Danger rears its ugly head. Gone are the landlubberly days for Phineas, and now Taylor, tool. Plots, plots, and grand adventure. Enjoy Chapter 7!
“Oh, getting’ to the maintop’s easy, lad. Like a climbin’ a tree,” Gruyere grinned. “Ye climbs up on the rail there, ye grabs onto the shroud, swing out and about and up ye go.”
“Mind do you use the lubber hole,” Lourdburton said seriously. “I’ll not put about if ye fall from the futtock shrouds.”
Phineas stared from one to the other.
“Go on,” Lourdburton said firmly. “Aloft with you.”
Phineas looked up at the shrouds, wide rope ladders that led to the middle of the mast. It didn’t look that hard. He looked at the nodding, grinning Gruyere and the slyly deceitful Lourdburton. They were obviously making sport of him, for it didn’t seem possible that anyone would leave a tool lying precariously at the top of the main mast. These two were just a couple of bullies.
He sighed and climbed carefully onto the wide, smooth ship’s rail. The sea surged along below him, sucking at the ship, trying to take her down. The wind blew fresh and clean, and moaned through his hair.
“Grab onto the shroud, now,” Gruyere said. “That’s it. Now, ye swings yerself around to the outside, like you’re a’dancin’ with some young filly.”
Phineas looked carefully at the rope ladders. They stretched above him from either side, rather like a stepladder. If he climbed up directly from where he was, on the underside of the ladder, he would hang backwards over the deck. The only way up was to do what Gruyere suggested and get on the outside.
“I do believe the sun will set eventually,” Lourdburton said snidely.
Phineas stuck his left foot out and onto the rope ladder. He pulled himself off of the rail and clung to the side of the ladder with both hands.
“Around,” Gruyere called. “Around. Ye gots to get to the outside. There, ‘e’s got it. Like a regular topman, ‘e is.”
Phineas ignored him, now that he had both feet firmly on the outside of the ladder. The rope netting thrummed to the vibration of the ship – he could feel each wave as she pushed her way through it. The ship canted beneath him, leaning slightly this way, and then more so that way.
It wasn’t a difficult climb, and with each step he forgot about being the butt of their joke, and instead enjoyed the wind and the movement, and exquisite blue horizon that circled them, unbroken.
After just a brief moment, the ladder became sharply narrower. Looking down, he saw that the base was quite wide, but up here, near the top, the ladder became no more than a foot wide before it disappeared altogether at the small platform of the maintop, another ten feet ahead of him.
A second ladder, rather like an upside-down stepladder, stretched down from the edge of the platform, and intersected his ladder just above him. Where his ladder got narrower, this one got wider. But it blocked his way to a small, square hole in the floor of the platform, through which he could see daylight. He stopped.
There was a
The ship’s motion was much more significant here, and the vibration through the ropes made them hard to grip. His legs were tired. His arms were tired. The swaying of the ship seemed terrible. His head ached. His palms sweat.
There were two ways he could get up to that platform: climb around the second ladder, which seemed dreadfully dangerous, or climb up the second ladder. It stretched out horizontally above his head, so that, for a moment, he would have to hang upside down, but at least be on a wider ladder.
He slowly, carefully, reached out and gripped the ropes of the second ladder. They were thinner than the main ladder, and easier to hold on to. He carefully marched his hands off the big ladder, up over his head, and out towards the edge of the platform.
He realized he was in trouble the second his hands were over his head. His body weight shifted, his backside now pointed at the deck below, and his shoes wanted to slip on the ropes.
He tried to move his hands back towards his body, but it made it even harder to hang on with his feet. He heard Gruyere speak from the deck, fifty deadly feet below.
“‘E took the futtock shrouds!”
“Blast it, Phineas, Lourdburton bellowed in that unnaturally loud voice, “I said do not take the futtock shrouds!”
“Oh, ‘e’s a brave one, that boy.”
“Don’t look down, boy,” Lourdburton yelled. “Keep moving.”
He slowly crept his hands back out above him, crawling them like spiders up the rope ladder. He stretched his body out, trying to keep his feet from slipping. It was deucedly difficult.
