Authors: Marie Jakober
Each of the North American provinces had its own elected parliament and a measure of self-rule, but all were under the authority of the British crown, administered by the governor general, whose capital was maintained at Spencer Hall in Quebec. In late 1861, this office was taken over by Charles Stanley, Lord Monck. The governor general bore the ultimate responsibility for British North America’s security and defence. When the Civil War began, his most critical task was to prevent the use of colonial territory as a base for acts of war, and thereby to preserve its neutrality and peace.
A variety of terms were used to refer to the two sides in the American Civil War. Here are the most common:
United States of America:
the Union, the North, Northerners, Yankees, Unionist, Federal
Confederate States of America:
the Confederacy, the South, Southerners, Rebels, Rebs, Johnny Rebs, Confederate
The term “Grey Tories” is an invention of the author, referring to those Canadians who actively supported the Confederate cause.
Just as today, the meanings of the words “east” and “west” varied in Canada depending on one’s location. In Nova Scotia, “the West” generally referred to the settled areas west of the Maritime provinces, i.e., Quebec and Ontario. In Montreal, “the West” generally meant Ontario, not the Prairies.
The Confederacy has its hand on the mane of the British lion, and that beast, so formidable to all the rest of the world, must crouch at her bidding.
(Richmond), December 1861
The people of Canada … are not prepared to support any Government in a wanton interference in matters with which it has no concern, and more especially they have no desire to fight on behalf of the Southern slave power.
(Toronto), November 1862
Of all things, at once the most unjustifiable and the most impolitic is an unsuccessful Intervention.
(London), November 1862
Halifax, July 7, 1864
We shall do such deeds within the next three months as shall make European civilization shudder.
—Unidentified Confederate agent,
quoted by John Cordner, Montreal, 1864
NOTHER TOAST, MY FRIEND
,” the Carolinian suggested, pouring generously. His name—or at least the name he chose to use here—was Maury Janes. “To the Vessel of Retribution!”
Erryn Shaw smiled, clinked glass to glass, and drank. The vessel in question, the English
, was sitting down at Taylor’s Wharf at the moment, grubby and tired-looking in the late evening sun. She was, as far as he could judge, the most ordinary ship imaginable, laden as usual with ordinary goods. All day she had rested at anchor, yielding up blankets and cast iron cookstoves and second-rate rum, while blockade-runners were slipping into Southern ports with desperately needed weapons and supplies, and Confederate commerce raiders prowled the seas, burning Yankee ships from Newfoundland to India. It was remarkable, to say the least, that anyone would call such a scruffy English freighter the Vessel of Retribution.
Erryn knew his companion was given to strong statements, even to exaggeration sometimes, but he had no reason to believe the man was mad. And Janes was happy tonight, triumphant, a fact all the more remarkable because he rarely showed feelings of any sort; indeed, there were times when Erryn wondered if he had any. Janes had never mentioned his age, but Erryn guessed him as close to forty, a man of average height and build, with indifferent features and straight, dull brown hair—the sort of man who looked like everyone’s fourth cousin. The fine waistcoat and trousers he had bought for tonight’s celebration were appropriately expensive, but they did not give him any kind of style. They seemed, instead, an elaborate costume on an actor unsuited for his role. Janes was never going to be gentry, however hard he tried.
Erryn regarded him thoughtfully, remembering the first time they met, back in October, the first time Janes had spoken of his unlikely mission:
If this comes off like it should, it’s going to end the war.
At the time Erryn considered it a reckless promise, and nothing had passed since to make him change his mind. Even as they sat together, superbly wined and dined in the mahogany-panelled confines of the Halifax Club, the war in the States went on relentlessly. The armies of Grant and Lee were dug in at Petersburg, in a brutal standoff that was likely to last for months. More Union and Confederate forces were going at it in the west. Abroad, the leaders of Europe watched and sniffed the wind, less willing than ever to intervene. Try as he might, Erryn could imagine nothing that would end the war any time soon, save a massive victory by one side or the other, or the defeat of Lincoln’s government in the fall elections. What could a nondescript North Carolina adventurer possibly ship in that might accomplish either of those things?
