The pirates still suffering but evil Speke has plans for Tom
The First Mate’s detachment were running from Tumblegill Mill, the horse pulling the cart wild eyed and panting, the handcarts bumping on the verges, the pirates stumbling into each other as they kept looking back behind them for the serpent, all of them staggering and lurching, almost out of breath, their only consolation being that the exercise had helped to ease the effects of the Jimsonweed Tripper tea. Eventually they came to a halt at yet another crossroads.
‘Why have we stopped?’
‘SHUT UP!’ explained Rathbone, scratching his head and studying the scribbled notes he had made at Aunt Hetty’s tea stall.
‘Are we lost?’
‘It’s half past twelve – nearly dinner time.’
‘Where’s this Lower Rumble place then?’
‘In my belly – I’m ravenous.’
‘Buggering about all morning…’
‘Nothing to show for it…’
‘Come on lads, pull yourselves together. We’ve still got this Hogweed House to have a go at. Bound to be something worthwhile there. Then there’s all those jewellery shops and stuff, and the Bonded Warehouse – sure to be chock full of brandy and baccy and rum. ’
‘And lace. I get a real frill from lace, I really do.’
‘And what about that Garden of Earthly Delights place, eh? I fancy a bit of that, John. Know what I mean?. Right up my street.’
‘Sho nuff man. Me’ll have some of dat. All dem part time virgin chicks.’
‘Clad in nothing but wispy negligibles. ’
‘Fluttering their eyes…’
‘No they don’t.’
‘Of course they do. Known for it. Houris with kohl in their eyes.’
‘I thought you said they was virgins?’
‘Ah said deh was part time.’
‘I don’t fancy them if they’ve got coal in their eyes. Put you right off, having an eyeful of nutty slack peering up at you.’
‘They don’t flutter their eyes.’
‘Yes they do.’
‘No they don’t’
‘What do they flutter then?’
‘They flutter their eye lashes.’
‘Oh, Mr Picky now, is it? I bet they won’t flutter them at you mate.
‘They will if the price is right.’
‘Alright, alright! We’re all up for it so let’s get on. Down this way, best foot forward. (Eustace – mind what you tread in. …)
But at Hogweed House another forlorn opportunity was waiting for Rathbone’s party of pillagers. This small, rather rundown cottage was empty and there was a notice board in the garden.
Prestigious half acre plot for
provision of either five Executive homes,
Ten Fully Serviced Offices,
or Forty snug Retirement Studio Flats
for discerning Gentlefolk.
ANTHILL, MODSLUM, AND GROTBLOCK
Architects and Developers
Pinned to the porch was a note.
Dear Mr Morlock. Has you no we as been turned out
by these bastards. We’ve left in the barn what we couldn’t take wiv us the which you are very welcome to. The key to the barn door is on a hook in the usual place which will no longer need emptying. Regards to Mrs.Morlock and help yourself to the cabbages.
‘This looks like another bloody no show.’ said Rathbone.
‘Well at least there will be something in this barn…’
‘I wouldn’t bet on it.’
‘You’re one heavy cynical dude, Mr Mate.’
‘It comes with the territory around here. No, don’t waste effort breaking that door open. Eustace, go and get the key – it will be hanging in the privy, probably round the back.’
A few minutes passed before Eustace returned.
‘You took your time.’
‘I had to. And that note’s wrong.’
‘In what way?’
‘Well, the privy’ll need emptying now.’
‘I bet it does. Give me the key.’
‘Do be careful – I thought I heard a shuffling inside…’
‘Morry, abandoned furniture does not shuffle. What the …?’
As Rathbone started to open the barn doors a very thick, grey, mottled, wrinkled, leathery tube came twisting out of the gap and probed him forcefully in the crutch.
‘Heavens to Betsy!’ cried Morry. ‘It’s another snake – oh, no it’s not…’
The doors were pushed open wide to reveal great grey flapping ears, nodding tusks, and two peering, rather angry looking eyes.
‘That, Eustace ma man, am a heffalump.’ said Tembo. ‘It’s like de rhinocerous but bigger and with different extensions innit.’
‘Remember Zanzibar?’ said Morry. ‘Calicut? Rangoon?’
‘No, that was before my time. My mum would only let me go on short voyages to start with.’
‘Never mind that.’ said Rathbone. ‘It looks like this one comes with an attitude problem.’
The elephant was now shaking it’s head from side to side and pawing at the ground.
‘It does seem a tad miffed.’ said Morry. ‘What shall we do with it?’
‘I’m more worried about what it’s going to do with us. Its already tried to grab me by the scroats.’
‘If in doubt give it a clout.’
‘You great Jessie – that would make it worse.’
‘Shoot it then?’
‘You’d need a couple of cannon to put that thing down.’
‘Well, it is a beast of burden. We could always use it to carry booty.’
‘What booty? We’ve already got an empty cart and two empty trolleys.’
‘Look – it seems to be more friendly… Well, perhaps not…’
The elephant had plodded over to the cart where it sniffed at the horse.. The horse reared up in the shafts, the elephant turned away, looked at the pirates with disdain, trumpeted loudly, and sat on one of the trolleys, shattering it. One of the wheels rolled towards Rathbone and fell at his feet.
