‘Poor Ce­cil has been drowned’

The Compass - - TRINITY SOUTH -

Per­haps be­cause I’m a writer with a pen­chant for all things his­tor­i­cal, ev­ery now and then some­one will give me a doc­u­ment of archival in­ter­est. Some­time ago, a friend gave me a pho­to­copy of a per­sonal letter he had in his pos­ses­sion. Some of the writ­ing is il­leg­i­ble. How­ever, enough is leg­i­ble to recre­ate a sce­nario which must have brought great sor­row and sad­ness to all par­ties con­cerned.

Post­mark: South River, Con­cep­tion Bay. Date: Oct. 30, 1939.

A woman, who signs her name as Mar­garet, picks up a pen and be­gins to write a letter. She ad­dresses her cor­re­spon­dent as “My Dear Mar­ion.” The bur­den of Mar­garet’s mis­sive will bring deep sad­ness to the reader. Which ac­counts for her hes­i­ta­tion in know­ing ex­actly how to write and what to say. She care­fully chooses her words.

“I don’t know how to be­gin to write you,” she ad­mits somberly. “It’s with a very sad heart that I’ve got to write this news to you.

“ The worst must come, I sup­pose,” she adds sto­ically, “or maybe you al­ready know.”

Her next phrase is made up of what are per­haps the weight­i­est words Mar­garet will ever write and Mar­ion will ever hear: “poor Ce­cil has been drowned.” Mar­ion is Ce­cil’s brother; Mar­garet is Ce­cil’s wife. One can only imag­ine Mar­ion’s ini­tial re­ac­tion.

The Ce­cil in this letter is, ac­cord­ing to his bap­tism cer­tifi­cate, which is at­tached to the letter my friend gave me, Ce­cil Fer­di­nand Smith, son of John Bishop and Mary Jane Smith. Born July 19, 1906, Ce­cil was bap­tized at All Saints Church, Salmon Cove. He lived at South River and was a fish­er­man. He was 33 when he died.

Mar­garet con­tin­ues, “I’ve made sev­eral at­tempts to write and tell you.” Not sur­pris­ingly, she “couldn’t do it.” Even­tu­ally, she com­mit­ted her­self to the solemn task, pri­mar­ily for one rea­son: “ Your fa­ther has been at me all day to write. So I must.”

In cap­sule form, the story goes as fol­lows: “ They lost the ‘Nel­son’ at Sa­cred Is­lands, Quir­pon. All the crew got in mo­tor­boat, en­gine failed to work. Ce­cil sculled” — used an oar to pro­pel the ves­sel — “ her nearly to land, then they all jumped.”

The story gets worse: “ Fa­ther, Ce­cil & Mr. Tom Bursey fell back­wards when they jumped & the un­der­tow took them. Fa­ther stayed in boat un­til she drove ashore, & that’s how he got saved. He is bro­ken­hearted. It hap­pened 17th. Crew didn’t get home un­til yes­ter­day.”

Mar­garet is al­most at a loss for words. Still, she pushes on: “All I can say is God’s will be done. I won­der how I’ll ever live it down.

“Mar­ion, you’ll never know what I’m go­ing through. No one but my­self & God. I’ve prayed (ev­ery mo­ment since Mr. Gruchy came with mes­sage) that God would take Frankie & I.” Frankie is the son of Mar­ion and Ce­cil.

Frankie is “ break­ing my heart,” his mother says. “ This past month, ev­ery day he says, ‘ Mommy, Ce-ce daddy gone fish Labrador for Frankie.’ Ce­cil of­ten said to me that Frank was thought too much about, & that some­thing would hap­pen (to) him. Oh! how lit­tle did Ce­cil think that this would hap­pen.

“He had a job as man­ager in the staff house at Lour­des, west coast, to go first week in Novem­ber. Frank, he & I were go­ing to go, seventy dol­lars a month. With the Co-op­er­a­tive peo­ple.

“ What man ap­points, God dis­ap­points.

“ We were so happy to have each other that we of­ten used to say, it was too good to last long. I hope & pray that poor Ce­cil is bet­ter off, & that the time will hur­riedly speed along for us to be to­gether again.

“I know he’s your brother & that you will find it more than hard. But, Mar­ion, I’d rather lose all be­long to me, & have Ce­cil, if only for one day more. Yet I’d gladly give my life for it. I’ve been lov­ing Ce­cil with all my heart & soul since I was 17 & now I’m 26, & I’m con­fi­dent that he loved me just as much. If his body is re­cov­ered, your fa­ther is go­ing to have it brought home & buried. It’s a mir­a­cle that any­one was saved.

“Please re­mem­ber Frankie & I in your prayers. It’s only with God’s help that I’ll ever keep up. I wish you were near so I could talk to you. That’s all I can say for now. Your fa­ther & all the crew are well & not find­ing any af­ter­ef­fects. Your fa­ther didn’t have a thing in­sured. But what dif­fer­ence about that if only the lives weren’t lost. Write me.

“Let’s hope dear Ce­cil is bet­ter off.”

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