Welcome to Flash Pulp, Episode Twenty-Three.
Tonight’s story, The Charivari: A Blackhall Tale, Part 2 of 3
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Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – 400 to 600 words brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.
In the second chapter of our current tale of Thomas Blackhall, we open upon our hero, unsure of his course, as he hunts hooded bandits through the timberlands of Lower Canada.
Flash Pulp 023 – The Charivari: A Blackhall Tale, Part 2 of 3
The moon’s efforts made little difference amongst the brush at the base of the tall pines, and Blackhall’s greatcoat felt the pluck of many hidden briars as he pushed west.
He knew the men he followed were somewhere ahead, but dense forest and the desire for stealth had left him lagging. Still he crept on, experience having taught him patience.
As he moved he listened for a snatch of conversation on the wind and watched for the dancing shadows of a fire.
What little breeze stirred the stillness between the trees, ceased. Through the darkness came a noise – the rattle and clash of metal upon metal.
Blackhall, dropping all pretense of concealment, began to make his way north as rapidly as the entangling wilderness would allow.
His plunge was brought up short at a clearing, the moonlight finally reaching him unchecked. To the east was a house, small but well kept, and, at Blackhall’s estimate, some forty acres of plowed field beyond.
He had come upon the circular expanse at the southern most tip, but from his vantage point he could easily make out the white hoods of those he’d been hounding. Although he’d only noted two from his window, a dozen had gathered amongst the trees nearest the house. Most held pots and pans, and busied themselves rattling them together. At their center, their boldest member stepped forward, waving his gin bottle and shouting at the shuttered windows. The distance and ruckus prevented Blackhall from making out his words, but his agitation seemed genuine enough. What concerned him most, however, was the linen faced member who moved naught, but kept his musket close across his chest.
Frowning, Blackhall began to tread along the clearing’s edge, taking care not to reveal himself.
Two hundred yards from the gathering, he paused.
From amongst the clamor came something new – buried beneath the crickets and the mob, the sound of crying reached his ears. Pushing back his broad brimmed hat, he cocked his head, breathing in the humid air.
After a moment he crept forward in a duck walk, releasing his sabre from its scabbard.
With a slow hand he slid the point between the gnarled branches of a dense thicket, halting his advance as his hilt offered resistance.
“I apologize for interrupting in your time of distress, but I suspect you may be able to clarify a few things. If you’ll please join me amongst these shadows, I would have words with you.”
To Blackhall it seemed as if the bush were birthing, a boy crawling from its shadowed womb, the work of the scratching hands of the forest visible along his back, arms and legs. As the youth looked up, Thomas recognized the sandy hair, wide brow and small nose. He removed his coat, draping it about his companion’s bare shoulders. At closer range he could tell the boy was older than he’d first thought, yet still no more than one-and-twenty, with a child’s face and gawky limbs.
“Ah, you must be Constable Melbain’s errant brother?”
“Your name then?”
“Mitchum – we’ll briefly gloss the matter of your nude disposition, as expediency is likely best. Do you know why those men accost yonder house?”
“You are not with them then? It is a Charivari, sir. A warning to Mrs. Bigelow.”
In the distance the pot banging had moved from random chaos to a marching beat. The entire party was easily visible, now standing plainly away from the trees after finding courage in coordination.
Their center-man still led the slow advance, his rant unabated. Even at his distance, Thomas could see the damp circle of froth and spittle that had begun to form upon his linen guise.
“Your situation begins to explain itself. I have seen a few such rituals before, mostly amongst the French vineyards – I do not recall weapons or masks however. In fact, what I do recall is a lot of bawdy, out of tune singing, and copious local wine, all at the base of some red-faced couple’s window. It was often because an unpopular widow or widower had re-married before the end of mourning – has Arthur Bigelow been dead so short a time?”
“Arthur’s been in his grave nearly a decade. Patricia has been on this land for nigh fourty years, she practically raised this town, what right do they have to come slithering from the night to terrorize her?”
Thomas cleared his throat.
“Mitchum, I might guess by the daring of your attire, especially amongst so high a tide of mosquitoes, that they may have some dispute with your, uh, relationship with the widow Bigelow.”
The boy’s eyes hardened.
“Our business is ours, not my brother’s, nor the town’s.” He exhaled. “I must add, there is more than one motivation that might send an armed mob up from the village after Patty. Still, I am surprised that anyone would dare.”
“If you are here at the wildwood’s edge, where is Mrs. Bigelow precisely?”
“Well, we were taking a dip in the pond round back of the house when we heard the approach – she told me to git, and so I did. There’s a voice she has which’ll send you running to the trees without your clothes, and I was about where you found me when I could finally hear my brain over my pounding heart. My first thought was to run on for town and find Gareth, but it was my second that it was just as likely my brother was one of the intruders.”
As the boy talked, Blackhall’s eyes stayed upon the gathered throng.
The voice of the Ragmen ceased his raving, turning to the musket-bearer.
The man with the Brown Bess brought forth a white roll the size of a thumb, ripping at the end with his teeth.
Thomas stood, setting his sabre back at his belt and making a quick check of his Baker rifle’s breach.
Making best efforts to stoop amongst the cover of the brush, he once again began to run.
He’d yet to cover half the distance before the gunman had primed and readied his weapon.
The thug lifted the long barrel, sighting the house through his hood’s ragged slits.
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