Life and Debt

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Chapter 12

Time would dim their faces from the memory of most, but there was always a chance someone would remember the prisoner, and the men who helped him make the spectacular escape from the hangman. Even though it had been weeks, there were still people looking for the fugitives, eager to collect the reward. They had to get away from Cambridge, and the farther, the better.

With some of the money Father John had gotten from the sale of the house, they not only purchased their new clothes, but also changed their appearance as much as possible. Though they could not pass as part of the wealthy class, they at least did not resemble the lower class vagabonds they had been when they escaped. And, so changed, they were able to go from the city with little threat of recognition.

They would be able to spend their nights in comfortable inns, rather than hiding in deserted barns, or camping in the woods like their pursuers would expect. The first night, after they had eaten a plain hearty meal, they sat at their ease by the fire, drinking a tankard of ale in the common room of a little inn. Jericho puffed on his pipe, lost in thought, and Henry eyed the serving girl across the room, while Tom and Mike talked quietly. At last, curiosity got the better of Tom and Mike, and they intruded on Henry’s reverie.

“Henry, where’re we going?” Tom asked quietly. The others leaned closer to hear, hoping to prevent anyone else overhearing.

“It’s better you don’t know.” he said forcing himself to turn to look at them. “That way, you can’t let it slip—accidentally—in conversation with someone who might remember it to the law.”

Jericho puffed out a cloud of smoke. “Good thinking. It’d be a good idea not to talk about it in the common room at all. Blend in. The less we look out of place to them, the less people will notice us, and the less likely they’ll remember us.”

They all nodded their agreement, and after a short time of silent reflection, Henry said, “It’s time for bed. Morning’ll come early, and we want to be on the road shortly after daylight.”

After weeks of what seemed like endless travel, zigzagging back and forth across the country, it was apparent they were heading in a generally northern direction.

“Henry,” Tom whined one afternoon, “we’ve been riding forever! How far you think we need to go?”

“We’ll go ’til I think it’s far enough,” he barked from his saddle, several paces ahead of the group.

“If we keep changing direction, it’ll take twice as long as it should,” Tom said half under his breath to Mike, who rode at his side.

Mike hardly heard him. He had been watching a rocky formation that was getting closer as they traveled.

“Jericho, what is that?”

Jericho, who was only half a length ahead turned to see where Mike pointed.

“That,” he said, “is what is called Arthur’s Seat. It was where the old castle stood a long time ago. There’s nothing up there now but some old ruins, but it’s still a point of pride for the Scots.”

“We’re going to Scotland? Is that far enough? Why don’t we just go on to the North Sea?” Tom moaned sarcastically. “Me bum hurts from all this riding. I’m ready to see the inside of a tavern.”

“We’re close to Edinburgh. When we get there we’ll be safe enough,” Henry called over his shoulder.

Jericho nodded his gray head as he, too, began watching Arthur’s Seat growing nearer. “The new city’s being built on top of the old one. In the old town, we can find a place to stay, and nobody will give us a second look. All kinds of people mingle there without interference from the law. You can find anything there that suits ya. And, we ought to be able to get regular work.”

Mike was fascinated. “How can they build a city on top of another one?”

“You’ll see. They just started building up and kept going to get above the stench of the old city. The rich just keep building up. There’s a whole other city underground now. Safest place for someone who doesn’t want to be found out, or seen.”

Henry had slowed his pace to allow the others to come abreast. “If we’d gone there a few years back we’d be as safe as if we were in another country. But, the English and Scottish parliaments have combined. Only thing that separates Scotland from England now is their speech.”

“You think we’ll be safe there anyway? Tolabert won’t be able to find us there?” Mike asked as he considered their destination. That ever present squirm of fear squeezed his belly. Would it be far enough?

“Aye, we’ll be safe. Even Tolabert wouldn’t come this far just for you.”

