The Mark of the Golden Dragon

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2013-05-14
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Jacky Faber embarks on another rousing adventure to delight her ever-growing legion of fans.The irrepressible Jacky Faber, condemned for life to the English penal colony in Australia for crimes against the Crown, has once again wriggled out of the grasp of British authorities. Back on her flagship, the Lorelei Lee,she eagerly heads back to England in the company of friends and her beloved Jaimy Fletcher. But when the voyage is waylaid by pirates, storms, and her own impetuous nature, Jacky is cast into a world of danger that extends from the South China Sea to the equally treacherous waters of London politics. With the help of her loyal friends, Jacky meets her enemies head-on in this tale of love, courage, and redemption.



December 1807
Off the coast of Java
Onboard theLorelei Lee

O God of Grace and Glory, we come before you this day in memory of our fallen shipmate. In your boundless compassion, console those of us who are left behind to mourn. Give us faith to see in death the gate of eternal life, so that in quiet confidence we may continue our course on Earth until by your call we are united with those who have gone before, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Eternal Father whose arm doth sometimes calm the restless wave, and whose mighty arm doth at other times whip the sea into an angry froth, please accept into your loving arms the soul of our lost mate who in your greater wisdom you saw fit to take. We commend unto your divine presence our beloved comrade . . .

Jacky Faber.


Part I

Chapter 1
My name is Jacky Faber and I am—by the grace of God, of Neptune, and of all the lesser gods—Owner and Captain of theLorelei Lee,possibly the most beautiful brigantine bark ever to sail the seven seas. I am once again back in command of that fine ship. I am in my lovely cabin and my bottom is pressed back in its favorite chair at the head of my fine table, and grouped about that table are many of my dearest friends.

I’ve a glass of fine wine in my fist and my dearly beloved James Emerson Fletcher sits here beside me, his hand in mine.Oh, Jaimy, finally!

I am supremely happy.

Now a drop of Nelson’s blood would not do us any harm,
No, a drop of Nelson’s blood would not do us any harm . . .

Things are getting a mite rowdy here on theLorelei Leeas we lift our glasses and bellow out the words to the song. My ship has been sailing in company with theCerberusand HMSDartback up the Strait of Malacca, with Sumatra to port and the Malay Archipelago to starboard, having left Australia, and all its meager charms, far behind.

Most of those in this northerly bound fleet had been condemned to servitude in the penal colony in New South Wales, but we managed, through various mutinies, battles, and some very welcome help from God, luck, and a Chinese pirate, to wriggle free of those bonds, and for that we are eternally grateful. I am, anyway.

Were we guilty of those crimes for which we were transported to the other side of the world? Well, the Irish lads were guilty mostly of merely being Irish. My own dear Jaimy Fletcher, former Lieutenant in His Majesty’s Royal Navy and now in the eyes of that Service a vile pirate captain, was mainly guilty of merely being associated with me, false witness being brought against his good name.

My own guilt? Well, I’ll let others decide that, but I won’t stick around and wait for their decision. Oh, I suppose when I stand before the Pearly Gates, I’ll have a few things to answer for, but I’d rather have God judge me and my actions than be judged by the King’s ministers, who have not been all that kind in their treatment of my poor self. I do hope God will be more merciful than King George has proven to be.

And we’ll all hang on behind!

Earlier we enjoyed much high hilarity over the pardons granted to all of us by Captain Bligh, Governor of New South Wales. This came about because my good Higgins, in securing the head money for each of the two hundred and fifty assorted female convicts we had delivered in good health to the colony, had also managed to cop a pile of the pardon forms. Using them, we had greatly delighted in granting ourselves absolution from all those various crimes for which we had been condemned. Captain Bligh—yes,thatunfortunate Captain Bligh, formerly of the infamousBounty—had signed the cargo manifest himself, so it was an easy thing for me to fake his signature on the pardons. I am quite good at forgery . . . among other things.

And we’ll roll the golden chariot along,
Yes, we’ll roll the golden chariot along,
We’ll roll the old chariot along,
And we’ll all hang on behind.

As we sing out the song, we linger over each “roll,” making it “rrooooll” in time to the roll of the ship. Well, actually, the Lee is more wallowing than rolling, since we are essentially becalmed, which is why the captains of theDartandCerberusfigured it was safe enough to leave their ships in the care of their junior officers and are now over here eating up my food, slugging down my wine, and eyeing me up, the dogs. I sit at the head of my table with Captain Fletcher on my right . . . and Captain Joseph Jared on my left.

