AFTER SEVERAL DAYS AT ROGERS’S warehouse, Adam was starting to feel more familiar with the cask-making process. He hadn’t learned all of the skills yet, but he was beginning to develop a familiarity with most of the tools and had a basic understanding of the different tasks.
On Wednesday morning, almost a week after Adam began his apprenticeship, he, Boaz, Elliot, and Joe were working outside the warehouse, heating and shaping barrels over a group of short chimneys. Things were uncomfortably quiet. Adam could tell there was some kind of unspoken tension, but he decided rather than trying to make conversation he’d best stay focused—especially since Boaz seemed even grouchier than usual.
Finally, Boaz broke the silence.
“Damnit! Where’s Martin?”
“I told you. He’s gone to pick up the hoop irons. He weren’t goin no place else, so I reckon he’ll back anytime,” said Elliot.
“Right. Well, he better be back soon. We’re behind as it is. We’re going to run out of hoops soon, and then we’ll just be sitting around wasting time until he decides to show up.”
“Stop worryin,” said Elliot. “He’ll be back. Maybe the irons weren’t ready yet.”
Boaz rolled his eyes and waved his hand, dismissing Elliot’s attempt at making excuses for Martin. “He should have been back over an hour ago. We all know he’s prob’ly just wasting time running his mouth. He could make conversation with a mute, and God help us if he’s chatting with a young lady. The little Lothario might not make it back here until sundown!”
Adam gave a quizzical look at Elliot.
Elliot said, “Mr. Wiggins needs to be able to fill these with the turpentine and pitch before the Gypsy sets sail next week. We might have to work some late days to get all of these done by the end of the week since we’re behind, and Martin not being back yet ain’t helping matters none.”
“No, it’s not.” Boaz made an impatient wave towards Adam. “And having to train this pup while we’re under the gun isn’t making things any easier.”
Adam glanced over at Elliot, who dismissively shook his head and said, “Don’t pay him no mind.”
“If Martin isn’t back soon,” said Boaz, “I’m leaving to go look for him.”
There was one worker in Rogers’s company who almost never spoke—Elliot’s cousin, Joe. He was a wispy little man who passed the time working by watching everybody else carrying on. Occasionally, he’d laugh and nod, but otherwise he stayed quiet. So when he pointed his finger and said, “Lookathere!,” Boaz and Elliot both turned their heads towards the street just in time to see a horse and cart driving into view. It was Martin.
“It’s about damn time!” said Boaz.
Martin stopped in front of the warehouse and hopped out of the cart, grabbing a bundle of hoop iron to bring into the warehouse.
“Go give him a hand, Fletcher,” said Elliot.
“Glad to,” said Adam. He ran over and grabbed another stack of hoop irons and brought them over into the cooper’s work area.
Boaz and Elliot followed Martin and Adam inside. They would need to get started making hoops out of the strips of iron right away if they were going to stay on schedule. Joe stayed outside, tending to the casks that were being heated and shaped over the makeshift chimneys.
“I ran into the rat today,” said Martin as he brought the last stack of hoop irons over to the bench where they would be shaped.
“Oh, really? Is that what took you so long?” said Boaz.
“Don’t start with me, Bo.” Martin strode back over to the cart to grab a sack full of odds and ends from his visit in town.
“Where’d you see him?” said Elliot.
“Over at Moore’s Mercantile.”
“What was he doing there?”
“What do you think he was doing there?” said Martin. “Trying to steal our cheese.”
“You must be joking,” said Boaz. His voice reflected his disgust. “Moore didn’t take the bait, did he?”
“Don’t think so,” said Martin, “but it’s hard to say for sure.”
“Who’s the rat? What cheese?” said Adam. He couldn’t stand not knowing who the conversation was about, and it hadn’t occurred to him that it might not be any of his business.
Boaz, Martin, and Elliot looked at one another.
“Oh,” said Elliot, “he’s no one, really. Just someone we don’t like all that much.”
Boaz let out a sarcastic laugh.
“Do I know him?” said Adam.
“Doubt it,” said Boaz.
Adam was frustrated but intrigued.
“Did you hear them talking?” asked Elliot, resurrecting the conversation that Adam could tell Boaz had hoped to put to rest.
Martin shook his head. “No, I didn’t.” Adam noticed him look back over at Boaz and roll his eyes.
He was dying to find out what everybody was trying to hide. It aggravated him to be in the dark about something that everyone else knew. It made it even worse that they were obviously trying to conceal it from him. Naturally, that made him want to discover it all the more.
Unfortunately for his curiosity, however, the subject was not brought up again.
When it was finally time for their midday meal, Adam and Boaz went upstairs to eat the fatback-seasoned butter beans that had been cooking in a Dutch oven over the fire in the kitchen’s hearth since before dawn, along with some leftover cornbread. Adam was glad to have an opportunity to talk to Boaz alone. For what it was worth, in spite of his brusque demeanor, he seemed like an honest man and a straight shooter.
When Boaz made the comment about how having to spend time training him as an apprentice was slowing things down, Adam wondered if perhaps he should go see Mr. Rasquelle, after all. He hadn’t thought a whole lot about it since his mother mentioned it the previous week—especially after Ellison Smythe’s demand that he follow through on his apprenticeship with Emmanuel Rogers—but now he was wondering if it might be an idea that would be mutually beneficial for all parties involved.
Adam hoped the right opportunity would present itself to bring the conversation up, but it never seemed to happen. Finally, he decided he better speak up before he lost his chance.
“You know I went back to the tavern again last night,” said Adam.
“How’s your mother?” said Boaz, shoveling a spoonful of beans into his mouth.
“Great. She was great.” Adam was quiet for a moment.
“Bet she was glad to see you,” said Boaz.
“Mm-hm. She sure is glad that y’all don’t mind me going over there to see her. Said I’m real lucky to have such a kind boss.”
“You are,” said Boaz, mouth full of cornbread. “My first master never let me go home.”
“Are most masters really like that?”
“Can’t say for sure, but I imagine so. But then right many apprentices are orphans, so who’d they go home to, even if they could?”
“That’s true,” said Adam.
He paused for a moment. “Boaz?”
“Do you mind if I ask you something?”
Boaz was polishing off his bowl of beans quickly and wouldn’t wait around to chat once it was done. Adam knew he better get to the point.
“You know anything about Richard Rasquelle?”
Boaz nearly choked on his cornbread. He coughed to clear his throat. “Yeah, I do.” He coughed a bit more and then said, “Do you know him?”
Adam shook his head. “No, it’s just my mother was telling me last night that he was in the tavern yesterday. He was last week, too. She waited on his table. He comes in there sometimes, you know.”
“Hmph. Well, everybody’s gotta eat.”
Adam suspected that Boaz wasn’t fond of Mr. Rasquelle, considering the mere mention of his name caused him to choke on his food.
“She had told him about my new apprenticeship here. And he told her that Mr. Robins never even mentioned me to him.”
“Oh, well,” said Boaz. “If you ask me, you ought to count yourself lucky for not getting mixed up with him.” He sopped up some gravy from the beans with his cornbread and popped it into his mouth.
“Maybe so,” said Adam, “But I gotta tell you, when I first was told I’d be apprenticed, I had hoped that I’d be working for him.”
Boaz inhaled sharply but said nothing. He just took another bite of cornbread.
“Don’t misunderstand me,” said Adam. “I like it here. I do. But I had never known much about Mr. Rogers—or this company—before I started working here.”
“Yeah. I can understand why. You already heard that Emmanuel never takes on anyone new. In fact, I’m still not sure why he decided to bring you here.”
Adam was caught off guard by that last statement. He still wasn’t used to Boaz’s blunt manner of speaking. Finally, he managed to say, “Me neither.”
Adam thought for a moment. Maybe Boaz wished he hadn’t been brought on as an apprentice. Maybe he resented him.
“I can tell you this, though,” said Boaz. He pointed his spoon at Adam. “Emmanuel is a wise man. I might not always understand why he does some of the things he does, and a lot of times I might not agree with him, but in the end I trust him. Him taking you on here? If he did it, he must have had a good reason.”
“Is him taking me on here one of those decisions you didn’t agree with?”
Boaz cocked his head to the side and raised his eyebrows, but he said nothing. Instead, he just kept eating.
“I could leave, you know?” said Adam. “You don’t like me here. I can go. Mr. Rasquelle wanted me to stop by and talk to him sometime. Said he may have something for me.”
Boaz wouldn’t respond.
Adam was getting impatient. “What do you think about that?”
“Look, I know Rasquelle is a competitor and all, but if you don’t really want me here, and since you’re the one who’s been burdened with having to train me, maybe I should try to find another situation—relieve you of this chore.”
“You want me to be honest with you?” said Boaz. He dropped his spoon in his bowl.
Adam nodded. “Of course.”
“If it were up to me, I would say that I don’t give a damn what you do. You have no history here, no sense of . . . loyalty. But like I said, Emmanuel doesn’t hire anybody new. He doesn’t take on apprentices. Everybody in this company is related to him or connected to him somehow. For the life of me I don’t know why he brought you here, but he did, so he must have had a reason. Go on and talk to that jackass Rasquelle if you want, but regardless of how fancy he dresses, regardless of how much folks think he’s some kind of hero, regardless of how much he tries to impress everybody with his business, underneath it all I know he’s a fraud.”
“A fraud?” said Adam. “How?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you what I know, but I’ll say this. Richard Rasquelle is not who he seems to be.”
“In what way?”
Boaz pushed himself away from the table, grabbed his empty bowl and spoon, and dropped them into the dish basin and scrubbed them before rinsing them in a basin of clear water.
“I’ve said all I’m gonna say. You wanna know about Rasquelle? Just watch him. I’m telling you—he ain’t what he seems. But I’ll tell you this.” Boaz pointed his finger at Adam. “You do anything to betray Emmanuel’s kindness to you in any way—anything—and you best not show your face in this warehouse again.”
He abruptly left to go back downstairs. When Adam was done eating, he went back downstairs as well. Just then Emmanuel came into the warehouse.
“Alright, lads, it seems we’re getting close to the time when the Elizabeth Ella should be arriving. She was leaving Liverpool on April the eighth, so by my calendar she should be due here any day now.”
“Will we be taking it in here at the warehouse?” said Martin.
“This shipment we will, yes,” said Emmanuel. “But there’s another shipment that should be arriving a week or two after the Elizabeth Ella. We’ll receive that one at the other dock.”
“When would you like us to go over there and get everything in order?” said Boaz.
“I should think it might be wise to do it before the week’s end. You know how these things are. We can never be certain when a ship will arrive,” said Emmanuel.
“We can go on Saturday as soon as we’re done delivering these,” said Boaz as he motioned to several finished casks, as well as the casks-in-progress.
“Very well,” said Emmanuel. He started back up the stairs, then stopped and said, “Wait! On second thought, I think it’d be better for Martin to go.”
Martin waved in acknowledgment of his suggestion.
Emmanuel continued: “Boaz, I’m going to need your help here for another task on Saturday.”
“Good enough, sir,” said Martin. “Elliot and I will take care of it.”
“You know what? Take Adam with you, if you don’t mind. Leave Elliot here so he can help Boaz on that other task I mentioned. Adam is a part of this company now, so he needs to learn about the second dock, how we do things, and so forth,” said Emmanuel.
Boaz gave a worried look to Emmanuel but said nothing. Emmanuel subtly shook his head at Boaz in response, as if to say, Don’t worry—I know what I’m doing.