The latest Heather's Pick, M.L Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans, is an unforgettable debut novel of history, hope and loss. Tom Sherbourne, seeking some peace after his traumatic experiences in World War One, retreats to a life of isolation, becoming the lighthouse keeper on a small island off the coast of Western Australia.
On one of his infrequent visits to the nearest town, Tom meets Isabel Graysmark, and after a long courtship they eventually marry. Heartbroken by repeated miscarriages, Isabel is certain that their wishes have been granted when a boat drifts ashore carrying a dead man and an infant girl. Tom is less sure, but his wife’s desperation compels him to make his choice to raise the girl as their own – and only years later does the impact of that fateful decision become apparent, when the baby’s real family comes seeking the child.
A perfect read for anyone who loves the work of Kate Morton, and a provocative and tender tale of unforgettable character striving to do the right thing in a terrible situation, M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans is available now.
27TH APRIL 1926
… Janus Rock was a square mile of green, with enough grass to feed the few sheep and goats and the handful of chickens, and enough topsoil to sustain the rudimentary vegetable patch. The only trees were two towering Norfolk pines planted by the crews from Point Partageuse who had built the light station over thirty years before, in 1889. A cluster of old graves remembered a shipwreck long before that, when the Pride of Birmingham foundered on the greedy rocks in daylight. In such a ship the light itself had later been brought from England, proudly bearing the name Chance Brothers, a guarantee of the most advanced technology of its day—capable of assembly anywhere, no matter how inhospitable or hard to reach.
The currents hauled in all manner of things: flotsam and jetsam swirled as if between twin propellers; bits of wreckage, tea chests, whalebones. Things turned up in their own time, in their own way. The light station sat solidly in the middle of the island, the keeper’s cottage and outbuildings hunkered down beside the lighthouse, cowed from decades of lashing winds.
In the kitchen, Isabel sat at the old table, the baby in her arms wrapped in a downy yellow blanket. Tom scraped his boots slowly on the mat as he entered, and rested a callused hand on her shoulder. “I’ve covered the poor soul. How’s the little one?”
“It’s a girl,” said Isabel with a smile. “I gave her a bath. She seems healthy enough.”
The baby turned to him with wide eyes, drinking in his glance. “What on earth must she make of it all?” he wondered aloud.
“Given her some milk too, haven’t I, sweet thing?” Isabel cooed, turning it into a question for the baby. “Oh, she’s so, so perfect, Tom,” she said, and kissed the child. “Lord knows what she’s been through.”
Tom took a bottle of brandy from the pine cupboard and poured himself a small measure, downing it in one. He sat beside his wife, watching the light play on her face as she contemplated the treasure in her arms. The baby followed every movement of her eyes, as though Isabel might escape if she did not hold her with her gaze.
“Oh, little one,” Isabel crooned, “poor, poor little one,” as the baby nuzzled her face in toward her breast. Tom could hear tears in her voice, and the memory of an invisible presence hung in the air between them.
“She likes you,” he said. Then, almost to himself, “Makes me think of how things might have been.” He added quickly, “I mean . . . I didn’t mean . . . You look like you were born to it, that’s all.” He stroked her cheek.
Isabel glanced up at him. “I know, love. I know what you mean. I feel the same.”
He put his arms around his wife and the child. Isabel could smell the brandy on his breath. She murmured, “Oh Tom, thank God we found her in time.”
Tom kissed her, then put his lips to the baby’s forehead. The three of them stayed like that for a long moment, until the child began to wriggle, thrusting a fist out from under the blanket.
“Well”—Tom gave a stretch as he stood up—“I’ll go and send a signal, report the dinghy; get them to send a boat for the body. And for Miss Muffet here.”
“Not yet!” Isabel said as she touched the baby’s fingers. “I mean, there’s no rush to do it right this minute. The poor man’s not going to get any worse now. And this little chicken’s had quite enough of boats for the moment, I’d say. Leave it a while. Give her a chance to catch her breath.”
“It’ll take hours for them to get here. She’ll be all right. You’ve already quieted her down, little thing.”
“Let’s just wait. After all, it can’t make much difference.”
“It’s all got to go in the log, pet. You know I’ve got to report everything straightaway,” Tom said, for his duties included noting every significant event at or near the light station, from passing ships and weather, to problems with the apparatus.
“Do it in the morning, eh?”
“But what if the boat’s from a ship?”
“It’s a dinghy, not a lifeboat,” she said.
“Then the baby’s probably got a mother waiting for it somewhere onshore, tearing her hair out. How would you feel if it was yours?”
“You saw the cardigan. The mother must have fallen out of the boat and drowned.”
“Sweetheart, we don’t have any idea about the mother. Or about who the man was.”
“It’s the most likely explanation, isn’t it? Infants don’t just wander off from their parents.”
“Izzy, anything’s possible. We just don’t know.”
“When did you ever hear of a tiny baby setting off in a boat without its mother?” She held the child a fraction closer.
“This is serious. The man’s dead, Izz.”
“And the baby’s alive. Have a heart, Tom.”
Something in her tone struck him, and instead of simply contradicting her, he paused and considered her plea. Perhaps she needed a bit of time with a baby. Perhaps he owed her that.
Special thanks to our friends at Simon and Schuster Canada for providing and sharing this excerpt. Excerpted from the book The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman.
Reprinted with permission of Simon and Schuster Canada.