The Stolen LakeJoan Aiken
Table of Contents
By the Same Author
Note to the Reader
About the Author
THE STOLEN LAKE
'Why, what the devil did you do?' inquired the captain without much sympathy.
'I sold that child of yours, Twitkin, Tweetkin, whatever the name is, to Lady Ettarde, for our passage money. Five hundred gold bezants.'
'Sold Miss Twite to Lady Ettarde?'
exclaimed the captain in wrath and astonishment. 'As a slave, do you mean? How can you have sold her? She was not yours to sell!'
'Oh, I shouldn't have done it, I know!' blubbered Brandywinde. 'And anyway it didn't do me a particle of good – because those two cursed witches, Morgan and Vavasour, swore they never got their hands on the brat – the little monster escaped – they wouldn't give me the ready after all – the cheating harridans! So the boat sailed without us, and my wife and child are lost forever, and worst of all – '
'What became of your wife and child?'
But at this question Mr Brandywinde went wholly to pieces, rocking, gulping and gibbering. The only words Captain Hughes could distinguish among those he gasped out were, 'Hunted to death – to death!'
A grisly thought flashed into the captain's mind.
'Hunted? Good God, you can't mean that hunt in the forest –?'
'If she can't get 'em by other means, she'll send her hell-hounds after them!'
Also by Joan Aiken:
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase sequence:
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase
Black Hearts in Battersea
Night Birds on Nantucket
The Stolen Lake
The Cuckoo Tree
Dido and Pa
Cold Shoulder Road
The Witch of Clatteringshaws
The Felix trilogy:
Go Saddle the Sea
Bridle the Wind
The Teeth of the Gale
The Whispering Mountain
winner of the Guardian Award 1969
Short Story Collections:
A Handful of Gold
The St Boan Trilogy:
In Thunder's Pocket
The Song of Mat and Ben
Bone and Dream
Illustrated by Pat Marriott
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THE STOLEN LAKE
A RED FOX BOOK
First published in Great Britain by Jonathan Cape,
an imprint of Random House Children's Books
Jonathan Cape edition published 1986
This Red Fox edition published 2005
Copyright © Joan Aiken, 1986
Illustrations © Jonathan Cape, 1986
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
The right of Joan Aiken to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
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Note to the Reader
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 idea that there was a beautiful magic country called Breasal's Island, Breasail, or Hy Brasil, somewhere out in the Atlantic, west of Ireland, where the sun sets.
This book follows the series begun in The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and continued in Black Hearts in Battersea and Night Birds 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 Night Birds 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.
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.
'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. 'Needle-, work'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 HI.' 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 favourable than his of her. Captain Osbaldest
one, 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 grey hair, and bristling, grey 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?'
'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 Mollymawk; how to make Dandyfunk and Crackerhash; and that you should never drink the first cup of liquid offered you by a stranger.
Dido was sitting on the foredeck, crosslegged, polishing up the captain's silver spoons and forks with a piece of shark-skin 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 mizzen-mast 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 colour. His eyes were grey 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 held 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 main-mast, 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 star-board 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 south-west 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-coloured 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 cork-screwing glide. But Dido crossed it with practised 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, hall-marked dentures, cast a malevolent look at both Dido and the cat, making a figure eight 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 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 bar 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 below-decks, 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. 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.