Saturday, February 20, 2010

Black Jack Davy Part 2

He rode east and he rode west, 
all in the morning early 
Until he spied his lady fair,
 cold and wet and weary. 
What makes you leave your house and lands? 
What makes you leave your baby? 

What makes you leave your own wedded lord 
to go with Black Jack Davy?

Title: Black Jack Davy Part 2
Author: Ranger

Captain John Edward Beverly Alford, second and youngest son of the Earl of Rotherham, had spent two years of his army career on Wellington's personal staff, with the result he had all of Wellington's officers' renowned virtues. 
He was a tactician; an excellent judge of ground and distance; he was a graceful and accomplished dancer and he could, when called upon, play a sound game of cricket. He was moreover, an experienced woodsman. A strange term to use on the rough mountains and sparse woods of Spain, but effective. It took him little more than twenty minutes to pick up the trail of a lamed horse ridden out over the commons towards Aylesbury.
Having found the trail, he kicked the heavy cob into action and followed it, not basing too much confidence in finding the runaways in Aylesbury town. To him, Kit Kennet looked the sort of child to act on impulse rather than forethought. And there were other men with red hair and bright blue eyes who thought with their tempers before their brains. Mr Ford's face grew a little grim at the thought. Once the abominable brat and his horse were safely retrieved, he had a few questions for Mrs Kennet.
He continued over his road onto the commons long after it began to grow dark and less experienced men would have abandoned their search. He was coming over the rise towards the Salsey woods when he became aware of another presence and pulled in the cob, whistling sharply.
Bally's response was instant and loud, no more than twenty feet to the left. Instantly followed by Kit Kennet's voice saying sharply,
"Stay where you are or I'll fire!"
Of course, the brat had found the pistol that resided, oiled and loaded, within Bally's saddle bags. Jack swung down from the cob, too exasperated to be gentle.
"Put a bullet in me and I shall wring your neck! Put the pistol down. It's me, Ford, from the Inn. After my lamed horse which you saw fit to borrow without my leave!"
In the dark he could just about make out a white face and two staring eyes.
"I'm not going back!"
"My dear boy I don't care in the slightest where you go, so long as you do not go with my horse!" Jack said irritably. "Put the pistol down, before you hurt yourself or the horses!"
"I don't know who you are! You could be-"
Jack lost patience. Leaving the cob and hoping it would stand instead of bolting, he slipped sideways away from the horses, then around behind the boy who's voice was starting to rise in panic.
"Where are you! Stand still! I'll fire! I swear I'll fire!"
Jack grabbed his wrist and took the pistol out of his hand with more efficiency than gentleness.
"No one's firing at anyone. Drop your voice and be sensible, you'll frighten the horses."
He could feel the boy shaking under his hand. He gripped firmly, reassuringly, and turned with him to reach for Bally's reins. She nudged him hard enough to make him stagger, searching his pockets. He let go of the boy to run a hand down her lamed leg, lifting the foot to peer at it in the darkness. He could see nothing, but her fetlock was hot and felt a little swollen.
"What did you think you were doing, riding a lamed horse?" he demanded of the child, annoyed. "If you think you may damage her in one of your tantrums my lad then you and I-"
"She took me."
The boy's voice was subdued but weary enough to be honest.
"She was kicking at the stable all the while Martin was shouting, until the stable boy opened the door. Then she came across to me and all I could do was mount her. She fled, not me. Although I'd have gone with her to France or to India for all I cared." The boy added, less certainly.
Jack pulled Bally closer and felt along her back. No saddle. For any boy to ride Bally barebacked, he had to be a good rider and well liked by Bally herself.
"Where did you find the pistol?"
"It-" the boy hesitated. "It was in her saddle bags in the stable. I found it this morning. I was going to put it back…"
"And what were you doing with my pistol?"
"Shooting at pigeons?" the boy's voice was rising uncertainly. "I didn't hit one-"
Like a small boy caught with his father's fowling piece. Jack pocketed the pistol and gave the boy a firm push.
"Get the cob and tie both these two up. Enough rein to be comfortable."
He was aware the boy hadn't moved. The voice, when it came, sounded terrified.
"Because it's dark you young fool and this common is pitted with rabbit holes. I don't want either horse with a broken leg, or either of us with a broken neck. We'll sleep here until daylight."
