Alex : Chapter Eleven

Chapter Eleven : The Meeting

In his twenty-three years of life Alex had never been so cold. He shuffled through the snow hunching behind the trooper in front of him using him as a shield against the driving wind.  The column straggled out before him losing its shape in the snowstorm. Behind him Alex heard the crunching of ice and snow, the soft creaking of ox-carts and always the wind, but nothing more. Thousands of men, women, children and animals marched but not a sound from any of them. All their energy went into the simple task of placing one foot or hoof ahead of the next.

Alex stepped on a low snow-covered lump. He looked down to find himself standing on the broken body of a Spanish peasant woman. Exhausted she had fallen onto the road. The rest of the column, too tired to move aside was treading her into the ground. As he looked down her dark eyes opened. They flickered and then she was gone. Prodded from behind Alex moved on.

                British and Spanish troops roamed the streets of Astorga breaching great casks of wine, fighting one another as it gushed out onto the frozen mud. On their knees the men scooped up the wine from the street using caps, shakos and hands. Officers lashed and kicked as the men scrambled for every drop. Above them the wind howled keening the death of an army.

        A wagon, laden with sick and wounded, lunged forward. A wheel snapped through a thin crust of ice and dropped down into a hole jamming the column. Alex along with others, officers and men, tugged and pushed trying to free the wagon. Jamming his back against the wagon Alex did not hear the first muffled explosions. 

          French dragoons hurtled out of the snow. They galloped along the line sabering both soldiers and civilians.  Officers screamed orders. Soldiers cursed fumbling with frozen fingers over muskets and ramming rods. A small group of women and children fled towards the mountains. Bullets from both sides cut them down. A saber slashed through the neck of a corporal. Scarlet spurted from the man’s severed jugular spattering Alex’s coat. For the first and only time in his military career Alex pointed a pistol at a man and fired.  The Frenchman spun out of his saddle. Curious to see the face of the man that he had shot and hoping that he was still alive Alex turned him over. He found his brother James staring up at him.

Bundles of cloth and frozen flesh shrouded by the snow lay scattered along the road. Among them he found Jean wearing a black peasant woman’s dress. Little Bridget Foley lay next to her. By a boulder lay Mary Cameron her open eyes still damning him. To her right lay Sergeant Shaugnhessy. When dying of dysentery he had cursed Alex for having no medicine to give him.  They were all there, the dead. He had known them all. Along the road he walked lay all those who had died in Spain, in France, in Scotland and in Canada. He had entered the valley of the shadow of death but had neither rod nor staff to comfort him. He had only the dead but the dead do not listen.

          “I am sorry.”

          “Doctor?”              

          Peter tugged at his left sleeve. Alex opened his eyes. “Uh?” 

          Peter held out his copybook at his writing exercise. “I have finish.”                                            

            Alex sat up and adjusted his spectacles.  “You’ve finished?”    He had given Peter a passage from Gulliver’s Travels to copy out

             He skimmed the boy’s work.  “Aye … it’s not too bad.  You’ll have to slant your capitals a wee bit more. Here. I’ll show you.”

           Peter gave him the quill pen. Looking over the old man’s shoulders he watched as Alex wrote a capital W.

When I found myself on my feet I looked about me.

              A soft rapping at the door interrupted them.

               “Copy that out lad while I see who’s there.”

Dressed in brown corduroy trousers and vest Ian seemed to have come straight from the forge.

“Hello Ian. What brings you uphere?”

  Ian glanced at the boy seated at Alex’s desk. He whispered to Alex. “Can you step outside for a moment?”

“Aye.”

Alex told Peter that he could do his reading after finishing the copying. Alex then stepped outside closing the door behind him. “Well?” 

Ian leaned against the railing and looked down into the alleyway. “A gentleman arrived a few minutes ago from Kingston. He says he knows who the boy is.”

Alex glanced back at the door. He had always known that something like this might happen. However, over the past week he had not given it much thought. “I see.”

“Man’s name is Radek. Says the boy is a runaway, an indentured servant of Mister Radek’s employer a Baron Von Kraunitz. Ever heard of him?”

“No.” He had heard of the name Radek. Peter had mentioned it once but when?

“Anyway he says they’re from Austria and living in New York. The baron came up to visit Canada. Apparently when they came through Kingston the boy stole some money and ran off. Mister Radek has come up from New York to fetch him back. Wants to see you at the Royal Arms.”

A spasm of pain caused Alex to twinge. “I’ll get my hat and coat. Wait for me downstairs.”

As Alex put on his coat Peter looked up from his copybook.

“I have to see a gentleman. Shouldn’t be gone long. You finish your work.”

As Ian watched Alex descend the stairs he noticed how tired looking he seemed. Once the tramp was gone Alex could get some rest.

“How did the man find out where the boy was?” Alex asked as they crossed the street.

“I saw a notice in the Whig asking about a runaway.”

Alex stopped. “When was this?”

“About three weeks ago. It seemed to fit the lad’s description so I… wrote to him.”

“Why didn’t you tell me about this?”

“Well …. I didn’t get no reply. I figured it was the wrong boy. I didn’t think anymore about it until this man showed up. Besides you were ill. I didn’t want to bother you for nothing.”

“Very considerate of you. So you wrote to him in New York?”

“No. To an attorney in Kingston, a Mister George Chapman. He sent the letter on to New York City.”

A surge of nausea knotted Alex’s stomach. “You say this man’s from Austria?”

“Aye. A proper gentleman. He says you’ll be well paid for your trouble.”

             “Will I?”  As he recalled the boy’s screams Alex thrust his hands deeper into his pockets. He was still trying to remember where he had heard Radek’s name before when he opened the screen door of the tavern.

Radek poured another spoonful of sugar into his cup. He stirred the coffee and tasted it. One thing he had discovered about Canadians. Like other Britishers they knew nothing about coffee. Whenever the Americans took it into their heads to annex this Godforsaken country they might be considerate enough to bring some decent coffee with them. Radek admitted that from what he had seen of the settlements here the Americans had very little reason for moving north.

Behind him sat the Leuger twins sipping beer and playing one of their endless games of hearts. Ferdie had beaten Franz at every hand. Franz seemed unable to concentrate on the game.

              Radek studied the prospectus in front of him, the proposed building of a railroad from Chicago to St. Louis.  As he read it he mulled over what Campbell had told him.  A farmer had found the pig hiding in a barn and had shot him, unfortunately only wounding him. An old physician, McTavish, had taken him in. According to the blacksmith, the old man needed money.  The exchange should not take long. By nightfall the Leugers and he should be back in Kingston.

  Radek imagined how they would do it.  He had noted a few possible spots as they had approached the village. About seven miles south the road skirted a swamp. He would have Franz stop the coach there. The Leugers would take the pig off into the trees. They would probably take their time. When they were finished they would weight it down and toss it into the swamp.  He would stay in the coach. Give a man a job and let him do it.

Josef, knowing all this would go along with them. What else could he do? Even if he had managed to pick up a few words of English how could he describe what they had used him for? Campbell believed him to be a runaway and a thief. Some resistance would not be considered to be out of place.

Radek continued to look over the papers in front of him. They all dealt with possible investments ranging from shipping companies in New England to cotton plantations in Mississippi. At least this excursion had given him the chance to consider them undisturbed by brokers’ urgings. As he turned the page he heard footsteps approaching and then a tapping at the room door. That should be Campbell and the doctor.  “Come in.”

Radek let the two men wait for a minute before closing the file. When he did look up he saw what he expected to see, a short, slump-shouldered old man wearing shabby clothes. The doctor’s wide-brimmed round beaver hat was a fashion Radek had not seen since the thirties. His frayed coat cuffs and worn elbows showed years of use. His skeletal features, thinning hair and tired eyes spoke one word, failure. McTavish would not turn away a few easy dollars.

     Radek remained seated. “Doctor McTavish?”

        “MacTavish. Aye.”

        “Karl Radek. Take a seat. Please.”

“Thank you.”

The first things Alex noticed about the man were his hands. Soft and pale, untouched by calluses they were the hands of a clerk. He did not hold that against the man. He merely noted the fact.  Radek? When had Peter mentioned that name? Alex admitted that he was not disposed towards liking the man. Radek’s assumption that he could leave them waiting until he deigned to notice them Alex found hard to swallow. He cautioned himself not to allow dislike to cloud his judgment.

        “Would you care for some coffee … or tea perhaps?” Radek asked.

“No … thank you,” replied Alex.

“Perhaps something stronger?”

The tone of Radek’s voice caused Alex to bridle.

“No.”

“Constable?”

A glance at Alex caused Ian to shake his head. “No, thank you, sir.”

A silver knobbed ebony walking stick leaned against the side of Radek’s chair. Next to it sat a black satchel. Radek pulled a brown folder from out of the satchel and placed it on the table.

       “I understand Doctor that for the past few weeks you have been caring for a child. According to Constable Campbell the boy told you that his name was Peter. I am afraid that he lied to you.”

  An odd way to begin a conversation Alex thought. Then he recalled when Peter had mentioned Radek’s name, the name being screamed in a voice burning with hatred and fear.

Placing his right hand over his mouth he coughed. “No sir. He did not lie. I gave the boy that name. He has not told me his. That is not lying.”

“A bit deceitful, don’t you think?”

Alex shrugged. “Only if you wish to look at it that way. A patient doesn’t want to tell me his name, that’s his affair, not mine.”

Radek smiled. “You’re a very trusting man, doctor. An admirable quality but here you have misplaced your trust.”

“Have I? You’ll be kind enough to tell me why?”

“As you wish. The boy’s name is Josef Krivanek. He is the offspring of a village whore and a drunken pig keeper. My employer, Baron Frederick Von Kraunitz found the child while touring his estates. Taking pity on him he hired him as a servant. He hoped that with education and kindness the boy’s character might be redeemed.  I am afraid that his Excellency was wrong.”

Why Alex asked himself had Peter cried out Radek’s name and not the baron’s?

               Radek’s voice droned on.  “During his stay in Kingston when his Excellency was asleep the boy robbed him of twenty dollars and ran off.” He picked up the papers related to Josef.

              Alex leaned forward.  “Excuse me but you did say twenty dollars?”

               “Yes.”

Radek had thought of charging Josef with the theft of a larger sum but had decided that the amount did not matter.  These people only wanted an excuse to rid themselves of the pig. He held out the papers to Alex. “I have already shown these to Constable Campbell. You may also wish to have a look at them.”

  Odd thought Radek.  Instead of looking at the papers the man was looking at him. It was most impolite. “These are articles of indenture signed by the boy’s father and by myself. The original of course is in German but you will find a notarized translation.”

“You’ve come from New York City by steamer, train and coach to find a boy who stole twenty dollars from your employer?”

Radek nodded. “His Excellency has instructed me to compensate you for your time and trouble. I would also like to express my regret for any inconvenience caused you.”

“There’s no need, sir.”

Radek took out a grey envelope from the inside coat of his pocket. He dropped it onto the table in front of Alex.  “Five hundred American dollars. You may count it if you wish. May we see the boy now?”

Ian nodded pleased that everything had turned out so well for Alex.

Cards slapped against the table behind Radek and then came the scraping of chair legs against the hardwood floor.  Alex stood, turned and left the room. Campbell jumped up. Mumbling his excuses he hurried after Alex.

Gone to get the pig, thought Radek. In his hurry the doctor had left his money on the table. Careless. Still it would be safe enough until he returned. Radek resumed stirring his coffee.

Campbell reached the front of the tavern to see Alex striding toward the dock. He had not seen the old man move so fast in years. He called out after him.

If Alex heard him he made no sign of it. The doctor kept marching until he reached the end of the dock. He stood there looking out over the lake at Kilmarnock Hill. He felt a desperate yearning to go back into that house and never emerge from it.

Campbell trotted up to him. “Alex?”

Still facing the lake Alex sat on the overturned barrel.

“Alex?”

Alex kept his eyes on the distant house. “How much is he paying you Ian?”

“What?”

“Five hundred dollars as well?”

Puzzled Ian frowned. Why would anyone object to a hundred pounds least of all someone who had earned it?  “The man’s only being generous, Alex.”

“How much?”

For some inexplicable reason Ian remembered his mother scolding him for stealing a penny from her purse. “Well, he offered ten dollars for information but I wasn’t planning to keep it. I was going to give it to you.”

The statement sounded so ridiculous given the circumstances that Alex could not resist turning to face him. He looked into the face of a confused, concerned, honest man. “You don’t know, do you?”

“Know what?”

Alex closed his eyes and shook his head. “Jesus Christ, Ian. If it wasn’t for the money why did you write that damn letter?”

“I was only answering a notice. Couldn’t see no harm in it.”

Alex’s anger ebbed. He slumped forward on the barrel.  “No, of course not. No one ever does. The boy is a liar and a thief. You wanted to relieve me of my burden.”

“Something like that. You had been ill. I just thought …”

“Tell me, Ian. This letter you wrote. What information did you include?”

“What he looked like.”

“Physical description?”

“Aye.”

“His clothes and general appearance?”

“Aye.”

“That’s not enough to bring a man five hundred miles north. What else did you tell him?”

“Well, what you don’t find on everyone. The mark on his wrist.”

“The scar?”

“Aye. That’s how they knew who he was.”

“As his physician I would be interested in knowing what had caused that scar. Did Radek tell you that?”

“He said something about an accident.”

“Did he? What kind of an accident?”

“He didn’t say exactly.”

         Alex nodded. “No, he wouldn’t have. When you were describing this scar in such wonderful detail did you ever wonder what might have caused it?”

“Well I….”

“I’m just an ignorant backwoods physician but I know this much.  From the weathering of the skin I’d say that scar is about three years old. How old was the boy then? Nine? Ten? I’ve seen that type of scar before. They’ve all had the same cause. A desire to kill oneself.  Tell me Ian, why would a nine year old want to do that?”

Ian’s face blanched. “I swear Alex. I didn’t know.”  Alex placed a withered hand upon his shoulder. He had no desire or time to be angry with him.  “You’re a good man, Ian. Good men want to think that all men are good. They’re not. It’s my fault. I should have told you but it’s not the sort of thing people speak of.”

“But why? Why would a child do that?”

“Who knows.” Alex looked out over the lake hoping that Ian would not insist upon knowing more.

After a moment Ian spoke. “Alex, even if what you say is true, how do you know that Radek is responsible?  It could have happened before the boy knew him?”

“It could have.”

“You could be wrong, couldn’t you?”

“No. Not about Radek.”

“If the man’s papers are in order you’ll have to turn the boy over. Otherwise he’ll take you to court.”

“He won’t go to court.”

“Those are legal documents,” said Ian with the reverence held by the semiliterate towards official papers. “You can’t just ignore them.”

“Hell, Ian you wouldn’t know a legal document from the paper you wipe your arse with. Even if they are legal, I will not give the boy to him. Neither will you.”

“You have no legal proof that the man’s done anything wrong. The boy hasn’t told you anything about Radek, has he?”

“No.”

“Then how?”

“I know that kind of man. I lived with him for years.”

  “What kind of man?”

Alex studied the waves on the lake.  How much could he tell Ian? “I was with General Moore in Spain. Forty-second Highlanders. Bentict’s Brigade.”           

“Aye.” Ian had learned as much from his father. He could not see how this concerned Radek but he contented himself with waiting. 

The old man looked back over the waves into the past.  Waves became mountains and frozen plains.  “We were falling back to Corunna to be evacuated by the navy. I never made it to Corunna. Got as far as a place called Astorga. General Moore had to leave behind the sick and wounded.  They would never have survived the march over the mountains. I … asked for permission to stay with them.  The lads would feel better knowing one of their own was there to see to them.”

“My father never mentioned that.”

“No reason that he should. He was with Wellington’s army, the one that won, the one that people remember. Anyway the French rounded us up. They were decent enough about it. They put us in carts and took us up across Spain into France. Most of us they put into a fortress outside Lyons, Sainte Etienne.  Cold, damp, filthy, overcrowded; about what we had expected. What we didn’t expect was the commander.”

Alex’s voice hardened. “His name was Vigot, Colonel Jean Vigot, a relic of the old royal army. He was too old for active service so they had put him there. Colonel Vigot had two ambitions, to sit out the war in comfort and to make himself rich while doing so. He did that by stealing everything he could get his hands on, primarily the prisoners’ rations.”

“Being a medical man I was placed in the infirmary. Infirmary. An empty room with a small stove and a stone floor covered with dirty straw.  I had no medicines, no beds, not enough food or blankets. So what did he need me for?  I could look useful. He could tell Paris that he had secured a qualified British physician to care for British soldiers.”

“For five years I watched those men die. Yet no one ever died. Those men dead from dysentery, typhus, pneumonia, scurvy and despair lived on in Vigot’s ration books.  Every month the French would issue rations for the dead, rations he would sell. The more men died, the more money he made. Vigot didn’t even have to lift a finger. He just let disease and hunger do his work for him.”

Alex fell silent for a moment. Then he continued. “The French took a young ensign near Salamanca, John Fletcher. No older than sixteen he was. When you’re sixteen you think you’re immortal. He used to steal food from the guards’ mess and bring it to me for the sick. I told him to stop it. He wouldn’t listen. He was an officer and a gentleman. Vigot wouldn’t harm him.”

“Fletcher thought it was a lark. Vigot didn’t. When he found Fletcher stealing from his pantry, he had him arrested. Only one thief at Sainte Etienne was permitted. He ordered five hundred lashes.  In those conditions it was a death sentence.”

“After Vigot pronounced the sentence you couldn’t hear a sound.  Every man in that yard knew what it meant. They liked Fletcher and they knew why he had taken the food.  At the first blow the growling began like the first whistling of a storm, soft, almost gentle but you know what it heralds. Mutiny. We could all smell it. Vigot’s own officers were telling him not to proceed. A mutiny would lead to an investigation but Vigot had put himself into a corner. He couldn’t go back upon an order. Pride. Stupid pride. At least that’s what I thought it was at the time.”

“It wasn’t?”

Alex shrugged. “Partly but it was more than that.  Five hundred lashes he had said. Five hundred lashes it would be. He simply could not imagine anyone opposing him, least of all that half-dead rabble.  At the sixth blow of the whip a stone flew. By the eighth the air was dark with stones and clots of mud. Men clawed at cobbles with their bare hands.  The guards raised their muskets. He would have done it, Ian. He would have killed all two thousand. What were they compared to his pride? As I stood there watching I knew I had to stop that insanity. I went up to him and I gave him what he wanted.”

