MARIGOLD’S END, Chapter 14

ShipsFighting

Chapter 14

Balancing with one foot on the pintle, Phineas felt a pinch in his foot. He looked down in horror to see that his good buckle shoe was wedged between the rudder and the ship’s hull. His foot was about to get crushed.

He put all his strength into springing off the pintle with his left foot. Using his hand on the rudder to guide him, he leapt straight up and reached out with his left hand.

His hand slipped into the dark hole, and his fingers found the inside edge. The rudder banged against his knees as he hung by his fingertips.

“He… help… “ he stammered.

Warm hands grabbed his wrist and pulled him roughly through the hole. He bumped into a dark little cavern at the top of the rudder and fell in a heap onto the floor.

“Th… thank you, Taylor,” he gasped.

“You are welcome, you bébé,” Louise answered.

Phineas looked at her in surprise as she moved out of the tiny amount of light admitted by the rudder hole.

“Thank you,” he said earnestly.

“You made it just in time,” Taylor whispered. “Listen.”

“All hands,” a voice cried out on the deck above their heads. “All hands, prepare to make sail!”

“Make sail?” Phineas whispered in alarm. “Where are they sailing to?”

A long wooden pole swung over their heads. It was attached to the top of the rudder.

“What is that thing?” Louise gasped.

“It’s the tiller bar,” Taylor replied. “It’s attached here at the rudder head. See these ropes? They control the other end of it. When the man on deck turns the wheel, it pulls on the ropes and moves the tiller bar, which turns the rudder. We are clearly setting sail.”

“But for where?” Phineas asked again.

#

“Easy, stroke,” Sir Edward said sadly.

Gruyere twisted around to look over the front of the boat. He turned back to face Sir Edward in the stern.

“They’m makin’ sail, your lordship,” he said sadly.

“Yes,” Sir Edward replied. “So I see. We’ll make for the Kathryn B. Perhaps we can intercept them at sea.”

He looked long and carefully at the Marigold. Three masted, ten guns on a side, and roughly a hundred and fifty tons. Her dull brown sides could hold perhaps a hundred men. She was more than a match for the Kathryn B.

If only Lourdburton had brought down a bigger ship.

“Dis vind is starting to the blow,” Swede said nervously.

“Aye,” Gruyere nodded. “I’m thinkin’ we’ll have some weather ere the sun sets.”

“Well,” Sir Edward said firmly, “be that as it may, we’ll do no good sitting out here in a rowboat. We’ve got to get that boy off of that ship. Let us head toward the Kathryn B.”

“Aye, aye, your lordship,” Gruyere replied.

#

Phineas glanced around the gloomy little room into which they had climbed. Bright sunlight, reflected off the surface of the sea, glared through the hole that they themselves had used. But otherwise there was no light in the tiny room.

The top of the rudder rose two feet above them, and the tiller bar stretched six feet ahead of them into the dreary dark. There was just enough room for the tiller bar to swing from one side of the ship to the other, but no extra space beyond that.

Taylor squatted in the center of the room, directly beneath the tiller bar. He examined the ceiling intently.

The sunlight dramatically lit up Louise, crowded on the other side of the rudder. She looked terribly uncomfortable, but proud and happy. She looked at Phineas and winked.

“I am sorry you cannot see your ship from ‘ere,” she whispered. “But I promise that you will be able to see ‘er from somewhere else upon this ship.”

“But how do we get out of here?” Phineas asked. The only way he could see to get out was through the rudder hole.

“There is a small hatch, right there,” Taylor whispered. He pointed to the ceiling above the tiller bar.

“Where does that lead to?” Phineas asked.

“Well,” Taylor replied. He swallowed audibly. “That hatch would open just forward of the aft cabin.”

It was Phineas’ turn to swallow audibly. If they climbed into the aft cabin they would be caught for sure. He looked quickly at Taylor.

“However, they have cleared for action,” Taylor continued, “there’s a good chance the aft cabin is abandoned right now. It might even be part of the gun deck.”

“What if they catch us down ‘ere?” Louise asked.

“See those ropes?” Taylor whispered. “Those connect to the ship’s wheel. The only reason that someone would come down here was if one of those ropes broke.”

“So if one of those ropes broke…” Phineas began thoughtfully. He could just make out the long ropes in the gloom of the tiny compartment.

“…they wouldn’t be able to steer the ship,” Taylor finished for him. “Then they would have to open that hatch to fix it.”

