Mississippi jack, p.46
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       Mississippi Jack, p.46

           L. A. Meyer
 

  "Good-bye, Precious," says Mam'selle Claudelle de Bourbon, giving my tail a last squeeze as I jump out the window and grab on to the rope hanging there and start climbing up to the roof.

  I go up hand over hand till I gain the edge of the roof, and then, by hooking my foot in the rain gutter, I am able to pull myself onto the top. I crouch and look down all four sides, and sure enough, Lafitte's men are all about. I untie the rope from around the chimney, where I had tied it the night before, and coil it about my arm for use later.

  The House of the Rising Sun is a freestanding building, but the houses next to it are connected, sharing two walls each, all the way down Conti Street to Bourbon Street, and it is a mere five-foot gap that I will have to jump.

  I back up and then run for all I'm worth and leap out over the edge...

  "Hey, there's something up there!" I hear someone shout when I'm in midair. "It's her!"

  It's her, indeed, and she hits the neighboring rooftop, and slips, recovers, then commences running over the uneven roofs, down toward the river.

  "Where the hell did she go?"

  Well, you can't know that, can you, scum? 'Cause I'm up here and you're down there and I could go down anywhere I want, and I choose to go down here, at the back of the last building that faces on Bienville Street, well out of sight of those racing down Conti.

  I loop the rope around a convenient chimney and climb down to the street, and when my feet hit the cobblestones, I'm racin' off to the levee.

  "Cast off, Jim, and let's get outta here!" I order as I jump down into the waiting Evening Star, and he tightens the sail and puts over the rudder.

  We can hear sounds of commotion back on the levee as we pull away, but nothing comes out of it that could do us any harm.

  The thing is done.

  Chapter 74

  "Is she not just the finest thing, Higgins?"

  "She is, indeed, Miss."

  We are slipping through the long, smooth swells of the Caribbean Sea, off the mouth of Kingston Harbor, on the Nancy B. Alsop. Although I have always felt that a ship, once named, should stick with the name it is given, I just couldn't keep the Amelia Klump as the name for this sleek, elegant ship, and so I have named her after my mother. It is a fine day, with a good stiff breeze filling our sails—we have main- and topsails set, as well as a fore-and-aft sail up forward. A schooner does not have square sails like a frigate or other big ship, but instead its mainsails are gaff rigged with the sails' forward edges attached to hoops that encircle the masts. That makes it very easy to raise, trim, and lower the sails, and it also makes her a very sweet sailer.

  Jim Tanner is proudly at the wheel, squinting up at the set of the canvas, while his wife, Clementine, sits beside him on the hatch top, sewing a Faber Shipping, Worldwide flag, complete with white anchor, fouled, on blue background. Both she and Chloe Cantrell suffered a touch of seasickness, but both are better now. Solomon Freeman is on deck, adjusting the sail trim when needed, and young Daniel Prescott is up in the rigging, deliriously happy, whooping with each foaming dive of the Nancys nose into the swells.

  Ah, but it is good to feel the salty breeze in my hair once again, what there is of it, anyway. My hair, that is...

  "Missy!" cries Daniel from above. "Look there!"

  I follow the point of his finger and see that a ship is standing out of the harbor. It is a frigate and from her masthead flies the Union Jack.

  Eight days before, when Jim and I had got back to the Belle of the Golden West, dawn was breaking and all on board were roused and preparations begun for departure. The Belle would return to New Orleans with her new owners, Reverend Clawson, the Hawkeses, and Crow Jane; and the soon-to-be-named Nancy B. Alsop would be purchased to carry the rest of us to Kingston, Jamaica.

  I plunged down into my cabin to change, followed closely by Higgins.

  "I trust all went well?" he asked.

  "It went very well, Higgins. Not only did I win the money, but I won most of it from the Brothers Lafitte."

  "Their love for you must grow by the day. How did you manage to evade their clutches after the gambling was done? I am quite sure Jean Lafitte was not of a mind to send you merrily on your way with his best wishes."

  "They expected me to come out through a door but I went out a window and up a rope I had tied to a chimney. I gained the roof, and from there it was an easy thing to run across the other rooftops and escape."

  "Easy for you, Miss," observed Higgins. "And what will you wear today?"

  "The blue dress. It would be the coolest, I think."

  I peeled off my black burglar's pants and Higgins said, "Ah-ha. So that is how it was done," when he spied the yellow garter that rode above my right knee, which had two aces still tucked into it. I took off the black jersey, too, revealing my shiv's leather sheath similarly adorned with cards.

  "That, and the fact that I was able to get into the Rising Sun's gambling room and open the locked cabinet, where I knew they kept the cards, and so was able to mark them—your luck improves when you know where all the high cards are and who's got what."

  And did I feel your spirit hands on mine, Mr. Cantrell, guiding them during the actual play? I'd like to think that I did. Thank you, Yancy Beauregard, I learned from the very, very best.