“You gave him…?”

“A way out. I told the bastard that I had ordered Fletcher to steal the bread. The punishment should therefore be mine. But before punishment I asked to be allowed to address the men. Vigot must have thought me mad. Perhaps I was. To him it didn’t matter who as long as someone was punished. It all sounds idiotic but I was gambling that Vigot knew that his neck rested upon avoiding a massacre. The authorities could ignore two or three men dying a day but not two thousand at once. He agreed.”

“I reminded the men of the years we had spent together and that although prisoners they still served under the articles of war. Their oath still bound them to their king, their country and to one another. Then I told them to stand to and witness punishment. They did. The French cut Fletcher down and put me in his place.”

“A flogging is a curious thing, Ian. Most men enjoy a hanging but not a flogging. It goes on too long. It’s just too bloody. Still there are some as take a liking to it. I wanted to know if Vigot was one of those.  I always suspected he was. Every time the lash hit my back I looked at him trying to read his eyes.”

“Grey empty eyes. No hate. No enjoyment. No dislike.  He was just ….empty. Thirty-seven years ago. I still remember those eyes. Radek has the same eyes. I kept watching for some trace of personal interest in the child. There’s nothing there, Ian. What matters to Radek is what mattered to Vigot. Is a life useful to him, nothing more. Then I asked myself, of what use would that child be to him.”

Ian’s mind was with neither Radek or with the boy. He thought only of the small, shabby, aged figure sitting beside him. Some called Alex a liar. Had he made up that story to win his sympathy? Ian thought of his father, Angus. A man that could lie about such a thing Angus would not have had as a friend. Angus had told him once that understanding Alex was like understanding the weather. Everyone thinks they do. No one does.  He considered what Alex had told him about Radek. Then he spotted a weak point in Alex’s logic. “Doesn’t really matter what Radek feels, does it? He only works for this Baron.”

“Does he? We only have Radek’s word for that. Think, Ian. Do you truly believe that any man would travel three hundred miles to bring back a runaway servant?”

“Then what’s he here for?”

“Radek can’t afford to let the boy go.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know. Radek wants to make certain that I never do.  There’s only one way to do that.” Alex waited for the full meaning of his words to sink into Ian.

“Jesus,” Ian whispered. “Alex you’re talking about….”

“Aye.”

Despite the warmth of the day Ian shivered. “What are we going to do?”

“I don’t know.”   Alex pulled himself back onto his feet. He walked back towards the street.

In two great strides Ian caught up with him. “What are you going to do, Alex?”

“Whatever I say, whatever I do, you back me.”

“Yes but what are you going to tell them?”

“The only thing I can tell them,” Alex lied. “The truth.”

He turned towards the tavern Ian trotting at his heels.

“Alex?”

“What?”

“Whatever happened to Vigot?”

“The French shot him.”

When they reached the steps of the Royal Arms Ian spoke again. “Alex, why didn’t you tell anyone about what you did?”

Alex stopped.  His eyes studied Zedekiah Ferguson and Joe Morris arguing over the contents of a newspaper. How could he keep Ian from wanting to know more? What lie would be the most suitable?  “No one ever asked. Anyway it was all a long time ago. Nothing worse than an old fool telling the same story over and over and everyone pretending to listen. No thanks.”

“But Alex….”

Alex ‘s voice became less reticent, more commanding. “The past belongs with the dead, Ian. Let it stay there. You would oblige me if you speak to no one of this. No one.”

Ian replied with a puzzled “aye”.

The doctor’s continued absence was not a source of great concern for Radek.  It would take time for the two to get the pig ready. He hoped that they had not been stupid enough to mention anything to him. That might create difficulties. However the doctor had not struck him as being an unintelligent man. MacTavish might have learned something of Josef’s background. He was a medical man. Still, it was unlikely. Radek was slipping his papers into his satchel when MacTavish and Campbell re-entered. They had not brought the pig.

When he looked up at the two men he could sense that something had changed with the constable. Once so accommodating, the man now seemed to regard him with open disdain. The doctor took a seat without asking for permission. Rudeness now seemed tinged with contempt. Radek guessed what must have happened. The two had plotted together to raise the terms of Josef’s surrender. He would need patience here, patience and flexibility. 

As Ian stood upright his arms at his side Alex sat back in his chair. He ignored the envelope that still lay on the table. Instead he busied himself with brushing dust off his trouser cuffs.  “What night did the boy run off?” he asked flicking at a stubborn speck. He spoke with a tone that implied that any answer from Radek would be of scant interest to him.

 The man’s rudeness irritated Radek. Was this his nature or was the doctor trying to make a point? “The fourteenth of May.”

Alex leaned towards Ian. “There was a storm that night wasn’t there constable?”

“Aye. A bad one.”

Alex turned back to Radek. “Had the boy ever been to Kingston before?”

Where was the pig? How did this question relate to the price of his surrender? Radek smiled. “No. Excuse me doctor but what does…?”

 Ignoring him Alex spoke to Ian. “Doesn’t it strike you as odd, constable? A child the first time in a strange city, in a strange country, in one of the worst storms of the spring, should take it into his head to run off?”

Alex turned to Radek. “Doesn’t it strike you as being odd, Mister Rabek?”

“Radek.”

Alex smiled. “Mister Radek. Perhaps you would be kind enough to help me understand them? I am his physician.”

Behind Radek the sound of card playing stopped. Franz and Ferdie sensing that something had gone wrong waited for the order to intervene. It never came. Radek scratched his left ear. “They do seem odd. I must admit that I know very little of what happened that night. I wasn’t there.”

“I see.” Radek had parried one thrust. Alex tried again. “Something else I didn’t understand. You said that he stole twenty dollars.”

“Yes.”

“I never found any money on him.”

Radek brushed Alex’s statement off. “He might have spent it. He might have lost it. I understand a farmer found him in a barn. Why don’t you ask the farmer?”

“I’ll do that. Another thing I don’t understand. Why was he going north?”

“I’m sorry?” The doctor was probing, searching for something but what?

Alex leaned forward, his arms resting on the table. He also smiled. The two men, thought Ian, resembled old friends having a casual chat.

“You’ve just been up that road.”

“Yes.”

 “God awful isn’t it? Worse in spring. After a heavy storm it’s impassible, at least for vehicles. If you do get past the mud where does it lead you? To a few villages and some farms. Why would the boy choose it? If I were he I would have taken the road to Toronto or Montreal or slipped back across the border. Why north? It doesn’t take you anywhere except deeper into the bush.”

“I see no mystery in that,” said Radek. “He was lost. He did not know where he was going.”

Alex nodded. “True. Josef was in such a hurry to get away he never thought about where to go.”

“Precisely.”

Alex sat back. Removing his hat he rubbed the back of his neck. “I’m not a very intelligent man Mister Radek but I have learned one thing. People have two reasons for running. They want to get somewhere or away from something. If he didn’t know where he was going to then what was Josef running away from?”

Radek fidgeted with the strap on his satchel. The doctor evidently knew something. He would use that to squeeze him for every penny. He put the satchel down on the floor giving himself time to prepare an answer.  “From getting caught. He was a thief. The boy stole from his master and ran. A natural enough reaction.”

“Is it?” Alex remembered Peter crouched under the window of his room pressing the broken bottle neck against his wrist. A natural reaction?  “So you’ve come all this way to bring back a dishonest servant? Are honest servants so difficult to find in New York?”

“My employer’s wish” Radek smiled. “I am bound to follow it whether I agree with it or not. The baron was fond of the boy. He does not wish to lose him. As a professional man I must follow his wishes.  As a professional man yourself you can understand my position.”

“Aye.” A good defense thought Alex.  “May I see your papers please?”

“Of course.” Radek reopened the satchel and took out the papers.

As he waited Alex studied Radek’s companions. They reminded him of some of the guards at Sainte Etienne, men prized by Vigot for their dullness of mind and willingness to use any method to enforce discipline. Such men made poor servants. Of course that would depend upon the type of service needed.

Radek handed Alex the papers. Alex thanked him. He took his time reading through the English translation and then glanced at the original.  Josef Krivanek was Peter’s name. His father, Milos, had signed with an X. Could he have understood what he was signing? He might have if someone had explained it to him.  The date of the signing was the seventh of September 1847 in someplace called Jablunka in Moravia. Almost three years ago. That would coincide with the scar. What came first, the signing of the paper or the cutting of the wrist?

“Everything is in order,” said Radek. “Signed.  Sealed.  Witnessed. The boy is the baron’s legal responsibility.”

Alex tossed the papers onto the table. “All right. You have papers. So what?”

The doctor’s casual dismissal of the papers offended Radek. He, or at least, Frederick, had spent good money having them prepared. “The courts will recognize them.”

They probably would, thought Alex. “The court is twenty miles away. What do you plan to do with them here?”

“I am certain that as gentlemen we can come to an arrangement without having to bother the authorities.”

“I am not a gentleman,” replied Alex, “and I rather enjoy bothering the authorities. Papers, Mister Radek, don’t open doors. People do. You’re quite right. The court will recognize those papers so go there. Talk to the judge. Bring back a court order with someone to enforce it. Then I’ll give you the boy.”

“Constable Campbell represents the law.”

“Constable Campbell is a blacksmith. He knows as much about the law as I do about whaling. He won’t act without approval from Perth. Will you, constable?”

“I don’t see how I could, sir.”

Blackmailers. Radek now saw how the two operated. A physician working with a constable would know every filthy secret in a place such as this. Probably MacTavish had something hanging over the constable. “You wish me to take this to court?”

“Wouldn’t that be the proper thing to do? You take your papers and your two friends off to Perth.  I’ll go along with the constable and … Josef. You’ll have your say. I’ll have mine. Josef will have his. We’ll let Judge Strachan decide.”

  Behind his spectacles, Radek’s eyes widened. MacTavish had just blundered. “The boy does not speak English. You know that doctor.”

Alex blinked. “He does now.”

A flicker of surprise danced in Radek’s eyes.  “Go on.”  

“Judge Strachan is a fair man. True he and I have known each other for thirty years. We are both veterans of the British army. We are both Scots. Still he is a fair man.”

Radek considered what must have happened. The pig had told MacTavish everything. The doctor, knowing the strength of his terms, had asked the constable to write the letter, drawing Radek into his trap. MacTavish would now state his terms. Radek would make a counteroffer. “If we assume that to save time and money my employer does not wish to take this matter to court, what then?”

“I can think of at least three other possibilities.”

“Such as?”

“Since Constable Campbell here has been polite enough to tell you where the boy is, I’ll not hide him from you.  He’s in my room above Anna Cleary’s shop. The key is in my coat pocket.” Alex saw no reason to mention that he had left the door unlocked. “All that you have to do is take it. Of course that would be a wee matter of assault and theft.  Constable Campbell might object to that.”

“I would,” growled Ian.

Radek played with the thought of setting the Leugers on the constable. He could take care of the doctor.  Not practical. The noise would attract people. Better to sit and listen.

“Second possibility. You come by at night, break the door open and drag the boy off. Again certain legal objections might arise.”

Radek looked down at his hands. The third possibility would be when MacTavish would state how much the pig was worth. Radek acknowledged that he had made a serious error of judgment. By waving a few pound notes and papers he had hoped to quash any possible opposition. Now he had to pay for his mistake. “The third possibility?”

Alex’s face hardened. “You get your arse out of town and never come back.” He picked up the envelope lying on the table and tossed it at Radek.

  Radek gazed at the smaller man. MacTavish he knew to be far more dangerous than a common blackmailer. He was an honest man. Honesty, Radek admitted, had its place in relations between reasonable men but MacTavish was not a reasonable man. Radek knew the type. A fanatical breed he avoided them whenever he could. Father Schiller, in his own weak way, had been one. They had removed the priest but not without some cost. He now had to decide if confronting MacTavish would be worth the necessary investment of time and resources. “In return for leaving what do I get?”

“I’ll say nothing to the boy about your having been here.”

What did MacTavish want? Silence in return for being left alone but why? It did not matter. Silence would serve, for the moment.  Radek nodded. “Agreed.” He slipped the envelope into his coat, packed up his papers, buckled his satchel and picked up his walking stick. “Personally, I’m glad to be rid of him but what shall I tell his Excellency?”

“I’m certain you’ll be able to think of something on your way back, Mister Radek.”

Radek already had. Giving the matter no further thought he signaled to the Leuger twins to rise. He then turned back to Alex. “You are an interesting man, doctor. You have taught me a valuable lesson. For that I thank you.”  He sauntered out of the room followed by the Leuger twins.

Franz opened the coach door.  Radek tossed in his satchel and stick.  “Back to Kingston, Franz. I want to be on the steamer to Oswego tomorrow.”

“We’re not just going to leave him sir, are we?”

Radek noticed the man’s unease. Could it stem from frustration or from something else? Had Franz told him everything about that night in Kingston? “Other priorities, Franz. We’ll worry about him later.”

As the coach rattled over the rutted road, Radek conceded that he could wait a few months before obtaining Josef. What could the old man do to threaten him? Nothing.  Still, two things puzzled him. What did MacTavish want with the pig? Was he another Frederick or was he aiming at pumping information out of Josef to be used for blackmail? He put the matter aside. The other problem was more worrisome for it hinted at treachery. “How did the pig learn English?”                                                             

  Alex and Ian remained at the table until the sound of the coach had faded into silence.

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Filed under Alex, Fiction

Alex : Chapter Ten

The New World

Josef crouched beside the room window, watching as the rain streamed down. Beyond the rain he could see yellow smudges from gas lamps on the street and from ships in the harbour.  If he peered hard enough, he could make out the grey outline of buildings, nothing else. People had fled the empty streets.  Dull as it was, at least the scene outside the window gave him an excuse not to have to look at Franz.  Franz sat at the other end of the room, drinking porter and playing an unending game of Solitaire. They had taken their supper downstairs, Josef dining with Frederick in a private room, Franz eating in the common room. Frederick, ignoring the weather, had then gone out to tour the local taverns. Franz and Josef had nothing to do but wait for him. Tomorrow they would board the steamship for Montreal.

Ten months had passed since they had landed at New York City, two years since leaving Marienberg. Nothing had improved for Josef. In fact, it had grown worse. In Paris and in London they had allowed him out to the parks, and to walk the streets with Frederick and Katrina. They had denied the streets to him in New York City.

The journey to New York had been long and indirect. They had spent two months in Paris. Then civil war in Paris had caused Frederick to flee to London. He settled in Bloomsbury. There he spent a pleasant fall and winter as Radek sought the means of persuading him to leave for New York but London agreed with Frederick. Frederick’s reluctance to move further coupled with the failure of the revolution in Austria threatened to unravel everything.  Radek confided to Katrina that they might have to take what they could and leave without Frederick. Josef had already told Katrina that he was planning to disappear into the city if they were still there in the summer. 

Then Louis Bonaparte was elected President of the French Republic. To any Austrian the election of a Bonaparte could mean only one thing, war. A week after receiving the news, Frederick agreed to travel to America.

They had disembarked in New York on the late afternoon of July the thirteenth. The rounding of the southern tip of Staten Island, the straining of necks to see the New World, the excited pointing of fingers, the approach of the pilot’s schooner, went unseen by Josef.  He remained locked in Frederick’s stateroom.  Radek remained adamant. Frederick had refused to contradict him. Katrina, wary of revealing herself had not chosen to make an issue of the matter. Josef remained in the stateroom. From its porthole he had a limited view of the seaward side of the approach to the harbour. Josef could see a brig making its way out to sea and a green shoulder of land, nothing more until the ship had docked. 

The steamship slipped past the green park of the Battery and the circular walls of Fort Clinton. It approached its final destination, the South Street Wharf.  Only after the crew tied the ship to the wharf, was Josef allowed out of the stateroom. Frederick’s right hand pressing his left shoulder, he hustled the bewildered boy down the ship’s gangplank.

Josef, pushed by Frederick, was soon at the bottom of the plank, standing on American soil, or at least on American wood.  Katrina and Radek followed. After them came the Leuger twins. The immigration and customs officials, once aware of Frederick’s title, treated him with a courtesy reserved for the most important visitors to the city. The baron and his party swept through customs, with as few questions as possible. The officers helped secure two cabs for them and suggested the Astor Hotel as the finest house in New York. Frederick was gracious enough to accept their advice.

The cabs squeezed their way north past other vehicles, mobs of pedestrians and the pigs that roamed the garbage-strewn streets. The cab driver informed Frederick that the pigs, since the days of the Dutch, had served as the city’s sanitation workers.

On the morning after his arrival Josef looked down from the sitting room window of Frederick’s suite at the traffic flowing past the hotel.  In a minute he could disappear into that crowd.

Franz looked up from his newspaper. “Impressive, isn’t it?”

Ignoring him, Josef continued to look down on the moving throng. Tomorrow, perhaps tonight, he would be walking down those streets, free of Frederick, of Radek, of Katrina and her brothers.

Franz lowered the newspaper and looked at the window. “Quite a city. It’s good to know about the pigs. Makes you feel more at home here, doesn’t it, Josef?”  He smiled as he disappeared behind the paper.

It had seemed so simple the way that Katrina and he had planned it on the boat. Within the first few days of arriving in America, Josef would disappear.  He would become separated from the others in the crowd.  Some night he might slip out of the hotel. Katrina would give him a few dollars from the pin money given to her by Radek.  Katrina had foreseen one problem. Manhattan being an island, they would have to find the ferries leading off the island to the mainland. Once Josef knew that he would know in which direction to go.  All that he needed was a chance to get out into the streets.  Radek would not give him that chance.  For the two weeks that they were at the Astor, he did not allow Josef out of Frederick’s suite. His only taste of open American air was the balcony.  All of his pleadings and all of Katrina’s scheming could not shake Radek’s refusal to allow him out.  Wait; Katrina told him.  Wait until they relax. When we get settled in, then he or Frederick would become more amenable.

They remained in the hotel until the end of July when they moved into a large house that Herr Radek had secured for them in a small village called Harlem.   In the northern half of the island, it lay amidst farms and green fields. The country air would be better for the health, Radek argued. The quiet of the country would assist in the finishing of Frederick’s manuscript.

