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A Novel


Gentle Morgan is a work of fiction that includes historical characters. An account of life inside Dartmoor prison during the early years of the nineteenth century can be found in: The Paradox of Dartmoor Prison written by Reginald Horsman and published in the American Heritage magazine, (Volume XXV1, 1975). It describes how the gaol was built primarily to house captured French soldiers from the Napoleonic wars, but later included American troops caught in sea battles when the United States declared war on Britain in 1812. It also gives an account how the prison governor bribed a captured giant-sized African slave called Richard Crafus to control the inmates and report any plans to riot or escape. When the war ended the article describes how, when Crafus was repatriated, he didnt return to the plantations and made a successful career as a prize fighter. The prison break out described in the story is pure fiction. Another real life character in the narrative is Captain Bligh, of Bounty mutiny fame. He had risen to the rank of Admiral and frequently went to sea, but there is no historical evidence that he was set adrift a second time. Descriptions of life in New Orleans may be found in Hervey Allens 1934 best seller: Anthony Adverse and Herbert Asburys 1936 book: The French Quarter. Accounts of sea warfare were taken from The War of 1812 by Benson Lossing, published in 1976. If readers have trouble locating the Devon seaport town of Dock, it is due to the fact it was subsequently renamed Devonport. Paul Wheeler, November 2011.

CHAPTER ONE On April the fourteenth 1805, James Morgan celebrated his tenth birthday. To say he celebrated may be pitching the mood a little high since he spent the first few hours burying his best friend Robbie Ash. When the dawn bell clanged, jerking the apprentices from their mattresses like marionettes, Robbie hadnt moved. It was a rule of the farm that the last boy to the breakfast table didnt eat, so each morning began with a frantic scramble. James yelled Robbies name and gave him a dig with his toe as he stumbled past to head butt the wall of bodies before him at the top of the stairs. Then someone shouted: Sall right, Robbies it today, and the pushing subsided. James felt his stomach turn over. Robbie was a light sleeper, usually the first out when a handbell shattered the silence, but he hadnt responded to either his name or the kick. He lay still, oblivious of the frosty nip in the air, and his blanket that had fallen on the floor. There was a familiarity about the scene, a ritual that had been performed before. James doubled back, trying to pretend he thought nothing was wrong: Shake it up, Rob. When he touched the lads skinny shoulder, he knew there would be no more punishments for Robbie that day or any other. He scurried downstairs to inform the Masters housekeeper Annie, a flat-faced girl of nineteen, who merely shrugged and told him to bring the body down. Can I have my breakfast first? You know the rules, she said. You were last. I wasnt. Robbie is. Hes dead. He dont count. Other boys, inbetween cramming their mouths from a communal bowl of mashed turnips, offered to fetch him, but Annie was proud of her power. Dint you ear me, I told im . Now bugger off or Ill tell the Master you bin cheeking me. Go on. I gonna count to ten This got them going and they shuffled through the door complaining as they met the piercing wind gusting off the moor. About how Annie always chose Morgan to do things that got him off work. How hed tickle her up and say she was pretty. It was a regular litany and James denied

nothing. Dunno how you could do it, theyd mutter, keeping an eye on Annies back, making sure she didnt hear. Touch them warts. Id ruther scrub out the pigpens any day. James would merely smile and say he wished he had their principles. His precocious command of the mother tongue meant few of the boys understood a word he said, but they let him alone assuming he was being complimentary. After they left he helped himself to the turnip mash and Annie no longer insisted on the rules. She was a strange being he thought, watching her perform a series of aimless trips around the room. She took a jug from the mantel and placed it on the table. A moment later she put it back, then dragged a chair from one wall and lined it up against another rucking the threadbare carpet, then spent a whole minute straightening it, meticulously stepping on the edges to press them inch by inch flat against the uneven flagstones. He sometimes wondered if she was a bit touched. She once told him she had worked at the farm for as long as she could remember. Her duties were to get the apprentices out of bed, make their breakfast and see they were outside and ready for work within half an hour of first light. She also cooked the Masters meals and cleaned the house. In two years time she would be twenty one. She would, James calculated, be the first person he had known to complete an apprenticeship. Probably the first in all Devonshire; in all England. The life expectancy of an apprentice was not lengthy. Poor Robbie upstairs was the rule, not the exception. Usually it was illness or exhaustion that took them off, but some were beaten to death. Batt, or the Master as he liked to be known, was rumoured to have killed a few in his time, generally in the mornings when his head and belly were raging from the home-made ale, cider and potato juice swilled down the night before. He didnt bother to deny the rumours since they were the main reason his charges never gave any trouble. A few had run away and were never seen again. Not that they got very far. To abscond was to meet certain death on the moors, either from exposure or drowning in the vast network of bogs. Staying alive became a full time occupation for the foundlings, euphemistically known as apprentices, sent to High Tor Farm. For those with enough imagination to debate the merits of clinging to a life that offered nothing but hardship and misery, there was always a length of

rope and a beam in the cowbarn, and during Jamess time there, three lads had chosen that route. But not him. He was pleased, proud even, that he had reached double figures in one piece. Above average height, lithe as a whip, he liked it when the others called him Skim on account of looking like cream at the top of the milk; pale and thin. Not that there was much flesh on any of them, but it was his height that accentuated his narrow frame. Although nobodys idea of health and vigour, he hadnt yet succumbed to rickets, scurvy, smallpox, plague, the morbid throat, dysentery, typhus, pleurisy, worms, dropsy, consumption or the kings evil, whatever that might be. Apart from measles he couldnt remember a days sickness and the only time he had been laid up was when an overseer at a previous workhouse broke his arm. Catching his reflection in the window while he ate, he was comforted by the dearth of moles, warts and pockmarks. His nose was straight, a rarity among orphans who had known little but physical abuse from the day they were born. What beatings he had suffered had miraculously missed his face. There were some fellows whose noses had been busted so many times they could push them from side to side like soft clay. As he watched the others through the window gather their digging tools, shivering in the chill of another dawn, he reminded himself that at present, things could be a whole lot worse. Gon bring un down, Annie grunted, leaving the carpet problem for the fireplace where a cauldron of tea brewed. She scooped some bubbling brown water into a tin mug and blew on it, repeating; Go on, I said bring the lad down. James wiped his mouth and went upstairs. When he saw the body, the cosiness of the last few minutes evaporated. Only a few hours ago Robbie had been feeling chipper. Who would have guessed he would not see another dawn? That they would never again laugh or fall about in the fields chucking turnips at one another, eating so many they could belch whole names like Barnstaple and Ilfracombe. James wondered if his friend had been poisoned. It had happened before, hed seen it. Someone digging up a root and biting into it after a quick wipe. How their face would twitch in pain, then agony, and end in convulsions. Sometimes it was the lime they mixed in the soil, or the arsenic powder they put down

to kill the moles. But surely, if that had done for him, it would have happened long before the middle of last night. Grief wasnt a new or even a bitter experience. Several times a year he mourned the passing of someone or other. Familiarity had bred not contempt but a numb acceptance of deaths procedures. Robbies passing hadnt affected his appetite or altered his view of the world. Burying him was simply a means to avoid the drudgery of digging furze up on the freezing moors with his ankles deep in mud. He once heard someone say you cant wind back the clock so it doesnt matter what happens, you have to live with it. Anyway, this chunk of cold flesh bore no resemblance to the person he had known. The face displayed none of Robbies mercurial features; his eyes were never so dull, so fixed, so uninteresting when there had been a lively brain behind them. The corpse was that of a stranger, he told himself as he heaved it over his shoulder, and the burial simply meant, if he could stretch it that far, three hours off working at his own pace . Annie watched him clump down the stairs. What took un? she asked, twisting her head to stare into Robbies face hanging down Jamess back. I dont know. Dont look like he had no fever, nothing like that. Wheres he to go? She lifted the bowl of mash off the table and put it close to the fire. With the others in the west meadow I shouldnt wonder, but wait till Master says, or therell be trouble. He was happy with that. Batt wasnt an early riser, and judging from the noise hed made last night, hed been drunker than usual. He had no call to get up at all, not with fifteen apprentices to run the farm. Well, fourteen now. Say he comes down at eight, takes a while to eat breakfast before giving his instructions, another two hours to dig a pit and cover Robbie over. With a bit of luck he wouldnt have to join the rest until gone noon. Dont leave un there, take un outside! Annie snapped as he flopped Robbie into a chair. She held the door open against the wind and he hauled the corpse out and propped it against the wall. It fell sideways and the head slapped into the mud. He heaved it upright but it fell over again. This time he let it lay.

Annie allowed him take a mug of tea and sit beside her, feeling his insides tingle warmly as the brew slid down. Im ten today, he said. The news didnt set her on fire. Who says? April the fourteenth, seventeen hundred and ninety five. Thats when I was born. Who says? They told me. Who told you? She sounded angry, as if no-one had the right to be so definite about themselves. One of the places. They had it down in a book. Dont believe no books, Annie sniffed. They can put what they like in books. She was right to be sceptical and he knew it. There was no earthly way of telling the precise moment of his birth. Or even the month or the year come to that. His earliest memories were of a parish poorhouse surrounded by dozens of other children who, like him, had been swept up from the streets of Dock or Plymouth, windfalls of fleeting grapples between sailors and girls of the town. They represented a minute proportion of abandoned babies inconveniently found by do-gooding passersby and dumped on the authorities who would pay to have them taken away the moment they were old enough to work. He had heard that ninety nine out of a hundred such newborn foundlings die within an hour. Of those who survive to reach a workhouse, only a handful lived to see their fifth birthday. The fact that he had survived these hurdles and actually got to ten had forged in him an optimism that no-one would destroy. You have to start somewhere, he persisted. Todays my birthday, and Im ten years old. Annie didnt respond and the conversation withered. The tea and the fire were making him drowsy. What if the Master came down and found him asleep? He ought to go outside, look busy. To stay there risked a beating, and possibly a quick trip to wherever Robbie was now. On the other hand, he had never felt so relaxed. After all, it was his birthday. He envied Annie. She always had a fire to work by and never needed to leave the house. Once the getting up and breakfast were over, there was little else for her to do except feed the Master and push a broom around.

Not that Batt would notice dirt. He left her alone since without her he would starve. There was nothing seriously wrong with the lass. A bit daft in the head but that was all right. She must like him a little because she didnt order him about as much as the others The mug slipped from his fingers, spilling tea into his lap. He woke with a yelp and stood up fast, wiping his groin. For a fleeting second Annies stone hard face creased. Serves un right. Then the grin dissolved. Look at the mess un made! Any road, what you doin, sleepin here? You get outside or Ill tell Master you bin cheeking me. James mopped up under her hostile gaze and went outside. A searing northerly bullied the low clouds across a bleak sky, shoving them out to sea. He hurried across the cobbled yard to the cowbarn where he could bed down for an hour. But the straw was sodden, useless. Batt hadnt repaired the outhouses for years and the gales forced rain through the gaps to seep into the hay. So the livestock lost its winter feed, sickened and died. The few labourers who hadnt left to try their luck elsewhere stole wholesale and accused the apprentices. As High Tor Farm tottered towards collapse, Batt apportioned the blame equally between the thieving brats he had generously given a roof, and Napoleon. The former for gnawing away at the countrys fabric from the inside, the latter from without. Were it not for the five pound premium he received for each orphan, he would never have another in the house. The main problem, however, the cause of the national malaise as he saw it, were the farm workers who upped and left without so much as a by your leave. Disloyalty, that was the cancer eating away at the English spirit, Batt reiterated each evening as he filled his first jug. Traditional values were being thrown aside, the age-old bond between master and servant rejected for the sake of what the labouring classes called good relations. Good relations! Since when were good relations required to get the harvest sown and reaped? Damn those foreigners and their revolutions. Putting such ideas into mens heads. He could see it all coming here; werent there already ominous signs all around? The American colonies snatching independence from mad King George, mutinies in the navy there was no authority any more. Where would it all end?

So the only labour available came from the local poorhouses. Mind you, there was another way to look at this. It seemed extravagant to pay workers a shilling a day and supply them with food and cider when the parish was prepared to give money to take in a child who could be trained to perform the same chores. Granted, not being able to dismiss them was inconvenient, but you could make merry with the whip or set them in the treadmill and hope they would run off and die on the moors. Only if you had the misfortune to come up against a parish officer with a conscience were you required to explain the childs disappearance, but there were precious few of them snooping about. And those who did call on him usually accepted his version that they had wantonly left, and agreed with his views on why the nation was going to the dogs. James had heard these arguments from the day he arrived two years ago. The Master regaled anyone who came within earshot, and after half a gallon of scrumpy, it didnt matter whether anyone was present or not. The walls of his study became his audience, bearing the brunt of his frustrated rage. To the boys Batt was merely an adult, an enemy to be avoided at all costs. Grown ups were people who gave you life, then spent the rest of their time trying to take it away. Whether dressed as soldiers, poorhouse supervisors, magistrates or doctors, they were set only on correcting the mistake they had once impulsively made. Children blighted ambition, squandered savings, upset tranquillity. Unlike dogs, they refused to obey orders and no matter how well you cared for them, they never showed a bit of gratitude and when they grew up, they disappeared without a word of thanks. James had never come across one adult who had given him a moments kindness or a helping hand. Not that it bothered him. Like rain makes you wet, they were merely a fact of life. He passed two hours in the barn, hunched in a corner struggling to fend off sleep. The few times he nodded off he would jerk awake in panic. What time was it? Was Batt up? Had he stumbled over Robbies body? He imagined Annie saying: James Morgan put it there, Master. He went off, sleepin in the haybarn I shouldnt wonder Blowing into his hands, he found a hole in the wall and peered across at Robbie slumped over in the mud, and Annie moving past the window. With still no sign of Batt, he crossed the yard and went back inside. Master woke up yet? he asked Annie.


She pointed at the rotting straw dragged in on his boots. Look at that, just when I cleaned the floor. You wait tilla Master come down. Ill tell him you bin cheeking me. He bent to pick up the debris so she wouldnt see him smile at her one regular threat. Annie had no sense of humour and assumed anyone laughing at what she said was making fun of her. She was about to elaborate on what else she would tell Batt when a creak from the ceiling took their attention. James knew it meant the beginning of another day of gauging their employers mood and preparing for the worst. You better not let un see that, she whispered, pointing at the straw. Hell have summing to say about where it come from. James slung it into the flames. Off out with un, she said, shoving him in the back. You shoulda bin gone hours ago. Im not catching it cause a you. You forgot about Robbie, James said. She frowned, her mind slowly turning over and he guessed she had forgotten all about him. Shouldnt I wait to hear where the Master wants him buried? She pondered a moment then snapped: You watch yourself, James Morgan. You got too many words. Words get you in trouble. Her advice was superfluous. As Batts feet stomped unsteadily down the stairs, his heart began to thump his ribcage. The Master was in his early fifties but looked twenty years older. A stooping posture pulled his coat out of shape and saturnine features gave the impression he might at any moment burst into tears. His elderly clothes were rarely changed, often slept in and were stained with the spillage of a thousand pots of alcohol. He had long ago given up looking in a mirror and there was always one button somewhere in the wrong hole. This morning the right hand side of his waistcoat was an inch higher than the left and James struggled not to stare for fear of receiving a fist for his insolence. Batts appearance was deceptive. The lack of care, the ravages a nightly session with wicked brews had wreaked on his features gave him the mien of a loveable eccentric. Wispy grey hair fell over the ears and tickled his collar. The long fingers could have belonged to a musician. But the truth that James knew full well was that Batt had long since lost his reason. On the rare occasions they exchanged words, he was convinced the man no


longer understood the English language. That wouldnt have mattered had misunderstanding only led to amused bewilderment. But it often resulted in manic fury. The Master was insane but worse, he was dangerously so, and when he loped into the kitchen, the lad felt his courage seep away. One false word or move and he would be joining Robbie outside, face down in the mud. Whats this? he said, looking nowhere in particular. James stayed silent, avoiding eye contact, hoping he meant some furniture out of place. If you please, Master, teas ready, nice and piping hot just as you like it, Annie began but stopped when Batt swivelled his rheumy eyes onto James. This, he repeated. This, this, this grabbing the boy by the skin beneath his chin and hauling him close enough to make him gag on the smell of vomit and stale wine. Please, sir, James gasped. Robbie Ash is dead! The hold relaxed a fraction as he glanced at Annie. Whats he say? Robbie Ash died last night, Master, she translated. Which ones that? He be outside. By the door. But she had already lost his attention. Letting James go, he scooped up the tea and eased his body into a chair. When he sipped, using both hands to steady the mug, his lower lip trembled, causing his wattles to vibrate. It seemed he had a system of cooling the drink by a rapid blowing motion because the scalding liquid disappeared down his throat in raucous snorts without appearing to burn. Where shall I bury him, Master? James asked. Why arent you out working? Batt was holding his tea in such a way James feared he was about to fling it in his face and he tensed, preparing to duck. In the west meadow, Master? Get out. Batt grunted. James relaxed at the joy of putting distance between them and scooted out of the door. He found a wheelbarrow and curled the carcass inside. The west meadow spread above the farmhouse at the end of a long sloping track that hadnt been re-laid in years. James pulled the barrow backwards over a surface that alternate frosts and floods had sculpted into deep gnarled furrows. The handles kept wrestling from his grasp, pitching the body out every


twenty yards. He was halfway there when he realised hed forgotten to bring a spade and raced back to find one. When he returned two apprentices were trying to put a carrot into Robbies mouth. His gorge rose, but they were older and bigger and he saw no reason why he should lose his front teeth over a dead person, friend or not. Come on, lads, he grinned. Leave him be. Where you planting him? Up in the meadow. Well give you a hand. They were looking for some fun. Previously corpses had sometimes been hung from trees or made into scarecrows. The Master said he was going to check I did it right, he warned as he gripped the handles. Said if the grave aint deep enough, hell put me in instead. The mention of Batt reduced their mischief and they went off, laughing and goosing each other. James reached the meadow but the gate was broken, the bottom wooden rung stuck solid into the frozen ground. This meant he had to lift the body over. After a couple of false starts, he gave up trying to allow Robbie a vestige of dignity, grabbed hold of the ankles and hauled him through the lower bars like a sack of potatoes. Since he had to leave the barrow on the other side, he continued dragging the corpse all the way to the burial corner. There wouldnt be too much digging necessary. Robbie was little over four feet tall and scarcely eighteen inches broad. As James sliced into the grassy topsoil he prayed he wouldnt unearth a previous grave. In his mind a fat worm became a finger, a stone a skull, but after a while he was three feet down into the dense, oozing clay without coming across any human bones. Consumed with the work and lost in his recollections of the times he and the boy he was laying to rest had shared, a voice that spoke above him came as a shock. What are ye doing? He turned to find three boys looking at the body. The speaker was about fourteen, stockily built, seemed well fed and wore an army coat that reached down to a pair of huge boots. The younger lads no older than he


stood at a respectful distance with their hands thrust aggressively into the waistband of home-made pantaloons. Digging a grave, James replied. Ye kill him? No. How dhe die? The lad had a strange accent quite different from the ubiquitous Devon burr and hard to understand. I dont know. James replied. The leader took a step closer to the lip of the hole. Ye dinna know? We live at High Tor Farm. He didnt wake up this morning. I dont know why. He just didnt. He climbed out of the trench and watched while the older boy knelt beside Robbie and wiped mud from his face. Then a pair of arms snaked round Jamess chest from behind, fists interlocking at his breastbone. They began to squeeze hard as he was pushed forwards with someone breathing on the back of his neck. Its the truth! James gasped. He was my friend! The kneeling youth pulled up Robbies chemise and looked at the parchment grey skin stretched tight as a drum over the ribs. Then he stood and nodded for his henchman to release James. Open your coat. He received the same quick examination as Robbie. Apprentice? Yes. Him too? Yes. What farm dye say? High Tor, James said, pointing down the slope. Their leader thought for a moment. Whos the boss? His name is Mister Batt. And whats he like, this Mister Batt? James caught the sarcastic tone and relaxed a little when the youth smiled and his followers giggled. Well, he said, choosing his words carefully since he wouldnt put it past Batt to hire someone to test the loyalty of his charges. Hes very strict, but on the other hand Are ye protecting him? Are ye one of his pets?


No As he hesitated, the youth grabbed him by the collar. The both of ye are half-starved, he hissed in his ear. It looks like yer man there died cause he hadna the strength to go on. How often dye eat? Twice a day. What kinda food? James told him. Turnips and bread? Is that all? Ye no get owt else? Meat, fruit? James shook his head then the youth let him go. How many hours dye work? Dawn to sunset. How many apprentices? Fourteen now. The youth looked at the trench. Are there many buried up here? A few. James answered, drawing a smile. Ye think Im from the parish? A snooper maybe? I dont know where youre from, James said, the quaver in his voice bringing snickers from the younger boys. The leader pushed a boot against the clumps of clay piled around the grave. No-one sends in a report when a boy kicks the bucket? Youre just told to dig a hole and stick em down? James wondered why he was asking all these questions. Why should he care how many die? None while Ive been there, he replied truthfully. But Ive heard tell Heard tell what? That hes killed some himself. Hes a toper like you wouldnt believe. He threw caution aside. Hell, if they were Batts men, he had already said too much. Every night hes paralytic drunk. The livestocks unfed for days, and even when the cows are milked, its left more often than not to curdle. The worst time is the mornings when hes got a sore head and looking out to relieve his bile. The youth listened, and when he finished he grinned. Ye know a lot o fine words for a bairn. Dye swallow a dictionary or something? James felt a blush fill his cheeks. Livestock, paralytic, relieve, bile. Ye dont sound like an apprentice to me. What time is yon Master to his bed? Depends, James replied, still bewildered by the interest the lad was showing.


On what? On what hes drinking . Ale, he can go on for hours. But theres something he makes from potatoes that has him snoring in no time at all. The youth absorbed the information then asked his name. James Morgan. One of the smaller boys laughed and said in an affected voice: James -! But their leader wasnt teasing. He came close and drilled his sky blue eyes close into the boys face. Then listen well, James Morgan, he said, stressing both names with a finger prod. Tonight, I want ye to tell all the others to stay awake. Dont let any of them go to sleep. Ye ken? Ken? Understand? He didnt but he nodded. And I want yerself to be waiting ootside. Waiting for what? For me. The moon will be over yonder. He pointed to a row of elms bordering the meadow. When it climbs above the trees, thats when yell sneak out. Is there some place ye willna be seen? Theres a haybarn opposite the main door. Go in there. What if the Master is still awake? He may be a soak, but hes got the eyes and ears of a hawk. The youth thought for a second. Dont come down till you know hes sleeping. Ill be in the barn. The important thing is, you make certain the others all stay awake. He stressed the last instruction by more fingerstabbing on Jamess chest. He wanted to ask more questions but the youth forestalled him by walking away and followed by the others towards a hole in the hedge. Before he ducked through, he turned: Put yer friend deeper down lest ye want the dogs to have him for dinner. Then they disappeared. As James set to, deepening the grave, he replayed the strange encounter in his head. He had never set eyes on any of them before yet they seemed to wander about High Tor property showing no concern that trespassers on farmland were customarily shot. Despite his weird accent, the leader spoke in a way that indicated he was used to giving orders and having them carried out.


Only when he pulled Robbies body into the trench did his throat tighten. Goodbye, Rob, he whispered. He didnt stop shovelling until the grave was filled, then lay down on the soaking grass, his chest heaving and his mind in turmoil. Whatever was planned, he knew Robbie would have approved. He had a premonition that his death would be avenged, although in what way he couldnt imagine. When his lungs returned to normal, he tamped down the earth with his feet until it was firm. On the way back to the farmyard he realised that far from lasting until noon, the burial had taken less than an hour. He thought to go back and kill some more time, but now he had something else to occupy his mind, and the prospect of braving the icy winds up on the moor became less daunting. He had learned long ago that the only way to overcome pain was to retreat into his head. What had set him apart from everyone else when he was six years old was his ability to read. An older boy in one of the orphanages had taught him and he picked it up fast. He read whatever he could lay his hands on and the images, the words, the stories lingered in his brain. How the youth had been impressed just now when he used words like paralytic. He could even spell it. So when the dawn bell pulled him awake to spend a backbreaking day, he shut himself away in mental rooms where it was sunny Persia or Greece, where dragons roamed and heroes fought, where damsels had to be rescued and men gathered around fires and recounted tall tales. While brambles lacerated his hands and legs, he was a million miles away, destroying the forces of evil with a devastating wit, the right word ever ready on his tongue. He had no idea what the stranger was planning but he knew, come what may, they would meet again that evening in the haybarn.


CHAPTER TWO The days work ended at nightfall. The apprentices gathered in the courtyard where Batt or one of the labourers counted their tools and watched while they cleaned them under the pump before returning them to the toolshed. They then washed themselves in the same trough where the pump water drained into before racing inside at the first clang of Annies supper bell. Batt stayed aloof from mealtimes; in fact he had taken of late to reducing his appearances entirely and often stayed up in his room for days at a time. If Annie were in a good mood, she might tell them the Master had started drinking early and warned what kind of mood they could expect. Not that he was likely to go round handing out smiles and pennies, shed say in her rare attempt at humour, but it helped to know whether he was in a stupor or looking for someone to thrash. If he was out cold, the bolder lads sometimes went down to the village and hung around the tavern trying to persuade a mellow drunkard to buy them an ale. That evening James ate in a daze. There were so many plans to follow. All afternoon he had tried to think of a way to tell the others they must stay awake without saying why. It was no good simply to say something important was in the air. Several of the boys were as vacant as Annie, barely able to hold one thought in their head more than two seconds. And he wouldnt put it past Will Trumpton to go up to Batt and ask what the surprise was. Cutting furze had been so intense that afternoon he was given no chance to take the more intelligent ones aside and give them a hint of what was to happen. Besides, the supervising labourer was a cruel man who longed for someone to break the silence rule so he could dunk them in the nearest bog. Looking around the table he listed maybe six he could trust. Hed just tell them something like: Dont ask why, but make sure no-one goes to sleep


tonight. Jack Chandler was a doubtful. He was always envious when Annie favoured James. Leave him out. George Drurys all right, and so was Jethro Johnson and Christian Maybury. The danger was that Batt would stay awake longer than usual. Despite the rigours of the day the boys remained lively until around nine oclock, horsing about, letting off steam. But then they all collapsed at once, when weariness descended like a blanket and the dormitory echoed to a symphony of snores and sleep talking. Better to take it one step at a time. Dont anticipate. Deal with circumstances as they arise. Only speak to those you can trust. A glance through the window showed the night was clear and the moon visible. In two hours it would be over the trees in the west meadow. There was something impressive about the stranger who had admired his vocabulary that morning. He didnt waste words when asking questions, and he always waited for an answer. His actions seemed planned, purposeful. Like the moment when he examined Robbies body and vented his anger at how he had clearly been starved. James was beginning to feel the first pangs of hero worship, imagining the youth to be the elder brother he had always longed for. Someone to stand up for him and fight his battles. James understood at an early age that it wasnt in his nature to take command. Possessing neither the strength nor personality to bend the will of others merely by giving them instructions, he realised that if he were to get his way, it had to be by other means. When he learned to read and build a vocabulary, he discovered words had powers that exceeded guns and muscle. They were like playing cards. Present them cleverly and you win, and poorly you lose; times when you speak and times you hold your tongue; times when you show you are smart, and times when wide-eyed ignorance wins the day. He had developed the art of feeling out his opponents and studying their characteristics. How it was useful to imitate the rhythm of their speech. If they laugh, do the same; if they dont, stay solemn. If they speak fast or slowly, the chances are they will favour someone who does the same. He learned to respond to a lexicon akin to their own. You may not get prizes for integrity, but you avoid the bone-crunching altercations he had seen between people who didnt know how to defuse an argument.


His relationship with Annie was a case in point. Next to Batt, she wielded most power in the household, putting the fear of God into them by threatening to report their misbehaviour. And yet she talked more to him than anyone else. If he bided his time she would change her mind about denying him food or making him clean the latrines or the chimneys. The worst jobs always fell to someone else. The rumours that this was because he was willing to do dirty things to her were unfounded. What favours she bestowed upon him she did unconsciously, unaware he was touching a deeply concealed vein of compassion. And there lay James Morgans most valuable asset: he could extract sympathy from the coldest heart. Watching Annie ladle turnip mash into their tin platters, he decided she should be included in whatever was going to happen. After all, she was an apprentice and he had been told to alert everyone. But wouldnt she run straight to tell Batt? She may have never exercised her threat to report those who cheeked her, but equally she had never shown any sign of being unhappy with her lot at High Tor. No-one had ever seen Batt strike her. She even had a room of her own. James chose the word for the condition in which he found himself. It was a dilemma. Tell Annie and risk being reported; dont and risk her being what killed? He decided to postpone the decision. Later, when the strangers plans were known, he would make up his mind. After supper was cleared and everyone retired upstairs, he drew aside the chosen five and took them through the main events of his day, ending with the need to stay alert. They all demurred. Why should they? Just because he had met someone who was likely to be as daft as a brush? Everyone was dog-tired and some of the younger ones were already nodding off. Jack Chandler came over and wanted to know what all the whispering was about. He warned against listening to Skim, saying he put on airs just because he knew a few long words and rubbed Annie where she liked it. George Drury let him in on the discussion. Stay awake to do what ? I dont know, James said, tired of repeating himself. His own energy was waning and he knew he wasnt holding their attention. Why hadnt the youth with the strange accent told him what they intended? Was it nothing but a hoax played on gullible foundlings?


A crash echoed through the walls followed by a phlegmy snarl. Batts at it, Jethro Johnson observed. Lets suppose for the sake of argument that the boy really did have something up his sleeve, James thought. He was too cautious to spell it out and risk having someone leak to the Master. Suppose all fourteen apprentices were needed to help. Surely he wasnt including the six and seven year olds? Then why must everyone stay awake? There was no question of a mass desertion, of walking off into the moors at dead of night. While some poured cold water on his requests, he wondered whether he was losing his touch in estimating other people. The youth that morning had sounded so confident, decisive. Or was he merely a trickster, passing an idle hour amusing himself? All I can say is, he said, not telling the whole truth, he promised there would be food for everyone. He said he would feed us? Christian Maybury asked in wonder. Yes. Why? Wheres his profit in that? James pretended to lose patience. All right. Anyone who cant abide the thought of eating fresh rabbit or deer, whos so keen on Annies splendid turnips that the idea of anything else turns them green, let them get their heads down. He went to the window. The moon was travelling towards the hill. It would be some time before Batt quietened down and already some of the children were fast asleep, thumbs in their mouths. He would have to shake them awake when or if the time came. The grave-digging had sapped much of his own strength but there wasnt a shred of doubt in his mind the youth had not meant what he said. He couldnt believe it had only been a prank. The Masters tipsy drooling began to turn sour according to the regular pattern. He would start with a few cackling laughs and a snatch of song. This ended when something fell or was knocked over and curses took charge. Gradually his muttering increased to shrieks of rage, a protest against a world that every day conspired to frustrate him. At this point, the boys held their breath. If their mad guardian decided to run amok, this was the moment, when he was still on his feet. All it required was a fleeting thought of some imagined wrong by an apprentice that day; an


error, a sideways look, and he would grab a whip and blunder into the dormitory seeking his manic version of retribution. But the ranting subsided and after a few muffled sobs, silence settled on the house. James went round and counted six boys fast asleep. While the rest lay staring up at the rafters, he removed his boots and went downstairs, avoiding those he knew squeaked. Praying Annie hadnt made any last minute furniture arrangements, James felt his way through the blackness to the fireplace where a few remaining embers had survived Annies nightly dowsing and lit up the way to the window. Three more steps brought him to the door and a second later he stepped out into the crisp night air. The barn lay in silhouette across the yard. If the youth had only been joshing, then the boys upstairs were going to have a high time letting him know what a fool he had been. The barn door creaked as he leaned on it, and his head twitched round to check the window of Batts upstairs quarters but nothing moved Out of the darkness a familiar voice hissed his name James? . Yes. As he stood glued to the floor, something moved, rustling the hay. His belly tightened like the times when Batt inspected their dormitory. Then a hand fluttered across his face and grasped his neck. Dont be frit. Its me, Jessie. Is he abed? Yes. I can smell smoke. Theres a fire in the kitchen. Its been dowsed but theres still some flames. Good. Now listen, Jamie. He had never been called Jamie before and he thought the youth was addressing someone else. Are ye listening? I can hear you. Bring everyone outside. The thought terrified him. All of them? Tell them if anyone makes a sound, Ill slit their throat. And bring as many clothes and blankets ye can carry. Where are we going? James asked. When theyre all out, report back here. Dye heed me?


The penny dropped. He was Scottish. He had heard sailors speak this way in Plymouth. They cuffed your ears if you called them English. I understand. If Batt wakes up, dont stop. Just get all yer laddies away. Hes got a gun by his bed. Dinna fash yersen, Jessie said. Well take care of that. Now stop yer wittering and go. A hand shoved him towards the door. What did take care of that mean? No matter. He was committed now. There was no turning back. James slipped into his boots and returned inside with nothing like the caution he came out. Upstairs, the others had obeyed his bidding and everyone was awake and on their feet. He whispered Jesses orders about taking clothes and blankets, then told them to form a line behind him, the younger boys in the middle, with George Drury bringing up the rear. Hold on to the one in front, he hissed. Dont stop for anything. Not even if you hear Batt. Keep moving, no matter what. Everyone ready? Here we go. A crocodile of perplexed boys shuffled down the stairs, one hand around their clothes, the other hanging on to the shirt of the person in front. James controlled the urge to race down helter skelter and set a deliberate, careful pace, letting a second pass before taking the next step. When one of the young ones whimpered, someone shushed him and they descended like players in a strange game where everyone pretended to be blind. Through to the kitchen, where the hearth still exuded a cosy warmth, sparks flickering among the deep ash. James recalled Jesse asking where the fire was A snort and a thump came from above the ceiling and he froze, his alarm passing down the line stopping the rest in their tracks. One of the boys whispered Batts name. Keep going, dont stop, James whispered. They heard Batts wheezing cough and a string of mutters. Then someone collided with the coal scuttle and by the time they reached the door, all attempts at stealth were abandoned. James remembered Jesse saying it didnt matter if the Master awoke. A simple enough command to give but hard to obey, but he flung the door open. Run to the haybarn. Go!


Jesse and his followers were already in their sight and approaching. Disciplined and drilled, they flitted across the cobbles carrying what looked like truncheons. Show us the fire, Jessie snapped. grabbing James by the arm. He led them into the kitchen and watched as they shoved their sticks into the redhot ash, kneeling to blow, reviving the flames. The glow spread and he could see the sticks had strips of hessian tied to one end which began to smoke, then seep into flame. Two thoughts hit him simultaneously. One, it was obvious they were going to burn the place down. Two, Annie was still in her room. Theres a girl up there, he told Jesse. The Scot swore a complicated oath. Where? In the room next to Batts- Fetch her, but be damn quick. His friends fanned out through the ground floor targeting the curtains. As they smouldered into flame, the rooms grew brighter, filling with smoke. Laughing like cheerful workmen, Jesses boys broke the windows to let the night breezes fan the swift spreading conflagration. Upstairs, James ran down the hallway to Batts quarters. He had only been in this part of the house a few times and was unsure of the directions. On the landing he turned right along a corridor with four doors. He knew Batt lived at the end but which one was Annies? He opened the first, scenting acrid smoke leaking up through the floorboards, but it was empty. So was the next. There was only one left besides the Masters quarters and he burst in calling her name. There was a bed, but it was empty. By now downstairs echoed to the sound of thumping feet. Smoke was drifting upwards in great swirls that stung his lungs. Where was she? He stood quaking at Batts door. No time for fear now. He twisted the handle. Whos that? Annies voice. So she lived in the end room. Then where was Batt? Its me, James, he said, starting to choke. Get out quick. The house in on fire. What un mean afire, I put it out


He moved inside. Moonlight illuminated a large bed where Annie was sitting up. He pulled off the blankets and found Batt recumbent beside her. Come on, or youll be roasted. She choked on the fumes coming through the door and turned to shake Batt but grabbed her arm. Theres no time. Leave him. Please dont argue, he prayed, not here, not now. A moment passed. Then she slid out of the bed. Take all the clothes you can, he told her. She reached under the bed and pulled out a pile in a basket while he rolled up the blanket. Then he dragged her downstairs where the rooms were bright as day, and the heat and smoke stifling. Put the clothes over your face! he yelled, holding his breath and pushing her outside. They stood in silence as the windows glowed and the flames crackled and flickered, devouring the kitchen. Annie stood silently clutching her clothes. James had expected a torrent of abuse about what he thought he was he doing and who were all these other people, but she never moved except to shudder under her sailcloth nightgown. He draped the blanket over her shoulders and they waited until Jesse finally led out his team. Here was one time, James decided, when Annie was unlikely to tell the Master the boys had been cheeking her. Tell yer friends were leaving, Jesse ordered, then looked into Annies blank, unsurprised face. Are ye all right, lassie? When she didnt reply, James turned a finger against his temple behind her back and he understood. He called the apprentices out of the barn then, without being told, they flung their torches onto the bales. Jesse called on everyone to take the track leading to the west meadow. The boys stood a moment longer to watch the house, and now the barn, crackle and glow before moving off. At the top of the slope, James peered back at the home he had known for the past two years as it began to light up the dark sky. He half expected, half hoped even, to hear Batt screaming in agony. Luckily there was no time to reflect on what he had done, which was nothing less than allow another human being to be burned alive. Batt was an evil man in the real sense of the word, a monster who imposed fear and misery on everyone around him. But whether such faults deserved a death as hideous as this


was a question he left unresolved. Jesse called them to get a move on, saying they had a long way to go and the soldiers would arrive as soon as the flames were seen. They headed south towards the English Channel; that much James guessed by the salty tang coming in on the chill wind buffeting the refugees as they followed a zigzag route through the fields, then onto the moor where Jesse led the way with insouciant confidence. James stumbled in his wake, admiring his precision and the way his men did their jobs without commands. The Scottish leaders army coat suited the military exactness of the operation. The youthfulness of his henchmen, some scarcely older than James, had given the burning of High Tor farm the appearance of a game. He imagined their target was a French stronghold and they were British troops on a daring night mission. Soon they would be aboard a clipper catching the tide back to England where the king would reward their bravery and the nation would fete them as heroes. These reveries kept him occupied during what turned out to be a trek of several miles. Jesse was short on sympathy for the younger boys who began to lag behind and told them if they didnt keep pace, he would leave them for the wildcats. He informed James that it was his responsibility to make sure everyone kept moving at a pace. On they stumbled into a brine-filled wind that stung their eyes. Christian Maybury, Jethro Johnson and George Drury helped keep the youngsters on their feet and even Annie lent a hand. When one fell and lay crying, she carried him in her arms. She said they were free now, free of the Master. They would never again have to race downstairs to breakfast terrified of going without, nor live in dread of the whip or the treadmill. She told them it was all going to be smiles and pennies from now on. James only hoped Annie was right. Jesse finally called a halt below the brow of a hill that abutted the Channel and motioned James to follow him to the top where they sat and gazed down at the water gently lapping over the shore rocks. He explained they were in a wide indent into the coastline that made a natural harbour. Jamess knowledge of the sea was scant and he couldnt remember the last time he had even seen it. What youre looking at is Plymouth Sound,


Jesse explained. We live here because its protected from the winds. Where? Theres caves all along these hills. They may not have every comfort, but theyre warm and theyre safe. They dont belong to folk like your late Mister Batt. They belong to us. He cackled at Jamess blank expression. Come on. Seeings better than words. After yelling orders to bring the rest of the refugees, he raced James down the hill towards the shore.

CHAPTER THREE James woke with a start and for some panicky moments couldnt fathom where he was. Was he dreaming? He pinched his cheek. No, this was the real world sure enough, but where was the dormitory? How did he come to be lying in a shallow trench wrapped in a blanket? Above his head stretched a craggy stone roof. Slowly the veil lifted off his memory. There had been a fire. High Tor Farm was burned to the ground. There followed a long trek across the moors. The Scots boy had told him to sleep in a cave and promised to show all of them round in the morning. He dimly recalled collapsing into the dugout. A babble of voices filtered in from outside, mixed with the high-pitched laughter of children; sounds he had never heard before. Easing stiffly to his feet, he hobbled to the mouth of the cave. The sun was low and shining directly into his eyes. Below stretched a sandy beach where from dunes to the water, dozens of children milled around a series of fires. The breeze carried pungent smells of cooking things he couldnt identify. All he had ever known was Annies turnip mash, with an occasional potato variant, but it smelled nothing like this. Here were aromas that made him salivate and played havoc with his stomach. He had never felt so hungry in his life. A couple of girls passed carrying driftwood to a nearby blaze where two others crouched around a tin perched on a tripod over the flames. They fed in the fresh fuel underneath, building up the heat.


All the way up the sands people moved to and fro like ants, carrying, picking up, putting down, beating wet clothes, twisting them in their hands to squeeze out the water. In the distance a row of boys stood on the rocks with long fishing rods held downwards, their tips resting on the surface of the water. One gave a yank and a silver flash came arcing out of the sea and fell flapping at his feet. It was busier than the usual township, and the fact that the population was made up entirely of children made the scene so unreal that James pinched his cheek again. He reckoned there were two hundred, aged between babes in arms to sixteen years. Some of the girls had breasts like Annie, and a boy went past sporting a thin beard. But there were no adults. No throaty voices yelling commands, no beefy arms snapping bull whips. He slid down the rocks and walked the length of the beach. He had never seen children work without someone threatening to flay their hides. Hitherto, labour had only been created by brutal demands; it wasnt meant to be enjoyed. Yet here were people beavering away with a cheerful vigour. He watched a lad swing an axe half as big as himself onto a pile of wood, smashing it into pieces that were collected and distributed among the fire makers. While they scrubbed washing at a rock pool, girls actually sang. Surely a crowd of soldiers would soon appear round the headland and start breaking heads. Even when he realised this wasnt going to happen, James found it impossible to let down the guard he had held high every day of his life. He saw George Drury wandering about in a similar daze. They watched children holding tin platters form orderly lines at the fires and receive something scalding hot that they blew on and gingerly tasted. The wind dispersed billowing black smoke across the scene. James caught a whiff and asked a girl what she was cooking. What you think? I dont know. Thats why I asked. There was no need to treat him like an idiot. She pointed to a plate of freshly caught fish, some still weakly flapping. What are they, apples? she snorted. George Drury tried to pick one up but it flipped out of his hands onto the sand.


Look what you done, you clumsy haporth! the cook yelled, sounding like Annie. Go and wash it off. Go on. George picked it up and headed for the lapping tide but she called him back. Not in the sea, you daft loon, youll lose him. She pointed to where the washers were crouched on their haunches around a rock pool. Blushing puce, George changed directions and dunked the fish. It got free and the washers squealed as they tried to scoop it up. The girl doling out the food glanced at James: Your friend looks cracked. Eventually George returned with the fish and was told to hold it steady by a cook who threaded a wire through the mouth down to the tail. Now hold it over the flames and turn it, she said. George tried, but the wire grew hot and he dropped it into the flames to another chorus of abuse. You never cooked fish? one of the girls asked. Ive never even seen one, he admitted. After more gasps of disbelief, one turned to James and barked: You dont know what they are neither, I suppose. He could do little but let his tongue hang out and speak slowly like a dolt: Yeah, I know about fish. Fish swim cause they can hold their breath a long time under water. This broke the ice and the ribbing subsided, the cooks remembering they hadnt known much either before they arrived here in similar circumstances.. Where you from? High Tor Farm. Wheres that? He tried to explain, but all he could do was point inland. You run away? Yes. That were brave. Do you know someone called Jesse? James asked. The girls returned to amazement. Do we know Jesse? one cried. I think hes a Scotchman , he added, puzzled when they fell about giggling.


We know who he is! Jesses the boss. It was him who brung us here. All of you? They reckon hes got a price on his head back home. What for? Strangling a magistrate. The beak sent his brother to swing for thieving, so he The girl drew a finger across her throat. She dropped a blackened fish onto a tin and held it out at James. Seeing youre new, you can push in just this once. Tomorrow you wait your turn. Watched by George, he took the stiff hot shape between his fingers and bit on one end. The bones pricked the top of his mouth and he fumbled to pick them out. After a while, George started at the other end and before long they were tearing into the flesh, discovering there was an alternative to turnip mash after all, and it tasted wonderful. Around mid-morning Jesse appeared with several dead rabbits tied to a pole. Each evening his men laid traps in the fields and it was a poor night that didnt yield a few rabbits, squirrels, even field mice. He took the catch to a cave where James and George Drury stood looking wide-eyed at crates of potatoes, cabbages, carrots, apples, and some huge things Jesse called pineapples. At the last count, he said, there were a hundred and fifty of us. Lately we had some of them leave. Thats why I brought you here, James Morgan. We can always do with some fresh blood. Where does all the others come from? George Drury asked. All over. Some are apprentices like yerselves. Most of them have no idea where they got started. Go into Dock or Plymouth any day of the week and yerll find bairns wandering the streets, no-one to look after them, no idea how they got born. Just one day they woke up and there they were. We tell em theres a life to be had out here. Were too far out of town for soldiers to round anyone up. Ye get a few strollers along the beach but they take one look at us and theyre away at a canter. So long as we keep our noses clean, nobody bothers us. By that, I mean we dont thieve on our doorstep. We dont go near the local farms as that would be asking for trouble. All the veg and fruits here comes from the towns. Thats where its worth dipping a pocket. If ye stay, yell be doing yer share of pilfering and need to learn the rules. Theres been a few who thought they knew


better and they ended up face down in the water. Ye dont put a friend in danger because ye think he may know a trick or two. Any questions? Whos the Master? Jessie laughed. If ye mean whos in charge, yere looking at him. But call me Master and Ill tan yer hide. He led them along the dunes. I decide when we need new recruits, where to get em and who to accept. Ye seen this coat. He tugged at the outsize lapel. I got it off a dead soldier Floating in the river, head stoved in. He hadna use of it no more so I took it to show Im chief o this clan. But dinna fash yerselves. The coats as far as the army goes wius. The only stuff ye own outright here are yer weeds. Everything else, food, firewood, money, geegaws, whatever, goes into yon cave and shared out. Anyone stealing for himself is out on his neck. Dye ken? Ken means understand, James remembered and nodded. Thats the most important lesson if ye want to stay, Jesse went on spouting instructions James guessed must have been said a hundred times. Like when the poorhouse keepers took you in and gave you the dos and donts. Yell be given a job. Boys fish, trap and go into town, the lasses cook and wash. Some swap sides and thats all right as long as ye can do the work. Our best dip is a girl. And we have a lad or two can run up an unco fair meal. You apprentices have been locked up in poorhouses and such like, so you aint good for much of anything at the start, but yell learn. Then, after a well-rehearsed pause, he added: Yed better. Or ye can sling yer hook. They came to a small cave scooped out of the side of a dune with a curtain across the entrance. Pulling it aside, Jesse led them in. Planking reinforced the roof and the walls, and a carpet stretched over the floor. In the gloom at the far end stood a cot where a girl lay sleeping covered with blankets and an eider down quilt. I made it myself, Jessie said. Ye want to do the same, go ahead as long as ye tell me first. I wont have yer setting up home any place yer may fancy. Were a community and we stay close. There may come a day when we have to defend ourselves. Last year some Frenchies landed up the coast a ways. Did ye not know that? Of course not. Ye probably dont know were at war wiem. Ye never heard of Napoleon?


General Napoleon Bonaparte, James announced proudly, accenting the last letter of the second name. Emperor now, laddie, Jesse corrected. When he showed off his learning, he thrust out his chest and prodded listeners with a finger. And if he has his way, hell soon be Emperor of England. Thats why theres soldiers all over Devon. France is a spit away across the water and their ships pass here all the time. So stay alert. Therell come a time when well be called to defend the land against yon foreign devils. The girl turned over in her sleep and dislodged the quilt. She was wearing nothing and James caught a glimpse of a breast and a large purple nipple. He felt his face redden and turned away quickly but Jesse saw him. He pointed to the cot. Yon lassies mine, he said curtly although James remembered him saying only clothes were privately owned. Ye both are a mite young to think on such things yet but remember what I say. I wont tolerate rape and suchlike. If any lassie here gets interfered with, the molester takes a one way trip out to sea. Clear enough? Neither he nor George Drury had much idea what interfering with or molesting involved. Rape was a word he had read about but didnt understand. Jokes among the boys back on the farm had talked about tickling Annie, but that had only been a game. He wouldnt have thought it merited a drowning. The girl woke up and called Jesses name. He told them to find one of the boys he called his under officers who would find them work and a place to sleep. As they passed out through the curtain, James saw him move towards the cot and take off his coat. He also noticed a startling change come over Annie who continued showing her cooking abilities. The other girls encouraged her to use a comb, paint her cheeks and draw charcoal lines around her eyes. She soon became unrecognisable from the drudge of High Tor Farm, and when Jesse told her she looked pretty, her face went deep red and she almost swooned. The boys were divided into groups according to age. The under sevens scoured the beaches for driftwood and kindling material and were taught where to find worms and maggots for the older lads designated the colony fishers.


It was Jesses rule to keep the under tens within the community, a policy laid down in the early days when they had drifted into town to be caught stealing and flogged, then sold back to the factories. The tens and above became Hunters, divided into groups to go in turn to Dock or Plymouth. Stealing victuals was by far the most important assignment, but they had to be carefully selected. Jesse said without fresh vegetables and fruit, you got sick and died. The older boys concentrated on the markets, the eating houses and the harbours, where crates of eatables arrived daily, some splintering as they were off loaded from the ships. Money and valuables came a close second as they could be used to buy what the Hunters failed to filch. Jesses senior lieutenants ran pickpocketing classes. Robbery by force was discouraged since it more often than not resulted in a chase and capture. Jesse argued that if people kept getting assaulted, there would come a time when the soldiers would be sent along the beach to identify the source of the trouble and wipe them out. The class teachers told their pupils where purses were kept on the body, and how to relieve a man of a watch or a lady her bracelets without their knowledge. They were shown how to follow drunken matelots until they passed out then rifle their pockets. There was a third industry; whoring. Some of the older girls and boys returned with pockets jingling with money earned from the ever needy men who had been away at sea for weeks, sometimes months. No-one was required to teach prostitution; it was a vocation not a duty, and some practitioners took to their work with zest and brought a heap more cash than the pick pockets. James, George Drury and Jethro Johnson were taken to Dock in the second week of their arrival. The purpose was to learn the best pickings for food and, more importantly, the hazards involved in getting it. If they were to pay their way, Jesse said, the sooner they learned a trade the better. None of them relished the idea and James fought stomach flutters all the way. Theft was a hanging offence, that much he knew. The long reign of King George the Third, or Mad George as he was variously known, had increased the number of offences warranting the death penalty to almost a hundred. Nowadays a man could swing for stealing a loaf of bread, and


neither youth nor even childhood were regarded as mitigating circumstances. Jesse spoke of the business as casually as if he were discussing the weather, the prospect of dangling from a rope arousing no fear in him. But for James and the apprentices, who had always been given their daily victuals, risking their lives to eat was a daunting notion. Freedom, it appeared, carried its own dangerous responsibilities. Dock had been created as a naval yard by King William lll a hundred years before. Incessant sea wars had recently doubled its population to twenty thousand, making it the largest town in Devon and overshadowing its neighbour Plymouth a few miles to the east. Jesse told his pupils his team worked both places alternately. It was his opinion that Dock offered better pickings since it was more awash with falling down drunken matelots, and ships offloading fruit from exotic foreign parts. Waterfronts were judged preferable to steal from than marketeers who had learned to keep an eye on solitary children wandering among their stalls, so it was there Jesse took his students on their first field trip. The first impression James had was of noise; the sheer volume of streets packed solid with everyone from beggars to gentry, teeming with sellers crying their wares, raucous troops and clattering wagons. Taverns were everywhere, some barely yards apart, packed with men and women shouting, laughing, arguing and periodically collapsing outside on the cobbles where men vomited and women lifted their skirts to urinate in the gutters while being sniffed at by scavenging dogs. Sailors staggered past, holding on to one another for support while musket-wielding soldiers swaggered three abreast down the middle of the street, forcing the traffic to move round them. The apprentices, accustomed only to Batt and birdsong disturbing the silence, felt their ears ring as they tried to keep up with Jesse nodding at passersby and whispering: See that bulge? Thats a purse. Hed be good for a shilling or two if it were dark Pushing through the crowds, he surveyed the docks with a hand shielding his eyes against the rising sun. Not much in today, he announced. Hope stirred in Jamess breast. Maybe hell call off the whole thing and go home. No, wait, Over there


He was pointing at crates of oranges. None of the apprentices had seen such a fruit before. James knew it was something to eat, but he had no idea how to go about it. They followed Jesse aping his casual stroll; hands in pockets, looking everywhere but at the target. Dockers hurried past pushing carts and occasionally one would swear at them to get out of the way. Keep an eye out for the dock patrol Jesse said. They wear dark blue jackets and troos, and carry a billy stick. This time a day theyre usually at their dinner. Some of the oranges were still green while others were squashed flat, but most looked juicy and inviting. Jesse stationed Jethro Johnson and George Drury as lookouts then told James to take heed. He slipped a hand between the wooden slats, wriggled his fingers through a string mesh to widen a hole, then began easing out the fruit one by one and as they came through, dropped them down his chemise. Then he nodded for James to do the same. He soon mastered the knack and the fruit thumped down inside his shirt and held in place by a tight belt. But he wondered how was he going to spend the rest of the day sticking out in front? All right, thatll do, Jesse said. He called off the lookouts and led them to the rear of the quay where they transferred the fruit to a discarded sack and stuffed it behind a stack of empty crates. Now well try the markets. By the end of the day James had a fair idea of the system. They sneaked fruit, vegetables, sometimes a piece of meat, by slipping them inside their clothes. Always on the move, the snatch had to be quick while the marketeers back was turned. This meant using both eyes simultaneously in different directions. He learned faster than George Drury or Jethro Johnson, but never rid himself of the fear that as each potato and carrot slipped down his front, a hand would fall on his shoulder. Jesse tried to boost his confidence with a continual flow of compliments, saying he was impressed by his speed and how he would be a great asset to the community; but James was never convinced. He knew he was not made to live at this tension level. The Scotsman revelled in the role of tutor and showed off his expertise in a spectacular way. Spotting what he called a gentleman of substance, he


told the others to watch and take note. Middle-aged and portly, the man wore a dark blue coat, white breeches and a yellow waistcoat embroidered with dentelles and shades of silk. Attached to one buttonhole was the end of a silver chain that ran across his belly to disappear into a pocket. He was standing under a clock tower deep in thought, tapping his teeth with the handle of a malacca cane. Jesse ambled across, tugged his forelock and gave the lop-sided grin of someone missing a few screws. Beg pardon, me lord, he said. The man looked round. Jesse stretched his idiot smile further and pointed upwards: Would you be so kind, your Grace, as to tell me what yonder clock says. While the man ferreted out a pair of lorgnettes and obliged, Jesse fingered the chain loose from the buttonhole, drew a silver fob watch out of the pocket and dropped it inside his blouse. James gasped at the audacity. He couldnt believe the victim didnt feel anything. Jesse gave a polite bow before returning to his audience. Ye have to admit, he grinned as they walked away; taking a mans watch when hes in the process of telling ye the time has a certain poetry. How come he didnt feel it leave his pocket? James asked, feeling its weight after they turned a corner. Och, he was too happy at being called me lord and your Grace, Jesse grinned. Lay on the flattery and theres nothing a mon willna do. Their first blunder came late in the afternoon when the marketeers were preparing to move on to the next town. Basking in the awe of his acolytes led Jesse into carelessness. A ducks carcass lay on a meat cart as the butcher was engaged in hauling down the canopy. Placing his body between the bird and the next door stallholder, he grabbed the neck and pulled. What he failed to spot was a wire curled round one of its legs anchoring it to the cart, and the entire stall gave a creaking lurch. The butcher turned, saw the duck in his hands and yelled: Hey! Run! Jesse snapped, dropping the carcass. Following his earlier instructions, the three hared off in different directions. Their bad luck was compounded by the fact the butcher was a man who didnt give up easily, and when he started his sprint, he chose to go after James, the last off the mark.


