London – 1850
The late November fog folded around them as they stepped from the cab, piercing their garments like a knife. Margaret Manson paused a moment, adjusting her wool shawl around her shoulders. She looked around at the dull, dirty buildings of Fenchurch Street, barely in the mantle of mist that shrouded the area. She trembled visibly as the soggy air intensified the foreboding that grew with each step of this new venture.
The building was a gloomy, grey edifice, ominous in its cloak of fog, yet indistinguishable from the hundreds of others in the district. A small sign beside the entrance proclaimed this to be an office of the “Hudson’s Bay Company”. Margaret hesitated slightly, took Kenneth’s arm, and entered with a distinct feeling of being swallowed alive.
“Please, Mrs Manson.” Mr Barclay broke in abruptly, not accustomed to being chastised by a woman. “I said most of the departures were expected within a month. There is one other ship, leaving within a week. cound for Vancouver’s Island.”
“Mr Barclay,” interjected Kenneth. “Do I detect a note of hesitation in your voice? Why did ye not mention this ship earlier?”
“Well,” he hesitated, “She’s a new ship, just in from the Orient, a 350 ton brigantine, somewhat smaller than the Tory. Mind you, sh’e a fine looking vessel, but one which the Company has never employed before. The captain has a reputation on the docks as being tough, but also an excellent seaman…however, very little is known of his background. The ship is presently loading supplies for Fort Victoria and other points on Vancouver’s Island, and should be departing within the week.” He paused briefly, measuring their reaction.
“If you wish, I can make inquiries for you.”
“Thank you sir,” said Kenneth. “Ye’ve been very helpful, but I think we can make the arrangements from this point. If ye would be so kind as to advise me the name of the vessel and whom we should contact?”
After consulting his papers a moment, Mr. Barclay replied. “The captain is Mr. Mark Holland, and the ship is the “Shanghai Lady”.”
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