Radek chose a three-story brownstone mansion. The former home of a tea merchant, he had passed the house and his debts onto his children.  To rid themselves of the latter, they sold the former. At thirteen thousand American dollars, Radek considered the house a bit expensive, but a baron had to live like a baron. Besides, he told Frederick; they could always resell it before returning to Austria. With land prices increasing in New York, they might even make a small profit.  Frederick took everyone with him when they went to look at the house, travelling by carriage from the Astor Hotel.  Josef stepped straight out of the hotel, Frederick holding his hand, into the carriage.   Radek sat on his other side, Katrina and the estate agent across from him. The Leuger twins rode outside. 

                The house was at the end of a quiet street, an important point the estate agent told Frederick, less traffic, less noise to disturb his Excellency.  As Frederick and Radek moved into the house following the agent, Katrina asked if she could take Josef to have a look at the kitchen and the back yard. Frederick glanced at Radek.  He then nodded adding that a woman would know best about the qualities of a kitchen.   The party broke up, Frederick and Radek going off with the agent to look at the study, Katrina and Josef, trailed by the twins, going into the kitchen.

Katrina made a cursory glance of the kitchen looking inside the range and checking the pantry space. In a clear voice she announced that she liked the gas lighting. It was very modern and much more convenient then oil lamps and candles. As she rattled on about the virtues of the kitchen, she led Josef towards the kitchen’s back door. It led out to the back porch and beyond it, to the yard.

The chestnut tree rose well above the eight-foot high red brick wall enclosing the yard. Its branches swept over the wall, reaching out to the fields beyond. Inch-thick creepers of an ivy bush had over grown the wall. Given five minutes time free of the Leugers, Josef could climb either tree or wall. Between the bars of the old gate he could see a dirt road running towards the fields. He could follow that road and disappear behind the trees and farms beyond.

                He looked up at Katrina. Josef did not say anything, but she knew what he was asking. She nodded, turned and told him that it was time to go back into the house, and did he not think that a garden would be lovely?

By the time that they moved in, Herr Radek had made changes. Josef discovered the first a week before they moved. Katrina was no longer to be his governess. Frederick told him the news during breakfast.  “Why?” Josef asked.

Frederick smiled. “You’re old enough now not to need one.”

“But . . . she was a good teacher.”

“Yes she was, but we need her as a housekeeper.  She will be very busy helping with securing new staff and preparing the house. She moved there with Herr Radek and Franz yesterday.”

                Josef remembered what Katrina had told him. Never argue.  “Why did she not tell me?”

                “I decided that it would be better if I told you.  Don’t worry Josef.  It will be like the early days at Marienberg again, in the library.  You liked it then, didn’t you, you and I together, learning things.”

“Yes, your Excellency.”

He did not see Katrina that day, nor the next day. When he did ask Frederick about her, he would only say that she was very busy getting the new house ready. Once settled Josef would have time to visit her. 

When Frederick brought him to the new house, Herr Radek and Katrina and the staff of nine servants lined up to receive them. Josef found it odd.   He had assumed that the staff would be American. They were not. They all spoke German, all being recent arrivals from the German states. As Radek introduced them, Josef felt as he had not left Austria.  German, not English, was to be the language of the baron’s household while he remained in America. As he moved with the baron down the line of servants, he looked back at Katrina. She was following behind Herr Radek. Seeing him looking at her, she shook her head. Josef lowered his eyes and turned to face the front.

                Once inside the house he asked Frederick if he could go out to the back yard, expecting Frederick to forbid it.  To his surprise Frederick agreed. Herr Radek made no objection, another surprise. He hurried out through the kitchen.  The Leugers were overseeing the handling of the luggage. Herr Radek was showing Frederick the new furnishings. Why should he wait? Katrina was unwilling or unable to help him any longer. Swinging open the screen door, he ran out onto the porch.

All that remained of the tree was a six-inch high stump. They had cut away the ivy that had covered the brick wall. Topping the wall was a fresh layer of concrete into which two rows of broken glass had been placed, their pointed tips threatening to cut the hands of anyone trying to clamber over the wall. He was still staring at the glass when Katrina came out. She placed her hands upon his shoulders.

“I wanted to tell you. They wouldn’t let me get back to see you.”

“They know, don’t they?”

“Radek suspects. Frederick just does what Radek tells him to do. ”

“I’ll never get out. They are not going to let me out of this house, are they?”

“It will just take a little more time.”

“How much?”

“Radek and Frederick are planning to take a tour of America, beginning in August.”

“Am I to go with them?”

“You’re to stay here, but the only two people to watch you will be Ferdie and I. I can get around Ferdie. They’ll be gone for a month.  The day after they leave, you will leave. I promise you.”

                “I’m tired of your promises.” He pulled himself away from her hands and slouched back into the house.                          Frederick and Herr Radek left for their month long tour of America on the first of August. Allowing Frederick to embrace him, Josef kept thinking of what he was going to do. When they were gone, he would go back to their room and pack his clothes. Katrina had been slipping him small sums of money when she could. He had accumulated fifteen dollars. That would be enough to see him well away from New York.

On the day of their departure, Radek requested Katrina to see him off at the docks.  Radek’s calling Katrina away was an unexpected complication. Katrina was supposed to draw Ferdie away. Still, Josef was certain that once evening came he would get away.  He would open his room window and, on a rope made from the blankets, drop to the street.   He would remain in his room until then.  Ferdie would assume that he had gone to sleep.  Josef ran up the stairs towards his room.   At the top of the landing stood Ferdie. “Where are you going?” he asked.

“To my room.”

“That’s not your room anymore.”

Josef tried to push past him, to find himself lifted into the air and tossed over Ferdie’s right shoulder. “You have a new room.” Oblivious to Josef’s punching and kicking, Ferdie carried the boy up the stairs leading to the third floor, the servant’s quarters.  He carried the boy past startled servants and closed doors to the end of the hallway. There stood the gaping door of a small box room, little larger then a closet. Tossing the boy in, Ferdie swung the door shut and snapped tight a padlock.

Josef threw himself at the door.  The oak held fast against his feet and fists. He beat against the door until the skin of his knuckles began to break and bleed. Then sliding to the floor, he looked at the room into which Ferdie had thrown him.  Light came from the ceiling through a skylight. He looked up at it to find iron bars blocking it. The room contained an iron cot, a mattress, blankets and pillow. Under the bed sat a white chamber pot. A gaslight jutted out from the wall. The room contained nothing else.  Not knowing what else to do, he began screaming, hoping vainly that a servant, moved by the noise, might release him. No one came. Finally, his throat sore, he curled up and waited for Katrina to return.

Josef did not know how much time had passed. He could not see the sun.  He surmised it must have been an hour, perhaps two. From somewhere, far down the hall, he could hear steps running up the stairs, light steps followed by heavier ones. Someone called his name. Katrina. She had returned from seeing Frederick and Radek off. Ferdie must have told her where he was. She would let him out.  He called out to her. The door began to shake. She shouted at Ferdie, demanding that he open the door.  Josef then heard the sound of a slap.  Something heavy hit the door. Katrina screamed.  So did Josef.   He fell silent when Katrina stopped screaming. He could hear her sobbing.  Then she was still.

The door opened.  Ferdie pushed Katrina inside.  “My sister has something to say to you, pig.”

                Josef looked up at the broken lips, bleeding nose and bruises, and at the torn jacket. The girl’s hair unstrung in the scuffle, hung down, framing her battered face. 

“Don’t try to leave, Josef,” she murmured. “Please.”

 “You see, pig,” Ferdie smiled, “Franz and I, we know our little sister, better then anyone, better even then Radek. We know about the games you’ve been playing with one another, the looks you use because you think that we’re too stupid to understand.  Here’s how it is. Radek needs you. We get paid good money making certain he gets and keeps what he needs.”

“Katrina is our sister. We love her, so we won’t punish her too much. Besides, she’ll pay us money every month to keep our mouths shut about what you have been trying to do. If Frederick comes home and finds his pet gone, what’s he going to do about it, eh? I can arrange it that you won’t be here, or anywhere else if you try something stupid. If my beloved sister is found helping you, who’s Radek going to blame?  So are you going to try being stupid, or are you going to sit in this room quiet, until Frederick gets back? It’s your choice, pig.”

Josef slipped down onto the bed, unable to look at either Katrina or Ferdie. What he had feared would take place back when he had first been told of America, had happened.  Nothing had changed. Nothing ever would. “I’ll do what you want.”

“Tell him what he is, Kat.”

Katrina opened her mouth, and mumbled the required word.  “Nothing.”

“Leave her alone,” said Josef. “Please.”

“Good,” said Ferdie. He offered his sister a handkerchief to wipe her face. “Everyone is happier now that we’re agreeing about things.   You see Josef; people who make mistakes get punished.  That’s the way the world is. Nothing personal. Now that we all know what you are, we can be friends again. By the way, I took your fifteen dollars, payment for my not saying anything about this. Fair, don’t you think?”

“Yes.”

“Katrina had no business giving you money.  You spend the rest of the day here. Think over what I said. Tomorrow I’ll have breakfast brought to you. Katrina can pack some things, books and toys for you. The month will go by faster then you think. Frederick will be back then. Something to look forward to, uh?”

As he chuckled, Ferdie pushed Katrina out of the room and closed the door, snapping the padlock shut.  The next morning a maid arrived with a small package. With Ferdie waiting outside, Josef said nothing to her.  She tidied and took out the covered chamber pot.   Katrina had packed a small parcel. He looked through it as he ate his breakfast. He found two picture books, a copybook, and a German spelling primer, an inkwell and pen.  Josef also found a letter.  He knew that Ferdie had read the letter. The envelope showed signs of having been opened, the crumpled letter being shoved back into it.  Katrina wrote to encourage him to behave himself, saying that Ferdie would not hurt him if he remained quiet. She would speak to Frederick when he returned to try to see if Josef could have an outing since she knew that Josef would never want to leave his beloved master. There the letter ended.  Josef tossed the letter aside. He did not look up when the servant returned for his breakfast tray and placed the emptied pot under the bed.  She then did a very odd thing. Without saying a word to Josef, she drew out from under her skirt a small cloth wrapped bundle. Placing it on the table, she collected the breakfast things, and hurried out of the room. Josef opened the bundle to find inside, a copy of Robinson Crusoe, a small paring knife, and a letter.

Eva is a good sort and has agreed to act as my messenger. She does not dare do more then that.  I dare not ask it of her.  Other things will follow but you must first have a place to put them. My father always kept his money in a hole in the floor underneath his bed. Tell me when you are ready. Then I will send more. If you have a message, place it under your plate.

Katrina. 

P.S. I did not know. Forgive me?

As he knelt on the floor, he compared the size of the planking to the tiny knife in his hand. Katrina, he decided, had lost her mind. Still, he did want to know what else she would bring him. Bending over he began to chip away at the edge of the planking with the knife.

Frederick, Radek and Franz returned on the first week of September having travelled as far west as a city called Chicago. Radek returned with enthusiasm for the wealth of the country. Frederick admitted that America had great beauty but that it lacked refinement.  Niagara Falls had impressed him. He regretted that they had been unable to see it from the Canadian side. Herr Radek had pressed him to move on to Ohio. Now Frederick was satisfied with his rambling. He wanted nothing more then to return to his history of the German Speaking Peoples.

Progress on his work slowed.  His drinking became heavier. With absinthe and brandy, Frederick had now developed a taste for American corn whiskey. His intake of opium increased from three to five spoonfuls. There was now a noticeable shaking of his hands.  In another note, Katrina advised Josef that if Frederick decided to take another trip, Josef should beg for permission to go with him.  For that to happen, thought Josef, two miracles were needed.  Frederick would have to be willing to risk his being out of the house.  Radek would have to second Frederick’s approval.

The first miracle happened in October. Frederick, embarrassed at the trick played on Josef, had begged him to understand that he had meant only to protect him from the American authorities.  Ferdinand had overstepped his orders.  Radek had admonished him. The room had changed a great deal by the time that Frederick had returned. The day before Ferdie had all of Josef’s favourite books and toys brought in and also a large reading chair.  He had, Frederick told Josef, given orders to make the room as comfortable as possible.

The baron also told Josef that he had decided to leave this barbarous country next summer. Josef would return with him. Herr Radek seemed inclined to prefer staying. Frederick would not object. Where Radek went, the Leugers went. It would be a very different Marienberg that Josef would be returning to, Frederick promised.  To show that he trusted Josef, Frederick assured him that he would bring him on his last tour of North America in the late spring, probably to the Canadas. Frederick thought that it might be interesting to tour this minor offshoot of the Germanic migrations. The blend of French and British cultures intrigued him. He wished to see if it was as unworkable in Canada as it had been in Europe.

Josef thanked him, knowing as he did so that Radek would never approve. Radek’s voice was the one that mattered.  For all of Katrina’s notes and whispered urging, Josef had accepted that Radek would never allow him out.

Although he spent most of the day in Frederick’s study, he had lost interest in reading. He would sit for hours, a book on his lap, beside the window. From there he could see people in the street. On the other side of the street was a large public common where he could watch people sitting and children playing.  For him, it might as well have been in Bohemia. He thought of asking Frederick to let him go there.   Knowing what the answer would be, he never bothered. He had the same reaction towards Frederick’s projected tour of Canada. It would never be, so why spend time thinking about it.

Radek spent much of his time away from the house, meeting with bankers, politicians and brokers, discussing the best means of investing the baron’s money.  He used his influence with city hall to buy a seat on the stock exchange and launched a small investment firm. Radek would not return until evening. By default, control of the household, with Frederick buried in his study, rested with the housekeeper, Katrina.  Actual power lay in the hands of her brothers.

Frederick had given up trying to resist anything that Radek wanted from him. Whatever Radek gave him to sign; he would sign without questioning, without even looking at the paper. Only on two points did Frederick refuse to budge. No one should harm Josef.  He was travelling with Frederick to Canada in the spring.

Once or twice a week, Josef would slip into the study at night, open the locked chest in which the manuscript was kept and bring the latest writings to Radek. Katrina told him that, apart from an occasional twinge of amusement, Radek saw the manuscript as an indicator of Frederick’s mental stability.

Frederick had strayed from the past of the Germanic peoples to their future.  Although still believing in the mission of the Germanic peoples to lead the world, he now stressed that domination should be moral. Conquests should be that of the spirit and of the soul.  More opium than historical research in this, Radek thought. He considered having the man declared incompetent but had decided that would be premature.

In March, the second miracle occurred. Frederick, summoning up what little remained of his authority, demanded that Radek allow Josef to go with him to Canada. Radek, who had avoided giving either clear denial or approval, assented, if Franz went with them.  Puzzled, Josef, using Eva as his courier, scribbled a note to Katrina, asking why. Arrogance, Katrina replied. Radek believed that Josef would not run.   He could not speak English. He did not know the country and would not dare to speak to anyone. Everything else had gone so well for Radek, why not be a bit flexible? Besides, he looked forward to not having Josef or Frederick underfoot for a few weeks.

Frederick first planned on leaving in June. In March after he had received Radek’s clear approval, he moved the proposed tour up to May. Radek, apart from pointing out the unpredictability of the weather, made no objection. One month, either way, would make little difference.

On the night before he left, Katrina received permission from Radek to help Josef pack.  She told the boy that once across the border, if any chance at all offered itself to get away, he should take it. He could not return to New York.  Josef told her then how much he hated her.  He hated her lies. He never wanted to see her again and would not even think of her. The promise that he made so long ago, meant nothing. She had not kept her word.  She had promised a new world. What had he received? Josef had spent month after month looking out at a world to which he could never belong. Stupid, lying whore.  Katrina, her face blank, continued with folding his clothes. She reminded him to brush his teeth before he went to sleep.  That last morning, before leaving for the ferry station, he refused to look at her, or to speak to her. He wanted the memory of that house, of her and of everything to do with it, to disappear. If he could just get away from there, but he knew that his attempt would fail, as had every other attempt.

The three of them travelled up the Hudson River to Albany.  There they took the train to Buffalo. By coach they went on to Niagara Falls. The weather was cool, but clear. They crossed the new suspension bridge into Canada without incident. Frederick took rooms at the Clifton House in the small village of Drummondville.

Canada. Josef hated the country.  He saw a cold, grey land, empty of hope. If he could slip away, where could he go?  The vastness of the land frightened him. Besides, Franz was always watching.   Josef knew what Franz would do to him if he caught him trying to escape, Frederick or no Frederick. Josef had to be certain that it would work before he tried.  The first chance had come at the falls. To get a better view, the three of them had climbed up a tower. As Josef stared down at the gorge below he knew that with just a step, he would be falling towards the tumbling waters, free of both of them. He could not do it. He remained rooted there until nudged to move on by Frederick. The incident confirmed what Josef already knew, that he was a coward, and that he would never try.

As they approached Kingston, the weather broke. The rain had become a solid sheet of water as the coach splashed over the cobblestones of Ontario Street. It stopped in front of the Prince George Hotel.  “Best in town sir,” the driver told Frederick.       

***

As he looked out the hotel window, Josef knew what was going to happen. Nothing. He was too busy brooding to notice Franz approaching until a great hand reached up and seizing the curtain, covered the window.

“There’s nothing out there for you, pig.”

“I was just looking.”

Franz sat and resumed his card playing. “Look at something else, pig.”

 “Don’t call me that.”

Josef had heard that word repeatedly from Herr Radek, from the Leuger twins, and from himself.   He knew that he would hear it again.  He just did not want to hear it then.

If Radek had been there he would have advised Franz to let the matter drop.  Radek was far away. Besides, Franz had never been very good at listening to advice, least of all where his small pleasures were concerned. Dropping a seven of hearts down upon an eight of spades, Franz smirked.  “So what do I call you, a sow?”

Josef grabbed a picture book and hurled it at the man’s head. He followed it with a ceramic vase. As Franz concentrated on ducking, Josef bolted for the door. Franz was on him before he had covered half the distance.

He picked up the kicking boy and jammed Josef against the wall. Unable to move, Josef replied by spitting in his face. Franz, as Josef knew he would do, threw back his arm to strike but then he froze. Undeniable evidence of an assault on Josef just might make Frederick angry enough, even in his feeble condition, to insist on dismissing him. With only Frederick to watch him, the boy would be free to run. How would Franz explain himself to Radek?

“No. I’ve got my orders. I’ll follow them.”  As he kept Josef pinned against the wall, Franz wiped the spittle off his face.  Punishment, he knew, came in many forms. He smiled.  “Those orders are going to change in a couple of months, pig. When they do, I’m going to remember this.”