"On the common?"
Resisting the urge to clip the boy sharply around the nearest ear, Jack knelt and felt in his pockets for flints.
"I'm not going back-"
"Certainly we're going nowhere tonight. Horses."
Jack cut back enough turf and rose to his feet, casting around for something inflammable. A few feet away the bank sloped sharply downhill and he found a tree which yielded several dry sticks and handfuls of bark at it's foot. The fire kindled slowly. Jack nursed it by sheer force of habit, waiting until it was well alight before he banked it up. Then in the flickering light, he looked across the flames at young Kennet.
The boy was sitting with his arms tightly around his knees, his chin resting on his arms. Something about the shadows cast by the fire on that white face made Jack reach and put a hand beneath the boy's chin and push it up, overwhelming the boy's resistance. The blood of a well split lip was dried across the pale skin and the lip was badly swollen. A bruise was already blackening across one cheekbone near the eye and another split across one eyebrow had bled down the boy's nose. The eyes in between the bruises were wide and slightly blurred with the look Jack had seen in other youngsters staggering away from violence they had been uprepared for. He gripped the boy's shoulder and found him cold, shivering and stiff.
"This is Mr Martin's handiwork?" he said softly.
"I left my jacket there last night." The boy's voice sounded in danger of breaking. "He knew it was me."
And the brat's temper was no match for an angry man with heavy fists.
The cob's saddle bags held the provisions Jack always made when travelling. He rose and searched through them, returning with two water flasks, one of which he dropped into the boy's hands. The second he opened and tipped across his handkerchief, before he wadded the linen and knelt to press it gently to the still bleeding eyebrow. The boy flinched sharply and Jack hooked an arm around his shoulders to keep him still, hushing as he would have done to Bally.
"Easy lad. It's wine. Cleaner than water."
The boy felt alarmingly slight under his arm. Jack wondered grimly what manner of man could knock down this child. He was clearly no fighter and no opponent for a well built farmer. Save this child had the reputation of a demon and the local men had clearly been hard pressed to keep their hands from him for some time. The boy's trembling was increasing rather than assuaging. Jack lifted back the linen to look and moved the wine soaked pad down to the bruised cheekbone, speaking soothingly.
"That's bettter. At least I won't have to spend the night with a companion that looks like a pirate."
He realised it was the sort of teasing he would have made to a child, but it raised a very faint smile from the boy. He pulled the lad closer to him, tightening the arm around the fragile shoulders to stop the shivering.
"Next time you go picking a fight, choose a man a little less than twice your height."
The shivering had begun to turn to shuddering. Kit Kennet made that awkward, unpleasant sound of all youngsters forced to cry much against their will and pride. It was a sound Jack had heard more than once in the darkness of Spain from other hurt and frightened young men. He put the linen down and pulled the boy against him, folding both arms tight around the slight body, the red head under his chin. Kit made one single outraged attempt to withdraw, and then his voice broke and Jack held him while he sobbed, rocking him slightly in the faint light of the fire. 
There is little point in maintaining dignity with a man when you have howled in his arms like a small child, against all the rules of chivalry and adolescence. Kit watched the big, dark man move around the fire, still sniffling within the folds of the man's heavy driving cloak. The sudden crack of a pistol made him jump, then Jack returned to the fire, the limb body of a rabbit in his hands. Kit watched in surprise as the man knelt in the firelight and took a knife from his pocket. Then he hastily buried his face in his arms, blocking his ears as best he could. He heard Jack laugh, but not unkindly.
"I hope you're not as squeamish when it comes to eating, or you'll be hungry tonight."
"I never thought a gentleman would know how to do - that-" Kit didn't look up. Jack grinned.
"Army. In Spain you learnt to catch and cook anything you could, or you really did go hungry."
"Where did you fight?" Kit asked curiously. Jack pushed a stick through the skinned carcass and jammed it over the fire.
"Talavera. Salamanca. Badajoz. You can look now."
"My father was a soldier."
