Caterinaby Jane Aiken Hodge
The sequel to "Whispering." When Caterina returns home after 20 years, she faces the spinning tornado of political intrigue following Napoleon's invasion of Portugal in 1807, and a past she thought she had left behind.
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`Greville! Thank God you have come. What is going on?' Caterina Fonsa had jumped up from the breakfast-table to greet her caller. `The drums kept me awake all night. Have some coffee. Is there any more news of Dom Pedro?'
`Nothing since his emissary was turned away from Vila do Conde with a flea in his ear.' Greville Faulkes accepted a steaming cup and sat down across the broad mahogany table from his employer. `But he and his little fleet must be still lying off at sea somewhere or Santa Marta's drums would not have beaten the alarm all night. Porto's in turmoil this morning. I came to warn you that anything may happen. Don't think of going out today, and be ready to close the palace gates and stand siege if necessary.'
`As bad as that?'
`Quite as bad. The town is awash with rumours; each one more alarming than the last. Santa Marta has been in council all night. Tell your servants you are at home to no one. God knows what extreme measures the absolutists might not take against known liberals like you, if they are in the panic people say.'
`Which must mean that the threat the promise of Dom Pedro is real. That there is hope at last of an end to Miguelite tyranny?'
He looked quickly to the closed doors of the room. `Be careful what you say, Caterina. Even here. The usurper has spies in every house.'
`Not in mine.' She had been mistress of the Sanchez Palace for years.
`Take nothing for granted. I'm more glad than I can say that you insisted on that pseudonymfor your cartoons. I heard from Mrs Wallis, the agent in London, by the way. She is delighted with the ones I sent her. She is getting them reproduced right away and says she will be glad to act for you.'
`Now that is good news.' Her eyes shone and she looked suddenly the eager girl he remembered from their first meeting all those years ago. His friend, Jeremy Craddock, had got him the job as her agent and he had brought her two-year-old son from England with him. After the hideous journey with the spoiled brat from the orphanage, he had almost meant to hand in his notice at once. His first sight of Caterina Fonsa had changed all that. But she was in deep mourning for her husband then, and preoccupied with her problem son. And he himself was a ruined man, disinherited, penniless, her dependent. The years had changed her only for the better, but now she was racked with new anxiety for her son. Would it never be the time to speak? But she was in danger now.
`Caterina' he began.
`Yes?' But she was already turning away. `Harriet.' She greeted her old friend Harriet Ware. `What brings you here so early?'
`Frank said I should come. For the safety of your strong walls. Hetta's coming too. But I can see you have not heard. We thought you might not have.'
`We saw it from our windows. Mayhem on the bridge of boats, a headlong flight south for Lisbon. Santa Marta is running for it, and the absolutist rats with him. Frank said he would feel much happier if Hetta and I were here with you until things settle. He has gone to the office to try and keep Josiah Bankes steady. I hope he can.' Frank was her twenty-year-old son whose father had died in Santa Marta's stinking prison a few years before. `You know what Bankes is like.' She held out a friendly hand to Greville.
`I am afraid I do,' he said. `It will be a good day when Frank comes of age and takes over at Ware and Company. But this is wonderful news, Mrs Ware. I do wonder just what precipitated this flight. Ah' He turned as Caterina's major domo, Tomas, appeared.
`News at last, minha senhora! Dom Pedro has landed at Mindello, the Miguelite trash are running for their lives.'
`He has landed unopposed?' asked Greville, amazed.
`That's what they say, senhor. A great day for Portugal!'
`Yes, but I will be glad when it is well over,' said Greville. `It's not much more than six miles to Mindello but I doubt the Duke of Braganza will get his forces landed and into town today. Everything I said still holds, Caterina. I must go, like young Frank, and make sure all's well at Gomez and Daughter. Lock your gates behind me; let no one in but Hetta. I am glad you two are coming to keep Caterina company, Mrs Ware. It's lonely for her in this great palace.'
