Monday, September 26, 2005

 

A Pirate Tale – 102

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Life aboard the Festering Boil quickly resumed its usual shipboard rhythm, almost as if the intervening weeks ashore had never even happened. The changing of the watches, the bells, the routine duties were picked up as if they had never been put down. It was a comfort to the sailors who, pirates though they were, had had as much excitement and unrest as they might have wanted at Sao Paolo and escaping the Portuguese Navy.

The brotherhood’s “message” to the Portuguese had been delivered and had had the desired effect. The pirates from the Boil and Sir Nigel’s The Scourge of the Seven Seas with Don Taco’s tiny ship, The Adorable Princess – its name now translated to Spanish and gilded across the stern transom, La Princesa Linda – had approached the vast fleet from windward. Had the Portuguese chosen to give chase, the swift pirate ships could quickly have turned and flown before the wind before their larger, more cumbersome could give chase. They hove to just out of range of the naval vessels and prepared their message. Just as the Portuguese had pulled within long cannon range the pirates launched their “message” and turned, the wind quickly filling their sails and carrying them out of range.

But they waited as long as they dared to make sure the message was delivered.

A small cutter had been cast off by the pirates and waited for the Portuguese to come up. A launch from the flagship carefully approached the unmanned cutter. The sailors from the launch waited almost an hour before approaching, but when the cutter didn’t explode, they boarded her, took her in tow and brought her back to the flagship. Watching through spyglasses, the pirates chuckled as they watched the sailors clumsily carry the ship’s cargo up the side of the flagship.

“That couldn’t have been better,” Slappy chortled. “I was afraid they’d have taken it to one of the other ships, and the joke would have been lost on the admiral.”

It clearly hadn’t been, because the flagship almost immediately raised signals to the rest of the fleet and turned to fire an enormous broadside, at least 36 guns. The other ships of the line also began turning and firing at the pirates, who were so distant that they didn’t even bother ducking.

“George! Let’s use this wind and get out of here,” Slappy said. The crew, standing ready, didn’t need to be told twice. Every sail on the Boil immediately filled and the ship took the lead as the pirates raced to safety.

“What was the message?” Dogwatch asked.

“A couple of things,” Slappy explained. “First there was the note from the brotherhood apologizing for the destruction of the frigates – NOT! – and expressing our regrets that we couldn’t stay but saying we hoped to see them again in Lisbon, when we take shore leave to sleep with their sisters and mothers again.”

“But that wasn’t the best part,” Ol’ Chumbucket said. “Cementhands had an idea that we couldn’t pass up. We left them a goat.”

“A goat?” Dogwatch asked.

“Aye, a ship’s goat,” Slappy said. “But this one was wearing the uniform of a Portuguese admiral. And Sawbones Burgess supplied it with a little something extra.”

Burgess glanced at his watch with a smile. “Yes, any minute now the bolus I gave the goat will take effect and he’s going to be a little sick. It’ll open up the sluices at both ends, and the crew will have a little cleaning to do.”

Slappy and Chumbucket started laughing and couldn’t stop. Dogwatch smiled, but still looked perplexed.

“But where did we get a Portuguese admiral’s uniform,” he finally asked.

“That was Sir Nigel’s,” Slappy said between gasps. “He really, actually got himself made an admiral a couple of years back, as part of his little ruse in the Canaries.”

By now the three ships were moving far ahead of the Portuguese and it was clear that no one was going to catch them. The flotilla was already hull down on the horizon, and the distance was growing. According to plan, the three ships were to separate while still within sight of the Portuguese to further confuse the enemy’s next action. Don Taco stood at the helm of La Princesa Linda and saluted to Slappy, then turned to the west to make for the coast of Brazil and perhaps on towards Panama. Sir Nigel brought his ship within hailing distance and called over the water, “Farewell, Slappy my friend! I’m sure our paths will cross again!”

Slappy shouted back, his voice cutting like a foghorn across the open water. “And when they do, I expect you to pay up that 12 quid you lost last night in poker!”

“Oh Slappy, how innocent you are!” Sir Nigel shouted back with a grin that could be seen clearly from the Boil, fifty feet away. “And so long Chumbucket! I’ll give Sally your regards when I see her!”

Chumbucket’s answer was non-verbal, a gesture of sign language that caused Nigel to roar with laughter. “Until we meet again, my friends,” he shouted, then the Scourge veered starboard, towards a heavy fog bank that seemed to be forming to the east.

The Boils watched as the Scourge pulled away and vanished into the mist. “How does he do that?” Chumbucket asked to no one in particular. “There’s always a fog bank when he needs it.”

Slappy smiled. “It’s his particular gift, I guess. But enough of Sir Nigel. We’ll see him again, I’m sure. Our gift is the Boils’ speed. So let’s use it. Dogwatch? Chart us a course for the Windward Islands. It’s time we were back in the Caribbean!”

That had been three days ago, and the ship was putting plenty of miles behind it as it sailed north from Brazil. The time was spent in part in putting the crew back in order.

