The Return of the Mission
After the Mission member’s night’s rest and a hearty breakfast (local Fartlethwaite smoked bacon, duck eggs, black pudding, sausages, lamb chops, kidneys, tomatoes, mushrooms, and fried home baked bread – all of which would probably play havoc with Jasper’s digestion later), they were about to return to Summerdale.
‘Doctor Johnson, I have put you to much trouble and inconvenience.’ said Jasper. ‘I know not how to make amends.’
‘Nonsense, sir. Had you not taken us into your custody your smuggling associates would have killed us. And had you not given us your protection and filed us safely out of harm’s way upon the island that scoundrel Speke may well have contrived our deaths.’
‘You are generous, sir. How will you explain your absence to your friends?’
‘We shall imply, if asked, that in haste, due perhaps to some indisposition of mine, we boarded the wrong vessel on Anglesey, a packet boat to Goldcaster instead of one to Liverpool perhaps, and that having recovered in Summerdale we then made our way south again. But what about yourself?’
‘My fate is in the hands of my captors. In the unlikely event that they will have me I am inclined to stay in Summerdale, but would need some sort of competence or occupation if I was not to be a charge upon the community. And of course the problem of the disposal of my crew and ship has yet to be resolved.’
‘I wouldn’t worry too much about that just now.’ said Aunt Hetty. ‘Something will be sorted, never fear.’
‘And then, of course, there is the matter of the warrants outstanding for me in a regrettably large number of quarters.’
‘We have not been unaffected by your integrity, Sir Jasper.’ said Boswell. ‘And Doctor Johnson and I have agreed that if such a danger should ever arise we shall speak on your behalf, declaring how you saved our lives, rendered great service in respect of Mr Buckram, and captured the most dangerous of outlaws. With the additional testimony of the Mayor of Goldcaster and Professor Paragon, and whatever influence we may have in certain quarters, it may very well be the case that an amnesty would be granted.’
Doctor Johnson then turned to Aunt Hetty. ‘Well, madam,’ he said. ‘‘It has been a strange and illuminating pleasure to make your acquaintance. Should you ever be in London I hope that you would do me the honour of lodging with me. Your company is most refreshing and there is much I would like to discuss with you.’
‘I would be most honoured to be the guest of the Grand Cham himself.’ replied Aunt Hetty. ‘And indeed I can understand your affection for the metropolis. I know that you have said that one who is tired of London is tired of life, but whenever I am there I feel that all my few abilities are needed to survive the visit, what with the incidence of dropsy, quinsey, tisick, measles, croup, gout, thrush, coughs, whooping cough, pleurisy, dysentery, kings evil, and melancholia…’
‘And what about teething fever, over-laying, and the perils of childbirth?’ asked Morry. ‘Although perhaps not so much in your case, Sister Hepzibah.’
‘And then there’s abel-wackets, mould shot head, bowel fever, and rot gut.’ said Clarence. ‘And the cow-itch, the crinkums, the creepers, the crumblies, and the cascades. Especially in Hackney.’
‘And it’s full of villains.’ said Archibald. ‘Even worse than Tunbridge Wells. You’re always in danger from chop dowsers, fire priggers, foot pads, fraters, rum dubbers and the duelling surfeit.’
‘And the congestion…’ said Jasper. ‘The streets are so full one is hard put to find somewhere to tether one’s horse, let alone to park one’s carriage, and it takes hours to get anywhere.’
‘And the pollution…’ said Clarence. ‘Sea coal smoke from thousands of chimneys, up to your ankles in horse dung, and raw sewage flowing in the Fleet…’
‘Aside from all that of course it is a charming place,’ said Aunt Hetty. ‘But not for me except in dire emergencies. But I would dearly wish to continue our acquaintance and might well consider coming as far south as Lichfield when next you are there. And as for dear, gallant Mr Boswell, he has already promised to divert to us when convenient during his regular journeys between Edinburgh and London. It would be a great pleasure to see him again, and I am sure that my nephew would welcome him to Castle Crab, indeed I can promise him that he would.’
The Mission equipment being all assembled and the Bashems, horses, packhorses, and pirates all prepared, they then sought out Captain Russell, thanked him for his hospitality and kindness, and bid him farewell.