Left alone, the two old friends kissed each other warmly, then moved by common consent out into hot July sun on the terrace. Peering down over the balustrade, they could not see upriver to the bridge of boats that linked Oporto with Villa Nova da Gaia on the south bank, but the lower stretch of the Douro that they could see was alive with traffic.
`All going south,' said Caterina.
`Yes. I wish Hetta would get here. I'm sorry I left her now, but Frank wanted me to come ahead and warn you. No day to be going out, he says.'
`No. Not till Dom Pedro gets here and takes charge.'
`We must learn to call him the Duke of Braganza now that he has abdicated both as King of Portugal and Emperor of Brazil.'
`And to think of his daughter as Queen Maria da Gloria of Portugal.'
`When it is all over. Please God it happens fast. Without time for reprisals. Is there any news of Lewis, Cat?' Caterina's son, Lewis, had been first jailed and then exiled as a schoolboy, caught throwing stones at the usurping governor. Worse still, Harriet's husband, another Frank, had tried to intercede for him, been jailed for it, and had died of his mistreatment there.
`Not a word. Nothing since those two dreadful letters when they expelled him from Stonyhurst. Where did I go wrong with him, Harry?'
`Stop blaming yourself, love. It's not just you. Think of the way he grew up, poor boy, torn to bits between those two domineering old people, Madame Fonsa here and your father across the valley in the Gomez house. And he always had a short fuse, our Lewis.' They were both silent for a moment, thinking of Harriet's daughter Hetta, scarred for life after a childhood tantrum of her dear friend Lewis. `I wish Hetta would come,' said her mother again.
`Hetta's a girl who can take care of herself,' said Caterina. `I have always admired her for it.'
`It's true. I cannot begin to tell you what a comfort she is to me now Bess is married and gone. We have such plans for what she calls "our old age". But I keep hoping'
`Of course we do.' They were both picturing the beautiful face, irredeemably scarred down one cheek. `Lewis was terribly sorry'
`Still is, I am sure. He's my boy, too, remember.' Harriet had suckled little Lewis when Caterina could not.
`I love you for loving him. But it wasn't ideal was it? Two mothers and no father.'
`And those overpowering grandparents. Maybe he just stuck at going to old Lady Trellgarten because of that.'
`I never thought of that.' Lady Trellgarten was her own grandmother, whom she had never met, an almost mythical figure living in Wales. `If only the old fathers at Stonyhurst had said why they were expelling him.' She always came back to this. `There must have been more to it than being absent without leave. Specially when that was to see our old friend, Saldanha, the great liberal hope of Portugal.'
`I don't suppose Portuguese affairs seem so important to the Englishmen who run Stonyhurst,' said Harriet. `And we don't know what had gone before, do we? No one could call Lewis a good letter writer.'
`I did try,' said Caterina. `I wrote to him every day, that time I went to Bordeaux.'
`I remember,' said Harriet. She also remembered that it had been impossible to explain to Lewis why his mother was away during his summer holidays. Still less could she get him to answer the letters. `I wish Saldanha was with Dom Pedro now.' She changed the subject.
`Oh, so do I! Everyone loves him here in Porto, since he was governor, and Dom Pedro hasn't been here since he was a small boy, before the royal family fled to Brazil. It's too hot out here, Harry, let's go in. I wish the river was not so crowded with boats.'
`The laden galleys of the nobility. It's not exactly a vote of confidence in Dom Pedro, is it? But here is Carlotta, full of news.'
A thin, wiry, ageless woman, Carlotta had lived at the Sanchez Palace all her life. `Tonio is just back from town,' she told them breathlessly. `It's murder there, he says. They've opened up the gaols and killed the gaoler. And there's a message from your daughter, senhora,' she said to Harriet. `She sent a man to say she's not coming, she thinks she should stay in the Rua Nova in case she's needed there.'
`She's absolutely right,' said Harriet. `If the gaols are open, some of the liberal prisoners who knew my Frank may come to us for shelter. I must be there to receive them. Will you come too, Cat? I don't like to leave you here alone.'