Blundering into a maze of back streets, the boy felt the bile of terror well up in his throat. Until now the day had been so good. His reluctance to steal was overcome by the ease of it all, and he was just coming round to believe that thieving was a pleasant way to make a living when this had to happen. Now the mental image of a hangmans noose filled his brain and stayed there. His pursuer knew the layout of the alleys and switched his route to appear ahead of James, blocking his route. People looked curiously as he raced past then to hear the advancing cries: Stop him, stop that thief! One or two tried half-heartedly to trip him up which was annoying since Jesse was the thief not him. Dodging the outstretched hands, catching a harsh blow on his shoulder, he knew it was only a matter of time before someone would land a knockout blow with his legs tiring and his heart pounding enough to make him gag. Coming up on the left was an open warehouse door, and with a despairing lurch he threw himself through headfirst. The pain as his knees struck the ground forced a gasp that used up the last of his wind. He needed to shut the door but he could only lie there with no more strength than to roll into a corner heaving for breath. He heard the butchers lumbering footsteps clatter past. Then they returned and shuffled to a stop outside the entrance. No, please, James prayed, dont let me die now, not on my first day, not after all those years dodging crazy old Batt. He clamped both hands over his mouth, forcing his gasps back down his throat. His pursuer remained outside wheezing harshly, his back visible as he peered up and down the street. Maybe his mind was elsewhere: maybe anger, frustration or a sense of failure was clouding his judgement. Whatever the cause, he stumbled slowly away, swearing: bloody little perishers. James lay on the concrete floor and reflected on what it was like to literally run for your life. Success brought no exhilaration; far from it. All he felt were anxious pangs for an independence that seemed to be withering away from him. Staying alive at High Tor Farm had been a matter of forecasting one mans moods. But now he had to keep his eyes on everyone.


He had come to realise his destiny now lay entirely in his own hands. Until a few minutes ago, he believed he was part of a great design. Now he knew differently. Had the butcher been a little speedier, had the warehouse door been closed, his life would have come to an abrupt end. Events were unpredictable and you dealt with them as best you could A high-pitched cry of pain erupted from the darkness behind. The warehouse was piled high with bales of hessian and a dank smell lay over the place as if they had been long forgotten. Another yelp was quickly muffled. He thought at first it might be a cat but then he heard a man say: Hold her, damn you. He felt his way towards a dull circle of light flickering against a rear wall. Get a move on! someone else snarled. Whats the matter with you? There were places where some bales had fallen, leaving a space to climb up. He hauled himself over the top until he was looking down on four men. One was holding a candle while two others were bent over, struggling to hold something down on the floor. A fourth lay wriggling on his stomach between them with his trousers round his ankles. Then he saw a girl. One of the men was holding her legs, the other pulling her arms over her head. The brute on top raised a naked backside and seemed to be pushing down on her in quick rapid jabs, urged on by the candleholder to hurry and get it done with. He finally gave a gasp then rolled aside. Be Jesus, you took a time, muttered the man with the candle, passing it over before unbuttoning his trousers. James could now see the girl clearly. She was lying on her back with a rag stuffed in her mouth. Her skirt was up round her waist and a bush of curly black hair sprouted at the top of her legs. He had never seen a naked girl before, although hed heard older lads talk about putting in their roots and worked out what happened how people made babies, but until this moment he assumed both of them had to be willing. The girl below kept struggling and crying behind her gag. The man standing over her tickled his root for a moment then crouched down. She wriggled a leg free and raised a knee into his groin making him yelp. He swore and rammed a fist in her face. James lay on the bales frantically trying to think of a way he could help her. Simply jumping down would be nothing short of suicide. Then he remembered the morbid throat.


Before coming to High Tor Farm he lived in a workhouse that was ravaged by an epidemic which inflamed the gorge so severely the victims died of a choking fit. It began with a tickle that developed into a cough and had the patient heaving for breath. The symptoms rapidly swelled the inside of the larynx until it closed the passage to the lungs. In the few cases victims recovered but the rate with which the disease spread meant that general practice was to isolate the invalids and burn their clothes and bedding. Sometimes they were dragged out and left to die in the hills. The morbid throat was a scourge that struck terror and the very name, like that of Satan, was rarely mentioned in case it invited a visit. As the man below struggled to get on top of the unconscious girl, James imitated a throat rattle he had once heard in the workhouse. All the men looked up. What were that? Bejasus, theres someone up there! James followed with a series of gurgling gasps, making the most of the saliva he had manufactured. Hey, you, come down here! one called. James was now moving into his stride and the coughing grew increasingly grotesque as he hawked spit, retched and choked. Two of them grabbed the bales and pulled themselves up. When they reached James, one called down for the candle. They looked down on a boy with a purple face, a tongue lolling from the side of his mouth, while both hands clutched his throat and spittle dribbled down his chin. Whats up wiim? James pointed into his mouth, retching. By God! the man with the candle gasped; Hes got morbid throat! He threw himself backwards, fell off the bale and tumbled to the floor, followed by the other sprawling on top of him. The others by the girl scrambled to their feet yelling: Out! Get out, out! and made a stumbling scramble for the door while James continued to choke and plead them not to leave him there alone. Once they were gone, he stopped. His throat was red raw and he lay panting, before looking down at the girl on the floor with the candle


smouldering on a roll of hessian near her head. When he saw her open her eyes he leaped down, revived the flame and knelt beside her. Are you all right, miss? She gazed at him for a long moment until he wondered if her ordeal had splintered her mind. Slowly she sat upright and pulled down her dress. Who are you? she snapped. What you doin here? The girl struggled to her feet, pushed away his helping hand and felt her face. A bruise was building on her left cheekbone but part from that she seemed unhurt. James noticed her eyes were dry. I got them to leave you alone, he stammered. What you mean? She spoke with an angry, accusing tone. How? I pretended I had the morbid throat. And what made you think of that, then? Her voice softened and she tried to smile as much as her pain allowed. He didnt have an answer. Everything had happened so fast, his memory hadnt yet caught up. I dont know. Well, she said, smoothing down her dress. Thank God you did. He followed her as she walked unsteadily to the door. Where you from? Nowhere really. Mysterious are we? James grinned. It did sound rather strange. He felt pleased. He had sent four grown men packing by some quick thinking, and now here was a girl calling him mysterious. In the daylight outside he saw she couldnt be more than sixteen and despite the blackening eye, she was pretty. When she held out a hand he felt his cheeks redden. Well, Mister Mystery, she grinned. Im obliged to you. The instant she squeezed his hand he fell in love. Thats all right, was all he could reply. She laughed. Youre a cool one, you are. Whats your name? Sir Galahad? James. James Morgan. I thank you, Master Morgan. From the bottom of my heart.


The experience in the barn didnt seem to have greatly upset her, a point that made him adore her all the more. She was brave. And she was keeping hold of his hand. Do you live here? she asked. No Is that a mystery too? I live in a cave along the beach. She stopped sharply. Youre not one of Jesse MacManuss lot. Theres someone called Jesse, yes. I dont know his other name. She knew all about the childrens colony and squealed with delight when he described how he had rescued them from High Tor farm. Thats our Jesse! she exclaimed. And I suppose he brung you into town to do some thieving. He covered the events that led him to the warehouse and she giggled all the way. She said she had once stayed with Jesses colony after a stepfather, as she phrased it, started to take liberties with her. But it became clear Jesse also expected her to sleep with him and when she refused, he made a fuss and accused her of ingratitude, so after a few more days she returned home. It wasnt that she didnt dislike him, she insisted. As a matter of fact, she thought he was nice. It was just his taking it for granted that he could do things to her just because hed given her shelter, that was what had annoyed her. And he dont like anyone taking issue with him, she said. Halfway down a back street she let go of his hand and pointed to a small house: Thats where I live. Can I see you again? You know where I live, so you know where to find me. He wanted to ask her name, but his pluck didnt stretch that far. She gave another beaming smile then lifted the latch and disappeared inside. The encounter put him in such a spin it was half an hour before he realised that not only did he not know where he was, he had no idea how to return to the caves. He was terrified the butcher might come round the next corner or that a patrolling parish official would collar him and he would be back where he began. Keeping to the narrow back alleys, he cut back to the dockyards where Jesse had led them that morning. Eventually he


found his bearings and set off along the coast road away from the setting sun. Somewhere on the quayside lay a sack of food they had filled earlier and the thought made his mouth water, but he had no idea how to find it. And he noticed a guard patrolling the harbour wall. Hunger, he decided, was a small price to pay for freedom. Night fell with a sharp wind blowing in from the water, but his thoughts remained with the girl and what had happened in the warehouse. Why hadnt he asked her name? He wanted to see her again, recalling the warm softness of her palm as they held hands, and the way she squeezed his fingers. Also, what she had said about Jesse was worrying. He did seem to take advantage of people. Expecting that girl to sleep in the same bed with him was not a nice thing to do, not since he was pretending to give her protection from her stepfather who did the same things. As he trotted down the coast road, he made a list of other aspects about this saviour he was starting to question. For the first time in his life he was experiencing the pangs of jealousy, a faint whisper stirring deep inside that energised him. It had been an eventful day.

CHAPTER FOUR His return was greeted by George Drury and Jethro Johnson who thought he had been caught, with shrieks of relief. He told them of the chase and how he had dodged the butcher by hiding in the warehouse. Sorely tempted as he was to recount how he pretended to have the morbid throat to disperse four ugly brutes, he decided to leave out the episode. On the one hand he was bursting with pride over his role in the affair, but on the other there was the girl to consider. Her ordeal had been degrading, with human beings behaving worse than animals. He had already tried to wash the whole incident from his mind but it remained bombarded with images of men taking turns to do terrible things. Added to these horrors were also thoughts about Jesse, who may have rescued them from a life of slavery,


but was demanding the same sort of behaviour with a girl as the men in the warehouse. So he said nothing about the second adventure even when Jesse asked him about the sack of food. I left it. We spend all day trying to fill the larder and you leave everything behind? If Id been caught Id have been topped, James said with an unusual coldness. And anyway, it wasnt me who didnt see the duck was tied to the cart. And why did you tell everyone to run? The man never saw the rest of us until we took to our heels. Jesse stood with feet apart and fists anchored on his hips. He wasnt used to being answered back. If ye dont like the rules we got here, then you can sling yer hook. James felt his temper sliding out of control, and with it his vocabulary. Within seconds he would sound incoherent and be making an idiot of himself. Reigning in his anger, he turned on his heel and walked away past the bystanders who had been hoping to see a fight. George and Davey kept their attention on Jesse as he stalked off to his quarters, bottling up a fury they couldnt explain. Perhaps James had hit a raw nerve by reminding him the fault that afternoon had been his. Or perhaps their leader simply couldnt accept criticism. The next day James rose early and by ten oclock was back in Dock searching for the street where the girl lived. It took an hour but eventually he found the tiny house where shed invited him to meet her. He sat watching the door, but nobody went in or out and he could see no signs of life through the pebble glass windows. A few passersby glared suspiciously at him and when a woman tapped his ribs with a pointed shoe and told him to move, he wandered up and down the street until a clock chimed twelve. The argument with Jesse continued to rankle but he came to accept the view that having risked their necks all day, he had been feeble not to collect the food. But where had they stowed it? Somewhere close to the market behind a pile of crates, but the rats would probably have got to it by now. The town layout was beginning to fall into some kind of order. Above the rooftops rose the masts of a schooner moored in the dock, while to the


right he could see the weather vane atop the town hall where Jesse had filched the watch. Another half hour passed by at a snails pace with still no sign of the girl, so he hitched up his pantaloons and headed towards the market place, now empty of stalls but crammed with town people. Around the outside rim hawkers squatted behind trays displaying sea shell jewellery and wood carvings of horses, lions, giraffes. In between them beggars sprawled with nothing to offer but blank features and an outstretched hand. James tried to place the walkways of yesterdays stalls. His sack was somewhere in the left hand corner between two columns of wooden boxes leaning against a wall. His fingers scrabbled between them and eventually touched hessian. The sack was lodged tightly behind and took some manoeuvring out to avoid bringing down the precarious edifice. Jesse was going to be pleased. He would probably gather everyone round and extol his bravery in going back to retrieve the food. The girls would smile and whisper to each other that he was a real hero. He might even get promoted to lieutenant. With the sack awkwardly held in both arms, he imagined eyes were upon him before he decided the trick was to tell himself he had bought it fair and square and act accordingly. To get deeper into the role, he pulled out an apple and ate it as he strolled down to the dock. The waterfront was teeming. A chain of men with coal black skins were passing cotton bales down the gangplank of a schooner to be stacked on the quayside. A seaman with a coach whip under one arm occasionally snapped out an order to speed them up. On a second vessel there were sailors the colour of the brown Devon earth. His ears caught strange words from passing matelots, some in weird variations of English, others in tongues he couldnt understand at all. The black men finished their work, returned on deck and stood silently in line. Then a sailor appeared carrying a whip, picked up a pile of chains and went along manacling their ankles. Attached one to the other, they responded to a sharp tug, clanked towards a hatch and descended into the hold. Standing at the rail of the schooner was a boy not much older than himself looking down with a contemptuous eye. For some moments they stared at


each other like dogs laying claim to territory before James broke the ice by pulling an orange from the sack and holding it up. The boy on deck grabbed hold of a mooring rope and shinned down like a monkey. He took the fruit, bit into the skin to get a fingertip hold on the peel then carefully stripped the peel in one curling length. Ahm layin odds on you done stole this, he drawled in an accent not far removed from the local Devon brogue. Where are you from? James asked. The boy nodded towards the schooner. The Jefferson. Picked her up in Charleston. Came through New York and Bermuda. Cotton. Nothing he said meant anything to James, but he nodded amicably. The boy was treating him like an equal, a sailor who didnt need to have anything explained. Was it a good trip? he asked, pulling out another orange to try and imitate the peeling trick. Till Vigo. Had to stop for fresh water comin up the French coast. Hit one helluva storm in the Bay of Biscay. Lost a mainsail and two nigras. Where you from? James dropped the peel into the water and took his time debating how best to answer. Work on the waterfront. Turners counting house. He sucked long and hard on the segments, praying the lad wouldnt ask what a counting house was. Hed never heard the phrase until a few minutes ago when two passersby had parted company with one saying he had business at Turners counting house. You wanna go to sea? Oh, yes. We need hands, what with them lost in the storm anall. And a dozen more to your God-blasted navy. My navy? The boy swallowed the last of the fruit and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. You folk are gettin to be a poxy nuisance. You come on board and say half our crew are deserters and take em off. Deserters! When are you gonna remember we aint English no more? Were American.


He jumped to his feet, climbed up on the dock wall and yelled for the whole quayside to hear: Hang the British! Hang King George! Hang Pitt! Long live America! Long live President Jefferson! Heads turned to stare. James shifted uneasily, keen to dissociate himself from this alarming spectacle, yet riveted by the audacity. Thankfully the lad decided his statement was more effective if kept it short and he sat down. Those who heard him glared in their direction then continued on their way. Look at them. Hells bells, I just insulted your country and no-one lifts a finger. You English are heading for the scrap heap. I thank you kindly for the orange. He returned to the mooring rope and returned to the deck rail the way he arrived. The encounter bemused James. What had he been talking about? He spoke a sort of English but clearly he wasnt born here since he showed anger at the British for stealing their sailors. And who on earth was President Jefferson? The afternoon wore on and he continued to wander about, absorbing a bizarre new world of foreign ships and the strange men who sailed in them. When the sun began to drop, he returned to the girls house and looked through the windows, but there were still no sign of life. His stomach ached from hunger. Finding an alley opposite where he was off the street but still within sight of the house, he rummaged in the sack and pulled out a hunk of bacon. The sharp tangy taste only made him feel hungrier and after some chewing he replaced it and peeled another orange. He was trying to do it like the boy from the ship when he caught sight of the girl approaching. Leaving the sack, he ran out and came up behind her. Hullo. She turned, one hand on the latch. Her cheek and left eye were still discoloured. Oh, she said. Its you. Ive been here all day. What for? Waiting to see you.


She seemed annoyed. Why? I didnt tell you to. I know. Her manner was different today. Had she forgotten how he had saved her? Do you want something to eat? What you got? Its over there, he said, pointing at the alley. Bring it out. He retrieved the sack and laid it at her feet, rolling back the open end to reveal the fruit and meat. Where dyou get it? He grinned and didnt answer. She picked up the sack and led the way inside. Fumbling his way through a gloomy, cluttered room, his shins found the edge of a stool and he fell against a table. Careful! the girl snapped. You break anything, therell be hell to pay. She upended the contents on the floor, the oranges bouncing over the flagstones. While he picked them up, she sniffed the bacon. What do you want for it? Want for it? I aint got no money, I can tell you that right now. I - I dont want anything, James stammered. I just thought you might like an orange and a cut of meat. She eyed him strangely. You risk your neck thieving and then give it away? Are you touched or summat? James stood at a loss for words while she found a knife and cut into the bacon, hacking off a slice. After another cautious sniff, she sank her teeth into one end. He asked her name. Beth, she mumbled. I forgot yours. James Morgan. The meat took her fancy, and after masticating the first piece, she cut another and re-stuffed her mouth followed by a bite of apple. James watched the food diminish and decided he would tell Jesse that he couldnt find it. It would have been nice if she offered some to him, but she had turned her back, cramming as much food as possible in her mouth. This went on for a while and a second apple vanished like the first, core and all.


You dint tell anyone about yesterday, did you? she mumbled with a loud belch. Gone was the flirting of the day before, and he was beginning to feel annoyed. Not once had she shown any gratitude. No. You dint tell that Jessie? I didnt tell anyone. I thought you would. It aint every day a little brat like you chases off four grown up men. I thought youd go round telling everyone. I bet you did. Again he denied and a silence followed as he watched her use a finger to dislodge strings of chewed bacon from her teeth. You better go, she said. My Mamn Dadll be back soon. They dont like anyone coming in here. Since her magic had long evaporated, this was the excuse he had needed for the last five minutes and he gathered up the sack and headed for the door. You can leave the food. I cant. I have to take it for the others, he said as she slid between him and the door. They wont miss what they aint got. Come on, lets have it. If she had only said please. He had considered leaving it as a present, but when she couldnt even remember his name, then started acting bossy and didnt say thanks or anything, he decided his thoughts about her yesterday had been based on false impressions. No, I cant. Really, he said, trying to sound firm yet reasonable. She was a good deal larger than he and no doubt could fetch him a hefty clout. You better, she said, her hand stretching out between his legs. Or Ill pull your root off. Feeling his way backwards, he tried to lure her from the doorway. She came forward, her arms held out as if she were shooing chickens. He ducked under her arms and hit the door with a crunch. As she turned, he fumbled the latch up and ran out, tripping on the step. By the time she came out of the door he had staggered to his feet holding the sack, and started sprinting up the street. Then, to his horror, he heard her yell: Stop him, stop that thief!


Ahead were a group of youths walking three abreast. The sack slowed him down and as he swerved to dodge round them, he slipped and headbutted one in the chest. By now the girl was yelling her head off and they were connecting her cries with the running boy. One made a grab for his neck and James let go of the sack. Fruit spewed out onto the cobbles followed by the bacon. The winded fellow recovered enough to land a stinging swipe across his head that sent him reeling backwards. He were in our house! the girl screeched, arriving at the melee He were stealing our food! She went chasing after the fruit, pushing through the others. Gerroff! Its mine! James lay on the road, his eyes full of shooting stars and one ear burning. A youth lifted him up by his collar and thrust his face an inch from his nose. Thief, eh? Well, well see bout that. Oh, let the brat go, someone said. He looks half starved. Yes, please, please let me be, a voice inside James beseeched, but along with his wind, the panting youth had also lost his humour. If there be one thing I cant abide, he said, its a sneak thief. He broke in, the girl muttered, hugging the sack and adopting a plaintive whine. He got to pay for what he done. Oh, hell pay right enough, the lad said, holding James by the neck and bringing back a fist. No, the girl grinned. Give im to the soldiers. Jamess captor was looking forward to exacting his own punishment, but he reluctantly lowered his fist and keeping a vice-like grip, hauled him up the street. The last glimpse he had of what had been up to ten minutes ago his romantic dream, was of her biting into an apple and giving him a triumphant smile. An army company was permanently stationed in Dock to man the watch towers along the coast, but since Napoleons armies were busy elsewhere, they found themselves with time on their hands and only too willing to find diversions by accepting, for a price, local invitations to take charge of catching wrongdoers. That evening their diversion was James.


A second youth tagged along and they dragged him to the barracks at the far end of the docks. After knocking on the door, they hauled him inside and flung him to the ground in front of the duty sergeant. What we got here? a basso profundo voice growled. Catched a thief, sir, one said. He were stealing food from a poor young girl. James rolled onto his back and looked upwards. The two lads were quailing before the most evil-looking human he had ever clapped eyes on. Old Batt at High Tor Farm looked like Francis of Assissi in comparison. There are features that instantly reveal their owners have a foot in the devils camp, and this sergeant had all signs of being so with some to spare. His eyes carried the disinterested expression only sadistic captors show when they have someone in their power. What made things worse from Jamess angle was that he could see the man was holding a bottle of rum. You catched a what? he rasped, glancing down at James while hoisting the neck of the bottle into his mouth. Thief, sir, one youth said. There was a quaver in his voice as he caught a whiff of the fear filling the room. He sounded as if he were beginning to regret what they were doing. Thief, eh? the sergeant blinked, narrowing his eyes to the boy beside his boots. And stealing from a girl, you say. Yes, sir. Nothing happened for a few moments. A flash of optimism pierced Jamess brain that suggested the sergeant was going to release him and berate the youths for wasting his time. Thats a serious accusation to level agin another citizen, the soldier muttered, dousing his ray of hope. Its the truth, the other boy said, moving towards the door. The sergeant looked down at James. Is it the truth then? I swear it, said the other lad, then recoiled as the sergeant swung round. Im asking the accused! he barked, shoving his boot into Jamess ribs. No, sir! James gasped, feeling terror grip his insides. The food was mine! I gave her some but she wanted it all Do you know what the law calls lying under oath, boy?. No, sir.


The sergeant swung his head slowly from side to side to emphasise the gravity of his words. Why, tis one of the worst crimes a man can commit. Sir, Im not lying But the soldier wasnt listening. He lumbered towards a door at the end of the room and signalled the youths to bring James through. The adjoining room was bare except for a large wagon wheel set into the flagstones at an angle of forty five degrees. The boys held James while the sergeant stumbled to a wall and started sifting through a collection of whips hanging from a row of hooks. Tie him to the wheel. The youths hadnt bargained for watching any punishment and by the time he turned round, they hadnt moved. Did you hear me, gullies! he roared, spittle shooting from his mouth. They dragged James to the wheel and laid him face down, tying his wrists and ankles to the rim. The sergeant finally selected a cat o nine tails, taking it off the hook delicately as if it were fragile. Hawking a gobbet of spit into his palms, he grasped the handle and gave the thongs a crack against the wall. All right, me hearties, he said. Stand back. Give a man room to swing a cat. He gave a drunken lurch, steadied himself and placed his feet a yard apart. As he leaned forward to pluck Jamess collar he lost balance, and ripped the chemise from his back as he fell. Stumbling to his feet, he turned to look at the youths, suspicious they were mocking him, but they were as terrified as James that having dealt with the boy, this monster would then lay into them. James debated whether to scream for mercy or appeal to the mans reason. But as living in fear of Batt, he knew there were men in the world where this was their reason. Children were born to be flayed. Calling for mercy might well increase the number of lashes, a further punishment for showing cowardice. He closed his eyes and clenched his teeth and waited. He heard the whip hiss and when the thongs struck, they created such indescribable agony he thought the sergeant had taken one of the wall torches and decided to burn his skin off instead.


Pain has no memory. The second a raging tooth is out of the mouth, it is gone and the patient forgets the torture endured. Pain also has no terms of reference. The victim of a cat onine tails, the most effective whip ever devised by the warped mind of man, each thong knotted at the end, can never find words to describe the sensation. When the knots hit his skin, James imagined he had been impaled on a pitchfork. The shock sucked the breath from his lungs to the extent that when he opened his mouth to scream he gagged. The second blow hissed down causing flashing lights to splay across his eyeballs. After the third, he was certain he would die of suffocation. After the fourth, he forgot where he was, how he had come to be there and the reason for the torture. The youths watched in mounting horror. The fifth and sixth lashes landed on a body now unconscious, yielding no cry, no movement. The sergeant was now moving into a rhythm that wasnt going to stop until the whip had skinned his victim like a rabbit. Hes going to kill him! one lad whispered. Next to the whips hung a row of truncheons ranging from twelve inches of rolled leather to a length the size of a cricket bat. He pulled off the largest, waited until the sergeant paused to catch his breath, raised the stock with both hands and brought the weighted end down with such force that it caved in the back of the mans skull like an egg shell. He crumpled to the floor and a thick dark blood began to seep through his hair. Holy Mary, youve killed him! the other boy gasped. He dropped the truncheon and put his face close to Jamess . Hes still breathing. He pulled loose the thongs around his wrists and feet, berating himself for what they had done.. Why did we bring him here? Why was we heeding that whore Beth. Shem a damn liar, everyone knows that. Good Jesus, I hope he dont die. They laid James down on his front. Blood was trickling from the ribbons of flesh cut as clean as if they had been made with a scalpel. Sarge? a voice called. Cuppa broth for you. Putting a kerchief over Jamess back, the boy followed the other out. In the next room a trooper was seated with his back turned making noisy sips as he drank from a steaming bowl. They tiptoed behind to the door and slipped out.


The daylight was almost gone. A few troopers wandered along the waterfront talking to the whores, but no-one challenged them and soon they were swallowed up in the back alleys.

CHAPTER FIVE The room he awoke in was not the one where he had passed out. The same cold flagstone floor lay under his face, but six inches away towered a wall of rough-hewn Devon stone that carried no collection of whips. Such were his first reactions after opening his eyes. He suffered no loss of memory, unlike the time he was in the cave and wondering what had happened to High Tor Farm. He remembered the flogging, but didnt


believe he was dead. Paradise, from what he had read, was nothing like this. He had been whipped to within an inch of his life but hed survived. His luck had held. Then he moved. Erupting from his back came such a pain his head seemed to blow apart. A thousand needles thrust red hot points into his skin. The sensation caused the floor to sway under him as he tried to sit up. His scream was long and loud and he fell back again. After what felt like an eternity, a jingle of keys was followed by the squeak of a door. Aha, called a distant voice. Hes come back to us. James opened his eyes to an ants eye view of a toothless old man dressed in rags. On his feet were a pair of army boots too big for the skinny legs and when he moved, he shuffled to stop them falling off. In one hand the fellow held a lamp, in the other a ring of keys. Behind him a small square of light crossed by three iron bars was fixed into the far wall. Not daring to re-activate his wounds, James remained face down until the boots scuffed out of sight and silence returned. When they came back they were accompanied by the smarter clip of another pair. He squinted upwards and caught sight of the tip of a scabbard alongside the shiny knee high black boots of a regimental officer. Extending his gaze further, he noticed the mans face was half hidden by a kerchief held over his nose and mouth. When he spoke the words came out muffled and James couldnt understand what he was saying. The officer repeated himself, this time with a light prod of the scabbard into the boys neck which produced a reflex bringing back the devils of agony, and he worked to stifle another scream. Who are you? Please, sir, James Morgan. And who were your friends? Friends ? The end of the scabbard returned to his ear and he forced himself to look up into the disdainful eyes of the young man standing over him. I have no friends, sir. We shall find them, never fear, the man snapped. In any case, it doesnt alter your situation one jot, you murdering little bastard. I dont understand, sir, James stammered. I didnt murder anyone. They said I stole some food, but I didnt. There was a girl and she tried to take it from me


The sword jabbed his shoulder and the torture reflamed, blurring his vision with tears. Dont try your larks with me, you snivelling brat, the officer hissed. In case you forgot, allow me to bring you up to date. Last night you were found on the floor of the punishment chamber. With you was my sergeant of the guard, Sergeant Wilkins. His head had been smashed in by a truncheon. A witness says three civilians entered the barracks and one of them was a young boy. No more than ten years old, they said. Thirty minutes later the guard found my sergeant dead and you removed from the wheel where he had been administering punishment. It seems that after half a dozen strokes of the cat, one of your gang took a truncheon from the wall and broke Wilkins skull. Presumably they abandoned you because you were senseless and would have hindered their escape. Be that as it may. It is my contention you were part of a plot to murder Sergeant Wilkins while he was engaged in serving His Majesty King George. I expect your actions were devised to wreak revenge upon a servant of the crown who by nature of his work, had made enemies among the criminal elements of the town. Well, we shall see about revenge. It came as a relief to hear he had only been struck six times, but for that to be the only good news, James acknowledged his position was not one that led to an optimistic view of his future. How the sergeant had come to die he had no idea. It seemed ridiculous to suppose the youths who had dragged him to the barracks had killed him. And yet someone had intervened and untied him from the wheel, and it certainly wasnt a trooper. Not that his tumbling thoughts were of any consolation. Alive he may be, but he was presently lying in a prison cell accused of murder of a soldier. The toe of the officers boot bashed his ear. What do you have to say to that? came the nasal twang. He stayed silent. As with Batt, the best policy when confronted with an accusation that could cost his life was to say nothing. He had once read it was better to be thought a fool by staying mute than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. If he drew any comfort from his predicament, it was to find that at least his brain was ticking over. Like the time he played the morbid throat trick. Although now he wished he had never done that. If hed stayed hidden, he wouldnt have met the girl, wouldnt have wanted


to seek her friendship, and wouldnt have ended up here and been accused of murder. He could argue several defences. The most obvious, and one that surely this dolt of an officer should have thought of, was why would anyone plot to kill a sergeant in the middle of an army barracks when it was far easier to waylay him in a dark alley? He wouldnt have been the first trooper to be found stuffed in a water barrel or floating in on the tide. Why would he allow himself to be flogged first? There were any number of questions to demolish the argument that he and his gang had planned the killing. Weary of waiting for an answer, the officer tapped his head again with the shiny toe. Well? When he failed to get a response he returned the kerchief under his nose and walked out, pausing at the door to add: It is only proper to advise you that the sentence of death for such a crime is mandatory and has already been confirmed. I suggest you to seek forgiveness from your Maker by tomorrow noon, for that is the hour you shall be hanged. So much for his eloquent and persuasive defence at a trial, James thought. But instead of protesting he called: Thank you, sir. Thank you very much. The officer halfway outside, turned and frowned. He stalked back, his spurs jingling. Are you being insolent? James forced himself into a squatting position, biting back the agony. No, sir, he said, planting a quaver into his voice. I just want to thank you for your mercy. You are a gentleman, sir. He had once avoided a thrashing in a workhouse by a similar dodge and the memory suddenly popped into his head. Ask for punishment and it sometimes isnt given. By God, if you are trying to make some jest Sir, James said, lowering eyes and spreading skinny arms. Look at me. I have never had a fair shake in my life. Never known a kind word or a mothers embrace. Now, he winced as he straightened his back, the pain from the flogging is killing me. Put me out of this agony now, sir. Arrange the hanging for today. Im ready. Do it now, sir, I beg you.


He toppled sideways and lay with his knees in his chest, his face horribly contorted, holding his breath not so much from pain but in the hope that this fool was stupid enough to believe him. Show me his back, the officer commanded and returned his kerchief to his mouth. James felt a small satisfaction that it was the smell of the jailer that offended him, not his own. The old man hauled him onto his stomach. God, how he stunk! The officer cleared his throat. See to it that the wounds are attended. I will postpone the execution until they are partially healed. I should not like to think that by having him swing tomorrow, I will be performing an act of mercy. The jailer cackled a delighted reply and followed him out. James pondered his achievement. There came the euphoria of having had his execution postponed, but it soon wore off and he flung himself down on a pile of rotting straw beneath the window. Whereas it had been interesting to hear a strange voice coming from his mouth which succeeded in postponing his death, the outcome was no different. It was even worse. He now had an entire week to think about his demise. What made him repeat the ruse that had avoided a beating from the workhouse bully? There was the youth, he could see him now, his fist raised, anticipating the pleasure of mashing a five year old boys face, then changing his mind when James begged him to beat him to a pulp because he said pain made him feel happy. He remembered his plea had been triggered by discovering the workhouse overseer used to command the bully, along with some of the older boys, to cane his bare backside. Hed noticed how the overseer used to smile sleepily when the lads weighed in. The bully had lowered his arm, said something about him being another of those freaks who liked to be chastised and walked off. It came to him now that everything he had said and done in his life was stored away in his head just waiting to be re-evoked by the arrival of a similar situation. How long would it be to his execution? A few days, no more. If he were not to spend the time imagining what a tightening noose around his neck felt like, or whether it hurt or whether he would join Robbie Ash in an endless turnip field where the sun always shone, then the only alternative was to come up with a way to escape.


A quick survey of his surroundings dashed any instant hopes in that direction. The cell measured eight by six, with one barred window too high to see through. By the sound of voices and hooves outside, the barracks were on a busy street, and mewling sea gulls placed him close to the waterfront. He lay a long while on the straw and staring up at the bars. He imagined he was a bird, able to fly up to the sill and wriggle through. He played out a scene where the hangmans steps approached the door, a key scratched in the lock as he squeezed between the bars and dropped down into the street. Or as they led him up the scaffold, he grabbed the officers sword, ran them all through, dived in the sea and swam to climb aboard a departing ship. For much of his first day as a condemned prisoner he imagined variations on the escape theme, but then reality returned and with it an overpowering despondency that he was actually going to die. He was going to experience what Robbie already knew, the last journey of life to heaven or hell. Forcing himself to stand, the pain from his back subsiding as the cuts congealed, he measured the distance between his head and the window. His raised fingers reached six inches below the ledge. There was only one carrot tempting him up there; the bars were positioned in the window to contain grown men. With his skinny frame he might, just might, be able to squeeze through. If only he had wings to reach them. The jailer re-appeared in the late afternoon. He thrust a tin bowl of food into his hands and told him someone would be along later to attend to his wounds. Although it makes no sense to me, he muttered. Patchin up just to hang yer. James detected a genuine note of disapproval and twisted his lips into a brave smile. Well, sir, he said, I look at it this way. It gives me a couple more dawns to enjoy before I go. Shortly afterwards, a trooper came in with a tub of thick brown grease and s daubed Jamess back. It felt cold but went some way to relieve the dull ache still throbbing from the cuts of the whip. When he stood to leave, James said he was much obliged for his kindness. The trooper looked surprised for a moment then left muttering the lad must be adrift.


Two days passed, punctuated by a twice daily application of the ointment. The jailer took over the job himself, chatting endlessly in his meandering way. James learned he had been wounded fighting the Americans back in 76. When he returned home he discovered his wife had gone off with a neighbour and he had taken to drink. He warned of the dangers of alcohol, saying it damn near killed him until he pulled himself together and hasnt touched a drop in fifteen years. While he listened, James realised his back wasnt hurting any more, although he kept up a regular series of hisses and winces. No sense having them think he was ready for the rope. Besides, he was keen for the jailer not to rub the grease into his skin, but leave it smeared on the surface. Each night he stood against the wall and slid his back across the stonework. It hurt like hell, but once he got the rhythm he was able to scrape off a handful of the ointment into a strip of cloth torn from his blouse, and by the end of the third day he had a sizeable ball hidden under the straw. One of the few jolly times he remembered from the workhouse was a trip to a travelling fair where onlookers were invited to catch a pig greased from snout to tail, and how they had screamed with laughter at the antics of the competitors as the animal kept slipping out of their grasp. If it worked for the pig, it might work for him. Should he be able to fit his head between the bars the rest of him, lathered in grease, might be able to follow. Providing, of course, he could find a way up to the sill. At the end of the third day the officer briefly examined his back. As I thought, he said. The cuts have closed. He dies tomorrow. We have to teach these guttersnipes they cannot dicker with His Majestys army. When James made no reaction, the officer gave him a prod with his toe. Did you hear that, boy? Tomorrow at twelve noon, you go to the scaffold. Thank you, sir, James sobbed. Thank you very much. He saw him glance at the jailer who turned a finger at his temple. After he left, the old man spat and muttered: Go on, sling yer hook, you bastard. Turning his moist eyes to James he added: Ill be sorry to see you go, lad. I mean that, so I do. I dont hold with hanging children, no matter what they done.


Thank you, sir, James responded. But Im not afraid to meet my Maker. If the good Lord sees fit to give me another chance, I hope he will give me better prospects next time. Even as he spoke, he was wondering where all these alien words were coming from. Meet my Maker.....the good Lord....better prospects? Another distant chime echoed. He must have heard them spoken before. Whatever their origins, they hit the right spot because the jailer began to whimper. He placed a skinny claw on Jamess scalp and rubbed it gently back and forth. Damn me if you dont make me feel ashamed, he wept. You standing there, brave as a saint. A thought flashed through Jamess brain. Would it be worth playing this hand through? He was weeping buckets, so what would it need to persuade the old fool to help him? If he were already ashamed, surely it wouldnt take much to tip him over the edge. The jailer wiped a wrist across his nose and stood. I best be goin. You tell me anything you need, an Ill see what I can do. Through the window came the sound of someone laughing as they passed by underneath. Now, now, now ! James sank to his knees and drummed his fists on the ground. From his mouth came a whining moan, the release of pent up misery. The jailer bent over and stroked his head. Hey, boy, hey now, come along, my beauty, bear up. Oh, sir, youve been so so good to me! James wailed. I dont deserve such kindness. Im so lucky to have had you tend to me in my last days. So whats ailing thee? James took a while struggling to regain self control. It was hearing people outside, he faltered. In the street. I cant see them, but I can hear them talk and laugh. And listen to the gulls in the sky. Life is going on, the sun is shining, everyone is going about their business, but I cant see anything! He pummelled the floor in frustration and laid flat sobbing, his cheek against the stone floor.


Through the blur of the tears he manufactured by jamming a finger into each eye, he watched the jailer look up at the window. The old man glanced down at him then back up at the bars. Finally he put a finger to his lips, went to the door and locked it. I know this is irregular, he whispered, giving a conspiratorial wink. But stand up. James gave a complicated performance of staggering to his feet. The jailer led him to the window then bent over. Climb up. Quick, before anyone sees. If they do, Ill get shot. After a moment showing fabricated shock, surprise and gratitude, James scrambled up on the mans bony spine then, holding onto the wall, stood precariously on his shoulders. His head came level with the window, and by grasping the bars he was able to look down at the teeming crowds below on the street. Then his base wobbled and he heard the old man wheeze. He stuck a toe into the crumbled pointing between the stones and gave a pull on the bars, transferring his weight off the jailers back to the ledge. As soon as he felt the burden leave him, the old man straightened: Here, where you going? James pushed his head through the bars and found there was at least an inch of space on either side. Its so beautiful! he stammered. Thank you, sir for letting me see. Youre a kind man. Touched by his eulogy, the jailer left him on the ledge keeping up the unctuous commentary while turning sideways and pressing his neck then his chest further through the bars to see how far through his body would go. By expelling all his breath he managed to get as far as his sternum before he became stuck. Come on, my lad. Thats enough. Come on down before yon officer comes back and hangs both of us. James withdrew his head and dangled his legs off the ledge until the jailer grabbed them and lowered him to the floor. I feel so much better, James beamed. Relieved the business was finished, the old man patted his head and left saying he would try and bring something nice for him to eat, seeing it was his last night. James waited for the key to turn in the lock outside then slipped off his clothes, pulled out the grease ball from under the straw and started rubbing


ointment into his chest, arms and torso. The critical area lay at the top of his ribs where he had become stuck. There was also the problem of his hips, but he postponed worrying about them until the time came. And that would be as soon as it grew dark, when the streets would empty and the old man return with his supper. The next two hours were the longest of his life, and he made the wait worse by compiling a list of what could go wrong. It took an effort of will to blot out the black side of his predicament and think positively. For instance, once he had slipped through the bars and reached the street, what then? He hadnt given a moments thought of a plan after his escape from the window. Surely, once on the outside everything became a matter of improvising. No-one could prepare for what might happen. But was that enough? Where would he go? Back to Jesse? Staying in the town would be asking for trouble. He had to keep reminding himself that he wasnt here because hed merely stolen food. He had been convicted of murder, of a sergeant no less. Every trooper would be given his description and allowed no leave until he was caught. He couldnt stay in Dock. He couldnt even stay in Devonshire. But where else was there? England was a vast island and to trek east or north where details of his crime wouldnt reach, seemed the most obvious route. The only other direction was out to sea, but even if he could swim where was there to head for? France, where by all accounts Englishmen were being guillotined? By the time the town clock struck seven and a key turned in the lock, he was no nearer extending his plan beyond the moment his feet hit the cobblestones below. The jailer came in carrying a tray bearing a wide deep bowl. Lookee here what I found, he said proudly. Stew. Real meat. Got a mate in the scullery and he let me have it, seeing its for a good cause. Now you get you teeth into that, my lad. He set the tray down and squatted to watch what he expected to be a joyful attack on the food by a grateful child. James spluttered his gratitude but the last thing he needed was a full belly. He worked the wooden spoon in and out of the stew and lifted as little as he could to his mouth. While the old man retreated into his reminiscences about the war in the Americas, the one where the English lost the colonies


that had belonged to the Crown for over two hundred years, James feigned an interest while his mind was racing elsewhere. At what point does he ask to take one final look at the world through the bars? When the jailers regrets of a lost empire ended, a pause followed while James geared himself up to shed a few more finger-induced tears, but the old man moved on to other matters, an account of other executions hed seen in his years at Dock barracks. James continued to smile in the right places, which was difficult when the yarns included men losing their heads as the trapdoor clanged open. and the night before he were due to be topped, you know what he done? Damnedest thing I ever saw, and I been here fifteen year or more and seen some strange uns come through these doors, I have, but this un beat em all. He took a piece of tin and cut off both his ears. And you know what he done with em? He threw em through that window up there. Threw both his ears out into the street. Mad as a march hare he was, barmy as Old Reilly, but he made us laugh all right. Two ears lying out there for everyone to see. What you think a that, boy? James cackled as loud as he was able and let it go on before returning to his serious expression. I know how he felt, he said quietly, wiping a knuckle across one eye. I can understand what he was doing. Damned if I do, the jailer laughed. What I think, James replied slowly, is he wanted to leave a piece of himself in the world hed known and loved. He didnt want all of him to go under the ground for the worms to pick at. Aye, the old man nodded sadly. He hadnt considered this. It made sense. Well, for a crazy person it did. Mebbe youre right. Keeping his eyes trained on the ceiling, as if in contact with God, James went on, having registered the jailers doleful expression in the flickering candlelight. Sir, do they give prisoners a last wish? he asked. Depends what it be. Is there a moon? he said moving to gaze up at the window. I dunno. Why?


Or stars? I never bothered with such things till now, but all of a sudden theyve become important. Is there a mist out to sea? Where is the wind coming from? Will it rain tomorrow ? I cant see much, the jailer said. But mebbe you can. Here, nip up and take a peek. Having done so safely before, he made a stirrup of his hands and raised the boy to the window, and didnt object this time when James grabbed the bars, transferring his weight to the ledge. The candlelight barely reached as high as the window and edging his head and neck through the bars produced no protest from below. What can ee see, lad? Theres the moon, as bright as the sun, and so many stars! James wailed, then wondered if he was overdoing it. Its lovely, sir, and I thank you for letting me have one last look. Look all ee want. The street was quiet below. He knew people were frightened to stray off the main thoroughfares after nightfall, having heard warnings of footpads lying in wait. He winced as the rusty bars rubbed off the grease and scraped into his chest, but he now had his arms, head and shoulders through. As he kept up a running commentary on the brightness of the moon and the beauty of the sky: Theyre like a string of diamonds! .... he wriggled his torso, forcing it forwards. Thats enough now, lad, come on down, the jailer called. James had expelled every ounce of wind from his lungs and couldnt have replied had he tried. His ribs were through, hurting as they took the pressure of the iron, then his waist followed. At any moment his weight would transfer from his bottom half to the top and once his legs flew up in the air, the jailer would know what was happening. Do ee hear me, lad - ? His hips hit the bars and stopped. . Here, whats goin on up there? Oi, come back! Now the legs were free of the ledge and waving like a fish tail as he pushed against the outside wall, heaving, forcing his body through the last few inches. The skin shearing from his hips, he kept pushing, working his


pelvis from side to side while the jailer shouted and reached up to try and catch hold of his ankles. James felt the bars strip off his pantaloons. With a final, agonising wriggle, his pelvis squeezed through and he dropped naked to the cobbles, his spine catching a painful blow as his back took the full impact of the fall. He lay stunned, stars flashing across his eyeballs, his brain spinning but ticking over enough to force him to gain his feet and limp across the road to stairs leading down to the dock. As he stumbled down, clinging to the rail, he knew the question he had so far postponed was now upon him: What now? The steps led into the market place where he had retrieved the fateful sack of vittals that led him to within an hour of the hangmans rope. Two troopers ambled past smoking cheroots. The barracks were high enough above them to withhold the jailers cries, but James reckoned it would be less than five minutes before the alarm he raised would produce a squad of search parties. Even worse, he was naked. He stood out like a beacon. To mingle unobserved in a crowd required at least one half of his body to be covered. When the troopers moved on, he ran down to the harbour. By now, he was turning blue from a biting sea breeze and his toes grew numb from the icy cobblestones. On the other side of the harbour wall lay a beach where dozens of small fishing boats were lying anchored on their sides waiting for the incoming tide to set them upright. James clambered over the parapet and dropped down onto the sand, the soles of his feet catching shards of washed up shellfish. Dancing over the spiky ground, he headed for the shelter of the boats to work out his next move. Then he heard a shout: Prisoner out! followed by a bugle blast and booming commands deploying men around the town and beach. James crouched under a boat, the pain of his flailed skin refreshed by the wind, trying to think what he could do with troops fanning out in every direction. If he stayed where he was they would find him. Yet going north led into freezing water, while soldiers approached from every direction. The nearest trooper was already less than thirty yards away. When the moon disappeared behind fast moving clouds he ran from the boat towards the firm wet sand edging the incoming tide. The moons rays


were returning and any moment the beach would be lit up. With his lungs bursting and eyes filled with tears from the salt spray, James forced his legs to keep going. He had stopped thinking of his other pains where the iron bars had scraped the skin, ignored he was naked and his back prickling in the salt air. All he could see was the headland retreat ahead as words repeated in his brain: keep your eyes on the front. Dont think about what was going on behind. A trooper might be dropping to one knee to take aim but it was better if he didnt know. Death could arrive at any moment from any direction. What lay ahead may not be any more promising. The shouting behind slowly faded, carried off by the breeze. He slowed down. God, it was cold! The tide was coming in at a lick and washing his feet. How was he going to find cover out here, as naked as the day he was born? Soon he would grow weary, like the boys at High Tor when they got lost on the moors, when some pleaded they would be alright if they could lie down a minute to catch their breath and never stood up again. Looking over his shoulder he saw the swinging lights of the troop lamps. Searching the fishing boats was over and they were now combing the sands as James rounded the headland, then stopped dead in his tracks. The biggest ship he had ever seen lay moored in a small natural harbour. The beach ahead was blocked by water barrels and food crates being loaded aboard up gangplanks fore and aft, controlled by a bearded man in a uniform bawling orders from the bridge. Behind him the troopers lamps came flickering round the point. His only alternative was the ship. Hed heard about life at sea; the flogging, disease, madness and murder. Some years ago mutineers had been hanged from the yardarms of a five master, and their bodies left dangling for a week as a warning to others. Could he survive such brutality? But wasnt that precisely the same system he had lived under until recently? The workhouse, High Tor Farm, his recent whipping? How much worse could life under sail be? If he stayed on land he would die. But even if the soldiers didnt catch him, what was he left with? A life on the run, the fear that any moment might be his last? He ran to a mooring rope, took hold with hands and feet the way hed seen the American boy climb the other day and clambered up, reached the ships rail and fell over onto the deck. A hatch door was raised near cargo


waiting to be lowered into the hold. He crawled across, shinned down an iron ladder into pitch darkness and curled up in the depths of the ships vast belly.

CHAPTER SIX His career as a stowaway was short-lived, along with the belief that a ships hold was the best hiding place when cargo is being loaded. A flock


of seamen came rattling down the ladder and formed a chain to transfer the bales from the deck. As they began to crash around him, James retreated in fear of his life until he was lying flat against the boards of the hull. The captain periodically put his head through the hatch and complained about their slowness, reminding them if they missed the tide they would be taken prisoner by the British, and that there were already troopers on the beach asking questions. It was a weird sensation to be surrounded by people he could touch yet who couldnt see him in the darkness. And what did the captain mean about being taken prisoner? He knew England was at war with France, but these crewmen werent French. The captain spoke in the same brogue as the boy he had met in Dock, which would make him an American. He recalled the lads provocative remarks about the English king and his ministers, and the jailers account of having once fought them. The skipper hurried his men along, for which he was grateful. If the troopers were asking questions, the odds were they were about him, and the last thing he wanted was a search aboard. Perhaps the vessel had no right to dock there. Perhaps it was a pirate and the cargo was contraband. There seemed to be a huge number of barrels, and that could only mean liquor like brandy and suchlike. His mind raced ahead speculating mass arrests, the confiscation of the ship where they would find the squashed corpse of a naked young boy. The goods tumbled down in an increasing cascade after the captains interjecture. It could have been carelessness born of his eternal optimism, perhaps of counting his chickens prematurely; more likely he was simply dog-tired. Whatever the cause, he was climbing onto a growing pile of bales when a wooden crate flew out of the blackness and caught him a fearful crack on his arm. A yell escaped before he could check himself and, as luck ebb and flows, it happened in one of those infrequent moments when, for an instant, all noise in the hold ceased. What was that? a voice asked, and when a fresh bundle came thundering through the hatch it yelled: Wait, hold them. Someone screamed. Sounded like a woman. That produced a string of comments, but the owner of the voice must have possessed some rank because the loading ceased. James clapped a hand


over his mouth, smothering the urge to cry out as his arm throbbed to blazes. Someone came closer, pushing bales aside. Theres someone back here! Hey, you, come on out! James didnt budge. Show yourself. Theres a bunch o crates about to come down and youre gonna get flattened. The advice made sense. He hadnt escaped from prison to be squelched like a spider. All right! he piped. Im coming. Be Jaysus, it is a girl, someone said and he felt them crowd closer. Bring that lamp over here. A yellow light jostled towards the corner where James was stumbling over the merchandise towards a bunch of matelots squinting curiously into the gloom. He crawled into the lamps orbit and peered into a semicircle of grizzly bearded faces. Gods teeth, what have we here? Why, tis a child. And butt naked to boot. Please, James pleaded, his teeth chattering. Please dont put me off! A roar erupted from above and the captain yelled down asking what the hell was going on, had they all gone to sleep? Why had they stopped? Did they all want to end up on a hangmans rope? The sailor carrying the lamp swung it away from James and pushed him back down into the darkness. Stay there, he muttered. And dont come out till I say. He needed no more encouragement and burrowed like a mole deep among the soft bales. The loading resumed and the hold was soon full. The captains head re-appeared ordering everyone to move to the forward hold. The tide was on the turn and they had fifteen minutes to complete the stowing. The crew clanked up the ladder leaving James surrounded by an eerie silence. Every bone in his body ached and his arm throbbed, although he was relieved to find he could still move his fingers. A creaking sound began throughout the hold, and the edifice into which he had burrowed started to shift as the ship responded to the tug of the water. It felt like being in a dream to have his new black-as-pitch world sway, as if he were about to take off and float up in the sky. But he found the lethargic motion soothing, and soon he was overcome by a powerful urge to sleep. He


shook his head harshly and pinched his cheeks, knowing he must stay awake at all cost, that any moment an officer holding a scented handkerchief under his nose and intent on hanging him would come down the ladder. Each time fortune smiled, like hearing a sympathetic sailor tell him what to do, he was becoming used to it being followed with the need to guard against forces set to destroy him. However luck remained on his side and he lay undisturbed until the vessel gave a steep roll, spilling him out of his tunnel. The darkness came alive with a creaks and groans that grew so loud James thought the ship was breaking up. For someone who had never even been in a rowboat, the experience seized his imagination. Water slurped and pounded the hulls planking so aggressively he expected it to burst through at any moment and sweep him into the depths of the ocean. But as time passed, he started to assess the vessel was strong enough to withstand the onslaught and must have ploughed many an ocean unscathed. His fear abated and his stomach loosened a notch, he concentrated on clinging to anywhere firm enough to keep his body anchored. The first genuine danger wasnt long coming. In the race to load the hold, the crew hadnt bothered to secure the cargo with ropes or netting, and as the ship heaved and shuddered out of the dock and into open waters, bales, crates and barrels began tumbling everywere. He spread-eagled himself on the linen bales, holding on tightly with both hands, thinking this must be what an earthquake felt like. His terror was relieved by only one consolation; an hour ago, he had been served what was meant to be his last meal on earth. Despite the peril of the moving cargo he was free, and the distance was increasing every second between himself and a hangmans rope. The gamble had paid off; his time spent looking up at a barred window and despairing that any good would come of it, seemed from another age. Revising the events, it came to mind the operation had been pre-determined, organised by a larger hand. The delirium of success, together with the rhythmic sway of the ship wove a satisfied feeling, and he drifted into a deep sleep. The calm ended abruptly when his body was suddenly yanked from his hiding place by a bony claw, and his mind reeled as he smelled scent. Someone was grasping his neck and twisting him round to peer into the face of a fop with the reeking kerchief clamped to his mouth. Holding him


in an iron grip, the officer dragged the sobbing boy upstairs and emerged into warm sunlight. Thousands of people were crammed into a square in the middle of which stood a scaffold atop a platform with a masked executioner standing with folded arms. Some of the onlookers had brought picnics, others were selling stick dolls swinging from tiny gibbets. A thunderous applause rose as the officer dragged James up towards the noose. He didnt realise he was carrying a sack until it fell from his hands as the officer hauled him onto the platform. Apples, oranges, hams and sausages bounced down the steps and fell into the laps of the front row spectators. And there in the middle was Beth, the girl whose honour he had saved, pushing the others away and screaming the food belonged to her. Then through his tears of agony he saw Jesse chewing on a slab of bacon. Catching Jamess eye, he rubbed his stomach to let him know how juicy it tasted. Next to him stood Batt with his trousers buttoned the wrong way round. Now Beth suddenly changed into Annie, blooming under a pancake of rouge and powder. He called to her for help but she pretended not to hear. Why was she being so cruel? He shouted, but realised he had no voice. No-one could hear his cries. The officer held him as the hangman looped the noose over his head and tightened it. He felt the rough, greasy strands prickle his neck. What had happened to him? One moment he was free in the belly of a cargo ship, the next he was here. Oh no! He had only dreamed of escaping! It never really happened. There had been no ship, no sailors speaking in strange tongues. Soon he would be standing cheek by jowl with Robbie Ash. They would roll about the turnip fields and laugh and wrestle. At least that was something to look forward to. Annie was now up close and bending down to pull a lever. He tried to stop her, but the rope suddenly snapped tight around his throat and his feet went flailing as a black hole opened below. Annie and the spectators screamed with laughter as he kicked and fought, his fingers grappling at the rope round his neck. All he could see were the laughing faces of the hangman, the officer and the crowd. Why did they all hate him so much? What had he ever done to deserve this? The officer reached out and shook his shoulder, making his body spin. Annie followed


suit, then the executioner, hitting his arms to make him turn faster and faster. The gibbet began to creak as the speed became frantic Then a bearded face appeared inches from his face. The sun disappeared and suddenly night fell with a shining pink moon. Come on gully, the beard said. On yer feet. You got some explainin to do. James sat upright and looked around. The creaking he could hear came not from the gibbet but the hulls planking. A sailor with a lamp, the one who had spoken to him when he was first discovered, was rocking his shoulder back and forth. Please sir, dont put me off, he squeaked. Aint for me to decide, son, the matelot grunted. But Ill tell you this. Were a ways off shore now and the last individual to walk the plank on this bucket was weeks ago. Although when I think on it, he were a stowaway too. Get down now, look sharp. Trembling, James slid off the bales. The seaman held out a chemise and told him to put it on. When he tried, the ships roll sent him flying, so the man held his arm with one hand and slipped the shirt over his head with the other. It was so large it reached his ankles. Still holding his arm, the sailor helped him to the ladder as the ground pitched and tossed like a childs swing. Keep hold tight o the ladder. A searing wind swept the decks as James stuck his head out of the hatch. The sailor heaved him up, pushed him towards the focsle and rapped on a door. A voice barked from within and he shoved James through. We have a stowaway, capn. The man inside turned in his chair. Jamess heart throbbed fast when he saw a full glass of liquor in his hand. As he had learned only too well, drinking almost always led to violence. His first close look at the captain failed to re-assure him that from now on his days would be plain sailing. For a start, the man was large. Not like the monstrous Sergeant Wilkins; portly was more the word. An enormous head showing perhaps sixty years was set on a strong neck which in turn rested on a pair of broad, bowed shoulders. His frame expanded as it travelled downwards, yet there were no signs of obesity. Only a single chin in evidence, the hands broad with long fingers and clean nails. His


uniform fitted neatly and the brass buttons glittered under the swinging glow of a ceiling lamp. The face looked kindly, an impression encouraged by a short grey beard and a pair of steely grey eyes that twinkled in the swinging light. However, as James knew from years of dodging adult fists, appearances were deceptive and, like his erstwhile Master, the man bore the same webbed red lines on his cheekbones that identified a toper. Whats your name, boy? The voice was softer than the one he used to hasten the ships departure. James Morgan, sir. Very well, James Morgan, the captain said, slowly turning the glass of dark red liquid in his hands. Perhaps you will explain what you are doing aboard my ship. And half naked to boot. A frown rested on his brow, but for some reason James had a premonition he was safe. And you had better make it convincing, the captain added as if reading the boys mind, or Ill toss you overboard like a bucket of slops. With diminished confidence, James began his tale while the captain sat with his head bowed in concentration, occasionally taking nips of his drink, and the seaman stood propped against the door. He started with his capture, interrupting the narrative to assure them he wasnt a thief and what he was saying was the gospel truth. I see, the captain nodded. What youre saying is that you bought the food in the first place. James stiffened under the slow gaze. Well, not, ah, exactly Continue. He took a deep breath and resolved not to add further embellishments to the more debatable facts. He took them through the flogging and the death of the sergeant, to his cell and the officer, then described the jailer whose confidence he had won and who unwittingly assisted his escape. The captain began to smile and the boy took it to be in admiration of his exploits. It was, after all, an extraordinary tale for a ten-year-old who until a few weeks ago had been a much-abused apprentice. This gave him heart, and he hit his stride relating how the jailer had openly wept when he talked about seeing the moon and the stars for the last time, and how grateful he was for the generosity shown him during his last hours on earth. This


increased the captains mirth and when James turned, he saw the sailor by the door equally amused. When he came to the beach episodes and how he had dodged his pursuers by running round the headland naked as the day he was born and at the risk of being swept up by the incoming tide, stung by the high sea gales and fighting the temptation to lie down and sleep, by now both men were verging on hysteria. The captain poured another drink and swallowed it in one tilt, spluttering uncontrollably as James reached the climax of his adventure; how he had crouched by the ship deliberating whether his life would be one of a fugitive on land or an adventurer at sea. Choosing the latter, he shinned up the mooring rope and hid in the hold as the troopers raced towards him . Finishing in a torrent of words, he let it be known he was throwing himself upon their mercies and hoped they would extend the basic human kindness denied by his fellow Englishmen. Pausing to catch his breath he watched the men hold their heads in their hands convinced his narrative had won their respect for his courage and ingenuity. Yet as they continued to splutter, he began to think there was something odd. Their laughter was too raucous. Finally, the captain unfurled a large red handkerchief from his coat pocket and blew his nose loudly. Well, Ill be hanged! he gasped, wiping the tears from his eyes. If you aint the damnedest liar I ever met! Jamess smile vanished. To be called a liar when you are telling untruths is a humiliation. To be called one when everything you have said was the gospel truth was outrageous! He took a moment to calm down and select his words. If I had wanted to lie, he said quietly, I could have done better than that. I could have said I fought off a platoon of troopers and that I was actually on a secret mission to kill the Emperor Bonaparte. This set the men off again while he stood there, furious. What is it you dont believe? he demanded, forgetting that a few minutes ago he had thrown himself on their mercies. What dont we believe? roared the captain as he collapsed into a prolonged coughing fit. Not one damn word! James flung back his shoulders in a bait and the movement awoke the sting of his wounds. He lifted the shirt over his head, turning his back.


