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Face Down across the Western Sea

Face Down across the Western Sea by Kathy Lynn Emerson
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Does England have a claim to the New World? Queen Elizabeth I thinks so and she’s gathered together a group of scholars to prove it. Drawn into intrigue and danger through her friendship with Sir Walter Pendennis, Lady Appleton lends a hand to uncover ancient secrets and solve a murder.

Historical mystery by Kathy Lynn Emerson; originally published by St. Martin’s Minotaur

Belgrave House; April 2002
182 pages; ISBN 9780312288235
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Title: Face Down across the Western Sea
Author: Kathy Lynn Emerson

To the boy on the pine-studded promontory, the English ship looked like a small island with strange and wonderful trees growing upon it.

He was big for his age, easily mistaken for a man full grown. His hair, black as midnight, grew to the middle of a back tanned to deep bronze.

“A stone canoe,” his companion murmured in a tone filled with awe. “It is just as the legends describe it.”

The boy said nothing for a long time. A variation of the same story claimed that men who came from the direction of the sun traveled the sea on the backs of whales. Only a few now living knew the truth behind the tales.

The ship bobbed at anchor in the bay. On deck, small figures garbed in colorful clothing set about launching a shallop in which to row to the rock-strewn shore. Friends or enemies? The boy remembered the last time men had come across what they called “the Western Sea.” He remembered the killing.

“We must go back to the village,” he said. “My father will know what to do.”

Chapter 2

Seventy years later (June, 1571)

Across the Western Sea, in Cornwall

Martin Calthorpe glowered at the sole occupant of what had once been a Cistercian abbey’s chapter house. She was young enough to be his daughter. Indeed, she was the only surviving child of one of the greatest friends of his youth, Sir Amyas Leigh, a fact that made the pill Calthorpe was obliged to swallow taste more bitter still. 

He should have been the one assigned to portion out the maps, manuscripts, and books at the heart of their research, but at her father’s insistence, Susanna Leigh, now Lady Appleton and a widow, had been educated as if she were a boy. This was the unpalatable end result. A woman had been selected to supervise the work of Calthorpe and his fellow scholars at Priory House.

Alerted by some small sound from the doorway of the room Sir Walter Pendennis had converted into a library, Susanna glanced up from the letters she was cataloguing. “Master Calthorpe, good day to you. What have you to report?”

Enthusiasm shone in her intelligent, bright blue eyes. For a moment Calthorpe saw past her woman’s clothing and the obviously female shape beneath it and glimpsed the quality he’d most admired in her father, his love of study. “Amore ac studio,” he mumbled under his breath.

Such a pity Susanna had not been born a boy. Amyas Leigh, he remembered, had sired only girls. The other had died young, and Leigh himself had gone to his reward when his remaining daughter was a mere lass of thirteen, four and twenty years ago. At her father’s command, however, Susanna had already been taught Latin, Greek, mathematics, and philosophy. She had taken up the study of modern languages on her own and acquired some small skill at translating them into English. She’d also written two herbals and engaged in the study of cosmography, indulging herself with what Calthorpe considered to be a most unwomanly degree of interest in maps and geography.

“Master Calthorpe?” Susanna’s voice had hardened at his silence. She had her father’s sturdy build and above average height. When she looked stern, as she did now, she was an imposing, even intimidating figure.

“I have encountered several discrepancies.” Calthorpe realized he was tugging at the end of his long, white beard and forced himself to let go. That he resented her position, she knew already, but he hoped she would not realize how uncomfortable the obligation to report to her made him feel.

“Discrepancies in one of the translations?”

Because of Calthorpe’s expert knowledge of the Italian language, Susanna had assigned him to render into English several books published in Venice. At present he was working on a three-volume travel book, Terzo Volume delle Navigationi et Viaggi, but he’d also been given other tasks. He cleared his throat and decided to start with the most glaring difficulty.

“I was one of those who took down the statements of that sailor, David Ingram.”               

“Ah, yes. One of the survivors of a land journey from Spanish La Florida all the way to the northern part of the great land mass across the Western Sea. A remarkable feat. What of him?”

“As you say, he claims to have reached the area mapmakers now call Norombega, but I fear he tells a far different story from that related by his companion, Richard Twide.” Three scholars had questioned each man, but only Calthorpe had been present at both interviews.

“Go on.” Parchment rustled as Susanna put aside the documents on which she’d been working, assuring Calthorpe that he now had her full attention.

“Twide gave his statement and was allowed to depart.” He could not keep the irritation out of his voice.

“We had no authority to keep him here. Once we transcribed his account of the journey–”

“That is another problem. I cannot locate the transcript.” Without the written testimony to consult, Calthorpe had found it difficult to compare his memory of Twide’s story point by point with Ingram’s tale.

“Do you mean it has been misplaced?”

“I mean it has been stolen.”

The quill she’d been toying with stilled in her hand. “Borrowed, mayhap?” Her tone remained mild but her gaze reminded Calthorpe of tempered steel. He bristled at the implied criticism. Unlike some people, he was not a man who leapt to unwarranted conclusions.

“May I remind you, madam, that not all those in residence here possess the same background or degree of ability. Furthermore, not having been to Oxford or Cambridge, you cannot appreciate the extent of the rivalry that exists among university scholars.”

“Like my father, you studied at Christ College, Cambridge.” Susanna pointed one finger in his direction then raised a second in preparation for ticking off the names of his colleagues.

