“Oh, he cut them out of his bible years ago,” said Emmett with a flip of his hand then poured himself another portion of brandy. “The old hypocrite!”
“You didn’t like him?”
“I liked his crew a lot better, which is saying something considering the scum that you have on the long haul vessels.” Emmett considered. “I don’t have to like my captains to serve them well, you know that.”
“You never served with me. I wouldn’t have put up with your nonsense.”
“What nonsense? I was the pattern-card of proper naval behavior.”
“Lecherous, hard drinking, and venial!”
“Never venial!” Emmett laughed. “I wouldn’t know how.”
Burnside chuckled. “Oh, Lad. I don’t doubt there were men enough on board willing to give a fresh faced young lad like you all the lessons you nee….” Burnside realized who was listening and the questions he was likely to face in the morning and stuttered to a stop.
“And Roaring Bill at the forefront. Or – ”
“Yes! Yes. Now, are you going to play or not?”
Ignoring Emmett’s confused look Burnside took up the dice cup and rattled it. Then he jumped when a hand emerged from the curtain and waggled a finger at him before disappearing. Sharp eared Adira had realized he’d cut an interesting conversation short. Oh dear. He’d hear about that in the morning.
Before Burnside could get the conversation going again Emmett continued.
“Of course, Old Roaring Bill died at sea. He was buried at sea, as well. Now that was one I expected the sea to give up right quick, rather than have him contaminating the slimy depths. But we sent him over the side with enough chains to see him to the bottom.”
“He was a slimy son of a bitch, and no mistake,” said Burnside, agreeably.
“Did I ever tell you that I suspected him of an involvement in the slave trade?”
That brought Burnside up in his seat.
“Do you tell me so? Before or after1807?”
“Illegal slave trade then,” growled Burnside. “Why do you say so?”
“One time he brought a mulatto woman aboard claiming she had paid passage but she fought him all the way aboard and spent most of her time locked in his cabin. There was little enough we could do about it until one night we heard screaming from both of them and the woman came out of his cabin naked and covered in blood. Bill’s blood.”
“She stabbed him?” cried Burnside, shocked and also to cover the gasp of outrage from behind the curtain.
“Nothing fatal, obviously. A slice across the ribs that the ship’s cook stitched closed well enough. I had to hide the woman. Roaring Bill was fit to throw her overboard. Getting things calmed down took diplomacy I did not know I possessed. She slept in the ship’s galley for the remainder of her time aboard. Eventually when we next made port he took her ashore, claiming it was her destination, and we didn’t see her again.”
“Well,” said Burnside. “One woman does not slave trade make.”
“We took a Portuguese ship as a prize, once, with a cargo of slaves. Instead of stopping at one of the British ports Roaring Bill took us to a cove and unloaded the slaves via the skips. He said he was setting them free in a manner not requiring reports and records. Next time I was officer of the watch I looked in the ship’s log for a record of the Man-o-war’s capture and found no record of the slaves.”
“Dear God, are you certain? That is dangerous and illegal!”
“Oh, I’d swear to it. But, by the time we got to a higher authority, Roaring Bill was dead and the authorities said it would serve no point to disparage his memory.”
“Sadly true. They’d go to any length to maintain their reputation and Bill would not be the first, nor the last, captain to supply his own estates, or fill his own pockets, with money from sale of slaves. And it wasn’t as if he was still around to pay his fines.”
“True enough. Your move, old man.”
Burnside blinked, suddenly realizing the game had been in progress for some time and he was in a poor position, a consequence of his inattention.
Emmett began discussing some other matter and Burnside winced when that little hand emerged between the curtains again. Adira’s tiny nose followed it.
“Woman slave,” she hissed and gave a go-along gesture. Burnside pulled the curtain over her face.
“Captain?” said Emmett.
“Perhaps the window is open.” Emmett rose. “I shall check.”
“No need, no need,” said Burnside, hastily waving Emmett back to his seat. “I am certain they are closed. As long as the curtain is settled properly there will be no more breezes.”
Behind the curtain Adira was significantly chilled all along one side, where she pressed against the window glass, and dusty from the curtain on the other. She leaned back against the chill window panes and frowned. It made no difference to the victim of her displeasure. Burnside could not see her scowling at him but he would feel the sharp edge of her tongue soon enough. How could he ignore the most interesting part of the story, and to let Captain Farrah wander off into reminiscence on whether or not slaves were freed?
What about that woman? Who was she? Where did she come from? What did she look like? Had Captain Farrah, or Sir Emmett as she should now address him, risked his career, his life, to save her? Had she rewarded him?
Impossible men. How could they not discourse upon important, romantically interesting subjects?
That information from Sir Emmett about wanting a love at first sight was interesting, although the manner of his inspiration had not been adequately explained. Women reading books, indeed! Unless the girl doing the reading was a dazzling beauty his ambition made no sense.
She would think about it before including the tale in her book.
Well, she couldn’t really be cross with Uncle Burnside. He might know all about blood and bone, but he did not have a young lady’s sensibility. She would gently guide him so that next week’s backgammon evening would be more useful. She was too far in his debt for the home, the encouragement, the peace and quiet necessary for writing, for the year of rest and privacy for mourning to turn scold over one evening.
But it would help a great deal if he would keep his guest talking about interesting things and not changing the subject to dull ones.
Women slaves aboard a ship of the line? How interesting. Women slaves who stabbed ship’s captains who were attempting to ravish them? Most interesting!
was not! Far more
interesting than backgammon!
*1 1807, 25 March: Abolition of the Slave Trade Act abolishes slave trading in British Empire. Captains fined £120 per slave transported.