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The Stolen Lake (Wolves Chronicles)

Joan Aiken

  The Stolen Lake

  by Joan Aiken

  * * *

  Houghton Mifflin Company


  * * *

  Copyright © 1981 by Joan Aiken Enterprises Ltd.

  All rights reserved. For information about permission to

  reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions,

  Houghton Mifflin Company, 215 Park Avenue South,

  New York, New York 10003.

  First published in Great Britain by Jonathan Cape Ltd.

  First American edition published by Delacorte Press, New York

  The text of this book is set in 12-point Apollo MT.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Aiken, Joan.

  The stolen lake.

  Summary: On her way to England from Nantucket

  aboard a British man-o'-war, Dido has many adventures

  when the ship is diverted to the land of New Cumbria in the

  southern hemisphere.

  RNF ISBN 0-618-07020-6 PAP ISBN 0-618-07021-4

  [I. Adventure stories] I. Title.

  PZ7.A2695St [Fic] 81-5015

  Printed in the United States of America

  HAD 10 98765432

  * * *


  This book forms part of the series begun in The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and continued in Black Hearts in Battersea and Nightbirds on Nantucket. It is set in the reign of King James III, supposing that he had been king of England in the nineteenth century instead of Queen Victoria, and it follows the adventures of Dido Twite after she sets sail for England, at the end of Nightbirds on Nantucket, and before she gets there, in The Cuckoo Tree. But this is a separate story, and you don't need to have read any of the others to understand it.

  Everybody knows that the ancient British didn't migrate to South America when the Saxons invaded their country; this is just my idea of what it would have been like if they had. But Brazil did get its name from the old Celtic belief that there was a beautiful magic country called Breasil's Island, Breasail, or Hy Brasil, somewhere out in the Atlantic, west of Ireland, where the sun sets.

  —J. A.


  The new captain of H. M. S. Thrush, who had come on board at Bermuda, was very particular in his views as to what a young female passenger on a British man-o'-war might or might not do.

  "How old are you, child?" he sharply demanded when he first set eyes on Dido.

  "I dunno."

  "You do not know your own age? You do not look like a stupid child."

  "O' course I ain't stupid," said Dido, nettled. "But before I came on board this here ship I were asleep a plaguy long time aboard a whaling vessel—months and months—Davy Jones alone knows how long."

  "A fine skimble-skamble tale!" said Captain Hughes incredulously. "Well, however that may be, a young person of your age—and I doubt if that can be more than twelve—should remain below decks and learn lessons. I cannot have you skylarking with the midshipmen or continually getting under the men's feet. Needlework would be a more proper occupation. Have you no piece of embroidery—no sampler to sew on?"

  "Sampler? Not blooming likely!" said Dido. "Needlework's a mug's game."

  Captain Hughes peered at her disapprovingly over the logbook of the Thrush.

  "It says here," he pursued, "that you were received on board, for passage back to England, off the isle of Nantucket, after having been instrumental in uncovering a Hanoverian plot against his Majesty King James III." He read aloud these last words with patent disbelief, and added, "How, pray, could a young person such as yourself have come to be concerned in such matters?"

  "Oh, that's a long story," said Dido. "That'd be several long stories."

  She had been studying Captain Hughes, and her first impressions of him were no more favorable than his of her. Captain Osbaldestone, who had invited her aboard the Thrush, had been a lively, imperturbable little man, on cordial terms with all his crew. But shortly after Dido's arrival on board, the Thrush had encountered, first, a pirate vessel, and then a Hanoverian merchantman. There had been a couple of sharp sea battles; the pirate had been sunk, the Hanoverian captured, manned with a prize crew, and escorted by the Thrush to the island of Bermuda, where both vessels needed a good deal of repair after the engagement. And while that was going on, Captain Osbaldestone had been promoted to command a larger British naval ship, and Captain Hughes had come to take his place on board the Thrush.

  It was a change for the worse, Dido soon decided.

  "Pray remember, Miss Twite, that I do not wish to see you outside your own quarters," the captain said severely.

