Friday, January 14, 2005


A Pirate Tale - 5

The bow of the Festering Boil cut through the clean waters of the Caribbean, bound for its rendezvous with destiny. The crew crouched tensely over their guns, matches ready, cutlasses and grappling hooks laid nearby, poised for action. Suddenly a calm voice broke the expectant stillness.

“Captain, a word?”

“Not now, Chumbucket. We’re 10 seconds from firing range,” Slappy replied crossly.

“No we’re not,” Chumbucket said.

“Yes we are.”

“A word here on the poopdeck, please?”

The captain uncrouched, looking angry, but he strode quickly back to where Chumbucket awaited him.

“What is it? We’re ready to spring into action!”

“It will be rather a long spring, I’m afraid,” Chumbucket explained quietly. “Think. That ship was hull-down on the horizon 15 minutes ago. That’s what, a hundred miles or more? You said yourself, it will take a full day of hard sailing to draw close enough to tell if it even IS your relative. Even if she turned toward us and sailed as fast as we’re sailing - impossible as we have the wind of her and she’d be tacking into the breeze, we’re on sail boats, remember? - but even if it was possible it would still take hours to get close enough even to see if it was the right ship.”

The captain’s brow furrowed and his lips moved silently as he calculated. “Carry the one,” he muttered, “Subtract three knots for ... four quarts of rum in a gallon ... OK, what’s your point?”

“My point is that the crew are poised over dangerously overloaded cannons in postures that are sure to cause stiffness and aches and pains long before we’re actually ready to fight, which with a great deal of luck will be sometime late tomorrow.”

“But,” the captain spluttered, “what about the report from the top rigging?”

“From Two Patch? Need I say more?”

“But I saw through the spyglass ...”

“Which was held by young Spencer, who enjoys a practical joke as much as any rapscallion I know,” Chumbucket observed. He reached for Cap’n Slappy’s spyglass and found, sure enough, attached to the front glass was a crude drawing of a ship with an arrow pointing from the stick figure of a pirate on deck to the words “SPAINISH PYRIT” written in a childish hand.

“I’ll have the lad whipped!” Slappy roared.

“Perhaps, and I’m sure Lieutenant Keeling will have a jolly good time playing ‘flog the cabin boy,’ but right now you might suggest to the men - and women, I was following your St. Crispin’s Day speech down there and quite inspirational it was, too - that this was a drill and they should stand down.”

“Very good,” Slappy agreed. Turning to the crew he bellowed, “All hands! Stand down. This has been a test of the Emergency Cannonading System. If it had been a real attack, we’d have blown the blighters to smithereens.”

The crew rose from their tense positions, obviously disappointed. A smile broke out on the face of Cap’n Slappy, who enjoyed a loud cannon blast as much as any man who ever lived. He shouted, “Oh, what the hell! You’ve got ‘em loaded, fire away!!!”

The delighted crew yelled. Twenty-four matches touched 24 firing holes, and the ensuing explosions and billows of smoke transformed the quiet midmorning air into a hellish cacaphony of death. The loudest sound of all was the captain’s manaical laughter as 24 cannonballs punched 24 ragged holes in wildly separate spots on the ocean.

“Ah, when we catch that Spanish bastard we'll send him to the bottom with a single broadside,” Slappy chortled.

“That might not be a good idea, old friend,” Chumbucket said.

“For the love of dancing monkeys!” Slappy bellowed. “You are the biggest spoilsport who ever sailed! What’s the problem now?”

“Well sir, let’s think this through,” Chumbucket said, drawing another scowl from the captain. “Our goal is to rescue the kidnapped young ladies and their boarding-school superiors, correct?”

“Yes, yes, go on.”

“And the ladies in question – how many did you say there were?”

“Counting Lady Fanny and Mad Sally, at least 50,” the captain said.”

“Fine, 50 young ladies of gentle breeding, and they’re all aboard that ship, am I right?”

“That’s what we’ve been assuming,” Slappy said.

“So if we sink the ship BEFORE we rescue the ladies, they’ll all ...?”

A light of comphrehension spread across Slappy’s broad forehead like the noxious slick that spread over the water when Cementhands relieved himself over the rail of the ship. “They’ll all be dead! By God, Chumbucket! That was a close one! Good thinking!”

“Even if we don’t sink her, if there’s a major battle many of them may be injured, or at least vexed, their delicate dispositions unalterably disturbed. I don’t think we’d care to risk that,” Chumbucket concluded.

