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.”
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?”
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?”
“Karl Radek. Take a seat. Please.”
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.
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?”
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 kept his eyes on the distant house. “How much is he paying you Ian?”
“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.”
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?”
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.”
“His clothes and general appearance?”
“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.”
“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?”
“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?”
“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.”
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.”
“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….”
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.
“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.”
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?”
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
“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.