On December 4th 1693 a baby was born - he grew up to become
Captain Jesamiah Acorne.
Jesamiah is only a fictional character, of course, created by me on a Dorset beach in the last week of October several years ago, but I decided on his fictional birthday because the scene written below had been a vivid dream (I know it sounds cliched, but it's the truth).
It was one of those dreams where I saw every detail in vivid clarity, and heard every word... including Jesamiah grumbling: “Fine bloody way to spend a birthday.”
I was annoyed, however, to have woken up - thus missing the next bit. Thank goodness I am a writer... I got up and sitting at my PC in my nightdress and dressing gown wrote the scene as I had "seen" it... and added the "what happened next".
And so, in honour of Jesamiah's birthday I am sharing his birthday (mis)adventures.
Chapter Twenty Two
December 4th – 1716
The noise from the tavern below was increasing but he was too busily occupied with Aloette to notice the rowdiness. “That was good,” he said. Breathing hard and withdrawing from her, he leant across the bed for the bottle he had left on the floor, the sweat gleaming on his naked body. He took a long swig, offered it to her. She shook her head.
“You have it, my prince, you need to get your strength back for next time.”
Jesamiah grinned, saluted her a toast. There was to be a next time then? Do anything for a handful of silver, these Cape Town strumpets. From the room next door – the walls were only thin planks of cheap timber, plastered over and painted in pink-tinted lime-wash – came the rhythmic protest of a creaking bed, a girl’s giggling and a man’s grunting. Another couple doing what Jesamiah was doing, along with half the sailors ashore from their ships. Rue was somewhere down the corridor with a redhead.
“We have the entire night,” Aloette said, her voice low and purring.
“You have paid me, have you not?” she added with a coquettish smile, while trickling her fingers over his nakedness, her broken nails tracing the patterns of the acorn tattooed to the left of his chest and the mermaid on his left forearm. Doing as she suggested, he drank; with most of the bottle already consumed and his desire for a woman sated, was asleep before he had emptied it.
He awoke to find the candles had burnt low – several were out, the stubs a congealed mess of molten wax. The hubbub downstairs was less rowdy, the sounds in the street beyond the window quieter. The only noise from the room next door was a man’s snoring. The early hours, then. He groaned, half pleasure, half headache and rolled across the bed his arm seeking the warmth and delight of the girl. Grunted, annoyed to find her gone. He opened his eyes properly, looking for her. The shabby room was empty, her side of the bed quite cold, her clothes missing.
“Bitch,” he muttered as he lurched from the bed, fumbled for, and almost filled, the chamber pot, and retrieved his shirt, breeches, stockings and boots. Most of his clothes were scattered over the floor; he vaguely remembered being in an eager hurry last night. He ensured his pistol and cutlass were where he had left them, looked for his coin purse in his coat pocket. The money was gone, he would have been surprised to find it had not, but his weapons were untouched. The coins did not matter there had only been five or six shillings anyway, and he kept a few gold doubloons sewn discreetly inside his waist sash. He could always filch some more silver when he had need of it.
Rather unsteadily he dressed, found his waistcoat under the bed; wound the sash around his waist, satisfying himself that the gold was where it should be, and fastened the leather belt from which hung a cartridge pouch containing shot and powder, and his knife. He pushed his pistol through his belt, checking it was loaded, and buckled his baldric slantwise across from his right shoulder, more irritated to discover that the girl had also taken the second bottle of rum.
Grumbling at the dishonesty of women, he set his three-cornered hat firmly on his head, tossed his long coat over his arm and unlatched the door. Met face to face with the barrel of a pistol. No time to draw and cock his own weapon; he swung aside, attempted to slam the door – the man fired, the acrid smell of powder and the sharp sound of the shot reverberating into the room.
Jesamiah reeled, somehow managed to ram the door shut with his boot, slapped the bolt home. Dropping his coat, breathing heavily, aware of a searing pain below his left shoulder and the sticky feel of trickling blood, he dragged a chair across the door, ramming it beneath the latch. He winced, slid his hand inside his shirt and pulled it away to discover blood on his fingers. He felt at the back, nothing; the lead had not gone clean through then. Damn.
