Mississippi jack, p.2
Mississippi Jack, p.2L. A. Meyer
But, no. An arm gets me around the waist just as I am about to launch myself over to freedom, and I am pinioned again. This time I am thrown facedown on the deck, with heavy feet grinding me down. I see belaying pins, hurled from above, hitting the deck and bouncing. Over there a sailor kneels and holds his head. Good shot, Rebecca!
Then I look up to see a now belaying-pin-less Rebecca being grappled by her former midshipman sweetheart. "Please, Becky, dear!" he cries plaintively, but the fiercely struggling form he can barely contain in his arms bears very little resemblance to the dear girl with whom he kept such fond company on the voyage here.
Then I am roughly hoisted up and hauled below and I see no more of this battle. The dark hatchway swallows me up and I am tumbled down stairs, across a deck, and into the brig. While I see no more of the tumult, the noise of it goes on for what seems a very long time. Then, gradually, all grows quiet, and once again, in yet another jail cell, I am left alone with my thoughts.
Home again, girl.
In deep despair, I sit on the bench in the brig and reflect on the past few weeks. It is plain to me now that they knew all along about the warrant for the arrest of the female pirate Jacky Faber. The discovery was undoubtedly made by the Juno's doctor as I lay unconscious from the effects of my wounded leg. He would have spied my tattoo and known instantly that I was the one the Admiralty was looking for. I can well imagine his excitement as he went and got the Captain, then, upon his arrival at my bedside, whipped back the sheet from my oblivious form lying there naked except for the bandage on my thigh. He would have pointed to the damning mark and congratulated the Captain on his great good luck. Throwing the sheet back over my inert self, they would then have gone for a celebratory drink over their discovery.
They kept it a secret during the voyage from the Sargasso Sea to here, I suppose, to keep the other girls calm. Well, they sure had me fooled. What an idiot I was to think that I might one day be happy. I squeeze out a few tears of self-pity and then wipe them off and review my situation. I look about my cell, which I realize will be my home for the next month or so. It is very similar to other cells I have known—bunk, chamber pot, and bars. Maybe if I give my word and promise not to try to escape, they'll let me out for the voyage. Then I'd get to see Jaimy, at least, for this one last time. Nay, they won't do it. They'd accept word-of-honor from a fellow officer like Jaimy, but not from me.... Being a flighty female, I might do something stupid like jump overboard to cheat the hangman and deny Captain Rutherford his reward.
Funny to think of this now, but I sit here and regret the loss of my maroon riding habit, the one that Amy had given me that Christmas and that Clarissa was wearing when she was thrown overboard. I had to lend her something from my seabag—count on her to take the best. Ah, well, the least of my worries. And besides, where would I wear it now? On the gallows? I'd look elegant, but it's tradition that the hangman gets to keep the clothes of those he hangs, and I wouldn't want the blackguard to get that outfit. Nay, I'll probably just wear my Lawson Peabody black dress. I hear they put a strap around your knees to keep the dress from billowing up when you are dropped. For modesty's sake... Stop that, you. Enough of that.
I look out through the bars. Once again a marine is posted to guard me. He is standing at Attention. I suppose he will be there around the clock. I still have my shiv up my sleeve ... At least there's that. They didn't think to search me for weapons. After all, I am just a girl.
Funny, I think, but when I was being taken, I looked over the rioting crowd for Higgins, as I have come to depend on him for so much, but he was nowhere to be seen. I mean, I surely didn't expect him to come charging up the side to try to save me like Jaimy did, for that is not his way. But still, strange...
Strange, too, to think that Jaimy is right here on this ship. Probably not fifty feet away from me. Ah, well, it might as well be fifty miles, or fifty thousand miles, for all the good it will do us. Oh, Jaimy, we were so close, so close to finally coming together at last!
I squeeze out a few more tears on that.
