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Literature
Peg Leg Louisa 09
Peg Leg Louisa 09
The Eastern Coast of Florida.
They were making good speed for Charleston, the wind at their backs, but they had to stick alongside the Jerusalem that had taken heavier damage than their own in the battle against the Sea Witch.
There was also a good chance that Harry Neville’s Puma might appear, or some French or Spanish warship.
She scouted the northern horizon with her telescope. Nothing there. She looked up at Tom Marston in the Crow’s Nest, called, “Anything?”
He shouted back, “No, Cap’n. Nothing!”
“Good! Thanks for that!”
“Aye, Skip!”
She thought, we’re sailing into trouble. She could feel it in her bones. She heard a sound behind her and turned.
Polly was there, a smile on her face which was good. Polly hadn’t smiled a great deal in the last few days, not since they’d buried their fallen shipmates.
“Ahoy,” Polly said softly.
“Ahoy there, matey,” she said wi
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Literature
Peg Leg Louisa 08
Peg Leg Louisa 08
Southern Florida.
They were anchored in a small bay, along with the Jerusalem. Polly said to her, fanning herself with a palm leaf, “And I thought Charleston was hot!”
She smiled at her. “Hot? You wait until we…”
“Get down to Brazil?” She laughed. “I can’t wait.”
Louisa gave her a quick, firm hug. She thought, this is so beautiful a day. The sky was cloudless and the sea an almost unbearable azure, so intense that it hurt the eyes to look upon it.
They, along with Israel’s Rosenberg’s ship, the Jerusalem, were lying in wait for the Duc du Maine to pass by on its way to New Orleans.
They had been hired to attack the Slaver, take it captive and then to return to the ship to Charleston so that their employer, the Reverend Ellsworth Somerville could free the slaves and, eventually, to take them back to West Africa.
Every minute that passed, it seemed more and more unlikely.
Something rankled about Som
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Literature
Peg Leg Louisa 07
Peg Leg Louisa 07
 
Charleston Quay.
Quarter to eight of the clock.
She looked out across the jetty which was shrouded in the early morning fog, the outlines of ships mere dark shadows amongst the gloom. Like ghosts, she thought and shook herself at the morbidity of the image.
She saw the men assembled on the jetty, all, like her and her senior crew and Polly, wearing black cloth tied to their upper left arms.
She was leaving Johnny Phillips in charge of the skeleton crew in case of a sudden attack. The killer was still as yet free. Johnny wasn’t at all happy about it but had acquiesced when she’d said, “When we’re back on board, shipmate, you and lads who must remain here for now, go to her grave and pray for her kind and gentle soul.”
He’d near-wept at her words and had nodded. “Aye, Skipper. Aye.”
She’d clapped him gently on the shoulder and now she stood on the poop deck, alone with her thoughts. She checked her pock
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Literature
Peg Leg Louisa 06
Peg Leg Louisa 06
She wiped her eyes and said, “I’m going ashore.”
George nodded, his eyes wet. “Let’s go, then!”
“No, George, You stay here. I’ll take Johnny, Nick and Bob.”
“But…”
“I need someone here who can organise a counter attack if Harry and his boys try something. This… this business with Mary being…” She couldn’t say it. “It might be a feint.”
“All right,” he said, his voice a dry rasp.
Polly said, “I’ll come.”
“No!”
But, Louisa…”
“Avast there, deck hand!” She stared at her and Polly stepped back, utterly shocked.
“Oh, Louisa? What…?”
“Louisa said, far more gently, “I don’t think that would be a good idea, love. You don’t know Charleston; it’s dark and already somebody has been murdered, for the love of God.”
Polly nodded, knowing it was futile t
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Literature
Peg Leg Louisa 05
Peg Leg Louisa 05
 
Charleston Quay.
They stepped down from the gangplank on to the jetty. Already Johnny, George and Bob were there. They looked concerned and alert. Both George and Johnny had their cutlasses slung on their baldrics while Bob had a murderously sharp dagger sheathed at his belt.
She said, “So, lads. What news?”
George said, “Puma docked about quarter of an hour back, Skip.”
“Right. Any sign of Harry?”
Johnny shook his head. “Not so far, but just give it time.”
She nodded. She turned and shouted back to Nick Bentley, Tom and the others. “Stay aboard and keep dead sharp!”
Nick called back, “Aye, cap’n!”
Polly said under her breath, “Shit!”
They looked down the length of the quay to see a tall, all-too familiar figure flanked by two large, burly men walking toward them.
Harry Neville and his two senior officers, Charlie Sumter and Jack Oswald. She thought, s
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Literature
Peg Leg Louisa 04
Peg Leg Louisa 04
Morning.
She strapped her peg leg on, stood up from the edge of the bunk and smiled wryly. “How do I look?”
“As if you could take on the world!” She laughed lightly, stood up and went to her. “You’re very beautiful.”
“It’s been said just a few times,” and they laughed together. She said to Polly, “And, well, you’re not so bad yourself.”
“Ah, I do my little best.”
“And don’t you do it so well!” Louisa thought that, this morning, Polly looked almost divine; a dark and saturnine Aphrodite brought down to Earth. She said nothing, however. That would be for later. She knew she was falling in love with this lady and felt no shame for it.
Whether Polly loved her, well that was another story entirely she knew. There was a good chance, though, but she wouldn’t rely on it.
She said, “Shall we go?”
“By all means, Captain,” Polly said with a sm
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Literature
Peg Leg Louisa 03
Peg Leg Louisa 03
South Carolina. Charleston.
They’d berthed at the jetty and after a while they made their way down the gangplank. She said, over her shoulder to Nick Bentley, “Let the others go ashore in a while. Leave a skeleton crew on board and soon as we’re back they can go off and get themselves pissed!”
“Aye, Skipper!” Nick nodded with a broad grin of relish.
Polly said, “Bloody hell, it’s so hot here!”
“Coming on for summer,” Johnny said. “It gets a lot hotter then.”
“Thanks,” she said, glumly but then she smiled at him.
“You wait until we get down to Brazil or over to Africa.”
“Oh, my, I can’t wait!” She said in mock despair and they laughed together.
They left the docks and headed for the centre of Charleston, talking and laughing.
“WHORES!”
They stopped and stared at the black-clad man who stood on a small, rickety crate. He was pointing at Lou
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Literature
Peg Leg Louisa 02
Peg Leg Louisa 02
The Bay of Biscay. Sunset.
She leant on the rail and thought, this is good. This is so very good. They were sailing down to Portugal, calling in at Lisbon for a refit and to take on supplies. They were, mostly, all right for things such as food and water but it paid to be well-stocked in case of some unforeseen event.
The sea was gentle, which was quite uncommon for the Bay. It was very often rough here.
There was a slight sound behind her and she turned and then smiled at Polly Kilpatrick who had, also, a smile on her face but it was also a little perplexed, too.
Polly was tall, dark and very good looking. She wore a linen shirt, a long black waistcoat and black breeches. She also wore her new left peg leg and shook hand, courtesy of the ship’s carpenter. The hook was steel secured with a black-strapped gauntlet. Louisa said, “Well, now then, Mistress Kilpatrick! You look…” she nearly said enticing but left it with, “Very nice!”
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Literature
Peg Leg Louisa 01
Peg Leg Louisa 01
 
Falmouth Harbour. Cornwall.
The gulls shrieked and whirled overhead as they finally docked at Custom House Quay. It had been quite an arduous voyage but the Privateer ‘Peg Leg Louisa’ –originally the Black Falcon - was back in England. For now, anyway.
“Skipper?”
She turned to see her Bo ‘sun smiling at her. “Johnny?”
“Got a problem, I reckon.” He nodded to a ship further down the quay.
Her heart sank but she nodded. “Harry Neville. Well bloody hell.”
She and Neville were enemies. Never mind that polite talk of rivalries and differences of opinion and all the suchlike. She hated Neville and she knew that he hated her. It was never, ever, going to be resolved until one of them was dead.
It wasn’t going to be her.
Johnny said, “Ready to go ashore, Skipper?”
She smiled at him, “Never more ready,” she said with a smile. She put her hands
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Peg Leg Louisa 09

The Eastern Coast of Florida.
They were making good speed for Charleston, the wind at their backs, but they had to stick alongside the Jerusalem that had taken heavier damage than their own in the battle against the Sea Witch.
There was also a good chance that Harry Neville’s Puma might appear, or some French or Spanish warship.
She scouted the northern horizon with her telescope. Nothing there. She looked up at Tom Marston in the Crow’s Nest, called, “Anything?”
He shouted back, “No, Cap’n. Nothing!”
“Good! Thanks for that!”
“Aye, Skip!”
She thought, we’re sailing into trouble. She could feel it in her bones. She heard a sound behind her and turned.
Polly was there, a smile on her face which was good. Polly hadn’t smiled a great deal in the last few days, not since they’d buried their fallen shipmates.
“Ahoy,” Polly said softly.
“Ahoy there, matey,” she said with a small grin.
“Are we on course for Charleston, Lou?”
“Of course we are!” She smiled and, on impulse, took her by the right arm, drew her to her and kissed her.
Polly said, “I’m afraid.”
“Of what?”
“Of what we may well meet in Charleston.”
She released her. “You and me both, then.”
“Lou? I… I don’t know what to do.”
“Stick close to me, George, Johnny and Bob. You won’t go wrong. Trust me.”
“I do. I trust you and all of the lads.” She tried to smile but it was a hard-won thing. “I just feel so much out of my… depth.”
“Well, then my darling, come join us one and all!” She kissed her and the kiss was returned.
Polly said, with a smile, “You’re so wonderful, Louisa. The lads adore you.”
“Ah, well, that may be true, but I have to work hard for that!”
“You’re too modest.”
“Never that!” She smiled at her. She thought, well, she’s shaping up well. I did have a few doubts, not so much for her courage or commitment, but as to whether she might fit in to shipboard life. All doubts had now gone. She was crew, wholly, now.
Here she stood, on the deck of her ship – probably one of the best on the seven seas – with a fine crew and alongside a woman she loved. At its worse this life was an utter nightmare, but on a day like this, even with the shadow of death still hanging over them, it was the best.
“Lou?”
“Yes, darling?”
“What will happen when we get to Charleston?”
“Ah, good question.” She tightened one of the straps on her peg leg. It still, after all these months, caught her out and she knew it was the same for Polly with her wooden leg and steel hook hand. She and herself – Louisa - would be like this for the rest of their lives.
She turned her head to the stern to see George and Johnny walking toward them. She said, “What’s the news, lads?”
“As you know we’re making a goodly time, Skip,” George said. He nodded to portside to where the Jerusalem was keeping pace with them. “Nobody else about, either.” He looked up at Tom in the Crow’s Nest and waved. Tom waved back affirmatively.
She said, “We should make Charleston pretty soon.”
“Aye,” Johnny said. “By dawn tomorrow.”
“Well and good,” she replied. She saw Bob Martin come up from below decks. He looked exhausted but there was a small smile on his thin face.
Skipper?”
“Bob. How goes it?”
“I’d like to tell you that everything is all ship shape and Bristol fashion, but I ain’t gonna lie to yer. We’re nearly done but we’ve a lot more to do whence we reach Charleston.”
“Aye, and I thank you for that, Master Martin.” She clapped him on the shoulder. “Good work.”
“Aye, I thank you.” He looked over at the de-masted Jerusalem. “They took it far worse’n us.”
“Truly, they did,” she said and thought, we might well have all died there, gone down to pay our respects to Davey Jones.
It hadn’t happened. We won the day and there’s an end on it. No good looking back at what might have been.
He said, “Work to be done, aye, but as I said we need to do more when we’ve docked at Charleston.”
“We will,” she said and thought, that rather depends on what we may find there, at Charleston, doesn’t it?
She said to them, “Come on, then, let’s go!”
They nodded. She squeezed Polly’s remaining right hand and said, “Come to me tonight?”
“Ah, thought you’d never ask, my captain!”
“Right then.” She smiled warmly. “About your labours, now, deck hand!”
Polly grinned. “Always at your service, Skipper Thorngate!” She winked at her and went below.
Louisa stumped over to the portside rail to watch the Jerusalem and she thought, we’ve got a reckoning a-coming.
What it would be, nobody – not even herself – knew. But it was there, nonetheless.
She looked up at Tom in the Crow’s Nest. “Tom?”
“Aye, skipper?”
“Anything?”
“Nothing but sea and sky, Cap’n.”
“Thank you.” She gave him a wave and thought, let it be so at least until we make it to Charleston.


Dawn. Charleston.
A thunderstorm, that had been following them all night, decided to let loose its downpour upon the city when they had just docked.
Lightning flickered and swept back and forth over the city when they moored at Charleston’s quay.
She put on her hat and long coat, left her cabin and said to George and Johnny, “Keep a watch, right?”
“Aye skipper.” George said and then sighed in despair. “Skipper?”
“What is it?”
“Look down there.”
“Ah, Jesu,” she said. She saw the dark bulk of the Puma tied up alongside. “Are we surprised?”
Johnny said, “I’m amazed, daily, how we can be so all unsurprised.”
“So,” George said, “What are we going to do?”
“Nothing for now. Run out the gangplank.”
“Aye, there, Cap’n.” He nodded to two of the lads.
“I’m going ashore. Come with me, both you and Johnny.”
Aye, skipper.” He nodded and wiped the rain water from his dark face. She saw Polly and said to her, “Back soon.”
“Aye, Skipper,” she said but her eyes were troubled.
“Don’t be perturbed, lass. It’s all in hand.”
“Ah, if only that were true,” she said with a small smile.
“Indeed.”
She made to go down the gangplank and Johnny said, “Easy now then, Skipper, on the peg leg.”
“Thank you, Master Phillips,” she said with a smile at him.
They stepped down onto the quay.
To be met by Paul – Witch Burner – Harris. He was a tall, dark man, head of the City Watch. She hated him, in good part, but she also reluctantly respected his impartiality. He said, “Mistress Thorngate.”
“The one and the same, good sir.”
“I don’t want any trouble.”
“Well neither do I. What ails you, Master?” She glanced at George and Johnny who were silent. “Tell us.”
“The Puma has docked.”
“So we saw. And?”
“It’s… difficult.”
“Explain yourself, sir!” She grabbed his shoulder. “What is going on, pray tell!”
“The puma… They took and captured a French Slaver.”
“Ah, well, then.” She nodded to herself, all of the pieces finally falling into place. “The Duc du Maine?”
“One and the same.”
“Ah, bloody hell.” She looked at George and Johnny. “See, now? You see? We were gulled.”
Harris gave her a sharp stare. “What do you mean?”
“We…” She felt suddenly unsure as if she should tell this man the way of it. “Ellsworth Somerville.”
“Him!” He shook his head, rainwater flying from his broad-brimmed hat.
“You’ve had dealings with him?”
“In a manner of speaking, aye.”
“What is happening, Master Harris?” She felt like slapping him but kept her peace.
“The slaves from the French ship, they’ve been brought here for auction.”
George said, “They were going to New Orleans!”
“Aye, so they were. But plans change, don’t they?” Harris shrugged. “The captives from the Duc du Maine will be auctioned tomorrow.”
She said to him, “We were ambushed and damn’ near sunk, sir, by the Sea Witch.”
He sighed wearily. “I had no hand in that matter, Thorngate.”
“Whether you did or did not, is of no import, sir.”
“I see. You’re against slavery, I surmise?”
“I am. As is all of my crew and, dare I say, the crew of the Jerusalem.”
“I… I don’t like it myself, tell you the God’s honest truth. I keep no slaves. A man works better when he is free, but…” He looked up at the grey and thunderous skies. “It’s the way of things as they are.”
“I understand.”
“Then you should then understand that I can do no more than I have already done.”
“Good enough, Master Harris.” She nodded.
“I want no mayhem or disruption from you and your crew; no neither from the men on the Jerusalem!”
“I cannot give you that promise, good sir. There are accounts to be settled, for aye.”
“You must understand me!”
“Oh, aye, I understand you well enough, but I will not be held accountable for what may come.”
“You must leave this be!” He shook his head in anger.
“I will do as must be done, Master Harris.”
He slumped down, defeated. “As you will.”
“Neville owes us a debt as does that man Somerville.”
“Somerville?” He gave her a tired, wan grin. “Well now…”
“Aye? What of him?”
“Go to the slave auction on the morrow, Mistress Thorngate. You’ll then see, for aye, what it is you’re dealing with.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’ll see. I will say no more,” he said. “I… I cannot.”
“Well and good,” she said, defeated. Too much was going on right now, far too much. “I’ll bid you good day, sir.”
“And a good day to you, Captain Thorngate.”
She nodded. She looked sharply at George and Johnny.  “Come, then, my lads.”
“Aye, Skipper.” The both nodded and followed her back to their vessel. Harris called after them, “Stay well clear of the Puma and her crew, Thorngate.”
She whirled about, furious. “Or what?”
“Or the consequences could be catastrophic,” he said, wearily.
“Well, now, I shall be the judge of that!”
“I would have been disappointed had you not said it!” He shook his head. “Just be… very careful. There are greater powers than you and I at work here.”
She said, more soberly, “I will bear it in mind, Master Harris.”
“See that you do,” he replied.
“We were ambushed down by Florida.”
“I’m no seaman but I can see, even with my untutored eye, the damage your vessel has taken.” He paused. “Was this all part of the task you were to fulfil?”
“In a manner of speaking,” She replied.
He nodded and said no more. He walked off down the rain-soaked quay.
George said to her, “What the fucking hell is going on, Lou?” He shook his head. “What is it?”
“I… I wish I knew, George.” She took his hand, squeezed it and did the same for Johnny. “Come on, we’re not doing any good here, let’s get back.”
“All right.”
They went back to the ship. The Jerusalem was tying up as they got there.
She said to George, “We need to speak with Israel and Dermot.”
“Aye, indeed.”
“Give it a while and we’ll go down.” She nodded to the vessel. She went up the gangplank, her peg leg tapping hollowly as she went. Not for the first time she thought, I wish I didn’t have to wear this damned thing! Still, that was the way of it, no time to worry about what might have been, she told herself, yet again.
Polly and Bob came over, concern on their faces. The other crew gathered around her.
Bob said, “What is it?”
She told them.
Polly said, “So we really were set up to fall? As you thought?” She spread her arms wide.
“Looks to be the truth, for aye, God damn it,” she said.
Bob said, angrily, “More’n ever I see the murder of Mary in this!”
“I think you’re right, old friend.” She clapped him on his shoulder. “We can’t do anything yet, though. Not yet.” She looked down the dockside to where the Jerusalem was mooring at the quayside. “Not yet but soon.”
She braced herself, thinking of what Harris had said to her. “Right, now. This is an order. Nobody from this crew goes anywhere near the Puma or her lads.” She saw their reluctant expressions. “An order, do you understand me, by God! Any disobedience, any at all!” She stared hard at them. “You’ll spend some good long time in irons. No exceptions!”
“Aye, skipper,” the men murmured, along with Polly who seemed very shocked.
“Come now,” she said. “About your duties!”
They nodded, murmured and dispersed.
She turned to George and Johnny. “I had to do that. The slightest incident could see this ship impounded and all of us in gaol, or worse!”
George nodded soberly. “Aye, Cap’n.”
“Aye,” Johnny murmured.
“I…” she hesitated. “A good part of me would have us go down there, sort out that scurvy rabble, aye, once and for all, but…” She stopped. Then. “For all my hot words back there with Harris, the man’s right. It all hangs by a thread.”
“Louisa!” She looked down to the jetty to see Israel Rosenberg and Dermot O’Connell staring up at her. They looked shocked.
“Come aboard!” She called back.
They hurried up the gangplank and Israel said, “We’ve just had words with Harris.”
“As have we,” she said. She told him what Harris had said and added, “I’ve ordered my crew to go nowhere near the Puma.”
“Same with us. No sign of the Duc du Maine, though.”
“Probably on its way back to Africa,” she said.
“Sure. Once Harry’s boys captured it and brought it back here instead of to New Orleans then it was business as usual for them. Harry let them go on their way. More slaves means more money.” He shook his head in anger. “Somerville.”
“Exactly,” she said. “We need to find him.”
“I don’t think Harris will countenance that, Lou.”
“No,” she said, defeated. “Probably not.”
“And we still have some serious work to do on the ship. Richard Dean’s working like a demon with the lads but it’s going to take time.”
“Yes, and while we didn’t take so much damage we’ve work to do, too.”
She called Bob over from the overseeing of a shattered rail.
“Skipper?”
“What say we combine our labours with the lads from the Jerusalem? They’ll help us and we’ll help them.”
“Nothing finer,” he said and with a brisk nod went back to the rail.
She said to Israel, “We’ll do all we can but I reckon, too, we need to go and speak with Edward Cavendish, see how he is. We won’t have to concern ourselves with the Puma’s crew. They’re banned from there, if you recall.”
“We can be thankful for small mercies,” he said but his eyes were troubled. “I’m hoping Edward’s all right.”
“As do we all,” she assented.
She checked her pocket watch. “I suggest that we work on the repairs until noon, and then give the lads a break down at the King Charles.”
“That sounds like an excellent plan, Skipper Thorngate. They’ll need to stop at some time and by then we’ll have a good part of the work done.”
“So done it is,” she said and put the watch away. She looked up at the leaden sky. “Rain’s starting to ease.”
“Aye, it is,” he said.
“Damned weather like this, always gives my leg problems.” She slapped the straps of her peg leg with a glance at Polly. She said, “Same with you?”
“So it is,” Skipper she said with a small grin, but her eyes were still troubled. “Hot and damp don’t suit me.”
“Aright there, shipmate,” she said and clapped Polly gently on the shoulder. “Let’s set to and take our minds off… what may come.”
“Aye, Cap’n,” Polly said. She went about her tasks.


