Radio operator James Ferguson was seriously wounded in a bombing mission during World War II. A piece of shrapnel buried in his spine, Ferguson was paralyzed, his brain damaged, and his voice silenced forever. But he never gave up fighting.
For the rest of his life, Ferguson devoted himself to ham radio, tapping out messages to strangers in Canada, a passion no one in his family understood. But when he dies without ever connecting to his son, Ian, his final message will change the boy’s life forever.
Beside the radio, Ian finds his father’s last transmission: a distress call received from the isolated Labrador Peninsula, where the survivor of a lost expedition still cries out for rescue. The authorities dismiss the story as impossible, so Ian must journey to Labrador himself. In the endless frozen landscape, he will risk his life to save another—and prove his father right.
To research The Land God Gave to Cain, author Hammond Innes trekked across rough country, hearing the stories of the men who risked their lives to tame the exotic land. Innes was a master at weaving research, landscape, and heart-pounding action into some of the greatest thrillers of all time.
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About the Author
Following his demobilization in 1946, Innes worked full-time as a writer, achieving a number of early successes. His novels are notable for their fine attention to accurate detail in descriptions of place, such as Air Bridge (1951), which is set at RAF stations during the Berlin Airlift. Innes’s protagonists were often not heroes in the typical sense, but ordinary men suddenly thrust into extreme situations by circumstance. Often, this involved being placed in a hostile environment—for example, the Arctic, the open sea, deserts—or unwittingly becoming involved in a larger conflict or conspiracy. Innes’s protagonists are forced to rely on their own wits rather than the weapons and gadgetry commonly used by thriller writers. An experienced yachtsman, his great love and understanding of the sea was reflected in many of his novels.
Innes went on to produce books on a regular schedule of six months for travel and research followed by six months of writing. He continued to write until just before his death, his final novel being Delta Connection (1996). At his death, he left the bulk of his estate to the Association of Sea Training Organisations to enable others to experience sailing in the element he loved.
Read an Excerpt
The Land God Gave to Cain
By Hammond Innes
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1958 Hammond Innes
All rights reserved.
THE RADIO MESSAGE
"Your name Ian Ferguson?" The question was flung at me out of a cloud of dust and I straightened up from the theodolite to find one of the Company Land-Rovers had pulled in behind me. The engine was ticking over and the driver was leaning out so that his sun-reddened face was clear of the windscreen. "All right. Hop in, chum. You're wanted down at Company Office."
"What's it about?"
"I dunno. Said it was urgent and sent me up to get you. Probably you got your levels wrong and the runway's on the skew." He grinned. He was always trying to get a rise out of the younger engineers. I entered the figures in my notebook, shouted to my rodholder that I wouldn't be long and clambered in, and then we drove off across the rough ground, trailing a streamer of dust behind us.
The Company Office was just where the old runway finished and our new construction began. It was a large wooden hut with a corrugated iron roof, and as I went in the place was like an oven, for it was very hot in England that September. "Oh, there you are, Ferguson." Mr. Meadows, the chief engineer, came to meet me. "Afraid I've some bad news for you." The roar of an aircraft taking off shook the hut and through it I heard him say, "Telegram for you. Just came through on the phone." He handed me a shee of paper.
I took it with a sudden feeling of foreboding. I knew it must be my father. The message was written in pencil. Please come home at once. Dad taken very bad. Love. Mother.
"When's the next train to London — do you know, sir?"
He glanced at his watch. "In about half an hour. You might just make it." His voice sounded undecided. "I find you had leave about three months ago on account of your father. You're quite certain it's serious? I mean —"
"I'm sorry, sir. I'll have to go." And then, because he remained silent, I felt I had to explain. "My father was badly shot up on a bombing mission during the war. He was a radio operator and he got a shell in the back of the neck. His legs are paralysed and he can't speak. The brain was damaged, too."
