Authors: Eve Yohalem
DIAL BOOKS FOR YOUNG READERS
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Copyright Â© 2015 by Eve Yohalem
Art copyright Â© 2015 and hand lettering by Danilo “Sailor Danny” Mancini
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Cast off : the strange adventures of Petra De Winter and Bram Broen / Eve Yohalem.
Summary: Told in their separate voices, twelve-year-olds Petra, who escaped her abusive father's Amsterdam house in 1663, and Bram, a half-Javanese/half-Dutch boy, relate their adventures at sea after Petra stows away and Bram, son of the ship's carpenter, helps her disguise herself as a boy.
[1. Seafaring life--Fiction. 2. Sex role--Fiction. 3. Racially mixed people--Fiction. 4. Runaways--Fiction. 5. Child abuse--Fiction. 6. Sea stories.] I. Title.
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To Nick, my co-pilot and safe harbor
April 1663 in the City of Amsterdam
“Can you fix me up, Miss Petra?”
I paused, knife in the air. Cor, the baker's boy, stood at the kitchen door, gnawing his bottom lip and shuffling from foot to foot. Poor dull Cor. Pocked cheeks, fish eyes, no fat. Needing help today of all days, and still so much to do before Father returned.
“Show me,” I said.
Cor held up his hand, biting his lip. The baker's oven had sucked the flesh from his palm and boiled it.
“Can you fix me?” he asked again.
I could. Human skin is remarkably strong. Albertina says you can pull a needle through it as hard as you like, hard enough to drag a barge off spring mud, and skin won't tear. Nay, it's what's underneath the skin that's most delicate, especially the parts not visible to the human eye. Like the liver. Or the soul.
I looked down at my half-chopped onion, pictured the empty pantry. Albertina was late with the shopping, and we'd never finish dinner on time. Father would be especially hard tonight. He hadn't come home yesterday and his choler was always highest after a night out.
I should tell Cor to go. Let the baker pay for the surgeon.
And see the hand rot and Cor dead of infection before the week was out.
“Come inside,” I said, waving him in. “You should try wearing a mitt once in a while.”
“I do!” Cor said. “Only I forget sometimes.”
Cor and I stood nose to nose though he was two years older than my twelve. He glanced at my cheek. The swelling was gone, but I knew the bruise was still there. It would fade in a day or two, and Father would replace it with another soon enough.
“Sit down,” I said, steering Cor to a chair.
“Petje!” Albertina shouldered through the door, her arms weighted with heavy baskets. “Oh Lord! Town was packed. How now, Cor? Burned your hand again?”
She plunked the baskets on the table and a dead chicken spilled out. I set up our medicines next to its head.
“Any bleeding?” Albertina asked.
I held up Cor's hand by the wrist and she squinted at it. “Just blisters,” I said.
“What will you use?”
She was testing me out of habit. All of Amsterdam knew our housekeeper had a way with herbs and a needle, and merchants and stable boys alike came to herâand lately meâinstead of the surgeon. Our services were free and our healing better.
“Honey and soap to take the fire out, then an oil of rose plaster for the mending,” I said, smearing on the first. Cor was trying to be brave, but if he chewed that lip any harder, I'd be stitching it up next.
Albertina dunked the hen into a pot of boiling water in the hearth while I spread the plaster and wrapped Cor's hand in linen.
He left with his usual idiot's grin back in place. But I faced the empty pots and felt the bile drain from my spleen.
“Tina, the time!”
we'll make it.” She put her hands on my shoulders and bent to look into my face. “I promise.”
Albertina had been our housekeeper since my parents' marriage, and a mother to me since my own had died five years past. She kissed the top of my head, and I swallowed my fear, choked it down from mouth to throat to chest until an uncracked nut lodged in my belly.
I unpacked hunks of meat, ropes of blood sausage, a pile of spiny artichokes. Yellow butter sweated in a pewter dish next to a spray of crimson coxcomb flowers. Beneath the table, a leaf of onion paper dirtied the black-and-white checkerboard floor. I snatched it up.
I glanced at the clock on the shelf. Just past four. Father would be home in two hours, but we'd need at least three to make his meal. He'd not stand for lateness. The nut in my belly swelled to a peach stone.
Albertina pulled the chicken from the pot.
“Let me pluck it,” I said. “Save your fingers.”
