Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 20e - "One Night in Saint-Martin" by Catherine Lundoff - transcript
(Originally aired 2018/03/31 - listen here)
Welcome to the debut offering of the Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast original fiction series! I think you’re going to love the stories that we have lined up for you across the year.
Our story this time is “One Night in Saint-Martin” by Catherine Lundoff. Catherine lives in Minneapolis with her wife and two cats. She is an award-winning writer and editor whose stories and articles have appeared, or are forthcoming, in venues such as Respectable Horror, My Wandering Uterus, Tales of the Unanticipated, The Mammoth Book of the Adventures of Professor Moriarty, Renewal, Callisto, The Cainite Conspiracies: A Vampire the Masquerade V20 Anthology and Nightmare Magazine: Queers Destroy Horror. Her recent books include Silver Moon and Out of This World: Queer Speculative Fiction Stories. Catherine is also the publisher at Queen of Swords Press, a new genre fiction publisher of tales from out of this world. When not writing or working on Queen of Swords, Catherine is a professional computer geek and former archeologist who enjoys science fiction and fantasy, good books and local theater. Catherine was featured in the very first Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast author interview, in August 2017 and I’m delighted to be able to offer you this tale of spies and pirates in the mid-17th century Carribbean.
Our narrator for this episode is Tiana Hanson. Tiana was born and raised in Fairbanks, Alaska, and came to the Bay Are to chase her lifelong dream of being a professional actress. She has narrated fifteen audiobooks (available on Audible), mostly lesbian romances, and is delighted to find a new creative outlet that allows her queer light to shine.
This recording is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License. You may share it in the full original form but you may not sell it, you may not transcribe it, and you may not adapt it.
“One Night in Saint-Martin”
By Catherine Lundoff
Captain Jacquotte Delahaye cautiously raised her spyglass above the rocky outcropping she was sheltering behind and swore under her breath. What was Celeste Girard up to? She looked as if she was simply flirting, laughing behind her fan at some witty remark from her companion, a rich Dutch merchant. But Jacquotte knew better: Girard was one of King Louis’ agents in the Caribbean and her companion was not what he seemed. Whatever she was up to, this was part of a plan.
She shifted against the rocks and heard the crackle of paper inside her jacket. The sound made her grin in the direction of the balcony that she was spying on. "I outwitted you before, Mademoiselle Girard and now I have your authorization from the King. Will I need to outmaneuver you again or are we now allies on the same side?"
The thought of crossing swords, figuratively and literally, with the beautiful spy again sent a pleasurable heat through Jacquotte. But perhaps her first mate, Villiers, was right and more time spent in the entertaining brothels of Tortuga would reduce her susceptibility to this particular pretty face. Jacquotte grimaced, put away her glass in the case that hung from her belt and slid cautiously down the rock face so as to avoid either breaking her back or tearing her breeches.
He might be right, at that. But there was no time for that now. Celeste Girard was flirting with Anton De Vries, the Dutch merchant who played the part of ambassador or spy for whichever power paid him the most. Jacquotte wondered which side was paying for his services now. Working for the Dutch was more difficult of late. The English Protector and his navies were still blockading the merchant princes of the Lowlands, and now King Louis sought to profit by it.
None of this would have normally concerned Captain Jacquotte Delahaye, pirate, captain of her own fleet and possessor of a small island not far from Port Royal, the pirate capital of Jamaica, had the conflict not begun to affect shipping. His Majesty of Spain’s ships full of gold and the riches of the Incas and other conquered peoples no longer sailed as frequently from Spain’s great ports in the New World. Now, the intervals between ships were growing longer and each one was more heavily guarded. At this rate, she and her crew would be robbing cotton merchants or fishing boats to keep their own ships afloat.
Jacquotte snorted at the picture in her head. That or turn slave traders ourselves. She swore under her breath again at that thought and considered her crews, composed of men and a few women, their skins a veritable rainbow of shades from tanned brown to black, for a moment before thrusting the notion firmly away. “We’ll take up fishing ourselves first,” she muttered.
“Captain?” Villiers was waiting for her at the end of the path, his scarred, swarthy features twisted into a puzzled question.
