Author's Note: This story, set in the Maverick universe, was originally published in the fanzine A Small Circle of Friends #12, which is a recycling 'zine. Writers took an episode from one show and "recycled" it with characters and situations from another show. This story is based on the episode "The Select Females," from the TV show The Adventures of Jim Bowie. It is an amateur work of fiction, with no attempt to defraud the copyright holders of Maverick or Jim Bowie. The characters were merely borrowed for an intellectual exercise and a little typing practice.
by Susan M. M.
Bret Maverick stepped out of the door of the Black Horse Tavern. The gambler was a tall, well-built man, whose muscles were covered but not hidden by the black linen suit he wore. His neatly combed hair was as dark as his suit.
"Good morning, Mr. Maverick." Eli, the teenaged ostler, sat on the porch whittling.
"Morning, Eli. My horse ready?" There was just the slightest hint of a Texas accent in the cardsharp's voice.
"Yes, sir, right around the side." Eli pointed to the left with his pocketknife.
Maverick walked to the end of the porch where a chestnut gelding waited at the hitching post. Eli rose and followed him.
"Fed and watered?" Maverick asked as he rubbed the horse's nose.
"Yes, sir. Take you clear to New Orleans without a stop."
"Thank you, Eli." Maverick untied the reins. To reach New Orleans without a stop was exactly what he had in mind. There was a certain lady waiting there for him to take to the Opera Ball that night.
A tall middle-aged man wearing a top hat and a French cloak walked past the gambler and the ostler. A carriage rolled up in front of the tavern. The older man got into the carriage. The Negro driver cracked his whip once, urging the well-matched pair of black horses into motion. Just then, a pretty blonde girl leaned out of the window.
"Please, sir, please," the girl cried out. She couldn't have been more than seventeen. The man in the top hat pulled her back in. The coachman, wearing livery fancier than most admiral's uniforms, drove on placidly.
"Did you see that?" Maverick asked as he mounted his horse.
Eli looked directly at the carriage, then turned to face Maverick. "What, sir?" he drawled.
"The girl in that carriage seemed frightened. Didn't you hear her call out?" The gambler peered down the road at the carriage.
"I didn't notice anything out of the usual, Mr. Maverick."
"You know, Eli, sometimes it's kind of hard to mind your own business… especially when someone else's business is a pretty girl."
"Yeah, I guess so, Mr. Maverick," the young ostler agreed.
"Yeah." Maverick urged his horse forward.
As he trotted along on his way to New Orleans, he finally convinced himself that there was nothing unusual about the incident in the coach, just an ordinary quarrel between a headstrong girl and her parents. As he began to turn his mind to the anticipated pleasures of Samantha Crawford and the Opera Ball, there occurred another of those unpredictable incidents of the road.
He saw before him a pony cart in the middle of the road. The left wheel was on the cart. Two ladies were struggling with the right wheel, trying to reattach it to the cart.
Maverick reined his horse to a halt beside them and touched his hat. "Afternoon, ladies, you having a little trouble?"
"And what does it look like, if not trouble?" retorted the older woman. She was gray-haired, somewhat plump, and well-dressed. Her clothes were sensible rather than stylish, but Bret Maverick knew enough about women's fashions to recognize quality materials and tailoring when he saw them.
"The pony cart, monsieur, it has failed us," announced the younger woman. She was in her twenties, with dark hair and dark eyes.
Maverick dismounted, too much of a gentleman to leave two ladies in distress – especially when one was a pretty Frenchwoman.
"Failed us indeed, and just when it was needed most," the older woman lamented. Her accent was eastern, Bostonian perhaps.
"Well, can I be of any help?" Maverick asked.
"Oh, how kind of you, monsieur. Would you please?" The younger woman looked up at him with her big, dark eyes.
"If you feel you can be of any assistance, it would not be unappreciated," the older woman acknowledged.
"Oui, monsieur, to be swiftly on our way is of the greatest importance."
"I'm sure it is. Let's have a look." Maverick walked around the cart. "Well, if you ladies can manage the wheel, I'll lift the cart and you can put the wheel on the axle."
