Bilge, Bitter Oranges and Spain's Beauty

Bilge, Bitter Oranges and Spain's Beauty

A Story by Chopstix

Gilded age millionaire travels to Spain to stop his daughter's marriage. (inspired by the Sharpe's novels) Prompt: First person POV, fictional character's travel memoir.

My daughter Margaret's letter prompted immediate action.  No written correspondence would do; no letter, no telegraph possessed sufficient persuasion to allow her no maneuver, misinterpretation, miscalculation or wriggle-room. No, this bombast required personal delivery.  I could not allow my daughter to marry her Spaniard fancy. 

I packed hastily, but efficiently, and ordered Evans to follow suit.  He spoke many continental languages, a necessary attribute for this mission.  Evans would better manage my estate, but I left those duties to MacClary.  He may succumb to drink, but otherwise, he seemed sound.  We drained every spirituous dram from our premises and attained assurances from local barkeeps and merchants to deny MacClary alcohol.

Evans and I progressed to New York where I arranged for adequate letters of credit, foreign currency and international financial instruments sufficient to cover all conceived externalities including a shipwreck off the Puffin Islands.  I established secure passwords and phrases with Mr. Marris of Marris, Rogers and  Koufax, investment brokers, to manage my investments from abroad. 

“I am concerned about the two weeks passage.  A panic may set in,” I fretted.

“I'll monitor your holdings and withdraw them at the first hint of a margin call,” Marris assured.  “Remington booked the SS Knight Galahad to carry a shipment of arms to Cadiz.  As a major shareholder, I'm sure you could arrange your passage on that vessel.”

As a gentleman of importance, I insisted Captain Wright join my pre-voyage vessel inspection..

“It's hull was laid in '63,” Wright said deep in the ship's hold,  “to supply union troops.  These shafts transmit the engine's power to two screws, but we rely on our sails, primarily.  Steam power provides assistance in port and on flat seas.”

“Does that explain that noise?”

“Aye, the bilge pumps.”

“How much bilge do we need?”

“All of it,” Wright chortled.  “Unfortunately, water works it's way into all wooden ships and collects in their bilges.  Even iron bottoms fill up under their floorboards:  seepage, spillover, condensation and the like.  Bilge pumps remove brack and keep cargo dry.”

Evans brought aboard two sandwiches and four sacks of oranges.  That sandwich was the only palatable meal I ate aboard the Galahad.  Every meal, morsel and crumb from the ship's galley turned acid in my stomach.  

“Bilge,” more than any other word, best described my North Atlantic crossing.  The word's pronunciation accurately described my reaction:  “B,” the mouth closes attempting to suppress and contain an irrepressible bile surge; “il,” abdominal muscles constrict, pumping gastronomy unnaturally against both gravity and God's design; “ge,” lips peel over teeth, widening accommodation for a vomitous volley. 

Fortunately, my cabin's door opened to the poop deck.  After each failed digestion, I burst onto the deck and  “bilged” over its rail.  Evan's oranges provided my salvation and sustenance as I could keep them down.

“They're Valencia's,” Evans informed.  He peeled one after I “bilged” one afternoon.  Their flavor provided sweet relief from lingering after taste.


“Florida, I think.” 

“Are we going to Valencia?”

“Seville, sir.”

“How are the oranges there?”

“Bitter, sir, best for marmalade.”

How Margaret could choose to marry into a land of bitter oranges baffled me.  We pulled into the port of Cadiz, a fortified town bearing scars from Nelson's '97 bombardment.  Napoleon's betrayal in '08 captured near the whole of Spain.  Cadiz held out, becoming her government's seat while King Ferdinand rotted in Paris.  Although many ships sailed up the Guadalquivir river, my digestive irregularities necessitated overland travel.

We left Cadiz's bright, white walls and winding paths.  Evans pointed out Barrosa, and we toured its  battlefield's remains.  Evans seemed preoccupied with Barrosa's ridge.

“I'm sure soldiers scooped up all possible loot in '11,” I jibed.

“I hoped to find something of a cemetery,” he said.  “Perhaps the Spanish hid it.” 

“Why would they do that?” 