In the safety of Old Town, in the narrow closes and winding little streets, was where the four found they could be lost in the crowds of diverse humanity. All types and classes mingled together in unabashed acceptance. They took a flat on the third story of a newly converted house. There were five other small flats in the building, each already occupied. While some of the residents were as questionable as they were, some seemed to be merely displaced upper class that had come upon hard times. In the beginning, the four newcomers kept to themselves, and spoke little to their neighbors, or fellow workers. But, all the residents accepted the others, and greeted each other with the same cordiality. So, it did not take long before they were part of the community.

There was work for any man willing to labor long and hard hours. Factories and other thriving businesses were abundant, with jobs for anyone who would work for the low wages. Henry and Jericho took work on the docks of one of the factories. Mike took a job keeping records for a small company similar to Harrington’s.

Tom was surprised to discover he enjoyed the company of particular red-haired lass who lived on another floor of their house. She was a servant in one of the great manor houses of the city, but lived at home with her parents when not at work. And, after a few weeks of coaxing, she managed to get Tom to take employment at the same manor house where she worked.

At first, they only went out to go to work and back. But, as the weeks passed into months, and no one came looking for the four English fugitives, they began to relax. The tavern, at the corner of the block, became Henry’s favorite home away from home. He found the company of a certain lass there much to his liking, and he spent a large amount of his free time, and his free income, in her company.

Jericho, however, made the acquaintance of the widow on the fourth floor of their house, and soon found her very companionable. Of course, Tom thought Jericho had become senile for preferring her company to theirs. After all, he thought Jericho was much too old to want anything to do with a woman. Especially, one who was as old as he was! But, Jericho ignored Tom’s disdain, and became quite fond of the dear lady.

And, as soon as they brought home their first pay, Henry told Mike that he would not accept any more of his money for their keep.

“You put your money away, Mike. I won’t take another farthing. We all have a job, and can live on what we make. Together, we can manage right nice,” Henry said one evening.

“Are you sure? I don’t mind sharing it with all of you. You paid my way often enough these last couple years.” He was holding the pouch, containing what remained from the sale of his house, before him.

“No. I won’t take it. You put it away in case there’s something comes up later. It’s yours. Who knows what might happen down the road. You might want to move on and you’ll need it then. We can make do with what we earn. Might even manage to put a bit aside ourselves if we keep living as frugal as we do now.” He waved his hand to indicate the threadbare little flat. It was not fancy, furnished sparsely, and it was in Old Town, but it was far better than other places where they had lived.

Mike nodded. “Right then. I’ll do that—but, if you ever need anything, you just say the word.” Mike felt a burden of gratitude for all Henry and the others had done to get him away. He gladly would have given them all the money, but he hid it safely away against future hard times. It would be good to know it was there if they should suddenly find the need for flight again.

Mike found his free time empty when the others began keeping company with their new female friends. He took to wandering farther and farther afield from their neighborhood in his free time, and discovered the better sections of the great city. In those areas were shops. And, in those shops were pretty young ladies, whom he discovered, found him attractive, and thought him a gentleman. They were willing to spend their time with him.

His only problem was that he felt there were far too many pretty, willing girls in the city, and he thought it would be a shame to deprive any of them of his company and attention. He had the nice clothes they had bought for their escape, and it was not hard to hide from them that he was not a real gentleman. Therefore, it did not take him long to learn many of these girls had morals as loose as his own. And, to his delight, he did not have to spend a lot of time and expense to get his way with them. Whenever one began to think he was the one to take home to Papa, Mike would suddenly lose interest, and quickly move on to the next.

One evening after work, a few years after they settled in Edinburgh, the four found themselves at home together for the first time in a long while. Jericho made a tasty meal, and they exchanged stories of their day, as they shared a bottle of wine that Mike had bought on one of his excursions.

“I must say, Mike, you spending so much time over in the other side of town, has its benefits,” said Henry holding up his second glass of the very good wine. “This is certainly better than what they serve at the tavern down the street.”

