Mississippi jack, p.4
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       Mississippi Jack, p.4

           L. A. Meyer
 

  With a very deft move, Jim dodges Higgins's restraining hand and appears at my side. He looks down and stammers, "I-I wish it could have been more. I wish we could've gone fishin' together like we used to do, Missy. I wish—"

  Whatever Jim Tanner wishes is cut short as Higgins collars him and tosses him out the door. My trusty wedges are set, and that door will not open again till morning.

  I rise and towel off and Higgins gets me my nightdress and cap and I sinfully revel in his attention and then crawl into the bed and sink into the feather mattress with a heartfelt groan of more pure pleasure. I close my eyes and offer up yet another heartfelt prayer for Jaimy Fletcher's safety, and I do it quickly, for I know sleep is coming on fast. Tomorrow I shall think and plot and plan, but for now...

  Ah, sweet sleep...

  Chapter 3

  The next morning, we're up with the dawn. We will have breakfast, then the horses will be saddled and we will be off again.

  At breakfast Higgins and I have some time to talk.

  "So the plan is to go to this Allegheny River, which you have on good information flows into the Ohio and hence into the Mississippi, and we pay for passage downriver to New Orleans, and then book passage on a ship bound for God-knows-where?" asks Higgins, with not a little doubt in his voice.

  "Aye. We'll decide in New Orleans what our next move will be. At least we'll be safe there, as it is a French port. Or a Spanish port. I forget which."

  "Ah, Miss. I'm afraid you're mistaken. It is now an American port. Their President Jefferson has recently bought it from our old friend Monsieur Napoléon."

  "Indeed? When did that happen?"

  "About three years ago. It was called the Louisiana Purchase."

  "How much did he pay for it?"

  "About three cents an acre, I hear."

  "Ah, these sharp Yankee traders," I say, patting my lips with my napkin, a lady again. "Still, they bear no special love for the British, so I should be safe there."

  I recalled Amy Trevelyne saying something about all that when we were up on the widow's walk at the school, enjoying the spring air before the disastrous outing that resulted in all us girls (except Amy) getting nabbed by that slaver. At the time, when she said it was an enormous amount of land and a grand and great thing, I came back at her to ask, "Ain't you Yankees got enough land, for God's sake?" and she said that it's more about national borders and protection from foreign invasion than being just about land. She said the President had sent out an expedition to chart the new lands and it was due back this summer. I said, "Oh, Amy, wouldn't you just love to have gone along on that expedition?" and she looked at me as if I had lost my senses and said, "Certainly not, how could you ever think that?" "All those new places and wonders to see," I said back at her, and she said, "All those bugs and red savages and wild animals, you mean. How could you want that, Sister? I swear, had I not seen you déshabillé on many—in fact, too many—occasions, I would suspect that you were not even of the gentle sex." Though she and I are the very best of friends, we are cut from different cloth, I guess.

  "And what, Miss, of the Brothers Lafitte, when we get to New Orleans?" asks Higgins.

  "I thought of that, Higgins, and I think it would be well that we enter that city in disguise."

  "In very deep disguise, I should think, Miss," retorts Higgins. "I well remember Jean Lafitte shaking his fist at us standing at the rail of the Emerald as we parted from him, and vowing eternal revenge on you for the theft of, what, four hundred and fifty slaves?"

  "Hmmm. I think that was the number. I recall that his threats were rather colorful. Especially when he described what he planned to do to me and various of my parts."

  "Yes, Miss. But perhaps you should not have laughed at him and taunted him so."

  "Aye, but I do hate a slaver," says I, patting lips with napkin and rising. "Let us be off."

  Higgins, the imperturbable Higgins, gives a small groan as we rise from the table to begin the day's ride. When we get to the barn, I note that young Jim doesn't look too steady on his pins, either, and I know the cause: Although your feet sit in stirrups when riding a horse, you actually stay on the beast's back by squeezing your legs together, which puts great strain on the inner thigh muscles, and if those muscles are not used to the strain, they'll cramp and they will hurt, especially the next day. I well remember the morning after the first riding session I had at the Lawson Peabody, when I rose from bed and fell to my knees with the pain. But I got over it and so will my fellow fugitives.