Noon.
The King Charles Tavern.
She looked at the men from her crew and Israel’s. They were going in two groups of each so as not to overwhelm the place. She was with Bob, George and Polly and some others. Johnny who had volunteered to go on the second group, also to defend the ship in case of an attack by the Puma lads, had called after her, “Lou!”
She’d turned. “Johnny?”
“You and that bunch of scoundrels; you drink all of that ale before we gets down there, well, Skip, you and I will have serious words!”
“We’ll leave you the dregs,” she said and they had both laughed but it had been a hard thing to do. Too much was going on.
She looked at Israel who said, “Lead on, Captain Thorngate.”
“Aye,” she said with a small nod. She took a deep breath, gripped the iron handle of the oak door and shoved it inwards.
The place was busy, full of blue tobacco smoke and people talking. She went to the bar and she saw Edward talking with a customer. Edward looked at her, smiled sadly and said to the man, “Excuse me.”
“Aye, go to,” the man replied with a smile.
Edward came to them and said, “Louisa. Polly. George and Bob.” He nodded to them. “Israel, Dermot and Richard.”
Israel said, “Edward. How be?”
“Good as I can be, to tell you the truth.” He sighed. “A drink?”
“If you’re so willing,” Israel said quietly.
Very soon, the crew members of both the Louisa and the Jerusalem were served, again Edward taking no payment for the first round. He said, “Some things, at least, don’t change.”
George raised his tankard to him in salute and said, “Join us?”
“No, thank you. I’m not touching a drop until Mary’s….” He couldn’t say it. “Not until he is found.” He looked old and haggard but a little better than the last time they were here. “I still see my darling girl, in my mind’s eye, you know.” He gave them a small, bitter smile. “She was… like a daughter to me and now somebody – some fiend¬ – has taken her from me.” He gave a sigh. “But, well then, what of you all?”
Louisa said, “You must know what has happened?”
“Pretty well everything. We learned you were ambushed by Barclay’s Sea Witch.” He gave her a long regard. “Are the rumours true? The ones that say you yourself killed her?”
“I did.” She shot a glance at Polly who had a blank expression on her face. “We… fought and I bested her.”
“Good. She was always a thoroughly nasty piece of work. But you and your ship, Israel…” He looked at him. “Were damaged?”
Israel nodded. “Took quite a beating, truth be told, Edward. The Sea Witch is – was - a powerful vessel, but poorly maintained.”
“And you scuttled it? Sent it down to Davey Jones, along with her Skipper?”
He grinned ironically. “Word does get around.”
“Not many secrets here in Charleston, old friend.”
“So it seems.” He nodded.
She sipped her ale; it was cool and bitter. “When we docked early this morning, Harris was there. He was in a state of some agitation.”
“Aye, well, they’re selling the African captives tomorrow, the ones from the Duc du Maine.”
“And Harry must have been in league with Catherine Barclay to make this happen.”
“And… others,” Edward said, darkly.
Polly said, “What ‘others’?”
“James Moore,” the name was almost whispered. Polly looked thoroughly confused but, Louisa, Israel and George nodded. Bob said to Polly, “The Governor of South Carolina, answerable only to King George.”
Louisa said, “So, Moore’s got a hand in this? Christ on His Cross.”
Israel looked at George and then Dermot. “Getting very deep here, lads.”
Richard said, “If whoever is behind all this has the countenance of Governor Moore, then there’s not much we can do, is there? We’re, after all, a bunch of rag-tag sea-dogs, that far away…” He held his index finger and thumb less than an inch apart, “From the gibbet!”
Louisa nodded. “Don’t mean we can do nothing, either.”
Richard nodded. “Agreed. But what?”
“That remains to be seen given what will happen down at the slave market tomorrow morning, I’d say.”
“True,” he said. “Harris.”
“Witch Burner,” She said, sourly. “He’s warned us off trying anything with Harry’s bunch of rabble but he was in a shocking state when we saw him earlier today. Harris likes order and propriety and he’s not going to have either if this gets out of hand.”
“Right enough,” Israel said with a glance at Dermot and Richard. Bob said, “And there’s one more piece on the chess board, isn’t there?”
Polly said, quietly, “Somerville.” She looked at Edward.
He said, “It is to my deepest regret that I involved you all with him. I’ve not seen the man since you sailed to Florida but I’m pretty sure he’s still in Charleston.” He spread his hands wide. “He seemed so… decent. Bumbling but decent!”
Israel scowled up at the rafters. “Decent. Well now!” He sipped his ale and said to them. “You know, we were in China a couple of years back.”
Louisa nodded along with the others, except Polly who stared at him. “China?” She asked. “Where’s that?”
“Big empire, way out east where the sun rises. Mighty strange place, all said and done but the people were good enough. I came across a Jesuit priest – a missionary – who had no axe to grind against the Jews.”
Louisa said, “Rare enough.”
“Aye. Still he told me of a man called Sun Tzu.”
“I’ve never heard of him.”
“Not surprising. I wouldn’t’ve if we’d not been there. Apparently this cove wrote a book, yea, nearly two thousand years aback called the ‘Art of War’.”
“Right,” she said and sipped her ale. “And?”
“And one of the things that he wrote was: ‘when you’re weak, appear strong, when you’re strong, appear weak’.”
“Ah,” she said, her blood running cold. “Our bumbling, good-hearted friend Somerville.”
“Precisely,” he said with a nod to Dermot and Richard.
George said, “We suspected, long back, we’d been gulled.”
“Aye,” Richard said sourly. “All the way there and all the bloody way back.”
Edward nodded sighed. “Aye, gulled.”
“Right enough,” she said. She checked her pocket watch. “Time to get back to the ship and let the other lads have an ale.”
Edward stood up and said, “First one on the house, as always.”
“Aye, and I thank you rightly, old friend.” She stood up, felt the sour ache of her stump and placed the small round foot of her peg leg very carefully to the flagstone floor, winced.
Edward asked, “Having a problem with it?”
“The heat and the damp is all, same as Polly,” who stood, nodded and tapped over to Louisa who smiled at her. Lou said, “Look at the pair of us: two legs and three hands apiece.” She winked at George and Bob who nodded in return.
Edward said, “If you meet Somerville… what will you do?”
“Remains to be seen,” she replied. “But if he has the Governor’s countenance, well we can’t risk anything. Not yet, anyway.”
“Understood.”
“We need to get back to our ships.” She shot a glance at Israel.
He said, “Aye, right enough, Skipper Thorngate.”
She smiled thinly. “Aye, indeed. And upon the morrow we’ll go down to that pestilential slave market and see what may occur.” She nodded to the tavern’s door and they left. She took Polly’s arm and said, “By Christ it hurts today.”
“Aye, and for me, too.”
They hobbled along, through the cobbled streets back to where the Louisa and the Jerusalem were berthed.


Evening.
The sun was setting over Charleston. It was very humid and insects danced about the warm light of the lamps. She was with Polly in her small cabin.
She said to Polly, “Are you all right?”
“Well, no. I feel as if we’re being threatened.”
“Aye, well and good.” She nodded. “Any privateer or sea-dog worth his or her salt always feels so.”
“It’s so hot! My leg hurts, too.”
“Well, then, take it off.” She smiled gently at her friend.
“All right.” She stood up from the chair. She loosened the hip belt and then unstrapped her peg leg. She laid it against the wall. “Got me at a disadvantage now, eh, Lou? There’s me, all crippled up.”
“Not at all. You’re never a cripple, my girl.” She did the same with her wooden leg, unfastening the hip belt and the thigh straps. “Come to me. Come to me, my darling lass.”
Polly made to unstrap her hook hand but Louisa shook her head. “Leave it on, please?”
“Why?” She smiled.
“I… I like it when you run it over my back. Makes me shiver.”
“Well now, you saucy wench, Captain Thorngate.”
Louisa laughed, said in a gentle ironic tone, “Do as your skipper commands, deck hand.”
“Aye, at your service, Cap’n.” Polly made a shuffling hop over to her and then Louisa had her in her arms. She kissed her.
Louisa said, “I love you.”
“You do?” She smiled at her. “Why?”
“Why not? You’re beautiful, strong and brave.” She kissed her again.
“Ah, and you aren’t?”
“I like to be thought of as beautiful, strong and brave,” she admitted with a smile.
“I… I love you too.”
“Well, now.” She nodded to the narrow bunk they had often shared before. “Come, then.”
“What if… what if one of the lads, George, Johnny or Bob walk in?”
“They’d knock first, for aye. And…” She paused. “They know of us and…”
“And?”
“I’d be a poor skipper if I didn’t have some discipline on this vessel.” She nodded again at the bunk. “Ain’t like we’ve not done this before, eh?”
“No, no,” she said and kissed her on the lips.
“Come and touch me, my lass. Run that cold hook all over me.” They went over to the bunk, slipped off their clothes, and lay in one and others’ arms as the dusk settled, softly, over Charleston.


Eight of the Clock.
The crew were drawn up upon the deck. She said, “Right, my good lads and…” She shot a grin at Polly. “Lass.”
Polly smiled back but said nothing.
Louisa continued. “We’re now going down to the slave market. To see what must be done.”
“Aye,” they murmured.
“Right then, now understand this! I want no drawn swords or daggers unless the other draws first! Much hangs upon this moment. You understand?”
There were many nods and murmurs of assent. “Aye, skipper.”
“Understood?”
“Aye, understood!” They called back.
“See that you do understand because, by Christ on His Cross, the first who disobeys me on this will be in the brig, in chains.”
They nodded solemnly.
She gave them all a wry grin. “So, what’s keeping us? Away!” She waved her gauntleted hand at the gangplank.
They turned about and made their way down to the jetty and out of the docks, Louisa leading them.
She strode along, her peg leg briskly tapping on the cobbles as she went and she thought, so now it’s the hour of judgment.
They were joined by the crew of the Jerusalem, led by Israel. He said to her, “Skipper Thorngate. Good morning.”
“And the same to you, Cap’n Rosenberg.”
The two crew merged together as they made their way along through Charleston’s busy streets, many people stopping and staring at them, but saying nothing.
They reached the slave market. It was thronged with hundreds of people. She said to Israel, “I’ve given my lads a stern warning. No violence unless attacked.”
“Ah, same here, then,” he said. He looked across the open space to where the auction block stood, crowded about by potential buyers. “Let’s go.”
“With you,” she said and squeezed his hand.
They forced their way to the front of the crowd, anybody who complained about their barging through soon went silent at the sight of their weapons and stern demeanour.
Bob said, “Christ!”
“What?” She stared at him.
“Jack Oswald and Harry! That fucking…” He nodded to where Oswald stood, smug and self-satisfied alongside his captain.
She said, “Do nothing, Bob! Nothing!”
“His beard is growing back,” he said, bitterly.
“Aye,” she whispered.
George said, “Skipper?”
“George?” She turned to him.
“Look now.” Coming through the throng to the right was Somerville. He went to stand by Neville.
“I see him.”
Then the auctioneer stepped up to the platform, a smile on his face. “Gentlemen and ladies of Charleston! Welcome! Aye, welcome to the sale of four hundred and fifty darkies!”
That got a huge laugh from the crowd.
She said, under her breath, “Ah, Jesus Christ!”
There was a movement to her left. She turned to see Paul Harris, a look of utter shock on his face. “You’re here!”
“Said we would be!”
“That… felon Somerville. He engineered it all.”
Israel said, “Why don’t you tell us something we don’t know?”
“Look, I can do nothing!”
She said, “James Moore has you by the bollocks, eh?”
“Pretty well!” He took off his hat and wiped the sweat away. “I… I found it all out from some informer down at the King James! It wasn’t Somerville handing out those pious pamphlets by the tavern! It was Jack Oswald disguised as him.”
Bob said to her, “Told you didn’t I?”
“Aye, right enough you did and I didn’t understand!” She looked at Harris. “And?”
“Somerville…” He looked ill, fit to throw up. “He killed Mary!”
“Why!”
“She stumbled in on him and Neville plotting the attack on the Duc du Maine. He… he raped her and killed her. Got Jack Oswald to be there for his alibi. Ah, Christ, Thorngate, I doubted you. I’m so sorry for it.”
She stared at him in utter shock but not surprise.
Israel said, “What can we do?”
“Nothing,” Harris said, wearily. "The Governor is on in this. We daren’t do a damned thing.”
She felt numb and took Polly’s and George’s hands. Christ, what fools we were! What trusting, stupid fools!
She looked at the rostrum where Somerville stood, beaming. He’d just bid for and bought a slave.
She was no more than thirteen, if that. He led her away, clad as she was, in nothing but a dirty loincloth. He was smoking a huge cigar, an almost mad grin on his broad, sweaty face.
Louisa ran over to him. “Somerville!”
“Ah, the good Captain Thorngate!” He laughed.
You fucking Judas!” She screamed at him. She felt hands grip her arms. George, Polly, Israel and Bob. “By Christ, I will kill you should you ever again cross my path!”
“Be assured, Thorngate, that the Governor will not allow such a gross act.”
“Gross act!” She pointed at his purchase. The girl’s dark eyes were full of despair. “She’s a child!”
“Ah, well, now then, now then! A man must have a little reward for his troubles!” He ruffled the girl’s thick dark hair.
Israel said, “If Lou don’t get you, you cunt, I and my lads will. Trust me on that!”
He laughed. “Who trusts the word of a fucking Jew?”
“I’ll keep my word on this.”
Harris came over. “Troops are a-coming!”
“Shit!” She saw red-coated men, musket-armed, pushing their way through the mob which began to scatter, many screaming. “Come on! We’re done here!” she wanted to put her cutlass through Somerville but her entire crew would be hanged if she did that.
She heard Somerville’s horrible, giggling laughter behind her.
Harris said, urgently, “Thorngate!”
“What is it?”
“I… I’m done here! I’ve nothing left! Take me with you!”
“You got family?”
“No.”
“Come on then!” She shouted and they ran off through the crowded streets.
A musket fired, the ball flying over their heads. She heard Harry Neville crow after her, “Yes, fuck off, you bitch! There’s a reckoning a-coming.”
She wanted to draw her flintlock from her sash and kill him but it would be fatal to turn. They ran pell-mell back to the docks and she shouted to the men on board, “We’re leaving! Now!”
They nodded. The sails were unfurled and they cast off along with the Jerusalem.
The soldiers who had pursued them let off a few more shots from their muskets but they did no injuries or damage.
The ship pulled away and out into the open sea. She looked at Polly who seemed stunned but relieved. “All right, my lass?”
“As well as I’ll ever be,” she said, her black hair blowing in the stiff, rising breeze. “Oh, Christ, what a bloody mess!”
George and Bob came over, breathing hard. Bob said, “I’m getting too old for this fucking life!”
“Aren’t we all?” She clapped him on the shoulder and said to George, “All present and correct?”
“All accounted for, Skipper,” he said wearily. “Nobody let behind.”
“Good man, good man.” She took his hand and squeezed it. She looked at Paul Harris who leant back against the rail, shocked. She said, without irony, “Welcome aboard.”
“My God, Thorngate. I’ve lost everything,” he said quietly, shocked to the core. “Everything.”
“Aye, aright. But was it worth having in the first place, good sir?”

