The book shop door bell rang. Not brother Rowley then… Esme Trundle paused in the hall and looked at the mirror on the wall. She adjusted the velvet choker around her neck and tidied away a stray strand of hair. Then she took a deep breath, and opened wide the door.
‘Welcome, Sir Jasper Scabbard, or is it The Reverend Mr de Quincey?’ she smiled.
Jasper removed his hat and bowed as best he could with one arm in a high sling. ‘For you, Madam Trundle, I am happy to be whatever you would wish…’
‘That is a very foolish thing for any man to say to a woman, inviting her to try and change or mould him to her requirements.’ smiled Esme. ‘It sows the seeds for future resentments and regrets – not of course that it is any business of mine how you wish to conduct yourself in the future… What am I thinking of? Don’t just stand there, you poor man, you look quite worn out. Let me lead you up to your room – can you manage the stairs? Come, let me take your good arm… Here we are – now just back along this corridor to the front of the house… And this is the room on the right.’
It was a large room with a big bay window overlooking the square. Floral damask curtains framed the leaded panes, a deep piled and dark red patterned carpet covered almost all of the polished oak boarded floor, and there was the smell of apple wood smoke rising from the bright glow of the burning logs in the hearth under the figured marble mantelpiece. A wide bed with a colourful patchwork quilt had been set in a curtained alcove at the back of the room, and on the bedside table stood a large brass oil lamp surmounted by a dark green shade. A Staffordshire china washing bowl and ewer stood on the marble topped dressing table, and a large oak kneehole desk with another oil lamp was set against one wall.
A pair of obviously somewhat old but very comfortable deep leather arm chairs were set either side of the fireplace, with another pair in the bay. A cast iron chandelier hung from one of the beams, fresh flowers had been placed in a jug on the low table at the window, and there was a rocking chair in one corner with a large clothes chest nearby.
A tall ebony perch suitable for an aged pet bird stood in one corner. It had two cross pieces on which to stand so that any direction could be easily faced with the minimum of movement (quite a consideration for the elderly ornithore), a large earthenware feeding tray with compartments for fruit, seeds, millet, and grit, a porcelain water bowl around the rim of which were painted humming birds and kingfishers, a cuttle fish to peck on, and a book rest on which was secured a copy of the Cambridge Dictionary of Obscure Quotations.
‘Will this do?’ smiled Esme.
‘Oh, my dear, dear lady… It is absolutely perfect. And how kind you all are – after the dreadful way I have treated you…’
‘Never mind about that. It’s all in the past now, as far as I’m concerned. You and your men have more than redeemed yourselves. You are shivering a little – come, sit beside the fire. Would you like a foot stool?’
‘No, no, thank you, I am fine, fine. Oh, Esme, ’ he sighed, ‘You’ve no idea how pleased I am to see you.’
Yes I have Jasper.’ she replied, squeezing his hand. ‘As pleased as I am to see you, I believe.’
‘You mean…?’ said Jasper, as he felt a stab of the most intense and abiding happiness.
‘You know very well what I mean. We are both adults and know exactly what is happening between us. I think that neither of us have the time nor inclination to pretend or tease, or posture or play games, or circle around each other, testing and torturing to prove or confirm what we may or may not suspect.’
‘But what if my conduct is but a part of a plan to save myself from the gallows?’
‘You are an extremely clever man – you must be to have survived so long in your profession. And I am sure that you can employ the most complex stratagems to achieve your ends. And it is possible that someone such as yourself could place themselves so high in our esteem that we would allow them to sail away, possibly also with all their ill gotten gains so far accrued before coming amongst us.’
‘That was Mr Speke’s intention.’
‘But it was not yours, was it? There have been many indications of your preferred hopes, and anyway, your conduct towards me has been without reproach. You have made none of the overtures that might have been expected if you had wished to use my goodwill or services for ulterior ends. There has been a spark struck between us, and I judge that to be a true and honest feeling.’
Esme sank down beside his chair and took his hand again. ‘Any doubts I had vanished when I heard you had been shot. The rumour arrived at Richpickings before the true intelligence, and I understood that you had been killed. I felt such a grief then, with the barely acknowledged possibilities dashed completely, that I knew exactly where I stood.’