`I don't like to let you go. But my place is here. Think, Harry, Dom Pedro is bound to come this way if he marches in from Mindello in the morning. I must be here to greet him. He'll stay in the Carrancas Palace up the road, of course, Portuguese royalty always do. I'll be his nearest neighbour; he must dine with me. I know! A celebration. A banquet. You saw how many of the nobility's boats were crossing the river, running for it. Someone must make the Liberator welcome. Carlotta, tell the chef to start preparing a feast, and have the state rooms opened up. And I'll need Tonio to take a note to the Carrancas Palace for me. Do stay, Harry, and help me prepare.'
`I mustn't. But, Cat' Carlotta had left them. `Are you serious about inviting Dom Pedro? You know his reputation?'
`All those mistresses? I have no doubt he has brought the current one with him from the Azores along with the rest of his baggage, since his wife and the little queen are safe in Paris. But what's to stop a respectable old widow like me giving him a dinner, representing my son, who, after all, is in exile for backing his cause?'
`Only the fact that you don't look like a respectable old widow,' said her friend. `Or dress like one. Lord, I remember how cross the Portuguese tabbies were when you came out of your blacks.'
`They were cross enough when I went into them,' said Caterina cheerfully. `How strange it was, mourning that invented English husband. I can't even remember the name the lawyers picked for him, since old Madame Fonsa insisted on adopting me as well as Lewis and we've both been Fonsas ever since.'
`They did a good job, those lawyers.'
`Yes, they made Fonsas of us, but they couldn't persuade the Portuguese ladies to accept me. If it hadn't been for you, Harry, I'd have had a sad enough time of it all these years.'
`And your work.'
`And they don't approve of that either, though they are not above letting me paint their children's portraits, so long as I keep my tongue in my cheek. What a thing it would be if Dom Pedro would let me paint him. Or the young queen.'
`He'll be marching on Lisbon if he has any sense, and she is safe in Paris with her stepmother,' said Harriet. `I wish you had someone more formidable than Carlotta as a companion.' Carlotta had been old Madame Fonsa's personal maid and had turned housekeeper and chaperon to Caterina after the old lady's death.
`She suits me very well, and when I dine with the emperor you shall come too, to add a note of British respectability, and bring the children to be presented, if you think dear Hetta will be safe with him.'
`I am afraid she will,' said Hetta's mother. `But of course we'll come. I know Frank will be mad to meet the Liberator. Will you invite the rest of the English colony?'
`I shall invite everyone.'
`But will they come?'
`What a spoilsport you are, Harry! Only promise me one thing.'
`Don't wear black. Not for this celebration. It's almost four years, Harriet. Life has to go on.'
`You say that to me? But you're right, Cat, the children have been grumbling about my blacks. We had good years, Frank and I, but life does go on. And that goes for you too. We may be widows but we're not old ladies yet.'
`I'm not even really a widow. And we neither of us look a day over thirty. Wear that becoming grey I designed for you and I'll wear my red and we'll do our best to dazzle the Liberator.' They took hands and kissed, the big glass at the end of the room witnessing the contrast between Caterina's dark, formidable good looks and Harriet's gentler blonde ones. Harriet was right; though well into their thirties, they had both kept their figures, and time had merely added character to Caterina who hardly needed it, and to Harriet, whose mild appearance had always been deceptive.
Frank Ware got home that night in a quiet rage. `Thank goodness you're back, Mama.' He greeted her warmly. `I need someone to grumble to. Old Bankes is in a panic, his wife is busy packing their things, he talks of going on board one of the British ships for safety.'
`I believe many of the English are doing so,' said his mother.
`But we're not going to,' said Hetta.
`I thought you were up at Aunt Caterina's.'
`I changed my mind.' He knew that determined tone of his sister's too well to argue. `Mother says Aunt Caterina has invited Dom Pedro to dine,' she went on. `We're all to go, if he accepts.'
