Council Of Fire – Snippet 28
We are at war
Namur had a sounding chart of Kingston harbor, courtesy of–well, Boscawen thought as he examined it, with the grudging generosity of–Governor Pinfold. It was scarcely adequate, more landsman’s decorative cartography than a sailor’s chart, but it at least gave some notations for soundings and the shoals near the entrance.
Kingston itself was protected from the open sea by a long finger of land called the “Palisadoes,” at the end of which lay the ruins of Port Royal–a notorious pirate haven that had been destroyed by an earthquake more than half a century earlier. According to the chart there were emplacements and forts that protected the narrow strait leading into the harbor proper. When the topman first sighted the rocky peaks on the west side of the island, Boscawen ordered the display of the royal standard and his admiral’s pennon. In wartime, there was no reason to risk any sort of misunderstanding.
He expected to find the island on guard, prepared for its part in the war. What he did not expect was that war, of a sort, had already come.
At minimum sail, Namur slowly made its way toward the port side of the entrance, keeping distance from the sandy shoals around the ruins of Port Royal. With his glass, Boscawen could make out the guns on the high ground (labeled “Twelve Apostles” on his map); but to his surprise, instead of being positioned toward open ocean and a potential attacker, they had been oriented to overlook the inner harbor. His attention to the view was sufficient that he did not notice someone beside him until there was a tug on his sleeve–which surprised him and almost caused him to drop his glass.
He was ready to deliver a few choice angry words, but found himself face to face with Mademoiselle LaGendière, who had intruded on his quarterdeck. Several feet away he saw a red-faced sentry, who no doubt had made some attempt to prevent her but with little effect.
Boscawen gathered himself, setting his anger aside, and offered a slight bow and inclined his head. “Mademoiselle. What brings you to my quarterdeck?” He gave her the slightest of smiles, and then communicated with the sentry with a glare that was intended to make a young man quake in his boots.
“What land are we approaching, Monsieur Admiral?”
“We are in sight of the island of Jamaica, Mademoiselle.”
“Which is . . . an English colony, yes?”
“For a century or so, Mademoiselle. If there is nothing further–” he began to turn away, but she plucked at his sleeve, and he turned again to her.
She gazed at him with an intensity he could not imagine that a woman of her tender years could possess. Then; from an inner pocket of her apron, she drew the unusual instrument that she and Messier had brought aboard–the device that, for some reason, had pointed its contents steadily at him. Except now it did not incline that way: it was pointed forward, toward Namur‘s aft end–whether it now targeted some other person or thing he was unable to tell.
“I thought you should see this,” she said. “The instrument’s orientation has changed.”
“It no longer finds me of interest?” Boscawen asked, not sure quite what to say.
“It now points toward our destination,” Mademoiselle LaGendière said. “It seems as if this place is of particular esoteric interest.”
“I confess,” Boscawen said, “I do not know quite what that means. Does it portend danger, like a–a kraken–or some such?”
“I do not know, Admiral.”
“Then I do not know what use it is to me. I thank you for conveying this information to me, Mademoiselle; but I must ask your pardon, for I have many things to do.”
This time he did turn away, and she did not pluck at his sleeve. He walked toward the aft end of the quarterdeck, raised his glass again toward the Twelve Apostles, and left her standing alone, the alchemetical compass in her hands. After some moments of silence, she turned and walked away.
While it was still making its slow headway into Kingston harbor, a boat rowed out to meet Namur. It carried a dozen soldiers, turned out in what might be called uniforms, as well as a familiar figure, wearing something that resembled a Royal Navy captain’s coat and tricorn. At Boscawen’s orders, Namur hove to and waited for it to come alongside.
“Captain Fayerweather,” Boscawen said from the main deck. “How may we be of service?”
“Welcome to Jamaica, Admiral,” Jack Fayerweather said. “Tell me, sir, did you heed my advice?”
Boscawen looked up at the sky. It was bright and blue and cloudless–clearly not Fayerweather’s doing. “Forgive me for not recalling.”
“The blackbird,” he said. “Did you put him over the side?”
“I did not, nor do I plan to do so.”
“Then I am afraid, sir, that you cannot be permitted to come into Kingston harbor. The governor has imposed . . . shall we say . . . a quarantine, and I’m here to enforce it.”
“A quarantine? Of what sort?”
“Against negroes. We are at war, Admiral.”
“With the French, certainly.”
“Besides that,” Fayerweather said, putting his hands on his hips as he stood up in the boat. “Were you to come to the dock you could hear them, the blacks in the hills, beating their voodoo-drums day and night. They mean us ill, Admiral. All of them. Not excluding your boy there–and as long as he is on board your ship, you will not be permitted to come ashore.”
Boscawen crossed his arms over his chest. “And who will stop me?”
Fayerweather looked up at Twelve Apostles, where the cannons were clearly in sight, and gestured past Namur at the former town of Port Royal. “I suspect those lads will have something to say about it.” He spat in the ocean. “Sir.”
Boscawen considered replying, but instead said, “Perhaps you should come aboard so that we may discuss this like gentlemen.” He gestured, and a rope-ladder was thrown down to the boat.
Fayerweather looked at his troops. “That sounds fine to me, sir. Come on, lads, prepare–”
“Not them,” Boscawen said. “Just you.”
“They go where I go, Admiral. Governor’s orders.”