Franz waited until the hate in the boy’s eyes ebbed away, replaced by despair, and by the realisation that he would never get away.  Franz released him. Josef dropped down to the floor. “Go ahead,” said Franz. “Call for help. When they come, I’ll tell them what you are.   I won’t be the only one to call you a sow then, will I?”

Franz remembered the weeks spent waiting on this whining little bumboy.  That mewling little pig had the best of everything. What did Franz have?   He had gained nothing except the right to be at the call of a degenerate coward and a fat slug. Franz could be out enjoying himself with a woman. Instead he had spent hour after hour, day after day, watching this filthy, little bastard. Someday, he would show them all. Why not start with Josef?  Why not? Frederick would be too drunk to notice. The pig would never say anything.   He looked down at Josef whose knees were pulled up against his face Franz reached down, seized Josef’s legs and dragged him towards the bed.

As Franz pulled him up onto the bed Josef remembered what Katrina had told him. Never resist if you know that you cannot win. Survive and wait. Close your mind off from your body. Learn to see and feel only what the mind wishes. The rest is nothing. As Franz’s hand pressed his face into the pillow, Josef knew that he had no right to complain. This had all been his choice.

When it was over, Franz stood, tidied himself and looked at the mess scattered about the room.  “You had better clean this up. Then get back to bed. Frederick might need you tonight.”

Josef remained where he was, lying on his side, his bare knees pulled up, covering his face. He knew now what he had suspected for months, that Frederick could no longer protect him. He had not wanted to accept that as a fact until Franz had begun hauling him across the floor. Suppose he told Frederick? What would his Excellency do? Nothing. He could not have the man arrested. Everyone would know. If Frederick dismissed Franz, Franz would only come back to punish Josef. The one who would have to leave was Josef.  Ignoring the pain below his waist, he pulled himself up. Silent, he picked up the objects that he had thrown. The cards had already absorbed Franz.  Finished, Josef stumbled into the bed. He pulled the covers up over his head, creating a cocoon safe from the man’s eyes.

Frederick reeled into the room just after midnight. He lit a candle, shook the rain off his coat and hung it up on a hook on the back of the door. He removed his hat and coat and placed them on the door hook. Frederick pulled off his boots, blew out the candle and dropped into the bed. He fell asleep at once.

Josef pretended that he was asleep, keeping his eyes closed. However he opened them just before Frederick blew out the candle. Protruding from the door was the room key.  Josef lay still in the dark debating what to do. He had to be certain that Frederick was asleep. Josef also hoped that the rain would end. It showed no sign of doing so. He saw one other problem.  Franz might be on the other side of the door, waiting for him.  Then Josef asked himself, did it matter anymore?

He rose and dressed in the dark.  As he pulled on his shoes, Josef thought of going through Frederick’s clothes for money but then thought better of it.   He should just concentrate on getting out. He fumbled his way along the door until his fingers touched the key. The boy paused for a moment, listening for any sound in the hallway. Satisfied that all was silent, he turned the key. Removing it, he opened the room door.

Josef paused, still half-convinced that Franz was waiting. Then he pushed himself out into the hallway.  Turning, he inserted the key and locked the door.  Josef then crept down the gas-lit hallway towards the stairs. A light glimmered at the bottom of the stairway. He edged his way down, one step at a time. When he reached the bottom he found the night clerk, slumped over, asleep in his chair. Josef dashed for the door. Within a few seconds he was outside in the street.

As the rain poured down, he whirled himself around and threw the key as far as he could.  Then, unaware of the direction in which he was headed, and uncaring, he ran.  For hours he ran. The black of the night faded into the grey of the morning. Although the rain eased and slowed, he did not. He still ran along that empty road leading out of the town. The cobblestones gave way to mud. It slowed but did not stop him. At last, mud splattered, rain-soaked, crippled by a stabbing pain in his side and his legs, he could run no further. 

Josef had reached a bridge that crossed a canal lock. Beside the lock a blockhouse squatted. On the other side of the lock was a farm. Beyond the farm the road ran on turning in a great loop. Having caught his breath, Josef began to walk across the bridge. He shivered but did not mind the rain too much. He felt thankful for the cover that it provided him.

The sound of an approaching wagon caused him to dive into the trees along the road. Ignoring the scratches from the bushes that had blocked his way, he hid until the wagon moved on out of sight.   Even when he was not trying to conceal himself, he remained aware of every sudden noise, of the shaking of every branch, imagining them all to be Franz, waiting to jump out at him.  What Josef could not know was that the road running north from Kingston was in such poor condition that heavy traffic avoided it in bad weather. Travellers preferred the road running up from Brockville, or abandoned land travel in favour of a steamship.  For the rest of the morning, Josef had the road to himself.

A small black figure hunched against the rain, he trudged through the black muck, following it north. Towards noon the rain stopped. Josef found the remains of an abandoned cabin. He staggered inside, threw himself down into a leaf-filled corner, and slept.  He awoke to find that evening had settled.   His stomach craved food.   He could not keep from shivering from the cold. His legs and feet ached with every step. None of that mattered.  Only distance mattered. Josef resumed his tramping.  The rain returned during the night. He trudged on passing through a small village. At the edge of the village was a church. Beside the church stood a tiny shed made from squared timbers, caulked with straw and mud.  A piece of twine fastened the door.  Josef undid the rope and pushed his way in. He slept for a few hours. Afraid of being discovered, he crept out at first light.

By the second day, his first need, distance, gave way to another, food.  As his hunger deepened, Josef realised the trap into which he had stumbled. He could not continue without food. He had no money to buy it. Josef did not dare ask anyone for help. If he was caught stealing, his arrest might guide Franz to him.  Josef thought that he found a temporary solution when he passed by a stream. To ease his hunger he drank as much water as he could hold. The result, a few minutes later, was severe stomach cramping. This led to an attack of flux; his soiling himself, and worst of all, a further draining of his strength.

That night he found shelter in a barn. He curled himself under a horse blanket, squeezing out of it a pittance of warmth. Through the third day he trudged on.  He ignored the aching in his stomach and legs, the bleeding from his bruised feet, the rain lashing him and the fever burning his skin.  Exhausted and blinded by the rain, he no longer cared where he was or where he was going. Capable only of dragging one foot at a time, he stumbled along the muddy track. He was lost somewhere in the midst of a jumble of trees, rock and rain. Josef was now deep in the great sleeve of rock and pine that separated the Saint Lawrence and Ottawa Valleys. The land was poor, the population scarce.  

He had blundered. He had taken the wrong turn in the dark and was walking blindly into a forest without end. Josef thought of turning back but behind him was Franz. Besides he was too tired. He had seen no sign of another road. He could only go on until, unable to take another step, he collapsed at the base of a large spruce. As he sat there beneath its boughs, trying to get the meager protection that it offered from the wind and rain, he wondered what he could do. More than anything else, Josef wanted to sleep. Then he saw the light.

A faint shimmer, it shone beyond the trees. Scrapping up the few traces of strength that remained deep within him, Josef staggered towards it.  He fought his way through bushes, stumbled over logs and roots and splashed through puddles. Then he broke through the cordon of trees onto a muddy track leading up towards the light. It shone from out of the front window of a farmhouse. Beyond the house, he could see the vague outline of a barn. His half-frozen hands thrust into his pockets, Josef gazed at the feeble beam.  As he shook from the cold, Josef told himself that he had gotten clear. He must have. All he had to do was to go up to the house and knock at the door. It would all be opened unto him, the food, and the warmth.  But the people would ask him who he was and where he was from. What would he tell them? Perhaps they already knew what he was.  They would send him back.  Staying with the animals would be safer. He turned away and splashed along the muddy path towards the barn.

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Alex : Chapter Nine

      Chapter Nine  :   Radek

“Damn Pig.” Three days wasted; steamer from New York to New Haven, then train to Albany. In Albany he had boarded the train for Oswego. Upon reaching Oswego he would take a steamboat across Lake Ontario to Kingston. From there by road to Kil-mar-nock; such odd names in this part of the world. Frederick and he had been unable to find the village on a map. He knew it existed somewhere in the great white blank north of Kingston. It would take at least three more days to reach it. He would then have to spend another six days getting back to New York.

The loss of money he did not object to as much as the loss of time. Karl Radek knew that he was not a young man. He would not pretend otherwise. His hair had begun to grey and was thinning at the top. A small paunch testified to his overindulgence in Katrina’s pastries. His own fault, Radek admitted. Fourty-three now.  He could still wed and sire a family but it had to be done soon. Above everything else Radek prided himself upon being a realist. He saw people for what they were, not for what they thought themselves to be. What he liked most about America was its lack of pretensions. Only the practical mattered, what a man could do, not his title, not his family background.

Radek looked through the window of his rail carriage. Black shadows of trees rushed past. This part of New York State did not impress him. The raw countryside seemed of limited value compared to the rich farmlands of the Hudson and Mohawk Valleys.  The future of America might lie on the frontier but the wealth still lay in the east, in the factories, farms and shipyards of the north and the plantations of the south. He leaned forward in his seat, his pudgy hands resting on the silver knob of his ebony walking stick.  Radek studied the two large bodies asleep on the seat across from him, the Leuger twins, Franz and Ferdinand.

They had served him well during the past eight years. They should have he grunted. He paid them enough. Radek wondered what it would have been like to have been born blessed with the stupidity of their minds. Life would have been so simple, a matter of procreation, digestion, excretion, drink and untroubled sleep. He could almost envy them. Had Napoleon felt the same about his servants?  He sighed and settled back in his seat. He should try to sleep. It would be a long day tomorrow. Odd. He should like travelling on trains. They represented everything that he admired about the new age, speed, power, and efficiency. He only wished that he could learn how to sleep on them. Every time he dozed off he would be jolted awake.

Thoughts of Frederick and the pig did not help. Radek could not decide which of the two he should dislike the most. According to Franz, Frederick had returned to the hotel well after midnight in his usual drunken state. Franz had waited in the hallway until he had heard the key turning in the lock. He had then gone to bed. When Frederick failed to appear for breakfast, Franz had checked his room to find the door locked.  Getting no answer after repeated knocking Franz persuaded the desk clerk to fetch a spare key. The clerk opened the door. Frederick lay on the bed in a drunken sleep. The pig had fled.

Radek had warned Frederick to keep it away from the keys. Between the liquor, the weather and two years of uncomplaining service from the pig, Frederick had forgotten.  Radek could imagine what had happened next.  Frederick had left the key where the pig could find it, perhaps in the door itself.  One moment’s carelessness had fouled months of planning. In the past Frederick’s incompetence had been useful. Now it had become an annoyance. The idiot had even thought of going to the police. At least Franz had been able to make him understand that such a step would only make everything worse. Frederick had then contacted an attorney, a Mister Chapman. Chapman had placed a notice in the local paper. He would send on to New York any letters that mentioned a scar on the left wrist. Franz had then put Frederick on the steamboat for Oswego.

Radek had told Frederick that if his pet was gone, so be it. This was not Austria. They could not call upon the police or upon the army. They could look for him but such a search could take years and could be fruitless. They had too many other priorities. The pig would say nothing. Why waste money looking for it? Frederick sulked but appeared half-convinced. Then the letter arrived.

Frederick had been ecstatic. Radek had felt ill. More money wasted for nothing. When Frederick had told him to go north and take the Leuger twins with him he had thought of saying no. Instead he had suggested that Frederick find another pet.  Frederick had looked at him as if he had said something disagreeable. He wanted his pet, not a substitute. If Radek did not want to go north, he would find someone else who would.

Faced with that choice, Radek had agreed to go. He had toyed with the notion of pretending to search.  He could tell Frederick that they had been on a false trail but Frederick’s threat to bring in an outsider caused Radek to decide to settle this business.  He would find the pig. Even if it wanted to it could say nothing. Both he and Frederick had agreed that it would not be taught English. Somewhere in that infinite expanse of forest and swamp he would bring it to a quiet place. He and the Leugers would then return to New York.  A case of mistaken identity he would tell Frederick. If Frederick fretted, too bad. Within a few weeks it would not matter what Frederick wanted.

Radek thought back to when he had first met the pig, September 1847. He could not say that his scheme had failed but he had never quite achieved the desired result. One had to expect that in business. The Americans had an expression. One rolled with the punches. You develop an idea. You invest your money and hope for the best. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes one had to know when to withdraw and reinvest elsewhere. He should have done that a long time ago. Now he would correct that mistake but he would not forget it

Radek had read Hegel and Fitche. From them and from his own observations as an administrator he had reached certain conclusions about human nature. Two kinds of humans existed, the Untermenschen, those who served, and the Urvolk, the chosen people. The latter possessed an understanding of the nature of the times and the determination to control it. Napoleon had possessed the determination. He had failed because he had not understood the times. He had embraced the wrong people and the wrong means. The future lay neither in France, nor with the military. It lay in the factories, mines and mills of America. The man who controlled those would control the next century. Napoleon should have gone into business in America.

The Leuger twins understood none of that, not that it mattered. They did what he expected of them. He had no right to ask for more from them. They had served him well. If they remained loyal they would die wealthy men by their standards, fat and content.  They would do well in his America. Loyal servants should be prized. Katrina, not quite as stupid as her brothers, could grasp to a limited extent his vision of America.  He valued her opinion, such as it was. She even helped him in forming judgements offering suggestions that gave him fresh insights into the characters of those beneath him.  Before he had left for the north Katrina had told him that she was with child. Giving her a child he saw as a fitting reward for her past service. He had told her again that he would marry her soon. The time and money invested in the Leugers had returned handsome dividends.

It should have been that way with the pig. Instead it had betrayed him. Three times it had betrayed him.  His own fault Radek reminded himself. He should have removed it as soon as it had revealed its incompetence in doing the simplest of tasks. For one reason or another he had never done so. This time though, everything would be different.

He thought of Austria. He missed two things about it; good sweet coffee with thick cream and the unquestioned acceptance of authority. In America, every detail of every order demanded intense examination. Radek hated having to explain himself everytime he wanted something done. Even so Radek had found American attitudes quite instructive.  In America efficiency did not require absolute obedience. Indeed it seemed somewhat Napoleonic. The great emperor had encouraged his officers and men to exercise initiative against armies shackled by centuries of tradition. Such initiative, coupled with respect for strong authority figures should make possible a rational form of democracy. The individual could pursue his own economic interests while remaining subordinate to presidents and governors. The right leaders could then forge a great nation out of this motley collection of states and territories. If people wanted to speak of equality, of justice and protection for all, let them. Frederick the Great had let his people believe as they chose. In return he had ruled as he chose; a sensible arrangement. Ordinary people such as the Leugers did not want to bother themselves about the mechanics of governing. Why should they? Did Radek want to learn the finer points of blacksmithing?

Radek knew where the future lay.  It could be read in rows of numbers recorded in account books. Power lay in the ability to manipulate the production of wealth. Imperial regiments were mere instruments of brokerage houses and of banks, nothing more.

                                                For three generations Radek’s family had served the Barons Von Kraunitz as clerks. Austria had gone through war, invasion, decline and growth, through periods of reform and repression.  Through it all the Radeks had sat on the same high stool in the same small room scribbling away surrounded by ledgers.  Karl’s grandfather, Otto, of mixed Slovak and German blood had been born a serf on the Marienberg estate. Taught to read and write by a priest he rose to the position of senior clerk and was given his freedom. His son, Heinrich, spent thirty-seven years helping the old Baron, Frederick’s grandfather to satisfy the three great passions of his life, horses, hunting and mistresses, without bankrupting himself. The old baron rewarded him by dragging Heinrich off his stool. In a drunken rage the baron had screamed that Heinrich was cheating him. As Karl, clutching a ledger, looked on, the old baron had slashed Heinrich’s head with a horsewhip. Already ill from pneumonia, Heinrich died three days later.   

The baron’s son, Albrecht, took over the Von Kraunitz estates.  He wrote to Chancellor Von Metternich explaining that the old baron, suffering from an advanced form of syphilis, could no longer rule his lands. To remove the shame brought upon his family’s honour by Heinrich’s death he appointed Karl as overseer of Marienberg, the baron’s residence.  A year later he appointed Karl as General overseer of all the Von Kraunitz estates.

Karl became overseer of Marienberg at nineteen. A plump youth, he stood five feet and six inches tall. His complexion already pale from too many hours indoors, had become pasty white over the years. His eyes, strained by hours at the accounts took on a permanent pinkish tinge hidden only partly by his round gold-rimmed spectacles.  The servants and peasants whispered about Die Eule, the owl. Radek liked the name. The owl symbolised wisdom and learning. A hunter, it pounced upon its prey, always wakeful when others where sleeping. Die Eule. When he had more time he would write his life’s story for the benefit of future generations. He would call it The Owl.

Since the time he could walk Karl been had told by his father that he was a peasant. Nothing he could do would ever change that. Money in the bank, fine clothes, a coach, none of it mattered. He still had to remove his hat and bow as did any other peasant. The Von Kraunitzs had raised his family from the manure of the fields. They could thrust them back on a whim.

When Karl was thirteen he had looked through the great library at Marienberg, a room left to gather dust by the old baron. An avid reader, young Karl spent some of his time poking through the bookshelves. On one shelf, stashed among folios he found an atlas. In it he found a map of the United States of America. Two things had intrigued him, the size of the country and the fact that it called itself a republic.

He spread out the map.  On it sprawled a country, stretching from the Atlantic to the Rocky Mountains. He compared it to the map of the Habsburg Empire. The United States dwarfed the empire. This came as a shock to Karl who had been taught that the Habsburgs were the most powerful rulers on earth.  Most of the United States was a blank space but even that intrigued him.  Spaces were meant to be filled. What caught his particular attention was that this vast state was a republic. Why was it not an empire?  Only three other countries compared with it in size, Russia, China and Brazil. They were all empires. What made this country different?

Karl knew of republics. Ancient Rome had been a republic before civil strife had destroyed it.  Jacobite France, a land of blood and revolution, had been a republic. Venice, corrupt and impotent, had been a republic. Tiny, impoverished Switzerland was a republic. Republics were failures or historical oddities. Kings and emperors ensured a nation’s greatness.  Napoleon had understood that. That was why he had crowned himself.  When the kings and emperors had defeated him they had replaced him with a king.  The failure of the French Republic had proven the superiority of Monarchy over Republic. Yet the United States had not only survived. It had grown and prospered.