And so they set off back to Summerdale, Brother Archibald’s tambourine and Brother Dancer’s triangle and trilling voice accompanying them as they made their way out of Fartlethwaite…
‘Say goodbye to your web-footed friends
For a duck may be somebody’s mother…’
‘Damned strange hymn, what, what?’ laughed Captain Russell.
‘Ah, perhaps.’ said Doctor Johnson, patting him on the shoulder. ‘But why should the devil have all the best tunes, eh?’
As the Mission disappeared out of sight Russell snapped his fingers. ‘Gad, I remember now who he reminds me off – different hat, different hair, different moustache, but quite the likeness of Scabbard the pirate..’
‘Yes, very possibly.’ said Doctor Johnson. ‘The De Quinceys are a collateral branch of the family, you know. Scabbard is the great shame that they all bare. Probably one of the reasons our friend works so hard without thought of his own discomfort to do so much good in the world.’
The return journey was deliberately unhurried and it was near noon on the Saturday by the time they reached the crest of the pass and Jasper looked down once again upon Summerdale. The last few miles had been the hard and difficult slog up the narrow rough track, with the horses slipping and his shoulder very painful when jerked and shaken about. He was glad to dismount and lean back against a rock, feeling the gentle breeze coming up from the valley, whilst they paused for a rest.
Fastnet and Rockall had left them earlier that morning and flown on ahead, and now he was surprised and delighted to see them returning with the whole herring gull squadron flying as guard of honour to a very old, rather threadbare, but still colourful and very dear friend.
‘ “Home are the sailors, home from the sea, and the heroes are home from the hill.” ‘ said Tantamount, settling on his good shoulder, and pecking affectionately at his hat.
Now, from between the great boulders through which twisted the winding trail below, also appeared Rowley Buckram, with Elisabeth and Tom, closely followed by Spud Tadmartin, Eustace, Twiga, and several other pirates.
‘Welcome, Jasper Scabbard,’ beamed Rowley, reaching down and shaking his hand. ‘Welcome back to Summerdale.’
‘My dear Mr Buckram, this is most kind, sir. But you ought still to be resting. You have been through great privation and should not have undertaken the arduous climb up here.’
‘Well, those villains pushed me about a bit, yes, but no permanent harm was done, and I rather feel that the enforced semi-starvation has done me the world of good – I must be a stone and a half lighter now. Besides, you and your men have saved my life. The least I can do is to be amongst the first to welcome you home.’
‘Home, you say?’
‘There are already many of us who now have a high regard for you, and considerable expectation that matters may so be arranged that you could settle in Summerdale, if that was your wish.’
‘Those sentiments are most gratifying, but we must not mistake momentary popularity for lasting renown. And besides, once I have ensured that all that is possible has been done towards resolving my debt to you, my first priority is the fate and the future of my men.’
‘We are aware of that and have been giving it great consideration. We have some ideas to discuss with you that may prove well worthwhile for all concerned. But first let’s get you and these fine fellows down to the town for some hearty Summerdale food and a well deserved rest in comfortable quarters. I hope that you will be kind enough to lodge with me until you are fully recovered? I have a large and comfortable room made ready for you overlooking the Market Square, if that would do?’
‘I could be your on shore midshipman.’ said Tom. ‘My parents say I could help you while you’re getting better.’
‘I take that offer very kindly Tom. But before I make any appointments I always consult the First Mate as second in command. What say you Mr Rathbone?’
‘What, young Thomas Trundle, eh? Let’s see… A bit impetuous, tends to get captured rather too often, needs to take closer heed of instructions certainly, but brave – no doubt about it, strong and willing – yes, bright and quick witted too. Has the makings of a sound midshipman I would say. But how on earth will they cope at Frodley Farm without young Tom to help? And can we afford him?’
‘I don’t want payment!’ said Tom indignantly. ‘And Uncle Rowley says he will feed me and Spud is already helping us at the farm’
‘I was only joking, Tom.’ laughed Rathbone. ‘In that case I say have him aboard Captain, by all means.’
‘Thank you Mr Rathbone.’ said Tom. ‘Can I start this afternoon Sir Jasper?’
