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The Witch from the Sea
By Philippa Carr
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1975 Philippa Carr
All rights reserved.
It is the custom for the women of our family to keep a journal. My grandmother did and my mother must have learned the habit from her. I remember my mother's saying once that by doing so one lived one's life more fully. So much is lost if one cannot remember it, and even memory is apt to distort so that what actually happened, when looked back on, often takes on an entirely different aspect from the truth. But if it is set down with the emotion of the moment—exactly as it appeared then—it can be recalled in detail. It can be assessed and perhaps better understood, so that not only does one preserve a clear picture of some event which is important to one, but with it acquire a greater understanding of oneself.
So I will begin my journal in the months which followed our glorious victory over the Spaniards, which seems appropriate because it was a turning point in my life. At this time we were all living in a state of what I suppose can only be called euphoria. We had discovered how close we had come to disaster. We had never believed that it was possible for us to be beaten, and perhaps this supreme and superb confidence was one of the factors which carried us through to victory—but at the same time we could soberly contemplate what defeat would have meant. We had heard stories of the terrible things which had happened in the Netherlands where men had stood out against the might of Spain. We knew that when the Armada sailed from its native land it came not only with the weapons of war but with instruments of torture. We knew that those who would not accept their doctrines of religion were tortured and burned alive; we had heard that men had been buried with only their heads protruding from the earth and there left to perish. There was no end to the tales of suffering and that would have been our fate ... had they come. But we had defeated them. All along the coasts were the wrecks of their ships; some drifted on the high seas; perhaps a few returned to Spain. And here we were in a green and beautiful land, with our good Queen Elizabeth safe on her throne. It was a time for all Englishmen to rejoice and who more so than the men and women of Devon. We were of the sea and it was our own Francis Drake, whoever else might claim the credit, who had saved our country.
Captain Jake Pennlyon, my father, was in the greatest of good spirits. Lusty, strong, adventurous, determined to drive the Spaniards from the seas, despising weakness, assured of the rightness of his own opinions, arrogant, outspoken, bowing to no man, I had always thought he was characteristic of an Englishman of our age. I had hated him when I was young because I could never understand the relationship between him and my mother. I loved her devotedly, in a protective way; and I did not realize until this time how much she loved him too. In my youthful inexperience I misjudged their behaviour towards each other; they seemed constantly to be in conflict, but now that I was growing up I understood that these battles gave savour to their lives and although at times it seemed as though they delighted in taunting each other and that it was impossible for them to live in harmony, they were certainly deeply unhappy apart.
One could not feel mildly in any way towards my father so now that I had ceased to hate and despise him I had to love him and be fiercely proud of him. As for him, he had resented me because I was not a boy, but now he had made up his mind that his daughter was better than any boy, and I sensed that he was rather pleased that I was a girl. My three-year-old sister Damask was too young to interest him much, but he no longer wished for boys because he knew there could be none. He was content with his illegitimate sons. My mother used to say that he had scattered them throughout the world, and he did not deny this. The three I knew were Carlos, Jacko and Penn. Carlos had married Edwina who owned Trewynd Grange, the nearby mansion which she had inherited from her father. She was in a way a connection of the family because her mother had been adopted by my grandmother. Jacko and Penn lived with us when they were not at sea. Jacko had captained one of my father's ships and Penn who was seventeen years old—a year younger than I was—was already going to sea.
We had lived so long with the fear of the Spaniards that without it our lives seemed suddenly empty; and although I had planned to start my journal there seemed so little to record. All through those weeks reports were coming in about what had happened to the Armada. Ships were constantly being washed up on the coasts, their crews starving; many were drowned; some reached the coasts of Scotland and Ireland and it was said that their reception there was so inhospitable that the lucky ones were those who were drowned. My father roared his approval. "By God," he would cry, "if any of the plaguey Dons see fit to land on Devon soil I'll slit their throats from ear to ear."
My mother retorted: "You've defeated them. Is that not enough?"
"Nay, madam," he cried. "It is not enough and there is no fate too bad for these Spaniards who would dare attempt to subdue us!"
And so it went on. People came to the house and we entertained them and over the table the talk would all be of Spaniards—of the wretched man in the Escorial who had sought to be master of the world and was now defeated in such a way that he could never rise again. And how they laughed when they heard tales of the anger of those Spaniards who had stayed at home and who were demanding why the Armada which had cost them so dear to build, did not return. Why did the Duke of Medina Sidonia, who had boasted of the victory he would win over the English, not come home to be honoured? What had happened to the mighty Armada? Was it so pure and holy that it was too good for this earth and had wafted to Heaven?
