uncertainly towards the Invercraig side of the water where the whaler was berthed. What on earth had possessed him to sign on? He should have ignored Belle and gone back on his promise. But a promise was a promise and Jimmie knew he could not have gone back on his word.
He concentrated on the oars. In, out, lift and pull. The water sucked at them as he counted the strokes, and he could feel the sting of the spray on his cheeks and the taste of salt on his lips. They drew level with the island and both men concentrated on their oars, pulling hard to round the point and stay clear of the shore. The tide caught them, swinging the boat round and upriver. They let the current carry them until they were level with the harbour and then without a word they started to row again, each in unison with the other.
The three-masted whaling ship creaked and strained at its mooring as they rowed around it heading for the section of harbour where it was safe to tie up. The ship loomed over them and Jimmie was glad when they pulled clear.
Jimmie heaved his oar into the boat, as they neared the dock where several other small boats were moored, while James manoeuvred the boat closer.
‘Be ready with the rope,’ James said, while he stroked the water with his oar until the boat was almost touching the side of the quay.
Jimmie grabbed the iron ring protruding from the wall and quickly threaded the rope through, knotting it until it was secure. He grabbed the bundle containing his possessions, and keeping one hand against the quay wall stepped from boat to boat until he reached the steps carved into the quayside.
His father scrambled up the steps after him, and both men stood for a moment while they looked around. Jimmie’s hand tightened on his bundle. He wasn’t sure he liked so much noise and bustle. There seemed to be people everywhere. Men like himself with their bundles clutched to them. Other men were balancing barrels and sacks on their shoulders as they made their way towards the ship. Carts lined up with produce of all kinds. Cows and sheep tethered in pens, waiting their turn to board. Soaring over everything the babble of tongues.
‘Aye lad. It’s not like Craigden now, is it.’ James stroked his beard as he always did when he was troubled.
Jimmie forced a smile. He did not want his da to worry about him. ‘I’ll be all right, Da. It’s a good ship, The Eclipse. They say they catch more whales than any other whaler, and that means a bigger share of the catch for the men. One voyage and I’ll be able to get my own boat.’
‘I hope so lad. I hope you won’t be disappointed.’
‘You’ll look after Belle and Sarah for me. Won’t you Da?’
‘Don’t you go worrying over Belle, lad. Me and Annie’ll see she’s all right.’
‘Well, I’d better go now, Da.’ Jimmie held out his hand and both men clasped each other’s arm, hands on elbows.
James leaned towards Jimmie and threw his other arm round his son’s shoulders to clap him on the back. ‘Take care, son,’ he said, his voice strangely husky.
‘I will, Da. I will.’
James turned and clambered back down the stone stairs. Reaching the bottom he stepped over the vessels moored there until he reached the rowboat. Jimmie felt suddenly desolate as James lifted his arm in a salute and turned away making ready to cast off.
Straightening his shoulders, Jimmie walked towards the ship. It was bigger than any boat he had previously sailed in, and it would travel a greater distance.
He’d heard tales from men who had sailed with the whalers, and of the strange white world they went to. Ice and snow, and freezing cold, and whales, larger than anything they had ever seen before. Jimmie experienced a surge of excitement that started in his stomach and ended up in his throat. His step quickened and his hand tightened on his bundle. Soon he would be able to recite his own tale of adventures in the Greenland seas.

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