I hope that you will at the very least believe the part about the whipping, he snapped. Both men stopped laughing simultaneously. The captain moved over to peer closely at the criss cross of red stripes, some now weeping. Mother of mercy! Who would do this to a child? Half an hour later, James was sitting on a pile of cushions with a bowl of hot broth warming his hands and belly while the sailor wiped cooling ointment over his wounds. He said his name was Tyler, the captain was called Biddle, and, as James had guessed, the ship was from the Americas. Biddle himself hailed from Scotland, but there was little left of the dialect heard spoken by the likes of Jesse. He learned the captain had not lived there since childhood when his parents left for the New World. He had plied the oceans for forty years, the last twenty under the American flag. James asked why there was so much hostility between the two countries, explaining that he knew all about the war, but wasnt that a long time ago? Tyler related how, after what he called the War of Independence, relations had become strained since England refused to recognise their nationhood. What made it worse was that America had taken the side of Napoleon, because France had undergone a similar revolution at the same time for the same reason: to rid themselves of royal authority. Although they went one better and chopped off the kings head. The present American President Thomas Jefferson had served as an ambassador to France, and the United States government had recently bought a huge tract of territory previously owned by the French called the Louisiana Purchase, a negotiation that emphasised their mutual friendship and their shared hatred of the United Kingdom. James had little idea what the man was talking about but kept his peace. To have asked where America was on the map would have made him seem a dolt, so he confined his replies to an occasional nod of the head at the appropriate time. When it came to Biddle, Tyler had nothing but praise. Finest capn I ever served under. Been with him six years and never had a minutes trouble. They had frequently been boarded by the English navy, and each time he risked life and liberty protecting his men. James chipped in and said he


had heard how the English would try and take their sailors to serve on their own vessels. Tyler was impressed. You keep your ears open, dont you. He was looping a strip of linen around the boys chest to protect his raw back, winding it tightly until James found it hard to breathe. But he didnt mind. Tyler had paid him a compliment. See, by not recognising us as citizens of a free country, he went on, they reckon that all American crews are by law English. So they take them off, sometimes putting them on trial as deserters. The state of affairs had become so bad there were people in London calling for a ban on all American trade and a blockade on their ports. This would cause England considerable inconvenience, but the price was worth paying to see the rebels brought to their knees and beg to be restored to their original colonial status. And that was why, Tyler explained, Biddle had been in such a hurry to weigh anchor. So you see, he said, finishing off the bandaging and tying up the ends, you and me are sworn enemies. Biddle came in later and examined the bandages. You have a young body, he told James. Youre of an age when the skin soon mends and bad memories fade. He told Tyler to put James in the galley. And keep him away from the rest of the crew. The galley lay next to the kitchen and with the help of Jacob, a lad not much older than himself, he learned how to sleep in a hammock, stand upright in rough weather, tie knots, conquer sea sickness, cook and swab decks. He discovered Americas place on the globe, how big it was and populated by men of all hues; white, black, brown, red and grey. He was told about some birds being as large as goats, others with tails the colours of the rainbow; of crocodiles, mosquitoes, fireflies and cockroaches the size of his hand. He listened to stories of winters when the snow was so deep it rose higher than the house roof, and of bears devouring travellers. Yet in the summertime, the sun shone so hot a man could fry an egg on a stone floor. Jacob listed the names of savage tribes who roamed the great prairies collecting the scalps of white men; Choctaws, Chickasaws. Creeks and Natchez. Seminole, Shawnee, Seneca, Algonquin and Arapaho. He


described rivers so wide you couldnt see the other side and mountains so high that the snow never melted on their peaks. James didnt believe a single word, but smiled and kept his new friend happy by not referring to the fact that he was clearly as mad as a march hare. The ship was called Carillon and carried a complement of 48 crew among whom were several Englishmen. Slow to admit it, they would confess at night that they came from places like London, Worcester and even Devon. They werent what people called Yankees, men born in the Americas, but having once sailed under the sadistic conditions of the Royal Navy, they had sworn never to go back to a life where punishments were beyond reason. They left to serve under the American flag because they heard that captains treated their crews fairly and provided humane conditions where terror was not the chief tool of command. During his first days afloat the boy discovered sailors were a strange breed. Half the time they talked about how they mutinied and murdered because of the brutality they suffered, yet in the next breath they were proudly showing their scars, saying a man isnt worth his salt until hes felt the lick of the cat. James reckoned he was their equal here, especially when Tyler made him show his own stripes that had them all shaking his hand. The vessel was bound for Charleston, South Carolina, taking cloth and brocades to a people just starting to become fashion conscious. As Tyler explained, the Puritans who first came to the land condemned silk and lace as temptations of the Devil, but since the arrival of other European races and the confidence created by independence, Americans had learned to express themselves more flamboyantly and were creating a boom in the clothing trade. But such precious merchandise aboard gave rise to the fear of pirates. James conjured up images of men with eye patches, striped shirts and cutlasses between their teeth, but he was set right after watching an English vessel pass and feel the tenseness among the crew until it sailed on out of sight. It was they who are the pirates, Jacob spat, and as America was a young nation with few ships to speak of, they were left helpless before the might of the Royal Navy.


What the Carillon lacked in armaments she made up in morale. At night the men sang to a squeeze box and guitars, and no-one seemed to object to a young English lad who did little else but make a sizeable hole in the ships rations. After a week he was talking and behaving like an old seadog, revelling in the routine of the day. The ocean stayed calm and only once did he feel his gorge rise. Jacob told him the worst way to treat sea sickness was to let it know it was winning. A natural reaction was to skip eating and lie down. That was a big mistake. When the butterflies start to flap around the belly, what you had to do was to go on long sprints around the decks and eat like a hog to demonstrate who was in charge of your body. James found it impossible to think of food with his stomach in turmoil, but was willing to listen to the advice and follow Jacobs bidding. To his amazement, and to Jacobs, who was merely taking a rise out of a landlubber, his sickness did abate and he gradually became impervious to the vessels pitch and toss. Although too young to take on sail work, Tyler taught him how to clamber up the masts and the complex system of ropes and pulleys that deployed the ships sails through the changing winds. He was a rapid learner and it wasnt long before hed memorised the names of the dozens of deck tools, and able to fetch them on command. The activity made him feel less of a scrounger and boosted his popularity. When he wasnt in the galley with Jacob, he followed Tyler around like a puppy. Until now, grown ups had been creatures to be avoided. They were trouble, causing pain and death. But for the first time, James was mixing with adults who didnt fit the bill. He never saw Tyler drunk or brutal, rarely heard him curse, and was soon so deep in the throes of hero worship, he would have leaped overboard at his command. He was also popular with the rest of the crew, keeping up a string of jokes, even when we were pitching in a swell and the shifting cargo displaced the ships balance. True, James did hear a few mutters wishing Tyler would bridle his tongue, but no-one told him face to face. He was the best rigger on board and taught his protg how not to fall, discouraging him from taking risks with stories of men who splattered the decks like overripe melons. His yarns gave James extra traction when he went aloft, and he made sure he obeyed the golden rule of never looking down. In the evenings he


performed magic tricks with a length of cord, fashioning complex knots in a trice, and describing how each had a specific role to play in the running of a three master. He occasionally reminisced about his early life. His family arrived in America years before the Revolution and he had grown up in Vermont, the place where the snow buried the houses and the bears ate the travellers. He spoke of the War of Independence and how he was not much older than James when it began. Despite his easy manner, Tyler was not quick to laugh and James studied the way he thought before answering a question. He liked the seriousness. It gave him what was the word he once heard? gravitas. He relished the meaning; It was like gravity, the force that keeps your feet on the ground. Thats what he had to have if he were to grow up and be respected like Tyler. He also began to imitate the accents of his new friends, saying he wanted to be taken for a true American because the only offer his fellow citizens had waiting for him was a noose. He wished the journey would never end, that he could spend the rest of his life sailing the open seas with these men. However, as he had reason to observe once before, it was usually at moments of highest exaltation that life suddenly turns sour.


CHAPTER SEVEN It was Biddles rule that once the boys cleared the galley after the crews breakfast, they had to return to their hammocks to catch up on the rest they forfeited by rising before dawn. Despite the stern manner the captain presented towards his men, he had what Jacob called a mothers heart when it came to children. To his knowledge Biddle had never married yet was godfather to dozens back home, and when he went on leave he spent most of his time going from one to another handing out presents collected on his travels. As a result of the enforced siestas, James knew little of the ships life in the forenoon, but one morning he awoke earlier than usual. He knew it wasnt time to rise because the sun was still low enough to shine directly through the galley ports. That was the first strange feeling. The second took a few minutes to identify, but he realised the ship was no longer pitching through the waves; it was laying still. There could be a dozen reasons why the sails were furled, but anxiety was nagging him to the extent he was unable to drift back to sleep. Finally he left Jacob snoring, swung his feet to the ground, located his canvas deck slippers and went outside. The first thing he saw was the crew standing in line along the starboard rail. Edging further, he realised they were all staring at four English frigates, the first less than a hundred yards off the stern. He saw Tyler, scurried across and noticed the riggers grim expression. Whats happening? Nothing for you to fret about, Tyler grunted. Just some of your people wanting a friendly chat. If that were the case, James thought, why does everyone look so tense? Even Captain Biddle on the quarter-deck looked unusually thunderous as a longboat struck out from the nearest frigate containing a lieutenant standing in the bows with one hand on the hilt of a sword and the other holding on to his hat against the breeze. When it bumped against the hull, a bosun looked at the captain, and receiving a curt nod, lowered a rope ladder. The man next to Tyler gave him a nudge.


See that? They triced their ports, he muttered. Sure enough, a line of cannon along the larboard side was now visible with all barrels pointing at the Carillon. Still holding on to his hat, the lieutenant clambered over the rail and snapped a smart salute towards Biddle who replied stonily. James looked up at those eyes that could twinkle with pleasure, but now held a ferocity that could have burned paint off the woodwork. The crew edged over to the quarter-deck to hear their exchange. Lieutenant Ferguson, His Majestys royal navy. Captain Biddle. The USS Carillon. Permission to speak with you, captain? Less than half Biddles age, the officer spoke with a nasal whine that made everything he said sound sarcastic. The captain nodded and Ferguson skipped up the quarterdeck steps . Sire, my captain sends his compliments and instructs me to convey his appreciation for heaving to. Biddle remained unmoved. My compliments to your captain, he growled. I am a merchant ship sailing under the flag of the United States bound for Charleston, South Carolina with a cargo of cotton, linen and other sundry items. Indeed, captain Ferguson answered, but Biddle cut him off. As such, he continued, we hardly qualify for the belligerence shown by the raising of your gunports. The lieutenant half turned towards his frigate and James thought he detected a twitch of nervousness. Be not alarmed, captain, he responded. It is standard procedure when a ship of the line stands within firing distance of a foreign vessel. Lieutenant, said Biddle with hardly a ripple, you are talking nonsense. Please oblige me by stating your business. The younger mans countenance turned sour. He drew a sheet of paper from a pocket. I have here, he announced, raising his voice for the whole crew to hear, a list of deserters from His Majestys navy. According to instructions issued by Vice Admiral Berkeley, I have the right to search this ship for the said men. Should any be aboard, I have the right to take them into custody.


A long pause followed and the crew gave each other shifty looks. Attention turned towards Captain Biddle who stared unblinkingly at the young officer. The rights you claim, he said, measuring his words, are not recognised aboard this vessel. Thus you will not search one inch of her. Furthermore, if you do not vacate my decks within thirty seconds, I shall have you thrown off. Ferguson looked astonished. May I remind you, sir, he stammered, that Admiral Berkeley Your Admiral Berkeley, Biddle cut on, may issue instructions until he turns blue in the face. As far as the military and merchant navies of the United States are concerned, his words carry as much weight as that ludicrous hat thats sitting precariously on your young head. Since he had stepped over the rail, Ferguson had not let go of his headpiece. When he did so now, it blew straight off, bringing a cackle from the crew. Do I take it, he snapped after catching it on the third attempt: that you are refusing permission to search? Your hearing is unimpaired, Biddle answered. James stood enraptured, his eyes glued to the granite features of the captain. How he wished he could use words that flew like daggers. Your hearing is unimpaired. Short and to the point. Nor did Biddle bellow or gesticulate. His hands remained in his coat pockets to keep alive the gesture of contempt. The reference to Fergusons young head had made the Englishman react, furious at the way his patronising manner had been reversed. After a moment while he debated whether to continue the exchange, Ferguson chose silence to be the wiser path in the face of the crews merriment, and returned to the rope ladder. As he turned to descend he bawled: Mark my words, sir, you have not heard the last of this affair. He climbed down to the longboat and stood fuming, one hand still anchoring the errant hat, as his rowers dipped oars and pulled back to the frigate. I fear yon sparrow is correct, James heard Biddle remark to the first officer. He gave orders for everyone to go about their duties.


What does that mean? James asked Tyler as they went below. Trouble. What kind of trouble? The crew gathered below decks, one muttering: Its the old game. Theyll be back. Wait and see. The capn played his bluff card. Could be theyll sling their hook. And have it be known they were chased off a Yankee cargo ship? Tyler detached himself and James went with him. Are they all deserters? he whispered. Makes no difference if they are or not. The British arent particular when it comes to details. But you arent, James persisted. Youre not English. Dont fret, Tyler chuckled, ruffling the boys hair. Ill see they dont take you. This only made him angrier and he pushed Tylers hand away. Im not a babe in arms. You can tell me whats afoot without using any soft soap. The rigger opened his mouth to reply when a shot whined overhead and everyone dived to the floor. Stay here, Tyler snapped before dashing up the ladder. His advice was lost on James, who thought that if the ship was to be sunk he didnt want to be found skulking below deck. Captain Biddle was standing by the quarter-deck rail. The frigate was closer now. A puff of smoke enveloped a carronade and another ball whistled over the bows and fell to larboard. James didnt understand. The British were too near to miss, so why were they so off in their aim? Captain Biddle! roared a voice from the frigate. You will observe the instructions of Admiral Berkeley or you shall be blown out of the water! Then he realised the first shots across the bows were warnings. The next would hit them plumb amidships. He looked at Biddle along with every member of the crew. None showed the kind of fear rising in his gorge, but stood waiting for the captains order. Had he yelled: Up and at em, lads, they would have grabbed the nearest belaying pin and done his


bidding, of that James was certain. But Biddle remained like a statue, his hands grasping the rail. Then he spoke: Sorry, lads, we have no choice. Rest assured, I shall do everything in my power to oppose these brigands. The men shuffled their feet, but no-one argued. Even James could see that with the frigates guns trained on their waterline, further protest would be folly. Biddle took a trumpet from the first officer and raised it to his mouth: Send your goddamned lackey! Ten minutes later, a hatless Ferguson was back on the Carillons decks accompanied by a bosun and two hulking seamen. Holding a paper under his nose, he read out a dozen names then looked at Captain Biddle and added, with no lilt of a question: Permission to search for these aforementioned deserters. None of those names belong to anyone aboard my ship, Biddle replied. But you will allow us to make sure? Ferguson asked insolently. When Biddle didnt reply, he turned to the three seamen and the four of them spread out among the silent assembly. Whereas James felt an immense relief his name was not on their list, he still felt the hair on his neck bristle when they came in his direction. If he were asked a question, they might spot his Devon accent which would lead to further questions, and likely as not someone would recall a recent affair in Dock when a sergeant of the guard had been brutally killed by a boy who later absconded from a prison cell. Ferguson stopped and looked closely at one of the riggers, a friend of Tyler. Your name, the bosun snapped. Barker. Damn me if you arent an Englishman, Ferguson bellowed into his face. I was born and bred in Virginia, the rigger replied. Virginia? retorted the bosun, why, that accent is as pure London I ever heard. If you arent from Whitechapel Ill eat my collar. I was born and bred in Virginia, the man repeated slowly. I aint never been to London in my life. Very well, Ferguson said, shoving out a hand, show me your papers.


Captain Biddle arrived. American citizens are not required to carry papers of identity. The British government, Ferguson intoned, following an oft practised routine, has recommended many times that to avoid mistakes in identification, all personnel sailing the high seas should carry certificates of citizenship. The government of the United States, Biddle replied, has always denied the right of foreign powers to board an American vessel without leave. Furthermore, our President has condemned your countrys suggestion of proving citizenship and observed it is a condition recognised by no other nation on earth. This removed Ferguson out of his depth and he returned his attention to Barker. I have good reason to believe that you are Abraham Stokes, and that you deserted His Majestys ship Leopard while docked in New York in February of this year. Take him. The last command was fired at the two hulks who advanced on the rigger with pins at the ready. Barker took a step back and made to duck the first mans swing but caught a blow from the other on the back of the head and fell pole-axed. This is piracy! Biddle roared. Ill see you hanged! The seamen dragged Barker to the side where the longboat bobbed below. Two oarsmen shinned up and manhandled him into the boat while the bosun returned to the crew, retorting to Biddle as he passed: You get your President making the word sound like the name of a popinjay to order certificates of citizenship and none othis would be necessary, would it, Yankee Doodle? Watched by the gloating lieutenant, the men took off twelve crew using the same fiction that they were masquerading under false names. Some went easily, knowing resistance would only produce a broken head, while others fought back, heedless of their blows. The last to go was Tyler. You look like Jack Webber, James heard the bosun say, and found to his horror that he was addressing his friend. Tyler grinned, as if the whole thing was a bit of a lark. Like the others before him, he explained he was a born and bred American.


What year? Ferguson chimed in. Seventeen sixty six, Tyler replied. That was before the rebels committed their treason. In which case you were born on British soil, which makes you as English as I am. Take him, lads. When they led him away, James felt his eyes prickle. He couldnt remember the last time he had cried. He recalled the sailors tales of how badly American seamen were treated aboard English ships, and knowing this would befall the man who had shown him more kindness than any living soul, the boy was seized with a fit of tears. A rigger put an arm round him muttering a few words of consolation which didnt appease. The departure of the longboat brought a sigh of relief, but still the crew hardly moved. They watched their fellows reach the frigate and rough hands drag them on deck. Forced to run a gauntlet of pins, they were shoved towards a hatch and kicked below. The last glimpse James had of Tyler was holding his hands to a bleeding wound on his head, then sneaking a look at Biddle saw a man crushed with humiliation. The Carillon had lost a quarter of her crew and the gloom caused by the incident hung over the ship. James pleaded to be allowed to work the rigging in place of Tyler and Biddle reluctantly consented, but expressly forbade him to go aloft on his own. The captain kept to his cabin for the rest of the voyage. Passing his door one night, James heard him mumbling incoherently and could tell he was drunk and venting his spleen. The latch was up and he pushed the door open an inch and saw Biddle slumped over the table, his fingers clamped round a glass of rum. He described the moment to Jacob later who said he wasnt surprised the Captain was taking the it hard because it was likely he would get punished when they docked. Why? What chance did he have to resist? There arent enough arms aboard to scare the rats. Jacob gave a hoot of laughter. You dont know nothing, he snorted. When the capn reports, the first thing the owners do is examine the cargo down to the very last bale against a waybill. If theres so much as a stick missing, the slightest error between whats in the hold and on the bill, the cost is taken out of our wages.


But thats wrong! said James, truly shocked. Its not our fault. Faults got nothing to do with it. Lemme tell you the golden rule of commerce. Its all based on reducing the amount of money you pay out and increasing the money thats paid in. So ship owners want to prove their goods have suffered through some crew roguery. That way they keep more in their purse. Dont look so all fired shocked. Its the way of the world. If you dont like it, dont go to sea. I been on trips where at the end, no-one got a cent. They once docked us pay because of storm damage. Said we should of navigated better. Cant anything by done? James asked, boiling at the unfairness of it all. These ship owners were acting no better than the English navy and used the same trickery. Oh, the politicians keep promising, Jacob sighed. They get hot under the collar sure, say how the British mustnt be allowed to rob us. But words are cheap. We dont have no real navy, so whos gonna stop em? Anyway, politicians are only worried about staying in office and do whats necessary to cover their backsides. They cant give us protection, so when the Britishers loot us, they say its our fault. Thats why were fined and captains get court martialled. Just so people dont put the blame on them. And so it came about that after forty four days afloat, when the lookout called the first sighting of the American coast, that James felt his spirits plunge. All the exotic descriptions he had heard of this vast new land, the excitement they had generated in his young heart, was rendered into pitch by the thought of Captain Biddle being handed over to the mercies of mean-minded men, the kind he believed to have left behind for ever when he quit the shores of England.


CHAPTER EIGHT The Carillon sailed into Charleston harbour in the early afternoon of June 23rd. James stood on his tiptoes beside the rail watching the shore approach. He thought of the last time he had been on land and how different it seemed now. For a start, the heat was suffocating. He had accustomed himself to a warmer sun during the last two weeks of the voyage, but out at sea the temperature was tempered by a breeze. As soon as they drifted into the lee of the land, the winds dropped and the sudden rise in temperature made him giddy. Sweat dripped down his sides under a chemise that Biddle insisted he wear to ward off sunburn, and his feet squelched inside the canvas slippers. He was also in the grip of a raging thirst. As the harbour swung closer, he took in his first glimpse of America, and couldnt believe what he was seeing. Almost everyone on the quay stacking cargo, slinging crates, working at a furious rate beneath the scorch of an overhead sun were black. Where were all the white people? Nobody had warned him America was populated entirely by Africans. Listening to the sailors tales he heard no references to Negroes, nor were there any on board. When Jacob came to watch the docking, he thought of asking him but decided against it; he had grown weary of being treated like a numbskull. There would be time enough later to discover whether he really had reached the New World or whether Charleston was only a staging post. How can anyone work in this heat? he asked Jacob. Theyre slaves, Jacob replied, sounding as if that was all an explanation required. Anyhow, this aint hot. You wait till August when the birds fall off the trees. Today feels just right, although I can see how it must be to an Englishman. God knows why anyone wants to live on your frozen little island. You got to be touched in the head. Ive been to China. Twice.


James had learned when Jacob began his stories it was wise to stay silent. Let him boast about going here and there, fighting sea monsters and pirates. He was such a liar. Still, he said when the lad paused to draw breath, I dont fancy working out of doors, not in this sun. You dont have to, Jacob replied, waving at the Negroes below. Thats why God made them natives. You leave a slave without work and hell die. They have to keep moving or their insides stiffen up and pretty soon they caint eat or nothing. Thats a proven fact. The ship gave a long shudder like an extended sigh of relief as it met the jetty. The crew gathered at the rail with excitement rising to stand on terra firm for the first time in weeks. Shore fever, it was called, and James felt as infected as everyone else, longing to place his feet on a ground that didnt move. The first officer removed part of the rail and in a cheerful ceremony, the mooring ropes were secured and a gangplank rolled into place. The crew pressed James to go first, and he bounced down the plank. As soon as his feet met terra firma, he fell over. While everyone laughed, he staggered to his feet, then pitched over backwards. Finally one of them came down, picked him up, keeping one hand clutching his collar. You learned how to get your sea pins, now you want your land ones back. Stand still, count to sixty, then hold out your arms and try standing on one leg. He felt a fool but did as he was told while watched by the black men. He got as far as lifting a leg before taking another tumble that brought chuckles to his audience. Jacob put him off by standing in front and leaning at an angle, but gradually he concentrated, took one pace, dragged the other foot alongside, and repeated the exercise until his posture returned. While his shipmates dispersed into a maze of alleys around the harbour, James watched the Negroes unload the Carillon. He assumed once empty, more cargo would go on board and they would soon be weighing anchor and off again, but when he asked Jacob, he learned the ship was due for careening and general repair, and would be in dry dock for some weeks. So what are we going to do? James asked. Jacob shrugged. Im in no hurry, then loped off.


After a while James began to feel uneasy. Surely someone would tell him what happens next. If Tyler were here, he wouldnt have had any difficulty finding out, but the others, although friendly, hadnt spent any time with him on board. Half an hour passed when the quay became deserted except for the Africans. Slaves, Jacob called them. He knew what a slave was; hed been called one in High Tor Farm, but there it was just a nickname: Slaving away. It meant working hard for no money. But that only happened to children, not to grown men. It gradually dawned on him that no-one was coming back to take care of him so he headed towards the harbour buildings. A florid sign hung across the window of one reading: WILLIAM PARFITT & SON, and in smaller letters beneath: Shippers and Transporters. Looking through the window he was cheered to see his shipmates standing in line facing a counter where a row of clerks were writing in leather bound ledgers. He opened the door and slunk inside. Captain Biddle appeared but again but remained grim-faced. Striding to the counter ahead of the queues, he muttered a few words to one of the clerks who lifted a flap and allowed him through. Then he marched towards an office door, yanked it open and disappeared inside. The crew stood conversing in whispers as they waited. James assumed they were about to be paid, but by their expressions it didnt look as if they who get much to cheer about. Biddle re-appeared and everyone knew something was wrong. His cheeks had turned beetroot red and he wore a frown that exceeded in ferocity the one he had trained on the English naval lieutenant. Following him was an elderly man carrying a ledger with hands intertwined in front of his waistcoat. Biddle pointed to his crew: There they are, sir. You will do them the courtesy of paying them their full wages. But the cargo hasnt been accounted for, the man protested before Biddle cut him off. In all my years as a sea captain, I never failed to have my crew paid before the cargo is examined. If there are any deficiencies, the cost will be taken from my wages, sir, not theirs. Do I make myself clear?


The clerk scuttled back into his office, then after a decent period had elapsed, re-appeared to instruct the clerks to pay the seamen their full rate. While the men surged forward, some looking surprised, James stayed in the background watching Biddle chew his lip. They took their money at the counter, touched their forehead as they passed him and received a curt nod in reply. After the last man left, Biddle caught sight of James. Whats the matter, lad? Do you have an aversion to collecting your wages? He flicked his fingers at one of the clerks tying up the money bags. Pay the boy! he boomed. When the clerk hesitated, Biddle strode up and snarled, inches from his face: This boy did as much work aboard your damnable bucket as everyone else, so give him his due. The terrified clerk delved into a bag and dropped five silver coins one by one into Jamess hand. He had never felt so much money. Except for a few bronze pennies, hed never seen any currency at all and couldnt take his eyes off the glittering coins until Biddle broke the spell. All right, son. Now be off with you. Satisfied that all his men had been accounted for, Biddle stalked out, neck thrust forwards suggesting he was heading for another clash of opinions. James drifted into the blistering heat, followed Biddle until he disappeared into a quayside tavern and spent the rest of the day wandering about the town with his eyes on stalks. Never had he imagined anywhere could be so different to his native land. The Africans talked in a language he couldnt decipher, although the occasional word told him it was based on some brand of English. The white people also spoke strangely, using slow, carefully constructed sentences that sounded like they would drop off to sleep in the middle. They dressed differently too; wide-brimmed hats and white linen suits that reflected the sun and made his eyes run. Then there were the birds homing in on the fruit crates stacked around the harbour. Some had feathers as red as blood, others black and white, while recognisable sparrows hopped fearlessly between the feet of passersby chipping at food remains in the gutters. Elsewhere else, heavy-winged


butterflies floated on the stifling air, monkeys and parakeets perched on mens shoulders. The coins weighed heavily in his pocket. He had no idea how they were used when exchanging them to buy goods. During the short time spent thieving with Jesse, hed always been too consumed with the fear of being caught to learn about commercial transactions. How did he find out how much something cost, and what happened if he didnt have the exact price? The other alarm bell was born from experience. If he showed something made of silver, wasnt it inevitable that people would think he had stolen it and call the soldiers? However, he soon discovered, there was no need to spend money at all. What food he needed lay all around him. Charleston was the major port for hundreds of miles where fruit and vegetables outnumbered any other dockside cargo. No-one bothered to retrieve anything that fell off the wagons. When he stooped to pick up a wayward orange, nobody ordered him to put it back, unlike the Devon marketeers who guarded every turnip as if it were gold dust. When darkness began to fall he found he was able to sleep anywhere with no need for blankets. Even in the middle of the night when the temperature dropped, the air stayed warm and balmy. For the next few days he didnt stray more than a few hundred yards from the harbour. The town seemed smaller than Dock, but the houses and cobbled streets looked more or less the same. His only worry was that after hearing stories of the two countries fighting each other at sea, someone might discover he was English and call for his arrest. He resolved not to let anyone hear his accent except the Africans. These people fascinated him. He passed a group taking a break and one held out a water bottle saying something he didnt understand. Then he was offered a biscuit. By concentrating hard, he came to understand some of their words. Where you from, suh? Er, France. Where dat? In Europe. Never heared o no Yerp. What you do here, suh?


Im waiting for my ship to sail. What ship dat? The Carillon. He was about to tell about the raid of the British frigate when they all jumped to their feet in one accord. A squat elderly man came round the corner dressed in standard white suit. breeches and a peculiar top hat perched at an angle on his shoulder length grey hair. His hand gripped a bamboo walking stick that bent alarmingly as it took his weight. With a salivated high pitched shout, he had the Africans running every which way. A stream of abuse continued until he went into a coughing fit, retching into a red bandanna he used to wipe the sweat from his podgy neck. Finally he glanced down at James who hadnt moved during the melee and was still holding a half eaten biscuit. What you doin boy? the old man snapped, pointing the tip of the cane close on Jamess chin. What you doin talking to mah nigras? James stood and began to back away, determined not to reveal his tell-tale English accent. Here was the type of adult he recognised. Brutish, stupid and in a permanent ill humour which he appeased by chastising children and his workers. Dont you go backin off when ahm speakin to you, he growled, waddling forwards to keep the cane close to the Jamess head. Ah see you have food in your hand. Ill wager you stole it from mah goods here, now aint that so? The Africans melted away when the man started on James who was alarmed at the sight of a cane as ill-treated dogs are to a whip. If you please, sir, no. James stammered. What kinda talk is that, you whippersnapper? Damn you, stand still when ahm talking. James felt his body begin to shake. He had done nothing wrong but he was behaving like a thief. Jesse had taught him never to act guilty even when youre in the process of stealing. Now this mans face was flushed and he seemed intent on looking for a fight, convinced the child had stolen a biscuit. Please, sir, James tried again. Ahm waiting for mah uncle. Hes over in yonder tavern and told me to sit tight here. If Ahm trespassing on your property, ahm trooly sorry , indeed ah am.


Your uncle? And who might he be? Captain Biddle, sir. The man withdrew his cane. Capn James Biddle? Please, Lord, dont let it be they were brothers. But the name meant something to him and he waggled his jowls a few times while planning his next move. Very well, However, ahd be obliged if you let mah boys go bout their dooties and not get in their way, he muttered and walked away. The Africans waited until he disappeared then grinned at James. One held up an arm to show he considered him to have won the round. He smiled back, pleased at his first attempt to speak in the funny dialect he was hearing all around him. And what had made him think of calling Biddle his uncle, the only person he knew who showed authority ooze from every pore? But it had worked. However, as the days passed, the novelty of America began to fade and he became seized with the nightmares of loneliness. He couldnt spend the rest of his days hanging round the harbour, that was obvious. His face was becoming familiar among the habitus, and sooner or later someone wouldnt quit after hearing he came from France. If only he could find some of his shipmates, but they had all vanished. One alternative was to stow away again, except suppose the ship fetched up back in Devon? Suppose the next captain didnt turn out to be like Biddle? He was in the middle of a debate whether to go further inland when he noticed a familiar face. A sailor was scuffing a meandering path along the waterfront, plainly drunk. James recognised him as one of the riggers from the Carillon. His heart skipped at seeing someone he could safely talk to and walked over to bar the mans unsteady route towards the tavern. Sir, he called with a broad smile. Hello, its me. Dont you remember? Wassat? James Morgan, sir. Galley lad on the Carillon. Friend of Mister Tyler. The sailor looked him slowly up and down and put out a steadying hand against the tavern wall.


Tyler was took, he mumbled, pushing past to reach the door. James followed him in and watched as the hapless tar, scarcely able to move his legs, fell against a drinker, knocking a full glass from his hands. You pot-swilling lackey! the man yelled. You owe me a drink! The drunk tried several times to regain his feet but they wouldnt conform. The irate drinker bent, ripped the poor fellows shirt open and felt for his purse. He emptied some coins into a palm, selected two and flung the others down on the floor where they went rolling under a forest of legs. As customers scrambled to pick them up, some fell over the recumbent rigger before a barman came from behind the counter, dragged him by the collar to the door and pitched him outside. So much for conversations with a friend, James thought as he found a corner in the room. He began to feel a depression returning. Freedom was a new concept and he wasnt sure he could cope with it. A month after running away from High Tor farm, he was commanded by a strong-willed Scots boy who led him back into detention. Then came the Carillon where, although in a more agreeable way, he was still governed by people telling him what to do. There was no question that he was still unable to look after himself when there was no-one present giving him orders. As customers came and went, the pattern of the room changed. Prosperous looking men ate and drank while others read news broadsheets sold by a boy around his age who threaded through the tables piping Sentinel, todays Sentinel....... Occasionally a black man would appear, stand by the door, scan the room then lope over to a seated man, mumble in his ear and lead him out. Looking through a window, James saw the African go to a coach, open the door for his master to climb aboard, then climb onto the driving board and crack a whip to move the horses. After a while, the drinkers began to thin out. And that was when he caught sight of Captain Biddle. He was seated on the other side of the room reading a newspaper. Should he go across? Would he even be recognised? The only alternative was to sit there and be scuffed and pushed by passing customers, so he stood and crossed the room to the captains table. Captain, sir? he said, his voice quavering.


Biddles head rose from the paper and a pair of bleary, red-rimmed eyes surveyed the room until they settled on James. After another blank moment, a weary smile added to the creases on his leathery face. Well now. If it isnt my gallant galley boy. Aye, sir, James replied, saluting. James Morgan. He was stared at for a moment before the captain nodded to a chair. It was clear something heavy was on his mind he didnt speak until prompted by Jamess attempts to start a conversation by asking about the next voyage, Biddle unfolded a sad story. It took a while before he ceased to regard him as an awesome ships captain, but the liquor made Biddle forget he was addressing a child, and the unassuming manner with which he related what had occurred narrowed the chasm of the fifty years between their ages. He explained the Carillons owner had been less than sympathetic to his account of the last voyage. William Parfitt was a person of limitless wealth from Virginia where he ran a plantation containing a hundred slaves. Having made his fortune, he now pursued bigger fish; to whit, a place in government. And a seat in the United States senate had already been mooted. When Biddle was summoned to his house to describe the impressment of twelve of his crew by the British frigate, he found him with a man from Washington City whose principal role was to investigate cases where ships under the American flag had been boarded by foreign powers. Investigate Biddle explained, was hardly the word to describe the sneers and innuendoes he had suffered at the hands of the fellow who intended to make him bear responsibility for the whole affair. Parfitt had said very little while smiling and nodding obsequiously each time the Washingtonian rammed home an insinuating opinion. Captain Biddle, he was asked, would you please explain why, if the English sent over only one officer, was he not detained? Because, I told him, their closest ship had their cannon primed and trained on our waterline. He asked if I believed they would sink a ship that contained one of their officers. I replied that was precisely what I thought. And would you have us further believe that the British navy would sink a vessel of a neutral country, kill one of their own men, merely to collect a few seamen? I said that too was how I judged the situation. Apparently there followed a mighty lot of hemming and hawing and wrist-flapping between these dolts, all to little purpose since the goddamned ship was


safe and her cargo intact. But with Parfitt trying to wheedle a plum job, and the Washington official awed by the elegant wealth surrounding his host, I knew the cards were stacked against me. He paused to renew his drink then lowered his head and continued explaining how Parfitt concluded the interview with a pompous sermon on the duties of a sea captain which ended by him handing over a dismissal notice. No doubt, Biddle grunted, swallowing another glass of rum, the damn fool believed by getting rid of me, he was making sure of a friendly ear in Washington City. Id be surprised if the jackass from the Shipping Department will even remember his name after a week. Memories are short in politics. Theres only one way to get politicians to work for you and thats by blackmail. Get an arm lock on the sonsabitches. You dont get anywhere just licking their boots. He went on to say hed worked five years for Parfitt and had never lost a ship or a cargo or been more than a few days late, and always played fair and square with the company. And what was his reward? Instant dismissal. Well, he grunted, resting his head back and closing his eyes, maybe he was better off out of the whole stinking business. James didnt feel as sanguine. His blood boiled at the image of puffed up men treating him so cruelly. He wanted to stick a knife into Parfitt, smash the windows of the office. Kick him in the shins. He wanted Biddle grunted and opened his eyes. Im not a poor man, he went on, talking more to himself. And Im reaching an age when a rocking chair and a porch overlooking the water begins to sound mighty appealing. Except I know Ill be dead within a year. Ive had a good life, a lucky one. Done work I enjoyed, which is something few men can claim. Trouble is, when your work is your life, you never want to stop. Taking me off a ship is like beaching a whale. There must be hundreds of ships wanting you to be captain, James said, raising a pale smile. Youre a tonic, boy. The first ray of light Ive seen in a long while. But I have to disagree. One thing I no longer have is youth. And there are a lot of qualified seafaring men seeking commands. Ive done the rounds these past few days and know what Im saying. Oh, sure, theres work to be had. Piloting through the islands down south. But Id be working under


Cajuns. Not that I have anything against them. Wonderful pilots. But at my age, youre either the master of your employment or youre nothing. Pride! Its a devil. Never suffer from pride, my boy. Theres somell tell you it makes the difference between a man and a monkey. Dont believe them. When were starving, thats the time when all men are equal. His rambling ground to a halt and they sat a while in silence. I might go home, he said. Scotland? James thought. Theres something to be said for river work, he went on. Now theyre building up New Orleans, theres a lot to be had down there. Youve never seen the Mississippi, have you, boy? No sir. Biddle called for another rum. He was no longer sounding melancholic, seeming to have revived with Jamess company. He started reminiscing about his early years and was soon absorbing his listener with tales how his father had brought him to America with three brothers and two sisters after their mother died. Coming from a long line of Dundee fishermen, they first tried to scratch a living on the coast, but the need to bring up six young children made it impossible for his father to go on any but the shortest sea trips, so they moved inland, eventually settling in Natchez on the banks of the Mississippi river. There had always been trade moving downstream to the Delta since the days of the Spanish. In the early years, Indians used to ride the currents in what were called bullboats; clumsy circular craft made from hide stretched over willow branches. It had to be the skin of a bull, Biddle chuckled because those from cows leaked. When the white man arrived, he built boats seventy feet long. Flat bottomed, sharp-prowed vessels named Mackinaws that could hold a ton of cargo. His father saw a way to make a living on water and keep his family together by building one that took them all on his journeys. So it was that by the time he was eight years old, the young Biddle was learning the secrets of the river, and by twelve he proved in a contest he was capable of navigating the two day trip down to New Orleans. He also became fluent in French and Spanish, the two dominant languages in the region. For years they lived well. They made money, stayed together as a family, grew up in what Biddle called one of the wildest areas in the world. The Mississippi staging posts overflowed with characters no-one would believe


had they not seen them in action. Superhuman strength was required to work the massive river with its torrential spring currents, and the result was a breed of giants. Contests were held to determine the champion of the river not as a navigator but a fighter and Biddle began to describe one that he witnessed, then stopped as he saw Jamess jaw drop hearing of eye gouging and ear biting. Well, maybe one day youll be unlucky enough to see for yourself, he said. Because they dont reflect well upon the notion that man was made in the Lords image. Returning to his family history, he said his father often used to wonder why no-one had devised a boat that could travel upstream. The established practice was to run the flatboats down to New Orleans where they would be broken up and the pilots return on horse or by foot. A mans year was spent more trudging back home than wielding a paddle. The Scots were not renowned for producing idle dreamers, leaving that to the Irish, and his father gnawed away at the problem until he designed a more efficient keelboat that oarsmen were able to pull against the current. The invention worked and suddenly the Biddles became rich, employing a hundred workers. His father sent him and his siblings to schools in Natchez and took on the paternal role with the same dedication he had given to the river. It was entirely due to that fine old man, Biddle ended with a moist eye, that by the time he left home to seek his fortune he could read, write, speak three languages and spot a mountebank at ten paces. A further silence followed while he gazed through a window into the distance and James tried to imagine what it would have been like to have had such a father. I dont expect youre in a hurry to return to England, Biddle resumed. No, sir. What do you intend to do? I dont know. Can you read and write? Not really. What does that mean? Biddle asked, arching one of his bushy eyebrows. No, I cant. What did you do in England? Worked on a farm.


And got into trouble enough to end up swinging from a rope. Yes, sir. At least he believes the account of his adventures now, James thought. The captain pushed the tumbler round in his fingers as he pondered awhile.. Listen, boy. Im decided on going to Natchez. Ill be honest with you, I dont know if theres work or starvation waiting there. Its been many a year since I was back. All my kin died or moved on years ago. But Ive heard the place is booming from the traffic coming down from the north to New Orleans where they say theyre building the biggest city since Rome. Its my view that Natchez looks a better bet than sitting round the taverns of Charleston. If youve a mind, youre welcome to tag along. Ill say no more. Just think about it. The choice is yours. Jamess heart bucked at the idea. He would follow the captain into a snake pit, but he paused before giving his response. What did he have to offer? The journey inland was fraught with danger if the tales hed heard aboard ship were any indication. And he would only be a burden for the old man. Then he remembered Jacob saying Biddle had no children. He might want a surrogate son, someone who turned out to be the kind of pupil he provided his own father. So James softened his puckered face into a smile and nodded. Two days later they headed inland. Armed with nothing more than a doglike trust in his mentor, James set off along the road leading west from Charleston. There may be snakes big enough to swallow a pig, birds with the strength to pick him up in their claws, bears as tall as a foremast, and savages who ate humans. What did that matter when he had someone by his side who had thrown an English officer off his quarterdeck and compelled a miserly ship owner to pay wages to a ten-year-old stowaway? He felt he was in good hands.


CHAPTER NINE The journey covered some seven hundred miles but with a naval captain at the helm they reached Natchez within a month amid the stifling heat of early August. Someone along the way told them the town was nothing more than a glorified loading station for goods travelling up and down the Mississippi. James recalled a memory of the Dock market where he filched various foods, but was quite unprepared for what lay ahead. As they approached the outskirts of Natchez they became swept up by lines of wagons trundling towards the waterfront. Biddle looked unusually shocked, saying it bore no resemblance to the tiny community he left forty five years ago. Its another world. Stopping frequently to bathe the sun-scorched marks on their necks, he related as much as he knew of the regions recent history; there was the Louisiana Purchase, an immense wedge of territory bought two years ago by the American government from France which incorporated the entire length of the Mississippi river. He was taken aback by the difference he perceived in the present inhabitants from those with whom he had grown up. In his childhood, the Delta was administered almost entirely by the Spanish who had settled there long before the French arrived. But then east coast colonists started moving west. Before the British Wars, Natchez and all points south contained around twelve thousand settlers. A generation later, the number had exploded to three hundred and eighty thousand, all lured to the Mississippi basin by promises of a year round warm climate, fertile soil and plentiful rain.


After growing their crops, the farmers looked for somewhere to sell them and there, like El Dorado, sat the burgeoning city of New Orleans at the rivers gaping estuary. Having negotiated the Louisiana Purchase, President Jefferson opened the waters to American traders no longer burdened by crippling import duties and Spanish marauders. The ink was scarcely dry on the deeds before Big Muddy, is it came to be known, and the adjoining Ohio river seethed with cargo feeding larger markets downstream. During the six years James lived with the captain, he never saw the Natchez waterfront empty and it was clear there wasnt enough transport to accommodate all the waiting merchandise. Men bribed, cajoled and outbid one another to hire vessels, some so rapidly cobbled together that they sank before leaving the jetties but such was the demand that traders risked losing their goods rather than wait for more sturdy carriers. There was more of everything in Natchez as it spread into a community that never took time off to sleep. Each month produced more goods than the last; more boats, more traders offering to steer the perilous two day route to the Gulf in makeshift canoes, keelboats, Mackinaws, rafts; anything that aspired to float. They commandeered others called arks, broadhorns, Kentucky flats and pirogues, hollowed from tree trunks and fastened together in twos and fours. This flotilla could be seen every day of the year crowding the fast flowing river, jostling, skimming the banks while swirling in currents created by the spring rains. Groaning under excessive weight, they jounced through the rapids, slid onto sand bars, encountering the hazards of navigation like sawyers, a name given to floating fallen trees that could punch a hole in a hull like a pen through paper. One moment the vessel was there in full view, the next it had vanished with barely a ripple. After finding lodgings in a boarding house, Biddle led James to the waterfront, and following a brief glance at the prospects, chose a target. Several trading companies were keen to hire out a boat to Biddle, but he declined. He was intent on chartering one to be his own master and make himself liable for taking risks. It was a measure of the esteem in which he was held that he achieved his wish with little fuss. Merchants preferred to pay a straight wage than negotiate a percentage of their profits, but since Biddle only asked for a modest cut, he was able to drum up enough


business to have them immediately engaged. James accompanied him to the boat yards to select a vessel, and learned the difference between the assortment on offer. A flatboat was nothing elaborate; an oblong ark with a curved roof to shed the rain and a curved bow which held a great oar, or sweep, projecting from either side; hence the name broadhorn. This was the design of the first vessel Biddle chose for their first trip. Broadhorns varied in length, anything from forty to a hundred feet. Built with heavy timber, the planking had to be strong enough to withstand weights of up to a hundred tons. Some even came fitted with livestock pens, while others supplied more luxurious accommodations to carry wealthy passengers. There were, however, precious few comforts for the crew. More often than not they ate and slept on the open deck. Food consisted of bread and meat mixed together and eaten from a communal pan. Their drink was Monangahela rye whiskey; good old Nongela, the universal liquor of the wilderness and any captain who failed to carry a keg couldnt hope to assemble a crew. Captain Biddle made a profit from their first journey down the Big Muddy although, as James said from the outset, they earned every penny. Trips from Natchez to New Orleans were rarely without incident. There was always some danger to life and limb, and he never lost the habit of feeling overwhelmingly relieved when their destination hoved into view. Biddles expertise meant they were never beached, but pirate attacks were something else, and the tales James heard never left his mind while travelling long stretches of the river that took them through dense forestry. The average keelboat carried a crew of fifty men or more, especially if the vessel was to be hauled back up the river by hand, but the numbers didnt put off determined robbers, and James heard many variations of the central theme that described wholesale massacres by blood-crazy marauders. One hazard Biddle did remember from his youth was the indigenous Indian population along the Delta. He regaled James with tales of how they would powder their faces white and call on passing boats in well spoken English or Spanish pretending to be in distress, then pounced when the crew pulled over to the shore. He also added that in his younger day thieves were partial to lopping off heads.


Nowadays you hear of them lifting scalps, he grunted, enjoying the anguish on the lads face. In comparison to the old times, that would be like asking a man for his signature. There was no easy method to haul a boat two hundred miles back upriver, so having docked in New Orleans, off loaded the cargo and received their payment, Biddle sold the vessel to builders desperate for fresh wood to continue the rapid expansion of the city, and after buying food they set off home on foot, an easier but not safer way, since the only route was along the infamous Natchez Trace. The Trace was a narrow path that ran north from Lake Pontchartrain, staying more or less parallel to the Mississippi until it reached Natchez, then continued on through Indian country as far as Nashville. From there it changed names, became the Wilderness Road and extended all the way to Louisville and towns further along the Ohio river. The journey back was made in various ways. Three men might pool their resources and buy a horse. One would ride for two hours while the others followed on foot. Then he would dismount, tether the animal to a tree and start walking. When the others reached it, a second would climb into the saddle, repeating the process and so on. Thus they leapfrogged home or, more likely, were robbed and murdered by pirates who infested what Biddle referred to as the most dangerous route in America. Nevertheless, this didnt deter him from taking it. He refused to let James anywhere near the teeming streets of New Orleans, known to many as the City of Sin. Even when the boy reached his fifteenth birthday, his guardian was adamant, saying it was not essential for young men to risk death or disease for the need to be considered mature. The closest James came were the mooring berths in front of Tchoupitoulas Street, where thousands of posts were driven into the mud to steady the vessels while their cargo was unloaded. The moorings gradually became a town in themselves, holding so many vessels that a man could walk a mile without leaving their decks. The inhabitants called the town Dixie. When James asked why, Biddle drew out a ten dollar bank note. Printed in New Orleans, which remained primarily a French enclave, the word ten was written on one side and dix on the other.