Oh, well, I've got my shiv and I've still got my wits and I'm not dead yet, so a couple more tears of self-pity and then let's get on with it. I take a breath and begin: "And what is your name, Corporal, if I might ask?...Michael Kelley, is it? And a fine, proud Irish name it is. I must say you were most gallant in the performance of your duties this day, Corporal Kelley. To have taken an arrow in the chest and still stand your ground. Tsk, such bravery, I can scarce imagine it. I'm sure your sweetheart back home must be very proud of you. What might her name be, could you tell me please, as stories of young love do cheer me in my dark hours, and a dark hour this is for me, indeed ... Ah, 'Mau-reen.' What a lovely name, and she is already wife to you?...What a fine thing ... And do you have wee ones? And what are their names, then..."
Night comes. I am given some food and water, and then all is silence.
I did not think that I would sleep, but I did. When I awoke the next morning to the ringing of the ship's bell, I thought for a moment that I was back on the Bloodhound, and I lifted my head from the hard bench to look about for my Sisters, but no such luck—the events of yesterday came flooding back, and I sat up and buried my face in my hands. It had been a long night and the bench was hard, but harder still is the sure knowledge that all my dreams are now dust.
Nevertheless I arose and did the necessaries and groomed myself as best I could, having neither wash water nor soap. I was given a breakfast of tea and burgoo and I ate it. Then I asked my marine if he would get my comb out of my seabag and he did, and I combed my hair and waited.
Now I have not only myself to worry about, but also Jaimy. What will they do to him because of me and what I have done? I burn with indignation. It's not fair, for he had nothing to do with any of it. All he had been guilty of was being steadfast and true to my errant self. Oh, I am so very hard on my friends...
In the midst of these dark thoughts, I hear a whistle and commands shouted from outside the hull. What is this? They do not sound like naval commands, what with stomping of boots and clatter of arms. My marine looks curiously out of the hatch.
"What is it, Michael?" I ask, standing and grasping the bars and straining to look up what little I can see of the hatch.
"It's a troop of soldiers, Miss," he says. "British Regulars, it looks like. Where they come from, I ain't got the foggiest. Down from Canada, maybe?"
What the hell?
"There's a full colonel being piped aboard now, and the Captain and himself is takin' off their hats and bowin' at each other like a pair o' bloody peacocks. Damn peculiar it is, Miss. I ain't seen no Redcoat Regulars since we left England, I haven't."
My Corporal Kelley continues to listen to the goings-on outside. Then he suddenly lurches back to his station and hits a brace—musket at Parade Rest, chest out, chin in, back straight as a ramrod. The reason for this is quickly apparent.
"Corporal! Bind the prisoner and bring her up!" shouts down someone, who I suspect is the senior marine officer on board.
Corporal Kelley loses not a second.
"Yes, Sir!" he cries and reaches for the cell key, which I had previously noted was hung on a hook next to the hatchway. "Sorry, Miss, we must take you up."
He crams the key into the lock, turns it, and the door to my cage swings open. I step out. "It is all right, Michael. I place myself in your care. Will you take up my bag, please?" I put my hands before me and they are bound. Gently and lightly bound, to be sure, but bound nonetheless.
I put on the Look, and then we go up the hatchway stairs and emerge into the light.
I blink, and when my eyes adjust to the brightness, I see that Captain Rutherford stands next to an officer, a British colonel in full regimental rig. There are other army officers on the quarterdeck as well, arrayed in all their red-coated splendor behind their leader. The colonel, wearing a conical high hat, scarlet coat with a bit of ribbon in his lapel, white
"Ah, so this is the valuable piece of baggage, then?" he asks, contemptuously, looking me up and down with great disdain. "Hardly remarkable looking."
Captain Rutherford reads the document in his hands, and while he does that, I look about. The Juno's officers are all on deck, as well, and down on the dock is a small squad of Regulars standing at Attention behind a coach-and-two. I had seen Jaimy as soon as I came out of the hatch, but upon seeing the Colonel and casing out the situation, I determined not to look at him, though I could feel his hot eyes burning into me as I was brought up before the two commanding officers. Jaimy is not bound, but he is between two very large lieutenants. No, I keep the Look on my face and wait to see just how this thing will play out.
