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To Maurine

THERE ARE MANY PEOPLE TO BE THANKED for their help in the creation of the Baroque Cycle of which this book, The Confusion, is the second volume. Accordingly, please see the acknowledgments in Quicksilver, Volume One of the Baroque Cycle.


The Confusion

The Confusion

THIS VOLUME CONTAINS two novels, Bonanza and Juncto, that take place concurrently during the span 1689–1702. Rather than present one, then the other (which would force the reader to jump back to 1689 in mid-volume), I have interleaved sections of one with sections of the other so that the two stories move forward in synchrony. It is hoped that being thus con-fused shall render them the less confusing to the Reader.


The Confusion

When at the first I took my pen in hand,

Thus for to write, I did not understand

That I at all should make a little book

In such a mode; nay, I had undertook

To make another, which when almost done,

Before I was aware, I this begun.

—JOHN BUNYAN,The Pilgrim's Progress, THE AUTHOR'S APOLOGY FOR HIS BOOK


The Confusion

The Confusion

So great is the dignity and excellency of humane nature, and so active those sparks of heavenly fire it partakes of, that they ought to be look'd upon as very mean, and unworthy the name of men, who thro' pusillanimity, by them call'd prudence, or thro' sloth, which they stile moderation, or else through avarice, to which they give the name of frugality, at any rate withdraw themselves from performing great and noble actions.

—GIOVANNI FRANCESCO GEMELLI CARERI, A Voyage Round the World


OCTOBER 1689

HE WAS NOT MERELY AWAKENED, but detonated out of an uncommonly long and repetitive dream. He could not remember any of the details of the dream now that it was over. But he had the idea that it had entailed much rowing and scraping, and little else; so he did not object to being roused. Even if he had been of a mind to object, he'd have had the good sense to hold his tongue, and keep his annoyance well-hid beneath a simpering merry-Vagabond facade. Because what was doing the waking, today, was the most tremendous damned noise he'd ever heard—it was some godlike Force not to be yelled at or complained to, at least not right away.

Cannons were being fired. Never so many, and rarely so large, cannons. Whole batteries of siege-guns and coastal artillery discharging en masse, ranks of 'em ripple-firing along wall-tops. He rolled out from beneath the barnacle-covered hull of a beached ship, where he had apparently been taking an afternoon nap, and found himself pinned to the sand by a downblast of bleak sunlight. At this point a wise man, with experience in matters military, would have belly-crawled to some suitable enfilade. But the beach all round him was planted with hairy ankles and sandaled feet; he was the only one prone or supine.

Lying on his back, he squinted up through the damp, sand-caked hem of a man's garment: a loose robe of open-weave material that laved the wearer's body in a gold glow, so that he could look directly up into the blind eye of the man's penis—which had been curiously modified. Inevitably, he lost this particular stare-down. He rolled back the other way, performing one and a half uphill revolutions, and clambered indignantly to his feet, forgetting about the curve of the hull and therefore barking his scalp on a phalanx of barnacles. Then he screamed as loud as he could, but no one heard him. He didn't even hear himself. He experimented with plugging his ears and screaming, but even then he heard naught but the sound of the cannons.

Time to take stock of matters—to bring the situation in hand. The hull was blocking his view. Other than it, all he could see was a sparkling bay, and a stony break-water. He strode into the sea, watched curiously by the man with the mushroom-headed yard, and, once he was out knee-deep, turned around. What he saw then made it more or less obligatory to fall right on his arse.

This bay was spattered with bony islets, close to shore. Rising from one of them was a squat round fortress that (if he was any judge of matters architectural) had been built at grand expense by Spaniards in desperate fear of their lives. And apparently those fears had been well founded because the top of that fort was all fluttery with green banners bearing silver crescent moons. The fort had three tiers of guns on it (more correctly, the fort was three tiers of guns) and every one of 'em looked, and sounded, like a sixty-pounder, meaning that it flung a cannonball the size of a melon for several miles. This fort was mostly shrouded in powder-smoke, with long bolts of flame jabbing out here and there, giving it the appearance of a thunderstorm that had been rammed and tamped into a barrel.

A white stone breakwater connected this fort to the mainland, which, at first glance, impressed him as a sheer stone wall rising forty or feet from this narrow strip of muddy beach, and crowded with a great many more huge cannons, all being fired just as fast as they could be swabbed out and stuffed with powder.

Beyond the wall rose a white city. Being as he was at the base of a rather high wall, he wouldn't normally expect to be able to see anything on the opposite side thereof, save the odd cathedral-spire poking out above the battlements. But this city appeared to've been laboriously spackled onto the side of a precipitous mountain whose slopes rose directly from the high-tide mark. It looked a bit like a wedge of Paris tilted upwards by some tidy God who wanted to make all the shit finally run out of it. At the apex, where one would look for whatever crowbar or grapple the hypothetical God would've used to accomplish this prodigy, was, instead, another fortress—this one of a queer Moorish design, surrounded with its own eight-sided wall that was, inevitably, a-bristle with even more colossal cannons, as well as mortars for heaving bombs out to sea. All of those were being fired, too—as were all of the guns spraying from the several additional fortresses, bastions, and gun-platforms distributed around the city's walls.

During rare intervals between the crushing thuds of the sixty-pounders, he could hear peppery waves of pistol-and musket-fire rolling around the place, and now (beginning to advert on smaller things) he saw a sort of smoky, crowded lawn growing out of the wall-tops—save instead of grass-blades this lawn was made up of men. Some were dressed in black, and some in white, but most wore more colorful costumes: baggy white trousers belted with brilliantly hued swathes of silk, and brightly embroidered vests—frequently, several such vests nested—and turbans or red cylindrical hats. Most of those who were dressed after this fashion had a pistol in each hand and were firing them into the air or reloading.

The man with the outlandish johnson—swarthy, with wavy black hair in a curious 'do, and a knit skullcap—hitched up his robe, and sloshed out to see if he was all right. For he still had both hands clamped over the sides of his head, partly to stanch the bleeding of the barnacle-gashes, and partly to keep the sound from blowing the top of his skull out to sea. The man peered down and looked into his eyes and moved his lips. The look on his face was serious, but ever so slightly amused.

He reached up and grabbed this fellow's hand and used it to haul himself up to his feet. Both men's hands were so heavily callused that they could practically catch musket-balls out of the air, and their knuckles were either bleeding, or else recently scabbed over.

He had stood up because he wanted to see what was the target of all of this shooting, and how it could possibly continue to exist. A fleet of three or four dozen ships was arrayed in the harbor, and (no surprise here) they were all firing their guns. But the ones that looked like Dutch frigates were not firing at the ones that looked like heathen galleys, nor vice versa, and none of them seemed to be firing at the vertiginous white city. All of the ships, even the ones that were of European design, flew crescent-moon banners.

Finally his eye settled on one ship, which was unique in that she was the only vessel or building in sight that was not vomiting smoke and spitting flame in all directions. This one was a galley, very much in the Mohametan style, but extraordinarily fine, at least to anyone who found whorish decoration appealing—her non-functioning bits were a mess of gold-leafed gewgaws that glowed in the sun, even through drifting banks of powder-smoke. Her lateen sail had been struck and she was proceeding under oar-power, but in a stately manner. He found himself examining the movements of her oars just a bit too closely, and admiring the uniformity of the strokes more than was healthy for a Vagabond in his right mind: leading to the questions, was he still a Vagabond, and was he in his right mind? He recalled—dimly—that he had lived in Christendom during one part of his sorry life, and had been well advanced in the losing of his mind to the French Pox—but he seemed all right now, save that he couldn't recall where he was, how he'd gotten there, or anything at all of recent events. And the very meaning of that word "recent" was called into question by the length of his beard, which reached down to his stomach.

The intensity of the cannonade waxed, if such a thing were possible, and reached a climax as the gold-plated galley drew up alongside a stone pier that projected into the harbor not awfully far away. Then, all of a sudden, the noise stopped.

"What in Christ's name—" he began, but the rest of his utterance was drowned out by a sound that—compared to hundreds of cannons firing at once—made up in shrillness what it lacked in volume. Listening to it in amazement, he began to detect certain resemblances between it and musick. Rhythm was there, albeit of an overly complicated and rambunctious nature, and melody, too, though it was not cast in any civilized mode, but had the wild keening intonations of Irish tunes—and then some. Harmony, sweetness of tone, and other qualities normally associated with musick, were absent. For these Turks or Moors or whatever they were had no interest in flutes, viols, theorbos, nor anything else that made a pleasing sound. Their orchestra consisted of drums, cymbals, and a hideous swarm of giant war-oboes hammered out of brass and fitted with screeching, buzzing reeds, the result sounding like nothing so much as an armed assault on a belfry infested with starlings.

"I owe an 'umble apology to every Scotsman I've ever met," he shouted, "for it isn't true, after all, that their music is the most despicable in the world." His companion cocked an ear in his direction but heard little, and understood less.

Now, essentially all of the city was protected within that wall, which shamed any in Christendom. But on this side of it there were various breakwaters, piers, gun-emplacements, and traces of mucky beach, and everything that was capable of bearing a man's weight, or a horse's, was doing so—covered by ranks of men in divers magnificent and outlandish uniforms. In other words, all the makings of a parade were laid out here. And indeed, after a lot of bellowing back and forth and playing of hellish musicks and firing of yet more guns, various important Turks (he was growingly certain that these were Turks) began to ride or march through a large gate let into the mighty Wall, disappearing into the city. First went an impossibly magnificent and fearsome warrior on a black charger, flanked by a couple of kettledrum-pounding "musicians." The beat of their drums filled him with an unaccountable craving to reach out and grope for an oar.

"That, Jack, is the Agha of the Janissaries," said the circumcised one.

This handle of "Jack" struck him as familiar and, in any case, serviceable. So Jack he was.

Behind the kettledrums rode a graybeard, almost as magnificent to look at as the Agha of the Janissaries, but not so heavily be-weaponed. "The First Secretary," said Jack's companion. Next, following on foot, a couple of dozen more or less resplendent officers ("the aghabashis") and then a whole crowd of fellows with magnificent turbans adorned with first-rate ostrich plumes—"the bolukbashis," it was explained.

Now it had become plain enough that this fellow standing next to Jack was the sort who never tired of showing off his great knowledge, and of trying to edify lowlives such as Jack. Jack was about to say that he neither wanted nor needed edification, but something stopped him. It might've been the vague, inescapable sense that he knew this fellow, and had for quite a while—which, if true, might mean that the other was only trying to make conversation. And it might've been that Jack didn't know quite where to begin, language-wise. He knew somehow that the bolukbashis were equivalent to captains, and that the aghabashis were one rank above the bolukbashis, and that the Agha of the Janissaries was a General. But he was not sure why he should know the meanings of such heathen words. So Jack shut up, long enough for various echelons of odabashis (lieutenants) and vekilhardjis (sergeants-major) to form up and concatenate themselves onto the end of the parade. Then diverse hocas such as the salt-hoca, customs-hoca, and weights-and-measures-hoca, all following the hoca-in-chief, then the sixteen cavuses in their long emerald robes with crimson cummerbunds, their white leather caps, their fantastickal upturned moustaches, and their red hobnailed boots tromping fearsomely over the stones of the quay. Then the kadis, muftis, and imams had to do their bit. Finally a troop of gorgeous Janissaries marched off the deck of the golden galley, followed by a solitary man swathed in many yards of chalk-white fabric that had been gathered by means of diverse massive golden jeweled brooches into a coherent garment, though it probably would've fallen off of him if he hadn't been riding on a white war-horse with pink eyes, bridled and saddled with as much in the way of silver and gems as it could carry without tripping over the finery.

"The new Pasha—straight from Constantinople!"

"I'll be damned—is that why they were firing all those guns?"

"It is traditional to greet a new Pasha with a salute of fifteen hundred guns."

"Traditional where?"

"Here."

"And here is—?"

"Forgive me, I forget you have not been right in the head. The city that rises up on yonder mountain is the Invincible Bastion of Islam—the Place of Everlasting Vigil and Combat against the Infidel—the Whip of Christendom, Terror of the Seas, Bridle of Italy and Spain, Scourge of the Islands: who holds the sea under her laws and makes all nations her righteous and lawful prey."

"Bit of a mouthful, isn't it?"

"The English name is Algiers."

"Well, in Christendom I have seen entire wars prosecuted with less expenditure of gunpowder than Algiers uses to say hello to a Pasha—so perhaps your words are not mere bravado. What language are we speaking, by the way?"

"It is called variously Franco, or Sabir, which in Spanish means ‘to know.' Some of it comes from Provence, Spain, and Italy, some from Arabic and Turkish. Your Sabir has much French in it, Jack, mine has more Spanish."

"Surely you're no Spaniard—!"

The man bowed, albeit without doffing his skullcap, and his forelocks tumbled from his shoulders and dangled in space. "Moseh de la Cruz, at your service."

" ‘Moses of the Cross?' What the hell kind of name is that?"

Moseh did not appear to find it especially funny. "It is a long story—even by your standards, Jack. Suffice it to say that the Iberian Peninsula is a complicated place to be Jewish."

"How'd you end up here?" Jack began to ask; but he was interrupted by a large Turk, armed with a bull's penis, who was waving at Jack and Moseh, commanding them to get out of the surf and return to work—the siesta was finis and it was time for trabajo now that the Pasha had ridden through the Beb and entered into the cit'e.

The trabajo consisted of scraping the barnacles from the hull of the adjacent galley, which had been beached and rolled over to expose its keel. Jack, Moseh, and a few dozen other slaves (for there was no getting round the fact that they were slaves) got to work with various rude iron tools while the Turk prowled up and down the length of the hull brandishing that ox-pizzle. High above them, behind the wall, they could hear a sort of rolling fusillade wandering around the city as the parade continued; the thump of the kettledrums, and the outcry of the siege-oboes and assault-bassoons was, mercifully, deflected heavenwards by the city walls.

"It is true, I think—you are cured."

"Never mind what your Alchemists and Chirurgeons will tell you—there is no cure for the French Pox. I'm having a brief interval of sanity, nothing more."

"On the contrary—it is claimed, by certain Arab and Jewish doctors of great distinction, that the aforesaid Pox may be purged from the body, completely and permanently, if the patient is suffered to run an extremely high fever for several consecutive days."

"I don't feel good, mind you, but I don't feel feverish."

"But a few weeks ago, you and several others came down with violent cases of la suette anglaise."

"Never heard of any such disease—and I'm English, mind you."

Moseh de la Cruz shrugged, as best a man could when hacking at a cluster of barnacles with a pitted and rusted iron hoe. "It is a well-known disease, hereabouts—whole neighborhoods were laid low with it in the spring."

"Perhaps they'd made the mistake of listening to too much musick—?"

Moseh shrugged again. "It is a real enough disease—perhaps not as fearsome as some of the others, such as Rising of the Lights, or Ring-Booger, or the Laughing Kidney, or Letters-from-Venice…"

"Avast!"

"In any event, you came down with it, Jack, and had such a fever that all the other tutsaklars in the banyolar were roasting kebabs over your brow for a fortnight. Finally one morning you were pronounced dead, and carried out of the banyolar and thrown into a wain. Our owner sent me round to the Treasury to notify the hoca el-pencik so that your title deed could be marked as ‘deceased,' which is a necessary step in filing an insurance claim. But the hoca el-pencik knew that a new Pasha was on his way, and wanted to make sure that all the records were in order, lest some irregularity be discovered during an audit, which would cause him to fall under the bastinado at the very least."

"May I infer, from this, that insurance fraud is a common failing of slave-owners?"

"Some of them are completely unethical," Moseh confided. "So I was ordered to lead the hoca el-pencik back to the banyolar and show him your body—but not before I was made to wait for hours and hours in his courtyard, as midday came and went, and the hoca el-pencik took a siesta under the lime-tree there. Finally we went to the banyolar—but in the meantime your wagon had been moved to the burial-ground of the Janissaries."

"Why!? I'm no more a Janissary than you are."

"Sssh! So I had gathered, Jack, from several years of being chained up next to you, and hearing your autobiographical ravings: stories that, at first, were simply too grotesque to believe—then, entertaining after a fashion—then, after the hundredth or thousandth repetition—"

"Stay. No doubt you have tedious and insufferable qualities of your own, Moseh de la Cruz, but you have me at a disadvantage, as I cannot remember them. What I want to know is, why did they think I was a Janissary?"

"The first clew was that you carried a Janissary-sword when you were captured."

"Proceeds of routine military corpse-looting, nothing more."

"The second: you fought with such valor that your want of skill was quite overlooked."

"I was trying to get myself killed, or else would've shown less of the former, and more of the latter."

"Third: the unnatural state of your penis was interpreted as a mark of strict chastity—"

"Correct, perforce!"

"—and assumed to've been self-administered."

"Haw! That's not how it happened at all—"

"Stay," Moseh said, shielding his face behind both hands.

"I forgot, you've heard."

"Fourth: the Arabic numeral seven branded on the back of your hand."

"I'll have you know that's a letter V, for Vagabond."

"But sideways it could be taken for a seven."

"How does that make me a Janissary?"

"When a new recruit takes the oath and becomes yeni yoldash, which is the lowliest rank, his barrack number is tattooed onto the back of his hand, so it can be known which seffara he belongs to, and which bash yoldash is responsible for him."

"All right—so 'twas assumed I'd come up from barracks number seven in some Ottoman garrison-town somewhere."

"Just so. And yet you were clearly out of your mind, and not good for much besides pulling on an oar, so it was decided you'd remain tutsaklar until you died, or regained your senses. If the former, you'd receive a Janissary funeral."

"What about the latter?"

"That remains to be seen. As it was, we thought it was the former. So we went to the high ground outside the city-walls, to the burial-ground of the ocak—"

"Come again?"

"Ocak: a Turkish order of Janissaries, modeled after the Knights of Rhodes. They rule over Algiers, and are a law and society unto themselves here."

"Is that man coming over to hit us with the bull's penis a part of this ocak?"

"No. He works for the corsair-captain who owns the galley. The corsairs are yet another completely different society unto themselves."

After the Turk had finished giving Jack and Moseh several bracing strokes of the bull's penis, and had wandered away to go beat up on some other barnacle-scrapers, Jack invited Moseh to continue the story.

"The hoca el-pencik and several of his aides and I went to that place. And a bleak place it was, Jack, with its countless tombs, mostly shaped like half-eggshells, meant to evoke a village of yurts on the Transoxianan Steppe—the ancestral homeland for which Turks are forever homesick—though, if it bears the slightest resemblance to that burying-ground, I cannot imagine why. At any rate, we roamed up and down among these stone yurts for an hour, searching for your corpse, and were about to give up, for the sun was going down, when we heard a muffled, echoing voice repeating some strange incantation, or prophecy, in an outlandish tongue. Now the hoca el-pencik was on edge to begin with, as this interminable stroll through the graveyard had put him in mind of daimons and ifrits and other horrors. When he heard this voice, coming (as we soon realized) from a great mausoleum where a murdered agha had been entombed, he was about to bolt for the city gates. So were his aides. But as they had with them one who was not only a slave, but a Jew to boot, they sent me into that tomb to see what would happen."

"And what did happen?"

"I found you, Jack, standing upright in that ghastly, but delightfully cool space, pounding on the lid of the agha's sarcophagus and repeating certain English words. I knew not what they meant, but they went something like this: ‘Be a good fellow there, sirrah, and bring me a pint of your best bitter!' "

"I must have been out of my head," Jack muttered, "for the light lagers of Pilsen are much better suited to this climate."

"You were still daft, but there was a certain spark about you that I had not seen in a year or two—certainly not since we were traded to Algiers. I suspected that the heat of your fever, compounded with the broiling radiance of the midday sun, under which you'd lain for many hours, had driven the French Pox out of your body. And indeed you have been a little more lucid every day since."

"What did the hoca el-pencik think of this?"

"When you walked out, you were naked, and sunburnt as red as a boiled crab, and there was speculation that you might be some species of ifrit. I have to tell you that the Turks have superstitions about everything, and most especially about Jews—they believe we have occult powers, and of late the Cabbalists have done much to foster such phant'sies. In any event, matters were soon enough sorted out. Our owner received one hundred strokes, with a cane the size of my thumb, on the soles of his feet, and vinegar was poured over the resulting wounds."

"Eeyeh, give me the bull's penis any day!"

"It's expected he may be able to stand up again in a month or two. In the meanwhile, as we wait out the equinoctial storms, we are careening and refitting our galley, as is obvious enough."


DURING THIS NARRATION Jack had been looking sidelong at the other galley-slaves, and had found them to be an uncommonly diverse and multi-cultural lot: there were black Africans, Europeans, Jews, Indians, Asiatics, and many others he could not clearly sort out. But he did not see anyone he recognized from the complement of God's Wounds.

"What of Yevgeny, and Mr. Foot? To speak poetically: have insurance claims been paid on them?"

"They are on the larboard oar. Yevgeny pulls with the strength of two men, and Mr. Foot pulls not at all—which makes them more or less inseparable, in the context of a well-managed galley."

"So they live!"

"Live, and thrive—we'll see them later."

"Why aren't they here, scraping barnacles like the rest of us?" Jack demanded peevishly.

"In Algiers, during the winter months, when galleys dare not venture out on the sea, oar-slaves are permitted—nay, encouraged—to pursue trades. Our owner receives a share of the earnings. Those who have no skills scrape barnacles."

Jack found this news not altogether pleasing, and assaulted a barnacle-cluster with such violence that he nearly stove in the boat's hull. This quickly drew a reprimand—and not from the Turkish whip-hand, but from a short, stocky, red-headed galley-slave on Jack's other side. "I don't care if you're crazy—or pretend to be—you keep that hull seaworthy, lest we all go down!" he barked, in an English that was half Dutch. Jack was a head taller than this Hollander, and considered making something of it—but he didn't imagine that their overseer would look kindly on a fracas, when mere talking was a flogging offense. Besides, there was a rather larger chap standing behind the carrot-top, who was eyeing Jack with the same expression: skeptical bordering on disgusted. This latter appeared to be a Chinaman, but he was not of the frail, cringing sort. Both he and the Hollander looked troublingly familiar.

"Put some slack into your haul-yards, there, shorty—you ain't the owner, nor the captain—as long as she stays afloat, what's a little dent or scratch to us?"

The Dutchman shook his head incredulously and went back to work on a single barnacle, which he was dissecting off a hull-clinker as carefully as a chirurgeon removing a stone from a Grand Duke's bladder.

"Thank you for not making a scene," Moseh said, "it is important that we maintain harmony on the starboard oar."

"Those are our oar-mates?"

"Yes, and the fifth is in town pursuing his trade."

"Well, why is it so important to remain on good terms with them?"

"Other than that we must share a crowded bench with them eight months out of the year, you mean?"

"Yes."

"We must all pull together if we are to maintain parity with the larboard oar."

"What if we don't?"

"The galley will—"

"Yes, yes, it'll go in circles. But why should we care?"

"Aside from that the skin will be whipped off our ribcages by that bull's pizzle?"

"I take that as a given."

"Oars come in matched sets. As matters stand, we have parity with the larboard oar, and therefore constitute a matched set of ten slaves. We were traded to our current owner as such. But if Yevgeny and his bench-mates begin to out-pull us, we'll be split up—your friends will end up in different galleys, or even different cities."

"It'd serve 'em right."

"Pardon me?"

"Pardon me," Jack said, "but here we are on this fucking beach. And I may be a crazy Vagabond, but you appear to be an educated Jew, and that Dutchman is a ship's officer if ever there was one, and God only knows about that Chinaman—"

"Nipponese actually, but trained by the Jesuits."

"All right, then—this only supports my point."

"And your point is—?"

"What can Yevgeny and Mr. Foot possibly have that we don't?"

"They've formed a sort of enterprise wherein Yevgeny is Labor, and Mr. Foot is Management. Its exact nature is difficult to explain. Later, it will become clear to you. In the meantime, it's imperative that the ten of us remain together!"

"What possible reason could you have for giving a damn whether we stay together?"

"During the last several years of touring the Mediterranean behind an oar, I have been developing, secretly, in my mind, a Plan," said Moseh de la Cruz. "It is a plan that will bring all ten of us wealth, and then freedom, though possibly not in that order."

"Does armed mutiny enter into this plan? Because—"

Moseh rolled his eyes.

"I was simply trying to imagine what r^ole a man such as myself could possibly have in any Plan—leastways, any Plan that was not invented by a raving Lunatick."

"It is a question I frequently asked myself, until today. Some earlier versions of the Plan, I must admit, involved throwing you overboard as soon as it was practicable. But today when fifteen hundred guns spoke from the three-tiered batteries of the Pe~non and the frowning towers of the Kasba, some lingering obstructions were, it seems, finally knocked loose inside your head, and you were put back into your right mind again—or as close to it as is really possible. And now, Jack, you do have a r^ole in the Plan."

"And am I allowed to know the nature of this r^ole?"

"Why, you'll be our Janissary."

"But I am not a—"

"Hold, hold! You see that fellow scraping barnacles?"

"Which one? There must be a hundred."

"The tall fellow, Arab-looking with a touch of Negro; which is to say Egyptian."

"I see him."

"That is Nyazi—one of the larboard crew."

"He's a Janissary?"

"No, but he's spent enough time around them that he can teach you to fake your way through it. Dappa—the black man, there—can teach you a few words of Turkish. And Gabriel—that Nipponese Jesuit—is a brave swordsman. He'll bring you up to par in no time."

"Why, exactly, does this plan demand a fake Janissary?"

"Really it demands a real one," Moseh sighed, "but in life one must make do with the materials at hand."

"My question is not answered."

"Later—when we are all together—I'll explain."

Jack laughed. "You speak like a courtier, in honeyed euphemisms. When you say ‘together,' it means what? Chained together by our neck-irons in some rat-filled dungeon 'neath that Kasba?"

"Run your hand over the skin of your neck, Jack, and tell me: Does it feel like you've been wearing an iron collar recently?"

"Now that you mention it—no."

"Quitting time is nigh—then we'll go into the city and find the others."

"Haw! Just like that? Like free men?" Jack said, as well as much more in a similar vein. But an hour later, a strange wailing arose from several tall square towers planted all round the city, and a single gun was fired from the heights of the Kasba, and then all of the slaves put their scrapers down and began to wander off down the beach in groups of two or three. Seven whom Moseh had identified as belonging to the two Oars of his Plan tarried for a minute until all were ready to depart; the Dutchman, van Hoek, did not wish to leave until he was good and finished.

Moseh noticed a dropped hatchet, frowned, picked it up, and brushed away the damp sand. Then his eyes began to wander about, looking for a place to put it. Meanwhile he began to toss the hatchet absent-mindedly in his hand. Because its weight was all in its head, the handle flailed around wildly as it revolved in the air. But Moseh always caught it neatly on its way down. Presently his gaze fastened on one of the old dried-up tree-trunks that had been jammed into the sand, and used to prop up the galley so that its hull was exposed. He stared fixedly at this target whilst tossing the hatchet one, two, three more times, then suddenly drew the tool far back behind his head, stuck his tongue out, paused for a moment, then let the hatchet fly. It executed a single lazy revolution while hurtling across several fathoms of air, then stopped in an instant, one corner of its blade buried in the wood of the tree-trunk, high and dry.

The seven oar-slaves clambered up onto the footing of the colossal wall and made for the city gate. Jack followed along with the crowd, though he could not help hunching his shoulders, expecting to feel the whip across his back. But no stroke came. As he approached the gates he stood straighter and walked more freely, and sensed a group coalescing around him and Moseh: the irritable Dutchman, the Nipponese Jesuit, a black African with ropy locks of hair, the Egyptian named Nyazi, and a middle-aged Spaniard who seemed to be afflicted with some sort of spasmodic disorder. As they passed through the city gates, this fellow turned and shouted something at the Janissaries who were standing guard there. Jack didn't get every word of the Spanish, but it was something like, "Listen to me, you boy-fucking heathen scum, we have all formed a secret cabal!" Which was not exactly what Jack would've said under the circumstances—but Moseh and the others only exchanged broad, knowing grins with the Janissaries, and into the city they went: Den of Thieves, Nest of Wasps, Scourge of Christendom, Citadel of the Faith.


THE MAIN STREET of Algiers was uncommonly broad, and yet crowded with Turks sitting out smoking tobacco from fountain-sized hubbly-bubblies, but Jack, Moseh, and the other slaves did not spend very much time there. Moseh darted through a pointy keyhole-arch so narrow that he had to turn sideways, and led the others into a roofless corridor of stone that was not much wider, forcing them to go in single file, and to plaster themselves up against walls whenever someone came towards them. It felt much like being in a back-hallway of some ancient building, save that when Jack looked up he could see a splinter of sky glaring between blank walls that rose ten to twenty yards above his head. Ladders and bridges had been set up between rooftops, joining the city's terraces and roof-gardens into a private net-work strung high up above the ground. Sometimes Jack would see a black-swathed form flit from one side to the other. It was difficult to get a clear look at them, for they were dark and furtive as bats, but they seemed to be wearing the same sort of garment as Eliza had when Jack had met her beneath Vienna, and, in any event, from the way they moved he could tell they were women.

Down in the street—if that word could even be used for a passage as strait as this one—there were no women. Of men there was a marvelous variety. The Janissaries who made up the ocak were easy to recognize—some had a Greek or Slavic appearance, but most had an Asiatic look about the eyes, and all went in splendid clothing: baggy pleated trousers, belted with a sash that supported all manner of pistols, scimitars, daggers, purses, tobacco-pouches, pipes, and even pocket-watches. Over a loose shirt, one or more fancy vests, used as a sort of display-case for ribbons of lace, gold pins, swatches of fine embroidery. A turban on the top, pointy-toed slippers below, sometimes a long cape thrown over the whole. Thus the ocak, who were afforded never so much respect by all who passed them in the street. Algiers was crowded with many other sorts: mostly the Moors and Berbers whose ancestors had lived here before the Turks had come to organize the place. These tended to wear long one-piece cloaks, or else raiments that were just many fathoms of fabric swirled round the body and held in place by clever tricks with pins and sashes. There was a smattering of Jews, always dressed in black, and quite a few Europeans wearing whatever had been fashionable in their homelands when they'd decided to turn Turk.

Some of these white men looked just as `a la mode as the young gallants who'd made it their business to pester Eliza at the Maiden in Amsterdam, but too there was the occasional geezer tottering down a staircase in a neck-ruff, Pilgrim-hat, and van Dyck. "Jesus!" Jack exclaimed, observing one of the latter, "why are we slaves, and that old moth a respected citizen?"

The question only befuddled everyone except for the rope-headed African, who laughed and shook his head. "It is very dangerous to ask certain questions," he said. "I should know."

"Who're you then, and how came you to speak better English than I?"

"I am named Dappa. I was—am—a linguist."

"That means not a thing to me," Jack said, "but as we are nothing more than a brace of slaves wandering around lost in a heathen citadel, I don't suppose there's any harm in hearing some sort of reasonably concise explanation."

"In fact we are not lost at all, but taking the most direct route to our destination," Dappa said. "But my story is a simple one—not like yours, Jack—and there will be more than enough time to relate it. All right then: every slave-port along the African coast must have a linguist—which signifies a man skilled in many tongues—or else how could the black slavers, who bring the stock out from the interior, make deals with the ships' captains who drop anchor off-shore? For those slavers come from many different nations, all speaking different languages, and likewise the captains may be English, Dutch, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Arab, or what-have-you. It all depends on the outcomes of various European wars, of which we Africans never know anything until the castle at the river-head suddenly begins to fly a different flag."

"Enough on that subject—I've fought in some of those wars."

"Jack, I am from a town on the river that is called, by white men, the Niger. This is an easy place to live—food grows on trees. I could rhapsodize about it but I will refrain. Suffice it to say 'twas a Garden of Eden. Save for the Institution of Slavery, which had always been with us. For as many generations as our priests and elders can remember, Arabs would occasionally come up the great river in boats and trade us cloth, gold, and other goods for slaves—"

"But where'd the slaves come from, Dappa?"

"The question is apt. Prior to my time they mostly came from farther up the river, marching in columns, joined together by wooden yokes. And some persons of my town were made slaves because they could not pay their debts, or as punishment for crimes."

"So you have bailiffs? Judges?"

"In my town the priests were very powerful, and did many of the things that bailiffs and judges do in your country."

"When you say priests I don't imagine you mean men in funny hats, prating in Latin—"

Dappa laughed. "When Arabs or Catholics came to convert us, we would hear them out and then invite them to get back into their boats and go home. No, we followed a traditional religion in my town, whose details I'll spare you, save one: we had a famous oracle, which means—"

"I know, I've heard about 'em in plays."

"Very well—then the only thing I need to tell you is that pilgrims would come to our town from many miles away to ask questions of the Aro priests who were the oracles in my town. Now: at about the same time that some Portuguese began coming up the river to convert us, others began coming to trade with us for slaves—which was unremarkable, being no different from what the Arabs had been doing forever. But gradually—too gradually for anyone to really see a difference in his lifetime—the prices that were offered for slaves rose higher, and the visits of the buyers came more frequently. Dutch and English and other sorts of white men came wanting ever more slaves. My town grew wealthy from this trade—the temples of the Aro priests shone with gold and silver, the slave-trains from upriver grew longer, and came more frequently. Even then, the supply was not equal to the demand. The priests who served as our judges began to pass the sentence of enslavement on more and more persons, for smaller and smaller offenses. They grew rich and haughty, the priests did, and were carried through the streets on gilded sedan-chairs. Yet this magnificence was viewed, by a certain type of African, as proof that these priests must be very powerful wizards and oracles. So, just as the slave-trains waxed, so did the crowds of pilgrims coming from all over the Niger Delta to have their illnesses healed, or to ask questions of the oracle."

"Nothing we haven't seen in Christendom," Jack observed.

"Yes—the difference being that, after a time, the priests ran out of crimes, and slaves."

"What do you mean, they ran out of crimes?"

"They reached a point, Jack, where they would punish every crime, no matter how trivial, with enslavement. And still there were not enough slaves to sell down the river. So they decreed that henceforth, any person who appeared before the Aro oracle and asked a stupid question would be immediately seized by the warriors who stood guard in the temple, and flung into slavery."

"Hmmm…if stupid questions are as common in Africa as they are where I come from, that policy must've produced a flood of wretches!"

"It did—yet still the pilgrims flocked to our town."

"Were you one of those pilgrims?"

"No, I was a fortunate boy—the son of an Aro priest. When I was very young, I talked all the time, so it was decided I would be a linguist. Thereafter, whenever a white or Arab trader came to our town, I would stay in his lodgings and try to learn what I could of his language. And when the missionaries came, too, I would pretend to be interested in their religions, so that I could learn their languages."

"But how did you become a slave?"

"One time I traveled downriver to Bonny, which is the slave-fort at the mouth of the Niger. En route I passed many towns, and understood for the first time that mine was only one of many feeding slaves down the river. The Spanish missionary I was traveling with told me that Bonny was only one of scores of slave-depots up and down the coast of Africa. For the first time, then, I understood how enormous the slave trade was—and how evil. But since you are a slave yourself, Jack, and have expressed some dissatisfaction with your estate, I'll not belabor this. I asked the Spanish missionary how such a thing could be justified, given that the religion of Europe is founded on brotherly love. The Spaniard replied that this had been a great controversy in the Church, and much debated—but that in the end, they justified it only by one thing: When white slavers bought them from black slavers, Africans were baptized, and so the good that was done to their immortal souls, in that instant, more than compensated for the evils done to their temporal bodies during the remainder of their lives. ‘Do you mean to tell me,' I exclaimed, ‘that it would be against the law of God for an African who was already a Christian to be enslaved?' ‘That is so,' said the missionary. And so now I was filled with what you call zeal. I love this word. In my zeal I got on the next boat bound upriver—it was a Royal Africa Company longboat carrying pieces of India cloth to trade for slaves. When I reached my town I went straight to the temple and—how do you say it—‘jumped the queue' of pilgrims, and went before the highest of the high Aro priests. He was a man I had known all my life—he had been a sort of uncle to me, and many times we had eaten from the same bowl. He was sitting there resplendent on his gold throne, with his lion-skin, all draped about with fat garlands of cowrie-shells, and in great excitement, I said ‘Do you realize that this evil could be brought to an end today? The law of the Christian Church states that once a man has been baptized it is unlawful to make him a slave!' ‘What is your point—or, to put it another way, what is your question?' asked the oracle. ‘It is very simple,' I said, ‘why don't we simply baptize everyone in the whole town—for these Catholics make a specialty of mass baptisms—and furthermore why don't we baptize every pilgrim and slave who walks into the city-gates?' "

"What was the oracle's answer?"

"After no more than a heartbeat's hesitation, he turned towards the four spear-men who stood by him, and made a little twitching motion with his fly-whisk. They rushed forward and began to bind my arms behind my back. ‘What is the meaning of this? What are you doing to me, uncle?' I cried. He answered: ‘That makes two—no, three stupid questions in a row, and so I would enslave you thrice if such a thing were possible.' ‘My god,' I said, as I began to understand the full horror of what was being done to me, ‘can you not see the evil of what you are doing? Bonny—and all the other slave-depots—are filled with our brothers, dying of disease and despair before they even get on those hellish slave-ships! Hundreds of years from now, their descendants will live on in faraway lands as outcasts, embittered by the knowledge of what was perpetrated against their forefathers! How can we—how can you—seemingly a decent man—capable of showing love and affection towards your wives and children—perpetrate such unspeakable crimes?' To which the oracle replied, ‘Now, that is a good question!' and with another flick of his fly-whisk sent me off to the holding-pit. I returned to Bonny on the same English boat that had brought me up the river, and my uncle had a new piece of India cloth to brighten his household." Dappa now laughed out loud, his teeth gleaming handsomely in the rapidly deepening dusk of a crevasse-like Algiers back-street.

Jack managed a polite chuckle. Though the other slaves had probably never heard Dappa's story told in English before, they recognized its rhythms, and grinned on cue. The Spaniard laughed heartily and said, "You have got to be one stupid nigger to think that's funny!" Dappa ignored him.

"It is a good enough yarn," Jack allowed, "but it does not explain how you ended up here."

Dappa responded by pulling his ragged shirt down to expose his right breast. In the gloom Jack could barely make out a pattern of scars. "I don't know letters," he said.

"Then I'll teach you two of them," said Dappa, reaching out quickly and grasping Jack's index finger before Jack could flinch away. "This is a D," he continued, running the tip of Jack's finger along the ridge of a scar, "for Duke. And this is a Y, for York. They trade-marked me thus with a silver branding-iron when I reached Bonny."

"Not to rub salt in your wound, there, Dappa, but that same bloke is King of England now—"

"Not any more," Moseh put in, "he was run off by William of Orange."

"Well, there's a bit of good news at least," Jack muttered.

"From that point my story's unremarkable," Dappa said. "I was traded from fort to fort up the coast. Bonny slaves fetch a low price because, since we grew up in paradise, we are unaccustomed to agricultural labor. Otherwise I would've been shipped straight to Brazil or the Caribbean. I ended up in the hold of a Portuguese ship bound for Madeira, which was captured by the same Rabat corsairs who'd earlier taken your ship."

"We must hurry," Moseh said, bending his neck to stare straight up. Down here it had been night for hours, but fifty feet above them, the corner of a wall was washed in the red light of the sunset. The little slave-column doubled its pace, trotted around several more corners, and came out into a street that was relatively wide (i.e., Jack could no longer touch both sides of it at the same time). Onion-skins and vegetable-trimmings were strewn about, and Jack reckoned it to be some sort of a market, though all of the tables had been cleared and the stalls shuttered. A young, dark-haired man, oddly familiar-looking, was standing there waiting for them, and fell in stride as they passed. His Sabir was infused with an accent that Jack recognized, from his last Paris sojourn, as Armenian.

But before he'd had time to think on this, they'd spilled out into an open space: some sort of public square, difficult to make out in the dusky light, with a public fountain in the center and a few large, but very plain, buildings around the sides. One of these was all lit up, with hundreds of men trying to get in the doors. Quite a few of them were slaves, but there were many members of the ocak, too, as well as the usual Algerine assortment of Berbers, Jews, and Christians. As they came up against the fringes of this crowd, Moseh de la Cruz stepped aside and allowed the Spaniard to lunge past him, suddenly bellowing every vile insult Jack had ever heard, as well as diverse new-made ones, and jabbing various large, heavily armed Turks in the ribs, treading on the curly toes of their slippers, and kicking them in the shins to clear a path towards the building's entrance. Jack expected to have his head scimitared off merely for being in the general vicinity of this uncivil Spaniard, but all the victims of his jabs and insults grinned and laughed the moment they recognized him, and then derived all manner of entertainment from watching him assail whomever stood in his path next. Moseh and the others, meanwhile, followed along in his wake, so that they arrived at the front door quickly—yet apparently none too soon. For the Turks standing guard there spoke angrily to Moseh and the others, pointing at the western sky, which had faded to a deep and nearly invisible blue now, like candle-light trying to penetrate a porcelain saucer. One of the guards slugged Dappa and the Nipponese Jesuit as they went by, and aimed a blow at Jack, which he dodged.

Moseh had mentioned to him earlier that they lived in something called a banyolar and Jack reckoned this must be it: a courtyard surrounded by galleries divided into many small cells, one ring of galleries piled upon the next to a height of several storeys. To Jack, the overall design was much like certain old-fashioned theatres that stood along Maid Lane between the marshes of Southwark and the right bank of the Thames, viz. the Rose, the Hope, and the Swan. The big difference, of course, was that those Bankside theatres had armed men trying to keep Jack out whereas here they were abusing him for not having entered soon enough.

This, of course, was no theatre, but a slave-quarters. And yet the galleries, up to and including the flat roof of the banyolar, were crowded (at the moment anyway) with free Algerines, and so was most of the courtyard. But one part of that yard, off to one side of its central cistern, had been roped off to form a stage, or ring; and any number of torch`eres had been planted around it, so close to one another that their flames practically merged into a square window-frame of fire that shed fair illumination on the empty plot in the center.

All of the Turks packed turban-to-turban around the galleries were very excited, and rowdier than any group Jack had ever seen outside of a Vagabond camp. When not jostling for position or transacting elaborate wagers, they were paying close attention to certain preparations underway at the corners of the ring. As far as Jack was concerned, only two attractions could account for this degree of excitement among so many young men; and since sex, for Janissaries, was banned, Jack reckoned that they must be about to witness some form of violence.

Following Moseh towards one of the corners of the fiery square, Jack was struck—but not particularly surprised—to discover Yevgeny, stark naked save for leather underpants and a thick coating of oil, and Mr. Foot, dressed up in scarlet finery and shaking a leather purse bloated with what Jack could only assume was specie. But before Jack could push his way in closer and begin asking questions, Yevgeny went down on his right knee: in and of itself, nothing remarkable. But here it was like setting off a granadoe. Everyone near him flung himself back, making an empty space with Yevgeny in the center. The crowd in the gallery went silent for a moment—then exploded with cheers of "Rus! Rus! Rus!"

Yevgeny spread his arms out to their full seven-foot span, then clapped his hands together, close enough to the ground to raise a puff of dust, then spread his arms again and did the same thing twice more. After the third clap he let his right hand fall to the earth, palm up, then raised it to his face and kissed his fingertips, then touched them to his forehead. During this little ceremony the cheering of "Rus! Rus!" continued at subdued volume—but now Yevgeny got up and vaulted into the square and the cheering rose to a level that made Jack's ears ring, reminding him of the fifteen-hundred-gun salute. Yevgeny planted his feet in the middle of the square and adopted a strangely insouciant pose: supporting his left elbow in his cupped right hand, he rested his head on his left hand, and froze in that position.

Nothing changed for several minutes, except that the torch`eres blazed and the cheers rang down from the deepening night sky. Finally another well-lubricated man in leather underpants performed the same series of movements and ended up standing next to Yevgeny in the same pose: this was a very dark-skinned Negro, not as tall as Yevgeny, but heavier. The cheering redoubled. Mr. Foot, who had added an expensive-looking cape to his ensemble, now came into the ring and hollered some sort of announcement up into the galleries, turning slowly round as he did, so that every member of the audience could inspect his tonsils even if hearing him was out of the question. Having concluded this, he scurried out of the ring. Yevgeny and the Negro turned to face each other in the middle of the fiery ring. Soon they had clasped their hands together, palm to palm like children playing at pat-a-cake. Rearing their heads back they smashed their faces together as hard as they could. Jack was startled; then they reared back like vipers preparing to strike, and did it a second time, and he was fascinated. Then they did it a third time, with no less violence, and Jack started to be appalled, wondering whether they would continue it until one of them was left senseless. But then they let go of each other and staggered apart with blood running down their faces from lacerations on their brows.

Now, finally, they got down to the actual business at hand: wrestling. And this was not greatly different from most other wrestling matches Jack had seen, except messier. Immediately both men got oil on their hands, then had to back away from each other and rub their palms on the ground to pick up dirt, which was shortly transferred to their bodies the next time they closed. So within a few minutes Yevgeny and the Negro were covered head-to-toe in a paste of blood, sweat, oil, and Algerian dust. Yevgeny had a wide stance, but the Negro knew how to keep his weight low, and so neither could throw the other. The crisis occurred several minutes into the bout when the African got a grip on Yevgeny's testicles and squeezed, which was a good idea, while looking up expectantly into Yevgeny's face, which wasn't. For Yevgeny accepted the ball-squeezing with a forbearance that made Jack's blood run a little cool, and paid the Negro back with another vicious downward head-butt that produced a clearly visible explosion of blood and audible splintering noises. The African let go of Yevgeny's private parts the better to clap both hands over his devastated face, and Yevgeny easily threw him into the dust—which ended the match.

"Rus! Rus! Ruuuuus!" howled the worthies of the ocak. Yevgeny paraded around the ring, looking philosophical, and Mr. Foot pursued him holding up a yawning purse into which Turks flung money—mostly, whole pieces of eight. Jack liked the looks of this—until the whole purse was delivered direct into the hands of a large Turkish gentleman who was sitting on a sort of litter at ringside, his feet mummified in white linen and propped up on an ottoman.


"IN RUSSIA, I BELONGED to a secret society, wherein we trained one another to feel no pain under torture," Yevgeny said, offhandedly, later.

This remark dampened all conversation for a few minutes, and Jack took stock of his situation.

After a long series of wrestling-bouts, the torch`eres had been extinguished and the Turks and free Algerines had departed, leaving the banyolar to the slaves. Both the starboard and the larboard oars, in their entirety, had now convened on the roof of the banyolar to smoke pipes. The night was nearly moonless, with only the merest crescent creeping across the sky—out over the Sahara, as Jack supposed. Consequently there were more stars out than Jack had ever seen. A few lights glimmered from the embrasures of the Kasba, but other than that, it seemed that these ten galley-slaves had the night to themselves:

Larboard Oar

YEVGENY THE RASKOLNIK, a.k.a. "Rus"

MR. FOOT, ex-proprietor of the Bomb & Grapnel, Dunkirk,

and now entrepreneur-without-portfolio

DAPPA, a Neeger linguist

JERONIMO, a vile but high-born Spaniard

NYAZI, a camel-trader of the Upper Nile

Starboard Oar

"HALF-COCKED" JACK SHAFTOE, L'Emmerdeur,

King of the Vagabonds

MOSEH DE LA CRUZ, the Kohan with the Plan

GABRIEL GOTO, a Jesuit Priest of Nippon

OTTO VAN HOEK, a Dutch mariner

VREJ ESPHAHNIAN, youngest of the Paris Esphahnians–

for the Armenian they'd picked up in the market was none other Following the refugees north, I went to Texel, where I was issued a sea-chest containing clothes, pipes, tobacco, a Bible, and a book called The God-Fearing Sailor. Twenty-four hours later I was on a man-o'-war in the Narrow Seas dodging English grape-shot and lugging sacks of gunpowder. That, and a year of manning pumps, made me a sailor. Thrice I sailed to India and back, and that made me an officer."

"Fine! Why're you not an officer here?"

"A dozen years I lived in continual fear of pirates. Finally all of my nightmares came true and my ship was stolen from me—you can see her riding at anchor in the harbor some days, flying the Turk's flag, and if you cock an ear, and the wind's right, you can hear the lamentations of the captives she has taken, being brought in to wait for ransom."

"I am beginning to collect that you have a certain dislike of pirates and their works," Jack said, "as any upright Dutchman should, I suppose."

"Van Hoek refuses to turn Turk—so he rows alongside us," Moseh said.

"What of you, Moseh? Reputedly, Jews stick together."

"I am a crypto-Jew," Moseh said. "In fact, more Crypto than Jew. I grew up on the Equator. There is an island off the coast of Africa called S'ao Tom'e, which is the sovereign soil of whichever European country has most recently sent a fleet down there to bombard it. But for many years only the Portuguese knew where the hell it was and so it was Portuguese. Now, my ancestors were Spanish Jews. But two hundred years ago, in the very same year that the Moors were finally driven from Spain, and America discovered, Queen Isabella threw all of the Jews out. Those who, in retrospect, were intelligent, put on the stockings of Villa Diego—which is an expression meaning that they ran like hell—and settled in Amsterdam. My ancestors simply edged across the border to Portugal. But the Inquisition was there, too. When Alvaro de Caminha went down to S'ao Tom'e to be its governor, he took with him two thousand Jewish children whom the Inquisition had torn from the bosoms of their families. S'ao Tom'e had a monopoly on the slave trade in that part of the world—Alvaro de Caminha baptized those two thousand and put 'em to work in its management. But in secret they kept their faith alive, performing half-remembered rituals behind locked doors, and muttering in broken Hebrew even as they knelt before the gilded table where the body and blood of Christ were dished up. Those were my ancestors. Almost fifty years ago, the Dutch came and seized S'ao Tom'e. But this probably saved my father's parents' lives, for, in all the lands controlled by Spain and Portugal, the Inquisition went on a rampage after that. Instead of being roasted alive in some Portuguese auto da f'e, my father's parents moved to New Amsterdam and worked for the Dutch West India Company in the slave trade, which was all they knew how to do. Later the Duke of York's fleet came and took that city for the English, but not before my father had grown up and taken a Manhatto lass for his wife—"

"What the hell is a Manhatto?"

"A type of local Indian," Moseh explained.

"I thought there was a certain je ne sais quoi about your nose and eyes," Jack said.

Moseh's face—illuminated primarily by the red glow of his pipe-bowl—now took on a sentimental, faraway look that made Jack instinctively queasy. Undoing the top-most button of his ragged shirt, Moseh drew out a scrap of stuff that dangled round his neck on a leather thong: some sort of heathen handicraft-work. "It is probably not easy for you to see this tchotchke, in this wretched light," he said, "but the third bead from the edge in the fourth row, here—it is a sort of off-white—is one of the very beads that the Dutchman, Peter Minuit, traded to the Manhattoes for their island, some sixty years ago, when Mama was a little papoose."

"Jesus Christ, you should hang on to that!" Jack exclaimed.

"I have been hanging onto it," Moseh returned, showing mild irritation for the first time, "as any imbecile can see."

"Do you have any conception of what it could be worth!?"

"Next to nothing—but to me, it is priceless, because I had it from Mama. At any rate—getting on with the story—my parents put on the stockings of Villa Diego and ended up in Curacao and there I was born. Mama died of smallpox, Papa of yellow fever. I fell in with a community of crypto-Jews who had collected there, for lack of any other place to go. We decided to strike out for Amsterdam, which was where our ancestors should have simply gone in the first place, and seek our fortunes there. As a group, we bought passage on a slave-ship bringing sugar back to Europe. But this ship was captured by the corsairs of Rabat, and we all ended up galley-slaves together, rowing to the strains of the Hava Negila; which, owing to its tiresome knack for getting stuck in the head, was the only Jewish song we knew."

"All right," Jack said, "I am satisfied, now, that it is true what you said: namely that the Invisible Hand of yonder market is gripping our cojones just like that Nubian wrestler did Yevgeny's. And now I suppose you're going to say we should all do like the Rus and ignore the pain and swelling and score some sort of magnificent triumph of the human spirit, or some shit like that. Anyway, I am willing to listen, as it seems preferable to bedding down in the banyolar to listen to the antiphonal coughing of a thousand consumptive oar-slaves."

"The Plan will no doubt strike you as implausible, until Jeronimo, here, has acquainted us with certain amazing facts," said Moseh, turning toward the twitchy Spaniard, who now stood up and bowed most courteously in Moseh's direction.

The vain-glory which consisteth in the feigning or supposing of abilities in ourselves, which we know are not, is most incident to young men, and nourished by the histories, or fictions of gallant persons; and is corrected oftentimes by age, and employment.

—HOBBES, Leviathan

"My name is Excellentissimo Domino Jeronimo Alejandro Pe~nasco de Halcones Quinto, Marchioni de Azuaga et de Hornachos, Comiti de Llerena, Barcarrota, et de Jerez de los Caballeros, Vicecomiti de Llera, Entr'in Alto y Bajo, et de Cabeza del Buey, Baroni de Barrax, Baza, Nerva, Jadraque, Brazatortas, Gargantiel, et de Val de las Muertas, Domino Domus de Atalaya, Ordinis Equestris Calatravae Beneficiario de la Fresneda. As you have guessed from my name, I am of a great family of Caballeros who, of old, were mighty warriors for Christendom, and famous Moor-killers even back unto the time of the Song of Roland—but that is another story, and a more glorious one than mine. I have only dim tear-streaked memories of the place of my birth: a castle on a precipitous crag in the Sierra de Machado, built on land of no value, save that my forefathers had paid for it with blood, wresting it from the Moors, inch by inch and yard by yard, at sword-and dagger-point. When I was only a few years of age, and just beginning to talk, I was taken out of that place in a sealed black carriage and brought down the high arroyos of the Guadalquivir and delivered into the hands of certain nuns who took me on board a galleon at Seville. There followed a long and terrifying passage to New Spain, of which I remember little, and will relate less. Suffice it to say that the next time I set foot on dry land I was treading on silver. The ship had taken me and the nuns, as well as many other Spaniards, to Porto Belo. As you may know, this lies on the Caribbean shore of Panama, at the very narrowest part of that isthmus, and directly across from the City of Panama, which shelters on the Pacific side. All of the silver that comes from the fabulous mines of Peru (save what is smuggled over the Andes and down the R'io de la Plata to Argentina, that is) is shipped up to Panama and thence borne over the isthmus by mule-train to Porto Belo, where it is loaded on treasure-galleons for the passage back to Spain. So you will understand that when Porto Belo is expecting those galleons—such as the one on which I had arrived—bars of silver are simply piled in heaps on the ground, like cord-wood. Which is how it came to pass that, when I disembarked from the lighter that had brought me and the nuns in from the galleon, the first thing my foot touched was silver—an omen of what was to happen to me later, which in turn, God willing, is only a foreshadowing of the adventure that awaits us ten."

"I believe I can speak for all the other nine in saying you have our full attention, there, Excellentissimo—" Jack began, amiably enough; but the Spaniard cut him off, saying, "Shut up! Or I'll cut off what remains of your poxy yard and ram it down your Protestant throat with my hard nine inches!"

Before Jack could take exception to this, Jeronimo continued as if it hadn't happened: "Not for long did I linger in this El Dorado, for we were met at dockside by a wagon, driven by nuns of the same order, save that these were Indias. We traveled up winding tracks out of the jungle and into the mountains of Dari'en, and at last came to a convent that, as I then understood, was to be my new home; and my misery at having been torn from the bosom of my family was only made more doloroso by the resemblance of this nunnery to my ancestral home. For this, too, was a vertiginous fortress rising out of a crag, making queer moans and whistles as the trans-isthmian gales blew across its narrow cross-shaped embrasures.

"Those sounds were almost the only ones that reached my ears until I had grown up, for these nuns had taken a vow of silence—and in any case, I soon enough learned that the Indias came from a certain vale in the mountains where in-breeding had been practiced on a scale exceeding even that of the Hapsburg Dynasty, and none of them could hear. The only speech I ever heard was that of the carters and drovers who came up the mountain to bring victuals, and of the several other guests who, like me, were the beneficiaries of the nuns' Christian hospitality. For at no time were there fewer than half a dozen residents in the guest-house: men and women both—who, judging from their clothes and personal effects, were of gentle or even noble families. My fellow-guests appeared healthy, but behaved strangely: some spoke in garbled words, or remained as mute as the nuns, others were continually tormented by fiendish visions, or were imbeciles, unable to remember events that had occurred a mere quarter of an hour previously. Men who had been kicked in the head by horses, women whose pupils were of different sizes. Some spent all of their time locked in their rooms, or tied into their beds, by the nuns. But I had the run of the place.

"In due time I was taught to read and write, and began to exchange letters with my beloved Mama in Spain. I told her in one such letter that I could not understand why I was being raised in this place. The letter went down the mountain in a donkey-cart and traversed the ocean in the hold of one of a fleet of treasure-galleons, and about eight months later I had my answer: Mama told me that, at the time of my birth, God had blessed me with a gift given only to a few, which was that I fearlessly spoke the truth that was in my heart, and said what everyone else was secretly thinking, but too cowardly to voice. She told me that it was a gift normally given only to the angels, but that I had been granted it in a sort of miracle; but that in this fallen and corrupt world, many were the benighted, who hated and feared aught that was of the angels, and who would surely abuse and oppress me. Hence my dear Mama had broken her own heart by sending me away to be raised by women who were nearer to God than any in Spain, and who, in any case, could not hear me.

"Satisfied, though never happy, with this explanation, I applied myself to the improvement of my mind and spirit: my mind by reading the ancient books that Mama shipped over from the library of our castle in Estremaduras, which told the tales of my ancestors' wars against the Saracens during the Crusades and the Reconquista, and my spirit by studying catechism and—at the behest of the nuns—praying, an hour a day, for the intercession of a particular Saint who was depicted in a stained-glass window in a side-chapel of the church. This was Saint 'Etienne de la Tourette, and his emblems were as follows: in his right hand, the sailmaker's needle and thong with which his lips had been sewn shut by a certain Baron, and in his left, the iron tongs with which his tongue, on a later occasion, had been ripped out by the Bishop of Metz, who was later canonized as St. Absalom the Serene. Though at the time the significance of these tokens did not really penetrate my thoughts.

"But my body was never developed until one day, around the time my voice changed, when a new visitor came to lodge with us: a tall and handsome Caballero with a hole in the center of his forehead, something like a third eye. This was Carlos Olancho Macho y Macho: a great sea-captain renowned throughout New Spain for his magnificent exploits against the boca-neers who infest the Caribbean (which—never mind what the English think of it—is, to us, a pit of vipers lying astride the route from our treasure-ports to Spain; a gantlet of fire, flying lead, and bloody cutlasses that must be run by every one of our galleons). Many were the pirates who had been slain by Carlos Olancho Macho y Macho, or El Torbellino as he was called in less formal settings, and a score of galleons would not carry all the silver he had kept out of the clutches of the Protestants. But in a struggle against the pirate-armada of Captain Morgan, off the Archipi'elago de los Colorados, he had taken this pistol-ball between his eyes. Ever since he had been moody to an extent that put all around him—especially his superior officers—in fear of their lives, and he had been unable to put ideas into words, unless he wrote those words backwards, with his left hand, while looking into a mirror—which had proved to be fatally impractical in the heat of battle. And so with great reluctance El Torbellino had agreed to be pensioned off to this nunnery. Every day he knelt beside me in the side-chapel and prayed for the intercession of St. Nicolaas of Frisia, whose emblem was a Viking broad-axe embedded in the exact centerline of his tonsure: a wound that had given him the miraculous gift of understanding the speech of terns.

"Now I will encompass the entirety of several years in one sentence: El Torbellino taught me, of the arts of war, everything he knew; as well as some things I suspect he made up on the spur of the moment. In this way he brought the phant'sies and romance of those musty old books within my reach. But not within my grasp; for never mind my skill with the cutlass, the rapier, the dagger, pistol, and musket. I still lived in a nunnery in Dari'en. As I grew into the fullness of manhood, I began to make a plan of escaping to the coast, and perhaps raising a crew of sea-dogs, and going out on the Caribbean to hunt for boca-neers, and, after making a name for myself, offering my services as privateer to King Carlos II. That King was in my thoughts every day: El Torbellino and I would kneel before the image of St. Lemuel, whose emblem was the basket he had been carried around in, and pray on His Majesty's behalf.

"But as it happened, before I could go out and find the pirates, they came to me.

"Even men such as you, so ignorant and stupid, probably know that some years ago Captain Morgan sailed from Jamaica with an armada; sacked and pillaged Porto Belo; and then crossed the isthmus at the head of an army and laid waste to the city of Panama itself. At the time of this atrocity, El Torbellino and I were off on a long hunting trip in the mountains. We were trying to find and kill one of the were-jaguars that are spoken of, with such apparent sincerity, by the Indios…"

"Did you catch one?" Jack asked, unable to contain himself.

"That is another tale," said Jeronimo with obvious regret, and uncharacteristic self-restraint. "We ranged far down the isthmus, and were a long time returning, because of los par'asitos of which the less said the better. During our absence, Morgan's fleet had fallen upon Porto Belo, and his advance parties had begun to penetrate the interior, searching for the best way over the divide. One of these, comprising perhaps two dozen sea-scum, had come upon the nunnery, and were well advanced in sacking it. As El Torbellino and I approached, we could hear the shattering of the stained-glass windows, and the cries and moans of the nuns who were being dishonored—the only sounds I had ever heard from their lips.

"El Torbellino and I were armed with all of the necessaries that two gentlemen would normally take on a long were-jaguar-hunting campaign in the ravenous and all-destroying jungles of Dari'en, and we had the advantage of surprise; furthermore, we were on the side of God, and we were very, very angry. Yet these advantages might have gone for naught, at least in my case, for I was untested in battle. And it is universally known that many are the young men who have filled their heads with romantic legends, and who dream of fighting gloriously in battle—but who, when plunged into a real flesh-and-blood conflict, with all of its shock, confusion, and gore, become paralyzed, or else throw down their weapons and flee.

"As it turned out, I was not one of those. El Torbellino and I burst out of the jungle and fell upon those drunken boca-neers like a pair of rabid were-jaguars descending upon a sheep-fold. The violence was exquisite. El Torbellino killed more than I, of course, but many an Ingl'es tasted my steel on that day, and, to summarize a very disagreeable story, the surviving nuns carred barrow-loads of viscera into the jungle to be torn by the condors.

"We knew that this was no more than an advance-party, and so we then turned our energies to fortifying the place, and teaching the nuns how to load and fire matchlocks. When the main force arrived—several hundred of Captain Morgan's rum-drenched irregulars—we gave them a warm Spanish welcome, and decorated the court with a few score bodies before they forced their way in. After that it was hand-to-hand combat. El Torbellino died, impaled on thirteen blades as he stood in the infirmary door, and I fought on for some while despite having been butt-stroked in the jaw with a musket. The commander outside ordered his men to withdraw and regroup. Before they could make another attack—which certainly would have killed me—he received word from Captain Morgan that another way over the mountains had been found, and that he should disengage and go via that route. Seeing that there was more profit, and less peril, in sacking a rich city, defended by poltroons, than a modest convent, defended by a single man who was not afraid to die in glory, the pirates left us alone.

"So both Porto Belo and Panama were sacked and destroyed anyway. Despite this—or perhaps because of it—the story of how El Torbellino and I had defended the nunnery created a sensation in Lima and Mexico City, and I was made out to be a great hero—perhaps the only hero of the entire episode, for the performance of those who had been charged with defending Panama was too miserable to be related in polite company.

"I knew nothing of this, for I had fallen gravely ill of my wounds, as well as various tropical maladies picked up on the were-jaguar-hunt which only now were coming into their full flower. I had taken leave of my senses, despite the prodigious bleedings, and volcanic purges, administered every day by doctors who came to the convent during the aftermath of the battles I have described. When next I was aware of my surroundings, I was on a galleon coasting along the Bah'ia de Campeche, approaching Vera Cruz, which, as even bumpkins such as you may understand, is the sea-port most convenient to Mexico City. I could not open my mouth. A Jesuit doctor explained to me that my jaw-bone had been fractured by the blow of the musket-butt, and that bandages had been wound tightly round my head to clench my jaw shut and hold all in place until the bone knit. In the meantime my left front tooth had been punched out to create a small orifice through which a paste of milk and ground maize was injected, using a sort of bellows, three times a day.

"In due time we threaded the Western Channel of Vera Cruz and dropped anchor under the walls of the castle, there, then waited out a sandstorm, then another, and finally went ashore, forcing our way through fog-banks of gnats, and keeping our pistols at the ready in the event of alligators. We parleyed with the crowd of Negro and Mulatto mule-thieves who make up the citizenry, and arranged for transportation to the City. The town was crowded with shabby wooden houses, all boarded up—it was explained to me that these were the property of white men, who flocked to town when the treasure-fleet was forming up around the Castle, but otherwise retired to haciendas up-country, which were more salubrious in every way. The only part of Vera Cruz that can be called civilized is the square of the churches and the Governor's house, where a company of troops is garrisoned. When the officer in charge there was informed of my arrival, he had his artillery-men fire a salute from their field-pieces, and gladly wrote out a pass for me to travel to the Capital. So we rode out of the landward gate, which had been wedged open by a passing dune, and began our passage west.

"The less said about this journey, the better.

"Mexico City turned out to be everything that Vera Cruz was not in the way of beauty, magnificence, and order. It rises from a lake, joined to the shore by five causeways, each with its own gate. All of the land is owned by the Church and so it is, perforce, a most pious city, in that there is no place to live unless one joins a holy order. There are a score of nunneries and even more monasteries, all of them rich, and besides that a numerous rabble of criollos who sleep in the streets and are forever committing outrages. The Cathedral can only be called stupendous, having a staff of between three and four hundred, headed by an Archbishop who is paid sixty thousand pieces of eight a year. I mention these facts only to convey how impressed I was; had my jaw not been lashed shut by many yards of linen, it would have hung open for a week.

"For several days I was squired around town and f^eted by various important men including the Viceroy and his wife: a Duchess of very high birth, who looked like a horse when the lips are pulled back to inspect the teeth. Of course I could not eat any of the fine meals that were set before me, but I learned to drink wine through a hollow reed. Likewise I could not address my hosts, but I could write after-dinner speeches, which I did in the heroic old-fashioned style I'd learned from those family histories. These were very well received.

"Now I am come to the part of my Narration where I must summarize many years' events quickly. I think you know what occurs next: in time the bandage came off my jaw and I was conveyed to the Cathedral where, in a splendid Mass, I was knighted by the Viceroy.

"When the ceremony was finished, the Archbishop came up to give his compliments to me, and to the Viceroy, and to the Viceroy's wife, whom he praised for her chastity and her beauty.

"To which I said as follows: that this was certainly the most wretched piece of brown-nosing I had ever heard, for whenever I laid eyes on the Viceroy's wife I could not decide whether to give her the vigorous butt-fucking she so obviously craved, or to climb on her back and ride her around the z'ocalo firing pistols in the air.

"The Viceroy clapped me in irons and put me in a bad place for a long time, where I probably should have died.

"Letters made their way down the King's Highway to Vera Cruz and into the holds of galleons, to Havana and finally to Madrid, and other letters returned, and evidently some sort of explanation was proffered, and an arrangement made. After a while I was moved to an apartment where I recovered my health, and then I was conveyed back down to Vera Cruz and given command of a three-masted ship of thirty-two guns, and a fair crew, and told to go out and kill pirates and come ashore as infrequently as possible until I was given other instructions.

"And here I could cite any amount of statistics concerning tonnage of pirate-ships sunk and pieces of eight recovered for the King and the Church, but for me the highest honor was that, among the boca-neers, I became known as the second coming of El Torbellino. I was given the name El Desamparado, which I will now explain to you ignorant filth who know not its meaning. ‘Desamparado' is a holy word to those of us who profess the True Faith, for it is the very last word uttered by Our Lord during His agony on the Holy Rood—"

"What's it mean," asked Jack, "and why'd they paste it on you, who already had such a surfeit of other names?"

"It means, Forsaken by God. For tales of my struggles, and my confinement in the dungeons of Mexico, had preceded me; from which even one such as you, Jack, who has parts missing both fore and aft, may understand why I was called this. Know that whenever I sailed into Havana I was saluted by many guns, though I was never invited to come ashore.

"Then, two years ago, the treasure-fleet was scattered by a hurricane after it had departed Havana. I was sent out into the Straits of Florida to round up stragglers—"

"Wait a moment there, El Desamparado. Is this going to be one of those yarns about how you, but only you, know the whereabouts of some sunken treasure-ship? Because—"

"No, no, it's better than that!" the Spaniard exclaimed. "After combing the sea for many days, we found a smaller vessel—a brig of perhaps seventy-five tons' displacement—trapped among sand-banks in the Muertos Cays, which lie between Cuba and Florida. The storm surge had carried her into a sort of basin whence she could not now escape, for fear of running aground on the shifting sands that encompassed her. We anchored in deeper water nearby and sent out longboats to take soundings. In this manner we discovered an aperture in the sand-bank through which this brig could pass, provided that we waited for high tide, and also offloaded some of her cargo, giving her a shallower draught. The master of this ship was strangely reluctant to follow my advice, but at length I convinced him that this was the only way out. We brought our longboat alongside and set all hands to work lightening the brig's load. And as any seaman will tell you, the quickest way to get weight off a ship is to remove those objects that are heaviest, but least numerous: typically, the armaments. And so, by means of blocks and tackle rigged to the yards, we raised her cannons up out of the gundeck one by one, lowered them into the longboat, and took them out to my ship. In the meantime other sailors busied themselves carrying cannonballs up from belowdecks. And that was how we discovered that this brig was armed, not with lead and iron, but with silver. For the strong places down below, the shot-lockers built to carry cannonballs, were stacked full of pigs."

"Pigs?!" exclaimed several; but here Jack for once was able to make himself useful. "El Desamparado means, not the squealing animals with curly tails, but the irregular bars of silver made by the refinery at the head of a mine by pouring the molten ore out into a trough of clay." And here Jack was prepared to go on at some length about the silver refineries of the Harz Mountains, which he had once visited, and had explained to him, by the Alchemist Enoch Root. But it seemed that his comrades had already heard many of these details from his own lips, and so he moved on to what he assumed was the point of Jeronimo's story. "Pigs are strictly an intermediate form, meant for one purpose only: to be taken direct to a refining furnace, re-melted, purified, and made into bars, which are assayed and stamped—at which point the King would normally take his rake-off…"

"In New Spain, ten percent for the King and one percent for the overhead, viz. assayers and other such petty officials," Jeronimo put in.

"And so the presence of pigs aboard this ship proved beyond argument that it was in the act of smuggling silver back to Spain."

"For once, the Vagabond has spoken truthfully and to the point," said Jeronimo. "And you will never guess what person we discovered in the best cabin on the ship: the Viceroy's wife, who still remembered me. She was on her way back to Madrid to go shopping."

"What did you say to her?"

"It is better not to remember this. Knowing that she would make a full report of these events to her husband in Mexico City, I did not delay in writing the Viceroy a letter, in which I related these events—but obliquely, in case the letter was intercepted. I assured him that his secret was safe with me, for I was a Caballero, a man of honor, and he could rely upon my discretion; my lips, I told him, were sealed forever."

There was now a long and somewhat agonizing silence there on the roof of the banyolar.

"Some months later, I received a communication from this same Viceroy, inviting me to go to the Governor's House in Vera Cruz on my next visit to that port, to receive a gift that awaited me there."

"A lovely new set of neck-irons?"

"A pistol-ball to adorn the nape of your neck?"

"A ceremonial sword, delivered point-first?"

"I have no idea," said Jeronimo, a bit ruffled, "for I never reached the house of the Gobernador. It is important to mention that our purpose in visiting Vera Cruz was to pick up a shipment of small arms from a merchant I had come to know there—a fellow who had a knack for taking delivery of the King's armaments before they reached the King's soldiers. Several of my men and I accomplished this errand first, in a couple of hired wagons, and then we told the teamsters to take us to the Governor's House via the most direct route, for we were running late even by the standards of New Spain. I was in my finest clothes.

"We entered the central plaza of Vera Cruz from a direction that they did not expect, for instead of proceeding up the main street with its boarded-up houses, we had come in from the depot of the arms merchant, which lay on the other side of the town. Our first hint that something was amiss came from the countless fine tendrils of smoke spiraling up from various places of concealment around the town square—"

"Matchlocks!" Jack said.

"Of course our pistols were already loaded and at the ready, for this was Vera Cruz. But this gave us warning to break out the muskets and to knock the lids from several cases of granadoes. The matchlock-men opened fire on us, but raggedly. We charged them with cutlasses drawn, intending to kill them before they could reload. Which we did—but we were astonished to discover that these were Spanish soldiers of the local garrison! At this point fire came down on us from all around: the windows of the Governor's House and of the churches and monasteries ringing the square all served as loop-holes for this emboscada."

"The soldiers had occupied all of those buildings?" exclaimed Mr. Foot, whose capacity for indignation knew no limits.

"So we assumed at first; but when we returned fire, and flung our granadoes, the burnt and dismembered bodies that sprayed out of those windows were those of monks and mid-level government officials. And yet still we were stupid, for our next mistake was to drive the wagons forward, out of the square, and into the main street of the town. Whereupon planks began to fall away from the windows and doors of the sorry wooden houses that the Viceroy's officials had put up there, and the true battle began. For it was here on this street where they had planned to make the ambush. We overturned both of the wagons, and made a fortification out of them; we shot all of the horses and piled their corpses up as ramparts; we fought from doorway to doorway; we got a runner out to my ship, and she opened fire upon the town with her guns. In return she came under fire from the cannons of the castle. We never would have survived against such a force, except that the guns set some of those buildings afire, and a wind blew the flames down the street as if those rows of wooden buildings had been trails of gunpowder. Many bodies fell in the dust of Vera Cruz on that day. Most of the town burned. My ship sank before my eyes. I escaped from the town with two of my men, and we made our way down the coast as best we could. One of my men was killed by an alligator, and one died of a fever. At length I came to a little port where I bought passage to Jamaica, that den of English thieves, now the only place in the Caribbean where I could hope to find sanctuary. There, I learned that in the weeks following the catastrophe, what remained of Vera Cruz had been taken and sacked by the pirate Lorenuillo de Petiguavas, and utterly leveled with the ground, so that it would have to be built again from nothing.

"As for myself, I tried to make my way back to Spain so that I could return to the place of my birth in Estremaduras. But when Gibraltar was almost in sight, my ship was captured by the Barbary Corsairs, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera."

"It is a ripping yarn," Jack conceded, after a few moments' silence, "but the best story in the world does not amount to a Plan."

"That is my concern," said Moseh de la Cruz, "and I have a Plan that is nearly complete. Though it has one or two leaks in it, which you might be able to plug."



The Commerce of the World, especially as it is now carried on, is an unbounded Ocean of Business; Trackless and unknown, like the Seas it is managed upon; the Merchant is no more to be follow'd in his Adventures, than a Maze or Labyrinth is to be trac'd out without a Clue.

—DANIEL DEFOE, A Plan of the English Commerce


6 SEPTEMBER 1689

To Eliza, Countess de la Zeur

From Sgt. Bob Shaftoe

Dundalk, Ireland

6 September 1689

My lady,

I am speaking these words to a Presbyterian scrivener who followed our regiments down from our points of disembarkation around Belfast, and has hung out his shingle on a hut near Dundalk camp. From this, you may draw what conclusions you will concerning which matters I will address straightforwardly, and which I will speak not of.

A queue of soldiers begins at my left shoulder and extends out the door and down the lane. I rank most of them, and so could keep the scribbler busy all day if I chose, but I will address important matters first and try to conclude our business directly so that the others may send greetings to their mums and mistresses in England.

Your letter of June 15th reached me just before we embarked for Belfast, and was read to me aboard ship by a chaplain. It is well that I made your acquaintance and took your measure in the Hague, or I would have dismissed its contents as idle and womanish chatter. Your stylings are finer than the discourse that one is accustomed to hearing aboard a troop-ship. All the blokes who overheard it were gobsmacked that such pretty phrases had been directed to one such as me. I am now reputed to be a man of parts, and a fellow with many high and mighty connexions.

Upon listening to certain phrases for the third and fourth time, I collected that you had run afoul of a French count by the name of d'Avaux, who had obtained some knowledge of you that put you in his power. The Revolution in London had caused this d'Avaux to be recalled suddenly to France. Later the unfortunate Count was despatched to Brest, the remotest port of France, and loaded aboard ship in company of none other than Mr. James Stuart, who was formerly known as James II by the Grace of God of England, etc., King.

Off they sailed to the sophisticated metropolis of Bantry, Ireland. Later you had news that they had assembled an army of Frenchmen, Irish Catholics, and Jacobites (as we now refer to James's supporters in Merry England) and established themselves in Dublin.

You are too courtly, my lady, ever to come out and say what you mean directly, and so the exact meaning of your letter was unclear to me and is unclear still. As I was situated in London, and your letter was addressed thither, you cannot have known that I'd have it read to me during a passage to Ireland. Or perhaps you are so clever and well-informed that you anticipated this. Surely it could never have been a request for my help? For how could I give you any aid in such a matter?

Brother Jack begat two sons by a strapping Irish lass named Mary Dolores Partry—he must have told you. She died. The boys have been raised by the kin of their late mum. I have made efforts to know them and to tender such support as I might—for example, by recruiting a few of their uncles and cousins into our Regiment. My life as a soldier has made me a poor uncle indeed. But the boys, who have inherited their dad's weakness to impulses of a perverse kind, and who have been raised by Irishmen to boot, seem to respect me all the more, the more I neglect them.

Last year, Jim Stuart, then King, conceived a malignant distrust of his very own English regiments, and brought in several Irish ones to put down our Revolution (which he styled an uprising). These were phant'sied, by ordinary Englishmen, to be Crusaders, ten feet tall, bearing French bayonets red with English blood, led by Jesuits, controlled directly from Rome, yet just as wild in their ways as Irishmen ever were.

My Presbyterian scrivener is giving me the evil eye now, for making light of them. His folk have oft felt besieged in various corners of Ulster by such—by your leave, sir, put it down just as I have spoke it.

'Twas an even worse time than usual to be Irish in England, so all the kinfolk of Mary Dolores, including Jack's boys, took passage on the first ship they could find that was Ireland-bound. This happened to set them down in Dublin—the wrong part of the island by far, as the Partrys are Connaught folk and seafarers. But Dublin they found more to their liking than they had foreseen. They'd raised two generations in London and grown used to city ways. During the same interval Dublin had grown to thrice its former size. Now these people, and Dublin, suited each other.

No sooner had they established themselves than James arrived with his motley Court, and his French generals began offering gold coins to any man who would join the Jacobite army. They had recruited a horde of naked bog-trotters whilst sloshing across the island and were calling them an army. Imagine, then, how pleased they were to encounter these fellows who had served in a Guards regiment, learnt to fire muskets, and fought in battles! Those fellows—not my in-laws, since Jack and Mary Dolores never married, but, if you will, my out-laws—were not merely accepted but embraced into James's regiments, and made sergeants on the spot. They were quartered in the houses of the Protestant gentry of Dublin, who by this time had already fled to England or America.

So now the Partrys and I are ranged on opposing sides of the battle-front, which is a sleepy one at present. If I survive, and if they do, I am invited to join them over pints of black beer and to have strange, rousing yarns related to me of Dublin under the Jacobites, and of how one Connaught family made themselves at home there.

Now during the past summer, the Ulster towns of Derry and Enniskillen were put under siege by elements of this queer French-Irish army. James's eagerness to score victories for the Pope exceeds his intelligence by an amount too great to measure. So on two occasions he dashed out of Dublin on short notice with all his entourage in the hopes of making his way north to Ulster and planting the Crusader-flag on the ruins of a Presbyterian church or two. The poor roads and scarcity of bridges hindered the royal progress, and the disinclination of the besieged Scotsmen to surrender might have balked him in any event.

My scrivener, who is at this moment glowing with pride and sniffling with emotion, will perhaps append a few lines extolling the manliness of the defenders of those two towns.

When d'Avaux—who had no choice but to accompany James on these excursions—returned, he was given the unwelcome news that some enterprising Dubliners (described by witnesses as a pair of towheaded lads) had climbed up some vines and a drain-pipe, entered his house through a window, and stolen everything that was of value, as well as a few items that were of no use to anyone but himself.

I will leave it to you, my lady, to guess whether there may be any connexion between these events, and a letter I had sent to my Dublin out-laws a few weeks previously, in which I had described this d'Avaux, and mentioned that he was now residing across the square from the house where their company had been quartered.

Not long after, I received a nocturnal delivery of papers, written out in what I am assured, by learned men, is the French language. Though I cannot read, I can recognize some of the words, and I half phant'sy I see your name in some of them. I have enclosed them in this packet.

During our memorable meeting in the Hague, you voiced sympathy for my problem, namely, that my true love, Miss Abigail Frome, was made a slave, and given to the Earl of Upnor. You seemed to doubt that I could ever be of use to you. Perhaps it is time for a new reckoning.

I attempted to settle the issue personally on the day of the Revolution but was baffled—you may hear the story from my lord Upnor if you care to know it.

This concludes my letter. You may direct any response to me at Dundalk. I am here with a stew of English, Dutch, Huguenot, Ulster, Danish, and Brandenburg regiments, enlivened by a sprinkling of unreconstructed Phanatiques whose fathers came over with Cromwell, conquered this island, and were paid for their work in Irish land. Now the Irish have got it back, and these hectical Nonconformists are disgruntled, and undecided whether they should join our army and conquer it anew, or sail to America and conquer that instead. They shall have a good eight or nine months to make up their minds, as Marshal Schomberg—the general whom King William has put in charge of this army—is desultory, and intends to tarry here in Dundalk for the entire winter.

So here is where I may be reached, if I am not killed by pestilence, starvation, or boredom.

Your humble and obedient servant,

Bob Shaftoe


21 OCTOBER 1689

BONAVENTURE ROSSIGNOL HAD MANY eccentric traits, even by the standards of cryptologists; but none more striking than his tendency to gallop into town alone when most needed and least looked-for. He had done it thirteen months ago, knowing (for he knew everything) that Eliza was in peril on the banks of the Meuse. The four-month-old infant she now carried was evidence of how it had wrought on her passions. Now, here he was again, wind-blown, mud-spattered, and horse-scented to a degree that was incorrect and absurd for a gentleman of the King's court; yet suddenly Eliza felt as if she had just sat down in a puddle of warm honey. She closed her eyes, drew a breath, let it out slowly, and dumped her burden into his arms.

"Mademoiselle, I had held, until this moment, that your recent letter to me was the most exquisite flirtation that could be devised by the human mind," said Rossignol, "but I perceive now that it was merely a prelude to the delicious torment of the Three Bundles."

This snapped her head around—as he'd known it would—because it was a sort of riddle.

Rossignol had coal-black eyes. He was gaunt, and held to be unattractive by most of the ladies at Court. He was as lean as a riding-crop, which made him look awkward in court-dress; but bulked up in a cassock and flushed from the breeze off the sea, he looked well enough to Eliza. Those black eyes glanced briefly at the blanket-wrapped object she had dropped into his arms, then flicked up to a side-table where rested a packet of moldy tent-cloth, tied up in twine. Two tight little bundles. Then, finally, his eyes locked on Eliza's for a moment—she was looking back over her shoulder at him—and traveled slowly down her back until they came to rest on her arse.

"The last time you galloped to my rescue thus," she said, "there was only one bundle to contend with; a simple matter, therefore, which you were man enough to handle." Her eyes now jumped down to the bundle in Rossignol's arms, which urped up some curdled milk onto his sleeve, coughed, and began to cry. "As we grow older the number of bundles waxes," she added, "and we must all become jugglers."

Rossignol stared, with a kind of Natural-Philosophick detachment, at the viscous streak of baby-vomit probing a fold of his sleeve. His son let out a howl; the father winced and turned his head away. A door at the other end of the room was ripped open, and a woman pounded in, already cooing for the baby; then, seeing a strange man, she drew herself up and looked to Eliza. "Please, mademoiselle, be my guest," said Rossignol, and extended his arms. He had never seen the woman before, and had no idea who she was, but it did not require a Royal cryptanalyst to read the situation: Eliza, despite being trapped and detained in Dunkerque with no money, had not only figured out a way to move into this vacant ch^ateau, but had also managed to retain at least one competent, loyal, and trusted servant.

Nicole—for that was this woman's name—did not move until she had seen Eliza nod. Then she stepped forward and snatched the infant away, glaring at Rossignol—who responded with a grave bow. By the time she had reached the room's exit, the baby had stopped crying, and as she hustled him off down the corridor he began to make a contented "aaah."

Rossignol had forgotten the baby already. The bundle count was down to two. But he had the good manners not to pay undue attention to the packet on the side-table, even though he knew it to be filled with stolen diplomatic correspondence. All his attention, for now, was fixed on Eliza.

Eliza was accustomed to being looked at, and did not mind it. But she was preoccupied now for a little while. Rossignol had no feelings whatsoever for the baby. He had not the slightest intention of being its father. This did not surprise her especially. If anything, it was simpler and easier that way. He wanted her for what lay at either end of her spinal column—it was not clear which end he favored—and not for her spiritual qualities. Certainly not for her offspring.

King Louis XIV of France had found it convenient to make Eliza a Countess. Among other privileges, this had granted her admittance to the Salon of Diana in the royal ch^ateau at Versailles. There she had noticed this bored and lonesome man studying her. She had been every bit as bored. As it had turned out, they had been bored for the same reason: They both knew the odds of these games, and saw little point in staking money on them. But to talk about the odds, and to speculate as to ways of systematically beating such games, was absorbing. It had seemed unwise, or at least impolite, to hold such conversations around the gaming-tables, and so Eliza and Rossignol had strolled in the gardens, and had moved quickly from the odds of card-games to more elevated talk of Leibniz, Newton, Huygens, and other Natural Philosophers. Of course they had been noticed by gossips looking out the windows; but those foolish Court girls, who mistook fashion for taste, had not considered Rossignol desirable, had not understood that he was a genius, unrecognized as such by the savants of Europe.

At the same time—though she had not realized this until later—he had been observing her even more shrewdly. Many of her letters to Leibniz, and Leibniz's letters back to her, had crossed his desk, for he was a member of the Cabinet Noir, whose purpose was to open and read foreign correspondence. He had found her letters to be curiously long, and filled with vapid chatter about hairstyles and the cut of the latest fashions. His true purpose in strolling with her in the gardens of Versailles had been to determine whether she was as empty-headed as she seemed in her letters. The answer, clearly, was no; and moreover she had turned out to know a lot about mathematics, metaphysics, and Natural Philosophy. This had sufficed to send him back to his family ch^ateau at Juvisy, where he had broken the steganographic code that Eliza had been using to correspond with Leibniz. He could have destroyed, or at least damaged, her then, but he had lacked the desire to. For a kind of seduction had taken place between the two of them, which had not been acted upon until thirteen months ago.

It would have made matters a good deal simpler if he had fallen in love with the baby and proposed to elope with her, and him, to some other country. But this, as she now saw clearly, was unthinkable in so many different ways that to dream of it any more was a waste of time. Oh, well (she thought), if the world were populated solely by persons who loved and desired each other symmetrically, it might be happier, but not so interesting. And there would be no place in such a world for a person such as Eliza. During her weeks in Dunkerque, she had gotten better than ever at making do with what Fortune sent her way. If there was to be no doting father, so be it. Nicole was an ex-whore, recruited from one of Dunkerque's waterfront brothels. But she had already given the baby more love than he would get in a lifetime with Bonaventure Rossignol.

"Now you show up!" she said finally.

"The cryptanalyst to His Majesty the King of France," said Rossignol, "has responsibilities." He was not being arch—merely stating facts. "Things are expected of him. Now. The last time you got into trouble, a year ago—"

"Correction, monsieur: the last time you know about."

"C'est juste. On that occasion, war was brewing on the Rhine, and I had a plausible reason to go that way. Finding you, mademoiselle, in a most complex predicament, I endeavoured to assist you."

"By impregnating me?"

"I did that out of passion—as did you, mademoiselle, for our flirtation had been lengthy. And yet it did militate in your favor—perhaps even saved your life. You seduced 'Etienne d'Arcachon the very next day."

"I let him believe he was seducing me," Eliza demurred.

"Just as I said. Tout le monde knew about it. When you turned up pregnant in the Hague, everyone, including le Roi, and 'Etienne, assumed that the baby was the spawn of Arcachon; and, when it was born healthy, this made it seem that you were that rarest of specimens: one who could mate with a scion of the de Lavardac line without passing on its well-known hereditary imperfections to the child. I did as much as I could to propagate this myth through other channels."

"Are you referring to how you stole, and decyphered, my journal, and gave it to the King?"

"Wrong on all counts. Monsieur le comte d'Avaux stole it—or would have, if I had not galloped post-haste to the Hague and co-opted him. I did not decypher it so much as produce a fictionalized version of it. And since the King owns me, and all my work, I did not so much give it to his majesty as direct his majesty's attention to it."

"Couldn't you have directed his majesty's attention elsewhere?"

"Mademoiselle. You had been witnessed by many Persons of Quality carrying out what was obviously a spy-mission. D'Avaux and his minions were doing all in their power—and they have much power—to drag your name through the muck. To direct the attention of le Roi elsewhere would have booted you nothing. Rather, I produced for his majesty an account of your actions that was tame compared to the fabrications of d'Avaux; it deflated that man's pretensions while cementing the belief that the baby had been fathered by 'Etienne de Lavardac d'Arcachon. I was not trying to rehabilitate you—that would have required a miracle—only to mitigate the damage. For I feared that they might send someone to assassinate you, or abduct you, and bring you back to France."

And now he stopped because he had talked himself into a faux pas, and was mortified. "Er…"

"Yes, monsieur?"

"I did not anticipate this."

"Is that why it took you so long to get here?"

"I have already told you that the King's cryptanalyst has responsibilities—none of which, as it turns out, place him in Dunkerque. I came as soon as I could."

"You came as soon as I incited your jealousy by praising Lieutenant Bart in a letter."

"Ah, so you admit it!"

"I admit nothing, monsieur, for he is every bit as remarkable as I made him out to be, and any man in his right mind would be jealous of him."

"It is just so difficult for me to follow," said Rossignol.

"Poor Bon-bon!"

"Please do not be sarcastic. And please do not address me by that ridiculous name."

"What is it, pray tell, that the greatest cryptanalyst in the world cannot follow?"

"At first you described him as a corsair, a boca-neer, who took you by force…"

"Took the ship I was on by force—pray watch your language!"

"Later, when it was to your advantage to make me jealous, he was the most perfect gentle knight of the seas."

"Then I shall explain it, for there is no contradiction. But first take off that cassock and let us make ourselves more comfortable."

"The double entendre is noted," said Rossignol crisply, "but before I become dangerously comfortable, pray tell, what are you doing in the residence of the Marquis and the Marquise d'Ozoir? For that is where we are, to judge from the scutcheon on the gates."

"You have decyphered the coat of arms correctly," said Eliza. "Fear not, the d'Ozoirs are not here now. It is just me, and my servants."

"But I thought you were under arrest on a ship, and had no servants…or did you write those things solely to make me come here the faster?"

Eliza clamped a hand on Rossignol's wrist and dragged him through a door. They had been conversing in a foyer that communicated with the stables. She took him now down a corridor into a little salon, and thence into a larger drawing-room that was illuminated by several great windows facing toward the harbor.

At some point in its history, Dunkerque must have been an apt name for this place. For it literally meant Dune-church, and one could easily see it, some centuries back, as a dune with a church on, below, or near it, and nothing else, save an indifferent creek that reached the sea there, not so much impelled by gravity as blundering into it by accident. This stark dune-church-creek-scape had over ages been complicated, though never obscured, by the huts, houses, docks, and wharves of a modest fishing-and smuggling-port. More recently it had come to be thought of as a strategic asset, and been juggled back and forth between England and France for a while; inevitably Louis XIV had made it his, and begun to aggrandize it into a base navale, which was a little bit like mounting cannons and armor-plates on a fishing-boat. To anyone approaching the place from England, it looked fearsome enough, with a massive stout rubble-wall along the shore for cannonballs to bounce off of, and divers fortifications and batteries set up wherever the sand would bear their weight. But seen from within—which was how Eliza and Monsieur Bonaventure Rossignol were seeing it—the place looked like a perfectly innocent little port-town that had been hurled into a prison, or had had a prison erected around it.

All of which was to say that it was not and never would be a place for a great lord to pile up a brilliant ch^ateau, or a great lady to spread a fragrant garden; and while those dunes might be speckled with watch-towers and mortar-batteries, no grand mar'echal would ever make them terrible with a high citadel. The Marquis and the Marquise d'Ozoir had had the discretion to know as much, and so had contented themselves with acquiring a compound in the middle of things, near the harbor, and improving it, building up rather than out. The exterior of the main house was still old Norman half-timbered style, but one would never know it if all one saw was the interior, which had been remade in Barock style—or as close to it as one could come without using stone. Much wood, paint, and time had been devoted to fashioning pilasters and columns, wall-panels and balusters that would pass for Roman marble unless you went up and rapped on them with a knuckle. Rossignol had the good grace not to, and attended, instead, to what Eliza wished to show him: the view out the window.

From here they could see most of the ship-basin: a pool, deepened by dredging, and a-mazed by moles, causeways, wharves, sea-walls, &c. Beyond it the view was chopped off by the rectilinear bluff of the fortress-wall. Eliza did not have to explain to her guest that part of the basin was still used by the ordinary sea-faring folk who had always dwelled here, while another part was for the Navy; as much was obvious from looking at the ships.

She gave him a moment to take this in, then said: "How did I end up here? Well, once I had recovered from childbirth—" then she caught herself short, and smiled. "What a ridiculous expression; I see now that I shall be recovering until the day I die."

Rossignol ignored the remark, and so, blushing slightly, she went back to the main thread: "I began to liquidate all of my short-term positions in the Amsterdam markets. It would be impossible to manage them from across the sea during a war. This was done easily enough—the result was a pretty hoard of gold coins, loose gemstones, and vulgar jewelry, as well as Bills of Exchange payable in London, and a few payable in Leipzig."

"Ah," said Rossignol, drawing some connexion in his mind, "those would be the ones that you gave to Princess Eleanor."

The conversation that took place after Jean Bart had gone home, and the servants had been sent away, would have been altogether different if these two had inherited their titles. As matters stood, however, there were no illusions between them, and they could converse freely and without pretense. Though to do so for a few minutes (Eliza decided) was to be reminded that inhibited and pretentious chatter was not always such a bad thing.

"You and I are alike," the Marquis said. Which he meant as a compliment!

He continued, "We have our titles because we are useful to the King. If I were a legitimate son of the Lavardacs, I'd not be permitted to do anything with my life other than sit around Versailles waiting to die. Because I am a bastard, I have traveled to India, Africa, and the Baltic as far as Russia, and in all of these places I have engaged in trade. Trade! Yet no one thinks less of me for it."

He went on to explain why, in his view, Eliza was useful to the King. It all had to do with finance, and her links to Amsterdam and London, which he described aptly. This was unusual in a French noble. The very few of them who actually comprehended what went on in a Bourse, and why it mattered, affected ignorance for fear of seeming common. To them Eliza made as much sense as the Oracle of Delphi. By contrast, the Marquis affected to understand more than he really did. To him Eliza was a petty commercant. Or so 'twould seem from his next remark: "Fetch me some timber, if you please."

"I beg your pardon, monsieur?"

"Timber."

"Why do you require timber?"

"You do know that we are at war with practically everyone now?" he asked, amused.

"Ask the contr^oleur-g'en'eral whether the Countess de la Zeur knows it!"

"Touch'e. Tell me, my lady, what do you see when you gaze out the window?"

"Brand-new fortifications, very expensive-looking."

"Closer."

"Water."

"Closer yet."

"Ships."

"Closer yet."

"Timber on the shore, piled up like ramparts."

"You know, of course, of my family's connections to the Navy."

"Tout le monde knows that your father is Grand Admiral of France and that the Navy has grown prodigiously during his tenure."

"During his tenure as a man in a glorious uniform, attending ship-christenings and twenty-one-gun salutes, and throwing magnificent f^etes. Yes. But tout le monde also knows that it was Colbert who was responsible for it. In addition to Grand Admiral, my father was Secretary of State for the Navy until 1669, did you know that? Then he sold the post to Colbert, for a lot of money. Did he want to sell it? Did he need the money? No. But he knew that the funds had been advanced to Colbert—a commoner—by the King himself, and so he could not refuse."

"He was fired," Eliza said.

"In the most polite and remunerative way imaginable, he was fired. Colbert became his superior—for of course the Grand Admiral of France is accountable to the Secretary of State for the Navy!"

"When you put it that way, it must have been an interesting time for the Duke."

"It is just as well I was living as a Vagabond in India at the time. I could almost hear his screaming from Shahjahanabad," said the Marquis. "In any case, he was well paid for the demotion, and he went on to make a great fortune out of the ship-building program that Colbert then instituted. For whenever so much money flows from the Treasury to the military, there are countless ways for those within the system to profit. I should know, mademoiselle." And he glanced around the interior of the salon. Like much in Dunkerque, it was small. But everything in it was magnificent.

"You had your title in '74," Eliza said, "and made yourself useful as a part of this Navy-building project."

"I am always eager to be useful to my King," he said.

"God save the King," Eliza said. "I of course share the same eagerness to be of service to his majesty. Did you say you required some timber?"

"Oh, but of course. There's a war on. To this point, naval engagements have been few—a small battle in Bantry Bay when our ships were taking the soldiers to Ireland, and of course the heroics of your friend Jean Bart. But great battles will come. We need more ships. We require timber."

"France is blessed with enormous size, and deep forests," Eliza pointed out.

"Indeed, my lady." His eyes strayed inland, to the crests of the dunes, which were held together with scrub, which here and there gave way to the firm straight lines of new earth-works concealing mortar-batteries. "I do not see any forests hereabouts."

"No, this is like Holland, or Ireland. But farther inland, as you must know, are forests that cannot be traversed in less than a fortnight."

"Fetch me some timber, then, if you wish to be of service to the King."

"Would it be as useful to le Roi, if the timber came instead to Le Havre, or Nantes? For Dunkerque is not at the mouth of any great river, but those places are, and this would make the shipping infinitely easier."

"We have shipyards in those places, too; why not?"

Here, Eliza ought to have paused to wonder why there was a shipyard in Dunkerque at all, given its location; but after weeks of boredom here, she was so pleased to have been given something to do that she did not give any thought to this paradox.

"Timber costs money," she reminded him, "and I have given all of mine away."

He laughed. "To the French Treasury, mademoiselle! And you shall be buying the timber on behalf of the King! I shall send letters to the Place au Change in Lyon. Everyone there shall know your credit is backed by the contr^oleur-g'en'eral. Speak to Monsieur Castan there—it is he who makes payments to those who have had the honor of lending money, or selling goods, to the King of France."

"You are suggesting I am to journey to Lyon?"

"It is a terribly important matter, my lady. My coach is at your disposal. You seem in need of an airing-out. Whether the timber is delivered to Nantes or Le Havre, or even here, is all the same to me; but you, mademoiselle, I will meet back here in six weeks."




OCTOBER 1689

Dwelling on the Sea-coast, and being a rapacious, cruel, violent, and tyrannical People, void of all Industry or Application, neglecting all Culture and Improvement, it made them Thieves and Robbers, as naturally as Idleness makes Beggars: They disdain'd all Industry and Labour; but being bred up to Rapine and Spoil, when they were no longer able to ravage and plunder the fruitful Plains of Valentia, Granada and Andalusia, they fell to roving upon the Sea; they built Ships, or rather, took Ships from others, and ravag'd the Coasts, landing in the Night, surprising and carrying away the poor Country People out of their Beds into Slavery.

—DANIEL DEFOE, A Plan of the English Commerce

"O MOST NOBLE FLOOR, exalted above all other pavements, nay even above the ceilings and rooves of common buildings, you honor me by suffering my lips to touch you," said Moseh de la Cruz—in a queerly muffled voice, as he was not kidding about the lips.

The Pasha of Algiers, and his diverse aghas and hojas, had to lean forward and cock their turbans to make out his Sabir. Or so Jack inferred from the rustling of silk and wafting of perfume all around. Jack, of course, could see nothing but a few square inches of inlaid marble flooring.

Moseh continued: "Though you have already been generous far beyond my deserts in allowing me to grovel on you, I have yet another favor to request: The next time you have the high honor to come into contact with the sole of the Pasha's slipper, will you please most humbly beseech said item of footwear to inform the Pasha that the following conditions exist…" at which point Moseh went on to relate some particulars of Jeronimo's story. El Desamparado, needless to say, had been excluded from the meeting. Dappa and Vrej Esphahnian were somewhere near Jack with their faces likewise pressed to the floor.