So, yes, there are complications, for this Joseph Jared also has a claim on my affections—it was he who had befriended me when I was pressed into service on HMSWolverineand who helped me in the eventual takeover of that unhappy ship and who protected me from harm in that vile French prison. Both Jaimy and Jared know how things lie between the three of us, and it makes for a bit of tension in the room.

Complications, complications . . .

I heave a sigh and think that if Joseph were not here right now, I’d be sitting in Jaimy’s lap, and if Jaimy were not here, I’d probably be in Joseph’s. Another heavy sigh. Just why my scrawny and much-scarred self should be such a source of covetous concern, I don’t know . . . Men, I swear . . . I right now sit with my head mostly shaved ’cept for a braided pigtail hanging at the back of my shiny skull and a rather garish tattoo of a golden dragon resting on the back of my neck under said pigtail.

My Sailing Master, Enoch Lightner, a white bandage over his sightless eyes, is seated at the foot of the table, and he sings out the next verse in his lusty baritone.

Now, another winsome girl would not do us any harm,
No, another winsome lass would not do us any harm . . .

Arthur McBride, he who is Third Mate of theCerberus, joins him, all the while leering at me over the rim of his wineglass.

Aye, one more winsome girl would not do us any harm,
And we’ll all hang on behind!

The young Irish hound must know, given that both Jaimy and Joseph are here aboard, that he has absolutely no chance of getting into my knickers—or into my bed, for that matter—but he nevertheless gazes upon me with some heat as he sings the verse to finish up the song. I know that it was with great regret that he left his lovely and most attentive Chinese handmaidens behind him on Cheng Shih’sDivine Wind. Sorry, mate, but for you, once again, the hair shirt of the monk.

I am not the only female aboard, because Ian McConnaughey sits midtable with his wife and my dear friend Mairead, in all her red-haired beauty, beaming at his side. ’Course Arthur McBride knows better than to try to touchher. In the past, he has never had such reservations aboutmeeven though for most of our acquaintance I have been his superior officer.

Ah, yes, the Jacky Faber bed . . . It is right over there, nicely made up by my servant, Lee Chi, with the best of silks and fine cottons, and I have seen covert male glances stealing over to look at it.Don’t think I don’t see your eyes, or know your thoughts, you dogs.

My Jolly Roger flag is draped at the foot of the bed and my gold-on-green silk Chinese dragon pennant floats over the top of it. I place my right hand on Jaimy’s as we all sing out the song, but I do not place my left hand on Joseph’s, even though I sort of want to. No, after all, we can’t have a jealous male duel right here right now, and over my silly self, now, can we . . . ?

Complications, complications . . . Life used to be so simple . . .

Although we left the shores of Australia weeks ago, we continue to celebrate our deliverance from captivity. That is, some of us do, anyway—myself and my officers, and James Emerson Fletcher, Captain of theCerberus, with his crew of recently freed Irish lads, many of whom were former crew members of my first ship, the bold, sleek, and ultimately doomedEmerald. Joseph Jared, Commander of the third ship in our fleet, HMSDart,a neat and trim thirty-gun sloop of war, joins us in this celebration, but he is not a recently freed convict. Oh, no. He is, in fact, in charge of the Royal Navy ship that was assigned to escort the East India Company’s shipCerberusto New South Wales and then bring her back. Therein lies a further complication because the Cerberus is no longer in the possession of the East India Company but is being held now by James Emerson Fletcher and his crew of Irish rogues.

It was what Mr. Yancy Beauregard Cantrell, renowned Mississippi gambler, used to call a “Mexican stand-off” . . . all participants involved standing with guns pointing at each -other’s heads, waiting for someone to make the first deadly move. Something had to be done.

I called a conference. When all were gathered in my cabin, I said, “Gentlemen, please, we must come to some sort of agreement. Captain Jared, you may speak first . . .”

Jared stood and said, “Most of you are escaped convicts. I am honor bound to take you back . . .”

That got him a low growl from those present, who did, after all, outnumber him in the way of armed ships.

“. . . however, I am open to suggestions.” He sat back down.

