‘No,’ the other man said, leaning back, ‘I know I haven’t been very forthcoming, but you will have to forgive me my confidentiality a while longer. An explanation will come, I assure you, in good time, but for now I must maintain strict secrecy. If this is too much for you, by all means say so and our business dealings will come to an end.’
Robert pondered the matter briefly. Blast the man, but he was a curious fellow. He knew it, too, and was verging on smug with his self-assuredness.
‘Well ye pricked my curiosity when ye sent me off with that letter, and there’s nothing less curious about this affair now, that’s for sure. Alright then, Mr Fraser, consider me in.’
‘Excellent, we’ll consider your commission extended until further notice, shall we? Very good, very good indeed.
‘Well then, you’ll no doubt be keen to get about your next task. The sooner we’re done, the sooner you’ll be out of the dark, after all! I’ve bought a property on Bridge Road, come and visit me there at ten 0’clock tomorrow morning, I’ll give you instructions then,’ he stood and extended his hand. ‘A grand day, Mr McInnes, a grand day indeed.’
The following morning Robert crossed Tank Stream and entered the more prestigious streets of the eastern Cove. William answered the door ad ushered him in.
‘Come in, Robert, come in, I want you to meet someone,’ he leaned towards him, lowering his voice. ‘A Quaker.’
They entered a small parlour. A small and slight man stood facing the door, hands clasping a hat.
‘Mr John Tawell, may I introduce Mr Robert McInnes.’
‘How do you do, sir,’ Tawell said, bowing slightly.
‘A pleasure to meet you,’ McInnes replied.
‘Mr Tawell and I,’ Fraser said, motioning them each to sit, ‘were just discussing the terrible problems our society here at Sydney is confronted with, most importantly,’ Fraser and Tawell exchanged a meaningful glance before the former locked eyes with McInnes, ‘the demon drink.’
Tawell nodded frenetically, ‘That’s right.’
‘Mr Tawell was complaining that the authorities refuse to take the matter in hand. Indeed, they have a hand in the production of spirits themselves. Meanwhile, violence and perfidy of all types entire the Rocks in wantonness.’
Robert was, briefly, at a loss. He was fond of a drink himself, and knew from experience that Fraser wasn’t shy of spirits. Ye the meeting could be no coincidence, and the knowing looks that Fraser was sending his way confirmed a growing suspicion that there was more to this meeting than futile complaint.
Then again, he hadn’t actually seen Fraser take a drink since his return. Could the man have turned Temperance while he was away?
He withdrew a pouch of tobacco and a clay pipe from his pocket. He held the pipe out with raised eyebrows an unspoken request for permission from his host, who nodded his consent. Tawell scowled, tobacco no doubt another on what was surely a long list of forbidden delights.
‘Is that Wellington?’ Fraser asked abruptly of McInnes.
Robert was taken aback momentarily, lost for the reference, but then looking at his pipe saw the profile of the Duke on the bowl. He smiled beatifically.
‘Aye, a little joke I had Bill Cluer add in when he made it for me, seeing as how he banned us from smoking in France. Silly git.’