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Fate and the Pearls

Continued from previous page

 

6

 

In the weeks and months that followed, Harry learned about life outside the forest, and life inside the compound. Following the interview with Lord Considine at the Admiralty, the Marquis of Blackpool conveyed them in a closed carriage, on a long journey to a vast estate in Cornwall, which they referred to as the compound. Much there was to recommend the place. Within its irregular polygonal border a small kingdom existed, seven miles at its widest point, nearly five at its narrowest, but secure—because it was ringed with sentries posted every eighth of a mile, and a garrison continually patrolled the periphery. It boasted an enormous manor of 58 rooms, set on a high hill, with a staff of 125, not to mention tutors, washer-women, cooks, gardeners, armourers, grooms and gamesmen, all there to serve the whim of the Marquis and his two young charges. It had a massive stable, an epic garden, perfectly situated lakes, and woods which covered hills and valleys. It was otherwise empty of people, and they did not leave its lonely confines for over a year.

Harry prowled the compound every night, unobserved. It took him time to survey the entire 15-mile perimeter, and to determine his possible escape paths, of which he found several, and he had confidence they would present no problem to him, should he ever need to employ them. That detail taken care of, he took to slipping out of his bed every night after the house had gone quiet, climbing noiselessly through his window into the cool air, and on many occasions he napped among the trees, miles from the manor. He was always back in his bed before dawn. He memorized landmarks in the forest, hillocks and gullies, streams and springs, so he would never be lost. Once he felt he knew the complete layout of the compound, he began a methodical search of all the buildings, beginning with the outermost, the laundry, a vast pavilion of its own, set beyond the long lake. In a few months he understood every intricacy of how the estate functioned, as his life and habit changed.

The bath, the barber, the tailor, the bootmaker were lesser shocks, but the luxury of food delivered on demand astounded him. He learned to appreciate the comfort of a soft mattress, a fireplace and fresh linen. He marvelled at the concept of free time, something which had never occurred to him in the seasons he had spent on his own in the forest. He wasted no time in capturing to memory everything he learned in his studies—it was all so fascinating and new, the written word, the use of numbers, the wit of storytellers, the history of armies and civilizations. He thrived in his lessons, and he was soon a budding master in his swordplay. He easily became an expert horseman. He learned to eat at table, how to politely enter and leave a room, and how one listened to music. He showed a natural gift for languages, and soon could declaim in elementary Latin and Greek. He was sometimes overwhelmed at how suddenly more stimulating his existence had become. And he was struck by the maharajah’s lack of appreciation for how fortunate was their situation.

To sustain all these benefits Harry knew he needed accomplish only one thing: make certain the Rahjee stayed alive. Obviously Rahjee didn’t see what these people were up to, that they were prisoners, hostages. Young Jaipur presumed that Harry had been taken in by the Marquis of Blackpool as an act of kindness and gratitude, to be considered the maharajah’s constant companion, inseparable friend, and there at his convenience. But Harry had no illusions, and he watched his charge carefully, ever vigilant. The arrangement was a perfect one, for they spent every waking hour together, studied together, rode together, ate together and had adjacent rooms where they slept. What had begun as an unspoken arrangement soon evolved into a succinct understanding between Harry and the Marquis.

 

 

7

 

A year spent within the confines of the compound. Spring became summer, and drifted into autumn, until the weather turned windblown and cold as the days shortened. The Marquis of Blackpool kept to himself, riding patrols with his troops. When he stayed at the manor they would observe him answering correspondence, only occasionally concerning himself with their curriculum. Then he subjected them and their quaking tutors to intense interrogation. When he showed them attention it usually came in the form of vigorous walks into the little valleys, always with a group of sentries behind them, close enough to be seen, but far enough that they could not be heard. The Maharajah of Jaipur typically busied himself apart from them, lost in inane occupations, pulling at branches, chasing animals, throwing stones or running ahead and taunting them from afar. They did not take him seriously, though both Harry and the Marquis kept a vigilant eye on him. He soon learned to stay within sight, or he would be reprimanded and threatened mercilessly.

‘I was born Joseph Lincoln,’ the Marquis said. He and Harry were walking along a frozen path by the river, lost in discussion. Upstream from them the Fifth Maharajah of Jaipur waved happily and yelled something they could not hear over the sound of the rushing water. Downstream they could see the uniformed guards, nestled among the trees. ‘You can dispense with this ‘My Lord’ business when we are out on our own as we are. In private, you call me Joseph, like my friends do. I am sorry to interrupt you, but you were saying you did not remember much of your mother.’

‘I recall only how warm she was, and what she looked like frozen to death that last morning. I have better memories of Martin, the woodsman, who showed me what I could eat in the forest, and how to snare animals. He treated me very kindly. I never knew what happened to him—he vanished one day, but by then I could take care of myself. I avoided any people in uniforms, I learned to hide. That’s all. Then I saw Rahjee running from those soldiers, and you know the rest.’

