Ian barely slept and woke early. He put on a casual kilt and went downstairs to the kitchen, where he prepared a good Scots breakfast for two: eggs, bacon, oatmeal porridge and strong dark tea.
He put everything on a tray, took it upstairs to his parents’ bedroom, and knocked on the door.
“Mother, I’ve made you breakfast.”
“Oh, thank you, Ian dear. Just let me put my wrap on.”
A moment later she called for him to come in. He found her propped up on the pillows, looking gray and worn.
“It’s so considerate of you to bring me breakfast. I’m so tired. Ever since your father was stricken again, I wake up in the morning feeling as if the sleep had done me no good.”
Ian kissed her lightly on her forehead.
“I pray for you and father every night, Mama.”
“I wish all the troubles would leave this house.”
“I’ll pray for that, too, Mama.”
They ate together in silence. As he gathered up the dishes, Ian spoke.
“Mama,” he said carelessly, “I seem to remember that old Solomon MacTamick’s sea chest used to be up in the attic. Is it there still?”
“I suppose it is. I haven’t been up there with the old things in a long time. Why do you ask?”
“I thought I’d have a look through it.”
“I came across his name in America,” said Ian, lying just a bit.
“An old man who was rambling on about the China Trade,” Ian said carefully. “He seemed to think that Solomon and Stuart were the first to bring Scotch Whiskey to Japan. They drink it all the time there, now. Especially MacTamick’s.”
“I don’t think that story could be true, Ian. There’s no record of it in the official company history.”
“The official company history has some gaps, Mama,” Ian said patiently. “It would be a good thing to add, if it turned out to be true. I’d like to see for myself. What does the sea chest look like?”
“Goodness, I can barely remember. It’s just an old brown chest. It has the family crest and his name on it. Ian, dear, don’t you already have too much to do? I really think you’d be wasting your time.”
Ian smiled. “I have to do a big conference call with folks back in the States today, so I won’t be going into the office until later. It’d be fun to go upstairs and rummage around, just like the old days.”
I remember when you and Jamison used to go up together. The pair of you would come back down wearing the most ridiculous getups.”
Ian laughed. “I won’t be doing that today.”
When he finished the washing up, he took some rags and climbed the narrow old stairs to the attic. It was full of heavy and unfashionable furniture, broken things, forgotten toys and row upon row of decrepit wooden file cabinets. Ian sneezed and sneezed in the dust. He had not brought enough rags. It took him an hour and a half of heavy labor moving things about to find old Solomon’s sea chest. It had a lock, but the lock was broken. Inside, Ian found a note lying on top of everything else. It was written on lined school paper in a tidy, childish hand:
Dear Mama and Dear Papa,
I took the little flute to play with and the book with the drawings.
P.S. I broke the lock but I didn’t mean to.
The sea chest had some uniform clothing, a revolver, a thick woolen blanket and a wooden box with an ornate sextant and compass. Ian set all these things aside. He paused for a moment to admire a finely-made abacus with lacquered beads. Underneath there were several logbooks. Ian skimmed them. An hour later he had read enough to know that there was nothing in any of them about Faeries.
The last things in the sea chest were a few almanacs and manuals on seamanship and a slender journal with a brass lock and clasp. There was no key for it in the trunk.
I’ll take it to a locksmith.
Ian picked up the journal to take it away and the lock popped open at his touch.
For a long moment, Ian crouched still and silent beside the old sea chest. Then he sat down on a mildewed sofa and began to read.
MEMOIR OF CAPTAIN ISIAH MACTAMICK,
of CLAN MACTAMICK, THE CITY OF EDINBURGH
AND HER MAJESTY’S MERCHANT MARINE
Given by me in my own hand and under my seal on this day
July 12, 1870 of the Year of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I, Captain Isiaih MacTamick, write this on the occasion of my sixty-seventh birthday, being seven years retired from service at sea. I declare to you – whoever you may be – that although I have lately been somewhat ill, I am sound in my mind, and I am no man to be seized by fancies. I wish to establish this record now, because I have had intimations that in a few short weeks I shall be called to the Higher Service of my Lord God, before his Throne in Heaven, if only I am judged worthy.
