Turncoat by Don Gutteridge

Book: Turncoat by Don Gutteridge Read Free Book Online
Authors: Don Gutteridge
    â€œEven so,” Child said, “and I’m not granting your premise for a moment, that is no cause for the man to be murdered.Turning your coat in political matters may lose you a friend or some custom, but not your life.”
    â€œI have to agree, Your Honour.” Barnaby smiled.
    Only Durfee did not laugh. The brandy-whetted scarlet of his cheeks had suddenly paled.
    â€œAre you all right, James?” Barnaby asked.
    â€œI’ve just had a frightenin’ thought,” Durfee said. “Suppose some people did think that Joshua’s goin’ to all them meetings and rallies was in earnest, whether it was or not. And suppose someone or other at the rallies got the notion into his head that Joshua was pretendin’ to be a convert—because of Jesse’s grievances and so on—but was actually an informer.”
    Marc held his breath, and his peace.
    â€œPreposterous,” Child said, circulating the cigar box and serving with his own hand a generous round of brandy. He gave the slumbering fire an aristocratic poke with one of the irons.
    Hatch became animated. “Not so, Squire. It makes a kind of sense, especially if you were a member of one of the fanatical fringe groups in the Reform party—a Clear Grit or whatever. Think of it from that point of view: a retired dry goods merchant comes into the district, a known Tory and occasional associate of the lieutenant-governor. Suddenly he starts showing up at Reform political dos everywhere with his daughter-in-law, a known sympathizer. Jesse campaigned over in Lennox for Perry, remember, and wrote up a petitionthat went to Mackenzie and the grievances committee in the Assembly.”
    â€œAye, that’s quite plausible,” Barnaby conceded, and even Squire Child nodded meditatively.
    Marc was buoyed by the drift of the conversation. Here was the one motive for murder he found to be the most compelling and for which he had inside knowledge he could not reveal. And now he would not have to. He tried to appear only casually interested.
    â€œI see your point,” he said, fingering his brandy glass.
    â€œNevertheless,” Barnaby said, and he paused at the deflationary effect of that word. “Nevertheless, we are still faced with the same sort of question as before. What information would an informer—Joshua in this case—be able to gather, from ordinary political meetings and speeches, that would be seditious enough to pose a threat to some treasonous cause or specific persons espousing it?”
    â€œExactly,” Child said. He turned to Marc like a wigged justice about to lecture the novice petitioner before his bench. “All you need to do is scan one issue of the
Colonial Advocate
or the
Cobourg Star
to realize that no rally, camp meeting, hustings debate, or underground pamphleteering goes unreported for any longer than it takes to set the type. One side inflates the rhetoric with hyperbole and bombast, the other edits and distorts at will—but no one’s opinion, view, prejudice, or bigotry remains private for more than a day in this fishbowl of a province.”
    â€œTrue,” Barnaby said. “There’s a lot of bush out there, but not a single tree that would hide you for an hour.”
    â€œWhat we’re saying,” Hatch added, “is that the information would have to be truly seditious—like facts about proposed actions—not the empty-headed threats we see in the press every week.”
    For a minute or so the weight of this conclusion silenced the group, and fresh cigars were clipped and lit.
    Barnaby spoke first. “I think we’re agreed that truly treasonous information would not likely bubble up at the meetings Joshua and Beth attended last summer and fall. But what if those meetings were not the source?”
    â€œWhat else could be?” Durfee said.
    â€œYou said yourself that Jesse Smallman was treading dangerous waters

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