Wednesday, February 23, 2005


A Pirate Tale - 39

Silvery moonlight played on the dark waters of the Atlantic as the Festering Boil glided south. Lounging on the forecastle keeping watch, three sailors reviewed the day’s action. In just the short time since the events elapsed, the stories were already growing more elaborate.

“Did you see me take on those four sailors all at once, singlehandedly?” Dogwatch asked. “I swung over the railing, with my cutlass in my teeth, and was battling on the gundeck when I was cornered by four of the ugliest Dutch burghers you’d ever want to lay eyes on. They thrust, I parried, they thrust, I parried!” Watts began acting out the action. “I was able to slip under the guard of the biggest one and dispatched him with a stroke, but I lost my sword and the other three closed in. I dodged one swordstroke and leaped onto the railing when ...”

“Didn’t you see me with the one Dutch guy in my right hand, another in my left, and TWO more with their necks pinned between my knees?” Cementhands asked. “Oh man, I knocked the first two guys’ head together and just sort of launched them over the railing ...?”

“How could I see you doing that when, like I told you, I was ducking the one guy and then leaping onto the railing ...”

“You should have been below decks with me,” Leftenant Keeling said. “It was too crowded for cutlasses, so it was all knife work down there.”

“But no, seriously, these two guys just FLEW off the ship like some kinda ... some kinda ... FLYING thing. It was so cool!”

“Speaking of flying,” Dogwatch interjected, “I leaped to the railing ...”

“What railing?” a new voice cut in. It was George the Greek, who had just ambled forward for a smoke. “What are you guys talking about?”

“The action today! There were these four Dutch burghers ...”

“You mean those four old men Sawbones Burgess had to help? Yes, that was rather sad. Seems their hearts couldn’t take the stress. That was one of the reasons they surrendered so quickly.”

“No, but these two guys were just FLYING ...”

“The ones who fell from the rigging?” George remembered. “That had to be the worst-trained crew I’ve ever seen.”

“But no, the fighting on the gun deck, when I leaped ...”

“What fighting?” George asked. “Both ships struck colors as soon as they saw us coming. We didn’t even get to fire a warning shot. They saw us loading the bow chaser and it was heave to and strike colors before we got the slow match to the powder.”

“Yes, well,” Cementhands McCormack said. “They were pretty tough customers, and they needed a little ...”

“Tough customers? That tiny band of shell-shocked ancient mariners?”

“Yes, that’s true,” Dogwatch said defensively. “But they’re Dutch, and those wooden shoes can give you nasty splinters if they kick when you’re not looking.”

“I suppose,” George said. “Anyway, it was a good day’s work. The silver is safely below and no one was hurt. It’s the first pair of prizes we’ve taken in months. But before this voyage is over I think we’ll be even happier about the 60 barrels of salt pork and the 100 barrels of flour. That’ll give Black Butch something to work with in the galley when the supplies run low.”

They all stopped and sighed thinking of what Black Butch, their 5-star chef, might be able to do with 60 barrels of salt pork.

“But what are you doing here?” George asked Cementhads. “Wasn’t it your turn to relieve Dogwatch on the Nigel’s Revenge?” The captain had set a rotation for the four men manning the pinnace.

“It was,” “McCormack said. “But Chumbucket asked to trade with me. Said he wanted a little quiet. I think between The Drip, the monkey and Noisy Sir Nigel he just need a little time out.”

Aboard the smaller ship, Ol’ Chumbucket was also reviewing the day’s events. Taking the silver had been good, and the food stuffs might prove providential in the unfamiliar waters of the Indian Ocean. He’d been amused more than anything else by the drawing “Fancy” Frank Filigree had dashed off of Sir Nigel in the thick of a battle that hadn’t happened, battling swordsmen who’d thrown down their swords before the ship could be boarded. And he, as all, had been fascinated by the news they’d learned from the captain of the larger of the two Dutch ships.

It seemed they’d been part of a trio of ships beating their way back up the coast after a trip around the horn. Three weeks earlier the tiny armada had been attacked by a pirate ship. The first two were able to run for safety, but the straggler was cut off and taken.

And lookouts aboard the surviving Dutch merchantmen described a pirate ship that could only be La Herida que Filtra de la Cabeza. And the pirate ship apparently hadn’t pursued the two ships after dispatching its cousin, even though they must have known they were rich prizes.

“Which means someone is enough of a hurry to let a couple of fat prizes get away, but for some reason isn’t sailing as fast as that ship should be, because we’re making up a little time,” Cap’n Slappy had reasoned. “Could they have been damaged somehow in the fighting? Or did they dally on the coast, or is there something with the crew?”

The Drip had taken the information from the Dutch seamen and pored over the ship’s charts. Clucking with satisfaction, he had told Cap’n Slappy to make for the cape, and wouldn’t give anything further.

“Och, no. I know how you whelps operate. If I tell ya where we’re goin’ and how to get there, I’ll find myself marooned on the first available spit of land,” the old man said. “Oh, I remember how you ungrateful brats would treat each other at the naval school. I have no intention of winding up standin’ on the beach watching you sail away. I’ll lead you to Fanny, but I want to be there when you finally settle my daughter’s hash.”

Now, sitting on the bow of the pinnace with Juan astern at the helm and the two other sailors asleep on the deck, Chumbucket stared out to sea, thinking of Mad Sally and hoping she was all right.

As a matter of fact, things were going rather well for Sally and the girls aboard Lady Fanny’s ship. Fanny still didn’t trust anyone, nor should she, but she’d been impressed with the sea skills the girls were showing and their pirating prowess under Sally’s tutelage. With Bastiaan growing moodier and moodier after learning he had cause dhis brother’s death, Fanny, against her will, found herself leaning more and more on Sally’s ability.

“Sally, will you be holding another domestic arts class with the girls?”

“Yes, Captain Fanny,” Sally said. “We’re making it a practical lesson, mending the sails.”

“I’ve got something else I’d like sewn up,” Fanny said, handing a sketch to her subordinate. “It’s a new flag for the ship.”

“A Jolly Roger?” Sally asked as she picked up the scrap of paper.

“No, no. Much better than the boring old skull and crossbones. I want it made of green fabric.”

“Green? Not red or black?”

“Green. I’ve always thought green was the color of action. And instead of a silly skull – who’s frightened by some old bones? – I want a cannon.”

“A cannon?”

“Yes,” Lady Fanny said, her eyes glowing. “When we sail into St. Mary’s on Madagascar next week I want to send a message. And the message is ‘We’re ready for action, and we have a cannon.”

“Excellent, captain. I’ll get the girls working on it at once.”

Sally turned and left, noting that Fanny had not demanded the curtsy or backing away that had been required for weeks. “The old girl is definitely losing it,” Sally told herself. “A green pirate flag? Still, don’t get ahead of yourself Sally. She may be nuttier than a filbert orchard, but she’s still as dangerous as a hyena.”

“Great,” she thought. “I’m dealing with an insane hyena.”

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