Two more rungs… just two, and there was edge of the platform. The thick ropes of still more shrouds stood at its edge like an iron fence. He grabbed them gratefully and stepped, oh so carefully, up the remaining rungs of the smaller ladder.
Until his foot slipped.
His left foot slipped out of the ladder rung. His weight shifted, pulled his right foot away from the ladder just as the ship leaned off to the right.
The base of the ropes felt like iron bars in his hands as he swung out, like on a trapeze, fifty feet above the sea, swinging farther and farther over the blue waves, his nice buckle shoes horrifyingly close to falling off, as the ship continued to roll.
“He… he… help,” he grunted.
“I say,” Uncle Neville’s voice drifted up from the quarterdeck. “Is that my nephew dangling from the maintop?”
“Idiot took the futtock shrouds,” Lourdburton muttered loudly.
“I daresay it is my nephew!”
“Mr. Swede,” Lourdburton roared.
Phineas felt an iron grip on his wrists.
“Let go,” Swede said gently. “When she rolls. Here ve go.”
Before Phineas had a chance to respond he was jerked bodily off of the shroud, swung through the air, and slammed onto the wooden platform in the middle of the mast.
“Maybe someday you be a topman too, yah?” Swede laughed.
“Yah,” Phineas croaked. His wrists burned from where Swede had grabbed them, and ribs ached from where Swede had slammed him onto the platform. For all that, he was utterly grateful to Swede, who had saved his life.
“Vat vass you doing up here?”
“They… sent… me… to… look for a left-handed awl,” Phineas gasped.
“Dey vass having the fun wit you, yah? There is no such ting as left-handed awl. You only get de one, vork just as gut for de left or de right. Yah, de vass having the fun.” definitely
“Oh,” Phineas moaned, “I’m laughing.”
It was infinitely easier to climb backwards through the hole in the platform. Although the main ladder was extremely narrow, the second ladder made it rather easy to climb down the first, acting like a handrail. Once past the second ladder, getting back to the deck was a simple matter of placing one foot beneath the other and carefully holding on. The ship’s rail beckoned to him in no time.
“What in heaven’s name is going on here?” Uncle Neville demanded. “How came you to climb to the maintop?”
Phineas looked at Gruyere, trying his best to hide his grin, and at Lourdburton, who observed him with the calm, half-closed eyes of a man expecting to face a storm.
“I, uh, wanted to see the view. I’d never been up there before,” Phineas said, simply.
“And you’re not to go again,” Uncle Neville huffed loudly. “Like to have gotten yourself killed, climbin’ up there like a common sailor.”
Gruyere grinned and nodded, and Lourdburton’s eyebrows jumped quickly in surprise. The fellow named Taylor, still hanging onto the wheel, let out a little cough. Lourdburton rounded on him. A dark shadow of anger clouded his face.
“A touch to starboard, Taylor,” he growled. “Don’t let them courses go slack!”
“Uh, aye, sir,” Taylor replied and spun the wheel wildly. The big main sails thundered and boomed as the wind filled them up again. The ship shuddered beneath their feet.
“A touch to starboard! Not hard over!” Lourdburton roared. Taylor eased the wheel the opposite direction.
Mr. Lourdburton spun back to Phineas and pointed his hook at him angrily.
“You! Get you below and pass the word for Mr. Sturgis!”
Phineas quickly turned around and dashed back down the companion ladder, afraid to spoil any goodwill his little lie had created by doing something stupid. At the base of the companion ladder he crashed into a sailor named Willets emerging from the ‘tween decks.
“Watch it, mate,” Willets barked.
“Have you seen Mr. Sturgis?”
Willets, a short, wiry dark-haired fellow in his mid-twenties, smiled, showing stained and gapped teeth. He pointed down at the deck and nodded.
“Down there?” Phineas asked with a look of disgust. Down there meant down under the main deck, in the hold. In the bilges. Swede told him he should never go down there.
Willets nodded sharply and grinned.
“I’ll not have this,” Uncle Neville muttered gruffly from the quarterdeck rail. “Mr. Lourdburton, about this man Taylor. I say, sir, I can hardly keep still, sir.”
