Mississippi jack, p.30
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       Mississippi Jack, p.30

           L. A. Meyer
 

  "Dammit to hell, Flashby, why can't these damned savages ever make up their minds?"

  "Probably figures he's got to go on a vigil first," says the other man, "have some sort of heathen vision to show him the way."

  Good. It seems that Tecumseh hasn't yet agreed to do their murdering for them.

  "Aye, and it's all up to him, too. If he goes along with it, the others will follow and—"

  "What have we here, now?" says a voice above me. "Captain Allen, come look!"

  Uh-oh...

  I'm shocked to see a pair of shiny black boots next to my face. I try to get to my feet to make a run for it, but one of the boots is lifted and placed in the middle of my back, pinning me to the ground. I hear Tepeki getting up and running away.

  "What's going on out there?" demands Moseley from inside the tent.

  "Caught that little white girl sneakin' around back o' yer tent, Sir," says Sergeant Bailey, the owner of the heavy foot that holds me down. I'm having trouble breathing.

  "Prolly lookin' to steal something. Like the rest of them thievin' savages," says Bailey.

  Yes, yes! That's it! Please believe that and let me go!

  More pairs of boots come into my vision.

  "Why, I'll be damned, if it isn't Pretty-Tail," says a voice I recognize as Captain Allen's. He squats down next to me and peers into my face. "Were you looking to steal something, sweetheart? Hmmm? Or were you just looking for me?"

  I turn my face the other way, but when I see Flashby and Moseley coming around the tepee, I turn back to Allen so they can't see my face.

  "So what is this?" asks Moseley.

  Captain Allen stands up. "The sergeant thinks he's caught himself a thief. Me, I think she was just curious about the white folk."

  "She seemed to be listening under your tent, Sir," says the obstinate Sergeant Bailey.

  "I thought she didn't understand English," says Flashby.

  "Well, stand her up and let's have a look at her."

  Sergeant Bailey takes his foot from my back and I roll to the side, leap up, and go to run, but his hand catches me by the neck and holds me fast. And I'm wishing that my hair were not in tight braids so it could hang about my face. My worst fears are realized.

  "Oh, my God." This from Flashby, and I know I am lost.

  Flashby comes grinning up to me and places his hand on my shoulder. "In my capacity as a lieutenant in the Royal Navy on detached duty with British Intelligence, I arrest you, Jacky Faber, in the name of His Majesty King George the Third of England."

  "Whatever are you going on about, Flashby?" asks Moseley, irritably. While I am sweating buckets, to him this is just an annoyance.

  "Well, Sir, this female is the wanted criminal, the notorious Jacky Faber, and I have just made myself a neat two hundred and fifty pounds sterling by her capture," crows Flashby with great satisfaction. "Surely, Sir, you remember the notice the Admiralty has been circulating? The wanted posters stating the reward? They have been most anxious to get their hands on this girl, and now they shall have her. As will I." He puts his finger on my nose. "You and I have some unfinished business to attend to as well, as I'm sure you recall."

  "Come now, Flashby, what would a criminal wanted in England be doing deep in the wilds of America?" asks Captain Allen.

  "Oh, probably she has gone over to the Americans in return for their protection, and they've sent her out here to thwart our dealings with the Indians. It doesn't matter," says Flashby. "Later, when we're far from here, she'll tell us everything she knows. Count on it." Again he points his finger at my nose.

  "And just what proof do you have? Look at her, standing there trembling," says Captain Allen, whom I am liking more and more every minute. "She's just a captive, more Indian than white now, and should be pitied for it."

  "Pity, my ass. Do you see this eyebrow where the hair has grown in white over the scar beneath? That's one of the items from the description." He points to my damning eyebrow. I have yet to say a word. "Plus, there's the fact that I was introduced to this girl at a dinner party in Massachusetts several years ago, and I remember her very, very well. I almost bagged her then, but I will most certainly bag her now."

  "I still say this is preposterous. You're going to cause an incident with the Indians."

  "That's true, Flashby," agrees Moseley. "You must be careful."