“Well,” Phineas replied. “I don’t want to be here when that happens. I wonder where that hatch goes?”

Without another word he scrambled past the rudder, climbed up around the tiller bar and pressed the top of his head against the bottom of the hatch’s lid. He slowly stood up, hoping to lift it with his head. The lid didn’t budge. He figured that it must not have been opened in a long time, and pushed with all his might. It made a sandy, gritty sound, and moved slightly as the layer of salt that had sealed it shut broke away.

Then the lid suddenly snapped open with a loud bang. Phineas’ head shot up through the hole. The lid cracked on the deck so hard that it slammed itself shut, smacking the top of Phineas’ head and shooting him painfully back down into the hole.

Taylor laughed out loud. Louise rolled her eyes.

The top of Phineas’ head stung terribly.

An awful stench, even worse than the hold of the Kathryn B, drifted down from the hatch.

“Maybe it’s the bilge,” Phineas whispered.

Using his hands this time, he slowly raised the heavy wooden lid up again and peered over the edge of the hatch.

Guns lined either side of the long, dark deck. Men moved about between them, although Phineas could only make out their silhouettes. The view was a far cry from the cheerful ‘tween decks of the Kathryn B.

A sudden splash behind them made everyone jump, and Phineas dropped to his knees, slamming the lid behind him once more.

“What was that?” he asked anxiously.

“A wave,” Taylor replied equally fearfully. “It came right up through that hole there.”

“The sea is getting rough,” Louise whispered. “I am no like this!”

The Marigold‘s motion quickly became more abrupt, not fluid like the Kathryn B‘s. Another wave bashed up the hole, showering them all with seawater.

“What did you see up there?” Taylor asked nervously.

“Well…” Phineas swallowed hard. He felt a pit in his stomach, and was just a little dizzy. He tried to ignore the edge of seasickness rising in his gut.

The ship tilted off to the right, and a gust of cold air blew in through the rudder hole.

“This must be the beginning of the ‘right blow’ the sailors had talked about,” he said. Now he was sorry he’d wished for it. “It’s dark up there, and smells absolutely awful.”

“Feenayuse,” Louise commanded, “go see what else you can see.”

The ship shuddered, and another wave shot in through the rudder hole. The water was warm and salty, but the breeze that blew in after it was cold. Phineas shivered. He felt feverish.

Silently turning around to face the front of the ship, he squatted beneath the hatch again. Using his knees he slowly lifted the lid again, holding his breath against the smell.

Whispers floated above his head. Bare feet shuffled off to his left.

The lid suddenly banged open on its hinges. A hot, firm hand grabbed him by the back of the neck and jerked him straight out of the little room and threw him to the deck. The lid banged shut as quickly as it had opened.

“‘Ere, what are you about, lad?” a heavy voice said.

Phineas’ knees had crashed onto the hard wooden deck. The back of his neck hurt like the dickens, and so did the palms of his hands.

“What be ye doin’ under there?” another voice asked.

“I was, uh, checking the tiller ropes,” he said quickly. “They all look shipshape.”

“Well, that’s good, i’n it?” the first voice asked with relief.

“‘Oo sent you to check the tiller ropes, then?” asked the second voice suspiciously.

“Mr…uh…” Phineas couldn’t think of a name. These dimwits thought he was part of the crew. But they would know he wasn’t the second he gave them a wrong name.

“Mr. Sturgis,” he blurted.

“Oo?” the first voice asked.

“Uh, the bosun – yes. That’s who it was, the bosun.” That was Mr. Sturgis’ job – he was the bosun. He slowly climbed to his feet.

“Well,” said the second voice with relief, “it’s good ‘e’s thinking about that tiller ‘ead, i’n it, then?”

“‘At’s what I’m sayin’,” Phineas replied, trying his best to mimic their heavy accents. Just one lantern hung near them, about ten feet away. It cast the men in odds shadows. The first voice belonged to a short fellow, not much taller than Phineas himself. His bushy beard made him look like a bear in the half-light of the lantern.

“Isn’t you a bit young for muckin’ about the tiller ‘ead?” the other voice, coming from a much taller, much thinner man. He, too, had a thick beard. His eyes glittered brightly in the dim light.

“Age don’t make no nevermind when it comes to parted tiller ropes, am I right?” Phineas asked. His hands shook a little as he spoke, so he quickly clasped them behind his back the way he’d seen Lourdburton do. The action gave him a touch more courage.