The captain’s face clouded. “Then how are we to rescue the ladies AND deal once and for all with my disreputable relation AND pillage enough gold and jewels to please the crew? It’s a puzzler, that’s what it is.”

“A plan,” Chumbucket said quietly.

“Really? Oh good, I knew I could count on you. What is it?”

“No. A plan is what we need. I’d suggest a meeting of the ship’s officers to consider things.”

“That lot?” Slappy said with scorn. “Do you really think that’ll help?”

“It’d better,” Chumbucket said, “Because it’s all we’ve got.”

A short time later, the officers were seated around the captain’s cabin. At the table were Cap’n Slappy himself and Ol’ Chumbucket, as ever at his right hand, where he could keep the captain from hurting himself in his excitement. Also present were Lieutenant Keeling (pronounced KEE-ling,) Sawbones Burgess, First Mate George the Greek, and Dogwatch Watts as a representative of the crew. Asleep in the corner atop a pile of dirty laundry was able seaman Cementhands McCormack, whose bulk made him inconvenient to move. Cabin boy Spencer, moving gingerly in deference to his recent lashing, served drinks to the assembled brain trust.

“Here ya go, leftenant,” he said, passing a mug of rum to Keeling.

“No thank you,” the ship’s disciplanarian said. “As you may recall, I don’t imbibe spiritous liquors or potent potables of any sort.”

“I’ll take his,” Cap’n Slappy said.

“And lad,” Keeling added, “I trust there are no hard feelings?”

“None at all, sir,” the cabin boy replied. “You were just doing your job, and I’m sure I’ll be right as rain by tomorrow. Think nothing of it.”

“There’s a good fellow! Now, cap’n, what is the purpose of this conclave?”

“We’ve got a pretty problem on our hands, and no mistake. Chumbucket, why don’t you explain things?”

Chumbucket laid out the situation as he had earlier to the captain. At the end of his brief recitation there was a moment’s pause while the officers considered the matter. Finally, the ship’s doctor, Sawbones Burgess, broke the silence.

“We’re screwed,” he said.

“True enough,” George the Greek agreed. “We’ve got to defeat the Spaniard and his crew to rescue the ladies, and to do that we’d normally sink ‘em, but if we do then we risk blowing up or drowning or at least annoying the young ladies. I don’t see any way out of it.”

“It’s hopeless,” Dogwatch concluded.

Cap’n Slappy hit the table with his fist. “Just as I thought,” he declared. “Well, I guess the meeting’s over. More rum, everyone!”

“That still leaves the problem of recuing the young maidens from your diabolical distant relative,” Chumbucket observed.

A cloud crossed Slappy’s immense brow. “But how?” he said.

“If I may sir,” Keeling ventured, “Perhaps if we review the ship’s mission statement we might find a clue.”

“Not the mission statement,” Slappy groaned.

“Why not,” Chumbucket interjected. “You didn’t let him report the minutes this morning. It’s the least we can do. And it might even help.”

Satisfied, Keeling withdrew a carefully creased parchment from his immaculate waistcoat. Unfolding it, he read aloud: “Mission statement of the Festering Boil and her crew. In order to most satisfactorily accomplish the goals and objectives of this ship and to have a rollicking good time in doing so, the crew agree to the following principles as their guides in all action. 1 - Pillage. 2 - Meet new and exciting people. 3 - Take all the gold we can find. 4 - Never let a chance for adventure and derring-do pass us by. 5 - Add jewels to number three. 6 - Cheat, steal and generally pilfer our weasley way across the seven seas. And to this document every member of the crew has affixed his mark.” Keeling showed the gathering the columns of Xs and the occasional smiley face that filled the rest of the page and most of the back.

“Well, that does put things in the proper light, doesn’t it,” Chumbucket said. “Good work, Keeling.”

“How does that help?” Slappy asked.

“You’ll notice that it says nothing about attacking an equally armed opponent in a fair fight? That’s not our style at all. So we don’t do it. It’s right off the board. But it does say something about adventure, about meeting new people, about cheating and having a “rollicking good time.” All of which should help us formulate a plan. And I’m beginning to see how we might pull this off, with the help of our snoozing friend in the corner there.”

Seven pairs of eyes turned to the heap of dirty laundry where Cementhands McCormack snored away in blissful ignorance.

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