`He'd be better occupied marching straight on Lisbon,' said Frank. `The feeling in town is very strange today. Oh, the mob are dancing in the streets, and weaving garlands to welcome the Liberator, but there's not much rejoicing among the nobility, and the priests have all run for it.'
`I like it much better without them,' said his sister. `Is Dom Pedro really expected tomorrow?'
`Yes, there's to be a reception in the Praça Nova. But I think we should be up at the Sanchez Palace with Aunt Caterina, don't you, Mama? She ought not to be there all alone to greet him.'
`If only Lewis was here,' said Hetta. `I don't suppose there has been any word from him, Mama?'
`Nothing. I can hardly bear to ask Caterina.'
`Lewis never did think of anyone but himself,' said Frank, with a sideways look at his sister's scarred face.
When Hetta blushed, the scar showed light against the rest of her flushed face. `Lewis had a lot to put up with,' she said. `Those two old tyrants quarrelling over him as if he was their chattel, and Carlotta loving him to death' She paused: this was dangerous ground.
The youngest of the little group of children who had grown up together, she had noticed as no one else had the slight effort Caterina had had to make to be a mother to Lewis. She had been a tigress in his defence when she found the old grandparents interfering in his education; she had been enormously, visibly proud of him, but had she been too busy with her own work quite to love him? Hetta had never been sure.
`I've got all the girls at work sewing blue and white flags,' she went on. `And some for Caterina, too. She'll probably be hard at work in her studio and never think of it.'
`I wish I knew what we should do for the best.' Frank suddenly felt his responsibility as head of the family heavy upon him. `I wonder if you should not take the next Falmouth packet, Hetta, and go and stay with Bess. You know she would love to have you, with the baby coming.'
`Not on your life,' said Hetta.
Caterina's servants had been sewing flags too, and weaving long garlands of jasmine and myrtle, and they formed a cheerful little group next morning under the huge ilex tree that stood outside the gates of the Sanchez Palace.
`Thank God for a quiet night.' Harriet kissed Caterina. `But it's not quite the turnout I'd expected. Frank says many of the English merchants are waiting to see which way the cat will jump. And not a sign of life outside the big Portuguese houses we passed on the way up. No ceremonial hangings. Nothing.'
`I'm so glad you came,' said Caterina. `We must just put on the best show we can.'
`But where is Greville Faulkes? I was sure he would be here at your side.'
`And so was I. But he sent word that he has been asked to join in the ceremonial welcome in the Praça Nova, and of course he had to agree.'
`That's a great compliment.'
`It's a great nuisance. Yes, Hetta?' Hetta and her brother had just joined them.
`I was wondering if you had had any news from the liberating army, Aunt Caterina.'
`News? But why should I?'
`I just wondered' Hetta's blush showed up the mark on her cheek. `Listen, they're coming!' In the little silence, they could all hear the sound of military music, the thud of marching feet and a roar from the crowd up the hill near the Carrancas Palace.
`What's that they are singing?' asked Caterina.
`It will be the liberation song,' Frank told her. `Dom Pedro wrote it himself, would you believe it? He does sound the most amazing man. Constitutions and song-writing! Are you really going to ask him to dinner, Aunt Caterina?'
`I already have. There's a note waiting for him at the Carrancas Palace, asking him to name his day. And I think it is time you two stopped calling me "aunt". It makes me feel a million years old.' And then, laughing, `Do you realize, Harry, that you and I are actually older than the Duke of Braganza, as we must remember to call him!'
`Yes,' said Harriet. `It's a very diminishing thought. Imagine having given away two kingdoms before one was thirty-five.'
`I wonder if his daughter is grateful,' said Frank. `Or if she would really not prefer to stay snug in Paris. Here they come! Up with your flags, girls,' he called in Portuguese to the servants. `And a strong huzza for the Liberator and his army.'
`Lord, they do look hot, poor things,' said Hetta, as the first marchers came into sight at the top of the sloping avenue that led down from the Carrancas Palace. `What are they?'