Dix is the French word for ten, Biddle explained, and it wasnt long before people anglicised it to Dixie. Since its only in these parts that anyone speaks French, the name came to describe the town where it was printed. Between journeys they lived comfortably in a small house not far from the river, and Biddle taught the lad as much knowledge he could still recall. Seafaring hardly had a mention since he would learn that while he worked, and anyway did he really want to spend his life entirely on the water? The truth was that James hadnt yet given a second thought about his future. As he reached sixteen years, he considered his future as through a sea mist, to be navigated when it arrived. During the time he spent under Biddles ward, he learned not only to read and write, but also to speak French and Spanish. The lessons were taken in the stride of a boy growing up under the care of a humane and thoughtful guardian, and they were learned on the move. The captain believed necessity to be the mother of invention. Foreign tongues had to be mastered when no-one was available to translate, and instructions needed to be understood when no-one was on hand to work machinery. Biddle sent the boy on errands to places he knew only French or Spanish were spoken. He showed how to compile a ships log, enter figures into an accounting ledger, then left him to complete them on his own. If his mathematics erred he was out of pocket; if he misunderstood directions given in an alien language, he became lost. Biddle never scolded James, merely handed out more work because of his mistakes . He rarely even gave him a dressing down when his adolescence admired some of the drunkards, villains and frauds infesting the waterfront. He simply refused to be interested when he heard glowing accounts how some mountebank had fleeced a traveller, or a gambler risked a thousand dollars on the turn of a card. Eventually, James learned for himself that his choice of hero worship was puerile, and came to see these men like Biddle; failures who would end up destitute and dead before their time. Even so, he found it hard to walk away from listening to a slick-talking salesman selling five miles of the Mississippi river to a wealthy east coast fool. There was an artistry displayed by such people that he envied. They had a way with words. His apprenticeship under Biddle prepared him to


spot cardsharpers the second they walked through the door, and he was proud that so far his pocket had not been picked, or the wool pulled over his eyes. As the years slid past, he grew into a wiry youth with strength in his limbs and brains in his head. He was literate and could steer any kind of boat down the most formidable river in America. He was wise, after a fashion, in the ways of the world, even if the captain kept him out of places like the Swamp district of New Orleans, where every kind of vice could be found, and a knife in the back was as predictable as tomorrow. He was also healthy and moderately rich. The money they earned was scrupulously split down the middle with Jamess share going into the towns largest bank. Since his overheads were minimal, he could call upon six years of earnings plus interest as a sizeable amount of capital, although he could never envisage a time when he would have to dip into it. Captain Biddle was in the prime of life and as strong as a buffalo, the embodiment of a man living life to the full with several more years left to navigate. And so it was, in this spirit of mind and body that James Morgan woke up to his sixteenth birthday on April fourteenth, 1811. As usual, Biddle deluged him with gifts that included a new set of clothes and a bundle of books. They were due to set off to Dixie with two ports of call en route. The crew was small and for once contained no drunkard or energetic fist fighter. By nine oclock in the morning they were drifting along under a clear blue sky in warm spring sunshine. Keeping to the middle of the river, the boat responded to Biddles occasional touch on the oars. Everyone knew it was the lads birthday and the morning passed in a friendly temperament. They reached their first stop at noon, pulling into a jetty where a gang of Negroes waited to haul off provisions stacked close to larboard. These were soon transferred, but as the sun grew unseasonably warmer and the crew gave hints about eating, Biddle ordered the vessel to be moored. James clambered onto the bank and flopped beside a picket fence with the crew while Biddle sought out a square of shade, ignored the packet of food on his lap and closed his eyes. James gulped down cooked chicken, drank his water bottle dry before succumbing to the blistering heat.


He had barely dozing for more than a few minutes when he was jerked awake by a hideous roar. Standing on the boardwalk by the jetty was a bald, bare-chested man holding a jug of liquor in one fist and using the other to beat his chest like a rampant gorilla. His feet set a yard apart, he was bellowing to nobody in particular that he wasn't about to move out of the way for anyone. James wondered why he was making such a fuss since the boardwalk was wide enough for others to pass without having to move aside. But then another giant wearing a wide-brimmed hat sporting a turkey feather, stepped off a newly moored keelboat. By now the crew had woken up and so had Biddle, who was gazing at the strange spectacle developing below . He struggled to his feet. Come on, he called: Were behind the clock. Time to move on.. Since they had been there for less than half an hour, the men wondered why their captain was sounding so gruff. Already? James asked. Before Biddle could answer, another terrifying noise arose from the jetty. The man in the feathered hat was leaning backwards giving a blood-curdling yodel that sounded like a cross between a gargle and a turkey gobble. Then he stepped forward to look at the bald man inches from his face, then spat at his feet. Im a child of the snapping turtle! he boomed. I can out run, out jump, out shoot, throw down, drag out and lick any man in this here country! Jesus God, one of the crewmen whispered. Its Mike Fink! The Snappin Turtle himself. I said lets go, Biddle barked, looking hard at James who was unable to take his eyes off the man mountains squaring up to each other. Hed heard tales about Fink; the most famous keelboater of all time, a god among his fellows with a lurid history of fighting and womanising from one end of the Mississippi to the other. Although it was said, never in his hearing, that he rarely travelled below Natchez because rumour had it he was terrified of Annie Christmas. Cant we wait a bit longer? James asked, and when Biddle shook his head added: It is my birthday. His guardian gave a reproving frown then flopped back down on the ground. I suppose youll have to witness this lunacy sooner or later, he grunted, pulling his hat down over his brow: Wake me up when its over.


Im a pizzen wolf from Bitter Creek! the bald man was screaming, and this is my day to howl! Im a roaring ripsnorter and chock full of fight! I was raised with alligators and weaned on panther milk! I can wrestle a grizzly and bite off his ear! The yelling continued, each giving more imaginative credentials with heads thrown back as far as they could without falling backwards, riveting the attention of everyone within a quarter mile. Except Biddle who despite the noise had fallen fast asleep. Fink removed his hat, kissed the turkey feather, slipped off his chemise and hung them neatly on a post. Years of bare knuckle blows to his face had created a moonscape of his features that made it impossible to assess his age, although judging by the unscathed condition of his torso, he couldnt have been much more than thirty. The other contender, recognised by some of the crew as a man called Bryant, showed similar wounds from the top of his shining skull to his neck. Missing an ear, and with a scar on his mouth giving him a permanent sneer, he was not much of an advertisement for the art of self defence. Now he advanced into a ring of spectators drawn by the preliminary ballyhoo, leaping in the air, clicking his heels and giving highpitched whoops. Fink reached his opponent, studied him for a few moments, looking unimpressed by the dance. Then he too suddenly shot up into the air, bringing both feet together and slammed them into Bryants hip. He staggered backwards and fell over, astonished at the speed of the assault. He was only halfway to his feet when Fink grabbed his head in an armlock and began slamming a fist the size of a pigs hock into his nose. After pummelling a dozen blows, he released his arms and left Bryant standing with both hands over a blood-smeared face. But he appeared to be supported by encouraging shouts of the onlookers, and not about to allow a minor setback in the first minute of the fight upset his control. Wiping the blood away, he began to circle Fink. Both men went in for a lengthy sequence of feints and fake blows before Bryant spotted his chance, plunged forward and grabbed Fink round his chest with both arms, hooking his fingers together round his back. The crowd roared support and James heard someone nearby say Fink was finished:


Thats his speciality, the bear hug. I seen him break a mans spine like a twig. He added how he once heard how Bryant could squeeze until his opponents ribs snapped. The image brought a tingle to Jamess gorge and he was starting to wish he had heeded Biddles advice to leave before the savagery became intolerable. But fascinated deep down by the horror of watching humans become feral beasts, he watched Finks face turn red then deep purple as he struggled to free himself by raining fists on Bryants pate, then tried to raise his face from his chest which hid his face and nose. He scrabbled wildly to find a hand hold, but Bryant had turned his head only enough to expose an earless profile. The onlookers down on the boardwalk went berserk as Fink wheezed and gasped in the vice of his opponents grip. They were witnessing the end of a legend. Mike Fink, Cock of the River for as long as anyone could remember, was about to submit. They would spend the rest of their days recounting the scrap, describing every move and basking in the fame of having seen it happen. Fink was starting to moan. Racking gasps dribbled saliva over Bryants skull as his attempts to loosen the bear hug were reduced to a pathetic arm flapping. His lungs were squeezed empty of air, and with his chest crushed inside Bryants arms there was no leeway left to refill them. His strength waned as he choked in a final desperate heave to free himself. The extent of his acting talents surfaced when Bryant made the biggest, and last, mistake of his career. Hearing the gasps and moans above, he couldnt resist a glance upwards. As he lifted his head a fraction from his opponents chest, Fink made two fists and rammed a thumb into each of Bryants eyes. Bryant staggered backwards taking a series of crunching blows to an unprotected body while both his hands were engaged in nursing the gouged sockets. Urged on by his supporters, he staggered blindly at his tormentor, lashing out with his boots, accompanying each frenzied kick with a roar that echoed across the river. One blow collided with a shin that had Fink unable to ward off another backhand elbow into his midriff. The spectators roared support, scarcely able to believe their blind champion was on the verge of a comeback. But Fink recovered and moved in for the coup de grace. Bringing back an arm, he smashed a fist into Bryants


chest, cracked a boot against a knee and as he collapsed to the ground, raised a leg ready to stamp on his other leg. Had enough? he grunted. Half conscious, Bryant shook his head, a last weary and futile gesture of defiance. James winced and waited for Fink to complete his victory, unable to believe anyone could withstand such battering but he lowered his foot and stood back. His opponent lay writhing on the boardwalk while his conqueror limped off to retrieve his feathered hat, take a long swig from his opponents liquor jug then limp down to the water to bathe his wounds. James turned to look at Biddle and was alarmed to see he had fallen over sideways and his face turned into the full glare of the sun. Hey, capn! he called, rushing to his side. The skin on the old mans skull bore a scarlet rash and there were sweat beads across his brow. Capn, captain he kept repeating. Something was wrong. Biddle wasnt asleep. He was unconscious and didnt respond to nudges or gentle slaps on his cheeks. James yelled to the crew to help bring Biddle up into a seated position. One of them put an ear to his chest, then his mouth. Cant hear nothing. I think hes gone. James shrivelled as the truth slowly flooded his brain. Had he not begged to stay and watch the fight this would not have happened, and they would now be drifting pleasantly down the river. While someone went in search of a doctor, he crouched on the sun-baked ground with Biddles head in his lap as his sorrow burst out of control.


CHAPTER TEN The weeks following the funeral were the most wretched he had ever known. The doctors said Biddles death was natural and added he could have gone at any time, but the verdict did nothing to assuage the guilt that had weighed James down since the fateful day at the levee. Gradually anger gave way to remorse. He recalled one of his guardians many literary quotations from John Aubrey, an English writer of long ago who observed that a lot of learning dies with a man. Wandering through the rooms in the house they shared for six years, he gazed at the accumulation of a lifetime lying untended, orphaned by a few vital moments of neglect in the sun. He recalled the answers Biddle never failed to give to his endless questions. So much wisdom was gone for ever. The one shock of his passing was to discover Biddle had lived to seventy one, ten years older than anyone had assumed. When he finally came round to the matter of re-organising his life, James discovered he was not a poor man. With his own savings and the capital bequeathed to him in the captains will, he was able to call on a sum of over eight thousand dollars.


The novelty of having substance buoyed his sagging heart and carried him for a week before he learned his next lesson that the pursuit of wealth carries a built-in irony. A life may be spent chasing after money and despite all sermons to the contrary, can enhance a human beings existence. The search for prosperity is egged on by dreams of comfort and a life free from anxiety. It acts like a carrot to a donkey. But there is noone to tell the adventurer what happens once his fortune has been made. When James understood that he could do almost anything he chose, he discovered he had absolutely no notion of what that might be. Had he been born to riches, there wouldnt have been a problem; he would have gone to New York or Boston and entered the high life. But he was born into poverty where to wake up in the morning was a bonus. What could he possibly do with eight thousand dollars? As it turned out, Captain Biddle had appointed a trustee to watch over his wards inheritance, a director of the Natchez bank where his savings were kept. The fellow explained to James how the bulk of his capital would remain invested, but that he would be able to withdraw regular amounts on which to live. His late guardians affairs having been settled, and able to go to sleep without re-running the Fisk-Bryant fight in his head, James tried to come to terms with his predicament; namely, that henceforth his life would follow a course steered by his own hand on the rudder, not that of a wiser guide. There was no longer someone to rap his knuckles and show him the error of his ways. He was alone. Very well. So had he been when he escaped from a drunken sadist and an English prison, but that was long ago and he was fortunate enough to find a protector. At sixteen he could hardly evoke the same paternal feelings among his fellow citizens. As far as the rest of the world was concerned, he was now old enough to fight and die for his country. The thought scared him. His only skills were of being general handyman aboard a flatboat, able to steer a reasonable course downriver when called upon, but more likely to be employed as a cooks assistant and bottle washer. However, the truth was that without his guardian, life on the water no longer held any appeal. Nor did Natchez, come to that. The house had turned into a forlorn arrangement of walls and ceilings with too many souvenirs of an existence that would never be the same. Memories


are all very well for the elderly, but a youth had little use for them. He had sufficient financial and physical assets. What more does a young man require? Well, to begin with, he needed an occupation, and with that aim in view James withdrew a hundred dollars from the bank and instructed his trustee to sell Captain Biddles house and personal possessions. Meanwhile, he would proceed to New Orleans where, all the newspapers were saying, there were fortunes to be made. The trustee admired his foresight and bade him the best of luck. And so, holding a passenger ticket in one hand and a single valise in the other, James Morgan stepped aboard a keelboat giving a languid wave to the town that had nurtured six years of his life. Thank you! he called, and was going to add something further when he noticed the crew were eyeing him strangely, so he made do with a selfconscious smile. Two days later, by which time he had learned that without work the trip was of unbroken tedium, James Morgan stepped onto the landings at Tchoupitoulas Street and dallied to gaze at his new surroundings. New Orleans had been constructed in the middle of a marsh. High society and great wealth had already been drawn to this expanding metropolis, the more so since the completion of the Louisiana Purchase. On every road, in every garden, on the feet of every member of an exploding population, there clung evidence of the original lay of the land. James had heard men describe Venice in Europe where the streets were canals and the only transport came with oars and a rudder. New Orleans had not quite gone the whole hog; it lay at sea level, but not low enough to become permanently flooded. Yet like the river that pumped life into the city, it shared the sobriquet of The Big Muddy. The beating heart of the town was appropriately known as the Swamp, a magnet attracting riverman, backwoods Kaintucks, cardsharps, pirates, and the most conscience free villains that ever crawled from under a rock. By-passing Tchoupitoulas Street and with only a glance at the Vieux Carre, province of the lordly Creole, newcomers made for Girod Street, named by a city Elder as the core of a rotten apple. Situated near the Protestant cemetery at Cypress and South Liberty Streets, six blocks wide at the most, Girod was packed with saloons, dance halls and gambling


dens. Squashed together and built from rough cypress planks or the lumber of dismantled flatboats, there was scarcely an inch of space in between. A typical bar counter in the Swamp consisted of a few wooden boards laid across a couple of beer kegs. Interior decor stopped at a red curtain across the window. Most of them provided everything a drifter needed and the cost was negligible; a drink and bed for the night cost one picayune, around six cents. When James heard of the rates, the lessons taught by a cautious Scotsman made him realise the Swamp was the best place to stay if he was going to make his money stretch. Trailing the immortality of youth, he ignored the warnings to avoid the place and made a beeline for Girod Street with optimism in his heart and a hundred dollars sown into the back of his leather belt. It was only after he found a room overlooking the notorious street and set out to explore his new surroundings that he was soon to wonder what he may have lying in store. The presence of teeming hordes of rogues and outlaws within the six blocks of the Swamp was unbalanced by the absence of any kind of police force. A constabulary was a new system to the Port. A body of armed men known as gens darmes had been formed by the French and they, plus a few vigilante patrols, were all that New Orleans residents could look to for protection. The vigilantes patrolled their own districts which were often well out of town and it was unknown for any law officer to set foot inside the Swamp and leave it alive. Law was enforced by the bludgeon, knife, pistol, fists, or a sharp set of teeth. Luckily for James no-one seemed to pay a gangling lad any attention and he woke up the next morning full of excitement at the prospects ahead. Despite Biddles disapproval, his fascination for the world of gambling remained vivid, and he had noticed there were a few places along Girod where card players stayed sober with their attention on the game. One in particular, the Quadroon Gaming House, stood out amongst the customary backdrop of bawdy street chaos, and one afternoon he took a deep breath and walked inside. The room was mausoleum silent, the only sound coming from the shuffle of cards and chink of coins. There were over a dozen tables, but tobacco


smoke obliterated anything further than a few yards and James could only discern those nearest the entrance. The Quadroon had a reputation for elegance. An elaborately carved oak bar ran down one side where at the far end a bartender was re-arranging his stock. Recalling the manner of Natchez soaks, James stepped up and placed a boot on the brass foot rail,. He fluttered a nervous hand to catch the mans attention and his heart quickened as the barrel-chested, redcheeked giant strolled the length of the counter and spoke in a surprisingly high-pitched lilting voice: Whatll it be, then? James went speechless. You do be wantin a drink, I suppose? Beer, he stammered. The order raised no excitement in anyone else and while waiting for a glassful to be drawn, he caught sight of his reflection in the long mirror behind the bar. He was shocked to no longer see a scruffy youth in baggy pantaloons. The person staring back at him was a tall and lean, wearing a suit and looking old enough to be served in any saloon in the land. The truth was that he had rarely seen his reflection since most of his life with Biddle had been spent on the water and their house possessed only one looking glass. The rare times he dressed up had been to go to church. Biddle had been his mirror, checking his appearance and correcting the cut of his jib. Now here he was, leaning on a saloon counter, hands closing round a stein of ale and tossing over a coin like a regular toper. As he swivelled on a heel and peered through the cigar smoke at the gamblers, James Morgan sipped his drink and silently bade farewell to his childhood. ********************** The Quadroon Gaming House became his home for the next few months. As he charted the Swamp, learning not to stray into the dingy alleys and rat-infested backwaters, he found the city unique in its orderliness. In the other gambling saloons fights erupted several times a day, and to win too much was a sure way to dusty death, since the winner would hardly tread a hundred paces before a couple of house assassins would retrieve the money and return it to the management for a ten per cent commission.


But the Quadroon was peaceful and orderly. James watched men walk away with a thousand dollars and return the next day unscathed. After a week of observations, he plucked up courage to speak to the barman, whose name he had heard was Francis, and that he came from Ireland. Sure quiet in here, he observed. Francis grinned and wiped down the counter. It is, though. But no-one who wants to see the sun rise the next morning is going to give Annie Christmas any grief. Annie Christmas. The legend of the Delta. The only human being to put the fear of God into Mike Fink. The ice cracked between them, Francis asked what his game was. My game? Youve been coming in here a week or more now. You dont gamble, you just stand watching the tables while drinking a couple of beers in four hours, and then walk out with not so much as a farewell. No, I dont gamble. But this is a gaming house. People come here to play the cards. You can get a drink in a hundred other taverns. So why come here? James nodded his agreement, leaving Francis to waited for an explanation. As a matter of fact, he answered in not much more than a whisper. Im looking for my father. You expect to find him in here? This is the Quadroon Gaming House, isnt it? he asked, raising an eyebrow. The self same place my dear mother mentioned just before she passed on, God rest her soul. He had met enough Irishmen on the river to know there wasnt one born who would stay dry-eyed listening to a mention about dead mothers. Im sorry, my boy, Francis muttered, crossing himself. I was not meaning to intrude on your grief. No need, James choked, forcing a smile. Shes in a better place now. But I swore I would never rest until I found the man who had treated her so cruelly. Leaving me and my seven brothers and sisters to starve while he went following the lure of the devil. You mean ?


Correct, James said, emphasising his point by grasping his knuckles until they whitened. Hes here, somewhere. The Quadroon, that was the name she croaked in my ear as she slipped away into the hands of the Lord. This was where he came and lost everything including his self respect and my dear mother. She died of a broken heart. Can you believe he ignored her for a set of playing cards. I know I should pity him, but I cant. Im unable to erase the memory of that radiant woman, watching her wasted body finally gave up the struggle. As the Lord is my witness, I am sworn to kill the man responsible, irrespective of whether hes my father. Like most Irish bartenders, Francis was a philosopher, but with so many of his customers unable to offer little more than a grunt like hogs in a trough, he found decent conversation hard to come by. He fell on this one like a thirsty steer. Whats he look like? Is he big now, or short? What colour is his hair, would he be having a beard ? James stammered on for a while giving average height, the colour of his hair, moustache and side whiskers, building a composite picture of Mister Ordinary. The upshot of this charade was that Francis never again questioned his presence. Jamess tearful account of feckless fathers won him a champion, a protector sworn to help find the wretch who had so cruelly wronged his mother. Every newcomer was given a severe once over by the Irishman before he turned to raise an eyebrow at James, who had to administer the same scrutiny then slowly shake his head. A couple of weeks passed before Francis revealed himself as a card conjuror of exceptional talent. He had learned sleight-of-hand whiling away long hours behind a New York bar and could deal a deck in such a way that no-one could spot that he was taking cards from the top, bottom or middle of the pack. One morning when the tables were deserted gamblers rose late after playing until dawn, and early drinkers had not yet arrived Francis picked up a new deck, split the wrapping and shuffled them in a way that astonished his acolyte. The waxen squares rose and fell in a controlled cascade between his large hands. Knowing he had a hypnotised audience, he ran through a mixture of tricks and illusions before arriving at what he called his peece de resistance. He shuffled the cards in a manner that


enabled him to glance briefly at their faces as they flipped from one hand to the other, then dealt four hands. Pick any one you like. Jamess face froze when he saw he was holding a complete suit of hearts. The Irishman laughed loudly and slapped the counter. Maybe hearts arent to your taste. Try another. The other three hands were divided into suits of clubs, diamonds and spades. Using control and memory, Francis had summoned each card from the pack and flipped it into the corresponding hand. Jamess reaction delighted him so much that he did it a second time just to show it was no fluke. Would he like a knave? There. A ten, a four of diamonds, a six of clubs? As quickly as he rattled off a number, there it was on the top of the deck. Id give anything to be able to do a trick like that, the boy sighed. The magic continued to astonish until a couple of customers came in. The Irishman collected the cards together and handed them to him. Here, have a go. But remember, theres no trick. All you need is a good memory, supple fingers and a lot of practice. James had finally been given a relief from the boredom of the early weeks once the novelty of the Swamp had dimmed. With cash in his pocket he gave no thoughts to looking for work, particularly since he knew there was plenty more money waiting in Natchez. He set himself to learn whatever Francis put before him, spending hours, days, weeks, working the cards between his fingers, punishing his brain to retain their faces. Time and again the deck splattered in his grasp and he had to pick them up from the muddy floor or from the spit channel. At night his sleep was tormented by aces and kings, clubs, diamonds, hearts and spades zooming around his brain. He often wondered whether the cards had become an obsession, or if his enthusiasm was unhealthy. But what did it matter if he could perform a few tricks? He found a glamour in the gaming saloons and never grew tired at the feel of the cool, waxed square of cardboard that determined the fortune or ruin of men who thought about nothing else. As his fingers learned their trade, he loved the way they did his bidding. But he cared nothing about gambling and rarely asked about the different games played there; faro, French ruff, poker, blackjack, seven up, three card monte. The names


meant little and their rules less. All he sought was admiration for his skill in performing the type of magic Francis that had made his eyes pop from their sockets. A couple of months after he was introduced to his new obsession and was practising in a back room, Francis came in and watched over his shoulder. How am I doing? Youre holding them too tight, the Irishman said. James corrected the grasp and ran through the gamut of his abilities to impress his mentor who remained strangely unappreciative. Whats all this in aid of? he finally rapped. Why would you be wanting to learn all this nonsense? It isnt nonsense. Its something that passes the time. A young fellow like you should not be only thinking of ways to do that. James replied he hadnt seen his interest like that at all. Its a skill aye, but not one an honest man can use to his advantage. Take the ability to take a ship up and down the Mississippi. Now thats something to be proud of. Or running a tavern. But what knowledge is gained by shuffling a deck of cards? Tell me that. He was expecting a reply and James grew uncomfortable under his penetrating eyes. Well Unless, of course, you have it in mind to become a sharp. His anxiety now became clear. James flung the cards aside. Ive never thought of such a thing for one minute. Francis laughed. Well thats good to hear, he said before returning to his serious voice. Because Ill tell you this James, my boy. Ive put in enough time behind the bar of gaming houses to learn one thing. And that is a card sharp has only to make one mistake and hes a dead man. Ive watched the best. Men who can make them sing. Who make me look like a babe in arms by comparison. But I dont know any who never made one error. They get careless. Just for a second. Theyre maybe tired or worried or hung over and their concentration slips just a fraction. He snapped his fingers. And thats it. The end. Gamblers regard sharps like horse thieves. The lowest of human beings who dont even merit a trial.


Theres more picked out of the bayou with a bullet in his brain than any other kind of criminal. He put two fingers between the boys eyes. Right there, boom. James laid the deck on the counter. Id never cheat, Francis, he said. The Irishman lit up with pleasure and slammed a fist down, scattering the deck. Of course you wouldnt! You wouldnt dare! Another month strolled past while James became adept at using the slow shuffle when he could flick out a card the bartender requested, getting it right six times out of ten. His goal was to deal the pack into four separate suits but he knew he was a long way from that peece de resistance. Meanwhile, he came to help with the bar work, hauling in and tapping kegs, crating the empty bottles for return to stills sited within a few miles of the city. Despite the perils of the Swamp it was a pleasant time. He grew accustomed to avoid the dangerous areas where life was taken for the price of a drink, or sometimes for no reason at all. He was able to identify those who lured visitors away from the well-lit street with promises of sex or money. There developed in him an extra sense to tell when an argument was about to turn violent, when someone was about to reach for a weapon, allowing the few precious seconds needed to duck out of the way before blood flowed. It didnt take him long to realise victims became so by their own hand; getting robbed and murdered because they ignored the warning signs. However, as he had previously noted, none of this disorder occurred in the Quadroon Gaming House, the reason being that everyone knew the name of the proprietor. He had heard of Annie Christmas during his years on the river, usually as the subject of tall stories that needed several pinches of salt to digest. But the awe in which she was universally held was sufficient to maintain an orderly saloon. There were, however, few people who could claim to have met her. Most tales began with a preamble that went along the lines of: I know someone who once saw Annie Christmas, and he said Even Francis whod worked more than a year at the Quadroon had never set eyes on his employer. He said she lived most of the time aboard another of her enterprises, a floating brothel that moved downriver from Vicksburg servicing boatmen. After reaching the end of the line, the boat was


hauled back up again by cordelle, a long rope pulled from the riverbank by a line of slaves. Such a sight would undoubtedly have drawn attention, yet James said he had never seen it on all his five years sailing on the Big Muddy. Although, he added, it was possible Captain Biddle might have distracted his attention when they passed by. As for what Annie looked like, there were widely differing views. Some said she weighed three hundred pounds, while others spoke of a wiry figure as tough as tempered steel. Some of the Negroes, for whom she was a demi-god, insisted she was black and had produced a platoon of seven feet tall sons. Others recounted how she died then reborn after her coffin was taken to the river in a hearse drawn by six black horses, her children walking on either side. At the levee, her body was taken out, put aboard a barge at dead of night that floated downriver out into the Gulf and never seen again. White men preferred to dwell on her prowess as a fighter, drinker and roustabout, with stories that rang the changes on the one concerning Mike Fink who, because of an unpaid debt, spent his life avoiding her revenge. James heard how she once hauled a loaded keelboat up from New Orleans to Natchez, finishing at a run so the vessel skimmed the surface like a kingfisher. She was rumoured to wear a necklace of beads, each representing an eye, nose or ear she had removed in a scrap. There were endless tales about Annies sexual appetite, but James disbelieved all of them, saying they were too outrageous to be believed. ******************************** By November he became established as Franciss chief assistant and amanuensis. He took to spending his off duty hours in a local cafe where the proprietor sold the two principal newspapers of the day: the Louisiana Gazette in English and Le Moniteur in French. James read the first then followed up with the second to improve his French which was needed around the Port. The latter journal often ran stories directly translated from the Gazette that gave him a chance to check words he didnt recognise. He liked the French language for its nasal sound and economy with words. When served by a French waiter, he made a point of putting


together a few sentences and glowed with pleasure when he was able to understand the response. He was discussing the latest Napoleonic exploits in Europe when Francis appeared breathless at the door. Catching sight of James, he blundered across, knocking against chairs and tables and sending the customers coffee flying. Annies coming! he gasped, flopping into a chair to mop his sweating neck. Judas Priest, how am I gonna do it in time? Do what? James asked. He had never seen the Irishman so pale and distraught. She sent this, he muttered, pulling out a ball of paper from under his shirt. James smoothed out the creases and read an illiterate scrawl, much of it indecipherable, but the gist was an order to have one hundred men report to the Sure Enuf Hotel on Girod Street at seven oclock sharp that evening. The Sure Enuf was an establishment run by another formidable woman called Mother Colby, and catered for the rougher end of the two most profitable pastimes of the Swamp: gambling and prostitution. The message was signed simply with an A. Who is it from? James asked and got an exasperated snort from the Irishman as he snatched back the letter. Who do you think? Annie. Thats her mark. On your feet. We have work to do. He went off muttering: A hundred men by seven oclock! Its impossible, just cant be done in the time left James followed, asking why so many were needed, but the question went unanswered. Back at the Quadroon, the Irishman took a strip of curtain material from the store and using a paint brush wrote in thick, dripping letters: 100 MEN NEEDED, SURE ENUF HOTEL, 7PM, 6TH NOVEMBER. INVITATION BY ANNIE CHRISTMAS. PAYMENT FOR SERVICES then told James to hang it across the jetty on Tchoupitoulas to catch the attention of all the rivermen. The Sure Enuf consisted of a two-storey shack covered by a low gabled roof. The room opening onto the street was a bar, and behind it a large chamber that accommodated the principal activity of the establishment. In the centre were faro and roulette gaming tables. One corner was


partitioned off by thin boards to provide Mother Colby, a waddling young Amazon, with a kitchen and bedroom. Another was divided by curtains into small cubicles where her guests, having paid their picayune, could retire with their chosen women. The second floor consisted of an attic filled with bunks pushed under the slope of the gables. There was room for only one bed in the unconfined centre, and this one cost more: one bit, or twelve and a half cents. However, what the guest gained in comfort he lost in security since to advertise wealth was to invite robbery and sometimes death during the night from the poorer roommates. It may have been due to Franciss shrewdness in adding to his notice that the invitation was from Annie Christmas, or it could have been the mention of payment, but by six oclock the Sure Enuf was crammed with flatboaters and Kaintucks wanting to know what they had to do. James heard one smarter dressed recruit say if Annie was looking for help, it could be because she was aiming to become Governor of New Orleans, and that her target was W.C. Claiborne, the present occupant of that hot seat. He and Francis stayed well to the rear, not letting anyone know they were responsible for the poster. At seven oclock on the dot, Annie Christmas entered. Weighing in at around two hundred pounds, she stood six feet two inches high, the poundage distributed evenly across a gigantic frame. Wearing a shapeless black dress to her ankles, the only features James could discern were two immense breasts that hung like water melons and a backside the size of two hams. She also wore a neatly trimmed moustache. As she came in a dead silence fell in the room. For many this was their first glimpse of the legend of the Delta, and they couldnt believe what they saw. Then one of the Kaintucks threw his coonskin cap in the air yelling: God love us, its Annie! The cry was taken up by the backwoodsmen and soon everyone was joining in the whooping, whistling and feet stamping. Annie marched to a table and vaulted up, holding out her arms to quell the riot. Fellas, she roared in a deep contralto. I have a wager and you can help me settle it. She clapped her hands then pointed, causing heads to swing towards the street door.


Another woman entered wearing a full length dress which bound her thighs and knees so tightly she was hardly able to step more than six inches. The light brown skin of her chest and cleavage glittered in the reflection of a dozen necklaces while her arms were cocooned in bangles from elbow to wrist. Raven black hair stood high on her head revealing a swan-like neck between a pair of jangling silver earrings. James had never before seen a woman so striking to the eye. She was a quadroon, a name given to the child of a mulatto and a white. In some quarters they were regarded as the most beautiful of all females, a view that gained another advocate as James couldnt take his eyes off the apparition advancing with a grace displayed by members of the Ports belle monde entering the Saint Philip Theatre. What on earth was such a vision doing in the Sure Enuf? Was she lost, in need of directions ? Annie slammed her enormous hands together and gained instant silence. This Nigra, Annie bawled, claims she can Creole, the beauty interrupted. Im a Creole lady. Annie threw back her head and raised her voice a notch: This picayune whore has been putting it about she can whup me any time of the day or night in the mating game. She is so goddam sure of herself, shes put up a barrel of prime whiskey as a prize. Wheres that bartender of mine? Francis scuttled forward, dragging James along with him. Maam, he gulped, touching his forelock. Listen, you Mick, first get me off this goddam table. She grasped his shoulder and he buckled under her weight as she eased down to the floor. Now, get them lined up. One hunnerd pre-cisely. Fifty facing thisaway, fifty that. Then she bellowed: Colby! Mother Colby, in some ways as frightening in appearance as Annie emerged from her quarters. What you want, you great bladder of lard? she called. Clear your decks, whoremonger, Annie shouted. We got ourselves a little action here. She stuck a thumb towards the quadroon: Which bunk you want, girl? As she came closer, James could see the quadroon was hardly more than a eighteen years old. She gave a shrug and disappeared behind the nearest curtains. Excuse me, Annie, a voice called from the crowd.


What? The sign said we get paid. Thats right, sonny, she roared. You get a free drink when youre done, courtesy of Ma Colby. I never said nothing about free drinks, Colby protested, but her voice disappeared under Annies booming explanation of the procedure as she marched to her cubicle. Colby keeps count. One hour straight and no man quits till he squirts. The quadroon put her head round her curtain and said in a tremulous voice: Who sees that no-one cheats? Annie nodded at Colby: She does. Then turning towards her, she growled loud enough for everyone to hear: And the good Lord help you if you show her any favours. The men were divided into two lines facing the cubicles. There was some fighting to get into the Creoles queue, but after a bark from Annie, they settled down to await the start. Annie and the quadroon disappeared inside while Mother Colby dragged up a chair between the two and took out a gold fob watch. Annies voice called from inside: If theres any men in my line too drunk to do it, better get out now or Ill pull it off. Likewise those with the pox. No-one moved. Everyone ready? Colby yelled. Ready, came the quadroons trilling voice. Oh, and if any of my gentlemen are nervous because they have drunk a little too much, dont you mind none. Ill make you squirt even if youre dead. Several men laughed and were followed by a string of muffled curses from behind Annies curtain. Colby held up a hand and looked at the watch: Ready, set. Go! The leading man in the quadroons line dived through the curtain tugging at his breeches. Annies first was slow off the mark but fell inside to a stentorian roar of: Get your ass in here! Within a minute and a half by Colbys watch, both men were ejected at the same time, hitting the floor with trousers round their ankles.


Over here! Mother Colby yelled. The two stumbled over and stood like frightened schoolboys while she probed their genitals with a stick, examining the evidence. Right, next! she bellowed, making two marks on a paper and giving the men a whack on their bare backsides before they buttoned up and stumbled towards the bar to compare notes. James heard one say something about the quadroon giving him a tingling sensation that stayed in his loins. He thought about joining her line, but never having experienced sexual pleasure, the thought of failure to complete the business changed his mind. The same routine was repeated about every minute or so, and after the first half dozen there was little difference in the timing. Annies waiting clients answered to her stentorian roar of Next! with a shout of encouragement: Terrific, Annie! Youre going strong. Keep it up! Its you who better keep it up, came the reply and both lines screeched with merriment. Gradually Annie started to draw ahead. James couldnt imagine what was going on inside the cubicles when the men came tumbling out as if propelled by a mighty force to be examined by Colby. The spectacle reminded him of shelling peas. Time passed and the lines shrank. At half time James counted thirty men still waiting for Annie, while thirty four were attending her opponent. After forty minutes, Annie stepped up her rate and was getting through her clients in under a minute each, while the quadroon was slipping further behind. Whereas the men wanted to be done with Annie as quickly as possible, the young girls beauty was a drawback because her clients sought to dally awhile, and after fifty minutes it was clear to all she had no chance of catching up. With four minutes of the hour still left, the last of Annies men tripped out of the curtains and lay gasping on the ground. Come on, whos next? she roared. Mother Colby checked her watch and called: Youre done. Im done when I say Im done, Annie yelled. Get someone in here. No-one moved. Send in that Mick bartender! He could do with the exercise.


During all the time James had known Francis, he had never heard him refer to sex. It wasnt an Irish concern. He watched him blush bright red and look round in terror. Dyou hear me? Annie hollered. Yes, maam, Francis called, then grabbed Jamess arm, marched him to the curtain and flung him inside. The boy looked up and saw Annie lying under the light of a solitary flickering candle, her knees raised like a woman about to give birth. Who the hell are you? she rumbled, peering through the gloom. He stayed frozen to the spot. Well, never mind that, she snapped. Climb up here and be quick about it. James struggled upright but his feet stayed glued to the ground. Get on! Annie screamed, almost bringing down the curtains. James recalled tales he had heard about her vengeance. If Mike Fink had been scared of her, where did that leave him? By God, she rasped under her breath, if you dont do as I say, Ill cut the blasted thing off! His face burning, he dropped his trousers and shuffled towards the mountain of flesh spread-eagled on the mattress thinking this was hardly the way he had dreamed of losing his virginity which imagined a romantic seduction by a beauty on a four poster bathed in perfume to the sound of a violincello. Now here he was about to do so, the fifty first to a giant with a bristling moustache. As he tottered into range, Annie grabbed his arm and hauled him on top of her. He remained flaccid. In! she hissed. Im - Im sorry, maam, he stammered. I dont seem to She knocked away his hand, fumbled for his penis, gave it the kind of rub used to clean a leather boot and it quickly expanded. Now get the goddam thing in. Whats the matter with you? He did his best, although it was like throwing a stick into the Mississippi. But he felt some kind of sticky contact followed by a brief sensation that made him swoon with ecstasy. Good boy, Annie wheezed, giving a roll of her gigantic thighs that pitched him back on the floor. Next!


That was it? James thought. What men have written poems about, fought over and died for? What was all the fuss about? Nothing much happened except a moment when he thought he was passing water. Somehow he managed to crawl outside where Francis was waiting. Sorry, boy, the Irishman muttered, helping him to his feet. I owe you a favour. Time! Mother Colby shouted. Annie emerged from her cubicle looking little different. The men roared a greeting to the champion and she allowed herself a rare smile while she hitched up her dress. When someone handed her a jug she drank long and messily. The quadroon appeared and glared at the three men left in her line. Her gown was torn to the waist, her jewellery had fallen off and her carefully groomed hair hung in sweat-filled skeins. Annie stood, fists on hips: I win, girlie! Pay up! The quadroon was not a good loser. Dipping a hand between her breasts, she drew out a silk purse and threw it at Annies feet. Annie stooped to pick it up and tossed it over to Mother Colby, shaking with mirth. Here, Colby. Prime whiskey all round. And none o that panther piss. The best in the house. The loser is paying! The loser was paying, but she certainly wasnt staying. To jeers and whistles from the onlookers, a response James thought was ungallant since most of the men had chosen to stand in her line, she hobbled out of the door. He felt a twinge of regret. If only he had been thrown through her curtain. He might have entered manhood on a more elevated plane. Should he follow her? After all, he was sixteen and now knew a bit about sex, but Francis swept him along with the others crowding round Colby as she helped roll in a keg from the rear room. The effect of the liquor was as speedy on his brain as his sexual initiation, and as he sipped the whiskey he began to spin a gloss on his exploits. How many men could boast their first conquest was Annie Christmas? There were a hundred or more witnesses to the deed. People would reserve a special place in their hearts for plucky James Morgan, sixteen years and seven months old, who fearlessly bedded the legend of the Delta.


However, within half an hour all such thoughts had vanished. His legs paralysed, he lay in the mud outside the Sure Enuf listening to a voice repeat inside his spinning head: Captain Biddle, oh my captain! I hope to almighty God you cant see me now!

CHAPTER ELEVEN He was only a few days into the year 1812 when James realised he needed to call on more money from his trust. Christmas had been pleasurable but expensive now that the regulars at the Quadroon Gaming House treated him as an equal. They assumed he was a rich dandy who enjoyed rubbing shoulders with the lower orders and chose the finest whiskey and cognac


when it was his turn to pay. His accent remained resolutely foreign to local ears which added further mystery to his background. One joker referred to him as My Lord. When he told Francis he had to go to Natchez to make some financial arrangements, the Irishman told him the trip wasnt necessary; all he need do was write a letter of instruction. When he looked blank, Francis laughed: Heres yourself with all this money, yet you dont know the first thing about the world of commerce. Enjoying the role of the sophisticate, he took him into the nearest bank and gave the required orders to the counter clerk. The wizened old prig, bathing in the glory of working for a substantial New Orleans counting house, seemed reluctant to lift a finger, but Francis persevered and a letter was arranged to go to Natchez requesting the transfer of one hundred dollars. Seven days later, they returned and presented themselves before the same ferret-faced attendant. The fellow slid off his stool and took his time sifting through a sheaf of papers in the rear room. Eventually he retained a sheet which he studied with an increasing frown then came back. James Morgan, you say? The boy nodded and waited while the clerk reread the letter with a smile of satisfaction tweaking his thin lips: Im afraid there has been an unfortunate incident at the bank in Natchez. Francis grabbed the paper and read aloud: Sirs, We are in receipt of your correspondence of the eighth instant concerning the account held at this establishment by Mr. James Morgan. We very much regret to inform you that the person empowered by Mr. Morgans late guardian recently left our employ. Subsequent enquiries discovered he had removed the monies deposited by the said guardian Captain Biddle, as well as Mr. Morgans own personal account. You will appreciate we are not liable to pay redress in this matter as the trustee arrangements made by Captain Biddle on behalf of his ward permitted the said trustee to dispose of the monies as he wished. We remain your obedient servant -


Goddam them to hell! Francis spat, slamming the letter on the counter, causing an inkwell to jump and spill. What does it mean? James asked, although he had a fairly clear idea. Francis glanced at the clerk who relished providing the answer. It means you are unable to withdraw one penny piece, he said. Good day. Wait, the Irishman intervened. We cant discuss this with a simple counter clerk. Take us to someone in authority. I am not permitted to the man began but Francis reached over, grasped his cravat in his huge ham of a fist and hissed under his breath: If you dont do as we say, Im gonna wait for you outside and when you leave, Im gonna give you such a hiding you wont be after seeing straight for a month of Sundays. This got results but only for a moment. They were shown into a back room and spoke to the manager who was acquainted with the matter and came to the same conclusion as the clerk, albeit in more sympathetic tones. The melancholy facts were that Biddle had been persuaded by the socalled trustee to grant power of attorney over Jamess affairs in the event of his death. Because of the ambiguous wording used, this gave permission to the official to do as he liked with the money. As he listened, James recalled how the captain had always detested lawyers, no doubt from his experience with the shipping companies. He had often said they were the cause of untold misery and ruination, that they were only in business to stir up more business, not settle their clients affairs. Unhappily, their absence in this case had resulted in disaster. The faulty clause in the contract had gone unperceived, and the consequence was that James found himself destitute. Francis made a show of demanding the bank make an effort to find the errant trustee and the manager, eyeing the forlorn James, promised to do what he could. The shock to the boys system was similar to that of being shot. The initial blow was replaced by panic, and by the time they returned to the gaming house he discovered that between him and starvation were the contents in his belt; four dollars and sixteen cents. Dont fret, lad, Francis smiled, trying his best to cheer the boy up by making it sound as if the catastrophe was nothing more than a niggle.


Theyll catch the scoundrel, youll see. Youll get your money back in next to no time. But he didnt sound as if he believed himself. His enforced cheerfulness grated on James. He took off to his room where he lay for hours wallowing in self pity, cursing everyone he had ever known and laying the blame on them for his predicament. He even imagined a huge conspiracy that included captain Biddle. No-one cared a damn about his welfare; he had been plotted against from the start. And that idiot Irishman, trying to appear so worldly, wanted to take charge of his affairs! More likely than not it was his manner that had aggravated the clerk who exacted his revenge by pretending his money had been stolen. And all that talk from Biddle about lawyers being parasites. See where you get without them! When had he ever seen evidence that anyone was to be trusted? The cardinal rule for survival is to look out for yourself. As far back as he could remember people had exploited him, even tried to take his life. There was Batt, and the monsters in charge of the workhouses. Then came the soldiers and the marketeers. Yet he had signed away his life to these animals, even let them look after his hard-earned money. What an utter fool he had become. The afternoon dragged by and he watched the sunlight dim. After hours of blaming everyone he had ever met for his misfortune, he knew he had to find work fast: but what? After six years breaking his back on the riverboats to put something aside only to see it vanish in the blink of an eye, he became resigned to believe he would work for the rest of his life and never see so much wealth ever again. It was difficult to think back to the day he decided to try his luck in New Orleans. Hed heard talk of men making fast fortunes there, indeed that was what had persuaded him to move south to live in a rapidly growing new port seething with opportunities. And yet six months later, what had he achieved? How to stack liquor crates and a few card tricks. In all that time he never once thought about his future or spent five minutes seeking out a real opportunity. Come April he would be seventeen years old, and here he lay idle with only a few dollars to his name and without a friend in the world. Burning with resentment against mankind for the fix in which he had landed, he splashed his way back to the Quadroon where he resolved to


fritter away the remaining cash on rum. Why not? Everyone else in this cruel place did. Francis was behind the bar when he shoved his way through the customers, rapped a coin on the counter and called out: Rum! Sensing the boys mood, the Irishman refrained from starting a conversation, poured him the drink and moved away. James felt one more twinge of self pity . Here he was, looking to sound off to someone about fair weather friends, hoping Francis might show some concern and calm him down with some wise advice. But he didnt. He just walked off. Another example of how little anybody gave a damn about his problems. Shifting aimlessly round the room, he stopped by the card tables where he noticed there were strangers among the usual players. One in particular stood out. A professional gambler is by nature a melancholy character. Accustomed to living either at the top or bottom of his spirits, he rarely finds peace of mind, that inner satisfaction given by achieving regular employment and clean living. More often than not he spends his waking hours expecting disaster to strike at any moment. After weeks watching them fill in an otherwise barren day, James discovered there were men who actually play to lose, somehow only feeling true satisfaction when they are cleaned out. They rarely smile since their professional technique demands impassivity. Only a few own up to having families or close relationships, and their conversation is, to say the least, limited. Oftentimes, their only mode of expression beyond the gaming tables is to discuss the kind of clothes they chose to wear. A typical high roller, as the more flamboyant were known, decked out in sober basic outfits: black soft hat, broadcloth coat and trousers, highheeled boots, conventional cravat and a white shirt. But his reputation is made by embellishments. Sometimes the shirt had a loose collar, a frilly front cut low in the neck, while a jewel stone as large as the wearer could afford, known as a headlight, gave a finishing touch. A vest of extreme gaudiness might be fastened with pearl buttons and carry a watch in one pocket, usually a gold repeater beset with gems and attached to a chain draped across the belly.


An interest in clothes was one of the few foibles a professional gambler was known to expand upon. One might have a fetish about boots and send off to Paris for the latest fashion; another could favour hand-stitched suits from London, while someone else would only buy his headgear in New York. The mark of a successful player was his appearance, and even if most of them were fully aware they were living to the hilt, that a new diamond stick pin was bought with borrowed money, they didnt lose any sleep since they lived in a society that had no other way than extravagance by which to measure itself. High rollers preferred to mingle with the socially elevated, conduct their business in gaming halls replete with French wines and elegant women. Very few entered the Swamp, and those who did prudently left their gaudier accessories at home. The new face James spotted stood out because he fitted none of these categories. His clothes were immaculate, reeking of wealth, but basically white, a colour only recently regarded as a la mode since America had started to shrug off its Puritan origins. The gambler James was pin pointing wore no jewellery except a tiny diamond that glittered on the lapel of his jacket . Something else set him apart from the professionals; his face never remained still. When he drew a hand, he either grimaced or beamed, in stark contrast to the gamblers he was playing with who James knew to be among the most notorious cardsharps in the Port. They were so well known that their largest problem was to find anyone to play with them. On the rare occasions they did and discover they were being cheated, they became acquainted with the sharpers second reputation of keeping a vendetta dagger strapped to their belts. They made easy profits by selecting strangers they saw disembarking from an expensive riverboat, assess their naivete quotient by their conversation, then pay their runners to lead them to the Quadroon Gaming House. Tonight they appeared to have struck gold. James watched as they used every trick to skin the newcomer. Holdouts were placed in their vests, sleeves, belts and under the table; shiners to read his cards as they were dealt, and rings concealing a needle point to mark their value. This evening they had been playing long enough to throw caution aside after assuming this dandy had to be two thirds blind. To Jamess amazement he continued unaware he was being robbed as


blatantly as if they were holding a pistol to his head. The spectacle was hilarious enough to allow him to put aside his own troubles for a while and enjoy the therapeutic pleasure of watching someone in an even worse situation than his own. The game they played was faro that required contestants to bet on the order of the cards as they were dealt from the deck. Based on pure chance, its appeal rested on the speed of the wagers, allowing players to recoup losses quickly. The classic game of poker was played with a deck of twenty cards, deuce to six or ten to ace, but was less popular in the Delta since it demanded too much time and concentration. The men were letting the newcomer win on average one hand in ten, sufficient to keep him at the table. But as his pile of bank notes shrank, he seemed oblivious to the fact that for every ten dollars won he forfeited a hundred. An hour passed. Francis came over and asked James what was keeping him so absorbed. Those sure-thing players have found themselves an all time champion idiot. The strangers money had now ebbed until there were only a few dollars left. During the last few hands he had fallen silent, his face no longer reflecting the worth of his cards. Holding up the rhythm of the game by taking out a cigar, he spent some moments lighting it while the others waited. Your deal, sir, one of them prompted. The high roller blew a cloud of blue smoke over the table, then wafting it away with a lazy wave, he removed the stogie from his lips and spoke for the first time since James had arrived: You will excuse me mentioning this, he drawled in a broad Virginian accent, But I have come to the conclusion that you three swamp toads have been cheating since the moment I sat down with you. His voice rang clear around the room and caught the attention of other tables. James knew trouble was only seconds away and looked round in vain to find Francis. Are you makin an official complaint? one of the sharpers asked loud enough to carry to the onlookers. He tilted back on two legs of his chair,


allowing his coat tails to fall away and reveal a stiletto on his belt. The gesture was made to induce caution, but on this occasion it failed. Damn right, you illegitimate apology for a gutter snake, the Virginian replied. Jamess heart was now fluttering in the inevitable anticipation of blood about to flow. Where the devil was Francis? The table flipped over and the sharpers stood as one man. A silence fell on the room, broken only by the scraping of chairs as those nearest shifted out of range. The Virginians cane rattled to the floor and the player standing next to him kicked it away then produced a knife. The stranger remained unperturbed, and continued to pull on the cigar. James remembered Francis had a pistol under the counter to settle such situations and crabbed sideways towards the bar, provoking a glare from one of the sharpers that persuaded him to abandon the idea. Swinging their blades in a deadly rhythm, the men spread outwards to approach the Virginian on three sides. However, their prey remained calm and seated. At which point James walked into the circle. Are you a friend of his? one of the card sharps asked. James shook his head, striving to keep his voice steady. No, sir. Then get the hell out of the way. The only break in the eerie silence came when someone at the back of the room cleared his throat. Please, James said, managing a wan smile. Let me say just one thing. You are professional card players. Ive seen you in here many times. But if you kill this man, your careers will be finished. Whats this brat talking about? snapped a second knifer. Is he soft in the head? You will stand trial for murder, James pressed on, praying for Francis to appear. And with all these witnesses present, you will be found guilty and hanged. The same knifer cackled: Son, you may not know this, but youre in the Swamp. James turned to address the speaker retaining his amiable expression. I assume you know that this gambling house is owned by Annie Christmas.


So what? I became a personal friend when I recently helped her win an important challenge. I assure you if you do not already know, that she will not tolerate blood spilled on her property, and dont give much for your chances to remain in this world. The third knifer stepped forward and placed the tip of his stiletto in his nostril. You better get out of the way, pipsqueak, or youll spend the rest of your life minus a nose. And you will never find another game in the Delta, James continued, ready at any moment to suffer the ignominy of having the room watch him piss his pants. But he had come too far now. There would be no backing away. Thats of course if Annie Christmas doesnt feed you to the crocodiles, which happened the last time there was such and incident here. Please consider, gentlemen. Do you want to put your lives in jeopardy for the sake of a misunderstanding. A hasty word spoken in the heat of the moment? Misunderstanding, my ass, the Virginian drawled. These sons of mongrels have been cheating me all night. The sharpers lunged forward in unison but James stood his ground. Listen, he continued with what he decided would be his final attempt. Why not play the hand over with an impartial dealer? Isnt that better than being chased by Annie Christmas for the rest of your life? The nearest knifer lowered his weapon and tickled Jamess groin. Whats in it for you to risk your manhood for this pansy? Nothing, sir. Im simply someone who doesnt want to see three intelligent gentlemen like yourselves lose their lives over an argument that can be resolved by playing the hand over. The other knives drooped. No-one in the room blinked an eyelid, still unable to believe what they were hearing. James glimpsed Francis standing behind the bar with a keg in his arms. But he was looking as blank as everyone else. If you want, he offered, Ill deal the cards. The men exchanged looks and he was relieved to find them grinning.


I dont know anything about gambling, James continued. But if you tell me how many cards you want, Ill give them. Turning for the first time to face the Virginian, he asked: Do you agree? The dandy drew slowly on his cigar before answering: Who do you think you are, interfering in my affairs? His languid drawl made it clear he had no interest in a reply. James bowed enough to reach the mans ear: Make up your mind, friend, he whispered, bridling at the fellows insolence. Do you want to live to see the sun rise tomorrow? It was the kind of pithy phrase Captain Biddle would have used and James felt a flush of pride as he drew it from his memory bank. But the Virginian gave no answer, merely shrugged. James turned to find the others sheathing their weapons. How old are you, lad? one asked. Seventeen, sir. But I know how to deal cards. The table was righted, the chairs retrieved and they sat down. The tension in the room eased and the other tables resumed their games. James glimpsed Francis and was pleased to see his petrified expression. A sharper flicked his fingers and a waiter brought a new deck. Whats it to be, gentlemen? James said, removing the band. He wanted to show off some fancy deck work then realised his cover was of an enthusiastic amateur and restrained himself to a regular shuffle. Before anyone could answer, he suggested poker. The men shrugged but the Virginian frowned. Oh God, he thought, he surely wasnt going to insist on keeping to faro ? Very well. James sifted the twenty cards, shuffled thoroughly and dealt. The sharpers began by winning the first half dozen hands and the dandys money was reduced to six dollars. Most of the time he threw in his cards, forfeiting only his stake bet and occasionally grunting at his poor selection. They had been playing thirty minutes before his face eventually lit up and revealed a change of mind by pushing all his remaining money into the centre. When he won he let out a high-pitched whoop of glee, and repeated it each time he took the pot of the next three rounds. An hour later he was able to relight his cigar and blow a column of smoke over the mountain of notes stacked by his elbow. The cardsharps returned


to a threatening surliness as their winnings dwindled, but when Francis came over with a pistol stuck in his apron they reigned in their anger to chewing fingernails when the Virginian laid down another full house. They couldnt understand how, despite all their hidden equipment, they continued to lose. Finally, one of them cut his losses and stood, pocketing what was left and the others followed suit, glancing stonily at the dandy now wreathed in smiles. Youre leaving? he asked. Ah well, you win some, you lose some, eh? There is something, a sharper growled, known as the luck of the devil. The Virginian continued his throaty chuckle: Are you making an official complaint? This didnt go down well with them either . After they left, James gave a long sigh of relief, his heart pummelling a sweaty shirt front. He grinned at the stranger who was folding his money into every available pocket. Feeling better? he asked. In the circumstances, the Virginian answered, that is an irrelevant question. The words brought a flush to the boys face. Here was a fellow whose life he had just saved, whose fortune he had single handedly restored by a spectacular display of card sharping, who was treating him as if he were nothing more than a lap dog. Sir, he pronounced, aping the mans speaking style. You are undoubtedly the worst card player I have ever witnessed in my life. The Virginian finished filling his pockets and gave the merest of smiles. Your whole life? he grunted. My my, that must cover a goodly number of years. Biddle once warned him that when you lose your temper you forfeit coherence and reason. However, his mentors words didnt return this time:. You - you were absolutely awful! The gambler patted his pockets. Sure. Six hundred dollars awful. Sir, James said, his gorge rising. Let me inform you Ive been he dropped his voice when he noticed some close by players turning to listen: Ive been feeding you the right cards for the past hour. And even then, you damn near lost.