If this book opened for you, then you may have had such an experience yourself, as will prepare you to understand and accept what I have written. I leave this Memoir for any man of the MacTamick clan who may one day need the benefit of my experiences with the Fiorgaels. I am told, by a man a consider reliable (despite his faults) that such a day may yet come.
The matters of which I write began on this very day in 1850, in the great Port of Edinburgh. I was fortunate to have some time on my Birthday to spend with my brother Stuart, who was likewise a Captain at Sea in the Clipper trade. Our work did not often bring us together.
I was then the Captain of the Clipper Highlands Queen, built by good Christian men in the yards of Aberdeen, from the strongest Scots Oak timber. If a ship can be said to possess such things, the Highlands Queen had a heart and soul as brave as any vessel that ever sailed upon the Oceans. It was my life’s pride to be worthy to call myself her Captain. Stuart was then in command of the Orient Voyager, built in Liverpool, and a good enough ship in her own way.
The morning of my Birthday was devilishly hot. Stuart and I were sitting in a little public house on the Harbour, taking our small drink and renewing our bonds of Brotherhood in conversation. We were joined unasked by a small man of expensive dress but strange demeanor. I marked him at once for an impertinent Irish type, and would have sent him on his way, but he spoke first.
“It’s interesting eyes you men have,” he said. It was no place of his to pass judgment on our appearance, and I bid him depart, but he sat down at our table instead.
It is true that Stuart and I have the eyes of our dear Father’s family, and they are of a bright clear violet that is not often seen in Scotland. I did not know the significance of this until much later.
“I am Solomon Murphy,” he introduced himself. He signed to the barman for new drinks and offered me his hand to shake, which I did just to be civil. I introduced myself and my brother, and he nodded.
“I know who you two gentlemen are. I have been searching for a pair of clipper vessels to undertake a commission,” he said. “All the seafarers and merchants of Scotland speak highly of the MacTamick brothers, Isaiah and Stuart.”
Here I thought I was being flattered, most likely because Mr. Murphy intended to draw us into a fraudulent scheme of some kind, but as he had purchased us drinks, I decided I must show him the courtesy of listening.
“My clients in this matter are a small group of Irish artisans who follow the oldest ways of their craft, which is weaving in wool and goat hair. They have a cargo of finished garments and fine cloth, items of great value,” said Mr. Murphy.
“Then you have come to the wrong men,” Stuart told him, “because there is no market for such things in China, or Japan. They wear only silk and cotton there.”
“My clients are not sending their cargo to the Orient. We are shipping it to America, to the port of Savannah in the State of Georgia.”
“Still, you have the wrong men,” Stuart insisted. “Clippers are fast ships that travel around Africa or Tierra Del Feugo to make the long journeys east. Any old three-master will get you across to America.”
“My clients and I want speed above all else,” Mr. Murphy replied. “We would like to charter your vessels, at a fee equal to the profit you would make on a typical sail to China. You need not take on the role of merchants in this matter: I am solely responsible for selling the goods. Indeed, I have already found buyers for most of them. I need only make delivery safely in Savannah.”
“When is the cargo ready to leave?” I asked.
“In two weeks time, from Dunfoil port.”
“Dunfoil? It’s a fishing village! Ye canna be serious, expecting us to sail a pair of clippers into Dunfoil harbour and load them. What’s the bottom clearance there – eight feet? We need eighteen, at least.”
“Your vessels will anchor offshore and load from boats.”
I believed then that I understood Solomon Murphy’s purpose.
“It’s a smuggling venture you’d have us join, then?” I spoke quietly, as befits such business, though at that moment I had no intention of taking Mr. Murphy’s commission.
“You have heard of the Gaeltracts?” Mr. Murphy asked, avoiding a direct answer.
“Aye, the old Irish tribes who cling to their own language and speak no English. What of them?”
“My clients are Gaeltracts, and among the poorest people of Ireland. This cargo is all their worldly wealth. Like all Catholics of Ireland, they face starvation under the policies of the English,” he said, referring to the Famine, which was of course well-known to Stuart and myself. Let it be said that the MacTamick family have given more than generously for the relief of the Irish poor, through the charitable work of the Catholic Church.