"But this is highly irregular, my dear Colonel Swithin...," says the Captain, continuing to scan the paper, great doubt plain on his face. He shakes his head. "...and the matter of the reward..."
"Put your mind at rest, my dear Sir," says Colonel Swithin, a slight smile playing about his rouged lips, "all is in order." He gestures to one of his junior officers behind him, who steps forward bearing a heavy sack in his hands. Captain Rutherford's eyes go wide.
"I think you'll be delighted to learn, Captain," continues the Colonel, "that the reward had been increased to a full three hundred pounds. I congratulate you on your fine prize."
I know that swept any remaining doubts from Captain Rutherford's greedy head. A fine prize, indeed—more than three times his annual salary as Post Captain—enough to buy a small estate, even.
"Very well," he manages to say, ill concealing his joy, "if you will leave with me a signed transfer document..."
"Of course, my dear Captain," says Colonel Swithin with a slight bow. "But first, a mere formality. Would you bring the female over to me so that I might be sure of her identity?"
"Bring her here," barks Captain Rutherford, and I am dragged up before Swithin.
He puts his perfumed handkerchief up to cover his nose, as if to prevent any foul smell from entering it that might be coming from me. He reaches out his other hand and puts his palm on my forehead and shoves my head back so as to peer at my damning white eyebrow.
I bristle at this. "I am not used to being handled so by one to whom I have not been properly introduced. You will take your hand from my person," I hiss from beneath his grasp. I sense a rustle of discontent from the naval officers behind me at this display of maltreatment of one whom they had come to know with some fondness on the voyage here. I cannot see Jaimy, but I imagine he is being restrained.
The Colonel does not answer me but instead runs his thumb over my eyebrow, apparently convinced of its genuineness. He drops his hand and says, "Men of my station are not introduced to harlots. Lift up your dress."
"What? Am I to be made a spectacle of, then, here before any who care to gaze upon me as I am shamed by you?" I ask, outraged. I shake off his hand.
"Hold her," orders Colonel Swithin, and poor Corporal Kelley, who I know wants no part of this, has to grasp me tightly by the upper arms and hold me steady. "I must protest this," I hear one of the officers of HMS Juno say, and there are echoing calls for the stopping of this outrage upon my person, but they are silenced with a hard look from their captain. Shame on you, Captain Rutherford, for allowing this outrage to happen on your ship.
"Talbot. Jameson. Lift up her skirt and hold her."
The two Redcoat officers advance on me. They lift my skirt and petticoats up to my waist, and they wait, the cloth wadded up in their fists, my lower undergarments exposed to the light of day and the scrutiny of all. I do not squeal or struggle in protest. Instead I fix this despicable colonel with the proudest Look I can manage and remain rigid as they hold me thus.
Colonel Swithin, his kerchief still held to his nose, reaches out one finger and pulls the waistband of my drawers down over my right hipbone. I feel the cool of the air hit my skin and hear a gasp from the crew of the Juno, some of whom are my friends. Is that a hmmmmm of protest starting up? Thanks, mates, but I know you can do nothing...
"Ah. Just where it is supposed to be," says the Colonel, referring to my damning tattoo. He withdraws his finger but not his handkerchief. "All is in order. You may cover her. Mr. Hale, step forward."
At that, the officers Talbot and Jameson release my skirts, which fall back down to my ankles. The officer holding the bag of reward money steps forward. If Captain Rutherford had been trying to resist licking his lips in anticipation, he failed in the attempt. It is not a pleasant sight to see, and so I look away. Neither do I look at Jaimy, oh, no. Instead I fix my gaze upon the face of the Colonel of Dragoons. His cheek is powdered and rouged, I notice, and a small black beauty mark is affixed on his right cheekbone. A curious fashion, I reflect, what they call macaroni, the high style, and curious indeed to find it here in the States.
