/ Language: Français / Genre:sf_history,sf_fantasy,

The Confusion

Neal Stephenson

Neal Stephenson

The Confusion

To Maurine


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.


Author’s Note

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.

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,




Author’s Note



Barbary Coast

Book 5: The Juncto

Dundalk, Ireland

The Dunkerque Residence of the Marquis and the Marquise d’Ozoir


Throne Room of the Pasha, the Kasba, Algiers

Book 5: The Juncto

Chateau Juvisy

Dunkerque Residence of the d’Ozoirs

Cap Gris-Nez, France

Letter from Daniel Waterhouse to Eliza

Letter from Eliza to Daniel

La Dunette


The Gulf of Cadiz

Off Malta

Book 5: The Juncto

Eliza to Leibniz

Leibniz to Eliza

Schlo? Wolfenbuttel, Lower Saxony


A Hay-rick, St.-Malo, France

Chateau d’Arcachon, St.-Malo, France

Eliza to Lothar von Hacklheber

Eliza to King William III of England

Eliza to Monsieur le Chevalier d’Erquy

Cafe Esphahan, Rue de l’Orangerie, Versailles

Daniel Waterhouse to Eliza

Roger Comstock, Marquis of Ravenscar, to Eliza

Leibniz to Eliza

Eliza to Samuel de la Vega

Eliza to the Marquis of Ravenscar

Eliza to Samuel Bernard

Samuel Bernard to Eliza

Cabin of Meteore, off Cherbourg, France


Gresham’s College


Ahmadabad, the Mogul Empire

The Surat-Broach Road, Hindoostan

Book 5: The Juncto

Mrs. Bligh’s Coffee-house, London

Bonaventure Rossignol to Eliza

Eliza to Rossignol

Eliza to Pontchartrain

Rossignol to Eliza

Pretzsch, Saxony

Pontchartrain to Eliza

Eliza to Pontchartrain

The Dower-house of Pretzsch

Jean Bart to Eliza


Eliza to Jean Bart


Southern Fringes of the Mogul Empire


Book 5: The Juncto

The Thames


An Abandoned Church in France

Winter Quarters of the King’s Own Black Torrent Guards Near Namur

The Track to Pretzsch

A House Overlooking the Meuse Valley

Herrenhausen Palace, Hanover



Book 5: The Juncto



The Pacific Ocean

Book 5: The Juncto

Charlottenburg Palace, Berlin


Mexico City, New Spain

Mexico City


Book 5: The Juncto

Hotel Arcachon


En Route from Paris to London

About the Author

Also by Neal Stephenson



About the Publisher

Book 4


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.


A Voyage Round the World

Barbary Coast


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?”


“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 cite.

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…”


“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?”


“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 role 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 Penon 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 role in the Plan.”

“And am I allowed to know the nature of this role?”

“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 torcheres 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 torcheres 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 torcheres 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


MR. FOOT, ex-proprietor of the Bomb amp; 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


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*

“We are held captive in this city by the ineffable will of the market,” Moseh de la Cruz began.

These words sounded to Jack like the beginning of a well-rehearsed, and very long presentation, and so he was not slow to interrupt.

“Pah! What market can you possibly be talking about?” But looking around at the others it seemed that he was the only one showing the least bit of skepticism.

“Why, the market in tutsaklar ransom futures, which is three doors down yonder alley-way, on the left,” Moseh said, pointing. “It is a place where anyone with money can buy into the deed of a tutsaklar, which means, captive of war-thereby speculating that one day that person will be ransomed, in which event all of the shareholders divide up the ransom, minus certain duties, taxes, fees, et cetera, levied by the Pasha. It is the city’s primary source of revenue and foreign exchange-”

“All right, pardon me, I did not know that, and supposed you were framing some occult similitude,” Jack said.

“As I watched Yevgeny’s bout this evening,” Moseh continued, “it came to me that said market is a sort of Invisible Hand that grips us all by the testicles-”

“Hold, hold! Are you babbling some manner of Cabbalistic superstition now?”

“No, Jack, now I am using a similitude. For there is no Invisible Hand-but there might as well be.”

“Very good-pray continue.”

“The workings of the market dictate that tutsaklar who are likely to be ransomed, and for large fees, are well-treated-”

“And ones like us end up as galley-slaves,” Jack said. “And ’tis clear enough to me why I am assessed a low value by this market, and my nuts gripped most oppressively by the Invisible Hand of which you spoke. Likewise, Mr. Foot is broke, Yevgeny’s of a daft sect whose members torture one another, Dappa is persona non grata in all lands south of the Sahara, Vrej Esphahnian’s family is chronically ill-funded. Senor Jeronimo, whatever fine qualities he may possess that I haven’t seen evidence of yet, is not the sort that anyone who has spent much time with him would be disposed to pay a lot of ransom for. I know not the tale of Nyazi but can guess it. Gabriel is on the wrong side of the fucking world. All plain enough. But van Hoek is some kind of a naval officer, and you are an intelligent-seeming Jew-why have you two not been ransomed?”

“My parents died of the Plague that ravaged Amsterdam when Cromwell cut off our foreign trade, and so many honest Dutchman were cast out of their homes and took to sleeping in pestilential places-” van Hoek began, rather peevishly.

“Avast, Cap’n! Do I look like a Roundhead? ’Twasn’t my doing!”

“I was suckled by government-issue wet-nurses at the Civic Orphanage. The worthies of the Reformed Church taught me reading and figures, bless them, but in time I grew up into a difficult boy.”

“Fancy that-who would’ve expected it from a short, Dutch, ill-tempered, red-headed step-child?” Jack exclaimed. “Still, I’d think some corsair-captain could find a use for you more exalted than barnacle-scraper.”

“When I was eighteen, the canals froze, and King Louis’s troops swarmed over them on ice-skates, raping everything that moved and burning all else. The Dutch Republic prepared to take ship and move to Asia en masse. Seamen were wanted. I was sprung from jail and compelled to join the V.O.C.* 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 Sao Tome, 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 Sao Tome to be its governor, he took with him two thousand Jewish children whom the Inquisition had torn from the bosoms of their families. Sao Tome 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 Sao Tome. 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 fe, 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 Penasco de Halcones Quinto, Marchioni de Azuaga et de Hornachos, Comiti de Llerena, Barcarrota, et de Jerez de los Caballeros, Vicecomiti de Llera, Entrin 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 Rio 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 Darien, 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 Archipielago 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 Darien. 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 parasitos 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 Darien, 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 Ingles 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 Bahia 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 feted 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 zocalo 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.”

Book 5

The Juncto

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.


A Plan of the English Commerce

Dundalk, Ireland


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

The Dunkerque Residence of

the Marquis and the Marquise d’Ozoir

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 chateau, 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 chateau 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 chateau 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 chateau, or a great lady to spread a fragrant garden; and while those dunes might be speckled with watch-towers and mortar-batteries, no grand marechal 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, amp;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.”*

“As usual, you know everything.”

“When she turned up in Berlin with money, people there gossiped. It sounds as though you were most generous.”

“I booked passage on a Dutch ship that was to take me, along with several other passengers, from the Hook of Holland to London. This was early in September. We were baffled by strong winds out of the northeast, which prevented us from making any headway towards England, while driving us inexorably south towards the Straits of Dover. To make a long, tediously nautical story short, we were captured off Dunkerque by-voila!”

Eliza gestured toward much the finest ship in the basin, a Ship of Force with a sterncastle magnificently sculpted, and spread thick with gold leaf.

“Lieutenant Jean Bart,” Rossignol muttered.

“Our captain surrendered immediately, and so we were boarded without violence by Bart’s men, who went through and confiscated everything of value. I lost all. The ship itself became Bart’s, of course-you can see it there if you care to look, but it is not much to look at.”

“That is putting it kindly,” said Rossignol after he had picked it out among the warships. “Why on earth does Lieutenant Bart suffer it to be moored so close to his flagship? It is like an ass sharing a stall with a cheval de bataille.”

“The answer is: the innate chivalry of Lieutenant Bart,” said Eliza.

“How does that follow?”

“After we had surrendered, and during the time that we were en route hither, one of Bart’s petty officers remained on board to keep an eye on things. I noticed him talking to one of the other passengers at length. I became concerned. This passenger was a Belgian gentleman who had boarded this ship at the last minute as we made our way towards the breakwater at the Hook. He had been paying me a lot of attention ever since. Not the sort of attention most men pay to me-”

“He was a spy,” said Rossignol, “in the pay of d’Avaux.” It was not clear whether he had guessed this, or already knew it from reading the man’s mail.

“I had guessed as much. It had not troubled me at all when I had thought I was going to end up in London, where this man would be impotent. But now we were on our way to Dunkerque, where the passengers would be left to shift for themselves. I could not guess what sort of mischief might befall me here at this fellow’s hands. And indeed, when we reached Dunkerque, all of the passengers except for me were let off. I was detained for some hours, during which time several messages passed between the ship I was on, and the flagship of Jean Bart.

“Now as you may know, Bon-bon, every pirate and privateer has lurking within him the soul of an accountant. Though some would say ’tis the other way round. This arises from the fact that their livelihood derives from sacking ships, which is a hurried, disorderly, murky sort of undertaking; one pirate may come up with some gentleman’s lucky rabbit’s foot while the fellow on his left pulls an emerald the size of a quail’s egg from a lady’s cleavage. The whole enterprise would dissolve into a melee unless all the takings were pooled, and meticulously sorted, appraised, tallied, and then divided according to a rigid scheme. That is why the English euphemism for going a-pirating is going on the account.

“The practical result in my case was that every one of Bart’s men had at least a general notion of how much had been pilfered and from whom, and they knew that the gold taken from my strong-box and the jewels plucked from my body were worth more than all the other passengers’ effects summed and multiplied by ten. Bon-bon, I do not wish to boast, but the rest of my story will not make any sense to you unless I mention that the fortune I had lost was really quite enormous.”

Rossignol winced. From this, Eliza knew that he must have seen the figure mentioned somewhere.

“I have not dwelled on it,” she went on, “because a noblewoman-which I purport to be-is not supposed to care about anything as vulgar as money. And when Bart’s men took the jewels away from me I did not feel any different from the minute before. But as days went by I thought more and more about the fortune I had lost-enough to purchase an earldom. The only thing that saved me from going mad was the blue-eyed treasure I cradled in my arms.”

She purposely refrained from saying our baby, as this sort of remark only seemed to make him restive.

“In time I was put aboard a longboat and taken to the flagship. Lieutenant Bart emerged from his cabin to welcome me aboard. I think he was expecting some dowager. When he saw me, he was shocked.”

“It is not shock,” Rossignol demurred. “It is an altogether different thing. You have witnessed it a thousand times, but you’ll go to your grave without understanding it.”

“Well, once Captain Bart had recovered a little from this mysterious condition that you speak of, he ushered me into his private cabin-it is the one high in the sterncastle, there-and caused coffee to be served. He was-”

“Here I beg you to skip over any further adoring description of Lieutenant Bart,” said Rossignol, “as I got quite enough of it in the letter that caused me to wear out five horses getting here.”

“As you wish,” Eliza said. “It was more than simple lust, though.”

“I’m sure that’s what he wanted you to think.”

“Well. Let me jump ahead, then, to review my situation briefly. I am rated a Countess in France only because le Roi decided to make me one; he simply announced one day at his levee that I was the Countess de la Zeur-which is a funny French way of denoting my home island.”

“I wonder if you know,” said Rossignol, “that, by doing so, his majesty was implicitly reasserting an ancient Bourbon claim to Qwghlm that his lawyers had dredged out of some pond. Just as his majesty has made a base navale here, to one side of England, he would make another like it in Qwghlm, to the opposite side. So your ennoblement-startling as it might have been to you-was done as part of a larger plan.”

“I’d expect nothing less of his majesty,” said Eliza. “Whatever his motives might have been, the fact is that I had repaid the favor by spying on his army and reporting what I saw to William of Orange. So le Roi had reason to be a bit cross with me.”

Rossignol snorted.

“But I had done so,” Eliza went on, “under the ?gis of Louis’s sister-in-law, whose homeland Louis was invading, and continues to ravage at this very moment.”

“He does not ravage, mademoiselle, but pacifies it.”

“I stand corrected. Now, William of Orange has secretly made me a Duchess. But this is like a bill of exchange drawn on a Dutch house and payable only in London.”

This commercial metaphor made Rossignol confused, and perhaps a little queasy.

“In France it is not honored,” Eliza explained, “for France deems James Stuart the rightful King of England and does not grant William any right to create Duchesses. Even if they did, they would dispute his sovereignty over Qwghlm. At any rate, these facts were all new to Lieutenant Bart. It required some time for me to convey them to him, for, of course, I had to do so diplomatically. When he had absorbed all, and pondered, and finally made to speak, the care with which he considered each utterance was extraordinary; he was like a pilot maneuvering his vessel through a harbor crowded with drifting fire-ships, pausing every few words to, as it were, take soundings or gauge the latest shift in the wind.”

“Or maybe he is just not, in the end, very intelligent,” Rossignol suggested.

“I shall let you be the judge of that, for you shall meet him presently,” Eliza said. “Either way, my situation is the same. Let me put it to you baldly. The money that Bart’s men had stripped off my person was gold or, as some name it, hard money, spendable anywhere in the world for any good or service, and extremely desirable on both sides of the English Channel. Such is terribly scarce now because of the war. Living so near Amsterdam and dealing so rarely in hard money, I had quite lost sight of this. As you know, Bon-bon, Louis XIV recently had all of the solid silver furniture in his Grands Appartements melted down, literally liquidating 1.5 million livres tournoises in assets to pay for the new army he is building. At the time I heard this story, I had dismissed it as a whim of interior decoration, but now I am thinking harder about its meaning. The nobles of France have hoarded a stupendous amount of metal in the past few decades, probably banking it against the day Louis XIV dies, when they phant’sy they may rise up and reassert their ancient powers.”

Rossignol nodded. “By melting his own furniture, his majesty was trying to set an example. So far, few have emulated it.”

“Now, my assets-all in the most liquid possible form-had been seized by Jean Bart, a privateer, holding a license to plunder Dutch and English shipping and turn the proceeds over to the French crown. If I had been a Dutch or an English woman, my money would already have been swallowed up by the French treasury, and available for the controleur-general, Monsieur le comte de Pontchartrain, to dispense as he saw fit. But since I was arguably a French countess, the money had been put in escrow.”

“They were afraid that you would lodge an objection to the confiscation of your money-for how can a French privateer steal from a French countess?” said Rossignol. “Your ambiguous status would make it into a complicated affair legally. The letters that passed back and forth were most amusing.”

“I am glad you were amused, Bon-bon. But I was faced with the question: Why not claim my rights and demand the money back?”

“It is good that you have posed this question, mademoiselle, for I, and half of Versailles, have been wondering.”

“The answer is, because they wanted it. They wanted it badly enough that if I were to put up a fight, they might turn against me, denounce me as a foreign spy and a traitor, void my rights, throw me into the Bastille, and take the money. Put to work in the war, it might save thousands of French lives-and balanced against that, what is one counterfeit Countess worth?”

“Hmmm. I understand now that Lieutenant Bart was presenting you with an opportunity to do something clever.”

“He dared not come out and say it directly. But he wanted me to know that I had a choice. And this little Hercules, who would not hesitate to send a ship full of living men to David Jones’s Locker, if they were enemies of France, did not wish to see me taken off in chains to the Bastille.”

“So you did it.”

“ ‘The money is for France, of course!’ ” I told him. “ ‘That is why I went to such trouble to smuggle it out of Amsterdam. How could I do otherwise when le Roi is melting down his own furniture to save French lives, and to defend French rights?’ ”

“That must have cheered him up.”