‘Looks like you were right, Honky Tonk.’ said Morry, peering into the empty barn. ‘Nothing worthwhile here. Still, one less empty trolley to lug about.’
As the disconsolate pirates set off for Lower Rumble the elephant trumpeted loudly again.
‘EEY-OOOR! it went.
Yes, Aunt Hetty’s donkey Horace had also been at the Paragon Meta Mix.
* * *
‘Now tell me boy,’ snarled Luther Speke, gripping Tom’s ear. ‘How did you escape yesterday morning?’
‘Please sir, someone came and let us out sir.’ (Well, that was part of the truth.)
‘Who was it, you urchin?’
‘Please sir, I don’t know sir. I was hiding.’
‘But didn’t they take you out of the town?’
‘No sir. My sister and I got out on our own.’
‘You’re lying!’ shouted Speke, raising his hand to slap Tom.
‘That’s enough Mr Speke.’ said Spud, taking hold of Tom’s shoulder. ‘Why would they need a guide? They live ’ere for heaven’s sake.’
‘Yessss… I suppose you’re right. Take the little swine down below and lock him up until I decide what to do with him.’ He shook his clenched fist in Tom’s face. ‘And the slightest sign of any trouble from you boy, and I’ll rip out your miserable lights – Understand?’
Tom was trying to be brave but was biting his lip as Spud took him below deck. ‘Spud,’ he said, ‘Yesterday I didn’t break my parole to you.’
‘I know you didn’t, lad.’
‘When Sir Jasper took us ashore Elisabeth said that we had become his prisoners. I wondered if you’d thought we’d betrayed you?’
‘Splice me for bilge rat! Of course I didn’t. Come on, let’s calm you down and get some grub inside yer. ‘Here, use me handkercher, it’s almost clean…’
Speke was pacing to and fro on the poop deck.
Here was a pretty kettle of fish – almost the opportunity he had been waiting for. Regardless of what might be brought back by the expedition into Summerdale this was already a very rich ship. Now stowed aboard the Black Leopard was all the booty worth having from the town, added to that already held by the crew, himself, and what was hidden in the Captain’s chest. He had always known that that would be well worth having but having overheard the conversation the night before his principle concern had been what was also in it that was so very valuable.
Even without the dratted bells it would have been a shrewd move to cut and run right now. How very ironic – all that loot, totally under his control, and hardly an able bodied man to get it away. Five good seamen captured, five more on board virtually useless because of injuries, the Cook and Tadmartin totally loyal to Scabbard and so in need of slit throats and heaving overboard, leaving only himself, Steelclaw Hawkins, and Blackheart Luke to man the biggest brigantine in the North Atlantic. And they alone wouldn’t even be able to rig the sails and weigh the anchors without many more hands.
No, even if he somehow got back those who had been captured, he’d need a good few more who were on the Summerdale expedition to provide a working crew, let alone a fighting one. And there would need to be some subtle sounding out and manipulation, perhaps also another opportune crisis before he made a move. No, now was not the time. In this situation it would be best to ingratiate himself with Scabbard, to continue to show loyalty and initiative, and to keep him reassured.
And suppose the town people attacked the ship? They must have some of the crew’s weapons now. How many of them were there? Would they be joined by others? Would they foolishly try such an attack? Whilst the few local fishing boats were tied up to the Leopard, two of her own boats were at the quay at that moment and might be used – he’d better have a couple of cannon aimed at them…
‘What are we going to do about the bells Mr Speke?’
He looked at the cranes already rigged on board and cursed for the wasted effort. Or was it? Was there somehow still a chance of securing the bells – a lot of gold was at stake. Those people would only want the bells for their value. All they would probably do would be to attempt to take them off somewhere safer. Threats to the boy could stop that.
‘Let ‘em have the blooming bells.’ said a pirate with a bandage on his hand and his arm in a sling. ‘I hope they get as battered and bruised and burned as we were.’
‘Yus. Good riddance says I.’ said another with his foot in plaster.
`Gugger er gells.’ said a pirate who had been burnt on the hand by one bell, knocked over by another, and had a third roll over his head, badly bruising his jaw and making him bite his tongue. ‘Gy goke ey ekloge an gill er glok og un.
‘Wassee say ?’
‘He hopes they explode and kill the lot of them.’
‘Just use your brains for once.’ snapped Speke. ‘The Captain won’t be too pleased will he? You letting them be recaptured. Give you a bonus, will he? You know how he feels about those bells – more likely to lop off your heads with his cutlass.’
‘It’s all going blooey ain’t it? said Steelclaw.
There was a painful pause while the other pirates pondered.
‘Look…’ said Blackheart, pointing towards the town. From the deck of the Black Leopard the flagpole of the Town Hall could clearly be seen above the rooftops. The Skull and Crossbones was now being lowered.
‘What are we going to do, Mr Speke?’
‘You seem to forget – we have a hostage…’