Read Trade Winds (Choc Lit) Online

Authors: Christina Courtenay

Trade Winds (Choc Lit) (8 page)

BOOK: Trade Winds (Choc Lit)
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Jess pulled herself together. She had to deal in facts, not flights of morbid fancy. If Robert was telling people she was virtually without a dowry, there was no chance anyone would want to marry her. Therefore, she had somehow to find a way of changing his mind or forcing him to come up with the money her father had stipulated. That was all.

And once she had that, she would marry the first man who asked, because she simply couldn’t stay in this house.

It didn’t feel like her home any more.

‘Do I hae tae bide here? I’d liefer go wi’ ye,’ Adair whined for about the tenth time. Killian sighed and took a deep breath, praying for patience. The boy had been on edge ever since he’d been told about Killian’s proposed stay abroad. It was obvious he was scared of losing the only person in the world who cared about him.

‘Adair, listen to me. You know my cousin is always up to mischief and he bears a grudge against me bigger than a mountain. Things have gone so far now that I believe he’s getting desperate and I’ve no idea what he’ll do next. I really need you here to follow his every move and the instant you see anything suspicious, you report it to Mr Grant. Understand?’

Adair nodded, albeit still with a sullen expression. Killian gripped the boy’s thin shoulder. ‘You’re the only one I can trust to do it without being noticed. You’re stealthier than a fox. I swear I’ll send for you as soon as you’re no longer needed here. Look, I’m leaving you more than enough money in the hidey-hole to live on for months. Doesn’t that please you? You can come and go as you like and you won’t have any other duties, except perhaps keeping this place tidy.’

‘Aye, I’ll dae it, but if Mr Farquhar doesnae get up tae ony tricks, I’ll come after ye.’

‘Please, Adair, just wait until I tell you it’s the right time. I’m not abandoning you, I promise. I’ll send you a letter and as soon as you receive it you can come to Sweden on the
Lady Madeleine
, but not before. Is that clear?’

Adair made a face, but nodded. Then he grinned suddenly, back to his normal self now that he’d been reassured. ‘Guid thing ye taught me tae read then, is it no. Else how would I ken wha’ yer letter said?’

Killian rolled his eyes, remembering all too well the struggle he’d had in trying to persuade Adair to learn, but also the joy and pride he’d felt when he succeeded. ‘Varmint,’ he said and cuffed the boy playfully on the arm. ‘Now keep out of trouble. Though I don’t understand why myself, I’ll miss you and would prefer to see you in one piece next time we meet.’

The North Sea was rough and Killian’s first voyage on board his new ship was a baptism of fire, if ever there was one. However, he was pleased to find he had a cast-iron stomach that didn’t even quiver from the rocking motion of the waves. As long as he didn’t lie down in his cabin he was fine, and the captain of the
Lady Madeleine
was impressed.

‘You’re a lucky man, Mr Kinross, and no mistake. Most folks go green at the gills just looking at the sea. You must have seafaring ancestors I reckon.’ Captain Craig himself was a robust, ruddy-cheeked man in his early forties who looked as though he’d never suffered a day’s illness in his life and certainly not seasickness.

‘I don’t know about that, but I’m very glad not to be suffering from
mal de mer
, that’s for sure.’

It also helped not to be incapacitated when there was so much to learn. To the captain’s surprise, Killian was constantly at his side, asking questions, watching and learning. ‘You want to be a sailor, then, Mr Kinross?’ he asked.

Killian smiled. ‘Not exactly, but I like to do things thoroughly. If I’m to own a ship, I want to know how it works, where everything is, what it’s called. I think knowledge is power.’

Captain Craig nodded. ‘Very wise. That Mr McGrath what owned the ship before you never set foot on it. Just arranged for the cargo and told me what to bring back instead. I’m very pleased to be working for you, Mr Kinross. Makes a nice change.’

‘Not just
me, Captain, but
me,’ Killian replied.

‘How so?’

‘If you continue to help me find the best goods to trade with between the two countries, I’ll give you a share of the profits.’