For the first time the Virginian looked him square in the face. What was that, sonny? Sonny? More hackles lifted on his neck. This peacock could be no more than twenty five years old himself. Sweeping the fallen cards into a pack, he balanced them in a palm while Francis muttered in his ear, keen to restrain him from showing the world what an accomplished card cheat he had become. But Jamess humiliation expelled his reason. He shuffled, glancing at the faces as they fell into place, then banged the deck hard down on the table. Care for an ace ? He turned the top card to show the ace of clubs, and waved it in front of the Virginians face. Another? Another? How about one more? Having showed the top four cards of the pack turned out to be four aces, he went on to flip out four consecutive kings, then queens, then jacks. Even with these cards, he snorted, I doubt you could win. Wait. The Virginian tapped the silver knob of his cane on his cheek. You seem to be saying I should be beholden to you. Very well, here He put a hand into a pocket, pulled out a bundle of bank notes and peeled off a ten dollar bill, tossing it in front of James who looked as if he wanted to cram the money down his throat. Then the Biddle advice finally came to mind. He paused and took a deep breath. Sir, he said, standing. Better keep your money. You are going to need every penny because the next time you play, I wont be on hand to bail you out. Not bad, he thought, even though he was quaking like a jelly. But the dandy responded as if he hadnt heard a word. Sir, he said on his way to the bar, I am grateful to your silver tongue and quick fingers, but the truth is, I did not have need of them. You - you didnt need me? James yelled, throwing away style and composition. I never saw anyone come so close to being turned into a plate of pork ribs. The Virginian affected not to hear. He rapped the cane top on the counter and called for a brandy. James seethed while Francis poured then snapped: Rum.. The Irishman shook his head. Certainly not. You know how sick you get when you drink liquor.


The boy saw the gamblers lips twitch and wished the ground would open. He rounded on his friend: Look here, either you serve me what I want or or Bereft of his temper, he became what his guardian had warned him about and found himself speechless. If I may suggest, the Virginian offered, that when you begin a sentence, it pays to have some inkling on how it is to be completed. Otherwise a man can sound awfully foolish. Francis laughed, bringing Jamess world down like a house built from the same cards from which he had tried so hard to earn respect. He marched to the door wondering what else could go wrong before he left. The roads outside were silent after having been doused by a brief thunderstorm. In the distance, echoing from the respectable side of the Port, a sereno was calling out the hour in English, French and Spanish. James waded through the puddles back to his room, his overworked brain simmering down and his anger yielding to anxiety. Why had he intervened? What induced him to risk his life for a stranger? To be propelled from the safety of the bar into a cluster of knives? Sheer arrogance was the answer. Desperate for someone to admire his skills, he hadnt stopped to consider the risk. What insanity had provoked him into making useless gestures that often caused men to lose their lives? If he were to survive, he had to take measure of himself and assess the kind of fool he was becoming. When three figures detached themselves from the shadows, he wasnt immediately aware that he was the object of their attention. And when he did, he found the answer to the question he had just asked himself about what else could go wrong. He was about to be Swamped. After months of avoiding danger, he was now alone in the most dangerous district of the entire continent. He had previously always waited for people to pass and tagged along behind until he reached his quarters, but tonight humiliation had blunted common sense. Frustration rose by the way his fair weather friends had betrayed him throughout this terrible day and produced a disillusionment with the entire human race. Now he was destined to end his short life face down in the mud with a knife in his ribs. The figures stayed in shadow. He held up his hands.


You want my money? Here youre welcome to all two dollars and fifteen cents. He scooped out the coins and flung them down at their feet. But no-one moved. He caught the glint of a blade in the light from a nearby Carondelet oil lamp as the men came forward and he recognised the sharpers from the Quadroon. Wheres your partner? one of them asked, raising a stiletto to prick Jamess throat. Partner? Youve cheated us enough for one night, the man hissed, close enough for him to feel spittle spray his cheek. You worked a pretty game together. Him teaching a boy who aint even shaving yet to come into play. A dandy sight to be sure. But now the jokes over and we want our money. I wasnt working with anyone. All I did was And there he realised his predicament. All he did was what? How could he explain he had joined in just to show off his card tricks? He must still be in the Quadroon, one of them murmured. He is, James stammered. The man holding the knife to his throat clutching his lapels and dragged him closer to the point. First you go, then your friend. James closed his eyes and waited for the inevitable; the sudden pain that led to the red sunset of death. Leave the child alone, a voice with a familiar drawl came out of the darkness. James felt the pressure of the knife slacken. The Virginian was standing under the lamp, leaning on his cane. You can settle your account with me. He spoke casually, as if calling for a dinner bill. James felt his bowels constrict, showing no displeasure being called a child, for that was exactly how he now felt. But he could not imagine any way out of the present predicament. The fop stood facing three daggers in the hands of experts with nothing but a walking stick. The sharpers turned on the Virginian. They hesitated when they saw he was unarmed, but remained nervous he might have a dozen assistants waiting in the gloom. They fanned out and approached as they had done in the Quadroon. Then, acting in one accord flung themselves forward. What happened next went too fast for James to follow.


As they charged, the Virginian flipped his cane round, grabbed the ferule end and swung, the silver knob caught one of them square on the temple. His boot found the groin of another, then swaying back to dodge the third knife, he thrust forward the heel of a hand full on the mans nose. There followed a loud crack as the bone splintered and he fell to fall on his partners lying in the mud. James was struck dumb with shock. One moment three armed men were honing in on someone holding nothing but a walking stick. The next, he was stepping over them, one with blood oozing from the wreckage of what had once been his nose. He pulled James up to his feet. They wont bother you further. Just be careful where you go. The Swamp is no place for someone of your tender years. No longer seeking to impress his credentials, James climbed to his feet. But I live here. Well, all I can say is chacun a son gout. When he turned his back and walked off James hobbled after him. Hearing his groggy footsteps behind, the Virginian spoke without looking round : Im surprised you didnt try more of your sweet talk on them. They didnt seem to be in the mood for it. Where did you learn this art of gentle persuasion? I dont know. Is a man of your vast experience above taking a piece of advice? No? If you have an interest in living a full life, never interfere in the affairs of strangers. You had no cause to give me a hand just now, James countered. They were looking for me, not you. I appreciate your offer to help, but I did not need it. Now run along. James realised they were heading towards the Vieux Carre. He continued following at a distance until the stranger gave an exaggerated sigh and turned round. Do you like living in a cesspit? Its all I can afford. Whats your name?


James Morgan. I have to say you dont look like a James. A Jim or Jimmy perhaps, but nothing more respectable. The boy bristled at his condescending manner and turned round. As he started to walk back, the Virginian called: Wait. Very well. I admit I was in a fix at the card table. I was unable to reach for my cane and yes, I might have paid dearly had you not interposed. But I am not a man who admits his mistakes in public. That is why I may have been a trifle short tempered. However, I concede that I am in your debt and would be obliged should you allow me to make redress. Obliged to do what? My domicile is on yonder street. He pointed towards the lamps adorning the Vieux Carre. There is room enough for two if you care to move in. James recalled the dankness of his Girod Street room, and the withering of his funds that would mean he would not be able to stay there much longer. Alright. I admit the Swamp has lost its appeal. The Virginian hesitated, and resumed his habit of tapping a cheek with the walking stick. I cant call someone of your age Morgan. It sounds far too respectable. Nor James. We do however require a name starting with a soft G, Lets see, George? Gerald? No, no. He continued walking towards the Vieux Carre muttering other names: Jack, John, Jefferson all of which received a shake of the head while Jack kept pace behind. Then he suddenly stopped. I have it. Gentle. Gentle Morgan. It contains a pleasant rhythm. Dum de dum. Perfect. That isnt a name James said. Its an adjective. I admired the manner you used to take the wind out of the sales of those fellows who were preparing to slice me up. You were calm. You sounded restrained. Above all, you were gentle. And that will be the name you shall answer to while in my company. So come along, Gentle Morgan. He walked on repeating the words until he reached the door of his house and fiddled for the keys.. James had stayed some distance behind trying to weigh up the change in his identity. But as the Virginian unlocked his door he scuttled forward.


Wait. You have given me a name, but not one for you. Parfitt. Harry Parfitt. But you can just call me sir.

CHAPTER TWELVE The French Quarter, as many called Le Vieux Carre, was Spanish in appearance but French in custom. Within this tiny area could be found examples of the most elegant living in all America; eateries which would spread the reputation of New Orleans cuisine throughout the world; coffee


houses where the haut monde spent their days, and the ballrooms and theatres that occupied their nights. It also carried the same amount of mud as the Swamp because a shortage of stone had delayed attempts to pave the roads used by the well off. The place was a quagmire, and the thoroughfares built years before by Bienville, a French engineer, were only thirty eight feet wide. The banquettes, or sidewalks consisted of little more than planks pegged into the ground. Some streets had wooden gutters, but in the main, garbage and detritus were dumped into open ditches. They may have been periodically cleaned by slaves or convicts, but the smell of the Quarter was no sweeter than any other part of town, and during the dense humidity of a Delta summer were often a good deal worse. In the rainy season the black loamy soil became slippery, making the streets impassable and the gutters blocked. The entire area consisted of a road maze through which strangers had no hope of finding their way since their official names only appeared in the municipal record books. Residents relied on following a series of landmarks to decipher the geography. Add to this the impoverished light provided by the Carondelet street lamps and the task of charting a route after dark became a nightmare. Nevertheless, these conditions did nothing to deter New Orleans society from venturing out in the evening. The town supplied a glittering bedlam of social activity the year round, wet or fine, hot or cold. Balls, masquerades and wedding parties sometimes continued for days and kept the Quality residents of the Port in trim. And so it came to pass that James Morgan, former habitu of the Big Muddy and late connoisseur of the Swamp, took a new turn in his career by immersing himself in a concentrated study of the ways and customs of the New Orleans social elite under the professorship of his newly acquired patron and mentor, Harry Parfitt. He was surprised to learn his father was none other than the William Parfitt of the Parfitt and Son Charleston shipping company, and was cheered to hear the old man never did land a post in Washington City for which Captain Biddle had been sacrificed. The Son in the title referred to Harrys elder brother Ephraim. He himself had never joined the family business because by the time he was fourteen he had made pregnant the


daughter of the most prominent family in Richmond and was despatched, or more accurately exiled, to an uncle in New York. Although he never arrived there. Seeking out where the girl was staying, and with the aid of a pistol, he persuaded a local preacher to marry them and remained with his wife until a daughter was born, then set out to earn a living that would support them. Unfortunately, he reckoned without the determination of the girls family to reverse the power of nature by the power of wealth, and one morning awoke to find himself alone. Racing back to Richmond, he discovered his wife had returned to the family bosom and behaved as if he were a stranger. Of their baby there was no sign, which led to a scene during which he struck both parents and stormed out vowing he wouldnt rest until he found his daughter. But he never did, and for two years wandered up and down the eastern seaboard in a manic daze, leaving behind a trail of saloon brawls and duels where it was rumoured several men died by his hand. By luck more than judgement, he managed to avoid the rope and prison before asking his father what it was worth to keep him away from the state of Virginia. After settling on five thousand dollars a year, he left. James heard the account not from Parfitt, who never spoke of his past, but from acquaintances he encountered during his days in the Vieux Carre. Once installed in Parfitts commodious quarters, he was offered a selection of his cast off clothes. Their height tallied, although the Virginian carried more muscle and was broader in shoulder and hip, measurements that were soon corrected by the arrival of a team of octoroon girls who stitched and hemmed under his supervision. The women clearly adored him, even though he treated them with no more affection than that of a brother. Several weeks passed in languid idleness. Each day began around ten oclock when they would rise and stroll to the Cafe Des Exiles on the corner of Royal and St. Ann Streets to sip aromatic coffee amid expatriate Frenchies reading about Napoleons latest exploits in the newspaper Le Moniteur. The cafe was Parfitts favourite haunt, and by generously tipping the waiters allowed him to sit as long as he liked over a single drink while keeping an the eye on the communitys more elevated female members. James soon felt equally poised, sporting the amended clothes that allowed him to savour the pleasure of looking like a respected man about town.


However, the genial mood didnt last. One morning, when James signalled a garcon to bring another coffee, Parfitt countermanded the order. When I rescued you from certain death, he remarked, without moving his eyes from a table of smartly crinolined women and their escorts, you claimed to possess but a few dollars I believe it was I who rescued you, James interrupted and now, a month later, how much money is left in your purse? About the same. Do please tell me your secret, Parfitt murmured, giving a nod to one of the women who had become conscious of his attention, and turned to discover its source. How does a man manage to live scot free? James fidgeted. Youve never asked me to pay for anything. Well, I am now. Because the truth of the matter is, we do not have enough to buy even one more cup of coffee. The news came as a jolt. What did he mean by we? If I could find work, James said, dont you think I would? No, Parfitt replied. The womans companion at the other table was now curious to find who was stealing her attention. You dont think so? Why bother, when you can live off me? This was the first time James had been given such harsh treatment from Parfitt. He toyed with his cup burning from the accusation of being judged a parasite. Its all very well for you. You get five thousand a year for doing nothing. Some of us have more trouble finding money. Parfitt transferred his gaze from the swells across the room. Do you imagine for a moment I could survive on such a paltry sum? Good God, my tailor takes most of that. James muttered something about never having seen him perform five seconds of physical labour. The allowance you appear to be obsessed about is paid on January first. By March it is exhausted. We are now approaching the month of May. My dear Gentle, I can confirm with no fear of contradiction that as we sit here, you are two dollars richer than I.


The boys stomach continued to twitch. He had never questioned the supply of capital since settling into the Quarter. Why would he? Parfitt gave the impression it grew on trees. Then what do we do? I intend to return to my trade. The group at the other table were leaving. As the woman bent to retrieve her parasol, she smiled at Parfitt behind her escorts back. In return he raised his hat with one hand and his coffee cup in a toast with the other. James waited for the entracte to complete: What trade? You mean gambling? How, when you have no stakes? Do not assume that by having the acquaintance of someone for five minutes, you possess a comprehensive understanding of his character. Now be so kind as to go and pay for the coffee. He played the boys curiosity like an angler as they strolled down St. Ann Street, past the Catalan and Creole boutiques and the billiard halls until they reached the river, during which time James spent asking a torrent of questions without receiving a single reply. What is your trade, he pleaded for the tenth time. Please tell me. Why are you so interested? Because, well, because I he faltered. I want to know if there might be something I could do to help. Parfitt produced his trademark expression of wide-eyed surprise. For you to help me? James looked at his feet, lost for words. He always had to work harder to bend Parfitts will than with anyone before. Even Captain Biddle had been prone to manipulation. His impromptu stories made up on the spur of the moment had always produced positive results in previous years with listeners like Francis on the ship, and the jailer in England. But he was never able to scratch the slightest mark with this dandy. Regaling him with tales of workhouse floggings, the drunken Platt, his escape from the hangman, he became increasingly frustrated to watch Parfitt begin to doze off halfway through and whose only comment about sob stories from the lower orders were they became infinitely boring because they were always about the same matters: Beatings, hunger, neglect. Who needs to keep hearing about such morose events? Not I. Im not asking for charity, James snapped. Are you sure?


Ive been of considerable service to you these past months. You lose money hand over fist at the tables even though Im telling you how the other players are cheating. I show you my gratitude when you fitted me up for the Quadroon ball. Ive spent all these weeks trying to keep you amused. And you say youve received nothing in return? Parfitt said, his attention fixed on a moored ship. You gave me a roof over my head and regular meals, and Ive shown you my gratitude which you make a point of ignoring. Ive had to put up with your tantrums and absurd posturing. Ive tried to speak to you as a friend to no avail. So I am no longer beholden to you in any way. Nor am I to you, Parfitt replied, then added after a pause: And I do not throw vulgar tantrums. Conversation dwindled. Finally Parfitt stood, straightened his coat and sighed: Quel ennui. Quel goddamn ennui. I take a child from the gutter, save his silly life, and this is how I am repaid. James struggled to hold his tongue, working his jaw in suppressed fury until Parfitt prodded his ribs with the cane. Oh, very well, he sighed. You are about to learn what real work is. James felt a wave of contentment suffuse his brain. Not because of the prospect of finding a job. He had learned years ago that for some people, there is nothing more embarrassing than to discover they possess a generous spirit of which, no matter how hard they try, they can never rid themselves. Now he realised Harry Parfitt belonged in this category. By his last instruction to discover the meaning of so-called real work, he had revealed himself as a sentimentalist. Which meant the Virginian would always be in his power. **************************** By the spring of 1812, there wasnt a soul in the Delta who hadnt heard of the brothers Pierre and Jean Lafitte. Arriving in New Orleans six years earlier after establishing a fearsome reputation as privateers and freebooters, they succeeded in welding together all the criminal sections that flocked to the region following the Louisiana Purchase. The capital they required for this enterprise was raised by smuggling, a business


developed to such a degree that it was reckoned in their heyday the Lafittes supplied practically every store in the Port. The two men were currently running a blacksmith shop in St. Philip Street, between Bourbon and Dauphine. The smithy was no more than a blind for their more lucrative trading, as was the store they maintained on Royal Street. They lived and entertained in formidable style at a mansion on the corner of Bourbon and St. Philip, and Jean became a favourite guest among the prosperous gentry. Pierre was of a more solitary disposition, lacking his brothers easy charm, and preferred to spend most of his time at the nucleus of their smuggling enterprises; the Bay of Baritaria, sixty miles south of the Port along the heavily indented coastline, and separated from the Gulf by the Grande Terre and Grand Ile islands. The prize merchandise at this time were slaves. On January 1st, 1808, a law was passed prohibiting their importation into the United States which had caused the price for healthy Negroes to shoot sky high throughout the South. Plantation owners readily paid up to a thousand dollars for one able-bodied man who could be bought on the African coast for twenty. Even in Cuba, which became the focal point of the legal slave trade, the biggest male cost no more than three hundred dollars. It was inevitable that given such profits, smuggling black ivory into Louisiana soon became widespread, and the Lafitte brothers were the first to enter the field. They collected a band of cut-throats who were spectacular even in a region where reputations for savagery were legion; Rene Beluche, Captain Dominique and the hideous-looking Chighizola, known as Nez Coupe Cut Nose and Vincent Gambi who boasted of having killed a score of men with a broad axe. Commanded by the Lafittes, they established a colony on Grande Terre, and from their headquarters at Barataria ruled the seas for over ten years, bringing in countless numbers of contraband slaves. The method was simple; their fleet preyed on the Gulf shipping lanes, offloaded the stolen Africans at Grande Terre and the Bay of Barataria where they were auctioned and smuggled into Louisiana. By early 1812 they owned almost all the pirate privateers working this area, and could call upon fifty ships and a thousand men to fan out across the waters to haul in the plunder. The colony was ceaselessly expanding with gaming houses and bordellos added to a complex of cottages,


warehouses and barracoons, the latter slave quarters where the merchandise would lie in chains until the next auction. As the pillaging grew to epidemic proportions, the slave ships altered their trade routes, scattering far and wide to avoid the predators. It became essential for the Lafittes to learn in advance of the new lanes, and paid handsomely for such intelligence. That was where Parfitt came in. Following prohibition, Parfitt Senior hadnt been slow to recognise the potential of the slave smuggling market. His business primarily dealt with freight and passengers, but there was little difference between a vessel equipped to carry cotton and one fitted out to transport Africans. After a successful trial run during which he leased one of his ships to a gang of slavers, the old man realised how simple it was; the prohibition decree may have been in force, but there was no machinery to make it anything more than words on parchment. And thus it came about that William Parfitt, pillar of the Richmond community, threw his energies into the slave trade and soon recovered all he had lost as a result of the British blockade. By 1810, he was running a slaver a month from the west coast of Africa. After losses from suffocation or disease, each cargo averaged two hundred and fifty Negroes. With each male purchased for twenty dollars and sold for up to a thousand, the old man was raking in a quarter million dollars per month. Following the arrival on the scene of the Lafittes, the accretion of his fortune was interrupted and he became forced to exercise his knowledge of the Atlantic shipping lanes and order his captains to vary their routes. However, never a person to delegate authority, adhering to the view that to do so invariably ends in revolt, he developed the practice of giving his sailing orders only as the ships were about to cast off. Thus were his former trade rhythms restored and he rarely lost another cargo. Until his son devised a way to kill two birds with one stone; the first, to gain revenge on a father he loathed, and the second to make an easy fortune that would keep him in the style he regarded as essential for a man of his standing. Having discovered that the family firm was profiting vastly from the slave trade, he paid a visit to companys headquarters in Richmond and learned the identity of an employee whose principal duty was to select which route


each ship was to follow and inform the captain prior to cast off. His fathers commanders were men who had worked for him for years, and whose distaste for the trade in human flesh was softened by their bulging wages. Subjecting the man to a mixture of bribery and threats, Parfitt was given the details of one shipment per year; the departure time from the African coast, the direction it would take and the strength of onboard armaments. Transferring the information to the Lafittes, the cargo ended up in the barracoon at Grande Terre, and Parfitt Junior received his ten per cent commission. When James heard this he couldnt imagine a more relaxed way to make an annual fortune. One trip to Richmond, one to Grande Terre, a short wait for the piracy to take place followed by a leisurely return to New Orleans richer to the tune of twenty five thousand dollars. Parfitt explained the arrangements as he packed a valise to make the Richmond run. A week later, he returned and bade the boy to pack enough clothes in a military chest and take it to the ferry station. It was only when they were aboard the raft transferring them to the far bank that James sketched in the itinerary to Grande Terre where they would wait until the Lafitte gang completed the operation. What I want to know is where I fit in? he asked, watching an ancient horse plod the steps of a treadmill that powered the ferry. You will be my personal secretary. He soon became acquainted with the fact that the title involved only one duty, that of baggage handler, a task that had him bent double lugging the military chest on his back while Parfitt sat nursing a drink outside a waterfront cafe. Had he been less terrified of catching the shaking illness called malaria, James might have appreciated the opportunity to earn money, but from the moment he scrambled up the bank of the Mississippi until their arrival at Grande Terre, he did no more than grumble under the weight of Parfitts travelling essentials. With the boat pulled by a pair of horses along a makeshift towpath, they travelled west into a swamp along the banks of a drainage canal. Half a day later, they reached a bayou where a line of pirogues were moored; primitive canoes cut from cypress trunks and hollowed out to carry a


dozen bodies. Parfitt told James to wait at the landing and stay close to the chest. Do not let it out of your sight. James watched him disappear into a lean-to set among the lush undergrowth. Ten minutes later he emerged with a man whose nose looked as if it had been chewed off, and a body bristling with knives and a pistol slung under one arm in a home-made holster. Behind him trotted eight black men chained together at the neck. After being paid, he cracked a whip over their torsos to herd them into one of the pirogues. James knew there was no need for this brutality and glared at Parfitt, willing him to intervene, but he remained unmoved. Hoisting the chest on to his aching back, he shuffled bent double towards the boat. The legs he could see from his tortured angle belonged to the last of the black men, and immediately in front of him stood the slaver who lifted a foot and kicked the wretched fellow aboard in a final brutal gesture. Gauging the distance and direction, James lowered a shoulder. The chest slid off and fell onto the mans instep, crushing it against the wooden slats of the jetty, and producing a high pitched scream of pain. The Negroes tried to hide their faces but for a few seconds the misery of their existence was relieved watching their tormentor writhe in agony. Parfitt made no attempt to help him while he took hold of one end of the chest and lower it into the pirogue. Well be back in two or three weeks, he told the slaver, ignoring the mans whimpering as he stared at the bloodied skin and bone below his ankle. You should be more careful, Parfitt told James as they settled into the boat. That chest was expensive. If its damaged, Ill dock it from your wages. The bayou stretched sixty miles, meandering like a gigantic anaconda through stagnant swamps. James had never seen terrain like it and for the first hour wished he had not agreed to come along. They were moving through a tunnel as silent as death. There was no current and little light, the sun having little success in penetrating the ceiling of cypress and water oak covered in the ubiquitous Spanish moss. For mile after mile the only movement in the water were ripples from skittering mosquitoes and the lethargic roll of a comatose alligator.


Herons stood motionless in the tenebrous shadows while strange creatures of shapes and colours flapped among the towering trees. To break the ghostly silence of their surroundings, the slaves accompanied their rhythmic rowing with mournful songs in Gombo, a variation of the French language. When darkness fell with only a few minutes given to twilight, James was dozing. Parfitt shook him awake as they moved towards the shore to set up camp for the night. The sleep was his last since the night was punctuated by the bellowing of alligators, the mournful cries of whippoorwills, and a selection of unidentified noises which gave him the impression he was imprisoned in a vast madhouse. The flickering fire provided a momentary deterrent to the mosquitoes, but when it died for the rest of the turtle slow hours before dawn, James heard them buzz in his ears and felt them burrow through his hair. When the first sun rays finally seeped through the foliage, their bites reacted from his salty sweat and he wondered for the hundredth time why, oh why had he come on this wretched journey? The Africans rowed across a large lake called Salvador on Parfitts map, then on through more bayous and across a stretch of wide water named Villiers. After a second interminable twenty four hours, they emerged from the forests into the brilliant sunlight of Barataria Sound. Jamess spirits rose when he looked back at the receding hinterland. If anyone were ever to ask his vision of hell, he would be able to describe it down to the last lichen. The next day they came within sight of Grande Terre. The coastline sparkled with buildings of all shapes and sizes. The banks had been raised for seafaring business long before by Indian tribes who carved out a convenient waterfront, but it was the Lafittes who transformed the region into a thriving community. Four schooners and two blackbirders were lying at anchor as the pirogue pulled into shore, one of which looked badly damaged. Parfitt led the way through a spotless line of houses, each surrounded by neat white fences enclosing a path and a garden. The Lafitte brothers were well known for their discipline and order, and James saw slaves at work weeding, washing laundry or splashing fresh coats of white paint on the clapboard walls.


Parfitt stopped at a house with black shutters and a verandah where a young man in a Spanish naval jacket was lying in a hammock. Recognising Parfitt, he swung down, shook hands then muttered in his ear before opening the door:: Take care, msieu Harry. Things are not well. Pierre Lafitte was seated inside, his hands cupping a head showing all the expressions of someone about to burst into a deadly rage. James had heard many tales about the brothers; how they were full of smiles one minute and likely to cut off your head the next. He wished now that he hadnt. Lafitte certainly looked a long way from bonhomie. Msieu Parfeet, he grunted, raising a hand a fraction from the arm of his chair. Comment vas-tu, mon brave? They shook hands and the Virginian spoke in his own brand of fractured French. It became apparent to James from the desultory talk that the pirate was worried about something to such an extent that he received Parfitts annual report on his fathers shipping movements with hardly a murmur. After a few attempts to set off a conversation, Parfitt turned to James and told him to find out what the devil was the matter with this man whose English was as poor as his own French. A paralysing fear made the boy stutter for a moment before he hit his stride. He asked Lafitte if he was upset. A silence dragged by before he heard a reply and when he did, the mans words began from a sonorous pit and slowly accelerated until they disgorged like an erupting volcano. There was much James couldnt catch, but the gist seemed to be that a year ago a slave rebellion had occurred some forty miles from New Orleans in a place called the Parish of St. John the Baptist. All the Africans had been brought from the Grande Terre barracoon when word spread that their merchandise was suspect. Other rumours went around that the Lafittes were bringing them in from places like Santo Domingo where slaves had reportedly massacred wholesale numbers of the domiciled whites. Whats his problem? Parfitt interrupted Jamess translation. He controls the whole damn slave trade. If the plantations dont buy from him, they dont buy from anyone. He knows that without slave labour, theyll be out of business. Hes getting old. Dont translate that last part. Lafitte listened to what James relayed while shaking his enormous skull. He explained the real trouble was the presence of British men owar


sprinkled across the Gulf and up the eastern seaboard. They had already sunk two of his vessels, while a blackbirder had just managed to limp back to base following an encounter only twenty miles away. The final blow came a few days ago when after snatching a slave cargo from a freebooter, they had been chased by a British frigate until forced to dump ninety prime bucks over the side to gather enough speed to escape being blown out of the water. It was a general view in these parts that the blockade was crippling trade and without even the semblance of a navy, America would have no choice but to go to war with England, inevitably lose and leave les cons Anglais in control of the sea routes, sounding the death knell for the black ivory business. Parfitt tapped his cane while James finished his translation. Look here, he said, Im sorry business is not so good, but thats precisely why Im here. Lets talk about my fathers shipment. I can guarantee Lafitte cut his words off with a bellow to someone in a rear room. A young girl brought in a bowl of shrimps, a bottle of rum and three glasses. The subject of William Parfitts latest batch of slaves didnt arise again, and half an hour later the visitors left belching rum aware that their torturous trip through the bayous had been in vain. Parfitt fell into a brown study while James sensed this was not the time to try and cheer him up. He followed him to the barracoon to look over the Negroes awaiting auction. The pens were bulging with chained inmates. Several looked ill with festering sores patch-working their skin while other skeleton-thin bodies lay barely moving on the ground. A sailor wandered over to Parfitt and announced thered been no auction for three weeks and these men would all be dead before the month was out. James couldnt take his eyes off the sight beyond the wire. Why cant they be fed? he asked. Whats the point? the sailor shrugged. No-onell buy them. Itd be a waste of food. Its criminal. Each of them worth eight, nine hundred buckaroos and theyll end up feeding the fish. Why arent there any takers? Parfitt asked. A month back, a new shipment left for a buyer on the mainland. A British frigate comes out of nowhere, takes the slaves then blasts a hole in


the hull leaving the master and his crew to drown. News like that spreads. Back at the settlement Parfitt found an empty house and a couple of Africans to provide bedding and a cook. After a plate of yams and hominy grits reached his stomach, James felt better, but he noticed Parfitt hadnt touched his food, preferring instead to refill his tankard with hot spiced rum every two minutes and gaze moodily out of the windows. Lafittes depressed, James said. Why not leave him be for a while? Parfitt appeared not to hear and seconds ticked by before he said almost incoherently: He needs more slaves like he needs the pox. If he cant sell what he already has, hes not likely to risk his life fetching any more. I dont want to face those bayous again, James grunted. No-one is going anywhere. I came here to increase my capital. If they wont go and fetch the merchandise, then we shall. What do you mean? Handling a ship is childs play, Parfitt said, lighting a cigar with slow deliberation. Anyone with half a brain can master seafaring in a week. And I figure you owe me a favour, my friend.


CHAPTER THIRTEEN The notion of going to sea in a leaky bucket, challenging the worlds mightiest navy on the outside chance they might take charge of a cargo of black ivory was so outrageous that James was convinced the idea was a combination of desperation and Parfitts oblique sense of humour. But as the shadows lengthened, he became aware the Virginian was in earnest. Im sorry, Harry, but if you say I owe you yet another favour, Im not obliged to risk my life performing it. What you say is pure fantasy. Even supposing you did manage to lay your hands on such cargo, where would you sell it? You told me yourself Lafitte could take no more slaves. Parfitt stayed silent and James hoped the pause meant he was reconsidering. So you wont help? Im sorry. Despite being aware he had no cause to believe he was in yet another debt to the man, he felt a twinge of guilt and tried to find a softer way to deliver a refusal. Surely, you must know this is madness. Talk to any of the men here and theyll tell you the same. Parfitt turned round slowly. If you arent coming, would you kindly explain what you intend to do? Dont worry about me. I have no intention of taking on new habits at my time of life, the Virginian replied and stalked out of the room. James awoke early the following morning to find Parfitts bed empty. Seized with terror of being abandoned in this hellish end of the world, he threw on his clothes and raced outside into the dank heat of early morning. His anxiety doubled when he remembered Parfitt had never in his life risen before ten oclock. He asked two men passing by who said they thought they had seen him down by the dock. More ships had arrived overnight and closest to the shore stood anchored a two-master clipper-built schooner carrying a long barrelled cannon on the forward deck.


This was his introduction to a privateer. He had often heard the name and met sailors claiming to have manned them to fire on the British navy during the early days of the embargo, but none that he could recall ever appeared in the Delta. Privateers were ordinary civil vessels fitted with armaments. Having no navy to speak of, the American government sanctioned, for defence purposes only, the placement of a large-barrelled cannon and a few smaller weapons, carronades and so forth, aboard sea-going ships Since no seaman in his right mind would fire on British fleet, the privateer became an instrument of legalised piracy, used to attack and loot undefended commercial shipping. The boat in the dock was not long off the slips and looked smart and tidy. The name Polly was inscribed along the upper edge of the bow, the hull planking was clear-edged and the brasswork shone in the morning sunshine. Leaning on the rail, Parfitt was deep in conversation with the captain. James watched them talk before the Virginian eventually descended a rope ladder to a rowboat that brought him ashore. He stepped out and walked past without a glance. Harry! he called, running after him. Whats happening,? Parfitt turned and affected surprise. Oh, so youre still here? Biddles words about the curse of pride pricked the boys memory and he managed a sheepish grin. It took a while to soften Parfitts manner, but by the time they reached the house he had been instructed about the business in hand. The Polly was indeed a privateer and had come straight from the Baltimore shipyards. Following a skirmish with the British in which she had successfully demolished the enemys rigging, her captain brought her through the Florida straits into the Gulf. The intention was to take a rest before continuing to fight the blockade. While admiring the derring-do spirit, James questioned the practicality of having a two masted schooner armed with an elderly Long Tom cannon and a clutch of carronades take on a fleet of British men owar. Parfitt said Captain Jarvis had his eyes set on a cargo of sugar bound to England from the Caribbean. The sweetener was fetching phenomenal prices in America since the British embargo had


begun to bite. Prizes like these he said, made the risk acceptable as the lighter ship was far speedier than a frigate. Unable to coax a response from Lafitte, Parfitt told Jarvis of his fathers slaver due in a few days, and the captain fell in with the plan. The only point at issue was the exact location of the vessel, and as Harry was not about to reveal it, Jarvis was nervous about moving into waters patrolled by the British on such vague intelligence. However, greed prevailed and an agreement was struck to sail on the next tide. We better get packed, then, James said and reached for his valise. Parfitt raised an eyebrow. Just wait a moment. I havent asked Captain Jarvis if he would permit a child to go aboard. Oh come on, Harry. Stop this joshing. I was under the impression you were making other plans. After all, the idea was, how did you put it, fantasy? Sheer nonsense? All right. Have your fun. I dont regard this as fun. If you have changed your mind, I will see whether the captain requires an extra hand. Personally, I doubt it. Have you ever worked on a ship? James blushed, furious. You know damn well I told you I have experience as a rigger. Youve told me a lot of things, Parfitt replied, squeezing every drop of pleasure from the situation. But to be frank, I took the view you were an incorrigible romancer. James was aware he was being punished for the way he had spoken to him the previous day. But he also knew the Virginian was an unpredictable fellow. Rub him the wrong way and he was likely to walk out of his life there and then. Im sorry I was dismissive of your ideas, he said, forcing a blush. I may know how to raise a sail, but when it comes to strategy, why you are far more advanced than I. Please accept my apology. Parfitt sniffed a few times, trying to think of more opportunities to twist the knife of revenge into the penitent youth, then abruptly ordered him to pack and take his chest to the dock. Concealing a smile, James marked again the streak of sentimentality in the mans nature which he was certain one day would be his nemesis.


When they reached the decks of the Polly, Parfitt gave Jarvis a fulsome apology for bringing aboard a minor, but only succeeded in proving to James his previous performance of doubting that he would be allowed to embark were made up when Captain Jarvis welcomed him aboard and told someone to find an extra hammock. The crew numbered fifty, quite light for a full-fledged privateer. Scattered across the decks were several carronades, short pieces of large calibre ordinance with a powder chamber and named after Carron, a Scottish town where they were invented. The centrepiece of their arsenal was the Long Tom, but also aboard was an armoury of hand weapons: muskets, pistols, cutlasses, and anything else used in a boarding raid. The official orders given to a privateer were to burn, sink and destroy, and the crew armed themselves accordingly. The sight of so many lethal arms alarmed James, since his only other experience afloat had been on the unarmed Carillon. This was a different world entirely, and for the first days he went round asking veteran crew members to explain the daily life of a privateer.. He learned there were three classifications of fighting ships in the British navy: ships of the line, frigates, and smaller vessels called sloops and brigs. The vessels were rated according to their number of emplaced guns. A reference, for example, to Constitution 44 applied to a ship called Constitution that carried forty four cannon. Ships of the line were rated seventy four, frigates between thirty two and forty four, sloops and brigs twenty two. The largest British ships carried a huge complement, often as many as two hundred. Too large to be properly accommodated, the men were crammed together like fish in a trawlers net. James heard this from some of the Polly crew who spoke with English accents. They had been press-ganged aboard the men owar into a life of hell and bore the scars to prove it, eventually deserting to join up with an American privateer to seek revenge. As James was later to observe, noone was more keen as the British crew members when it came to hand-tohand battle, nor as violent when they took prisoners. A gentle Gulf tide took the ship from Grande Terre to the ocean beyond the tip of Florida that was known only to Parfitt. The scant information Captain Jarvis had to sail by was that the outward trip would take two days moving away from the coast.


A nervous silence descended on the crew when they rounded the southern Keys as they were aware the stretch of water was a popular hiding place for pirate corsairs. At sea as on land, there was no honour among thieves but the sight of the British flag was the most feared. Locked in a bloodcurdling conflict with Napoleon, their ships swarmed the waters around the French-influenced Gulf. And to complete the embargo on eastern American ports, as the Polly sailed closer to the mainland, Jarvis ordered everyone to be on the alert. When the lookouts spotted topmasts everyone stood to, manning the cannon and distributing cutlasses and boarding pikes. But none of the inshore vessels showed any interest and they emerged unimpeded into the wider reaches of the Atlantic. On the second day out Parfitt revealed the precise point of interception. The intelligence from Richmond said the slaver was taking a wide southern sweep towards a landing point south of Savannah. The design was to take her fifty miles east of Grand Bahama and return hell for leather back through the Florida Straits to a cover near Pensacola. As space was limited on their ship, Jarvis said they must take the slaver with them, even though it would slow progress and increase risk. If it comes to the worst, he let them know, we can always cut loose and run. But loading ourselves to the gills with Africans, we wouldnt stand a chance. The Polly was a sleek vessel and once the Southerlies filled her canvas, she cut through the waters so fast that James spent much of his time clinging to the rail. Looking as always on the brighter side, he told himself that after months of stifling Delta humidity, the cruise was a tonic and helped dull his fears they were biting off more than they could swallow. But morale remained high, and in the evenings the crew drank in moderation and danced to Cajun music. Jarvis was stern about alcohol only from the point of view that they would stand no chance in the event of an unexpected attack if everyone were pie-eyed, but he let his men enjoy themselves. At no time did James see anyone so drunk they were unable to stand up. A couple of men had taken part in capturing a slaver and they assured everyone it was like stealing milk from a baby. The crew carried few weapons, and the only concern was when the captain thought his pursuers were customs officials and threw the shipment overboard.


Jarvis pointed out that as they knew the route of their quarry, there was no point hiding beyond the horizon. They would head straight for her as soon as she was seen and assume a heavily-laden package boat would not get far before they caught her up. When a day passed with no sign of the ship, Parfitt grew anxious. He described his father as punctual as sunrise who conducted business with a strict eye on the clock. But when a second day elapsed without incident, his concern began to spread to the rest of the crew. It was entirely good fortune they had been able to ride the waves for two days without being spotted by the English, but a third would be stretching their luck. To any question about the reliability of his informant, Parfitt stayed mute. The sea grew restless under a darkening sky and he spent much of the night hanging over the rail as they pitched and rolled. Hours of nausea was enough to dampen anyones determination, and shortly before dawn he awoke James, jealous of the boys steady stomach, and mumbled about calling the damn thing off. The advantage changed hands now, and James took pleasure in chiding Parfitt about his lack of stamina which didnt improve the Virginians mood. The first cry of Ship Ahoy occurred at first light while Parfitt was asleep. Crowding to the rail, James watched a long cargo vessel approach riding low in the water. He raced back and shook Parfitt awake, shouting in his ear:. Shes here! The Virginian stumbled groggily up on deck, took Jarviss telescope and steadied it. Thats my fathers bucket. Shell have seen us, Jarvis calculated. Well circle a couple of times out of gunshot to see how she jumps. Long Tom was uncovered and primed, carronades powdered, while the helmsmen waited for instructions. The first requirement was to find the slavers fire power. All they had to go on was Lafittes word that he had encountered little resistance in the past. Jarvis gave orders to sail a full circle around her and as the day brightened, they could make out their crew surveying them.


I see no gun emplacements, Jarvis muttered, scanning his telescope stem to stern. My father would prefer to load half a dozen more Africans than waste space on a cannon, Parfitt grunted. Jarvis noticed the slaver was maintaining her pace and direction despite their encirclement, and told the helmsman to move within half gunshot distance. Maybe they think were excise. Isnt that all the more reason to fend us off? James asked. Jarvis took the glass from his eye. Why risk the rope when a fistful of dollars would resolve the matter? When the boy look puzzled, he smiled: Why the frown, la? I thought customs men in America were honest. Seems Ive upset your English friend, Jarvis muttered to Parfitt, reapplying his telescope. He called to the helm: Circle close enough to draw a bead on their waterline. The ship responded to the wheel and the decks dipped as they narrowed the distance. What happens if they fire? James asked Jarvis. Then we send a couple across their bows and one into the rigging. If they dont hit us first. Maybe you have a better idea. Do you have a hailer? Whats in your childish mind? Parfitt spat. But Jarvis called for one. James took it to the rail and raised it to his lips. Ahoy there! We are United States customs and excise. Heave to, if you please. He peered behind him and saw the general response was one of surprise at his sheer cheek. Not that they disapproved; they were wondering why they hadnt thought of it. When no reply came, James repeated his order, this time feeding in a bark of anger. Jarvis moved alongside. His telescope showed their captain gesticulating to his crew. Theyre in a fair old tizz. One of their riggers climbed aloft and slackened the mainsail. Jarvis looked at James with an admiring nod while at the same time not wanting to give his men the idea a seventeen year old youth could outwit their


opponent. He told the helmsman to move into gunshot range as soon as the slavers foresail was struck and as they hoved alongside, her captain asked for their authority. Everyones moved to James who raised the hailer: Captain Ernest Jarvis, United States customs and excise, squadron sixteen, department four, Washington City ordinance three two one. The slaver captain looked forlorn. There was no question he would attack from a packet that rode so heavily on the water. James knew there were two questions he would find hard to answer; Why wasnt the Polly flying the appropriate flag, and how was it none of her crew were wearing uniforms. Either their captain didnt think of asking, or knew such procedures were only occasionally observed, because he invited them to board. With Parfitt staying out of sight, Jarvis lowered a boat and crossed to the packet with six armed crewmen. The moment they clambered over the rail, their real identities were revealed, and there followed a brief struggle with a junior officer before the ship was taken. The captain, named Withenshaw, turned out to be a sensible fellow who decided there was no point risking his neck for just one of the many shipments he delivered every year. James went across with Parfitt and a second batch of seamen, and by the time they boarded, Withenshaw was already joking with Jarvis and happy to follow the Polly wherever she would lead. He didnt recognise Parfitt who introduced himself as Reginald Dawson. A jubilant mood descended on the Polly crew and James reflected on how easy it had been. Here they were with a fortune to share following an ingenious few moments with a hailer. It could turn out he might never have to work again. Gentle, Jarvis called. Go with these men and count the cargo. Aye aye, capn, the boy saluted, buoyed up with the glow of conquest and the pleasure of hearing the captain use Parfitts sobriquet, a sign they acknowledged he had won the day on his own. He marched over to unfasten the hatch door to the hold when one of the men called out: Wait, lad. He slipped off his neckerchief, and arranged it tightly over the boys nose and mouth. What was this for? James wondered, impatient to


discover the extent of his wealth. Given the nod, he heaved on the handles and brought the door up and over. A second later he understood the sailors precaution. A stench of indescribable force rose from the darkness penetrating the kerchief. A mixture of sweat, vomit and raw sewage brought a nausea from the depth of his belly and he ran to the rail, bringing up everything he had eaten that day. Through streaming eyes he watched the first of the Africans stumble out onto the deck, then his system received a second shock. Every Negro he had seen hitherto wore white mens clothes; pantaloons, shirt and boots. What came blinking into the sunlight from the satanic depths of the vessel resembled nothing of the sort. Wide-eyed and terrified, the prisoners were either naked or wore a ragged patch of filthy cloth tucked round their groins. Manacled to one another by a chain running through a neck collar, they fell onto the decks revealing red raw marks where the clasps had gnawed into their flesh. Jamess first impression was they werent human at all. They looked like weird foreign beasts from an imaginary jungle. How could they be worth anything like the amount he heard bandied about in Grande Terre? A feeling began to swell that all was not well. They must have raided the wrong ship. Up they came by the dozens, pushed, yanked and prodded by the slaver crew. A total of two hundred and seventy eight Africans lay on the decks terrified out of their wits. Any consolation that they were animals was dispelled as James watched them shiver in conditions that made him fear for his sanity. How in the name of God could anyone treat a human being in this manner? To make it worse, he had not expected to see women among the hideous cargo. It became obvious by his expression that Captain Jarvis was also unused to such horror. He ordered them to be cleaned and the crew set to dashing buckets of water while they lay shivering in terror. The chains were removed and Jarvis commanded Withenshaw to treat their injuries. The captain turned to delegate but Jarvis yelled: No, sir, I said you! Seizing the man by the neck, he flung him into their midst of the human cargo. And when you are finished, you and your men will scrub the hold from top to bottom.


When his temper subsided, Jarvis noticed Jamess pallor and told him to return to the Polly. Not a sight to write home about, lad. To tell the truth, Ive never boarded a slaver before, and by God, Ill never do it again. What will happen to them? James asked. The idea of their being sold off like livestock was no longer conceivable. Jarvis gave a weary shrug. Theyre slaves. Short of taking them back to Africa, nothing else can be done. They returned to the Polly and James made up his mind to stay away from Parfitt. He had watched him stand calmly by as the Africans emerged on deck, and seemed equally unmoved when they were swabbed down. It was hours later when the two ships were heading for the coast that he taxed him on his views. What did you expect? Parfitt snapped. First class accommodation and champagne suppers? I didnt expect what we saw. They arent like us, Parfitt said. These creatures arent human. They live in trees and eat each other. His words did nothing to soften the boys opinion of the man he once admired, and he walked away resolved never to speak to him again. The spirit aboard the Polly gradually returned to normal. The sun came out, the Cajuns played their music, and when James looked abaft at the following slaver, the Africans were moving freely about the decks, some dressed in the clothes stripped by Jarvis off Withenshaw and his crew. He came across Parfitt and Jarvis discussing the sale of the human contraband, and despite his recent anger fell under the spell of the figures bandied about. Two seventy eight, take off the women, multiply by eight hundred dollars, Parfitt calculated. Whatever happens, we should make about two hundred thousand. Where do we off load? Jarvis wanted to know. You saw the situation on Grande Terre. We sail up the coast to the Carolinas and contact the plantations directly. Theyre going to be in sore need of labour, and even if the excise do interfere, you can turn a lot of men blind with a few dollars. Ive a mind to dump that damned captain overboard, Jarvis grunted.


Go ahead Parfitt said. Anyone who works for my father deserves to walk the plank Two ships, larboard bow! a hoarse yelled from above. Jarvis followed the lookouts arm. On the horizon two ships of the line were coming into view. Seventy fours, he grunted. The pleasured expressions of discussing riches disappeared. Who are they? James asked. British flagship plus one man owar, the lookout confirmed, peering through his glass. Jarvis chewed his lip. What do you think? Parfitt asked. We dont stand a chance in hell agin two seventy fours. We have to cut and run. Using the hailer he ordered his men on the slaver to rejoin the Polly. And there they ran into a snag. Withenshaw knew that capture by the British would lead to his execution. The Englishman William Wilberforce had led a popular campaign against slavery in England, and stories were rife about captured slave traders being summarily hanged. He bellowed back, begging to be taken aboard, but Jarvis gave him his compliments and told him to go to hell but when the Pollys crew moved to leave, Withenshaw told his men to stop them. Jarvis had already placed a row of musketeers in case of complications, but now fearful of hitting his own men, ordered them to aim low. A fusillade crossed the water that lodged into the woodwork. The crew abandoned any idea of following Withenshaws orders and scrambled over the side to reach the waiting longboat. The Polly crew beat them off then started pulling against the swell. The British ships were now less than four hundred yards away and in range. The rowers reached their ship and scrambled up on deck via the rope ladder, abandoning the longboat. Jarvis ordered full sail and the riggers climbed aloft to haul on the tethers. But there had been little wind all day, hindering the need to gather speed . The advancing vessels triced their ports and separated to run fore and abaft. The flagship loosed off a ball that came whining low over the bows, followed by a voice ordering them to heave to.


The Polly had by now worked up a steady rate and drew ahead of the forard vessel. Jarvis yelled at the helmsman to yaw widely in defiance of the British command. A second ball crossed the stem, closer this time, followed by a third that ripped through the topsail. James was experienced enough to know by now that ignoring initial warnings would inevitably be followed by violence. Jarvis told him to keep his head down and gave instructions to the men handling Long Tom. He marshalled everyone to stand alongside the carronades and concentrate their aim on the flagship. James couldnt see how they would beat off two seventy fours, but his heart lifted a notch when he noticed how unruffled Jarvis remained under the increasing pressure. Long Tom boomed and the privateer rocked at the recoil as a ball smashed against the main topmast of the flagship. The aim was straight and the topmast split and fell, bringing with it the main topsail yard and lodging across the larboard, fore and foretopsail braces. A sailor taking cover next to James explained the damage tendered the head yards unmanageable. It was a cracking hit and Jarvis yelled encouragement to the gunners. While the flagship took the damage, her companion came sweeping in close and started handing out broadsides of grapeshot, raking the Pollys hull and peppering the decks. A few more of these and the rigging would start to fray and flap uselessly on the masts. Jarvis ordered the carronades to concentrate on the man o war while thirty two pounders hurled shot into their central masts and rigging, toppling huge sections to the decks and scattering the gunners delivering small arm fire. The barrage became so fierce that James remained pressed hard against the deckboards. Shot rained down like hail, rapping his back and rebounding off the woodwork. Then came a momentary lull. He opened his eyes and lifted his head. Dead and wounded men lay all around the decks, some screaming in agony, others stripped of flesh by the grapeshot. He saw a severed leg lying like a stranded fish, and a man bewailing an empty sleeve. And everywhere there was blood running in rivulets down the camber of the decks. The Long Tom had ceased firing and when James raised his head, he saw Jarvis haul away the bodies of the original gunners and call for others to


take their place. The men were slow to respond and focusing more, James saw there were only a few left on their feet. Except for the helmsman. He had been the hero of the hour. While the enemy had them pincered, he had not left his wheel, and by a miracle remained alive among the falling timber and raking small arms. The last orders from his captain had been to yaw as wide as possible, and the manoeuvre was still being carried out, despite the squeeze of the two British ships. But as he watched, the man was hit with grapeshot and fell across the wheel, wedging his armpits over the spokes and in his last moments flung his body from side to side to maintain the deviation until his limbs finally slowed down to stillness. The broadsides subsided and for a moment James thought the British were pulling away. His euphoria lasted as long as it took to see the rail of the flagship was only yards from their own, and the man owar on the starboard side was pressing hard against their bows. The firing ceased once it became clear the Polly was immobile, the Long Tom silent and the carronades abandoned amid a carpet of broken bodies. Above his head, the sails hung limply from the mast stumps, nevermore to catch a following wind. The few who escaped injury stumbled to their feet and James felt a surge of relief when he saw Jarvis among them. Then Parfitt emerged from below equally unscathed. Where had he been when the cannons roared? A voice was rasping through a trumpet from the flagship but his ears rang from the barrage of the assault and he couldnt decipher what was said. The man owar disgorged a boarding party across the touching hulls who dropped on the deck and separated in different directions. Jarvis behaved with dignity, giving no pointless heroic gestures, and when told to assemble the able-bodied his demand that he first tend the wounded was permitted. The toll on the Polly had been heavy. The final count found there were only twelve crew able to stand unaided, fourteen sustained injuries that might heal, while six bore wounds that would not. The rest of the ships fifty complement were dead. The melancholy formalities of defeat began. Jarvis stroke the colours of the Polly, the corpses were cast overboard and the wounded rowed to the man owar with assurances they would be properly treated.


No-one had yet raised the point that since Great Britain and America were not at war, the attack was unjustified and James said so. Aye, well, Ill leave you to tell them that, the captain shrugged. The casualties disposed of, a dozen survivors stood on the battered foredeck to await a longboat. The lieutenant turned to Jarvis. What is your business on the high seas? I do not propose to disclose any information, Jarvis answered. Since your assault was without justification. The Englishman shaded his eyes and looked across at the slaver. No need to explain, he said. Its apparent youre a damnable flesh peddler. The phrase dripped from a curled lip, leaving no doubt about his views on slavery. If you please, sir, James piped up, touching his forelock with a knuckle. We were sailing under the orders of the Government of the United States. The officer looked at the boy as if he were a piece of mud on his boot. Hows that? We are customs and excise, sir, James continued. We have arrested yonder slave ship and were taking her in for prosecution. Arrested her? Aye, sir, he persisted, stiffly to attention, remembering how Biddle had taught him to report naval-style when he was aboard the Carillon. It has been against the law to import slaves into the United States since the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and eight. Our orders were to detain traders and set the Africans ashore as free men of colour. A torrent of words poured from the flagship through a hailer and the lieutenant strode to the larboard rail to reply. James sneaked a look at Parfitt and Jarvis, and his heart skipped a beat when he saw the Virginian tip him a wink. The message was for the American survivors to be brought across. When the officer returned he asked James to repeat what he had said, but Parfitt interrupted: Button your lip, puppy. As officers of the Republic, we arent accountable to these pirates. Well done, Harry, the boy muttered as he cowered before the lieutenant.


Please, sir, Im only telling you because I dont want you to think Im a filthy slave trader! Hold your tongue, boy, Jarvis growled. The officer rounded on the captain: I give the orders here, then turned to listen to another barrage of instructions before herding them over the rail into a longboat. James noticed on the short oar pull across to the flagship how the lieutenant kept tugging nervously at his uniform, straightening his collar and adjusting his hat. A rope ladder unfurled and soon they were standing on the brightly polished decks of the British vessel. Despite the battle and the debris now being cleared away, the vessel was pin neat, the brass work ricocheting the sunlight and her wood burnished with bees wax. Except for the shuffle of feet, the vessel was held in the grip of disciplined silence. The quarterdeck was decorated with an impressive array of uniforms, including one wearing the plumed hat of an admiral. Judging by the way the other officers stood respectfully a yard behind him, arms stiffly by their sides and wearing expressions of deep devotion, it was clear he commanded a respect that was born out of terror. The Polly crew were shoved into line and waited for the admiral to step down from the quarterdeck. Placing his short podgy legs a yard apart, he stood facing them. Well into his sixties, age had not yet endowed the man with the twinkling geniality of the elderly. His eyes burned unblinkingly into the prisoners like a hawk lining up its prey. Welcome aboard His Majestys flagship Gallant, he smiled. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Admiral William Bligh.