“It’s nothing. Girard is the Vicomte’s guest and she is with De Vries. I need to know what they are plotting. If France chooses to side with England or Spain, we’ll never have enough cannons to fight them all.” Jacquotte frowned as they walked toward the cove where The Lioness lay at anchor.
“We could kidnap Mademoiselle Girard. T’would be easy enough, Captain.” Villiers sounded as if he relished the idea.
Jacquotte turned that over in her mind for a few minutes. They had a few options: kidnap Girard or De Vries, bribe one of the servants or slaves, waylay any messages…or, most efficiently of all, she could turn spy herself. Certainly Celeste might recognize her, but with a good disguise, it might take even King Louis’ most trusted local agent some time to do so. Enough time, perhaps, for Jacquotte to learn what she needed and disappear. And if that failed, well, perhaps Villiers had a point…
Celeste frowned at herself in the mirror. The tropical sun did not agree with her milk-white complexion. Worse, she was running out of her treasured powder that protected her skin from freckling, and that was not to be borne. At this rate, she would need to petition the King to allow her to return to Paris until her beauty was restored.
With a sigh, she arranged the lace on the neck of her gown to flatter her shoulders and décolletage. Her maid, a slave on loan from her hostess, fussed over her silvery blonde hair for a few moments, adding a light sprinkle of powder. “Mademoiselle will dance tonight, after dinner, no? The pins, they must hold.”
Celeste eyed the brown-skinned girl in the mirror. It had taken her a few days to learn the island’s patois but now that she understood Marie a bit better, she recognized a slightly impertinent tone when she heard it. Marie looked down demurely and dropped an apologetic curtsey, though the curve of her lips suggested that she was not that sorry.
Celeste wrinkled her nose and couldn’t resist a small smile in return. She could not imagine being at the beck and call of others, your very life hanging on their whims. It was astonishing that the girl was as good humored and adept as she was. She felt a flash of pity for Marie or whatever her name had been before she was brought to this house.
A moment later, that thought vanished to be replaced by more pressing concerns. She was running out of time to find out what the Dutch had planned to confound their English foes. A ship sailed for France in two days and her message must be aboard it if it was to arrive on time to be useful. Celeste swept from her room into the hallway in a rustle of skirts and petticoats, determined to complete her mission in the allotted time.
De Vries was standing on the landing outside her room, like a cat waiting for a mouse. Celeste fluttered her fan up under her eyes to hide a quiet sigh. De Vries was dull, but persistent, with moist hands that had to be frequently fended off. Yet it was him she had come here to spy upon so there was nothing for it but to resign herself to his company. “Monsieur De Vries, you honor me.”
“It is I who am honored, Mademoiselle. Or perhaps I may call you Celeste, now that we are such good friends.” He leered at her, cold gray eyes dropping from her face to her bosom, then below. The offer of his arm soon turned to an arm around her waist as they descended the stairs.
The Vicomte Auclair and his lady wife were already seated at the table in the dining hall, along with some guests. He rose with a gallant smile. “Ah, Mademoiselle, Monsieur. We do not stand upon ceremony here on the barbarous edges of His Majesty’s empire. Allow me to present you to our friends.” There followed a catalogue of names and a few titles, all of them unimportant to Celeste; what were a few more merchants and their wives who had nothing to do with her business, after all? Still, she filed away the shared details of their lives automatically for later perusal.
She smiled prettily, ignoring the way that De Vries stiffened at the mention of “empire” and “His Majesty.” But he maintained enough self-control that he managed to hand her into her chair with an unwanted caress. She gritted her teeth but turned a polite smile to the rest of the company. The Vicomtesse broke into her thoughts with a cheerful burble about the hotness of the day, and from there, the ladies began discussing fashions and tonight’s dancing. Celeste chatted with them, one ear turned toward the men’s conversation to learn what she could.
It was little enough. Slaves, servants, children, they all came and went, quietly and efficiently or noisily and leaving chaos in their wake, as the case might be. That and the presence of the women was enough to dampen any serious discussion and Celeste thought longingly of disguising herself as a boy. True, she was not as skilled or believable in that disguise as a certain red-haired pirate of her acquaintance, but she could have made it believable in this simple company.