‘I think you’ll find he already has.’ smiled Rowley. ‘ The fire is laid and the ewer’s full of water in your room already. My sister Esme Trundle offered to put you up at Richpickings, but she agreed that it would be more appropriate for you to be near the centre of things, so that you could go aboard the Black Leopard when you needed to and attend to necessary business in the town.’
‘Well, of course you are right, but it was most kind of her to make the offer.’ said Jasper, a little wistfully, Aunt Hetty thought.
‘Aunt Esme was very concerned when she heard that you’d been shot.’ said Elisabeth, her eyes twinkling. ‘So were we all.’
‘Was she? Really? Oh, er – how kind – of you all, of course. After what I’ve put you through. Strange how things can change.’ Jasper said ruefully. ‘She nearly shot me herself last week, you know?’
‘Oh, I know.’ laughed Elisabeth. ‘I was hiding in the hall cupboard.’
‘I might have guessed it. I never stood a chance, did I? Once you all got organised, and had the help of this amazing lady and her nephew…’
‘It was damned hard work,’ said Aunt Hetty. ‘On everybody’s part. And the timing was a nightmare.’
‘Knowing what I do now about your profession, I can appreciate that. And without the enterprise and determination of so many others, not least Elisabeth and Tom here, I would probably have done far more harm before any help could be obtained. But for the first time in my long and varied career, I am very glad to have been beaten.’
The party now set off again down the track.
‘I hope you men have all been busy?’ said Jasper.
‘Oh, we have, Cap’n, we have indeed. All the plunder’s been given back (save for what we’ve eaten of course.)’
‘And we’re making up for that, what with working in people’s gardens, learning how to plough, and me helping down the bakery.’ said Hawser Trunnion. ‘The Baker’s sister’s a funny woman – keeps leering and winking and nudging me. I got flour all down me front this morning.’
‘I spend quite a bit of time at Frodley Farm.’ said Spud. ‘I’ve repaired all the damage, and have got quite good at the milking and that, stoke me mizzen with a grog bottle if I haven’t.’
‘And the Cook’s been helping at the brewery. He’s been learning about hops and malt and mashing and yeast, and they’ve been learning about pot stills and potheen and turning potatoes into hooch. He’s quite his old self now he’s got away from Missis Tupman. Out of it a lot of the time admitted, but quite his old self…’
‘And Mr Nudd, the blacksmith, he was well pleased when he got back to find his forge all repaired and ready for business. Been shoeing like a good ‘un ever since.’
‘Some of us wouldn’t mind staying if they’d have us. Seem to be getting on well with the locals.’
‘Turns out they’re not enemy really.’ said Eustace happily. ‘I’m saving up to buy a bucket.’
‘A bucket?’ said Jasper. ‘What do you need a bucket for, for heavens sake?’
‘And a sponge. I’m going to be an optical illuminator enhancer.’ said Eustace proudly. Well, that’s what your parrot called it. I’m going to get a window cleaning round.’
‘And what about a ladder?’ said Rathbone. ‘And anyway, you’re afraid of heights.’
‘Won’t need a ladder. Only going to do low down single storey windows.’
‘Oh dear.’ sighed Jasper. ‘I think I can detect a slight flaw in your business plan.’
‘Wassat then Cap’n?’
‘It may have escaped your notice, but those windows in single storey premises are more likely to be cleaned by the occupants themselves without recourse to the option of employing a redundant pirate.’
‘Oh, well, never mind. Got another job anyway.’
‘I am impressed Eustace.’ said Jasper. ‘This shows considerable enterprise – your mum will be pleased. So what else are you doing?’
‘I’m an ostler. Wiv ‘orses. At the Inn.’
‘He’s coming on a bundle, Cap’n. Even started feeding them at the right end now. And he sings as he works.’
‘Don’t the horses mind?’ asked Rathbone.
‘I don’t think so.’ said Eustace. ‘They only kick a bit. And I groom them with one eye on the clock for when their needed, and have ‘em ready in order, and see there’s enough hay and straw and water and that…’
‘Amazing.’ said Rathbone. ‘Very well done, for someone who used not to be able to suck a sweet and fart at the same time.’
‘I get on well with dumb animals, I do.’ said Eustace, offended.
‘Now why doesn’t that surprise me?’ sighed Jasper.
