The London Exchange
The London Exchange

Sir Thomas Gresham’s major gift to the City, the Royal exchange, was built as a lasting monument to London’s position in these markets, and it quickly became the center of economic life in the City.

The Jewel House

Deborah Harkness


Poley awoke mid morning, full of purpose, plans, and piss. As he stood over his chamber pot, he felt like a terrier with its teeth in a rat at last. He knew the author of his woes. This Denby fucker might think himself protected and above it all, but Poley had bested stronger. Had to find out more about him. What did he do at Court, where did he get his intelligence?

But first, coin.

Poley shook his cock dry, tucked it away. The name popped into his mind and he grinned, sharp and joyless. Alewife Kate Harvey. She would be good for some coin. Her late husband had knocked her about something fierce but left her the drinking house when he died of being stabbed. Poley had been always careful to treat her with respect and kindness and she responded well to that. Like a beaten dog, grateful for the smallest kindness. And like a dog, Kate Harvey had her uses.

Poley lived on the second floor of an old townhouse, on Harp Lane, between Thames Street and Tower Street, once owned by some Catholic noble who had to leave the country. A local guild fraternity had put together the money, bought it from the Crown, and divided it up into rooms to rent. He left his room and went down the main stairs which emptied out into what used to be the house’s entry hall. A greengrocer and his brood lived in the largest set of rooms on the ground floor and he dodged two of his brats playing on the stair. Through the open door of the rooms, the grocer’s wife spied them playing and yelled at them to get their lazy asses in and help with the cleaning up.

Poley exited the building and entered its overgrown courtyard. The sun was about halfway across the sky and shone weakly down on the weeds and piles of unused bricks and planks left from when the owners had essayed some improvements to the building years past. He nodded to Andrew, a clerk at a chandler’s down on the Thames who always came home for his lunch and lived across the hall from Poley. Andrew nodded back and they passed without speaking. Poley pulled his hat on, squared his shoulders, went out through the tumbledown gateway of the courtyard, another thing that the owners had never gotten around to repairing.

The house and courtyard were never quiet during the day, what with all the comings and goings and people living cheek to jowl. But it was a veritable forest glade compared to the clamor of the street. Immediately upon exiting the courtyard, Poley dodged around a man pushing a barrow of bricks. The curses he flung at Poley’s head were drowned out by the cries of the man selling caged birds, good for pies or song. Poley almost got a cage in the face before he fought his way clear, found his footing, and proceeded in the direction of Alewife Harvey’s tavern. He went north on Harp Lane, towards Tower Street.

Poley’s years as an intelligencer had drummed stern and inviolate lessons into his bones. Denby knew that he now knew Denby. At this stage, Denby’s skills as an intelligencer were unknown but it was safest to assume he was capable. No harm in overestimating an opponent but it could be deadly to underestimate. Poley knew that at the very least Denby had a couple of strong arms. So he took precautions.

His path took him across Tower Street, up Mincing Lane, and past another of London’s innumerable building sites; by the looks of it an older small house with some land behind it being torn down and a much larger dwelling being raised in its place. Without pausing, he turned right, moving alongside a wagon that was delivering freshly sawn planks to the building site. He could smell the green sap and sawdust rising from the wagon bed. When the wagon stopped and the driver profanely inquired as to where he should put the planks, several voices rose with obscene and anatomically painful suggestions, Poley continued past the carpenters and bricklayers who were working on the new building. From the piles of bricks, it looked as if this was going to be the house of someone wealthy, not a warren of apartments such as where Poley abided.

On the far side of the building site, he made his way down an alley that threaded between between two walled gardens. At the end of the alley, he dodged across Mark Lane, avoiding a fast moving coach, and turned to see if anyone had followed him. After a wait of several minutes, and no one appeared, Poley continued on his way up Mark Lane, towards Fenchurch Street. He kept to it, moving among the people.

Alewife Harvey’s tavern was in a prime location, on Billeter Lane, just a few doors down from where Mark Lane, Hart Street, and Billeter Lane all ran into Fenchurch Street at St. Dionysus Backchurch and formed a rough square. A pump in the central of that square meant that she and Jacob, her servant, didn’t have to carry the buckets of water far to the brewing casks. Entering upon the square, Poley saw Jacob staggering from the pump, straining under a yoke of two full buckets. Another servant took his place, didn’t stop gossiping with others waiting in line.

Poley increased his pace and soon came up alongside the young man. “Good day, Jacob. You and your mistress starting another batch of ale?”

Jacob turned his flushed face to Poley. His parents had fled the war in the Low Countries when he was a babe and his accent was mixed Dutch and London. “Master Poley. Nay, not for brewing. Just for the cleaning up. Getting ready to open up.”

“Is Mistress Harvey about?”

Jacob paused to let a woman and her maid pass in front of him, and then moved on. Water from the buckets splashed his breeches and hose, turning the grey a darker hue. He adjusted the yoke on his shoulders, trying to find find a spot where it hurt the least and where the buckets might be more stable. “Aye, she’s about.” He wasn’t overly interested in the conversation, carefully placing his feet among the ruts in the road and trying not to stab random passersby with the yoke took most of his attention.

Poley essayed no further questions and walked alongside Jacob in silence. Soon, the familiar shape of the alewife’s establishment came into view. It was an older two story building, made of wood and daub, marked as a beer house by the red lattices nailed to the front shutters. Alewife Harvey and her two daughters lived above the drinking establishment on the second floor. Jacob had a pallet among the brewing casks in the shed that took up most of the small allotment of land behind the house. He nudged the door open with his yoke and passed inside. Poley entered close at his heels.

He stood to one side of the doorway and took a moment to ken the lay. The shutters had yet to be thrown open and the main room was gloomy darkness. The long tables still had the benches on them. The room had an old beer smell that would never be dispelled, but Alewife Harvey kept a clean establishment. There were no odors of piss or spew that were the constant companions in most of the other boozing houses that he frequented.

As he stood there, Alewife Kate Harvey came out from the back carrying a tray of mugs. She put them down on the short bar that ran along the back wall. She looked up and saw Jacob. “At last, boy! Did you go all the way to the river for those buckets?”

Standing in the shadows cast by the sunlight coming through the open door, Poley escaped her gaze for a moment. He took the opportunity to observe if there were any changes in her since he had last seen her.

She remained as she had for the last few instances that he had seen her. Even with her two children and her years – she’d never see thirty summers again – she kept her figure well. She wasn’t overly tall; both face and figure rounded. What drew the eye first was an amazing pair of tits, but what kept the eye, for those with the eye to see past the obvious, were the clear signs of intelligence and humor in her face.  This day, she had her red hair braided and coiled up underneath her coif but some locks escaped to frame her face. She was wearing her green skirt, covered by her apron. Her red jacket was open enough to show her grey bodice and she had rolled up the sleeves of her jacket to more easily deal with the work of her brewery. She appeared as she was, a prosperous businesswoman of London.  

And her establishment looked as if it was doing enough. Aye. She’ll do.

“Alewife Harvey, I pray that this day finds you well.” And he stepped into the light coming through the door.

She spun around from where she had been placing cheap clay mugs behind the bar. “Robert! I didn’t see you there! You gave me quite a start.”

Poley moved out into the room, towards the bar, smile on his face, smile in his voice. “Now then, have I not told you time and time again, it would please me greatly if you would call me Bob.” He reached the bar and lowered his voice, looking directly into her eyes. “After all, do we not know each other well enough by now?”

She colored and dropped her eyes, shyly smiling. “Aye, we do know each other most well.” Almost as if she was unaware of it, her right hand crept across the bar towards where Poley had rested his own hands.

He caught her gaze as she looked up at him and slanted his gaze leftward, towards where Jacob was making only the most cursory efforts at mopping the floor, clearly trying to overhear all that he might.

“Jacob! Get your ass out back and check the barrels! And then the hops need to be stored where the rats can’t get to them. Roust yourself! We open soon and there is much to be done!”

The boy colored and sullenly clattered out, leaving his mop against one of the tables.

When they were assured their privacy, Poley slid his hand across the bar to meet hers. Gently rubbing his thumb across the back of her hand, he made his voice amused. “You still have the way with servants, do you not, Kate? I’ve always thought you the queen of your house.”

She blushed even more and tucked a strand of her red hair back under her bonnet, but did not move her hand. “A queen! And you are still the silver-tongued devil that I have always known.”

 “Nay, I speak true. I have told you before how my work on occasion takes me to the highest places. There have been times when I have been in attendance on Her Majesty and have thought to myself, how like Kate.”

She shook her head ruefully – not believing but not disbelieving either – her desire to be convinced clear. “Oh, come now, Bob. Your tales have always been wondrous, but really, ‘tis clear that you have never been near the Queen.” She hastily added, now fearful of giving offence, “Not that you aren’t a fine man, you do move in circles far above me, but none so exalted as Whitehall and the Queen.”

A bit of the stick, I think. He drew his hand back across the bar, left hers laying there. He made sure that his voice was a touch affronted. “What have I done to earn such distrust, Alewife? Have I lied to you in the past? Am I such a puffed up braggart, strutting around, telling stories and lies and everything made up?” He looked down and saddened his tone. “I seek only to praise you, and for my pains I have my kindness flung back at me like that dirty rag you hold there in your hand.”

Kate twisted her arm and sought to hide the offending rag behind her back. He saw with satisfaction her eyes fill with pain and her face become slack with embarrassment. She leaned across the bar, stretching her other arm out, trying to catch his hand. “No, please, Bob, you mistake my words! I would never call you those things. It is just that I cannot fathom why someone has had such adventures among such people would take an interest in one such as me. I find it so hard to believe why I have been so blessed with luck to have you take an interest in me, a mere alewife in a poor parish.”

And now the loving hand pats the head. He allowed his hand to be captured by hers. “No, no, good Kate. It is me who must cry your pardon. My work takes me among such as who lie with every breath and seek to twist every word. And I must delve for the truth among such trash. It makes me suspicious of everything and everyone. Even those who are blameless.” He patted and caressed her hand, solicitous and loving.

She dropped the bar rag and grasped his hand with both of hers. “Oh, Bob, you are too good to me! Whatever have I done to deserve such a blessing as you in my life? Such a sinner as myself.”

He returned her grip. “Nay, such talk is arrant nonsense. You are no rank Puritan to be prattling about being a sinner. Not only are you a good person, a beneficent mother to your daughters, but an upright businesswoman. No short measures, no watered ale in Harvey’s place! All who know you say that.”

She smiled and blushed again; broke away from his grip to dab at her eyes. “You will make my head swell and explode with pride, Bob Poley, see if you don’t” She turned away for a moment, reaching for one of the mugs stacked on the shelves behind the bar. “Not much of a hostess am I, to leave to so long in my house without a drop? Let me get you set up. I’ve got a new barrel back here, just waiting to be tapped for tonight’s trade.” With her free hand, she pulled a mallet out from under the bar and then walked down to where a bunged barrel was resting on its side. Poley watched her move, judged her ripe.

Standing before the barrel, Kate lifted a tap from next to the barrel and placed it precisely centered on the bung. With one powerful blow from the mallet, she drove the tap securely into the bunghole. It was done so fast, so skillfully, that no beer escaped from the barrel. She pushed the errant strand of hair back again underneath her bonnet and reached for one of the mugs under the bar. She twisted the handle on the tap and expertly filled the mug.

She brought it back down the bar and slide it in front of Poley. “There, Bob, taste that and let me know what you think. I’ve changed my recipe a bit and I judge it a success.”

Poley took a healthy draught. “God’s blood, Kate! That is some of the best that I have ever tasted!” He quickly downed the rest of the mug. “With a brew like this, no wonder you are the alewife that the entire parish talks of! A most triumphal success, indeed.”

She took his mug and refilled it. “I’m pleased that you think so.”

He took a smaller sip, this time savoring it. “Earlier I said that you and her Majesty are much alike in some ways. Now this is one way in which you are dissimilar. You have this ale every day. Her Majesty has nothing so wonderful at her table.”

“Now I know that you are not a liar, Bob, but I think that you are perhaps being a bit fanciful for my sake.”

“Nay, nay, I swear not! I have supped at Court a number of times. And, yes, it has always been at a low table, far away from the nobles and such, but it was at Court with all of the fine foods and drink. But no drink as fine as this. And that is a damn shame. For our Queen should be surrounded by the best of all things in this land. So what say you, Kate? How does Alewife Harvey, Brewmistress to Her Majesty the Queen, strike your ear?”

“What? It strikes me that I may have made this brew a touch too strong, Bob! You’re drunk!”

“Nay, I say thee nay, sweet Kate. It would take much more than a single mug of ale, no matter how fine, to confound my senses. I am dead serious, sober as a Puritan. I can make an honest attempt to have you recognized as Brewmistress to the Queen. And I think that it would be an attempt that would stand a good chance of success. What say you?”

“But does she not have someone at that position already? Surely someone from the larger breweries here in London has sought and won that honor long ago?”

“To be sure. But such a position is not an eternal one. If someone better comes along, for example a comely Alewife with the best brew in all the parishes of London, well, then, I would say that the position is open for consideration.” Poley took another drink from his mug. “It is an attempt well worth making, I swear.”

Kate looked down at the bar and thought for a moment, her hand tracing idle patterns on the bar top. Then she raised her head and gazed straight at Poley. “Worth making, you say. We all know, sure as we know the sun rises in the East, we all know that anything worth doing, especially at Court, takes coin. How much will this attempt of yours cost me?”

Poley put his mug down and met her eyes forthrightly and honestly. “I shan’t dissemble. It will not be cheap. I can get the ear of those necessary at Court but to hold their attention, I will need coin. But it is a good investment, not unlike what her Majesty placed in Drake’s voyage, and was that not returned hundredfold? This is no idle fancy, I am no alchemist promising the Philosopher’s Stone, Kate. Your brewing knowledge is unsurpassed and the proof of it lies in those barrels. Why, when I offer a mug of it to the Master of the Kitchen, he’ll become your most ardent ally for much less money than usual.”

“You’ve not named a figure yet, I notice.” Her tone was dry.

He glanced away as if thinking for a moment. “Fifteen pounds.”

“Fifteen pounds!” Her shout echoed against the rafters. “Bob! Are you cracked?”

He gestured at her to calm down. “Softly, softly, Kate. This is not a scheme to be pealed to the heavens. Now, I know full well that this is a goodly sum…”

“Goodly sum!” She threw up her hands. “What makes you dream that I’ve ever seen that much money in my life?” Her hands came down to pound on the bar. “I’m a simple alewife in a poor parish!” And that was the tone that Poley’s highly trained ear had been waiting for. Her indignation was false. She had the money. And now to layer it on thick.

He put some scoff into his voice. “Simple? You? Nay, that is not something that I would call you.” He put forth his hands and captured hers in his. He leaned forward so that their heads were close over the bar.  “You are as savvy a person of business as any in this town filled with such. After your husband’s” – a delicate pause – “disappearance, you took what was a most loathsome boozing ken and turned it into what we see now. A clean successful alehouse. And you brew the best beer around. To be sure, each mug sells for a few pennies, but I have no doubt that you sell a lot of them. And those pennies add up.”

She rolled her eyes derisively. “And there speaks a man who has no house, no business, no family, and no idea at how much all that costs. Yes, money comes across the bar and back out just as fast. My daughters are growing fast and need new clothes whenever I look at them, it seems. And the price of barley is something cruel this year.”

“Aye, it all costs. I well understand that. But I also understand that you know the meaning of a good investment and this is what this would be. Remember what I said, just like the Queen investing in Drake. This money, yes, no small sum, but this money would be spent towards making sure that your daughters have only the best marriages when they come of age.”

She sighed and her eyes fell towards their entwined hands. “Suppose it is all as you say. How do I get you this money to open the ears of those at Court? After all, I do not see you taking a lock box full of pennies to the Master of the Kitchen.”

 “True.” He paused as if thinking. “But wait, does your late husband’s brother still work at the Exchange for the banker Robertson?”

She grimaced slightly as if tasting something bad. “Aye. Richard does still work for him. In fact, he is who I do my banking with.”

“Well, then there you have it. It seems the solution would be for him to issue you a letter of credit based on the money that you have on deposit with Robertson.”

“But fifteen pounds, Bob! That’s a very dear sum. Why, that’s almost all that I have saved up over the years.”

“I know, my darling Kate, I know. But think on what I’ve said. This is no foolish gamble, no crack-brained scheme. This is a wise investment in your future and the future of your family.”

“You’re speaking a great deal of sense.” She was almost landed but continued to fight the hook. “But I needs must think on this. After all, I see no need to come to a decision right away. This is an opportunity that will remain for some time, will it not?”

“In normal times, you would be right. But the reason that the idea of you as Brewmistress to the Queen came so quick to mind was a recent piece of gossip that I heard two days ago. You see, the current Brewmaster to the Queen is much out of favor with an entire shipment of barrels being delivered spoiled and undrinkable. So now, I see two things happening without your investment. Primus, the current Brewmaster will regain favor with a better batch of beer and the generous spreading of bribes. Or, secundus, someone else will have the same idea as I have had and approach the Master of Kitchens with a candidate of their own. Time is of essence.” Should I also hint that I am leaving the city soon and will not be available to help her? No, too much, I think.

“Then leave off for a few moments at least! I must think!” She whirled away from him, breaking their grip, and began to pace back and forth behind the bar, muttering to herself. Poley took the opportunity to slowly finish off his beer. It truly was an ambrosial brew. After a span of time, she came to a stop in front of Poley and stared him in the eyes. “Let’s do this. We’re off to the ‘Change.”

She took off her apron and hung it behind the bar. “Wait here. I must see to things before we leave, to make sure that there is a still a house to return to.” She exited through a door in the back of the room. Poley shortly heard her yelling out the back door. “Jacob! I’m going out for a bit! Finish with the cleaning up inside! And don’t forget to go get the girls from their lessons.” Instructions given, she clattered upstairs.

Poley took the opportunity to go behind the bar and help himself to more beer. This really is a sublime brew. She’s a wonder, she is. And to think, fifteen pounds! I had no idea that she was doing so well. I would have been happy with five pounds and counted myself lucky. With this much, I can afford to gain the information that I seek, unstop unwilling mouths.

His ruminations were interrupted when he heard Kate come down the stairs and through the doorway. She had changed her linen cap to the white one that was embroidered along the edge with blue flowers and had donned her good black apron. “You are indeed the respectable matron, my dear Kate.”

Out to Leadenhall, a main thoroughfare. If he looked to his right, he could see, just about over the heads of the people bustling about, the top of Aldgate, from which this ward took its name. Down Leadenhall to where it ran into Bishopsgate Street, another one of London’s main boulevards. It had several names as it ran through London, north to south, from London Bridge all the way up to Bishopsgate and out of the city proper; New Fish Street, Greenchurch Street, and the Bishopsgate at this crossroads with Cornhill and Leadenhall.

A sedan chair had collided with a costermonger’s barrow and the ensuing shouting match created a plugged clot of people, animals, carts. Poley held Kate’s arm as they took advantage of the lull in traffic and helped her around the ruts as they crossed Bishopsgate and proceeded down Cornhill.

The Exchange was not too far away on Cornhill, there on the corner where Threadneedle ran into it. The press of bodies and vehicles was already becoming thicker, for the Exchange was a popular destination for many people, not only those who might have business there, but those who wished to be seen by those doing business there. Poley could see its height above the crowds.

The Exchange had been built several decades before, by Thomas Gresham, the Queen’s Treasurer. He had been inspired by the Bourse in Antwerp, at that time the most important place of business in all of Western Europe. Poley knew that now, with wars, blockades, sacks, the Antwerp Bourse was merely a ghost of its former days and that the building before him had taken its place. He wasn’t a man given to many fanciful notions like pride in country, but, looking at the building, hearing the hum of business that hung above the crowd, feeling the sense of wealth and prosperity, he could not but be proud to be an Englishman alive during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. And then he  shook his head, clearing his mind of such profitless meanderings.

The Exchange was a large two story building with a gate that opened onto Cornhill. Surrounding the gate and spreading along the wall of the building were market stalls selling all manner of goods and services. A French Hugenot escaped from the religious wars in France was selling lace next to a woman offering herbal simples and other medical curatives, and next to her was a man selling bunches of violets and lavender nosegays. And that was just three of the many outside the gate who had not the coin to have a stall inside.

Eventually Poley and Kate managed to make their way through the gate and into the Exchange courtyard. The center of the Exchange was a large courtyard with an eye-catching weather vane in the shape of a grasshopper in the middle. The courtyard was surrounded on all sides by an arched walkway. Above the walkway were shops and offices. The courtyard was busy with people meeting, visiting, seeing, and being seen. In the main, they all, men and women both, wore their best clothes; bright colors and gems flashed in the sun. Poley was familiar with the dazzling array; several times he had held meetings with sources and other intelligencers in the anonymity of the crowd.  

He and Kate kept to the covered walkway and made their way around the courtyard. And here was where serious coin changed hands. A space for a stall in the covered walkway came very dear and so the goods sold in those stalls were those that would see the stall holders a good return on their investment. Silks, spices, finely worked jewelry, and financial services of all kinds were displayed between the pillars of the walkway.

Both Kate and Poley indulged their curiosities as they strolled along, pausing to look at the pretty things and inhale the otherworldly scents of the spices. Then they came to a staircase leading to the offices on the second floor. Poley inclined his head towards the staircase and Kate nodded.

Once at the top of the staircase they turned left and entered into a long wide room, well lit by the many windows along the wall. The room was filled with tables, each one busy with a banker on one side and a client on the other. The Exchange rented the tables to each banker, providing a well known and safe space for business.

There wasn’t a great amount of coin in the room; the bankers and their clients dealt mainly with paper: deeds of property, cargo invoices, bills of credit, and other such proofs of wealth. Voices were kept low in this church of commerce as, with a stroke of pen, wool not yet shorn alchemized into coins not yet minted from gold not yet arrived from the New World.

“There he is, my late husband’s brother, Richard.” Kate pointed to a table across the room. She then turned to Poley. “Why don’t you wait over by the door, Bob? This will go easier for me if I do it alone.”

None of his instant calculations showed on his face. “Absolutely, my dear. That is the wisest course. Not that I need to tell you, but don’t forget to mention the reason for this letter of credit. Feel free to mention me as a someone well known for a long time who is deeply familiar with the workings of the Court.”

Kate’s voice became a trifle edged and in the sunlight coming through the window the movement of her mouth could be mistaken for a smile. “As you say, no need to tell me.” She nodded to Poley and left him there, a bit flat-footed and berating himself at his over-zealousness.  

Kate went to her brother-in-law, exchanged greetings, then settled into conversation. Poley could tell when the topic on conversation came round to Kate’s request. Looks, even gestures, were flung his way by the banker. Kate met each objection with calm and confidence. Her gaze never wavered, her face never lost its seriousness. She brought the conversation to a halt with one final point which set the banker back in his chair. After that, he nodded in acquiescence and set to work with pen and parchment.

Poley wished that he were close enough to hear what her last point had been. He felt slightly uneasy at the ease with which he had attained his goals. He shook his head irritably and concentrated on planning how he’d use this money against Denby.

One worry he did not dismiss so easily. In the back of his mind, there was a constant annoying refrain. Moody. He had set that bastard loose and now had to know how that gamble was playing out. But just how to do that was an answer just out of reach. He stood there and gnawed on the problem while Kate finished her business and walked back to him. She bore a folded and sealed parchment.

Standing before him, she handed the parchment over. “Here ‘tis, Bob Poley. All my work up until now and all my dreams of my future, and my daughters’ futures. I place it all in your hands.” Her voice was steady, her gaze firm, but the slight tremble in her hands betrayed her.

Without pause, Poley stepped back and gave her his best and most formal bow, the one he used at Court. He kept his voice completely without mockery. “Mistress Harvey. Dearest Kate. I pledge my soul, my entire being, to your cause.” He straightened and looked direct at her. What he saw there surprised him but he made sure that he showed it not.

“No need to over-egg the pudding, Bob.” Her tone was dry. No hint of a smile, no hint of fear, no hint of worry. She was a London business woman and this was just business. “May God bless our endeavour with success.”

“Amen, dear Kate, Amen.” Poley tucked the parchment safely away in his purse.

“Now I must get back to my shop before Jacob sets it on fire.” Kate moved away down the stairs.  

As Poley smoothed down his purse, he felt the paper crackle under his fingers and, as if the sun burned away a London fog, his mind cleared and he knew what to do, how to set another watch on Moody. Van Meteren. Of course. A cack handed idiot is what I’ve been. That Dutchman is the post master for all his nation here in London. How he gets his news and packages through the blockade I know not, but he’s never failed, that I know of. And I’m not far from Lime Street. His mind busy with his plans, he paid only the most cursory of attention to Kate as they walked across the courtyard towards the gate from whence they had entered.

As they exited the Exchange, back out through the gate and into the mass of people on Threadneedle, Poley felt an intent presence right behind him and whirled, suspecting someone or other ready to do him harm. His suddenly galloping heart slowed as he recognized Ralph. “Damn your eyes, man! You gave me one hell of a fright!”

The large man leaned close as people began to irritably move past them. “Didn’t want to call out your name to catch your attention. Not certain who might have an eye out for you.”

“Aye. Right enough.”

“I’ve got some intelligence to pass on.”

“Let’s hear it.”

Ralph started and stared oddly at Kate as she laid her hand on Poley’s arm. “Bob, it’s clear that you have business to attend to. For myself, I needs must get back to work.”

All solicitous, Poley bent over Kate’s hand. “I am sorry to be so thoughtless, especially as you have shown me such a great trust as you have this day.” He straightened. “Ralph has brought me word of something that I must deal with. Once I am done with that, I promise, I will move most speedily on our plan.”

“I shall look forward to word from you, Bob.” She tugged at the bottom of her jacket to seat it on her shoulders. “Good day to you, Ralph.” And she moved off into the crowd.

Ralph’s muttered “And good day to you, Mistress Harvey” ended up being addressed to her back. He turned to Poley. “What’s this plan you spoke of?”

Poley waved a dismissive hand. “Oh, some spur of the moment line of shit I laid out to cozen her purse. And it worked! Five full pounds she gave me! I had no fucking idea she was so well off. Or so trusting.”

The big man’s voice was as expressionless as his face. “Aye. Who knew?”

“But enough of her. You said you had news.”

Ralph relaxed his fists and tucked them behind his back. “I’ve got word that a Captain Barnes and his ship, The Primrose, has docked and he’s fresh from making the crossing from Vlissengen. Thought you might like to see if he has news about Moody.”

“That’s a fine bit of intelligence, indeed, Ralph! Well done! This day continues well indeed.” Poley took a moment to consider. Van Meteren could wait until later today, even tomorrow. Poley knew where he’d be, while this Captain Barnes could disappear into any of the countless grog shops and whorehouses along the wharves and around the Customs House. “Let’s go and have a word with Barnes before he does a runner.”

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