Mississippi jack, p.34
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       Mississippi Jack, p.34

           L. A. Meyer
 

  I leisurely dressed and took some refreshment, too, while Jim Tanner acted upon my orders to get us downstream for a good bit before dealing with Moseley and Flashby. Let those two rotters cool their heels and sweat a bit, I thought as I stuck my nose in a fine cup of tea and ate what Higgins put before me. After a while, I estimated we were a good four miles downriver from our last anchorage and figured it was far enough. I did not want Moseley and Flashby to be in any territory they might recognize.

  "And now for these two," I say as I go back into the cabin of the Belle and gaze upon my two very worried-looking captives. They look at me in wonder, for not only do I have on the uniform of the Royal Naval Service, I also have my two new pistols stuck in the leather straps that cross my chest.

  "You note with admiration my fine uniform, gentlemen? Oh yes, don't we military types just love to dress up for executions?" I purr. "Oh, Matthew, Nathaniel, will you be so good as to go set up the plank? And make sure it's a stout one, as Mr. Moseley here must go at least three hundred pounds, and we wouldn't want to botch things, would we? And Mr. Cantrell, would this not be an excellent time for you to fire up one of your fine cheroots and have a smoke?"

  I look at Flashby as I say this, and he turns an even paler shade of white, but it is Moseley who asks, "Surely, you can't be serious? Walking the plank? Drowning us? In this day and age?"

  "My dear Mr. Moseley. Haven't you seen the bulletin that names me as La Belle Jeune Fille sans Merci, 'the merciless female pirate'? That is the charge, after all, that you were taking me back to London to face, hmmm? And as a pirate, I can do none other than humbly request that you walk the plank. It would be a violation of the Pirate Code, Article Sixteen, paragraph eight, for me to fail to do so. If I were found out, I would be drummed out of the Pirate Brotherhood, forever. Nay, gentlemen, it is the plank for you." I poke my finger in the air. "After all, it's tradition!"

  I do love a bit of dramatic theater.

  "It's absurd!" shouts Moseley. I don't think Flashby is able to speak at all. His eyes are on Yancy, who is puffing up his cigar to a fine glow.

  "As absurd as paying a bounty on the scalps of women?" I ask, no longer with the bantering tone. "The scalps of children, for God's sake?"

  He ain't got no answer to that.

  I sit myself in a chair next to Flashby and reach down and pull up the leg of my britches to show the burn marks. "Damn!" says Yancy. "Oh, you poor little thang," say Honeysuckle Rose and Tupelo Honey together. "They sure got it comin'," says Daniel. Yancy hands me the cigar, its end gleaming a fiery orange-red.

  The legs of Flashby's drawers come down to just above his trembling knees. I delicately lift up the fabric of the left one to expose the same area on him that he had branded on me. I purse my lips and blow on the ash.

  "Plank's ready, Skipper," calls Nathaniel down into the hold.

  Heaving a sigh of regret, I look Flashby in the eyes and say, "Too bad, isn't it, that I can't repay kindness for kindness? But we must get on with things, mustn't we?"

  I hand the cheroot back to Yancy Cantrell and stand up.

  "Mr. Moseley first, if you please, Mr. Hawkes. Reverend Clawson, do you have your Bible?"

  The Reverend nods sadly and takes his position at the head of the line that will be formed. Matthew and Nathaniel untie Moseley's feet and lift him from the chair, leaving his hands tied behind him, and all three take their place behind the Preacher. I fall in at the rear.

  "All right, let's go," I say, as I bow my head and put my hands together in the aspect of prayer.

  "Lo that I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear not evil for Thou art with me...," intones Reverend Clawson, as he begins the long walk to the hatchway and thence to the plank. I sneak a look back at Flashby. His eyes are wildly staring, and he struggles vainly in his bonds. Good for you, you bastard!

  Out in the light, we put Moseley up at the foot of the plank.

  "Have you any last words, Sir?" I ask.

  "Only that I'll see you in Hell, you monster!"

  With that, the fiend Jacky whips a thin strip of rag about his face and into his mouth and ties the ends at the back of his head, so that he can no longer inform Flashby, who is back in the cabin with the door wide open, what is happening to him. I nod to Jim and he guides the Belle into the shallow water next to the bank.

