Oh the grandeur and the picturesque charm of stormy waters, till one is caught in them! Having rustled through the cloven seas, having flirted with near oblivion, the Resurgam now lies safely harboured. The ship’s captain has resolved to have her seaworthy by the end of the week if he possibly can. He dare not stay there longer, for his orders are to surrender his illicit cargo and then to re-join Commander Fox and the SS Baltic which is bound for South Carolina.
“How we gonna get that lunatic off this ship without the whole damn yard knowing? I purpose that we off load him tonight, once the coast is clear” too much sleep has fled Kitty’s eyes this past week, the whole mission seems cursed and she cannot wait to be rid of the man she used to call husband.
”Men full of more brawl than you have been press ganged on these docks, wait till the morrow. You’ll find a way then, for sure” Nathaniel Keeler-Breeze watches her march back and forth restlessly and wonders why she doesn’t simply shoot the English gentleman, after all there are far more pressing matters.
A civil war is looming, as it undoubtedly had been since Lincoln the ‘nigger-lover’ had been elected president. The woman was a crack shot with any rifle you cared to hand her and had been an excellent spy, in his opinion abducting the puerile Englishman had been a waste of her time, she should have been left down south, putting the devil to them secessionists!
“Did you see the way they eyed us as we anchored?” Nathaniel shrugged, for it was known that the ‘Tammany Tiger’ ruled these docks. Still, even the Tammany beast could be made to roll over on its back and purr, if one knew how!
“I saw it, now get some sleep”
The ship lies silent as the grave (or a harpooned whale) and the crew are as the dead, the result of generous amounts of rum, mingled with physical exhaustion, that and a desperate desire to escape the sporadic sobs of Tobias Grid-Iron. Why, even a trans-atlantic mouse has paused momentarily in its hunt for food, to observe the wonder of an aristocrat weeping, over an inconsequential part of God’s creation!
Down in the hold, midst the remaining crates of sea biscuits and Rum, Francis stands guard, keeping an eye out for any river rats or dock thieves who might come upon the ship unawares. He is not alone, the Hindu Fakirs stand guard with him, so fond have they become of their Sudanese friend, who like the hunter he has been from his youth, walks alert and unblinking in the dark.
“You were a hunter yes?” Navendra has wondered about this since it seems clear to him that Francis is a gentle and proper man, a most fastidious gentleman in matters of retribution but hardly bloodthirsty.
“Yes, I was a hunter”
“But why hunt?”
“ My master (Sultan Sidi Mehemet Ibrahim) was a devout Muslim and also a hunter of great repute, at ten years of age I attended him. On one of his most esteemed hunts I was one of ten runners dotted across the forests of Nederhiwi”
“Why would a hunter require runners?” Francis smiled gravely,
“To lure out his prey…jaguars…sleek and able to move with such fluid grace and speed that to hesitate but for a moment was to assure one’s own entrance to Janna! I was careful and I was fast, so I survived, many others didn’t. When I was twelve I made my first kill.”
“What did you kill?”
“A beautiful gazelle, slender of carriage and fleet of foot, her name was Nuur Hamdi”
“She sought freedom, the Sultan would not give it and so she fled. I was ranked high amongst the hunters so he sent me after her, through the jungles of the Nederhiwi. She was the first person I killed, but not the last.”
“Oh” the Fakirs are horrified by his casual admission, to have slaughtered another enslaved human being? The consequences for his karma must have been disastrous!
“ I thought if I served Mehemet Ibrahim loyally, Allah might be kind to me. But one day an important man invited his Royal Highness to Alabama to give lectures, and I as his most reputed hunter was asked to go with him”
“The Sultan was asked to give a talk? On what?”
“The efficacy of the slave trade, several years before he had been petitioned by a Sufi sect, to end the abominable practice of enslaving Christians. He was reluctant to do so, and since he was both a philosopher and an intellectual he was able to expound convincingly as to why he should not. His arguments were so impressive that Jedidiah Kane Thickett invited him to Alabama to share his beliefs. The Sultan was so flattered to have been presented with such an invitation, that he presented him with one of his most prized possessions”
“Really? And what was it?”
The three Indian gentlemen are horrified, a culture that barters human flesh as if it were a lump of gold or of ivory? And to such a one as Jedidiah Kane Thickett? The thought itself makes them shudder, for had they not observed the violent disposition of the man for themselves?
“How did you escape?”
“I was stolen from him by Allan Pinkerton and given a choice, liberty or death! I chose liberty!”
“A most worthy choice!”
“I didn’t think so at the time, in fact I shudder to think of those days of my darkness. Allah has indeed been most kind.”
The gentle lapping of the harbour waters, the intermittent hoot of owls and the hollow cries of harbour watchmen, who for a couple of dollars will turn a blind eye to river rats regardless of what they are supposed to do. These sounds garner the attention of Francis and the Fakirs as they stand guard in companionable silence.
“Liberty or death that is an honourable saying” replies Navendra
“An honourable choice also” remarks Amjal
“Oh villainy of villainies that ever the sultan should have betrayed me thus! To have surrendered me to the most brutal calumnies of one whose depravity knew no bounds! To have left me to drown beneath that vast wave of moral pollution they called slavery! But Allah has been merciful to me, I shall endeavour as best I can to reward the life who redeemed mine and when the time comes I shall take the revenge I have purposed upon!”
“Yours is a terrible, terrible tale, I wonder that in the midst of your trials you did not succumb to lunacy, but as you say the gods are most kind”
“And what of you? How did you survive the massacre of Jhansi?”
In the darkness they tilt their heads one to another as if communing without words, they are silent and the silence is as dense and as comforting as velvet.
“One day my friend, when the thoughts are less painful, perhaps we shall tell”
“Yes” agrees Francis, thinking of the aristocratic dolt below deck, whose cruelty caused their suffering “Perhaps, one day”.