Downhill they made their way, past the point where Fastnet and his friends had attacked and driven off the guards on the track, past the edge of the great wood where so many citizens went into hiding, down and around the hill on which stood the church of St. Jocelyn Without, and so at last to Goldcaster and into the Market Square.
Here a large crowd of citizens and pirates had assembled, and there was a heartening cheer as the party came into view. Mr Bagley bustled out on to the Town Hall steps to greet them, followed by Professor Paragon, Umbrage, and Barney Trim, and even Morlock the Scavenger was there, standing a little apart from the crowd naturally, but smiling and waving his shovel in greeting.
The Bashem brothers and the members of the Mission were all merrily manhandled by congratulatory comrades, and Jasper was helped off his horse with the hand on his one good arm in danger of being shaken off as well.
‘How kind… Thank you, thank you… Hello again – did you ever get that supper we owed you? -fine, fine… Mr Nudd – good to see you sir. I understand the forge is in order once more? And decorated with such good taste as well you say? No, I’m afraid I don’t think we have any more topless posters of Miss Senegal – But I’ll ask Able Seaman Twiga – he specialises in that sort of thing… Ah, Mr Trundle – we meet at last – I owe you so much sir, not least the acquaintance with your offspring. No, no, we couldn’t possibly have managed without Madam Paragon… That’s you Achmed, isn’t it – hiding behind the pillar. I recognise the scimitar. Managing alright are we? Good, good. Hello Haroun – have you really? – well done lad… Mr Boon, how are you sir? Ouch! No, not your fault…’
‘Let the poor man be!’ shouted Aunt Hetty. ‘There’ll be plenty of time for all that when they’ve had a bite to eat and a bit of a rest.’
‘There’s a lunch laid on for you all in the inn.’ said Mr Bagley.
‘How very kind.’ said Jasper looking around the square. ‘It’s as though almost everybody in Summerdale was present…’
‘Aunt Esme will be down this afternoon.’ smiled Elisabeth. ‘A seagull was sent to tell her when you were coming over the pass.’
‘Ah, really… Oh good. Not that she should put herself out on my account of course. But yes, I would wish to make my peace with her. Where is Mr Speke?’
Ah…’ said Mr Bagley. ‘He’s had a bit of an accident I’m afraid.’
‘Oh, dear. How is he?’
‘Quite ill.’ said Barney. ‘In fact a bit dead, as it happens…’
‘How did he die?’ asked Jasper, once they had sat down to dine in a private room at the Inn.
‘ “Something lingering, with boiling oil in it for preference?” ’ said Tantamount.
‘Well it was rather protracted, I am afraid.’ said Professor Paragon. ‘But he really brought it upon himself, being so determined to make off with your treasure chest. It was his greed and ruthlessness that made it necessary to act. Once it became apparent that there was no other choice, we had to strike during the period when the moon was waning and the power to harm was highest. Of course, thanks to the seagulls, we knew his every move, and had to do very little to ensure that he knew the whereabouts of the treasure. He set out to challenge the power that was protecting it and so was destroyed.’
‘He was not a pretty sight when we found him.’ said Mr Bagley.
‘Well no-one looks their best with a foot blown off, their throat ripped open, and their eyes pecked out.’ said Barney.
‘But there are certain advantages consequent upon his removal.’ said the Professor. ‘Besides the strongest reminder that any transgressions here in Summerdale can be dealt with rapidly and, if necessary, with terminal effect, he would have been a major obstacle to any agreements we may come to about the future of your crew.’
‘The suggestion we would like to discuss presently just would not be possible if the Quartermaster was involved.’ said Rowley.
‘Well, it seems his death was most fortuitous.’ said Jasper, wryly. ‘I think I can promise you that with such a rapid trial and sentence to remind us of the consequences of ill conduct, every one of us will behave ourselves in an exemplary manner whilst under your guardianship. I must confess Mr Speke is one of the few I shall not miss.’
‘How did he come to be in your Company?’ asked Mr Bagley.
‘He was the Quartermaster on a privateer that was wrecked on a reef off the Maldives. All were lost save himself and a few others who, being in the vicinity, we took aboard. Now, Professor, assuming that you have been the prime mover in his fate, and having in mind what you and dear Hetty here said earlier about the rebounding Triple Effect, I hope that you have not been inconvenienced?’