Then my good and very intelligent John Higgins, the very soul of reason, spoke up:

“I know, Mr. Jared, how deeply you hold your concept of honor as a Royal Navy officer. However . . . consider this: Your initial duty was to escort theCerberusto New South Wales, then back to England. Is that true?”

Jared nodded. “That was our mission.”

Higgins fussed with some papers on the tabletop and continued.

“TheCerberusdid, indeed, go to Australia and did discharge its cargo of felons as ordered. It is now ready to go back to England, under your protection, as per your original charter. So you have fulfilled your duty in that regard. Is that true?”

Jared considered this, and then said, “True.”

“Now, as to theLorelei Lee. . .” Higgins continued, “I believe, Captain Jared, there is nothing in your orders concerning that particular craft. Is that right?”

“Also true.”

“Well, then, this is Faber Shipping Worldwide’s modest proposal: That we all proceed back to European waters. Once there, theLorelei Leewill go back to her home port of Boston, and theCerberusand theDartwill go into British waters and any disputes between their respective captains will be settled there, and in an honorable fashion.”

Higgins again paused and looked about. He cleared his throat.

“Ahem. There are further considerations: It is a long way back to England, and we are a formidable force—three swift ships, trained crews, and sixty-two guns, with powder and ball to match. It is to be expected that we will encounter many French and Spanish ships, and we are still at war with those nations . . . Prizes, Sirs . . . many rich prizes . . .”

There was a low growl of avarice all around the table, and the deal was done.

It was an uneasy truce, but, for now, it seems to be holding. Mr. Joseph Jared will have to make a decision when we get back to European waters—one of those “friendship versus duty” decisions—and I, for one, am not looking forward to the outcome.

Complications, complications . . .

“What means song, Memsahib? Who is Sahib Nelson and why do you sing of his dear blood?”

I look down into the deep dark eyes of Ravi, my little East Indian boy, gazing up at me. He is dressed in the white loincloth in which I first met him back on that street in Bombay. He holds a tray of full wineglasses, and eager hands reach out to grab their stems as he passes them around.

Grateful for a moment to deflect the ardent adult male gazes aimed in my direction, I direct my full attention to Ravi. I run my hand through his black locks and beam my present contentment down upon the little fellow. I am back in command of my lovelyLorelei Lee,Jaimy and all my friends are about me, and all’s right with my watery world, for now.So why not live in the moment,I say. I want to throw my booted foot up on the table in sheer exuberant contentment, but I don’t do it, being sort of a lady, and all.

“Well, young Sahib Ravi, it was like this,” I say, scooping up the last glass on his tray and lifting it to my lips. “Several years ago there was a great naval battle off Cape Trafalgar, on the coast of Spain. It was between us Brits, with assorted Scots, Welsh, and Irishmen, against the might of Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France. Over seventy warships were involved. All the men at this table were there and qualified to wear this medal—”

“Wasn’t my fault you dumped me off back in London before the big fight!” laments Mairead, tossing her copper locks about in mock resentment. “Or I’da had a foine medal, too, like the one you wear, you brazen hussy!”

Laughter all around.

I grin and look down at the Trafalgar medal that rests on the chest of my navy blue lieutenant’s jacket, gold braid all around. True, I did get one of the medals that were struck to commemorate that great event, despite my being female, thanks to the efforts of Captain Trumbull, the officer who had relieved me of command of the HMSWolverine.

“Yes, Mairead,” I say. “And had you been on board, I’m sure the French would have been vanquished all the sooner!”

More laughter, but I’m not altogether kidding. Mairead is a fiery, fierce thing, and she would have given her best had she been there. I know it.

“Anyway, Ravi,” I continue when the place subsides a bit. “This here gent”—and I pick up the medal and show him the man depicted there in profile—“was Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, of the Royal Navy, and he led our fleet to victory that day against superior odds.” I put the medal back flat upon my chest. “Had he not done so and we had been defeated, then Napoleon could have freely landed his troops on the east coast of England. At the best, there would have been many very bloody battles, and at the worst, we would all now be wearing French uniforms and Boney would be seated in Windsor Castle.”

That gets a low growl from the Brits present.

“So, Ravi, to continue . . . At the end of the great battle, there was a French marine high up in the rigging of a French First-Rate man-of-war, and he shot down upon the officers who stood on the quarterdeck of HMSVictoryand wounded Lord Nelson most severely.”