When Moseh was finished, a voice above them spoke in Turkish, which was translated into Sabir: "Sole of our slipper, inform the floor that we are well aware of the existence of Spanish treasure-fleets, and would make them all ours, if we had the wherewithal to assault scores of heavily armed men-o'-war in the broad Atlantic."

This led to a palpable cringing from the Turk who owned Moseh, Jack, and the others, and who was kneeling behind them; a position not only correct for a man of his station, but comfortable for one who still had very little skin on the soles of his feet. He began to bleat something in Turkish before the translation was even finished; but Vrej Esphahnian boldly cut him off.

"O glorious and sublime Floor, please make it known to the sole of the Pasha's slipper that, according to Armenians in Havana, with whom I have recently corresponded, the Viceroy who figures in this story has finished his time in Mexico and next spring, weather permitting, should be on his way across the Atlantic in his brig."

"Whose shot-lockers, it is safe to assume, will be filled, not with cannonballs, but with pigs of silver and other swag," added Moseh.

"Slipper," said the Pasha, "remind the Floor that this ship of the Viceroy's, when surrounded by the Spanish fleet, is akin to a tempting morsel lodged between the open jaws of a crocodile."

Moseh took a deep breath and said, "O patient and noble Floor, concerned as you are with preventing the Pasha's carpets from falling through into the cellar, no doubt you have scarce concerned yourself with anything so tedious and ignoble as long-term bathy-metric trends in the Guadalquivir Estuary. But, half-breed crypto-Jewish oar-slaves have much leisure to contemplate such matters—so, pray allow me to try your patience even further by informing you that there is a submerged sand-bar at the place where the Guadalquivir empties into the Gulf of Cadiz. For many years it has been the case that the treasure-galleons could pass this bar at high tide and enter the Guadalquivir and drop anchor before Sanl'ucar de Barrameda, or Bonanza; or even sail fifty miles up the river to Seville. Those cities, then, were long the destinations of the treasure-fleet, and accordingly it is at Bonanza that the Viceroy, at the beginning of his reign, laid the cornerstone of a palace to receive the proceeds of his relentless, corrupt, and gluttonous pillagings. It has been a-building ever since, and is now complete. But the galleons have grown ever larger, and meanwhile Allah in His wisdom has decreed that the sand-bar I spoke of should wax, and build itself nearer to the surface. For these reasons, as of three years ago, the treasure-fleet no longer ends its journey in the mouth of the Guadalquivir, but at the magnificent deep-water bay of Cadiz, a few miles down the coast."

"Slipper, inform our Floor that we understand, now, that when the treasure-fleet reaches Cadiz next summer, the swag-barge of the orgulous and thrice-damned ex-Viceroy will have no choice but to break away from it, and make the passage up-coast to Bonanza by itself. But fail not to remind the Floor that it is no more a wise idea for us to send our war-galleys across the Gulf of Cadiz to assault the sand-choked estuary of the Guadalquivir, than it would be to stage a frontal assault on the high seas."

"Floor most polished and enduring, so nigh unto what is holy, and so far from the profanities of the infidels, it would be difficult, and wholly unnecessary, for you to muddle your thoughts with the shabby fragments of knowledge that so clutter my mind: for example, that while war-galleys of the Dar al-Islam are distinctly unwelcome in the said Gulf, it is common for trading-galleys to be seen there. For whereas the former type of ship is crowded stem to stern with scimitar-, dagger-, blunderbuss-, and pistol-brandishing Janissaries, the latter is occupied primarily by wretches chained to oars, and, hence, is less likely to incite all manner of alarm in the superstitious minds of the bacon-eaters."

"Slipper, for that same reason they are useless as offensive weapons."

"Seamless Floor, for that reason they can substitute stealth for might, moving among other ships without creating alarm; and if the oar-slaves are unchained at the right moment, and if they happen to be a redoubtable crew of disgraced Janissaries seeking to recover their honor, Jesuit Samurais, harpoon-hurling wrestling champions, Caballero Desperadoes, and such-like, and if one of them happens to be personally familiar with the brig under attack; then, Floor, I put it to you that the Viceroy's hoard could be taken in the name of the Faith rather easily."

"And what then, Slipper? For if we understand the nature of the Viceroy's smuggling operation, the proceeds will be in the form of silver pigs, which, like the four-legged sort, are unclean, and unwelcome in polite company. The coin of this realm, and of the wide world, is Pieces of Eight."

"Floor, the slippers of many travelers have walked upon you and the lips of many learned scholars kissed you, and from some of these you may have learned that, while the supply for all the world's silver is New Spain, the demand is in the East. According to legend, the Court of the Great Mogul in Shahjahanabad, and the Forbidden City in Peking, are where it all ends up. And just as all the ships on a sea derive their motive power from a common wind, so do all the diverse enterprises and trading-companies of Europe and the Ottoman Empire draw their force from this perpetual eastward flux of silver. Accordingly, the best place to exchange crude silver for goods is as far east as possible, lest middle-men take all the profits. The vessel we will be using is a half-galley, or galleot, obviously unfit to sail round Africa and attempt the passage to the Mogul's port at Surat, and so the farthest east it can possibly travel is Cairo."

Now, a lengthy conversation in Turkish between the Pasha and their owner. Finally the translation into Sabir resumed: "Slipper, rumors have reached us that a rabble of galley-slaves propose to do battle against the Spaniards in the estuary before Bonanza, seemingly a desperate undertaking, and this would seem to raise the possibility of what the Jesuits would call a quid pro quo."

"Floor, it would demean you to be subjected to the numerical calculations, which have been worked out in paralyzing detail by me and my Armenian comrade, here; but when the smoke clears, and the galleot returns from Cairo laden with coffee-beans and other treasures of the East, the proceeds—after various taxes, fees, commissions, baksheesh, rake-offs, and profit-takings—should suffice to pay the embarrassingly modest ransoms of all ten of the oar-slaves concerned."

"Slipper, it is written in the Holy Koran that the holding of hostages is a sin, and so it grieves us indescribably that, owing to circumstances not of our making, we have, at any given time, several tens of thousands of them languishing in our banyolars. Therefore the plan, as described, is not lacking in virtue. And yet all men are subjected to temptation, and Christians are evidently more susceptible than most; and so what is to prevent these slaves, once unchained, from assaulting their overseers, and rowing this galleot—and the silver—to freedom?"

"Floor so hard and cool, it would indeed be foolish to trust a brace of slaves in this manner. Of course, if they went south, and ran the Straits of Gibraltar, they would be caught by the war-galleys of this Citadel of Islam and suffer the Penalty of the Hook. If they went directly to shore, the Spaniards would seize them. But what, an intelligent floor might ask, if they set their course to the north, circumventing the whole Iberian Peninsula, and made for France or England? This is a most trying question, and potentially a grievous fault in the Plan; but, thanks to Allah, there is another slave whose lips are pressed against you at this very moment and whose misfortunes have taught him much concerning such things."

Jack was wondering to himself what the Penalty of the Hook was, and so almost missed his cue; but Dappa nudged him and he began to rattle off the speech he had rehearsed, albeit with certain improvements that had only just entered his mind. "My words are addressed, not even to the floor, but rather to the dirt wedged between the tiles, as, until such time as I have regained my dignity and rank as a Janissary, I do not feel worthy to address even the Floor directly; and yet here's hoping that some of my reflections will make their way up to the ears of some piece of furniture or whatnot that is in a position of responsibility." Several more nudges from Dappa and throat-clearings from Moseh had punctuated this first part of his oration, and made it difficult for him to establish a rhythm. "Unforgivably, I allowed myself to be taken prisoner at the Siege of Vienna, and knocked around Christendom for a while—it is a long story with no clear beginning, middle, or end. Suffice it to say, O magnificent Dirt of the Floor-Cracks, that before I completely lost my mind and became the wretch that I am today, I learned that there is, in France, a Duke who has polluted the seas with hundreds of infidel war-ships, brand-new and heavily armed; and that said Duke, who dines on the most unclean foods imaginable, is not wholly unknown to the Corsairs of this city, perhaps even to the extent of investing in some of their galleys; and that he owns several of the white, pink-eyed horses considered so desirable by the exalted. This Duke, if he were made aware of our Plan in advance, could easily give orders to his fleet that infests the Bay of Biscay, and tell them to monitor the coast (for our galleot, lacking navigational aids, can on no account stray out of sight of land) and stop any vessels matching the description of ours."

Much discussion in Turkish. Then: "Slipper, if you should encounter any dirt on my floor, which strikes me as unlikely given the immaculate condition of my dwelling, tell it that I know of this French Duke. He is not the sort of man to take part in such a plan out of charitable motives."

"Floor-dirt—or perhaps that is a dust-mote that I carried in on an eyelash—said Duke would almost have to be in on the plan anyway. For the galleot will require some sort of escort to Cairo, lest she fall into the hands of the pirates of Sardinia, Sicily, Malta, Calabria, or Rhodes. The terrifying armada of this City has other errands; but the French fleet plies those waters anyway, shepherding the merchant-galleys of Marseille to and from Smyrna and Alexandria—"

But here the Pasha had apparently heard enough, for he clapped his hands and uttered something in Turkish that caused all of the slaves, and their owner, to be ejected from his audience-chamber and into the octagonal yard of the Kasba. Which Jack looked upon as bad, until he saw the smile on the face of their owner, who was being lifted onto his sedan-chair by Nubian slaves.

Jack, Dappa, Vrej, and Moseh ambled out of the gate into the City of Algiers, and happened to end up standing beneath a row of large iron hooks that projected from the outer wall of the Kasba, a couple of yards below the parapet, some with enormous, gnarled chunks of what appeared to be jerky dangling from them. But others were unoccupied. Above one of those, a group of Janissaries had gathered around a man who was sitting on the brink of the wall.

"What did the Pasha say, there at the end?" Jack asked Dappa.

"In more words, Jack, he said: ‘Make it so.' " Dappa had spent a lot of time rowing with Turks, and knew their language thoroughly, which is why he had been invited along.

A solemn look then came over the face of Moseh de la Cruz, as if he were uttering a prayer. "Then we are on our way to Bonanza, as soon as the season wheels round."

Above them, the Janissaries suddenly shoved the seated man off the edge of the wall. He fell for a short distance, gathering speed, and then the iron hook caught him between the buttocks and brought him up short. The man screamed and wriggled, but the point of the hook had gone too far up into his vitals to allow him to squirm off of it, and so there he stayed; the Janissaries turned and departed.

But that was not the only reason Jack felt somewhat uneasy as he and the others made their way down into the lower city. The Pasha had, several times, gone on at great length in Turkish. And furthermore Dappa was regarding Jack with a certain type of Look that Jack had seen many times before, from persons such as Sir Winston Churchill and Eliza, and that usually boded ill. "All right," Jack finally said, "let's have it."

Dappa shrugged. "Most of what passed between the Pasha and his advisors was of a practical nature—he was far more concerned with how to do it than whether."

"That much is good for us," Jack said. "Now, tell me why you are favoring me with the evil eye."

"When you mentioned that execrable French Duke, the Pasha knew who you meant immediately, and mentioned, in passing, that the same Duke had lately been pestering him for information as to the whereabouts of one Ali Zaybak—an English fugitive."

"'Tis not an English name."

"It is a sort of cryptical reference to a character in the Thousand and One Nights: a notorious thief of Cairo. Time and again the police tried to entrap him but he always squirted free, like a drop of quicksilver when you try to put your finger on it. Zaybak is the Arabic word for quicksilver—accordingly, this character was given the sobriquet of Ali Zaybak."

"A pleasant enough sounding faery-tale. Yet Cairo is a long way from England…"

"Now you are playing stupid, Jack—which in some jurisdictions is as good as a signed confession." Dappa glanced up at the wall of the Kasba where the man squirmed on the hook.

"Perhaps you are right about Jack, Dappa, but my confusion is wholly genuine," said Moseh.

"In Paris, Jack has a reputation," put in Vrej Esphahnian. "There is a Duke there who does not love our Jack ever since he crashed a party, strangled one of the guests, chopped off the hand of the Duke's first-born son and heir, and made a spectacle of himself in front of the Sun King."

"Then perhaps this Duke got wind of Jack's misadventures on the high seas," Dappa said, "and began to make inquiries."

"Well, as a lost Janissary, recovering from a grievous head injury, I know nothing of such matters," Jack said. "But if it will help our chances, by all means let it be known that information as to the whereabouts of Ali Zaybak is to be had—if the duc d'Arcachon will only invest in the Plan."




10 DECEMBER 1689

AFTER CARDINAL RICHELIEU HAD RECOGNIZED, and Louis XIII had rewarded, the genius of Monsieur Antoine Rossignol, he had built himself a little ch^ateau. In later years he had hired no less a gardener than Le N^otre to fix up the grounds. The ch^ateau was at Juvisy. This had made sense at the time, as the King's court had been in Paris, and Juvisy lay just outside of it.

When the son of Louis XIII had moved his court to Versailles, the son of Antoine Rossignol—who had inherited Antoine's ch^ateau, his knowledge of cryptanalysis, and his responsibilities—had found himself exiled. He had not moved, but the center of power had, and Juvisy had all of a sudden begun to seem like a remote outpost. Another man might have sold the place at a loss, and built a new ch^ateau somewhere around Versailles. But Bonaventure Rossignol had been content to remain in the old place. His work did not require continual attendance at Court. If anything, the distance, and the peace and quiet that came with it, made him more productive. Le Roi had ratified the younger Rossignol's decision by coming to visit him at Juvisy from time to time. In its smallness, its seclusion, and the prim perfection of its walled garden, the ch^ateau at Juvisy seemed to Eliza like a perfect little kingdom of secrets, with Bon-bon its king, and Eliza its queen, or at least concubine.

The garden was of an altogether different style from what Le N^otre had done at Versailles, being, of course, much smaller, with fewer sculptures. But it had in common with the King's garden that it was made to look splendid when seen from the high windows of the ch^ateau, which was how Eliza was seeing it. Bon-bon's bedchamber was on the upper storey, in the center of the building, so that when Eliza climbed out of his bed she could walk three paces over a cold floor and stand in a dormer and gaze straight down the path that formed the garden's axis. Of course the plantings were dead and brown now, but the curlicues of its sculpted hedges still drew her eye, and gave her something to stare at while she began to answer a question that Bon-bon had just asked her.

He wanted to know, in effect, what the hell she was doing here. For some reason the question irked her a little bit.

She had showed up exhausted and dirty last night, with no thought of doing anything save putting Jean-Jacques to bed somewhere, and then collapsing into some bed of her own and sleeping for a few decades. Instead she'd been up half the night making love to Bon-bon. Yet she felt more awake, more refreshed now than if she'd spent the same amount of time slumbering. And so perhaps what she had taken for tiredness, yester evening, had been some other condition.

He'd had the good grace not to inquire what was going on. Instead he had accepted, with grace and even humor, the sudden arrival of Eliza and her entourage at his gates. She'd liked it that way, and she'd liked what had happened after. But now that the sun was up and they had gotten the sex out of their systems, there was this tedious need to explain matters. Certain parts of her mind had to be woken up, and were not happy about it. She stared at the dead garden, tracing the patterns of the hedges with her eyes, and mastered her annoyance.

"You had mentioned in a note to me that you contemplated a journey to Lyon," Rossignol said, trying to prime the pump. "That was six weeks ago."

"Yes," Eliza said. "The journey to Lyon took ten days."

"Ten days! Did you walk?"

"I could have done it faster by myself, but I was traveling with a five-month-old. The train consisted of two carriages, a baggage-cart, and some outriders and footmen borrowed from Lieutenant Bart and from the Ozoirs," Eliza said.

Rossignol grimaced. "Unwieldy."

"The first twenty miles were the most difficult, as you know."

"Dunkerque is scarcely connected to France at all," Rossignol agreed.

"Have you been to Lyon?"

"Only a little, passing through en route to Marseille."

"And did you find it strangely bleak and austere compared to Paris?"

"Mademoiselle, I found it bleak and austere even compared to the Hague!"

Eliza did not laugh at the witticism, but only turned her back on the window, for a moment, to regard Rossignol. He was propped up in bed on a mountain of pillows, exposed to the chilly air from the waist up. The man burned food like a forge burned coal, and never grew fat, and never seemed to feel cold.

"That is because you have no regard for commerce. I found it most interesting."

"Oh. Yes, I know about that," Rossignol conceded. "The great crossroads where the Mediterranean trades with the North. It sounds as if it ought to be interesting. But if you go there, you see only warehouses and silk-factories, and tracts of plain open ground."

"Of course it seems boring if all you do is look at it," Eliza said. "What renders it interesting is to take part in what goes on in those boring warehouses."

Rossignol's black eyes strayed to some papers resting on a bedside table. He was already regretting having asked her to explain this, and was hoping she'd make it quick.

Eliza stepped over to the side of the bed and swept the papers off onto the floor. Then she got a knee up on the bed and crab-walked across it until she was straddling Rossignol, sitting down firmly on his pelvis. "You asked," she reminded him. "and I have got an answer for you, which you are going to listen to, and what is more, by the time I am finished, you will confess that it is interesting."

"You have my attention, mademoiselle," said Rossignol.

"Lyon. I suppose they used to hold sprawling country-style fairs there, two hundred years ago. It was colonized, you know, by Florentines hoping to make fortunes selling goods to this wild northern place called France. There are still fairs, four times a year, but it is not so rustic. It is more like Leipzig now."

"That means nothing to me."

"It means people standing in courtyards of trading-houses, screaming at each other, and trading goods not physically present."

"But the warehouses—?"

"Silly, the goods are not present in the trading-houses. But neither can they be terribly remote, for they must be inspected before and delivered after the sale. Much of the traffic on the streets is commercants going to this or that warehouse to look at a shipment of silks, herring, figs, hides, or what-have-you."

"That helps me to understand some of what was, to a gentleman, so incomprehensible about the place."

"You'd never guess that the place does more business than all of Paris. From the street it is desolate. You can die of loneliness or starvation there. It is not until you get inside the houses that you discover the inner life of the place. Bon-bon, all of the people who have been lured here by trade have created, behind their iron-bound doors and shuttered windows, little microcosms of the worlds they left behind in Genoa, Antwerp, Bruges, Geneva, Isfahan, Augsburg, Stockholm, Naples, or wherever they came from. When you are in one of those houses, you might as well be in one of those faraway cities. So think of Lyon as a capital of trade, and the streets around the Place au Change as its diplomatic quarter, where the Jews, Armenians, Dutch, English, Genoans, and all the other great trading-nations of the world have established their embassies: shards of foreign territory embedded in a faraway land."

"What were you doing there, mademoiselle?"

"Buying timber for Monsieur le marquis d'Ozoir. I required some expert help. After I had been a week in Lyon, I was joined by my Dutch associates: Samuel and Abraham de la Vega and their cousin. I had sent a letter to them before I left Dunkerque, for I knew they were in London. It had caught up to them at Gravesend. They had changed their plans and made direct for Dunkerque, which they passed through five days after I had departed. As they passed through Paris they enlisted their cousin, one Jacob Gold, and the three of them followed me down and encamped at the house of a man they knew there—a wholesaler of beeswax that he imports from Poland-Lithuania."

"Now I see why this thing took six weeks! Ten days to creep down to Lyon, a week to wait for all of these Jews to show up—"

"The delay was not a problem for me. It took me and my staff that long anyway to recover from the journey, and to set up housekeeping in Lyon. Monsieur le marquis d'Ozoir, bless him, had sent word ahead, and arranged for us to stay at the pied-`a-terre of someone who owed him a favor. Once we had established ourselves, I had begun to make contacts among the crowd who frequent the Place au Change. For I knew that the brothers de la Vega would spare no effort in ransacking the wholesale timber market and finding the best wood on the best terms. But their efforts would be of no use unless I had made arrangements for a bill of exchange to be drawn up, transferring the agreed-on sum from the King's treasury to whomever sold us the timber. Likewise we would need to strike a deal with the shipper, and to purchase insurance, et cetera. So even if the de la Vegas had arrived at the same time as I, they should have little to do for a few days. And the need to feed little Jean-Jacques posed the most absurd complications."

It was a mistake to mention this, for now Rossignol's eyes drifted from Eliza's face down to her left breast. Earlier she had wrapped herself in a sheet, but this had slipped down as she wrestled with him.

"The de la Vegas invited me to visit them at the beeswax-warehouse where they were lodging."

Rossignol scoffed, and rolled his eyes.

"It would have seemed a very odd invitation to my ears before I had gotten to know Lyon," Eliza admitted, "but when I reached the place, I found it to be perfectly congenial. It is on a meadow that rises up above the Rh^one to the east of the trading district. They have more land than they need, and let it out to an adjacent vineyard. The growing season was over and so the vines were not much to look at, but the weather was fine, and we sat under a bower on the terrace of this stone building full of wax and drank Russian tea sweetened with Lithuanian honey. The daughters of the wax-magnate played with Jean-Jacques and sang him nursery-rhymes in Yiddish.

"To Samuel and Abraham de la Vega and Jacob Gold, I said that Lyon struck me as a very strange town."

"I could have told you that, mademoiselle," said Rossignol.

"But you and I think it is strange for different reasons, Bon-bon," said Eliza. "Listen, and let me explain."

"What of these Jews? What did they think?"

"They felt likewise, but had been reluctant to say anything. And so what I was trying to do, Bon-bon, was to get them talking."

"And so were these Jews responsive to your gambit, mademoiselle?" Rossignol asked.

"You are impossible," Eliza said.


SAMUEL DE LA VEGA, at twenty-four, was the senior man present—for the elders of the clan had more important things to do. He shrugged and said: "We are here to learn. Please say more."

"I phant'sied you were here to make money," Eliza said.

"That is always the object in the long run. Whether we make a profit on this matter of the timber remains to be seen; but we have heard of this place and want to know more of its peculiarities."

Eliza laughed. "Why should I say more, when you have said so much? You come here not knowing whether it is possible to make money. It is a place you have heard of, which is no great testimony to its importance, and you approach it as a sort of curiosity. Would you speak thus of Antwerp?"

"Let me explain," Samuel said. "In our family we do not recognize a profit—we do not put it on the books—until we have a bill of exchange payable in Amsterdam or (now) London, drawn on a house that maintains a well-reputed agency in one or both of those cities."

"To put it succinctly: hard money," Eliza said.

"If you will. Now, as we rode down here with Jacob Gold, he told us of the system in Lyon, and how it works."

Jacob Gold looked so nervous, now, that Eliza felt she must make some little joke to put him at ease. "If only I could have eavesdropped on you!" she exclaimed. "For yesterday at dinner at the home of Monsieur Castan, I was treated to a description of that same system—a description so flattering that I asked him why it was not used everywhere else."

They found this amusing. "What was Monsieur Castan's reaction to that?" asked Jacob Gold.

"Oh, that other places were cold, distrustful, that the people there did not know one another so well as they did in Lyon, had not built up the same web of trust and old relationships. That they were afflicted by a petty, literal-minded obsession with specie, and could not believe that real business was being transacted unless they saw coins being physically moved from place to place."

The others looked relieved; for they knew, now, that they would not have to break this news to Eliza. "So you are aware that when accounts are settled in Lyon, it is all done on the books. A man seated at a banca will write in his book, ‘Signore Capponi owes me 10,000 ecus au soleil'—a currency that is used only in Lyon, by the way—and this, to him, is as good as having bullion in his lock-box. Then when the next fair comes around, perhaps he finds himself needing to transfer 15,000 ecus to Signore Capponi, and so he will strike that entry from his ledger, and Signore Capponi will write that he is owed 5,000 ecus by this chap, and so on."

"Some money must change hands though!" insisted Abraham, who had heard all of this before but still could not quite bring himself to believe it. He was fourteen years old.

"Yes—a tiny amount," said Jacob Gold. "But only after they have exhausted every conceivable way of settling it on paper, by arranging multilateral transfers among the different houses."

"Wouldn't it be simpler just to use money?" Abraham asked doggedly.

"Perhaps—if they had any!" Eliza said. Which was meant as a jest, but it stilled them for a few moments.

"Why don't they?" Abraham demanded.

"It depends on whom you ask," Eliza said. "The most common answer is that they do not need it because the system works so smoothly. Others will tell you that when any bullion does become available here, it is immediately smuggled out to Geneva."

"Why?"

"In Geneva are banks that, in exchange for bullion, will write you a bill of exchange payable in Amsterdam."

Abraham's eyes blossomed. "So we are not the only ones who are worried about how to extract hard money profits from Lyon!"

"Of course not! For that, we are competing against every other foreign merchant in Lyon who does not share the belief, common here, that entries in a ledger are the same as money," said Samuel.

"What kind of person would believe such a thing, though?" Abraham asked.

Jacob Gold answered, "The kinds of people who have been here for so long and who make a comfortable living off of those ledgers."

Eliza said, "But the only reason this system works is that these people know and trust each other so well. Which is fine for them. But if you are on the outside, as we are, you can't take part in the D'ep^ot, as this system is called, and it is difficult to realize profits."

Jacob Gold added, "It is fine for those who have the houses here, the land, the servants. They transact an enormous amount of business and they find ways to live well. The lack of hard money is only felt when one wants to cash out and move somewhere else. But if that is the kind of person you are—"

"Then you don't live in Lyon and you are not a member of the D'ep^ot," Eliza said.

"We can talk about this all day, going in circles like the Uroburos," said Samuel, clapping his hands, "but the fact is that we're here and we want to buy some timber for the King. And we don't have any money. But we have credit from Monsieur Castan who in turn has credit because he lives here and is very much a member of the D'ep^ot."

"Thank you, Samuel," Eliza said. "You are correct: people trust Monsieur Castan; when one of the other members of this D'ep^ot writes in his ledger ‘M. Castan owes me such-and-such number of ecus,' to them that's as good as gold. And what we need to do is turn that ‘gold' into some timber arriving at Nantes."

"Thanks to Monsieur Wachsmann," said Jacob Gold, referring to our host, "we have some ideas as to where we might go and make inquiries about who has timber, and might be willing to sell it to us; but how do we actually transfer the money to them from the King's Treasury?"

"We need to find someone who is a member of this D'ep^ot and who is willing to write in his ledger that the King owes him the money," Eliza said.

"But that still doesn't get the money into the hands of him who sells us the timber, unless he is a member of the D'ep^ot, and I do not phant'sy that lumberjacks are invited," said Samuel.

"And it provides no way for us to realize a profit," Abraham, the ever-vigilant, reminded them.

Eliza reached out and pinched him on the nose to shut him up while she pointed out, "True, and yet wax, silk and other commodities are sold here in immense quantities, so there must be some way of doing it! And some do realize hard money profits, as is proved by the covert transfers of bullion to Geneva!"

Monsieur Wachsmann was therefore brought in. He was a stolid gray-headed Pomeranian of about threescore years. They explained their puzzlement to him and asked how he sold his goods, given that he was not a member of the D'ep^ot. He replied that he had a sort of relationship with an important businessman in town, with whom he kept a running account; and whenever the account stood in Monsieur Wachsmann's favor, he could leverage that to get what he needed. The same would be true, he assured his visitors, of any timber wholesaler big enough for them to consider doing business with.

"So a plan begins to take shape," said Samuel. "We will negotiate terms with a timber-wholesaler, denominated in ecus au soleil, never mind that they are a wholly fictitious currency, and then take the matter to the D'ep^ot and allow them to clear it on their ledgers. We end up with the timber; but is is possible for us to extract any profit?"

Monsieur Wachsmann shrugged as if this was not something he paid much attention to; and yet his estate showed that he had profited abundantly. "If you would like, you can route the profits to my account, and I will owe them to you, and we may plow these into later trades within the D'ep^ot, which may eventually turn into some material form, such as casks of honey, that you could sell for gold in Amsterdam."

"This is how people move to Lyon, and never leave," muttered Jacob Gold, combining in this one remark the Amsterdammer's amazement at Lyon's business practices with the Parisian's disdain for its culture.

Monsieur Wachsmannn shrugged, and looked at his ch^ateau. "Worse fates can be imagined. Do you have any idea what Stettin is like at this time of year?"

"What about getting some bullion and running it to Geneva for a bill of exchange?" Abraham demanded. "Much quicker, and easier to carry to Amsterdam than casks of honey."

"There is a lot of competition for the small amount of bullion that exists here, and so you will have to accept a large discount," Monsieur Wachsmann warned him, "but if that is really what you want, the house that specializes in such transactions is that of Hacklheber. They are at the Sign of the Golden Mercury, cater-corner from the Place au Change."

"Now, there is a familiar name," Eliza said. "I have been to their factory in Leipzig, and been ogled by Lothar himself."

"I have never heard of them," said Samuel, "but if this Lothar was ogling you it means he is not altogether stupid."

"They are metals specialists," said Jacob Gold, "I know that much."

"When the Genoese here went bankrupt," said Monsieur Wachsmann, "it happened because the Spanish mines had hiccuped in their delivery of silver to Seville. Bankers of Geneva and other places came to Lyon to fill the void left by the Genoese. They had connections to silver mines in the Harz and the Ore Range, which flourished for a brief time, until Spanish silver once again flooded the market. Anyway, one of those banking-families had an agency in Leipzig, and the people they sent thither to look after it became linked by marriage to this family of von Hacklheber. Because of the Hacklhebers' connections to the mines, they had older ties to the Fuggers. Indeed, it is said that this family goes all the way back to the time of the Romans…"

Abraham snorted. "Ours goes back all the way to Adam."

"Yes; but to them this is all very impressive," said Monsieur Wachsmann patiently, "and by the way, now that you have had your bar mitzvah you might spend less time poring over Torah and more learning social graces. At any rate, fortune favored the Leipzig branch, and before long the Hacklheber tail was wagging the Geneva dog. It is a small house, but reputed extraordinarily clever. They are in Lyon, Cadiz, Piacenza: anywhere there is a large flux of money."

"What do they do?" Abraham wanted to know.

"Lend money, clear transactions, like other banks. But their real specialty is maneuvers such as the one we are talking about now: shipment of bullion to Geneva. Do you remember when I warned you that there would be a discount if you converted your earnings to bullion here? It should have occurred to you to wonder just where the missing money disappears to in such a case. The answer is that it goes into the coffers of Lothar von Hacklheber."

Monsieur Wachsmann rolled to his feet, and paced across the terrace once or twice before going on.

"I trade in wax. I know where wax comes from and where it goes, and how much wax of different types is worth to different people in different times and places. I say to you that what I am to wax, Lothar von Hacklheber is to money."

"You mean gold? Silver?"

"All kinds. Metals in pig, bullion, or minted form, paper, moneys of account such as our ecus au soleil. To me, money is frankly somewhat mysterious; but to him it is all as simple as wax. Or so it would seem; like honeycombs in a boiler, it melts together and is con-fused into one thing."

"Then we shall go and talk to his agent here," Eliza said.

"Agreed," said Samuel de la Vega, "but I say to you that if they simply had a few coins lying about the place, we could get this whole thing done in an hour. That this system works, I cannot deny; but this D'ep^ot reminds me of certain towns up in the Alps where people have been marrying each other for too long."


"THE NEXT DAY," Eliza continued, "I met Gerhard Mann, who is the Hacklheber agent in Lyon."

She now relaxed her grip on Bonaventure Rossignol's testicles. For in the end, this was the only way she had found to maintain Bon-bon's attentiveness as she had discoursed of ecus au soleil and the D'ep^ot and so forth. But the mention of the name Hacklheber brought Rossignol to attention.

"Lothar von Hacklheber," she continued, "is not the sort who gladly suffers an employee to while away the afternoons sipping coffee in the caf'e."

"I should think not!"

"He has so arranged it that Mann has more work than he can handle. This forces him to make choices. He is always dashing about town on horseback like a Cavalier. Carriages are too slow for him. Arranging the meeting was absurdly difficult. It required half a dozen exchanges of notes. Finally I did what was simplest, namely remained still at the pied-`a-terre and waited for him to come to me. He galloped up, naturally, just as I was beginning to suckle Jean-Jacques. And so rather than send him away, I invited him in, and bade him sit down across the table from me even as Jean-Jacques was hanging off my tit."

"Appalling!"

"But I did this as a sort of test, Bon-bon, to see if he'd be appalled by it."

"Was he?"

"He pretended not to notice, which was not an easy thing for him."

Rossignol shuddered. "What did you talk about?"

"We talked about Lothar von Hacklheber."


"YOU MET HIM IN LEIPZIG?" Mann asked.

"It had to do with a silver-mining project in the Harz," Eliza said, "in which he elected not to invest: a typically shrewd decision."

Eliza explained to Mann what she had in mind. He pondered it for a few moments. At first she saw concern, or even fear, on his face, which made her suspect that he did not really wish to do it, yet was loath to refuse, for fear of what he might say, were Eliza to go to him and pout. Mann was a young man—indeed, would have to be, to last for very long, working as he did—and Eliza saw clearly enough that he had been posted to this place to prove himself, or to fail, so that he could decide where to send Mann next. Mann had blue eyes a little too close together, and a broad brow, so expressive that in its creases and corrugations she could read his feelings like sonnets on parchment. He was intelligent, but lacking in resolution. She guessed that someone of strong personality would one day get the better of him, and that he would end up sitting at a banca on an upper floor of the House of the Golden Mercury in Leipzig, peering down into the courtyard with a mirror on a stick.

After a few moments' thought, Mann relaxed, and began to sift through the vocabularies of diverse languages to express his thoughts. "It would be—" he began, and then switched to German in which Eliza could make out the word-part "sonder," which to them meant "special" or "exceptional" or "peculiar." This was his polite way of telling her that the sum involved was too small to be worth his time. "But we are encouraged to make such transactions. Sometimes they are like the first trickle of water coming through a tiny crevice in a dike; the amount that comes through is not as important as the channel that it cuts along its way, which presently carries a much greater volume." Which was his way of saying that he had heard she was backed by the French government, and wanted to participate in what she was doing, now that expenditures were rising because of the war.

"It is not a similitude that shall be of any comfort to Dutchmen," Eliza said, having in mind her colleagues, the de la Vegas.

"Ah, but if you cared about the comfort of Dutchmen you would not be on such an errand," Gerhard Mann reminded her.


"SO THROUGH HIS OWN CLEVERNESS Gerhard Mann had devised a way to escape from the interview without giving me or him any cause to be angry," Eliza said. Tired of sitting on Bon-bon, she now rolled back and sat cross-legged on the bed between his spread knees.

"I let the de la Vegas know that we had now a way to get hard money out of Lyon," she continued. "Within a few hours, they were making the rounds of the timber wholesalers, and within a day, had struck two separate deals: one for a shipment of Massif Central oak logs, which were stacked near the bank of the Sa^one a mile upstream, another for some Alpine softwood at the confluence of the Rh^one and the Sa^one. If you'd like, Bon-bon, I can devote an hour or two, now, to explaining in detail the negotiations amongst ourselves, the two merchants who sold us the timber, Monsieur Castan, various other members of the D'ep^ot, Gerhard Mann, and certain insurers and shippers."

Rossignol said something under his breath about la belle dame sans merci.

"Very well then," said Eliza, "suffice it to say that some entries were made in some ledgers. A fast coach went to Geneva, which is some seventy-five miles away as the crow flies, though considerably farther as the horse gallops. Abraham got his Bill of Exchange, though the margin of profit was scarcely enough to cover their time and expense. The timber was ours.

"At this point—mid-November—we supposed the matter concluded. For we had the timber, and had arranged shipping. An Amsterdammer would consider the deal closed. For to such people it is a perfectly routine matter to ship any amount of goods to Nagasaki, New York, or Batavia with the stroke of a quill.

"We, as well as the logs, had to go north: Jacob Gold to Paris and the rest of us to Dunkerque, whence the de la Vegas could find sea-passage north to Amsterdam.

"The fastest way would have been for me to climb back into the carriage I had borrowed from Monsieur le marquis d'Ozoir and go north by road. But there was no room in it for the de la Vegas. The weather had turned cold. We were in no particular hurry. And so we decided to send the horses and carriages north by road to Orl'eans, where the drivers could rent mounts, or hire another carriage, for the de la Vegas.

"In the meantime, we would take the river route to the same place, arriving a few days later.

13 DECEMBER 1689

WHERE BONAVENTURE ROSSIGNOL HAD FIBRILLATED between boredom and disbelief, the Marquis d'Ozoir was richly amused when Eliza told him the same story. At the beginning of the interview, she had been merely furious. When he began to smirk and chuckle, she tended toward homicidal, and had to leave the room and tend to Jean-Jacques for a little while. The baby was in a gleeful mood for some reason, grabbing his feet and fountaining spit, and this cheered her up. For he had no thought of anything outside of the room, nor in the past, nor the future. When Eliza returned to the salon with its view over the harbor, she had quite regained her composure and had even begun to see a bit of humor in this folly of the logs.

"And why did you send me on such a fool's errand, monsieur?" she demanded. "You must have known how it would all come out."

"Everyone in this business knows—or claims to—that to get French timber to French shipyards is an impossibility. And because they know this, they never even try. And if no one ever tries, how can we be certain it is still impossible? And so every few years, just to find out whether it's still impossible, I ask some enterprising person who does not know it's impossible to attempt it. I do not blame you for being annoyed with me. But if you had somehow succeeded, it would have been a great deed. And in failing, you learned much that will be useful in the next phase of our project—which I assure you is not impossible."

He had risen to his feet and approached the window, and by a look and a twitch of the shoulder he invited her to join him there. Gone were the days when one could look out over the Channel and see blue sky above England; today they could barely make out the harbor wall. Raindrops were whacking the windowpanes like birdshot.

"I confess the place looks different to me now, and not just because of the weather," Eliza said. "My eye is drawn to certain things that I ignored before. The timber down at the shipyard: how did it get here? Those new fortifications: how did the King pay for them? They were put there by laborers; and laborers must be paid with hard money, they'll not accept Bills of Exchange."

The Marquis was distracted, and perhaps a bit impatient, that she had strayed into the topic of fortifications. He flicked his fingers at the nearest rampart. "That is nothing," he said. "If you must know, the nobility have a lot of metal, because they hoard it. Le Roi gets to them at Versailles and gives them a little talk: ‘Why is your coastline not better defended? It is your obligation to take care of this.' " Of course they cannot resist. They spend some of their metal to put up the fort. In return they get the personal gratitude of the King, and get to go to dinner with him or hand him his shirt or something."

"That's all?"

He smiled. "That, and a note from the contr^oleur-g'en'eral saying that the French Treasury owes him whatever amount of money he spent."

"Aha! So that's how it works: These nobles are exchanging hard money for soft: metal for French government debt."

"Technically I suppose that is true. Such an exchange is a loss of power and independence. For gold can be spent anywhere, for anything. Paper may have the same nominal value but its usefulness is contingent on a hundred factors, most of which are impossible to comprehend, unless you live at Versailles. But it is all nonsense."

"What do you mean, it is all nonsense?"

"Those debts are worthless. They will never be repaid."

"Worthless!? Never!?"

"Perhaps I exaggerate. Let me put it thus: The nobleman who built these new fortifications around the harbor knows he may never see his money again. But he does not care, for it was just some gold plate in his cellar. Now the plates are gone, but he has currency of a different sort at Versailles; and that is what he desires."

"I am tempted to share in your cynicism, for I don't wish to seem a fool," Eliza said slowly, "but if the debt is secured by a sealed document from the contr^oleur-g'en'eral, it seems to me that it must possess some value."

"I don't wish to speak of fortifications," he said. "These were built by Monsieur le comte d'——" and he mentioned someone Eliza had never heard of. "You may make inquiries with him if you are curious. But you and I must not let our attention stray from the matter at hand: timber for his majesty's shipyards."

"Very well," Eliza said, "I see some down there. Where did it come from?"

"The Baltic," he returned, "and it was brought in a Dutch ship, in the spring of this year, before war was declared."

"No shipyard could exist in Dunkerque, unless it got its supplies from the sea," Eliza pointed out, "and so may I assume that this was a habitual arrangement, before the war?"

"It has not been habitual for rather a long while. When I came back from my travels in the East, around 1670, my father put me to work in the Company of the North down at La Rochelle. This was a brainchild of Colbert. He had tried to build his navy out of French timber and ran afoul of the same troubles as you. And so the purpose of this Compagnie du Nord was to trade in the Baltic for timber. Of necessity, this would be shipped mostly in Dutch bottoms."

"Why did he put it all the way down in La Rochelle? Why not closer to the North—Dunkerque or Le Havre?"

"Because La Rochelle was where the Huguenots were," the Marquis answered, "and it was they who made the whole enterprise run."

"What did you do, then, if I may inquire?"

"Traveled to the north. Watched. Learned. Gave information to my father. His position in the Navy is largely ornamental. But the information that he gets about what the Navy is doing has enabled him to make investments that otherwise would have been beyond his intellectual capacity."

Eliza must have looked taken aback.

"I am a bastard," said the Marquis.

"I knew he was wealthy, but assumed 'twas all inherited," Eliza said.

"What he inherited has been converted inexorably to soft money, in just the manner we spoke of a few minutes ago," d'Ozoir said. "Which amounts to saying that he has slowly over time lost his independent means and become a pensioner of the French Government—which is how le Roi likes it. In order for him to preserve any independent means, he has had to make investments. The reason you are not aware of this is that his investments are in the Mediterranean—the Levant, and Northern Africa—whereas your attentions are fixed North and West." And here he reached out and took Eliza firmly by the hand and looked her in the eye. "Which is where I would like them to stay—and so let us attend to the matter of Baltic timber, I beg you."

"Very well," Eliza said, "You say that in the early seventies, you had Huguenots doing it in Dutch ships. Then there was a long war against the Dutch, no?"

"Correct. So we substituted English or Swedish ships."

"I am guessing that this worked satisfactorily until four years ago when le Roi expelled most of the Huguenots and enslaved the rest?"

"Indeed. Since then, I have been desperately busy, trying to do all of the things that an office full of Huguenots used to do. I have managed to keep a thin stream of timber coming in from the Baltic—enough to mend the old ships and build the occasional new one."

"But now we are at war with the two greatest naval powers in the world," Eliza said. "The demand for ship timber will go up immensely. And as the de la Vegas and I have just finished proving, we cannot get it from France. So you want my help in re"establishing the Compagnie du Nord here, at Dunkerque."

"I should be honored."

"I will do it," she announced, "but first you must answer me one question."

"Only ask it, mademoiselle."

"How long have you been thinking about this? And did you discuss it with your half-brother?"

Jean-Jacques, with an uncanny sense of timing for a six-monthold, began to cry from the next room. D'Ozoir considered it. "My half-brother 'Etienne wants you for a different reason."

"I know—because I breed true."

"No, mademoiselle. You are a fool if you believe that. There are many pretty young noblewomen who can make healthy babies, and most of them are less trouble than you."

"What other possible reason could he want me?"

"Other than your beauty? The answer is Colbert."

"Colbert is dead."

"But his son lives on: Monsieur le marquis de Seignelay. Secretary of State for the Navy, like his father before him, and my father's boss. Do you have the faintest idea what it is like, for one such as my father—a hereditary Duke of an ancient line, and cousin of the King—to see a commoner's son treated as if he were a peer of the realm? To be subordinated to a man whose father was a merchant?"

"It must be difficult," Eliza said, without much sympathy.

"Not as difficult for the Duc d'Arcachon as some of the others—for my father is not as arrogant as some. My father is subservient, flexible, adaptable—"

"And in this case," Eliza said, completing the thought—for the Marquis was in danger of losing his nerve—"the way he means to adapt is by marrying 'Etienne off to the female who most reminds him of Colbert."

"Common origins, good with money, respected by the King," said the Marquis. "And if she is beautiful and breeds true, why, so much the better. You may imagine that you are some sort of outsider to the Court of Versailles, mademoiselle, that you do not belong there at all. But the truth of the matter is thus: Versailles has only existed for seven years. It does not have any ancient traditions. It was made by Colbert, the commoner. It is full of nobles, true; but you fool yourself if you believe that they feel comfortable there—feel as if they belong. No, it is you, mademoiselle, who are the perfect courtier of Versailles, you whom the others shall envy, once you go there and establish yourself. My father feels himself slipping down, sees his family losing its wealth, its influence. He throws a rope up, hoping that someone on higher and firmer ground will snatch it out of the air and pull him to safety—and that someone is you, mademoiselle."

"It is a heavy charge to lay on a woman who has no money, and who is busy trying to raise an infant," Eliza said. "I hope that your father is not really as desperate as you make him sound."

"He is not desperate yet. But when he lies awake at night, he schemes against the possibility that he, or his descendants, may become desperate in the future."

"If what you say is creditable, I have much to do," said Eliza, turning from the window, and smoothing her skirt down with her hands.

"What shall you do first, mademoiselle?"

"I believe I shall write a letter to England, monsieur."

"England! But we are at war with England," the Marquis pointed out, mock-offended.

"What I have in mind is a Natural-Philosophic sort of discourse," Eliza said, "and Philosophy recognizes no boundaries."

"Ah, you will write to one of your friends in the Royal Society?"

"I had in mind a Dr. Waterhouse," Eliza said. "He was cut for the stone recently."

The Marquis got the same aghast, cringing, yet fascinated look that all men did whenever the topic of lithotomy arose in conversation.

"Last I heard, he had lived through it, and was recovering," Eliza continued. "Perhaps he has time on his hands to answer idle inquiries from a French countess."

"Perhaps he does," said the Marquis, "but I cannot understand why the first thing that enters your mind is to write a letter to a sick old Natural Philosopher in London."

"It's only the first thing, not the only thing, that I'll do," said Eliza. "It's a thing easily done from Dunkerque. I would begin a conversation with him, or with someone, concerning money: soft and hard."

"Why not discuss it with a Spaniard? They know how to make money that people respect all around the world."

"It is precisely because the English coinage is so pathetic that I wish to take up the matter with an Englishman," Eliza returned. "No one here can believe that Englishmen accept those blackened lumps as specie. And yet the trade of England is great, and the country is as prosperous as any. So to me England seems like an enormous Lyon: poor in specie, but rich in credit, and thriving through a system of paper transfers."

"Which will boot them nothing in a war," said the Marquis. "For in war, a king must send his armies abroad, to places where soft money is not accepted. Therefore he must send hard money with them that they may buy fodder and other necessaries. How then can England war against France?"

"The same question might be asked of France! By your leave, monsieur, her money is not as sound as you might like to think,"

"Do you suppose that this Dr. Waterhouse will have answers to such questions?"

"No, but I hope that he will engage in a discourse with me whence answers might emerge."

"I believe that the answer lies in Trade," said the Marquis. "Colbert himself said, ‘Trade is the source of finance, and finance is the vital sinews of war.' What our countries cannot pay for with bullion, they will have to get in trade."

"C'est juste, monsieur, but do not forget that there is trade not only in tangible stuff like Monsieur Wachsmann's wax, but also in money itself: the stock in trade of Lothar von Hacklheber. Which is a murky and abstruse business, and a fit topic of study for Fellows of the Royal Society."

"I thought they only studied butterflies."

"Some of them, monsieur, study banks and money as well; and I fear they have got a head start on our French lepidopterists."


15 DECEMBER 1689

A DUTCHMAN PAINTING THIS SCAPE would have had little recourse to pigments; a spate of gull-shit on a bench could have served as his palette. The sky was white, and so was the ground. The branches of the trees were black, except where snow had begun sticking to them. The ch^ateau was half-timbered, therefore plaster-white in most places, webbed with ancient timbers that had turned the color of charcoal as they absorbed snow-damp. The roof was red tile; but this was mostly covered in snow. From place to place the presence of a stove underneath was betrayed by a seeping lake of red. It was not especially grand as ch^ateaux went nowadays: a rectangular court open on the side facing the Channel, with stables to one side, servants' quarters to the other, and the big house holding them together, squarely facing the sea. Before it the ground dropped away sharply, and so the shoreline was not visible: just a distant strip of gray saltwater, which faded into the white atmosphere far short of the Dover shore.

A four-horse carriage and a two-horse baggage-wain were drawn up in the court. Booted footmen and drivers, wrapped in damp wool, were stomping from horse to horse, removing empty feed-bags and cinching harnesses. A large woman, her face lodged at the end of a tunnel of bonnet, emerged from the servants' quarters, tugging a heavy blanket over her shoulders. She got a foot on the step below the carriage door and launched herself into it, making the vehicle list and oscillate on its suspension. A pair of men emerged from the stable, whacking smoky wads from the bowls of their clay pipes. They pulled on heavy gloves and mounted horses; as they swung legs over saddles, their heavy riding-coats parted for a moment, showing that each of these men was rigged like a battleship with an assortment of small cannons, daggers, and cutlasses.

The front door of the main house swung open and color burst forth: a dress in green silk, complicated by ribbons and flounces in many other colors, a pink face, blue eyes, yellow hair held up with diverse jewelled pins and more ribbons. She turned about to bid a last farewell to someone inside, which made the skirt flare out, then turned again and walked into the courtyard. Her attention was fixed on the one person here who had not yet mounted a horse or climbed aboard a vehicle: a man as brief and stout as a mortar, in a long coat and boots that had turned black from damp. His hat—a vast tricornered production rimmed in gold braid and fledged with ostrich-plumes—had toppled from his head and listed on the snow like a beached flagship. The prints made in the snow by his boots, and the furrows carved by the skirts of his coat and the scabbard of his small-sword, proved that he had been eddying about the court for quite a while. His gaze was fixed on a small bundle that was in midair just in front of him.

The woman in the green dress bent down to pick up the forgotten hat, and gave it a shake, releasing a flurry of snow from the ostrich-plume.

The bundle reached an apogee, hung there for a moment a few feet above the man's bare head, and began to accelerate toward the ground. He let it drop freely for a moment, then got his gloved hands underneath it and began gently to slow its descent. The bundle came to a stop only a hand's breadth above the ground, the man bent over like a grave-digger. A scream emerged from the bundle, which made the woman's spine snap straight; but the scream turned out to be nothing more than the prelude to a long, drawn-out cackle of laughter. The woman relaxed and exhaled, then jerked to attention again as the man emitted a long whoop and heaved the bundle high into the air again.

In time she managed to get the man's attention without leading him to drop the baby. Hat was exchanged for infant. She climbed into the coach, handing the baby in before her to a smaller woman who was sitting across from the big one. He—despite being dressed as a gentleman—clambered onto a perch at the back of the coach, normally used by a pair of footmen, but of a comfortable width for one man of his physique. The train of horses and vehicles pulled out onto the frozen road that meandered along the cliff-tops, and turned so that England and the Channel were to the right, France to the left.

A few hundred yards along, they slowed for a few moments so that the woman in the green dress could gaze out the window at some new earthworks that had been thrown up there: a revetment for a pair of mortars. Then they moved on, a thicket of legs and a storm of reins, black against the fresh snow, which muffled the sounds of their passage and swallowed them up, leaving nothing for a painter to depict except a blank canvas, and nothing for a writer to describe except an empty page.


"ONE OF THE OTHER THINGS they have at Versailles is physicians." The voice emerged from a grate in the back of the coach.

"Oh, but we have those in abundance aboard our ships, my lady."

"You have barbers. You have consulted them for months, and still cannot sit down! I am speaking of physicians."

"It is true that barbers make a specialty of the other end of the anatomy from that which concerns me," said the man on the perch. "Nature, though, offers her own remedies. I have packed my breeches with snow. At first it was shocking, intolerable." He had to wait now, for some moments.

"You laugh," he went on, "but, my lady, you do not appreciate the relief that this affords me, in more ways than one. For not only does it relieve the pain and swelling aft, but also, a similar but not so unpleasant symptom fore, which any man would complain of who went on a journey of any length in your company…"

Two of the women laughed again, but the third was having none of it, and answered him firmly: "The journey is not so long, for those of us who can sit down. The destination is a place where wit is prized, so long as it is discreet and refined, and does not offend the likes of Madame de Maintenon. But these sailorly jests of yours shall be immense faux pas, and shall defeat the whole purpose of your coming there."

"What is the purpose, my lady? You summoned me, and I reported for duty. I supposed my r^ole was to keep my godson amused. But I can see that you disapprove of my methods. In a few years, when Jean-Jacques learns to talk, he will, I'm certain, take my side in the matter, and demand to be flung about; in the meantime, I am dragged along in your wake, purposeless." He gazed curiously out to sea; but the train had turned inland, and the object of his desire was rapidly receding into the white distance. He was hopelessly a-ground.

"You are forever fussing over your ships, Lieutenant Bart, wishing that you had more, or that the ones you have were bigger, or in better repair…"

"All the more reason, my lady, for me to jump off of this unnatural conveyance and return to Dunkerque post-haste!"

"And do what? Build a ship with your own hands, out of snow? What is needed is not Jean Bart in Dunkerque. What is needed is Jean Bart at Versailles."

"What purpose can I serve there, my lady? Pilot a row-boat on the King's reflecting-pool?"

"You want resources. You compete for them against many others. Your most formidable competitor is the Army. Do you know why the Army gets all the resources, Lieutenant Bart?"

"Do they? I am shocked to hear this."

"That is because you never see them; but if you did, you would be outraged at how much money they get, compared to the Navy, and how many of the best people. Let us take 'Etienne de Lavardac as an example."

"The son of the duc d'Arcachon?"

"Do not affect ignorance, Lieutanant Bart. You know who he is, and that he knocked me up. Can you think of any young nobleman with stronger ties to the Navy? And yet when war broke out, what did he do?"

"I've no idea."

"He organized a cavalry regiment and rode off to war on the Rhine."

"Ungrateful pup! I'll work him over with the flat of my cutlass."

"Yes, and when you are finished you can go to Rome and poke the Pope in the eye with a stick!" suggested the smaller of the Countess's two assistants.

"It is a splendid idea, Nicole—I shall do it for you!" Bart returned.

"Do you know why 'Etienne made such a choice?" asked the lady, unamused.

"All I know is, someone needs to teach him some more manners."

"That is exactly wrong—someone needs to teach him less. For he is generally agreed to be the politest man in France."

"He must have forgot his manners at least once," said Jean Bart, pressing his face to the grate and peering at little Jean-Jacques, who had his face buried in his mother's left breast.

"Nay, for even when he impregnated me he did so politely," said the mother. "It is because of this sense of honor, of decorum, that he, and all the other young Court men, prefer the Army to the Navy."

"Hmm!"

"At last I have rendered you speechless, Jean Bart, and so I'll take this rare opportunity to explain further. Every man at Court professes his loyalty to the King, indeed does little else but prate about it from sunup to sundown, which pleases the King well enough in times of peace. But in time of war, each and every man must go out and demonstrate his loyalty with deeds. On a battlefield, a Cavalier may attire himself in magnificent armor and ride forth on a brilliant steed to engage the foe in single combat; and what is better, he does so in full view of many others like him, so that those who survive the day can get together in their tent when it is all over and agree on what happened. But on the sea all is different, for our dashing fop is lumped together with all of the other men on the ship, who are mostly common sailors; he lives with them, and cannot move from place to place, or engage a foe, without their assistance. To order a gang of swabbies, ‘charge your cannon and fire it in the general direction of yonder dot on the horizon,' is altogether different from galloping up to a Dutchman on a rampart and swinging your sword-blade at his neck."

"We do not fire at dots on the horizon," huffed Jean Bart, "however, I take your meaning only too well."

"You, because of your recent exploit, are a shining counterexample to this general rule; and if we can get a physician to patch up your arse so that you can sit down at dinner and regale some Court ladies with the story—preferably without resorting to profanity or any other ribald elements—it shall translate directly into more money for the Navy."

"And more Court fops to adorn my decks?"

"That comes unavoidably with money, Jean Bart, it is how the game is played." And then she was banging on the carriage ceiling. "Gaetan! Over there, I see what looks like a new powder-magazine, let's go have a look."

"If my lady wishes to review all of his majesty's new coastal fortifications," said Jean Bart, "it is a thing more easily done from the deck of a ship."

"But then I don't get to interview the local intendants, and learn the gossip behind the fortifications."

"Is that what you were doing?"

"Yes."

"What did you learn?"

"That the chain of interlocking mortar emplacements we viewed this morning was financed by a low-interest loan to His Majesty's Treasury from Monsieur le comte d'Etaples, who melted down a twelfth-century gold punchbowl for it; and at the same time he improved the road from Fruges to Fauquembergues so that it can carry ammunition-carts even during the spring thaw; and in return the King saw to it that an old lawsuit against him was delayed indefinitely, and he got to hold a candle one morning at the King's lev'ee."

"It makes one wonder what fascinations may be connected with yon powder-house! Perhaps some local Sieur cashed in his great-grandp`ere's ruby-set toenail-clippers to pay for the roof!" exclaimed Jean Bart, to stifled gurgles from Nicole and the large woman inside.

"Next summer, when Baltic timber is stacked to three times your height around the shipyard of Dunkerque, we shall see then if you are still mocking me," said she who was not amused.


"I BEG YOUR PARDON, mademoiselle; but this sound that you are making, ‘yoo-hoo! yoo-hoo,' has never been heard before in his majesty's stables, or anywhere else in France that I know of. To the humans who live here, such as myself and my lord, it is devoid of meaning, and to the horses, it is a cause of acute distress. I beg you to stop, and to speak French, lest you cause a general panic."

"It is a common greeting in Qwghlmian, monsieur."

"Ah!" This brought the man to a hard stop for several moments. The stables of Versailles, in December, were not renowned for illumination; but Eliza could hear the gentleman's satins hissing, and his linens creaking, as he bowed. She made curtseying noises in return. This was answered by a short burst of scratching and rasping as the gentleman adjusted his wig. She cleared her throat. He called for a candle, and got a whole silver candelabra: a chevron of flames, bobbing and banking, like a formation of fireflies, through the ambient miasma of horse-breath, manure-gas, and wig-powder.

"I had the honor of being introduced to you a year ago, along the banks of the Meuse," said the gentleman, "when my lord—"

"I remember with fondness and gratitude your hospitality, Monsieur de Mayet," said Eliza, which jerked another quick bow from him, "and the alacrity with which you conducted me into the presence of Monsieur de Lavardac on that occasion—"

"He will see you immediately, mademoiselle!" announced de Mayet, though not until after they had watched a second candelabra zoom back and forth a few times between the stall where they were standing, and one that lay even deeper in the penetralia of the stables. "This way, please, around the manure-pile."


"TRULY, MONSIEUR, YOU ARE SECOND to none in piety. Even Father 'Edouard de Gex is a wastrel compared to you. For in this season of Christmas, when all go to Mass and hear homilies about Him who lived His first days in a stable, 'Etienne de Lavardac d'Arcachon is the only one who is actually living in the same estate, and sleeping on a pile of hay."

"To piety I can make no claims whatever, mademoiselle, though I do aspire, at times, to the lesser virtue of politeness."

They had fetched out a chair for her to sit on, and she had accepted it, only because she knew that if she didn't, 'Etienne would be too stricken with horror to speak. He was squatting on a low stool used by farriers. The floor of the stall had been strewn with fresh straw, or as fresh as could be had in December.

"So Madame la duchesse d'Arcachon explained to me, when I arrived at La Dunette yester evening, and found that you and your household had moved out of it; not merely out of the house, but the entire estate."

"Thank God, we had received notice of your approach."

"But the purpose of my sending that notice was not to drive you out to his majesty's stables."

"No one has been driven, mademoiselle. Rather, I am lured hither by the prospect of assuring your comfort at La Dunette, and preserving your reputation."

"That much is understood, monsieur, and deep is my gratitude. But as I am to be lodging in an outlying cottage, which cannot even be seen from the main house, and which is reached by a separate road, your mother is of the view that you may stay at home, even as I lodge at the cottage, without even the most censorious observer perceiving any taint. And I happen to agree with her."

"Ah, but, mademoiselle—"

"So firm is your mother in holding this view that she shall be gravely offended if you do not return home at once! And I have come to deliver the message in person so that you can be under no misapprehensions as to my view of the matter."

"Ah, very well," 'Etienne sighed. "As long as it is understood that I am not being driven from here by what some perceive as its discomforts and inconveniences—" and here he paused for a moment to glare at several Gentlemen of the Bedchamber and other members of his household, who were fortunate enough to be hidden in darkness "—but, as it were, fleeing in terror of the prospect that my conduct is, in the eyes of my mother, other than perfect."

Which was somehow construed as a direct order by his staff; for suddenly, hay-piles were detonating as liveried servants, who had burrowed into them for warmth, leapt to action. Great doors were dragged open, letting in awful fanfares of blue snow-light, and illuminating a gilded carriage, and diverse baggage-wains, that had been backed into nearby stalls.

'Etienne d'Arcachon shielded his eyes with one hand, "Not from the light, which is nothing, but from your beauty, which is almost too great for a mortal man to gaze upon."

"Thank you, monsieur," said Eliza, shielding her own eyes, which were rolling.

"Pray, where is this orphan that some say you rescued from the clutches of the Heretics?"

"He is at La Dunette," said Eliza, "interviewing a prospective wet-nurse."


THE QUILL SWIRLED and lunged over the page in a slow but relentless three-steps-forward, two-steps-back sort of process, and finally came to a full stop in a tiny pool of its own ink. Then Louis Ph'elyp'eaux, first comte de Pontchartrain, raised the nib; let it hover for an instant, as if gathering his forces; and hurled it backwards along the sentence, tiptoeing over i's, slashing through t's and x's, nearly tripping over an umlaut, building speed and confidence while veering through a slalom-course of acute and grave accents, pirouetting though cedillas and carving vicious snap-turns through circumflexes. It was like watching the world's greatest fencing-master dispatch twenty opponents with a single continuous series of maneuvers. He drew his hand up with great care, lest his lace cuff drag in the ink; it inflated for a moment as it snatched a handful of air, then flopped down over his hand, covering all but the fingertips that pinched the pen, and giving them an opportunity to warm up. Twin jets of steam unfurled from Pontchartrain's cavernous elliptical nostrils as he re-read the document. Eliza realized she'd stopped breathing, and released her own cloud of steam. As she emptied her lungs, her dress hugged her suddenly around the waist while relaxing its grip on her thorax. Some milk leaked out of her breasts, but she had anticipated this, and swathed herself in cotton. It was most unusual for a virgin, who had merely adopted an orphan, to lactate. She smelled like a dairy. But the room was so cold that no one could smell anything but dust and ice.

"If you would, my lady, verify that I have not erred in setting down the principal." He withdrew his left hand from its warm haven between his thighs and gave the page a one-hundred-and-eighty-degree rotation. Eliza stepped forward, trying not to push a vast front of milk-scent before her, and rested her hands on the marble tabletop, then drew them back, for the stone jerked the warmth from her flesh. Her arms were tired. Walking here through the corridors of the palace, she had had to lift up her skirts—heavy winter stuff—lest they drag in the human turds that littered the marble floors. Most of these were frozen solid, but a few were not, and in the dim galleries she could not see the steam rising from these until it was too late.

Those corridors, and the divided, subdivided, and sub-sub-divided apartments that crowded in on them, were Versailles as it was. The wing where Monsieur le comte de Pontchartrain, contr^oleur-g'en'eral, had his offices, were Versailles as it was meant to be, meaning that the rooms were spacious, the windows many and large, the floors turd-free. Pontchartrain sat at a table with his back to an arched window that looked out over the gardens. His bony ankles, protected only by silk stockings, were crossed, like a pair of sticks being rubbed together. The sun was on his back. His periwig cast an Alp-like shadow across the table, and the document. The amount of money that Jean Bart's corsairs had taken from Eliza, and that she was loaning to the Treasury, was written out on the page, not in numerals but in words; and so large was the amount that, fully expressed to all of its significant digits, it spread across three lines of the document, and had forced the Count to dip his quill twice. It was like a chapter of the Bible; and as she read it, her mind was invaded by any number of memories of the deals she had arranged, the people she had met, the nights she had gone without sleep as she had accumulated this fortune. These recollections, which were of no utility to her now, and which she did not desire, simply leaked out. Milk was leaking out of her breasts, she could feel a leaky period coming on, she'd been suffering loose stools, she needed to urinate, and if she kept thinking about these things any more, tears would leak from her eyes. She had a passing phant'sy that she ought to go round and fetch Jean Bart from whatever salon he was regaling with corsair-tales, and put his nautical mind together with that of some corset-maker, and get them to invent some garment, some system of stays, laces, rigging, lashings, and caulk that would wholly encase body and head, and keep all unwelcome fluids and memories where they belonged.

But it was not available just now. She felt the warmth of the sun on her face; or maybe that was the gaze of the contr^oleur-g'en'eral. "The amount is correct," she announced, and hitched up her skirts in the rear with her cold hands and tired arms, and stepped back until her face was protected in shadow.

"Very well," said the Count in a gentle voice, like a kindly physician, and rotated his large brown eyes toward an aide, who for the last several minutes had been edging closer and closer to a fireplace at the other end of the room. Pontchartrain dipped his quill, set it to the page, and executed a lengthy series of evolutions, moving his arm from the shoulder. A vast mazy PONTCHARTRAIN took shape at the base of the page. The aide bent forward and countersigned.

Pontchartrain rose. "I hoped that my lady would consent to join me for some refreshment, while…" and he glanced at the aide, who had moved into the Count's place at the table and was busying himself with a panoply of wax-pots, ribbons, seals, and other gear.

"I would gladly do so, or eat rocks, for that matter, if it is to happen near the fireplace."

The Count offered the Countess his arm and together they glided to the pagan spectacle that answered to the name of fireplace here. Two chairs had been set out; both were armchairs, for the guest and the host were of equal rank. He got her settled in one of them, then picked up a log with his own two hands and threw it onto the fire; not a wholly normal thing for a Count to do, and presumably a coded gesture, meant to convey to Eliza that the Count did not mean to stand on ceremony. He dusted his hands together and then polished them with a lace handkerchief as he sat down. A maid shuffled forward on cold and unresponsive feet, worried her hands out of her sleeves, and poured coffee, sending up gales of steam.

"You've been doing a lot of these, my lord?" Eliza asked, looking over at the table, where the sealing process was just entering its opening rounds.

"Rarely for such amounts. Never for such a charming creditor, my lady. But yes, many Persons of Quality have followed the King's example, and lent idle assets to the Treasury, where they may be put to work."

"You will be gratified to know that those assets have been working very hard indeed along the Channel," Eliza said. "Any English Ship of Force that dares sail that way stares up into many new guns, protected by new revetments, fed by powder-houses linked by excellent roads that were only cow-paths when his majesty added those lands to France."

"It pleases me very much to hear this!" exclaimed the Count, crinkling up his eyes and rocking forward in his chair. Eliza was startled to see that he was entirely sincere; then wondered why it was so startling.

The Count's face began to sag as he looked at Eliza's and saw nothing there. "Please forgive me if I am…inappropriately subdued," she said, "it is just that I have been traveling for some time. And now that I am finally here, there is so much to do!"

"Soon all that will be behind you, my lady, and you can enjoy the season! You should get some rest. This soir'ee that Madame la duchesse d'Arcachon is hosting tomorrow…"

"Yes. I do need to conserve my energies, if I am to remain awake for even one-third of that."

"I do hope that when you have recovered from the journey, my lady, we shall have more opportunities to converse. As you know, I am rather new to the post of contr^oleur-g'en'eral. I accepted the position gladly, of course…but now that I have had a few months to settle in, I find that it is far more interesting than I had ever imagined."

"Everyone imagines it to be interesting in a financial sense," said Eliza.

"Of course," said Pontchartrain, sharing her amusement. "But I did not mean it that way."

"Of course not, monsieur, for you are an intelligent man, not motivated by money—which is one of the reasons his majesty chose you! But now that you are here, you find it fascinating intellectually."

"Indeed, my lady. But you are one of the very few at Versailles who can understand this."

"Hence your desire to carry the conversation forward. Yes, I understand."

Pontchartrain dropped his eyelids and inclined his head minutely, then opened his eyes again—they were large and handsome—and smiled at her.

"Do you know Bonaventure Rossignol, my lord?"

The smile faltered. "I know of him, my lady, but—"

"He is another fish out of water."

"He does not even live here, does he?"

"He lives at Juvisy. But he will be at La Dunette tomorrow. As will you, I trust?"

"Madame la duchesse has honored us with an invitation. Neither of us would miss it for anything."

"Seek me out there, monsieur. I shall introduce you to Monsieur Rossignol, and we shall found a new salon, restricted to people who love numbers more than money."


"AH, HERE COMES OUR CHAPERONE at last!"

"Our chaperone!?"

"But of course, Monsieur Rossignol. Madame la duchesse will join us. Otherwise people would talk! And look, Monsieur le comte de Pontchartrain is coming as well! I have wanted to introduce you to him."

This name was sufficient to make Rossignol turn his head, or want to. But the head was encased in a wig that cascaded over his shoulders, over which he had draped a heavy wool blanket, rendering independent movement of head and torso inadvisable. He rose to his feet, triggering small avalanches—for he and Eliza had been waiting in this open sleigh long enough for drifts to form in their laps. As he tottered around to get a view of the garden entrance of La Dunette, he reminded Eliza of a club balanced on a juggler's palm. He had much in common physically with Pontchartrain; but where the Count's eyes were warm and brown, Rossignol's were hot and black. And not hot in a passionate way, unless you counted his passion for his work.

A recorder arpeggio—some fragment of a minuet—leaked out of the doors for a moment as servants pulled them open. Pontchartrain stepped out, looked up, and blinked at the falling snow, then pirouetted towards his hostess, who had fallen behind, and was shooing him forward in violation of all rules of precedence. An aurora of red silk bloomed around her as she drew out a scarf and allowed it to settle atop her wig. With fingers slowed by cold, fat, and arthritis, she knotted it under a chin, then accepted Pontchartrain's proffered arm and stepped out into the frozen garden with more gingerness than was really warranted. The gravel paths near the ch^ateau had been swept clear of snow; the sleigh was stopped a stone's throw away, on a track that wandered off into the Duke's hunting-park. Party-goers surged to the door and the fogged windows to bid the Duchess farewell, as if she were sailing to Surinam, and not just going on a quarter of an hour's sleigh-ride on her own property.

Rossignol rotated back around to gaze at Eliza. There was no point in sitting, as he'd just have to stand up again when the Duchess and the Count arrived.

"Monsieur Rossignol," said Eliza, "every child knows that the juice of a lime, or a bit of diluted milk, may be used to write secret messages in invisible ink, which may later be made to appear by scorching it before hot coals. When you stare at me in this way, it is as if you phant'sy that some message has been writ upon my face in milk, which you may make visible by the heat of your scrutiny. I beg you remember that more often than not the procedure goes awry, and the paper itself catches fire."

"I cannot help that God made me the way I am."

"Granted; but I beg you. Monsieur le comte d'Avaux, and Father 'Edouard de Gex, have given me enough of such glares, in the last few days, to raise blisters on my brow. From you, monsieur, I should be grateful for a warm, rather than hot, regard."

"It is obvious enough that you are flirting with me."

"Flirtation is customarily more or less obvious, monsieur, but you do not have to mention it!"

"You invited me on a sleigh-ride, and led me to think it would be you and me alone together—‘it shall be never so cold, Bon-bon, and I shall freeze to death if I do not have anyone to share my blanket with'—and then we waited, and waited, and now it is obvious that I shall be sharing my blanket with a Count, or a Dowager. It is a little 'etude in cruelty. I observe such all the time in people's love-letters. I understand this. But it would be very foolish of you, my lady, to believe that you shall achieve some power over me by playing such girlish games."

Eliza laughed. "Never crossed my mind." She lunged forward, spun around, and took the seat next to Rossignol. He looked down at her, startled. "Why not?" Eliza said, "as long as we are chaperoned."

"Flirting with you without result is more interesting than doing nothing," Rossignol insisted, "but since our adventure, you really have paid me very little attention. I think it is because you got into some trouble you could not get out of by your own wits, and so became indebted to me in a way; which you chafe at."

"We will speak of chafing later," said Eliza, and then actually batted her snow-laden eyelashes at him. She patted the seat next to her.

"I must greet the Count and the—" but he was cut short as Eliza grabbed the back of his breeches and jerked down hard. She had only meant to force him to sit down; but to her shock she all but depantsed him, and would have stripped him naked to the knees had he not sat down violently. Like a bullfighter wielding the cape, she heaved the blanket over his lap just in time to hide all from the Count and the Duchess, who looked their way at the sudden movement.

"You must put some meat on your hips, otherwise what is the point of wearing a belt?" she whispered.

"Mademoiselle! I must stand up for the Count and the—"

"Dowager, is that what you called her? She is no dowager, her husband is alive and well, and tending to the King's affairs in the South. Don't worry, I shall fix it." She leaned against Rossignol's shoulder and raised her voice: "Madame la duchesse, Monsieur le comte, Monsieur Rossignol is mortified, for he would stand up to greet you; but I won't let him move. For his slender frame makes as much heat as a coal-stove, which is the only thing keeping me alive."

"Sit, sit!" insisted the Duchess of Arcachon. "Monsieur, you are like my son, too polite for your own good!" She had reached sleigh-side. Three stable-hands converged, and helped Pontchartrain help her into the sleigh. She was a big woman, and when she threw her weight on the bench, facing Eliza and Rossignol, the runners broke loose on the snow and the sleigh moved backwards a few inches. All three of the occupants whooped: the Duchess because she was alarmed, Eliza because it was amusing, and Bonaventure Rossignol because Eliza, under the blanket, had shoved her cold hand into his drawers and seized hold of his penis as if it were a lifeline. Presently the Count took a seat next to the Duchess. The horses—a team of two matched albinos—nearly bolted, so cold and impatient were they, and there was harsh language from the driver. But then they settled into a trot. The four passengers waved at the crowd inside, who'd been mopping steam off the windowpanes with their handkerchiefs. Eliza waved with one hand only. After an initial shrinkage, Rossignol had come erect so fast that she was worried about his health. He had squirmed and glared, but only until he recognized that the situation was perfectly hopeless; now he sat very still, listening to the Duchess, or pretending to.

She was matronly, decent, and genuinely popular: the living embodiment of the traditional Lavardac virtues of simple sincere loyalty to King and Church, in that order, without all of the scheming. In other words, she was just what a hereditary noble was supposed to be; which made her both an asset and a liability to the King. By supporting him blindly, and always doing the right thing, she made of her family a bulwark to his reign. But by exhibiting genuine nobility, she was implicitly making a strong case for the entire idea of a hereditary peerage with much power and responsibility, and making the new arrivals—Eliza included—seem like conniving arrivistes by comparison. Sitting in the Duchess's sleigh and firmly massaging the erect penis of the King's cryptanalyst, Eliza had to admit the validity of this point; but she admitted it to herself. She had no choice but to make do with what she had—which at the moment was nothing at all, except for a handful of Rossignol. She still did not have more than a few coins to her name.

The sleigh moved briskly on the trail, which had been groomed in advance of the party. In a few moments they passed out of the formal garden and into a huddle of buildings that was concealed from view of La Dunette's windows by adroit landscaping. The scent of manure from the hunting-stable of Louis-Francois de Lavardac d'Arcachon was driven away suddenly by a cloud of lavender-scented steam, surging from the open side of a shed where a servant was stirring a vat over a great smoky fire.

"You make your own soap here?" Eliza said. "The fragrance is wonderful."

"Of course we do, mademoiselle!" said the Duchess, astonished by the fact that Eliza found this worthy of mention. Then something occurred to her: "You should use it."

"I already impose on your hospitality too much, my lady. Paris is so well-supplied with parfumiers and soap-makers, I am happy to go there and—"

"Oh, no!" exclaimed the Duchess. "You must never buy soap in Paris—from strangers! Especially with the orphan to think of!"

"As you know, my lady, little Jean-Jacques is now in the care of the Jesuit fathers. They make their own soap, probably—"

"As they had better!" said the Duchess. "But you bring clothes to him sometimes. You will have them laundered here, in my soap."

Eliza did not really care, and was happy to give her assent, since the Duchess of Arcachon was so firm on this point; if she hesitated for a moment, it was only because she was a bit nonplussed.

"You should use the Duchess's soap, mademoiselle," said Pontchartrain firmly.

"Indeed!" said Rossignol—who, given the circumstances, would probably be speaking in one-word sentences for a while.

"I accept your soap with all due gratitude, madame," said Eliza.

"My laundresses do not wear gloves!" huffed the Duchess, as if she had been challenged on some point. This rather dampened conversation for some moments. They had passed clear of the out-buildings, and circumvented a paddock where the Duke's hunting-mounts were exercised in better weather, and entered now into a wooded game-park, bony and bare under twilight. Pontchartrain opened the shades on a pair of carriage-lanterns that dangled above the corners of the benches, and presently they were gliding along through the dim woods in a little halo of lamplight. In a few moments they came to a stone wall that cut the forest in twain. It was pierced by a gate, which stood open, and which was guarded, in name anyway, by half a dozen musketeers, who were standing around a fire. The wall was twenty-six miles long. The gate was one of twenty-two. Passing through it, they entered the Grand Parc, the hunting-grounds of the King.

The Duchess seemed to regret the matter of the soap, and now suddenly worked herself up into a lather of good cheer.

"Mademoiselle la comtesse de la Zeur has said she will start a salon at La Dunette! I have told her, I do not know how such a thing is done! For I am just a foolish old hen, and not one for clever discourse! But she has assured me, one need only invite a few men who are as clever as Monsieur Rossignol and Monsieur le comte de Pontchartrain, and then it just—happens!"

Pontchartrain smiled. "Madame la duchesse, you would have me and Monsieur Rossignol believe that when two such ladies as you and the Countess are together in private, you have nothing better to do than talk about us?"

The Duchess was taken aback for a moment, then whooped. "Monsieur, you tease me!"

Eliza gave Rossignol an especially hard squeeze, and he shifted uneasily.

"So far, it does not seem to be happening, for Monsieur Rossignol is so quiet!" observed the Duchess in a rare faux pas; for she should have known that the way to make a quiet person join the conversation is not to point out that he is being quiet.

"Before you joined us, madame, he was telling me that he has been wrestling with a most difficult decypherment—a new code, the most difficult yet, that is being used by the Duke of Savoy to communicate with his confederates in the north. He is distracted—in another world."

"On the contrary," said Rossignol, "I am quite capable of talking, as long as you do not ask me to compute square roots in my head, or something."

"I don't know what that is but it sounds frightfully difficult!" exclaimed the Duchess.

"I'll not ask you to do any such thing, monsieur," said Pontchartrain, "but some day when you are not so engaged—perhaps at the Countess's salon—I should like to speak to you of what I do. You might know that Colbert, some years ago, paid the German savant Leibniz to build a machine that would do arithmetic. He was going to use this machine in the management of the King's finances. Leibniz delivered the machine eventually, but he had in the meantime become distracted by other problems, and now, of course, he serves at the court of Hanover, and so has become an enemy of France. But the precedent is noteworthy: putting mathematical genius to work in the realm of finance."

"Indeed, it is interesting," allowed Rossignol, "though the King keeps me very busy at cyphers."

"What sorts of problems did you have in mind, monsieur?" Eliza asked.

"What I am going to tell you is a secret, and should not leave this sleigh," Pontchartrain began.

"Fear not, monseigneur; is any thought more absurd than that one of us might be a foreign spy?" Rossignol asked, and was rewarded by the sensation of four sharp fingernails closing in around his scrotum.

"Oh, it is not foreign spies I am concerned about in this case, but domestic speculators," said the Count.

"Then it is even more safe; for I've nothing to speculate with," said Eliza.

"I am going to call in all of the gold and silver coins," said Pontchartrain.

"All of them? All of them in the entire country!?" exclaimed the Duchess.

"Indeed, my lady. We will mint new gold and silver louis, and exchange them for the old."

"Heavens! What is the point of doing it, then?"

"The new ones will be worth more, madame."

"You mean that they will contain more gold, or silver?" Eliza asked.

Pontchartrain gave her a patient smile. "No, mademoiselle. They will have precisely the same amount of gold or silver as the ones we use now—but they will be worth more, and so to obtain, say, nine louis d'or of the new coin, one will have to pay the Treasury ten of the old."

"How can you say that the same coin is now worth more?"

"How can we say that it is worth what it is now?" Pontchartrain threw up his hands as if to catch snowflakes. "The coins have a face value, fixed by royal decree. A new decree, a new value."

"I understand. But it sounds like a scheme to make something out of nothing—a perpetual motion machine. Somewhere, somehow, in some unfathomable way, it must have repercussions."

"Quite possibly," said Pontchartrain, "but I cannot make out where and how exactly. You must understand, the King has asked me to double his revenues to pay for the war. Double! The usual taxes and tariffs have already been squeezed dry. I must resort to novel measures."

"Now I understand why you would like the advice of France's greatest savants," said the Duchess. Whereupon all eyes turned to Rossignol. But he had suddenly braced his feet and jerked his head back. For a few moments he stared up at the indigo sky through half-closed eyes, and did not breathe; then he exhaled, and took in a deep draught of the cold air.

"I do believe Monsieur Rossignol has been seized by some sudden mathematical insight," said Pontchartrain in a hushed voice. "It is said that Descartes's great idea came to him in a sort of religious vision. I had been skeptical of it until this moment, for the very thought seemed blasphemous. But the look on Monsieur Rossignol's face, as he cracked that cypher, was unmistakably like that of a saint in a fresco as he is drawn, by the Holy Spirit, into an epiphanic rapture."

"Will we see a lot of this sort of thing, then, at the salon?" asked the Duchess, giving Rossignol a very dubious look.

"Only occasionally," Eliza assured her. "But perhaps we ought to change the subject, and give Monsieur Rossignol an opportunity to gather his wits. Let's talk about…horses!"

"Horses?"

"Those horses," said Eliza, nodding at the two that were drawing the sleigh.

She and Rossignol were facing forward. The Duchess and the Count had to turn around to see what she was looking at. Eliza took advantage of this to wipe her hand on Rossignol's drawers and withdraw it. Rossignol hitched up his breeches weakly.

"Do you fancy them?" asked the Duchess. "Louis-Francois is inordinately proud of his horses."

"Until now I had only seen them from a distance, and supposed that they were simply white horses. But they are more than that; they are albinos, are they not?"

"Ths distinction is lost on me," the Duchess admitted, "But that is what Louis-Francois calls them. When he comes back from the south he will be glad to tell you more than you wish to hear!"

"Are they commonly seen? Do many people have them here?" Eliza asked. But they were interrupted by, of all things, a man riding an albino horse: 'Etienne de Lavardac d'Arcachon, who had ridden out from the ch^ateau to meet them. "I am mortified to break in on you this way," he said, after greeting each of them individually, in strict order of precedence (Duchess first, then Pontchartrain, Eliza, horses, mathematician, and driver), "but in your absence, Mother, I am the acting host of the party, and must do all in my power to please our guests—one of whom, by the way, happens to be his majesty the King of France—"

"Oooh! When did le Roi arrive?"

"Just after you left, Mother."

"Just my luck. What do his majesty and the other guests desire?"

"To see the masque. Which is ready to begin."


ONE END OF THE GRAND ballroom of La Dunette had been converted into the English Channel. Papier-m^ach'e waves with plaster foam, mounted on eccentric bearings so that they cycled about in a more or less convincing churn, had been arranged in many parallel, independently moving ranks, marching toward the back of the room, and raked upwards so that any spectator on the ballroom floor could get a view of the entire width of the "Channel" from "Dunkerque" (a fortified silhouette downstage) to "Dover" (white cliffs and green fields upstage). To stage left was a little pen where a consort sawed away on viols. To stage right was a royal box where King Louis XIV of France sat on a golden chair, with the Marquise de Maintenon at his right hand, dressed more for a funeral than a Christmas party. A retinue was massed behind them. So close to the front of it that he could have put a hand on Maintenon's shoulder was Father 'Edouard de Gex—this a way of saying that there had better be no salacious bits. Not that Madame la duchesse d'Arcachon would ever even conceive of such a thing; but she had hired artists and comedians to produce it, and one never knew what such people would come up with.

The name of the production was La M'etamorphose. Leading man and guest of honor was one Lieutenant Jean Bart, who knew as little of what to do on stage, during a masque, as would a comedian in a naval engagement; but never mind, it had all been written around him and his dramaturgickal shortcomings. The opening number took place on the beach at Dunkerque. A mermaid, perched on a rock, looked on as Jean Bart and his men (dancers dressed as Corsairs) attended an impromptu Mass celebrated on the beach. Exit Priest. Jean Bart led his men onto their frigate (which was no larger than a rowboat, but wittily decked out with masts and yards sprouting every which way, and fleur-de-lis banners). The frigate took to the Channel's bobbing waves and headed for England. The mermaid, stranded solus downstage right, sang an aria about her lovesick condition; for she had quite fallen in love with the handsome Lieutenant (in an earlier version, there had been no Mass on the beach; it had opened with Jean Bart spawled on the rock in a state of deshabille and the mermaid feeding grapes to him; but the Duchess had had words with the players, and mended it).

Neptune now arose from the waves and sang a duet with the mermaid, his daughter. He wanted to know why she was so morose. Learning the answer, he became cross with Jean Bart and vowed to take revenge on him in the traditional godly style of subjecting him to an inconvenient metamorphosis.

In the next scene, Jean Bart's frigate did battle with a larger English one, and there was a lot of swinging from ropes and fake swordplay, which Bart did very well. Just as he was about to grasp the laurels of victory, angry Neptune appeared and, with a thrust of his trident and a roar of kettledrums, transformed Bart into a cat (effected by Bart's putting on a mask while everyone was distracted by the histrionics of the sea-god). Because cats cannot give orders and are averse to water, this threw his men into disarray and they were all captured by the English.

The next scene took place far upstage, on the English shore, where the French sailors were pent up in a prison in Plymouth, gazing out barred windows across the Channel and pining, at considerable length, for France. This was by far the dullest part of the production and gave many a Countess an opportunity to powder her nose; but the upshot was that the mermaid, hearing their dirge, and spying the valiant French corsairs imprisoned through no fault of their own, begged her father to undo the spell he had laid on Jean Bart. Which was grudgingly done, though not until Bart, in his smaller, feline form, had slipped out between the bars of his cell and scampered onto the beach. Changed back into a man, he climbed into a rowboat, shoved it off the beach of Plymouth, and rowed to France.

When Jean Bart had achieved this feat for real, a few months ago, it had taken him fifty-two hours. That was compressed into about a quarter of an hour here. The passage of two days, two nights, and four hours was suggested as follows: Apollo, in a golden chariot suspended from an overhead track by wires, appeared low in the east (stage left); traversed the entire stage in a great arc, singing an aria all the while; and set low in the west (stage right) just as his sister Diana was being launched from stage left in a silver chariot. When she set in the west, Apollo reappeared (for his chariot had been unhooked and rushed around the back of the ch^ateau) at stage left again, and sang through the second day of Jean Bart's epic row. Then Diana sang through the second night. During the first day and night, Apollo and Diana respectively mocked the poor figure below them, refusing to believe at first that anyone would have the stupid-ity or hubris to row a boat from Plymouth to France. During the second day and night, they literally changed their tunes: Astounded to see that Jean Bart was still alive, and still hauling on those oars, they began to sing his praises and to cheer him on.

It concluded at the end of the second night with Diana setting at stage right, Apollo rising at the left, and Jean Bart center stage, desperately trying to row the last mile or so to freedom. Apollo and Diana sang a duet, urging him on; and finally Neptune (who had perhaps had enough of their caterwauling) popped out of the waves, sang an additional stanza about what a magnificent chap Jean Bart was, and, raising his trident, ordered that the waves of the sea escort this hero safely back to shore. Which they did, in the form of four dancers painted blue and wearing foamy white caps.

Even this audience, which included some of the most jaded and cynical persons on the face of the earth, could hardly keep a dry eye as Jean Bart finally staggered up onto the beach where it had all started, accompanied by a flood tide of patriotic music; but just as the party-goers were erupting in an ovation, yet another god descended from the rafters, dressed in gold, brandishing a lightning-bolt, and crowned with a laurel-wreath: yes, Jupiter himself, but all bedizened with French touches to make of him a hybrid of France with the King of the Gods; or rather, to imply that there was no substantive difference. Apollo, Diana, and Neptune were amazed, and did obeisance; the insouciant Jean Bart favored Jupiter with a courtly Versailles bow. Jupiter had come to make his ruling, which was that Jean Bart did indeed deserve to be subjected to a metamorphosis: but of a rather different sort than being turned into a cat. He handed down a package in golden paper, crowned with a laurel wreath, and Mercury took it from his hand, pranced about for a while in a gratuitous solo, and delivered it to Jean Bart, setting the laurel wreath on Bart's head. Lieutenant Bart opened the package. Out tumbled a bolt of red. He held it up, and it unfurled: the long red coat and red breeches of a Captain in the French Navy.

The rigging that held the various Gods and Goddesses in the firmament now went into creaking and groaning movement, pulling those Olympian figures up or away so that Jean Bart was left alone on the stage to receive an ovation from the crowd. He hugged the uniform to his chest, turned stage right, and bowed very low to the King. This caused the laurel wreath to fall from his head. He snatched it just before it struck the floor and everyone in the room said, "Oh!" at once. Then, seized by an idea, he straightened up and tossed the wreath directly at Louis XIV, who did not fail to catch it. Everyone in the room said, "Ah!" The King, not the least bit discomposed, raised the laurel to his lips and kissed it, eliciting a great cheer from the assembled nobles of Versailles. For that moment, everything in France was perfect.


MUCH MORE HAPPENED at the soir'ee, but it all felt like an afterthought to the masque. Captain Jean Bart lost no time changing into his red uniform; then he danced all night, with every lady in the house. Eliza for once in her life was flummoxed by the intensity of the competition; for in order to dance with Captain Bart, one had to be asked by him, which meant that one had to be able to see, or at least hear him; and at the end of each number the man in red was immediately walled up in a rampart of pretty silk and satin gowns, as all of the hopeful girls—most of whom were taller than Bart—crowded around him, hoping to catch his eye. Eliza was petite and hopelessly shut out. Moreover, she had some obligations as hostess. The Duchess had granted her leave to add some names to the guest list. Eliza had invited four minor courtiers and their wives: all petty nobles of northern France who had loaned money to the Treasury and built fortifications along the Channel coast. They had done so precisely in the hope that it would lead to their being invited to parties such as this one. Now their schemes had come to fruition; but they looked to Eliza to manage some of the details, such as introductions. Each of them had recently had an audience with Pontchartrain and received a loan document similar to Eliza's, albeit with a smaller amount inscribed upon it; each now phant'sied that this would entitle him to spend the entire evening following Pontchartrain around as full and equal participant in any conversation the contr^oleur-g'en'eral might become engaged in. In order to remain in the Count's good graces, Eliza had to track them around the ch^ateau and snatch them away on some pretext or other whenever they started to annoy their betters. This was work enough for a single evening; but, too, it was expected that she would dance at least twice with 'Etienne, as his titular girlfriend. And since she had jerked him off in the sleigh, it would have been poor form not to dance at least one time with Rossignol.

Rossignol danced like a cryptanalyst: perfectly, but with little self-expression. "You did not understand the soap conversation," he said to her.

"Monsieur, was it that obvious? Please explain it to me!"

"During the time of the poisonings, ten years ago, where do you suppose all of those ambitious courtiers got their arsenic? Not by their own labors certainly, for they are helpless in practical matters. Not from Alchemists, for those style themselves holy men. Who, other than Alchemists, has mortars and pestles, vats, retorts, and ways of getting exotic ingredients?

"Soap-makers!" Eliza exclaimed, and felt herself blushing.

"Some laundresses wore gloves in those days," said Rossignol, "because their mistresses would have them go into Paris and buy soap that was loaded with arsenic. They would wash the husband's clothing in that soap, and he would absorb the poison through his skin. And so for a Duchess to make her own soap, on her own estate, is more than just a quaint tradition. It is a way for her to protect herself and those she loves. When she offers you, mademoiselle, the use of her soap, and of her laundry, it means two things: first, that she has true affection for you, and second, that she fears someone might wish you ill."

Eliza could not speak. She scanned the crowd over Rossignol's shoulder for a glimpse of d'Avaux, and, not finding him, forced Rossignol to spin around so that she could see the other half of the room.

"I beg your pardon, but which one of us is leading, my lady?" asked Rossignol. "Who is it you look for? You think of someone who wishes you ill? Do not be too sure of your first assumptions—that is a common error in cryptanalysis."

"Do you know who—?"

"If I did I should tell you at once, if for no other reason than that I should enjoy another sleigh-ride some day. But no, mademoiselle, I cannot guess who it is that the Duchess is so worried about."

"Excuse me, but may I break in?" said a man's voice behind Eliza.

"We are in the middle of something!" Eliza snapped; for men had been pestering her all night. But Rossignol had stopped dancing. He released his grip on Eliza, backed away one step, and bowed deep.

Eliza spun around to see King Louis XIV acknowledging the bow with a warm look. He loved his codebreaker.

"But of course you are, mademoiselle," said the King of France, "when my two most intelligent subjects put their heads together and converse, why, pourquoi non, how could they not be in the middle of something? But your expressions are so grave! It does not befit a Christmas celebration!" He had caught Eliza's hand somehow, and drawn her into the pattern of the dance. Eliza was no more capable of intelligent speech than she had been a minute ago.

"I have much to thank you for," said Louis XIV.

"Oh, no, your majesty, for—"

"Has no one ever told you that to contradict the King is not done?"

"I beg your pardon, your majesty—"

"Monsieur Rossignol has told me that you did a favor for my sister-in-law last autumn," said the King. "Or perhaps it was for the Prince of Orange; this is not clear."

Something now occurred that had only happened to Eliza a few times in her life: She lost consciousness, or close to it. A like thing had happened when she and her mother had been dragged off of the beach in Qwghlm and loaded into the longboat of the Barbary Corsairs. It had happened again, some years later, when she had been taken down to the waterfront of Algiers and traded to the Sultan in Constantinople for a white stallion—taken from her mother without even being given the opportunity to say good-bye. And a third time beneath the Emperor's palace in Vienna, when she'd been queued up with a string of other odalisques to be put to the sword. On none of these occasions had she actually crumpled to the ground. Neither did she now. But she might have, if Louis XIV, who was a big man, graceful and strong, had not kept an arm firmly about her waist.

"Come back to me," he was saying—and not, she guessed, for the first time. "There. You are back. I see it in your face. What is it you fear so much? Have you been threatened by someone? Tell me who has done it, then."

"No one in particular, your majesty. The Prince of Orange—"

"Yes? What did he do?"

"I should not tell you what he did; but he said I must spy for him or he would put me on a ship to Nagasaki, for the amusement of the sailors."

"Ah. You should have told me this immediately."

"That—my failure to be perfectly frank with you—is truly the source of my fear, your majesty, for I am not without guilt."

"I know this. Tell me, mademoiselle. What drives you to make such decisions? What is it you want?"

"To find the man who wronged me, and kill him." In truth, Eliza had not thought about this for so long that the idea sounded strange to her ears, even as it came from her lips; but she said it with conviction, and liked the sound of it.

"Certain things you have done have pleased me immensely. The ‘Fall of Batavia.' The loan of your fortune. Bringing Jean Bart to Versailles. Your recent efforts for the Compagnie du Nord. Others, such as the matter of the spying, displease me—though now I understand better. It is good that we have had this conversation."

Eliza blinked, looked around, and understood that the music had stopped, and everyone was looking at them.

"Thank you, mademoiselle," said the King, and bowed.

Eliza curtseyed.

"Your majesty—" she said, but he was gone, engulfed by the mobile Court, a school of expensively cinched waists and teased wigs.

Eliza went into a corner to get coffee and to think. People were following her—her own little Court of petty nobles and suitors. She did not precisely ignore, because she did not really notice, them.

What had happened? She needed a personal stenographer, so that she could have the transcript read back to her.

She had inadvertently given the King the wrong idea.

"Do you enjoy the soir'ee, my lady?"

It was Father 'Edouard de Gex.

"Indeed, Father, though I confess I do miss that little orphan—he stole my heart in the weeks we were together."

"Then you may have a little piece of your heart back any time you wish to visit. Monsieur le comte d'Avaux was at pains to make certain that the infant was comfortably housed. He predicted that you would be a frequent caller."

"I am indebted to the Count."

"We all are," said de Gex. "Little Jean-Jacques is a splendid boy. I look in on him whenever I have a moment. I hope to complete what you have begun, and d'Avaux has carried forward."

"And that is—what precisely?"

"You snatched the lad from death physical—the war—and spiritual—the doctrines of the heretics. D'Avaux saw to it he was placed in the best orphanage in France, under the care of the Society of Jesus. To me, it seems that the natural culmination is that I should raise him up into a Jesuit."

"I see, yes…" said Eliza dreamily, "so that the little Lavardac bastard does not create further complications by breeding."

"I beg your pardon, my lady?"

"Please forgive me, I am not myself!"

"I should hope not!" De Gex was actually blushing. Which wreaked a great change for the better on his face. He was dark, with prominent bones in the cheeks and nose, and had it in him to be handsome; but usually he was very pale from too many hours spent in dark confessionals listening to the secret sins of the court. With some pink in his cheeks he was suddenly almost fetching.

"Please," Eliza said, "I am still flustered by the memory of dancing with the King."

"Of course, my lady. But when you have gathered your wits, and remembered your manners, my cousine would like to renew her acquaintance with you." He leveled his burning gaze at a corner where the duchesse d'Oyonnax was smiling into the eyes of some poor young Viscount who had no idea what he was getting into.

De Gex took his leave.

She had spoken the truth to the King. For on the day she'd been swapped for the albino stallion, and loaded on a galley for Constantinople, she'd made a vow that one day she would find the man who was responsible for her and Mummy being slaves in the first place, and kill him. She had never divulged this to anyone, except Jack Shaftoe; but now, unaccountably, she had blurted it out to the King. She had done so with utmost conviction, for it really was true; and he had seen the look on her face, and believed every word.

"I have much work to do tomorrow, thanks to you, mademoiselle."

It was Pontchartrain, again favoring her with a benign smile.

"How so, monsieur?"

"The King was so moved by the story of Jean Bart's heroism that he has directed me to release funds for the Navy, and for the Compagnie du Nord. I am to attend his lev'ee tomorrow, so that we may sort out the details."

"Then I shall not detain you any later, monsieur."

"Good night, mademoiselle."

The King thought she was referring to William of Orange. She had made some reference to William—again, if only she had a transcript!—and a moment later she had changed the subject and said she wanted to find the man who had wronged her, and kill him—and the King had put those two truths together to make a falsehood: his majesty now believed that Eliza's goal in life was to assassinate William! That she had spied on William's behalf only as a ruse so that she could get close to him.

She spun around, hoping to find the King, to get his attention, to explain all—but found herself looking into the face of a man dressed all in red. Jean Bart, putting his corsair skills to use, had hacked his way through a throng of female admirers to reach Eliza. "Mademoiselle," he said, "Madame la duchesse has announced that this is to be the last dance. If I might have the honor?"

She let her hand float up and he took it. "Normally, of course, I should make way for 'Etienne d'Arcachon in such a case," he explained, in case Eliza had been wondering about this—which she hadn't. "But he is outside, bidding farewell to the King."

"The King's leaving?"

"Is already in his carriage, mademoiselle."

"Oh. I had been hoping to say something to him."

"You and everyone else in France!" They were dancing now. Bart was amused. "You have already danced with his majesty! Mademoiselle, there are women in this room who have sacrificed babies in the Black Mass hoping to conjure up a single word, or a glance, from the King! You should be satisfied—"

"I don't want to hear about such things," Eliza said. "It makes me cross that you would even mention such horrors. You have been drinking, Captain Bart."

"You are right and I am wrong. I shall make it up to you: As it happens, I shall see the King in a few hours—I have been summoned to his lev'ee! We will discuss naval finance. Is there anything you would like me to pass on to his majesty?"

What could she say? I don't really mean to kill William of Orange was not the sort of message she could ask Captain Bart to blurt out at the lev'ee; nor was I don't really know precisely who it is I mean to kill.

"It is sweet of you to offer and I do forgive you. Does the King talk much at his lev'ees, I wonder?"

"How should I know? Ask me tomorrow. Why?"

"Does he gossip, tell stories? I am curious. For I told him something, just now, that, if it were to get around, would make me very unpopular in England."

"Pfft!" said Jean Bart, and rolled his eyes, dispensing with the entire subject of England.

"Do ask the King one thing for me, please."

"Only name it, mademoiselle."

"The name of a physician who is good down here." She let her hand slide down a few inches and patted him. She did it with exquisite caution. But nonetheless Jean Bart yelped and jumped, his face split open in agony. Eliza gasped and jumped back in horror; but his grimace relaxed into a smile, and he lunged after her and snared her back, for he was only joking.

"I have already been to see such a physician."

"That is good," said Eliza, still laughing, "for I would see you sit down before you go home."

"Fifty-two hours of rowing did its damage, this is true; but this physician has been at my arse with all manner of poultices, and unmentionable procedures, and I am healing well. And this is the best bandage of all!" brushing some lint from the epaulet of his new red coat.

"If only all wounds could be healed by putting on new clothes, monsieur!"

"Don't all women believe this to be true?"

"Sometimes they behave as if they did, Captain Bart. Perhaps I simply have not picked out the right dress yet."

