(1/3) Go Saddle the SeaJoan Aiken
Go Saddle the Sea
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Orlando Austin New York San Diego Toronto London
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Copyright © 1977 by John Sebastian Brown and
Elizabeth Delano Charlaff
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First published by Doubleday, 1977
First Harcourt paperback edition 2007
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Aiken, Joan, 1924–2004.
Go saddle the sea/Joan Aiken,
Sequel: Bridle the wind.
Summary: In 1821, an orphaned twelve-year-old boy
runs away from his unhappy home in Spain to
England where he tries to find his father's family.
[1. Orphans—Fiction. 2. Spain—History—Revolution,
1820–1823—Fiction.] I. Title.
Text set in Adobe Garamond
Designed by Cathy Riggs
A C E G H F D B
Printed in the United States of America
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1 In which I set out to seek my fortune [>]
2 In which I encounter dangers from swamp, fire, and wolves; & am enabled by God's help to foil some Assassins [>]
3 I witness a duel; and dispose of a horse; am cast into danger thereby; acquire a Feathered Timepiece; and help a Pig Farmer in a flood [>]
4 In which I encounter strange perils in a Mountain Village; my mule goes lame; and I am astounded to hear a familiar ballad sung in a Spanish port [>]
5 My happy stay in Llanes [>]
6 How we helped the priest of Santillana remove Pepe's Ox from the cave [>]
7 I hear startling news at the convent in Santander; I am angry with Sam; and find a ship [>]
8 On board the Guipuzcoa; the Comprachicos [>]
9 The battle on the ship; the snowstorm; what became of the Comprachicos; our arrival in Falmouth [>]
10 Having lost Sam, I make my way to Bath; the Rose and Ring-Dove; what Mr. Burden told me [>]
11 In which I meet my Trustees, and Mr. Burden reads my father's Letter [>]
12 In which I am sent to School, and come to a Decision [>]
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1808 Madrid occupied by the French
1808 British force landed in August, under Wellesley
1808–9 Moore's retreat to La Coruña; embarked for England, January 1809
1808 Felix's father meets his mother in Astorga, November 1808
1809 Felix born, July
1810 French invade Portugal
1810 Battle of La Albuera
1812 Battle of Salamanca
1813 Battle of Vitoria
1813 Battle of the Bidassoa
1813 Wellington drives the French back into France
1821 The story begins
1. In which I set out to seek my fortune
The sheep had been brought down from the mountains, because the year was dwindling; winter would soon be here. That's how I know it must have been around September, my saint's month, when Pedro came and rattled my door at black of night.
You could hear the sheep a-crying and a-calling, near and far; the dark night was riddled by their thin, peevish voices, even louder than the wind—and that was loud enough. The sound kept me wakeful. Also my bed was-cold as a marsh, for there had been weeks of rain before the weather turned wintry. I had not even thrust my feet down to the bottom yet, so I had no particular objection to getting up again. But I did wonder what brought Pedro to this part of the house. He was the cook's great-nephew, and he slept on a shelf in the kitchen, which was a good ten minutes' run from my quarters on the upper floor.
I had a whole room of my own—lucky Felix!—with two windows that pierced clean through the city wall, and looked southward toward the mountains, the Sierra de Picos de Ancares. For sure I was lucky: I had a room, and a mule to ride, and learned Latin and the Lives of the Saints from Father Tomás, and was Don Francisco's grandson. But, no question, Pedro had the snuggest crib. He was fourteen, two years older than I, and six inches taller.
But I was heavier, and could throw him on the floor, three times out of five.
"What's the row?" says I, pulling on my jacket—I hadn't taken off my shirt, it was too cold to go to bed naked.
I padded across the massive, creaking boards in my stocking feet to open the door. Always sleep with your door locked—if you're fortunate enough to have a door—was one of the things Bob had taught me. Bob had been dead four years and the French had been gone for eight, but you never knew; maybe the French had invaded and come back, burning and snatching. If not the French, there was always a chance of armed brigands or guerilleros, on the scavenge for anything they could pick up. There were plenty of queer culls in the mountains.
"It's me—P-Pedro," he called, shivering. "Santa Maria, am I glad I'm not you. Fancy having to sleep in this icehouse!"
"Why the devil did you come, then? Doña Isadora would have your skin off."
I had thought my bed cold, but the air was much colder.
"Great-aunt's dying. She wants you."
"Dying? How do you know?"
Bernardina, his great-aunt, had been cook in my grandfather's house ever since I was born. And long before. She was a huge woman, quick on her feet as a bull, with a bull's little red eyes and neat ankles. She could rage like a bull, too, when she was drunk, but, most of the time, she was laughing, roaring out songs, cursing, hoisting huge trays in and out of her oven, giving a stir to all her pots: I found it hard to believe that she had even been taken sick. And as for dying, that seemed impossible. Could she have run her head against a stone doorpost, while chasing one of the maids with a skillet?