She bit back a sigh and fanned herself a bit faster. The hot early evening transitioned slowly into the slightly cooler night and guests from around the island began to arrive. Celeste was introduced as a cousin of the Auclairs, sent from France to the colonies. The Vicomtesse implied that she had been sent to find herself a rich husband in Martinique, but had come to Saint-Martin when her chaperone fell ill. She threw herself into the role with abandon, asking all manner of questions that might otherwise have been found impertinent or rude. Frankly mercenary, but pretty, young women were afforded some latitude.
But it took very little time before she felt a certain hostility from the ladies present, particularly those with daughters of marriageable age. Celeste looked around the room for a harmless target for her attentions. The unmarried and unknown young man that she found was only recently arrived from New Orleans, according to the Vicomtesse. Dark-haired and deeply tanned, he had a bashful quality that she found refreshing after De Vries, often looking at the floor or away from her as if she was too lovely to gaze at for long. It pleased her vanity at the same time that it brought De Vries closer to confront his supposed rival under the guise of discussing shipping, crops, pirates and other topics of interest to the other guests.
At the mention of pirates, Celeste pricked up her ears. De Vries boasted that all the pirates in the Sea would soon be captured or killed, though he offered few details beyond mentioning some bargain that the merchants of the Lowlands were about to reach with King Louis and the King of Spain.
The young merchant had a strong reaction to this pronouncement and pressed him further for greater detail, but to no avail, apart from attracting more of De Vries’ attention than Celeste herself for a few moments. She could only suppose that he was worried about his new ship and trade. Still, she could not help thinking of Jacquotte Delahaye with a pang of longing and resentment and the conversation washed over her inattention, leaving little else of interest in its wake.
The subject of Celeste’s reverie managed to control her fury at De Vries’ casual mention of wiping out all the pirates in the islands. Did this fool believe it would be so simple? Though, upon reflection, the pirates with their scattered ships and fleets, their lack of a common tongue, their resentment of authority apart from their own captains, were ill-equipped to unite to defeat a concerted effort to wipe them out. Jacquotte’s mind spun furiously, picking up and discarding plans and theories with lightning speed while trying to maintain the quiet demeanor of her disguise.
Was Celeste here to help or hinder these plans? If De Vries told the truth and this was a plan hatched by the French King in concert with the others, then there was no need of a spy to watch him. But if the King did not trust his allies or if De Vries was lying, that might be another tale. Or, perhaps, King Louis and his ministers saw it as a chance to strike out at the English dogs and seize their plantations and islands while they distracted themselves with a war in the Low Countries. Attacking the pirates might be nothing more than a mask to their true intent.
She wondered whether De Vries was the linchpin of this alliance, responsible for sending messages and relaying information, real or imagined. A sidelong glance at the lovely Celeste suggested that she thought as much. Mademoiselle Girard was making every effort to seem both fascinated by their conversation and far from indifferent to the Dutchman’s attentions, though an observant companion might have noticed the adept way in which she slipped away from the grasp of his hands whenever she could.
Idly, Jacquotte wondered if gutting him here and now would resolve all uncertainties and problems with a single solution. She dismissed the notion reluctantly and instead schooled her features to mercenary interest, the kind that a barely fletched young man turned merchant, might exude in such company. As they spoke, the slaves finished clearing the furniture in the next room for as robust an evening of dancing as the heat would allow and the musicians began to play. Before Jacquotte could speak up, De Vries claimed Celeste’s hand and brought her out for a country dance.
Smothering her disappointment, Jacquotte took the opportunity to speak to the other guests, as well as the Vicomte himself. Presenting herself as the possessor of an untried ship with a terror of pirates garnered her a few more details than De Vries had offered up. But it was soon clear that her suspicions were correct: the Dutchman was the one who was central to this plan. Between dances, she cultivated him as if he were a newfound friend, dodging Celeste’s flirtatious gaze as much as she could in the meantime. A jealous De Vries was vulnerable and potentially useful. A passionately angry De Vries who might be foolish enough to have his new young friend cast out of what passed for good society on this island was a very different thing. With that in mind, she played upon his ego and set herself up as a possible ally, albeit a not very powerful one. She knew she would have to stay close in order to be ready to disrupt his schemes.
