A new business opportunity in America leads to a case of cold-blooded murder for Apothecary John Rawlings
1773. Following a long and perilous journey, John Rawlings has arrived in Boston, Massachusetts, to pursue a new business venture. He finds the place riven with tension and unrest. There are many who feel it’s time the colonies sought freedom from British rule, and the seething resentment erupts into outright rebellion during the notorious Boston Tea Party. But has someone taken advantage of the chaos to commit cold-blooded murder?
Called in to examine a body fished out of Boston Harbour, Rawlings recognizes one of his fellow travellers from England. If he could unearth the truth about the victim’s past and the reason why they’d come to Boston, he would be one step closer to catching the killer. But has Rawlings become a pawn in an altogether bigger game?
About the Author
Deryn Lake is the pseudonym of a well-known historical novelist who joined the popular ranks of historical detective writers with her gripping John Rawlings Mysteries. Deryn Lake lives near Hastings, East Sussex
Read an Excerpt
Death at the Boston Tea Party
A John Rawlings Mystery
By Deryn Lake
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2016 Deryn Lake
All rights reserved.
It was the smell that first struck John Rawlings. Standing on the deck of the Breath of the Sea, early in the morning, before the rest of the few passengers had stirred, he inhaled deeply and knew at once that the wind had changed, that there was a depth to it that he had not noticed before, that something indefinable had added itself to the salt and spume that usually blew in his face. Puzzled, he leant forward, tightening his eyes to peer through the waves of fog that enveloped the ocean. He could see nothing but grey mist. And then, just for a second, the veil broke and he glimpsed the sight he had been desperately longing for – a vague hint of coastline.
It had been a ghastly voyage from England to the American Colonies. In mid-Atlantic the ship had run into a violent storm which had blown them about as if they were made of leaves. The captain had informed his heaving passengers that they would be delayed in their arrival at the town of Boston and then announced that they had been blown off course to boot. As if all this had not been enough to chill the hearts of sturdy Englishmen, John's nursery maid, Hannah, had been taken ill for the entire length of the journey and had spent her time moaning on her bed of pain. Thus, the care of his three children had fallen on the shoulders of the Apothecary and his former coachman, Irish Tom. Yet had it really? His eleven-year-old daughter, Rose, had taken over the management of her twin half-brothers with all the ease of a woman of style, which, her father thought, she was rapidly becoming.
A movement at the ship's rail drew John's attempts at peering through the mist back to life on board. Despite the earliness of the hour Rose was already up, her crimson hair dampened by the weather conditions, clinging round her head in a plethora of tight curls. She looked up at him.
'We're near land, aren't we?'
'Yes, how did you know?'
Rose tossed her head back, laughing. 'I just did.'
John put out his hand and tumbled her locks. 'Miss Clever Cat.'
'How are your brothers?'
'Still asleep. They look like Mrs Elizabeth.'
'She is – was – their mother, so that is hardly surprising.'
'They often stare into the sea to see if they can glimpse her.'
John sighed. 'I suppose I should not have told them that she had gone swimming with the mermaids.'
Rose looked at him with her usual strange wisdom. 'What else could you do? They were too young to comprehend death.'
John opened his mouth to reply but at that moment the ship hit something under the water and gave the most almighty judder. His daughter said in the calmest of voices, 'I think she is going to sink, Papa.'
John stared at her as the whole vessel lurched to one side and saw by the look on her face that she meant every word she said.
'We must wake the others,' he answered, but before he could make a move the deck which had been abandoned suddenly sprang into life. The doors leading to the cabins below were flung open and a dozen or so people ranging from country women with their nightcaps askew and a couple of gentlemen of elegance, George Glynde and Tracey Tremayne, poured forth.
'What's happening?' one drawled at John, as if he were the key to all knowledge.
'I believe we are sinking,' the Apothecary replied crisply.
An extremely fat woman screamed loudly and fainted at the feet of a wisp of a man who looked bewildered.
