The Rosetta Key
    “Double. I’m going to be searching hard while you craft the rifle.”
    “No.” He shook his head. “Easy to promise money you don’t have. You’ll help, and not just with this but other projects. It will be a new experience for you, doing real work. On slow days you can hunt for buried treasure or learn enough gossip to satisfy Sidney Smith. You can bill
to satisfy your debt to
    Honest work? The idea was intriguing — truth be told, I’m sometimes envious of solid men like Jericho — but daunting, too. “I’ll help at your forge,” I bargained, “but you have to guarantee me enough hours to peck about. Get me the rifle by the end of winter, when Napoleon comes, and by that time I’ll find the treasure and get Smith’s money, too.” Squeezing anything out of the Admiralty is like getting gravy from a shoelace, but spring was far off. Things could happen.
    “Then bellow that fire.” And when I leaped to obey, and shoveled charcoal, and shifted enough metal to make my shoulders ache, he grudgingly nodded. “Miriam thinks you’re a good man.”
    And with her endorsement, I knew I had some trust.
    Jericho first fetched a round metal rod, or mandrel, slightly smaller than the intended bore of my future rifle. He heated a bar of carbonized Damascus steel, called a skelp, the same length as my gun barrel. This he would wrap around the mandrel. I held the rod and handed tools while he placed these on a groove in a barrel anvil and began to beat to fuse the barrel’s cylinder. He’d do an inch at a time, removing the rod while the metals were still slightly pliable, then plunging the result into sizzling water. Then it was reheat, wrap another inch of the steel, hammer, and reweld: inch by inch. It was tedious, painstaking work, but curiously enthralling too. This lengthening tube would become my new companion. The duty kept me warm, and hard physical work was its own satisfaction. I ate simply, slept well, and even came to feel comfortable in the pious simplicity of my lodging. My muscles, already toughened by Egypt, became harder still.
    I tried to draw him out. “You’re not married, Jericho?”
    “Have you seen a wife?”
    “A handsome, prosperous man like you?”
    “I have no one I wish to marry.”
    “Me neither. Never met the right girl. Then this woman in Egypt…”
    “We’ll get word of her.”
    “So it’s just you and your sister,” I persisted.
    He stopped his hammering, annoyed. “I was married once. She died carrying my child. Other things happened. I went to the British ship. And Miriam…”
    Now I saw it. “Takes care of you, the grieving brother.”
    His gaze held mine. “As I take care of her.”
    “So if a suitor would appear?”
    “She has no wish for suitors.”
    “But she’s such a lovely girl. Sweet. Demure. Obedient.”
    “And you have your woman in Egypt.”
    “You need a wife,” I advised. “And some children to make you laugh. Maybe I can scout about for you.”
    “I don’t need a foreigner’s eye. Or a wastrel’s.”
    “Yet I might as well offer it, since I’m here!”
    And I grinned, he grumped, and we went back to pounding metal.
    When work was light I explored Jerusalem. I’d vary my dress slightly depending on which quarter I was in, trying to glean useful information through my Arabic, English, and French. Jerusalem was used to pilgrims, and my accents were unremarkable. The city’s crossroads were its markets, where rich and poor mingled and janissary warriors casually shared meals with common artisans. The
, or soup kitchens, provided welfare for the destitute, while the coffeehouses attracted men of all faiths to sip, smoke water pipes, and argue. The air, heady with the dark beans, rich Turkish tobacco, and hashish, was intoxicating. Occasionally I’d coax Jericho to come along. He needed a cup of wine or two to get going, but once started, his reluctant explanations of his homeland were invaluable.

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