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The New Worlds of Isabela Calderón
Sequel to The Seventh Etching
By Judith K. White
iUniverse LLCCopyright © 2014 Judith K. White
All rights reserved.
Sea, Sand, and Memories
1650 Village of Santos Gemelos Department of Asturias
A haven—that is what Isabela sought. Here on this strip of beach. A brief escape from her longings and fears, from a dreary household, from an uncaring husband. The steady sound of gentle waves offered solace from the horrors she had experienced just beyond in the open sea.
She reached down, curled her wrist and came up with a fistful of ocean water. In order to steady her hand, she kept her elbow tight against her body. Before it all dripped through her fingers, she lifted the water to her nose and sniffed its brine, its fishiness, secrets, and mysteries. She licked the drops that remained, along with the tiny, chewy bits of seaweed. Resisting the urge to swallow, she savored the salty taste on her tongue until it faded.
One moment the sea was a calm, stately beauty, the sunlight or moonlight plunging its depths and reflecting off its surface. A composed, flirtatious lady bedecked in layers of green and blue flecked with diamonds and rubies. But she could never trust this grand dame. The next moment, clouds might hide her loveliness. A wind could excite her. She may turn into a holy devil reaching up with all her force to pull down, capture, surround, kill.
All her life Isabela had observed this deceptive monster and once she nearly succumbed to its rages. During a confused moment, she wished fervently to lose herself in its blackness, to disappear in its depths. She wanted to join her father there. And the wounded sailor, Jules, who gave her a desperate kiss—her first kiss ever—before diving from her father's sinking ship and disappearing. But it was Cornelius who pulled her back into the rowboat and into reality. Cornelius handed her a bucket. "Bail," he bellowed. And bail she did while Cornelius pulled the oars and rowed. Hours later Isabela—a sodden creature in a tattered silk nightgown twisted around her limp body—arrived at the shore of a strange city. Guttural sounds of its language approached and receded as she regained consciousness. She came to love that city. Amsterdam. The city where she met Pieter.
"Mama, Mama, give me the cup, please. Pedro's made a castle. I want to fill up the moat."
"Not yet, Nelita," Pedro said with older brother irritation. "I'm not finished. Mama. Come see. Here's where the horsemen approach. They're still far away, these soldiers. See, Mama?" Pedro placed his carved wooden toy figures on a sand path some distance from his miniature castle's entrance. "You can tell how far away they are. When they look ahead, the path looks narrow. I made it that way. That's perspective. Like you taught me, Mama."
"Per ... pec ... tif," Nelita struggled to repeat. She reached up to her mother. "Cup please, Mama?"
With their dark hair and eyes and their olive skin, her children looked thoroughly Spanish. They spoke no Dutch. They had never visited Amsterdam. Yet every day something in her life with them in this coastal village where she was born reminded Isabela of the eighteen months she spent in that city. Nearly a decade ago. So far north. So far away. So much a part of her.
Perspective. That one word sent her back in time to Pieter who placed a piece of charcoal between her fingers. She felt the warmth of his hand as he guided her drawing. The only art lesson she ever received.
"You can do it, Isabela. See how the canal gradually narrows the farther away from us it flows? Just below us it's wide. If you draw the canal's path as it moves away from you, it will become a trickle. Eventually, it will nearly disappear."
But she must not dawdle in the past. Diego has stated that he will take Pedro on his first voyage—a celebration of his tenth birthday. There is no persuading him otherwise.
"He will follow the path of his grandfathers and father, Isabela. You think he's still your little baby?"
Nightmares of the shipwreck pursued Isabela. The terror of losing her precious son to the sea overwhelmed her. She must find a way to protect her child.
"Time for the evening meal soon, my lovely children," Isabela coaxed in her lilting way as she began to gather up toys. But Pedro was wading in the surf away from her.
"Mama, come see what I found," he yelled.
"Show me another time, Pedro. We have to climb back up for the evening meal."
"No, Mama, come here. I want to show you this."
Isabela took Nelita's hand and walked toward her son's voice. He had gone much farther than she thought, to an area of the beach she wasn't even aware of. She panicked when she couldn't see him, although she had just heard him calling her a moment earlier. She began running.