"I'm sorry. I didn't know." Mr. Meadows' pale eyes looked hurt. "Of course you must go. I'll have one of the Land-Rovers take you down."
I just caught the train and three hours later I was in London. All the way up I had been thinking of my father and wishing I could remember him as he had been when I was a kid. But I couldn't. The broken, inarticulate wreck that I had grown up with overshadowed all my early memories and I was left with the general impression of a big, friendly man. I had only been six when he joined the R.A.F. and went away to the war.
When I was at home I'd go and sit with him sometimes in that upstairs room where he had the radio. But he lived in a world of his own, and though he would converse by passing notes to me, I always had the impression that I was intruding. The neighbours thought him a bit balmy, and so he was in a way, sitting up there day after day in his wheel-chair contacting other "ham" radio operators. It was mostly Canada he contacted and once, when I was curious and wanted to know why, he'd got excited; his shattered larynx had produced queer incoherent noises and his big, heavy face had reddened with the effort of trying to communicate something to me. I remember I had asked him to write down what he was trying to tell me, but the note he passed me simply said, Too complicated. It's a long story. His eyes had gone to the shelf where he kept his Labrador books and an oddly frustrated look came over his face. And after that I had always been conscious when I was up there of the books and the big map of Labrador that hung on the wall above the transmitter. It wasn't a printed map. He'd drawn it himself whilst in hospital.
I was thinking of this as I hurried down the familiar street, wondering whether there was any solid reason for his interest in Labrador or whether it was something to do with his mental state. A shell had ripped open his skull and the doctors had said the brain was permanently injured, though they'd done a good job of patching him up. The sun had set now and all our side of the street was black in shadow so that it was like a wall of brick. The uniformity of it all saddened me and unconsciously I slowed my pace, remembering that room and the morse key on the table and how he'd insisted on having the station's call sign painted on the door. Mother didn't really understand him. She hadn't his education and she couldn't see his desperate need of that radio room.
I think I knew I wasn't ever going to see him in that room again. Our house had its gate and door painted red, which was all that distinguished it from its neighbours, and as I approached I saw that the upstairs blinds were drawn.
My mother came to the door and greeted me quietly. "I'm glad you've come, Ian." She wasn't crying. She just looked tired, that was all. "You saw the blinds, didn't you? I would have told you in the telegram, but I wasn't certain. I got Mrs. Wright from next door to send it. I had to wait for the doctor." Her voice was lifeless and without emotion. She had come to the end of a long road.
At the foot of the stairs she said, "You'd like to see him, I expect." She took me straight up to the darkened room and left me there. "Come down when you're ready. I'll make you a pot of tea. You must be tired after the journey."
He was lying stretched out on the bed and the furrows of his face, that had been so deep-etched by years of pain, seemed to have been miraculously smoothed out. He looked at peace and in a way I felt glad for him. I stood there a long time, thinking of the fight he'd made of it — seeing him, I think, clearly for the first time as a brave and gallant man. Anger and bitterness stirred in me then at the rotten deal he'd had from life and the unfair way others get through a war scot-free. I was a little confused and in the end I knelt beside his bed and tried to pray. And then I kissed the cold, smooth forehead and tiptoed out and went down the stairs to join my mother in the parlour.
She was sitting with the tea table in front of her, staring at it without seeing it. She looked old and very frail. It had been a hard life for her. "It's almost a relief, Mother, isn't it?"
She looked at me then. "Yes, dear. I've been expecting it ever since he had that stroke three months ago. If he had been content to just lie in bed ... but he would get up every day and wheel himself along to that room. And he'd be there till all hours, particularly lately. The last week or so, he couldn't seem to leave the wireless alone." She always called it the wireless.
And then, when she had poured my tea, she told me how it had happened. "It was very strange and I wouldn't dream of telling the doctor. He'd never believe me and he'd want to give me pills or something. Even now I'm not sure I didn't imagine it. I was sitting down here, sewing, when I suddenly heard your Dad call out to me. 'Mother!' he called. And then something else. I couldn't say what it was for he was up in that room and he had the door shut as usual. But I could have sworn he called out 'Mother,' and when I got up to the wireless room I found him standing up. He had forced himself up out of his chair and his face was all red and mottled with the effort he was making."
"You mean he was standing up on his own?" It was incredible. My father hadn't stood in years.
"Yes. He was leaning on the table and reaching out with his right hand. To the wall, I think. For support," she added quickly. And then she said, "He turned his head and saw me and tried to say something. And then his face became all twisted with pain. He gave a sort of strangled cry and all his body went suddenly limp and he fell down. I don't know when exactly he died. I laid him on the floor and made him as comfortable as possible." She began to cry quietly.
I went over to her and she clung to me whilst I did my best to comfort her, and all the time the picture of my father's struggle to stand stayed in my mind. "What made him suddenly make such a desperate effort?" I asked.
"Nothing." She looked up at me quickly with such a strange, protective look that I wondered.
"But it must have been something. And to find his voice like that — suddenly after all these years."
"I can't be certain. I may have imagined it. I think I must have."
"But just now you said you were positive he called out to you. Besides, you went up there. He must have called out. And to find him on his feet; there must have been some compelling reason."
"Oh, I don't know. Your Dad was like that. He never would give up. The doctor thinks —"
"Had he got his earphones on when you went in?"
"Yes. But ... Where are you going, Ian?" I didn't answer, for I was already through the door and running up the stairs. I was thinking of the map of Labrador. She had found my father standing at the table, reaching out to the wall — and that was where the map hung. Or perhaps he had been trying to reach the bookshelf. It was below the map and it contained nothing but the books on Labrador. He was fascinated by the country. It was an obsession with him.
I turned left at the top of the stairs and there was the door with STATION G2STO stencilled on it. It was so familiar that, as I pushed it open, I couldn't believe that I wouldn't find him seated there in front of the radio. But the wheelchair was empty, swivelled back against the wall, and the desk where he always sat was unnaturally tidy, the usual litter of notebooks, magazines and newspapers all cleared away and stacked neatly on top of the transmitter. I searched quickly through them, but there was no message, nothing.
I had been so certain I should find a message, or at least some indication of what had happened, that I stood at a loss for a moment, looking round the small den that had been his world for so long. It was all very familiar, and yet it had a strangeness because he was no longer there to give it point. Only that had changed. All the rest remained — the school pictures, the caps, the wartime photographs, and the bits and pieces of planes with the scribbled signatures of the air crews who had been his companions. And over by the door hung the same faded picture of my grandmother, Alexandra Ferguson, her strong face unsmiling and yellowed above the tight-buttoned bodice.
I stared at it, wondering whether she would have known the answer. I had often seen him glance at the picture — or was it at the things that hung below it, the rusted pistol, the sextant, the broken paddle and the torn canvas case with the moth-eaten fur cap hanging over it? Alexandra Ferguson was his mother. She had brought him up, and somehow I'd always known those relics beneath the photograph belonged to the north of Canada, though I couldn't remember anybody ever telling me so.
I dug back in my memory to the vague impression of a grey, bleak house somewhere in the north of Scotland, and a terrifying old woman who had come to me in the night. The photograph didn't recall her to my mind, for all I remembered was a disembodied face hanging over me in the flickering flame of the night light, a cold, bitter, desiccated face, and then my mother had come in and they had shouted at each other until I had screamed with fear. We had left next morning and as though by common consent neither my mother nor my father had ever mentioned her to me again.
I turned back to the room, the memory of that scene still vivid. And then I was looking at the radio receiver and the morse key with the pencil lying beside it, and the memory faded. These were the things that now dominated all the bits and pieces of his life. Together they represented all that had been left to him, and somehow I felt that, as his son, I should have enough understanding of him to wring from them the thing that had driven him to such a superhuman effort.