  "Reverend?"

  "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust..."

  I put my lips up to Moseley's ear. "Go and sin no more!" and with that, I cut his wrist bonds, place my booted foot on his ample arse, and push him into the shallow water.

  We watch to see him hit the water with a satisfying splash, which is sure to be heard by Flashby below, and then we see him gain his feet, stumble and fall, and then finally make the bank.

  As he tries to get the gag out of his mouth, I call softly to him, "Why not look up Half Red Face now and see how hospitable he might be? Now that you have no money or power."

  I turn to Jim. "Let's steer over to the other bank. I don't want these two to have the comfort of each other's company." He nods and puts the tiller over. "Nathaniel," I call out to the other boat, "steady as you go. Keep steering south. We'll join up with you after we've sent Flashby off to his reward." He gives me the thumbs-up and the boats begin to part. Lightfoot, Katy, and Chee-a-quat are on the prison boat, armed to the teeth, to make sure there's no funny business from Allen and his men. On the Belle I put Solomon on port aft sweep and Clementine and me on the starboard one, and we all pull hard for the other bank.

  "I think this will do. Up, sweeps," I say as we drift in close to the Arkansas shore. "Keep her parallel to the shore, Jim." For Flashby's benefit I call out, "Rig the plank on the starboard side! The water's deeper there! All right, bring up the prisoner!" In reality the water is only about four feet, but it's muddy and the bottom cannot be seen.

  Higgins, Reverend Clawson, and Yancy Cantrell go below. There are sounds of struggle and desperate pleas for mercy ... No, no, I beg you, please... but presently the Reverend reappears holding his Bible and reading a prayer, followed by Higgins and Yancy, supporting the condemned between them.

  Flashby looks wildly about, sees me at the foot of the plank, and tries to wriggle away, all to no avail. He is placed on the plank and forced to the middle of it, with eternity, as I'm sure he thinks, waiting in the swirling waters below.

  "Come, Lieutenant Flashby, let us do this thing in a proper military manner, eh, what? You don't want to make a bad show of it, do you? I thought not—the Honor of the Service and all. A little farther out now, Sir, if you please."

  We shove him out to the end.

  "Good. Oh my, Mr. Flashby, I fear you've gone and soiled your drawers. Tsk, tsk. Ah well, they'll soon be washed clean, as will your soul, I'm sure ... after a few eternities in Hell, that is. Oh, but I do ramble on, and I'm sorry for it. I'm sure you want to get this done quickly, hmm? Very well, then. Do you have any last words, Mr. Flashby?"

  He is unable to speak. I look in his face—his eyes have become glazed, unfocused.

  "Well then, good-bye, Mr. Flashby. Give my regards to the Devil."

  I take my shiv and quickly slice through the cords that bind his wrists, then give him a poke with the point of my blade in his left buttock.

  He screams as he goes over, a scream that is cut short by the water that fills his open mouth. He goes under, but he bobs back up and stands looking in amazement at his unbound hands. Then he looks up at me, standing at the rail as the Belle pulls away from him.

  "Burn me, will you?" I ask. I work up a gob of spit and send it down at him, and then I turn and see Lieutenant Flashby no more.

  The prison barge has gained about a mile of downstream yardage on us, what with our crossing back and forth, but with all four sweeps going, we soon catch up and pull ahead. I'm going to have to come up with a name for the other boat.

  "Good work, all!" I call out so both boats can hear. "We shall all have a fine dinner tonight in celebration!"


  This is greeted with a cheer, from my crew, at least. We hear nothing from Captain Allen's.

  Seeing everything shipshape, I go forward to seek out Higgins.

  "Higgins, will you give me a bit of a brushup and comb, as I intend to go see Richard ... er ... Captain Allen about his parole?"

  "Of course, Miss Faber," says Higgins, very formally.

  Uh-oh. When Higgins addresses me so, it means I've stepped over the line on something and he means to correct me on it. He follows me to the aft cabin and I plop myself down in a chair and he gets to work on my unruly thatch.

  "Out with it, Higgins, what have I done this time?"

  After reflecting for a moment, he says, "It appears to me, Miss, that we have not been seeing you at your best during the past several hours."

  "What? Because I threw a bit of a scare into those two rotters? They certainly had it coming, what they planned to do, what they did to me! You spend the night stuffed into a tiny box and see how charitable you feel about those who put you there!"

  "I'm sorry, Miss. They should not have hurt you and they should not have been inciting the Indians to riot. However, if you begin adopting the practices of bad people, you run the danger of becoming one yourself. I'll say no more on it."

  "Y'know, Higgins, it's sometimes hard traveling with your conscience right by your side, always ready to appeal to your better nature, a nature you might not even have."

  "Please don't pout. It doesn't become you. I merely ask you to think about what I said."

  "I'm not sorry. When I think of little kids being ... no, I'm not sorry."

  "Very well, Miss. There, I believe that's the best we can do with this. You are presentable, at least, and can now go and present yourself to Richard ... er ... Captain Allen," he says, putting up his comb.

  Grrrrr. Why can you always see right through me, Higgins?

  I stand and get a final brush off.

  "Will you come with me, Higgins? As my protector?"

  "Of course, Miss. Let us go."

  I rap on the cabin top of the prison boat. "Truce! For a parley! Agreed?"

  There is a pause, then Captain Allen growls, "Agreed."

  I unlock the door and enter the hatchway and Higgins follows.

  Allen is seated at the table, again with his booted feet up in a chair. He looks at me in my lieutenant's rig and I'm pleased to see that his eyebrows lift as far as they are able to do so. He gets up and bows, the ghost of a smile on his face.

  "That's much better," I say. "May I present my First Mate, Mr. John Higgins? Mr. Higgins, Captain Lord Richard Allen, Royal Dragoons." The two exchange slight bows. "Mr. Higgins distinguished himself at the Battle of Trafalgar and is quite expert with those pistols you see." I had doffed my pistol belts back in the cabin, figuring them to be a bit too much. "Shall we be seated?"

  We sit down and I continue. "We are here to discuss your parole. Will you give your solemn promise that you will not try to harm us if we let you out of here?" The other men are grouped in the rear, with some probably stretched out in the cabins. I'm sure they are listening avidly.

  "And what will we get in return?"

  "The freedom of this boat. You will be allowed to steer and row it and remain in our company. You not having weapons, I would advise you to stay close to us in this wild land so that we might protect you."

  "That's not much."

  "I think it is all you could hope for. After all, this is my boat now. It is a prize. Do you have a name for it, Captain?"

  "No."

  "Then I name it Britannia, since it contains eight fine, valiant servants of the King." I hear a snort or two from the rear. "You will not offer us a glass of wine? Our throats are dry from today's sport."

  He barks out a laugh. "We drank it all up during our courtship, don't you remember, Princess Pretty-Bottom?" More snickers from the back.

  "Ah, well," replies this princess, "we have ample stores of good food and drink, and we shall share. There is that to consider. I assume your stores are both low and mean." Grunts from the rear.

  "All right," says Allen to his soldiers, "that's enough out of you!" There is silence aft. "Will you give the money back?"

  "Why? So you can use it to buy the scalps of innocent women and children?"

  "I am not in the market for any scalps. Except perhaps yours."

  "You shan't get it."

  "We'll see. I should be most honored and pleased to add your scalp—your figurative, metaphorical scalp, of course—to my belt." He looks at me with a merry impudence. Just who is the conquered one here?

  "I think you have had too much education, Lord Allen, and I suspect it was all wasted on you."

  "Too true. I am educated, but in any exchanges I have had with you, I must confess I feel myself an educated fool."

  "This will further your education, then. I am promised in marriage to Lieutenant James Emerson Fletcher, Royal Navy, and I intend to honor that pledge." I stick my nose in the air and assume the Lawson Peabody Look.

  "And just where is this fine lieutenant who has brought the formidable Jacky Faber to heel? Is he hereabouts, so that I might run him through quickly and cleanly and so relieve you of the onerous burden of your pledge of maidenly fidelity, which I'm sure was a hasty one?"

  My face is beginning to burn, as I feel I am losing in this exchange. "Well, will you give your parole?"

  "Will you give us back our weapons, if I do?"