CHAPTER FOURTEEN When they heard the name there wasnt a man who didnt react, and James understood why the British lieutenant from the man owar had become nervous when ordered to board the Gallant. Here was the answer to the spick and span state of the vessel, the pall of silence over the crew, and the deference of the junior officers to their Commander-in-Chief. There could well be other officers called Bligh in the British naval service. Twenty three years had passed since the infamous Bounty mutiny, and here stood an admiral of that name. But from the moment those icecold eyes settled briefly on James as he scanned the prisoners, he knew he had to be one and the same. So, Bligh began in a jolly tone. We have servants of the United States government before us. The lieutenant stepped forward and grabbed James by the collar. This one states they are customs officers who were in the act of apprehending a slaver, sir, he said. Bligh performed three heavy flat-footed steps to stand in front of the boy who registered the fact there was no difference in their respective heights. Bligh was getting on in years, yet his skin was remarkably pink and smooth. Your name, he snapped. M - Morgan, sir. Why are you afraid? Please, sir, he burbled, I have never been in a battle before. Bligh flung back his head and laughed, triggering the officers in the rear to bray dutifully. Tell me, lad, whats the worst thing about an engagement, eh?


The noise, sir, said James and this set the old man off again, chortling and stamping his feet. When he recovered, he asked him to repeat his account of being a customs and excise man. He appeared to listen with concentration, nodding in all the right places, and halfway through James believed his plausibility had worked once again, and that shortly the remaining members of the Polly would shoulder hoist him for having won their release. Excellent, Bligh beamed when the tale finished. Im delighted to learn you arent one of those unspeakable slave merchants. An abomination on the eyes of the Lord is what they are, dont you agree? Oh, yes, sir. I have but one question, Bligh smiled. Sir? How is it an American citizen of your tender years, what would they be now, sixteen? Seventeen, sir. Seventeen. Then how can it be that a person of seventeen years, born in the United States of America, contrives to speak with a broad Devon accent? Devon, sir? Devon, sir, Bligh repeated. I have spent many a year in that county and have come to appreciate the voices of its inhabitants with their delicate inflexions and quaint rhythms. Which you have to a T, sir. To a veritable T. Jarvis stepped forward. Permission to speak, admiral? Bligh dragged his eyes off the boy. I am not accustomed to continuing two conversations at the same time, he murmured. For the present, I am addressing our young Devonian. The boy is American. I can vouch for him, Jarvis said, keeping well this side of respectfulness. Thank God for Jarvis, James thought. Hes caused this bullfrog to waddle away from him. So, Bligh murmured. You can vouch that he is an American? Aye, sir. How exactly do you intend to do that?


James recalled the impressment years ago on the Carillon and knew the charade that would follow. You have my word, Jarvis replied. Bligh smiled. Ordinarily, he drawled, I would be happy to accept the oath of a naval captain. I was once one myself, you know. You may have heard about a fracas aboard a vessel of His Majestys line named the Bounty? I was her captain for several years. I suffered a mutiny, sir. The rabble attempted to overturn the authorised command of the royal navy. Yes, sir. They set me adrift in an open boat four thousand miles from home. James saw the eyes of his officers glaze over. How many times had they heard this, he wondered. And do you know what I said as they lowered me over the rail? Bligh continued. Do you know what I told those mutinous dogs? I raised my fist and I said: I will live to see you all hanged from the highest yardarm in the British navy! That is what I said, captain, and by Heaven, that is precisely what happened. All save a few who followed that noxious traitor Fletcher Christian to some islands in the Pacific ocean where they spent the rest of their benighted lives among savages, committing horrible abominations. If they are still drawing breath, I know they are beyond the mercies of God himself. Jarvis stayed silent. What should he have said? Jolly good show or Serve em right? Like the rest of the assembly, he was waiting for Bligh to return to the matter in hand. So, Bligh said after a pause long enough to give the idea he had forgotten what he had been talking about. The word of a captain would as a rule be sufficient. But unhappily we live in duplicitous times, sir. Our two nations are about to engage in warfare. Not necessarily, admiral, Jarvis interposed. Our countries are shortly to declare hostilities, Bligh repeated, a little more aggressively. I am a member of His Majestys Admiralty. I should be seated at my desk in London. However, I do not care for desks, sir. I persuaded my peers to allow me one more journey across the seas before I retire. But I was given one instruction. I was told that it is the intention of His Majestys government to crush you rebels once and for all. Ever since you threw in your lot with Napoleon Bonaparte, you became an enemy. But you are even worse than a mere disputant, sir, you people are ingrates!


Were it not for us, you would still be living in tepees and killing your supper with bows and arrows. We came to civilise you, and what thanks do we receive? Revolution! The deaths of our soldiers and seamen. And where, pray, had it got you? Thirty years of independence, and still incapable of making a decent cup of tea! Trying to follow Blighs version of history, or even his view of what was wrong with America, was like trying to catch a shadow on the wall. The exchange would have been hilarious had it not been for the distinct impression from his increasing rage, with spittle jumping from his lips, that should anyone be bold enough to gainsay him, even giggle at the wrong moment, they would be flung overboard. With respect, admiral, Jarvis persisted. You have my word this man is an American citizen. He is what I choose him to be, captain, said Bligh. As are you all. A silence fell for a moment to be broken by: We are American citizens. Without turning, James recognised Parfitts Virginian drawl which bore none of the deference that Jarvis had shown. Bligh stepped along the line and studied Parfitts impassive expression. And who addressed you, pray? he whispered. On my ship, you do nothing, nothing at all unless you are given a direct order. Admiral Blight, Parfitt replied, using an old ruse of showing contempt by mispronouncing a mans name. You can kiss my ass. The old mans jaw dropped and his hands clenched simultaneously. It took a few seconds to gather his thoughts, but when he did every muscle in his face twitched: Boatswains! Keel haul this man! A couple of hefty bosuns holding wooden staves, trotted across and fell on the Virginian. He succeeded in catching one on the shin with his boot but the other brought a stick down on the back of his skull. They tore off his coat and shorts, trussed his hands and ankles together then slapped his face until he came round before looping another rope round his waist. This length hung over the rail and down the hull, disappearing under the surface. James watched one of them cross the decks to the other side of the ship where he untied the other end of the rope and wrapped it around his waist, then took the strain like a tug owar anchor and gave a nod to his


mate. The other sailor lifted Parfitt, carried him to the rail and dropped him overboard. The Polly crew instinctively took a step forward but Bligh bawled for them to hold still. The bosuns joined forces on the other side and began to haul on the rope. Hand over hand, they pulled, the skein curling on the deck. The exercise seemed to last for ever. Eventually Parfitts soaking, bloodstreaked body appeared limply at the rail. A bosun hauled him over and dumped him on the deck while the other, true to the neatness of the Gallant, coiled the rope and hung it on a hook. A gobbet of water burst from the Virginians mouth and James was relieved to hear a faint cough. Then he caught sight of his back. A keelhaul is an exercise that brings a man close to drowning, but the real pain is created by the barnacle shells clinging to the underside of a ship which scrape the victims body as the rope drags it under to the other side. In many cases, the punishment proves fatal, but Bligh employed only the best aboard his vessel, and the bosuns were masters of their art, bringing the man back alive and as bloody as if he had been skinned with a butchers blade. After all, the idea is to make him feel the agony of the brine as it burns into the cuts. Parfitt came round, seemed conscious of what had happened, but as James looked at his drenched face, he heard not a sound. Bligh loped over and stood looking down at him. On my ship, he repeated, no-one speaks to an officer unless he is addressed. It is a pity you had to learn the rules the hard way. He turned to the rest of the Pollys men. You claim to be American citizens. Very well. James was aware of what was to follow. Produce a certificate of citizenship and you shall be set ashore with our apologies. Those in possession of such a document take one step forward. No-one moved. In which case, Blight went on cheerfully now his tantrum had dissipated, you will be treated as British and found work aboard my ship. Behave yourselves and you will come to no harm. Make trouble and you will pay most dearly. As my crew will bear witness, I am a man lacking a sense of humour. Nor do I indulge in idle threats.


His oration was interrupted by the arrival of a longboat crew returning from the slaver. A lieutenant climbed aboard and saluted, followed by six sailors manhandling Withenshaw. Bligh listened while his officer gave an account then turned to the shivering captain. I gather you were in charge of the African shipment he smiled. Withenshaw nodded, keeping his chin on his chest. Bligh slapped one hand into another, and pondered while walking six paces up, six down in front of the wretch. What is the size of his crew? Bligh asked. The lieutenant said he had counted twelve. Very well. Remove all the chains from his vessel and dispatch them overboard. Likewise all firearms. Then throw this sad excuse of a human being and his damnable crew into the hold to await whatever punishment the Negroes deem suitable. Withenshaw passed clean out. The young officer snapped a salute and ordered the seamen to carry him back to the longboat where the rowers sat to attention, oars shipped. And what of the slave ship, sir? he asked. Present it to the Africans along with their freedom, Bligh said. They can use it to find their way to land. Admiral Bligh was accustomed to instant obedience which gave him a clarity of vision denied to lesser men. The matter of the slaves was a case in point. They couldnt go with the Gallant, but equally no officer could steer them to the shore. Either they stayed in Withenshaws hands or they took their chances alone. The last was the only alternative as far as Bligh was concerned. If they were wise they would keep him alive until they docked, but given the general disposition towards the man who had been in charge of their well being since leaving Africa, that seemed unlikely. Bligh retired to his cabin and the crew dispersed. The prisoners were taken in hand by the first mate who, it turned out, was also an American who had been impressed four years ago. James discovered later there were many like him aboard, but for the present one ally was all they needed and the man made sure Parfitts injuries were given proper attention. While awaiting their hammock space, Jarvis managed to circulate among his crew, impressing them to keep their heads down and knuckle to. There wasnt a soul among them who, having seen a keelhaul, was ready to clash


with Bligh, but the captain made sure no-one went off at half cock and attempted to organise absurd schemes to escape. The only way off this ship, he said, is to go down with the fish. For the next four weeks everyone was run off their feet. The prevailing attitude of the Gallants crew was that of master to servants. They swabbed decks, cleaned up storm damage and were the last to be fed. Noone remarked on Jamess English accent. Just when he would have relished some favoured treatment, everybody went deaf. During this period the only person excused heavy labour was Harry Parfitt. His recovery took a week and with help from his friends, the Virginian spent another week on light duties. The British presence in the Atlantic was considerable and the Gallant was regularly heaving to amid the vast expanses of water to pay respects to other vessels. It was during one such rendezvous that brought news Bligh had forecast. He and his favoured officers were rowed across to a flagship and returned in high spirits. Bligh looked radiant, happier than anyone had seen while his acolytes joshed one another. Good news, men! he boomed to the entire assembled crew. We are at war with the Yankees! James felt his heart turn. Bad as it was to be called rebel and traitor all day, now they were branded the enemy. Whereas he had learned to bend with the breeze, his immediate concern was for his patron. Parfitt had almost recovered from his wounds, and with his broad drawn out southern vowels stood out as the most American citizen present. The British matelots constantly nagged him; spilling his bucket as they passed, flinging garbage on the deck he had just swabbed. Each time James saw this happen, he noticed his friends face set, and prepared himself for the moment when he would retaliate and seal his death warrant. He barely tolerated their harassment with an ill-concealed rage, and when James said he was heading for the deep six if he didnt rein in his temper, he only received another one of his familiar arctic glares. However, even though Parfitt never concealed his hostility towards Blighs officers and crew, the boy discovered the reason in the most shocking manner.


One late afternoon he was working in the bows, shining the brass rails. The month was June or July, and the word went round they were somewhere south of the Azores. The weather had remained stifling for days and he had turned a deep bronze, wearing nothing but a pair of pantaloons shortened to knee length. His chore was simple and he was hoping to spin it out until supper. Then he became aware Admiral Bligh was watching him from the quarterdeck. This went on for some time while he continued polishing until the stentorian voice he had come to dread called out: You, boy! Come here! He felt the usual stomach surge of terror as he doubled across. Sir? Who permitted you to divest yourself? Im sorry, sir. In all my born days, Bligh roared, I have never seen such a slovenly sailor. Do you imagine you are aboard a swamp ferry? James chose silence until the storm of spittle raining down on him abated. Report to my cabin at eight oclock, the admiral growled, where, by heaven, you will learn the British navy is not mocked! The next hours were the most agonising he could remember since his time in the English prison. He became convinced this day was to be his last and all he prayed for was a rapid dispatch. The thought of a keelhauling sent his mind into free fall, and when he held out his arms, both hands uncontrollably shook. However, looking on the brighter side, he told himself that although he had not lived very long they had been eventful years. He couldnt complain about poor fortune since he had once cheated the hangman. He sought out Parfitt to perform a stoic farewell, but the Virginian was nowhere to be found. After their impressments, the Polly crew had been issued trousers, singlet and canvas deck shoes, and James was wearing them when he reported to the cabin quarters an hour ahead of time. There was nothing untoward about a member of the crew wandering through this part of the ship, and officers passed by without a glance. He found a cupboard of deck swabbing equipment in sight of Blighs cabin door and crawled inside to wait.


Half an hour went by before he heard approaching footsteps. He guessed there were two men and as they came close, he heard Parfitts unmistakable tones. He was with an English officer, and the level of their conversation sounded informal, friendly, even intimate. Then he heard them chuckle. The sounds made no sense. Here were two implacable enemies and they were conversing like brothers. He held his breath as they passed and he heard Parfitt say: I shouldnt be surprised if they make you the youngest admiral in the British navy for this. Peeking through the cupboard door jamb, he saw Parfitt place a hand on the Englishmans shoulder and smile. Then the officer rapped on Blighs door and opened it after hearing a muffled command. Sir, he said, standing on the threshold, I have Mister Parfitt. Capital, capital. Ask the gentleman to come in. The shock for James was enough to have him almost tumble out of the closet. Ask the gentleman to come in ? The door closed, but their voices remained audible. I trust your wounds are repaired, Mister Parfitt, Bligh said. Thank you, sir. I am grateful for the attention they received. Do sit down. Thank you. My First Officer tells me you and he have been having an interesting conversation. I hope it is of use, Admiral. I have carried out an investigation into your claim to be related to the William Parfitt shipping company, and found you are telling the truth. May I ask how you were able to make your verifications in the middle of the ocean? Oh, Bligh said, a warmth in his voice James had not heard before unless it had been used ironically to impress his subsequent cruelty. There are a number of your compatriots aboard who worked on your fathers ships and they confirmed he had a son called Harry, even if he was not an active member of the firm. Then the important question is, Parfitt said calmly, how does my proposition appeal to you?


A pause followed before Bligh said: Can you speak on behalf of your father? As I said to your officer, my fathers affairs have suffered since the British imposed the blockade. Most of his revenue is made through the Atlantic trade. In return for free and safe passage, I guarantee he will agree to acquaint you with any information you require. Does he know New Orleans? Intimately. Also Charleston, Savannah and Richmond. He has maintained offices in these places for many years and controls almost all the inland transport to boot. If my Daddy does not wish someone to travel from A to B, then you may rest assured he does not move. And the defences? How well acquainted is he there? As well as I am, sir. This brought a moment of surprise beyond the door where James was pressing an ear. Are you suggesting you have a detailed knowledge of New Orleans fortifications? Admiral, Parfitt drawled, I occasionally frequent the same social functions of senior officers of the United States army. We pass the time, and we gossip. Give me a pen and I could draw the fort dispositions here and now. That will be unnecessary, Bligh said with a catch of excitement in his voice. But upon reaching England, you will be required to do so before General Pakenham. I understand. And now, sir, you will acquaint me with the terms for these services. I want officer status aboard this ship, Parfitt replied. A cabin to myself, a servant and a decent set of clothes. Not a uniform, if you please. I want to eat the same food as you, and when we are done in England, I want safe passage back to America during which I will enjoy the same privileges. Hearing this treachery, James had to clamp a hand over his mouth to prevent himself gasping aloud. The man who had once been his patron, his companion, his mentor, his friend, was offering to betray his country for a cushion and a bottle of good wine. What you ask for can be arranged, Bligh said. George, do the honours if you would be so kind.


There followed the chink of glassware and some residual conversation before Parfitt was ushered through the door by the officer who was called to remain. As the Virginian walked up the gangway, James heard Bligh say: By heaven, George, this would put a fine cap on my career. To go out as the man who paved the way to recover the colonies! Aye, sir, the officer agreed but sounding anxious. You will stand by my side when we are presented to His Majesty the King. Thank you, sir, the young man replied, his anxiety removed. Or rather to the Regent. That old German farmer is now deaf as a post and mad as a march hare. James hardly heard them because his head was in turmoil. Was it possible that during all this time he had spent living with Parfitt, hed failed to detect a broad yellow streak? He sat a long time in the closet silently cursing. Having accepted him as a friend, taken his money and patronage, he was tarred with the same treasonable brush. Even when he tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, arguing that a keelhaul would upset the balance of the mind, everything rang hollow. No-one would go that far simply to sell out their motherland. He was working himself up into such a lather he couldnt remember why he was crushed inside the closet. But when the officer left Blighs room , he collected his thoughts. Shaking head to foot, he stepped into the gangway and knocked on Blighs door. Enter! The cabin was furnished like a drawing room and he found Bligh sprawled in an upholstered chair with his miniature feet lodged on the edge of the table. He took some heart from the beam on the admirals features although, as with the flogging sergeant of yore, he recalled there are some in the world who precede the most dreadful bestialities with a smile. Bligh gave him a strange look. Well, boy, what is it? Please, sir, you ordered me to report to you at eight oclock. It was obvious Bligh had forgotten. The shock of what he had just learned about the Virginian had dulled his perception.


Ah yes. Youre the naked youth who spoiled my view today. I see you have found some respectable garments. Pray remain like that. Now get along. He gave a dismissing wave, James saluted, backed out and didnt stop running until he flung himself on his hammock. There, under the pretence of sleeping, he wrestled with the problem of what he must do about the unconscionable treachery shortly to be perpetrated by his one time friend and now sworn enemy, Harry Parfitt.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN The Virginians hammock remained unslung all night and when nobody saw him the following day, questions began to fly. The way James solved his immediate concern was to stay silent, but knowing something would soon have to be reported, he made up his mind that when the time came, he would relate the gist of what he had overheard to Captain Jarvis and leave him to make the big decisions. The first concern among the crew of the Polly was that Parfitt had finally snapped and been executed. None of the British sailors on the lower deck were of any help except to say if the Yankee had been sentenced to death, we could be sure the sentence would be carried out in public. Something else prevented him from blurting out the truth. Parfitts end of the bargain, to hand over the details of the New Orleans defences could not be fulfilled until they docked in England. Also, his reluctance to speak out was due to the certainty that once he did, his erstwhile friends death would immediately follow.


Try as he might he could find no other explanation for his deal with Bligh. He clung to the faint chance he was handing them false information, buying his comfort with deceptions. Why shouldnt he? By the time the British realised they had been deceived, he would be long gone and free as air. But he was equally certain that as canny a man as Bligh had already taken this eventuality on board and catered for it in their agreement. The second night arrived when the Parfitts hammock stayed roped and his whereabouts was the concern of everyone when Jarvis called his men together. Answers ranged far and wide, but most were centred around the conclusion that he was dead. He was your friend, the captain said to James, who noted the past tense. Have you no idea what might have happened? Here came a perfect opportunity to wash his hands of the coward once and for all. No, he murmured shaking his head. A few minutes passed while they talked about Parfitts temper, saying he had brought everything upon himself. Someone suggested a service where people could give a few words about his courage and bravery in the face of the enemy. Jamess stomach went queasy hearing this, but he kept his mouth buttoned. Fortunately for his peace of mind, someone rushed in and announced at that moment Parfitt was residing in a single cabin in the officers quarters equipped with a personal servant. What? Jarvis exclaimed, his face a picture of blank amazement. Hes there! the sailor gasped, catching his breath. Large as life and twice as brassy. Wearing a clean set of clothes, smoking a six inch stogie and drinking coffee from a china cup with his little finger held high like a dogs tail. By nightfall, they had developed a murderous loathing for the Virginian that was further accelerated in the afternoon when he showed himself outside. Blocked by one of the Polly crew swabbing the deck, he kicked the mans pail away with a string of curses. Some British midshipmen looking on guffawed, worsening it for the Americans, because there followed a great deal of sniping about how Yankees behave like animals. James tried to reach Parfitt to find out how deep rooted was his treachery. He was still unable to believe how he had misjudged the man, but when he


reviewed their acquaintance in more detail, he wondered what Parfitt had really done for him? Hed been nothing more than his plaything, a toy for his amusement. The more he considered, the more he understood this latest episode was utterly in character. True to form, he received no better treatment than the deck skivvy. Harry, he called softly, sidling up to Parfitt pulling on a cigar and leaning against the deck rail. Can I talk to you? Its important. And what could you have to say that would be of the slightest interest to me? the Virginian drawled, speaking loud enough for a couple of passing matelots to hear. Listen, James persisted, trying to contain an anger which he knew, if given full rein, would reduce him to gibbering incoherence. The others dont know what youve agreed to tell the British in return for your comforts, but I do. I heard every weasel word you said to Bligh. About the defences of New Orleans and your fathers co-operation. Parfitt seemed only mildly surprised. And once the others know what you are doing youll be a dead man, Harry Parfitt. You wont live long enough to enjoy your rewards. The Virginian took out a kerchief, wiped saliva from his lips, replaced the cigar in a manner that emphasized his disdain and turned his back. You really intend to carry out this treason? James stammered. Our differences, Parfitt replied without turning round, apart from our stations in life, is that you are a sentimentalist, and I am a realist. My acquaintance with the world has taught me realists live longer. Not on this ship, the boy snapped, and was heartened when Parfitts teeth gripped the stogie a touch harder. Gentle, listen to me Call me Morgan. Gentle, I should warn you that at this precise moment, I am worth a kings ransom to Admiral Bligh. He would not take kindly to my demise. You can safely gamble on the fact that it would incur a retaliation which in all likelihood would result in the wholesale massacre of your Polly crew friends. Just think on that a while, theres a good fellow. If, James replied, stretching himself to full height, I must forfeit my life while protecting my country, then it could not be given to a better cause.


If my survival can only be gained by treason, then I prefer to breathe no longer. My dear young puppy, Parfitt sighed. Do shut up. There was no point prolonging the encounter and James walked away as proudly as he was able. Turning to see the effect of his withdrawal, he discovered his erstwhile friend had returned to gaze down at the waves. That evening he told Jarvis what he had overheard. Then he must die, the captain announced. And soon. He was aware there would be reprisals and much debate was given to the pros and cons of jeopardising their own welfare, but taking a head count he saw no-one vote to let Parfitt live. The simplest method was to heave him over the rail, but therein lay two snags. James warned them that Parfitt was no mean fighter and described the despatch of the three knifers. Secondly, the British crew had orders to keep him under constant watch. Wait and be ready were the approved tactics, and for the next week the Polly crew did precisely that. They noted Parfitt was rarely left alone and two midshipmen stayed close wherever he went. Furthermore, his excursions beyond the officers quarters became less frequent and no American was allowed into them unless on a specific errand. It didnt escape James that had he not told Parfitt what was afoot, they would have had a better crack at killing him. It was obvious he had alerted Bligh to the danger, hence the extra precautions. The best time to strike was under cover of darkness. The Americans were confined after duty, and for the sake of safety, Bligh ordered none of them to work during the silent hours. However, Jarvis recalled the closet where James had overheard the fateful conversation. We could put someone there. Wait until the crew were all asleep and He drew a finger across his throat. Ill do it, James said. The others laughed and he flushed when someone sniggered he would be eaten for breakfast. Well, then, he retorted, whoever you send had better not be much bigger than I. Yonder closet is made for mops and deck pails and not great hunks like you. They eventually resolved that James would hide in the closet until everyone was asleep, then go to the hatch leading amidships and tell two


of the men. The killing wouldnt take place in situ unless Parfitt made a rumpus. He was to be clubbed, taken to the American quarters, given a summary trial and dropped overboard. Several men objected, pointing out the risks of carrying a body around the ship. Why bother with a trial? one reasoned. We already know of his guilt. But Jarvis stuck to his guns and said if it were possible without jeopardising their own safety, the man should be given a chance to speak his piece. They resolved to act the following night since none of them had any idea of their current position in the ocean. They could be close to England, where Parfitt would be lost to them for ever. As luck would have it, they chose an evening when the ships officers decided to hold a party. James slipped down the gangway in the late afternoon after finishing deck duties and burrowed among the now familiar array of cloths and rags in the cubby hole, to wait six hours before he could expect to move again. He had the foresight to save some bread from the midday meal, but his chief worry was to fall asleep and tumble out of the door. Measured against this concern he was certain no British officer would look in the cupboard as the contents were only for deck cleaning and used exclusively by American prisoners. The coming and going of the British officers took place as usual before dinner, and for a couple of hours James heard the buzz of talk from the dining room. When they emerged, they were in a lively enough mood to let him be aware he was in for a longer wait than expected. Among the braying English voices he picked out the Parfitts drawl who seemed to be keeping his new friends enthralled. The hubbub was too loud to understand what he was saying, but each time he paused, there followed an explosion of raucous laughter. By now Jamess legs were numbed with the cramp. Another hour dragged past, then the noise suddenly died. A few seconds of silence was broken by Blighs voice: Gentlemen, I wish you good night. A chorus of obsequious applause was followed by another hush. I do not wish to interfere with your revels. As a God-fearing man with a clear conscience, I am able to sleep as solid as a babe.


The men took him at his word when he left. Exchanging risqu jokes and bellowing laughter, they moved on to horseplay in the galleys. One of the officers came within inches of James when a struggle erupted, and a foot rammed against the closet door, splitting the panel. Then Parfitts voice rose above the din: Gentlemen, may I offer you some southern hospitality. The party adjourned to his room and there followed a prolonged session of boisterous drunkenness that continued into the small hours. By then James was paralysed with cramp, dog-tired, and wondering whether the officers intended to go to bed at all. But the party finally quietened and Parfitts door opened and shut several times as they stumbled back to their quarters. One of them lost his footing. grabbed hold of the closet door handle and yanked it open exposing James. But everyone was so deep in their cups and no-one bothered to look inside as they concentrated staying on their feet. When the last went out of sight a silence descended. James knew if he made one error he would not live to try again, so he waited wracked in agony before easing his legs out of the closet. It took minutes for the tingling of re-awakened legs to disperse before they were able to take his body weight up the corridor. If the wait had seemed an eternity to him, how had it felt to the men beyond the hatchway? He wouldnt have wagered on them still being there, but he was wrong. He nodded them through and led the way to Parfitts cabin. Except for deep drunk-ridden snoring, the quarters were silent and swaying gently on peaceful waters. They grasped their belaying pins and counting to three, flung open the Virginians door. None of them was prepared for what they saw. Expecting Parfitt to be laid out in a stupor, he was instead standing fully dressed and with his back to them. As they pushed in, he swivelled round but had no time to duck the first blow which glanced off his temple. Staggering back as a second pin caught him square on the head, he crumpled to the floor. James looked up the gangway and beckoned them to follow. They grasped Parfitt by the armpits and ankles and carried him to the hatch where James was checking the decks before waving them up.


Jarvis and two other men were crouched beneath a longboat. The Polly captain cleared a space around the captive who had a bump the size of an egg on the side of his head, and only after ladles of water thrown on his recumbent face did he slowly come round. His first sight was of several close faces. As he stumbled to sit up, Jarvis shoved his face forward until their noses touched. You have five minutes to say your piece, and another five to say your prayers. James didnt expect Parfitt to grovel for mercy, but he interested to hear what he might have to say about his turncoat behaviour. Feeling the bump on his temple, he glared up at the ring of grim faces inches from his own. You stupid, goddam idiots ! Five minutes Jarvis repeated. Im grateful to you for carrying me here, Parfitt muttered with bitter scorn. As it happens, I was already heading this way, and could have used my own two feet. All we are doing, Jarvis said, is to give you a chance He never finished another sentence. Parfitt groped into a pocket and slammed a large iron key on the deck. That is the key to the armoury, he spat, giving everyone a cold glare. We have fifteen minutes before the watch changes. In that time, should you decide not to remain here and exchange courtesies, we ought to be able to lay hands on the necessary weapons required to take command of this ship. A silence followed before James was able to push a few words through his lips: You mean, all that tomfoolery ? was to relieve the duty officer of his charge, Parfitt said, pausing between each word as if addressing a child. Now, would you prefer I took you through it all again step by step, or may we proceed? One of the matelots picked up the key and turned it in his fingers. How do we know we arent being fobbed off just to give him time for his British friends to have us topped? Parfitt snatched the key back and struggled to his feet. You cretins can sit here and pull your roots for all I care, but I am going through that door. I shall proceed to the armoury and open it. If anyone


cares to come along, I will not object. If you dont, I will strive to take this vessel on my own. Should I fail, you are going to spend what is left of your lives a slave to the accusations of your consciences. Jarvis, you made a pretty speech about patriotism. Stay behind, and I will assume youre nothing but a bag of wind. He walked over to the door. A dozen of them could have dropped him in his tracks. but nobody moved a muscle until first Jarvis, then the rest tagged along behind. James brought up the rear thinking he had never felt so much like a sheep in his life. The upper decks dissolved into darkness as the moon slid behind a bank of slow moving clouds. The night was perfect for action and it seemed to James yet another example of the extraordinary luck that cosseted Harry Parfitt. As he climbed through the hatch, the Virginian took a pin from one of the men, told them to remain below deck until the watch changed then walked amidships across to the arsenal, a steel framed cabin five feet high and seven yards long. A short time passed before someone relayed the order to move up. Poking his head above the hatch, James saw four British seamen lying prone on the deck. Standing over them, Parfitt was pointing at the open armoury gate. Five minutes later James signalled the muskets were primed. Jarvis corralled his crew, ordered a group to move astern to the officers cabins while others took up strategic positions throughout the ship. Parfitt pulled on Jamess shirt to follow him. They ascended the poop deck with a musket in his arms and a pistol in Jamess waistband, then he stopped the boy with a finger across his lips. What are we waiting for? James whispered. What if it doesnt work? Parfitt murmured. You want to be hanged alongside a bunch of mutineers. They stayed on the poop while the Polly crew marched through the officers quarters, prodding them out of their drunken slumbers. The night silence became awash with the scuffling of feet and cries of outrage as the midshipmen were herded into view.


Parfitt stepped down to meet Jarvis who reported they were all disarmed. James found it hard to remain on his feet, dizzy at the notion they had taken a British flagship without firing a single shot. Bligh stood silently among the scantily-dressed, and none of them could remove their attention from the Virginian. There was still the problem concerning the two hundred crew of the Gallant after Jarvis pointed out that if they all decided to become patriotic, they would be overwhelmed. Parfitt took his advice and alerted their four separate quarters in turn, taking on no more than fifty seaman at a time. The hopeful view was that many crewmen had frequently voiced their discontent of Admiral Blighs stringent treatment and would desert in droves. The optimism was misplaced. Almost as soon as the first billet was aroused, there came such a hubbub that those on deck were gripped with fear their plan had gone sour. Parfitt moved to the hatch leading to the middle below decks and shinned down, shouting for his men to return aloft. When they emerged, some were bleeding and holding their heads. Once clear, he ordered the hatches closed and barred, then shouted loud enough for those below to hear: Let them up only if they change their tune. By the time Parfitt returned to deal with the officers, a new day was lining the horizon. They huddled in silence on the foredeck, having barely moved from the moment they were dragged from their beds. Especially Bligh, who seemed to have gone into a trance. You have one choice, Parfitt told them. Stay and serve under Captain Jarvis, or take your chances in the longboats. Those electing to remain, move to the right. Nobody budged, although some middys exchanged glances as if weighing the odds. Unlike Jarvis and the Americans, the English knew where they were. They could be thousands of miles from land and refused to be cast adrift to suffer a lingering death. Eventually they looked towards the bullfrog figure of the admiral. James guessed they were choosing the devil they knew over the one they didnt. Or perhaps they reckoned that life was worthless if it meant spending their remaining years in fear of this mans obsession for revenge. After all, he had done it before with the crew of the Bounty.


Another silence slipped past while none of the British officers moved or spoke. Parfitt ordered three longboats to be lowered with food and water loaded aboard. As the sun rose off, the departing crew followed one another down the ladder and stepped aboard. Bligh was the last to descend and when he hesitated, Parfitt came over. Dont tax my patience, sir. The keel haul tackle is still in place. Bligh suddenly sprang to life and marched to the rail. With the agility of a man half his age, he clambered over and dropped down to where his officers moved to give him space. The Americans lined the rail and watched them bob away. Bligh stood in the prow gazing upwards. Raising a fist, he filled his lungs: Ive said this before and Ill say it again! Cast me adrift in an open boat, would you? Ill live to see you all hanged from the highest yardarm in the British navy! The riggers stood to and the sails of the Gallant unfurled, filling with the morning breeze. Bligh had terrified James beyond measure and as he watched the longboats grow smaller, he was shocked at the enormity of what they had done: they had rid themselves of the most feared man in the British navy. At one stroke they pooled resources and replaced the enemys colours with those of the Polly. All achieved under the guidance of a man they had come within a hairs breadth of killing. When the news of the officers departure was passed to the Gallants crew, they readily accepted Jarviss return to command. They had not wanted to be charged with mutiny until they were certain Bligh was no longer on board but once they knew he was gone, they jumped at the chance to vent their spleen at one mans sadistic nature and ran around pumping everybodys hands. By noon the ship was running as normal. The only difference being the enhanced spirits everyone went about their duties and from all parts of the vessel there came the sound of songs, laughter and good cheer. Harry, James said, I have to hand it to you. You cannot imagine how relieved I am to hear that. However had you failed, I believe you would have stayed on the poop watching the others walk the plank as calmly as if you had never met them. You took this ship for your own reasons. Revenge for the keelhaul


is my guess, but no-one is going to convince me you acted on behalf of our country. Why should they? Parfitt exclaimed. Except for childish romancers like yourself, no-one worth his salt gives a goddam about his country. My dear Gentle, did you never hear the epigram patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel? No, because you just made it up. Parfitt smiled, then turned to relish the early morning breeze. I merely wanted you to know you arent the only fellow with a clever turn of phrase.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN The plan was to chart a route back to America, which meant their first task was to discover where they were. Jarvis went to work with sextants and compasses and concluded they were less than a day from the coast of Spain. This caused quite a stir; no-one welcomed the prospect of sailing into a British squadron, although setting off on a course across the ocean presented just as many problems, the most intimidating being how to replenish food and water since the Gallants journey had been close to completion and all her supplies were running low. James sat in when Jarvis discussed the matter and the arguments ranged between putting into land to re-stock or waiting to waylay a passing ship.


For James it didnt matter because he had total confidence in both Parfitt and Jarvis. However, along with many of the crew, he was nervous about going ashore. How would they explain to anyone why they wore no recognisable uniforms and required the bill for provisions to be sent to the Admiralty in London? They agreed the best alternative was to wait for a west bound British cargo ship fresh out of port and haul alongside sporting the flag of the Royal Navy. With seventy four pieces of artillery, they would hardly be putting themselves at risk. Three days dragged by, during which the last of the salted meat was finished, the water had begun to taste brackish and the crew were breaking open the last package of stale biscuits. Concern spread through the ship for hours until the lookout glimpsed a quarry The twin masts of a schooner hoved into view bearing the colours of the British merchant navy. Jarvis prepared a boarding party then tacked towards the vessel. When they came within hailing distance, he had an English born crewman identify themselves which received a welcome in return. Jarvis coached his man to warn them of a French squadron ahead and say they would be pleased to provide an escort Glad to have you join us, came the reply that must have haunted the captain for the rest of his career because within twenty minutes he was facing the barrel of a blunderbuss while Parfitt inspected the victuals in the cooks galley. Not much greens, he sniffed. No wonder the English look so unhealthy. James was all for keeping the peace, begging them to just take the food and run. But the Virginian seemed to think there was no harm in moving through the officers quarters to add a keg of French brandy and a considerable supply of cigars. The operation took less than an hour and by late afternoon they were heading west as fast as the wind would permit. Primed with fresh meat, water and alcohol, morale shot high, and the prospect of returning to home ground provided a welcome contrast after weeks of penury under Admiral Blighs sadism. As night fell the crew relished their first feast for many a month and the cooks set about making a sizeable hole in the vittals. Parfitt dispensed the


brandy, and by midnight everyone aboard was warm-bellied and in gay mood. Even Jarvis relaxed and joined in the merriment. The Cajuns who survived the Polly massacre performed on instruments discovered in the officers cabins, and everyone agreed as they stumbled towards their hammocks that they had never enjoyed such a glorious night at sea. Even the men designated for night watch succumbed to the luxuries. After all, no-one was going to take on a seventy four, not a ship of the line like the Gallant. The following morning they awoke with throbbing heads, but memories of the previous night lifted their spirits. Wriggling out of their hammocks, laughter and hail-fellow-well-met continued to demonstrate a contented band of sailors The euphoria lasted less than five minutes. One of the younger matelots who had resisted the brandy started to dress, then glanced through a nearby porthole glowing with the dawn rays. While others nursed throbbing heads, massaged necks and shielded eyes, the boy stood rigid, facing the porthole before finding enough air in his lungs to shriek: God in Heaven! Look! Those closest glanced out to find they were fifty yards away from two British frigates. A chastened crew raced up onto the quarterdeck to discover that they were surrounded. Two more forty fours lay to larboard, a fifth faced the bows, and a sixth the stern. Jarvis cursed himself for having allowed the behaviour of the night before, while Parfitt grunted how they should have sunk the schooner they looted since there it was, standing back from the warships. No-one offered ideas on how they might bluff their way out this time. What are our choices? Parfitt asked. Jarvis told him to look at it from their perspective. We are the flagship Gallant, officially commanded by Admiral Bligh. Yonder schooner reports her as last seen full of Americans who wangled their way aboard and stole their food. That makes us pirates. Pirates? James said, surprised. But were at war. A technicality they are not likely to take into account, Jarvis said. If we surrender, well be hanged as mutineers. Dont forget that its possible Bligh was picked up.


Then we have no choice but to fight, Parfitt said. Jarvis shrugged. We could give them a moving target rather than a sitting duck. Turning to the crew he yelled: Riggers, give us full sail! The rest of you man the guns! A strong wind had risen, and the topsails filled rapidly, sending the ship forward so fast that James was thrown off his feet. The vessel came alive as everyone raced to their stations. On the middle deck, the ports were opened and the cannons primed. A well-drilled order took hold. The carronades were rapidly manned with not one crewman out of place, the gunners realising that if they were taken they would suffer the same fate dealt out to the crew of the Bounty. That was heartening, James thought. It meant they would defend the ship with their lives. Recalling the time when the Gallant attacked the Polly, he wondered what it would be like to stand amid all this weaponry when they opened fire. The only incident giving him cause to reflect was when one of the crew zig-zagged across the decks spreading sand like a farmer sowing seed. When he asked the purpose, he learned it was to prevent everyone from slipping on spilled blood. A bold touch that raised a cheer from the Americans was the sight of Jarvis hauling up the Pollys colours. Once the frigates realised they were about to make a run, they manoeuvred into a gauntlet, three on each side. The Gallants regular gunners were experienced and although it seemed to James they were sailing into the jaws of death, they stayed calm, responding instantly to the chief bosun who walked up and down the passage way behind them snapping out the routine orders preceding the first barrage. A minute before it started, James was told to lie face down beside the mainmast base and stay there. The plan was to run the gauntlet, head out with full sail and hope to outstrip the frigates. Having achieved that, they would lay across the bows of the leading ship then deal with the rest in turn. With odds of six to one, any plan seemed desperate, but as an individual ship they possessed greater fire power and were manned by an experienced crew. Upon these slim advantages rested their hopes.


The first broadside boomed across from the rear larboard side frigate, and although most of the ammunition fell short, two smashed into the Gallants bulwarks. The cannons rocked on their blocks, the gunners struggling like bull wranglers to hold on. Then the chief bosun bawled an order and both larboard and starboard guns crashed into action James lay with his head flat against the deck, deafened by the roar of the cannonades and only learned later what happened. The Gallant made a run through the gauntlet and her first salvos wreaked damage on the frigates at the rear of the corridor. One sank almost immediately and a second lay crippled, her cannon pointing up at the sky and her crew scrambling in all directions. Meanwhile the two middle vessels received a pummelling from the Gallants third and fourth broadsides, but their retaliation took a toll on the rigging. Jarviss plan was to race ahead, relying on the south westerlies while he and Parfitt watched their sailtops where the enemy fire was concentrated. The cannonade from both sides became incessant as they maintained speed, passing the frigates on either bow with their mainsails intact. Just as they were pulling clear, their foretop-sail-tie and jibsheet were shot away. The spanker-brails were loosened by the impact and with a flapping roar the sail blew out. Thus crippled at the moment they were about to move ahead, the Gallant was unable to obey her helm. The leading starboard frigate causing the crucial damage, filled her sails and tacked inwards to come within pistol shot. The Gallants crew fell to with muskets and lined the rail ready to repulse boarders. The ship rolled heavily towards her assailant and caught her mizzen rigging in the frigates forchains. They became entangled in the way two fighting deer lock antlers, and as their tilt angle was greater than that of the British ship, they provided an easy target for the raking fire from the enemy carronades. They swept the upper decks and together with the grapeshot and musketry in full flow, created a bloody carnage. Having become enmeshed, the middle deck ceased to exist as a fighting unit with men slip sliding over as they tried to reach the ladders. James was dragged along by the bosun who hurled him onto the upper deck. As he looked down amid the screams and cries of the dying, there came a tumultuous crash from a cannonball as it burst through the hull, carrying


with it a square yard of woodwork. In front of the boys eyes, a splinter a foot long pierced the bosuns neck clean through. Of the rest of the terror, he later recalled only disconnected moments. The sand was pitifully inadequate to cater for the amount of spilled innards, and the tragedy of so many deaths was made worse by the sight of men trying to keep on their feet during hand-to-hand combat. From a corner of the quarterdeck Jarvis retreated to the focsle, beaten back by a bevy of British sabres. He received two mortal blows as James watched; one sliced open his right arm while the other bit into his side below the bottom rib and with a dreadful spume, his life blood cascaded over the deck. Despite the carnage, the Gallants crew still outnumbered the boarding party from the entangled frigate, but now another of her number was heaving to on the other side. James could see their boarding nets were securely in place, but none of their crew attempted to be the first to transfer the fight beyond their fallback position. He had been aware of the ships list, but it was growing worse as the frigate tried to disengage from their mizzen. Combatants fell rolling towards the rail, and the fighting became replaced by a mass scramble to prevent them plunging into the water where they stood a good chance of being crushed to a pulp by the colliding hulls. The Gallant was sinking. Watching the raiders hasten back to their ships, James realised the only consolation to come out of this encounter was that the British would not be taking the mortally wounded from the seventy four back into service. The ship shuddered as a frigate rammed into the stern. James lost the grip he had kept on the quarterdeck rail and was propelled like a fling shot over the side into the freezing waters. As he surfaced, his head struck something hard and he knew nothing more. He came round lying face up on a deck with his eyes scorched by a blinding sun and a throbbing pain across his left temple. Standing nearby was a British sailor with a belaying pin in his fist. Turning his head a fraction, James realised he was in a long line of thirty prostrate bodies. Some were groaning, others lay silent and still. He forced his arms to prop himself up, giving him just enough time to


discover the foredeck crowded with survivors from the Gallant before the man with the pin brought it down on his skull. The next time he awoke he was soaking wet with salt in his mouth and eyes. Splashes somewhere along the line informed him pails of sea water were being emptied over the captives, accompanied by a volley of high pitched verbal abuse. You mutinous scum! a voice bellowed, shrill with rage. James lifted his head and saw a young British lieutenant standing in front of the quarterdeck with his hands on his hips. You damnable bilge rats!, he screeched. By God, our yardarms will bear some fancy fruit before the end of this day! James lay transfixed as he listened to the splutterings of the crazed youth about when a seaman mutinies against Admiral Bligh, he does so against the captain of the ship, and by doing that, he mutinies against the Royal Navy, and by doing that he is committing treason against His Majesty King George the Third. His tone rose to the pitch of a hysterical girl as he pointed to one of the crew: Run aloft and reeve a whip through the block at the main yardarm! This meant nothing to James, but the sailor lying next to him translated. Theres going to be a hanging. With no sign of the Gallant from where he lay, he assumed it was stirring up the mud a hundred fathoms down. Three of the six English frigates remained afloat; the one he was aboard, and two behind, both showing damage to the top main and mizzen masts. No wonder the lieutenant was upset. In the course of one morning, his navy had lost four ships. But where was Parfitt? There was no sign of him among those lying on the foredeck. The likeliest explanation was he had fallen in battle. The first batch of prisoners to be hanged were pinioned and about to be hauled up the rigging when the frigate captain appeared. Accompanied, James noticed, by Parfitt. Hold! he called. Mister Lewson bring down those men,. The manic lieutenant with mass execution on his mind, grudgingly ferried the order and the prisoners were lowered. Jamess eyes stayed fixed on his friend who looked untypically serious. Then the captain addressed the captives:


It has come to my attention there are a number of American citizens among you. Would they please move to the larboard rail? Here we go again, James thought. Stand by for the order to produce the fictional certificates of citizenship. He stood unsteadily and moved over to the rail. So did every able-bodied prisoner on the foredeck. The captain called shrilly: Wait! You cannot all be American. Goddamnit, James muttered. The one time someone intends to play fair with their nationality and they are to be ditched by impostors seeking to save their necks. Lewson stepped forward. Sir, with respect. What does it matter if some of these men are rebels? Mister Lewson, the captain replied, his voice betraying a lack of affection for the hothead. It may have escaped your notice, but we are at war with the United States of America. That being so, any of their citizens who rise in revolt must be treated not as mutineers, but as prisoners of war. Sir, I beg you to consider Lewson began, before being cut off by the captain turning his back. Captain Wrighton, Parfitt said. May I have a word in your ear. The two men went into a huddle, then Wrighton turned to the assembly and said: Proceed, Mister Parfitt. While Lewson looked on in pop-eyed fury, the Virginian extracted the Polly crew and all the Americans impressed to serve aboard the Gallant. James realised the Polly numbers were severely diminished, no more than three or four left of those who had sailed out of Grande Terre. Several asked about Jarvis as they moved to the larboard side, and he had the melancholy task of reporting their captain was dead. After weeded out the men, Parfitt said: Captain, may I observe that the British members aboard the Gallant were forced at gunpoint to do our bidding. I would plead with you not to allow that savage child here posing as a naval officer to run amok with his rope. That savage child was Lewson and the colour of his face moved from red to puce. Goaded beyond endurance, he drew his sword. Parfitt reacted in a manner that made it obvious his provocation had been deliberate. Anticipating the charge he ducked, grasped Lewsons sword arm at the


wrist, twisted it and heaved his body over his head. The lieutenant left the deck in a wide arc and disappeared over the side. A cheer rose from the Americans and even the frigateers looked silently content. Only Wrighton made an effort to rescue his officer, yelling for a line to be tossed to the figure thrashing wildly in the waters that churned past the bows. By the leisurely time taken for a rope to be found, Lewson was fifty yards astern. Turning a frigate, especially with sail damage, was no easy matter. While the captain fumed, salving his conscience with a display of temper, the young lieutenants head gradually disappeared beneath the waves. Sir, you have murdered one of my finest officers, Wrighton barked, speaking more for the record than from his heart. My apologies, captain, Parfitt replied. But Im sure you were witness to the fact I was forced to defend myself. The lack of outrage that greeted the passing of the officer brought events back on an even keel, and Wrighton assented to incorporating the British crew of the Gallant into his complement. He turned out to be a kindly man whose humanity was despised by martinets like the late lieutenant. Despite having questions to answer when his report of the sinking of the Gallant was delivered, he assured her English crew that if they behaved themselves, he would keep them from the noose. As for the Americans, thirty eight prisoners of war were disembarked at the town of Bude on the north coast of Cornwell, thence taken to a military prison barely ten miles from where James Morgan boarded the Carillon to America seven years previously. To the very day.


CHAPTER SEVENTEEN Dartmoor prison lay amid the bogs and bracken of the vast Devonshire moorland. Completed only a few years previously, this grim fortress was built to hold French prisoners taken during the protracted wars between Great Britain and France, but following the outbreak of hostilities with the United States in 1812, the numbers of American citizens captured in privateers working close to European shores, or refusing to serve aboard British vessels, steadily increased to two and a half thousand by the time James and his companions arrived. The prison was constructed in the shape of a giant horseshoe with the main gates closing the heel. Spread across thirty acres, the area was divided horizontally; seven long stone detention blocks fanned out like the spokes of a wheel in the upper half, each surrounded by its own enclosure, while the lower section held the Governors quarters, a hospital with a surgeons room, guards barracks and a variety of storehouses.


Beyond the perimeter walls, the most desolate and treacherous moorland in all Europe stretched for miles in every direction. For nine months of the year a patchwork of small bogs remained fresh, green and deep, waiting for a pair of unwary feet or set of hooves. Even the heat of the short summer never dried them out. The isolation of the penitentiary discouraged all save the most foolhardy from attempting to escape. Newcomers making their way across the moors to the gaol in shackles were struck by overwhelming despair, but once inside they found the situation was not without its compensations. Dartmoor was not run like other prisons. Inmates werent manacled and the bleakness beyond the outer walls allowed the Governor to take security facts for granted and allow his charges a freedom of movement they would never have found elsewhere. He would also take into account that the vast majority of prisoners were French troops who were content to sit out their confinement far from the slaughter currently widespread throughout Europe as far as Moscow, with few displaying sufficient patriotism to reenlist as cannon fodder for Napoleon. Similarly, the American inmates realised that even if they managed to cheat the quicksands, there was little likelihood of finding a ship to take them thousands of miles across the Atlantic, so they too took the line of least resistance. Accordingly, the Governor allowed everyone to wander about as they pleased and restricted surveillance to a token guard patrol on the ramparts. Even more complacently, he permitted inhabitants from the nearby village of Princetown to come in once a week and buy artefacts made by inmates as they whiled away their time. This brought currency into the gaol, and where there was money, there was gambling. And so it was that Dartmoor prison contained a unique society. On the one hand there was gaming, dancing, even fencing, contests. On the other there were incidents of inmates suffering the usual confined hazards of fever, bullying and insanity, but by and large the Governor enjoyed a peaceful tenure of office, expecting his charges to look after themselves. The crew of the Polly landed on the Cornish coast where a caravan of tumbrels carried them across the miles of flat treeless landscape. They were chained together in the same manner as the Africans on a slaver, a long link passing through leg irons, causing them to stumble as they mounted and descended the transport. Reaching the enormous gates, they


passed through into the first courtyard where they were ordered to stand still until the redcoats bolted them shut and came back swinging a large key ring. Taking his time and making rough work of the business, he unlocked the shackles while troopers surrounded them pointing charged muskets. James gazed up at the thirty feet walls and wondered why they were so nervous. Only a bird could escape from here. A sergeant emerged from the guard house. Right! he bawled, his spittle landing on the boys shoulder. Listen hard, you Yankee doodles. In a few minutes you will be standing before the Governor, Captain Cotgrave of His Majestys Royal navy, and he will proceed to read you the Riot Act pertaining to this establishment. He will explain what you will do, what you will not, and how easy it is to earn five hundred lashes or a spell in the cachots. Now pay attention, cause I never repeat myself, and anyone who dont catch my drift is in hot water right from the start. You will at all times refer to the Governor as Sir. You will at all times stand to attention in his presence. You will at all times keep your rebel mouths shut until you are required to give an answer. You will give said answer quick, then you will return to continue in absolute and total bloody silence. Do I make myself clear? His performance bore a rhythmic, almost poetic quality; each sentence beginning quietly then gaining momentum in volume and speed until it reached a crescendo. And if I should find, he concluded with a torrid glare under an amazingly arched eyebrow, that there are some brassy balls among you who think Im just a joker with a taste for exaggeration, let him take a step forward and I will do my utmost to set im straight. Any questions? No? Right, atten - shun! As always, James was concerned about Parfitt. Here was a typical situation designed to bring out the self-destructive element of his nature. He glanced around to find how he was reacting to the sergeants welcome speech and saw him straighten with an insolent lethargy. Thankfully, his mouth remained shut. Two redcoats stood outside a house where a sign read: Governors Quarters. The sergeant marched them across to the door, yelling Sort yourselves out there! meaning they needed to form a line facing the


house, but since this wasnt explained the soldiers stepped forward and prodded them into place with their musket butts. A minute passed before the Governor came out. The sergeant stamped his boots, snapped a quivering salute and bellowed in a shower of saliva: Prisoners present and ready for inspection, sah! Cotgrave was a tall man in his fifties with the resigned look of someone passed over for promotion and put out to pasture. He waited for the mud plastered prisoners to settle down before addressing them in a surprisingly mellow tone: You are, he told them, in a military detention centre because you are classified prisoners of war. Behave yourselves and you will come to no harm. Misbehave and you will. If you are of a mind to escape, let me tell you that for thirty miles in every direction lie swamps naked to the human eye which have claimed the lives of the few misguided souls foolish enough to have tried. Unless you are impatient to meet your Maker, I advise you to remain within these walls where you will discover rewards for obedience. I may tell you I regard the British and Americans as coming from common stock, and have no pleasure for the war lately declared between our two nations. Let us hope these misunderstandings will soon be resolved. I am sharing my thoughts with you so you might reflect on whether it is worthwhile to foment trouble while you are here. You start off, gentlemen, with my sympathies. I have issued instructions that American inmates are to be separated from the French, who are altogether a different kettle of fish. I earnestly hope that despite the fact your two countries have recently shared a common experience I refer of course, to bloody revolution you will not associate with a sworn and despised enemy of the British crown. Turning smartly on his heel, he returned the sergeants salute and disappeared inside. Well, James thought, Ive heard of worse introductions to prison. The rest of the crew also looked relieved and not even the sergeant dampened their spirits. All right, get fell in, you mangy rabble! he yapped and showed annoyance by their ragged response. Since they and the Governor appeared to see eye to eye, there didnt appear to be any point jumping up and down to amuse a mere sergeant.


He bawled something indecipherable, and more guards came bustling out of the guard house led by a corporal. So, he turned to the prisoners. You think this is all a bit of a lark, eh? Well, well soon set you right. Corporal! Double em into the top compound and when I say double, I dont mean a gentle stroll through the bloody daffodils! The guards prodded the newcomers with musket barrels, and acting as though they didnt understand English, mimed what they wanted by running on the spot. James set off at a lick and the field spread out as some refused to move at more than a walking pace or, in Parfitts case, sat down. Keeping abreast with two leading troopers, James reached the prison houses well ahead of the others and waited. The rest straggled in, some deliberately taking their time and followed by two redcoats carrying an unconscious Parfitt. What happened to him? James blurted out before being knocked off his feet. Right, Yankee doodles! the sergeant screeched, jerking a thumb at the crumpled body. Just so we dont get off on the wrong foot,. I want you all to see what happens to anyone who is under the mistaken idea that he can do what he damn well likes in here. Corporal, double em over! They were herded to a line of trenches set into the ground at the base of the of the outer walls and covered by an iron grille. The sergeant took a key from his belt, turned it in a padlock and lifted one. The troopers dragged Parfitt by the feet, and rolled him in. He dropped three feet and landed face down in the mud. The sergeant slammed the grille back in place and secured the lock. Now this here is what we call the black hole or, as the Frenchies say, the cachot. Misbehave yourselves and you could find yourselves spending anything up to a month down there. And let me tell you, my rebel friends, there aint no man alive ever survived longern that. When it rains, and it does so here all the bleedin time, you get the chance of a nice healthy bath. But if it rains heavy, you get more than a soaking and could even drown. Chances are that come the winter, youll freeze solid, in which case you get transferred to another hole in the ground, but this time its deeper and permanent.


