Chloe Helton | Historical Fiction

The Red Pearl: Chapter 23

Chapter 23

The next time I met with Sam, he suggested we take a walk. “The trees are starting to bloom,” he said. “I’d like to see them.”

“It’s almost dark; we won’t see much.”

He shrugged, and I didn’t quite agree with the idea but, as was my way, I followed him. The sky had exploded in color, and we walked near the harbor, passing shops and docked ships and, yes, blooming trees under a canopy of purple.

“I think this next ship is rather important,” I said. “I’m a little afraid, to be honest. I think they may have made me.”

“Made you?” He rubbed his chin. “Did they say anything to that effect?”

I shook my head.

“Did they stop discussing matters around you?”

Again, a shake of the head. “They were more careful, though. They didn’t speak of anything for a long while, and then they finally said the name of the ship: The Blue Orphan. Isn’t that a strange name?”

Sam shrugged. “I’ve heard worse. The Dolly Maid. Oh, and about a year ago there was one called The Siren’s Tit. I thought it was a joke, but sure enough the ship pulled in with that written on the side. My theory is the captain lost a bet.”

I laughed. “I can’t believe that.”

His shoulders rose with amusement. “Well, it’s true. If I were lying, you’d see it in my eyes.”

We stopped beneath a cherry tree and I faced him head-on, staring evenly into his eyes. Green, just as I remembered, and there are some eyes you never forget - you never forget the way they looked at you. You never forget how they saw you.

I cleared my throat. “I suppose you’re telling the truth,” I said, my heartbeat suddenly out of control. So I turned away. “So, as I said, it’s called The Blue Orphan. They’ll be at the port Sunday, nearing sunset, to wait for it. I suppose you should send one of your men then.”

He nodded. “You sound nervous.”

We had begun to walk past the cherry tree, near to the harbor, where the named ship would come in at the end of the week. “Well, I’m afraid.” I gulped. “Local Tories have been targeted lately, and I fear having these men in our tavern puts us in danger.”

Sam nodded, running a hand through his ponytail. “Well, you’re right. If you were made as Tories, I imagine The Red Pearl would be sacked. And that’s the least of it.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. At least Sam understood; yet, the danger lingered still. Some danger behind every corner.

“This is important, though,” he said. “Lucy, you have no idea how much you’ve helped us. And to have risked your safety to deliver information - that’s noble. It’s what we’ve been fighting for all these years.”

His words rattled through my chest. “Noble? You think I’m noble?”

He nodded. “Immensely.”

I looked down. “You know that if I feel imminent danger, I’ll have to stop. As noble as it may be now, I won’t risk my life or my marriage over it.”

He was frozen. We stood across the harbor, overlooking the bay, watching ships bob lightly in the water, watching fishermen pull nets of fish onto the dock. I had heard once that the best time for fishing was the morning, but all through the day there were boats out. Some even departed as the sun went down, seeking fish by the light of a lantern. Dangerous business to do it in the dark, at least in my opinion. But everyone had to survive somehow.

“I understand,” he said, but it was hollow. Sam didn’t have a family - not yet, at least. Nobody waiting at home for his return, and nobody he would lay down his life to protect. It was different when you had these things.

“All I ask is that you’re careful,” I said. “Perhaps don’t take every ship I tell you about, because I think they’re getting suspicious.” Maybe, if we ignored The Blue Orphan, the men would continue to ignore me. I had aroused their attention, it seemed, and I didn’t like it. “Perhaps you leave The Blue Orphan to the British.”

“You said yourself it sounded important,” Sam said. “And now you suggest we let them have it?”

“If they make me, Sam, you won’t get a single ship more. It might be worth losing this one.” Now that I’d had the idea, I was desperate that he heed it.

“Yes,” he drawled slowly. “I suppose that’s right.”

Night had fallen. Every last bit of sunlight had been squeezed from the sky, every color faded into black. Sam held up a lantern that he’d been holding limp near his knee and pulled out a match to re-light it. The little flame sparked inside the glass, and he crushed the used match under his heel.

“I should get you home, I think.”

I glanced at the city behind our backs. “Yes, that’s right.”

When we reached the end of the street, he stopped to kiss my hand goodbye. It was an absurdly proper thing to do, but when we were younger he’d done it as a joke, as if to pretend we were well-bred, and now it was our habit. It hurt, just a little, to feel his lips again on my hand.

I had a lantern myself, and he lit it for me so I could make my way down the street alone. It was not too far, really. Nothing to be afraid of. But I remembered the knife in my pocket, which was always in the back of my mind, and I subtly pulled it out. When I glanced behind me, to make sure Sam couldn’t see it, he was already gone.

So I held the knife before me, chasing away the night’s shadows and terrible thoughts with some measure of success, until I was home.