Thursday, April 28, 2005


A Pirate Tale 78

Life aboard ship quickly settled back into a routine. With a strong wind at their backs the ships moved briskly toward Africa and the cape, spread out over several miles of ocean. Juan’s Blood Oath was in the lead, followed at about a mile by The Festering Boil. The Sea Witch flitted back and forth in the pack in defiance of the wind.

By the third day at sea HMS Susan’s Doily had made up much of its late start and was hull up on the horizon. This was more annoying than anything else to Slappy, who watched the distant ship through his spyglass.

“Nice of him to ‘provide an escort’ to the cape,” the pirate captain grumbled. “But who asked him to shadow us?” Slappy’s attention focused to the ship passing northeast a couple of miles distant. A nice fat prize, a Dutch merchantman no doubt loaded with something nice and saleable, judging from the way it wallowed in the gentle swell. Tempting as it was, there was no way Admiral Tharp on the Doily would let him take the ship. And that was the second possible target to cross his path this day.

“The sooner we get into the Atlantic and rid of our guardian angel, the sooner was can get back to doing what we do best,” Slappy said.

He glanced forward, where any crew member who didn’t have a specific job to be doing at the moment (and several of those who did) were staring north towards the Dutch ship. He could tell by their occasional glances to stern at the distant British naval vessel that they understood the situation, but they didn’t like it any more than Slappy did.

“At least a week more before we’re rid of him,” Slappy said. “Lef-TEN-ant Keeling, we’ve got to do something to improve morale.”

“How about a spelling bee, sir?” Keeling offered. Slappy gave him a long look that indicated his own morale could use a little boosting.

“Hardly the thing just now, Keeling, especially considering the majority of the crew can’t read or spell. Just what we need to perk up the ship, a reminder that most of them never went to school.”

“I see your point, sir. Maybe a talent show?”

“No. It hasn’t been a week since our latest stab at Shakespeare. I don’t think an evening of show tunes will do the trick.”

“Well, sir, let me think on it. I’m sure I can come up with something,” Keeling said, a furrow of concentration creasing his brow.

“Yes, I’m sure you will,” Slappy said. “In the meantime, let’s break out an extra rum ration, say at four bells of the afternoon watch.”

Below him, on the foredeck, Slappy could see Ol’ Chumbucket giving sword-fighting lessons to the ship’s youngsters, Spencer the cabin boy and Gabriel the powder monkey. He had a couple of dummies set up with heavy bars thrusting outwards to represent an opponent’s cutlass. Chumbucket was running the boys through the guard positions. The boys, being boys, didn’t see the need for such Spanish Academy rigmarole.

“We’ve seen plenty of fights. We’ve seen YOU fight,” Spencer said. “You don’t stand with your feet just so and your arm at a 45 degree angle and all this other stuff.”

“Yeah, you guys just seem to whack away with your swords and it works just fine,” Gabriel chimed in.

“I might not use every bit of the manual every time, but my training allows me to improvise so that, in combat, it’s the other guy, not me, who dies. All things being equal, the trained fighter will win nine times out of 10,” Chumbucket said for the fifth time in the last hour.

“For example, if you had to leap over an opponent’s attack, would you be able to land and deliver a lethal blow without falling over?” he asked.

Without waiting for their answer, Chumbucket lashed out with the flat of his own cutlass, aiming below their knees. Spencer was caught completely by surprise and was knocked flat on his ass. Gabriel, being slightly farther away and more suspicious than Spencer, was able to leap over the blade but landed awkwardly and ended up on top of the cabin boy.

“No fair,” Gabriel shouted. “You didn’t tell us you were going to do that.”

“Boys,” Chumbucket said, laughing and helping them up, “When you meet an armed opponent who tells you what he’s going to do before he attacks, call me and let me watch. ‘Cuz that ain’t gonna happen. Now get to your feet and assume the position three again.”

The boys rose and took their positions before the dummies, each with his lead foot slightly ahead and pointing forward, his rear foot slightly behind at a 90 degree angle.

Chumbucket examined their posture carefully,

“Very good, Gabe, but close your stance a little, you’re a swordsman, not a ballet dancer.” “Spencer chortled, but Chumbucket turned his attention to the cabin boy. “You’re holding that cutlass as if it’s a fishing pole and you’re hoping for a big one. Turn your wrist more. In position three your hand should be supinated and your elbow tucked in to your sternum.”

George the Greek was passing by, carrying a mop and bucket for the crewmen about to swab the poop. He paused to watch the boys.

“Now on my count you swing out from three to four, and carry your opponent’s thrust safely past your body,” Chumbucket said. “One, two …”

George offered a suggestion. “Or you could just do this.” He swung the mop handle down sharply, cracking it against the “arm” of the dummy, pushing it out of the way. Then with a spin he was inside the dummy’s guard and hit it sharply with the head of the mop. The dummy’s head flew overboard. George had accomplished this without spilling so much as a drop from the bucket he carried. He smiled at Chumbucket.

Ol’ Chumbucket’s lips compressed into a tight line of annoyance. “Yes. That works too. But it’s not what we’re teaching just now.”

Keeling’s voice broke over the deck. “Four bells! Captain’s ordered a special rum ration.“

Cheers broke out over the ship. Chumbucket sighed and grinned back at George.

“Perhaps tomorrow you’d teach that move to the boys,” he said.

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