`Regulars,' her brother told her. `Portuguese Light Infantry, you can tell them by those elegant grey uniforms.'
`Elegant once,' said Hetta as they came nearer. `They look shabby enough now, Lord knows.' And then, conscience-stricken, raised a shout of, `"Viva o exercito libertador".'
`That's the dandy,' Frank approved as the maids joined in. `And here come the caçadores. They say they are Dom Pedro's favourite troops.'
`I suppose that is why they have such splendid brown uniforms,' said Caterina. `I'd like to paint them, with their black shakos.'
`I hope they won't be in town long enough to have their pictures painted, Aunt Caterina. Sorry,' correcting himself, `Caterina. And, thank you.' But Caterina had turned away to speak to Harriet. `What is it, Hetta?' His sister was pulling his arm.
`Look! In that next group, with the beards. The one in the dashing hat. It's Lewis, I swear it is!' But the crowd surged forward as she spoke, obscuring her view. `It was him, I'm sure of it,' she repeated, as the group of randomly dressed, bearded young men marched away.
`It could be, I suppose.' Frank was straining his eyes to follow the group. `They're the Academic Battalion, exiled students from Coimbra University. I saw Almeida Garrett among them. Do you remember him? A great liberal. We used to play with him when we were children.'
But Hetta was not interested in Almeida Garrett. `Should I tell Aunt Caterina?' she asked.
`Better not, don't you think? In case it turns out that you were wrong. One bearded man is very like another after all.'
`Not if he's Lewis,' said Hetta. `But you're right, just the same.' Every instinct warned her not to tell Caterina that she had recognized her son when she, his mother, had failed to do so.
`Here come the foreigners,' said Frank. `Odd to see French and English marching side by side. It's not twenty years since Waterloo, after all. I do wonder how they get on.' The cheering was getting louder now, with shouts of `Viva il Liberator' and `Viva Maria Secunda'.
`Here he comes,' exclaimed Frank, and then: `What a miserable horse!'
`Why, he's quite stout,' said Hetta. `And not a bit handsome.'
`Hush.' Frank drowned her comment with a loud `Viva' as the ex-emperor rode by, the only mounted man in the procession and therefore clearly visible to the crowds as he took off his cocked hat and bowed to right and left. Petitioners were swarming round him and he leaned down courteously to listen to them, but seemed to be giving them all the same short answer.
`What's he telling them?' asked Hetta. `Did you hear?'
Frank laughed. `To join his army, and then he'll listen to their grievances. Some of them seem to like it better than others. Look, here come the bigwigs, his government in exile. How odd to see them on foot, in all their decorations!'
`It makes them seem more human,' said his sister. `Walking like that. Dom Miguel's henchmen would never have trusted themselves on foot among the crowd.'
`No, but I doubt it will impress the peasants,' said Frank. `Specially after the campaign of vilification the priests have been mounting against Dom Pedro since he signed that order confiscating their property and abolishing the tithe. They hate that even more than the constitution he granted. They know they have everything to lose if he wins.'
`We aren't going to follow the procession, are we?' said Hetta as the last stragglers drew away and the sounds of cheering and military music grew fainter.
`No. Not at all the thing for you ladies,' said Frank regretfully. `Though I'd dearly like to be among the crowd further into town, getting a feel of how they are taking it all. You could hardly call it a tremendous show of strength, could you?'
`No, but then, think, Frank. Two days ago Dom Pedro had no strength in Portugal at all and now he is taking control of Oporto.'
`I can't think why General Santa Marta took to his heels like that,' said Frank. `But it most certainly was a great stroke of luck for the liberals. What is it, Het?' He was belatedly aware of his sister's simmering tension.
`Please, Frank, go after them. You can! Find out if it's Lewis! He never looked this way.'
`Of course not. Under discipline,' said her brother. `He'll come here soon enough when they dismiss. If it's he. And till then, not a word.' The little party began to move through the great gates into the courtyard of the Sanchez Palace. `You weren't tempted to step forward and invite Dom Pedro in person?' he asked Caterina.