‘I do think that having no parents is preferable to having bad ones, as I did,’ the Marquis remarked. ‘Now, what did you want to ask?’

‘How long are we to stay in the compound, Joseph?’

‘Until it’s time for Maharajah to go home. I don’t know when that will be.’

‘Will I ever see London again?’

‘Perhaps,’ the Marquis answered. ‘It depends on what Monsieur Pierrepont has in mind for us. I had no idea you were so taken with the city.’

‘It is quite impressive,’ Harry said. ‘I am not sure it’s completely safe, but there is obviously much to be learned there. I only saw it from the carriage the day we went to the Admiralty, of course. But I want to go back and have a better look on my own.’

The Marquis of Blackpool, a man not disposed to warm displays of emotion, smiled. ‘I promise you I will do everything to give you that opportunity. I am very pleased with you, Harry. Proud of how you are doing with your studies. And especially with the way you watch out for the maharajah. I know he can be difficult, and I see how much you tolerate from him.’

‘Rahjee puts on a lot of airs, but he’s a generous lad. I don’t think he’s ever had a close friend before.’

‘He has not. He has lived a life of unthinkable comfort. He has never had to earn anything. His life is a fantasy.’

‘Joseph, I don’t think he sees the world the way we do.’

‘Things are understood differently in India, Harry.’

‘From what Rahjee says it sounds like a surprising place. I wouldn’t mind having a look over there some time, either.’

 

 

8


‘When we go out walking, what does the Marquis talk about, Harry?’

‘Lessons, usually.’

‘That’s ridiculous, lessons. Why would he want to go over that? You certainly have a lot more to say to each other.’

What they spoke about would not have made sense to the Fifth Maharajah of Jaipur, though Harry understood completely. The Marquis was giving him wisdom, telling the stories of his own life, entrusting Harry with the life lessons he had learned. This was not to be questioned, simply accepted. He would put the pieces together later.

He knew that the Marquis was a dangerous man, for he had seen the rotting corpses of the soldiers who had kidnapped Rahjee, hanging from the trees along the road as they travelled out of the game preserve. There were many, they had been hoisted high above the ground so they could be seen by all, ghostly silhouettes shifting among the dense upper leaves, an unambiguous warning, picked at by screeching birds.

‘A ghastly stink it was,’ the maharajah later observed. ‘You’d think he could come up with something else to do to them that wasn’t so awful. He could just as easily have drowned them, and let them float down the river. That would have been much more convenient to everyone. Has he perhaps related to you his life story? No? My father told it to me and swore me to secrecy: he was nobody, an ordinary soldier, and they sent him to the colonies to fight against the Iroquois. Most of his regiment got scalped in their first engagement, a lot of good men. He survived, but he hungered for revenge, so he went after the savages ruthlessly. He did quite well, you know, put down a rebellion nearly single-handed. Saved a fortune for the Crown—the redskins were planning to put a torch to the entire flotilla in the St Lawrence. That would have been quite a bonfire! He actually made friends with the enemy chief named Axe-Upraised. When he left, they embraced like old friends, even though they had once been bloodthirsty enemies. After he got back here they made him a Marquis, and now they want to ship him off to India to help my father.’

‘Quite a tale,’ Harry said, though in truth he had already heard the account from the Marquis’s own lips, and it was largely as the maharajah reported.

‘Don’t you get it?’ the maharajah hissed disdainfully. ‘Alexis de Pierrepont works for the French, who want to rule Rajasthan. He is the one who plotted to assassinate me. They will do anything to overthrow my father, and the British will do anything to keep him in power. That is why I am here. I am on a very important, secret diplomatic mission, to report back whatever I learn.’

 

 

9

100 miles outside Québec-ville, 1796

 

They were suspicious of the tall man in the long bearskin coat, instinctively wary. His skin was very pale, his hair and beard were long and jet black, and he had a mercenary air about him. When he spoke his wide, thin mouth barely moved. They were impressed with the soft voice he used. He appeared to respect their customs.

‘Axe-Upraised is a wise chief,’ Alexis de Pierrepont said, taking back the pipe. ‘And he understands the meaning of honour. He appreciates that we do not seek vengeance without a reason. He knows we seek his help, because he is powerful, and his enemy is now our enemy. We seek an alliance, and I have told you what we offer in return.’ He puffed up the tobacco smoke and made a great show of inhaling and exhaling, then passed the long wooden tube to the savage next to him. It was stifling and stinking in the dugout, and the wood smoke burned his eyes. He longed to get out, but he knew what their protocol demanded. ‘Now I will await the council’s answer.’ Finally, he stood, and left the circle in the dugout, parting the animal skins which kept the Québec winter at bay. Outside in the Indian camp it was bracing cold, but fresh, and he hurried across the distance to his own dugout, where his men were lodged. It had taken him days to reach the settlement, and he felt he was close to striking a deal.