“Under the current taxation laws of the English,” Mr. Murphy said, continuing on, “most of the value of the cargo must be paid to the English tax officials before it can depart. And in America, somewhat more must be paid over to their Customs officers. The poor man who does the work with his hands will get next to nothing, while the men who take with both hands keep everything. This has always been the way of the world, yet Our Saviour calls us to do better.”
“And if you successfully cheat the English Crown and the American President of their shares, what will you do with the profits from your cargo, Mr. Murphy?” Stuart asked.
“Most of it will be used to purchase land for my clients to live on, when they emigrate to America themselves.”
I thought this unlikely. I judged that Mr. Murphy would be off with it, somewhere in the United States beyond the reach of law and justice both.
Stuart had another question.
“Why not ask an Irish Captain for the charter of his ship?”
“There are no Irish clipper ship men to speak of. There are Englishmen living in Ireland who own clippers, and Irish captains – not many – who work for English owners. Besides,” Mr. Murphy added, “I need smugglers and the Scots are the greatest smugglers alive. I mean no disrespect. But any Scotsman who distills and sells whiskey must evade the greed and corruption of the English excise men. I am counting on two Scotsmen from a great distilling family, who are captain-owners of their own ships and good Catholics as well.”
“Ye presume, Mr. Murphy. We have never been involved in anything illegal,” I said. I am sorry to say that was somewhat of an untruth, as we did have experience at sailing whiskey cargoes without the taxes having been paid.
“The English have been a nuisance and an inconvenience to the Scotsman. To the Irishman, the English have been a disaster. It is said that in two years time, a million Irish Catholics will be dead. I am determined that my clients shall not be among them,” Mr. Murphy said. I judged from his voice that whatever mischief he might be up to, he was sincere at least in this vow.
“Are you of their tribe, Mr. Murphy?”, Stuart asked.
“On my mother’s side, yes,” he replied, “though I was raised in Dublin. It’s my education and experience in business that have put me in the position of acting as their agent, in this matter and others. Please, do take some time to consider my commission.” He took a pencil and paper from his coat pocket and wrote something, which he handed to me. “Take this to Raleigh McIntyre of the Edinburgh Merchant’s Bank, and ask him for a reference. He’ll tell you I have more than enough money on account there to pay charter fees for both the Highlands Queen and the Orient Voyager. If you want to discuss my commission further, please meet me here tomorrow afternoon at one o’clock. Good day, gentlemen.”
He rose, tipped his high hat to us, and departed. There followed a long disagreement between Stuart and myself. He wanted to think more about taking Mr. Murphy’s commission, and I distrusted the man. In the end, we went to the Edinburgh Merchant’s bank and spoke to Mr. McIntyre, the Managing Director. He confirmed that Solomon Murphy was a small trader in very fine Irish cloth and garments, and that he had a large sum of money on account – in gold coins, no less. Nobody knew very much about Mr. Murphy, but there was nothing known against him.
That evening I looked at some charts of the Irish waters. I was pleased to note that Dunfoil inlet had a good depth to it, and the winds are usually mild enough to load cargo from boats while at anchor.
The following afternoon we kept the appointment Mr. Murphy made for us. I was still of two minds regarding his proposition. Stuart, it seemed to me, was inclined to accept and I made him promise me before we entered the pub that we would make no contract with Mr. Murphy, save by mutual consent after private discussion. The little Irishman was there waiting for us, agreeable as before. I asked for some further assurances of his good faith, to wit, a written contract spelling out the terms of the charter. He was agreeable and called for the publican to bring pen and ink. Then and there, he began to outline an agreement on sheets of paper he produced from his coat pocket. The contract he outlined called for “safe conveyance of divers cargoes from Ireland to Georgia in the United States of America,” which I thought was rather clever of him, since it made no mention of any specific port. The fee he offered was sufficient to guarantee our services.