While the number of sailors aboard – minus Taco and Los Mariachi – was right, some of the faces had changed. In the confusion that attended two-dozen pirate ships making sail and escaping Sao Paolo in such a short time, not everyone got back to the right ship. A few of the Boils were now apparently on other ships, and a few of the sailors aboard now were new. George the Greek and Slappy had spent a lot of their time since putting out to sea in learning exactly who was on the ship and how their talents might best be utilized.

They had just assigned one of the newcomers, Saucy Jenny Morgan, to the team of topmast jacks who worked the upper parts of the rigging, and to Cementhand’s gun crew during fighting, when Chumbucket approached.

“I thought you were asleep on the fo’c’sle,” Slappy said.

“I was, and enjoying myself, too,” he said. “But I heard one of the new fellows talking,” here Chumbucket indicated the open-faced young man accompanying him, “And thought you ought to hear about it.”

“Step forward lad,” Slappy said. The man did, knuckling his brow as he did.

“Now, we’ll have none of that British Navy obedience aboard this ship,” Slappy said. “Just tell me your name.”

“Oscar, sir.” He replied.

“Oscar what?”

“Just Oscar. Don’t have no other name but Oscar.”

“How long have you been at sea, Oscar?”

“It’s been, what, three days now, hasn’t it?” the young man asked, looking puzzled. Couldn’t this guy tell how long they’d been at sea?

“No, I mean you. When did you first sail, and how long have you been a sailor?”

A light broke over Oscar’s face. “Oh, you mean altogether? Well, it’s been three days now, and almost 30 to get to Sao Paolo, so I’d say I’ve been a sailor now for more than a whole month.”

George and Slappy looked at each other.

“Well, what can you do aboard a ship,” George asked him.

“Pretty much anything. I worked on a farm in Carolina before getting on that boat, and I’m a pretty fair hand at making or mending just about anything you need made or mended, from a ruffled short to a blacksmith’s forge.”

“Sounds like you’ll be a right useful fellow to have on board, if what you say is true,” George said. Oscar looked offended.

“Why would I lie about a thing like that?” he asked. “Another thing is I allus tell the truth and I’m not gonna stop now.”

“Well, you may find there are times when the truth doesn’t exactly serve, but you’re right, aboard ship with yer mates and especially to yer captain, honesty is the not only the best policy, it’s the best way to keep from getting keelhauled,” Slappy said.

“Yessir.”

“So, Chumbucket, why did you think it so important that we hear this fine jack-of-all-trades?” George asked.

“It’s not what he had to say, it’s what he was wearing. This.” Chumbucket took out a straw hat he’d been holding behind his back and tossed it to the table. It was nothing unusual, a typical sailor’s wide-brimmed straw hat. What caught Slappy’s eye was the faded blue band around the crown, on which could still be read the words, “HMS Tigershark.”

For those readers who have just joined us or who have lost the thread because we’ve been posting so irregularly lately, the Tigershark was the royal navy ship that carried Mandrake Bulwer Pondicherry Tharp, Slappy’s nephew and the son of Admiral Tharp. Of course, Tharp also has an illegitimate son he does not keep in touch with. If he did, he’d know that that offspring is now a crewmember of the Festering Boil, although neither is aware of the connection. Meanwhile the legitimate Tharp, the heir to the family fortune and title – much to Slappy’s annoyance – had sailed with the HMS Tigershark under the command of Captain Toasty, and the ship was lost somewhere in the Caribbean. Tharp had made his brother promise that he’d look for the lad, a promise Slappy agreed to in order to get supplies from the navy but which he had no intention of honoring. Anyway, that’s the background. We’ve probably forgotten to mention something, but that should do for now. Everyone up to speed? Good.

“The Tigershark?” Slappy said, scratching his head. “Why is that name familiar?”

“Oh for God’s sake,” George said. “You too? Read the last paragraph.”

Slappy did, then slapped his forehead. “Of course, the nephew. Well, that’s interesting. How did you come by this Oscar?”

“I got it from one of the sailors on the ship that took me down to Brazil,” he said.

“What ship was that? And did the sailor say where he’d gotten it?”

“I sailed on the Bloody Scupper, which I thought was a passenger ship that would take me to the West Indies to seek my fame and fortune but which turned out to be a pirate ship. Then, after the games, which were right interesting, I got confused when everybody was running for the docks I got lost from the Scuppers crew and ended up here, and I’m right glad cuz I don’t think a pirate’s life is for me.”

George, Chumbucket and Slappy all exchanged looks, then, after unsuccessfully pressing Oscar for further details about the hat, they dismissed him.

“Well, for what it’s worth, it indicates that the report that the admiral’s son really was in the Caribbean,” George said.

“We knew that, or at least we were pretty sure of it,” Slappy said with a frown of annoyance. “That damn kid. Always too snotty by half. A right spoiled little brat.”

“And now we have to go looking for him?” Chumbucket asked.

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that. If he’s alive, he’s somewhere in the Caribbean. That’s where we’re headed. We’ll keep our eyes open. If he’s dead, then I think I move up in line for the family title. Either way, it’s not too likely we’ll stumble across him.”

The ship sailed swiftly on.

Comments:
I find it a little sad that the high light of my day was seeing my pirate name on your blog. Thanks for including me!
 
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