MARIGOLD’S END, Chapter 05

BS at Sea 1

Phineas has learned a lot in his short time at sea. But the true depths of his adventure starts to unfold. The weather has turned, and the horizon carries a new challenge.

Chapter 5

“Why do I have to keep stirring this pot?” Phineas asked in frustration. The big wooden ladle was heavy, and it seemed like he’d been stirring the pot for hours, although it had in fact been barely twenty minutes.

The annoying ting-ting of that blasted bell had awakened him from an awful dream about Duxbury. The details of the dream had vanished, leaving him with just disturbingly vague images. The cottage had been torn open by a hurricane. His mother screamed his name over and over, but he had been unable to answer as he was trapped in a boat and was far, far out at sea. He was happy to wake up from the dream, although he couldn’t shake the images out of his head.

“Keep stirring until you see the foam rise on top,” Mr. Duffy replied. The big sea cook leaned on the leather bellows, and the fire glowed hotter in the brick stove.

“What’s in here?” Phineas asked. The additional heat was ferocious, and his sweat dropped into the black kettle. Something thick and mushy dragged at the bottom of his ladle.

“Salt beef,” Duffy responded.

“But, what is it?”

“It’d be beef what’s been salted,” Duffy replied patiently. “We carries it to feed the crew when the fresh food runs out.

Phineas gasped in surprise.

“Have we run out of food already?”

Duffy laughed.

“Hain’t you seen the manger up forward?” He shook his head. “We’m serving it early to get the hands used to eating it.”

Phineas nodded, thinking about the manger up forward. A pig and two chickens, squashed into tiny pens so small that if you put a lid on them they would serve as shipping boxes. He thought about what Mr. L had said about being at sea for two months. One pig, two chickens, and at least twenty mouths to feed for two months. He shook his head.

“They certainly didn’t plan this trip very well,” he muttered.

“‘Ow was that, then?” Duffy asked. He stopped working the bellows and looked sternly at Phineas.

Phineas looked at him in surprise, vaguely aware that he’d crossed some forbidden line.   He stirred the pot more carefully.

“Well,” he stammered, “it’s just that one pig and a couple of chickens doesn’t seem like very much food to feed all these people. I, uh, guess it seems like we might have brought a little more along…”

“Oh, and what are we now? Lord ‘igh master of the Royal Navy, keeper of the commissaries, then, eh?” Duffy replied snidely.

Phineas stared down into the slimy pot of boiling beef.

“I’ll ‘ave you know that Arthur Lourdburton is a master at outfittin’ sailing voyages to every part of every ocean. We heats what ‘e tells us to heat when ‘e tells us to heat it, and that’s the end of it.”

Phineas didn’t dare look up. He had seriously stepped in it, and couldn’t think of any way out beyond shutting up.

“Why, I’ve ‘alf a mind to,” Duffy grumbled. “In all ‘ese years I hain’t never ‘eard the like.”

“Are, are you friends with Mr. Lourdburton?” Phineas asked timidly.

Duffy looked at him fiercely at first, but then the features of his awful, battered face softened. His left eye, in fact the whole left side of his face, was correct and comfortable. His right eye squinted from beneath a squashed brow over a cheekbone that had obviously been broken and poorly mended. He nodded slightly, and a tiny smile played on his lips.

“We’m shipmates, Mr. L and me. We goes away back to the old Sphinx, back in ’92.” The smile broadened, and his eyes looked off into the dark corners of the galley. “Good old Sphinx. Stable as a barn, never put up a fuss when the Spanish come callin’.”

“Who was the Sphinx?”

“Not ‘oo, ye block of spit! She was a ship – finest little sloop ever did sail.” He sighed. “Aye. Tore at the old ticker when she paid orf, hey?”

Phineas nodded without saying anything.

“Me ‘n’ Mr. L goes away back there, but we served together in Albermarle, Duchess, Brodiea… too many ships to remember, hey?”

Phineas nodded again, wishing he could just get this fellow to stop talking. He just knew Duffy was going to start talking about some awful personal thing he simply did not want to know about.

“‘Course, when Ajax paid orf,” the battered sea cook said wistfully, “well, I mean, what was I to do? The Navy didn’t want us on account of the peace, and there was old Ajax, laid up and not to sail again, and no more ships fitting out, and here was this blighter Ganders fittin’ out the Williwaw with a letter of marque – I ask you, what was I to do?”

He looked seriously at Phineas, as if he really expected an answer. Phineas was pretty certain this no longer had anything to do with the pig.

“Uh, I guess I don’t know?”

“Well, you’re right there. Neither did I,” Duffy answered sadly. “A sailor’s a sailor, hain’t that right?”