To be continued…
Peg Leg Louisa 08

Southern Florida.
They were anchored in a small bay, along with the Jerusalem. Polly said to her, fanning herself with a palm leaf, “And I thought Charleston was hot!”
She smiled at her. “Hot? You wait until we…”
“Get down to Brazil?” She laughed. “I can’t wait.”
Louisa gave her a quick, firm hug. She thought, this is so beautiful a day. The sky was cloudless and the sea an almost unbearable azure, so intense that it hurt the eyes to look upon it.
They, along with Israel’s Rosenberg’s ship, the Jerusalem, were lying in wait for the Duc du Maine to pass by on its way to New Orleans.
They had been hired to attack the Slaver, take it captive and then to return to the ship to Charleston so that their employer, the Reverend Ellsworth Somerville could free the slaves and, eventually, to take them back to West Africa.
Every minute that passed, it seemed more and more unlikely.
Something rankled about Somerville. He, truth be told, said all the right things in all the right places but there was much amiss about the man, she felt.
Still, they’d signed up, Israel and herself. They could use the money sorely, and she and Rosenberg were people of… if not principle - that was a little hard when one was a privateer - then certainly of their word. A bargain made was a bargain to be kept, honour-bound.
George Smith came to stand beside her and said, “Boat a-coming, Skipper.”
“Aye,” she said. She looked across the water to see a small boat being rowed over to her ship, the Peg Leg Louisa.
Israel. She waited until they were in earshot and called, “Ahoy, there, Cap’n Rosenberg!”
“Ahoy, Skipper Thorngate!" He called back to her with a wave.
“Read to come aboard?”
“Ready, aye, and willing!” He shouted.
Very soon the boat pulled alongside and Johnny Phillips ordered the rope ladder dropped. Israel said to his oarsman, “Tie up alongside and come aboard, Mick!”
“Aye, Skipper!” The man nodded, did as ordered and soon both men were on the deck of the Louisa.
She went down from the poop deck to greet them, George and Polly following. She stumped over to Israel. He took her hand and kissed it lightly with a wink at Polly and a nod to Bob and Johnny.
Israel said, “New peg leg?”
“Yes.” She nodded down at the black, wooden shaft.
“Looks very good,” he said with a wink at George and Johnny who both grinned and nodded. She saw Malcolm MacAndrews, her Gunnery Master, checking a musket with one of the lads. He was a man, amongst many, who had given himself over to the Jacobite Cause of the Pretender, James Stuart back in ‘15 and, having ended up on the defeated side, had fled to sea and privateering. She said to him, “Master MacAndrews? A word, please?”
He nodded and said, in a soft, Highland accent, “With you now, aye, Skipper.” He handed the musket back to the man.
She said to Israel, “Come and talk.” She nodded to George, Johnny and Malcolm and they followed her to her cabin. She said over her shoulder to Polly, “See you later!”
“Aye, Skipper!” She grinned at her.
They went in and she shut the door. She said, “That Slaver should be along any time now. Are we ready?”
Malcolm smiled. He was a compact man of average height but gave off a sense of quiet, assured strength. He said, “More’n enough, Cap’n. Nae need to worry about that and the powder’s none too fine ground, either.”
“Right.” She nodded. Powder too refined had a nasty habit of exploding at the merest touch or spark. Malcolm knew is trade full well.
She looked at Israel who nodded. “We’re as ready as we’ll ever be, Lou. All’s aright on the Jerusalem. My Gunnery master Aaron Kushner assures we’ve more than enough black powder to take that ship on.”
“Right. But we don’t want to sink it, do we?”
“No.” They were tasked to take the vessel intact and free the captives on board, not send it to the bottom.
That could be very tricky, she knew. Still, a swift ambush would hopefully catch them unawares and then… back to Charleston and the payment promised by Somerville. Well, that was the plan. He said, “Aye, indeed. But we’re going to have to be very damned careful.”
“Well and good.” She rubbed her leg just around where it had been amputated above the knee. She knew it was a sign of agitation on her part, and others saw it, too. She knew it was a habit that was giving away too much about herself.
She led then over to the large table where a chart lay of southern Florida and the Caribbean. They were taking a chance being here as Florida was under Spanish jurisdiction but it was most likely where the Slaver would make pass through into the Gulf of Mexico on its way to New Orleans.
Israel said cautiously, “There’s a good chance it might have an escort, Lou.”
“We’ll have to take our chances on that one, won’t we?” She stared at the chart and felt the anxiety of the planned attack welling up within her. Easy, girl. You’ve done far harder things than this. She remember boarding the French frigate, Cheval Marin, six months before. The hand to hand combat had been fierce; it was where’s she’d received the wound on her leg. It had turned bad and she’d lost it. Maybe, she thought, I’m getting too old for this lark and then shoved the thought aside. Christ, she was only twenty seven!
“Louisa?”
She jolted out of the reverie and saw George and the other two men staring at her. “My apologies, gentlemen. Wool gathering!”
Israel smiled. “Something on your mind, Lou?”
“Yes. What we’re doing right now,” she waved a hand out at the sea beyond the windows of the cabin.
“I understand,” he said seriously with a glance at George and Johnny.
George said earnestly, “We’ve all been thinking a great deal too much about this, Skip. Mary’s murder…” He shook his head. “I’m pretty sure that’s got something to do with it.”
“Ah, yes, I agree. But what?”
“Well, we won’t find out soon, will we?”
“No, not until we get back to Charleston and perhaps not even then.”
“No guarantees that Witch Burner Harris has caught the bastard,” Johnny said glumly.
“None at all,” she agreed and absently rubbed her stump again. I must stop doing that, she thought. It was giving away too much about herself. She said, “I think we should be ready for the imminent arrival of the Duc du Maine, don’t you, gentlemen?”
“Aye,” Israel said and three men left the cabin with her and went out on to the deck. She smiled to see Polly speaking with Bob, the ship’s carpenter. They’d struck up a good friendship since she’d come aboard at Falmouth some weeks back. Bob, knowing that she was new to this life, kept a keen eye on her as well as she – Louisa – did. She knew his attention was fatherly and caring but she also knew that Polly was a beautiful lady, too. Polly thought very highly of Bob. After all, he’d made her a first-class wooden peg leg and a hook hand. He was very good at what he did, throughout the vessel, with work both large and small. Nothing was too much trouble for him.
She called Tom Marston, one of the lookouts over and said, “I need a clear eye and a cool head, Tom.”
“You’ll have both, Skipper,” he said with a grim smile.
“If you see the merest speck on the horizon, let me know. I’d sooner have a dozen false alarms than one misjudgement.”
“Aye, Cap’n.” He nodded.
“Up you go, then.” She nodded to the mast.
“Skipper.” He smiled and went swiftly up the ratlines to the Crow’s Nest. Once there, he took up his telescope and scanned about eastwards slowly and methodically. She thought, he’s got eyes like a hawk. If they come, he’ll see them.
She saw her Hourglass Banner billow softly in the breeze which was picking up from the west. She said to George and Johnny, “Looks like we’ll have the weather gage.”
They nodded. If it came to the fight, and they knew full well that it would, they’d have the advantage. Unless the wind changed.
She went to the portside, picked up a megaphone and shouted across the Jerusalem.  “Skipper Rosenberg!”
He called back with a similar device, “Captain Thorngate!”
“Wind’s a-picking up, Skip.”
“We’re ready, Louisa!”
“Thought you might be!” She grinned and laid the megaphone down on the deck. She said to her two senior officers, “I need the lads alert and sober for this one. I don’t want anybody stumbling, breaking their leg or getting run through because they’ve been in their cups? Got that?”
“Aye, Skipper!” They both acknowledged. She ran a tight ship, so tight, that nobody realised how tight it actually was. She wouldn’t tolerate drunkenness just before a battle, neither would she tolerate wanton murder of the enemy combatants once they’d surrendered or rape. She’d discharged several men, over the past year, for not being up to muster on these matters.
The wind picked up and gathered, her banner flying briskly now. The ship began to move, pitching gently along with the rising waves.
Good, she thought. Good indeed. We may yet succeed and earn our pay from Somerville.
She stood there talking with George, Johnny and Malcolm for a few minutes and then Tom called down from the Crow’s Nest: “Ahoy there, Skipper!”
She looked up along with the three men. “What is it?”
“Ship approaching!” He held up his telescope, pointed eastwards.
“Is it the Duc du Maine?”
“No, skipper!”
Her blood ran cold. “How do you know? Have you ever seen that Slaver?”
“No, skipper, but I know it’s not her.” He looked worried. “I know this one! Take a look when it rises over the horizon! Won’t be long!”
“All right,” she said.
After a few minutes a dark speck appeared in the east. She took up her telescope as did George and Johnny.
“Oh, Christ on His Cross,” she whispered.
George said, “It’s not that scum Harry Neville, is it?”
“No, mate.” She shook her head in near-despair. “No.” She looked at the sails, the rusty, dirty colour of dried blood with the main sail bearing a huge grinning, black skull. “Far worse than him. It’s the Sea Witch!”
Johnny whispered, “Oh, bloody hell! Barclay!”
“Indeed,” she whispered and lowered her telescope. “Get the lads ready! All hands on deck! Now!”
They hurried off and she thought, this could be very tough. What the fucking hell was that damned vessel doing here? The last she heard, the Sea Witch was over in North Africa and the Mediterranean raiding the Ottoman Turks.
Well, whatever the reason, she was here now. All right, she thought, quickly, she’s a heavier ship, has forty guns. We and the Jerusalem have that between the two of us. We’re faster and much more manoeuvrable but the enemy’s cannons had a longer range. They could take us down without even closing for hand to hand combat.
We’ve been gulled, she suddenly realised. Gulled all along since the very first day and she knew, then, that Ellsworth Somerville was behind all of it. She couldn’t guess the details, might never know it, but this was down to him, the slimy bastard.
She looked, again, through her telescope and saw that the vessel wasn’t deviating port or starboard.
Coming right at them.
She went to the port rail, grabbed the megaphone and shouted, “Israel!”
He came to the starboard. “Yes! We’ve seen it. Shit!”
“Right, this is what we must do! You take her - starboard - and we’ll take her on our portside. We need to get alongside and board her before she can use her cannon!”
“All right!”
“We can’t let them get the range on us, they’ll tear us to ribbons otherwise. We’re faster, more manoeuvrable. Go in swift and hard. Take them, hand to hand!”
“All right!”
“We can’t run from this, we’ve got to stand, but we stand – or fall – on our own terms!”
“Wouldn’t have it any other way!” He waved back to her and turned to his senior officers.
She laid the megaphone down, said to George, Johnny and Malcolm. “Make ready! Quick now!”
“Aye, Skip!” they hurried off to organise the men for the attack.
George ordered aweigh anchor and soon, sails fully unfurled, they were heading, at good speed, toward the Sea Witch.
She saw Bob, Polly and the drummer boy Billy.
She grabbed Bob, said, “You stick with Polly and Billy. Some of the others. We need a back-up defence!”
He said, “Look, Cap’n, I can fight!”
“Sure you can. You’ve been fighting since before I was born!” She hesitated. “This is going to sound very harsh, Master Martin, but don’t misunderstand me. Some of these lads might well die today. I don’t want it to happen, by God I don’t! But… I can’t afford to lose you! Your skills are absolutely vital to this ship.”
“All right,” he said, clearly not liking it but nodding nonetheless.
Polly said, “And me?” She raised a dark eyebrow.
“Stick with Bob, Billy and the others. Same as I said. We need back up and you’re still new to all of this!”
“When will I not be new to all of this?”
“If we get out of this fucking mess whole-skinned!” She said with a grin and she and kissed her.
Polly nodded and Billy said, “Skipper?”
“Billy?”
“We’ll be all right!”
“Course we will!” And she thought, bloody hell, I hope so! She ruffled his thick blonde hair and said, “Stick with Bob, Polly and the others in the second line. You see a man fall, help him but don’t get into any hand to hand business if you can avoid it.”
“Aye, Skip!”
“I’ll keel haul you otherwise!” She grinned to let him know she was joking.
“Louisa!”
She turned to see Polly staring at her, her dark eyes anxious.
“What is it, lass?”
“I love you!”
“Love you too, my darling! Now, do as I ask, and we’ll get through this mess!”
“Aye, there, Skipper,” she said and put her arm about Billy’s shoulder, hugged him.
She ordered Nick Bentley to turn the ship hard to starboard as the vessel picked up speed and accelerated towards the Sea Witch. The Jerusalem veered away to portside.
The crew of the Sea Witch saw the manoeuvre and tried to turn their vessel to broadside to give the Louisa a volley but it was too late.
The Jerusalem and her own vessel drew alongside and she shouted, “Malcolm! Fire!”
“Aye, skipper!” He nodded to his men who touched their fuses to the cannon and gave the enemy vessel a broadside of canister and chain shot.
The Sea Witch’s sails were sundered and ruined, masts broken and shattered. Bodies tumbled into the sea. The Jerusalem let loose a cannonade and another mast fell, more men falling back, mortally wounded.
But now the Sea Witch rallied and got off a volley on both port and starboard.
The Jerusalem lost a mast and her sails were ripped apart but the Louisa, although taking damage to her superstructure, and some serious casualties, was still intact.
The enemy got of another volley but this time one of her cannons exploded, smashing backwards and upwards, sending men flying into the sea.
She unsheathed her cutlass, turned with a wild grin to George and Johnny. “Come on, my lads! We haven’t got all day for this!”
She hurried along to the portside, along with the men designated as boarding party. Her crew threw out grappling hooks and with all their strength hauled the ships closer under heavy musket and pistol fire from the enemy crew.
The hulls crunched and slammed together, wood sundering and splinters flying away and then she was up with her lads, ropes in hand, and over the rail. She swung across and dropped onto the deck of the Sea Witch.
To be confronted by Captain Catherine Eliza Barclay.
“Well, well, now,” Barclay said ironically over the sound of men in mortal hand to hand combat. “Last time I saw you, dearie, there was… more of you.” She nodded at Louisa’s wooden leg and grinned.
“Aye. And this time I see less of you, too, dearie. You seem shorter than usual.”
“Come on then, my doxy, let’s see this through to the end.”
Louisa nodded. She allowed herself a quick glance over her shoulder to see her crew overwhelming the men of the Sea Witch as were the lads from the Jerusalem. She looked at Barclay. She didn’t seem much, at first sight. Small, slim and blonde but she knew that this was a woman whose excesses would make Harry Neville look like an Altar Boy.
She knew, too that Barclay was also a very good swordswoman. Barclay grinned. “Well and good.” She hefted her cutlass. “Come on, now, Thorngate.”
“My pleasure.” She advanced on her. “Last year ago, back in Nova Scotia, you captured and tortured three of my men to death.”
She grinned. “They had it coming.”
“How so?”
“They were your men.” She laughed as if at the inanity of the question. “Say no more on the subject.”
“Done then,” she replied and made a feint at Barclay who skipped lightly back with a bright laugh as if she were a girl at a merry village green dance.
“Thorngate! You crippled up, clod-hopping drab!” Catherine smiled broadly at her. “You’ll have to do better than that.”
“Assuredly so!” She nodded and moved closer to Barclay. She felt men gathering about her and Barclay. Her men, she knew, without turning. Obviously the crew of the Sea Witch had succumbed to the attack. Nobody spoke but she could feel the presence of George, Johnny and the others at her back.
So, just he two of us, then, she thought. Life or death for one of us.
The lads said nothing, not daring to break her concentration.
Barclay rushed her, suddenly, with a shriek. Louisa parried the blow but it knocked her back, staggering on her wooden leg. She nearly slipped but rallied when Barclay threw herself at her, with a horizontal cut at her head.
She ducked, drew up swiftly and slashed at her arm, drawing blood from the wound.
“Cunt!” Barclay stared at her, furious.
“Well recognised, Skipper Barclay!”
“You fucking whore! You and all your high and mighty graces. Your morals! What ails you, Thorngate?” She stalked towards her, sure-footed and confident as a cat. “Come now, what ails you?”
“Why then, ‘tis you, my sweet lady,” she said.
Barclay lunged again, but Louisa parried it, knocking the blade aside. She suddenly made to stumble on her peg leg and heard the sharp, indrawn breath of her men about her.
Barclay charged in with a gleeful laugh.
Then Louisa sprung up before her and she drove the point of her cutlass into Barclay’s throat. Her foe fell back, choking and spitting blood, her eyes wide in rage and pain. She staggered back, dropped her cutlass and then fell to the deck, a gurgling sound coming from her torn throat. Louisa leant over her and deftly dodged when Barclay spat bloody mucus at her.
“We’re done, Catherine,” she said softly. “We’re done.”
“Aye, done,” she rasped and then died.
Louisa felt utterly drained. She turned to her crew, some of whom had the men of the Sea Witch huddled together at swords’ point.
She looked down at the body of Catherine Barclay, the blood pooling darkly upon the deck, and said, “It’s done. All done. She’s innocent now. Give her a decent and honourable burial.” She sighed. “Give her the honour in her death that she lacked in her life.”
George nodded solemnly. He said, “Thought we’d lost you there, Lou, what with your wooden leg…” He trailed off, unable to say more.
She said, “Well, it was pretty convincing.” She looked at Barclay’s corpse. “Fooled her!”
Johnny said, “Try not to scare us like that again, Skipper, please?”
“I’ll do my best.”
There was a sound behind her and she turned. Israel was standing there. He looked exhausted. She said, “Bad?”
“Lost some good men,” he admitted. “No doubt you did too.”
“Aye, sure of it,” she said. She stumped over to the starboard side and called, “Bob?”
He came to the rail of the Louisa with Billy and Polly. He had his arm about Polly who was as white as a sheet.
“How many did we lose?”
“Eight dead and another twenty wounded but most none too seriously.”
Polly said to Louisa, “Is… is it always like this?”
“No. Sometimes it’s a great deal worse, lass.”
Polly nodded, said nothing.
Louisa rubbed her eyes in utter weariness. She thought, as she had often before, I may be getting too old for this. I’ve just killed somebody. True, a filthy murdering harlot but, nonetheless… Leave it, she told herself or you will go stark staring mad and end up in the Bedlam Asylum. That wasn’t to happen. The air, in spite of the stiff breeze, still reeked of gun smoke and spilt blood.
She said to George, “So where’s the Sea Witch’s First Officer?”
“Over here, Skipper.” He led her over to a tall, almost cadaverous man. There was a scar upon his cheek. She looked him up and down. “So, Stephen Pilkington. We meet again.”
Pilkington said nothing but glared at her. He had a shallow but bloody cut on his forehead.
She stared at him. “Cat got your tongue?”
“You killed my skipper, you whore.”
“Because she was going to kill me.” She shook her head. “Look, we took you fair and square, matey. Let’s leave it there.”
He sighed, defeated. Then he rallied. “You’d never have taken us – even the two of you - if that gun hadn’t blown up. You were damned lucky!”
“No,” she said. “That gun shattered because your late, unlamented skipper was a slovenly, lazy captain who couldn’t be bothered to check if her artillery was ship shape; not cracked or flawed. We weren’t lucky, Stephen! You were unlucky enough to serve under a slut like her.”
He muttered, “Fuck you.”
She let it go. She never kicked a man when he was down.
George said to him, “We were expecting another ship.”
“Ah, well then,” he said with a shrug, his eyes gleaming. “Missed it, did you?”
“Obviously,” he said. He looked at Louisa. “What are we going to do with the crew?”
She thought for a moment. She nodded to the Florida coast. “Maroon them.”
Pilkington stared at her. “What! There’s bloody alligators, snakes, Indians and Spanish all over the damn’ place!”
“Well, you’ll have to take your chance, won’t you?” She saw his anger and smiled. “More’n chance you’d’ve given us. Sent us all to Davey Jones, for aye.”
She turned to George and Johnny. “Sort it, lads. Take ‘em over and leave ‘em there with food and water; swords and knives, but no guns.”
She saw Pilkington’s mortified expression. “We need guns!”
“What?” She laughed incredulously.  “So you can take a final shot at us? You’ve killed enough of my men already! Stop dreaming, you damned jackass!”
He said nothing but looked away from her gaze.
She turned to Johnny raised an eyebrow. “Got that?”
“Got that aright, Skip,” Johnny said with a cold, hard stare at Pilkington.
George said, “What about the Sea Witch?”
“Scavenge her for parts, masts, spars, guns – good ones if there are any - and then scuttle her.”
“Aye, Cap’n!”
“Go to,” she said and with a little difficulty she climbed up to the rail. She took a rope in her hands, gripped it and swung over to the Louisa. One of the lads took her hand and she leapt back down onto her own vessel. She winked at Bob and Billy, hugged them both and then kissed Polly.
Israel came aboard along with Dermot and Richard Dean. “Tough one,” Israel said looking at the damage to the Jerusalem. He said to Richard, “Are we seaworthy?”
“Aye, skipper, but barely. Still, some of the timber from that damned hulk of Barclay’s might do the trick.”
“Let’s hope so,” she said. She thought and then said, “We need to get the repairs done, quick as might be. We don’t want the Spanish on our tails, especially given that we’re none too ship shape.” She paused. “We… we need to honour and bury our dead, too.”
Israel, Dermot and Richard nodded solemnly.
“Gather our dead, would you please?” She said to George and Johnny who called some of the men over to them.
Polly said, tremulously, “I’ll do it, too.”
“As you will, Lass.”
She turned away and then looked back at Louisa, haunted. “I thought… I thought I’d lost you there.”
“It was never going to happen. I let that street-corner doxy’s over-confidence get the better of her.” She knew it for the lie it was. Barclay could just as easily have killed her but she didn’t feel inclined to tell her that, just yet.
Polly looked across to the Sea Witch to where three men were picking up Barclay’s body. “That was bad, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, Polly, it was,” she admitted. She gave her a quick hug and then Polly went with the other men to see to their dead.
She said to Israel, “Before you go…”
“Aye, Lou?”
“We were fooled,” she said flatly.
“Aye, weren’t we just?” He shook his head wearily. “Like callow country lads being gulled by the three sea shells trick.”
“Indeed,” she said and thought, where is that damned Slaver? It was just as well she wasn’t in the area, given the state of her own vessel and the Jerusalem. They’d be hard put to take it now, even together. And where was that jackal Harry Neville? He was out there somewhere but where? She sensed a growing dread within her. Barclay, Neville and Somerville. All of them in this together.
He said, as if divining her thoughts, “This isn’t over by a long shot, is it?”
She shook her head. “No.” She called Bob over and said to Richard, “We need to get these ships away from here as soon as may be, gentlemen.”
“Aye, Skipper,” Bob said and Richard nodded to his captain and then to her. They set to work, organising crew details to scavenge the hulk of the Sea Witch.
Polly came over. She was covered in drying blood and gore, her black hair thick with it. She looked at Louisa said, quietly, “It’s done skipper.” She looked at the eight bodies wrapped in the shrouds of old sails.
“Thank you, lass. You all did well.” She sighed. “We’ll say farewell to them later.”
“As you say, cap’n,” she said with a small nod and went over to where the bodies lay still.


