Home > A Castaway in Cornwall

A Castaway in Cornwall
Author: Julie Klassen




Flotsam or jetsam?

According to the heavy old volume of Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary in my uncle’s study, flotsam is any goods floating on the sea where a ship has sunk or been cast away, while jetsam is anything purposely cast out of a ship when in danger, in hopes of saving it, or at least lightening the load.

Almost daily I walk along the shore, eyes keen for either one.

I step, and sometimes leap, from rock to rock pool, from beach to beach grass. Looking, looking, always looking, my gaze pinned not on the unfathomable horizon or heavens but on the practical earth at my feet. Up, down, and over I go, across craggy rocks, shifting sands, and slate shelves with nary a misstep or hesitation.

All around me is the sound of the sea. Not a roar but a rhythm—a watery hum, strumming like a vibrating chord, a quickened heartbeat. The Atlantic rolls in, lapping and slapping at rocks with percussion, punctuated by the mournful cries of gulls.

Even with the chill of autumn pressing in, dainty stoic flowers—purple, orange, white—grow on the otherwise barren rock. Beauty amid harsh conditions. Life where nothing should thrive.

Can I say the same for myself? Am I thriving, or merely surviving?

Sometimes I wonder how I ended up here in Cornwall, so far from my childhood home. I feel like a castaway, set adrift on the tide by the long-ago deaths of my parents, and left wanting answers. Is there a plan in all this? Does God truly hold my fate in His hands, or has my life all been happenstance, the mysterious ebb and flow of chance?

I don’t belong here, yet here I am. Washed up on this strange shore with its strange ways. Here, anyone not born and bred in Cornwall is eyed with suspicion and viewed as a foreigner. I have lived among them now for eight of my three and twenty years, yet I still don’t belong . . . and doubt I shall ever belong anywhere again.

Standing on a rock, wind tugging at my bonnet, I wonder once more—am I flotsam or jetsam?



On Monday last the brigantine Star of Dundee was wrecked near Padstow. Her crew of five took to their boat which soon upset, and melancholy to relate, they were all drowned.




Chapter 1

Laura!” twenty-one-year-old Eseld called from the coastal path above the beach. “Mamm is angry and bids you come. You left something foul in Wenna’s best pot again.”

Laura’s stomach sank. How could she have forgotten? She called back, “I was soaking a leather purse I found. Could be saved with proper care.”

“The only good purse is a full purse to Mamm. You know that. Come on! I don’t want her angry with me as well.”

Laura sighed and picked up her basket. “Coming.”

As they trudged up the steep footpath to Fern Haven, Eseld said, “I don’t know why you come down here every day. It would be one thing if you found gold or valuables we could sell.”

Laura didn’t remind Eseld that she had sold several things to the antique and curiosity dealer in Padstow. She’d not earned a fortune but had contributed to her upkeep and begun saving for a voyage she dreamed of taking one day.

Before selling anything, however, Laura felt duty bound to wait the prescribed “year and a day,” in case the owners might come forward to claim their property. Eseld always shook her head at the precaution, parroting the local saying, “What the custom and excise men don’t know won’t hurt ’em.”

Even Uncle Matthew, a kindly parson, saw nothing wrong in helping himself to anything that washed ashore near Fern Haven. “’Tis God’s bounty, my girl. It isn’t as though we’re stealing,” he’d say. “The crates and barrels come to us. Gifts from the Giver of all good gifts.”

Between treacherous Trevose Head, Stepper Point, the Doom Bar, and the rocks off their own Greenaway Beach, wrecks were a common occurrence, claiming many ships and many more lives. In fact, from Trebetherick Point, near their home, Laura could look down onto the rocks and see the remains of more than one shipwreck, the wooden pieces half buried in the sand like carcasses—the spine and ribs of giant ancient birds. Many local dwellings and outbuildings had been built of salvaged ship timbers.

Reaching Fern Haven—a two-story whitewashed house with a slate roof and dormer windows—they passed through the gate, also built from salvaged timbers, and climbed the few steps to its covered porch.

“Wipe your feet,” Eseld admonished, sounding very much like her imperious mother as she did so.

Laura obliged, wiping the worst of the sand and seaweed from her worn half boots.

As they paused, voices from within reached them.

Eseld’s mother, Mrs. Bray, said, “Thank you for the kind invitation, Mr. Kent. Mr. Bray and I, and Miss Eseld, will happily join you for dinner.”

A lower masculine voice said something that included her name.

“No, I don’t think Laura will wish to come,” Mrs. Bray replied. “She doesn’t like family occasions, not being one of us. And I believe she has a cold coming on. Best to leave her home, especially as the weather has turned decidedly chilly.”

Eseld rolled her eyes, gave Laura an impish grin, and pushed open the door with a bang. “We’re ho-ome, Mamm dear.” She winked at Laura and sallied into the modest parlour, where Mrs. Bray was talking with two male visitors: handsome, golden-haired Treeve Kent and his younger brother, Perry.

“Ah, here is Eseld now,” Lamorna Bray said with a smile, a smile that quickly faded when she turned to Laura. “Laura, child, you look a fright. Your face is nearly as red as your windblown hair. Roaming the beaches again, I suppose?”

“I . . . yes.”

“Why must you go scampering about the countryside? You look wild . . . almost blowsy!”

Laura felt her cheeks heat, but Treeve Kent smiled at her. “Actually, madam, I think her eyes and complexion are quite brightened by the exercise, and her hair shown to best advantage.”

Was the handsome man mocking her? Laura wondered. He must be.

“Forgive me,” she said. “I did not realize we were expecting callers.”

“We’ve come unannounced, I’m afraid,” Treeve replied. “Unpardonable to a Town miss, I suppose?”

Laura blinked. “I . . . hardly know.” As a child she had lived in Oxford, not London, but the local Cornish youths often called her an “up-country girl” or a “Town miss,” as though a great insult.

Treeve turned to his shorter and quieter brother. “Speaking of manners, I am not sure if you’ve met my brother, Perran. He’s been away most of the time you’ve lived here, I believe, either at university or training at Guy’s Hospital.”

Guy’s Hospital, Laura knew, was a London teaching hospital. Her own father had trained there as well.

“We have met,” Laura said. “Though I don’t expect he will remember.”

The dark-haired man smiled shyly at her. “Yes, I remember you, Miss Laura.”

“And what about me?” Eseld asked with a coquettish fluff to the blond curls framing her face.

“Of course I remember you, Miss Eseld.” Perry bowed.

Eseld dimpled and dipped a curtsy.

Treeve went on, “We have just come to invite you to join us for dinner. All of you.”

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