Karl gathered as much information as he could about the United States. Such information was very limited. The imperial censors ensured that writings on the American constitution and government were unavailable.   After he left Austria Karl obtained a copy of the American Declaration of Independence and of its constitution. When he read them in Paris they confirmed his belief that America needed men such as himself.

He studied American geography, memorising the states. Numbering just seventeen when he had first looked at the map the number had now grown to thirty-one. The speed of the country’s expansion amazed him.  In one year alone, in 1846, the United States had seized more land then the Habsburgs had accumulated in three centuries. The more he learned about the country, its literature, history and politics the stronger his passion for it grew. He taught himself English and read the writings of Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper to prepare himself for the day when he would become an American.

In his readings he found the secret to the success of America, its wealth and remoteness. America, rich in land, forests, minerals, in everything, was too far from Europe for the great powers to dominate. A combination of British industrial strength and German and Russian manpower had brought Napoleon down. With American resources the great Corsican could have dragged down all the kings and emperors.

1846 had confirmed Radek’s belief that America controlled the future. The Americans had swallowed over half of Mexico and large parts of the British territories. He could imagine America continuing to grow, taking Canada, the islands of the West Indies and the rest of Mexico. The men who ruled such a state would dominate the planet, but they would not be military men. They would be the businessmen and the financiers.

So it was in the new Europe of steam engines and factories.  During the thirty years after Waterloo the empire had grown fat, its prosperity spurred by new factories, canals and railways. Albrecht, caught up in the spirit of the times had encouraged Karl to invest in the new enterprises. Karl had needed very little encouraging. Both Albrecht and Karl had done well.

Perhaps they had done too well. It was one thing to make money in Austria, but then what? Karl wanted America. As the baron’s fortune grew so did his need for Radek. Karl knew that he would never receive permission to leave the baron’s service. He could have slipped away at night but he had no wish to arrive in America penniless. Money and power went together.

If only Albrecht had been like his father everything would have been so much simpler. The old baron had been raised to lead a charge against the emperor’s enemies. Albrecht had decided that modern times demanded modern methods.   He had studied estate management and accounting. He spent a great deal of time pouring over the estate accounts with Karl. Fortunately for Karl, he could not give them his undivided attention. Albrecht had to spend a considerable amount of time travelling to Prague, Carlsbad, Vienna and Trieste in the service of the empire. His duties kept him away from Marienberg for much of the year.

Another duty that Albrecht had was to produce an heir. For this purpose he had chosen a girl of eighteen, Sophia Von Holonhoe, a distant member of the royal Wittlesbach family of Bavaria. Two years later in 1826 his son, Frederick, was born. By 1841 Albrecht, in good health, looked forward to presiding as baron for decades to come. That spring Radek arranged for the appointment of a new coachman for the baroness, Franz Suk. A strong, handsome, dark-haired Czech, Suk, according to Radek’s informers, had a reputation as a rake in the villages around Marienberg. . 

Three months after Suk’s appointment a letter arrived on the baron’s desk in Vienna.

Written in a childish scrawl it warned the baron against the dangers of neglecting a young wife. Albrecht tore it up and tossed it away. The next week another letter, in different handwriting, arrived.  The week after that, another arrived. Three different letters by three different writers all outlining the baroness’s habit of taking long drives in the countryside during the afternoon, accompanied only  by her coachman

The night after receiving the third letter, Albrecht left Vienna. As he sat in his coach he reread the last letter. It described a woodsman’s hut deep in the forest next to which peasants had seen the baroness’s coach. The coach was seen returning in the evening to Marienberg.  Albrecht arrived home in the late afternoon to find Sophie, her coach and Suk gone.  The flustered expression on Radek’s face told him the rest. Without waiting to change Albrecht belted his sword, mounted a horse and rode off, following the road the letter said would lead to the hut. The rutted road brought him to a clearing in which stood a straw-roofed cottage. In front of the hut was the abandoned coach.  Leaving his horse at a discreet distance he walked as lightly as he could towards the cabin. Finding the door unlocked he pushed it open.

On a dirty linen sheet spread over a crude bed his Sophie, naked, knelt in front of Suk. The coachman, also nude was pressing her head against his belly.  Albrecht drew his sword and began slashing before the couple could separate. He kept slashing until the screaming stopped.

The baron had done what honour demanded. As he rode back to Marienberg he admitted that part of this had been his fault.  He had left his wife alone for too long. Ignoring the servants staring at the bloodstains on his grey overcoat, Albrecht strode into his study and locked the door. For all his modern ways Albrecht was still an aristocrat. He had reacted in the only way that he could. All that remained was the last act of redemption to clear himself of any guilt in the eyes of his emperor, a pistol shot through the brain.  As the hours crawled past Radek listened for a shot. None came. Finally as midnight passed, Radek, using a duplicate key, opened the baron’s study.  If Albrecht asked why he was there Radek would explain that his concern for his master had caused him to enter without permission.

Albrecht sat slumped at his desk, emptied brandy bottles in front of him. The baron had drunk himself into unconsciousness. Reflecting upon the decadence of modern morality, the overseer turned and locked the door. He then went over to the fireplace. Upon it sat the red mahogany box in which Albrecht kept his pistols. He loaded one, placed the barrel against the baron’s right temple and fired.

Frederick Von Kraunitz, a fourteen-year-old schoolboy now controlled one of the empire’s great fortunes.  In theory, young Frederick was now a ward of the emperor but the emperor was mentally incompetent. The duty therefore fell upon the Imperial chancellor who was too busy. The imperial cabinet’s decision was the usual one; put the matter off for further consideration. Frederick was left under the supervision of his father’s loyal overseer, Karl Radek. 

In the past nine years Radek had traveled far. He could see the end of the journey now. Only two tasks remained. Seeing to the pig would be one. He sank back against the leather padding of his seat and closed his eyes. Again he tried to ignore the rattling of the wheels and the swaying of the coach. If only he could sleep.

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Alex : Chapter Eight

               

           KIlmarnock Hill

The second of June dawned warm with a touch of cool air blowing in off the lake. Alex leaned out his window and sniffed the air. Today he would ride to Kilmarnock Hill to visit George and Maureen. He had not been out riding for three months. Bess, his five-year old Morgan mare, he had lodged in Campbell’s stable. Every week he would go down and bring some sugar with a bit of apple or carrot. Sometimes he would even take her for a walk ensuring that she received her exercise, but he had not been up to riding her. Alex had considered selling her to Ian. Now with the warm weather returning and feeling a bit more of his old self Alex looked forward to saddling her.

On the previous night the week that he had promised to keep Peter had ended. Alex would let the boy remain for a few more days. He liked having someone else to clean up and cook for him.  On the way back from visiting George Peter and he had stopped at Harrison’s. He had bought the boy a gift, a copybook for a sixpence and twopence worth of rock candy. Harrison had been polite enough, attributing the boy’s silence to shyness.

Peter bent over the copybook. Alex had given him a passage from Macbeth to copy down.  Since the boy was here, Alex decided to work upon improving his English. But how long could the boy stay with him? He hoped to resolve that with the visit to Kilmarnock Hill.

“You’ve done your work well, lad. Would you like to stay on for a few more days, another week or so? A shilling a week. It’ll give you a wee bit more to help you on your way.”

Peter chewed at the end of his pencil. Perhaps they had given up looking for him.

“Another week then?” Alex asked. “That’ll mean two shillings, plus your fare.”

“Yes. Thank you.” The boy bent over his writing again.

Now came the difficult part thought Alex. “So, what say we ride over to Kilmarnock Hill and let Doctor McKay know that you’ve found employment?”

What did they need him for, Peter asked himself. About to protest Peter hesitated. That might offend Alex. “Yes.”

***

His arms hugging Alex’s waist Peter tried not to think about how far it was down to the ground. Beneath him he could feel the up and down moving of Bess’s legs.  The thought occurred to him that walking would be both faster and safer. However Alex had wanted him to ride.

      They trotted across the covered bridge and climbed the hill that flanked the eastern shore of Lake Lomond.

Below them the silver water glittered in the late morning sun. A thin crescent of buildings encrusted the shore.  Bordering the crescent were green fields that nibbled at the edges of the great forest. The dark trees marched over the low hills losing themselves in the horizon. The only break in the wall of trees was a slash of yellowish-white marking the Kingston road.

  “You see those hills,” said Alex pointing towards the west.  “From here to there, it was all MacTavish land once. Eighteen thousand acres. When we first came up here by packhorse, my brother James and I, there was nothing here, just trees and rock, the hills and the lake. James saw it all in his eye, just as you see it now, the farms, the buildings, the fields.”

“Where is your brother?”

“Been dead for years; died from cholera back in thirty-four. The land’s all gone now.  Fool and his money, lad.”

Bored, Peter squirmed tightening his hold on Alex’s waist. “Please, doctor, what is Kill . . . marnek?”

“Kilmarnock. That was where James and I came from back in Scotland. Pretty place.”

“You liked it there?”

“It was home.”

“Then why did you leave?”

The old man pulled on the reins.  Bess stopped.  Alex dismounted. “Call of nature, lad. An old man’s kidneys.”

Peter looked down at the ground. He decided to remain where he was. “Why did you leave Scotland?”

“A man has to think of his future, lad,” said Alex shambling off into the bush.

As he waited, Peter wondered about the future. He had always assumed that the future stretched over a month or a most a year. Here with the doctor and with Bess the future resembled the trees, without limit, if the others stayed away. They must have stopped looking for him. That was the good thing about being nothing. If you remained quiet and did not cause trouble, why would they want to find you? Herr Radek would not waste money looking for nothing

Alex re-emerged from the bush tucking a handkerchief into a coat pocket. Flecks of pink stained the cloth. The doctor, Peter thought, looked pale.  He hoped it was not the fever.

                 “We’ll walk for a while,” Alex said, a dry hoarseness muffling his words. “Give Bess a rest. Another

half-mile. Not far.”

He helped Peter down to the ground. Alex took the reins and walked in front of Bess. Peter trailed whacking at bushes with a stick he found on the road.

“This house we’re going to is Kilmarnock Hill,” said Alex, his voice now recovered. “James built it twenty years ago. Doctor McKay lives there with my niece.”

Peter wished that Alex would speak of something else. He suspected that the doctor would still try to persuade him to work there.

“These people are very important to me. You behave yourself. Do you understand?”

                “Yes.” He took another swing at a bush.

              “You keep your language decent. You answer politely.”

Peter concentrated upon punishing the underbrush. “Yes.”

“What’s your name?”

“Peter Mueller.”

“From?”

“Hamburg.”

“Good.”

                Alex decided that Peter had to have a full name. What that name was did not matter. People arriving in a strange country could put on a new name as easily as they could don a pair of trousers.  Mueller had been the name of a Prussian officer Alex had once known in Paris. Hamburg he knew to be a major seaport. He knew nothing else about it. Neither did the boy. Neither did anyone else in Kilmarnock.  If they asked about the boy’s parents, he would tell them that they died of ship fever before reaching Montreal, a common enough occurrence. A young boy lost in a strange country turned up a wrong road and lost his way.  Any detailed examination of the story might cause it to fall apart but who would care enough to examine it that closely?

       They continued plodding on until they reached a crossroads.  The main road turned south east running away from the hill to join up with the Farmersville and Brockville Road. The smaller road curled up the hill. Alex mounted, telling Peter to do the same. From the back of the horse Peter could look down at the lake. Beside the shore was a small dock beside which a sailing dinghy bobbed. Behind the dock a large ruined grey stone building.

“The old saw mill,” Alex told him, pointing at the ruins. “Been closed for years.”

They passed through a line of white birch trees coming out into a green hillside. At its summit sat a great cream-coloured sandstone house.

An old man stood on the far right side of the hill, swinging at the grass with a great scythe. He paused and taking out a whetstone, spat on it and began to sharpen the blade. As he did so he noticed the horse and its two riders. He removed his wide-brimmed hat plaited from fine straw.  “How be ye, doctor?” he asked touching his forehead in a reflexive gesture of respect.

“Well enough, Jacob.”

Jacob Tull, a Devonshire native had worked at Kilmarnock Hill as odd job man for over ten years. Before then he had been a hand at the saw mill. He and his wife Enid lived in a small cabin two miles out on the North Mountain Road.  Jacob would come in the morning and do whatever work and repairs needed to be done about the house in return for lunch and two shillings a week. Jacob was a good worker but was getting on. Alex hoped that the   McKays would take on Peter as the old man’s assistant.

Jacob stared at the small figure sitting behind Alex. McDermott’s fox. He had overheard Mrs. McKay telling Rebecca to make certain that the little thief did not take anything from the kitchen. Jacob reminded himself to check his tools.  He hacked and spat the dust out of his throat.  The doctor needed to get out more. He seemed as white as a sheet. “Can I take your horse for you, doctor?”

“No, thank you, Jacob. I’ll see to her myself. My regards to Enid. You go on with your work.”

“Aye surr.” Jacob placed his hat back on his head and began swinging the scythe again. As he did so he studied the boy’s back. The child had been watching him through narrow brown eyes. When he spotted Jacob looking at him he pressed his face against Alex’s back. “In a few years, that’ll be gallows-bait” Jacob muttered. Anyway it had nothing to do with him. Whistling, he concentrated upon his work and thought of the meal that Rebecca would have prepared for him.

Twenty years after its construction Kilmarnock Hill still remained the largest house in the township.  A few  of the wealthier villagers, Morris and Harrison among them planned to build homes just as imposing but Kilmarnock Hill still stood alone in its size.  James had built the two story house along Georgian lines. A great stone chimney rose along the right hand side of the house. Five large windows looked down from the second floor. The central part of the front extended outwards creating a mud room behind a great white door.  The master bedroom where James and Jean had slept and died was situated directly above the door. A triangular pediment rose above the bedroom windows giving a peaked top to the front of the house.  Above the peak was an iron lightning rod, its four points turning with every change of the wind.  A flight of twelve stone steps led up to the front door.

Alex rode past the front door. He preferred entering the house through the kitchen door.

Rebecca Cleary had served as housekeeper, cook and laundry woman to the MacTavishes for over twenty-five years, long before the construction of Kilmarnock Hill. Alex would often be away from the house, visiting remote districts of the township.  When Maureen had been in school she would spend only a few weeks of the year at Kilmarnock. By right of occupancy the house belonged to Rebecca, a fact not lost on Maureen.

For fifteen years Rebecca had held the keys to every room in the house. Alex had never challenged her authority. Even after taking back the keys and reminding herself that the woman was only a servant, an Irish one at that, Maureen could not help feeling intimidated by her. She suspected that Rebecca knew it. As long as Rebecca lived on the hill Maureen would never be the mistress of her own home.  Rebecca showed no intention of leaving.

Rebecca had baked a deep dish apple-cinnamon pie in honour of Alex’s visit. He had not visited in a month. Although every Sunday Rebecca brought him a liberal supply of baked goods, she still fretted about him.  Rebecca believed that Alex, as were most men, was helpless without a woman to tell him what to do. Alex was just a little more helpless than others.   She was just removing the pie from the great cast-iron range when she heard Bess approaching. She put the pie on the table, took a quick look at herself in the small mirror hung from the wall, patted out a solitary wrinkle that marred her apron and swung open the screen door.

As Alex swung down to the ground, Peter watched the screen door open. From out of the kitchen emerged the old woman that had visited Alex. Peter slid down the flank of Bess keeping the horse between himself and the woman.  “I will stay with the horse” he whispered to Alex.

“No you won’t” growled Alex. “You’ll come with me and you’ll pay your respects. Mrs. Cleary is an old friend. I will not have her offended. Mind. You speak civil.”

“But….”

Peter’s protest subsided at a look from Alex.

Alex led Bess over to the shade of a large pine. He tied the reins around the trunk and left the animal cropping the fresh green grass. Peter followed Alex uncertain about what to do. In such a situation the best tactic he had found was to be silent. If people thought that he was stupid they would soon stop thinking about him.

Alex had gotten so thin, thought Rebecca. She had noticed his laboured breathing as he climbed the porch steps. Not enough exercise or fresh air. Too much time cooped up in his room. She reminded herself to speak to Doctor McKay about Alex’s condition. It was more than high time for Alex to come home.  “We were starting to think you had gone off to them gold fields in California.”

“We got off to a slow start this morning.”

“Humph. You never were much for a fast start, were you Alex? How are you keeping?”

“Well enough,” Alex smiled.

Rebecca humphed again. If Alex were to be run over by a herd of wild horses he would have said the same thing. Alex always was his own worst patient. She glanced at the boy who was watching Bess crop grass. “How are you, boy?”

Peter looked at Alex who gave him a look urging him to reply. “I am fine. . . thank you,” he mumbled staring at the ground.

     Rebecca recalled her first meeting with Peter in Alex’s room. The rudest little piece of baggage she had ever met, refusing to speak or to budge from his corner. Throughout the visit he had remained curled behind his book. If the boy had been one of her sons she would have had him over her knee in a second. Children needed love, but discipline had to come first. Alex had never understood that. That had been a major source of his troubles with Maureen.  “Come inside,” she told Alex. “Her highness is waiting for you.”

Maureen had decided to greet her uncle in the drawing room. Her first impulse when Rebecca had called out to say that he was coming had been to go out to the porch. She had decided against that. It had taken her uncle a month to consent to travel two miles to see her. A few more minutes would not make any difference. It would also remind him that it was up to him to make amends. Besides she had always felt more comfortable inside the house.  She did look forward to seeing him. She had polished, dusted and waxed until the house gleamed as it must have done when James MacTavish had presided over a household of five servants. She had only herself, Rebecca and Mary Davis, a girl of sixteen who came in from the village and slept at home.  An inadequate number but George had told her that was all they could afford. If only, but this was not the time to rake up old coals. It was time, Maureen hoped, for her uncle and herself to begin again.

Maureen decided to wait for her uncle in her mother’s drawing room. There she sat on the Ottoman beneath her mother’s portrait darning one of George’s vests.   In keeping with the warmth of the day she wore a dress of blue muslin. To the front of her collar she had pinned a cameo brooch, a present from her uncle three Christmases before. It would please him to see her wear it. He might even interpret it as a sign that she on her part was willing to forget and to forgive. Her father would have approved.

