Today, we have an excerpt from Bob Kroll‘s upcoming novel The Punishing Journey of Arthur Delaney, which is due to be published by ECW Press on June 7th. Here’s the synopsis:
A 19th-century tale of a father’s greatest regret and path to redemption
Devastated at his wife’s death and stricken at raising two girls and a boy on his own, Arthur Delaney places his children in a Halifax orphanage and runs off to join the Union Army in the American Civil War. The trauma of battle and three years in a disease-ridden prisoner-of-war prison changes his perspective on life and family.
After the war, Delaney odd-jobs his way up the American east coast and catches a schooner to Halifax. There he discovers the orphanage has relocated to a farm in rural Nova Scotia. His children are not there. They and others had been sold and resold as farm workers and house servants through the Maritime provinces, as well as Quebec and Ontario. Their whereabouts is unknown. Arthur Delaney sets out on a punishing 20-year journey across Canada to find them.
This is a heartbreaking, beautifully told story of a father’s attempt to reconnect with his children.
Read on for the excerpt…
Delaney walked. He wrung out failure with each step. No helloes to those he passed. No recognition as to where he was. Before long he reached Point Pleasant, a forested park where he had often picnicked with Mary and their children. He walked a snowy path through dense woods. He did so without knowing he was walking it. At the Martello Tower, a squat round fort, he stopped and pressed his head against the ironstone masonry. His heart hurt into his face.
He turned from the tower and started down another snowy path. It skirted a ridge that fell off to a saltwater inlet. The path swung into denser forest then opened to a glade with a large beech tree at the centre of it. The initial tree he and Mary had called it. He searched for where he had carved their initials on the side facing away from the path, where he had spread his coat on the ground that soft summer night and they had fumbled off each others’ clothes and had loved each other for the first time, where he had promised marriage on what each had given and the other had shared.
He slumped against the tree, closed his eyes, and covered his face with his hands. He saw his frightened children as they reluctantly followed the Overseer from that dark hallway in the Children’s Refuge and Aid Home and were shut from his life with the closing of a door. He huddled against his duffle and curled into his sheepskin coat. He shivered himself to sleep.
He woke still shivering and from the grief heaving in his empty stomach. He pulled himself to his feet and looked at the carved letters in the tree. He heard the wind in the branches, and the birds. He heard his voice, or maybe it was Mary’s, clean sounding in the icy air, words taking shape in the winter light, saying over and over that he must get the children back, he must get them back, he must.
The ground seemed to break underfoot. He lost his balance over loose cobbles and caught it before falling.
“They’re not her children,” he said out loud.
He was near the food office for the poor, and mothers who had already begun to queue for morning bread heard him and looked.
“They’re mine, mine and Mary’s,” he said even louder, defiantly poking out his chin at the mothers as though they were responsible for his shame. He tightened his grip on his duffel and continued walking, slower. His feet now felt the doubt that had been piling up in his mind.
He pulled up short in front of St. Paul’s Church and stared blankly at the gutter water pooling in the cracked cobblestone at his feet. A white-haired priest in a black cassock opened the church door for morning service and nodded to him. Delaney heard a wagon rumble past, and the driver calling ‘good morning’ to a shopkeeper who was throwing open the shutters on his leather goods store. He heard young men hollering to each other outside Dalhousie College.
The priest walked from the church and across Dalhousie Square to Delaney. They looked into each other’s eyes.
“You look troubled,” the priest said.
Excerpted and adapted from The Punishing Journey of Arthur Delaney by Bob Kroll. © 2022 by Bob Kroll. All rights reserved. Published by ECW Press Ltd. on June 7th.
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