“I suppose so,” Phineas responded quietly, and focused more intensely on the vat of bubbling beef fat. The smell was prodigiously bad, but he couldn’t think of where else to look, and he certainly didn’t want to look at Duffy.

“Well, you suppose right. So, ‘ere’s this bloke with a letter of marque. I ask you, what was I to do?”

“What’s a letter of mark?”

“It bears the marque of the queen, see? It’s a letter granting permission to its holder to go a piratin’ without no worry of getting ‘anged, see?”

Phineas gasped. He looked up at the scarred face.

“You were a pirate?”

The sea cook shook his head and smiled.

“No, no, now, we was privateers. The difference, see, is that your pirate, ‘e’s a mad dog that’ll chase any sail. A privateer, which is what we was aboard Williwaw, well, we only cut out ships belonging to the enemies of England.”

“Mr. Lourdburton was a pirate…”

“Privateer, lad. Privateer.”

“…a privateer?” Phineas asked. He rather liked having dirt on the sailing master. Perhaps mister hook wasn’t quite as perfect as Uncle Neville thought.

“Uh, no, lad, he weren’t. When Ajax paid orf, he booked in as third aboard some other Navy ship, Sprite I think.” Duffy broke off sadly.

“You weren’t shipmates any more?” Phineas asked softly.

“A fine officer like our Mr. L, ‘e finds those mates ‘e can work with, ‘oo understand ‘im, and ‘e carries ‘em from ship to ship, almost like his own crew. Somethin’ ‘appened, though, and I got beached in Port Royal.”

Phineas stirred the sluggish beef a little more, afraid to ask questions. Duffy sighed and pulled a bunch of carrots from a wooden box. He turned towards them, taking a cleaver from a peg on the wall.

“Has it turns out, Tom Ganders took that letter of marque with no intention of privateerin’- ‘e was a pirate through and through.”

“How do you know?”

“The moment ‘ed cleared Port Royal he chased down every sail in sight. In fact, Sprite was assigned the job of ‘untin’ ‘im down.”

Phineas paused in his stirring, waiting for the real story about Lourdburton.

“Didn’t ‘appen, though. Pembroke – that was the name of the fellow what captained Sprite – weren’t much smarter than a keg of salt pork. Ganders slipped past ‘im and out into the Spanish Main.”

Phineas went back to stirring again.

“One night,” Duffy said softly, and stopped chopping carrots for a moment, “I will never forget it. One night, it was rainin’ so much I thought the sea had turned upside down. We’d been sailing with Grace, another privateer, slowly working our way up on a big Spanish galleon – Tres Hermanas was ‘er name. Oh, she was a lovely ship, all gilt and fine carvings.”

He paused, and Phineas looked carefully at him. The cleaver dangled in the air, and Duffy looked off into the gloom of the galley. His eyes glazed over a little. Phineas figured he was back on board his ship.

“Don’t yew forget,” Tom Ganders whispered hoarsely through the pouring rain. “I’ll give ‘ee ten minutes to get to her lee side afore I open’s up.”

“Aye,” Mad Pat answered from the darkness. “Ten minutes.”

From down on the gundeck, Duffy could just see the faintest pale patch in the pouring rain – that was the Grace, sailing off to approach the large Spanish ship from the other side.

He could see the Tres Hermanas plain as day over the barrel of his cannon. The three lanterns on her after rail looked like suns, they were so bright. And below them, he could see someone moving about in the cabin, setting a candle down on the table.

The Spanish had no idea that the Williwaw had followed them into this rainstorm, had trailed them for two days straight, and now had come so close he could almost have spat upon them.

“Ready, lads,” Ganders whispered from the quarterdeck. “Wait, now, wait now.”

He dropped his sword, which glittered just the tiniest bit in the light thrown from the Spanish lanterns.

“FIRE!”

Duffy touched the slow match to the cannon’s fuse. The fuse sputtered like a sparkler in the gloom and then disappeared.

The gun screamed backwards against its ropes as it bellowed out a furious orange tongue of fire and smoke.

“Sponge out!” Duffy roared. “Sponge out!”

Mavis had the malkin already soaked and ready stuff down the barrel to extinguish any sparks before they put more powder into the smoking barrel.

“Belay!” Ganders bellowed. “Cutlasses!”

Duffy wasn’t very good with a cutlass, but he knew his orders. They weren’t going to fire again on the Spanish ship, but rush aboard her and kill her crew with swords.

The deck bounced against his feet, and stumbled over the still hot cannon. They had crashed into the side of the Tres Hermanas.

“Williwaw’s away!” someone yelled.

Suddenly, everyone was yelling.

Duffy scrambled back to his feet, grabbed his cutlass from the rack on the wall, and raced up to the gangway. Mavis, Juarez, and that Jamaican fellow who was new aboard pushed him from behind, shoving him to the gunwale.

