Tom and Elisabeth have been captured…
At the end of the street they hurried past without pausing to see their captain.
‘Best wait until he’s calmed down a bit.’
‘Let’s get aboard – out of his way…’
‘The mood he’s in now…’
‘Who was that big man with the Captain?’ asked Tom.
‘That was Mr Speke, the Quartermaster.’ said Spud. ‘He’s my boss.’ He leant down and spoke softly. ‘Between you and me he’s ‘orrible. Always best to steer well clear of him if possible. It’s not too bad for me ‘cause the Captain knew my father and we get on well. He looks out for me, and I would let him know if I thought anything was untoward. A few of us, well, quite a lot actually, think that Mr Speke is, well, belay me with a yardarm if I’m wrong, but not to put too fine a point on it – he shouldn’t be trusted too much. He’s not only cruel, but he’s crafty, so you’ve got to be a bit careful with him. Mr Rathbone – that’s the First Mate (he’s a gent – saved my life a couple of times), he reckons the Quartermaster’s ‘got his own agenda’ – whatever that means.’
Elisabeth shivered. She remembered Speke in the church on Monday night. ‘Not a totally happy ship then?’ she said.
‘Now don’t you say nothing about that miss. I’ve probably spoken out of turn. It’s not like me, I’m not one to gossip. Now, Sir Jasper, he’s a hard taskmaster but fair. He’s had an interesting life. When he was a young man… But here we are at the harbour. And, oh dear, here comes Mr Speke along the quay.’
‘Well, well, well… What have we here storeman?’
‘Er, hostages Mr Speke.’ said Spud. ‘Special delivery for Sir Jasper. To make up for those what your men let get away.’
Speke’s eyes narrowed. ‘Be very careful Tadmartin.’
‘Don’t know what you mean Mr Speke.’
‘Never mind.’ Speke rubbed his hands together and licked his lips. ‘Does the Captain yet know that we have these delightful pretty creatures?’
‘Oh yes.’ lied Spud. ‘He’s been told just now. I understand he wants ‘em treated with kid gloves. Sees ‘em as ideal when it comes to getting the most out of this place. Nothing like a threat to kids and young girls when it comes to making people cough up and behave.’
Speke chewed on his fingers and sighed. ‘Well, he’s right. Take them aboard.’ He licked his lips again and pinched Elisabeth’s cheek. ‘Best keep them out of my sight. In case I get tempted, eh?’
Elisabeth and Tom were both very relieved to be in the kindly care of Spud rather than in the company of the Quartermaster as they were rowed out across the green water of the harbour to the Black Leopard.
‘Nasty bit of work, ain’t he?’ said Spud, with a shiver.
‘How could Sir Jasper know we had been captured?’ asked Elisabeth.
‘Well, he couldn’t. But I wasn’t letting Speke get hold of you.’
‘That was very kind.’ said Elisabeth. ‘But won’t you get into trouble?’
‘Unlikely.’ said Spud. ‘By the time Mr Speke next sees the Captain Mr Rathbone will have told him about you anyway. Sir Jasper will be well pleased. Cheer him up it will. He’s been in a right black mood. First off the only townspeople we caught got away – no one really knows how. Both the guards are in disgrace. And now he’s having all sorts of trouble with them bells.’
‘We know about the…’ said Tom.
‘Be quiet, Tom,’ said Elisabeth quickly. ‘Tell us about it, Spud, please.’
‘Well, we rigged a special kiln in the forge, bellowed up the furnace, and put the smallest bell in to melt. Cor, crisp me liver, mateys, I never did see such fireworks! Strikes of lightning, and flashes of fire, and ziggy zag shafts of coloured lights. Explosions and thunderclaps all over the place. They managed to poke the bell away from the kiln, but the forge caught fire.
They were lucky not to be burnt to a cinder, them as were involved. And you should have seen the bell when it got hot – never seen gold glow like it. One of my mates says it’s made of special gold and there’s something magic about it. Reckon he’s right about that, rattle me grannocks else. That bell fought back at us, it did, and so did its pals and they didn’t need to feel the fire – there’s several of the crew with crushed fingers and broken toes and great bruises on ’em to prove it; forever rolling and falling and bashing against us them bells were, d’ye see? And my mates have been trying all day just to melt ’em – don’t seem to have had no luck do they?
If I had my way I’d say leave ’em be, stap me with a bowsprit if I wouldn’t. Stow ’em, I say, but that Sir Jasper, he has a black stubbornness on him. ‘They’re gold and they’re mine and I’ll have ’em !’ says he, and so he will – or maybe they’ll have him.’
They had now reached the ship, and with some difficulty (for their hands were still tied), Spud got them both aboard.
