THE ADVENTURES OF SIDNEY SAWYER:
The Ace of Hearts!
and biographical notes completes the novel.
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The Ace of Hearts or David M. Smeltz)
The Adventures of Sidney Sawyer:
The Ace of Hearts
With an ax to grind against his childhood bully Sam Clemens, the ancient General Sidney Sawyer slurps cheap brandy and writes the first installment of his memoirs. Sidney, the little snitch and sissy from Mark Twain’s classic, grows into a full grown cad. The lusty slave wench Roseasharon is his tutor in love-making and he shares her lessons up and down the Mississippi. After his shotgun wedding to the beautiful Amy Lawrence, Sidney is cornered by Missouri bushwhackers on his honeymoon. In a bloody shootout on the streets of old St. Louis Sidney is saved by the deadly jayhawker Huckleberry Finn and his Black pappy Jim. To avoid honest work and ditch his new bride he poaches his brother Tom's appointment to West Point and begins his military career in a riot of deceit. Every inch a soldier (except for the honor part) young Sawyer perfects his skills as a crooked duelist, brawler, impostor and amorist. Covered in the mantle of fraudulent glory our reluctant hero becomes West Point's own 'Ace of Hearts.'
In my arms was a perfect stunner, who was too innocent to be shy, and too inexperienced not to let coxswain Sidney pilot the boat. I’ve always been a bosom man and Amy Lawrence had the best bouncers I ever rubbed my whiskers between. Brrrrr! I was in no hurry, and knew if I wanted an encore I’d better not be a hound. So I took my time, and all the while reassured Amy with sweet talk and promises that seemed harmless enough at the moment, and were just the dodge to ensure a remount.
How did it get so dark? How did we not hear the fireworks that signaled the end of the picnic? And how did we not feel the motion of the boat as the mob trooped back aboard? (Well I know how, but really?) The cabin door burst open with a smash and there stood the captain with a jug and Mr. Temple with a lantern. The women would all be up on the Texas deck where the ladies belonged, but the men were all present, clustered behind the captain on their way forward to smoke and chew. Amy and I were sprawled in plain sight of half the town all a’ sweat and tangled in skirts, hoops, hose, pantaloons, other feminine traps, and, of course, my britches. Amy’s marvelous upper works punctuated the scene. The captain, a grizzled old river man, almost swallowed his stogie and Mr. Temple’s freckles disappeared in a red flush that shot through his entire face.
“What’s this? Mr. Sawyer, you randy young rascal you!” Temple shouted, which brought the rest of the town fathers rushing to the cabin door. They pushed and shoved, straining to get a good peek at Amy’s dairy tackle, as we scrambled to cover ourselves. I almost got one pant leg pulled up past my knee when the roof caved in on me.
“Ya damned scoundrel! Ya filthy young pup! What have ya done? Oh shame! Oh shame!”
God in heaven, it was Amy’s pa.
“Ready a coffin! Dig a grave! You’re a dead man Sawyer, a dead man!” He was a smaller man than me, but farmer strong and pumped with outrage, and if he’d had a club or a knife I would have been dead right there. As it was, he swarmed over me with fists and boots. The other men were in no hurry to drag him off of me but finally, grinning like coots, pulled him back.
“Lemme go, curse ya, lemme kill him! Oh boys, I gotta kill him. The damned hound degraded my baby gal! Oh boys, gimme a gun! Can’t ya see I gotta just kill him?”
Amy saved me, bless her. Well, she sort of saved me. She had gathered most of her clothes about her by then and threw herself in front of me.
“Daddy, no! Don’t say those things. I love him! We love each other, Daddy!” She cried, tears wetting her face.
“I’ll tend to you later, gal! Now git up to your maw while I tend to this skunk. Now git! Git!”
Amy had grit. She stood her ground. “No Daddy, can’t you see that we love each other?”
“Can’t I see? Can’t I see? I know what I just saw! An’ Sawyer here is gonna die for it!”
Just then some obliging citizen pushed a shotgun into the old man’s hands. There I sprawled on the deck of the cabin, shirtless, britches around my ankles, face red from the pummeling, staring up at a homicidal farmer while a bunch of yokels gaped through the narrow door.
“But I just won the New Testament in school for good deportment!” I blathered. It was evidently not the right thing to say.
“Heathen! Ravisher!” Lawrence screamed. He sputtered incoherently as he tried to draw a bead on me past his daughter.
Amy– brave girl– threw herself down, across my breast, and stayed between me and the double barrels. “We love each other Daddy! We’re gonna be married– he told me so!”
“Don’t shoot my husband, Daddy. He loves me! Don’t kill my beau!” She glared defiance at her father while I cringed beneath her.
“Marriage!” Lawrence growled. “Matrimony, you say. Is that so? Sawyer, you hog! Are you fixin’ to marry my little baby here?” With this his bead steadied dead on my face. “Answer me, sir! Is what my baby gal said gospel? Are yer intentions with my little Amy honorable? Answer me, damn you!”
The shotgun was steady on my nose as I glanced at Amy. She was holding her breath, pretty mouth open, beautiful eyes imploring. I looked at the rest of the good men of St. Petersburg. They were squinting their eyes with their heads slightly pulled back in anticipation of the blast. No help there. The double barrels never wavered.