Sunset.
The light poured in through the windows of her cabin, blood red and she thought, how very appropriate.
She took off her scarlet sash and then wound the black taffeta one about her waist. I’ve worn this damned thing too much of late, she told herself. She recalled her father’s words upon the matter of death. ‘As you get older, Lou, you’ll see yourself parting more and more from the ones you love.’
Well, you were right there, dad.
She took a deep breath went to the door that led to the main deck and opened it.
Her heart quailed a little when she saw the crew lined up and ready. Eight shrouded, weighted bodies lay upon planks, ready to be sent down to Davey Jones.
They came to attention. She saw Polly was with Bob and Billy. All had black cloths tied about their upper left arms, as had she.
She took a deep breath, said as softly as the wind would allow, “Shipmates.”
There was a quiet murmur from her crew.
“Shipmates, hear me. We will now honour our dead. I have no right of clergy, being a woman, but I will say this to you: these were good and true men; brave, kind and valiant and, if there be a Heaven above, let them find their way to it with God’s good grace.”
“Amen,” the crew murmured, still quiet.
She sighed and thought don’t let me weep until this all over, please, don’t. Leave it until I’m alone. I need to be strong for the men and myself.
Later.
She said, “We must now say our farewells to our mates.” She closed her eyes, seeing the men as they were when they lived. “Bert Hayes, Jack Roberts, David Coates, John Barnes, Henry Tavernier, Cyril Merrick, Cedric Hooper and Martin Blackwell.”
She opened her eyes and nodded to the men assigned to send them on their way. Two men apiece. Soon, all of the bodies had been cast down into the darkening sea.
They stood in silence for a moment and then she said, clearly, “Right! Let’s be about it!”
They disbanded and she saw that more than a few of them had tears in their eyes. She said to George, Johnny and Bob who had come over, “As soon as may be when the dawn comes, we’ll be on our way.”
“Aye, Skipper!” They nodded and began to organise the crew. Bob called to Billy and the lad squeezed Polly’s right hand and went over to him.
Louisa went to her. “That’s life at sea.”
“Yes,” her voice was taut and dry.
“That was a bad one.” She looked to where they had scuttled the Sea Witch and then across the water to where small camp fires burned, built by the marooned crew of the defeated vessel.
Polly following her gaze, said, “Those men over there. Will they survive?”
“You know, lass, at this moment, I really don’t care either way, but… yes, they probably will. They’re tough coves all said and done. They’ll fight their way back, somehow.”
“So, then, where do we head now, Skipper Thorngate?” She tried to smile.
“Why then, to Charleston, of course, my fine good lady!” She looked up at the darkening sky, stars already strew across it. “To Charleston. To collect our debts! And to pay them, too, for aye!” She clapped her upon the shoulder and Polly gave her a grim nod in return.

To be continued…
Peg Leg Louisa 08
Peg Leg Louisa 08
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Peg Leg Louisa 07

 

Charleston Quay.

Quarter to eight of the clock.

She looked out across the jetty which was shrouded in the early morning fog, the outlines of ships mere dark shadows amongst the gloom. Like ghosts, she thought and shook herself at the morbidity of the image.

She saw the men assembled on the jetty, all, like her and her senior crew and Polly, wearing black cloth tied to their upper left arms.

She was leaving Johnny Phillips in charge of the skeleton crew in case of a sudden attack. The killer was still as yet free. Johnny wasn’t at all happy about it but had acquiesced when she’d said, “When we’re back on board, shipmate, you and lads who must remain here for now, go to her grave and pray for her kind and gentle soul.”

He’d near-wept at her words and had nodded. “Aye, Skipper. Aye.”

She’d clapped him gently on the shoulder and now she stood on the poop deck, alone with her thoughts. She checked her pocket watch and thought, let’s get this over with, shall we?

She went down to the main deck, stumped across it and went to Johnny and Simon. She asked. “Any sign of Harry and the Puma’s crew?”

Simon shook his head. “No, Cap’n. Probably sleeping off all that drink from yesterday.”

“Let’s hope that it stays that way.”

She went down the gangplank to the quay after giving Johnny and Simon a brief nod.

Her leg was hurting today. It often did when the weather was like this, warm and damp. She’d exchanged her trademark, scarlet taffeta sash for one of black and she wore black leather gauntlets.

George stood there, holding, on a flagpole, her banner which was furled. She gave a small smile to Polly who stood by Bob. She looked a little confused and out of her depth but she nodded back to Louisa. The crew were lined up in an orderly fashion, as sober and as dignified as she’d ever seen them to be and she nodded to herself in satisfaction.

She was about to speak to George when a breeze blew, shifting the fog, swirling it about in bands of grey. George said, quietly, “Unfurl the banner, Skipper?”

“Yes, indeed,” she said as the wind picked up and the fog turned to mist and then faded to a still-murky haze, but the sun now began to shine through it.

George raised up the banner in his strong, gnarled hands and deftly unfurled it, the flag billowing upward and outward into the rising breeze.

It was black and emblazoned with a crimson hourglass. She gave herself a small smile and thought, better than taking a Skull and Bones to a funeral!

“Form up!” She said, clearly. They faced left and she gave a nod to the ship’s drummer, a young lad of thirteen. She said to him, “Nice and steady, if you please, Billy. Soft, solemn and funereal.”

“Aye, Skipper,” he said with a nod. He struck a single, soft beat on the drum; another and then another.

Louisa said, “Good lad.” She raised her voice, “Come on, my lads! We’ve a fine friend to see off on her final voyage!”

She led them off down the jetty while the dock hands, sailors, hawkers and pedlars silently watched them go by.

 

 

Radcliffe Street.

They drew to a halt outside the church and she saw Israel’s crew from the Jerusalem had already made their way there in a similar fashion.

The street was thronged with people, both sailors, privateers and the town’s folk, rich and poor. Mary had been popular. She said to Israel, “Where’s Edward?”

“Already inside, Lou,” he said. “He’s in a terrible shape.”

“As well he might be,” she replied. She said to George, “Furl the banner.”

“Aye, Skip!” He did as ordered.

Israel said to her, “You looked pretty impressive marching down here.”

“Aye, well, thank you, Skipper Rosenberg.”

He nodded and said to his men, “Sharp now, my lads! All weapons to be left outside the church.”

Louisa said to her crew, “Same goes for us.”

Very soon all cutlasses, sabres, daggers, knuckledusters and pistols were laid in two neat stacks.

She nodded to herself and said to Polly, who still seemed unsure of herself, “Come on, lass. Stay with me, all right?”

“All right,” she said. She went to her and Louisa squeezed her good right hand.

“Let’s go in,” she said to her crew. Israel inclined his head to his men and then to the large oak door.

The pews were already filling up; candles lit up the interior gloom in spite of the sunlight flooding in through the windows. Israel, his gunnery master Aaron Kushner, the helmsman Isaiah Schechter and a few others of his Jewish shipmates sat at the rear so they would see when people stood and when they sat. Dermot and Richard both gave her a polite nod as they passed by.

Bob said, “There’s Edward.” He nodded down the central aisle to a large, slumped figure sat right at the front by the two trestles, readied for the coffin. Edward had his head in hands as if trying to block out the horror of what had happened. He was sat next to an elderly man who nodded politely to them but remained silent.

She, Bob and Polly went to him. He turned. “Louisa?”

“One and the same, old shipmate,” she said very softly over the hushed conversations taking place.

Bob said, “If you need us, come to us, eh?”

“Yes, yes,” he muttered distractedly.

A voice said, behind them, “Ah, such a terrible tragedy!”

They turned. The Reverend Ellsworth Somerville stood there, wiping his face with a cloth against the heat and humidity. “Yes, a terrible tragedy.”

Louisa said, “That, sir, is an understatement.”

“Indeed, my dear…” He caught her sharp look, bowed in humility. “My humblest apologies, Captain Thorngate. It’s all been very dreadful, hasn’t it?”

“Yes, it has,” she said with a deep sigh and she saw that Bob had an unfathomable expression on his thin face but he said nothing.

She was about to say something to Somerville but then the door opened.

All who were sitting stood. The Minister strode in and said in a clear, precise voice, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. And whomsoever liveth and believeth in Me, though that he were dead; yet shall he live!”

He was followed in by six pallbearers with Mary’s coffin on their shoulders.

Edward broke down and wept while Louisa and Polly held their arms tightly about him.

 

 

The interment was done. People walked away from the graveside. Many wept, held hands or talked quietly. Louisa had along with Edward, Polly and her crew dropped a handful of earth onto Mary’s coffin and then they had left the sexton to do his work.

Somerville had somehow vanished swiftly into the crowd which she found odd for such a large and ungainly man.

Edward was calm, but shockingly pale as he walked with her, Polly, George and Bob. He said, over and over again, “Why? Why did he harm her? Why?”

Bob, out of sight of Edward, caught Louisa’s eye and tapped the side of his own head and shook it. She nodded fractionally. She, too, was worried about the state of Edward’s sanity.

Louisa said, “Edward, y’know I… really don’t think that you should be on your own tonight.”

“Ah, well, I won’t be. My old shipmate, William Covington – we were buccaneering way back in the eighties when we were lads – he said I could go and stay with him for a while.” He smiled briefly and then his mood darkened again. “Still, I have to go back to the King Charles eventually.”