‘I gave my word to Joseph Lincoln I would not raise my knife against him again. I swore a blood oath. Now this Frenchman will have me break my promise.’

‘He offers land, money, weapons, food,’ said Eagle Father, another chief. ‘Things we need. The winter will be long, we have many mouths to feed.’

‘They will say whatever is necessary. They smoke with us, and later they do as they like and make flowery excuses. I have never met people so good at changing their minds,’ Axe- Upraised remarked, and the men nodded knowingly. ‘Lincoln always kept his promise. Lincoln I cannot so easily betray.’

‘Why would the Frenchman travel all this distance to ask for friendship, if he did not intend to honour it?’ This was asked by Black Wing, a young chief.

‘There is more at stake than his honour, or the Iroquois nation. They fight with other tribes, across the sea, to rule nations bigger than our own. We are meaningless to Pierrepont. We must have something he wants. What I think is that he needs warriors to work his treachery, who are not known to anyone across the great ocean. That is why he asks us to send archers and scouts to England. After our men have done what he wants, we will never see them again, of that you can be sure.’

‘I believe him,’ said Black Wing. ‘Lincoln has killed all of Pierrepont’s tribe. Lincoln murdered many of our people, too. He brings information that Lincoln will come back to kill the rest of us. No, I say we ally with the Frenchman, and do as he asks. Lincoln has abandoned you. You are forgotten by him. The Frenchman comes in respect, and offers us survival. I say we sign his treaty.’

‘A catamount once trusted a wolf,’ Eagle Father said. ‘And still today they are bitter enemies. I will not sign. I am going home. Give him your own braves to slaughter.’ He handed the pipe to Axe-Upraised.

‘Then it is settled. The council cannot help the Frenchman. I will tell him we are sorry.’ Secretly, Axe-Upraised prayed for the safety of Joseph Lincoln.

 

 

10

 

When spring finally arrived, the trees throughout the compound flowered in profusion, and the hillsides turned a brilliant glowing green. The possibility of long walks returned, and even the Fifth Maharajah of Jaipur ventured outside for a run in the fields. But for its idyllic calm, the compound remained a place devoid of extraordinary activity, where nothing unusual happened, until the last day of April, when two carriages followed by a regiment made their way slowly through the compound and up the long road to the Manor. The event came as no surprise to the Marquis of Blackpool, who had been warned of the impending arrival. The entire staff assembled in welcome, rendered dumbstruck when Lord Considine leapt out of the first carriage, followed by a red Indian dressed in buckskins and feathers; the men walked up the ornate marble stairs together silently, side by side. Six similarly attired braves of lesser rank exited the next carriage, blinking their eyes in the sunlight, looking around in wonder; they unloaded their bundles from the conveyance and began to set up an improvised camp in the middle of the grand lawn which faced the Manor’s façade. Nobody protested. Both Harry and the maharajah watched this entrance from an upstairs window, until they were summoned. They soon found the three men seated in a drawing room.

‘Highly irregular,’ Lord Considine spluttered. ‘If the Prince himself had not insisted that I escort the chief—never seen the like of it before, not how things are usually done. I must be back in London, pressing matters. Ah, here are the young charges, let’s get on with it, Blackpool.’

‘Do you speak English?’ The Maharajah of Jaipur immediately asked the savage, but received no answer, simply an empty stare.

‘My old friend has come a long way with a warning for you,’ the Marquis told him. ‘You are soon to receive a visit from Pierrepont, in the person of Iroquois killers brought here from Québec. They are meant to destroy the bond between your father and the British. Axe-Upraised says these are the best killers he knows.’

‘Fine warriors, even though they are not from my clan,’ the chief added in English, unsolicited. ‘Superb archers sent by Black Wing. They will die handsomely.’

‘I don’t intend to perish at the hands of some Iroquois,’ the maharajah stammered in a strained falsetto. ‘Harry, what do we do?’

‘First, I suggest we stay away from the windows, Rahjee. And we better hear these gentlemen out. I suspect Lord Considine has something to tell you, if you’ll let him.’

Lord Considine blinked his eyes in surprise at Harry’s offhand words. ‘You, young man, are a damned nuisance, and presumptuous besides. This is not a game, running through the forest playing hide-and-seek. Empires will stand or fall because of what we do here!’

‘Will someone please close that window?’ the maharajah asked. Nobody moved.

‘They would not attack you so soon,’ the chief said softly.

Finally the Marquis of Blackpool spoke. ‘Your lordship has a plan?’

‘A very simple one. Back you go! I will not have renegade Iroquois running around my country looking to shoot arrows into visiting royalty! Be ready to leave in two days. All of you. And may you find better hospitality in India.’

‘A very good plan,’ the chief said, under his breath, so that only Harry heard.

 

Continued on next page

 

 

 

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