“The, uh, bosun will be ‘appy to know we’re all shipshape back ‘ere, eh?” he asked.

“You’d like to scare the livin’ daylights out o’ us, rising up outta the deck like ‘at,” the second sailor said. His bright eyes blinked, and he rubbed his chin. The first sailor laughed at that.

“Say,” the first sailor asked, “ye din’t find no powder down there, did ye?”

“Yew dimwit,” the second sailor answered, “there ain’t to be no powder at the tiller ‘ead!” He turned towards Phineas and spoke in a lower voice. “Raskins got bumped a good one in the ‘ead, and hain’t been right yet.”

“I imagine it is a muckle wet down there for powder, hey?” Raskins asked of Phineas.

“Oh, it is quite a muckle wet,” Phineas answered. “Well, I’ve got to be shovin’ off, eh?”

“We’ve got to get this gun ready in case we finds that paintpot, but we don’t know where they keeps the powder in this barky,” Raskins said.

“Isn’t it in the hold? I mean, ‘old?” Phineas asked.

“‘At’s what I keeps telling Raskins, ‘ere,” the second one said. “But ‘e don’t listen. Swears ‘at’s too obvious for ‘is liking.”

“Raskins!” a loud voice boomed at them from near the lantern. Phineas gasped in surprise – it was the man in the purple coat. He instinctively took a half step back into the shadows. “And, uh, you…”

“Carothers, mate,” the second sailor said.

“Carothers,” the man in the purple coat repeated. “Get that gun ready for action.”

“We’ems looking for powder, mate,” Raskins said.

“I’ll take care of that,” the man in the purple coat answered.

“It’s gettin’ on to a blow out there, cap’n,” Carothers said. “We aint to be clearin’ for action in heavy weather, is we?”

“Just get that gun ready,” the man in purple replied and, turning, strode off down the deck, speaking likewise to each gun crew that he met.

Phineas looked around him in horror. He had stowed away on a pirate ship – and not just any pirate ship, but one that belonged to Red Suarez! That’s why the fellows in the boat made that joke about the Navy. They were pirates.

He stood very quiet, slowly inching back into the shadows. He didn’t dare call attention to himself. If the man in the purple coat recognized him he’d be taken prisoner immediately. And probably killed, he shuddered. He looked down the long gun deck. Each of the guns, and he counted at least eight of them, had four or more men at each, chatting softly between themselves as they readied the weapons for action. The man in the purple coat climbed up the ladder to the deck above their heads. Phineas exhaled slowly.

The deck shuddered beneath his feet.

“It’s a full on gale, I’m thinkin’,” Raskins muttered.

“That blighter Jaffrey’d have us sail right into a bleedin’ ‘urricane, ‘e would,” Carothers agreed.

“That purple coated cur.”

“You there, boy!” a husky man at the next gun bellowed. He pointed right at Phineas. “Get forward and fetch us some powder, will ye?”

Phineas glanced around the deck. The men all stared at him expectantly.

“Maybe he’s deaf,” someone said. Everyone else chuckled.

“Maybe ‘e’s afraid,” someone else said. No one laughed at that.

“I’m not afraid,” Phineas replied. “I just…” he couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“Look alive, then, and bring us some powder,” the husky man said cheerfully. He turned to the other men at his gun. “It’s like talkin’ to a bleeding’ belayin’ pin.”

Phineas looked around quickly. The pirates all stared at him expectantly. Without another word he hurried off down the deck towards what he hoped was the hold. He walked as quickly as he could, trying not to look at anyone, but couldn’t help counting five cannons before he could see a ladder.

He skidded to a stop. The ladder rose up to the deck overhead. It was that the one that the purple-coated pirate had used.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” he muttered nervously. All that had to happen was for that pirate to spot him and he’d be dead.

He took a deep breath and crept quietly past it, pressing himself as close as he could to the ship’s side.

“What’s ‘a matter wit’ you, lad?” a grizzled pirate at the next gun asked.

“Just goin’ to the ‘old,” Phineas replied quickly and snapped his fingers. “She’s a fine barky, hain’t she?”

The pirate shook his head and turned back to his gun.

“Barky,” Phineas muttered to himself snidely.

