The two men were camped along the road. One was white and one was black. Their camp was well hidden to protect them from the bandits in white hoods that were reported in the area. At sunset, a small group of travelers made camp across the road from them. There were six men and one woman, who appeared quite ill.
"Boss, how much longer do we have to keep her like this?" asked one man, as he lifted the woman out of the back of the wagon.
"Till she says, 'I do', tomorrow. Then Miss Agatha P. Johnson will be my wife and make me heir to her plantation when her father and stepmother have their accident." Across the road, the white man grew furious.
"Shadow, we must stop this."
"Capt'n, you got a plan?"
"We break camp silently, and, when they are asleep, we grab the girl and dash back to the ship. In town, I'll get Father Ramon to marry us and we sail on the morning tide."
"Aye aye, sir, but I’m not sure the Father would marry you and I.” Shadow ducked the punch then continued, “But, if you marry the girl, she stays in the same mess she is in now, and you get your plans for Miss Peggy ruined."
"As soon as we get home, I'll get an annulment. The wedding should stop these scum, and get them to give up the chase. Besides, I haven't rescued a damsel in distress since I was fourteen years old."
Shadow chuckled at that, and started packing up. At midnight, the white man picked up the drugged woman and mounted his horse. Shadow followed behind him, after making sure the unconscious guard was securely tied and gagged.
At three A.M., Father Ramon was awakened by pounding at his door. He pulled his robe over his head, reached for his spectacles and stumbled to the door. "Don't knock it down, I'm coming." The sight he saw as he opened the door would have surprised a priest of fewer years, who did not recognize Captain Jackson Miles. He had known the Captain and his first mate, Billy 'Shadow' Miles, for the past ten years. His first meeting had been memorable, in that he found them hiding in his church, from what, they never did confess. He remembered remarking on their last names and being told that Shadow had been a slave on Jack's father's plantation. He had taken that last name when he had been freed and went to sea with Jack. Father Ramon did believe that, but felt there was much more to the story. The eyes of the two young men were exactly the same. He had always judged people by their eyes, and even though one was blonde and the other Negro, they had to be brothers. "Shadow, how nice to see you. Although yesterday, I had the impression that you were traveling inland for a week or so, to enjoy our beautiful Texas scenery."
"Well, Father, plans change to suit my Captain. You know how he is." Shadow leaned comfortably against the door frame, blocking the half of the doorway that Father Ramon wasn't blocking.
"Would you two please move? This bundle I'm carrying is heavy." Jack pushed past Shadow and entered the one room that was home for Father Ramon.
"Really, Captain Miles, abducting fair young maidens is not smiled upon by the Lord. I certainly hope you have a good story for me, tonight." Father Ramon knelt by his bed, where Jack had dumped the girl. He examined her quickly and almost didn't recognize her. He hid his reaction, and turned to Jack, "She seems unhurt, but why is she unconscious?"
"The Capt'n thinks she was drugged by some scum, so he wants to marry her tonight." Jack groaned at Billy's summation of facts, and Father Ramon began a chuckle deep in his chest.
"Ah, I see. Jack, I knew the Lord would strike you some day, but somehow, I always thought it would be lightning. You want to explain this, or just say your vows?"
"Look, Father, she was going to be forced to marry this guy, and then her parents were going to be killed, so he would inherit the plantation. If I marry her, and sail out of here, he'll be stopped, and she will be safe. Just let it be known around town that Miss Agatha Johnson was married by her much beloved fiancee. If, on the other hand, you would lie about it, I could save myself a marriage.
Father Ramon smiled. It was past time Jack had a wife and started a family. His reasons for marrying this girl were honorable, and he was a caring man. There was also a secret that he knew, that these two men didn't. He thought to himself, 'The Lord does work in mysterious ways. Prayers are often answered in the most peculiar way. I'd better hurry before Jack changes his mind.' "Let me get my Bible, and wake Mrs. O'Mally to witness, and you can be on your way."
Shadow thought the father's easy acceptance of the situation was strange. It was unlike him to hurry to do anyone's bidding, without knowing all the facts. Jack wasn't thinking at all.
* * *
The girl became aware of movement, not a horse or wagon. Sounds, waves, she was now on a boat! Her head hurt; as a matter of fact she hurt all over. Her mouth felt like it was stuffed with cotton. The last thing she could remember was drinking a glass of wine with Mr. Crofton. She listened until she was sure she was alone in the room. She sat up and scanned the cabin. She occupied a narrow bed, built into one wall. Across from her, a desk was built into the other wall. In the middle of the room was a table, nailed to the floor, and two chairs. The wall at the head of the bed was a series of windows, with a padded bench below. A cupboard next to the desk was most likely for clothes. The door was in the remaining wall, and on pegs were an assortment of weapons. She got out of bed, noticing that she was still in her dress, and went to the door. It was locked. So, she was a prisoner. She took a pistol, a Navy Colt six shot, and a dagger, and returned to the bed. As she was hiding the pistol under her mattress there was a knock on the door.
