Peg Leg Louisa 07
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.
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?”
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.”
“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?”
“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.
“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.
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!”
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?”
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
“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 05
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.”
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.”
“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?”
“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.”
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.”
“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?”
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…