The captain’s eyes widened as he took in Killian’s meaning. ‘No! Truly?’

Killian nodded. He’d considered this carefully and thought it would be in his best interest. Hopefully, with such an incentive, the man would work harder and they would both gain. He didn’t want a surly employee. What he needed was someone he could trust.

‘Well, I don’t know what to say.’ Captain Craig still looked dumbfounded. ‘I mean, I shall certainly do my best. Not that I wouldn’t have done otherwise, of course, but ... really, Mr Kinross, you’ve stunned me.’

Killian smiled. ‘The arrangement will be to both our advantage, I think. I hope we can work well together.’

‘Absolutely.’ Craig beamed at him. ‘You won’t regret this, I promise you.’

With the captain’s help, Killian had already managed to buy a high-quality cargo to take with them. Mostly they bought salt, which was much sought after in Scandinavia, but also superior cloth, wheat, butter, coal and some luxury goods from the Americas, such as tobacco. He paid for it with the money he had won at gambling. The captain assured him these were the kind of goods that would sell well in Sweden and Killian had no reason not to believe him. Any profit would be good, the more the better. It was a start, and he knew that iron ore, copper, wood, tar and pitch were good things to ship back to Scotland from Sweden. He planned to send the captain back and forth while he was there, making as much money as he could.

He had well and truly embarked on his new career and he intended to make a success of it.

Sailing in through the archipelago towards Gothenburg, on the west coast of Sweden, Killian was amazed what a small town it was when he finally set eyes on it. He had expected something larger, but compared to Edinburgh it was a mere village. Situated at the mouth of the river Göta, it seemed to be all on flat, even ground. There were just a few small hills sticking up, the largest on the right hand side.

‘The town was built by Dutchmen,’ Captain Craig informed him. ‘This place was nothing but a quagmire before apparently, so the Swedes knew the Dutch were the best people to help them with the construction. They had enough practice with their own wet landscapes, didn’t they.’

Killian had never been to Holland, but had heard of the way the Dutch dammed water and built beautiful cities criss-crossed by canals. ‘So it’s like a miniature Amsterdam then, is it?’

‘You could say that. There’s certainly a canal or two, as you’ll soon see. It’s fortified though, with two redoubts they call
The Lion
The Crown
, as well as all those walls with sharp angles sticking out in several places and a moat all around.’

Lady Madeleine
had to drop anchor some way outside the city ramparts, and everyone was brought to shore by stevedores. They had the exclusive rights to ferrying people around on the canals and to and from the large ships.

‘They’ll also see about transporting the cargo,’ the captain assured Killian. ‘It’ll be taken onto dry land as soon as we’ve found someone who wants to buy it, seeing as you haven’t got any storage, Mr Kinross,’ he added. Killian made a mental note to try and rent some storage space as soon as he could.

As they were rowed towards the city, Killian saw the strong ramparts and bastions close up. Over the top, as they came nearer, he glimpsed the roofs of houses and the spires of two churches. The entry to the main canal was roughly in the middle of the town. It was flanked by rocky little hills and they passed a huge wooden bar, which according to the captain was lowered each night.

‘It’s called
Stora Bommen
and they only keep it open during the day. Best for defensive purposes, I would hazard a guess.’

Killian wondered who the Swedes’ enemies were. Presumably the Danes or Norwegians, who were their closest neighbours, at least on this side of the country. He knew very little about the political situation and resolved to find out more as soon as he could. If he was going to make this his home for the foreseeable future, it would pay to be well-informed.

They continued along a canal flanked by buildings mainly built from wood. Most of them were painted either red or yellow with white or blue window frames. One or two of the houses were made of stone and seemed sturdier, but they were the exception. The streets looked to be laid out in a regular, straight grid pattern, at right angles to each other, from what Killian could make out, although the canal itself wasn’t quite straight. It had a kink at the end where it veered to the left. He could also see some sort of an island in the middle of it further up ahead.

