- Black Rose
- The Great Train Robbery
- Blue Dahlia
- Carnal Innocence
- Dance Upon the Air
- High Noon
- Sacred Sins
- Face the Fire
- Holding the Dream
- A Man for Amanda
- All the Possibilities
- Black Rose
- The Great Train Robbery
- Blue Dahlia
- Carnal Innocence
- Dance Upon the Air
- High Noon
- Sacred Sins
- Face the Fire
- Holding the Dream
- A Man for Amanda
THEY DREW NEAR Cape Coast a week later with the atmosphere of ill-will a settled and living thing among them, as palpable as the heat. Blythe had taken ill from his brutal flogging; he still lay nearly senseless in the sick-bay, the other ground-crew hands taking it in turn to sit by him and fan the bloody weals, and to coax him to take some water. They had taken the measure of Laurence's temper, and so their bitterness against the sailors was not expressed in word or direct action, but in sullen, black looks and murmurs, and abrupt silences whenever a sailor came in earshot.
Temeraire snorted back at this reply, and Laurence, annoyed, hurried to dismiss Keynes before the surgeon could be any more provoking: he had every confidence in the man's skill, but his tact could have stood much improvement, and though Temeraire was by no means contrary by nature, this was a hard disappointment to bear.
"I have a little better news, at least," he told Temeraire, trying to rally his spirits. "Mr. Pollitt was kind enough to bring me several new books from his visit ashore; shall I not fetch one now?"
Temeraire made only a grumble for answer, head unhappily drooping over the edge of the ship and gazing towards the denied shore. Laurence went down for the book, hoping that the interest of the material would rouse him, but while he was still in his cabin, the ship abruptly rocked, and an enormous splash outside sent water flying in through the opened round windows and onto the floor; Laurence ran to look through the nearest porthole, hastily rescuing his dampened letters, and saw Temeraire, with an expression at once guilty and self-satisfied, bobbing up and down in the water.
He dashed back up to the deck; Granby and Ferris were peering over the side in alarm, and the small boats that had been crowding around the sides of the ship, full of whores and enterprising fishermen, were already making frantic haste away and back to the security of the harbor, with much shrieking and splashing of oars. Temeraire rather abashedly looked after them in dismay. "I did not mean to frighten them," he said. "There is no need to run away," he called, but the boats did not pause for an instant. The sailors, deprived of their entertainments, glared disapprovingly; Laurence was more concerned for Temeraire's health.
"Well, I have never seen anything so ridiculous in my life, but it is not likely to hurt him. The air-sacs will keep him afloat, and salt water never hurt a wound," Keynes said, having been summoned back to the deck. "But how we will ever get him back aboard, I have not the least idea."
Temeraire plunged for a moment under the surface and came almost shooting up again, propelled by his buoyancy. "It is very pleasant," he called out. "The water is not cold at all, Laurence; will you not come in?"
Laurence was by no means a strong swimmer, and uneasy at the notion of leaping into the open ocean: they were a good mile out from the shore. But he took one of the ship's small boats and rowed himself out, to keep Temeraire company and to be sure the dragon did not over-tire himself after so much enforced idleness on deck. The skiff was tossed about a little by the waves resulting from Temeraire's frolics, and occasionally swamped, but Laurence had prudently worn only an old pair of breeches and his most threadbare shirt.
His own spirits were very low; the defeat at Austerlitz was not merely a single battle lost, but the overthrow of Prime Minister Pitt's whole careful design, and the destruction of the coalition assembled to stop Napoleon: Britain alone could not field an army half so large as Napoleon's Grande Armee, nor easily land it on the Continent, and with the Austrians and Russians now driven from the field, their situation was plainly grim. Even with such cares, however, he could not help but smile to see Temeraire so full of energy and uncomplicated joy, and after a little while he even yielded to Temeraire's coaxing and let himself over the side. Laurence did not swim very long but soon climbed up onto Temeraire's back, while Temeraire paddled himself about enthusiastically, and nosed the skiff about as a sort of toy.
