Voyager

Author: P Hana

Page 118

   

“The New Testament?” I saw no particular relevance to that, and said so.

“Oh, but there is, milady—or might be, I should say,” Fergus corrected himself. “You see, the booklet was one that milord himself had printed.”

“I see,” I said slowly, “or at least I’m beginning to.”

Fergus nodded gravely. “To have the Customs trace brandy from the points of delivery to the brothel would be bad, of course, but not fatal—another hiding place could be found; in fact, milord has arrangements with the owners of two taverns that…but that is of no matter.” He waved it away. “But to have the agents of the Crown connect the notorious smuggler Jamie Roy with the respectable Mr. Malcolm of Carfax Close…” He spread his hands wide. “You see?”

I did. Were the Customs to get too close to his smuggling operations, Jamie could merely disperse his assistants, cease frequenting his smugglers’ haunts, and disappear for a time, retreating into his guise as a printer until it seemed safe to resume his illegal activities. But to have his two identities both detected and merged was not only to deprive him of both his sources of income, but to arouse such suspicion as might lead to discovery of his real name, his seditious activities, and thence to Lallybroch and his history as rebel and convicted traitor. They would have evidence to hang him a dozen times—and once was enough.

“I certainly do see. So Jamie wasn’t only worried about Laoghaire and Hobart MacKenzie, when he told Ian he thought it would be as well for us to skip to France for a bit.”

Paradoxically, I felt somewhat relieved by Fergus’s revelations. At least I hadn’t been single-handedly responsible for Jamie’s exile. My reappearance might have precipitated the crisis with Laoghaire, but I had had nothing to do with any of this.

“Exactly, milady. And still, we do not know for certain that one of the men has betrayed us—or whether, even if there should be a traitor among them, he should wish to kill milord.”

“That’s a point.” It was, but not a large one. If one of the smugglers had undertaken to betray Jamie for money, that was one thing. If it was for some motive of personal vengeance, though, the man might well feel compelled to take matters into his own hands, now that we were—temporarily, at least—out of reach of the King’s Customs.

“If so,” Fergus was continuing, “it will be one of six men—the six milord sent me to collect, to sail with us. These six were present both when the casks fell, and when the shed caught fire; all have been to the brothel.” He paused. “And all of them were present on the road at Arbroath, when we were ambushed, and found the exciseman hanged.”

“Do they all know about the printshop?”

“Oh, no, milady! Milord has always been most careful to let none of the smuggling men know of that—but it is always possible that one of them shall have seen him on the streets in Edinburgh, followed him to Carfax Close, and so learned of A. Malcolm.” He smiled wryly. “Milord is not the most inconspicuous of men, milady.”

“Very true,” I said, matching his tone. “But now all of them know Jamie’s real name—Captain Raines calls him Fraser.”

“Yes,” he said, with a faint, grim smile. “That is why we must discover whether we do indeed sail with a traitor—and who it is.”

Looking at him, it occurred to me for the first time that Fergus was indeed a grown man now—and a dangerous one. I had known him as an eager, squirrel-toothed boy of ten, and to me, something of that boy would always remain in his face. But some time had passed since he had been a Paris street urchin.

Marsali had remained staring out to sea during most of this discussion, preferring to take no risk of having to converse with me. She had obviously been listening, though, and now I saw a shiver pass through her thin shoulders—whether of cold or apprehension, I couldn’t tell. She likely hadn’t planned on shipping with a potential murderer when she had agreed to elope with Fergus.

“You’d better take Marsali below,” I said to Fergus. “She’s going blue round the edges. Don’t worry,” I said to Marsali, in a cool voice, “I shan’t be in the cabin for some time.”

“Where are you going, milady?” Fergus was squinting at me, slightly suspicious. “Milord will not wish you to be—”

“I don’t mean to,” I assured him. “I’m going to the galley.”

“The galley?” His fine black brows shot up.

“To see whether Aloysius O’Shaughnessy Murphy has anything to suggest for seasickness,” I said. “If we don’t get Jamie back on his feet, he isn’t going to care whether anyone cuts his throat or not.”

Murphy, sweetened by an ounce of dried orange peel and a bottle of Jared’s best claret, was quite willing to oblige. In fact, he seemed to consider the problem of keeping food in Jamie’s stomach something of a professional challenge, and spent hours in mystic contemplation of his spice rack and pantries—all to no avail.

We encountered no storms, but the winter winds drove a heavy swell before them, and the Artemis rose and fell ten feet at a time, laboring up and down the great glassy peaks of the waves. There were times, watching the hypnotic rise and lurch of the taffrail against the horizon, when I felt a few interior qualms of my own, and turned hastily away.

Jamie showed no signs of being about to fulfill Jared’s heartening prophecy and spring to his feet, suddenly accustomed to the motion. He remained in his berth, the color of rancid custard, moving only to stagger to the head, and guarded in turns day and night by Mr. Willoughby and Fergus.