"Are you awake, Ma'am?" a soft young voice asked.
Quickly, she pulled the sheet back into place and hid the dagger behind her back. "Yes, I'm up." she replied in a weak voice.
A key turned and a boy of about fourteen entered, carrying a tray of food. He set it on the table, "The Capt'n's compliments, Mrs. Miles. He said you would most likely be hungry after your ordeal. I'm Tommy, the Capt'n's cabin boy. He asked me to look after you, until he can get free to come down. I'm sorry your trunks were lost, but some of my clothes in the cupboard should fit you. Well, you enjoy the dinner, and I'll be back in an hour or so." With that, Tommy opened the door to leave. "Be careful with that pistol, Ma'am. It's got a hair trigger and shoots a bit to the left." He smiled and closed the door and was gone.
Mrs. Miles? Why had he called her that? She must have talked in her sleep, while dreaming her favorite dream, about her childhood knight in shining armor coming home and marrying her. She thought about how her childhood love would live on his ship. She remembered when he had been sent to Baltimore to learn his grandfather's shipping business. She had been twelve, and he had been fifteen. Before he left, he promised to return to her.
* * *
So much had happened in the years that had passed. Jack had not come back. Her stepfather had married Jack's mother after Jack's father had died, the year after he left. Then the war had come. She had been sent to her aunt in Texas, since it would be safer there than on the plantation in Virginia. Now the war was over, and she was going home. She had told part of her story to Mr. Crofton in the hotel, and that was the last she remembered. She sat and ate. The food was surprisingly good. Why was she locked in this cabin on this ship? If she was a prisoner, why did they leave weapons in here? Tommy seemed to think it a joke that she took the gun. None of this made any sense. She decided to ask Tommy for answers, at gun point if necessary, when he returned.
Tommy came up on deck and moved to the helm, where the captain and first mate were. "Capt'n, your missus is awake and eat'n dinner. She sure is perty."
Shadow grinned at his friend. "The boy has an eye for fine women. Better watch him closely."
"Damn it, Shadow, this is serious. She is bound to be scared to death. I better go down and talk to her."
Tommy didn't know why the capt'n's wife should be scared on his ship, but grown ups did many strange things. Women did the strangest, but he had noticed some strange things happening to himself, when he thought about them. "Capt'n, you should know, Mrs. Miles got that Colt and a dagger."
"Oh, shit!" The captain turned and started for his cabin.
"Now my son, abducting displeases the Lord, but the murder in your eyes will anger him for sure. There may be lightning in that cloud." Shadow's rendition of Father Ramon was perfect. He and the captain burst out laughing.
"You know, my friend, if the good Father had known why we were hiding in his confessional, he would have supplied his own lightning."
"You boys better run!" Shadow imitated again. "I do believe that was the only time we wanted to leave a whore house."
Tommy was staring at them open mouthed.
"We better watch what we say. Tommy here might get the right idea about us." The captain walked away, still smiling.
* * *
She finished eating, and moved back to the bed. The key in the door turned, and in walked a very handsome man. "Well, you seem to be recovering fairly well. I guess you are up for this." He moved across the cabin toward her.
She had no idea what he was up to, but she was taking no chances. In one swift easy move, she pulled the gun out of its hiding place, cocked it and aimed it at his chest. Her hand was amazingly steady.
He stopped dead in his tracks. "Look, Agatha, I'm not going to hurt you, I just want to talk and explain things to you."
'Agatha! Good lord no one called her that! How did he know her name and not know she preferred her middle name?' she wondered. "I know you will not hurt me, not as long as I have this." Her arm was getting tired and her aim dropped a bit.
"Please, I'd rather be shot in the heart than where you are aimed now." There was humor in his tone, as he backed up and covered his manhood with his hands.
"Sorry," she said trying not to laugh.
"Fine way to get to know you. 'Well, you see, Doc, my wife took one look at me and shot them right off.'" He sat down in a chair and howled with laughter.
The gun snapped back up in reflex. "Your what?!"
"Easy there. Relax. The situation I found you in required some drastic action. You were drugged senseless and were going to be married to some scum. He was planning to kill your parents, and inherit their plantation." She lowered the gun, and stared at him. She was pale as a ghost. "Well, I couldn't let that happen, so I stole you from them. We rode like the devil to Galveston. I got a friend, who is a priest, to marry us. Before dawn, we got on my ship, and here we are."
"How did you know my name?" she managed, after the story had time to sink in a little.
"Shadow, he's the first mate and my best friend, and I were camped along the road, and six men and you came along and camped across from us. They didn't know we were there, and we heard them talking. After they were asleep, we got you and left. The priest is spreading the word that you are now married to your long lost love, me, so you will be safe from those goons."
