Fayetteville, North Carolina
"YOU, FINLEY SINCLAIR, HAVE a way with words,” Mrs. McDubh announced with a wee bit of flirtation in her tone while the gray tabby in her lap stare intently at him.
Finley smiled at the couple sitting across from him, both he guessed to be in their mid-twenties near his age. “A way with felines, too,” he boasted. Yet he nervously hoped the mother cat didn’t take his words as an invitation to befriend him. He had never actually coddled a cat before. Not that he disliked them.
He had merely never owned a pet of the feline or canine or equine variety.While Mrs. McDubh fanned her face in the humid upstair sitting room, three mewing kittens continued to climb over her husband who sat next to her on the blue velvet settee. Their home above their shop held only the basics of furniture and decorations. Still, Angus McDubh likely earned more in a month making ropes than Finley had ever made in two.
The young rope maker pried a kitten off his chest. Again.“Mr. Sinclair, did the cat you climbed the ship’s mast to rescue appreciate your way with felines?” he asked while a second furry barnacle attached to the shoulders of his plaid shirt. Like his wife’s, his voice held the barest hint of Scottish burr.
“Aye. Enough to use my body as a scratching post on herway down.” Finley patted his buck-skinned legs. “Still bear the scars.”
Mr. McDubh held the two white kittens under his left arm and reached for the gray kitten behind his neck. “Would you like a cat, Mr. Sinclair?”
While Finley was tempted to rescue the rope maker, he shook his head. Last thing he wanted was to make a furry friend. At least, not when he had no home to give it.
“You sure?” Mr. McDubh said, while his expression begged Finley to reconsider.
The kittens were rather cute.
Their short hair was far longer than the black bristles on Finley’s scalp—the latter a consequence of the lice outbreak on the ship. An outbreak limited to the wig-wearing captain. Yet the captain had ordered that every marine be “shaved bare-headed as the day he was born,” which had made Finley laugh because for generations Sinclairs had been born with dark hair long enough to braid. Finley felt a smile tug at the corners of his mouth. He could imagine sitting at home by the fire. Cat in lap. Feet propped up. His wife would be in a chair next to his, darning clothes as they discussed the passage of scripture they’d read that night. Or maybe they would be listening to their sons take turns reading from God’s Word. One of his sons would become a doctor, the other a minister. They would heal body and soul.
“Perhaps someday,” he answered and finished the applecider in his tin cup. The sweet tartness of Mary McDubh’s secret family recipe made up for the narrowness of the wooden rocker he sat in. After three years of surviving on one meal a day in order to save as much he could, thehearty meals during his work passage to America had added muscular bulk.
Finley leaned forward, rested his elbows on his knees,and held his empty cup with both hands. Time to focus on the task at hand.
“Well now, Mrs. McDubh,” he said cheerfully, “seeing how I have been in Carolina for two weeks and my thirst has been mercifully sated with this lovely cider of yers, I can saythe good Lord had brought us together for a purpose.”
Her soft smile added a glow to her pudgy cheeks. “You’rea dear.”
Finley looked at her husband. “Mr. McDubh, I would like to broker yer ropes for ye.”
A crease deepened between the rope maker’s brows.
“Angus, we should hire him.”
With an exaggerated groan, the rope maker finally handed the mewing kittens, one at a time, to his wife. “I like you, Mr. Sinclair. I would be honored to work with you, especially since you’re from the same part of Scotland that my grandparents emigrated, but I contracted with a new broker last fall. He’s earned me a fair profit.” With an apologetic furrow to his brow, Angus McDubh stood and motioned his russet head to the staircase. “I know you have other possible clients to attend. I need to reopen the shop, so I’ll walk you out.”
Despite the sinking feeling in his gut, Finley handed Mrs. McDubh his empty cup, quickly muttered his thanks, and then followed the third-generation North Carolinian outside onto Person Street. The dying afternoon sun still brought warmth to the air. He had visited longer with the McDubhs than he had with any other potential clients.’Course, none of them had served him cranberry tea biscuits and three cups of cider. As they stood under the McDubh Ropes sign, Finley wiped his damp brow with the rolled-up sleeve of his white linen shirt. “I will be brokering for Overton Shipwares from now on”—if I can find enough clients to secure the position—“so I will stop in when I am here next, in case ye changed yer mind.”
Mr. McDubh shook Finley’s hand. “Thank you, Mr.Sinclair.”
“ ’ Twill be my honor if ye called me Finley.”
“Then you must call me Angus.” He smiled. “When you’re in Fayetteville again, be sure to stop by earlier in the day, Finley. Mary fries her haggis to perfection.”
