Fugitive slaver, Indian medicine man, English bounty hunter, complete with a gunfight
|1766, Minerva Inn, Plymouth, England|
The Minerva Inn had oaken beams and oaken floorboards. Henry was reminded of HMS Dragon. Though here he couldn't feel the movement of the ocean beneath his feet.
"Barman three of your finest ales please," said Henry. He knew that his large size and the ugly scar across his face gave him a mean look. His tattooed muscly arms, browned by years in the sun were lighter than the deep dark brown of the bar but contrasted with most of the white faces all around. He felt happy in this smoky, dimly lit place full of conversation and laughter.
The barman eyed him curiously, "Aren't you Jake's boy from Notte Street? I heard you were in the wars."
"Ten years as a Royal Marine, 'round the world and back again... Er, I am looking for work. Do you know of any 'round here?"
"You are not the only one back from the wars. The merchant marine's hiring. Lots of folks are just going off to the colonies. The slaver at the docks leaves at dawn," replied the barman, handing him his drinks and taking the coins on the bar.
Henry shrugged and returned to the table carrying the drinks. He handed one to his sister Martha who had her prettiest dress on. She was beaming at him.
She is the prettiest woman in the bar. The fact is she might be the only one in the bar except for the whores in the corner. I guess she does not get out much, having five kids. She deserves a treat like any other.
He handed a drink to his sister's husband Joseph Fitzwilliam a man of normal size, brown hair, pale complexion, and unremarkable appearance. Amongst all the disreputable privateers, ex-soldiers, and sailors in the Inn, Joseph and his wife looked very out of place. Henry wondered whether this was the right place to celebrate his return.
"So Joseph, I understand that you can read, a man of letters and numbers, what do you with that?" asked Henry. Henry was impressed with his sister for marrying such a man and who earned good money. He wanted to connect with him, though it was clear they came from different worlds.
"I am a clerk for a local shipping company..."
"Er hmmm..." Joseph was interrupted by a portly-looking aristocrat in a red coat with tassels. A mean-looking henchman of average height and build and red hair stood by his side.
Henry noticed Martha looking down at her drink, trying to avoid the man's eyes. The aristocrat had all the entitlement and arrogance of someone who thought he owned the place. Henry was in no mood to humor the man's pretensions.
"So pretty woman, I am looking for some company tonight, you will leave with me now. I will pay you for your time," said his Lordship.
Henry rose, puffed out his chest, and jutted his chin. He towered over the Lord staring him down. The henchman tried to manhandle Henry out of the way. Henry grabbed his outstretched arm and twisted it causing him to yelp and fall to the floor to avoid it breaking.
"Unhand my man, Gilbert, you vagabond, I will have my way with this woman."
Gilbert gave Henry an evil look, screaming with pain as Henry's grip tightened. Henry felt Martha's hand on his back. He turned to see that she was scared and moving towards his Lordship. Her husband had a desperate and helpless look on his face and there were tears in his eyes. Joseph looked down at the table and into his drink as if salvation from this horror could be found there.
"He can make a lot of trouble for you Henry. That is Lord Salisbury's son, I have to do this," said his sister.
Henry's pushed his Lordship across the Inn. Everyone went quiet with all eyes turning to watch the show. The aristocrat drew his sword and rushed at Henry. Henry grabbed the sword arm around the man's wrist with his left hand deflecting it sideways and into the air and his right fist swung upwards to hit the man firmly on the chin snapping his neck backward. He collapsed to the ground unconscious.
"Should have known that guy was all bluster and could not take a punch!" Henry turned with a triumphant look to Martha. She surprised him by running to the man on the ground where she felt for his pulse on the side of his neck.
"Henry you killed him." She looked up at her brother tears in her eyes. Gilbert, the henchman, ran from the Inn.
"With one punch! It was self-defense."
"That will not matter in the courts 'round here! You killed a Lord! They'll hang you unless you run."
1774, Rocky Mountains
Henry lay looking up at the blue sky of the midday sun in the shadow of the mountains. He had fallen into a gully and something was broken, his leg and arm limp and bleeding. The pain nagged at him. Strangely he was at peace and ready to meet his Maker. The Earth felt damp beneath him and he was surrounded by green and growing bushes.
I guess this is it.
He knew it was just a matter of time before wolves or bears in the area caught his scent.