‘Oh, my dear lady,’ said Jasper, putting his uninjured arm around her shoulders, ‘I am so sorry. And you should know that for my part I felt that spark the day you so bravely repelled me from your property, and with the spark came a certain bitterness and resignation that a glimpse of possible happiness was just that, a glimpse, and nothing more. And whilst I have been out of Summerdale not a minute has passed, no, truly, not a minute, even in the heat of conflict, when I did not have in my mind’s eye the sight of you, wearing that choker, in that doorway, proud and brave and beautiful, your eyes blazing, and me, in these later changed circumstances, wondering how you would receive me on my return…’
‘Well now you know.’ said Esme tenderly, rising and kissing him on the brow. She squeezed his hand again. ‘But now I hear a shuffling in the corridor and some very loud discrete coughing, so let us compose ourselves… Is that you Rowley?’
Later that evening Rathbone called at the book shop.
‘Oh, good.’ said Esme. ‘Please come in Mr Rathbone. Jasper is up in his room and will be glad to see you. I was about to take him some refreshment – would you care to follow me upstairs?’
‘Evening, Sir J.’ said Rathbone, admiring the room. ‘This is nice and cosy.’
‘Indeed it is, old friend. How about your quarters? I think that you ought to take over my cabin on the Leopard in view of the future plans.’
‘I think perhaps not until the men have had the chance to talk about what’s on offer. I’m getting them all together tomorrow to explain the details, and hopefully you’ll then have a word as well. They don’t really have a choice in the circumstances, but the more they feel a part of it the happier they’ll be. And me taking over straight away is a bit of a fait accompli, don’t you think?’
‘You see how lucky I have been with a First Mate such as this?’
‘I do indeed.’ smiled Esme. ‘Well I’d best leave you gentlemen to discuss business.’
‘No, no,’ said Jasper. ‘Please stay, just for a moment…’
‘Very well.’ smiled Esme, standing by his chair with her hand on his uninjured shoulder.
Jasper coughed and cleared his throat. ‘You see before you an undeserving but very happy superannuated buccaneer.’
‘Excellent!’ grinned Rathbone. ‘I’d rather hoped that would be the case.’
‘Madame Trundle – Esme, and I both wanted you to know how we stand, although it is rather too early to be generally made known. I am anxious that the community should understand how genuine my intentions are, not just for myself and the crew, but for everyone.
I know how very lucky I am. Because of the goodwill shown to us the possibility of being permitted to settle in Summerdale had become a likely prospect, even if my future was just to be one of retirement, sitting by the Rowan listening to the ripple of the river, browsing amongst Mr Buckram’s books, helping out where kindly permitted, perhaps possibly pottering about in a little garden, to be remembered as a harmless soul…’
‘ “Oh rest ye, brother mariners, we will not wander more…” ’ said Tantamount. ‘ “And the woodbine’s spices are wafted abroad, and the musk of the rose is blown.” ‘
‘ “Take, take away the gaudy triumphs of the world, the long and deathless shallow shout of fame…” ‘
‘Exactly. Most apt.’ said Jasper, whilst Esme stifled a giggle. ‘But that simple prospect of modest contentment has been transformed by this very dear and lovely lady into one of happiness, with a bright and industrious future that could bring real benefits to many.’
‘Over four hundred years ago, before the Black Death, there were prosperous villages in High Summerdale.’ explained Esme. ‘But now most of that area has become a wilderness. Much of my own land is far from fully developed, and beyond it the fertile heath and woodland could well be made into a profitable estate. But it needs someone with vision, determination, and leadership, backed by the necessary investment, to undertake the task.’
‘Now I wonder who that could be?’ smiled Rathbone.
‘And it would please us both,’ continued Esme, ‘If once this merchant venture with the new United States of America was established, provided it suited you perhaps you might consider joining us to help manage such a project? There would be produce beyond the needs of Summerdale to sell elsewhere, to the growing manufacturing towns in Lancashire, and perhaps wider afield. You might also find someone, in your travels or here in Summerdale, with whom you could share a future as well?’