  We saddle up and head out.

  It is a glorious morning, and I, for one, exult in being completely free for the first time in almost a year. I hoot and shout and sing and ride high in the stirrups and goad my poor suffering friends unmercifully.

  I'm sorry, Jaimy, but I am so very glad to be free!

  The road grows ever narrower as we press on. We stop for refreshment at noon at another tavern, one that is not nearly as grand as Howe's. I suspect pickings will get leaner and leaner as we head into the wilderness.

  When we go back out to our mounts, Higgins begs us to wait a moment as he opens one of his saddlebags.

  "I know you will not like this, Miss, but I thought it wise." He reaches in and withdraws two fine pistols and puts them in my own saddlebag. I can see that they are of the brand-new percussion-cap design, murderous things, made never to misfire as the old flintlocks had. He knows me well. I don't like them, but he is right. We are headed into uncharted territory and must be ready for anything.

  "I have two of my own, as well as holsters for all, but I don't think we need to attach them to our persons just yet, for this is still considered civilized territory."

  I agree and we mount up and push on.

  Somewhat later, as I rise in my stirrups to pluck an apple from an overhanging branch, I catch a glimpse of someone, something, up around the bend in the road, flitting furtively into the bushes.

  "Hold!" I say, reining in. "There's someone in the brush. Get back." Both Higgins and I reach for our guns, as our horses dance about, confused. When we both have them in hand, I shout, "You, there! Show yourself! If you are a highwayman, you should know we are well armed, and mark me, we are not shy about using our weapons!"

  "Don't shoot, Jacky," I hear a low female voice say, and out from the woods steps Katy Deere, her bow slung over her shoulder.

  "Katy!" I exclaim, jumping off my horse to embrace her. "How do you come to be here?" Embracing Katy Deere is very much like embracing a wooden Indian, the kind that stand outside tobacco shops.

  "I'm powerful glad to see you, Jacky," she says. "I thought you was wrapped up for good and ever by them on that boat. Sorry that me and my girls couldn't do more for you in the fight, but we'd used up most of our arrows on that little boat, shooting fish."

  "And they couldn't have been better spent," says I, beaming at Katy's long, dour face, "for they kept us alive till we were rescued." I plant a kiss on her brow.

  "I reckon you are hard to hold, for sure," she says, turning her face away and looking over the treetops.

  "But what brings you here? In the middle of the wilderness?"

  "Huh!" she says. "We ain't in the middle of no wilderness, you city girl, you. This is farm country—this hain't no wilderness. And this is the only road west from Boston, so—"

  "But still..."

  "Figured there was nothin' for me in that town. I know I'm too ... raw for them that's there. Figured there warn't nothing for me in any of the cities out east, them bein' all the same. So after that fight on the dock, when I knew I couldn't do nothin' more for you and I didn't want to end up in no Boston jail, no sir—which is where they was takin' all the other girls—I ducked back and lit out."

  All my dear Sisters arrested by the vile Wiggins? Oh, poor, poor girls! What your families must think!

  "I figures to go back West, where I knowed some things, at least."

  "Go back and do what?" I ask, still holding on to her shoulders and trying to lo
ok into her dark eyes, eyes that won't take mine.

  "Go back and kill my uncle and take back the land that was my momma and daddy's. Ain't afraid of my uncle no more, no, I ain't," she says, fingering her strung but arrow-less bow.

  Her uncle's as good as dead right now, and that's all right considerin what he done to her, I'm thinking.

  I release her and climb back up on my horse. "Here. Get up behind me. We're going to the Allegheny River. You can show us the way. Then you can go kill your uncle. All right?"

  She thinks, then nods, and hops up behind me, without using the stirrups or anyone's helping hand. It's those long, lean legs, I suppose.

  "So how far is it, then?" I ask as we start off at a walk.

  "'Bout three hundred miles," she says.

  There are heartfelt groans of despair from both Higgins and Jim.

  "Huh!" she says from behind me. "Distance don't mean nothin' out where we're goin'. Three hundred miles? Pshaw! We do thirty miles a day on these nags and we're there in ten, maybe twelve, days."