“More than words can express. Indeed he was so flummoxed that I gave him leave to kiss my cheeks, which he did with great elan, and a lingering scent of eau de cologne.”

Rossignol twisted his head away from Eliza so that she would not see the look on his face.

“Some part of me still phant’sied that I’d be aboard a Dover-bound boat within hours, penniless but free,” Eliza said. “But of course it was more complicated than that. I still was not free to go; for as Jean Bart now informed me with obvious regret, I was being held on suspicion of being a spy for William of Orange.”

“D’Avaux had made his move,” said Rossignol.

“That is what I came to understand, from hints given me by Lieutenant Bart. My accuser, he said, was a very important man, who was in Dublin, and who had given orders that I was to be detained, on suspicion of spying, until he could reach Dunkerque.”

“How long ago was this?”

“Two weeks.”

“Then d’Avaux might get here at any moment!” Rossignol said.

“Behold his ship,” said Eliza, and directed Rossignol’s attention to a French Navy vessel moored elsewhere in the basin. “I was watching it come round the end of the jetty when I saw you riding up the street.”

“So d’Avaux has only just arrived,” said Rossignol. “We have little time to lose, then. Please explain to me, briefly, how you have ended up in this house; for only a moment ago you told me that you were detained on the ship there.”

“I was already ensconced in one of her cabins. It was practical to remain there. Bart caused the ship to be anchored where you see it, so that he could keep an eye on it-both to protect me from lusty French sailors and to be sure that I would not escape. He rounded up a few female servants from gin-houses and bordellos and put them aboard to stoke the galley fires and boil water and so on. As weeks went by, I learned which were good and which weren’t, and fired the latter. Nicole, whom you saw a minute ago, has turned out to be the best of these. And I sent to the Hague for a woman who had become a loyal lady-in-waiting to me there, named Brigitte. Letters began to reach me from Versailles.”

“I know.”

“As you have already read them, to list their contents would be redundant. Perhaps you remember one from Madame la marquise d’Ozoir, inviting me to-nay, demanding that I make myself at home in this, her Dunkerque residence.”

“Remind me please of your connexion to the d’Ozoirs?”

“Before I was ennobled, I required some excuse to be hanging around Versailles. D’Avaux, who had put me there in the first place, concocted a situation for me whereby I worked as a governess for the daughter of the d’Ozoirs, and followed them on their migrations back and forth between Versailles and Dunkerque. This made it easy for me to travel up the coast to Holland when business called me thither.”

“It sounds, by your leave, somewhat farcical.”

“Indeed, and the d’Ozoirs knew as much; but I had treated their daughter well, and a kind of loyalty had arisen between us nonetheless. So I have moved into this house.”

“Other servants?”

“Brigitte has arrived, and brought another good one with her.”

“I saw men?”

“To ‘guard’ me, Lieutenant Bart chose two of his favorite marines: ones who have grown a bit too old to be swinging from grappling-hooks.”

“Yes, they had that look about them. And if I may ask an indelicate question, mademoiselle, how do you pay all of these servants when by your own tale you have not a sou in hard money?”

“A reasonable question. The answer lies in my status as a Countess and benefactress of the French treasury. Because of this Lieutenant Bart has been willing to open his purse and lend me money.”

“All right. It is improper, but clearly you had no choice. We shall try to improve on these arrangements. Now, there is one other thing I must understand if I am to assist you, and that is the bundle of letters from Ireland.”

“After I had been living on that boat for two weeks, my mail began to catch up with me, and one day I received that packet, sewn up in tent-cloth, which had been posted to me from Belfast. It turned out to be correspondence stolen from the desk of Monsieur le comte d’Avaux in Dublin. It contained many letters and documents that were state secrets of France.”

“And so knowing that d’Avaux was en route to accuse you of spying, you have held on to them as bargaining counters.”


“Excellent. Is there a place where I could spread them out and go through them?”

Here, though she would never show it, Eliza felt a sudden upwelling of affection for Rossignol. In a world full of men who only wanted to take her to bed, it was somehow comforting to know that there was one who, given the opportunity, would prefer to read through a big pile of stolen correspondence.

“You may ask Brigitte-she is the big Dutch woman-to show you to the Library,” Eliza said. “I will keep an eye on the harbor. I believe that the longboat over yonder, just rounding the end of that pier, might be carrying d’Avaux.”

“Carrying him hither?” Rossignol asked sharply.

“No, to the flagship of Lieutenant Bart.”

“Good. I need at least a little bit of time.”

ELIZA REPAIRED TO AN UPPER storey of the house, where a prospective-glass was mounted on a tripod before a window, and watched Lieutenant Bart receive d’Avaux in the cabin of his flagship. This cabin extended across the full width of the ship’s sterncastle, and was illuminated by a row of windows looking abaft; at either end these curled around like a great golden scroll wrapped around the transom of the ship, creating small turrets from which Jean Bart might gaze forward to port or starboard. The sky was clear, and the afternoon sun was shining in through these windows.

The interview proceeded as follows: first, courteous greetings and chit-chat. Second, a momentary pause and adjustment of postures (because of a recent exploit, Jean Bart still could not sit down without suffering the torments of the damned, and d’Avaux, ever the gentleman, spurned all offers of chairs). Third, a long and, Eliza did not doubt, most entertaining Narration from Lieutenant Bart, enlivened by diverse zooming and veering movements of his hands. Slowly mounting impatience shown in d’Avaux’s posture. Fourth, interrogation of Bart by d’Avaux, during which Bart held up a ledger and ticked off several items (presumably rendering an accompt of all the jewels, purses, etc., that had been taken from Eliza). Fifth, d’Avaux jumped to his feet, face red, and worked his jaw violently for some minutes; Bart was startled at first, and went a bit slack, but gradually stiffened into a dignified and aggrieved posture. Sixth, both men came over to the window and looked at Eliza (or so it seemed through her spyglass; they could not see her, of course). Seventh, aides were summoned and coats and hats were donned. Which was Eliza’s cue to summon Brigitte and Nicole and the other female servants of her little household, and to begin putting on clothes. She borrowed a dress from the closet of Madame la marquise d’Ozoir. It was from last year; but d’Avaux had been in Dublin since then, and so to him it would look fashionable. And it was too big for Eliza, but with some artful pinning and basting in the back, it would serve, as long as she did not stand up. And she had no intention of standing up for d’Avaux. She arranged herself, a bit stiffly, in an armchair in the Grand Salon, and discoursed sotto voce with Bonaventure Rossignol. For Bart and d’Avaux had only required a few minutes of time to reach this house from Bart’s flagship, and were being made to wait in another room, so nearby that Bart’s pacing boots and d’Avaux’s sniffling nose (he had caught a catarrh en route) were clearly audible.

Rossignol had had time by now to sort through the stolen letters. Certain of these he gave into Eliza’s hands, and she arranged them on her lap, as if she had been reading them. The rest he took away, at least for the time being. He withdrew into another part of the house, not wishing to be seen by d’Avaux. A few minutes later Eliza sent word that the caller was to be admitted. The furniture had been arranged so that the sun was shining hard into the side of d’Avaux’s face. Eliza sat with her back to a window.

“His majesty has summoned me to his chateau at Versailles, so that I may report on the progress of the campaign that his majesty the King of England wages to wrest that island from the grip of the Usurper,” d’Avaux began, once they had got the opening formalities out of the way. “The Prince of Orange has sent out a Marshal Schomberg to campaign against us near Belfast, but he is timid or lethargic or both and it appears he’ll do nothing this year.”

“Your voice is hoarse,” Eliza observed. “Is it a catarrh, or have you been screaming a lot?”

“I am not afraid to raise my voice to inferiors. In your presence, mademoiselle, I shall comport myself properly.”

“Does that mean you no longer intend to have me dangled over hot coals in a sack full of cats?” Eliza turned over a letter, written by d’Avaux, in which he had proposed to someone that such was the most fitting treatment for spies.

“Mademoiselle, I am shocked beyond words that you would connive with Irishmen to enter my house and ransack it. There is much that I would forgive you. But to violate the sanctity of an ambassadorial residence-of a nobleman’s home-and to commit theft, makes me fear I over-estimated you. For I believed you could pass for noble. But what you have done is common.”

“These distinctions that you draw ’tween noble and common, what is proper and what is not, seem as arbitrary and senseless to me, as the castes and customs of Hindoos would to you,” Eliza returned.

“It is in their very irrationality, their arbitrariness, that they are refined,” d’Avaux corrected her. “If the customs of the nobility made sense, anyone could figure them out, and become noble. But because they are incoherent and meaningless, not to mention ever-changing, the only way to know them is to be inculcated with them, to absorb them through the skin. This makes them a coin that is almost impossible to counterfeit.”

“’Tis like gold, then?”

“Very much so, mademoiselle. Gold is gold everywhere, fungible and indifferent. But when a disk of gold is stamped by a coiner with certain pompous words and the picture of a King, it takes on added value-seigneurage. It has that value only in that people believe that it does-it is a shared phant’sy. You, mademoiselle, came to me as a blank disk of gold-”

“And you, sir, tried to stamp nobility ’pon me, to enhance my value-”

“But then-” he said, gesturing to the letter, “to steal from my house, shows you up as a counterfeit.”

“Which do you suppose is a worse thing to be? A spy for the Prince of Orange, or a counterfeit Countess?”

“Unquestionably the latter, mademoiselle, for spying is rampant everywhere. Loyalty to one’s class-which means, to one’s family-is far more important than loyalty to a particular country.”

“I believe that on the other side of yonder straits are many who would take the opposite view.”

“But you are on this side of those straits, mademoiselle, and will be for a long time.”

“In what estate?”

“That is for you to decide. If you wish to continue in your common ways, then you will have a common fate. I cannot send you to the galleys, as much as that would please me, but I can arrange for you to have a life as miserable in some work-house. I believe that ten or twenty years spent gutting fish would re-awaken in you a respect for noble things. Or, if your recent behavior is a mere aberration perhaps brought about by the stresses of childbirth, I can put you back at Versailles, in much the same capacity as before. When you vanished from St. Cloud everyone assumed you had gotten pregnant and had gone off somewhere to bear your child in secrecy and give it away to someone; now a year has gone by, and it has all come to pass, and you are expected back.”

“I must correct you, monsieur. It has not all come to pass. I have not given the child away to anyone.”

“You have adopted a heretick orphan from the Palatinate,” d’Avaux explained with grim patience, “that you may see him raised in the True Faith.”

“See him raised? Is it envisioned, then, that I am to be a mere spectator?”

“As you are not his mother,” d’Avaux reminded her, “it is difficult to envision any other possibility. The world is full of orphans, mademoiselle, and the Church in her mercy has erected many orphanages for them-some in remote parts of the Alps, others only a few minutes’ stroll from Versailles.”

Thus d’Avaux let her know the stakes of the game. She might end up in a work-house, or as a countess at Versailles. And her baby might be raised a thousand miles away from her, or a thousand yards.

Or so d’Avaux wished her to believe. But though she did not gamble, Eliza understood games. She knew what it was to bluff, and that sometimes it was nothing more than a sign of a weak hand.

WELL-READ AND-TRAVELED GENTLEMAN that he was, Bonaventure Rossignol had learned that in the world there were countries-and even in this country, there were religious communities and social classes-where men did not always go about carrying long sharp stabbing-and slashing-weapons ready to be whipped out and driven into other men’s flesh at a moment’s notice. This was a thing that he knew and understood in theory but could not entirely comprehend. Take for example the present circumstance: two men, strange to each other, in the same house as Eliza, neither of them knowing where the other was, or what his intentions might be. It was a wildly unstable state of affairs. Some would argue that to add edged weapons to this mix was to render it more volatile yet, and hence a bad idea; but to Rossignol it seemed altogether fitting, and an apt way to bring into the light a conflict that, in other countries or classes, would be suffered to fester in the dark. Rossignol had been-this could not be denied-sneaking around the house, trying not to be detected by d’Avaux. A winding and backtracking course had led him to a gloomy hallway, bypassed by the redecoration project, paneled in slabs of wood that had not yet been painted to make them look like marble, and cluttered with the d’Ozoirs’ portraits and keepsakes-some mounted on the walls, most leaning against whatever would hold them up. For if it was a sign of high class and elevated tastes to adorn the walls of one’s dwelling with paintings, then how infinitely more sophisticated to lean great stacks of homeless art against walls, and stash them behind chairs! Reaching this gallery, anyway, he smelled eau de cologne, and placed his left hand on the scabbard of his rapier (a style of weapon that had gone out of fashion, but it was the one his father, Antoine Rossignol, the King’s cryptanalyst before him, had taught him how to use, and he would be damned if he would make a fool of himself trying to learn how to fence with a small-sword) and thumbed it out an inch or two, just to be sure it would not turn out to be stuck when the time came. At the same time he lengthened his pace to a confident stride. For to skulk about would be to admit some kind of bad intentions and invite preemptive retribution. As he pounded along the gallery he took note of chairs, busts on pedestals, stacks of paintings, carpet-humps, and other impedimenta, so that he would not trip over them when and if some sort of melee were to break out. Ahead of him, on the left, another, similar gallery intersected this one; the man with the cologne was back in there. Rossignol slowed, turning to the left, and edged around the corner just until the other became visible. Because of this slow crab-wise movement, Rossignol’s right arm and shoulder led the remainder of his body around the corner, which wrought to his advantage in that he could whip out the rapier and lunge around the corner at any foe, while his body would be shielded from any right-handed counter-attack. But alas, the other fellow had foreseen all of this, and re-deployed himself by crossing to the opposite side of the side-corridor and turning his back upon Rossignol so that he could pretend to study a landscape mounted to the wall there; thus, the corner was entirely out of his way, and his right shoulder was situated closest to Rossignol. A slight turn of the head sufficed to bring Rossignol into his peripheral vision. He had crossed his right arm diagonally over the front of his body and then clasped his left hand over the elbow to hold it in that position; this would place his right hand very near, if not on, the grip of the cutlass that was dangling from his hip. The pose was forced and artificial, but well-thought-out; in a moment he could draw, turn, and deliver a backhanded slash through the middle of the gallery-intersection. It was, therefore, a standoff.

It was also, admittedly, ridiculous. Rossignol, for his part, had not killed anyone in years. Jean Bart (for this had to be Jean Bart) probably did it more frequently, but never in rich people’s houses. If it had somehow come to swordplay, they’d have been civil enough to take it outside. And yet they did not know each other. There was no harm in taking precautions, particularly if they were as inoffensive as standing in a certain position, and maintaining a certain distance. These measures did not even require conscious thought; Rossignol had been thinking about something he had read in one of d’Avaux’s letters, and Bart (he could safely assume) was thinking about fucking Eliza, and both men had relied upon habit to plan and execute all of these maneuvers.

Bart was dressed in the habit of a naval officer, which was not terribly different from what any other civilian gentleman would wear, viz. breeches, waistcoat, Persian coat over that, periwig, and three-cornered hat. The costume’s color (tending to blue), its decoration (facings, piping, epaulets, cuffs), and the selection of plumes that erupted from the folds of the hat marked him as a Lieutenant in the Navy. He was not a tall man, and Rossignol belatedly saw that he was not a slender one either (the tailoring of his jacket had concealed this at first). Bart was, by the standards of this part of France, swarthy. According to rumor he was of very common extraction-his people had been fishermen, and probably pirates, around Dunkerque for ?ons. If so, there was no guessing what mongrel ichor pulsed in his veins. Like many who were short; many who were stout; and many who were of questionable ancestry; he paid close attention to his appearance. He affected the great Sun King mane-wig (a bit out-moded, but no more so than Rossignol’s rapier) and the ridiculous tiny moustache, like a pair of commas cemented to the upper lip, that must cost him an hour at his toilette every morning. In his costume there was rather too much of lace and of hardware (buckles and buttons) for Rossignol’s taste; but by the standards of Versailles, this Jean Bart would not even be rated as a fop. Rossignol made a conscious effort to ignore the clothes and the cologne, and instead concentrated his mind on the fact that the man standing before him had recently escaped from a prison in England, stolen a small boat, and, alone, rowed it all the way back to France.