He might shut his eyes and imagine them back in Dover, or at Loch Laggan, with only the ordinary cares of war to burden them, and work to be done which he understood, with all the confidence of friendship and a nation united behind them; even the present disaster hardly insurmountable, in such a situation: the Allegiance only another ship in the harbor, their familiar clearing a short flight away, and no politicians and princes to trouble with. He lay back and spread his hand open against the warm side, the black scales warmed by the sun, and for a little while indulged the fancy enough to drowse.
"Do you suppose you will be able to climb back aboard the Allegiance?" Laurence said presently; he had been worrying the problem in his head.
Temeraire craned his head around to look at him. "Could we not wait here on shore until I am well again, and rejoin the ship after?" he suggested. "Or," and his ruff quivered with sudden excitement, "we might fly across the continent, and meet them on the opposite side: there are no people in the middle of Africa, I remember from your maps, so there cannot be any French to shoot us down."
"No, but by report there are a great many feral dragons, not to mention any number of other dangerous creatures, and the perils of disease," Laurence said. "We cannot go flying over the uncharted interior, Temeraire; the risk cannot be justified, particularly not now."
Temeraire sighed a little at giving up this ambitious project, but agreed to make the attempt to climb up onto the deck; after a little more play he swam back over to the ship, and rather bemused the waiting sailors by handing the skiff up to them, so they did not have to haul her back aboard. Laurence, having climbed up the side from Temeraire's shoulder, held a huddled conference with Riley. "Perhaps if we let the starboard sheet anchor down as a counterweight?" he suggested. "That with the best bower ought to keep her steady, and she is already loaded heavy towards the stern."
"Laurence, what the Admiralty will say to me if I get a transport sunk on a clear blue day in harbor, I should not like to think," Riley said, unhappy at the notion. "I dare say I should be hanged, and deserve it, too."
"If there is any danger of capsizing, he can always let go in an instant," Laurence said. "Otherwise we must sit in port a week at least, until Keynes is willing to grant him leave to fly again."
"I am not going to sink the ship," Temeraire said indignantly, poking his head up over the quarterdeck rail and entering into the conversation, much to Riley's startlement. "I will be very careful."
Though Riley was still dubious, he finally gave leave. Temeraire managed to rear up out of the water and get a grip with his foreclaws on the ship's side; the Allegiance listed towards him, but not too badly, held by the two anchors, and having raised his wings out of the water, Temeraire beat them a couple of times, and half-leapt, half-scrambled up the side of the ship.
He fell heavily onto the deck without much grace, hind legs scrabbling for an undignified moment, but he indeed got aboard, and the Allegiance did not do more than bounce a little beneath him. He hastily settled his legs underneath him again and busied himself shaking water off his ruff and long tendrils, pretending he had not been clumsy. "It was not very difficult to climb back on at all," he said to Laurence, pleased. "Now I can swim every day until I can fly again."
Laurence wondered how Riley and the sailors would receive this news, but was unable to feel much dismay; he would have suffered far more than black looks to see Temeraire's spirits so restored; and when he presently suggested something to eat, Temeraire gladly assented, and devoured two cows and a sheep down to the hooves.
When Yongxing once again ventured to the deck the following morning, he thus found Temeraire in good humor: fresh from another swim, well-fed, and highly pleased with himself. He had clambered aboard much more gracefully this second time, though Lord Purbeck at least found something to complain of, in the scratches to the ship's paint, and the sailors were still unhappy at having the bumboats frightened off. Yongxing himself benefited, as Temeraire was in a forgiving mood and disinclined to hold even what Laurence considered a well-deserved grudge, but the prince did not look at all satisfied; he spent the morning visit watching silently and brooding as Laurence read to Temeraire out of the new books procured by Mr. Pollitt on his visit ashore.