At high tide, the cliff reached into the sea blocking off a section of a secluded cove. Isabela picked up Nelita and waded through the surf calling her son's name. Her damp skirts and petticoats slowed her down. She spotted him waving, sitting in a small abandoned rowboat, tucked up against the bluff. Pedro had grabbed one of the oars and was pretending to row.
"Leave the boat as you found it, Pedro. Come on now," she called to him.
Once they had sloshed their way back to their play area and were tidying up, Pedro warned,
"Careful, Mama. Don't destroy my castle. See how I built it? It has a moat all around. Five floors. Lookout towers on all sides. A flag made out of seaweed on top. A Spanish flag. My soldiers protect the castle, Mama."
Pedro picked up two of the three-inch tall wooden soldiers. He gave voice to their increasingly threatening words as they warded off an unseen enemy.
"Don't you come any closer. We will maim you. We will torture you. We will kill you. This castle belongs to OUR King."
Isabela recoiled from her son's violent utterances, but she understood that in part he was trying to fulfill the role of his often absent father, that he felt vulnerable growing up without a steady, male presence in his life. Already he was quite proficient with a sword.
"I'll beat you to the top," Pedro yelled down to his mother and sister.
Built into the cliff fifty years ago under the supervision of Isabela's grandfather, the stone stairs had nearly been taken over by weeds that encroached from both sides. With one hand, Isabela guided Nelita. In the other she held a wooden bucket that contained the sandy soldiers and the few digging utensils she had borrowed from Cook's kitchen.
"How many more steps, Mama?"
"Let's count them together."
"Uno. Dos. Tres."
"Only three more, Nelita. Three. That's a special number to you, isn't it?"
"Three? Of course, Mama. I know that. I am THREE YEARS OLD!"
Nelita took a step upward and slipped on a patch of uneven moss dampened by yesterday's downpour. As she felt a rivulet run down her leg and caught sight of a redness seeping through her ankle-length frock, she began to howl. Isabela dropped the bucket, which clanged down the stairs spilling soldiers. Scattered now they looked as if they had been injured or killed in battle. She half expected the miniatures to begin writhing in pain.
"OH, NO!" Pedro cried out when he turned to see what had happened.
He squeezed by his distressed sister and gathered up his soldiers.
"I'll take charge of these," he pronounced.
When Isabela and her children arrived at the top step, her motherin-law, having heard Nelita's wailing, stood looking down on them, hands on hips, lips pursed.
"What has happened now? I don't know why you insist on taking the children down there, Isabela. They come back filthy, smelling of fish ... and now hurt as well?"
Isabela had learned not to respond to every critical, scolding, unhelpful comment. She brushed by Doña Juana and took the children directly to Cook's cottage where she knew Nelita would be soothed and coddled. Cook came running out to investigate and led Nelita to her shelf of remedies. She cleared Nelita's chubby toddler knee of sand and pebbles, then gently rubbed salve onto the small wound. Although the scratch did not require it, Cook made a big show of painting a smiling little girl face on a clean piece of cloth and affixing it to Nelita's knee.
On the path back to the big house, Isabela cheered her daughter with the same song she sang to the orphan Nelleke years ago, the night Nelleke arrived at the Amsterdam City Orphanage and burned her hand with hot wax.
"Sana, sana, colita de rana. Si no sanas hoy, sanarás mañana."
Heal, heal little tadpole. If you don't heal today, tomorrow you will.
* * *
Once the simple, tense meal was over, Isabela retreated to the room she shared with her son and daughter. After she read them a Bible story, all three kneeled in prayer beneath the crucifix. She tucked them into bed and lulled them to sleep with a Dutch lullaby she herself had learned in the orphanage.
Slaap, kindje, slaap.
Sleep, little child, sleep.
Daar buiten lopt een schaap!
Outside strolls a sheep.
Een schaap met vier witte voetjes, A sheep with four little white feet,
Dat drinkt zijn melk zo zoetjes.
That drinks its milk so very sweet.
Schaapje met zijn witte wol.
Little sheep with its white wool.
Kindje drinkt zin buikje vol.
Little child drinks its belly full.
