Sea Music: A Novel

Sea Music: A Novel

by Sara MacDonald


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Three generations of the Tremain family have occupied the idyllic cliffside cottage on the Cornish coast. There's Fred, the country doctor who built this house for his wife, Martha; their daughter Anna, an esteemed lawyer, and son Barnaby, a vicar to the local parish; and beloved granddaughter Lucy, who, on the cusp of adulthood, is faced with the prospect of leaving home -- and her family history -- forever.

But the past is never far behind, and before long Lucy discovers that the Tremain estate also harbors tragic lies and dangerous truths. When she finds a cache of long-hidden documents, the family will be forced to confront upheavals caused by wartime secrets and domestic disputes -- and unlock the door to new beginnings, and new loves. Set in Cornwall, London, and Warsaw, Sea Music is a sonorous, transcendent journey that no reader will soon forget.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743482134
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication date: 05/09/2006
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 1,161,339
Product dimensions: 8.18(w) x 10.86(h) x 1.14(d)

About the Author

A former army wife, Sara MacDonald has written all her life. This is her first book to be published in the United States. She now lives in Cornwall, where she is at work on her third novel.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Lucy finds Abi dead under the cherry tree. The little cat has crawled away to her favorite place and still feels warm to Lucy's fingers. She knows it is stupid to feel so upset about an old tabby cat, especially when people are being killed all over the Balkans, but this one small cat has been with her most of her childhood.

She digs a hole to bury her deep next to Puck. She does not want her found and dug up by badgers or foxes. The cat is still loose-limbed and floppy, and Lucy places her in the hole cradled by roots as if she is still sleeping in the sun, but she cannot bear to push earth over the little feline face.

She picks bluebells and mint and garlic flowers and lays them over Abi's eyes and head, makes a cover between the cat and the rain-soaked earth. Then she takes the spade and buries her. As Abi disappears from view Lucy suddenly sees herself under the ground too, a cold and literal walking over her grave.

Barnaby appears from the house and takes the spade from her, makes good the small grave and chats about what flowering thing they can plant on top of Abi. Lucy tells him about the horrible sensation and wonders if it is an omen. Barnaby says, smiling in that comforting way he has, "Lucy, remember when you and I went to pick her up from the farm? You were only six and that little cat has been a part of your childhood. You have just buried a chunk of your life, that is all."

Lucy knows he is probably right. Barnaby has been central to her childhood. He has given her security and unconditional love. He has never let her down, ever.

She turns, shading her eyes from the sun, and stares back at the house. In the conservatory her grandparents are moving around each other aimlessly. Fred is looking for his newspaper and Martha, despite the warmth of the day, is clothed in many woolen garments. It is like looking at a bizarre backdrop to some surreal play.

A lump rises in Lucy's throat. She is deserting them. She is leaving Barnaby with this and she has not even had the courage to tell him yet. She feels torn and suddenly apprehensive of the future. For Barnaby, for Tristan and for herself. These are her grandparents and she should be here for them. Lucy turns away, bends once more to the small grave and pats the earth flat.

Barnaby is watching her. "What is it, Lucy?"

"Tristan has just been posted to Kosovo."

Barnaby sighs. "Oh, Lucy, I am sorry." He picks up the spade and pulls her to her feet, putting his arm round her as they walk back to the house. "Tristan will be all right, Lu, I am absolutely sure of it."

Martha is waving vaguely at them. Lucy does not think her grandmother has a clue who they are, but she and Barnaby both wave back, smiling.

Gran. Lucy feels again a lightning snake of sadness. She wants to protect and keep everything in this house safe, as it has been all her life, and she knows it is impossible. She has no power over her grandparents' old age, state of mind or eventual death.

Barnaby locks the church door and stands on the porch looking out to where the sea lies in a semicircle round the churchyard. The tide is in and the estuary lies black and full, silhouetted by small, bent oak trees.

Barnaby walks past the ancient gravestones towards the water. He is reluctant to make the small journey across the road back to the house. He stands looking towards the harbor, listening to the throb-throb of the boat engines in the evening air as the small, colorful fishing fleet makes its way carefully over the bar and back to the quay.