They all agreed, as they sipped their own glasses. “Well, there is much more than good wine over there. You should clean up, and go see for yourselves. Get a taste for how the other half lives.”

Tom rolled his eyes, and shook his head. “No, thanks. I get a look at that every day when I go to work. They may have better things to drink and eat, but that don’t make ’em any better than us.”

“Here, here!” said Henry, and he thumped his hand on the tabletop. “High livin’ don’t make the man. I’ve seen that myself, many times. And as for food, I think Jericho cooks about as good as any of them fancy cooks, over there.”

Again, they all agreed. Jericho stood, and made a mock bow.

“I thank you for the kind words!” He gave a playful punch to Henry’s shoulder. “But, I don’t know that you’ve had anything to compare it to, for a very long time.” The laughter ebbed, and Jericho picked up some of the dishes, and then put them down again, thoughtfully. “I have a bit of news I’ve been wantin’ to share with you.” He seemed suddenly very serious.

The others sobered a bit, and straightened in their chairs. He could read the fearful questions in their faces, and was sorry for giving them the wrong idea.

“Oh! It ain’t that bad! In fact, it’s pretty good. At least, I think so.” The tension eased, but they still eyed him skeptically.

“You know Catherine, the widow upstairs?” he looked to each, in turn, to see their nods of recognition. “Well, you know I been keepin’ company with her for a while now.” They nodded in unison. “I—well I—I mean, she—has agreed to—ah—” he stammered as he looked at their anxious anticipation. “Well, she’s agreed to marry me.”

Silence. It was as though they did not fully know what he was saying. Slowly, understanding began to dawn, as each realized the news was not that they were found out.

“Marry you!” bawled Tom. “Marry you? What are you talking about? You can’t marry her.”

Mike and Henry sat still in stunned silence, looking at each other, then at Tom and Jericho. Jericho’s brow creased, and he looked hard at Tom, his fists on his hips.

“And why is that, Tom Albert?”

“Well—well because,” he pulled his eyebrows together tightly, and folded his arms across his chest, sinking down on his chair with a pout on his lips.

Henry cleared his throat, “Life keeps movin’, Tom. It changes every day. You can’t expect that we’d all be together for the rest of our lives,” he said, though he did not look like he believed what he was saying.

“Yeah, but—he’s old. Old men shouldn’t get married,” he pleaded to the others.

“Why not? Us old men have just as much need, as you young ones. We like the company of a good woman too.” Tom’s pout was not abating. “Tom, I ain’t dyin’, just gettin’ married. I’ll just be upstairs.”

Mike ventured a question, “But, why now?”

“Because, it’s high time I stopped livin’ the way we’ve been. I’m too old to keep it up. Besides, I like the thought of a woman to comfort me in my old age.” He gathered up an armload of dishes, and turned towards the basin of water on the dresser.

Tom stood up abruptly, and set his glass down. “What about us? What are we supposed to do without you?”

Jericho turned from his task, annoyed by Tom’s lack of enthusiasm, “Boy, you’re more than twenty years old! If you can’t take care of yourself by now, there’s no hope for you.” He turned back to the dishes. “I didn’t tell you to ask for your permission. I don’t need your approval. I just thought you might all be happy for me. But, if not, so be it. It don’t change nothin’.”

A few days later Jericho and the Catherine McDonald were married in the church on the corner of the street. It was a quiet affair, just close friends in attendance, but the celebration, which followed in Jericho and Catherine’s lodgings, was as festive as any gathering for a young couple on their first nuptials. Even Tom, eventually relented, and was happy for them.

As time passed, they saw Jericho and Catherine nearly as much as before, but their own rooms felt a bit emptier. After all, they had been like a family for over eight years. They had rarely been apart during that time. But before long, Tom took solace in his sweetheart, Mary. Henry found his in visits to the tavern, and Mike in his constantly changing female companions.

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