  Higgins got me into the dress and we went off and bought the schooner Nancy B. Alsop, while the others packed and made ready to leave. When Higgins and I got back with the paperwork done and ownership transferred, we pulled the Belle up next to the Nancy B. and put our things on board and stowed them in our new cabins.

  The tide was incoming when we were done, which would help them get the Belle back up to New Orleans, and so it was time to part.

  There was much manly hand-shaking and backslapping among the males, much hugging on the part of the females, and much blubbering, of course, from me.

  Good-bye, Matty; good-bye, Nathaniel, oh you, my brave and stalwart oarsmen, farewell! Good-bye, Honeysuckle, Tupelo, didn't we have some times, then? Fare thee well, Reverend, you're one of the best men of God I've ever known. And Janey, my good Crow Jane, how I will miss you! Oh, I just know you're all gonna prosper on the Belle...

  Good-bye, Miss ... Good-bye, Skipper ... Good-bye, Missy ... Good-bye, Jacky... Wah-ho-tay, Wah-chinga...

  They put their sweeps in the water, wave, and in a very little while, the Belle of the Golden West was gone.

  Eight days later, I am on the deck of the Nancy B., with my long glass to my eye, and I leave it there, scanning the deck of the thirty-six-gun British frigate that Daniel had spotted coming out of Kingston Harbor. No, nothing yet ... that has to be the Captain, there on the quarterdeck ... and that must be the Sailing Master, beside him...

  We have been lying off Kingston for two days now, watching the British ships that leave the harbor. That thing the ticket agent said last week when he examined the manifest of the Jefferson Hayes for Jaimy's name has stayed with me: He said Lieutenant James Fletcher, not Mr. James Fletcher. So I've got to figure that Jaimy's gonna try to get back in the Royal Navy again if he can.

  We've checked each ship, warship or merchant, that has come out since we've been here, scanning them with the telescope and even coming up alongside and asking them if he's aboard or if they've seen him, but nothing yet.... Well, almost nothing yet—one young midshipman on HMS Courage, which went out yesterday, thought maybe he'd met someone of that name and description at the officers' club on the base, but he couldn't be sure. Of course, I can't bring the Nancy B. into the harbor itself, for I'd be nabbed for sure, as it is a British port, after all. I was thinking of sending Jim Tanner in on the lifeboat to scout around, but then this ship comes out. We'll see...

  I see the back of another blue-uniformed officer approach the Captain and salute, and I think he says something, then turns ... and yes! It's Jaimy! Oh my God! Oh, thank you, Lord!

  "Jim! Bring her alongside that ship, port side!"

  "Aye, Missy. All on deck ... ready to come about... H
ard a'lee!"

  And he puts the rudder over and we swing around. The sails loosen and then flap wildly—in irons, it's called—and then firm up again when the Nancy B. comes back up on the other tack and slips in next to the warship. Oh, what a sweet, sweet sailer you are, Nancy!

  The wind, for once, is perfect—right behind both schooner and frigate, so neither of us can go afoul or be caught on a lee shore.

  "What is it you want?" calls a man over the side of the ship, which I now know is called the HMS Mercury, from the painted name on her stern.

  "I want to speak with Lieutenant James Fletcher! I know he is aboard, and it is very important that I talk to him!"

  The man looks back over his shoulder and says something, and presently the Captain himself looks over the side.

  He looks down and smiles a raffish smile. "Well, I had thought we'd left the fleshy pleasures behind in Kingston, but perhaps I was wrong. I am Captain Henry Blackstone of HMS Mercury, and who, may I ask, are you?" He casts an eye over Clementine, who, because of the heat, is dressed in the light dress we first found her in, and then Chloe, who has on the shift we first found her in for reasons of both heat and disguise, and myself, wearing my loose cotton top, buckskin skirt, and scant else.

  Thank God, a rascal and not a prude!

  "I am but a poor girl who just wants to speak a few words to her own true love, Mr. James Fletcher, who is aboard your ship as a Royal Naval Officer."

  "Well then, we certainly cannot stand in the way of young love, can we, Mr. Bennett? Where is Mr. Fletcher, our new Second Mate?"

  "He just went below, to the gun room, Sir."

  "Well, go get the young hound up here, then, if you would, Mr. Bennett," says Captain Blackstone, still appreciating what lies below him in the way of female form.

  "I'm grateful, Sir," says I, and my eye spies a loose line hanging over the side—probably a line that held a supply boat to the side, but no matter what it was, it's a way up for me. I leap for it, and when I have my hands and legs wrapped around it, I say, "Jim! Take her off about twenty-five yards!" And he does it, the Nancy B. swinging swiftly away and maintaining her station.

  I clamber up the line, get my hands on the rail, and pull myself over quickly, if not elegantly, onto the deck of the Mercury, just as James Emerson Fletcher appears before me.

  "Jacky! What...?"

  Oh, Jaimy, it is so good to see you!