She nodded and thought, he’s going to have to confront it sooner or later, isn’t he?

They walked on, talking for a while and then the tall, thin elderly man she had seen at the funeral came over and said, “Edward?”

“Ah, William.” He nodded and introduced them to him. “This is the gentleman I spoke of earlier.”

Covington said, with a sad smile at them, “I need to get Edward back and away from this place.” After saying goodbye, he led him away.

George said, with a deep sigh, “Well, now.”

“Well indeed,” she said. She thought for a moment and then said to Bob, “You had a rather strange expression on your face when Somerville turned up.”

“I…” He shook his head. “Can’t quite put my finger on it, but yes, something about him… perplexes me.”

George gave him a dark look. “And me!”

She said, “Oh, well we know of that!”

George said nothing but his expression was dark.

She said to Bob, “Have you seen him before?”

Bob shrugged. “No, never. It’ll come to me, sooner or later.”

Israel appeared along with Dermot and Richard. Dermot said, “Well, thank God that’s over.”

Louisa said, “It’ll be over when they catch that swine and stretch him at the end of a rope.”

“True, true,” he said with a nod.

Israel said, “We all need to get back to our ships.”

“Yes,” she said. They went back to the door of the church where the weapons had been left. Already the crew of both ships were sorting their swords and pistols out.

She picked up her baldric, slung it over her shoulder and then thrust her pistol into her sash.

They formed up. She said to Billy with a smile, “It’s all done now, my lad. Come on, eh? Something a little more optimistic, perhaps?”

“Aye skipper!”

George unfurled the Hourglass Banner and Billy did a brisk, sharp drum roll. With that they marched back to the docks, the Hourglass Banner flying in the breeze.

 

 

To be met by Paul Harris.

He was in a highly-agitated state, almost fit to explode.

Louisa said, when they drew to a halt and disbanded, “What’s the matter, Witch Burner?” She gave him a wry grin. “Somebody been stealing cabbages?”

“The Puma!” He said through gritted teeth.

That got her instant attention. “What of it?”

“That… man Neville! He and his crew have fled!”

George and Bob stared and Israel said, “Didn’t you try to stop him?”

“With four men, and two muskets and one halberd between them? Are you absolutely mad? Those savages would have skinned them alive!”

“Yes, of course,” he admitted.

George said, “When?”

“About an hour back,” he said, calming down a little now. “They caught the rising wind and the tide and cast off. They’re heading southwards.”

“Right,” she said with a nod.

Harris said, “Now that he’s gone, my inquiry into this abomination has collapsed.” His shoulders slumped in defeat. “As such, I can no longer detain any of you here. It would be pointless. You’re free to go but…” His tone hardened. “If I haven’t caught the wretch who killed Mistress Walton and you return then you will be investigated again!”

Richard murmured, “That’s a bit like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, wouldn’t you say?”

“I would,” he said in despair. He said to her, “You made it plain you had business elsewhere, Mistress Thorngate. May I ask where?”

“You may ask Master Harris, but I cannot say. Too much hinges on secrecy.”

“I see.”

“Yes, I think you do.”

He looked at Israel. “Same for you, I’d reckon?”

“Perfectly, sir.” He nodded.

“Well, then. Be on your way, if you please.” He turned to go and then said, over his shoulder. “The slightest violation of dock regulations, public disorder, drunkenness or violence will be dealt with in the harshest manner.”

She beamed at him. “I wouldn’t expect anything less, Master Witch Burner.”

He stared coldly at her.

“Go find that cabbage thief,” she said and he walked off in silence.

She said under her breath, with a glance at Polly, “Bloody hell!”

“Bloody hell, yes,” She agreed.

Israel said, “We need to find Somerville. We need to know exactly what it is he wants of us, and where he wants us to do it.”

“Agreed,” she said. “Much – all! - hinges on what he may tell us.”

Israel nodded to Dermot and Richard. “Work to be done.”

She took off her black gauntlet and Israel kissed her hand and then he did the same for Polly who smiled for the first time that day.

Louisa said, “Come on! Bob, I need that vessel ship shape and Bristol fashion soon as may be!”

“And you shall have it, Captain.” He thought for a moment. “And when I’ve time, Skipper, I think both you and Polly are in need of new peg legs. They’re both looking a little worn.”

“As you will, Bob, but the ship first, all right?”

“Aye, Skipper!”

“Good man!” She clapped him on the shoulder and he went about his business.

Polly said to her, before she went about her duties, “What a truly terrible day!”

“It was, lass. Aye it was,” and thought, and we’ve some more coming, I’m sure of it. Good Christ on His Cross, what are we going to do?

She thought, first things first! Get this vessel ready to take on that damned French Slaver! She said to Polly, “Talk to you later.”

“Aye, Skipper,” she said with a small grin and went to get a mop and bucket.

Louisa looked at the men setting to work about her and she thought, this’ll do them some good, I hope. Take their minds of what has happened. She saw Johnny, Simon and the other lads who had stood guard duty while the funeral took place and she said to them, “Of you go. Take your time but don’t split up. That’s an order!”

“Aye, Skipper,” Johnny said. He nodded to Simon and the others and they followed him down the gangplank to the jetty.

She went to her cabin, called George over as she went.

“Skipper?”

“We need to look at some charts, mate.”

“With you, Skip.”

Once she had shut the door she said, without preamble, “Bob.”

“What of him?”

“Something is bothering him.”

“What is it?”

“He… looked worried when he saw Somerville.”

“Well, now! I am worried, a lot of us are.”

“I know you are. But Bob is usually pretty unperturbable most of the time, wouldn’t you say?”

“Sure! As level-headed as they come.”

“But something is worrying him. He says he can’t quite place what it is but I absolutely trust his eye for detail.” She lightly patted the straps of her peg leg.

“Detail?” He nodded. “You’ve got that right, Lou.” He shook his head and sighed.  “You can’t fault him on that score.”

“Leave it for now. As to Somerville, we need to find him as quick as we can.”

“We don’t know where he lives. We can ask about. I’ll send some of the lads out.”

“Fine, but in pairs, you understand?”

“Perfectly,” he said with a grim smile. He left the cabin and she sat down on the edge of the bunk and then thought, come on, girl! Work to be done! She stood up and, after changing her black sash for the scarlet one, went back out on deck into the flurry of activity taking place.

 

 

Evening.

The sun had set over Charleston and she sat on a folding stool on the poop deck with George and Johnny.

On the main deck the lads were dancing to the sound of a squeeze box and fiddle played by Bert Hayes and Simon Finch. The tune was ‘The Whim’. She smiled when she saw Polly talking with Bob who then said something to her. She hesitated, nodded and then stood up with a smile.

Bob took her hand, bowed, and they danced, then, slowly together, smiling at each other.

George took a sip of his gin. “She’s fitting in well, Lou.”

“Aye, that she is, mate.”

Johnny said, “We’re still looking for Somerville, though.”

“Aright, there,” she agreed. She took a small sip of her rum and thought, if we don’t find him soon, then we’re gone. So, too, with Israel. They weren’t going to be messed about by some unctuous, bumbling clergyman. If he wasn’t prepared to commit to the agreement they’d find work elsewhere. There were plenty of Spanish and French ships to plunder, after all.

She said, “If we don’t hear from him by dawn upon the morrow he can…”

There was a small, urgent conversation down by the gangplank. The music and dancing ground to a halt. She stood up, along with George and Johnny. She called down, “What is it?”

Matt Price who had come aboard with Geoff Pritchard, called back, “We found Somerville!”

“Where!”

Matt said, “In his lodgings. Took us a fair time but we found the cove!” He grinned up at her.

“Good work, my lads!” She grinned. “Come up and have a draught!”

“Don’t mind if we do, Skip!” He came up to the poop deck with Geoff and she poured them a small tot of rum and gave it to them. “When will he meet us?”

“On the morrow, skip.” Matt downed the rum with a smile as did Geoff. “He said he’d come to the ship.”

“That’s good,” she said. On our territory, not his, she thought. Even better. She thought for a moment. “If he doesn’t come by then, we’re casting off and we’ll be on our way.” She looked at Johnny and George, who nodded in agreement.

Bob and Polly came up to the poop deck, along with a couple of the other lads. Louisa told them what had happened.

Bob said, “Skipper?”

“Yes, Bob?”

“Vessel’s all ship shape and, aye, ready to sail.” He smiled at her. “Remember what I said about…” He nodded down at her wooden leg.

She nodded, wearily. Bob wasn’t to be thwarted or deflected in this matter and, yes, he was right, of course. She and Polly both needed new peg legs. The present ones had taken quite a battering in the past few weeks. “All right, then. Tomorrow?”

“Soon as may be,” he said with a small grin.

She said to Johnny, “Give it a while, and then sound the pipe down, eh?”

“Cap’n,” he said with a nod.

She said to George, Bob and Polly, “We’ve had a bloody hard day, all of us, but the work at the end of it… it cleared our spirits, wouldn’t you say?”

George said, “Agreed. We… we mourned Mary, saw her off in good style, but…” He shrugged.

Polly said, tentatively, “We need to get along with it?”

“Aye, that’s about the size of it, lass,” he said gently. “I’ve lost more than a few good shipmates, to battle and storm and ague, but in the end… we have to deal with it as we must.”

Louisa said, “’There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them as we will’.” She saw their stares and said, “Shakespeare. Hamlet.” She sighed and then said, “Come on, busy day tomorrow.” She glanced meaningfully at Johnny who took out his Bo ‘sun’s pipe and sounded the pipe down. With that the men went below and she said to Polly, “Come with me.”

“Yes, Skipper,” she said and they went down to her cabin.

 

 

Early Morning.

The fog had returned overnight and it was warm and humid, everything reduced to shades of grey.

She stood by the gangplank with George, Israel and Dermot. She checked her pocket watch. “He’ll be late in….”

“Skipper,” George said quietly. He nodded down the quay to large, dark figure walking towards the ship.

Somerville.

She sighed. “A few minutes more and we would have been gone,” she said and wondered, momentarily, at her disappointment at that realisation. A good part of her would have much rather sailed away to Havana, Kingston or Port au Prince than deal with this man.

Still, she’d agreed to be of service and Edward Cavendish had trusted Somerville, so there it was. But then, what was it?

Somerville, still on the dock, beamed up at her, doffed his hat and said, “May I come aboard?”

“By all means, Reverend,” she said.

He walked up the gangplank awkwardly and then set foot on the deck. He nodded at Israel, Dermot and George, the latter remaining motionless.

She said, “Come to my cabin, sir.”

“Your humble servant, Captain!”

George, out of sight of Somerville, shot her a glance of, Oh Christ Give me Strength!

She smiled quickly at him and they went to her cabin.

She turned to Somerville swiftly and said, “Right! Let’s cut to the chase, shall we? What is this all about?”

He stepped back a little confused. “Dear la…” He stopped abruptly. “Why nothing at all but the freeing of the captives on board the Duc du Maine!”

“Right, right,” she said. “And how will this be undertaken?”

“Your ship, along with Skipper Rosenberg’s vessel…” He glanced meaningfully at Israel who said nothing, “Will capture it by force of arms.”

“In which, no doubt, a good few of our men might well die.” She sighed. “Look, now, we’re well used to danger and we’re skilled in combat and weaponry, but it must be worth our while, as much as we admire your noble sentiments, sir.”

“It will come to pass, Captain Thorngate!”

George said, “Master Somerville?”

She smiled to herself. There was no way on this sorry old Earth that George Smith would call him ‘Reverend’.

“Yes, Master Smith?”

“Let’s see some of the money.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Look, mate, we’ve all been at sea far too long to be gulled by some smooth, smart-talking cove!” He held up his hands in swift placation. “I’m not saying that’s what you are, but, nonetheless…”

Somerville sighed and said, “I fully understand, Master Smith. I so do!” He reached inside a pocket and took out a large purse. He opened it and, with a theatrical flourish, scattered gold coins upon the table. “So very sad that money is worth more than faith.”

George looked at the coins and then at Somerville. “You can’t eat faith.”

“You can’t eat gold, either.”

“But with gold you can buy the things you can eat,” he countered.

Touché, m’sieu,” Somerville said with a modest bow.

“Enough!” She said. “We’ve little time as it is, sir. Tell us what we need to know or you can pick up your gold and go elsewhere.”

“As you will,” he said with a modest bow and wiped his forehead. “The Duc du Maine is sailing to New Orleans with its cargo of…” He stopped when she glared at him.

“Yes, yes, with its cargo of benighted souls! Get to it!”

“Indeed. It will not come close to Charleston, but it will round the southern tip of Florida in four days, or so it is estimated, given the speed and draught of the ship itself.”

Israel said, quietly, “Y’know, that’s very… nautical for a clergyman. Who told you this?”

A captain of the Royal Navy, sir.”

“All right,” he said. “Continue.”

If your two vessels can assault the ship, then success is more than likely.”

“More than likely?” She frowned. “You know as well as I do, that the crew on that ship are more than likely to just dump those poor bastards into the sea, still in their chains, when they spot us. It’s been done before, I know.”

“Yes,” he said. “Then swiftness must be the key.” He sighed. “I will pray to Providence for help in this matter.”

George snorted. “You’d be better of praying for fog, matey!”

She shot him a sharp look and he shrugged. Well, maybe he was right.

Israel looked at Dermot who said, “So, we need to sail south, then, sir?” He raised a dark eyebrow.  “To Florida?”

“Yes, sir,” Somerville said.

Dermot nodded as did Israel.

She said to George, “We’re ready to sail?”

“Bob and the lads have worked like demons, Lou. We’re as ready as we’ll ever be.”

“Good,” she said. “Very good.”

Somerville said, “We have a deal?”

“We have a deal, sir!” She shook hands with him, as did Israel, Dermot and even George which was a small miracle in itself.

Somerville smiled, went to the table to pick up the coins but she said, “Ah, no! You leave that there, Master Clergyman!”

“But how do I know you’ll keep your side of the bargain, Captain?”

“Well, you’ll just have to have faith, won’t you?”

He laughed at that and said, “All right. I’ll leave you to it. The rest of the gold will be waiting for you upon your return. When you’re back in Charleston, you’ll come to me?”

“As soon as may be,” she said.

He nodded and left the cabin.

She turned to them, with a glance at the gold on the table. “Well, now.”

Israel sighed. “Well now, indeed.”

She said, “Trust him?”

“Not for a moment but we’ve agreed now, and there’s no going back now, is there?”

She shook her head. “No.”

George and Dermot looked at each other but said nothing. Eventually, Israel said to Dermot, “Come on, there’s much to be done.”

“Aye, Skipper. Much indeed.”

The four shook hands and Israel and Dermot left them.

George said to her, “If this goes wrong, Lou, we’re in deep shit.”

“Aye, we are.” She nodded. “But we’ve agreed and…” she glanced at the coins gleaming dully on the table. “We could use the money.”

“Sure we can. And that’s part of the problem, isn’t it? If we were feeling flush we could tell him to go fuck himself, but we can’t.”

“No, we can’t.” She shook he head and rubbed her eyes. She felt as if she were swimming in deep, dark waters. Well, they were committed now. Alea iacta est.

She smiled at him and said, “Let’s get things moving, shall we? We’re good at what we do. We’ve been in far worse situations.”

“Sure we have.”

“We sail on the morrow. Dawn.”

“Aye, skipper.” He gave her a wink and he, Israel and Dermot left the cabin. She looked at the money on the table and thought, faith or money? One hell of a question.

She went to the charts drawer, took out one for south eastern America and, after putting the coins back in the bag, unfurled the map upon the table.

 

 

Dawn.

She said to George and Johnny, “All ship shape, my lads?”

“Aye, Skipper!” They both nodded fervently.

“Then prepare to cast off.” They were going with the morning tide. Again, the dawn was gloomy with fog but she knew it would soon burn off.

“Captain Thorngate!”

She looked in the direction of the voice and saw a dark figure on the quay.

Her heart sank. Witch Burner. She glanced at George and Johnny. They said nothing.

She went down the gangplank, George and Johnny following.

Harris nodded and doffed his hat to her. “Mistress Thorngate.”

“Master Harris.” She kept her tone neutral. “What can we do for you?”

“I… I think I have misjudged, you, Captain.”

“How so?”

“Don’t misunderstand me! I still regard you and your crew as rogues, but in this instance, you and your crew are free of guilt.”

“Well, thank you, good sir,” she said with a small bow.

“Aye, then. As to Harry and his gang of cut throats, if I’d not had corroborative evidence from Reverend Somerville, I would have considered the crew of the Puma as the most likely candidates. As it stands we’ve got no further with our inquiries.”

“All right, then,” she said and after a moment’s hesitation, shook hands with him. George and Johnny did the same and Harris sighed as if a great weight had been taken from his shoulders. He said, “You’d best be on your way, Skipper Thorngate to… whatever tasks you may lay before you.”

“We’ll cast off now,” she said. “Time and tide wait for no man. Or woman!”

He nodded and the three of them went back up the gangplank. Johnny said, “If anybody had told me, even, yesterday, that Witch Burner would say something like that, I would have laughed in his face!”

George said, “And me!”

She said to them, “People are odd.”

“Aye,” George said. “You can say that again!”

She gave him a smile and a nod and went up to the poop deck and raised her voice. “Cast off! Come on, my lads, we’ve work to be done!”