'Leave her,' John ordered. 'I'll deal with her. Trust me, I'm an apothecary.'
At that the boat lurched again and the sea poured over the deck. Pandemonium ensued as scantily clad people headed for their cabins to grab what they could. The two elegant gentlemen looked at one another.
'Damme, George, I think the ship has foundered.'
'Damme, Sir, I think so too. What say we swim for it?'
'Is there anywhere to swim to?'
'Odds fish, I saw it myself this morning through my spy glass. A coastline, clear as Lady Camden's corset. I'll wager a guinea I'm the first to land.'
'Make it two and you're on.'
They shook hands, grinning like apes, unaware that the sea must be bitterly cold. Or perhaps, John thought, they were aware and were just making as light of the situation as possible. He admired their bravado.
The fat woman groaned as he leaned over her and attempted to raise her top half from the deck.
'Wake up, Madam. This is no time to lose one's senses.'
She stared at him with very wide, harsh eyes then promptly slapped him on the nose. 'Unhand me, you young devil. How dare you molest me so? I would cry out for my husband had he not been called to Jesus this last year.'
John's lips twitched but he said, straight-faced, 'I am sorry to hear that, Madam. But I suggest you rise and get some warm clothes on. I'm afraid the ship has foundered.'
She groaned and clutched at her enormous breast. 'You are a bearer of ill tidings, Sir. I am undone.'
'No, Madam, you are quite intact, I assure you. Now do rise up. This ship is sinking and we must all swim for the shore.'
'But I can't swim. Bevis would never allow me to do such an undignified thing.'
For a moment John remembered, his mind seeing Elizabeth with her scarred, lovely face, her eyes with their depths which he had never been able to read, her triumphant and tragic death in the sea which she had adored and which had finally taken her away for ever. He looked down at the large widow woman who was attempting to rise.
'Never mind, Madam. I'll find you something to hold on to.'
Having got her on her feet and seen her lumbering towards her cabin, he sped for his. The twins were awake and Rose was busily occupied trying to dress one of them; the other had struggled into his own clothes with certain strange results. Hannah, the nursery maid, was stepping into various flannel petticoats as John hurried on to wake Tom. But the big Irishman had already felt the dying struggles of the ship and was dressed and coming to find him.
'How far's the shore, Sir?'
'About two miles away – that is, it was when I last saw it. Then the fog closed in.'
'We've struck a rock somehow. I imagine we've been blown miles from Boston.'
'Obviously. But come on, Tom, there's not a moment to lose. Will you take one of the boys on your back? I'll take the other.'
'But what about Hannah and Rose?'
'Well, my daughter can swim like a fish but I don't know about the other one.'
'The trouble is, Sir, what the devil will the sea be like?'
'It's calm. Dead flat.'
'No, you don't take my meaning. I'm thinking about the temperature, Sir.'
John gazed at his old companion, shocked. 'It's probably freezing. God help us, Tom, we'll have to find something to float on.'
'Leave that to me, Sir.'
Tom rushed up the wooden stairs to the deck while John hurried his family upward from the clammy atmosphere below the planking.
At sea level there was pandemonium. Several of the sailors had already taken to the water in a clapped-out rowing boat which looked fit to sink at any moment due to overcrowding.
The fat woman, complete with portmanteau, had either insisted or bribed her way on board and was occupying a place which could have been filled by three people of normal size. John gave her a cheerful grin – as cheerful as it could be in the circumstances – but she did not see and stared gloomily out into the dense fog which surrounded the fast-sinking vessel.
John hoisted Jasper on to his shoulders and Tom was just about to do the same with James when the ship listed a third time, the wooden doors leading to the hold burst open and pieces of furniture began to float into view. Wondering at Tom's amazing agility, the Apothecary watched, flabbergasted, while his former coachman seized a table with one hand, wrenched from its moorings by the power of the sea, and simultaneously lifted the other twin on to his back. He turned his head to look at Rose but she was already in the water and doing her best to assist Hannah, who was sinking and flailing. Shouting 'Hang on for dear life, Jasper!' John swam towards them.
