Mississippi jack, p.5
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       Mississippi Jack, p.5

           L. A. Meyer
 

  The galleries, of course, were packed, with more people cramming into the outside hall and spilling into the street, and this bit of impassioned oration brought forth a roar of approbation: "Hear, hear!" and "Huzzah, huzzah!"

  The judge, who obviously had not been apprised of this entire situation, not even of his granddaughter's incarceration ( I mean, who would have had the nerve to tell the old warhorse?), turned a vivid shade of red as he cast his gimlet eye across the line of accused females arrayed below him, to pick her out. Miss Caroline, upon seeing her grandpapa's face turn from red to purple upon spotting her, lifted up her unbound right fist and shouted out, "Sic semper tyrannis!" This brought another thunderous acclamation from the crowd, a crowd that was in danger of fast becoming a howling mob.

  The temper of the Court was not helped when Mademoiselle Lissette de Lise, the very elegant daughter of the French Consul, a bloodstained bandage wrapped very fashionably around her noble brow, raised her own fist and intoned with Gallic fire, "À bas la monarchie d'Angleterre! À bas le roi George! Vive la Révolution américaine! Vive l'école Law-sahn Pee-bod-dee! Vive Ja-kee Fay-bear! À les Barricades!" giving the whole affair a certain international flair. Her father, the Comte de Lise, was in attendance and was not at all pleased when she was finally brought down and subdued. There were mumbles of withdrawing the French Embassy, thereby creating a political crisis of the first order.

  Judge Thwackham's main role in all this was pounding his gavel and vainly calling for "Order! Order! By God, I'll have you all whipped! Order! Order in my courtroom!"

  The explosiveness of the situation was not helped when Colonel Howe burst into the proceedings, fresh from riding up from the South to reclaim his daughter, only to find her bound and gagged and on her knees in a Yankee courtroom, wearing only very damp undergarments. He threatened to call up a regiment of Virginia Regulars and start a civil war if he did not receive immediate satisfaction. He was joined in this sentiment by Amy's father, Colonel Trevelyne. We were indeed lucky that her brother and your ardent admirer, Randall Trevelyne, had been sent off on a horse-buying errand to Philadelphia, else real blood would have been spilled by that hothead, had he been at the Battle of Long Wharf, and the legal cleanup would have been much messier. And much costlier. I know that Randall will be furious to have missed it all. I do hope I am there to see his face when he receives the news.

  But with cooler heads prevailing, mine not the least of them, God save the mark, things were finally sorted out and peace was restored in the City of Boston, Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

  I made it a special project to gain Miss Amy's release first of the girls, she being not as battle-hardened as the others, the veterans of the Bloodhound. When I stood up in court and successfully pleaded her case and delivered her to the arms of her parents, I received a squeeze of my hand and what I took to be a very warm and heartfelt look.

  All in all, it was one of the greatest days in my life so far.

  I was able to bill out many hours of legal assistance to some of the most prominent families in Boston. In short, I prospered, and I made some very good contacts, you may be sure.

  All is well now and all have been released. Oh, some fines (read that "bribes") will have to be paid, and some apologies (written, formal, but not spoken) will have to be made, but all will return to normal eventually.

  Now let me tell you of more prosaic but equally happy things. I believe you'll be most pleased to hear that the marriage of Sylvia Rossio and Henry Hoffman will occur next week at the Church of the Holy Cross on School Street, Signore Rossio and Herr Hoffman having finally given their permission for the match. I believe both papas concluded that the two young people in question had probably already made their marriage vows to some Reverend Bedpost in a room in some wayside inn on the way up from New York to bear the news of the salvation of the girls of the Lawson Peabody, so something had better be done and the sooner the better.

  But, of course, you will already know of this because you will hear it from Mr. Fletcher, who stands impatiently before me. His horse is outside, saddled, packed, and ready, and Mr. Fletcher is most anxious to be off. Again, I wish you the joy of your reunion.