On the positive side of things, none of the six smugglers made any move that might be considered threatening. All expressed a sympathetic concern for Jamie’s welfare, and—carefully watched—all had visited him briefly in his cabin, with no suspicious circumstances attending.

For my part, I spent the days in exploring the ship, attending to such small medical emergencies as arose from the daily business of sailing—a smashed finger, a cracked rib, bleeding gums and an abscessed tooth—and pounding herbs and making medicines in a corner of the galley, allowed to work there by Murphy’s grace.

Marsali was absent from our shared cabin when I rose, already asleep when I returned to it, and silently hostile when the cramped confines of shipboard forced us to meet on deck or over meals. I assumed that the hostility was in part the result of her natural feelings for her mother, and in part the result of frustration over passing her night hours in my company, rather than Fergus’s.

For that matter, if she remained untouched—and judging from her sullen demeanor, I was reasonably sure she did—it was owing entirely to Fergus’s respect for Jamie’s dictates. In terms of his role as guardian of his stepdaughter’s virtue, Jamie himself was a negligible force at the moment.

“Wot, not the broth, too?” Murphy said. The cook’s broad red face lowered menacingly. “Which I’ve had folk rise from their deathbeds after a sup of that broth!”

He took the pannikin of broth from Fergus, sniffed at it critically, and thrust it under my nose.

“Here, smell that, missus. Marrow bones, garlic, caraway seed, and a lump o’ pork fat to flavor, all strained careful through muslin, same as some folks bein’ poorly to their stomachs can’t abide chunks, but chunks you’ll not find there, not a one!”

The broth was in fact a clear golden brown, with an appetizing smell that made my own mouth water, despite the excellent breakfast I had made less than an hour before. Captain Raines had a delicate stomach, and in consequence had taken some pains both in the procurement of a cook and the provisioning of the galley, to the benefit of the officers’ table.

Murphy, with a wooden leg and the general dimensions of a rum cask, looked the picture of a thoroughgoing pirate, but in fact had a reputation as the best sea-cook in Le Havre—as he had told me himself, without the least boastfulness. He considered cases of seasickness a challenge to his skill, and Jamie, still prostrate after four days, was a particular affront to him.

“I’m sure it’s wonderful broth,” I assured him. “It’s just that he can’t keep anything down.”

Murphy grunted dubiously, but turned and carefully poured the remains of the broth into one of the numerous kettles that steamed day and night over the galley fire.

Scowling horribly and running one hand through the wisps of his scanty blond hair, he opened a cupboard and closed it, then bent to rummage through a chest of provisions, muttering under his breath.

“A bit o’ hardtack, maybe?” he muttered. “Dry, that’s what’s wanted. Maybe a whiff o’ vinegar, though; tart pickle, say…”

I watched in fascination as the cook’s huge, sausage-fingered hands flicked deftly through the stock of provisions, plucking dainties and assembling them swiftly on a tray.

“’Ere, let’s try this, then,” he said, handing me the finished tray. “Let ’im suck on the pickled gherkins, but don’t let ’im bite ’em yet. Then follow on with a bite of the plain hardtack—there ain’t no weevils in it yet, I don’t think—but see as he don’t drink water with it. Then a bite of gherkin, well-chewed, to make the spittle flow, a bite of hardtack, and so to go on with. That much stayin’ down, then, we can proceed to the custard; which it’s fresh-made last evening for the Captain’s supper. Then if that sticks…” His voice followed me out of the galley, continuing the catalogue of available nourishment. “…milk toast, which it’s made with goat’s milk, and fresh-milked, too…

“…syllabub beat up well with whisky and a nice egg…” boomed down the passageway as I negotiated the narrow turn with the loaded tray, carefully stepping over Mr. Willoughby, who was as usual crouched in a corner of the passage by Jamie’s door like a small blue lapdog.

One step inside the cabin, though, I could see that the exercise of Murphy’s culinary skill was going to be once again in vain. In the usual fashion of a man feeling unwell, Jamie had managed to arrange his surroundings to be as depressing and uncomfortable as possible. The tiny cabin was dank and squalid, the cramped berth covered with a cloth so as to exclude both light and air, and half-piled with a tangle of clammy blankets and unwashed clothes.

“Rise and shine,” I said cheerfully. I set down the tray and pulled off the makeshift curtain, which appeared to be one of Fergus’s shirts. What light there was came from a large prism embedded in the deck overhead. It struck the berth, illuminating a countenance of ghastly pallor and baleful mien.

He opened one eye an eighth of an inch.

“Go away,” he said, and shut it again.

“I’ve brought you some breakfast,” I said firmly.

The eye opened again, coldly blue and gelid.

“Dinna mention the word ‘breakfast’ to me,” he said.

“Call it luncheon then,” I said. “It’s late enough.” I pulled up a stool next to him, picked a gherkin from the tray, and held it invitingly under his nose. “You’re supposed to suck on it,” I told him.

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