Jasper and his crew head back to Goldcaster
Back in Goldcaster Professor Paragon was having considerable difficulty at the church. He was not short of manpower – Will Nudd, and half a dozen others were clustered at the foot of the bell tower and Barnaby and Umbrage were perilously perched half way up. No, the problem was gaining sufficient access to the belfry and the beams to raise and set the bells.
The stairs up from the ground had been badly damaged with few banisters left to provide safe and secure hand holds when climbing. The railings on the belfry floor had been smashed and the floor taken apart, and the ladders to the belfry beams were so broken that they were both useless.
More ladders were now being brought into the church and makeshift scaffolding was being erected so that the pulleys and hoists brought from Castle Crab could be put in place. Ropes were already attached to Godolphin (which Boswell thought seemed to be twinkling a little in anticipation) but it would be some while yet before it could be raised, let alone set and rung.
The Professor looked at his watch. ‘It is essential that this bell is ready by the time Scabbard returns. Where is he now?’ he asked Boswell.
‘Only about two miles up the coast, but the gulls report that he doesn’t seem to be moving very fast. Many of his men are in poor shape and he probably thinks that the bells are aboard by now and all is well in Goldcaster, as far as he is concerned…’
* * *
Jasper was making his way with Rathbone back to Goldcaster along the seashore road. He was leading his horse which now carried two afflicted pirates, both still moaning. Other members of Rathbone’s party still suffering badly were either lying in the carts, or hunched up on the remaining trolley now towed by two of the Captain’s troop who were, after all, unaffected by Aunt Hetty’s luncheon delicacies.
‘Just a minor point Mr Mate, touching but lightly upon the details of your progress today, but what happened to the musical instruments that were in your care? At least they were worth something.’
‘Oh Gawd! We must have left them back at that Tumblegill Mill place where the snake attacked us.’
‘What a pity. We could have made our way back – I nearly said marched – playing a dirge. The Dead March from Saul, perhaps. I’d have quite enjoyed that, in the circumstances.’
‘Give over Captain. Today may have been a bit of a bummer but we’ve still got the booty from the town. And probably your bells will be aboard by now.’
‘My bells? Do you think so? Those bells seem not only reluctant to be taken, but determined to thwart us.’
‘Now don’t you start talking like that Sir J. It’s you that keeps us going.’
‘Thank you Rathbone, but you see that herring gull hopping from rock to rock, apparently keeping us company, the one with the black spot on its beak and the flecks of white upon its wing? It may surprise you to know that either it or one of its companions follows me wherever I go. They report back to our enemies. All we do is known to them.’
‘You’d better have a drink of water Captain. Better still have a swig from my emergency hip flask. It’s a white rum from Haiti. I know you prefer the more delicate sort.’
‘Thank you. Ah, that’s a little better. Forgive me.’
‘They follow us as well. After scraps I expect.’
‘Not much luck today with us then. I had great hopes for this enterprise but it seems to be going rather sour. This seems to be a land of plenty of nothing. The greater bulk of any profit will now depend on the gold of the bells and it looks as though even if we have got them aboard we will have considerable difficulty melting off the gold and may have to sell them on. All that takes time and the men will be considerably disappointed. Do you sometimes feel the attractions of retirement?’
‘How long have we been together Captain?’
‘Since you were wrongly accused of theft and jumped ship at the Cape – must be seven years ago now. A pity that, you had a good skipper, a worthy task, and no scurvy.’.’
‘But it wasn’t Captain Cook to blame, was it? It was that bastard Bligh who was serving under him who fitted me up. Right sod, but a good navigator. I wonder what became of him?’
‘Rising up the ladder in the Royal Navy I understand. I heard talk of him planning another South Seas expedition – to look for bread fruit would you believe.’
‘Well, I don’t envy his crew – you can only stand so much abuse. Anyway, I was in dead bother there. If you hadn’t picked me up I’d have been a shark’s supper. So whatever you decide is alright with me, and if you want to retire I’ll join you if you like. But if you abandon the profession we ought to go out on a high. You don’t want it to get about that we were bested by the peasants. You’ve got your reputation to think of.’
‘You feel our image might leave something to be desired if we do not totally succeed? Fancy yourself an expert in Public Relations do you?’