"Then you should go shopping tomorrow!"

"It is a fine thought, Captain. But first I need some money. And as there is none in France, you must go out to sea and capture some gold for me."

"Consider it done! I owe it to you!"

"Try to keep that in mind tomorrow, Jean Bart."


JANUARY–FEBUARY 1690

Mademoiselle de la Zeur,

Thank you for yours of December '89. It took some time crossing the Channel, and I daresay this shall fare no better. I was touched by your expression of concern, and amused by the narrative of the timber. I had not appreciated how fortunate England is in this respect, for if we want timber in London, we need only denude some part of Scotland or Ireland where a few trees still stand.

I would be of help to you in your quest to understand money, if for no other reason than that I would understand it myself. But I am perfectly useless. Our money has been wretched for as long as I have been alive. When it is so bad, it is no easy matter to discern when it is getting worse; but hard as it might be to believe, this seems to be occurring. I was bedridden for some months following the removal of my Stone, and did not have to go out and buy things. But when I had recovered sufficiently that I could venture out once again, I found it clearly worse. Or perhaps the long time spent not having to haggle over daily purchases, lifted the scales from my eyes, so that the absurdity of the situation was made clear to me.

I keep running accounts at several coffee-houses, pubs, and a bottle-ale house in my street, so that every small purchase need not be attended by a tedious and irksome transfer of coin. Many who go out more often than I do have formed together into societies, called Clubbs, which facilitate purchase of food, drink, snuff, pipe-tobacco, &c., on credit. When, through some miracle, one comes into possession of coins recognizable as such, one runs out and tries to settle one's more important accounts. The system staggers along. People do not know any better.

Here we have Whigs and Tories now. In essence these are, respectively, Roundheads and Cavaliers, under new guises, and less heavily armed. Tories get their money from the land that they own. To simplify matters greatly, one might say that France is a country consisting entirely of Tories; for all of the money there derives ultimately from the land. You might have had Whigs too, if you'd not expelled the Huguenots. And some of your Atlantic seaports are said to be a bit Whiggish. But as I said, I am over-simplifying to make a point: If you understand how money works in France, then you know everything about our Tories. And if you understand how it works in Amsterdam, then you know our Whigs.

The Royal Society dwindles, and may not last to the end of the century. It no longer enjoys the favor of the King as it did under Charles II. In those days it was a force for revolution, in the new meaning of that word; but it succeeded so well that it has become conventional. The sorts of men who, having no other outlet for their ideas, would have devoted their lives to it, had they come of age when I did, may now make careers in the City, the Colonies, or in foreign adventures. We of the Royal Society are generally identified as Whigs. Our President is the Marquis of Ravenscar, a very powerful Whig, and he has been assiduous in finding ways to harness the ingenuity of the Fellows of the Royal Society for practical ends. Some of these, I gad, have to do with money, revenue, banks, stocks, and other subjects that fascinate you. But I must confess I have fallen quite out of touch with such matters.

Isaac Newton was elected to Parliament a year ago, in the wake of our Revolution. He had made a name for himself in Cambridge opposing the former King's efforts to salt the University with Jesuits. He spent much of the last year in London, to the dismay of those of us who would prefer to see him turn out more work in the vein of Principia Mathematica. He and your friend Fatio have become the closest of companions, and share lodgings here.

POST-SCRIPT—FEB. 1690

After I wrote the above, but before I could post this, King William and Queen Mary prorogued and dissolved Parliament. There have been new elections and the Tories have won. Isaac Newton is no longer M.P. He divides his time between Cambridge, where he toils on Alchemy, and London, where he and Fatio are reading Treatise on Light by our friend and erstwhile dinner-companion Huygens. All of which is to say that I am now even more useless to you than I was a month ago; for I am in a failing Society linked to a Party that has lost power and that has no money, there being none in the kingdom to be had. Our most brilliant Fellow devotes himself to other matters. It were presumptuous of me to expect a reply to a letter as devoid of useful content as this one; but it would have been insolent of me to have failed to respond to yours; for I am, as always, your humble and obedient servant—

Daniel Waterhouse


APRIL 1690

NEWTON would have us believe that Time is stepped out by the ticking of God's pocket-watch, steady, immutable, an absolute measure of all sensible movements. LEIBNIZ inclines toward the view that Time is nothing more nor less than the change of objects' relationships to one another—that movements, observed, enable us to detect Time, and not the other way round. NEWTON has laid out his system to the satisfaction, nay, amazement of the world, and I can find no fault in it; yet the system of LEIBNIZ, though not yet written out, more aptly describes my own subjective experience of Time. Which is to say that during the autumn of last year, when I and all around me were in continual motion, I had the impression that much Time was passing. But once I reached Versailles, and settled into lodgings at my cottage on the domain of La Dunette, on the hill of Satory above Versailles, and got my household affairs in order, and established a routine, suddenly four months flew by.

The purpose for which I was sent to Versailles, early in December, was accomplished before Christmas, and all since then has been tending to details. I should probably return to Dunkerque, where I could be more useful. But I am held here by various ties which only grow stronger with time. Every morning I ride down the hill through a little belt of woods, just to the south of the Pi`ece d'eau des Suisses, that separates the land of the Lavardacs from the royal domain of Versailles. This takes me down into the old hamlet of Versailles, outside the walls of the palace, which is growing up into a village. Diverse monasteries, nunneries, and a parish church have taken root there since the King moved his court to this place some eight years ago, and in one of them, the Convent of Sainte-Genevieve, my little "orphan" boy makes his home. If weather is good, I take him for a perambulation around the King's vegetable-garden: a limb of the gardens of Versailles that is thrust forth into the middle of the town. Being a working garden, whose purpose is to produce food, this is not as formal or as fashionable as the parterres west of the Ch^ateau. But there is more here for little eyes to see and little hands to grasp, especially now that spring is coming. The gardeners are forever mending their trellises in expectation that peas and beans will climb up them in a few months; and to judge by the thoughtful way that little Jean-Jacques gazes upon these structures, he will be clambering up them like a little squirrel even before he has learned how to walk. Sometimes too we will go a little farther, into the Orangerie, which is an immense vaulted gallery wrapped around three sides of a rectangular garden, and open to the south so that its glazed walls can capture the warmth of the winter sun, and store it in stone. Tiny orange trees grow here in wooden boxes, waiting for summer to come so that the gardeners can move them out of doors, and Jean-Jacques is fascinated by the green globes that are to be found among their dark leaves.

In due time I bring him back to Ste.-Genevieve's for an appointment with a wet-nurse. You might think that I would then go directly to the Ch^ateau to immerse myself in Court doings. But more often than not I turn around and ride back up through the Bois de Satory to La Dunette, where I tend to various affairs. In my early months here, these were of a financial, but now they are more of a social, nature. Note, however, that La Dunette is no farther away from the King's great Ch^ateau than is the Trianon Palace or many other parts of the royal domain, and so it does not feel like a separate place from Versailles, but more of an out-building of the King's estate. This illusion is strengthened by the architecture, which was done by the same fellow who designed the King's Ch^ateau.

The grounds of La Dunette spread across the Plateau of Satory, a hilltop that extends southwards from the wooded brow of a rise that overlooks the Pi`ece d'eau des Suisses and the south wing of the King's Ch^ateau. This land is hidden by the woods from direct view of the Dauphin, the Dauphine, and other royals who dwell in the palace's south wing. But once that screen of trees has been penetrated, the domain of the de Lavardacs resembles in every way the much larger Royal gardens down the hill. This means that it is divided up, here and there, by great pompous stone walls, with massive iron grilles set into them from place to place; and those walls terminate in brick cottages, which I suppose are meant to recall guardhouses. In fact they have no practical purpose whatever that I can discern. They are there because they look good, like the knobs on the ends of a banister. The domaine of La Dunette contains four such cottages. Two are unfinished on the inside, and one is having its roof replaced. I live in the fourth. There is just enough room in it for my little household. It is tucked in under the eave of the woods of Satory so that I can duck out the back door and ride down into Versailles whenever I please without having to traverse any of the gravel paths that radiate from the main ch^ateau of La Dunette. I do so frequently, going down to the palace for a dinner-party or to attend the couch'ee of some Duchess or Princess. And so my existence here is independent of the de Lavardacs for the most part. However, at least once a week I go to the main residence to have dinner with 'Etienne under the supervision of Madame la duchesse d'Arcachon.

M. le duc d'Arcachon I have never met. During my earlier life at Versailles, as a governess, I saw him from a distance a few times, surrounded by other big-wigs, but my social standing was so mean that there was no circumstance under which I could have met him. Later my status was elevated; but he was in "the South" tending to business of some nature. He was at Versailles through much of 1689, while I was absent; then he went back into "the South" a few weeks before I came there in December. He was supposed to be back for Christmas; but one thing and then another has kept him away. A few times a week Madame la duchesse receives a letter from Marseille, where M. le duc is looking after the galleys of the Mediterranean fleet; or Lyon, where he is meeting with the King's money-men, and acquiring victuals, powder, &c; or Arcachon, where he is looking after Lavardac family affairs; or Brest, where he is responsible for shipment of men and mat'eriel to the forces in Ireland. Madame la duchesse always replies on the same day, hoping her letter shall catch him before he has moved on to some other port. This has happened often enough that M. le duc has learned a little bit about me and my activities, or lack thereof, here; and lately he has begun writing to me personally at the cottage. It seems that I am to be useful to this family in some way other than as an eligible belle for 'Etienne. The Duc has recently become involved in some sort of momentous transaction that is in the offing down south, and that he expects to yield a large quantity of hard money when it comes off, which is expected to occur late in the summer. To report any more than this would be indiscreet, but if I am reading his most recent letter correctly, he wishes me to look after certain of the details: a large transfer of metal through Lyon.

So at last I shall have something to do, and can expect the passage of time to slow down again, as I go into violent movement, and change my relations with all around me.

Eliza, Countess de la Zeur


MID-JULY 1690

LA DUNETTE MEANT "POOP DECK," the high place on a ship's stern-castle from which the captain could see everything. The name had come to Louis-Francois de Lavardac, duc d'Arcachon, some twelve years earlier, as he had stood upon the brow of the hill, peering, between two denuded trees, across the frozen bog that would later become the Pi`ece d'eau des Suisses, at the southern flanks of the stupendous construction site that would shortly become the royal palace of Louis XIV.

The King got things built more quickly than anyone else, partly because he had the Army to help him and partly because he hired all of the qualified builders. And so La Dunette was still nothing more than an empty stretch of high ground with a clever name when le Roi had given his cousin, the duc d'Arcachon, a personal tour of the palace. They had lingered particularly in the Queen's Apartments: a row of bedchambers, antechambers, and salons that stretched between the Peace drawing-room and the King's guardroom on the upper storey of the palace's southern wing. The King and the Duke had strolled up and down the length of those apartments once, twice, thrice, pausing before each of the high windows to enjoy the view across the Parterre Sud, and the Orangerie below it to the rise of the Bois de Satory a mile away. The duc d'Arcachon had, in the fullness of time, perceived what the King had wished him to perceive, which was that any buildings erected on or near the crest of the hill would spoil the Queen's view, and give her the feeling that the de Lavardacs were peering down into her bedroom windows. And so a great pile of expensive architectural drawings had been used to start fires in the H^otel d'Arcachon in Paris, and the duc had hired the great Hardouin-Mansart and implored him to design a ch^ateau altogether magnificent—but invisible from the Queen's windows. Mansart had situated it well back from the crest of the hill. Consequently, from the windows of the ch^ateau of La Dunette proper, the view was limited. But Mansart had laid out a promenade that swung out along a lobe of the garden and led to a gazebo, perched demurely on the brink of the hill, and camouflaged with climbing vines. From there the prospect was superb.

Before dinner was served, the Duke and Duchess of Arcachon invited their guests—twenty-six in all—to stroll out to the gazebo, enjoy the breeze (for the day was warm), and take in the view of the Royal Ch^ateau of Versailles, its gardens, and its waterways. From this distance it was difficult to make out individuals and impossible to hear voices, but large groups were obvious. Out in the town, beyond the Place d'Armes, the Franciscans had lit a bonfire before their monastery and were dancing around it in a circle; from time to time, a few notes of their song would blow past on a slip of breeze. Another revel was underway along the Grand Canal, a mile-long slot of water stretching away from the Ch^ateau along the central axis of the King's garden. From here, it was a milling mob of wigs. Even the stable-hands out in the Place d'Armes had got a bonfire going, which had attracted hundreds of commoners: townspeople, servants of Versailles and nearby villas, and country folk who had seen the pillars of smoke and heard the pealing of bells, and come in to find out what all the excitement was about. Many of these probably had only the haziest of ideas as to who William of Orange was and why it was good that he was dead; but this did not hold them back from lusty celebration.

'Etienne d'Arcachon raised his glass, and silenced the little crowd around the gazebo. "To toast the death of the Prince of Orange



5 AUGUST 1690

The Spaniards tho' an indolent Nation, whose Colonies were really so rich, so great, and so far extended, as were enough even to glut their utmost Avarice; yet gave not over, till, as it were, they sat still, because they had no more Worlds to look for; or till at least, there were no more Gold or Silver Mines to discover.

—DANIEL DEFOE, A Plan of the English Commerce

WITH ONE EYE JACK peered through his oar-lock across the gulf. He was looking edge-on through a slab of dry heat that lay dead on the water, as liquefacted glass rides above molten tin in a glass-maker's pan. On a low flat shore, far away, white cabals of ghosts huddled and leaped, colossal and formless. None of the slaves quite knew what to make of it until they crawled in closer to shore, a cockroach on a skillet, and perceived that this Gulf was lined with vast salt-pans, and the salt had been raked up into cones and hillocks and step-pyramids by workers who were invisible from here. When they understood this, their thirst nearly slew them. They had been rowing hard for days.

Cadiz was a shiv of rock thrust into the gulf. White buildings had grown up from it like the reaching fingers of rock crystals. They put into a quay that extended from the base of its sea-wall, and took on more fresh water; for one of the ways that the Corsairs kept them on a leash was by making sure that the boat was always short of it. But the Spanish harbor-master did not suffer them to stay for very long, because (as they saw when they came around the point) the lagoon sheltered in the crook of the city's bony arm was crowded with a fleet of Ships that Jack would have thought most remarkable, if he had never seen Amsterdam. They were mostly big slab-sided castle-arsed ships, checkered with gun-ports. Jack had never seen a Spanish treasure-galleon in good repair before—off Jamaica he had spied the wrack of one slumped over a reef. In any event, he had no trouble recognizing these. "We have not arrived too early," he said, "and so the only question that remains is, have we arrived too late?"

He and Moseh de la Cruz, Vrej Esphahnian, and Gabriel Goto were all looking to one another for answers, and somehow they all ended up looking to Otto van Hoek. "I smell raw cotton," he said. Then he stood up and looked out over the gunwale and up into the city. "And I see cargadores toting bales of it into the warehouses of the Genoese. Cotton, being bulky, would be the first cargo to come off the ships. So they cannot have dropped anchor very long ago."

"Still, it is likely we are too late—surely the Viceroy's brig would waste no time in going to Bonanza and unloading?" This from the ra"is or captain, Nasr al-Ghur'ab.

"It depends," van Hoek said. "Of these anchored fleet-ships, only some are beginning to unload—most have not broken bulk yet. This suggests that the customs inspections are not finished. What do you see to larboard, Caballero?"

Jeronimo was peering towards the anchored fleet through an oar-lock on his side. "Tied up alongside one of the great ships is a barque flying the glorious colors of His Majesty the Deformed, Monstrous Imbecile." Then he paused to mutter a little prayer and cross himself. When Jeronimo attemped to say the words "King Carlos II of Spain," this, or even less flattering expressions, would frequently come out of his mouth. "More than likely, this is the boat used by the tapeworms."

"You mean the customs inspectors?" Moseh inquired.

"Yes, you bloodsucking, scalp-pilfering, half-breed Christ-killer, that is what I meant to say—please forgive my imprecision," answered Jeronimo politely.

"But the Viceroy's brig would not have to clear customs here at Cadiz—it could do so at Sanl'ucar de Barrameda, and avoid the wait," Moseh pointed out.

"But as part of his ransackings, the Viceroy would be certain to have cargo of his own loaded on some of these galleons. He would have every reason to linger until the formalities were complete," Jeronimo said.

"Hah! Now I can see up into the Calle Nueva," said van Hoek. "It is gaudy with silks and ostrich-plumes today."

"What is that," Jack asked, "the street of clothes-merchants?"

"No, it is the exchange. Half the commercants of Christendom are gathered there in their French fashions. Last year these men shipped goods to America—now, they have gathered to collect their profits."

"I see her," said Jeronimo, with a frosty calm in his voice that Jack found moderately alarming. "She is hidden behind a galleon, but I see the Viceroy's colors flying from her mast."

"The brig!?" said several of the Ten.

"The brig," said Jeronimo. "Providence—which buggered us all for so many years—has brought us here in time."

"So the thunder that rolled across the Gulf last night was not a storm, but the guns of Cadiz saluting the galleons," Moseh said. "Let us drink fresh water, and take a siesta, and then make for Bonanza."

"It would be useful if we could send someone into the city now, and let him loiter around the House of the Golden Mercury for a while," van Hoek said. Which to Jack would have meant no more than the singing of birds, except that the name jogged a memory.

"There is a house in Leipzig of the same name—it is owned by the Hacklhebers."

Van Hoek said, "As salmon converge from all the wide ocean toward the mouths of swift rivers, Hacklhebers go wherever large amounts of gold and silver are in flux."

"Why should we care about their doings in Cadiz?"

"Because they are sure to care about ours," van Hoek said.

"Be that as it may, there's not a single man, free or slave, aboard this galleot who could get through the city-gate. So this discussion is idle," said Moseh.

"You think it will be any different at Sanl'ucar de Barrameda?" van Hoek scoffed.

"Oh, I can get us into that town, Cap'n," Jack said.


AFTER THE HEAT of midday had broken, they rowed north, keeping the salt-pans to starboard. Their ship was a galleot or half-galley, driven by two lateen sails (which were of little use today, as the wind was feeble and inconstant) and sixteen pairs of oars. Each of the thirty-two oars was pulled by two men, so the full complement of rowers was sixty-four. Like everything else about the Plan, this was a choice carefully made. A giant war-galley of Barbary, with two dozen oar-banks, and five or six slaves on each oar, and a hundred armed Corsairs crowding the rails, would of course bring down the wrath of the Spanish fleet as soon as she was sighted. Smaller galleys, called bergantines, carried only a third as many oarsmen as the galleot that they were now rowing across the Gulf of Cadiz. But on such a tiny vessel it was infeasible, or at least unprofitable, to maintain oar-slaves, and so the rowers would be freemen; rowing alongside a larger ship they'd snatch up cutlasses and pistols and go into action as Corsairs. A bergantine, for that reason, would arouse more suspicion than this (much larger) galleot; it would be seen as a nimble platform for up to three dozen boarders, whereas the galleot's crew (not counting chained slaves) was much smaller—in this case, only eight Corsairs, pretending to be peaceful traders.

The galleot was shaped like a gunpowder scoop. Beneath the bare feet of the oarsmen there was loose planking, covering a shallow bilge, but other than that there was no decking—the vessel was open on the top along its entire length, save for a quarterdeck at the stern, which in the typical style of these vessels was curved very high out of the water. So any lookout gazing down into the galleot would clearly see a few dozen naked wretches in chains, and cargo packed around and under their benches: rolled carpets, bundles of hides and of linen, barrels of dates and olive oil. A spindly swivel-gun at the bow, and another at the stern, both fouled by lines and cargo, completed the illusion that the galleot was all but helpless. It would take a closer inspection to reveal that the oarsmen were uncommonly strong and fresh: the best that the slave-markets of Algiers had to offer. The ten participants in the Plan were distributed in outboard positions, the better to peer through oarlocks.

"In this calm we'll have at least a night and a day to await the Viceroy's ship," Jack noted.

"Much hangs on the tides," van Hoek said. "We want a low tide in the night-time. And the weather must remain calm, so that we can row away from any pursuers during the hours of darkness. At sunrise the wind will come up, and then anyone who can see us will be able to catch us…" His voice trailed off to a mumble as he pondered these and other complications, which had seemed hardly worth mentioning when they had been developing the Plan, and now, like shadows at sunset, stretched out vast, vague, and terrifying.

The brassy light of late afternoon was gleaming in through their larboard oar-locks when the galleot sank slightly lower into the water, and began to quiver and squirm in a current. At first they did not even recognize it—this was the first river of any significance they'd encountered since passing Gibraltar, or for that matter since leaving Algiers. Jack knew in his arms and his back why the Moors who'd roved up this way ages ago had named it al-Wadi al-Kabir, the Great River. When Jeronimo felt it tugging at his oar, he stood up and thrust an arm through his oar-lock to clip the top of a wave with one cupped hand. Slurping up a mouthful of water, he coughed, and then affected a blissful expression. "It is fresh water, the water of the Guadalquivir, rushing down from the mountains of my ancestors," he announced, and more in that vein. During this ceremony his oar did not move, which meant that no oars on that side could.

"Speaking personally," Jack said loudly, "I have more experience of sewers than of mountain streams, and cannot believe we have come all this distance to row in circles in the run-off of Seville and Cordoba!"

Jeronimo thrust out his chest and prepared to challenge Jack to a duel—but then the nerf du boeuf came down across the Spaniard's shoulder blades as their overseer reminded them that they were yet slaves. Jack wondered how long it would take Jeronimo to get into a sword-fight after he was allowed to have a sword.

The next few hours provided more reminders of their lowly station in the world as they stroked upstream with the sun clawing at their faces. Van Hoek cursed almost without letup, and Jack reflected that, for an officer, nothing could be more humiliating than to face backwards, and never see where you were headed. But at some point they began to see tops of masts around them, and heard the blessed sound of the anchor-chains rumbling through their hawse-holes, and bent forward over their warm oars to stretch out the muscles of their backs.

Nasr al-Ghur'ab, the ra"is, was kul oglari, meaning the son of a Janissary by a woman native to the territory round Algiers—in any event, he spoke passable Spanish as well as Sabir. In the latter tongue, he now said, "Bring out the spare wretches." Planking was pulled up and four damp oar-slaves climbed out of the bilge and quickly replaced Jack, Moseh, Jeronimo, and van Hoek. This took place under cover of a sail that had been spread out above them as if to be mended, so that any curious sailors who might be looking down from a yard or maintop of a nearby ship would not witness the ennoblement going on in the aisle of this newly arrived galleot. Meanwhile—in case anyone was counting heads—four of the Corsair crew retreated beneath the shade of the quarterdeck to take refreshment and doze. A canvas sack full of old clothes—looted from persons who were now captives in Algiers—was also brought up, and the four began to paw through it like children playing dress-up.

"Turbans are advisable for going abovedecks," Jack pointed out, "as my hair's sandy, and van Hoek's is red, and that of Moseh—"

They all stood and looked dubiously at Moseh until finally he said, "Get me a dagger and I'll cut off the forelocks—crypto-Jews can expect no better."

"May you become free and rich and grow them until you must tuck them into your boot-tops," Jack said.

They spent the last hour before sunset up on the towering quarterdeck turbaned, and covered in the long loose garments of Algerines. The town of Sanl'ucar de Barrameda rose above them on the south bank where the river flowed into the gulf. It resembled a feeble miniature rendition of Algiers—it was encompassed by a wall, and below it spread a beach of river-sand where some fishermen had spread out their nets to inspect them. Van Hoek gave the town but a glance, then seized a glass from the ra"is, climbed up the mast, and devoted much time to scanning the water: apparently reading the currents, and fixing in his mind the location of the submerged bar. Moseh's attention was captured by a suburb that spread along the bank upstream of the town, outside the walls: Bonanza. It seemed to consist entirely of large villas, each with its own wall. After a while the avid Jeronimo spied the Viceroy's coat of arms flying from one of these, or so they all assumed from the invective that geysered forth.

Jack, for his part, was looking for a place to land their little rowboat after it got dark. In the interstices between walled places he could easily make out a fungal huddle of Vagabond-shacks, and with some concerted looking it was not difficult to make out a scrap of mucky, useless river-bank where those persons came down to draw water. Jack got a compass bearing to it, though it remained to be seen how this would serve them when it was dark and the current was pushing them downstream.

"'Twere foolish to go ashore in daylight," Jeronimo said, "and, when night falls, 'twere foolish not to. For smuggling and illicit trade are the only reasons for anyone to visit Sanl'ucar de Barrameda nowadays. If we don't try to do something illegal the night we arrive—why, the authorities will become suspicious!"

"If someone asks…what kind of illegal thing should we say we are undertaking?" Jack asked.

"We should say we have a meeting with a certain Spanish gentleman—but that we do not know his real name."

"Spanish gentlemen, as a rule, are insufferably proud of their names—what sort refuses to identify himself?"

"The sort who meets with heretic scum in the middle of the night," Jeronimo returned, "and fortunately for you, there are many of that sort in yonder town."

"That schooner is strangely over-crowded with Englishmen and Dutchmen of high rank," van Hoek offered, pointing with his blue eyes at a rakish vessel anchored a few hundred yards downriver.

"Spies," Jeronimo said.

"What is to spy on here?" Jack asked.

"If Spain took all of the silver on those treasure-galleons in the harbor of Cadiz, and locked it up, the foreign trade of Christendom would wither," Moseh explained. "Half the trading companies in London and Amsterdam would go bankrupt within the year. William of Orange would declare war on Spain before he allowed such a thing to happen. Those spies are here, and probably in Cadiz as well, to inform William of whether a war will be necessary this year."

"Why would the Spaniards want to hoard it?"

"Because Portugal has opened vast new gold mines in Brazil, and—as Dappa can tell you—supplied them with numberless slaves. In the next ten years, the amount of gold in the world will rise extravagantly and its price, compared to that of silver, will naturally decline."

"So the price of silver is certain to rise…" Jack said.

"Giving Spaniards every incentive to hoard it now."

Night came over Spain as they stood there and talked, and lights were lit in the windows of Sanl'ucar de Barrameda and in the great villas of Bonanza, where dinners were being cooked—Jeronimo had told them of the queer Spanish practice of dining late at night, and they had already made it part of the Plan. The rhythm of the waves, heaving themselves sluggishly against the beach at the foot of the town, underwent some sort of subtle change, or so van Hoek claimed. He spoke words in Dutch that meant "the tide is running out" and climbed down a pilot's ladder into the galleot's tiny skiff, which had been let down into the water. Here he took a kilderkin—a small keg, having a capacity of some eighteen gallons—removed one end, ballasted it with rocks, and planted a few candles in it. After lighting the candles he released it into the Guadalquivir, and then spent the better part of an hour watching it glide slowly out to sea. Jack meanwhile kept his eyes fixed on the landing-place that he had picked out on the river-bank, as slowly it faded and became a black void in a constellation of distant lanthorns.

They doffed their turbans and cloaks and changed into European clothes, of which there was no shortage in the dress-up sack. Then they moved down into the skiff and began rowing across the river's current. Jack directed them towards the spot he'd picked out. Twice van Hoek insisted that they pause in midstream, backing water with the oars, while he threw a sounding-lead overboard to check the depth. Jeronimo spent the voyage winding a long strip of cotton around his head, lashing his jaw shut—a task not made any quicker by his tendency to think out loud. Thinking, for him, amounted to making florid allusions to Classical poetry until everyone around him had fallen into a stupor. In this case he was Odysseus and the mountains of Estremaduras were the Rock of the Sirens and this gag he was putting on himself was akin to the ropes by which Odysseus had bound himself to the mast.

"If the Plan is as leaky as that similitude, we are all as good as dead," Jack muttered, once the gag was finally in place.

The arrival of all four of them would cause a commotion in the Vagabond-camp, or so Jack had managed to convince the other nine. So he waded into shore from a few yards out, then (reckoning no one could see him, and he was safe from mockery) fell to his knees on the strand, like a Conquistador, and kissed the dirt.

Here was the moment when he would simply disappear. He had never traveled down this way, but he had heard of this camp: it was supposed to be small but rich, an entrep^ot for the better sort of Vagabond. A few days' travel up the coast, then, a vast Vagabond city clung to the walls of Lisbon—from there, the way north was well-known. He reckoned that he could be in Amsterdam before winter, if he used himself hard. From there, the passage to London had always been easy, even when England and Holland had been at war—and now they were practically a single country.

This had been his secret Plan all along, and he'd spent more time working it out in his mind than he had following the numberless permutations and revisions of the Plan of Moseh. All he need do was walk up into the brush, and keep walking. This might be the doom of Moseh's plan, or not—but (to the extent he'd paid attention at all) he suspected it was doomed anyway. Nothing that relied upon so many people could ever work.

But Jack's feet did not move him thus. After a few moments he stood, and began to move carefully away from the river-bank, pausing every two steps to listen for movement or breathing around him. But he did not simply bolt. Somehow the commands that his mind sent toward his feet were blocked by his heart, or other organs. It might have been because others in the Cabal had shown him mercy and loyalty where Eliza had not. It might have been the smell of this Vagabond-camp and the wretched and loathsome appearance of the first people he spied, which reminded him of how poor and dirty Christendom was in general. Too, he was strangely curious to see how the Plan came out—somewhat like a spectator at a bear-baiting who was willing to pay money just to see whether the bear tore the dogs to bloody shreds, or the other way round.

But what really addled his mind—or clarified it, depending on one's point of view—was his certainty that the Duc d'Arcachon had become involved, somehow. This much had been obvious from the evolutions of the Plan during the nine months since they'd presented it to the Pasha. By hiding the fact that he could understand Turkish, Dappa had learned much.

Now, Jack really had no particular reason to care so much about said Duke—he was an evil rich man, but there were many of those. However, at one point when he'd been stupefied by Eliza, he had volunteered to kill that Duke one day. This was the closest he'd ever come to having a purpose in life (supporting his offspring was tedious and unattainable), and he had rather enjoyed it. D'Arcachon had now been so helpful as to reciprocate by attempting to hunt him down to the ends of the earth. Jack took a certain pride in that, seeing in it what his Parisian friend St.-George would call good form. To slink away now and live like a rat in East London, forever worrying about the Duke's homicidal intentions, would be bad form indeed.

When Jack and his brother Bob, as boys, had done mock-battle in the Regimental mess-hall in Dorset, they had been rewarded for showing flourish and 'elan; and if soldiers threw meat at boys for showing good form, might not the world shower Jack with silver for the same virtue?

Even so, Jack's mind was not entirely made up until he had been ashore for perhaps a quarter of an hour. He had been edging quietly round the nimbus of light cast by a Vagabond campfire, counting the people and judging their mood, straining to overhear snatches of zargon. Suddenly a silhouette rose up between him and the fire, no more than five yards away: a big man with a strangely mummified head, carrying a crossbow, drawn back and ready to shoot. It was Jeronimo—who must have been sent ashore, as part of the Plan, to hunt Jack through the woods and launch a bolt through his heart if he showed any sign of treachery.

This confirmed in Jack's mind that he really must remain faithful to the Plan. Not out of fear—he could easily slip away from Jeronimo—but out of sentimentality of the cheapest and basest sort. For Jeronimo wanted to go back to Estremaduras as badly as any man had ever wanted anything, and yet he was about to turn his back on that place, which was almost within sight, and go off to face (in all likelihood) death. It was the most abysmally poignant thing Jack had ever witnessed outside of a theatre, it made his eyes water, and it settled his mind.

So, slipping away from Jeronimo, he made his way into the fire-light and (after calming the Vagabonds down just a bit) told them he was an Irishman who, along with several other Papists, had been press-ganged in Liverpool (this was likely and reasonable-sounding to the point of being banal) and that before setting out for America he and some of the other sailors wanted to pay their respects at Our Lady of Buenos Aires, a mariners' shrine inside the town (this was also very plausible, according to Jeronimo), and there would be a few reales in it for anyone who could sneak them into the town. This offer was taken up enthusiastically, and within the hour, Jack, Moseh, van Hoek, and Jeronimo (sans crossbow) were inside Sanl'ucar de Barrameda.

Now Jeronimo and van Hoek went off towards a smoky and riotous quarter near the waterfront while Jack and Moseh went to reconnoiter in a finer neighborhood up the hill. Moseh had no particular idea where they were going and so they walked up and down several streets, looking in the windows of the white buildings, before slowing down in front of one that was adorned with a golden figure of Mercury. Remembering Leipzig, Jack instinctively looked up. Though there were no mirrors on sticks here, he did see the red coal of a cigar flaring and then blurring into a cloud of exhaled smoke—a watcher on the rooftop. Moseh saw it, too, and took Jack's arm and hustled him forward. But as they hurried past a window Jack turned his face toward the light and glimpsed a molten vision from his pox-scarred memories: a bald head surmounting wreaths of fat, looming above a table where several men—mostly fair-haired—sat eating and talking.

When they had gotten some distance down the street, Jack said: "I saw Lothar von Hacklheber in there. Or perhaps it was a painting of him, hung on the wall to preside over the table—but no, I'm sure I saw his jaw moving. No painter could've captured that cannonball brow, the furious eyes."

"I don't doubt you," Moseh said. "So van Hoek must have been right. Let us go and find the others." Moseh turned his steps downhill.

"What was the purpose of that reconaissance?"

"Before you make mortal enemies, it is wise to know who they are," Moseh said. "Now we know."

"Lothar von Hacklheber?"

Moseh nodded.

"I should've thought our enemy was the Viceroy."

"Outside of Spain, the Viceroy has no power. The same is hardly true of Lothar."

"Why does the House of Hacklheber have aught to do with it?"

Moseh said, "Suppose you live in a house in Paris. You have a water-carrier who is supposed to come once a day. Usually he does, sometimes he doesn't. Sometimes his buckets are full, sometimes they are half-empty. But your house is a large one and requires water in small amounts all the time."

"That is why such houses have cisterns," Jack said.

"Spain is a large house. It requires money all the time, to purchase goods from other countries, such as quicksilver from the mines of Istria and grain from the north. But its money arrives once a year, when the treasure-fleet drops anchor at Cadiz—or, formerly, here. The treasure-fleet is like the water-carrier. The banks of Genoa and of Austria have, for hundreds of years, served—"

"As money-cisterns, I see," Jack said.

"Yes."

"But Lothar von Hacklheber is not a Genoese name, unless I am mistaken," Jack said.

"About sixty years ago Spain went bankrupt for a time, which amounts to saying that the Genoese bankers did not get paid what was due them, and fell on hard times. Various mergings and marriages of convenience occurred as a result. The center of banking moved northward. That, in a nutshell, is how the Hacklhebers came to have a fine house in Sanl'ucar de Barrameda. And, I would guess, a finer one in Cadiz."

"But Lothar is here," Jack said, "meaning—?"

"He probably intends to take delivery of the silver pigs that we are going to steal tomorrow, and pay the Viceroy with something else—gold, perhaps, which would be better for one who wanted to spend much soon."

In a few minutes' nosing around the lower precincts, dodging brawlers and politely declining offers from whores, they located van Hoek and Jeronimo, who were posing, respectively, as a Dutch commercant wanting to smuggle cloth to America on the next outgoing ship (which would have been illegal, because the Dutch were heretics), and his Spanish conspirator, who'd recently had his tongue cut out for some reason. They were in a tavern, conversing with a seamy-looking Spanish gentleman who, oddly enough, spoke good Dutch—a cargador metedoro who acted as a Catholic front man for Protestant exporters. Jack and Moseh walked past the table to let it be known that they were here, and then staked out the tavern's exits in case of trouble—which was not really much use, since they were still unarmed, but seemed like good form. There they waited for a while, as van Hoek conversed with the cargador. The conversation proceeded fitfully in that this Spaniard appeared to be participating in two card-games at once, and losing money at both. Jack could see he was one of those men who are not right in the head when it comes to gambling, and was tempted to join in and fleece him, but it did not seem meet just now.

Not that propriety had ever shaped Jack's actions in the past. But only now was it coming clear to him that he had forgone his one opportunity to escape, and thereby gambled his life upon the success of the Plan: a Plan that, only an hour ago, he was silently mocking as inconceivably complex, and dependent upon too many persons' exhibiting sundry rare virtues, such as cleverness and bravery, at just the right times. It was, in other words, a Plan that only desperate men would have come up with, a Plan in which it made no sense to participate unless one had no alternatives whatsoever. Jack had only gone along with it, to this point, because he'd always known he could jump ship before the worst parts of it were put into action.

Yet these others were not like John Cole. flying Dutch colors," Dappa announced.

"Tomorrow, she'll be flying French ones," van Hoek said, "for that must be M'et'eore—the Investor's jacht."

After dark, the Ten were free to move about, making no pretenses. The remaining slaves were distributed fairly among oars. Al-Ghur'ab presented Jack with a long bundle wrapped in black cloth, and Jack was astonished to find it was his Janissary-sword. It was in a new scabbard, and it had been shined and sharpened, but Jack recognized it by the notch that had been made in its edge when it had collided with Brown Bess under Vienna. Apparently the weapon had lodged in some Corsair's treasure-hoard during Jack's captivity. Jack wanted in the worst way to belt it on, but it would only drown him if he tried to swim with it. So instead he put it to use by severing the galleot's anchor cables. This would put them in a most awkward position if ever they wanted to stop the vessel again, for any reason. But after the events of the coming hours, to stop anywhere in Christendom would be suicide. And they could not afford to devote the better part of an hour to toiling with hawsers and cables just now. Having finished this errand, Jack handed the sword to Yevgeny, who was packing a certain bag.

During the winter storm season, this lot of slaves had (weather permitting) spent two hours a day rowing the galleot around the inner harbor of Algiers, learning to pull in unison without the need for a pounding drum. Now they emerged from the marshes without a sound—or so Jack managed to convince himself as he squatted in the bows with Dappa, slathering his naked body with a mixture of ox-grease and lamp-black. The galleot was making excellent time, helped along by the first stirrings of the out-going tide. Up on the splintery foothold that served as the galleot's maintop, Vrej Esphahnian had taken over lookout duty. He claimed that he could now see currents of light flickering through the brush between Sanl'ucar de Barrameda and Bonanza: hundreds (they hoped) of torch-carrying Vagabonds feeling their away through the darkness along the trails that the Cabal had marked out the night before, converging on the estate of the Viceroy, drawn by the rumor that, on the night of his return to the Old World, the Viceroy might hand out alms to the poor.

"Can you see anything of M'et'eore?" van Hoek demanded.

"Maybe a lanthorn or two, out to sea beyond the bar—it is difficult to say."

"Really it does not matter, as long as she is out there, and was noted by the harbor-master before dark," Moseh said. "Assuming that ‘Se~nor Cargador' is not too drunk to stand, he'll be pacing along the battlements now, wringing his hands over the fate of the cargo in that jacht and pestering the night watch."

"Is it time for us to go yet?" Jack asked. "I smell like one of my dear mother's charred rib-roasts, and would fain take a bath."

"This would be a good time, I think," van Hoek said.

"Please do not take it the wrong way," said Mr. Foot, "but once again I wish you Godspeed, and Dappa as well."

"This time I will accept it, or any other blessings sent my way," Jack said.

"We'll see you on the deck of that brig, or not at all," Dappa said. Then he and Jack jumped off into the river.

If Jack had been in his right mind, and if he had known he would one day become involved in a Plan such as this one, he never would have divulged, to his fellow oarsmen, the information that he had grown up a mudlark in East London, and that accordingly he had much experience swimming in estuaries, among anchored ships, in the dark, with a knife in his teeth. But that was all water under London Bridge. The last several months, as other members of the Cabal had refined the Plan or practiced other parts of it, Jack had been renewing his old skills, and imparting them to Dappa. The African had never been a swimmer for the simple reason that rivers in his part of the world were filled with crocodiles and hippopotami. But life had taught him to be adaptable—or as Dappa himself had put it, "I know that there are worse things than being wet, so let us get on with it."

He and Jack now swam down the Guadalquivir, pushing before them a very large barrel, denominated a tun, which had been tarred black and laden with a long piece of heavy chain so that only a hand's breadth extended above the surface. A circle of ox-hide was stretched over the top like a drum-head to prevent water from spilling in and sinking it altogether. Meanwhile the galleot backed water, fighting the river's current, and began to spin round in mid-channel so that it was pointed upstream. But it was consumed in the darkness, from Jack's and Dappa's point of view, before it had half-completed that maneuver.

They swam on, paddling like dogs to keep their heads out of the water, frequently reaching out with one hand to touch the tun, which like them was being swept by the river toward the sea. If the tun happened to ship water and begin sinking, they would want to know sooner rather than later, because it was tethered to each of their wrists by a short length of rope. The only way to judge their position was by gazing up at the lights of Bonanza, where Spaniards who had grown rich from America were just sitting down to dinner. Jack had learned, by now, to recognize the windows of the Viceroy's villa. Tonight every candlestick in the place was blazing, to celebrate the master's return. But Jack was satisfied to see that on the landward side, it was now besieged by a small army of Vagabonds.

They almost missed the brig. At the last minute they had to swim hard across the current to prevent being swept right past her. The combined flow of the great river and of the tide moved them much more quickly than they had appreciated. Jack and Dappa collided with the brig's larboard anchor cable hard enough to leave long rope-burns on their bodies. The tun toddled downstream for a few yards and reached the end of its tethers just short of thudding into the brig's stempost. Its momentum nearly yanked Jack and Dappa off the anchor cable, to which they were clinging like a pair of snails.

Jack hugged the taut anchor cable for a few minutes and simply breathed with his eyes closed, until Dappa lost patience and gave him a nudge. Then Jack let go and swam as hard as he could against the current, edging sideways a few inches at a stroke, until eventually he reached the opposite anchor cable. This slanted into the water about three fathoms away from the one that Dappa had, by now, made himself fast to with a rope around his waist. Jack did the same here, leaving his hands free. He could not see a thing but he guessed that Dappa had already removed his necessaries from the tun. Indeed, when Jack pulled on his wrist-tether the great barrel moved in his direction—though Dappa was maintaining tension on his tether, so that the tun remained stretched out in the current between them, staying well clear of the brig's stempost.

Soon the rim of the tun was in his grasp. Groping around atop a jumble of cold rough chain-links, Jack found a rope-end, and drew it out and hitched it around the anchor-cable using a sailor-knot he'd learnt to do with his eyes closed—just as Dappa had presumably done with the other end of the same rope. The brig's twin anchor-cables were now joined by a length of sturdy manila with plenty of slack in it. In the middle of that length was a spliced-in loop, called a cringle, and fixed to that cringle was one end of a chain, somewhat longer than the river was deep here (as they knew from van Hoek's soundings) and several hundred pounds in weight.

Stowed atop the chain were several implements—notably a matched pair of short axe-like tools, packed in oakum to keep them from clanking about "and waking the ducks," as van Hoek liked to phrase it. Jack removed these one by one and hung them about his shoulders on their braided cotton straps. When the only thing remaining in the tun was the chain, Jack tipped it so that the water of the Guadalquivir spilled in over its top. Within a few moments the weight of the chain had driven it down below the surface. Immediately the line he'd lashed round the anchor cable began to take that weight. It tightened, but his knotwork held fast and it did not slip down.

What he feared most, now, was a long wait. But he and Dappa had used up more time than the Plan called for, or else the galleot had moved too hastily, for almost immediately they began to hear shouting from upstream: several voices, mostly in Turkish but a few in Sabir (so that the Spaniards on the brig would overhear, and understand), shouting: "We are adrift!" "Wake up!" "We're dragging the anchor!" "Get the oarsmen to their stations!"

The watch on the brig heard it, too, and responded smartly by clanging a bell and hollering in nautical Spanish. Jack drew a deep breath and dove. Pulling himself hand-under-hand down the anchor cable, he descended until his ears hurt intolerably, which he knew would be a couple of fathoms deep—deeper than the draft of the onrushing galleot, anyway—and then began assaulting the cable with the edge of a dagger. He was working blind now, feeling one greased hand slide over another—a trick he'd worked out to prevent accidentally severing a finger. The blade made an avid seething noise as it severed the cable's innumerable fibers one by one and thousands by thousands.

One of the cable's three fat strands burst under his blade and unscrewed itself—he felt it slacken under his cheek, for he was gripping the cable between his head and shoulder, and felt the other two strands stretch and bleat as they took the load. He had no idea what might be going on twelve feet above. The galleot must be approaching, but it made no appreciable noise. Then there was a stifled thump, felt more than heard. He flinched, thinking it was the sound of the collision, and bubbles erupted from his nostrils. His eyes were still closed in the black water, and he was seeing phantasms: poor Dick Shaftoe being pulled up out of the Thames ankle-first. Was this how Dick's last moments had been? But such thoughts had to be banished. Instead he conjured up van Hoek on the roof of the banyolar weeks ago, saying: "When we are some ten fathoms away from the brig I'll strike the big drum once—just before we collide, twice. You'll hear this, and with any luck so will the Vagabonds ashore, so they can make more noise for a few moments—"

Jack sawed viciously at the cable and felt the yarns of the second strand spraying outwards like rays from the sun. He sensed the hull of the galleot over his head all of a sudden and felt real panic knowing it stretched, an impenetrable bulwark, between him and air. At once came two thuds of the drum. He hacked at the cable's one remaining strand and finally felt it explode in his hand like a bursting musket, the crack swallowed up in an incomparably vaster sound: a grinding drawn-out crunch like giants biting down on trees. The cut end of the cable snapped upwards and lashed him across the shoulder. But it did not whip round his neck, as had happened in many nightmares of recent months.

Something hard and smooth was pushing against the skin of Jack's back—the hull-planks of the galleot! He could not tell up from down. But those clinkers were lapped one over the next like shingles, and by reading their edges with one hand he knew instantly which way was down towards the keel, and which was up towards the waterline. Swimming, fighting his own buoyancy that wanted to stick him against the hull, he finally broke the surface and whooped in air, baying like a hound.

Above he heard shouting and panic, but no gunfire. That was good, it meant that the brig's officers had recognized them as the feckless rug-merchants seen earlier today, and not jumped to the conclusion that they were under attack. The Corsairs had lit lanterns up and down the length of the galleot shortly before the collision, so that Spaniards running up from belowdecks, rubbing sleep out of their eyes, would be presented with the reassuring sight of oarsmen who were still safely in chains, and free crew members who were unarmed and disorganized.

The galleot drifted away from Jack, or rather he drifted away from it. He squirmed round in the water to face the hull of the brig, which was onrushing—or rather the current was sweeping Jack toward it. And this was the single most terrifying moment of the Plan. The hull was angled up out of the water at the stem, to ride over waves, but it would ride over swimmers as easily. It was already blotting out the stars. The current would drive him underneath it if he did not gain some sort of purchase on it first. He would in effect be keel-hauled, and might or might not emerge a few minutes later, alive or dead, flayed by the carapace of barnacles that the brig had grown on her hull during her long Atlantic passage.

He had the means to save himself: a pair of boarding axes, taken out of the chain-barrel earlier. These looked like hatchets with long handles and small heads. Projecting out of the back of the head was a sharp curved pick, like a parrot's beak. Jack got a grip on one of these, twisted it round in his hand so it would strike pick-first, and wound up to assault the brig's hull. But the weight of his arm and of the axe drove the rest of him, including his head, under the surface. Drifting blind, he caught the hull on his chest and face. The barnacles dug into his skin like fish-hooks and the current knocked his legs out from under him, plastering his entire body up against the hull below the waterline. As a final, feeble gesture, the pick of his boarding axe might have pecked at the hull, a foot or so above water. But it found no purchase there. After a few moments he slipped down farther, the barnacles scoring his thighs, stomach, chest, and face as the current forced him under.

This was it, then: the exact keel-hauling he had worried about. He slipped again and the boarding axe tried to jerk itself out of his grasp. It must have caught on something—perhaps the edge of a single barnacle, or a caulked gap between planks. He pulled on it and it held for a moment, then started to break loose; its grip on the hull was not firm enough to pull his head up out of the water. But he had a second boarding axe that was trailing on a neck-rope and bumping uselessly against the hull. As Jack had nothing else to occupy the time while he was being flayed and drowned, he pawed water until he got a grip on that boarding axe, then brought it back, fighting that damned current, and drove it into the hull as hard, and as high, as he could. A sharp crunch of barnacle-shells was followed by the sweet thunk of iron driving into wood. Jack pulled with both hands, now, then brought the first axe away and struck with it, and finally managed to get his face up through the roiling crest of the bow-wave. He drew half a breath of air and half of water, but it was enough. Two more vicious strikes with the boarding axes brought his head and chest up out of the water. He wrapped the axes' braided tethers round his wrists and hung there for a minute or two, just breathing.


BREATHING SEEMED INFINITELY MORE FINE and more momentous than anything that could possibly be going on around him, but after a while the novelty wore off and he began to wake up and to take stock of his situation.

The lights along the shore were gone, which meant that they were adrift in the channel as planned. Probably they were still gliding past the no man's land between Bonanza and Sanl'ucar de Barrameda. And yet the brig was still pointed upstream and her anchor cables were still stretched taut, because of that heavy chain she was dragging along the river-bottom. A person on the brig, preoccupied with having just been collided with by a rug-galleot, might not notice the drift.

Abovedecks, which might have been a different continent for all it mattered to Jack, some kind of acrid discussion was going on between Mr. Foot and a Spaniard (Jack assumed it was the ranking officer on the brig). The latter seemed to think that he was greatly humiliating Mr. Foot before his crew by lecturing to him on certain elementary facts about how properly to anchor a ship in an estuary. Mr. Foot, far from being embarrassed, was doing his best to elongate the argument by almost but not quite understanding everything that the other said. His ability to misapprehend even the simplest declarations had been driving his acquaintances into frenzies of annoyance for years. Finally he had discovered a practical use for it.

Meanwhile the oarsmen on the galleot were putting on a great show of indolence, very gradually getting themselves settled into position to row away from the brig. But certain decorative encrustations on the galleot's high stern had become entangled in supremely functional matters on the brig's bowsprit, such as the martingale (a spar projecting vertically downwards from about the middle of the bowsprit) and the stays that held it in place. The disentanglement of the two vessels took some time, and was noisy, which was good because a few yards away the Cabal was hard at work doing things that, in other circumstances, would have waked the dead.

The brig had a sort of blind spot (or so they hoped) around her stempost. The stempost was nothing more than the foremost part of the keel, where it broke out of the water and slanted up to support the figurehead, the bowsprit, and the railing around the ship's head. This part of the ship was made for dashing against the sea as she fought through weather, and so was devoid of complications such as hatches and ports, which tended to be weak and leaky. Furthermore it was sharply undershot, and difficult to see from the deck above. One could get a clear look at it only by going to the head, kneeling down, and thrusting one's head down and out through the shite-hole (which had been deemed unlikely by the architects of the Plan) or by clambering out onto the bowsprit to work the rigging associated with the spritsails. Those sails would not come into use tonight, but this posed a danger nonetheless, as several seamen had gone out there to work on the disentanglement.

But there was nothing Jack could do about that, so he tried to concentrate on matters nearer to hand. There was a veritable crowd down here! Yevgeny, Gabriel, and Nyazi had jumped from the galleot moments before the collision, and had evidently had better luck with their boarding axes than Jack—perhaps because they had not been half-drowned to start out with. They had converged on the stempost, which was one enormously thick piece of solid wood, and after pulling in bags of tools and weapons tethered to their ankles they had driven spikes into that wood with muffled hammers and hung little rope slings from the spikes, just big enough to serve as footholds. Jack let go of one of his axes, flailed out, and grabbed an empty one. With some thrashing around he was able to get a foot into it. Yevgeny, also coated in black grease, was barely visible above, standing in another one of these foot-loops. He offered Jack a hand, and pulled him all the way up out of the water. Jack and Yevgeny were now plastered up against the hull together, just to one side of the stempost. Yevgeny thumped Jack's shoulder five times, meaning "we are five." So on the opposite side of the stempost, Gabriel and Nyazi must have established footholds of their own. Apparently Dappa had avoided the fate of keel-hauling, too.

There followed an hour of something approaching boredom. The general circumstances were anything but boring, of course, yet there was nothing for Jack to do except hang there and await death or deliverance. Yevgeny thrust a sack into Jack's hand. Jack found a pair of breeches inside, and a belt, and the Janissary-sword. The galleot worked itself free and rowed off, driven on a fresh gale of invective from the supremely irritated Spaniards—who almost immediately realized that they were being pushed downriver by the tidal current, and were already more than a mile from the Viceroy's villa. They tried the anchor cables and found them taut, but not taut enough. Then they tried bringing them in, and found them fouled by the mysterious lashings of Jack and Dappa. Shouts and thuds reverberated dimly through the hull-planking as the crew were ordered belowdecks to man the sweeps.

But they had barely begun to row, there in the broad estuary below Sanl'ucar de Barrameda, when the galleot—which had been stalking them through the night—shot out of the darkness, moving with a speed that the pudgy, barnacle-fouled brig could only dream of, and came on almost as if making for a head-on collision. It diverted to starboard at the last possible moment (to the relief of Jack and the others, who would have been crushed), folded her oars on that side, and skimmed down the side of the brig, shearing away half of her sweeps, and leaving her there like a bird with one wing shot off.

Now this, of course, was an overt attack, the brig's first inarguable proof that she was under assault by pirates. So her captain moved just as van Hoek had predicted: He ordered that a cannon be run out and fired, as a signal to whomever was keeping watch over the harbor from the battlements of Sanl'ucar de Barrameda.

But a single cannon-shot in the night-time is an ambiguous statement, and difficult to interpret—especially when what it is trying to say is something extremely implausible, such as that a Viceroy's treasure-brig is being assaulted by a Corsair-galley in the midst of one of Spain's most important harbors. And no sooner had the brig fired its distress-shot than another ship, a bit farther out to sea, fired several: this was M'et'eore, the jacht that had appeared out of the Gulf towards sunset, flying Dutch colors. In response, a ragged patter of signals were fired from the town's batteries. This had been done at the request of the cargador metedoro, who had been talked into believing that he had incoming goods on that jacht and did not want to wake up tomorrow morning to discover that she had run aground on the bar.

The Viceroy's brig, spinning helplessly in the swirling currents, was swept out over the bar and into the Gulf of Cadiz without anyone in the town's having a clear idea of what was going on.

There was a half-moon that night, and as they drifted into the Gulf Jack watched it chasing the lost sun towards the western ocean, all aglow on its underside, like a ball of silver heated on one side by the burning radiance of a forge. It was shrouded in ripped and frayed tissues of cloud that stole some of its light: new weather coming in from the ocean, which was bad for them, because it meant that tomorrow their pursuers would have wind.

And tonight their prey were beginning to have it: a chilly breeze coming in straight from the Atlantic. Seamen had already gone to stations on the upperdeck to raise sails and get under way as best they might. Jack sensed that the Spaniards were breathing easier now: The ride down the dark river among anchored ships and over the shallow bar had been dangerous, but now they had a lot of water under their keel, and they had a bit of wind. After a few minutes' preparations they could raise some sails and move out a bit farther from the town, to eliminate the risk of running aground, and wait for daylight.

They were unaware that the galleot, after shearing away their oars, had rowed out into the Gulf and transformed herself into another kind of ship entirely. Stowed in the aisle that ran up her center, between the benches, had been an uncommonly large carpet, rolled up into a bundle some ten yards long. But that carpet (if all had gone according to the Plan) was now jetsam, unrolled and adrift in the Gulf of Cadiz somewhere. Its former contents—a tree-trunk of straight-grained fir from the slopes of the Atlas Mountains, spoke-shaved to a smooth needle shape, bolstered with iron hoops, and tipped with a barbed iron spearhead—had been brought forward and mounted on the nose of the galleot, somewhat like a bowsprit, but nearer to the waterline, and not so encumbered with stays and martingales. That iron spearhead should even now be skimming over the waves at a velocity of about ten knots, with fifty tons of galleot behind it, and one Spanish treasure-brig dead ahead.

The general plan was to strike the brig on her quarter, which meant towards the stern, where large cannons were somewhat less plentiful. The only drawback was that this made it impossible for the five boarders who were clinging to the stempost to see the galleot approaching (to the extent they could see anything by the flat chalky light of the setting half-moon). But the sudden screaming from the other end of the ship gave them a good clue that the time was now. They waited for a moment, as many footsteps receded, and then finally swung their grapples up and over the rail. Each man pulled on his rope until he felt the flukes catch in something (no way of guessing what, or how sturdy it might be) and after testing it with a few sharp tugs, abandoned his foot-loop and gave himself up to his rope. Because the hull flared out overhead they all swung far away from it, and swept to and fro above the water like pendulums.

Jack's arms nearly gave way, for they had grown stiff in the fresh breeze coming off the ocean, and he slid down a short distance before finally whipping a leg round the rope and trapping it between shins and ankles. After that it was just rope-climbing, which was something he had done far too much of in his life. Consequently he surprised himself by being the first boarder to tumble over the rail and feel the blessing of wood against the soles of his feet.

He was standing in that part of the ship known as the head, gazing down her length. The moonlight was horizontal and so the masts, the rigging, and a few standing figures were columns of silver, but the deck was a black pool, completely invisible. A vast commotion was underway astern. Several pistols were suddenly discharged, making Jack startle. At the same moment he heard a gaseous eruption from very nearby, and turned to discover a Spaniard seated on a bench with his breeches round his ankles, gazing up, moonfaced with astonishment, at Jack. He made as if to stand, but Jack simply fell into him, driving one shoulder into the man's abdomen to prevent him from calling out, shoving his buttocks into the hole he'd been sitting on, and wedging him into place with gleaming knees projecting into the sky. The Spaniard threw out one hand like a grapple on a rope, reaching for his coat, neatly folded on the bench, where a loaded pistol lay. But out came the Janissary-sword. Jack put its point against the Spaniard's belly. "I'll have that, se~nor," he said, and took the pistol up in his free hand.

The other four boarders were just struggling over the rail. The timing was apt, because now there was a mighty splintering pop from astern. One of the benefits of having been a galley-slave of the Barbary Corsairs for several years was that Jack knew and recognized that sound: It was a large iron spear-head piercing the hull of a European ship. And it was followed a moment later by a crash that made them all hop to keep their balance.

Nyazi had clambered aboard farther astern than anyone else, and was all of a sudden blind-sided by a Spaniard who came at him silently with a dagger. The weapon lunged forward and met only air. Nyazi had somehow sensed the attack and gone elsewhere. Then he was back, swinging his cutlass, and felled his attacker with a frantic back-handed slash.

Then Dappa, Gabriel, Yevgeny, and Jack all moved at once, without discussion. Some parts of the Plan were complicated, but not this one. A brig had but two masts, and each mast had a platform halfway up called a top, reachable by clambering up a ladderlike web of shrouds. At this moment the fore-top was unoccupied. Jack handed the pistol to Dappa, who tucked it into his belt and began climbing. Yevgeny was loading some pistols he had brought with him (it being impractical to keep them loaded, and their powder dry, when they were bumping about in a partly submerged bag). Jack and Gabriel worked their separate ways astern along the larboard and starboard rails respectively, Jack swinging his Janissary-sword and Gabriel a sort of queer two-handed scimitar of Nipponese manufacture, on loan from some Corsair-captain's trophy case. They were severing not heads, but haul-yards: the lines, running in parallel courses through large blocks, that were used to hoist up the yards from which the ship's sails were all suspended.

Finally, then, Jack and Gabriel began to ascend the main shrouds, converging on the maintop where three Spanish sailors had belatedly realized that they were under siege. One of these drew out a pistol and pointed it down at Jack, but was struck in the arm by a pistol-ball from Dappa, shooting from a few yards away on the fore-top. A moment later Yevgeny fired from down on the deck, and apparently missed—assuming he was even trying to hit anything. For the two unhurt sailors on the maintop were dumbfounded to find themselves under fire from the bows of their own ship, only moments after being rammed astern, and it was probably better to have them stunned and indecisive than wounded and angry. Jack and Gabriel gained the maintop at about the same time, disarmed the two unhurt sailors at sword-point, and encouraged them, in the strongest possible terms, to descend to the deck. Yevgeny tossed up a couple of muskets, which were not even loaded yet.

Not that it mattered. For Jeronimo, standing back on the quarterdeck of the galleot, had seen Jack's and Gabriel's exploits. Raising to his lips the same speaking trumpet that Mr. Foot had used, only hours before, to try to sell carpets to the Viceroy, he now delivered a flowery oration in noble Spanish. Jack did not know the language that well, but caught the obligatory reference to Neptune (in whose jurisdiction they now were) and Ulysses (representing the Cabal) who had gone into a certain cave (the estuary of the Guadalquivir) that turned out to contain a Cyclops (the Viceroy and/or his brig) and escaped by poking said Cyclops in the eye with a pointed stick (no metaphor here; they had done it literally). It would have sounded magnificent, booming out of that trumpet and across the water, except that it was commingled with bewildering spates of profanity that made the sailors edge backwards and cross themselves.

Jeronimo identified himself, then, as El Desamparado Returned from Hell—as if he could have been any other. He reminded the brig's captain that he was now adrift in the Gulf with a completely disabled ship and a skeleton crew, that his tops were now commanded by boarders armed with muskets, and, in case anyone was insufficiently scared, he told the lie that ten pounds of gunpowder were encased in the hollow head of the battering-ram now buried deep in the brig's vitals, not far away from the powder magazine, and that it could easily be detonated at the whim of who else but El Desamparado.

Jack had the benefit of watching this performance from an exclusive private loge, as it were, at the back of the theatre. He noticed a sigh run through the brig's crew when the fell sobriquet of El Desamparado first rang from the trumpet. The battle turned at that instant. When the gunpowder was mentioned, pistols and cutlasses began clattering to the deck. Jack judged that the captain, and one or two officers, were willing to fight—but it scarcely mattered, because the crew, exhausted from the passage of the Atlantic, were not keen on giving their lives to make the Viceroy slightly richer, when the taverns and whorehouses of Sanl'ucar de Barrameda glowed so warmly from the shore a couple of miles away.

Six Barbary Corsairs—now resplendent in turbans and scimitars—came aboard the brig, along with the other members of the Cabal. Two of the Corsairs remained on the galleot, prowling up and down the aisle with whips and muskets to remind the oar-slaves that they were yet in the power of Algiers. The brig's crew were disarmed and herded up to the poop deck, and several swivel-guns were charged with double loads of buckshot and aimed in their direction, manned by Corsairs or Cabal-members with burning torches. The officers were put in leg-irons and locked into a cabin guarded by a Corsair. They were joined by Mr. Foot, who made them chocolate; as it was felt by many in the Cabal that the best way to keep several Spanish officers in a helpless stupor was to have Mr. Foot engage them in light conversation.

Jeronimo led Nasr al-Ghur'ab, Moseh, Jack, and Dappa belowdecks to the shot-locker, and hacked off a giant padlock, and flung its hatch open. Jack was expecting to see lead cannonballs, or nothing but rat-turds, because life had trained him to expect grievous disappointments and double-crossings at every turn. But the contents of that locker gleamed as only precious metals could—and gleamed yellow.

Jack thought of finding Eliza in the hole beneath Vienna.

"Gold!" Dappa said.

"No, it is a trick of the light," Jeronimo insisted, moving his torch to and fro, experimenting with different positions. "These are silver pigs."

"They are too regular in their shape to be pigs," Jack pointed out. "Those are bars of refined metal."

"Nonetheless—silver it must be, for gold is not produced by the mines of New Spain," said El Desamparado doggedly. Now Jack had a small insight concerning Excellentissimo Domino Jeronimo Alejandro Pe~nasco de Halcones Quinto: He had a tale worked out in his head, like the tales written in the moldy books of his ancestors. The tale was the only way for him to make sense of his life. It ended with him finding a hoard of silver pigs, tonight, here. To find anything other than silver pigs was to suffer some sort of cruel mockery at the hands of Fate; finding gold was as bad as finding nothing.

But Jack's reflections, and the Caballero's denials, were interrupted by a sharp noise. The ra"is had taken a coin from his belt-pouch and tossed it onto one of the bars. It spun and buzzed, a disk of silvery white on a slab of yellow. "That is a piece of eight—if you have forgotten the color of silver," said Nasr al-Ghur'ab. "What it lies on is gold."

Then, for a long time, none of them uttered a sound. Even Jeronimo's tongue had been silenced.

Moseh cleared his throat. "I think Jews have no word for this," he said, "because we do not expect to get so lucky. But Christians, I believe, call it Grace."

"I would call it blood money," said Dappa.

"It was always blood money," Jeronimo said.

"You told us, once, that the silver mines of Guanajuato were worked by free men," Dappa reminded him. "This, being gold, must come from the mines of Brazil—which are worked by slaves taken from Africa."

"I have watched you shoot a Spanish sailor not half an hour ago—where were all your scruples then?" Jack asked.

Dappa glared back at him. "Overcome by a desire not to see my comrade get shot in the face."

Jeronimo said, "The Plan does not allow for finding gold where we expected silver. It means we have thirteen times as much money as we reckoned. Most likely we will all end up killing each other—perhaps this very night!"

"Now your demon is talking," said al-Ghur'ab.

"But my demon always speaks the truth."

"We will continue with the Plan as if this were silver," Moseh said nervously.

Jeronimo said, "You are all filthy liars, or imbeciles. Obviously there is no reason to go to Cairo!"

"On the contrary: There is an excellent reason, which is that the Investor expects to meet us there, to claim his rake-off."

"The investor himself!? Or did you mean to say, the Investor's agents?" Jack said sharply.

Moseh said, "It makes no difference," but exchanged a nervous look with Dappa.

"I heard one of the Pasha's officials joking that the Investor was going to Cairo to hunt for Ali Zaybak!" said the ra"is, trying to inject a bit of levity. The attempt failed, leaving him bewildered, and Moseh on the verge of blacking out.

"Why do we waste breath speaking of the Frog?" Jeronimo demanded. "Let the whoreson chase phant'sies to the end of the earth for all we care."

"The answer is simple: He has a knife to our throats," said al-Ghur'ab.

"What are you talking about?" Jack asked.

"That jacht did not sail down here only to provide a diversion," said the Corsair. "He could have dispatched any moldy old tub for that purpose."

"The Turk makes sense," Dappa said to Jack in English. "Jacht means ‘hunter,' and that is the swiftest-looking vessel I've ever seen. She could sail rings around us—firing broadsides all the while."

"So M'et'eore is poised to kill us, if we play any tricks," Jack said, "but how will she know whether or not we need to be killed?"

"Before we row away tonight, we are to sound a certain bugle-call. If we fail—or if we sound the wrong one—she'll fall on the galleot at first light, like a lioness on a crate full of chickens," the Turk answered. "Likewise, we are to give certain signals to the Algerian ships that will escort us along the coast of Barbary, and to the French ones that will accompany us through the eastern Mediterranean."

"And you are the only man who knows these signals, I suppose," Dappa said, finding amusement here, as he did in many odd places.

"Hmph…what's the world coming to when a French Duke cannot bring himself to trust a merry crew such as ours?" Jack grumbled.

"I wonder if the Investor knew, all along, that the brig would contain gold?" Dappa said.

"I wonder if he will know tomorrow," said Jack, staring into the eyes of the ra"is.

Al-Ghur'ab grinned. "There is no signal for that information."

Moseh, clapping his hands together, now said, "I believe the larger point our captain is making is that even if some of us…" glancing towards Jeronimo, "are inclined to turn this unexpected good fortune into a pretext for intrigues and skullduggery, we'll not even have the opportunity to scheme against; betray; and/or murder one another unless we get the goods off this brig fast and commence rowing."

"This is merely a postponement," Jeronimo sighed. Obviously, it would take many days to cheer him up. "The inevitable result will be double-crossings and a general bloodbath." He reached down with both hands and heaved a gold bar off the top of the hoard with a grunt of effort.

"One," said Nasr al-Ghur'ab.

Jeronimo began trudging up the stairs.

Moseh stepped forward and wrapped his fingers around a bar; bent his knees; and pulled it up off the stack. "It is not so different from pulling on a wooden oar," he said.

"Two," said the ra"is.

Dappa hesitated, then forced himself to reach out and put his hands on a bar, as if it were red hot. "White men tell the lie that we are cannibals," he said, "and now I am become one."

"Three."

"Don't be gloomy, Dappa," Jack said. "Recall that I could've run away last night. Instead I listened to the Imp of the Perverse."

"What is your point?" Dappa muttered over his shoulder.

"Four," said al-Ghur'ab, watching Jack grab a bar.

Jack began to mount the stairs behind Dappa. "I'm the only one of us who had a choice. And—never mind what the Calvinists say—no man is truly damned until he has damned himself. The rest of you are just like trapped animals gnawing your legs off."

What when we fled amain, pursu'd and strook

With Heav'ns afflicting Thunder, and besought

The Deep to shelter us? This Hell then seem'd

A refuge from those wounds: or when we lay

Chain'd on the burning Lake? that sure was worse.

—MILTON, Paradise Lost

They left the ram embedded in the brig's buttock and rowed off about an hour before dawn as one of the Corsairs played a heathen melody on a bugle. Most of their previous cargo and ballast had been thrown overboard as the gold bars had been passed from hand to hand up out of the brig's shot-locker and across the deck and slid down a plank into the galleot. As sunrise approached, the breeze off the ocean consolidated itself into a steady west wind. First light revealed a colossal wall of red clouds that began somewhere below the western horizon and reached halfway to the stars. It was a sight to make sailors scurry for safe harbor, even if they were not aboard an undecked, anchorless row-boat fleeing from the iniquity of Man and the wrath of God.

The distance to the Strait of Gibraltar was seventy or eighty miles. With no wind to fill their sails that would take longer than a day; in these circumstances, it could be done before nightfall.

Van Hoek payed no attention to those clouds, which were many hours in their future; he was gazing at the waves around them, which began to develop little white hats as the sun and the wind came up. "They will be able to make six knots," he said, referring to the Spanish ships that would be chasing them, "and that beauty will be able to make eight," nodding at M'et'eore, which was becoming visible a few miles in the distance. Jack and everyone else knew perfectly well that in these circumstances—the hull recently scraped and waxed, and combining the use of sails and oars—the galleot could likewise sustain eight knots.

They might, in other words, have been able to flee from the jacht and make a run for freedom on this very day—but first they would have had to fight the Corsairs on board. And at the end of the day they'd have to rely on other Corsairs to protect them from Spanish vengeance. So they adhered to the Plan.

The first several miles, from Sanl'ucar de Barrameda to Cadiz, might have been an ordinary morning cruise, no different from their training-voyages around Algiers. But M'et'eore—now flying French colors—raised as much sail as she could, and began to shadow them, a mile or two off to the west. Perhaps she only wanted to observe, but perhaps she was waiting for an opportunity to board them, and seize all the proceeds, and send them back into slavery or to David Jones's Locker. So they made as much speed as they could, and were already running scared, and rowing hard, when they came in sight of Cadiz. Two frigates sailed out from there and challenged them with cannon-shots across the bows—evidently messengers had galloped down from Bonanza during the night.

The day then dissolved into a long sickening panic, a slow and stretched-out dying. Jack rowed, and was whipped, and other times he whipped other men who were rowing. He stood above men he loved and saw only livestock, and whipped skin off their backs to make them row infinitesimally harder, and later they did the same to him. The ra"is himself rowed, and was whipped by his own slaves. Whips wore out and broke. The galleot became an open tray of blood, skin, and hair, a single living body cut open by some pitiless anatomist: the benches ribs, the oars digits, the men gristle, the drum a beating heart, the whips raw dissected nerves that spun and whorled and crackled through the viscera of the hull. This was the first hour of their day, and the last; it quickly became too terrible to imagine, and remained thus without letting up, forever, even though it was only a day—just as a short nightmare can seemingly encompass a century. It passed out of time, in other words, and so there was nothing to tell of it, as it was not a story.

They did not begin to be human again until the sun went down, and then they had no idea where they were. There were not as many men in the galleot as there had been when the sun had come up and they had dipped dry oars into the whitecaps as the bugle played. No one was really sure why. Jack had a vague recollection of seeing bloody bodies going over the gunwales, pushed by many hands, and of an attempt that had been made to throw him overboard, which had come to naught when he had begun thrashing around. Jack assumed that Mr. Foot could not have survived the day, until later he heard ragged breathing from a dark corner of the quarterdeck, and found him huddled under some canvas. The rest of the Cabal had all survived. Or at least they were all present. The meaning of survival was not entirely clear on a day like this. Certainly they would never be the same. Jack's similitude about trapped beasts gnawing their legs off had been intended as a sort of jest, to make Dappa feel less guilty, but today it had come true; even if Moseh, Jeronimo, and the others were still breathing, and still aboard, important pieces of them had been chewed off and left behind. That night, it did not occur to Jack that, for some of them at least, this might amount to an improvement.

Raindrops were coming out of the dark, and they lay on their bellies on the benches letting the water cleanse their wounds. The galleot was bucking in huge pyramidal seas that rushed at her from various directions. Some were afraid they would run aground on the shore of Spain. But van Hoek—once he was able to speak again, and had finished praying to God for forgiveness and redemption—said he was certain he had spied Tarifa off to port, gleaming in the sunlight of late afternoon. This meant that the weather was driving them into the open Mediterranean; that the Corsair-countries were on their starboard; and that they were now a part of Spain's glorious past.


LATE AUGUST 1690

"SINCE BEFORE THE TIME of the Prophet my clan has bred and raised camels on the green foothills of the Mountains of Nuba, in Kordofan, up above the White Nile," said Nyazi, as the galleot drifted langorously through the channel between Malta and Sicily. "When they are come of age, we drive them in great caravans down into Omdurman, where the White and the Blue Nile become one, and thence we follow tracks known only to us, sometimes close to the Nile and sometimes ranging far out into the Sahara, until we reach the Khan el-Khalili in Cairo. That is the greatest market of camels, and of many other things besides, in the world. Sometimes too we have been known to follow the Blue Nile upstream and cross over the mountains of Gonder into Addis Ababa and points beyond, even ranging as far as sea-ports where ivory-boats set their sails for Mocha.

"Unlike my comrade Jeronimo I am not one to tell flowery stories, and so I will merely relate that on one such journey, many of the men in my caravan fell ill and died. Now we are great fighters all. But we were so weakened that, in a mountain pass, we fell prey to a tribe of savages who have never heard the word of the Prophet; or if they have, they have disregarded it, which is worse. At any rate, it was their custom that a young man could not come of age and take a wife until he had castrated an enemy and brought his orchids of maleness to the chief shaman. And so every man of my clan who had not died of the disease was emasculated, except for me. For I had been riding behind the caravan to warn of ambushes from the rear. I was on an excellent stallion. When I heard the fighting, I galloped forward, praying that Allah would let me perish in battle. But by the time I drew near, all I heard was screaming. Some of it was the cries of the men being castrated, but, too, I heard my own brother—who had already suffered—shouting my name. ‘Nyazi!' he cried, ‘Fly away, and meet us at the Caravanserai of Abu Hashim! For henceforth you must be the husband of our wives, and the father of our children; the Ibrahim of our race.' "

This engendered a respectful silence from each of the Ten, save one. Jack held his cupped hands in front of him like scale-pans, bobbled them, and let one drop. "Beats having your nuts cut off by wild men," he said.

At this Nyazi flew into a rage (which was something Nyazi did very well) and launched himself on Jack more or less like a leopard. Jack fell on his arse, then rolled onto his back—which hurt, because his back was still one large scab. He managed to get his knees up in Nyazi's ribs, then used the strength of his legs to shove him off. Nyazi sprawled flat on his back, screamed just as Jack had done, and there was pinned to the deck by Gabriel Goto and Yevgeny. It was several minutes before he could be calmed down.

"I offer you my apologies," he said, with extreme gravity. "I forgot that you have suffered an even worse mutilation."

"Worse? How do you reckon?" asked Jack, still lying flat trying to think of a way to stand up without doing any more damage to his back.

Nyazi copied Jack's gesture of the bobbling scale-pans. "My clansmen could still perform the act—but they did not wish to. You wish to, but cannot."

"Touch'e," Jack muttered.

"Because of this, I see, now, that you were not accusing me of cowardice, and so I no longer feel obligated to kill you."

"Truly you are a prince among camel-traders, Nyazi, and no man is better suited to be the Ibrahim of his race."

"Alas," Nyazi sighed, "I have not yet been able to impregnate even a single one of my forty wives."

"Forty!" cried several of the Cabal at once.

"Counting the several I already had; ones we had acquired in trade during this trip and sent home via a different route; and those of the men who had been made eunuchs by the savages, the number should come to forty, give or take a few. All waiting for me in the foothills of the mountains of Nuba." Nyazi got a faraway look in his eye, and an impressive swelling down below. "I have been saving myself," he announced, "refusing to practice the sin of Onan, even when ifrits and succubi come to tempt me in the night-time. For to spill my seed is to diminish my ferocity, and weaken my resolve."

"You never made it to the Caravanserai of Abu Hashim?"

"On the contrary, I rode there directly, and there waited for my poor clansmen to catch up with me. I understood it might be a long wait, as men who have suffered in this way naturally tend to avoid long camel rides. After I had been there for two nights, a caravan came down out of the upper White Nile laden with ivory. The Arabs of the caravan saw my skill with camels, and asked if I would help them as far as Omdurman, which was three days to the north. I agreed, and left word with Abu Hashim that I would be back to meet my brothers in less than a week.

"But on the first night out, the Arabs fell on me and put a collar around my neck and made me a slave. I believe they intended to keep me forever, as a camel-driver and a butt-boy. But when we got near Omdurman, the Arabs went to a certain oasis and drew up not far from a caravan headed by a Turk. And here the usual sort of negotiation took place: The Arabs took the goods they wished to trade (mostly elephant tusks) and piled them up halfway between the two camps, then withdrew. The Turks then came out and inspected the goods, then made a pile of the stuff they wished to trade (tobacco, cloth, ingots of iron) and withdrew. It went back and forth like this for a long time. Finally I was added to the Arabs' pile. Then the Turks came out and took me away along with the Arabs' other goods, and the cursed Arabs did likewise with the goods of the Turks, and we went our separate ways. Eventually the Turks took me as far as Cairo, and there I tried to escape—for I knew that my clansmen would be at the Khan el-Khalili during a certain time of year, which is late August. Alas, I was caught because of the treachery of a fellow-slave. Later I tore a leg from a stool and beat him to death with it. The Turks could see that I would be trouble as long as I remained in Cairo, and so I was traded to an Algerian corsair-captain who had just rowed into port with a cargo of blonde Carmelite nuns."

Jack sighed. "I am never one to turn down a yarn. But I detect a certain repetitive quality in these galley-slave narrations, which forces me to agree with (speaking of blonde slave-girls) dear Eliza, who took such a dim view of the whole practice."

"But as I recall from your narrations—which were not devoid of a certain repetitive quality, by the way—" Dappa said, "she objected on moral grounds—not because it led to monotonous storytelling."

"I, too, could probably dream up some highfalutin grounds if all I had to pass the time was embroidery and bathing."

"I did not realize that pulling on an oar posed such a challenge to your intellect," Dappa returned.

"Until la suette anglaise delivered me from the French Pox, I had no intellect at all. When I'm rich and free, I'll come up with a hundred and one reasons why slavery is bad."

"A single good one would suffice," Dappa said.

Feeling the need for a change of subject, Jack turned towards Vrej Esphahnian, who had been squatting on his haunches smoking a twist of Spanish tobacco and watching the exchange.

"Oh, mine is banal compared with everyone else's," he said. "As you may recall, my brother Artan sent out letters to diverse places, inquiring about the market for ostrich plumes. What came back convinced him that our family's humble estate might be bettered if we established a trading-circuit to Northern Africa. I was dispatched to Marseille to make it so. From there, by buying passage on small coastal vessels, I tried to work my way down the Balearic coast of Spain towards Gibraltar, which I supposed would be a good jumping-off place. But I did not appreciate that the Spanish coast from Valencia downwards is infested with Moorish pirates, whose forefathers once were the lords of al-Andalus. These Corsairs knew the hidden coves and shallows of that coastline as well as—"

"All right, all right, you have said enough to convince me that it is, as you said, the usual galley-slave tale," Jack said, strolling over to the rail and stretching—very carefully. He picked up a bulging skin and squirted a stream of stale water into his mouth, then stood up on the bench to contemplate the rock of Malta, which was drifting by them a few miles to starboard. He had just realized that it was a very small island and that he'd better look at it while he had the chance. "What I meant was: How did you end up on my oar?"

"The ineffable currents of the slave-market drove me to Algiers. My owner learned that I had some skills beyond oar-pulling, and put me to work as a bookkeeper in a market where Corsairs sell and trade their swag. The winter before last, I made the acquaintance of Moseh, who was asking many questions about the market in tutsaklar ransom futures. We had several conversations and I began to perceive the general shape of his Plan."

"He told you about Jeronimo, and the Viceroy?"

"No, I learned of that on the same night as you."

"Then what do you mean when you say you understood his plan?"

"I understood his basic principle: that a group of slaves who, taken one by one, were assigned a very low value by the market, might yet be worth much when grouped together cleverly…" Vrej rolled up to his feet and grimaced into the sun. "The wording does not come naturally in this bastard language of Sabir, but Moseh's plan was to synergistically leverage the value-added of diverse core competencies into a virtual entity whose whole was more than the sum of its parts…"

Jack stared at him blankly.

"It sounds brilliant in Armenian." Vrej sighed.

"How came you to be at the bottom of the slave-market?" Jack asked. "I know your family was not the wealthiest, but I should've thought they'd pay anything to ransom you from Algiers."

Vrej's face stopped moving, as if he had spied a Gorgon atop one of Malta's cliffs. Jack gathered that the question was an impolite one, by Armenian standards.

"Never mind," Jack said, "you are right, it makes no difference why your family would not, or could not, pay your ransom." Then, after there'd been no word from Vrej in quite a while: "I'll not ask again."

"Thank you," said Vrej, as if forcing the words past a clenched garrotte.

"Nonetheless, it is remarkable that we ended up on the same oar," Jack continued.

"Algiers in wintertime is lousy with wretched slaves, trying to dream their way to freedom," Vrej admitted, in a voice still tight and uneven. But as he continued talking, the anger, or sadness, that had possessed him for a few minutes slowly drained away. "I reckoned Moseh for another one of these at first. As one conversation led to the next, I perceived he was a man of intelligence, and began to think that I should throw in my lot with him. But when I learned that he had acquired a new bench-mate named Jack Shaftoe, I looked on it as a sign from God. For I owe you, Jack."

"You owe me!?"

"And have, ever since the night you fled Paris. On that night my family and I incurred a debt to you, and if necessary we will travel to the end of the world, and sell our souls, to make good on it."

"You can't be thinking of those damned ostrich plumes?"

"You left them in our trust, Jack, and made us your commission-agents in the matter."

"They were trash—the amount of money is trivial. Please do not consider yourself under any obligation…"

"It is a matter of principle," Vrej said. "So I hatched a Plan of my own, every bit as complex as the Plan of Moseh, but not nearly so interesting. I'll spare you the details, and tell you only the result: I was traded to your oar, Jack, and chained to you in fact—though chains of iron are nothing compared to the chains of debt and obligation that have fettered us since that night in Paris in 1685."

"That is extremely civil of you," Jack said. "But the only thing in all the world that makes me feel more ill at ease than being obliged, is some other man's feeling obliged to me—so when we reach Cairo I'll accept a few extra pounds of coffee, or something, to cover the proceeds from the sale of those ostrich-plumes, and then you and I can go our separate ways."


AFTER RIDING THE front of a storm through the Strait of Gibraltar, they had spent a couple of days riding out the gale in the Alboran Sea, the anteroom of the Mediterranean. When the weather had settled down they had sailed southeast, steering toward the peaks of the Atlas Mountains, until they'd picked up the Barbary Coast not far from the Corsair-port of Mostaganem. They had not put in there—partly because they had no anchors, and partly because Nasr al-Ghur'ab seemed to be under strict instructions not to make contact with the world until they had reached their destination. But a few miles up the coast from Mostaganem, where a river came down off the north slopes of the Atlas and spilled into the sea, al-Ghur'ab had caused a certain flag to be run up the mast. Not much later a bergantine had come rowing out of a hidden cove and had drawn alongside them, carefully remaining a bow-shot away. There had been some shouting back and forth in Turkish, and the galleot's skiff had been sent over, carrying two corsairs and Dappa, and collected kegs of fresh water and some other victuals. This bergantine had then shadowed them on the slow progress along the coast to the harbor of Algiers. Slow because they had almost never laid hands on the oars; no one wanted to, most were not fit to, and the ra"is had not asked them to.

At Algiers most of the regular oar-slaves had been transferred into the Pe~non, the squat Spanish fortress in the middle of the harbor, and locked up, for the time being, in places where they could not tell the tale of what they had seen. Empty wooden crates had come back, and the Cabal had busied itself packing the gold bars into them and stuffing straw in between so that they would not clank. Only after the crates had been nailed securely shut had fresh—and ignorant—oar-slaves been brought aboard.

They had also acquired a new drum. For on the day following their deliverance from Spaniard and storm, Jack Shaftoe had made a great ceremony of tossing the old one overboard. It had been a large wooden barrel-half with a cowhide stretched over the top, the hair still on it except where it had been worn away from being pounded. It was mottled white and brown like an unlabelled map, and it had bobbed stubbornly alongside them for a while, a little world loose in the sea, until Jack had stove it in with an oar. Meanwhile, Jeronimo had solemnized it in his own way: looking about at the gore that lined the hull, and the exhausted and half-flayed rowers, he had said, "We are all blood brothers now." Which he had probably intended as some sort of sacrament-like benediction. For his part, Jack could see any number of grave drawbacks to being part of the same family as Jeronimo. But he had kept these misgivings to himself so as not to mar the occasion. Jeronimo had included, among his new brothers, all of the galley-slaves who were not members of the Cabal, and promised that he would use his share of the proceeds to ransom them. This had produced only eye-rolling from those slaves who could understand what he was saying. As days had gone by, his promises had flourished like mushrooms after an autumn rain, until he had laid out a scheme for constructing or buying an actual three-masted ship, manning it with freed slaves, and setting out to found a new country somewhere. But as they had inched across the map towards Algiers, a depression had settled over him, and he'd gone back to predictions of a bloodbath in Egypt—or possibly even Malta.

Accompanied by another, more heavily armed galleot, they had left Algiers behind—they hoped forever. They had rowed briskly eastwards, passing by one small Corsair-port after another until they had traversed the mouth of the Gulf of Tunis and reached the Ras el Tib, a rocky scimitar-tip pointed directly at Sicily, a hundred miles to the northeast. Here they had offloaded all but a dozen of their oar-slaves and then used their sails to take them out into deep water—the first time they'd lost sight of land since the night of their escape from Bonanza. The ra"is had immediately ordered the galleot's Turkish colors struck, and had raised French ones in their stead.


THUS DISGUISED—if a new flag could be considered a disguise—they now sailed under the guns of various medieval-looking fortresses that had been built, by various occult sects of Papist knights, on crags and ridges looking north across the strait. No cannonballs were fired in their direction, and after a few hours, when they rounded a point and gazed into the Grand Harbor of Malta, they understood why: for a whole French fleet was riding at anchor there beneath the white terraces and flowered walls of Valletta. Not just merchant ships—though there were at least a dozen of those—but men-of-war, too. Three frigates to serve as gun-platforms, and a swarm of tactical galleys.

And—as van Hoek was first to notice—there was also M'et'eore. Evidently she had passed through the Strait of Gibraltar behind them and then made directly for Malta, to join up with the fleet, and await the galleot. Jack borrowed a spyglass to have a look at the jacht, and was rewarded by a view of a new flag that had been run up her mizzen-mast. It was a banner emblazoned with a coat of arms that he'd last seen carved in bas-relief on the onrushing lintel of a door in the H^otel Arcachon in Paris. "I would know that arrangement of fleurs-de-lis and Neeger-heads anywhere," he announced. "The Investor is here in person."

"He must have come down via Marseille," van Hoek remarked.

"I thought I smelled a fish gone bad," Jack said.

Likewise, their galleot was noticed and identified immediately. Within a few minutes a longboat had been sent out from M'et'eore, rowed by half a dozen seamen and carrying a French officer. This fellow clambered aboard the galleot and made a quick inspection—just enough to verify that the crew was orderly and the vessel seaworthy. He handed the ra"is a sealed letter and then departed.

"I wonder why he just doesn't take us," Yevgeny muttered, leaning on the rigging and gazing at all those warships.

"For the same reason that the Pasha did not do so when we were in the harbor of Algiers," Moseh said.

"The Duke's interests in that Corsair-city are deep," Jack added. "He dares not queer his relations with the Pasha by violating the terms of the Plan."

"I would have anticipated a more thorough inspection," said Mr. Foot, arms crossed over his caftan as if he were feeling a chill, and glancing uneasily at a gold-crate.

"He knows we got something out of the Viceroy's brig—and that it was valuable enough to make us risk our lives by tarrying in front of Sanl'ucar de Barrameda for several hours, transshipping it to the galleot. If we'd found nothing we'd have fled without delay," Jack said. "And that is as good as an inspection."

"But does he know what it is?" Mr. Foot asked. They were within earshot of their skeleton crew of oar-slaves and so he had to speak obliquely.

"There is no way he could," said Jack. "The only communication he's had from this boat is a bugle call, which was a pre-arranged signal, and I doubt that they had a signal meaning thirteen." Thirteen was a sort of code meaning twelve or thirteen times as much money as we expected.

"Still, we know that the Pasha of Algiers sent out messages on faster boats than ours, to all the ports of the Levant, telling the masters of all harbors to deny us entry."

"All except for one," Yevgeny corrected him.

"Might he not have sent a message here to Malta, telling about the thirteen?"

Dappa now came strolling along. "You are forgetting to ask a very interesting question, namely: Does the Pasha know?"

Mr. Foot appeared to be scandalized; Yevgeny, profoundly impressed. "I should imagine so!" said Mr. Foot.

Dappa said, "But have you noticed that, on every occasion when the ra"is has parleyed with someone who does not know about the thirteen, he has been at pains to make sure I am present?"

"You, who are the only one of us who understands Turkish," Yevgeny observed.

Jack: "You think al-Ghur'ab has kept the matter of the thirteen a secret?"

Yevgeny: "Or wishes us to think that he has."

Dappa: "I would say—to know that he has."

Mr. Foot: "What possible reason could he have for doing such a thing?"

Dappa: "When Jeronimo gave his ‘blood brothers' speech, and all the rest of you were rolling your eyes, I chanced to look at Nasr al-Ghur'ab, and saw him blink back a tear."

Mr. Foot: "I say! I say! Most fascinating."

Jack: "For the Caballero, who is every inch the gentleman, it was no easy thing to admit what the rest of us have all known in our bones for so long: namely that we have found our natural and rightful place in the world here, among the broken and ruined scum of the earth. Perhaps the ra"is was merely touched by the brutally pathetic quality of the scene."

Dappa: "The ra"is is a Corsair of Barbary. His sort enslave Spanish gentlefolk for sport. I believe he intends to make common cause with us."

Mr. Foot: "Then why hasn't he come out and said as much?"

Dappa: "Perhaps he has, and we have not been listening."

Yevgeny: "If that is his plan, it depends entirely on what happens here in Malta. Perhaps he waits to announce himself."

Jack: "Then it all pivots on that letter the Frenchman brought—and speaking of that, I believe we are delaying the ceremony."

Nasr al-Ghur'ab had retreated to the shade of the quarterdeck with the other members of the Cabal, who were looking toward them impatiently. When Jack and the others had arrived, the ra"is passed the letter around so that all could inspect the splash of red wax that sealed it. Jack found it to be intact. He had half expected to find the arms of the Duc d'Arcachon mashed into it, but this was some sort of naval insignia. "I cannot read," said Jack.

When the letter had made its way back to the ra"is he broke the seal and unfolded it. "It is in Roman characters," he complained, and handed it to Moseh, who said, "This is in French." It passed into the hands of Vrej Esphahnian, who said, "This is not French, but Latin," and gave it to Gabriel Goto, who translated it—though Jeronimo hovered over his shoulder cocking his head this way and that, grimacing or nodding according to the quality of Gabriel's work.

"It begins with a description of very great anguish in the houses of the Viceroy and the Hacklhebers on the day following our adventure," said the Jesuit in his curiously accented Sabir; though he was nearly drowned out by Jeronimo, who was laughing raucously at whatever Gabriel had glossed over. Gabriel waited for Jeronimo to calm down, then continued: "He says that his friendship with us is strong, and not to worry that every port in Christendom is now alive with spies and assassins seeking to collect the huge price that has been put on our heads by Lothar von Hacklheber."

Which caused several of them to glance nervously towards the Valletta waterfront, judging whether they might be within musket-, or even cannon-range.

"He is trying to scare us," Yevgeny snorted.

"It is just a formality," Jack put in, "a—what's it called—?"

"Salutation," said Moseh.

Gabriel continued, "He says he has received a message from the Pasha, carried on a faster boat, to the effect that everything has gone exactly as planned."

"Exactly!?" said Moseh, a bit unsettled, and he searched al-Ghur'ab's face. The ra"is gave a little shrug and stared back at him coolly.

"Accordingly, he sees no reason to depart from the Plan now. As agreed, he will lend us four dozen oar-slaves, so that we can keep pace with the fleet on its passage to Alexandria. Victuals will be brought out on a small craft in a few hours. Meanwhile the jacht will send out a longboat to collect the ra"is and the ranking Janissary—these will go to pick out the oar-slaves."

Now all began talking at once. It was some time before their various conversations could be forged into one. Moseh did it by striking the new drum, which silenced them all; they'd been trained to heed it, and it reminded them once more that they were still enrolled as slaves on the books of the hoca el-pencik in the Treasury in Algiers.

Moseh: "If the Investor does not learn of the thirteen until Cairo, he'll demand to know why we did not tell him immediately!" (shooting a reproachful look at the ra"is). "It will be obvious to him that we sought to play out a deception, and later lost our nerve."

Van Hoek: "Why should we care what the bastard thinks of us? It's not as if we intend to do business with him in the future."

Vrej: "This is short-sighted. The power of France in Egypt—especially Alexandria—is very great. He can make it go badly for us there."

Jack: "Who says he's ever going to find out about the thirteen?"

Jeronimo laughed with sick delight. "It begins!"

Moseh: "Jack, he expects his payment in silver pigs. We don't have any!"

Jack: "Why give the son of a bitch anything?"

Van Hoek, grimly amused: "By continuing to conceal what the ra"is has thus far concealed, we are already talking about screwing the investor out of twelve-thirteenths of what would otherwise come to him. So why make such scruples about the remaining one-thirteenth?"

Moseh: "I agree that we should either screw the Investor thoroughly, or not at all. But I would argue for completely open dealings. If we simply follow the Plan and give the Investor his due, we will all be free, with money in our purses."

Jeronimo: "Unless he decides to screw us."

Moseh: "But that is no more likely now than it was before!"

Jack: "I think it was always very likely."

Yevgeny: "We cannot tell the Investor of the thirteen here, now. For then he will say that we tried to hide it earlier, as part of a plan to screw him, and use it as a pretext to seize the galleot."

Van Hoek: "Yevgeny is an intelligent man."

Jack: "Yevgeny has indeed read the Investor's character shrewdly."

Moseh clamped his head between the palms of his hands, massaging the bare places where forelocks had once grown. For his part, Vrej Esphahnian looked ill at ease to the point of nausea. Jeronimo had gone back to dire predictions, which none of them even heard any more. Finally Dappa said, "Nowhere in the world are we weaker than we are here and now. It is not the time to reveal great secrets."

In this, it seemed, he spoke for the entire Cabal.

"Very well," Moseh said, "we'll tell him in Egypt, and we'll hope he'll be so pleased by unexpected fortune that he'll overlook past deceptions." He paused and heaved a sigh. "Now as for the other matter: Why does he want both the ra"is and the ranking Janissary to come out in the longboat to collect the slaves?"

"It is a routine formality," said the ra"is. "For him to do otherwise would be very odd." At the height of his rage Jeronimo was no more or less prepossessing than any comit'e of the French Navy. It was, rather, the odd comments he made when he calmed down that convinced them all that El Desamparado was a madman, and scared them all into silence and submission.

In any event, the French padlocks that had secured the slaves when they'd been brought over had been tossed into the bilge, and their chains heated up in the galleot's portable brazier and hammered shut, just in case any lock-picks had escaped the search.

Now, as the galleot rowed through the wreckage of the French flotilla with clouds of grapeshot and lengths of smoking chain flying overhead, Jack fished one of those padlocks out of the bilge. As Yevgeny parted the chain of Gerard with a few terrible hammer-blows, Jack worked his way through the giant key-ring that the French had handed over to them, and got that padlock open. Then Jack, Yevgeny, Gerard, and Gabriel Goto got into the skiff and rowed the last few yards to the slowly sinking galley.

Hundreds of chained men had already been pulled below the water, and perhaps two score remained above it. The bench to which Monsieur Arlanc and his four companions were joined by a common chain, and from which they'd all been dangling for the last quarter of an hour, was only a couple of yards above the water now, and their legs were washed by every wave. Jack clambered onto that bench holding one end of the chain that went around Gerard's waist, then wrapped Gerard's chain around Arlanc's and padlocked them together. He threw away the key and, for good measure, smashed the body of the lock with a hammer to make it unpickable.

Gerard's eyes went immediately to the chain that went round the waists of Monsieur Arlanc and his four comrades, and terminated at the end of the bench along the aisle, where it was padlocked to a stout loop of iron.

Jack jumped back into the skiff; handed Gerard his set of lock-picks; and threw him overboard, saying, "Go and redeem thyself."

Of course there was much more to it than that, and when Jack told the tale afterwards he would give the full report, with all due embellishments: the hysterical blubbering of some gal'eriens, the pious praying of others, the many strong hands that shot up out of the water to grip the gunwales of their skiff and were cut away by Gabriel's sword. The officers and French Marines still clinging to the galley's forecastle, trying to buy passage on the galleot, or failing that, to fight their way aboard, only to be beaten back by Jeronimo and Nyazi and van Hoek and the others. The banks of powder-smoke drifting by overhead, and the bodies of the drowned gal'eriens below: pale blurred forms in strings of five, like pearls.

But at the time Jack took little notice of this ambience and concentrated on the matter of the lock and the chain almost as intently as Gerard. At the moment that the galley pulled Gerard under water he still had not got the lock open, and Jack began to think his plan had failed. The Turk who sat in the aisle was pulled under crying "Allahu Akbar!" and then the man who sat next to Monsieur Arlanc went down intoning "Father into your hands I commend my spirit." Then it came to the point where Monsieur Arlanc's face was only visible in the troughs of the waves. But then the head of Gerard re-appeared, followed by that of the Turk; they were clambering uphill, using the galley as a ladder even as it slid deeper. Gerard reached a temporarily secure place, turned around, hefted the opened padlock in one hand, and flung it at Jack's head. Jack ducked it and laughed. "There is your redemption, English!" screamed Gerard, weeping with rage.


NOW THEY MADE direct for the Mouths of the Nile, sailing by day and rowing by night. Every few hours they sighted remnant ships of the French fleet, now scattered across fifty miles. Several times they saw M'et'eore, which had survived the battle with the amputation of her mizzenmast, and she signalled to them with mirror-flashes.

"A group of two, then a group of three," said Nasr al-Ghur'ab.

"According to the Plan, this is a signal that we are to curtail the voyage, and put in at Alexandria instead of going on to Abu Qir," Moseh said.

Al-Ghur'ab rolled his eyes. "That would be as good as going direct to Marseille. In El Iskandariya, the French are almost more powerful than the Turks."

"There is no point in making it easy for the Investor to bugger us," Jeronimo scoffed.

"Then we shall go to Cairo and make it slightly more difficult," said the ra"is.

"Cairo I like better than Alexandria," Jack said, "but I do not like Cairo much. It is a cul-de-sac—the end of the line."

"Not so—we could row up the Nile to Ethiopia!" Dappa said.

Nyazi, viewing Dappa's jest as a challenge to his hospitality, declared that he would gladly sleep naked in the dirt to the end of his days in order to provide the Cabal with comfortable beds—providing they could get as far as the foothills of the Mountains of Nuba.

"The entire point of choosing Cairo was that it is as far East as Mediterranean vessels can go," Moseh reminded them, "and so our cargo should have the highest value there, at the reputedly stupendous bazaar of the Khan el-Khalili, in the very heart of that ancient city, called by some the Mother of the World. And this is as true now as it was before."

"But once we go in we cannot come out—the Investor needs only to post ships before the two Mouths of the Nile, at Rosetta and Damietta, and we are bottled up," van Hoek pointed out.

"Nonetheless, this half of the Mediterranean is yet Turkish. Turks control every harbor," said the ra"is, "and word has gone out, on faster boats than ours, that if a galleot should appear, with a crew of mostly infidels, and such-and-such markings, it is to be impounded at once, and the crew put in irons. Going to Cairo and trading our cargo for a vast array of goods in the Khan el-Khalili is not such a miserable fate compared to the alternatives—"

"One, being buggered by the Investor in Alexandria," said Jeronimo.