Bart made a half-turn on the balls of his feet so that he could look Rossignol in the eye. Still his right arm was wrapped across the front of his body. His eyes popped down to Rossignol’s left hip and, spying a rapier, checked Rossignol’s left hand for a dagger, or the intention to draw one.

If Rossignol had been dressed en grand habit it might have gone otherwise, but as it was, he looked no better than a highwayman. So he spoke: “Lieutenant. Pray forgive my interruption.” He had prudently drawn up short of cutlass-backhand range, but now, as a sort of peace-offering, he drew back an additional pace, so that Bart was no longer in range of a long rapier-lunge. Bart noted this and responded by turning more fully towards him, causing his right hand to become visible, and then raising that hand a bit, so that his arms were crossed over the barrel of his torso.

“I have not had the pleasure of meeting you, and you will rightly wonder who I am, and what is my business in this house. As I am a visitor in your town, Lieutenant, I beg leave to introduce myself to you. I am Bonaventure Rossignol. I have come here from my home in Juvisy in the hope that I might be of service to Mademoiselle la comtesse de la Zeur, and she has done me the honor of suffering me to cross the threshold of this house and bide here for some hours. It is, in other words, my privilege to be an invited guest here, as she would tell you, if you were to go and ask her. But I beg you not to do so while Monsieur le comte d’Avaux is present, for the matter is-”

“Complicated,” said Jean Bart, “complicated, delicate, and dangerous, like Mademoiselle la comtesse herself.” Both of his arms sprang free, which made Rossignol jerk; but those hands were moving towards Rossignol, away from the weapon. Rossignol let his own hands drift farther from hilts, pommels, amp;c., and even allowed Bart a glimpse of his palms.

“I am Lieutenant Jean Bart.” Bart advanced a step towards Rossignol, venturing within rapier-thrust range. Rossignol rewarded Bart’s gesture of trust by extending his hands farther and showing more palm, then glided to within cutlass-backhand range. Like two men groping through smoke they found each other’s hands and shook-a double-handed shake, just to be extra safe. “Though I am admittedly disappointed,” said Bart, “I am in no way surprised, that a gallant gentleman has ridden out from Paris to place himself at the lady’s service. Indeed, I had been wondering when someone of your description would show up.”

This was triple-edged, in that Bart was admitting to an interest in Eliza, conceding Rossignol’s priority in the matter, and needling him for having been too long getting here, all at once. Rossignol tried to think of a way to defuse this little granadoe while they were still safely gripping each other’s hands. “I have heard some in the same vein from the lady in question,” he admitted drily.

“Ha ha, I’ll bet you have!”

“I do all in my power to satisfy her,” said Rossignol, “and when that fails I can do no more than throw myself upon her mercy.”

“It is good to meet you!” Bart exclaimed, seeming genuine enough, then let go Rossignol’s hands. The two men burst asunder. But there was no more of furtive glancing at hands. “Now we wait, eh?” Bart said. “You wait for her, and I wait for d’Avaux. You have the better of me there.”

“I am certain that Monsieur le comte will not tarry in Dunkerque, if that will cheer you up.”

“It must be wonderful to know so many things,” said Bart-a way of stating that he knew what Bonaventure Rossignol did for a living.

“Many of those things are very tedious, I’m afraid.”

“Yes, but the power, the understanding it gives you! Take this painting.” Bart extended a blunt, thick hand toward the landscape he had been pretending to inspect a moment earlier. It depicted rolling countryside, a village, and a church, all seen from the garden of a manor house. In the foreground, children sported with a little dog. “What does it mean? Who are these people? How did they end up there?” He indicated another landscape, this one in a dark mountainous country. “And what significance do all of these sieges and battles have to the d’Ozoirs?” For, despite the occasional pastoral landscape, the art in the gallery was heavily skewed towards massacres, martyrdoms sacred and s?cular, and set-piece battles.

“Forgive me for saying so, Lieutenant, but given the importance of the Marquis d’Ozoir to the Navy, it strikes me as remarkable that you do not know everything about his family.”

“Ah, monsieur, but that is because you are a gentleman of Court. I am a dog of the sea, oblivious. But Mademoiselle la comtesse de la Zeur has instructed me that I must attend to such matters if I am ever to rise beyond the rank of Lieutenant.”

“Then as we are both doomed to cool our heels as we await our betters,” said Rossignol, “let me do what would most please her, and spin you a little yarn that will tie together all of these paintings and plaques and busts.”

“I should be in your debt, monsieur!”

“Not at all. Now, even if you are as deaf to politics as you claim, you must know that Monsieur le marquis d’Ozoir is a bastard of Monsieur le duc d’Arcachon.”

“That has never been a secret,” Bart agreed.

“Since the Marquis cannot inherit the name or the property of his father, it follows, by process of elimination, that all of these paintings and whatnot are from the family of-”

“Madame la marquise d’Ozoir!” said Bart. “And that is where I want instruction, for I know nothing of her people.”

“Two families, very different, forged into one.”

“Ah. One dwelling in the countryside of the north, I’m guessing,” said Bart, nodding at the first landscape.

“De Crepy. Petty nobles. Not especially distinguished, but middling affluent, and fecund.”

“The other family must have been Alp-dwellers, then,” said Bart, turning to regard the gloomier and more horrid of the two landscapes.

“De Gex. A poor dwindling clan. Die-hard Catholics living in a place, not far from Geneva, that had become dominated by Huguenots.”

“So the two families were quite different! How did they come to be joined?”

“The family de Crepy were tied, first by proximity, then by fealty, and at last by marriage, to the Counts of Guise,” said Rossignol.

“Err…I am vaguely aware that those Guises were important, and got into some sort of trouble with the Bourbons, but if you could refresh my memory, monsieur…”

“It would be my pleasure, Lieutenant. A century and a half ago, a comte de Guise distinguished himself so well in battle that the King created him duc de Guise. Of his aides, squires, lackeys, mistresses, captains, and hangers-on, several were of the de Crepy line. Some of these developed a taste for adventure, and began to conceive ambitions beyond the parochial. They lashed themselves to the mast, as it were, of the House of Guise, which seemed like a good idea, and served them well. Until, that is, a hundred and one years ago, when the two leading men of that House-Henry, duc de Guise, and Louis, cardinal de Guise-were assassinated by the King or his supporters. For they had waxed more powerful than the King himself.”

There was a pause now to look at some rather sanguinary art-work.

“How could such a thing happen, monsieur? How could this rival House become so powerful?”

“Nowadays, when le Roi is so strong, it is difficult for us to conceive of, is it not? It may help you to know that much of the power that so appalled the King was rooted in a thing called the Holy Catholic League. It had its beginnings in towns and cities all over France, where local priests and gentlemen had, in the wake of the Reformation, found themselves engulfed in Huguenots, and so banded together to defend their faith from that heresy and to oppose its spread.”

“Ah, here is where the de Gex family enters the picture, no?”

“I am almost to that part of the story. You are correct that the de Gexes were typical of the sorts of men who in those days founded local chapters of the Holy Catholic League. The House of Guise had forged these scattered groups into a national movement. After the assassinations of Henry and Louis de Guise, the decapitated League rose up in revolt against the King-who was himself assassinated not long after-and there was chaos throughout the country for a number of years. The new Huguenot King, Henry IV, converted to Catholicism and re-established control, generally at the expense of the ultra-Catholics and to the benefit of the Huguenots. Or so it seemed to many fervent Catholics, including the one who assassinated him in 1610. Now, during this time the fortunes of the de Crepy family went into eclipse. Some were killed, some went back to their ancestral lands in northern France and melted back into bourgeois obscurity, some scattered abroad. But a few of them ended up far from home, in that part of France that borders on Lake Geneva. It was the best, or the worst, place for Catholic warriors to be at the time. They were directly across the lake from Geneva, which to them was like an ant’s nest from which Huguenots continually streamed out to preach and convert in every parish in France. Accordingly, the Catholics in that area were more ardent than anywhere else-the first to create local branches of the Holy Catholic League, the first to swear fealty to the House of Guise, and, after the assassinations, the most warlike. They had not assassinated Henry IV, but only because they could not find him. The leading nobleman of that district-one Louis, sieur de Gex-had gathered around him a small, ragged, but ferocious coterie of like-minded sorts who had been driven out of other pays, and gravitated to this remote outpost from all over France as the fortunes of their party had declined.”

“Among them, I’m quite sure, must have been several of the de Crepy clan.”

“Indeed. So your question of how they got from here, to there,” said Rossignol, indicating the two landscapes, “is answered. The newcomers were fertile and affluent where the family de Gex were dwindling and poor.”

“I suppose most of the people in their district who knew how to make money had become Huguenots,” mused Bart.

This drew from Rossignol a sharp look, and a reprimand. “Lieutenant Bart. I believe I understand, now, why Mademoiselle la comtesse de la Zeur sees a need to instruct you in how to be politic.”

Bart shrugged. “It is true, monsieur. All the best merchants of Dunkerque were Huguenots, and after 1685-”

“It is precisely because it is true, that you must not come out and state it,” said Rossignol.

“Very well then, monsieur, I vow not to say anything true for the remainder of this conversation. Pray continue!”

After a moment to collect himself, Rossignol stepped over to a stack of portraits leaning against a wall, and began to paw through them: men, women, children, and families, dressed in the fashions of three generations ago. “When the Wars of Religion finally came to an end, both families, having nothing else to do, began to produce children. A generation later, these began to marry each other. Here I may get some of the details wrong, but if memory serves, this is how it went: the scion of the de Gex line, Francis, married one Marguerite Diane de Crepy around 1640 and they had several children one after the other, then none for twelve years, then a surprise pregnancy. This ended in the death of Marguerite only a few hours following the birth of a boy, Edouard. The father construed the former as a sacrifice to, the latter as a gift from, the Almighty; and considering himself too old to raise a boy by himself, gave him to a Jesuit school in Lyon where he was found to be a sort of child prodigy. He joined the Society of Jesus at an exceptionally young age. He is now Confessor to de Maintenon herself.”

Rossignol had found a portrait of a lean young man, dressed in a Jesuit’s robes, glaring out of the canvas in a way that suggested he could actually see Rossignol and Bart standing in this back-hallway, and did not approve much of either one of them.

“I have heard of him,” said Bart, and edged out of the portrait’s sight-line.

Rossignol found an older portrait of a plump woman in a blue dress. “The sister of Francis de Gex was named Louise Anne. She married one Alexandre Louis de Crepy. They had two boys, who died at the same time from smallpox, and two girls, who survived it.” He pulled out of the stack a gouache of two post-pubescent girls: one older, bigger, more beautiful than the other, who peered over her shoulder, as if hiding behind her. “The older of the girls, Anne-Marie, who was unscarred by the disease, married the comte d’Oyonnax, who was much older. Anne-Marie was his second or third wife. This fellow Oyonnax had originally been a petty noble, but even that modest rank had stretched his wits and his wealth thin. His ancestral lands lay just at the doorstep of the Franche-Comte.”

“Even I have heard of that!”

“Really, Lieutenant? I am surprised, for it is landlocked.”

Rossignol’s jest almost went by Bart, for Rossignol was not, by and large, a fount of clever bon mots. But Bart caught it after a few awkward moments, and acknowledged it with a smile and a nod. “It is a part of the world over which the Kings of France have been fighting with the Hapsburgs for a long time, is it not-like two enemies trapped in a longboat together and struggling for the possession of the one dagger.”

“The analogy, though nautical, is apt,” said Rossignol. “During the reign of Louis XIII-whom it was my father’s great honor to serve as Royal cryptanalyst-Oyonnax had allowed the King’s armies to use his land as a base for invading the Franche-Comte, which they did frequently. In exchange for which he had been elevated to a Count. Such was his rank when he married the young Anne-Marie de Crepy. A few years after, he performed a like service for the legions of Louis XIV, which, since it led to the annexation of the whole of the Franche-Comte to France, caused the King to elevate him to a Duke. He and the new Duchess moved to Versailles, where he got to enjoy his new status for only a few months before she poisoned him.”

“Monsieur! And you accuse me of not being politic!”

Rossignol shrugged. “It is a harsh thing to say, I know, but it is true; everyone was doing it in those days-or at least all of the Satan-worshippers.”

“Now I think you are only pulling my leg.”

“You may believe me, or not,” said Rossignol. “Sometimes I cannot believe it myself. Such behavior has all been suppressed by de Maintenon, with the help of Father Edouard de Gex-who probably has no idea that his cousine was one of the ringleaders.”

“That is quite enough of such topics! What about the younger daughter?”

“Charlotte Adelaide de Crepy was scarred by the smallpox, though she goes to great lengths to hide it with wigs, patches, and so forth. Marrying her off was more of a challenge; but that of course makes it a more interesting story.”

“Good! Let’s have it, then! For it seems that Monsieur le comte and Mademoiselle la comtesse will never finish.”

“You have obviously heard of the de Lavardacs. You may know that they are a sort of cadet branch of the Bourbons. If you have had the misfortune of seeing any of their portraits you will have guessed that they have undergone quite a bit of Hapsburg adulteration over the centuries. You see, many of their lands are in the south, and they make tactical marriages across the Pyrenees. Through all of the troubles with the Guises, they were stolidly loyal to the Bourbons.”

“They switched religion whenever the King did, then!” exclaimed Lieutenant Bart, trying to muster a small witticism of his own. But it only drew a glare from Rossignol.

“To the de Lavardacs it is not such an amusing topic, for they suffered diverse assassinations and other reversals. As you know far better than I, they have developed a family association with the French Navy, which is passed on from father to son by survivance. The current Duke, Louis-Francois de Lavardac, duc d’Arcachon, like his father before him, is Grand Admiral of France. He held that position during the time that Colbert expanded the French Navy from a tiny flotilla of worm-eaten relics to the immense force it is today.”

“Seven score Ships of the Line,” Bart proclaimed, “and God knows how many frigates and galleys.”

“The Duke profited commensurately, both in material wealth and in influence. His son and heir is, of course, Etienne de Lavardac d’Arcachon.”

It was not necessary for Rossignol to add what Bart, along with everyone else, already believed: He is the one who got Eliza pregnant.

“I have only seen Etienne from a distance,” said Bart, “but I gather he is a good bit younger than his half-brother.” He gestured to a recent painting that depicted the owners of this house, the marquis and the marquise d’Ozoir.

“The Duke was but a stripling when he begat this fellow off a woman in the household. Her surname was Eauze. The bastard was raised under the name of Claude Eauze. He went off to India for a while to seek his fortune, and later made enough money in the slave trade that he was able-with a loan from his father-to buy a noble title in 1674 when they went on sale to finance the Dutch war. Thus he became the Marquis d’Ozoir, which I take to be a play on words, as his name, to that point, had been Eauze. Only a year before buying this title, he married none other than Charlotte Adelaide de Crepy: the younger sister of the duchesse d’Oyonnax.”

“You’d think he could have found someone of higher rank,” said Bart.

“By all means!” said Rossignol. “But there is something at work you have forgotten to take into account.”

“And what is that, monsieur?”

