Voyager

Author: P Hana

Page 112

   

Jamie listened with attention, a slight smile on his lips. While he had no great interest in ancient money himself, he did have a great appreciation for a man with a passion.

A quarter of an hour more, another consultation of the catalogue, and the business was complete. Four Greek drachmas of a type Jamie recognized had been added to the collection, several small gold and silver coins, and a thing called a quintinarius, a Roman coin in heavy gold.

Mayer bent and reached into his pack once more, this time pulling out a sheaf of foolscap pages furled into a roll and tied with ribbon. Untied, they showed row upon row of what looked from a distance like bird tracks; on closer inspection, they proved to be Hebraic writing, inked small and precise.

He thumbed slowly through the pages, stopping here and there with a murmured “Um,” then passing on. At last he laid the pages on his shabby knee and looked up at Jamie, head cocked to one side.

“Our transactions are naturally carried out in confidence, Monsieur,” he said, “and so while I could tell you, for example, that certainly we had sold such and such a coin, in such and such a year, I should not be able to tell you the name of the purchaser.” He paused, evidently thinking, then went on.

“We did in fact sell coins of your description—three drachmas, two each of the heads of Egalabalus and the double head of Alexander, and no fewer than six of the gold Calpurnian aurei in the year 1745.” He hesitated.

“Normally, that is all I could tell you. However…in this case, Monsieur, I happen to know that the original buyer of these coins is dead—has been dead for some years, in fact. Really, I cannot see that under the circumstances…” He shrugged, making up his mind.

“The purchaser was an Englishman, Monsieur. His name was Clarence Marylebone, Duke of Sandringham.”

“Sandringham!” I exclaimed, startled into speech.

Mayer looked curiously at me, then at Jamie, whose face betrayed nothing beyond polite interest.

“Yes, Madame,” he said. “I know that the Duke is dead, for he possessed an extensive collection of ancient coins, which my uncle bought from his heirs in 1746—the transaction is listed here.” He raised the catalogue slightly, and let it fall.

I knew the Duke of Sandringham was dead, too, and by more immediate experience. Jamie’s godfather, Murtagh, had killed him, on a dark night in March 1746, soon before the battle of Culloden brought an end to the Jacobite rebellion. I swallowed briefly, recalling my last sight of the Duke’s face, its blueberry eyes fixed in an expression of intense surprise.

Mayer’s eyes went back and forth between us, then he added hesitantly, “I can tell you also this; when my uncle purchased the Duke’s collection after his death, there were no tetradrachms in it.”

“No,” Jamie murmured, to himself. “There wouldn’t have been.” Then, recollecting himself, he stood and reached for the decanter that stood on the sideboard.

“I thank you, Mayer,” he said formally. “And now, let us drink to you and your wee book, there.”

A few minutes later, Mayer was kneeling on the floor, doing up the fastenings of his ragged pack. The small pouch filled with silver livres that Jamie had given him in payment was in his pocket. He rose and bowed in turn to Jamie and to me before straightening and putting on his disreputable hat.

“I bid you goodbye, Madame,” he said.

“Goodbye to you, too, Mayer,” I replied. Then I asked, somewhat hesitantly, “Is ‘Mayer’ really your only name?”

Something flickered in the wide blue eyes, but he answered politely, heaving the heavy sack onto his back, “Yes, Madame. The Jews of Frankfort are not allowed to use family names.” He looked up and smiled lopsidedly. “For the sake of convenience, the neighbors call us after an old red shield that was painted on the front of our house, many years ago. But beyond that…no, Madame. We have no name.”

Josephine came then to conduct our visitor to the kitchen, taking care to walk several paces in front of him, her nostrils pinched white as though smelling something foul. Mayer stumbled after her, his clumsy sabots clattering on the polished floor.

Jamie relaxed in his chair, eyes abstracted in deep thought.

I heard the door close downstairs a few minutes later, with what was almost a slam, and the click of sabots on the stone steps below. Jamie heard it too, and turned toward the window.

“Well, Godspeed to ye, Mayer Red-Shield,” he said, smiling.

“Jamie,” I said, suddenly thinking of something, “do you speak German?”

“Eh? Oh, aye,” he said vaguely, his attention still fixed on the window and the noises outside.

“What is ‘red shield’ in German?” I asked.

He looked blank for a moment, then his eyes cleared as his brain made the proper connection.

“Rothschild, Sassenach,” he said. “Why?”

“Just a thought,” I said. I looked toward the window, where the clatter of wooden shoes was long since lost in the noises of the street. “I suppose everyone has to start somewhere.”

“Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest,” I observed. “Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum.”

Jamie gave me a look.

“Oh, aye?” he said.

“The Duke being the dead man,” I explained. “Do you think the seals’ treasure was really his?”

“I couldna say for sure, but it seems at least likely.” Jamie’s two stiff fingers tapped briefly on the table in a meditative rhythm. “When Jared mentioned Mayer the coin dealer to me, I thought it worth inquiring—for surely the most likely person to have sent the Bruja to retrieve the treasure was the person who put it there.”

“Good reasoning,” I said, “but evidently it wasn’t the same person, if it was the Duke who put it there. Do you think the whole treasure amounted to fifty thousand pounds?”

Jamie squinted at his reflection in the rounded side of the decanter, considering. Then he picked it up and refilled his glass, to assist thought.

“Not as metal, no. But did ye notice the prices that some of those coins in Mayer’s catalogue have sold for?”

“I did.”

“As much as a thousand pound—sterling!—for a moldy bit of metal!” he said, marveling.

“I don’t think metal molds,” I said, “but I take your point. Anyway,” I said, dismissing the question with a wave of my hand, “the point here is this; do you suppose the seals’ treasure could have been the fifty thousand pounds that the Duke had promised to the Stuarts?”

In the early days of 1744, when Charles Stuart had been in France, trying to persuade his royal cousin Louis to grant him some sort of support, he had received a ciphered offer from the Duke of Sandringham, of fifty thousand pounds—enough to hire a small army—on condition that he enter England to retake the throne of his ancestors.

Whether it had been this offer that finally convinced the vacillating Prince Charles to undertake his doomed excursion, we would never know. It might as easily have been a challenge from someone he was drinking with, or a slight—real or imagined—by his mistress, that had sent him to Scotland with nothing more than six companions, two thousand Dutch broadswords, and several casks of brandywine with which to charm the Highland chieftains.

In any case, the fifty thousand pounds had never been received, because the Duke had died before Charles reached England. Another of the speculations that troubled me on sleepless nights was the question of whether that money would have made a difference. If Charles Stuart had received it, would he have taken his ragged Highland army all the way to London, retaken the throne and regained his father’s crown?

If he had—well, if he had, the Jacobite rebellion might have succeeded, Culloden might not have happened, I should never have gone back through the circle of stone…and I and Brianna would likely both have died in childbed and been dust these many years past. Surely twenty years should have been enough to teach me the futility of “if.”

Jamie had been considering, meditatively rubbing the bridge of his nose.

“It might have been,” he said at last. “Given a proper market for the coins and gems—ye ken such things take time to sell; if ye must dispose of them quickly, you’ll get but a fraction of the price. But given long enough to search out good buyers—aye, it might reach fifty thousand.”

“Duncan Kerr was a Jacobite, wasn’t he?”

Jamie frowned, nodding. “He was. Aye, it could be—though God knows it’s an awkward kind of fortune to be handing to the commander of an army to pay his troops!”

“Yes, but it’s also small, portable, and easy to hide,” I pointed out. “And if you were the Duke, and busy committing treason by dealing with the Stuarts, that might be important to you. Sending fifty thousand pounds in sterling, with strongboxes and carriages and guards, would attract the hell of a lot more attention than sending one man secretly across the Channel with a small wooden box.”

Jamie nodded again. “Likewise, if ye had a collection of such rarities already, it would attract no attention to be acquiring more, and no one would likely notice what coins ye had. It would be a simple matter to take out the most valuable, replace them with cheap ones, and no one the wiser. No banker who might talk, were ye to shift money or land.” He shook his head admiringly.

“It’s a clever scheme, aye, whoever made it.” He looked up inquiringly at me.

“But then, why did Duncan Kerr come, nearly ten years after Culloden? And what happened to him? Did he come to leave the fortune on the silkies’ isle then, or to take it away?”

“And who sent the Bruja now?” I finished for him. I shook my head, too.

“Damned if I know. Perhaps the Duke had a confederate of some sort? But if he did, we don’t know who it was.”

Jamie sighed, and impatient with sitting for so long, stood up and stretched. He glanced out the window, estimating the height of the sun, his usual method of telling time, whether a clock was handy or not.

“Aye, well, we’ll have time for speculation once we’re at sea. It’s near on noon, now, and the Paris coach leaves at three o’clock.”

The apothecary’s shop in the Rue de Varennes was gone. In its place were a thriving tavern, a pawnbroker’s, and a small goldsmith’s shop, crammed companionably cheek by jowl.

“Master Raymond?” The pawnbroker knitted grizzled brows. “I have heard of him, Madame”—he darted a wary glance at me, suggesting that whatever he had heard had not been very admirable—“but he has been gone for several years. If you are requiring a good apothecary, though, Krasner in the Place d’Aloes, or perhaps Madame Verrue, near the Tuileries…” He stared with interest at Mr. Willoughby, who accompanied me, then leaned over the counter to address me confidentially.

“Might you be interested in selling your Chinaman, Madame? I have a client with a marked taste for the Orient. I could get you a very good price—with no more than the usual commission, I assure you.”

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