Unfortunately, it was not the sort of question one agent could ask another. Nor did it help that he disliked Maury Janes, and longed to dismiss him as a self-important ass.
Oh, certainly you’ll end the war, Mr. Janes … right around the time I turn into an orange salamander.
Erryn rose smoothly, smiling at the man who approached his table with two companions—a mountain of a man, well over six feet, and red-haired as a highland chieftain: James Dougal Orton, lawyer, businessman, philanthropist; and also, as it happened, one of the most eminent and respected Confederate supporters in Halifax.
“I have some guests who want to meet you, Shaw,” he said. “I mentioned you were here, and nothing would do but they must come over and shake your hand.”
There were introductions and greetings all round. One of Orton’s guests clasped Erryn’s hand warmly in both of his. “Honoured, Mr. Shaw. I’ve been hearing so much about you.”
“I worry when people say that sort of thing,” Erryn replied, smiling. “I fear they may have heard the truth.”
“Oh, I expect it’s all true. For instance, I’ve heard you smuggled a certain countryman of mine to safety, with the whole Yankee nation howling for his head on a plate. They say the law was closing from three sides, and the man just up and disappeared.”
The law was closing from three sides? Bloody hell; it gets better every time I hear it.
Erryn gave a small, self-dismissive shrug. “He must have found himself a conjuror. Do you know, I saw that sort of thing at a circus once, when I was a boy. A big skinny sod in a silk robe, lighting candles everywhere and chanting the most horrid pile of gibberish. And then, presto, he simply folded his hands and went up in smoke—and came round from the other side of the tent after, asking for money.”
“God love you, Erryn Shaw,” Orton said, “but you do tell stories.”
“Will you join us for a drink or two?”
“Why, that’s good of you, lad, but no. We’re on our way out.”
Orton clapped his shoulder lightly and wished him luck, and the trio moved on its way. Janes settled back in his chair.
“Is it true what they’re saying?” he asked. “You were the one who got Captain Braine out?”
Erryn’s gaze drifted briefly over the dining room. It was bright with linen and candles, quietly a-murmur with the talk and laughter of men—lawyers, doctors, businessmen, members of the government, here and there a distinguished visitor from the West or from abroad. He turned his wineglass between his fingers, wondering if he was the only man present who thought a gentlemen’s club, by definition, was altogether too much of the same thing.
“Aiding and abetting a fugitive is against the law, Janes,” he murmured. “You wouldn’t suggest that there were felons in a place like this, would you?”
Janes stared at him a moment, and then he laughed. “No, I suppose not. The captain found himself a … what the devil did you call it?”
“Conjuror. You know, a magician. Abracadabra and all that.” Erryn reached for the wine bottle and calmly changed the subject. “So. You’re sure there isn’t something I can do for you, now that your shipment is here? I’d be happy to help if I can.”
“Well, I’m much obliged, Shaw, but like I said, everything’s took care of. With all the damn delays, God knows there was time enough. Since we’re celebrating, though, I wonder … that house you told me about, before? There wouldn’t be a chance we could drop by, would there? What with you knowing those fine ladies and all?”
“Oh, I think I could be persuaded. But it’s still early. Let’s have another drink, shall we?”
Be a robber’s moon tonight, it will …
That was what the stableman used to say sometimes, back at the manor house in Surrey. He would smile down at Erryn like an old gnome and tell him stories of the moors where he grew up. He would certainly call this one a robber’s moon, racing as it did out of fast-moving clouds and vanishing again in moments, like a
thief. It was high above the Point, and almost full; its pale light glinted off the church spires and danced wanton on the harbour. Most nights Erryn would have taken genuine pleasure from the beauty of it; tonight it only made the streets seem darker and the hours ahead of him more uncertain.