‘Well, here we are, my little shipmates.’ he said. ‘We’ll go down to old Spud’s hidey hole – supposed to be a dungeon for you it is. More like a tuck shop you’ll reckon, muzzle me mizzen if you don’t.’
Once aboard they had to pass Steelclaw Hawkins and Blackheart Luke who were leaning on the ship’s rail, chewing greasy black strands of tobacco and spitting over the side regardless of the environment. They both growled at Spud and his charges as they passed, obviously resentful at being stuck on the ship and missing out on the pillage.
‘New recruits are they?’
‘Look nice and plump – having them for dinner are we?’
‘Wonder if they float?’
‘She’s a bit tasty, apart from the glasses. Apprentice doxy is she?’
Tom trembled but Elisabeth sniffed with contempt and gave the two pirates a really withering look over the top of her spectacles, the sort of look that told them that she thought that they were ugly, evil, idle, dirty, with no sense of decorum, unfortunate smells, lacking any redeeming features, and with really sad, vulgar habits.
‘Snooty little miss, ain’t she?’
‘Take no notice,’ said Spud. ‘They’ll do you no harm.’
‘Don’t bet on it fatso!’ snarled Steelclaw, as Spud hurried them away before the Quartermaster came aboard.
‘Who were they?’ asked Tom
‘The guards who let the other prisoners escape. They’ve been confined to ship.’
‘They were very rude to you.’ said Tom.
‘I‘ve got used to it, but it’s not fair. I’m not really fat. I’m just big boned and me lungs have slipped a bit.’
Near the entrance to the Captain’s quarters two very large black pirates were giving peanuts to a most superior looking parrot which was secured by a silver chain to its perch.
‘Yo Spud, ma main man.’
‘Er, yo Tembo. Yo Twiga. These are special hostages – Miss Elisabeth and Master Tom.’
‘Yo babe – nuff respec!’
‘Hey kid. How yo hanging? (Look out – Speke’s being rowed over!)’
‘Gotta go! Stay cool. Give me a high five man…’
They grinned and slipped swiftly away below deck.
‘They seem friendly.’ said Tom.
‘Oh, yes.’ said Spud. ‘They’d slit your throat as soon as look at you, but they’re friendly enough.’
The parrot was a large macaw with glossy dark blue and red feathers, but many of them were missing and the crimson tuft on its head was tinged with grey. It raised its head and peered at them through half closed eyes set in the warty skin of an almost feather free face. It had the ‘Been there, done that, forgotten why’ look of a very old traveller for whom there were no more surprises left.
‘Hello parrot.’ said Tom. ‘Pieces of eight?’
The parrot stared at Tom unblinkingly for a few seconds, then looked away and closed its eyes.
‘Can’t it speak?’ asked Tom.
The parrot’s head jerked back. It flapped its wings and snapped its beak. ‘Can’t speak? Pieces of eight?’ it squawked. ‘Insolent dogs! Golden Guineas if you please!’
‘That’s better,’ said Tom. ‘Who’s a pretty boy then?’
‘Pretty Boy ?’ hissed the parrot. ‘Who’s a handsome herbivore? Who’s a sagacious psitticus? Talented Tantamount, know-it-all, clever clogs, smarty pants. Surrounded by nincompoops. For heavens sake!. Shut up, the lot of you!. Where’s the brandy? Buuurpp! Have you no manners? Talented Tantamount. Aye, aye, Captain…’
‘You’re a very intelligent parrot.’ laughed Tom.
Tantamount preened himself. ‘ “A child shall always say what’s true and speak when he is spoken to.” ‘ he said.
‘He doesn’t like it when they don’t take him with ’em.’ said Spud.
‘Leave him behind, leave him behind. Tantamount shackled. Miss all the fun…’
‘Well, now that you’ve met him, lets get down to my stores and give you some grub.’ said Spud.
‘Goodbye, Tantamount.’ said Tom. ‘I think that we’re going to have our supper soon.’
The parrot nodded graciously at Tom. ‘ “Serenely full, the epicure would say: ‘Fate cannot harm me, I have dined today.’ “ Leave him behind? Doubloons? What Doubloons?. Leave him behind? I’ll have him…’
As they left the deck they could hear him muttering to himself. ‘No, your Grace. Certainly your Highness. At once, my Lord. Bring me the head of Archbishop Garcia. Hold her steady Bosun, south by sou’ west. Up periscope Number One. Wake me up if there’s any sign of Jerry. Dive!, Dive!, Dive! Shut up, the lot of you !. It beggars belief… Ooh-ar Jim lad, Ooh-ar. “Who’s a pretty boy ?” indeed…’
Author of Dangerous Chimes, read more about Michael Macauley over here.