“Aye, Skipper!” They called back and soon the Peg Leg Louisa was moving away from Charleston and out into the Atlantic. She said to Nick Bentley, “Set course for Florida.”

“Aye, Cap’n,” he acknowledged and gripped the wheel and turned the vessel southwards while the rising sun came through the vanishing fog.

 

 

 

Late Afternoon.

They were in Bob’s small workshop. It was more of a cubbyhole, given the limited space on the vessel, but it was exceptionally neat and tidy. Polly said to him, “Your work is really good, Bob.”

Ah, well, I do my best.” He smiled at her and said, “Try this.”

“All right.” She sat down on a bench, unstrapped her leg and, with a grin at Louisa, she took the new peg from him and with a little difficulty, fitted it, strapping the black leather retaining belt about her hips. She smiled. “That feels good!” She stood up and took a couple of tentative steps back and forth on the gleaming black shaft, the leather straps creaking as she moved. “Yes, thank you, Bob.”

“My pleasure.” He’d already sorted out the one for Louisa who sat on a small three-legged stool with a broad smile on her face.

Louisa said to him, “Got any more thoughts on what’s been bothering you, mate?”

“Not really.” He sat down and shook his head. “Maybe it was just a notion, perhaps.”

“Of what?”

“Not too sure.”

“Ah, well, it’ll come.”

Then he suddenly stood up straight, his eyes bright. “I know! Now I know it!”

They stared at him, alarmed.

Louisa said, “What is it?”

“Jack. Jack Oswald!”

She thought, that damned hyena! “What of him?”

“He’d shaved off his beard!”

“Well, then,” she said, trying not to sound cynical or dismissive. “And?”

“He’s a big fella, right?”

She nodded as did Polly. “And?”

“And since he’d done that…” He shook his head. “Since he’d done that, he and Somerville look quite alike.”

“Well, yes, I suppose but… what are you trying to say, Bob?”

“I…” He shrugged. “I don’t know. Truly I don’t.”

“Well, then,” she said and kissed him lightly on the cheek. “Try not to let it bother…” She stopped, suddenly horrified. “Oh, my good God!”

“Yes,” he said, his eyes haunted with sudden realisation. “Just like Somerville!”

“I see it now!” She stared at Polly who stared back at her.

Polly said, “Why do you think Jack did it? Shave off his beard, do you think?”

Louisa shook her head and said to them both, “We’re not likely to find out soon, are we?” Charleston was many leagues behind them now and turning back would do no good as Jack Oswald was somewhere out there on the Puma.

Bloody hell! She sighed and then said, “Still, nothing we can do, is there?” She smiled at Bob. “Came to you in the end, eh, Shipmate?”

“Aye, skipper. Been nagging at me like a rotten tooth for a good long while.”

She nodded and trying to take the tension out of the situation, clapped him on the shoulder and nodded down at her new peg leg. “Did a fine job, there, Bob.”

“Aye, thanks, skipper!”

Polly kissed his cheek. “And for me. Beautiful work!”

“Again, thanks.” He smiled at her. “You’ll be needing a new hook soon, too, lass.”

“I will.”

“As to your wooden leg, do what the Skipper does, keep the older one as a spare, eh?”

“I will,” she said with a nod.

Louisa said to Bob, “Got to go sort things out, Bob.”

“I’ll see you later,” he said with a wink at them both but his eyes were still troubled.

They went above, on to the rolling deck. Polly swayed a little but Louisa took her elbow gently and said, “New peg leg. Always feels a little odd at first, but you’ll soon get used to it.”

“Thanks, Skipper.”

The weather was fine and they had the wind with them as they sailed southwards. The Jerusalem was flanking them to the portside. She said to Polly, “What the devil is going on?”

“I don’t know, Lou. But I’m a street girl from London. I know that something’s up. You gets an instinct for it.”

“Same as me. The sea teaches you that. She’s a merciless tutor.” She nodded out at the white-crested waves. “If you’re out here, unawares, then you’re soon gone down to Davey Jones’ Locker.”

“All right.”

“Damocles.”

“What’s that?”

“Not a ‘what’ but a ‘whom’. He was, supposedly, a courtier to the Tyrant of Sicily, King Dionysius II. He was always flattering the king and in the end Dionysius got fed up with all the arse-licking and the shit and set him to be in his – Dionysius’ place - on the throne. But above the throne the king had hung a sword, held by a single thread of horse tail hair, by the pommel, to teach Damocles the precariousness of life.”

“Did he survive it? Damocles, I mean?”

“He did, but he never gave the king any more of that nonsense. Life hangs by the thread.”

She saw Polly shiver at her words and she said, “We’ll be all right!”

“I know. I hope so, anyway.” She thought, there’s been this dark undercurrent all along ever since we got to Charleston. Is it Somerville? Is it Harry Neville? She shook her head and called Johnny and George over and told them what Bob had said about Jack Oswald.

George said, “It could be nothing.” His eyes said otherwise.

Johnny said, looking back northwards, “Not much we can do now, is there, Cap’n?”

“Not now, no.” She looked southwards to where Florida lay beyond the horizon. “Let’s get this out of the way, take on the Duc du Maine and then we can get along with the next thing to do once that’s all over.”

George grinned at her, “Which is?”

“Spend the money that we’ll get from Somerville when the deed is finally done!”

The men and Polly laughed with her as the Louisa sailed southwards, Florida-bound.

 

To be continued…

 

 

 

 

 

Peg Leg Louisa 06

She wiped her eyes and said, “I’m going ashore.”
George nodded, his eyes wet. “Let’s go, then!”
“No, George, You stay here. I’ll take Johnny, Nick and Bob.”
“But…”
“I need someone here who can organise a counter attack if Harry and his boys try something. This… this business with Mary being…” She couldn’t say it. “It might be a feint.”
“All right,” he said, his voice a dry rasp.
Polly said, “I’ll come.”
“No!”
But, Louisa…”
“Avast there, deck hand!” She stared at her and Polly stepped back, utterly shocked.
“Oh, Louisa? What…?”
“Louisa said, far more gently, “I don’t think that would be a good idea, love. You don’t know Charleston; it’s dark and already somebody has been murdered, for the love of God.”
Polly nodded, knowing it was futile to argue with Louisa when she was in this mood.
Louisa took her by the shoulders and kissed her. “I had to do that.”
“I understand.”
“Knew you would.” She turned to George. “Break out the muskets, pistols and cutlasses.” She gave him a keen look. “You’ll answer to me if any of Harry’s boys set foot on this vessel!”
“Aye, Skipper!” He nodded and went swiftly about his business.
She looked at Johnny, Nick and Bob. “We’ve work to do, my lads.”
They nodded and followed her down the gangplank to the jetty. There was an unfamiliar man standing there. She said, “Who are you, sir?”
“Bartholomew Cunningham. City watch. We came to tell you of the bad news.”
“Bad as it could be,” she muttered and Cunningham led them through the streets to where a large group of people milled about, lit by torchlight.
She led her three crewmen through the throng to where a tall, slim angular man in black stood, his face lit by the light of the torches.
Bob said, “Oh, bloody hell. Witch Burner Harris!”
She nodded. She went to Paul Harris. He doffed his hat and she saw that his hair was close-cropped. “Master Harris. What has happened?”
He looked at her and said, “Tell me your business here, Mistress Thorngate, and yea rightly, I might well give you an answer.”
“Mary was a very good friend to me and my crew.”
“Fair enough.” He shot her a dark look. “It’s bad.”
“How bad?”
“Worst I’ve ever seen.”
She thought, Oh Christ!
He made a way for them through the crowd.
Mary’s body lay on the cobbles. There was dark blood puddling everywhere and flies, attracted by the torchlight, were already feasting on the blood. Nobody bothered to shoo them away. They would always come back.
Harris said to her, “She’s been stabbed many times and, also….”
“Also, Master Harris?” She looked keenly at him.
“She was…” He took a deep, shaking breath. “Defiled.”
Bob whispered, “Oh, Christ in Heaven.”
Johnny and Nick were ashen but said nothing.
Harris said, “Come away from this foul place.” He led them away while men gently picked up the body and shrouded it.
She said, in a shaking voice, “I’ve seen some things, as well you may imagine, sir, but this…?”
He nodded wearily. “Terrible. I know she was a good woman, not some whore…” He stopped when Nick said, “Mate, even if she was a whore, it don’t ever warrant that kind of thing, all right?”
“All right, good point.” He nodded.
Louisa said to Harris, “You and I… we have issues.”
“We do.”
“I remember that first time we met and you asked me what broomstick I flew in upon.”
“I do recall,” he said.
They all fell silent. Harris was a cold, precise and upright man of the law. He hated Catholics, Jews and witches which he saw as pretty much the same thing. He had, it had been rumoured, taken part in unofficial ex-judiciary witch burnings in the South Carolina backwoods, hence the nickname.
That said, he was, in his own, odd way, a fair and just man. He’d spare no effort in tracking down Mary’s killer.
He glanced down, his expression one of surprise and said, “You… how did you lose your leg?”
“Fell off my fucking broomstick!” She grabbed him swiftly by the shoulder and shoved him against the wall, seeing his surprise at her strength. “You find that murdering shite who killed our friend, Witch Burner!”
“With all of my power,” he said.
She released him. “See that you do.”
Johnny said, “Harry Neville. Got to be him, that fucking bastard!”
Harris shook his head. “No.”
Johnny stared at him. “What do you mean ‘no’?”
“It’s the opposite of ‘yes’, that’s what I mean. Much as I’d like to see that scum Neville and his crew hanged and gibbetted it won’t be this time, unfortunately. He was seen by many down at the King James tavern.”
Bob stared at Harris. “Still don’t mean he didn’t do it!”
“He was there all evening, getting himself and his boys well into their cups!”
Johnny said, incredulously, “You believe that lot down there?”
“Ah, well, not normally! But I’ve the word of a pious man of the Cloth, Reverend Somerville who was there, too.”
Louisa said, “Somerville? What was he doing down in that shit hole?”
“Standing outside and handing out Christian pamphlets to the poor…”
She cut him off, wearily, “To the poor benighted souls in the tavern.” She shook his head.
“So he says. He’s given evidence to that effect.”
“Right then,” she said and leant back against a wall.
Harris said, “Not much you can do here, Captain Thorngate. I’d say get back to your ship as soon as you may, otherwise I might well think of some charge for which I might arrest you.”
“Well, thank you, kindly, Master Harris!” She grinned at him.
“The pleasure is all mine.”
She turned away but Bob looked back at him and said, “Master Harris?”
“Aye, Sir?” His tone was ironic.
“You touch my captain, mate, you’re in deep trouble.”
“I already am,” he said, waving a hand at the throngs of people, horrified at the enormity before them.
Bob nodded. “Right then.”
“Right indeed!” He turned away and went back to where Mary had been murdered. Then he swung back and said, “I’ll be down to the jetty on the morrow. If any ship casts off before I speak with the crew it will be taken as an admission of guilt. Am I clear?”
Louisa nodded, “Crystal clear, sir.”
Harris nodded and walked off.
Louisa said, “Bob?”
“Skip?”
“That wasn’t wise.”
“Ah, fuck wisdom. I’ve had enough of people like him.”
“Bob, keep your peace, please.”
He gave her a quick wink and a sly grin, said no more.
They went back to The Louisa. Once on board she told them of what had happened ashore. George said, “Ah, well, Witch Burner, eh? I hate the cunt but he’s very good at what he does.”
“He is. He’d see all of us hanged and gibbetted at a moment, but we need him.”
“What about Neville? It must have been him!”
“Apparently not,” and she told them of Neville’s alibi, corroborated by Somerville.
She went to her cabin and Polly was sitting there, on the bunk, stroking Grimalkin. She looked up and said, was it bad?”
“Worse than you can imagine.”
“Oh?”
She told her of what had happened.
Polly nodded. “Terrible thing. Poor Mary, she’s – was – a lovely girl.”
“Yes. I’m sorry I spoke so harshly to you earlier.”
“You needed to. I’m still learning.”
“The thing is, if Harry and his boys didn’t do it, well then, who did?”
“Good question,” she replied.
“And one that isn’t going to be easily answered.” She unslung her baldric and laid her flintlock upon the table.
“Well, then.” She stood up and put Grimalkin gently on the bunk.  She went to Louisa and hugged her tightly.
Louisa told her about Witch Burner and his coming to the berthed ships in the morning.
“I suppose he has to do that,” Polly said.
“Yes. I don’t like the man, he’s a pious, pompous prick, but he’s no hypocrite.”
“Well, thank the Heavens for that,” Polly said drily.
“He’ll get someone for the death of Mary.”
“Let’s hope it’s the right one, eh?”
“Amen to that.” She nodded wearily. “Come on, let’s get down for the night but I can tell you I’m not going to sleep very well.” She sat on the edge of the bunk and unstrapped her wooden leg and undressed as did Polly. Soon they lay together on the bunk, but sleep was a traitor to them that night as it was to all of the vessel’s crew.


