The wind swept across the island like a scythe. Mary Greene sat in her dimly lit kitchen cradling her nine month old baby. The boy mewed softly. Mary knew the infant was hungry, but because of the inclement weather it had been impossible to reach the mainland and the food cupboards were becoming barer as each day passed. She looked at the empty shelves and sighed wearily. The boy had refused the weak, milky porridge she had provided for breakfast. Would he refuse the same for his lunch? She fervently hoped he would be hungry enough to eat it.
For the first time since she had come to her home on the island as wife to Henry Greene, Mary had witnessed three foot waves on the lake and had experienced a loneliness that she did not think possible. The prospect of living on an island in a family home had seemed so romantic eighteen months ago. She had not foreseen the toil, drudgery and difficulties she would need to endure being away from the neighbourliness of the mainland.
Her husband was in the barn feeding the dozen cattle they were rearing for the spring mart and he would spend the day caring for their immediate welfare. She had come to wonder if Henry cared more for the cattle than he did for her, but then berated herself as Henry was, at heart, a good man; a solid, caring man who had married her despite opposition from his grandfather who was now living in comfort several miles away on a large farm on the mainland with his sister. As Henry had sole responsibility for the farm and the heavy manual labour required, she was in charge of caring for their son, the upkeep of the house, the vegetable garden and the few hens that were managing to survive the unexpected Artic winter.
The weak cries of her boy transformed into a stronger, more pitiful, keening that shredded Mary’s heart. She had to reach the mainland soon and replenish much needed supplies. Not for one single moment had she anticipated being stranded for two whole months. It was as if the weather had conspired against her and she silently prayed to God, the Virgin Mary and St Nicholas (the Patron Saint of children) to stop the rain, calm the wind and bring forth a ray of sunshine that would lighten her spirit and give her the much needed chance to climb into the rowboat and row to the local store where tea, sugar, flour and salt could be purchased to make much needed bread, not to mention the requirements to preserve the pig that would soon be slaughtered. The pig, who had not been named due to its imminent fate, was the only inhabitant of the island that seemed immune to the harsh environment. He continued to drink his fill from the river that flowed into the lake and eat his way around the farm, uprooting anything he considered edible: bulbs, fungi, roots, bark, snails, earthworms, as well as tucking into last year’s vegetable patch where he had demolished the last of the onions, turnips and beetroot that Mary had so tenderly planted. Yet slaughtering the pig would not solve Mary’s immediate dilemma of sustaining her growing babe.
Suddenly, as if in response to her prayers, her thoughts of the pig, which was without doubt self sustaining, caused her heart to rally and she made a conscious decision to scour her environs in an attempt to find anything that would benefit her family but especially her son. She wrapped herself warmly in her home knitted cardigan, hat, scarf and fingerless gloves. She had made a cradle from heavy twine that held her son against her bosom and she encased them both in her heavy overcoat, ensuring he was as comfortable as possible, before opening the door to the house and stepping out into the frostbitten air.
The rain had ceased, but the wind was cutting, a cruel wind from the north that could chill the bones of a corpse. Undeterred Mary made her way across the yard to what remained of her vegetable garden, dismayed to see the destruction caused by the pig but conceding its needs would soon fulfil her own. The continuous sound of the crashing waves from the lake that were a symptom of the harsh winter filled her ears and she tried desperately to block them out as she began her search under the hedges for any sign of edible flora or fauna. She recalled how nettles had been utilised by her forefathers as a nutrient and pondered on the truth that all of the dandelion plant was edible. Her inner optimism searched for traces of a rabbit or a young leveret, but the ground gave no succour. Grass gave way to unidentifiable weeds or the faint signs of plants that would offer sustenance in the spring. Mary’s mouth watered at the thought of blackberries, raspberries and gooseberries, which forced her to head to the small orchard she had planted on her arrival to the island.
The trees were still young, but her persistent care over the summer had ensured they were hardy and she noted the sturdiness of their trunks and branches, which in time would bear healthy fruit. Once again she prayed to God, the Virgin Mary and St Nicholas for their perpetuation, adding wistfully the notion of time speeding forward to spring, which would easily solve her immediate crisis. The thought brought an inner smile to her lips.
As if to echo her inner merriment, her son’s soft cry brought her from her reverie causing her to turn her attention to the foot of one of the first apple trees she had planted. A clump of bright, green grass caught her eye, causing her to pause and reach out to touch the damp fronds, separating each blade, only to reveal one large, brown egg; a single egg, laid by one of her chickens.
With infinite care she scooped up the precious treasure and cradled her find in her palm, admiring the delicate, untarnished, flesh brown shell. Never had she seen such perfection, such beauty. Guardedly she folded the egg in a handkerchief and placed it in the deep pocket of her overcoat. Elated she hummed a wordless tune, the sound startling her son, whose cries of hunger counterpointed her happiness.
Returning jubilantly to the kitchen she judiciously broke the egg into a clean, white, porcelain bowl marvelling at the yellowness of the yolk and the transparency of the white. Prudently she whisked the egg, which obligingly doubled in size with her efforts. With equal care she divided the yellow consistency into three equal parts. Taking just one part she mixed in a little milk and made over a low heat a scrambled egg mix which, when slightly cooled, her son ate with gusto.
The egg sustained the baby for another two days, Mary and Henry making do with the oatmeal and mutton their son could not digest. On the third day the wind subsided, the rain ceased and Mary, Henry and their renamed son, Nicholas, rowed to the mainland to replenish the larder vowing never to be unprepared again.