`Yes, but I resisted it. I'm a scandalous figure enough without calling that kind of attention to myself. But he'll find my invitation when he gets back to the palace.'
Frank had been thinking about this. `I have to say that I hope he refuses,' he told her. `I am sure the best thing he can do is make a dash for it on Lisbon, while the Miguelites are in such a state of confusion and surprise.'
`Even though there hasn't been a mass rising in his support?'
`Just because of that.' They moved out on to the terrace, where Caterina had ordered a cold luncheon under the shade of an awning. `The river is quiet enough now.' Looking down from the marble balustrade. `The rats are all fled.' Frank accepted a glass of wine from a hovering servant. `Here's to the Liberator.'
As they drank the toast, solemnly standing, sporadic firing broke out from below on the waterfront. `Not quite all fled.' Hetta was shivering as if with cold, and they were all silent for a moment.
`Mother!' Frank broke the silence. `I've been thinking. Would you write me a note to Bankes authorizing me to collect some friends and take the company boats across to fetch all the wine we can move from our cellars across the river at Vila Nova da Gaia? We might get away with it today, but we most certainly won't if Miguel's men should establish themselves on the south bank. There's no time to be lost; Bankes must see that if you put it to him.'
`I don't like to interfere.' But she was obviously hesitating.
`I think Frank's right,' Caterina intervened. `Come indoors with me, love, and I'll find you pen and paper. If it's to be done, it must be done quickly. And will you take a note for me to Greville Faulkes at Gomez and Daughter, Frank? I'll ask him to join you and do the same for us. Could you perhaps join forces? We have that huge warehouse downriver on this side. I am sure you could fit both your wine and ours there, if you stowed it well. Moving won't do it any good, of course, but better that than losing it.'
`Exactly,' he agreed. `And thanks: a splendid idea. I'd been wondering what to do with it if we did manage to get it clear. I'll be happy to work with Faulkes, he's a good fellow.'
`Yes, it was a lucky day for me when my friend Jeremy Craddock persuaded him to come and manage things for me. He's a tower of strength in his quiet way.' She was writing as she spoke. 'There you are, Frank, give him that with my regards. And, good luck. Be careful.'
`Believe me, I will. No need to look anxious, Mama, we're neutral, we British, remember. The last thing either side wants to do is involve us.'
`It's an odd kind of neutrality,' said Caterina when Frank had left and the women had moved back on to the terrace to peer anxiously down towards the river. `I wish we could see your house from here, Harry. It sounds as if some of the firing might be from that direction. I sent a man with Frank, just in case. And told him to come back here for the night. He agreed that you would all be better here until things settle down a bit in town. You know what a fortress this house is, when it needs to be, and I've an army of idle menservants to protect us if necessary, the result of combining two households. Do stay.' She saw that Harriet was hesitating and was pleased and surprised when Hetta spoke up.
`Yes, do let's stay, Mama. I quite long to know whether Dom Pedro will come to dinner.' She saw her mother's look of surprise and hurried on, `He wasn't at all what I expected. I imagined a Byronic figure, all dark good looks and romantic air, and in fact he's going bald and growing his hair to hide it. But he looks formidable just the same. I wonder when he will dismiss his men and get back to the palace. He'll have to find them quarters, I suppose.'
`I offered him my father's house when I wrote,' Caterina told her. `It would be good for it to be used after standing empty all these years, with only a housekeeper and a handful of maids.'
`That house always frightened me,' said Hetta. `I didn't like it when we all went to play there. And nor did Lewis.'
`I'm not surprised,' said Caterina. `His grandfather wasn't an easy man. I didn't like it either, Hetta, to tell you the truth. I meant to live there part of the time, but the way my father treated little Lewis made it impossible.'
`Spoiled half the time and bullied the rest,' said Hetta. `At least here with old Madame Fonsa it was all spoiling. And Carlotta too, come to that.'
`I didn't spoil him,' Caterina was surprised into saying.
`Oh no,' said Hetta.
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