Mrs Cook: The real and imagined life of the Captain's wife

Mrs Cook: The real and imagined life of the Captain's wife

by Marele Day

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Overview

Mrs Cook: The real and imagined life of the Captain's wife by Marele Day

In the great sweep of history, of winds, tides and seasons, there is a story of courage and survival that belongs not to a great sea captain, but to his wife.   While James Cook circumnavigated the globe, travelling further than any man had before, Elizabeth Cook travelled with him in her thoughts, imagining the exotic, the sensual and the strange. There were months, sometimes years, with no word.   But as James sailed into the blue, earning his place in history, Elizabeth Cook made discoveries of her own. Though she rarely left London, she was propelled on a journey into the far reaches of the human heart, a journey marked by James' departures and those of her six children, whom she lost one by one.   This is a rich portrayal of the life of a woman whose passion and intellect matched that of her celebrated husband. It is a lyrical exploration of imagined interior worlds, shaped by historical fact. It is, above all, a celebration of love and endurance.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781741153491
Publisher: Allen & Unwin Pty., Limited
Publication date: 10/01/2004
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Marele Day is the author of the bestselling literary novel, Lambs of God, and the Claudia Valentine mysteries, including The Last Tango of Delores Delgado, winner of the American Shamus Crime Fiction Award.

Read an Excerpt

Mrs Cook

The Real and Imagined Life of the Captain's Wife


By Marele Day, James P. Gilmour

Allen & Unwin

Copyright © 2003 Marele Day
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-74115-349-1



CHAPTER 1

THE FROST FAIR PRINT


Elizabeth came in the stillness of winter, on 24 January 1741 by the old Julian calendar. The ice-cold stars and the moon gleam stroking the masts of ships etched lines and shadows on the baby's papery thin eyelids. Sounds came in through the large-lobed ears, smells through the fine baby nostrils, ripples upon the air that were yet to be named. She was born in the middle of everything, in the Bell alehouse on the corner of Wapping High Street and Brewhouse Lane, opposite Execution Dock.

Two years earlier to the day, Samuel Batts and his new wife Mary set off from their alehouse and went to the Frost Fair. So much excitement — it had been years, more than twenty or so, since the coldness had dropped low enough to freeze the Thames.

'I'll tell you a story as true as 'tis rare, of a river turned into a Bartlemy Fair,' sang the balladeer circling round the couple for money as they stepped onto the ice noisy with all the trade of a solid-ground fair — bull-baiting, horse and coach racing, sleds, puppet shows, cooks and pancakes, ducks and geese, makeshift taverns, and drunks who had business on both sides of the street. There were jugglers, whores, pickpockets and cheats. The Frost Fair had all the attractions of St Bartholemew's except the prices were higher, and the booths were made of blankets. The frost froze the ships into the river and their masts rose out of it like a forest of bleak trees.

It was a welcome outing for Sam Batts, proprietor of the Bell alehouse. Men still drank when the river froze over but the trade was less with the ships stuck in one place with no cargoes to deliver and no gatherings in the alehouse when the colliers and the hands were paid off and passed the money straight over the counter.

Mary, the second wife of widower Batts, was a great deal younger than her husband, and as they were donning scarves and muffs and cloaks, he told her about the 1716 Frost Fair that he'd attended as a youth. 'I'd never seen the like,' he said. 'That big white thoroughfare. It went for miles.' During the Frost Fair of 1565, amid the archery and football and dancing on the Thames, Queen Elizabeth herself had descended on the fair, Sam said, and manoeuvred her wide skirts between the booths and stalls to witness an ox roasting on the spit.

'Did everybody curtsy?' Mary asked her husband, the question coming out as a puff of warmth into the frozen air. Sam pursed his lips, his chin folding into his collar. 'Them that could see her, I imagine,' he answered with his own puff of breath. 'Them that were in sight of her,' he added.

What a world marriage to Sam opened up, thought Mary, her cheeks tingling. It was almost as if he had arranged the Frost Fair himself, presenting it to her as a wedding gift. Mary was proud to be on her husband's arm. He was an important man on the riverside and everyone seemed to know him. He moved with ease through the fair, with as much self-assurance as a nobleman perusing his estates.

Samuel Batts was a freeborn Englishman, as good as any other. He had a nice little business going with his dockside alehouse, and a few other properties with tenants. His collar was trimmed with fur and although a merchant, and a publican to boot, he was as good as any man. Especially at the fair. The entertainments of the fair, its sports and pleasures, were there for all to see, whether you were a lord or a beggar.

