The passengers began to disperse at once, smiling and stretching and chatting excitedly about what they were going to do now their world was more than 100 feet long again. Only Jack stayed, easing himself down so he was sitting on the wooden pier, swatting away the mosquitoes, looking out at the little fishing boats (the kind he himself had sailed, once) and behind him hearing the shrieks, giggles and tears of reunion. Two young soldiers laughed drunkenly, one teasing the other for not having found his land legs. Jack had grown fond of pointing out that this would never be a problem for him, on account of the fact that he didn't have any legs, but this time he stayed silent, looking out as the sun rose over the sea.
In fact, it would be an exaggeration to say Jack had no legs. He had maybe a quarter of his left leg, and more than half of his right leg, and these were supplemented by complex prosthetics made out of wood, leather and copper, which dangled over the edge of the pier. If you didn't look too closely, only the crutches would have given away that anything was wrong. His clean-shaven face perhaps looked a little older than his twenty-three years, but it was fairly handsome, and still framed with abundant brown curls.
"You mind me sitting here?"
Jack turned to see an old man he recognised from the ship, but hadn't spoken to. He shrugged. "Can't stop you," he said.
The man sat, groaning as he bent his knees, and gestured to a wooden box by Jack's side. "Are you the barber?" he said.
"I did some barbering on the ship," said Jack, still staring out to sea. He'd earned a little money that way, enough to feed him for a couple of weeks, if he were frugal.
"Reckon you're one of the lucky ones," said the man. "Reckon most of us old soldiers have no trade to come back to but begging."
Jack looked at the old man and laughed, still frowning. "Lucky?" he said.
"Lucky," repeated the man.
Jack noticed he was wearing a pair of pistols. "I tell you what," he said. "Give me your pistols and I'll give you my barbering kit."
The old man's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Let me see the kit," he said. It was a fine one, with scissors, soap, two razors and two brushes. The old man picked one up and rubbed it against his cheek. "I'll give you one of my pistols," he said. "And a pocketful of bullets too."
Jack thought about it. One would be enough if his aim were true. "I need to see it works," he said. The old man handed it to him, and he loaded, cocked and then fired it towards a seagull on the beach, which fluttered clumsily up into the air, squawking in alarm. "Deal," he said.
"You're not ..." the old man began, then stopped.
"What?" said Jack.
"You're not planning on doing yourself in, are you?"
Jack laughed. "If I were man enough for that I'd have thrown myself off the ship a thousand miles ago."
The old man laughed too. "I know how that feels, son," he said, picking up the box. "Here, good luck to you. Look after yourself, all right?"
Jack tucked the pistol into his belt and waited for the old man to go before beginning the undignified process of standing up. Once he was propped upright, the crutches wedged in his armpits, he tried holding the gun again, feeling its weight. Experimentally, he held it to his own head, then quickly put it back in his belt. No. He still had work to do, and when it was done, there would be no need for effort or courage: the hangman would look after everything.
Jack turned towards Halifax. It was smaller than he'd imagined, and hemmed in between the sea and a big hill fort. Slowly, he started walking, firmly planting first his crutches, then his left leg, then his right leg in a slow, ungainly rhythm: one, two, three.
The houses near the sea were small and wooden: not unlike the cottages in Sherbrooke, but nearer the centre he could see bigger stone ones, and two church spires. He wondered which of the big stone houses he was making for.
He would recognise it when he saw it, of course. Barrett had told him what to look for on the day they first met. "Yes, my boy," he'd said. "Our ship belongs to the proprietor of the finest emporium in New Scotland. Once our voyage is done and you come back rich, that's where you'll want to head for. You'll see it at once: slap bang in the middle of Halifax, with the name emblazoned in gold above the front windows: E.M. Jones, Merchant."
Young Jack had looked again at the battered sloop. He had only seen little fishing boats before, but he knew when one was seaworthy and when it wasn't. "Are you sure, sir?" he'd asked.
Barrett laughed: "you have many things to learn, young man," he'd said, "and the first of them is this: not to judge by appearances. Now, which do you trust most? Your own opinion, or that of E.M. Jones, Merchant?" Barrett puffed out his chest and said the name in his most sonorous voice, and of course Jack felt humbled, and of course he signed up there and then, betting his life on the opinions of E.M. Jones.
That was six years ago. Now Jack hated all three of them: poor dead Barrett, rotting at the bottom of the sea; the naive youth who'd been seduced and broken by his lies until no naivety or youth remained; and most of all, E.M. Jones, still sitting fat and snug in his fine emporium.
He stopped to get his breath, leaning against the high wooden fence outside the grandest of the stone buildings. It was cold, for June. Or maybe he just wasn't used to it any more, or maybe his wrecked body was complaining like an old man's.
A liveried negro appeared from round a corner and furrowed his brows at Jack. "Be off with you," he said. "We've had enough of your sort hanging round here." He made a shooing gesture, then folded his arms.
Jack's anger was roused. "My sort?" he said. "What exactly do you mean by that?"
But the negro was joined by two more men in the same livery, so Jack stood up properly again, and moved off. As he went, he heard them muttering something about layabout ex-soldiers and Halifax going downhill.
Behind the big house was another row of stone buildings, some of them shops, but none of them with E.M. Jones emblazoned above the front windows. e stopped a middle-aged lady dressed in black. "Excuse me ma'am," he said. "I'm looking for E.M. Jones. The emporium, I mean?"
She blinked and frowned but also pointed southwards. "Second right and first left," she said.
"Much obliged," said Jack, clumsily raising his hat.
She nodded and walked on.
If the paint was gold once, it hadn't been for a long time, and so much had flaked off that a casual observer would have believed the emporium belonged to one "F.N. Jone". And it was much smaller than the more central shops. "Finest emporium in New Scotland" had been another of Barrett's lies then.
Jack's legs hurt. So did his shoulders and back. And the pain started to crowd out the anger. If someone had offered him the choice between a warm bed and this revenge against the man who had caused his suffering, he would have found it difficult to choose the latter. Sloth then, not fear, not his conscience, was all that stood between him and murder, and sloth could be overcome. The loaded pistol hung from his belt, and he stepped forward.
A middle-aged man with spectacles came out of the emporium and flipped the 'closed' sign to 'open'. He turned round, and his eyes flicked down to Jack's legs, then quickly up again to his face." Can I help you?" he said.
Jack's heart started beating faster. "Are you E.M. Jones?" he asked, his hand tightening round the pistol.
The man laughed. "Where have you been these five years?" he said.
It was five and a half years since the wreck, in fact, but even so, how did E.M. Jones know who he was? And how dare he laugh? At last Jack was riled. But the man went on. "This place hasn't been E.M. Jones's since ... when now? Not since 1779, I wouldn't think."
Jack looked at him. He had grown to distrust his own ability to tell when a man was lying. "I'm looking for Jones," he said.
"Jones moved away," said the old man. "The house on the corner of Acre Lane and Cowie Road, I think."
Jack nodded, choosing to believe the man for now. He could always come back if he needed to. "Much obliged," he said, not smiling.