‘Well, that’s a happy thought indeed, but unlikely.’ said Rathbone. ‘Although, if I’m getting about a bit legitimately – who knows? Yes, my prospects seem to be getting rosier as well. I’ll take the liberty of saying that in my limited experience some people, when cupid strikes, can be a bit of a pain, what with all reason going out of the window and having to make up for them wandering about with their heads in the clouds, but with others, like your good selves, they spread a glow about them that lights up the cockles of your heart.’
‘Oh, dear Mr. Rathbone…’ said Esme, taking both his hands in hers. ‘We are so fortunate to have you as a friend.’
The Meeting of the Brotherhood
The pirates meeting was surprisingly orderly. Possibly because of the sobering effect of the Council Chamber in which it was held, or maybe because of the notice outside the Town Hall…
BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLACK LEOPARD
A Bright Future or Uncertain Death?
Sunday 3.0 p.m.
Absentees will be keelhauled
Rathbone chaired the meeting, with Rowley Buckram, the Mayor, and Sir Jasper also on the platform. Petty Officer Archibald was at one side with his own desk to take minutes, and as Purser to answer questions about finances.
The Cook was also sitting alone, not because of any specific function but rather more due to the extensive haze of hops, fermented yeast, and hooch fumes that hung about his person. His cat sat on his lap, glaring at Tantamount with the usual heartily reciprocated ill concealed loathing.
The meeting was called to order.
‘Mr. Purser, would you read the minutes of the last meeting please?’ said Rathbone.
‘What minutes?’ said Archibald. ‘Come to that, what meeting? Oh, I remember. But that was five years ago.’
‘Never mind – just stick to the procedures will you?’
‘Like to but can’t. We agreed to make a run for it, didn’t we? Despite the howling gale and the gunfire from the forts. God knows what happened to the papers in the chaos – probably got washed overboard.’
‘Very well. No matters arising from the minutes then, I take it?’
‘Not a lot…’
‘Wassee on about?’
‘I still think we should have reefed in that top-gallant.’ said Morry. ‘Lovely shade of eau-de-nil it was, beautiful stitching on the seams – blown to kingdom come by now.’
‘Yes, yes… Well we’d best get on with it. Have you all read the agenda?’
‘Well you should have. Copies were posted up on the Leopard, in the Inn, on the Town Hall notice board, and in the hallway of Mother Comfort’s House of Pleasure in Comehither Lane.
‘Oh, I saw that – bit preoccupied though, forgot to read it.’
‘Tough. You’ll just have to pick up the threads as we go along. Now, item one…
‘Excuse me – d’ye mind? Afore ye start…’
‘Yes? What is it?’
‘Foul Carnage MacCroon, Ordn’y S’man, Maj’sty’s pirate ship Black Leopard oot o’ wherever it were afore we painted it oot, ah forget noo.’
‘We all know who you are Carnage. What do you want?’
‘Dinna be like that. Ah’ve bin asked tae propose a vote o’ effing thanks tae the effing Mayor and t’ lads and lasses o’ Goldcaster. One’st it had bin all effing sorted ye could’na bin more hospitable like, ye ken wa’ ah’m saying? None o’ tha’ Embro ‘Ye’ll a had ye tea?’ palaver here, jimmy. Open hoos an’ warm welcome in all quarters by the way. An’ after the awfu start, an’ lucky no one effing deid, aye? So effing t’anks, an’ that…’
‘Well, thank you very much, Mr. MacCroon.’ said Mr Bagley. ‘I shall ensure that those warm sentiments are made known to all residents of Goldcaster.’
‘Thank you, Mr. Mayor…’ sighed Rathbone. ‘Now -ITEM ONE! – condition of the wounded. Oh, not you again Carnage…’
‘Aye. Ah reepresent the afflicted members of the crew, and in r’sponse tae ye own reques’ Mist’ Chairman, we ha’ drawn up a wee schedule affair, like…’ Carnage placed a pair of very battered string lashed spectacles upon his bony nose.
‘Ahem… Item; Strong represeentashuns tae desist fro’ callin us the Old Incapables. And asosheeated wi’ tha’ item such effing remarks as ‘not yet ready to begin walkin’ an’ talkin’ at tha same time yet’, d’ye mind?’
‘Point taken, Carnage. Knock it off you lot – they all got stuck in.’
‘Ah’m obleeged. Noo –Injuries; Item A – we’d like a wee bit list o’ any injuries to oor new Goldcaster frens slow in heelin’ like. Wi’ a view to visits, helpin’ oot, walkin’ the dog, bunches o’ grapes, whateffer – ye ken wa’ ah mean?’
‘Very thoughtful, thank you.’ said Mr Bagley. ‘I will attend to it.’
‘Aye, if ye will. And ah noo come to Injuries, item B – Our oon injuries an’ state o’ play as requested which are:
One broken index finger, left hand; light duties – review four weeks;
Sundry burns an’ bruises all healing well and owners already working;
One broken wrist and broken collar bone – getting bored, off sick until mended;
One broken ankle – same, only more bored, getting’ a wee bit tetchy ah’d say;
One wound in thigh frae yon Boswell fella’s nifty sword – mendin’ but slow job;
One dislocated shoulder – put back but still givin’ gip;
An’ Ordn’y S’man Onions wi’ a badly burnt hand, cracked heid, broken jaw and self-bitten tongue. Long job, tha’ laddie.
An’ finally o’ course ma oon poor wee footies wi’ twa toes effing caput by the way. Ah can hobble aboot like, but canna kick anyone yet.’
‘I wouldn’t call your feet ‘wee’, Carnage.’ said Rathbone. ‘They must be size fourteen if they’re a day…’
‘Thirteen treble E d’ye mind. Now ah’d like te end wi’ a wee word frae the baird hissel;
“Sair rins the Tweed hoocht, Jeannie,
Blithe towmond, bonnie skirl,
The Snowther’s blate the criff, Jeannie,
Wi’ birkie frae the sirl.
O ken ye Wullie Broon, Jeannie,
Whaur’s the limmer noo,
Flicht stricht the bricht licht fa’s, Jeannie,
An’ mony mair tae you.” ’
‘And mony mair to you, too, Carnage.’ said Jasper. ‘Very moving.’
‘Yes, indeed.’ said Rathbone. ‘Nice to see that Summerdale has brought out a gentler (if still unintelligible) side in you that nobody ever suspected… What is it Onions?’
‘I gog a giggle git og gog og a gig gell, and gats gen ig gent or me, an I’g gike go gib ig bag, an gos anygon go how gong ig gakes gor a goken gaw goo geel?’
‘Does anyone know what he’s on about?’ sighed Rathbone. ‘No thank you Carnage – I’d sooner have it English if possible.’
‘It’s quite simple.’ said Morry smugly. ‘He says he managed to get a little bit of gold off the big bell and that’s when it went for him, and he’d like to give it back, and does anyone know how long it takes for a broken jaw to heal?’
‘Yes, of course he can give it back, and well done for owning up. Now let’s think… yes, the last broken jaw we had was coming along nicely after about eight weeks, for what its worth. Unfortunately the patient got eaten by a shark then so I can’t say how long it would have taken to fully heal. Well, thank you for that report, Seaman MacCroon. I now call upon our Captain and Mr. Buckram to set out the details of the proposed reorganisation…’
The mood of the meeting became quite cheerful when the proposal was explained.
‘Sounds good to me Cap’n. Are there any alternatives?’
‘No. Though I suppose you could always join one of those expeditions to find the North West Passage, and freeze to death on some frail leaking vessel creaking as it was crushed in the pincers of an ice flow, surrounded by scurvy ridden crew gnawing at their shoe leather?’
‘Er, not busting keen on that, no…’
‘How about joining the Royal Navy with the prospect of being flogged to death for being insubordinate?’
‘I had some of that – jumped ship and joined you, if you remember?’
‘So you did. And if you joined again you’d be hung at the yardarm for desertion. Not much of a prospect, is it?’
‘Suppose not, Cap’n. Bit of a no-no really.’
‘I wouldn’t mind going and living on some island.’ said Eustace.
‘What, you? On an uninhabited island?’ said Clarence. ‘How would you manage?’
‘No, not an uninhabited island.’ said Eustace.
‘Well it jolly soon would be once the people realised you’d arrived.’