"Two, being thrown into a dungeon-pit in some flyblown port in the Levant," said Dappa.

"Three, running the ship aground in some uninhabited place and trudging off into the Sahara bent under the weight of our cargo," said Vrej.

"Ethiopia sounds better every minute," said Dappa.

"I shall distribute my wives equally among the nine of us who still have penises," proclaimed Nyazi, "and Jack can have my finest camel!"

"Jack, fear not," said Monsieur Arlanc, taking him aside. "I know one or two negociants in Grand Caire. Through them, I can help you sell your share of the goods, and get a bill of exchange, payable in Amsterdam."

Jack sighed. "I do not predict any of us will sleep easy in Cairo."

So they made no response to messages from the Investor's jacht, and used their (now) superior speed to stay well clear of her. And yet they did not attempt to pull away and vanish during the night-times, as there was no advantage in throwing the Investor into a rage.

High sere country, veiled in dust, began to appear off to starboard. The water took on a brown tinge and then became polluted with mud, sticks, and straw, which Nasr al-Ghur'ab called sudd. He said it had been washed down out of Egypt by the Nile. The river, he said, would be at its fullest now, as it was the month of August.

Then one midday they spied a hill with a single Roman column rising out of its top, and a city jumbled about its base. "It looks as if a movement of the earth has shaken the whole city down into rubble," Jack said, but the ra"is said that Alexandria always looked that way, and pointed to the fortifications as proof. Indeed a square-sided stone castle rose from the middle of the harbor, at the end of a broad causeway; it seemed orderly and showed no signs of damage. One or two of the faster French ships had already dropped anchor under the shelter of its guns. Gazing for a few moments through a borrowed spyglass, Jack could see men in periwigs going to and fro in longboats, parleying with the customs officials, who here as in Algiers were all black-clad Jews.

"The French pay three percent—merchants of other nations pay twenty," Monsieur Arlanc commented, "probably thanks to the machinations of your Investor, and of other great Frenchmen." Since his being rescued from the galley, he had been accepted as a sort of advisor to the Cabal.

"Once the Turks see how the French fleet was mangled by the Dutch, perhaps they'll change their policy," van Hoek said.

"Not if the Duc d'Arcachon bribes them with a galleot-load of gold bars," Jack put in.

Most of the French fleet, including M'et'eore, set their courses direct for the harbor of Alexandria proper. Nasr al-Ghur'ab, however, pointed them straight up the coast; raised all the sail he could; and put the gal'eriens to work, driving them at a blazing speed of nine knots for two hours. This brought them to a cusp of land called Abu Qir. From here Alexandria was still plainly visible through dust and heat-waves, and presumably the reverse was true; no doubt some French officer had watched every oar-stroke through a spyglass.

There was no city at Abu Qir, other than a few huts of Arab fishermen surrounded by spindly racks where they put fish out to dry in the sun. But there was a solid Turkish fort with many guns, and a customs house below it, having its own pier. Moseh and Dappa went in using the skiff while the ra"is and the others managed the ticklish job of bringing the galleot alongside the pier. Out of the customs house came the Jew who was in charge of the place, followed by Moseh, Dappa, and a couple of younger Jews—his sons—who carried sticks of red wax, bottles of ink, and other necessaries. The Jew was speaking a queer kind of Spanish to Moseh. He spent a couple of hours going through the hold, putting a customs-seal on each of the wooden crates without actually inspecting them, and without exacting any duties—this, of course, had all been pre-arranged on the Turkish side, by the Pasha working through his contacts in Egypt. This customs house at Abu Qir was the only one in the Ottoman Empire, or the world for that matter, where they could have done it.

The inspector made it clear to everyone within earshot that he was not happy with any part of the arrangement, but he did his part and departed without creating any obstructions or demanding any baksheesh above and beyond what he was getting anyway: a purse of pieces of eight, handed to him by Nasr al-Ghur'ab after the "inspection" was complete.

This inspector turned out to be a hospitable soul, who importuned Moseh to come in and share an evening meal—making the reasonable assumption that the galleot would remain tied up to his pier all night. And indeed this would have been easiest. But a French sloop-of-war had been dispatched from Alexandria and was halfway to them now, her triangular sail apricot-colored in the late afternoon sun, and no one liked the looks of that. Furthermore, according to this Jew, a fine high-road called the Canopic Way joined Alexandria to Abu Qir, and riders on good horses could easily make the trip in a couple of hours. Having no particular desire to be trapped between the French sloop and a hypothetical squadron of French night-riders, Nasr al-Ghur'ab ordered the galleot to put to sea about an hour before sunset. Under other conditions this would have been most unwise. But the current of the Nile would tend to push them away from the land, and according to the weather-glass that van Hoek had improvised from a glass tube and a flask of quicksilver, the skies would be clear for at least another day. So they abandoned themselves to the waves, and spent an uneasy night throwing the sounding-lead over the side and hauling it in again, over and over and over, lest they run aground in the Nile's shifting sands.

When the sun rose upon one tired and irritable Cabal, they found themselves in the center of a vast half-moon-shaped bay, contained between the headland of Abu Qir to the southwest, and a huge sand-spit to the northeast, some twenty miles farther along the coast from Abu Qir. This bay had no distinct shore, but rather smeared away into mud-flats that extended for many miles inland before they became worthy of supporting trees, crops, and buildings. It soon became plain that the galleot had been drifting in a lazy orbit, a vast whorl of current driven by the Nile. For according to the ra"is, the sand-spit to the northeast had been constructed, one grain of silt at a time, by the Rosetta Mouth, which was bedded in it somewhere. And when the sun bubbled up from the horizon and shone as a red disk through the haze of floury dust sighing down from the Sahara, it silhouetted a skyline of mosque-domes and minarets, deep among those mud-flats, which was the city of Rosetta itself.

The morning's peace was then broken by wailing and sobbing from the head of the galleot. Jack went forward to find Vrej Esphahnian kneeling on the heavy timber that had once supported the ram. The Armenian was now doing some ramming of his own, repeatedly butting his forehead against the timber and clawing at his scalp until blood showed. He did not appear to hear anything Jack said to him. So Jack lingered until he was certain that Vrej did not intend to hurl himself into the bay, and then returned to the quarterdeck, where tactics were being discussed.

As soon as it had grown light enough to see, they had turned the galley northwards and begun rowing out of this bay. Rosetta (or Rashid, as al-Ghur'ab called it) had been close enough that they'd heard the city's muezzins wailing at the break of dawn. But the ra"is explained that to reach the city they would have to go several miles north to the tip of the bar, and find their way in at the river-mouth, then work upriver for an hour or two.

It was not long before the French sloop came into view; she had sailed out into deeper waters for the night and was now patrolling off the Rosetta Mouth. Fortunately a wind came up from the southwest, and by raising some canvas the galleot was able to run before it, overshooting the river-mouth and making excellent speed towards the east—as if she intended to go in at the Damietta Mouth, a hundred miles away, or to break loose altogether and make a run for some other port. The sloop's skipper had no choice but to bite down hard on that bait, and to chase them downwind. When she had drawn abeam of the galleot, and begun to converge toward them, al-Ghur'ab struck the canvas, wheeled about, and set the oar-slaves to work rowing upwind. The sloop came about in response. But lacking oars, she could only work upwind by tacking, and so she had no hope of keeping pace with the galleot. The gap between the two vessels was about half a mile to begin with, and grew steadily as they rowed towards the snarl of interlocking and ingrown sand-bars that guarded the Nile's Rosetta Mouth.

These maneuvers took up half the day, which gave Vrej Esphahnian time to calm down. When he seemed capable of speech again, Jack brought him a cup and a wineskin, and sat with him in the bow—now the least foul-smelling part of the ship, as they were working into the wind.

"Forgive my weakness," said Vrej in a hoarse voice. "When I saw Rosetta, I could think only of the tales my father told me, of how he passed through that place with his boat-load of coffee. He had nursed that boat through countless narrow seas and straits, canals and river-courses, and when he passed through customs at Rosetta and sailed down to the river's mouth, suddenly the vast Mediterranean opened up before him: to some, an emblem of terror and harbinger of wild storms, but to him a vista of freedom of opportunity. From there he sailed direct to Marseille and—"

"Yes, I know, introduced coffee to France," said Jack, who knew the rest of the tale at least as well as Vrej himself. "Now excuse me for tacking upwind, as it were, against the general direction of your narration. But according to your brother's version of this story, your father acquired that boat-load of coffee in Mocha."

Vrej, taken aback: "Yes—Mocha is where coffee from Ethiopia, silver from Spain, and spices from India all come together."

"I have seen maps," said Jack impressively, "maps of the whole world, in a library in Hanover. And I seem to recollect that Mocha lies on the Red Sea."

"Yes—as Nyazi can tell you, it lies in Arabia Felix, across the Red Sea from Ethiopia."

"And furthermore I am under the impression that the Red Sea empties into the ocean that extends to Hindoostan."

Vrej said nothing.

"If it is true that Cairo is the end of the line—that no vessel can go farther east than that—then how did your father manage to get his ship from Mocha, on the Red Sea, to here?"

Vrej was now sitting with his eyes tightly shut, cursing under his breath.

"There must be a way through!" Jack said, then stood up to shout the news to the others. As he did, he noticed, in the corner of his eye, a movement of Vrej's hand. It was subtle. Yet any man in the world would notice it, and many would step away in response, or even reach across toward his sword-hilt, because Vrej was unmistakably reaching towards the handle of the dagger that was bound in his waist-sash. His hand moved no more than a finger's breadth before he mastered the impulse and moved it back. But Jack noticed it, and faltered, and looked into the eyes of Vrej Esphahnian, red and swollen from weeping. He saw sadness there (of course), but he did not see murderous passions; only a kind of surrender. "That's the spirit, Vrej!" he said, giving him a hearty shoulder-slap, and then Jack stepped away and called the Cabal to council.


THAT NIGHT THE PEACE of the Street of the Wigmakers in the souk of Rosetta was wrecked by the sound of a pistol-butt being hammered against an old wooden door. The head of an angry man was thrust out between shutters above, and became much less angry when he saw that two of the three visitors were Turks (or at least dressed that way), and one of those a Janissary. Pieces of eight jangled in a purse improved his mood even more. Door-bolts were removed, the visitors admitted.

The dwelling was clean and well-tended, but it smelt as if the floor-sweepings of every barbershop in the Ottoman Empire had been stuffed into its back room and left to ripen. Tea was brewed and tobacco proffered. After some half an hour of preliminaries, the visitors made a business proposal. Once the owner got over his astonishment, he accepted it. A boy was sent off to the Street of the Barbers at a dead run. While they waited, the wigmaker lit some lamps and displayed his wares. The finished products were big wigs mounted on wooden block-heads, destined for export to Europe; but they looked almost as strange to the European visitors as they did to any Arab, for during the years that they had spent pulling oars, fashions had been changing: wigs were now tall and narrow, no longer flat and broad.

Deeper in the shop were the raw materials, and here choices had to be made. Even the finest Barbary horse-hair was too coarse for tonight's project. At the other end, hanks of fine, lustrous human hair from China were available—but these were the wrong color and it would take too long to dye them.

A bleary-eyed Turkish barber came in and began heating water and stropping razors. The customers settled on some sandy brown goat hair, intermediate in price.

The Janissary's head and face were now shaved clean by the barber, and the fine fuzz on the upper cheeks burned away, dramatically but painlessly, using spirits of wine soaked into wads of Turcoman cotton. The barber was paid off and sent home. The wigmaker then went to work, painting the naked skin with pine gum one tiny patch at a time and stabbing tufts of goat hair into the goo. After two hours, the Janissary smelled overpoweringly of goats and pine-trees, and looked like he hadn't had a shave or haircut in years. And when he was stripped to the waist, revealing a back ridged with whip-scars, anyone would have identified him not as a Janissary but as a wretched oar-slave.


PIERRE DE JONZAC RETURNED to the bank of the Nile an hour after dawn, just as he had promised or threatened to, and he brought with him his entire squadron of dragoons. Yesterday they'd galloped headlong to the very edge of the quay and pulled up just short of charging across the gangplanks, all panting and sweaty and dust-caked from having galloped up and down the Canopic Way for a night and a day trying to follow the maneuvers of the galleot.

Using Monsieur Arlanc as interpreter, Nasr al-Ghur'ab complimented de Jonzac on the splendid appearance of his self and his troops this morning—for it was obvious that the menials at the French Consulate had been up all night grooming, scrubbing, starching, and polishing. The ra"is went on to apologize for the contrastingly dismal state of his ship and crew. Some of them were "enjoying the shade of the vines," which was a poetic way of saying they were in the bazaar (which had a leafy roof of grapevines) buying provisions. Others were "sipping mocha in the Pasha's house." De Jonzac looked on this (as he was meant to) as a crashingly unsubtle way of claiming that members of the Cabal were inside the stone fort built by the Turks to control the river, showering baksheesh upon officialdom. The fort was nearby enough to literally overshadow them, and scores of resplendent Janissaries were peering down from its battlements, casting a cold professional eye on the French dragoons. The point being that Rosetta was very different from Alexandria; here the French might have a consulate, and some troops, but (as the saying went) that and a few reales would buy them a cup of Mocha.

This point was entirely sound, but al-Ghur'ab had spoken only lies so far. The real reason that only a few Cabal members were visible on the galleot's quarterdeck was that four of them (Dappa, Jeronimo, Nyazi, and Vrej) had been riding south, post-haste, all through the night, hoping to cover the hundred and fifty miles to Cairo in two days. And another of them was chained to an oar.

"It was uncommonly humane of you to set free a third of your oar-slaves last night," de Jonzac commented, "but since my master owns part interest in them, we have made arrangements, among our numerous and highly placed Turkish friends in yonder Fort, to have them all rounded up and sent back to Alexandria."

"I hope that your Navy will be able to find benches for them to sit on," shouted van Hoek.

De Jonzac's face grew red and stormy-looking, but he ignored the cruel words of the Dutchman and continued: "Some of them were eager to talk to us, even before we put thumbscrews on them. So we know that you have been hiding certain metallurgical information from us."

The night before—needing some ready cash to pay wigmakers and horse-traders—they'd broken open a crate, and pulled out a gold bar, in full view of certain oar-slaves who'd later been set free. This had been done in the hope and expectation that they'd later divulge it to de Jonzac.

The ra"is shrugged. "What of it?"

De Jonzac said, "I've sent a message to Alexandria informing my master that certain numbers mentioned in the Plan must now be multiplied by thirteen."

"Alas! If only the calculation were that simple, your master could relax in the splendor of his Alexandrian villa while you went to Cairo to balance the books. In fact it is much more complicated than that. Our friend in Bonanza turns out to have diversified his portfolio far beyond the usual metal goods. The hoard will require a tedious appraisal before we can reckon its value."

"That is a routine matter—you forget my master is well acquainted with the workings of the Corsair trade," de Jonzac sniffed. "He has trusted appraisers who can be dispatched hither—"

"Dispatch them instead to Cairo," said the ra"is, "for that is where our trusted appraisers dwell. And send for your master, too. For there is one treasure here whose value only he can weigh."

De Jonzac smiled thinly. "My master is a man of acumen—I assure you he leaves appraisals to experts, save, sometimes, when it comes to Barbary stallions."

"How about English geldings?" the ra"is asked, and nodded to Yevgeny and Gabriel Goto.

Down on the oar-deck, Jack began to rattle his chains and to scream in English: "You bloody bastards! Sell me out to the Frog, will you? Motherless wog scum! May God's curse be on your heads!"

Calmly ignoring this and further curses, Yevgeny came up behind Jack, pinioned his elbows together behind his back, and lifted him up off the bench so that de Jonzac could get a good look at him. Gabriel Goto then grabbed Jack's drawers and yanked them down so they hung around the knees.

De Jonzac observed a long moment of silence as a frisson ran through his dragoons.

"Perhaps it is Ali Zaybak—perhaps some other English wretch who stood too close to a fire," the ra"is said drily. "Can you recognize Jack Shaftoe?"

"No," de Jonzac admitted.

"Having recognized him, could you place a value on his head?"

"Only my master could do that."

"Then we will see you, and your master, in Cairo, in three days," said Nasr al-Ghur'ab.

"That is not enough time!"

"We have been slaves for years," said Moseh, who had been standing quietly, arms folded, the whole time, "and we say that three more days is too long."


LATER THAT DAY they set off upriver, mostly under sail-power. The main channel was a few fathoms deep and perhaps a quarter-mile wide—which meant that they were never more than an eighth of a mile from French dragoons. For de Jonzac had sent out two pairs of riders to shadow them, one pair on each riverbank.

As soon as the galleot got clear of Rosetta—which was a sprawl of mostly humble dwellings with no wall to mark its boundary—Jack was dragged away from his bench and draped about in diverse neck-collars, manacles, and leg-irons, then taken back to the concealment of the quarterdeck where Yevgeny devoted a quarter of an hour to smiting an anvil, rattling chains, and producing other noises meant to convince anyone listening that Jack was being securely fettered. Meanwhile Jack—never one to stint on dramaturgy—screamed and cursed as if Yevgeny were bending red-hot irons directly around his wrists. In fact, the reason for his cries of agony was that he was ripping handfuls of goat-hair from his scalp and head. The skin was left covered with a scaly crust of hardened pine-gum. Various scrubbings with turpentine and lamp-oil got that off, taking several layers of skin and leaving him raw from the collarbones upwards. He wrapped his burning head in a turban, got dressed, belted on his sword, and strolled out into view looking every inch a Janissary; then paused, turned around, and shouted some abuse in Sabir at an imaginary chained wretch behind him.

He dared not look directly at his audience during this performance, but van Hoek was spying on the dragoons through an oar-lock, and reported that they'd witnessed most of it. They did not have much leisure for spying, though. The river was at its highest now, filling its channel and frequently spilling out into surrounding countryside, and so the galleot did not have to work her way around shallows as she would have in other seasons. Yet the current was gentle and she could easily make seven miles an hour upstream. Jack had been expecting a desert, and he could tell one was out there somewhere from the way everything collected a film of yellow dust. But Egypt, seen from here, was as moist and fertile as Holland. And as crowded. Even in the most remote stretches they were never out of sight of several dwellings. They passed villages a few times an hour, and large towns several times a day. For as far as they could see to both sides of the river, the flat countryside was covered with golden fields of corn and rice, and veined with wandering lines of darker green: the countless water-courses of the Delta, lined, and frequently choked, with reeds and rushes as high as a man's head. Palm trees grew in picket-lines along waterways, and towns were belted with orchards of figs, citrus, and cassia.

All of it was scenery to the Cabal, and an obstacle course to the French riders. They fell behind the galleot when they had to swing wide around river-bends and flooded fields, then caught up when they found a way to cut across one of the river's vast meanders. Fortunately for them they had left Rosetta trailing strings of fresh horses; and Egypt, like most of the Turks' empire, was a settled and orderly country. Traveling along her high-roads was not as easy as in England, but it was easier than in France, and so they were able to keep pace during the day. This gave Moseh, Jack, and the others confidence that the four who'd gone ahead—Nyazi's group—had reached Cairo without difficulty.

At night the wind fell. Rather than attempting to row through the dark, and perhaps run aground or stray into some backwater, the ra"is simply tied the galleot to a palm tree along the riverbank and then organized the Cabal into watches. The dragoons actually served as an outlying guard-post, as they were not keen to see the galleot's cargo fall into the hands of some local Ali Baba and his forty thieves.

In the middle of the second day, the wind failed and the ra"is sent a dozen slaves ashore to pull the galleot by ropes—which was why they had not released all of the slaves in Rosetta. In this way they came, late in the afternoon, to the place where the Nile diverged into its two great branches: the one that they had just navigated, and another that ran to Damietta. Here, as night fell on the second day, they tied the galleot up again, and bided during the hours of darkness. Jack stood an early morning watch, then climbed into a hammock on the quarterdeck and fell asleep in the open air.

When he awoke, the sun was rising, the ship was under way, and he could see a strange terrain of angular mountains off to the west. Sitting up for a better look, he recognized them as Pyramids. When he had got his fill of gawking at those—which took a good long while—he turned around to face the rising sun and gazed across the Nile into the Mother of the World.

Now this was like trying to comprehend all the activity of an anthill, and read all the words in a book, and feel all the splendor of a cathedral, in one glance. Jack's mind was not equal to the demands that Cairo placed on it, and so for a long while he fixed his attention on small and near matters, as if he were a boy peering through a hollow reed. Fortunately there were many such matters to occupy him: the Nile here was at least as big as the Danube at Vienna, and its course was crowded with boats laden with grain that had been brought down out of Upper Egypt. The captains of those boats had been shooting cataracts and beating back crocodiles for weeks, and were in no particular mood to make way for the unwieldy galleot. Many enemies were made as they worked their way in to the east bank of the river and made the galleot fast to a quay.

Almost immediately they were engulfed in camels, which is never pleasant, and rarely desirable—especially when they are being ridden and led by fierce-looking armed men. Jack thought they were under assault by wild nomads until he began noticing that all of them looked like Nyazi, and many were smiling. Then he heard Jeronimo bellowing in Spanish, "If I had a copper for every fly that swarms on you, beast, I'd buy the Spanish Empire! You smell worse than Vera Cruz in the springtime, and there is more filth clinging to your body than most animals shit in a year. Truly you must have sprung fully formed from a heap of manure, as flies and Popes do—may God have mercy on my soul for saying that! Jack Shaftoe is there smiling at me, thinking that you, camel, and I are well matched for each other—later I'll make him your wife perhaps and you can take him out into the desert and do with him what you will."

Dappa and Vrej were off seeing to other matters, but shortly Jack caught sight of Nyazi. He had had a joyous reunion with his clan-members. Jack was glad he had not been there to endure it.

Nasr al-Ghur'ab now unchained all of the galley-slaves at once—some two score of them—and told them that they could go now into Cairo, and never come back; or they could join in with the Cabal, and never leave it; but these were their only two choices. Within moments, all but four of them had vanished. Those who remained were a Nubian eunuch, a Hindoo, the Turk who had been at the head of Monsieur Arlanc's oar, and an Irishman named Padraig Tallow. The first three had somehow made the calculation that their chances were better with the Cabal, while Padraig (Jack suspected) just wanted to see how it would all come out. Monsieur Arlanc was offered the same choice as the others, and to Jack's delight he elected to throw his lot in with the Cabal.

They all got busy pulling the gold-crates out of the galleot and loading them onto the camels, which took no more than half an hour. The ra"is, accompanied by van Hoek, Jeronimo (who'd had enough of camels), the Turk, the Nubian, and several of Nyazi's clansmen (who wanted to see what it was like to ride on a boat), cast off the galleot's lines and took her downriver, heading for an isle in midstream a few miles distant where boats were bought and sold. The camel-caravan meanwhile formed up and prepared to move out.


SOME OF THOSE GALLEY-SLAVES, as they had considered the choice that they'd been given, had asked searching questions about the Plan. The most frequently heard was: "Why do you not simply ride out of town with your treasure? Why bother waiting for this Investor—who has made obvious his intention to cheat you?" Jack was not unsympathetic to this line of questioning. But in the end he had to agree with Moseh and Nasr al-Ghur'ab, who answered by pointing with their chins across the Nile, toward the city that the Turks had built up there, called El Giza. It had mosque-domes, leafy gardens, baths, and houses of pleasure. But, too, it had dungeons, and high walls with iron hooks on them, and a Champs de Mars where thousands of Janissaries drilled with muskets and lances. There would be judges in there, too, and some of them would probably be sympathetic to a French Duke who complained that he was being robbed by a rabble of slaves.

The Turkish authorities had already been alerted by a couple of exhausted French dragoons who had galloped up on half-dead horses as the camels were being loaded. So as the caravan left the Nile behind and began winding through the 2,400 wards and quarters of Cairo, it was carefully followed by Janissaries, not to mention hundreds of beggars, Vagabonds, pedlars, courtesans, and curious boys.

Now Cairo was a sort of accomplice in everything that happened there. It was large enough to engulf any army, and wise enough to comprehend any Plan, and old enough to've outlived whole races, nations, and religions. So nothing could really happen there without the city's consent. Nyazi's caravan, three dozen horses and camels strong, armed to the teeth, laden with tons of gold, was nothing here. The train of men and animals was frequently chopped into halves, thirds, and smaller bits by yet stranger processions that burst out from narrow ways and cut across it: gangs of masked women running and ululating, columns of Dervishes in high conical hats pounding on drums, wrapped corpses being paraded around atop stilts, squadrons of Janissaries in green and red. Every so often they would stumble upon a shavush in his emerald-green, ankle-length robe, red boots, white leather cap, and stupendous moustache. Then every camel in the procession had to be made to kneel, every man had to dismount, until he had wandered past; and as long as they had stopped, Vagabonds would run up and spray rose-water at them and demand money for it.

Even if Jack had not known, when he'd disembarked from the galleot, that Egypt was the world's oldest country, he'd have figured it out after an hour's slow progress through Cairo's streets. He could see it in the faces of the people, who were a mixture of every race Jack had ever heard about, and some he hadn't. Every face told as many tales as a whole galley full of oar-slaves. Likewise their houses, which were made partly of stone, partly of timbers so old and gnarled they looked petrified, and mostly of bricks, hand-made and rudely baked, some looking as if they might bear the hand-prints of Moses himself. As many buildings were being torn down, as built up; which only stood to reason, as all the space had been claimed, and there was nothing to do but shift the available materials from one site to another, much as the Nile continually built and dissolved the sand-bars of the Delta by pushing grains of sand from place to place according to its whim. Even the Pyramids had had a gnawed look about their corners, as if people had been using them for quarries.

After hours of working deeper into the city they reached the Khan el-Khalili: a shambolic market, bigger in itself than all but a few European cities. Nyazi bade Jack take his shoes off and led him into an ancient mosque and up a steep spiral staircase that was dark and cool as a natural cave. Finally they stepped out on the roof and Jack looked out upon the city. The river was too far away to be seen from here and so what he saw was a million dusty flat rooves piled with bales, barrels, bundles, mounds, and household detritus. Each roof had its own peculiar height, and the lower ones seemed in danger of becoming buried.

Cairo was like the bottom of a vast pit whence the inhabitants had been madly trying to escape for thousands of years, and the only way out was to dig up clay, quarry limestone, and tear down empty houses and defenseless monuments, and pile the proceeds ever higher. Who had lately been winning the race could be judged by whose roof was highest. The losers could not keep pace with their neighbors, or even with the drifting dust that assiduously covered anything that failed to move, and so gradually sank from sight. Jack had the phant'sy that he could go into any house in Cairo, descend into the cellar, and find an entire house buried beneath, and yet another house beneath that one, and so on, miles down. Never had the preachers' line "He will come to judge the quick and the dead" been so clear to Jack; for here in this Bible-land, Quick and Dead were the only two categories, and the distinction between them the only Judgment that mattered.

So he drew comfort from being in the Khan el-Khalili, which appeared to be the quickest part of the city. The caravan wound through market-streets devoted to every good imaginable, from slaves to butter to live cobras, and eventually reached a place that, Jack thought, must be the dead center of the entire metropolis. It was a yard, or perhaps an alley: a rectangle of dirt, a bow-shot in length, but not above five yards in width, hemmed in by four-and five-storey buildings. Above, a narrow aperture provided light, but something translucent had been thrown across between the parapets of the buildings: caravan-tents and tarpaulins, Jack suspected. These formed a continuous roof overhead, letting in dusty light but sealing the place off from eavesdroppers. The surrounding buildings were astonishingly quiet—the quietest place in Cairo—and they smelled of hay. Ships coming down the Nile had replenished the place with food for the horses and camels that were stabled here.

"This is where it began," remarked Nyazi. "This was the seed."

"What do you mean?" Jack asked.

"A hundred generations ago, some men like me camped here—" stomping the dirt with one sandal "—for the night with their camels, and in time the camp put down roots, and became a caravanserai. The market of Khan el-Khalili grew up around it, and Cairo around it. But you see the caravanserai remains, and still we come here to sell our camels."

"It is a good place to meet the Duke," Moseh said. "The Plan was sound all along. For, according to what Nyazi has said, not a single day has gone by in this place, since the very beginning of the world, when silver and gold have not passed from hand to hand here. Its presence was not dictated by any king, nor was it prophesied by any creed; it emerged of its own accord, and endures regardless of what the Sultan in Constantinople or the Sun King in Paris might prefer."

Friendship is a Vertue oftener found among Thieves than other People, for when their Companions are in Danger, they venture hardest to relieve them.

—Memoirs of the Right Villanous John Hall

The ground floors of the caravanserai's buildings had high ceilings so that without having to duck, or doff their turbans, men could ride camels into them, and that was just what the clan of Nyazi did. That night, Nasr al-Ghur'ab came back with his contingent, and with Dappa and Vrej, whom they hadn't seen since Rosetta.

"Truly the forkings and wanderings of the Nile are as unknowable as the streets of Cairo," said Dappa, blinking his eyes in amazement, "but Vrej found an Armenian coffee-trader, no more than five minutes' walk from this place, who knew all about the way to Mocha. You go downstream to the great fork, and take the Damietta branch, and after a few miles there is a village on the right bank where a water-course strays off eastwards. In time that stream goes all the way to the Red Sea."

"Then much traffic must pass through it!" Moseh exclaimed.

"It is jealously guarded by the head men of the villages that bestride it, and by the Turkish officials," Dappa agreed.

"And for that very reason," said Vrej, picking up the narrative, "other Egyptians, in neighboring precincts, have been at work with picks and shovels, scooping out short-cuts that bypass the larger villages and toll-stations. These look like nothing more than stagnant dead-ends, or reed-choked sewer-ditches, when they are visible at all; and you may be sure that they are guarded by the farmers who dug them, every bit as jealously as the main channel. So we shall not make it through to the Red Sea without crossing the palms of innumerable peasants with baksheesh—the total expense will be dumb-founding, I fear."

"But we will have a boat-load of gold," said Yevgeny.

"And we will be running for our lives," added Jack, "which always makes spending money not quite so painful."

"And those farmers will want to keep it all a secret from their Turkish overlords just as badly as we will," predicted Jeronimo.

"Not quite as badly," Moseh demurred, "but badly enough."

"Very good then," said Surendranath, the Hindoo galley slave who had chosen to throw in his lot with them. "You have shown extreme wisdom in establishing your batna."

"Avast! We are all People of the Book here, and have no use for your idolatrous claptrap," said Jeronimo.

"Steady there, Caballero," said Jack, "I know from personal experience that Books of India contain much of interest. What else can you tell us about this batna, Surendranath?"

"I learnt it from English traders in Surat," said the befuddled Surendranath, "It stands for Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement."

A recess, now, as the phrase was translated into diverse languages.

Moseh said, "Be it English or Hindoo, there's still wisdom in it. Our friend, born and raised a banyan, understands that escaping over the flooded fields and through the wadis to the Red Sea is an alternate plan—a contingency and nothing more." As Moseh was saying these words, he gazed deliberately into the eyes of those members of the Cabal he deemed most impetuous. But he began and ended with his eyes locked on Jack's. Moseh concluded, "To have a batna is good and wise, as Surendranath has pointed out. But the Negotiated Agreement is much better than this Best Alternative."

"Moseh, you have sat next to me for years and heard all of my stories, and so you know that I only love one thing in the world, even in spite of this," said Jack, pulling up the loose sleeve of his garment to display the track of the harpoon in his arm. "There should be no doubt in your mind that I would rather be on a ship bound for Christendom tomorrow, than fleeing for my life towards the Red Sea, like some miserable Hebrew of yore. But like those Hebrews I'll not be a slave any longer."

"We are all in accord there," said Dappa.

"Then, as I have been chosen to represent the Cabal in our final negotiation with the Investor, I must ask you all to do one thing. I am a Vagabond, and was never one for swearing pompous oaths and prating about honor. But this undertaking is no longer a Vagabondish sort of enterprise—so every man among you must now swear, by whatever he considers holiest, that you are with me tomorrow. That, whatsoever happens in my dealings with the Duke—whether I show foolishness or wisdom—whether I remain collected, or lose my temper, or piss my breeches—whether or not the Imp of the Perverse comes to pay me a visit—you are with me, and will accept my decision, and live or die with me."

Here Jack had been expecting a long, awkward pause, or even laughter. But the sword of Gabriel Goto was out of its sheath before Jack's words had stopped echoing round the narrow yard. The newcomers flinched. In a simple swift movement Gabriel reversed his sword and presented its hilt to Jack, and in the light of the fire the blade shimmered like a swift stream of clear water beneath the rising sun. "I am samurai," he said simply.

Padraig, the big Irishman, stepped forward and spat into the fire. "We've a saying," he said to Jack in English. "Is this a private fight, or can anyone join in? Well, I'm in, which ought to suffice. But if you want me to swear by something, then I do swear on my mother's grave above the sea in Kilmacthomas, and damn you if you think that's not as good as being a samurai."

Moseh took the scrap of Indian bead-work from around his neck, kissed it, and tossed it to Jack. "Throw that into the fire if I fail you," he said, "and let it become part of the dust of the Khan el-Khalili."

Vrej said, "I have followed you thus far, Jack, seeking to make good on the debt that my family owes you. I swear on my family that I will pay you back."

Monsieur Arlanc said, "I do not believe in swearing oaths. But I do believe that I am destined to see the matter through to its proper end."

Van Hoek said, "I swear by my right arm that I'll never be taken by pirates again. And this Investor is a pirate in the eyes of God."

"But cap'n, you are left-handed!" Jack said, trying to lighten the mood, which he was beginning to find oppressive.

"To make good on the oath, I must use my strong left hand to cut off the right," said van Hoek, missing the humor altogether. Indeed, the jest had put him into a more emotional state than any of his fellow-slaves had ever seen. Suddenly he drew his cutlass out; lay his right fist on a bench with only the little finger extended; and brought the cutlass down on it. The last joint of the pinky flew off into the dust. Van Hoek thrust his weapon back into its scabbard, then went out and retrieved the severed digit and held it up in the fire-light. "There is your oath!" he growled, and flung it into the fire. Then he sagged to his knees, and passed out in the dirt.

Some uneasiness, now, as the others wondered whether they would be expected to cut off pieces of themselves. But Nyazi withdrew from the folds of his cloak a red Koran, and he and Nasr al-Ghur'ab and the Turk from Arlanc's galley gathered around it and said holy words in Arabic, and for good measure, announced that they would make the haj if they survived. Likewise Yevgeny, Surendranath, and the Nubian swore fearsome oaths to their respective gods. Mr. Foot, who had been lurking round the edges of the fire-light looking vaguely indignant, announced that it would be super-fluous for him to swear loyalty since "the whole enterprise" had been his idea (apparently referring to the ill-starred cowrie shell voyage of many years back) and that in any case it "would never do" to show anything other than loyalty to his comrades and that it was "bizarre" and "shocking" and "unseemly" and "inconceivable" for Jack to even suggest that he, Mr. Foot, would do otherwise.

"I swear by my country—the country of free men," said Dappa, "which at the moment has only sixteen or so citizens, and no territory. But it is the only country I have and so by it do I swear."

Jeronimo stepped forward, piously wringing his hands, and began to mumble some words in Latin; but then his demon took over and he shouted, "Fuck! I do not even believe in God! I swear by all of you Vagabonds, Niggers, Heretics, Kikes, and Camel-Jockeys, for you are the only friends I have ever had."


THE DUC D'ARCACHON had disembarked from his gilded river-barge, and was riding towards the Khan el-Khalili on a white horse, accompanied by several aides, a Turkish official or two, and a mixed company of rented Janissaries and crack French dragoons. Behind them rumbled several empty wagons of very heavy construction, such as were used to carry blocks of dressed stone through the streets. This much was known to the Cabal half an hour in advance—word had been brought by the messenger-boys who moved through the streets of Cairo like scirocco winds.

Every master jeweler in the city had been hired by the Duc d'Arcachon—or, failing that, had been bribed not to do any work for the Cabal—and were now converging on a certain gate of the Khan el-Khalili to await the Duke. This was common knowledge to every Jew in the city, including Moseh.

A flat-bottomed, shallow-draft river-boat waited at the terminus of a canal that wandered through the city and eventually communicated with the Nile. It was only half a mile from the caravanserai, down a certain street, and the people who dwelled along that street had carried their chairs and hookahs indoors and rounded up their chickens and were keeping their doors bolted and windows shuttered today, because of certain rumors that had begun to circulate the night before.

It was mid-afternoon before the clatter and rumble of the Investor's entourage penetrated the still courtyard where Jack stood in the lambent glow of the stretched canvas above. He took a deep whiff of air into his nostrils. It smelt of hay, dust, and camel-dung. He ought to be scared, or at least excited. Instead he felt peace. For this alley was the womb at the center of the Mother of the World, the place where it had all started. The Messe of Linz and the House of the Golden Mercury in Leipzig and the Damplatz of Amsterdam were its young impetuous grandchildren. Like the eye of a hurricane, the alley was dead calm; but around it, he knew, revolved the global maelstrom of liquid silver. Here, there were no Dukes and no Vagabonds; every man was the same, as in the moment before he was born.

The challenges and salutations were barely audible through the stable's haystacks; Jack could not even make out the language. Then he heard horseshoes pocking over the stone floor, coming closer.

Jack rested his hand on the pommel of his sword and recited a poem he'd been taught long ago, standing in the bend of a creek in Bohemia:

Watered steel-blade, the world perfection calls,

Drunk with the viper poison foes appals.

Cuts lively, burns the blood whene'er it falls;

And picks up gems from pave of marble halls.

"That is he!?" said a voice in French. Jack realized his eyes were closed, and opened them to see a man on a white, pink-eyed cheval de parade. His wig was perfect, an Admiral's hat was perched atop it, and four little black patches were glued to his white face. He was staring in some alarm at Jack, and Jack almost reached for one of the pistols in his waist-sash, fearing he had already been recognized. But another chevalier, riding knee to knee with the Duke to his left side, leaned askew in his saddle and answered, "Yes, your grace, that is the Agha of the Janissaries." Jack recognized this rider as Pierre de Jonzac.

"He must be a Balkan," remarked the Duke, apparently because of Jack's European coloration.

A third French chevalier rode on the Duke's right. He cleared his throat significantly as Monsieur Arlanc emerged from the stables and fell in beside Jack, on his left hand. Evidently this was to warn the Duke that they were now in the presence of a man who could understand French. Moseh now emerged and stood on Jack's right to even the count, three facing three.

The Frenchmen—wishing to command the field—rode forward all the way to the center of the alley. Likewise Jack strolled forward until he was drawing uncomfortably close to the Duke. Finally the Duke reined in his white horse and held up one hand in a signal for everyone to halt. De Jonzac and the other chevalier stopped immediately, their horses' noses even with the Duke's saddle. But Jack took another step forward, and then another, until de Jonzac reached down and drew a pistol halfway from a saddle-holster, and the other aide spurred his horse forward to cut Jack off.

Behind the Duke and his men, it was possible to hear a considerable number of French soldiers and Janissaries infiltrating the caravanserai, and before long Jack began to see musket-barrels gleaming in windows of the uppermost storeys. Likewise, men of Nyazi's clan had taken up positions on both sides of the alley to Jack's rear, and the burning punks of their matchlocks glowed in dark archways like demons' eyes. Jack stopped where he was: perhaps eight feet from the glabrous muzzle of the Duke's horse. But he chose a place where his sight-line to the Duke's face was blocked by the aide who had ridden forward. The Duke said something sotto voce and this man backed his mount out of the way, returning to his former position guarding the Duke's right flank.

"I comprehend your plan," said the Duke, dispensing with formalities altogether—which was probably meant to be some kind of insult. "It is essentially suicidal."

Jack pretended not to understand until Monsieur Arlanc had translated this into Sabir.

"We had to make it seem that way," answered Jack, "or you would have been afraid to show up."

The Duke smiled as if at some very dry dinner-table witticism. "Very well—it is like a dance, or a duel, beginning with formal steps: I try to frighten you, you try to impress me. We proceed now. Show me L'Emmerdeur!"

"He is very near by," said Jack. "First we must settle larger matters—the gold."

"I am a man of honor, not a slave, and so to me, the gold is nothing. But if you are so concerned about it, tell me what you propose."

"First, send your jewelers away—there are no jewels, and no silver. Only gold."

"It is done."

"This caravanserai is vast, as you have seen, and full of hay at the moment. The gold bars have been buried in the haystacks. We know where they are. You do not. As soon as you have given us the documents declaring us free men, and set us on the road, or the river, with our share of the money in our pockets—in the form of pieces of eight—we will tell you where to find the gold."

"That cannot be your entire plan," said the Duke. "There is not so much hay here that we cannot simply arrest you, and then search it all at our leisure."

"While we were going through the stables, hiding the gold, we spilled quite a bit of lamp-oil on the floor, and buried a few powder-kegs in haystacks for good measure," Jack said.

Pierre de Jonzac shouted a command to a junior officer back in the stables.

"You threaten to burn the caravanserai, then," said the Duke, as if everything Jack said had to be translated into childish language.

"The gold will melt and run into the drains. You will recover some of it, but you will lose more than you would by simply paying us our share and setting us free."

An officer came out on foot and whispered something to de Jonzac, who relayed it to the Duke.

"Very well," said the Duke.

"I beg your pardon?"

"My men have found the puddles of lamp-oil, your story seems to be correct, your proposal is accepted," said the Duke. He turned and nodded to his other aide, who opened up his saddle-bags and began to take out a series of identical-looking documents, formally sealed and beribboned in the style of the Ottoman bureaucracy.

Jack turned and beckoned toward the doorway where Nasr al-Ghur'ab had been lurking. The ra"is came out, laid down his arms, and approached the Duke's aide, who allowed him to inspect one of the documents. "It is a cancellation of a slave-deed," he said. "It is inscribed with the name of Jeronimo, and it declares him to be a free man."

"Read the others," Jack said.

"Now for the important matter, mentioned earlier," said the Duke, "which is the only reason I made the journey from Alexandria."

"Dappa," read al-Ghur'ab from another scroll. "Nyazi."

A cart rattled out from behind the French lines, causing Jack to flinch; but it carried only a lock-box. "Your pieces of eight," the Duke explained, amused by Jack's nervousness.

"Yevgeny—and here is Gabriel Goto's," the ra"is continued.

"Assuming that the wretch you displayed in Alexandria really was L'Emmerdeur, how much do you want for him?" the Duke inquired.

"As we are all free men now, or so it appears, we will likewise do the honorable thing, and let you have him for free—or not at all," said Jack.

"Here is that of van Hoek," said the ra"is, "and here, a discharge for me."

Another tolerant smile from the Duke. "I cannot recommend strongly enough that you give him to me. Without L'Emmerdeur there is no transaction."

"Vrej Esphahnian—Padraig Tallow—Mr. Foot—"

"And despite your brave words," the Duke continued, "the fact remains that you are surrounded by my dragoons, musketeers, and Janissaries. The gold is mine, as surely as if it were locked up in my vault in Paris."

"This one has a blank space where the name should go," said Nasr al-Ghur'ab, holding up the last document.

"That is only because we were not given this one's name," explained Pierre de Jonzac, pointing at Jack.

"Your vault in Paris," Jack said, echoing the Duke's words. He now spoke directly to the Duke, in the best French he could muster. "I amguessing that would be somewhere underneath the suite of bedchambers in the west wing, there, where you have that god-awful green marble statue of King Looie all tarted up as Neptune."

A Silence, now, almost as long as the one Jack had experienced, once, in the grand ballroom of the H^otel Arcachon. But all things considered, the Duke recovered quickly—which meant either that he'd known all along, or that he was more adaptable than he looked. De Jonzac and the other aide were dumbfounded. The Duke moved his horse a couple of steps nearer, the better to peer down at Jack's face. Jack stepped forward, close enough to feel the breath from the horse's nostrils, and pulled the turban from his head.

"This need not alter the terms of the transaction, Jack," said the Duke. "Your comrades can all be free and rich, with a single word from you."

Jack stood there and considered it—genuinely—for a minute or two, as horses snorted and punks smoldered in the dark vaults of the caravanserai all around him. One small gesture of Christlike self-abnegation and he could give his comrades the wealth and freedom they deserved. At any earlier part of his life he would have scoffed at the idea. Now, it strangely tempted him.

For a few moments, anyway.

"Alas, you are a day too late," he said at last, "for last night my comrades swore any number of mickle oaths to me, and I intend to hold them to account. 'Twere bad form, otherwise."

And then in a single motion he drew out his Janissary-sword and plunged it all the way to the hilt into the neck of the Duke's horse, aiming for the heart. When he hit it, the immense muscle clenched like a fist around the wide head of the blade, then went limp as the watered steel cleaved it in twain.

The blade came out driven on a jet of blood as thick as his wrist. The horse reared up, the Duke's jeweled spurs flailing in the air. Jack stepped to one side, drawing a pistol from his waistband with his free hand, and fired a ball through the head of the aide who had brought the documents. The Duke just avoided falling off his horse, but managed to hold on as it bolted forward a couple of paces and then fell over sideways, pinning one of the Duke's legs and (as Jack could hear) breaking it.

Jack looked up to see Pierre de Jonzac aiming a pistol at him from no more than two yards away. Moseh had meanwhile stuck his tongue out, and gone into motion. A flying hatchet lodged in de Jonzac's shoulder, causing him to drop the weapon. A moment later his horse collapsed, shot through the head, and de Jonzac was thrown to the ground practically at Jack's feet. Jack snatched the fallen pistol; aimed it at the head of de Jonzac; then moved the barrel slightly to one side and fired into the ground.

"My men think you are dead now, and won't waste balls on you," Jack said. "In fact I have let you live, but for one purpose only: so that you can make your way back to Paris and tell them the following: that the deed you are about to witness was done for a woman, whose name I will not say, for she knows who she is; and that it was done by ‘Half-Cocked' Jack Shaftoe, L'Emmerdeur, the King of the Vagabonds, Ali Zaybak: Quicksilver!"

As he said these words he was stepping over to the Duc d'Arcachon, who had dragged himself out from under his horse and was lying there, hatless and wigless, propped up on one elbow, with the jagged ends of his leg-bones poking out through the bloody tissues of his silk stockings.

"Here I am supposed to give you a full account and explanation of your sins, and why you deserve this," Jack announced, "but there is no time. Suffice it to say that I am thinking of a mother and daughter you once abducted, and disgraced, and sold into slavery."

The Duke pondered this for a moment, looking bewildered, and then said: "Which ones?"

Then Jack brought the bright blade of the Janissary-sword down like a thunderbolt, and the head of Louis-Francois de Lavardac, duc d'Arcachon, bounced and spun in the dirt of Khan el-Khalili in the center of the Mother of the World, and the dust of the Sahara began to cloud the lenses of his eyes.


NOW JACK GOT THE IDEA that it was raining, because of the spurts of dust erupting from the ground all around him. Frenchmen, Janissaries, or both were firing at him from above—feeling free to do so now that Jack had apparently slain all three of the Frenchmen in the alley. Monsieur Arlanc and Nasr al-Ghur'ab had made themselves scarce. Jack ran into the stables, which had become the scene of a strange sort of indoor battle. Nyazi's men, and the Cabal, were outnumbered. But they'd had plenty of time to ready positions among the haystacks and watering-troughs of the stable, and to string trip-wires between pillars. They could have held the French and Turks off all day, if not for the fact that the stables had been set on fire—possibly on purpose, but more likely by the muzzle-flash of a weapon. Jack vaulted into a trough, drenching himself and his clothes, and then scurried back through an apparently random hail of musket-balls to where Yevgeny, Padraig, Jeronimo, Gabriel Goto, the Nubian eunuch, and several of Nyazi's clan were frantically rifling haystacks for gold bars and piling them into heavy wagons. These were drawn by nervous horses with grain-sacks over their heads to keep them from seeing the flames—a cheap subterfuge that was already wearing thin. At a glance Jack estimated that somewhat more than half of the gold had been recovered.

Moseh, Vrej, and Surendranath, with their merchants' aptitude for figures, knew where every last bar was hid, and were making sure that none went missing. That was a job best done by calm men. As men were more intelligent than horses, one could not keep them calm by putting sacks over their heads; some kind of real security had to be provided, from fire, smoke, Janissaries, dragoons, and—what else had the Duke mentioned?

"Have you seen any French musketeers?" Jack inquired, when he had located Nyazi. As long as they remained in the stables, Nyazi was their general.

It was easier to talk now than it had been a few minutes ago. Smoke had rendered muskets useless, and flames the possession of gunpowder extremely dangerous. The thuds of musket-fire had died away and were being supplanted by the ring of blade against blade, and the shouting of men trying to shift their burdens of fear to their foes.

"What is a musketeer?"

"The Duke claimed he had some," Jack said, which did not answer Nyazi's question. But there was no time to explain the distinction between dragoons and musketeers now.

A horn had begun to blow from the back of the stables, giving the signal that the gold wagons were ready to depart. Nyazi began to holler orders to his clansmen, who were distributed around the smoke in some way that was clear only to him, and they began falling back toward the wagons. This was their attempt at an orderly retreat under fire, which as Jack knew was no easy thing to manage even with regular troops under good conditions. In fact it was almost as chaotic as the advance of the Janissaries, who had overrun at least part of Nyazi's defensive line and were now stumbling forward, gasping and gagging, tripping over rakes and slamming into pillars, charging toward the sound of the trumpet call—not so much because the enemy and the gold were there, as because one could not blow a bugle without drawing breath, and so it proved that air was to be had ahead.

Jack got as far as a place where the smoke was diluted by a current of fresh air, then was nearly spitted by a bayonet-thrust coming in from his left rear, aimed at his kidney. Jack spun almost entirely around to the right, so the tip of the blade snagged in the muscle of his back but was deflected, cutting and tearing the flesh but not piercing his organs. At the same time he was delivering a backhanded cut to the head of the bayonet's owner. So the fight was over before Jack knew it had started. But it led immediately to a real sword-fight with a Frenchman—an officer who had a small-sword, and knew how to use it. Jack, fighting with a heavier and slower weapon, knew he would have to end this on the first or second exchange of blows, or else his opponent could simply stand off at a distance and poke holes through him until he bled to death.

Jack's first attack was abortive, though, and his second was nicely parried by the Frenchman—who backed into a pitchfork that was lying on the floor, and tripped over its handle, sprawling back onto his arse. Jack snatched up the pitchfork and flung it like a trident at his opponent just as he was scrambling to his feet. It did no damage, but in knocking it aside, the Frenchman left himself open for a moment and Jack leapt forward swinging. His opponent tried to block the blow with the middle of his small-sword, but this weapon—designed for twitchy finger-fighting and balletic lunges—was feeble shelter against Jack's blade of watered steel. The Janissary-blade knocked the rapier clean out of the French officer's hand and went on to cut his body nearly in half.

There was a clamor of voices and blades and whinnying horses off to his right. Jack desperately wanted to get over there, because he suspected he was alone and surrounded.

Then one of the powder-kegs exploded. At least that was the easiest way to explain the crushing sound, the horizontal storm of barrel-staves, pebbles, nails, horseshoes, and body parts that came and went through the smoke, and the sudden moaning and popping of timbers as sections of floor collapsed. Jack's ears stopped working. But his skull ended up pressed against the stone floor, which conducted, directly into his brain, the sound of horseshoes flailing, iron-rimmed cartwheels grinding and screeching, and—sad to say—at least one cart-load of gold bars overturning as panicked horses took it round a corner too fast. Each bar radiated a blinding noise as it struck the pavement.

Lying flat on his back gave him the useful insight that there was a layer of clear air riding just above the floor. He pulled his soaked tunic off, tied it over his mouth and nose, and began crawling on his naked belly. The place was a maze of haystacks and corpses, but light was shining in through a huge stone arch-way. He dragged himself through it, and out into the open—and into battle.

Monsieur Arlanc got his attention by pelting him in the head with a small rock, and beckoned him to safety behind an overturned cart. Jack lay amid scattered gold bars for a while, just breathing. Meanwhile Monsieur Arlanc was crawling to and fro on his belly, gathering the bullion together and stacking it up to make a rampart. The occasional musket-ball whacked into it, but most of the fire was passing over their heads.

Rolling over onto his belly and peering out through a gun-slit that the Huguenot had prudently left between gold bars, Jack could see the large floppy hats characteristic of French musketeers. They had formed up in several parallel ranks, completely blocking the street that ran down to the canal where the Cabal's means of escape was waiting. These ranks took turns kneeling, loading, standing, aiming, and firing, keeping up a steady barrage of musket-balls that made it impossible for the men of the Cabal to advance, or even to stand up. This human road-block was only about forty yards away, and was completely exposed. But it worked because the Cabal's forces did not have enough muskets, powder, and balls left to return fire. And it would continue working for as long as those musketeers were supplied with ammunition.

Meanwhile the stable continued to burn, and occasionally explode, behind them. The situation could not possibly be as dire as it seemed or they would all be dead. Between volleys of musketeer-fire Jack heard the whinny of horses and the rattling bray of camels. He looked to the left and saw a stable-yard, surrounded by a low stone wall, where several of Nyazi's men had gotten their camels to kneel and their horses to lie down on their sides. So they had a sort of reserve, anyway, that could be used to pull the carts down to the boat—but not as long as those carts were forty yards in front of a company of musketeers.

"We have to outflank those bastards," Jack said. Which was obvious—so others must have thought of it already—which would explain the fact that only a few members of the Cabal were in evidence here. The left flank, once he looked beyond that embattled stable-yard, looked like a cul-de-sac; movement that way was blocked by a high stone wall that looked as if it might have been part of Cairo's fortifications in some past aeon, and was now a jumbled stone-quarry.

So Jack crawled to the right, working his way along the line of gold-ramparts and immobilized carts, and spied a side-street leading off into the maze of the Khan el-Khalili. At the entrance of this street, a Janissary was pinned to a wooden door by an eight-foot-long spear, which Jack looked on as proving that Yevgeny had passed by there recently. A hookah jetted arcs of brown water from several musket wounds. Once he had entered the street, and gotten out of view of the musketeers, Jack got to his feet and threw his weight against a green wooden door. But it was solider than it looked, and well-barred from the inside. The same presumably went for every door and window that fronted on this street; there was no way to go but forward.

He rounded a tight curve and came to a wee square, the sort of thing that in Paris might have, planted in its center, a life-size statue of Leroy leading his regiments across the Rhine, or something. In place of which stood Yevgeny, feet planted wide, arms up in the air, manipulating a half-pike that he had evidently ripped from the hands of a foe. Yevgeny was holding it near its balance-point and whirling it round and round so fast that he, and the pike, taken together, seemed and sounded like a monstrous hummingbird. Three Janissaries stood round about him at a respectful distance; two, who'd ventured within the fatal radius, lay spreadeagled in the dust bleeding freely from giant lacerations of the head.

One dropped to his knees and tried to come in under Yevgeny's pike, but the Russian, who was turning slowly round and round even as he spun the weapon, canted the plane of its movement in such a way that its sharpened end swept the fellow's cap off, and might have scalped him had he been an inch closer. He collapsed to his belly and crept back away—which was not possible to do quickly.

All this presented itself to Jack's eyes in the first moment that he came into this tiny plaza. His first thought was that Yevgeny would be defenseless against anyone who came upon the scene with a projectile weapon. Scarcely had this entered his mind when one of the two standing Janissaries backed into a door-nook, withdrew a discharged pistol from his waist-sash, and set about loading it. Jack picked up a fist-sized stone and flung it at this man. Yevgeny stopped his pike in mid-whirl, swung the butt high into the air, and drove the point into the body of the man who'd dropped to his stomach. The third, construing this as an opening, gathered his feet under him so as to spring at Yevgeny. Noting this, Jack let out a scream that astonished the man and made him have second thoughts and go all tangle-footed. He turned towards Jack and, distracted as he was by Yevgeny on his flank, parried an imagined attack from Jack, and mounted a weak one of his own. Yevgeny meanwhile chucked the pike at the pistol-loader, who had dropped his weapon into the dirt when Jack's rock had caught him amidships (which was understandable) and gone down on both knees to retrieve it (a fatal mistake, as it had turned him into a stationary target).

The one who was fighting with Jack swooped his blade wildly from side to side. This was not a good technique, but its sheer recklessness set Jack back on his heels long enough for him to turn and run away. Yevgeny noted this, and pursued him hotly.

Three ways joined together in this little space. Jack had entered along one of them. That poor unnerved Janissary, and Yevgeny, had exited along the way that led off to Jack's left. This was the way Jack needed to probe if there was to be any hope of outflanking the musketeers. It led imperceptibly downhill, away from the caravanserai and towards the canal. To Jack's right, then, was a needle's eye, which is to say a very narrow arch built to admit humans while preventing camels from passing out of the stables. Peering through that, he saw that beyond it the alley broadened and ran straight for about ten yards to a side entrance of the caravanserai, which was sucking in a palpable draft of air to feed the howling and cackling flames. A squad of some eight or ten French soldiers were just emerging from the smoke. They had prudently cast off their muskets and powder-horns, but otherwise looked none the worse for wear—they must have found some way to circumvent the fire.

But Jack's view of these was suddenly blocked by a figure in a black ankle-length robe: Gabriel Goto, who stepped out from the shelter of a doorway and took up a position blocking the eye of the needle. At the moment he appeared to be unarmed; but he stopped the Frenchmen in their tracks anyway, by raising up his right hand and uttering some solemn words in Latin. Jack was no Papist, but he'd been in enough battles and poorhouses to recognize the rite of extreme unction, the last sacrament given to men who were about to die.

Hearing musket-fire from the opposite way out—the way Yevgeny had gone—Jack turned to look, and saw a somewhat wider street that wound off in the direction of where those musketeers had established their road-block. Ten or twelve yards away, just where it curved out of view, a corpse lay sprawled on its back.

Jack turned round again to look at Gabriel Goto, who had planted himself just on this side of the needle's eye and was standing in a prayerful attitude as the Frenchmen came towards him. The samurai waited until they were no more than two yards away. Then he reached under his cloak and drew out his two-handed saber, gliding forward in the same movement, like a snake over grass, and tracing a compound diagram in the air with his sword-tip. Then he drew back, and Jack noticed that the head, neck, and right arm of one Frenchman were missing—removed by a single diagonal cut.

As Gabriel Goto seemed to have matters well in hand at the needle's eye, Jack went the other way, slowing as he approached the corpse that lay in the street. It was the Turk from Monsieur Arlanc's oar. He had been shot in the head with a musket, which was a polite way of saying that a lead ball three-quarters of an inch in diameter had hit him between the eyes traveling at several hundred miles an hour and turned much of his skull into a steaming crater. This gave Jack the idea of looking up, which was fortunate, as he saw a French musketeer kneeling on a rooftop above, aiming a musket directly at him. Smoke squirted from the pan. Jack darted sideways. A musket-ball slammed into a stone corner just above him, driving a shower of flakes into his face but not doing any real harm. Jack jumped back out and looked up to see Nasr al-Ghur'ab up on that rooftop, lunging at the musketeer with a dagger. The ra"is won that struggle in a few moments. But then he was struck in the leg by a musket-ball fired, from only a few yards' distance, by a Janissary posted directly across the way. He fell, clutching his leg, and looking in astonishment and horror at the fellow who'd shot him, and shouted a few words in Turkish.

Jack meanwhile ran ahead, rounded a curve, and was confronted by a Y. The left fork led to a point in the main street, directly in front of the musketeers' position; anyone who did so much as poke his head out of there would get it blown off in an instant. The right fork led to a point behind the musketeers, and so that was the one they wanted; but the French had had the good sense to throw up a barricade consisting of a wagon rolled over onto its side. Two muskets were immediately fired at Jack, who without thinking dove headlong into the deep gutter that ran down the center of the street. This had no more than a trickle of sewage in the bottom; it was lined with stone and (because of the slight curve in the street) protected him from musket-fire.

He rolled onto his back and looked straight up to see the sniper who had shot al-Ghur'ab having his throat cut by Nyazi, who had somehow gotten to the roof. But rather than advancing, Nyazi was obliged to throw himself down to avoid fire from a few other Janissaries who were on the adjoining rooftop. Though he could not understand much Turkish or Arabic, Jack could tell the two languages apart by their sounds, and he was certain that several other Arabic-speaking men—Nyazi's clansmen—were up there, too. So it was going to be camel-traders versus Janissaries on the rooftops.

Levering himself up on his elbows and surveying the street, Jack could now see Yevgeny, Padraig, and the Nubian backed into doorways, safe for now, but unable to advance toward the musketeers' barricade.

Jack retreated up the gutter, squirming like an eel, until he was out of the line of fire, then got to his feet and ran back to the front of the stables, where the wagon-train was pinned down. There he could see into the stable-yard, where Jeronimo was saddling an Arab horse, apparently getting ready to do something.

From one of their supply-wagons Jack secured a powder-keg and an earthenware jar of lamp-oil. Then he turned round and went back, at first crawling on his belly and pushing these items before him, later hugging the keg to his belly and running. A rightward glance at the T intersection told him that Gabriel Goto was still embroiled at the needle's eye, French body parts continuing to thud down every few seconds. The sword whirling through the air tracing Barock figures, like the pen of a royal calligrapher.

Jack paused near the Turk's body to pry the wax-sealed bung from the jar of lamp-oil. He poured about half the contents over the powder-keg, dribbling it on slowly so that it soaked into the dry wood rather than running off. Then he came round the curve into the Y intersection and dove once more into the gutter: a trough with vertical sides and a rounded bottom, like a U, wide enough that the keg, laid sideways, could fit into it, remaining mostly below street level. But the round ends of the keg, bound by iron hoops, rolled like cartwheels along the sloping sides of the U.

Pushing the reeking keg in front of him, he inched forward until he began to draw direct fire from the musketeers manning the barricade, no more than ten yards away. Then he gave the keg a panicky shove and backed away. His intention had been to pour the remainder of the lamp-oil into the gutter and use it as a sort of liquid fuse. But here events overtook him. For Yevgeny had come up with the idea of trying to set fire to the barricade, and had fashioned a sort of burning lance from a spear and an oily rag. As Jack watched from the gutter, Yevgeny fired a pistol alongside this contrivance, igniting it; then he stepped out into the street and immediately took a musket-ball in the ribs. He paused, stepped farther into the street, and took another in the thigh. But these wounds apparently did not even qualify as painful by Russian standards, and so with perfect aplomb he hefted the flaming harpoon, judged the distance, then hopped forward three times on his good leg and hurled it towards the powder-keg. Another musket-ball hit him in the left wrist and spun him around. He fell like a toppled oak towards the street. At the same moment Jack rolled up out of the gutter and found himself standing in the middle of the Y with his back to the barricade.

There was a sudden bright light. It cast a long shadow behind Gabriel Goto, who was walking down the street painting the ashlars with a long streak of blood that drizzled from the hem of his black robe. He appeared to be perfectly unharmed.

Jack turned around to see planks fluttering down all over the neighborhood, and stray wagon-wheels bounding along the street. The right fork of the Y, where the barricade had once stood, was just a smoky mess. Above it, on the rooftop, Nasr al-Ghur'ab had dragged himself into position despite a flayed and butchered thigh. He whipped out a cutlass, threw his good leg over the parapet, shouted "Allahu Akbar!" and fell into the inferno, landing on two musketeers, crushing one and cutting the other in half.

At the same moment, Jack saw movement down the left fork of the Y, which had not figured much into the battle as it led to a place directly in front of the musketeers. But all of a sudden a lone man on horseback was galloping across that space: It was Excellentissimo Domino Jeronimo Alejandro Pe~nasco de Halcones Quinto, mounting a one-man cavalry charge on his Arab steed. He almost reached the enemy without suffering any injuries, for he had timed his charge carefully, and none of the musketeers were in position to fire. But as he galloped the last few yards, screaming "Estremaduras!" a shower of blood erupted from his back; some officer, perhaps, had shot him with a pistol. The horse was hit, too, and went down on its knees. This would have pitched any other man out of the saddle, but Jeronimo seemed to be ready for it. As he flew out of the saddle he shoved off with both feet, pitching his hindquarters upwards; tucked his head under; landed hard on one shoulder, and rolled completely over in a somersault. In the same continuous movement he sprang up to his feet, drew his rapier, and drove it all the way through the body of the officer who had shot him. "How do you like that, eh? El Torbellino made me practice that one until I pissed blood; and then he made me practice it some more until I got it right!" He pulled out the rapier and slashed its edge through the throat of another Frenchman who was coming up from one side. "Now you will learn that a man of Estremaduras can fight better when he is bleeding to death than a Frenchman in the pink of health! I judge that I have sixty seconds to live, which—" plunging his rapier into a a musketeer's neck "—should give me more than enough time to—" cutting another musketeer's throat "—kill a dozen of you—four so far—" he now revealed a dagger in the other hand, and stabbed a fleeing musketeer in the back "—make it five!"

But then several musketeers finally converged on El Desamparado, realizing that there was no escape from the man unless they killed him, and plunged their bayonets into his body.

"Yevgeny!" Jack shouted, for the Russian was only a few yards away from him, lying on his back in the street as if asleep. "We will be back with the heavy carts in a minute to get you."

Then Jack, Padraig, the Nubian, and Gabriel Goto charged the barricade four abreast, and got through what was left of it with no difficulty. Padraig stayed behind to batter the surviving musketeers into submission with a quarter-staff, and to pick over their bodies for better weapons. Above them, several of Nyazi's clansmen were charging across the rooftops, having overcome the Janissaries up there.

They came into the rear of the formation of musketeers that had been blocking the main street. At a glance Jack could not tell whether El Desamparado had slain his full quota of a dozen; but it was obvious that he would not slay any more. The rest were milling around, out of formation, and so Jack and his comrades simply discharged all of their remaining loaded firearms into their midst and then fell upon them with swords. The ones who survived all of this stumbled back over the bodies of El Desamparado and his victims and retreated into the side-street that had formed the left fork of the Y, where the men of Nyazi's clan were able to rain stones and a few musket-balls on their heads.

Finally, now, the clansmen of Nyazi were able to bring the horses out of the stable-yard and hitch them to the gold-wagons, though various dragoons, musketeers, and Janissaries continued to harass them from all around; and now the thieves of Cairo were beginning to make their presence known, too. Flocks of them began to coalesce in doorways and corners, hidden by the greedy shadows of late afternoon, and made occasional sorties into the light in the hope of fetching some gold. In spite of this, within a quarter of an hour they were able to drive away from the stables—a cyclone of flame now—with four of the original six gold-carts.

Jack and Gabriel Goto were riding on the last of these, supposedly to act as a rear-guard. But both of them had another errand in mind as well. When they came abreast of the side-street where the barricade had been exploded, they reined in the cart-horse, jumped off, and ran up to recover Yevgeny.

Because of the smoldering debris that half-choked the street, they could not see the place where he had fallen until they were almost upon it. But then they found nothing except a wide smear of gore. Yevgeny's blood had outlined the paving-stones in narrow red lines as it trickled between them, seeking the gutter. But Yevgeny himself was nowhere to be seen. The only other traces of him that remained were his left hand, which had been shot off, and a few rude characters drawn in blood on the pavement. An uneven line of bloody footsteps meandered up the street toward the stables, and disappeared into dust and smoke.

"Can you read it?" Jack asked Gabriel.

"It says, ‘Go the long way round,' " Gabriel answered.

"What the hell does that mean?"

"Specifically? I do not know. Generally? It suggests that he will go some other way."

"Spoken like a Jesuit."

"He has gone that way," said Gabriel, pointing toward the caravanserai, "and we must go this." Pointing back towards the gold-carts.

"We are needed there anyway," Jack said, breaking into a run. For their cart had already come under attack from a mixed mob of thieves, Vagabonds, Janissaries, and French soldiers. The appearance of Jack and Gabriel on their flank, bloody sabers held high, got rid of most of them. But looters better armed and more determined were close behind them, and so Jack and Gabriel and a few of Nyazi's men rattled the half-mile down to the canal hotly pursued, though at a prudent distance, by a sort of wolf-pack.

At the foot of the street where it gave way to the canal, Mr. Foot, Vrej, Surendranath, and van Hoek were waiting—looking as if they had been through some adventures of their own this afternoon. They had thrown a heavy platform across the gap between the quay and the river-boat, and the other three gold-carts had already rumbled across it, spilling many of their contents on the deck.

Parked to one side of the street was a humble-looking hay-wain, harnessed to a camel. As the last cart, carrying Jack and Gabriel, jounced past it, a whip cracked and this vehicle bolted out into the middle of the street. By this point nothing could have prevented the gold-cart from reaching the platform, so Jack vaulted off of it, and turned round to face the hay-wain, anticipating some sort of attack. But by the time he had recovered his balance, the hay-wain had stopped in the middle of the street, directly in the path of the pursuing horde. The driver (Nyazi!) and another man (Moseh!) jumped off and chocked its wheels there, and at the same time the pile of hay on the cart's back seemed to come alive; most of the load showered into the street. Revealed were a long tubular black object (a cannon!) and, clambering to his feet next to it, a black man (Dappa!).

Now in a way this was not surprising, for it was all a part of the plan—they'd spent all of yesterday buying the damned piece. In another way it was, for it was supposed to have been set up at dockside, loaded, aimed, and ready to be fired. Instead of which it had just gotten here—in the nick of time, Jack thought, if it had been loaded. But Dappa, rather than jamming a torch against its touch-hole, now began to rummage through a clanking assortment of implements strewn about his feet, while from time to time casting a glance up the length of the street to (at first) count, and (presently) estimate the number of heavily armed, screaming men sprinting their way.

"I have not done this before," he announced, fishing out, and inspecting, a long, rusty pick, "but have had it all explained to me, by men who have."

"Men who have lost sea-battles and been taken as galley-slaves," Jack added.

Dappa brushed hay from the butt of the cannon and shoved the pick into the touch-hole.

"Help load the boat!" Jack screamed at Moseh and Nyazi. To Dappa he suggested, "For Christ's sake, don't worry about clearing the bloody touch-hole!"

Dappa returned, "If you'd be so good as to get the tampion out of my way?"

Jack scurried around to the muzzle-side of the wagon, turned his back to the on-rushing horde—which was not a thing that came naturally to him—reached up, and yanked out a round wooden bung that had been stuffed into the gun's muzzle. It was shot out of his hand by a pistol-ball.

Dappa had an arrow through his sleeve, though not, apparently, through his arm. He was regarding a long-handled scoop. "As you are in such a hurry today," he announced, "we shall dispense with the customary procedure of swabbing out the barrel." As he spoke he shoved the scoop into some crunchy-sounding receptacle, which was hidden from Jack's view by the side of the wagon, and raised it up heaped with coarse black powder. Balancing this in one hand he produced a copper-bladed spatula in the other, and leveled the powder-charge; then, moving with utmost deliberation so as not to spill any, he turned the scoop end-for-end and introduced it to the cannon's muzzle, then, slowly at first, but quicker as he went along, hand-over-handed it until the entirety of its long handle had been swallowed by the barrel. He then gave it a half rotation to disgorge its load, and began gingerly to extract it.

Jack had until now been caught between a desire to make sure that Dappa didn't do it wrong, and a natural concern for what was approaching. To describe the foremost of the attackers as irregulars would have been to give far too high an estimate of their discipline, motives, armaments, and appearance; they were thieves, avaricious bystanders, micro-ethnic-groups, and a few Janissaries who had broken ranks when they had caught sight of gold bars. Most of these had faltered when they had caught sight of the cannon. But awareness had now propagated up the street that it was still in the process of being loaded. Meanwhile the French platoons had re-formed and begun marching in good order down the hill, reaming the street clear in a manner very like what the gun-swab would have done to the barrel of the cannon, had Dappa not elected to omit that step. The emboldened rabble swarming out from their places of concealment mingled together with the not-so-emboldened ones being rammed down the street by this piston of French troops and all joined together into—

"An avalanche, or so 'tis claimed by certain Alpine gal'eriens I have rowed with, may be triggered by the sound of cannon-fire." Dappa had torn off his shirt, wadded it up, and stuffed it down the barrel, and was now feeding in double handfuls of shot. He followed that with his turban, and finally took up his long rammer. "I wonder if we may halt an avalanche thus." His long dreadlocks, freed from the imprisonment of the head-wrap, fell about his face as he bent forward to get the pad of the rammer into the muzzle.

"Don't bother taking the rammer out—at this range 'twill serve as a javelin," was Jack's last advice to Dappa, as he turned his back and began to stalk up the hill towards the Mobb. For there were one or two fleet-footed scimitar-swingers, far ahead of the pack, who might arrive soon enough to interfere with the final steps of the rite.

"Where did that horn of priming-powder get to?" Dappa wondered.

Jack feinted left long enough to convince the hashishin on the right that he had a clear path to Dappa; then Jack lashed out with a foot and tripped him as he ran by. Moseh emerged from nearer to the quay. He had located another boarding axe, his tongue was coming out, he had an eye on the man who'd just planted his face in the street, and he was followed by Nyazi and Gabriel Goto, who had been watching all of these developments with interest and decided to leave off ship-loading work.

A scimitar slashed downward from the left; Jack angled it off the back of his blade. A tapping sound from behind suggested that Dappa had found his priming-powder and was getting it into the touch-hole.

"Has anyone got a light?" Dappa said.

Jack butt-stroked his opponent across the jaw with the guard of his sword and yanked a discharged pistol out of the fellow's waist-band, then turned round and underhanded it across five or six yards of empty space to Dappa. Which might have got him killed, as it entailed turning his back on his opponent; but the latter knew what was good for him, and prudently flung himself down.

As did Jack; and (as he saw now, turning his head to look up the hill) as did nearly everyone else. A small number of utterly unhinged maniacs kept running toward them. Jack got to his feet, making sure he was well out of the way of the cannon's muzzle, and backed up to the wagon. Nyazi, Moseh, and Gabriel Goto closed ranks around him.

There followed a bit of a standoff. Crazed hashishin aside, no one in the street could move as long as Dappa had them under his gun. But as soon as Dappa fired it, he'd be defenseless, and they'd be swarmed under. Pot-shots whistled their way from a few doorways up the street; Dappa squatted down, but held his ground at the cannon's breech.

It bought them the time they needed, anyway. "All aboard!" called van Hoek—a bit late, as the boat had already cast off lines, and the gap between it and the quay was beginning to widen. "Now!" called Dappa. Jack, Nyazi, Gabriel Goto, and Moseh all turned and ran for it. Dappa stayed behind. The French regulars leapt to their feet and made for him double-time. Dappa cocked the pistol, held its pan above the small powder-filled depression that surrounded the orifice of the cannon's touch-hole, and pulled the trigger. Sparks showered and, like stars going behind clouds, were swallowed in a plume of smoke. A spurt of flame two fathoms long shot from the cannon's muzzle, driving the ram-rod, some pounds of buckshot, and half of Dappa's clothing up the length of the street. The riot that came his way a moment later suggested that none of it had been very effective. But by the time the Mobb engulfed the cannon, Dappa was sprinting down the quay. He jumped for it, caromed off the gunwale, and fell into the Nile; but scarcely had time to get wet before oars had been thrust into the water for him to grab onto. They pulled him aboard. Everyone went flat on the decks as the French soldiers discharged their muskets, once, in their general direction. Then they passed out of sight and out of range.

"What went awry?" van Hoek asked.

"Our escape-route was blocked by a company of French musketeers," Jack said.

"Fancy that," van Hoek muttered.

"Jeronimo and both of our Turks are dead."

"The ra"is?"

"You heard me—he is dead, and now you are our Captain," Jack said.

"Yevgeny?"

"He dragged himself away to die. I suspect he did not want to be a burden on the rest of us," Jack said.

"That is hard news," van Hoek said, gripping his bandaged hand and squeezing it.

"It is noteworthy that both of the Turks were killed," said Vrej Esphahnian, who had overheard most of this. "More than likely one of them betrayed us; the Pasha in Algiers probably planned the whole thing, from the beginning, as a way to screw the Investor out of his share."

"The ra"is seemed very surprised when he was shot by a Janissary," Jack allowed.

"It must have been part of the Turks' plan," said Vrej. "They would want to slay the traitor first of all, so that he would not tell the tale."

Upstream, a Turkish war-galley had been dispatched from Giza to pursue them. But it had feeble hope of catching them, for the Nile was not a wide river even at this time of the year, and such width as it had was choked by a jam of slow-moving grain barges.

Night fell as they were approaching the great fork of the Nile. They took the Rosetta branch to throw off their landward pursuers, then cut east across the Delta, following small canals, and got across to the Damietta Fork by poling the boat over an expanse of flooded fields several miles wide. By the time the sun rose the following morning, they had struck their masts, and anything else that projected more than six feet above the waterline, and were surrounded by tall reeds in the marshy expanses to the east.

At the end of that day they made rendezvous with a small caravan of Nyazi's people, and there a share of the gold was loaded onto their camels. Nyazi and the Nubian both said their farewells to the Cabal at this point and struck out for the south, Nyazi visibly excited at the thought of a reunion with his forty wives, and the Nubian trusting to fortune to get him back to the country from which he had been abducted.

Eastwards on the boat continued Jack, Mr. Foot, Dappa, Monsieur Arlanc, Padraig Tallow, Vrej Esphahnian, Surendranath, and Gabriel Goto, with van Hoek as their captain and Moseh as their designated Prophet. It was a role in which he seemed uncomfortable until one day, after many wanderings and lesser adventures, they came to a place where the reeds parted into something that could only be the Red Sea.

There Moseh stood in the bow of the boat, lit up by the rising sun, and spoke a few momentous words in half-remembered Hebrew—prompting Jack to say, "Before you part the waters, there, please keep in mind that we're on a boat, and have nothing to gain from being left high and dry."

Van Hoek ordered the masts stepped and the sails raised, and they set a course for Mocha and the Orient, free men all.




LATE SEPTEMBER 1690

Doctor,

I have been a few days in Juvisy, a town on the left bank of the Seine, south of Paris, where Monsieur Rossignol has a ch^ateau. This is a natural stopping-place for one who has come up from the south. I have been in Lyon for almost a month tending to some business, and am just now returning to ^Ile-de-France. Juvisy is a sort of fork in the road; thence one may follow the river into Paris, or else strike cross-country westwards toward Versailles. Monsieur Rossignol placed his stables and staff at my disposal so that my little household, and our brief train of horses and carriages, could refresh themselves while they waited for me to make up my mind. Jean-Jacques is at Versailles, and I have not seen him since I departed for Lyon, and so my heart told me to go that way; but there is much to be done in Paris, and so my head bid me go thither. I am going to Paris.

When I woke up this morning, the estate was strangely quiet. I drew a blanket over my shoulders and went to the windows, where I beheld a grotesque scene: during the night the garden had become matted with unsightly lumps of damp straw. The gardeners, sensing an unseasonable drop in temperature yester evening, had been out late into the night packing straw around the smaller and more delicate plants, like nurses tucking their babies in under duvets. All was now dusted with silver. Taller plants, such as the roses, had frozen through. The little pools around the fountains were glazed, and the statues had picked up a frosty patina that gave keen definition to their rippling muscles and flowing garments. The place was quiet as a graveyard, for the workmen, having toiled half the night to erect ramparts of straw against the invading cold, were all sleeping late.

It was quite beautiful, especially when the sun came up over the hills beyond the Seine and suffused all of that frost with a cool peach-colored light. But of course for such cold to strike France in September is monstrous—it is like a comet or a two-headed baby. Spring was late in coming this year. France's hopes for an adequate harvest depended on a long, warm autumn. As much as I admired the beauty of those frosted roses, I knew that grain, apples, vines, and vegetables all over France must have suffered the same fate. I sent word to my staff to prepare for an early departure, then tarried in M. Rossignol's bedchamber only long enough to bid him a memorable farewell. Now—as you will have discerned from my wretched penmanship—we are in the carriage, rattling up the Left Bank into Paris.

During my earlier life here, I'd have been beside myself, for this early frost would have sent the commodities markets into violent motion, and it would have been of the highest importance for me to get instructions to Amsterdam. As matters stand, my responsibilities are more profound, but less immediate. Money surges and courses through this realm in the most inscrutable ways. I suppose one could construct some sort of strained analogy—Paris is the heart, and Lyons the lungs, or something—but in any event, the system does not work, and money does not flow, unless people make it work, and I have become one of those people. At first I worked mostly for the Compagnie du Nord, which imports Baltic timber to Dunkerque. Through this I came to know more than I should care to about how le Roi finances the war. Lately I have also become embroiled in some scheme of M. le duc d'Arcachon whose details remain vague. It was the latter that took me down to Lyon; for I traveled down there in August in the company of the Duke himself. He installed me in a pied-`a-terre that he maintains in that city, then journeyed onwards to Marseille where he planned to embark on his jacht for points south.

We are coming up on the University already, we move too fast, the streets are empty as if the whole city mourns for the lost harvest. All is frozen except for we who move quickly so as not to freeze. Soon we shall cross the river and reach the h^otel particulier of Arcachon, and I have not got to the main points of my letter yet. Quickly then:

§ What do you hear from Sophie concerning Liselotte, or, as she is addressed here, Madame? For a few weeks, two years ago, she and I were close. Indeed I was prepared to jump in bed with her if she gave me the sign; but contrary to many steamy rumors, it never happened—she wanted my services as a spy, not as a lover. Since I returned to Versailles, she and I have had no contact at all.

She is a lonely woman. Her husband the King's brother is a homosexual, and she is a lesbian. So far, so good; but where Monsieur gets to indulge in as many lovers as he pleases, Madame must find love furtively. Monsieur, even though he does not desire Madame, is jealous of her, and persecutes and sends away her lovers.

If Court gossip has any truth in it, Madame had become close, in recent years, to the Dauphine. This is not to say that they were lovers, for the Dauphine had been having an affair with her maid, a Piedmontese woman, and was said to be quite faithful to her. But as birds of a feather flock together, Madame and the Dauphine, the maid, and a few other like-minded women had formed a little clique centered upon the Private Cabinet of the Dauphine's Apartment, just next to the Dauphin's quaint little library on the ground floor of the south wing.

I was aware of this two years ago, though I never saw the place with my own eyes. For I was engaged in those days as a tutor of the niece of M. la duchesse d'Oyonnax, who was lady-in-waiting to the Dauphine. By no means was the Duchess ever part of this little circle of clitoristes, for she is clearly an admirer of young men. But she knew of it, and was in and out of the Private Cabinet all the time, waiting on these people, attending their lev'ees and couch'ees and so on.

Now as you must have heard, a few months ago the Dauphine died suddenly. Of course, whenever anyone dies suddenly here, foul play is suspected, especially if the decedent was close to M. la duchesse d'Oyonnax. Over the summer, everyone was expecting the Dauphin to marry Oyonnax, which would have made her the next Queen of France; but instead he has secretly married his former mistress—the maid-of-honor of his half-brother. Not a very prestigious match!

So nothing is clear. Those who cannot rid their minds of the conviction that the Dauphine must have been poisoned by Oyonnax, have had to develop ever more fanciful hypotheses: that there is some secret understanding between her and the Dauphin, for example, that will bring her a Prince of the Blood as her husband, &c., &c.

Personally, while harboring no illusions as to the moral character of Oyonnax, I doubt that she murdered the Dauphine, because she is too clever to do anything so obvious, and because it has deprived her of one of the most prestigious stations at Court: lady-in-waiting to the next Queen. But I cannot help but wonder as to the state of mind of poor Liselotte, who has seen her most intimate social circle exploded, and no longer has a comfortable haven within the Palace. I believe that Oyonnax may have positioned herself so as to be drawn into that vacuum. I wonder if Madame writes to Sophie about this. I could simply ask M. Rossignol, who reads all her letters, but I don't wish to abuse my position as his mistress—not yet, anyway!

§ Speaking of M. Rossignol:

Though my stay at Ch^ateau Juvisy was cut short by the frost, I was able to notice several books on his library table, written in a queer alphabet that I recognized dimly from my time in Constantinople but could not quite place. I asked him about it, and he said it was Armenian. This struck me as funny since I had supposed that he would have his hands quite full with all of the cyphers in French, Spanish, Latin, German, &c., without having to look so far afield.

He explained that M. le duc d'Arcachon, prior to his departure for Marseille in August, had made an unusual request of the Cabinet Noir: namely, that they examine with particular care any letters originating from a Spanish town called Sanl'ucar de Barrameda during the first week of August. The Cabinet had assented readily, knowing that letters came into France from that part of the world only rarely, and that most were grubby notes from homesick sailors.

But oddly enough, a letter had come across M. Rossignol's desk, apparently postmarked from Sanl'ucar de Barrameda around the fifth day of August. A strange heathenish-looking thing it had been, apparently penned and sealed in some Mahometan place and transported none too gently across the sea to Sanl'ucar. It was written in Armenian, and it was addressed to an Armenian family in Paris. The address given was the Bastille.

As bizarre, as striking as this was, even I might have let it pass without further notice had it not been for the fact that on the sixth of August a remarkable act of piracy is said to have taken place off Sanl'ucar: as you may have heard, a band of Barbary Corsairs, disguised as galley-slaves, boarded a ship recently returned from New Spain and made off with some silver. I am certain that M. le duc d'Arcachon is somehow implicated.

[Written later in a more legible hand]

We have reached the Paris dwelling of the de Lavardacs, the H^otel d'Arcachon, and I am now at a proper writing-desk, as you can see.

To finish that matter of the Armenian letter: I know that you, Doctor, have an interest in strange systems of writing, and that you are in charge of a great library. If you have anything on the Armenian language, I invite you to correspond with M. Rossignol. For though he is fascinated by this letter, he can do very little with it. He had one of his clerks make an accurate copy of the thing, then re-sealed it, and has been trying to track down any surviving addressees, in hopes that he may deliver it to them. If they are alive, and they choose to write back, M. Rossignol will inspect their letter and try to glean more clews as to the nature of the cypher (if any) they are using.

§ Speaking of letters, I must get this one posted today, and so let me raise one more matter. This concerns Sophie's banker, Lothar von Hacklheber.

I saw Lothar recently in Lyon. I did not wish to see him, but he was difficult to evade. Both of us had been invited to dinner at the home of a prominent member of the D'ep^ot. For various reasons I could not refuse the invitation; I suspect that Lothar orchestrated the whole affair.

To shorten this account somewhat, I shall tell you now what I only divined later. For as my driver and footmen would be tarrying in the stables for some hours with Lothar's, I had given instructions to mine that they should find out all that they could from his. It had become obvious that Lothar was trying to dig up information concerning me, and I reckoned that turnabout was fair play. Of course his grooms and drivers could know nothing of what Lothar had been thinking or doing, but they would at least know where he had gone and when.

Through this channel, I learned that Lothar had set out from Leipzig in July with a large train, including a praetorian guard of mercenaries, and made his way down to Cadiz, where he had transacted certain business; but then he had withdrawn up the coast to Sanl'ucar de Barrameda, where he had apparently expected some momentous transaction to come off during the first week of August. But something had gone wrong. He had flown into a rage and made a tremendous commotion, despatching runners and spies in all directions. After a few days he had given orders for the whole train to ride up to Arcachon, which is a long hard journey over land; but they had done it. Lothar meanwhile accomplished the same journey in a hired barque, so that he was waiting for them when they arrived at Arcachon late in August. Immediately he announced that they would turn around and make for Marseille. Which they did, at the cost of several horses and one man; but they reached the place a few days too late—late for what, these informants knew not—and so they withdrew up the Rh^one to Lyon, which is a place where Lothar is much more comfortable. Of course I was already in Lyon, having been dropped off there by M. le duc d'Arcachon a week earlier; from which it was easy enough to guess that the person Lothar had hoped, but failed, to intercept in Marseille had been M. le duc. Now perhaps it was his intention to tarry in Lyon, and wait for the return of d'Arcachon. I was going to add "like a spider in his web" or some such expression, but it struck me as absurd, given that Lothar is a mere baron, and a foreigner from a country with which we are at war, while the duc d'Arcachon is a Peer, and one of the most important men in France. I stayed my quill, as it would seem ludicrous to liken this obscure and outlandish Baron to a spider, and the duc d'Arcachon to a fly. And yet in person Lothar is much more formidable than the duc. At the House of Huygens I have seen a spider through a magnifying-glass, and Lothar, with his round abdomen and his ghastly pox-marked face, looked more like it than any other human I have beheld. Spider-like was he in the way that he dominated the dinner-table, for it seemed that every other person in the room was noosed to a silken cord whose end was gripped in his dirty ink-stained mitt, so that when he wanted some answer from someone he need only give them a jerk. He was absurd in his determination to find out from me precisely when M. le duc would be returning from his Mediterranean cruise. Every time I beat back one of his forays he would retreat, scamper around, and attack from a new quarter. Truly it was like wrestling with an eight-legged monster. It demanded all of my wits not to divulge anything, or to tumble into one of his verbal traps. I was tired, having spent the day meeting with one of Lothar's competitors discussing certain very complicated arrangements. I had gone to this dinner na"ively expecting persiflage. Instead I was being grilled by this ruthless and relentless man, who was like some Jesuit of the Inquisition in his acute perception of any evasions or contradictions in my answers. It is a good thing I had come alone, or else whatever gentleman had escorted me should have been honor-bound to challenge Lothar to a duel. As it was, our host almost did, so shocked was he by the way that Lothar was ruining his dinner-party. But I believe that even this was a sort of message that Lothar intended to send to me, and through me to the duc: that so angry was he over what had occurred off Sanl'ucar de Barrameda that he considered himself in a state akin to war, in which normal standards of behavior were cast aside.

You are probably terrified, Doctor, that I am about to demand a formal apology of Lothar, and that I have designated you as the luckless messenger. Not so, for as I have told you, it is obvious that Lothar has no intention of apologizing for anything. Whatever M. le duc d'Arcachon took from him is more important than his reputation or even his honor. He was announcing as much by his behavior at dinner, and I doubt not that word of it has already gone out among all of the members of the D'ep^ot. The bankers I was dealing with there suddenly lost their nerve, and broke off negotiations with me—all except one, a Genoan with a very tough reputation, who is demanding a large rake-off "to cover the extraordinary precautions," and who insisted that a peculiar clause be inserted into the agreement: namely, that he would accept silver, but never gold.

I fear that in the end I failed utterly to keep Lothar at bay. How long will Mademoiselle be staying in Lyon? I have no fixed plans, mein Herr. But is it not true, mademoiselle, that a soir'ee is planned at the H^otel d'Arcachon on the fourteenth of October? How did you know of this, mein Herr? How I know of it is none of your concern, mademoiselle—but that is a fixed plan, is it not? And so it is not truthful, is it, to assert, as you have just done, that you have no fixed plans? And so on. Lothar knew more than he should have known, for he must have spies at Versailles or in Paris; and whenever he divulged some morsel of information he had thus acquired, it was as if he had punched me in the stomach. I could not hold my own against him. He must have known, by the end of the dinner, that le duc would be passing through Lyon at some time during the first or second week of October. He is down there now, I am certain, waiting; and I have sent word, every way I know how, to the naval authorities in Marseille, that when le duc returns he must take great care.

Thus forewarned, le duc ought to be perfectly safe; for how much power can one Saxon baron wield, in Lyon? Yet Lothar's bizarre confidence jangled my nerves.

It was not until later, during my third round of negotiations with the said Genoan banker, that I began to get some inkling of what motivated Lothar, and how he knew so much. This banker—after a lengthy discussion of silver vs. gold—rolled his eyes and made some disparaging reference to Alchemists.

Now, during that dreadful dinner, Lothar had, more than once, made some dismissive comment about M. le duc, along the lines of "He does not know what he has blundered into."

On the admittedly fragile basis of these two remarks, I have developed a hypothesis—a vague one—that the ship that was looted off Sanl'ucar de Barrameda contained something of great importance to those—and I now number Lothar among them—who put stock in Alchemy. It appears that M. le duc d'Arcachon, in concert with his Turkish friends, has stolen that cargo—but perhaps they do not comprehend what it is. Now, all of the Alchemists are up in arms about it. This would explain how Lothar has come to be so well-informed as to what is happening in Versailles and in Paris, for many members of the Esoteric Brotherhood are to be found in both places, and perhaps Lothar has been getting despatches from them.

I have seen you, Doctor, standing next to Lothar on the balcony of the House of the Golden Mercury in Leipzig. And it is well known that Lothar is banker to Sophie and Ernst August, your patrons. What can you tell me of this man and what motivates him? For most Alchemists are ninehammers and dilettantes; but if my hypothesis is correct, he takes it seriously.

That is all for now. Members of this household are queued up six deep outside the door of this chamber, waiting for me to finish so that they can importune me to make this or that decision concerning the party planned for the fourteenth. Between now and then, I shall be absurdly busy. You shall not hear from me until it is all over, and then everything is going to be different; for on that evening, many dramatic changes may be expected. I can say no more now. When you read this, wish me luck.

Eliza


EARLY OCTOBER 1690

Mademoiselle,

Please accept my apologies on behalf of all German barons.

I have already told you the tale of how, when I was five years old, following my father's death, I went into his library and began to educate myself. This alarmed my teachers at the Nikolaischule, who prevailed upon my mother to lock me out. A local nobleman became aware of this, and paid a call on my mother, and in the most gentlemanly way possible, yet with utmost gravity and firmness, made her see that the teachers in this case were fools. She unlocked the library.

That nobleman was Egon von Hacklheber. The year must have been 1651 or 1652—memory fades. I recall him as a silver-haired gentleman, a sort of long-lost, peregrine uncle of that family, who had spent most of his life in Bohemia, but who had turned up in Leipzig around 1630—driven there, one presumes, by the fortunes of what we now call the Thirty Years' War, but what in those days just seemed like an endless and mindless succession of atrocities.

Shortly after he caused the library to be unlocked for me, Egon departed on a journey to the west, which was expected to last for several months, and to take him as far as England; but on a road in the Harz Mountains he was waylaid by robbers, and died. By the time his remains were found, they were nothing more than a skeleton, picked clean by ravens and ants, still clad in his cloak.

Lothar had been born in 1630, the third son of that family. None of those boys had attended school. They had been raised within the household, and educated by tutors—some hired, others simply members of the family who possessed knowledge, and a willingness to impart it. Egon von Hacklheber, a man of exceptional erudition, who had traveled widely, had devoted an hour or two each day to educating the three von Hacklheber boys. Lothar had been his brightest pupil; for, being the youngest, he had to work hardest to keep up with his brothers.

If you have done the arithmetic, you'll know that Lothar was in his early twenties when Egon departed on his fatal journey. By that time, dark days had fallen on that family, for smallpox had burned through Leipzig, taken the lives of the two older boys, and left Lothar—now the scion—mutilated as you have seen him. The death of his uncle Egon perfected Lothar's misery.

Much later—rather recently, in fact—I became aware that Lothar maintains some peculiar notions as to what "really" happened. Lothar believes that Egon knew Alchemy—that he was, in fact, an adept of such power that he could heal the gravest illnesses, and even raise the dead. Yet he would not, or could not, save the lives of Lothar's two brothers, whom he loved almost as if they were his own sons. Egon had departed from Leipzig with a broken heart, with no intention of ever coming back. His death in the Harz might have been suicide. Or—again this is all according to the eccentric notions of Lothar—it might have been faked, to hide his own unnatural longevity.

I believe that Lothar is simply out of his mind concerning this. The death of his brothers made him crazy in certain respects. Be that as it may, he believes in Alchemy, and phant'sies that if Egon had stayed in Leipzig a few years longer he might have imparted to Lothar the secrets of Creation. Lothar has not ceased to pursue those secrets himself, by his own methods, in the thirty-some years since.

Now, as to the infamous Duchess of Oyonnax—


"I LEFT INSTRUCTIONS NOT to be disturbed."

"Please forgive me, mademoiselle," said the big Dutchwoman, in passable French, "but it is Madame la duchesse d'Oyonnax, and she will not be put off."

"Then I do forgive you, Brigitte, for she is a difficult case; I shall meet her presently and finish reading this letter later."

"By your leave, you shall have to finish it tomorrow, mademoiselle; for the guests arrive in a few hours, and we have not even begun with your hair yet."

"Very well—tomorrow then."

"Where shall I invite Madame la duchesse to wait for you?"

"The Petit Salon. Unless—"

"Madame la duchesse d'Arcachon is entertaining her cousine, the big one, in there."

"The library then."

"Monsieur Rossignol is toiling over some eldritch Documents in the library, my lady."

Eliza took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. "Tell me, then, Brigitte, where there might be a room in the H^otel Arcachon that is not crowded with early-arriving party-guests."

"Could you meet her in…the chapel?"

"Done! Give me a minute. And, Brigitte?"

"Yes, my lady?"

"Is there any word of Monsieur le duc yet?"

"Not since the last time you asked, mademoiselle."


"THE JACHT OF THE DUC d'Arcachon was sighted approaching Marseille on the sixth of October. It was flying signal-flags ordering that fast horses and a coach must be made ready at dockside for immediate departure. That much we know from a messenger who was sent north immediately when everything I have just described to you was perceived, through a prospective-glass, from a steeple in Marseille," Eliza said. "This news came to us early this morning. We can only assume that le duc himself is a few hours behind, and will show up at any moment; but it is not to be expected that anyone in this household could know any more than that."

"Monsieur le comte de Pontchartrain will be disappointed," said the Duchess of Oyonnax in a bemused way. She nodded at a page, who bowed, backed out of the chapel, then pivoted on the ball of one foot and bolted. Eliza, comtesse de la Zeur, and Marie-Adelaide de Cr'epy, duchesse d'Oyonnax, were now alone in the private chapel of the de Lavardacs. Though Oyonnax, never one to leave anything to chance, took the precaution of opening the doors of the little confessional in the back, to verify that it was empty.

The chapel occupied a corner of the property. Public streets ran along the front, or altar end, and along one of the sides. That side had several stained-glass windows, tall and narrow to fetch a bit of light from the sky. These had small casements down below, which were normally closed to block the noise and smell of the street beyond; but Oyonnax opened two of them. Cold air came in, which scarcely mattered considering the tonnage of clothing that each of these women was wearing. A lot of noise came in, too. Eliza supposed that this was a further precaution against their being overheard by any eavesdroppers who might be pressing ears against doors. But if Oyonnax was the sort to worry about such things, then this chapel was a comfortable place for her. It contained no furniture—no pews—just a rough stone floor, and she had already verified that there was no one crouching behind the little altar. The chapel was hundreds of years older than any other part of the compound. It was unfashionably Gothick, dim, and gloomy, and probably would have been knocked down long ago and replaced with something Barock were it not for the windows and the altar-piece (which were said to be priceless treasures) and the fourth left metatarsal bone of Saint Louis (which was embedded in a golden reliquary cemented into the wall).

"Pontchartrain sent no fewer than three messages here this morning, requesting the latest news," said Eliza, "but I did not know the contr^oleur-g'en'eral had also contacted you, my lady."

"His curiosity on the matter presumably reflects that of the King."

"It does not surprise me that the King should be so keen to know the whereabouts of his Grand Admiral. But would it not be more proper for such inquiries to be routed through the Secretary of State for the Navy?"

The Duchess of Oyonnax had paused by one of the open casements and levered it mostly closed, making of it a sort of horizontal gun-slit through which she could peer at the street. But she turned away from it now and peered at Eliza for a few moments, then announced: "I am sorry. I supposed you might have known. Monsieur le marquis de Seignelay has cancer. He is very ill of it, and no longer able to fulfill his obligations to his majesty's Navy."

"No wonder the King is so intent on this, then—for they say that the Duke of Marlborough has landed in force in the South of Ireland."

"Your news is stale. Marlborough has already taken Cork, and Kinsale is expected to fall at any moment. All of this while de Seignelay is too ill to work, and d'Arcachon is off in the south on some confusing adventure of his own."

From out in the courtyard, beyond the rear doors of the chapel, Eliza heard a muffled burst of feminine laughter: the Duchess of Arcachon and her friends. It was curious. A few paces in one direction, the most exalted persons in France were donning ribbons and perfume and swapping gossip, getting ready for a Duke's birthday party. Beyond the confines of the Arcachon compound, France was getting ready for nine months' starvation, as the harvest had been destroyed by frost. French and Irish garrisons were falling to the onslaught of Marlborough in chilly Ireland, and the Secretary of State for the Navy was being gnawed to death by cancer. Eliza decided that this dim, chilly, empty room, cluttered with gruesome effigies of our scourged and crucified and impaled Lord, was not such a bad place after all to have a meeting with Oyonnax. Certainly Oyonnax seemed more in her element here than in a gilded and ruffled drawing-room. She said: "I wonder if it is even necessary for you to kill Monsieur le duc. The King might do it for you."

"Do not talk about it this way, if you please!" Eliza snapped.

"It was merely an observation."

"When le duc planned tonight, it was summer, and everything seemed to be going perfectly. I know what he was thinking: the King needs money for the war, and I shall bring him money!"

"You sound as though you are defending him."

"I believe it is useful to know the mind of the enemy."