“He actually loves her.”

“Mon Dieu, I had no idea!”

“Or, barring that, he knows that they form an effective and stable partnership, and is too cunning to do anything that might queer it. They have a daughter. Our friend tutored her for a while, last year.”

“That must have been before the King woke up one morning and remembered that she was a countess.”

“Let us hope,” Rossignol, “that she will still be one, when d’Avaux is finished.”

“IT IS A PITY,” Eliza began, “that Irishmen broke into your house, and stole your papers and sold them on the open market. What an embarrassment it must be for you that everyone knows that your personal correspondence, and drafts of treaties written in your hand, are being bartered for drinks by scullery-maids in Dunkerque gin-houses.”

“What! I was not informed of this!” D’Avaux turned red so fast it was if a cup of blood had been hurled in his face.

“You have been on a boat for a fortnight, how could you be informed? I am informing you now, monsieur.”

“I was led to believe that those papers had come into your possession, mademoiselle, and it is you I shall hold responsible for them!”

“What you have been led to believe does not matter,” said Eliza, “only what is. And so let me tell you what is. The thieves who stole your papers sent them to Dunkerque, it is true. Perhaps they even entertained a phant’sy that I would buy them. I refused to lower myself to such a dishonorable transaction.”

“Then perhaps you will explain to me, mademoiselle, why you have some of those very papers on your lap at this moment!”

“As the saying goes, there is no honor among thieves. When these ruffians saw that I was adamant in my refusal to do business with them, they began to seek other buyers. The packet was broken up into small lots, which were offered for sale, on various channels. To add to the complexity of the matter, it seems that the thieves had a falling-out amongst themselves. I cannot follow the business, to tell you the truth. When it became evident that these papers were being scattered to the four winds, I began making efforts to purchase them, as available. The ones on my lap are all that I have been able to round up, so far.”

D’Avaux was at a loss for civil words, and could only shake his head and mutter to himself.

“You may be chagrined, monsieur, and ungrateful; but I am pleased that I have been able to repay some small part of my personal debt to you by recovering some of your papers-”

“And returning them to me?”

“As I am able,” Eliza answered with a shrug. “To recover them all does not happen in a single day, week, or month.”


“Now,” Eliza went on, “a minute ago, you were indulging in some speculations as to where I shall end up. Some of your ideas on this topic are quite fanciful-Barock, even. Some of them are distasteful to persons of breeding, and I shall pretend I did not hear them. I can see well enough that you have lost confidence in me, monsieur. I know that you must do as honor dictates. Go then to Versailles-for I cannot travel as fast as you, encumbered as I am with an infant and a household, and busy as I am with this project of recovering your papers. State your case to the King. Let him know that I am no noble, but a common wench who deserves no better treatment. He will be startled to learn these things, for he considers me to be a hereditary Countess. I am a dear friend of his sister-in-law and moreover have recently loaned him above a million livres tournois of my own money. But your persuasive powers are renowned-as you demonstrated during your posting in the Hague, where you so effectively reined in the ambitions of that poseur, William of Orange.”

This was truly a knee to the groin, and rendered d’Avaux speechless, not so much from pain as from a curious admixture of shock and awe.

Eliza continued, “You may induce the King to believe anything-particularly given that you have such strong evidence. What was it again? A journal?”

“Yes, mademoiselle-your journal.”

“Who is in possession of this book?”

“It is not a book, as you know perfectly well, but an embroidered pillowcase.” Here d’Avaux began to pinken again.



“In English they call it a sham, by the way. Tell me, are there any other bedlinens implicated in the scandal?”

“Not that I am aware of.”

“Curtains? Rugs? Tea-towels?”

“No, mademoiselle.”

“Who has possession of this…pillowcase?”

“You do, mademoiselle.”

“Such items are bulky and soon go out of fashion. Before I left the Hague, I sold most of my household goods and burned the rest-including all pillowcases.”

“But a copy was made, mademoiselle, by a clerk in the French Embassy in the Hague, and given to Monsieur Rossignol.”

“That clerk died of the smallpox,” Eliza told him-which was a lie that she had made up on the spot, but it would take him a month to find this out.

“Ah, but Monsieur Rossignol is alive and well, and trusted implicitly by the King.”

“Does the King trust you, monsieur?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Monsieur Rossignol sent a copy of his report to the King but not to you. It made me curious. And what of the monk?”

“Which monk?”

“The Qwghlmian monk in Dublin to whom Monsieur Rossignol sent the plaintext to be translated.”

“You are most well-informed, mademoiselle.”

“I do not think that I am particularly well-or ill-informed, monsieur. I am simply trying to be of service to you.”

“In what way?”

“You have a difficult interview awaiting you at Versailles. You shall come before the King. In his treasury-which he watches with utmost care-he has a fortune in hard money, lately deposited by me. You will make him believe that I am a commoner and a traitor by describing a report you have never seen about a pillowcase that no longer exists, supposedly carrying an encrypted message in Qwghlmian, which no one reads except for some three-fingered monk in Ireland.”

“We shall see,” said d’Avaux. “My interview with Father Edouard de Gex will be a simple matter by comparison.”

“And how does Edouard de Gex enter into it?”

“Oh, of all the Jesuits at Versailles, mademoiselle, he is the most influential, for he is the confessor of de Maintenon. Indeed, when anyone” (raising an eyebrow at Eliza) “misbehaves at Versailles, Madame de Maintenon complains of it to Father de Gex, who then goes to the confessor of the guilty party so that the next time she goes to confession she is made aware of the Queen’s displeasure. Yes, you may smirk at the idea, mademoiselle-many do-but it gives him great power. For when a courtier steps into the confessional and has his ears blistered by the priest, he has no way to know whether the criticism is really coming from the Queen, the King, or de Gex.”

“What will you confess to de Gex, then?” Eliza asked. “That you have had impure thoughts about the Countess de la Zeur?”

“It is not in a confessional where I shall meet him,” d’Avaux said, “but in a salon somewhere, and the topic of conversation will be: Where is this orphan boy to be raised? What is his Christian name, by the way?”

“I have been calling him Jean.”

“But his Christian name? He has been baptized, of course?”

“I have been very busy,” Eliza said. “He is to be baptized in a few days, here at the Church of St.-Eloi.”

“How many days exactly? Surely it is not such a demanding calculation for one of your talents.”

“Three days.”

“Father de Gex will be, I’m sure, suitably impressed by this display of piety. The christening is to be performed by a Jesuit, I presume?”

“Monsieur, I would not think of having it done by a Jansenist!”

“Excellent. I look forward to making the acquaintance of this little Christian when you bring him to Versailles.”

“Are you certain I’ll be welcome there, monsieur?”

“Pourquoi non? I only pray that I shall be.”

“Pourquoi non, monsieur?”

“Certain important papers of mine have gone missing from my office in Dublin.”

“Do you need them immediately?”

“No. But sooner or later-”

“It will certainly be later. Dublin is far away. The inquiry proceeds at a snail’s pace.” Which was Eliza’s way of saying he’d not get his precious papers back unless he gave a good report of her at Versailles.

“I am sorry to trouble you about such matters. To common people, such things are important! To us they are nothing.”

“Then let us let nothing come between us,” Eliza said.

AS BONAVENTURE ROSSIGNOL HAD FORESEEN, d’Avaux did not tarry by the sea-side, but was en route for Paris before cock-crow the next day.

Rossignol stayed for two more nights after that, then rose one morning and rode out of town with as little fuss as when he’d ridden into it. He must have met the carriage of the Marquis d’Ozoir around mid-morning, for it was just before the stroke of noon when Eliza-who was upstairs getting dressed for church-heard the stable-gates being thrown open, and went to the window to see four horses drawing a carriage into the yard.

The coat of arms painted on the door of that carriage matched the one on the gates. Or so she guessed. To verify as much would have required a magnifying-glass, a herald, and more time and patience than Eliza had just now. The arms of Charlotte-Adelaide were a quartering of those of de Gex and de Crepy, and to make the arms of d’Ozoir, these had been recursively quartered with those of the House of de Lavardac d’Arcachon-themselves a quartering of something that included a lot of fleurs-de-lis, with an arrangement of black heads in iron collars, slashed with a bend sinister to indicate bastardy. At any rate, what it all meant was that the lord of the manor was back. Just as he stepped down from his carriage, the bells in the old, alienated belfry down the street began to toll noon. Eliza was late for church, and that was an even worse thing than usual, because on this day the proceedings could not go forward until she and her baby arrived. She sent an aide down to explain matters, and to tender apologies, to the Marquis, and hustled out one door with her baby and her entourage just as Claude Eauze entered through another. Presently he did the chivalrous thing, viz. got his carriage turned round and sent it rattling down the street after her. But so close was one thing to another in Dunkerque that, by the time the carriage caught up with her, Eliza was already standing at the church’s door. She might have given it the slip altogether if she had gone in directly. But she had paused to look at the Eglise St.-Eloi, and to think.

She favored the looks of this church. It was late-Gothic, and could have passed for old, but was in fact a new fabrique. The Spaniards had levelled the old one some decades past in a dispute as to the ownership of Flanders. All that remained of it was the belfry, and if its looks were any indication, the Spaniards had wrought a great improvement on the appearance of this town. The new one had a great rose window filled with a delicate tracery of stone, like the rosette on the belly of a lute, and Eliza always liked to stop and admire it when she passed by. Now, holding her baby to her bosom, she stopped to admire it one more time. At that moment a counter-factual vision entered her phant’sy, wherein Rossignol was by her side, and the two of them went in to be joined in marriage, and then walked down to the water and boarded ship and sailed off to Amsterdam or London to raise their baby in exile.

The dream was interrupted by the raucous vehement on-rush of the carriage of the Marquis d’Ozoir, which was about as fitting and about as welcome in this scene as musketry at a seduction. Lest she get trapped outside exchanging pleasantries with the Marquis, she hurried through the door.

The church’s vault was supported by several columns that were arranged around the altar in a semicircle, reminding Eliza of the bars of a giant birdcage: a birdcage into which she had been chased, not only by the banging and rattling carriage, but by divers other sudden and frightening onslaughts as well. She could fly no farther. She was caught. Best to flutter up onto her new perch, preen, and peer about. The Marquis slipped in alone, and took a seat in his family pew. She peered at him; he peered, discreetly, at her. Jean Bart watched them watching each other. They, and several servants and acquaintances who’d showed up, joined in the standings, sittings, kneelings, mumblings, and gestures of the Mass. Jean-Jacques turned out to be one of those infants who accepts the dunking, not with hysterical protests but with aghast curiosity; this made his godfather immensely proud, while giving his mother a vision of long rambunctious years ahead. The Jesuit crossed his forehead with oil and said that he was a priest and a prophet and that his name was Jean-Jacques: Jean after Jean Bart, who became his godfather, and Jacques after another man of Eliza’s acquaintance who was unable to attend the rite, being either dead, or crazy and chained to an oar. No mention was made of the child’s natural father. Indeed very little notice was given to the mother; for the story being given out was that Jean-Jacques was an orphan rescued from some massacre in the Palatinate and only being looked after by Eliza.

Over joyous bonging from the belfry, the Marquis-who, she now remembered, was a tall man, physically impressive, and handsome in a disreputable way-insisted on a celebration at his place. The produce of local vines, orchards, and distilleries was made available to a small and select list of guests. Some hours later, Jean Bart could be seen making his way home, tacking down the street in the manner of a ship working to windward.

The comtesse de la Zeur and the Marquis d’Ozoir kept an eye on Bart from the same room where Eliza had had her audience with d’Avaux three days earlier. She and the Marquis got along very well, which, given his past association with the slave trade, rather made her flesh crawl. He took a sort of avuncular interest in Jean-Jacques, which perhaps stood to reason given that the two had been born in such similar circumstances.*

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?”


“Why do you require timber?”

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

“Ask the controleur-general whether the Countess de la Zeur knows it!”

“Touche. Tell me, my lady, what do you see when you gaze out the window?”

“Brand-new fortifications, very expensive-looking.”



“Closer yet.”


“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 fetes. 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 controleur-general. 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.”

Book 4


Throne Room of the Pasha,

the Kasba, Algiers


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.


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 Sanlucar 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 f?ry-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.”

Book 5

The Juncto

Chateau Juvisy

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 chateau. In later years he had hired no less a gardener than Le Notre to fix up the grounds. The chateau 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 chateau, 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 chateau 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 chateau 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 Notre 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 chateau, 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 Rhone 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.”


“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 Depot, 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 Depot,” 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 Depot.”

“Thank you, Samuel,” Eliza said. “You are correct: people trust Monsieur Castan; when one of the other members of this Depot 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 Depot 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 Depot, 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 Depot. 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 Depot 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 Depot, 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 chateau. “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 Depot 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 Depot 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 cafe.”

“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.”


“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.”


“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 Saone a mile upstream, another for some Alpine softwood at the confluence of the Rhone and the Saone. 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 Depot, 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 Orleans, 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.* Our plan was to go to Roanne, and buy passage on riverboats as far as Orleans, which would be infinitely more spacious and comfortable than making the same passage by road. At Orleans we would make rendezvous with our horses and vehicles, which would convey us north to Paris and then Dunkerque.

“The Loire, as you know, flows on past Orleans to Nantes. So the route I have just described to you was the same as that of the timber. And so there was another advantage to the plan I have described, which was that as we went along, we would be able to keep an eye on the King’s logs. In the unlikely event that some problem arose en route, we would be on hand to fix it.”

“But, mademoiselle,” said Rossignol, “by your account, this was almost a month ago. What on earth has been happening in the meantime?”

“A full recitation would take another month yet. You know that each of the component pays of la France controls its own stretch of road or river and has the right to extract tolls and tariffs, et cetera. Likewise you know that the population is a quilt of guilds and corporations and parishes, each with its own peculiar privileges.”

“Which are granted by the King,” said Rossignol. For he seemed a little bit nervous that Eliza was about to say something impolitic.

Which she was; but she felt safe in doing so here, in the kingdom of secrets. “The King grants those privileges in order to make people want to join those guilds and corporations! And thus the King gets power by offering to broaden, or threatening to restrict, the same privileges.”

“What of it?” Rossignol sniffed.

“After a few days, Abraham joked that this voyage was impossible unless one went accompanied by a whole squadron of lawyers. But this makes it sound too easy. Since every pays has its own peculiar laws and traditions, there is no one lawyer who comprehends them all; and so what one really has to do is stop every few miles and hire a different lawyer. But I have only mentioned, so far, the entities with formal legal rights to impede the movement of logs on a river. This leaves out half of the difficulties we faced. There are on these rivers people who used to be pirates but have degenerated into extortionists. We paid them in hard money until we ran out, at which point we had to begin paying them in logs. Every night, others who were less formally organized would come around and help themselves. We suspected this was happening, but the night-watchmen we hired were barely distinguishable from the thieves. The only reliable sentry we had was Jean-Jacques. He would wake me every couple of hours through the night, and I would sit in my boat-cabin feeding him and watching through a window as the locals made off with our logs.”

“It cannot all be as disorderly as you make it out to be!” Rossignol protested.

“There does exist an apparatus of maintaining order on the roads and waterways: diverse ancient courts of law, and prevots and baillis who report to the local seigneurs and who are reputed to have bands of armed men at their disposal. But they were never there when we needed them. If I shipped logs down the river every week, I should have no choice but to come to understandings with all of those seigneurs. Whether this would prove more or less expensive than being robbed outright, I cannot guess. Our run down the Loire surprised many who would have stolen more from us if we had operated on a predictable schedule.