Yongxing soon left again; and shortly thereafter, his servant Feng Li came up to the deck to ask Laurence below, making clear his meaning through gestures and pantomime, Temeraire having settled down to nap through the heat of the day. Unwilling and wary, Laurence insisted on first going to his quarters to dress: he was again in shabby clothes, having accompanied Temeraire on his swim, and did not feel prepared to face Yongxing in his austere and elegant apartment without the armor of his dress coat and best trousers, and a fresh-pressed neckcloth.
There was no theater about his arrival, this time; he was ushered in at once, and Yongxing sent even Feng Li away, that they might be private, but he did not speak at once and only stood in silence, hands clasped behind his back, gazing frowningly out the stern windows: then, as Laurence was on the point of speaking, he abruptly turned and said, "You have sincere affection for Lung Tien Xiang, and he for you; this I have come to see. Yet in your country, he is treated like an animal, exposed to all the dangers of war. Can you desire this fate for him?"
Laurence was much astonished at meeting so direct an appeal, and supposed Hammond proven right: there could be no explanation for this change but a growing conviction in Yongxing's mind of the futility of luring Temeraire away. But as pleased as he would otherwise have been to see Yongxing give up his attempts to divide them from one another, Laurence grew only more uneasy: there was plainly no common ground to be had between them, and he did not feel he understood Yongxing's motives for seeking to find any.
"Sir," he said, after a moment, "your accusations of ill-treatment I must dispute; and the dangers of war are the common hazard of those who take service for their country. Your Highness can scarcely expect me to find such a choice, willingly made, objectionable; I myself have so chosen, and such risks I hold it an honor to endure."
"Yet you are a man of ordinary birth, and a soldier of no great rank; there may be ten thousand men such as you in England," Yongxing said. "You cannot compare yourself to a Celestial. Consider his happiness, and listen to my request. Help us restore him to his rightful place, and then part from him cheerfully: let him think you are not sorry to go, that he may forget you more easily, and find happiness with a companion appropriate to his station. Surely it is your duty not to hold him down to your own level, but to see him brought up to all the advantages which are his right."
Yongxing made these remarks not in an insulting tone, but as stating plain fact, almost earnestly. "I do not believe in that species of kindness, sir, which consists in lying to a loved one, and deceiving him for his own good," Laurence said, as yet unsure whether he ought to be offended, or to view this as some attempt to appeal to his better nature.
But his confusion was sharply dispelled in another moment, as Yongxing persisted: "I know that what I ask is a great sacrifice. Perhaps the hopes of your family will be disappointed; and you were given a great reward for bringing him to your country, which may now be confiscated. We do not expect you to face ruin: do as I ask, and you will receive ten thousand taels of silver, and the gratitude of the Emperor."
Laurence stared first, then flushed to an ugly shade of mortification, and said, when he had mastered himself well enough to speak, with bitter resentment, "A noble sum indeed; but there is not silver enough in China, sir, to buy me."
He would have turned to go at once; but Yongxing said in real exasperation, this refusal at last driving him past the careful façade of patience which he had so far maintained throughout the interview, "You are foolish; you cannot be permitted to remain companion to Lung Tien Xiang, and in the end you will be sent home. Why not accept my offer?"
"That you may separate us by force, in your own country, I have no doubt," Laurence said. "But that will be your doing, and none of mine; and he shall know me faithful as he is himself, to the last." He meant to leave; he could not challenge Yongxing, nor strike him, and only such a gesture could have begun to satisfy his deep and violent sense of injury; but so excellent an invitation to quarrel at least gave his anger some vent, and he added with all the scorn which he could give the words, "Save yourself the trouble of any further cajolery; all your bribes and machinations you may be sure will meet with equal failure, and I have too much faith in Temeraire to imagine that he will ever be persuaded to prefer a nation where discourse such as this is the civilized mode."
"You speak in ignorant disdain of the foremost nation of the world," Yongxing said, growing angry himself, "like all your country-men, who show no respect for that which is superior, and insult our customs."
"For which I might consider myself as owing you some apology, sir, if you yourself had not so often insulted myself and my own country, or shown respect for any customs other than your own," Laurence said.
