Friday, February 11, 2005


A Pirate Tale - 29

The work on the Festering Boil continued while Slappy continued sleeping. It had been five days now since he had been hit by the dart from Prof. Droppingham – the ill-tempered former teacher whose students had called him The Drip – and he still snored contentedly.

“This is a little long,” The Drip conceded. “Usually people who took the dart at parties would be out about a day, maybe two. But one of the fellows – Tim Rotknocker, the prat, oh, that fella could drink, I’ll tell you – was out 14 days. Missed the regatta against L'École Navale Française AND his deck swabbing finals. Boy was coach pissed.”

Sawbones Burgess took this information in gravely. He wasn’t used to his patients lingering like this. They either lived or they died – mostly died – and were quick about it. Now his captain was under some strange malady and he was powerless to roust him out of it.

“One other thing,” The Drip said. “When he wakes up, make sure you’ve got all the snacks hidden away because he is going to be hungry with a capital H. Make sure he gets a lot of water. Not that he’s someone who ever held back at the table before anyway, look at him.”

Burgess tried to shut out the constant criticizing, carping and name-calling of the embittered old teacher, but it wasn’t easy. The problem with being the ship’s doctor and having patients to tend to while the crew careened the ship was that he caught the full brunt of The Drip’s ceaseless venom. The sailors who were scraping down the hull of the beached ship, patching the holes, filling all the seams and beginning to coat it with pitch, were the lucky ones, the doctor grumbled to himself. All they had to do was endure backbreaking, mind-numbing labor in the relentless African sun.

It was during one of those work sessions that Chumbucket saw Slappista away from his post, talking to Juan who was again stirring the tar used to coat the hull. Juan kept his back to his former captain, who continued to talk earnestly to the sailor. Chumbucket watched for a minute, then suddenly dropped from the side of the ship onto the sand and ran towards the pair, his hand reaching for the razor-sharp stiletto in his belt. As he approached the two his hand flashed back and the dagger flew through the air, landing quivering in the dirt between Slappista’s feet. The Spaniard jerked back, one hand reaching for a pistol, which he was no longer allowed to carry. He looked towards Chumbucket with an expression you might see on a wolverine or other small animal when cornered by a couple of wolves.

“¡En el nombre de la espinaca!” he hissed. “What are you doing?”

“I couldn’t help noticing your beard,” Chumbucket said. “In the torpor of our hard days of work we’ve all let our standards of hygiene and appearance fall off a bit. I noticed even Keeling has rolled up his sleeves on one or two occasions. But you sir, are growing absolutely hirsute. I thought we had an agreement about that.”

The pirate rubbed the growth on his chin. The more his beard grew out, the more exactly he resembled his cousin, the sleeping Cap’n Slappy.

“Si, you are right, I have let myself go. It is just so much work through these hot days.”

“But we have an agreement. You remain clean shaven or you remain in chains. There isn’t any room for compromise,” Chumbucket said. “We wouldn’t want anyone ‘accidentally’ mistaking you for our captain, now would we? All sorts of mischief might occur.”

“Very well,” Slappista said. He reached down and plucked the stiletto from the ground, eyeing its edge. “Even though the senoritas love mi barba, I suppose it will be some time before I return to a civilized port and can once again try my luck with the ladies.”

“If you return at all,” Chumbucket said.

“As you say. So I will do as you ask.” He drew himself up, saluted with the dagger, and headed off to the stream.

“What was that all about?” Chumbucket asked Juan.

The man who had been Slappista’s first mate looked uncomfortable. “It was nothing. He keeps up the talk, trying to convince me of his sincere regret for what took place when he allowed Fanny to take over the ship. Do not worry. When the time comes, I will know what to do.”

“Well, whatever is on his mind, we can’t afford any trouble. We’re making good time, but there’s a lot of work left to do.”

“Si, mi amigo. If you will help me, we have more tar to bring to the ship.”

The two bent over the boiling pot of tar and began the difficult task of lugging it toward the hull of the Festering Boil without spilling any on themselves.

Far to the south, La Herida que Filtra de la Cabeza tacked eastward as it sought the breeze that would carry it around the southern tip of Africa. Bastiaan “The Bastard” Slotemaker, nominally captain of the ship although fully in thrall to Lady Fanny, observed his crew of English school girls with satisfaction.

“They learn well,” he said to his mistress. “They handle the ship beautifully, and it’s certainly more pleasant watching them in the rigging than the men I usually command.”

“Watch all you want, but keep your hands to yourself and your attention on me, or you know I’ll be displeased,” Fanny said evenly.

“Of course, mijn liefde,” the Dutch pirate assured her.

“How much longer?” Fanny asked. “We seem to be going rather the wrong way.”

“It would seem that way, but if we hugged the shoreline it would be a month or more before we worked our way around,” Bastiaan replied. “By sailing out southeast, we catch the trade winds that, with luck, will blow us around the Cape in two weeks. Then it’s just a matter of a few weeks more before we reach our friends on Madagascar.”

“And then the real work can begin,” Fanny said with a light in her eyes. “And at the end of the journey, a crown for me, and you as my royal consort. Just keep an eye on the girls and Mad Sally. I don’t want them getting any ideas.

“But only an eye,” she added, her voice growing harsh.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?