The blanket of ice did little to muffle the noise but added instead to the excitement as boys skidded along on it, with no mind as to whom they collided with on the way. Galloping sleighs sent people scattering as well, with much shaking of fists, shouts of indignation and curses.

Wherever there was a cluster of people, even more gathered to see what the attraction was. Sam and Mary were heading towards such a cluster. As they made their way over ice pink with the rays of the winter sun slanting between the horizon and the swathes of grey clouds, they could make out above the milling crowds the sign pegged onto the opening of the booth — 'Names Printed in Here'.

As they pushed through the crowd to the printer's booth, Mary and Sam could see a gent, forearm resting on the table to show off his cuffs, face in three-quarter profile and framed by a handsome grey powdered wig, having his portrait sketched.

'I'll wager some scamp will have that wig off and sold to the highest bidder by the end of the day,' Sam said out of the side of his mouth.

'Perhaps,' said Mary. It certainly happened in the streets, thieves robbing wigs straight off gents' heads, and the Frost Fair produced high spirits.

A pair of boats lay side by side in the ice, like the twin halves of a pea pod. Close by, a ball trundled its way up an ice alley to knock over a set of skittles. Sam and Mary saw a boy scrambling to retrieve the hat that had flown off his head during a fall. His companions were pushing and shoving each other to see who would be next to the ground. A flock of seagulls squawked overhead, wondering where their river had gone. On the horizon, behind the street of booths, were the buildings of the city, the dome of St Paul's.

The printing was done directly on the ice, with portable presses the enterprising printers had brought down to the river. For sixpence you could have your name done, for a shilling a personalised souvenir. Sam paid the shilling. When the work was done he presented it to his wife and she read: 'Mr and Mrs Samuel Batts, printed on the river Thames when frozen over, 24 January 1739'.

On 24 January two years later, the room above the Bell alehouse where Mary was giving birth grew fuggy with heat from the fire and candles, from the press of the midwife and the other women in attendance. As the hot pain of the coming child convulsed her, Mary stretched out to the print on the wall and the coolness of the Frost Fair.

CHAPTER 2

THE QUILL


James shook the snow from his jacket and entered the Postgate school. As he hung the jacket on a peg he heard Mr Rowland giving the news that in London the Thames had turned to ice, freezing the boats into the river. 'No doubt those enterprising Londoners will find a way of turning it to their advantage,' said the Yorkshire schoolmaster.

The eleven year old took his seat at the table with the other children, at the end of the bench because he was tall and had to stretch out his gangling legs in that small room with its upstairs loft where the teacher retired at the end of his day. 'You're late,' said Mr Rowland, putting a mark against James's name. Small wonder when he had farm chores to do before trudging a mile through thick snow to school. But James had come. He would not be marked absent with an A, like Anne Clark or Joseph Webster, Pc for playing in church like John Grayson or Mary Mease, or the Curs for cursing marked against Nicholas Skottowe.

It was Mr Skottowe, Nicholas's father, who paid for James to attend the school in Great Ayton. James's father said they had a lot to be grateful for with Mr Skottowe and, aye, the boy knew it all right and he would come to school better late than never. Except for mathematics he was an average pupil. He came to school because it was an honour bestowed. None of the rest of them, not even his elder brother John, had Mr Skottowe paying for their education. This is what his father told him in quiet moments between the two of them. 'He knows you, James,' his father said. 'He sees that you have a good head on you and that you don't shirk from hard work. If you do right by him he'll do right by you.' It was Mr Skottowe who had advanced James's father from labourer to bailiff, with a measure of responsibility in running Aireyholme Farm. James hated being cooped up in that small schoolroom but he did not want to spend the rest of his days mucking out stables. When he passed through the doorway of the schoolhouse he was entering into a different world from cows and manure.

He had caught a glimpse of that world where the moors rolled towards the sea, when he was little and they still lived in Marton and he climbed the great tree outside the clay biggin where he had been born. The cottage was so small the tree was the only place to stretch out. He was high above everything. The wind was different up there. It was the wind made by the turning of the earth.

'What is the value of 58 361 hogsheads of tobacco at £48 12s 9d per hogshead?' Mr Rowland had shown James how to do such sums and as James worked the problem, a space for the answer at the top and the workings beneath, he could hear the teacher's questions and the droning answer of Christopher Maisterman. 'How many syllables are there in the word pupil?' 'Two.' 'How prove you that?' 'Because it hath two vowels.' 'How divide you them?'