James saw Parfitt stir under the bars, open his eyes and turn over onto his back. Still dazed, he tried to sit up, struck his forehead on the grille and fell back. Now lets make a few things clear, the sergeant continued. I dont share the Governors view of you johnny rebs. I dont like English tars being blowed up, or our soldiers shot in the back by a bunch of snivelling cowards from a ragtag army. I dont go for that at all. But Im a fair man, and Ill show you just how generous I can be. Let me give you a piece of advice about Dartmoor prison. We dont interfere much with you except to hand out a spot of punishment now and then like you just seen. By we, I mean us soldiers. See them guards up there on the wall? Well, thats where theyre happy and thats where they like to stay. We all agree its better than havin yer head shot off by Boney, so we got a system here and you lads are gonna find out about it very soon. I wont spoil the surprise by telling you what it is, but lemme just say that it works. And when something works, it makes the Governor very happy. And when hes happy, were happy. And when were happy, my gullies, you can rest assured that youre happy. That makes us all one big happy family. So if theres any one of you wants to spoil the fun and make us unhappy, hes welcome to try. But Ill tell you this for free. He wont continue to draw breath for longer than five minutes. He dragged a finger across his throat to illustrate how this would be so. Corporal! Put em in number four. No-one had much idea what he was talking about, and hardly anybody was even listening. They were dog tired, chilled to the marrow from the searing winds that hadnt let up since they left the ship. They were also starving hungry and the sight of Parfitt caged under their feet like a wild animal didnt lighten their spirits. The troopers began prodding the prisoners with their rifle stocks, yelling: Double! Double, yankee bastards! Like everything else in the gaol, the billets were made of dark grey stone. Fifty yards long, with two rows of windows high up along each side, they were the most forbidding sight James had ever seen. Even worse than the barracks in Dock. There was something ghostly about the place that stood engulfed by dank mists coming off the moors.


Each block was numbered and they were shoved towards a door marked by a crudely painted 4. The corporal yelled halt and opened it. For a reason he couldnt explain, James was concerned the man wore a wide smile as he ushered them through. In you go, Yankee doodles, he chirruped. And good luck. Because by God, youre gonna need it. The sergeant barked an order and the guards used their muskets stocks to push the prisoners inside and send them toppling over the threshold into pitch darkness. As the last prisoner stumbled inside through, the door clanged shut. A curious stillness descended, the only light coming from a row of moonbeams slanting down from the windows. After a minute elapsed with everyone on the floor still too blind to stand up, a ring of small dancing flames came floating towards them. Someone was carrying a candelabra, his face concealed until he was standing over them. Jamess eyes fastened on a pair of home-made deck shoes, above which was a pair of baggy trousers fashioned out of sail cloth. As they continued upwards, they took in a string tied round a waist, then a brilliantly white chemise. Above that, set off by a gaudy collar, was a face as black as the night around them. The candelabra exposed a bewitched confusion of everyone lying at the mans feet. Then a smile appeared and broadened, a row of dazzling white teeth glinting in the dancing flames. Hello there, whitemeats a deep throaty voice boomed. Welcome to the plantation.


CHAPTER EIGHTEEN The light gradually increased to reveal a line of white men approaching, each holding a long candle while the African who welcomed them stepped aside to let the Polly crew regain their feet. They were in a vast room with beds lining both sides and furnished like a military barracks. Real beds, James noticed, with headboards, pillows, neatly folded blankets, a side table and separated by a generous floorspace. As the gloom faded, the new arrivals could see how each table held a candlestick and a clay pitcher. Under their feet, polished flagstones glistened in the flickering light and covered by woollen carpets. This is a prison? James asked himself. With luxury accommodation and slaves!


The man with the candelabra remained with a friendly smile at their bemused expressions when they caught sight of a procession of white men lining the route to a door at the other end of the room. I trust you gentlemen are in good health, he said. No broken bones, nothing hurtful? Hey, boy, someone called. This dont look like no prison I ever saw. Ignoring him, the African pointed towards the far door. After you, whitemeats. As they shuffled past the silent line, a crewman asked them what the hell was going on, but no-one answered or even gave a friendly nod. James noticed they seemed terrified. Several were shaking. Through the door, whitemeats, the African called. What was this word whitemeats he keeps using, James wondered. The next room was much smaller than the dormitory and stifling with heat from the glow of a hundred candles. At the far end stood a raised platform and upon it a huge chair with a velvet-covered seat wide enough for two sitters, elaborately carved arm rests and a back two yards high in the shape of a cathedral facade. On either side stood a young white man hardly twenty years old, with their arms folded and legs apart. The candles creating the heat were held by another line of white-skinned men standing along the four walls. The African with the candelabra followed the last prisoner through the door and flicked his fingers. The stupefied newcomers watched as one of the boys on the platform took the candelabra and retreated backwards giving a series of bows. By now the newcomers were exchanging looks the way people behave when they sense something was seriously wrong. Then a side door was flung open and another boy of tender years marched in pounding a kettledrum, followed by two more youths holding ceremonial swords. A silence fell, then another African entered. This one measured six and a half feet head to toe. He wore a toga over which was draped a fur-lined cape pinned at the neck by a glittering brooch. Behind him ran a log silk train held by two blond white boys. His dcor was completed by an exquisitely designed iron crown that could have passed for any worn by English kings for the last thousand years.


Jamess first thoughts were they had stumbled on some theatrical pageant, an entertainment laid on to relieve the dullness of prison life. As the giant walked towards the platform, everyone he passed bowed low, their eyes staying fixed on the ground until he climbed the steps and sat down on the throne. The sight was too much for one of the Polly men who burst into shrieks of laughter. The African who had met them on their arrival stepped forward and swiped him across the mouth. The sailor recovered his balance groggily with a shocked fury and lunged back, but his fist never connected due to one of the whites holding wooden staves belaboured him until he lay still on the ground.. The giant watched from the platform with little interest, as if he expected violent responses from new inmates. His blonde train bearers took up kneeling positions on either side of the throne then he raised a hand at the drummer to cease playing. The room froze into a tableau. The candelabra bearer stepped forward, bowed and announced: Thirty eight new arrivals, boss. Thank you, boss, the giant replied in a tone that sounded like an echo from the depths of a well. Looking slowly at the faces of the newcomers, a raised finger settled on James. Approach. Power vacated Jamess legs and his heart belaboured his ribs as he shuffled forward. The man on the throne seemed to swell further into gigantic dimensions as he approached, reminding him of the story of Biddle used to read to him as a child about David and Goliath. Whats your name, boss? Morgan, James stammered. There was a pause. The African spoke again: Your name, boss. James cleared his throat and called out louder: James Morgan. Another moment elapsed. He had no idea what he was doing wrong. The giant leaned forward and said softly: James Morgan boss. We have a custom here. I call you boss, and you call me boss. There is only one difference. You mean it. Morgan, boss. James croaked. The crowned head nodded gravely. You may withdraw.


As he turned round, the candelabra African raised a hand. Catching his drift, James turned to face the platform, bowed again then stepped backwards until he bumped into his comrades. The giant placed a huge fist over his heart. Listen up, whitemeats. We are King Dick and we welcome new members to the plantation. And just so we understand each other, we need to give you a short history lesson. He held out a hand, and one of the acolytes presented him with a fan. We was raised on a Carolina plantation, and so we know all about maintaining a good working relationship with our fellow men. That is why we personally welcomed you here. But just sos you dont get confused about what goes on here, we will say a few words concerning the crown on our head. You young bucks look like you was born after the English left our shores, and so maybe your knowledge about kingship is a bit on the hazy side. You all in the country where we are now guests believe in monarchy, and so do we. We think it is the only civilised way to run a society. And if we believe in it, then you all will believe in it. Here, on this Dartmoor plantation, we all agree its a fine and dandy way to get along. A few years back, the English had a set to on something they called the divine right of kings. But they had trouble makers the same like we done back home. Jefferson and Adams and their like who didnt care for the notion that a king rules by the personal invitation of the Almighty. Well, boys, this is the one area we disagree. We not only take to the idea, we positively insist on it. He paused to let his words sink in. The fact of the matter is, we rule by the divine right of God and Governor Cotgrave who, for your purposes, is one and the same person. Looking around here, we see troubled looks. You dont seem to follow our drift, even though we are trying making it simple enough for your puny little minds. James couldnt speak for the rest, but he was already way ahead of the giants drift. Are we not all Americans? King Dick asked. So what about the Constitution, we hear you say. What about the Bill of Rights? We shall answer. The Declaration of Independence did not declare my


independence. The Bill of rights didnt give me no rights, and none to any of our comrades back on the Carolina slave colony. So His voice had taken on a sharp cutting edge, but now returned to the mellow tones of a feudal lord dispensing patronage: We here on this plantation dont take no account of such unfairness. In fact we discourage it by measures that are regrettable but necessary if we is to preserve the peace and order of our kingdom. We have but one duty to perform to keep our crown, and that is we need to make sure our subjects dont get no cause to feel unhappy. And there is just one way to upset the holy hell outta them, and that is by trying to escape. Therefore, chillun, we say unto you, you will not make trouble. We are sure once yall settle down, such thoughts will never cross your mind. However, we feel we would be neglecting our responsibilities if we didnt remind you of the penalties for trying to break outta here. First attempt, fifty lashes. Second try, a lingering and very unpleasant death. There aint no court of appeal, and we administer our own discipline. Now there may be some among you who reckon these punishments are excessive. Well, they theyre the penalties white men give to runaway slaves. So you see, whitemeats, they was invented by yall. After all, what is a man who tries to get out of the Dartmoor plantation anything but a runaway? The logic was impeccable. So was the speech honed to perfection by innumerable deliveries. King Dicks eyes returned his attention to James. Come forward, boss. The boy ran to the platform, stood to attention and bowed. Yes, boss? We permit one favour to each new bunch of arrivals. You will choose it. Theres a man in the cachot, boss. Can you get him out? King Dick smiled. We can put men in the cachot, and we can get men out. You remember that, boss, you hear. I sure do, boss. The big man stood up, bringing the audience to an end. The drummer took position in front of the sword bearers while the blond boys returned to the silk train. On the first drum roll, king and retinue moved towards the side door and marched through. Then the candelabra carrier faced the prisoners.


My name is Wallace. Work hard and do as youre told and youll get fed, clothed and looked after. Just remember that we are all be one big happy family. James recalled this was the second time references had been made to the family and sneaked a look at his shipmates. Most seemed to be in a daze, heads hung in confused disbelief. Wallace approached the man who had been clubbed for laughing and was now unsteadily back on his feet. Cut along with Ben and hell show where you git your clothes. Ben was one of his assailants. We dont want none, we got clothes. Wallace frowned. Unless my ears is blocked up, I dont believe I heard a certain word, he said. The seaman looked blank. A certain word of common respect, Wallace hinted. A word His Majesty King Dick done explained. I dont recall no word. You call me boss ? the African prompted as if speaking to a child. The sailor took time to reflect. We got clothing. Boss. Well, the fact is, boy, we like whitemeats to dress in something special. Looking across the packed room, James noticed the whites all wore the same uniform: a cloth jacket, waistcoat and trousers, but nothing on their feet. The Africans put on whatever they pleased and were shod in stitched deck shoes to deal with the icy flagstones. Havin you all look alike makes the plantation so much neater, Wallace explained. Ben, take em to the stores and dont go dawdlin, you hear me now? Then come right back here and report when youre done. Yes, boss, Ben replied and doubled them out of the door. Now, whitemeats, Wallace said to the rest of the prisoners. I guess the time is come to see your quarters. Those nearest the door turned to go back to the dormitory but Wallace gave a high-pitched cackle. Where you think youre going? You think them cots are yours ? Why, bless your simple little minds. You got a lot of things to learn. They followed him into the dormitory. There was now something different about it. Lying on the beds were Africans who had been present during the ceremony. One snapped his fingers and a candle bearer jumped to


obey, jamming the candle on the bedside table stick and pouring the occupant a beaker of water before scuttling back to his place. These here quarters, Wallace explained, belong to black folk. You boys sleep in an altogether different area. You dont come in this room less you is invited. And when you do, you make sure your feet are clean, and you dont go stompin in no mud, you hear me now? Or by golly, youll be down on your hands and knees and polishing them flags till you can see your cotton-pickin faces in them. They were taken outside and Wallace walked away, leaving them unattended. For a long while not a word was uttered. Finally someone said they didnt believe it. That it was all a bad dream. Im gonna wake up aboard ship any minute. The fellow standing next to him reached over and yanked his ear, making him shout. You felt that? It aint no dream. Well, I sure as hell aint taking no orders from no damn nigger. Its agin the laws of nature. Better get used to something, James said. In here, we are the niggers. At that moment, Parfitt came round a corner accompanied by the sergeant and Wallace. The African handed something to the soldier and he went away while the Virginian stood looking perplexed. They let me out on some Negro prisoners say so. Will someone tell me exactly what is going on here? Harry, James said, delighted to see his request had been honoured: You aint seen nuthin yet. Goddamit, tell me precisely what is going on here. So he did..


CHAPTER NINETEEN Their quarters were overcrowded, dank, sunless and infested with rats. Their beds consisted of straw-filled sacks that were replenished once a week only if Wallace felt in a good mood. In a corner stood a row of buckets to receive the bodily waste of eighty men, and anyone wanting a wash down were told to wait until it rained Harsh though his new surroundings might be, James saw the irony of it all, but it didnt make him feel any better to accept the traditional role of the black man in America. There was simply no choice. After the first weeks crawled by, even Parfitt came to accept the topsy turvy situation, although Jamess heart missed a beat each time he saw an African talking to him, wondering if this was the moment the Virginian would lose his self control and get beaten to a pulp. Or even worse, put up for sale. A slave auction was the most extraordinary sight to greet the newcomers. The only difference to the system back home was that it was the whites who stood shackled on the podium and the blacks who bid for them.


Watched by grinning Frenchmen, the American prisoners were forced to watch the spectacle of one of them having his teeth examined and body muscles probed before being sold. Since a great deal of cash circulated inside Dartmoor, a strong young matelot would fetch up to four or five shillings. The men put up for sale were usually trouble makers unable to control their tongues or fists on their black masters. Once sold, they were compelled to administer whatever comfort their owner required, and should they continue to object their ankles were joined together by a six inch chain that had them tip toeing around like a young girl. There were far more French prisoners than Americans, recognised by tattered uniforms of Napoleons army. Officers despised the common soldiers because most of the latter came from the stock which had executed many of their high born families during the Revolutionary years twenty years before. Each time one looked at the uniform of a private, he wondered whether it was he who had helped confiscate his estate or raped his sister. Spirits were not high among the Frenchies. The first piece of outside news James heard was of a spectacular defeat Bonaparte had suffered in Russia, and rumours about thousands of troops freezing to death during a mass retreat from Moscow. A week after they arrived, James spent the days wandering about the compound learning how to adjust. He even persuaded Parfitt to do the same, making it clear that to rebel would not only be pointless but dangerous. He had not heard King Dicks inauguration speech, which made clear that any disobedience was the first step on a stairway to hell. They learned there were two thousand American prisoners of whom five hundred were black slaves impressed by the US navy to take over manual duties on privateers. King Dicks given name was Richard Crafus. Selected by Governor Cotgrave on account of his size and told he would enjoy all privileges if he reported anyone who sought to make trouble or plan an escape. Crafus struck an immediate bargain, was give a regal crown fashioned by a Princetown blacksmith to fit his gigantic head, then appointed the other five hundred Negroes to be his personal aides.


Conventional American society had become reversed. White men gave way to their erstwhile indentured slaves, obeyed their orders, stepped aside to let them pass, and kneeled when addressing their King. They may outnumber the Africans three to one, but British guards were rarely more than a musket shot away, and happy to support any system that took supervisory burdens off their shoulders. James heard about one botched break out when the troopers handed the conspirators over to King Dick for punishment; since when no-one had even considered the idea. James and his friends did little more during the first few weeks than drift about the huge area hearing the cries: Freeters! Luvverly corn freeters! from food vendors doing a brisk trade . They watched one beside a boiling cauldron ladle out meat stew at a penny a bowl. Without a cent between them, they could do no more than enjoy feeling saliva build in their mouth. Jamess stomach rolled continuously as they passed other cookery units until he noticed an inmate sell a pole to one from which hung a dozen bloated rats. Strolling about with Parfitt, they watched three burly whites come round a corner and shoulder aside a group of prisoners. When someone protested, one of them turned back and fisted him so hard his nose split in two, then returned to his companions to join in the laughter. Parfitt asked who they were. They call themselves Rough Alleys, one muttered, tending his friends battered face. The only qualification to join their gangs was muscle, but the advantages of membership included taking a cut from gambling and merchandise profits after King Dicks collectors had received their share. It was the usual incarceration story of the strong preying on the weak, and the advice given to newcomers was to keep out of their way. Parfitt listened in silence while James remarked how unpleasant it was to watch Americans fight one another when what they needed was a stalwart opposition to the British, the French and, above all, the Negroes. He was on the point of developing his theme when everyone scattered as King Dick came round a corner wearing a toga and rope sandals and a couple of aides marching in step on either side . One of them was smoking a cigar and as they passed by flung away the half-smoked butt. A scramble to retrieve it followed and James saw a fellow emerge from the melee holding the smouldering remains which he stuck between his teeth.


The Rough Alleys returned and one of the thugs snatched the butt from his mouth , quelling any idea of a protest by a look. As the subject was still fresh in Jamess mind, he went across, finishing the views he had started to describe to Parfitt: Look friend, he said to the cigar chewing Rough Alley, if we Americans steal from each other, what kind of impression do you think it creates in the minds of the English? You see where they are on those walls watching us, and what do they see? Bicker and fight like a pack of rabid dogs. The thug removed the stogie and his jaw slackened a fraction. God knows, James continued with a smile, we have to look out for ourselves in here, but surely we can maintain some kind of standards. Lets thieve from the Frenchies. They are fair game, but not from our own countrymen. Im sure you can appreciate what I say. So be a good sport. Give the man back his cigar. Nothing emerged from the mans expressionless face for a moment. Then: If you dont get outta my way, Ill snap your goddam spine in two. Please, James persisted. Im asking you to see reason. The Alley looked across at his friends. I must be hearin things. This pissy little kid telling me what to do! The others responded with advice to give James a lesson he would never forget but as they advanced, Parfitt turned to James: Gentle, I dont think your subtle way is going to work. Let me try mine. He turned towards the thug, raised his right arm level with his chin them sliced the side of his hand into the mans throat turning his face purple and preventing oxygen from passing a massive dent in the windpipe. He crumpled to the ground choking and holding his neck while Parfitt retrieved the cigar from the dust, wiped it on his coat and handed it back to the original smoker. Here. Take it with my complements. But the man refused, hissing: Are you mad? Parfitt dropped the butt into his lap. Next time, he said, I want to see you stand up for yourself. The incident had drawn spectators who looked on aghast at the sight of the Rough Alleys reduced to lip kissing their friend as they tried to blow air into his collapsing lungs


James knew he wouldnt be much use in such circumstances because he had never grasped the chief principle of brawling which involved seeking to take your opponents life. But he also felt responsible for what had just happened; it had been his failure to affect the sensibilities of the Rough Alley that caused the ruckus. He had to show aggressive spirit, but the only way he knew was to stand in their path with fists held high in the classic pose of an exhibition prize fighter. A second later he folded soundlessly clutching his solar plexus from a fist below the belt on the remaining Alleys march towards the Virginian. He watched them close in on his mentor through a fog of tears. Then something occurred which he didnt understand at all. One of the bullies had stopped in his tracks amid a hoot of laughter from the onlookers, then fell, tripped over by his trousers which were now around his ankles. Parfitt, now facing only one opponent, stood his ground. A flurry of blows erupted before the remaining Alley joined his comrade face down in the dust. Despite the blinding pain in his belly, James stumbled to his feet. He noticed one of the spectators was wearing a French cavalry uniform and holding a sword. The Alley was having difficulty replacing a rope belt around his waist while trying to regain his dignity at the same time. Parfitt ended his confusion by felling him with a straight blow to the temple, then turned to the Frenchman. My name is Parfitt. And I am in your debt. The Frenchie clicked is heels and gave a short bow. Le Comte Jacques Dubureau Lacenaire a votre service, msieu, he replied, sheathing the sword. James limped across and lowered his head. Harry, Im sorry. I need to teach you the principles of self defence. That careless tongue of yours is one day going to pitch you into a grave. What happened to him, James asked, nodding at the Alley with the wayward pantaloons. Parfitt flashed a rare smile. He fell victim to the Counts swordsmanship. Or rather, his trousers did. The spectators were still rocking with glee and within an hour the entire prison had heard varying accounts how Lacenaire had flicked a sword across the thugs belly and severed his belt.


May I present Gentle Morgan, Parfitt addressed the Frenchman. He may be only a boy, but I can assure you in matters of self preservation, he is totally without experience. Lacenaire laughed and replied in perfect English: How do you do, sir. James mimicked his curt head movement and shook the proffered hand. Excusez moi, msieu le Comte, he replied, then indicated the sword. Mais peut-on porter des armes ici? Lacenaire delivered a Gallic shrug. No-one has yet seen fit to take away my sword. Someone close by said they didnt wonder, witnessing his ability to slice the wings off a fly. James was soon discovered Lacenaire wasnt the only prisoner bearing arms. Fencing contests took place once a month with wagers placed on the combatants, and the Count remained supreme in the rapier class. Now and then a newcomer would challenge him, but during the two years he had languished in Dartmoor, no-one had yet come anywhere close to giving him a serious contest. He explained he had been one of the first captives to be sent to the new gaol. As a veteran prisoner he was able to furnish the newcomers with advice, none of which was encouraging. Firstly, he agreed with Cotgrave about his account of the surrounding moorland. Lacenaire recalled a few escape attempts and said no-one had to his knowledge succeeded; those who managed to get beyond the walls soon succumbed to a combination of foul weather and bogs, and the few recovered bodies were brought back to illustrate the futility of trying. He went on to describe how when the Americans began to arrive, an early batch contained the man he called le grand negre. Within weeks, King Dick was installed by the Governor as top dog prisoner and established a network of informants to root out potential escapees, realising that his supremacy lasted only as long as the inmates remained submissive. Since his coronation there had only been two failed breakouts, and when the men were captured, Dick ordered fifty lashes in front of all the prisoners. Parfitt asked if he had ever considered going over the top. The Frenchman gave one of his languid smiles. Constantly. However, I am a gambler. And the odds on surviving a trek across Dartmoor and finding a ship willing to take me to my homeland have proved increasingly long.


Why risk your life going back home only to be killed in battle? James asked. Daccord, Lacenaire nodded. But as well as being a gambler, I am also a soldier. And in addition, I happen to be married to the most beautiful woman in France. She is the only reason I am determined to leave Dartmoor in one piece. There was nothing anyone could add to such a comprehensive declaration of love, so they went on to talk of other matters. Lacenaire had little good to say about Cotgrave whom he described as a man immersed in melancholy, affecting to honour the dignity of his prisoners yet permit the mob to rule his territory. He told how marketeers were allowed into the gaol from Princetown, a neighbouring village, to buy articles made by the inmates which included scrimshank sculptures carved from bone. The sales provided them with money to use in a gaming room constructed under the roof beams of prison house number 5. All betting activities were under the control of King Dick who took a lions share of the winnings as a so-called entry charge. Three days a week the prison gates opened and the local Devonians passed through, giving the only cheer for James and his friends during the early months of their captivity when they despaired at the thought of months, perhaps years languishing in this wretched place. Trade was mostly done by barter; the prisoners exchanged baskets, paintings, carvings, hats and artefacts for fresh fruit or luxuries like tobacco and brandy. But when hard money changed hands, it generated two activities in Dartmoor that made it unique in the annals of penitentiaries. One was the aforesaid gambling. The other James learned about when he attended his first market. Between eleven and two oclock on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the inner compound became transformed. Awnings, tables and mats were spread on the ground as villagers and captives haggled over prices. A great deal of noise was generated but everything was conducted with good humour, and for a short while the inmates forgot the misery of their condition. Around noon, the guards let in several tumbrels carrying young women. Red-cheeked, broad-hipped and lively, they waved at the men who replied with their customary roar of welcome. James watched the girls jump


down and disappear inside prison house 5. Shortly afterwards, a stall holder would signal the end of his trading, collect his cash and stroll across to house 5. Twenty minutes later he would re-appear empty handed but grinning broadly. He was followed by a procession of other marketeers until the guards rang hand bells and bawled: Two oclock! Everyone out! The women would emerge clutching fat purses, climb into the carts and follow the others out lifting their skirts to give a final arousal for the men they have just entertained. There were a few odd aspects to the business James was to discover as the weeks passed. He noticed Lacenaire was a regular client of house 5, known to all as The Stairway to Paradise, and always appeared to choose the same woman, a plump and heavily rouged creature James considered hardly the kind to attract a high-born French aristocrat. Another puzzling fact was that where all the other men reappeared after completing their business within twenty minutes, Lacenaire stayed inside for well over an hour, was always the last to leave and gallantly escorted his doxy to the gate where the others were impatiently waiting for her. At the end of one visit the Frenchman was helping her up on the tumbrel and saying his farewells when a prisoner shoved a hand up her skirt. His grin was abruptly cancelled by Lacenaire who knocked him cold with an elbow jab to the temple. James saw it happen and assumed the French treated all women in this way, irrespective of their social background. The thought gave him heart, because excepting the contest sponsored by Annie Christmas in New Orleans, his own approach to the other sex had rested on a respectful, verging on obsequious, idolatry. However, such spasmodic pleasures did little to alleviate the prisoners tedium. Despite the horrendous penalties, escape was a subject never far from most of their minds, although no-one went further than fantasy. And four months had passed before James witnessed the first real attempt to break out. It was mid-December and although the winter had not yet set in, conditions became wretched inside the barracks as rain water cascaded down the walls, soaking the mens bunks and laying a sheet of ice on the flagstone floors.


Wallace announced the prison theatrical company had chosen Othello for their Christmas production. The stage had been constructed out of doors because King Dick decreed every inmate should watch the spectacle of a noble blackamoor. His orders aroused the problem of finding a space large enough to contain an audience of over two thousand Americans, let alone any Frenchmen who might wish to improve their education. Set against the outer wall, the stage faced a semi-circle of benches to seat the Africans snugly wrapped in furs, with the white contingent standing behind. Although canvas shoes had been issued as the temperature dropped, they were inadequate to cater for the stone floors, and the standing audience resigned themselves to an afternoon of torture. But the African audience didnt take the performance gloomily at all and were soon howling with glee as the man picked to play Iago had been told to play it for laughs and find any excuse to fall over or strike his head on imaginary roof beams. King Dick sat dead centre facing the stage and appeared to love every minute, even though the man playing Iago had to call the prompter every thirty seconds. Nevertheless, in the spirit of lively comedy that the performance was set, he only added to the pleasure of his fellow audience. At one point, Othello declares: Though that her jesses were my own dear heart strings, Ill whistle her off and let her down the wind to pray at fortune. Haply, for I am black The last line created such a tumult of cheering and whistles from the front rows it brought the performance to a standstill. Othello took a bow wreathed in smiles, accepting the plaudits as his own, not Shakespeares. Then when the applause abated, he continued: for I am black and have not these soft parts of conversation that chamberers have. Ah, Desdemona comes! If she be false as honest Iago says, Oh, then heaven mocks itself. Ill not believe it. A white man wearing a mop head strapped to his scalp, a billowing linen dress that covered two immense bulges on his chest, and an expression that suggested he was not enjoying himself, stumbled on and brought


another explosion of glee from Dick and his entourage. Only those close to the stage could distinguish his words while the rest contented themselves with the postures the actor made that interpreted Desdemona as a well endowed mincing flirt. Had the temperature not continued to drop, his antics might have even amused the white audience, but all they could think about was the numbness in their feet and a savage cramp squeezing their calves. While they were praying for the end of the play to accelerate, cries of alarm suddenly arose from those seated to the right of the stage. James pressed forward to get a closer look and saw several Africans shouting in pain as they tried to climb out of a hole that was rapidly expanding beneath their chairs. The performance ground to a halt and the actors came to the edge of the stage and peered down. King Dick was on his feet watching two white men dragged out of the hole, dazed and bleeding. One of them wiped mud from his eyes and glared up at the prison wall towering over the back of the stage. Five more yards! he sobbed. Just five more lousy yards, and we would have made it! The following day the entire prison population, inmates and staff included, formed a hollow square to witness the punishment. Wallace walked into the middle followed by two of Dicks courtiers, each dragging one of the failed escapees. He read the nature of the crime and the sentence of fifty lashes for each culprit. The courtiers then took the first man to a cannon wheel tilted at forty five degrees against a mound of soil, tore off his vest, laid him face down on the wheel and tied his arms and legs to the spokes. Then one of them backed away while the other pulled a cat o nine tails from his belt, gave it a practice crack in the air and after receiving a nod from Wallace, began the sentence. It was ironic, James thought, that the worst moment comes while witnessing a flogging when the victim loses consciousness and his body ceases to twitch as the blows continue to rain down. Ironic because although it was better for the poor wretch to be devoid of his senses, the savagery becomes more apparent when it seems to be belabouring a corpse. After the victim regains consciousness, he is carried off to have


salt rubbed into his wounds, supposedly to prevent infection but in reality to add a final sadistic touch. ************************* Christmas was hardly the jolliest James had known. What made it worse was when some men read out letters from home that told them how the war was progressing, and made it plain there was not going to be an early finish. Always the optimist, the boy expected he would spend no more than a few months in Dartmoor prison because such a war was bound to end soon. And yet they were entering 1813 with the situation as serious as ever. By and large he kept out of trouble, thanks to his wits remaining honed even in such a hell hole. Each Thursday a minister came from Plymouth to preach in prison house 4, and on Sundays a black Methodist taken from the prison ranks conducted another service for his fellow men at which everyone was expected to attend. An ugly fellow called Simon, he provided a strange sight, ranting and raving in such a way that he sent some of the congregation into a trance. The venue for the Methodist service was the gaming room. A swift turnover of the card tables provided a makeshift set of pews and in the twinkling of an eye, the devils playground became the hallowed fields of the Lord, and the intense faces that watched the cards fall down softened into heaven-gazing piety and raucous singing. When Simon entered he swaggered to face the assembly by throwing back his head and stretching his arms out wide. Sinners! he screeched, looking up at the roof. Yeah! the congregation yelled back. We is all sinners in de eyes of dah Lord! Yeah! But dah Lord is kind! Kind ! Dah Lord is merciful! Merciful! Dah Lord is forgiving Forgivin! But only to them who reeeeeee-pent!


Reeeeee-pent! So lift up dem voices all you misable sinners and say after me: Lord, forgive us cause we aint got no idea what we be doing! The din increased when everyone asked for forgiveness in different ways; blowing horns, banging drums, hammering the floor with feet and fists became so overpowering James began to stay away to avoid the inevitable headaches. Nothing happened for several weeks until Dick ordered search parties to find those deserting the banner of the Lord who were found asleep and charged with insulting behaviour towards the Almighty. It took a while before James was pulled dozing from his bunk and dragged before His Majesty. What you got to say for yourself, boss? Dick asked, glaring down from the throne. James lifted his eyes and tried not to blink. My God wasnt in your meeting, boss.. Explain yourself, boss. I was raised in the Mohammedan faith. And we regard it a mortal sin to pray anywhere but in the house of Allah. Dicks eyes half closed, a sign that he was thinking. We are aware, he intoned gravelly, of the faith of which you is talking about. Many of our ancestors followed the Prophet and the words of the Koran. Aye, boss, James continued. The dialogue now assumed a biblical resonance. It is strongest in the lands across the oceans. In Africa and lo, even as far as the Indies. Then how did you come by this order? Because boss, my father was a missionary sent to the home of your fathers, James said, hitting his stride. He taught the Christian faith you now follow. And he became so inspired by the words of the Prophet that he learned from your people that while converting your forefathers, they were also converting him. So when he returned, he abandoned Christ and looked east to Mecca. He told his children he did so because of the wisdom and humanity he discovered among the natives of the great African continent who worshipped in the manner of Mohammed. Checking an urge to over-egg the pudding, he paused while Dick stroked his chin before nodding his head.


Boss, you have our permission to worship Allah on your own. But we say unto you that worship it shall be, and not lyin abed all day. I heed you, boss. Any backsliding and we shall be forced to have you sold as an infidel, he barked without any trace of humour. James retreated backwards to the door and stood outside feeling the sweat from chancing his fate moisten his arm pits. Then he brought on a slow smile of victory. If he could get out of that in one piece, he could get out of anything. However, caution triumphed and he resolved henceforth to swim with the stream and never again tempt Providence. Until, that is, Parfitt explained how they were going to escape.

CHAPTER TWENTY Spring arrived early, although as James pointed out to his friends who were new to different weather, the English only recognise summer has arrived because the rain is warmer. In February, Parfitt invited him to help manage one of the market stalls and it had prospered. Noticing how basketwork was popular with the villagers, particularly the corn dollies made by the New Englanders, the Virginian appeared one day with a full-sized effigy of an English


infantryman complete with dyed red jacket and carved wooden musket. A mask hung over the face and he had covered the hands and feet with roughly fashioned gloves and boots. The ingredients were simple: a palliasse of used straw, pieces of sacking dyed and sewn together, and some old clothes, but there had been a careful finish to the model and when Parfitt presented it, the inmates applauded. Its good, James said. But what are you planning to do with it? Sell. What else? The structure was a straw-filled sack tied tightly in two places to form the head, chest and hips, then stuffed into a pair of pantaloons and any other abandoned clothes he could lay his hands on to drape over the armature. It reminded James of the scarecrows at Hill Tor Farm. Sacks and straw were plentiful, the first bringing in the victuals and the second used for bedding. Parfitt reckoned with two men working flat out they could make undressed effigies at the rate of four an hour. He calculated they would have as many as thirty waiting for an identity. If they brought in two more men, preferably tailors to fashion the clothes, there was no reason to suppose they couldnt sell sixty dummies a week. At a shilling each, the profits would be handsome and help keep them in a style to which the Virginian had until now been accustomed. His confidence proved well-founded because they became an instant success with the villagers, the prisoners and even the guards. The only problem was to keep thinking up new identities. English and American soldiers were the most popular, followed by redskins, sailors, hayseed farmers, drummers, fifers and buglers. They even concocted a fat dummy wearing a crown, holding a sceptre and orb and labelled King George the Third. Since none of the prison staff deemed it disrespectful, Lord North, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Napoleon Bonaparte soon followed. With local children leading the charge, trading was brisk from the outset. Despite contrary advice, Parfitt insisted on keeping the prices low, saying he didnt want to scare off custom. To prove the point, he gave one free to any visitor who looked too poor to afford a shilling. His other dodge was to delay sales until business at the other stalls was well under way then display the first batch an hour before the market closed; by which time, he


explained, the villagers selling to the prisoners had enough cash in their purses to buy something back. There was one evening when King Dick stopped by to watch Parfitts workers stuff the sacks that promoted a slow smile. Make one of me, boss? he asked. It would take a heap of straw, boss, Parfitt replied, sending the giant off into gales of laughter that rippled through his entourage. Straw for the man! Dick boomed, scuttling them away to fetch fresh bales. The presentation ceremony in the throne room turned into a highly organised affair. With everyone mustered, a delegation brought forward a seven feet high mound covered in a shroud. King Dick entered in full regalia and at a signal from Parfitt, James pulled on a cord to release the cover and reveal their chef doeuvre. Every detail down to the royal train and brooch had been meticulously reproduced, and at the dummys feet knelt a small figure with blond hair and a white painted mask smiling up at the giant in adoration. Dick examined his effigy carefully from every side. Boy, he boomed. You done one helluva job. You dont get no trouble on this plantation! The seal of royal approval worked wonders. Soon there were as many inmates buying dummies as there were villagers. They stood everywhere, next to beds, in courtyard corners, even on the ramparts. The process became a fashion item. Parfitt brought in Lacenaire to assist. The count had been in their company on and off throughout the winter, but he tended to hibernate for long periods when he never moved from the French section except to keep the appointments with his doxy. The Virginian explained to the count he would be required to transfer the effigies from the storehouse because they couldnt move the stall closer due to the positions being jealously guarded, everyone convinced they had the most favoured trading spot. At the peak of the selling spree, he realised customers had to wait for their purchase to be fetched, and it was to ease this section of the operation that he sought help. Additional hands proved a success and business became brisker than ever. What added to the coffers was the arrival of a villager with a horse and


cart who ordered twenty at a time. Buying for a shilling and selling on the outside at twice, sometimes three times the cost made healthy economic sense, and Parfitt promised he could supply as many as the buyer could handle. More assistants joined the team and by early April a line of workers extended the length of the compound sewing, stuffing and painting masks for dozens of figures completed every day. King Dicks patronage was a godsend and each time he passed by hed boom out: Take a heap of straw, boss! sending everyone into the standard hysterics. The sales became so furious that one afternoon Parfitt ordered James to help Lacenaire fetch the goods from the storehouse. When the entrepreneur arrived to collect, the pace became frenzied and he was forced to go inside to add his weight to the transport while Lacenaire commandeered two other men to load the cart. When it finally plodded out through the gates, filled to overflowing with every likeness from George Washington to Julius Caesar, the Frenchman mopped his face and blew a lengthy sigh of relief. For Parfitt and James, the relief was delayed because at the same moment they had been masked, stuffed and trussed to resemble scarecrows standing among the dummies in the departing cart praying the guards would not make an exception this day and check the outgoing merchandise.

CHAPTER TWENTY ONE They jolted for an hour beneath the prickly blanket before squeezing out and lowering themselves off the back of the cart as the horse trotted on in tune with the drivers whip. The straw under their clothes cushioned the fall but by now they were so jubilant, they wouldnt have felt a broken neck.


The cart receded into the gloom of an overcast afternoon and they hid in the bracken until it disappeared. Only then did James venture to speak. You cunning old fox, Harry. It worked! Weve been gone an hour, Parfitt said, squinting up to guess where the sun might be behind the clouds. Itll be dark in another four. Once Wallace takes the evening count and finds two short, we can expect a hornets nest on our tail. But they dont know which direction we took. Nor do I, Parfitt grunted. That, my dear Gentle, is where you come in. Me?' You keep saying you grew up in these parts, so now is the time to prove it. Im relying on you to take us to the coast. James didnt like the idea of anyone relying on him, and his throat dried at the thought of success or failure in reality, life or death resting on his judgement. He realised then that over the past year he had become dependent upon the Virginian. There had been a time, not too long ago, when he would have relished a challenge, when someone relying on him would have inspired feats of ingenuity. The truth was obvious: he had become lazy. He left others to do the hard grind and prided himself on a few seconds of artful tongue-wagging which too often put him in trouble, as happened during the fracas with the Rough Alleys. A voice in his head was telling him louder by the minute that his silky days persuading card sharpers to submit to his legerdemain were over. You can do it once successfully, but there was no guarantee you could do it again with the same results. Another unavoidable fact was that Parfitt had taken an extra risk in bringing him along. When he first outlined the plan to build life-size dummies to sell to the villagers, then choose the right moment to leave with them, James had scoffed at the notion. Hed also been discouraged by the floggings meted out to the tunnel failures. But Parfitt had sworn never to spend one more second than was necessary taking orders and receiving punishments from men he had never stopped regarding as indentured slaves, and said he was going irrespective of the boys decision. He drew such a picture of the indignities suffered in Dartmoor gaol that James finally agreed to accompany him simply in order not to sound like a


spineless and wretched cretin. He couldnt imagine life without Parfitt anyway, and could barely recall how his had been before they met. The moors consisted almost entirely of scrub, bracken and a few small trees, making every direction around the prison look the same. In some places the ground rose gently into modest sized hills that gave long distant views when the lowering clouds allowed the sun to appear. It was the open terrain that gave James and Parfitt their greatest concern. When a search party was despatched minutes after the daily roll call, their telescopes would have no difficulty picking them out of an otherwise eerily silent landscape. While they undressed to remove the straw from their clothes, James thought hard about which direction they needed to take. The occasional glimpse of a descending sun showed the way west, and as a child hed heard talk of Dartmoor, but never set foot there. His brief sojourn with Jesse and their trips to Dock gave him places to look for ships to take them home, but no details on how to get there. Drawing lines with a finger in the soil, he showed Parfitt the contours of Devon and Cornwall, how the arrowhead of land poked out into the Atlantic, and the seaports on the southern coast where he had jumped aboard an American trader. But even if they were still running despite the war, the towns were also only an hour from the French coast and would be teeming with soldiers. Parfitt cut him off and emphasised their first objective was to put distance between themselves and the prison, get off the moors and find a new set of clothes. What they were wearing not only identified them as convicts, but were hopelessly inadequate to keep out the stinging winds. Moreover, aware of the dangers lying under their feet, it would be suicide to blunder on in the dark. But by the time the light began to fade, they hadnt found anywhere to give them the protection they sought. Then, as the last rays of sunlight sank below the horizon, a small stone cottage came into view, the kind James remembered were inhabited by shepherds and crofters. Drawing closer, they saw candlelight moving past the windows. James explained who the occupants might be and added that moorland farmers were melancholy folk but usually willing to give a tired traveller food and shelter.


Well, Parfitt said, between chattering teeth, lets hope your optimism is well-founded. Otherwise the only direction well be going tomorrow will be six feet down. They approached the cottage from different sides. Drawing close to a wall they heard a childs voice. James gave a nod to the Virginian who rapped on the door. A young woman opened it. About twenty years old, her frailty was balanced by the musket she was pointing at his belly while asking what they wanted. Reverting to his Devon accent, James said he was sorry to bother her but they were lost, which didnt immediately win her over. What you doin out on the moors this time o night? James stamped his feet while retaining a smile. Right now, were freezing half to death. Her inspection continued while Parfitt kept his eyes on the musket. So much for your hospitable shepherd, he murmured. Whats that you say? the girl snapped. Nothing, maam, he replied, raising his arms as the barrel advanced another inch closer to his navel. May we come inside? James asked, theatrically blowing into his cupped hands. Were half frozen from this wind. Perhaps it was his look of blank innocence, but more likely their emaciated prison greyness, but the musket drooped and after another hesitant moment, she stepped aside and let them enter. The sight of a crackling fire attracted the two like moths and they stood close, feeling the heat begin to soften their numbed joints. A young boy came in and studied them frowning. This is Francis, said the woman, the musket still cradled under an arm. James said hello and Parfitt nodded. His father was a soldier, but he died before he was born fighting the French. She propped the weapon in a corner and sat down. The boy clambered into her lap and she embraced him tightly, lips pressed against his head. Her suspicions gone, she said her name was Anna and asked if they were hungry. Maam, we are starving, Parfitt said.


She left her son in the seat to tend to an iron pot suspended above the fire. An hour later, the escapees lay in a stupor after downing the first decent meal in a year. After she put the boy to bed James related his story from the day he left England eight years ago to the day he returned in chains. When he finished, she turned to Parfitt, who had remained silent throughout. What is America like? she asked him. Big, he shrugged Is that all? He thought a moment. It used to be empty. But now its filling up. She turned to James: Your friend has a real way with words. I leave eloquence to him, Parfitt muttered. He has a talent for the fancy phrase. Then perhaps you can tell me what its like there. James took a deep breath. It had been a long while since hed been required to rhapsodise. Well, let me see. The sun is warmer than in England. And the breezes are cooler. The soil is richer and the forests are denser. The rivers are wider, the valleys deeper, the mountains higher, the water cleaner, the corn sweeter, the horses faster, the cattle beefier. The voices are softer, the muscles harder, the humor funnier, the feelings opener. Friends are friendlier, issues clearer, priorities righter, senses keener, wits sharper, tempers hotter, days lighter, nights darker, skies bluer, clouds whiter, horizons further, ambitions larger, failures sadder. But the future is rosier and I want to go back there as soon as possible. Parfitt was left squirming in his seat. Then he nodded. Thats what I was going to say. She gave James a lengthy fondling smile. But you didnt, she sighed. The next morning the house sizzled with the crackles of a frying rabbit, and by the time they made their farewells the couple had studied Annas map and regarded the twenty miles to the coast as a mere step. She provided then with bread, fresh vegetables and a farewell kiss, then stood with her son waving until they were out of sight. The day had started well, but darker clouds arrived by mid-morning and the suns departure returned a chill to their bones. But they made good


progress, hopping in and out of the prickly furse and keeping an eye alert to recognise the vivid green moss of a bog. After trudging for three hours they stopped to chew on some of Annas food and survey the horizon. What do we do when we get to the sea? James asked. Did you never hear the adage about not crossing a bridge before you come to it? Parfitt answered. Half an hour later they came to the first of the so-called bridges. Perhaps theyd grown over confident trotting along at a steady rate, seeing no living creature except a few wild ponies. Whatever the reason, when they came to a ridge they eschewed the usual caution of bellying up to the brow, and strode full height over the top. Fifty yards away a bevy of troops sat cross-legged in the bracken drinking from canteens while their horses grazed. They couldnt fail to see them as they bounded over the rise. For a moment no-one reacted and James, his blood pounding, prayed they might only be a coastal platoon foraging for food. The moment lasted two seconds until one of the troopers pointed and yelled: There they are! James followed Parfitt and raced back down the slope. The mans yell had startled the horses, sending them off in all directions, and the time spent trying to round them up before giving chase on foot allowed the fugitives a head start. Parfitt began to forge ahead as the troopers remained some way off hampered by the weight of their artillery. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw James lagging further behind and shouted for him to hurry. They were heading into a broken stretch of land striped with small valleys, one filled with petrified fruit trees covered in moss, a million year old orchard that offered them a place to hide. The soldiers, unfit and hungry, were making heavy work of the pursuit, and when James looked round, he was encouraged to find they were falling back. But even as the joy welled, his feet landed on something soft, throwing him forward onto his face into a bright green pond. He tucked his head to one side and screamed, twisting to regain firm ground, but his limbs were rapidly becoming bound as tight as a trussed chicken. Parfitt heard his first yell and came tearing back. Leave me! James screamed. Keep going!


The Virginian dropped on his stomach, stretched an arm across the bubbling surface, grabbed his wrist and heaved. The suction resisted but James felt himself slowly pulled inch by inch through the mire towards the bank. Parfitt gave a final heave and the body slid out onto firm ground. Glistening black from the chest down and looking for all the world like a gaffed fish, he joined his saviour who was now surrounded by a ring of wheezing troopers holding rifle barrels to his head.

CHAPTER TWENTY TWO They were first dealt with by the Governor. Dragged through the main gates and bundled into his office, they were thrown in front of is desk where he was seated gazing rheumy-eyed at dried mud scattering over his Persian carpet. A long silence followed before he sighed and shook his head.


As a military man, he said quietly, I know it is the duty of every prisoner of war to try and escape. However, your incarceration here was conducted in a humane and reasonable manner, providing conditions in which a gentleman might agree to bide his time until he is repatriated. Parfitt gave a contemptuous snort and Cotgrave raised a weary eyebrow. Do I take it you dont agree? If you call fifty lashes handed out by Negroes onto the backs of white men humane and reasonable, then I do not, the Virginian snapped. If you allow it to take place under your jurisdiction, then I can only conclude you are a feckless coward and a liar. The outburst doesnt bode well for our defence, James thought as he watched Cotgrave drum fingers on the desk. He glanced at Parfitt to try and convey his behaviour was not the way to resume normal relations. But Cotgrave gave little reaction. He hunched over the desk, his fingers picking at the buttons on his cuffs. They want to replace me. London is of a mind to post some brutish animal here. Only last week, I had a visitor from Parliament. He expressed his fury at the way the prisoners are permitted to walk about unshackled and converse at will. He was appalled that villagers are allowed to come in and trade with you. God knows what your escape will do to that privilege. When my report reaches his desk, he is bound to order a halt to it, and all the other leniencies you have enjoyed under my supervision. I predict this institution will become an erupting volcano and no different to Newgate or Bedlam or any other city gaol. But this is hardly your concern. You will spend a week in the cachots. I advise you to reflect on what I have said and not try to abscond again. You will find my successor, whoever he may be, a good deal less indulgent. Parfitt had lost none of his fire during the speech, and he stepped forward. We spend a week in the cachots, he snapped, then we are beaten to death on the orders of that giant oaf who is allowed full rein power. You have a fine way of shrugging off responsibility, Governor. I will ensure you are not flogged, he muttered hardly above a whisper, as if the interview was sapping his strength. I will also defer the manner in which you escaped since the consequences would be tragic for everyone. But I entreat you to ponder on how fellow colleagues are made to suffer when a prisoner takes it upon himself to try to get out of here.


The thought of the cachot for a week hardly worried James and Parfitt; it was a flogging that both dreaded, and as they were led off neither were confident that Cotgrave possessed the authority to prevent it. Finding consolation where they could, they were relieved that during seven days under the grilles it neither rained nor became frost cold. The rats were less of a problem than the lice, but when they were freed, the guards allowed them to soak in a tub of cold water to delouse before returning them to their prison house. During their interment James had been unable to shake loose the feeling that his friend blamed him for their capture. The cachots were set too far apart to allow conversation, but when they were released, he was sad to perceive the Virginians reluctance to respond to what he had to say. While they bathed he scarcely drew two words from him, and since his erstwhile mentor was physically none the worse, could only assume his silence was due to the circumstances that wrecked his plan of escape. They were handed fresh clothing before returning to their barracks where they were met by Wallace and prodded into the throne room to wait for King Dick to assume his throne, the only difference from the usual protocol was the straw effigy propped up against it. Dick placed a cupped hand under his chin and silence fell for a while before he spoke in a surprisingly mild voice: Gentlemen, he breathed. I understand we no longer see eye to eye. Responding to a flick of his fingers, an acolyte stepped forward and handed him a double-edged sabre. Good God, James thought as he felt his stomach churn, were going to lose our heads! But Dick turned the sword towards the dummy and with a flurry of sharp blows reduced it to a pile of straw and rags. We made it clear, he boomed, his voice filling the room, that anyone trying to escape from the plantation can expect a flogging. Should they try again, they are executed. Very well, my children, we prescribe the only punishment the law allows. You will get fifty lashes apiece, the sentence to be carried out immediately. So much for Cotgraves promise, James thought, glancing at Parfitt who hadnt move so much as an eye lid. He took a deep and wavering breath. Permission to speak, boss? Dont beg for mercy, boy, Wallace advised. It will be a waste of time.


Im not begging, boss. But I have something to say that might be of interest. And what might that be? Dick asked. James cleared his throat and crossed his fingers. Boss, he began loud enough for everyone in the room to hear. When we were on the outside, we met some of the villagers who come in here to trade. Parfitt gave him a sideways look that contained puzzlement and apprehension. I left a letter with one giving certain instructions in the event that we were caught and faced punishment. Not a muscle twitched in the giants face. He had probably never heard of the word blackmail, but he certainly knew what it meant to be threatened. Im waiting, boy, Dick murmured, ignoring the usual boss routine. His crossed fingers issuing pain behind his back, James continued: Should our friend discover that we were flogged, he will send a letter to the head of the English government. And what will be written in this letter? A description of the manner by which we managed our escape. And that will include how there have been visits into the prison by people living on the outside. If you speak to Governor Cotgrave, boss, he will tell you he isnt going to send his own report because if he does no more trading will be allowed, which means no more extra food, no more money and, if I might be so bold, your majesty, no more kings. In short, nothing to make this gaol any more bearable than all the others in the land. Because as sure as God made little apples, he will be replaced, and his successor hardly likely to continue a system that caused his predecessor to be dismissed. The silence that followed seemed interminable. There was no indication King Dick was impressed, and the longer the pause lingered, the more convinced he became that his tongue had finally let him down and talked them into a premature grave, whereas had he stayed silent, they might have got off with a whipping. Dick finally broke his ruminations. His eyes fixed the boy like rapiers, and his voice bore none of the customary patronising sarcasm. We can appreciate your concern for the welfare of your white brothers, he said. We can also appreciate your concern for our position up on this


here throne and what would happen if you done got your whupping. Dont go thinking we dont see your point of view. But you got to understand something. You got to face the fact we aint gonna be dictated to by a couple of uppity whitemeats. You might escape the cat. But you sure aint gonna escape our wrath. The both of you are gonna wish youd took the whipping because everyone is gonna hear you scream for mercy like noone aint never done yelled before. He snapped his fingers and Wallace stepped forward. Mister Wallace, take em away. Then come back here sos we can talk about how we can best get these sinners house-trained. They were dragged off to the white quarters, thrown mops and told to clean the room. Since nobody had touched the flagstones for months, the amount of labour needed to erase the stink of sweat and urine permeating everywhere was a long way from their present capabilities. It took them three hours to move from one end of the room to the other, swinging the mops pendulum fashion. When they eventually reached the far wall, they slumped down exhausted, but it was clear someone was keeping watch because no sooner had they collapsed, three of Dicks entourage appeared with slop buckets and methodically emptied them over the area they had just scrubbed. Better get to it, whitemeats, Wallace said. Your brothers aint gonna like having to sleep on this tonight. A further two hours dragged past before the floor was once again cleansed. Denied any refreshments, they had no reserves left and collapsed again as the prisoners settled in their bunks for the night. Ten minutes passed before Wallace marched in and kicked them awake. On your feet, he barked. You aint even started yet. They polished the throne room until dawn. Snatching three hours sleep, they were then set to work on the graveyard. Smallpox and pneumonia were ever present claiming an average six or seven deaths each week. Nobody relished the task of digging graves and it came as a relief that Parfitt and James had been delegated to carry out the grisly and dangerous chore. The first time they were given food was at noon on the second day. Lining up with the rest, they waited for a dollop of watery potato and herring hash, a steaming mixture popular among the prisoners. When they


reached the front, the ladler reached behind and picked up two half loaves tinged with blue fungus and dropped them onto their tins. Instead of soup, they were spooned brackish water. Parfitt spat at the ladler, calling him a miserable apology for a human being. The poor fellow shrugged his helplessness and looked over the Virginians shoulder at Wallace keeping watch. James feared Parfitt was about to fling his food at him and yanked his sleeve. Stick it out, Harry, he begged. Or well never see the end of this. Parfitt pulled his sleeve out of the boys fingers. If you imagine these bastards are going to let up on us after a few days, youre more stupid than I took you for. One of the Polly crew sidled across and slipped them some of his plateful. James was about to thank him when both his and Parfitts containers went flying from their hands. Wallace was standing over them, pointing at the sailor: You eat same as them for three days! he bellowed. And the same goes for anyone else found giving you vittals! And so it dragged on. Grave digging carried the fear of ending up with smallpox, while floor swabbing on starvation rations and constant lack of sleep would lead them to a similar end. Two weeks of non-stop slavery later, they knew they were reaching the end of their rope. When they received a summons to appear before King Dick, James prayed they would be granted a reprieve. We hear displeasing reports about you, Dick announced, killing any optimism. We hear of insolence, sloth and laziness. One thing you whitemeats gotta learn is you aint here on a picnic. You got to realise you have to stick by the rules and not go spreading trouble on the plantation, or no-ones gonna know where they are. If our gang boss here said he thought yoall had learned your lesson, I maybe would have said: Very well, Mister Wallace, put em back with their brothers and allow them to restore their dignity. But we caint do that. You disappoint us, boys. We got no choice but to prescribe another two weeks of the same work as usual. James gave a strangled cry, dropped to his knees sobbing. Oh boss! I dont want to die! Ill do anything you say, but please no more punishing!