Calthorpe found this habit, which she frequently employed to enumerate items on a list, annoying in the extreme. He gritted his teeth and forced a grim smile, but his patience had already worn thin.

“Masters Fletcher, Gainsford, and Weller are Oxford men, I grant you, but Sir Gregory Speake and Master Merrick also matriculated at Cambridge.”

The sight of that upraised hand, little finger waggling at him, snapped Calthorpe’s restraint. A quick temper had always been his greatest failing. Age had not made him less prone to blurt out a scathing remark, and he was long past the point of indulging Susanna because of her womanhood. “Merrick is a Bristol merchant’s son. His understanding is that of a shopkeeper, not a scholar.”

Susanna’s palms slammed down flat on the worktable in front of her as she shot to her feet. Startled by her vehemence, Calthorpe took a step back, releasing the scent of bay leaves strewn among the rushes as he trod on them.

“Many clever and insightful men are merchants, Master Calthorpe, and we would be hard pressed to succeed in our task were it not for the careful records they keep. You discount their contributions at your peril, and do them a great disservice, much like the disservice you do women by refusing to acknowledge that we have as great a capacity for intelligence as any man.”

Uncertain what had provoked this passionate defense, Calthorpe nevertheless blundered on. “Academic competition is endemic among scholars and few scruple to claim other men’s work as their own. More to the point, Merrick’s daughter is the only one who had access to my papers. Ask her what became of Twide’s testimony!”

Susanna’s eyes narrowed. “Have a care, Master Calthorpe. Theft of items valued at a shilling or more is a hanging offense.”

“I do not make the charge without forethought.” Calthorpe drew himself up straighter and glared back at her. “Consider, madam, that there was no reason for her to accompany her father here in the first place.”

“Gwyn Merrick came to make herself useful. Had I not brought my own housekeeper from Leigh Abbey, I have no doubt she would have taken charge of those duties at Priory House.” Susanna’s voice was as cold as her stare, but it did nothing to cool Calthorpe’s heated words.

“Useful!” He flung both hands into the air in frustration. Trust one woman to defend another. “Merrick’s daughter has pawed through my possessions, freed to examine each item by the excuse that she’s been sent to clean and straighten.”

“Unless you have proof to the contrary, I must insist we assume the missing document has been misplaced rather than stolen. We share our conclusions here, Master Calthorpe. Any of your colleagues had only to ask and a copy of Twide’s testimony would have been provided to him. There was no reason to steal it.”

Calthorpe was marshaling a new argument to refute this conclusion when the unmistakable sounds of approaching horsemen reached him. Voices called out from the direction of the stables. Hooves thudded on hard-packed ground. Drawn by the commotion, Susanna crossed the library to a window that overlooked the stableyard and flung the shutters wide. Calthorpe joined her there in time to witness the arrival of several riders and a horse-borne litter.

Although the winter had been one of storms, floods, and landslides, the soil had long since lost its moisture. The dust stirred up by the horses swirled toward the window. Calthorpe pulled back, his eyes watering.

Even more irritating was what he’d seen. Another gentlewoman, he thought in disgust. And worse, a girl-child mounted on one of the horses. Turning to Susanna, complaints ready on his tongue, he bit back what he’d been about to say. She gripped the sill with white-knuckled force and was obliged to take several deep breaths before she regained her composure. Her face had gone as pale as a blanched almond.

Alarmed, Calthorpe forgot he was wroth with her. “Are you ill, Susanna? Shall I call someone?”

“I will recover.” He heard a note of irony in her voice.

“Who are these people? How did they get past Sir Walter’s guards? I thought he gave orders to send all visitors away.”

“The girl on the roan is my foster daughter, Rosamond.” She had to clear her throat before she could continue. “The litter transports Rosamond’s mother, Eleanor Pendennis. She is Sir Walter’s wife.”

Sir Walter Pendennis, as the owner of Priory House, was their nominal host. While Calthorpe watched, Pendennis strode into the stableyard looking no more pleased at the sight of a woman and child than Calthorpe had been. Shoulders stiff, fists clenched at his sides, he advanced on the litter.

“I must go down!” Susanna was already moving toward the door. “We will have to continue our discussion at a later time, Master Calthorpe. After supper?”

“There is no great rush,” he conceded. His temper, always quick to flare, was likewise fast to fade.

She took him at his word and hurried off, to interfere in Sir Walter’s business, he surmised.

Calthorpe’s pace was slower. He had no interest in the newcomers and made his way instead toward the former monk’s cell he’d been assigned as a private study, determined to use this interval to write down all he remembered of Twide’s account. He’d give that to Susanna this evening then go on to discuss the other matter he’d meant to bring to her attention. Another discrepancy, this one in records left by a certain gentleman of Mantua.

Lost in contemplation of how the two subjects might be linked, Calthorpe entered his cubicle and closed the door behind him. Only then did he realize someone was already in the small room.

“Put that back!” he ordered, outraged to recognize one of the most precious of his research materials in the intruder’s hand. Protective as a doting father looking out for his child and without a thought for his own safety, Calthorpe advanced toward his writing table and the person cowering behind it.

The would-be thief came at him in a desperate rush. They collided heavily and Calthorpe fell, striking both knees on unyielding oak floorboards with enough force to rattle his bones. Too late, he perceived the extent of his danger, but before he could ward off the blow, pain lanced through his head.

His last thought, as he sank into unconsciousness, was that he wished he’d had time to tell Susanna Appleton everything.