“To bury their shame. You see, sir, the British showed them up here.”

“How's that?” Evans' knowledge oft proved useful.  I sensed more ammunition to fire at Margret's intended.

“Do you remember the glasis and trench work outside Cadiz?”

“Go on.”

“The English and Spanish tried to relief the siege.  They sailed out and intended to hit the French trenches from behind.”

“A good strategy.” 

“Because they were in Spain, the Spaniards took the lead.  Instead of attacking La Peña, headed straight for Cadiz, exposing his flank and rear.  The French anticipated all this and attacked.”

“Sounds like the French.”

“Two regiments and my great grandfather's regiment formed the rear guard, here, on this hill.  La Peña ordered his two regiments to withdraw.  The French took this hill,  but Thomas, the British general wanted it back.  Outnumbered two to one, they charged and pushed the French off this hill.”

“Good men you Brits! ”  Evans was a good man, an acceptable suitor for Margaret, I thought, but she's a bit taller and heavier than him.  I afforded Margaret an English education in hopes she'd attract something of this British courage, not any of that Spanish cowardice.

“Thank you, sir, very encouraging, but my great grandfather fell here, and I'd hate to waste this opportunity.”

Evans found a large stone.  We leveraged a tree branch to overturn it.  Evans perused an inscription.

“Your great grandfather?”

“Emilio Vasquez's beloved mare.”

“Let's press on.  Margaret dwells on an estate outside Seville.”  

“The La Sorrisa del Mar, sir.  Smile of the sea.” 

“Of the sea?  It must be close.”

It was not.  Our ancient road, followed the river, mostly, darting around farm lands and crossing the river, again and again, over Roman-built bridges.  The Guadalquivir provided agricultural irrigation, otherwise Andalusia's arid features dominated.  No wonder it produced bitter oranges, never healing battle scars, cowardly fops taking comfort inside thick walls.  I cannot fathom why Margaret followed her Spaniard from Girton College, Cambridge to this rain-forsaken land.  

We traveled thirty-some miles, before lodging at Las Cabezas de San Juan. Saint John's head, Evans translated, a melancholy village name.  Evans procured the local specialty.  I imagined boar's head on a bed of bitter oranges, but was relieved when Evans presented a hearty stew,

Thirty miles the next day placed us in Seville, a grand city.  For a hundred years, its port enjoyed unrivaled trade with the America's.  Only sand bars in Guadalquivir's bends forced Seville to share its trade monopoly with Cadiz.  We lodged in a gilded pension, dined on Tapas and found a guide to  La Sorrisa del Mar.  Evans located a telegraph station.  I wired Marris stock trading instructions.  My message flew to Madrid, Lisbon and London before reaching New York.  

Against Evans' advice, I ate an omelet for breakfast.  Our guide led us to river docks, and we boarded a trow delivering supplies to various estates including our desired destination.  After an hour, I “bilged” over the aft rail.  Evans apologized for purchasing Seville oranges for our journey.  I sucked bitter oranges and rehearsed my tirade.  We disembarked along with several sacks of flour, a crate of Remingtons and two crates ammunition.  La Sarrisa's wagon driver offered carriage, but I preferred walking.

Donna Antonia de Bustamonte Moreno met us at her mansion's front door.

“I demand to see Margaret!”

“Dear Mr. Bridgehead, I'm afraid Margaret and Don Ricardo are touring our estates.  They departed two days ago,  they can not be contacted, and their progress occupies all of two weeks, if not more.”

“What are we to do then?”

“Stay here as my guests, of course.  You traveled a long way, and I am sure you require, rest, recreation and repast.  Jorge will show you your rooms.  We serve dinner at four.”

Jorge, a  butler I supposed, led us into their vast foyer.  Dark, heavy, wooden beams supported a high, arched ceiling.  Landscapes and battle scenes lined its walls.  Upstairs, portraits lined our corridor's walls.  Donna Moreno's designed her decorations to impress, awe, belittle and forewarn her guests.  Effective, but too gilded for my tastes.

Sitting in my room, I stared out a window.  A fountain dominated their courtyard.  I watched a servant girl fill a jug from one of its spouts.  Unsurprising these Spanish lack indoor plumbing.  A structure behind the fountain drew my attention.