  "You be careful, Bailey," Flashby warns the soldier holding me by the neck. "She's known as a wily one. She's escaped captivity twice and has killed more than a few men."

  "This little thing, Sir? I can't believe that," says Sergeant Bailey, giving me a bit of a shake to prove my helplessness. I flop like a rag doll to lend credence to his words.

  "There's one last and final proof," says Flashby with a leer. "She has a blue tattoo on her right hip. It is an anchor with the words HMS Dolphin above it. Will you believe me then, if it is there?"

  "Lift her skirt," says Moseley, "and let's be done with this."

  Sergeant Bailey reaches for the hem of my lower garment.

  Time for the knife now, for sure.

  I run my right hand up my left sleeve and slide out my shiv and put the point of it to the throat of a very surprised Redcoat sergeant.

  "Let me go or die," I say. "Your choice, Sergeant."

  "Well, I'll be damned," says an equally surprised Captain Allen.

  The sergeant lets go of my neck and I spin and turn and make for the woods.

  If I can get there, I'm safe! Lightfoot and Chee-a-quat will track me and take me back to my ship and—

  It is not to be.

  Three of the privates are between me and the forest, and they are skilled enough in the art of knife fighting to crouch before me, hands out, and circling just out of the reach of my blade, one sayin', "Now, dearie, let's just drop the knife. We won't hurt you, come on now, dearie..."

  I might have been able to fight my way through, but that doesn't matter, as all they have to do is delay me enough for Sergeant Bailey to come up behind me, encircle my waist with one arm while the hand of the other arm grasps me by the wrist of my knife hand. One of the privates comes up and puts his thumb in the soft underpart of my wrist and pushes hard.

  My shiv falls out of my hand.

  "Now we'll see about that tattoo," says Flashby.

  I squeal and twist, but I am thrown to the ground once again, and hard hands hold me there, on my back, as my skirt is flung up and the waistband of my drawers drawn down.

  "There it is," says Flashby. "Are you all satisfied now?"

  There is murmur of assent, then I hear a new voice.

  "What the hell you doin'?"

  It is Lightfoot, his long rifle cradled in his arms, the barrel pointing at Flashby. I see Chee-a-quat and Tepeki standing next to him, all lookin' grim.

  "Get yourself off, you goddamn renegade," orders Flashby. "This girl is a wanted fugitive."

  Tepeki, her face a mask of fury, shoulders her way through and kneels next to me and pulls my skirt back down over my bare legs. I lie there with my chest heaving great racking sobs borne of frustration and shame. She stays beside me as her father, the chief of this village, comes up. It is plain that he is alarmed at this turn of events. The Indian interpreter is also present and begins translating, for there is much conversation going back and forth.

  Finally the chief turns to Chee-a-quat and Lightfoot and speaks low and careful to them. They do not change expression, but I know what the chief is saying: The powwow is too important to be disrupted by a mere girl. Let the palefaces take the paleface girl. It is no concern of ours.

  Chee-a-quat and Lightfoot say nothing, but they do put up their rifles. Lightfoot says, "She is nothing to me. Take her." With a final glare at the agents, he spins on his heel and leaves.

  I am pulled once again to my feet. Tepeki, seeing that all is lost, reaches down and picks up my shiv and, holding it before her to part the ranks of Redcoats, runs off.

  "Get her down to the boat," orders Moseley. "We're leavi
ng now. We'll find out Tecumseh's answer soon enough."

  "Break camp!" bellows Sergeant Bailey to his squad. "Brisk, now! Move it!"

  I am tied fast to a tree for the time it takes them to make their preparations, and then my hands are tied behind me, a rope put around my neck, and with Redcoats all about me, I am pulled along a trail toward a boat, which I know must lie waiting on the Mississippi.

  ***

  This is a different trail than the one we came in on three days ago. We have not gone a great distance along it when Moseley orders a halt.

  "Be quiet, all of you," he orders, and for several moments we stand there and listen to the silence. "Sergeant, draw your pistol and point it at the girl's head."

  My knees turn to jelly and I think I might fall. Why is he—

  "You out there!" shouts Moseley. "You, the white renegade, and any Indian cohorts you might have with you! A gun is pointed at the back of the girl's head! If anyone fires even one shot on us, she will be instantly killed! Do you understand that? Instantly, and without mercy!"

  Silence in the woods. "All right, Captain Allen, let us proceed," Moseley says more quietly, and we move forward once again on the Captain's command.

  "If you would, Sir, could you please direct the sergeant to shoot her in the back should we be attacked, instead of in the head?" asks Flashby. "You see, a good part of the reward still stands if I bring back only her head, and it would be distasteful if her skull were all shattered by a bullet."

  "Make it so, Bailey," growls Moseley, getting fed up with all this.

  It is hard to walk with my hands tied behind me, and several times I stumble and eventually I trip and fall. I fall hard on my shoulder and my head hits the ground and it hurts. The soldier holding the rope about my neck didn't slack off quickly enough as I went down and so the rope burns into my neck and I feel so miserable that I just let go and cry, the tears pouring out of my eyes and into the dirt beside my face. I bring my knees to my chest to curl up as much as I can into a ball of pure misery.

  "How can you be so meeeeean to me ... I didn't do anything to you-hoo-hoo." My face contorted, my eyes squeezed shut, I bawl out my total pain and despair.

  "Christ. Get her up. We've got to keep moving!" Moseley orders.

  I am pulled roughly to my feet.

  "Stand up, you," growls the soldier who lifted me up.

  "Here, here, none of that," I hear Captain Allen say. "No need to be rough. She'll come along nicely now, won't you, dear? Come on, now."

  Encouraged by a half-kind word, I nod and walk along as they start out again. I notice that Captain Allen walks by my side now, I think to catch me should I fall again.

  "No need to be rough? Ha!" Flashby laughs. "Wait till later when she'll find out what rough really means."

  I sense that Captain Allen stiffens at that, as do I, but he says nothing and we trudge on.

  I cannot rid myself of the notion that this time I am truly captured. I will be taken down to the boat that lies on the river and from there it will be down to the sea and thence across the ocean, and, ultimately, to my doom.

  The Black Cloud rolls in and I am helpless before it.

  Chapter 51

  The British Special Agents and their escort have a keelboat much like mine, moored in a little estuary of the Mississippi. I notice that three men have been left behind to guard the boat in the others' absence, and they look at me with undisguised astonishment as I am brought aboard. I notice also that tents have been set up on the outer decks, the lower decks being reserved for the officers, I suppose.

  My dishonor and degradation is complete when, as we sight the boat, I speak up and say that I have to attend to a need of a personal nature.

  "What the hell do you mean by that?" asks Moseley.

  "I think she means she has to relieve herself. It happens, you know. Even in the best of girls," says Captain Allen.

  "Well, then squat down, girl, and do it," says Flashby.

  I lift my face and begin to cry again, the tears of humiliation real.

  "You know, Flashby, you really are something of a cur," says Captain Allen, his hand on the pommel of his sword.

  Various black looks have been exchanged between Allen and Flashby all along this journey, looks that have not gone unnoted by me.

  "Here, I'll have none of that," says Agent Moseley. "You can go at each other when this mission is complete, but not now. She can go behind that tree there."

  "Please, Sir, I must have my hands free ... to manage my skirt, like."

  "All right, untie her hands," says Moseley.

  "Wait a minute," snarls Flashby. "Let me check that neck rope. She ain't getting away this time."

  Lieutenant Flashby examines the knots and then leans into me and says, "There's a bowline and three half-hitches on this noose. You can't hope to get them off. Try to run and I'll snap your neck. Got it? Good. Now go do your business. I'll hold the rope."

  My hands are untied, and I go behind the tree, lift my skirt, drop my drawers, and do what is necessary. Then my hands are retied, again in back of me. Flashby is taking no chances with his prize.

  "Take her below and tie her to a chair," says Flashby when all are aboard. "And get us something to eat and drink. We've got some hot work ahead of us," he says, with a smirking look at me.

  Two of them take me down into a sort of common area and a chair is found and I am tied to it. They simply lift up my arms and slide them over the back of the chair and then bind my feet, each to a leg of the chair. It is Privates Quimby and MacDuff, I believe, and since I don't think they're enjoying this job overmuch, I bring on the tears and the heaving chest again.

  "Damn me, I hate to see a girl cry," says MacDuff.

  Hearing that, I redouble the volume of my cries.

  "Steady on, Archy," says Quimby. "There ain't nothin' you can do about it."

  "They're gonna torture me, lads," I wail. "They're gonna hurt me, I just know it, and I ain't got nothin' to tell 'em!"

  "Now, Miss, they ain't gonna do nothin' o' the kind," says Archy. "After all, they's proper English gentlemen."

  The proper English gentlemen come down into the hold.

  Seeing that the binding job is done, Moseley orders the soldiers out, saying, "I told you that you are never to talk to this creature, and here I hear you babbling away with her. I catch you again, it's ten with the Cat, understood? Good." The soldiers leave in a hurry.

  Moseley and Flashby stand regarding me.

  "You, too, Allen," says Moseley. "Out."

  "What?" asks Captain Allen, incredulous.

  "What will go on here is an Intelligence matter and of no concern to the Regular Army."

  "What are you going to do to her?"

  "We will conduct an interrogation. There is reason to believe this girl has turned traitor and gone over to the American side..."

  Here I shake my head vigorously back and forth. "No, it's not true!"

  "...and we mean to find out the truth of the matter."

  "I remind you, Allen, that this girl is my capture and I'll do what I want with her," says Flashby. "She is nothing more than gallows bait, after all, and as such, she has absolutely no rights."

  "And I remind you, Lieutenant Flashby, that I outrank you and, as such, am the Officer in Charge of military operations on this expedition!"

  "We are merely going to ask her some questions, Captain Allen, that is all. Now if you would kindly step outside, we will get on with it."

  Allen, furious, says, "Very well, Mr. Moseley. You have one hour. My men must be fed and put to their rest without disruption. One hour, no more."

  And with great emphasis on his last utterance, he leaves the hold, and with him goes any hope I might have had of some protection.

  Flashby grins at me and pulls a cigar out of his pocket. He licks the end of it and then steps over to the stove behind me. There is a rattling of metal and when he comes back into my sight, the cigar is lit. He pulls up a chair next to me and puffs a gre
at cloud of smoke in my face.

  "Do you mind if I smoke?"

  I don't answer. The acrid smoke gets in my eyes and makes them leak tears all the more.

  Mr. Moseley shuffles through some papers till he finds the one he wants. "It says here that you are wanted for piracy. What do you say to that?"

  "Not true. I was a privateer, in the service of King George. I had a Letter of Marque."

  "One that was revoked."

  "They didn't tell me, when they revoked it. How was I to know? I was at sea, doing what I thought was my duty," I say, my voice full of honest resentment.

  "Hmmm. What about the charge of misappropriating one of His Majesty's ships?"

  "It wasn't his; it was mine. It was my share of the prize money from those ships I took as commander of the Wolverine."

  "Well, I'll let you settle that with His Majesty. Now, this business of your involvement in a French spy ring..."

  "I uncovered the spy ring; I wasn't involved in it. I know I saved many lives by my actions, and I take comfort in that," I say. "Not like you, who seek to pay the Indians to murder innocent men, women, and children. How could you be so vile?"

  "Ah, so you know about that? You are good at sneaking about," says Flashby. He takes a few more hard puffs on his cigar and then knocks off the gray ash, exposing the end, glowing red-hot. He reaches over with his other hand and flips my skirt back from my knees, exposing my legs to mid thigh. Seemingly by accident, he brings the glowing ember close to one knee. I can feel the heat of it and terror grips me, as I know his intent.

  "Very well," says Moseley. "That takes care of your past actions, actions for which you will surely swing, after Naval Intelligence gets done interrogating you concerning the spy ring. Now, as to the present. How came you to be here, and what are you up to?"

  "I ain't up to nothin'. I was taken prisoner by Captain Rutherford of the Juno. I escaped, and having no place to hide, I ran for the interior and met up with Lightfoot. I had some money and I hired him to take me down to New Orleans, where I have friends. That's all there is to it."

 

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