  "What? Mayn't I go up on deck, even?"

  She stared at him, wondering if he could be serious. He certainly looked it—he was a tall, stern individual with a thick, upstanding brush of gray hair and bristling gray brows. His mouth was exceedingly firm. He replied, "You may take the air twice a day on the foredeck. But no unseemly frolicking with the ship's company, if you please!"

  "Mayn't I even climb the rigging?"

  "Certainly not!"

  "What the dickens shall I do all day, then?"

  "I shall instruct my steward, Holystone, to take charge of your education. Which, so far as I can make out, has been wholly neglected. You appear to know nothing about anything except navigation and how to cut up whales. During the passage to England you may at least learn to spell, and the basic rudiments of arithmetic."

  Mr. Holystone, the steward, however, preferred to teach Dido logic, astronomy, the use of the globes, trigonometry, ancient history, and the rules of war. His company was the one thing that consoled Dido for the arrival of Captain Hughes, and since she was no longer allowed to frolic with the midshipmen, she spent most of her time with the steward and his cat, assisting him with various of his tasks while he gave her instruction. Mr. Holystone had come on board with the captain at Bermuda. He seemed fitted for higher employment, but performed his duties calmly and capably, was on friendly terms with the crew, and entrusted with the captain's confidence to a considerable degree. He was a very silent man, so quiet sometimes that he seemed like a hole in the air—as if, Dido thought, he were trying to remember a dream that had sunk down to the bottom of his mind. But at other times he could be talkative enough, and had passed on much useful information to his young companion: why the Black-Browed Albatross is known as the Hollyhawk; how to make Dandyfunk and Crackerhash; that you should never drink the first cup of liquid offered you by a stranger.

  Dido was sitting on the foredeck, cross-legged, polishing up the captain's silver spoons and forks with a piece of sharkskin and a little pot of powdered hartshorn during the second of her two daily airing periods. Above her in the sky hung a great pale moon which had been following the ship all afternoon. It was like a drum, Dido thought, made of silvery parchment, dangling up there over the stern, waiting for someone to climb up the mizzenmast and give it a bang.

  Must be nearly dinner time, she reckoned.

  In confirmation of this, she saw Mr. Holystone picking his way neatly among the marlinspikes, belaying pins, coils of rope, capstans, and windlasses.

  "Just done the last spoon, Mr. Holy!" she called, shuffling them all together.

  The captain's steward was a slight man, of medium height, with regular features and so calm an expression that he looked like a figurehead, carved from pale brown wood. His hair had bleached and his skin had weathered to the same beech-brown color. His eyes were gray and thoughtful; he had an air of sober dignity at all times. Despite this he was not very old, Dido thought—nothing like as old as the captain.

  He he
ld out a hand for the silver, then paused, glancing in some surprise over Dido's shoulder.

  "What's up, Mr. Holy?"

  Dido looked round too; then, exclaiming "Caramba!" she scrambled to her feet. For the moon, instead of floating behind the mainmast, had glided all the way round the horizon and established itself on the ship's right-hand side, where it was beginning to glow pink in the rapidly darkening sky. The fresh following breeze had shifted round to the starboard quarter and was ruffling Dido's short brown hair and making her square midshipman's collar stand on end. The smoke from the Thrush's stern funnel streamed away to port.

  "Hey!" said Dido. "We've turned round!"

  Staring back along the rail she saw that the ship's wake, which all day had carved out an arrow-straight line of creamy froth, stretching southwest behind them, was now an enormous curve, like a giant question mark across the deep-blue ocean.

  "What's amiss, Mr. Holystone? D'you reckon one o' the crew fell overboard? I didn't hear nobody yell out."

  "It is indeed singular. A most unforeseen occurrence."

  "D'you reckon Cap'n Hughes suddenly remembered summat he'd left behind in Bermuda?"

  Dido sighed, remembering how many months she had already been away from her family and friends in Battersea, London. Her family were not particularly lovable—indeed her mother and elder sister had often been extremely unkind to Dido, and her father, though he could be larky when the spirit took him, frequently forgot his younger daughter for weeks on end. But still, she wanted to see them again, if only to tell her adventures—how she had been all round the world on a whaler, and had helped rescue a girl called Dutiful Penitence from a wicked aunt who turned out to be no aunt at all but a Hanoverian rebel, planning to blow up St. James's Palace with a long-range cannon.

  There was also a friend of Dido's called Simon whom she wanted to see very much indeed.

  "Maybe Cap'n Hughes just slipped a mite off course," she suggested hopefully.

  But the Thrush sailed on along her new course; the moon, now large and pink as a peony, remained obstinately on the right-hand side, casting a pearly path over the dark water.

  "I will take these below," said Mr. Holystone. "It may be that I can discover what has caused the change."

  His cat, El Dorado, who had come on deck with her master, stretched elaborately, first her front paws, then her back.

  "Come on, Dora," said Dido. "Let's us go too, and find out what's happening."

  She picked up the copper-colored cat. Dora's immensely long tail instantly went twice round Dido's neck.

  The big three-masted man-o'-war was breasting large Atlantic waves; the deck rose, dipped, and rolled from side to side in a long, continuous, corkscrewing glide. But Dido crossed it with practiced ease, making for the captain's companionway. As she passed them, several sailors nodded to her in a friendly manner, but they did not speak. Captain Hughes was a strict disciplinarian. One or two of the midshipmen gave her cautious grins. A man called Silver Taffy (on account of his impressive, shining, hallmarked dentures) cast a malevolent look at both Dido and the cat, making a figure-eight sign with fingers and thumbs as he spat over the side.

  "Pair o' Jonahs!" he muttered as Dido passed him. "I know what I'd do if I had charge o' this vessel."

  Dido scowled at him. He had been one of the crew aboard the Queen Ettarde, the vanquished pirate ship, and had elected to become a member of the Thrush's crew rather than go to jail in Bermuda. He'll bear watching, Dido thought, as she climbed down the companion ladder. I'd as soon not run across him on a dark night.

  She passed the door of the officers' wardroom, from which came a strong smell of fried onions and salt pork. The officers—except for those on watch—were at supper. Dido as she passed could hear what they said, for it was very hot belowdecks, and the door was braced open.

  "Plaguy tedious change of course," said Mr. Windward, the first lieutenant. "I wanted to get home to Blighty and spend my prize money. What possessed the captain to turn south?"

  "Maybe he had an order?" suggested Bowsprit, the second lieutenant.

  "Who gave it? Where the deuce could it have come from?"

  "The admiralty, of course. Where else do orders come from?"

  "How did it get here, sapskull?"

  "Sealed, maybe," suggested one of the midshipmen. "You know: not to be opened till two months out at sea."

  "We'd have heard about it before," said Lieutenant Windward.

  "Not from old Mumchance. He'd not tell you it was Tuesday."

  Dido went on to her own cabin, a tiny box next to the captain's big day cabin ("so that I can keep an eye on you and see you don't get into trouble," he had said severely, supervising her removal from a much more comfortable cabin farther off). She took her meals with Mr. Holystone in his galley, where he prepared food for the captain. This was two doors farther on, beyond the captain's sleeping quarters. She went to the galley now, and found Mr. Holystone thoughtfully paring off thin curls of coconut and laying them on a silver dish. Captain Hughes was partial to tropical food.

  "Here," said Dido, "lemme do that." She took the knife from Mr. Holystone, inquiring, in a lower tone, "What's to do? Cap's up on the quarterdeck—walking to and fro—looks as pothered as a flying fish that's forgot how to swim."

  "He had a message." Mr. Holystone gave a stir to a cauldron of shark soup, turned a mutton ham on its roasting spit, then began kneading a pan of dough and breaking it into rolls.

  "He did have a message? From the admiralty?"

  "No, from Admiral Hollingsworth at Trinidad."

  "How the blazes did it get here?"

  "By carrier pigeon." Mr. Holystone put his rolls in the oven.

  "Hey—was it that pigeon that Dora nearly caught this morning?"