"Does le duc know your mind, mademoiselle?"

"Obviously not. He does not rate me an enemy."

"Who does?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"Someone wishes to know your mind, for you are being watched."

"I am well aware of it. Monsieur Rossignol—"

"Ah, yes—the King's Argus—he knows all."

"He has noticed that my name crops up frequently, of late, in letters written by those at Court who style themselves Alchemists."

"Why are the chymists watching you?"

"I believe it has to do with what Monsieur le duc d'Arcachon has been up to in the south," said Eliza. "Assuming that you have been discreet, that is."

Oyonnax laughed. "You and I associate with two entirely different sorts of chymists! Even if I were indiscreet—which I most certainly am not—it is inconceivable that a brewer of poison, working in a cellar in Paris, should have any contact with a noble practitioner of the Art, such as Upnor or de Gex."

"I did not know that Father 'Edouard was an Alchemist as well!"

"Of course. Indeed, my divine cousin perfectly illustrates the point I am making. Can you phant'sy such a man associating with Satanists?"

"I cannot even phant'sy myself doing so."

"You aren't."

"What are you then, if I may inquire?"

Oyonnax, in a strangely girlish gesture, put a gloved hand to her lips, suppressing a laugh. "You still do not understand. Versailles is like this window." She swept her arm out, directing Eliza's eye to a scene in stained glass. "Beautiful, but thin, and brittle." She opened the casement below to reveal the street beyond: a wood-carrier, looking like a wild man, had dropped his load to have a fist-fight with a young Vagabond who had taken offense because the wood-carrier had bumped into a whore that the Vagabond was escorting into an alley. A man blinded by smallpox was squatting against a wall releasing a bloody phlux from his bowels. "Beneath the lovely glaze, a sea of desperation. When people are desperate, and praying to God has failed, they begin to look elsewhere. The famous Satanists that Maintenon is so worried about wouldn't recognize the Prince of Darkness if they went down to Hell and held a candle at his lev'ee! Those necromancers are just like the mountebanks on the Pont-Neuf. You can't make a living as a mountebank by offering to trim people's fingernails, because the clientele is not desperate enough. But you can make a living as a tooth-puller. Have you ever had a tooth go bad, mademoiselle?"

"I am aware that it hurts."

"There are people at Court who suffer from aches of heart and spirit that are every bit as intolerable as a toothache. Those who prey on them, are no different from tooth-pullers. The emblems of the devil are no different from the pliers brandished by tooth-pullers: visual proof that these people are equipped to ply their trade, and satisfy their customers."

"You are so dark! Is there anything you believe in?"

Oyonnax closed the casement. The gruesome images outside were gone. "I believe in beauty," she said. "I believe in the beauty of Versailles, and in the King who created it. I believe in your beauty, mademoiselle, and in mine. The darkness beyond has power to break through, just as those people out there could throw rocks through this window. But behold, the window has stood for centuries. No one has thrown a rock through it."

"Why not?"

"Because there is a balance of powers in the world, which can only be perceived by continual attention, and can only be preserved by—"

"By the unceasing and subtile machinations of persons such as you," Eliza said; and the look in the green eyes of Oyonnax told her that her guess was true. "Is that why you have involved yourself in my vendetta against the Duke?"

"I am certainly not doing so out of any affection for you! Nor out of sympathy. I don't know, and don't wish to, why you hate him so, but the stories told about him make it easy to guess. If le duc were a great hero of France—a Jean Bart, for example—I should poison you before suffering you to harm him. But as matters stand, Monsieur le duc is a poltroon, absent for months when he is most needed. Wise was le Roi in subordinating him to Monsieur le marquis de Seignelay. But now that de Seignelay is dying, the duc d'Arcachon will try to reassert his former eminence, which shall prove a disaster to the Navy and to France."

"So you see yourself as doing the King's work."

"I see myself as serving the King's ends." Madame la duchesse d'Oyonnax removed from her waistband a pale-green cylinder, scarcely bigger than a child's finger, and displayed it on the palm of her gloved hand. She was standing several paces away, which forced Eliza to approach her. Eliza did so in spite of a sudden horripilation that had spread over her scalp like a slick of burning oil. Her hands were clasped together in front of her stomach, in part to keep them warm—but in part to keep them close to a slim dagger that she was in the habit of hiding at the waist of her dress. Which was a queer thing to be thinking about, here and now; but she would not put anything past the Duchess, and wanted to be ready in the event that Oyonnax tried to throw something in her face or jab her with a poisoned needle.

"You'll never appreciate how easy this is going to be compared to a typical poisoning," said Oyonnax in a light conversational tone, as if this would set Eliza at ease. Eliza had now drawn close enough to see the green thing: a tiny phial such as might be used for perfume, carved out of jade, bound in bands of silver, with a silver stopper on a fragile chain. "Don't dab this behind your ears," said the Duchess.

"Is it one of those that is absorbed through the skin?"

"No, but it smells bad."

"Then le duc will certainly notice it in a drink."

"Yes—but not in his food. You know of his peculiar tastes?"

"I know more than I should care to of that."

"This is what I mean when I say it is going to be easy for you. Normally an ingested poison must be tasteless, and such are frequently ineffective. This stuff is as deadly as it is foul—yet le duc will never notice it when it is mixed with a meal of rotten fish. All that you need to do is to find some way of getting into the private kitchen where his dreadful repast is prepared. This will not be a trivial matter—yet it will be much easier than the machinations most people must go through."

"Most poisoners, you mean…"

Oyonnax did not respond to—perhaps did not even understand—the correction. "Take it, or don't," she said, "I'll not stand here like this any longer."

Eliza reached out to pluck the phial from Oyonnax's palm. As she did so, the other's larger hand closed around hers, and then Oyonnax brought her other hand over and clamped it on top, so that Eliza's fist, clenched around the green phial, was swallowed up between the Duchess's hands. Eliza was staring fixedly at this, having no desire whatever to see the Duchess's face, now so close to hers. But Oyonnax would not let go; and so finally Eliza turned her head that way, and, with some effort, raised her eyes to gaze directly into those of Oyonnax. She could not bear to do so for more than a moment; but it seemed that this was enough for the Duchess to be satisfied. Satisfied of what, Eliza did not know. But Oyonnax gave Eliza's fist one last squeeze and pushed it towards Eliza's breast, then released her. "It is done," said the Duchess. "You shall accomplish it tonight, then?"

"It is already too late—I must get ready."

"Soon, then."

"It can never be soon enough for me."

"People will talk, after it happens," said the Duchess. "Pay them no mind, and have patience. It is not whether this or that person believes you to be a murderer, or even can prove it, but whether they have the dignity necessary to level such an accusation."


BRITTLE DISJOINTED HOURS FOLLOWED. Monsieur le comte de Pontchartrain, and later the King himself, did not leave off sending messengers around to inquire as to the whereabouts of the duc d'Arcachon. For some reason these all wanted to speak to Eliza—as if she were expected to know things that the Duchess of Arcachon did not. This in no way simplified preparations for the soir'ee. Eliza had to get coiffed and dressed while holding at bay these inquisitive messengers, who, as the afternoon wore on, were of progressively higher rank. Finally, near dusk, a coach and four rattled into the court, and Eliza called out "Hallelujah!" She could not run to the window because a pair of engineers were braiding extensions into her hair; but someone else did, and disappointed them all by reporting that it was merely 'Etienne d'Arcachon.

"He'll do," said, Eliza, "now they'll pester him instead of me."

But presently, word filtered up that 'Etienne had literally called out the cavalry—despatched riders of his own personal regiment, on the swiftest mounts, to probe southwards along the roads that his father was most likely to take north, with instructions to wheel round and gallop back to the H^otel Arcachon the moment they saw the Duke's distinctive white carriage. This would give at least a few minutes' warning of the Duke's arrival—which was of the highest importance to 'Etienne, the Politest Man in France, as it would have been a grave embarrassment for the King to attend a Duke's birthday-party only to be snubbed, in the end, by the guest of honor. This way, the King could continue to bide his time in the Royal Palais du Louvre—which was only a few minutes' ride away—and come to the H^otel Arcachon (which was in the Marais, not far off the Pont d'Arcole) only when positive word had been received that the Duke was on his way.

So Eliza was pestered no further by messengers; but now 'Etienne d'Arcachon wished to have a private audience with her. And so did Monsieur le comte d'Avaux. And so did Father 'Edouard de Gex. She told her hairdressers to work faster, and to forget about the last tier in the ziggurat of counter-rotating braids that was rising into the heavens above her pate.


"MADEMOISELLE, ALLOW ME THE HONOR of being the first to compliment your beauty—"

"I would prefer it if you were as keen to get out of my way as to hurl flattery at me, Monsieur le comte," said Eliza, brushing past d'Avaux. "I am on my way to speak with 'Etienne de Lavardac in the chapel."

"I shall escort you," d'Avaux announced.

Such had been the vehemence of Eliza's passage that her skirts had bullwhipped around d'Avaux's ankles and his sword, and nearly upended him, but he had more aplomb than any ten other French diplomats, and so presently appeared on her arm, looking as perfectly composed as an embalmed corpse.

They were hurrying down a gallery that had been obstructed by servants balancing food-trays and carrying party-decorations; but when these saw the onrushing Count and Countess, they took shelter in the lees of pilasters or ducked into niches.

"I would be remiss if I failed to express to you, mademoiselle, my concern over the choices you have lately been making as to social contacts."

"What!? Who!? The de Lavardac family? Pontchartrain? Monsieur Rossignol?"

"It is precisely because you are so frequently seen in the company of these fine persons, that you must reconsider your decision to associate with the likes of Madame la duchesse d'Oyonnax."

Now Eliza's free hand strayed to her waistband, for she had a sudden terror that the green phial would fall out and shatter on the floor and fill the gallery with a smell as foul as her intentions. It was such an obvious gesture that d'Avaux would have seen it, had he been facing her; but he was looking in another direction.

"Like it or not, monsieur, she is a fixture of Court, and I cannot pretend she doesn't exist."

"Yes, but to have private meetings with such a woman, as you have done three times in the last two months—"

"Who has been counting, monsieur?"

"Everyone, mademoiselle. That is my point. Even though you may be pure as snow—"

"Your sarcasm is rude."

"This is a rude conversation, being a hurried one. As I was saying, you might be as upright as de Maintenon herself. But if and when Monsieur le duc d'Arcachon dies—"

"How can you speak of this, on his birthday!?"

"One year closer to death, mademoiselle. And even if the manner of his death is as innocent as falling from a horse, or going down on a sinking ship, people will say you had something to do with it, if you continue to tryst in dark places with Oyonnax."

"Anyone can bandy accusations. Few have the dignity to make them count."

"Is that what Oyonnax told you?"

This left Eliza speechless for a turn; so d'Avaux continued: "I was born a count, you were made a countess; I am one of those few who can accuse you."

"You really are hideous."

"I accused you before, after you spied for the Prince of Orange; but you escaped trouble, because you were doing it for Madame, and because you paid. Now you are alone, and you have no money. I do not know who it is precisely that you mean to poison: perhaps the Duke, perhaps 'Etienne, perhaps one and then the other. I am strongly tempted to wait and to watch as you do these crimes, and then destroy you—for to see you chained to a stone wall in the Bastille would be most satisfying to me. But I cannot allow a Duke and Peer of the Realm to suffer murder, merely to slake my own base cravings. And so I warn you, mademoiselle, not to—"

"Kill me," said a voice from ahead of them.

D'Avaux and Eliza, still clamped together side by side, arm in arm, had reached the ancient double doors at the back of the chapel, and gone through. It looked entirely different now. Eliza half supposed they had come into the wrong room. The sun had gone down, so no light came through the windows; but hundreds of candles were now burning on scores of silver candelabras. Their light gleamed on the polished backs of many gilded chairs, which in lieu of pews had been arranged on the stone floor—no, on a Persian carpet laid over the floor. The altar was covered in a white silk cloth encrusted with gold brocade, though this was difficult to see, as the front half of the chapel had been turned into a fragrant jungle of white flowers. Eliza's first thought, oddly, was, Where the hell did those come from at this time of the year? but the answer must have been some nobleman's stifling Orangerie.

'Etienne de Lavardac d'Arcachon, attired in full-dress cavalry colonel's uniform, was sprawled on the carpet at the base of the altar, posed like an artist's model. Resting on the carpet before him, at the head of the aisle, were two shiny objects: a serpentine dagger, and a golden ring.

D'Avaux had stiffened up so violently that Eliza half hoped he was undergoing a stroke. But his grip on her arm slackened, and he began to retreat.

'Etienne was having none of that; he jumped to his feet. "Stay! If you please, Monsieur le comte. Your presence here is fortuitous and most welcome. For it were improper for me to meet with Mademoiselle la comtesse without some chaperon; which, as I have lain here awaiting her, has been troubling me more than words have power to express."

"I am at your service, monseigneur," said d'Avaux, watching beneath a creviced brow as the nimble young Arcachon collapsed to the floor, and resumed his former pose.

"Kill me, mademoiselle!"

"I beg your pardon, monsieur?"

"My suffering is unendurable. Please end it by taking up yon flamboyant dagger, and plunging it into my breast."

"But I have no wish to kill you, Monsieur de Lavardac," said Eliza, and threw d'Avaux a vicious glare; but d'Avaux was far too profoundly taken aback to notice.

"Then there is only one other way in which my suffering can be ended; but it is too much to hope for," said 'Etienne. And his eyes fell on the band of gold.

"Your discourse is fascinating—but strangely clouded," said Eliza. She was moving cautiously up the aisle toward 'Etienne. D'Avaux, trapped, stood at attention in the back.

"I would be more direct, but such a magnificent being are you, and such a base Vagabond am I, that even to give voice to my desire is unforgivably rude."

"I have comments. First, you may be over-praising me, but I forgive you. Second, I know something of Vagabonds, and you are not one. Third, if you must be rude in order to say what is on your mind, then please be rude. For considering what it is that you appear to be asking—"

The chapel door whacked open and in stormed an officer, dressed in the same regimental colors as 'Etienne, but of less plumage. He stopped in the aisle and turned white as a freshly picked orchid, and was unable to speak.

But everyone knew what he was going to say. Eliza came out with it first. "Monsieur, you have news of Monsieur le duc?"

"Forgive me, mademoiselle—yes—if you please—his carriage has been sighted, coming on at great velocity—he shall be here in an hour."

"Has word of this been sent to the Palais du Louvre?" asked 'Etienne.

"Just as you directed, monsieur."

"Very well. You are dismissed."

The officer was more than glad to be dismissed. He took a last beady look around, then bowed, and backed down the aisle. As he was going arse-first out the door, he rammed someone who was attempting to come in. There was an exchange of abject apologies back in the shadows; then in stalked a robed and hooded figure, looking like Death without the scythe. He pulled back the hood to reveal the pale face, the dark eyes, and the carefully managed facial hair of Father 'Edouard de Gex; and the look on his face proved that he was as surprised, not to say alarmed, by all of this as anyone else.

"I say, was this all planned?" demanded Eliza.

"I received an anonymous note suggesting that I should be ready to perform the sacrament of marriage on short notice," said de Gex, "but—"

"You had better be ready to perform the sacrament of extreme unction, if the young Arcachon does not untie his tongue, or hide that dagger," said Eliza, "and as to short notice—well—a lady requires a little more time!" And she stomped out of the chapel.

"My lady!" called de Gex several times as he pursued her down a gallery; but she had not the slightest intention of being called back in there, and so she ignored him until she was a safe distance removed from the chapel, and had reached a more frequented part of the house. By that point, de Gex had caught up with her. "My lady!"

"I'm not going back."

"It is not my design to coax you back. You are the person I wished to see. For when Monsieur Rossignol and I made inquiries as to your whereabouts, they said you had gone to the chapel. It was never my intention to interrupt a—"

"You interrupted nothing. Why were you with Monsieur Rossignol?"

"He has got some new messages from the Esphahnians."

"The who?"

"The Armenians. Come. Please. I pray you. It's important."


FATHER 'EDOUARD DE GEX ESCORTED Eliza to the library as fast as he could walk, which meant that he kept edging ahead. The most direct route took them through the grand ballroom of the H^otel Arcachon. Here, though, he faltered, and fell behind. Eliza wheeled about. De Gex was gazing up at the ceiling. This was understandable, for the de Lavardacs had hired Le Brun himself to paint it, and he had only recently finished. It was a colossal tableau featuring Apollo (always a stand-in for Louis XIV) gathering the Virtues about him in the bright center while exiling the Vices to the gloomy corners. The Virtues were not sufficiently numerous to fill the space, and so the Muses were there, too, singing songs, composing poetry, &c. about how great the Virtues were. Along the edges of the piece, diverse earthly humans (courtiers on one side, peasants on the next, then soldiers, then churchmen) listened adoringly to, or gazed rapturously at, the Virtue-promoting works of the Muses whilst generally turning their backs to, or aiming scornful glares at, all of those Vices crowded into the corners. Just to make it sporting, though, you might see, if you looked carefully enough, a Soldier succumbing to Cowardice, a Priest to Gluttony, a Courtier to Lust, or a Peasant to Sloth.

So everyone who came in here looked at the ceiling; but the expression on the face of de Gex was most peculiar. Rather than being dazzled by the splendour of the work, he looked as if he were expecting the ceiling to fall in on them.

He finally directed his dark eyes at Eliza. "Do you know what happened here, mademoiselle?"

"A fabulously expensive remodeling campaign that took forever and is only just finished."

"But do you know why?"

"Le Brun is always engaged at Versailles, except when le Roi leaves off building it so that he can go fight a war. And so only since war broke out has any progress been made here."

"No. I meant, do you know why they remodelled?"

"From the looks of it I should say it was de Maintenon."

"De Maintenon?!" De Gex's reaction told Eliza that her answer had been emphatically wrong.

"Yes," she said, "she came along in 1685, did she not? Which is when this remodel got under way…and the subject matter of the painting is so markedly Maintenon-esque."

"Correlation is not causation," de Gex said. "They had to remodel, because of a disastrous Incident that took place in that year."

And then De Gex seemed to remember that they were in a hurry, and once again began striding toward the library. Eliza stomped along beside, and a little behind him.

"You do know what happened here—?" he continued, and glanced back at her.

"Something grievously embarrassing—so embarrassing that no one will tell me what it was."

"Ah. To the library, then." They departed the ballroom and entered a gallery.

"What was that you said earlier, about being asked to perform a marriage on short notice?"

"I received a note to that effect. I suspect it was from your beau. Never mind; obviously he was deluding himself."

"It is a bit sad," said Eliza, remembering the chairs carefully arranged in the little chapel, never to be sat on, and the precious flowers, never to be seen or smelled before they were hauled out to a midden. "Perhaps he had in mind a sort of elopement—but being so polite, wished to arrange it so that it would enjoy the sanctions of Family and Church."

"That is between you and him," said de Gex a bit coldly, and hauled upon the library door for Eliza. "If you please, mademoiselle."


"I PHANT'SIED YOU MIGHT FIND this interesting in more than one way," said Bonaventure Rossignol. He sat with his back to the arched window of the library, which, though dark, afforded a view over the torch-lit courtyard of the H^otel Arcachon. Eliza was shocked to observe occasional snowflakes spiraling down—so intemperate and remorseless was this winter, they might as well be living in Stockholm.

Before Rossignol was a broad table on which he had spread out a panoply of letters, books, and notes. Many bore the Armenian script.

"I mentioned to you before that the Cabinet Noir had intercepted a remarkable letter, posted during the first week of August from Sanl'ucar de Barrameda, and addressed to the family Esphahnian, who were said to be dwelling in the Bastille."

"You had not mentioned the family name to me," said Eliza, "but it scarcely matters, and it is almost certainly an assumed name anyway—"

"Why do you say that?" said de Gex.

"Esphahnian simply means ‘of Esphahan,' which is a city where a vast number of Armenians dwell," Eliza explained. "It is as if you went to live among the Turks and they called you ‘'Edouard the Frank.' "

Rossignol nodded. "I agree it is probably not the true name of this family, but it is the name we shall use, lacking any other. At any rate, I inquired after them, and learned that some Armenians had indeed been put in the Bastille in 1685 and kept there for a year or so: a mother and a large brood of sons. One of them died there. The matriarch was released soonest, then the brothers. Some went to debtors' prisons.

"It took me some time to track them all down, for more have died in the meantime, and it was difficult to establish who is the eldest of the brothers. I found him—Artan Esphahnian—in a wretched entresol not far from here, and caused the letter from Sanl'ucar to be delivered to him.

"A few days later, Artan mailed a letter addressed to one Vrej Esphahnian in Cairo. I had an exact copy of it made, then sent it on its way. At the time, I held no particular opinion as to who this Vrej fellow might be—like you, mademoiselle, I suspected that the name Esphahnian was a meaningless ruse, or perhaps even a vector of hidden information, which, if true, might mean that Vrej was not even related to Artan.

"Nothing further happened until yesterday, when a letter came in addressed to Artan, posted from Rosetta, at the mouth of the Nile—and written in the same hand as the one from Sanl'ucar de Barrameda. Now this was remarkable, for I had translated the Sanl'ucar letter into French, and it had said nothing about Egypt. It was full of family chitchat. The fellow who wrote it—who I now believe to be Vrej Esphahnian—had been out of contact with Artan for a long time. He had said nothing whatever about what he was doing in Sanl'ucar or whither he might be going next. And yet Artan, upon receiving this document, had known, somehow, that he must post his reply to Vrej in Cairo. Not long afterwards, this Vrej had appeared at Rosetta—which is en route to Cairo—long enough to despatch yet another letter filled with banal chitchat."

"And so it is obvious to you that encrypted messages are contained in these letters," Eliza continued; for she had spent enough time listening to the discourse of Natural Philosophers to recognize when one of them was developing a hypothesis. "This I understand well enough, and I compliment you on your prowess. But why do you deem it so important to tell me about it?"

Rossignol was not willing to attempt an answer, and looked at de Gex. From which Eliza collected that it must be a delicate matter; for de Gex, as de Maintenon's favorite churchman, was allowed to speak bluntly in a way that was unusual in a place where insults were commonly answered with rapier-thrusts. "We who love and admire the family de Lavardac," he said, "are terribly concerned that Monsieur le duc d'Arcachon, acting out of the most noble motives, and exhibiting marvelous ingenuity and strength of will, has made a mistake. We would assist him in mending his error before it leads to embarrassment. It were best to mend it this evening, before the ramifications spread any further. To bring it before Madame la duchesse d'Arcachon, or 'Etienne, might not be as productive as to bring it before you, mademoiselle."

"Very well. Does the mistake have something to do with Alchemy?"

The briefest of pauses. Then: "Indeed, mademoiselle. Monsieur le duc participated in an act of piracy, which, as you know, is a usual thing in war, and wholly honourable. However, I am sorry to report that he was misinformed by persons who were ignorant, or perhaps malicious. Monsieur le duc supposed that the prize was silver pigs. In fact it was gold. And not just any gold, but gold imbued with miraculous—even divine—qualities."

"I see," said Eliza. "And needless to say, the Esoteric Brotherhood takes a proprietary interest in it?"

"I should prefer to say custodial, not proprietary. This material is not for just anyone to possess. In the wrong hands it could do the Devil's work."

"Hmm. Would Lothar von Hacklheber's be the wrong hands?"

"No, mademoiselle. Lothar is a difficult man, but one knows where he lives, and one can reason with him. A boat-load of Vagabonds at large in the Mediterranean, bound for Egypt—that is the wrong hands."

"Well, you may set your mind at ease, Father 'Edouard. The gold you seek was to have come ashore along with Monsieur le duc. He planned to drop it off in Lyon. It should now locked in the strong-box of a certain banker there, who values it only as gold. I shall be pleased to supply you with his name. He has no awareness of, or interest in, its supernatural characteristics. Presumably he will be pleased to exchange it for an equal or larger weight of mundane gold."

"We should be in your debt, mademoiselle."

"You may consider the debt discharged, if you tell me one thing."

"Name it, mademoiselle."

"The Bastille is a prison for enemies of the Realm. Why were the Esphahnians thrown into it?"

"Because they were thought to be connected to what happened here in 1685."

"And—since I will be the last person in France to know—what happened here in 1685!?"

"You may have heard, on the lips of servants or other vulgar persons, tales concerning a man called L'Emmerdeur. By your leave, mademoiselle! For even his epithet is almost too vulgar to speak aloud."

"I have heard of him," said Eliza, though in her ears, the sound of her own voice was nearly drowned out by the stomp, stomp, stomp of her heart. "I did hear a story once that he showed up uninvited at some grand soir'ee in Paris and made a bloody mess of it—"

"That was here."

"In this house!?"

"In this house. He cut 'Etienne's hand off, and completely destroyed the ballroom."

"How can one Vagabond, vastly outnumbered by armed noblemen, single-handedly destroy a Duke's ballroom?"

"Never mind. But to make matters worse, all of these things happened in the presence of the King. Most embarrassing."

"I can imagine!"

"The King of the Vagabonds, as he was styled, made his escape. But the Lieutenant of Police was able to determine that he had been dwelling in a certain apartment not far from here—and the Esphahnians were living directly below him. He had befriended them, and drawn them somehow into his schemes. But since he was long gone, retribution fell instead on the Esphahnians. Off they were taken to the Bastille. Their business was destroyed, their health suffered grievously. Now those who survived dwell as paupers in Paris."

Through the windows came the clatter and rasp of many horseshoes and iron wheel-rims on cobblestones. All turned to see the white carriage of the duc d'Arcachon—wrought to look like a giant sea-shell borne on the foam of an incoming tide—being drawn, by a team of six mismatched and exhausted horses, into the courtyard. It passed below them, out of their view, and pulled up before the entrance of the ballroom.

But the noise did not let up, but doubled and redoubled, as into the open gates of the Court rode a vanguard of Swiss mercenaries, and a squadron of noble officers, and finally the gilded carriage of Louis XIV, lighting up the court as the Chariot of Apollo.


'ETIENNE, WHEREVER HE WAS (presumably, at the door of the ballroom), could finally relax, for much that must have been troubling him had been resolved in these few moments. His father had come home. No more would embarrassing questions be asked about where the Grand Admiral of France was during this time of need. Almost as important, this party now had a guest of honor; and so the many guests who had come would not go home disappointed. Most important of all, the King had arrived, and had arrived last.

Eliza, by contrast, had so many things to fret about that she almost could not keep track of them. She left de Gex and Rossignol far behind as she threaded her way among servants and courtiers toward the ballroom.

She hated herself for having a phial of poison in her waistband. Stupid! Stupid! She could not even use it now, without drawing fire from d'Avaux! So it was worse than worthless. It had never occurred to her that she would have to carry the damned thing on her person all the time. It could not be left in a drawer for fear that someone would happen upon it, by chance or because snooping. The phial had only been in her waistband for a few hours, but she'd gladly have traded it for a back-load of firewood. It seemed to burn her stomach, and she had developed a nervous habit of patting it every few seconds. And for this useless burthen, she had put herself, in some unspecified way, into the power of the Duchess of Oyonnax.

But in its power to cause trouble for Eliza, this matter of the poison might be as nothing compared to what she had heard concerning the exploits of Jack Shaftoe in this house—nay, this very room (for she had entered the ballroom now) five years ago.

When the carriages of le duc and le Roi had entered the courtyard moments ago, Eliza had darted out of the library before de Gex or Rossignol could offer her his arm. She had done this because she required a few moments by herself to think—to recall all that had happened since she had met Jack below Vienna in 1683, and to ask herself who might know that she had once been associated with L'Emmerdeur?

Leibniz knew, but he was discreet. The same could be said of Enoch Root. Around Leipzig, Jack and Eliza had been seen together by several people, none of whom was likely to be rated as credible by the French nobility. The most high and mighty person who had seen them together—and, as she recalled this, Eliza felt the heat rising into her face like steam from a cauldron when the lid is lifted off—was Lothar von Hacklheber, who had gazed down on her from the balcony of the House of the Golden Mercury in Leipzig. Jack had been right next to her, posing as a manservant, a porter. Unlikely that even Lothar would connect such a figure with L'Emmerdeur.

After that, they had traveled to Amsterdam. A few Dutch people had seen them together. But again, there was no reason for these people to suppose that the ruffian sometimes seen in Eliza's company was the legendary Vagabond King. Before long, Jack had gone down to Paris. Only then had he truly become famous to these people. He had ridden a horse into this room and wrecked the duc d'Arcachon's party, fled Paris, and eventually found his way back to Amsterdam—where he had tracked Eliza down in her favorite coffeehouse. The had spent all of an hour together—an hour that had culminated in an unpleasant scene, whose details Eliza did not care to recall to mind, beneath the Herring-Packers' Tower, just as Jack had set sail on the slave-trading voyage from which he could never return. By now, of course, he'd been dead any number of years. But that was not the question. The question was: Had anyone seen Jack and Eliza together during that hour in Amsterdam?

The answer was of course they had, for as she'd later found out, she'd been tailed, the whole time, by two spies in the employ of d'Avaux. D'Avaux! Who even at this moment was glaring at her from across the ballroom, as if reading minds were as easy for him as reading codes was to Rossignol. D'Avaux's two spies had later been killed by the hand of William of Orange himself. But d'Avaux was alive, and he knew.

All this time the Duke's carriage had been sitting in the courtyard, like an egg in a stone sarcophagus. Its door was open, and one of the footmen had thrust his head and upper body into the dark interior, and lit a few candles. His arm shook from time to time, as if he were trying again and again to get a tired passenger to wake up. The delay was perfectly convenient for those inside—close to a hundred of the titled nobility of France—as it afforded them the opportunity to arrange themselves in a long receiving-line that coiled and undulated around the ballroom. Outside the double doors, servants had rolled out a carpet so that the Duke, and later King, could tread on red wool instead of gray snow. An honor guard had formed up to either side of that road of scarlet: members of 'Etienne's cavalry regiment to one side, and, facing them, a detachment of marines. 'Etienne stood just inside the doors, waiting, with his mother on his arm.

Finally something was happening. The cavalry and the marines drew sabers and cutlasses respectively, and raised them up to form an arch of steel above the red carpet. 'Etienne nodded to a pair of servants, who drew open the ballroom's immense doors, letting in a blast of snowy air; 'Etienne screwed up his face and stepped back half a pace; his mother the duchess bowed her head and reached up with her free hand to prevent her lace headdress from being sheared off. Outside, the mud-spattered buttocks of the footman could be seen emerging from the door of the white carriage, straining and jolting, as he seemed to be helping someone out who required much help.

Eliza's view of these proceedings got better and better, for she was being impelled toward the head of the receiving-line by a kind of social peristalsis. Even Dukes and Duchesses, in this circumstance, gave precedence to Eliza, who had come to be seen as an honorary de Lavardac. No one would admit her to the line, but all insisted that she move ahead. And so she kept advancing towards the open doors, and got a very clear view of what came out of that carriage.

It was not a Duke. The word "wretch" came to mind, for this man could barely stand up, and if he owned a periwig, he'd lost it, or forgotten it in the coach. His thinning hair was short and dark, and shellacked with sweat and grease, and his face beneath it was so pale it looked almost green. He could not stand or walk without assistance, and yet he would on no account let go of some great burdensome item of luggage: a sort of strong-box. It had a handle on either end. One of the footmen supported the wretch on his right side. The wretch, then, kept his left hand clenched around one of the strong-box's handles. The other footman had grabbed the box's opposite handle just in time to keep it from falling out of the carriage door. And so they formed up three abreast: footman, wretch, footman, and began an ungainly progress along the red carpet.

Eliza had now come close enough to the doors that she could hear 'Etienne saying to his mother, "Is that Pierre de Jonzac?" Instantly she saw that the wretch was none other. For the filthy, torn, and stained clothes that he was wearing had once been a naval officer's uniform. And if in her mind's eye she cleaned the wretch up, mended his clothes, and endowed him with thirty pounds more weight, a few pints of blood, and a decent periwig, the result was very like Monsieur de Jonzac.

Seeing this, Eliza developed in her mind a theory of what was going on here, which was wrong; but it was not too unlike everyone else's theories, which would govern their actions until they knew more. The theory was that the duc d'Arcachon was still inside the white carriage, getting freshened up for the party, and that he had sent his aide de Jonzac out ahead of him bearing a treasure-chest full of booty, justly and valiantly won during some dire and exhausting combat in the Mediterranean, which was about to be presented to the King of France. It even occurred to Eliza that the Duke, finding himself unexpectedly in possession of a small mass of enchanted gold, rather than a large amount of silver pigs, had galloped straight through Lyon without stopping, and brought it here directly. Risky—but fantastically dashing, and almost enough to make her admire the man. She turned round to catch the eye of Father 'Edouard de Gex, who was not far away; and he had come to a similar phant'sy, and his gaze was already fixed on that strong-box. Someone next to him was, however, looking back at Eliza; she glanced up to find herself spiked on the unreadable glare of Louis Anglesey, Earl of Upnor.

De Jonzac, the footmen, and the chest had covered two-thirds of the distance to the door. As they drew closer to the light, they looked more and more pitiable. The footmen had been standing on the back of the carriage for a week and their faces and livery were coated with road-grime. Beneath the gray dirt, their flesh was ruddy from cold; but de Jonzac was gray through and through. His lips had disappeared, being of the same hue as the surrounding flesh, and they moved unceasingly, as if he were trying to say something. But if any sound came forth, Eliza could not hear it from this distance. 'Etienne greeted de Jonzac, but got no recognition or answer. He and the duchess moved out of the way so that this unwieldy parade could fit through the door. No doubt remained in Eliza's mind now that something was terribly awry; but most of the others in the room were still working on the wrong theory. This included even poor 'Etienne, who sensed that something was desperately the matter, but was nailed to his post by etiquette. He turned towards the white carriage to greet his father, who should emerge next; but the door, hanging open, revealed that the vehicle was empty. A stable-hand slammed it shut and pounded on it twice, and the driver cracked his little whip, compelling the half-dead horses to make one last, brief journey to the stable-yard.

"Father 'Edouard!" Eliza said, raising her voice to be heard above the murmur of astonishment running through the guests. "Please tend to Monsieur de Jonzac; he is grievously wounded." Eliza's nose had confirmed this, for de Jonzac and the footmen had shuffled past her by now, leaving in their wake a scent of rotting flesh. De Jonzac had gangrene. The footmen, half deranged from exhaustion, only wanted some place to lay de Jonzac out on the floor; instead they had staggered into the midst of a formal Court ball. They were dumbfounded, lost.

De Gex had got a whiff of it, too. He stepped out briskly and got in front of the footmen. "Let him down. It is all right. Gently down—" (To the majordomo:) "Monsieur! Bring blankets, and a couch, or something that can be used as a litter. Have someone else summon a surgeon." (To de Jonzac, now lying on the polished floor, his head on the palm of de Gex's hand:) "What is that you say? I cannot hear you, Monsieur—pray save your strength, it can wait."

De Gex seemed to have matters so well in hand that Eliza decided to go and inform 'Etienne (whose view of de Gex and de Jonzac had been blocked by a moving wall of inquisitive courtiers) as to what was going on. She found him still paralyzed by an unsolvable conundrum of etiquette; for the moment the Duke's white carriage had moved out of the way, the King's golden one had rattled forward to take its place, and even now the door was being opened. For none of the members of the King's entourage had the slightest idea, yet, that things had gone all wrong. And it was too late to tell them now, for Louis XIV was standing at the head of the carpet, and the Marquise de Maintenon was on his arm.

Eliza spun around and said "The King!," which was the one word that could have dispersed the crowd around de Jonzac and de Gex. The receiving line re-formed, though it made a wide detour around the stricken man on the floor, and the two who were occupied near him: de Gex, who was kneeling on the floor and bending close to hear de Jonzac, and the Earl of Upnor, who kept undoing latches on the strong-box, only to find that there was always another.

All of this became obvious to the King in an instant as the crowd melted away from his line of sight like frost in a sun-beam. He was the only person in the H^otel Arcachon who had the freedom to behave normally. For in the presence of the King, no one other than the King could be acknowledged. Hence, for example, the unnatural posture of 'Etienne d'Arcachon, who stood fixedly with his back to the scene within, as if nothing at all was happening. The King, though, had eyes only for de Jonzac. He got half a pace ahead of de Maintenon, then turned to her and said a few private words, taking his leave of her with utmost courtesy. Then he strode forward, turning to 'Etienne and the Duchess as he went by, and exchanging a word with each: monsieur; madame. Into the ballroom he came, sweeping his cape from his shoulders, and in the same motion he whirled it down to cover the shivering body of Pierre de Jonzac. The King then took a step back and posed there, body erect, one foot slightly ahead of the other, toe pointed and slightly turned out, head inclined toward his injured subject, and inquired of de Gex: "What does he say?"

"If you please, your majesty," said de Gex. For some time he had been holding up a hand for quiet. But the arrival of the King had silenced the room as nothing else could have. De Gex now bent very close, so that de Jonzac's lips were practically nuzzling his ear, and repeated what he heard:

"The deed…you are about to witness…was done for the love of a woman…whose name…I will not say…for she knows who she is…and it was done by…‘Half-Cocked' Jack Shaftoe, L'Emmerdeur, the King of the Vagabonds, Ali Zaybak: Quicksilver!"

"What on earth is he talking about?" asked the King. "What deed?" And it was well that he said something, as everyone else was struck dumb, so mortified were they by the mention of the forbidden name in this, of all places!

Upnor had continued to worry at the hasps of the strong-box the whole time—somewhat improperly, but then, he was merely an Englishman. Finally he got it open. He flipped the lid back with a thud and a clatter, practically thrusting his face into the cavity in his eagerness to get at the treasure within. But in the next moment he recoiled as if a cobra had leapt out of the box. He actually let out a long, incoherent yell. A few people nearby screamed, and looked away.

"Ladies, and persons of a sensitive disposition, will avert their eyes," said the King, who retreated a few steps.

'Etienne de Lavardac, Madame la duchesse d'Arcachon, Madame la duchesse d'Oyonnax, Monsieur le comte d'Avaux, and a few others drew closer to see what it was. De Gex, who was closest, leaned over the top of the chest and reached into it with his right hand, making the sign of the cross, and muttering a sentence in Latin. Then he rose to his feet and hauled out a severed human head.

"Louis-Francois de Lavardac, duc d'Arcachon, has come home," he announced. "May he rest in peace."


NOW, AT THIS MOMENT Eliza was far from clear-headed; yet she was the most clear-headed person in the room, with the possible exception of the late duke. Though she was still in a lot of trouble—much more trouble than three minutes ago, in fact—she knew two things absolutely. One was that the duc d'Arcachon was dead. Her mission in life had, therefore, been accomplished. The other was that Jack Shaftoe was alive, had redeemed himself, and loved her. Best of all, he loved her from a tremendous distance, which made being loved by him ever so much less inconvenient. And so even as people were still gasping and screaming and fainting all around her, Eliza was moving toward the duchesse d'Oyonnax, who, aside from Eliza, was the coolest person in the room. She looked almost amused. Eliza fished the little green phial out of her waistband. She approached Oyonnax from the side, reached out with her left hand, grasped that of Oyonnax, and drew it towards her, twisting it palm up. With her right hand Eliza pressed the phial down on Oyonnax's palm. The Duchess's fingers curled about it involuntarily, before she knew what it was, and Eliza got clear.

Her attention—and that of almost everyone else in the room—turned to d'Avaux, who had approached the King, and received permission to speak. It was a wonder he had sought permission, for he was in such a rage that he was almost slavering. He kept looking back at Eliza, which gave Eliza the idea that it might be best for her to draw closer and listen in.

"Your majesty!" cried d'Avaux. "By your majesty's leave, I say that while the perpetrator of this atrocious crime may be far away, the first cause and inspiration of it is close by, yea, within the reach of your majesty's sword almost, so that your majesty may have satisfaction presently—for she, the woman in whose name L'Emmerdeur committed this murder, is none other than—" and he raised his hand before his face, index finger extended, like a pistol-duellist in the moment before he levels the weapon at his foe. His gaze was rapt on Eliza. The fatal finger began to descend toward her heart. She reached up and caught that digit, however, while it was still directed toward the magnificent Le Brun ceiling, and bent it back sharply enough to make d'Avaux inhale sharply—which meant he could not finish his sentence. "Merci beaucoup, monsieur," she whispered, and executed a full three-hundred-sixty-degree pirouette that brought her face to face with the King while relegating d'Avaux to the background. Her hand was behind the small of her back now, still gripping d'Avaux's finger. She had carried it off—or so she hoped—in such a manner that an observer, still in shock over the appearance of the severed head of the birthday boy, might think that d'Avaux had courteously offered her his hand, and she had gratefully accepted it.

"By your leave, your majesty, I have heard it said that the rules of etiquette dictate ladies before gentlemen; was I deceived?"

"In no way, mademoiselle," said the King.

"I tell you, it was—" began d'Avaux; but the King silenced him with a flick of the eyes, and Eliza reinforced the message with some torque on the finger.

"Moreover, it is said that the laws of Heaven place love before hate, and peace before war; is it true?"

"Pourquoi non, mademoiselle?"

"Then as a lady who stands before your majesty on an errand of love, I beg precedence over this gentleman, my dear friend and mentor, Monsieur le comte d'Avaux, whose red and angry visage tells me he is on some errand of hateful retribution."

"So terrible is the news to-night that it would bring me, if not pleasure, then perhaps a few moments' diversion from what is so unpleasant, to grant you precedence over Monsieur d'Avaux; provided that his errand is not of an urgent nature."

"Oh, not at all, your majesty, what I have to say will be every bit as useful to you in a few minutes' time as it is now. I insist that Mademoiselle la comtesse de la Zeur go ahead." D'Avaux finally worried his finger free and backed off a step.

"Your majesty," said Eliza, "I grieve for le duc. I trust he has gone to his reward. I pray that L'Emmerdeur will get what he deserves for what he has done. But I cannot, I will not, allow the so-called King of the Vagabonds the additional satisfaction of disrupting the peaceful conduct of your majesty's household, that is to say La France; and so, notwithstanding my feelings of shock and grief at this moment, I beg your leave to accept the proposal of marriage that was tendered to me earlier this evening by 'Etienne de Lavardac—now, duc d'Arcachon."

"Then marry him with all the blessings a King can bestow," the King answered.

And in this moment Eliza was startled by a most unexpected rush of sound from all about her. In any other circumstance she'd have recognized it instantly. But here, given all that had happened, she had to look about and verify it with her eyes: the guests were applauding. It was not, of course, a raucous ovation. Half of them were openly weeping. Many of the ladies had fled the room. Madame la duchesse d'Arcachon was being carried out unconscious, and Eliza's unwitting fianc'e only remained in the room because someone was obliged to greet Madame la marquise de Maintenon. But for all that, the remaining guests produced a spontaneous patter of applause. It was not that they had forgotten the Duke's head—that was unlikely—but that they found something stirring in how this scene of shock and horror had been adroitly reversed. The applause was an expression of defiance. Eliza, understanding this belatedly, acknowledged it with a diffident curtsey. Presently 'Etienne drifted to her side—someone had explained matters to him—and took her hand, and then the applause welled up again, for just a moment. Then it died abruptly and was replaced by altogether more fitting sounds of sobbing, wailing, and praying. Eliza was distracted for a moment by a glimpse of a rider out in the courtyard wheeling his mount around with great panache, and galloping out into Paris. It was the Earl of Upnor.

Then she attended to the King, who was speaking: "Father 'Edouard. We came together here for a small celebration. But the only celebration that is fitting, on an evening such as this one, is that of the Mass."

"Of course, sire."

"We will observe a funeral Mass for Monsieur le duc d'Arcachon. Following that, a wedding for the new duc and Mademoiselle la comtesse de la Zeur."

"Yes, sire," said de Gex. "By your majesty's leave, the family chapel has already been made ready for a wedding; shall we perform the funeral here, where there is more room, and move to the chapel thereafter?"

King Louis XIV made a tiny nod of assent, and then turned his gaze on d'Avaux, who had not yet been dismissed. "Monsieur le comte," said the King, "you were about to voice an opinion as to the identity of the woman who inspired the heinous murder of my cousin?"

"By your majesty's leave," d'Avaux said, "If we interpret L'Emmerdeur's statement literally, it will only amount to something banal. I have no doubt that he was merely trying to impress some whore he met once in Paris." And he could not prevent his eyes from flicking at Eliza for just a moment as he said this; but then he returned his attention to the King. "I was, rather, attempting to make a more general statement about all the enemies of France, and what moves them." He backed away one step, turned, and swept his arm up and out towards a corner of the painted ceiling, where Pandora was opening up her Box (in—come to think of it—an odd reminder of the box-opening scene that had just played out on the ballroom floor) to release a flood of demonic Vices. Pandora had been painted, as everyone knew, to resemble Mary, the usurper Queen of England. The foremost of the Vices rushing out of her box was green-eyed Envy, who had been made to resemble Sophie of Hanover. It was to Envy that d'Avaux now drew the King's attention. "That, your majesty, is the lady love, not only of L'Emmerdeur—who is after all a nobody—but also of all the Dutch and English. Envy is what inspires their chivalrous acts."

"You powers of observation are as keen as ever, monsieur," said the King, "and I have never been more pleased to number you among my subjects."

At this d'Avaux bowed very deeply. Eliza could not help but think that, for all the frustration and defeat d'Avaux had suffered here, this immense compliment from le Roi was more than compensation enough. It made her wonder: Did the King know everything?

The King continued: "Monsieur le comte d'Avaux has, as usual, spoken wisely. It follows that if we are to baffle Envy's devotees, we should celebrate all that is magnificent in this Realm: with funerals, the magnificence that has passed, and with weddings, the magnificence that is yet to come. Let it be so."

And it was so.

Most of the guests went home following the funeral in the ballroom, but enough remained to fill the chapel for the wedding. After that, they went directly into a second funerary mass; for Madame la duchesse d'Arcachon had not recovered from the sight of her husband's head pulled from the box. What everyone had taken for a swoon, had in fact been a stroke. One side of her body had already gone lifeless by the time they had carried her to her bedchamber, and during the subsequent hours, the paralysis had spread to engulf the other side as well, and finally the heart had stopped. And so, by the time the newlyweds emerged from the doors of the H^otel Arcachon, around midnight, and climbed into a borrowed carriage (for the white seashell-coach was both fouled and broken), both of 'Etienne's parents were dead, and being made ready for shipment to consecrated ground at La Dunette. 'Etienne was duc, and Eliza was duchesse, d'Arcachon.

The new Duke and Duchess consummated their union under many blankets in a carriage en route to Versailles, and arrived at La Dunette in the darkest and coldest hours before dawn. Fresh hoof-prints in the snow on La Dunette's gravel paths told them that they were not the first to come this way since the snow had ceased to fall. When they reached the ch^ateau, they found the servants already awake and dressed, and red around the eyes. The doyenne of the maidservants took Eliza to one side, and let her know that she must go down to the Convent of Ste.-Genevieve immediately, for there was dreadful news. Eliza, unwilling to wait for preparations to be made, straddled the first horse she could get to—it was an albino mare—and rode it bareback down to the little convent full of weeping and praying nuns. She went directly to the room where Jean-Jacques slept. She knew already what she would see there, for she had seen it before in nightmares, as every parent does: the shattered window, curtains riven, muddy bootprints on the sill, and the empty cradle. The blankets had been taken; that was a comfort to her, as it suggested that wherever Jean-Jacques might be, he was at least not freezing to death. Left in the little bed was a note, addressed to the Countess de la Zeur; for whoever had penned it had not got the news of her new rank and title. It read:

Fr"aulein!

You and your Vagabond have something of mine. I have something of yours.

—L


DECEMBER 1690

It seems to us indeed that this block of marble brought from Genoa would have been exactly the same if it had been left there, because our senses make us judge only superficially, but at bottom because of the connection of things the whole universe with all of its parts would be entirely different, and would have been another from the beginning, if the least thing in it went otherwise than it does.

—LEIBNIZ

THE FORMAL INTRODUCTIONS HAD PLAYED against the backdrop of a fireplace large enough to burn a small village. For half an hour or so, Nicolas Fatio de Duillier and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz had inched towards each other as if conjoined by an invisible spring stretched through the middle of the muttering swarm of Freiherren and Freifrauen. When finally they drew within hailing distance of each other they switched over to French and launched into an easy chat about involutes, evolutes, and radial curves. Leibniz moved on into a tutorial about a new notion he had been toying with in his spare time, called parallel curves, which he illustrated by drawing invisible lines on the hearth with the toe of his boot. Petty nobles of Lower Saxony who trespassed on these were politely asked to move, so that Fatio could draw several invisible lines and curves of his own. Then he managed, in a single grammatically correct sentence, to make reference to Apollonius of Perga, the Folium of Descartes, and the Limacon of Pascal.

The walls of the room were decorated with impossibly optimistic paintings, two to three fathoms on a side, of sowers, reapers, and gleaners plying their respective trades in sun-gilded fields. Fickle light was shed on these by flames burning in bronze baskets carried on the heads of naked, muscle-bound, bronze blackamoors planted on ten-ton pedestals in the corners.

Fatio looked significantly at his watch. "The sun rose—what—two hours ago? At this latitude, we have—say—two hours of daylight remaining?"

"A bit more, sir, by your leave," answered Leibniz with a wink, or perhaps a cinder had flown into his eye. But that was all that needed to be said. Both men turned their backs to the fire for a last helping of warmth, then marched towards the room's exit, groping through darkness and smoke for the door.

They were blinded by powerful bluish light. The Schloss's galleries—which served not only as connecting passages, but also as a sort of perimeter defense against the climate—ran around its exterior wall, and had plenty of windows. The low light of the heavy winter sun ricocheted off the ice-crusted snow that covered the dead gardens, filling these corridors with chilly brilliance. An indignant servant slammed the doors behind them to keep the heat in. Leibniz and Fatio began to match each other's pace down the length of the gallery, moving just short of a sprint. The cold seemed to have dissolved their stockings. It was imperative to keep the knees and calves working.

"Some family," Fatio ventured. "One hears of them but does not meet them."

"They grow into the interstices left between other families," Leibniz admitted. "You would find the Hanover crowd more interesting."

"They do seem impossibly fecund," Fatio said. "The Winter Queen left children strewn all over the place, and Sophie, at one time or another, has given birth to nearly everyone."

"Sophie married in to this lot," Leibniz said, glancing back.

"And that is how you became her librarian?"

"Privy Councillor," Leibniz corrected him.

"Sir! I beg you to accept my apologies and my congratulations!" announced Fatio, faltering and reaching for his hat so that he could bow; but Leibniz caught his elbow and pulled him along.

"Never mind, it happened quite recently. In brief, the family of Dukes whose ancestral home is this Schloss put on a tremendous spate of baby-making round the time of the Thirty Years' War, probably because they were besieged here for aeons by Danes, Swedes, and God knows who else, and had nothing to do but fuck. Four brothers were born in an interval of eight years! All survived!"

"Calamity!"

"Indeed. Through the 1650s the lads ran riot through the courts of Christendom, trying to mitigate the unnatural surplus of virgins that had built up during the War. All of them wanted Sophie. One of them was too fat and, in any event, Catholic. One was too drunk and impotent. One was famously syphilitic. But the youngest—Ernst August—was, as the Faery Tale has it, just right! Sophie married him."

"But my dear Doctor, how did the youngest brother end up in the best position?"

They came to a corner of the Schloss and turned into another endless gallery.

"In 1665 the drunk one died. Ernst August and Georg Wilhelm—the syphilitic—were off sowing their wild oats. So John Frederick—"

"By process of elimination, he would be the obese Catholic?"

"Yes. He appropriated the Duchy and raised an army to defend it. By the time news of this coup de main had made its way to the Venetian brothel where Ernst August and Georg Wilhelm had set up their headquarters, 'twas a fait accompli. Later, like good brothers, they worked out a settlement. John Frederick got the great prize, and was made Duke of Hanover. Georg Wilhelm became Duke of Celle. Ernst August—despite being a Protestant—remained the Bishop of Osnabr"uck. The odds and ends of the clan ended up here in Wolfenb"uttel—you have just met them. Now, Ernst August and Sophie had already resolved to make their little fiefdom into a Parnassus, a kingdom of Reason—"

"So they hired you, naturally."

"No, actually, there was a lot of that going round at the time. John Frederick wanted to do the same at Hanover."

"It must have been a good time to be a savant."

"Indeed, one could name one's price. John Frederick had more money and a vast library."

"Right, now I am starting to remember it. Huygens told me that after he taught you everything he knew concerning mathematics—which would have been round about the early 1670s—you had to leave Paris and take a job in some cold bleak place." Fatio looked significantly out the window.

"'Twas Hanover actually—a distinction without a difference, as to you it would seem very like Wolfenb"uttel."

Leibniz ushered Fatio into an entrance hall dominated by frighteningly massive staircases.

Sounding a bit perplexed, Fatio said, "Rather a lot of people must have died then, for Ernst August to become Duke of Hanover—"

"John Frederick died in '79. Georg Wilhelm still lives. But it was Ernst August who became Duke of Hanover, by dint of this or that sub-clause in the agreement made between him and his brothers—I'll spare you details."

"So Sophie got to merge her Parnassus with John Frederick's—of which you were the crowning glory—"

"Really you do flatter, sir."

"But why did I have to come down here to meet you? I'd expected to find you at Hanover."

"The Library!" Leibniz answered, surging past the younger man and hurling himself against an immense door. There was a bit of preliminary cracking and tinkling as ice shattered and fell from its hinges. Then it yawned open to afford Fatio a view across several hundred yards of flat snow-covered ground to a dark uneven mountainous structure that was a-building there.

"No fair making comparisons with the one Wren's building at Trinity College," Leibniz said cheerfully. "His will be an ornament—not that there is anything wrong with that—mine will be a tool, an engine of knowledge."

"Engine?" Fatio, who was well-shod, pranced out into the snow in pursuit of Leibniz, who had given up any hope of preserving his boots and shifted to a sort of plodding, stomping gait.

"Our use of knowledge progresses through successively higher levels of abstraction as we perfect civilization and draw nearer to the mentality of God," Leibniz said, as if making an off-handed comment about the weather. "Adam named the beasts; meaning, that from casual observations of particular specimens, he moved to the recognition of species, and then devised abstract names for them—a sort of code, if you will. Indeed, if he had not done so, Noah's task would have been inconceivable. Later, a system of writing was developed: spoken words were abstracted into chains of characters. This became the basis for the Law—it is how God communicated His intentions to Man. The Book was written. Then other books. At Alexandria the many books were brought together into the first Library. More recently came the invention of Gutenberg: a cornucopia that spills books out into specialized markets in Frankfurt and Leipzig. The merchants there have been completely unreceptive to my proposals! There are too many books in the world now for any one mind to comprehend. What does Man do, Fatio, when he is faced with a task that exceeds the physical limits of his body?"

"Harnesses beasts, or makes a tool. And beasts are of no use in a Library. So—"

"So we want tools. Behold!" Leibniz proclaimed, taking his hands from his coat-pockets just long enough to direct a sort of shoveling gesture at the looming Pile. "It must be obvious to you that this was a stable Leibniz said.

Viewed end-on, the B"ucherrad was hexagonal, and nearly as tall as Fatio. When he worked his way round to the front, he saw that it consisted mostly of six massive shelves, each one a couple of fathoms long, bridging the interval between hexagonal end-caps that were mounted on axles so that the whole apparatus could be revolved. But each of the six shelves was free to revolve on an axis of its own. As the B"ucherrad spun, each of those shelves counter-rotated in such a way that it maintained a fixed angle with respect to the floor, and did not spill its load of books.

Going round to the other end, Fatio was able to see how it worked: a system of planetary gears, carven from hard wood, spun about the central axle-tree like Ptolemaic epicycles.

Then Fatio turned his attention to the books themselves: curious folio volumes, hand-written, all in the same hand, all in Latin.

"These were written out personally by one Duke August, a forerunner of that lot you just met. He lived to a great age and died some twenty-five years ago. It was he who assembled most of this collection," Leibniz explained.

Fatio bent slightly at the waist to read one of the pages. It consisted of a series of paragraphs each preceded by a title and a long Roman numeral. "It is a description of a book," he concluded.

"The process of abstraction continues," Leibniz said. "Duke August could not keep the contents of his library in his memory, so he wrote out catalogs. And when there were too many catalogs for him to use them conveniently, he had woodwrights make B"ucherrads—engines to facilitate the use and maintenance of the catalogs."

"It is very ingenious."

"Yes—and it is threescore years old," Leibniz returned. "If you do the arithmetick, as I have, you may easily demonstrate that to hold all the catalogs needed to list all the world's books would require so many B"ucherrads that we would need some B"ucherradrads to spin them around, and a B"ucherrad-rad-rad to hold all of them—"

"German is a convenient language that way," Fatio said diplomatically.

"And so on with no end in sight! There are not enough woodwrights to carve all of the gears. New sorts of knowledge-engines will be demanded."

"I confess you have lost me, Doctor."

"Observe—each book is identified by a number. The numbers are arbitrary, meaningless—a kind of code, like the names Adam gave to the beasts. Duke August was of the old school, and used Roman numerals, which makes it that much more cryptickal."

Leibniz led Fatio away from the center of the floor toward the rugged stone walls, which were mostly barricaded by high thick ramparts covered in canvas tarpaulins. He peeled up the edge of one and flung it back to reveal that the rampart was a stack of books, thousands of them. All of them had been bound in the same style, in pigskin (for like many noble bibliophiles Duke August had bought all his books as masses of loose signatures and had them bound in his own bindery, by his own servants). The newest ones (say, less than half a century old) were still white. More ancient ones had turned cream, beige, tan, brown, and tar-colored. Many bore scars of long-forgotten encounters between pigs and swineherds' cudgels. The titles, and those long Roman numerals, had been inscribed on them in what Fatio now recognized as Duke August's hand.

"Now they are in a heap, later they shall be on shelves—either way, how do you find what you want?" Leibniz asked.

"I believe you are now questioning me in a Socratic mode."

"And you may answer in any mode you like, Monsieur Fatio, provided that you do answer."

"I suppose one would go by the numbers. Supposing that they were shelved in numerical order."

"Suppose they were. The numbers merely denote the order in which the Duke acquired, or at least cataloged, the volumes. They say nothing of the contents."

"Re-number them, then."

"According to what scheme? By name of author?"

"I believe it would be better to use something like Wilkins's philosophical language. For any conceivable subject, there would be a unique number. Write that number on the spine of the book and shelve them in order. Then you can go directly to the right part of the library and find all books on a given subject together."

"But suppose I am making a study of Aristotle. Aristotle is my subject. May I expect to find all Aristotle-books shelved together? Or would his works on geometry be shelved in one section, and his works on physics elsewhere?"

"If you look at it that way, the problem is most difficult."

Leibniz stepped over to an empty bookcase and drew his finger down the length of one shelf from left to right. "A shelf is akin to a Cartesian number-line. The position of a book on that shelf is associated with a number. But only one number! Like a number-line, it is one-dimensional. In analytic geometry we may cross two or three number-lines at right angles to create a multi-dimensional space. Not so with bookshelves. The problem of the librarian is that books are multi-dimensional in their subject matter but must be ordered on one-dimensional shelves."

"I perceive that clearly now, Doctor," Fatio said. "Indeed, I am beginning to feel like the character of Simplicio in one of Galileo's dialogs. So let me play that r^ole to the hilt, and ask you how you intend to solve the problem."

"Well played, sir. Consider the following: Suppose we assign the number three to Aristotle, and four to turtles. Now we must decide where to shelve a book by Aristotle on the subject of turtles. We multiply three by four to obtain twelve, and then shelve the book in position twelve."

"Excellent! By a simple multiplication you have combined several subject-numbers into one—collapsed the multi-dimensional space into a uni-dimensional number-line."

"I am pleased that you favor my proposal thus far, Fatio, but now consider the following: suppose we assign the number two to Plato, and six to trees. And suppose we acquire a book by Plato on the subject of trees. Where does it belong?"

"The product of two and six is twelve—so it goes next to Aristotle's book on turtles."

"Indeed. And a scholar seeking the latter book may instead find himself with the former—clearly a failure of the cataloging system."

"Then let me step once again into the r^ole of Simplicio and ask you whether you have solved this problem."

"Suppose we use this coding instead," quoth the Doctor, reaching behind the bookcase and pulling out a slate on which the following table had been chalked—thereby as much as admitting that the conversation, to this point, had been a scripted demo'.

2 Plato
3 Aristotle
5 Trees
7 Turtles
2x5=10 Plato on Trees
3x7=21 Aristotle on Turtles
2x7=14 Plato on Turtles
3x5=15 Aristotle on Trees
[etc.]

"Two, three, five, and seven—all prime numbers," remarked Fatio after giving it a brief study. "The shelf-numbers are composites, the products of prime factors. Excellent, Doctor! By making this small improvement—assigning prime numbers, instead of counting numbers, to the various subjects—you have eliminated the problem. The shelf position of any book may be found by multiplying the subject-numbers—and you may be assured it will be unique."

"It is a pleasure to explain it to one who grasps the principle so readily," Leibniz said. "Huygens and the Bernoullis have both spoken highly of you, Fatio, and I can see that they were by no means insincere."

"I am humbled to hear my name mentioned in the same sentence with theirs," Fatio returned, "but since you have been kind enough to so favor me, perhaps you will indulge me in a question?"

"It would be my privilege."

"Your scheme is a fine way to build a library. For the correct position of any book may be found by taking the product of the several primes that correspond to its subjects. Even when those numbers grow to several digits, that presents no great difficulty; and in any event it is well known that you have invented a machine capable of multiplying numbers with great facility, which I now perceive is just one element of the immense knowledge engine you have proposed to build."

"Indeed, all of these are of a piece, and may be considered aspects of my Ars Combinatorica. Did you have a question?"

"I fear that your library, once built, will be difficult to understand. You are seeking the help of the Emperor in Vienna, are you not?"

"It cannot be accomplished without the resources of a great kingdom," Leibniz said vaguely.

"Very well, perhaps you are in communication with some other great prince. At any rate, it would seem, then, that you wish to make your Knowledge Engine on a colossal scale."

"Marshalling resources is a continuing problem," the Doctor said, still treading gingerly.

"I predict that you will find success, Doctor Leibniz, and that one day there will rise up, in Berlin, Vienna, or even Moscow, a Knowledge Engine on a titanic scale. The shelves will extend for countless leagues and will be crowded with books all arranged according to the rules of your system. But I fear that I could very easily become lost in the bowels of that place. Looking at a shelf I might see some number, eight or nine digits long. I would know this to be a composite number, the product of two or more primes. But to decompose such a number into its prime factors is a notoriously difficult and tedious problem. There is a curious asymmetry about this approach, in other words, lying in the fact that to its creator the structure and organization of the great library will be clear as glass—but to a solitary visitor it will seem a murky maze of impenetrable numbers."

"I do not deny it," Leibniz answered without hesitation, "but I find in this a sort of beauty, a reflection of the structure of the universe. The situation of the solitary visitor, as you have described it, is one with which I am familiar."

"That is odd, for I conceive of you as the creator who stands with his hand on the B"ucherrad and comprehends all."

"You should know this about me. My father was a learned man who owned one of the finest libraries in Leipzig. He died when I was very small. Consequently I knew him only as a jumble of childish perceptions—between us there were feelings but never any rational connection, perhaps somewhat like the relationship that you or I have with God."

And he related a story about how he had, for a time, been locked out of his father's library, but later re-admitted.

"So I ventured into that library which had been closed up since the death of my father and still smelled like him. It might seem funny for me to speak of the smell, but that was the only connection I could draw at the time. For the books were all written in Latin or Greek, languages I did not know, and they treated of subjects with which I was completely unfamiliar, and they were arranged upon the shelves according to some scheme that must have been clear to my father, but to me was unknown, and would have been beyond my ken even if someone had been there to explain it to me.

"Now in the end, Monsieur Fatio, I mastered that library, but in order to do it I first had to learn Greek and Latin, and then read the books. Only when I had done these things was I finally able to do the most difficult thing of all, namely to understand the organizing principle by which my father had arranged the books on the shelves."

Fatio said: "So you are not troubled by the plight of my hypothetical scholar, a-mazed in the penetralia of your Knowledge Engine. But Doctor Leibniz, how many persons, dropped into a library of books written in unknown languages, could do what you did?"

"The question is more than just rhetorical. The situation is not merely hypothetical," Leibniz answered. "For every human being who is born into this universe is like a child who has been given a key to an infinite Library, written in cyphers that are more or less obscure, arranged by a scheme—of which we can at first know nothing, other than that there does appear to be some scheme—pervaded by a vapor, a spirit, a fragrance that reminds us that it was the work of our Father. Which does us no good whatever, other than to remind us, when we despair, that there is an underlying logic about it, that was understood once and can be understood again."

"But what if it can only be understood by a mind as great as God's? What if we can only find what we want by factoring twenty-digit numbers?"

"Let us understand what we may, and extend our reach, insofar as we can, by the making of engines, and content ourselves with that much," Leibniz answered. "It will suffice to keep us busy for a while. We cannot perform all of the calculations needed without turning every atom in the Universe into a cog in an Arithmetickal Engine; and then it would be God—"

"I think you are coming close to words that could get you burnt at the stake, Doctor—meanwhile, I turn to ice. Is there a place where we could strike a balance between those two extremes?"


THE DOCTOR HAD CAUSED a large shed to be scabbed onto the outer wall of the stable and filled with the books and papers most important to him. In one corner stood a black stove having the general size and shape of the biblical Tower of Babel. When they arrived it was merely warm, but Leibniz wrenched open several doors, rammed home half a cord or so of wood, and clanged them to. Within seconds, ears began to pop as the mickle Appliance sucked the air from the room. The iron tower began to emit an ominous rumbling and whooshing noise, and Leibniz and Fatio spent the rest of the conversation nervously edging away from it, trying to find the radius where (to paraphrase Fatio) being burnt alive was no more likely than freezing to death. This zone proved surprisingly narrow. As Leibniz fussed with the stove, which had taken up a kind of eerie keening, Fatio stepped back a pace, and let his eye fall on a sheet of paper—the topmost of several that were sticking out of a book. A few lines of printing were visible at the top of the page, written in Leibniz's hand:

DOCTOR

THE RECENT EVENTS IN THE BALLROOM OF THE H^OTEL ARCACHON WERE OF SUCH A DRAMATICK NATURE THAT I CANNOT BUT THINK YOU HAVE ALREADY HAD ACCOUNTS OF THEM FROM DIVERSE SOURCES HOWEVER MY VERSION FOLLOWS…

Beyond that point all was swallowed up between the pages of the enclosing book, which was expensively bound in red leather, ornately gilded with both Roman and Chinese characters.

"Any possibility of tea?" Fatio inquired, spying a kettle that had been left on one of the steps of the flaming ziggurat. Shielding his face in the crook of one arm, Leibniz ventured closer, seized a poker, and lunged like a fencing-master at the kettle to see whether it contained any water. Meanwhile Fatio peeled back the topmost sheet to reveal a letter written on different paper, in a different hand: Eliza's!

To G. W. Leibniz from Eliza, the Marrying Maiden

Doctor,

You will want to know everything about the dress I was married in. The stomacher is made of Turkish watered silk decorated with several thousand of the tiny pearls that come from Bandar-Kongo on the Persian Gulf…

Leibniz had been rummaging in a drawer. He pulled up a black slab about the size of a folio book, impressed with a single huge Chinese character, and snapped off a corner. "Caravan tea," he explained. "Unlike your English and Dutch tea, which comes loose off of ships, this stuff was brought overland, via Russia—it is a million dried leaves pressed together into a brick."

Fatio did not seem to be as fascinated by this as Leibniz had hoped. Leibniz tried another gambit: "Huygens wrote to me recently, and mentioned you had come over from London."

"Monsieur Newton and I devoted the month of March to reading Mr. Huygens's Treatise on Light and were so taken with it that we agreed to divide forces for the year—I have been studying with Huygens—"

"And Newton toils at his Alchemy."

"Alchemy, theology, philosophy—call it what you will," Fatio said coolly, "he is close to an achievement that will dwarf the Principia."

"I don't suppose it has anything to do with gold?" asked Leibniz.

Fatio—generally so birdlike-quick in his answers—allowed some moments to pass. "Your question is a bit vague. Gold is important to Alchemists," he allowed, "as comets are to astronomers. But there are some, of a vulgar turn of mind, who suppose that Alchemists are interested in gold only in the same sense as bankers are."

"C'est juste. Though there is a troublesome banker, not far from here, who seems to value it in both the monetary and the Alchemical sense." Leibniz, who until this point in the conversation had been the embodiment of good cheer, deflated as he was saying these words, as if he had been reminded of something very grave, and his eye strayed over to the outlandish red-leather book. This topic had had the same effect on his spirits as a handful of earth tossed into a fire. Again, Fatio allowed some moments to pass before he responded; for he was studying Leibniz carefully.

"I think I know who you mean," Fatio said finally.

"It is most curious," Leibniz said. "Perhaps you have heard some of the same stories concerning this as I have. The entire controversy, as I understand it, revolves around a belief that there is a particular sample of gold, whose precise whereabouts are unknown, but that possesses some properties that make it more valuable, to Alchemists, than ordinary gold. I would expect a banker to know better!"

"Do not make the error of believing that all gold is the same, Doctor."

"I thought Natural Philosophy had proved at least that much."

"Why, some would say it has proved the opposite!"

"Perhaps you have read something new in London or Paris that I have not seen yet?"

"Actually, Doctor, I was thinking of Isaac's Principia."

"I have read it," Leibniz said drily, "and do not recollect seeing anything about gold."

"And yet it is clear enough that two planets of equal size and composition will describe different trajectories through the heavens, depending on their distances from the sun."

"Of course—that is necessarily true, by the inverse-square law."

"Since the two planets themselves are equal in every way, how can this difference in their trajectories be accounted for, unless you enlarge your scope of observations to include the difference in their situations vis-`a-vis the sun?"

"Monsieur Fatio, a cornerstone of my philosophy is the identity of indiscernibles. Simply put, if A cannot be discerned from B, then A and B are the same object. In the situation you have described, the two planets are indiscernible from each other, which means that they ought to be identical. This includes having identical trajectories. Since they are obviously not identical, in that their trajectories differ, it follows that they must in some way be discernible from each other. Newton discerns them by assigning them differing positions in space, and then presuming that space is somehow pervaded by a mysterious presence that accounts for the inverse-square force. That is, he discerns one from the other by appealing to a sort of mysterious external quality of space…"

"You sound like Huygens!" Fatio snapped, suddenly annoyed. "I might as well have stayed in the Hague."

"I am sorry if the tendency of me and Huygens to agree causes you grief."

"You may agree with each other all you like. But why will you not agree with Isaac? Can you not perceive the magnificence of what he has achieved?"

"Any sentient man can perceive that," Leibniz returned. "Almost all will be so blinded by its brilliance that they will be unable to perceive its flaws. There are only a few of us who can do that."

"It is very easy to carp."

"Actually it is rather difficult, in that it leads to discussions such as this one."

"Unless you can propose an alternative theory that mends these supposed flaws, I believe you should temper your criticisms of the Principia."

"I am still developing my theory, Monsieur Fatio, and it may be a long time before it is capable of making testable predictions."

"What conceivable theory could explain the discernibility of those two planets, without making reference to their positions in absolute space?"


THIS LED TO AN INTERLUDE in the snow outside. Doctor Leibniz packed two handfuls of snow together between his hands, watched warily by Fatio. "Don't worry, Monsieur Fatio, I'm not going to throw it at you. If you would be so helpful as to make two more, about the size of melons, as like to each other as possible."

Fatio was not quick to warm to such a task, but eventually he squatted down and began to roll a pair of balls, stopping every couple of paces to pound away the rough edges.

"They are as close to indiscernible as I can make them under these conditions—which is to say, in twilight with frozen hands," shouted Fatio towards Leibniz, who was a stone's throw off, wrestling with a snowball that weighed more than he did. When no response came back, he muttered, "I shall go in and warm my hands if that is acceptable."

But by the time Nicolas Fatio de Duillier had got back to Leibniz's office, his hands were warm enough to do a few things. He took another look at the papers stuck into the Chinese book. The letter from Eliza was inordinately long, and appeared to consist entirely of gaseous chatter about what everyone was wearing. Yet on top of it was the other document, addressed to the Doctor but written in the Doctor's hand. A mystery. Perhaps the book was a clue? It was called I Ching. Fatio had seen it once before, in the library of Gresham's College, where Daniel Waterhouse had fallen asleep over it. The sheaf of papers had been used to mark a particular chapter entitled: 54. Kuei Mei: The Marrying Maiden. The chapter itself was a bucket of claptrap and mystickal gibberish.

He put it back where he'd found it, and went over to the shed's single tiny window. Leibniz now had his back pressed against an immense snowball and was trying to topple it over by thrusting with both legs. Fatio strolled once around the room, pausing to riffle through any prominent stacks of papers that presented themselves to his big pale eyes. Of which there were several: letters from Huygens, from Arnauld, from the Bernoullis, the late Spinoza, Daniel Waterhouse, and everyone else in Christendom who had a flicker of sense. But one of the larger stacks consisted of letters from Eliza. Fatio reached into the middle, grabbed half a dozen leaves between his thumb and index finger, and snapped them out. He folded them and stuffed them into his breast pocket. Then he ventured back outside.

"Are your hands warm, Monsieur Fatio?"

"Exceeding warm, Doctor Leibniz."

The Doctor had arranged the three snowballs—one giant one and the two small indiscernibles—on the field between the stable, the Schloss, and the nearby Arsenal. The triangle defined by these balls was nothing special, being neither equilateral nor isosceles.

"Isn't this how Sir Francis Bacon died?"

"Descartes, too—froze to death in Sweden," the Doctor returned cheerfully, "and if Leibniz and Fatio can go down in the annals next to Bacon and Descartes our lives will have been well concluded. Now, if you would be so good as to go to that one and tell me of your perceptions." The Doctor pointed to a small snowball a few paces in front of Fatio.

"I see the field, the Schloss, Arsenal, and Library-to-be. I see you, Doctor, standing by a great snowball, and over there to the right, not so far away, a lesser one."

"Now pray do the same from the other snowball that you made."

A few moments later Fatio was able to report: "The same."

"Exactly the same?"

"Well, of course there are slight differences. Now, Doctor, you and the large snowball are to my right, and closer than before, and the small snowball is to my left."

Leibniz now deserted his post and began stomping towards Fatio. "Newton would have it that this field possesses a reality of its own, which governs the balls, and makes them discernible. But I say the field is not necessary! Forget about it, and consider only the balls' perceptions."

"Perceptions?"

"You said yourself that when you stood there you perceived a large snowball on the left, far away, and a small one on the right. Here you perceive a large one on the right, near at hand, and a small one on the left. So even though the balls might be indiscernible, and hence identical, in terms of their external properties such as size, shape, and weight, when we consider their internal properties—such as their perceptions of one another—we see that they are different. So they are discernible! And what is more, they may be discerned without reference to some sort of fixed, absolute space."

By now they had, without discussion, begun trudging back towards the Schloss, which looked deceptively warm and inviting as twilight deepened.

"You seem to be granting every object in the Universe the power to perceive, and to record its perceptions," Fatio ventured.

"If you are going to venture down this road of subdividing objects into smaller and smaller bits, you must somewhere stop, and stick your neck out by saying, ‘This is the fundamental unit of reality, and thus are its properties, on which all other phaenomena are built,' " said the Doctor. "Some think it makes sense that these are like billiard balls, which interact by colliding."

"I was just about to say," said Fatio, "what could be simpler than that? A hard wee bit of indivisible matter. That is the most reasonable hypothesis of what an atom is."

"I disagree! Matter is complicated stuff. Collisions between pieces of matter are more complicated yet. Consider: If these atoms are infinitely small, why, then, is it not true that the likelihood of one atom colliding with another is essentially zero?"

"You have a point," said Fatio, "but I hardly think it is somehow simpler to endow these atoms, instead, with the ability to perceive and to think."

"Perception and thought are properties of souls. It is no worse to posit that the fundamental building-block of the Universe is souls than to say it is wee bits of hard stuff, moving about in an empty space that is pervaded by mystickal Fields."

"Somehow a planet's perception of the sun and all the other planets, then, causes it to behave exactly as if it were in such a ‘mystickal Field,' to an uncanny degree of precision."

"I know it sounds difficult, Monsieur Fatio, but 'twill work out better in the long run."

"Physics, then, becomes a sort of vast record-keeping exercise. Every object in the Universe is distinguished from every other object by the uniqueness of its perceptions of all the other objects."

"If you think on it long enough you will see it is the only way to distinguish them."

"Why, it is as if every atom or particle—"

"I call them monads."

"Monad, then, is a sort of Knowledge Engine unto itself, a B"ucherrad-rad-rad-rad…"

Leibniz summoned a weak smile.

"Its gears grind away like the ones in your Arithmetickal Engine, and it decides what to do of its own accord. You knew Spinoza, did you not?"

Leibniz held up a warning hand. "Yes. But pray do not put me in with him."

"If I may just return to the topic that got us started, Doctor, it seems to me that your theory allows for a possibility you scoffed at—namely, that two lumps of gold might be different from each other."

"Any two such lumps are different, but it is because, being differently situated, they have different perceptions. I am afraid that you want to assign mystickal properties to some gold and not other."

"Afraid why?"

"Because the next thing you'll do is melt it down to extract that mystery and put it in a phial."

Fatio sighed. "In truth, all these theories have their problems."

"Agreed."

"Why not admit it, then? Why this stubborn refusal to consider Newton's system, when yours is just as fraught with difficulties?"

Leibniz drew to a halt before the front stoop of the Schloss, as if he'd rather freeze than continue the discussion where it might be overheard. "Your question is dressed up in the guise of Reason, to make it appear innocent. Perhaps it is. Perhaps not."

"Even if you do not think me innocent, pray believe that my confusion is genuine."

"Isaac and I had this conversation long ago, when we were young, and matters stood quite differently."

"How odd. You are the only person, other than Daniel Waterhouse, who has ever called him by his Christian name."

The look of uncertainty on Leibniz's face now hardened into open disbelief. "What do you call him, when the two of you are alone together in your London house?"

"I stand corrected, Doctor. There are three of us who have known him thusly."

"That is a very clever sentence you just uttered," Leibniz exclaimed, sounding genuinely impressed. "Like a silken cord turned in on itself and knotted into a snare. I commend you for it, but I will not put my foot in it. And I will thank you to keep Daniel out of it as well."

Fatio had turned red. "The only thing I wish to snare is a clearer understanding of what has passed between you and Isaac."

"You want to know if you have a rival."

Fatio said nothing.

"The answer is: you do not."

"That is well."

"You do not have a rival, Fatio. But Isaac Newton does."


1690–1691

THE KING'S OWN BLACK TORRENT Guards had been founded by a man King William did not like very much (John Churchill), and as a sort of punishment for that, the regiment had now been exiled in Ireland for almost two years. Bob Shaftoe had learned many things about this island during that time: For example, that it was commonly divided into four pieces, which were variously styled Kingdoms or Duchies or Presidencies or Counties depending on whom you were talking to and what peculiar notions they held concerning the true nature and meaning of Irish history. Connaught was one, and the others were Ulster, Leinster, and Munster.

Bob heard about Connaught first, but saw it last. Nevertheless, he felt he knew something of it. He had heard endless discourse of it during the last thirteen years from his Irish "out-laws," the kin-folk of the late Mary Dolores, most of whom bore the surname of Partry.

Until of late, the Partry clan and their swine, kine, assorted free-ranging poultry, and one bewildered sheep had teemed in a bit of shed in Rotherhithe, which lay across the Thames from Wapping, about a mile downstream of the Tower of London. Teague Partry—one of three Partrys who had, at one time or another, enlisted in the Black Torrent Guards—had often volunteered to stand watch on Develin Tower, the extreme southeastern vertex of the citadel, in spite of the fact that it was sorely exposed to raw weather coming up the River, and detested by all of the other soldiers. The cold wet winds, he claimed, reminded him of Connaught, and from his Develin vantage point he could see all the way downriver to Rotherhithe and keep an eye on his four-legged assets. Teague rhapsodized about Connaught all the time, and did it so convincingly that half the regiment was ready to move there. Bob had taken it with a grain of salt because he knew that Teague had never in his life ventured more than five miles' distance from London Bridge, and was merely repeating tales told to him by his folk. From which Bob had collected, very early, something that it would have benefited the Partrys to know, namely that Ireland was a mentality, and not a physical place.

After the Revolution the Partrys had slaughtered all their livestock, deserted their Regiment, gathered up what money they could, and escaped to Dublin. Several months later, Bob had been shipped to Belfast with the rest of his regiment, and with the Dutch colonel who'd been put in command of it. Now, King William found John Churchill hard enough to trust when he was inside London Wall. He could not possibly bring himself to trust Marlborough (or any other English commander) with an elite regiment on Irish soil, especially when Churchill's former master, James, was only a few marches south, in Dublin. So it was under a Colonel de Zwolle that the King's Own Black Torrent Guards voyaged to Belfast, and under him that they tarried on that island over two winters. When Bob next saw Churchill, he would assure his old chief that he had not missed a thing.

From their point of disembarkation the regiment had marched south for a few days, and then wintered over in a camp at Dundalk, which lay near the border between the part of Ireland called Ulster and the one called Leinster. Out of a full strength of 806 men they suffered casualties of thirty-one dead, thirty-two so disabled that they had to be retired, and many hundreds who were laid low for a time but later got better. Most of these casualties were put down to disease or hunger, a few to accidents and brawls—zero to combat, of which there was none. This was an exceptionally good record.

They were encamped near a Dutch regiment commanded by one of Colonel de Zwolle's old drinking-and hunting-buddies. The Dutch soldiers suffered very little from disease, though they were every bit as cold and hungry. They kept their camp so clean that it was mocked as "the Nunnery" by certain men in Bob's regiment, who espoused a more temperate approach to hygiene. But when English soldiers began dying at a rate of several per day, the Black Torrent Guards finally began to pay some attention to de Zwolle's nagging and to emulate some of the practices of their Dutch neighbors. Coincidentally or not, the number of men sick in bed began to drop not long afterwards. When spring came and the rolls were called, it was found that they had suffered much lighter casualties than other English regiments.

In June 1690, then, William of Orange finally arrived in Ulster as only a King could, viz. with three hundred ships, fifteen thousand troops, hundreds of thousands of pounds sterling, more Princes, Dukes, and Bishops than a boat-load of playing-cards and chess-sets, and a lot of Dutch artillery. He marched south, pausing at Dundalk long enough to collect the regiments that had wintered over there, and then invaded Leinster at the head of thirty-six thousand men. He made straight for Dublin, where James Stuart had established his rebel Parliament. King William had a wooden house, designed by one Christopher Wren—that same bloke who was building the new St. Paul's in London. It was ingeniously made so that it could be taken down in sections at a few minutes' notice, transported on wagons, and put back up again wherever William decided to establish his headquarters. Normally he erected it in the midst of his army, which was not at all usual for a campaigning King, and made a good impression on his soldiers.

James Stuart had been spoiling for a fight for a year and a half. He marched north from Dublin at the head of twenty-five thousand men and, after some preliminary maneuvering, set up a position on the south bank of the river called Boyne.

The next day, William was reconnoitering the north bank in person, looking for crossing-places, when a Jacobite cannonball hit him on the shoulder and knocked him off his horse. Jacobites on the opposite bank saw it happen, and saw a vaguely king-shaped object being carried away in haste by agitated Protestants.

What they could not see, from that side of the Boyne, was that the cannonball was a spent ricochet that had glanced off William's shoulder and dealt him no serious harm. They made the wholly reasonable assumption that William the Usurper was dead and reported as much up the chain of command.

The next day William launched a diversionary attack across the Boyne not far from where he had been hit. He waited for James to move his main force that way, then crossed the river in force elsewhere. The first to mount this main attack were William's best and favorite soldiers, the Dutch Blue Guards. But they were followed closely by several companies of the King's Own Black Torrent Guards, a plum job that never would have been afforded them if they'd been under the command of Marlborough. De Zwolle had spent the winter plying his superiors with brandy and sending letters to London; that probably explained how Bob and his men were given such a splendid opportunity to have their heads hacked off in a bog. They crossed the Boyne, at any rate, and formed up on the south bank, and withstood several Jacobite cavalry charges. This was not an easy thing to do. They did it in direct view of King William, who had found a vantage point on the north bank from which to observe his beloved Blues.

The captain of Bob's company was killed very early and so Bob had to assume effective command of threescore men for the rest of the day. This had very little effect on anything. Whether or not their captain was alive, Bob's job was to get his men to believe that they really were safer standing together as a unit, as opposed to throwing their muskets down and diving into the river. Far be it from Bob to think about his company's or his regiment's reputation at Court.

If he had thought about it, he might have counseled his men to break and run instead.

That night the King came to their camp to tell them what fine fellows he thought they were. Now the Irish Army had simply vanished; the only evidence they'd been present at the Boyne was the thousands of pikes and muskets they had thrown down on the ground, the better to outrun their pursuers. King William's host had climbed up out of the river-valley and spread out across churned and trampled pastures between the hamlet of Donore and the village of Duleek—places that, like faeries, were spoken of, by Irishmen, as if they really existed, but that could not actually be seen. As they went they harvested the dropped weapons, hugging bristly faggots of them to their chests and finally letting them drop in clanking heaps when they decided to set up camp.

As their baggage had not caught up with them, they spent the night in the open, and as there were no trees hereabouts they used the captured weapons for firewood. They were not worth keeping as weapons—a fact that was obvious to Bob, but tended to be ignored by those who espoused the view that the Irish had thrown them down out of cowardice. Bob found flintlocks without flint, muskets with cracked barrels, pikes that could be snapped over the knee.

A few hours after nightfall, anyway, they received their King. He had suffered an asthma attack while fording the river and was still wheezing piteously—which evidently hurt, because of the cannonball injury—so he tended to speak in very short sentences. He was sitting askew on a tired horse. He spoke in Dutch to de Zwolle and then in English to the company captains and to Bob. He did not look at them, however; he was very close to falling asleep in the saddle, and could not tear his eyes away from the musket-bonfires.

What he said was that, with regiments such as his own Black Torrent Guards, he could not only take Ireland but Flanders, too, and fight all the way to Paris.

Bob stayed up late gazing into the fire, which was slowly devolving into a red tangle of melted gun-barrels, and pondered some of the longer-term implications of the King's statement. Overall, the notion was somewhat troubling. On the other hand, an invasion of France might afford him an opportunity to seek out Miss Abigail Frome.

The next day they left the field pimpled with smoking twists of blackened iron and marched south to Dublin. James Stuart had already run off to France. Protestants were running wild, looting Catholic homes. Bob ventured into a certain quarter where Protestants were more apt to behave themselves, if indeed they went there at all. He found Teague Partry sitting on a stoop smoking a clay pipe and gravely observing the bums of passing milk-maids, as if nothing much had happened recently. But the right side of his face was flushed red, as if sunburnt, and pocked with recent wounds that all appeared to have radiated from a common center.

Teague bought him a mug of beer (it being Teague's turn to do this) and explained to him that James's foreign cavalry regiments had panicked first and, finding their escape route blocked by the Irish infantry, had opened fire on them to clear the way. He put it to Bob that Irishmen had it in them to fight effectively when they were not being massacred by Continental cavaliers who were supposed to be on their side, and (pointing significantly to his face) when they were provided with guns that projected musket-balls instead of blowing up in their faces. Bob agreed that it was so.

Later the bulk of William's army marched west across the island, out of Leinster and into the southern realm of Munster. They laid siege to Limerick, which was one of the few places in Ireland that had proper fortifications, and could serve as the venue for a proper military engagement. Unfortunately, the Irish had little use for proper military engagements. William's Dutch cannons blasted a hole in the city wall; Bob rushed in at the head of his company and got conked in the head by a bottle hurled at him from the top of a ruin by a massive hag in a wimple, screaming something at him in Gaelic. Bob, who knew nothing about his father, or his mother's father, had long been preoccupied by the suspicion that he might be partly, or even largely, Irish, and while he lay unconscious on the rubble of the shattered wall of Limerick, he had a strange dream concerning the nun who had thrown the bottle—the import of it was that she was his great-aunt or something, scolding him for everything bad he had ever done.

His skull was merely dented, but his scalp was nearly taken off, and had to be sewed back on by a barber-surgeon who advised him to grow his hair back again as soon as he could; "And for god's sake get a wife before you go bald, or women and children will run away from you screaming!" He was only trying to be cheerful, but Bob growled at him that he had already found his true love, and that scars on his pate were the least of his concerns.

The Earl of Marlborough finally got leave from the distracted King to sail across to Munster. He took the cities of Cork and Kinsale, but he did it without the help of his Black Torrent Guards. Then he went home to spent a comfortable winter in London while Bob and the regiment remained encamped outside of Limerick, fending off occasional sorties by the Irish cavalry, and keeping up a running, sporadic battle with bands of armed peasants who styled themselves "rapparees."

The rapparees actually did have firearms that worked, and had learned to strip them down into their parts in seconds. The locks they kept in their pockets, the barrels they corked shut and hid in sloughs or streams, the stocks they thrust into wood-piles, or anywhere else a bare stick might go unnoticed. So what appeared to be a crew of half-naked peat-cutters or a congregation strolling to Mass could scatter into the waste at a word or a gesture, and reconstitute itself an hour later as a band of heavily armed marauders.

Because of the rapparees there were few places on the island, outside of Ulster, where Englishmen could feel safe in groups of less than an infantry company. But one of those places was the south bank of the river Shannon just downstream of Limerick. As the winter eased, and the hair grew back over his wound, Bob began to go there by himself and sit under a solitary tree overlooking the river and smoke his pipe and brood. The reading of books was not available to him. He'd lost his interest in whoring. He had heard his men's stories, jokes, and songs so many times he could not suffer them any more. Drink made him feel poorly, and card-playing was pointless. He suffered, in other words, from a want of things that he could do to pass the time.

So he sat under his brooding-tree and gazed across the wide river Shannon. Like all the other rivers of the British Isles, it had a long estuary leading in from the sea to a port (Limerick in this case) that had been built where the river first became narrow enough to be bridged. The Shannon was the boundary between Munster and Connaught, and so by looking across it Bob could gaze into that land of legend so highly spoken of by the Partrys. From here Connaught looked like the rest of Ireland. But what did he know?

When King William had come over before the Battle of the Boyne he had brought fresh recruits to replace the ones who had sickened and died over the winter, but not enough of the sort Bob favored. Bob had however managed to recruit half a dozen English Protestants who had never actually been to England. They had grown up on various farms in Ireland that their fathers or grandfathers, who had been Cromwell-soldiers, had taken away from Gaelic Catholics. But the various revolutions of the last decades had turned their families into Vagabonds of an extraordinarily hard and dour cast, roaming around Eire in search of organized violence. Bob knew how to talk to men like that, and so they had spread the word among themselves and gravitated toward the King's Own Black Torrent Guards, and continued to gravitate still.

After the Battle of the Boyne, a Protestant wool-merchant of Dublin (who had grown wealthy from the fact that the Irish were not allowed to sell their wool overseas except through England) had donated some portion of his lootings to buy these new recruits weapons and uniforms, and they had formed a company. So the Black Torrent Guards were now a slightly oversized regiment, with 14 companies instead of 13, and a nominal strength of 868 men.

One day Bob reached his brooding-tree and turned around to discover that he had been followed out by Tom Allgreave and Oliver Good, two of the original Phanatiques he'd recruited last year in Dundalk. They were a quarter of a mile behind him, exchanging the lead position every few steps, as if egging each other on. Each of them had a sword dangling from his belt, part of the motley collection of brought and stolen weaponry that had been showered upon the Fourteenth Company by that wool-merchant.

To give great long blades to such boys was dangerous. Fortunately the boys knew it, or anyway had found out as much, over the course of the winter, by slashing each other in what were meant to be playful exchanges. By the time Tom and Oliver drew within hailing-distance of Bob, he had guessed why they had come: They required instruction in sword-fighting. Normally this was considered a pastime of effete courtiers, a pointless, useless, out-moded affectation; in a word, idle. But among common folk, especially older ones who remembered Cromwell, the lore of the spadroon continued to circulate. Word had apparently got round to Tom and Oliver that Bob knew something of the practice. Those boys were unreconstructed Puritans who had nothing to do all winter long, as drinking, gambling, and whoring were ruled out on religious grounds. One could pray for only so many hours a day. It was not possible to practice marksmanship because powder and balls were strictly rationed. So it was not clear to Bob whether they had decided to take up the practice of sword-fighting because they genuinely cared about it, or because there was literally nothing else for them to do.

It did not matter either way, as Bob was idle, too. And so as Tom and Oliver got to within a horseshoe-throw of his brooding-tree, Bob knocked the ashes out of his pipe, stood up, reached around himself, and drew out his spadroon. The Puritans were thrilled. "You'll want to stand sideways, as you make a narrower target that way, and it gets your sword-arm that much closer to the other bloke," Bob said. He raised the sword up until its guard was touching his nose, the blade pointing vertically into the air. "This is a sort of salute, and do not on any account mistake it for some foppish affectation, as it says to any man who stands before you, ‘I mean to engage in swordplay with you, do not just stand there and be hit, but either defend yourself, or else retire.' "

Tom and Oliver now nearly killed themselves getting their weapons unsheathed, and then nearly killed each other getting them into the salute position. "Oliver, what you have in your hand is a rapier, and I do not know the method of its use as well as I do that of the spadroon," Bob said, "but anyway we shall try to make shift with the tools at hand."

Thus did Bob open up a new defencing academy on the south bank of the river Shannon. It became popular very quickly and then just as quickly collapsed to some half a dozen men who were genuinely interested in the subject. After a month they were joined by Monsieur LaMotte, a Huguenot cavalry captain who happened to spy them as he was riding by one day. He was expert with a cavalry saber, which was a somewhat similar weapon to the spadroon, but he had also studied the rapier, and so he was at last able to give Oliver some instruction in what to do with his weapon. In general, cavalry officers (who tended to be Persons of Quality) would never fraternize thusly with common foot-soldiers, but the Huguenots were an exceeding queer lot. Many were common Frenchmen whose families had grown wealthy in trade and then been kicked out of France. Now they were in Ireland, gaining some small revenge by teaching the defencing tricks of the Continental nobility to savage Anglo-Irish Puritans.


OLIVER GOOD'S GRANDFATHER had dwelt for a dozen years on a farm between Athlone and Tullamore, which placed it in Leinster. But it lay not far from the Connaught frontier, which was regarded by Protestants as the utmost boundary of civilization. He had obtained title to the land by driving off its Catholic inhabitants, the Ferbanes, who had driven their cattle west across a ford of the Shannon and thereby vanished from ken. Good's justification, if he needed any, was that those Ferbanes had taken part in the Rebellion of 1641 and expanded their farm at the expense of some neighboring Protestants who had come over from England in Elizabethan times. But he had to stop using that justification after he was confronted by several ragged men who appeared on the property one day claiming to be the descendants and rightful heirs of those same Elizabethan Protestants! After that, if anyone dared question his claim to the land, he said it was his by right of conquest, and because he had a piece of paper that said so.

He and his children toiled on the land as only Puritans could toil on the land, and made many improvements, few of which were obvious, none of which produced results quickly. They bore arms all their days and often rode the countryside hunting down "disorderly elements." They did not see those ragged Protestants any more, and forgot about them altogether, except for their surname, which could be read from the odd gravestone: Crackington.

After Charles II restored the monarchy, however, it was learned that the Crackingtons had somehow found their way back to England and made themselves pests and parasites on their relations, who went to the new Parliament (along with thousands of other Anglo-Irish landholders who had been displaced by other Cromwellian soldiers) and demanded that the Phanatiques be cast out of Ireland. As one of the new King's first acts had been to put Cromwell's head up on a stick, their chances of success seemed reasonable enough. In the end, they got only part of what they wanted. Some of the Cromwellian settlers were kicked off their land and some were not. The Goods managed to hang on to theirs, but only because of some obscure and contingent political happenstance at Westminster.

They were not, however, free to practice their religion any more, and that was what drove them off the land in the end, and sent half of them to Massachusetts. The Crackingtons came back and took over the farm, with all of its improvements, and began to prosper, and even paid for the reconstruction of the local Anglican church (which the Goods had made useful as a barn). This had occurred not long after the birth of Oliver Good, with the result that he had only ill-formed childish memories of the farmstead that he intended to re-occupy one day.

Then when James II became King, he re-Catholicized Ireland. The Crackingtons awoke one morning to find breaches in their fences, and wild Connaught kine grazing in their enclosures, guarded closely by red-haired men who spoke no English and carried French muskets. It was not possible to persuade them to leave because the new Catholic government in Dublin had confiscated the weapons of the English gentry. After not very long the Crackingtons judged it prudent to leave until a judge could rule on the title to the land—or the titles to the lands, rather, as by this point the farm comprised half a dozen contiguous patches of dirt, each of which had an equally complex story. The Ferbanes, it turned out, had been carrying on boundary-feuds with their neighbors for five hundred years—some were mere interlopers who'd been driven inland by the Vikings.

At any rate the Crackingtons packed up what household effects they could, rounded up a few horses (the Ferbanes had driven most of them off), and set out for Dublin, where they kept a town-house. Along the way they were set upon by rapparees. But just when it looked as if all were lost, they were saved by a Protestant militia band that came on in a grand, noisy rush and drove the rapparees away. The Crackington patriarch thanked these mangy-looking Protestants again and again, and promised to reward them in golden guineas if they would sent a representative to call on him at his town-house in Dublin—"my name," he said, "is Mr. Crackington and anyone in Dublin—" (by which he meant any Anglican English gentleman) "—will be able to direct you to my house."

"Did you say Crackington?" said one of the militia. "My name is Good. Do you know me?"

After this certain unpleasantries, which Oliver Good declined to speak much of, had been visited upon the Crackingtons, and it was unclear whether any of them had made it as far as Dublin—but if they had, they'd have found their town-house looted, and occupied by Catholics, anyway. But the point was that all of Ulster, Leinster, and Munster were like that farm between Athlone and Tullamore.

England was divided into parcels of land whose ownership was clearly established. It was like a wall made of bricks, each brick an integral thing surrounded by a clear boundary of white mortar. Ireland was like a daub-wall. Every generation came around with a fresh hod and troweled a new layer of mud atop all of the previous ones, which instantly hardened and became brittle. The land was not merely encumbered; it was the sum of its encumbrances.

Connaught was supposedly different because it had not succumbed to the incursions of the English. But it had troubles of its own because those Irish who declined to be conquered fled there in times of trouble and squatted on the land of the Irish who had always lived there.


DEFENCING-PRACTICE WENT ON MUCH LONGER than anyone really wanted. The war was not quick to resume in the spring of 1691. King William's supreme commander in Ireland was now Baron Godard de Ginkel, another Dutchman. His objective was obviously Connaught, which was guarded by the Shannon and by the fortified cities of Limerick, Athlone, and Sligo. Irish diggers bossed around by French engineers had devoted the whole winter to building up those cities' earth-works. Therefore Ginkel wanted boats and pontoons for crossing the river, and guns for knocking down the fortifications. Those cost money. Parliament had very little of it, and had become surly about handing it over to their Dutch king, whom they were already sick of. Nothing was forthcoming until the end of May, which convinced Bob and all the rest that they were truly lost and forgotten in Ireland, and destined to be stranded here, and to become the next players in stories of the Ferbane-Crackington-Good type.

For his part, King Louis XIV of France did little to disabuse the combatants of the feeling that they had dropped off the map of Christendom. The Battle of the Boyne had been the battle for Ireland, or so everyone in Christendom believed, according to a letter Bob had got from Eliza. They believed it not because it had any particular military weight but because there had been a King on each side of a river and one had crossed over it and the other had turned his backside to it and run away, and not stopped running until he'd reached France.

During the battle that had given the Black Torrent Guards their name, their commander, Feversham, had been asleep. Even when he was awake he was daft, because of his brain injury. John Churchill had been the real commander and Bob and the other foot-soldiers had done the fighting. Yet Feversham had got the credit for all. Why? Because it made a good story, Bob supposed, and people could only make sense of complicated matters through stories. Likewise the war for Ireland, which had ceased to be a good story when the Kings had left the stage.

Thus Bob in a very bleak mood all through April. On the 9th of May, a flock of sails appeared in the Shannon estuary, and sword-practice came to a halt, and the pupils of Bob's fencing-academy gathered silent under the shade of the brooding-tree to watch a French convoy coming up the river towards Limerick. The ships were cheered by small crowds gathered in tiny raucous clumps on the Connaught side, and saluted by guns on the walls of Limerick. It was noted by all of the men around Bob that the cannon-salutes were returned in full measure (they had no lack of powder), but the cheers were not (these were supply-, not troop-ships).