  I will add only that Miss Amy sends her regards. She has made arrangements for your Morning Star to be taken to Dovecote for storage until your most heartily wished-for return. She is still too unnerved to write, but wishes me to quote her: "My dearest friend: I am filled with joy at your deliverance, and with sadness at our continuing separation. How you do try me, Sister. I fear I shall expire of emotional exhaustion, but God be with you, in spite of it all."

  Lieutenant James Fletcher opens his vest to stuff this letter in, and he will brook no further wait, and so I conclude by saying that I am,

  Yr Most Devoted Friend,

  Ezra

  Chapter 5

  Up in the morning and back on horse. It is the fourth day out and we have turned, at Katy's direction, from the Boston Post Road, which I know from asking our last innkeeper would have led us to New York City, a town I mean to visit someday, but not just yet. This road immediately gets narrower and rougher, but I believe my male companions are bearing up better, now that they've had some time to shake off the kinks of easy city living.

  The road widens, so I pull up next to Higgins, and we ride knee to knee, each of us lost in thought. After a bit, I say, "I want to thank you again for my rescue, Higgins. It was a very fine thing."

  "Thanks are not necessary, except perhaps to God. It was very lucky that the Fennel and Bean Nonesuch Players were doing Fanny, the Pride of the Regiment, so that we had the proper British uniforms for our little deception."

  I consider this, then I reply, "Yes, I have had a great amount of luck in this life, and not all of it was bad. But I have enjoyed the greatest of good luck in having the love and protection of my friends."

  "Well said, Miss."

  "Well, I try. But what is this 'Fanny' play?"

  "It was penned by Messrs. Bean and Fennel themselves. It is short on substance but high on wild plot twists, risqué antics, and outrageous theatricals. Much like your own life to date, Miss."

  "Higgins, you wound me."

  "I was merely making a jest, Miss."

  "Hmmm..."

  "One thing, though, that has me mystified. Messrs. Fennel and Bean have reported to me that you have often been offered the role of Cordelia in Lear and have always absolutely refused to do it. This strikes me as peculiar when in fact you have done other doomed heroines—Ophelia, Lady Macduff, even Lady Macbeth, herself, once, and thought nothing of it. Why is that?"

  "It's 'cause Cordelia gets hanged at the end, and the Nonesuch Players have got that grisly scene down pat, believe me—the noosing, the kicked-out chair, Cordelia's vain struggles—and I've got a thing about that ... like I still have the feeling that I'm going to end up that way. Dangling at the end of a rope."

  Higgins considers this for a while, then says, "Well, considering your lifestyle, that's not an implausible fear. However, could not living, as a child, in the shadow of Newgate Prison have something to do with that fear?"

  "I don't know," says I, wanting to change the subject. I turn back to Katy, behind me. "What's the chance of us finding a good inn?"

  "Pretty good. There's one 'bout fifteen miles up ahead, at a fork in the road. Prolly the last one like it 'fore we hit the frontier. Then things get right meager in that way. We'll prolly be sleepin' out some. Prolly a lot."

  That doesn't rile Jim Tanner, but it sure raises one of Higgins's eyebrows.

  "Then I intend to enjoy my last night as a civilized human," says he, "before I turn into a red savage."

  The inn, the Martin in the Maples in the town of Port Jervis, turns out to be in New York State, and seems to be snug and comfortable, and I arrange to play a set that night in return for tips. I tried to wrangle lodging, but it was no go. Damn cheap Yankees. After we were settled in, I sent Jim to try to round up an audience, but he found slim pickings ou
t there, that's for sure. Still, we had a small crowd of about fifteen people that night, mostly horse traders and plowboys, and farmers come into the town to sell their produce, and they were jolly enough. I began with "In the Good Old Colony Times" and followed that with "Springfield Mountain"—no singing, just the fiddle—and topped it off with a Scottish dance. I told some stories and some jokes and then played some more tunes. The pennywhistle was new to many of them, they being mostly of Dutch stock, but they loved my fiddle and were astounded by my dancing. Nothing they'd ever let their daughters do, but still fun to watch. The tips made it worthwhile, and I did love getting back into performance.