The stench rising out of the hold was so strong Phineas imagined he could see it rising above the hatch in a dark green cloud. He stopped at the top of the ladder and looked along the dark and scuffed deck, not at all like the polished wood of the Kathryn B. Dark stains dotted it, and empty rum bottles rattled in the corners. He thought of that fellow who yelled at him for dragging the bucket down the deck of the Kathryn B. He seemed a world away.

Placing his feet carefully on the ladder, the lowered himself down into the near black hold. Although there was no light down there, he could just make out a man standing next to a large, black, open keg. It was a powder keg.

“Deck there!” a voice called from far above the ship. “Sail to wind’ard. It be the paintpot!”

“All hands!” roared the captain…Phineas tried to remember his name. He had a purple coat, was an evil pirate, and his name was…

“Curse that Jaffrey,” a sailor said as he passed. “That blighter Jaffrey’ll do for us all!”

Bare feet thundered on the deck over his head, and the ship turned harshly to the left, making Phineas hang on to the rail at the top of the ladder.

“Come on, then,” the man in the hold yelled. “Them guns won’t fire themselves!”

“That’s exactly what Mr. Duffy said,” Phineas remarked to himself as he carefully climbed to the bottom the ladder.

The ship’s motion through the heavy waves felt less obvious here, but she groaned terribly as she pushed through them. The hold was a terrible mess, with shattered crates and kegs thrown everywhere. It looked as if a battle had been fought there.

“What happened down here?” Phineas asked the dark man standing over the open keg. The only light came from the top of the ladder.

“Quite a fight, I’m thinking” the man said without looking up. He busily stuffed the sock-like canvas bags Phineas had seen before to make cartridges for the guns. He jammed a wooden scoop into the powder keg he had opened at the bottom of the ladder.

“A fight? A sea battle?”

The man paused in his work and looked thoughtfully at Phineas. He was a skinny, older man, with gray hair pulled back into a ponytail. His nose had a distinct crook in it so severe that Phineas thought that the man could probably see the tip of it himself. Phineas jumped in revulsion – a scar the size of a saucer covered the right side of his head, completely masking the place where an ear should have been.

“We took her two weeks ago to the day. I din’t get to see too much of it, as I were below in the Pelican. But I’m told them frogs put up a pretty good fight. Loaded with lumber, I’m thinkin’ it was, and cloth from the Far East. We off-loaded all o’ that. Suarez told Jaffrey to put a crew into ‘er, and o’ course there’s them powder barrels, there. They don’t be broke.”

“Of course,” Phineas answered nervously.

The old man had only opened one barrel, but there, gathered around the base of the ladder like a bunch of explosive goblins, were fifteen more, all carrying the same markings as the one he’d opened.

“Chasin’ after another ship in this wind,” the old man muttered. “That Jaffrey’s a crazy bugger. This is bloomin’ madness.” He thrust a filled cartridge into a wooden pail that already contained half a dozen.

“Here, now,” the man said, “hurry up and get ye these cartridges to the guns. We’ll be seeing some action soon, I’m thinking.”

He shoved the pail at Phineas.

“Aye, aye…I mean,” Phineas reminded himself that he had to talk like one of the pirates as he took the bucket. “I mean, ye got that right, me bucko.”

“Aye, aye is just fine,” the old man said. “Come back when ye’ve dropped them off and I’ll give ‘ee more.”

“Aye, aye, me bucko,” Phineas replied and quickly climbed the ladder back up to the gun deck. It felt frightfully good to be out of the hold – dark, and foul smelling, and that creepy old man with an open keg of powder right there in the middle. He shook his head.

The ship lurched under his feet, making him stumble with his heavy bucket of cartridges. His hands shot out for the top rail of the ladder, but dropped the bucket, which fell to the deck with a loud clatter. He winced, expecting someone to yell at him. But nobody noticed.

The Captain’s Jaffrey’s voice boomed out on the deck above them, giving orders about sails and changing tack.

The side of the ship, not ten feet from where Phineas stood, suddenly burst open in a hole about the size of a man’s head with a great, angry cracking sound, like a tree branch snapping. Jagged splinters, pieces of shattered wood the size of carrots, rocketed past him.

The men leaned low over their guns.

“On the uproll,” someone yelled. “Fire!”

The guns roared backwards, belching enormous clouds of thick, gray smoke. The tiny amount of sunlight that streamed in from above was immediately snuffed out.

All around him men cheered and yelled and bellowed for powder! Sponges! Ramrods! Give us some sand, here! Belay pulling there! Sponge out!

