Carolina Conflict - Spring and Summer 1839
A bouquet of daisies on the linen-draped table separated Samuel Colt and Emily West. She sipped vintage Dom Perignon, while the staff of the Windust prepared dinner table side. Sam Colt gazed at his protégé. Barely three weeks since the accident, but he’d brought Emily to downtown New York for meetings with critical suppliers to the Paterson Arms Company. As far as Sam was concerned, dining at Windust this evening was a celebration of Emily’s remarkable recovery and her assistance with the negotiations.
He’d been around attractive, strong women before. Had sometimes enjoyed their intimacy. Sam had even fallen for such women more than once. But something about Emily was different. She was half-white. Primal, in a sense. Yet intelligent and quite shrewd. She could never be subjugated. The waiter jarred Colt from his frustrated reverie with their entrees.
Emily West grasped her knife and fork. “Mr. Colt, how did the recent tests of the new firing mechanism go? You know better than I that we need to deliver the South Carolina order soon.”
She cut into her veal and smiled, then put down her utensils. More on her mind than dinner? Sam held his knife and fork, waiting. He was famished.
“Then too, the guns for Florida.” She persisted. “For the Seminole war. What about that order?”
Sam Colt stared down at his food. Ever the businesswoman, ever the warrior. Sam looked up at Emily again. Her burns were healing well, but patches of redness still marked her face and bare arms. They had to be painful. Even with the bandages gone, she’d need at least another month before he could dispatch her on the South Carolina mission. Sam took a bite and put down his knife and fork, dabbing the napkin at his bearded chin.
“Miss West. For God’s sake, Emily,” he spoke with his most serious demeanor, “last week I implemented the improvements we tested. I’ll have eighty, maybe a hundred refurbished revolvers for South Carolina ready within the month.” He put out one hand. “We can address Florida when South Carolina is done. At least then I’ll have something more, more money at least, in this empty hand.”
Sam Colt hoped he didn’t show his discouragement. He considered the private letters he’d exchanged with Millard Luke Bonham, state senator and head of the South Carolina Militia Procurement Committee. The politician had claimed official reluctance to consummate the arms deal. Bonham’s stated concern? The new weapon had never been in federal military use, an arguable mandate under the Militia Act of 1808.
Sam had countered that President Jackson had personally approved the Paterson Colt. From Sam’s perspective, nothing more than petty squabbling between generals had blocked the procurement. Damn it all, the South Carolina Congressman already knew all this, just more political maneuvering and bickering to try and land a better deal.
Sam had advised Bonham that he was sending his personal envoy to deliver the weapons, perform training and collect payment. He’d sent Emily’s official credentials to Senator Bonham. The Senator had acquiesced, agreed to meet with her and complete the transaction, subject to final demonstration of the Colt pistol’s function and use.
Sending a woman, a Colored at that, to a Southern state to sell arms and ammunition, to train openly bigoted White boys in the use of tools of war? Then she was to collect payment and return north? Hers was one hell of a tall order, and an abundant risk, even for someone like Emily West.
The small booster steam engine on the “Jersey” fired up for the voyage to Charleston. Smoke billowed from a vertical stack amidships. Two burly, off-duty New York policemen in Sam Colt’s temporary employ struggled to secure almost three hundred pounds of weapons – four wooden crates – in the ship’s hold.
“Captain Willmott,” Sam Colt addressed the ship’s captain. “May I present my assistant, Miss Emily West.”
Edmund Willmott, graying hair and muttonchops framing a round, ruddy face, swept off his gold braided black-billed cap and bowed. The short, stocky ships’ captain with a bulbous red nose wore a double-breasted white jacket and black trousers. His bow to West was enough to be proper, not quite enough to show full respect for Emily’s position with the Colt Arms Company.
“Miss West,” Sam spoke, eyes fixed on Captain Willmott, “Is to be treated as my personal representative aboard your vessel. She is on an authorized mission for the Colt Arms Company to deliver a substantial quantity of weapons and ammunition to the militia of South Carolina.”
Captain Willmott nodded and droned his response, “I assure you, sir, Miss West shall be accorded every courtesy while aboard this vessel, and every safeguard shall be undertaken for your shipment.” The Captain bowed a bit further this time, waving his cap. “Miss West will be offered a seat next to me at the captain’s table each evening. My engineering officer will attend her whenever she is on deck.” He smiled openly at Emily, then turned back to Sam, serious. “Neither racial innuendos nor spurious remarks as to an unaccompanied woman will be tolerated on my ship.”
Colt smiled and shook the Captain’s hand. Things were in order. He’d reviewed Willmott’s history before booking the journey. Besides, Emily could call on the two New York policemen traveling with her if needed. And, as a last line of defense, she had a newly upgraded Paterson Colt in her valise. Emily would be fine.
