Excerpt: Triangle: A Memoir of Black Caesar
Jeremy Brooks sat quietly on the window-seat in John Aldworth’s study. He waited patiently for the elderly man to review the letter he’d received from John Buckworth again, for the third time. A warm fire crackled in the large fireplace across the room, on the interior wall behind the old man’s writing desk. Jeremy sat, turned sideways, looking through the window, watching the rain pounding the gardens outside as the wind howled, violently twisting the branches of the trees. He was reminded of the horrible storm of 1703, when so many died, but he felt safe here, in this substantial house, far from the coast and from the center of London’s panicked masses.
He knew that when they’d finished their business he would be asked to share in a glass of port, as he was most evenings. On those nights they would talk of The Royal African Company, world events, the intrigues of royalty and the difficulties of colonial rule. Sometimes they spoke of more personal things, certain social aspirations, or things lost, like Mrs. Aldworth and, less often, the prodigal son, Collin. On most nights these conversations would go well into the late hours, or until the elder fell asleep in his soft, arm chair. Tonight the discussion would go long, based on the letter Mr. Aldworth had received from John Buckworth, for it contained a damning report from a company agent, one Captain Stokes, about Collin’s most recent rogueries, implicating him in an attack on the company’s factory in New Calabar, on the African coast.
“But there is no clear evidence here.” John had argued in denial.
“Still, a young Englishman of Collin’s approximate age and description? It sounds a bit more than coincidence.” Jeremy suggested.
John had been very quiet since, studying the wording of Sir John’s letter, deeply concerned about the wounds this “Collin” had apparently received, but more than equally concerned about the possible effects the incident could have on his own, pending aspirations.
In a way, Jeremy was like a son to this wealthy, aging man. A refreshing proxy for the real one, who’d so hurtfully disappointed the old man over the years. Where Collin had proved disappointing, Jeremy could please. This most recent news of Collin’s violent interloping could only help propel Jerremy’s aspirations. Based on the report from Captain Stokes, he might die of his violent nature, as so many young men did in these turbulent times. That would be better for all of them, to put an end to the disappointments once and for all. Jeremy had worked very hard over many years to gain Mr. Aldworth’s trust. Now he stood close to gaining so much more. He reminded himself that patience must be the rule.
Returning his attention to the violence of the storm outside, Jeremy thought he was not fond of the idea that he would have to get up early and ride into London, to deliver this letter of response that the old man was drafting.
The elder put down the letter from Sir John, and the glass he’d been using to peruse it. He sighed, and referring to his response, he said, “I think we’ve covered everything, Jeremy. Please go ahead and read it back to me.”
Jeremy moved from the window to stand closer to the fire place. He picked up the freshly inked parchment from the edge of the writing desk and, by the wavering firelight, he began to read:
“Gravesend, March, 1712
Dear Sir John:
I write to you from the warmth of my study on this stormy night and pray that you are sayfe and in good health. Nothing surprises me more than good news in the troubled times in which we live. As such, I must confess my surprise at the Queen’s sudden removal of Marlborough from his command. Like so much of the royal intrigue, this was unexpected and, as a result, I can understand how you might be a bit unnerved. I also understand that it opens our monopoly on the African coast to the threat of more interlopers, but I remind you that those who defy the law have always been a threat and a part of our normal business risk. Though they chip away at our profits each year, they have never really represented much of a loss to us, unless one is willing to count the cost of containing them. For me, those costs are a part of the nature of our business. In spite of them our fortunes have grown each year and I anticipate they will continue to do so for a thousand years to come. I believe that the Queen’s proposed changes will more than compensate by opening a vast number of new markets for us in the trade we, The Royal African Company of England, already dominate, not only on the coast of Africa, but throughout the colonial world.
I sleep tonight with the greatest confidence in what I have just said regarding the threat of interlopers, but I will be most pleased to join you in petitioning the House of Commons and the Admiralty to make a more concerted effort to bring these rascals to the end of a rope. Some have recently claimed that my son is among those who roam the seas pillaging our commerce. I don’t believe what they say. My son is kidnapped and dead at the hands of these very scoundrels. Even if I be wrong on this account, and he lives among the thieves as one of them, then he is dead to me in his sins. I would sooner see him at the end of a rope than committing crime on the high seas. Certainly, in any case, you may add my name to your petition.
Your Most Sincere Servant,