Wednesday, March 15, 2006


A Pirate Tale – 136

Ol’ Chumbucket had the lead as the pirates followed the snaking path through the jungle and up into the foothills, and he didn’t like it. Not that he minded the danger or feared getting them lost. The trail was clearly marked by a growing amount of gear discarded by the group of Bawdy Boys and mutineers that had passed this way three weeks earlier. It was impossible to miss.

But when he had the point he had to keep his eyes on the trail, which meant he couldn’t read. When he was back in the line he offered a curious sight, stumping along the trail, bent down under the supplies strapped to his back, one eye on the person ahead of him and one on the book he was reading. He had brought two along with him, Petruccio Ubaldini’s account of the Spanish Armada and a book that was quite popular in the humor stalls, “Why the Lord, in His infinite Wisdom and Mercy, has chosen to place upon Man’s breast the mark of Womanly Succor, and other heretical doubts you would relate to your confessor only under the duress of copious amounts of daemon rum.” As he walked in line he seemed lost in the text, although he never put a foot wrong or bumped into anyone except when they stopped to rest, when he inevitably walked up Slappy’s back.

But now, on their third day on the trail, it was his turn to go on ahead, and he had to keep both eyes firmly on the path. The going had become more steadily uphill and special care had to be taken. Plus, though they had seen no sign of it, they had to be wary of any booby traps that the Bawdy Boys might have left in their wake. The path now ran alongside a stream that boiled down the slope in a narrow channel. The crew straggled down the path – Ol’ Chumbucket, Black Butch, Leftenant Keeling, Peddicord, Lt. Tharp, Slappy and Cementhands. Strumpet the monkey, as ever, perched on Slappy’s shoulder adding her weight but providing no additional assistance.

The stream by now had turned into a torrent, and the path snaked through the jungle so fiendishly that Cementhands at the back of the line could never see where Chumbucket was at the head. And all the pirates noticed that, though the dense foliage muted the sound they made so much so that conversation was impossible, as they drew nearer to the mountains ahead, a roaring sound was filling the forest.

Black Butch stumped stolidly down the trail, never complaining though he had insisted on carrying more than his fair share of the equipment and almost all the food. He looked down to negotiate a tricky spot where a stream cut across their path. When he looked up, Ol’ Chumbucket had disappeared around the next bend. He hurried to close the distance, but when he turned the sharp corner, Ol’ Chumbucket was nowhere to be seen. He hurried to the next bend, turned sharply right at a cluster of trees, and walked squarely into the lead pirate, who was staring up at the blank face of a cliff. Repeating Butch’s maneuver, Leftenant Keeling slammed squarely into the back of Butch. Wellington Peddicord then smacked squarely into Keeling, Tharp into Peddicord, Slappy into Tharp and Cementhands into Slappy with a force sufficient to knock the whole company down like so many bowling pins.

It would have reminded them all of a train coming to an abrupt halt, except that trains wouldn’t be invented for more than a century so they were denied that bit of comical metaphor. Instead they all lay for a moment where they had fallen.

“Door de sardines van Heilige Thomas!” Slappy swore. “What the hell happened?”

“The path is gone,” said Ol’ Chumbucket from the front of the chain reaction.

“What do you mean it’s gone?” Tharp asked in his most persnickety voice. “How can a path be gone?”

“Look ahead. You see if you can find it.”

They did look. They couldn’t find it. The path ran on only another dozen feet through a clearing, straight into the face of a cliff that towered more than a hundred feet above them. To their right, they could see the source of the roar that filled the jungle, a waterfall that poured down the side of the cliff and wreathed the area in mist. The fall plunged straight down the vertical drop, landing in a foaming pool at the base of the cliff. Over the centuries the force of the water had carved a small basin in the rock, which held the seething torrent before it streamed down the foothills in cataract.

At the end of the path there was only a sheer, gray wall of rock. Before it was a pile of abandoned equipment, rather like the last offering of the Bawdy Boys before disappearing off the face of the Earth.

“See to your powder,” Slappy warned, mindful of the moisture in the air. “Then let’s fan out and see where they went. They couldn’t have just disappeared.”

“I know where they went,” Cementhands said. “I’ve read about something like this Watch and learn boys. Watch and learn.”

