Friday, February 18, 2005


A Pirate Tale - 35

The Festering Boil bobbed proudly on the water as the crew stood on the shore and cheered. Her hull was freshly patched and pitched, her masts rerigged and her canvas patched and sewn. It was now just a matter of moving all the goods and gear back on board and stowing them away.

“She’s beautiful, isn’t she?” Cap’n Slappy asked. “We should be able to leave with the tide tomorrow afternoon. And I’m sleeping aboard tonight.”

“It’ll be nice to be asea again,” Chumbucket said. “This whole ‘walking on land’ thing is alright for a diversion, but it’s not natural.”

“Let’s get another hunting party out before dark and see if we can’t get a little extra fresh meat before we go,” Slappy said. “And I want every barrel topped off. We’ve got a long journey ahead of us.”

“But tonight, a last celebration in what has turned out to be an excellent harbor,” Chumbucket said.

Dinner that night was a festival as the sailors enjoyed themselves one last time. Once back out to sea their lives would be regulated again by the rhythms of ship’s life. Tonight they ate and drank with abandon.

Ol’ Chumbucket found himself seated with Slappy, Dogwatch Watts, Leftenant Keeling, Juan and Cementhands. They were watching Sawbones Burgess try to dance a native dance he had picked up on a previous voyage, but in this case he seems to have picked it up the way you’d pick up a social disease, and the onlookers roared with laughter as he contorted and shook while dressed in a grass skirt he’d made.

“Is he well?” Juan asked, watching the doctor carefully. “Are you sure he’s not enfermo o loco o ambos?”

“You know, he actually looks surprisingly good in a dress,” Watts said. “I’m not saying ... I just mean I didn’t think he could possibly carry it off.”

“Well, he’s certainly got the legs for it,” Ol’ Chumbucket said, setting off another round of laughter.

Two of the crew members, Greta Olsen and Red Molly, joined in the dance, cavorting around Sawbones and undulating rhythmically, somehow finding a consistent beat in the randomly spasmodic gestures of the ship’s doctor. The rest of the crew cheered in appreciation.

A sour voice piped up from the fringes of the crowd. “I’ve seen people with St. Vitus Dance who looked more graceful.” It was The Drip, sitting off by himself. As the officers glanced over at him, he raised his glass in mock salute and smiled, a sickly sweet smile that contorted his face.

“Gentlemen, and I use the term loosely. I look forward to the dawn and my return to the high seas.”

The comment caused most of the group to glower, casting a pall that not even Sawbones’ convulsions could penetrate.

“Can you imagine four or five months confined at sea with that?” Keeling asked.

But Slappy seemed to remain unaffected. “He and I have had a talk. He understands the effect he sometimes has on people and has promised to keep to himself. I’ve arranged a schedule of times he can come out on deck, and for the rest of the time he’ll be remaining below. Besides, he isn’t nearly as hard on the crew, he actually seems to admire them quite a bit. It’s only the people in charge he can’t stand.”

“And boy can he not stand us,” Cementhands said.

Two figures approached from the beach. It was Sir Nigel and George the Greek, who had been examining the pinnace that Nigel had decided to set off in.

“Sir Nigel! Does the little ship look adequate for your needs?” Slappy called out.

“Indeed she does,” the pirate captain said with satisfaction. “I’m renaming her Nigel’s Revenge, as she is the first step in my tracking down and eventually exacting retribution from those dastardly mutineers. This will be a story that becomes legend wherever pirates gather and share an old sea yarn.”

“So you really intend to leave us? We could use your skills in our quest to the Indian Ocean,” Slappy said.

“I’m afraid so, my old moss-encrusted bean pot,” Nigel replied. “The honor of the Pomfrit Coeur de Noir O'Houghlihan family demands that I sail after those miscreants. Perhaps you’d like to come with me? It’ll be a grand adventure, and it never hurts a pirate’s reputation to be on the edges of one of my stories.”

As ever, Sir Nigel’s braggadocio had a mixed effect on the crew. Some looked enthralled by the prospect of accompanying him, while others snorted and rolled their eyes at his style. Ol’ Chumbucket and Cementhands shared a look that said as clearly as if they had spoken, “Listen to this guy!”

“No, my friend, tempting as the offer is, our duty calls us to the Indian Ocean,” Slappy said.

“But why out there? It takes forever to get there, it’s hot, it’s uncivilized, the worms bore holes in your hull faster than you can patch them, and there’s no decent news service to carry news of your exploits home. I must confess I don’t understand the purpose at all.”

“Perhaps,” The Drip said, “if you had listened to others half as much as you talked about yourself you’d know. This ship is on a mission to rescue a group of kidnapped women and right a terrible wrong, although God help the ladies who depend on this lot to save them,”

“That’ll be enough,” Chumbucket said, trying to cut off the old professor before he said too much. “Don’t bore Nigel with our plans. He’s got a vital mission of his own to attend to.”

But it was too late, the single word “ladies” had piqued Sir Nigel’s interest.

“Kidnapped women, you say? Tell me more.”

In as few words as he could manage, condensing down the 48,000 words that comprise the story so far into a few simple sentences, Cap’n Slappy explained the situation with a brevity your authors would do well to emulate. Two words seemed to have an electrical effect on Sir Nigel.

“Mad Sally? She’s in danger? She’s at the heart of this adventure? That certainly casts this mission in a new light,” Sir Nigel said.

“No, no, I’m sure it’ll be nothing,” Chumbucket chimed in hastily. “A minor dustup, not even worthy of a footnote in a saga such as yours.”

“No, my friends, this changes everything. The romance between Mad Sally of Barbados and the dashing pirate Sir Nigel is all part of the legend.”

“The last time she saw you she broke your nose and threatened to castrate you,” Chumbucket said.

“Yes, she’s a spirited girl. In an experience of women that has spanned five continents and more conquests than any man has a right to expect, I have never met anyone who captured my heart as Mad Sally has. Cap’n Slappy, I must announce a change of plans. I, Sir Nigel de Pomfrit Coeur de Noir O'Houghlihan, and his band of followers will join your expedition to liberate these ladies from the evil clutches of Lady Fanny.”

“Excellent,” Slappy said. “So our numbers grow and I feel certain that success will crown our exploits! Now all we have to determine is the fate of my cousin, Slappista. I must admit I’m inclined to take him along. You never know when a pawn in chains might come in handy, and even if he’s left alone in as isolated a spot such as this, it’s impossible to calculate the deviltry he might get up to. But I promised in a rash moment to give him the choice of being marooned or our prisoner, so I suppose I must put it to him.”

“Very good, my friend,” Sir Nigel said. “Gentlemen and ladies, I propose a toast. To the expedition of Sir Nigel and the crew of the Festering Boil! And to Mad Sally, who as ever impels me onward!”

Glasses were raised with varying degrees of alacrity. One person was particularly slow in drinking the toast, and even as he sipped, there was a dark look on the face of Ol’ Chumbucket.

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