The water was very cold, though not quite as icy as the Apothecary had feared. He could feel little hands digging into his neck with fright but was proud of his son for not bursting into the weeps. He pushed Rose, quite hard, in the direction of Tom and tried to save Hannah as he best he could. But she was going down deep and John, more than conscious of the little life clinging to him, could not dive after her. A burly man, a nodding acquaintance who kept himself to himself, did so but came up spluttering and shaking his head. Spitting out water, he growled at John.
'She's drowned, Sir. Floating down below, her hair all loose round her. Ain't no good looking. She's done for.'
What a moment to have another vivid memory. Had Elizabeth died like that, with her black hair spread out like a shroud? John found that he was trembling and knew that this was no time to let dark thoughts invade his brain. Mentally he shook himself like a dog coming in from a long walk and turned to the task ahead, brought back to the current situation by a shout as a figure dived into the water wearing nothing but a pair of breeches and an undone shirt. He recognized Sir Julian Wychwood, who had clearly been asleep in his cabin after a night of drinking and playing cards. He watched as the young blade dragged himself up on a floating chair, then saw his face turn the colour of milk as some unseen current tugged at his legs and he was carried, screaming for help, out to the distant sea. Powerless to assist him, John turned his agonized gaze on the poor wretch until he was lost to view.
Irish Tom had one of the table's upturned legs in his hand and was shouting at Rose to grasp another. She did so as John swam up to them and together they all kicked like frogs, clinging on to their makeshift raft. Then the mists parted almost dramatically and they saw an island appear.
'Make for that,' shouted John, because the sea around them was now alive with sound. Those who could not swim were drowning, and those who could keep afloat were clinging to bits of wreckage. With a final groan the ship split in half and plunged into the recesses of the murk below. A very pale girl with equally pale hair was struggling at John's side. With a great effort he managed to haul her hands on to their floating furniture and, though temporarily beyond speech, she gave him a look of true gratitude.
It ran through John's mind that if they could not reach the island soon they would die of cold and he paddled his legs hard, pushing through the chilly ocean as quickly as he was able. But his strength was going and even that great ox of a man, Irish Tom, was slowing down.
Jasper, clinging on to John's back, whispered, 'Is it much further, Papa?'
'No. Be a brave boy. Don't let go.'
'I can see a person standing on the shore.'
John screwed up his eyes and looked at the island – and his heart sank. What the child had seen was what appeared to be an Indian man, standing still as a statue, watching the survivors of the shipwreck struggling towards the shore. The Apothecary had been amongst the crowd of Londoners who had made a point of going to see members of the Cherokee tribe when they had been on display in 1760. But he, in keeping with many of his contemporaries, had not known what to make of these proud people who had stared above the heads of the masses with a certain disdain and dignity. He only hoped that, if they managed to outlive the cold sea, instant death did not await them on the island.
He and Irish Tom were both swimming feebly now, and poor Rose had given up kicking and was just being carried along by their wooden support. The fat woman sailed right past them, sailors rowing while she wallowed in a somewhat uncomfortable state, the boat sinking lower and lower in the water, overcome by her weight. Raising his eyes to glance at her, John saw that quite a crowd had now gathered on the far shore and that canoes had been launched, but as to the ethnic origins of the people within them he could not be certain. The distant squeals of the fat lady pierced his eardrums.
'I won't be manhandled, I so won't. Hit them with your oar, sailor.'
'Are you out yer mind? We can always fight 'em orff when we gets ashore.'
'How very dare you speak to me so? I'll have you know that my late husband was Sir Bevis Eawiss.'
This entire conversation was carried on the wind and was followed by an enormous plopping sound, as somebody who was clearly bored to sobs by the sound of the fat lady's voice had tipped her into the ocean's frigid waters.
