Elisabeth and Tom with Spud the Pirate
Tom and Elisabeth were actually managing quite well.
When first captured by the pirates Tom had been very scared. He had bitten his lip and curled up in as small a ball as possible. Elisabeth wanted excitement, he thought. Well she’s certainly getting it now – I just wish I wasn’t in the middle of it.
Elisabeth had been quite frightened as well, but she tried hard not to show it and to cheer her brother up with positive statements like ‘Stop grizzling’, and ‘Don’t you want to go to sea?’
The fat pirate Spud, who had the face of an amiable toad, also did his best to make Tom feel better.
‘What’s the matter, little matey ?’
‘I – er – I’m rather hungry.’ sniffed Tom.
‘Vittles, is it? Well here you are, shipmate.’ he had said, as they trundled along on the cart with the other pirates marching alongside and singing rude and rowdy pirate songs. ‘Have some chocolate and try to cheer up.’
‘Where did that chocolate come from?’ demanded Elisabeth.
‘What’s it to you?’ said Spud defensively.
‘It looks very like the chocolate pieces that our mother puts on cakes and puddings.’
‘Might be… might be not.’ shrugged Spud.
‘You stole it !’ said Tom. ‘You rotten stole our chocolate!’
‘Burn me for a backstay! I don’t know what you’re getting so upset about.’ said Spud, offended. ‘Stap me, that’s what pirates do – steal things. Quite clearly set down it is, in our Job Description; “The job holder will, at all appropriate opportunities, and upon reasonable request and at reasonable times, undertake to steal, purloin, make off with, and otherwise have away, the property of persons not pirates for the advantage of persons who are pirates, particularly for the advantage of the proprietor of the job holder’s vessel of residence.” See, I remembers it exactly. It’s what I signed on for, ain’t it? That, and seeing the world, getting about a bit, meeting interesting people…’
‘And robbing them!’ snapped Elisabeth.
‘Yes, and that.’ agreed Spud. ‘It’s me job, matey – choke me with a rammer if it ain’t. Apprenticed to it I were. Me father put me down for the Black Leopard, he did, as soon as he knew I was a baby boy. I signed me papers for the trade as early as I could. Did the Work Experience in me last year at school.’
‘You could have done another job.’ said Tom.
‘Slipper me with a handspike ! What other job? Years and years ago my family were simple government ferrymen, providing a very good service. But we got privatised, and soon got into the ways of taking instead of serving – villainy is a lot easier than dealing fair.’
‘Is Privatising the same as Privateering?’ asked Tom.
‘Much the same lad.’ said Spud. ‘Robbery made official by them in power in return for a share in the loot or favours in the future. What was a public service was turned into a profiteering monopoly. Less safe for people to use, misery for them as work in it, and run at the beck and whim of the greedy guts who own it, and so the public suffers. My family didn’t want me mixed up with that sort of wickedness. So they settled for putting me down for Piracy. At least that is honest villainy. No other job was really likely, ‘specially after me father scrimped and saved to pay Sir Jasper the fees. And what other job has all the perks? – tax free wages, free rum, free food, free travel…’
‘Free gallows…’ whispered Elisabeth to Tom.
‘Wossat?’ said Spud suspiciously. ‘No whispering aboard with me, mateys. Whisperings not nice, is it? Hoist me for a lubber if it is. Well bred people don’t whisper, do they?’
‘Oh dear, I’m so sorry.’ said Elisabeth, sarcastically. ‘Perhaps if we took up stealing you’d like it better?’
‘Cor, blister me bum, don’t ‘e go on? Just like a woman. I’ll tell ‘e what, young lady, you stop nagging a chap about his occupation, I’ll give young Tom here some of his own chocolate, we’ll stick together, and I’ll look after you, (I’ve got some lovely grub stashed away aboard the old Leopard) and we’ll get along just fine.’
‘Oh, very well.’ said Elisabeth. ‘I suppose that you’re not too bad, for a pirate.’
Spud put his finger to his lips. ‘Shhh!’ he said in a low tone. ‘Don’t let my mates hear you say that! Fine image for a pirate that’d be – could get me sestificate taken away.’
‘What certificate ?’ asked Tom.
‘Why, lookee ‘ere young Tom.’ said Spud, proudly pulling a very scruffy piece of paper out from inside his shirt and showing it to the them.
“Know ye by these presents that the under mentioned Horatio Oswaldwhistle ‘Spud’ Fotheringay Tadmartin is hereby confirmed as seaworthy, sound in wind and limb (if unduly round) and fit for service in all parts as a Pirate Grade Three.”
‘Grade three?’ said Elisabeth.
‘Fotheringay?’ said Tom.
‘Well,’ said Spud sheepishly, ‘You’re supposed to be pretty bad for Grade Two. And I have been made up to be Storeman in charge of provisions. And I can’t help what me Mum and Dad called me, can I? We can’t all be Toms.’
By now the pirate gang had reached Goldcaster and were making their way towards the harbour. Down a side street Tom and Elisabeth could just see the charred front of Will Nudd’s roofless forge, and they could hear the pirate Captain shouting at his men who were standing around the bells that were lying in the middle of the road, shuffling their feet and shaking their heads.
‘Best get down out of sight.’ said Spud. ‘Not a good time for you to be seen. Just listen to him…’
Down at the forge the Quartermaster had just joined Sir Jasper and now stood beside him, shaking his head and ‘tut-tutting’ in what he imagined was an indication of appropriate support – a habit which always got on Jasper’s nerves.
He was rather upset.
‘Just look at this working party, Mr Speke…’ He turned to the men; ‘A thousand thunders! All these complaints just because you’ve got a few bruises? The odd scorch or two. Had our little pinkies pinched a bit have we? That’s it for the day then, is it? Only four of the five bells taken down and none of them yet melted off? The last great bell with the most gold upon it yet to be secured? Dainty little dumkopfs had a few knocky whockys have they? Health and Safety Regulations leaving something to be desired?’
He shook his head and gestured towards the bells. ‘Alright. Alright! . Very well. So be it. Scabbard frustrated by incompetent minions again. Can’t even manage to melt a few lumps off some miserable metal. Cover the confounded things up until they cool down – get a tarpaulin. Mount guards. Staunch the flows of blood and bind your wounds if you must. Then get the bells back in to the forge. We’ll try again tomorrow. But I’m not at all HAPPY.
Luther Speke now nodded vigorously in apparent sympathy.
‘I do so agree with you Captain. It’s just not good enough. I might have been better able to arrange matters here, but of course I have only just arrived on the scene. As you can imagine, I have been extremely busy, almost totally occupied with the complications incurred in the lowering of the bells.’ He now noticed the pirates passing the end of the street with several cart loads of booty.
‘Ah, this looks more promising.’ he said. ‘The foraging party is returning and apparently they have been successful.’