"We do not desire anything that is yours, or to come and force our ways upon you," Yongxing said. "From your small island you come to our country, and out of kindness you are allowed to buy our tea and silk and porcelain, which you so passionately desire. But still you are not content; you forever demand more and more, while your missionaries try to spread your foreign religion and your merchants smuggle opium in defiance of the law. We do not need your trinkets, your clockworks and lamps and guns; our land is sufficient unto itself. In so unequal a position, you should show threefold gratitude and submission to the Emperor, and instead you offer one insult heaped on another. Too long already has this disrespect been tolerated."
These arrayed grievances, so far beyond the matter at hand, were spoken passionately and with great energy; more sincere than anything Laurence had formerly heard from the prince and more unguarded, and the surprise he could not help but display evidently recalled Yongxing to his circumstances, and checked his flow of speech. For a moment they stood in silence, Laurence still resentful, and as unable to form a reply as if Yongxing had spoken in his native tongue, baffled entirely by a description of the relations between their countries which should lump Christian missionaries together in with smugglers and so absurdly refuse to acknowledge the benefits of free and open trade to both parties.
"I am no politician, sir, to dispute with you upon matters of foreign policy," Laurence said at last, "but the honor and dignities of my nation and my country-men I will defend to my last breath; and you will not move me with any argument to act dishonorably, least of all to Temeraire."
Yongxing had recovered his composure, yet looked still intensely dissatisfied; now he shook his head, frowning. "If you will not be persuaded by consideration for Lung Tien Xiang or for yourself, will you at least serve your country's interests?" With deep and evident reluctance he added, "That we should open ports to you, besides Canton, cannot be considered; but we will permit your ambassador to remain in Peking, as you so greatly desire, and we will agree not to go to war against you or your allies, so long as you maintain a respectful obedience to the Emperor: this much can be allowed, if you will ease Lung Tien Xiang's return."
He ended expectantly; Laurence stood motionless, breathtaken, white; and then he said, "No," almost inaudibly, and without staying to hear another word turned and left the room, thrusting the drapery from his way.
He went blindly to the deck and found Temeraire sleeping, peaceful, tail curled around himself; Laurence did not touch him but sat down on one of the lockers by the edge of the deck and bowed his head down, that he should not meet anyone's eyes; his hands clasped, that they should not be seen to shake.
"You refused, I hope?" Hammond said, wholly unexpectedly; Laurence, who had steeled himself to face a furious reproach, was left staring. "Thank Heaven; it had not occurred to me that he might attempt a direct approach, and so soon. I must beg you, Captain, to be sure and not commit us to any proposal whatsoever, without private consultation with me, no matter how appealing it may seem. Either here or after we have reached China," he added, as an afterthought. "Now pray tell me again: he offered a promise of neutrality, and a permanent envoy in Peking, outright?"
There was a quick predatory gleam in his expression, and Laurence was put to dredging the details of the conversation from his memory in answer to his many questions. "But I am sure that I do not misremember; he was quite firm that no other ports should ever be opened," Laurence protested, when Hammond had begun dragging over his maps of China and speculating aloud which might be the most advantageous, inquiring of Laurence which harbors he thought best for shipping.
"Yes, yes," Hammond said, waving this aside. "But if he may be brought so far as to admit the possibility of a permanent envoy, how much more progress may we not hope to make? You must be aware that his own opinions are fixed quite immovably against all intercourse with the West."
"I am," Laurence said; he was more surprised to find Hammond so aware, given the diplomat's continuing efforts to establish good relations.
"Our chances of winning Prince Yongxing himself over are small, though I hope we do make some progress," Hammond said, "but I find it most encouraging indeed that he should be so anxious to obtain your cooperation at such a stage. Plainly he wishes to arrive in China fait accompli, which should only be the case if he imagines the Emperor may be persuaded to grant us terms less pleasing to himself.