“The Loire, particularly on its upper reaches, is obstructed by sand-bars in many places, and different arrangements must be made to get past each: here one must find and hire a local pilot, there one must pay the owner of the mill to release a gush of water from his mill-pond that will heave the logs over the shallows.

“I could go on in this vein all day. Suffice it to say that when we at last reached Orleans, ten days behind schedule, Jacob Gold and I dashed north to Paris and cashed in our Bill of Exchange at a swingeing discount. Jacob returned to Orleans with the money, which he used to cover all of the unexpected expenses that had cropped up en route. I came here. Soon I’ll go on to Dunkerque and meet that bastard who sent me on this fool’s errand, Monsieur le marquis d’Ozoir, and explain to him that half of the logs have evaporated, along with all of our profits, and six weeks of our lives.”

Dunkerque Residence of the d’Ozoirs

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 controleur-general 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 controleur-general, 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 reestablishing 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.”

Cap Gris-Nez, France

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 chateau 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 chateaux 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 role 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.”


“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?”


“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 levee.”

“It makes one wonder what fascinations may be connected with yon powder-house! Perhaps some local Sieur cashed in his great-grandpere’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 Phelypeaux, 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, controleur-general, 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 controleur-general. “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 soiree 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 controleur-general. 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.”


“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 chateau 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!”


“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 chateau 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-mache 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 Metamorphose. 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 chateau) 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 soiree, 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 controleur-general might become engaged in. In order to remain in the Count’s good graces, Eliza had to track them around the chateau 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 soiree, 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 levee 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 levee! 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 levee; 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 levees, 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.”

Letter from Daniel Waterhouse to Eliza


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, amp;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.


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

Letter from Eliza to Daniel

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 Piece 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 Chateau. 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 Chateau 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 Chateau 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 Chateau.

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 Piece d’eau des Suisses and the south wing of the King’s Chateau. 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 chateau of La Dunette. I do so frequently, going down to the palace for a dinner-party or to attend the couchee 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, amp;c; or Arcachon, where he is looking after Lavardac family affairs; or Brest, where he is responsible for shipment of men and materiel 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

La Dunette


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 Piece 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 Hotel d’Arcachon in Paris, and the duc had hired the great Hardouin-Mansart and implored him to design a chateau 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 chateau 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 Chateau 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 Chateau 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* would be uncouth, even though he was a perfidious and heretickal usurper and an enemy of France,” he said. This oration, being ambiguous, only threw the guests-who were all standing on tiptoe with glasses poised-into utter confusion. They froze long enough for Etienne to dig himself out of his own rhetorical hole: “But to toast the victory of the French, the free English, and the Irish at the Battle of the Boyne is honorable.”

They did so.

“The only event,” Etienne continued, “that could make the day more glorious would be a victory at sea, to match the one on land; and voila, God has answered our prayers accordingly. The French Navy, of which my father has the high honor of being Grand Admiral, has routed the English and the Dutch off Beachy Head, and even now menaces the mouth of the River Thames. France is victorious on all fronts: on the sea, in Ireland, in Flanders, and in Savoy. To France!”

Now that was a toast. Everyone drank. Then it was “to the King!” and then “to the King of England!” meaning James Stuart, then “to Monsieur le duc!” which le duc had to sit out, since it was bad form to toast oneself. Servants scurried about cradling swaddled magnums and refilled glasses for the next round. Then M. le duc raised his glass: “To the Countess de la Zeur, who has done so much to give the Navy its sinews.” Which obliged Eliza to say, “To Captain Jean Bart who, they say, distinguished himself yet again off Beachy Head on his ship Alcyon!”

Madame la duchesse, peering down at Versailles through a spectacular Instrument, now initiated a controversy, as follows: “Louis-Francois, those revelers along the Canal do not celebrate the death of the Prince of Orange, they celebrate you!” and she handed her husband a gold and silver caduceus (emblem of Mercury, bringer of information) with lenses cleverly mounted in the eyes of the two snakes that were wound about its central pole. The duc brought it to his face as if expecting the serpents to drive their fangs into his cheeks, and blinked fiercely into the optics. But anyone who had good eyes could see that a few gilded barques had taken to the wavelets of the Grand Canal, and were jerking about in an extemporaneous reenactment of the Battle of Beachy Head. As combatants swung boat-paddles to dash up barrages of spray, blooms of white water appeared here and there, looking from this range much like cannon-smoke. From time to time the musket-like report of an ivory-inlaid paddle smacking the water, or a gilded oar-shaft snapping, would echo up from the vale of Galie. A drunken boarding-party, perhaps still fired by the memory of Jean Bart’s visit of a few months past, sprang from one boat to another, swinging like pirates on silken ropes, crashing into the brocade awnings, bucking the ebony and boxwood poles of the pavilions, smashing the velvet furniture. They must have been royal bastards, or Princes of the Blood, to behave so. A smaller boat was capsized; conversation lulled around the gazebo as rescuers paddled to the scene, then welled up into laughter and witticisms as combatants were dragged out of the canal and their bobbing periwigs fished out on the tips of swords.

“Ah, it is a great day,” announced the Duke, who looked, in his formal Grand Admiral uniform, like a galleon on legs. He was saying it to his wife; but something occurred to him, and he added, “and it will only get better, for France, and for us. God willing.” His eyes turned in their sockets towards Eliza. As his head was covered in a wig, and the wig had an admiral’s hat planted athwart it, he did not like to turn his head from side to side if he could avoid it; such complicated maneuvers demanded as much prudent premeditation as tacking a three-masted ship.

Eliza, recognizing as much, sidestepped into the Duke’s field of view. “I cannot imagine why you look to me when you say this, Monsieur le duc,” she said.

“Soon, if I have my way, you shall hear from Etienne a certain proposition that shall make it all perfectly clear.”

“Is it anything like the proposition you have spoken of in your letters to me?”

The very mention of this made the Duke nervous, and his eyes flicked left and right to see if anyone had heard; but soon enough they returned to Eliza, who was smiling in a way that let him know she had been discreet. The Duke stepped forward in the cautious bent-kneed stride of an African matron with a basket of bananas on her head. “Don’t be coy, Etienne’s proposal will be of an entirely different nature! Though it’s true I should like to see both of them come together at the same time, in the autumn-say, October. My birthday. What do you say to it?”

Eliza shrugged. “I cannot answer, monseigneur, until I know more of both propositions.”

“We’ll get that sorted out! The boy is still young in many ways, you know-not too old to benefit from some fatherly advice, especially where affairs of the heart are concerned. I have been away too much, you know? Now that I am back-for a little while, at least-I shall talk to him, guide him, give him some backbone.”

“Well, it is good to have you back, even briefly,” said Eliza. “It is odd, I feel as if I have met you before. I suppose it comes from seeing your busts and portraits everywhere, and your handsome features echoed in the face of Etienne.”

By now the Duke had drawn close to Eliza. He had put on cologne recently, something Levantine, with a lot of citrus. It did not quite mask another odor which put Eliza in mind of rotting flesh. A bird, or some little scurrying creature, must have given up the ghost some days ago under the gazebo, and gone foul in the heat.

“Time for dinner soon,” said the Duke. “My time here is short. Meetings with the King, and the Council. Then to the Channel coast to greet the victorious Fleet. But after that I go south. I have already despatched orders to my jacht. You and I must talk. After dinner, I think. In the library, while the guests are strolling in the garden.”

“The library is where I shall be,” said Eliza, “at your service, and waiting for you to explain all of these cryptic statements.”

“Ah, I shall not explain all!” said the Duke, amused. “Only enough-just enough. That will suffice.”

Eliza’s head snapped around to a new azimuth, and her attention settled on a group of guests, mostly men, who had migrated off the marble floor of the gazebo and gathered on the gravel path to smoke. It was rude to break off her conversation with the Duke in such a way. But her movement had not been voluntary. It had been occasioned by a word, spoken loudly, by one of these men. The word was une esclave, which signified, a slave-a female slave. The speaker was Louis Anglesey, the Earl of Upnor. He was nominally an Englishman. But he had spent so much of his life in France that he was indistinguishable, in his speech, dress, and mannerisms, from a French noble. He had come over with James Stuart following the Revolution in England, and become an important man in the exiled King’s court at St.-Germain-en-Laye. This was not the first time Eliza had seen him socially.

It was not unusual to hear the word esclave in such company. Many at Versailles made money from the slave trade. But normally the word was used in masculine, plural form, to denote a ship-full of cargo bound for some plantation in the Caribbean. The singular, feminine form was rare enough to have turned Eliza’s head.

In the corner of her eye, she saw the pale oval of some woman’s face turn around to stare at her. Eliza had reacted so sharply that someone else had taken notice of it. She needed to control her reactions better. She wondered who it was; but to look over and find out would be obvious. She forced herself not to, and tried instead to memorize a few things about this lady who was giving her the eye: tall, and dressed in pink silk.

She looked back at the Duke, ready to apologize to him for having been distracted. But it seemed that he considered his chat with Eliza to be finished. He had caught someone’s eye and wanted to go talk to him. He most civilly took his leave from Eliza, and glided away. Eliza tracked him with her eyes for a few moments. As he passed in front of the tall woman in pink silk, Eliza glanced up, just for an instant, to see who it was. The answer was, the Duchess of Oyonnax.

Having settled that, Eliza turned her attention back to Upnor and his circle of admirers.

James Stuart and his French advisors phant’sied that, once they had retaken Ireland, they might move thence to Qwghlm, which could be used as a sort of outlying demilune-work from which to mount an invasion of northern England. This had at least something to do with Eliza’s popularity at the two Courts: the French one at Versailles, and the exile-English one at St.-Germain. Consequently she had seen and heard enough of Upnor, in the last half-year, to know the first parts of this story by heart. It was the tale of the day he had made his escape from England.

He had sent his household ahead of him to Castle Upnor, where they had made ready to board ship and sail to France as soon as he arrived. For he had stayed behind in London, supposedly at great risk, to attend to certain matters of stupendous importance. These matters were, however, far too deep and mystical for Upnor to say anything about them in mixed company. This suggested that they had something to do with Alchemy, or at least that he wished as many people as possible to believe so. “I could not allow certain information to fall into the hands of the usurper and those of his lackeys who pretend to know of matters that are, in truth, beyond their ken.”

At any rate, after completing his affairs in London, Upnor had mounted a stallion (he was a horse-fancier, and so this part of the anecdote was never related without many details concerning this horse’s ancestry, which was more distinguished than that of most human beings) and set off a-gallop for Castle Upnor, accompanied by a pair of squires and a string of spare mounts. They had departed from London around dawn and ridden hard all morning along the south bank of the Thames. From place to place, the river road would cross some tributary of the great river, and there would be a bridge or ford that all traffic must use.

In the middle of one such bridge, out in the countryside, they had spied a lone man on horseback, wearing common clothes, but armed; and it had appeared from his posture that he was waiting.

For the sorts of people the Earl was apt to tell this story to, this last detail sufficed to classify the anecdote as if it had been a new botanical sample presented to the Royal Society. It belonged to the genus “Persons of Quality beset by varlets on the road.” No type was more popular round French dinner tables, because France was so large and so infested with Vagabonds and highwaymen. The nobles who came together at Versailles must occasionally travel to and fro their fiefdoms, and the perils and tribulations of such journeys were one of the few experiences they shared in common, and so that was what they talked about. Such tales were, in fact, told so frequently that everyone was tired of them; but any new variations were, in consequence, appreciated that much more. Upnor’s had two distinctions: It took place in England, and it was embroidered, as it were, on the back-cloth of the Revolution.

“I knew this stretch of road well,” Upnor was saying, “and so I dispatched one of my squires-a young chap name of Fenleigh-to ride down a side-track that angled away from the main road and led to a ford half a mile upstream of the bridge.” He was scratching out a crude map on the gravel path with the tip of his walking-stick.

“With my other companion, I proceeded deliberately up the main road, keeping a sharp eye for any confederates who might be lurking in hedges near the approaches to the bridge. But there were none-the horseman was alone!” This puzzled or fascinated the listeners. It was another odd twist on the usual rustic-ruffian tale; normally, the shrubs would be infested with club-wielding knaves.

“The horseman must have noted the way in which we were peering about, for he called out: ‘Do not waste time, my lord, ’tis not an ambuscado. I am alone. You are not. Accordingly, I challenge you to a duel, my blade ’gainst yours, no seconds.’ And he drew out a spadroon, which is an abominable sort of implement, just the sort of thing you would expect commoners to invent if you make the mistake of suffering them to bear arms. More brush-cutter than weapon really. Sharpened on one side like a cutlass.”

Upnor, of course, was telling the story in French. He gave the ruffian the most vulgar rural accent he could manage. He devoted a minute or two to dilating on the pathetic condition of the knave’s horse, which was one step away from the knacker and exhausted to boot.

Upnor was rated one of the finest swordsmen of the Anglo-French nobility. He had slain many men in duels when he had been younger. He did not fight so much any more, as his style was one that relied upon speed and acute vision. Nevertheless, the very notion that such a rustic fellow would challenge Upnor to a duel practically had the French nobles falling down onto the path with tears running down their cheeks.

Upnor was clever enough to tell the story in a deadpan style. “I was…more…befuddled than anything else. I answered: ‘You have me at a disadvantage, sirrah-perhaps if you tell me who you are, I’ll at least know why you want to kill me.’

“ ‘I am Bob Shaftoe,’ he answered.”

This, as it always did, caused a hush to descend over Upnor’s listeners.

“ ‘Any relation to Jacques?’ I asked him.” (For the same question was on the minds of those who were gathered around Upnor listening.)

“He answered, ‘His brother.’ To which I said, ‘Come away with me to France, Bob Shaftoe, and I shall put you on a galley in the sunny Mediterranean-perhaps you may cross paths with your brother there!’ ”

Upnor’s audience loved to hear this. For they all knew of Jacques Shaftoe, or L’Emmerdeur as he was called in these parts. The name did not come up in conversation as frequently as it had a couple of years ago, for nothing had been heard from L’Emmerdeur since he had crashed a party at the Hotel Arcachon and made a disgraceful scene there, in the presence of the King, in the spring of 1685. Precisely what had taken place there on that night was rarely spoken of, at least when members of the de Lavardac family were within earshot. From this, Eliza gathered that it was dreadfully embarrassing to them all. Because Eliza was now linked, in most people’s minds, to the family de Lavardac, they extended her the same courtesy of never talking about the events of that evening. Eliza had given up on ever finding out what had really happened there. Jack Shaftoe, who for a time had been a sort of hobgoblin of the French Court, a name to make people jump out of their skins, had dwindled to quasi-legendary status and was rapidly being forgotten altogether. From time to time he would appear as a figure in a picaresque roman.

Nevertheless, for Upnor even to mention the name of Shaftoe around La Dunette was more than daring. It was probably a faux pas. This might have explained why the Duke had suddenly terminated his conversation with Eliza, and gone off in the opposite direction. It was the sort of thing that led to duels. Some of Upnor’s listeners were conspicuously nervous. It was, therefore, quite deft of Upnor to have turned the story around in this manner, by implying that Jack Shaftoe, if he was indeed still alive, was a slave on one of the duc d’Arcachon’s galleys. Eliza now risked a glance over at the duc, and saw him red-faced, but grinning at Upnor; he favored Upnor with the tiniest suggestion of a nod (anything more would have undermined the Admiral-hat) and Upnor responded with a deeper bow. The listeners who, a few seconds earlier, had worried about a duel, laughed all the louder.

Upnor continued with the narration. “This Robert Shaftoe said, ‘Jack and I have long been estranged, and my errand has naught to do with him.’

“I asked him, ‘Why do you bar my progress, then?’

