Mississippi jack, p.32
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       Mississippi Jack, p.32

           L. A. Meyer
 

  I consider, and then I begin telling him of my early life as a beggar in London, of my time on the Dolphin, of the Lawson Peabody School for Young Girls, and of Dovecote, of the Wolverine and my Emerald and the Bloodhound. I am helped along by many, many sips of the glorious wine. When I am done, we are on the second bottle. In my telling of my story, I did not mention the fact that I was not unfamiliar with wine, so that when I begin acting a mite bit tipsy, he is not surprised. He only smiles secretly to himself, or so he thinks, the rogue.

  "...And so I was arrested by Captain Rutherford, escaped, hired the mountain man Lightfoot to guide me to New Orleans, and here I am, tied to a chair. End of story."

  "A remarkable account," observes Captain Allen, nodding. "Remarkable, indeed." He rises to go to the stove to light up a cigar.

  "And now let us hear of your life, Captain. Surely you have had some adventures, too," I simper. "I heard that Flashby call you Lord Allen. Could you actually be one?"

  "Well, my father is, anyway, the cantankerous old fart, and I could have been one, too, if I had been good, which I wasn't ... Here, another sip, my dear? There you are ... No, I messed up in school, got into fights, got into the wrong politics, got several daughters of the local gentry in trouble. Le droit de seigneur should have applied in those cases, I thought, but others thought differently ... Would you like a puff, dear?"

  "The 'right of the lord' to mount any girl in his fiefdom on her wedding night? Certainly an out-of-date custom, my lord," says I, shaking my head to his offer of a puff on his cigar.

  "One they should have kept. A country breeds a better sort of bastard that way," he says, blowing a perfect smoke ring. It rolls and curls in on itself and then settles about my head. He grins and then continues.

  "So the old man bought me this commission in the dragoons, knowing I'd be shipped out of the country, tout de suite, and so I was. I survived several battles on the Continent, and here I am."

  "Dragoons? You are a cavalryman then?" I ask, knowing full well that he is.

  "Yes. And where's my horse, you might ask? He's back with the rest of my company, getting fat and lazy, the rascal. I got in a bit of a tiff with the Colonel and got put off on this wretched 'detached duty.' Something to do with his lovely wife, and trust me, she was very lovely."

  Captain Allen gets up to stand next to me, the butt of his pistol very close to my face. "And speaking of lovely women," he says, "it's been a long time for me, stuffed out here in these woods." He runs his finger down my cheek.

  "And so you would force me, a helpless captive? I should not think a man as handsome as yourself would need to do that." I drop my chin and look up at him through my eyelashes. "I am scarce sixteen, and yet a maiden, and you are what, twenty-two, three?"

  "A maiden? You?" he snorts. "From your reputation, I should think the last time you suffered that state was when you were twelve or so."

  "It is the truth, my lord, in spite of what you might think."

  He stands looking at me, thinking. At last he says, "You said in your story that you count yourself a commissioned officer in the Royal Navy. Do you?"

  "Yes, I do. I earned that commission."

  "Um. Then do you understand the meaning of parole?"

  "I do. It's when a captured officer gives his word of honor that he will not try to escape in return for a measure of freedom until such time as a prisoner exchange is arranged. It is a common thing, but I will not give you my parole. I cannot," I say, "for if I am delivered to London, it will not be for repatriation, it will be for death."

  "All right, then, how about a conditional parole? One for, say, a half hour. You'd be able to stand and stretch your legs, or ... whatever else might occur to us."

  I pretend to consider this, then I say, "Very well, I give you my parole for half an hour, and thank you."

  Allen puts his cigar out in the ashtray on the table and proceeds to untie me. While he is bending over, undoing my feet, I look over him at the clock. It is exactly six minutes to twelve noon. So twelve twenty-four, then.

  When he is finished untying my hands, he rises and says, "There, you can stand up now. But remember, on your honor..."

  I rub my wrists and then stand and stretch my arms above my head, my back arched. "Oooh, that feels so good ... Oh!"

  Pretending to lose my balance, I fall against him, giggling. "Oh, my lord, my head is spinning so!"

  His arm comes around my shoulders. "Here, let me steady you, my dear. Come sit at the table. I'll get another glass for you." He seats me on the bench and goes to get it. I notice he picks up another bottle on his way.

  "You are probably dizzy from the confinement. Here, a glass of wine with you, to clear your head," he says, pouring out a generous dollop.

  I notice that he allows the pistol butt to be within grabbing distance, and I have the feeling he is testing me to see if my honor will hold. I am quite sure he would seize my hand in time should I try for the gun. Not, yet, Captain Allen. It is now twelve-oh-three.

  I take a goodly slug of the wine, sigh a heartfelt sigh, sit back, and put my elbows behind me on the table. "Ah, that is much better, Richard. May I call you Richard, my lord?"

  "Of course, you may, Jacky." He sits next to me so that our shoulders touch.

  I lean into him. "Richard, my lord, my lord, Richard," I prattle. "Such a fine name, such a fine man." I put my hands to my face to stifle more giggles.

  He puts his arm around me and squeezes. With his other hand, he puts two fingers to my forehead and says grandly, "And I name you my own Lady Jacky, Duchess Pretty-Bottom, my dear little woodland sprite."

  The woodland sprite does not shake off his arm. Instead she puts two fingers of her own to his brow and says, "You are a very forward fellow, Lord Richard. That was very naughty of you that day, to come upon me when I was bathing. I fear you are a rake, Sir."

  "It was the vision of your loveliness that drew me there, Jacky, and I was glad I did it." He slides his arm down to my waist.

  "Have I a pretty bottom? I have no way of telling."

  "Oh, yes, Jacky," he says, beginning to angle his face toward mine. "The very finest I have ever seen. I shall never be the same again."

  "And a flatterer, as well, Lord Dick," says I, with a small, ladylike burp. I wriggle a little bit away from him to free up both my arms and then unloosen the rawhide ties on the front of my shirt, opening it to the middle of my chest. "Woo, but it's warm in here. Are you warm, Richard? I certainly am." I take the front of my shirt and give it a few flaps to set up a bit of a breeze inside it. Captain Allen's face is getting a bit red. Twelve-oh-seven.

  "I sure wish I could take my leather shirt off, but since I have nothing on underneath, alas, I cannot," I lament. "But, Richard, if you would be so good as to take off my moccasins, I would be most grateful. I fear if I were to bend down to do it, I might swoon." I bat the eyelashes becomingly.

  "Of course, my lady," he says, smiling broadly. I put the knees together as he kneels before me and begins unlacing the legging of my right moccasin. In a moment I feel it slide off. In another moment the other one joins it.

  "Oh, Richard, that feels soooo much better," I purr. Then I feel his hands caress my calves and feet. "Oooh, that feels good, too." I relax and let the knees come a bit apart. Then I feel his lips on my left knee and, while that feels good, too, I figure he's about to start workin' his way up.

  I pop up off the bench and bounce around the room. Twelve ten.

  I stop in front of the mirror, look at myself, and decide to take my braids apart. That should buy me a few minutes. I take out the ribbons and untwist the braids. There is a comb there in a cup, and I take it and comb out my hair, fluffing it up about my face. Then I turn to face him. Twelve twelve.

  "What do you think, my lord? Do you like me better as Dances-Like-Crazy-Rabbit, Shawnee Maiden, or as Jacky Faber, Fine Lady?"

  "I like 'em both, so bring 'em both back over here." He is again seated on the bench, and he is patting his knee.
I see that my wineglass has been refilled.

  I prance back across the room, lift my glass, take a slug, and plop myself down in his lap and put my left arm about his neck. I know that the pistol is right next to my left buttock, as I can feel it there. His hand goes on my hip.

  "How came you by that, my lord?" I ask, as I trace with my finger the deep scar on his left cheek. "By duelling?"

  "Nay, it was at the Battle of Assaye, in India. It is a saber cut. The fighting was hot, close, and dirty."

  "My poor, poor Richard. Here's a kiss for your bravery." And I put my lips on his and close my eyes. When I open them again, I see twelve twenty-two. Two more minutes!

  I snuggle into his side and move my bottom in his lap. "Again, Richard," and again I feel the rasp of his cheek as we bring our lips together once more. Our breath is getting rapid, and I, for one, ain't actin'. I am finding this not at all unpleasant duty.

  His hand, which formerly rested on my hip, now slides up the inside of my right leg. My lips open and I can taste the tobacco, I can taste the wine, and I can taste him, and I moan, "Oh, Richard..." And when I open my eyes again, I see that it is twelve twenty-six! Get hold of yourself and move, girl!

  Another moan, another squirm, and I have my hand on the pistol's butt. I jump back, jerking the gun out of the holster, and I train it on the chest of a very shocked Lord Richard Allen.

  "It seems, Captain Lord Allen, that you have lost not only your senses, but all track of time, as well," I say, my chest heaving. "You will notice that my parole is up and so is our dalliance. You liked me in my other guises, so how do you like me as Lieutenant Jacky Faber, hmmm?"

  He looks over at the clock. He is not smiling.

  "Now take the key out of your pocket and open the door. Then you will stand back away from it. You will note the pistol is on full cock. I am an excellent marksman."

  "I won't do it," he says, his expression not changing. His eyes, steely now, bore into mine.

  "You must, or I will kill you. I know where the key is. If I have to take it from your dead body, I will. Do it now." I hold the pistol in both hands and point it now at his face.

  "No. I cannot. I may not have much in the way of honor, but I have some. So shoot me. If you get back to England, I hope that you'll get word to my parents that I died honorably. They would like to hear that."

  "Screw honor!" I shout. "Open that damned door!"

  "No."

  The barrel quivers as I keep it pointed at his face. Damn it! Damn it all to Hell!

  I give it up. I lift the pistol's barrel, put the hammer back on half cock, and throw the gun onto the table. I cross the room, sit down in my usual chair, and put my hands behind my back, my face red with indignation and fury. Goddamned male bloody goddamned honor! I am truly lost!

  Captain Allen calmly rises, picks up the pieces of rope from the deck, and reties me securely. He says nothing, his expression does not change. After I am trussed up to his satisfaction, he goes back to the table and retrieves his pistol, but he does not put it back into his holster, oh no, he does not.

  Instead he checks the charge and comes back to stand in front of me, his mouth a hard, grim line. He lifts the pistol and points it at my face.

  "You did not have the stomach to pull the trigger. You will now find that I, in fact, do." He pulls the hammer back to full cock.

  Tears pour out of my eyes. "Please, Captain, not in my face, please..."

  He pulls the trigger, there is the sound of the flint hitting the metal and making the spark that ignites the powder in the flashpan as...

  ...as nothing ... The gun was not loaded.

  Captain Allen grins. And then he roars with laughter. "Did you really suppose I would be so stupid that I would have a loaded pistol lying about after seeing you take down Moseley and Flashby and half my squad? Did you think I would leave a loaded pistol within reach of Bloody Jack, or fairly close to Lieutenant Jacky Faber, or even in the same room with La Belle Jeune Fille sans Merci, the Scourge of the French Coast, the Caribbean, and who knows where else? Ha!"

  He comes to my side, as I lie limp and quivering in my bonds, and he rumples my hair as one would a playful puppy. "Oh, Jacky, you are such a pistol, you are! I might even be in love with you! Ha!"

  There is a sound from outside, and Captain Allen says, "Uh-oh. I think the agents are back. And just in time, too. For lunch, that is, which I'm afraid they will not ask you to attend. Perhaps that will be your punishment for trying to mislead poor, gullible Dick Allen. Hmmm?"

  I reward that speech with a glare. He takes out his key and opens the hatch door, and Moseley and Flashby enter.

  "What is this?" demands Flashby, upon seeing me with my hair down and my leggings off. The three empty wine bottles on the table do not escape his notice, either.

  "She got hot," says Captain Allen, with an ill-concealed leer, "very hot, indeed, if you take my meaning." He makes as if he is buttoning up his trousers.

  "Look, you..."

  "Is she bound up, just as you left her?" asks Allen, his eyes steely again.

  "Yes, but..."

  "Then shut the hell up, Flashby. It's time for lunch."

  "Yes, it is," replies Moseley, with a satisfied look. It is apparent he has received some good news today. Damn! Did Tecumseh agree to the plot?

  The three arrange themselves at the table and food is brought down and I have to watch them eat it. But that's all right, I have gone hungry before and I suspect I will again, if I survive this ordeal.

  As they are finishing, Moseley says to Allen, "After we are through here, I need you to take some men and scout downriver. I have heard of some encampments of savages down there that it might profit us to talk to."

  Captain Allen cuts his eyes to me, as does Lieutenant Flashby, who smiles into his cup of wine. Uh-oh...

  My head sinks down. How much more of this can I take?

  Suddenly, all four heads in the room start up at a strange sound from outside.

  "It sounds like music," says Moseley in wonder.

  Yes, it does, says I to myself, hope rising in my breast once again. It is indeed music, and it is Scarlatti's Sonata in G for Harpsichord and Violin, played now with only the harpsichord, but it is sweet, oh, such sweet music to my ears!

  Chapter 53

  "What the devil?" asks Moseley, cocking an ear at the sound of the harpsichord.

  Don't change expression, girl! Don't say a word! They'll get suspicious!

  I keep my face calm, I let my head hang and my body sag as if I'm still without hope, but I am not, oh no, I am not. It is all I can do not to sing and shout for joy.

  In a moment, there's a knock and Sergeant Bailey's florid face appears in the open hatchway. "Your pardons, Sirs, but there's a big keelboat anchored next to us. There's girls all over the boat, too." He glances off to his left for another look. "Pretty girls."

  "We'll see about this," answers Moseley. He rises from the table and goes to the hatchway. "Come along, Flashby. Captain Allen, you stay here and watch things while we investigate."

  "Girls, eh? We'll certainly have to investigate," says a grinning Flashby.

  He and Flashby exit the cabin and I hear Reverend Clawson boom out a welcome to them.

  "Gentlemen, may I introduce myself? I am Mr. Jeremiah Ezekiel Clawson and this is my Belle of the Golden West, the finest showboat and tavern on the Mississippi River! We have superb food and fine wines and the best Kentucky bourbon made! We have music and entertainment and the most beautiful and cultured young ladies to keep you company!"

  I hear some yoo-hoos and feminine laughter, and I suspect that Honeysuckle and Tupelo and Clementine and Chloe are standing on the cabin top, smiling and waving and flirting shamelessly with the soldiers out on deck, who must be in a state of total amazement.

  "It's been a long time since I've had a decent drink," says Flashby. "Or an indecent girl. I say we see what they got, Sir."

  I can't hear Moseley's reply.

  "Shall I sen
d our boat over for anyone who would like to sample our offerings, gentlemen?"

  "Very well, Mr. Clawson. Send the boat," says Moseley. He comes back and pokes his head into the hatchway, then says, "Allen. Lock the door from the inside. Keep an eye on her. You'll get your turn later."

  He disappears and Captain Allen closes the hatch. "Imagine that, a floating whorehouse out in the middle of absolute nowhere. Will wonders never cease?"

  He fishes the key out of his pocket, puts the key in the lock, and turns it. "There," he says, "I believe we shall have some privacy now." He goes to the table, picks up a piece of ham, and comes over to stand in front of me. "Open," he says, and I open my mouth, and he tosses in the chunk of meat. I chew and swallow. It is wondrous good.

  He gives me a few more pieces and then holds his wine cup to my lips.

  "Thank you, Richard. That was very good of you. To disobey Moseley's orders and all," I say, giving him the full big-eyed waif look.

  "Well, my dear, he didn't order me not to feed you this time, did he?"

  "If he had ordered you to go off on that scouting trip, would you have done it?"

  "To leave you here alone with the gallant Flashby? I'm afraid I would have had to obey that direct order or face a court-martial and a possible firing squad, either of which I would have found most unpleasant. I love you, Jacky, but not quite enough for that. Here, have another sip."

  After giving me another taste of the wine, he crosses to the stove and lights another thin cigar.

  "Pity we can't have you give your parole again and pick up where we left off, but those two could come back at any moment, and since we can't have them finding you sitting in my lap, whispering sweet words in my ear, we'll have to pass the time in genteel conversation." He pulls up a chair next to me and puffs away contentedly.

  It is the last bit of contentment he will enjoy for a good long while.

 

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