BY MONDAY, ADAM HAD DECIDED on a trade and his master of choice.
He told Peter Robins, the local magistrate, that he wanted to apprentice with a shipping merchant. There were only two men practicing that trade in town—Richard Rasquelle and an older gentleman, Emmanuel Rogers, who everyone knew had never taken on anyone from outside his own close circle of friends—so Adam felt confident that he’d soon be bound in service to the impressive Mr. Rasquelle.
At least he hoped he would. Emmanuel Rogers was ancient—at least to Adam—and well into his seventies. He was a bit of a recluse and rarely seen in town. Some folks thought him to be an eccentric, insisting he had some secret past.
Emmanuel Rogers also was the complete opposite of Richard Rasquelle in many ways. He didn’t dress as nicely as the young shipping merchant. He didn’t sponsor big town events like Rasquelle. And he certainly didn’t seem to have the bustling business that Rasquelle had—in fact, Adam figured that with Rogers practically having one foot in the grave, Rasquelle might be the only shipping merchant in town in just a few years.
All of those observations added up to one thing for Adam—an apprenticeship with Rasquelle would turn this “punishment” into a redeeming enterprise, whereas being stuck with Emmanuel Rogers could be like being chained to a sinking ship.
He was instructed to come back with his mother on Wednesday to finalize the papers, so when they arrived at Mr. Robins’s office that day, Mary was a nervous wreck.
“I’m not sure I’m ready to do this.” Her voice was unsteady.
Adam put his arm around her back and squeezed her shoulder. “It’s alright, Mama. Let’s just get this over with.”
She gave him a tense nod. He opened the door to the magistrate’s office and led her in.
Mr. Robins looked up from his desk and took off his spectacles. “Miss Fletcher! Adam! I’m delighted to see you both.” He stood and walked around his desk to greet them.
“Hello, sir,” said Adam. He shook hands with the magistrate.
“I think you’ve come at the perfect time. Your new master will be here in, oh, let’s see”—he strained to see the time on his pocket watch—“about fifteen minutes. In the meantime, we can go over the document you’ll sign. And Miss Fletcher, if you have any questions, please ask away. I’ll do my best to answer them.”
“I do have a question,” said Mary.
Adam looked over at his mother and wondered what she would say. He just hoped she wouldn’t embarrass him. She wasn’t afraid to speak up to authority figures, and Mr. Robins would be no exception.
“Explain to me, if you would, exactly why my son has to be apprenticed elsewhere. Why can’t he just be bound to Valentine?”
The magistrate went back around and sat at his desk. He motioned for Mary and Adam to sit in the chairs on the other side, which they did.
“Miss Fletcher, you and I have discussed this topic before. On more than one occasion, as I’m sure you recall.”
Mary nodded. Her face was stern.
Mr. Robins continued: “You have done a remarkable job raising this child alone. You have my respect for all that you’ve done, but your boy, he’s pugnacious. His temper gets him into trouble. You know that.”
She wouldn’t speak. Neither would Adam. He kept his gaze fixed on a stack of papers on the magistrate’s desk. The whole situation felt like a bad dream. He couldn’t believe it was really happening.
“He fights over you, Miss Fletcher. Your boy loves you. He can’t stand to hear anyone speak ill of you.”
“And that’s a crime to you?” she said. His mother’s outwardly tough demeanor was just a disguise and he knew it. It killed him inside knowing that he had done something that was hurting her so deeply.
“I think it’s honorable that his desire is to defend you. Any son worth his salt would do the same. However, I think it’s unwise that he allows himself to be pulled so easily into fisticuffs anytime someone offends him. Granted, most of the time his brawling ends without consequence because it’s with boys of equal status, but this time he broke the nose of Francis Smythe, who just happens to be the son of His Majesty’s Customs Agent Ellison Smythe.”
“Francis baited Adam into that fight! He wanted to get him in trouble! Adam, tell the man.”
“I already have, Mama,” said Adam.
“Indeed he has,” said Mr. Robins. “But nevertheless, Adam took the bait. And if a lesson is not learned in this circumstance, he will always take the bait. Not to mention, if Mr. Smythe returns and I have not punished the boy who broke his son’s nose, he will rightly say that I have been derelict in my duties.”
Mary thought for a moment. “Can’t he just spend a few nights in the gaol?”
The magistrate cleared his throat. “He could, but are you not concerned with the reputation he’ll carry with him if he is incarcerated? He’d forever have a criminal record. As it is, he’s being given the opportunity for an apprenticeship. I have no plans to put his assault in the public record, provided he takes this opportunity and makes the best of it.”
“Is there no other way he could pay his debt, Mr. Robins?”
“No. I’m going to be very blunt, Miss Fletcher, if you don’t mind.”
She shook her head. “No, I don’t mind.”
“The boy’s been raised with no father—”
“Valentine Hodges has indeed been a father figure to you, Mary, but he is not Adam’s father, nor has he raised him as though he were. Valentine runs a tavern. His standards of morality, while perhaps not abysmal, are far from being venerable. Fighting, foul language, drunkenness, occasionally even loose women—all of it—his tavern is full of it. Maybe not all the time, but nevertheless it’s there, and he tolerates it. Your son has grown up around that long enough. It’s only by God’s good grace that you yourself have maintained any semblance of virtue. Many women would’ve surely lost their way living and working in such an establishment.”
“Valentine and Margaret raised me with better standards than that, Mr. Robins.”
“I have no argument with how they raised you, but nevertheless your son’s at a critical age. If he’s bloodying the face of the son of an appointed official today, what will he be doing tomorrow? He needs some strong guidance. He needs someone to keep him in line and teach him wisdom. And that is exactly why I have chosen for him the master that I have.”
Just then the door of the magistrate’s office opened and an elderly gentleman came in.
The magistrate said, “Speak of the devil.” He stood to welcome the man. “Mr. Rogers! How do you do today, sir?”
The old man smiled and nodded. “Very well, thank you, Mr. Robins. And I suppose this lad is my new charge,” he said as he placed his hand on Adam’s shoulder.
“Yes, he is, sir. Adam, I’d like you to meet Emmanuel Rogers, your new master.”
Adam stood and shook Mr. Rogers’s hand. While his body was going through the motions of social formality, his mind was screaming What the hell is happening here? Where’s Mr. Rasquelle?
Mary looked up at the old gentleman and offered a reserved smile. “How do you do, Mr. Rogers?”
“Please pull up one of those and take a seat.” The magistrate motioned to some chairs along the wall near his desk.
The old man moved one of the chairs near Adam. The men all sat down.
Adam glanced at his mother, his face fallen. This wasn’t right, he thought. Emmanuel Rogers? The new master was supposed to be Richard Rasquelle.
“Just before you arrived, Mr. Rogers, I was answering a few questions for Miss Fletcher. I was explaining to her and her son that I believe Adam is at a critical age, one that will require a strong man to lead him in the right direction, along the right path. He needs to learn wisdom and temperance, as well as a set of skills that can benefit him for the rest of his life. I was about to explain that I think you are the ideal man for the job.”
“Oh, well, I appreciate your kindness, Mr. Robins,” said Emmanuel, flattered.
His accent hinted at his English birth. One could tell he had lived in the region a long time, but his manner of speech still reflected the formality and cadence of the language as it was spoken in the old country.
“I do hope that once you’ve had an opportunity to get to know me and the men in my company, you will feel very much at home, as if we were truly your second family.”
It was becoming apparent to everyone that Mary’s efforts to keep her emotions under control were beginning to waver. Her eyes were starting to look very watery, and she seemed unsteady in her chair. She held her cheeks tense and appeared to be biting the inside of her lip. Mr. Robins immediately intervened by moving the proceedings along.
“Well, now that we have the introductions out of the way, let’s get down to business, shall we?”
Adam’s stomach began to ache. He felt hot, like he might be sick.
What have I gotten myself into?
He had no choice now but to go through with the process.
Mr. Robins explained the document to Mary, Adam, and Emmanuel.
Once the paperwork was completed, Mr. Rogers said, “Take a couple of days to get your things in order, son, then report to my warehouse first thing Friday. Do you know where it is?”
Adam’s face was sullen. He nodded. “Yes, sir.”
Emmanuel looked at Mary tenderly. “Please don’t worry, love. I promise you I will take care of your boy as though he were my own. Please trust that he’s in good hands.”
Mary nodded weakly. She couldn’t speak. Her eyes were watery.
“See you Friday, sir,” said Adam.
Emmanuel nodded. “I’ll look forward to it.” He smiled.