Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Flash for Freedom - Chapter 12
Flashman and Cassy think they’ve got it made, they’re home free. Harry even reflects back on his journey: JC Spring, the slaving in Africa, Abraham Lincoln, the underground railroad, George Randolph, the Mandevilles and even the hellish experience in the back of the wagon. It’s all over, in very short order he’ll be heading back home to Elspeth and squeezing Morrison for every penny he can get. Yes, improbably, Harry had managed to hang onto his incriminating documents implicating his father-in-law in highly illegal activities.
This is all of course until he inquires of another passenger when they might be arriving in Louisville. He is told that the boat isn’t going to Louisville, it’s going to St Louis, they’re on the Ohio river, not the Mississippi. Missouri is a slave state, Flashman and Cassy are in no way out of danger. Cassy’s reaction is quite extreme when told, she even throws things at Harry. Harry realises his mistake. When he encountered the deaf old character at the port, the man only heard the word Louis and directed Harry to the St Louis steamboat, not the Louisville one.
Flashman placates Cassy, telling her that if they just lay low they can get passage from St Louis to Pittsburgh and they’ll still be free. They take a hotel room in St Louis and Harry ventures out to buy some necessities and a revolver and chances to see a wanted poster for he and Cassy. They’ve only got descriptions, not pictures, but they do tend to stand out. His alias of Tom Arnold is mentioned, so he changes this to Fitzhoward (no idea where that one came from) and they head off as soon as possible.
St Louis was a major port in the 1840’s and as such the city teems with a multitude of types, it was also a bit trading place, so it’s filled with all sorts coming and going, a great many of them heading west to search for gold in California. The author does a good job of describing the place and when reading one feels as if they are really there.
George MacDonald Fraser makes a note in the back that Flashman is as always maddeningly vague on dates, but this one seems to take place in early spring of 1849. Their boat has to put in before it’s intended destination and this makes both Harry and Cassy extremely anxious. They go to a hotel to stay until they can arrange for a ferry, but run into a group of slave catchers. They’re lead by a character who calls himself Buck and they’re looking for Cassy and the man who sold her. Cassy loses it and runs, Harry goes after her. Due to the time of year the river is still partially frozen and the two of them go across it, Harry gets shot in the backside in the process, it seems rather fitting that most of Flashman’s wounds are a result of him running away. If this passage sounds similar to people that’s because it is. It’s very similar to a part of Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Fraser suggests that she used stories of Cassy and Flashman’s escape from the slave catchers for her anti slavery classic.
On the other side of the river they’re in a free state, but the slave catchers can and have come into those territories and legally removed escaped slaves and taken them back to their owners. Harry heard about Abraham Lincoln’s appearance at an event where the slavery question would be discussed, and he thinks if he can see Lincoln, the statesman will remember him, and offer them refuge and protection. That’s largely how it plays out, once Harry remembers what alias he was using when he met Lincoln, and even has the former lawyer facing down six armed slave catchers. Flashman muses that the speech he gave them was even better than the Gettysburg Address, once again teasing readers with a mention of the Civil War packets that unfortunately were never written.
Cassy’s free and Flashman is out of any immediate danger, but Lincoln will still want testimony in court from him and Harry went on the run in the first place to avoid that, so he’s not out of this just yet.