“All right,” Duffy hissed, “I’m going.”

It was a perilous jump, from the Williwaw’s rail down onto the deck of the Tres Hermanas, and the rain made everything slippery. Duffy’s feet shot out from under him when he hit the deck, and he landed flat on his bum.

“Get up, ye lummox!” Ganders yelled at him.

At that moment the crew of the Grace came bellowing over the other side of the Tres Hermanas, and the battle was on.

Duffy slashed out at the enemy sailors, hacking one fellow from behind and knocking the barrel clean off another fellow’s pistol. Mostly, though, he used his cutlass to keep their swords from getting him.

The Spanish crew put up a ferocious fight, but, finally, it was Tom Ganders that killed their capitano, still in his nightshirt. When the Spanish saw that, they gave up the ship.

Somebody broke out a keg of rum, and the battle was over. They threw some of the Spaniards over the side – those that were dead or wounded – and tried to convert the rest of them to being pirates.

Then, all of a sudden, Ganders came running out of the capitano’s cabin with something bulky under his coat.

“Captain’s conference,” he yelled, and he and Mad Pat sat down on the deck and decide how they were to split up the treasure.

But Ganders didn’t want any treasure. What he wanted was to part company with the Grace.

“Take what ye want,” he yelled, “take it all!”

It was most odd.

And then he put it to the combined crews of the two ships that Williwaw was going pirate, and those who wanted real wealth, and real adventure, who wanted to die as rich men, could stay aboard her. Those who wished to remain privateers could get themselves aboard the Grace.

“What did you do?” Phineas asked, spellbound.

“I don’t be no pirate, lad. Me and Mavis, and Black and Chalkins, we went with Mad Pat aboard the Grace. Williwaw wore about as quick as you can say it, and come down our starboard side.”

He stopped suddenly, looking absently down at the chopped carrots.

“Wh…what happened?”

“She opened fire. Poured a bloody broadside right through us, and us not expecting it, like. And then anther, and another. Mavis was killed right out, lots of the lads were. ‘E gave me this,” Duffy gestured with the cleaver at his shattered face. “Twelve pound ball like to ‘ave took me ‘ead off.”

“Oh…” Phineas said sadly.

The galley was silent, save for the bubbling of the beef.

Suddenly, Duffy chopped furiously at the carrots – his cleaver hitting the cutting board so hard he nearly cut it in two. He turned suddenly on Phineas.

“Now,” Duffy said suddenly, “don’t ye let that beef burn at the bottom.” He pointed the cleaver angrily at him. “Here, ye don’t be doin’ it right.”

He slapped the cleaver down on the chopping board and grabbed the big wooden spoon out of Phineas’ hands.

“Get me talkin’ about that boggy Ganders,” Duffy muttered angrily.

He looked up suddenly and pointed at Phineas, who stared back in surprise.

“Blast it all, boy, ye like to ruin the beef, stirring it like that. Go tell Mr. Lourdburton ye’re to ‘olystone until I call for ye.”

“Holystone?”

“Go!” the cook yelled and pointed out to the waist.

Phineas turned and ran out of the galley, wondering what he’d done wrong.

“Don’t even know enough to keep the beef from boilin’” Duffy muttered behind him. “Curse that Ganders…”

#

“Holystoning, is it?” Lourdburton’s dark eyebrows rose sharply. “Good enough. Mr. Baker, see that our cabin boy is provided with the essential materials. Mind, I want this entire deck as white as snow by the end of the watch.”

Baker, a youthful, fit looking man in his mid-twenties, smiled evilly, revealing a considerable gap between his teeth.

“Very good, sir,” he said, and knuckled his forehead.

“Follow me,” he told Phineas. Phineas didn’t like his tone, or Lourdburton’s comments about having the deck snow white by the end of the watch. He followed Baker nervously down the companion ladder and under the quarterdeck, wondering what he’d done to make Duffy so mad. Surely he didn’t really burn the beef.

“You must ‘ave stepped in it royally,” Baker said with a lopsided smile. He opened a cabinet built into the wall behind the companion ladder and produced two black bricks. He gave them both to Phineas.

“Hold these,” he instructed.

They were curious looking bricks. The two of them together didn’t weigh as much as just one normal brick, and their rough black surfaces scratched at his hands.

“What are these?” he asked.

“Them’s are holystones,” Baker replied. He picked up a bucket and closed the cabinet. He walked calmly over to the pump by the mainmast and worked the handle until water sloshed into the bucket.

Phineas watched him with growing annoyance. All that the fellow had to do was explain what the bricks were made of and what he was to do with them. Instead, he insisted on playing this stupid guessing game. Phineas snorted to himself – holystoning was probably the only thing this chap Baker knew how to do.