James had already finished his problem, the figures neatly under each other in columns. As he made sure that his calculations were correct, his mind automatically formed the division 'pu-pil' before he heard Christopher say it, in the same droning tone that they used to repeat the catechism. James had learnt reading and spelling two years earlier. Then came writing. He liked that the best. Especially writing arithmetic. He looked to the next problem: 'If 5 shipwrights can build a vessel in 4 weeks, how long would it take 7 to do so?'

Mr Rowland had supplied James with the copybook and showed him how to make a quill. James had chosen a flight feather from one of the Canada geese that wintered in these parts, had found the grey feather with its white underside in the place where the geese preened themselves. He loved watching the great flocks of them flying in, loved to hear that honking sound fill the air. He'd hardened the feather by putting it in hot ashes and then, with a knife, scraped the skin off the end. 'Two inches will do,' said Mr Rowland. James observed how Mr Rowland's quill was shaped and made the same diagonal cut, then scooped out a section and made a small slit in the tip. Finally he removed a few more filaments of the feather to make the quill comfortable to hold.

It was a fine quill and James was careful with the ink so as not to drop blobs of it on the precious paper. How long would it take the seven shipwrights? He had already done the calculations in his head but Mr Rowland would want to see the workings. James dipped the quill in the inkwell and made marks on the paper. Then he wiped the quill clean and put it down.

The droning had stopped. 'If you've finished there, James, there's weights and measures to go on with. We won't have idle minds in this schoolroom.'

'Yes, sir,' said James. But his mind was not idle, neither was it in the schoolroom. He was thinking a thought as big as the sky. The instrument for writing was the same as the instrument for flight.

CHAPTER 3

THE BELL ALEHOUSE


Elizabeth's first death was her father's, barely six months after she was born. It came to her in the souring of her mother's milk. The baby's insistent mouth searched for succour in that life-stream, and with no words or language to separate one thing from another, Elizabeth took in with life's sweetness also its sorrow.

The will of Sam Batts, victualler, was proved on the twenty-first day of July 1742, by the oath of Mary Batts, widow. He had left his wife the alehouse, the tenanted properties and a fatherless baby. When she had married Sam, Mary had hoped for a few more years than this. At least he had lived long enough to see the baby christened Elizabeth, quickly, seven days after her birth, for one never knew with babies.

Mary and Sam had carried their child, blanketed against the falling snow, across the marshy grounds to St John's Church. Memento mori. Death was always the uninvited guest, but at the christening Mary said prayers and burnt herbs to keep death away. She had not thought, on that last day of January, that so joyous an occasion would be followed so soon by the slab of death. On the hot July day of Sam's funeral, Mary carried the baby alone.

She knew what Sam wanted — for her to keep the business going. Her father, Charles Smith, agreed. Truth be told, it was one of the reasons he had assented to the transaction of marriage between his daughter and the businessman. Unlike other publicans on the waterfront, who gave it a try and lasted a year at the most, Batts had run his alehouse for more than fourteen years.

Mary hadn't reckoned on this, she told her father, as she walked the baby up and down. It was the only thing she could do to stop Elizabeth crying. 'You mustn't pamper the child,' her father advised her. Mary swallowed a hard lump in her throat. She would not succumb to tears in front of him. But didn't he see that the whole thing was upsetting Elizabeth? She could feel the bristled air.

'For the future of the child you must carry on,' her father said more softly. Mary nodded. She knew it already, knew there was no choice. In the swirl of life on the waterfront you couldn't stop. The tide would lap over you and eventually engulf you.

Mary held the baby to her after her father had returned home to Bermondsey across the river. She kept pacing. Sam had left her with two children to look after — sweet little Elizabeth and a big boisterous alehouse that would run into trouble if it wasn't watched carefully. If she let the alehouse go she would be in ruin. The poorhouse or worse. 'I will never let that happen,' Mary whispered into the baby's ear. She had worked by her husband's side, she would imagine him still there, as indeed the ghost of him was, though a ghost could not serve customers or keep order, employ men to unload cargoes, conduct meetings or undertake any of the other business that dockside publicans engaged in. Mary sighed. Working alongside Sam was one thing, taking his place was another.

The tide was out and the river stank. The muddy iodine smell of it blended with everything else — the buckets of coal, stacks of timber, rope, beer and gin. Above all, the smell of men. Would the men respect Mary the way they did Sam? There were plenty who would seek to take advantage of a young widow.

