The Delta Queen pulled out of Natchez on 12 August 1853, heading north. The Mississippi was vast, making it hard to see the far bank. A soft, warm flower-scented wind blew in from the south, the nightly sea breeze which cooled the valley for at least a hundred miles.
Black hands piled the wood, recently loaded at the landing. Smoke wafted over the deck briefly, bringing the smell of seasoned hardwood to the passengers below.
“A wonderful night,” a female voice came from behind him. He swept his hat off and turned. He was facing a light skinned negro woman of about 20 years. She wore a black dress with white pinstripes and a white, starched collar. Her hair was neatly bundled beneath a matching bonnet.
Black Jack Mason bowed and motioned for her to join him at the railing. Melissa rode the paddle wheeler often, as did Mason. He was a gambler, she was a seamstress who worked for a large store on Canal Street in New Orleans. She rode back home as often as she could afford the passage.
“Good evening, ma’am.”
“You, Mister Mason, are probably the only white man on this ship who would call a negro woman ma’am,” she said with a smile.
“A woman is a woman, no matter what her color,” he smiled, “and you, ma’am, are an exceptionally beautiful one.”
“How gallant,” she smiled beautifully.
They watched as a flock of flamingos took to the sky. Their feathers looked yellow in the afternoon sunlight. The sun was about to go down, it’s warm glow yellowed the beautiful landscape along the river. The trees looked beautiful, with their tent-like vines trailing off in all directions, making access almost impossible. Spanish moss decorated the trees in a most becoming fashion. An occasional farm showed on the bank, then passed. Several boys were swimming near a sand bar. They waved as the paddle wheeler thrashed by. They waited for the huge bow wave, then jumped in laughing.
Black Jack and Melissa waved back and laughed at their antics. “It’s beautiful,” Melissa sighed. “One big, beautiful Garden of Eden.
“It is, but I feel a storm brewing.”
“I feel nothing,” Melissa looked around.
“Not that kind of storm, a storm which will tear this country apart,” he said, replacing his hat. “A civil uprising,” he added, giving her a bright smile. “You, my fair lady, and your kind are resisting slavery. Some say that the negro has a feeble mind and is only fit for subjugation. But you are living proof that not only can a negro win their freedom, but they have the wits to employ themselves and thrive.”
She nodded wordlessly.
“I can’t even imagine what it would feel like, to be owned by another,” he mused.
“I could tell you all about it. Better yet, I could show you,” she said with a trace of anger.
“Show me,” he challenged.
“Yes, really. Show me what it means to be owned.”
“You will do exactly what I say?”
“Take off your shirt,” she commanded.
“No arguments, boy, just do it,” she barked. The heads of fellow passengers turned, at the sound of her voice. They watched in amazement as Black Jack removed his hat, tie and shirt. He stood naked from the wait up, with his arms crossed over his chest. The black hands stopped stacking wood, laughing and pointing.
“How do you feel?” she asked.
“Naked,” he groaned, then smiled briefly. He began replacing his shirt, but her hiss of annoyance stopped him.
“Not yet, boy, I’m not through with you. I have no cabin, so you will take me to yours. But walk behind me,” she commanded as he started to rush past her. He bowed and pointed toward the upper cabins, just below the wheel house. She led the way. Murmurs and laughter followed them. Black Jack knew he could never work the Delta Queen again. He might possibly have to leave the river altogether. He colored as a woman gasped and covered her face. Melissa led the way with her head held high.
“Number seven,” he mumbled “lucky seven.”
“I… I can’t read,” she admitted in embarrassment. He pointed toward the cabin. He hurried forward and held the door open. A large crowd had gathered behind them.
“Here,” a large man in a walrus mustache said. “that is not allowed…”
“Shut up or I will gut-shoot you,” Mason growled. The man huffed and backed away.
“Get in here,” Melissa yelled. He slid inside and closed the door behind him. Melissa stood with her hands on her hips. She looked him over and pointed at his pants.
“Off,” she commanded.
“What?” she screamed in outrage. “You will call me master, or I will have you whipped.”
“M… Master,” he said. “I think this…”
“You don’t think, boy, I do. Get those pants off,” she said, taking a razor strap from the wall. She slapped it in the palm of her hand, while he gritted his teeth and pushed down his pants. He stepped out of them, with his hands in front of his crotch. She approached him, still slapping the piece of leather in her hand.
“Bend over the bed,” she commanded. He hesitated only a moment, then bent over. He felt very naked, very vulnerable. He didn’t believe that Melissa would really strike him, until the shock of the leather on his bare ass caused him to scream. He shot upright just as the razor strap struck again. He started to turn when she struck a third time. He wrestled the razor strap from her hand and threw it on the bed.
“Your turn,” he threatened. “Off with that dress.”
She gave him a cute smile and lifted her chin in defiance. He approached her and pushed her back on the bed. Straddling her prone body, still fully naked, he began unbuttoning the top of her dress. She lay still for several minutes before she gave token resistance. He slapped her hand aside and bared her breast. He moaned in appreciation. They were perky little breasts with uplifted nipples. He quickly undid the rest of her dress and pulled it down off her legs. She wore black silk pantaloons and black knee-high stockings. The pantaloons stopped at her waist. He looked at her magnificent breasts again, the breasts of a young girl, then grabbed the tie on her pantaloons. He jerked the loop free and slid them down off her legs.
“My God, you are a truly beautiful woman,” he moaned.
“And you are a handsome man,” she said, giving him a coy look.
He placed a hand on her breast. She gasped and thrust her chest toward him. “Perfect,” he whispered.