Thursday, January 3, 2013

Test of Freedom - Episode 22

Episode 22 - "Mary and the Market Man"
by Camille LaGuire

Mary took a path that led her to the office direct, and not past the market.  The place had a smell of filth about it, but the office, like a quaint little cottage, had a cascade of purple flowers climbing over it.  The overpowering smell of the flowers was so sweet, it was sickening in and of itself.

Mary went inside.

The place was small, with only a tiny waiting area, divided from the rest of the room by a wooden rail.  There was a high narrow clerk's desk to one side, and two pillars with record books near it.  In the other corner was a grander desk, and here sat a man with a surplus of graying whiskers.  He was built like a triangle; big in the shoulders and delicate in the feet. But he was aging, and a round belly ruined the effect. He looked at Mary and smiled and came over to the railing.

"What would a pretty lady like you need here?"

So he was a flirt, she thought.  All right, let him.

"I need to find a man," she said.

"You've found one," he replied, leaning on the railing and leering.

"Oh, and you'd be a fine catch, but I'm married."

"That doesn't have to be a difficulty."

"It is the difficulty, I'm afraid.  He's the man I'm looking for."

"He's run off on you, then?"

"No," she said, dipping her head shyly.  "He's a prisoner."

Instantly, the man looked more interested, and Mary thought the interest wasn't in being helpful.  He thought she was someone who could be taken advantage of now.  Still, no matter what his motive, more interest meant more cooperation, didn't it?  She went on with her story:

"Happily, I have a sponsor of great fortune who is funding my search for him," she said, and she reached into her purse, where there was one gold crown.  That was a lot of money to most, but perhaps not much to him.  She didn't know.  "This is all I have with me, but my sponsor will be happy to recompense any trouble...."

The man looked at the coin and changed his smile once again.  Greed over lust.  Trent was right, you could buy and sell these fellows.  Now he was a man of service.

"And how can I help?"

"Tell me how I would go about finding him."

"It won't be easy," he said.  "But I'll see what I can do.  Give me the particulars of his transportation."

Mary told him the name of the ship and the date it sailed.  And then the man began to explain the difficulties she would face.

"You have to understand, missus, that they are lost men," he said.  "People don't come to find them, and if they did, well, these men have debts to pay and the owners have crops to bring in and work to be done.  They didn't pay to have trouble -- though I'm sure you and your sponsor would not be  trouble in the least -- and so we don't keep records to encourage such things."

"I understand that," said Mary.

"And there's more than one market that might have handled the sale.  Some of the larger plantations buy workers straight off the boat, so there might be no record at all other than the ship's logs."

"But the plantation would have the record. Or they'd at least have him," said Mary.

"That would be quite a search, ma'm," he said with a discouraging tone.

"I'm quite a searcher," she said firmly.

"You'd be better off with help," he said, with a smarmy smile that said he was thinking of a reward.  "And most do come through here or one of the other larger markets.  I'll find my records from the Crown's Mercy," he said.  "You come back with your sponsor, and I'll show them to you."

Mary stood still.  She couldn't just leave it until later.  She had to learn something. She had to learn... she swallowed, and thought of the question she almost didn't want to know.

"And if men died on the voyage...?" she said.

"There are always some that die."

"How can I find out who they were?"

He paused for a long time.  "You might find out from the ship's logs."

"And where are the ship's logs?" she asked.

"With the ship, which sailed last week. Can't say if she'll be back here any time soon, if at all...."

His voice drifted off with Mary's hopes.  "So there's no way of knowing?" she said.

He merely shrugged.

Mary returned to the hotel in a deep depression.  She might never find Jackie.  She might never know.

She slipped in quietly, hoping not to speak to anyone.  She'd just get Lady Ashton's drawing things and slip out again as though she'd never gone astray.

Hingle was there, helping Loreen to unpack Lady Ashton's clothes, and unsuccessfully attempting to practice his flirting with her.  They hardly noticed Mary as she slipped over to get the artist kit, but when she turned around, she found Hingle was standing in her way.

"Mary?" he said, his voice soft and worried.  "What's wrong?"

His words drew Loreen's attention as well.  Mary moved restlessly sideways, avoiding looking at either of them.

"Nothing, nothing," she said.  "The worry is just getting to me."

"Where's my lady?" asked Loreen, putting down the dress she was brushing out on the bed.

"They're still waiting.  I got impatient.  I went to the slave market to ask questions."

"No wonder you're so upset!" said Loreen.

"You should have come and got me, if you didn't want to wait," said Hingle.

"I should have," said Mary.

She'd worried too much that Sherman and Lady Ashton would try to rein her in, and she'd forgot about Hingle.  He made for a good accomplice.  But he was getting old enough to be gallant, and she didn't need someone gallant.  She could punch someone in the nose herself just fine, and most likely suffer fewer consequences than a man.

"I'm all right now," she said.  "It's only that I learned that if he died on board, we'll never know for sure.  They don't keep that kind of records.  We may never know."

She started to cry, and both of them jumped forward.

"Mary, don't say that," said Hingle, handing her a handkerchief that he had snatched away from Loreen.  "We'll find him.  Don't cry."

He looked terribly upset.  But Mary was done with crying already.  She put a hand on his shoulder and kissed his cheek, which made him blush.  She smiled at Loreen.

"I'll be all right.  Sometimes you just have to squeeze a few tears out.  I've been worrying for so long now."  She held up the sketchpad.  "I'm heading back to Lady Ashton now, so don't worry."

And when Lady Ashton saw her, she'd have to make another confession over why her eyes were red.  Oh, well.  She   By the time they got the license or charter or whatever it was they needed, they could get right into looking.

Mary returned to Government House and since her eyes were red, she had to confess her sins.  But she had moved them ahead a bit: She'd got that man looking for his records. He'd be ready for them, and they could get straight to looking as soon as they had the license or charter or whatever it was they needed.

By the end of the confession, Sherman was done with their business, and they returned to the hotel, full of plans.

But when they got back to the hotel, Hingle was gone.

"I thought he'd gone with you, Mrs. Alwyn," said Loreen.  "He left right after you did."

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SgL said...

What a great daily goal.
I think the online stuff (twitter or not) is definitely a temptation for a lot of creative folks. One thing that helped some of my friends were tools that were plugins to their webbrowsers that pretty much locked up the social network sites either to a certain time of day or put a timer on how long they could be on.

In any case best wishes!

The Daring Novelist said...

Thanks SgL!

The lockouts and timers won't work for me, because my problem isn't the social networking, but blogging, and commenting. I compose such things offline anyway.

So I've got to do my own personal timers.

(BTW, I think you meant to put this on the update post....)