Part of the ‘Cazique of Poyais’ story – read more here
Noemi sat on a small wooden stool to rest her tired body as best she could. It had been a couple of days since she had returned home. Jose had stopped by to offer support, moral and through the provision of food. He also took each opportunity to subtly hint at the state of Belize Town with its current troubles and how useful it would be to have an out. The idea of London still reigned high in his mind, though how they would get there was still a mystery to all. She had assumed that Jose was still speaking to that Daniel Perez, which was why he continued to badger her about her decision. For now, she could ignore it. More pressing matters were indeed afoot.
Levearson and Smith leaned against a table opposite Noemi and waited. Since she had lead them here, they assumed that she had a reason to come to the privacy. Yet, she simply sat there, in a state of exhaustion. Something had to be said to prompt her narrative to continue.
“What of these stories you have heard, Noemi? We appreciate that not all will have truth in them, but hopefully they can lead to the truth,” Levearson asked.
“I will tell you. First, I need something from you.”
“Anything,” Smith jutted in instinctively, but immediately knowing that he would get a reprimand for that later.
“Why is it so important for the superintendent, for you? These people are not of these parts and so why should it matter to all of us?”
“A fair question,” Levearson began, “and thankfully one that I will be happy to truthfully answer within these four walls. There are three parts to it. First, Belize Town is struggling under the weight of the Poyais settlers. Our town was built to support half the amount of people and productive people at that. We want to help, but how long can it last. Look at you and the hospital here. Second, it is our duty as officers of the Crown to investigate matters of criminality whether they took place here or elsewhere in the Empire. As we are closest to the eye witnesses, we must investigate and report. Finally, while you may not believe it, we do feel for the settlers. It is a horrible fate and as our fellow citizens, we have a greater duty to investigate it for all that lost their lives.”
“Fair honesty, Levearson, though I suspect the first point rules above all. I don’t begrudge you or the superintendent. After all, you are trying to protect the likes of me. Wouldn’t it be nice though if the last point was most important?”
“It is first in my heart, if you’ll believe my word as true -”
“I’m afraid that I can’t, but that won’t stop us from continuing your investigation. What were your questions again?”
Levearson looked hurt and yet his military discipline forced him to ignore the cut that Noemi had made. He said, “There are no specific questions, we just need to know what you’ve heard. Anything about MacGregor would be the best.”
She sat and contemplated for a moment before responding, “I’ve heard a lot of conflicting stories. As I said, many are out of anger and/or fever. I’ll tell them nonetheless, but you must sweat not to treat these accounts as gospel.”
Neither man said anything. Noemi waited patiently for their brains to catch up. When the silence ensued, they finally did and dumbly recited, “I swear.”
“Very good. I’ll describe two main accounts I’ve heard. Bear in mind though that each are an amalgamation and not directly from one person or the other.”
“There are a few things that are pure fact. Two boats sailed over to the land called Poyais and they were invariably convinced to do so after purchasing land and being made promises by Sir Gregor MacGregor or his agents. The land called Poyais had been described as rich and plentiful with a temperate climate and a functioning town government. When they arrived, the first boat found a swamp and nothing else. Some thought they had been duped, others thought that the land they’d been promised was just through the jungle. The latter went and explored and never returned. When the second ship arrived carrying passengers, they at least had a welcome party, but it was a poor welcome indeed. Both ships sailed off with much of the settlers remaining provisions. Many died and more became sick with tropical diseases before the Mexican Eagle came by and rescued them.”
“Interesting,” Smith subtly interjected whilst nodding his head. This earned a stern look from Levearson and Noemi, though Noemi’s was leaning towards bemused.
“I suspect you’re more interested in where blame is placed? I ask the question, but no need to answer. It’s obvious I guess, after all, what an investigation is after.”
Levearson was starting to get annoyed with the constant side swipes at what their motives were interjected, “think whatever you must, but we are interested in the facts and other information that will lead us their. We are no court, so we do not attribute blame, but rather report on what we have found. So, we want to know who blames who, but also everything else.”
“Fair enough said, Mr. Levearson. One version goes like this: the man MacGregor is a rotten scoundrel who sold the entire two ships worth of settlers out in the name of profit. He cunningly pulled together expert testimony and his silver tongue painted an idyllic picture of Poyais to whomsoever would listen. Self styled, he was the Cazique of Poyais. A prince that had been given a tract of beautiful land which he was now dividing up amongst eager settlers. Many of the prospective settlers were promised lavish employment that would see them through to retirement. One banker, I’m told, thought he would become the head of the Bank of Poyais, which can be the only reason he left relative comfort in London. There were others too numerous and absurd to believe with the hindsight we now have including the idea that one would be the official boot maker to the Princess of Poyais, MqcGregor’s wife. She, I’m to understand. Played a significant part in the whole piece, I understand. Being from these parts, she added that extra layer of authenticity. In short, they were persuaded to handover all their hard earned savings to MacGregor and his associates.”
Noemi paused, perhaps waiting for questions or just catching her breath. They were all somewhat taken aback and weren’t sure how this could happen. Smith had to interject with a question, “Any clues as to why they believed him?”
It was a good question and got the nod from Levearson while Noemi considered her answer.
“Partially the promise of something new with so much backing evidence. The fact that he was a Scotsman and so were most of the settlers must surely have something to do with it. His wife was another prop in his gimmick which allowed peoples’ imaginations to run to the picture of a land filled with milk, honey and land they could afford. Not to mention the perfect climate to boot. Those who disbelieved all of this none sense that was fed to them still went along. Sure, they questioned if a place located on something called the Mosquito Coast could really be safe, but their accurate yet misguided objections were swept aside by the masses.”
Noemi paused and then Levearson commented, “That paints a useful picture. Are all of these people lying on their death beds here?”
“If you’re hoping to question people, I would go find the rare few who are on the mend and have visitors. Question the visitors for the best accounts.”
Smith gave a puzzled look and asked the obvious, as he was wont to do, “You said there were two distinct stories. What is the other?”
“If only you had some patience Master Smith, you would have found out in just a moment. Much of the second account is not distinct. It is only the very important part that you are particularly interested in that’s distinct. There is, you see, a decent part of the settlers that place no blame on MacGregor at all! In their view he was a true and honest gentleman. A real Scot, trying his best to look after other Scots. It was his agents and other third parties that ruined and swindled them. They refer to them as the wayward murders.”
“I think murders is the right term, but I wonder if I would not apply it to all.”
“Let me finish Mr. Levearson!” Noemi said, angry that her swing had been cut off. She was enjoying the distraction. From the constant tending to sick settlers to the decision regarding London that she knew was looming when she eventually came home and tried to rest. This information would likely never lead to a thing. Nonetheless, she enjoyed telling the story. Much better than reality.
“There is particular scorn,” she continued, “for the bankers who sold bonds, Thomas Strangeways who wrote the lovely account of the place and Colonel Hall who lead the expedition. MacGregor, in their minds, is completely innocent.”
“And in your mind?”
Noemi paused. She felt as if she was passing judgement. The whole think was extraordinary, but in her mind there was no question, “MacGregor must have known.”