Authors: Marie Jakober
“Jack Murray blew back into town while you were gone. He’s as strong for the South as Jamie Orton now. Stronger, maybe. All he’s missing is some little Rebel flags growing out of his ears.”
Erryn stared at him. Jack Murray was his friend—not as dear and close a friend as Matt, but nonetheless a friend. Jack Murray was a liberal and a freethinker, a supporter of change-minded English Radicals such as Cobden and Bright. Politically, Jack Murray was a great deal like himself.
He’s as strong for the South as Jamie Orton now?
“It doesn’t split clean, Erryn,” Matt said softly. “Men’s politics aren’t of a piece. Or maybe they are, but the pieces fit damned peculiar sometimes.”
Which was something Erryn knew, of course. He knew it as a principle of history, as a recurring theme in drama, even as a fact of this war: the Liberal Gladstone in England, making speeches in praise of the South; the fossilized Conservative he had met in Bermuda, condemning secession as the very essence of anarchy. It did not matter what one used for a marker—rank, race, religion,
party; wealth or privilege or power or the lack of them—men from the same group still came down on both sides of every fight. More of them on one side than the other, usually, but always on both. He knew that. He had simply never thought of it as applicable to himself.
Matt leaned forward again, resting his elbows on the table and linking his hands. “Jack Murray is supporting the Confederates for the purest of liberal reasons. They’re fighting for national independence, just like the Greeks and the Poles. Why shouldn’t he support them? Why shouldn’t you? You don’t have to like slavery—hell, James Orton doesn’t, either. The war isn’t
“The hell it isn’t.”
“Oh, not once the Confederates cross their own borders. Soon as they cross a border, they turn it into a whole different war, all noble and proper like a cutpurse dressed for church. Your views on slavery won’t matter if you don’t make a fuss about it. And it won’t matter if you had doubts at first, either; lots of people did. But the more you saw and read, the more you understood the truth. The Yankees are only after power, the Southerners are honourable and civilized, and so on and so forth as you please. The Rebels love converts, Erryn. They’re like religious folk that way: they’re so sure they’re right, it’s just natural if you come around to their way of thinking.”
Of course, he protested further, but for all his protests Matt Calverley had an answer, and bit by bit he found himself yielding. It was obvious Matt desperately wanted help. Five pounds a month plus expenses was a tempting offer, and whatever else, he would at least have something interesting to do. Finally, and most importantly, there was the political question itself. The prospect of a war here, between his own people and the Americans—a war that might kill him or his dearest friends, a war that might smash this small and promising world to ruins, smash it for no good reason at all—Lord, it made him cold to his bones. So, in a different
way, did the prospect of a triumphant Confederacy. He had been raised an aristocrat himself, after all. He recognized the qualities of his own kind when he saw them—their arrogance, their astonishing audacity, their faith in the use of force. The cold smell of authoritarian empire lay all over the Southern Confederacy’s supposed fight for freedom.
Against all of these things his natural common sense, such as it was, grew less and less persuasive, even to himself. The evening passed. The fish bones on their plates grew dry and sorry-looking, the wine bottles empty, the dining room more and more deserted. Spent, Erryn struck his colours for good—
All right, all right, I’ll do it
—and wondered just how quickly and how badly he would come to regret it.
There was, however, one last matter to be settled. As they rose to leave, he put his arm around his friend’s shoulder and asked wearily: “Matt, you don’t really think I’d piss in the troughs by the Water Street livery, do you?”
“No,” Matt said, with his wicked street arab’s grin. “But if you ever start, I’ll damn well toss you in jail.”
The North Atlantic, Summer 1863
We are going to burn, sink, and destroy the commerce of the United States.
—Captain Raphael Semmes, Confederate Navy
HE TALL SHIP
passed them miles to the east, under full sail in the last of the afternoon light. A dozen or so of the mail packet’s passengers clustered by the starboard rail to admire it. Such a fine ship, they kept saying, so stately and graceful. Sylvie Bowen stood alone, apart from the others, and said nothing; but when the strange vessel moved off into the distance, and the other passengers lost interest, she remained by the rail until the last trace of it was gone. The
had been a ship much like it, the beautiful
she and Fran had boarded at Liverpool in May … nine weeks ago if you reckoned by the calendar, a lifetime otherwise.
She brushed away tears with the back of her hand. Sometimes she could think of Fran without this rush of grief. She could look out across the grey water and acknowledge quietly that Fran was dead. Fran would never have the promising new life in Nova
Scotia they had dreamt of. She would never be courted by Captain Foxe—or, if he changed his mind, by anyone else. She was gone forever, lying in a churchyard in a wild Caribbean town, where drunken blockade-runners brawled in the streets until daybreak, and sand barely hid the bones of pirates.