"Lift when ready, sir."
"Ready?" Maverick lifted up the pony cart. The two women grabbed hold of the wheel, and not without some effort, maneuvered it onto the axle. "Good. Just one thing, ladies, before you go. How you gonna keep the wheel on?"
"There's no nut to keep the wheel on. That's why it came off," Maverick explained.
"A nut?" She looked up at him, puzzled.
"A bit of metal with a threaded hole, mademoiselle," the older woman informed her.
"So?" asked the Frenchwoman.
"So it screws onto the axle to hold the wheel on," Maverick explained patiently. "Chances are the nut fell off back down the road a piece."
"It is necessary that we have this nut?" the brunette asked naively.
"Well, without it, the wheel's gonna come off, the next bend you come to." The two women looked so mournful and helpless at this news that Maverick volunteered: "I'll have a look."
Maverick walked down the dirt road, looking for a glint of metal on the ground. The Frenchwoman followed him. Maverick bent down to pick something up.
"You have found it?"
"No, a piece of wood." The gambler tossed it back down.
"Oh, if only I had not permitted Mary Lou to leave with that woman. But she said she was Mary Lou's aunt, so why should I have doubted her?"
"One of our pupils at Miss Peabody's Select Female Academy, on Chartres Street. You must know of it, monsieur."
"The Select Female Academy? I know it, slightly." He had played poker with plantation owners and businessmen whose daughters attended the school. "The young ladies there are so… young."
"Oh, monsieur, I am so worried. Miss Peabody has every right to send me back to France in dishonor and disgrace." She looked up at him, wide-eyed. "Do you think she will do that, monsieur?"
"Did she bring you over here?" Maverick inquired. He had assumed she was American born, despite her accent. There were many parts of New Orleans where Creole families spoke French at home, and used English only as a second language.
"Yes, to teach the select females the true Parisian accent," she explained. "Ah, but she is such a strong woman, with such control over the emotions. I can not tell if she will forgive me or not. So you see, we must find Mary Lou, do you not, monsieur?"
"Yeah, yeah, I'm beginning to," Maverick lied, thoroughly confused. He started to walk away from her, looking down at the road again.
She stepped in front of him, and he was forced to stop. "It is so important in so many ways," she said. "Such as the handsome contribution Colonel Carter has promised to make to the academy."
"Oui, Mary Lou's papa. Ah, he is very rich, and Miss Peabody is so desirous of enlarging the school." She shrugged in an inimitably Gallic fashion. "Ah, but if we do not find her, I'm afraid poor Miss Peabody will never see the handsome contribution."
"Yeah, yeah, I see. That's bad." Bret Maverick was a firm believer in handsome contributions.
"And all because of me, monsieur. All because of my foolish trust in people." Her eyes widened, and she raised her hand to her mouth. "I'm doing it again. I'm trusting you…" she pointed at him, "…a man, an American." She muttered something in French that Maverick didn't understand. "What is happening to me?"
"Now, now, mam'selle, no need to get upset." He laid a hand on her arm to calm her.
"Trusting people, it is a Christian virtue, is it not, monsieur?"
"Yeah, I guess it is… up to a point." A career as a gambler, developing the art of bluffing, had forced him to regard trust as a dubious commodity. "Why are you telling me all this?"
"To be honest, monsieur, I do not know, except perhaps I thought you might be able to help." She blinked her big dark eyes at him. "You will help, will you not, monsieur?"
"Well, I'd like to help, but you see, I've got someone waiting for me in New Orleans. It's a matter of urgent business." Maverick saw Miss Peabody approaching, and asked her, "Any luck, ma'am?"
"No, sir, and I doubt that the pair of you have had very much either." Her tone – halfway between a maiden aunt and a drill sergeant – made it clear that she knew they had spent more time talking than looking.
"We were introducing ourselves," the Frenchwoman explained. "Monsieur, may I present Miss Peabody of the Select Female Academy of New Orleans."
"Bret Maverick at your service, Miss Peabody." He tipped his hat.
"And just what else have you confided in this total stranger, mademoiselle?" Miss Peabody demanded coldly.