“It's a bathhouse, sir,” Evans declared.  I ought to admonish him for invading.

“I think we should wash road dust off us,” he continued.

Splashes reverberated through the bathhouse as we approached.  Through an archway, we saw Donna Moreno, absent her outer garments, cleansing her breast.  Our scuffles drew her attention.  She fetched a towel and approached.

“Ladies in Spain,” she explained, “require privacy whilst bathing.  We have a bench around the corner were you may wait your turn.”

She returned to her bath.  My gaze lingered.  Though a bit thin for my tastes, I could not deny her beauty:  her coal-black hair shone like moonlit brooks; endearing doe-like eyes set in a perfect oval; her breasts (of which Evans I received full visage) complimented her form, retaining firmness, and every aspect, of youth, and her gait shared the grace and precision of Broadway's finest dancers.  She exited , and I watched until she entered the mansion. Inside the bath, Evans splashed about while I luxuriated in a spa large enough for eight bathers.

Dinner, despite the table presence of household staff, impressed:  Grilled fish, baked foul, lentil soup, sliced beets, hearty bread and orchard fruits, peeled and sliced.

“Everything you see here,” she said, “grows on our lands.”

“Avoid the oranges, Evans.  They are bound to be bitter.”

“These are Valencian oranges.  You floated past their orchard when you arrived.”

“Pardon, Doña Antonia,” Evans interrupted, “will Don Moreno join us?”

“My regrets Mr. Evans.  My late husband joined General Prim's revolt in Cadiz a few years back.  He fell when General O'Donnel suppressed the revolt.”

“So your husband was a revolutionary?” I heard Spaniards could not rule their country in peace.

“He fought to restore the Constitution of 1812.  My husband showed valor, Mr. Bridgehead, and gave his life for a better Spain.  He deserves the full measure of your respect.”

“Indeed, madam,” I retreated, “but indulge me a curiosity.”  She nodded her assent.  “Prim?  O'Donnel? Does Spain maintain mercenary armies?”

“Both generals were born in Spain to families well established here.  Together, they conquered Morocco for Queen Isabella.  General O'Donnel supported Navarez's despotism; General Prim insisted on democracy. Although Prim succeeded, he, in the end, paid for his beliefs.”

“Democracy is a grand thing.  It stabilizes nations,” I asserted.

“As with your country, sir?  Did your democracy not engage in savage civil war?”

There, she had me.  Content mattered little.  Whenever her brick-red lips parted revealing Dover-white teeth, attention to logic and reason melted.  For the next week, we spent every day together, growing more and more familiar.  We walked her gardens, harvested melons, picked peaches and thoroughly enjoyed each others company.  Since Margaret's mother died during childbirth, I concentrated on building my fortune and providing for my child.  Margaret grew into a fine woman, and it was time to rededicate my endeavors.

After the young couple arrived, I interviewed Don with Evans' help, and his answers satisfied me.  He seemed impatient, but I asked one last question before he escaped.

“Does your mother harbor any faults?”

Ella tolera a tontos viejos demasiado fácilmente,” he said and left in a huff.

“She tolerates old fools too easily,” Evans translated.

Something to guard against now that we are to wed our fortunes together.  We agreed on a double ceremony, here, at her mansion.  Mother, son, father and daughter all to wed in her lovely courtyard.  Though Donna insisted on covering all expenses, I sent Evans home to liquidate my estate and wire me the proceeds.  I believe I found a most remarkable woman with whom I'll enjoy my remaining years.

“Lady Antonia's the type to make every sacrifice for her children,” Evans agreed.

“I don't think we'll ever find out.  No more children for us, Evans.  Neither of us are spring chickens.”

WDC Word Count: 1987
© C

© 2017 Chopstix

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Added on February 9, 2017
Last Updated on February 9, 2017
Tags: Spain, Steamboat, Cadiz, Seville, bilge



Los Angeles, CA

In high school, I wrote lyrics. I started college writing poems and switched to short stories. After college, I discovered I could write computer programs, but I could not finish a novel (kept editi.. more..