Voyager

Author: P Hana

Page 186

   

Grey smiled unhappily. “Trouble? Yes, you might call it trouble, with four plantation houses burnt, and over two hundred slaves gone—God knows where! But I vastly doubt that anyone will take notice of my social acquaintance, under the circumstances. Between fear of the Maroons and fear of the Chinaman, the whole island is in such a panic that a mere smuggler is the most negligible of trivialities.”

“It’s a great relief to me to be thought trivial,” Jamie said, very dryly. “Still, we’ll steal the boat. And if we’re taken, ye’ve never heard my name or seen my face, aye?”

Grey stared at him, a welter of emotions fighting for mastery of his features, amusement, fear, and anger among them.

“Is that right?” he said at last. “Let you be taken, watch them hang you, and keep quiet about it—for fear of smirching my reputation? For God’s sake, Jamie, what do you take me for?”

Jamie’s mouth twitched slightly.

“For a friend, John,” he said. “And if I’ll take your friendship—and your damned boat!—then you’ll take mine, and keep quiet. Aye?”

The Governor glared at him for a moment, lips pressed tight, but then his shoulders sagged in defeat.

“I will,” he said shortly. “But I should regard it as a great personal favor if you would endeavor not to be captured.”

Jamie rubbed a knuckle across his mouth, hiding a smile.

“I’ll try verra hard, John.”

The Governor sat down, wearily. There were deep circles under his eyes, and his impeccable linen was wilted; obviously he had not changed his clothes from the day before.

“All right. I don’t know where you’re going, and it’s likely better I don’t. But if you can, keep out of the sealanes north of Antigua. I sent a boat this morning, to ask for as many men as the barracks there can supply, marines and sailors both. They’ll be heading this way by the day after tomorrow at the latest, to guard the town and harbor against the escaped Maroons in case of an outright rebellion.”

I caught Jamie’s eye, and raised one brow in question, but he shook his head, almost imperceptibly. We had told the Governor of the uprising on the Yallahs River, and the escape of the slaves—something he had heard about from other sources, anyway. We had not told him what we had seen later that night, lying to under cover of a tiny cove, sails taken down to hide their whiteness.

The river was dark as onyx, but with a fugitive gleam from the broad expanse of water. We had heard them coming, and had time to hide before the ship came down upon us; the beating of drums and a savage exultation of many voices echoing through the river valley as the Bruja sailed past us, carried by the downward current. The bodies of the pirates no doubt lay somewhere upriver, left to rot peacefully among the frangipani and cedar.

The escaped slaves of the Yallahs River had not gone into the mountains of Jamaica, but out to sea, presumably to join Bouassa’s followers on Hispaniola. The townsfolk of Kingston had nothing to fear from the escaped slaves—but it was a good deal better that the Royal Navy should concentrate their attention here than on Hispaniola, where we were bound.

Jamie rose to take our leave, but Grey stopped him.

“Wait. Will you not require a safe place for your—for Mrs. Fraser?” He didn’t look at me, but at Jamie, eyes steady. “I should be honored if you would entrust her to my protection. She could stay here, in the Residence, until you return. No one would trouble her—or even need to know she was here.”

Jamie hesitated, but there was no gentle way to phrase it.

“She must go with me, John,” he said. “There is no choice about it; she must.”

Grey’s glance flickered to me, then away, but not before I had seen the look of jealousy in his eyes. I felt sorry for him, but there was nothing I could say; no way to tell him the truth.

“Yes,” he said, and swallowed noticeably. “I see. Quite.”

Jamie held out a hand to him. He hesitated for a moment, but then took it.

“Good luck, Jamie,” he said, voice a little husky. “God go with you.”

Fergus had been somewhat more difficult to deal with. He had insisted absolutely on accompanying us, offering argument after argument, and arguing the more vehemently when he found that the Scottish smugglers would sail with us.

“You take them, but you will go without me?” Fergus’s face was alive with indignation.

“I will,” Jamie said firmly. “The smugglers are widowers or bachelors, all, but you’re a marrit man.” He glanced pointedly at Marsali, who stood watching the discussion, her face drawn with anxiety. “I thought she was oweryoung to be wed, and I was wrong; but I know she’s oweryoung to be widowed. You’ll stay.” And he turned aside, the matter settled.

It was full dark when we set sail in Grey’s pinnace, a thirty-foot, single-decked sloop, leaving two docksmen bound and gagged in the boathouse behind us. It was a small, single-masted ship, bigger than the fishing boat in which we had traveled up the Yallahs River, but barely large enough to qualify for the designation “ship.”

Nonetheless, she seemed seaworthy enough, and we were soon out of Kingston Harbor, heeling over in a brisk evening breeze, on our way toward Hispaniola.

The smugglers handled the sailing among them, leaving Jamie, Lawrence and I to sit on one of the long benches along the rail. We chatted desultorily of this and that, but after a time, fell silent, absorbed in our own thoughts.