Ravi’s eyes grow wider and wider.

“And then, Missy Memsahib?”

“And then his men carried him down to his bed and laid him upon it, and there he died in great pain from a bullet in his spine, his last words being ‘Come kiss me, Hardy, if you love me,’ Captain Hardy being the commander of his flagship and his longtime friend, y’see.”

“Very sad, Miss, but does not explain song,” says the persistent Ravi.

“I’m getting to that, boy, just hold on. Ahem . . . So then, what to do with Lord Nelson’s body? The naval officers present thought long and hard about it. He was much too important to be simply tossed over the side like any ordinary dead seaman. After all, he had saved Mother England herself, so it was decided that his body should be placed in a large cask and that cask be filled with rum to preserve his honored remains.”

“Indian way much neater. Build fire, thenpoof.”

“I know, Ravi, but that is not our way,” I continue. “And so it was done—Nelson’s body was stripped down and placed in the cask, and the barrel was filled to the top with the best rum the ship had onboard, and HMSVictoryheaded back to England, bearing its sad burden.”

“And so that is end of story, Missy?” asks Ravi. I can tell he is not totally satisfied with my explanation.

“Well, not quite, Ravi,” I say. “There was one problem with the cask into which Nelson was put. There was a small spigot at the bottom . . .”

Snorts of suppressed laughter all around.

“So?” asks Ravi, mystified.

“So, my beautiful little boy.” I chortle, gathering up the lad and hugging him to me. “When the ship got to England and the funeral was prepared and the cask was opened”—a bit of a pause here—“and when the cask was opened . . . the body of Lord Nelson was still in there”—another pause—“but the rum was not!”

Roars of laughter fill the cabin.Well told, Jacky!

“But what happened to it?” asks my innocent little lad.

“Uh . . . theVictory’s sailors had snuck down in the dark of night and opened the spigot to pour themselves cups of the rum, and they drank it till it was all gone.”

Ravi pulls away from me, aghast. “But that is disgusting!”

I pull him back to me, shaking with laughter. “If you thinkthatis disgusting, Ravi, then you do not know British sailors!”

More gales of raucous laughter.

“And so you see, little one, a cup of Nelson’s blood is another way of saying ‘a cup of rum.’ And sometimes having a bit of a drink is called ‘tapping the Admiral’! Now go do your job and fill more cups with Nelson’s blood and pass them around!”

Ravi, thoroughly revolted, I am sure, to the depths of his Hindu soul, scurries off to do his duty. I turn back to the . . . situation . . . at hand. We are essentially becalmed and so I have no real reason to deny Jaimy my bed this evening, and oh, I do so want it to be so . . . But what of Jared? What of discipline?

Complications, complications . . .

While I’m dwelling on how I’m going to deal with this, I notice that Lee Chi, who is usually a cheerful sort of Chinese eunuch, is uncharacteristically nervous. He has been serving the food under Higgins’s watchful eye, but he has also gone to the door several times to peer out, coming back each time looking more worried. He was given to me by the Chinese pirate Cheng Shih, who had, well . . . ahem . . . taken a bit of a shine to me when I was her prisoner on our way down to Botany Bay.Quite a bit of a shine,I recall with a slight blush coming to my cheeks.

It sure is hot in here,I’m thinking as I stick my finger in my collar and pull it away from my neck. I rather regret being dressed in my naval finery—heavy jacket, lacy shirt, tight britches, and black boots. But I do like to show off, especially with Jaimy by my side, and it’s my duty as Grand Mistress of the Proceedings to look good and to sparkle and to be gay and so lend joy to all at my table.

I notice Lee Chi whispering something to Ravi, who has just come back into the cabin, and I break off telling a humorous story and motion for the lad to bring his tray to my side.

“What’s up, Ravi?” I say, cutting my eyes to the Chinaman, who stands nervously in a corner. “What’s wrong with Mr. Lee?”

“Sahib Lee teach me some of his words . . .”

“Yes, dear, go on,” I say.

“He saytaimeans ‘big’ . . .”

I nod at that, anxious to get back into the high hilarity of the evening, however hot it is growing in here.

“. . . andphoonmeans ‘wind.’ ”


I look up at Lee Chi and he points outside and says one word.


Uh-oh . . .

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