“I quite concur, captain. In fact,” Lourdburton replied calmly, “I’ve sent Phineas to fetch Mr. Sturgis right now.”
He pointed his hook at Phineas.
“You there, boy! I believe I sent you to find the bosun, did I not?”
Phineas spun around quickly leapt down the hatch in the deck that led to the hold.
“That is not at all what I meant,” Uncle Neville’s voice echoed behind him.
The steps were rather steep, but nothing compared to the ladder up to the maintop. He threw himself down into the dark room at the bottom of the steps.
Deep groans and thumping noises were everywhere down here, creaks and odd gurgling sounds. The thick air was full of the stench of vomit, urine, sweat, rum, and rotting garbage. There was no way that he could not catch the plague down here – he held his breath in disgust.
Thin shafts of sunlight meandered around the two boats resting on the wooden screen ceiling, lazily drifting through its wooden holes. A lantern flickered far away in the darkness towards the front of the ship. Otherwise the room was bathed in an inky, eerie, noisy darkness that smelled worse than the gutters back home. The ship’s massive ribs, curving up and away from the deck on either side, cast dark, arched shadows on the planking, looking for all the world like the inside of a whale.
The dark was both eerie and oppressive. He looked around carefully, wondering if perhaps the ghosts of all the sailors who had died on the Kathryn B were making those odd noises. What if Lourdburton’s missing hand crawled around in the dark, waiting for him to come down so that it could be reunited with his arm? What if that groaning noise came from a manta ray hiding behind those crates? He shook his head to clear the scariest thoughts away, but involuntarily hunched his shoulders and tried to step as lightly as he could.
The slosh of water down under the deck brought another, deeper thought. What if Nigel was down here, waiting for him? What if that water was about to gush into the ship and sink it, taking Phineas down, down, where it’s deep and cold and dark, where the sea can finally take him? What if the sea was down here, waiting to suck him under?
He stood absolutely still, his breath coming in tiny gasps. What if Nigel was down here? What if he had brought the sea in through the bottom of the ship?
“As I thought,” a voice creaked out gently.
Phineas jumped a yard in surprise. He turned to scurry back up the ladder, ready to dash away from the sucking sea.
The voice sounded sort of familiar. Old Mr. Sturgis lurked somewhere down here, beneath the main deck, creeping about between the barrels and kegs and crates of supplies and goods Uncle Neville was hoping to trade. Phineas shook with relief.
“M…Mr. Sturgis?” he called tentatively, hoping against hope that the old man answered.
“Quiet, whelp” Sturgis’ voice cracked out of the darkness up ahead.
Phineas tried to follow the bosun’s voice. Even if the noises were just part of the ship, the remembrance of Nigel’s smiling face, and the pull of the sucking sea, made standing next to Mr. Sturgis seem like a grand idea.
The golden light of Sturgis’ small lantern drifted again out from between some barrels, casting a ghostly glow over and around the stacks of crates and kegs. Sturgis’ hunched form moved slightly in the murky gloom. The shadows of the kegs shifted and quivered against the ribs.
Phineas stumbled, unable to see his own feet. Something squishy slipped out from under his shoe and let out a high-pitched squeal before scrabbling off into the darkness.
“Do be mindful of the rats,” Mr. Sturgis cackled. “They can give you a nasty bite if they choose.”
“What kind of place is this?” Phineas whispered, afraid of making too much noise around the rats. He did not want to get bitten.
“It’s the hold, ye simpleton,” Mr. Sturgis whispered gruffly. “It’s our store room aboard the mighty Kathryn B. Now pipe down and listen.”
“It smells absolutely dreadful.”
“Great gobs, lad, belay that yammering.” Sturgis was quiet for a moment. “It’s the bilges that you smell. Everything that don’t wash overboard ends up collecting in the pool of water below the grating. Now, pipe down and stand fast.”
Phineas did as he was told, standing quietly in the darkness with his hands tightly together in front of him, fearful that a rat might come up and bite him on the finger. After just a moment his eyes got used to the dim light flickering from the old man’s lantern.