"Captain Rutherford, have you a secretary with quill and ink so that we might sign the necessary papers?" he asks, apparently satisfied that I am indeed the Dread Pyrate Jacky Faber, Scourge of the Caribbean and the Normandy Coast, Misappropriator of His Majesty's Property—to wit, the brigantine bark Emerald—and, as such, properly despised by all good Britons.
"Smithers!" barks the Captain, and the ship's purser dives below, to reemerge with a small table and pen and ink, which he sets up very quickly in front of Colonel Swithin, who takes the pen from Smithers's quivering hand, dips it in the inkwell, and scratches his signature on the Letter of Prisoner Transferal, then hands the paper to Captain Rutherford.
"And now if you will just sign this receipt for the reward money, we shall be on our way, a good day's business having been concluded," says Swithin.
Captain Rutherford takes the pen, but he does not sign. At a nod from Colonel Swithin, the bag of money is placed in the hands of the purser Smithers, who takes the bag and disappears below. There is a pause as Captain Rutherford continues to examine the receipt form, until Smithers reappears and nods at the Captain. At this, Captain Rutherford beams, dips the pen, and signs the receipt. He hands it to Colonel Swithin, who passes it to his subordinate.
"All is concluded, then. I must take this creature back to New York, where, I assure you, she is most eagerly awaited. Put her in—"
"I assume I am to go with this female, as you put it, to face whatever charges are against my good name," I hear Jaimy call out.
"What is this?" asks Colonel Swithin. "Is there no discipline on this ship?"
Captain Rutherford reddens and says, "This man, Lieutenant Fletcher, has made it known that he is romantically attached to the Faber girl. I intended to take him with her back to London, to see if he had committed any crimes against the Crown in that regard."
"Charges against my good name have been lodged by Captain Rutherford because of my connection to this woman. I demand that I be allowed to be taken with her so as to be able to clear those charges against me." I still do not look in his direction.
"Well, then, perhaps we should take him with us. For interrogation," says Colonel Swithin, appearing to consider this option.
"Nay," says Captain Rutherford. "There is no warrant or reward out for him. He shall remain with us. I'll take him back to London and turn him over to the authorities." He turns to Jaimy. "No, sir, you shall come with us. You can see your lady love in London when they bring her out to the gallows! Perhaps you will even join her there!" He barks a laugh at his own wit.
At this, my heart dies within me.
"And what do you have to say about this young swain, then, Miss? He seems to hold you in some regard," sneers Colonel Swithin in my direction.
What can I
Strong hands now hold Jaimy back. His eyes burn into mine, but I hood my own eyes and go on. "What would I say about such a boy? That he proved untrue with another girl, that he sank my ship, an action which resulted in my capture, that he is member of a service that has vowed to bring me low, as low as you see me here. Nay, he is less than nothing to me. Let us be off. I hope the accommodations and the company in New York are better than what I have found here."
"Take her. I've had enough of her twaddle," says Captain Rutherford. Lieutenants Talbot and Jameson come up and take me by my arms. I give Michael Kelley's hand a final squeeze as he releases me. Lieutenant Hale takes up my seabag and I am led off the ship.
"Adieu, my good Captain," I hear Colonel Swithin say behind me. I assume there is much bowing and many compliments as he leaves. No compliments for me, though, as I am hustled down the gangway, across the wharf, and thrown roughly into the carriage. Lieutenants Talbot and Jameson are on each side of me. I sit there and fume.
In a few moments, the door opens again and Colonel Swithin heaves his bulk into the carriage. "Driver! Go!" he roars out the window, and we clatter off.
We sit there in silence for a moment, and then the Colonel says, "Well played, Miss."
And I say, "Well played, Higgins, but we must go back and get Jaimy, we must—"
"We must be calm and carefully plan out our next move. Mr. Fletcher is in no danger, believe me."
I put my face to the window and look up at the rail of the Juno. Is that Jaimy? Oh, Jaimy, I didn't mean any of what I said, no I didn't, but...
Mississippi Jack by L. A. Meyer / Young Adult / Actions & Adventure have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes