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In the Belly of the Bloodhound: Being an Account of a Particularly Peculiar Adventure in the Life of Jacky Faber (Bloody Jack Adventures)by Louis A. Meyer
December 1, 1805
Any old port in a storm. Thats what Im thinking as I carefully weave my little boat through the ships in the crowded harbor. Ive seen many ports and Ive weathered many storms and good old Boston Harbor is looking right good to me at this moment. Hmmm . . . be wary, though, girl. Theres three British warships lying over there at Long Wharf. Got to steer clear of them, for sure, as the men on board could have heard of the price thats on my poor head and might be of a mind to try to collect it. My head, that is . . . Imagine that . . . a reward of two hundred and fifty pounds, and all for the body of one insignificant girl— a full Royal Navy captains pay for a year, and wouldnt some lucky sailor like to nab that?
As I clear the end of Long Wharf, I pull my cap further down over my face and sail on. Dont mind me, Sirs. Just a simple fisher lass heading home, nothing more.
Now I start working my way over to the land. Im remembering that theres an open bit of gravelly beach between Howards and Codmans wharves, and that is where Im of a mind to land. The wind is fair and my sail is drawing well and Im cutting neatly through boats and ships that are anchored out. I pull in a bit closer and look over at the warships. They could see me from where they lay, if they cared to look. But who cares about some fishmongers dutiful daughter out plying her familys trade? Thats what Im thinking. Or hoping. But, oh Sirs— you, my fellow countrymen and fellow sailors— if only you knew what has happened at Trafalgar, you would not be sitting so peacefully here. Its plain they havent gotten the word yet.
Codmans Wharf passes on my port side and I throw the tiller over and bring the sail in close-hauled. When I hear and feel the scrape of the bottom on my keel, I loose the sail and the Morning Star slips her nose up elegantly onto the beach. Pretty neat sailing, old girl, Im thinking, patting her gunwale affectionately. I know its been a long trip for the both of us, from Trafalgar to here, thats for sure, and now you just rest.
For a moment I sit there in wonder at being back in Boston again, then I go forward and loosen the halyard, letting the sail and its booms collapse to the deck. Im about to gather it in and wrap it up, when theres a noise behind me and I spin around in alarm, my shiv out of my vest and in my hand. By God, theyre not going to take me without—
But it is nothing but a boy. A very ragged and dirty boy, to be sure, but just a boy. He is the very picture of a wharf rat, a breed with which I am very familiar, having once been one myself, back when I lived under Londons Blackfriars Bridge as a member in good standing of the Rooster Charlie Gang of Naked Orphans. Blackfriars Bridge was real close to the docks on the Thames, so, yes, I know this kind of boy quite well.
“Need some help, Missy?” he says with hope in his voice. Its plain from the ribs sticking out under his too-short shirt that he hasnt eaten in a while and he looks real willin to earn a penny. Well, I cant argue with that, as Im all for youthful spunk and enterprise. I slide my knife back in my vest.
“Well, maybe. Help me stow the sail.”
He leaps on board to help me wrap the sail around the boom, and we lash it down tight with the mainsheet and secure it to its stay post.
“There, Missy, tight as a drum. Anything else? Polish your brass, shine up your brightwork, varnish your oars?”
This one is younger than me— maybe thirteen, fourteen. His hair is held back with a piece of old twine and I can see both his knees through the rips in the trousers that end raggedly at his calves. He is, of course, barefoot.
“You can see, young Master Wharf Rat, that the Morning Star has neither brass work nor brightwork, nor do her oars need varnishing,” I say severely, in my best Naval Officer voice, “but you may, if you wish to earn a penny, watch over her till I return, which might be today, or might be tomorrow. If you know a place where she can be moored . . .”
“Oh, yes, Missy. See that pier over by the market? Ill tie it up there. So many fishing boats go in and out of there that theyll never notice us.”
“All right,” I say. I dig in the purse that hangs by my side and pull out a penny and flip it to him. “Go spend this on something to eat first and then tend to moving her. And mark me— This is the Morning Star and she is a her, not an it. Do you get that?”
“You can do it by yourself?”
“Oh, yes, Missy, Im a thoroughgoing seaman! Ill get her anywhere you need her.”
I give a quick snort. “Very well, Seaman . . . What is your name, boy?”
“Tanner, Missy. Jim Tanner.”
Copyright © 2006 by L. A. Meyer
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