"Only the reason of our search, Miss Peabody."
The older woman raised her eyebrows in shock. "Really!" She took a deep breath. "Come along, Angelique. I see no reason for further detaining this young man."
"But what about the small piece of iron with the hole in it?"
"Never mind," the schoolmistress told her. She took Angelique's arm and began to lead her off.
"Uh, just a minute, ladies, I don't wish to pry into your personal affairs, but I do know you're in a hurry. I think I can fix your cart… at least well enough to reach the next town. With your permission, of course." Maverick pointed at the dirt road. "We could spend all day looking for this nut and never find it."
Angelique looked up at her employer, appealing with her eyes.
Miss Peabody smiled. "Permission granted." She inclined her head as graciously as Queen Victoria.
The three returned to the pony cart. Maverick pulled out his Bowie knife and cut a leather thong from his saddle. He began securing the wheel to the axle with the makeshift 'nut.'
"This girl you're looking for, what's she like?"
"Oh, she's very pretty. She's about so tall…" Angelique held a hand even with her own head, about 5'3". "…flaxen hair and blue eyes."
"Probably not the same one, but she by any chance wearing a blue dress?" Maverick asked.
"Oh, but of course!" Angelique exclaimed. "The uniform of the academy. You have seen her, monsieur?"
"Control yourself, Miss Moreau," Miss Peabody directed the Frenchwoman. Her tone made it clear that she had never had any difficulty controlling herself. "And just where did you see this alleged girl?"
Maverick struggled with the leather thong. "Outside the Black Horse Tavern, about eight miles down the road." He pointed in its direction.
"She was in a carriage?" Angelique Moreau asked.
"Yeah." Satisfied the knot would hold for a few miles, Maverick stood.
"With a woman of middle age?" Angelique continued.
"Yeah," Maverick agreed.
"And a tres tall coachman on the box?"
"Well, I didn't notice the coachman, mam'selle, just the select female." The gambler folded his arms and leaned against the pony cart.
Miss Peabody smiled at his phrasing despite herself.
"This young lady, what happened, an abduction?"
"Ah, no, monsieur, an elopement." Her voice softened at the thought of romance.
"Oooh," Maverick said, having a soft spot for romance himself.
"Mary Lou is in love, with Emile Dussard. Such a charming young man," Angelique explained.
Miss Peabody frowned, either at the thought of young love or at her employee's indiscreet confidences. She snapped, "Into the cart at once, mademoiselle." Turning to Maverick, she continued more calmly, "Thank you again for your generous assistance, sir."
"Don't mention it, Miss Peabody."
Miss Peabody climbed into the pony cart, as determined and self-propelled as a steamboat. Maverick helped Angelique into the cart.
"This tavern, monsieur, would it be– Do you think you could show us this tavern?"
"Uh, well, I guess I could." Maverick glanced down the road in the direction of New Orleans. "Yeah," he said unenthusiastically.
"Naturally, I would reimburse you for your loss of time," Miss Peabody informed him.
"No, ma'am, it's not that. It's just that, y'see, in this deal I'm working on… I got a lot of competition. In fact, if I don't get there on time, I'm likely to lose out entirely." He knew for a fact that Gentleman Jack Darby, his brother's sometime partner, sometime rival, was also in New Orleans. And also interested in the fair Samantha. "You can't miss it, ladies. Straight down the road – Black Horse Tavern. Ask for a boy named Eli."
"Thank you, sir, again." Miss Peabody inclined her head, and Maverick was once again put in mind of Queen Victoria dismissing a subject.
"Au revoir, monsieur. I will remember you in my prayers," Angelique promised.
"Thank you, mam'selle." Maverick touched his hat. He waited until the pony cart drove off before remounting his own horse. He waved once, then rode down the road in the opposite direction.
He hurried again on the way to New Orleans, trying to keep in mind the charms of the lovely Samantha Crawford, who would soon be in his arms at the Opera Ball. It was about an hour later when he noticed something lying in the road. Ordinarily, he would have ridden on, but this time something persuaded him to stop. As a gambler, he'd learned to listen to his hunches. He dismounted, and picked up the book lying in the dirt.