"Wafted to the Devil!" cried my father, banging his great fist on the table.
Then he would recount the action in which he had taken part and all would listen eagerly and Carlos and Jacko would nod and agree and so it went on.
I did not wish to write of this in my journal. It was common knowledge. It was what was happening in thousands of homes all over England.
"How is your journal getting on?" asked my mother.
"Nothing happens," I said. "There is nothing to record. So many things happened to you," I added enviously. "That was different."
Her face clouded and I knew she was looking back to the days when she was young.
She said: "My darling Linnet, I hope you will never have anything but happiness to record."
"Wouldn't that be rather dull?" I asked.
Then she laughed and put her arm about me.
"If so, I hope your journal will be a very dull one."
It seemed it would be; and because of this I forgot it. It was only when the ship Trade Winds came sailing into the Sound that I remembered it and began to write regularly.
The Trade Winds was built in the style of the great Venetians with four masts, fore, main and mizzen and a small one on the poop—the bonaventure.
My father, who was always restive on land and nowadays did not seem so eager to go to sea, was constantly on the lookout for the ships that came and went. I was on the Hoe with him when the ship was sighted. There was a shout and all eyes were on this one.
My father said: "She's a carrack. Looks as if she's a trader."
He spoke contemptuously. He had been a trader of sorts, for in his heyday he had brought home many a cargo which he had taken from a Spaniard. My mother often told him he was nothing more than a pirate.
"What sort of a trader?" I asked him.
"Following the Dutch," he said. "Carrying goods and trading them and bringing back a cargo. Fishing in the Baltic and bringing back the catch. Trading!" he added disparagingly.
Then he stood, legs wide apart, watching, and when the little boats brought her captain ashore my father roared: "By God, if it's not Fennimore Landor. Welcome to you, man. How fares your father?"
That was the first time I saw Fennimore—with his fair bronzed skin and his hair bleached with sun and his light blue eyes crinkled as though they had faced miles of wind and sunshine; he was tall and strong, a man of the sea.
"This is my girl Linnet," said my father; and he laid his hand on my shoulder in a way that lately had begun to thrill me. It meant he was proud of me and although he was often intolerant and often crude it was wonderful to please Captain Jake Pennlyon. "And this is Fennimore Landor, my girl. I knew his father well. A better captain never sailed the seas. Welcome! What brings you to Plymouth?"
"The hope of seeing you," said Fennimore.
"To see me. Well met then. You must come to the Court. You'll be welcome. That's so, eh Linnet?"
I said he would be very welcome.
We looked at each other rather searchingly and I wondered whether he liked my looks as much as I liked his.
I hoped so.
"The Court" was Lyon Court—the house which had been built by my great-grandfather when he began to amass his fortune. It was a little ostentatious compared with older houses like Trewynd, the home of Edwina and Carlos. I heard my mother say once to my father when they were battling together that the Pennlyons not being used to money for long had to make sure everyone knew they had acquired it. The centre of the house was its Gothic hall as high as the roof and its grand staircase led to the gallery where we had a few family portraits—the founder, my great-grandfather, my grandfather and my father. If I had been a boy I dare say I should have been beside them. Our living quarters were in the east and west wings. There was plenty of room for entertaining and the house was often filled with guests.
As we walked up to the Court from the Hoe, Fennimore Landor and my father talked of seafaring matters. I glanced sideways at the newcomer, and once or twice I caught him doing the same to me. When the house was in sight with the stone lions guarding the doors I said I would go and tell my mother we had a visitor.
She was coming down the staircase to the hall. She was very sprightly and had a wonderful vitality which was more attractive than beauty. She must have been about forty-eight years old but because she had had an adventurous life this had somehow preserved her youth.
"Father is bringing a guest," I cried. "His name is Fennimore Landor. A captain I think. Oh, here they are."
Fennimore Landor bowed to my mother and when the introductions had been made she led the way to the small winter parlour which was more intimate than the hall.
They drank Malmsey and talked mostly of the sea and Fennimore was to join us for supper before he was rowed out to his ship. He mentioned that Trade Winds would be staying in the Sound for a few days. My mother and I left them drinking together, then she went to the kitchen and I to my room to make an entry in my journal.
Later when we were at the great table in the hall, Fennimore sat beside my father and I could see that he was trying to arouse his enthusiasm for some new venture in which he believed wholeheartedly. I liked his enthusiasm. It shone in his eyes and it was in the lilt of his voice too. I thought: he is an idealist and if he cared about something he would do everything of which he was capable to make it succeed. This matter in which he was trying to interest my father was trading to various parts of the world. I enjoyed listening to him and I was a little angry with my father because he sat there with his head to one side looking, I thought, faintly sceptical.