Wallace raised his billy stick but Dick held up a hand. Wait, he commanded, peering down at James clasping his hands before his nose imploringly. Are you begging for mercy, boss? Yes, boss! James whimpered. Im begging, Parfitt looked as if he couldnt believe his ears, staring with an expression first of amazement then disgust. So this is what I sacrificed my freedom for. Shut yo mouth! Wallace bawled, but the Virginian affected not to hear him. I save his miserable life and for what? So I can hear him plead with a bunch of savages to take pity on his poor, tired bones! Jesus God, Im about to vomit. He raised a leg and kicked James with the side of a foot, knocking him off his knees. He looked about to give another when Wallace grabbed his collar and wrenched him away. Dick waited until the boy struggled to his feet. And why should I show you mercy, boss? Im beat! James sobbed. I cant do any more. My bodys is all cracking up. Ill do anything, anything you say, but please let me rest awhile! The retinue loved the performance, seeing how it was possible to bring a white man to the same level of despair that they had all felt during their time in Dartmoor. The gloating was not malicious, but a natural reaction to what they regarded as seeing justice done. Dick rubbed his chin. You done made us look a real fool, boss. I know! But Ill make it up any way you say! Well now, Dick said after a pause. From now on, youre gonna be our fool. You unnerstand what Im saying? Youre gonna be the fool at the court of King Dick. Parfitt turned his head. Perfect casting. Wallace took a step and pressed his face close to the Virginians. You gonna eat crow, too, boy? Parfitt rolled his tongue around his mouth a couple of times then spat into Wallaces face making him fall back and raise his temper to fury. He came back, raised his stick above his head and launched a frenzied attack beating Parfitt into a bloody heap.


A tailor was detailed to run up a suit of cap and bells, and when James donned it he wanted to crawl into the darkest recess. But Dicks cohorts made sure he was seen by everyone, sending him on futile errands to all parts of the compound of the prison. Parfitt was laid up for days after Wallaces beating, and James ran a frosty gauntlet when he paid a call. The mates from the Polly watched as he went over to the palliasse where the Virginian lay in blood-caked rags. No-one tried to bar his way, but he felt a chill as he approached his former saviour. Especially since he was wearing cap bells and multi-coloured leggings. How are you, Harry? Im sick. Is there anything I can do? I am sick, Parfitt repeated, fumbling with the bandages. But not from the bruises. They will heal. I am sick because I made the biggest mistake in my life when I stopped to save the life of a little sewer rat, when I could have gotten clear away and right now be on a ship back home. I did it because I thought he had spirit and honour. Now I wish to God Id let him drown. My only consolation as I sit here aching from every limb is to imagine him going under the swamp. I watch him squeal and yell help me, Harry, help me, help me! while I sit and watch the quicksand close over the top of his worthless head. And you know what? When I think about that, I can forget my pains a while and feel at peace. James spent two months as Dicks court jester, and throughout he knew he would never again, even should he live to a hundred, experience such misery. Parfitt gradually recovered to continue digging graves and swabbing floors for two more weeks before Dick finally relented. Thereafter the Virginian spent his hours alone except for the company of Lacenaire. Rumours circulated he was living off the Frenchmans money. People said that since his escape had failed due to the boy everybody added his spark had cooled and he no longer cared what others thought about him. As for James, Parfitt never registered his presence when they passed. For him the boy was invisible. James didnt entirely escape retribution. Early in May he was set upon by the Rough Alleys and banged about like a volley ball before some


Africans came to his aid. The Alleys had obviously been hired, and the general assumption was by Parfitt. When Dick saw his clowns black eye and split lip, he issued an edict warning anyone found abusing his jester could expect two weeks in the cachot. This may have protected James but did nothing for his unpopularity, and it was during this lengthy melancholy period that he came to understand how human beings are sometimes driven to end their own lives.



Towards the end of May, the American prisoners heard that a request to celebrate their Day of Independence on July Fourth had been granted. It was Parfitt who broached the idea, and when told he was wasting his time why would an Englishman allow people still referred to as rebels to commemorate the removal of the British monarchy? he went to plead the case before Cotgrave, who surprisingly agreed. The Virginian suspected the old sailor was an inveterate snob, and after mentioning how the Parfitt ancestry included a distant cousin to King George the First, and summarised the best hunting fields in Virginia, July Fourth was put on the prison agenda. He also exploited the fact that the Governor was feeling an obligation to compensate him for the treatment he had received from Crafus and his gang. It was explained that the central point of the independence festival would be a firework display. Could he perhaps allow the men a small amount of gunpowder from the arsenal? I think not, Cotgrave replied. Im risking censure even to let you hold a celebration. To have prisoners handling gunpowder would send me packing in the hour. You must find some alternative. Governor, Parfitt murmured, taking him aside and asked a musketeer outside for a pinch of salt petre from his pouch. On Cotgraves nod, he rolled it up into a twist of paper, placed it on a shelf and lit the end. The result was a mild report as it jumped a few inches and then disintegrated. Where is the harm in that? he asked. The Governor shrugged and relented, although he insisted the supply be supervised by the armoury captain. King Dick loudly disapproved of the idea. To celebrate the fall of a ruling monarch? Never! Such behaviour smacked of lese majeste and showed an irritated response when he was overruled by Cotgrave. While his former colleagues set off to start organising the event, James found himself aggressively excluded and told to remain with Dicks court, waggling his bells and keeping them amused by with his silly faces and pratfalls. Closely watched by the redcoats, scoops of gunpowder were placed in small piles at intervals along trestle tables erected in the compound. A line of men were each given a sack of paper to tear into thin strips, fold a pinch of powder in the middle then twist both ends together to hold it. After a


few days, a mountain of several hundred fireworks grew into an expanding pyramid. When the French contingent heard about the American celebrations, Lacenaire saw Cotgrave and reminded him that Bastille Day took place almost at the same time, on July the fourteenth. Although he abhorred everything the Revolution stood for, he acknowledged the morale value would also give the French inmates something to look forward to. Cotgrave was usually less disposed towards the longstanding enemy of Great Britain, but when Lacenaire persisted, his innate snobbery triumphed and he permitted them to join the festival. Under the Counts tuition, the newcomers were commissioned to help build a wooden throne that would be garlanded with the gunpowder twists. Seated in the chair would be an effigy of George the Third, and the high point of the day would be marked by setting a torch to the edifice and watch it dissolve in a rattle of tiny explosions. Lacenaire had a word with his village lady the next time the girls called, and she returned the following day with a couple of horses and carts. They would carry the dummies resembling Louis XVl and Marie Antoinette to a wooden bladed guillotine and ceremoniously beheaded. The rush to have everything ready on time seized the imagination of the entire prison and work swept on apace. Dick looked on benignly, content to see his slaves amuse themselves and thereby stay clear of mischief. James tried to swallow a resentment of being barred from helping and maintained a cheerful front despite an incident a week before the big day. He was crossing the main compound on an errand for the King when he saw Parfitt carrying a bucket of slops from the kitchen. As they passed, he felt an overwhelming need to try and restore their previous friendship, and stood in the Virginians path. Harry, he said. Can we not let bygones be bygones and bury the hatchet? Parfitt stood silent for a few seconds and appeared to be considering the offer. Then he brought back both arms and flung the slops in the boys face. James reeled backwards and fell over while the onlookers screeched with laughter. Hey funnyman, Parfitt said, standing over him. That was good. Come on, make us laugh again.


However, Dick had seen it happen and although a grin played on his features, he bellowed: You cant go treating our fools like that, whitemeat. Boys, put this man in the cachot. His bodyguards advanced, and the Virginian managed to lay one of them out with a swing of the bucket before the others pounced, knocked him to the ground and added a few kicks to his ribs. The wretched affair made James feel even worse. There was no doubt who was to blame, but the thought of Parfitt languishing once again in those filthy trenches gave him no solace. He took to carrying his own rations over to him twice each day in the hope he could overcome his former friends hostility. He laid the tray down as a redcoat unlocked the grille and waited for Parfitt to reach up. But he never moved until James left, keeping the guard amused as he displayed the hatred in his heart for the youth he now referred to as the Africans plaything. Nevertheless, James persevered and after three days his friend seemed to run out of invective and took the proffered food in silence. He even risked a penalty by sneaking across at night to speak down through the bars to try and mitigate the torture. Eventually they settled on an uneasy truce. The general opinion of the Polly crew was that the boy was wasting his time because high-born Southern families never forgave a slight. As July the fourth drew closer the prisoners anticipation rose, particularly now the Frenchies were involved. Everyone sought to think of a little something extra requiring the manufacture of more fireworks; a display here, a bonfire there, with more straw figures prepared for the flames labelled Benedict Arnold and Lord North . Dick ordered a royal enclosure platform to run the length of the compound wall where he and his courtiers could watch the exhibition. The larger the festival grew, the more benign the giant became, striding about with a broad smile, patting men on the head and commending their labours. He even went to the cachot and told Parfitt that if he behaved himself, he would be allowed out to watch the show. The prisoner, barely recognisable under the caked mud. heard the regal dispensation and put paid to his freedom by telling the monarch to go to hell.


Lacenaire elected to drive the tumbrel taking the French king and queen to the scaffold, while the Americans filled theirs with as many traitors and royal effigies they could think of. The programme would reach its climax by flinging each dummy in turn onto the firework display after George 111 dissolved into cinders. The big day dawned. A vibrant mood hovered in the air and for once the inmates forgot they were locked behind the walls of the worlds most desolate gaol. Even the weather was on their side; the sky turning azure blue, with a few puffs of white cloud guided along by a south westerly breeze. Governor Cotgrave agreed to attend, although being required to disapprove of the incineration of royal effigies, he chose to sit in a rear. But privately, he was a happy man. Watching his French and American charges enjoy themselves was pleasing. He had always tried to maintain he was running not a prison but merely a detention barracks for honorable soldiers captured while fighting for their country. As far as he was concerned they werent criminals, and hoped British troops captured abroad would be given similar privileges. By ten oclock the sun was beaming from a cloudless sky. The platform seats slowly filled up with Dick and his entourage which now included James, decked in a jesters cap and bells. Elsewhere, French and Americans swarmed into every corner elbowing for the best vantage positions. The chatter died when Dick held up a hand and his chief drummer stepped forward to announce the start of the performance. A rattling sound rose in the still air, but it didnt come from the boy. Someone was hammering on the main gates. The spectators turned as two redcoats ran over to loosen the bolts. Cotgrave walked across, curious to discover why anyone should be so impatient to enter a prison. The drummer remained with his sticks frozen under his nose, looking for guidance from his master who was showing regal displeasure at the interruption. The prison gates swung open and a coach and pair came rattling into the yard. Up on the platform James could see better than most and watched the coach clatter to a halt and two elderly men step out, followed by a third


wearing the uniform of a British admiral. Cotgrave quickened his pace and re-arranged his features into an obsequious welcome. But James had already recognised the waddling naval figure with his hands clasped behind his back. It was Admiral Bligh. The newcomers surrounded Cotgrave and began to talk and gesticulate over one another. Bligh stumped towards the assembled inmates, his eyes darting in all directions. When he saw the effigy of George 111, he drew close to read the inscription, his eyes his mouth sagging. What, sir, is the meaning of this? Cotgrave scuttled across. The meaning of what, Admiral?. Bligh poked the dummy with his swagger stick: This, this ! Is it no , it cannot be! The inscription here states it is meant to represent His Majesty the King! And for what purpose? What will be done with it, eh, sir? Answer me! When Cotgrave remained mute, Bligh thrust his cane into the nearest prisoners chest. You! What is going on here? The man, a Frenchie, shrugged and spread his arms. On va le bruler, naturellement. Burn it? Burn a representation of our revered monarch? Bligh spluttered, his face turning a beetroot red while struggled to draw breath. He rounded on Cotgrave and there followed an incoherent few minutes of rant which contained the occasional recognisable word like treason and disgrace. The two men who arrived with Bligh let him have his head. One was Captain Shortland R.N. there to replace Cotgrave, the other the Member of Parliament who had frequently criticised the way Dartmoor prison was managed. The inmates bore witness to the summary dismissal of the Governor who maintained his silence, reckoning nothing he said could possibly be of any value to his defence. He lowered his head when Bligh snatched a letter from his pocket and read out the terms of his dismissal. Then the listeners transferred their attention to the man named in the deposition to take his place and instantly knew the life they had hitherto known in Dartmoor was over. Shortlands demeanour exuded discipline, his stocky corpulence


showing all the signs of a martinet. When Bligh screamed in falsetto: Governor Shortland, do your duty and rid this institution of these treasonable monstrosities! he swung his pink eyes towards a nearby inmate. You, come here. An American stepped forward and Shortland marched him over to the firework-encrusted throne: Make a mockery of our sovereign king, would you? he snarled. Very well, you shall change places. He punched the straw dummy off the chair and pushed the man down into the seat, yelling: Torch! A redcoat doubled forward and pulled one from a holder. The spectators watched in silent horror while Shortland lifted the firebrand and made the flame dance under the throne and the panic-stricken prisoner. This chair was made by a Yankee rebel! he bawled. And that is precisely who will sit on it! He thrust the head of the flaming torch deep into the fireworks and waited. But nothing happened. What the devil ails these crackers? he growled. The harder he shoved in the flame, the more the paper twists simply burned to ashes and blew away. While all attention was focused on Shortland, nobody noticed James edge along the platform, jump down and move towards the cachot, where a redcoat guard was equally absorbed in the drama. Shortland dropped the torch, pulled off several twists and unwrapped them. Light brown dust fell out and he rubbed it between his fingers. Whats this? Why, its.......sand! James reached Parfitts cachot and pulled out a dagger from under his costume. The only time the guard took his attention off the purple-faced Shortland was when he felt the tip of steel against his kidneys. Open the cachot, James whispered, prodding the blade hard. Quick, or youre a dead man! The soldier hesitated only a second before bending to slot a key into the padlock and raise the grille. Looking into the trench, he frowned. It was empty. Then a pair of feet appeared and Parfitt wriggled down from a tunnel extending the trench several feet. As he came into view, he whispered:


All set, Gentle? All set, Harry. Then lets go! By now James had been seen, but he put his head down and scampered away as Parfitt pulled himself out of the cachot and grabbed the guards musket. Standing astride the trench, he pointed the muzzle down. On the bottom lay a ridge of gunpowder leading out of sight into the top of the ditch he had spent the last two weeks extending to meet the prison wall. From the moment James left King Dick, Lacenaire had not taken his eyes off him, but seeing Parfitt wave, he jumped into the French tumbrel, flung out the dummies of King Louis and Marie Antoinette and whipped the horse. Bligh turned full circle trying to keep pace with the sudden outbreaks of activity throughout the compound. Shortland continued tearing open the fireworks, finding more sand and, judging from his expression, starting to fathom the explanation. Parfitt continued standing poised to fire into the cachot and ignite the powder trail to the huge sack of gunpowder packed solidly against the outer wall foundations. As Lacenaire drove his cart along the front of the platform, James dodged behind Dick and his aides drawing a truncheon from a trouser leg. He climbed up on the bench then brought it down with all the strength he could muster onto the back of the giants head. It bounced off as if he had struck a rock. James stood aghast that the blow had had no effect and their plan would fail at the final second because of his frailty. Then Dick slowly crumbled as his knees gave way. Lacenaires cart was now passing the leading edge of the platform directly under him. James used both hands to shove the immense but limp body off the platform into the rear of the tumbrel. Parfitt kneeled, lowered the musket barrel closer into the trench and pulled the trigger. The powder line crackled into flame and ran up into the darkness the newly scraped section of the tunnel. Compressed into a narrow defile, the explosive force was concentrated straight at the walls foundations.


The roar that followed continued for several seconds. Clouds of stone and rubble rose in a giant fountain and rained down over the compound. The size of the explosion toppled the entire prison population except Lacenaire, who brought his shying horse under control. As the debris started to settle, Parfitt made a beeline for the tumbrel. He grabbed the reins and urged it towards the gaping hole that had opened up with James running alongside to jump on. The gap blown into both inner and outer walls gave a view of the moors as far as the horizon. Lacenaire was first to go through. His cart hit a trench dug by the explosion and leaped into the air, throwing Dicks recumbent body into sight before regaining balance with a bone-rattling crunch. Then they were outside the prison walls with Parfitt and James close behind. The rest of the prisoners, after seeing the style of their new Governor, decided anywhere else was a better place to be, and a mass onslaught on the gaping hole started as the prospects of freedom took hold. When two of the Polly crew managed to jump into Parfitts cart, James looked worried at the extra weight of unexpected passengers. Any more and they would be fatally slowed. But Parfitt had reached firmer ground and his whip was creating enough speed to draw them away from the mob. During the long nights lying in the darkness above Parfitts cachot, James had listened to the Virginians plan. Hed heard him say getting out was only half the battle and the easiest if the gunpowder did its work. So far, nothing had gone wrong from the moment Parfitt persuaded Cotgrave to allow gunpowder for the fireworks, to Dicks unwitting co-operation when he obligingly sentenced him to the cachot for throwing the slop throwing incident. There had been no unexpected searches to thwart the nightly transfer of the gunpowder from the paper twists to the packets under the food James ferried to him each day. Their luck had held. Everyone believed their so-called quarrel, and the boy had appeared exactly in the correct place to deliver the coup de grace to Dicks skull, enabling them to ensure against recapture and death by taking him with them. With such fortune came a gnawing fear that their luck wouldnt last. As he lay hanging to the side of the bouncing cart, Jamess brain teemed with fears. He worried they hadnt remembered all the equipment, that the items they did bring along were falling off the sides each time the wheels struck a pothole.


They sped on for a few miles before Parfitt hauled on the reins. Ahead stood Lacenaires tumbrel and they helped drag off the unconscious hulk of the forcibly abdicated King of Dartmoor. The Frenchman took chains they had brought along and trussed him up, stuffing a rag in his mouth before dragging him deep into the bracken. Parfitt and the others then set about rigging the second cart with a sack of gunpowder, and unhitching the horses to take them away from danger. James told the crew to go with him and Lacenaire, while Parfitt lit a torch and lay next to the road ten yards from the tumbrels. A muffled groan oozed from the former king. They waited until he opened his eyes and understood where he was before straining against his bonds. Parfitt gave a shout and pointed. Five horsemen were at the full gallop along the track towards them. Lacenaire took Jamess truncheon and tapped Dick back into silence. The riders reached the carts and skidded to a dust-raising halt before dismounting. Parfitt waited until they were clustered and after asking each other what the tumbrels were doing there, they gazed off into the far countryside. Then he stood, flung the torch into the nearest wagon and dived flat. An eardrum-wrecking explosion blew the troopers clean off their feet while the prisoners emerged from the undergrowth and corralled the stampeding horses. Dick came round again, eyes blinking under the constraints of the manacles. While Parfitt relieved the stunned troopers of their weapons, James pulled the rag from Dicks mouth and unwound his chains. Im sorry I had to hit you, he said. He had never done so to anyone before, and the memory of the sickening thud still made him sway. But we had to bring you along. If were caught again, all we have to deal with is the Governor. Had we left you there, you would have topped us for trying a second escape. Well, your Majesty, from now on, youre one of us. When they take you back, you will be treated the same as any other would be escaper. Dick had not spoken since his gag was removed and his continued silence suggested he already knew why they had taken him along. Seeing him massage his wrists when the chains fell away and his hang-dog look, gave


James a strange feeling of pity. Without the artefacts of kingship, the big man was nothing more than a hunted animal like the rest of them. Listen, James said, dont run off with the idea you were anything special inside Dartmoor. You were born a slave and thats what you still were there. The only difference was that your master was an Englishman. Dick still remained mute. So now you have a choice. Stay here or come with us. He was shoved aside by Parfitt who had one of the soldiers pistols primed and cocked in his fist. He has a choice all right, he spat. Where do you want it, boss? In the head or the heart? Lacenaire glanced at James, but they were helpless to intervene. During the last month he had grown used to the venom in the Virginians voice, but knowing it was fabricated to advance their freedom plan, the tone hadnt worried him. But now the sound was different. Here was a man speaking with an accumulated hatred induced by many months of brutality. Dick looked at the barrel waving in his face. If I go home, he said in a quiet tone no-one had heard during his royalty days, Im back on the plantation. I aint slaving no more, no sir. So you best give it me in the head, boss. Parfitt raised the pistol and steadied his aim. A breathless moment passed Then he lowered it, turned and marched over to the horses. Every second we dawdle here, he called out as he mounted. is one nearer to being caught. The others quickly followed suit. James took one last look at their old tormentor lying in the bracken. A sixth horse stood a hundred yards off, sniffing the wind. This time they encountered no opposition across the moor and as evening arrived and the sun slipped behind the headland, they reached the northern harbour town of Bude where they had disembarked nine long months ago.


CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR The first concern was their appearance. James especially, since he was still bedecked in the leggings of a jester, but once again their luck was running parallel. One of the two escapees who had leaped aboard uninvited spotted a line of mens clothes hanging out to dry and returned with an armful of shirts and trousers. Their target was a two-masted schooner lying in the harbour and about the same bulk as the Polly. From where they lay on the cliffs, it looked built for speed as well as cargo. However, anchored on the other side of the inlet was a British forty four, and the town was milling with sailors. Parfitt ordered a reconnaissance and nominated James, working on the premise that having come from this part of the world, he would sound less conspicuous. The boy left with the same flutters in his stomach he remembered when Jesse took him into town to steal. As daylight faded, he wandered along the cobbled streets trying to think of a way to pump the residents for information about the schooner. When nobody gave him a second glance, he became bolder and shoved his way inside one of the waterfront taverns where matelots were sinking rum in the desperate manner of men about to go to sea for six months. One of them, well in his cups, grabbed his shoulder and called for a drink for this pretty fella-me-lad. Awash with glassy-eyed sentiment, James turned on a boyish smile and whispered with awe that he would give anything to see the world. Come with us, son, an well look after ye right royal. You mean on that forty four yonder? he gasped in his antiquated Devon brogue . The mans fingers tightened on his shoulder. Finest tub afloat. When does she sail, sir? The rum arrived and he took the tiniest sip, trying to keep the poisonous fluid from slipping down his throat. Soon as old Bligh gets here. The name made his hand holding the tot shake. Heard of him, have yer? I heard tell of a Captain Bligh and a mutiny some years back, sir, yes.


The one and the same! roared the seaman, now joined by some of his mates. Hes an admiral now. Supposed to stay in London but keeps taking to the igh seas, the old bloater. Mind you his voice dropped a notch, theres stories rife he were set adrift a second time last year. Noones sayin owt, but the story goes he got turfed off by a bunch of Yankees. Trouble was, they was only a day off the Spanish coast and he were soon picked up. But Id give an eye to shake ands with them who done it! Whens he due? James asked, keeping his voice as steady as he was able under the circumstances. Today. But hes late. He were meant to be callin in on that new clink on Dartmoor with a friend of his, old Shortarse. Who? Capn Shortland. Hes takin over prison Governor. Now theres another monkey. Once sailed under im, worse luck. They make a fine pair. James began to fidget. All they needed was for Bligh to march into Bude with those eyes of his capable of spotting an enemy through stone walls. Can I really sail with you? he asked, dribbling the run on the floor when the sailor swigged his in one snappy gulp. Course. How do I go about it? Yere talking to the first mate, sonny. You be on this dock front in half an hour. First chance you get, nip aboard. Ill seen no-one chucks you off. James forced a blush of gratitude and held out his hand to give the matelot the unknown pleasure of having shaken hands with someone who put Bligh adrift for the second time. He ran back to the cliffs to report about the forty four and who would be her commander, which put the frigate out of their contention. But Parfitt had also despatched William, another Devonian, and he returned to say the schooner was bound for Ireland, then on to Canada the following day. But he couldnt find out if she was stocked and ready to sail, so they all waited until it was dark then sauntered down to the harbour. The schooners decks were deserted as James raced up the gangplank and found the cooks galley. He came across corn, flour, biscuits, a row of water kegs, but no meat. The ship was loaded with non perishables, indicating the rest of the victuals would come aboard just before cast off.


He turned to rejoin the others when he heard a thump of feet on the deck above his head. Two seamen clattered down the steps carrying candle lamps and stopped short when they saw him. Who are you, gully? one said, squinting through the gloom. Andy? Is that you? James called. No, one said. Damn my brother! he spat. He told me to meet him here at nine. Its past that now, must be, and no bloody sign of him. Its gone ten, the second sailor said, holding a fob up to the light. James pushed past them, bristling with anger. Then the hell with him, he barked. He can damn well starve for all I care! What you mean, starve? He told me to get him and his crew fresh meat. Steal it from our uncle who farms up the coast. I laid in a few chickens and a sheep or two. Had em killed and jointed at great risk to life and limb, I can tell you. And it cost me. Then he goes and forgets all bout it. I mean, what the hell am I to do with all this meat? This is the last favour I do anyone Where is it? asked the man with the watch. Up there on the headland. How far? Twenty minutes at a trot. The other sailor took his arm. Listen, boy. Never mind Andy or whatever hes called. Well take it. Well take all of it. He promised me two sovs. Done. He led them up the cliffs where they were directed towards a path inland. When Parfitt heard what stocks were on board, he voted they forget about the meat and leave before Bligh turned up and the frigate became manned. The tide was on the turn and there was still no sign of the crew. There was no point hanging around. William assessed the trip home would take at least six weeks even in a fast schooner, and that only biscuits and flour would prove a scurvy diet. He looked at the second ex-prisoner they brought with them. Let me and Bernie scout the dock, he urged. When I was getting them clothes, I swear I heard chickens. Lacenaire stood up. No, he said. I will go.


He had remained silent since they reached the coast but James had noticed how he kept looking behind him as they trod the streets, peering into corners and only partly attentive to the matter of finding a vessel. He looked at Bernard and William. You will be required to prepare the schooner. I do not know the front of a ship from the back. You mean youre coming with us? Parfitt asked. The Frenchman gave his usual Gallic shrug. What is left for me in France? The sans culottes are not to my taste. And after his desastre in Russia, Napoleon is finished. For once, I should like to be on the winning side. James wanted to ask about the wife he always spoke about with such reverence, but Lacenaire cut off any further discussion by striding away into the darkness. The rest slipped aboard the schooner and set about preparing the sails and rigging for a fast launch. Parfitt reckoned they had no more than thirty minutes if they were to use the best of the tide. Half an hour later, with the ropes straining on the capstan, Lacenaire still hadnt returned. William said they had to cast off, but Parfitt resisted. Im not leaving him behind. We would never have got free without him. He didnt have to fall in with us and only changed his mind a week ago. Gentle, go and fetch him. James raced back down the plank and turned in the direction of a distant clucking. He was halfway there when a coach came rattling down the street and slid to a halt in a shower of sparks. Muffled high pitched male voices came from inside as the coachman opened the door. James threw himself behind a stack of bales as Admiral Bligh clambered out no more than a few yards away. I want every man jack on that forty four instantly! he screamed purplefaced. Bosun, round up the crew! At that moment Lacenaire rounded the corner carrying an armful of throttled chickens and blundered headlong into him. Oh, je mexcuse, msieu. Bligh struggled to stay on his feet and keep the tricorn on his head at the same time.


A Frenchy! We have Frenchies here! Stop him, hes one of the prisoners! Help! Help here, help! Lacenaire spun about and raced for the schooner without, to his credit, letting go of the poultry. James broke cover and ran in his wake, both pounding up the bouncing gangplank. Parfitt was standing on the dockside beside the capstan and when he saw them leap aboard, he cast off and raced up after them. The vessel gave a lurch and the boarding plank toppled into the water. William and Bernard manned the rigging while Lacenaire stood abaft watching the confusion grow on the waterfront. Bligh was flinging his stubby arms in all directions like a stubby windmill while the schooner shuddered and slipped, the crew of four straining to perform the work of two dozen. Minutes dragged past until a gap appeared between the hull and the harbour wall. A troop of soldiers came racing into the harbour, unslung their muskets, knelt down and began to pepper the hull and decks with grapeshot. The vessels armoury consisted of a mere six pistols and Parfitt decided this was no time to take the initiative. He yelled for everyone to keep their heads down while praying for a wind to fill the sails. The ship gave a series of groans and rebounded off the shore masonry, her sails lacking the trim to pull them towards the harbour exit. The two riggers were trying to correct the direction, but Bligh ordered the muskets to aim on the bows to pin them down. Lacenaire lifted his head and saw a bevy of artillerymen trundling a sixteen pounder on its carriage to a flight of steps leading from the wall to the waters edge where the vessel, now broadside on, was impossible to miss. Bligh continued with a stream of unintelligible orders, but his intention was clear. The cannon was there to put a ball into the schooners waterline. He wanted it sunk, he wanted it smashed to smithereens along with the devils aboard. James watched helplessly as their fate unrolled in time with the little admirals war dance on the quayside. The gunners could afford to take their time as the schooner was going nowhere. Unhurried, they rammed in the charge and the wadding, then strained to lift a sixteen pound ball of cast iron down the barrel.


William and Bernard defied the muskets as they struggled to set the rigging to the foresails. Bligh had found a hailing trumpet, and his girlish voice filled the night air: Surrender, he screeched. Or you will be sunk! The men aboard glanced at each other. No-one is taking me back to Dartmoor, Parfitt said. But if any of you feel otherwise, now is the time to give yourselves up. He called their names in turn and received a shake of the head from them all. A smile creased his features then he lifted his head and took a deep breath. Admiral Blight! The admiral held up a hand for silence. Well? I have said this before, and Ill say it again, Parfitt called , echoing the mans words when they threw him off the Gallant, You may kiss my ass! Hearing the phrase, the mispronunciation of his name and the Virginians accent brought nightmare memories flooding back and his voice rose several crochets: I want that man, and I want him alive! The troopers waited until Bligh calmed down enough to give the next order, but he had become incoherent with rage at Parfitts rejoinder. During the moment of silence, the schooners hull shuddered and swung away from the dock as a fresh breeze snagged the foresails. The gunnery sergeant called out for permission to fire, and while Bligh struggled to regain control of his speech, the fugitives aboard waited for the inevitable crash on the waterline that would cancel their dash for freedom. Then from a far corner of the quayside a figure appeared holding a long iron bar horizontally at the level of his stomach. Roaring as loud a herd of raging bulls, he charged towards the kneeling musketeers, swung the bar in a scything sweep, and knocked them over like ninepins. James was the only one on deck not to have ducked at Blighs last commands and recognised the lumbering silhouette. He was looking at the recently abdicated monarch King Dick. Five troopers had been knocked into the water as he built momentum heading towards the gunnery contingent where, with another ear-splitting roar, Dick sent the sergeant flying off his feet, the cannon crew scattering in terror before he dropped the iron bar and grabbed hold of the end of the gun carriage. With three


superhuman heaves, he pushed the sixteen pounder forwards until it tottered over the stone steps and plummeted down, hitting the water with a gigantic splash. The troopers tried to regroup, sending sprays of shot into the wall as the giant dodged and ducked. Lacenaire, Parfitt and James lined the ships rail disregarding the musket fire, and yelled in chorus for him to jump. William found a line and waved it aloft for Dick to see. Another flurry of grapeshot rebounded off the stonework as he clambered up, hesitating a second to look down at the swirling darkness then toppled forward, sending up a plume of water as large as that displaced by the cannon. He disappeared, then re-surfaced spluttering before going back under. Throw him a line! Parfitt bawled. He cant swim! Lacenaire complied as the Virginian vaulted the rail and dropped into the water. James saw Dicks head break the surface bellowing blindly before going back under, but Parfitt now had his arms around the giants waist. Volleys of shot speckled the water around them before Lacenaire felt a tug on the line. I have them! he called and heaved, running to the stern to move away from musket range. From the corner of his eye, James caught sight of someone else dive off the quay close to the struggling pair hanging on their end of the lifeline. When Lacenaire hauled up Dick and Parfitt, they heard another cry. The ship was now on the move as somebody threshed in the waves from the bows in imminent danger of being sucked under. Its a woman! James yelled. The count helped William and Bernard heave Dick and Parfitt over the rail then dived overboard into the foaming turmoil of the ships waterline. William picked up the line and dangled it over the side where the Frenchman had fallen. They saw him surface with one arm round the woman and flailing with the other to grasp the rope. Once he had it wrapped round a wrist, those on deck heaved. The vessel was now moving towards the harbour exit as Lacenaire and the woman came over the rail, but the musket fire had receded and they lay on the deck coughing up water. James and Parfitt recognised the woman


monopolised by the Count whenever the whores carriage came to Dartmoor prison . You risked your life for a doxy! Parfitt gasped. Lacenaire gobbed up another splash of water, rose to his knees, took the womans hand and kissed it. Toujours la galanterie, he croaked. While the rest looked on, she regained her feet, pulled off an outer dress stitched with wads of padding around the bosom, waist and hips to reveal a slim, svelte body. Then she tugged off a wig and long golden tresses cascaded over her shoulders. Messieurs, Lacenaire said with a short bow. Puis-je presente ma femme, Marie-Therese? Your wife? James gasped Before Lacenaire could expand on the matter, the schooner lurched forward and sent them struggling to stay on their feet. They looked up and saw the foresails billow with wind, then watched in silence as they guided the vessel through the harbour entrance and into the dark security of the open sea. Once they were out of range of the shore guns, everyone dissolved into tears of relief. Lacenaires wife went round kissing the entire crew before turning to Dick who, while this was taking place, remained alone at the stern rail. Eh bien, she spoke softly. Le grand negre. He swung his head round as she opened her arms, threw back her head and laughed. We were all about to die. Then you arrive. Alors, mon amour Dick, vous etes vraiment formidable! She looped her arms around his waist and hung to him like a limpet. The big man lifted her six feet off the ground, swung her round several times before placing her into Lacenaires arms Then he turned to Parfitt and James. Well now, boss. Well now, boss, they replied as one. The convenient wind increased and swept them out into the currents. Even if the frigate tried to pursue them it would have missed the tide, giving a hefty start to a ship of speed and a crew of six. For the first time anyone aboard could remember, they were finally at peace.


CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE The voyage passed without incident, although everyone agreed they never wished to see another dry biscuit when they reached Charleston in late August. For James it felt like deja vue: the view of the land was the same as his first arrival to America on the Carillon seven years ago. The only difference was this time he recognised the country as his homeland and he would be forever part of it. The talk ashore was all about the war with Britain that was spreading as far as Canada, but the most popular subject was how American privateers were forcing the British to ease the blockade. When the escapees swept into port, there was no sign of a Union Jack anywhere. They were, however, required to explain how they came by a schooner registered to a Newfoundland company. Parfitt did the talking and they were relieved to find no-one doubted the story, although Dick provoked curious side looks. The first few days passed casually until the arrival of a delegation from Washington City. Word had reached the authorities of their heroic escape and some exaggerated accounts how they had blown a hole in an English penitentiary, freed hundreds of American prisoners and made a dash for freedom to the humiliation of the British land an sea forces. They became national heroes, and the government ordered them to attend a ceremony and receive suitable awards. The Lacenaires went down well in Charleston. Once the news spread that they came from noble French shock, they were inundated with social invitations and the Count, blasting Gallic charm in all directions, succeeded in expanding the hospitality to include the rest of his colleagues. By the day of the medal presentations, they had all been clothed, housed, waited upon and addressed as if they were royalty. To cap everything, the people even accepted Richard Crafus. He was treated not as a servant but a hero due to Parfitts ploy of re-telling their


adventures as if every moment of their escape had depended on him. His erstwhile royalty was left out, along with moments when the others had come within an ace of blowing his head off. Dick in turn paid homage to his companions, without whose assistance he would now be lying deep in a Dartmoor swamp. The mutual admiration society went down well and noone questioned the decorum of allowing a Negro giant to sit at their table. The ceremony was set in Charlestons largest ballroom. Before a packed assembly, it was arranged for the seven heroes to approach a platform, receive their honours, give a brief speech. Two weeks had passed since their arrival and with the comte and comtesse the rage of Charleston, the occasion attracted enormous attention and had every chair filled long before the proceedings began. The heroes walked down an aisle to a standing ovation and ushered into seats on the front row while they waited the arrival of the Washington dignitaries. No sooner were they seated, Parfitts father came stomping towards the stage with an ear to ear smile and calling out: Harry! My wonderful brave son! Where are you? Show yourself! Spotting him, he slapped a podgy hand on his shoulder and shouted to the audience. I always knew my boy would become a hero. Its in the Parfitt marrow. Such is the manner of the rich, James thought: noisy blowhards with little grace. Then he saw the Washington dignitaries appear and stop by the main doors to wait for Parfitt Senior to finish his speech. The old man stomped his cane on the floor to order silence. I know we have had our differences. What family hasnt? All I ever prayed for was to have Harry grow up to become a true American, and thanks to the good Lord, my prayers have been answered. Here I stand before the fruit of my loins, a hero of our new Republic. What better way can a father reach the sunset of his years than by looking on his prodigy with pride? He turned towards Harry and held out his hand, anticipating a storm of applause that he would follow with a fierce embrace. But when James saw the Virginian remain in his seat, he knew it wasnt going to go according to his fathers expectations. Parfitt took his time to stand up and edge his way to the aisle where he ignored his fathers outstretched arms, mounted


the platform and faced the audience seated in front of the Washington contingent. Ladies and gentlemen, I believe most of you are acquainted with my father. A few polite claps followed but the response was muted, except from the old man who gave a solemn bow. He is, of course, Harry continued, the same William Parfitt of the shipping and transport company for which we all have cause to be grateful. After all, where would the Southland be without the facilities he has provided so that our people and our trade are able move about in ease and comfort? A scattering of token applause followed. Well, Parfitt continued, his eyes now fixed on the Washingtonians. I have to inform you that in the past few years, my father has extended his talents to the slave trade. The old mans preening expression froze, leaving a frown that suggested he was uncertain what he had just heard. He began, his son continued, when our government in Washington prohibited the importation of African slaves five years ago, but following his infinite wisdom and humanity he realised how wrong it was for them to enact such legislation, and argued that such laws flew in the face of the Almighty. Prohibiting slaves to enter the land of the free is to my father nothing short of blasphemy. The Washington group turned as one towards William Parfitt as he tried but failed to give a response. And so, his son continued, warming to the theme: he proceeded to show he was made of sterner stuff. One of his vessels, crammed to the gunwales with chained Africans arrived on our shores. Oh, and I should tell you that my father is a most prudent slaver, and on average only loses a quarter of his stock from each shipment. Isnt that good husbandry? Of course, should the coast guards come a little too close, he has been known to dump three hundred living souls overboard, although that doesnt happen too often, since he has a firm grip on the sea routes and knows which are the safest to follow. Gasps of genuine horror began to exude from the audience along with deepening frowns from the Washington group, as Parfitt raised his voice to continue:


So it is my opinion that all of us owe him a debt of gratitude for the manner with which he keeps the best civilised interests of our nation to heart. He descended the steps, stood a moment before the apoplectic old man, performed a flowery Elizabethan bow, then resumed his seat. The stunned silence from the Washington delegation combined with the unwavering glare from his son, persuaded him to retreat and he stomped up the aisle, the tapping of his cane heard throughout the silent hall until he disappeared through the doors. It took a while for the audience to regain its poise, then the ceremony finally got under way, the medals presented and the speeches made. A crowd of onlookers unable to get a seat were waiting outside as the Lacenaires, Parfitt, James, Dick Crafus, William and Bernard came out to meet a forest of flags waved by children of applauding parents. The celebrations suddenly grew raucous in one section where the crowds were pushed roughly aside. James put it down to over enthusiasm until he saw six men elbowing their way to the main doors of the hall and throw themselves on Crafus, forcing him to the ground. They were carrying a length of chains, and while two kept their knees on his chest, the others began trying to manacle his wrists and feet. Dicks strength had them stumbling until one of them brought a club down on his head. When Parfitt, Lacenaire and the two riggers recognised the reason for the commotion, they tried to pull them off. Parfitt grabbed a pistol from a guard and aimed it at the forehead of the nearest thug, but before he could get them to back off, one waved a paper in his face. We have a legal warrant for this Negros arrest. What is legal about it? Parfitt snapped. Richard Crafus was registered as a runaway slave three years ago. We have instructions to return him to his rightful owners. Parfitt snatched the paper, scanned the first sentence before pushing through to the Washington group. You gentlemen are qualified to resolve this matter, he said, handing them the warrant. Explain to these men that Richard Crafus is a national hero with a medal for fighting courage in the face of the enemy and therefore not bound by this summons.


Well now one of them stuttered, looking at his colleagues for support. We, ah, regret this event, but the truth of the matter is Parfitt glared at the second man who was keeping his eyes fixed on his feet. the fact is, we have no authority to challenge state law. And the present legislation in Carolina is that, ah, a runaway slave must be returned to his original master. The Virginian took a deep breath, struggling to control his temper. Mister Crafus is not a runaway slave. He was inducted into the American navy at the outbreak of the war with Britain. In view of the heroic services he has performed on behalf of our country, I am sure you can find a way around this law. He gave them a minute to discuss the matter in whispers, faces showing a wish for the ground to open beneath them. After a period of coughs and brow mopping, they withheld a reply. The chief slavecatcher snatched back the warrant, and amid an eerie silence that had fallen over the spectators, they dragged Dick away cocooned in chains. It grieves me to see this, the functionary muttered. Lacenaire came forward, holding out his medal. It grieves me too, msieu. Enough to declare that I cannot accept an honour from people who behave in such a cowardly manner. Please, the official whispered, aware the closer spectators were hearing the exchange : Please dont do this! The count dropped the medal at the mans feet then holding an arm out to Marie-Therese, walked briskly away. Parfitt displayed a more demonstrative manner by dropping his into some recently deposited horse manure, then William, Bernard and James flung theirs at the Washington people and followed the others. So ended their day of glory.


CHAPTER TWENTY SIX A two horse coach stood in the forecourt of a transportation station while the four slavecatchers heaved a multiply chained Richard Crafus up onto the roof and manacled his arms and feet to the luggage racks. One then went into the office and returned with two flasks of rum to help soften the four day trip back to the plantation, then they drew straws to decide who would be the first to take the driving seat. The loser took a long swig from one of the flasks, climbed up front, pulled out a windbreaker cloak and leather hat from under the seat and put them on. Hearing the chains rustle behind him, he turned and grinned:. Well big boy, you learned two important lessons for a runaway. One, you aint never gonna stop looking over your shoulder, and two, you aint never gonna be free for very long. He had just begun a routine check of the coach connections to the harnessed horses when a voice called out from an office window: Sir! You forgot to sign for the prisoner. What you say? You need to sign! Aint never done no signing before. Its a new regulation. Wont take a second. He jumped down swearing under his breath and stomped back to the station. A few minutes elapsed and his colleagues inside who were already passing round the rum grew impatient. Hey, Eli, where you gone? Lets go! The driver came out of the office still muttering, waved at his friends then jumped up front. He loosened the brakes, cracked the whip and the coach lurched forward. As it rattled onto the road, he glanced back at the station


and saw Parfitt and Lacenaire wave from an open window. Then he pulled off his hat and revealed the features of James, alias Gentle, Morgan. He kept his back to Crafus for the first half hour until the road began to edge closer to the bank of a fast flowing river. He snatched off his hat and flung it high into the gathering wind, then turned round. What Dick saw made him stop wrestling with the chains, then recover enough to open his mouth and speak, but halted when James put a finger to his lips and pointed down to the other slave catchers in the carriage. Tying the horse reins to the running board, he crawled across and unlocked the manacles with a key taken from the driver Elis pocket. The trail was now running perilously close to the riverbank but James whipped the horses up to maximum speed, causing the coach wheels to rebound off the cracks and bumps created by generations of previous traffic, while the passengers below kept up a symphony of painful yells as they crashed into each other like falling ninepins. The road ahead could be seen to turn sharply inland. As this came in sight, James gestured Dick to join him up front. He grasped the stave joining the carriage to the horses and signalled him to do the same on his side. When the road came to turn fifty yards ahead James called out : One, two, three pull! As the staves came free disconnecting the coach, they leaped forwards onto the backs of the horses, galloped round the bend, then pulled up to watch the detached coach continue in a straight line parallel to the river. The wheels hit the grass verge, the carriage leaped high in the air, toppling over on its side and broke up as it hit and slid down the bank. Two of the catchers were catapulted into the water and dragged away in the currents, while the third lay tangled in the wreckage. Parfitt, Lacenaire, Marie-Therese, William and Bernard appeared riding in a cloud of dust, frantic to know if their plan had worked, or would they find James and Crafus among the carnage. Their faces relaxed when the dust thinned and they sighted them standing on the bank. Hugs and kisses ensued, although Parfitt stayed apart, his attention fixed on James who was looking downstream as the other two slave catchers were dragged beneath the surface. The Virginians mind returned to the previous day when they planned how to rescue Crafus. He had already thought up a plan. They would use the


standard highwayman process; lie hiding in wait for the coach, hold it up and force them to release the prisoner. But riding out to look for a suitable hideaway, all they found was a flat terrain, the only visible woods and hills a mile distant from the trail. Other ideas were batted back and forth, each one more outlandish than the other, and it was only when a silence lengthened that James, who had so far not spoken a word, rose to his feet to speak.. When I was a child, my guardian Captain Biddle taught me how to drive a horse and cart. I learned that the horses harness was joined to the wagon, and if they were to come apart while on the move, passengers could find themselves heading towards a tree or a brick wall. This lesson came to mind yesterday when I noticed how close the trail ran to the river before swerving round towards a valley. What has this got to do with anything? Parfitt asked. When we went into the transport station, James continued, I noticed it was run by only one man who kept drinking from a whiskey bottle, and around noon fell fast asleep. Parfitt sighed: Where is all this leading? Please, Lacenaire said. Let him finish. I was thinking, if one of us took the place of the driver just before they left, we would have control of the coach, take the chains off Dick, and when they came to the bend, disconnect the coach by pulling out the staves, jump on the horses while the coach carried on and possibly end up in the river. This is ridiculous, Parfitt had barked. James shrugged and sat down: Well, it was just a thought. But Lacenaire told him to continue, reminding everyone that no-one else had come up with a plausible idea to rescue a man who only a few weeks ago had saved their lives. While Parfitt sulked, he told Jamess his scheme had potential and asked him to explain how one of them could replace the driver.. If we get to the station early and buy the manager a bottle of whiskey, we could wait until he falls asleep. Then when the slavecatchers turn up with Dick to hire the coach, they will be dealing with one of us standing in for the manager. Lets say William here. Then just as they are about to leave, William calls the driver back to the office to sign a form while Bernard


stands behind the door with a club. Our replacement puts on the catchers clothes which will have the chain keys in a pocket, then jumps up into the driving seat. Parfitt, still dismissive of what sounded to him like an impossible idea, asked whom he would choose to replace the driver. I choose myself, James had replied. Now the Virginian was gazing at the successful finale to a plan he had scorned. The condescending tone he had used whenever addressing James from the day they met was gone, and as he saw him walking back from the waters edge, he gathered him in his arms. This is most unusual, James said. I hope you arent losing your mastery of the supercilious. Any gambler would have given a thousand to one odds against your plan succeeding. But it did. And what is more, James, you did it alone! Marie Therese followed suit with the congratulations, adding a lingering kiss while Lacenaire bowed, and Bernard and William lifted him above their heads to complete the boys purple faced embarrassment. They rode back to Charleston where Parfitt asked them to wait while he went into a building overlooking the waterfront. He came back half an hour later with a scroll of parchment, then led them on to his fathers mansion where he apologised for making them wait again while he went inside. The others had been dozing under the shade of a huge magnolia tree for over an hour when a carriage came rattling through the gates at the gallop and skidded to a halt outside the main entrance. The doors were immediately flung open and a flurry of servants came out staggering under the weight of travelling chests, metal trunks, leather bound suit cases and countless hangers of clothing which were loaded inside, at the back and on the roof of the coach at a frantic speed that was clearly of the essence. As the last piece was tied on, William Parfitt came out purple faced, scything his cane to clear a way, then clambered inside shouting urgent orders to the driver. The coach turned in a cloud of dust and gravel, gathered speed up to the gates and disappeared from sight.


Parfitt came out and waved them inside, responding to a barrage of questions by saying all would be explained once they had been bathed and fed. While this was taking place, Parfitt assembled the house staff: Due to business commitments elsewhere that will last indefinitely, my father will no longer reside here, he announced. However, you may rest assured that all your positions will continue as usual, as I intend to take over ownership of the estate. Meanwhile my guests will require refreshments, clean laundry and bedrooms. After this has been prepared, you may all take a three day holiday with pay. His words were met with a lengthy applause, then the staff dispersed wearing smiles unseen in that household for many a year. The only difficulty encountered was finding clothes large enough for Crafus, but the problem led to more fundamental matters. The Negro servants treated waiting on one of their race incomprehensible and stayed at a distance. Dick understand their confusion, and asked them to come closer and be seated. My fellow citizens, I understand why you all got your eyes popping out of their sockets. You aint never been told to wait on one of your own kin and kith. It dont make no sense. We niggers are here to make sure white folk dont have to raise a finger to help them wake up, wash, eat and go to bed. Thats what they brung us here for, so they can all get fat and lazy and not have to learn how to put their clothes on. Am I right? Some showed a wonderment that what they were hearing was a trick which should they fall for it, would lead to a flogging for insubordination. Lemme tell you, Dick continued, I worked on both sides of this business. I been a slave to white men, and Ive had white men slaving for me. Some of the audience murmured disbelief. I know what youre thinking. Whitey shining my shoes, cooking my dinners, washing my clothes? Show me how you done it! Well, I aint gonna, except to say I learned no human being should be forced to molly coddle another because all that happens is the coddled ones lose the most important gift the lord gave us. heir dignity. The only reason Im talking to you all is to say you are born no better nor worse than them who crack


the whip. We are all human beings and have the same privileges and the same duties no matter if our skin is white, black or sky blue. The expressions on his audience remained mixing fear with disbelief, but as he continued they slowly came to realise he was one of them, not one of the other unexpected arrivals. Once their frightened glances and suspicions melted, Dick gave a chuckle: Now if it aint too much trouble, I would appreciate if somebody could find a way to clothe me without needing to go down to the harbour and pull a sail off a three master. Caution and suspicion melted, the room filled with laughter. Some of the women gazing at Dick looked as if they were nursing other thoughts, and when they rose to leave, one gave an elaborate curtsey. Hey! Dick called. What you doing girl? Wes all equal now. Sir, I was in the town square the other morning watching you come out with them medals for being brave an all. And I distinctly heard someone say you was called King Dick. Well, I aint never met a king before, but I was read a story by my Momma when I was little that said girls had to curtsey when one comes into the room. But I aint a king no more. I also remember they said in the story once a king always a king. She then walked backwards to the door, giving a curtsey with each step and followed by the others copying all her movements. In the evening the guests were handed flutes of champagne. Crafus was swathed in a toga found in the attic among fancy dress outfits worn during Mardi Gras, while the others relaxed in evening clothes Parfitt had found in the numberless boudoirs upstairs. After everyone was seated round the dining table, Lacenaire cleared his throat: Msieu Parfitt, I have a question you may not choose to answer, I will do my best, monsieur. I am curious to know what made your father leave so rapidly. Its complicated, but you may recall that when we returned to Charleston I went inside the Charleston Customs office. The reason was to collect a summons charging my father with breaching the federal law that forbad the import of slaves.


But those Washington people said they had no power to reverse state laws. That is true. However, there was a clerk in Customs who owed me money from a card game some years ago when for once in my life I actually won. Today I agreed to cancel the debt if he wrote an arrest warrant for my father and have it signed by President Madison. Slavery prohibition is now a national law? No, but Madisons signature was forged so well that my father was not inclined to argue. From what you have said about him, it seems strange he would simply run away. Well, he was encouraged by the loaded pistol I was pointing at his head. The courses arrived and another domestic custom at the Parfitt mansion was changed by the pleasure on the faces of the servants. After coffee was served, Marie Therese raised a toast to honour the United States of America that were now their new home. Then James got to his feet: And I would like to toast the Quadroon Gaming House. Why do you honour that cess pit? Parfitt grunted. First of all, it rescued me from a life of perdition. It was I who did that And secondly, had I not been present the night your fellow card players had daggers at your throat, and had I not persuaded them to resist carving you into a beef stew, none of us would be here tonight. The Virginian glared at his amanuensis, but having to acknowledge there was some truth in his words, he settled for changing the subject by tapping his wine glass: What is of the utmost importance this evening is for each of us to discuss our plans for the future. May we start with you, count? I regret to say that France is in utter chaos and will be so for the many years to come. So my wife and I have decided to remain on this side of the ocean. But as you point out, monsieur Parfitt, there are problems to be tackled, and the most urgent is finance. We have no way to transfer capital from Europe, so our first concern is to find a way to earn a living. Parfitt turned to James. Gentle?


The count has raised the fundamental problem. How do we find the means to provide a roof over our heads and avoid starvation? At this moment, I have no suggestions. Mister Crafus? Back on the plantation, we had contests to find out who was the best fist fighter. There was no money there, but I heard once you could make a fortune fighting in the big cities. So I been thinking maybe that was where I go. Bernard and Will? I reckon well go back to sea. Its all we know. A silence fell. Jamess eyes wandered over the Chippendale furniture, the silk curtains, the silver chandeliers, the gilded picture frames then settled on the Virginian. Your turn Harry. How do you see the future? When there was no response, he cast his attention over the elegance surrounding them: You could of course sell this house and everything in it and live the rest of your life in suffocating luxury. Parfitt smiled: As you know, Gentle, and as I no longer deny, I am addicted to gambling. I am also the worst card player in the history of the world. Whatever money I would gain from selling the Parfitt estate would evaporate in a matter of months. After another lengthy silence he cleared his throat. However, I do have a suggestion to make. I was recently in conversation with a local fellow who told me something of interest. He forecast that all river conveyances would shortly be carried out by a new maritime invention called a paddle steamer. He explained how it had the advantage of manufacturing its own power on board and be able to travel both with and against river currents without shore assistance, making it self sufficient to travel continually for several weeks. I have considered chartering one of these new fangled boats to take passengers up and down the length of the Mississippi and give them all the trappings of a luxury vacation. However, there is one problem that needs to be answered. During a journey lasting several weeks, how does one keep them entertained? Are there any suggestions?


He paused but there was no response. What the diners were to hear next had been carefully rehearsed. River cruises are most popular with society people who have more money than sense. We have seen them all at some time or other bent day and night over a gaming table, gripped by a determination to increase their winnings or retrieve their losses? Where better can these addictions be fed than on a ship travelling non stop for hundred of miles? The passengers are never more than a few feet away from a place where they can gamble every hour of the day and night . With no facility allowing them to disembark, they would be imprisoned aboard until they inevitably lose everything; their money, their estates, their social position, their wives and their mistresses. They are left with no reason to continue living, and we can provide a solution for that too. What easier way is there to shuffle off this mortal coil than jumping over the rail of a vessel floating above fathoms of water? When no-one disagreed, he turned his attention to Crafus. To convert a ship into a luxury prison requires a manager with a long experience of controlling such an establishment. And fortunately we have one present this evening. He shifted his gaze towards William and Bernard: Naturally, the manager would need to rely upon a staff strong enough to keep order should any players lose their tempers and produce a weapon. Once again we have two such experts here who have demonstrated a talent to overcome aggression. The two matelots raised their glasses. Thirdly, it is equally essential that there is someone on board who possesses a silver tongue to gently encourage none gambling travellers to try their luck, and also ensure that no passenger travelling alone and suffering from chronic shyness, is left ignored. And finally, if we are to gain the attention of the cream of American high society, we should parade members of a European aristocracy that they strive to imitate. What better could there be than a French count and countess to provide the pearl in our oyster? If we are able to find all these skills, our search for a regular income stands waving before our eyes. Would all those in favour hold up a hand? Excellent. He stood and raised his glass:


My fellow business partners, I give you a toast: to the success of the Floating Dartmoor Gaming Company.