‘For some reason they call this canal
Stora Hamnen
, which roughly means “the big harbour”,’ Captain Craig told him, ‘on account of it being the place where everything is loaded and unloaded, I suppose.’

They passed under several bridges, all arched and quite pretty, and came to a stop next to a large square. It was at roughly a man’s height above the level of the canal. They had to climb up a few steps to reach the street, where the noise and bustle was almost deafening. Killian stopped for a moment to look around, and liked what he saw. He drew in a deep breath and was pleased to find the air not too noxious either. Compared to Edinburgh, it was positively sweet-smelling, despite the inevitable stench from the canals.

The square was cobblestoned and had trees planted at intervals along the canal. It gave a pleasing sense of space, despite the many people who were going about their daily business. Hawkers, vendors, street entertainers and workers, mangy dogs, horses and carts – all contributed to the scene, but it wasn’t nearly as crowded as the streets of Edinburgh. Neither was it as colourful. Most of the inhabitants seemed to be dressed in greys, browns or black, although there were the odd splashes of colour from more exalted persons that drew the eye. Killian was glad he had put on a fairly sober coat of grey silk, so he didn’t stand out too much.

‘How many people live here?’ Killian asked Captain Craig, as he followed him along one of the side canals towards a hostelry. It seemed preferable to spend the night at an inn, rather than go straight to Mr Fergusson. He didn’t want to be beholden to the man, after all, and wanted to wait and see whether he would be invited to stay with him or not. First, he needed to get his bearings.

‘Not sure. Five, maybe six thousand? Could be more though.’

The landlord of th
White Hart
– or
Vita Hjorten
as it was called in Swedish − was a jovial, rotund Scotsman by the name of Murdoch, whose face split into a welcoming grin at the sight of Captain Craig. ‘Ah, so you’re back then?’ He beamed. ‘And you’re wanting rooms I presume?’

‘Aye, indeed we are.’ The captain introduced Killian and entered into negotiations regarding the room charge. While he did so, Killian listened intently to a group of people speaking Swedish nearby. It sounded like a very guttural language and contained some strange noises, but one or two of the words seemed familiar.

‘I’ll have to learn to speak Swedish,’ he told Craig. ‘It shouldn’t be that difficult. I managed to learn French and Latin after all, and Latin’s the very devil to get the hang of.’

‘Swedish is easy, so they say, but then I’ve never tried more than a few words, Mr Kinross. Good luck to you, I say,’ Craig laughed.

Killian wasn’t sure if luck was what he needed, but thanked the captain all the same.

Walking into the taproom some time later, Killian was astonished to hear Scots-accented English spoken almost all around him. Captain Craig was seated in a corner and beckoned him over.

‘There you are, Mr Kinross. Come and meet some fellow countrymen. These kind gentlemen are buying the drinks.’

‘That is indeed very hospitable.’ Killian joined them at their table and introductions were made.

There were two young men, James McEvoy and Graham Frazer, who worked as assistants to Scottish merchants. One was dark-haired and swarthy, the other fair and fresh-faced, but both looked like they enjoyed life to the full and had no particular cares at the moment. The fourth person at the table was an old sea captain. His name was Muir and apparently he had known Craig for many years. They soon had Killian provided with a large tankard of ale and a heaped plate of food, which gave off an appetizing aroma.

‘Plain fare,’ Muir said, ‘but plenty of it and well cooked, to my mind. Though Murdoch’s wife can oblige with Scottish victuals if you prefer?’

‘No, no, this is fine, thank you.’

Killian had to agree that the food was plain, but although he’d been served only mashed turnips and salted, fried pork with onion gravy, he found nothing to complain about. He’d never been fond of fancy food and preferred to eat anything that kept hunger at bay for as long as possible. During the past three years there had been quite a few occasions when he hadn’t been able to afford to eat, so he was always grateful when he could.

‘So you’re learning to become merchants?’ Killian said to the two younger men. ‘That’s what I’m hoping to do. Eventually I’d like to set up in business for myself, but I need to learn the ropes.’

BOOK: Trade Winds (Choc Lit)
6.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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