“He said, ‘I say that you are about to take out of this country something that does not rightfully belong to you.’

“I said, ‘Are you accusing me of being a thief, sirrah?’

“He said, ‘Worse. I say you pretend to own a slave: an English girl named Abigail Frome.’

“I said, ‘There’s no pretense in that, Bob Shaftoe. I own her as absolutely as you own that wretched pair of boots on your feet, and I’ve the papers to prove it, signed and sealed by my lord Jeffreys.’

“He said, ‘Jeffreys is in Tower. Your King is in flight. And if you do not give me Abigail, you shall be in the grave.’

Now Upnor had his audience rapt; not only because it was a good story, but because he had managed to connect the half-forgotten, but still powerful name of Jack Shaftoe to the late upheavals in England. Of course the French nobility were fascinated by the recent tendency of the English to chop off their kings’ heads and chase them out of the country. They were helpless in their fascination at the thought that William of Orange and his English allies must somehow be in conspiracy with all the world’s Vagabonds.

Dinner had already been announced, and the Earl of Upnor knew that his time was short, and so he put the anecdote to a quick and merciful end as he and the other dinner-guests trooped down the garden path to the big house. In the story, Upnor delivered a sort of homily to Bob Shaftoe, putting him in his place and expounding on the glories of the class system, and then Fenleigh, who had by that time forded the river and come round behind, galloped toward Bob and tried to take him with a sword-thrust from behind. Bob heard him coming at the last instant and whipped his spadroon around to parry the blow. Fenleigh’s rapier was deflected into the croup of Bob’s miserable horse, which reared up. Bob could not manage his horse because he was busy fending off a second blow from Fenleigh (though also, it was clearly implied, because men of his status did not really belong on horseback in the first place). Bob won the exchange nevertheless by almost severing Fenleigh’s right arm above the elbow, but he payed for it by being obliged to fall off his horse (extremely funny to the polished equestrians here). He landed balanced “like a sack of oats” on the stone parapet of the bridge. Upnor and his other companion were galloping toward him with pistols drawn. Shaftoe was so terrified he lost his balance and fell into the river, where (and here the story became suspiciously vague, for they had reached the house, and were deploying to their places at the long dinner-table) he either drowned or was slain by a volley of pistol-balls from Upnor, who stood on the bridge using him for target practice as he floundered along in the current of the river. “And what is a river but a lake that has failed to stay within its ordained limits, and now tumbles helplessly toward the Abyss?”

DINNER WAS DINNER. Dead things cooked, and sauced so that one could not guess how long they had been dead. A few early vegetables; but the winter had run long and the growing season had started late, so not much was ripe yet. Some very heavy and sweet delicacies that the Duke had imported from Egypt.

Eliza was seated across from the duchesse d’Oyonnax and tried to avoid meeting her eye. She was a big woman, but not fat, though middle-aged. She wore a lot of jewels, which was risque in these times (she really ought to pawn them for the War, or, barring that, hide them), but she carried it off well; in this her size helped. Eliza was irked by this woman: by her physical presence, her wealth, what she had done, but most of all by her confidence. Other women, she knew, disliked Eliza because they envied her confidence, and so Eliza was startled to observe a similar reaction in herself to Madame la duchesse d’Oyonnax.

“How is your little orphan?” the Duchess asked Eliza, at one point. To bring this up was either naive, or rude, and it caused a few heads to twitch their way-like housecats alert to faint fidgeting.

“Oh, I do not think of him as mine any more, but God’s,” Eliza returned, “and anyway he is not so little now: a year old-or so we think, as there is no way to be sure precisely when he was born-and walking around already. Creating no end of trouble for the nurses.”

This elicited a few chuckles from those who had small children. It was a well-crafted reply on Eliza’s part, calculated to place defenses athwart all possible axes of attack from Oyonnax; but the Duchess responded only with an unreadable gaze, seeming almost nonplussed, and dropped the topic.

A young officer-Eliza recognized him as one Pierre de Jonzac, an aide to the Duke-sidestepped into the room carrying a dispatch. The Duke accepted it gratefully, for he was bored. People around him had poked fun at him for not eating any of his food; but the Duke had silenced them with the information that he was on a special diet, “for my digestion,” and had eaten previously by himself. He opened the dispatch, glanced at it, slapped the table, and shook for a few moments with suppressed laughter; but all the while he was shaking his head back and forth, as if to deny that there was anything funny.

“What is it?” asked Madame la duchesse d’Arcachon.

“The report was false,” he said. “The Franciscans will have to douse their bonfire. William of Orange is not dead.”

“But we had reliable news that he was struck from the saddle by a cannonball,” said the Earl of Upnor-who, being a man of some importance in James Stuart’s army, got all the latest intelligence.

“And so he was. But he is not dead.”

“How is that possible?” And the table went into an uproar over it, which did not die down for twenty minutes. Eliza found herself thinking of Bob Shaftoe, who must be there at this battle on the Boyne, if he had not died of disease over the winter. Then she happened to glance up, and once again saw the green eyes of the Duchess of Oyonnax gazing at her interestedly.

“NOW, AS TO THE TRANSACTION,” said the Duke, once he had got his pipe lit. The fragrance of the smoke was welcome, for the dead-animal smell Eliza had noticed out at the gazebo seemed to have followed them into the drawing-room. She was of a mind to go and throw the doors open, to admit some rose-scented air from the gardens; but that would have defeated the purpose of a private meeting in this place.

“It’s going to involve moving a lot of silver. I want you to go to Lyon and make the arrangements.”

“Will the silver actually be passing through Lyon, then, or-”

“Oh yes. You shall see it. This is not just a Depot sort of manipulation.”

“Then why Lyon? It is not the best place.”

“I know. But you see, it will come off of my jacht at Marseille. From there, Lyon is easy to reach-right up the Rhone, of course.”

“It makes sense, then. It is safer than any alternative. Tell me, is it coined?”

“No, mademoiselle.”

“Oh. I had assumed it would be pieces of eight.”

“No. It is pigs. Good metal, mind you, but not coined.”

“It makes more sense to me as we go along. You do not wish to be moving uncoined silver around, any more than you must. You want instead a Bill of Exchange, payable in Paris.”

“Yes, that is it precisely.”

“Very well. There are several houses in Lyon that can do this.”

“Indeed. And normally I would not care which one of them handled it. But in this case, I specifically want you not to use the House of Hacklheber. I have reason to believe that the old ogre, Lothar, will be most unhappy with me after the transaction goes through.” And the Duke laughed.

“I see. May I guess, from this hint, that it has something to do with piracy?”

Plainly the Duke thought this a stupid question. But he was polished, and handled it in good form. “That is the word that Lothar will attach to it, no doubt, in order to justify any…retaliations he may contemplate. But the method is normal, in a war. I am sure you will see nothing unusual in it, mademoiselle, given that you are such a friend of Jean Bart, and that along with the Marquis d’Ozoir you are a direct supporter of his exploits?” He laughed again, with gusto; and she felt his breath on her face, and with some trepidation drew it into her nostrils, and smelled death. It reminded her of something in addition to death, however.

“You look peaked, mademoiselle. Are you all right?”

“The air is stuffy.”

“We shall go outside, then! I have nothing further to say, other than that you should plan to be in Lyon no later than the end of August.”

“Shall I see you there?”

“It is not known. There is another aspect of this transaction, which has nothing to do with money, and everything to do with the honor of my family. It is a matter of personal revenge, which need not concern you. I must tend to it myself, of course-that’s the whole point! No telling where or when exactly. Nevertheless, you may count on my being back in Paris, at the Hotel Arcachon, for my birthday party on the fourteenth of October. It shall be splendid. I am already making the plans. The King will be there, mademoiselle. You and I shall see each other then and there, and if Etienne has done the honorable thing, why, then I shall expect a blessed announcement!”

He turned and offered his arm to Eliza, who took it, trying not to recoil from the smell of him. “I am certain it shall all come to pass just as you say, monsieur,” she said. “But as I go outside with you, I should like to change the subject, if I may, to horses.”

“Horses! It is a welcome change of subject! I am a great fancier of them.”

“I know, for the evidence has been all around me ever since I came here seven months ago. I noticed quite early that you have some albinos in your stable.”


“Seeing this, I phant’sied that such horses must be very popular among the Quality here, and that, in consequence, I could expect to see many more of them, in the stables of the King and of the many other nobles who live in these parts. But this has not been the case.”

“I should hope not! For the entire point of having them is that they are rare. They are distinctive. They are of Turkish stock.”

“May I ask who you bought them from? Is there some breeder hereabouts who has connections in the Levant?”

“Yes, mademoiselle,” said the Duke, “and he has the honor of being on your arm at this moment. For it is I who imported the Pasha to France some years ago, from Constantinople, via Algiers, in an unfathomably complex exchange of assets-”

“The Pasha?”

“A stud, mademoiselle, an albino stallion, the father of all the others!”

“He must have been magnificent.”

“Is magnificent, for he still lives!”


“He is old, and does not venture out of the stables so often, but on a warm evening such as this, you may go down to the paddock and see him stretching his stiff old legs.”

“When did you import the Pasha?”

“When? Let me see, it would have been ten years ago.”

“Are you certain?”

“No, no, what am I saying!? Time passes so quickly, I quite lose track. It would have been eleven years ago this summer.”

“Thank you for satisfying my curiosity, and escorting me out to your beautiful garden, monsieur,” said Eliza, bending to one side to bury her nose in a rose-and to hide her reaction from the Duke. “I shall go for a stroll now, by myself, to clear my head. Perhaps I shall go down and pay my respects to the Pasha.”

LIKE MOST OTHER PEOPLE, Eliza had never in her life been more than a stone’s throw away from an open flame. Wherever she was, there was always something burning: a cooking-fire, a candle, a pipe-bowl of tobacco or bhang, incense, a torch, a lanthorn. These were tame fires. Everyone knew that fire could go wild. Eliza had seen the aftermath of such fires in Constantinople, in the countryside of Hungary, where much had been burned as it was attacked by Ottomans or defended by Christians, and in Bohemia, which was studded with old forts and castles that had been put to the torch during the Thirty Years’ War. But she had never actually seen a fire grow from a tame spark to a feral conflagration until a couple of years ago, in Amsterdam, when a Mobb of Orangist patriots had gathered before the house of a Mr. Sluys, who had lately been exposed as a traitor to the Dutch Republic, and burned the place to the ground. They had done this by hurling torches in through windows. The house had been abandoned a few minutes earlier by Mr. Sluys and his household, who had not had time to board the place up. For several minutes, very little had seemed to happen, and the crowd had only become more agitated-the feeble and steady flickering of the torches, slowly dying on the floors of dark rooms, drove them into a kind of frenzy. But then a sudden sunrise of yellow light shone from an upstairs window, where a curtain or something had caught fire. This had probably saved the lives of several in the Mobb who had been so desperate to see the house come down that they would have jumped in through the shattered windows to attack it with their bare hands. After that, the fire built steadily for a few minutes, spreading from room to room. This was absorbing to watch, but not especially remarkable. It was even tedious, after a while. But at some point the fire had vaulted over some invisible threshold and simply exploded, over the course of a few heartbeats, into a monstrous thing that wore the envelope of the house as a suit of ill-fitting clothes. It sucked in so much air that it howled, and snatched wigs and caps from the heads of bystanders. Burning timbers shot up in the air like meteors. Vortices of white flame formed, fought, joined, and were swallowed. The ground hummed. Rivers of molten lead-for the house was full of it-spilled out onto the street and traced glowing nets in the crevices between the ashlars, fading from yellow to orange to red as they cooled. For a few moments it seemed that the fire might spread to engulf all Amsterdam in another minute, and all of the Dutch Republic the minute after that. But it had been contained between the thick masonry firewalls to either side. Pent up, it was almost more terrible than it would have been free, for all of its intensity was concentrated between those walls, instead of being allowed to spread and dissipate.

Now tears were a watery thing, and so a pedantic schoolman might insist that they were opposite in nature to fire, and could have naught in common with that element. Yet, just as Eliza had never been far from little fires, so she had never been far from the shedding of tears. Children were everywhere, and they cried all the time. Full-grown people did it less often, but they still cried. Especially women. In the banyolar of Algiers, the harim of the Topkapi Palace, and various European households, Eliza had spent most of her time in the company of women of all ages and stations, and rarely did a single day pass without her seeing at least one person get a little sniffly and moist about the eyes, whether out of pain, anger, sadness, or joy. Eliza often allowed even herself to shed a tear or two in private, and had done so more freely since the birth of Jean-Jacques. But these sheddings of tears were like so many candle-flames or kitchen-fires: elements of domestic life, controlled, unremarkable.

Eliza had seen, on occasion, crying of an altogether different nature: wild, hair-pulling, clothes-rending, spine-warping tear-rage. It had never happened to her, though, and she did not really ken it, until that evening when she walked down to the paddock out behind the stables of the Duc d’Arcachon, on the Plateau of Satory, and found herself standing face to face with Pasha: an albino Arabian stallion whom she had last encountered at dockside in the harbor of Algiers, eleven years ago. She and her mother had been snatched from the beach of Outer Qwghlm by a coastal raiding-galley of the Barbary Corsairs, and taken off into slavery; but presently they had learned that these Corsairs were operating in concert with a Christian ship. For they had spent the entire journey to Algiers being molested in a dark cabin by an uncircumcised man with white skin, who liked to dine on rotten fish. Delivered to Algiers, they had been assigned to a banyolar and become assets of some enterprise there, of which it was not possible to know very much, save that it imported certain goods-including slaves-from Christendom, exporting in exchange silks, perfumes, blades, delicacies, spices, and other luxuries of the East. When Eliza had reached puberty, she had been traded to Constantinople in exchange for this stallion-though according to what the Duke had just claimed, the exchange had been much more complicated than that, which only added insult to injury, since it implied that Eliza, by herself, was not worth as much as this horse. She had vowed then and there to find the smelly man in the dark cabin and kill him one day. Christendom being a large place-France alone had twenty millions of souls-she had supposed that finding the villain might take a while.

She had been wrong-footed by the easiness of it. She had only been in Christendom for seven years! And it had only taken her two years to meet her first de Lavardac, and three or four to lay eyes, from a distance, on the duc d’Arcachon himself. Had she been a little more perceptive she might have recognized the duc for what he was, and done him in, a long time ago.

What had she been doing instead? Socializing with Natural Philosophers. Putting on airs. Making money; all of which was now gone.

The tears that came over her, then, when she let herself into the paddock, and came face to face with Pasha, and saw and knew all, were to normal everyday tears as the burning of Mr. Sluys’s house had been to the flame of a candle. It raged up in her so fast that it seemed, for a few moments, as if it might have the power to burst free from the confines of her body and make blades of grass bend double and flood the pasture with salty dew, make Pasha crumple to his arthritic knees, blow the fences down, make the trees sag and groan as in an ice-storm. Which might have been better for Eliza; but as it was, this self-feeding vortex of sorrow, humiliation, and rage could not escape her ribcage, and so it was her ribs that took all the punishment. For once it was a good thing to be wearing a corset, for without that reinforcement she might have broken her own back with these sobs. Like the burning house of Sluys, she howled, she creaked, and the tears coming out of her felt no less hot than streams of molten lead. Fortunate it was for Eliza that all of the guests were gathered some distance away, deafened by their own happy uproar. The only witness was Pasha. A younger horse might have been spooked by the transmogrification of the Countess de la Zeur into a Fury, a Medea. Pasha merely turned sideways, the better to keep Eliza within view, and nuzzled the green grass.

“I have not the remotest idea what has come over you, mademoiselle,” said a woman’s voice. “It is quite the strangest reaction I have ever seen, to a horse.”