‘He’s a quick learner, isn’t he?’ laughed Aunt Hetty
‘How considerate of you to remember that and think of my possible discomfort. But you will also recall that in Summerdale the effects are much reduced because of the bells. Still I was greatly fatigued for a couple of days afterwards. I have an irritating ulcer on my left foot, my eyes itch rather, and the toy dragon appears to have expired, otherwise all is well, thank you.’
‘I am relieved.’ said Jasper ‘But what about Steelclaw Hawkins and Blackheart Luke? They came to us with Speke – it would have been most convenient if they went as he left.’
‘Oh, they have gone alright.’ said Mr Bagley. ‘But not as we would have wished. Having seen the – er, shall we say special effects that he provoked, the seagulls wisely left the vicinity, as indeed did every other creature in the area. It being by that time quite dark, the gulls did not see those two, who also having fled, then made their way secretly down to the harbour, and must have stood out to sea in your longboat.’
‘Umm…’ mused Jasper. ‘If they survive they may well reveal our whereabouts if captured or when bragging in some dive.’
‘The gulls told us that the Quartermaster’s plan was to sail to Belfast. And those two not only had their own sea chests aboard the boat, but also the one belonging to Speke, the contents of which I believe should provide them both with more than enough to live a comfortable life if disposed of wisely.’ said the Professor.
‘But they are not wise.’ said Jasper grimly. ‘They are stupid and evil.’
‘If they do provoke any enquiry, we shall totally deny any knowledge of pirates, or robbery, or plundering or assault, or anything of the sort.’ smiled Mr Bagley.
‘But what if the Black Leopard is still in the harbour when such an enquirer may come to call?’
‘Perhaps this is the moment to consider our proposal.’ said Rowley Buckram. ‘We appreciate that in normal circumstances your company would all vote on any major decision about their future, but in this case there are very few options for you that we would be prepared to consider.’
‘I find it hard to think of any that would be fair to everyone.’ sighed Jasper.
‘Having got to know your men a little during this last week,’ said Professor Paragon, ‘It appears to us that they fall mainly into two categories – those who would like to settle here in safety, and those who would still prefer a more nautical life.’
‘Well, many were seamen of one sort or another before they became pirates, even though they are all damned fine seamen now.’ said Jasper.
Exactly.’ said Mr Bagley. ‘And with the best will in the world if they all wanted to retire and live here that would be impractical. There would bound to be some resentment and conflict. And without more trading with the outside world there would be only limited employment available in Goldcaster itself. Although in High Summerdale perhaps something could be done – with sufficient investment…’
‘So a key question must be how many would want to settle?’ asked Rowley.
‘Hmm…’pondered Jasper. ‘What do you think Rathbone?’
‘Well, let’s be honest, there’s you and me for a start, then the lads who came with us to rescue Mr Buckram have all made it clear where they stand, and a few others who might be glad to come ashore – ten, maybe fifteen, I’d say.’
‘That’s about what we thought.’ said Mr Bagley.
‘But what about the others?’ sighed Jasper. ‘And the ship?’
‘Have you – er – been busy, shall we say, along the North American coast, in territory controlled by what used to be called the Thirteen Colonies and is now the new republic?’ asked Rowley.
‘No. Never that far north.’ said Jasper. ‘We have had business in Nassau and Grand Bahama some years ago, but have steered well clear of that part of the world during the recent conflict. Why do you ask?’
‘In case your vessel might be known in those quarters.’ said Rowley. ‘Let me explain. Some of the tea thrown into the sea during the Boston Tea Party belonged to me. Of course the good people had no malice towards me personally, but were protesting against unfair taxation. Trade is now being renewed between Great Britain and North America where I still have several friendly business contacts…’
‘Do you indeed?’ Jasper was beginning to smile.
‘I think you may suspect where this conversation is leading…?’
‘Possibly, possibly, but please proceed.’
‘How would it be if the Black Leopard were to be renamed, converted into a merchantman, and set to trade between Liverpool (where I have several agents) and Boston, New York, and Charleston?’
‘What goods would she carry?’
‘Tea, coffee, manufactured goods, clothing, cloth, weapons, tools and the like outwards, and principally furs, tobacco, and cotton back to England.’