"I wouldn't tell a lie. It's true enough," whimpered Pedro, pulling at me to hurry me. His hands were shaking, and all he did was unbalance me as I tried to stamp into a shoe, so that I put my foot down heavily, and a splinter from the floorboard ran into my toe.
"Estúpido!" I snapped, but instead of taking offense, he said,
"Father Tomás is with her, hearing her confession."
That settled it. Bernardina would never confess be-, fore she had to. No point in upsetting God, she said. And shovel-faced Father Tomás was not to be hoisted from his bed for a simple case of colic; she must be dying.
But she had been in good health the evening before; had thrown a pan of onions clean across the kitchen because, she said, they were not hot enough to serve to Don Francisco for his supper. And she had also threatened to tell my grandfather what she thought of Doña Isadoras tale-bearing ways. I do not know if she would really have done that, though. Perhaps it was having to keep a rein on her indignation that polished her off at last.
A great cold fright took me. What'll I do when she's gone? In all this freezing barracks of a house, big enough to hold an army, filled with richness and silence, Bernardina was the only one who ever laughed or sang, the only one who ever gave me a friendly wor
d, who looked as if it mattered to her whether I walked into a room or left it.
No, that is not quite true. My great-aunt Isadora's nostrils twitched whenever she saw me, as if she smelled bad fish. And the kitchen brats muttered rude words under their breath when I came in to talk to Bernie—not aloud, any more, since I had knocked out three of Pedro's teeth.
If Bernardina goes, I might as well go, too.
Down the stairs we crept. Not much need to worry about making a noise—the stairs were solid stone, wide enough to take a horse and carriage. Besides, all the old people, my grandparents and great-aunts, slept on the far side of the courtyard. Still, I went quietly. For three days I had been confined to my room as a punishment. I had tied the cord of Father Agustín's habit to a lamp stand in the chapel, so that he pulled the lamp over when he tried to stand up. Beaten by Father Tomás and no food until Saturday. It hadn't been worth it, really. But you have to do something to keep your spirits up.
Pedro had brought a candle with him but it wasn't wanted now. Bright moonshine scalloped the cloistered side of the courtyard, where we stayed under the arches, for the wind was like a dagger; then alongside the chapel entrance, where a lamp always burned in a red glass shade; through a black-dark passage, then round the cloisters of another court, for the house was built around two, like a double-four domino.
Pedro did not stop at the door of Bernardina's clammy little room, which always smelled of the goose grease she rubbed on her chilblains and the raw onions she ate for her complexion. I said, "Where is she?"
"She took a fancy to die on the stairs."
"On the stairs? Why there?"
Bernie had always maintained that she was too fat to walk up and down stairs; which was why she chose to sleep on the ground floor; if the Conde or the Condesa or any of the señoras wished to speak to her, let them come down to her level, she said.
"She thought she'd be nearer to God; or it would be easier for Him to find her;I don't know," Pedro said, sniffing.
So we went up again.
Quite a steep little flight, this was; we were now in another section of the town wall (my grandfather's house took up one corner of the town of Villaverde); and you could climb right up onto a walkway that led along the wall, or into a turret which looked out to where the French or the English might be coming to carry off all the poultry and mules, and drink all the wine.
Bernie was not as far as the top, though. She had got herself perched about ten steps up, like a whale beached by a big wave at Finisterra. She was wrapped in a cloak and her feet, in felt slippers, stuck out like an untrussed pullet's.
Father Tomás was there with his sacred things, and the place, besides the usual drafty smell of cold wet stone, breathed strangely of incense and holy oil.
Bernie shone like one of her own chickens she'd been a-basting.
The minute I saw her I knew Pedro had spoken the truth. Light from the fall moon came through an arrow slit, and Father Tomás had brought a rush light in a holder, and by the mixed illumination I could see that she looked dreadful. Although she smiled at me and gave me a wink, I felt my heart open and close inside me, with a pain as bad as when Bob died.
Father Tomás was mumbling Latin over her like a ball of string unwinding, but she. interrupted him.
"Oh, give over, Father, do, muchas gracias! You've done your best for me; if God wants a good cook, He knows where to find me. And if He doesn't, I'll hire myself somewhere else! Run along, now, Father; I daresay you've greased the way into heaven for me, so I'll slide in somehow. And I'll put in a word for you if I get there. But now I want a private word with Señorito Felix."
Father Tomás spared me a glance cold as a slice of tombstone.
"What's that boy doing here?" says he peevishly. "You are supposed to be confined to your chamber for impertinence and sacrilege."
"Vaya, vaya, you can't refuse a dying woman's wishes, Father," Bernié objected, heaving herself up like a sack of fodder, so that she nearly rolled off the side of the steps, which had no rail.
Father Tomás gave a squawk of alarm.
"Be careful, woman! Oh, very well—very well; Señorito Felix may approach and bid you good-bye. But you are not to be long, mind, and then he must return to his room immediately."
"Si, si, si! Now go and tell your beads somewhere else, Father, and take that little sniveler with you," Bernie said, pointing to Pedro.