“I’m not interested in having them aboard my ship. Come aboard, Captain, or go to perdition.”
Fayerweather considered this for a moment, spat again, and shrugged. “All right then.” He climbed nimbly up and after a few moments stood on the deck of Namur, looking about him as if he were measuring the place.
“Let us speak plainly,” Boscawen said quietly. “What do you propose?”
“It’s not a matter of proposing, if the Admiral pleases,” Fayerweather said. “Governor Haldane has placed a strict prohibition on any negroes freely setting foot on the island of Jamaica until the current matter is resolved. Now, if you’d turn your boy over to us for, shall we say, safekeeping, I’m sure that the governor, and Admiral Cotes, would welcome you with all due honors.” He smiled and looked about again–this time as if he was looking for a place to spit.
“Turning him over to the man who suggested that I pitch him into the ocean? No, sir. I think not. And as for your cannons opening fire on my ship–on a ship in His Majesty’s Navy–there does not seem to be any need to show the poor marksmanship of the troops manning them.”
“What makes you think they couldn’t hit a target as big as this one?” Fayerweather snapped back.
“Given the quality of your own . . . lads, your escort, I’d say all the competent soldiers on Jamaica are busy with actual important tasks. And for Governor Haldane to employ you suggests that he is desperate indeed.” Before Fayerweather could reply, Boscawen continued, “you will not have Gustavus, but you will take letters from me to Governor Haldane and Admiral Cotes. I personally know both, and they will not have expected me to arrive here. They may be assured that I, and my ship, stand ready to help with their current difficulty.”
“And in the meanwhile . . .”
“In the meanwhile, we will remain here. But do not try my patience. I expect a reply at once. And then we will see whether Namur is permitted to come to harbor.”
“I’m not sure–”
“I did not ask for your opinion, Captain, and if you were truly in the service you would know better than to talk back to a superior. I will have letters ready for you within the hour; in the meanwhile, get off my ship.”
Fayerweather appeared to consider a reply, but instead offered a sloppy salute and turned away to the rope-ladder. Before he slung his leg over the rail, he spat once more, and then disappeared. Lieutenant Pascal, who was standing nearby, took one step forward, but Boscawen raised his hand slightly.
Instead Pascal waved to a seaman. “Get a mop,” he said. “I don’t want any trace of that filth to remain.”
The Honorable George Haldane was a man whom Edward Boscawen had first met when they served in Parliament a dozen years earlier. He was, by any account, a prodigy: an ensign in the Scots Guards at eighteen, he fought at Dettingen and Fontenoy with his regiment and then stood for Stirling at twenty-five. His father had favored the late Prince of Wales, and that had hampered both his own and his son’s political career, but the redemption had been the appointment as governor of Jamaica only the previous year. Boscawen had assumed that their paths would thereafter diverge. Only circumstance, and the event that placed Namur on this present course, had changed that.
“Truth to tell,” he told Boscawen as he settled into an armchair opposite the one where the admiral sat, “I am more angry than mortified.” His Scotch burr and flashing blue eyes made his statement even more earnest. “It would never be my intention to prevent one of His Majesty’s ships from entering Kingston Harbor. Captain Fayerweather shall have a piece of my mind.”
“He seems a rum sort of fellow,” Boscawen said. “We are previously acquainted.”
“We met on the high seas some days ago.”
“Truly. You would think he might have mentioned meeting someone as important as yourself.”
“I assume he has his reasons. Tell me, Haldane, what is this difficulty you are having here in Jamaica?”
“I wish I could explain it.” Haldane gripped the arms of his chair. “Some weeks ago, there was a slave uprising upcountry. This sort of thing happens from time to time. I’m not unwilling to admit that it’s often due to the mistreatment of the negroes–sugar growing and refining is a hard business, especially on the poor sods who have to do the hand work.
“This occasion was worse than most–the slaves have a leader they call Tacky. He was a king in his village back in Africa, they say–a commanding presence, with a definite plan. They seized a storehouse of arms, and they gathered the so-called obeah-men to them and proclaimed their intention to drive every white man from the island.”
“Fayerweather spoke of this. What do you make of this–superstition?”
“In normal times,” Haldane answered, “I would put no stock in such primitive nonsense. The obeah-men claimed to have concocted a powder that prevents firearms from harming the rebels, and in appears to have some efficacy. They claim that now that the broom-star is not in the sky–”
“Yes, yes–the comet. Now that it is gone from the heavens, their star is in the ascendant. Naturally I cannot allow this to stand, but I find myself short of might to suppress it. You can understand, My Lord, why I am pleased to see you arrive here.”
“What would you have me do? I carry only a small complement of troops. Good lads, but not accustomed to fighting in the tropics.”
“I would not ask your Lordship to place his ship’s crew at my disposal. Instead, I think Namur could serve in two ways: first, to transport my own soldiers to coastal locations where the rebels have lodged; and second, to take advantage of its firepower against such places where they prove obstinate.”
“I would be happy to assist in that way. I . . . we have no definitive orders at present, so this seems a good use of our resources. However, I fear we are in need of provisioning, and I have no voucher with your local agent.”
“I’m sure we can make suitable arrangements,” Haldane answered. “And as for Fayerweather . . . I suspect he did not know whom he was dealing with. But ignorance is no excuse.”
“I am gratified,” Boscawen said. “So. When shall we begin?”