Baker lifted up the bucket and led Phineas back up onto the quarterdeck. He sloshed some water onto the deck at the left rear corner.

“Ye start there,” he said gruffly. He walked to the other side of the deck and sloshed some water there, too.

“Give us a stone, then,” he grumbled and motioned for Phineas to hand him one of the bricks. He took the brick without even a thank you.

Baker dropped to his knees and scrubbed the deck with the brick. Phineas stared at him. This was nothing more than scrubbing. He shook his head in dismay.

“Come on then,” Baker said gruffly. “Let’s get to it afore that water runs dry.”

Phineas got down on his knees and pushed the brick lightly over the deck. It made a scrunching sound as it skidded on the moist wood.

“Come on, lad,” Baker moaned, “put some back into it. The decks don’t holystone theyselves.”

“But this is just scrubbing,” Phineas whined.

“Of course it is, ye dogfish. What’d ye think?”

Phineas kept what he thought to himself as he pushed the brick along the boards in the deck with a little more effort. Exactly as Lourdburton had said, the deck changed from its usual grayish tan to the yellow white of sanded wood.

“Hey,” he said in surprise, “these bricks are scraping the color off the wood.”

Baker didn’t answer, but rolled his eyes. “Lord have mercy,” he muttered under his breath.

#

“Deck dere,” Swede’s voice drifted down from somewhere up in the mast. “I am seeing somet’ing.”

“Well,” Lourdburton asked after a quiet moment in which he had expected Swede to elaborate, “what is it?”

“A boat, sir,” Swede called. “Yust a boat floating all by itself mitout no sail.”

“Mr. Ericsson,” Lourdburton barked nastily­, “you will give me a proper report this instant!”

“Aye, aye, sir,” Swede replied quickly. “Dere iss a boat fine on der starboard bow, tree hunnert yards distant. She don’t got no sail, sir, and appears to be adrift. Sorry about that, dere, sir. I was looking to see if I could make out if dere wass anybody aboard the boat when I…”

“All hands!” Lourdburton roared. “All hands, stand by to heave to. Mr. Ramirez, put the helm a lee.”

“Aye, sir,” Ramirez answered from the wheel. Lourdburton stepped to the forward end of the quarterdeck, while Phineas and Baker holystoned the after end.

“What’s going on?” Phineas asked. He stood up and looked over the side to see if he could see the boat.

Lourdburton whirled about and fixed a cold, evil glare on him. The look was so mean that Phineas held his breath. Lourdburton squinted menacingly.

“I believe you are here to holystone the deck, are you not? Pray, don’t let us disturb you,” he said icily, and then turned around and faced the front of the ship.

Phineas breathed out slowly as he scrubbed the deck, not daring to look up. Baker suppressed a chuckle. Ramirez grinned at the sailing master’s back.

Phineas scrubbed the deck as hard as he could, thankful that, given the effort, the quarterdeck was relatively small compared to the main deck. He noticed that Baker easily scrubbed twice as fast as he did, which was all right with him.

While they scrubbed, other sailors leapt to the ropes and moved the yards. With curses and jokes the sailors turned the yards until the wind spilled out of the sails.

The second they turned the yards the Kathryn B’s motion changed from a smooth and gentle rocking to a ghastly wallowing. Phineas felt his belly churn and his palms grow sweaty.

“Oh no,” he muttered to himself and eyed the bucket of seawater nervously. The specter of seasickness swam before his eyes. “Oh no, not again.” He just knew he was going to have to throw up in that bucket, in front of Baker and Lourdburton. He shuddered to think of the impending embarrassment, of their laughter and snide comments.

He climbed to his feet and looked over the side. The dash of fresh breeze that blasted him in the face made him instantly feel better, and the view of the distant horizon, a long, unbroken blue line, calmed his belly. He looked over the side to see a ship’s boat, not unlike their own, bobbing on the waves just a dozen yards away.

It was the same size as theirs, and boat-shaped, of course, but its top rail was picked out in red paint, which made a smashing contrast to her black hull. He watched it admiringly, wondering why Uncle Neville hadn’t painted their own boat in such natty colors, until he spotted a movement within it.

It was a girl. She sat up suddenly, as if just aware of their presence, although how she couldn’t have heard Lourdburton’s bellowing from three miles off was beyond understanding.

“Ease her, Ramirez,” Lourdburton said gently. “Just a touch to wind’ard. Easy now. We’ll use our freeboard to take us up to her.”

“Aye, sir,” Ramirez said softly.

“Which one is the free board?” Phineas asked quietly.

Baker laughed out loud, Ramirez snorted, and even Lourdburton cracked a smile.

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