Mississippi jack, p.31
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       Mississippi Jack, p.31

           L. A. Meyer

  "Ah. You'll have to do better than that," he says, reaching over to slap me hard across the face.

  I cry out, shocked by the suddenness of the blow, and then I blubber out, "I can't tell you anything else! God help me, I don't know anything else! Please believe me! Oh, please don't hurt me!"

  "It's reported that, as La Belle Jeune Fille sans Merci, you tortured prisoners on board the Wolverine," says Flashby, leering into my face. "How do you like it done to you, hmmm?" And he puts the hot tip of the cigar to my leg.

  "EEEEEE-eeee!" I screech, and thrash about in my bonds. "No, no! Please, no more, oh please, God, save me!"

  Flashby blows on the tip of his cigar and again brings it down on me.

  "EEEEE-eeeee oh God! No, please, not again! EEEEEE-eeeee!"

  Through my pain I hear the hatch door thrust open and the heavy boots of Captain Allen come into the room. Flashby hurriedly pulls my skirt down over my knees to hide the burn marks. I hang my head and sob.

  Allen, furious, demands, "What the hell are you doing to her?"

  "Now, now, Captain Allen, she is just overreacting to our simple questions," says Moseley. "She sees you are sympathetic and seeks to prey upon your emotions. Can't you see?"

  "What I see is that the interrogation for today is over," states Allen, flatly, looking at Flashby with murder in his eye.

  "Who are you to be telling us that, Captain?" says Moseley, his toad face turning bright red. "I remind you that I am the head of this expedition, Sir!"

  Allen turns on him and says coldly, "Look outside this hold, Sir... You will find nine soldiers dressed in red uniforms, very much like mine. They owe their loyalty to me, Sir; they take their orders from me, Sir; and as hardened as they are, they are very distressed over the shrieks they hear coming from a young girl held down here by the likes of you. If you want us to abandon you and Flashbutt out here in the wilderness to fend for yourselves, just say the word, and we will be gone, Sir."

  Flashby is on his feet, glaring at Allen.

  "Anytime, Flashbutt, anytime," says Allen, holding his gaze.

  "You just want that bit of quim for yourself, admit it," snarls Flashby.

  "Anytime, any weapons, Flashboy. Right now is fine with me." His eyes have not wavered from Flashby's. I do my job by continuing to gasp and sob, which ain't hard, given that my face still smarts, my leg still burns, and I despair of my future.

  Moseley pulls Flashby to the side and whispers something to him, and then says to Allen, "We were through for the day, anyway. Let's lock her up and see how she likes spending the night in the dark with no food or water. That should make her more cooperative tomorrow. Captain, call down three of your men."

  Captain Allen, with a final black look at Flashby, goes to the hatchway and calls out, "Sergeant, come down here with Jackson and McMann."

  In a moment the men are in the hold, awaiting orders.

  "Empty that closet of its contents," says Moseley. "Here's the key."

  Sergeant Bailey takes the key and walks behind me with the other two men. There is a click as the door is unlocked, and then there is the sound of goods being moved.

  "Done, Sir," says Private McMann.

  "Make sure there's absolutely nothing left in there," warns Flashby. "This female is extremely clever and has twice escaped custody, and I'll be damned if it's going to happen on my watch."

  "Nothin' in there, Sir," says Bailey. "Kind o' small, though."

  "We'll be the judge of that," Moseley snaps. "Untie her feet. Just her feet."

  The one named Jackson squats down and does it.

  "All right, now tie her ankles together. Good."

  I have not stopped bawling this whole time, and I think it's getting to the soldiers.

  "If ... if you tie me too tightly, my hands and feet will go numb and then turn black and fall off and I'll d-d-die," I sob. And I won't be worth so much then, you bastards.

  "Make sure the bonds are firm, but don't cut off her circulation."

  Sergeant Bailey slides a finger between the ropes and my ankles, then my wrists. "Should be all right," he says.

  "Then lift her up and put her in."

  Strong hands take me up and turn me around, and I get to see what will be my prison while I am here: a box three feet wide and four feet long, not even big enough for me to stretch out in.

  "Oh, how could you beeeeee so cruuuuuel?" I wail, shaking my head back and forth, making my pigtails flail about my face.

  "I must protest this treatment of a prisoner," says Captain Allen. "You can be sure that both my superiors and yours will be informed of this when we get back."

  "Captain Allen, you may report all you wish. I think my superiors would be most pleased with my actions in this matter," says Mr. Moseley, tersely. "The female will be uncomfortable, yes, but in pain, no. Now direct your men to put her in the closet."

  A pause, then, "Do it."

  I am lifted from the chair and carried to the box and put in.

  "Please, please, don't, pleeeeease...," I scream as the door shuts and blackness surrounds me. The key turns and the lock is secured. I hear low voices from outside and then nothing.

  I keep up my caterwauling for a while and then taper off into groans of despair, followed by mere sniveling and whining over where cruel fate has cast poor me. Then I take stock of my situation.

  I'm lying on my side, facing away from the door. I twist around to reverse myself and ... good. There's a crack of light at the edge of the door. I can see the lock's lug where it enters the jamb—I won't be able to jimmy it, having no tools, but at least I'll know when it is withdrawn.

  First things first. With my fingers, I work the rope binding my wrists down as far as I can toward my hands. Then I slide my bound hands under my rump and down to behind my knees. Now for the hard part. I try to work my hands farther down, but I can only reach to my ankles. That's all right, 'cause now I can get my fingers on the clumsy granny knot that I saw the landlubber Private McMann tie previously. Thank God it wasn't tied by a sailor or I'd be havin' a lot harder time of it. No time to lose, though—I've got to have a look at the knot on my wrist binding before they turn out the light over there.

  There! My feet are free. Now I can slide my wrist rope up to my right heel, over and into my arch, then over my toes. That's one leg, now for the other. I make short work of that and... at last!... now my hands are in front of me and I can hold them up to the dim light of the crack to check out the knot. Good! A simple set of half-hitches.

  I set to work with my teeth.

  "Worst watch I ever stood in me life, Archy," I hear from outside my box two hours later. It seems the watch over me is to be changed. "She cried the whole time, poor thing. But, remember, you can't even talk to 'er or you'll get the whip. And you'll want to talk, believe me, but don't do it."

  "Still don't believe she done all those things they say she's done," says Archy MacDuff, plainly plopping himself down in the spot just vacated by Private Quimby. "No way to treat a girl, no matter what she done."

  I've got my nose planted right up against the crack so as to suck in what fresh air I can, and I let out a low moan, followed by a few gasps and sobs.

  "There she goes again, Arch. I don't envy you your time here."

  "Ach, 'twill be a hard night, Willie. Get you off. See you in the morning."

  Inside the box, I listen. Quimby has left the hold. I've loosely retied the bonds on my feet again, and I am ready to throw my hands behind me should I be inspected during the night, but no such inspection comes. I softly cry some more and then...

  "Archy MacDuff, I know you are of Scottish blood, and you know I am not, but I was born in the north of England and so that's close enough to Scotland, it is, so that we share some common blood, yes, we do, and oh, Archy, pity me in my state of total disgrace and humiliation, pity me with all your heart ... My hands are tied behind me, my feet are bound. Oh Lord, how can I survive such torment, such pain? And I'm thirsty, so thirsty, my mouth is as dr
y as a desert and oh, oh, oh, I'm sorry, I just can't keep from crying, I can't, Archy. I know you can't speak to me, Archy, and I know it's hard on you 'cause you want to talk to me and try to ease my pain, but you can't, you can't, I know you can't. But when I was a wee bairny, my mother used to sing me a Scottish lullaby called 'Schmeag Schmore' that went sort of like 'Hush, little baby, ever'thin's gonna be all right, the sheep's in the meadow, and the cow's in the corn,' and I know you can't sing it to me, Archy, but if you were to hum it real low, it would give me great comfort in my time o' need, Archy, it would..."

  Chapter 52

  It was a long night, one of the longest I have ever spent, but finally light began to creep through the door crack, and though I am cramped and achy, I make myself ready and steel myself for the attempt, for I know that this will be my only chance at escape before I am once again trussed up, helpless and doomed.

  Facing the door and never taking my eye off the now-visible lock bolt, I lie back with my shoulders pressed against the far end of the box for extra leverage. My legs drawn up, my knees to my nose, I grip in my hand the whip I made out of the binding ropes by doubling them and knotting the ends.

  I note footsteps approaching, and then I hear a voice I recognize as Moseley's.

  "Report, Private Merrick."

  I had all six of the private soldiers on guard last night, and while they could not talk to me, I could talk to them, and by now they all know me very, very well.

  "She's been cryin' all night, Sir. She's quieted down some now, though."

  "Well, let's get her out and bound up," says Lieutenant Flashby. "Here's the key."

  That's three of them in there. No more, please.

  "Aye, Sir," says Merrick. There is a rattle, and the bolt slides back.


  With all my might I drive my feet against the door. It flies open and Merrick, taken by surprise, falls over backward as I vault out of the box and make for the hatchway door which... yes! It's open!

  "Damn!" shouts Moseley, and he makes a grab for me, but I swing my cat-o'-four-tails and catch him full across the face. He shrieks in agony and falls to his knees, and I charge on toward the light.

  But Flashby gets between me and freedom. "Oh, no, you don't!" he snarls, reaching for my neck.

  Again I swing the whip, aiming at his face, but he manages to get an arm up to take the blow harmlessly on his sleeve, and then with his other hand, he rips the flail from my grip. Both his hands for the moment occupied, I dart to the side, and bouncing from a box on the deck, get up behind him and loop my last remaining piece of rope around his neck. With either end of the garrote wrapped around each of my hands, I pull with all my might. He begins to choke. I wrap my legs around his waist so he can't shake me off.

  "Back us out the door or you'll never take another breath again, you scurvy dog!" I shout into his ear. He lunges wildly across the room, trying desperately to dig his fingers under the rope, to take that awful pressure off his windpipe, but he cannot. He can do nothing but gag. I am little, but I am strong. "The door, dog, or die!"

  Again Flashby careens across the hold, this time in the general direction of the door. Another door opens and from the corner of my eye, I see Richard Allen, shirtless, step into the room. He takes in the scene—Moseley still on the floor, moaning, and Flashby staggering above him with a luridly purple face, and the Captain bursts into great gales of laughter.

  "Nothing like a brisk ride of a morning to get the blood pumping, is there, old boy?" crows the delighted Allen. "Of course, I myself prefer to do the riding, rather than being rid, but then there is no accounting for taste, and I hear you Navy chaps do like your fun a little, well, irregular. Hmmm ... It looks like she's got the bridle a bit tight, doesn't it. Tsk, tsk."

  "Get her! Tie her down!" This from Moseley, who has re-covered enough to stand. "If she gets out the door, she is gone!"

  Flashby is starting to sink to his knees. 'Tis plain he ain't gonna carry me to the door. I let go and leap for the opening. If I can get out and into the water, I might yet save myself!

  "Allen, I order you! I swear I'll have you court-martialed!"

  Captain Allen stops laughing long enough to say, "Oh, very well. Ahem! Sergeant Bailey, please apprehend that demon who has brought at least five hundred pounds of His Majesty's finest Intelligence Agents to their knees. Careful, now."

  I'm out the door and there is the shining Mississippi and never did it look better, but there also is Sergeant Enoch Bailey, looking very large and very determined and very much in my way.

  "Aye, Sir," says Sergeant Bailey. He whips out a hand and gets me by the neck—for a big man, he is very fast.

  But I am very fast, too, and I use every dirty trick I know to try to break away. First I box his ears—bringing my two cupped hands together hard on his ears—he winces, but does not let go. Then I bring my knee up quick into his crotch—he doubles over and gasps, but he does not let go. Finally, I sink my teeth into the soft part of his shoulder next to his neck and I bite down as hard as I can. He does not let go.

  "Archy ... Alfie ... help me," he wheezes, and the two soldiers are by his side, and they pry my now-defeated form off of their sergeant and carry me back inside and plop me in the chair. Rope is found and I am securely bound once again.

  "Remember, no food, no water," says Moseley to Allen, as he prepares to leave. "I don't care what else you do with her, but no food, no water. And she had better not escape," he adds with a threatening look at the languid Captain Allen, who leans back in a chair, his booted feet crossed. He has on a loose white shirt now, but no coat. It is summer and it is hot. He also has a pistol in a holster by his side, I guess in case Flashby takes him up on one of his many challenges to duel.

  "Don't worry, Guv'nor, she's in competent hands now," says the insolent Captain Allen, blowing an excellently formed smoke ring in Moseley's direction. I gather that Moseley and Flashby must journey back to the Shawnee village to find out what will be Tecumseh's stand on selling settlers' scalps for money.

  Flashby, for his parting word, leans close to me and whispers, "The time to settle our unfinished business will come. You can mark me on that. When we get to New Orleans, goddamn Captain bloody Lord Allen will be gone, but you will still be my captive. We will see just how frisky you are then." He puts his hand to his neck, which is red with vivid rope burns. "And you may mark me on this, too. After I deliver you to the Admiralty and they are done with you, I shall give up fifty pounds of the reward for the privilege of putting the rope around your neck and pulling the lever to drop the trap myself. I am glad to inform you that I am quite highly regarded as a man up-and-coming in the Intelligence Service, and I am sure they will accede to my wishes. I will make sure that the drop will be the short one, not the long, so I can watch you strangle." He runs his finger over my throat when he says that.

  I have not had a drop to drink in over twenty-four hours, but I manage to work up a gob of spit, and I sling it in his eye. Enraging him doesn't matter anymore, he will do to me whatever he will do.

  He starts back, wipes his eye, and brings the back of his hand across my face. I shudder and hang my head and wait for another blow.

  It doesn't come. Moseley and Flashby leave the hold.

  I continue to hang my head and sag in my bonds. I try an experimental whimper.

  "Well, you did spit in his eye, dearie, you can't deny that. I'd have smacked you one, too, for that."

  "Would you, to someone tied in a chair? I think not, Captain Allen."

  "I don't know about that, as I've never tied anyone to a chair. It ain't my style." Allen rises and locks the hatchway door and puts the key in his pocket. After he glances up at the clock—you can always trust the military to be watching the clock—he goes to a cupboard and takes out a bottle of wine and one glass. He draws the cork with his teeth and fills the glass. Then he pulls up a chair next to me and sits down.

  "Do you know what Moseley and Flashby are doing at the Indian camp?"
I ask.

  "Oh, stirring up trouble, I suppose. They haven't seen fit to let me in on it yet, and that's fine with me. My only job is to protect the politicos, and that's what I'm doing."

  For some reason, it gladdens me to hear that.

  "How long will they be gone?" I ask with a sniffle. "Till they come back to torture me some more?"

  "Oh, four or five hours. And I won't let them torture you. Oh, you'll have to suffer a little, but I won't let it get too far."

  "Too far? Will you lift the edge of my skirt over my left leg a few inches?"

  He grins. "Why, I'd be delighted." He gets to his feet and comes over and flips up my skirt. The angry red burn marks are plain on my leg.

  Captain Allen's face loses its smile.

  "Flashby's cigar. Just before you came in, he held it close to my eye. I-I thought he was going to blind me. But then he decided to brand my leg instead."

  "It won't happen again. I'll remain in the room when they question you further."

  "I must name you my friend and protector, then, and give you my heartfelt thanks," I murmur.

  "Nay, don't name me that. It doesn't suit me being considered honorable."

  "I think you like to paint yourself as a rogue when, in fact, you are not," I say, watching him take a long, slow drink of his wine. "Though you are torturing me by drinking that in front of me." Time for big, sorrowful eyes now.

  "Hmmm. Moseley said no food, no water, but he did not say anything about wine," says the Captain, musing. "Very well. Here." And he holds the blessed cup to my lips and tilts it such that the liquid pours into my mouth. Oh, Lord, that's good. So good.

  "Thank you, Sir," I say, running my tongue over my lips. "Thank you so very much."

  "You are quite welcome, my dear. Now tell me something of yourself."

  "Is this a further interrogation? Will you beat me, too?"

  "No, no," he says. "It is just to pass the time. The agents seem to think you've been up to some pretty adventurous antics. Hard to believe, though, to look at you." He has another sip of wine and then puts the glass to my lips. "Then again, that was a right impressive rain of curses you were calling down on my poor sergeant's head as he tried to subdue you, so..."

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