  I think on this as we come up to a brisk trot. Three hundred miles! I know from looking at my charts on the Emerald, that's the same as the width of England, herself, at her widest part! Katy's strong arm encircles my waist so as to steady herself, and she goes on, "Make that twelve or fourteen, 'cause the roads is about to get a whole lot worse than this."

  More groans from my two male companions as we kick up to an easy, mile-devouring canter.

  Westward, ho, indeed.

  Chapter 4

  Ezra Pickering, Esquire

  Attorney at Law

  Offices at 38 Union Street

  Boston, Massachusetts

  July 7, 1806

  Miss Jacky Faber

  Chief Executive Officer

  Faber Shipping, Worldwide

  Somewhere out West, USA

  My Dear Miss Faber,

  I wish you the joy of your newfound freedom and your reunion with your young man.

  I am sending this letter with that selfsame Mr. Fletcher, who is hot to get off on your trail, and I do believe that "hot" is the proper word, however indiscreet.

  I was as astounded today, as you are right now, without doubt, to find him standing before me in my office, dripping wet and looking very bedraggled and muddy. Apparently he waited till the Juno cast off her lines today and was well under way before leaping overboard—it seems his regard for you is greater than his love of the Royal Navy. Not surprising, considering his ill-use by that service recently.

  You will hear from him (as soon as you climb down off of him) an account of how we got your young lieutenant cleaned up and how we reclaimed his gear from his lodgings, procured a horse from Mistress Pimm's school stable, and sent him on his way, so I will write no more about that. As he is only two days behind you, he should catch up with you soon, and though he is a seaman and not used to the land, he shan't get lost, as there is only one road west. Besides, he will be able to easily follow the path of destruction you usually leave in your wake.

  I will, however, relate to you with extreme relish the happenings that occurred after your unfortunate arrest, the chief of which was the Battle of Long Wharf and the arrest of the entire student body of the Lawson Peabody School for Young Girls on a charge of Inciting to Riot. Oh, if you could have but seen it, Jacky, knowing, as I do, how you love a good dustup! The girls were shouting and throwing things and screeching like any band of angry red Indians, and many of the townspeople, sympathetic to your cause, joined in as well. You may be quite sure that Wiggins and his minions had their hands full with this mob.

  The large jail coach was brought down from the courthouse and the police began throwing the girls very unceremoniously into it. A girl would be tossed in, the outside latch thrown, and the officer would go seek out another victim. Mistress Pimm, herself, was arrested for attempting to brain Wiggins for putting his hands about the throat of Julia Winslow and likewise abusing others of her girls.

  And, yes, even Miss Amy Wemple Trevelyne was destined to see the inside of Boston's fine jail that day. And that night. She was apprehended for beating her delicate little fists on the broad back of an officer who was dragging a squalling Annie Byrnes off to the hack.

  What, you fault me for allowing Miss Amy to be hauled away on the shoulder of a brute without a fight? Well, maybe you might, but, no, I stepped aside, disdaining false heroics, knowing I would be needed later in my official capacity and would not be effective from the inside of a cell. Actually, I found the sight of the usually very reserved Miss Trevelyne upended, with limbs kicking and petticoats all ahoo, to be quite a delightful sight. Yes, indeed.

  Ah, I digress. Back to the account: I went to the jail in my official capacity as Officer of the Court and viewed the pandemonium. All the girls were thrown into that very cell where I first laid eyes upon your own very scared self in the riotous company of Mrs. Bodeen's girls those several years ago.

  I must say that Mrs. Bodeen's girls had nothing on the girls of the Lawson Peabody in the way of riot—they immediately set up a chant of "Free Jacky! Free Jacky! Free Jacky!" punctuated by loud clangs of the cell's metal water dipper against the bars of the cage, wielded by the very wet and muddy Miss Clarissa Worthington Howe. The chant was peppered with some very vivid language from Miss Howe, as well. Wherever did she learn those words? Not from you, I should hope.