Morning.
The sun had risen, casting a dreary light through the dawn fog. It was cool but she knew, from experience, that it would turn unbearably hot as the day wore on.
She stood there on the poop deck, looking out towards the Atlantic. She thought, I’m going to have to see Edward at some point. Cavendish had treated Mary more like a daughter than an employee.
She heard a light, tapping sound and turned. Polly was coming slowly up the ladder from the deck below.
Polly said, “The boys are… subdued.”
“Hardly surprising. They all liked Mary.”
“She was lovely.”
“She was.” She put her arm about Polly’s shoulder and gave her a hug. “Still, we need to sort this out or her spirit will have no rest until this is done.”
“I know,” she said with a small nod.
A voice called, “Louisa!”
She looked down to the Jetty to see Israel Rosenberg along with Richard Dean.
“Israel!” She nodded to him.
“We heard what had happened. Terrible business, in the name of God!”
“It was.”
She and Polly went across the deck and down on to the jetty. The two men looked drawn and haggard, as well they might.
Israel said, “Apparently Harry’s got an alibi.”
“Aye, he has,” she said with a fractional nod.
Richard muttered, “Funny how everybody thought it was him or one of his lads, eh?”
Polly smiled wanly at him. “Give a dog a bad name…” She left it at that.
Israel said, “Still, if he didn’t do it…?”
Louisa finished off with, “Who did?”
“Well Witch Burner Harris is coming to…” She stopped and sighed when she saw a trim looking man flanked by two others approaching. “Speak of the devil.”
Richard nodded. “And he will appear.” He didn’t sound happy. Harris particularly disliked the crew of the Jerusalem for various reasons. That it was a privateer was one, but for others too.
Harris came to them and said, without preamble. “We’ve not apprehended the murderer.” He look Israel up and down as if wondering what he saw. “Well, now, Christ Killer.”
“Very pleasant to see you, too, Master Harris.”
Harris smiled coldly, “What have you got to say for yourself?”
“I’d say, sir, you need to keep a civil tongue in your head.”
“Don’t you dare get cheeky with me, you bloody heathen!”
“I’m a man of my faith, good sir. As to your ‘Christ Killer’ jibe, I wasn’t there. I’m like Harry Neville. I have an alibi!”
“We’ll see about that!”
Louisa said, as gently as she could, “This isn’t helping, gentlemen.”
Both Harris and Israel nodded but Harris said, “I’ll be watching you, Rosenberg.”
“You’d be better employed, sir, finding Mary’s killer.”
Harris braced himself and nodded. “Damn me if you’re not wrong.”
“Thank you.”
He nodded. “I’m seeing the captains and senior officers of all the vessels that have berthed before her murder. No one – no one! – is to set sail and leave before I’ve completed my investigations.”
Israel said, “That could take some time and we’ve tasks to fulfil.”
“That’s too damned bad,” Harris muttered and stalked off with his men.
Israel said, “Arse hole.”
“Yes,” she said. “But he’s good at his job.”
“What? Burning lonely, deluded old women at a stake? The bloke’s a cunt.”
“He is,” she agreed. “But I’d sooner he was… if not with us, then not against us.”
“True enough.” He glanced at Richard. “Get back to the Jerusalem, Richard.”
“Aye, Skipper!”
“And will you and tell them to keep their eyes open and their mouths shut.”
“Aye, Skip!” He turned and left them with a wink and a grin at Polly who smiled back at him.
Louisa said to her, “We need to go and visit Edward Cavendish.”
“We do,” she agreed.
Israel said, “I’ll come along, if I may?”
“She was your friend too, Israel. Of course.”
Louisa turned and called, “George!”
He appeared at the rail. “Skipper?”
“We’re going to the King Charles to see Edward. Come with us, please?”
“With you now.” He said something to Nick Bentley and then he was down the gangplank and beside them, his cutlass slung in its baldric.
She nodded and said, “There’s a murderer out there with one death under his belt. I don’t want anybody on this vessel to be number two. Understood?”
“Perfectly,” he said with a brief nod.
She looked at Israel who merely nodded.
“Come on.” They went down the jetty and turned into Dock Street. Soon they were at the King Charles which was closed and shuttered. There were a lot of people about but the mood was very subdued. She took a deep breath and knocked tentatively on the door.
Nothing.
She knocked again, louder this time.
The door opened and Edward stood there, his expression haunted and terrible. He let them in to the dark tavern. His hands were shaking. He said, “Somebody murdered her! Murdered my darling girl.”
“We know,” Louisa said, very gently. She knew of Mary’s background. Her parents had died some years before and Edward had taken her in, treating her like she was family.
He looked like an embodiment of hell on earth. Gone was the bluff hearty old buccaneer. He was now a ghost, a shadow of his old self. He gone from sixty years of age, to ninety in a matter of a few hours.
Israel said, very softly, “Have you had a drink, matey?”
Edward looked at the barrels behind the bar. “No. And until this is cleared up, I won’t touch a drop. If I go down that bloody road, then I’ll never come back.”
Israel nodded. “Perfectly understood.”
They sat down at a bench and Louisa told him of what Harris had said.
“Harris!” Edward shook his head. “He was always sniffing around here. Couldn’t get anything on me or….” He sighed, not saying her name. “He came earlier this morning. Fair enough he was polite and he didn’t say, exactly, what had happened to her but people talk.” His eyes were red. “She was raped.”
Louisa nodded, grief-stricken. She put her hand on his arm and they wept together. She said, after wiping her eyes, “We’ll get him! We will!”
Polly said, softly, “Edward?”
“Yes, my love?”
“Trust Louisa on this, eh?”
George and Israel nodded solemnly. George said, “Never mind Harris and his mates. We’ll sort this, eventually.”
Edward said, “Don’t do anything that’ll put a noose about your necks, any of you!”
Louisa gripped his hand. “We won’t.”
“See that you don’t. I’ve lost my darling Mary. I can’t lose any of you!”
Israel nodded and smiled. “We’re better alive than dead. I can’t stand Harris, but, respect to the cove, he’s thorough.”
George nodded. “He said that Neville and his gang have an alibi.”
“Right,” Edward said with a nod. “It was that Somerville’s testament, wasn’t it? What he said that put Neville in the clear? Neville’s an obnoxious piece of work, but I’d not see a man stretch for something he hadn’t done.”
“No,” She said, “Nor me.” She stood up and the others stood with her. “Keep us informed, Edward.”
“Informed?” He stared up at her. “What do you mean?”
“As to when…” She took a deep breath. “You know.”
“Ah, the funeral. I will.” He cast a look at the empty bar, his expression utterly shocked. “I’ll never see my poor, sweet lass again.”
Louisa nodded, trying to hold back her tears. She saw that Polly and the two men were in the same state.
She said, with a briskness she didn’t feel, “Edward, we must go but if you need us, any of us just come to the ships. Doesn’t matter how early or late. Understood?”
He stood up. “Understood.”
“But, my old love, don’t come alone, eh?”
“I won’t. I promise.”
She kissed him as did Polly while Israel and George shook hands with him. They left the tavern and George said, “Well, that was bloody hard.”
Israel and the two women nodded. “He’s lost somebody who was as near a daughter as could be.”
Polly looked about the streets that were becoming busy and said, “He’s out there, somewhere.”
Louisa nodded. “The killer.”
Israel said, “Best we stick together, I’d say. A mad dog that has killed, now has the taste of the blood. He’ll do it again, until he’s hanged, of course.”
Louisa patted the flintlock shoved into her sash and said, “Or we get him first. He better hope it’ll be Witch Burner who catches him or by Christ he’ll regret the day he was born.”
George said, carefully, “Ah, but Witch Burner will hang him, Louisa.”
“And that will be a merciful end to him,” she said with a cold grin. “Let’s get back to our ships; there’s work to be done!”
They walked back to the docks, hardly speaking.
When there, Israel said, “Lou?”
“Yes?”
Why don’t you, Polly and George come down for a glass or two? Tell your crew where you’re going to be and see me then?”
“All right! Thank you!” She needed something, for God’s sake, to lift her spirits. It had been a thoroughly terrible night and morning,
They walked on down the jetty, stopped at the Louisa. Israel went down to the Jerusalem.
“Thorngate!”
She turned to see Harry Neville grinning at her. He was flanked by Charlie and Jack. She looked him up and down. “Well look what the cat dragged in!”
“Piss off, Louisa,” he said amiably. “You’ve been visited by that shit house Harris?”
“Spoken to him, yes, but not here. Why?”
“About the murder of that tavern slut.”
George said, “Look, you cunt, if you wants to keep that excuse of a face of yours in one piece, mind your fucking manners!”
Jack and Charlie moved closer to their captain who said, with a grin, “Just a figure of speech, that’s all, no harm done. This time!”
She said, “You’re being disrespectful to the memory of a good friend, Harry,”
“Ah, that’s why I said it.” His tone hardened. “That fucker Harris will see us hanged, half a chance.” He shook his head. “We need to stick together.”
George stared at him. “Like you did with Stede Bonnet back in ’18? Don’t make me laugh! I might just die of it!”
“And well you might, Smith.” He nodded.
“Shut your fucking trap, Neville. You’re a traitor!”
Louisa stepped between them. “Let’s ease this down, eh?” She stared at George and then Neville. “This isn’t helping anybody, certainly not trying to catch Mary’s murderer.” She said to Harry, “But if I hear you call her a slut one more time, you’d better be able to run fast, matey!”
“I can run faster than you, peg leg.”
“You’d best not need to try,” she said and gave him a casual back hand slap across his face. He stepped back, a murderous look on his face but he remained silent. She said, to George and Polly, “Come on, the air’s pretty foul round about here.”
They followed her and Polly said, “Christ, he’s awful! Calling her that!”
“He’s a rotten piece of work.”
“And calling you…” She stopped and shook her head.
“What? Peg leg?” She looked down at her wooden leg as she strode along. “Well, it’s the truth!”
“Sure, same for me, but…”
“Fuck him,” Louisa said with a cold grin. “I am what I am.”
They reached the Jerusalem and one of Israel’s lads, Jeremiah Hampton, grinned at them and said, “Cap’n’s aboard and waiting on you.”
“And we're here,” Louisa said with a nod. They went up the gangplank and on to the main deck. She thought, Israel runs a tight ship, just as she did. Men were at work scrubbing the decks, polishing the brass and suchlike.
Israel was on the poop deck and he saw them. “Welcome aboard!”
She gave him a small bow. “By your leave, captain Rosenberg.”
“Come on!” He hurried down the steps and embraced her.
He led them to his cabin and, without surprise, she saw that it was as neat and tidy as the rest of the ship. There was a small Menorah on a side table under an engraving of Oliver Cromwell. He saw Polly staring at the image and said, “Cromwell.”
“I know him. But…”
“Allowed our people back into England seventy years back.” He went to a cabinet and took out a bottle. “Sherry?”
They nodded and he poured out four small glasses.
He said, “To the memory of our friend, Mary,” as they touched rims. “L’chaim!”
They drank in silence and then he said, “Somerville.”
George muttered, “Well, it had to come up at some point.”
“Do you trust him?”
Louisa said, “Well, he says all the right things, but…” She shook her head.
“Exactly that.” He sipped his sherry. “All the right words, but they just don’t sound right coming out of his mouth, do they?”
George shook his head. “I don’t trust him.”
Louisa said, drily, “You don’t trust many people, George. Especially clergymen.”
True. Don’t make me wrong, though, does it?”
“No, it doesn’t.” she acceded.
Isaac said, “And yet he wants us to attack the Duc du Maine, to free the captives on board.”
“Well, that’s what he says,” George said with a nod.
Isaac nodded and sighed. “So, what’s your view of Somerville?”
George shrugged. “What a man says and what he does can be very different, don’t you think?”
“Can’t argue with that, mate.” He nodded and shrugged. He looked confounded. Too much had happened, too quickly.
Louisa said, “Harris is also going to be a problem.”
George nodded, “Never a truer word said, Skip.” He downed his sherry and sighed.
“I trust him to do his job,” she said, “I just think he’s far too enthusiastic, especially when it comes to people like us, outside of his laws.”
“He’s like a hunting hound,” Israel said. “Once he gets a sniff of the trail, he’s off, after his quarry.”
Louisa nodded and checked her pocket watch. She said to George and Polly, “Time’s pressing. Let’s go.”
They nodded and Israel shook hands with her and George and then with Polly. “As soon as you know about the funeral, let me know, please.”
It came sooner than he expected.
The door opened after a perfunctory knock and Dermot O’Connell came in with Richard and said, “Just had word from Witch Burner. Mary’s funeral is at nine of the clock tomorrow.”
Louisa said, “Which church?”
Dermot told her, “The Circular One over in Radcliffe Street.”
Israel raised an eyebrow. “That one? I’m impressed.”
Richard said, “Apparently the Minister is a good mate of Edward’s…” He sighed and shook his head. “All this talk and a good young woman is dead.”
Louisa said, gently, “Talk sometimes stops us going insane.”
He shrugged and tried to smile. “Maybe.” He looked at Isaac. “By your leave, Skipper, I’ll organise the ship’s muster for eight of the clock tomorrow morning for those going to see Mary on her way.”
“Good man,” he clapped him on the shoulder. “But leave a sizable skeleton crew, eh? We don’t want our grief to cloud our judgement.”
“No, Skip,” he said and left the cabin.
Louisa said to George and Polly, “We need to do the same.”
They nodded and she said to Isaac, “See you tomorrow, if not before.”
“You will.”
They left him and went back to the Louisa.
George said, under his breath, “Shit.”
She looked in the direction of his gaze. She nodded. “Harris.”
They walked up to him and he actually doffed his hat to her and Polly but left George with a cold stare. “We need to discuss matters, Captain.”
“Come aboard, let’s get this out of the way.”
She led him to her cabin, along with Polly and George She saw Bob and Johnny Phillips. She said, “A moment, if you please, Mister Phillips, Mister Martin?”
“Aye, Captain!” They nodded and followed them in.
She said to Harris, “Would you like a drink, sir?”
“Thank you, but no; I’m on the King’s Business.”
“As you will.” She nodded at a chair by the table. He sat down. He said, “We still have no clue to the identity of the murderer.”
“I’m not surprised. It’s a big, busy town.”
“Indeed.” He sighed. “The man must have been covered in blood when he escaped.”
Polly went pale but said nothing.
“We’ve found nobody with clothes covered in that much…” He sighed. “Blood.”
George looked at Johnny and Bob. The latter said, “Reckon you must’ve searched high and low for it?”
“Torn the town apart,” he said glumly. “Nothing.”
Louisa said, “You can have your lads search the ship, Master Harris. We’ve nothing to hide.”
“Ah, yes, I take your point, but anything like that can be wrapped about a heavy weight and dropped into the harbour.”
“So, then, complete lack of evidence but you’re still going to pursue us?”
He stared at her.
She stared back. “You must have heard of Habeas Corpus, I’m sure?”
He said, “Of course! It’s just that…” He trailed of in embarrassment.
“Just that you thought that I and my crew hadn’t?” She gave him a wry laugh. “We mariners have to know the law, even though we might be outside of it.” She nodded across the cabin floor. “Door’s over there, Witch Burner.”
He stood up and said, “No one casts off until I give permission! Understood?”
“I understand what you mean.” She stood up and went to him. “And we’ll leave when we please.”
“I thought you said you understood!”
“Perfectly. I didn’t say that I agreed though, did I?”
“You devil!” He shook his head and then he actually laughed. He left the cabin with a back as stiff as a rod. She said to them, “Nobody on this ship killed Mary. That’s a fact!”
Bob nodded along with George and Johnny who said, “We all loved her.”
George said, “He’s desperate to hang somebody so if he can’t get the real killer then somebody else will do.”  
George said, “Well he ain’t hanging me, or anybody else on this ship.”
There was a knock, sharp and hasty at the door.
“Enter!”
Simon Finch appeared. “Got trouble, skipper!”
“Bloody hell,” she muttered and hurried out on to the deck. She saw Harry, Jack, Charlie and some others on the jetty. They were all drunk. Harry shouted, in a leering voice, “So, Lou, which one of your boys did for the poor Mary? Sure, she was a doxy and a tavern drab, but she didn’t deserve that, did she, the poor, fucking bitch?”
George snarled, “Right that’s it!” He drew his cutlass as did Johnny and Bob unsheathed his dagger. They were about to go down the gangplank but she shouted, “Stand fast there! I said stand!”
They stood, frozen. She said to them furiously, “If you go down there and get in a brawl somebody could be injured or even killed.
George said to her with a grin, “As long as it’s one of Harry’s lot, that’s fine by me!”
“No it is not!” She spread her hands wide. “Just use your head! If Harris gets wind of this, and he will, then what then?”
George nodded in defeat.
“Hey!”
She turned to see Harry, grinning like a madman. “Louisa!”
“What is it you want?”
“I wants you to understand that you’ve the most cowardly crew on the High Seas, dearie!”
She shot warning glances at the lads, up and down the deck who gripped the rails tensely but they did nothing but stare down at Neville and his gang.
She called back, “There’ll be a reckoning one day, Neville, and soon.”
“Come and get us now, bitch! You fucking…” He stopped when he saw Harris and a squad of six men armed with swords walking briskly down the quay.
Neville stared at them, as did his boys. Harris said, crisply, “You men, disperse and back to your ship. Now!”
“Now look, ere, matey…” He saw the stare in Harris’s eyes and backed off. Harris said, “Perish the notion that I would ever be your matey.” He looked up at Louisa. “You showed remarkable restraint, Captain Thorngate. Against my better judgement, I’m impressed.”
“Thank you, good sir!” She gave him a mock-curtsey.
He nodded and turned back to Harry. “You’re still here. Why?”
“All right, all right! We’re going!” They shambled off, filthy curses being flung at Harris’s men and Louisa and her crew.
She said to Harris, “Thank you!”
“I can’t have any disorder, not the way things are in town at this time.” He nodded to his men so that would make sure that Neville and his men would go back to the Puma.
She leant against the rail, exhausted. “Christ, I truly could’ve done without that.”
George said, humbly, “Sorry for… well you know, earlier.”
“That’s all right, my old shipmate. We’re all a little…broken at the moment.” She looked at Polly who nodded sadly.
She said to George, Johnny and Bob and the other men on deck. “I’m not telling you, I’m asking you. Lay off the rum and the gin tonight, lads, if y’can. We’ve a funeral to attend early on the morrow and I’d like clear, respectful heads on our shoulders.”
Bob said, “With you, Skip.”
“Indeed, yes, Cap’n,” Johnny said quietly.
George said, “Of course, Lou.”
She gave them a smile of frank appreciation. “Good lads. We’re not going to turn up like that shambling rabble down there!” She jerked a thumb over her shoulder in the direction of the Puma.
The men all nodded.
She braced herself and said, “Right, then. Things to be done. Let’s set to!”

To be continued…

Peg Leg Louisa 05

 

Charleston Quay.

They stepped down from the gangplank on to the jetty. Already Johnny, George and Bob were there. They looked concerned and alert. Both George and Johnny had their cutlasses slung on their baldrics while Bob had a murderously sharp dagger sheathed at his belt.

She said, “So, lads. What news?”

George said, “Puma docked about quarter of an hour back, Skip.”

“Right. Any sign of Harry?”

Johnny shook his head. “Not so far, but just give it time.”

She nodded. She turned and shouted back to Nick Bentley, Tom and the others. “Stay aboard and keep dead sharp!”

Nick called back, “Aye, cap’n!”

Polly said under her breath, “Shit!”

They looked down the length of the quay to see a tall, all-too familiar figure flanked by two large, burly men walking toward them.

Harry Neville and his two senior officers, Charlie Sumter and Jack Oswald. She thought, shit indeed. This could get quickly out of hand.

Then the three men stopped abruptly and one of them, Oswald, pointed to his left. Harry nodded vigorously and said something she couldn’t make out and then both Charlie and Jack hurried over and without further ado, grabbed a small dark figure and threw him to the ground.

George said, “They’ve got that bloody preacher! The lunatic!”

“Come on!” She stumped off down towards Harry and his compatriots, Polly and the three men following.

She saw Harry and his men standing over the huddled form of the preacher. She shouted, “Harry!”

He turned and looked at her, an unpleasant smile on his dark face. “Well, well. Captain Thorngate.”

“Leave him be!”

“Ah, now then doxy, how much I’d like to oblige you! But you see, Louisa, this cove owes me some money, amongst so many other things.”

“As my father owed you money?”

“Could say that.” He gave the old man a casual kick in the ribs. The preacher moaned in pain.

Before she could say anything, George, Johnny and Bob had drawn their weapons. Bob said, “That was always your way, wasn’t it, Harry? Kicking a man when he was down.”

“Shut your fucking trap, Bob, before I shuts it for you!”

“Come on then, do your best,” Bob said levelly. “Come on!”

Louisa laid a hand on Bob’s arm and said, “So, Harry, what is this all about?”

“He, dear Captain Thorngate,” Harry said with acid-politeness, “Jumped ship some years ago. From the Puma.”

George grinned. “Can’t say I blame him, serving under a cunt like you.”

Harry returned the grin. “‘Sticks and stones may break my bones…’” His gaze hardened. “But calling me names gets me really angry! Now just shut up, fuck off the lot of yer, and we’ll say no more about it, all right?”

She said, “No, it’s not all right! Christ, man, what is it that ails you that you must be so bloody vile? What is wrong with you?”

George, at her shoulder, whispered, “I can tell you, Lou!” He grinned nastily at Harry who stared back. Both Charlie and Jack stared, too. The old man lay upon the ground, still moaning in pain.