Maureen reminded herself that Alex was her father’s brother. James had tolerated and had loved him despite his weaknesses. She should try to do the same. It comforted her to think of her father even though she had only the dimmest of recollections of him as a living man. She had only been six years old when James had died. Even when he had been alive he had often been away, involved in business dealings of one sort or another. Maureen derived her actual image of James from the portrait suspended above her and from Alex.

James had been a tall man, over six feet. Sandy-coloured hair, heavy side-whiskers, broad shoulders, a face burned brown by years in the wilderness, he had stood straight as the Lord of Kilmarnock dressed in the garb of a Highland chieftain. Like Simpson, Selkirk, Talbot and old Simon MacTavish, he had built an empire in this new land. She could see his blue eyes staring into the wilderness searching for new challenges.  There was a proud, almost arrogant swagger to his shoulders. From the full length portrait of James Maureen turned to her mother’s picture.  Courage and a love for life had filled each of her sixty inches, still shining out of the painter’s pigment after the passing of twenty years.

What kept a family strong was its knowing where it came from. That Uncle Alex never understood. There was no portrait of Uncle Alex. She had asked him why he had never had one done. He had shrugged and muttered something about it being a waste of money, which sounded odd coming from him. But then Uncle Alex had always been odd.

Perhaps if he had married he would have been different. However Maureen had to be truthful. What woman would have wanted him? A short, ugly little man, he lacked any physical appeal.  She had not thought that when she had been a little girl. As she had matured she had begun to see the truth about him. She knew that one should not judge character by outward appearance. Many women married ugly men. Yet what else could draw a woman towards him?  His charm? His good sense? Alex had only one virtue that any woman would have found appealing, money. Rebecca Cleary had seen that. She had used him to benefit her own family, entrenching herself so deeply in Kilmarnock Hill that only time would remove her. She had shown her true feelings towards Alex by declining to follow him when he had moved out of the house.

If only George would take a firm stand. He could force the woman out if he wished but he had told Maureen to leave her alone. Maureen had made Rebecca know that her position was that of a servant, nothing more. She could expect no favours.  Not every MacTavish was a fool.  The name MacTavish had been spoken with pride once in Kilmarnock. Now people identified it with a little miser who had become an object of ridicule throughout the district. During the past year Maureen had cried in frustration and shame when she thought of her uncle.

He seemed to have even forgotten how to dress. His clothes, once clean and well pressed now shabby and patched, smelled of dirt. He had not bought anything new, not even a pair of stockings, for years. Each year she would give him new clothes for Christmas. He would accept them with mumbled thanks. She would never see them again. Where they went was a mystery.  Perhaps he burned them.

Everyone in Kilmarnock knew that he received five pounds a month from the British government in acknowledgement of his wartime service as a military surgeon. What puzzled Maureen and Kilmarnock was what Alex did with the money. She suspected, as did the village, that he buried it somewhere. He certainly was not using it for himself or for his family.

         Senility might explain his behaviour. It was therefore even more necessary for Maureen, as a dutiful niece, to get him to see reason. To make matters worse, there was the new problem of this thief that Uncle Alex had picked up from off the street. When George had suggested that they take the creature on as a servant she had been quick to point out that people did not hire servants without references. Even as a favour to Uncle Alex such a rash impulse could not be justified. There must be another, more practical way of helping him.

What made helping him so difficult was that she knew so little about him. Whatever his faults, vanity was not one of them.  He would spend hours telling her about her parents. Never would he say a word about himself. She knew only the bare bones of his life. He had gone to Spain with General Moore. There he had succeeded in being captured by the French. He had gone back to Scotland after the war had ended and then in 1817 had moved to Canada with James and Jean. For over thirty years he had served as the physician for Kilmarnock. That had been all that he had ever allowed her to know.  Anytime that she had tried to learn more he had replied by stating that it was not important. That may have been true but she had a right to know. He was her uncle. Every time she had tried to draw close to him he had pushed her away. After years of being rebuffed she had given up asking.

***

Alex had never liked the drawing room. James and Jean had wanted it. They needed a place in which to receive visitors of gentility.  Alex had preferred the kitchen. It was warmer and closer to the food. James and Jean got the drawing room. Alex stayed in the kitchen.

Alex had the forlorn hope that Maureen would meet him outside, or in the kitchen. Even as he hoped it he knew she would be waiting for him in the drawing room. He also knew it would be up to him to apologize for not having visited her.  He thought of leaving Peter in the kitchen with Rebecca while he had a few words with Maureen first.  He floundered for a few minutes unable to decide. Over breakfast he had worked out in his mind every word he was going to say. As he had ridden up to the house he had kept rehearsing them. Now the only thing he could think of was that whatever he chose to say or do would be the wrong thing. Adding to his uncertainty Rebecca had informed him that George had gone to the Cleggett farm, five miles south east of Kilmarnock.  He would not be back until evening. Alex would have to manage Maureen by himself.

Peter following him, Alex passed out of the kitchen through the dining room. He walked past the great walnut table and chairs through the oak door that opened into the central passageway. As he passed the table he noted two place settings. Maureen would expect Peter to eat in the kitchen with Rebecca and Jacob.

She waited for him in the drawing room. Alex knew what would follow.   He would apologize. She would forgive him.  He would then suggest that she consider hiring Peter. If Alex were sincere enough in his contrition, Maureen might change her mind. His repentance might put her in a beneficent mood. He recalled James often being quite generous once he had reasserted his position of authority.  He tapped at the door and whispered to Peter who was staring at a Chinese vase to remember his manners. A soft voice granted Alex permission to enter.

As Alex stepped into the drawing room his chest tightened. Every painting and every little ceramic figure squeezed in on him. The lithographs of the queen and the prince consort, the paintings of his brother and Jean glared down at him damning him for his effrontery in intruding upon them with his shabby poverty.                                           

   Maureen remained enthroned on the Ottoman. Alex had wronged her. He must therefore approach her. He whispered to Peter to stay where he was. He then stepped towards her treading as lightly as he could on the Brussels carpet to avoid marking the fabric.

Her uncle looked tired and thin. Maureen felt a pang of concern for him. More reason to persuade him to come home. She had decided to reconsider her position. To compromise on a petty detail to accomplish a greater good would not be sinful.

“You look well, uncle.” She spotted the strange child staring at her from the doorway. She could feel herself beginning to bridle. Alex’s thief. She tilted her face to receive a kiss from Alex. Maureen could feel the bristles remaining from Alex’s rough attempt at shaving. She could smell the whiskey on his breath.  The odour reminded her that her uncle’s condition was his own doing.

She granted him a dutiful smile.   “I’m glad that you’ve come. It’s been too long. Would you like to sit?”

“Aye.”

  He turned to tell Peter to enter but Maureen, who had been schooled by Mrs. McClelland to show courtesy to the lower classes spoke first. “Come in, child.”

Peter hesitated, waiting for instructions from Alex.

Alex signaled to him to step inside. Peter pushed himself forward. The woman in the blue dress was the doctor’s niece, an important person. He stepped forward then stopped, bowed and waited.

The bow impressed Maureen. “I see that someone has taught you manners. Would that be your teaching, uncle?”

Alex, bewildered, shrugged.  At least Peter had shown that he was not a complete barbarian.

   “My uncle tells me that your name is Peter.”

Maureen waited for the reply. Peter stared straight ahead at the wall behind her. He wished that he had stayed with the horse.

“That is your name, isn’t it?”

“Yes . . . madam,” he whispered.

“Peter   . . . what?”

The boy’s eyes shifted towards Alex. The look confirmed Maureen’s suspicions concerning his character.

“You do have a family name?”

“Yes.”  Peter wet his lips and continued to stare at the wall. He thought of asking permission to go and relieve himself, anything to get out of that room. He hated the woman.  “Mueller . . . madam.”

Maureen looked down at her lap. “German are you? From where?”

“Hamburg.”

“I see.”  Maureen had demonstrated her graciousness. She picked up a small silver-plated bell that sat on the side table beside the Ottoman.  She shook it. “I would like to speak to my uncle alone for a few minutes. You may wait in the kitchen. I know that Rebecca would be glad to find you something to eat.”

As she waited for Rebecca Maureen focused on her uncle.  Alex, perched on the edge of his chair seemed so intimidated by the room. A timid man at heart he was well known for his laziness. How he had ever succeeded in becoming a physician mystified her. She had never seen his degree. Maureen theorized that having failed to complete his studies he had fled to the army the refuge of most failures. In her father and in Kilmarnock he had found another refuge. If James had been the lord of Kilmarnock, what had Alex been, the lord’s fool? Maureen spurned the thought. He remained her uncle. Somewhere in that drunken, shabby old man was the man who had held her in his arms as she had cried herself to sleep many years before.

Rebecca arrived, bearing a tray of tea things and a plate of fresh scones. She returned to the kitchen, Peter in tow. Maureen noted that he had not protested. Perhaps he was not the kind to cut the throat of a sleeping person, being content only to rob him.  Hiring the boy was out of the question but as she had considered the matter she saw how the tramp could be used to bring Alex home.  Since Alex had hired him Alex could keep him. Once inside the house Maureen imagined three possible events. The likeliest event was that the boy would rob them and run off. Alex chastened by the pain caused by his bad judgement would become more amenable.  The boy might consent to running off without robbing them. This demonstration of disloyalty would serve much the same purpose as the first. The third event, highly improbable but not impossible was that the boy would prove to be a loyal servant. Whatever ensued, the main point would have been gained. Alex would be home.

She poured out the tea. “According to George, you would like us to employ Peter.”

“Aye.”

“Why?”

“Why? He needs work, a place to stay. Rebecca and Jacob could use the help.”

“That may be true but there are others, local people that we know. Why him?”

“Because he needs it more. Besides, he’ll work cheap. I would appreciate it, lass, as a favour to me.”

Maureen nodded and sipped her tea. Alex had appealed to her sense of family honour, something he himself did not possess.  “Nevertheless what do you know about him? Is there anything to confirm his story?”

   She poured some fresh tea into Alex’s cup. As Alex held up the cup she noticed the slight tremor of his hand. The whiskey she assumed.       

“I have no reason to believe that he’s lying,” said Alex. “He’s a good worker, well-mannered. You’ve seen that yourself.”

“That’s all very well, uncle but it is customary for a servant to bring references.”

“He wasn’t able to produce references when McDermott found him, Maureen.”

Maureen frowned. Was her uncle mocking her? “Sleeping in a barn is not a recommendation for hiring someone, uncle.”

“If you wish, I’ll write him one. He has worked for me, for a week anyway.”

“A week? Truth is Uncle Alex, you don’t know him at all and you expect us to take him on. Isn’t that . . . unusual?”

“I suppose it is,” Alex agreed.

He slurped his tea. He had never, Maureen noted, learned to sip it as a gentleman should.

“I know that you would be willing to make an exception for my sake, Maureen.”

For the second time her uncle had pleaded familial obligations. How often had he done this with her father? How often had her father humoured him?  Alex would not manipulate her, not this drunken shadow of a man.  A society’s strength lay in an adherence to a strict framework of morality, not in bending to personal whims. “I have given the matter some thought, uncle.”

“Maureen, I’m not a man for niceties. If I have offended you in the past, for that I am sorry.”

Humbled pride should be met with gracious acceptance. The quality of Christian charity lay in forgiveness of the repentant wrongdoer. There was more rejoicing in heaven for one lost sheep . . . “I believe you, uncle.”

“If . . . there is anything I can do?”

“Perhaps there is. We shall forget the past misunderstandings, uncle. That’s all they were.”

“Aye.”

“We shall go back to the way that everything was before, won’t we?”

What did she mean by that?  He granted her a tentative “aye.”

“That might solve another problem,” Maureen smiled.

“Another?”

“Yes.  It’s all very simple. You move back here. Peter will continue to serve as your servant.”

It would work thought Alex. Both sides would be satisfied. Peter would be looked after. It would be the best solution. It would also be impossible.  “I’ll think it over, lass.”

Alex did not stay for lunch, pleading an appointment in the village. Maureen knew it to be a lie. Her uncle was in a hurry to get back to his whiskey and to his silly books uncaring of how his brusque departure would affect her feelings.

As she ate her lunch at the head of the long table flanked by empty chairs, Maureen thought of George. She hoped that he would not be returning late. She hated it when he slipped into bed in the depth of the night or in the early morning. She would have stayed awake worrying. When he did come he would be too tired to do anything more than fall asleep beside her, his cold feet against her legs.

She thought of her uncle riding away, slouched in his saddle, that thing clinging to him like some noxious weed.  She could see now as Rebecca had done so many years before, how that thing had worked upon a gentle, naive nature, squeezing out of it whatever it wanted. Yet, why did Alex begrudge her the affection he squandered on others? She may have erred, have hurt him without meaning to, but she had only been a child.  Why did he continue to resent her? Was she so repellent that he could not even tolerate an extra hour with her, just to share a meal? She crumpled up her napkin and tossed it onto the plate in front of her. Maureen did not summon Rebecca to clear the table. Instead she retired to the drawing room, settled onto the Ottoman and cried.

He should have stayed. Alex sensed that he had blundered in leaving so early but the pains were returning. He could not have struggled through that lunch. Rebecca and Maureen would have been watching and wondering. Rudeness had seemed the better course. He would offend Maureen but then, he always did. Even so, Alex was satisfied. She had agreed to take Peter, albeit indirectly. Maureen prided herself upon keeping her word. “I thought that went well,” he told Peter as they approached the bridge.

Peter said nothing. He had not liked Mrs. McKay. Her eyes examining him, trying to force their way into him had reminded him of someone else he had known. He hoped that he would not have to go back there. He did not need her. He had Alex. They would take care of one another. He settled the left side of his face against the doctor’s back, his hands clinging to Alex’s waist.

Deep inside Alex’s abdomen the pain throbbed. Alex knew that he would have to take more of the pills when he returned to his room.  He resisted the temptation to push the boy’s hands away. He had no wish to waken Peter. It could wait until they got home.  He would think about other things. The pain might go away again. He concentrated on the horse’s bobbing head.

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Filed under Alex, Fiction

Alex : Chapter Seven

      The Lie

The heavy rains had fled. It promised to be a good summer thought Alex as he looked out the window at the azure sky. With the sun’s warmth he could feel new strength returning, not a great deal but enough to allow him to get out, more than he had been able to during the winter. He might even take up riding again.

Peter had settled into his role as a servant. He did his work well, never complaining and never asking about a salary. He seemed to have given up any thought of leaving. The dreams that had ravaged his sleep now left him in peace. However Alex had found that there were things that he could not persuade the boy to do.  On Sunday Rebecca had come by with Anna. Peter had refused to speak to them withdrawing into his corner with a book.

On Monday he had received Ian Campbell. Ian had brought a raisin cake from his mother. Alex nibbled at the cake. The boy’s presence had kept him he from asking if Ian had found any information about him. George had also  come by to visit. Only then had Alex been able to persuade Peter to wait outside until McKay had finished his examination. Most of his time since had been spent resting. So the week had passed each day the pain receding, his strength dripping back.

By Friday Alex had decided to take Peter with him to George’s. The boy had to understand that Kilmarnock consisted of more than a room and an unimportant old man. A position at Kilmarnock Hill would be the best possibility for ensuring the boy’s future. The boy would resist the idea at first but with time would come to accept it.

“We’re going out for a few minutes,” Alex told him at breakfast. Peter said nothing. He would have preferred to stay inside with the books and the microscope. On Sunday Alex had shown him how to prepare slides by placing drops of oil upon them and how to focus the lens.  He had told him the names of the strange creatures that lived beneath the lens. As Alex had rested Peter had spent hours looking at the bacteria living in milk, on human skin and in water. That had been the best part of Sunday certainly more interesting than what lay outside the room.

Peter hated Sundays. Sunday was for the others, not for him. Maminka had taught him that. Sunday was for the good people with good shoes, warm clothes and fat bellies. They wanted a day to give thanks to a pleasant, warm, fat god. That was why she had never taken him, Janos or Holena to church. Even later, when he had gone with Katrina and

the others he had known that it was not for something like him. Going to mass had been one of those things that he had to do but nothing more.

Alex should have gone to church. Instead he had just sat by the window and watched the other people pass. He should have gone, for the company if nothing else. He had given Alex the keys thinking that he would want to go.

Four different bells rang that morning. Four different churches, Alex had told him. Why four? He knew of only one church. What was his church, he asked Alex. The doctor just sat by the window drinking schnapps and looking down at the people. After they had passed he had shown him some more slides under the microscope.  Later that day an old fat lady named Rebecca had come with the other lady Anna who owned the shop downstairs. He had not spoken to them. Why should he? They were not important. Alex was the only one who mattered. If the doctor had ordered him to speak he would have said something to them. Perhaps he should have. It would have pleased the doctor.

                “We’ll see Doctor McKay,” said Alex.  “Maybe take a wee walk about the town.  We need the exercise.”

“Yes.”

He hoped that Alex would change his mind.  Alex did not.  Hands thrust into his pockets, his feet kicking at the dust of the street, he followed the old man. He tried hard to keep staring at the ground, neither looking left or right, guided only by the heels of Alex’s shoes.  Each time they passed someone the doctor would stop and chat for a few moments. That walk to the young doctor’s office seemed endless. He knew what the people thought of him. Peter was so busy trying not to think about the strangers that he failed to notice when Alex stopped in front of a red brick building. He had gone on another two yards when a call from Alex stopped him. Peter found himself alone in the street. Imagining the entire community staring at him he reddened and dashed back.

When they stepped inside Doctor McKay’s waiting room, Alex told him to sit in a chair.

Why was it, George asked himself, that every time he saw Alex he felt himself aging another two years? He pressed his right hand against his forehead, allowing his fingers to slide up over his hair and stopped his pacing in front of the office window. “I don’t understand, Alex. We agreed that you would tell the boy that you could not keep him, at least not beyond the end of this week.”

“I know, but . . . things are different now.”

“How are they different, Alex?”

“I feel a bit stronger now.”

“For how long? A month? A week? That changes nothing. You know that.”

Alex tried to think of another excuse. “You were supposed to offer him a position.  You never did. He’ll have to stay until I can find something else for him.”

George blinked.  “What are you talking about? I offered him a position when I left your office. Did he tell you that I didn’t?”

The question placed Alex in a quandary.  He would have to admit that the boy lied or lie himself. Alex lied. “No. Not in so many words.”

