Sunday, February 10, 2008


Inside the cabin, John had closed the ledger and set out a packet of papers. Each was a certificate of landing for the cargo they had on board. The boxes, barrels and crates from the islands they had just visited would not be a problem, since they were all part of the British colonies, but the six barrels of tobacco remaining would. Since the American War for Independence had ended, Britain had forbidden her colonies to trade with the new rogue state, courtesy of the Navigation Act. As a loyal British subject, Bell could visit any of the thousands of British ports in the world, but it was so much easier (not to mention more familiar) to spend her time coasting between the Indies and the Americas. The fact that this was technically illegal had not overly bothered his conscience. It had been legal seven years ago, after all, and in the future it would no doubt be again. The merchants in Charleston were in on the game and had provided Bell with false papers claiming that the barrels down below were salt herring from Nova Scotia, but just in case that didn't work, there was also an envelope containing a sizeable bribe mixed in with the papers. Good breeding would not allow Bell to offer Mannington a fistful of guineas, but if the envelope was gone when he set the papers down, they could continue on their way, both satisfied that the appearance had been kept up.

Outside the window the world was blue. Blue skies, blue ocean, blue sunlight skipping through blue clouds. Bell watched the waves dash across the windows as Mannington ruffled through the papers briskly. John was smiling gamely. An observer would have taken the scene to be one of immense boredom and routine, but there was an undercurrent of tension, as there always was. Bell wished with all his might that it could have been any other way, but if he wanted to trade in Nevis--and they loved tobacco in Nevis--then Mannington would have his bribe, and they would continue on unmolested, cargo intact.

No comments: