Read Greenbeard (9781935259220) Online

Authors: Bentley, Richard James

Greenbeard (9781935259220)

Table of Contents Also from EXTERMINATING ANGEL PRESSTitle PageDedication CHAPTER THE FIRST, - or the Growing of the Captain's Beard.CHAPTER THE SECOND, - or the Captain's Great Good Fortune.CHAPTER THE THIRD, - or a Foregathering in Nombre Dios Bay.CHAPTER THE FOURTH, - or the Captain Has A Banyan Day.CHAPTER THE FIFTH, - or The Captain Unclasps a Secret.CHAPTER THE SIXTH, - or A Close Shave.CHAPTER THE SEVENTH, - or A Barrel Of Fun.CHAPTER THE EIGHTH, - or The Great Wen.CHAPTER THE NINTH, - or The Pool of Life.CHAPTER THE TENTH, - or The Captain Calls For A BoucanCHAPTER THE ELEVENTH, - or Blue Peter Trusts His Heart.CHAPTER THE TWELFTH, - or The Summoning of Satan.CHAPTER THE THIRTEENTH, - or The Return To Nombre Dios Bay.CHAPTER THE FOURTEENTH, - or Two Wonders.CHAPTER THE FIFTEENTH, - or The Voyage to Baart'tzuum. POSTSCRIPTUM –Copyright PageAt EXTERMINATING ANGEL PRESS ,we're taking a new approach to our world. A new way of looking at things.New stories, new ways to live our lives.We're dreaming how we want our lives and our world to be…Also from EXTERMINATING ANGEL PRESSThe Supergirls:Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy,and the History of Comic Book Heroinesby Mike MadridJam Today:A Diary of Cooking With What You've Gotby Tod DaviesCorrecting Jesus:2000 Years of Changing the Storyby Brian Griffith3 Dead Princes:An Anarchist Fairy Taleby Danbert Nobaconwith illustrations by Alex CoxDirk Quigby's Guide to the Afterlifeby E. E. KingA Galaxy of Immortal Women:The Yin Side of Chinese Civilization,by Brian GriffithPark Songs:A Poem/Play, by David Budbillwith photos by R.C. IrwinTHE HISTORY OF ARCADIA SERIESby Tod DaviesSnotty Saves the Daywith illustrations by Gary ZabolyLily the Silentwith illustrations by Mike MadridFor my mother, and in memory of my father.CHAPTER THE FIRST,or the Growing of the Captain's Beard.Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges was growing his beard, which was to say he was idling and drinking rum. If someone should ask him “What are you doing this afternoon?” he would say “I think I shall just sit and grow my beard.” Growing his beard would necessarily involve the drinking of rum, of course. And a fine beard it was, too! Lustrous and as yellow as Spanish gold, it reached nearly to the belt that cinched the black broadcloth of his coat over his hard flat belly. The belt from which hung his heavy cutlass in its black leather scabbard, the wide black belt that had three knives and two flintlock pistols thrust into it, easy to hand, for Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges was a pirate.In this business of growing his beard, and drinking rum, he was ably assisted by Israel Feet, his First Mate, right-hand man and partner in many a villainy. Bulbous Bill Bucephalus was there too, the porcine sailing-master of Captain Greybagges's shipArk de Triomphe, and Blue Peter Ceteshwayoo, the giant African who was the Master Gunner. The four buccaneers were sitting around a wobbly table in the back room ofYe Halfe Cannonballetavern, which was conveniently close to the quays of Port de Recailles, that nest of sea-wolves whose name would be first in any Baedeker of infamy. The back room was pleasantly cool, whilst the lane outside baked in the heat of the late Caribbean sun and the eponymous half-cannonball hung on its rusty chain with no breeze to make it swing and creak. Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges's beard grew and the rum bottle passed around. Blue Peter lifted his little finger as he sipped his rum delicately, for although his face was decorated by tribal scars - the face so black it seemed blue in certain lights - and his teeth were filed to points, he aspired to be an English gentleman, an ambition which would have caused hilarity among the rough crew of theArk de Triomphe, except that any such merriment would have been instantly fatal. His companions at the table were fellow officers of the ship, and so his equals, and accepted his cravings for refinement as no more than an endearing eccentricity. Blue Peter dabbed at his lips with a fine white lawn handkerchief, then tucked it into his sleeve.“As Aeolus denies us his zephyrs we may surely take our ease, my friends,” he rumbled, “but we may with profit turn our thoughts to such stratagems and ploysas the future will surely require. Especially before we purchase another flask of this fine sugarcane distillate.”“A-who? Zebras?” piped Bulbous Bill, his high-pitched voice incongruous coming from so obese a body.“Arr! You fat fool! He means there ain't no wind, but we oughter be a-plottin' for when there is. Be. For when wind there be! Arr!” Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges's ambitions were in an opposite direction to those of Blue Peter. He was a man of some education, but yearned to speak as though he had been born in a Dorsetshire hovel and schooled on a bumboat in salty Poole Bay. “Speshly afore we gets blootered. Arr!”“Har! ‘Ee do have the right of that, and you ‘as me affy-davy on't! Cheerly messmates all, look'ee! Har!” Israel Feet downed the rest of his rum and splashed some more into his tarred leather drinking-jack.The pirates sat for a moment in silent contemplation, firstly at Israel Feet's effortless grasp of the sea-rovers' argot, for he hardly ever made more than a blurred kind of sense, but then at the implications of Blue Peter's words. They were indeed running low in funds. Plunderable treasure had been scarce in recent times.Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges, to cool his brain and thus aid ratiocination, removed his black tricorn hat, revealing a shiny pink bald pate, in contrast to his ever-growing yellow beard.“I could check out my newspaper contacts…” Captain Greybagges mused, adding “Look'ee” as an afterthought. He wrote an occasional gossip column upon piratical affairs for thePort de Racailles Gleaner, which was syndicated in theTortugas Times, thePort Of Spain Plain-Dealerand even, to his delight, thePoole Advertiser, where the infamous Harry Paye would surely read it, or have it read to him at least. The recompense was welcome, of course, the prices of rum, tar, hempen rope, gunpowder and shot being what they were, but the main attraction of the arrangement was not the one-eighth-of-a-Reale-per-word but the quantity of scuttlebutt, rumour and chat that came to his ears. It was also pleasant to practise what the tutors of Eton and the Fellows of Cambridge had taught to him in the days of his more-or-less innocent youth. Thescritchof goose-quill upon vellum had a comforting sound, and the influence of that pen – oh! but the Bard was right! – ensured that even cutthroat villains like Eddie Teach and that bloodyjumped-up Welshman Henry Morgan were at least polite to him.“Har!” Israel Feet cleared his throat, “There's many that goes to Madame Zonga's for lovesome sport and frolicking, ye'll ken, and there's many of them as'as loose tongues, look'ee, an' damn yer eyes!” The company only wrestled with this for a second, for it was one of Feet's more intelligable utterances. It was also known that Madame Zonga had a soft spot for Israel Feet, since he had been kindly to her in the early years of her career, when she had been merely Dottie Pigge. They nodded their understanding.“Avast! Methinks we shall visit Madame Zonga's betimes, after a bottle or two and a mortress of beef to settle the vitals. Ye can work your wiles and cozen some secrets out of the old trollop then, Izzie. Blast yer liver and vitals if ye cannot!” Captain Greybagges took a reflective sip of rum from his chased-silver goblet. The four were silent for a moment as each considered, in his own way, a vision of the rat-like first mate working wiles upon the well-upholstered Madame Zonga.“The plantations of His Majesty's North American colonies are supposed to have enjoyed much prosperity of late,” opined Blue Peter Ceteshwayoo, “and they may be ripe for plunder and rapine. A raid by land would be necessary, but that has not been unknown to gentlemen of fortune such as ourselves, surely?”“Arr!” said Captain Greybagges, fixing Blue Peter briefly with his grey eyes, and said no more. The first mate and the sailing master sympathised with the African, for he was an escaped slave and regarded slave owners with a natural distaste - and indeed who of the Free Brotherhood of the Coasts did not? – but even with his elegant tact he had still reminded their captain of the celebrated success of Bloody Morgan in taking the City of Panama, a hugely-profitable land operation that Captain Greybagges had refused to take part in, thinking it ill-judged and foolishly risky. He had been proved wrong, and had not shared in the enormous, the almost-unbelievable plunder. But who could have foreseen that the Spaniards would have left Panama's western approaches undefended? A bloody jumped-up Welshman, that was who. They kept their own counsel and avoided Blue Peter's black eyes, their whites yellow and blood-shot, as he looked to them for support.“Arr!” squeaked Bulbous Bill Bucephalus, eager to change the subject. “I buys me hot peppers from a half-breed cove name of Denzil.” The searing chillied stews that the sailing-master made were much appreciated by the piratical crewof theArk de Triompheas a sovereign cure for hangovers. He could not be expected to maintain his vast bulk on an unvarying diet of oatmeal burgoo and salt-horse and pease, after all, so even the ship's cook did not object too much when he was booted out of the galley to let Bulbous Bill perform culinary experiments. It was true that Bulbous Bill's cookery was not always entirely successful – when he had simmered a hyena with pot-herbs, for example, he had made himself a laughingstock – but any additions to the menu were usually welcome. They sensed that there was more yet to come, and waited patiently as Bulbous Bill sipped rum from hislignum-vitaebeaker and knotted his brows to concentrate his thoughts.“The man Denzil, ye sees, he gets his hottest peppers from them Spanish Americas. Goes down there in his little boat, a-sailin' an' a-fishin'. One o' them double-ended canoes with a littler canoe on the side on two planks, it be. At the first he got them peppers from Cayenne, of course, but he likes 'em hotter an' hotter, so he sails up and down the coast, and sometimes he wanders inshore a-ways. Looking fer them peppers.” Bulbous Bill took another pull of his rum. “Anyways, being a half-breed, his ole Carib indian mother taught him the Carib lingo. Wasn't the right lingo to talk to them Cayenne indians, ye ken, but it gives him the advantage of not bein' civilised as are the likes of us so he picks up a lot of those Cayenne indians' lingoes fair quickly, and now he speaks their lingoes pretty well.” The pirates were paying close attention now. “Seems to me, iffen we was to be friendly, and axes him nice, and gives him some money, he may keep his ears open for things that may be to our advantage. Them indians hates them Spaniards like poison, so they do. They'd give us the nod outa sheer devilment an' spite, an' be damned pleased with theyselves for doing so.”“That,” said Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges musingly, “is a very good idea. A very good idea indeed.” He blinked. “Pon me life, ye rascal! A blasted fine piece o' headwork it be, and here's me hand upon't, damn yez!” He roared, pounding the wobbly table so that the pirates all grabbed for their drinks. “A fat fool ye may be, but ye be a fat fool with a headpiece upon yez! Blast me vitals, else!”
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“Bill, old chum, I am in admiration of your sagacity!” agreed Blue Peter. “That is indeed a capital lucubration! A cerebration of the very first order! I observe, in passing, that was exactly the strategy that Sir Francis Drake utilised in his matchless endeavours to relieve the Dons of their coinage, specie and bullion back in the days of Good Queen Bess, and I can give no higher praise than that!Let us refill our glasses and raise them in a toast to Bulbous Bill Bucephalus, that paragon of incisive analysis!”Blue Peter filled Bulbous Bill'slignum-vitaebeaker with rum, the bottle nearly lost in his huge blue-black hand, then Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges's chased-silver goblet, then Israel Feet's tarred leather drinking-jack and lastly his own tumbler of precious diamond-cut Bohemian crystal, and the buccaneers toasted Bulbous Bill Bucephalus, who simpered modestly, his many chins and jowls wobbling. Israel Feet then proposed a toast to Great Good Fortune, with many a “Har!” and many a “Scupper me gizzards, else!” and so the rum bottle was empty. Captain Greybagges looked at his officers fondly.“So, messmates, we have our duties for the morn. Bulbous Bill shall proceed with his wily plan to sound out this Denzil cully, softening his heart towards us with sweet words and golden coins. Izzie here shall cozen Madame Zonga for the secrets that sleepy satisfied coves may have murmurred in the shell-like ears of her girls. I myself shall write letters to my correspondents and snitches,” and here he smiled at Blue Peter, “and Blue Peter may plot fire, ruin and plunder upon the slave-drivers of Virginny and Kentuck, for his plan to raid by land may be useful in days to come. I am not agin the notion, ye sees. No, I only wish to see it happen when it is timely and we are well prepared, for the Colonials can be rare plucked-uns when they be a-riled-up.”A feeling of harmony and piratical brotherhood came over the four buccaneers with these well-chosen words. Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges placed his black three-cornered hat back on his shiny bald pate, signalling that the plotting was over and that the roistering should begin. He pounded the table with his meaty fist. “Wench! Bring us rum! Damn ye eyes! Bring us RUM!” The serving-wench peered round the corner from the tap-room and nodded. “And can we have some nibbles, too?” said Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges.In the morning, the late morning, Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges woke from deep slumber in the Great Cabin of theArk de Triomphe, the high sun shiningin his eyes through the tall stern windows. He yawned and rubbed his eyes, the hanging bunk swaying on its ropes, then roared for his servant Mumblin' Jake to bring him hot water and a cannikin of coffee. As he sipped his coffee and Mumblin' Jake shaved his head Captain Greybagges recalled the previous evening. In the event, only Israel Feet had taken himself to Madame Zonga's establishment, with a foremast jack to carry the lantern and protect the drunken First Mate from footpads and ruffians. (What was the town coming to? Upon a time it had been safe for an honest pirate to walk the streets at night!) The Captain, the sailing-master and the Master Gunner had felt too logy with food and drink to climb the hill, so had settled for a game ofBeziqueand a few glasses of Smoking Bishop to round the evening off. The mortress of beef had indeed been very good, the Captain recalled, a little bland perhaps, what with the goat's milk and soppets of sourdough bread, but surely that only enhanced the flavours of the meaty skirt-of-beef ? He felt sharp-set and ready for breakfast at the mere thought of it.After Mumblin' Jake had helped him into his freshly-brushed black broadcloth coat and spit-shined black top-boots Captain Greybagges sent his servant to call the officers to join him for breakfast in the Great Cabin. He buckled on his wide belt with the cutlass, tucked the knives and pistols into it and carefully placed the black tricorn hat on his freshly-shaven head; a pirate captain should look like a pirate captain, even at breakfast. The other officers joined him at the table as the ship's cook and Mumblin' Jake set out the gleaming cutlery and brought bacon, eggs, lamb chops, sausages and grilled tomatoes in chafing-dishes, toast in a rack of silver and a tureen of Bulbous Bill's fiery chilli. Blue Peter Ceteshwayoo was the last to arrive. He had drunk the least during the evening and had been up with the lark to ensure that the pirate crew were not skimping on their duties, skiving or otherwise swinging the lead. Slushing the yard-arms with rancid tallow was a dirty job even if one was supervising, so he had taken time to wash and change. Blue Peter liked to be informal in the mornings and so he wore only a white silk shirt and sky-blue knee-britches and not the turquoisemoirécoat, white lace stock and powdered periwig of the night before. Informality only went so far, however, so a short cutlass with a brass knuckle-duster grip and a horse-pistol like a small cannon were thrust into the multicoloured sash around his waist.Israel Feet had perhaps drunk the most and looked even more rat-like than usual, his eyes red and watery and a hangdog expression on his face. After a plateof eggs and mixed grill, a bowl of chilli and a quart of black coffee his looks improved and some colour came back to his narrow pale features.Captain Greybagges kindly waited for his First Mate's recovery to proceed a little, helping himself to buttered toast and marmalade, then questioned him gently on his cozening of Madame Zonga. Israel Feet answered at length and, in amongst a barrage of “Hars!”, a number of “Scupper me gizzards, elses!” and even a solitary “Rupture me kidneys if I should tell a lie, messmates!” they understood that the First Mate had been hospitably received by Madame Zonga, that because of his consumption of rum he had only been able to complete the first of her famous Six Lessons, that the Lesson had been free because she liked him despite this amatoryfaux-pas, but that she had not been forthcoming with any information useful to buccaneers eager for plunder.“No mind, Izzie, me ole fighting-cock,” said the Captain. “Maybe she'll hear of something in days to come. Let's see if Bill here can't glean something from his mate Denzil.”“Aye-aye, Cap'n. I'll go over s'arternoon,” piped Bulbous Bill. “I needs summa them peppers anyways.”Blue Peter drank the last of his coffee and wiped his lips fastidiously with a linen napkin. “Mr Feet and myself shall keep the crew at their labours, methinks. The futtock-shrouds need serving and parcelling, the harpins are quite poorly catted and there are always cannon-balls that need to be chipped, alas.”When his lieutenants had gone about their tasks and Mumblin' Jake had cleared the remains of their morning repast from the table Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges took out his writing-case from beneath the bunk. The teak writing-case opened along a brass piano-hinge to form a sloped lectern, its green leather surface lifting to reveal sheafs of paper and vellum. An inkwell, sealed with a brass lid, contained blue-black oxgall ink and a compartment held goose-quills. Captain Greybagges was very fond of the writing-case, which had previously belonged to some hoity-toity Austrian aristocrat (whom the Captain had so disliked that he'd been glad when the ransom was quickly paid, as he would have otherwise have killed the stuck-up sod and been out-of-pocket) and he admired it as he whittled a fresh goose-quill into a nib. For the most part of half a dog-watch he composed letters to his informants, thescritch-scratchof quill on parchment audible to his servant polishing the silverware and mumbling in the Captain's pantry. Therewas an occasionalcrash,thudor shouted order from the deck above, but these were the normal sounds of a fighting ship and did not disturb his concentration in the least. He read the letters through again after he had sanded them and the ink was dry, nodded to himself and wrapped them carefully in vellum packets closed with great blobs of red sealing-wax squelched down with the black onyx stone of his ring. He took a small key on a fine gold chain from around his neck, opened a secret compartment in the writing desk and took out a small booklet. With scissors he cut squares from the booklet. Each paper square was printed with an image of a death's-head blowing a post horn, the horn muted with a bung, and the inscriptionsTen RealesandPostage Paid. He glued the squares to the vellum packets with gum arabic. The Captain seemed a little furtive while he did this, glancing over his shoulder to ensure nobody was looking through the stern windows and keeping an eye on the door. Some of a pirate captain's secrets are best kept even from his officers and crew, and the Tristero company's clandestine postal service was surely one of them. He tucked the packets into an inside pocket of his coat and called for Mumblin' Jake.CHAPTER THE SECOND,or the Captain's Great Good Fortune.Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges ambled along the quay of Port de Recailles, flanked by two bully-boys armed with oaken cudgels who glared aggressively at anybody within range. The Captain was not unduly worried about being robbed, but the two ugly thugs enhanced his stature in the eyes of the townspeople. Being a pirate captain was about three-quarters public relations, he estimated. That show-off Eddie Teach and his ridiculous trick of tying sputtering fuses in his beard! The Captain shook his head in wonderment; he had once been obliged to hurl a bucket of water over the fellow, before Teach had learned to soak his beard in alum to fireproof it. There was no doubt that the trick had worked, however, and now treasure-laden prizes would heave-to the instant that Teach's Jolly Roger rose above the horizon rather than risk his wrath by running or giving fight. What a saving in powder, shot and wear-and-tear on the ship and crew that would give. And now the fellow was calling himself Blackbeard! He was fond of Eddie Teach and enjoyed his subtle sense of humour – that night when Eddie had blown his first mate's kneecap off with a blunderbuss concealed under the table! How they'd laughed! – but he wondered if he might not go too far one day. Teach did not have the benefit of a university education, ruminated the Captain, whereas he himself had taken the Cambridge course-optionYe Art Of Showinge A Fine And Charitable Face To Ye Worlde, One Hundredd And Oneand so knew the advantages of restraint in self-publicity; nobody would find Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges calling himself Yellow Whiskers!The Captain turned up a narrow alleyway and came to a small dingy shop so decrepit, its wooden beams so crooked and its stucco so cracked that it might have levered out of a previous and wider location with pry-bars and pounded into its present space with mauls. The Captain gestured to the bully-boys to stay by the door and entered. A bell jangled as he opened and closed the door. The interior of the shop was dark and crammed with junk. Broken furniture, cracked dishes in stacks, piles of malodorous old clothes, unrecognisable things in tangled heaps. A path between the rubbish led into the interior of the shop, where an ancient pantalooned man in a filthy peruke sat smoking a churchwarden clay pipe. He might have been a corpse except for the occasional wisp of smoke from the pipe.“Do you have awastebin?” asked the Captain. The ancient indicated with a glance of his rheumy eyes to a dark corner. Behind a statue of a blackamoor there was a wooden box with a slot in its lid. It was marked with the symbol of the muted post-horn and the letters W.A.S.T.E in paint so faded that it was barely legible. Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges took the vellum packets from his pocket and slid them into the box. He hadn't spotted the box at first because the blackamoor in front of it was a new addition to the shop's contents. He examined it idly. A life-size statue of a Negro holding a tray on an outstretched hand; wealthy people kept them in the foyers of their mansions for visitors to leave their cards on, should the master be absent. With a start the Captain realised that it wasn't a statue but a real black man, dead, but stuffed and mounted like a hunter's trophy. He made an involuntary snort of disgust and the ancient man smiled a slow evil smile. Captain Greybagges made to leave. The ancient man reached into the breast of his greasy coat and handed Captain Greybagges a bundle of packets tied together with string. He put them in his pocket and threw the ancient a coin. After he had turned his back on the ancient man the Captain made the horns sign with his fingers to ward off evil.
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In the alleyway outside Captain Greybagges strode quickly away, taking deep breaths to clear the musty air of the shop from his lungs as though it were a poisonous miasma. Tristero's secret mail was very useful, but its postmasters could be very creepy. The two bully-boys trotted after him.Captain Greybagges spent the remainder of the afternoon strolling from tavern to low dive to shebeen in Port de Recailles, meeting friends, acquaintances and informants and drinking coffee and the occasional glass of beer. No useful information had come to him, but he hadn't entirely wasted his time. When he entered a drinking-house his bully-boys would hold back and follow him only after several seconds, and meanwhile he would surreptitiously watch the other drinkers. Although all his clothes were black and the dives were dimly-lit it was still apparent that he was a wealthy man, so he would watch for men who looked as though they were thinking of jumping him, but who appeared to lose interest when his bullyboys followed, and he would memorise their faces. A pirate captain was always on the lookout for crew, and a fellow who would think immediately of robbing him despite his muscular build was the kind of man he needed. Quick-thinking, not shy and definitely thievish. If they didn't give up the idea when the bully-boysfollowed they were too stupid. If they didn't think of robbing him at all they would never be pirates. Of course, there were some who would conceal their interest, hoping to follow him and ambush him outside later, but he didn't want fellows who were too wily, either; they could be trouble. Several possible candidates had been noted by him, and he would recruit them as and when it was convenient. He would, of course, point out to them that they'd thought of mugging him, so giving the impression that he could read their thoughts, which would establish him as their superior in quickness of mind and thus their natural leader. A simple trick, but effective. Doctor Quaestifuncula, the Captain's tutor at Cambridge for Law, had called such thingsnousology; the science of being clever.As Captain Greybagges ambled back along the quay to theArk de Triomphehe remembered Doctor Quaestifuncula with affection. Law was, of course, absolutely the best training for a pirate, and the good Doctor had been a master of it. Few who had not been up to university were aware of the sheer viciousness of the infighting amongst academics. Those old fellows in their black gowns and tatty wigs would go at it hammer-and-tongs at High Table, yet to the casual observer they would appear the best of friends as they stuffed themselves with roast baron-of-beef and passed the port around. Battles of intelligence, memory and wit, and Doctor Quaestifuncula was the master. An old bent-backed beanpole with a long nose, thick spectacles and a kindly smile, yet he would have made a fine captain of pirates. He would still plead the occasional case, despite his age, and the Silks and Stuffs would quake as he shuffled into the court with his clerk stumbling along behind him carrying a vast stack of law-books and briefs tied with pink ribbon. The Captain remembered once climbing out of a racing-shell, he and his team glowing with exertion and eager to raise hell in the taverns of the town, when he had overheard Doctor Quaestifuncula as he passed by remark to a colleague “there's the rowing-eights, getting out of their sculls again.” What a wit the man had! The Captain had been a rowing Blue, and he wondered if that hadn't been his first step on the way to piracy. From little boats to bigger boats, maybe.Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges strode up the gangplank onto the deck of theArk de Triomphe, his bully-boys huffing after him. He stopped and looked up into the rigging at the crew about their work and for an instant nearly said “Good work! Good work! Keep it up, lads!” but that would never do, so he roared “Ye scurvy knaves! I catches a man slacking and I'll see the colour of his liver andlights! An' yez may lay to that, wi' a wannion!” and was gratified to see them all try to look busy. One day he would find out what a wannion was, he promised himself.The thoughts of rowing on the Cam had made him nostalgic, so he threw his coat and hat to Mumblin' Jake and clambered down the ship's side into the skiff. With powerful strokes he pulled the light craft across the harbour of Port de Recailles, around the end of the stone-built mole and across Rum Bay to Sruudta Point. There he hove-to, enjoying the sun on his bald head, the skiff bobbing in the slight swell. He reached under his yellow beard and removed his black silk cravat, unbuttoned his shirt and rolled up the sleeves. He folded the cravat carefully, for it was from Saville Row, London, and had cost as much as a case of decent claret. Nobody could see it under his beard, of course, butheknew it was there. He sniffed the air and looked at the little puffy clouds on the horizon. The dead calm would end soon, he was sure.He spun the skiff with a single pull of an oar and rowed back to the harbour, slower now, with easy strokes of the oars. He'd seen Calico Jack Rackham in Ye Petty Mountmartree Froggie Wyneshoppe And Grilleearlier, and clanked tankards with him. He'd always been plain Jack Rackham before. Was every freebooter adopting anom de guerre? Perhapsnom de pillagewould be more accurate. Jack Rackham had got his nickname from the haberdashery stall he'd used to run in Petticoat Lane market, Captain Greybagges recalled, but he supposed that made it easier to remember, and not many would recall him from those days. It would be a shame if one forgot one's pseudonym: “Har! Shit yer britches ye weevils, for I am … oh! A pox on't! What was it now? … Ah! That be it! … For I be Cutthroat Cecil Cholmondleigh!” Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges shook his head and grinned. That ass Billy Bones had tried to call himself The Pirate With No Name, but, never the brightest of buccaneers, he had spoiled it by roaring “Hear my name and shiver, ye swabs! For I be Billy Bones, The Pirate With No Name!” just as he was boarding a prize. The defending crew had been sore a-feared, but when they heard that they'd all howled with laughter and Bones's boarding-party had retreated in confusion, followed by jeers and hoots. The silly sod had been forced to skewer his quartermaster and two foremast jacks to restore discipline, and by then the prize had made sail and cleared off, of course.Mind you, thought the Captain, this fashion for bloodthirsty nicknames might not go away. If it did not he'd have a problem, for one could never buck awell-established trend. He couldn't call himself Yellowbeard, for that would seem like he was aping Eddie Teach, and he was damned if he'd call himself Yellow Whiskers, as that just sounded silly. And yet his trademark was his long yellow beard, and all the more apparent in contrast to his all-black apparel. He would have to think about this some more, maybe.He tied up the skiff and clambered up the tumblehome onto the deck. While rowing back he'd noticed that the ebb and flood of the tide had left the harbour with clean clear blue water, and that the bottom was visible. He was also sweaty from rowing.“See yez any sharks?” he shouted to the look-out up in the cross-trees.“Nary a one, Cap'n!” The look-out waved his hand from side to side and shook his head to emphasise the absence of sharks. Pirates feared sharks, for they believed that sharks could be spookily possessed by the souls of those they had eaten. Given the number of people who had been fed to sharks by pirates there was a worrying possibility that a possessed shark might well recognise a jolly buccaneer as the one who had encouraged his human incarnation to step out along the plank by jabbing a rapier in his bottom, should they happen to meet whilst swimming in the sea. It was also said by some that sharks would never attack lawyers out of professional courtesy, but Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges had no notion to put that to a practical test. The harbour was clear, though, so the Captain stripped off, clambered onto the rail and dived into the blue water. He swam along the length of the frigate and back, the great tattoo on his back visible to the crew in the rigging; a depiction of Old Nick sitting upon his dark throne, shaded by his black bat's wings, staring down upon the Earth with a look of resigned distaste on his long face. There was aboomas Blue Peter Ceteshwayoo bombed into the water beside him. “Ye swab!” roared the Captain and splashed him. There was a smaller plosh and Israel Feet slithered underneath them through the clear water trailing bubbles, as agile as an eel. The three freebooters larked about in the salty seawater until Captain Greybagges shouted “Race yez to the harbourmouth!” Although Captain Greybagges was a strong swimmer the small sinewy First Mate had an easy fast crawl and overtook him. They trod water until Blue Peter arrived, swimming a sedate breaststroke. “Arr! Blue Peter shall buy the drinks tonight!” roared Captain Greybagges.The three pirates stood upon the deck of the frigateArk de Triomphelaughingand pouring buckets of cold fresh water over their heads, as naked as jaybirds. There was a murmur of amusement from the crew in the rigging. Captain Greybagges looked up, a scowl on his face.“Was I not speakin' aforetimes about the livers and lights of them as might be slacking!” he roared. There was a sudden stillness among the crew. The Captain grinned. “Har! Har! Har! I caught you out there! Har! Har! Har! I do loves my little jest! Har! Har! Har!” The crew in the rigging and on the decks looked uneasily abashed. “No, me hearties! Yez bin working like riggers, ye has, toiling ‘andsomely like, but too much graft and not enough roistering makes for a mumpish band o' buccaneers. You may finish up and knock off for the day.” There was a pleased mutter from the crew. “Finish what yez is doing with a will, mind yez all! I will tell quartermaster to broach a cask o' rum and a couple barrels o' beer and ye may have yeselves a jolly evening. Let yez hair down. Grow yez beards a bit.” The crew cheered. “BUT!” and the Captain spoke this in a voice of brass, “BUT, I will obliged if yez shall drink matey-like.” He paused and let his grey eyes rove over them. “For there are fresh breezes a-coming as the season o' storms approaches, and them winds has been known to blow goodfortuneto gentlemen offortunesuch as we. T'would be a great shame and a pity iffen we should miss a handsome bounty because some knavish swab had a sore head and did not attend to his duties in a proper and seamanlike fashion. So ye'll drink easy-like, and play a hand o' cards, mebbe, and roll the bones for Crown and Anchor, and play upon the squeeze-box and fiddle, and yez may even sleep late o' the morning, but I'll not stand for fighting amongst yeselves, nor drinking yeselves into a stupor! No, I will not! When them winds freshens up we shall go for a little sail, we shall, an' we may find what we may find. Now finishes up yer duties, me hearties, with a will.”The crew carried on, with a cheerful mutter of voices from the rigging and the deck.“T'were a fine piece o' speechifyin', Cap'n, damn me, but it was!” said Israel Feet in a low voice. “T'will set the lads up 'andsome-like. That an a few jars o' ale.”“Why thankee, Izzie! That be praise indeed,” said the Captain, wringing water out of his beard.Mumblin' Jake brought the Captain and his two lieutenants towels and stood by holding their clothes. As he stepped into his breeches Captain Greybagges told Mumblin' Jake to fetch the boatswain and crew of his longboat, who were thelargest men in the crew. When the seven hulking sailors came they formed a line on the deck, slid their right feet forward and knuckled their brows respectfully.“Bosun, I wishes you and your lads to stay sober tonight.” The bully-boys looked aggrieved. “Here is something to ease yez disappointment.” whispered the captain, winking, and dropped a thick silver coin into each of their hands. “Ye shall roister tomorrow. I needs yez sharp to make sure no silly sod gets hisself fighting-drunk, that no clown lights his pipe in the powder-magazine and that no sly strangers slips onto the ship to do mischief while the jacks are a-quaffing. Ye may let some trollops come aboard, no more than three at a time, mark yez. Nobody else at all. Do yez ken?” The bullyboys nodded, “Aye-aye, Cap'n!” said Loomin' Len Lummocks the boatswain.“How now, me buckos,” said the Captain as the bully boys lumbered away, slipping the Joachimsthal thalers into their pockets. “Is Bulbous Bill come back yet?” His lieutenants shook their heads. “Well then, Izzie, yez takes a wander around the messes and makes sure they all got my meaning. Peter, you do the same with yer lads on the gun-decks. Make sure no sod ‘as skimped his duties to get a-quaffin' quicker, too.” He buckled on his belt over his black coat. “I shall joins yer in a while. Take a mug o' grog with ‘em and show me face, like. Then I may grow me beard for a bit up at theHalfe Cannonballe, and you may accompany me and welcome. We'll leave word for Bill to catch us up.”Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges, Israel Feet and Blue Peter Ceteshwayoo walked down the gangplank and onto the quay, dressed for a night out. The Captain was in his customary black attire. Blue Peter sported a coat of deep-pink silk with gleaming gold buttons, yellow knee-breeches, white hose and gold-buckled shoes the size of small boats on his huge feet, gemstone rings twinkling multicoloured on his fingers. Israel Feet was dressed in the traditional pirate rig of calico shirt, fustian waistcoat and knee-breeches with no hose and black leather pumps on his feet, a bright-coloured knotted kerchief covered his hair and a gold hoop dangled from his ear-lobe, an English Tower-of-London flintlock pistol and a Venetian poniard in his belt.“Look you, boyos!” came a voice with a strong Welsh lilt. “It is Captain Yellowbeard the Pirate with his pets, the rat and the raven!”Captain Greybagges spun round. “Why! Iffen it ain't my ole shipmate Bloody Morgan – or shouldn't that be bloody Bloody Morgan, har-har!” He grinnedat Henry Morgan with every appearance of amiability. “Yez is surely looking wealthy these days! ‘Tis small reason to insult my friends, mind yez, especially when ye have dressed yer own fellows like they be performin' monkeys o' the sort that the Eyetalian hurdy-gurdy men has by them to caper and pass the hat round.” Morgan's four bully-boys were dressed in short red bumfreezer jackets, and looked put-out at the Captain's comment.
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“You are surely jealous of my finery, Greybagges” sniffed Morgan, twirling around to show off his plum-coloured coat and its gold buttons, epaulettes and braid. “If you had possessed the good sense to accompany me to Panama you would be as grand as myself, surely you would.”“I be merely a humble gentleman of fortune, Morgan, and I seeks not glory at the cost of the lives of my jolly buccaneers. I am not a captain in the Navy, that has Admirals to please and pressed men to fritter away to get a mention in the LondonTimes.” Captain Greybagges shrugged eloquently.“If you don't please anyone but yourself, boyo, then nobody will want to please you. Why, King Charles himself has asked me to come to London. I hear he wants to dub me Sir Henry Morgan and make me Governor of Jamaica, on account of how my little expedition to Panama has discountenanced the Spaniards so.”Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges eyebrows went up. “Well, and there is a wonder!” he said. “A gentleman of fortune to be Governor of Jamaikey!” The Captain looked thoughtful. “It may be that the king wants a poacher for a gamekeeper, rather than to reward you for upsetting the Dons, belike. You will not be Sir Henry Bloody Morgan Governor of Jamaikey and yet still be in good standing in the Free Brotherhood of the Coasts.” He indicated Morgan's bullyboys with a wave of his hand. “And yer jolly boys will be dancing a hornpipe for yez one day, and dancing a different hornpipe for yez the very next day. At the end of a rope, methinks. Such is the price of a knighthood, given to yez by King Charles himself with a dab of his little sword on yer shoulder-boards.”Morgan's face flushed red with rage. “You always were a churlish cully, Greybagges! A mere scribbler for the scandal-sheets! I bid you good-day!” He and his bully-boys swept past them. Israel Feet had to jump back so as not to be jostled.The three buccaneers watched them as they went. The small Welsh pirate captain strode confidently, his nose in the air. One of his bully-boys looked back at them uncertainly before the crowd closed behind them.“Damn! Damn! Damn! Damn the jumped-up Welsh fool!” muttered Captain Greybagges, making no attempt to speak like a pirate. “And damn me for not being able to keep my mouth shut.”“I thought you spoke well and to the point, Captain,” said Blue Peter. “I believe that you planted a seed of concern in the minds of his men, too.”“I did, but that means he will be able to deal with it, as I have tipped him off in time to what people will say, and that in turn means that he will go toLondonand see the king.” Captain Greybagges sighed. “There was a small chance that I could have talked him out of it. He did trust my judgement in times gone by, when we were shipmates under Captain Flint. If I could have kept my own counsel and then seen him later alone I might have swayed him, but now it's as though I've challenged him publicly, so he will go to the king, damn him. And the king will dub him Sir Henry Bloody Morgan. And the king will make him Governor of Jamaica. And the king will have hired himself a fine poacher as a gamekeeper, a very fine poacher indeed. And the Free Brotherhood of the Coasts will be broken. And England will be united with France and Spain to rid the oceans of the scourge of piracy, which is us.”“England, France and Spain united?” said Blue Peter. “I thought they all hated each other.”“They do.” Captain Greybagges sighed again. “Bloody,Bloody, Morgan sacked Panama, though, and thus the Spaniards are so weakened on their own Spanish Main that they must make peace with the cursed ungodly English. King Charles, meanwhile, has inherited a bankrupt nation from Noll Cromwell and so must make peace with Louisle Roi Soleil, who knows it well, but who cannot take advantage of Charles's penury because he has his own troubles at home inla belle France. Thus they can all make common cause against the wicked pirates for a while, and feel a great warm glow of righteousness, the hypocritical sods. They will fall out again soon, of course, but that will be too late for some. We need a treasure now more than ever, my lads. We will need to either retire or keep our heads down for a while, and that will need gold.”They came to YeHalfe Cannonballeand entered into its dim cool interior.Bulbous Bill Bucephalus was already seated on a settle at their usual table in the back room, his posterior being too wide for a chair. He was sipping Madeira and chewing on pieces of smoked dried squid from a dish of assorted snacks. Thethree buccaneers joined their colleague with gloomy expressions on their faces.“What cheer d'yez bring us, Bill?” said Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges. “We are in need of some good news to hearten us. And some Madeiry to wet our whistles, too.” He poured himself a glass of the rich brown sweet wine.“I seen the man Denzil,” said Bulbous Bill, “and got some o' them peppers. Some very special peppers. Very hot, they be.” He sipped the Madeira thoughtfully. “Very hot indeed.” He lowered his voice and tapped the side of his nose. “An' we spoke of the other thing, too.”Blue Peter got up and walked casually to the taproom door and peered in, then to the door to the front bar. He sat down again and nodded.“Denzil is agreeable to our suggestion. Grateful for them gold coins, too,” continued Bulbous Bill in a low voice. “He says that he has become pally with a fellow down in them Spanish Americas. The kind o' cully they calls abrujo, which is to say a sorcerer or medicine-man. He says them fellows claims to be able to fly like witches and to talk to gods an' devils an' spirits an' the like. He thinks it's all my eye and soft soap, but that all thembrujossticks together so they knows a lot of what's a-goin' on, even if it be miles away, d'ye see?” He sipped the Madeira. “Anyways, he says he's a-goin' down there this next week and if anybody knows anything to our advantage it would be them sorcerer fellows, and no mistake. We'll know in a week, mind yez.”Captain Greybagges looked thoughtful. “Well, messmates, we be hopin' that he comes up trumps, but still keep yez ears open. I reckons we'll take theArk de Triompheout tomorrow, wind and tides permitting, and sees that everything is shipshape and Bristol-fashion. Something will come along, you marks my words. We must be ready when it does.”The lieutenants of Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges nodded in agreement, then all four buccaneers sipped their glasses of Madeira in silence, each lost in his own thoughts.Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges stood on the quarterdeck of theArk deTriompheas it slipped into the harbour of Port de Recailles, conned with great skill between the stone pillars that flanked the harbourmouth by Bulbous Bill Bucephalus, the sailing-master. The morning light gave a blue tint to the scene, and the air had a slight chill remaining from the cold of the cloudless night.“Away the sheets!” cried Bulbous Bill, and the sails flapped loose and the frigate slowed. There was asplashas the longboat was launched over the side, and soon the frigate was towed to the quay and secured with singled and doubled mooring-cables to the squat stone bollards. There was a purposeful scurrying in the rigging as the crew lashed the furled sails and loosened the stays to put the masts and yards in a shipshape fashion for port.Captain Greybagges was pleased. The ship and crew had performed well during the six days that they'd been at sea. They had not encountered a fat merchantman to board and plunder, alas. Only a fishing boat, from whom the Captain had purchased a couple of tunny and a swordfish (only a foolish pirate would rob a fisherman; they were the great gossips of the seas and it was best to have them on your side) and very good eating the fish had been, too. The Captain was satisfied, though. TheArk de Triompheand its crew of jolly buccaneers were fit and eager for piracy upon the high seas. If information was received, if a tip-off came their way about treasure suitable for the plundering, they would be ready to act upon it, he was sure.The Captain retired to the Great Cabin to write the ship's log, after leaving word that the crew could go ashore in parties of six when their duties had been completed. He was writing an article for the newspapers about Morgan's forthcoming knighthood and governorship when Bulbous Bill tapped on the cabin door.“I shall go and see if the man Denzil is back from them Spanish Americas,” said Bill. “He said he'd be gone a week or so.”“Aye, Bill, you be about that. Any information about some fat galleons a-waitin' to be plucked would be right welcome. The crew be eager and the barky be shipshape, so the sooner we be sailin' off to meet with fortune the better.”Bulbous Bill nodded and left, and Captain Greybagges continued with the article,scritch-scratch. He needed to pitch it just right; he must not sound carping or jealous of the bloody jumped-up Welshman's success - in fact he must wish him well - but he did need to point out the possible danger to the sea-rovers ofthe Free Brotherhood of the Coasts, and yet the writing must be humourous and light. It really ought to be in the post today, too, lest some other scribe scoop him.Scritch-scratch.That evening Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges sat in the back room of YeHalfe Cannonballetavern sharing a jug of ale with Blue Peter Ceteshwayoo. He reached into the pocket of his black coat and pulled out a pistol.“Here,” he said, pushing the gun across the table to Blue Peter. “Clap yer eyes on this, shipmate.”Blue Peter examined the pistol. It was a flintlock, but quite lightly built with a smallish bore and a longish barrel. Blue Peter's thick index finder would barely fit through the trigger guard.“Hmm, is it a woman's gun?” asked Blue Peter. “It is a very light weapon. Very finely made, though. Beautiful chasing, and very elegant, I do declare.”“It is called a Kentucky pistol,” said Captain Greybagges, “and it is not built for a woman, although a woman could surely fire it. The gunsmiths of Kentuck have their own ideas about guns. They believe that a light gun with a longish barrel is more accurate than a great cannon with a shorter barrel and a great charge o' powder, and so more likely to kill at the first shot. They makes a fine lightweight rifled musket, too. Some calls ‘emsquirrel gunsbecause the Kentucks loves squirrel pies like we loves rabbit pies, d'ye see? I came across it today in the market when I was out posting a packet to theTortugas Times.”“I think I see, Cap'n,” said Blue Peter slowly. “You are informing me that the British North American Colonies not only make good firearms, but are so confident of their craft that they will make innovations to suit themselves and their particular circumstances. Furthermore, one might deduce from that that they are dangerous opponents and not to be trifled with in a blithesome or nonchalant fashion.”“You hits upon my meaning straight off, Peter,” said Captain Greybagges. “Keep yez the pistol to think upon it. If we raids the Colonial fellows we must be well prepared, and will need inside information and a good plan to succeed. I'm sure the ship's smith can braze a bit into the trigger-guard so's you can get yer finger through it.”The Captain and Blue Peter talked idly about firearms - the difficulty of obtaining pyrites chips for wheel-locks these days, the poor quality of Spanishmusket balls, the dubious superiority of Damascus-twist jezail barrels - until Israel Feet and Bulbous Bill Bucephalus arrived. The First Mate was bright red in the face and apparently incapable of speech.“I gave him one of Denzil's peppers. The new ones what looks like a little Scotsman's hat. Them peppers is awful hot,” said Bulbous Bill. “I warned him, but he just said ‘Har! Har!' an' et it whole.”Israel Feet filled a mug with ale and drank it all, then drank another. His face became less red and his eyes less bugged. “Arrrrgh!” he said in a hoarse voice. Tears streamed down his face. Captain Greybagges called to the serving-maid to bring another jug of ale. The buccaneers watched Israel Feet as he slowly downed yet another pint of ale, wiped his eyes and blew his nose on a cotton handkerchief and said “Arrrrgh!” several times more.“Izzie, me ole fighting-cock, we all knows that ye be a hairy-arsed matelot and as hard as a Chinese riddle,” said Captain Greybagges kindly, “so yez don't need to prove it, especially by fighting with vegetables.” Blue Peter and Bulbous Bill chuckled and Israel Feet looked daggers at them through still-teary eyes.“Well, Izzie cannot speak yet, but he can listen,” said Bulbous Bill, “so perhaps I might tell yez what the man Denzil had to say, though it be not great good news.”
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Blue Peter got up and checked the taproom and front bar for potential eavesdroppers and sat back down, nodding for Bulbous Bill to continue.“The man Denzil has spoke with hisbrujopal,” Bulbous Bill said in a low voice, his fellow-buccaneers leaning forward to listen. “It would seem that them sorcerers are just as fond o' a golden coin as anybody else, so he was willin' to pass along anything he might hear. Trouble is, he's only heard of a fleet carryin' crockery. Seems to me that crockery is hardly worth our effort to plunder, but yez may think otherwise.”“Hmm, crockery,” mused Blue Peter. “It has a ready market, that cannot be denied. It is not of great intrinsic value, though, even if it is fine porcelain from far Cathay, embellished with blue-painted scenes of that mysterious land. Bulky and breakable, too. Not the easiest of loot to plunder and transport.”“Tell me, Bill,” said Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges slowly, “did your friend Denzil actually say ‘crockery'? Did he use that precise word?”“Why, no, Cap'n,” said Bulbous Bill. “He said it were plates.”Captain Greybagges looked at Bulbous Bill for several seconds, then he beganto laugh. He laughed until his face turned red, he laughed until he had a coughing fit and Blue Peter had to pound him on the back. His three lieutenants stared at him in amazement. At last he gained control of himself, blowing his nose on a black silk handkerchief pulled from his sleeve. He shook his head, still grinning, and put a finger to his lips.“Oh, Bill! But you are a caution, and no mistake!” He gestured for them to lean closer to him and whispered “It is surely the Spanish Plate Fleet. Plate meaning silver, from the Spanishplata. Oh, my! This is a great good fortune indeed!”The Captain's three lieutenants stared at him open-mouthed, then, as the meaning of his words came clear to them, their open mouths curved into great smiles. Great wolfish piratical smiles.“Oh deary me!” whispered Blue Peter, “I am ashamed that I did not spot that. Plate, of course, from the Spanishplata, meaning silver, from the Greekplato, meaning wide. Obvious when one sees it.”“How come wide gets to mean silver? Look'ee.” said Israel Feet in a hoarse voice, his throat still burning from the pepper.“It is because the minting of coins involves taking little lumps of silver and bashing them flat with a hammer. Thus they are made wide, and the word has come to mean all silver in Spanish when once it meant just coinage.” said Blue Peter. “The silver of the Plate Fleet will be mainly in ingots, though, each one weighing sixteen and one-half pounds. I've seen them before, and they are a very cheery sight to a gentleman of fortune, a very cheery sight indeed. The Spanish Plate Fleet sails once a year and takes the whole year's production of silver from the Spanish Americas to King Carlos's treasurehouse in Bilbao. That is a large quantity of silver by any standards.”The four freebooters considered this in silence for several minutes, occasionally sipping their mugs of ale and staring into space.“Tell me, Bill,” said Captain Greybagges at last, “did your pal tell you the times of the sailin' and the routes that the fleet may take?”“Nope, but he did say that the fleet will be anchorin' overnight in Nombre Dios Bay on the third of next month.”The Captain favoured Bulbous Bill with a smile and a nod. He reached inside his black coat and brought out a small book. A Jolly Roger and the wordsYe Lett's Pirate's Diarywere tooled in gold on its black leather binding. Captain Greybaggesthumbed through the diary.“Well, shiver me timbers, here is luck!” he exclaimed. “That night is a night of no moon. It's just before the autumn storms, too, so there's a good chance there will be an overcast sky. A moonless clouded night, and the silver fleet will be anchored over the bones of Sir Francis Drake, who was buried at sea in Nombre Dios Bay, stitched into his hammock betwixt two cannonballs, it is said. These are indeed good omens, me hearties!”The buccaneers sat back and grinned at each other, the prospect of plundering a vast pile of silver bars warming their piratical hearts like pints of hot rum-toddy.“Let us enjoy this moment,” said Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges, “but let us not become complaisant. The treasure is vast, but it is not yet in our hands, shipmates. There is much plotting and planning to do if we are to take possession of this great fortune. To be sure, the King of Spain does not really need it, he has much wealth already, and he would only waste that fine silver paying Irish mercenary soldiers to keep Flanders in the Catholic faith. The quickest way of turning the Dutch Protestant is to tell them they must be Catholic, of course, but I wander from my point. The Plate Fleet will be at anchor in a secluded bay on the darkest of nights, thinking themselves safe because nobody knows that they are there. By careful planning we can take each ship in turn by stealth alone, and thus we need involve nobody else. We shall need no partners to ensure the success of this venture. No partners to share the booty. No partners to gossip and yakkity-yak, either, and that is important. The only ones who knows about this are us four - Bill's mate Denzil and his witch-doctor both thinks the fleet carries crockery - so let us keep it strictly to ourselves until we are at sea. Look miserable, too. No grinning, no laughing, no dancing of jigs. Keep our good fortune hidden to yourselves alone until we are at sea again. If we does this venture right then we are in clover. Blue Peter will be able to raid the slave-masters of Virginny and Kentuck until he is satisfied that they are contrite, and pay for the expeditions out of his small change without thought of profit.”“You jest, Captain, because you have never endured the pain and humiliation of slavery. I may very well do just what you suggest solely for the sheer vengeful joy of it,” said Blue Peter, a wicked smile revealing his pointed teeth.“As I say, Peter, we must first take possession of this great bounty. That must be foremost in our minds from now on. If we thinks too much of the spendin' of the loot we will not be thinking enough about the plunderin' of it. I meself couldeasily waste hours thinkin' about how a certain jumped-up Welshman's nose will be put properly out of joint, but I will forego that pleasure until the silver bars are safe in my hands. Well, then, let us drink a draught o' rum to toast this venture,” said Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges, “then return to the barky and gets ourselves an early night, shipmates, for it is now my intention to sail on the mornin' tide.”CHAPTER THE THIRD,or a Foregathering in Nombre Dios Bay.The frigateArk de Triompheslowed as the foremast jacks cast off the sheets and the wind spilled from the sails. The night was as black as Indian ink. No moon. No stars. Two dim glimmers of red light showed from the loom of the land to the west, where the pirates had mounted lanterns in the jungle two days earlier as navigation beacons. The lanterns had four-gallon oil reservoirs to burn for a week, and were shielded with black-painted canvas so that they were only visible from a particular bearing. When both lanterns were to be seen theArk de Triomphewas in position for the raid on the fleet, with Nombre Dios Bay to the north just around a concealing point of land.“Let go the anchor!” hissed Bulbous Bill Bucephalus, and the anchor was slid into the water slowly and carefully, without making a noise.Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges was clad entirely in black, even more black than was his normal custom. His beard was wrapped in black cloth, his head was covered with a black knitted cap and his face was blackened with soot. In the dim light from the dark lantern by the wheel only his pale grey eyes were easily seen. There was a low mutter of voices and a soft splash as the skiff was lowered over the side by black-clad pirates.“Less of the chatter, ye swabs!” hissed Captain Greybagges. He turned to Bulbous Bill Bucephalus and spoke softly. “I shall make me reconnaissance quick as I can, but I cannot hurry. Maybe half an hour. Maybe an hour. Keep the men at readiness until I return, then we'll go quickly. Try and keep the swabs from talking or making a row. If I am gone more than three hours, or iffen you hears a shot, then I will have been taken. In that event make sail at once, Bill, and no argument, for this venture requires complete surprise and without it you too will be taken.”Bulbous Bill nodded, and Captain Greybagges climbed over the side. The skiff was difficult to find in the dark by the side of the frigate, for it had been painted black. The Captain found it with his foot and climbed in. The oars were also painted black and muffled with black rags tied around the blades. Blue Peter Ceteshwayoo and Israel Feet looked down from the ship's rail, but the Captain was almost invisible in the moonless starless night. They heard a soft splashing and sensed rather than saw him row away towards the headland.The night was black as pitch and silent, occasionally a bird's call could be clearly heard from the jungle by the shore. A seaman by the compass-binnacle coughed. Bulbous Bill reached across and grabbed him by the ear.“Iffen yez coughs again, cully, I shall quiet yez by a-squeezin' yer throat,” he whispered.Time passed slowly. After a seeming infinity had passed there was a soft thud as the seaman at the binnacle turned the hour-glass. One hour. Bulbous Bill, Blue Peter and Israel Feet said nothing, waiting by the rail in the silent darkness.Another infinity of time passed. Another soft thud. Two hours. Blue Peter shifted himself uneasily. The three buccaneers glanced at each other, but still said nothing.Blue Peter walked to the binnacle and looked at the hour-glass; the third hour was nearly passed. Suddenly Israel Feet hissed and pointed. Neither Blue Peter or Bulbous Bill could see anything at first, but they began to hear a rhythmic splashing, then a faint white blur became visible in the darkness. As the blur came nearer it resolved into a naked man rowing. A little nearer and they could see it was the Captain, the great tattoo of bat-winged Satan upon his back. He was pulling on the oars of the skiff like a man possessed, the little craft almost leaping out of the water with each heave of his broad shoulders. When the skiff came to the ship Captain Greybagges dropped the oars, stood up, turned and hurled himself onto the side. He scrambled up the tumblehome of the wooden planks like a great white spider, his eyes and mouth like three black holes in his face in the dim light of the dark lantern. He stood on the deck completely naked, shivering as though with the ague, and his three lieutenants stared at him in shock. The Captain took a step forward and seized Bulbous Bill by the arm.“Make all sail now. Waste no time. Cut the anchor loose and go. Now!” he hissed. His pale grey eyes bulged from his head and his face was etched with dark lines from some awful horror. Slowly his eyes rolled up under his eyelids and his knees buckled. He would have collapsed onto the deck but Blue Peter slid a mighty arm around his shoulders to support him, then the other arm under his legs as he fell backwards and lifted the Captain and carried him like a baby down to the Great Cabin.Blue Peter carefully laid the Captain into his hanging bunk and wrapped blankets around his shivering body. The Captain's eyes were open again but theyseemed sightless, as though he stared into a different world. By the dim light of the single candle Blue Peter could see the Captain's lips moving soundlessly as though in prayer. Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges looked older, as though he had been gone several years and not three hours. From overhead came the tramping of feet on the deck as the frigate made sail, then the ship heeled as it caught the wind to flee from Nombre Dios Bay.Blue Peter sat by the Captain all through that long night. Several times he tried to give the Captain water to drink, but it just dribbled out of his lips. The Captain said not a word, and his eyes still seemed to stare into some other place. As he watched the Captain's face Blue Peter became convinced, to his great unease, that the Captain had aged several years. His face was more lined, different somehow.The worst horror, though, waited for dawn, for as the sun rose and clear light streamed through the tall stern windows into the Great Cabin he saw that the Captain's long beard was no longer the bright yellow of Spanish gold but had becomegreen. As green as spring grass.Blue Peter Ceteshwayoo nursed Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges with great tenderness as theArk de Triomphesailed dolorously back to Porte de Recailles, unburdened by silver ingots, its commander shocked into catatonia. On the second day he managed to get the Captain to eat. Bulbous Bill Bucephalus made a special burgoo, seething milk with a strip of cinnamon bark before pouring it onto the oatmeal, sweetening the burgoo with honey and a mashed roasted banana as it simmered. Blue Peter held the Captain with an arm round his shoulders and spooned the burgoo into his mouth as though he were a child. Bulbous Bill then made a medicinal grog. He put a double handful of camomile flowers, a handful of African rooibosch leaves and two teaspoons of poppyseed into a pot with water and set it to simmer. He melted a large lump of butter in another pot, waited for it to foam and added a cup of brown Demerara sugar, stirring it rapidly with a wooden spoon. He added the herb infusion to the caramelised sugar and butter a little at a time, straining it through a cloth and stirring continuously. Then headded rum, a very special dark rum that he had been keeping in his seaman's chest, a black syrupy rum of great strength that has only ever been drunk by pirates, and which has not been made since the time of Captain Flint. Blue Peter lifted the Captain and held a mug of the grog to his lips. The Captain drank the mugfull. Then another. Then a third, and then his tormented grey eyes closed at last and he slept.
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Blue Peter sat by him through the night as he slept and dreamed. The Captain's slumbers were riven by nightmares and he ground his teeth and cried out. Once the Captain spoke in his sleep as though revisiting some scene from the past:“Welcome, sir! Welcome to the Mansion of the Glaroon! The boy will park your skimmer, sir. Let me take your helmet and cape, sir. Follow the footman, sir, and he will lead you to the festivities. Welcome, sir! Welcome to the Mansion of the Glaroon! Why, Great Cthulu, sir! How pleasant to see you here again! And Mrs Cthulu, too! Why, you are looking in the pink, my lady! Or should I say green, har-har! And your daughter, too! Why, Miss Lulu Cthulu, you look lovelier each passing week, I do declare! Har-har! The Glaroon is in the Games Room, Mr Cthulu, sir, I am sure he will be delighted if you join him there. Welcome, sir! Welcome to the Mansion of the Glaroon! The boy will park your skimmer, sir ....” The Captain's voice trailed off into unintelligible mumbling.How can this be? thought Blue Peter Ceteshwayoo. He has been away three hours and yet he has been away years. And he has known the pain and humiliation of slavery, too, which I would not have wished on his noble freedom-loving pirate's soul for all the silver in Spanish America. And his beard is turned green. Not dyed green, butturnedgreen, for it is growing green out of his skin. How can these things be?The pirate frigateArk de Triomphewas safe at last, moored to the quay of Porte de Recailles. Blue Peter Ceteshwayoo joined Bulbous Bill Bucephalus and Israel Feet in the officers' wardroom, where they were gloomily drinking rum.“I believe he is on the mend,” said Blue Peter. “He has slept now for three days, and the colour has come back to his face. He is no longer dreaming nightmares, but sleeps easily and restfully. I think we should leave him until he awakes of his own accord. Loomin' Len is sitting by him, and one of the bully-boys guards the door. It is best that the crew do not know that his beard has turned green just yet. They are naturally restive that a great fortune in silver has disappeared from before their eyes. Anything strange may cause mutiny. A Captain with a long yellow beard is one thing, a Captain with a long green beard is entirely another thing.”“Iffen it ain't the damnedest thing I ever did see,” said Israel Feet, “an' iffen it ain't you may boil my arse in oil, you may. An' I will lay to that, else, messmates!” He took a drink of rum.“Indeed, there is much about this whole affair that I find strange and unnatural,” said Blue Peter. “I should have been wary when a medicine-man was involved. We have those fellows back in Africa, you know, and I wouldn't trust a one of them as far as I could throw him uphill. They are always talking to spirits and devils and suchlike, and that cannot be right, no matter which church you worship in.”“I don't think it were thebrujo's fault,” said Bulbous Bill Bucephalus slowly. “I was asking some questions of the man Denzil, to try and get this straight.” He sipped his rum. “I think it were more a problem of translation, like.”“How do you mean?” said Blue Peter, pursing his lips.“Well, Denzil he reckoned he translated that indian lingo as best he could, and it were a crockery fleet, just like I said at first. T'weren't Spanish, either. Some other bunch I've never heard of. It wasn't the Spanish Plate Fleet,” he sipped his rum again, “it was the Martian Saucer Fleet.”CHAPTER THE FOURTH,or the Captain Has A Banyan Day.Blue Peter Ceteshwayoo rode a Percheron mare down the winding path to Porte de Recailles. The plough-horse was quite old and he had bought it very cheaply, but it was big enough and still powerful enough to carry the weight of his huge frame with ease. A smaller horse would have been overloaded, and Blue Peter abhorred cruelty to animals. It was the early morning and the air was still cool and crisp, which was pleasing to both man and horse. The late-summer day would soon become bakingly hot as the sun rose high over the Caribbean island.Nearly a year had passed since the beard of Captain Greybagges had been turned green by the horrors he had encountered in Nombre Dios Bay, and these months had been very good to the pirates of the frigateArk de Triomphe. The disaster in Nombre Dios Bay – the sad failure to take the Spanish plate fleet, the mysterious greening of the Captain's beard – had seemed like a terrible portent, but the pirates had been extraordinarily lucky in the aftermath. Captain Greybagges's bright green beard had not made him an object of mockery, but had instead given him a fell and perilous aura of the supernatural. Ships that could easily have out-run or out-fought theArk de Triomphehad hove-to at the first sight of Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges standing grim-faced on the quarterdeck, his sombre all-black clothes emphasizing the brilliant grass-green of his long beard. The mystery of how his beard had become green was now a legend across the Spanish Main, and he was feared in a way that no ordinary captain of buccaneers could emulate. The fortunes of theArk de Triomphehad prospered accordingly.The horse whickered and tossed its head, and Blue Peter patted its neck affectionately.Blue Peter Ceteshwayoo had invested a small part of his treasure in a cottage high in the hills above Porte de Recailles. He spent time there when the frigate was in port, adding to his growing collection of books, improving his grasp of Greek and Latin. He even wrote poetry occasionally, seated at an inlaid oak escritoire by a window with a view down onto the smoking chimneys and the squalor of Porte de Recailles, over the forest of masts in the harbour and out over the clean blue of the sea. In a small way this satisfied his desire to be a gentleman; a true gentlemanwould surely have such a refuge in which to write and to study, away from the cares of the world. A true gentleman, thought Blue Peter, might also have a groom, so he wouldn't have to chase his own carthorse up and down the field himself, for the old mare had been frisky that morning. He patted its neck again.The larger part of Blue Peter's treasure remained in the keeping of Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges, as did the bulk of the treasure of the rest of theArk de Triomphe'screw. This was unusual, to say the least. Buccaneers were not by nature or experience trusting creatures, and would commonly demand that all plunder and loot be divvied up as soon as circumstances allowed. Captains of pirates who kept all the boodle, telling the crew with a wink “I'll keep this safe and sound fer yez, shipmates, and there's my affy-davy on that, wi' a curse!” were viewed with darkest suspicion, for amongst the brotherhood of pirates the Seven Deadly Sins were not unknown, and Greed was almost a celebrity.But when Captain Greybagges had given each man only a portion of his share of the loot nobody had complained. The pay-outs had been substantial, it was true, but the Captain had not pretended that they were complete. Nor had he offered an explanation.Blue Peter mused upon this as the old padnag plodded on down to Porte de Recailles in the cool morning air. There was no doubt that Captain Greybagges had been changed by his strange and unearthly experiences in Nombre Dios Bay, and not just in the colour of his long beard. The Captain had possessed a whimsical sense of humour and an almost boyish sense of mischief, but now he was grim and distant. In the times before the Captain's beard had been turned green he would not have been able to hold back treasure from an open division of the spoils under the strict rules of the Free Brotherhood of the Coasts. If he had tried then it was certain that a voice from the back of the assembled crew would have made a smart-alecky comment, Captain Greybagges would have made a witty rejoinder and so the reasons for keeping back the loot would have been teased out of him with good humour. But now the crew - and a crew of lusty pirates, too – accepted it without question or comment. It was very odd. The crew of theArk de Triomphewere more disciplined, more efficient, under the cold grey eyes of this grim new Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges, but Blue Peter Ceteshwayoo found this unsettling. In truth, he feared for his friend.Captain Greybagges was reading some very unusual books, too. The Captainwas a literate man, and had always enjoyed reading a good rollicking yarn – Tobias Smollet was a favourite, or that hussy Aphra Behn (awomanwriting books, what a disgrace!) – but lately the Captain had been nose-deep in Professor Newton'sPhilosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, Robert Hook'sMicrographicaand other such rum stuff. He had even been reading the works of the heretical monk Giordano Bruno, who had claimed in hisDe l'Infinito, Universo e Mondithat the stars in the night sky were suns like the sun of daytime, but very far away, and who had been burned at the stake for cherishing such offensive and blasphemous thoughts. Blue Peter recalled that the deranged monk had even suggested that those faraway suns could have planets like the Earth itself and that creatures might live on them, even races of intelligent beings. Blue Peter had seen many wonders since leaving Africa as a child, and learned many things in his extensive reading, but planets of strange beings orbiting distant stars? That was such a disturbing idea that he wasn't really surprised that the Inquisition had torched the monk. Why was the Captain delving into such arcane stuff?Blue Peter's conscience prodded him; it was not just Captain Greybagges's loyal and thievish crew,youdid notyourselfobject when he didn't share out the loot, it said. It is true, thought Blue Peter, but I felt that if I had, then I couldn't be sure if he'd burst out crying, shoot me, or curse me with the evil eye.The old plough-horse plodded on down the path to Porte de Recailles, with a thoughtful Blue Peter Ceteshwayoo riding bareback upon it.  Two of the smart-alecky voices that might be heard from the back of any assembly of the crew of theArk de Triomphewere conversing companionably, sitting on the cross-trees of the frigate's mainmast, high above the deck. Jemmy Ducks, keeper of the ship's ducks, chickens, pigs and goat, and Jack Nastyface, cook's assistant, both holding honorary job-titles in lieu of their real names, were skiving-off, and their idle discussion had been following the same path as Blue Peter's thoughts; what was the Captain doing with the loot?“Ay-yoop! ‘Tis the Blue Boy!” said Jemmy Ducks, “on his trusty charger.”“Where away, cuz? Where is the dark knight on his Arabian steed?” said Jack Nastyface, whose eyesight was poor.“End o' quay. Just come round corner o' timberyard,” said Jemmy Ducks,slithering from his perch onto the ratlines. The pair climbed down, warning the other foremast jacks of the Master Gunner's approach and bickering, Jemmy Ducks averring that Jack Nastyface's myopia was the result of onanistic practices, Jack Nastyface replying that he did indeed practice onanism but only once a day and only to spill his seed into Jemmy Duck's morning porridge.Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges, sitting at his desk in the Great Cabin in the midst of a chaos of account-books and ledgers, heard the two still bickering as they went down the companionway, and heard his servant Mumblin' Jake mumble at them to shut up and not disturb the cap'n, look'ee. Blue Peter will be here presently, he thought, knowing that the livestock-keeper and the cook's assistant would not otherwise have ended their mid-morning smoke and yarn. He called to Mumblin' Jake to make fresh coffee.Blue Peter knocked and entered the Great Cabin, followed by Mumblin' Jake with a tray bearing a steaming tin coffee-pot, mugs and a plate of biscuits. Jake set out the mugs and poured the coffee, placed the plate on the edge of the desk, and mumbled off to his lair in the Captain's pantry. Blue Peter sat down opposite Captain Greybagges, who smiled a grim smile at him in welcome, his grey eyes far-away.“Let me finish with these damn' books, curse ‘em. I'll be a whore's half-hour, no more. Here, read this while I figure.” The Captain handed him a printed broadsheet, folded in the fashion of the stock-jobbers in crowded London coffee-houses to show only the article of interest. Blue Peter unfolded it to find the broadsheet's name; theTortuga Times. He refolded the broadsheet, and glanced at the Captain, who was in his shirtsleeves, checking entries in the ledgers, clicking an abacus and writing,scritch-scratch, with a quill, his face impassive.Blue Peter turned his attention back to the newspaper. The article was a poem. Blue Peter read it through with mounting amusement, having to choke back guffaws of laughter as it was so bad. He looked at the Captain, but the Captain's eyes were on the account-books, and his pen wentscritch-scratch. Blue Peter could bear no more; he snapped the folded broadsheet to flatten it, cleared his throat and, in his deep voice, with an artful theatricality, read the poem out loud...
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“CAPTAIN GREYBAGGES ALIAS ‘GREEN BEARD'by Mungo McGonagall.Sylvestre de Greybagges came from Recailles, and sailed from that portOn board the good shipArk de Triomphe, in search of sport,As Captain, long had he held that station,And for personal courage he had gained his crew's approbation. ‘Twas in the spring, Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges sailed to ProvidenceIn the continent of America, and no further hence;And in their way captured a vessel laden with flour,Which they put on board their own vessel in the space of an hour. They also seized two other vessels and took some gallons of wine,Besides plunder to a considerable value, and most of it most costly of design;And after that they made a prize of a large French Guinea-man,Then to act an independent part Captain Greybagges now began. But the news spread throughout America, far and near,And filled many of the inhabitants' hearts with fear;But Lord Mondegreen with his sloops of war directly steered,And left James River on the 17th November in quest of Green Beard,And on the evening of the 21st came in sight of the pirate;And when His Lordship spied Green Beard he felt himself elate. When Green Beard saw the sloops sent to apprehend him,He didn't lose his courage, but fiendishly did grin;And told his men to cease from drinking and their tittle-tattle,To see to their dags and cutlasses and prepare for a battle. In case anything should happen to him during the engagement,One of his men asked him, who felt rather discontent,Whether anybody knew where he had buried his pelf,When he impiously replied that nobody knew but the devil and himself. In the morning Lord Mondegreen weighed and sent his boat to sound,Which, coming near the pirate, unfortunately ran aground;But Mondegreen lightened his vessel of the ballast and water,Whilst from the pirates' ship small shot loudly did clatter. But the pirates' small shot or slugs didn't Mondegreen appal,He told his men to take their swords and be ready upon his call;And to conceal themselves every man below,While he would remain alone at the helm and face the foe. Then Green Beard cried, ‘They're all knocked on the head,'When he saw no hand upon deck he thought they were dead;Then Green Beard boarded Mondegreen ‘s sloop without dismay,But Mondegreen ‘s men rushed upon deck, then began the deadly fray. Then Green Beard and Lord Mondegreen engaged sword in hand,And His Lordship fought manfully and made a bold stand;And Green Beard's cutlassclanged against the sword of Mondegreen,Making the most desperate and bloody conflict that ever was seen. At last with shots and wounds Mondegreen fell down in a swoon,And his men thus dismayed laid down their pistols and spontoons,Green Beard laughed grimly and marooned them all ashore,And went back to Recailles to fritter his loot on rum and whores. Green Beard derived his name from his long green beard,Which terrified America more than any comet that had ever appeared;But wicked pirates thank the Devil that in this age all be a'feared,Of the mighty buccaneer who possesses the eldritch Green Beard!”Blue Peter Ceteshwayoo, with magnificent fortitude, managed to read to the end of the poem, but then could no longer keep control. He laughed until his eyes ran tears and his ribs hurt, slapping the folded broadsheet on his thigh, wheezingand whooping trying to catch a breath. Captain Greybagges had sat back in his captain's chair and was watching Blue Peter with a smile. As he watched the grimness slowly departed from his face and the smile grew wider, until he too was laughing, a great booming laugh. This continued for some minutes, as each time one would try to stop he would catch sight of the other and so fall again into helpless merriment.“Oh, bugger!” said Captain Greybagges, wiping his eyes and shaking his head. He pulled the black silk scarf, knotted pirate-fashion, from his shaven pate and blew his nose on it, which triggered Blue Peter into a further fit of laughter. Blue Peter was a giant, and Captain Greybagges was not a small man, so their combined laughter was very loud. Up above, on the deck and in the rigging, the crew were frozen, exchanging startled glances, only continuing with their work as the gales of rumbling hilarity from below subsided to inaudible giggles.Captain Greybagges wiped his eyes and blew his nose again on the now-sodden black scarf, and managed to curb his mirth enough to take sips of coffee. After a while Blue Peter did, too, hiccoughing and spilling some.“Oh, God! I needed that!” said the Captain, “I have been very mumpish of late, I know.”“I was beginning to be concerned. Unremitting solemnity is unbecoming even in a preacher of Calvin's credo, let alone in a captain of buccaneers,” said Blue Peter, dipping a biscuit in his coffee and eating it swiftly, before it disintegrated.“You know, when I gave you that paper I had not the notion that the wretched doggerel was so amusing. I was merely going to comment upon how the plain facts of the matter were so sadly misrepresented,” said the Captain, refilling his mug, and carefully selecting a biscuit from the plate.“Yes, indeed. My Lord Mondegreen is a terrible buffoon, is he not? Do you think he paid that poet to write it? ... on second thoughts, no, let us please talk of other things, or I shall start again, and I feel that it would kill me.”“You are right. We cannot sit here chortling like tom-fools, yet I am deeply loath to lose this pleasant lightness of spirit...” Captain Greybagges drummed his fingers on the desk-top for a moment, then roared for Mumblin' Jake.“Look'ee, Jake! Makes you me a picnic-hamper! A great fine picnic-hamper!”“A picnic-hamper, Cap'n, sor?”“A basket o' wittles for a shore-goin' party o' two hungry fellows. Bread - thesoft tack and not the ship's biscuit, mind yez! - butter, cheese, cooked meats - if there be any left wholesome in this damned heat - boiled eggs, pickles, fruit, some bottles of beer, some sweetmeats. Tell Len to fill a water-bag from the pump on the quay. Put it all in the skiff. Smartly now, ye lazy hound!” Mumblin' Jake scuttled out of the door.Captain Greybagges stood up, rubbed his hands together and started slamming the ledgers and account-books shut.“Away, dull care!” he cried. “School is over! Out for the summer!” Blue Peter stared at him as he packed away the books, abacus, quills and inkpots, humming under his breath.“He is a terrible ass, though, is Lord Mondegreen,” said the Captain, musingly. “D'you remember him singing in that church in New Amsterdam? That Christmastide? Getting all the words of the hymns wrong? What a jackanapes!”“Good King wants his applesauce, at the feast this eve-ning!” sang Blue Peter in a rumbling bass, grinning hugely, showing his filed teeth.“Kept by thy tender care, Gladys the cross-eyed bear!” sang the Captain, in a light tenor. The two buccaneers struggled against a new attack of mirth.The Captain rummaged around in a chest and found a ragged straw hat, which he clapped on his head. Another rummage in a cupboard produced a brown canvas bag. On a whim, he pushed back the desk and rolled up the rug and threw it over his shoulder.“A banyan day for the captain!” he roared. “Come, let us picnic, shipmate!”  Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges rowed the skiff across Rum Bay with long easy strokes of the oars. He ran the skiff onto the beach below Sruudta Point. The two freebooters hauled it ashore by its gunwales, then tied the painter to a long iron spike tapped into the sand with the butt of an oar. The day was calm and sunny and the waves mere ripples, but good seamanship is good seamanship and cannot be gainsaid, even by the most temerarious of buccaneers.“Har! Place you your trust in Allah, but tie your camel to a tree, as the Moors are wont to say,” said the Captain. “Look! There is a capital spot!” He pointed to a knoll where the ground started to rise up before the tor on the point. They carried the things from the skiff. There were two stunted trees on the knoll,Captain Greybagges unrolled the carpet on the coarse salt-grass and hung the canvas waterbag from a branch in the shade. A sailcloth fire-bucket, half-full of seawater, was hung from another branch as a beer-cooler, the basket was hung from yet another branch to preserve the food from ants.“Not a sylvan glade, exactly, or even an Arcadian grove, but a small oasis orcaravanseraiat any rate, with a Turkish rug, too!” laughed Captain Greybagges. “Now, how about a game of cricket? Get an appetite for lunch, eh?”“Cricket...” Blue Peter said softly, “I have long wished to play cricket. Surely it requires two teams of eleven men, though?”“It does, but we shall play a practice game with made-up rules, as I did so often as a boy.”On a flat stretch of beach the Captain put down the brown canvas bag and undid its straps.“Here, Peter, this is the club, or bat,” he handed it to Blue Peter, “and here is a ball, and here are the stumps and bails. How much do you know of the game?”“I have only read of it, so treat me as an ignoramus.”“Firstly, the pitch is twenty-two yards long between the wickets.”Captain Greybagges pushed three stumps into the sand and placed the two bails on top. He then counted twenty-two paces and put up the second wicket.“The crease is a short step afore the wicket,” he said, using a bare toe to scratch a line in the sand by each wicket, “and the batsman stands thus.” He took the bat from Blue Peter and demonstrated. “The bat must stay touching the crease until the bowler starts his run. Opinions vary about this from cricket-club to cricket-club, but it is a good strategy anyway to cover the wicket, as the bowler is trying to knock it down.” He gave the bat back to Blue Peter, who tried the batsman's stance, having to bend and crouch to touch the bat to the crease. “I will bowl the ball, but I will bowl it slowly. Don't hit it hard, not at first, get the feel of the bat and just prevent the ball from hitting the stumps, for if a bail falls off then you are out.”Captain Greybagges bowled slow balls to Blue Peter, then Blue Peter tried bowling slow balls to the the Captain. Occasionally the Captain would stop and explain a rule, or an aspect of the game-play. Thethwackof the hard leather ball on the wooden bat was loud in the quiet of the beach, and echo'd faintly from the cliffs on the other side of Rum Bay.“What-ho! I'm hungry,” said the Captain, “Time to pull the stumps! How do you like it then, Peter? The game of cricket?”“I am intrigued. I think I could become enamoured of it. The over-arm bowling is more tricky than it looks, especially when there are two pistols and a cutlass in one's belt. I wish to practice it more.”“One thing, Peter. When the game is finished the team captains must shake hands.” He offered his hand to Blue Peter, who shook it solemnly. “I am ever pleased to shake hands with you, Peter, but you must remember that the captains mustalwaysshake hands. If the other team's captain were to be a blackguard, your worst enemy, had boasted in the pavilion of swiving your sister, has beaten your team by bare-faced cheating, and was grinning at you like an ape, then you muststillput a good face upon it and shake hands. It is the finest of games, but it is still a game, and not something to fight duels over. That is its greatest value, perhaps.”They walked slowly back to the knoll, the Captain swinging the cricket-bag.“Might I not kill the blackguard for abusing my sisterafterI have shaken his hand, Captain?”“Why, of course! As long as it's not about the cricket, and doesn't inconvenience the cricket-club committee, then it would certainly be quite the right thing to do.”  Seated on the rug, reclining in the shade, leaning comfortably against the trunks of the trees, they cut the waxed string from the necks of beer-bottles, eased the corks out carefully and poured the cold beer into glasses.“Oh, my! That is good!” said Blue Peter, wiping the back of his hand across his mouth. “Captain, would you be good enough to pass me those crustaceans?” Mumblin' Jake's picnic-basket included a damp cloth full of boiled shrimps.“Surely, Peter!” the Captain passed the shrimps and a pot of pepper relish, “but you may call me Sylvestre, or even Syl, as this is my banyan day.” He took a bite of a sandwich of cold roast pork and mustard, then took a gulp of beer. The grim cast which had darkened his face for a year had faded, and he looked at ease. They ate in companionable silence for a while.“I will speak freely, then, Sylvestre,” said Blue Peter. “I suspect that you havea hidden purpose in this, your banyan day, and that you wish to converse with me without the possibility of eavesdropping, yet to conceal that purpose within an apparent madcap lark, to prevent invidious or far-fetched conjectures among the crew.”Captain Greybagges turned to look at Blue Peter.“You should have been a lawyer, you scoundrel!” He took a draught of beer. “You are right, for the most part. The idea of the madcap lark came first, as I looked at those damn' ledgers, but I had been seeking such an opportunity anyway. Do not underestimate the roborative effects of a madcap lark, though. This day, my banyan day, has already taken a great weight from my oppressed spirits...”
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The Captain would have continued, but Blue Peter raised his hand.“Indeed, Captain ... Sylvestre ... I can see that. I can also sense that you are going to discuss affairs of great importance. May I give you advice? In the land of my birth such matters were discussed with due ceremony, and that usually involved an exchange of information and compliments; ‘do your father's feet still stand firm upon the earth? and does the sun still shine upon your seemingly-endless maize fields? and does your mighty heart still encompass the love of ten wives?' That sort of thing. It's all nonsense, of course, but it seemed to work. Perhaps we should colloquise for a while longer, enjoy your banyan day a little longer,” Blue Peter ate a shrimp and took a swallow of beer, “before plunging into matters profound and weighty.”“In England we are not so different,” said the Captain, helping himself to a sausage. “In fact, there's a phrase; ‘less of the old how's-yer-father' meaning ‘stop trying to cozen me and get to the point.' As pretty maids are often the ones being cozened it has taken on the secondary meaning of amatory congress; a young lad from the Parish of Bow might say ‘I'm a-goin' upta the ol' Bull and Bush for a bit o' how's-yer-father', meaning he would be going to the pub to find a lady of easy virtue. You are right, though, and I take your point. What do you wish to talk about?”“Tell me about your boyhood, how you played cricket in sunlit carefree days.”“Cricket? Carefree sunlit days? I did indeed play cricket on the village green, up at school and up at Cambridge, too, and I do lovethatEngland dearly, it is true. To play a game of cricket, even to watch a game of cricket, to spend all of a lazy sunny summer day just watching cricket, that is a rare delight. Yet even in thosehappy memories there are dark shadows. I was packed off to Eton, and that damn' school nearly did for me. A brutal place where one is either the bully or the victim, take your choice. Cricket at Eton waspolitics, too, not the simple joy of a game on the village green.”The Captain picked up a biscuit, examined it critically, then ate it.“My young boyhood was happy, mind you. My mother passed away when I was young, and I only remember her as a kind of a vision, but my nanny, Goosie, was the kindest and most good-humoured soul that ever walked the green earth. My father - ‘the Pater', as they made us say at Eton - was a different creature altogether. The mean old bugger spent his entire life obsessing about his damn' estates, so he had nothing to talk about except the price of corn and the villainy of the yokels, and what the grasping old skinflint was thinking every waking minute was how to tighten further the screws on his field-hands and tenants. The money, some of it, went to making me a lawyer, because he wanted a shyster he needn't pay, so that he could make his neighbour's lives more miserable without spending his own money to do it. Eton, Cambridge, the Inns of Court ... and a damn' good lawyer I was, too! I could exonerate the guilty or convict the innocent, as required, and take my fat fee whether justice was served or not. Some cases, though gnawed at me, until it occurred to me that the fine people in their fine clothes were themselves no better than thieves, or indeed pirates. Worse, in fact, for a lusty freebooter wagers his own life, not the lives of others, and does his business honestly with the edge of his cutlass, not with secret whisperings in dark corners and dirty deals in back-rooms. It further occurred to me, after I had broken a cider-jar over my father's head and been disinherited, that piracy may be just as morally corrupt as the practice of the Law, but it is certainly much more fun. So here I am.“We are pirates, Peter! The Free Brotherhood of the Coasts, for all its many faults, will take any buccaneer into its membership whether black, white, brown, yellow, red, or even,” he waggled his beard, “partially green. Even women! And all are equal! To be a pirate is to be more free, more democratical, than even those ancient Greek coves in Athens knew of. We take people's money, and sometimes we have to kill them, but that's a small price to pay for freedom. If you ever go to England, Peter, go as a pirate and be proud of it. They will either hang you at Tyburn or make you Equerry Of The King's Chamberpot, it cannot be foretoldwhich, but if you go as a would-be squire they will put you in a cage and charge gawpers a shilling to look at you, and half-a-crown to poke you with a stick.”“Sylvestre, you have crushed my dreams!” laughed Blue Peter. “Is there indeed a custodian of the royal pisspot?”“Indeed there is. He is called the Chamberlain of the Stool, if I recollect a'right. It is a position of great influence and power. I dare say the fellow doesn't touch a po these days, that is merely the origin of the title. Such a fellow must have access to all the King's private apartments and all of his private affairs, and so must be loyal and trustworthy.”Captain Greybagges rose to get another bottle of beer from the bucket, and stretched lazily, looking out to sea, unable to resist scanning the horizon. He settled back down again, searching around for his knife to open the beer.“Tell me ofyourboyhood, Peter, if you will.”Blue Peter took a swallow of beer, wiped his mouth and burped.“Where I was born there was little distinction between summer and winter. There was the season of the rains, but it was still hot then, so one couldn't call it winter. Time was reckoned in lunar months, but I suppose I was about eight years old when I was given into slavery by my uncle, my mother's elder brother. I was what you would call theheir apparent. My father was the chief - thesachem, if you will - of the tribe and I was his only son. My mother and my father died, one after the other, and, after a period of mourning of thirteen months, I was to be made chief. My uncle, who was acting chief,pro tempore, took me to the sacred grove alone, as was the custom, said the sacred words and cut my cheeks with these marks.” Blue Peter indicated the cicatrices on his face. “He rubbed ashes into them, then some fellows came along and he told me to go with them. I thought it was part of the ceremony, so I did.”He drank some beer.“Good Lord!” said the Captain. “Do you believe that wicked man killed your parents?”“I'm not sure. He may just have taken advantage of circumstance. He had a son the same age as myself, and alike to me in looks. I believe he may have cut his own son's cheeks, but savagely, to disguise him, and passed him off as me. Those that detected the substitution would pretend they hadn't, since my uncle had been chief for thirteen months and, presumably, had firmly seized the reinsof command. I was young, of course, and my recollection is fragmentary, so these are mere suppositions.”“Why, then, did he cut your cheeks?” asked the Captain.“So that I was unsuspecting of betrayal, and distracted by the pain of the cuts, most likely. Perhaps he was also afraid of the Gods; he had thus done his duty by custom, and had not killed me, other men had then taken me away, and I had gone willingly, so what befell me subsequently would be their evil-doing, not his.”“Men, and women, will often lie, as it is the natural thing to do. I have often observed this, and not only as a brief in the courts, I assure you,” said Captain Greybagges. “Yet when a man begins to lie tohimselfeach step he takes carries him further down the sloping path to Hell. You must loathe your uncle greatly.”“I do indeed, but that has taught me the futility of hatred. The forest grows quickly, trails and rivers change their course, villages move. I cannot even be sure which barracoon I was taken to, since they are all alike from inside a stockade of logs. There are no maps of the interior of the African continent, nor likely to be. Retracing my steps back to my homeland is impossible now; it is quite literally a lost kingdom. Strangely, when I was a slave I never met a single soul from my own land, or indeed any slave who even knew of my country, so I have not spoken my own tongue since, except to myself. I met some few who spokesimilarlanguages, so that we could talk after a fashion, but never my own mother-tongue.”Blue Peter heaved himself up to get a bottle of beer. When he had made himself comfortable again against the tree, with a full glass in his hand, he continued.“I will not speak of the barracoon, or of the sea-crossing on the slave-ship, as they are foul memories. I was bought by a family in Virginny, who, because of my scars and my size, thought it a fine jest to make me a page, and dress me in a little jacket and knee-britches of pink silk. This was a lucky thing for me, as a house-nigger I was not treated too brutally, and I was encouraged to learn a fine clear English and even to read and write. The plantation owner's younger brother taught me, and gave me some Latin and Greek, too, and some other learning. He was a drunk and a pederast, but I think he had a genuine affection for me. He never molested me, and my times learning under his often-bleary tutelage were some of the happiest I experienced as a slave. The family were great despisers of the English, thinking all Englishmen to be effete, pompous and sly, whilst countingthemselves rugged pioneers, despite their life of luxury and idleness. I have few illusions about the English, Sylvestre, but if the likes of Master Chumbley and his vile wife hate them, then they are the fellows for me! The dislike of the English is becoming widespread in the colonies, and it will smoulder into flame one day, I feel sure. Not all Colonials are like the Chumbleys, of course. As you once said, ‘the Colonials can be rare plucked-uns when they be a-riled-up', and indeed they can be, but in such a circumstance the Chumbleys would be hiding under their beds a-shivering and a-praying, not getting a-riled-up, the sanctimonious hypocritical sods.“When I was fourteen I punched the son of the family on the nose, which he richly deserved, and they flogged me and then put me to work in the fields like a beast of burden. To my small surprise the other slaves despised me as a house-nigger, so I had to punch a few of them, too, and got flogged again for damaging the livestock. The years in the fields put muscle on me, so, after the last flogging, I was able to pull the ring-bolt from the wall and knock the overseer unconscious when he came a-calling. I would have dearly loved to have killed him, but that would have led to a larger hue-and-cry, so I took his keys and chained him up with my shackles and gagged him with his own socks. I went to free the other slaves but only one of them was game, a skinny old fellow of the Kroo tribe. The Kroo boast that they've never been slaves or owned slaves, so he had a point to make, I suppose. Strangely, the Chumbley's daughter, a skinny little madam who was always spying upon me, saw me and the Krooman sneaking away, but she only grinned and put her finger to her lips, childishly thinking us upon a mere lark, I suppose. We made our way to the Great Dismal Swamp and joined some other escaped slaves,cimarroons, who were living there. It was nearly as damn'dismalas slavery, that swamp, so I took off for New Amsterdam. The few glimpses I'd gotten of the ocean on the slave-ship had intrigued me, so I signed on as a sailor. After a couple of voyages before-the-mast, I met Bulbous Bill Bucephalus in a tavern in New Orleans, he was sailing with Jean Lafitte back then, and I became a pirate. So here I am.” “That is an extraordinary tale, Peter,” said Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges, “I understand better your detestation of the slave-owners of Virginny. A little suit of pink silk! That is almost satanic in its cruelty!”Blue Peter threw an apple core at him, and they both laughed, then lay against the trees in silence for a while, gazing at the sea and sipping their glasses of beer. “It has been truly excellent to sprawl here, eating, drinking and yarning with you on my banyan day,” said the Captain at last, “but I fear I must now darken the occasion with serious talk. As the Bard wrote ‘I now unclasp a secret book, and, to your quick-conceiving discontent, read you matter deep and dangerous', and it is indeed deep and dangerous, what I have to say, so harken to me now!” And Blue Peter turned to him, and listened.CHAPTER THE FIFTH,or The Captain Unclasps a Secret.Before I start my grim tale I must explain a couple of things,” said Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges, “or you will be confused.”He scratched his belly and drank some beer.“In your readings, Peter, you may have heard of the theory of Nicolaus Copernicus.”“From his bookDe revolutionibus orbium coelestium, or ‘On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres',” said Blue Peter, “in which he coyly suggested that the Earth was not the centre of the Universe.”
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“Indeed, and he was right, and that cove Newton, whom I saw at Cambridge but never spoke to, put the whole thing square by identifying gravity - the force that makes the apple fall and the cannonball curve in its flight - with the force which holds the moons and planets on their courses,” said the Captain. “Furthermore, you may have heard of the ideas of the Italian monk Giordano Bruno.”“I was thinking of him only this morning, and how I was not unduly surprised that the Congregation of the Holy Office of the Inquisition tied him to a stake and burned him, by way of a critical appraisal of his work.”“He was right,” said the Captain.“What? That the stars of the welkin are suns alike to our own sun?”“Yes.”“And that planets may orbit them as our Earth orbits the sun?”“Yes.”“And that creatures may inhabit those distant planets?”“Yes.”“And that those creatures may be intelligent aware beings, such as we are?”“Yes.”“Ay caramba!Be you serious? You seem very certain, how can you be sure of that?”“Because, Peter, I have met some of them,” said Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges.Blue Peter was silent for some time, then he drained his glass of beer in one long swallow. The Captain stood up and looked in the sailcloth bucket.“The last two beers,” he said, handing Blue Peter a bottle. He settled his back against the tree-trunk again. “Now you are thinking that I am bereft of my wits, or else engaged in some kind of egregious spoof, or leg-pull. I am neither insane nor jesting, I assure you. You can see why I have kept this to myself for nearly a year.”Blue Peter poured his beer, a thoughtful expression on his face.“Pray continue, Sylvestre. I shall reserve judgement for the meantime, although this tale is becoming a little rich to easily swallow.”“When I rowed around the point into Nombre Dios Bay a year ago, dressed all in black, with my face blackened, in a black boat with muffled oars, I believed myself invisible. I was not. As far as those extramundane creatures were concerned I might just as well have been in a Venetian carnival-gondola, strung with coloured paper lanterns, playing a bugle. They have a device to see in the dark. It sees heat instead of light, and our bodies are always warm. So they caught me, Peter, and I was enslaved.“Thebrujowho spoke to Bill's pal spoke the truth; it was not the Spanish plate fleet, but the Martian saucer fleet. The extramundanes have ships which sail the empty voids between the stars as we sail our ships upon the oceans. They are called ‘saucers' because they resemble a saucer if seen from below as they fly by in the air. They do not come from Mars - which is a bleak cold lifeless place of nothing but empty deserts, the air too thin to breathe - but they do use it as a base, as we use the island of Recailles. Thus the Martian saucer fleet.”“What do they look like, these extramundane creatures?” said Blue Peter slowly.“I did not clap eyes upon the Glaroon at all - it was he who had captured me - He cannot breathe our air, and so resides mostly in a sealed chamber filled with the noxious air of his own home-world. His minions serve him and do his bidding, some human slaves such as I became, some extramundanes of various sorts, some of them slaves, too. One sort are small grey men with slanting black eyes. Another kind is alike to a toad-man, and very strong but not very clever. Another is alike to a lizard with six limbs; the front two being arms, the rearmost legs and the middle two somewhat in between. They are excellent mechanics, those lizard things, as they can work on an engine with four hands, sitting back on their rear legs and their tail. Their speech sounds like the chirm of birdsong, but some of them can mimic our tongues well enough to converse. They are congenial company, too,unlike the little grey buggers, who are so dreich that they could make a conventicle of Methodies seem like a beano in a bawdy-house.”“Congenial company,Sylvestre? Six-legged lizardscongenial company? You stretch my credulity too far!”“I only speak the truth. They are fond of an alcoholic drink, particularly beer; as spirits are too strong for their heads, unless watered. They enjoy a good yarn, well-told. They like to dance and cavort, although their music sounds strange to our ears. They do love a game of cards and are great gamblers. And great cheats, too! With four arms it is almost too easy for them to finesse a deck, d'you see? Actually, they are more alike to chameleons. They cannot change colour - they are a shade of greeny-blue - but they have those woogly eyes that can point in different directions, if you know what I mean.”The Captain demonstrated ‘woogly eyes' by putting fingers in front of his eyes and waggling them around. Blue Peter got to his feet, walked slowly down to the beach, then ran up and down on the sand, shouting ‘arrgh!' occasionally. He walked back to the knoll and sat down again against the tree.“There is no more beer,” said the Captain, “but here is rum.” He poured a large shot into Blue Peter's glass. Blue Peter took a swallow, and grimaced.“Captain, if the green of your beard did not tell mesomethingstrange had happened to you,” he said, “I would have already shot you for trying to gull me with such a ludicrous account. I shall call you ‘Captain' now as your banyan day must be over; if you have gone mad that is serious; if you speak truly that is surely even worse. Pray continue, but perhaps tell me how it is that you were away from the barky for three hours, yet seem to have been away for much longer, having had the time to socialise with six-legged reptiles?”“Well, I said that I must explain acoupleof things, but I got distracted,” said the Captain. “The second thing is that time and distance are the same. Some extramundanes, such as the Glaroon, have found the way to travel in the void, in space, but that means also travelling in time, so they have mastered travel both in distanceandtime. Fromyourpoint of view I was away for three hours, but frommypoint of view I was away for about three years. Don't ask me to explain it, as it is not yet completely clear to me, but it has to do with the speed of light not being infinite. It is very quick, but not instantaneous, and that has consequences, apparently. Time is often a fractured mirror, reflecting a bizarre image of reality.”Blue Peter emptied his glass in a single gulp, and refilled it from the rum-bottle.“Now please explain about your beard, Captain,” he said, “and how it was made green.”“It isn't my beard, is how,” said the Captain. “Each filament of it is an extramundane creature, especially bred to replace the hairs of my beard. They draw sustenance from my body, and I can feel them as though they are strange nerves. The Glaroon had them put on me, as I was his butler. They are sensitive to certain emanations, and so could be used to call me, or to tell me things over a distance.”“I find that very disturbing. Does it hurt?”“No. It was agony when they were growing into my face, replacing the hairs at their roots, but they don't hurt now. In fact, I am rather fond of them ... or It. I could not have escaped without the Beard. It talked to the library of the Glaroon's mansion on Mars, so to speak, and I was able to learn enough about saucers to navigate my way back through space and time to Nombre Dios Bay. The sun is setting. We must go back to the barky soon enough. Ask the question which is on your lips.”“The question on the lips of every crewman aboard theArk de Triomphe,” said Blue Peter, “and the one asked in the awful poem; ‘whether anybody knew where he had buried his pelf '.”“Nowhere,” said the Captain, “and yet everywhere. As the treasure came in I converted it tofinancial instruments- banker's draughts, letters of credit, stocks and shares - as fast as I ever could. You may remember that many of the prize cargoes were goods anyway - flour, wine, whale oil, saltpetre, mercury in greased goatskin bags, even a cargo of porcelain plates! - Eddie Teach would have insisted on payment in gold, if he could even be bothered to take and sell such merchandise, and would have taken a discount for so doing. I traded them instead for shares in cargoes-in-transit and the like until I could get the money safely berthed in a bank, or rather in several banks in several countries. I don't like the idea of burying a chest of gold on an island. It seems a little foolish, especially when one can get two-and-a-half percent at Coutts and the stock-market is booming. Don't tell the Free Brotherhood of the Coasts that I said that, mind you!”“What are you going to do with the money?” Blue Peter said, pouring the lastof the rum into his glass.“The influential extramundanes are a mixed bunch, much like your Colonials, I suppose, Peter. There was one, Great Cthulhu, who is the ugliest bugger I ever did see. Alike to a big scaly daemon with the head of a squid, he is. Tentacles waving about like the Medusa's snakey hair. He was a half-decent old cove in some ways, though. Lent me a book by some mad old Arab,Abdul alsomething-or-other. I have a great dislike of the Glaroon, though, and a grudge, too. I was the Glaroon's butler, which was bearable for the most part, but slave-owners are all alike, d'you see? whether they be Colonials or extramundanes. When the Glaroon had parties, he'd put me out the front to greet the guests - ‘Hello, sir! and welcome to the mansion of the Glaroon!' - dressed in alittle blue sailor suit, and I intend to have my revenge for upon him that!“I have spent much of the treasure on my plan to avenge myself, but there is plenty left. I have set up a pension fund for the crew, but don't tell anybody yet.”Captain Greybagges stood up, stretched, and started packing the picnic things.“It is in my mind to tell the crew about the money soon, at a share-out meeting. I think they will be pleased with the arrangements that I have made - if I can get the wooden-headed sods to understand what I have done for them - and will consequently be easily enthused by my plan to punish the Glaroon, about which they need to know nothing just yet, not even that there is a plan. If my plan succeeds there will be more loot, more pelf, more boodle, moretreasurethan even Croesus himself ever dreamed of. Enough to make Morgan's raid on Panama seem mere apple-scrumping. I'll have to tell Izzie and Bill something of this business, too, but I think that must be slowly, as we go, lest they become ... unsettled. I welcome your advice on that; on what, how and how much to tell them and when, but sleep on it first, it's a lot for you to comprehend. Come on, let's go!”Blue Peter was silent as they loaded the skiff and pushed it into the sea, small waves lapping around their bare feet.“I'm sorry I've been obliged to tell you all this, Peter - ignorance is bliss, indeed! - but I need your help with this, yourinvolvedhelp. And who else could I tell first? I nearly told Bill once or twice, for the navigating has given him a fine head for the arithmetic and the geometry, so the time-and-space stuff might be easierfor him. Izzie? He is my oldest shipmate, and before that my articled clerk when I was in chambers, but any notion of six-legged reptiles would drive him straight to the bottom of the nearest rum-bottle. You are the cleverest of us four, Peter, so it had to be you.”The Captain pulled the oars. Blue Peter remained silent for a while. The sun was setting against a mauve sky, its orange light dappling the ocean like a fiery path to the horizon.“Captain,” he said at last, “what are these lizard-creatures called?”“Why, we called them ‘lizards', or ‘the lizard people', Peter.”“Do they have a name for themselves?”“I'm sure they do, but I don't know it. Anyway, I can't do bird impressions.”  They clambered up the side of theArk de Triomphein the quick-growing dark. The pirate crew had lit lanterns, casting yellow pools of light in the purple twilight. Some of the pirates were sprawled on the deck, or sitting on bollards or guns, eating their supper. They muttered ‘good evenings' to the Captain and Blue Peter, intent on their beef-stew, bread and beer.“Arr!Bon appetit, shipmates, wi' a curse!” answered the Captain.The rest of the crew would be below, eating their meals between the cannons in the gundeck messes, on boards hung from the deckheads on ropes. When the wooden bowls were scraped clean with hunks of bread and cleared away greasy packs of cards would appear, and draughts-boards made of canvas squares, and sly rum-flasks would pass from hand to hand. Captain Greybagges could smell the aroma of the stew, the smoke from the cook's charcoal oven, tar, sweat, sawn timber; the frigate's reassuring fragrance. He turned to Blue Peter.“A toddy, Master Gunner?”“No, Captain. I find that I am weary, and you've given me much to think about. I shall go to my cottage.”“I shall set sail tomorrow, on the afternoon tide. We shall be away from Recailles for some months, so make arrangements for your horse. Good night, Peter.” The Captain went down below to the Great Cabin in the stern.Blue Peter Ceteshwayoo rode the old Percheron mare up the winding road away from Porte de Recailles, the sky now inky-blue above him, the moon yet torise. The horse seemed to know its way in the dark, so Blue Peter let it plod, and mused as he rocked gently on its back, looking up at the bright stars. There is Venus, he thought. Are there strange creatures dwelling upon it? Or upon Orion's belt? All this is madness! Yet there is the indisputable fact of the Captain's green beard. His account is not without points of reference, either. There are tales of fellows spirited away to the Land of Faerie, returning years later, no older. There are tales of men and women aging overnight; one day young and hale, the next morning ancient, sere and white-haired, and sometimes babbling. The myths of the Greeks, also, full of monsters, ‘tentacles waving about like the Medusa's snakes', as the Captain himself had said. Legends of flying chariots, too, and all kinds of supposedly-mythical beasts; daemons, hobgoblins, ogres, kobolds, fetches, lemures, dragons, wyverns, basilisks, yales, golems, bunyips and bugaboos ... The Captain's teratological narrative provided a possible basis for these fables, an exegesis of their provenance, at least...
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The old horse, sensing Blue Peter's unease, skittered sideways a trifle. Blue Peter muttered soothingly and patted its neck.His account squares with the things he muttered whilst comatose during the flight of theArk de Triomphefrom Nombre Dios Bay, thought Blue Peter, but that is no confirmation. If his wits were addled from his experience, as they undoubtedly were, then he may have entered a state of delusion, or fugue, and his memories would be false, experienced as in a dream yet recalled as though real ... I am a pirate, thought Blue Peter, yet I cannot find a curse-word strong enough to express my frustration and dismay with this. My instincts are at odds with my reason. Still worse, my reason is at odds with my reason, and my instincts at war with my instincts. He rode on up the hill in the darkness, towards his cottage, deep in thought, the bright stars twinkling above him. Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges sat at his desk in the Great Cabin, an oil lamp spilling yellow light onto his ledgers and account-books. The abacus wentclick-clackand his goose-quill pen wentscritch-scratchas he worked, a tankard of hot punch and a dish of sweet biscuits at his elbow. When he had finished the accounting and the letter-writing that he had interrupted earlier that day he closed the books and locked them away, rubbed his face with his hands, drained the tankard, changed into a black nightshirt and nightcap and went to bed in thehanging bunk, falling instantly into a deep and dreamless sleep. Blue Peter's slumbers were racked by nightmares. A six-legged reptile with chameleon eyes cheated him at cards. A daemon with the head of a squid danced a quadrille with the Medusa. Saucers, cups, teapots, plates, chafing-dishes, tureens and porringers whizzed around his head, trailing sparks like thrown grenadoes. In the quiet of the small cottage he twisted and turned, sweating and moaning, the woven ropes of his charpoy-bed creaking.He awoke late the following morning, the sun already high, feeling surprisingly clear-headed. He put sticks on the banked-in fire in the kitchen stove, blew on it carefully, and added charcoal when it sputtered back into flame. He filled a copper kettle from the well in the yard, set it upon the stove, then drew another bucket of cold water and washed, shaving with a Spanish blued-steel razor, a small mirror of polished silver placed upon the well-hoist. The kettle whistled in the cottage kitchen and he made coffee, setting the pot on the side of the stove to brew as he dressed. To his very slight surprise, he found that he had dressed himself for battle; loose red cotton shirt, brown moleskin breeches, a green coat with japanned buttons, a sash of multicoloured silk, grey hose and comfortable well-worn buckled shoes with hob-nailed soles. He found that his decision was made; whatever scheme Captain Greybagges was planning he must support it. If the Captain was right, then he would need all the help he could get, but if the Captain was deluded then only as a confederate, as a close confidante and as a friend would he be able to prevent disaster for the Captain, for himself and for the ship and crew. His way lay clear before him, if not exactly obstacle-free. He drank a mug of coffee, then slid the cutlass with the knuckle-duster grip into his sash, and then the cannon-barrelled horse-pistol and the elegant Kentucky pistol. He packed his things into a rectangular wooden sea-chest and a canvas sack, tied them together with rope and slung them over the horse's hind-quarters. He shuttered and locked the cottage and hid the key in the outhouse, clapped a brown tricorne hat on his head and mounted the old Percheron mare, using the stone horse-trough as a step, and rode away from his cottage without a backward glance.At a neighbour's farm he stopped and, after a little negotiation and the passing of a silver thaler, obtained an agreement that a weather-eye would be kept upon his cottage and that the Percheron mare would be collected from the yard ofYe Halfe-Cannonballetavern and looked after until his return. Blue Peter considered his neighbour a shifty fellow, but reckoned that the generous payment, his size, his profession and a second or so of eye-contact accompanied by a grin of his filed teeth would be sufficient to prevent curiosity about the contents of his dwelling-place or mistreatment of his horse, unless it became apparent that he would not be returning.  “Ay-oop! The Blue Boy cometh!” said Jemmy Ducks, “and he has girded himself for war!” He swung himself from the mainmast top onto the rat-lines by the futtock-shrouds. His friend Jack Nastyface followed through the lubber-hole.“War? What?” he said, as they clambered down.“He be wearing the old green coat,” said Jemmy Ducks.“Now you are an authority on gentlemen's attire,” said Jack Nastyface. “Why are you yourself such a ragamuffin, then?”“Green coat he wears so's he don't get powder-burns on his finery,” explained Jemmy Ducks, patiently, “thou mutt. ‘Tis on the cards that we be sailin' on t'afternoon ebb.”They reached the deck and went below as Blue Peter strode up the gangplank.“Now, listen, shipmates!” said Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges in a strong clear voice.The pirate crew of theArk de Triomphewere assembled in the waist of the frigate, or seated on the convenient lower yard of the mainmast. Captain Greybagges paced the quarterdeck, dressed in his full pirate-captain's rig; black tricorne hat upon a black scarf, blackjustaucorpscoat with jet buttons and turned-back cuffs, black breeches, black sea-boots and a thick black leather belt with an assortment of weapons thrust into it. His long grass-green beard was resplendent in the rays of the low sun.“You may be a-wonderin' why I have dropped anchor here, we havin' only just sailed from port two hours since,” the Captain said, “but this anchorage do seem to me to be a fine spot, har-har! It be sheltered. It be quiet. It be a fine spot for a share-out meeting, be it not, shipmates?”A ripple of interest stirred the buccaneers. Conversations stopped. Jack Nastyface desisted from poking Jemmy Ducks in the ribs. Jemmy Ducks ceased kicking Jack Nastyface in the shins. The cook's head emerged from the starboard companionway, where he could hear and yet watch his pots.“The rules for a share-out according to the Free Brotherhood of the Coasts sez that it must be in gold, silver, coinage or articles o' rare worth, an' nought else besides,” bellowed the Captain, “an' also that oppurtoonity -reasonableoppurtoonity - be allowed for the crew to bury their shares on a island or upon a remote shore. I am not going to abide by them rules, curse ‘em!”A rumble of discontent came from the crew. Oaths were muttered.“You old robber! Trying to do us up very brown!” came a voice from the back of the crew.“'Pon my soul, Jack Nastyface, I shall dothyselfup browner than a Manx kipper iffen thou wilst not shut up! Now listen to me, shipmates!” The Captain pounded on the quarterdeck rail with his fist. “This will not be a share-out under the damn' rules, but a share-out it still will be! Listen to me, and you may find yourselves damn' pleased with your portions! Firstly, damn' yez, you mustlistento how I have arranged things. Iffen itbain'tbe to your likings, then you may scrag me and feed me to the sharks, an' damn' yez all to hell! Wi' a wannion! But firstly yez-all mustlisten!”He is mad, thought Blue Peter, standing behind Captain Greybagges on the quarterdeck. The crew had not actually been grumbling, as they had already gotten some of the treasure, at least. Now he offers them more, and then takes it away again. Is he stark mad? He stole a glance at Bulbous Bill Bucephalus, who looked impassive. The crew of angry pirates were talking, shouting, jostling. Blue Peter noticed his own gun-crews looking at him, not at the Captain. I must look fully confident, he thought, they must not think that I am not with him in this. He squared his massive shoulders, smiled a small confident smile and fixed his gaze on the Captain's lips. He found that he could not understand what the Captain was saying. The effort of seeming serene set off his own doubts about the Captain, andhis inner conflict prevented him from following a single word. You chose your path this morning, he thought, and now your resolution is tested. The hubbub amongst the crew lessened slightly, and Blue Peter caught a snatch of the Captain's speech:“... the Stock Market bain't be any wise differing from a fish market, which you all do know of. Shut up andlisten, you cursed lubbers! The one be sellin' shares in ventures an' the other be sellin' fish, but they be the same in theirprinciples, look'ee! The price o' fish depends upon the supply an' the supply o' fish depends upon the price, d'yez see? Not many fish, up goes the cost o' a fish supper, har-har! Iffen the price o' fish is high, then more cobles, smacks and busses goes to sea and more fish be caught, an' the price do come down. Shutup, yez scurvy dogs! Fish be a commodity, d'yez see? ‘Tis the same with shares in ventures, ‘cept yez cannot see, smell or touch what yez be buying or selling. O' course, that may seem addled ‘til I tells yez that ... “The crew of furacious matelots were becoming less restive, and hanging onto the Captain's words. Blue Peter felt a slight sense of reprieve. The pirates were no longer jostling and calling out. They were listening, some with expressions of knot-browed concentration and open mouths, it was true, but listening nevertheless. The Captain was still talking:“... coz I was buying into cargoes-in-transit, d'yez see, I was bettin' on a race that was already run! I am a captain o' buccaneers, so's I knows which cargoes were most likely to get safe to port! So's I was gamblin' the loot, surely enough, but gamblin' with loaded dice! Any of yez think perhaps that I should not have done such a terriblewickedthing? Har-har! I did not think yez would! And that's not all, shipmates ...”The crew were paying attention now, and Captain Greybagges shouted down the companionway:“Bring it up, Chips!”The ship's carpenter, Jesus-is-my-saviour Chippendale, and the First Mate, Israel Feet, carried an easel and a chalkboard up onto the quarterdeck and set it by the Captain.“I must be yez schoolmaster! Apedagogue! Har-har! My old black hat shall be my mortar-board, ‘pon my soul! Now listen yez to where I hid the treasure, har-har! Yez'll have heard o' banks, shipmates, but here's a few notions about banks that may not have struck yez, look'ee ...”The Captain spoke on, scrawling diagrams on the chalkboard, tapping them with the chalk to emphasize this or that. The crew were now looking slightly stunned. He is talking for his life, Blue Peter thought, if they think he is doing them down theywillfeed him to the sharks. Why is he risking that? He could have kept them quiet with an occasional handful ofmoidoresorcolumnarios, and a few vague promises. That is what Morgan or Teach would have done. Indeed, it is accepted that captains of buccaneers are venal and slippery, that's why they have the crew's respect ... The Captain was scribbling on the chalkboard again:“Har!Fungible! I do loves that word, shipmates!” he tapped the chalk on the board, “for, d'yez sees,fungiblemeanstransferrable, and that do mean that it can go anywhere, like the angel of the Lord that girdled the Earth, hah-har! Consider the fish-market. Iffen yez has a ton o' fish here, then it be the same as a ton o' fish there, providin' all else be equal, so yez don't needs to send a ton of fish if yer can transfer ownership, and then it befungible, d'ye see? Iffen the one ton of fishtherewere old and stinky, then it would not befungible, would it? Not being the same for purposes o' trade, d'yez sees? That be the problem with fish, o' course, it do stink arter a few short days, then it be notfungible, it beolfactible, har-har-har! But there be things that do not stink arter a few short days. ‘Like what?' sez ye. I could say iron, but then iron do rust, not in days, mebbe, but surely with years. Copper? Copper do not rust, so it do stayfungible, but it ain't worth a vast amount. Now yez sees where I be headed! Gold! Gold be the mostfungibleof all things. Iffen yer takes an ounce o' gold and puts it in a bank, then yez goes back later an' takes it out again it do not matter if it is not the same ounce of gold, only if it be the same weight and the same fineness, and yez can test gold easily with yer teeth, as yez all knows, or on a touchstone. Ah! Gold! Yez all loves gold, but yez forgets that it isfungible, so yez do! A chest o' gold buried on a distant isle has not lost itsvalue, but it has lost itsfungibilityas ye cannot spend it. The only way to return the fungibility is to have atreasure map- har-har-har, that perked summa yez up! - but that be just a piece o' paper, an' who knows iffen it tells the truth? A note upon a bank, d'yez see, to bepaidin gold, is better than a treasure map. It still be a piece o' paper, but the gold is more likely to be real. And the chest is not buried on an island, no, shipmates, it is as though that chest o' gold was buried right under yer feet and followed yez around, always right under yer feet,fungibled'ye see? Nice and handy when yer needs it, but nicely out of sight when yez do not.”
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Blue Peter observed that roughly one third of the crew were intent upon the Captain's words, brows furrowed. Another third were paying attention, but looked a little bewildered. The final third seemed to be in a waking coma, their mouths open, their eyes wandering.“So when I gives each o' yez a letter such as this,” Captain Greybagges held up a square of paper, “yez must regard it as a treasure map! And it is a treasure map, for it will take yez to the offices o' the Bank o' International Export - my bank,yourbank,ourbank, which we allowns- where yez will find two hundred and fifty golden guineas held there in yer very own personal account. Yer very own little treasure chest under yer very own feet at all times. Now what does yez think of that?”There was a rumble of approval from the crew. Alowrumble ofqualifiedapproval, but nevertheless a rumble.“Now iffen yez is daft when ye does that, yer will draw out the whole nut and get robbed in the first tavern or bawdy-house that yer sees, and my wise words to yez this day will have been wasted. If yez is smart yer will take out enough for a shant and some fun, enough to buy yer missus or yer tart a new dress, enough to put shoes on yer sister's weans, even, but leave the rest under yer feet for the next day, an' the day arter that. That'd be the sharp way, shipmates.”The Captain folded his arms and beamed at them for a few seconds.“Now, shipmates, I'll be giving yez these papers in the Port o' London, and any of yuz that wishes to shake hands and bid goodbye to the buccaneering life may do so then, an' I will buys yer a drink afore yer goes an' no hard feelin's. Some of yez will wish to sign up for another cruise, an' yer may do that, too, but until then we are finished with freebooting. From now on we are a innocent Dutch armed merchantman, so's we can travelincognito, and we will disguise the good oldArk de Triomphetomorrow, whilst in this pleasant anchorage. Then we shall leave, firstly for the port o' Gabes, and then on to London. Now gets yer rations and fills yer bellies, for yez will have heard enough o' my yammerin's, and there is hard work to do on the morrow!”  “Well, they took that better than I thought they would,” said Blue Peter quietly. He, Bulbous Bill Bucephalus and Israel Feet were sitting in the wardroom,eating ham-and-egg pie and drinking small beer.“T'were a fine speech, it were,” said Bulbous Bill in his high squeaky voice. “When Cap'n spoke a' compound interest an' leveraging - why! - I ain't never reely thought-a it like that afore, I have'nt. It do make a person ponder...”“Yer can rip out me liver iffen I follered even the one word, dammee, yer can,” said Israel Hands, munching on pie, crumbs spraying. “The Cap'n do speechify nice as kiss-yer-hand, mind yez, and damn me for a lubber, else! An' two hunnert an' fifty guineas be even nicer, har-har!”“If yer'd bin a-listening,” said Bill, “then yer'd know yer be gettin' eight shares. That be twofahsandguineas. Same as me an' Peter, you bein' First Mate, an' all.”The First Mate continued chewing for a second, then his face went red and he choked. Blue Peter reached across and slapped him on the back. His huge hand nearly knocked the scrawny First Mate from his chair, and lumps of pork, egg and pastry were expelled from his mouth like buckshot. Blue Peter went to to slap Israel Feet on the back once more, but he raised his hand and shook his head, coughing and spluttering, his thin face red. He recovered somewhat and took a drink of ale.“Two thousand guineas!” he whispered, the piratical slang leached from his language by sheer surprise, leaving a soft Dorset accent. “Why, that be enough to buy a baronetcy!” He continued coughing.“Ho-ho! Or a bishop's mitre, belike to ole Lance, eh? D'yuz recall the cully? Archbishop o' York he now be, don't ‘ee,” chuckled Bulbous Bill, his chins and jowls wobbling.“You jest!” spluttered Israel Feet.“No, Izzie, he speaks the truth, perhaps,” rumbled Blue Peter, smiling. “Lancelot Blackburne - thevery reverendLancelot Blackburne - was the chaplain to a small fleet of privateering ships in the Caribbean, and some say that he himself turned pirate in a discreet way, but I don't know the truth of that. He is, however, presently the Archbishop of York, and there is talk that he bought his mitre from debonair King Charles with looted gold. We met him once or twice down in Jamaica. He can be pleasant company, but he has a wicked sharp tongue when he is in drink. He is a learned cove, too. Fond of quoting Waller.”Blue Peter took a draught of ale to clear his throat, and declaimed:“Such game, while yet the world was new,The mighty Nimrod did pursue;What huntsman of our feeble raceOr dogs dare such a monster chase?”The last lines reminded Blue Peter of the Captain's tale. He is chasing a monster, he thought, one way or another. Is he sufficiently a mighty Nimrod, though? Another thought struck him; if he is mad, then he is mad like a fox. He bored the crew into acquiescence, and I believe he meant to. He dared them to mutiny, then he stunned them with words, then he gave them a bag of gold, and a bag of gold dependent upon his goodwill, at that. The cleverer members of the crew will be too busy trying to explain the meanings ofnegotiable instrumentandassignatto the slower crewmen to stir up any discontent. That is what they are doing right now, I am sure.“Two thousand guineas! Archbishop o' York, wi' a curse!” muttered Israel Feet, becoming piratical again as he mastered his surprise.“I got summat that might be just the thing for a night-cap,” said Bill, getting up from his settle. While he was away from the wardroom Blue Peter and Israel Feet sat in silence, thinking of two thousand guineas. From the galley came the sound of voices, Bulbous Bill's squeaky tones among them, then the sound of a slap, and a shriek. Bill returned to the wardroom with a tray.“Cap'n ‘as decreed that all shall get at least a single share, even the young ‘uns. Jack Nastyface were overcome by the thought o' that gold, got so giddy I had to give him a slap,” said Bulbous Bill complacently. “He be alright now, mind.” He passed out porcelain mugs. They drank.“What on earth is this?” said Blue Peter, his eyebrows raised. “I have never tasted the like, yet it is exceedingly good!”“Denzil got it from one o' his indian pals,” said Bill. “Them's little beans. Yer a-roasts ‘em, then yer grinds ‘em to powder, then yer chucks ‘em into boiling water and stirs like buggery. Bit o' sugar. Bit o' cream. It be calledchocolatl, in the indian lingo.”They sipped from their mugs.“This has been a day of wonders, it has, an yer may skewer me with a marlinspike, else!” said the First Mate.TheArk de Triomphecut cleanly through the ocean. The wind was brisk, slightly gusting, on the larboard beam, and the sea was choppy. The frigate was making eight knots on the log, and the sun was shining.“It itches a trifle, is the only thing,” said Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges, pacing the quarter deck.“Even in the bright day it is impossible to tell,” said Blue Peter Ceteshwayoo. “Even where the boot-polish has been rubbed off slightly. The glint of green just looks like a trick of the light.” He examined the captain's newly-brown beard critically. “No, it is very convincing. Fine rig, too!”Captain Greybagges was dressed in the powder-blue uniform of akapitein van schipin the Dutch East India Company, with gold epaulettes and frogging, and a bicorne hat with gilt edging. Blue Peter was wearing the more-sober blue uniform of aluitenant, Bulbous Bill the black-and-tan broadcloth of abootsmanas he stood at the wheel. The crew were in VOCmatrozenpakslops, the red and greywijde jurk en broek.“Where did you obtain such an abundance of apparel?” asked Blue Peter.“From theVereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnieitself,” said the Captain. “Slight seconds and part-worn. Bid on them at auction in Rotterdam, through an agent.”“You speak the language well. I have no Dutch myself.”“I was a year in Den Haag as a lawyer. The Dutch are the great masters of the law. The French think that they are, but they are just Creation's greatest wranglers, which is why they have so many skilled in the arithmetic, the geometry and the algebra. The Dutch realise that the law is the work of men, and so can be challenged and altered, which is how the theRepubliek der Zeven Verenigde Provinciën- the United Provinces - can function perfectly well without a king. The French havele Roi Soleil, who believes that he is king by the grace of God, so there the law is perceived as an illuminating light shining from Louis' bumhole. If anybody challenges the law in France then soldiers are billeted upon them until they recant of their heresy, such a punishment is called adragonnade.”“Because it is alike to having a dragon in one's house, I presume?”“It may well be, but it is so-named because the soldiers are dragoons.”“They are indeed a rough bunch of fellows, by reputation.”“They are. Louis is not worried about the peasants rebelling - they are too starved to fight - nor the aristocrats - they are too few - but the middle people, thebourgeois, could be trouble, the merchants, artisans, tradespeople. If he billeted the common soldiery on such a fellow that would be seen as terrible, and the aristos might think ‘will it next be us?'. If he billeted cavalry they would not gleefully hump the fellow's wife and daughters, having a dozen mistresses already, and they would not drink his cellar dry because it would not contain a single bottle of vintageMontrachet, probably they would instead contract the fellow to make them a suite of dining-room furniture. So it is the dragoons he sends; the townspeople can pretend they are civilised like the cavalry, and turn their faces away, yet they behave as cruelly as reivers.”“Stupid men will often believe that their spite is cleverness,” said Blue Peter.“Louis is indeed a stupid man. Soon his idiot's pride will bring all Europe to war.”They stood against the taffrail in silence for a while, watching the sails snap and vibrate in the wind, and the red-and-grey-clad foremast jacks in the rigging trimming them.“Tell me, Captain,” said Blue Peter, “when did you buy the Dutch clothes?”“Oh, about four months ago,” said Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges, smiling. Insane, deluded, or not, thought Blue Peter, his plan has been deeply laid. Where is he taking us, on his monster-chase?CHAPTER THE SIXTH,or A Close Shave.As we are a-pretendin' to be nice peaceable Dutch persons,” bellowed Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges, “it behooves yuz to learn yerselves a few words o' the lingo.” He tapped the blackboard. “First word, o' course, be ‘please', because we are polite Dutch persons, and that word isalstublieft, which is short forals het U belieft, meanin' ‘if it you pleases ‘. Now you say it ...alstublieft.”The crew, assembled in the waist and in the rigging, mumbled ‘alstublieft' as best they could. There was little wind, and the sails hung, flapping occasionally when a stray cat's-paw of breeze caught them.“Pay attention, shipmates,” bellowed the Captain. “We are in the Gulf of Gabes, an' so we are in the waters o' the corsairs of Barbary, who are a parcel o' nasty buggers, and no mistake. Pirates they may be - and indeed they pays fees to use the ports o' the Spanish main - but they arenotmembers o' the Free Brotherhood o' the Coasts, curse ‘em, and they would surely take us prize as soon as look at us. Iffen they did that they would sell us all at the slave-market and we'd spend the rest o' our miserable lives pulling the oar of a galley.”The Captain paused for breath, and to run his cold grey eyes over the faces of the buccaneers.“However, I knows that the admiral o' the Algerine fleet, Suleyman Reis, is actually a Dutchman, name of Salomo de Veenboer!”There was a mutter of surprise from the crew.“Strange, ain't it, mateys?” said the Captain, “but it be true. He was taken into slavery himself, but worked his way up through cunning and brutality, an' now he's thedonanma komutani, which is to say admiral o' the fleet. He has recently squeezed the Dutch East India Company into givin' him much gold to let their ships be, an' some say he do yearn to go home, to the country o' his birth, and wishes to be seen in a favourable light, and so we be pretendin' to be Hollanders to take advantage o' his present benevolence to them. All this'll be for naught if yuz cannot learn yerselves a few words o' the lingo. Think o' the galley-oar iffen yuz finds yer minds wandering, and how many times ye has to pull it every day! Now says it again, you lubbers!”
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Alstublieft!” roared the crew.“The next word is ‘thankyou', or ‘thank'ee', which isdank U welorbedankt...” This notion of the Captain's to bludgeon the crew into obedience with words works wondrously well, thought Blue Peter Ceshwayoo, but I pray that he does not over-use it. If he ever intends to give them lectures in the appreciation of water-colours I shall try and stop him. The sun was hot on his neck, and the still air oppressive, the sky a blue bowl from horizon to horizon. The Captain was still bellowing.“ ... the Dutch for ‘no' isnee, orneenin some parts. ‘Yes' isja. After me ...” There was a shout from the mainmast top. Blue Peter was jerked from a reverie about a plump Dutch lady he had once seen in a painting. The look-out at the main-top was pointing.“Lesson over!” roared the Captain. “Doanyof yuz lubbers speak any Dutch at all?” A few hands went up. “Yer must stay on deck, then. Enough crew in the rigging to trim sail iffen the wind stiffens, the rest o' yuz below. Cutlasses and guns ready. Cannon loaded and primed, but not run out. And be as quiet as little mice below, d'yuz hear me? As quiet as little mice!”“Do you intend adopting Lord Mondegreen's stratagem of concealing the crew below decks?” said Blue Peter.“Well, I do have the advantage thatmycrew will come up when I call them,” said the Captain, “but I would rather convince any corsairs that we are a Dutch ship, and so not their prey. Peter, go and attend to your guns, then come back on deck. Your great size and fine uniform may impress them if we parley.”“I have no Dutch, Captain.”“Well then, look shy and mumble. I must go up and see for myself.” The Captain strode from the quarterdeck and jumped up onto the ratlines. Blue Peter was briefly obstructed by the ship's carpenter wrestling the blackboard and easel down the companionway before he could get to the gundeck. The gun-crews were already loading and ramming the cannons, the gun-locks were out of their wooden boxes and fixed to the touch-holes, while the rest of the crew armed themselves in silence broken only by muttered curses and the clink of metal.When Blue Peter returned on deck Captain Greybagges was climbing down from the shrouds.“It is Algerines, blast ‘em. A galley. With no wind we cannot even bring the guns to bear. If I launch a longboat to swing her round, then we don't look much like a peaceable Dutch ship that has its protection paid for. I shall have to brazen it out, Peter, unless a wind comes.”No wind came, and the galley came closer, until Blue Peter could see the massed corsairs on its deck and the glint of the bright sun on their scimitars and breastplates. The oars of the galley moved as one, like the wings of a bird, as it manoevred to approach the frigate from the prow, out of the line of fire of her broadside guns. There is something odd about those Algerines, thought Blue Peter, but I cannot place what it is exactly.When the galley bumped gently into the becalmed frigate, its low rakish silhouette sliding easily under the bowsprit, corsairs clambered over the forepeak rail and flooded onto the ship. Captain Greybagges, Blue Peter and Bulbous Bill stood on the quarterdeck. An enormous corsair bearing a hugetulwarand a ferocious grin led the boarding-party up the steps to the quarterdeck and stood before them. They have no beards, thought Blue Peter, that is what is odd. They have turbans, curved scimitars and baggy pants, but they are all clean-shaven.“Goed middag, heeren! Hoe ik u kan helpen?” said Captain Greybagges affably.“Spraak-je ‘Scheveningen!'” commanded the huge corsair, waving histulwarmenacingly.“Wat?Scheveningen! Potverdomme! Bent-jou gek?” said the Captain, with surprise.“Hie zijn en Engelsman!” said a voice, and a pale blue-eyed man stepped from behind the huge corsair.“Hah! A cursed Englishman!” roared the corsair, waggling thetulwar. “Dank U wel, Jan!”“Ik bent en Nederlander, zeker!” protested the Captain.“Hah! Nobody but a true Hollander can pronounce the wordScheveningencorrectly! You are caught, cursed Englishman!” the huge corsair laughed. “Did you think our mighty admiral Suleyman Reis is such a fool? He gives me his own quartermaster,” - the blue-eyed man bowed - “to unmask such pitiful impostures. The Dutch East India Company have paid theirtarifa, but you have not! Nowyouwill pay, ho-ho-ho!”“You speak English remarkably well,” said the Captain.“Hah! You think compliments will make me look upon you more kindly!” sneered the corsair captain. “How little you know! My father had an English slave whom he trusted, and the fellow swore that English schools were the best in the world, and so I was sent up to your cursed Eton College. Five years of hell! Drinking! Brutality! Endless dreary sermons! Foul food! Vile infidel depravities! I have loathed the filthy English ever since. You will find no mercy in me, Englishman!”“Good Lord!” exclaimed the Captain, “I remember you! You were one of the warts who came up to school in my final year! You fagged for Stinky Bodfish!”“Bismallah!I remember you, too ... Greybagges, that is your name ... you clean-bowled the foul cretin Bodfish out for no runs in the House matches, third ball of his first over, middle stump with a wicked slow bouncer! That will not help you! I laughed at the vile Stinky Bodfish when you did that, and he beat me cruelly with a leather slipper, the infidel fiend!”“He was always a bully and a sneak, that Stinky Bodfish,” said the Captain, shaking his head. “Always creeping around and peaching to the beaks.”“But wait!” said the corsair captain, “the Greybagges chap at school had fair yellow hair, and yet you have a brown beard!”“Merely part of the imposture,” said the Captain. He pulled a black handkerchief from his sleeve and rubbed carefully at his long beard. “There, green, can you see? I am not only the Greybagges who took Bodfish's wicket, I am also Greenbeard the pirate.”“Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim!” said the corsair, lowering his hugetulwar, looking at the beard with awe. “This is a sad day! The buccaneering exploits of the fearsome Greenbeard are known even here - even as the name ofAbu Karim Muhammad al-Jamil ibn Nidal ibn Abdulaziz al-Berberiis known in your neck of the woods, I dare say - and that was indeed a wonderful ball you bowled that day! I remember it now! There was so much spin on it that a little puff of dust went out sideways where it bounced and jinked behind foul Stinky's bat ... so I would dearly love to have swopped tales with you over a glass ofserbetor two, but my thirty-nine pirates and I have sworn a solemn oath to be the greatest thieves on land or sea until all infidels are driven from ... from ... well, from just about everywhere, actually. It's that kind of oath, it goes on a bit, you know? Until then we will notgrow our beards, either. We follow the teachings of our mullah, Ali.”The corsairs parted, and a man stepped forward as if summoned by those words. He was small and wiry-looking, and his orange turban was the size of a prize-winning pumpkin. His shaven chin was as brown as mahogany, his nose was a blade like an eagle's beak and his eyes were as mad and yellow as a chicken's.“I am Ali!” he spoke in a light musical voice, red light glinted from the large ruby that he wore on his orange turban. “Too many infidels infest the world! We shall sweep the infidels from the seas, and from the lakes, and from the rivers, and from the ... and from all the rest of the places. Thieving is not thieving if it is from infidels! So we are thieves gladly! We have sworn not to grow beards until the task is done! I, Ali the Barber, have sworn an even mightier oath! I have sworn ...”He brought out an enormous cutthroat razor and opened it. It was as big as a scimitar.“I have sworn that I shall shave every man who does not shave himself! I have sworn a mighty oath that it shall be so! So take your choice, captain of dogs, shall you shave yourself, or shall I, Ali the Barber, shave you?”I have a pistol in my belt, thought Blue Peter, but my coat is buttoned over it. Can I wrench my coat open, ripping off the buttons, and get to the pistol before the big fellow splits me in twain with histulwar? The tension in the hot air seemed suddenly to fizz and crackle. Out of the corner of his eye Blue Peter saw Captain Greybagges's green beard, still with a few patches of brown boot-polish upon it, wave slightly and shiver as though stirred by a breeze. Yet there was no breeze, he thought, and the hairs on the back of his neck lifted.“You should be very careful before making such terrible oaths,” said Captain Greybagges evenly. “Oaths which you cannot possibly keep.”“I shall keep this oath! I have sworn so! Your beard will be shaved one way or another!” hissed Ali the Barber, waving the enormous razor from side to side, glints of light sliding along its honed edge.“That is not what I meant,” said the Captain. “You swore that you would shave the beard of every man who did not shave himself, did you not?”“I did! I, Ali the Barber, swore that! And it shall be so!”“But who shaves you, Ali the Barber?” said the Captain, smiling reasonably.“I shave myself, of course, you infidel fool!”“But your oath, your mighty unbreakable oath, was that you would shaveevery man whodoesn'tshave himself, so how did you shave yourself without breaking the oath?” said the Captain, still smiling reasonably.“I, Ali, ...” The mad yellow eyes under the orange turban crossed slightly in thought. The thirty-nine corsairs and the corsair captain looked at each other in consternation.“That's ... that's nothing but a mere quibble!” shouted Ali at last.“No, it is not,” said the Captain. “You have broken your oath! Your mighty oath is broken and meaningless! You swore that you would shave every man whodid notshave himself, then you shavedyourselfand made your mighty oath into a lie!”“I, Ali, donotshave myself. I get my servant to do it! I forgot that!”“But then,” said the Captain, again smiling reasonably, “youshouldhave shaved yourself, because you swore to shave every man who did not shave himself, did you not?”“I, Ali, ...” the yellow eyes were nowverycrossed in frantic thought.The captain of corsairs was looking down at Ali the Barber appraisingly, his lips pursed and his brow furrowed in thought.“Captain Greybagges would seem to have the right of this,” he said slowly. “Ali, you have misled us, I fear ...”  “Are you sure you would not like a glass of fruit juice, Abu?” asked the Captain. He and the captain of the corsairs were seated comfortably in the Great Cabin, in the shade, by the open stern-windows.“No, Captain Greybagges,” said the big corsair, “a glass of cool beer will be perfect. Anyway, I find I am disillusioned with oaths and pledges just now. Call me Muhammed, if you will.Abuis more of a courtesy title, meaning ‘father'.”“By all means, Muhammed. Please call me Sylvestre. We are no longer up at Eton, thank God, and need not use our sire-names.”There was a high-pitched shriek from the deck above, followed by a rumble of laughter.“What are your men doing to the fellow?” asked the Captain, pouring beer carefully into his tilted glass.“They are shaving his ... hisbody hairwith his own razor,” said the corsair,leaving the last drops of beer in the bottle so as not to disturb the yeast-lees at the bottom. “Mmm, this is good ale! I haven't drunk its like since I left England. Your fellows are watching, and giving encouragement and advice. When they have had their fun I shall find an oar for him to pull. I dislike being made to look a fool.”“Ali the Barber speaks English very well,” said the Captain.“Winchester College,” said the corsair.“A Wykehamist! Why am I not surprised?” said the Captain.“Yes, indeed! As some wise cove once said; ‘You can always tell a Wykehamist, but you can't tell him anything much'.” Muhammed al-Berberi, the captain of corsairs, sipped his beer and smiled the wolfish smile of a Barbary pirate, his teeth white against his sunburned face.  In the gloom of the gundeck Blue Peter was facing a minor mutiny, his gun-crews wished to go on deck and view Ali the Barber's humiliation.“Gun-crews never see anything! It goes with the job, you know that, you lubbers! There's nothing to see through a gun-port except the side of another ship and clouds of smoke! Anyway, you've seen a fellow getting his nadgers shaved before. We do it to somebody every time we cross the Equator, don't we?”In the end Blue Peter allowed the youngest gunners and the powder-monkeys to go on deck, but the remaining crew must stow the gun-locks, stopper the touch-holes with spiles and the bores with greased tompions, lash down the guns and sweep and water the deck first. Thorvald Coalbiter, a Dane from the Faeroe Islands, master of the starboard number-three gunTordener, was still aggrieved, as he had wished to see the giant razor. Blue Peter made safe the powder-magazine, locked the copper-sheathed door then took the lantern from its glazed box on the magazine bulkhead and blew it out. He went on deck. The freshly-shaven Ali was being manhandled over the rail into the galley. The corsairs and the pirates were socialising warily, and bartering Ali's clothes and possessions. A corsair was washing suds and hairs from the giant razor in a bucket. He wiped it dry, oiled it and put it in a velvet-lined box. Blue Peter had a thought.
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“Ali the Barber will not be needing that anymore, I think,” he said to the corsair. The corsair had no English, so Blue Peter repeated it in Swahili, and was answered with a nod. After some negotiation Blue Peter acquired the huge razorfor fiveguldenand a bottle of rum, the corsair insisting that the rum was not for drinking, but as liniment for hisbaridi yabisi. Blue Peter had not heard the words before, but the corsair's mimed pain suggested rheumatism. Yes, indeed, thought Blue Peter, liniment to be applied from the inside, but kept a straight face. The corsair stashed the coins in a fold of his sash and the bottle in his baggy shirt.Blue Peter showed the razor to Thorvald Coalbiter.“I have never seen one as big as that,” said Thorvald wonderingly. “The engraving is very pretty, isn't it?”The rectangular blade of the razor was as long as Blue Peter's forearm and as wide as his hand. The black-filled etching on the silver-steel blade showed a hunting scene in rolling countryside, the huntsmen and hounds in the middle distance with sly reynard in the foreground. The other side of the blade was etched with a pattern of curlicues and whorls around the words:William Occamfine cutlerySheffield, England.“I think it must have been made to go in a shop window,” said Blue Peter, “as an advertisement of the cutler's skill. It will make a good keepsake for the Captain, and we can use it for the next line-crossing merriments. Neptune's court will have some fun with it, I feel sure.”Blue Peter folded the blade back into the ebony-and-silver handle and put the razor back in its box.  “... and the Pipsqueak, what of that little devil?” asked Captain Greybagges.“Ho! Billy Pitt! The fellow acquired a taste for old port wine and got gout! Only fifteen and he got gout!” said Muhammed, shaking his head.“He always was an adventurous little scallywag.” The Captain sipped his beer.“Indeed! Pluck of a lion. Crafty as a fox, too. He was forever readingDemosthenes in Greek, looking for tips. ThePhilippicsmainly, as I recall.”There was a knock on the door, and Bulbous Bill entered with the blue-eyed corsair. Bill's meaty hand rested on the Hollander's shoulder in a friendly way, but the corsair looked rattled nonetheless.“I thought I'd bringmyneerJanszoon down here, Cap'n. The crew was miffed he tricked you, like, and wished to shave him, too,” fluted Bill.“Sit you down, mister Janszoon! That was indeed a wily ploy!Scheveningen!” the Captain chuckled. “A shibboleth, ‘pon my word, and I am caught alike to an Ephraimite! Does it indeed work for all who are not Dutch?”“Ja,kapitein, even for Germans, who are by us in speech.” The Dutchman grinned uneasily.“I do love a subtle stratagem!” said the Captain. “Do not quake so! We captains of buccaneers do not bear grudges! We do not have the time for ‘em, we be too busy killin' people! Har-har! ... Jake! Bring some Hollandsjeneverfor the quartermaster of Suleyman Reis!”The Dutchman did not look entirely reassured, and downed the gin in one gulp.“The wind do seem to be stiffening, too, Cap'n,” said Bulbous Bill.“Get the jacks back up the masts, then, Bill,” said the Captain.“In that case I shall go to my ship,” said Muhammed al-Berberi, “but I will escort you into the port of Sfax myself, if you will permit me, and please consider my house to be your house for as long as you shall stay.”They went up on deck. Bulbous Bill started shouting orders to the foremast jacks. Jan Janszoon stayed warily close to the corsair captain.“What do you seek in Sfax, Sylvestre?” the corsair captain asked. “I do not wish to appear inquisitive, but perhaps I may be able to aid you.”“I wish to ransom a fellow from slavery. A Mr Frank Benjamin,” the Captain said.The captain of corsairs nodded, then went to board his galley. The Dutch corsair hung back for a moment.“The false name of your disguised ship, ‘Groot Ombeschaamheid,' is chosen well,kapitein.” The Dutchman smiled, then ran to catch up with Muhammed al-Berberi.The wind was playful; gusting airs and small calms. The frigate would lead for a time, then the breeze would wane, its sails would flap, and the galley would pull ahead. As the ships passed the crews would shout cat-calls, and Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges and Muhammed al-Berberi exchanged friendly insults from their quarterdecks.“If it were not for the slaves a galley would be a fine vessel,” said the Captain admiringly. “They do indeed resemble a large bird in slow flight, as the ancient Greek coves used to say.”“The Greek triremes of old had hand-picked crews of volunteers,” said Blue Peter. “If Thucydides wrote truly, then they could top eleven knots, and keep that up for a whole day and a night. The port of Piraeus to the island of Melos in twenty-four hours.”“I ain't fussed ‘bout that Ali the Barber a-pulling on an oar, the tom-fool,” piped Bulbous Bill, keeping an eye on the sails.“Indeed, he was aklootzak,” chuckled the Captain, “and now he has a shavedklootzak, har-har-har!” He saw his friends' incomprehension. “It means both ‘idiot' and ‘clot-bag' in Dutch, d'you see?”“Blood and bones! They bain't be funny iffen yez has ta spell ‘em out, Cap'n, and damn me for a lubber, else!” said Israel Feet.“Arr! Izzie, an' thou art aklootzak, too! Get yerself about readyin' the barky to anchor, there be a smudge o' land on the horizon.”  The pirate frigateArk de Triomphe, masquerading asVOC schip Groot Ombeschaamheid, lay at anchor off the port of Sfax. The sun was setting behind the low hills and the first stars twinkled in the deep-blue sky. Captain Greybagges had changed into his customary all-black clothes and wrapped his long green beard in a black scarf, only his face and hands showed clearly in the twilight.“Hear me, yez lubbers! We be havin' the goodwill ofoneBarbary pirate, mateys, but there be more than one, so I will keeps yuz gussied-up as Dutchmen whilst we be in these waters, and yez shall keep a sharp look-out, too. The Master Gunner has not drawn the charges from the guns, and yez will surely have espyed that we be not in the inner harbour, drawn up at the quay alike to a pie on a window-ledge, so yez can see that I be not a trustin' sort of cully. Yez'll be notmissin' much by not goin' ashore, as there be no drink there, which being why they corsairs was so eager to buy your'n. If any little boats comes yuz must point muskets at ‘em, not buy dates from ‘em. I must go to parley with Muhammed al-Berberi. Keeps yer eyes peeled!”Captain Greybagges waited while Loomin' Len Lummocks and the crew of bully-boys lowered a keg of beer into the longboat, then clambered down the side of the ship. There was a splash of oars and the longboat rowed away to Sfax. Blue Peter, leaning on the quarterdeck taffrail, watched them go. In the gathering gloom he could just make out the longboat tying up at the harbour wall, the bullyboys passing up the keg, then the darkness became too profound. The Master Gunner, the sailing-master and the First Mate were sitting at a folding table on the foredeck drinkingchocolatland playing Puff-and-Honours with a deck of greasy dog-eared cards when Captain Sylvstre de Greybagges returned. The first bell of the middle watch had just struck, a muffledbongas the clapper was muffled with a rag; half past midnight a low whistle from the mainmast look-out told them a boat was approaching, then two whistles told them it was the Captain's longboat. Captain Greybagges joined them at the card-table and unwrapped the black cloth from his green beard. Mumblin' Jake brought him a mug ofchocolatl. He laced it with a splash of rum and stirred it.“Jake, gives Len and his bully-boys a mug o' this, and a double tot o' rum, when they has stowed the longboat.”The Captain took off his belt and black coat and rolled up his shirt-sleeves, placing his cutlass and pistols within easy reach.“Shall I deals yer a hand, Cap'n?” said Bulbous Bill, shuffling the pack.“Nay, Bill. I shall be for me bunk arter I sits awhile.” Captain Greybagges yawned, slapped at a mosquito. “Muhammed al-Berberi is a fine gentleman, but still a slaver at heart, I fear. He wished to purchase the ship's carpenter from me.”“Har-har! Hello, sailor! Wi' a curse!” chuckled Israel Feet.“No, I do not believe he is of that persuasion, else he could o' gotten Mr Chippendale for a bunch o' flowers an' a shy smile,” said the Captain. “He cannot see a pair o' mighty arms an' wide shoulders alike to Chips and not wish to see ‘em chained to an oar, is what. To see a man as though he were a horse be a failin', I finds, especially these days. When I were a brief I would have sold him,an' laughed as I spent the money, but a man changes as he do age, he do indeed.” The Captain shook his head. “Muhammed is fine company, mind yez, he is fond o' an ale and he has a great love o' cricket, so I cannot find it in my heart to mislike him at all.”“Cricket be damned,” said Bulbous Bill, dealing cards. “Did you sees any o' them hareem ladies, wif the baggy pants o' gauze and them curly-toes shoes, Cap'n?”“Not a one. The only fellas allowed into the hareem be eunuchs, o' course, so's I thought it best not to pry. We was mostly talkin' business, anyways.” The Captain drained his mug. “I be for me bunk. Keep look-outs posted, an' check that they be awake. Goodnight to yuz.”  Captain Greybagges awoke suddenly, for no reason it seemed, a little before the change to the morning watch. Half-past three, by thepingsof his repeater, he replaced the Breguet on the night-stand. A sense of unease prevented him from sleeping again. He got out of the hanging bunk, buckled his belt over his black nightshirt, slid two pistols into it then grabbed his cutlass and another pistol. As he went up the companionway he reached down and tapped on Blue Peter's cabin door with the tip of the cutlass.He padded swiftly up the steps. In the dim glow of the stern-lantern he saw Israel Feet laying face-down on the quarterdeck, a figure in dark clothes crouched over him, preparing to hit him again with a club. Captain Greybagges shot him in the head, and he fell down. Other dark figures swarmed the decks. Captain Greybagges threw down the discharged pistol and ran down the steps from the quarterdeck, roaring, brandishing his cutlass and grappling at his belt for another pistol. Behind him came the sound of bare feet slapping the deck and Blue Peter joined him, armed to the teeth. They both fired pistols into the silent crowd; there was a cry, and also aclang, and a ricochetting ball whirred past the Captain's ear. They charged at the dark-clad men, and there was a brief melee, then their opponents seemed to vanish over the side of the ship like rats. The pirate crew of theArk de Triomphesuddenly erupted from hatches carrying lanterns, muskets, pikes and cutlasses.“Quiet, you lubbers!” roared Captain Greybagges. The crew were quiet.From the dark there was the faint sploshing of muffled oars. The Captain pointed.“There! Fire!” he said, raising a pistol. There was a crackle of musketry, and several shouts and aclangfrom the dark.“Cease fire! They be too far now.” On the quarterdeck Bulbous Bill Bucephalus was crouched over Israel Feet. He carefully turned him onto his side. The First Mate's eyes were shut, and there was a dribble of blood on the deck.“He breathes. I better get him below,” said the sailing-master, “it be too dark to see up here.”He picked the unconscious First Mate up in his arms, and carried him gently, resting on his substantial stomach, down the quarterdeck steps.“Where is the fellow I shot?” asked the Captain. “I shot him in the head.”“Those fellows were wearing black turbans over steel helmets, I think,” said Blue Peter. “You may have only stunned him.”“If I had shot the sod with your long-barrelled Kentucky pistol, Peter, he would be laying there still.”“Indeed, it is a lucky gun.” Blue Peter handed the pistol to the Captain and pointed. There was a bright silver gouge deep into the blue'd metal of the lock. “One of those fellows ducked down, and came up at me from below with a rapier. The gun was in my sash, and it struck and caught on the lock-plate.”“A lucky gun, indeed!” said the Captain, turning it in his hands.“When the fellow lunged he looked up at my face to see my moment of death, the dog, and I saw his blue eyes. It was Jan Janszoom.”The Captain was quiet for a while.“Jan Janszoom van Haarlem, also known as Murat Reis,” he said. “That makes sense. I won Muhammed al-Berberi's goodwill today - or yesterday, rather - but Janszoom will not be well pleased, nor will his master Suleyman Reis. If he wishes to be Salomo de Veenboer once more, and have his morningjeneverand coffee on Warmoesstraat, then he will not appreciate us wicked buccaneers masquerading as Dutchmen on his patch. It complicates matters. Also, I wish to ransom Frank Benjamin from him. If this little caper had succeeded he would have Mr Benjaminandthe ransomandmy shipandmy crewandme as well, to ask politely why I wanted Mr Benjamin in the first instance. I should have seen thiscoming.”
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“Should we raise anchor and leave, then?”The Captain was again lost in thought for a while.“No. They will not try again. The Barbery corsairs are not a navy, they are pirates alike to us. Admiral of the fleet or not,myneerVeenboer cannot antagonise his captains willy-nilly, and Muhammed has had me as a guest in his home - an invited guest, too - so he will lose face by this. If it had succeeded it would be afait accompli, and Muhammed would have been obliged to keep still about it, but it did not succeed, so Veenboer will pretend he knew nothing of it, and will ransom Mr Benjamin tomorrow - sorry, today - as agreed. Poor Mr Benjamin will be roughed-up, I am sure, to find out if he knows why I want him, but he does not know why, so he cannot tell them. The ransom is substantial, though, so they will not do Mr Benjamin any permanent harm, I hope.”“Whydoyou want Mr Benjamin, Captain?” said Blue Peter.Captain Greybagges winked and tapped his nose with a forefinger.“I can only answer such questions when I have myself a banyan day, and I shall need one soon enough, I feel. Double the watches until we leave this place. I'm going to try and get another couple of hours of shut-eye. Tomorrow may be a trying day.”  Blue Peter slept no more that night, and frankly admired the Captain's ability to do so. Israel Feet was still unconscious, a wound to the back of his head where he had been clubbed, but Bill said he could feel no bones moving in the skull and that both the pupils of his eyes were the same size.“Where did you learn the surgeon's arts?” Blue Peter asked him.“Boxing ring,” said Bill. “The other three are not so bad. Lumps on their heads like goose-eggs, mind yer. The main-top look-out had come down from the mast, the stupid bugger, to wait for the end o' his watch, so they were all four on deck, and they came over the side real quiet and quick, all dressed in black wif they faces a-blacked-up, and a-clobbered ‘em. Lucky the Captain heard something. They musta been wearing black breastplates, too, coz I heard the musket-balls bounce offen ‘em, but I didn't see no glim.”“Old Spanish trick,” said Blue Peter. “The breastplate is warmed over coalsand pitch melted and smeared on to it. It can be done quickly, if a night attack is needed. Unless they were lacquered, of course, but that would make them hot in the sun of the broad day.”  The sun of the broad day rose, and Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges awoke. Mumblin' Jake shaved his head, mumbling that maybe he should use that big razor, har-har! Then made coffee as the Captain dressed in black and armed himself.“How is Izzie?” he asked, when Bulbous Bill and Blue Peter joined him for breakfast.“Still out cold, but he be a-mutterin' and a-movin' a little. Others just have headaches and lumps, like.” Bill attended to his bacon and eggs.Captain Greybagges finished his plate, spread butter and marmalade on toast and poured himself another mug of coffee.“Bill, I wishes you to bring the barky closer inshore, now it is daylight, so that Blue Peter's guns can cover the piece of flat ground next to the harbour wall. I will make the exchange there, not bringing the ransom on-shore until they produce Mr Benjamin in reasonable condition. Peter, load grape, chain and musket-balls. If there is any funny business and I am killed - for I have no mind to pull a galley-oar - then you must sweep the ground clear and make your escape as best you can. I hope the threat will be enough, though. When Mr Benjamin will be brought I do not know, but the later the better, as I intend to sail immediately he is aboard, and the closer to dusk that is, the happier I will be. A pursuit, even with galleys, is more trying in the dark, and the wind then will be strong from the shore. When I am ashore you must keep a watch on me with spy-glasses, at least two at all times, but do not neglect to keep a sharp look-out to seaward. Perhaps last night's caper will keep the crew a little more on their toes today. Who came down from the mast early from look-out?”“Jemmy Ducks, Cap'n,” sighed Bill.“I will have to punish him, you know,” said the Captain, “but do not scare him to death before I do that. A lump on the head and the ill-will of the rest of the crew are nearly punishment enough, perhaps, and he is young, so I will not be unduly harsh.”Blue Peter and Bulbous Bill watched the longboat as it went to the harbour wall, Blue Peter peering through a long Dolland spy-glass. Captain Greybagges clambered up onto the quay followed by Loomin' Len and four of the bully-boys. Two stayed in the longboat, cutlasses across their knees and pistols in their hands and their belts. Through the spy-glass Blue Peter could see the Captain clearly, but the field of view was narrow.“Here comes Muhammed,” said Bill.Blue Peter shifted the spy-glass a trifle.“Caramba!What a beautiful horse!”Blue Peter watched as Muhammed al-Berberi rode to the Captain on a magnificent black horse. Four mounted corsairs in bright breastplates and white turbans followed him, but he waved them away, swung down from the horse before it had stopped, and strode to the Captain his arms held wide to show he was unarmed. The bully-boys were not impressed and moved to cover Captain Greybagges, but the Captain gestured to them and stepped forward to meet the corsair captain.“Damn! Here's trouble!” squeaked Bill.Blue Peter scanned with the spy-glass; a group of corsairs coming onto the open ground. He moved his view back to Muhammed; the corsair captain was shouting and pointing. He looked at the corsair party again; they were spreading out to occupy the ground, some with long matchlockjezails, some with scimitars, a squad with pikes were poking them into the scrubby bushes, the mounted corsairs were scouting the edges of the ground.“I think it is alright, Bill. I think Muhammed is protecting our Captain.” Blue Peter felt a sharp sense of relief, but he continued scanning with the spy-glass. He risks his life and pays much gold, thought Blue Peter, to get this fellow, and I do not know why. I have more confidence in him now, but I am still perturbed by his tale of monsters. The Captain slapped Muhammed on the back and clambered back into the longboat, leaving two bully-boys on the quay. The longboat came back to the ship. Captain Greybagges climbed aboard.“Well!” he said, “I was right. Muhammed was affronted, and intends to prevent further capers. He says that Suleyman Reis smoothly denies all knowledge,and that Mr Benjamin will be brought along presently. He exacted a price, though, for his friendship. He wishes to play a game of cricket, corsairs against pirates, for a wager.”“What is the wager?” asked Blue Peter.“A ha'penny. One half of an English penny. Peter, would you like to be captain? I feel it would be bad form for me to do it.”“Well, yes, I suppose I could...”“Excellent! Go and pick another nine men. Volunteers, but I will give each man a sovereign if we win.”A bewildered Blue Peter went below, to find a cricket team.“Bill, I will have to leave you in charge,” said the Captain.“S'alright Cap'n. I be more of a boxin', wrestlin' and racin' man, meself, like. I do like a bet, yer sees, but cricket be too long to wait for a result.”“The situation seems to have eased somewhat, and Muhammed seems to be my ally, but do still keep a very sharp look-out.”Captain Greybagges went below and came up with his cricket-bag, wearing his old straw hat. The longboat ferried the cricket team ashore in two journeys. Bulbous Bill Bucephalus watched, occasionally peering through the spy-glass, the pirate crew watched from the cross-yards.What a tedious game cricket is, thought Bulbous Bill, but the lads do look fine in their grey trousers, red shirts and straw hats, and here is Muhammed al-Berberi's team, all in blue with orange turbans, they must be picked from his thirty-nine thieves. He peered through the spy-glass; yes, they are clean-shaven, but some with stubble today. But what is this? Jan Janszoom is with them, the dog! I am surprised he has showed his face. Why! He must be the captain of the corsair team; he and Blue Peter are tossing a coin.The pirates went to bat, the corsairs spreading out as fielders. Theclackof bat hitting ball was muted by distance, but still audible. Bill noticed that the noise came almost a second after the impact, and, brows furrowed, calculated an approximation of the velocity of sound; a little over six hundred knots, a prodigious and unimaginable speed. The morning passed. There was one alarm from the maintop when sails were seen on the horizon, but it was just a felucca. In the late morning Bill passed the spy-glass to one of the steersmen and went on a tour of the ship. All was in order, the gun-deck temporarily under the eye ofTorvald Coalbiter, the cannon loaded, primed and laid to cover the ground. Bill returned to the quarterdeck.On shore the game was at half-time. Muhammed al-Berberi's men had erected a marquee, and the teams were having refreshments. I should have liked to taste them sherbets, thought Bill, they say they are very tasty, especially with the sun high and hot, as it is. He peered through the spy-glass; the Captain and Muhammed were conversing, Captain Greybagges miming a stroke with a cricket-bat.Play resumed with the corsairs in to bat. The afternoon wore on. Bill did not pay much attention to the game, except when Captain Greybagges was bowling to Muhammed al-Berberi. He ain't a-givin' him no mercy, thought Bill, that ‘un were a scorcher, if I ain't mistook. Another sail on the horizon; another felucca with a lateen rig.There was an outburst of ill-tempered chatter and a few groans from the crew, some sitting on cross-yards, some leaning on the shore-side rails.“Whassup?” Bill asked a steersman. The pirate gave him a sideways look.“The corsairs have won, curse ‘em!”Bill continued his watch on the shore. Well, I'll be damned! thought Bill, the dog Janszoon has gone to shake Blue Peter's hand, the tom-fool! Grinning like an ape, he is. Har-har! Blue Peter has crushed his hand! There he goes holding it, Muhammed laughing alike to a drain, the corsairs grinning. Har-har! Who is this arriving? It must be Suleyman Reis. Yes, that would be him, in the big turban. There is a man who drinks far more than is good for him, a nose as red as a beetroot. That must be this Mr Benjamin fellow. He has a black eye, but he still has his scrub-wig and his eye-glasses; they must have taken them off him before they clobbered him. The Captain is coming to the longboat with some of the cricket team.The longboat came to the ship. The Captain went below with two bully-boys and returned on deck with a small wooden chest. The bully-boys lowered it into the longboat.“Bill, I shall send back Mr Benjamin and the rest of the team,” said the Captain, “and then return myself. Start raising the anchor when I'm on my way back, and we will set to sea straight away.”The longboat splashed away. Captain Greybagges and Muhammed al-Berberi stood on the quay.“I am grateful for your help and support, Muhammed. I hope this will not bring you trouble from your admiral.”“Maybe, but I do not think it matters. Suleyman Reis or Salomo de Veenboer, he cannot decide which he wants to be, and it weakens him. He also lets his greed outgrow his wits. The treacherous assault on your ship was a mistake; what use is it to have persons to ransom if you cannot be trusted to make the exchange? Pah! You and I are pirates, Sylvestre, so we do bad things sometimes, but we are not bad men, not at heart. Suleyman Reis pretends to be a muslim. His mouth repeats words but he does not listen to what they are saying. He hears ‘lâ hawla wa lâ quwwata illâ billâh' - ‘there is no transformation or power except through Allah' - every day, but he still believes that who he is, Dutchman or Barbary corsair, is within his power to choose, and that he has power enough to order the world the way he would like it to be, but he cannot, so his time as admiral may be short.”“What will you do with Ali the Barber?”“The crew still need a mullah, but first Ali Nasruddin will learn some humility at the oar.”“Will you grow your beard now?”“Beard, no beard, I don't know. Maybe I shall shave my beard to the bottom of my ears ... so ... and grow a big moustache.”“That might suit you. Perhaps you will start a fashion throughout the whole Ottoman empire! The longboat comes, Muhammed. I must go. Thank you again for your help and your friendship. Oh! I nearly forgot. Here are your winnings.”The Captain solemnly gave Muhammed al-Berberi a ha'penny coin, shook him by the hand and climbed down into the longboat. As the rowers pulled towards the ship Muhammed al-Berberi called after him:“Lâ hawla wa lâ quwwata illâ billâh!Remember that, Sylvestre! There is no transformation or power except through Allah!”CHAPTER THE SEVENTH,or A Barrel Of Fun.He is suffering fromcommotio cerebri, I should think,” said Mr Frank Benjamin, a tall portly man with a gloomy face, made more gloomy by a black eye, andpince-nezspectacles upon the end of his large nose.“That would be the Latin,” said Bulbous Bill Bucephalus.“Yes, it is Latin for ‘he has been hit on the head', you see.”“Stop talkin' like I'm not here, ye scurvy hounds!” whispered Israel Feet, his head swathed in a bandage.“That be the way doctors talk, Izzie,” said Bill.“You bain't be a doctor.”“Yes, but me an' Mr Benjamin are trying to be doctors, so it follers that we must act like doctors, if we are to make you well.”
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“Iffen yez wishes to help me give me some rum, you lubbers,” the First Mate pleaded.“I'm afraid, Mr Feet, that alcohol is presently forbidden to you,” said Frank Benjamin solemnly, “as it is stimulating to the brain, and yours is concussed, or bruised. It would ease the pain for a little, but then a hangover would set in and you would be in agony. Drink plenty of warm tea and try and sleep.”“He should ‘ave a draught, perhaps?” pondered Bill.“It can do no harm to exhibit a little bark and steel,” said Frank Benjamin, “but no purgatives of any sort. No rhubarb powder.”Bulbous Bill departed to the galley. Frank Benjamin squatted down next to the bunk.“Your friend has treated you with skill,” he said quietly. “He has cleaned your wound with a cotton swab soaked in clean brine, then he has stitched up your skull as neat as a Jermyn Street bootmaker. The king's own surgeon could not have done better, but he has an enthusiasm for draughts and potions. In your case these will do little good, but no harm either, so I ask you to accept them as tokens of his regard for you, as his wishes for your speedy recovery. I will restrain him if he wishes to dose you too liberally. The pain in your head will lessen in a day or two, and we have no opium, so I must ask you to be patient and endure it. After that your recovery should be progressive, but you will be prone to occasionalheadaches for a time.”“Arr! How long be a time?” moaned the First Mate.“Weeks, maybe months, but they will stop eventually.”  Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges paced his quarterdeck, dressed in the fine powder-blue uniform of akapitein van schipof the Dutch East India Company, his beard a rich boot-polish brown. The wind was steady and fresh and the pirate frigateArk de Triomphe, disguised as the armed merchantmanGroot Ombeschaamheid, was making seven knots, spray occasionally flying over the leeward taffrail. The day was fine, the sky blue with a few small puffy clouds, the noonday sun warm rather than hot, now that the ship was sailing northerly, away from Gibraltar and the Pillars of Hercules.Bulbous Bill and Mr Benjamin joined him on the quarterdeck, discussing the velocity of sound.“It was indeed astute of you to calculate it so, Mr Bucephalus,” said Mr Benjamin, “but I am afraid that you are not the first. That estimable Frenchie Mersenne -la péreMersenne, as I should say - has it in his bookTraité de l'harmonie universelle, and applies it to a theory of music, the wily old cove.”The Captain had been listening.“Newton mentions the velocity of sound in hisPrincipia Mathematica, but as an ideal to be calculated from the elasticity of the air, not as a quantity to be measured. Yet you are in good company, Bill. The ancient Greek fellows had no cannons, or games of cricket even, did not perceive the tardiness of the report after the flash, and so expressed no opinion on the matter.”“The Greeks, wonderful fellows though they were, are not to be entirely trusted on many subjects,” said Mr Benjamin. “There is a fine examination of this in thePseudodoxia Epidemicaof Thomas Browne. Are you familiar with the work?”“Indeed! ThePseudodoxia Epidemica, or ‘enquiries into very many received tenets and commonly presumed truths'. I am a great admirer of Browne,” said the Captain. “ThePseudodoxiabrushes away old wives' tales as though it were a besom sweeping dry leaves. Some wags call it theVulgar Errors, mistranslating the Latin. I have it in my cabin. A sixth-printing, bound in varnished canvas against the sea airs.”Mr Benjamin expressed a desire to consult the book; his own copy was in his house in Virginia, a treasured volume. Captain Greybagges and Mr Benjamin explored their mutual regard for Sir Thomas Browne. His wit! His elegant language! His extensive learning; did he not have the best library in England? Not the largest, maybe, but surely the most well-chosen!Bulbous Bill Bucephalus ceased to listen. The ship took his attention for a while, and then they were talking of things of which he knew nothing. What do I know of latitudinarianism or urn-burials? thought Bill, I am pleased I was right about the velocity of sound, even though that Froggie priest thought of it first. He shouted to a foremast jack to tighten that sheet, you lubber! and thought of the First Mate; he sleeps now, and that is good. There is a small chop, but the barky rides it well, so he will not be unduly disturbed even though we are making a good rate. John Spratt is doing well as his stand-in, but he lacks authority over his messmates and does not wish to acquire it, for Izzie will recover and then they will be his mess-mates again.When Bulbous Bill turned around again Captain Greybagges and Frank Benjamin had gone below.  “I remembered the inspiring words of Sir Thomas Browne when I was a prisoner in Barbary,” said Mr Benjamin. “He wrote, ‘rest not in an ovation, but a triumph over thy passions; chain up the unruly legion of thy breast; behold thy trophies within thee, not without thee: lead thine own captivity captive, and be Cæsar unto thy self', which was good advice at the time.”“I am sorry that Suleyman Reis had you questioned, Mr Benjamin,” said Captain Greybagges. “I offered too much for your freedom, in order to save haggling, and that must have stimulated his curiosity. Will you have more wine?”“Indeed I will, and thank you. The bearded fellow in the big turban was quite insistent, but I had no notion of who you were, let alone why you should wish to purchase my release. I am deeply grateful that I am freed, however, and drinking a glass of this excellent Madeira with you. May I have another of these little pastries? They are very good.”Captain Greybagges passed the plate with a smile.“You seem lacking in curiosity yourself, Mr Benjamin. Do you not wish toknow why I paid that rogue eight hundred guineas in gold for your liberty?”Frank Benjamin brushed crumbs from his waistcoat, and sipped the sweet wine.“I feel sure that you will tell me in due course,” he said, “but if I were to hazard a guess I would say it was my compressed-air cannon.”Captain Greybagges looked startled.“A gun worked by mere air? Is such a thing possible?”“Indeed. Air is reduced in volume by means of a pump, then allowed to expand again in the barrel of a gun, thus discharging a ball in the same fashion as the expanding fire of gunpowder.”“You have constructed such a weapon?”“Yes, a small model, firing balls the size of peas, but I confess there were problems. The flasks into which the air was compressed exhibited a sad propensity for bursting explosively.”“What advantages does such an engine have?”“No smoke, and a smaller noise. I am not sure about the noise, though. If an air-cannon could be made with the same power as gunpowder I suspect it would sound just as loud. Such a cannon might be made to repeat-fire reliably and quickly -Pom! Pom! Pom!- but that is only a notion, and not yet tested.”Captain Greybagges got up and walked to the stern-windows of the Great Cabin, the slight roll and pitch of the ship unnoticed.“Why do you think that I would require a compressed-air cannon?”“Because all men are fascinated by engines of destruction, of course! I said nothing to the corsairs, not even when they beat me, because otherwise I would be there still. I gambled that they would know nothing of it, being in Barbary. However, you, Captain, speak English well and have lately been in the waters of the Americas, so you may have heard a rumour, if some of my friends or workmen in Virginia have been indiscreet. Also, you are no Hollander, yet you masquerade as one, so I might rationally suspect you of representing some foreign power who wishes to acquire my knowledge for the purposes of aggressive war.”“Be at ease, I do not wish to build a compressed-air cannon,” said Captain Greybagges, “or to encourage warfare between nations in any way, and I do not act as agent for any potentate or cabal. I find the notion of confining air in flasks very interesting, though. It may solve a problem for me. If you would tell me moreof this I should be in your debt, but it is not the reason that I ransomed you. I wish you to tell me your knowledge of lightning-rods.”  Blue Peter Ceteshwayoo and Torvald Coalbiter were in the sick-bay, sitting with Israel Feet, to give him tea and biscuits and to distract him from the pain of his head-wound.“That be a prodigious great razor, an' you may drown me else, wi' a curse,” whispered the First Mate.Blue Peter replaced the enormous razor in its velvet-lined box. He had been recounting the tale of how the Captain had out-thought Ali the Barber, as the First Mate had been below at the time, waiting for the order to lead the armed pirates on deck.“He be a sharp one, the Cap'n, and you may lay to that, wi' a curse,” whispered Israel Feet.“The beard did not like the razor, I expect,” said Torvald Coalbiter, “and it is a lucky beard, a beard with a witch-charm upon it.”“Why do you say that?” said Blue Peter.“Back in Norðragøta my father's mother is a witch. She talks to whales and she can call the fishes with an iron fry-pan and a piece of coal.”“How the bugger does she do that?” said Israel Feet.“She bangs the coal on the fry-pan and shouts ‘fish! fish! come here you bloody fish!' and the fish usually come. She says it is because they are curious.”“Does she put charms on beards, then?” said Blue Peter.“No, not that I remember, but she will put charms on most things, if you ask her nicely and give her money. She charmed my boots so they would take me home again, and charmed my knife so that I would not drop it. See? It has the lucky knotted string on its hilt. I tie the lucky string to my wrist when I use the knife. So long as the lucky string is tied to my wrist I will never drop the knife.”Blue Peter and Israel Feet considered this in silence for a while.“How did you come by your name, Coalbiter?” asked Blue Peter eventually.“It is from a forebear, a long time ago. My father's father's father, maybe even longer. He had a cousin, abirsarka, who was called ‘the Foebiter' because he was so mad in battle that he would bite and kick at his enemies even after they were dead.My ancestor preferred to stay by his own hearth, so his cousin mocked him and called him ‘the Coalbiter'. He had the last laugh, though, as the Foebiter and all of his men went away a-viking and were lost at sea, and then my ancestor became thejarland had sons with all their wives.”“And yet you went to sea despite your ancestor's tale?” said Blue Peter.“The Coalbiter was a great sailor, it is told, and no coward. He was warming himself by his fire when when the weather was too bad to venture to sea, and by his fire when battles were lost, not when they were won. His great power was to know when to sail or to fight and when to sit quietly by his own hearth with his dogs at his feet. Anyway, thosebirsarkaswere foolish men. They would eat the fly-mushroom and drink mead before battle until they were in a blind fury, then howl like wolves and tear their shirts off and gash their chests. Very frightening to farm-boys, but not so frightening to seasoned warriors, I think, which is why there are nobirsarkasleft now. The sea is not frightened by howling and chest-beating either, but it respects cunning and a knowledge of its ways. So I am glad to be at sea with the Captain. I think I would be less happy to be at sea with Blackbeard Teach, for he is alike to the Foebiter and mistakes recklessness for fearlessness and madness for cunning.”“Har! You be in the right there, shipmate, wi' a wannion!” said Israel Feet, forgetting to whisper piteously, “but don't be telling Captain Teach that to his face, har-har!”“Tell me, Torvald,” said Blue Peter, “what did the whales say to your grandmother, when she spoke with them?”“Well, she used to talk to the whales right enough, in the late summer when they would come and sport off the north headland, but I am not sure if they ever said anything to her in reply.”“We must let Izzie sleep some more,” said Blue Peter. “Tomorrow, Izzie, you can go on deck and get some fresh air, then you will soon be right as ninepence.”  In the Great Cabin Mr Benjamin and Captain Greybagges had discussed lightning-rods and their peculiarities - and was it not true that the excellent Sir Thomas Browne had coined the wordelectrickto describe the mysterious fluid? Was there nothing that his mighty intellect had not mused upon? - and they haddrunk most of the bottle of Madeira and eaten all of the pastries. The evening twilight blue'd the tall windows of the stateroom, earlier now as the ship's latitude grew ever more northerly, and Captain Greybagges lit the oil-lamps with a spill from the candle-stub they had been using to light their pipes.“Of course, Captain,” continued Mr Benjamin, “I had the advantage of a mechanical education. My father was a blacksmith and farrier, my uncles on either side a clockmaker and a gunsmith, so I was apprenticed to all three, one could say. Even so, I might still have followed in my father's footsteps and worked a forge if my mother's cousin Nathaniel had not been a printer. He was a fine typesetter, but all thumbs when it came to a mechanism, so as a boy I was often sent to help him work his press. At times he would give me proof-reading to do, and so I learned not only good English but also the rudiments, at least, of Latin and Greek, and German, too, there being a number of Hanoverians in Virginia at that time. The combination of manual skills and book-learning made a productive ground in which new ideas might grow and bloom. I have been lucky in that, and may stake no claim to genius, although I enjoy your generous compliments, Captain!” He raised his glass and sipped a little Madeira.
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“You are right about the skills of the hand and eye being as illuminating as any text,” said Captain Greybagges. “As captain of a ship I am made aware of this every day. The ship would founder without continual repair, and no book can give the smith or the carpenter his art. When I was a boy I made a little boat to sail on the lake on my father's estate, and there is a great pleasure in taking wood and shaping it, making it into a vessel that draws the wind and cuts the water, a great pleasure indeed. Perhaps one day I shall have the leisure to build another.”“The art of the boatwright is indeed profound. A cabinet-maker feels he is a fine fellow for making an inlaidvargueñowith a secret drawer, but the boatbuilder's work must survive the battering of the seas, and has not a single straight line anywhere to put a try-square to.”“That is the truth. If you ask a cabinet-maker to make you a more expensive box he will make it of precious woods, inlay it with ivory and put gold handles on it. Ask a boatwright to do the same andhewill make it more watertight, giving it a barrel-top and curved sides so the planks strain against each other and stay close-fitting as in a carvel-built whaler, thus expending the extra value in its construction and not on mere ornamentation. Mr Chippendale, the ship's carpenter, has sucha sailor's chest. I shall show it to you betimes. It is surprisingly light in weight.”“I have seen such a chest. The light weight comes from it resembling more an egg than a box. An egg-shell is made of thin friable stuff, yet when it is complete and whole it will withstand much rough treatment. A cubical egg would be a sadly weak thing.”“And quite painful for the chicken, too!” said the Captain, and they roared with laughter.“The last of the Madeira, Mr Benjamin?” Captain Greybagges emptied the bottle into their glasses. “The skills of the hands! I suppose that is why I respect our King Charles. I met a Guernsey man once who told me that when the King was exiled to the Channel Islands during Noll Cromwell's time he would sail a cutter from dawn to dusk, just for the joy of it, and that he could easily be master of a ship if he wasn't the king. I admired that, and I also learned that as a young prince he had insisted on being taught smithing and carpentry despite the dogged opposition of the dukes and earls who had been appointed to be his tutors, who thought such things beneath his royal dignity. They say that he is a man who enjoys his pleasures too much to be a good ruler, but I think a king who has willingly worked a forge and a bench, and who loves to sail a jolly-boat, cannot be bad. Many pirates make a pretence of being Jacobites, and toastingthe king across the waterlike a parcel of drunken Scotsmen, but I do not. King Charles would maybe hang me if he should catch me, but that does not make him a bad king, merely a monarch whose wily diplomacy would sacrifice a few freebooters if that will give him peace with Spain. If there is war with Spain, then I will miraculously become a buccaneer once more, loyal and true, and not - heaven forfend! - a wicked pirate, and the King would then surely smile upon my depredations, as he has done already with Captain Morgan.”“You freely confess to being a pirate, Captain Greybagges, and yet all my instincts are to trust you,” said Mr Benjamin. “Kings, popes and potentates are often constrained by circumstances to act in ways that are morally dubious, as you imply, and yet they are held to be the fount of order and law in this turbulent world. A pirate may be as much a creature of virtue as a king, I find. That man with the beard and turban in Barbary caused me to confront my mortality, to brace myself to face death, imprisonment or slavery with as much courage and dignity as I could muster. A barbarian, indeed, without honour or pity. You arenot such a man. You buy my freedom at much risk to yourself, and yet you say that should only earn my goodwill, and that you will pay me for my labours and deliver me safe home to Virginia in the spring. I am honoured by your courtesy and your straightforwardness, and I will gladly accept your offer.”He held out his hand and Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges shook it solemnly. “I am pleased to have you aboard, Mr Benjamin, as one of my pirate crew. Do please call me Sylvestre, but not on the quarterdeck, as that would breach naval ettiquette.”“Call me Frank. I drink a glass with you!”They touched glasses and downed the last sips of the sweet Madeira wine. “Frank, I must take a turn around the deck, as it grows dark. Please do accompany me, for the appetite is stimulated by the fresh salt air, and then please do join my officers and myself for a little supper.”  The pirate frigateArk de Triomphe, disguised still as the Dutch merchantmanGroot Ombeschaamheid, cleaved a white wake thought the darkening sea into the gathering dusk. She had been heading northwest into the Atlantic to avoid lee shores and inquisitive Spaniards, but the wake was heading now northeast towards the Channel, with the prevailing southwesterly winds at her stern. The sailors hauling on the ropes were dressed in the red-and-greymatrozenpakslops of the Dutch East India Company, but they were singing in English - many of them in various accents, perhaps - as they hauled:“Farewell and adieu to you, Spanish ladies!Farewell and adieu to you, ladies of Spain!For we've received orders for to sail for old England,But we hope in a short time to see you again,We will rant and we'll roar like true British sailors,We'll rant and we'll roar all on the salt sea.Until we strike soundings in the channel of old England;From Ushant to Scilly is thirty-five leagues.”Captain Greybagges awoke at dawn as the tall windows of the Great Cabin let in a cold grey light. The ship was pitching more - a rougher sea - and rolling more - a gusting wind. A splatter of rain rattled against the stern windows. He yawned and swung his legs out of the hanging bunk, slowing its swinging with his feet on the canvas deck-cloth. He put a black coat of thick Duffel cloth on over his nightshirt, fastened its wooden toggles and went up to the quarterdeck. The ship was thumping through a moderate chop, the deck was wet and cold under his bare feet from the spray blown over the leeside taffrail. Two steersmen were at the wheel, under the watchful eye of Bulbous Bill Bucephalus, who wished the Captain a good morning and then indicated upwards with his eyes. The Captain looked up; Mr Benjamin was standing on the lower crossyard of the mizzen mast, facing sternwards into the wind, wearing only his wig, his spectacles and a pair of cotton drawers. He had tied a length of rope around his waist and the mast so that he could spread his arms wide and not fall.“A very good morning to you, Captain!” he called down, just audible against the buffeting of the rain-filled wind.“How long has he been up there?” asked the Captain.“Oh, about half an hour,” said Bill.Captain Greybagges nodded and sighed, and went below. After his head had been shaved by Mumblin' Jake, and he had washed and dressed in his piratical black clothes, he returned to the deck. Mr Benjamin was standing by the pump, waiting for two foremast jacks to rig the handles.“Taking a seawater bath, Mr Benjamin? It sets a man up for the day! Though I must confess that I prefer to do it in warmer climes.”“I feel it would be a grand thing to do after an air-bath, Captain, if I am not inconveniencing anybody.”“They will tell you quick enough if you are. But what is an ‘air-bath', pray?”“Why, a bath in the air! I have a theory that certain vapourous humours are drawn from thecorpusby exposure to a brisk breeze, and that clothes tend to insulate one from the roborative effects of fresh air, much as they are necessary for warmth.”“I notice that you have tied your wig and spectacles to your head with codline. Surely it would be easier to leave them off?”“I need my eye-glasses to see, Captain, and keep my wig on that I might retain my dignity. If I may presume to ask you a question in return, why is your beard green?”“Because I am Greenbeard the pirate, Mr Benjamin. I am not in disguise as Myneer Oplichtenaar,kapitein van schip. This is how I normally attire myself.”“Ah! You are indeed a notable buccaneer, Captain Greybagges! Even a landlubber like myself has had report of you.”“The price of such fame is that I must colour my beard with brown boot-polish and, sadly, restrain myself from writing for the broadsheets as I used to do. After your seawater bath there is breakfast in the wardroom, Mr Benjamin. I must attend to some paperwork.”Captain Greybagges turned and addressed the crew in the rigging in a loud carrying voice.“Listen, you swabs! There looks to be a great storm a-blowing up from aft, damn me iffen there ain't! It will be upon us before dark, so's you keeps the sails in good order betimes, keep a weather eye open and attend to Mr Bucephalus, for iffen yez don't and the storm don't tear out yez guts I surely will, and yez may lay to that, wi' a wannion! The Bay of Biscay is a graveyard for damned lubbers, but not for canny sailormen, so sets yez the sails handsomely, shipmates!” The pirates had rigged the pump and fitted a stand-pipe. The Captain noted that Mr Benjamin removed his wig and spectacles before standing under the gushing gouts of cold seawater.  There was a knock at the door of the Great Cabin. “Enter, wi' a curse!” shouted Captain Greybagges, lifting his quill from the paper. Mr Benjamin looked around the door, his wig still looking slightly damp.“Ah, Frank. Come in.”“Captain, Sylvestre, I have a notion to demonstrate to you something of the electric fluid, if there is to be a storm with lightning, but I need the assistance of a carpenter. Is he busy?”“I do not think so. Tell him I said to do your bidding, unless there is some pressing task which must have his immediate attention.”“Thank you, Sylvestre. I am sorry to have disturbed you.” Captain Greybagges returned to his correspondence and the comfortingscritch-scratchof the goose-quill on foolscap. I wonder what Mr Benjamin is intending to do, he mused, as he penned a letter of instructions to be sent to a clockmaker in Dublin.As the Captain wrote letters and dealt with the mundane paperwork of the frigate he was aware that the weather was slowly worsening. The pitch and roll of the ship increased and became more random. He had to keep things stowed in drawers rather than have them slide around the top of his desk, and he spread his feet wider to steady his seat in the chair, in case there should be a sudden lurch. This did not bother him unduly, but he wondered how Mr Benjamin was taking it. If he was working with the ship's carpenter the activity would perhaps keep his mind off any queasiness.Mumblin' Jake came with the Captain's lunch; a doorstep-thick sandwich of bread, cheese and sliced onion, two boiled eggs, a thick wedge of pork pie with mustard, an apple and a tankard of ale. The Captain kept the tankard in his left hand on the desk's leather top and the basket of food in his lap, and was able to enjoy his repast and continue writing in between mouthfuls despite the movement of the ship. The ship was by no means troubled by the wind and waves, and made agreeable creaking noises as though it were a live creature grunting with the effort of shouldering its way through the green seas. I hope Mr Chippendale has checked the bilges, he thought, and not been distracted by whatever it is Mr Benjamin wants of him.The storm following theArk de Triompheworsened as it drew closer. As twilight fell the waves rolled past it one after another, lifting the stern with a lurch, and the wind howled. The foremast-jacks swarmed in the rigging, trimming the canvas to catch the blow yet not burst the gasket-ropes. Some of the pirate crew donned oilskins and boots, but the more-active men on the yards could only wear shirts and pants as heavy-weather gear would hamper their freedom of movement, and freezing cold and wet are better than a fall into the churning sea. They wererelieved on a rolling-shift system so they got hot drinks and burgoo below before they became stupid from the cold, and fresher men took their place.Jemmy Ducks was still in disgrace and was not relieved from his watch at the main foretop crosstrees, although he was well bundled up in several woollen jumpers, an oversize griego and a tarred sou'wester. Jack Nastyface had joined him in his lonely vigil out of friendship, a meaningful gesture when young Jack could have been lollygagging by the warmth of the galley stove with a mug of sweet coffee in his hand. Jemmy Ducks was resentful of his friend's sacrifice at first, it seemed to diminish his punishment, and he was aggrieved at himself for his near-calamitous dereliction of duty, but Jack Nastyface was such a well-meaning fool that soon they were arguing as of old.“You must have heard him wrong then, you ass!” said Jemmy Ducks. “He probably wanted a barrel of beer, the mad old bugger.”“He did not,” insisted Jack. “Hepacificallyasked for an empty barrel. I heard him clear as I hear you now.”This was no guarantee of clarity, as the wind howled around them in their lofty perch, but Jemmy Ducks was partially convinced.“And three fathoms of cotton cloth, the sort that is dyed for flags,” continued Jack Nastyface, “and forty fathoms of codline, and a bar-shot, and some oilcloth, and four pounds of gunpowder, and …”“And here he comes now!” shouted Jemmy Ducks above the wind's noise, pointing down to the deck. He then felt a twinge of guilt. “I cannot look. I must keep watch on the horizon. Tell me what they are doing.” There was not much horizon to watch, as the squall-line crept closer, a mass of angry clouds, dark in the twilight and stitched with flashes of lightning. Jack Nastyface hung over the yard, to better observe the deck.
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“Yes, it is Mr Benjamin. He has tied his wig on with string, and it is flapping, hee-hee! The Captain, too, and Mr Chippendale, and the barrel, and a bundle of sticks, or something. They are going forward … onto the forepeak. Mr Benjamin is buggering about with the sticks … aah! It is a kite! A big kite! I used to have a kite when I was a boy ashore, but it is much bigger than that. He has launched the kite into the wind! … It soars! The carpenter is paying out the line, and the kite soars ahead of the barky … the Captain and Mr Benjamin have put the barrel on the rail. Aha! The bar-shot is rigged alike to a keel on the barrel, and somethingsticks out of the top, alike to a little mast. They are tying the line off to the little spike-mast. The kite flies high now, and almost all the string is paid out.”Jemmy Ducks, in his scan of the obscured horizon, could see the kite as it lofted high towards the cloud, but he tore his eyes from it to continue his watch; if he missed something again the Captain would surely have him flogged, or else the crew would kill him. Jack Nastyface continued, shouting about the keening of the wind.“The line is all paid out … they have pushed the barrel over the side! The Captain waves to Mr Bucephalus by the wheel.”TheArk de Triompheturned away from the floating barrel. Jack Nastyface hauled himself upright to let a party of foremast-jacks clamber out on the yard. He could see the barrel bobbing amongst the white wave-tops. The kite was towing it perceptibly, such was the strength of the wind.“By the Saints! The kite pulls the barrel! Take care, Jemmy, the squall is almost upon us!”“I can see that, you dullard! Look to your own handholds. Watch the barrel! What the devil are they doing? Why throw a barrel into the oggin to get pulled by a kite? It makes little sense.”“The kite is soaring into the cloud-bottoms! I never got my kite to fly so high! Here comes the squall! … Oh!”From the corner of his eye Jemmy Ducks saw first a white flash, then a red light, and a fraction of a second later heard a ‘boom'.“Oh, crikey!” yelled Jack. “There is a strange thing! I have never seen the like of that! I trow I have not!”“Seen the like of what, you fathead?”“Well, that is a wonder! A wonder indeed!”“What is a wonder, you donkey?”The squall howled around their ears, and a lightning flash lit the bottoms of the clouds an eerie blue. Jack Nastyface waited to speak until the thunder and the squall had abated.“A great wonder, indeed! I have never seen the like of that!”“Of WHAT!” pleaded Jemmy, still keeping his watch as though his life depended on it.“Har! When the kite went into the bottom of the clouds lightning ran downthe string, like a line of white fire, then the barrel blew up, ‘boom!' The fire of the levin-bolt must have lit the gunpowder in the barrel! How very extraordinary!” He peered down at the deck. “The Captain congratulates Mr Benjamin, and claps him on the back! He must be a wise old cove to know the nature of lightning, and to guide it into a barrel of powder! I take my hat off to him!”  Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges and his officers were still chuckling from the surprise of the explosion, shaking their heads and going, in their different ways ‘zzzzt! BOOM!', to demonstrate how the barrel had detonated. The Captain sloshed dark rum into Bulbous Bill'slignum-vitaebeaker, then Israel Feet's tarred leather drinking-jack, then Blue Peter's tumbler of precious diamond-cut Bohemian crystal, then his own chased-silver goblet and finally Frank Benjamin's pewter tankard. He raised his goblet:“A toast, me hearties! A fulsome toast to Mister Frank Benjamin, the man who has mastered the fire of the lightning-bolt, leading it where he wills, alike to the good farmer who directs water to the parched field through leats and ditches with a turn of his spade! A toast!”They downed their rum and banged their various drinking-vessels back onto the Captain's desk. The ship rolled with the seas, and rain rattled on the tall transom windows from the following wind, but the Great Cabin of theArk de Triompheseemed cosy with light from the oil-lamps and the warm fellowship of the pirates. Mr Benjamin grinned modestly and raised his tankard:“My thanks, friends and shipmates! Captain Greybagges has done me great honour by inviting me to join your illustrious company, and I am glad to have given such pleasure by a modest demonstration of the power of natural philosophy. I return your toast in full measure! To the lusty buccaneers of the good shipArk de Triompheand to their captain, the illustrious Sylvestre de Greybagges!”They drank again. Mr Benjamin seated himself, staggering a little from a lurch of the ship. He filled his pipe.“I must say, though, Captain,” he said, “that you may have to repay your excellent carpenter for the reel of fine copper wire which I used to direct the flow of electrick fluid down the kite-string. He was loath to part with it, and I had toinvoke your name to ensure his compliance. It is a pricey commodity, that cuprous filament, not valuable for its metal, but for the rare skill required to draw it so hairlike thin, and now most of it is turned to vapour.”“Surely I shall reimburse Mr Chippendale his reel of wire, and another reel of wire of pure gold if I can find such a thing, for his metal thread has shown to me that certain things, certainplansof mine, lie within the bounds of the possible, and are not mere pipe-dreams. I am grateful for that, and relieved, and grateful to you, too, Frank.”The Captain refilled their cups once again. Mr Benjamin leaned forward to nod and acknowledge the Captain's compliment, the flickering light of the oil-lamp reflecting on hispince-nezspectacles as ovals of yellow.“This is also an opportune moment for me to add that Mr Benjamin is now a full member of the crew, with all the rights, responsibilities, emoluments and perquisites appertaining to that position, as laid out in the Free Brotherhood o' the Coast's rule-book. Somebody give Mr Benjamin a copy to study at his leisure. Be assured, though, Frank, that I shall not command you to stand a dog-watch as masthead lookout dressed only in your wig and your drawers, har-har!”There was mirth at this sally, but Mr Benjamin did not seem unduly put out, smilingly slyly and sipping his rum.“You said as how you might have plans, Cap'n?” said Bulbous Bill Bucephalus carefully.“Indeed I do, Bill. Indeed I have plans. They are still in a state of vagueness because of their dependence on certain things happening, mind you, so I am unwillin' to discuss them much. Things will be clearer to me after I have settled some business in London.”  Up in the mainmast cross-trees Jemmy Ducks and Jack Nastyface wrangled idly about this and that, Jemmy all the time keeping a regular circle-scan of the horizon, or what could be seen of it through the darkness and rain. Occasional flashes of lighting lit the clouds from within and without.“… yes, I am envious of you, Jack. The crew do not have a down on you. I don't blame them, but it's mortal hard on a fellow to get all these black looks, I can tell you.”“Har! ‘Let age, not envy, draw wrinkles on thy cheeks!' The Captain said that earlier to the sailing-master,” said Jack, “but I think he was just quoting and didn't mean that Bill had been being envious at all. He said it were by a famous fellow name of Sir Thomas Browne, he …”Jack would have said more, but a face appeared over the mast, dimly pale in the cloud-dimmed moonlight.“Cap'n says you two nippers, you two young gentlemen, are to go the galley, get something hot inside yuz,” said the foremast-jack, “and I to take yer place, for my sins.”“Not just yet!” shouted Jemmy Ducks. “Call you down to the steersman! There are white breakers to port side! White breakers less'n two miles to port!”The foremast-jack turned and hailed the steersman at the wheel in a deep and powerful voice.CHAPTER THE EIGHTH,or The Great Wen.You did not save the ship, it is true, Jemmy,” said Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges. “The sailing-master had already seen the white of the waves upon the rocks – a ship does not depend upon the sight of one pair of eyes alone - but your warning was timely and seamanlike. It has restored your good name among the crew, too. Why do you wish to pay off and go ashore? I am curious.”The Captain sat at his desk in the Great Cabin of the pirate frigateArk de Triomphe, with a tankard of London-brewed ale in his hand.Jemmy Ducks spoke, after a little thought.“I am glad to have regained the trust of my messmates, indeed, I am, but I am not, by my own nature, suited to the life of a pirate, Captain. I have been in some brisk engagements, and I believe I have not shown a want of courage?” Jemmy Ducks looked hopefully at the Captain, who nodded his agreement. “And yet I get but little pleasure from being in an action. Not like the others, to whom fighting is like nuts and cake. I am proud to have been a buccaneer, and consider myself fortunate to have served under your command, Captain, but, in all truth, I find I cannot make it my life, so I intend to use my portion of the plunder to seek another path more suited to my nature.”The Captain turned his attention to Jack Nastyface, who was standing next to his friend, staring at him with an expression of amazement upon his long face.“And you, Jack?” said the Captain. “What is your wish?”  “That poor fellow Jack Nastyfaceactuallysquirmed,” said Captain Greybagges to Blue Peter, while pouring ale for them both. “I have never seen anybodysquirmbefore, I think. Not properly. His whole bony frame was twitching. I could see his toes wriggling in his shoes.”Blue Peter grinned and drank some ale.“All very well for you to snigger, Peter, but I could not laugh. After a while he squeaked ‘I wish to remain, Cap'n! I wish to be a buccaneer!' while tears came to his eyes.”“And you accepted?” said Blue Peter, one eyebrow raised.“Indeed I did. I had planned to let them both pay off, and maybe keep Jemmy Ducks if he insisted, but Jack had chosen the ship and the pirate's life over his best and only friend, and in a moment, too, so I felt that I must allow him the confidence of his own decision. Oddly enough, Jemmy was not much surprised, and shook Jack's hand and wished him well. They are off ashore now, getting themselves drunk.”“And swearing eternal friendship, too, I do not doubt. It is sad, you are right, but I am impressed by Jemmy's decision, and by Jack's, too. I had not thought them so mature in their considerations. How many have you paid off now?”Captain Greybagges took a swig of ale and consulted the papers on his desk.“One hundred and sixty-two. Most of them willingly. Old Joshua from the larboard watch did not want to go, but I persuaded him that a turn ashore living in comfort would set him up ready to sail again in the future. I don't think he ever will, mind you. I arranged for him to buy a cottage near his sister in Gravesend, and made him see a surgeon about his bursten belly. He wishes to put his nephews through school, and that too is arranged. Eton would not have them, of course, the stuck-up sods, but Christ's Hospital school at Greyfriars were not so particular. Our Bank of International Export loaned them the money for their chapel roof so I had them recommend the two little thugs to them as souls worth saving. They will have to wear those blue coats and yellow stockings, which will make them more humble, and perhaps the beaks there will thrash some learning into their dirty little heads. One of those brats tried to lift my purse, you know, when I took Old Joshua down to Gravesend.”“That one will grow up to be a minister of the Crown, surely,” laughed Blue Peter, “or an archbishop. Speaking of ministers of the Crown, did you see your school-friend Billy Pitt?”“We had a decent dinner yesterday in Dirty Dick's tavern at Bishop's Gate. He is a shrewd fellow. He has taken on some of the business that other ministers disdain, the kind of work that does not allow for entirely clean hands.”“Intelligencing, you mean?”“Exactly. He has a relish for it, the bloodthirsty little devil. I was able to assist him by offering our Bank of International Export as a conduit for funds to pay his agents, since we have branches in foreign parts, and he was able to assist me by helping to keep our affairs discreet.”“How so?” said Blue Peter, refilling their tankards. “This is good ale.”“Indeed. Some say the finest ale is from the countryside, but a London brew is hard to beat in my opinion, provided it has not been watered, of course. We are currently still masquerading as theGroot Ombeschaamheid, but that vast and well-informed enterprise the Dutch East India Company has surely heard reports by now that they have a ship that they do not have, so to speak. Billy Pitt will be able to confuse the matter a little by feeding them false information. Otherwise, we are well concealed, yet in plain sight. Listen ...”The noises of the waterfront murmurred through the open stern windows. The Pacific Wharf at Rotherhithe was only recently constructed, a fine new quay of timber pilings and planks with a wide apron of rammed gravel behind it, so making a solid wall to shoulder against the weight of the slapping River Thames. It hummed with activity. Stevedores rolled barrels and staggered under the weight of sacks and crates, Waggons and carts came and went, their wheels crunching on the gravel, their drivers cracking whips and roaring imprecations at each other. Persons of importance, by their own estimations or otherwise, clad in broadcloth, fustian, nankeen or silk, topped by powdered wigs and hats limited only by their purses and the fevered imaginations of milliners, came and went in sedan chairs, shays, fiacres, flys, dogcarts, coaches, diligences, carrioles, sulkies and even a solitary four-in-hand, their coachmen returning the costers' curses with enthusiasm and wit, real or imagined. A light breeze carried the scents of spices, tar and sawn timber, the rot-stink of a slaughterhouse, the acrid stench of a tannery, the wet earthy smell of the river. TheArk de Triomphemoved gently with the breeze and the slapping of the river-waters, and the oakum dodgers that protected it from the rough-planked quay squeaked and the hempen mooring cables, as thick as a thigh, creaked and groaned sullenly. From the taverns, wine-shops and bawdy-houses that backed the wide quay came occasional shrieks, shouts and gusts of drunken laughter.
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“This wharf is new, yet bustling,” Captain Greybagges sipped his ale. “This means that our barky will be less noticed and less remarked upon, especially as the wharfage fees are promptly paid and small gratuities distributed to certain persons of influence. The bustle of the wharf covers theArk de Triomphein distractions. The distance from the City and the recent construction of the wharf reduces the number of watching eyes with established links to interested parties - London'sflourishing and resourceful criminal underworld, London's quick-witted and venal merchants, London's many spies and government informers, as if one could tell the difference between those classes, or indeed if one was innocent enough to attempt to make such a distinction - The small bribes ensure that at least some of the watching eyes are on our own payroll, at least in theory ...” Captain Greybagges sighed.“And the watchers that you had me station up and down the quay in shabby clothes, pretending to be idlers and along-shore men, will tip us off to any untoward interest in us,” completed Blue Peter.“Yes, indeed. Yet we may not remain here too long, Peter, or else some clever soul will wonder why the Dutch East India Company, not known for its prodigality, pays steep daily wharfage fees when there is not much loading or unloading of cargo. We must be away from here in a day, or two at the latest. The crew who are no longer needed are paid off, very handsomely paid off, and happy. They are ashore, but not cast off like an old shoe, and so still feeling part of the pirate brotherhood and not likely to gossip. Some new crewmen, with skills that we shall need, are arriving daily. When the ship's complement is aboard we shall slip away into the sea mists.”“Where did you find these new recruits? They are mostly young, but already have some sea-going skills and discipline.”Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges smiled smugly and drained his tankard.“All apprentice-boys dream of being pirates, Peter. Being young and full of hot blood, do they not wish to romance Spanishsenoritas, to fight with cutlasses and to fill their pockets withrealesanddoubloonsandmoidores? Of course they do! I had some broadsheets printed, copies of the actual ones but with a notice added in the ‘men wanted' part asking for apprentice buccaneers. I had them left in the coffee-houses and pie-shops that apprentice-boys frequent. I harvested a fine crop of young fellows – clerks, mechanics, foundrymen, blacksmiths, whitesmiths, tinsmiths, carpenters, printers – and had them practice swordplay and musketry in secret on evenings and weekends. Those that boasted to their friends, despite strict warnings, I dropped. Those who could keep a silent tongue in their heads I moved on to more training in small sailing boats. Some of them I have used to man our Bank of International Export, here and abroad, some to do other work for me ashore, which you will see the fruits of in due course. Many of them aredoing the same jobs that they have always done, but the knowledge that they are now secretly pirates, and a little extra money in their pockets, makes them happy and loyal whereas before they were bored and discontented and hated their masters.”“I am impressed!” said Blue Peter. “Organising their selection and training cannot have been easy.”“Indeed not, especially as I had to do much of it by correspondence. I was lucky in my first recruits, though, and they did a lot of the work once they were properly instructed. The biggest problem was finding places for them to practice the arts of war. There are few halls to rent, and apprentice-boys have a reputation for political trouble-making. In the end I bought some vacant buildings and established them as clubs for playing pall-mall. I thus had control of the meeting-places, and a sporting activity as a cloak for comings and goings at odd hours. Pall-mall has become so popular that the clubs even make a fine profit! Ain't life strange?”“Is it a game, then? I have not heard of it.”“It is a game played with wooden balls that roll upon a levelled floor of packed earth, struck with long-handled mallets. The Italian for the game ispallamaglio, but it's called pall-mall since Londoners talk as though they have a permanent head-cold.”“I have heard the word, but I thought that it was a street of commerce.”“Indeed it is, but the street had no name until a covered alley for pall-mall was built there. I don't know why the cockaignies don't say ‘pall-mall street', though, which would make more sense.” The Captain shrugged and drank some ale, as though dismissing the foibles of Londoners.“These apprentices, with their varied skills, are required for your plan for revenge upon the extramundane creature, I assume,” said Blue Peter carefully. He had refrained from asking the Captain further questions since their discussion during the banyan day at Porte de Recailles, but the choice of new crewmen with diverse skills had aroused his interest.“Indeed yes,” replied Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges. “I need to make some alterations to theArk de Triomphein furtherance of my plan, and they are the fellows to do it, with Frank Benjamin as their overseer and tutor. Mostly the metalworkers and mechanics, of course, not the clerks and book-keepers, who shall stayashore and run our banking business. I have retained about ninety of the original crew – I have specifically chosen those who are not afraid of new things, and who are, so to speak, not overlysuperstitious– and with about fifty new fellows we shall be able to get the work done over the coming winter, if all goes well. That gives us a crew smaller than before, but we shall not need so many fighting men and gun-crews as I intend to take no more prizes as we are well in funds, but we shall need excellent smiths. I have ordered and paid for the things that I shall need for the work well in advance, so they shall be ready in a timely fashion.”“Where will these alterations be done?” asked Blue Peter.“I have purchased a boatyard, a very suitable boatyard” said the Captain, with a wink that ended further questions.There was a knock at the door of the Great Cabin.“Who be it? Damn and blast yer eyes!” roared Captain Greybagges.“It is … it be … only I, Frank Benjamin,” came a voice through the door.“Come in then, Frank Benjamin, wi' a curse!” roared the Captain.Mr Benjamin entered, looking slightly unnerved. The Captain smiled and indicated a chair.“Excuse me, Frank. There are certain formalities to being a captain of buccaneers, and I did not know it was yourself.”Mr Benjamin looked relieved and seated himself. Blue Peter grinned at him, his filed teeth gleaming whitely. He took the jug, poured a tankard and gave it to Mr Benjamin.“There is nothing finer than a good London brew, Frank, provided it has not been watered, which is to say diluted with a small portion of the river Thames.”“Don't be such an ass, Peter,” laughed the Captain. “Tell me Frank, have you been introducing yourself to the new lads?”“Indeed I have,” said Mr Benjamin, sipping the ale, “and they are good fellows. Skilled at their trades. Adroit with their hands. Alert in their minds. Full of the fine intelligent curiosity of the mechanic, although I could not sate that yearning, except to tell them that all would be made clear in time.”“And indeed it will be,” said the Captain, “as indeed will your fine intelligent curiosity also be satisfied, Frank.”There was a another knock at the door, and Bulbous Bill and Israel Feet entered without waiting for a response. The First Mate's head still had a bandagearound it, but he looked cheerful and pain-free. They helped themselves to ale. Bulbous Bill scowled at the First Mate and went to take the tankard from him.“Nay, Bill. Mr Feet may surely have a wet of ale if his headaches have diminished. No rum or other spiritous liquors for the present, mind,” said Mr Benjamin.“Thank'ee kindly,” said the First Mate. “Please do call me Izzy, since you have joined the ship proper-like.” Mr Benjamin nodded in acknowledgement, replying that Izzy must surely call him Frank, as indeed must all of them.They sipped ale in silence for a while, listening to the noises of the wharf.“We must away soon. Tomorrow, or the next day at the very latest. Tell me the state of things,” said Captain Greybagges.The Captain's officers made their reports. New sailcloth and cordage had been delivered, said Bill, but new sheaving-blocks, paint and pitch were still awaited. He had been promised them for tomorrow morning for sure. Israel Feet recounted how he had settled in the new crew, allotted them their watches and messes, told the old hands to show them the ropes and warned them to be sober and careful. The old hands who had been allowed ashore to visit families, wives and girlfriends were all now returned, except for two, and they had sent messages. Blue Peter confirmed that powder and shot had been delivered and stowed safely, and that timber and strap-iron had been brought, too, so that the carpenter could make some small but necessary repairs to the gun-carriages. Mr Benjamin confirmed that the carpenter's stock of fine copper wire had be replenished and that certain tools and equipment had been received, or else were expected on the morrow.“Well, it seems that we shall depart the day after next,” said the Captain reflectively. “Upon the morning ebb, with luck, in the afternoon, against the tide, if there are any last-minute hitches. Things are nicely ship-shape, so it may be that I shall go ashore myself and grow my beard a little, and you gentlemen must join me, for your company is welcome, and we have seen but little of London's society.”The others murmurred appreciatively.“Go and check everything once more. The watchers on the wharf must keep a sharp look-out. Tell Loomin' Len and his boys to come to me for their orders.”The officers left the cabin.“Jake!” roared Captain Greybagges. “Come here, and bring the boot-polish!”Blue Peter Ceteshwayoo lay in his bunk in his tiny cabin in theArk de Triomphe, but sleep would not come easily, despite the food and drink that he had consumed during the afternoon and the gentle rocking of the ship. I do not like London that much, he thought. It may well be the greatest city of the entire Globe, but I am greatly disappointed with it. Perhaps after all I have read, and all the tales I have heard, my expectations were too high. In the Caribbean it is warm, and here it is cold and the the sun hardly shows its face. The nights of the Port de Recailles are made for talking, for music, for dancing, for drinking, for taking one's ease with friends, but here the cold black nights are uncomfortable and threatening. Everybody must be home before dark because of the fear of footpads and the like, and yet the day ends very early. Even if they stay in their own parlours the penny-pinching sods begrudge the cost of a tallow candle. The very rich can carouse through the midnight hours, of course, but they have coaches to take them home, servants to guard them and many bright lights to illuminate their feastings and shindiggeries, the lamps burning that great new luxury, the oil of whales. The night belongs to the thieves, the burglars and the highwaymen as well as to the wealthy, mused Blue Peter, and I suppose I shouldn't mind that, as I am a pirate and so first cousin to them. The growing of the Captain's beard had started on a strange disquieting note, too, he recalled. Israel Feet had declined to come with them at the very last moment; it would be no great pleasure going out upon the fuddle if he could not drink rum, he had said, and someone should stay with the ship, for Loomin' Len had not the wit to deal with the unexpected. If that great roisterer Izzy was seized by a mood of responsible sobriety, even allowing for his convalescent condition, then what was afoot? Indeed there is a serious and sombre mood aboard the barky, especially so given that a new draught of young crew is settling in, and we are after all a pirate ship and freebooters are rarely so sequacious. The surprising atmosphere of discipline that has prevailed since the greening of the Captain's beard must be partly responsible, thought Blue Peter, but there is something else. Even though the Captain says nothing of his plans and there is little discussion of our destination, there is yet a feeling that we are upon a dangerous enterprise. A voyage into the unknown, one might say, and that will make intelligent men thoughtful, and most of the stupid ones have been paid offand gone ashore to enjoy their shares in the plunderings of the past year.Mind you, said Blue Peter to himself, the fellow Frank Benjamin was in fine spirits. The coach-ride that took us into the City of London itself would have been a mumpish affair without Frank jesting about yokels losing their hearts to pretty ewes, and hallooing and waving his hat at the country-girls we passed along the road. Once the coach had left the little knot of taverns and warehouses fronting the Pacific Wharf at Rotherhithe they had been rolling through open countryside, rich with fields of crops despite the lateness of the year, the red-brick of the occasional farmhouses standing out against their greenness. That England is what I wished to see, perhaps, mused Blue Peter, the strong bones of Albion. Perhaps it is only London that I don't like. What was it that the wit Sam Johnson called it? ‘The Great Wen', that was it. London is not easy to love, despite the fine great dinner we had, and those French wines which were worthy of the well of Hippocrene itself. The Red Cow at Wapping was perhaps a poor choice of tavern, though, being so close to Execution Dock where pirates such as we are hanged, and the tarred corpses of a couple of them hanging from a gibbet almost outside the window of the upstairs room where we dined. Frank Benjamin is a good fellow, thought Blue Peter, as he felt himself falling asleep at last. He was very enthusiastic for the game of pall-mall, there were wooden balls flying everywhere like a cannonade, and none through the hoop. He is an empirical fellow, though, with a passion always to try things out to see what happens, and that is both a curse and a blessing; I must be careful if I ever let him near the guns, for he is sure to ask. Ha! That strutting fool of a bruiser on the door of the Red Cow called me a blackamoor, but Frank snarled at him that he is not as black as your black heart, you whoreson jackanapes, and the bruiser had quailed before the Frank's fiery indignation. Blue Peter smiled, then he started to snore.
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  Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges awoke at first light with a hangover. He blinked a couple of times, then sat up and swung his legs onto the deck, the painted canvas deck-covering cold to the touch of his feet as he steadied the swinging of the hanging bunk. He rubbed his face and shouted for Mumblin' Jake. Despite his crapulence there were things to do, and he must be about them. Mumblin' Jakecame, mumbling curses under his breath, with a cannikin of hot coffee which he thrust into the Captain's hand then went out again, still mumbling. He returned with a bowl of hot water and shaved the Captain's head while he drank the coffee, then, on the Captain's instructions, applied brown boot-polish to his green beard where the previous application had rubbed off on the pillow, mumbling about the hard, thewasherwoman's, work to get boot-polish out of linen pillowcases, damn yer eyes, yer sod.The Captain dressed himself carefully, not in his accustomed black, nor in the fine gold-frogged powder-blue uniform of akapitein van schipin the Dutch East India Company, but in an unremarkable buff coat and breeches, grey hose and stout buckled shoes; he had no intention of drawing attention to himself.While Mumblin' Jake fetched him some breakfast he took out his writing-case and penned one last letter to add to the bundle that he had written the day before. It read:My dear friend Muhammed, I trust this missive finds you and your family in good health and prosperity, and that your fine crew of corsairs is in good spirits.I recently had an excellent lunch with the pipsqueak Billy Pitt, who asked to be remembered to you, and spoke of you with great fondness. He had news of your old chum Stinky Bodfish. An uncle of the fellow's passed away last year and, since he expired without issue, Humbertus de Pfeffel Bodfish is now the Earl of Jobberknowle and possessed of a very considerable fortune. Bodfish has wasted no time in putting his new-found wealth to work. He has purchased a colonelcy in the Royal Bumbleshire Light Horse (known as the ‘Never-Show-Fears' because of the brown breeches of the regimental uniform) and has used his presence at Horse Guards Parade and the influence of his inheritance to have himself appointed an attache to Britain's Consular Mission to theKingdom of Naples. He will be taking up this posting in the spring of the New Year, and will in consequence be travelling from the port of Southampton to Napoli aboard the barquentine Alcibiades, his voyage commencing shortly after the midwinter festivities of Yuletide. As he will be passing through the Mediterranean Seas I am sure that you will be eager to take the opportunity to meet him again to renew old friendship and to congratulate him on his accession to an Earldom and his acquisition of such a large fortune. I am sorry that I shall not be able to be there for such a joyous reunion of old school-friends! Please excuse the briefness of this communication, but I have much business to attend to at the present, and but little time for its accomplishment. Your friend , Sylvestre de GreybaggesAfter the lastscritch-scratchof his quill as he signed his name with a flourish Captain Greybagges sanded the letter, read it through again, smiled to himself and sealed it with the green sealing-wax that he had recently bought. He tucked the letters into an inside pocket of his coat, tucked a small double-barrelled pistol into a waistcoat pocket, clapped a short brown scrub-wig and a brown felt hat upon his bald head and called for Mumblin' Jake to send for two bully-boys.On the wharf Captain Greybagges found that there were no coaches willing to go to the City; those that were there had all been secured to wait for clients by non-payment of the outward fee and promises of a tip after the return. He was annoyed by this, but returned to theArk de Triompheand had the longboatlaunched, with four of the new intake of crew to assist the bully-boys in pulling the oars. As the longboat was pulled against the slackening tide up the river he was glad that he had done so. He never really felt comfortable in a coach – nasty rattling contraptions, unlike a ship or a boat – and the day was pleasant, although cold. After rounding the first bend Captain Greybagges shed his buff coat and took an oar for a while to warm himself, He found his hangover and sour mood lightening to a more equable state of mind, and he chaffed the new crewmen to put them at their ease, the two bully-boys pulling steadily and saying nothing. It took nearly an hour and a half to reach Blackfriars, where he leapt nimbly ashore. The bully-boys followed him, slipping oaken cudgels under their coats. He left the four new crewmen to watch the boat, tossing them a few coins for an ale and a pie each, warning them with a wink to keep a sharp lookout for wicked pirates.Captain Greybagges sent some letters from a postal agent's office, then went to the representatives of Tristero's secret mail service, a ramshackle shop dealing in second-hand clothes and moth-eaten wigs. The place smelled sourly of old sweat from the piles of apparel, none of which seemed to have been washed, but he found the box marked W.A.S.T.E behind a pile of ragged undergarments and slipped a bundle of sealed and stamped letters into it. The keeper of the shop, a fat slatternly woman in a mob cap and shawl, had no letters for him. He tossed her a silver coin anyway, which she bit, then winked at him lewdly as she hid it in the folds of her gown. The bully-boys waited patiently for him out in the narrow street, but as he was about to walk away he saw a shop nearly opposite. The dusty window was full of bottles on wooden stands. His curiosity made him walk over and peer through the dusty glass. Each of the bottles had a small ship inside it. The Captain felt a pleasurable surprise; how did the little barky get into the bottle through so small a neck? He smiled, as though at a sudden thought, bade the bully-boys to wait, and entered the shop, a bell above the door jangling discordantly.The shop was filled with bottles of all shapes each containing a tiny ship, and unbottled models of ships of all sizes and types, crammed onto shelves, in glass-fronted counters, hanging from hooks in the the ceiling. A teak model of a pleasure-yacht as large as a kayak, gaff-rigged with red cotton sails, sat on the floor in a cradle of varnished yellow deal. Next to it was a very small ship's cannon with a bore of no more than an inch, perfect in every detail, even to tiny Chathamproof-marks stamped into the brass barrel next to the touch-hole.“Can I assist you, good sir?” came a deep voice from the rear of the shop.The Captain walked towards the voice, pausing to admire a beautiful Spanish galleon in a two-gallon rum-jug, its sails of silk stiffened with starch to appear filled with a stiff breeze, the pennons flying from its mastheads almost seeming to wave.“Come, sir, let me see you!” said the voice.As the Captain reached the back of the shop he saw a broad black-haired bearded face peering over a counter-top, and the gaping brass mouth of a blunderbuss post-carbine pointing unwaveringly at him. Bright blue eyes regarded him from under bushy black brows. He was about to ask the fellow why he was on his knees, but the bearded head moved along the top of the counter and around the end and he realised that the man was a hunchbacked dwarf, his chin barely higher than the Captain's belt. He had the appearance of a keg on stumpy legs, his arms heavily muscled and covered with tattoos. The gun pointed unwaveringly at the Captain's midriff.“Come, sir! Can you not speak?” he rumbled.“My apologies, sir. I am Captain … er … Oplichtenaar. I mean you no harm, I vow!” said the Captain, removing his hat and bowing politely.“No, perhaps you do not,” said the dwarf, lowering the gun, carefully slipping the flint to half-cock before placing it behind the counter, “but one cannot be too careful. There are many wicked thievish characters a-circulating around these opprobrious lanes, rascally cullies – aye, and infandous mollies, too! - alike to pi-dogs around a shambles. Now, how may I be of assistance to you this day?”“How do you get the ships into such tiny bottles? I confess myself amazed!”The dwarf put back his head and roared with laughter. “Hah! Maybe you would not steal my purse, but you would surely steal my arts, if you could! As would many curious and grasping knaves! Why only last month the fool of a pie-maker next door drilled a hole through yonder wall hoping to espy me about my labours and to learn my secrets. I squirted vinegar and pepper in his stupid eye with a barber's ear-syringe, then sued him for the cost of repairs to the wall. The lawyer took as his fee a brandy-bottle with a little desk inside, and upon it a wee ink-pot and quill, some papers tied about with pink ribbon and a wig on a stand. The pink ribbon was the very devil, but by chance I found some very wispy French silk knickers, cut thin strips of the fabric, treated them with a special solution andmade them flat with a pressing-iron the size of a thimble. ”The Captain joined him in his merriment, until he had to wipe tears from his eyes.“My heart and liver, sir, but you are a droll fellow! I confess myself very pleased to make your acquaintance!” Captain Greybagges shook his head. “Your ship-models, yourmijnheertjes, as a Dutchman might say, are not only finely-wrought but also very accurate in their representation of the full-sized article. Am I correct to assume that you have been to sea?”“I have indeed. I was a ship's carpenter for many a long year. Sailed upon many seas, upon waters grey, white and blue. Across the German Ocean, back and forth until I could tell the longtitude by my sense of smell alone. To the Americas. To far Cathay. Sailed in rotten tubs not fit to be broken up for kindling-wood, and in fine ships with bottoms of copper and gold-leaf upon their transoms and figureheads. Served under some of the greatest captains, and endured servitude under dunces, and tyrants, too – I will not dignify them as captains, nor even as commanders – who had but little claim to be even the basest forms of humanity, more alike to devils.” He regarded the Captain steadily from under his bristling brows. “Jebediah Vane was the worst. Couldn't keep his hands off a coin. Couldn't keep his manhood in his britches. Couldn't keep a bottle from his lips. The crew voted him out at the last, and we pleaded for pardon from the governor of Virginia, who obliged us in that for only about half of what we possessed. T'was Vane that gave me the notion for my business, though. He would always be a-mocking me for my size. ‘Har-har-har!' he'd say, ‘ship's carpenter be yuz? Yuz be such a damn-yer-eyes runt yuz oughta make little ships for sailin' around in the bottoms of bottles, round ‘n' round ‘til yuz goes aground on the lees, ye swab! Har-bloody-har-har.' When I heard he'd been hanged I am ashamed to say I celebrated, which is how I came across the wispy pink French silk knickers, for I am not a frequenter of such places in the normal course of things, only when I have had one too many.”“Good Lord!” said Captain Greybagges, eyebrows raised. “Do you mean to say that you were once a pirate?”“No more than you, CaptainOplichtenaar, who has two pistols in his weskit pockets, a stiletto in an arm-sheath in his left coat-sleeve and two bully-boys outside big enough to pull a ox-plough.” The bearded dwarf managed to look innocent and amused simultaneously. Captain Greybagges regarded him for asecond, then burst into laughter again.“I shall ask you no questions, mind you!” said the dwarfish man, “for your business is yours as my business is mine, and I think you wish to consult me in my professional capacity, not I in yours, and that may be done more companionably over a glass or two of hot rum-grog, surely? Tell your two bruisers to take a drink in the corner ale-house. I will put up the ‘back-in-an-hour' sign and nobody will bother us while we yarn awhile.”“A very singular fellow, is Alf Docklefar,” said Captain Greybagges, “very singular, indeed.”The remains of a very late supper covered the table in the wardroom of theArk de Triomphe: a ham, with not much ham left upon its bone; the skeletal remains of several roasted chickens; heels of loaves; the crumbs of a Spotted Dick, soaking up the last dribbles of a warm sauce of Muscovy sugar, spices, egg-yolks, cider and rum; rinds of cheeses; a large brown-glazed ale-jug and assorted wine-bottles.“And here is a very singular bottle for you. One which you may not empty, but wonder instead at how it came to be filled.”Captain Greybagges passed a cloth bundle to Bulbous Bill Bucephalus. The sailing-master unwrapped a clear glass wine-bottle and peered at it.“It be a tiny ship! A barquentine … no, a hermaphrodite brig! … no, more of a brigantine, hmm….”“Give it here, you lubber, wi' a curse!” said Israel Feet, taking the bottle and pering into it. “It be more of a large poleacre, upon my oath!”“I thought it more of a balener, though it could be a ballinger. Tis surely not a barque, a bilander or a bergantina, that much is clear,” said the Captain, sipping ale, and winking at Blue Peter. “The after-mast being a luffing gaff-rig throws it all into the darkest of confusion, d'you see? And that stun-sail on the topmast royal is ambiguous to say the very least. Alf Docklefar makes ‘em.”“That cannot be a stun-sail!” said Bill hotly. “It can only be a sky-scraper trysail, jury-rigged in the Corsican manner! Given the shape o' the rest o' the riggin', o' course.”“I think the puzzle is not what type of vessel it is,” said Blue Peter, who had taken the bottle in turn, “but how the vessel got into the vessel, ho-ho!”Frank Benjamin took the bottle and studied it.“Is there some doubt about which type of boat this is?” he said, examining the small model closely, hispince-nezspectacles on the end of his nose.
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“Mr Docklefar has a prodigious knowledge of ships, and that small facsimile is cunningly wrought so that it cannot be easily categorised or given a name. An amusing enigma for sailors to ponder and dispute over. Why! One could claim the lower gun-ports were really unused oar-holes and it thus could be a dromond or even a galleass!”“How it is put inside is no mystery,” said Mr Benjamin. “One's first thought is that the bottle has been cracked open and then re-joined with a transparent spiritous glue, but even the finest shellac has a slight yellow tinge and there is no sign of that. The ship must necessarily have entered through the neck of the bottle, therefore. I think I can see how that could be done, but I shall forbear to say more. Is Alf Dockelfar the only manufacturer of such trifles?”“Alf claims to be the originator of the art, but others have followed his example,” said the Captain. “A tar can work on such a thing in a berth below decks and keep it in his seamen's chest between-times, alike to scrimshaw work on bones and on walrus-ivory. Many of the bottled argosies in his emporium were made by sailormen. He acts as a sort of pawnbroker for them, gives loans on ‘em and buys and sells ‘em. There is a demand for them in London, as it sees itself as the great mercantile port of the world. I do not doubt that soon there will be a ship in a bottle in every ale-house, every broker's office and on the mantelpiece of every shipping-clerk. He does make models of ships that ain't in bottles. Shipwrights use miniature representations to show to customers what they will be getting for their money. Toys for the children of the wealthy, too, little toy yachts and jolly-boats to sail on duck-ponds. He sells bits and pieces to the other fellows that make little ships. Little anchors of cast printers-lead, little cannon barrels of brass lathed on a watchmaker's turn, that sort of thing, in all sizes.”“How is it done, then?” said Israel Feet, contemplating the ship in the bottle. “If you knows, Frank, speak plain!”Frank Benjamin opened his mouth, but Captain Greybagges put up his hand.“Frank is right to keep his council. Alf Docklefar's art is entertaining for aslong as it mystifies, and what is life without a few mysteries? Thus you have a congenial puzzle to charm you as you slip into the arms of Morpheus, Izzy, for now we must all retire. There will be much to do tomorrow.” The Captain drained his tankard. “The mystery I shall take with me to my bunk is how the devil Alf Dockelfar knew I had two pistols and a knife concealed about me! Good night to you, gentlemen!”The next morning Captain Sylvestre de Greybags paced the quarterdeck of the pirate frigateArk de Triomphe, dressed once again as akapitein van schip, his head freshly shaven and his beard freshly boot-polished. The last few deliveries of stores were awaited, and the crew were preparing to set sail. He paced the deck impatiently, accompanied by Mr Benjamin.“Take my advice, Frank. Wait for your sea-water bath until we are actually at sea. Excuse me – belay that there! Yer damn-yer-eyes lubber! Let me sees yuz usin' a grandma's knot like that again an I'll sees the colour of yer liver, yer swab! 'Pon my oath I will! – Sorry, Frank, these young fellows are eager, but sadly ignorant yet. Where was I? Yes, take your bath when we are in the German Ocean, where the water is contaminated only by the sweat of fish. A bath in Thames river-water could easily be fatal to somebody who is not a cockaignie.”“I've seen the seen the boys swimming off the wharf,” said Mr Benjamin, “but I've also seen what floats by at times. You are right, of course. Why are they called cockaignies?”“London fellows of the lower orders of society who find themselves in Paris - as some must inevitably do - are observed by the Frenchies to be forever complaining about the food. Why, in Lunnon-town there is roast beef! And roast mutton! And roast capons! And beer! The French populace, much oppressed by their evil king and his greedy aristocrats and so existing upon thin gruel and bread made of sawdust, mock such fellows and say that they must come fromcockagne, the fabled land of the fairies where there are fountains of sparkling wine and where meat-pies grow on trees. The lowlifes of London have adopted this cognomen with pride, and so refer to themselves thus.”“Would your ships-in-bottles fellow describe himself as a cockaignie?”“I should not think so. He craves a degree of respectability, and to call oneself a cockaignie is rather to proudly deny that one has any repectability at all, or indeed any desire for it. It is mostly the young fellows.”“He cannot be too respectable, not if he can tell that you are carrying concealed weapons.”“Respectability is something to be attained, surely, even when starting from a state of brutish and light-fingered poverty. Since Alf Docklefar's respectability started when he purchased a pardon from the gallows for piracy he may be assumed to have a keen sense of its monetary value. He has a sharp eye, though, and I dare say his past experience has made him alert to possible trouble. The outline of a pistol against the cloth of a waistcoat is easy to spot if you are looking, I suppose, and very difficult if you do not look, as most people do not look at most things.”The Captain and Mr Benjamin talked on about the oddities of perception; examples of legerdemain, the obvious frauds which could ensnare even clever people at times, why mirrors turn one side-to-side but not top-to-bottom. Captain Greybagges would occasionally roar curses and instructions at one of the new crewmen. Down below in the dark of the gun-deck Blue Peter and Torvald Coalbiter were patiently explaining the loading, aiming and firing of a cannon to a group of apprentice pirates.“Safety must be your watchword!” said Blue Peter in his deep rumbling voice. The young pirates nodded cautious agreement; his size, his scarred blue-black face and his filed teeth did not seem to invite discussion. “The idea is, you see, to blow the other ship to pieces, not this one. The gun-deck is prepared for action by wetting the planking, by hanging wet sacks over doors, by dowsing all lights that are not behind glass and so on, to prevent any spark from entering the powder-magazine. But you yourselves must be prepared for action, too, so that nothing can go amiss with you. You must learn to do your tasks in the right way, tedious though such rote-learning may seem right now. Any questions?”“Um, cannot we speak more like pirates, if we want to?” said one of the braver apprentices.“Indeed you can, and Mr Feet the First Mate will be giving you lessons inthe language of the freebooter,” said Blue Peter, improvising, “but he is presently slightly indisposed from a blow on the head. In the meantime it's best not to stand upon ceremony, and to speak as we are able, to avoid confusion.”Blue Peter was soon sidetracked into an explanation of the First Mate's wound, an account of the night attack and thereby on to an account of the Captain's defeat of Ali the Barber by the cunning twisting of words. Torvald Coalbiter fetched the giant razor and showed it to the apprentice pirates as proof of the tale. They were duly impressed.“There is much for you to learn about the profession of buccaneering,” said Blue Peter. “It's not all rum and cutlasses and ‘Arr! Me hearties!' There's some of that, of course, but this is a modern pirate-ship, run on progressive principles, so we operate in a more disciplined way than some others, like Captain Blackbeard, for example.” And I hope that accords with what the Captain is planning, thought Peter, whatever it is.Torvald Coalbiter took up the lesson in Blue Peter's silence, and repeated his tale about his name, and the virtues of avoiding trouble if there was no profit in it. Some of the apprentice pirates disagreed mildly on philosophical grounds, pointing out that if piracy were too well-organised it would be the same as serving before the mast on a merchant-vessel.“Why, not at all!” said Coalbiter. “it is the spirit of the thing that counts! And all enterprises require a degree of efficiency or they will not work at all! For example, the modern pirate has to be alert to the possibilities arising from the fast transport of information. He must be, or be beached or hanged, else! Even the beserkers, who I have just disparaged for their stupidity, knew full-well the value of an efficient postal system. My uncle Erik Bloodsausage used to recite a poem to us when we were little, just to remind us of this inescapable fact.” Torvald Coalbiter drew himself up, and declaimed:“Many years ago, an old Norse berserker,told me a stirring tale, a real tear-jerker,about how he'd never been a shirker,when he was a Scandiwegian postal-worker. He said the Vikings never sacked a town,Unless first they'd parcelled it up in paper brown,sealed with sticky tape well-thumbed down,and hempen string knotted all around. Up in the North it was often dark and damp,but in the temporary sorting-camp,each parcel was addressed and stamped,by the yellow light of tallow lamps. Then the long ships raced under oar and sail,with mail-sacks stacked right up to the rail,because they must never ever slow or fail,nothing stops the Scandiwegian mail! When the town was posted-off, except the pub,the postmen would sit down for some grub,they'd dine on pie-and-chips and syllabub,then belch and grab themselves a club. The folks of the town they'd gather up,then bash each one on the head, just like a seal-pup,it was hard graft after such a hearty sup,but those carbs helped to keep their blood-sugars up. When all the savings accounts were discharged,they'd go back to the boats to get undisembarged,and with their purses much enlarged,they could afford an afternoon snack of bread and marge. If you ask any Norse postman I betcha most'll,tell you straight, insist that always our boast'll,be that in mailing matters, whether ashore or coastal,there's no one like a beserker for going postal!”His words being being proven true at that very moment, as a last packet of post was passed to Captain Greybagges even as the mooring-cables were slipped from the bollards. A small group of apprentice-boys went ashore and disappeared into the crowds on the wharf, and the gangplank was drawn up. Hired boats slowly pulled theArk de Triompheout into the stream, turning her to go south-southeast with the current and tide. Captain Sylvestre de Greybags paid them with coins thrown from the quarterdeck rail and an exchange of friendly insults. Bulbous Bill Bucephalus howled at the men in the rigging and the topsails dropped and unfurled to catch the slight breeze, the convenient easterly breeze. Within ten minutes theArk de Triompheturned the bend of the river looping back around the Isle of Dogs and was lost from sight.A horse rode to the edge of the wharf, and its rider dismounted and looked at the empty quay where theArk de Triomphehad been. A tall angular man in a long black cloak and a battered black slouch hat, his lower face hidden by a scarf to ward off the dust of the road, his eyes in the shadow of the hat-brim. He asked a nearby idler to confirm the name of the ship so recently set sail, his voice deep and harsh. The idler acknowledged that the ship had indeed been theGroot Ombeschaamheid, a Dutch merchantman out of Rotterdam, then moved away from the stranger as quickly as he could without seeming to hurry, unsettled by the man's abrupt question and angry manner. The man remounted his horse in one agile movement like an experienced cavalry-trooper, swinging a heavy boot over the horse's rump, his black cloak flapping. The horse whickered and pranced sideways a few steps, but the black-clad figure mastered it instantly and swung it round so he could stare once more down the river before he turned the horse and rode away. The idler looked back over his shoulder, and as he did a chance ray of the early sun slid under the brim of the black slouch hat and lit the face of the man.The idler went into one of the taverns facing onto the wharf and bought a large measure of gin. It must just have been a trick of the light, he told himself as he gulped the gin. Nobody has green eyebrows.CHAPTER THE NINTH,or The Pool of Life.Ido not like these birds,” said Blue Peter Ceteshwayoo. “They resemble the misbegotten offspring of a vulture and a pelican, and they have a malevolent stare. They look like they ought to have teeth in their beaks.” He aimed a kick at one of the birds, which avoided the blow easily with a sideways hop, stared at him malevolently with a yellow eye, croaked ‘awk!' then flapped away through the cold drizzling rain towards the river, its orange webbed feet dangling.“The locals say they are called ‘snappers', but they are properly called Liver birds,” said Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges. “They are only found around the Liver Pool and nowhere else, so it is a reasonable sort of name. Not a name like ‘warriangle' or ‘merganser', which are meaningless. A merganser does not ‘merganse', does it?”“The warriangle is the red shrike, also called the butcher-bird, or the worrier, or the throttler,” said Frank Benjamin, trudging behind them, trying to keep his cloak wrapped around himself against the wind and rain. “Warriangle is but a corruption ofwurgengel, which is German for ‘destroying angel'. I do not know why they have such a reputation, for they are an attractive bird. Unlike these ugly things.” He waved a walking-stick at another Liver bird as it skimmed past on the wind, squawking.“They sound the same as the damned inhabitants of this God-forsaken place,” said Blue Peter, “as though they have a head-cold, like the Londoners but worse. I had thought London to be a cold and miserable place, but I see it now as fairly tropical. I am surprised palm trees do not grow on Tilbury Dock.”
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The three trudged through the mud. It was unpleasant to be abroad, despite their hats, woollen cloaks and greased sea-boots. A Liver bird hovered above them, its cry mournful and strangely nasal; “Awk! Awk! Awk-la!”The muddy path of Pool Lane skirted the eponymous pool, and eventually led to the hump-backed Towsend bridge over the stream that emptied into it. They looked back from the bridge at the town of Liver Pool, a cluster of buildings dark in the last of the daylight. The bulk of the Old Castle in the midst of the houses, the church standing out by virtue of its square tower, the grey expanse of the Mersey estuary beyond it occasionally visible through the curtains of cold rain.They carried on over the bridge.“The fellows in the tavern seemed cheerful and friendly enough, but strangely menacing,” said Mr Benjamin. “I didn't know what to make of them.”“It is their way, it seems,” said the Captain. “They distrust strangers, and they are surely not unusual in that, yet must deal with them, and so they attempt to appear both amiable and daunting at one and the same time. In a way it suits my purposes, for they are not overly curious, since they themselves do not welcome scrutiny. I hope my words to them, and my small gifts, will reduce the attempts at burglarising. I do not wish to use stronger measures. Come, we are nearly there, and a glass of rum-grog will cheer us.”Captain Greybagges had purchased a boat-builder's yard on the eastern side of the Liver Pool, away from the town. It had been unused and vacant for several years, almost becoming a ruin, its buildings pillaged by the locals for slate from the roofs and wood. The three squelched down the path at the edge of the Pool in the rain.In the boatyard there was shelter, warmth and light. Light shining from the windows of the yardmaster's house in the increasing gloom, the gleam of lamps visible from workshops and lean-to sheds. Pirates are sailors nevertheless, and are accustomed to making the best of circumstances, and to the continuous frenzy of repair and cleaning that is life at sea. The residence of the master of the boatyard, empty for years, lacking window-glass, window-frames, doors, floorboards and most of its roof, had stood no chance against the nautical repugnance for disorder, and had been made habitable in two days by a busy fury of pirate work-squads, and made neat and painted in a week, the glossy yellow enamel of the front door a bright gesture of contempt to the unremitting rain. They went gratefully in, but Blue Peter excused himself after gulping a glass of grog and walked around the boatyard on an evening tour of inspection.A number of wooden huts had been built and the crew had moved ashore. There was light from these huts as the watches were changing. Blue Peter stopped at the huts, talking with the men. A supper of crocks of stew, baskets of bread and jugs of ale was being collected and brought to the huts, each mess going to the kitchen at the house in strict turn, the same as at sea. The men would eat, drink, sing, play at cards and dice, then stow the trestle-tables against the wall and sling their hammocks and sleep the sleep of the just, for the work was unrelenting and hard.Blue Peter walked on down to theArk de Triomphe. Upon her arrival at the boatyard the frigate had been stripped and emptied as it lay moored at the end of the wooden jetty. The frigate's masts had been unstepped and the guns and ballast unloaded with the aid of a sheer-hulk, a floating contraption of great antiquity. Blue Peter had been surprised by the age of the sheer-hulk; its timbers were a patchwork of scarfings and the overlaps of its clinker planks had been undercut a finger's width by the soft abrasions of flowing water in some long-forgotten past when its hull had actually plowed the seas and not been merely the pontoon for a crane built of old masts and spars. Opinions of the age of the sheer-hulk's hull had varied, but the ship's carpenter had assessed it to be one-and-a-half centuries old at least, maybe two. Blue Peter had found himself strangely impressed by this; who knew that a wooden ship could last that long? The stripped-bare, and much-lightened, hull of theArk de Triomphehad been dragged ashore by the cunning application of rollers and the Spanish windlass and placed on a stollage of wooden baulks in a rectangular pit, where it now sat. The vast labour of digging the pit and dragging the hull ashore into it resembled something, mused Blue Peter, but he couldn't think exactly what. Israelites in the Bible slaving to build pyramids? Did they build pyramids in the Bible? Except that the semi-naked slaves had been slaving in the pouring rain, splattered with freezing brown Mersey mud, not in the hot sun of Egypt on the banks of the sluggish warm Nile. The accomplishment of such a gruelling task had drawn the crew together, though, in a very powerful way. There had been some tensions on the voyage to Liver Pool, the old pirates being short of patience with the apprentice pirates for their lack of seamanship, tending to patronise them by strutting about as they felt men should who had seen bloody actions, while the new pirates had responded in turn by mocking the old pirates for their lack of education and knowledge of things mechanical. The heroic struggle with the hull of theArk de Triomphehad made them work together, work to each other's strengths, so now it was ‘the old pirates' and ‘the new pirates', and not ‘the pirates' and ‘the apprentice-boys'.Blue Peter continued his walk around the boatyard, checking that the pickets were alert. The locals were very thievish and there had been numerous attempts to steal, some of them worryingly ingenious. The Captain was paying regular bribes to the Lennons and the McCartneys, the main criminal gangs of Liver Pool, to prevent or at least limit pilfering, but the lesser affiliated clans, the Starkeys and theHarrisons, were probably not receiving their fair share of the protection-money and so felt less constrained. The Best gang, having been completely expelled from the Liver Pool underworld to the wilderness of the Wirral, felt no constraint at all, of course, but were relatively powerless to operate on the other gangs' turf. Blue Peter was determined to prevent a violent incident causing trouble, so vigilance was important, and he was thankful for the tolerant attitude of the pirates to the locals; they were only thieves, after all, and so regarded as a nuisance and not a threat, to be given a clout round the ear when apprehended, not shot, disembowelled with a cutlass or crippled in such a way as might lead to ill-will. There must be some contacts with the locals, of course. These were mostly of a carnal nature, whether procured by payment or by simple affection, and remained a potential source of incidents.Jack Nastyface joined Blue Peter on his tour of the perimeter, falling silently into step with him, cloaked in a cape of tarpaulin against the foul weather. The young man had become quieter, more introspective, since his friend Jemmy Ducks had left the pirate crew, no longer the giddy youth who had skylarked in the rigging with whoops and catcalls. Blue Peter was sure that if he had not checked the sentries then Jack would have done so unprompted even though he had just finished helping the cook prepare the supper.“Have you heard from Jemmy at all?” he asked as they approached the house.“He sent a letter by the tubs,” replied Jack. “He is investing his loot in a brewery in Southall, he says, and in horses and drays for the deliveries. He thinks that the London taverns will gladly forego brewing beer on their own premises as there is then more space for drinkers and more profit to be made. He always did have a clear head for business. He has bought himself a blue broadcloth coat with gold buttons so that he looks more the man of affairs, and he is courting a dressmaker called Edith. He says that she is ‘not entirely pretty, but very jolly', in his own words.”The ‘tubs' were cargo vessels purchased by the Captain and crewed by retired pirates. They had delivered the sawn timber and other materials for the repairs to the house and to build the huts for the crew, the warehouses for theArk de Triomphe'sguns and other contents, the workshops and the walls of the pit where the frigate now sat on its timber cradle. They had delivered other, more mysterious, cargoes, too, and carried letters for the pirates.“Jemmy will need a hard head for drink as well as a clear head for business if he wants to be a brewer,” said Blue Peter, laughing.“He has hired a brewer to make the beer,” said Jack. “I think he got the notion of a brewery from wanting to have a stable and to work with heavy horses. With a brewery he always has plenty for his horses to deliver, and no need to deal with lordly merchants and gentlemen of business, who are known to be tight-fisted and slow to pay. A tavern landlord always pays for the beer and for the delivery on the nail. Jemmy likes his ale, it is true, but I don't think he will ever be a sot.”They stood in the rain for a moment, the raindrops of the downpour glinting golden from the light from the windows of the house. Faint snatches of song and concertina came from the crew-huts, and occasional noises of hammering from the workshops, audible above the hissing of the rain. The boatyard was functioning well to achieve the Captain's plan. But what is that plan? thought Blue Peter. The crew do not ask, they have complete confidence in him. I wish I could feel the same; did he really tell me tales of extramundane creatures on his banyan day, or was that a crazy dream?Jack Nastyface bid him farewell with a slightly-sad smile and headed around the back of the house to the kitchen, where there would be pots to wash before Jack's own supper. Blue Peter entered the yellow front door of the house, flapping water from his thick woollen boat-cloak. In the parlour Captain Greybagges and Mr Benjamin were eating beef stew, washing it down with ale from tarred leather drinking-jacks. Blue Peter called for some to be brought for him, too, and warmed his behind at the fire, holding the tails of his coat aloft and to the sides so they would not be singed by the crackling blaze of logs.“As you know,” he said, “I have always wished for the life of an English country squire, and I have imagined myself warming my arse like this before a fire, and thought it would be a fine thing, but now I have to do it from mere necessity I find that dream strangely sad and misinformed.”Captain Greybagges laughed, Mr Benjamin grinned. A ‘new pirate' came in with a bowl of stew and a jack of ale. Blue Peter sat down at the table, tearing a hunk from a loaf, polishing his silver spoon on a napkin, preparing to savour his supper.“It is unfortunate that your first experience of England should be in winter, Peter,” said the Captain, “especially as you have seen only London and this godforsaken place. There are more congenial spots. The climate on the south coast is very pleasant in the summer. Why the port of Southampton even has black Englishmen!”“Is that indeed true?” exclaimed Mr Benjamin. “Are they escaped slaves? Begging your pardon, Peter! I speak from vulgar curiosity alone.” Blue Peter waved his spoon dismissively, his mouth full of the rich stew.“No, Frank, they are not,” said the Captain. “They are Englishmen born and bred. Many of them are fine seamen, and can boast that their grandsires fought with Drake and Hawkins against the great Spanish armada back in the time of Queen Bess. That gives them a better right to be called English than many of the fine lords and ladies, I think. The people of Southampton agree, for they are an easy-going folk and the sea is in their blood. If you doubt me, merely consider that not only blacks but also Jews and even Dutchmen make their homes in Southampton in perfect tranquillity and prosperity.”“The Dutch!” exclaimed Mr Benjamin. “Is not England presently at war with the Dutch? The burghers of Southampton must be tolerant indeed!”“Do you know, I am not sure if England is at war with the Dutch!” said the Captain, grinning. “There have been so many wars with them, and so many peace-treaties, I lose count! The citizens of Southampton are united in their appetite for trade and commerce, and so regard sailors and merchants with great esteem, no matter what their provenance. A war is unfortunate, it's true, but no reason to scupper a fine deal with Myneer van den Plonk, especially as his warehouse is next to the wharf and the Lord Chancellor is far away in the Palace of Westminster. It is an attitude similar to that of pirates in many ways, and laudable to us, if not to the fellows in Parliament. No, I remember now! England is not at war with the Dutch at this time. Perhaps next week, eh?”“I have much to learn about being a pirate,” Mr Benjamin said. “My mind still tries to apply the laws of logic to the affairs of politics, and to the laws of men, too, which is even more foolish. A pirate has a more pragmatic view, and will not label a man a traitor unless he shall betray his own shipmates or friends. It is perhaps a more human reaction, in the long term. There is a wise fellow, John Locke, who philosophises upon these things, and he suggests that the legalconstitution of a nation should be based upon the desires and aspirations of its humblest citizens, for there are many of them, and not upon the prerogatives of its most wealthy and powerful, for they are few.”“Um, it is a wonderful notion,” said Captain Greybagges, “but I cannot see the wealthy and powerful being at all enthusiastic for it. They are afraid of the many precisely because they themselves are few.”“The rich will not take easily to the idea, of course,” said Mr Benjamin, “but the needs of the many are surprisingly modest. Locke says that every man, no matter how humble, should be guaranteed ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness'. If these simple rights were adopted as the basis for a nation's laws then the rich could keep their money, which is the only real basis of power, but only for as long as they infringed nobody else's rights. They might also lose their money if they were improvident, but the laws based on universal rights would prevent them from stooping to desperate measures to retain their fortunes. Such a nation might be very vigorous, being based on fairness, and the wealthy might even benefit disproportionately from its prosperity, rather than be murdered in their beds by a howling mob of starving peasants. It is an idea quite close to the democratical nature of a pirate ship, where everyone has their job, knows their worth and is renumerated accordingly, with debate open to everybody.”