Still, it would be wise to know what Celeste did as well, once this evening ended, and she could not follow her in a man’s guise. Nor could she be in both places at once. She would require a confederate and Villiers was too crude a tool for her purposes. For a moment, she even considered bringing Celeste into her confidence to determine whether or not they had shared goals. She mulled that over, fondness for the spy warring with distrust until she finally, reluctantly, dismissed the idea for the moment.
But perhaps there was someone else. The young woman who served as Celeste’s maid looked clever enough, despite endeavoring to look appropriately servile and subdued. She had just picked up Celeste’s empty cup and taken it to a tray outside the doorway when Jacquotte approached her. Assuming the attitude of the colonial Frenchman she seemed to be, she stepped out into the hallway and barked, “Here, girl, come here a moment.”
The maid’s face went slack, eyes turned apprehensive, as she twisted her fingers in her gown like she thought to run. But she maintained her self-control and walked over to Jacquotte, with a sidelong glance at the other slaves who stood grouped between the ballroom and the rooms beyond. Jacquotte continued, more softly now, “You serve Mademoiselle Girard, yes? What are you called?”
She nodded and managed a clumsy curtsey. “Yes, Monsieur. I am Marie, Monsieur.” From her expression, she was suppressing relief that this young gentleman was more interested in her mistress than herself.
Jacquotte knew that such interest was no defense for her to rely upon, but there was nothing she could do about that. Instead, she tugged her purse free of her belt and told her a version of the truth. “I hope to win Mademoiselle’s heart some day soon, but in the meantime, I fear for her well being in this…” Here, she gestured, as if considering her words more carefully, “place, so near the Dutch with their crude ways. Perhaps you might accept this small gift from me and in return, if Mademoiselle should be in distress of any kind, you could send a message to me at my rooms.” She named the only inn on the French half of the island that rented rooms, one where the owner had been well bribed to pass along messages intended for her ears only, and gave the girl a name, “M. Delacroix.”
The coins vanished into Marie’s garments and she studied Jacquotte sidelong for a moment, as if taking his measure. She liked the girl the better for it, especially when she finally nodded. Jacquotte provided her with a simple code for contacting her, then turned back to the ballroom and De Vries. If Marie proved reliable, she might prove to be a useful asset on this island where she herself had few allies. If not…well, she’d deal with that roll of the dice when she had to and have Villers set a man on the docks to watch the ships either way.
When she stepped back into the room, Celeste was clearly pleading exhaustion, fluttering her fan prettily as a barrier between her and De Vries. Jacquotte suspected that there was a blade in its elaborately carved handle and that the spy was perfectly capable of removing his insistent hands if she needed to and smiled slightly at the thought. She took her leave of the Vicomte and left on her borrowed horse, bound for the inn without a second glance back at Celeste.
By the time Celeste returned to her room, she was exhausted. De Vries’s intentions were growing more insistent and harder to turn aside. Whatever she had envisioned for herself, spending time as a powerful Dutch merchant’s mistress on either the Dutch or French sides of this misbegotten island was not a part of it. At least he had let slip a piece of information that might almost be worthy of notice in Paris.
Marie was waiting for her and soon had her undressed quickly and efficiently. “Did Mademoiselle enjoy herself?” She began brushing Celeste’s hair out of its elaborate style, placing each pin carefully on the dressing table. She looked up as she put them down, studying Celeste’s face in the glass.
Celeste met her eyes in the mirror. “One or two of the gentlemen were, perhaps, too attentive. But the music was lovely, as was the dinner. Did you find it amusing?”
Marie dropped her gaze and brushed harder. “Oui, Mademoiselle. One of the gentlemen asked about you. The young, handsome one with the black hair.”
Celeste arched an eyebrow. There had been something familiar about that merchant, something she wanted to examine more closely, but he had been too bashful to flirt and De Vries had been entirely too present. Now her suspicions were aroused and she began to think back on what she had noticed of his features and gestures. “What did he ask about me?”