"What are you planning to do to me?"
"That is pretty much up to you. I am returning to Baltimore. I now own this shipping company, so I'll not be able to captain this ship any longer. Then I want to visit my mother on her Virginia plantation and help rebuild, if possible. There is also a girl I fell in love with that I hope will be waiting for me."
"So you are telling me that you married me without my consent, you don't want me, and you are engaged to another. How strange. By the way, husband, what is your name, so that if I decide to shoot you, I will know the name to tell the undertaker?"
"Captain Jackson Benford Miles, at your service." When Jack straightened from his bow, she lay unconscious on the bed, still firmly gripping the pistol. "Grandpa said it was a powerful name, but this is ridiculous!" Jack carefully removed the gun, and covered her. Well, they would talk later. Right now, there was a storm coming and a ship to prepare.
When she awoke, it was dark. The sea was much rougher than earlier. She got up and found some matches, and lit the lamp hanging overhead. She sat back down on the seat under the window. She had to think this through. She was married to Jack, her Jack. But he didn't know. This was going to be an interesting situation. His kind heart was still the same. He went far beyond normal duty to rescue a 'perfect stranger' from danger. She knew she had been right to love him all these years. How she had feared that a twelve year old heart had made a shining Knight out of a bag of rags. She knew what his father had been. Samuel had told her very kindly when she was thirteen. He had wanted her to understand that a man's sons were not destined to be like him. Samuel was proof of that. So now, she had to decide how to handle this mess. She was married to the man she had loved for ten years and was even more in love with, now. Only, he didn't know he was married to the girl he had loved for so long. I wonder what else he doesn't know? Does he know we are step brother and sister? Does he know he has two Negro half brothers? Or about his younger brother and sister, twins, born a year after his father died? He had been on a voyage to China when the war broke out, and communication had been impossible. She knew the Benford Shipping Company had brought supplies from Europe to the Union, and some of its ships served in the Navy as blockade ships. How was he going to return to Virginia, when he was a Yankee, now? Of course, the North had won, and she hadn't believed in the South's cause, but women were never listened to. A knock on the door broke her thoughts. "Come in."
A tall Negro entered the cabin. "Miss Agatha, I'm Shadow, the first mate. The Captain sends his regrets, but with this storm coming he refuses to leave the helm."
My God, it was Billy. Jack had changed some, but Billy she would have recognized anywhere. "Shadow, that is a strange name. Please sit and talk to me for a while, if you can."
"I can't stay too long. 'Just don't shoot off my b....'" his rendition of Jack was as flawless as it had been when he was fourteen. "Sorry Ma'am, I didn't mean to say that."
She couldn't stop the grin from crossing her face. "I see the Captain confides everything to you. Do you tell him everything?"
"Well, there are some things he doesn't know, and I am not about to tell him."
"Right now, I need a friend. Someone who knows Jackson Benford Miles very well, and can keep a secret." She looked into Billy's eyes. Just like Samuel's and Jack's.
"Well as long as it isn't something that will hurt him, I can go along. Just remember, I love that man like a brother."
"I know, Billy."
He stared at her. She knew his name. Did Jack tell her? He was the only one on this ship that knew it. Everyone called him Shadow. Those eyes, he knew those dark glowing eyes. "I know you, don't I? Why can't I place you?"
She couldn't resist. Dropping to her knees, "Billy, do Jack again, Pleeeease."
He actually paled, and dropped into a chair. "Good Lord, Peggy!"
"Now don't you dare tell, 'Captain Jackson Benford Miles, at your service'. I'm not sure yet how to handle this whole thing. I love him, Billy, I always have."
"Wait a minute, are you already married? Your last name was Johnson wasn't it?"
"Yes, it always has been. My real father was killed when I was two months old. My mother remarried, and then died in child birth the next year; the baby, too. My step father raised me as his. Now he is married to Jack's mother."
"Your father and his mother married? This is complicated. We have been out of touch for so long." Billy shook his head. "I guess the last word from home was the letter from Mr. Benford telling us the Masta' was dead. Then we were off around the world, trading and amassing our own fortune, and then this war..."
"Oh, Billy, so much has happened. Jack has twin brother and sister, James and Sandy, and you now have, let me see now, four brothers and two sisters."
"Mama and Samuel sure been busy. Three new boys and a girl."
"Ah, Billy, you don't know? Samuel didn't tell you? Oh, my."
"Didn't tell me what? Come on, out with it."
"Well, only one boy and girl since you left, Sam, Jr. and Mable. The other two brothers you always had, only didn't know. Oh, this is hard." Peggy swallowed, and didn't know how to go on from there.
"Come on, how do I have two brothers I don't know about? I know I was Mama's first. Did Samuel have other sons?"