The Duchess of Oyonnax had timed the intrusion well. A minute before, Eliza wouldn’t have been able to stop herself even if the entire guest list had suddenly appeared around her. But the outburst had insensibly faded to a long slow run of sobs, which skidded to a halt when Eliza realized she was being watched.

She straightened up, took a deep breath, shuddered it out, and hiccuped. She must look red-faced and perfectly ridiculous; this she knew. She must look as if she hadn’t aged a day, in body or mind, since her first encounter with Pasha. This made her wince a little bit; for on that day, she had lost her mother forever; and now, all of a sudden, here she was with a bigger, older, richer and stronger woman, who had materialized just as suddenly and inexplicably as Mum had vanished eleven years ago. This was perilous.

“Say nothing,” said Madame la duchesse d’Oyonnax, “you’re in no condition to, and I don’t desire to know why this horse has such an effect on you. Given who it belongs to, I can only assume it is something unspeakable. The details are probably gross and tedious and in any event they are not important. All that I need to know of you, mademoiselle, I have seen on your face before, during and after dinner: that in general you are strangely fascinated by tales of women in a condition of slavery. That in particular you have found yourself in a like predicament; for you do not love Etienne de Lavardac, but will soon be cornered into marrying him. That you loathe his father the Duke. Please do not attempt to deny these things, or I am very much afraid that I shall laugh out loud at you.”

And she paused, to give Eliza the opportunity; but Eliza said nothing.

The Duchess continued: “I understand situations of this type as perfectly as Monsieur Bonaventure Rossignol understands cyphers. I phant’sied my predicament unique in all the world, until I came to Versailles! It did not take me long to understand that no one need put up with such unfair situations. There are ways to arrange it. No one lives forever, mademoiselle, and many do not deserve to live as long as they do.”

“I know what you are talking about,” said Eliza. Her voice sounded quite strange at first, as though it belonged to a different Eliza altogether, one who had just been born screaming out of the old. She cleared her burnt throat and swallowed painfully. She could not keep her eyes from straying over to the shack where the Duchess had her soap made.

“I see that you do,” said the Duchess.

“There is nothing you could say to me that would change my intentions.”

“Of course not, proud girl!”

“My ends are fixed, and have been for many years. But as to means, it is possible that I might benefit from advice. For I do not care what happens to me; but if I pursue my ends through means that are obvious, it could lead to the little one in the orphanage being injured.”

“Then know that you are in the most tasteful and cultivated society the world has ever seen,” said the Duchess, “where there is a refined and subtle way of doing anything that a person could conceive a wish for. And it would be disgraceful for one of your quality to go about it in a rude and obvious style.”

“I would that you know one thing, which is that this is not about succession. It is not a matter of inheritance. It is a question of honor.”

“This is to be expected. You loathe me. I have seen it in the way you look at me. You loathe me because you believe that my late husband’s money was the only thing that I cared about. Now, you want my advice; but first you are careful to stipulate that you are better than I, your motives purer. Now, listen to me, Mademoiselle la comtesse. In this world there are very few who would kill for money. To believe that the Court of France is crowded with such rare specimens is folly. There used to be, at court, many practitioners of the Black Mass. Do you really think that all of these people woke up one morning and said, ‘Today I shall worship and offer sacrifices to the Prince of Evil?’ Of course not. Rather, it was that some girl, desperate to find a husband, so that she would not be sent off to live out the rest of her life in some convent, would hear a rumor that such-and-such person could prepare a love potion. She would save her money and go into Paris and buy a magic powder from some mountebank. Of course it had no effect at all; but she would cozen herself into believing that it had worked a little bit, and so conceive a desperate hope, and a desire for something a little bit stronger: a magic spell, perhaps. One thing would lead to another, and in time she might find herself stealing the consecrated Host from some church, and taking it to a cellar where a Black Mass would be sung over her naked body. Errant foolishness all of it. Foolishness leading to evil. But did she set out to do evil? Did she ever conceive of herself as evil? Of course not.”

“So much for lonely hearts, desperate for love,” said Eliza. “What of those who were married, and whose husbands dropped dead? Did they act out of love?”

“Do you propose to act out of love, mademoiselle? I have not heard the word love escape your pretty mouth. I heard something about honor instead; which tells me that you and I have more in common than you would like to admit. You are not the only woman in the world who is capable of taking offense at a violation of her honor, and who has the steel to respond. Tout le monde knows that Etienne de Lavardac seduced you-”

Eliza snorted. “Do you think it’s that? I don’t care about that.”

“Frankly, mademoiselle, I could not care less why it is that you want your marriage to be brief and your widowhood long.”

“Oh, no. It is not Etienne who deserves this.”

“The duc d’Arcachon, then? Very well. There is no accounting for taste. But you must understand that refinement is not compatible with haste. If you want the Duke dead now, go and stab him. If you want to enjoy his being dead for a little while, and to see your orphan grow up, you will have to be patient.”

“I can be patient,” Eliza said, “until the fourteenth of October.”

Book 4


The Gulf of Cadiz

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.


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 rais or captain, Nasr al-Ghurab.

“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 Sanlucar 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 Sanlucar 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-Ghurab, the rais, 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 Sanlucar 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 rais, 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 Sanlucar 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 Sanlucar 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 entrepot 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 Sanlucar 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.


“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 Sanlucar 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.* Moseh and van Hoek and the others were more in the mold of John Churchill.

Accordingly, Jack did not gamble, but contented himself with a tankard of cerveza-the first liquor that had passed his lips in something like five years-and simply gazing at the whores and barmaids, who were the first human females he had seen (other than the bat-like phantasms of Algiers) since Eliza. And his view of her had been obstructed by an incoming harpoon.

Suddenly van Hoek was on his feet, but he was smiling. A few moments later the four were outside on a tavern-street running along the foundations of the wall that faced the water-this looked as if sailors had been trying to undermine it, for hundreds of years, by burrowing tunnels through the stone with their urine.

“It is arranged,” van Hoek said. “He believes that my cargo will arrive tomorrow, or possibly the next day, on a jacht, and that she will be in a desperate hurry to cross the bar and unload. He says that ships from the north do this all the time, and that he can bribe the soldiers to fire signals during the night-time.”

They walked beneath Our Lady of Buenos Aires, which was disappointing: a fleck of stone in a bushel-sized niche. They departed the city the way they had entered into it, through a series of sneakings and petty briberies. An hour later they were in Bonanza, marking a path from the Vagabond-camp to the landward gates of the Viceroy’s villa by slashing blazes on tree-trunks. The sky above Spain was just beginning to dissolve the faintest stars when they returned to the galleot. The Corsairs, and the other members of the Cabal, were giddy that they’d actually come back; then excited, knowing that the Plan would actually go forward; then moody and apprehensive. They all tried to get some sleep, and most of them failed.

IN MID-MORNING, van Hoek began sending up spouts of pipe-smoke that swirled up through beams of hot sun and began migrating upriver-evidence of a breeze too faint for Jack to feel on his skin. This pleased everyone (because it suggested the brig could sail up from Cadiz today) except for van Hoek (who took it as a sign that the weather might be changing). The Dutchman spent the day pacing up and down the galleot’s central catwalk, just like a slave-driver, save that instead of cracking a whip he was fussing endlessly with his pipe and gazing balefully at the sky. It was senseless, Jack thought, to exert so much grim attention on weather that was not really changing. Then-brushing past van Hoek in the aisle-he came close enough to make out some of his words, and understood that the Dutchman was not cursing the elements, but rather praying. And he was not praying for the success of the Plan, but for his own immortal soul. Van Hoek had rowed as a slave for years because he refused to turn Turk. The Cabal had managed to convince him, through long debates on the roof of the banyolar, that the Plan did not really amount to piracy, because the Viceroy’s silver pigs were contraband to begin with, and the Viceroy himself a sort of landlubber Corsair. Finally van Hoek had accepted their arguments, or claimed to. But today he seemed to be in fear of hellfire.

Meanwhile, preparations were under way beneath the quarterdeck, and on those parts of the oar-deck that could be concealed under sails. The common slaves were encouraged to eat, drink, and rest. Members of the Cabal mostly unpacked certain strange goods, and organized them. In the rigging above, Corsairs adorned the masts and yards with a whorish gaudy array of banners and streamers.

The only pause in this work occurred in mid-afternoon, when the Viceroy’s brig-flying its own gorgeous panoply of banners-came up the coast. At first, Moseh and several other Cabal-men were nearly frantic with anxiety that she would reach the Viceroy’s palace with plenty of daylight remaining, and that the treasure would be unloaded this afternoon, before their eyes. But after firing a salute, which was answered by several guns on the city’s walls, she paused outside the infamous barra, and sent out a longboat to take soundings, and then bided her time for an hour or two, allowing the tide to rise a bit. Then she raised more canvas and rode that tide up into the river. Van Hoek lay flat on the oar-deck, poked his spyglass out through an oar-lock, and gazed upon the brig with the dumbfounded intensity of a stalking cat.

Her progress up the river was no quicker. When she entered the estuary her sails went slack. After maundering about for a while she struck her canvas altogether. Then long sweeps felt their way out through ports in a lower deck. The brig’s crew began to pull on them and she crawled towards Bonanza yawing and faltering in the confusion of the river’s current and the tide.

This gave the rais, Nasr al-Ghurab, more than enough time to have the galleot’s anchors weighed-a tedious job that involved eight slaves circling a windlass as free crewmen worked the messenger cable. The galleot got under way not long after the brig had passed by, and soon drew abeam of the larger, slower ship, then began to draw in closer as both vessels worked upriver. As soon as they had come within hailing distance, Mr. Foot ascended to the quarterdeck, garbed in a flame-colored silk caftan; raised a polished brass speaking-trumpet to his lips; and launched into a peroration. No one would ever guess he had been rehearsing it for months. His Spanish was so miserable that it actually caused Jeronimo (naked, and pulling on an oar) to flinch and writhe in agony. To the extent that Mr. Foot’s words conveyed meaning at all, he was trying to convince the Spaniards on the Viceroy’s brig that they really ought to be interested in certain splendiferous goods that he, Mr. Foot, the owner and captain of this galleot, had of late brought out of the Orient-particularly, carpets. He ordered a carpet to be hoisted up from a lug, as if it were a sail.

On the decks of the brig, now, a kind of split developed between labor and management: the ordinary seamen (at least, the ones not pulling on sweeps) seemed to find the ludicrous appearance of the galleot, and the spectacle of the incoherent Mr. Foot, a welcome entertainment. They began shouting rude things to him from various tops and ratlines, trying to provoke him. But the officers, true to form, were not amused, and kept shouting at Mr. Foot to keep his distance. Mr. Foot only cupped one hand to his ear and pretended not to understand, and ordered more and gaudier carpets to be hoisted from all available spars. They had loaded the galleot by making the rounds of the least reputable rug merchants of Algiers and hauling away their most immobile stock.

When only a few fathoms separated the galleot’s oar-tips from those of the brig, the Spanish captain finally drew his cutlass and brought it down-which was the signal for some gunners in the forecastle to discharge their swivel-gun across the galleot’s bow, showering the forward-most oar-slaves with a welcome spray of river water. Mr. Foot looked flabbergasted (which for him was not difficult) for a count of five, and then turned to his steersman and began waving his arms frantically-which, with the sunset radiant in the fabric of his caftan, made him look like a parrot with clipped wings being chased around a basket by a snake. The galleot fell away, to cheers and applause from the crew of the brig.

Gazing aft from his bench, Jack saw van Hoek at work, hidden beneath the quarterdeck, making sketches of the brig’s rigging. These would be useful to Jack later, because he had heard more of these events than he’d seen. As they had drawn close to the brig, though, he had been able to look up into the spyglasses of two Spanish officers who had ascended to the maintop. If the Cabal hadn’t already known that the brig was full of treasure, they might have guessed as much from this show of alertness. For their pains, the Spanish officers saw nothing more than a few dozen chained wretches, a very modest number of freemen, and nothing in the way of weaponry. More to the point, they got a good long look at the galleot: enough to fix it in their memories, so that they’d recognize it in an instant when they saw it again.

There was a bit of flailing about-enough to convince the captain of the Viceroy’s brig that these rug-pedlars had been scared out of their wits-then the big drum began to thump a brisk tempo and the slaves applied themselves to their work. The galleot sprang upriver, leaving the brig behind. After about half an hour, the drum was silenced and the galleot dropped anchor once more, this time in a place some distance above Bonanza where the river oozed through brackish marshes. Jack was released from his irons immediately and climbed halfway up the mainmast, whence he could gaze back downriver and observe the final quarter-hour of the brig’s several-month-long journey from Vera Cruz to Bonanza. At sunset she finally dropped anchor below the Viceroy’s villa, and the sound of cheering and celebratory gunfire drifted up the river. A lighter came out from a quay to collect the Viceroy and his wife and take them home.

Later, Dappa, watching through a spyglass, announced that a guard had been posted on the quay: perhaps a dozen musketeers, as well as a swivel-gun for taking pot-shots at anything that came within range looking shootable. But other than a boat-load of what appeared to be luggage, nothing came out of the brig before sundown, which meant nothing would come out of it until sunup.

“Is there anything downriver?” van Hoek asked significantly.

“Sails, glowing like coals, out to sea, headed towards Sanlucar-a small ship* flying Dutch colors,” Dappa announced.

“Tomorrow, she’ll be flying French ones,” van Hoek said, “for that must be Meteore-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-Ghurab 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 Sanlucar 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 Meteore?” 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 ‘Senor 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 Sanlucar 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 Sanlucar 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 Sanlucar 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 Meteore, 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, senor,” 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 Sanlucar 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-Ghurab, 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 Penasco 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 rais 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-Ghurab. “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-Ghurab.

“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 rais, 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-Ghurab.

“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 Meteore 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 rais.

Al-Ghurab 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-Ghurab.

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 rais.

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.”


“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-Ghurab, 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.


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 Meteore, 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 Sanlucar de Barrameda to Cadiz, might have been an ordinary morning cruise, no different from their training-voyages around Algiers. But Meteore-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 rais 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.

Off Malta


“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.”

“Touche,” 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-Ghurab 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-Ghurab 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 rais had not asked them to.

At Algiers most of the regular oar-slaves had been transferred into the Penon, 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 rais 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 Meteore. 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 Hotel 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 Meteore, 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 rais 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 Sanlucar 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 rais 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-Ghurab 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-Ghurab, 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 rais was merely touched by the brutally pathetic quality of the scene.”

Dappa: “The rais 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-Ghurab 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 rais 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 rais 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-Ghurab’s face. The rais 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 rais 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 rais). “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 rais 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 rais and the ranking Janissary to come out in the longboat to collect the slaves?”

“It is a routine formality,” said the rais. “For him to do otherwise would be very odd.”*

“Remember, we are speaking of a French Duke. He will hew to protocol no matter what,” Vrej agreed.

“Only one of us can pass for a Janissary. I will go,” Jack said. “Get me a turban and all the rest.”

“EVEN IF THAT DUKE STARED me full in the face, I doubt he would recognize me,” Jack said. “My face was covered most of the time that I was in his house-otherwise, he never would have mistaken me for Leroy. I only let the scarf fall at the very end-”

“But if there was any truth whatsoever in your narration,” said Dappa carefully, “it was a moment of high drama, exceeding anything ever staged in a theatre.”

“What is your point?”

“In those short moments you may have made a vivid impression in the Duke’s memory.”

“I should hope so!”

“No, Jack,” Moseh said gently, “you should hope not.”