  Goody Wiggins, wife to our Head Constable, marched her considerable bulk up to the bars and demanded that they all "shut up and be quiet or I'll come in there and whip the daylights out of ye little hussies!" The ranks of the girls parted as Goody approached the bars, but not out of fear, it seems. No, they parted to allow Rose Crawford to advance with the cell's bucket of drinking water and to throw it over the redoubtable Mrs. Wiggins, soaking her to the skin. Goody screeched out her dismay at this watery blow to both her pride and her status as matron of the jail, and she demanded that Constable Wiggins himself enter the cage and thrash the evil little harlots. But he shook his pink jowls in absolute refusal, he having looked at the claws and teeth awaiting him in there, and apparently deciding that the scorn of a wife was far better than the wrath of the furies contained therein.

  I did manage to sidle up to the bars, a bit away from the main action, and reassure Miss Amy that all would be well. She reached through the bars and held my hand, and I assured her I'd have her out in the morning, after Judge Thwackham's court convened. Though somewhat distraught, she was bearing up well, and we did hold hands and converse until Wiggins spotted me and shouted, "You, Lawyer Pickering, out! Out till tomorrow morning!" I think it was his vain way of trying to reestablish his authority in his own prison. I made so bold as to raise Amy's hand to my lips before I turned and left. On my way out I heard Miss Constance Howell lead all the girls in a fervent prayer, not for their deliverance, but yours, a prayer we now know has been answered. They then returned to their chanting, and I am informed that they kept it up till dawn.

  ***

  In the morning, I was readmitted to the cell area to find the girls, no less subdued now than when I left, in the process of being bound in a line to be taken to court. Curiously, they insisted that they get in line in a certain order, or there would be trouble. Wiggins, wanting no further trouble, agreed, and as each came up, she allowed her left wrist to be bound to a long rope. The line, which I heard referred to as "Sin-Kay's Line," was headed by Rebecca Adams, the youngest of the Societe de Bloodhound, and, oh joy, just wait till Old Revolutionary John, down there in Quincy and retired from the Presidency these past five years, hears of this. It will be "Abigail! Abigail! Saddle up my fastest horse! We must ride to her aid!" And she'll call him a dear old fool and order him to let the lawyers handle it, to which I would agree. Only Clarissa Howe would not submit to the binding of wrists and so was bound and gagged and carried to the courtroom.

  But I digress again: After the girls were led in and arrayed against the far rail, Mistress Pimm was brought in from the separate cell, where she h
ad been confined for the night, and placed in the dock. I stood next to her as her attorney. Then the call of "All rise" was heard, and a very grumpy Judge Thwackham, garbed in his usual judicial finery, entered the room and plunked himself down in his chair high above. He slammed down his gavel to start the proceedings and growled, "All right, be seated, the whole miserable lot of you. What's on for today, then, Mr. Cross? I count on it being some extremely annoying bother, accomplishing nothing except disturbing an honest man's digestion of his breakfast. Harrumph. Who's first?"

  The Clerk of Courts, Mr. Cross, stood up and said, "Commonwealth of Massachusetts, City of Boston, against one Miranda Pimm, female, Headmistress of the Lawson Peabody School for Young Girls, on a charge of Aggravated Assault on a Police Officer, to wit: Constable John Wiggins."

  Now that woke up the old buzzard. The Lawson Peabody? Can it be? Can it be that he had not yet heard of yesterday's riot down at the docks? Apparently so. He shook his copious jowls and glared at Mistress Pimm standing ramrod straight in the dock. He then peered incredulously at the line of girls awaiting his stern judgement at the back of his courtroom.

  "What is this, then?" he growled at Mistress Pimm.

  She lifted her chin, her face immobile in what I believe you Lawson Peabody girls call "the Look," and said, in a strong, clear voice, "Sir, I was apprehended in the performance of my duty in trying to protect one of my girls from brutal treatment at the hands of one of your court-appointed thugs. I should think you would applaud my action, considering that your granddaughter Caroline is one of my charges as well and I would do the same for her at any time. I saw it as my duty yesterday, and I will see it as my duty tomorrow, Sir, whether my girls and I are back in the safety of our school or remain here in your foul prison! Arrogant authority stole one of my babes yesterday, but by the God who protects the weak, by the God who protects innocent young women, by the God that smites the wicked, by that same all-seeing and loving God, they shall get no other!"

 

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