A woman and a girl. A man and a boy. And witnesses, people who were interested to see them go up the mountain separately, and come down together, the boy carrying the girl’s basket, and the woman’s hand resting on the man’s arm. As pairs they were already notable, and when they started keeping company they presented a real puzzle to the flourishing gossips of Gethsemane.
For a start it wasn’t usual for anyone to speak to the girl in public. The stallholders in the market would never take money from her hand, she had to leave it on the counter and they’d pick it up once she’d moved on. The girl was a witch. She lived in a dark crib in an alley off Market Square, and was followed everywhere by the woman, a silent, white-eyed figure.
The boy and man weren’t locals. They’d arrived in the Shackle Islands on the John Bartholomew. Ships that came into the port of Gethsemane would usually unload quickly then pick up a cargo of sugar. But the John Bartholomew stayed. She was three days in the dock, unloading a cargo of equipment for the South Pacific Company’s thermal project. Drills and gantries, steel cable and steel beams all piled up on the wharf, and were carried off along the road to Mount Magdalene. The ship then anchored out in the channel, where its crew weren’t at any easy leisure. They idled and fumed within sight of the port and only the Captain came and went freely. And then the boy and the man began to appear—inexplicably exempt from the rule against shore leave.
The boy was only a steward on the ship, but the John Bartholomew’s Captain seemed to favour him, and the talk in the port was that he was some ship owner’s son getting a maritime education. This, because of the Captain’s odd partiality, and the fact he had a servant—for it was assumed that the able seaman who accompanied him everywhere was his servant. The man was in late middle age, grizzled, wiry, and as weathered as any aging sailor, but there were those who said that this was only a disguise, and that he was in fact an old family retainer. He seemed too tender of the boy—tender with a familial tenderness. He was black, and the boy white, so, given the tenderness, it followed that he couldn’t be simply a shipmate.