Monsieur LaMotte took a spyglass from his saddle-bag, climbed halfway up the tree, and made observations. "I see the colors of a field-marshal; the big ship, there, third from the lead, she is carrying the new French commander…" then all the air went out of him in a long sigh, like bagpipes collapsing, and he said nothing for a minute or so, not because he had nothing to say but because he was the sort of fellow who did not like to utter as much as a word until he had made himself master of his emotions. "It is the butcher of Savoy," he said in French to another Huguenot who was standing under the tree.

"De Catinat?"

"No, the other."

"De Gex?"

"This is a field-marshal, not a priest."

"Ah." The other Huguenot ran to his horse and galloped away.

In English, La Motte explained: "I have recognized the coat of arms of the new French commander. His name is St. Ruth. A nobody. Our victory is assured."

The muttering of the men resumed, and there were sporadic outbreaks of laughter. LaMotte climbed down out of the tree wearing an expression as if he'd just seen his mother being keel-hauled under St. Ruth's flagship. He handed his spyglass to Bob, then went to his horse without a word and cantered away, stiff-backed.

Bob was glad to have the loan of the spyglass, for one of the smaller ships, farther back in the line, had familiar lines. His eyes unaided could not make out the colors flying from her mizzen-mast. With a bit of fiddling and focusing, and steadying the spyglass against the bole of the tree, he was able to see the coat of arms he had been looking for: for St. Ruth had brought a pair of lieutenant-generals with him, and one of them bore the title Earl of Upnor.


BOB HAD SAT AND WATCHED marvels during his idle spring: a butterfly forcing its way out of a cocoon, and an apple-blossom burgeoning from a sticky green pod. Those two unfoldings had much in common with each other, and with something that happened in Bob's soul during the next hours. The behavior of the Huguenot cavalrymen served as a model and source of inspiration. Not that Bob generally wanted such things, but his time in Ireland had left him pressed together and folded up inside a stiff dry husk that protected him but imprisoned him, too. The same was true of all the others. But the knowledge that St. Ruth was here had sent a dread-thrill running through the camp of the Huguenots and shocked them all alive. Bob had no idea who St. Ruth was or what he had done in Savoy, but it did not matter; the effect of it was that the Huguenots now suddenly perceived themselves as being in the thick of a story. It was not a King-story and might never be written down, but it was a good story to them.

Years ago Bob had gone deaf in one ear, and had put it down to standing close to guns. But then one day a barber had reached into that ear with a wee hook and wrenched out a bung of brown wax, hard as pine-wood, and just like that Bob could hear again—he could hear so well it almost hurt, and could sense things going on all round him with such definition that for the next day he had difficulty keeping his balance. On the 9th of May 1691, all of Bob's senses came alive thusly, and his lungs filled with air for the first time since he had waded across the Boyne with Jacobite musket-balls taking bites out of his hat.

They struck camp and withdrew from Limerick altogether during the next fortnight, and marched with the sun on their backs to Mullingar, in the center of the island, where all of King William's host was assembling. A few days after they arrived the trains of wagons began to come from Dublin in their clouds of dust and noise, bringing the great cannons and mortars that had been sent from the Tower of London.

On June 8th they marched west to Ballymore and easily took a little out-post there, and made prisoners of one of the best Irish regiments, which had been left exposed in the middle of nowhere for no reason.

On June 19th they reached Athlone, which bestrode the Shannon. It consisted of an English town on the Leinster side—which the Jacobites abandoned almost immediately—and an Irish city on the Connaught side—which they retreated into, and defended with unnerving ferocity for two weeks. Scouts were sent across the Shannon; most did not come back. The ones that did brought news that cascaded down the chain of command to Bob: General St. Ruth had brought his whole army to a camp west of the Irish town, just out of range of Ginkel's Dutch cannon.

The battle of Athlone was straightforward and bloody: Ginkel's artillerymen fired a cannonball a minute for ten days, and an avalanche of bombs and mortar-stones, across the river into the Irish town and completely destroyed it. Meanwhile his foot-soldiers tried again and again to force a crossing on the stone bridge joining the English to the Irish town. This was the only way of reaching the Connaught side of the Shannon, and everyone knew it. The Irish had destroyed one segment of the bridge. The gap would have to be closed with timbers. Under hellish covering fire of artillery, Ginkel's troops would go there at night and try to throw beams across the gap while Irish snipers hidden in the ruins of Athlone pierced them with musket-balls. Then Irish troops would show equal bravery in going down and setting the timbers afire, or casting them into the Shannon.

The Irish won the battle of the bridge, but lost that of Athlone when two thousand of Ginkel's troops forded the Shannon downstream on June 30th and forced their way into the Irish town.

St. Ruth thereby lost Athlone, and all of his troops who were trapped inside of its walls. The rules of Continental siege warfare were in effect, meaning that towns could hope for easy treatment if they surrendered but that resistance was to be punished by massacre. Bob's chief worry, then, was that he would be given a direct order to go into Athlone and massacre someone. The only thing that would be worse would be if the victims turned out to be Mr. McCarthy's company of foot-soldiers from Baron Youghal's regiment. Mr. McCarthy was a Dublin candle-maker who had spent all of his money to raise and outfit a company, and made himself its captain. Along the way he had recruited Teague Partry, who had in turn recruited several other of Bob's out-laws. Jack Shaftoe's sons—Bob's nephews—had gotten swept up in Regimental life, much as Jack and Bob had done at the same age. For all Bob knew, the boys might be carrying muskets now. So it was not out of all possibility that Bob might be obliged to swing a spadroon into the necks of his nephews during the mopping-up of Athlone. It was the sort of dilemma that might make a fellow anxious. Fortunately Bob had (as was his habit) imagined and anticipated the worst, and made up his mind in advance what he should do if it came to pass: He would excuse himself, declare himself Irish (easily enough done, as 'twas only a state of mind anyway), make the sign of the cross over his red-coated breast, and go running off into Connaught with the Partrys. He even had a sort of excuse worked out: He'd declare that the hag who'd brained him with the bottle in Limerick was his long-lost great-aunt. This scheme had the added advantage of getting him closer to Upnor. After the Jacobites had lost the war, he'd sign up with an Irish mercenary regiment and go campaigning on the Continent. If he picked the right time and place to desert, he could then simply walk to wherever Abigail was.

This plan actually seemed more attractive to him the more he considered it, and the more phantastickal refinements he added onto it. By the time he crossed that half-wrecked bridge into what had been the Irish side of Athlone, he was almost looking forward to finding whatever was left of Mr. McCarthy's company, and surrendering to it.

What he did not want was to find them dead, or to see them being hunted down in the streets by the Danish horsemen, who had reverted to the ways of the Vikings. So his fondest hope and worst nightmare were separated by an infinitesimally slender distance.

But he found nothing in Athlone save dead or dying Irishmen buried in settling piles of rubble. Fortunately a good part of the civilian population of Athlone had already fled into Connaught. A small Irish garrison was trapped near the bridge and enthusiastically butchered by the Danish cavalry. However, the great bulk of St. Ruth's force never even saw fighting, and remained safe in its camp. Ginkel spent several days getting his army across the river, which meant that St. Ruth could stage a leisurely and orderly retreat of his whole army toward the interior of Connaught, or indeed all the way to the port of Galway if he chose.

So Bob found himself in the fabled land of Connaught. No, it couldn't be; this part was connected to Leinster and the rest of the damned island by that bridge, it was an excrescence of the bad, ruined Ireland into the good. And fortunately it was surrounded by a wall to prevent the contagions of the world from spreading. Irish Athlone was just a buboe, holding the plague pent up inside.

When they got the order to march out of its western gate, then they would enter the true Connaught that Teague Partry had sung of during his long raw watches on the Develin Tower.


"IT IS SUNDAY, the twelfth of July, Anno Domini sixteen hundred and ninety-one," said Captain Barnes helpfully, shaking Bob's shoulder. "The train has arrived; we expect a long march."

Very faint pink light gleamed in jackets of dew that had formed on the cold pale stones all around. Bob exerted all his will not to close his eyes and go back to sleep.

They were still in Athlone, sleeping in a half-wrecked wool warehouse that stood on the road uphill from the bridge. Wheels were grinding on the ashlars of that road, drawn by hundreds of patient hooves that beat a lulling tattoo on the stones.

Ginkel's army had marched out a day ago and left them behind to await a train of wagons from Dublin, and to make sure it got across the bridge safely. Today they would have to catch up with the army and, if that army was on the move, accomplish a second march as well.

When someone was trying to kill him and his men (which was not really all that often), Bob's chief professional obligation was to think about that. At all other times he thought about food. Treading carefully among sleeping men, he came to a place where he could look out through a bomb-hole and see orange flames fondling the bum of Black Betty, the company's prize kettle, out in the court. There would be a sort of gruel boiling in it, with shreds of mutton flashing to the top occasionally, and an inch of grease floating on it. In other weathers a cloud of steam would be roiling from Black Betty's mouth, but today she was surrounded and hemmed in by aeons of fog proceeding out of the west, seemingly drawn by the feeble promise of the pink gloaming over Leinster. If any steam was coming out of Black Betty, it was like a fart in a whirlwind.

By the time Bob had groped his way to the coffee-pot and burnt his hands and lips on a tin cup of Mocha's finest, the pink light that had greeted him earlier had been snuffed out by the progress of this fog. When he went about nudging men awake, they were all certain it must be midnight, and not dawn as Bob earnestly claimed.

Connaught would not let go of her mysteries easily, then. By the time they fell in with the regiment, chasing the customary, hideous screams of sergeants through the gloom, a kind of profound blue-gray light had begun to emanate from the fog: light without warmth or even the colors that made men remember warmth. There was a lot of bumping into other companies in rubble-congested streets, and standing still for no discernible reason, and then at last a gate materialized around them and they understood that the regiment was forcing its way through a bottleneck. They marched out of Athlone and left its unburied dead to the flies—for only flies could reach the ones who lay in the cellars of the fallen-in buildings.

Immediately the road began to fork and fork again, offering passages to Roscommon, Tuam, Athleag, or Killimor. Bob gazed down every one of those tracks with frank longing. But young officers on horseback were posted at every turning to ensure that the regiment, and the wagon-train, did not stray in the fog.

They marched on the high road, the road west toward Galway. Everything about the conduct of the operation said to Bob that it would be a long trudge with no objective other than to put distance behind them, and no prospect of actual fighting. But late in the morning—or so he guessed from the color of the fog, which had taken on a brassy shimmer, like a counterfeit guinea—he heard musket-fire far off.

It could not be his regiment. It must be some other battalion of Ginkel's main army. So Ginkel had not marched on ahead of them at all. He had done a day's march and then stopped. And from the sound of those muskets it was clear why: St. Ruth had only retreated a few miles down the road from Athlone.

They joined in with another column, marched for a mile, and crossed a river at a place called Ballinasloe. Immediately the rope of men and beasts raveled and frayed into a wide mess, each strand pursuing a different course. This would only occur if they had butted up against the army of St. Ruth, and were spreading out to form a battle-front.

Lone cavaliers dashed from left to right and right to left, wearing the colors of Brandenburgish, Danish, Huguenot, or Dutch cavalry regiments; these were engaged in the supremely important tasks of finding the ends of the line. The great bodies of soldiers were still proceeding towards the front, occasionally crossing over each other's paths, but more and more often moving along parallel courses. The fog shone more brightly to their left, which suggested that they were going generally westwards. Bob's left knee was hurting rather more than his right one—not only were they moving down-slope, but the ground on the right, toward the Ballinasloe road, was higher.

They'd seen no sign of the Jacobite army other than a few Irishmen hanged by the necks from tree-limbs along the road, presumably for desertion. But as they worked their way down from the road they did come upon a dead horse from Patrick Sarsfield's Irish cavalry regiment, which was still warm and steaming. It was in a field, or rather, an expanse of disturbed soil. Every patch of dirt in Ireland bore the marks of desperate soldiers who had pawed through it in search of potatoes that might've been overlooked by other, slightly less desperate fellows. This horse had broken its leg stepping into a hole where some lucky man had struck a jackpot. Its rider had put it down with a pistol-ball to the brain and limped away on a pair of French-style boots in good repair. Bob followed the boot-prints, and his men followed him, until a mounted Dutch officer—one of de Zwolle's aides—coalesced out of the fog, ordered them to abandon this pursuit, and signalled that they should form up into a line. And a good thing, too, as the ground had been getting soupier, and they were very nearly down in a bog by this point.

Now that all burdens had been thrown down and the commotion of the march had ceased, Bob found that he could hear for a great distance. In fact, he was convinced that they had mistakenly set up only a stone's throw from the enemy. But the sound came and went with the sluggish convolutions of the fog, telling him that it was only a trick played on his ears by the queerness of the air, and further evidence that Connaught was a realm of mischievous faeries.

Setting aside eldritch deceptions, and listening patiently whilst smoking his way through three pipe-bowls of tobacco, and (above all) thanking that barber for having drawn the wax out of his ear, Bob collected the following:

That there was a bog before them, much broader than he had supposed at first, perhaps half a mile from this side to the other. That water stood, rather than ran, at its bottom. That it was occupied by the enemy, but not heavily; it was not a position to be held, but an obstacle to slow down the onslaught of the Protestant legions. Beyond it, however, the ground rose up again, in some places to heights that would command the whole battlefield. The great bulk of the Jacobites were there, working with picks and shovels in reasonably dry ground (the implements bit rather than splashed). When a breeze finally came up, it became possible to hear canvas flapping. They had not taken their tents down yet; they had no thought of retreating. To the north and the south—that is to say, on the wings—were the cavalry. By process of elimination, infantry was in the center.

The Irish foot did not have the equipment or the training to form itself up into pike-squares and so were defenseless against horse. Therefore St. Ruth would only put them where cavalry could not go. It followed that the bog must be a formidable barrier, for St. Ruth was trusting it to preserve his infantry from a frontal charge. The Butcher of Savoy, as the Huguenots called him, had, however, felt obliged to put his cavalry at the ends, to prevent the infantry from being flanked and destroyed; so there must be easier ways of getting across the bog in those places.

In this section of the line—which seemed to be towards Ginkel's right, or north flank—all was orderly and quiet. But at the left or southern flank, which might be as much as two miles away, they were having great difficulty forming up into line because of some skirmishes—most likely Sarsfield's enterprising and high-spirited cavalry. Sporadic cackles of fire came from that direction and occasionally swelled into abrupt throat-clearings, but never developed into a proper engagement.

As this was Sunday, the French and Irish regiments were taking turns at Mass; Bob could track the gradual progress of two or perhaps three different priests along the Jacobite line of battle, stopping every so often to deliver a warlike homily and celebrate a truncated version of the sacrament. He only knew un peu de francais and a wee bit o' Gaelic, but after hearing several repetitions of these homilies, and the synchronized cheering of the congregants, he thought he had a clear enough notion of what was being said.

The breeze became dependable and the fog finally began to dissolve.

He strolled to the left and exchanged gossip with Greer, the sergeant of the fourteenth company. Then he strolled to the right and discovered an English cavalry regiment and chatted with one of its sergeants for a time. By now it was possible to understand where the Black Torrent Guards were situated. Ginkel's army, like St. Ruth's, had been arranged with infantry in the center and cavalry on the wings. Bob's regiment was farther to the right than any of the other foot, and his company farther right than any other company; from their location northwards to the road, it was nothing but horse all the way.

The fog had lifted to the point where he could see his own regimental colors, about a musket-shot away, slightly uphill of the line established by the soldiers. He walked toward them and arrived just in time to see a conference breaking up: Colonel de Zwolle had served brandy and given orders to all of his company commanders. Bob about-faced and fell into step beside Captain Barnes, who was returning to the company.

"Ne pas faire de quartier," ' Bob said. "That's what the priests are saying across the bog."

Captain Barnes had a degree from Oxford. "After what happened in Athlone, it is to be expected."

"Is it the same for us, then? No quarter?"

"Sergeant, your aversion to killing Irishmen is the talk of the regiment. Do not embarrass me today by turning suddenly into a paragon of mercy."

Captain Barnes was the fifth son of a modestly important Bristol family, and had a quick mind. It had been expected of him that he would become a vicar. Instead he had discomposed his family by deciding to become an infantry officer. He was not yet twenty-five and still seemed more the student of divinity. He liked commanding troops in battle, and did a surprisingly good job of it, as long as they hewed to the tactics and maneuvers of conventional warfare, against similar opponents. Which might sound like damning with faint praise, but very few men could actually do this. He grew uncertain, and began to make bad decisions, when asked to do anything that was not explicitly covered by the rules of war. At such moments other rules must of necessity come into play, and the rules he was wont to fall back on were the sort that were taught in church. And he was bright enough to see that this was, in a war, ridiculous.

"You want a brute for a sergeant, so that he can go do the mopping-up while you wring your hands and disavow his unchivalrous deeds," Bob said. "For that type of sergeant you must look in a common regiment. But we were organized by Churchill—"

"The Earl of Marlborough, to you!"

"In truth, to me he is John. But whatever he is called, he has odd tastes in sergeants, and though he has been replaced by de Zwolle, you are stuck with me—unless you would care to promote another from the ranks."

"You'll do, Sergeant Shaftoe."

Finally the fog had lifted so that they could see as far as they pleased, though things more distant were wrapped in shimmering auras, bristling with iridescent needles. All was more or less as Bob had seen it with his ears. Across a bog they faced a hill whose near slope was exceeding well trenched, the trenches filled with Irish musketeers in gray coats. They would be armed with good new French muskets, not the trash that had served as firewood after the Battle of the Boyne. Far to the south the Jacobite line curved around the flank of the hill into some trees, and thus out of Bob's view. Directly in front lay what appeared to be the worst part of the bog, where three water-filled ruts twined together in the heart of a morass. The main Athlone-Galway road was no more than a few hundred paces off to the right. It sported first a bridge and then a long, strait causeway over the boggy ground.

A mass of English and Huguenot cavalry were deployed in a clump around the road. Bob could see several regimental standards at a glance, meaning that this was probably styled a division, thus probably commanded by a major-general. Most likely the Huguenot Henri de Massue, who, though he'd never see France again, still went by his French title, the marquis de Ruvigny. Ruvigny was one of three generals King William had sent out to Ireland in the spring to replace ones who had exasperated him with their slowness. Another was a Scotsman, Hugh MacKay, who was commanding the division of infantry—Bob's division, for the nonce—that was now looking out over the bog.

The bridge and the causeway could be reached by a short advance, which raised the question of why this cavalry division had not already taken it. The answer lay half a mile farther down the road, where an old castle rose up above the western end of the causeway. It was little more than a wreck: just four mossy stone walls, with mounds at the corners suggesting towers. But the tops of the walls were furry with musket-barrels, and the surrounding hamlet had been fortified with earth-works. Several roads then radiated westwards from the village. Various Jacobite regiments had positioned themselves short distances up those roads so that they could converge on any force that made it over the causeway and into the killing-zone around the castle.

Bob spent more time than was good for him searching out the standards of the Irish foot regiments and trying to identify Baron Youghal's colors. That would tell him approximately where Mr. McCarthy the candlemaker was situated with the Partrys' company. But he was unable to see matters clearly, as most of these regiments were dug in on the hill farther south and across the bog, two miles or more away, and their colors had not been particularly large or glorious to begin with.

"This is an excellent position," Bob said admiringly. "It could not be better—for the Irish."

Captain Barnes gave him a sharp look, but softened when he understood that Bob was merely stating facts, and according a sort of gentlemanly respect to the foe. "Today we will be dragoons, until we are told otherwise."

"Where are our horses, then?"

"We must imagine them."

"Imaginary horses are much slower than the other kind."

"We need never mount up. Dragoons are supposed to ride into battle, then dismount and fight as infantrymen," Barnes reminded him. "We walked here, that much is true. But that's in the past. Now it's as if we have all just climbed out of our saddles."

"That is why they have placed us here, hard up against the cavalry—we are to support them," Bob supposed, looking into Barnes's eyes. Barnes showed no sign of disagreement. Bob turned away from General MacKay's part of the field—the bog in the center—and toward General Ruvigny's—the road, the causeway, and the village. At first glance this latter seemed the harder assignment, but he felt unaccountably relieved that they would not have to harry thousands of Irishmen out of the maze of ditches that they had cut into the peat.

Bob continued, "We are meant to advance along the road, I take it." He then turned his attention to the castle, and tried to count the colors on its walls and in the surrounding village.

"It is a better assignment than to advance across that bog," Barnes observed.

"Anything would be better than that, Captain," Bob said. "When I am hit I want to fall with sun in my eyes. Not mud in my lungs."


BOB, NORMALLY AN IN-THE-THICK-OF-THINGS kind of soldier, now had the unfamiliar opportunity of sitting still and watching the battle unfold, just like a General. This came about because the cavalry to which they were attached was not ordered to do anything for the first few hours; no General in his right mind would send his regiments across that causeway in the face of those defenses. In fact, very early on most of Ruvigny's cavalry were detached and sent miles down the line toward the left wing, leaving only a regiment or so to guard the road. If the Black Torrent Guards had been real dragoons (with horses) they probably would have gone, too. As it was, they were stuck in the least active part of the battlefield.

But every other part of the line attacked. The only part Bob could see was the foot in the center, but from distant rumblings of thousands of hooves, and movements of reinforcing horse across the Irish rear, he could tell that a large cavalry engagement was under way at the opposite end.

MacKay's infantry spent the first few hours of the battle failing against their Irish counterparts. Though 'twere more just to say that Ginkel had failed by ordering them even to try. The Irish had cut successive lines with protected passages from one to the next. The walls of the ditches were graded to afford protection against an attack from the east while leaving their occupants naked to fire from the west. So as soon as MacKay's men fought their way across the sucking mud into one ditch, they would find that their foes had all vanished like wills-o'-the-wisp and reappeared in the next ditch uphill, whence they could fire musket-balls into the attackers at their pleasure. A small number of English actually managed to get through all of the ditches and hedgerows, but by the time they had done so, they were more a smattering of refugees than an army; and when they finally staggered out into open country along the base of the hill, they were confronted by an Irish battle-line that looked as if it had drawn itself up on a parade ground. The Irish charged with a roar that reached Bob's ears a few seconds after he saw them leap forward, and the surviving English fell back all the way to where they had started an hour before. By the time any semblance of order had been re"established among MacKay's battalions, the Irish had re-occupied the very same positions, in the forward-most ditch, as they'd been in when the fog had first lifted. The field looked the same as it had before, save that dead Englishmen were strewn all over it. Farther south it was the same except that the dead were Danish, Dutch, Hessians, and Huguenots.

While respecting Irishmen as individuals, Bob had always viewed their regiments primarily as a source of comic relief. He was fascinated to see them chasing Hessian storm-troopers across a bog. It was the first time in his knowledge that their ferocity and love of country had come into alignment with military competence. At the same time he was apprehensive, for the Partrys' sake, of what might happen next, because the cavalry fight at the far end sounded more ferocious than any he had ever heard. He could not believe that the French and Irish could withstand such an assault for long. But nothing happened; the Protestant cavalry never broke through. The battle was a stalemate.

Bob watched two more attacks across the bog. Both failed in the same way as the first; the Irish not only stopped them cold, but threw them back, and not only threw them back but overran some of their positions and spiked some of their field-pieces. Captain Barnes: "'Tis worse even than a Pyrrhic victory; 'tis a Pyrrhic defeat."

General MacKay was as wet, cold, and furious as a cat in a rain-barrel. He had led the failed attacks personally. As the afternoon turned into evening he had worked his way north up the line. It was plain that the center could not be forced, and he had no real choice but to probe that part of the bog around the piles of the causeway. For the fourth attack, therefore, he got permission from Ginkel to lead the Black Torrent Guards—who had done nothing so far—on a thrust parallel to and just a bit south of the road.

This attack failed like the others. Bob and his men had learned from the mistakes of the fellows they had been watching, and so they took fewer casualties. But it failed nonetheless, partly because of the ditches, and partly because of the plunging musket-fire that came down from the parapets of the ruined castle when they advanced within range. It was demoralizing to see a large building such as Aughrim Castle vanish behind a cloud of gray smoke as hundreds of muskets were discharged at once.

But they all suspected that they might have succeeded with more men. Bob mentioned to Captain Barnes, who reported to de Zwolle, who told General MacKay, that before the battle he'd spied a pair of regimental standards in the bog just by the causeway, where it entered Aughrim village. During one of the earlier attacks he had watched those colors move far south to the center of the line, where the fighting had been fiercest. They had not returned since. So the village's defenses were not what they had once been.

MacKay rode the line, having a look at the Black Torrent Guards, and pronounced them not half so wet, muddy, and exhausted as the men who'd attacked in the center; which he looked on as proving that this was not such a very boggy part of the bog, and that cavalry might get across it. He was being trailed by a motley string of European and English cavaliers who, because they had not done any fighting yet, were spotless and jittery. At one point MacKay got into a dispute with them, which he ended by wheeling his horse and charging directly toward Aughrim Castle just to show that it could be done. His horse took a header over a wall and stopped hard in muck on the other side, and MacKay flew off and ended up wetter, dirtier, and angrier than he had been before. Most of the cavaliers were convinced it could be done, and the others were now too ashamed to speak their minds.

The Black Torrent Guards were ordered to advance as far and as fast toward the castle as they could, and then throw themselves down in the bog and shoot at any Irish heads that showed above the parapet. It was hoped that this would lessen the damage inflicted on Ruvigny's skeletal division of cavalry as they galloped across and alongside the causeway. For every other route along which Ginkel's army might advance had been blocked; Ruvigny's squadrons were the only fresh troops he had; and the only way to avoid total defeat was to mount a charge along that causeway.

The Black Torrent Guards were sent across the bog first, in full view of the castle, to draw off some fire, but the Irish seemed to recognize that tactic for what it was and saved their loads for the cavalry, which came thundering down the road a few moments later.

Only ragged firing sounded from Aughrim Castle as the first squadrons rode directly past it. They galloped into the village with almost no casualties and found that it had been left nearly undefended, as Bob had predicted.

Bob got up on one knee to fire his musket at a head silhouetted against the evening sky, and was hit in the chest by something that made a strange zooming noise. He dropped his weapon and fell flat on his back.

When he woke up a couple of his men had ripped his coat open to examine the wound, which was in a bad spot, near where his left collarbone joined his breastbone. And yet Bob was still alive, and not coughing up blood. Not feeling bad at all, really.

He was being looked after by one Hamilton, a big bloke, infamous for uncouth qualities. Hamilton had planted a knee on Bob's shoulder to pin him in a more convenient attitude, and was picking curiously at a hard object embedded in Bob's flesh. Bob found this extremely annoying and said so more than once. "Oh, fuck it!" Hamilton decreed, and dived into Bob's chest, planting his lips over the wound. After a quick suck and a bite he popped up again with something yellow in his teeth, and spat it out for examination.

"'Tis a pretty brass button," he announced, "a bit dented by the ram-rod, but 'twill suffice to replace the ones we tore off your coat just now."

"Or we may fire it back to its owner," said one Roberts, who always did what Hamilton did, but not as well. He had a knee on Bob's other shoulder. "If we should run out of ammunition, I mean."

Not more than ten minutes had passed while Bob lay on his back on the ground, but when he got up again it was a new battle. All of Ruvigny's horse had now crossed over, and more was on the way, galloping up from the opposite wing where they'd been balked all afternoon. The gates of Aughrim Castle were open, and a lot of screaming and hasty praying could be heard within its walls as the unlucky garrison was put to the sword (vide Rules of Continental Siege Warfare). The squadrons not participating in this massacre had positioned themselves around the edge of the village and made ready to be attacked by the Irish and French battalions not far away, but such an attack never came; something had gone wrong in St. Ruth's chain of command, orders to counter-attack had not been issued or else were not getting through, and his generals were unwilling to do it on their own initiative.

Bob wrapped his coat around himself to cover the wound, which was bleeding, but not hissing or spurting. He strolled uphill a short distance and climbed up onto one of the earthen ramparts that the Irish had thrown up to defend Aughrim village.

He could see some Irish dragoons retreating off to his right. In the overall scheme this was amazingly stupid, and probably fatal, but they had no way of knowing.

"Sergeant!"

Bob looked down into the face of Captain Barnes, which was in the middle of a transition from intense anxiety to giddy relief; for the nonce it looked more quizzical than anything. "I was given to understand you had suffered a dire injury!"

"I was shot in the chest," Bob said guardedly. "One of those musketeers drilled me about here, from perhaps fifty yards." Bob glanced towards the corner of the castle from which the button had been fired. A French standard was being cut down by trophy-hunting cavaliers.

"Then you should be taking your rest! We have been ordered to garrison the castle," said Barnes.

"Has my bedchamber been made ready?"

"Alas, there are no chambers of any kind, only roofless cells," Barnes answered deadpan. "We could make you a bed from ammunition cases."

"I thought they had none."

"They have thousands of musket-balls in there," Barnes said.

"Then why did they not use them?"

"Because they are made for English muskets—ever so slightly larger than the barrels of their French muskets."

Hamilton had ambled to within earshot of this conversation, and responded, "Haw! I always knew we Englishmen had bigger balls than the French!" Indeed, all of the private soldiers found it hilarious. But sergeants and captains—who were actually responsible for getting musket-balls to the troops—could only wince at such a story, even when it had befallen the enemy.

Bob looked off to the south and saw a series of English and Huguenot cavalry squadrons slipping like a knife-blade into a gap between the Irish infantry, and the stunned cavalry to its rear. They were swinging round behind the Irish foot, getting into position to charge them, panic them, and mow them down like hay.

"Captain Barnes," Bob said, "you have said it yourself. I have been shot in the chest and am plainly a casualty of war, hors de combat, and for now my duties must be assumed by another sergeant…. Fortunately your company's assignment is trivial. There will be no counter-attack made against yonder castle this afternoon." Bob turned his back on Barnes and strode down the slope of the rampart, muttering, "Or this month, this year, this century."


ONCE THE DANES and the Huguenots over-ran the field like flocks of starlings scouring the earth for worms, Bob's red Guards uniform would not help him; this side of the bog, any man on foot was under a death sentence. Because the French/Irish phant'sied themselves the army of the true King (James II), many of their regiments wore the same red uniforms, and the only way to tell them apart was by looking for small badges or devices thrust into their hats: sprigs of green for King William's forces, scraps of white paper for James Stuart's. These were difficult to see even in good light. Bob's hat had been lost in the bog anyway.

Fortunately the battle had long ago got to that stage where riderless horses were wandering about, instinctively forming up into little herds, looking for quiet places to graze. They were being pursued by men under orders to round them up. Bob ventured into a sort of no-man's-land that had opened up between the village and some Irish battalions retreating from it, and pretended that he had been given such orders. For the available horses, he was striving against two men who were younger and quicker than he was; but being older and wiser and (today) luckier, he had the satisfaction of being able to rest, crouching alongside a fragment of stone wall, while they chased a saddled horse directly towards him. He vaulted up onto the wall, grabbed the mount's dragging reins, and swung a leg over its saddle before it even knew he was about. He inferred that it had been ridden by a member of Ruvigny's cavalry who'd fallen or been shot out of the saddle, but that it had followed its squadron across the causeway just to be sociable. At any case it was a good horse and fresh. Bob pulled its nose round southward and whacked it lightly with the flat of his spadroon.

He galloped into the heart of the battle while it still deserved that name, before it turned into a rout and massacre. Ruvigny's cavalry had by now broken through the Irish flank altogether and were charging south, traversing the hill. To their left and downhill lay the entrenchments crowded with Irish foot-soldiers in their gray coats. To their right and uphill were the white tents of the Jacobite encampment. In front of them was nothing but a flimsy barrier of cavalry: not above three squadrons of what looked like an English Catholic regiment.

Bob had begun by galloping in the wake of this charge, but soon caught up and found himself in the middle of it—close enough that he could see the faces of those English Papists, Persons of Quality all, and watch them think as the attack bore down on them. Some seemed ready to die for their faith and rode forward with a certain look of calm ferocity that Bob admired very much. Some stood their ground—not, Bob thought, out of courage but out of terror, as rabbits freeze when the hawk flies overhead. Some wheeled and ran. But a contingent of three riders, who had been situated toward the rear, turned away and rode south in a way that looked purposeful to Bob.

Bob knew what they were doing: first, preserving their regimental standard (one of the three riders was the standard-bearer). This would enable them to erect the colors on a high place later, so that the scattered squadrons and stragglers could converge on it and reform into an effective battalion. Without that scrap of cloth they could never amount to anything but lost Vagabonds. Second, they were going to the other wing where Sarsfield was commanding the bulk of the Jacobite cavalry, and apparently doing a very good job of it; in a few minutes they would come back at the head of several regiments.

Bob out-stripped Ruvigny's cavalry in an instant when they galloped into the Catholic squadrons and stopped to duel it out with pistols and sabers. French Protestants fighting for the King of England crossed blades with English Catholics fighting for the King of France. Bob, having no personal interest in their quarrel, rode through them all like a cannonball through a bank of smoke and discovered himself in open country pursuing the three riders.

The standard-bearer was moving slowest, and gradually falling behind. Bob almost had him when the fellow chanced to look back; then he let out a yell and spurred his horse forward. The two officers in front, perhaps eight lengths ahead of him, looked back to see their standard-bearer in trouble; he could not defend himself without dropping the colors. As this happened Bob got a direct view of their faces and realized for the first time that one of the two was Upnor.

After a brief exchange of words, Upnor drew back hard on one rein to wheel his mount around, while the other officer shot ahead to get the message out to Sarsfield. Bob—who had a lot to keep track of—heard a loud crack and assumed a pistol had gone off. The standard-bearer, four lengths ahead of Bob, faltered. Bob looked again for Upnor, but he had vanished! Then in the corner of his eye he saw the standard-bearer coming up fast—having brought his mount nearly to a stand-still while Bob was still at a gallop. Bob had no time to do anything but stick his spadroon out. The blade struck something hard and the weapon was wrenched out of his grasp, and he was nearly thrown back onto the horse's croup. What saved him was that this had all occurred just short of a declivity in the hillside, a little water-course running straight down into the bog, therefore straight across their path. Both Bob's horse and that of the standard-bearer had seen it coming, and in the absence of orders to the contrary, slowed down.

Bob recovered his equilibrium just shy of this gulley and shook his hand frantically in the air a few times. It felt as if it had been stung by a bee. Lacking another blade, he drew out his pistol, which he had put out of his thoughts until this moment because it was useless while galloping. But now he was standing still, as was the standard-bearer, no more than four yards away from him.

The standard was hung from one end of a full-length pike so that it would rise to thrice the height of a man and be visible above a teeming battlefield. While galloping, the bearer had held it nearly horizontal, like a jousting-lance, in his left hand, while using his right to hold the reins. Bob had overtaken him on the left and he had reflexively raised up the pike-staff to parry Bob's blow; Bob's spadroon had cut into it at an angle about a third of the way from the top and come to a stop, wedged into the wood.

The standard-bearer now raised the pole to vertical and planted it, leaving Bob's spadroon high in the air and out of reach. Hugging the pike against himself and his horse's ribs to steady himself, he drew out a pistol of his own. He was a beautiful blond English boy of about eighteen and Bob shot him in the head. He was wearing a steel cuirass to protect his torso and so it was the head or nothing.

A light misty rain had commenced and the late afternoon sun had gone out like a snuffed candle, leaving gray twilight. Bob looked down the gulley, drawn by an anguished noise, and saw Upnor's horse thrashing around with a broken leg. Then he saw Upnor clambering up out of the gulley intact. The crack he had heard before must have been Upnor's horse breaking its leg when it tried to stop and wheel around in the wrong place.

Bob had discharged his only pistol and there was no time to reload. The standard-bearer had squeezed his trigger involuntarily and fired his pistol into the air. Bob dismounted, staggered on cramped legs over to the standard, and threw it down. He glanced over at Upnor, who had got himself up above his horse on the brink of the watercourse and pulled out a pair of pistols, one in each hand. He aimed one at his horse and pulled the trigger; Bob saw the white sparks from the flint, but it did not fire—the pan had gotten wet.

Upnor now gave Bob a sort of appraising look. Bob planted his foot on the pike at the place where his spadroon was lodged in it, and pulled up on the end until it snapped; then he came up with the weapon in his hand. The Earl of Upnor took one look at it and then, with no hesitation, aimed his other pistol down into the ditch and put his charger out of its misery. He dropped both of his pistols, turned to face Bob, and drew out his rapier. For being something of a traditionalist in these matters, he had not yet adopted the more fashionable small-sword.

"Sergeant Shaftoe," he said, "since we last met, your brother has achieved even greater infamy than he had then. Now the Battle of Aughrim has been lost. I am not likely to see the sun rise again. But I can at least thank Providence that she has placed you in my power, that I may salvage something of the day by sending the brother of L'Emmerdeur to Hell."

"I phant'sied 'twas you who were in my power," Bob muttered.

Upnor cast off his cloak to reveal a shining steel cuirass underneath, with a vest of light mail under that.

"Not at all chivalrous," Bob observed.

"On the contrary, nothing is more characteristic of the chivalric classes than to put on armor and go round ridding the country of rebellious Vagabonds—as your own cavalry is demonstrating!"

With a wry tilt of the head, Upnor pointed toward the lower slopes of the hill where King William's cavalry was hunting Irishmen, frantic to kill as many as they could before they lost the daylight altogether. The Earl was a sophisticated man who enjoyed this irony, and wanted Bob to share it with him.

"Enough talking," Bob said, raising his guard to his face. "I did not come here to make friends with you." And he snapped the blade down and away, completing the salute. Upnor took half a step forward, raising the rapier to a guard position, then made a little show of remembering his manners and acted out the faintest memory of a salute. He was so dexterous with a sword that he could convey certain qualities, such as sarcasm, simply through nuances in his movements. Bob now stepped towards Upnor, hoping to back him up against the brink of the gulley; this also situated Bob on slightly higher ground.

"It's about the girl, isn't it? Abigail, my pretty slave," Upnor exclaimed. "I had forgotten."

"No, you hadn't."

"Tell me, do you believe that killing me will help you repossess her?"

"Not really. She'll pass to your heirs and assigns, and I will kill them."

Upnor did not like this very well. "It is revenge, then," he concluded. He spun on the ball of one foot, ran down the bank for several yards to build up speed, then leapt across to the opposite brink. "In that case you are obligated to pursue me—so I am entitled to choose the ground. Come over here, Sergeant!"

Bob backed up for a few paces to get a running start, but by the time he was ready to make his leap, Upnor had moved back up to stand directly across from him, rapier aimed out into the space above the stream, positioned to impale Bob in mid-jump. "You hesitate a second time! You could have cut me down before I jumped across," Upnor said reproachfully.

Bob did not see fit to dignify this with a reply. He sidestepped up the bank; Upnor tracked him until he stopped. Then the Earl turned his head sideways and cupped his hand to his ear like a bad actor. "Hark! Patrick Sarsfield's cavalry is approaching, I do believe!"

"Those sound like Danish hooves to me."

Upnor made a sound like heh-heh, a completely unconvincing simulation of a laugh.

"Why are you playing message-boy, my lord? Why is not St. Ruth doing his job?"

"Because his head was carried off by a cannonball," Upnor responded. He brought the back of his hand to his mouth, pretending to cover a yawn. "It is a dull sword-fight so far," he complained.

"Let me across and it will become exciting soon enough."

"No, it is that you lack passion! A Frenchman would have leaped over by now. Perhaps it would help if I told you that I have fucked your sweet Abigail."

"I assumed as much," Bob said levelly.

"And you…haven't?"

"It is none of your business."

"It is all of my business, as she is my property, and I broke her maidenhead with this rapier, just as I am about to break yours with this one! So do not be coy, Sergeant, I know you have not enjoyed Abigail. Perhaps you shall, one day. But be sure to bring some sheep-gut. I am afraid that I, or one of my friends, have given her a nasty social disease."

Bob jumped over the ditch at this time. Upnor backed away and let him land safely, but then closed in on him quickly, twitching the rapier with his right hand and now drawing a dagger with his left.

"Don't look at the poniard, silly man," Upnor chided him. "You must fix your gaze upon your opponent's eyes—just as Abigail Frome stares into mine when I am pleasuring her."

Bob, reckoning that this was enough, wrapped his right arm across his body, drawing the blade back in position to let go a hay-maker. Part of the plan was to convince Upnor that his predictable taunts had actually made Bob angry. So Bob let out a bellow as he launched himself toward Upnor while letting go a mighty backhanded swing.

This was something he had practiced for a whole month with Monsieur LaMotte. Upnor's light blade could never stand up to a scything attack by the heavier spadroon, and so he had little choice but to drop his blade and step back to let it whoosh by. But Bob's forward rush would bring him into dagger range. So Upnor drew his right foot (which had been foremost) back, while pivoting on his left, turning sideways to let Bob charge past him. At the same time he raised his left hand so that he could plunge the dagger into Bob's ribs as he went by.

All of which went according to plan except for the last bit. For instead of rushing by standing up, Bob had planted his feet and dived forwards, so that his trunk was too low to receive Upnor's dagger. The back-handed cut had flung his body into a twisting movement from his left to his right, and so as he hurtled past he was spinning to face his opponent's legs. Bob's left arm and shoulder went through first, extended to take his impact on the ground. Then his head, and the right arm and spadroon trailing along his body. As soon as his left elbow struck the peat he curled that arm around and caught Upnor's right leg, trapping it against his body.

Upnor needed that leg to take his weight as he moved backwards, and thus had no choice but to fall down, even as Bob was getting his own knees under him. Upnor knew that to fall on his stomach was death, so he spun and landed on his arse and rolled up onto his back, his legs going straight up in the air. If this were a Parisian Salle d'Armes he might have turned it into a backwards somersault and come up fighting, but this was nearly impossible in a stiff cuirass. So Upnor's legs and arse reached apogee and then came down again. He was going to come up forwards. He planted his right elbow to push off against the ground but kept his guard up with the left, keeping that dagger pointed in the air. Bob had now got up on one knee and managed to take a swing at it. He fully intended to take Upnor's hand off at the wrist, but either his aim was bad or Upnor reacted with exceptional speed, because instead the blow struck the dagger's handle just behind the guard, right where Upnor's thumb and index finger gripped it, and ripped it loose from Upnor's hand. It whirred off and vanished in gloom and mist.

Upnor did a sideways roll away from Bob and came up angry. "You are a cold, cold, cold-blooded knave!" he exclaimed. "I think you do not care about Abigail at all!"

"I care enough to win this."

"You have been practicing against someone who knows the rapier," Upnor said. "Tell me, did he show you this?"

Bob liked to sit in a meadow and throw bits of bread to the birds. He had done this once with a flock of some hundred pigeons who had, once they'd gotten the general idea, surrounded him and waited patiently for him to throw out each scrap. But presently a sparrow had come along and begun to collect evey last crumb that Bob tossed, even though it had been one against a hundred. Even if Bob lured the sparrow to one side, then threw the morsel to the other, the little bird would come across like a flash of light from a signal-mirror and wend its way among the stumbling pigeons and pluck the bread right out from under their open beaks, which would snap together on thin air.

Bob now learned that he was a pigeon and Upnor a sparrow. One moment he was certain that his spadroon was about to take Upnor's leg off at the knee, and the next, the Earl was somewhere else, and the point of the rapier was headed for Bob's heart. In desperation he pawed at it with his left hand and diverted it so that it got him just under the ribs on the right side and passed out his back. As Bob fell back, his flailing left hand struck the guard of the rapier, a swirl of silvery bars, and his fingers closed around it. This would prevent Upnor from drawing it out and stabbing Bob again and again as he lay on the ground. Bob landed flat on his back, preceded by that part of the rapier that had gone all the way through him, and found himself pinned, nailed like Jesus. Upnor was pulled forward and ended up staring down into Bob's face from not far away.

"Lung?" Upnor guessed.

"Liver," Bob said, "or else I could never do this." He inhaled and then spat at Upnor's face, but it came out as a feckless spray.

"'Twill be a slow-festering wound then," Upnor said. "I will gladly supply you with a quicker death if you will be so good as to let go my weapon." He glanced up for a moment, distracted by the sound of hurtling cavalry. "Sarsfield," he pronounced. "Let us finish, I must go to them."

Bob turned his head sideways, just to get Upnor's visage out of his sight. He saw a queer thing silhouetted against the deepening gray sky above the hill: a fellow in a gray coat perched on a pole above a ditch, not far away. No, he was not perched, but swinging across it, a matted ponytail trailing behind him like a profusion of battle-streamers from a regimental flag. It was an Irish infantryman, pole-vaulting across the ditch. Coming to the aid of Upnor, his English overlord. He would probably have a dirk or something to finish Bob off with.

"When you go to the next world," Upnor said, "tell the angels and demons that we know everything about your infamous cabal, and that we will have the gold of Solomon!"

"What the bloody hell are you talking about!?" Bob exclaimed. But before answering, Upnor peeled Bob's hand off the guard, pinky first. He planted his foot in Bob's stomach and stood up, yanking the blade out.

"You know perfectly well," he said indignantly, "Now go and do as I have instructed you!" He aimed a death-blow at Bob's heart. Bob put his hands up to slap it aside. Then a large object hurtled across the sky and smashed into the rapier's guard, crumpling the bars and sending it spinning away.

Upnor staggered back, gripping a damaged hand. Bob looked up to see a bulky figure in a ragged muddy gray coat, gripping eight feet or so of pike-staff: the same bit that Bob had broken off the cavalry standard.

Bob levered himself up on his elbow and rose to a seated position to find the cool, level gaze of Teague Partry directed his way. Teague had a head like a cube of limestone, and brown hair pulled back tight against his skull, though many strands had come loose during the day's fighting and been plastered back with mud. His blue-gray eyes were set close together, redoubling the intensity of his glare.

"What d'you think y'are, a character in a friggin' novel, Bob? Can you not perceive that the gentleman is wearin' armor, and knows more concernin' swordsmanship than you ever will?"

"I perceive it well enough now, Teague."

Upnor had, during Teague's scolding of Bob, gone over and retrieved his rapier. He held it now in his left hand, advancing crab-wise toward Teague.

"Look out, Teague, he's as dangerous with his left as he is with his right—"

"Bob! You make too much and too little of him at the same time. As a 'fencer he's a caution, 'tis plain enough to see, but in the larger scheme, Bob, what is he but a friggin' tosser wavin' a poker around in the dark." By this time Upnor had advanced to within about eight feet and so Teague gave his stave a toss upward, gripped it with both hands at the end, and with a grunt, swung it round in a long arc parallel to the ground, catching Upnor in the side and flattening him. Upnor made a grab at the end of the staff, which had ended up hovering over his face, but his movements were cramped by his steel cuirass, which now sported a huge dent jabbing deep into his side. Teague withdrew the stave, shifted his grip so that he was holding it in the middle, raised it up above his head, and began to execute a series of brisk stabbing motions, with the occasional mighty swing. These were accompanied by metallic bashing sounds and screams from Upnor's end of the stick.

Between these efforts he sent the following, loosely connected string of comments and observations Bob's way:

"You have responsibilities now, Bob. You must lose this na"ive understanding of violence! You are embarrassin' me in front of the lads! You can't play by their rules or they'll win unfailingly! You don't engage in courtly play-fightin' with one such as this. You get a great friggin' tree-branch and keep hittin' him with it until he dies. Like that. D'you see, boys?"

"Aye, Uncle Teague," came back two voices in unison.

Bob looked to the other side of the ditch and saw a pair of blond lads there, each holding the reins of a horse. One of them—it looked like Jimmy—had the horse Bob had rode in on, and the other—by process of elimination, Danny—had the standard-bearer's.

"There," Teague said. "Now get you over the ditch and be gone with the lads."

"I've been run through the liver."

"All the more reason to stop your lollygaggin'. You'll bleed to death shortly or heal up in a few weeks—the liver has a miraculous power of regeneration, while the body lives. Take it from an Irishman."

Bob slumped forward on his hands, then got his knees under him. He could hear blood dripping onto the ground. But it was only dripping, not coming in a continuous stream, or (worse) a series of spurts. If he had seen a private soldier with such a wound, he'd have guessed that the fellow would live, once the wound was packed with something to stop the bleeding. Upnor had been right; if Bob died of this, it would be because it festered in the days to come.

"I'm not askin' you to walk. You may ride one horse and the boys may share the other."

"And you, Teague?"

"Oh, it's into the ditch with me, Bob, into the bog. I'll collect a musket from one of the Englishmen I killed today, and go a-rappareein'." Teague's eyes now turned into running pools, and he tilted his head back and sniffled. "Get you gone, none of us has a moment to waste."

"I'll raise a monument in London," Bob promised, and got up slowly. He did not pass out.

"To me? They wouldn't have it!"

"To Upnor," Bob said, staggering past the Earl's smashed corpse, and kicking the rapier aside into the watercourse. "A fine statue of him, looking just as he does now, and an inscription: ‘In Memoriam, Louis Anglesey, Earl of Upnor, finest swordsman in England, beaten to death with a stick by an Irishman.' "

Teague considered it for a moment, then nodded. "In Connaught," he added.

"In Connaught," Bob agreed, then eyed the ditch. It looked as wide as the Shannon. But the boys were waiting on the other side: Jack's boys, and now Bob's. For under the circumstances they were likely the only children Bob would ever have. Teague gave him a mighty shove in the arse as he flew back over the water. By the time Bob got up from a rough, agonizing tumble on the far side and turned to thank him, Teague Partry was gone.


9 APRIL 1692

The mind is its own place, and in it self

Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n.

—MILTON, Paradise Lost

"THIS MUST BE how syphilis spreads: blokes like me, hopping from place to place."

"Why, Bob! I don't believe anyone's ever said anything quite so romantick to me."

"I can't guess what you were expecting when you roger an old sergeant in hay."

"Come, lace me back up."

"Would you hold your hair up out of the way? There, that's better…"

"…"

"…tedious work, ain't it?"

"Oh, stop complaining."

"I've no complaints. But we could have left this bit on, you know."

"Yes, and the stockings as well, and we could have done it standing up, and you with your boots and breeches on. But for me to enjoy it, Bob, I require a sense of abandon, of freedom, that only comes with removal of clothes."

"This tight enough?"

"It is fine…for the same reason, Bob, I could do without your idle ruminations on syphilis, and how it spreads."

"I don't have it, mind you. Haven't rogered anyone in years."

"Nor do I. And neither have I."

"What d'you mean, you told me you've a baby boy, six months old—"

"Last time we met. Now, seven months."

"Be that as it may, how can you say you haven't rogered anyone in years?"

"Sex with my husband I leave out of the reckoning altogether."

"Strikes me as a large omission."

"It would not, if you had ever had sex with 'Etienne de Lavardac, duc d'Arcachon."

"Can't say as I have, Madame."

"Unless you did, and forgot about it. At any rate—he has been doing it to me again lately."

"Lately…ah. You are saying that there was a cessation, round about the time of the birth of number two, and now he is trying for three."

"In his mind they are One and Two respectively. For the first, being a bastard, is a zero; which means a nullity, something that does not exist."

"That—the bastard I mean—is the one you had round about the time I shipped out to Dundalk, and you got marooned in Dunkerque?"

"Yes. Why?"

"Just refreshing my memory, my lady, no need to be getting all stiff in the spine—cor! It's gone loose, I shall have to re-lace from the beginning."

"It is not necessary. Just get to work buttoning up the bodice."

"Got ripped a bit, I'm afraid."

"I'll have it mended. Come, I am apprehensive that someone will happen along and discover us."

"Ah, but not to worry—I'm naked!"

"How is it better to be naked?"

"As long as I keep my mouth shut, I'll be indistinguishable from one of your French nobility. They'll run away in terror."

"Especially when they see your scars. Very impressive."

"You would never think so, if you had any notion of the pain that comes with these scars, the weakness, the helplessness—draining pus for months—not knowing from one moment to the next whether you shall live or die—"

"You forget that I have given birth twice."

"Touch'e. Ah, but now you've brought me back round to my topic."

"What is your topic?"

"You never talk about the bastard."

"Perhaps, from that, you should collect that I do not wish to speak of him."

"I was merely asking as a routine courtesy, as is common among parents."

"How are Jack's boys?"

"Jimmy and Danny are Regimental boys like their father and nuncle. If they're doing as they ought to—which is unlikely—they are, at this moment, peeling potatoes at our camp outside of Cherbourg."

"Do they have any inkling that you are acting as a spy for Marlborough?"

"Why, what an impolite question, Madame la duchesse! I am in no way certain that I am a spy. Haven't made up my mind yet. Haven't sent any information his way."

"Well, when you decide to do so, you may send it through me."

"If I decide to do so."

"You will. An invasion of England is planned, is it not?"

"When French and Irish regiments march up to the tip of the Cotentin Peninsula and form great camps in the spring-time, it does make one tend to think 'long those lines, don't it?"

"In the end you'll not suffer England to be invaded. You'll inform Marlborough."

"Marlborough's in disgrace. He and his meddlesome wife got on the wrong side of William and Mary. He had to sell his offices, his commissions. He is nothing now."

"Yes, it is the talk of every salon in Versailles. But if England is invaded, he will be un-disgraced very rapidly, and put at the head of some regiments. And you will rally to him."

"As you seem so certain of these things, I deem all your questions answered, madame—so I turn them round. Does the Duke of Arcachon have any inkling that you are a spy?"

"Your supposition is mistaken. I spied for England once. Now I do it for myself."

"Ah. So, if we are to cross the Channel, you should like to know of it for your own purposes."

"You say this—‘for your own purposes'—as if I am the only one in the world who had purposes."

"Very well, very well…damned lot of buttons, ain't it?"

"You did not seem to mind so much when you were undoing them ten minutes ago."

"Twenty minutes, by your leave, madame, do allow me some pride. Ten minutes! Am I really so perfunctory?"

"Perhaps I am."

"Hmm, now, that is an unusual turning of the tables…it is supposed to be he who is perfunctory and selfish, and she who wants to stretch it out."

"Ah, but I did stretch it out, Sergeant, when I was inspecting it for signs of the French Pox. And a long stretch it was."

"You try to change the subject, and to distract me with flattery—but this methodical inspection of my yard is further proof of the businesslike nature of the transaction just concluded, is it not?"

"Very well…I hope that Number Three, as you count them, or Two, as 'Etienne does, will be half-Shaftoe rather than half-Lavardac, and, in consequence, altogether fitter, handsomer, and cleverer than Number Two/One, bless his poor little heart."

"I…I…I am shocked!"

"Why so shocked, you who've been in battles and seen, and done, the worst that men can do?"

"P'raps that is not so terrible, set against the worst that women can do."

"You protest too much. You are not serious. Though 'tis true there are terrible women in the world, I am not one of them."

"Why, to use a man in such a way…am I to have no knowledge of my own offspring!?"

"Why did you not ask such penetrating questions prior to fucking me in a haystack, Sergeant Shaftoe? Were you not aware, until now, that fucking leads to babies?"

"Very well, very well…that is not why I am shocked."

"Why then, Bob?"

"Of course, I know you don't really fancy me. So, 'tis not that I have been let down on that score."

"Just as I know you do not really fancy me."

"Of course not. Though you are fetching, a bit."

"Just as are you in your own mottled way, Bob."

"But I always assumed that you had me simply because you couldn't have Jack."

"Just as you have me because you can't have Abigail?"

"Just so, madame. But it did never enter my head that it was, at root, a baby-making proposition…what is wrong with Number Two/One?"

"Lucien is, to use an English expression, a funny-looking kid. 'Tis common among Lavardacs. Moreover, he is listless and slow to thrive."

"What of Number One/Null?"

"The most beautiful child who ever lived. Bright, happy, vigorous, altogether radiant."

"What's his name?"

"He was baptized Jean-Jacques."

"I can guess where the Jacques is from."

"Yes, and the Jean is from Jean Bart."

"You named your firstborn after a pirate and a Vagabond?"

"Don't be so haughty. One of them is your brother, after all."

"But why this careful phrasing: ‘He was baptized Jean-Jacques'?"

"He answers to Johann."

"How's that again?"

"Johann. Johann von Hacklheber."

"Peculiar name that, for the bastard of a French duchess."

"He has been…visiting in Leipzig for a few days short of eighteen months. When he went there, he was not quite a year and a half old. I have got reports of him from friends who dwell in that part of the world, and they inform me that he is called by the name Johann von Hacklheber there."

"Now, anything with a ‘von' in it is a noble name—like ‘de' here, am I right?"

"Oh yes. He dwells in the household of a German baron."

"I know nothing of the ways of Continental nobility, but it strikes me as an unusual sort of arrangement."

"You have no idea."

"You may not know it, Madame, but you have got a sort of burning glow about the face and eyes now, a bit like during sex, but different."

"It is another form of desire, that's all."

"You want the boy back. You are not happy with the arrangement…oh, Jesus!"

"Go ahead and say it."

"He was taken from you!?"

"Yes."

"Jesus. Why!?"

"Never mind. My purpose is to get to him who took my boy, and…"

"Get your boy back, I assume?"

"…"

"Or, to judge from the look on your face, perhaps I should not make assumptions."

"Let me tell you what is truly evil about what was done to me eighteen months ago."

"I am listening."

"You are probably phant'sying parallels, similitudes, between what was done to your Abigail and what was done to my Jean-Jacques. But put such thoughts out of your mind. Abigail is a slave, held against her will, misused. A prisoner. This is no longer true of my Jean-Jacques. He is better off as Johann in Leipzig than he was as Jean-Jacques in Versailles. The captors of Abigail are imbeciles—guilty of a failure of imagination. By keeping her in a miserable estate, they make you miserable, 'tis true—but your path is clear: It is the path so familiar from myths and legends, the path of righteous fury, revenge, retribution, rescue. Lothar von Hacklheber has done something infinitely more cruel. He has made my boy happy. If I were able, somehow, to go to Leipzig and steal him back, the child would be terrified and miserable. And perhaps justly so, for when I got back I should have no choice but to deposit him in some Church orphanage outside of Versailles to be raised by nuns and made over into a Jesuit priest."

"Hoosh. I am glad for my own sake, madame, that I was not anywhere near you at the moment when you first came to understand this…"

"…"

"Why are you staring at me thus? It makes me think I had better put my clothes back on—perhaps arm myself as well."

"…"

"Are you only just understanding it now!?"

"If an idea is terrible enough, the mind is unwilling to swallow it in one go, but regurgitates and chews it like cud many times before it goes down for good. This is one that I have been chewing on for more than a year. It took me several weeks, after Jean-Jacques was abducted, for me to establish his whereabouts. By the time I could formulate even a hasty and ill-conceived plan to go fetch him back, I was pregnant with Lucien. It is only now that Lucien has been born, and I have recovered from it, that I can consider taking any steps in the matter of Jean-Jacques. And now it is too late. There. Done. I have swallowed it."

"All right. I could see this coming. Put your head there on my breastbone, madame, I'll hold you in my arms, so you don't collapse, or come undone. Sob all you want, I have you, no one's looking, we have time."

"…"

"…"

"…"

"Now that you mention it, my lady, to have the love of my life enslaved and raped by a syphilitic lord does seem quite mild by comparison."

"I cannot tell if you are being sarcastic."

"Neither can I, madame, I honestly cannot. But tell me this: If you cannot get your boy back without destroying his welfare, then what do you intend?"

"In pondering this very question I have hesitated, and in hesitating I have only made matters worse. Soon I shall act."

"And what is the end you have fixed on?"

"I mean to end up, in some sense, with my boot on the neck of Lothar von Hacklheber, and him looking up helpless into my eyes."

"Well. Well! Let me just say that the last bloke who had me in such a fix was the Earl of Upnor, and—"

"My powers of organization exceed those of the late Upnor by a significant margin, and so I intend to arrange matters so that I will not end up being beaten to death with a stick by an Irishman."

"Ah. That is good news."

"Tell me everything about what is being prepared around Cherbourg, Sergeant Shaftoe, whether you intend for it to be relayed to Marlborough, or not."

"Very well. But how will this intelligence be of any help to you in your machinations against—oh, never mind. You're glowering at me."

"You speak so knowingly of my machinations, as if I were some ridiculous figure in an Italian opera, who does naught but machinate; yet if you could follow me about, you would observe a tired mother who follows her husband from Versailles to St.-Malo, and suckles her infant, and occasionally throws a dinner party, and perhaps once or twice a year fucks a cryptologist in a carriage, or a sergeant in a haystack."

"How will this lead to your boot on Lothar's throat again? Never mind, never mind. I'm certain I'd never understand it anyway."

"You are in good company. If I do it right, not even Lothar will understand it."


11 APRIL 1692

"THE ENGLISH HAVE DEVISED an extraordinary scheme for the military defense of their homeland, which is that they have no money," said Monsieur le comte de Pontchartrain, contr^oleur-g'en'eral of France and (now) Secretary of State for the Navy.

This curious gambit was meant for Eliza, for Pontchartrain was gazing directly into her eyes when he came out with it. But others were privy to the conversation. Five were seated around the basset-table in the Petit Salon: besides Eliza and Pontchartrain, there were 'Etienne d'Arcachon, who was serving as dealer; a Madame de Bearsul, who was the very young wife of a captain of a frigate; and a Monsieur le chevalier d'Erquy, who was from just down the coast. These latter two were, of course, unique souls, precious in the eyes of God, endowed with any number of more or less interesting personal quirks, virtues, vices, &c., but Eliza could scarcely tell them apart from all of the other people who were at this moment seated around card-tables in her Petit Salon, playing at billiards or backgammon in her Grand Salon, bowling outside on her damp lawn, or noodling around on her harpsichord.

This was St.-Malo in the spring of '92. An invasion force was massing. It would quite obviously be departing from Cherbourg, which was only half as far from the shore of England as was St.-Malo; but facilities there, at the tip of the peninsula, were not adequate to sustain so many ships and regiments during the weeks it would take for them to gather and draw up into a coherent force. The regiments—ten thousand French and as many Irish, the latter evacuated from Limerick—were obviously not as mobile as the ships, and so they had first claim to the territory, food, fuel, whores, and other military musts in the immediate vicinity of Cherbourg. By process of elimination, then, the ships of the Channel fleet, and the galleys of the Mediterranean fleet that had lately passed the Gates of Hercules and voyaged north to take part in the invasion, were stationed in Channel ports within striking distance: most important, Le Havre and St.-Malo. Of those, Le Havre was twice as close to Paris, and a hundred times easier to reach from there, since the Seine joined them. So, much larger and more fashionable parties must, at this moment, be going on in noble ch^ateaux around Le Havre. St.-Malo, by contrast, was hardly connected to France at all. A doughty pedestrian like Sergeant Bob Shaftoe could get to it, but such a journey was not recommended for normal people; everyone came to St.-Malo by sea. The family de Lavardac had for a long time maintained a ch^ateau, which looked out over the harbor to one side, and had farms and an excellent potagerie out back. As the fortunes of that family had waxed, this had become the grandest house in St.-Malo, and the former duc d'Arcachon had loved to come here and pace to and fro on the terrace with a golden prospective-glass gazing down upon his privateer-fleet. Eliza had heard much of the place. Having spent most of her married life pregnant at La Dunette, she'd never laid eyes on it until a month ago. But she'd loved it immediately and now wished she could live here year-round.

The astonishing appearance of Bob Shaftoe—who, along with his regiment of Irish mercenaries, had marched right past, en route to Cherbourg from their winter quarters above Brest—had enlivened her first week's stay at the place. His return visit last week had forced her to put her rusty scheming-and-intriguing skills to use again, there being no proper, sanctioned way for a French Duchess and nursing mother to meet with an English sergeant and probable spy who just happened to be the brother of the most infamous villain in Christendom.

Eliza and 'Etienne, the infant Lucien, and their household had reached St.-Malo a fortnight in advance of the Mediterranean Fleet. More recently, other Ships of Force had come in from Brest, Lorient, and St.-Nazaire. All of these galleys and ships had officers, who quite often were of noble rank. The social obligations placed upon le duc and la duchesse d'Arcachon were correspondingly immense. Another duchesse would have welcomed those obligations in the same way as generals welcomed wars, or architects cathedral-commissions. Eliza delegated all of the work to women who actually enjoyed such things (she had inherited a large household staff from the previous duchesse d'Arcachon). Her old trusted aides, such as Brigitte and Nicole, and a few retired privateers deeded to her by Jean Bart, she kept close. The retinue of social climbers that had arrived in the wake of her marriage to 'Etienne, she put to work arranging parties, which kept them busy and, though it did not make them happy, infused them with feelings that they were wont to confuse with happiness.

Eliza, then, merely had to get dressed, show up, try not to forget people's names, and make conversation. When she became insufferably bored, she would claim she could hear Lucien bawling, and flit off to the private apartments in the other wing of the ch^ateau.

And so the only thing the least bit novel about her situation at this moment—viz. seated at a basset-table watching her husband deal out cards to idle nobles—was that the fellow seated directly across the table from her was of titanic importance. At any other of the parties that the Arcachons had hosted in the few weeks just past, it would have been the captain of some Ship of the Line, cringing and servile in the presence of his master, the Grand Admiral of France (for 'Etienne had inherited the title). Today, though, it was Pontchartrain who, technically, ranked 'Etienne d'Arcachon! 'Etienne was under no obligation to toady, however, as he and Pontchartrain were both of such lofty stature as to be essentially equals. Pontchartrain had turned up unexpectedly this morning on a jacht that had sailed in from Cherbourg. He had spent all of dinner trying to catch Eliza's eye, and not because he wanted to flirt with her. She had invited the count to join her and 'Etienne at basset. Then, to prevent the gentlemen from crossing swords, or the ladies from poisoning each other, for the other seats at the table, Eliza had picked out this Madame de Bearsul and this Monsieur d'Erquy, precisely because they were nobodies who would not interfere too much in the conversation. Or such had been her phant'sy. Of course each of them had turned out (as mentioned) to be fully autonomous souls possessed of free will, intelligence, and an agenda. D'Erquy had heard, through the grapevine, that Eliza had been buying up bad loans from petty nobles like him who had been foolish enough to lend money to the government. De Bearsul was angling for a position in the household of some higher and mightier Court personage. To Pontchartrain, who was accustomed to meeting with the King of France almost every day, they might as well have been ants or lice. And so, about five hands into this basset-game, he had locked his brown eyes on Eliza's and made this curious remark about the English and their lack of specie.

Basset was simple, which was why Eliza had chosen it. Each player was dealt thirteen cards face up on the table, and placed money on any or all of them. The dealer then dealt cards from the bottom and the top of the deck alternately, gaining or losing wagers on all cards of matching ranks. As turns went on, the wagers escalated by a factor of as much as sixty. The dealer was kept very busy. 'Etienne had had to strap on his basset-dealing prosthesis: a cupped hand with spring-loaded fingers, made to grip a deck of cards. The players could be busy or not, depending on how many of their cards they elected to put money on. Eliza and Pontchartrain had laid only token wagers, which was a way of saying that they were more interested in conversation than in gambling. D'Erquy and de Bearsul were more heavily engaged in the game, and their squeals, moans, stifled curses, sudden outbursts of laughter, &c., provided a ragged, bursty continuo-line for this duet between the other two.

"My English friends have been complaining of this lack of coin for years—especially since the onset of war," said Eliza, "but only you, monsieur, would have the penetration to see it as a defensive strategy."

"That is just the difficulty—I did not penetrate it until rather late," said Pontchartrain. "When one is planning an invasion, one naturally makes plans to pay the soldiers. It is as important as arming, feeding, and housing them—perhaps more so, as soldiers, paid, can shift for themselves when arms, food, and shelter are wanting. But they must be paid in local money—which is to say the coin of the realm in whatever place is being invaded. It's easy in the Spanish Netherlands—"

"Because they are Spanish," said Eliza, "and so you can pay them in Pieces of Eight—"

"Which we can get anywhere in the world," said Pontchartrain. "But English pennies can only be gotten in England. Supposedly they are minted—"

"At the Tower of London. I know," said Eliza, "but why do you say supposedly?"

Pontchartrain threw up his hands. "No one ever sees these coins. They come out of the Mint and they vanish."

"But is it not the case that anyone may bring silver bullion to the Tower of London and have it minted into pennies?"

Pontchartrain was nonplussed for a moment. Then a smile spread over his face and he burst out in laughter and slapped the table hard enough to make money jump and buzz atop the playing-cards. It was a rare outburst for one of Pontchartrain's dignity, and it stopped the game for a few moments.

"Monsieur, what an honour and a privilege it is for us to bring you a few moments' diversion from your cares!" exclaimed 'Etienne. But this only brought an echo of the first laugh from Pontchartrain.

"It is precisely of my cares that your magnificent wife is speaking, monsieur," said Pontchartrain, "and I believe she is getting ready to suggest something cheeky."

'Etienne's face pinkened. "I pray it shall not be so cheeky as to create an embarrassment for our guests—"

"On the contrary, monsieur, 'tis meant to embarrass the English!"

"Oh, well, that is all right then."

"Pray continue, madame!"

"I shall, monsieur," said Eliza, "but first you must indulge me as I speculate."

"Consider yourself indulged."

"The jacht on which you arrived is under conspicuously heavy guard. I speculate that it is laden with specie that is meant to cross the Channel with the invasion force and be used to pay the French and Irish soldiers during their campaign in England."

Pontchartrain smiled weakly and shook his head. "So much for my efforts at secrecy. It is said of some that he or she has a nose for money; but I truly believe, madame, that you can smell silver a mile away."

"Do not be silly, monsieur, it is, as you said, an obvious necessity of a foreign invasion."

For some reason she glanced, for a moment, at D'Erquy, and then regretted it. The poor chevalier was so transfixed that it took all her discipline not to laugh aloud. This poor fellow had melted down the family plate and loaned it to the King in hopes that it would get him invited to a few parties at Versailles. The interest payments had at first been delayed, then insufficient, later nonexistent. The man with the power to make those payments, or not, was seated less than arm's length away—and now it had been revealed that he had sailed into St.-Malo on top of a king's ransom in silver, which was locked up on a jacht a few hundred yards down the hill. A word, a flick of the pen, from Pontchartrain would pay back the loan, or at least pay the interest on it—and not just in the form of a written promise to pay, but in actual metal. This was the only thing D'Erquy could think about. And yet there was not a single word he could say, because to do so would have been impolite. Etiquette had rendered him helpless as effectively as the iron collar around a slave's neck. All he could do was watch and listen.

"Want of silver is not your difficulty, then," Eliza continued. "Very well. You must needs translate it across the Channel—very risky. For in the annals of military history, no tale is more tediously familiar than that of the train of pay-wagons, bringing specie to the troops at the front, that is ambushed and lost en route, with disastrous consequences to the campaign."

"We have been reading the same books," Pontchartrain concluded. "Even so, as we laid plans for this operation during the winter, I am afraid I paid more attention to my r^ole as Secretary of State for the Navy, than that of contr^oleur-g'en'eral. Which is to say that I placed more emphasis on preparations of a purely military nature than on the attendant financial arrangements. Not until I reached Cherbourg the other day, and was confronted with the invasion in all of its complexity and scale, did I really grasp the difficulty of getting this specie to England. To send it across in an obvious and straightforward manner seems madness. I have considered breaking it up into small shipments and sending them over in the boats of those who smuggle wine and salt to remote ports of Cornwall."

"That would distribute the risk, but multiply the difficulties," said Eliza. "And even if it succeeded, it would not address the great difficulty, which is that if the silver is not accepted on the local—which is to say, English—market, then the troops will not deem themselves to have been paid."

"Naturally we should like to pay them in English silver pennies," said Pontchartrain, "but matters being what they are, we may have to use French coins."

"This brings us back to the conversation we had in the sleigh at La Dunette two years and some months ago," Eliza said; and the answering look on Pontchartrain's face told her that she had struck home.

But here Madame Bearsul threw a quizzical look in the direction of the Politest Man in France, who intervened. "On behalf of those of our guests who were not in that sleigh," 'Etienne said, "I beg permission to interrupt, so we may hear—"

"I speak of the recoinage, when all of the old coins were called in and replaced with new," said Eliza. "By royal decree, the new had the same value, and so to those of us who live in France, it made no difference. But they contained less silver or gold."

"Madame la duchesse, who in those days was Mademoiselle la comtesse, said to me, then, that it must have consequences difficult to foretell," said Pontchartrain.

"Before Monsieur le comte says a word against himself," said Eliza, "I would have the honor of being the first to rush to his defense. The favorable consequences of the recoinage were immense: for it raised a fortune for the war."

"But Madame la duchesse was a true Cassandra that evening in the sleigh," said Pontchartrain, "for there have been consequences that I did not foretell, and one of them is that French coins are not likely to be accepted at full value in English market-places."

"Monsieur, have you given any thought to minting invasion coin?" asked d'Erquy.

"Yes, monsieur, and to using Pieces of Eight. But before we take such measures, I am eager to hear more from our hostess concerning the English Mint."

"I am simply pointing out to you, monsieur," said Eliza, "that there already exists a mechanism for importing silver bullion to England, at no risk to France; having it made into good English coin in London; and transferring the coin into the hands of trusted French agents there."

"What is this mechanism, madame?" inquired d'Erquy, suspicious that Eliza was having them on.

"France's chief connection to the international money market is not here in St.-Malo, or even in Paris, but rather down in Lyon. The King's moneylender is of course Monsieur Samuel Bernard, and he works hand-in-glove with a Monsieur Castan. I know Castan; he is a pillar of the D'ep^ot. He can deliver money to any of several merchant banking houses who maintain agencies in Lyon, and get negotiable Bills of Exchange which can be endorsed to French agents who can transport them to London in advance of the invasion. These may be presented well in advance of the expiry of their usance to bankers in London who, upon accepting them, will make whatever arrangements may be necessary to have the coin ready on the date the bills come due—which may mean that they shall have to ship bullion over from Amsterdam or Antwerp and have it minted at the Tower. But that is their concern, not ours, and their risk. The coin shall be delivered to our agents, who need merely transport it to the front to pay the troops."

Early in this discourse, the mouth of Madame de Bearsul fell open, as if she might more easily take in these difficult words and notions through her mouth than her ears; and as Eliza went on, similar transformations came over the faces of all her other auditors, including some at adjacent tables; and by the time she reached the terminal phrase pay the troops, they had all begun glancing at each other, trying to build solidarity in their confusion. And so before anyone could give voice to his amazement, Eliza, with unfeigned, uncharacteristic ardor for her role as entertainer to the bored nobility of France, had got to her feet (obliging 'Etienne, Pontchartrain, and d'Erquy to stand) and begun to arrange a new parlor-game. "We are going to put on a little masque," she announced, "and all of you must sit, sit, sit!" And she called to a servant to bring quills, ink, and paper.

"But, Eliza, how can gentlemen sit in the presence of a lady who stands?" asked 'Etienne.

"The answer is simple: In the masque, I am no lady, but a God: Mercury, messenger of Olympus, and patron deity of Commerce. You must phant'sy wings on my ankles."

The mere mention of ankles caused a little intake of breath from 'Etienne, and a few eyes flicked nervously his way. But Eliza forged on: "You, Monsieur de Pontchartrain, must sit. You are the Deliverer: the contr^oleur-g'en'eral of France."

"That should be an easy r^ole for me to play, Mercury," said the contr^oleur-g'en'eral, and, with a little bow to Eliza, sat down.

Now—since the ranking man in the room had done it—all others were eager to join in.

"First we enact the simple Bill of Exchange," said Eliza, "which requires only four, plus Mercury. Later we will find r^oles for the rest of you." For several had gravitated over from different tables to see what the commotion was about. "This table is Lyon."

"But, Mercury, already I cannot suspend my disbelief, for the contr^oleur-g'en'eral does not go to Lyon," said Pontchartrain.

"We will remedy that in a few minutes, but for now you are in Lyon. Sitting across from you will be 'Etienne, playing the r^ole of Lothar the Banker."

"Why must I have such a ridiculous name?" demanded 'Etienne.

"It is an excellent name among bankers—Lothar is Ditta di Borsa in Lyon, Bruges, and many other places."

"That means he has impeccable credit among other bankers," said Pontchartrain.

"Very well. As long as the fellow is as well-reputed as you say, I shall accept the r^ole," said 'Etienne, and sat down across the table from Pontchartrain.

"You have money," said Eliza, and used one hand as a rake to sweep a pile of coins across the table so that it ended up piled before Pontchartrain. "And you wish to get it—here!" She strode through the double doors to the Grand Salon where a backgammon game had been abandoned. "Madame de Bearsul, you are a merchant banker in London—this table is London."

Madame de Bearsul approached London with a show of cringing, blushing, and hand-wringing that made Eliza want to slap her. "But, madame, I know nothing of such occupations!"

"Of course not, for you are so well-bred; but just as Kings may play Vagabonds in masques, you are now a merchant banker named Signore Punchinello. Here, Signore Punchinello, is your strong-box." Mercury clapped the backgammon-set closed, imprisoning the game pieces, and handed it to de Bearsul, who with much hair-patting and skirt-smoothing took a seat at London. Monsieur le chevalier d'Erquy pulled her chair out for her, for, anticipating Eliza's next command, he had followed them into the Grand Salon.

"Monsieur, you are Pierre Dubois, a Frenchman in London."

"Miserable fate! Must I be?" complained d'Erquy, to general amusement.

"You must. But you need not sit down yet, for you have not yet made the acquaintance of Signore Punchinello. Instead, you wander about the city like a lost soul, trying to find a decent loaf of bread. Now! Places, everyone!" and she walked back into the Petit Salon, where the Lyon table had been supplied with quills, ink, and paper.

"Monsieur le contr^oleur-g'en'eral, give your silver—which is to say, France's silver—to Lothar the Banker."

"Monsieur, s'il vous pla^it," said Pontchartrain, shoving the pile across the table.

"Merci beaucoup, monsieur," said 'Etienne, a bit uncertainly.

"You must give him more than polite words! Write out the amount, and the word ‘Londres,' and a time, say five minutes in the future."

'Etienne dutifully took up his quill and did as he was told, putting down "half past three," as the clock in the corner was currently reading twenty-five minutes past. "To the contr^oleur-g'en'eral give it," said Eliza. "And now you, contr^oleur-g'en'eral, write an address on the back, thus: ‘To Monsieur Pierre Dubois, London.' Meanwhile you, Lothar, must write an avisa addressed to Signore Punchinello in London, containing the same information as is in the Bill."

"The Bill?"

"The document you have given to the contr^oleur-g'en'eral is a Bill of Exchange."

Pontchartrain had finished addressing the Bill, and so Mercury snatched it out of his hand and pranced out of the room and gave it to "Pierre Dubois," who had been watching, bemused, from the doorway. Then she returned to "Lothar," who was writing out the avisa with a good deal more formality than was called for. Mercury jerked it out from under the quill.

"Good heavens, I haven't even finished the Apology yet."

"You must learn better to inhabit the r^ole of Lothar. He would not be so discursive," said Mercury, and wafted the avisa out of the room to "Signore Punchinello." "In truth, there would be two or even three copies of the Bill and the avisa both, sent by separate couriers," said Mercury, "but to prevent the masque from becoming tedious we shall only use one. Signore Punchinello! You said earlier you did not know how to play your r^ole; but I tell you now that you need only know how to read, and be capable of recognizing Lothar's handwriting. Do you? (The correct answer is ‘Yes, Mercury.')"

"Yes, Mercury."

"Monsieur Dubois, I think you can guess what to do."

Indeed, "Pierre Dubois" now helped himself to a seat at the London table across from "Signore Punchinello," and presented the bill.

"Now, signore," said Eliza to Madame de Bearsul, "you must compare what is written on Monsieur Dubois's Bill to what is in the avisa."

"They are the same," answered "Punchinello."

"Do they appear to have been written in the same hand?"

"Indeed, Mercury, the hands are indistinguishable."

"What time is it?"

"By yonder clock, twenty-eight minutes past the hour of three."

"Then take up yonder quill and write ‘accepted' across the face of the Bill, and sign your name to it."

Madame de Bearsul did so, and then, getting into the spirit of the thing, opened up her backgammon-set and began to count out pieces.

"Not yet!" said Mercury. "That is, it's fine for you to count them out, and make sure you have enough. But good banker that you are, you'll not give them to Monsieur Dubois until the Bill has come due."

But they only had to wait for a few more seconds before the clock bonged twice, signifying half past three; then the backgammon pieces were pushed across the table into the waiting hands of "Pierre Dubois."

"Voil`a!" announced Mercury to the audience, which by this point numbered above twenty party-guests. "The first act of our masque draws to a happy ending. Monsieur le contr^oleur-g'en'eral has transferred silver from Lyon to London at no risk, and even converted it to English silver pennies along the way, with practically no effort! All by invoking the supernatural powers of Mercury." And Eliza took a little curtsey, and basked for a few moments in the applause of her guests.

ENTR'ACTE

"I am the contr^oleur-g'en'eral of France, madame; I know what a Bill of Exchange is." This from Pontchartrain, who had maneuvered her into a niche and was muttering out the side of his mouth with uncharacteristic harshness.

"And I know your title and your powers, monsieur," said Eliza.

"Then if you have more to say concerning the Mint, I would fain hear it—"

"In good time, monsieur!"

Madame de Bearsul was pitching a minor scene at "London." Petulance was something she did well. "I have given up my coins to Monsieur Dubois—in exchange for what!?"

"Bills written in the hand of a banker who is Ditta di Borsa—as good as money."

"But they are not money!"

"But Signore Punchinello, you may turn them into money, or other things of value, by taking them to an office of Lothar's concern."

"But he is in Lyon, and I am stuck in London!"

"Actually he is in Leipzig—but never mind, for he maintains an office in London. After the Usurper took the throne, any number of bankers from Amsterdam crossed the sea and established themselves there—"

"Wait! First Lothar was in Lyon—then Leipzig—then Amsterdam—now London?"

"It is all one thing, for Mercury touches all of these places on his rounds." And Eliza thrust an arm into a boozy-smelling phalanx of young men and dragged forth a young Lavardac cousin and bade him sit down near the backgammon table. "This is Lothar's factor in London." She grabbed a second young man who had been snickering at the fate of the first, and stationed him in the short gallery that joined the two salons, calling this Amsterdam.

"I must register an objection! (Pardon me for speaking directly, but I am trying to inhabit the r^ole of an uncouth Saxon banker)," said Eliza's husband.

"And you are doing splendidly, my love," said Eliza. "What is your objection?"

"Unless these chaps of mine in Amsterdam and London are titled nobility, which I'm led to believe is generally not the case—"

"Indeed not, 'Etienne."

"Well, if they are not of independent means, it would seem to suggest that—" and here 'Etienne colored slightly again, "forgive me, but must I—" and he balked until both Eliza and Pontchartrain had made encouraging faces at him, "well, pay them—" he half-swallowed the dreadful word—"I don't know, so that they could—buy—food and whatnot, presuming that's how they get it? For I don't phant'sy they would have their own farms, living as they do in cities."

"You must pay them!" Eliza said loud and clear.

'Etienne winced. "Well, it hardly seems worth all the bother for me to be taking in silver here, and sending Bills to one place, and avisas to another, all so that I can end up handing the silver over to Signore Punchinello in the end." He scanned nearby faces uncertainly, taking a sort of poll—but everyone was nodding profoundly, as if the duc d'Arcachon had made a telling point. All of those faces now turned towards Eliza.

"You get to keep some of the money," Eliza said.

Everyone gasped as if she had jerked the veil from a statue of solid gold.

"Oh, well, that puts it in a whole new light!" exclaimed 'Etienne.

"The amount collected by Pierre Dubois in London was not quite as large as what I gave to you," said Pontchartrain. He then turned to look at Eliza. "But, madame, I live in Paris."

Eliza went into the opposite corner of the Petit Salon and patted a gilded harpsichord. Pontchartrain excused himself from Lyon and sat before it. Then, to amuse himself and to provide incidental music for the second act of the masque, he began to pick out an air by Rameau.

Eliza beckoned to a middle-aged Count dressed in the uniform of a galley-captain. Until recently, he and a friend had been playing at billiards. "You are Monsieur Samuel Bernard, moneylender to le Roi."

"I am to portray a Jew!?" said the dismayed Count.

The music faltered. "He is an excellent fellow, the King speaks highly of him, monsieur," said Pontchartrain, and resumed playing.

"But now there is no one in Lyon!" said 'Etienne.

"On the contrary, there is Monsieur Castan, an old confr`ere of Monsieur Bernard," said Eliza, and dragged the Count's erstwhile billiards-opponent over to occupy the chair warmed by Pontchartrain.

Lately the room had become a good bit louder, for the galley-captain playing Samuel Bernard had adopted a hunchbacked posture and begun rolling his eyes, leering at the ladies, and stroking his chin. Meanwhile the "Amsterdam" and "London" crowd, which consisted mostly of younger people, had become restive, and begun to engage in all sorts of unauthorized Transactions.

"Fetch me a bowl of dough," Eliza said to a maid.

"Dough, madame?"

"Dough from the kitchen! And an empty fruit-bowl or something. Hurry!" The servant hustled out. "Places, everyone! Act the Second begins. Monsieur le comte de Pontchartrain, pray continue playing your beautiful music, it is entirely fitting." Indeed, some of the guests who had not been assigned specific r^oles had begun dancing to it, so that "Paris" had already become a center of beauty, culture, and romance.

"I am your servant, madame," said Pontchartrain.

"No, I am Mercury. And I say you have dough!"

"Dough, Mercury?" Pontchartrain looked about curiously but continued to play.

"You rarely see it, of course, and you never handle it. Pourquoi non, for you are a member of the Conseil d'en-Haut and a trusted confidant of le Roi Soleil. But you know that you have dough!"

"How do I know it, Mercury?"

"Because I have whispered it into your ear. You have a thousand kitchens in which it is being prepared, all the time. Now, call Monsieur Bernard to your side, and let him know."

Monsieur Bernard did not need to be summoned. Using his billiard-cue as cane, he staggered over—for he had perfected his Jew act—and bent close to Pontchartrain, rubbing his hands together.

"Monsieur Bernard! I have dough."

"I believe it, monseigneur."

"I should like to see, oh, a hundred pieces of dough transferred safely and swiftly to the hands of Monsieur Dubois in London."

"Hold!" commanded Mercury, "you do not yet know the identity of your payee in London."

"Very well—make the Bill endorsable to one of my agents, to be determined later."

"It shall be done, my lord!" announced "Bernard," who then leered up at Eliza for his cue.

"Go and tell your friend," Eliza said.

"Don't I get anything?"

"Monsieur! You have got the word of the contr^oleur-g'en'eral of France! What more could you possibly ask for?"

"I was just asking," said "Bernard" a little bit resentfully, and then crab-walked across the Petit Salon to "Lyon," where his billiards-partner awaited. "Mon vieux, bonjour. Monsieur le comte de Pontchartrain has dough and wants a hundred pieces of it in London."

"Very well," said "Castan" after some sotto voce prompting from Mercury. "Lothar, if you would get a hundred pieces of dough to our man in London, I shall give you a hundred and ten pieces of dough here."

"Heavens! Where is this dough?" 'Etienne demanded—a bit confused, for in the first run-through, he had been given actual silver.

"I don't have any just now," said "Castan," who had been a bit quicker than 'Etienne to see where this was going, "but my friend Monsieur Bernard has heard from Monsieur le comte de Pontchartrain who has heard from Mercury himself that there is dough aplenty, and so, in the sight of all these good Lyonnaise—"

"We call them le D'ep^ot," put in Eliza, indicating several persons who had gathered round the basset-table to watch.

"—I say that I shall pay you a hundred and ten pieces of dough any day now."

"Very well," said "Lothar," after looking up at Eliza for permission.

Now some time was spent in draughting the necessary papers. Meanwhile Eliza had thrust her hands into a great warm ellipsoid of bread-dough that had been fetched out of the kitchens by a cook, and torn it apart into two pieces, a small and a large. The small she placed in an empty fruit-bowl, which she took into the Grand Salon and slammed down on a gilded sideboard near the backgammontable, astonishing Madame de Bearsul. "Tear this in half, and continue tearing the halves in half, until you have thirty-two pieces of dough," decreed "Mercury," then stormed away before de Bearsul could pout or fret. Eliza fetched the great bowl containing the larger amount of dough, and set it into the arms of the young banker she had posted in "Amsterdam." Three younger guests, eight to twelve years of age, had already converged on the sideboard, overturned the fruit-bowl, and begun tearing the dough into bits. "Very good, you are the English Mint, and that is the Tower of London," Eliza informed them. Then, because they were being a bit too enthusiastic, she cautioned them: "Remember, I desire only thirty or so."

"We thought a hundred!" said the oldest of the children.

"Yes; but there is not enough dough in London to make so many."

By now the paperwork had been settled in "Lyon." A new wrinkle had been added: this time, "Lothar" made the Bill out, not to "Dubois" but to "Castan," who was sitting across the table from him. "Castan" then had to flip it over and write on the back that he was transferring the Bill to Monsieur Dubois. It was due in fifteen minutes. "Castan," handed it to "Dubois" on the outskirts of "Lyon" at 4:12 and "Dubois," after a detour for a thimble of cognac, arrived in "London" at 4:14 and handed it to "Punchinello," who compared it as before to the avisa, and checked the time. She was just about to write "accepted" across it when ever-diligent "Mercury" stayed her hand.

"Stop! Think. Your solvency, your credit hang in the balance. How many pieces of dough do you have?"

The eyes of "Punchinello" strayed towards the "Tower of London," where thirty-two dough-balls were arrayed eight by four.

"Those don't belong to you," said Mercury. She scooped them into the fruit-bowl and handed it to the Lavardac cousin who was pretending to be Lothar's factor in London.

Madame de Bearsul was starting to get it. "I'm going to be needing those—I've a note from your uncle, right here, says you owe me a hundred."

"I don't have a hundred!" complained the young banker.

"Mercury comes to the rescue, as usual!" announced Eliza. "Does anyone else here in London have dough?"

"I've got a great bowl of it," said an adolescent voice from the next room.

"You're not in London!" answered "Mercury." And she turned to the "London" nephew and gave him an expectant look.

"Cousin! Come in here and bring me some of the family dough!" he called.

The young man with the dough-bowl staggered into the room. Whereupon Eliza gave the nod to a pair of six-year-old boys who had been crouching in a corner with wooden swords. They rushed out and began to batter the dough-bearer about the shins and ankles. "Augh!" he cried.

"Pirate attack in the North Sea!" Eliza announced.

The dough-carrier was hindered badly by his inability to see the little boca-neers, for the bowl blocked his view. Nevertheless, after having been chased several times around the entirety of Britain, he arrived in port some minutes later (4:20) listing badly to starboard, and upended the bowl, dumping out the dough-load at the Tower of London. "Hurry!" said Eliza, "only five minutes remaining until the Bill expires!"

And it was a near thing; but working feverishly, and with some help from Eliza, the Coiners were able to get the balance of Lothar's London correspondent up above one hundred dough-pieces by 4:23. This was slammed down triumphantly before "Signore Punchinello," who disgustedly shoved it across the table into the embrace of "Pierre Dubois." It was 4:27 exactly. The entire crowd, players, audience, and servants alike, now burst into applause, thinking that the play was over. The only exceptions were Monsieur le chevalier d'Erquy, who had been left holding the dough, and the twin six-year-old pirates who—not satisfied with the amount of swordplay, swash-buckling, and derring-do in the play thus far—had begun trying to sever his hamstrings and Achilles tendons with blunt force trauma.

"In all seriousness, Mercury," complained d'Erquy, "how are the coins to be transported from London to the front? For if half of what is said of England is true, the place is full of runagates, Vagabonds, highwaymen, and varlets of all stripes."

"Never fear," said Eliza, "if you only wait a few days, the front will come to you, and French and Irish troops will march in good order to your doorstep in the Strand to receive their pay!" Which prompted a patriotic cheer and a standing ovation, and even a couple of tossed bouquets, from the crowd.

"But if I may once again play the r^ole of the uncouth banker," said 'Etienne—who had abandoned his post in "Lyon" to watch the denouement—"why on earth should the English Mint strike coins whose purpose is to finance a foreign invasion of England?"

This quieted the crowd so profoundly that 'Etienne felt rather bad about it, and began to formulate what showed every sign of being a lengthy and comprehensive apology. But Eliza was having none of it. "You don't know England!" she said, "But I do, for I am Mercury. England has factions. The one that rules now is called the Tories, and they make no secret that they loathe the Usurper, and want him out. Indeed, our invasion plans are predicated, are they not, on the assumption that the English Navy will look the other way as our fleets cross the Channel, and that the common folk of England, and much of the Army, will joyfully throw off the yoke of the Dutchman and welcome our French and Irish soldiers with open arms. If we grant all of these assumptions, why, there is no difficulty in supposing that the Tory masters of the Mint will strike a few coins for the House of Hacklheber—"

"Or whichever bank we elect to deal with," put in Pontchartrain.

"—without asking too many awkward questions as to where those coins are intended to end up."

"Yes—I see the whole thing now as if you have painted a picture," said 'Etienne. At which most of the party-guests attempted to get faraway looks in their eyes, as though gazing raptly at the same picture that 'Etienne was viewing in his mind's eye.

Though there were exceptions: "Samuel Bernard," unable or unwilling to let go of the scheming-Jew impersonation that had garnered him so many laughs and so much attention, was still back in the Petit Salon, storming to and fro between "Paris" and "Lyon," waving his stick around and demanding to know when he was going to see some of this dough that Monsieur le comte de Pontchartrain had spoken of so convincingly; and "Castan," his partner in billiards, finance, and (now) drinking (for they had got control of a decanter of something brown), was also beginning to make himself heard on the matter. "What are they on about?" inquired 'Etienne.

"Don't worry, ‘Lothar the Banker,' " said Eliza. "You will be paid back."

'Etienne's brow furrowed. "That's right—I quite forgot! I haven't seen any dough! Is that what those two are so upset about?"

Pontchartrain intervened, sharing a warm private look with Eliza. "Those two, monsieur, have just discovered something called liquidity risk."

"It sounds dreadful!"

"Never mind, Monsieur le duc. It is a phantom. We do not have such things in France."

"That's fortunate," said the duc d'Arcachon. "They were starting to make me a bit anxious—and I'm not even a banker!"


12 APRIL 1692

Mein Herr,

PRIDE is a vice to which a woman is no less susceptible than a man, and I, perhaps, more than other women. PRIDE, like other vices, is arrogant of what room it can claim in the human breast, and jealous of that occupied by the Virtues, which it ever seeks to trample on or drive out.

When I rushed to little Johann's nursery eighteen months ago to discover his cradle empty, a war began within my soul. On one side was the Virtue of Love: a mother's natural love for her child. On the other was the Vice of Pride: pride wounded, aggrieved, and humiliated. It was not merely that I had been bested, but that it had happened while I was far away attending a fashionable soir'ee, rather than staying at home and tending to my duties as a mother. Pride, therefore, was urged on by Shame; and together their legions charged across the field and swept Love's feebler forces before them. All that I have done since then, where Johann is concerned, has been dictated by Pride. Love's counsel has rarely been heard, and when I have heard it, I have wilfully ignored it.

But the soul harbors its own tides. Much has changed in eighteen months. I have a new little boy now. Impetuous Pride, I have learned, is better at seizing ground than holding it. Love's inroads have insensibly made up all the ground that she lost, and more. This letter may be considered the instrument of Pride's surrender, and Love's victory. It only remains for terms to be negotiated.

Of course you have already dictated the terms; you laid them out with admirable clarity in the note that was left in Johann's crib. You seek the return of the gold that was seized off Bonanza in August of 1690 and that is believed to be in the hands of the band of thieves and pirates led by the villain Jack Shaftoe. You phant'sy that I had something to do with the theft and that I know where Jack is to be found.

In truth I had nothing to do with it and I have no idea where he is. But this is a prideful response, which brings me no closer to seeing my little boy again. The loving response is to give you, sir, what you want, to appease your anger and balm your wounds, though it be never so humiliating to me, your humble and obedient servant.

So: though I cannot return the gold, and do not know where Jack is, I shall protest no more, but do all in my power to give you what I can in compensation.

As to the whereabouts of Jack Shaftoe: no one knows this, though Father 'Edouard de Gex and Monsieur Bonaventure Rossignol have devised a scheme to ferret him out. One of the members of his pirate-band writes letters, from time to time, to his family in France. These letters are intercepted and read by Monsieur Rossignol, who, however, is unable to extract all of their meaning, as they are written in an impenetrable code. He makes copies of them and passes them on to the family.

The family are coffee merchants who until recently lived as paupers in Paris. Then they were discovered by Madame la duchesse d'Oyonnax, who as you may know is the cousine of de Gex. She began to serve their coffee exclusively at her salon, and soon enough de Maintenon herself, at her lev'ee, was heard to ask for coffee of this marque, and in no time at all, this family had established a coffeehouse in the village of Versailles, where they serve a steady walk-in trade as well as purveying beans to the royal ch^ateau and the other estates that abound in this area.

Obviously de Gex is behind this. For where previously the family in question were dispersed among various prisons and poorhouses around Paris, now they are all dwelling together in one house in Versailles where the Cabinet Noir can easily keep an eye on them. As I have mentioned, all of the letters that are sent to France by their brother who is a member of Jack Shaftoe's pirate-band are passed on to them, in the hopes that they will write back to him, and in so doing, divulge something to M. Rossignol. So far this has not been productive of useful information. The family do not write back. This appears to be because they have nowhere to write back to. For the ship of L'Emmerdeur and his band is wandering all over the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, so that trying to intercept it with a letter posted from Paris is akin to trying to strike a horsefly with a round fired from a siege-mortar. Nevertheless, the scheme that M. Rossignol and Fr. de Gex have devised to trace Jack's movements is well-conceived and likely to bear fruit sooner or later. When it does, I shall be in a position to know about it, and will pass the information on to you.

As to the gold you lost: since I cannot satisfy you where this is concerned, I have resolved to compensate you, inasmuch as that is possible, by other means. I am well aware that the gold taken off Bonanza possesses special properties, the loss of which no amount of mundane silver and gold can make good. But until such time as the thieves are tracked down, there is nothing I can do but try to make up your losses in the only way I know how. I lost all of my personal assets shortly after Johann was born, and so have no money of my own that I could send you. The property of my new family, the Lavardacs, is not at my disposal. I can dwell in the family residences, but not sell them. I can eat off the family plate, but not melt it down. However, my position does afford me a matchless vantage-point on the workings of French government finance. I frequently become aware of opportunities in this field from which a man in your position could reap considerable gains with little effort or risk. As a sort of down-payment or, if you will, interest on the lost gold of Bonanza—which I have every intention of repaying in full when it becomes possible—I present you, now, with such an opportunity—the first in what I hope will grow into a long series of profitable liaisons.

Your agent in Lyon, Gerhard Mann, will presently be able to tell you more concerning this, but here it is in a nutshell: The French government needs to transfer silver to England to pay the French and Irish troops who will invade that country from around Cherbourg in late May. They were going to ship the silver over directly, but recently I have convinced them that it will be more efficient to make use of the existing commercial channels, viz. a Bill issued in Lyon against the credit of M. Castan (backed, it goes without saying, by France) and payable in silver coin in London. The Bill would need to be issued early in May and payable in late May or early June, and it would have to be transferable, since the identity of the French payee in London might not be known until later, and in any case, for obvious reasons, would need to be kept secret.

Because this is being arranged at the last minute, during wartime, you could probably demand a very high fee, as these things go.

Moreover, the transaction would involve relatively little risk for you. You may laugh at this, for it must sound absurd to claim that shipping silver to England in wartime is not risky; but it is true, for the reason that the invasion probably will never happen. And if it does, it will fail. The entire plan is predicated on the assumption that the common people of England will welcome an invasion by French and Irish troops come to place a Catholic on the throne. Nothing more absurd can be imagined. You may easily verify this through your own excellent sources. So by far the most likely outcome is that the Bills you issue in Lyon will never reach England, and never be presented for payment; the transaction will be cancelled, and you shall get to keep the fee and the float on the funds transferred in Lyon. The worst possible outcome, then, is that the Bills are presented and accepted; but this would be nothing more than a routine, albeit large, transaction for the House of Hacklheber.

I have done all in my power to predispose M. le comte de Pontchartrain, M. Bernard, and M. Castan to select the House of Hacklheber as its bank for this transaction. They show signs of favoring the idea; yet as you know, there is much competition in Lyon, and I do not have the power to compel them to deal with you. I shall continue to work discreetly on your behalf unless you write back requesting that I desist.

In return I ask nothing, save that you might show me more favor than in the past, and consider allowing me to pay a brief visit (chaperoned if you wish) to little Johann, if I can find some way of getting to Leipzig.