Barnaby longs to spend this spring evening with another adult, a woman, if he is truthful. The familiar feeling of wasted years shoots through him briefly and painfully. It is not just loneliness that accentuates his single state; it is the slow, tragically funny and innocent return to childhood of both his parents, as if they have mutually given up being adult together. There is no one but Lucy to share this with: to laugh with, so he does not cry.

Lucy has been wonderful, rarely impatient, always concerned and tender with her grandparents. But she is another generation and she cannot share his memories. She has Tristan, her own life to lead.

There is Anna, but his sister does not want to accept what is happening to her parents. She is, as always, heavily involved with her career, and a husband. Anna, normally so practical, is in denial.

Barnaby turns away and makes his way down the church path and across the road to the house. Martha is peering out of the hall window, watching for him, or someone she recognizes, within the fuzzy haze in which she now lives.

He opens the door and calls out, "I'm home."

His mother dances towards him on tiny feet. "How do you do? I'm Martha Tremain," she says graciously.

Barnaby takes her small hand. "And I am Barnaby Tremain, your son." He smiles down at her, watching the bewildered expressions of doubt pass over her still-beautiful face.

Martha sees the laughter in his eyes and she laughs too, a little burst of relief. Of course. It's Barnaby.

"Oh, darling," she says. "How silly! I'm going quite dotty, you know."

"Rubbish," Barnaby says, kissing her. "Where's Fred?"

"Fred?" Martha shrugs eloquently. She does not know, her face is blank again, but Barnaby can see his father and Mrs. Biddulph out on the lawn. His father has Eric, the ginger tomcat, on a lead and is trying to get the cat to sit. Eric is not finding the lesson in the least amusing and Homer, his little Lab cross, is sitting on the grass, looking puzzled.

Poor Mrs. Biddulph looks cold and ready for home. Barnaby opens the French windows and calls out to his father. The old man's face lights up and he moves with surprising agility towards his son. Mrs. Biddulph unclips the lead from Eric, who stalks off into the undergrowth, his thin tail twitching with indignation.

Mrs. Biddulph is not pleased. "I've been trying to get Dr. Tremain inside for at least an hour. He hasn't had his tea yet."

Barnaby gives her his best smile. "Never mind. Whisky time, I think, Dad?"

"Good idea, old chap. Sun's over the yardarm."

Barnaby laughs and takes his father's arm. "It is indeed. Mrs. Biddulph, thank you so much. Will we see you tomorrow?"

"I can't really say. Mrs. Thomas has taken on new staff. Young girls won't stay five minutes," Mrs. Biddulph says scathingly. "I'm surprised she didn't ring and tell you."

Barnaby prays there is not going to be a stream of indifferent girls to confuse Martha even further. Mrs. Thomas, who runs the Loving Care Agency Barnaby uses, is universally unpopular with her staff.

"She pays crap, expects the earth and buggers everybody around," Barnaby was told by an efficient, purple-haired girl who lasted a week.

Once indoors Barnaby closes the French windows. Mrs. Biddulph puts on her shapeless wool coat, a garment she wears winter and summer.

"I might see you tomorrow or I might not, Vicar. Good night all." Mrs. Biddulph departs at speed, already thinking about Mr. Biddulph's tea, the bus, and getting home in time for the Antiques Roadshow.

Barnaby gathers both parents up, herds them into the sitting room and pours whisky into their familiar heavy tumblers. They watch him like expectant children and take their glasses greedily.

"Thank you, darling." His mother raises her glass to him and smiles her sweet vacant smile.

"You having one, old chap?" his father asks.

"Indeed I am." Barnaby sits tiredly in the armchair and looks at his parents fondly. All so normal. All calm and Sunday eveningish. If he closes his eyes for a moment he can almost believe he is twenty again and spending another soporific weekend with his parents, comforted by routine but restless to be away.

"What's Hattie cooking for supper, I wonder." Martha's voice wavers against his closed eyelids. He opens them. His father is staring at his mother.

"Hattie isn't here anymore. She died, didn't she?"