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“If Mr Locke's philosophising ever gets translated into French thenle Roi Soleilmight find himself punctured by a pitchfork,” said Captain Greybagges, “which would not lead to a vigorous nation but to civil war, and I would not wish that upon even the French, much as I despise King Louis.”“Ah! but France is an old nation, so that the King would be killed by a settling of ancient accounts, not by the mere desire for new philosophy of governance. A new nation, with no old scores or grudges, might prove a more fertile garden in which such an idea might grow, might it not?”“You argue your case very well, Frank,” said the Captain, “and I say that as a lawyer. I may also hazard a guess that your ‘new nation' is the north American colonies. Am I right?”“You are, but not at the present moment or under the present circumstances. I don't think I shall live to see it, but the spread of an idea is unstoppable, if it is a good idea, so I suspect that it will be adopted when the right moment comes, when it is a useful idea and not a destructive one.” Mr Benjamin drained his ale. “I mustbid you adieu. We cast a copper test-piece this afternoon in a mould of sand and china clay, and I wish to observe its rate of cooling, and also to prevent any rogue of an empirical nature from breaking open the mould prematurely through mere impatience or idle curiosity.”Captain Greybagges watched Mr Benjamin leave. Blue Peter finished his stew, cleaning the bowl with a piece of bread, topped up his ale from the jug and selected an apple from the basket in the middle of the table.“He is a clever fellow, is Frank,” said Captain Greybagges, “and he may well be right about Locke's ideas. Mind you, Peter, the Dutch do away with their kings, and yet they seem always to get them back again, but under a different name. The present fellow is called thestadthouder, meaning ‘place-keeper' or steward, but they are a republic so they cannot decide how much notice to take of him. A democratic utopia such as Frank envisages may be hard to build. I like his notion that such a place would resemble piracy, though! An entire nation of buccaneering entrepreneurs giving not a hoot for anything except freedom and happiness, their eyes always on the far horizon, always on the next gamble! What a thing that would be!”“I am still cold,” said Blue Peter. “I stand by the fire, then eat a tureen of hot stew and drink a stoop or two of strong ale, and yet I am still cold.” Blue Peter crunched the apple. The Captain's beard glowed green in the light from the oil lamps. It's funny, thought Blue Peter, but I hardly notice it now. He coloured it brown to go into Liver Pool, but now he has washed it off – the boot-polish makes it itch, he says – and I didn't really notice until the lamp-light caught it. How easily we become accustomed to the bizarre if we see it every day.“Do you feel the time is right to reveal more of your plans?” said Blue Peter softly, almost without thinking. Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges looked at him with raised eyebrows, then nodded.“You are cold, Peter,” he said. “There are too many freezing draughts in here!” He stood up and kicked the thick rug against the gap at the bottom of the door, and stuffed a napkin into the keyhole. “There, the parlour will warm up a little now,” he said loudly, and in a lower voice; “If we talk quietly we cannot be understood from outside the door. I got Izzie to test it by standing outside while I sang ‘Spanish Ladies'. We both pretended to be drunk. Well, drunker than we were, anyway. Sailors, pirates or not, are always nosey blighters, I have found.” Herummaged in a desk, sat down and beckoned to Blue Peter to draw his chair closer.“So, Sylvestre, you will enlighten me further? I am agog!” Blue Peter murmurred, screeching his chair on the stone-flagged floor as he shuffled it next to the Captain. The Captain opened a bottle of Madeira and poured two glasses.“Indeed yes, Peter. Perhaps it is overdue. I have discussed some of what I am going to tell you with Bill, but only the algebraical and geometrical aspects, which he will need to understand for navigation. Oh, I am not making much sense! It's difficult to know where to begin. Anyway, the point with Bill is that he knows nothing of the extramundane creatures, but he does have some knowledge of their natural philosophy, which I will now explain to you. Don't mention the extramundanes at all to anybody just yet, is what I mean to say.”Captain Greybagges stared blankly for a moment, composing his thoughts. Blue Peter stayed silent, sipping the sweet wine.“Time is an awkward thing.” The Captain took a sheet of paper from the sheaf he had taken from the desk and dipped a quill. “Imagine a tree. Here is the ground” He drew a line across the paper. “Here is the trunk of the tree.” A line up from the first line. “Branches, the trunk divides in two, thus, and again, and again, so. But below ground there are roots.” A line drawn down from the groundline. “Roots that also branch, and again, and again, so. Imagine that the air, light and free, is the future, and that the ground, solid and permanent, is the past. The present is the surface of the ground. The tree represents something with a future and a past - you, me, a ship, a rat, a rock - so that the branching represents the choices that are taken in the future, you see? This choice leads to that, that one to this, and so on. In a similar way for the past; these roots represent the narrowing pattern of choices that lead to the present.”“I see what you mean, I think,” said Blue Peter slowly. “They are lines in time, leading from the past into the future through the nexus of the present.”“Well put! The Arab scholars wrote of analeph, where all time and space are coincident, and some necromancers claim that there is one in the pillar of a temple in Jerusalem, and that you can hear it buzzing if you put your ear to the rock. I think that is all hogwash, though, and that the Arab savants really meant thealephto represent the constriction of choices as the future turns into the past, alike to several streams joining to rush through a culvert.”“It is indeed a compelling picture,” said Blue Peter thoughtfully.“However, it is more complicated.” The Captain drew another tree next to the first. “It is a forest, not a single tree. If that tree is you, and this tree is me, then if our futures are entwined so are the branches of the trees, and if our pasts are entwined then so are the roots, and so for a hundred, a thousand other trees.”“Ah, yes, that begins to be complicated.”“Not only that, but although you are one man you are made of parts, so the tree could represent only one of your arms, or a finger, or a fingernail, and so on down to the atomies that compose your corporeality. Each atomie with its own tree, its branches and roots entwined with a million others.”“Hmm, that is complicated. A dance of atomies weaving the present like a tapestry.”“Precisely! The next part you will have to take more on trust.” Captain Greybagges refilled their glasses.“Why?”“Because I don't really understand it myself. The whole notion of atomies was thought up by the old Greek cove Democritus. He thought it unreasonable that something could be divided up infinitely. Cut a piece of string in half, cut the half in half, and so on. He deduced that sooner or later one would encounter an indivisible particle, or atomon, and be able to cut no more.”“That does indeed sound reasonable,” said Blue Peter, sipping the Madeira wine.“Ahh! But that implies a general principle!” said Captain Greybagges. “If matter is granular, then maybe everything else is, too. Time. Distance. Heat. Nothing continuous, but everything doled out as in coinage, with no change from a groat. A groat, or no groat. No half-groats.”“These small increments of time, distance or heat,” said Blue Peter, “must be very tiny, or we would notice them. The tick of a clock seems to chop up time, but that is an illusion, time itself seems continuous.”“They are very small, but they have an effect nevertheless.” The Captain held up his hand. “No, let me finish. I said I did not understand it fully myself. The granular or grainy nature of everything on a small scale has the effect of making the present a little elastic, or deformable. Since there are no half-groats, then at the moment of reckoning - the present - things must be rounded up or rounded down, and that is a roll of the dice, not a calculation. Imagine the atomies assoldiers running out to the parade-square to form up in ranks; they shuffle into lines, they stand to attention, then break up again and run off for their breakfast. Just before they form up, though, there is a period of pushing and shoving - ‘this is my position', ‘no, it's mine', ‘budge up a bit' and so on - then every soldier finds a place and the parade is perfect. That instant of perfect order is the present, but either side of it there is chaos, and the precise position of each soldier depends partly on chance.”“But that is only one instant in time, surely?”“Yes, but time itself is grainy, so the flow of time is an endless succession of such moments. There are more atomies than are apparent, too. As in a play on a stage, for example, you see the play, but you don't see the actors waiting in the wings, or the stagehands, yet they are there. If you took a bottle and pumped the air out - like that fellow did in Magbeburg, Otto von Guericke - then inside the bottle is nothing, yet little miniscule atomies pop up in there all the time from out of nowhere just in case they are needed. Pop up, say ‘anyone need an atomie? No? Oh, well, I'll be off then,' and disappear again back to the dressing-room, or wherever it is that atomies go when they're not here, or there. The constant butfleetingpresence of atomies means there is empty space in the bottle's vacuum, but notnothing. Think of it as alike to moonlight on a dark and choppy ocean; one sees the white foam, but not the vast dark ocean upon which the foam floats. There is no foam in the empty bottle, but the dark ocean is still there.”“My head hurts, Sylvestre,” said Blue Peter, “and this Madeira isn't helping. Have you any brandy?”Captain Greybagges rose from his armchair, put another log on the fire and rummaged through a chest. He came back with a bottle of brandy, and poured two glasses.“Your head will only hurt, Peter, if you try and understand it, for common sense does not help very much. Anyways, the effect of it is that the present is slightly plastic or elastic. Given that time and distance are the same thing, too, it is possible to tinker about with time to some extent. The extramundanes, or at least the influential ones like the Glaroon, have discovered how to do this. The lizard people and the little grey buggers have not, so they are as much their victims as us. There are constraints on messing about with time, though. If one went back one hundred years in time - which is quite possible - and murdered one's grandsire,then there would be no consequences when one returned to the present, one would only have created a dead-end time-path, and that would heal itself and disappear. By the same token, if one went a week into the future, found the result of a horse-race and came back to the present and wagered on it then one would surely lose, because one would only have seen apossiblefuture, one of many.”“Then there is little point in moving through time, surely?”“Not entirely. It is still possible to cheat a little bit, if one goes with the natural fall of events. For example, I myself was away on Mars for about three years, but I travelled back in time to the very point at which I left. This was a breach of the laws of time, so to speak, but me being displaced from my normal time-line was a bigger one, so I continue with my existence here and the closed loop in the timeline which I took when I was abducted to Mars is what shall wither away from history, or it would except that it is kept open by my beard, which is in contact with the Glaroon's library.”“I'm not sure I follow that,” Blue Peter sipped brandy.“Nobody could. As I say, common sense is inadequate to deal with these matters. I will give you another example.” Captain Greybagges handed him a piece of coal. “Note that this lump of sea-coal has the impression of a leaf in it, where it has been split.”“I see it quite clearly.”“The leaf is several tens of millions of years old, yet it remains recognisable, for not much has happened to disturb it. If one were to travel back in time and collect a leaf and bring it to the present then it would be only slightly wilted because it would be travelling in the rough direction of its own time-line, much as that more-decayed leaf has done, and so not much harm would be done by that. It would not, of itself, create an anachronistic problem.”“Tens of millions of years?”“Yes. The world is much older than is currently assumed.”“Not an anachronism?”“Not really. Other leaves have made the journey, you have one in your hand, so what odds does it make if another one does? If one was to take something back in time, then there could be a huge consequence, even if the something was only as insubstantial as a mere idea. Take the secret of gunpowder back in time and give it to the ancient city of Carthage, the Romans lose the Punic wars and thewhole of history would be different from then on. It's too much disruption, so it can't happen and won't happen. I travelled back three years, but it was a small anachronism as it restored a timeline, which is a good thing, and it was only three years so the past wasn't properly hardened, and so it did happen, and so here I am.”“How does this affect your plans?”“Now we get down to it, Peter. The Glaroon, having mastered the laws of time, can travel back and bring things forward, and so it does. Inanimate things are best – objects of marble and bronze, jewellery of diamonds and gold – they can be stolen from the past with ease because they could have been lost or buried and then found again, so no problem with them arriving in the present. The Glaroon, as you may imagine, has a large collection of such things stolen from the past, a collection worth more than all the money in the world's coffers, bank-vaults, exchequers and treasuries put together. Is that not a cheery thought, shipmate? We go to plunder the biggest treasure of all!”
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“Um, how do you plan to get to Mars?”“You will see! But there are other things that the Glaroon steals from the past, thefts that are less easy to forgive, for they are thefts of people, men and women like ourselves. We not only go to take a vast fortune, but also to free the Glaroon's slaves, to liberate his menagerie of humanity. That should make you proud and glad, Peter! Mr Benjamin too, I should think.”“People stolen from the past, you say?” Blue Peter gulped brandy.“Well, not in person. The principle of minimum disruption still applies, and people are more fragile than bronze statues. The Glaroon instead steals a fragment of a man or a woman – a flake of skin, a hair, even a drop of saliva, I believe – brings it to the present and by some process can recreate the whole corpus and animate it. That of itself it not a particularly wicked thing to do, but the copied people – the artificial identical twins, if you will – do not then have the freedom to make their own time-line, but are kept as slaves in durance vile. Worse than that, their real memories are erased and replaced with artificial memories, so that the Glaroon may converse with Ghenghis Khan if he so wishes. I think the Glaroon does it to ease his boredom, the crushingennuiresulting from the millenia of its unmitigated selfishness. The wretched slave is not commander of his own destiny and is not even master of his own soul. Poor Ghenghis! How captivity grates uponhis noble warrior's spirit, even though it is not truly his! Yet he is a cheerful fellow, and witty. I shall be pleased to see him again!”Blue Peter was silent for some moments.“This Glaroon thing, it has many people such as Ghenghis Kahn?”“Why, yes! People from the recent past and from antiquity, even from prehistory. There was a fellow there who had supposedly invented the wheel. He was a glum cove, but then the Glaroon would force him to make wheels all the time, copies of his original wheel, so that he could give them as amusing gifts to other influential extramundanes, and that must have been galling. The poor fellow would often curse the day he thought of making a wheel-barrow, and bewail the fact that the mere desire to ease his aching back when taking his melons to market should have caused him such torment. Yet if that tormented slave should end his own life, well, then – abracadabra! – the Glaroon would just make another copy of the poor fellow and carry on. It must be stopped, you see. Also, all the going into the past and shifting things forward does have a cumulative effect, so the history of these regions is currently a little scrambled-up, with broken and stretched timelines all over the place. There are things happening now that should not happen for years yet, and things that should have happened which haven't. Sooner or later it will mend itself, of course, but that won't be a good thing, not unless the Glaroon has been stopped by then and some repairs made to the time-fabric so that the unravellings and the re-ravellings end up creating a past that's much like it ought to have been. The Glaroon is just amusing himself at the expense of the whole human race – and the races of the lizard people and the little grey buggers, too – and at the expense of the past, which is our past and which should not be used as a play-thing for such as the Glaroon to diddle with ...” Captain Greybagges swallowed some brandy. “… the bastard. It is personal, too. I told you that, Peter.”“What are these creatures, creatures of the the Glaroon's breed? Where do they come from?”“Creatures such as the Glaroon call themselves the Great Old Ones, or the Great Ancient Ones, but I think that's just pure conceit, alike to a French count who traces his ancestry back to Jesus's cousin Freddy by way of Alaric the Goth. There's no doubt that they are old, very old, but they are still just creatures. It is said that the great turtles can live for centuries, but they are still just turtles, are they not? I don't know much about the Old Ones, really. I don't know where theyhale from. I don't know how they reproduce, or if they have emotions as we do. I don't know if they are all the same breed, distantly related or all entirely different, being only similar in their great age. I don't know if they are allied with each other, although I do suspect that they are like the Italian princes of old who would smile courteously while plotting each other's doom, the kind of sly fellows for whom Machiavelli wrote hisIl Principe, thatvade mecumof treason and betrayal. I have never seen the Glaroon, never actually clapped eyes on it, but I have seen some of the other ones. They are pretty ugly and weird for the most part, although I did find a very few of them congenial. Great Cthulu was always pleasant to me, and his daughter Lulu has a mischievious impish sense of humour that lightened some moments of my imprisonment.”“Are you not afraid that attacking the Glaroon may earn you the emnity of the others?”“I must risk that, but I think that they will be secretly amused if I succeed, much as a tyrannical potentate might be delighted by another such being scragged by his peasants, as indeed Louis was mightily pleased when the father of the present King Charles was beheaded, despite his pompous protestations to the contrary.”“Politics would seem to be the same everywhere, even on faraway worlds. I am not sure if that is a very depressing thought or a richly amusing one.” Blue Peter shook his head sadly, then drained his brandy.A pirate knocked on the door, opened it against the dragging rug, and brought them mugs of hot cocoa, which they laced with brandy as a nightcap.  The next morning Blue Peter Ceshwayoo rose early, as was his custom, and shaved and dressed by the light of a candle in the pre-dawn darkness and cold. In London he had purchased long woollen underwear, and he blessed his foresight. He loathed the late rising of the sun in these northern latitudes, but found his pocket-watch oddly reassuring as he wound it and stowed it in his waistcoat pocket; it was light and warm somewhere, the watch proved that, just not here. He ate a bowl of oatmeal burgoo and drank a cup of black coffee in the kitchen, in the hope that it would ease his slight hangover, and went on another tour of the boatyard, wrapped in a boat-cloak against the unceasing rain.He found Mr Benjamin in his copper-foundry, red-eyed but happy. The castings he had poured the previous afternoon were solidified, he had been breaking open the moulds at intervals throughout the night to obtain knowledge of the cooling, and was satisfied, he said, clambering out of the smoking casting-pit, peering through hispince-nezspectacles as he scribbled in a note-book. Now he was ready to cast some proper pieces, not test-specimens, and he was quietly eager.“Go and get some sleep, Frank,” Blue Peter said kindly. “Your men can finish up here.”Copper ingots were stacked in the foundry ready for the crucible, and laid on the stone floor against the wall were dozens of rods of copper the thickness of a pencil and four paces long, tied together in bundles with split-withies. When did they come? he thought. No wonder we have burglars What are they for? The foundry was wonderfully warm, but Blue Peter continued his tour in the dark and the cold rain.At the edge of the dry-dock pit he stopped and watched the work on theArk de Triomphe. Four pirates, supervised by Israel Hands, were carrying a long forged-iron plate into the stripped shell of the hull by the light of oil-lamps. All rotten timbers – and a wooden ship always has some – had been cut out and new timber scarfed-in, and the whole hull re-caulked. Now these long plates were being bolted to sandwich the keel-timbers and create an iron spine. Blue Peter had no idea why.He paced on in the darkness, considering the implications of fornication and heaps of copper on his anti-pilfering strategies. The sky would not even begin to lighten until the repeater-watch snug in his pocket struck nine, but then he should have breakfast in the warm parlour. A Liver bird somewhere in the dark went ‘awk!'During the winter months the work continued on theArk de Triomphe. The iron backbone was completed and curved iron members and angled plates were added to lock it to the wooden ribs of the hull. Three flat iron plates were bolted like tables onto the backbone deep inside the hull; one for'ard, one aft and a largerone in the middle. The outside of the wooden hull was covered in tarred canvas then sheathed in a gleaming jacket of thin copper sheet nailed to the planks with copper nails. The thin copper rods in the foundry were bent into wiggled shapes and brazed together with sleeved junctions, the sleeves cast by Mr Benjamin in his foundry. The fitting of the copper rods into the hull recesses was brutally difficult work. In some places the rods had to be threaded through restrictions, each foot of the rod being bent to pass then straightened to continue - bend-and-straighten, bend-and-straighten - and only those with the most powerful hands and arms could do it, so Blue Peter, Bulbous Bill and Loomin' Len and his bully-boys were recruited to assist in the work. Blue Peter had painful memories of struggling with the unwilling rods, and of taking a break, massaging his aching fingers with tears in his eyes, then returning below decks to do another stint. The work was made more difficult as the rods were wrapped in three layers of tarred linen ribbon and tight-bound with hemp cord, so too much force or abrasion and the covering would tear and everything must start again. The strong-arm crew cursed those copper rods, especially as none of them knew what they were for, and yet Captain Greybagges and Mr Benjamin were very particular as to how they should be laid out and connected.In the end it was done, but while it was ongoing Blue Peter and Bulbous Bill had lost focus on discipline in the crew, and there was a tragic consequence. Two young pirates had argued over a local girl, and one had stabbed the other. At a drumhead court, convened according to the strict rules of the Free Brotherhood o' the Coasts, the guilty pirate had nearly been sentenced to hang, but doubts remained over whether he had intended to kill his friend and so he was sentenced to be expelled and cast ashore. He went from the boatyard white-faced after being quietly warned by Captain Greybagges of the consequences of unguarded speech. The crew felt that being marooned for ever in Liver Pool would be punishment enough.The ‘tubs' came and went, delivering boxes and crates of various sizes, and other mysterious objects, including a number of what appeared to be large bottles made of gun-bronze. Blue Peter had given up trying to make sense of it. Even the Captain and Mr Benjamin were overwhelmed at times, Mr Benjamin wishing plaintively for an apparatus to duplicate drawings. No such thing existed, but several local girls and women were brought in to act as secretaries and copyists. Foronce the pirates' romantic urges proved beneficial, for the former apprentice-boys had been discreetly industrious and very ingenious in finding young women who could read and write, disguising their carnal intentions as yearnings for cultured conversation, and these social contacts had proved very useful.One morning trenches were dug to the Mersey to flood the pit. As the water rose the hull of theArk de Triomphecreaked histrionically, until it finally floated free and swam again. The baulks of timber of the cradle bobbed up and were snagged with long boat-hooks and pulled to the sides, lest the turbulent currents flooding into the pit hurl them against the bright copper sides of the reborn ship. When the level in the pit reached that of the river the wedges were knocked out of the wooden wall at the end until it floated free and was pulled away, the remaining earth-banks collapsing into the water. TheArk de Triomphewas drawn out of the now-flooded dry-dock by the whaler, the bully-boys at the oars red-faced with exertion despite assistance from ropes ashore. TheArk de Triomphe'shull, light-loaded and high in the water, bobbed and danced like a mettlesome horse being led from its stall, but it was moored at the jetty before the tide turned to the ebb, to everyone's relief. By a pleasant coincidence the endless rain eased and a watery sun appeared through the clouds as the last of the mooring hawsers, the quarter-steady, was looped around its bollard. Captain Greybagges made a short but stirring speech from the quarterdeck rail and ordered a double ration of rum, the pirate crew gave three cheers, and some chaffering cat-calls, and then set to work again.Over the next weeks the pirates worked steadily to refit the frigate. The iron skeleton inside the hull had added weight, but ballast was still needed. Lead ingots were used instead of rocks. The crew were amazed and impressed by the sheer profligacy of this; even the king's own flagship did not have a ballast of pig-lead! The ancient sheer-hulk was warped over and theArk de Triomphe'smasts re-stepped. The tops and cross-yards were swayed up and the frigate re-rigged with new cables, ropes, stays, halliards and rat-lines. The pirates swarmed over the upperworks singing pulley-hauly shanties and joyfully shouting to each other as theArk de Triompheslowly took its sea-going shape once again.
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 Blue Peter watched her take shape, frequently pausing on his rounds just to observe her being clothed, put in harness for war. Her shape to a yokel landsman'seyes merely meant that she was a ship, yet to a sailor's eyes she was a predator, a predator as lairy as a wolf, but to a pirate's eyes she was lovely. Her hull was long and lean and low, the foredeck and the quarterdeck barely shoulder-height above the waist-deck – much, much, lower than a frigate of the Royal Navy - the easier to board another boat from, the true mark of a pirate-ship. Yet after the rebuild the low deck was no longer an obvious modification, the decks hacked level more-or-less in haste. Now she looked as though she had been built that way from the keel up, and, more than that, she was a pirate-ship made for piracy with no constraint of expense, and she looked it. Blue Peter was minded of a leopardess. She had always had a wiggle of her stern when tacking, just like the twitch of that animal's hindquarters when she jinked to cut off her prey, and now that little quirk seemed so fitting that it was eerie. TheArk de Triomphewas a dangerous lady, afemme fatale.Blue Peter, as Master Gunner, had overseen the mounting of her new guns, whose black snouts now protruded from her gun-ports. The latest cast-steel eighteen-pounders from the Carron Company, none finer, equipped her single lower gun-deck, with twenty-four-pounder iron carronades on her upper decks. He would miss the short bronze Portugese thirty-two-pounders from the foredeck, though; he had been fond of those old smashers. As each new gun-barrel was dragged to the frigate on a sledge the crews had stopped to introduce it to its predecessor, laid on timbers in a shed, to splash them both with rum and ‘marry' them so that the new gun would carry the same name as the old one. Sailors are superstitious, and pirates perhaps even more so.The only thing that looked odd about theArk de Triomphewas the small platform mounted between the foremast and the mainmast on a diagonal spar, at about one-half of the mainmast's height. Blue Peter had no idea what it was for, but his fingers still ached from the fitting of the five thin copper rods that ran to it, the last of the copper rods to be installed, he hoped. TheArk de Triompheis not just a leopardess, he thought, there is more; she has bones of iron now, and yet more, her claws are guns of steel, and, yet more again, her nerves are copper rods made to carry lightning. What is he making here? What kind of beast has he built as his steed for his monster-hunt? And Blue Peter Ceteshwayoo was suddenly cold, and very afraid.Although it was still freezing cold, there were faint signs, if not of Spring then of the imminent arrival of Spring, and the low sun was occasionally shiningapologetically through the scudding clouds. As Blue Peter stood on the bank looking at the frigate's mysterious platform a Liver bird settled on it, flapping its wings whop-whop before folding-up like an old umbrella. In the brief calm between gusts of breeze Blue Peter heard its call, “awk! awk-la! AWK!”CHAPTER THE TENTH,or The Captain Calls For A BoucanThe Broadmeadow estuary lay calm and dark under a moonless night sky, and the small Irish village of Malahide showed no lights. The pirate frigateArk de Triomphelay at anchor, low and black. The ship and the longboat that was shuttling to-and-fro from the shore should have been invisible in the gloom, but the wide estuary was full of small skiffs with bright lanterns on poles.“I have heard of the cunning Orientals using birds to catch fish, but I never thought to see such a thing ten miles from Dublin,” said Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges.“They are cormorants, it seems. Avian creatures that are accustomed to dive beneath the waters in search of their piscine prey,” said Blue Peter Ceteshwayoo. “The fisherman ties a leather thong around the bird's neck, the poor creature cannot swallow the fish and so must bring it back to its master. The lantern's light attracts the fish.”Captain Greybagges looked at him quizzically.“I asked the fellows down there on the beach,” said Blue Peter, pointing.“There seemed to be little point in being stand-offish when we are already exposed in plain sight by their lights. Fishing with birds is a source of extra money for the farming people around here, they said. Fishing with birds, and collecting seaweed.”“Seaweed?”“A particular kind of seaweed. They told me it is dried, shredded and sold to be used for padding coffins, as it absorbs the stink of a corpse. The departed relative is displayed in the family parlour for the wake, which is an overnight vigil of drunken remembrance. The sad occasion is thus rendered less dolorous by the exsiccative properties of the bier of kelp, so the grieving kin may then enjoy the roborative properties of the beer of barley….”Captain Greybagges eyed him in silence. Blue Peter looked abashed, and then continued.“The fishermen may have been making sport of me, of course, as I am but a poor heathen blackamoor, but I doubt it, as they were otherwise quite amiable and polite. Well, they were after I gave them a sip of rum.”“Seaweed to line coffins? I suppose I have heard of stranger things.” CaptainGreybagges strode back to the road above the beach. The boat had returned and pirates were carrying small wooden boxes to it from a coach and a cart. The horses snorted and stamped their hooves, their breath swirling in ghostly clouds in the glow from the coach-lamps.“How many more, you swabs?” growled the Captain.“One more trip, Cap'n,” said Torvald Coalbiter, carrying a wooden box on his shoulder.“Don't say it!” said the Captain, turning to Blue Peter. “Not until we are safely back at sea. Don't tempt the fates.” Blue Peter looked abashed again.There was a confused outbreak of shouting from the sea. Ghastly piratical oaths answered by curses in Gaelic and the squawking of cormorants; the longboat had nearly rammed a fisherman's skiff.  “I shall say it, now that we are safely back at sea. Everything went well!” Blue Peter grinned and poured rum for himself and the Captain.“I am not usually a superstitious man,” said the Captain, “but these mechanisms are vital to my plans. I feared that such delicate engines might be easily broken, or that an attempt might be made to steal them away to ransom them. Now they are stowed aboard the barky I can feel easier.”“The ride from Dublin certainly will have attracted attention,” said Blue Peter. “A cart, a coach and an armed escort of pirates mounted on old nags and mules. I'm surprised the children of Dublin didn't follow us, thinking that the circus had come to town.”“I wish I could have arranged things more efficiently, Peter, but with time pressing I could not. A more clandestine meeting with the clockmakers and a diversion when the boxes were moved would have been better, but instead I just had to load the boxes, go as fast as we could and trust that any wicked rapparees or mosstroopers would be without the time to prepare an ambush. I wasn't going to meet all the clockmakers at the same time and place, either, but I again had no choice. The clockmakers, thus introduced, would discuss the engines and so, in turn, so the gossips of Dublin would certainly have had word of a valuable cargo in transit.”“The clockmakers were a congenial parcel of rogues, though,” said Blue Peter, sipping rum from his crystal goblet.“Indeed, and that is a problem, for they will continue to talk among themselves now, being intrigued by the mechanical devices that I ordered from them, and I do not wish my business to be discussed or bruited abroad by wagging tongues.”“I am intrigued, too,” said Blue Peter, “but I am not a clockmaker, so I will remain mystified, I suppose.”There was a knock at the door of the Great Cabin and Jack Nastyface entered, followed by Mr Benjamin carefully carrying a square box. The box was rectangular, as long as a forearm, half that in width and height and made of unvarnished pinewood, with a rope handle at each end, and a number scorched onto its top and sides with a hot iron“I thought you might like to see an example what you have purchased at such expense, Captain,” said Mr Benjamin, placing the box on the table. There was another knock and Bulbous Bill Bucephalus and Israel Feet entered. Mr Benjamin took a small jemmy-bar from a pocket and levered off the top of the box, nails screeching in the wood, while Blue Peter poured shots of rum for everybody.“No touching! No poking with fingers! Don't spill any damned rum on it, either!” spoke Mr Benjamin sternly, then reached into the box and lifted out a complex mechanism of brass and steel, of cogs and gearwheels. It sat on the table, the machined metal coruscating in the lamplight. The Captain and his officers looked at it in silent wonderment for a while. Jack Nastyface kept quiet and hoped nobody would notice him.“Why, they are fine craftsmen, these Dublin clockmakers!” said Mr Benjamin at last. “These are not your mere cork-and-nail men!”“Cork-and-nail men?” asked the Captain with a raised eyebrow.“Irish travelling tinkers who will attempt to mend clocks. They will hold a piece of drilled sheet-brass with a nail stuck into a bottle-cork, the better to file it into a cog-wheel. Some of them have surprising skill for unlettered oafs, it is true, but the workmanship shown here is of a different order entirely.” Mr Benjamin smiled down at the brass clockwork machine.“What does it do?” asked Bill, frowning.“It multiplies numbers, or ratherquantities,” said Mr Benjamin. “See, the shafthereis rotated to represent one value, this shaftherethe other value and the resultingmultiplicand is the rotation of this shafthere. The powerful springhereprovides the energizing power to drive the mechanism, which is re-wound by this little shafthere.”“What be these?” said Israel Feet, reaching out with a finger.“Don't touch!” snarled Mr Benjamin. “Sorry, Izzy, but these mechanisms are quite gracile, and frangible if mishandled. Those ivory discs are for fine adjustments.”“It is quite beautiful, I have never seen its like!” said Jack Nastyface.“What be you a-doing in here, Jack?” growled the Captain. Jack Nastyface blushed to the roots of his hair.“I … I helped Mr Benjamin to carry it in,” he gulped.The Captain regarded him with a baleful eye.“Curiosity killed the cat, Jack. Go and tell the cook to bring us some snacks, and as a punishment for your nosiness you must pass it around the crew that I nearly ran Izzy through with a cutlass for merely breathing on this engine, and that I will surely keel-haul any fool who touches any one of these mechanisms with even the nail of a little finger. Only Mr Benjamin is allowed to fiddle with them.”Jack departed, closing the door behind him. Mr Benjamin carefully replaced the gleaming brass engine back into its box.“They are all there, Captain. Nine multipliers, nine adders of the Gaussian pattern, nine differential integrators, plus the regulators, the connecting shafts and all the other bits and pieces. Each component in triplicate to give two spares against breakages. One hundred and forty-seven boxes.”“Once we are returned to Liver Pool and moored, how long to install them in the barky, Frank? The deciheptaxial mechanism we discussed?”Mr Benjamin scowled. “Two weeks, maybe three if there's a problem.”“Make it two, if you can, Frank!” said Captain Greybagges, before sipping rum from his chased-silver goblet.TheArk de Triompheploughed eastwards under full sail through the dark Irish Sea, under a sky bright with stars.  TheArk de Triomphelay moored once again to the Liver Pool boatyard jetty, her masts and decks busy as pirates attended to any small problems that the short tripto Ireland had shaken out. Mr Benjamin and his team – mostly young pirates, but with a cabinet-maker and a whitesmith from the ranks of the old pirates – were installing the Captain's mechanisms in a large locker below the quarterdeck, next to the steering-tackle under the ship's wheel. They all seemed strangely cheerful, thought Blue Peter, and he wondered if it was the simple joy of such precise and exacting work. Whatever the cause, their chatter and the noise of the necessary carpentry had driven Captain Sylvestre de Greybagges out from the refuge of his Great Cabin ashore to the front parlour of the boatyard house, where Blue Peter found him writing letters –scritch, scratch– and drinking coffee.“I believe I have solved the problem of the Dublin clockmakers!” said the Captain, as Blue Peter sat down. “Will you have some coffee? A biscuit?”
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