I am, mein Herr, your humble and obedient servant

Eliza, duchesse d'Arcachon, comtesse de la Zeur


12 APRIL 1692

Majesty,

By now you must have heard from a hundred different sources that an invasion of your Realm is being readied on the Cotentin Peninsula. You may even know that it is to set sail from Cherbourg during the third or fourth week in May. I shall not waste your time, then, belaboring these facts. I write to you, not as a spy for England, but as a champion of France. This invasion must never be allowed to go forward. It is a ruinously stupid plan. Its defeat will neither improve the security of England (since it is doomed in any case) nor bring England glory (since it is so feeble and ill-conceived). The French have convinced themselves otherwise. Somehow they have made themselves believe that all England is against your majesty, and that your majesty's Army and Navy are so riddled with secret Jacobites that they will declare their allegiance to James Stuart as soon as the signal is given; that the Royal Navy will suffer the French to cross the Channel in force, English regiments will make themselves scarce while a French beach-head is established in Wessex, and English people will welcome French and Irish invaders on their territory. Perhaps all of this is true; but to my ear it sounds absurd. I suspect that your spies and emissaries in France have been making a pretense of hostility to your majesty and whispering, into the ears of their French counterparts, all sorts of flattering and seductive nonsense about how England is poised for a Jacobite rebellion. If so, your majesty, the deception has worked all too well, and made the French so cocksure that they have laid plans, devised stratagems, and formulated resolves that seem to your humble and obedient servant like utter lunacy.

I pray that you will write a letter, or send an emissary, to King Louis XIV; announce that you know of the invasion plans; and make le Roi understand that the project is doomed. If French troops and sailors must be sacrificed on the fields of Mars, then let it happen in fair and honourable clashes of arms. It is more than I can bear to see them go down to David Jones's Locker in pursuit of a folly.

Eliza, Duchess of Qwghlm, Duchess of Arcachon

P.S. I have sent three copies of this letter in the holds of three different smugglers' boats. If you have received redundant copies, please accept my apologies for so making a pest of myself; but the matter is important to me.


13 APRIL 1692

Monsieur,

Thank you for your assistance in despatching those letters to England. I could never have made the necessary contacts without the assistance of one such as you, a Breton born and bred, who knows his way around the little coves and harbors of the Golfe de St.-Malo. I pray that you will forgive me for having laughed at the look on your face. It was entirely proper and prudent for you to open and examine those letters before you became complicit in sending them across the Channel, for who knows what they might have contained. Many times it has happened that a woman, well-meaning but foolish, allowed herself to be duped, by some conniving wretch of more wit and less virtue, into carrying letters that contain damaging information. Far from being angry with you, I am indebted to you for having had the prudence to examine the letters before turning them over to those smugglers. In return, I pray you will forgive me for the way I laughed out loud when you were confronted with page after page of gibberish. As you must have collected by now, I dabble in the stocks that are traded at the bourses of London and Amsterdam. Because of the state of war that now exists between France and Holland/England, it is difficult for me to communicate with my brokers there through the channels that are customary in peacetime. That is why I put you to so much bother in sending those letters. But such communications, by their nature, consist predominantly of numbers and financial jargon. You should not be surprised that you were unable to make any sense of them.

This brings my subject around to business. You should know that my resources are limited and, for the most part, illiquid. However, many of the assets of the Lavardac family naturally produce revenue. Farms, for example, generate rents, which are delivered to our coffers. Those coffers are also drained by countless expenses, but if the affairs of the family are well managed, some surplus may from time to time result. It then becomes my responsibility to see to it that the surplus is put to productive use. Many opportunities for investment present themselves to me every day; I try to distribute the available capital among these in a rational way.

So the rumors that you have evidently been hearing are correct. I have, on several occasions, purchased distressed loans from persons who have lent money to the King's treasury and who have found that the interest payments on those loans are insufficient for their needs.

Like all proper transactions in a market, these must be of benefit to both parties. To the original lender (which would be you, in this case) the benefit is that you receive hard money, where before you had only a piece of paper signed by the contr^oleur-g'en'eral promising to make interest payments. For me, the benefit is somewhat more difficult to explain. It is a service I perform for the King. Suffice it to say that by consolidating a large number of such loans into a single instrument, representing a very large amount of government debt, I may help to bring some simplicity and clarity to what would otherwise be a most complex and tedious welter of affairs. In this way the oeconomy of France may be better regulated and altogether more efficient.

At this point it is necessary to bring up the awkward and distasteful subject of terms. Specifically, we must decide what is to be the discount at which your loan is to be sold—i.e., for each hundred livres tournoises of principal that you originally loaned to his majesty's treasury, how many livres tournoises are you to receive from the buyer now? Such discussions are naturally repellent to Persons of Quality. Fortunately, we may refer the matter to an impartial judge: the market. For if you were the only man in France who had ever tried to sell such a loan, why, we should have to work out terms without any reference to established customs or precedents. Endless discussion would be entailed, every word of it beneath our dignity as nobility of France. But as it happens there are many hundreds of recent precedents. I myself have purchased no fewer than eighty-six loans. At the moment, you are one of seven men who is offering me such an opportunity. When the number of participants is so large, a price emerges, as if by magic. And so I can tell you that the price of one hundred livres tournoises of French government debt, three years ago, was eighty-one livres tournoises. Two years ago it was sixty-five, a year ago it was holding steady around forty, and today it is twenty-one. Which is to say that for every hundred you loaned the Treasury, I will pay you twenty-one today. Tomorrow the price may rise again, in which case it would benefit you to hold on to the loan, and sell it later; on the other hand, it might decline further, in which case you may wish you had sold it today. It is regrettably not possible for me to offer you advice in the matter.

My attorney at Versailles is M. Ladon and I have let him know that he may hear from you on this. He is quite proficient in such transactions, having, as I mentioned, carried out more than four score of them. If you elect to proceed, he shall see to it that all of the requisite papers, &c., are drawn up correctly.

In closing, I thank you again for your assistance in sending the letters to England. I shall probably need to send more in the near future; but now that you have shown me where to go, and introduced me to the right men, my staff, some of whom are old Marines from around Dunkerque, should know what to do.

Eliza, duchesse d'Arcachon


26 APRIL 1692

"YOU WERE EXPECTING SOMEONE DIFFERENT? It is all right, madame. So was I."

This was how Samuel Bernard introduced himself to Eliza, lobbing the words across the coffee-house as he cut toward her table.

By arranging the meeting in a coffee-house in the town, as opposed to a salon in a ch^ateau, Eliza had already obviated several days' invitation-passing and preliminary maneuvers. Not satisfied even with this level of efficiency, Bernard had now lopped off half an hour's introductory persiflage by jumping into the middle of the conversation before he had even reached her table. He came on as if he meant to place her under arrest. Heads turned towards him, froze, and then turned away; those who wished to gawk, looked out the windows and gawked at his carriage and his squadron of musket-brandishing bodyguards.

Bernard scooped up Eliza's hand as if it were a thrown gauntlet. He thrust out a leg to steady himself, bowed low, planted a firm dry smack on her knuckles, and gleamed. Gleamed because threads of gold were worked into the dark fabric of his vest. "You thought I was a Jew," he said, and sat down.

"And what did you think I was, monsieur?"

"Oh, come now! You already know the answer. You just aren't thinking! I shall assist you. Why did you phant'sy I was a Jew?"

"Because everyone says so."

"But why?"

"They are mistaken."

"But when otherwise well-informed persons are mistaken it is because they wish to be mistaken, no?"

"I suppose that's logical."

"Why would they wish to be mistaken about me—or you?"

"Monsieur Bernard, it has been so long since I began a conversation so briskly! Allow me a moment to catch my breath. Would you care to order something? Not that you are in need of further stimulation."

"I shall have coffee!" Bernard called out to an Armenian boy with a peach-fuzz moustache, dressed like a Turk, who had been edging toward them, impelled by significant glares and subtile finger-flicks from the proprietor, Christopher Esphahnian, but intimidated by Bernard. The garcon sped into the back, relieved to have been given orders. Bernard glanced about the coffee-house. "I could almost believe I was in Amsterdam," he remarked.

"From the lips of a financier, that is flattery," Eliza said. "But I believe that the intent of the decorator was to make you believe you were in Turkey."

Bernard snorted. "Does it work for you, madame?"

"No, for I have been in the coffee-houses of Amsterdam, and I share your opinion."

"You do not say that you have been in Turkey."

"Do I need to? Or have others been saying it for me?"

Bernard smiled. "We return to our subject! People say of me that I am a Jew, and of you that you are an odalisque, sent here by the Grand Turk as a spy—"

"They do!?"

"Yes. Why?"

The good thing about Bernard was that when he said something jarring he would quickly move on to something else. Eliza decided 'twere better to keep pace with him than to dwell on this matter of her and the Grand Turk. "The only thing I can think of that you and I have in common, monsieur, is a predilection for finance."

Bernard let it be seen that he was not fully satisfied with this attempt. He had a long, complicated French nose, close-set eyes, and a mouth turned up tight, like a recurved bow, at the corners. The look on his face might have been one of frustration, or intense concentration; perhaps both. He was trying to get her to see something. "Why do I wear cloth of gold? Because I am some kind of a fop? No! I dress well, but I am not a fop. I wear this to remind me of something."

"I supposed it was to remind others that—"

"That I am the richest man in France? Is that what you were going to say?"

"No, but it is what I was thinking."

"Another rumor—like that I am a Jew. No, madame, I wear this because it used to be my trade."

"Did you say trade!?"

"My family were Huguenots. I was baptized in the Protestant church of Charenton. You can't see it any more, it was pulled down by a Catholic mob a few years ago. My grandfather was a painter of portraits for the Court. My father, a miniaturist and an engraver. But God did not bestow on me any artistic talent, and so I was apprenticed to a seller of cloth-of-gold."

"Did you serve out your whole apprenticeship, monsieur?"

"Pourquoi non, madame, for then as now, I always fulfill my contracts. My formal m'etier is ma^itre mercier grossiste pour draps d'or, d'argent, et de soie de Paris."

"I think I finally begin to understand your point, Monsieur Bernard. You are saying that you and I have in common that we do not belong."

"We make no sense!" Bernard exclaimed, throwing up both hands and raising his eyebrows in dismay, mocking a certain type of courtier. "To these people—" and he shoveled his hands across the Rue de l'Orangerie at Versailles—"we are what meteors, comets, sunspots are to astronomers: monstrous deviations, fell portents of undesired change, proof that something is wrong in a system that was supposedly framed by the hand of God."

"I have heard some in this vein, too, from Monsieur le marquis d'Ozoir—"

Bernard would not allow such a foolish sentence to be finished; he spewed air and rolled his eyes. "Him! What would he know of us? He is the epitome of who I mean—son of a Duke! A bastard, I'll grant you, and enterprising, in his way; yet still wholly typical of the established order."

Eliza now judged it best to stop talking, for Bernard had led her off into some wild territory—as if enlisting her, a Duchess, in some sort of insurgency. Bernard saw her discomfort, and physically drew back. The Armenian boy whispered up on slippered feet, bearing on a gaudy salver a tiny beaker of coffee clenched in a writhen silver zarf. Eliza gazed out the windows for a few moments, letting Bernard enjoy the first few sips. His guards had long since set up a perimeter defense around the Caf'e Esphahan. But if she looked beyond that, cater-corner across the Rue de l'Orangerie, she could see deep into a vast rectangular plot embraced on three sides by a vaulted gallery-cum-retaining wall that supported the southern wing of the King's palace. This garden was open to the south so that during the winter it could gather in the feeble offerings of the sun. The King's orange trees, which lived in portable boxes of dirt, were still cowering back inside the warm gallery, for the last few nights had been clear and cold. But the garden was crowded with palm trees; and it was the sight of their blowing fronds, and not the faux-Turkish decor inside the caf'e, that made it possible for her to phant'sy that she was sitting along some walled garden of the Topkapi Palace.

Bernard had settled down a bit. "Never fear, madame, for my father and I both converted to Catholicism after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Just as you have married a hereditary Duke."

"I don't really see what those two have to do with each other."

"They were, if you will, sacraments that we undertook to show that we were submitting to the established order of this country—the same order that we undermine by pursuing what you so aptly described as our predilection for finance."

"I don't know that I agree with that, monsieur."

Bernard ignored Eliza's weak protest. "Sooner or later the King will probably make me a Count or some such, and people will pretend to forget that I once served an apprenticeship. But do not be fooled. To them, you and I are as noble; as French; and as Catholic; as him!" and Bernard shot out one hand as if hurling a dagger. The target was a painting on the ceiling that depicted an immense, shirtless, muscle-bound, ochre-skinned hashishin with a red turban and a handlebar moustache raising a scimitar above his head. "And that is why they say Iama Jew; for this amounts to saying, an inexplicable monster."

"As long as it's just us inexplicable monsters here," said Eliza (as indeed it was; for most of the other patrons had bolted) "shall we—"

"Indeed, yes. Let us review the figures," said Bernard, and blinked twice. "The number of invasion troops is some twenty thousand. Each receives five sols per day; so that is five thousand livres a day. The number of sergeants is, in round numbers, a tenth of the number of troops, but they receive twice the pay; add another thousand livres a day. Lieutenants receive a livre a day, captains get two and a half; at any rate, when you add it all up, reckoning dragoons, cavalry, et cetera, it comes to some eight thousand a day—"

"I have made it ten thousand, to allow for other expenses," said Eliza.

"C'est juste. So why do you ask for half a million livres in London?"

"Monsieur, England is not so large as France, 'tis true; and yet it is much larger than some scraps of land in the Netherlands that have been fought over for months. Years."

"Those places you speak of in the Low Countries are fortified. England is not."

"The point is well taken, but the distance between the landing-sites in Devon and London is considerable. It took William of Orange a month and a half to cover the same interval, when he invaded."

"Very well, I grant you that fifty days' pay—almost two months—for this army comes to half a million livres. But why must every last penny of it be minted in advance, in London? Surely if the campaign progresses beyond a beach-head there will be opportunities to ship specie to the island later."

"Perhaps and perhaps not, monsieur. I only know of this one opportunity, and seek to make the most of it. You make this more complicated than it is. I have been asked to tender advice on how the troops might be paid. You and I seem to agree that half a million livres is a reasonable, though perhaps generous, estimate of the amount that will be required. This is not too large an amount for the normal channels of commerce. I ask for as much as I think shall be needed. If half that amount is actually coined at the Tower of London, then I shall consider the transaction to have come off passing well."

"The matter becomes complicated when the entire transaction is made to pass through Lyon," said Bernard. "It is a large bolus for the D'ep^ot to swallow. If we could instead transfer it through a public market where there were proper banks…"

"Monsieur Bernard. You tempt me. For nothing would afford me such fascination as to sit here with you all morning and afternoon drinking coffee and discoursing of the peculiarities of Lyon and the D'ep^ot. Quite possibly we might have similar views on it. But as matters stand, Lyon is, by long tradition, France's connexion to the financial system of the world, and it is through Lyon that we must send all of this money. It may be a bit quaint, a bit odd; but fortunately there are sophisticated houses there, such as the Hacklhebers, who have ready access to public markets in other cities."

"I understand, madame," said Bernard. "But the carrying capacity of the D'ep^ot is limited. France fights on more than one front. There are other demands on the credit of her treasury."

"I have seen the silver with my own eyes, Monsieur Bernard. It was stacked in the hold of Monsieur le comte de Pontchartrain's jacht in St.-Malo. This is merely an alternate, more prudent means of getting it to London."

"And I do not question that, madame. But during wartime, the temptation will be strong to use that silver elsewhere—to spend it twice."

"Now I perceive why it is that you are shunned by Court fops, monsieur. For you to suggest that Monsieur le comte de Pontchartrain would do anything of the sort is most rude."

"Ah, madame, but I said nothing of that noble man. It is not he who matters in this case—for, last I heard, Monsieur le comte de Pontchartrain was not the King of France."

"Then you are being even more impertinent!"

"Not at all. For the King is the King, and it is his prerogative to spend his money twice, or even three times, if that is his pleasure, and neither I nor any other Frenchman will say a word against him! It might, however, make a difference to the D'ep^ot."

"Suppose the D'ep^ot was asked to adapt to these trying new circumstances, and it was found wanting, and in consequence, France had to get a modern banking system? Would that not be better for France, and for you, monsieur?"

"For me, perhaps—as well as for you. For France, there might be grave disruptions."

"That is beyond my scope. I am like a housewife shopping for turnips in the market. If I go to my old traditional turnip-sellers and they ask too high a price for turnips of poor quality, and not enough of them, why, I shall go and buy my turnips elsewhere."

"Very well," said Bernard, "I depart for Lyon this afternoon to meet with Monsieur Castan. I might relay your challenge to the D'ep^ot and we might see if they have got enough turnips for you."

"Monsieur, what is this word might doing in the sentence? You do not strike me as a flirtatious man, in general."

"You have a house in St.-Malo, madame."

"Indeed, monsieur."

"It is said you are quite fond of the place—more so than La Dunette." Bernard glanced in that general direction, for La Dunette was only a couple of musket-shots up the hill from the Rue de l'Orangerie. But all he could see in that quarter was another gaudy painting of wild Turks in action.

"You would like it, too, for St.-Malo is a place where Commerce rules."

"I understand. For that is where the ships of the Compagnie des Indes call, or have I been misinformed?"

"Many ships call there; but if India is a particular interest of yours, monsieur, then that is what we shall speak of."

"How can it not be of interest to us, madame? Have you any notion of the profits made in that part of the world by the V.O.C. and the British East India Company?"

"Of course, monsieur. They are proverbial. As is the perpetual failure and reincarnation of the Compagnie des Indes. You need only ask Monsieur le marquis d'Ozoir—"

"The history is all too well known. I am more concerned with the future."

"Then truly you are a shameless flirt, Monsieur Bernard, for I can scarcely contain my curiosity any longer—what are you thinking?"

"I don't know."

"Nonsense!"

"It is quite true. All I know is that I look at the Compagnie des Indes and see—nothing! Nothing is happening. Something should be happening. It is curious."

"You have scented an opportunity."

"As have you, madame."

"Oh—you refer to the silver in London?"

"Now you flirt with me. Madame, it is within my power to make this happen. I may have been re-baptized as a Catholic, but this has not prevented my maintaining any number of contacts with Huguenots who elected to leave. They have gone to places like London and prospered. You know this perfectly well, for you have filled the void that was created in the Compagnie du Nord by their departure. You buy timber from them in Sweden and Rostock all the time. So yes. I can see to it that your silver is transferred, and I shall. But it shall not be profitable. It shall not be especially convenient. Monsieur Castan's credit with the D'ep^ot shall be over-extended for a time. I shall have to twist his arm. And I hate dealing with Lothar."

"Very well. What could I do, monsieur, to show my gratitude for your undertaking so many travails?"

"You could direct your intelligence upon the strange case of the Compagnie des Indes in faraway St.-Malo. You, I take it, have no interest in this?"

"None whatsover, monsieur; the Compagnie du Nord is my sole concern."

"That is well. You will supply me with your thoughts and observations, then, concerning the other?"

"It will be a joy to converse with you on the topic, monsieur."

"Very well." Bernard got to his feet. "I am off to Lyon, then. Au revoir."

"Bon voyage."

And Samuel Bernard exited the Caf'e Esphahan as abruptly as he had come in.

His gilded chair was still warm when Bonaventure Rossignol sat down in it.

"I have seen Kings travel with a smaller guard," Eliza remarked; for both she and Rossignol devoted some time now to enjoying the spectacle of the departure of Bernard's carriage, his train of lesser vehicles, his out-riders, spare horses, grooms, et cetera from the Rue de l'Orangerie.

"Many Kings have less to fear," Rossignol remarked.

"Oh? I did not know Monsieur Bernard had so many enemies."

"It is not that he has enemies as a King does," Rossignol corrected her, "which is to say, identifiable souls who wish him ill, and are willing and able to act on those wishes. Rather, it is that from time to time a sort of frenzy will come over certain Frenchmen, which only abates when a financier or two has been hanged from a tree-limb or set on fire."

"He was trying to warn me about such things," Eliza said, "but his squadron of mercenaries conveys it much more effectively than words."

"It is curious," said Rossignol, turning his attention to Eliza. "I know that you are married to a Duke, and share his bed, and bear his children. Yet this causes me not the least bit of jealousy! But when I see you talking to this Samuel Bernard—"

"Put it out of your head," Eliza said. "You have no idea."

"What does this mean, I have no idea? I may be a mathematician, but yet I know what passes between a man and a woman."

"Indeed; but you are not a commercant, and you haven't the faintest idea what passes between the likes of me and Bernard. Don't worry. If you were a commercant, I shouldn't be attracted to you—just as I'm not attracted to Bernard."

"But it looked for all the world as if you were flirting."

"As indeed we were—but the intercourse to which this flirting will lead is not sexual."

"I am perfectly confused now—you are playing with me."

"Come now, Bon-bon! Let us review matters. Out of all the men in Germany, which did I choose for a friend?"

"Leibniz."

"And what is he?"

"A mathematician."

"Holland?"

"Huygens…a mathematician."

"England?"

"Daniel Waterhouse. A Natural Philosopher."

"France?"

"…"

"Come now! When I came to Versailles for the first time, and got invited to Court soir'ees, and was pursued by any number of randy Dukes, to whom did I give my affections?"

"You gave them to…a mathematician."

"What was that mathematician's name?" asked Eliza, cupping a hand to her ear.

"It was Bonaventure Rossignol," said Bonaventure Rossignol, and flicked his black eyes to and fro to see if anyone was listening.

"Now, when I got myself into a big mess of trouble outside of St. Diziers, who was the first to learn of it?"

"That fellow who was reading everyone's mail. Bonaventure Rossignol."

"And who came galloping to my rescue across half of France, and journeyed north with me to Nijmegen, and put me on a boat?"

"Bon—"

"Stop. The name is beautiful and distinguished. But I prefer to call him Bon-bon."

"Very well, then, it was Bon-bon."

"Who made love to me along the banks of the Meuse?"

"'Etienne de Lavardac."

"Who else?"

"Bon-bon."

"And who helped me concoct a plan to get out of my terrible mess of trouble?"

"Bon-bon."

"Who helped me cover my traces, and forged documents, and lied to the King and to d'Avaux?"

"Bon-bon."

"And who is the father of my first-born?"

"I've no idea."

"Only because you avoided looking at him, when you had the opportunity. But I tell you Jean-Jacques looks very much like Bon-bon—there is no trace in him of the tainted blood of the Lavardacs. You are the father, Bon-bon."

"What is your point?"

"Only that it is absurd for you to be jealous of this Samuel Bernard. Whatever may pass between him and me in the way of business is nothing compared to the adventure that you and I had, and the son that we share."

The attention of "Bon-bon" had strayed to a painting of a fabulous, many-domed mosque that adorned a wall behind Eliza. "You remind me of things I would forget. I could have done a better job."

"Nonsense!"

"I could have exonerated you entirely from charges of spying."

"In retrospect, perhaps. But I do believe it worked out for the best."

"What…you married to a man you do not love, and Jean-Jacques held captive by a demented Saxon banker?"

"But that is not the end of the story, Bon-bon. We have met here today to further the story along."

"Yes. And it is an interesting choice of venue," Rossignol said, leaning far over the table and lowering his voice so much that Eliza nearly had to touch her forehead against his in order to hear him. "I have read every scrap of these people's mail for two years, you know, but never seen their faces, and certainly never sipped their coffee."

"Do you fancy it?"

"It is a cut above the usual swill, to be sure," said Rossignol, "but on its merits as a beverage, it would never be so chic if you and Madame la duchesse d'Oyonnax were not forever singing its praises."

"You see? There is nothing I would not do in the service of cryptology," said Eliza with a smile, and spread out her hands, inviting Rossignol to take in the magnificence of the Caf'e Esphahan. "Have you learned anything recently?"

"This is not the place or the time to speak of it! But no," said Rossignol. "I have been much more preoccupied with reading your mail."

"Does it make for interesting reading?"

"A bit too interesting. To Lothar you say, ‘The invasion of England will surely be called off,' while to some financier in Lyon you are saying, ‘The invasion will happen soon and we must pay the troops!' "

"You don't know the half of it."

"It makes me worry that you are about to get in trouble again and I shall have to go back to galloping hither and yon, forging documents, and lying to important people…all of which I would gladly do!" he added hastily, as the beginnings of a pout had appeared on Eliza's face. "But I think it a miracle that you were forgiven, by the powers that be, for the previous go-round of spying and lying. If you do it again—"

"Your misinterpretation is total," Eliza said. "There was no forgiving, but an oeconomic transaction. And I did not get off scot-free, as you seem to phant'sy, but paid a price so terrible I do not think you'll ever fathom it. To you, perhaps, it seems that I am plunging once more into a sea of intrigue from which I was absent for a couple of years—restful years for you, Bon-bon!—but to me it seems I have been submerged in it the whole time, and am only now getting my head above water where I can see and breathe again. I mean to keep clawing away until I have dragged myself out."

"You'll never be out," said Rossignol, "but if it is in your nature to claw, then claw away. Speaking of which, my back has healed since the last time—"

"I have three more engagements to-day, but perhaps I could append a fourth," said Eliza. She reached across the table and set a packet of letters in front of Rossignol. "My out-going mail," she explained. "I was going to post it, but then I thought, why not give it directly to Bon-bon?"

"I shall decrypt them while I await your fourth social engagement," said Rossignol. "Here is your incoming." And he handed Eliza a packet.

"Thank you, Bon-bon. Anything interesting?"

"Compared to most of what I have to read? Madame, you have no idea."


19 APRIL 1692

I am in receipt of your recent note urgently requesting information concerning the Mint and the men who run it. I cannot fathom why you desire to know such things, so hastily. I can assure you that I am the wrong chap. The right chap is the Marquis of Ravenscar. I have taken the liberty of forwarding your questions to him. You may be assured of his discretion. I hope that everything is well with you; for I am, as always, &c., Daniel Waterhouse.


20 APRIL 1692

A LETTER

To Her Grace, ELIZA, Duchess of Arcachon and (though 'tis not recognized in France) Qwghlm

Madame,

Most humbly do I set before you this Offering, and do pray that Your Grace may deem it a satisfactory Answer to those Inquiries lately despatch'd to my wise Friend and Colleague, Dr. Daniel Waterhouse, F.R.S.

APOLOGY

Olympus' Court no fairer Visage housed

Than that of Helen. Goddesses were roused

To ENVY: which though petty Vice on Earth

When spent on High where all's of greater Worth

Loosed Havock down below. Fleets sailed, Gods vied,

For Helen cities fell and heroes died.

ELIZA's Fame on Rumour's wing hath come

To Albion's shores. French flatterers, struck dumb,

Have kept her beauty hid 'til now, it seems;

But as a light beneath a Bushel gleams

Thro' any Chink, ELIZA's Charms are out,

And putting Goddesses to rout.

A-tremble, Men gaze up, and shall be glad

Not to be Players in her Iliad.

MY LADY,

You who are accustom'd to that incomparable Palace of Versailles would find little in London worthy of casting your eye over, and least of all my habitation near Red Lyon Square, which is yet but a pile of loose stones and timbers. Its sole Glory, at this time, is its Architect, Dr. Daniel Waterhouse, Secretary of the Royal Society, who being a diligent man is oft to be seen in its Precincts surveying, measuring, drawing, &c. Today I chanc'd to meet Dr. Waterhouse about the Property and, upon supplying him with certain Libations, learnt from him that his letter-box had been graced by a missive from the incomparable Duchess of Arcachon and of Qwghlm, who is the subject of some debate among Persons of Quality in this Country; for while some would have it that her Wit is exceeded only by her Beauty, others would have it the other way round. I confess myself incompetent to have an opinion on the matter, for while your letter to Dr. Waterhouse leaves me confounded and dazzled by your Wit, I cannot but suppose that were I to have the honour of encountering you in Person I should be as a-maz'd by your Beauty. Setting aside, then, this Question, which I cannot answer for lack of sufficient Data (though not, I assure you, for want of Curiosity), I shall apply myself to the Question that you put to Dr. Waterhouse in your recent Missive, viz.: who is in charge of the Mint at the Tower of London, and is it reasonable to assume that he is a good Tory?

The answers, respectively, are Sir Thomas Neale, and yes, it were reasonable to make such an assumption—but WRONG. Reasonable, because, as you have obviously heard, our Government has fallen under the Sway of the Tories since the election of '90. Wrong because this is England, and Offices and Privileges of the Realm are not managed according to REASON but BECAUSE WE HAVE ALWAYS DONE IT THUS. Accordingly, Sir Thomas Neale, Master of the Mint, has his post, not because he is a Tory (for to the extent he holds fixed views on anything, they are Whiggish views, and to the extent he has friends, they are Whigs), but rather because James II gave him the position immediately upon his succession to the throne in February of 1685. Prior to that date, Sir Thomas had served as Groom-Porter of the Court of Charles II. The duties of the Groom-Porter are ill-defined and not susceptible of accurate translation into the language and the customs of La France. Nominally the Groom-Porter is in charge of the Sovereign's furniture. Since this, however, rarely changes, it does not occupy very much of his time; consequently he devotes a larger moiety of his energies to furnishings smaller, more mutable and perishable: viz. dice and cards. Whatever other personal shortcomings Sir Thomas might possess, even his most obstreperous detractors would readily agree that never were man and job so perfectly match'd as Sir Thomas Neale, and Dice-Keeper Royal.

Master of the Mint would seem to be a different sort of job entirely and so those of a Skeptickal turn of mind might argue, that it would seem to call for a different sort of chap. But no one seems to have offered up any such argument before James II; or if they did, perhaps his majesty did not understand it. Indeed, his appointment of Sir Thomas to run the Mint was construed by some as more evidence (as if more were wanted) tending to shew, that a certain Malady had got the better of the King's Brain. Those of us of a more charitable habit of mind, might perceive a certain kind of Sense in the appointment. For Sir Thomas had become link'd, in the riddled mind of James, with dice and cards, which were associated with Money; hence Sir Thomas was the best chap in the land to coin Money, Q.E.D.

I know Sir Thomas well, for he has been extraordinarily keen to maintain friendly relations with me, ever since he got it in his head that I am a possible Supplier of Capital. You too, my lady, may so arrange it that you shall hear from him frequently, and even discover him loitering in front of your House several times a Week, merely by giving him some cause to phant'sy that you are in control of some bored Capital that wants an Adventure. For where some hommes d'affaires come into the world of Commerce from Shipping, and others from the 'Varsity, Sir Thomas came at it by way of Gambling, and not just of the penny-ante sort, but on the Royal plane. And so where another commercant might employ a Ship-Voyage as his over-arching Metaphor for what a business-venture is, Sir Thomas sees all such Projects as Rolls of Dice. And where a Venturer of Ship frame of mind would have a care to raise profits, and reduce risk, by caulking his Ship well, hiring good seamen, keeping an eye on the weather-glass, &c., Sir Thomas's notion of a well-structured Enterprise is one in which the dice are loaded, the cards marked, and the deck stacked, to the utmost extent possible. Indeed, this is why I have not ejected him from my Circle of Friends; for while I'd never risk any of my Capital on one of his Ventures, I very much enjoy having them explained to me, much as I might derive pleasurable diversion from reading a vivid roman about some Picaroons.

I might add in passing that James II's equation of Gambling with the Making of Money is not the syphilitic madness that it first seemed. For during the period of forced Idleness that has succeeded the disastrous Election of '90, I have had leisure to consider diverse Schemes to raise money for the Government, which feels a want of Specie chargeable to the War. We contemplate a great national Lottery. To explain the scheme at any more length than that would be tedious, to point out Sir Thomas's aptness for such a Project were to insult your intelligence. We meet from time to time with Mathematickal Savants of the Royal Society to explore its statistical penetralia.

In conclusion, I say to you that if you desire to have silver minted here as part of some Adventure (whose details I do not need or wish to know); and if the Adventure enures to the advantage of the Tories (which I hope it does not; but this is none of my business); and if you have phant'sied that our Tory government has some power over the Mint, so that the Mint's interests, and yours, are naturally aligned; then you are mistaken. For the Mint is, I am happy to report, firmly in the grip of a Whig. This need not, however, militate against your Project. For if I read correctly between the lines of your letter, all you really need is a cooperative, not to say compliant, friend in the Mint; and you may make Thomas Neale just that, by meditating upon the Character I have given him in this Missive, and devising your approach to the man accordingly.

I pray that the question you sent to Dr. Waterhouse has been addressed, to your satisfaction, by the foregoing. If I have failed to satisfy, or (may God forbid it) given offense, I beg you to write back telling me as much, so that I may bend every effort to make it good. For it is my very great honour and pleasure to be your humble and obedient servant,

RAVENSCAR

P.S. If your intention is to mint French silver into English coin to pay the French and Irish troops that have been preparing to invade England from around Cherbourg in the third week of May, then I congratulate you on your ingenuity. Delivery of the coins from Mint to Front shall pose a not inconsiderable logistical challenge, and so I make you the following offer: If Admiral Tourville's invasion-fleet makes it across the Channel without being sunk by the Royal Navy, and if the Papist legion establishes a beachhead on English soil without being destroyed by the Army or torn to bits by an enraged Mobb of English rurals, then I shall personally carry every single one of your coins from the Tower of London to the front in my arse-hole, and Deposit them in some Place where they may be easily Picked Up.


21 APRIL 1692

Eliza,

You asked—some might say, commanded—me to be on the alert for any news out of Leipzig touching on Lothar von Hacklheber in general, and Jean-Jacques—or, as they call him, Johann—in particular. This is not made any easier by the fact that Lothar knows, in a vague way, that I am linked to you. Moreover, I must confess that I am torn between a desire to give you what you have asked me for, and a reluctance to pass on information that is sure to tear open this wound that Lothar inflicted on you a year and a half ago.

So I have avoided going to Leipzig. But yesterday Leipzig came to me, here in Hanover. As you must have heard, my patrons, Ernst August and Sophie, who until recently have been titled the Duke and Duchess of Hanover, have for some time been campaigning in Vienna to have their dignity raised to that of Elector and Electress. France has been opposed to it, and held them in check by diverse political counter-maneuvers whose particulars would fill book after tedious book. To make a long story short, the war, and in particular the recent developments along the Savoy front, has put the Emperor into a state of mind where he will do anything to spite Louis XIV; accordingly, Ernst August and Sophie are, as of a couple of weeks ago, the Elector and the Electress of Hanover, an eyelash below a King and Queen as these things are measured. This has set into motion a whole train of ramifications and realignments, &c., &c., that will give the courtiers along the Leine Strasse things to natter about for years to come. Some of the ramifications are, of course, financial, and so bankers from all over the Empire have come to call on Sophie and Ernst August, to offer their felicitations and to see if they might be of service in the new Electorate. It is all about as interesting to me, as physics is to them; except that one of these visitors has been Lothar. Sophie and Ernst August invited him to dine with them at the Palace of Herrenhausen outside of Hanover. In filling out the guest list, the chamberlain added my name, which must have seemed logical, as I am a Leipziger and my family has certain ties to that of von Hacklheber. They had no way of knowing about my link to you or the awkwardness that would arise from the matter of Jean-Jacques. Indeed, Sophie is so civilized, and exerts such a civilizing influence on Ernst August, that it would never enter their minds that one of their dinner-guests could be guilty of such an atrocity as baby-snatching. So, quite innocently, they invited me and Lothar to the same dinner, and seated us across the table from each other!

I cannot describe what it is like to sit across from such a man through a long dinner, without spoiling your appetite for a whole fortnight. I'll limit my report to the conversation. Much of this concerned the war, and was more or less interesting; but you must hear of nothing else there, and so I shall move on to what concerns you personally.

Lothar, you must remember, was there for one purpose, which was to impress Sophie and Ernst August with his intelligence, his foresight, and his many connexions in the world; and so, at a certain point in the evening, after a certain amount of drink had been taken, he hazarded a prediction about the spring campaign. For how better for a banker to impress a potential client than to predict the future, and get it right?

France, he predicted, would soon suffer a humiliation in the northwest—he used the word Fehlschlag, which is difficult to translate but means a failed attempt, a miscarriage. He implied clearly that it would take place on or near English soil.

Of course Sophie is not easily impressed by such theatrics. She said, "If you are so sure of this prediction, Baron von Hacklheber, why are you not putting your money where your mouth is? For your mouth may be large, but we all know that your purse is larger yet." This fetched a laugh, even from Lothar. When the commotion had died down, he announced that he would place just such a bet very soon—i.e., that he intended to so dispose his bank's resources that he would gain money if the Fehlschlag took place as he had foretold. And to bolster his claim further, he vowed that he would donate a certain sum to any charity Sophie named, and that the money would come out of his profits on the bet, if it paid off, but out of his own purse if he were proved wrong.

Asked by Sophie how he could be so certain about this, he turned an eye in my direction and said that he knew persons in France, of considerable wealth and power, who had in the past been insolent to him, but more recently had been brought to heel—he actually employed the term bei Fuss! which is a dog-training command. You see now, Eliza, why I am so reluctant to act as a conduit for this sort of information. Even those at the table who did not know who Lothar was talking about found it a little disgusting.

That is my news, just as you requested it. Frankly, I pine for the days when my letters to you were filled with Natural Philosophy. Perhaps we can resume such discussions in happier times to come. Until then, I have the honor to be, &c.,

Leibniz

P.S. You also requested news of your friend Princess Eleanor and her daughter Princess Caroline. I have met them in Berlin; little Caroline is just as charming as you claimed, and just as intelligent. Eleanor has been betrothed to the Elector of Saxony, who is an ogre straight out of a faery-tale, and who has a mistress reputed to be even worse. The best place to send letters to them will probably be the Electoral court at Dresden.


5 MAY 1692

Here is how peculiar France is: They are calling people Jews who have no trace of Jewishness. It is a long story, of which I'll tell you more if we ever see each other again. It put me in mind of Amsterdam, where there are to be found Jews who really are Jews—a much more logical arrangement!

That is not my only reason for writing to you. For some years I have made little effort to follow the commodities markets in Amsterdam, as, from the remove of Versailles, it it impossible to do this competently. Lately, however, I have taken a position in silver. The details are unimportant. Suffice it to say that I must needs be alert to any moves in the silver market that may occur in the first half of June. My sources of information are not what they once were, and so I am reduced to the estate of a little girl with her nose pressed against the glass; I must judge the trends in the market by observing the behavior of larger and better-informed players.

Though the House of Hacklheber is not the largest, it is probably the best-informed concern in metals. Accordingly, I have resolved to take my cues from them. It would be of great significance to me if the Hacklhebers were suddenly to remove a large quantity (a few tons) of silver from their Amsterdam warehouse. You know where it is. If my guess is correct, the bullion would be transferred directly to a ship on the Ijsselmeer.

Can you spare someone to keep an eye on the Hacklhebers' warehouse? As time draws nearer, I shall supply more precise information as to the exact time at which the transfer might occur. The information that I shall require is as follows: the name of the ship carrying the bullion and a complete description of her sail plan, &c., so that she may be identified from a distance, as well as the date and time of her departure from Amsterdam.

In coming weeks, I'll be moving around quite a bit, and so there is little point in your trying to guess my whereabouts. Rather, you should send the particulars to me in care of my good friend and confidant, Captain Jean Bart, of Dunkerque. Captain Bart is a trustworthy fellow; there is no need (and there shall be no time!) to encrypt the message. You know more than I about getting messages out fast, so I'll hold my tongue where that is concerned; but I am guessing you'll want to send riders out from Amsterdam to Scheveningen and there transfer the message to a fast boat, Dunkerque-bound. There should be plenty of time to arrange this; but if you want help setting up the boat, just inform Captain Bart.

I think I have given you enough information now that you shall be able to place bets of your own in the silver market, which are likely to profit you; but if, when all is said and done, you have spent more than you have gained, forward your complaints to me in St.-Malo and they'll not fall on deaf ears.

Eliza


15 MAY 1692

Your Grace's recent letter to me was so courteous as to put the lucubrations of these French flatterers to shame. I must warn you, however, that en route it must have fallen into the hands of some mischievous boy, who added a very rude postscript.

It was most considerate of you to answer all of my silly questions about the Mint. As you must have surmised, I do have in mind taking part in a transaction that will only profit me if the price of silver should happen to rise late in the month of May. I only hope and pray that all of the silver in London is not bought up in the meantime! I tell you this in confidence, my lord, not wishing that you, who have been so forward in assisting me, should suffer any reverses in consequence of what I am about to do. Know, then, that to be in possession of a large quantity of silver, in London, late in the month of May, would be no bad thing. But do you make your purchases discreetly, lest you touch off a buying panic that would drive up the price to absurd heights. For if people see that the Marquis of Ravenscar is selling gold to buy silver, they will assume he is privy to something, and flock to Threadneedle Street to follow his example. While you might admittedly profit from such a speculative bubble by selling into it at the peak (by no means later than the middle of June), it would cause any amount of disturbance and trouble to the current Government; which I am certain you, a good English patriot, should prefer to avoid, even if you are a Whig and that government be run by the Tories.

Eliza


18 MAY 1692

Monsieur Bernard,

I am en route from St.-Malo to Cherbourg aboard the jacht of my husband. In Cherbourg I'll post this on to Le Havre; I pray it reaches you soon in Paris. I shall tarry in Cherbourg until the invasion is launched.

In St.-Malo this morning I received your despatch of the 12th instant stating that you have the Bills of Exchange in your pocket and want only instructions as to whom they should be endorsed.

This amounts to asking me for the names of the agents who shall be sent across the Channel to present the Bills for payment in London. I regret to inform you that the names of these agents are not known to me yet (though I have some ideas as to who they shall be). Even if they were, I should be chary of sending them to you in a letter during wartime; for the enemy has spies everywhere, and consider what disaster would ensue if our agents' names became known. For most of them are Englishmen secretly loyal to James Stuart—and if they were caught in England with these Bills in their pockets, they should suffer the penalty for High Treason, which is to be half-hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn Cross.

A safer expedient would be for you to endorse the bills to a trusted intermediary who is resident here at Cherbourg, and who shall not be setting foot outside of France until after the invasion. That intermediary can then hold the Bills until the last moment and then endorse them to the several agents just before they cross the Channel. In this way the identity of the agents shall never be exposed to any risk of discovery.

To serve in this role of intermediary, several candidates come to mind, for Cherbourg is crowded just now with notable personages. But all of them are busy and distracted. I, meanwhile, have nothing to do save gaze out the window of my cabin in the sterncastle of this jacht, and watch the preparations. As odd as it might sound, I may be the safest person to choose for this r^ole, since there is obviously no likelihood whatever of my crossing the Channel and falling into the hands of enemy interrogators; this alone should be a great comfort to the agents whose names I shall write across the backs of those bills before they set forth on their perilous missions. So, unless you object very strongly, simply endorse the Bills to me and send them to me at Cherbourg.

I don't know how Lothar is sending the avisas to London, but presumably his channels are swifter than ours, and his payers in England will be ready and waiting for our payees whensoever they arrive.

Eliza

P.S. I look forward to continuing our conversation about St.-Malo. The merchants of the Compagnie des Indes, who on a normal day swagger about that town as if they owned it, have been displaced, and quite out-classed, by the captains and admirals of our invasion fleet. As a result they are almost pathetically eager to talk to anyone about anything—including the state of our commerce with India. My head is full of more information than it can hold, and all of it useless to me. After the invasion, we must meet again at the Caf'e Esphahan, and I'll tell you all that I know.


23 MAY 1692

Madame la comtesse,

Five Bills should be enclosed, each in the amount of one hundred thousand livres tournoises and each endorsed, for the time being, to you. These are drawn ultimately on the credit of the French treasury as personified by M. le comte de Pontchartrain. If you see him, perhaps you could think of a polite way of reminding him that the chain of credit passes through yours truly; my friend Monsieur Castan; and diverse members of the D'ep^ot of Lyon.

It is a good thing that I went to Lyon, for in the end it was necessary for me to involve myself in the negotiations with Lothar (he was obviously present in Lyon, but we were never in the same room together; his factor Gerhard Mann mediated all of our discussions).

Monsieur Castan is cunning and assiduous, but when presented with something outside his scope he does not respond well, and is apt to become flustered and then irritable. This happened very early in our talks with the House of Hacklheber. It took some time for me to understand why: Lothar believes that the invasion will never actually happen; or that if it does, it will be snuffed out within a few hours. In consequence, our negotiations over the terms of these Bills were strangely duplicitous. The nominal purpose was to pay troops in England, and so we had to settle terms in such a way that we—meaning France—could get silver coin in England, while allowing Lothar to realize some profit. In that sense I got what we wanted, viz. wholly legitimate, negotiable Bills which you now have in your hand. But Lothar's true purpose, as I eventually came to understand, was to reap a large windfall at very little risk by expressing a willingness to forward silver for an invasion that would never materialize. In effect he was selling us insurance against the contingency that our invasion fails to fail. It was this subtext that M. Castan had not understood, with the result that he was bewildered by what he saw as erratic demands made by the House of Hacklheber.

At the beginning we proposed that the five Bills' dates of expiry should be at one-week intervals. We envisioned, in other words, that, beginning shortly after the invasion, our agents would present Bills in London approximately once a week for a period of five weeks, as our army fought its way across southern England toward London. We presumed that Lothar would prefer it thus, as it would spread out the transaction over a long period of time and simplify the logistics of buying or shipping the silver and having it minted. This was when we were still na"ive enough to believe that Lothar construed payment of the bills as an opportunity. Later, as I have mentioned, I perceived that Lothar actually sees the possible consummation of this transaction as a risk to be hemmed in and mitigated as strictly as possible. Accordingly, he hated the idea of staggering the Bills' dates, because it would mean committing himself to be at risk (risk of having to pay silver to some unknown person in London) over a period of almost two months. For the first Bill would become payable, in theory, about two weeks following the date that Lothar wrote it in Lyon, i.e., in mid-May. The last one would remain payable in theory as late as the middle of July. It was in his interest to limit our freedom in the matter by having the Bills all payable only during a narrow interval of time shortly after the scheduled date of the invasion. That way, if the invasion came off as scheduled and a stable beach-head were established on English soil, we should have only a few days in which to present the Bill in London and demand that all of the silver be supplied at once. The deal became, in other words, an all-or-nothing proposition to be resolved, one way or the other, quite early. Indeed, Lothar wanted to issue one single Bill for half a million livres rather than breaking it up into several smaller ones—this struck me as too risky and I persuaded him to relent. So there are five separate Bills. Four of them bear the same dates—they are 45-day Bills—and the other is a 30-day Bill. All of them were written by Lothar himself; for only he has authority to write Bills of this size. He wrote them in Lyon on the 6th day of May, the Year of our Lord 1692. Postal time from Lyon to London is generally reckoned at about two weeks, so they could be presented there as early as 20 May (by the French calendar). The 30-day Bill is payable on 5 June, the other four on 20 June.

It is generally to the advantage of the payer (Lothar's factor in London) if the payee (whomever you endorse these Bills to) presents the Bills well in advance of the expiration of their usance, as this will give the payer more time to make arrangements to deliver the specie. That is particularly true in this case, when the acceptance of these Bills in London may trigger purchase or shipment of silver by Lothar.

We have have no reason to present these Bills for payment in London until a successful invasion has occurred, which ought to be no later than the last day of May. The 30-day Bill would then come due almost immediately, which suggests that Lothar will have to have 100,000 livres' worth of silver on hand in London. Thus we may be assured of paying our troops the first installment of their salary shortly after their arrival on English soil. The other four bills, as I have mentioned, are not payable until 20 June; and obviously it will be in our best interests to present these at the same time as the 30-day Bill so that Lothar will have two or three weeks' time in which to get an additional 400,000 livres' worth of silver to the Tower of London to be minted.

That amount, in British coin, is some 20,000 pounds sterling, which represents two days' produce for the Mint at the Tower; so Lothar's factor will have to deliver some three tons of bullion to the Tower mint no later than the 17th of June. This will present something of a challenge even to a man of Lothar's resources, and so he has been careful to insert a proviso on the four 45-day bills stating that they must be presented to the House of the Golden Mercury, Change Alley, London, no later than fifteen days before the date of expiry, i.e., the stroke of midnight, 5 June.

I remind you that the English use a calendar that long ago was abandoned by the rest of the civilized world. It is ten days behind ours, and falling further behind with each tick of the clock. All of the dates I have mentioned in this letter are in the modern (French) system of reckoning; you must subtract ten days to get their English equivalents.

In all other respects this transaction is wholly normal and self-explanatory and should present no particular difficulties for you or your agents.

It has been my honor and privilege to be of service to France in this matter. I look forward to renewing our acquaintance at the Caf'e Esphahan after the tumult of invasion has subsided.

Your humble &c.

Samuel Bernard


2 JUNE 1692

FOR THREE DAYS M'et'eore had been swinging about her anchor in a languid circle like the shadow on a sundial, driven by the comings and goings of the tides. Eliza lived in a great cabin at the stern. Had this been a warship or a merchantman, this would have been the private domain of the captain. One of its walls consisted of an arc of windows, as broad as the whole ship, staring abaft. When Eliza's view through those windows consisted of the town of Cherbourg, it meant that the tide was flooding in from the Channel, pushing M'et'eore east-southeast at the end of her cable. When the tide ebbed, then, and M'et'eore swung round the other way, she ought to have enjoyed a view out to sea. Instead, for three days she had seen nothing but fog: a murk into which all her carefully laid plans had been slowly dissolving. Very occasionally, loud booming noises would come out of it as gunners on the lost ships would take aim and fire at dark patches that were making suspicious noises. But for the most part it was a source of cacophonous music: sailors blowing trumpets and whistles, beating drums, and calling out in English, Dutch, or French and rattling chains as they raised or lowered anchors, depending on whether they judged it less hazardous to drift with the tide or stay in one place.

The two fleets—to the west, forty-five French ships under Admiral de Tourville, and to the east, ninety-nine Dutch and English ships under Admiral Russell—had collided in plain view of Cherbourg on the 29th, and joined battle. Tourville had driven hard into the center of Russell's line, so careless of the risk of being flanked that he had flanked himself. Standing on M'et'eore's maintop watching the battle through a perspective-glass, Eliza had almost phant'sied she could read Tourville's mind: He believed that the great ships in Russell's center were under command of Jacobites who would strike their colors and run up Stuart flags when he bore in close. Instead of which they had opened fire, and it had developed into a full engagement.

On behalf of Jean Bart, Eliza had of late campaigned in the salons of Versailles to persuade young courtiers that the navy was as gallant as the army. Few had taken the bait. For one glorious hour in the Channel off Cherbourg, a battle had played out that, if only Versailles could have seen it, would have left the army denuded of talent for years to come. Never again would Eliza have had to use words to convey the glamour of naval combat, for it was all there plainly to be seen. The flagship of Admiral Tourville was Soleil Royal, new, with a hundred guns; as fine a ship as any afloat, for French shipwrights had caught up with and even surpassed the Dutch in recent years. Admiral Russell's flagship was Britannia, also with a hundred guns. These two vessels went after each other like fighting cocks. There was no standing off to watch the battle from a remove, no tedious maneuver and counter-maneuver of the line of battle. The worst of the fighting was not delegated to lesser ships and lower ranks. Like two medieval kings jousting in the lists, Soleil Royal and Britannia went at each other full-bore, each giving as good as it got. Before long they had crippled each other. Only then did Admiral Tourville seem to comprehend that none of the English ships would be coming over to his side—which meant he was outnumbered by more than two to one. New signals went up on the half-ruined Soleil Royal. The French fleet suspended the attack and drew off in good order. They had engaged a force double their size, rendered the opposing flagship useless, and stood down, all without losing a single vessel. More importantly to Eliza, the twenty thousand French and Irish soldiers camped outside of Cherbourg—mostly around La Hougue, ten or fifteen miles away—were still safe on terra firma. James Stuart, who had been King of England, and phant'sied he still was, had come out from his pretend Court at St.-Germain to head up the invasion; presumably he had watched this battle from some high place nearby. He had just suffered one more rude shock in a life that had been full of them: Not a single one of the British ships—his ships—had shown the slightest inclination to take his part in the dispute. It had to be obvious, even to him, that there would be no invasion.

Eliza would never have been so fatuous as to have said that the day had gone perfectly. For aboard those ships scuttling about on the water were men, and every bloom of powder-smoke meant balls of metal flying through the air and sometimes carrying away legs, or lives. But not a single ship had gone down; it was no longer possible to take seriously the possibility of an invasion; and Eliza's plan was ticking along like a watch.

Then the wind had died, and the brassy haze that had lain on the water for most of that day had congealed into fog. It had come down like a grey velvet curtain terminating the first act of an opera, which was well enough; except that then it had got stuck, and there had been no second, third, fourth, or fifth Acts; only endless, sporadic noises off as the fleets had drifted to and fro, firing at phantoms. The rest of the 29th, fog; the 30th, fog; the 31st, fog; the 1st of June, fog! From time to time some intrepid sailors would reach shore in a longboat and grope their way along the coast until they found Cherbourg, and they would bring news. In this way they learned, for example, that some French ships (anchored) and some English ones (drifting) had become tangled together in the murk on the second day, and had at each other with cutlasses until the tide had drawn them apart. But really very little happened. On the first day Eliza had wished that all of Versailles could have witnessed the duel of the flagships; every hour since then, she had thanked Providence that no courtiers were anywhere nearby to see this travesty; or (what would was worse) to not see it. She did not envy Pontchartrain and 'Etienne, who would have to approach the King soon and request more money for the navy. She could not guess what the King might say, for he was unfailingly civil; but she knew what he would be thinking: Why should I scrape my Treasury floor to build wooden tubs so that men may bump into one another in fog?

She had all but given up hope for her plan when the sun had gone down behind the fog last night. "If I see the sun rise tomorrow morning," she had said, "then perhaps there is a way; if not, the work of the last two months is wasted, and I shall begin all over again."

At first light today she had gazed into the eastern sky half hoping to see nothing but a cliff of fog, for then her plan would have been unequivocally dead, which would have been altogether simpler and easier. Instead she had seen the disk of the sun, as crisp, and about as bright, as a copper coin resting on a bed of ashes.

She closed her eyes; invoked the Devil and the Heavenly Father in the same sentence, in case either of them was listening; and closed the shutters on three of the cabin windows, while leaving the others open. As M'et'eore swung round on the morning tide, and exposed her gilded backside to the town, this signal would become visible to those who had been watching for it.

She began to pack some goods into a bag: first, five Bills of Exchange, which she wrapped up in a wallet of skins, oiled to baffle moisture. Then a rolled blanket. Scarves. A comb and some pins, clips, and ribbons for suppressing her hair. Some silver coins, mostly Pieces of Eight chopped into wedge-shaped bits, certain to astonish the English.

The rooves of Cherbourg were glowing, seemingly not with the reflected light of the sun, but rather from within, like hot irons pulled from the forge. A boom sounded from far off, then another, then a ripple of them.

Then someone knocked on her door and her skeleton practically jumped free of her skin; for she phant'sied somehow it was a handful of wayward grapeshot striking M'et'eore. She dropped her bag on the floor and kicked it under her bed, then went to the door and unlatched it. It was Brigitte, her lady-in-waiting.

"It is Monsieur d'Ascot to call on you, my lady."

"Bit early."

"Nevertheless, he is here."

"A few minutes while I make myself presentable."

"Shall I help you?"

"No, for I am not really going to make myself presentable. I make him wait because I can, and because it is expected, and because he deserves to be punished for coming so early."


"PARDON ME, MADAME, for having disturbed your morning," said William, Viscount Ascot, in French that sounded as if he'd practiced it while he'd been waiting. Eliza thought of asking him to speak English; but he'd probably take it as an insult. "I was asked to keep you apprised of any news concerning the invasion."

This meant several things. First of all, in spite of the fact that James Stuart had showed up, there must be someone competent still in charge and making information wash up and down the chain of command. Second, this man, Ascot, must be one of the agents who were supposed to carry the Bills of Exchange to London. Third, nothing was going to happen; for if Ascot and the other four agents were going to do it today, all five would have showed up at dawn, and they'd already be fanning out across the Channel in separate boats, each with a Bill of Exchange in his breast pocket.

"Time is drawing very short," Eliza remarked. "The Bills must be presented in London three days from now. They must be sent on their way this morning, or else I might as well tear them up."

"Yes, madame," said Ascot. "The King and Council are aware of it." He meant James Stuart and his claque. As if to emphasize this, he gazed out the window into Cherbourg. Somewhere in the town, on some church-steeple, there must be signalmen poised to raise flags as messages came in from the headquarters at La Hougue. "The fog is lifting!" he exclaimed. "When I was strolling on the upperdeck just now, madame, I was able to see one or two miles out into the Channel."

"And what did you observe, monsieur?"

"Boats coming in, madame."

"Under sail or—"

"No, for the wind is only just coming up. They are longboats, with sailors pulling lustily at the oars. Some of them are towing a damaged ship—a big one."

"Do you think it might be the Soleil Royal?"

"Quite possibly, madame. Or"—Ascot smiled—"perhaps what is left of Britannia."

This made Eliza dislike Ascot somehow; for he was after all an Englishman. He was straining visibly to say things he guessed she would like to hear; and his guesses were not very interesting. She was silent for a moment, out of sheer hopelessness. Into that silence Ascot put the words "On those longboats will be information, madame; the information that the King of England shall require to make his decision."

Eliza nodded as if she accepted this; but what she was thinking was, first, How could even a syphilitic be so insane as to phant'sy that the invasion might still happen and, second, If he doesn't cancel it soon I shall have a grave problem on my hands. She glanced involuntarily at the cabin windows, and the three closed shutters. They'd been visible from Cherbourg for at least half an hour now. Things were in motion that she could no longer control.

For a minute or two it had been possible to hear shouting abovedecks, which aboard ship was a wholly usual thing; more so when longboats were coming in from the Channel bearing news. Eliza had paid no attention to it. Now, though, they heard a thunking splash. A man, or something as big as a man, going overboard.

"Madame, I beg your leave to investigate—" began Ascot.

"Go, go!" said Eliza in English; which startled Ascot so much that he reverted to it as he opened the cabin door.

"I can't imagine what this is all about—what on earth—"

Eliza followed him out the hatch into a dark and somewhat cluttered space sheltered beneath the poop deck. But in a few strides they had emerged onto the open upperdeck of M'et'eore. From here they enjoyed a clear view forward, which meant, out of the harbor and into the waters of the Channel. As Ascot had mentioned, many longboats were coming in. Too many, to Eliza's suspicious eye; for how many were really needed, to carry a few bits of news? Bright patches shone out here and there in the fog on the Channel: sunlight illuminating squares of canvas that had been strung up to catch the freshening breeze.

As Ascot had mentioned, one ship—a big one—was a good deal closer. It was not so much being towed by longboats as being washed into the harbor by the tide. It had somehow caught a sunbeam that had pierced a loop-hole in the fog. Or so Eliza thought when she first caught sight of it out the corner of her eye. When she looked at it full on, though, she realized it was making its own light. It was burning. It was, or had been, Soleil Royal.

Her attention was diverted by another thunk-splash, then another. It could no longer be denied that men were jumping off the ship.

Several of the sailors on the upperdeck were men she had never laid eyes on before. And to judge from the curious way they were gazing about, they were new to M'et'eore.

Just ahead of them a man vaulted over the upperdeck railing on to the ship. This was not supposed to happen. There was nothing out there—it was like a stranger jumping into a second-storey window.

"I say!" exclaimed Ascot, still stuck in English. "I do say!"

The newcomer turned to face Ascot. His answer was as follows: "Fucking whoreson Jacobite traitor!" He was raising one arm as he delivered this remark, and punctuated the sentence by turning Ascot's head into a pink spout. The thing in his hand was a blunderbuss.

Eliza went back into the dark space beneath the poop deck and began pulling doors open. The doors led to cabins where Brigitte, Nicole, and a maidservant were lodged. "Into my cabin now, no questions!"

She got them all into the big cabin: four women in all. Brigitte was of a mind to heave furniture against the door. But that did not work as well here as it would have ashore, since the significant furniture was bolted down. Some trunks, a chair, and a mattress were all that they could shift for in the way of a barricade. Eliza urged them all to bend their efforts to this task, even though she knew it was absurd. A glance out the windows told her that M'et'eore was moving. The English had cut her anchor cable, made her fast to a longboat or two, and were towing her out into the Channel. Better for them to attend to barricade-making than to think too hard about what this portended.

A most unsettling noise radiated through the air all round, and made their breakfasts quiver in their stomachs. Eliza went to a window and saw one of Cherbourg's shore-batteries obnubilated by powder-smoke. The artillerymen had opened fire; she guessed they were hoping to sink Soleil Royal before she drifted into the anchorage and set fire to other ships, or exploded. She explained as much to her companions. Fortunately none of them was swift enough to ask how long it might be before the same batteries opened up on M'et'eore.

They had been ignored, for a time, by those who had taken the ship—which made perfect sense once Eliza understood that their intention was to take the entire vessel. But now that M'et'eore was under way, albeit slowly, English marines had begun to pound desultorily on the door of the cabin. Hammers and prybars were mined from tool-lockers. Splinters began to fly out of the wall—rather than waste effort on the barricaded door, they were simply smashing their way through a bulkhead.

Such was the noise that Eliza might almost have overlooked the sudden arrival of the immense one-armed man in her cabin. Almost; for he entered through a window, swinging in on the end of a rope, and a chunk of glass hit her in the ear. And the maidservant must have seen him hurtling toward the glass, for she began screaming an instant before the implosion, and kept it up for a few moments after; long enough for the intruder to catch her about the waist by his one proper arm, pick her up, and throw her out of the ship. In the end, the scream was terminated only by her impact with the water. A few seconds later it resumed, sounding a bit gurgly. The large man had big pale blue eyes and seemed distracted; so much to take in, so many things to do. He looked around the cabin, making a quick count of the number of women who had not yet been thrown out (three). He turned and looked back at the ruined window. It was partly blocked by a skein of crazed glass, shredded wood, and caulking, which had complicated the defenestration of the maidservant. The man shrugged and one of his arms tripled in length. For it had been severed below the elbow and replaced with a three-part flail, segments made of some sort of dark, heavy-looking wood, bound and capped with iron, and joined one to the next by short segments of chain. He turned toward the window, judged the distance, and went into a curious shrugging and shivering movement that propagated down the length of the flail and sent its distal segment ripping through what was left of the window-frame like chainshot launched from a cannon. That and a few kicks sufficed to make a clean rectangular aperture through which he presently hurled a screaming Nicole.

Before he could pursue this wench-flinging project any further, he was distracted by the rude irruption into the cabin of a man's arm. The English boarders had made a hole, and one of them was reaching in to see what he might grab. At the top of his list was the brass bolt holding the cabin door closed.

The ramshackle and skeletal arm of the flail rattled across the cabin, a strangely unfolding train of dire consequences, and struck the new intruder round about the elbow with a splintery sort of noise. The arm was withdrawn, leaving a dark cavity through which the one-armed man flung a dagger that had appeared in his hand from nowhere. "Shoot him!" someone screamed, from the other side of the bulkhead; but Brigitte had the presence of mind to topple Eliza's mattress—which had been propped against the cabin door—so that it obscured the rift in the bulkhead. The men on the other side could reach through the hole and thrust it away, but it only flopped back again; which, if Eliza had had more time for reflection, she might have taken as some sort of lesson in how soft defenses could be more effective than hard ones.

Eliza had gone to the missing window. Below was a two-oared skiff. A line ran from it straight up to a grapple snared in the rigging of M'et'eore's mizzen-mast, above; this was how the one-armed man had gotten aboard, though, being one-armed, it seemed he had had to make use of some ingenious block-and-tackle arrangement, much too complicated for Eliza to work out under these circumstances.

The two women who had been flung out earlier were bobbing like lilies on the water, for their skirts had inflated as they had dropped. Eventually they would become waterlogged and sink, but they had both got hold of the little boat's gunwale and seemed fine for now. Which was the very least that Eliza looked for, from her personal staff. Indeed she made a mental note to ask this question of all prospective employees she interviewed in future: You are on your mistress's jacht preparing for her petit lev'ee when the vessel is taken by English marines and towed out to sea under fire from shore batteries. Barricaded in a cabin, waiting for a fate worse than death, you are picked up and hurled into the sea by a mysterious one-armed giant who has swung into a window on a rope. Do you (a) struggle bootlessly until you sink and drown, (b) scream until someone rescues you, or (c) dog-paddle to the nearest floating object and wait calmly for your mistress to resolve the difficulty?

Eliza had suspected very early that the one-armed man might be some sort of a godsend, and was now convinced of it. She hitched up her skirt, snaked a leg under her bed, caught her bag-handle on the point of her slipper, and jerked it out. Turning to the open window, she paused for a few moments to time her breathing, and the rolling of the seas; then she tossed out the bag, and it landed square in the middle of the rowboat. Then she turned around. Flail-arm, it seemed, had fastened his gaze upon Brigitte with a look that seemed to say, "I mean to throw you out next, mademoiselle," and she had declined the honor. Now he was trying to get one arm about her waist (a factitious narrowing of Brigitte's midsection, owed to laces and whalebones). Few men were big, strong, and reckless enough to pick up Brigitte and toss her, when she was not of a mind to be. This fellow had been, prior to the loss of his arm. As matters stood, they were evenly matched, unless he elected to beat her senseless with the terrible flail first. And this he was not of a mind to do; though he was plainly enough tempted, Eliza thought she could see a tenderness about his eyes. And so a dire, ungainly, loud struggle, destructive of property and of the dignity of the participants, ranged all across the cabin.

"Brigitte!" Eliza called, at a moment when the one-armed man had tripped over his flail and was slow getting up. Brigitte raised her hot gaze from the intruder and looked up to see Eliza framed in the window. "You may stay and flirt with him all you want, or take him to bed for all I care! But I am departing and shall await you below." And then she vanished from Brigitte's sight.

In spite of herself she let out a yell just before she hit the water. Then she was speechless for a moment, it was so cold; but before more than a few moments had passed, she began paddling toward the wee boat, as best she could. She did this partly out of a thought to the Interview Question, and partly out of fear that Brigitte and Monsieur Flail-arm might hurtle down atop her at any moment. Heavy splashes behind her confirmed that she'd made the correct choice.

To get four sopping femmes aboard so small a boat was no simple thing. Flail-arm, as soon as he'd gone into the water, had prestidigitated another sharp object and severed the line linking the rowboat to M'et'eore, and the gap between them had begun to widen. Eliza glanced up at her stolen jacht only once. She saw English marines at the poop-deck rail, and English marines in the windows of her cabin (for they had finally got past Brigitte's improvisations). One of them had the bad manners to aim a pistol down at Flail-arm. But just then a boom sounded from not far away, and something whined over their heads and ripped two pounds of oak out of the railing. The marines jumped back, and some flung themselves to the deck. Eliza followed Flail-arm's startled gaze across the water and spied a boat coming on rapidly, under full sail.

Eliza was no great aficionado of ship-types, and made a practice of quitting any conversation in which the men drifted off into, and got stuck on, ship-prattle. But at a glance she guessed this one was eighty feet long. It had no transom and no superstructure, had two masts, was lug-rigged. In Holland it might have gone under the name of galjoot. In any case, it was a coastal trading-ship, adequate to cross the Channel, and it was obviously armed with at least one swivel-gun. The shot they had fired at the English marines had been mostly for effect. Never could this little smuggler's craft have challenged M'et'eore, had M'et'eore been under sail, and properly manned; but as matters stood, the galjoot had enough sting in her swivel-guns to give the English second thoughts about standing in plain view and taking pot-shots at Men Overboard. Eliza had spied the boat a few minutes ago, and hoped it might be the one she had hired; this confirmed as much. It made no effort to pursue M'et'eore, but wore around so as to make itself a barrier between M'et'eore and the rowboat, and then released the air from its sails. Arbal`ete (for that was the name painted on her bows) approached with a curious mixture of charity and hostility, on the one hand flinging out lines for the ladies to snatch from the air, or rake up out of the water, on the other hand keeping loaded muskets at the ready. The only part of this morning's proceedings that they had been led to expect was that they might be collecting an anonymous passenger from the vicinity of M'et'eore. All else—the assault of the English longboats, the apparition of the flaming Soleil Royal, and Flail-arm with his rowboat—had been unexpected. Eliza was already dreading the re-negotiation of the deal that probably lay ahead with the captain of Arbal`ete. That it had even ventured this far into the melee could probably be attributed solely to a bloke standing amidships holding a musket: Bob Shaftoe.

"All is well, Sergeant Bob. No, I don't know who he is. He is a mute, or something. But he seems well-intentioned. The worst I can say of him is that he is more forthright in his methods than would be considered proper at Versailles."

"I have noted him about the waterfront, spying on M'et'eore," was Bob's answer.

"Come to mention it, so have I," said Eliza, "but lacking your penetration, sir, I could not make out whether he was spying, or merely satisfying his curiosity."

"Perhaps lovely Duchesses are more accustomed to being stared at for hours at a time than mangled Sergeants," Bob said. "To me it looked like spying."

"As perhaps it was, Sergeant Bob; but this morning he has been of service to a boat-load of women."

"Is it to be you alone, or the entire boat-load?" demanded the incredulous Monsieur Rigaud, Captain of Arbal`ete. Until this point, he had been preoccupied by the spectre—even more terrifying to a ship-captain than to any other sort of person—of the Soleil Royal drifting past them with gouts of flame spurting from her hundred gun-ports. Rigaud seemed at last to have convinced himself that the English, before setting fire to her, had extracted her stores of gunpowder—i.e., that they wanted her to burn for a long time, make a memorable spectacle for the citizenry of Cherbourg, and perhaps set fire to a few other ships—not simply blow up. If he was right, then the danger to Arbal`ete was past, for the flagship had unequivocally drifted beyond them. He had, accordingly, turned his mind to a threat almost as dire: an onslaught of female passengers.

"Only I," said Eliza, and slung her bag at Rigaud's head.

This was news to the other women, and caused a little flurry of gasps and outcries. Eliza considered trying to explain matters. Mommy must run off to England and steal three tons of silver. Instead she reached up—for the rowboat was grinding against Arbal`ete's side—and let Bob seize one of her hands, and a French sailor the other. The weight came off of her feet. She was hoisted aboard Arbal`ete like a bale of silk. "Lovely Brigitte," she called, "I hope that one day you will forgive me for now pressing you in to service as gal'erienne. But you must get in to shore before matters get any worse; and this man, I am afraid—"

"Rows in circles. The same had occurred to me, my lady." Brigitte seized the oars.

"We shall keep our swivel-guns charged, and watch you in to the shore," volunteered Monsieur Rigaud, who had become considerably more pliant now that the rowboat full of women was working away from Arbal`ete.

"Send a despatch to Captain Bart in Dunkerque," Eliza called.

"Saying what, Madame?"

"That it is going to happen after all."


"AMPUTATIONS ARE DICEY THINGS," remarked Bob Shaftoe some hours later. For a while, he had had that look on his face that warned Eliza he was pondering something, and likely to blurt out just such a ghoulish observation as soon as he took a whim to speak. "One strives to preserve the elbow, or the knee, at all costs, for that additional degree of articulation in the stump makes all the difference. In a below-the-elbow amputation, the hand is gone, and with it the ability to sense, to grasp, to caress. But yet there is the elbow, and the sinews to make it act. To turn the arm into a flail—a whole train of articulations, unfeeling, ungrasping, yet capable of action—yes, to put a flail on a stump is wholly fitting in a way."

"Remind me to ask you later for your thoughts on disembowelment," said Eliza, then regretted it, for she was already queasy. They were out on the Channel now, the wind had come up, and she was robed, hooded, and swaddled in blankets like a woman out of a desert land—a very cold desert land.

Bob squinted at her. "I've had any number of such thoughts this morning, and have held them back from you." He was alluding to the scenes that they had all beheld from the deck of Arbal`ete as they had sailed east-northeast along the tip of the Cotentin—that stump of an arm that France thrust out toward England. For the first hour or so, their view had been of Cherbourg, and of the waters north of it, which had gradually been unveiled as the last traces of the four-day fog had dissolved into plain air. A goodly part of the Anglo-Dutch fleet was there. The burning of Soleil Royal and the invasion of Cherbourg Harbor by longboats were only aspects of a larger action, which they came better to understand as they drew back from it. The English and Dutch had cut a few ships from the French fleet and were going about the tedious and ungallant work of mopping them up: trying to get enough cannonballs into their hulls to sink or ruin them before they could scurry in under the protection of the shore batteries. By the time that Cherbourg had receded from Arbal`ete's view, that issue was no longer in much doubt: This remnant of the French fleet, if it reached Cherbourg at all, would never sail again. Not long after, Arbal`ete had rounded the Point of Barfleur, which had brought them in view of a vast bay, fifteen miles broad and five deep, pressed like a thumbprint into the eastern side of the Cotentin. It was there, in the shelter of the peninsula, that the bulk of the invasion-transports had gathered to receive soldiers and mat'eriel from the great camps around La Hougue. And it was there, they now discovered, that Admiral Tourville had sought refuge with perhaps two dozen of his ships. Now that the fog had lifted, the bulk of the Anglo-Dutch fleet had formed up off La Hougue and were boring in to finish Tourville off; and since the anchorage proper was protected by shore batteries, this meant longboat-work again. What had happened to M'et'eore this morning was, in other words, to be the pattern for what would be done to Tourville's fleet today. Eliza, though she knew little of Naval tactics, could see the logic of it as plainly as if it had been writ out on a page by Leibniz: The English could bring their ships no nearer shore than a certain point because of the shore-batteries. Tourville could not sail what was left of the French fleet—now outnumbered three or four to one—out of the anchorage. And so there was a no-man's-land between the English and French, which soon developed a dark infestation of longboats issuing from all the Anglo-Dutch ships. Unable to maneuver or even to weigh anchor in the jammed anchorage, the crews of the French ships could only stand on the decks and wait to repel boarders.

Arbal`ete, which under these circumstances could be overlooked as an insignificant smuggler's boat, now made her course due north, threaded her way between a pair of laggardly English men-of-war, and began a sprint for Portsmouth. Before the anchorage of La Hougue was lost to view astern, they noted a spark of light drifting out of it, trying to catch up with its own column of smoke. The burning of the French fleet had begun. Those aboard Arbal`ete could at least turn their backs on the scene, and run away from it. Not so fortunate, as Eliza knew, was James Stuart, who was camped in a royal tent on a hill above La Hougue. He'd have to watch the whole thing. For all that she despised the man and his reign, Eliza couldn't but feel sorry for him: chased out of England once in girl's clothes, during the Commonwealth, and a second time with a bloody nose during the Glorious Revolution; loser of the Battle of the Boyne; chased out of Ireland; and now this. It was while she was mulling over these cheerful matters that Bob Shaftoe unexpectedly piped up with his ruminations on the topic of stumps; which gives a fair portrait of the mood aboard Arbal`ete during her passage to England.


"I HAVE SEEN altogether too many men in my day, living as I have in Vagabond-camps and Regimental quarters. And so it could be that my memory has been overfilled and is now playing tricks on me. But I think that I have seen that man before," Bob said.

"Flail-arm? You mentioned you'd noticed him in Cherbourg, spying or gawking."

"Aye, but even the first time I saw him there, I phant'sied I'd seen his face elsewhere."

"If he was spying on me there, perhaps he had been doing the same in St.-Malo, and you'd noticed him on one of your visits," said Eliza, and was immediately sorry that she had raised this topic; for her bowels were in an uproar, she'd spent more time at the head than all others on the boat summed, and Bob had conspicuously refrained from saying anything about it, but only squinted at her knowingly. It was late afternoon. The sun was slicing down across the northwestern sky, making England into a rubble of black lumps in the foreground, and casting golden light on Bob's face.

"I phant'sied I'd make the return voyage, you know."

"You mean, back to Normandy tomorrow? But are you not absent without leave from your Irish regiment? Would you not be flogged for it, or something?"

"I got leave, on a pretext. It is still not too late."

"But it sounds as though you are having second thoughts."

"The closer we draw to England, the better she suits me. I went to France for diverse reasons, none of which have turned out to be any good."

"You hoped it would bring you within reach of Abigail."

"Aye. But instead I was marooned in Brest nigh on half a year, then Cherbourg for three months. And so serving France has brought me no nearer to Paris than if I'd been posted in London. Who knows where they'll have us go next?"

"If what I have heard means anything," Eliza said, "the fighting will be very hot in the Spanish Netherlands this summer. They are probably laying siege to Namur as we speak. That is most likely where Count Sheerness is—"

"And so probably Abigail as well," said Bob, "for if he means to spend the whole summer in those parts, he has brought his household with him. Very well. My most expedient way of reaching that part of the world shall be to re-join the Black Torrent Guards and be shipped thither at King William's expense."

"Don't you suppose your nine months' absence will have been noted? What kind of flogging will they award you for that!?"

"I was conducting military espionage in the enemy camp for the Earl of Marlborough," Bob retorted; though the look on his face, and the lilt in his voice, suggested that this had only just come into his head.

"The Earl of Marlborough has been dismissed from all offices, stripped of command. His colonelcy of the Black Torrent Guards will have been sold off to some Tory hack."

"But nine months ago when my mission of espionage began, none of that was true."

"Your idea still seems risky to me," said Eliza, eager to draw the exchange to a curt finish because the rioting had started up in her belly once more.

"Then I shall test the waters first, with Marlborough, before presenting myself to the Regiment," Bob said. "You're going to London! I don't suppose you'd be willing to bring him a private note from me—?"

"Since you cannot read or write, I suppose you'd like me to pen the note as well?" said Eliza, and turned her back on Bob, the better to search for a convenient scupper. She did not feel as though she would have time to trudge all the way to the head; besides which, a French sailor was already sitting up there, taking a lengthy shit into the English Channel and singing.

"Your offer is well received," Bob returned. "And as I am unfit to frame a proper letter to an Earl, perhaps I could interest you in composing it as well—?"

"I'll just talk to him," said Eliza, dropping to her hands and knees. The next thing that emerged from her mouth, however, was altogether unfit for presentation to an Earl; a fact Bob was discreet enough not to point out.


4 JUNE (N.S.)/25 MAY (O.S.), 1692

Where men build on false grounds, the more they build, the greater is the ruin.

—HOBBES, Leviathan

ELIZA FRETTED, AND BELABORED HERSELF for being too late and too little organized, until the moment that she gazed out the carriage window and saw the waters of the Thames below her, all crammed with shipping. This was too strange to believe for a moment. Then it came to her that this street must be London Bridge, and the carriage must be traversing one of the firebreaks, where it was possible to get a view. The sight of the River triggered a curious reversal in her mood. It was midafternoon of the day nominated, by the French and most of the rest of Christendom, June 4th, and by the English May 25th. Whichever calendar was used, the fact of the matter was that the Bills of Exchange would not expire until the end of the day tomorrow; she had, in other words, reached London with more than twenty-four hours to spare. This in spite of the fact that for the last week—since the day that Tourville had assaulted Russell in the Channel, and the fog had closed in—she had been certain she was too late and that the entire enterprise was doomed. From that moment until this, London had seemed infinitely far away, and impossible to reach. Now, having reached it, she wondered what all the fuss had been about. For London was after all a great city and people went there all the time—the number of masts thrust into the air above the Pool spoke to this. Perhaps Eliza had nursed an exaggerated view of its remoteness because of the difficulty she'd had in escaping to it almost three years ago, when her ship had been waylaid by Jean Bart.

At any rate she was across the Bridge and in the City before she had reached the end of these ruminations. The horses irritably dragged the carriage up Fish Street Hill as the coachman irritably popped his whip about their ears. It occurred to Eliza that she had not given the driver a destination, other than London. She had no destination in mind. But the driver had. Presently he turned off to the left, into a slit between new (brick, flat-fronted, post-Fire) buildings. The slit broadened and developed into a rambling composition of chambers and orifices, like the stomachs of a cow. It all seemed to be wrapped around the backside of a big structure that looked somehow like church, but somehow not. Tired Eliza remembered, then, that she had found her way to a country where there was more than just one church. She reckoned that this must be a meeting house of Quakers or some other such sect. At any rate they came, after certain turns, reversals, and squeezings, to a doorway adorned with a sign shaped like the head of an indifferent-looking brown horse. A porter exploded out of the doorway and vied with a footman for the honor of ripping the carriage door open. For painted on the outside of the carriage were the arms of the Marquis of Ravenscar, who Eliza gathered must be a valued regular of this inn or tavern, the Brown Horse or the Old Gelding or whatever they called it—

"Welcome to Nag's Head Court, my lady," said Roger Comstock, the Marquis of Ravenscar, emerging from the door, and bowing as deeply as a man of his maturity and dignity could without peeling a hamstring or lobbing his wig into the gutter. Eliza by now had thrust her head and shoulders out the door (about all she wanted to reveal, given that she had lost contact with her wardrobe some days ago). She ought to have given her undivided attention to Ravenscar; but she could not restrain the urge to look this way and that up the length of Nag's Head Court.

"No, madame, your senses have not misled you, it is just as mean, narrow, and squalid as you feared, and no apology from me shall balance the offense I have done you, by bringing you to it; but it was a suitable place for me to wait, and behold, it is nigh to the mysteries and delights of the 'Change."

Eliza followed his gaze down the alley. It rambled on in the same vein for a stone's throw and discharged into a proper street, which seemed to be crowded with an inordinate number of well-to-do-chaps who were all in a frightful hurry. She knew what it was just that quickly. If she had been wearing Versailles court-makeup, it would have cracked and fallen to the ground like ice from a warming roof. For her face had done something she never allowed it to do at Versailles, namely, opened up into a broad grin. She directed this at Ravenscar, who all but swooned. "On the contrary, my lord, in all London there's no place I'd rather be than the 'Change, and there is no place I am so well suited for, in my present state, than a dark doorway in Nag's Head Court—so—"

Ravenscar was aghast, and quick-stepped to the base of the wee Barock staircase that the footmen had arranged beneath the carriage-door. This was to help her down, if she insisted; but really he was throwing his body across her path as a barrier. "I would not dream of escorting a Duchess into that place! I had hoped that the lady might suffer me to join her in the carriage while we proceeded to some destination worthy to be graced by one of her dignity."

"It is, after all, your carriage, monsieur—"

"Nay, madame, yours, for as long as you choose to remain on our Isle, and I, your servant."

"Get in the damned carriage, then. And pray lower the shades, for I am not fit to stop light."

Ravenscar did as he was told. The carriage began to move. "Obviously, my driver was able to find you in Portsmouth—?"

"We found him. The skipper of our boat would not go to Portsmouth, or any other proper port-town, but only to certain coves he knew of. Thence we hired a waggon."

Ravenscar was looking curiously about the interior of the carriage, as if someone were missing. "We?"

"I was with an Englishman."

"A Person of Quality, or—"

"A Person of Usefulness. But somewhat bull-headed. He had set his mind to looking up his whilom Captain. When we reached Portsmouth he began to make inquiries about the fellow—name of Churchill."

Ravenscar winced. "Eeeyuh, the Earl of Marlborough has been clapped in the Tower of London!"

"So you tell me now, but, isolated as I'd been, I'd not heard that news. Otherwise I'd have warned my companion not to mention the name."

"They put your man in irons, did they?"

"They did. For I gather that the charge on which Marlborough is being held is that of being a Jacobite spy—?"

"It is so ludicrous that I am too embarrassed even to repeat it to you. But a moiety of the English race are the more inclined to credit an accusation, the more fanciful it becomes; and whoever it was that arrested your man in Portsmouth—"

"Was of that sort, and, seeing a man just off a boat from Cherbourg, asking the whereabouts of Marlborough, assumed the worst."

"Have they hanged him yet?"

"No, nor will they soon, for haply your carriage came along. I, to them, was just a wench in a wet dress; but when this fine vehicle made the scene, with your arms on the door, and your driver started in with ‘la duchesse' this and ‘the Duchess' that—"

"Matters changed."

"Matters changed, and I was able to let those in charge know that hanging my companion would not be in their best interests. But now that I'm here, I would visit Marlborough."

"Many would, my lady. The queue of carriages at the Tower is long. You rank most of them, and should be able to go directly to its head. But if I might, first—?"

"Yes?"

They had been driving around a triangular circuit of Cornhill, Threadneedle, and Bishopsgate, enclosing some twenty acres of ground that contained more money than the rest of the British Isles. It was remarkable that they had been able to converse for even this long without the topic having arisen.

"It is frightfully indecent of me to mention this, I know," said Ravenscar, "but I am, at present, the owner of rather a lot of silver. Rather a lot. They tell me 'tis worth ever so much more now than 'twas three weeks ago, when I bought it; but if news were to arrive, say from Portsmouth, that the French invasion had miscarried—"

"It would suddenly be worth ever so much less. Yes, I know. Well, the invasion has failed."

Ravenscar's pelvis actually rose off the bench as if someone had shoved a dagger into his kidney. His voice vaulted to a higher register: "If we could, then, pay a brief call upon a certain gentleman, now, before you go spreading the news about—"

"I've no intention of doing that, as the news shall get here soon enough on its own," said Eliza, which little comforted Ravenscar. "But before you spread the news, by selling all of your silver, I have a small transaction that I must conduct at the House of Hacklheber—do you know it?"

"That? It is a hole in the wall, a niche, a dovecote—if you require pocket money in London, madame, I can convey you to the banca of Sir Richard Apthorp himself, who will be pleased to extend you credit—"

"That is most courteous of you," said Eliza, rummaging in her pathetic bag, and drawing out a slimy bundle of skins, "but I prefer to get my pocket-money from my own banker, and that is the House of Hacklheber."

"Very well," said the Marquis of Ravenscar, and boomed on the ceiling with the head of his walking-stick. "To the Golden Mercury in 'Change Alley!"


"I CONFESS THAT I was observing through the window—and only out of a gentlemanly concern for your safety," said the Marquis of Ravenscar, "and only after some half an hour had elapsed—for it struck me as rather a lengthy transaction."

Eliza had only just returned to the carriage and was still smoothing her skirts down. She'd been in there for an hour and twelve minutes. Ten minutes' waiting would have made Ravenscar impatient; twenty, apoplectic. Seventy-two had put him through the full gamut of emotional states known to mortal man, as well as a few normally reserved for angels and devils. Now, he was spent, drained. Though perhaps just a bit apprehensive that she would want to go on some other errand next.

"Yes, my lord?"

"The fellow had—well, I don't know, a bit of a startled look about him. Perhaps 'twas just my imagination."

"Mind your toes!" This warning came simultaneously from Eliza, and from one of Ravenscar's footmen, who had carried a box up the wee stairs behind Eliza and thrust it inside; its weight overbore his strength, and it crashed onto the floor, making the carriage rock and bounce up and down for a while on its springs. One of the horses whinnied in protest. "Where shall I place the others, madame?" he inquired.

"There are more!?" exclaimed Ravenscar.

"Ten more, yes."

"What are we—pardon me, you—going to do with so much, er…did you say ten? Please tell me it is copper."

Eliza flipped the lid open with her toe to reveal more freshly minted silver pennies than the Marquis of Ravenscar had seen in one place in years. He responded in the only way fitting: with absolute silence. Meanwhile his driver answered the question for him.

"Not load it on this coach, guv'nor, the suspension won't hold." The driver was struggling to settle the exhausted horses, who had sensed that the carriage was rapidly getting heavier. Another crash sounded from the shelf in the back, causing the vehicle to pitch nose up, and then another on the roof, which began to bulge downward and emit ominous ticks.

"Summon a hackney!" commanded the Marquis, and then swiveled his eyes back to Eliza, imploring her to answer his question.

"What am I going to do with it?"

"Yes."

"Sell it, I suppose, at the same time as you are selling yours. It is rather more pocket-money than I shall be requiring during my stay in your city. Though I should very much like to go to the West End later, and go—what is the word they use for it now?"

"I believe the word you are looking for is ‘shopping,' madame."

"Yes, shopping. The money, of course, belongs to the King of France. But, gentleman that he is, he would never begrudge me the loan of a few pounds sterling so that I might change into a new dress."

"Nor would I, madame," said Ravenscar, "if it came to that—but le Roi, it goes without saying, has precedence." Ravenscar swallowed. "It is a remarkable coincidence."

"What coincidence, my lord?"

More jingling crashes came to their ears from just behind, where a hackney had pulled up, and was being laden with more strong-boxes. The sound was enormously distracting to Ravenscar, who struggled to keep stringing words together. "Our route to the lovely shops of the West End shall take us past Apthorp's, where—"

"Oh, that's right. You wish to put your silver on the market. Not yet."

"Not yet!?"

"Think of a ship's captain, sailing into battle, guns charged and ready to let go a broadside. If he loses his nerve, and fires too soon, the balls fall short of their target, and splash into the water, and he looks a fool. Worse, he is not afforded the opportunity to re-load. It is like that now."

Ravenscar did not seem convinced.

"After our epistolary flirtation, which I did enjoy so much," Eliza tried, "I should be crestfallen if I journeyed all the way to London only to find that you were a premature ejaculator."

"Really! Madame! I do not know how the ladies discourse in France, but here in England—"

"Oh, stop it. 'Twas a figure of speech, nothing more."

"And not a very accurate one, by your leave; for more is at stake here than you seem to know!"

"I know precisely what's at stake, my lord." Here Eliza was distracted by some activity without. A man had emerged from the door of the House of Hacklheber, dressed as if about to embark on a voyage, and was signalling for a hackney. There was no lack of these, as word seemed to have spread that coins were falling from the sky hereabouts. Within moments the fellow was on his way.

"Was that one of the shouting Germans?" Ravenscar inquired.

Eliza met his eye. "You could hear them all the way out here?" Then she tilted her head out the window to watch.

"Madame, I could have heard them from Wales. What were they on about?"

Eliza was crooking her finger at someone outside, then nodding as if to say, yes, I mean you, sirrah! Presently a face appeared in the window: a hackney-driver, hat in hands. "Follow yonder German until he gets on a boat. Watch the boat until you can't see it any more. Go to—what did you call your Den of Iniquity, my lord?"

"The Nag's Head."

"Go to the Nag's Head and leave word for the Marquis that his ship has come in. Someone there will then give you more of these." Eliza blindly scooped some coins out of her strong-box and slapped them into the driver's hat.

"Right you are, milady!"

"It shall probably be the Gravesend Ferry, but you might have to trail him all the way to Ipswich or something," Eliza added, partly to explain the amount; for she got the idea, from the way Ravenscar had just swallowed his own tongue, that she had overpaid.

The hackney driver was so gone, 'twas as if he'd been launched from a siege-mortar. Eliza looked back to Ravenscar. "You asked, what were the Germans shouting about?"

"Yes. I was afraid I should have to venture within and run them through." Ravenscar slapped the scabbard of his small-sword.

"They were full of impertinent questions about what I meant to do with all that silver."

"And you told them—?"

"I affected a noble diffidence, and pretended not to understand any language other than the high French of Versailles."

"Right. So they believe that the invasion has begun!"

"I cannot read their minds, my lord; and if I could, I should not wish to."

"And they have in consequence despatched a runner to the Continent. You mentioned Ipswich—implying that his destination is Holland—and his mission is, what?"

Eliza shrugged. "To fetch the rest, I'd suppose."

"The rest of the Germans!?"

"No, no, the rest of the silver—the remaining four-fifths of it."

An observer standing without the carriage would have seen it buck and rock. Some sort of nervous catastrophe had caused all of the Marquis of Ravenscar's muscles to contract at once. He was a few moments getting his faculties back. When he spoke again, it was from a sprawling, semi-prone position. "What the hell are you going to do with so much silver?"

"Most likely, convert it into Bills of Exchange that can be taken back to France."

"Where the money came from in the first place. Why bother at all?"

"Now it is you who asks impertinent questions," Eliza said. "All that need concern you for now is that the Hacklhebers believe the invasion has been launched. They are probably trying to buy silver on the London market now. Which shall lead all to believe in the invasion, until positive news arrives to the contrary. Your silver has only gone up in value."

"In truth there is one other matter that doth concern me," said Ravenscar, "which is that we are sitting out in the street with a king's ransom in silver; pray, could we get it now behind walls, locks, and guns?"

"Wherever you consider it shall be safest, monsieur."

"The Tower of London!" commanded Ravenscar, and the carriage moved, setting off small tinkly avalanches in all the strong-boxes.

"Ah," said Eliza with evident satisfaction, "no want of walls and guns there, I suppose; and I shall have an opportunity to pay a call on my lord Marlborough."

"I exist to please you, madame."


10/20 JUNE 1692

Even Solomon had wanted Gold to adorn the Temple, unless he had been supply'd by Miracles.

—DANIEL DEFOE, A Plan of the English Commerce

"MY DELIGHT AT seeing Monsieur Fatio again is joined by wonder at the company he keeps!" Feeble as it was, this was the best that Eliza could muster when Fatio walked into the library accompanied by a man with long silver hair—a man who could not be anyone but Isaac Newton.

Even by the standards of savants, this had been a socially awkward morning. Eliza had been in London for a fortnight. The first few days had gone to buying clothes, finding lodgings, sleeping, and vomiting; for obviously she was pregnant. Then she had sent notes out to a few London acquaintances. Most had responded within a day. Fatio's message had not arrived until this morning—it had been shot under her door as she knelt over a chamber-pot. Given the lengthy delay, she might have expected it to be a flawlessly composed letter, the utmost of many drafts; but it had been scratched out in haste on a page torn from a waste-book, and it had asked that Eliza come to Gresham's right away. This Eliza had done, not without much discomfort and inconvenience; then she had waited in the library for an hour. Now Fatio was at last here, looking flushed and wild, as if he had just galloped in from some battlefield. And he had this silver-haired gentleman in tow.

For a few moments he had stood between them, calculating the etiquette; then he remembered his manners, and bowed to Eliza, and spoke in French: "My lady. Our exploit at Scheveningen is never far from my mind. I think of it every day. Which may give some measure of my joy in seeing you again." This had been rehearsed, and he delivered it in too much haste for it to seem perfectly sincere; but the situation was, after all, complicated. Before Eliza could respond, Fatio stepped aside and thrust a hand at his companion. "I present to you Isaac Newton," he announced. Then, switching to English: "Isaac, it is my honor to give you Eliza de Lavardac, Duchess of Arcachon and of Qwghlm."

Fatio scarcely took his eyes from Eliza's face as he spoke these words, and as Eliza and Isaac curtseyed or bowed and said polite things to each other.

Eliza liked Fatio but remembered, now, why the man had always made her a bit uneasy. Nicolas Fatio de Duillier was forever an Actor in an Italian Opera that existed in his own mind. Today's scene at the Library of Gresham's was meant to be some kind of a set-piece. The Duchess, summoned in haste by a mysterious note, fumes impatiently for an hour—dramatick tension mounts—finally, just when she is about to storm out, Fatio saves the day by rushing in, aglow from superhuman efforts, and turns disaster to triumph by bringing in the Master himself. And it was dramatick, after a fashion; but whatever genuine emotions Eliza might have had she kept to herself, for no reason other than that Fatio was studying her as a starving man studies a closed oyster.

Newton had been dragged here; this was plain enough. But once he saw Eliza in the flesh, and she became something concrete to him, his reluctance was forgotten. Then it was a simple matter of remembering why he had been brought here.

They sat around a table, like students, all in the same sorts of chairs, with no thought given to rank. Newton fixed his gaze on a small burn-mark on the tabletop, and collected his thoughts for a minute or two. Eliza and Fatio filled the silence with chit-chat. But each kept an eye on Newton. Finally Newton's eyes flicked up to a nearby window, and he got a look on his face as if he were ready to unburden his mind of something. Fatio broke off in mid-sentence and half turned toward him.

"I shall speak as if everything Nicolas has said of your wit and erudition is true," Newton began, "which means that I shall not limp along with half-truths, nor circle back to proffer tedious explanations, as I might do when speaking to certain other Duchesses."

"Then I shall strive to be worthy of Fatio's compliments and of your respect, sir," Eliza answered.

Which seemed to be just the sort of thing Newton had been hoping to hear, for he gave a little nod, and almost smiled, before going on. "I would address in a straightforward way the question of Alchemy, and why I esteem it. For you will think me addled in the mind, that I devote so much time to it. You will think this because all of the Alchemists you have talked to are mountebanks or their fools. This will have given you a low opinion of the Art and its practitioners.

"You are a friend of Daniel Waterhouse, who does not love Alchemy, and who looks on my time spent in the laboratory as time lost to Natural Philosophy. You know, he went so far as to set fire to my laboratory in 1677. I have forgiven him. He has not, however, forgiven me for continuing to study Alchemy. Perhaps he has, by words or gestures, communicated his views to you, my lady.

"You are also a friend of Leibniz. Now, there are those who would have me believe that Leibniz is, to me, some sort of adversary. I do not think so." Newton's eyes strayed towards Fatio as he said this. Fatio turned red, and would not meet his gaze. "I say that the product of mass and velocity is conserved; Leibniz says that the product of mass and the square of velocity is conserved; it seems that both of us are correct, and that by applying both of these principles we may build a science of Dynamics—to borrow Leibniz's term—that is more than the sum of these two parts. So in this Leibniz has not detracted from my work, but added to it.

"Likewise, he would not detract from Principia Mathematica but rather add to it what is plainly wanting: namely, an account of the seats and causes of Force. In this, Leibniz and I are comrades-in-arms. I, too, would unlock the riddle of Force: Force at a distance, such as joins gravitating bodies, and Forces in and among bodies, as when they collide. Or as here."

Newton extended one hand, palm up, and Eliza supposed for a moment that he was directing her attention to the window set into the wall above this table. But Newton waved his hand around in the air as if trying to catch a moth, and finally steadied it. His palm, which was as pale as parchment, was striped with a little rainbow, projected by some bevel or irregularity in the windowpane. Eliza turned her attention to it. The swath of colors was steady as a gyroscope on a stand, even though Newton's hand never stopped moving. This was a trompe l'oeil to best anything daubed on a wall by a mischievous painter at Versailles. Eliza acted without thinking: she reached out with both hands, cupping them together beneath Newton's, and cradled his wayward hand in hers, steadying it. "I see that you are unwell," she said, "for this is not the tremor of a coffee-enthusiast, but the shivering of a man with a fever." Yet Newton's hand felt cold.

"We are all unwell, if it comes to that," Newton returned, "for if some Plague were to take us all, why, these little spectra would still crawl about the room until the End of Days, neither knowing nor caring whether living hands were held up to catch them. Our flesh stops the light. The flesh is weak, yes, but the spirit is strong, and by applying our minds to the contemplation of what has been interrupted by our fleshly organs of sense, we may make our minds wiser and our spirits better, even though flesh decays. Now! I do not have a fever, my lady." He took his hand back, and gripped the arm of his chair to stop its shivering. The little rainbow now fell on Eliza's cupped hands. "But I am mortal and would fain do all that I could, in the time allotted to me, to penetrate this mystery of Force. Now consider this light that you are catching in your hands. It has traveled a hundred million miles from the Sun without being affected in any wise by the Coelestial AEther. In its passage through the atmosphere it has been subjected to only slight distortions. And yet in traversing a quarter of an inch of window-glass, its course is bent, and it is riven into several colors. It is such an everyday thing that we do not mark it; yet pray consider for a moment just how remarkable it is! During its hundred-million-mile passage, is it not acted upon by the gravity of the Sun, which is powerful enough to hold even mighty Jupiter in its grasp, though at a much greater remove? And is it not acted upon as well by the gravity of the Earth and Moon, and all the other planets? And yet it seems perfectly insensitive to thse mighty forces. Yet there is embedded within this shard of glass some hidden Force that bends it and splits it with no effort. It's as if a cannonball, hurled at infinite speed from some gun of inconceivable might, and passing through ramparts and bulwarks as if they were shadows, were deflected and shivered into bits by a child holding up a feather. What could be concealed within an ordinary piece of window-glass that harbors such potency, and yet affects you and me not at all? Or consider the action of acids, which can in a few moments dissolve stones that have stood unmarked by Time and the elements since the world was formed. What has the power to annihilate a stone God made, a stone that could support a Pyramid, stop fire, or turn aside musket-balls? Some force of immense power must be latent in acids, to destroy what is so strong. And is it so inconceivable that this force might be akin to, or the same as, what bends the light as it passes through the window? Are these not perfectly suitable questions to be asked by those who style themselves Natural Philosophers?"

"If only others who study Alchemy would form their questions so well, and state them so lucidly!" Eliza said.

"The traditions of the Art are ancient and strange. Alchemists, when they say aught, say it in murky similitudes. This is not for me to remedy, save by pursuing the Work to its proper conclusion and thereby making plain what has been occulted for so many centuries. And it is concerning that Work that I should like to say something to you concerning the gold that Jack Shaftoe stole in Bonanza."

This was such an unexpected turn in the conversation that Eliza flopped back hard in her chair, like a doll tossed into a box. Fatio turned his face toward her and stared avidly. Newton seemed ever so drily amused by her astonishment. "I do not know the nature of your involvement with this, my lady, and it is neither my place, nor my desire, to quarry the truth out of you. It suffices that you are believed, by diverse members of the Esoteric Brotherhood, to know something about the matter; and as long as that is true, why, it is in your interest to know why Alchemists care so much about this gold. Do you know, my lady?"

"I know, or suspect, only what I have inferred from the words and deeds of certain men who desire it. Those men believe that this particular gold has some supernatural properties exceeding normal gold."

"I do not know what the word supernatural means, really," said Isaac, bemused. "But you are not far wrong."