* * *
At last came the time of day she enjoyed most.
Isabela moved the candle to her writing desk tucked into a nook, a corner of the room she shared with her children. Thanks to the warning from Cook just before her wedding, she was able to salvage this piece of furniture—one of the last of the many gifts her Captain father brought her throughout her childhood. A young lady of fourteen then, she was enchanted with its carvings, the three levels of narrow, deep drawers, the secret cabinet attached below the desk. After confirming that her children had fallen asleep, she reached on tiptoe for the cabinet's key placed high on a stone ledge.
From the cabinet she removed three wooden boxes—also gifts from her father. Knowing of her interest in collections—shells, buttons, bits of fabric—he often searched during his travels abroad and found these for her. All with lids, they originated from three different countries—England, France, and Italy—places he visited before war interfered.
One lid had a simple painting of Mary, holding the baby Jesus. Mary's face was not visible, but Isabela was sure she was smiling her mild, gentle smile. She was bent over her infant, feeding him perhaps, soothing him, wondering at his beauty, or pondering his future, knowing that he was God's son sent to earth. The ends of Mary's head scarf enveloped the baby, connecting mother and child forever.
The second lid was randomly scattered with cherry-sized red stones surrounded by small shiny clear ones. At fourteen, she admired them for their brightness. She wondered who had selected the jewels and arranged them like flowers. Did a man make the box and a woman design the pattern perhaps? Did they work together to create this miniature masterpiece? She didn't think then about whether they were real rubies or diamonds. Recently, she had begun to wonder what their worth might be and if she could ever part with them. The third lid made of a lighter wood than the others was plain, smooth and varnished.
The boxes contained every letter she had received since arriving back in her village. She regarded each one as a treasure, even though it was delivered months after being written and always left her wanting more recent news.
The Mary box overflowed with letters from the loquacious Nelleke. The jeweled one held her friend Anneliese's amusing descriptions of daily Amsterdam life as the daughter and then the wife of wealthy merchants. The plain one had only a few letters—business letters she called them—from The Orphanage's Housemother or from Mr. Broekhof. Isabela had never been able to break the habit of scanning each letter before reading it, searching for Pieter's name, for any mention of him, no matter how brief, no matter how many times she had read the letter before.
Although Nelleke was a neighbor of Pieter's, she was much younger than he, involved in her own, new family's activities, and rarely mentioned him. As his sister, Anneliese, wrote of Pieter occasionally, mostly with concern.
"Once my brother's life path was so clear to him. Study with Rembrandt. Become a member of the artist guild. Establish himself. Marry. He continues to paint, but it's travel that consumes him. Florence. Rome. Antwerp. Brussels. He is a devoted uncle to my children. He never seems to tire of inventing games to amuse them. They adore him and miss him. Yet he seems so restless."
Isabela did not need to read those words. She had memorized them. She too worried about Pieter, but to contact him, to correspond with him, would be unseemly, highly improper, and perhaps not helpful for either of them. Actually it would be impossible. By now she's learned that one of the reasons Diego came for her was because her aunts, Tía Anacleta and Tía Lucia, shared Isabela's Amsterdam letters with the de Vega family. Apparently both her aunts and her future in-laws became concerned by Isabela's increasingly enthusiastic descriptions of Pieter. They feared she would never return to Santos Gemelos to fulfill the marriage arrangement her father made for her at her birth. Even after all these years, Doña Juana sorted Isabela's mail before giving it to her, suspiciously turning over envelopes, perhaps searching for clues of unfaithfulness.
As part of her nightly ritual of letter reading and writing, some evenings Isabela chose a letter at random from one of the three boxes. She closed her eyes, removed a lid, and ruffled through the contents, knowing that whatever letter she chose would surprise and delight her as much as it did the day it arrived. Other times, she took weeks to go through one box at a time, reading the letters in order.
This time she chose the latter approach. She removed the painted lid and lifted out the letter on top—the first letter she ever received from Nelleke—eleven months after Isabela was awakened in the middle of the night by Diego and Cornelius and brought from Amsterdam back to her home village. Isabela remembers staring at the seal, puzzled by the initials N.B., and wondering who it could possibly be from. The letter began in Nelleke's large-lettered, labored scrawl and continued in the elegant handwriting of Nelleke's new mother, Myriam Broekhof.
