"'I, Jeronimus, am a man of phials, a measurer of powders on bronze scales, a potion brewer, an opium and arsenic merchant. The primped and perfumed Amsterdam burghers came to me in droves requiring cures for fevers, love balms, the miscarriage of a bastard child and, of course, poisons. Ah, poisons...'
"So speaks Jeronimus Cornelisz, thirty-year-old apothecary and undermerchant...and seriously deranged man.
"The Company is a novel based on the true story of the Dutch East India flagship, the Batavia, which foundered off the coast of Western Australia in 1629. Jeronimus Cornelisz, a man with mutiny, murder, rape and torture on his mind, assumes comand of the survivors, who all thought they were lucky to be alive. With Cornelisz in control, however, an extraordinary reign of terror begins, leaving those who survived wishing they had gone down with the ship."
My childhood echoed with tbe sound of whispering. The servants believed that I was conceived by tbe moon, born in the thirteenth lunar mouth. How the wet-nurses feared me. Crossing themselves, garlic cloves pinned to their aprons, they would watch me creep about my cot, eyes still closed, mewling like a newborn pup.
During her confinement, the servants said, my mother filled the rooms with armfuls of lilies and white lilac. She craved ewe's milk, warm and frothing straight from the teat, and took to gazing at the full moon through latticed windows.
Some explained she was frightened in her fourth month by the luminous reactions in the eyes of a white cat, others remembered the occasion of the bats, circling and swooping the terrace with red and flaming eyes.
My mother became distant, distracted, silent. At last refused to leave her room at all. Her harpsichord remained unplayed by the window and spiders wove intricate looms between the curled pages of her open music book.
They said that, teeth clenched, twisting her silk shawl into tourniquets, sweat beading her brow, my mother clung to the midwife. A sulphur-yellow moon rose outside the window and turned my mother's skin a deadly white.
From the Picador hardback edition, 2000.
About the Author:
Arabella Edge read English Literature at Bristol University in the UK and came out to Australia in 1992. She lives in Sydney with her husband Nick Gaze and his daughter Zoe. She has worked as a journalist on numerous business and consumer magazines, and her short stories have appeared in the literary magazines Westerly and Ulitarra. The Company is her first novel.
This novel was shortlisted the Miles Franklin Award in 2001.
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Last modified: January 30, 2006.