Martha's eyes fill with tears. "Oh dear, shouldn't we have gone to the funeral? Shouldn't we have sent flowers?"

Barnaby takes a long deep drink from his whisky glass. "Mum, Hattie retired about ten years ago, then sadly she died. You did send flowers, and you did go to the funeral, so that's all right, isn't it?"

"Oh, yes, darling. Sometimes I forget things. How silly."

"I'm going to finish this drink, then I'll start your supper. Cheers! Here's to summer."

"Cheers, darling."

"Cheers, old chap."

There is silence as they drink and watch him. A blackbird sets up a squawking in the cherry tree, which is about to explode into blossom.

"Naughty, naughty Eric cat," Martha murmurs, and Barnaby smiles and begins to relax.

His mother gets up and wanders round the room. "I'm rather hungry, darling. I'll just go out to the kitchen and tell Hattie to do us all an omelette."

Barnaby sighs, gives up and gets to his feet. "I've just told you, Mum, Hattie is no longer here. It's just me tonight. You'd like an omelette?"

"Why isn't she here? I didn't give her the day off. It's too bad."

Moving to the door, Barnaby hears his voice rising, although he is trying hard not to let it. "Hattie is dead, Mother. Look, I'll put the television on for you. I think it's the Antiques Roadshow. Sit and watch that with Dad, and I'll be back in a minute with your supper."

As he closes the door he hears his mother say, "I didn't know Hattie was dead, darling. When did she die?"

"Oh, ages ago, M., ages ago," his father says. "Think I might have another drink."

Barnaby stares into the middle of the fridge, fighting an aching tiredness. He cannot see any eggs and an overpowering depression suddenly overtakes him. He hears the front door open, then the glass inner door shut with a bang that makes him wince.

"Hi, Barnes, it's me," Lucy calls out unnecessarily. He hears her making a run for the kitchen to see him alone before Martha hears her and dances out of the sitting room to see her beloved granddaughter.

"Help me, Lucy. What on earth can I give them for supper? The fridge seems empty."

Lucy claps her hands over her mouth. "Oh, bugger, I forgot. I told Mrs. Biddulph I would do the shopping. She will get things she likes and Gran and Grandpa hate."

She opens the door of the freezer and pulls out fishfingers and chips with a flourish. "Here we are! Gran loves them."

Barnaby looks doubtful. "She seems to live on them. I'm not sure your grandfather is so keen."

"Darling Barnes," Lucy says briskly, "they both ate a huge roast lunch. I keep telling you, honestly, they don't need two cooked meals a day. You just make work for yourself."

"I know, bossyboots, but food is their one comfort and distraction. Look, there is some cheese at the back of the fridge; that will do for Fred."

"I'll eat chips with Gran."

Barnaby raises his eyebrows. "If I remember rightly, you too had a large Sunday lunch, or was I seeing things?"

Before Lucy can answer Martha flies in. "Lucy, Lucy, how lovely..." She lifts her cheek up for her gangly granddaughter to kiss and Lucy hugs her.

"Hi, Gran. I'm about to cook you fishfingers and chips. I'm going to pig out on the chips with you."

"Darling child, how lovely!"

Barnaby lays four trays out three times. Martha, longing to be helpful, promptly puts them away three times.

"How can I help, darling?" she keeps saying to Lucy. Lucy brings her alive in a way even I cannot do, Barnaby thinks, in a way the young spark the old with their energy and cheerfulness.

They have supper on their knees in the sitting room. Barnaby sits next to Fred and shares his cheese and biscuits.

"Barnaby and Gramps are both going to dream their heads off, darling, whereas you and I are merely going to get porky," Lucy whispers to Martha.

From across the room Fred looks at his tiny wife and his tall, skinny granddaughter sitting beside each other on the sofa.

"I am extremely concerned," he says drily, "that my antique sofa is going to give way under all that weight."

He regards them so seriously from over his half-moon glasses that they all burst out laughing.

Glimpses, Barnaby thinks, small, joyous glimpses of people you love, swinging back.

Copyright © 2002 by Sara MacDonald

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