The giant pirate drew himself up and walked straight toward the waterfall. He paused to doff his boots and gear, setting it right next to the pile of gear left by their predecessors, which seemed a good omen. This was the easiest way to access the pool. Then wading almost waist high (which would be chest high on the rest of the group) he walked straight into the base of the falls.

And went shooting out into the churning pool. Peddicord tossed a length of rope he’d been carrying and the rest of the team managed to pull McCormack ashore before he went got carried off down the stream.

“Must have picked the wrong spot,” McCormack muttered, and walked back into the face of the falls, only this time slightly to the left. It didn’t matter, the results were the same. He was again fished from the pool, and walked straight back into the falls, again with the same result. The process was repeated three more times. The other sailors were getting pretty good at extricating him, and he seemed undaunted as once more he rose to plunge into the cascading water. But Slappy stopped him.

“What exactly are you doing?” the captain asked. “What are you looking for?”

“The secret entrance,” Cementhands said. “In every book I’ve read – both of ‘em – there’s always a secret entrance hidden behind a waterfall. It never fails.”

“Perhaps this time it did,” Tharp sneered. “What did your investigations” – he managed to spin the word hard enough to imply a serious deficiency in McCormack’s brainpower – “reveal whilst underwater?”

McCormack glowered, but had to admit that in his repeated inundations he had discovered nothing more yielding than a moss-covered wall of granite. “I don’t understand it,” he said, shaking his damp head. “There must be a secret entrance in there somewhere!”

“Before we repeat the process, why don’t we look around and see if anything less wet first?” Chumbucket suggested.

They spread out and scoured the clearing, which extended about thirty feet along the base of the cliff. It didn’t take long. There was no sign of a secret tunnel, no break in the foliage that bordered the clearing, and no sign of any path.

“It makes no sense!” Slappy said with exasperation. “They obviously came this far. They couldn’t have flow out of here.”

Undaunted, McCormack decided to try again. Before anyone could stop him he waded directly into the center of the falls. Again, he shot out straight into the basin. Again Peddicord threw his line. This time, McCormack didn’t grab on.

The pirates and Tharp ran to the edge of the water, but there was no trace of McCormack, and he was of a size that there should have been a lot of trace. Chumbucket backtracked down the stream to see if he might have been swept out of the pool, but could advance only about fifty feet before the steepness of the stream stopped him. Back at the falls, the pirates with growing alarm were calling his name, and Peddicord wrapped the rope around himself to have the others lower him into the churning pond.

Slappy anchored the rope, while Butch and Keeling prepared to lower him. Cementhands had been under for more than 10 minutes, but they couldn’t give up. Peddicord took a deep breath and prepared to dive.

“Yoo hoo! Fellas!” came a familiar voice.

“Cementhands! Where the hell are you!” Slappy shouted.

“Up here guys!” Six heads swiveled up. About halfway up the cliff a large head appeared beside the waterfall and a massive hand waved.”

“How did you get there?”

“I had it wrong!” Cementhands shouted. The tunnel isn’t behind the falls. It’s opposite the falls, under the back of the pool! I’d have found it the first time if you guys hadn’t kept rescuing me.”

“What are you talking about?” Slappy shouted.

“Just drop into the pool and dive straight to the base of the overhang,” he shouted. “It’s a tight fit, but you swim underground for about 10 seconds, then come up in a cave. It comes up here, and keeps going straight up the cliff! C’mon up! Oh, and there’s a dead guy here. Looks like another Marine. Hurry on up! And bring my boots. These rocks are killing my feet.!”

It took a few minutes for the party to parcel out what little equipment they’d be able to take, leaving the rest in the mound with the gear left by their quarry. They wrapped their firearms and powder as carefully as they could in leather and brought what little they could carry while swimming. The hardest part was deciding what to do with Strumpet. She couldn't or wouldn't hold her breath. When Slappy tried to wrap her in cloth and stuff her in his shirt, she screeched like a banshee. Finally, the captain held her on his shoulder and lowered himself into the water, As it rose, Strumpet took refuge on his head. Finally, he submerged, an Strumpet leaped back to shore. Spotting McCormack on the tiny ledge art way up the clff, she scrambled up the rocky face and had joined him there before the whole party had disappeared into the pool.

Chumbucket was last to go. He gave a rueful glance to the pile of discarded gear. He wouldn’t be able to bring either of his books.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?