"He is not the heir to the throne, you know," Hammond added, seeing Laurence look doubtful. "The Emperor has three sons, and the eldest, Prince Mianning, is grown already and the presumptive crown prince. Not that Prince Yongxing lacks in influence, certainly, or he would never have been given so much autonomy as to be sent to England, but this very attempt on his part gives me hope there may yet be more opportunity than we heretofore have realized. If only - "
Here he grew abruptly dismal, and sat down again with the charts neglected. "If only the French have not already established themselves with the more liberal minds of the court," he finished, low. "But that would explain a great deal, I am afraid, and in particular why they were ever given the egg. I could tear my hair over it; here they have managed to thoroughly insinuate themselves, I suppose, while we have been sitting about congratulating ourselves on our precious dignity ever since Lord Macartney was sent packing, and making no real attempt to restore relations."
Laurence left feeling very little less guilt and unhappiness than before; his refusal, he was well aware, had not been motivated by any such rational and admirable arguments, but a wholly reflexive denial. He would certainly never agree to lie to Temeraire, as Yongxing had proposed, nor abandon him to any unpleasant or barbaric situation, but Hammond might make other demands, less easy to refuse. If they were ordered to separate to ensure a truly advantageous treaty, it would be his own duty not only to go, but to convince Temeraire to obey, however unwillingly. Before now, he had consoled himself in the belief that the Chinese would offer no satisfactory terms; this illusory comfort was now stripped away, and all the misery of separation loomed closer with every sea-mile.
Two days later saw them leaving Cape Coast, gladly for Laurence's part. The morning of their departure, a party of slaves had been brought in overland and were being driven into the waiting dungeons within sight of the ship. An even more dreadful scene ensued, for the slaves had not yet been worn down by long confinement nor become resigned to their fate, and as the cellar doors were opened to receive them, very much like the mouth of a waiting grave, several of the younger men staged a revolt.
They had evidently found some means of getting loose along their journey. Two of the guards went down at once, bludgeoned with the very chains that had bound the slaves, and the others began to stumble back and away, firing indiscriminately in their panic. A troop of guards came running down from their posts, adding to the general melee.
It was a hopeless attempt, if gallant, and most of the loosed men saw the inevitable and dashed for their personal freedom; some scrambled down the beach, others fled into the city. The guards managed to cow the remaining bound slaves again, and started shooting at the escaping ones. Most were killed before they were out of sight, and search parties organized immediately to find the remainder, marked as they were by their nakedness and the galls from their former chains. The dirt road leading to the dungeons was muddy with blood, the small and huddled corpses lying terribly still among the living; many women and children had been killed in the action. The slavers were already forcing the remaining men and women down into the cellar, and setting some of the others to drag the bodies away. Not fifteen minutes had gone by.
There was no singing or shouting as the anchor was hauled up, and the operation went more slowly than usual; but even so the bosun, ordinarily vigorous at any sign of malingering, did not start anyone with his cane. The day was again stickily humid, and so hot that the tar grew liquid and fell in great black splotches from the rigging, some even landing upon Temeraire's hide, much to his disgust. Laurence set the runners and the ensigns on watch with buckets and rags, to clean him off as the drops fell, and by the end of the day they were all drooping and filthy themselves.
The next day only more of the same, and the three after that; the shore tangled and impenetrable to larboard, broken only by cliffs and jumbled rockfalls, and a constant attention necessary to keep the ship at a safe distance in deep water, with the winds freakish and variable so close to land. The men went about their work silent and unsmiling in the heat of the day; the evil news of Austerlitz had spread among them.
- The Loners
- The Saints
- Tome of the Undergates
- Black Halo
- The Skybound Sea
- If You Stay
- If You Leave
- Until We Burn
- Before We Fall
- Every Last Kiss
- Suspiciously Obedient
- Random Acts of Crazy
- Random Acts of Trust
- Her First Billionaire
- Her Second Billionaire
- Her Two Billionaires
- Her Two Billionaires and a Baby
- His Majesty's Dragon
- Throne of Jade
- Black Powder War
- Victory of Eagles
- Tongues of Serpents
- Empire of Ivory
- Crucible of Gold