“Shhh,” the old man whispered. “Do ye hear it?”
“H-hear what?” Phineas gasped.
“That thump. Oh, I’ll just bet it’s the forefoot knees.”
“Four foot knees?”
“Aye,” Sturgis whispered. “Quietly now. She has to work over the crest of a wave…there.”
The ship’s timbers let out a low, mournful groan. Right at the end, Phineas heard a soft, wet thump, like the muffled sound of a hammer dropping on a wet pillow. It wasn’t loud, and it didn’t sound very dangerous.
“What does it mean?” he asked.
“Sommat’s come loose,” Sturgis sighed. “If it ain’t the forefoot knee I’ll be the captain’s daughter.”
“Have you kissed the captain’s daughter?”
“What?” Sturgis blurted. “What kind of question is that? The captain don’t have no daughter… “
“Mr. Lourdburton said I would kiss the captain’s daughter, and then you said that you were the captain’s daughter…”
“For heaven’s sake, ye dimwitted sod. Kissing the captain’s daughter means they pull down your pants and bend ye over a cannon. Then the bosun swats your bum with a tarred rope’s end. Ye can’t sit down for a week.”
“Now belay jabbering and let me listen.” Sturgis paused for a long moment as the ship crested another wave. The wet, muffled thump was clearly audible.
“Aye,” he said firmly. “It’s the forefoot knees.”
“Does your daughter have four foot knees?”
“Not four foot knees, you blockhead,” Sturgis grumbled. “The knees – ye know, the lateral foredeck supports. Rising from the forefoot? Aft of the cutwater. Do ye ken?”
A lump clogged his throat.
“D…does that mean we are going to sink?”
“What kind o’ weasel-headed lunacy is that? How in the name o’ heaven could the knees cause us to sink, eh? I ask ye.”
The old man glared at him expectantly in the dim lantern light.
Phineas didn’t know quite what to say.
“Uh, Mr. Lourdburton asked that I come get you.”
“What?” Sturgis huffed loudly. “Well, why in heaven’s name did ye not tell me that in the first place, instead of coming down here prattling on about four foot knees.”
He whirled about and pushed past Phineas, taking the only source of light with him. His long white hair floated around his head like feathers.
“Good for nothing loafers,” he muttered under his breath as pushed past. “Don’t know nothin’ about ships. Kissin’ the captain’s daughter, for heaven’s sake…”
He stumped noisily up the ladder and disappeared into the bright square of sunshine at the top. Phineas hurried after him, afraid to stay down there in the dark.
“And here’s our Mr. Sturgis now,” Uncle Neville announced a little bit too loudly. He wrung his hands nervously.
Lourdburton stood at the quarterdeck rail next to him, red-faced and rigid and clearly unhappy with the conversation he had just finished with Uncle Neville.
“You know, Emil… ” Uncle Neville began uncomfortably.
“It’s about Taylor,” Lourdburton interrupted harshly. “It’s nothing personal against the lad, but he ain’t worth the powder to blow him to…”
“He’s not quite a born sailor,” Uncle Neville continued.
“…he should never be let on to a ship…” Lourdburton said over Uncle Neville.
“…It’s just that there’s so much to learn aboard ship…”
“…He’s a chowderhead of the first water…”
“…And we feel his talents might be better used elsewhere…”
“…I’ll be blasted if I’ll let him so much as look at a rope aboard my ship!”
“That is to say,” Uncle Neville continued with a small, nervous smile, “that your sister’s stepson can’t be trained as an able-bodied seaman.”
“Able-bodied moron is more like it,” Lourdburton muttered. “Can’t handle a line, can’t hold a course…scarcely able to stand up without somebody reminding him how to do it.”
“As you know,” Uncle Neville continued, “we have no passengers aboard this ship. So I’ve decided to assign him to the galley, to work as a cabin boy.”
Phineas looked up sharply.
“Cabin boy?” he blurted. “I thought I was the cabin boy!”
Even though he didn’t much care for the title, it did give him a little distinction – he knew instinctively that it was better to have a job title than just be the captain’s nephew. “What am I supposed to do?”
