An old sea dog tells his tale.
|E. Wool and Water
3. "Row, Row, Row your Boat" – Choose your fighter! Pirate? Captain? Or mere sailor? Give us a day in your life as a part of the crew (<1000 words)
Row, Row, Row Your Boat
Thirty Years Before the Mast
It wasn’t long before the Author and his friends discovered that Lookinglass was a seaport. There was a harbour with several tall ships moored at the dock or offshore in the shelter of the breakwater. The whole town was geared toward its function as a port, having buildings festooned with ropes and nets, taverns with names like The Captain’s Peg Leg, The Grog Barrel and The Helm, and a lighthouse with a foghorn that went off at the slightest hint of humidity in the air.
To his surprise, the Author found that they lived next door to a retired pirate, a white-haired, wrinkled old man with features burned dark by the sun and a wooden leg that announced his approach with its clonk, clonk, clonk on the cobbled street. He wore a three-cornered hat and owned a parrot, although it remained inside the house and was never seen on the old man’s shoulder. The pirate was known locally as Old One Two Bonk, but the Author learned, once he’d befriended the man, that his real name was Jim Scully.
Jim liked nothing better than leaning on the fence between his property and the Author’s, soaking up the sunshine and spinning yarns for the benefit of the Author. “Arr,” he would say in his best rendering of a true pirate’s dialect, “in them days I were scrubber on the black ship, Rackham’s Darling. The Cap’n worked us hard, getting the ship ready for sea, swabbing the decks and mending the rigging. Arr, it were a hard life but a free one, me lad.”
“It’s alright, Jim,” grinned the Author, “you don’t have to put on the voice for me. I can supply all that colour from my imagination when I write it down.”
“But I like it,” protested the old sea dog, “keeps me in the mood and so on.”
“Well, it’s your story,” said the Author. “I just thought it might be hard work for you, putting on the accent, that’s all.”
The old man produced a clay pipe from somewhere, made a great performance of loading it with tobacco, then stuck it in his mouth unlit and continued with his story. “I were saying as how he worked us hard, that swine, Cap’n Curlybeard. Up at the break of dawn, polishing the brasses, plying the gimbals and leaping about the rigging. Have I told you about that, climbing high in the rigging and letting the sails down, then pulling them back up again?”
The author shook his head and Jim continued. “Arr, that were a game alright. Seemed like we were a mile high up there, clinging on for dear life, but having to let loose one rope and haul on another. We got used to it, you know, but that didn’t stop some of my mates falling off at times and getting flattened on the deck or the dock.”
“On the dock?” interrupted the Author. “Are you saying you hadn’t even left port yet?”
“That’s right, me boy,” answered the pirate. “It were training, the Cap’n called it. All to make us tougher, he reckoned. Then he’d have a couple o’ the lads clear the mess away and send up another as a replacement. Reckon he had a bag o’ nails to replace his heart. If he ever had one.”
“So when did you set sail for sea?” asked the Author.
“Ah, well, that was the problem, you see.” The Author paused as he tapped out some of the fresh tobacco from the pipe on the heel of his boot. “After weeks of so-called training, we all got fed up and went to speak to old Curly. Said the season was passing, some of the other ships were returning already and their crews spending their loot in the taverns and when were we going to have a go? And he just umms and awws and won’t give a straight answer.
“We knew then that something was up and debated what we could do. Someone reckoned the Cap’n had a bad experience on his last trip and didn’t fancy going out again. He might have been right because Curly was certainly in no hurry to go.
A lot of the men decided to leave then and they packed their bags and went. I decided to hang on for a while to see what happened and a few others stayed with me.”
The old man stopped then and sucked fruitlessly on his pipe.
“And what did happen?” asked the Author.
“Nothing,” replied the pirate. “Went on like that till the end of the season and for many another season afterwards.”
“So you never went to sea?”
“Nope.” The pirate seemed quite happy with the fact.
“But,” spluttered the Author, “how can you call yourself a pirate when you’ve never even left port?”
“Way I sees it,” said the old man, “I was hired as a pirate, and the Cap’n kept me on as a pirate, and I retired as a pirate, so that must be what I am. Thirty years before the mast and not many pirates can say that. I never said anything about going to sea, did I?”
The Author thought for a moment. “True," he admitted. “But what about the wooden leg then?”
“Oh that," said Jim, looking down at his peg leg, as though he’d only just noticed it. “Got that when I were just a lad, ‘bout twelve I was and run down by a horse and cart in the street. Gotta be careful when crossing them roads these days.”
The Author began to laugh and it wasn’t long before the old man joined in.
Word Count: 940