  "Jaimy," I gasp, pulling Richard Allen's letter out of my waistband and thrusting it at him. "Please read this. What you saw back on the Mississippi with me and him was not a true thing ... I have been good, mostly, and I am still your girl if you still want me."

  He takes the letter and flings it to the side.

  "I don't care what the letter says...," he says.

  And my heart dies within my chest ... Oh, no!

  "I still want you no matter what it says or what you've done, and that's the truth, Jacky."

  "Oh, Jaimy!" I cry and rush at him and wrap my arms about him and press my tearful face against his chest. "How I have longed for you, and worried about you, and prayed for you, and—"

  "Now, hush, hush, it's all right," he says, running his hand over the stubble of my hair. "I'm not even going to ask how this happened, not just yet, oh, no ... I love you, Jacky, no matter what."

  "I love you, too, Jaimy, and I try to be good, but things always seem to work out different somehow, I just ... Oh, just kiss me, Jaimy, if you really love me!"

  And he does, oh, yes, he does. I place my mouth on his, and all the troubles of the past few years just melt away. Ooooohhhhh...

  I hear cheers behind me as we come apart, and I say, "So much to say, Jaimy, and so little time..."

  "I know, I know..."

  "Where are you bound, Jaimy?" I ask, my arms still tight about him.

  "To China, to escort a fleet of merchantmen plying the silk-and-spice trade."

  "You must go?"

  "Aye. I am back in the Service again. I have given my word."

  Ah well, I know what that means.

  "When will you be back?"

  "We should be back in London in a year, maybe less, depending on the winds."

  "I'll be there, Jaimy, waiting for you."

  "Will you not fear capture in England?"

  "Nay, I know my way around the streets of Cheapside better than anyone. I could hide out there forever. Huh, look at the trouble I've had there in the wilderness of America, for God's sake—if I couldn't hide there, I can't hide anywhere. No, I'll meet you in London, Jaimy, count on it."

  "I look forward to that, Jacky, with all my heart," he says, clutching me close to him again. "I'll be back within the year and we'll be married and have you settled, and all will be well," says Jaimy. He takes a deep breath. "If you could just go back to the Lawson Peabody and ... just ... be good for a while ... till we can meet again."

  Be good?

  Oh, no, sorry, but I can't let that go. I step back and give him a poke in the ribs and say, "Look over there." And I hook my thumb over to the Nancy B., which races alongside.

  Jaimy looks over the side and sees Clementine standing by the after mast, her flaxen hair blowing in the wind.

  "Oh. My. God," says Lieutenant James Emerson Fletcher, astounded.

  "Missus Clementine Fletcher, as you will recall," says I.

  Jaimy stiffens, comes to full Attention, and nods. "I will not deny her," he says.

  I put my hand on his arm. "As well you shouldn't. She is a fine girl and I love her as a sister. I hope you will be glad to know that she is now married to Jim Tanner and is looking forward to a better life in Boston."

  Putting my hands on his shoulders, I look into his eyes. "I want you to know that I have been as good as I could be, considering my nature, and I know that you have been the same," I say. "I will meet you in London. Now give me a last kiss, Jaimy, a kiss to last a year."

  We come together again, and as we part, I hear, from high up in the rigging, "Hey! It's Puss! Puss-in-Boots, herself!"

  Uh-oh...

  Though Captain Blackstone has so far been most accommodating of young love, I know the prospect of a three-hundred-and-fifty-pound reward for my capture would sway almost any man, so...

  "Good-bye, Jaimy," I say, planting one more kiss on his face, and then I hop up on the rail. "Gotta run."

  I dive over the side and into the warm water of the Caribbean. I hit clean and open my eyes in the clear, azure underwater blue. I see the sleek hull of the Nancy B. up ahead and I kick my way toward her.

  My long American journey is over.

  * * *

  Epilogue

  "Three fathoms," says Solomon Freeman from the bow. He coils up the line and throws the lead again. "Mark twain," he says, measuring out the two-fathom distance on the line.

  "Drop anchor," I say, and Jim Tanner lets it go. We back the sails and wait. The anchor holds and the Nancy B. Alsop is back in Massachusetts, the place where her keel was laid, the place of her birth. The anchor flag of Faber Shipping, Worldwide flies proudly from her masthead.

  We are moored at the mouth of the Neponset River, off the town of Quincy, wherein lies Dovecote, the estate of the Family Trevelyne.

  I felt it best to land here, where I would feel safe from capture. Jim Tanner will get the Morning Star in the water and so convey himself, his wife, and Chloe to Boston, and he will also see Ezra Pickering so as to find lodging for all and to dispose of our cargo.

  I climb down into the Evening Star—yes, we were able to bring her aboard the Nancy B. as lifeboat—and then I am rowed to the shore. I then begin the walk up to the great house at Dovecote. I get halfway there, when I see a very familiar figure, her black dress swirling about, her arms outstretched, come running down to me.

  * * *

 


 

  L. A. Meyer, Mississippi Jack

 


 

 
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