Monday, February 28, 2005


A Pirate Tale - 43

** On the Festering Boil

“A toast! Cap’n Slappy called out. “Gentlemen, lift your glasses and salute Leftenant Keeling!”

Two dozen tankards of rum rose in the air as the bachelor party toasted the groom.

“Long may he wave!” Cementhands McCormack shouted.

“And to the bride!” Slappy said.

“And her cats!” Cementhands added.

“To the brave crew of the Festering Boil!”

“And to the horse we rode in on!” Cementhands added. “Long may we wave!”

•• On La Herida que Filtra de la Cabeza

“LOOK OUT!” a voice screamed as the yard came crashing down on the Spanish pirate ship. The girl barely had time to throw up a hand in defense when it hit her, knocking her to the deck.

“Helen!” Mad Sally ran to the girl who lay prone. She checked her, relieved to see she was still conscious. The injury was obvious.

“Joyce! Help her down to the infirmary. Give her plenty of rum. I’ll be down in a minute to set that bone and splint it.”

“What happened here?” Fanny came over to where Sally was directing the girls to rehoist the fallen yard.

“The line came loose and it wasn’t properly rigged. Even if the line came free it shouldn’t have fallen like that.”

“Was it sabotage?” Fanny asked.

“No,” Sally said sadly. “I’m afraid it was Genevieve. She and Helen had just hoisted it and Genevieve clearly didn’t belay it properly. She’s just not a very competent sailor, I’m afraid.”

There was a long pause. Then Fanny snapped, “I want her clapped in irons for two days in the hold.”

“Irons, ma’am?”

“Irons,” Fanny said decisively, her face growing red. “She’s got to learn that just because she’s my ... that every girl on this ship has to pull her weight. Get her below. NOW!”

“Yes ma’am.” As Fanny turned away, Sally directed two girls to take the unfortunate Genevieve below, two girls she trusted implicitly. Genevieve. Good, thought Sally. That was three of the girls she thought were siding with Fanny – Genevieve in irons, Helen with a broken arm, and Patricia laid up after “accidentally” eating bad oysters yesterday.

Sally did the math. Things were working out well.

** On the Festering Boil

“She’ll be the perfect pirate wife,” Keeling was explaining, “Because she’s a pirate, and she’ll be my wife! Get it?”

“Your logic is impaclabel ... imkerpbubble .., i, ... You’re right of course,” Chumbucket agreed, then raised his tankard. “To logic!”

He drank. Keeling never drank alcohol and instead was sipping water with a splash of lime – to ward of scurvy – but he seemed to be getting something of a contact high, because as he drained his mug he teetered in a way that had nothing to do with the ship’s movement.

“Shteady old man,” Chumbucket slurred, but it was too late. The ship rolled and Keeling didn’t roll with it. Instead he went crashing down, and lay on the floor giggling.

“What happened to the senor bridegroom?” Juan asked from the table, which he was laying on.

“Can’t hold his water, apparently,” said Chumbucket, peering down at the ship’s disciplinarian. “Speaking of holding water, I’d better go find the rail of the ship, because I’d better go find it because I’d better ...” he shook his head in confusion, then staggered off to relieve himself over the side.

** On Madagascar

“So what are you doing here, Mandrake?” Jezebel asked as they finished their meal and signaled the waiter for more coffee.

“Well, I am once again England’s delegate to the Annual Piracy Prevention Symposium,” Tharp started, but Jezebel cut him off with a laugh.

“That again? Oh, be serious Mandrake. England has been sponsoring that for most of the century. There’s always big plans, always rumors about who will be there and who will side with whom, and no nation has ever sent a delegate except England.”

“That’s not true,” Tharp countered sharply. “There was another delegate there 13 years ago. I remember well because it was my second conference as chair.”

“Yes, as I recall Switzerland sent someone that year, but their delegate left after two days when he suddenly remembered his country is landlocked. And why does no one attend?”

Tharp tried to interject, but Jezebel was using her “I’m right and you’re a prat” tone, and there was no stopping her.

“I can think of two reasons,” she continued. “One might be that all of the nations typically invited to this confab are typically at war with one another. Another might be that, during these interminable wars you all keep waging against each other, you use piracy as another tool of statecraft. No, the world won’t be ready to get serious about piracy until the nation-state has developed a little better, and after a couple of cataclysmic wars push you closer to the brink of extinction and thus closer to something like international amity. But, there I go ago, making predictions about things that I already know, which hardly seems fair.”

“I know why they hold it,” Liz offered, somewhat to Tharp’s surprise since she had barely spoken until now.

“Why would that be?” Tharp asked.

“Pirates are cool,” Liz said. “No, really, I’m serious,” she added in response to the look that crossed the admiral’s face. “I don’t mean that the robbing or pillaging or plundering are good things, but in the face of rising imperialism and the growing forces of capitalism reshaping the economic face of Europe, the classic pirate represents an inevitable proletarian reaction. You might say they are the first stirrings of the common man uniting against the aristocracy.”

