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Excerpt from The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Wives of Henry Oades

A Novel

by Johanna Moran

The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran X
The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran
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    Feb 2010, 384 pages


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"Much easier said than done," she said.

The doctor laughed, showing another side of himself. "You're a droll one. I like that."

Mrs. Randolph was passing the infirmary just as Margaret came out. "Mrs. Oades! You're well, I hope?"

"I am." The lady's eyes were glassy, fevered-looking. She was younger than Margaret first thought, probably Margaret's own age, give or take a year. "And you, madam?"

Mrs. Randolph put a hand to her middle. "The lamb stew of two nights ago nearly killed me. Mind what you eat."   "I shall," said Margaret. "Pardon my saying so, but you appear a bit peaked still. Perhaps you should see the doctor."   "I've seen the no-good," said Mrs. Randolph. "Once was enough, thank you. A baby died last evening, you know."   Margaret's eyes filled. "Oh, dear God. Of what?"

"Whatever the cause," said Mrs. Randolph, "the quack inside made not the first bloody attempt to save it. He's a dentist, by the by, not a bona fide doctor. The purser informed me." She touched Margaret's hand with trembling fingers, her voice softening. "The child was the mum's one and only. She is beside herself with grief, poor wretch. She's not left her berth even to relieve herself. Some of the others and I plan to attend the service at four. Will you come, Mrs. Oades?"

"Of course."

"We'll show she's not alone in the world, won't we?"

"Yes," said Margaret. "Though we won't begin to solace."

The baby's name was Homer Brown. Someone whispered, "Barely a year old."

Prayers were said, and then the shrouded child was let over the rail, into gray water, beneath a gray sky. The bereft mother faltered as the baby was released, grasping the rail in lieu of a husband. There was no man present, no kin at all.

Above, Margaret could hear the rowdy drunks in the men's hatch, Norsemen, a good many of them. Someone shouted in English, "Show a bit of respect for the baby's mum." But they did not let up for a moment.

Kindness Itself

Margaret began to miscarry on the eleventh morning out. A strong wind had come up during the night and was only now abating. A keen howl continued, along with straining-timber noises, hideous, ungodly sounds to die by.

Henry brought her down to John's berth, and then went for Dr. Pritchard, returning instead with Mrs. Randolph. She carried a sack and something wrapped in blue flannel.

Excerpted from The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran Copyright © 2010 by Johanna Moran. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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