Maverick's French was limited, but as near as he could tell, it seemed to be a prayer book. The inscription in the front read 'Pour ma petite cherie Angelique – toujours l'amour de sa Maman.'
He glanced down the road in the direction of the Black Horse Tavern. "No, sir," he told himself. "I'm not chasing after those select females. I got a select female of my own waiting for me."
He tucked the prayer book in his coat pocket and remounted. He could return it to the school on Chartres Street tomorrow, or the day after. He urged the horse forward a few steps, then reined the chestnut to a halt. He thought a minute. He looked back down the road.
Sighing, he turned his horse around and headed back in the direction he'd just come.
Eli leaned against the pillar holding up the roof overhang. He looked up from his whittling when he heard the horse and rider approach the Black Horse Tavern. "Afternoon, Mr. Maverick. Back so soon?"
"I'm not staying, Eli. I want some information," Maverick announced, not bothering to dismount from his chestnut gelding. "I'm looking for two schoolmarms who stopped by here this afternoon."
Eli looked away for a second. "Schoolmarms? I didn't see any schoolmarms, Mr. Maverick."
"You're lying, boy." Maverick reached down and grabbed the teenaged ostler's shirt, pulling him closer. "Just like you were lying this morning about that girl in the coach." The gambler shook the boy like a terrier shaking a rat it had caught. "C'mon, let's have some truth. Two ladies in a pony cart, where are they?"
Eli turned his head to indicate the direction. In a frightened voice, he confessed, "Out by Spanish Creek, I guess."
"Spanish Creek? Did you send 'em there?" Maverick tightened his hold on Eli's shirt.
"Well, they was looking for a girl, and I figured that's where she is," Eli blurted out quickly.
"All right, let's have it all," Maverick ordered. His voice was firm, but a smidgen calmer.
"A friend of mine came here the other night. He wanted to know if I knew anybody who could help him get his girl," Eli explained.
"Yeah, from someplace her old man was keeping her prisoner." Eli's words nearly tripped over each other in his haste to confess.
"Your friend named Emile?"
"Yes, sir, Emile Dussard. You know him?"
"I heard of him," the gambler admitted. "Did he rescue her?"
"That's what I don't know, Mr. Maverick, and it's got me kinda scared," Eli confessed. "Y'see, I got these friends from Spanish Creek to help Emile, but I ain't seen him since. They're the ones that drove off this morning in the coach. Name of, uh, Odin."
"All right, Eli, if you're telling me yarns, you'd better not be here when I get back, understand?" Maverick released the boy and shoved him back. Then he rode off for Spanish Creek without another word or a backward glance.
Maverick raised an eyebrow. There, in the corral, was a familiar looking pony and cart. He dismounted and tied his horse to the fence of the corral next to the Spanish Creek trading post. He walked to the building, a rough-hewn but sturdy-looking large wooden structure. He tapped gently on the door, waited a moment, then knocked again. He was just about to try the lock when the door was opened by a middle-aged woman.
She was plump, in her late forties or early fifties, and considerably overdressed for a backwoods training post. Her black dress was satin, and her bonnet – if Maverick was any connoisseur of such things – had cost at least ten dollars in one of New Orleans' better boutiques. Her tone, when she spoke, was unwelcoming. "Yes?"
"Good afternoon, ma'am." He touched his hat. "I'm looking for the two ladies from the Select Female Academy. Would you tell 'em that Bret Maverick's waiting to see 'em, please?"
"You must have mistaken the place, monsieur. Sorry. Good day." She began to shut the door in his face.
Maverick stuck his foot in the door. "No, I haven't mistaken the place, ma'am." He gestured with his thumb. "That's their pony cart back there."
"I must ask you to leave, monsieur." Her French accent, which had been barely noticeable before, became stronger as she grew angry. She tried again to shut the door.
Maverick easily pushed it open. "Not until I look inside, ma'am."
He stepped in. A man concealed behind the door brought a heavy stick down on his head, and Maverick collapsed to the floor. The woman shut the door.