"I do not wish to be at all wrong. So pray correct me, sir."

"King Solomon the Wise, builder of the Temple, was the forefather of all Alchemists," Isaac said. "Set upon the throne, a young man, fearing himself unequal to the task, he made a thousand burnt offerings to the LORD; who then came to him in a dream and said, ‘Ask what I shall give thee.' And Solomon asked not for wealth or power but for an understanding heart. And it pleased the LORD ‘so well that Solomon had desired this thing, that he gave him an understanding heart ‘so that there hath been none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall arise the like unto thee.' First Kings, Chapter Three, Verse 12. Thus Solomon's name became a byword for wisdom: Sophia. What is the name we give to those who love wisdom? Philosophers. I am a philosopher; and though I can never equal the wisdom of Solomon—for it says quite plainly in the chapter and verse I have quoted, that no man who came after Solomon would achieve like wisdom—I can strive to discover some of what is today hidden but was once in plain view in the Temple of Wisdom that Solomon built.

"Now it says, too, that the LORD gave Solomon riches, even though Solomon had not asked for them. Solomon had gold, and moreover he had an understanding heart, so that the secrets hidden within matter—such as I have discoursed of in window-glass and acids—could scarcely have been hidden from his gaze for long. The lucubrations of latter-day Alchemists such as I must be little more than crude mockery of the Great Work that Solomon the Wise undertook in his Temple. For thousands of years, Alchemists have sought to re-discover what fell into obscurity when Solomon came to the end of his years in Jerusalem. Most of their efforts have been unavailing; yet a few of the great ones—Hermes Trismegistus, Sendigovius, the Black Monk, Didier, Artephius—came to similar, if not identical, conclusions as to the process that must be followed to achieve the Great Work. I am very close now—" And here Newton faltered for the first time in several minutes, and took his gaze away from Eliza, and with a little nod and the faintest trace of a smile gathered Fatio once more into the discourse. "We are very close now to achieving this thing. I am told, my lady, that there are those who hold my Principia Mathematica in some high regard; but I say to you that it shall be nothing but a preface to what I shall bring forth next, provided I can only move the Work a short step further.

"It would be of immense help to us in this if we had even a small sample of the original gold given to Solomon by the LORD."

"Now I understand it at last," Eliza said. "That gold that was taken by Jack Shaftoe and his pirates from Bonanza is believed, by you and other Alchemists, to have been a sample of King Solomon's gold, somehow preserved down through the ages. It is somehow different from the gold that the slaves of the Portuguese dig from the earth in Brazil—"

"The theory of how it differs has been developed in more detail than you might care to listen to, particularly if you hold Alchemy to be nonsensical," said Fatio. "It has to do with how the particles—the atoms—of gold are composed, one to the next, to form networks, and networks of networks, et cetera, et cetera, and what occupies, or may pass into, the holes in the said nets. Suffice it to say that the Solomonic Gold, though it looks the same, is slightly heavier than mundane gold. And so even those who know nothing of the Art may recognize a sample of this Gold as extraordinary merely by weighing it, and computing its density. A large trove of such gold was found in Mexico some years ago and brought back to Spain by the ex-Viceroy, who intended to sell it to Lothar von Hacklheber, but—"

"I know the rest. But what do you phant'sy was King Solomon's Gold doing in New Spain?"

"There is a tradition that Solomon did not perish, but rather went into the East," said Newton. "You may credit it, or not; but what is beyond dispute is that the Viceroy was in possession of gold that was heavier than the ordinary."

"And you are so certain of this because—?"

"Lothar von Hacklheber sent three assayers across the ocean to New Spain to verify it beyond any shadow of doubt."

"Hmm. No wonder he was so vexed when Jack snatched it from under his nose!"

"May I inquire, my lady, whether you have heard from this Jack Shaftoe recently?"

"He sent me a present in a box, a year and a half ago, but it had quite spoiled in transit, and was buried. Mr. Newton, you may be assured that I, and certain acquaintances of mine in France, are bending all efforts to establish Jack's whereabouts, but this is well-nigh impossible, as he seems to be flitting all about Araby trading. When I learn anything definite, I shall—"

But here Eliza broke off, for she'd been interrupted. Not by any utterance, for both Fatio and Newton were silent, but rather by the expressions that had come over the faces of Newton and Fatio, and the wild looks that were passing between them. Newton in particular seemed too preoccupied to speak.

Fatio, coming alive to the fact that the room had been silent for rather a long while, explained: "It would be a grievous misfortune if these pirates, ignorant of what they had, coined the Solomonic Gold and spent it. For then it would be dispersed all over the world, and melted down—con-fused—and commingled with ordinary gold, and dispersed to the four winds." Fatio turned his eager gaze back on Newton. His face collapsed, and he launched himself out of his chair, alighting on a knee next to the savant. Newton had raised one trembling hand and clapped it over his eyes. He was shifting about in his chair without letup, almost writhing. Sweat had beaded up on his brow, and a vein in his temple was throbbing at a tempo twice or thrice Eliza's pulse. In all, it seemed Newton was devoting every ounce of will to restraining his body's wild urge to break out into a frenzy. For the moment, his will prevailed, but only just, and he could attend to nothing else.

Eliza might have supposed that Newton was suffering a stroke; but the way Fatio perched next to him, stroking his hand, suggested that this was not the first time it had happened.

Eliza stood. "Shall I summon a physician?"

"I am his physician," was Fatio's answer. Odd that, from a mathematician. But perhaps he'd been reading medicine-books.

To oblige the patient and his physician to rise and bid her a courtly farewell did not seem the wisest course. Eliza curtseyed and walked out of the room.


HALF AN HOUR LATER, she was in the House of the Golden Mercury. The office was full of English lawyers—not stacked lock-boxes containing three tons of silver, as she had every right to expect. Indeed, the lawyers out-numbered their clients: four (presumably German) bankers. Of these she had met three before, when she had stopped by with the Marquis of Ravenscar to present the Bills. The fourth was unfamiliar, and older. Eliza supposed that he had come in from Amsterdam.

"Is this a trading-house, or an art gallery?" Eliza inquired, if only to break the silence that had been her only greeting. "For I expected to see silver pennies stacked to the ceiling. Instead of which I am confronted by a Still Life such as has not been seen since the heyday of the Dutch Masters."

No one was particularly amused. But it did look like a group portrait. This office was scarcely large enough to serve as a muffin-shop. It contained two heavy desks, or bancas, and diverse shelves where ledgers and rolled documents were stored. A strong-box on the floor served as a small reserve of cash; but this was not the sort of place that customarily dealt in large volumes of specie. Such would normally be handled through one of the larger goldsmith's shops, or Apthorp's Bank. A narrow door in the back gave way to a staircase that executed an immediate fierce turn and then shot diagonally upwards through the middle of the office, reducing its volume by one quarter; it was on these stairs that two weeks ago the strong-boxes containing the first installment of the silver had been stacked. But no strong-boxes were there now. Rather, the first stair was claimed by the old banker, who was using it as a sort of dais from which to glower at the entire contents of the London branch of the House of Hacklheber. The old banker was stout, and his bulk entirely filled the width of the stairway, so that as he stood there, just on the far side of the narrow doorway, it looked as if he had been chivvied and tamped into a coffin standing vertically on end with its lid swung open. His jowls bulged like flour-sacks, forming profound vertical crevices to either end of his upper lip, which was as high, white, and sheer as the Cliffs of Dover.

Even if Eliza had not already met the London factor and his two assistants, she would have been able to pick them out amid the crowd by their postures. For they all stood with backs exposed to the old banker, hunched forward, frozen in mid-shrug, as if with his blue eyes he were boring slow holes into their spines.

The lawyers were five strong. To judge from their ages, the quality of their periwigs, and their posture, she guessed two full-fledged barristers and three clerks. The barristers were shoulder-to-shoulder with their clients, the clerks packed like oakum into spaces beneath the stair and among bancas that were not, for the most part, shaped at all like human beings. It was well that Eliza's morning sickness had abated, for the smell of coffee, snuff, decaying teeth, unwashed men, and colognes used to overpower same would else have sent her right back out into 'Change Alley, where she'd have gone into a fit as bad as Isaac Newton's. As it was, she had no lack of incentive to make the conversation brief and momentous.

"With so many gentlemen here, there is no room for silver," she remarked. "May I assume that it has all been delivered to the Mint to be coined?"

"My lady," began the London factor. He was literally reading from a prepared script. "The two weeks since you presented the Bills of Exchange at these premises have been eventful ones. Allow me to give you a brief account. You arrived on a day when news of a French invasion was looked for at any moment. The price of silver was high; its availability, nonexistent. You presented five Bills. One was payable immediately, and we paid it. The other four were payable on the tenth of June, by English calendar; that is, today. As no silver was to be had in London we despatched a message, post-haste, to our factory in Amsterdam. Less than twelve hours after its arrival in that city, a ship was underway on the Ijsselmeer laden with silver sufficient to pay the four outstanding Bills. Under normal circumstances she would have reached London and called at Tower Dock in more than enough time for the said bullion to have been minted into English coins before the date of expiry of the said Bills. During her passage across the Narrow Seas, however, she was waylaid, and overhauled by Ships of Force flying the flag of the French Navy. The silver and the ship were taken to Dunkerque, where they remain. Because this piracy was carried out by ships flying the fleur-de-lis, it is nominated, by our Dutch insurers, as an Act of War, expressly not covered by our policy; in consequence, the cargo is a total loss."

"Have you tried to buy silver on the local market?" Eliza asked. "There must be a glut of it now that everyone knows that the French invasion has failed. Why, I have heard that the Marquis of Ravenscar sold his holdings two weeks ago."

"News of the piracy did not reach my clients until yesterday," returned a barrister—a feline man not much bigger than Eliza. "Needless to say, my client has bent all efforts, in the short time since, to acquire local silver; but my client's ability to make such purchases is founded upon the credit of his House, not, mind you, as it really is, or ought to be, but as that is perceived by other bankers of the City—" and here he could not prevent his eyes from straying toward the window; for a few of those bankers, or their messengers, had begun to gather without.

"And that has suffered a blow, hasn't it," Eliza returned, in a voice suffused with childlike wonder, as if this had only just occurred to her, "because of the pirates and the insurers and whatnot."

"As to your speculations, my client has no comment," announced the barrister, "however I must correct you on a matter of lexicography. You said pirates. A pirate owes allegiance to no sovereign. The correct word, in his instance, would be privateer. Do you ken the distinction, my lady?"

"Why, yes—a privateer flies the flag of some country or other, and is in effect a part of its Navy."

"Your clarity, where this distinction is concerned, may perhaps reflect your status as the wife of the Grand Admiral of France—the superior of Captain Jean Bart, who confiscated my client's silver."

"That man is incorrigible! Why, only three years ago the rascal confiscated every last penny that I owned! I am relieved to be informed that the House of Hacklheber escaped with comparatively small losses."

"That remains to be seen," said the barrister. "A lady's wealth consists of the contents of her jewellery-box, but that of a banking-house consists largely in its credit. Direct losses such as the shipment of silver may be written off, and perhaps recovered. By contrast, when a Person of Quality erects an elaborate complot to destroy the good name of a banking-house—"

"It would be terrible, I could not agree more!" exclaimed Eliza; which shut them all up for a bit, as it was not quite the sort of response they had readied themselves for. "Though, by your leave, you are wrong about a lady's wealth being confined to her jewellery-box. Of far greater value is her honour, which is to a noblewoman what credit is to a banking-house. What I lost to Jean Bart three years ago meant nothing to me. Much more to be feared would be the damage that my good name should incur if persons, whether malicious or simply ill-informed, were to go about spreading a rumor that I had connived to swindle an honest German bank! Does your client not agree, sir?"

"Er…my client is not as fluent in the English language as you orI. Before I can speak on his behalf as to whether he agrees or disagrees with your assertion, I shall have to meet with him privily and see to it that our words are translated into German. Pray carry on, my lady; but first, know that nothing in my or my clients' previous statements can or should be construed to imply that I or my client is directly or indirectly accusing you of participating in a swindle."

"That is ever so reassuring. In any case, it is precisely to forestall any such damage to my name that I have rushed here this morning."

"It is?"

"Why, yes! For I had received word that the House of Hacklheber had suffered a reversal of its fortunes. Lothar von Hacklheber is reputed to be a vindictive and unprincipled man. My first thought was that he might try to soften the blow to his reputation, by deflecting it onto me; which would be most unfair, given that he entered into this transaction of his own free will, and on his own terms, well knowing the risks. Be that as it may, the fact of the matter is that I am here in London, alone, defenseless, with no assets other than my title as Duchess of Qwghlm, which was bestowed on me by King William."

"We are aware of your titles, my lady—English as well as French—as well as how you came by them."

"And so I am here to offer a solution."

"And what is your proposal, my lady?"

"The purpose for which the silver was intended no longer exists. But the Bills have been presented, and accepted, and must be paid in London before day's end, if the reputation of the House of Hacklheber is to survive. I propose that we convert the transaction into another form of payment. France no longer has need of the silver, but she does have a perpetual need of timber—more so than ever, now that so much of her fleet has been burned in the harbors of Cherbourg and La Hougue. She purchases Baltic timber through the Compagnie du Nord, which deals with a net-work of Huguenot merchants in the north. Those same houses maintain bureaus within a stone's throw of where we stand; indeed, as I was on my way here just now, I chanced to meet Monsieur Durand, who is the local factor of such a concern. I fetched him along with me." Eliza waved her hand in the window. Instantly the door opened, and the last remaining volume in the House of the Golden Mercury was claimed by a big-nosed, wigless, white-haired gentleman. "I present Monsieur Durand of Durand et fils of London, Stockholm, Rostock, and Riga," Eliza announced. "I have told him all about what has happened—though like most of 'Change Alley he had already heard much of the story. Monsieur Durand has let me know, in the most eloquent French, that, as a result of his many connexions and his long expertise in the north, he has developed a respect for the House of Hacklheber that cannot be shaken by one unfortunate incident of piracy. As such, he is willing to arrange shipment of timber to the Compagnie du Nord provided that the four outstanding Bills of Exchange are transferred to him today. He will, in other words, accept the credit of your House in lieu of actual delivery of silver bullion. The House of Hacklheber's obligations shall be discharged in full by day's end, and no damage to anyone's repute shall ensue; Lothar von Hacklheber shall be Ditta di Borsa tomorrow just as yesterday, and this momentary lapse in his reputation, which has led to the abrupt hiring of so many members of the legal profession, shall be remembered—if it is remembered at all—as one of those brief irrational panics to which markets are everywhere prone."

All of this now had to be explained to the big German at the back of the room. Eliza suspected, from this man's age, his bearing, and the way the others deferred to him, that he must report to Lothar von Hacklheber personally. Clearly he spoke little English; which might have been more help than hindrance to him until now, as he had been gauging the mood of the room, and observing the struggle of wills and the balance of power among the participants. He had seen Eliza walk into a room in which the prevailing mood had been like that in a ravelin under siege. Yet she had astonished the beleaguered defenders by not pressing her advantage when she might have, and instead proffering a way out. Astonishment had developed into relief as Monsieur Durand made his entrance. All of these things the old banker perceived, without knowing any of the particulars; and the more hopeful his underlings allowed themselves to become, the more suspicious he waxed. Now they had to sell him the proposal, in German; but he was not of a mind to buy.

"Are we to understand," said the London factor, translating for him, "that La France is to receive—in addition to the hundred thousand livres in silver we have already delivered to you—four hundred thousand livres worth of silver as booty in Dunkerque as well as four hundred thousand livres worth of Baltic timber, in exchange for nothing more than five hundred thousand livres in French government obligations in Lyon?"

"I recommend you moderate your tone," said Eliza. "Voices carry out into the street; and lurking there in 'Change Alley are any number of City men who have heard all the rumors about the insolvency of the Hacklhebers. When I step out that door, I shall be interrogated like a prisoner on the Inquisition's rack. They will know whether the Hacklhebers have been able to honour their obligations, or not. Through the generous intercession of Monsieur Durand, it will be possible for me to answer in the affirmative." Eliza half-turned toward the door and rested a gloved hand on the latch. The room grew perceptibly darker as a Mobb of 'Change-men on the street outside noted her gesture, and drew closer to the windows, blocking out the light. Eliza continued: "This talk of yours about four hundred thousand livres here or there is quite lost on me; I am a mere housewife with no head for numbers." She flexed her wrist and the door-latch made a clicking noise, a bit like the cocking of a flintlock. A volcanic up-welling of German sounded from the rear of the shop; Eliza could not quite follow what was being said, but suddenly the barrister spun to face her and announced: "My client is pleased to accept the proposal, pending resolution of the terms in detail."

"Then pray resolve them with Monsieur Durand," said Eliza, "I am going out for a bit of air."

"And—?"

"And to let the City of London know that the House of Hacklheber is Ditta di Borsa, as ever," Eliza added.


"WHAT WAS THAT BIT you hollered into the back, just as you were coming out the door?" asked Bob Shaftoe. "I could not make out your French."

"'Twas nothing," said Eliza, "only polite leave-taking. I complimented the old fellow on how adroitly he and his colleagues had managed the transaction, and expressed my hope that in future we might work together again thusly."

"And what said he to that?"

"Naught, but only stared into my eyes—overcome with fond emotions, I should say."

"You said before, in St.-Malo, when we—" Bob began, and got lost in his thoughts as his gaze slipped down toward her belly.

"When we were together."

"Yes, you said you wanted your boot on Lothar's neck. And it seems to me you had that, just as you phant'sied. But you let him go?"

"Never," said Eliza, "never. For do not forget that every transaction has two ends, and this is only one of them."

"Very well. I shall not forget it. But I do not understand it."

"Neither does Lothar."

"Will you return to France?"

"To Dunkerque," Eliza said, "to pay my compliments to Captain Bart, and to inform the Marquis d'Ozoir that he has got his timber. What of you, Sergeant Bob?"

"I shall remain here for the present time. I've been to visit Mr. Churchill a time or two in the Tower, you know. He shan't be there very much longer, mark my words."

"The judicial proceedings against him have become a farce, such as appeals to the English sense of humor, but all grow weary of it."

"And meanwhile King Louis himself is laying siege to Namur, isn't he? And folks are asking, why does King William keep our best commander locked up on a ridiculous pretext, when a great campaign is under way on the other side of the Narrow Seas? No, my lady, if I were to go back to Normandy, I'd have some explaining to do, and might even be hanged for desertion. That Irish regiment'll be sent God only knows where—for all I know, they'll wind up in the South, on the Savoy front, a million miles from where I have been trying to go. But soon enough Churchill shall be at the head of an army, and I shall go with that army to Flanders. We shall face the French across some narrow strip of ground. I'll scan the colors on the opposing side, until I spy those of Count Sheerness—"

"And then?"

"Why, then, I shall devise some means of ending up with my boot on his throat. And we shall enter into a discussion concerning Abigail."

"You attempted that with his brother—Abigail's previous owner. He almost killed you, and you did not get Abigail."

"I do not claim 'tis a likely plan, but 'tis my plan, and it gives me something to do."

"Can I not simply buy the girl from Sheerness?"

"It would raise questions. Why should you care about one English slave?"

"That is my business."

"And Abigail is mine—"

"Would Abigail agree? Or would she prefer that plan that is most likely to lead to her freedom?"

This made Bob a bit stormy-looking. He strove with his temper for a bit. Then he chuckled. "What's the point of flapping my jaw when you'll go and do just what you please, no matter what I say? Be off to Dunkerque, then. But if my wishes have any gravity, you'll tend to yourself and not to me. For I ween you are in a delicate way just now. That is all."

"I am ever in a delicate way," said Eliza, "but men pick and choose the time to take notice of it, as it suits their purposes." At this Bob chuckled again, which provoked her. "Let us speak plainly," she said, "for this is where our ways part—you must to the Tower to attend your master in his prison-cell, I must to dockside to arrange passage to Dunkerque." They had arrived at the cross where Grace Church Street changed its name to Fish Street, and plunged down to the Bridge. From their right entered Great Eastcheap; under the name of Little Eastcheap it then wended its way off in the direction of the Tower. A stone's throw down the hill, a lone, stupendous column jutted up from the city, casting a finger of shadow down the length of the street. They'd come nigh to the place where the Fire of London had been kindled a quarter-century before. The column was the Monument that Wren and Hooke had put up to it.

"When you promise to speak plainly, I know to brace myself," said Bob, and then he did literally, leaning back against a brick wall.

"You have seen me sick, and suppose that I am pregnant. This has wrought powerfully on your mind, for you know that Abigail was given syphilis by Upnor and may not be able to give you children, even if you do pry her free from the clutches of Count Sheerness. You have stopped thinking of me as ‘Eliza the woman I roger from time to time' and begun to think of me as ‘Eliza the expectant mother of my only child.' This has queered your judgment and led you to consider schemes that are not likely to produce Abigail's freedom. Know then that the foetus—which might have been yours, or my husband's, or any of several other men's—miscarried the night before last. It is with the angels. I would still produce a competent heir for my husband, but must begin a new pregnancy once I have reached France. Perhaps I shall seduce Jean Bart, perhaps the Marquis d'Ozoir, perhaps a Marine who catches my fancy on the street. In any case you must give up hope that any progeny of yours shall come from here—" and Eliza rested her hand on the front of her bodice "—for I am done with being the other woman in the life of Bob Shaftoe and Abigail Frome. Done with being the poppy-elixir that makes you forget your pain, and leads you to dream stratagems that shall never avail you or her a thing. Abigail may be waiting for you, Bob. I am not. Get thee to thy projects, then."

She was gone from Bob's sight before the words penetrated all the way to his heart, for she was a small woman, quick, and dissolved into the traffic down Fish Street Hill like a mote of sugar in a stream of boiling water. Bob did not move, but let the brick wall hold him up for some while, until the proprietor—an insurance-man—thrust his head out the window and gave him that look that Gentlemen give to Vagabonds when it is time for them to be moving on. Bob had a soldier's knack for moving when he did not wish to. He levered himself away from the wall, rounded the corner, and marched down Little Eastcheap toward the Tower, where his Captain would be waiting for him with orders.




SEPTEMBER 1693

When Men fly from danger, it is natural for them to run farther than they need.

—The Mischiefs that ought justly to be apprehended from a Whig-government, ANONYMOUS (ATTRIBUTED TO BERNARD MANDEVILLE), 1714

EVERY MORNING A MOB OF angry Hindoos convened outside the hospital hoping to have a conversation with Jack on his way in, and so every day Jack came a little earlier, stealing in through a back door where manure was carried out and food brought in. Because of that latter function it was the correct entrance for him to use anyway. He walked across an enclosed stable-yard, holding one hand before his face as a sort of visor, to break a trail through the horseflies. At least, he hoped that they were horseflies.

His passage was noticed and commented upon by insomniacal horses and camels, standing on splinted and bandaged limbs, or dangling from formidable slings, in stalls all round the yard. A tiger was here, too, being treated for an abscessed tooth, but she was kept in a cage in an out-building. Otherwise her fragrance, and the nearly inaudible sound she made when she yawned, would drive the horses and camels into frenzies. A horse supporting itself on two legs, and kicking with the remaining two, was dangerous enough; a horse in a sling, kicking with all four legs at once, was as dangerous as a cart-load of Afghans.

The insect situation did not improve when he went inside. In part, this was because the distinction between inside and outside was not closely observed in this part of the world; space was divided up by walls and screens, yes. But they all had great bloody holes in them (ornately shaped holes painstakingly carved by master craftsmen, yes, but none the less holes) to let in air and light and (or so Jack supposed in his more peevish moments) to keep buildings from bursting and falling down when the inmates got to farting—for these people ate beans, or, at any rate, a plethora of mysterious bean-like foodstuffs, as if they were all starving—which, come to think of it, they were.

At any rate, the result was that the gallery into which Jack had now entered was thick with flies, zinging through the darkness like spent grapeshot on the fringes of a battle, and crunching into his shaved head and raising welts. They had been drawn here, from all over the Indies, by the smell of diverse sick or injured creatures and their feed and their manure; for this hospital with all its stone screens and lattice-works was like a giant censer dispensing such fragrances into the air of Ahmadabad.

Past the mongoose with the suppurating eye, the jackal with mange, the half-paralyzed king cobra, the stunningly odoriferous civet-cat-with-bone-cancer, the mouse deer with the javelin wound did Jack proceed, and then entered a room filled with bird-cages of bent bamboo, where diverse broken-winged avians were on the mend. A peacock with an arrow stuck sideways all the way through his neck shuffled around, bumping into things and getting hung up on the cages and squawking in outrage. Jack gave him a wide berth, not wanting to get lockjaw off that arrowhead if the peacock should happen to execute a sharp turn in the vicinity of his knees.

Through a rickety door was a room piled floor to ceiling with even smaller cages housing sick or injured mice and rats, some of which sounded distinctly rabid. The less time spent here the better, and so Jack forged on to another room, and down some stone steps.

The smell here transcended mere badness. It was not a smell of mammals or even reptiles, but of an entirely different order of Creation. It was thrilling. For quite some time Jack had been breathing through his nose, but now he threw one arm over his face and sucked in air through the crook of his elbow. For the air in this, the deepest and innermost part of the hospital, was (he estimated) fifty percent insects by volume, a sort of writhing meat-cloud that continually hummed, as if he had climbed into an organ pipe. And if even one of those bugs got into a nostril and injured itself trying to struggle free of Jack's nose-hairs, the caretakers would be sure to notice, and then Jack would be out of a job. For the same reason, he had altered his gait, and now shuffled along on bare feet, plowing carefully through the drifts and flurries of bugs on the floor, hoping there weren't any scorpions there just now.

"Jack Shaftoe reporting for duty!" he hollered. The chief bug-doctor, and his diverse hierarchies and sub-hierarchies of assistants, had all been sleeping under gauzy bug-nets suspended from the ceiling. These huddled in the corners of the bug-ward like claques of pointy-headed ghosts. They now began to bobble and twitch as sleepy Hindoos emerged from them. Jack stripped down to the thong that he used to protect what remained of his privities, and handed his clothes to someone (he wasn't sure whom, and didn't care; this was Hindoostan, there were a lot of people here, and if you held something out and looked expectant, someone would soon enough take it).

A boy brought him the usual concoction, holding the coconut shell to Jack's lips while others bound Jack's hands together behind his back with a strip of cloth. Out of habit, Jack put his ankles together so that those could likewise be bound. When he had finished gulping down that draught (which was supposed to nourish and replenish the blood), he allowed himself to fall forward, and was caught by many small warm hands and gently lowered onto the floor—though not before it had been gently swept clear of any insects. His bound ankles were brought up to meet his hands, and all were tied together above his bare buttocks. Meanwhile a swathe of gauze was being tied about his head, screening his mouth, nose, and eyes.

Above, he could hear a boom of timber—what sailors would call a yard—being swung around until one end of it was above him. From a pulley on its tip, a stout rope was now brought down and tied to the web of bonds that joined his wrists and ankles, with a couple of turns around his waist to carry most of his weight.

Deeper voices spoke now—the pulley squeaked, the rope tensed, the yard began to tick and groan, and then Jack was airborne. They swung the yard around, Jack skimming along just a hand's breadth above the floor, escorted by giggling and shuffling Hindoo boys. But these suddenly peeled away as the stone floor dropped out from under him and he swung out over a pit: a stone-lined silo perhaps four yards across and somewhat less in depth. They let him hang above the middle of it for a few seconds, prodding him artfully with bamboo poles until he stopped swinging; then the rope was let out and Jack descended. Many torches had been lit for this the most critical part of the operation. The gauze over his eyes strained their light from the air and clouded his vision, which was just as well. They took utmost care not to let his full weight down onto the sandy floor of the pit until they were absolutely certain that no living creature was underneath him. But they or their ancestors had done this many times a day since the beginning of Time and were good at their work. Jack came to rest on the pit-floor without crushing a thing.

Then from small holes and arches and burrows, tanks, puddles, sumps, rotten logs, decomposing fruit, hives, and sand-heaps all around, out they came: foot-long centipedes, clouds of fleas, worms of various descriptions, all manner of flying insects—in short, all sorts of creatures whatever that subsisted on blood. He felt a bat land on the back of his neck, and tried to relax.

"That iridescent beetle feasting on your left buttock does not appear to be injured or sick in the slightest degree!" said a curiously familiar voice, speaking English with a musical accent. "I think it should be discharged forthwith, Jack."

"Wouldn't surprise me—the whole country is infested with idlers and freebooters—like that rabble out front."

"That rabble, as you call them, are the men of the Swapak mahajan," said Surendranath—for by this point Jack had recognized him as none other.

"So they keep telling me—what of it?"

"You must understand that the Swapaks are a very ancient subcaste of the Shudra Ahir—the herdsmen of the Vinkhala tribe—which is one of the sixteen branches of the Seventh Division of the Fire Races."

"And?"

"They are divided into two great classes, the noble and the ignoble, the former being divided into thirty-seven subtribes and the latter into ninety-three. The Shudra Ahir were formerly one of the thirty-seven, until after the Third Incarnation of Lord Kalpa, when they came up from Anhalwara by way of Lower Oond, and intermarried with a tribe of degenerated Mulgrassias."

"So?"

"Jack, just to put that in context, you must understand that those people are regarded as Dhangs of the lower subcaste (yet considerably above the Dhoms!) by the Virda, whom they nonetheless abhor. To give you an idea of just how degenerate they were, these Dhangs, in an earlier age, had intermarried with the Kalpa Salkh of Kalapur, of whom almost nothing is known save that not even the ape-men of Hari would allow themselves to be overshadowed by them."

"I am waiting for your point to arrive."

"The point is that the Shudra Ahir have been herdsmen and feeders of livestock since before the breaking of the Three Jade Eggs, and the Swapak, for almost as long, have been—"

"Feeders of bloodsucking insects in animal hospitals that are operated by some other mahajan of some other caste—yes, I know, it's all been tediously explained to me," said Jack, flinching as a centipede bit through the flesh of his inner thigh and tapped into an artery. "But those Swapak have been assured of jobs for so many thousands of years that they have become indolent. They make unreasonable demands of the Brahmins who run this place, and lounge around out front all day and night, pestering passers-by."

"You sound like a rich Frank complaining about Vagabonds."

"If I were not having my blood sucked out by thousands of vermin, I might take offense—as it is, your japes and witticisms strike me as more of the same."

Surendranath laughed. "You must forgive me. When I learned that you were earning your keep in this way, I rashly assumed that you had become a desperate wretch. Now I appreciate that you take pride in your work."

"Compared to those layabouts who are encamped in front, Padraig and I—ouch!—are willing to do this work for a more competitive rate, and comport ourselves as professionals."

"I very much fear that you will be comporting yourselves as dead men if you do not get out of Ahmadabad," said Surendranath.

Above, Jack heard commands uttered in Gujarati, then the welcome creak of the pulley. The rope came tight and raised him a few inches off the ground. He writhed and shook himself, trying to shed as many of the creatures as he could. "What are you talking about? They don't even step on bugs. What're they going to do to a couple of men?"

"Oh, it is not difficult for such people to come to an understanding, Jack, with members of castes that specialize in mayhem."

Jack was now raised up out of the pit and swung round over the floor again. The bug-doctors converged on him with brooms, gently sweeping away the engorged ticks and leeches. Then they let him down and began untying the bonds. As soon as he could, Jack reached up and pulled off the gauze face-mask. Now he was able to get a good look at Surendranath for the first time.

When they'd parted company, outside the customs-house of Surat, more than a year ago, Surendranath, like Jack, had been a shivering wretch, dressed in rags, and still walking slightly bowlegged on account of the thoroughgoing search that was meted out to all who entered the Mogul's realms there, to make sure that they were not secreting Persian Gulf pearls in their rectal orifices.

Today, of course, Jack looked much the same, save that he was covered with bug bites and lying on his belly. But in front of his nose was a pair of fine leather slippers covered with red velvet brocade, and above them, a pair of orange-and-yellow-striped silk breeches, and hanging over those, a long shirt of excellent linen. This was surmounted by the head of Surendranath. He had grown his moustache out but otherwise had a professional shave—which must have cost him dearly, so early in the morning—and he had a sizeable gold ring in his nose, and wore a snow-white turban with an overwrap of wine-colored silk edged in gold.

"It's not my fault I'm stuck in this fucking country with no money," Jack said. "Blame it on those pirates."

Surendranath snorted. "Jack, when I lose a single rupee I lie awake all night, cursing myself and the man who took it from me. You do not need to urge me to hate the pirates who took our gold!"

"Very well, then."

"But does this mean that other Hindoostanis, belonging to a different caste, speaking a different language, residing at the other end of the subcontinent, must suffer?"

"I have to eat."

"There are other ways for a Frank to make a living in Hind."

"I see those rich Dutchmen in the streets every day. Bully for them. But I can't make a living from trade when I've nothing to my name. Besides—for Christ's sake, you Banyans make even Jews and Armenians seem like nuns in the bazaar."

"Thank you," Surendranath said modestly.

"Besides, in Surat and all the other treaty ports, there is an astronomical price on my head."

"It is true that, as the result of your dealings with the Viceroy, the House of Hacklheber, and the Duc d'Arcachon, all of Spain, Germany, and France now wish to kill you," Surendranath admitted, helping Jack to his feet.

"You left out the Ottoman Empire."

"But Hind is another world! You have seen only a narrow strip along the coast. There are many opportunities in the interior—"

"Oh, one bug-pit is the same as the next, I'm sure."

"—for a Frank who knows how to use the saber and the musket."

"I'm listening," Jack said. "Fucking bugs!" and then—distracted, as he was, by the peculiar nature of Surendranath's discourse, he slapped a mosquito that had landed on the side of his neck. It was only noticed by Surendranath—who made a sound as if he were regurgitating his own gallbladder—and the boy who was standing next to Jack, holding out his neatly folded clothes. Jack met the boy's eye for a moment; then both looked down at the palm of Jack's hand, where the mosquito lay crumpled in a spot of Jack's, or someone's, blood.

"This lad thinks I've murdered his grandmother now," Jack said. "Could you ask him to shut up?"

But the boy was already saying something, in a bewildered—yet piping and clearly audible—voice. The senior bug-doctor hustled over shouting. Then they all converged, and to Jack they suddenly all looked every bit as determined and bloodthirsty as their patients. He snatched his clothes.

Surendranath did not even try to argue the matter, but grabbed Jack's arm and led him out of the room in a brisk walk that soon turned into a run. For news of Jack's crime had spread, faster than thought, through the echoing galleries of the hospital and out its innumerable holes to the front, and (to guess from the sounds that came back) a hundred or more unemployed Swapaks had taken it as a signal to force their way in and launch a furious manhunt.

The monkeys, birds, lizards, and beasts sensed that something was happening, and began to make noise, which worked in Jack and Surendranath's favor. The Banyan got lost in the darkness of the intestinal-parasite ward almost immediately, but Jack—who'd been skulking in and out of the place for weeks—surged into the fore, and soon enough got them pointed towards an exit; they staged an orderly retreat through the monkey room, opening all of the cage-doors on their way through, which (to put it mildly) created a diversion. It was a diversion that fed on itself, for the monkeys were clever enough to do some cage-opening of their own. Once all of the primates had been set free, they spread out into surrounding wards and began to give less intelligent creatures their freedom.

Meanwhile Jack and Surendranath fell back, taking a little-used route past the tiger's cage. Jack tarried for a moment to scoop up a couple of the big cat's turds.

Then they were out into Ahmadabad's main avenue. This was wider than most European streets were long. Its vastness, combined with blood loss, always gave Jack a momentary fit of disorientation; had he found his way back into the city, or gotten lost in some remote wasteland? The monsoon rains were finished, and this part of Hindoostan had turned into a sort of gutter for draining chalk-dry air out of the middle of Asia. On its way down from Tibet, today's shipment of wind had made a tour of the scenic Thar Desert, and availed itself of a heavy load of souvenir dirt, and elevated its temperature to somewhere between that of a camel's breath and that of a tandoori oven. Now it was coming down Ahmadabad's main street like a yak stampede, leaving no doubt as to why Shah Jahan had named the place Guerdabad: The Habitation of Dust.

This place had been conquered by Shah Jahan's crowd—the Moguls—a while ago, and the Moguls were Mohametans who did not especially care whether Jack killed a mosquito. Disturbing the peace was another matter, and if rioting Swapaks did not qualify as disturbing the peace, then dozens of monkeys pouring out into the streets, some with their arms in slings, others hobbling on crutches, certainly did—especially when they caught wind of a market up the street and began to make for it. They were mostly Hanuman monkeys—flailing, whiptailed ectomorphs who acted as if they owned the place—which, according to Hindoos, they did. But there was an admixture of other primates (notably, an orang-utan recovering from pneumonia) who refused to accord the Hanumans the respect they deserved, and so as they all fought their way upwind toward the market, variously scampering on all fours, waddling on all twos, knuckle-dragging, hopping on lamed feet, swinging from limbs of stately mango-trees, and stampeding over rooftops, they were acting out a sort of running Punch-and-Judy show, flinging coconuts and brandishing sticks at one another. Bringing up the rear: a four-horned antelope that had been born with six horns, a baby one-horned rhinoceros, and a Bhalu, or honey bear, blind and deaf, but drawn by the scent of sweet things in the market.

A pair of rowzinders—Mogul cavalrymen—came riding up, all turbaned and scimitared, black studded shields dangling from their brawny arms, to see what was the matter. Immediately they were engulfed in angry Swapaks telling their side of the story and demanding that the kotwal and his retinue of whip-, cudgel-, and mace-brandishing goons be summoned to favor Jack with a bastinado, or worse. The Swapaks' protests got them nowhere, as they spoke only Gujarati and the rowzinders spoke only Persian. But these Moguls, like conquerors everywhere, had a keen sense of how to profit from local controversies, and their dark eyes were wide open, following the stabbing fingers of the Swapaks, examining the guilty parties. Surendranath was obviously a Banyan, which was to say that he and his lineage had been more or less condemned by God to engage in foreign trade and make vast amounts of money all their lives. Jack, on the other hand, was a Frank wearing a snatch of leather held on by a crusty thong wedged up his butt-crack. The numerous scars on his back testified to his having been in trouble before—a nearly inconceivable amount of trouble. The rowzinders sized the Banyan up as a likely source of baksheesh, and made gestures at him indicating that he had better stay put for now. Jack they beckoned over.

Jack unfastened his gaze, with reluctance, from the thickening drama in the street. Industrious monkeys had evidently been opening up bird-cages. The entire Flamingo Ward emerged at once. It looked as if a hogshead of fuchsia paint had been spilled down the steps of the hospital. Most of them were in for broken wings, so all they could do was mill around until one of them appointed himself leader and led them away on a random migration into the Habitation of Dust, pursued or accompanied by a couple of Japalura lizards making eerie booming noises. This hospital had recently admitted a small colony of bearded vultures who were all suffering from avian cholera, and these now gained the rooftop; wiggled their imposing chin-bristles in the gritty breeze; and deployed their wings, which rumbled and snapped like rugs being shaken. They had been well-fed on a sort of carrion slurry made from patients that had died of natural causes, and so as they took to the air they jetted long spates of meaty diarrhea that fell like shafts of light across the backs of fleeing beasts: a praying mantis the size of a crossbow bolt, a spotted deer with a boa constrictor entwined in its antlers, and a nilgai antelope being pursued by the hospital's world-famous two-legged dog, which, miraculously, could not only run, but had been known to outpace many three-legged dogs.

Jack approached the rowzinders from downwind. The crowd of Swapaks parted to make room for him, though a few spat on him as he went by. Others had already forgotten about Jack and were running towards the animals. Jack got into position between the heads of the two rowzinders' horses and then began to protest his innocence in English whilst surreptitiously crumbling a tiger-turd in each hand. A distinctive fragrance made the horses extremely nervous all of a sudden. "There now, settle down, you two," Jack said to them, and stroked each on the nose, one with each hand—smearing streaks of tiger shit from their brows all the way down to their flaring nostrils.

Then he had to step back to save his own life. Both horses reared up and began slashing at the air with their front hooves, and it was all the rowzinders could do to stay in their saddles. They galloped off screaming in opposite directions. One charged straight through the middle of a crowd of Hanuman monkeys who were carrying hairy arm-loads of coconut-meat, figs, mangoes, jamboleiras, papayas, yellow pears, green bilimbins, red cashews, and prickly jack-fruit from the dissolving market, pursued by enraged bazaaris who were in turn pursued by a toothless cheetah. A huge Indian bison, as high at the shoulder as Jack was tall, burst out through a rickety wall, shoving a heap of wrecked tables before him, and shambled into the street with a durian fruit dangling from one of his scimitar-like horns.

A formation of running men veered around the bison and headed straight for Jack and Surendranath. Jack mastered the impulse to turn and flee from them. There were four men in all, a pair supporting each end of a giant spar of bamboo, thick as a mast and four fathoms long. Suspended from the middle of the bamboo was a sort of mobile balcony, a lacquered platform surrounded by a low gilded balustrade and artfully strewn with embroidered cushions. The device had four legs of carven ebony, which dangled an arm's length above the pavement. When these palanquin-bearers drew near, they broke stride and began to negotiate with each other.

"What tongue is that?" Jack asked.

"Marathi."

"Your palanquin is carried by rebels?"

"Think of it as a merchant-ship. In the parts of Hindoostan where we will be going, they will be her insurance policy."

The bearers were maneuvering the ends of the bamboo so as to bring the palanquin up alongside Surendranath. When they were finished, they set it down on its ebon legs, so close that their master had only to swivel his arse a compass-point to starboard, and sit down. He busied himself for a few moments arranging some glorious floral cushions against a polished backrest in the stern, then scooted back against them.

"If they are the insurance policy, what am I?"

"You, and any of your Frank comrades you may be able to round up, are the Marines on the quarterdeck."

"Marines are paid at a flat rate—when they are paid at all," Jack observed. "The last time our merry crew were together, we each had a share."

"How much is your share worth now?"

Jack was not, in general, a sigher of sighs, but now he sighed.

"Take inventory of your BATNA," Surendranath suggested, eyeing Jack's naked and lumpy form, "and meet me in an hour's time at the Caravanserai." And then he uttered words in the Marathi tongue, and the four Marathas (as Marathi-speakers were called) got their shoulders under the bamboo and hoisted the palanquin into the air. They spun the conveyance end-for-end in the middle of the vast street and trotted away.

Jack scratched a bug-bite, then another half an inch to the left, then forced himself to stop, before it got out of hand.

The clouded leopard emerged from the hospital, quiet as fog, and curled up in the middle of the street to blink at goings-on; her enormous protruding fangs shone like twin stars in the firmament of swirling dust.

Bearded vultures were raiding a butcher's shop in the market. One of them pounded up into the air with all the grace of a porter lugging a side of beef up a staircase.

Jack trudged upwind, headed for the Triple Gate: a set of three arches at the end of the street. Behind him he heard a rustling commotion, approaching fast. By the time he could turn round to look, it had already overtaken him: a trio of bustards—long-legged black and white birds—disputing possession of some dripping morsel. They reminded Jack of the ostrich in Vienna. Tears came to his eyes, which astonished and annoyed him. He slapped himself in the face, swung wide around a huge waddling porcupine, and headed briskly for the Tin Darwaza, as the Triple Gate was called hereabouts.


THE TIN DARWAZA formed one end of the central square of "The House of Hell" (as Jahangir, the father of Shah Jahan, affectionately referred to Ahmadabad). This square—the Maidan Shah—ran for perhaps a quarter of a mile to the opposite end, which was walled off by a clutter of towers, balconies, pillars, arches, and toy fortifications: the Palace of the local King, whose name was Terror of the Idolaters. The middle of the square was mostly open so that rowzinders could practice their horsemanship and archery there, and parade for the amusement of Terror of the Idolaters and his wives. There were a few low undistinguished buildings where the kotwals held their tribunals and inflicted the bastinado on anyone who did not measure up to their standards of conduct. Jack avoided these.

Several Hindoo pagodas had once stood around the Maidan Shah, and they still did; but they were mosques now. Jack's knowledge of local history was limited to what he'd picked up by talking to Dutch, French, and English traders. But he gathered that this Shah Jahan fellow had spawned a boy named Aurangzeb and despised him so thoroughly that he had made him King of Gujarat, which meant that he had had to come and reside in "the abode of sickness" (another one of Jahangir's pet names for Ahmadabad) and continually do battle against the Marathas. Later Aurangzeb had returned the favor by forcibly overthrowing his father and tossing him into a prison cell in Agra. But in the meantime he'd had many years to kill in The Abode of Sickness and to hone his already keen dislike of all things Hindoo. So he had slaughtered a cow in the middle of the main Hindoo pagoda, defiling it forever, and then gone round with a sledgehammer and knocked the noses off all the idols for good measure. Now it was a mosque. Jack gazed into it as he walked by and saw the usual crowd of fakirs—perhaps two hundred of them—sitting on the marble pavement with their arms crossed behind their heads. Of these, some were mere novices. Other had been doing it for long enough that their joints had frozen that way. These had begging-bowls in front of them, never without a few rupees, and from time to time junior fakirs would bring them water or food.

Some fakirs were Hindoos. As their temples had been desecrated, these had no central place to congregate. Instead they were scattered around the Maidan Shah, under trees or in the lee of walls, performing various penances, some of which were more bizarre and some less bizarre than those of the Mohametan fakirs. The common objective of all fakirs was to get money out of people, and by that definition, Jack and Padraig were fakirs themselves.

After a few minutes' search Jack found his partner seated between the two rows of trees that lined the Maidan Shah. Coincidentally, Padraig had chosen a spot along the south side of the square, beneath one of the jutting balconies of the Caravanserai. Or perhaps it was no coincidence. This was one of the more beautiful buildings in the city. It attracted the wealthy men who made Ahmadabad work, just as the Damplatz did in Amsterdam. Neither its beauty nor its wealth meant much to Jack and Padraig in their current estate. But when they loitered here they could watch caravans coming in from Lahore, Kabul, Kandahar, Agra, and places even farther distant: Chinamen who had brought their silks down from Kashgar over the wastes of Leh, and Armenians who had sallied far to the east from their ghetto in Isfahan, and Turkomans from Bokhara, looking like poorer and shorter versions of the mighty Turks who held sway over Algiers. The Caravanserai reminded them, in other words, that it was possible, at least in theory, to escape "The Thorn Bed" (as Jahangir had referred to Ahmadabad in his Memoirs).

Padraig was sitting crosslegged on a snatch of rug (or, to be precise, the coarse weavings that rugs came wrapped in). He had a captured mouse, a rock, and a bowl. When he saw an approaching pedestrian who looked like a Brahmin, he would pin the mouse down on the ground and then raise the rock as if he intended to smash it. Of course he never actually did smash the mouse, and neither did Jack, when Jack took his turn. If they smashed the mouse they would not get money from the Brahmin, and they would have to spend valuable time searching for a replacement mouse. But by assiduously threatening to smash the mouse all day long, they could collect a few paisas in ransom money.

"We've been presented—assuming I am reading the signs correctly—with an opportunity to get ourselves killed for money," Jack announced.

Padraig looked up alertly.

A bloody ox femur fell out of the sky and smashed into the pavement, where it shattered. Two bearded vultures plunged down after it and began to squabble over the marrow.

"Here, or somewhere else?" Padraig inquired, watching the vultures coolly.

"Somewhere else."

Padraig let the mouse run away.


THE CARAVANSERAI SPRAWLED along the southern side of the Maidan Shah, and had many balconies and lodges, all surrounded by delicately carved stone screens, but you got into it through an octagonal porch that was topped with an onion-dome. Four sides of the porch were open to the street and four were archways giving entry to the building itself, or to the yard in the middle, where queues of horses and camels were assembled or dispersed, and loaded or unloaded. It was in that yard that they found the palanquin of Surendranath. The Banyan himself was negotiating with a one-eyed Pathan for a couple of horses, and when he saw Jack's and Padraig's condition he decided to acquire some clothing for them, too. This turned out to be long tunics over loose breeches, and turbans to protect their heads.

"Now that we are out of the bug-feeding business we shall have to let our hair grow back," Jack mused as they rode out of town along the Kathiawar Road, which is to say that they were going a little south of west.

"I could have gotten you European clothes with a little effort, but I did not want to spend any longer than was absolutely necessary in the Place of the Simoom," hollered Surendranath, clutching the balusters of his palanquin as it was slugged by another wind-blast. Leaves of exotic trees, curled and spiked like the shells of sea-creatures, whipped past their heads and cartwheeled madly down the road. Jack and Padraig, on horses, were flanking Surendranath's palanquin, and three of the Banyan's aides were following behind on foot, leading a couple of asses laden with baggage.

"With our backs to the wind it is not so bad," said Padraig; but only because he prided himself on making the best of bad situations. Indeed, the street to the Kathiawar Gate was lined with much that would have been scenic, if not for the dust in their eyes: vast gardens of wealthy Banyans and Moguls, mosques, pagodas, reservoirs, and wells.

"With our backs to Ahmadabad it will be better," said Surendranath. "Kathiawar is reasonably settled, and we can make do with the usual Charan escort. But when we begin the journey to the northeast, you will have to dress as Europeans, to cow the Marathas."

"Northeast…so our destination is Shahjahanabad?" Jack inquired.

"He would prefer to say Delhi," Padraig put in, after Surendranath failed to answer.

"Of course, because he is a Hindoo, and Shahjahanabad is the Mogul name," Jack said. "Leave it to an Irishman."

"The English have given our cities any number of inventive names," Padraig allowed.

"The monsoon season has brought much valuable cargo from the West this year, but all of it lies piled up in warehouses in Surat," said Surendranath. "Shambhaji and his rebels have made the passage to Delhi a dangerous one. Now I have heard, from mariners who have sailed far to the south, that there are strange birds in those regions who live on ice floes, and that when these birds become hungry they will congregate on the edge of the floe, desiring the small fish that swim in the water below, but fearing the ravenous predators that lurk in that same water. The hunters are subtle, so there is no way for these birds to know whether one is lying in wait for them. Instead they wait for one bird, who might be exceptionally bold, or exceptionally stupid, to jump in alone. If that bird returns with a belly full of fish, they all jump in. If that bird never comes back, they wait."

"The similitude is clear," Jack said. "The merchants of Surat are like the birds on the ice floe, waiting to see who will be bold, or stupid, enough to attempt the passage to Delhi first."

"That merchant will reap incomparably higher profits than the others," Surendranath said encouragingly.

"Assuming his caravan actually makes it to Delhi, that is," said Padraig.


SHORTLY THEY PASSED out through the gate and proceeded south-westwards into Kathiawar, which was a peninsula, a couple of hundred miles square, that projected into the Arabian Sea between the Mouths of the Indus on the west, and the Indian subcontinent on the east. The city of Ahmadabad bestrode a river called Sabarmati that flowed south from there for a few miles and spilled into the Gulf of Cambaye—a long, slender inlet that lay along the east coast of this Kathiawar.

The weather rapidly calmed down as they climbed up out of the valley of the Sabarmati and entered into the hilly, sporadically forested country that would eventually become the Kathiawar Peninsula. They stopped for a night in one of the open roadside camps that tended to form spontaneously all over Hindoostan, whenever shadows began to stretch and travelers' stomachs began to growl. These reminded Jack of gypsy camps in Christendom, and indeed the people looked a good deal like gypsies and spoke a similar language. The difference was that in Christendom they were wretched Vagabonds, but here they were running the place. Wandering from one part of the camp to the next, Jack could see not only penniless wanderers and fakirs but also rich Banyans like Surendranath, as well as various Mogul officials.

But both of these types—the Banyans and the Moguls—eyed Jack in a way that made him uneasy, and tried to beckon him over. It was just like being in Amsterdam or Liverpool, where solitary males who did not keep their wits about them were liable to be press-ganged. When Jack understood this he disappeared, which was something he had become good at, and made his way back to Surendranath's little camp.

"There are quite a few people hereabouts who look as if they'd like to administer the Intelligence Test to us," he said to Padraig.

Padraig accepted this news with a tiny nod of the head. But Surendranath had overheard them. He had retreated into his palanquin and drawn red curtains around it for privacy, and it was easy to forget he was there.

"What is the Intelligence Test?" he demanded to know, and swept the curtain aside.

"A private joke," said the annoyed Padraig.

But Jack saw good reasons to explain it, and so he said, "Cast your memory back to when Fortune had set us ashore in Surat—"

"I remember it every day," said Surendranath.

"You stayed there to pursue your career. We fled inland to get away from the diverse European assassins who infested that town, and who were all looking for us. Soon enough, we came upon a Mogul road-block. Hindoos and Mohametans were allowed to pass through with only minor harassment and taking of baksheesh, but when it became known that we were Franks, they took us aside and made us sit in a tent together. One by one, each of us was taken out alone, and conducted to a field nearby, and handed a musket—which was unloaded—and a powder-horn, and pouch of balls."

"What did you do?" Surendranath demanded.

"Gaped at it like a farmer."

"I likewise," said Padraig.

"So you failed the Intelligence Test?"

"I would rather say that we passed it. Van Hoek did the same as we. Mr. Foot tried to load the musket, but got the procedure backwards—put the ball in first, then the powder. But Vrej Esphahnian and Monsieur Arlanc loaded the weapon and discharged it in the general direction of a Hindoo idol that the Moguls had been using for target practice."

"They were inducted," said Surendranath.

"As far as we know, they have been serving in the armed forces of the local king ever since that day." Jack said.

"This happened north of Surat?"

"Yes. Not far from the Habitation of Dust."

"So, were you in the realm of Terror of the Idolaters?"

"No," said Padraig, "this road-block was at a border crossing. The Moguls who gave us the Intelligence Test, and who press-ganged our friends, were in the pay of—"

"Dispenser of Mayhem!" cried Surendranath.

"The very same," said Jack.

"That is an unexpected boon for us," said the Banyan. "For as you know, the realm of Dispenser of Mayhem lies squarely astride the road to Delhi."

"That amounts to saying that Dispenser of Mayhem has been doing a miserable job of controlling the Marathas," Jack said.

"Which means that if we can find Vrej Esphahnian and Monsieur Arlanc, they will have much useful intelligence for us!"

Jack reckoned that this was as good a moment as any to spring the trap. "Indeed, it seems as if the Cabal—wretched and scattered though we are—may be very useful to you, Surendranath. Or to whichever merchant ends up hiring us, and making the run to Delhi first."

A sort of brisk whooshing noise now, as Surendranath yanked the curtain closed around his palanquin. Then silence—though Jack thought he could hear a curious throbbing, as if Surendranath were trying to stifle agonized laughter.

The next morning they got under way early and traveled for a few miles to a border, where they crossed into the realm of Shatterer of Worlds.

"Shatterer of Worlds has extirpated the local Marathas, but there are ragged bandit gangs all over the place," Surendranath said.

"Reminds me of France," Jack mused.

"The comparison is apt," Surendranath said. "As a matter of fact, it is not even a comparison. Shatterer of Worlds is a Frenchman."

"Those damned Frogs are everywhere!" Jack exclaimed. "Does the Great Mogul have any other kings from Christendom?"

"I believe that Bringer of Thunder is a Neapolitan artilleryman. He owns a piece of Rajasthan."

"Would you like us to round up some Frankish clothes, then? To scare away the highwaymen?" Padraig inquired.

"No need—in Kathiawar, they still observe the ancient customs," said Surendranath, and alighted from his palanquin to parley with some Hindoos who were squatting by the side of the road. In a few minutes, one of them arose and took up a position in the front of the tiny caravan.


A STICK WAS JABBED into the salty concrete that passed for soil hereabouts. A yard away was another stick. A third stick had been lashed across the tops of the first two, and a fourth across the bottom. Miles of vermilion thread had been run back and forth between the top and bottom stick. A woman in an orange sari squatted before this contrivance maneuvering a smaller stick through the vertical threads, drawing another thread behind it. A couple of yards away was the same thing again, except that the sticks, the colors, and the woman were different; and this woman was chatting with a third woman who had also managed to round up four sticks and some thread.

The same was repeated all the way to the horizon on both sides of the road. Some of the weavers were working with coarse undyed thread, but most of their work was in vivid colors that burned in the light of the sun. In some places there would be an irregular patch of green, or blue, or yellow, where some group of weavers were filling a large order. In other zones, each weaver worked with a different thread and so there might be an acre or two in which no two frames were of the same color. The only people who were standing were a few boys carrying water; a smattering of bony wretches bent under racks of thread that were strapped to their backs; and a two-wheeled ox-cart meandering about and collecting finished bits of cloth. A rutted road cut through the middle of it all, headed off in the general direction of Diu: a Portuguese enclave at the tip of Kathiawar. This was the third day of their journey from Ahmadabad. The Charan continued to plod along ahead of them, humming to himself, occasionally eating a handful of something from a bag slung over his shoulder.

Out of all the thousands of Pieces of India stretched out for viewing, one caught Jack's eye, like a familiar face in a crowd: a square of blue Calicoe just like one of Eliza's dresses. He decided that he had better get some conversation going.

"Your narration puts me in mind of a question I have been meaning to ask of the first Hindoo I met who had the faintest idea what the hell I was saying," he said.

Down in the palanquin, Surendranath startled awake.

Padraig sat up straighter in his saddle and blinked. "But no one has said a word these last two hours, Jack."

Surendranath was game. "There is much in Hindoostan that cries out, to the Western mind, for explanation," he said agreeably.

"Until we washed ashore near Surat, I fancied I had my thumb on the ‘stan' phenomenon," Jack said. "Turks live in Turkestan. Balochs live in Balochistan. Tajiks live in Tajikistan. Of course none of 'em ever stay put in their respective 'stans, which causes the world no end of trouble, but in principle it is all admirably clear. But now here we are in Hindoostan. And I gather that it soon comes to an end, if we go that way." Jack waved his right arm, which, since they were going south, meant that he was gesturing towards the west. "But—" (now sweeping his left arm through a full eight points of the compass, from due south to due east) "—in those directions it goes on practically forever. And every person speaks a different language, has skin a different color, and worships a different graven image; it is as varie-gated as this" (indicating a pied hillside of weavers). "Leading to the question, what is the basis for 'stanhood or 'stanitude? To lump so many into one 'stan implies you have something in common."

Surendranath leaned forward in his palanquin and looked as if he were just about to answer, then settled back into his cushions with a faint smile under the twin spirals of his waxed moustachio. "It is a mystery of the Orient," he said gravely.

"For Christ's sake, you people need to get organized," Jack said. "You don't even have a common government—it's Moguls up here, and from what you are telling me, if we went south we would soon enough run afoul of those Marathas, and farther south yet, it's those fiends in human form, who've got Moseh and Dappa and the others—"

"Your memories of that day have run together like cheaply dyed textiles in the monsoon rain," Surendranath said.

"Excuse me, I was trying not to drown at the time."

"So was I."

"If they weren't fiends in human form, why did you jump overboard?" Padraig asked.

"Because I wanted to get to Surat, and those pirates, whoever or whatever they were, they would have taken us the opposite direction," said Surendranath.

"Why do you suppose we jumped out, then?"

"You feared that they were Balochi pirates," Surendranath said.

Padraig: "Those are the ones who cut their captives' Achilles tendons to prevent them escaping?"

Surendranath: "Yes."

Jack: "But wait! If they are Balochis, it follows that they are from Balochistan! If only they would stay put, that is."

Surendranath: "Of course."

Jack: "But Balochistan is that hellish bit that went by to port—the country that vomited hot dust on us for three weeks."

Surendranath: "The description is cruel but fair."

Jack: "That would be a Mahometan country if ever there was one."

Surendranath: "Balochis are Muslims."

Padraig: "It's all coming back to me. We thought they were Balochi pirates at first because they came after us in a Balochi-looking ship. Which, if true, would have been good for all of us save Dappa and you, Surendranath, because we were all Christians or Jews, hence People of the Book. Our Achilles tendons were safe."

Surendranath: "I must correct you: it wasn't all right for van Hoek."

Jack: "True, but only because he'd made that asinine vow, when we were in Cairo, that he'd cut his hand off if he were ever taken by pirates again. Consequently he, you, and Dappa were making ready to jump ship."

Padraig: "My recollection is that van Hoek meant to stay and fight."

Jack: "The Irishman speaks the truth. The cap'n took us between two islands, in the Gulf of Cambaye over yonder—whereupon we were beset by the second pirate ship, which was obviously acting in concert with the first."

Padraig: "But this one was much closer and was manned by—how do you say—"

Surendranath: "Sangano pirates. Hindoos who steal, but do not kidnap, enslave, maim, or torture, except insofar as they have to in order to steal."

Jack: "And who had apparently taken that first ship from some luckless Balochi pirates, which is why we mistook them for Balochis at first."

Surendranath: "To this point, you are speaking the truth, as I recollect it."

Padraig: "No wonder—this is the point when you jumped out!"

Surendranath: "It made sense for me to jump out, because it was obvious that we were going to lose all of the gold to the Sangano pirates. But van Hoek was preparing to fight to the death."

Jack: "I must not have heard the splash, Surendranath, as my mind was occupied with other concerns. Van Hoek, as you say, was steering a course for open water in the middle of the Gulf, probably with the intention of fighting it out to the end. But we hadn't gone more than a mile when we stumbled directly into the path of a raiding-flotilla, whereupon all of the boats—ours, and our pursuers'—were fair game for this new group."

Padraig: "Darkies, but not Africans."

Jack: "Hindoos, but not Hindoostanis, precisely."

Padraig: "Only pirate-ships I've ever heard of commanded by women."

Jack: "There are rumored to be some in the Caribbean—but—none the less—it was a queer group indeed."

Surendranath: "You are describing Malabar pirates, then."

Jack: "As I said—fiends in human form!"

Surendranath: "They do things differently in Malabar."

Padraig: "At any rate, even van Hoek could now see it was hopeless, and so he jumped, which was preferable to cutting his hand off."

Surendranath: "Why did you jump, Padraig?"

Padraig: "I fled from Ireland, in the first place, specifically to get away from matriarchal oppression. Why did you jump, Jack?"

Jack: "Rumors had begun to circulate that the Malabar pirates were even more cruel to Christians than the Balochi pirates were to Hindoos."

Surendranath: "Nonsense! You were misinformed. The Mohametan Malabar pirates are that way, to be sure. But if the ships you saw were commanded by women, then they must have been Hindoo Malabar pirates."

Padraig: "They are rich female Hindoo Malabar pirates now."

Jack: "Mr. Foot had run to the head, either to take a shite (which is what he normally does at such times) or to wave a white flag. But he tripped on a loose gold bar and pitched overboard. I went after him, knowing he couldn't swim. The water turned out to be less than two fathoms deep—I nearly broke my leg hitting the bottom. Accordingly, our ship ran aground at nearly the same moment. The rest is a blur."

Padraig: "It's not such a blur. You and I, Monsieur Arlanc, Mr. Foot, van Hoek, and Vrej waded, bobbed, and dog-paddled across those endless shallows for a day or two. At some point we re-encountered Surendranath. Finally we washed up near Surat. The Armenian and the Frenchman later failed the Intelligence Test and wound up in the army of Dispenser of Mayhem."

Surendranath: "Concerning those two, by the way, I have sent out some messages to my cousin in Udaipur—he will make inquiries."

They came over the top of a gentle rise and saw new country ahead. A mile or two distant, the road crossed a small river that ran from right to left towards the Gulf of Cambaye, which was barely visible as a grayish fuzz on the eastern horizon. The river crossing was commanded by a mud-brick fort, and around the fort was a meager walled town. Jack already knew what they would find there: a landing for boats coming up the river from the Gulf, and a marketplace where Pieces of India were peddled to Banyans or European buyers.

Jack said, "It will be good to see Vrej and Arlanc again, assuming they are still alive, and I will enjoy listening to their war-stories. But I already know what they would tell us, if they were here."

This announcement seemed to startle Padraig and Surendranath, and so Jack explained, "There must be some advantage to growing old, or else why would we put up with it?"

"You're not old," Padraig said, "you can't be forty yet."

"Stay. I have lived through more than most old men. Letters I have not learned, nor numbers, and so I cannot read a book, nor navigate a ship, nor calculate the proper angle for an artillery-piece. But people I know well—better than I should like to—and so the situation of Hindoostan is all too clear to me. It is clear when I watch you, Surendranath, speaking of the Moguls, and you, Padraig, speaking of the English."

"Will you share your wisdom with us then, O Jack?" Padraig asked.

"If Vrej Esphahnian and Monsieur Arlanc were here, they would tell us that the Marathas are angry, well-organized, and not afraid to die, and that the Moguls are orgulous and corrupt—that the rulers of this Empire live better while besieging some Maratha fortress than the Hindoos do when they are at peace. They would tell us, in other words, that this rebellion is a serious matter, and that we cannot get the caravan of Surendranath from Surat to Delhi by dint of charm or bribery."

"You seem to be telling me that it is impossible," Surendranath said. "Perhaps we should turn around and go back to the Habitation of Dust."

"Surendranath, which would you rather be: the first bird to jump off the ice floe, or the first bird to climb back onto it with a belly full of fish?"

"The question answers itself," Surendranath said.

"If you listen to my advice, you will not be the former, but you will be the latter."

"You think other caravans will leave Surat first, and fall prey to the rebels," Surendranath translated.

"I believe that any caravan headed to Delhi will have to face the Maratha army at some point," Jack said. "The first such caravan to drive the Marathas from the field shall be the first to reach its destination."

"I cannot hire an army," Surendranath said.

"I did not say you need to hire an army. I said you need to drive the Marathas from the field."

"You speak like a fakir," Surendranath said darkly.


THE MAIDAN OF THIS KATHIAWAR river-town sported a more or less typical assortment of fakirs both Hindoo and Mahometan. Several were content with the old arms-crossed-behind-the-head trick. A Hindoo one was swallowing fire, a red-skirted Dervish was whirling around, another Hindoo was standing on his head covered with red dust. And yet most of them had empty begging-bowls and were going ignored by the townspeople. A score of idlers, barefoot boys, passersby, strolling pedlars and river-traders had gathered around one spectacle at the end of the maidan.

They were crowded so closely together that if Jack had not been mounted he wouldn't have been able to see the object of their attention: a gray-haired European man dressed up in clothes that had been out-moded, in England, before Jack had been born. He wore a black frock coat and a broad-brimmed black Pilgrim-hat and a frayed shirt that made him look like a wandering Puritan bible-pounder. And indeed there was an old worm-eaten Bible in view, resting on a low table—actually a plank, just barely spanning the gap between a couple of improvised sawbucks, with a stained and torn cloth thrown over it. Next to the Bible was another tome that Jack recognized as a hymn-book, and next to the hymnal, a little place setting: a china plate flanked by a rusty knife and fork.

Jack seemed to have arrived during a lull, which soon came to an end as an excited young Hindoo came running in from the market nearby, a dripping object held in his cupped hands. The crowd parted for him. He scampered up and deposited it in the center of the fakir's plate: a metal-gray giblet leaking blood and clear juice. Then he jumped back as if his hands had been burned, and ran over to wipe his hands on a nearby patch of grass.

The fakir sat for a few moments regarding the kidney with extreme solemnity, waiting for the buzz of the crowd to die away. Only when complete silence had fallen over the maidan did he reach for the knife and fork. He gripped one in each hand and held them poised over the organ for a few agonizing moments. The crowd underwent a sort of convulsion as every onlooker shifted to a better viewing angle.

The fakir appeared to lose his nerve, and set the utensils down. A sigh of mixed relief and disappointment ran through the onlookers. Someone darted up and tossed a paisa onto the table. The fakir put his hands together in a prayerful attitude and muttered indistinctly for a while, then reached for his Bible, opened it up, and read a paragraph or two, faltering as he came to bits that had been elided by book-worms. But this was something from the Old Testament with many "begats" and so it scarcely mattered.

Again he took up the knife and fork and struggled with himself for a while, and again lost his nerve and set them down. Mounting excitement in the crowd, now. More and larger coins rang on the plank. The fakir took up the hymnal, rose to his feet, and bellowed out a few verses of that old Puritan favorite:

If God thou send'st me straight to Hell

When I have breath'd my Last,

Just like a Stone flung in a Well

I'll go down meek and Fast…

For even though I've done my Best

T'obey thy Law Divine,

Who am I, thee to contest?

The Fault must all be Mine!

…and so on in that vein until the fire-eater and the Dervish were screaming at him to shut up.

Pretending to ignore their protests, the Christian fakir closed up the hymnal, took up knife and fork for the third time, and—having finally mustered the spiritual power to proceed—pierced the kidney. A jet of urine lunged out and nearly spattered an audacious boy, who jumped back screaming. The fakir took a good long time sawing off a piece of the organ. The crowd crept inwards again, not because anyone really wanted to get any closer, but because people kept blocking one another's view. The fakir impaled the morsel on the tines of the fork and raised it on high so that even the groundlings in the back row could get a clear view. Then in one quick movement he popped it into his mouth and began to chew it up.

Several fled wailing. Coins began to zero in on the fakir from diverse points of the compass. But after his Adam's apple moved up and down, and he opened his mouth wide to show it empty, and curled his tongue back to show he wasn't hiding anything, a barrage of paisas and even rupees came down on him.

"A stirring performance, Mr. Foot," said Jack, half an hour later, as they were all riding out of town together. "Lo these many months I have been worried sick about you, wondering how you were getting along—unfoundedly, as it turns out."

"Very considerate of you, then, to show up unasked-for to share your poverty with me," said Mr. Foot waspishly. Jack had extracted him from the maidan suddenly and none too gently, even to the point of leaving half the kidney sitting on the plate uneaten.

"I regret I missed the show," said Padraig.

"Nothing you haven't seen before in a thousand pubs," Jack answered mildly.

"E'en so," said Padraig," it had to've been better than what I've been doing the last hour: sneaking round peering at idolaters' piss-pots."

"What learned you?"

"Same as in the last village—they do it in pots. Untouchables come round once a day to empty them," Padraig answered.

"Are the piss and shit always mixed together or—"

"Oh, for Christ's sake!"

"First kidney-eating and now chamber-pots!" exclaimed Surendranath from his palanquin. "Why this keen curiosity concerning all matters related to urine?"

"Maybe we will have better luck in Diu," Jack said enigmatically.


THAT RIVER-CROSSING MARKED THE BEGINNING of a long, slow climb up into some dark hills to the south. Surendranath assured them that it was possible to circumvent the Gir Hills simply by following the coastal roads, but Jack insisted that they go right through the middle. At one point he led them off into a dense stand of trees, and spent a while tromping around in the undergrowth hefting various branches and snapping them over his knee to judge their dryness. This was the only part of the trip when they were in anything like danger, for (a) Jack surprised a cobra and (b) half a dozen bandits came out brandishing crude, but adequate, weapons. The Hindoo whom Surendranath had hired finally did something useful: viz. pulled a small dagger, hardly more than a paring-knife really, from his cummerbund and held it up to his own neck and then stood there adamantly threatening to cut his own throat.

The effect on the bandits was as if this fellow had summoned forth a whole artillery-regiment and surrounded them with loaded cannons. They dropped their armaments and held forth their hands beseechingly and pleaded with him in Gujarati for a while. After lengthy negotiations, fraught with unexpected twists and alarming setbacks, the Charan finally consented not to hurt himself, the bandits fled, and the party moved on.

Within the hour they had passed over the final crest of the Hills of Gir and come to a height-of-land whence they could look straight down a south-flowing river valley to the coast: the end of the Kathiawar Peninsula. At the point where the river emptied into the sea was a white speck; beyond it, the Arabian Sea stretched away forever.

As they traveled down that valley over the next day, the white speck gradually took on definition and resolved itself into a town with a European fort in the middle. Several East Indiamen, and smaller ships, sheltered beneath the fort's guns in a little harbor. The road became broader as they neared Diu. They were jostled together with caravans bringing bolts of cloth and bundles of spices towards the waiting ships, and began to meet Portuguese traders journeying up-country to trade.

They stopped short of the city wall, and made no effort to go in through those gates, guarded as they were by Portuguese soldiers. The Charan said his farewell and hunkered down by the side of the road to await some northbound caravan that might be in need of his protection. Jack, Padraig, Mr. Foot, Surendranath, and their small retinue began to wander through the jumbled suburbs, scattering peacocks and diverting around sacred cows, stopping frequently to ask for directions. After a while Jack caught a whiff of malt and yeast on the breeze, and from that point onwards they were able to follow their noses.

Finally they arrived at a little compound piled high with faggots of spindly wood and round baskets of grain. A giant kettle was dangling over a fire, and a short red-headed man was standing over it gazing at his own reflection: not because he was a narcissist, but because this was how brewers judged the temperature of their wort. Behind him, a couple of Hindoo workers were straining to heave a barrel of beer up into a two-wheeled cart: bound, no doubt, for a Portuguese garrison inside the walls.

"It is all as tidy and prosperous as anything in Hindoostan could be," Jack announced, riding slowly into the middle of it. "A little corner of Amsterdam here at the butt-end of Kathiawar."

The redhead's blue eyes swivelled up one notch, and gazed at Jack levelly through a rising cataract of steam.

"But it was never meant to last," Jack continued, "and you know that as well as I do, Otto van Hoek."

"It has lasted as well as anything that is of this earth."

"But when you make your delivery-rounds, to the garrisons and the wharves, you must look at those beautiful ships."

"Then of ships speak to me," said van Hoek, "or else go away."

"Tap us a keg and dump out that kettle," Jack said, "so we can put it to alchemical uses. I have just ridden down out of the Hills of Gir, and firewood is plentiful there. And as long as you keep peddling your merchandise to the good people of Diu, the other thing we need will be plentiful here."


A MONTH LATER (OCTOBER 1693)

For the works of the Egyptian sorcerers, though not so great as those of Moses, yet were great miracles.

—HOBBES, Leviathan

"LORD HELP ME," said Jack, "I have begun thinking like an Alchemist." He snapped an aloe-branch in half and dabbed its weeping stump against a crusted black patch on his forearm. He and certain others of the Cabal were reclining in the shade of some outlandish tree on the coastal plain north of Surat. Strung out along the road nearby was a caravan of bullocks and camels.

"Half of Diu believes you are one, now," said Otto van Hoek, squinting west across the fiery silver horizon of the Gulf of Cambaye. Diu lay safely on the opposite side of it. Van Hoek had been busy unwinding a long, stinking strip of linen from his left hand, but the pain of forcing out these words through his roasted voice-box forced him to stop for a few moments and prosecute a fit of coughing and nose-wiping.

"If we had stayed any longer the Inquisition would have come for us," said Monsieur Arlanc in a similarly hoarse and burnt voice.

"Yes—if for no other reason than the stench," put in Vrej Esphahnian. Of all of them, he had taken the most precautions—viz. wearing leather gloves that could be shaken off when his hands burst into flame spontaneously. So he was in a better state than the others.

"It is well that we had Mr. Foot with us," said Surendranath, "to bamboozle the Inquisitors into thinking that we pursued some sacred errand!" Surendranath had not spent all that much time among Christians, and his incredulous glee struck them all as just a bit unseemly.

"I'll take a share of the credit for that," said Padraig Tallow, who had lost his dominant eye, and all the hair on one side of his head. "For 'twas I who supplied Mr. Foot with all of his churchly clap-trap; he only spoke lines that I wrote."

"No one denies it," said Surendranath, "but even you must admit that the inexhaustible fount and ever-bubbling wellspring of nonsense, gibberish, and fraud was Ali Zaybak!"

"I cede the point gladly," said Padraig, and both men turned to see if Jack would respond to their baiting. But Jack had been distracted by an odor foul enough to register even on his raspy and inflamed olfactory. Van Hoek had got the bandage off his right hand. The tips of his three remaining fingers were swollen and weeping.

"I told you," said Jack, "you should have used this stuff." He gestured to the aloe-plant, or rather the stump of it, as Jack had just snapped off the last remaining branch. It was growing in a pot of damp dirt, which was carried on its own wee palanquin: a plank supported at each end by a boy. "The Portuguese brought it out of Africa," Jack explained.

"Truly you are thinking like an Alchemist, then," muttered van Hoek, staring morosely at his rotting digits. "Everyone knows that the only treatment for burns is butter. It is proof of how far gone you are in outlandish ways, that you would rather use some occult potion out of Africa!"

"When do you think you'll amputate?" Jack inquired.

"This evening," said van Hoek. "That way I shall have twenty-four hours to recuperate before the battle." He looked to Surendranath for confirmation.

"If our objective were to make time, and to cross the Narmada by day, we could do it tomorrow," said Surendranath. "But as our true purpose is to ‘fall behind schedule,' and reach the crossing too late, and be trapped against the river by the fall of night, we may proceed at a leisurely pace. This evening's camp would be a fine time and place to carry out a minor amputation. I shall make inquiries about getting you some syrup of poppies."

"More chymistry!" van Hoek scoffed, and dipped his hand into a pot of ghee. But he did not object to Surendranath's proposal. "I could have been a brewer," he mused. "In fact, I was!"


VAN HOEK HAD SURRENDERED his brewing-coppers to Jack and gone down to the harbor of Diu to see about hiring a dhow or something like it. Jack, spending Surendranath's capital, had set some local smiths to work beating the copper tuns into new shapes—shapes that Jack chalked out for them from his memories of Enoch Root's strange works in the Harz Mountains. Surendranath had sent messengers north to the kingdom of Dispenser of Mayhem, along with money to buy the freedom of Vrej Esphahnian and Monsieur Arlanc. Then the Banyan, somewhat against his better instincts, had set about turning himself into a urine mogul.

Some simple deals struck with the caste of night-soil-collectors and chamber-pot-emptiers caused jugs, barrels, and hogsheads of piss to come trundling into van Hoek's brewery-compound every morning. By and large these had been covered, to keep the stink down, but Jack insisted that the lids be taken off and the piss be allowed to stand open under the sun. Complaints from the neighbors—consisting largely of religious orders—had not been long in coming. And it was then that Mr. Foot had come into his own; for he'd been at work with needle and thread, converting his black Puritan get-up into a sort of Wizard's robe. His line of patter consisted half of Alchemy—which Jack had dictated—and half of Popery, which Padraig Tallow could and did rattle off in his sleep.

What Jack knew of Alchemy-talk came partly from the mountebanks who would stand along the Pont-Neuf peddling bits of the Philosopher's Stone; partly from Enoch Root; and partly from tales that he had been told, more recently, by Nyazi, who knew nothing of chymistry but was the last word on all matters to do with camels.

"Amon, or Amon-Ra, was the great god of the ancient peoples of al-Khem.



SEPTEMBER 1693

"ROGER, YOU ARE a great man now, and worth more than the Great Mogul."

"So I have heard, Daniel—but it is perfectly all right—I do not mind hearing it again."

"You are also educated, after a fashion."

"'Tis better to be educable—but pray continue in your flattery, which is so very unlike you."

"So then. What metaphysical significance do you attach to the fact that you are unable to pay for a cup of coffee?"

"Why, Daniel, I say that I just did pay, not for one, but two—unless that object on the table before you is a mirage."

"But you didn't, really, my lord. Coffee was brought forth and you incurred a debt, pricked down on Mrs. Bligh's ledger."

"Are you questioning my solvency, Daniel?"

"I am questioning the whole country's solvency! Empty out your coin-purse. Right there on the table. Let's have a look."

"Don't be vulgar, Daniel."

"Oh, now 'tis I who am vulgar."

"Ever since you had the stone cut out, you have seemingly regressed in age."

"I will bet you the whole contents of my purse that yours contains not a single piece of metal that could be exchanged for a bucket of cods' heads at Billingsgate."

"If your purse's contents were worth so much, you'd be Massachusetts-bound. Everyone knows that."

"You see? You are afraid to accept the wager."

"Why do you belabor me about the fact that England has no money?"

"Because you are a momentous fellow now, rumors career about you like gulls round a herring-boat, and I want you to do something about it, so that I can go to America…right. Very well, my lord, I shall give you a few minutes to bring your mirth under control. If you can hear what I am saying, wave at me—oh, very good. Roger Comstock, I say 'tis well enough for you that you have credit, and can buy cups of coffee, or houses, by simply asking for them. Many other men of power enjoy the same privilege—including our King, who appears to be financing his war through some kind of alchemy. But some of us are required actually to pay for what we buy, and we have nothing to pay with at the moment. They say that America is awash in Pieces of Eight, and that is a sight I would fain see—alas, ships' captains do not dispense credit, at least, not to Natural Philosophers…. Oh yes, my lord, do be entertained. I am here in Mrs. Bligh's coffee-house, in pied rags, solely as a Court Jester to Creditable Men, and request only that you throw a silver coin at me for every giggle and a gold one for each guffaw. Fresh out? What, no coins in the bank? Does your purse hang as flaccid as a gelding's scrotum? 'Tis a common condition, Roger, and this brings me round to another subject 'pon which I will briefly discourse while you blow your nose, and wipe the tears from your eyes, and that is: What if all debts, public and private, were to be called in? What if Mrs. Bligh were to march over to this cozy corner with her accompt-book resting open on her bosom like a Bible on a Lectern and say, Roger Comstock, you owe me your own weight in rubies, pay up straightaway!"

"But, Daniel, that never happens. Mrs. Bligh, if she wants coffee-beans, can go down to the docks and shew her book—or her Lectern, in a pinch—to a merchant and say, ‘Behold, every powerful man in London is in debt to me, I have collateral, lend me a ton of Mocha and you'll never be sorry!' "

"Roger, what is Mrs. Bligh's bloody book—by your leave, Mrs. Bligh!—but squiggles of ink? I have ink, Roger, a firkin of it, and can molest a goose to obtain quills, and make ink-squiggles all night and all day. But they are just forms on a page. What does it say of us that our commerce is built 'pon forms and figments while that of Spain is built 'pon silver?"

"Some would say it speaks to our advancement."

"I am not one of those hard cases who believes credit is Satan's work, do not put me in that poke, Roger. I say only that ink, once dried on the page, is a brittle commodity, and an oeconomy made of ink is likewise brittle, and may for all we know be craz'd and in a state to crumble at a touch. Whereas silver and gold are ductile, malleable, capable of fluid movement—"

"Some say it is because their atoms, their particules are bathed in a lubricating medium of quicksilver—"

"Stop it."

"You asked me to wax metaphysical, just a minute ago."

"You are baiting me, Roger. Oh, it is all right. By all means, amuse yourself."

"Daniel. Do you really want to go to Massachusetts, and leave all this behind?"

"All this is more amusing, not to mention profitable, to you than 'tis to me. I want to put distractions behind, go to the wilderness, and work."

"What, in a wigwam? Or do you have a cave picked out?"

"There are plenty of trees remaining."

"You're going to live in a tree?"

"No! Cut them down, make a house."

"I fear you are unused to such labor, Daniel."

"Oh but I am educable."

"One really would do better to have an institution on which to rely. You could be a vicar of some Puritan church."

"Puritan churches tend not to have vicars."

"Oh, that's right…then perhaps Harvard College would have you."

"Then again, perhaps not."

"Here, Daniel, is my metaphysical reading of your circumstance:"

"I am braced."

"England is not finished with you yet!"

"Merciful God! What more can England possibly ask of me?"

"I shall come to that momentarily, Daniel. First, I propose a transaction."

"Is this transaction to conclude with silver changing hands? Or ink-squiggles?"

"It is to conclude with a sinecure for Daniel Waterhouse. In Massachusetts Bay Colony."

"Damn me, and here am I, on the wrong side of the ocean!"

"The sinecure is attended with certain perquisites including a one-way trans-oceanic voyage."

"Are you saying, England wants from me something so dreadful that when I have done it, she won't want me around any more?"

"You read too much into it. You are the one who has been bawling about Massachusetts for all these years."

"But then why do you specify it has to be one-way?"

"You can come back if you think it would be in your best interests," Roger said innocently. "As long as the Juncto remains in power, you shall have protectors."

"Your voice has the most annoying way of fading just when you are on the verge of saying something interesting. Do you do that for effect?"

"Juncto…juncto…JUNCTO!"

"What on earth is a junk-toe? Some new type of gout?"

"More like a new type of gov't."

"I am quite serious."

"A scholar might say it Latin-style: yuncto. Or, a Spaniard thus: hoonta!"

"Why don't you just say ‘joint,' which is what it means?"

"I know what it means. But then people would suppose we were discoursing of knees or elbows."

"But isn't the idea to be mysterious?"

"Then we would call it a cabal."

"Oh, that's right. So, you are in a juncto?"

"I am in the juncto."

"And your role in the juncto is to be—?"

"Chancellor of the Exchequer…Daniel, it is childish to make coffee shoot out of your nostrils. You know of someone better qualified?"

"What about Apthorp?"

"Sir Richard, as he is called by polite men, will run the bank."

"But do you not think he would gladly set aside his duties at Apthorp's Bank to become Chancellor of the Exchequer?"

"No, no, no, no, no. I am not speaking of Apthorp's bank. I refer to the Bank of England."

"No such institution exists."

"And no institution exists in Massachusetts Bay Colony that will put a roof over your head and give you a sinecure. But institutions can be made, Daniel. That is what an institution is: something that has been instituted."

"Oh."

"Ah, finally light dawns! You are educable, Daniel, very much so!"

"The Bank of England…the Bank of England. It sounds, I don't know, big."

"That is the point."

"You shall amass some sort of capital, and lend out money."

"This is the timeless function of a banca."

"I can only perceive two drawbacks to what is otherwise an excellent plan, my lord…"

"Don't say it. We have no capital…and no money."

"Just so, my lord."

"Is it not admirable, how simple things are in the beginning? Oh, how I love to begin things."

"Let's take them in order…what is the capital to be?"

"England."

"Ah, very well, I should have guessed from the name, ‘Bank of England.' Now, how about the money?"

"The Bank will issue some paper. But you are right. We need coinage. To be specific, we need recoinage."

A silence now fell over this snuggery in the corner of Mrs. Bligh's coffee-house. Roger had spent enough man-years orating in Parliament that he knew when a Pause for Effect was called for. And Daniel for his part was strangely affected, and lost all interest in speaking for a short time. The notion of recoinage made him strangely sad, and he was desirous of figuring out why. It would mean calling in all old coins—as well as the plate, candlesticks, bullion, et cetera—and melting them in the great crucibles of the Tower. Crucibles that purified and separated the genuine metal from the dross of the counterfeiters but thereby melted all those discrete objects together, destroying their individual characters.

Daniel had in his purse a pound coin stamped with a picture of Queen Elizabeth. He knew this because such coins were rarer than flawless diamonds now, and he was holding it back in case he had to ransom his life somehow. The Golden Comstocks—Roger's ancestors—had imported the metal from Spain and Thomas Gresham had caused the coin to be minted at such-and-such a weight, and had used some of his rake-off to build Gresham's College. The coin had been passing from hand to hand and purse to purse for more than a hundred years, and probably had more tales to tell than a ship full of Irish sailors—yet it was just a single mote in the dust-pile that was the English money supply. In a certain way to take that dust and shovel it into the maw of the crucibles was monstrous, like burning a library.

But imagine the glowing rivers that would spring from the lips of those crucibles when all of that tarnished silver was made clean, and made quick, and con-fused, and all of its old stories driven off as clouds of smoke that the river wind would carry away. Imagine the shining coins in purses everywhere—Mrs. Bligh striking out the debts from her ledger-book, her strong-box becoming a catch-basin for the new money, overflowing and spilling out gleaming rivulets down the street to the bankside coffee-merchants, and thence down the Thames into the wide.

"We've no choice," Daniel understood.

"We've no choice. The Pope has all the gold, all the silver, all the men, and the rich lands where the sun shines. We cannot long stand against Spain, France, the Empire, the Church. Not as long as power is like a scale, with our riches on one pan, and our adversaries' on the other. What are we to do, then? Daniel, you know that I think Alchemy is nonsense! Yet there is something in the idea of Alchemy; the conceit that we may cause gold to appear where 'twas not, by dint of artfulness and machinations up here." He pressed the tip of one index finger delicately to his forehead. "We have no mines, no El Dorado. If we want gold and silver we must look not to treasure-fleets from America. Yet if we conduct commerce here, and build the Bank of England, why, gold and silver will appear in our coffers as if by magic—or Alchemy if you prefer."

A pause to sip cold coffee. Then Daniel remarked, "You'll want to take a page from Gresham's book. ‘Bad money drives out good.' If the new coin is good, 'twill drive away the bad, not only from this island but everywhere. Everyone will desire English guineas, as they desire Pieces of Eight now. The demand will cause ever more gold and silver to wash up on our shores to be coined in the Tower, just as you prophesy."

Roger was nodding patiently, as if he and the Juncto had figured it all out long ago—which might or might not have been the case—but Daniel found it strangely reassuring all the same, and continued: "At the risk of sounding like a Royal Society partisan—"

"It is not much of a risk. Half of the Juncto are Fellows. And all are partisans of something."

"Very well, then, I submit that you want a Natural Philosopher running the Mint—not the usual corrupt, drunken, time-serving political hack."

This drew a brisk turn of the head from a gentleman who had been standing a short distance behind Roger, talking to another gent, or pretending to. Daniel realized he had spoken too loudly.

The gentleman was glaring at Daniel from beneath a copper-colored wig, one of the new model, narrow, with long ringlets trailing far down the back. The wig said that he had money and rank, yet was no admirer of the French. He would be High Church, Old Money, a reflexive backer of Monarchy—a Tory, as they were called nowadays. Odd that he should be passing the time of day in here—Mrs. Bligh's was a Whig haunt. For that reason Daniel rated it as unlikely that this fellow would challenge him to a duel.

Roger had noticed Daniel noticing all of these things, and had the good instincts not to look back. But his eyes flicked slightly upwards to a windowpane just above Daniel's head, and he scanned the reflections interestedly for a moment. Which in no way prevented his talking at the same time. "Indeed, Daniel, any man plucked from this coffee-house—with one or two exceptions—would be preferable to the fellows running our mint now, who are tapeworms."

Daniel was staring fixedly into Roger's eyes, but in the background he could see the Tory turning away. The Tory planted himself with his back toward Roger, set his coffee-cup down on a sideboard, rested a hand idly on the hilt of his small-sword, and seemed to survey the crowd of merry Whigs filling the house.

"It follows that any Fellow of the Royal Society would be excellent—but merely excellent is not quite good enough, Daniel. Normally it takes me hours to explain why this is true. You, thank God, have perceived it instantly. The fate of Britain and of Christendom hinge upon the power of the new good Pound Sterling to drive out the bad—to sweep all opposition from the field and bring gold and silver to our shores from every corner of the earth. The quality of money is only partly due to the purity of its metal—which any Natural Philosopher could see to. It is also a matter of trust, of prestige."

Daniel had now realized what was coming, and slid down in his chair, and put his hands over his face. "You don't want me to enlist him, Roger! I no longer have his ear. You want Fatio, Fatio, Fatio!"

"Everyone knows he is in-Fatio-ated—but passions are fleeting. You have known him longer than anyone, Daniel. You are the man for it. England needs you! Your Massachusetts sinecure awaits!"

Daniel had parted his fingers now and was peering out through slits in between. Unable to look Roger in the face, he was surveying the distant background. Andrew Ellis—a compact young man with a blond ponytail, an enjoyable, harmless young Parliamentarian—was coming over with a glass of claret in each hand, intent on breaking into the conversation and sharing his enjoyableness with Roger. If Daniel had hopes of weaseling out, he had to do it now. To Roger Comstock, silence implied not merely consent, but a blood oath.

"You cannot know what you are proposing, ensconcing such a man at the Tower, giving him control of our money. He has strange ideas, dark secrets—"

"I know all about the beastliness."

"No, that's not what I mean."

"Alchemy is an even more common vice."

"That's not it, either. He is a heretic, Roger."

"Look who's talking!"

"I mean, he does not even believe in the Trinity!"

Roger got a glazed-over look, as he always did when abstract theological matters were dragged into the conversation. Unlike ordinary men, who required several minutes to become fully glazed over, Roger could do it in an instant, as if a window-sash had dropped in front of him from a great height. Daniel parted his fingers more to observe this phenomenon. But instead his attention was drawn to something even odder: an expensive copper-colored wig hanging in midair behind Roger's chair. Its owner had ducked and darted out from under it as fast as a striking cobra and simply left it behind. It fell to the floor, of course. By that time the owner—who had red hair in a close Caesar crop—was whispering something into Andrew Ellis's ear. It must have been something extremely shocking, to judge from the look of astonishment—nay, horror—that had come over the normally beaming face of Mr. Ellis.

Daniel pushed himself up in his chair to get a better look and perceived that the red-headed gent was now drawing away from Ellis—but Ellis was moving with him, as if they were joined together. Ellis gave out a little whimper.

Daniel could not credit what he was seeing. "Roger, I could almost swear that Mr. Ellis is having his ear bitten."

Roger now took notice for the first time. He stood up, turned around, and quickly verified it. This prolonged ear-biting had drawn very little notice thus far because Ellis had been too astonished to speak and the biter, of course, could not really talk, either—though he did seem to be mumbling something in a low, grinding voice: "So you want to have the ear of Roger Comstock? Then I shall have yours."

Oddly, it was Roger's standing up that drew everyone's attention. Then awareness splashed across the room.

"In the name of God, sir!" Ellis cried, and slumped against the paneled wall. The red-head stayed with him, of course, maintaining his bite like a bulldog, working his jaw slowly to gnaw through the cartilage. He planted a hand on the wall to either side of Ellis's head, bracketing him in position. Several of the Whigs in the main room finally moved forward to intervene—but the gentleman who had been talking to the biter earlier whirled to face them, and drew his sword half out of his scabbard. That drove them back like a firecracker.

Roger stepped toward the biter and the bitee, and raised his arm that was nearer the wall, causing his cape to spread open and block Daniel's view of the whole proceedings. He seemed to slap the back of the biter's hand where it was planted on the wall. "Mr. White," he said, in an indulgent tone, "do wipe your chin when you are quite finished." Then Roger skirted around the pair and walked out of the coffee-house. Andrew Ellis collapsed to the floor with a scream and pressed both of his hands to the side of his head. Mr. White came up with a triumphant toss of his head, like a country boy who has just won at apple-bobbing. Something like a dried apricot was lodged in his smile. He plucked it out with one hand to admire it. Andrew Ellis was lying against Mr. White's shins and knees, forcing them back, and so White had to keep his other hand braced against the paneling lest he topple forward. Anyway, he pocketed Ellis's ear and flashed a bloody grin at Daniel.

"Welcome to politics, Mr. Waterhouse," he announced. "This is the world you have made. Rejoice and be glad in it—for you shall not be allowed to leave."

"I am freer to leave than you are, Mr. White," Daniel said on his way out, nodding in the direction of the hand that Mr. White was bracing against the wall.

Mr. White now seemed to notice for the first time that a dagger had been shoved all the way through that hand, between the metacarpals and out through the palm, and lodged deep in the wooden wall. Worked into the dagger's pommel, in silver letters, as a sort of calling-card, were the initials R.C.


WHEN DANIEL MADE IT out to the street he discovered that his hand had gone into his pocket and got ahold of the Pearl of Great Price and squeezed it so hard, for so long, that his fingers had got tired. The Stone had a sort of devil's-head shape, with two stubby hornlets that had once been lodged in his ureters. He had a habit of gripping it so that those wee knobs stuck out between his knuckles—it fitted his hand almost as well as his bladder.

Riding north across Hertfordshire in a borrowed carriage the next day, he found his hand had gone to it once again, as he reviewed the ear-biting scene in the theatre of his memory. Daniel was meditating on Cowardice. He knew a lot of cowards and saw cowardice everywhere, but just as Mr. Flamsteed's observations of the stars were frequently obnubilated by weather, so Daniel's of Cowardice by Extenuating Circumstances. Viz. a man might explain cowardliness by saying that he had a family to support, or, failing that, with the simple argument that it just was not fair for a young man to give up life or limb. But Daniel had no wife or children of his own, and brother Sterling was doing a fine job of supporting the extended family. And not only was Daniel old (forty-seven), but he ought to've been dead by now, and owed his remaining years solely to Mr. Hooke's pitiless blade-work. So in Daniel Waterhouse, an observer could see cowardliness in its pure form, and perhaps learn something of its nature.

A note from Roger Comstock was on the bench next to Daniel; it had been waiting for him in the carriage this morning. Dear Daniel, it read,

Forgive me my precipitous leave-taking from Mrs. Bligh's yester-eve. As I am sure you have perceived by now, the whole event was a masque, a trifle. Do not allow Mr. White's vulgarities to prey upon your good judgment.

Your coachman is Mr. John Hammond and I have charged him to convey you anywhere you desire, until your errand is accomplished; but I have led him to believe that most of your perambulations shall be confined to the triangle formed by London, Cambridge, and Mr. Apthorp's country house. If you conceive a need to hie to John O'Groats or Land's End, do break the news to him gently.

Yours very sternly,

(signed with a flourish, two inches high)

Ravenscar

P.S. I seem to have lost my poniard—have you seen it?

Roger was completely free of any taint of cowardice. Craven he might be, but a coward? Never. A trifle. Roger was sincere when he called it that.

It was impossible for Daniel to read in the dim, rocking vehicle, and he had no one to talk to, so sleeping and thinking were the only ways to pass the long drive through the rain up to Cambridge. As he contrasted his fear of Mr. White (which was very much akin to the fear he had previously had of Jeffreys) with how he had once felt about this rock that was now in his pocket, a new hypothesis of cowardice came into his head. The Stone had made him sad, reluctant to die, and anxious—but his fear of it had been as nothing compared to his fear of Jeffreys, and now of White. Yet those men had only spoken threatening words to him. Even when Hooke had reached up between his thighs with the scalpel, Daniel had been gripped by a sort of animal fear, but nothing like the dread of Mr. White, which had kept him awake all last night.

The only difference he could think of was that Hooke liked Daniel and White hated him. Could it be, then, that Daniel's true cowardice lay in that he could not stand for people to think poorly of him?

That would be a strange shape for cowardice to take. But it tallied well with Daniel's experiences to date. It was Daniel's biography in a sentence. Further, perhaps it was the case that there were certain men, such as Jeffreys and White, who were adept at detecting this particular type of fear, and who had learned to cultivate it and use it against their enemies. Mr. John Hammond, the driver, had a long coachman's whip and used it frequently, but never actually struck the horses with it. Rather, he made it crack in the air around the heads of his team, and used their own fear to drive them.

When Daniel had sent Jeffreys to the Tower and to his scaffold-top meeting with Jack Ketch, he'd phant'sied that he had slain a dragon, and put an end to that part of his life. Yet now Mr. White had appeared out of nowhere. An alarming chap! But much more alarming was what this all implied, namely that the world had more than one dragon—that it was infested with them—and that a fellow who was afraid of dragons must perforce spend all his days worrying about one or another.

This was all very much of the essence, because when Daniel tracked Isaac down, wherever he was, he would not be able to do what needed to be done without first mastering this fear.


AS IT TURNED OUT, he had no occasion to master it in Cambridge. He arrived at Trinity College in time to have a wash and a cat-nap in one of the guest chambers. Then, when the bell rang, he threw on a robe and went to the dining hall and took a place at the high table. Rather close to the head of that table, as it turned out. For between apoplexy and smallpox, Daniel was becoming more senior with every passing month. He was shown respect and even affection. He understood now why men afflicted with his particular brand of cowardice would gravitate to stations like this one, even though the College had fallen on very hard times, and was dishing up thin gruel little different from what was served in the poor-house.

When he inquired after Newton and Fatio, heads turned toward a young man seated near the foot of the table—too far away for Daniel to converse with him—who was called Dominic Masham. This suggested much to Daniel, for he knew that the family Masham were close friends and patrons of John Locke. Locke had been living on their estate at Oates since he'd come back from exile in Holland round the time of the Glorious Revolution. Daniel presumed that Locke had established some sort of alchemical laboratory there, for Newton and Fatio had frequently gone there for lengthy stays, as had Robert Boyle until his death a year or two ago. The Mashams had many children and Daniel guessed that this Dominic was one of them, and that he was here as a prot'eg'e of Newton.

It was explained to him that Newton, Fatio, and Locke had all been staying in Newton's (and formerly Waterhouse's) chambers here until yesterday morning, when they'd all gone away, leaving Masham behind to tie up some loose ends. Newton and Fatio had gone off together bound for Oates. Locke had gone off by himself down the Barton Road, which led generally southeastwards. But he had declined to state his destination.

"I went right by them," Daniel remarked. For the Mashams' estate lay just off the London-Cambridge road, some twenty miles north of the capital. "What were those fellows up to?" For they also collaborated on theological projects.

It made the men at High Table nervous that Daniel had even asked.

"That is to say, what sorts of stimulating conversations have I missed by being so long absent from this table? Surely, three such men did not sit here in silence."

Everyone sat in silence for a few moments. But then, fortuitously, dinner was over. They all stood up and chanted in Latin, and filed out. Daniel tracked Dominic Masham across the Great Court, and caught up with him beyond the main gate as he was unlocking the portal to Newton's private courtyard. Masham had a distracted and hurried look about him, wh