The Curse of the Red Cross Ring by Earl B. Pilgrim is a romanticized story of the life of a successful businessman taking place in the mid-1920 to the early 1930. From the time he was barely out of school-age, Azariah Roberts’ life revolved around the fisheries. He started out as the youngest member of a fishing crew working the shores of Labrador to becoming the trusted lieutenant of the local crew master, and eventually inheriting from him.
Azariah’s life story takes place almost entirely in the communities of L’Anse au Pigeon and neighbouring Beaumont. This was a time when life was lived at its most basic, with practically no public facilities beyond churches, one-room schools, and one nurse to look after the health of wide swaths of coastal dwellers, and no law-and-order force other than that provided by the community members.
Shortly after his marriage, Azariah, known to all as “Uncle Az”, promised his wife he would not join the Orange Lodge. But he soon broke his promise, joined the lodge, and attained the highest rank of the Order, thus obtaining the signature Red Cross Ring. Outraged, his wife told him the ring was going to be a curse to him his entire life. This dire prediction soon proved true.
Despite that prediction, Az soon becomes the biggest business man in L’Anse au Pigeon, owner of the local store as well as the fish processing enterprise. He builds houses for his employees and family members on his land. Although he is the defacto leader of the community, he is a benevolent leader always ready to help all who ask. This generosity will eventually prove to lead to problems when he unwittingly agrees to harbour a fugitive murderer.
What ensues is a series of events that would severely test Az. A young and idealistic school teacher arrives in Beaumont where he is forced to discipline a child, prompting a local bad boy to swear revenge. He’s not the only one with a grudge against the new teacher, Mr. Cuff. Cuff is courting a young lady, prompting jealousy in another suitor, and keeps company with the other two. Unsurprisingly, Cuff turns up dead, and it seems there was a witness to the gruesome killing.
Meanwhile, in saving a young lad’s life, Az looses his Red Cross Ring in 20 fathoms of water, but that doesn’t break the curse upon the little community and those closest to Az. Wracked by guilt, and haunted by the whispers about his involvement in the crime, the jealous suitor commits suicide under the horrified look of members of the community of Beaumont.
Trying to distance himself from the accusations, one of the murderers walks from Beaumont to L’Anse au Pigeon where he denies having anything to do with the murder. However he eventually confesses to Az, who, lacking a police presence, orders him to leave. Instead the murderer exacts further revenge upon Azariah and the residents. It is only after the Red Cross ring is miraculously recovered that the curse seems to be finally lifted.
Although the story is based on the true life story of Az Roberts, it also offers hints of the paranormal, particularly foretelling, and ghostly appearances, not uncommon in early Newfoundland folklore. Whether you believe in that sort of thing or not does not make it any less of an entertaining tale.
This book would certainly appeal to readers interested in the life of the early Newfoundland fishermen and sealers, as it offers a true glimpse into the everyday harshness and fortitude of the people that first settled this province. It will also likely appeal to those interested in how isolated and remote communities dealt with legal and justice issues, as well as those who simply enjoy a excellent story by a talented author.
I give this book 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Gerald J. Roy is a former Federal Human Rights mediator and educator. Originally from Québec, he has retired to Port aux Basques to be near his family. His voracious book reading appetite trends towards westerns, spy novels, thrillers and mysteries. Find him on Facebook or via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.