“Will do, Angus,” Finley answered heartily. He paused. While the couple was one he would like to consider friends, he feared appearing too presumptuous, but the sweetness of the cider lingered in his mouth. Cinnamon he knew for certain. Maybe ginger. “Might I have another wee cup or two of cider when I return?”
Angus glanced over his shoulder at the closed shop door. Then he leaned closer to Finley. “I’ll give you Mary’s secret recipe if you’d sell those felines of hers. I woke yesterday to find a kitten’s tail in my mouth. A man doesn’t need to breathe or eat cat hair.”
Finley nodded, even though he knew nothing of a cat’s blessings or curses. Still, if he could make money selling felines, he would. At this point, he would sell anything. Not that he was having any luck finding anything to sell.
“Godspeed,” Angus said with another pat to Finley’s arm.
He nodded and waited until Angus re-entered the shop. Even if he sold all three kittens and the mother cat, he would not have the clients needed to secure a permanent position with Overton Shipwares.
After having spoken to every tar boiler, pitch man, pine resin harvester, and rope maker in the area, he had not a single client. Somehow he would have to find someone with a product needing to be sold to merchants in Wilmington. Even better would be a product he could sell in Charleston and in Norfolk. If only he could pray clients into existence.
But the day was not yet over. Nor would his optimism die. Whistling a hymn that was drowned out by the clickety clack of the numerous horse-drawn buggies rolling down the dirt-hardened street, Finley strolled west down the equally busy pavement as he headed to the Maysion Hotel where he had tied his horse. He dodged people as he strolled past the Cape Fear Bank, a cobbler shop, wig maker storefront, and the two-story white washed brick building housing the Fayetteville Gazette. He could have picked a good dozen pockets, if he had wanted. That, though, would be the wrong response to his quandary.
As he crossed Town House Square, where east-west Person Street turned into Hay and north-south Gillespie turned into Green, he smiled and nodded at the affable residents who exchanged greetings. The good Lord had not rescued him from his past and seen him safely to America, only to desert him in this hour of failure. Tomorrow, Finley would find a client.
And if not tomorrow then the day after or the day after.
Eventually he would succeed.
He would never quit trying. Or working hard.
If he did, he would not deserve to own his own farmland. He needed that land so he could have the financial means tosupport the education needed for his sons’ futures. Granted, he knew no potential Mrs. Finley Sinclair, so he was presumingmuch for children he had yet to have. Nevertheless, beforethe new century arrived, he would have a farm, a wife, twosons, a daughter, and a cat to sit on his lap every evening as he rested from the day’s work in the field.
The good Lord gave him more than a new life.
He gave Finley joy and peace and hope for a brighter tomorrow.
At the next intersection, Finley stopped walking and whistling. Across the street, the three-story box-shaped inn towered over the other buildings. Black shutters framed the opened casement windows on each level. Like many of the other bricked buildings in Fayetteville, the Maysion Hotel had a steep gable roof and—unlike what he was used to in soot-covered Glasgow—looked new. Everything in America had freshness about it. Even the breeze.
He breathed deep.
The air smelled of roasted pork. Not a portion of a pig in the oven, but he could imagine the entire thing hung over a pit until the juicy meat fell off the bone. Which made his mouth water. Add some fried potatoes and a slice of pie, like he’d had this morning. He released a weary breath. Considering the dent in his savings after buying a reliable draft horse, what he needed more than food was a client.
Three clients minimum, to be exact. From here in Fayetteville, where he kept finding friendly residents not needing a broker.
I need help. Father, Spirit, Good Shepherd, lead me to where I need to go.
“Then hear me now, Mr. Lamb,” the female voice said with just enough force to add crispness to her girlish tone. “You have my answer.”
Finley glanced heavenward.
God had never been so direct before.
Still, who was Finley to doubt heavenly intervention, even though the voice was female and had an odd accent. Scottish yet not. He looked to the building on the other side of the intersection. The owner of the voice gave a linen-covered pewter plate to the lithe man standing under the grapevine-covered archway. Ivy grew from the front of the one-story building to the arch’s lattice top. An ebony-haired lass in a pink floral gown stepped outside, closing the door behind her, and what sounded like a lock clicked.
“Miss Cardew, I beseech you for another answer.”
“You ask for one I cannot give.”
“You must reconsider.” The man shifted the plate to his left hand, causing the embroidered covering to shift. “Your father agreed a marriage between our families would be beneficial to both.”
Was there anything worse than hearing a grown man whine?