I knew the risks, the frontier is merciless and punishes the smallest mistakes.
His life flashed before his eyes. The Royal Marines, HMS Dragon. His voyages with the slave-ship doing the Triangle Trade that had ended in New York. Moving west on horseback, Isabel, the love of his life, a widow from the war with France with a farm. Their marriage, and shortly after, her pregnancy, were the best of times. It was her dream to go further west and all the way to the Pacific. She had died with his unborn child. He cried as he remembered the heartbreak. He remembered the wild restlessness that had followed her death and a sudden compulsion to walk to the Pacific. He remembered Spanish and Indians, wolves and bison, plains and mountains, blue skies and terrible storms, deep snow, and flowing rivers.
I lived my life and so it ends now at the bottom of this gully.
My only regret is not fulfilling Isabel's dream and making it to the Pacific
He passed out and into a dreamless sleep.
1790, San Diego
The el Presidio Real de San Diego was not an impressive fort by European standards. With its garrison of 54 Spanish soldiers, it dominated the local area and secured Spanish rule over the local Diegueños. Henry had married the Captain's daughter Maria some ten years before and had five children by her. Tonight he attended the Captain's birthday. He disliked the racism of the Spanish and enjoyed the company of Indians like Jacy more than these but duty was duty.
Henry entered the main hall of the fort and was greeted by the Captain at the door as Inglés. He was the only Englishman in San Diego. He knew most of the people here and the party was already well underway. He noticed some grey hairs and wrinkles as he passed the mirror but he was still fighting fit and finely dressed in a crimson jacket. With two ships in the harbor and a warehouse full of stock, Henry was a wealthy man and a major employer in the area. He did not have slaves, unlike many of the other landowners and merchants. He paid a fair wage to his people regardless of color. Since that Indian medicine man, Jacy, had saved him in the mountains, all those years before, he had lost all of the Slaver racism that had characterized his early years. Jacy and he were now friends. Jacy worked at the Spanish Mission San Diego de Alcalá and was the purest soul he had ever met. Henry's faith had been renewed by meeting Jacy and because of his Slaver past, he felt he had considerable guilt to atone for and so he gave generously to the mission.
"We meet again," said a sour English voice that Henry did not recognize. Henry turned to see from who it came. The face and red hair were familiar as if from another life, a long time ago.
"The names Gilbert and you killed Lord Salisbury's son," said the man.
Henry studied him suddenly remembering the incident from all those years ago in Plymouth. He decided to speak honestly and openly as he had told the story already to the Captain, who knew some English and was listening attentively along with all his guests.
"It was self-defense and the arrogant prick wanted to rape my sister," he replied.
"Maybe, but that was not what the courts said later, and after American independence, Lord Salisbury obtained information you were in Virginia, set a bounty on your head, and commissioned me to go find you in the United States. I will collect that bounty."
"Well, you have no jurisdiction here in Spanish territory. Shall we settle this the old-fashioned way?" Henry's hand went to the sword by his side. "If you kill me you can take my head back with you and if I kill you this matter is settled isn't it? I remember last time and you were no match then, so why challenge me?"
"Well, to make the contest fair I think it would have to be with pistols."
"Not the weapon of an honorable man, but then I forgot you defended a man who got his jollies out of raping married women so I guess you have no honor at all."
The Captain, who after so many years was friendly to Henry and liked the way he had looked after Maria and his grandchildren, was not at all happy with the situation and addressed Gilbert.
"I did not invite you to my party to make death threats against my guests. I thought you were a man of means and breeding. Instead, I find you're nothing better than an American bounty hunter."
"English bounty hunter, please! You Spanish think you are here forever but the Americans are coming for you too and your days are numbered. One day all this land will belong to them and you will speak English here not Spanish." He pointed to Henry, "This man killed my liege. I am duty-bound to avenge him. This is all about honor."
Henry nodded and the Captain shrugged. Henry was thankful that Maria was not here to witness this having felt too poorly to attend the party. The guests went outside to the firing range, inside the walls of the fort, where torches were quickly lit and the ground measured out. The Captain loaded his own dueling pistols and then handed them to each man. They paced the distance and waited for the signal.
It was dark and the moon and stars were out. The clock was about to strike midnight. Henry wondered if his life was finally over. He listened for the count down to complete and then he fired...
Notes & Word Count ▼