The baby was fitful and wouldn't sleep. Mary held her at the window and looked out at the night. It was rarely clear in London, there was always a haze, and coal dust settling on everything like black snow. The hubbub of the streets had died down somewhat, though Mary knew there were those who had business in the dark of night. Like the two small shadows moving across the shine of mud towards one of the ships. She'd seen the cargo come in from that one — tobacco from the colonies — all of it now safely behind the high brick walls of a warehouse, protected by watchmen peering out between slits in the brickwork. Behind those walls the riches of the world were amassed. Bolts of cloth, tobacco, spirits and tea, spices. Coal and alum.

Mary identified the shadows now — two boys, no more than seven years old, slipping across the mud, wading into the shallows and climbing on board the ship, ready to pilfer whatever came to hand, or perhaps, Mary thought more kindly, looking for somewhere to sleep for the night.

'For the future of the child ...' Mary had to prepare herself for the daunting task ahead. She wrapped Elizabeth warmly in a blanket, and took out Sam's ledger.

In the following year the Bell alehouse was thriving but the baby was not, one perhaps the result of the other. Mary had servants and employees to help, of course, but as Sam always said, the best way to run a business was to keep an eye on everything yourself. Mary was afraid she'd been keeping an eye on the alehouse at the expense of her daughter. The child remained small, despite Mary's attempts to feed her, and had a dry cough, but thankfully no blood with it. Elizabeth seemed happy enough, and at least the cough got no worse, even in the spring when the winds blew in all kinds of sudden calamities.

It had been hard for Mary, especially at the beginning during those busy summer months. She'd spent night after night going over Sam's ledger, forcing herself to do the calculations and to do them quickly. She had to keep her eye on everything, make sure that the servants and lodgers weren't stealing from her or taking advantage. Mary was especially grateful for the support of the Quakers with whom she conducted business. She had heard that at Quaker prayer meetings women sometimes got up to speak and that what they said was accepted with the same gravity accorded to a man. Perhaps that was the reason the Quaker merchants readily accepted her in place of Sam. Mr Sheppard, part-owner of John Walker's ships from Whitby, had helped her organise the gangs of coal heavers, and showed her how to keep a tally of what they drank.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Mrs Cook by Marele Day, James P. Gilmour. Copyright © 2003 Marele Day. Excerpted by permission of Allen & Unwin.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS,
THE FROST FAIR PRINT,
THE QUILL,
THE BELL ALEHOUSE,
THE GREAT TREE,
A BOX OF LETTER TILES,
JOHN WALKER'S HOUSE,
EXECUTION DOCK STAIRS,
THE FAN OF TIME,
THE PORCELAIN TEAPOT,
THE ORIENTAL BOX,
THE MARRIAGE CERTIFICATE,
A PLAN OF ST JOHN'S,
THE TELESCOPIC QUADRANT,
THE ENDEAVOUR,
THE FOLDING TABLE,
THE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER,
THE TELESCOPE,
BINGLEY'S JOURNAL, FRIDAY 28 SEPTEMBER 1770,
PORTRAIT OF SIR HUGH PALLISER BY GEORGE DANCE,
A PAIR OF SHOE BUCKLES,
A DAMASK SERVIETTE,
COOK COTTAGE,
MR KENDALL'S CLOCK,
THE GLASS TUMBLER,
THE STAFFORDSHIRE CHINA,
A LETTER FROM DR SOLANDER TO JOSEPH BANKS,
INTRODUCTION TO A VOYAGE TOWARDS THE SOUTH POLE, AND ROUND THE WORLD, WRITTEN BY JAMES COOK, COMMANDER OF THE RESOLUTION,
BOSWELL'S An ACCOUNT OF CORSICA,
THE PORTRAIT OF CAPTAIN COOK BY NATHANIEL DANCE,
THE WILL OF JAMES COOK,
THE COPLEY MEDAL,
THE UNFINISHED VEST,
THE DITTY BOX,
SIR HUGH PALLISER'S MONUMENT TO CAPTAIN COOK,
A LETTER FROM ELIZABETH COOK TO FRANCES MCALLISTER (NEE WARDALE),
A LETTER FROM MRS HONEYCHURCH TO FRANCES MCALLISTER,
EMBROIDERY ON SILK OF CAPTAIN COOK'S VOYAGES BY MRS ELIZABETH COOK,
THE BOOKPLATE,
PORTRAIT OF ELIZABETH COOK BY AN UNKNOWN ARTIST,
A LETTER FROM ISAAC SMITH TO EDWARD HAWKE LOCKER,
ELIZABETH COOK'S MONUMENTS,
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?,
OBITUARY: MRS COOK — FROM GENTLEMAN'S MAGAZINE, JULY 1835,

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