Despite my misgivings, I was drawn into the venture, so that I found myself signing his preliminary contract. I retained some misgivings. We could not, for obvious reasons, consult a solicitor and have a contract professionally drawn up; nor would a written agreement which could not be presented in court have any force in the event of a dispute. After Mr. Murphy had shaken our hands and left, Stuart took great amusement in reminding me that I had said we must not sign anything until we had discussed it between the two of us alone. I did indeed forget myself to that extent, but I cannot say now that I regret it.
Lest this memoir become overlong, I shall skip over the next two weeks of busy activity. I took on a crew of trusted men, most of whom had sailed with me before. Since I was but crossing to America, I could make their number smaller than if I was making the full voyage to the East. The Highlands Queen was already fitted out in good shape for the trip.
As the date of our sailing came near, I became somewhat more troubled about Mr. Murphy. I am a good judge of men and I felt in my bones and my soul that he had yet some unexpected demand to put upon us.
Two days before we were to sail from Edinburgh, I was provisioning my ship when Mr. Murphy came by.
“Good day, Captain,” he greeted me.
“Good day to you, sir,” I replied. He had a look in his eye that reminded me of all my old suspicions.
“Captain, I have a request of you,” he said.
“Indeed?” I replied, bracing myself for any trouble.
He handed me a small sheet of paper.
“Would you be so kind as to take on these additional provisions, and have them aboard your ship? I am, of course, prepared to pay for them.”
I looked over his list – dried fruit and oatmeal; potatoes, barley and honey.
“Why do you have need of these things?”
“They are for the Gaeltracts. They are hungry, and these things are scarce, or cannot be had in Ireland.”
I knew of the conditions in Ireland, of course.
“Very well,” I said. “I shall have the provisioner load these things aboard. We shall be unloading them at Dunfoil, then?”
He gave me his cheeky, impertinent Irish grin, and said, “What else would I be doing with them?” It did not occur to me until much later that he gulled me right then, for he never answered my question, but I believed I had my answer.
It always did my spirits well, to lift anchor on a fresh voyage. We were away to Dunfoil on schedule, with a good wind. I was at some trouble to deceive the harbour officials, whom I left with the impression that we were were bound for Leeds to take on a cargo for the Orient. It was four days to Dunfoil. Stuart and I went by different routes, so as not to draw attention as we sailed. We avoided contact with the Royal Navy and had a bit of luck with the weather, passing through some fogs by day, with clear sailing at night. Indeed, we were at Dunfoil a few hours early and must needs stay out of sight of land by sailing aimlessly back and forth for a few hours. At dusk we advanced slowly, most sails furled and just the small jib out to take us in, until our soundings showed we must go no further. We dropped anchor just in sight of the hills and presently the Orient Voyager joined us. An hour later we saw the lantern signal from the land.
Solomon Murphy was in the first boat to come alongside. There were a half-dozen others with him, small men curiously dressed. These were my first glimpse of the Gaeltracts. We put our ropes over the side and hauled in several bundles of goods, which, to my surprise, included worn housewares as well as bolts of cloth. Then the other boats appeared around us and there were women and children as well as men and goods. I knew then that I had been right to suspect that Solomon Murphy was not as honest with us as he would have us believe. I turned to him – he was standing in the bowsprit – and he spoke.
“You are correct, Captain,” he said, replying to my unspoken thought. “The Gaeltracts are leaving Ireland for Georgia. We will be carrying them aboard.”
“A clipper ship is no good place for women and children, and men who do not know the sea!”
“These people are desperate, Captain. They have nothing on Earth but each other. They must emigrate as a community, or not at all. A few of them speak some English, but most do not.”
“Why did you not charter a passenger vessel, then?”
“At home, they live in the forest as primitive people do, in hammocks that hang from the trees. They must be in an open space – such as a cargo hold, not tiny berths. Moreover, if they took a passenger ship, they would languish at sea for weeks. They need to make the trip as fast as it can be done – in a clipper.”
“Ye should have spoken to us of this matter first!”
“I could not. The Gaeltracts must leave Ireland in secrecy and peace. As much as it saddens me, it could be no other way. Take them aboard, Captain. They are your cargo.”
“And if I do not? Will you draw guns and take over my ship?”
“No, Captain. My people fear and hate guns. They have no weapons at all. If you refuse to carry them. I will pay you for your time so far and find someone else. I trust you will keep our secret.”