“He lied to you, didn’t he?”

“He just wants to stay with me. That’s all.”

“So he’s been as honest with you as you have with him. My God, you two make a great pair, don’t you?”

Alex tried to turn back to the question of securing Peter a position. “You’ll think about it though if I can persuade him to consider it?”

George remembered Maureen’s eyes of blue ice chilling him when he hinted that he was thinking of hiring Alex’s tramp. She would have no part of bringing into their house someone who would cut their throats while they slept. “If you want to help Uncle Alex” she had added, “tell him to turn that thief over to the judge and persuade him to come home. Anything else is a waste of time.”

She did have a point about the judge, George conceded. “Look Alex, Judge Strachan is a friend of yours. Why not write to him. Perhaps he could do something. Why not ask him?”

“Aye.” Alex nodded. The thought had also occurred to him.

George opened a desk of his drawer and took a small folded piece of paper. “Those phrases that you wanted translated. “I showed them to a German tailor at Hatter’s Bay.”

Alex busied himself with adjusting his spectacles.  He read the two words written on the paper . “Priester  priest

 He nodded.  “What about the other word?”

“Maminka? He didn’t know. Said it wasn’t German.”

Alex sat still, too puzzled to say anything.  After a moment he asked, “Then what is it?”

“The man’s a tailor Alex, not a linguist. He said that it sounded Russian. All he knows is that it isn’t German. You, uh, coming by for supper next Saturday? Maureen will be expecting you.” 

“Hmm? Oh, aye. Looking forward to it.”

Alex thought about two things.  The first was that the boy had been speaking in two different languages. He must have therefore come from a region where two languages were spoken, German and the other possibly Slavic.  Alex could think of three possibilities, Prussia, Austria or the Baltic territories of Russia. The second thing, the one of more immediate concern, was that the boy had lied to him about not having been offered a position by George. Why had he done that? It seemed without a purpose. A lie should have a purpose. Had Peter become so hardened to lying that he did it without thinking? Was all that he had told him about his wanting to serve him another lie? What else could he have lied about?

Peter, still sitting, looked up as Alex walked past. The old man neither looked at him nor spoke to him. He walked out onto the street and had then turned, not back towards the office but towards the Royal Arms. He passed the tavern striding towards the great wooden dock that jutted into Lake Lomond. Peter puzzled but unquestioning, followed behind.

The dock had always been one of Alex’s favorite spots. He enjoyed breathing in the freshness of the air being wafted across the lake. He could look on as the steamboats loaded and unloaded passengers and cargo. At the end of the dock he found an empty overturned barrel. He perched himself on it and looked out towards the lake.

The boy sat on the edge of the dock. He looked down at the waves lapping at the piles and wished that he had a stone to break them with. Then behind him he heard Alex.

“Doctor McKay said that he offered you a position. Is that true, Peter?”

Katrina had taught him well. If caught in a lie, never deny it. Look sorry and promise never to do it again. “Yes.”

“When I asked you if he had spoken to you about it, you said no. Why?”

Peter shrugged. It did not seem very important.

“I asked you a question. I expect an answer.” The gentleness had slipped into a stern command.

“I . . . don’t know why,” Peter whispered. The assumption that he was ignorant and would always remain so had served him well in the past.

“Do you enjoy lying?”

“No.” Most of the time, he did not enjoy it.

“Then why do it? The doctor made you a simple offer. If you didn’t like it all you had to do was to say no. Why lie to me about it?”

“I am sorry.”

“Are you? Even if you are which I doubt, that still doesn’t explain why.”

The boy stared down at the water. He waited for the doctor to continue. Would he strike him, shout at him; call him some form of filth? The man would punish him. That was fair. Once he did, this would be over. They would go on. He would have to be more careful in the future.

“You must think that I’m a very stupid man.”

The boy tried to concentrate upon the water not upon what was to come. He could hear the man rise. Peter closed his eyes, imagining scenes from one of his favorite books, Robinson Crusoe. He had envied Crusoe his isolation on his island. Then Peter noticed something strange. Alex’s footsteps now receding had stopped. He turned to see the doctor standing on the edge of the dock, a step away from the road.

“All the other things that you said to me about wanting to help, about my being your lord, that was all a lie, wasn’t it?”

Was it? Peter wondered. Perhaps it was. “It’s all shit,” he muttered more to himself than to Alex.

“Is it?”

Peter looked down. Having seen him for what he was Alex would send him away. That would be his punishment. Punishment was good. A person should be punished.

“That’s the problem, lad, with lies. If you tell too many you forget where they start and where they end. A man is worth what his word is worth. No more. No less. A man whose word is worth nothing is nothing. Is that what you think of . …”  His voice stopped.

 Alex wondered what Peter, or, whoever he was would say?  Whatever he said, whatever he did Alex had no reason to believe him. The boy had locked himself into his own lies. He reminded Alex of someone else that he knew. You are such a damn fool, Alex told himself. “Let’s go home, lad.”

He turned and shuffled back towards Queen Street. The boy watched him for a moment. Then he broke into a run until he caught up with the old man.

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Filed under Alex, Fiction

Alex : Chapter Six

                                           The Making of A Lord

Alex slept for almost twenty-four hours. Two things woke him, the familiar dull pain in the pit of his stomach, and the unfamiliar aroma of soup simmering on the stove. He opened his eyes to see the boy standing in front of the stove, his back to him, stirring the soup.  Surprised to see that he was still there, Alex remembered that the boy had called himself Peter, using the name that Alex had given him. His tired mind told him that he would have to find out the boy’s true name.  The pain in his stomach told him that questions should wait.  He saw his coat lying, folded on the back of his armchair.   He began to reach out for it when he noticed his pills on the washstand, beside a half-filled cup of water. Had Peter known that he would want them when he woke? He took two of the tablets and swallowed the half-cup of water. He leaned back against the pillow to wait for the pain to subside.

The boy, hearing his movement, looked at him and frowned. He turned back to the soup. “We have no bread,” he said, his voice directed at the pot. “We need it, for the soup.”

Alex nodded. The boy must have finished the quarter loaf they had yesterday. Then he shook his mind free from the lack of bread.  “Why are you still here?” he asked in a hoarse whisper.

“You will have soup. That,” the boy declared, “is why you are ill. You do not eat.”

My God, Alex thought. He sounds just like Rebecca. As he absorbed this command, he looked about at the room. Someone, the boy he assumed, had swept the entire room and cleaned it.   He had scrubbed the floor, sorted the papers on his desk, into tidy, meaningless little piles and cleaned the dishes. His hat, now brushed, hung on the peg next to the door. When had the boy slept? “Why didn’t you leave?” Alex asked.

“You want me to?” Peter asked. The tone of his voice was that of someone who expected nothing, who questioned nothing.  Told to go, he would leave.

Taken a bit aback, Alex mumbled, “I was just wondering why you hadn’t.”

The boy’s voice firmed. “You said that I could stay for one week, yes?”

Had he? Alex tried to remember. He might have. “Aye.”

“You eat.”  Peter spooned soup into a bowl and brought it over to him.

Alex sat up, took the bowl and sniffed the contents. He tasted it. The soup, while not up to Rebecca’s standards, tasted better then anything he could make.  “Not bad,” he mumbled.

The boy lowered his eyes.  “You do not like it?”

“I mean it’s good. It’s quite good. Where did you learn to cook?”

“Somewhere,” Peter shrugged, trying not to look pleased.  He picked up the book that he had been reading, the same copy of Gulliver’s Travels that he had once thrown at Alex. He sat in Alex’s large chair. “You finish. Then, you rest. Tomorrow you will be better, yes?”

“Aye.” Alex turned back to his soup. The sound of footsteps on the stairs leading up to the room caused him to look up.  “We have a visitor,” he said putting the bowl aside.

The boy seemed too absorbed in his book to hear. 

A knocking on the door was followed by “Alex?” The speaker was Doctor McKay.

“Open the door, lad,” said Alex

Peter looked up and then dipped back down into his book.  “You need rest. You say nothing. He will go.”     

Alex stared at him for a moment.  “So, I am still your prisoner, am I?”

“You are not . . . you need rest,” Peter replied without looking up from his book.

“Let him in lad or I’ll open it myself.”

Peter put down his book, stood and dragged his way to the door, half an eye on Alex, hoping that he would change his mind. Alex said nothing more, just motioning with a wave of his hand to be a bit quicker.

The door creaked open. George, a wicker basket suspended from his left arm, his medical bag in his right hand saw the boy staring up at him with sullen resentment.  George had only seen him once before when the boy had been unconscious. “Morning lad. I’m glad that you’re up. How are you feeling?”

The boy’s reply was to stare down at the doorsill. He did not try to move out of the doctor’s way.

“Morning George,” said Alex. “Come in.”

  Peter stepped back, allowing the doctor to enter. After he had done so, the boy closed the door. As he removed his coat and hat, George looked about the room.

“Anna was up to clean, was she?”  He looked down to find the boy standing by his side, still as a statue waiting for the doctor’s hat and coat. Reminded of Ridley, his father’s footman, George handed over the coat, hat and basket. Bag in his right hand, he went over to the bed where Alex lay.  

The boy hung up the hat and coat. He placed the basket on the table.   He then settled in the chair in front of the desk and drew himself back into the adventures of Gulliver.  George and Alex chatted for a few minutes about Maureen and Rebecca. George waited for Alex to finish his soup before he approached the purpose of his visit.

“Anna told Maureen about your accident on the stairs.”

Alex snorted. “Woman’s an hysteric. I slipped and she’s already planning my funeral.”

“Alex.”

“She means well enough,” Alex conceded. “What’s in the basket?”

“Just something Rebecca packed. Um, fresh bread, a game pie, some apple preserves.” 

“Make a fine dinner, won’t it lad?” Alex asked the disinterested boy.

George frowned as he busied himself with opening his bag.

“He cleaned the room for me George. He’s a good housekeeper, better then I am.”

George took out his stethoscope.  “Uh, Alex.”

Alex nodded.  “Peter, would you step outside for five minutes?”

“No.”

“Peter . . . Go outside now.   Get some fresh air. It’ll do you good.”

The boy pulled his knees up and pressed his face against them.  “I will be quiet.”

Alex repeated his request. “Just for a little while. Go on now.”

Never argue, Peter remembered. What would he do outside?  Wait beside the door. What were they going to talk about? How to rid themselves of him? Not an unreasonable thing to discuss. Peter stood.

“Have a look about the town,” Alex suggested. “We shouldn’t be long.”

The boy opened the door and stepped out. He went as far as the first step and sat. As he kicked his         heels against the steps, he wondered what to do next.   Alex said that he could look about the town. He had seen very little of it, only the view from the doctor’s window, and a glance from the yard between the building and the privy. He had never ventured out onto the street.  From inside he could hear the young doctor’s voice, muffled by the door. The man seemed angry about something. Probably about him, Peter thought. The boy clumped down the stairs, each footstep reverberating against the steps, just to show the two men his disapproval of their actions.

He went as far as the front of the alley. At its edge he paused. He looked through the store window to see Anna chatting with a lady standing in front of her counter. He had refused to speak with her when she had visited Doctor MacTavish. Peter had not seen a reason for it. Now . . . sensing that the woman was about to look at him, he ran past the store.

Peter paused at the corner of the street, looking down the road to the covered bridge that marked the northern edge of the town. From the angle of the sun he could guess in which direction lay the bridge, a fact that he would have to remember. Peter watched the few people in the street. Most people would be at work, the children in the school. The thought of that gave him a little more confidence. He found it strange, not having someone standing next to him, or behind, watching. Peter had wondered what it would be like to walk down a street by himself.  Now that he was doing it, he did not like it. He felt awkward and ill at ease. Peter thought of returning to the landing when he heard the sound of iron striking iron.

Ian was busy hammering out a new hinge for Reverend Mackenzie’s manse. He was turning the reddened metal over with his tongs when Tom nudged him.

“You have a new admirer,” he grinned.

Ian looked up to see the tramp standing beside the great double door of the forge, watching him. Ian enjoyed having an audience. After school was out village boys would crowd around the front of the forge. Some men might pause to pass a few minutes, watching him work. This respectful attention was something that he savoured. What disturbed him was that it was this child that was watching him. It was the first time that he had seen him since he and McDermott had brought him to Alex’s room.  “Morning, lad.”

The boy replied to the greeting by bolting towards Anna Cleary’s.

“What did you say to him,” Tom asked.

“Didn’t say nothing.”  Ian thought no more of it and returned to his work. 

Peter returned to his spot just outside the door of MacTavish’s room. He crouched down and waited for McKay to leave. No one would notice him. If he remained quiet then he would be safe. That was all that he wanted . . . to be left alone. He would stay for a week and then leave.  Peter would never have to see any of these people again. He had been a fool to think that he could stay here. Stupid. Stupid.  At the sound of the door being opened, he jumped to his feet. 

Doctor McKay stepped outside. The man was tall, neatly dressed in well-tailored clothes. From the top of his black silk hat to the soles of his new leather shoes, he was everything that a gentleman should be.

George looked down at the boy and smiled.  “Alex says that you’ve been a great help to him.  I am glad to hear that. He says that your name is Peter? Is that right?”

“Yes.” The boy stared down at the wood planking and at the ground beneath the flight of stairs. Although, he longed to jump up, run into the room and close the door, he waited. This man was a gentleman. That meant power.  One should respect power. 

“Alex . . . Doctor MacTavish says that you will be leaving in a week’s time. Is that true?”

“Yes.”

“I think that would be wise.”

The boy agreed with him.  It would be the best thing, but he remained silent, looking down at the wood, at the ground.

“Where will you go?” George asked.

Peter shrugged. “North,” he mumbled.

The man nodded and thought for a moment.  “If you’re interested, my wife and I can probably use someone to help around the house. I couldn’t offer you much, room and board, a shilling a month.”

It would be better, Peter decided, not to refuse outright. Look as if he would consider it.

George pondered the child’s silent face. “Think it over. Let me know.”

Peter watched him descend. Much to his surprise, he heard a tentative voice.   The voice was his.   “Doctor . . . why is he ill?”

George hated that question..  Each time he replied with the same tired answer.   “He’s tired . . . worked himself too hard. He needs rest. He should be fine in a few days. You make certain that he takes his nourishment. Give him broth and as much solid . . . well, just make certain that he takes his meals. Will you do that, lad?”

“Yes.” The man was lying about something. That did not surprise him. Everyone lied. That was the way of things. That did not mean that he would not consider the man’s advice. The man had been angry with Alex. The boy had picked up enough of the doctor’s words to understand that Alex was ill because of caring for him. Perhaps that was what the doctor would not tell him.

“I’ve given him some . . . medication. He’ll sleep for a while.  Best not to disturb him. Do you understand?”

“Yes.” Peter understood that he had made the old doctor ill. Now he should help make him better. That was fair. He also understood that this man in his fine clothes was like all the others. Never question, and never trust. He watched Doctor McKay leave. When the man had turned down the street, Peter went back into the room locking the door behind him.

George walked down the street too lost in thought to notice the people greeting him.  Not until he felt a heavy hand patting his left shoulder did he look up to see Ian Campbell’s bronzed face.

“Excuse me, sir. I called out but you didn’t seem to hear.”

McKay glanced down at the black spot of ash on his shoulder. He brushed it away. “What can I do for you, Ian?”

“I just wanted to ask how Alex . . . Doctor MacTavish is.”

“Well enough . . . He’s just tired you know. Feeling his age.” George pulled a white handkerchief out of a coat pocket.  “I do have to be getting back to my office.”

“I’ll come along with you, if you don’t mind?”

McKay nodded, wiping at the smudge with the handkerchief.  “Of course.”

  “It’s just that I can’t help feeling somehow responsible for his condition.”

“Why would that be, Ian?”

“I did bring that boy to him. It was too much for him, I think.”

“The boy did not cause the illness.”

“No but bringing him made everything worse, didn’t it?”

   “Yes,” McKay nodded. “I suppose that it did.”“Alex has been feeling poorly this past winter.  Bringing that boy to your home instead of to him would have been better. I was at fault.”

“You were not at fault, Ian. You only did what you thought was best. As for taking him to Kilmarnock Hill, it is Doctor MacTavish’s opinion, and mine, that the child would not have survived another two miles in that rain.  What have you got to reproach yourself for?”

For letting a sick old man go out into the rain while he sat warming his stupid arse Ian told himself.

George placed his left hand on the blacksmith’s right shoulder.  “You like the old man, don’t you?”

“Aye, I do. He’s a strange old codger, but he’s been good to me and to my family. I want to help.”

“I know,” George nodded.  “So do I.  Let him rest tonight. Visit him tomorrow if you wish. Try not to get him excited or worried. That’s the best that anyone can do for him. Can you do that?”

“Aye, but . . . shouldn’t there be more?”

“Yes.” George dropped his hand away.  “Yes, there should be. Good day, Ian.”

Ian watched as McKay plodded through the drying mud of the street. He thought about what Doctor McKay had told him. He agreed with McKay’s advice, as far as it went. It just did not seem to go very far.  There must be something more that he could do to help.  He thought about the matter while working at the forge, and during his supper.

Sarah Campbell, worried about her son’s indifference to his food, suggested a tonic. Tom recommended wandering over to Ferguson’s for a beer. Sarah, who usually would not permit her sons to go out except on a Saturday, did not object. An evening’s relaxation might bring Ian around. Had a girl caught his fancy? High time.

***

Of the village’s three taverns, the Campbells preferred Ferguson’s. Donnely’s was out of the question. While Patrick Donnelley was not opposed to their patronage, his patrons were, as was Sarah Campbell. No son of hers was going to be found in that nest of Fenians. The Royal Arms was acceptable to her, but a touch too formal for Ian’s taste.  The Campbells as did most of the younger, Protestant working men preferred the informality of Zedekiah Ferguson. Zedekiah kept a place where a man could spit on the floor and not be shouted at or made to feel that he had done anything boorish

The low-roofed, whitewashed common room reeked of tobacco fumes, unwashed bodies and damp, woollen clothes. The brothers broached the clouds of tobacco smoke that swirled around them and found a place at a trestle table close by the fire. One advantage of being constable was that there was always a place to sit whenever he needed one. Another advantage was that Zedekiah always gave Ian his first order for free. Giving the brothers a quick wave, Zedekiah ordered his son Henry to give up two “tall ales for the Campbells.” 