The pirates pulled on the ropes to heave the heavy cannons back up to ship’s side and then fired them again. The guns roared backwards three or four feet, jerking to a stop in a heavy rope wrapped around its back end.

“Powder, mate!” Raskins yelled. “I be runnin’ out of powder! We’ems ‘ittin’ that paintpot but ‘ard!”

Another terrible cracking sound, another shower of splinters, and another hole, the same size as the first.

Phineas stared at the hole. There was another ship out there, sails flailing in the wicked gale. His heart froze.

It was the Kathryn B.

“She’ll show you what’s what,” he muttered and he ran for the ladder. He had to do something.

“Powder!” someone yelled in the gloom. “Bring us powder!”

The Marigold veered sharply again just as he reached the ladder, launching his feet out from under him. With both hands on the ladder railing he spun around sideways and banged his shins painfully. He scrambled around the base of the ladder and threw himself up the steps and out into the Marigold‘s waist.

A screaming wind, so strong he could barely stand up, tore at his clothes and almost shoved him back down the ladder. The smooth round post was hard to hold on to, but he grabbed the top with both hands and hunkered down against the gale.

The guns around him on the deck roared out again and again, their sharp barking noise rising above the shriek of the wind and the thunder of the guns from below. The pirates, covered with sweat and powder smoke, yelled and bellowed and roared right along with them. The gun smoke whipped away instantly, dashing over the sea like a tortured ghost.

He shuddered at the sight of waves, easily twenty feet high, which surged alongside the ship. One crashed right over the front of the waist, throwing gigantic fans of green and white water as high as the sails. The ship shuddered under the impact.

They sucked at the ship, trying to drag her down, down into the never-ending depths. He felt the water in his throat, but coughed it back.

The waves themselves were capped with white horses the size of real horses. Their tops, torn off by the wind, foamed an angry off-white. They stretched away, white-capped and furious, for as far as he could see.

The wind blew so hard it seemed to suck the very air from his lungs. It screamed like a thousand teakettles through the ropes, and made the sails thunder and shake as if they were going to tear loose.   Salty spray, torn from the tops of the waves, pelted him like tiny pebbles. He held his arm over his eyes so that he could see at all.

The sky had no clouds whatsoever, but glowed a strange purplish-gray color from horizon to horizon. Off to the west it had a sickly yellow tinge as the sun ebbed.

The guns roared out on the deck around him, their deep vibration rumbling through his heart. A sharp popping sound carried on the wind, and Phineas looked to see what made it.

It was the Kathryn B, tiny and fragile in her cheery blue paint, plowing through the waves behind them and off to one side, not three hundred feet away. A sail high up on her front mast burst into a thousand tatters and fluttered angrily in the wind. A bright flash lit up on her side, and a moment later Phineas heard the popping noise of her tiny cannons.

“Come on! We can take ‘em!” he yelled to the tiny ship.

Two more of the Marigold‘s heavy guns roared out beneath his feet. A puff of smoke rose from the Kathryn B‘s hull and was instantly whipped away. Phineas imagined he could see the shots hit the Kathryn B, but he wasn’t sure.

He turned around and looked up at the quarterdeck. Jaffrey, his purple coat flapping in the wind like a flag on pole, stared at the Kathryn B confidently.

A sudden gust of wind struck the Marigold, causing her to lean steeply over on her right side for a long, long moment. The deck canted under Phineas’ feet, twisting so far off to the right that he had to hang on to the ladder’s railing to keep standing up.

He scrambled back down the ladder to the gun deck as the ship righted herself again. It was like descending into a foggy, stormy night. The wind whistled through the open gun ports, but it was nothing compared to the hurricane that blew up on deck.

“All hands,” Jaffrey yelled, “brail up the courses!”

Phineas ran back down the long gun deck to the hatch in the stern again. Taylor was hunched in the hatch, with just his head above the deck.

“What’s going…” he began.

But then he disappeared into the compartment and the lid slammed shut. Phineas scrambled for the iron ring handle, but the lid popped open before he could get it. Taylor’s head re-appeared.

“Sorry,” he said. “They turned the rudder. The tiller bar got me behind the knees!”

“How’s Louise?” Phineas asked.

“She’s scared, but all right,” Taylor replied.

“She’s not the only one,” Phineas answered. “They’re fighting the Kathryn B!”

“We’re going to sink her,” Taylor said confidently. “The Kathryn B is no match for this ship.”

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