“Pardon her,” Jezebel cut in. “She defended her thesis just six months ago and glib ideas are still rolling around in her head like so much ticker tape in Times Square – sorry, like so many rats in the bilge of a Spanish galleon. But speaking of Spanish galleons, I think I can guess another reason you might be here for this non-existent conference.”

Tharp was sharply reminded that whenever he spent more than an hour in Jezebel’s company, he inevitably ended up with a headache.

“Whatever do you mean by that,” he said, pulling himself together.

“Just that every time the symposium is convened with Admiral Tharp as the chair, there follows a short time later some incident in which you figure prominently and which advances England’s cause and your career.”

“But ...” Tharp blurted.

“Let’s see. Last year, the ‘conference’ was in Kingston, and you apprehended the Italian consul in the Barbados Affair. The year before that, you met in Copenhagen, and two days later you rounded up the Dutch fleet before they could go over to the Spanish. That got you your knighthood, as I recall.”

Tharp was flustered. “I’d thank you kindly to stop speculating so openly in such a public place. Especially since your speculation so often proves to be correct.”

“All I’m saying Mandrake my peach is that if one didn’t know your natural predeliction for openess and your total lack of guile, one would suspect you of being more than a naval officer but a special agent for the British crown.”

** Aboard the Festering Boil

Cementhands McCormack sat on the floor trying to remember a song. Not a particular song – just any song – but nothing came. Finally he gave up and started making one up.

“Oooooooooo, Jamaica,” he sang.

“What was that?” Dogwatch asked from under the table.

“I said, ‘Ooooooooo, Jamaica’ ” McCormack sang again.

“What about Jamaica?”

“It’s a song I’m writing. Listen.” McCormack paused, then enthusiastically started singing again – if singing was the right word for what he was doing. “Ooooooooooo, Jamaica! It’s so beautiful ... I’ve never been there ... I’d like to go there.”

“You’ve been there a dozen times that I know of,” Dogwatch protested.

“It’s a song. I can’t write a song that says ‘Oooooooo, Jamaica! I’ve been there 18 times. I want to go there.’ That would be stupid.”

“Maybe you’re right. Start over, I’ll be the backup singer.”

The two struggled to their feet, but by the time they got there neither could remember what they were standing for. So McCormack threw his arm around Dogwatch’s shoulder and led him off to the rum.

** On La Herida que Filtra de la Cabeza

Sally finished setting Helen’s arm – a difficult business and Sally had to admit she hadn’t been as gentle as she could have been. The girl was a bossy, snobby tattletale and Sally may have let her treatment reflect her feelings.

As she left the infirmary she saw Bastiaan in the passageway. The pirate made room for Sally to walk by. He had been nothing but courteous since the incident in the bilge. Now he turned to her as passed and spoke.

“Two more off duty?”

Sally was caught off guard, as if Bastiaan had read her thoughts. But no, he was just commenting on the shortage of hands. They’d started with 48 girls, a small enough number especially considering how little experience they’d had. Now they were dropping like flies.

“Yes. I’m going to have to rearrange the watch schedule and we’re getting awfully thin. Helen was supposed to take the middle watch with me tonight.”

“Don’t bother. I’ll be happy to take her watch for her,” Bastiaan offered. He gave Sally a long, deep look.

“Why, sure, that would be fine. It solves a problem, anyway.”

“Until tonight then,” he said, and she hurried off.

Bastiaan? That could be interesting.

** On Madagascar

“JEZEBEL!” Tharp shouted. He instantly realized his shout had drawn attention from surrounding tables, and sat back down quickly as his voice dropped to a hoarse whisper.

“Please stop talking about these things so openly. I am here for the conference. Period. There will be lots of people there. The queen of Sweden, for one, is reportedly due to arrive tomorrow.”

“The queen of Sweden is in Sweden,” Jezebel said, smiling, “It’s not her itinerary I wanted to discuss. It’s yours.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Of course not. I just wanted to give you a message.” She waited, and his silence indicated she should proceed.

“You may want to check where you are.” “Tharp looked puzzled, so Jezebel continued. “You might want to head back to your flagship and get under way.” Tharp’s bewildered expression didn’t clear, so Jezebel opted for complete clarity.

“The action will be on the other side of the island, and you don’t have much time to get in the right place.”

** On the Festering Boil

Cap’n Slappy awoke with the sound of snoring in his ears and a headache big enough to kill lesser men. He looked around. He was in his cabin, and he saw golden hair on the pillow to his right, and a pair of feet on the pillow to his left.

“That’s interesting,” Slappy thought. “Did I do something I’ll be boasting about later?” He cast his mind back, but couldn’t remember anything after the 14th toast. He gave the feet an exploratory tickle. The snort that came from the foot of the bed caused him to leap up in alarm. The owner of the golden-haired head and the owner of the feet reacted with equal consternation as all three leaped from the bed with yelps.

Cap’n Slappy, Sir Nigel and Sawbones Burgess eyed each other nervously.

“Boy, I must have been tired,” Burgess said. “Slept like a rock!”

“Me too,” agreed Nigel. “Don’t even remember falling asleep.”

“Does anyone remember anything?” Slappy asked.

Both men shook their heads vigorously.

“We will never speak of this again,” Slappy said.

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