16 May 1642 Dear my darling, my friend, my Big Sister Isabela,
Mama says that greeting was too long, but I will make it shorter next time. I promise.
You are alive! You are in Spain! You are home! Your letter arrived today. A courier (Mama had to help me spell that word) brought it from the orphanage (that word too). A letter addressed to me, Miss Nelleke Stradwijk. Except I have a new name now. Nelleke Broekhof. They even baptized me again in the church. I have a new home, new parents, and two new brothers. Big brothers, not a younger one like Jacob. Mama and Papa take me to the farm to visit Jacob sometimes.
I could not finish the midday meal. I was so squirmy that finally Mama and Papa excused me from the table. Mama and I went to Anneliese's house so she could translate your letter. It took a long time. I was jumping in my chair waiting for Anneliese. Mama tried to hold my hands still.
First Anneliese read your English in silence. I remember how jealous Anneliese was that you had spent six weeks in England before you landed in Amsterdam and how the two of you used to chatter away in that language. Then it was my turn to be jealous, since I could not understand a word.
Next Anneliese said your words out loud to us in Dutch. Pieter was there. I think he was impatient too. He walked around a lot.
This is taking too long. I have so much to tell you. Mama will write now. But she will write MY words. I miss you, Isabela. I was so scared when we woke up and you were not there. I threw myself on your bed and hid my face in your pillow. I would not get up for breakfast or school. The police came and looked for clues. Mrs. Heijn (oh how happy I am that I don't have to call her Mother anymore) told them that you must still be wearing your nightdress. That was because Mrs. Heijn found your uniform in the wardrobe.
Excerpted from The New Worlds of Isabela Calderón by Judith K. White. Copyright © 2014 Judith K. White. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
AWSOME AAAAAWSOME AWSOME
A superbly crafted book! The New Worlds of Isabella Calderón is a heart-rending, sensuous journey across seventeenth-century Spain, its colony in the New World, St. Augustine Florida, New Amsterdam and the Dutch Republic. Seen mostly through the eyes of a beautiful young Spanish woman named Isabela, the reader is quickly immersed in an authentic world of sights, smells, and feelings through a superbly written story. Within the first few pages, it was obvious that author, Judith K. White, knows what she’s writing about. Her life in Amsterdam and other environs of the world has given her a deep understanding of life lived four centuries ago. Her skill of character development, vivid description, and historic accuracy, results in a rich compelling saga with multiple layers of characters and scenes. This is certainly a work of literary excellence. As a lifelong sailor, I pay close attention to minute details when it comes to all things of ships and the sea. Since some of the action takes place on sailing ships, I could tell Ms. White obviously did her homework. I could almost hear the clacking of rigging, smell the odor of a ship’s lower deck, and whiff the perfume of a lonely woman on the windward rail. As a writer, and reader of action books, Ms. White’s story was not my usual genre. Nevertheless, her skill, detail, and unique storytelling ability has piqued my interest in reading more high-quality historical fiction - certainly if Ms. White is the author! Kenneth R. Overman Author, A Lion in Spring
Excellent Novel As the author of a book about Michael Jackson, I have read and researched almost exclusively non-fiction material during the past five to six years. As a welcome departure, I have just read Judith White's novel “The New Worlds of Isabela Calderon” and was reminded of the joys of a shared imagination and adventure with a skilled writer. Although I have not read the first novel, “Seventh Etching,” I felt comfortable with the “stand-alone” feel of this great read. The protagonist, Isabela Calderon, experiences life on two continents – Amsterdam, Spain, and the New World – during the seventeenth century. I especially enjoyed the interesting historical perspectives, excellent character development, fascinating relationships, and special challenges experienced by a woman of that era. Isabela's intelligence, strength of character, and courage surpass the reader's expectations – and make her a role model for modern-day women. Well-researched and fast-paced, this novel skillfully portrays the humanity of its characters and reminds us of the timelessness of the power of the human spirit. Karen Moriarty, Author, "Defending A King ~ His Life & Legacy"