“Well, now, Phin,” Uncle Neville began in a wheedling voice, “ye’ve taken to the sea first rate since ye’ve been aboard. I was kind of hoping ye’d take Taylor under yer wing, here, and, well, show him the ropes…”
“Don’t let him touch any of the ropes,” Mr. Lourdburton interrupted.
“What ropes?” There weren’t any ropes in the galley.”
“We’ll just let Mr. Duffy assign the tasks,” Mr. Lourdburton said smoothly. “He’s a right sailor. He’ll know what to do. Taylor!”
Mr. Lourdburton whirled about and faced Taylor, who stood at the ship’s wheel.
“Yes, sir,” the young man said softly.
From where Phineas stood, he couldn’t see Taylor, but there was no mistaking the sadness in his voice. The poor fellow couldn’t help but hear every awful thing Lourdburton said about him. He suddenly felt bad for whining about being a cabin boy.
Lourdburton pursed his lips, and his eyebrows dropped down into a scowl. His red, angry face became even redder and angrier.
“It’s ‘aye, sir’ aboard ship, ye dolt, not yes sir!” he roared. “Can ye not remember even that?”
“No, sir,” Taylor stammered, “I mean, yes, sir. Uh, I mean, aye, sir. Sir.”
“You will evacuate this quarterdeck this very minute,” Lourdburton bellowed in his loudest voice. Everyone jumped in surprise. “Hie thee to the galley, whither you will be assigned for the duration of this voyage. Is that understood?”
“All right,” Taylor replied meekly. Mr. Lourdburton cleared his throat loudly. “I, um, mean aye, sir.”
“NOW ye poltroon!” the sailing master roared at the top of lungs.
Taylor threw himself down the companion ladder, landing in a heap in front of Sturgis. The old man shook his head sadly.
“I told your mother this weren’t a good idea, Jeremy. But thou knowest how headstrong she can be.” He jerked his thumb towards Phineas. “That be Phineas, there.”
“I know Phineas,” Taylor replied sulkily. “He’s just a kid.”
“It’s boy,” he replied sharply, “cabin boy. Come on.”
He was a little afraid of Taylor because the young man had made Lourdburton so angry – Phineas didn’t want Lourdburton to be any angrier with him than usual. He walked quickly forward towards the galley, glancing over his shoulder as he passed the grating just to make sure that Taylor followed. Taylor did, but slowly, and sadly. If felt like every eyeball in the ship followed their every step.
Phineas marched under the foredeck, past the cannon on the right side, and into the tiny galley. Mr. Duffy opened his mouth to say something, but followed Phineas’ gaze and watched Taylor sadly amble in. He continued wiping his hands on a towel, glancing from one to the other.
“So, Taylor is our new cabin boy, eh?”
“He’s the number two cabin boy,” Phineas replied quickly. Just because Taylor was older, that didn’t mean he got to be the number one cabin boy. “Mr. Lourdburton said he’s banned from the quarterdeck until forever.”
“Well, well,” Mr. Duffy replied. “Two cabin boys. We are awash in staff, eh? Very well, cabin boy number one, I am off to see the captain. Show number two, here, what’s what.”
Duffy left the galley without another word and stepped out into the bright sunshine of the waist. Phineas looked at Taylor, wondering what to do with this sad, mournful fellow.
“Is he gone yet?” Taylor whispered.
“What?” Phineas asked.
“Duffy,” Taylor whispered. “Is he gone yet?”
Phineas looked around and nodded.
“Yes,” he answered. “He’s gone.”
Taylor looked up and grinned at him.
“Well, I am certainly glad that’s over,” he said pleasantly.
“What?” Phineas asked.
“That Lourdburton is certainly an ogre,” Taylor grinned. He marched over to Mr. Duffy’s chopping block and picked a little piece of carrot and popped it in his mouth. “I daresay.”
“What?” Phineas repeated. “I thought you were, uh, well, I thought… “
“You thought that I was some sort of idiot, forced to dance to his lordship’s tune, eh?” Taylor interrupted cheerfully. “Then I was successful. And here I am here in the galley instead of up there at the wheel, eh?”
“But everyone thinks your some sort of a lummox, a, a dunderhead.”