"Was he?" Jack sat back, surveying the boy with more interest than he let reach his face. "I thought he must have been an innkeeper."
"I don't remember him." Kit confessed. "When I was a child we lived in Shropshire, or that's what my mother says. I remember the cottage there a bit. The garden and the horses that went past the gate."
"What did your mother do?"
Kit shrugged a little. "There was just the two of us. She used to help women in the village there sometimes- I remember people coming to talk to her, sometimes she'd give them things from the garden."
"And where was your father?"
"He used to visit sometimes. So my mother says."
Whatever else Briony Kennet had done for her son, she'd kept him sheltered enough to speak innocently of something that spoke volumes to Jack. No easy task to keep a boy shy of worldly wisdom in a village like Galwick. He had traces of the village accent but he spoke without dialect and Briony had obviously kept him away from the village children. Jack turned the rabbit and went on chatting, skillfully eliciting information from Kit with a gentleness that quickly had him chattering with the confiding trust of a small boy.
It took some coaxing to get the boy to eat more than a few mouthfuls. His initial enthusiasm quickly waned and Jack began to realise why his companion was so slight. In the Regiment there was no such thing as a boy who wasn't permanently starving; Jack found himself persuading with some disbelief until Kit finished the meat he was handed. Once he had eaten, Jack banked the fire and glanced at the boy still in the folds of his cloak.
"You'd better roll yourself up in that and get some sleep."
"I'm not going back to the White Rose." Kit said bluntly. "I'll sleep here the night, but in the morning I'll take the cob."
"And where will you go?" Jack asked. "To whom?"
Apparently Kit Kennet had habits of honesty that had stood him in less than good stead for conversations like these. Jack heard his silence and then his hiss of frustration.
"I'm NOT going back, you can't make me- if you try, I'll run away, I swear it-"
"My dear boy, it is a matter of manners, never mind sense, never to threaten your host." Jack took the saddle from the cob and put it on the grass, close enough to Kit for a pillow.
"Sleep. We'll talk in the morning."
Blue eyes blazed at him in the firelight. "I WON'T go back."
"In the morning." Jack interrupted firmly, amused. "No, peace brat! Sleep. It's too late for arguing."
Kit yanked the cloak over himself and curled up in a tight, defiant ball, the temporary truce forgotten. Jack sat and watched the fire, reflecting absently on the boy's obviously spitfire temper. Such a hell cat as that could not be so frightened of Martin that he would refuse to return to the only home he knew. And yet the dazedness in the blue eyes, the bruises and the shock in that small face were not exaggerated.
It was a fine night for catching the Post.
Jack dismissed the thought as soon as it touched him, but couldn't help listening to the clearness of the night. Bright and with a good moon, the Mail coach would be making good time tonight up the Great North Road and anyone quick enough to stand in their way would have everything on their side… the call itched within him, making him for one crazy minute consider leaving the boy asleep- then he caught himself and put the idea away.
No. Not tonight. Tonight he was bear leading this hell born babe. Jack grinned at the thought and settled himself to consider what best to do with the boy. 
Bally informed him clearly at daybreak, that Mr Kennet was intending to take the cob and make his escape. Jack lifted his head from the folds of his coat and fixed blue eyes with his own, piercing green ones.
"Chasing anyone or anything before breakfast lad, puts me RIGHT out of temper."
Kit's eyes widened very slightly but with genuine alarm. The bruises on his face were black this morning. Jack got to his feet, softening his voice.
"If you'll wait a minute while I get the cob saddled and the fire out we can find somewhere civilised to eat."
"I WON'T go home." Kit said plainly in tones that said he was prepared to resist any and all arguments to the contrary.
"I won't take you home." Jack said simply. "There's a village two miles from here with an inn I know."
"What are we going to do?" Kit said uncertainly, watching his mentor kick out the small and now smouldering fire. Jack picked up his cloak and the cob's saddle.
"You're going to write a letter to your mother, telling her you're safe and under my protection. And then I think you had better come with me to London. I was headed that way, I have business there, you can come with me for the time being." 
Continue on to Black Jack Davy Part 3

Copyright Ranger 2010

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