On a windswept British coastline the tide deposits an unexpected gift…
It was the cry that she first noticed, the plaintive wail that called to her over the crash of winter waves. Wrapped only in a sealskin, the baby girl looks up at Effie and instantly captures her heart. She meant only to temporarily foster the young orphan but when news reaches Effie that her husband has been lost at sea, and months pass without anyone claiming the infant, she embraces her new family – her son Jack and her adopted daughter Morna.
Effie has always been an outcast in her village, the only granddaughter of a woman people whisper is a witch, so she’s used to a solitary existence. But when Midsummer arrives so too does a man claiming to be Morna’s father. There’s no denying Lachlan is the girl’s kin and so Effie is surprised when he asks her to continue looking after his daughter, mysteriously refusing to explain why. She agrees, but when he returns six months hence she pushes him for answers. And Lachlan tells a story she never anticipated … one of selkies, legend, and the power of the sea…
Elisabeth has shared an extract with us today. Enjoy.
****beginning of extract*****
Effie Cropton has been gathering seaweed on the beach at Allendale Head. While there she rescues a basket floating out to sea and discovers a baby girl. She returns to the village and, after a brief conversation with her friend Walter, goes to visit her grandmother and collect her son.
“Effie, is that you?” Alice called from inside the pantry. “Wrap the seaweeds in the damp dishcloth will you?”
Effie did as she was asked, keeping some back for herself. Alice used it for her poultices and ointments. Effie liked to paint it.
“Why are you wearing Walter Danby’s coat?” Alice asked, as she bustled into the kitchen. Her sharp eyes narrowed suspiciously as she looked at Effie. “Your husband is away and I didn’t think you the type to carry on with another man.”
“I’m not carrying on with Walter and you know it,” Effie said indignantly. “I’ve been faithful to John for our whole marriage.”
John Cropton was ten years older than his wife and had been a bachelor longer than many thought he should, given his looks. He was shy and particular in his ways, and it had surprised everyone in the village when he asked Effie to marry him. People were perhaps less surprised at why when Effie’s belly began to swell after too few months of wedded bliss for the numbers to add up.
Whether Effie had trapped John or John had trapped Effie into marriage was the subject of some debate among those who enjoyed speculating. Perhaps neither of them had intended to trap or be trapped, but the end result was the same. The man whom the village had believed would end his days a bachelor found a wife, and Effie had fallen from the middle to the working class.
Despite the beginnings of their marriage, Effie and John were content with each other, especially when John departed on the Serenity. Effie liked her husband well enough and relished the nights in their bed, but she quickly discovered that his reputation for shyness was in part because he had few opinions to express and was dull-witted. She was careful to keep such thoughts to herself, knowing that bold opinions might be frowned upon in a young wife. The voyages brought Effie two months of welcome solitude where she was free to wander along the shore, gather shells and seaweeds to sketch and please herself with when and what she ate and had no puzzled expression to contend with when she devoured the periodicals and books Walter lent her. She always welcomed John back with a kiss and she was reasonably confident he never suspected she enjoyed his absence as much as his presence.
“I met Walter by accident on the cliff path, if you must know.”
Effie’s cheeks coloured slightly. It had been an accident on her part, though she couldn’t swear the same on Walter’s behalf.
She went to greet her son. Jack was sleeping in the cradle before the fire. Effie had been rocked in this cradle as a babe, as had her father before her. Seeing her son in it gave Effie a warm rush of contentment, tinged with sadness that both her parents had been taken by influenza before they had met their first grandchild. John, too, had lost his father to the sea and his mother to the resulting grief before he had married Effie. She stroked Jack’s head and decided to let him sleep a little longer so she could enjoy a chat in peace.
“Walter gave me his coat to keep me warm because I couldn’t wear my shawl. Look.”
She unwound the shawl and revealed the baby. The girl was sleeping, her arms and legs tucked up and her head burrowed down against her chest, reminding Effie of a mouse huddled in its burrow. Effie stroked the girl’s head as she had done with Jack and caught a distinct odour of the sea. The child shifted, close to waking up.
Alice’s eyes narrowed. “Make tea and tell me everything.”
Effie explained the events of the afternoon. All the while she spoke, Alice sat silently and listened, never taking her eyes from the soft brown head.
When Effie had finished her tale, Alice put down her teacup.
“Show me her properly,” Alice said.
Effie loosened the shawl and laid the child, still wrapped in her fur, down on the rug in front of the fire. Alice held her hand about an inch above the girl’s body and passed it slowly from head to toe and back again. She sucked her teeth loudly.
“There are easier ways to be rid of a baby,” she muttered. “And you saw no one in the water?”
“I couldn’t see any trace of where she had come from,” Effie said. “No boat of any kind.”
“I didn’t mention boats.”. Alice fixed her granddaughter with sharp black eyes. “Mayhap she is from the sea itself.”
Effie laid down her cup. “From the sea?. Do you believe in mermaids casting their children out?”. She shook her head and gave a soft laugh.
Alice didn’t smile.
“You used to believe when you were younger,” she said, eyeing Effie seriously.
They both glanced at the shelf where Alice kept her only four books: A Bible, a well-thumbed copy of Mrs Beeton, Tennyson’s Idylls and Macdonald’s Dealing with the Fairies.
“I’m not a child any longer and this isn’t a fairy story, Grandmother. We are but twenty years away from the twentieth century,” Effie said gently.
Alice said nothing, only looked back at the child who gazed up at them both with those unnerving, knowing eyes. Effie shuddered. Too long in her grandmother’s company and she might start to believe there was some truth in such nonsense that the strange eyes were the sign of a changeling.
“She was put there deliberately,” Effie said. “And whoever did it – by which I mean a person not a nymph or sprite or mermaid – took the trouble to keep her warm and safe in the basket and fur.”
She stroked the child’s hand and the girl gurgled. “She was loved, at least to some degree.”
They were prevented from any further discussion because Jack woke and began to wail from his cradle in the urgent tone that Effie recognised as hunger. The cry was immediately taken up by the baby on the rug. Effie brought Jack back to the chair and began to nurse him, but the cries of the other child couldn’t be ignored. She put the girl to her other breast and contrived by holding the babies awkwardly beneath her arms, to feed them both together. She looked at the two heads, the tawny brown of the baby beside Jack’s lighter colour. The girl’s pull was stronger but she kept feeding until Jack pulled away, sated, before she too loosened her mouth. It seemed to Effie that she had waited until the boy finished before deciding to stop. Did babies have an instinct for that sort of thing? It was most likely coincidental.
“I’ll take her home with me tonight,” Effie told Alice. “She’ll need feeding again.”
Alice poured Effie another cup of tea. “Aye, she will, and you’ve taken the burden on. I hope you don’t find you’ve taken on more of a duty than you think.”
Effie shook her head at the ominous tone. No wonder the villagers thought what they did of Alice with her talk of portents and unearthly creatures.
“Walter Danby said he would try to find out where she might be from. And it won’t be the sea itself.”
**** end of extract*****
About Elisabeth J. Hobbes:
Elisabeth’s writing career began when she finished in third place in Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write contest in 2013. She was offered a two-book contract and consequently had to admit secret writing was why the house was such a tip.
She is the author of numerous historical romances with Harlequin Mills & Boon covering the Medieval period to Victorian England, and a Second World War romantic historical with One More Chapter.
She lives in Cheshire because the car broke down there in 1999 and she never left.
Daughter of the Sea was released by One More Chapter in December 2021. Click to buy on Amazon UK.