  "There it is."

  Now Dido noticed the same pigeon perched on top of the dish rack, with its head under its wing. Must be tuckered out, she thought, if it's flown all the way from Trinidad—wherever that is. "Best watch Dora don't get it, Mr. Holy?"

  But the cat, El Dorado, was engaged in gnawing some shark scraps on a tin pan which her master had put down for her.

  "Lucky Noah Gusset caught the pigeon afore Dora got to it, or Cap'n Hughes'd never have got the message," Dido remarked.

  "And we would have been spared much trouble."

  "Why? What was the message? Did you find out?"

  "Si, si." Mr. Holystone sometimes absently lapsed into Spanish or Latin. When he was fifteen his adopted father had sent him to be educated at the University of Salamanca, in Spain. He was so fond of learning that he had remained there for ten years. In consequence he knew a great deal about almost everything, and spoke nine languages fluently.

  "Talk English, please!" said Dido, who did not.

  "Excuse me! Captain Hughes has been instructed to sail down the east coast of Roman America to the port of Tenby, in New Cumbria."

  Mr. Holystone did not look particularly happy about this change of plan.

  "Is that a long way?" asked ignorant Dido.

  "I should say so! Two thousand miles, I daresay. We must cross the equator."

  "Two thousand miles?" Dido gasped. "But I thought we was on our way home, bound for London river."

  Her mouth drooped. Mr. Holystone looked at her with sympathy.

  "Poor young miss. It is a sad feeling—to be so far from home."

  "Where's your home, Mr. Holy?"

  "Hy Brasil?" The steward sighed. "It is not so far from where we are going. But I have no friends there anymore. I cannot return."

  "So why do we have to go to this New Cumbria?"

  "Admiral Hollingsworth had a message from the queen of that country, asking for help."

  "Why should the British Navy help her?"

  "She has sustained some wrong at the hands of a neighbor country. There has been some attack, some invasion—the message did not say. Something has been taken from the queen."

  "Captain Hughes has to get it back?"

he was told."

  "But why should we help this queen?" asked Dido. She folded the captain's table napkin into a neat cockade. "Why can't the queen's own army do that job?"

  "Really you are a remarkably ill-informed young person," Mr. Holystone said rather severely. "Have you never learned the history of your own land?"

  "Oh, come off it, Mr. Holy. Don't preach at a person! It ain't my fault I never got no schooling."

  "No, that is true," he apologized. "And it is true, too, that all my education has done me little good. What is the use of being able to read Sanskrit, Homer, and Machiavelli, if you end up as a ship's steward?"

  "You're ever such a good steward, Mr. Holy," Dido said kindly. "Never mind about Mucky Velly. Tell me about the queen of Cumbria. What's her name?"

  "The message did not intimate. Her country is Britain's oldest ally. There have been links of friendship between Britain and New Cumbria since the year 577."

  "Coo!" Dido counted on her fingers. "More than twelve hundred years. What happened in five seven seven?"

  "A battle—the battle of Dyrham. Here, take the tablecloth." He handed her a heavy white damask square and followed her into the captain's cabin, a big, handsome room which contained a massive mahogany table, as well as a desk and several armchairs. The walls were paneled in walnut and covered with maps, charts, and diagrams of the flying machines which were the captain's passion. He had a theory that ships could be constructed to fly like birds. Up to now, no one at the admiralty had taken him seriously.

  Big, slanting windows let in the moonlight and followed the line of the ship's side.

  Dido spread the cloth on the table, and Mr. Holystone laid out a single place setting of knives, forks, spoons, plates, and glasses for wine and water.

  "Who won the battle of Dyrham?"

  "The British lost. You never heard of the Bath Brigade? Or the Glastonbury Guards? Or the Mendip Diehards?" Dido shook her head. "The British and Romans were fighting together against a lot of invading Saxons. When the battle was lost, a number of British and Romans escaped to the coast. There they took ship—in fact the ships that the Saxons had arrived in—and set off across the sea with their wives and families. The first land they reached was New Cumbria, so there they settled."