As he waited for their order, Tom fell into a conversation with the two other men at the table. One was  a peddler travelling down to Kingston having spent several days in the backcountry along the Madawaska.   The other man was a farmer, George Bell. The three discussed the possible effects of the heavy spring rains on the year’s crops.

Ian sipped at his ale and leafed through the copy of the British Whig that Bell had been reading. He was about as interested in the paper as he was in the conversation, skimming over the notices of horse auctions, shipments of wines and other fancy goods.  He found the editorial to be of some interest.   It described a meeting of women in Salem Ohio. They had demanded political and social equality, including the right to vote, and the right of married women to own property. Ian noted that they had held the meeting in a Baptist church. Sounded like something the Baptists would come up with. He was about to turn the page when he saw the notice tucked in the bottom right-hand side of the page.

TEN DOLLARS REWARD

For information leading to the whereabouts of a male servant aged 12 years, missing from employer’s residence Kingston, May 14.

What followed was a brief description of the servant and a request for any concerned person to notify the office of George Chapman, attorney, Counter Street, Kingston. The notice also reminded the respondent to describe any distinguishing physical marks found on the missing servant.   A physical mark, Ian thought, could refer to the scar on the boy’s wrist.

Ian did some quick calculating. It was just over forty miles from McDermott’s to Kingston. It had rained almost continuously from the fourteenth until the eighteenth. Could a child have covered that much distance over that muddy road in such weather? It could be done. He would take the notice over to Alex tomorrow. Then he remembered Doctor McKay’s words, that the old man should not get excited, that he needed rest. Ian tore out the notice and slipped it into his coat pocket.

Only when Ian was certain that his mother was asleep did he light his lamp. He reread the notice until his eyes watered. Anna’s words came to him, telling him that caring for the child was too much for Alex, that if it continued it would kill him.  It was possible, Ian conceded, that the servant referred to was not the boy. There was only one way to know. He went to the front room of the house that served as his constabulary office and the sitting room for the Campbells.  Taking out a pen and a piece of paper from his desk, he wrote a reply.               

***

Alex spent most of the day in bed. He had awakened in the early afternoon. Peter gave him his medicine.  Ignoring Alex’s protestation that he was not very hungry, the boy served him the fresh bread, apple preserves, and game pie that the doctor had brought. Aware of the boy’s eyes following every mouthful, Alex swallowed it.  While Peter was washing the dishes, Alex excused himself, and staggered down the stairs to the privy. There he vomited most of his meal.  He then returned to bed where he resumed his reading of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

He had tried reading the book before, finding himself unable to finish it. Alex attributed this failure to two things, the absurdity of the idea of artificial life, and the fact that it was a woman’s book. Too many words and not enough sense in any of them.  The knowledge of what he had to tell the boy did not help.

Having finished with the dishes, Peter was now blacking Alex’s boots. Alex sighed, closed the book, removed his spectacles and rubbed his eyes. George was right. The boy had to go. It was a question of how to tell him. The lad had only been planning to stay a week. How much could it mean, his having to leave?

“Peter.”

Peter looked up from his polishing.

“Would you put that down lad, and come here? I have something to tell you.”

Peter knew what Alex wanted. He was going to send him away. He could not blame the man. He had hoped that by showing that he could work hard Doctor MacTavish would be prepared to overlook his earlier behaviour, but it had all come too late. The doctor had promised a week. There was no reason to expect more. Peter placed the boot on the floor and on it the rag, careful to keep the dirty side from smudging the floor. He then went over to the bed, perching himself on the edge of the large chair.  Peter focused his eyes on the knob of the bedpost behind Alex’s head.   He assumed a look of stolid indifference, but the fingers of his right hand could not keep from plucking at the frayed leather of the chair.

“That man who was here, Doctor McKay, he’s a good man, you know.”

“Yes.” The boy’s voice was noncommittal. It was not argumentative, merely disinterested.

“Have you been giving any thought to what you will be doing after you leave here?”

He had been so stupid to ever think that . . . Anyway, he had expected it. He should say something.  “No.”

“Doctor McKay mentioned that he might be looking for a lad to help about his house. Perhaps he . . . said something about this to you?”

“No.”

“Oh?” Odd thought Alex. George had promised to speak to the boy. Perhaps he had forgotten. “Anyway I spoke to him and I promised that I would ask you. Are you interested?”

“No . . . thank you. May I go back to my work now?”

Alex tried to keep from sounding exasperated.  “Don’t you understand, lad? You can’t stay here beyond next week.”

The boy nodded.  “Yes . . . I understand.”  Peter rose and returned to his chair. He picked up the rag and Alex’s boot and continued with the polishing, though he could now see his face in the shining leather.

“I’m only thinking of your future, lad. It’s the best thing. What else can you do?”

“I could stay here.”

“Damn it. Haven’t you been listening? You can’t stay.”

Peter looked up from his polishing.  “Then send me away.”

“What?”

“I will leave if that is what you want.   You do not like me, I know, but I can help you.  I can try.  You are my lord. Tell me what you want. I will do it.”  He resumed the polishing.

Alex sank back against the pillow. This would be absurd if it were not for the boy’s eyes. He had been watching those brown eyes for the past week. They had shown him hate, suspicion and fear.  In the past few hours, he had seen something new, concern and the first tentative glimmering of hope. That had now faded into studied indifference, a look that he knew so well; an indifference he had seen on the faces of those awaiting the inevitable encroaching of death. What had he stumbled into?   “Lad.”

It was too late. The man knew what he was, unless . . .   “Would you like me to be someone else?”

“What?”

“It does not matter, the name.”  A tone of pleading coloured his words. “I will be anyone that you want.”

Alex had never cared for beggars. “How about being yourself?” he muttered. “Is that too much trouble?”

The boy bowed his head, looking as if the man had struck him.

“Peter . . ..” Alex thought of all the reasons why he should send the boy away. To keep him here in this room, knowing what he knew about himself, was insane, even more than taking him in that first night.  He would persuade Peter that George was the practical choice. “Why don’t you want to go to Doctor McKay’s?”

“He is not my lord.”

Alex blinked. Did the boy believe this rubbish? Behind the boy’s head he could see the picture of the death of Sir John Moore that he had purchased in Glasgow just before leaving for Canada.  The old man looked back at the child and through him. Through the years he looked at another child and then back further, through thirty-seven winters, to a dirty square, crowded with lice-ridden, half-starved men. Alex wondered what Sir John would have done, but Sir John had been dead for over forty years.

Peter waited for Alex to speak. After a while he thought that the old man had fallen asleep. He lifted his eyes to see the old man still looking at him.  “Do you want me to go?”

Alex coughed, bringing himself back to the present. “No.”

Peter struggled to keep the relief out of his voice, making it flat and controlled, the voice of a servant, addressing his lord.  “Would you like me to be Peter?”

“Be any damn thing that you want.”  Alex turned his head, closed his eyes, and slept.

When he was certain that the jezenky was asleep, the boy stood. He went over to the bed and looked down at the haggard, unshaven face. Alex needed a shave. He would have to learn how to do that, someday, when he was older. He pulled the quilt up over the man’s shoulders. Peter settled himself into the large chair.  He thought about the others.   It must be two weeks since he had left. By now they must have given up looking for him. They would have gone back. He was nothing to them.  If he remained quiet they would leave him alone. He would live here and become Alex’s servant.  Soon the old man would be well again.  Katrina had been right. Even for something like him this could be a land of hope, if no one ever knew what it was that he had done.   Peter returned to polishing the boot.

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Alex : Chapter Five

        Ian

Ian had once asked Alex why he had nominated him as constable. Alex had replied that he liked the colour of his hands.  Ian had yet to understand what that meant. No matter how hard he scrubbed them they remained stained by the ground-in dirt of the forge.  As he worked away cutting nails, hammering out hinges or horseshoes, Ian imagined the old man sitting in his room. If only he could do something for him but Alex wanted nothing. The least he could do Ian thought, would be to visit him.  Three days before he had seen Alex sitting in the common room of the Royal Arms. Ian had gone to see Morris about making a new mud scraper for the front of the tavern.

He found Alex seated in front of the fireplace. The old man seemed asleep, his head sunk unto his shoulder, a tiny tumbler of brandy sitting untouched on the table in front of him. A copy of the Courier sat unopened on his lap. Not wishing to intrude Ian turned to leave. Alex lifted his right hand and beckoned to him. Alex asked him if he had heard anything about a missing child. Ian settled himself into the chair across from Alex and told him that he had not.  Alex talked about the case for a few minutes noting that the boy was subject to bad dreams and seemed a foreigner from his speech. He also mentioned an inch long scar on the child’s left wrist. It should not be too difficult, Alex said, to find a boy that matched that description. Ian agreed. Alex then fell silent. The two looked on as at a nearby table Sam McDermott and a horse dealer, Phil Pearson,  settled on the price for a mare.

Alex asked Ian if he wanted a beer.  When selling land to each of the tavern keepers, Alex had established the principle that his credit would be of infinite elasticity. Reflecting that the expense would fall upon Morris who could more then afford it, Ian accepted.

“Pearson is a well-traveled man,” said Alex.

“Between here and the Ottawa: aye.”

                “Possible he might have heard something about a missing child?”

“Possible.”

“Why don’t you ask him, official like?”

As Ian talked to Pearson, Alex rose from his chair and lurched towards McDermott. Within a couple of minutes it became apparent to Ian that Pearson knew nothing. He left the man and settled next to McDermott and Alex. The two were discussing how the lateness of seeding might have a bad effect upon the crops. Alex asked Sam if he would have another beer. Sam replied that he would. Alex waited until Sam was deep into the mug before referring to the boy.

“You thought he was a fox, Sam?”

“Aye.”

“Why?”

“I told you. I lost two . . .”

“I know all that but what did he do to make you think that?”

McDermott thought for a moment. “He was there.”

“He didn ‘t say anything? He didn’t try to do anything to show that he was there?”

“He tried to run.”

“Did he jump up?”

“ No. He stayed on his hands and knees. That’s why his shadow was so much like a fox.”

“But he didn’t say anything?”

“No. Didn’t say nothing.”

Alex persisted. “It was raining, Sam. The animals were making noise. He might have said something and you didn’t hear him.”

  Sam’s face flushed. “I ain’t deaf. He didn’t say nothing.”

“ Sam, if you were in danger you would have said something. So would I. It’s the natural thing to do. He must have tried.”

                “Well he didn’t.”

“Did he have a clear view of you,” Ian asked.

“How couldn’t he? He tried to crawl away. I thought he was a fox and I fired.” Pushing his beer away, Sam raised his right hand and pointed at Alex. “Look here doctor, I know you don’t care for me, but do you think I would  have fired if I had known it were a boy?”

                Alex looked down at the top of the pine table. “No Sam, I don’t think you would have.”

Satisfied Sam grunted and lowered his hand. “Then why ask?”

Alex shrugged. “It just seems odd. That’s all.”

“Not so odd,” said Ian. “He was frightened. Cat got his tongue.”

“Aye,” agreed Sam.

“I suppose you’re right,” said Alex. He pushed himself out of the chair telling the two men that he had to return to his patient. After Alex had left Joe Morris went over to the old man’s table. He picked up the tumbler and poured the remaining brandy back into the bottle. Strange, thought Ian. Why would a man known for being too fond of his liquor leave his glass almost untouched? Ian had noticed that Alex had not looked well, far worse than before he had brought  the tramp to him.

Two days passed. The image of that pale worn face would not leave him.  After supper Ian put on his Sabbath hat and his coat and declared to Sarah and Tom that he was off for some fresh air.  Once outside he strode up Queen Street towards Anna Cleary’s shop. Taking the stairs two at a time, he climbed the stairs leading up to Alex’s room. He rapped on the door. “Alex?”

                A minute crept past. No reply came.  He tried again. Nothing. Someone had to be there. From the street below he had seen a light shining through the room window. A key blocked any attempt to peer through the keyhole. Alex had to be in.  Ian knocked again, a little louder this time. No one stirred. What should he do next? Chances were the man was just asleep. Ian did not wish to wake him. What legal reason would he have to break the man’s door down? But then, if Alex were asleep why would the boy not open the door? The boy might have left.

As Ian descended the stairs he decided to call on Anna. As a constable inquiring about the health of a villager, no one could doubt the respectability of his actions. Even so he was careful to knock on the back door.

Anna was not pleased to find Ian Campbell at her door. She had been busy stitching a green silk ribbon onto a new bonnet for Emily Harrison. She hoped to finish it for the morning and had no wish to receive visitors, least of all Ian Campbell. She unfastened her latch and opened her door. “Mister Campbell? Yes?” she asked in a determinedly neutral tone.

“Sorry to bother you, Miss Cleary.” Ian pulled off his hat. “I, uh . . . I went up to see Alex. I couldn’t get no response. Do you know something as to his condition?”

“I haven’t seen him since the morning, constable. Doctor McKay came by earlier. He didn’t tell me anything.”

“Oh. Well I’d best be going then. Sorry for disturbing you . . . Miss Cleary.” Ian had played with the notion of Anna’s inviting him in for a cup of tea but people would not think such a thing proper. Besides he should be getting back home.  His mother would want to know where he had been.

Anna watched him walk away. She thought of her tidy sitting room of which she was so proud. It contained one large comfortable chair and one footstool. A small fire burned merrily in the grate, boiling water in her kettle, just enough water for one person to have one small pot of tea. She thought of her glass-panelled cabinet with her collection of ceramics. That room and her shop were her life. A good life for one person, it stretched ahead of her for forty or fifty years. Every day of that life she would be Spinster Cleary.    

“Mister Campbell . . . Ian. Would you like a cup of tea?”

Ian stopped and turned. “I wouldn’t want to put you to any trouble, Miss Cleary.”

Anna smiled. “Hospitality is never trouble my mother says. I have some scones, fresh-baked.”

Ian coughed. “Can’t stay too long. Still, a few minutes wouldn’t do any harm. Much obliged, Miss Cleary.”

He stepped towards the door.

“Your boots.”

Ian looked down at his boots covered with the mud of the street. “Oh, aye.” Giving an automatic bow he rubbed the heels against the iron mud scrapper beside her door. Watching his quiet compliance Anna noted that the constable seemed a well-domesticated man.

As Ian slurped down his tea Anna studied him from above the rim of her teacup. It would be an impossible match. Father Byrne was right. The laws of God ruled above those of man. Imagining was one thing. The reality was another. Ian was just a man, having his faults, as did any other. She had to look at life with clear eyes, not clouded by girlish dreams. He could barely read and write and had never done well in school. He was a good blacksmith, none better. That was all he would ever be. An honest Catholic man would make just as fine a husband. Why was she having this man in for tea? Ian was not even a proper Protestant. He was a member of the Free Church of Scotland, not a true Presbyterian. It was not even a respectable form of damnation. Picking up the teapot she asked, “more tea, Ian?”

“Aye. Thank you Miss . . . Anna.”

Anna poured out the last drops of tea. She then rose from the chair she had Ian bring in from the shop.

As Anna refilled the pot, Ian looked up. Above her head he could see a cheap framed print of the Blessed Virgin. Idolatry his mother would have called it.

         “Sugar, Ian?”

“Uh.. oh, aye.”

“How many spoonfuls?”

“Three . . . please.”

              “You do have a sweet tooth, don’t you Ian?”

“Aye.” Ian looked away from the image to find himself gawking at the cross she wore upon her neck. Below it her green shawl and gown concealed the swelling of her breasts. Feeling even more uncomfortable he looked about the small room.

“You’re a fine housekeeper . . . Anna.”

Anna pulled her shawl up closer around her neck. “Not all Irish prefer living in dirt, Mister Campbell.”

Ian gulped, choking on his tea. “I’ve never believed that, Miss Cleary.”

Anna cursed her own stupidity. “I know, but there are those who do.”

Ian shrugged. “There are those who say that the world is going to end and that we will fly off to heaven. It doesn’t mean I have to believe them.”

“No, Ian. It does not.” She studied him as he held the delicate cup between large brown fingers. “You were asking about Alex?”

She refilled the cup. A trickle of tea spilled over the lip. Ian prayed that the cup would not drip upon his clothes marking him as a barbarian. “Aye. He didn’t look well, the last time I saw him.”

“I saw him early this morning. He was going down to fetch water when he slipped on the stairs.”

“Was he hurt?”

“No, I don’t think so. It’s just that . . . may I be honest with you, Ian?”

Ian winced. Whenever someone said that they would explain why they were right and he was wrong. “Aye. Of course.”

“Why did you bring that tramp to him?”

“He needed a doctor. Alex was the closest.”

“Alex can’t even take care of himself. How is he supposed to take care of a child?”

“I didn’t think he was going to keep him for a week. Besides it was Alex’s idea to keep him.”

“And you agreed with him?”

“I’m not a physician. It’s not my place to argue with him.”

Anna frowned. Ian could be so dense at times. “Even when you knew it was too much for him?”

“But I didn’t know it. Anyway I asked how he was getting along. He said that everything was fine.”

“Well it’s not.” Anna told him what she had observed during the past week culminating with the accident on the stairs. “The man that I saw this morning could barely drag himself up and down the stairs. If he doesn’t rid himself of that vagabond it will kill him.”

Ian thought of the exhausted-looking Alex in the tavern. “Have you told anyone about this?”

“I spoke to Mrs. McKay this morning.”

“Ah. And?”

“The man would have to be on his deathbed before she would bother to look at him.”

“I know you have little love for her.”

Anna stiffened. “I have no love for any MacTavish. I’ll thank you to leave it at that.”

“So why the concern for Alex?”

“A man can’t help being what he is, Ian. He’s kind enough in his way. Anyway I don’t enjoy the sight of a fellow creature in pain. T’isn’t Christian just to stand by and do nothing. Don’t you think so, Ian?”

She rose to fetch the scones from off the stove. As she passed him she brushed the fingertips of her right hand against the back of his right shoulder.

“Aye.”

Stepping out into the evening Ian looked up at the window of Alex’s room. He remembered his sitting by Alex’s stove while a tired old man went out into the rain. Ian held himself responsible at least in part for Alex’s illness. If he had just gone on to the McKays none of this would have happened. What was done was done. What was he to do now? Simple justice demanded that he do something. He scratched his head in thought. Nothing came to mind. Ian decided to sleep on it. Tomorrow something might occur to him.

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