"I wish mother could see this."
Jessamine pressed her face to the glass window. The Cafe du Monde was crowded with people, but there were more outside watching the Mardi Gras parade. Enthralled with the pretty floats and bright-colored costumes, she felt her heart racing.
"Yes, she would have had her nose against the window as well."
Jessamine smiled sadly at her father and patted his hand. "It's okay, Father. As long as we have each other, we'll get through this."
He shook his head. "You are so strong for an eight year old."
She suppressed the tears and tried to smile, but her lips shook. "Not really, but mother wouldn't want us to mourn her forever."
He sighed and wiped the beignet powder off her chin. "It's time to return to the ship. It sails in about an hour."
Jessamine followed him out onto Decatur Street, and he grabbed her hand. He pulled her behind him as he pushed his way through the crowd. They stopped at the corner, waiting for a carriage to move. She tugged her hand free to scratch her nose and tried to see over the crowd. Jessamine desperately wanted to see a float. She stepped to her right to try and peek around a lady holding a large parasol but still couldn't see anything.
Frustrated, she turned to ask her father to lift her on his shoulders, but the spot where he had been standing was empty. Her heart jumped in her throat, and she froze in fear. She quickly searched the crowd, looking for a tall blond haired man. Panic overwhelmed her as she could see no sign of him. She bit on the tip of her glove and refused to cry.
I'm not a baby anymore. I'm a big girl. I can handle this.
She took a shaky breath and let it out through tight lips, something she had watched her mother do a hundred times. Thrusting her chin up, Jessamine headed toward the ship. She just knew her father would be there waiting for her.
"But Captain Mayfield," Jessamine cried, tears pouring down her face. She stood on the deck of The Lady Seasprite. "You can't leave my father. I know he'll be here soon."
"I'm sorry, my dear, but I run a tight ship. Schedules must be kept at any cost." The old captain's grey hair lifted as a chilly breeze wafted over them.
She pulled her shawl tighter and sniffed. "Fine. Then let me off before you set sail. I'll not leave without him."
His brows drew together. "I think that would be unwise. I cannot in good conscience let a young lady such as yourself go about the French Quarter on her own."
Her mouth dropped. "But--"
"I tell you what," he said and put a fatherly arm about her. "At our next stop, I shall wire a line to the office in New Orleans and let them know you are with me. Now I must tend to setting sail, my dear."
Fighting tears, Jessamine stepped to the rail and watched the bustling city of New Orleans. Her heart ached at the thought of her father searching futilely for her.
He must be worried sick.
The thought released a torrent of tears down her face. Unable to watch as the city faded from sight, she rushed below deck to the cabin and cried herself to sleep.
The days had passed slowly for Jessamine. She had worried non-stop over losing her father in the crowd. She missed him dearly and wished she'd never let go of his hand. Sleep became her only comfort, and when someone banged crazily on the cabin door, she grouchily rose from her bed, struggling to keep her words civil. "Who is it?"
"It's Captain Mayfield. Open the door, Miss."
She scrambled for a robe before letting him in. The lantern cast shadows on his old worried face. She frowned. "What is it? What's wrong?"
He grimaced. "I'm afraid it's pirates, dear. We're about to be boarded by a lot of damn pirates."
Her face twisted in confusion. "But I thought there were no more."
"Unfortunately, my dear, there will always be pirates."
Her heart hammered in her chest as fear claimed her. "Oh no. You don't think they'll kidnap me, do you?"
Snippets of pirate tales flashed through her head, and her knees shook. She sank into a chair. The captain laid a pair of scissors on the table.
"Not if you do as I say." He hesitated before emphasizing his next words. "Young man."
The wind on the back of Jessamine's neck felt odd. She stood beside Captain Mayfield dressed in cabin boy clothes. Her hands trembled, and she put them behind her back. Thrusting her chin up, she stared at the early morning sky. She was too afraid to look at the pirates.
The leader pointed his revolver at Captain Mayfield. "You have a choice to make."
"No, actually, I believe my crew and I have but one course."
The pirate captain shrugged. "To the lifeboats with ye then."
The crew began to fill the boats as Captain Mayfield continued to talk. "What about food and other provisions?"
"Ye'll get enough for a few days, but as ye can see," the pirate motioned to his own crew, "I've got plenty of hungry mouths to feed meself."
The captain pulled on his white beard as he thought. Then he placed his hand on Jessamine's back and pushed her toward the pirate. "The boy's a good hard worker. Too young to starve to death."
Shocked, Jessamine started to protest when the pirate asked her if she wanted to join them in a life of adventure. Her heart pounded, and she looked at Captain Mayfield for guidance. He nodded once before turning his back on her. She swallowed over the lump in her throat and muttered a timid "aye".
The pirate smiled and pushed her in the direction of his first mate. "Welcome aboard, lad. Flint here'll show you to your duties."