“Bon voyage, Emily.” Samuel Colt said and tipped his newest beaver pelt hat. “Safe journey. I’m certain you’ll be successful. And by the time you return,” he added, “I’ll have completed the assembly of at least another hundred weapons for either Florida or Texas.”
“Samuel Colt,” Emily responded, her eyes moist and piercing, “I’ll miss New York. You as well. Charleston is a great city, but I’ve never been comfortable there. And don’t worry about the South Carolina Militia matter. In a few weeks, you shall have your money. Ample funds for ongoing production.”
They’d have money if the woman could work her charms on that bastard, Millard Bonham. He’d find pleasure in that. But the congressman was a sleazy character. A bit of a lecher, a bigot who might feel entitled to take liberties with an attractive mulatto woman. No matter, Emily was strong. Wouldn’t take anybody’s guff. Emily West could handle a tough situation. And besides, she was delivering his revolutionary repeater pistols. The South Carolina Militia could ill afford to reject them.
A smile from Emily broke the seriousness of the moment. Colt moved in to give his employee a farewell kiss, just for luck. Emily West turned her head and his pursed lips landed on one cheek. Colt reddened, then turned and shook hands with the two policemen in her entourage. Overhead, a shrill steam whistle blew a single alert, announcing the ship’s impending departure. He needed to leave. Sam Colt waved goodbye with his hat and headed down the gangplank.
Sam Colt had the morning to himself and welcomed the quiet. One shipment of cylinders was missing. Two workers hadn’t shown up at six o’clock on the assembly line. The constable had them in jail. Something about a bar brawl the evening before.
No news from Emily either. She should be in the thick of training the South Carolina militia about now. Sam had difficulty imagining just how Emily might have gone about her mission, but she was a resourceful sort. She’d be fine.
Noise erupted in the hallway. Some kind of altercation? What the bloody hell?
A thud and Emily West crashed through his half-open office door, mayhem or worse flashing in her green eyes. Sam Colt bounced to his feet. Emily’s lethal side was on full display. The desk clutter piled in front of Sam offered no protection. What the hell? God, she’d not even been three weeks away in South Carolina.
“You, Samuel Colt,” she shouted, her gloved hand in a tight fist. “You are a conniving, low-life, despicable sonofabitch. You dispatched me to do the undoable. To…to prostitute myself with some thick-headed, fat, racist pig!”
West moved in and leaned across his desk. The sweep of her hand sent a pistol hammer and spring sailing into the wall. Sam Colt put both hands in the air.
“For what?” She shouted. “To sell a few pistols? Make you a little money?”
Sam Colt came around his desk. “Emily, my God, what happened? What could have gone awry?” He extended one hand toward a chair. “Please, please sit down. I can explain whatever you’ve encountered. We can get past whatever happened.”
Well, he’d certainly miscalculated this time. What had Millard Bonham said? What prurient moves had he, or someone, made that had set the woman into a rage that lasted the entire boat trip back? Better not ask for details.
Did she still have the pistols and ammunition? Damn it, man, that wasn’t the priority right now.
Sam tried to grasp Emily’s arm. He moved a chair toward her. West spun and shoved him away with both hands. She lifted the shopworn piece of furniture. By Heaven, the woman was strong. Emily tossed the chair clattering and skidding across the room. Old wood shattered. Bits of cane flew in all directions. Emily West crossed her arms and glared, then paced left and right in front of Sam.
“You…you,” West stammered, uncrossing her arms and waving them. “You purposely did not give me all the facts! Caution me about the risks! Like sending men on a suicide mission without telling them!”
“No, Emily, no.” Samuel Colt shot back. “I told you all I knew. We both knew the task wouldn’t be easy. We agreed on that much before you left.” He pulled over a second chair. “Please, sit down and hear me out. We can still get this done.”
West kicked the chair away. “People have used me to dubious advantage, but none…never more deviously than you.” Her green eyes glared. “First you tried to kill me with that damnable contraption, then you dispatched me to South Carolina where you knew I’d fail.” She threw up her arms. “And you’ve still not paid me a cent! Your…your ‘slave girl.’ We are done, Mister Colt. Done. Finished.”
Emily West turned away. One fashionable boot heel dug into the floor planking when she pivoted and stormed for the door. Her ankle-length skirt swirled and rustled. God, the woman was beautiful, even outraged. Sam’s rickety oak office door slammed behind her. The dry, poorly varnished wood splintered with a short, loud crack. A brass knob slipped from the inside socket and fell, wobbling slowly across the floor. The tarnished hardware rolled to rest at his feet.
Sam Colt stared at the half-open door. She’d be back as soon as she settled down. They had unfinished business.