I looked down into the boats and counted some forty-three.
“How many to make the trip?”
“Four hundred and nineteen, exactly, counting myself and my family.”
It occurred to me then that I had not thought to wonder if Mr Murphy was married.
“You can see they are small people, Captain. There’s room enough on your ship, and your brother’s.”
“But I must ask you, why can’t they take a regular passenger vessel?”
“Because they must have their privacy.” Mr Murphy sighed. “See the man over there in the red tunic?”
“I do. Has he committed some sort of crime? Killed an English soldier? Is that what this is about?”
“He has never killed any living thing, not even for food. Watch him.” Mr Murphy called out to him, in Gaelic, and they had words back and forth. Evidently Mr Murphy’s friend was unhappy about the instructions he received, but after a further exchange he gave in.
Then followed the most remarkable sight of my entire life. A pair of wings spread from his back, through holes in his tunic. They beat against the air and he rose until he was level with me. He landed lightly on the deck, and bowed.
“In God’s name, Mr Murphy,” I said, “what have you brought aboard my ship?”
“The Faeries are leaving Ireland,” said he.
The next several pages repeated the same Faerie history that Ian had already heard from Sam Murphy. The narrative then switched to loading cargo aboard the the clippers in a half-moon, with the tide ebbing in a narrow bay. Though most of the Fairies flew aboard, they had to load their heavier possessions by rope – and the youngest children could not be trusted to fly aboard; they must come up in baskets. Ian had experience sailing small boats and he understood just enough to see that the old sea captain truly had truly been a master.
At last, the whole business was done. It was my custom, as a Captain, to gather the men before raising sails for a prayer and a toast to the success of the voyage. On this morning, however, with first light on the horizon and my crew shaking with fear and wonder, I ordered sails out and we made away as fast as we could.
Another thousand words described the trip across the ocean. The Fairies mostly stayed below decks during the day, “sleeping as if in a cave”, while emerging to fly at night. After nearly three weeks they sighted land and anchored off Tybee Island. All night long the Fairies flew their bundles of possessions to the woods along Lazaretto Creek. From there Fairies would make their way to the mainland by canoe, using the marsh channels and their heavy tree cover. Only the Indians knew this route and Solomon Murphy had arranged to pay for their help and bribe them for their silence.
On the third day, the Captains MacTamick were eager to be off. The American revenue vessels were sure to find them soon and would insist on boarding. They had no documents that could establish a legitimate purpose for their presence in Georgia waters. There was a problem, however. The crew, initially superstitious and fearful of the Fairies, had grown fond of their passengers and lost most of their fear, except for one or two who remained angry and convinced that they had carried “witches” across the Atlantic. Some of the others had quietly begun to talk of selling their stories, or at any rate, demanding money for their silence. Solomon MacTamick conveyed this news to Solomon Murphy – who by now he regarded as a friend – who took it calmly.
“It’s no more than I expected,” he said.
“Ye have a plan?”
“I do. You will notice a dozen of the prettiest Faerie girls are still aboard the ship. Tell your crew they are to line up as for an inspection. Out of gratitude, the Faerie girls will give each of your crew a kiss goodbye.”
“And what will this do?”
“They will forget all about the Fairies. They will remember they made this trip to bring Scotch whiskey to Georgia, some of which was landed legally and some of which was smuggled. Ye’ll take on a cargo of cotton cloth and go back into your regular line o’ business.”
“I am a married man,” I pointed out. “It would not be seemly for me to take a Faerie kiss.”
Solomon Murphy burst out with the loudest and most uproarious laugh I ever heard from any man.
“It certainly would not! Well, I must disappoint you, Captain, but the Faerie kiss is not for you nor your brother. I may want your help again one day, and you must needs remember this voyage.”
There was only a little more – a final conversation between Solomon Murphy and the brothers Solomon and Stuart MacTamick in which Murphy explained about the historical significance of their violet eyes. There was no direct mention of any prophecy, except for a parting remark by Solomon Murphy that even if he did not need the MacTamicks again, the day may yet come when the Fairies would.