Harry grinned at her and made to kick his victim.

She thought, that is enough! She drew her pistol, cocked back the flint and aimed it at Harry.

That got his attention. The kick never landed.

Charlie and Jack flanked their captain, staring at Louisa’s group.

Harry grinned. “I don’t think you’ve the guts to touch that trigger, girl!”

“Maybe I have, maybe I haven’t. Have you got the guts to stand there while I make the decision?”

He stood there, seemingly calm but she could see that his hands were shaking slightly. Fair play, she thought. I’d feel the same.

He said, pointing to the old man, “This man is a thief and a mutineer!”

“Truly? All I can see is an old man having been beaten up by three men half his age and twice his size.”

Charlie said, “Mind your own business, Thorngate, and we’ll mind ours!”

“Well, you rather made it our business, didn’t you? I mean attacking this poor old wretch in public.”

Jack laughed nastily. “Piss off, you harpy! You and all your fucking mates. Go on! Piss off!”

“Not until you leave him be,” she replied and thought, they’ll either stand down or we will. Or it’ll turn into a fight.

She took a deep breath, then another.

Then it happened. Jack and Charlie went from utterly still and then they were racing towards Louisa and her group. Their swords were out of their scabbards.

George blocked Charlie’s blade with his own and then fell back, turned and took a swing at Jack. Johnny and Bob piled in, Bob giving Charlie a slash on the arm. He screamed in rage and pain and swiftly turned on Polly.

She smartly tripped him with her peg leg and when he fell she gave him a swift kick with it in the groin. He screamed again. She placed the foot of her peg leg hard on his chest and he swore at her but couldn’t move. She had her dagger out and at the ready.

Louisa rushed at Harry, placed the muzzle of the flintlock between his eyes. They stood there still as statues. She said, drily, “So, Harry; are you at peace with God? I hope that you are because you and He are going to meet very soon!”

His eyes bulged in terror and he staggered back. She heard a liquid rush and then a foul stench. She glanced down momentarily and grinned. He’d pissed himself in his terror.

He backed off and she saw too that the others had defeated Charlie and Jack. Charlie had blood running down his torn sleeve and Jack had a black eye and a cut on his cheek.

There was raw fury in Harry’s eyes. “You fucking whore!”

She said, mildly, “That is what your old shipmate called me and Polly yesterday.” She grinned. “Not a good thing to call any woman, but especially not us!”

“I’ll see you in hell!”

“Before or after you get there yourself?” She grinned at him and uncocked the flintlock and thrust it back into her sash. “Because that’s where you’re going, matey!”

“As will you!”

“Sure of it,” she said, blithely. “Now, in the meantime, you and your shipmates can bugger off, tend to your wounds and - in your case - change your breeches!”

That got a laugh from Bob, Johnny and Polly but George whispered, “Lou? You’d better kill him right now. He won’t take a humiliation like that.”

“Fuck him,” she whispered back but understood what George meant. It would make Harry, already a relentless foe, even worse. Tough, she thought. She knew it would always come to something like this. One of them would end up dead, lying in the dirt in front of the victor. It would have to be Harry. She would, sooner or later, kill him and rid the world of him and herself.

Or he would kill her. It could happen, she knew.

She shook herself and turned to the three men and Polly. “All right. Let’s do some good work here.” She nodded at the elderly man, still lying on the cobbles.

The men helped him up and Bob said, after wiping the blood from his dagger, “I’ve not done that for a long while.” He sheathed the blade. He said to Harry’s victim, “Are you all right, mate?”

The man shook his head numbly. “He’s right, you know.”

George said, “About what?”

“I did desert. I jumped ship from the Puma ten years back.” He sighed and Polly took out a handkerchief and gently wiped the blood from his face. She said, “You’ll be all right. He’s gone now.”

“I know. And thank you all, for helping me.” He shook his head sadly. “More than I deserve, given what I said yesterday!”

Louisa said, “Ah, well, we can’t be right all of the time, can we?”

“I suppose not.”

There was a movement behind them and she and her shipmates turned quickly about, weapons ready.

They relaxed when they saw Israel Rosenberg with his first officer, Dermot O’Connell and Richard Dean, the ship’s carpenter. Israel said, “What happened?”

She told him with a nod at the injured, elderly man.

Richard said to him, “Come on, now, old mate. We’ll get you home.”

“Thank you.”

Louisa said, “Where do you live?”

“I live in an attic in a house just of Dock Street,” he said, his voice as soft as a moth’s wing.

Richard said, “So come on, mate. We’ll see you back there.”

“Thank you.” He nodded in weary gratitude.

Louisa took out her pocket watch and flipped the lid back. She said to Bob, “You’ve that delivery of wood, nails, tar and rope coming soon. Go back to the ship, if you would please and be ready for it.”

He nodded. “Aye, Skip!”

She said to Johnny, “You go with him. While that rat Neville and his gang are skulking around, I want no one in our crew out alone.”

Bob was about to protest but she shot him a firm look and he nodded, seeing the wisdom of her words. Bob shook hands with Dermot and Richard, said to the latter, “Still keeping the Jerusalem ship shape?”

“Aye, Bob, you old scoundrel! Still doing my best.”

“We’ll meet later for a draught or two.”

“You can count on it!”

Johnny and Bob left them and Israel said, “We need to talk, again, with Somerville.” He saw the old man’s reaction to the name. He said, carefully, “Do you know something we don’t, mate?”

“No, no. Just that I’ve heard that name before… somewhere.”

Richard said, with a glance at Israel and Dermot, “Somerville. I know of him. He ain’t from about here. He’s English.” He himself was from Nova Scotia; his father a Scot from Edinburgh although his mother was a full-blood Mi’kmaq.

“He is…” The old man shook his head and Israel shot Richard and the others a meaningful look. In the end the man said, “Maybe I’m wrong.”

Louisa said, “Maybe you are, maybe you ain’t.” She glanced at George who shrugged but said nothing.

In the end they escorted the preacher to his home off Dock Street. The woman who owned the house looked shocked and furious and was about to berate them but the old man said, “Don’t Molly. Don’t. They saved me.”

“Truly?” She glared at Louisa and the others with a frankly disbelieving stare.

The old man said, “You have my word as a Christian.”

Israel said, wryly, “Look, lady, if we’d given him the beating, we’d’ve hardly brought the old boy back, now would we?”

“No, true,” she said and took the preacher’s arm. “Thank you. He’s not been at all well,” she added with a tap of her index finger to the side of her brow. “Who did this to him?”

Louisa said, “Harry Neville.”

Molly spat fervently on the ground. “My apologies, sirs and ladies but it was Neville who broke his mind in the first place!”

Louisa said, “How so?”

“You must remember Stede Bonnet?”

She nodded and said, “Yes. I was in South America back in ’18 when he was hanged.”

Israel glanced at Dermot and Richard. Richard nodded and said, “We saw him hanged. What is this to do with our friend here?”

“Neville was part of the betrayal of Bonnet to the Crown. Even gave evidence against him at his trial. Peter…” She ran a gentle hand through the old man’s thinning hair. “He strongly objected and was from then on persecuted for his support of Bonnet. In the end Neville drove him near-mad with his behaviour and bullying so he jumped ship.”

George whispered, “Jesus.”

“Neville accused Peter of theft and drunkenness which was a complete lie!” She put her arm about the Preacher and hugged him. “He’s been living with me ever since.” She shook her head. “He took to God as a refuge and his mind is… rather fragile.”

Polly said, “We’d um… noticed.”

“There’s no harm in him, not really. He’s been so sorely abused.” She said to the old man, “Come on now Peter, let’s get you up to bed.”

He said, “I did what I thought was right, Molly. I did! Harry Neville…” He shook his head. “He is the Hand of Satan!”

“She nodded. “Never a truer word said!” She smiled at them. “He’ll be…” she stopped and smiled sadly. “I was about to say ‘all right’ but he never will be. Neville and his crew saw to that.” She touched Peter’s shoulder. “Come on.” She led him into the house and gently shut the door.

Louisa looked at her crewmates, then Israel, Richard and Dermot. She said to Israel, “Did you know about this?”

“We got here just after the trial, although we saw the execution. Nasty piece of work that was, too. There were rumours, of course, about Harry’s involvement but…” He shrugged.

Richard said, “Harry broke the most Cardinal Rule. Never, ever, betray your fellows.”

Louisa nodded and looked at Polly. “What do you think?”

“I think you should have put his brains all over the dock, love!” She shook her head in utter disbelief. “Christ, what a fucking shit!”

“Ah, well, then,” she said wearily. Her head was spinning. She took out her pocket watch and checked it. Not even ten of the clock and she’d damned near killed a man. True, a louse, but he was still although questionably - a man.

She said to them, “I need a good stiff drink and I’m guessing that you might all need one too?”

They nodded and followed her down to the King Charles Tavern.

Richard said to Polly, “Well, you’re a fine lass and no mistake.”

“Well thank you, sir.”

“Call me Richard.”

“I’m Polly.”

“How did you end up… as you are?”

She told him about the vicious beating she’d received in the alley outside the Chain Locker.

“Bad thing to do to anyone, but a lady like yourself?” He shook his head sadly.

“I’m no lady,” she said with a smile.

“Yes, you are. Same as the fine Louisa.”

Louisa laughed. “You are such a charmer, Richard! Just like your captain!”

He laughed along with her. “The world’s a filthy, horrible place, but it’s made somewhat cleaner by the presence of you and your crew and this fine lady Polly.”

Louisa said to her, “See? Totally a gentleman.”

“I do see,” she said with a smile and a wink at Israel and Dermot.

Richard said, “I take it that the good Bob Martin made your peg legs and your hook, Polly.”

“He did.” She held up her hook. “A great craftsman.”

“He is, he is.” Richard nodded in appreciation.

They reached the King Charles tavern and went inside into the smoky gloom. Mary was, as usual, behind the bar and she smiled broadly when she saw them. “Ah, well! What are we having?”

“Five of your best, love,” Israel said and put the money on the top of the bar. She scooped it up put it in the box on the shelf and drew the ale.

Louisa said, “Thanks for that, Israel.”

“We’re all of us friends, Lou. I’m sorry I wasn’t there when you had that… problem with Harry and his lads.”

“Well, you can’t be everywhere at once, can you?”

“True.” He sipped his ale and nodded. “But Harry turning up like that is going to make things with this French Slaver a sight more complicated, isn’t it?”

She nodded. “You’re not wrong, mate.” She knew the truth of his words. Harry was now in town; whether by chance or design, she didn’t care to speculate upon the matter. Either way it wasn’t good. She nodded to a table by the window and they followed her over to it and sat down, both herself and Polly giving sighs of relief as they did so. The two women smiled at each other.

Israel thought for a moment and said, across the tavern’s sawdust strew floor, “Mary?”

“Skipper Rosenberg?”

“Could you do us a favour, please, love?”

“What would that be, Cap’n?”

“Can you go and see if you can find Reverend Somerville for us, please?”

“Sure. I’ll just nip up and tell Edward where I’m going?” She took off her apron and hurried up the winding stairs.

She presently returned and said, “I won’t be too long. And…” She grinned to let them know she was joking, “No pinching the ale while I’m gone!”

Israel and the others grinned at her and she left the tavern.

She was back soon and she said, Reverend Somerville begs your pardon, but…”

Louisa finished for her, wearily, “He’s otherwise engaged?”

“Yes,” Mary said with a nod.

“Well, then, there’s a great surprise.”

Polly said, “He’s hard to get hold of.”

Dermot said, “Some people… barnacles wouldn’t stick to them.”

“You’ve met him?” She asked.

“Once, before I shipped with Cap’n Rosenberg. It was in Kingston.”

Polly said, “What we he doing?”

“Evangelising the slaves. What else?” There was a sour note in his voice. He saw their expressions. “I don’t hold with slavery, but this cove Somerville…”

George said with a feral grin, “Was trying to do his best to give them another form of slavery.”

“That’s pretty well it, George. Don’t misunderstand me, he was doing a good job of it.” He shrugged and sighed. “Perhaps too good a job.”

Louisa said, with a meaningful glance at Israel, “Well, we’re not seeing Reverend Somerville today, so as much as I’d like to stay here drinking until dusk, I think we need to get back to the ship.”

Israel nodded, finished off his ale. He said to Dermot and Richard, “Come, gentlemen. There’s work to be done.”

She stood up as did the others. She said to Mary, “If that guttersnipe Neville comes in could you let us know, please?”

“Ah, he won’t be coming in here, Skipper!”

She looked at her. “Why not?”

“Master Cavendish has banned him and his entire crew for what Harry did at Stede Bonnet’s trial.”

“Well, that’s good to know!”

“Harry and his shipmates go drinking down in the King James tavern.”

“Ugh,” Israel said, pulling a face. “The King James! A den of whores, doxies and thieves if ever there was!”

George said, drily, “Should fit in well then with the other customers, then.”

She nodded and gave her compatriots a grim smile. “Come on!”

They left the tavern and, at the dock, parted company with Israel, Richard and Dermot who went down to the Jerusalem, giving the Puma and her crew a very wide berth but nothing happened.

Louisa went to Bob and some of the lads who were taking on board the supplies for the repairs. She said to the carpenter, “All in order, Mister Martin?”

“Ship shape and Bristol fashion, aye, skip!” He grinned at her as one of the boys lugged a barrel of nails past them onto the vessel. “We’ll be ready, all being well, to take on that French ship within a day, two at the most.”

She clapped him on the shoulder. “Good man.”

“Thanks, Skipper.” He turned away to see to some men bringing some more timber aboard.

She said to George and Polly, “Well, then, we all have some serious work to do, I’d reckon.”

George nodded as did Polly. She said, “Whatever it is, Skipper, lead me to it.”

“Come this way.”

 

Dusk.

She and Polly sat on the poop deck under a dark blue sky. She said, “You’ve worked hard today Poll. Well, all of you have.”

“Only did my duty, Skipper,” she said. Polly had been set to cleaning the decks and the iron and brass upon the ship, along with the others. Louisa knew that a poorly-maintained ship was a death trap for her crew.

Polly said, “I was always a good ‘un for polishing the tankards back at the Chain Locker.”

“I’d never doubt it.”

They sat there in silence for a long while until Polly said, in a small voice, “Oh. Oh, look at that!”

Louisa followed the direction of her stare to see a huge moon, golden and gibbous rising up from the Atlantic to the east.

Polly whispered, “Oh, my God in Heaven that is so beautiful! I’ve never seen a moon like that.”

“Southern latitudes, lass.” She went to stand beside her. She put her arm about her waist and hugged her. “The moon - I don’t know why - looks different here.”

Polly shook her head in wonderment. Louisa knew how she felt.

She said, quietly, “Time to turn in, I think.”

“All right.” She nodded. She said to Johnny Phillips, “Sound the pipe down, eh?”

“Right, skipper.” He took out his bo’sun’s whistle and gave the signal for all lights and pipes to be extinguished.

Tonight she’d had the gangplank drawn in and a small squad of men to guard the ship on the port side. She’d never put it past Harry to try something sneaky. It was one of his trademarks.

They went down to Louisa’s cabin and went in. Although all the lights were out, enough of the moonlight flooded the small space. Grimalkin the ship’s cat was soundly asleep on the bunk.  Lou said, reaching into a box on the table, “Try this.”

“What is it?” She took the small, thick-skinned fruit from her.

“A lime fruit.”

“A…”

“Lime fruit. Bit like a lemon or an orange.” She took out a knife and cut it in two, gave one to Polly and sucked the other half herself.

Polly did the same and grimaced. “Christ!”

“I know. Bitter. But… for some reason, the juice of these things, along with oranges and lemons will deter scurvy.” She sucked the insides of the fruit, relishing the tart bitterness.

“Scurvy? How so?” She sucked the lime, clearly not liking it.

“No one knows. My dad told me that it was the Portuguese Admiral Vasco da Gama who worked it out over a hundred years back but even he didn’t know the way it worked. Just knew that it did.”

“And it really works?” Her tone was frankly sceptical.

“None of my lads have ever had scurvy, love.” She took another suck of the fruit. “I always make sure we’ve got this sort of thing on board. That and lemons and oranges. Stuff like that.”

“Fresh stuff like this, it must be expensive.”

“Sure, it is. Costs an arm and a leg…” She stopped at Polly’s ironic grin. “Just a figure of speech! But men with scurvy can’t fight or be an effective crew, now can they?”

“No, I suppose not.” She sucked the lime dry and sighed.

“I think it’s time you and I turned in, don’t you?”

“Of course.”

They were about to undress when there was a sudden, loud commotion of running and shouting out on the quay.

They went to the door and she flung it open.

George had run out the gangplank and she thought, oh, fucking hell, it’s Harry!

She was wrong. Two men came on board and George spoke hastily with them. He came to her, his face ashen in the bright moonlight.

She said, “George! What is it?”

He looked extremely distressed. “Louisa!”

“What is it?”

“It’s… Mary from the King Charles!”

She gripped his arm. “Tell me!”

“Christ, Lou! She’s been murdered!”

Polly put her arm about Louisa’s shoulder, both of them weeping.

Johnny came to them. “Aye, Louisa.” Despair in his voice. “Found her in a back alley.”

Louisa tried to wipe away her tears. “Oh, good God in His heaven. Mary.”

George nodded and wept with her.

 

To be continued…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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