  It was the first time Jim had seen me do my full act, and I think he was charmed. Katy, too, shook her head and said in wonder, "If that don't just beat all," as I dipped and took my final bows.

  After all is done and the place is closed, we all go to bed. An extra mattress not being available in this place, Higgins is in a chair, with feet propped up and pistols in his lap, facing the door. Katy is in bed to my right, and Jim Tanner is out with the horses. Rather reluctantly with the horses, I think. From the ardent glances he cast my way as I was performing, I think he'd rather have Higgins out in the barn and himself in here between Katy and me, but, no, that is not to be, young Jim.

  Before I sleep this night, though, I cannot help but think back on the events of the last week, and tears trickle down my cheeks and onto the pillowcase.

  Oh, Jaimy, for you to have had to stand there and not say a word as I was stood up and shamed and then taken off the Juno, knowing, as you did, that if you raised too much of a fuss, Higgins's charade would have been uncovered and all would have been lost. I am so very hard on my friends.

  And now, Jaimy, you are being taken back to England, once again half a world away from me. I do hope that no harm comes to you because of my actions, and while Higgins tells me not to worry in that regard, still I worry. I don't know ... So many things can go wrong in this world, and things generally do go wrong.

  Aye, maybe it would be best if you found another girl when you get back to England, for as you know, I am nothing but trouble and grief. And one of these days my luck has got to run out, virtuewise. Will you still want me then? I don't know. I don't know anything. But I know I will always love you, Jaimy, no matter what you do, and where you go. I want you to know that, Jaimy.

  G'night, now...

  I give a sniffle and maybe a slight sob and Higgins's hand reaches out in the darkness and gives my shoulder a comforting pat. Good Higgins—you always know, don't you...

  Chapter 6

  Ex-Lieutenant James Emerson Fletcher

  Howe's Tavern on the Post Road

  Massachusetts, USA

  Miss Jacky Faber

  Somewhere up ahead of me on the road west

  In the wilderness, Massachusetts, USA

  My Dearest Jacky,

  Again I write to your absent self, but this time I am completely confident that we will very shortly be united for good and ever.

  I am here at the very same lodging that you stayed in a scant two days ago. I swear I can smell your scent on the breeze, I am getting that close! It is with the utmost regret that I stop for the night in my pursuit of you, but I feel that I must, for safety's sake and for the sake of sleep. And so, by lamplight, I sit here and pen this letter, in hopes that you (or our children, should we be so blessed) will read it and be entertained.

  I found, upon closely questioning the landlord here at Howe's Tavern, that your own dear self and those of your party had been here and left the next day intending to head for the Allegheny River. (I know that Higgins and Jim Tanner are with you, and for that I thank God, but who is the other girl? Never mind, all shall soon be plain.)

  After finding out, upon further inquiry, into what other river the Allegheny flows, I believe I now know your mind on where you plan to go and how you plan to get there. I chuckle to think that it is so much like you to seek out open water when you are on the run, or otherwise in trouble, which is, of course, virtually all of the time. I have been chuckling a lot for the past day, knowing that I will soon have you in my arms, from which embrace I vow you shall never again escape.

  I hope you are not dismayed, given your deep sense of loyalty to our Service, to find that I have left the Royal Navy, and I left it quite abruptly, having dived overboard as the Juno was being warped out of Boston Harbor. I don't care. If a career in the Naval Service means the loss of you, then the hell with it. I'll find something else to do. Maybe join the Hottentot Navy, eh, what? It was reassuring to me, though, to find out that I could indeed swim, as I had not tried before.

  But all of that is of no matter, as I am sure to catch up with you the day after tomorrow, at the very latest, and we shall have a leisurely cruise down these American rivers to wherever they may take us, in, I hope, a state of wedded bliss. On that, I can but hope, but I have lingering doubts, to wit: I know that you have been on the stage, and while I know that you are an accomplished actress, still, when you stood on the deck of the Juno and denied me so convincingly, so chillingly convincingly, well, I don't know what to think. I am but a poor fool when it comes to understanding you, Jacky. But I trust that all will be resolved when we meet.

  I have been provided with ample money from our friends in Boston, especially from Miss Trevelyne, Miss Howe, and Mademoiselle de Lise. Such fine friends you have, Jacky. I have directed Ezra Pickering, another invaluable friend to both of us, as I do not need to tell you, to contact my father in London for restitution of these funds, which, incidentally, I keep safe upon my person. Restitution will be quickly made, I am sure, since Fletcher & Sons Wine Merchants has prospered since we recovered the losses we incurred from the depredations of a certain female pirate ... ahem, excuse me, privateer. Don't worry, you will make it up to me, oh, count on that, but not in monetary ways. Oh, no. I have many other, much more pleasant things in mind.

  Your Mistress Pimm, upon presenting me with a fine horse from her school stables, said to me, "Go, young man, and find her and bring our lost sheep back to us. As I perceive you to be a gentleman, I trust you will treat her honorably."

  I nodded at that and said I would, but I spoke the truth only up to a certain point. Actually, upon finding you, I intend, honorably, to haul you up in front of the nearest preacher, or what passes for a preacher out in this godforsaken wilderness, say the words, and then find a bed or convenient patch of grass, strip you of your garments, lay you down on your back, and again, honorably, finally and completely consummate our union. I have waited and suffered long enough.

  That is sufficient for now. Suffice to say, there will be portions of this letter that will not be read to the children. Especially to the girls.

  I have made the acquaintance this evening of two fine gentlemen who are traveling the same road as I, who pronounce themselves knowledgeable in the highways and byways of this region, and tomorrow we shall travel together. I took dinner with them, actually, and they proved most amiable. They are a Mr. McCoy and a Mr. Beatty. I am sure they will be pleasant and informative company as I continue on my journey.

  Till we meet again in joyous congress, I am,

  Your Most Obedient and etc.,

  Jaimy

  Chapter 7

  Once again we saddle up for another day of travel. As Katy settles in behind me, I ask, "Your uncle. On your farm. Should you not approach that very carefully? After all, it could be dangerous, and while we are well armed, well..."

  "Don't worry, Jacky, I'll scout it out some, believe me."

  "Maybe instead of killing him outright, maybe you could bring him up on charges? Get him sent to prison or something?"

  "Ain't the way it's done out here. Ain't much law out where we're headed, and what there is of it tends to hang around the towns. 'Sides, he'd have the law on his side, him bein' a man with property and me bein' a penniless girl. Huh! Ain't no prisons, neither. If you're guilty of somethin', it's either the noose or whippin' or
banishment, and that's it."

  She settles into the rhythm of the ride, satisfied with her lot for now. She has fashioned a quiver out of the leftover leather and she wears it over her right shoulder so that her new arrows are right at her command should she need them. She still wears her white headband.

  We stop at noon for what we think will be refreshment at a very small wayside general store, hardly more than a hovel that has a porch with some barrels on it, but we can find no one there. Mystified and somewhat disappointed, we push wearily on.

  "Jim," I say. "Ride up ahead and see what awaits us."

  Jim eagerly puts his heels to his horse and leaves the rest of us sluggards in the dust. I would join him, but we cannot push these two horses too hard, since they bear heavier loads than does Jim's lucky nag.

  We grumble along a bit more, saddle sore and hungry, for an hour or so, when Jim comes pounding back.

  "Missy! There's a big tent in the middle of a field up ahead and to the right! And there's tons of people there!"

  We spur on our reluctant mounts and eventually come to the spot Jim described.

  Katy takes one look and says, "Huh! Revival meetin'."

  We gaze down on the spectacle. The huge tent has its front and side flaps open, the weather being mild and the crowd being big. I'm amazed to see so many people, since we have spied so few on our way here.

  Inside the tent I can see a stage, and on it is a preacher shaking his fist and roaring at the congregation. I cannot make out his words, but I can surely pick up on the religious fervor with which he delivers them. So can the crowd. They sway back and forth like people in a trance, like people transported to another realm.

 
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