Jamie yawned repeatedly, and finally, at my urging, consented to lie down upon the bench, his head resting in my lap. I was myself strung too tightly to want to sleep.

Lawrence too was wakeful, staring upward into the sky, hands folded behind his head.

“There is moisture in the air tonight,” he said, nodding upward toward the silver sliver of the crescent moon. “See the haze about the moon? It may rain before dawn; unusual for this time of year.”

Talk about the weather seemed sufficiently boring to soothe my jangled nerves. I stroked Jamie’s hair, thick and soft under my hand.

“Is that so?” I said. “You and Jamie both seem able to read the weather from the sky. All I know is the old bit about ‘Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky at morning, sailor take warning.’ I didn’t notice what color the sky was tonight, did you?”

Lawrence laughed comfortably. “Rather a light purple,” he said. “I cannot say whether it will be red in the morning, but it is surprising how frequently such signs are reliable. But of course there is a scientific principle involved—the refraction of light from the moisture in the air, just as I observed presently of the moon.”

I lifted my chin, enjoying the breeze that lifted the heavy hair that fell on my neck.

“But what about odd phenomena? Supernatural things?” I asked him. “What about things where the rules of science seem not to apply?” I am a scientist, I heard him say in memory, his slight accent seeming only to reinforce his matter-of-factness. I don’t believe in ghosts.

“Such as what, these phenomena?”

“Well—” I groped for a moment, then fell back on Geilie’s own examples. “People who have bleeding stigmata, for example? Astral travel? Visions, supernatural manifestations…odd things, that can’t be explained rationally.”

Lawrence grunted, and settled his bulk more comfortably on the bench beside me.

“Well, I say it is the place of science only to observe,” he said. “To seek cause where it may be found, but to realize that there are many things in the world for which no cause shall be found; not because it does not exist, but because we know too little to find it. It is not the place of science to insist on explanation—but only to observe, in hopes that the explanation will manifest itself.”

“That may be science, but it isn’t human nature,” I objected. “People go on wanting explanations.”

“They do.” He was becoming interested in the discussion; he leaned back, folding his hands across his slight paunch, in a lecturer’s attitude. “It is for this reason that a scientist constructs hypotheses—suggestions for the cause of an observation. But a hypothesis must never be confused with an explanation—with proof.

“I have seen a great many things which might be described as peculiar. Fish-falls, for instance, where a great many fish—all of the same species, mind you, all the same size—fall suddenly from a clear sky, over dry land. There would appear to be no rational cause for this—and yet, is it therefore suitable to attribute the phenomenon to supernatural interference? On the face of it, does it seem more likely that some celestial intelligence should amuse itself by flinging shoals of fish at us from the sky, or that there is some meteorological phenomenon—a waterspout, a tornado, something of the kind?—that while not visible to us, is still in operation? And yet”—his voice became more pensive—“why—and how!—might a natural phenomenon such as a waterspout remove the heads—and only the heads—of all the fish?”

“Have you seen such a thing yourself?” I asked, interested, and he laughed.

“There speaks a scientific mind!” he said, chuckling. “The first thing a scientist asks—how do you know? Who has seen it? Can I see it myself? Yes, I have seen such a thing—three times, in fact, though in one case the precipitation was of frogs, rather than fish.

“Were you near a seashore or a lake?”

“Once near a shore, once near a lake—that was the frogs—but the third time, it took place far inland; some twenty miles from the nearest body of water. And yet the fish were of a kind I have seen only in the deep ocean. In none of the cases did I see any sort of disturbance of the upper air—no clouds, no great wind, none of the fabled spouts of water that rise from the sea into the sky, assuredly. And yet the fish fell; so much is a fact, for I have seen them.”

“And it isn’t a fact if you haven’t seen it?” I asked dryly.

He laughed in delight, and Jamie stirred, murmuring against my thigh. I smoothed his hair, and he relaxed into sleep again.

“It may be so; it may not. But a scientist could not say, could he? What is it the Christian Bible says—‘Blest are they who have not seen, but have believed’?”

“That’s what it says, yes.”

“Some things must be accepted as fact without provable cause.” He laughed again, this time without much humor. “As a scientist who is also a Jew, I have perhaps a different perspective on such phenomena as stigmata—and the idea of resurrection of the dead, which a very great proportion of the civilized world accepts as fact beyond question. And yet, this skeptical view is not one I could even breathe, to anyone save yourself, without grave danger of personal harm.”

“Doubting Thomas was a Jew, after all,” I said, smiling. “To begin with.”

“Yes; and only when he ceased to doubt, did he become a Christian—and a martyr. One could argue that it was surety that killed him, no?” His voice was heavy with irony. “There is a great difference between those phenomena which are accepted on faith, and those which are proved by objective determination, though the cause of both may be equally ‘rational’ once known. And the chief difference is this: that people will treat with disdain such phenomena as are proved by the evidence of the senses, and commonly experienced—while they will defend to the death the reality of a phenomenon which they have neither seen nor experienced.

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