‘What’s public relations when it’s at home? Sounds rather vulgar to me. I prefer a bit of privacy for my relationships. I like to concentrate on the matter in hand without a lot of leering onlookers if you take my meaning…’
‘No, no, no! Public Relations is the distortion, suppression, or manipulation of the truth in the best interests of whoever pays the fees.’
‘What a filthy trade. I’ll stick to straightforward thieving thank you. Whilst I have to.’
‘Anyway all is not yet lost in this endeavour. And what is this? I see a sail – it’s one of our dinghies and yes, the Cook is steering it – quite well. Mr Speke must have deprived him of alcohol. What now I wonder?’
‘You’ve certainly got pirate’s eyes Cap’n. I can barely make out the rig. There’s your seagull again, perched on the cart.’
‘Now bird, ‘ said Jasper. ‘Is that boat bringing good news or bad news? For us I mean, not your lot.’
Rockall, for it was he, cocked his head first on one side, then on the other, shrugged his shoulders, and then flapped his wings in an indecisive manner.
‘Bit of both, eh? I’m obliged to you for that honest opinion. Well, don’t let me keep you… Off again are we? Doubtless to advise Madam Paragon of our progress? Please give her my regards.’
Rathbone looked at him askance. ‘You’re beginning to worry me Sir J. What is it with you and these gulls?’
‘Allow me my little foibles, old friend. All will doubtless be revealed before the day is out.’
The Cook, with the breeze behind him, and Jasper’s party heading south, soon met.
‘ “What news on the Rialto?” ‘ asked Tantamount, as they beached the boat and extracted the Cook on to the shore.
‘Well ?’ asked Jasper.
‘Begging your forbearance Cap’n, but the town has been recaptured.’
‘But all is not lost Cap’n. We was on the verge of being buggered, but now we ‘ave an ‘ostage once more.’
‘The boy Tom. Again. And Mr Speke says he-would-normally-have-cut-an-ear-and-sent-it-to-‘em-to-make-‘em-sheer-off-but-given-you -was-on-your-way-back-as-it-were-and-might-have-other-plans-he-thought-it-best-to –er – hurry you up – er – that is he’d-be-obliged-if-you-could-make-haste-and-return-as-soon-as-maybe-so-as-to-recapture -the-town-and-get-the-bells-aboard. Oh, and they’ve got a huge armoured steam machine that ran over Carnage’s foot. That’s about it Cap’n. Steerings ‘ard work when you aren’t used to it. I ain’t half thirsty. Any rum about?’
‘Never mind your ruddy rum. So the bells are still on shore?’
‘Well we hadn’t even got the raft made when they hit us.’
‘None of the ones they captured was badly hurt, and we got ‘em back when we threatened the kid.’
‘Right, men.’ snarled Jasper. ‘Pull yourselves together. We’re going back as fast as possible, and we’re going back angry. I will double the share of the gold on the bells and there will be free nostrums for the gut ache once we are back on board. We have all to gain and nothing to lose. We are invincible, we are evil, we are ruthless – What are we?…’
‘Don’t be awkward. We are determined – What are we?’
‘Determined – well, a bit.’
‘I don’t know about that.’ said Clarence, sniffing. ‘The way I feel right now.’
‘There is no ‘I’ in the word TEAM!’ hissed Jasper.
‘There’s no F in HOPE either.’ muttered Clarence.
‘I heard that and I’ll have you keelhauled if you don’t show a more positive attitude.’
‘That’ll cure his hay fever!’
‘Haw – haw – haw!’
‘Double our shares, eh?’
‘Well, I don’t know about the rest of you,’ said Archibald. ‘But I’m totally cheesed off. I could do with a bit of a punch up.’
‘And I’m positively fuming with disappointment, me.’ said Morry.
‘Let’s kick ass and kick it now!’
‘That’s more like it – Up guards and at ‘em!’
They won’t forget us in a hurry!’
‘ “We are the Sweeney and we haven’t had our dinner.” ‘ said Tantamount.
‘Alright, alright, let’s get a move on then.’ said Rathbone. ‘Come on you slovenly lot – weapons primed, sort yourselves out, get a grip for Gawd’s sake…’