‘The back of my hand’s going to have a serious word with your earole in a minute…’
‘Order, order!’ said Rathbone. ‘Moving on – Financial Arrangements; Mr. Purser…’
‘Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Now, lads, you’ve heard how the Captain and Mr. Buckram will fund the start up, as we investment analysts call it, but what you’ll want to know is where the profit goes and what’ll be your shares. Well it is proposed that once we get going, from the net profit ten percent will go towards repayment of investments, fifteen percent to pension fund, fifteen percent to reserves, ten percent to contingency, and no less than fifty percent to be shared amongst crew of any particular voyage according to rank.’
There was a murmuring of approval amongst the meeting.
‘Yum, yum… Have some of that… Sounds good to me… Soon have shed loads stashed away…’
‘Mind you,’ said Archibald, ‘That’s how the net profit is split. That’s what’s left after the expenses are taken out of the Gross Revenue.’
‘Yeah, well, reasonable, that… Normal business practice, innit?… Yeah, fair enough. What are these expenses then?’
‘I’m glad you asked that. There’s the cost of cargo for each voyage, then there’s heating and lighting, repairs and maintenance, postage and communications, printing and stationery, advertising and promotion, accountancy costs…’
‘Who’s the accountant?’
‘Thought it might be. Is there more?’
‘Yes. Insurance, bank charges, harbour and other duties, bribes – sorry, professional fees, and staff entertainment. Alright?’
‘Suppose so. But we never had all that with piracy.’
‘We didn’t advertise too much – they’d have known we was coming.’
‘And as for the rest – we just took what we wanted…’
‘Very true.’ said Rathbone. ‘But with this method you don’t risk getting hung. And you get a good living and a future. Right – questions from the floor please – sensible ones preferably…’
‘Could someone spend time at sea, and then swap with another settled in Summerdale for a voyage or two for a bit of a change? If all concerned agreed?’
Those on the platform conferred together with shrugging of shoulders and nodding of heads.
‘We don’t see why not.’ said Mr Bagley. ‘As long as everyone was happy.’
‘How long are we likely to be ashore at various ports Mr Chairman? With regard to sightseeing opportunities and getting to know the residents an’ that?’
‘He means becoming acquainted with the local bed warmers. (New York’s good for that – all over you like a rash they are there.)’
‘There will be plenty of time for normal rest and recreation.’ said Rowley. ‘What with unloading and disposing of the cargo, taking on board local goods, making future arrangements, and so on.’
‘What are we going to call the old Leopard?’
‘Good question.’ said Jasper. ‘ She’ll have to be renamed – this particular leopard will have to change her spots. Let us have some suggestions later, gentlemen.’
‘How about The Witch of Summerdale?… I fancy the Lady Jane… What about the Goldcaster Belle – Har, har, har!…
‘I think we should call her The Gay Buccaneeer.’ said Morry.
‘Yes, most amusing.’ said Rathbone. ‘But let’s have suggestions in writing please and we’ll come to a decision during the refit.’
‘What if anyone misbehaves?’
‘You mean let all their mates down and be sent to Coventry for the rest of their life most of which will be spent looking over their shoulders to avoid a kicking, and lose their wages? Well, we’ll have to keep them in after the voyage, won’t we?’
‘But there’s no prison here.’
‘Soon build one, Sunny Jim. I’m prepared to take bookings for next year if you’re that interested? Is that it? Good – all those in favour (and you’d better be) raise your hands… My word – unanimous, what a surprise. Thank you gentlemen. Any other business? No? Right – meeting closed, time for tea.’
* * *
‘Have you had enough excitement for a while?’ asked Rowley.
‘I suppose so.’ said Elisabeth. ‘I must try and be content and reconcile myself to normal life I suppose, educating myself as best I can.’
Aunt Hetty smiled. ‘You couldn’t be more wrong girl. How would you like to come and stay with me for a while? You’d learn a little more about the craft, I promise you. And you’d meet my cousin Aquilegia – that would be an education on its own. Mind you we’d have to be back in a few weeks time – there’s something else afoot. And, if you want to take part in that, I think it will prove a most interesting experience. You could even bring some surprising books back I expect. But there’s others involved who have to agree first…’
She gestured towards the little group sitting in the sun on the other side of Mr Bagley’s garden.