I think it was the pencil that made me realise something was missing. There should have been a log book. He always kept a radio log. Not a proper one, of course; just a cheap exercise book in which he jotted things down — station frequencies and their times of broadcasting, scraps of weather forecasts or ships' talk or anything from Canada, all mixed up with little drawings and anything else that came to his mind.
I found several of these exercise books in the drawer of the table, but they didn't include the current one. The latest entry in these books was for September 15, a page of doodling in which it was almost impossible to decipher anything coherent at all. Drawings of lions seemed to predominate, and in one place he had written: C2 — C2 — C2 ... where the hell is that? The scrawled line of a song caught my eye — LOST AND GONE FOREVER — and he had ringed it round with a series of names — Winokapau — Tishinakamau — Attikonak — Winokapau — Tishinakamau — Attikonak — repeated over and over again as a sort of decoration.
Turning back through the pages of these old log books I found they were all like that — a queer mixture of thoughts and fancies that made me realise how lonely he had been up there in that room and how desperately turned in upon himself. But here and there I picked out dates and times, and gradually a pattern emerged. Every day there was an entry for 2200 hours, undoubtedly the same station transmitting, for the entry was nearly always followed by the call sign VO6AZ, and on one page he had written VO6AZ came through as usual. Later I found the name Ledder occurring — Ledder reports or Ledder again, in place of the call sign. The word expedition occurred several times.
It is difficult to convey the impression these muddled pages made. They were such an extraordinary mixture of fact and nonsense, of what he had heard over the air and the things that came into his mind, all patterned and half-obliterated with childish lines and squiggles and odd names and little drawings with the shape of a lion repeated and repeated in page after page. A psychiatrist would probably say that it was all symptomatic of cerebral damage, and yet most people doodle when they are much alone with their thoughts, and through it all ran the thread of these reports from VO6AZ.
I turned to the bookcase behind me, which housed his technical library, and took down the Radio Amateur Call Book. This I knew listed all the world's ham operators under their different countries, together with their call signs and addresses. He had explained the call sign system to me once. The prefix gave the location. G, for instance, was the prefix for all British hams. I started to look up Canada, but the book fell open almost automatically at Labrador and I saw that VO6 was the prefix for this area. Against the call sign VO6AZ appeared the names Simon & Ethel Ledder, c/o D.O.T. Communications, Goose Bay.
The knowledge that he had been in regular contact with Labrador drew me again to the map hanging above the transmitter, the names he had written on that last page running through my head — Winokapau — Tishinakamau — Attikonak. It was like the opening of Turner's poem and, leaning forward across the desk, I saw that he had made some pencil markings on the map. I was certain they hadn't been there when I'd last been in the room with him. A line had been drawn from the Indian settlement of Seven Islands on the St. Lawrence, running north into the middle of Labrador, and against it was pencilled the initials — Q.N.S. & L.R. To the right of it, about halfway up, an almost blank area of the map had been ringed, and here he had written Lake of the Lion with a large question mark after it.
I had just noticed Attikonak L. inked in against the outline of a large, sprawling lake, when the door behind me opened and there was a little gasp. I turned to find my mother standing there with a frightened look on her face. "What's the matter?" I asked.
She seemed to relax at the sound of my voice. "You did give me a turn — I thought for a moment —" She checked herself and I realised suddenly that this was how my father had stood, leaning on the table and reaching over towards the map of Labrador.
"It was the map, wasn't it?" I was excited by the sudden certainty that it was the map that had drawn him to his feet.
A shadow seemed to cross her face. Her gaze fastened on the log books strewn on the table. "What are you doing up here, Ian?"
Excerpted from The Land God Gave to Cain by Hammond Innes. Copyright © 1958 Hammond Innes. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsI. The Radio Message,
II. The Labrador Railway,
III. Lake of the Lion,
About the Author,