“Why… of course I want to marry Amy! Why… don’t you see?” I stammered through my terror. “I… love her so.”
“Ain’t you got something to ask me, boy? Well… speak up!” Lawrence growled, his shotgun rock steady.
I knew my lines. “Mr. Lawrence, sir! May I have the honor of your daughter Amy’s hand in marriage?” It may have sounded better if I wasn’t on my arse with my trousers around my ankles and Amy’s sunbonnet covering Adam's arsenal.
That was it. The gun went up. My britches went up. Amy composed herself, gathered her dignity, and joined the happily scandalized ladies on the Texas deck. More jugs magically appeared and were passed. Brother Tom smirked, Judge Thatcher sniffed self-righteous snorts, old man Temple got wallpapered, Mother Lawrence and Aunt Polly swooned. Pappy Lawrence had a few calmer moments to think the whole situation over and seemed satisfied with the result. I had a good position with Temple & Son. The Sawyer clan was connected with the only two families that passed for gentry in our little town, the Temples and the Thatchers. Of course, he would have preferred it was Tom instead of Sidney, but Amy could a’ done worse.
It was settled. Our wedding was to be next Saturday.
Sidney and a mysterious savior battle bushwhackers in old St. Louis.
The thought of a knife fight or pistols set my bowels to squeeze and the blade to shake in my hand. We made it to the end of the block, hearing shouts in the distance but not seeing any pursuit, and hurried across the street to the next row of houses. We slowed our pace along a line of rickety porches and I felt we must be away and safe when a skinny hound sulking under a step began barking fit to startle the watch. That set off a dozen other mutts and the racket fetched three men who stepped in our path from the shadows not ten paces ahead.
“It’s them fellers!” one of them cried, and I saw quick movement as their hands flew to their weapons.
My new friend didn’t hesitate. His pistol came up from his leg like a serpent. Its boom sent a comet of flame straight into the body of the ruffian who spoke, and he flew back like he was kicked in the chest by a mule. The other two didn’t hesitate either and charged into us at a rush before my protector could cock his piece for another shot. I didn’t go down, but stumbled back stupefied with fright as the two brutes carried the big man to the dirt and swarmed over him.
“Stick ’em! Stick ’em!” I heard one yell
and I knew it was Vernon’s pal from the saloon, the son of a bitch who started
all this. There was a gleam as a big knife arched down at the throat of my
mysterious savior, who too quick to credit, managed to block the Bowie with the
barrel of his pistol. With two men on him I knew he’d be overwhelmed in
seconds. The shot would bring a dozen other ruffians running and I’d be next.
One of the villains had his hand in my savior’s bearded face and was shoving it over for his partner’s knife to have another slash at his throat. The big man got the fingers between his teeth and bit hard, shaking his head like a terrier, and the scream snapped me out of my trance. I had a knife in my hand. I knew I’d die if I didn’t use it, but didn’t know how to use it. I did reckon this was one fight schoolmaster Dobbins wasn’t going to break up, so I stepped behind the man with the knife and looked for a good place to stick it. I was green and didn’t know exactly where to strike for best effect, but when the brute with the Bowie raised his arm for another stab that would finish the job, I slashed the nasty little blade hard across the back of his hand. The big knife tumbled to the dirt as he let out a howl and jerked himself straight. My only thought was to shut the swine up, before his cries fetched the rest of the roughnecks to kill us. To kill me! By grapes, no! I had a job and a wife, and was only seventeen. These bastards wanted to kill me for no reason– and they’d slit my nose, and mussed my new clothes, and I’d lost my hat– so I took the knife and stuck it straight down as hard as I could into the top of his head.
That bushwhacker was the first man I ever delivered to Judgment. He turned out to be the first in a surprisingly long parade, considering I always saw myself as a peaceful sort of fellow. At the time it brought the gorge up my gullet to burn in the back of my throat, but looking back there was comfort in knowing that if I needed to, I could. What I needed right then was to get the hell away from the saloon thugs and to avoid the hangman. The bully with the knife in his brain went down without a sound like a wet shirt. His collapse startled Vernon’s pal off the big man like he was scalded.
“My God, my God,” he whimpered, scrambling away on his back like a crawfish. I must have been a sight from hell, yanking his butchered friend’s head back and forth on its limp neck, trying to work the knife out of the skull. The blade may as well have been in a vise, but I kept at it like a single-minded fool. My more practical savior shoved his way from under the dead weight, retrieved his gun, thumbed back the hammer cool as you like, and shot Vernon’s buddy through his guts like a dog. With the blast there was a scream from behind the nearest door and from the next house I heard a baby begin to screech in fright. We were waking up the city.
“Leave the dern knife, Sawyer, we got to git!”
And we did. Two blocks up the street a bunch of toughs piled out of an alley and froze as they saw us in the dim moonlight. One of the brutes had a torch and he waved it towards us as they shouted, but their cries were smothered in the blast of the big man’s hand cannon as he fired two shots at the mob. I was deafened and half-blinded by the flame from the Colt’s muzzle, but I could still see flashes explode from the guns down the street. They returned fire wildly and dove back into the alleys for cover. With a sickening hiss a bullet whizzed close by my ear and another thumped into a skinny hound that had rushed from a front yard to chew at my ankle.