She didn't argue. Albertina's knobby old hands were stiff, and she knew I'd finish the job in half the time. I took the bird from her, and she reached for my face, tilted it toward the light.
“Swelling's down,” she said, examining my cheek. “The leeches did their work.
I jerked my chin away. “We'll never finish in time.”
“It won't make a difference if we do or not.”
She was right, of course. Nothing helped Father's wretched moodâI had the bruises to prove it.
Albertina set a chair in the doorway, half inside, half out in the afternoon sun.
“Sit,” she commanded.
I obeyed, then tucked the bird head-down between my knees and began yanking out its feathers. The cat, Henry Hudson, watched me greedily with one yellow eye and a hollow socket.
I stuffed fistfuls of feathers into a sack, my mind racing over the tasks that would keep Father's anger at bay. He hated mess, and I'd give him no reason to complain. No spot or smear on any window or wall. Everything in its proper place.
And so today I'd changed the bed linens, even though it wasn't Wednesday, polished the silver, scrubbed the floors, scented the drawers with dried lavender. For dinner I'd serve all his favorite foods.
I was such a fool.
While I plucked and worried, Albertina used my knife to chop carrots. She looked up at me without stopping her cutting and grinned around the clay pipe that dangled from her mouth. “The Dutch East India Company fleet's in,” she said. “Lord, Petje, you should see them tall ships, all readying themselves to cross the seas. I had to squint my eye to see the tops of the masts. And the sailors! I swear I saw one skip right up just as easy as you and me would stroll through a garden. There must have been thousands, swarming everywhere like antsâall shouting and hollering and hammering and loading. I'll take you to see for yourself tomorrow.”
How could she talk of tomorrow when every minute that ticked by brought us closer to failure and fury? But that was Tina. Always urging me to seek out the good bright bits, while I begged her to guard against the dark.
“Perhaps,” I said, spitting a chicken feather from my lips.
Tina finished the stew while I laid the dining table in the parlor. A city of porcelain, silver, and linen covered the polished woodâand God's blood if it didn't take half an hour to set it all. I filled Father's glass with wine and mine with small beer and carried in plates of food from the kitchen.
Outside, the church bells rang six o'clock; he'd return any moment now. I dashed through the house, checking for details left undone. I scanned the front room, the many gifts Father had received from grateful traders, trinkets he'd imported from India and Arabia, the French-made spinet I'd never learned to play. Each one dusted and properly placed.
Back to the kitchen, where Albertina swept sawdust from the floor. The stew simmered over a low fire, scenting the air with nutmeg and lemon. I grabbed a rag and scrubbed the table.
“He'll be late,” Albertina said, exhaling a bit of smoke around her pipe.
“You can't know that.”
Still no sign of him. I ran upstairs to the bedroom Albertina and I shared, where I kicked off my leather slippers and shrugged out of my house robe. Cold air puckered my skin. My black dress, white petticoats, collar, and cuffs I laid on the bed. My linen shift and dirty apron would go into tomorrow's wash.
I took an extra minute to use the chamber pot before putting on fresh linen and the rest of my clothes and house robe. Crisp folds, spotless bodice. Nothing for him to find fault with here.
In the small mirror on the wall I glimpsed a mess of hay stuffed under a skewed white lawn cap. I untied the cap and whipped a brush through the tangled strands, then pulled my hair tight enough to stretch the corners of my eyes before tying it up again.
With a candlestick in one hand and the chamber pot on my hip, I made my way downstairs, mindful of my sloshy burden. A spider had sewn its web in the corner of the ceiling; a handprint on the landing window glowed in the yellow light. How had I missed them?
Albertina sat in the kitchen, puffing on her pipe. She too had freshened up and wore a clean apron over her good brown dress. I spied a smudge on one of the blue-and-white baseboard tiles.
“Tina, can you get that?” I asked, pointing at the spot with my chin.
Outside, I peered down the street, searching for his dark form, but no one was out. Just rows of tall houses along the canal, each one different, but all with sweeping gables under tiled roofs with columns of tall windows in their brick faces. In front of the painted doors, white stone steps gleamed like tallow wax in the hazy dusk. At first light tomorrow I'd be out here again scrubbing ours like a good Dutch housewife.
I dropped to my knees, emptied the pot into the canal. I was leaning over the muck, holding my breath and trying not to fall in, when I heard the snap of a walking stick on the stone behind me.
“You look like a scullery maid.”
“Good evening, Father.”