“He said that he was in love with you, but feared for you.” Marie hesitated. “He is not what he seems, Mademoiselle, but I don’t know why.”
“Indeed. What told you that he wasn’t an ordinary merchant?” Was there another spy on the island? There must be at least one or two. The Dutch had De Vries, the French had her, but what of the English, the Spanish? Perhaps even one of the more enterprising pirate captains, if they got wind of what De Vries was planning? She straightened abruptly. How had she been so blind? “I think I do know why. Thank you for the warning, Marie.”
So Captain Delahaye wanted an eye kept on her, did she? She hurried Marie out with pleas of exhaustion and a few small coins, likely to pass unnoticed so that she wouldn’t be beaten for theft. Then she opened the wardrobe with a sigh. Would it be sensible to disguise herself and hunt for the pirate tonight? Or should she wait until she was fresher?
She dropped into a chair and considered what she knew of the Dutch, what De Vries said they were planning, of the English Roundheads, of the Spanish and their gold shipments. It would not benefit her King for the English to grow too strong on the seas, but it would benefit him still less if Spain were to refocus her troops and energies on her northern border. The enemies of France should be occupied by being at war with each other.
The thought of Jacquotte must have driven her next thought: what of the pirates? They would be wiped out eventually, true, but that would takes years and far more naval power than De Vries thought it would. If she allowed herself a rare moment of honesty, she cared only about one pirate and her fate, and that only reluctantly. Her fingers caressed her lips absentmindedly, remembering their last kiss.
Of course, Jacquotte’s ability to preserve her own life had already earned her the nom de guerre of “Back from the Dead Red”; she did not need Celeste’s assistance for that, at least. Still, it would be useful to know what the pirate planned to do next and how it would impact her orders to engage with De Vries. And yet…
She might learn more about his proposals from the pirate and who he was double-crossing to affect them. He had hinted to her that his pockets had been lined with Spanish doubloons, as well as English pounds. Alliances were fleeting and could be expensive; her King could not afford one on such soft ground as this. Besides, his interest in M. Delacroix had certainly increased during the evening and she wanted to know what Delahaye had hinted at or done that had drawn his eye.
Her mind made up, Celeste rose slowly. She could manage to stay awake another few hours, if needs must. Delahaye’s inn was not so far away, not if she borrowed a horse. She tugged the hidden panel in her trunk open, pulled out some garments and began getting dressed again, this time in a costume more suitable for meeting with pirates.
Jacquotte leaned back against the wall and watched the inn’s door open and shut behind each new arrival and departure. Her instincts told her that either Celeste or De Vries, possibly both, might seek her out tonight. Granted, De Vries had small reason on the surface to come to her, but there had been an eagerness in his manner that suggested a need for adherents.
Perhaps the Vicomte and his friends found him too boorish, his plans too impractical. Whatever the reason, she had sensed a certain reserve from the others when he spoke enthusiastically about his plans, this great alliance that he envisioned.
As for Celeste, well, she had a left a trail for her to follow. If she had read Marie correctly, she would pass on a warning and Celeste would be unable to resist investigating further. Perhaps she had already recognized Jacquotte. Either way, she would come here to learn more. All Jacquotte had to do was wait.
And wait. Finally, she yawned, too tired to stay awake any longer and weary of fending off the tired glares of the innkeeper and his serving wench. She walked quietly up the rickety stairs to the dark hallway beyond, barely lit by the stub of candle in her hand. That the inn was a place of assignation was made clear by the noises from behind the closed doors that she passed. She chuckled quietly and unlocked the door to her room.
The blow, went it came, was fast and hard. There had been a soft rustle of fabric just before her foe struck and that had been enough for her to pull back, to catch the cudgel on her shoulder instead of her head. The candle dropped from her fingers and sputtered out as she was dragged into the dark room, the door slamming behind her. Instinctively, she struck out with her left arm even as the pain of her wounded right shoulder made her bellow an oath.
Navigating by the moonlight leaking in through the shutters, she jerked her wounded arm free of her attacker’s grip and staggered away. The cudgel whistled past her head again and she struggled to free her dagger from the sheath on her belt. If only she had her damn cutlass! She would have made short work of this fool then.