He could not think about it now, there were more pressing matters to consider. He ran to the window, grabbing at the catch to the slatted wooden shutter. The thing was stuck, rusted solid. He pulled at it, swore again, spun around frantically looking for something he could use to smash his way out. The door was splintering as an axe struck through the flimsy panels, revealing more faces. He drew his pistol, cocked the hammer home, hearing the necessary double click and as the door burst open, aimed, fired. One shot. One dead man. He was looking at four more very alive men with swords and pistols. Submitting, he stuffed his now useless pistol back into his belt and resigned to fate, held his hands up in surrender.
“You’ve got me fair and square, mates.” Nodding at the rumpled bed, added, “You must have paid her more handsomely than I did.”
“Jesamiah Acorne,” the one with the fancy sword said, waving it uncomfortably close to Jesamiah’s belly, his face crinkled into a leering snarl. “I am authorised to place you under arrest for acts of piracy committed against His Majesty King George and certain private parties. Crimes for which you shall hang.”
“Oh aye? It is a long way between here and the gallows, lads.” Jesamiah said with a tilt to his head and a calm smile. “Am I not entitled to a trial? The good citizens of Cape Town enjoy a good trial.”
“As they enjoy a good hanging.” One of the pistols was shoved nearer Jesamiah’s chest. “Judge, jury and rope are ready and waiting for the pleasure of your company. As we await the pleasure of our reward.” The pistol barrel prodded Jesamiah’s sternum, none too gently.
He frowned. What reward?
The hammer cocked. One click. Two. “One hundred and fifty beautiful gold pieces to him who delivers you into His Majesty’s custody.”
“We figured we’d split it a’tween us.”
Only one hundred and fifty? Jesamiah was unsure whether to laugh or feel insulted.
A long blink of silence and a frozen stillness; a waiting for one man to move before the other.
“I am afraid you may have need to figure again, mates.” Jesamiah finally said with a grin, “I’m not in the frame of mind to oblige helping you in your grand scheme of things.” He kicked out, hard and sudden, catching the startled pistol holder in the crotch, sending him sinking, groaning and clutching at himself to the bare floorboards. Falling forward, Jesamiah rolled, grabbing for the dropped pistol as he rose, fired. The man nearest the door yelped, blood pouring from where an ear lobe had been. And within seconds the room had became a vicious brawl.
Ducking low Jesamiah drew his cutlass and slashed at the nearest pair of legs, avoided a punch, took a kick in his ribs. He felt something crack, a sharp hurt, crumpled, wincing, knocking the chamber pot over as he fell, but was up on his feet again, dodging another blow, taking a punch to the jaw that sent him staggering.
A man lunged, caught Jesamiah off balance. Almost at the same moment another pistol fired, the shot thumping into his midriff – the two blows combined sending him toppling backwards, hard and fast against the window shutter. Thin and rotten, the wooden frame gave way and with a yip of surprise Jesamiah fell through, tumbling into the early morning quiet of the street below. He lay a moment, winded and disorientated.
Gathering his wits, glancing upwards at the furious faces peering down at him, he was on his feet and off, running into the night, darting and weaving along the narrow, dim-lit alleyway as if he were a hare with the Hounds of Hell chasing after him. A musket shot whistled past his ear, he swerved, kept running, aware, with sharp curses rattling in his panting breath, that he was being followed. Damn them! They had been expecting him to make a run for it, had posted men outside. Dodging to the left behind some piled crates stinking of fish he flattened himself into the shadows, took the opportunity to get his bearings and breath back. He ran his left hand across his waist. Chuckled. No wonder the pistol ball had packed such a thump; it had met with one of his gold pieces! He would find a coin-shaped bruise there come daylight. Funny, the rest of the pain was not registering; he had a lead ball in his shoulder but could not feel it. Frowned, looked down at his right arm, saw a ragged shirt, sodden with blood dripping profusely from the torn skin beneath.
Must have caught himself on the wood and glass as he crashed through the window, regretted looking. Now he had seen it his arm felt as though it were ablaze with searing fire.