‘Who would command her?’
‘You would be too much exposed to discovery we feel, so whilst she was being fitted out and for her first voyage, we thought perhaps Mr Rathbone with a First Officer selected by him and myself from applicants suggested by my Liverpool agents. If Mr Rathbone wishes to settle here after that trip, that First Officer could then become Master.’
‘She wouldn’t have a full complement if some men stayed ashore.’
‘But she is not going to be a fighting ship – just a merchantmen with a surprising defensive capacity despite a reduced armament. And anyway, besides the First Officer there would be several other specialists recruited at Liverpool.’
‘Suppose my men became tired of being employed and wanted to revert to villainy?’
‘But would they if they owned the business?’
‘Pardon? Surely you…’
‘No, no, no. I propose that you and I provide the funds necessary to fit out the vessel, obtain the first cargoes, and cover expenses of the first few voyages, our investment being repaid over a period of time. But the business would be run as a co-operative venture, just like a pirate commonwealth, with all the officers and crew sharing the profits. I know from my own experience that in that way their income would be greater than that of any but the most successful pirate.’
‘And knowledge of the excellent earnings each man would make from the venture should animate him in his duty.’ said the Professor. ‘It should be a happy ship, and a profitable one.’
‘It sounds ideal to me.’ said Jasper. ‘What do you think Rathbone?’
‘Well, there’s certainly been some blue skies thinking done here. Now the plug’s been pulled on our core customer portfolio this could be the ideal construct, as contextualised by Mr Buckram, a paradigm for growing a new client base by instigating a radical agenda for positive factor development, at the same time implementing a solution driven alternative career enhancement programme, harnessing change for growth rather than retrenchment, subject of course to a user needs analysis, satisfactory strategic management role determination, resource quantification, and a rate of stock turn assessment. And, particularly as we have been assured that the bottom line will be stakeholder dominated, yes, I say that we should greenlight the proposal, and look forward to implementing it as a dynamically innovative programme for long term profitability from shore to shining shore. I suggest that you, Sir J, formulate a mission statement, whilst Mr Buckram and I head up a focus group structured to bring the human resource ingredient on side.’
‘Have you been at my Adam Smith again?’ said Jasper.
‘No, no, Sir J.’ said Rathbone. ‘Not The Wealth of Nations. I’ve been reading a book Professor Paragon lent me – Marketing and Management by Objectives in a Globalised Economy – Cranbridge University Press, £12.99 in paperback.’
‘A rattling good read, no doubt. Remind me to send for a copy. I’m running low on jargon.’
At this point there was a knock on the dining room door.
‘Come in…’ called Professor Paragon, and Archibald looked round the door, smiling.
‘Your new Midshipman’s here Captain. We’ve kitted him out a bit…’
‘Well, best let him in then. Good afternoon, Mr Trundle. My word, you’re looking very smart.’
‘Good afternoon sir, thank you sir.’ said Tom, saluting. The crew had managed to contrive a small blue tricorne hat for him, and he wore a white shirt, a red sash, a cut down dark blue jacket (much gathered in at the back), his own best breeches brought from the farm, and his highly polished black Sunday shoes with the brass buckles.
‘What can we do for you Tom?’
‘Spud has brought your clothes and equipment over from the ship sir, and was wondering what books and writing materials you might also require, seeing as you may find much of interest in Uncle Rowley’s shop. And the Cook was asking if you had any preferences for your supper. Oh, and Aunt Esme’s arrived…’
‘Ah…’ smiled Professor Paragon. ‘Well, I think our discussions have gone far enough for the moment…’
‘And I must be getting back to the Town Hall…’ said Mr Bagley.
‘And I had best be seeing how the rest of the crew have been doing…’ said Rathbone
‘And I think perhaps you ought to have a rest now, Sir Jasper,’ said Rowley. ‘If you would like to make your way across to my home, I will just make sure that the rest of your party have all they want and settle up with the Inn keeper, then follow you over later.’
‘Then it will be about time we had that wound of yours looked at again.’ said Aunt Hetty. ‘And I need to give some special nursing instructions to whoever is going to look after you. I’ve got one volunteer, that’s Elisabeth, and I think there might be another in the offing…’