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Rated: ASR · Poetry · Military · #1753290
Brave Captain Bill redeems himself after the affair of the sailor's toes

Captain Billy’s Terrible Secret

He was eating steak in Sammy's
When the crier cried the news
Napoleon had broken out
And War was on the loose.
And all the room was roaring
How they'd do those Frenchmen hurt
But Captain Billy walked away
As teardrops stained his shirt

He's a leather-hearted hero
And he loves the grapeshot's wail
The very type of man you’d want
To turn those Frenchmen pale
But as the fleet assembled,
As the gallant tars set sail
Captain Billy sat at home
Just waiting on the mail

No he'll never get a frigate,
Nor a tender or fourth-rate
'Cause the last time Captain Billy sailed
His men was what he ate.

They were stranded in the Doldrums
There was not a speck to eat
When Captain Bill discovered how
He relished sailor's feet.
"Oh there's nothing like a bunion
When it's salted down with brine,
Or blackened callus, sliced quite thin,
With just a touch of lime.
You can say that ale and beefsteak
Is the apple of your eye,
But a foretop man with feet of tan
Will make a jolly pie."

There were some that lived to tell it,
There were stories — some were true,
There were nasty fingers pointed
and they fingered—
"He's a valiant salt, and all of that,
But he'll never keep a crew,"
And word went round the Admiralty
That mighty Bill was through.

Then the French fleet took Gibraltar
England needed every man
They wrote Bill most politely
Would he care to lend a hand?
The press gang was assembled
And dispatched to scour the land
And the battleship Redemption
Was placed at Bill's command.

"They should call her Resurrection."
Was the thought of not a few
As they eyed her cancerous caulking
And her rigging, all askew.
Then paraded on the gangway
Were the pressmen's sorry stew
Of poachers, thieves, three pirates
And a lunatic or two.

So the mildewed old Redemption
Set forth to save the realm
With four and twenty goal-birds and
a madman at the helm.

Now your British salt is stalwart
Though their Captains can be rude
But the starboard watch deserted
When Bill mentioned 'finger food.'
And no man was ever braver
When the cannons roared and quaked
But the gunner's mate departed
When he heard Bill whisper 'Baked."

They were cruising off the Azores
It was just the break of day,
A maintop ghosted through the mist
Not half a mile away
"Pray you double shot the cannon
While we smoke out who they be
This lovely fog will hide us
'Til we have them on our lee."

But the fog, though much admired,
Soon parted on a breeze
And there revealed a sight which caused
The stoutest heart to freeze.
The giant French Goliath
With cannon by the score
A true first-rate, whose crew could boast
600 men and more.

Her sails rose like a mountain
Her guns ranged tier on tier
Her brightwork was the brightest and
She seemed to wear a sneer.

Raw terror gripped the foc’sel
The gunners were benumbed
Captain Billy tapped the glass,
He smiled a bit; he hummed.

"It's early yet," said Billy,
With wonderful sang-froid
"The mist will drift our way again,
We shant be much annoyed."
And as he spoke, that hellish ship
Fast faded from their view
Mayhaps they’d passed unnoticed
They began to breath anew.

The French, Old Billy told them,
was enjoying their croissants,
a-kissing at their finger-tips,
trading epigrams and taunts.

But the French had not been napping
And they’d heard those tales of Bill
They sent a volley cross his bow
—One yellow espadrille.

That single shoe was all it took,
To make their feeling plain
That ugly piece of flotsam
Brought back all of Billy’s pain

“If we de-construct their premise, Sir,”
An old salt spoke at last,
“They’ve put the Bogy on us
Coz of how you broke your fast.

But it’s something rather relative
The things folks like to eat,
The French eat snails, and tiny birds
The Krauts eat piggy’s feet.”

“‘Tis closely reasoned,” said the mate,
“And philosophic too,
When all is said and done, good Sir,
We’re still your faithful crew.”

“Brave words” cried Captain Billy
But there’s one thing true as true
I’ve got to sink those Frenchies, lads,
They’ve given me the shoe.”

The town was dark
The moon was down
Redemption ghosted in
Bill put his sullen crew ashore
And grinned an evil grin.

“You’ll oblige me if you’ll light along
Those hogsheads full of gin
Those kegs of tar
Those bales of straw
Those casks of parafin”

“Don’t dare a light,”
Moaned from below
As sailors stowed the hold
“This Barky’s dry as Satan’s match
She won’t take nought to blow.”

Then as the crew assembled
Four deep in Milly’s bar,
Redemption slipped away to sea
Bill steering for his star.

Goliath lay with guns all primed
Beyond the curve of sea,
Her situation well in hand
The British on her lee.
But as the lookout scanned the scene
Of lovely shipwright’s art
Old Bill came scudding down the wind
With fire in his heart.

The decks were stuffed with tinder
The stove was ruby red
Bill knocked the ashes from his pipe
And kicked them ‘neath the bed.

The match went down the ladder
The smoke began to rise
Bill coiled down his grappling hooks
Preparing his surprise

The tar began to bubble
The French began to scream
And flames broke through the decking with
Redemption dead abeam.

And hard aboard the Frenchman
Came a flying yellow shoe—
The Captain gasped in horror—
And then the powder blew.

At Dover’s finest eatery
An old man wandered in.
His salt-encrusted skin was flayed
And blackened ‘round the chin.

He was singed about the elbows
He was crispy at the knees
He was burnt in painful places
That one hardly ever sees

“I’m Captain Bill, ye lubbers and…
I’ll have the salad. —Please.”

*      *      *      *

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