Only Moseh, Dappa, and Vrej knew that the Investor had for some years been combing every last fen, wadi, and reef of the Mediterranean for the man identified, by Muslims, as Ali Zaybak. Moseh and Dappa had followed Jack to the dress-up sack to fret and wring their hands. Vrej was completely unconcerned, though: “In those days Jack had long hair, and a stubbled face, and was heavier. Now with his head and face shaved, and a turban, and with him so gaunt and weather-tanned, I think there is little chance of his being recognized-provided he keeps his trousers on.”

“What possible reason could there be to take them off?” Jack demanded hotly.

THE LONGBOAT CAME OUT. Jack and the rais climbed in. Dappa came, too, as interpreter-for they had agreed that it would be unwise for Jack to let it be known that he spoke Vagabond-French. The longboat took them not to Meteore after all, but to a part of the harbor where no fewer than half a dozen war galleys of the French Navy were tied up on either side of a long stone pier. The longboat was tied up at the pier’s end by a couple of barefoot French swabbies. The tide was quite low, so Jack, Nasr al-Ghurab, and Dappa took turns ascending a ladder to the pier’s sun-hammered top and there met the same young officer who had earlier brought them the letter. He was a slender fellow with a high nose and an overbite, who bowed slightly, and greeted them without really showing respect. Introductions were made by an aide. The officer was identified as one Pierre de Jonzac.

“Tell Monsieur de Jonzac that he has the smallest nostrils of any human who ever lived,” Jack said in the most vulgar Sabir he could muster, “which must serve him well in his dealings with his master.”

“The Agha of the Janissaries greets you as one warrior to another,” Dappa said vaguely.

“Tell him that I am grateful that he has personally taken responsibility for getting us and our cargo to Egypt,” the rais said.

French was exchanged. Pierre de Jonzac stiffened. His pupils widened and his nostrils shrank at the same time, as if they shared a common drawstring. “He understandeth little, and resenteth much,” Dappa said out of the side of his mouth.

“If we do not take our time, here, and pick out a good complement of slaves, why, we will fall behind the convoy, and Dutch or Calabrian pirates will end up with our cargo-” began the rais.

“-of whose nature we are ignorant,” added Jack.

“-but which the Duke appears to value highly,” finished Dappa, who could see for himself how this was going. When he said all of this in French, Pierre de Jonzac flinched, and looked as if he were about to order them flogged. Then he seemed to think better of it.

De Jonzac spun on his heel and led them down the pier. The hulls of the French galleys were low as slippers and narrow as knives and could not even be seen from here, but each one had-as well as a pair of masts-both a fore-and a stern-castle, meant to carry her pay-load of cannons and Marines as high above the foes’ as possible. These castles-which were all decorated, gilded, and painted in the finest Barock style-seemed to hover in the air on either side of the pier, bobbing gently in the swell. It was a strangely peaceful scene-until they followed de Jonzac to the edge of the pier and looked down into one of the galleys: a stinking wood-lined gouge in the water, packed with hundreds of naked men, chained by their waists and ankles in groups of five. Many were dozing. But as soon as faces appeared above them, a few began to shout abuse, and woke up all the rest. Then they were all screaming.

“Rag-head! Come down here and take my seat!”

“You have a pretty ass, nigger! Bend over so we can inspect!”

“Where do you want to row today?”

“Take me! My oar-mates snore!”

“Take him! He prays too much!”

And so forth; but they were all shouting as loud as they could, and shaking their chains, and stomping the deck-planks so that the hull boomed like a drum.

“Je vous en prie!” said Pierre de Jonzac, extending a hand.

It came clear that they were expected to take a few slaves from each galley. A rite soon took shape: They’d cross a gangplank from the pier to the sterncastle and parley with the captain, who would be expecting them, and who would have helpfully culled out a few slaves-always the most miserable tubercular specimens on his boat. Nasr al-Ghurab would prod them, inspect their teeth, feel their knees, and scoff. This was the signal to begin haggling. Using Dappa as his intermediary, al-Ghurab had to reject galeriens one by one, beginning always with the most pitiable, and these would be sent down into the ever-boiling riot of Vagabonds, smugglers, pickpockets, deserters, stranglers, prisoners of war, and Huguenots chained to the benches below. Then it would be necessary to pick out a replacement, which involved more haggling, as well as endless resentful glares, verbal abuse, bluffing, and stalling from the petty officers-called comites-who controlled the oar-deck, and tedious un-chaining and re-chaining. The longboat could only ferry ten or so slaves out to the galleot at a time, so five loads, and as many round trips, were needed.

Al-Ghurab’s strategy had been that he would wear the French down by taking his time and choosing carefully; but as the day went on it became obvious that time was on the side of the captains of the galleys, who relaxed in their cabins, and of Pierre de Jonzac, who sipped Champagne under a giant parasol on the pier, while Jack, Dappa, and al-Ghurab toiled up and down the gangplanks smelling the bodies and enduring the curses of the galeriens. They picked out perhaps two boat-loads of reasonably good slaves before they began to lose their concentration, and after that they were more concerned with getting to the end of the day with some vestiges of dignity. Jack led many a galerien down the aisle that day. Some of them had to be prodded down the entire length of a one-hundred-fifty-foot ship to be offloaded. Each of those who was staying behind felt bound to say something to the one who was being taken off:

“I hope the Mohametans bugger you as often as you’ve whined about your wife and kids in Toulouse!”

“Send us a letter from Algiers, we hear the weather is very nice there!”

“Farewell, Jean-Baptiste, may God go with you!”

“Please don’t let the Corsairs ram us, I have nothing against them!”

It was on the very last trip of the day that Jack-standing in the aisle of a galley while the rais argued with a comite-was dazzled, for a moment, by a bright light shone into his eye. He blinked and it was gone. Then it was back: bright as the sun, but coming from within this galley. The third time, he held up an arm to shield his eyes, and squinted at it sidelong, and perceived that it was coming from the middle of a bench near the bow, on the starboard side. He began walking towards it-creating a sensation among the galeriens, who had all noticed the light on his face and were screaming and pounding their benches with amusement.

By the time he’d reached the forward part of the oar-deck, Jack had lost track of the light’s source-but then one more flash nicked him again, then faded and shrank to a little polygon of grey glass, held in a man’s fingers. Jack had already guessed it would be a hand-mirror, because these were commonly found among the few miserable effects that galley-slaves were allowed to have with them. By thrusting it out of an oar-lock, or raising it high overhead, the owner could see much that would otherwise be out of his view. But it was cheeky for a galerien to flash sunlight into the eyes of a free man standing in the aisle, because this was most annoying, and might be punished by breakage or confiscation of the mirror.

Jack looked up into the eyes of the insolent wretch who had been playing tricks on him, and recognized him immediately as Monsieur Arlanc, the Huguenot, whom he had last seen buried in shit in a stable in France.

Jack parted his lips; Monsieur Arlanc raised a finger to his, and shook his head almost imperceptibly. Then he swiveled his eyes in their sockets, leading Jack’s gaze over the gunwale and across the choppy black water of the harbor, off in the general direction of Sicily. Jack’s attention rolled aimlessly about the harbor, like a loose cannonball on a pitching deck, until it fell into a hole, and stopped. For he could clearly see a sort of heathen half-galley riding the swells at the harbor’s entrance, but obliterated, every so often, by a flash of light just like the one that had come from the hand-mirror of Monsieur Arlanc.

The half-galley was none other than the Cabal’s galleot.

Jack’s first thought was that the new slaves must be staging a mutiny and that his comrades were signalling for help. But the flashes emanated not from the quarterdeck, where the Cabal would make their last stand in a mutiny, but from a point down low and amidships: one of the oar-locks. It must be one of the new galeriens, probably chained safely to his bench by now, but reaching out with a hand-mirror to flash signals to-whom, exactly?

Jack turned around to face the pier-side, which had fallen into deep shade as the sun had swung around over the high crags and castles of Malta. By blocking the sun’s glare with his hand he was able to see a vague spot of bluish light prowling around the pier’s shadows. The mirror was held in an unsteady hand on a rocking boat far away, and so the spot of light frequently careered off into the sky or plunged into the waves. But it would always come back, and work its way carefully down the pier, and then dart upwards at the same place. After this had occurred several times, Jack raised his sights to the top of the pier and saw Pierre de Jonzac sitting there at a folding table with a quill in one hand, staring out to sea. Each mirror-flash lit him up with a ghastly light, and after each one he glanced down (his wig moved) and made a mark (his quill wiggled).

“I suppose you think this was all predestined to happen, monsieur,” said Jack, “but I like to believe you had some say in the matter, and therefore deserve my thanks.”

“There is no time to talk,” Arlanc said. “But know that the men they have sent you are very dangerous: murderers, conspiracists, phanatiques, looters of bakeries, outragers of women, and locksmiths gone bad.”

“I would rather have a Huguenot or two,” Jack mused, scanning the other four members of Monsieur Arlanc’s team. The headman, who sat on the aisle, was a Turk.

“It is a noble conception, Jack, but not destined to happen. They will never agree to it-it is not part of their plan.”

“What about God? Doesn’t He have a plan?”

“I believe only that God preserved me until now so that I could show you what I have showed you,” said Monsieur Arlanc, glancing up towards de Jonzac frozen in another pallid flash, “and thereby repay you for your generosity in the stables. What on earth are you doing, by the way?”

“It is a long story,” Jack said, taking a step away-for al-Ghurab had finally picked out the last slave, and was calling to him. “I’ll explain it when we reach Egypt.”

Monsieur Arlanc smiled like a saint on the gridiron, and shook his head. “This galley will never reach Egypt,” he said, “and my mortal body is, as you can see, one with it.” He patted the chain locked round his waist.

“What, are you joking? Look at the size of this armada! We’ll be fine.”

Arlanc closed his eyes, still smiling. “If you see Dutch colors, or English, or-may God forbid it-both combined, make for Africa, and stop not until you have run aground.”

“And then what? Go on foot across the Sahara?”

“It would be easier than the journey we begin tomorrow. God bless you and your sons.”

“Likewise you and yours. See you at the Sphinx.” Jack stormed off down the aisle. For once, the galeriens did not hound him the whole way. They seemed sober and deflated instead, as if they had all guessed at the subject of Jack’s and Monsieur Arlanc’s conversation.

THE VOYAGE FROM MALTA to Alexandria was a rhumb-line a thousand miles long. The Dutch hit them halfway, five days into the passage, somewhere to the south of Crete. Jack supposed that if he were God watching the battle from Heaven it might make some kind of sense: the onslaughts of the Dutch capital ships, the stately maneuvers of the French ones, and the slashing zigzags of the galleys would form a coherent picture, and seem less like an interminable string of dreadful accidents. But Jack was just a mote on a galleot that was evidently considered too small to be worth attacking, or defending. Now they understood why the shrewd Investor had never insisted on having the loot taken off the galleot and loaded into a man-of-war: He must have suspected that half or more of his capital ships would end up on the bottom of the Mediterranean.

Every time a French frigate was struck by a Dutch broadside, a vast cloud of spinning planks, tumbling spars, and other important materials would come flying out the opposite side and tear up the water for a hundred yards or more. After this had happened several times the ship would stop moving and a galley would be brought in to tow it from the line of battle, somewhat like a servant scurrying into the middle of a lively dance-floor to drag away a fat count who had passed out from drink.

The galleot, for its part, wandered about aimlessly, like a lost lamb searching for its mother in a flock that was being torn apart by wolves. Van Hoek spent the day up on the maintop, cheering for the Dutch, and occasionally shouting explanations-so cryptic and technical as to be useless-of what was going on to the others. Very early the Cabal had met to discuss surrendering to the Dutch forthwith. But there was much that could go awry with that plan. At the very best it would mean surrendering all of the gold, and many in the Cabal did not share van Hoek’s natural affinity for the Dutch side of things anyway.

The galley to which Monsieur Arlanc was chained survived most of the battle without serious damage. Then (according to van Hoek) she was called in to ram a certain Dutch ship. Along the way she came under fire from others, and a bomb apparently went off in her sterncastle, starting a fire that, a few minutes later, detonated her powder magazine and essentially blew open her stern. Very quickly her bow began to point up in the air, her ram sweeping relentlessly upwards like the hand of a clock. The galeriens in the forward half of the ship-presumably including Monsieur Arlanc-let go their oars and hooked their arms over their benches, though some of them broke loose, so that skeins of slaves dangled and swung like strings of trout hanging before a fishmonger’s stall.

“Let us row in that direction,” Jack said, “because it is no more dangerous than what we are doing anyway, and because it is good form.”

There was profound apprehension on the faces of other members of the Cabal. Vrej Esphahnian opened his mouth as if to lodge an objection but then a large cannonball hummed past, a couple of yards over their heads, confirming Jack’s point and sparing them many tedious deliberations. So Nasr al-Ghurab brought the tiller around and they made for the sinking galley.

Meanwhile Jack went down among the oar-slaves-but not before asking Yevgeny to fetch a certain large hammer, and an anvil.

On the night before their departure from Malta, when most of the fleet’s ordinary seamen had been ashore carousing and/or receiving Holy Communion, and most of its officers attending formal dinners, the Cabal had armed themselves with blunderbusses and then worked their way down the aisle, unchaining one pair of slaves at a time and searching them. Turbans, head-rags, and loincloths had been shaken out and groped, jaws and butt-cheeks pried apart, hair combed through or cut off. Jeronimo had scoffed at this-more so after being told it was all because of a warning from a “heretic Frog slave.” But he went silent as soon as he saw a complete set of fine lock-picks being drawn out through the anal sphincter of a stocky middle-aged galerien named Gerard. And he remained silent as an increasingly astounding variety of hardware was produced, like conjurors’ tricks, from diverse orifices and bits of clothing. “If I see a granado coming from some man’s nostril I will be no more surprised than I am now,” he said. Finally a mirror was found, and then another-confirming Jack’s story. Nyazi was uncharacteristically pensive, and said: “Honor dictates that we send the Investor to Hell forthwith, along with as many of his clan as we can get our daggers into.” But El Desamparado flew into a rage that did not abate until he had ranted for the better part of an hour and made many trips up and down the length of the galleot flailing away with a nerf du boeuf.

Now these galeriens were no more impressed by Jeronimo’s prowess with the whip than they were by his Classical allusions.* At the height of his rage Jeronimo was no more or less prepossessing than any comite 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 galeriens, 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 galeriens 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 Meteore, 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-Ghurab.

“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-Ghurab 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 rais.

“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 rais, “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-Ghurab 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 rais 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 Meteore, set their courses direct for the harbor of Alexandria proper. Nasr al-Ghurab, however, pointed them straight up the coast; raised all the sail he could; and put the galeriens 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 rais 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-Ghurab 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-Ghurab 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 rais, 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-Ghurab called it) had been close enough that they’d heard the city’s muezzins wailing at the break of dawn. But the rais 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-Ghurab 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-Ghurab 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 rais 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-Ghurab 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 rais 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 rais, “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 rais 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 rais 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-Ghurab.

“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 rais 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 rais 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-Ghurab 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 rais, 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-Ghurab, 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-Ghurab 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-Ghurab 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-Ghurab had been lurking. The rais 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-Ghurab 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 rais 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 rais, “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-Ghurab, 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 Hotel 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-Ghurab 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 ?on, 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-Ghurab up on that rooftop, lunging at the musketeer with a dagger. The rais 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-Ghurab 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-Ghurab 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 Penasco 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 galeriens 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 rais?”

“You heard me-he is dead, and now you are our Captain,” Jack said.


“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 rais 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.

Book 5

The Juncto

Eliza to Leibniz



I have been a few days in Juvisy, a town on the left bank of the Seine, south of Paris, where Monsieur Ross