"Billy, Samuel isn't your father; he is your oldest brother. You see, I'm sorry, this is hard to tell and have it make sense. Well, Mr. Miles had an evil and cruel side."
"That I know. He also controlled how the slaves had babies. So if he had Mama with Samuel's Papa, I am not surprised. So who is my Papa and other brother?"
"Mr. Miles was evil, Billy. He kept slaves just to please himself, boys and girls." Her stomach turned, just thinking about it again. "He was Samuel's Papa. He forced himself on your Mama, her first day at Ashbrooke. She named you Billy, so he would know for sure, you were his. All this came out the day you and Jack found me in the woods. Samuel told me, when I was thirteen, so that I would understand, if I heard stories."
Billy sank down in his chair and shook his head. He sat quietly, putting all the pieces together. It explained why he and Samuel resembled each other, But this other brother,..., Jack, of course. "Well, well, well. I always knew Jack and I were close. Brothers, now don't that just beat all!" Billy frowned as he let that information sink in. "Now, you listen to me, don't ever say that again where there is any chance at all that someone will overhear you. Jack has just offered me this ship after we reach Baltimore. I'll be the first Negro Captain and that will be hard enough, without talk about being a bastard brother, too."
"Tell me about Jack, now." Peggy asked after a few minutes of silence.
"Well, mostly, we been at sea. His Grandpa had us both working to learn the shipping business, the hard way. We have gone from cabin boy, to seaman, to officer, and now captain. We have sailed around the world twice, and now Jack has to go and run the whole thing."
"No, Billy, I mean tell me what Jack is like, now. He still seems kind and generous."
"That he is. We haven't had a flogging on this ship since he took command. We have seen some cruel things on ships, and in some ports, but no one was more angered or repulsed than Jack. He is a good man, none better, as a matter of fact." Billy smiled with pride for his friend.
"My God, I'm married to a saint! How on earth can I possibly deal with that?" Peggy laughed at the expression on Billy's face. "So, he isn't a saint. Why on earth not?"
In perfect Father Ramon, "Now you must understand, Jackson is a real man. He does tend to act on little, and reacts to even less. The good Lord has watched over him for some time. Probably waiting for a good shot with a lightning bolt."
"Father Ramon, I should have known. He was the priest that married us?"
"You mean you know him?"
"Certainly! My aunt and I were great supporters of his orphanage. He was the only person I ever told about wanting to marry Jack."
Laughter erupted from Billy. "Why, that sly son of a b---, Sorry. He knew! I thought it strange that he married you two without the least little bit of trouble. Jack has always talked about going home and courting you when you were old enough. Lord, save a bolt of that lightning for Father Ramon."
After another silence, Peggy asked, "By the way, why the name, Shadow?"
"It was noticed by the first crew we were with, that we were always together. The boatswain said we were like one boy and his shadow. It stuck, and besides, I like it. Gives me an air of mystery."
The ship suddenly pitched, sending Peggy sprawling on the floor. Shadow helped Peggy back to the bed. "So much for a nice gentle night. You best stay in bed. It is the safest place in a storm. I'll get back to talk some more tomorrow, but right now I need to get topside." He got up and turned to leave.
"Shadow, two things, before you go. Remember, call me Agatha, and where would I find the chamber pot?" she blushed at the last.
"Miss Agatha, the Capt'n, being near a god on this ship, has no need for a chamber pot." He walked over to the center of the window seat and lifted the seat to reveal an opening. "Just like an outhouse only better. Jack thinks someday every one will have an indoor privy. It also makes the crew think he is super human. He never has to..., well, you know." Shadow grinned at her with laughter in his eyes. "I'll remember Agatha, as long as you remember Shadow."
"Thanks, it really is good to be with you again. I've missed you and Jack." A tear formed at the corner of her eye, which she quickly wiped away. Shadow left then. Peggy didn't feel tired, so she carefully made her way to the cabinet where Tommy said some clothes might be found. She was soon dressed. A pair of Tommy's pants that did nothing to hide her curves. One of Jack's shirts with the sleeves rolled up and the tail tied around her waist.
She returned to the bed and listened as the storm increased. She was trying to decide how to deal with this situation. She returned to the mirror and looked at herself. Her face was different, as would be expected, but her eyes were still the same. Her hair fell in greasy tangles halfway down her back. It must have been at least a week, maybe two, since she had washed it. Even though it was loose, it was close to her head like it was when she had it braided. As she pondered the events of the day, she braided her hair and looked again in the mirror. "She-Wolf, nice to see you again. Going hunting?" she giggled to herself. She-Wolf was the name the friendly Indians in Texas had given her, not given, really, she had earned it. 'Maybe I should hunt Jack.' she thought, as she got in bed and drifted into sleep.
Jack is in sooooo much trouble.