Mary’s first thought was that this man looked neither a rogue nor a Spaniard, but part of the mystery was solved when, as Mr. Cole started to make introductions, the man said, “No names on the quayside, sir. Captain forbids it. I daresay he’ll get them all sorted out once they’re on board. This is all of your baggage, then? Right. Come along.”
And with no more ceremony, they were gathered up and led along the quayside to the waiting ship, though Mary noticed that MacPherson, as the others took their leave of Mr. Cole, pressed something in the Turkish war slave’s hand that left that man staring dumbfounded at his open palm for half a minute afterwards.
She glanced up at the Scotsman as his long and easy strides brought him beside her, and she asked, “Did you just pay his ransom?”
He didn’t answer, only gave a nod at Frisque within her arms and said, “Take care he doesn’t get a ducking.”
She held Frisque as firmly as she could while they were boarding, and more firmly still when they were standing on the deck and all the ropes were being cast away, for she had never been aboard a proper ship and was not used to how it rolled and subtly played against her balance as the sails were set to catch the early afternoon’s fair wind and take advantage of the tide to draw it surely out to sea.
Frisque wagged his tail and pushed his forelegs on her arm to thrust his nose into the wind that blew more strongly once they’d come clear of the harbor. Mary had to fight the urge to do the same, for it in truth was an exhilarating feeling, but she had a sense that it would look undignified to all the crewmen standing within sight of them, some staring as if they’d not carried passengers before.
When they had rounded the great rock that stood guard at the harbor’s entrance, the brown-coated man who’d helped them all on board before instructing them to wait there while the ship got under sail, returned and showed them all a cheery smile.
“Now,” he said, and looked from Thomson to MacPherson brightly, “which of you is Mr. Symonds?”
Something—some small inner instinct—stabbed at Mary then. It must have stabbed MacPherson too, for his reply cut over Thomson’s. “I am.”
“Right then, Mr. Symonds.” Without altering his tone or smile the man drew out a pistol. “I’ll be taking both those swords, sir, if you please.”
But, now, the night is round thee: and the winds have deceived thy sails.
—Macpherson, “Fingal,” Book Three
March 31, 1732
He stood his ground, as she had known he would, and did not yield.
“Perhaps, sir, you misunderstand the situation,” said the man in the brown coat. His heavy face gave him a jolly and benevolent appearance that was strikingly at odds with what was happening. Behind him, other men had now begun to shift position so they formed an almost ordered rank, and Mary saw that other weapons had been drawn. “’Tis Captain’s orders that none other than his crewmen carry weapons on this ship, so I will have them even if I have to shoot you for them, sir. But if I shoot you, what will happen to these ladies?”
From behind him, someone made a crude remark in rustic French that would have told him to the letter what would happen to the ladies, had he understood that language. Mary knew her face had whitened, but she would not show her fear to men like these. She pressed her back against the railing of the ship and held Frisque tightly.
She could see MacPherson thinking. That was good, she told herself, because he’d always found a way to get them out of trouble in the past. He’d always taken care of them. He’d always—
Once again the rude French sailor made a lewd insulting comment, this time aimed with specificity at Mary, and she held her head up higher, though her knees began to tremble slightly underneath her skirts.
MacPherson moved his head a fraction till his gaze was leveled on the man who’d spoken. “If you wish to lose your tongue, together with that useless part you think to violate my wife with, I suggest you speak again.” He said it quietly and calmly. And in perfect French.
She nearly did fall, then, from sheer surprise, but he’d already switched back into English and was saying to the man in brown, “I’ll let ye have my swords if ye will let me have your word my wife and servants won’t be harmed.”
The man replied, “And I will let you live, sir, if you let me have your swords.”
They were at an impasse.
Mary watched MacPherson weigh the varied outcomes, then he took both sword hilts in his hands and drew them out and held them, harmless, for the men to take from him. Her heart sank very slightly but she knew from having seen him kill the man who’d been with Stevens at Valence that he had blades where none would find them, and that even when he seemed unarmed to most, he was yet deadly.
“And those pistols,” came the next instruction.
Mary hadn’t known he carried pistols, and she hadn’t ever seen them. How the man in brown had spotted them she didn’t know, but there they were, a pair of them, with silver inlaid handles, being turned and handed over.
“And the long gun on your back.”
He slipped the gun case off as well, without resistance.
“And the dagger.”
There was movement in the ranks of men behind the man in brown who held the pistol, and a pleasantly inflected male voice with a Spanish accent said, “That is no ordinary dagger.”
Mary watched the men part like a river when it meets a rock, and saw their captain—since from how they had reacted, he could be no other—casually approach. He cut a daring, gallant figure, in a coat of forest green with gold braid trim, and more gold on his waistcoat and the brim of his black hat, with falls of lace at cuffs and collar. He was very handsome, and the sharply trimmed dark beard that matched the long curls of his hair lent him an air that was not totally respectable.