‘It’s been a week since you returned to us,’ said Professor Paragon, ‘And your health appears much improved. When do you expect to be fully recovered?’
‘The sling was removed yesterday, ‘ said Jasper, ‘And your Aunt now permits me to use my arm again, provided I make no sudden movements yet. Within two or three weeks I should be back to normal. Her potions and poultices have been remarkably effective.’
‘I am glad for you – it could have been so much worse. And now the future looks bright, does it not? You are a very lucky man. Esme Trundle is a fine, handsome woman.’
Jasper looked towards Esme, who, with a basket on her arm, was picking blackberries on the hill below the garden with Tom and Rathbone, and laughing as the Midshipman was lifted high in the air to pluck the ripest fruit.
‘Very, very lucky.’ nodded Jasper.
‘ “A perfect woman, nobly planned…” ‘ said Tantamount.
‘Quite.’ said the Professor. ‘And you have the prospect of a very busy and fulfilling occupation in High Summerdale. But once you have settled, would you be interested in the occasional diversion on the side of right, possibly also giving some of your men an extra interest? With Esme’s full agreement of course. And with the absolute assurance that you none of you would be known or recognised.’
‘Well, yes, perhaps I might. Provided all was proceeding satisfactorily here and I was not to be too long away. I am most anxious to make amends in any way possible.’
‘Good. Very good. But where could we be of help and not run the risk of being caught up by our past?’
‘I promise you that would not be a problem and you would only be need for a moment.’
‘A moment only? But how can that be?’
‘I will explain presently, but first let me give you examples of the sort of situation that I have in mind. There are frequently troubled communities dominated by harsh organisations or corrupt government where intervention by you and your particularly talented crew would be ideal. Often the local people’s particular talents and advantages need reviving and they lack the leadership and ingenuity with which to oppose their oppressors.
Aunt Hetty has also indicated that she would be available to assist with certain special matters. And be assured, wherever I would send you, you would be a stranger and in no danger from being held to account for your past activities.
Would you and your key men be interested? They would be more than adequately rewarded and you yourself could obtain not only great satisfaction but also substantial material advantage for the future of yourself and Summerdale.’
‘I am of course very interested, but my first duty is now to the lady who has agreed to be my wife, and I feel that this is too soon to be away when we have so many things to attend to and so much to enjoy together…’
‘Believe me I fully appreciate that, and I would not suggest this if you were to be absent for more than the briefest time. The matter arose in conversation with my Aunt, and now she understands the special nature of the tasks I have in mind Esme is in full agreement.’
‘Really?’ said Jasper, rather surprised. He looked over the garden towards Esme. She waved happily to him and nodded her head. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I must consult with her, but if that really is the case, provided my men agree, we could well be available. But how could I be sure that I and my men would be unknown?’
‘But when I say you have nothing to fear, I really mean it. I promise you, you would be totally unknown because the opportunities of which I speak are in the future.’
‘In the future?!
‘Indeed. You and your team would travel forward in time for any endeavour and, however long it took to achieve the task, will return the next day in our time, all being well.’
‘Great heavens – can this really be possible?’
‘Oh, yes. And it is quite safe, I assure you, as long as we adhere strictly to the procedures. I do it all the time. We merely arrange for your molecular structures to be precisely teleported to the time and place determined. I would of course demonstrate for you the whole detailed process before asking you to commit yourself.’
Not having been in the Tabernacle when Professor Paragon had perilously returned home from his recent shopping trip, to his later regret Jasper failed at this point to doubt the supposed simplicity of the process. And I wonder, he thought, if I could secure my hidden French treasure… ‘Well, if time travel is as straightforward as you say…’
‘Oh, yes. But how would your men feel, arriving in unfamiliar environments, full of strange customs and surprises?’
‘I should think that they would take it in their stride. After all, when not attacking shipping, they’ve been doing that for years.’
‘I suppose they have.’ smiled the Professor. ‘Then would you be interested?’
‘Yes, Professor Paragon,’ said Jasper Scabbard. ‘I do believe I would…’
‘So – “Its cheerio, my deario,” ’squawked Tantamount, “I don’t mind if I do.” ’
And the seagulls circled slowly overhead…
Author of Dangerous Chimes, read more about Michael Macauley over here.