Fennimore was saying: "From now on the Spaniards will offer little rivalry. They're crippled."
My father nodded. "Crippled by God and blasted off the seas." He was launching out on the well-worn theme of how we had defeated them, how they had boasted they would vanquish us in a day or so. Fennimore was faintly exasperated. He did not want to talk of the past but of the future.
He interrupted: "They can no longer have their galleys going out from Barcelona and Cadiz. Where are their galleys?"
"At the bottom of the ocean," chuckled my father.
"Of course, there are the Dutch."
"The Dutch!" spat out my father.
"Worthy seamen," put in Fennimore.
My father puffed his lips impatiently. "There's no seaman like an English one and preferably a west countryman at that."
My mother laughed with that touch of tender derision she so often showed towards my father. "You will find Captain Pennlyon a little prejudiced," she said.
I looked round the table. We must have seemed a strange family to Fennimore—if his own was a conventional one, which I imagined it was. There was my father with his wife and daughter and his three illegitimate sons and the mother of one of them. Of course it was clear that my father was no ordinary man, and for that matter, my mother was no ordinary woman. We were a small party because no one had known that we would have any special guest but there had been time to ask Carlos and Edwina to join us. In any case they often did.
Carlos's mother had been Spanish but he had inherited scarcely anything of hers, he was clearly my father's son. His hair was darkish brown and his eyes light hazel colour; he swaggered when he walked in a manner similar to that of our parent. He had been brought up under my father's influence from an early age and the great aim of his life seemed to have been to grow up as exactly like him as possible. He was a great favourite with Jake. So was Jacko, the son of Jennet, my mother's maid who had been with her for years and had shared many of my mother's adventures. She was a lusty irrepressible woman and had had a succession of lovers. At the time it was one of the gardeners. We all knew, because for Jennet love-making was so natural that she made no secret of it. She was now in her forties and I had heard my mother tell her that she was just as lustful as she had been in her twenties. She was enormously proud of Jacko and delighted that he had been brought up in the household to follow his father's profession. She thought there was no one quite like the Captain and was very proud that Jacko provided living evidence that he had once glanced her way. Then there was Penn—also with a look of the Captain, and his presence at the table with his mother was perhaps the most difficult to understand. Romilly Girling had come to the house when she had been destitute after her father had been killed in one of my father's ships; and, during one of those periods of dissatisfaction with each other which had occurred in the past between my parents, my father out of pique or lust had got Romilly with child. Penn was born and was brought up in the house as Romilly had nowhere else to go and it was only later that my mother had discovered who the boy's father was and it was inconceivable that she would turn them out of the house then. My father would never have allowed it in any case, and I think my mother liked to remind him now and then of his infidelities.
However, there we were on this day when Fennimore came to Lyon Court, all assembled at the table, the only absent one being my little sister Damask who was too young to be of the party. I think it was after her birth that my father realized that my mother would never have a boy and became reconciled to me.
Fennimore, I am sure, was too full of his own project to waste much time thinking about our household. It was clear that he wanted my father's backing for his project. It seems from what I could gather that he was hoping for some sort of partnership.
I listened to him with pleasure. He had an unusually soft musical voice for a sailor. I could not imagine his shouting to sailors on the deck. There could not have been a man less like my father. It was amazing how I compared them all with him.
"If we had entirely neglected trading," Fennimore was saying, "we could never have beaten the Armada. We shouldn't have had the ships."
"Traders!" cried my father. "Nothing to do with it. We beat the Dons because we were better seamen and we were determined not to let them set foot on our land."
"Yes, yes, Captain Pennlyon, that's true of course. But we had to have the ships and by good fortune we had them."
"Now, young man, don't you make the mistake of thinking this victory was due to luck. Good fortune, you say. Good seamanship, say I."
"It was that, but we did have the ships," insisted Fennimore. "Did you know that in 1560 we had but seventy-one ships trading on the seas and in 1582 we'd increased that number to one hundred and fifty? Why, in 1560, sir, our merchant navy was almost nothing ... we weren't among the maritime nations. What were we doing? Our coastal trade was insignificant. We did a little with the Baltic ports—just with the Low Countries and perhaps a little with Spain, Portugal and France ... a few Mediterranean calls. That will not be so any more. We, Captain, are going to be not one of the foremost trading nations in the world but the foremost. There's coal to be carried ... coal and fish. This has been done in the past, but now that we have driven the Spaniards off the seas we have to take advantage of it."
Excerpted from The Witch from the Sea by Philippa Carr. Copyright © 1975 Philippa Carr. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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