I have seldom seen a look so full of annoyance as the one Father Tomás gave me while he slowly collected his sacred things together and retreated down the steps. Then he went a-gliding away Over the flagstones, with his black woolen robe swishing around him; you could always tell when he was near by that sound, and the smell of old greasy wool and the wintergreen ointment on his rheumatic knees.
A couple of kitchen girls, Rosario and Isabella, had been fussing uselessly with bowls of hot water and towels; Bernie sent them packing, too.
"Is there any wine left in that jug, boy?" she said to me. "Yes? Good! I've a fancy to die drunk, just in case there's no wine where I'm going. Give us a tot. Now come closer."
So I climbed up another step or two. She groped about among the folds of the tent-like wrapper, and passed me a little bundle.
"Wh-wh-what's that?" I asked. I stammer when I am upset; it is a stupid habit that I can't shake off. It was horrible to see her lolling on the steps in that unlikely way, her face all gray and shiny, looking so different from the Bernie that I was used to finding in the kitchen, tossing her fritters and roaring out wicked songs.
"Things of your father's," Bernie said. "Bob gave them to me when he died."
"Why didn't he give them to me?
Bob had been my fathers batman. After my father—who was a captain in General John Moore's army—had died at Los Nogales, Bob somehow made his way over the mountains to Villaverde, where my grandfather's house was. How he did it, no one ever knew, for he, too, was terribly wounded: one leg shot away, one arm useless, a bullet lodged in his spine, so he was all doubled up. The journey took him months and months. But he managed. Bob was the bravest person I ever met. He managed the journey, and even lasted some years after that, hobbling about the stables, doctoring the horses, and telling me stories of my father. He died when I was eight. He'd been very good to me. I still hated for him to be dead.
"He said to keep these for you till you were grown," croaked Bernardina. "He said, no use to burden you with them till you were a man, and able to fight for yourself. But I can't do that, can I? I shan't be here. And there's no one about the house that I'd trust; those aunts of yours are a lot of canting old snakes in sheep's clothing—that Isadora would put poison in your garbanzos as soon as look at you! So you must just have the things now. There's a lot of written stuff, but I haven't read it, not IP She chuckled. I knew that she could not read a word. "Then," she said, "you will just have to decide for yourself."
It was all too much for me to bear; in spite of gritting my teeth, clenching my fingers and holding my breath, I could feel a great sob snap in my throat. Tears came bursting out of both eyes.
"Oh, Bernie, please don't die!"
I was bitterly ashamed of myself. However much Father Tomás beat me for bad Latin—or for letting loose the pigs—or greasing the stairs, so that Doña Isadora slipped on them—I used to take pride in the fact that I never blubbered. Not even when Doña Isadora kept on and on about my being a Bad Seed and the death of my mother.
"I must go, my poor little pumpkin," Bernie whispered hoarsely—her breathing was very awkward, her words came in bunches. "I'm not wild about it, either, to tell you the truth—but when they call you, you've got to flit. And there's a bad thing in my heart, I dan feel it—it's not beating as it should. The question is, what are you to do? You don't belong here, any ghost could see that. Bob always said that, if he'd been in better shape, he'd have taken you to England to your father's folk. But he knew he'd not last the journey. He did try to wr
ite to them once, but with his right hand gone and his left hand crippled, he could hardly scratch out the words; likely the letter never went where it should. No answer came, that I know. Anyway, Bob used to say that a cold home was better than none."
Bob had been English, like my father; the English I speak I learned off" him. But luckily he spoke Spanish as well, like a native, besides having such a wonderful gift with horses that, in spite of his one crippled arm, Don Francisco was glad to keep him on in the stable. Bob believed—he was the only one who did—that my parents really had been married. As they were both dead, they had no say in the matter. All my relatives in the big house were quite sure in their minds on the opposite side. My grandmother looked at me as if I gave her a pain, and Dona Isadora, my great-aunt, had masses said every single day for my mother, who had died, they said, in a state of sin, after having given birth to me.
Bob said that my father was Quality. "Captain Brooke wasn't his real name," he told me. "Don't you let those toffee-nosed Cabezadas put you down. Pooh to el senor Conde! An English baronite is worth half a dozen Spanish counts any day. You are as good as they are, Master Felix, and don't you ever forget it."
"Perhaps these things of my father's will tell me where to find his family," I said to Bernie, feeling the little bundle, which was wrapped in stained linen, thin and brittle with age and hot weather. My thumbs itched to untie it, but I felt it would be more dignified—as well as more polite—to wait till I was back in my own chamber.
"Maybe—they will," wheezed Bernardina. "And my advice to you, hijo, is not to stay here, where you're despised. Leave this place and find your fathers kin. You've a right—to choose—where to hang your hat. You know what I always say—go saddle the sea—"
She stopped speaking. A look of pure concentration came over her face—as if she were trying to remember some important name; or as if—I thought stupidly—she found herself obliged to dig out a bit of gristle with her tongue from between her back teeth.
"Manolo!" exclaimed Bernardina suddenly.