Running footsteps, shouting voices and flickering torches coming towards him. He would have to move. He tried to run, his legs feeling suddenly odd, his vision blurring. He
stumbled, fell to one knee. Leaning on his cutlass – incredibly, still clasped in his right hand at the end of the bloody mess that was now his arm – he scrambled up, kept himself going by willpower alone, aware his blood was draining out of him like water leaking from a spout. He clamped his left hand across his forearm, ignoring the protest from the wound in his shoulder. If he did not find a safe hiding place soon, tend to this, he might well bleed to death. Could he reach the Inheritance? He cursed, realising he was running in the wrong direction, heading uphill away from the harbour. Aside, these were not fools; they would have had the savvy to put a watch on his ship.
“Fine bloody way to spend a birthday,” he grumbled, stumbled again, leant against a wall, head back, breathing heavily. He closed his eyes, let the world of these dark, slum alleyways of Cape Town spin by a few times. Feeling the first signs of consciousness beginning to ebb away, desperate, he murmured, “In the name of all that is good, someone help me!”
His vision blurring, walking – staggering, he no longer had the strength to run – he reached the end of the sewage-stinking alley, turned right then left, the agony of his arm and shoulder tearing through him. Men coming towards him. Where were they all appearing from? He side-stepped into a passageway, swore colourfully and explicitly as an arm caught at his waist, spiralling him inward towards the unlit darkness of a sheltering wall. He tried to kick out, to lift the cutlass clutched in his right hand but all strength was leaving him, seeping away with his pumping blood. He almost fell, but a woman’s arm was holding him upright. Her fragrant smell of summer meadows and flowers filled his nostrils. Her voice, urgent, in his ear.
“I can help. Do not struggle.” Deftly she turned him so his back was against the wall, her body pressing close into his to hold him upright as much as to shield him.
“Put your left arm around me – quick man! Do it!”
Bizarrely he still wore his hat. She reached up tipped it forward to hide his eyes, and then her lips were over his mouth kissing him, her palms flat against his chest as torches flared and the sound of heavy boots approached.
With one hand she brought Jesamiah’s head down burying his face in the mass of her black hair. She half turned, glowered at the two men who had paused to watch.
In a clipped uneducated accent, she snarled, “Go pay fer yer own pleasure, ye poxed curs! I be busy.” And she turned her head, her mouth seeking for Jesamiah’s again, her hand starting to hitch up her skirts.
Grinning, the men moved off, one of them lewdly fumbling at himself.
Bewildered, feeling wretched, Jesamiah moaned. This woman, a beautiful young woman, had come from nowhere, grabbed him, and was kissing him in a public alleyway. Yet when she had turned and bawled she was busy her features had blurred, her immaculate appearance had become ragged, greasy and smutty. He shook his head confused, felt the dizziness churn through him. His legs buckling, blackness rushing in, he began to
slide down the wall.
He was heavy. Attempting to hold him up, she eased her arm further around his waist and half pushing, half dragging him, she turned in through a low, unlit doorway. Inside, the passageway was dark, a feeble light showing from the head of a steep flight of wooden stairs. She let him sink to the floor in a crumpled heap, shut the door and slammed a bar across to secure it. Heaving him upright, pushed him up the stairs, his feet stumbling over
most of them.
“Jenna!” she called, urgent, “Jenna, come help!”
From the top of the stairs the light increased as a curtain was drawn back, its rings scraping on the wooden pole, a frowning, sleep-mottled face appeared. “Now what scrawny misfit have you brought home, girl?” The woman, dressed in night apparel, her hair twisted and tied in strips of torn rags advanced downward. “Lord, child! Can you not learn to leave injured tomcats to their own devices?”
Nonetheless, she helped carry Jesamiah into the first floor room, the
place filled with the pleasant aroma of herbs and coffee.
“Put him on the table,” Tiola gasped, nodding her head at Jenna who swept lengths of material and sewing paraphernalia to the floor. His face was drained of colour, a low moan escaped his lips as he slid into unconsciousness.
What happens next?
Sorry, you’ll have to read the book!
contact Helen if you would like postcards of the covers or signed bookplates to put in your books!
And if you are interested in the detail of Jesamiah's birth....
Coming VERY soon...
Ripples In the Sand ....
And if you are interested in the detail of Jesamiah's birth....
Coming VERY soon...
Ripples In the Sand ....
... the nautical adventure continues
As a special birthday treat - see an animates version of the cover:
the winner was Mary Tod
Entries close 9pm midnight 9th December, winner will be notified by e-mail.