Nassau. Back in England, Sylvie had only heard of the place because of the American war, through a few small items in the newspapers Fran borrowed from her friends. Nassau was coming to matter in the world: a friendly port for Confederate raiders, a transfer point for commerce running the blockade. This much Sylvie had learned from the papers, but she never imagined she would go there. That last wonderful day on the
, they were speeding northward from Bermuda, and Nassau was a thousand miles away …
When they first sailed from England it had been late in May, the sun hot as summer and a fair wind blowing. Such days, Captain Foxe said, were God’s gift to good ships, and his
flew like the lean bird she was. From Liverpool she made Bermuda in twelve days, where she unloaded bales of English textiles, cases of tools and copperware, and carefully packed china; sundry stocks of medicines and books; and three pianos. Into the partially emptied hold went crates of oranges; barrels of sugar, molasses, and rum; and last of all, a shimmering, squalling parrot in a cage, purchased, apparently, by a gentleman in Halifax, though no one could imagine why. By then June had come, and the
was winging for Nova Scotia under a full spread of sail.
Sylvie had been on deck for much of the day, with Fran and the others. She was still twenty-six back in June, thin to the point of frailty, and dressed in a plain cotton frock without lace or trim or hoops—a frock that clearly marked her as a member of the working poor. People noticed this, of course, on a ship like the
They also noticed her hair, beautiful hair as dark as midnight, always hanging long and loose about her face. It gave her a certain aura of wildness that caught everyone’s eye, and that men and women judged as it pleased them. She could do nothing about their judgments, and had long ago stopped trying.
Her aunt, Frances Harris, sat on the bench behind her, peeling and partitioning an orange, one of the tiny luxuries they had bought for themselves in Bermuda. She did it slowly and carefully, keeping the sections in a bowl on her lap, and eating them with voluptuous pleasure, one by one.
“Here, Sylvie,” she said, “have a piece or two, before I gobble it all.”
Sylvie smiled, and went to sit beside her. Fran looked so content, she thought, and every day more so. It was beautiful to see.
“Thanks,” Sylvie said. She had never tasted oranges in England. Once, in Darwen, a peddler had brought some in his wagon, and she had stood nearby like a beggar, staring, aching for them. They looked so glorious, like handfuls of heaven in a basket. Then Johnnie Morris came up behind her and said, “I’ll buy you one, if you do it with me,” and she walked away. She did not want to look at them anymore, or at him either, the mean little sod. He always had a bit of money; he could have bought one for himself, and given her a piece, just one tiny piece, so she could know what they were like …
The orange was heavenly indeed. She accepted a second offering, and then, when it was all gone, she sucked a small gob of juice from her finger and looked wryly at her aunt.
lady like Miss Caroline would never do that, I suppose?”
Fran smiled. “Miss Caroline? How could she? She’d be wearing gloves.”
Miss Caroline never came on deck without gloves. She always wore a great floppy bonnet too, and carried a parasol, as if all this glorious, soul-warming sunshine were rain. The rich were peculiar, and there was no denying it.
“Well, at least she’s friendly, and willing to talk a bit,” Sylvie said. “There’s one or two among the others who still be wondering how we got on board.”
“We bought our passage the same as everyone,” Fran said coolly. And that, for Fran, was the end of it. They were here; their fellow passengers and the whole rest of the world could deal with it, or not, as they chose.
“I should tell you,” Fran went on, in the most casual manner possible, “Captain Foxe has invited us to supper in his cabin tonight.”
“Us?” Sylvie whispered. Then she laughed softly. “Go on. You’re teasing me.”
“Not a bit. Master Schofield will be there too, of course. The captain says it be his birthday, and he’s serving up a fine chicken and a bottle or two of his best port. So of course I told him yes.”
Sylvie did not know what to say, so for a time she said nothing. Early in the voyage, almost as soon as the women recovered from their seasickness and emerged from their cabin to eat and take the air, Captain Foxe had shown a remarkable degree of interest in Frances Harris. This did not surprise Sylvie nearly as much as it surprised everyone else; all her life she had watched Frances attract the interest of men.
But Nathaniel Foxe was a ship’s captain, wealthy enough to own this splendid vessel—not the usual sort of man to invite a pair of Lancashire ragpickers to a birthday supper in his cabin. No wonder Fran was so light of heart today, so quick to smile.
“You like him awfully, don’t you?” Sylvie said.
“Rather more than is good for me, I suppose. You’re not a bad judge of people, Sylvie. What do you think of him?”
“I think …” She paused, searching for the right words. “Well, he got all that authority, but I never seen him throw his weight around. And he always treats us same as the others, as if being poor don’t matter. Is that what Americans be like?”
Fran laughed softly. “I haven’t met a lot of them, love. But unless they all died and turned into angels, I doubt it.”
“Well then, I’d say he’s a good man.”