They were floating nearer and now John could clearly make out the figures in the two canoes that were coming to either rescue or murder them. That they were Indian people there could be no doubt. Their black hair glistening about their heads, long but caught back on either side by bands, their noses straight and strong, their eyes bright and gleaming, narrowed now as they skimmed across the ocean, the rowers bending over their paddle with determination. The Apothecary was amazed to see an enormous white fellow sitting in their midst, his hair the same colour as the seeds of a sunflower, while crouching behind him was another European whose face could have been made from a post boy's leather bag.
The canoes were of the dugout type and half empty so that passengers could be taken on board. John stared in amazement as an Indian, supple as a fox, dived overboard and pulled the struggling widow out of the water and into the canoe, which denoted considerable strength. Her rescuer's only reward was an ear-splitting shriek and a cry of 'Unhand me, you blackguard, you scoundrel.'
The man merely looked down his nose and John watched as the bag man then leapt into the sea with a splash and pulled out a drowning sailor, who gasped for air as his head was pulled from the water. He felt encouraged to shout out, 'Help! Over here. I have three young children.'
A third canoe which had just been launched must have heard him, because he saw its savage prow turn towards them and the blades slash the waves like daggers. This vessel, too, contained a white man, who had a hat upon his head made entirely of fustian, with a red strap beneath his chin. He leant out a muscular arm and with a certain anxiety John watched as James was hauled from Tom's back and landed in the vessel, followed by Jasper. John saw that Rose's eyes were closed.
'Help my daughter, I beg you,' he called, and had never been more grateful than when that powerful limb appeared once more and, without even drawing a breath, the man lifted in first Rose and then the pale young girl swimming beside her. Still trying to work out who his saviours were, John felt a wriggling beneath him and, before he could ascertain its cause, was lifted clean out of the water by a pair of dark arms covered with many beaded bracelets. He gasped as he was then grabbed by the fustian hat man and put on the floor of the canoe where he crouched, half in fear, half in gratitude, while the boat turned and headed for the shore.
It would appear, as John and his family were helped on to the rocky beach, that this tribe of Indians were not only kindly disposed towards white people but had managed to co-habit without warfare alongside the handful of settlers who had chosen this out-of-the-way place on which to build their homes. Dying to find out more and having checked that his children were safe with Tom, John walked in shaky fashion towards the man with the fustian hat who grinned at his approach, displaying a mouth full of rotting brown teeth.
'Bonjour,' he said. 'You have had a lucky escape, non.'
'You are French,' John exclaimed, staggered by the surprise of it all.
'Yes, indeed. After all, this island belongs to France.'
'I beg your pardon?'
'It is perfectly true, mon ami. It was discovered in 1604 by Samuel de Champlain, who named the place Isle au Haut. So, therefore, it belongs to the greatest country in the world – France.'
John chuckled. This was no time to get into an argument about the greatness, or otherwise, of one's land of birth. Instead he commented on the island. 'Isle au Haut, eh? High Island. I can see why.' He gazed at the three towering peaks which dominated the skyline. 'So how do you come to be here?'
The man laughed. 'How do you think? My brother and I were on the run in Paris – wanted for a royal murder, no less, which we planned and successfully carried out. But the authorities were after us so we hid ourselves as sailors, working aboard a ship that foundered on the very rock which brought yours down. We swam for the shore – it being summer and the waters much warmer – and when we arrived we found a tribe of Indians ready to string us up.'
'Why didn't they?'
'Because my brother – he's standing over there, by the way' – the Frenchman waved in the general direction of the man whose face resembled a post boy's bag – 'could play the fiddle like an angel. He had a good violin – magnifique – and do you know he swam all this way holding it high over his head. Anyway, I digress. He played it to the chief of the tribe and, voila, we were saved. They let us live on condition that mon frère gave them a nightly concert. And this we continued to do until the old man died. By that time more settlers had arrived and they decided to trade with us rather than kill us. So here we are – natives of the island.'
Excerpted from Death at the Boston Tea Party by Deryn Lake. Copyright © 2016 Deryn Lake. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.