Jacquotte cursed the impulse that had sent her to this misbegotten island and even more the one that inspired her to drop her guard. Bracing herself against the wall, she moved abruptly from side to side, hoping to elude the next swing by her attacker. But the next blow caught her in the ribs, sending her crashing to the floor. She writhed in pain, barely conscious for a moment.
But instinct drove her to attack as much as she could and a fortunate kick caught her enemy on the leg. He cursed and lurched sideways.
Jacquotte dragged her dagger free and tried to catch her breath for an attack. She would not sell her life so easily that an anonymous sell-sword with a club could kill her like any landlubber. She got to her knees, ribs and shoulder screaming with the motion and she gritted her teeth as she threw herself forward, her dagger aimed at his legs.
The door shot open, knocking her over and her assailant back against the far wall. Whoever the intruder was held a lantern and a sword and by its light, she could see that her foe was none other than Anton De Vries himself. That was before a wave of pain took her and she lost her senses for a few breaths.
When she could see and hear again, the sounds of sword clashing against wooden cudgel soon brought her back to the danger she was in. She crawled backward, trying to wedge herself in a corner away from the combat and observe. Her fingers still clutched her dagger, to her relief. Her would-be rescuer was giving a good account of themselves, being small and light of foot. But De Vries was a large strong man and the cudgel blows were falling dangerously close to their head.
Jacquotte squinted against the lamplight and her own swimming vision. If De Vries were pushed back, even a few steps, closer to her, then she and her dagger could make short work of his legs. She pressed two fingers into her mouth and whistled sharply, the way she would on a noisy deck to get a crew’s attention. Her ally faltered, seemingly startled by the noise, and caught a blow to the leg as a reward.
A distinctly feminine cry burst from the figure’s lips and Jacquotte nearly laughed, despite the peril they were in. Of course, Celeste had come to her rescue. Who else would have done so? But now, it could not be denied that they were both in mortal danger. De Vries’s swings were growing more frenzied as he tired but they still had the full force of his broad shoulders behind them.
Jacquotte forced herself upward so that she could crawl into combat, if not walk. A harsh scream told her that Celeste’s blade had struck home. De Vries stumbled, tantalizingly close and Jacquotte slashed out at his ankle. He scrambled forward in an effort to avoid her and caught another wound from the edge of Celeste’s blade for his trouble. The double attack sent him off balance and Jacquotte slashed again, this time slicing through his stocking and reaping the reward of gushing blood and a high-pitched scream.
This time, Celeste stabbed him hard in the stomach and he dropped the club to the floor, crumpling down beside it a moment later. Celeste awkwardly kicked the club aside before limping heavily to Jacquotte’s side. “Can you stand?” Her voice was breathless, raw with pain and exertion but she did not seem badly wounded.
Jacquotte shook her head. “Not without assistance.” She forced herself back against the wall into a sitting position. Her ribs screamed and her shoulder howled, but she could not suppress a weary grin at the sight of Celeste in breeches. “Can you help me?”
Celeste shook her head, but then she limped over to the window and flung open the shutters. She signaled to someone below and a few moments later, Marie entered, looking wary and wide-eyed at the crumpled man on the floor and the blood. But it was not enough to stop her from picking up the cudgel and compelling Jacquotte to use it as a crutch so she could stand up.
Together, they limped or lurched out the door and down the inn’s rickety stairs. Jacquotte tossed the innkeeper a small bag of gold. “Try to hold your tongue better than you did ere now unless you’d like to meet my crew.” He paled like a ghost and sent them out the back door toward the stables where a cart and horse awaited them.
Jacquotte wondered if the cart had been intended for De Vries, then decided it no longer mattered. She was not surprised when Marie stepped into the driver’s seat and took up the reins, but her heart leapt a little when Celeste climbed into the back next to her. “I need to go to Martinique. Your ship will be faster than the one that docks here.”
She shrugged at Jacquotte’s grin. Jacquotte looked from her to Marie as the cart lurched forward. “Marie, had you thought of turning pirate? Mademoiselle may have mentioned something of this…” Celeste laughed as they moved toward the harbor and The Lioness.