  "No."

  "Then I will not. We are soldiers and we do not like being defenseless."

  "Then good day to you, Sir. Suffer your confinement for your stubbornness. Higgins, let us go."

  "Adieu, my little woodland sprite." He does not get up as we exit.

  I stomp out of the Britannia in total retreat. Fine, Mr. Captain Richard Lord Allen! Sit down there in the gloom with your sullen men and listen to the revels that will resound from the Belle of the Golden West this night. Oh, yes, I will make sure the music is loud and the laughter is wild and joyous, oh yes, and it will continue far, far into the night. Count on it!

  Chapter 55

  "Katy, did Lightfoot give you anything when he got back from the Indian village?" I ask. It's morning and we're down in our cabin getting ready for the day. Katy is washing up and I'm combing out Clementine's hair and getting ready to put it in braids. We're all a bit groggy from last night's celebration, which went on far into the night. We had pulled the Britannia up next to us when we anchored for the night and grappled her tight to our side so that the soldiers therein could fully appreciate what they were missing. I made sure the fiddling, harpsichording, singing, and general carousing were as loud as I could possibly make them. I also made a point of singing "As We Marched Down to Fennario" loud and clear, especially to gall Richard Lord Allen. Or so I fondly hoped.

  "No. Why would Lightfoot want to give me something?"

  Why, that bashful dolt! He'd fight ten men, wrestle a mountain lion, and kill a bear with his bare hands, yet he can't give a present to a girl!

  "Oh, nothing, Katy. Just asking, is all. There, Clementine, you are done." I pat her on both shoulders. "I think Jim Tanner could use a nice strong cup of tea." She hops up and darts out of the cabin.

  "Could you stay here a moment, Katy? I'll be right back. Thanks."

  I leave the cabin barefoot, dressed in my Indian skirt and light cotton shirt, my intended costume for the rest of this voyage, as it is the coolest possible outfit I have that still stays within the admittedly loose bounds of propriety that manage to exist on board the Belle. Hell, in this heat I'd go starkers, but for sure that wouldn't wash, not even here.

  I find Lightfoot up forward, crouched with Chee-a-quat, sharpening knives. They have done their own and are now honing Crow Jane's.

  "Lightfoot, how come you didn't give Katy Deere those presents you got for her when you got back to the boat?"

  Lightfoot rises to his feet and towers over me. Could he be blushing?

  "Uh ... didn't seem right. We hadn'
t gotten you back yet."

  "I've been back almost a full day now."

  "Well ... uh ... I..."

  "Do you want me to give 'em to her?"

  "Yup."

  "All right, hand 'em over."

  Lightfoot ducks into the open hatchway to the main cabin and shortly returns with the quiver and the buckskin dress. He thrusts them at me and then returns to sit with Chee-a-quat.

  I go see Katy Deere.

  She is done washing and sits looking expectantly at me when I come into the cabin bearing gifts. "These are from Lightfoot," I say, handing her the quiver of arrows and laying the beaded skirt and shirt on her bed, spread out so she can see them. "He asked me to tell you that he's willin'. Those were his words."

  She smiles slightly as she draws one of the finely crafted arrows from the quiver and then chuckles, "Well, I'll be durned."

  I turn and leave Katy Deere with her new treasures and, undoubtedly, some very new things to ponder.

  "She didn't say anything," I report to Lightfoot. "But she took 'em."

  When he doesn't say anything, I say, "You've got to give a girl time, Lightfoot, especially a girl like Katy."

  "Wah," he replies, and turns back to his knives.

  I give Pretty Saro a bit of an ear scratch and then climb up on the cabin top and take a seat at my table. I am thankful for the canopy overhead, shielding me from the fierce sun, and I am ever so grateful to be back here at my usual station, free once again.

  Seeing Higgins emerge from the main cabin, I catch his eye and he comes to my side.

  "Good morning, Miss. I trust you slept well."

  "Like a baby, secure in the company of my dearest friends. Please have a seat, Higgins, as we've got to talk."

  He sits, folds his hands on the table, and waits for me to begin.

  "We're stretched too thin, having to manage four, sometimes eight, sweeps with our little crew. We've got to do something about it."

 
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