“I should say so,” Taylor nodded. “Halfwit, dimwit, moron, knothead, knucklehead… I have rather heard them all.”
“But… “ Phineas stammered. He squinted at Taylor’s bright blue eyes. Taylor sighed.
“Phineas, can you keep a secret?”
“I was brought aboard this ship against my will, kidnapped and forced to go to sea,” Taylor said brightly. “Ever since I’ve been aboard I’ve been plotting my escape. Being a gentleman, however, one doesn’t run out on the duties to which one is assigned. Therefore, I am doing my best to avoid getting duties assigned to me.”
Phineas stared at him in disbelief. The intelligent face with the bright shining eyes beamed with confidence. Phineas grinned.
“That’s brilliant,” he gasped. “Positively brilliant.”
“Mind,” Taylor cautioned, “not a word of this to your uncle or Duffy.”
“Oh,” Phineas protested quickly, “you need not worry about that. In fact, I too am a… prisoner.”
“We’ll keep this between the two of us, then,” Taylor smiled. “A gentlemen’s agreement?”
“Oh yes,” Phineas replied quickly. “An agreement between gentlemen. Did I mention I once nearly shot a fellow?”
“Make way, make way, there, you cracker-brained nut-hook,” short, dark Willets snapped at Taylor.
“I say, that’s a new one,” Taylor winked at Phineas.
The vaguely flat-faced man pushed through the galley carrying an enormous length of rope coiled over his shoulder.
“What’s going on?” Phineas asked. Taylor had just been telling him about a Swedish musket his father had bought for him. He had been describing the time he used the Swedish musket to fight a bear, of all things, when Willets walked in.
“Sounding the lead,” Willets replied gruffly and pushed through one of the two doors at the very front of the galley.
“You’re not supposed to go out there,” Phineas called after him.
“What?” Taylor cried.
“Uncle Neville said we’re not supposed to go through those doors,” Phineas replied, reciting the words his uncle had repeated to him at least fifteen times in a row. “Out there is the beakhead. A cross wave comes and you’re over the side and gone with no one to weep for you.”
“Whatever could be out there? I mean, it’s just the beakhead.”
“I looked through the door a couple of days ago,” Phineas whispered furtively. “You know, just to see. That’s the very front end of the ship.”
“Well, of course… “ Taylor began, but stopped at the sound of a loud splash. “Did he fall in?”
“He’s counting,” Phineas whispered. Willet’s gruff voice, counting in a half-whisper, murmured just above the noise of the ship.
“Ten and a half!” Wiillets bellowed suddenly.
“What in the world?” Taylor asked.
Without another word he hopped to the front of the cabin and put his hand on the door latch.
“Taylor,” Phineas hissed, “we’re not supposed to go out there.”
“Phineas, old man,” Taylor sighed, “a word of advice. The world is full of rules. Some of them are good, but all of them are written for stupid people. As neither you nor I are stupid, the rules do not always apply to us.”
“But the cross wave,” Phineas called as Taylor stepped out through the small door.
Phineas looked sadly around the dark galley, wondering if he should follow Taylor out onto the forbidden beakhead, wondered about cross waves and how a wave could just pluck someone off of a ship, and why someone would build a ship that included a place from which the sea could so easily pluck someone off, and how common were cross waves, after all…
“Ten,” Willet’s voice bellowed.
“Oh, all right,” Phineas muttered to himself and scrambled up towards the door. He had just put his right hand on the door handle when Duffy bellowed behind.
“What’s all this? What do ye think you be doing?”
“Uh, nothing?” Phineas quickly withdrew his hand from the door.
“You must needs stay off of the beakhead, Phineas,” the sea cook admonished him seriously. “There be no safety for you out there.”
Duffy looked quickly about him.
“Where be Taylor?”
“I don’t know,” he lied.
“Good heavens, lad,” Mr. Duffy snapped. “You didn’t let him out on the beakhead, did ye?”
Mr. Duffy swung open the curved door on the left and dashed urgently through.
Phineas debated what he should do, and then stepped through the right doorway and out into the brilliant morning sunshine. The sight that greeted his eyes would have made a poet sing. The forbidden beakhead was nothing more than a balcony jutting gracefully out of the very front of the ship. Its wooden side walls sloped forward toward one another to meet underneath the angled bowsprit mast.
He looked down at the sea below him. Wooden grating material, exactly like the big opening in the main deck, made up the floor of the beakhead. In fact, it was two floors, one on either side of the bowsprit. Duffy stood anxiously on the other one.
Beneath his feet the sea sparkled a deep blue, topped everywhere with small whitecaps. Here the bright sunshine and the brilliant line of the horizon played with and challenged the dark ropes that stretched out at odd angles towards that distant masthead, perhaps fifty feet away.
Phineas’ belly jumped. The ship’s motion here was wilder than he expected, and raised the ghost of seasickness yet again.
He shifted his gaze to look at the horizon. It didn’t help. Looking straight out the front, he watched as the distant point of the bowsprit mast aimed first at the sky, then at the bottomless depths, and then again at that sterling horizon.
Despite the rising seasickness, here, for the first time, he could see what drew men to be sailors – the perfect match between sea and sky and sailing machine.
Spray spattered up around his shoes with such abandon that Phineas could only stare, fascinated by the dashing water, as they cut through wave after wave.
“All hands!” Mr. Lourdburton’s inhumanly loud voice roared out, shattering Phineas’ poetic reverie. “All hands! Stand by to shorten sail!”
“‘Bout time, mate,” a voice muttered over his head. Phineas turned to look at a sailor that stood on the foredeck above and behind him. It was Wentworth, one of the nicer men aboard. He looked bored to tears.
“By the mark six,” Willets yelled.
Phineas squinted to make sure he was seeing correctly.
Willets had laid himself way out on the bowsprit mast, far in front of the ship. The big coil of rope now hung from his hands, which were below him, on the other side of the mast.
“By the mark six,” Wentworth, above Phineas, roared.
Willets dropped the rope into the water and let it play out through his hands. After a couple of minutes he pulled the rope back up, counting out loud as he ran across big knots in it.
“What’s he doing?” Phineas asked out loud.
“Casting the lead,” Duffy replied from the other doorway. “Findin’ out how deep the water is here.”
That seemed odd to Phineas – surely the ocean was always deep enough.
“Ye scurvy knave!” Duffy said quickly. “Taylor! Get your sorry carcass in here this instant!”
“Where is he?” Phineas asked, looking all around.
“The worst possible place any dust-caked sod could be,” Duffy replied angrily.
“The bowsprit,” he snorted. “That stupid lubber’s climbed out to the tip o’ the bowsprit.”
A figure, tightly hugging the ropes that met at the tip of the mast, moved way out at the very point of the angled bowsprit. It stood up carefully, and Phineas recognized Taylor’s lanky form. Taylor wobbled a little as he tried to stand up.
“The forestay!” Duffy roared. “Use the forestay, ye stupid nit.”
Taylor paid him no mind as far as Phineas could see, and grabbed onto a rope tied to the end of the mast. He moved gracefully along the mast, which sloped down to the ship from where he carefully but effortless placed one foot in front of the other, holding on to any rope that came to hand.
“Watch it, ye landlubber,” Willets grumbled at him. He got carefully up to let Taylor go by, and the two did a sort of very slow dance, stepping cautiously between each other’s legs, so that Taylor could pass him. “Bumpkin,” Willets muttered as he lay back down.
Finally, eventually, after an age, Taylor reached the beakhead. Duffy stamped his foot in annoyance.
“What in God’s name do you think you were doing out there?”
Taylor looked down at the grating below him.
“Flying,” he replied, softly.
“Flying? Flying? What in creation… “ Duffy stammered angrily. “Ye fall from out there and ‘tis Davy Jones what prays for thee. We’d never get ye back.”
“Deck, dere,” Swede’s voice drifted down as if from a foreign angel. “Sail on the weather qvarter!”
Duffy looked around suddenly, his hands spread out as if for protection.
“Did ye hear that?”
“Something about a sale,” Phineas replied.
Duffy looked at him seriously.