Strong ropes whizzed to right the loose sail. Just then, a door swung open. I looked up to the balcony overhead as a tall man strode out, the harsh crack of his peg leg striking the deck ringing out over the noise. The crew clambered at the foot of stairs to stand still and in complete silence. The storm, now passing, seemed to soften her angry bellow. Even the rain stuttered and turned to mist and the sea eased out of her rage, gently releasing the ship from her grasp. Everything seemed to cease in fear of the peg legged man. I held my breath, making myself smaller, watching fearfully from my corner. In a booming voice, he asked, “Mr. Abbott, ‘ave we a full crew?”
The grey man spoke up. “Aye, Cap’n. An’, we’ve got ourselves a prisoner, sir.”
It was quiet for a moment as Mr. Abbott motioned silently to the corner I hid in. The captain glanced over his shoulder and nodded once, my heart racing, “I trust, Mr. Abbott, that ye will be responsible for ‘im. Put ‘im to good use.”
“Aye, sir,” he muttered.
“Mr. Dewl, report to the main cabin to set course for tha’ north shore of Tortuga.”
“Aye, Cap’n,” an attractive young man said, who couldn’t have been more than a year older than I. He turned to the elder, squat man beside him. “Porter, yeh’ll be needed, too.”
“We cast off, men. Yeh know tha’ drill. Off with ye!”
With a hearty “Aye, Cap’n!,” the crew scattered as the captain turned back toward the door, Dewl and Porter following. Peering from between the gaps between the crates, I watched as the rest of the crew scrambled around, preparing to raise the sails and tossing out more seawater. I sat up a little more to peer over the barrels to watch the crew at work. The magnificent sails caught the wind gracefully like a swan as the men bantered chattily with each other. “An’ hoist!”
Exhausted and absorbed in the work of the crew, my heart jumped when the grey man appeared next to me once more. I hadn’t noticed in the storm: he was at least three times my height and six times my breadth, though I do not stand very tall or wide. He stuck out his massive hand.
“Sorry to startle yeh, lad. Name’s Abbott,” he said gruffly, as I tentatively shook his hand. “Nae, are you friend or foe? I hate dealin’ harshly wit’ prisoners, last one we ‘ad, we ate, but don’t worry about that nae, lad, we bein’ close to land nae an’ wit’ a new navigator an’ all. Yeh could have a job as the powder monkey instead o’ rottin’ in tha’ brig if yeh work wit’ me, lad. Tha’ cap’n wants yeh to be a member o’ the crew, whatwit’ all the crew we lost in tha’ Pacific, once yeh prove yerself useful, o’ course. Yeh could be ‘ere permanently one day, har. I meself ‘ave been on this ship for eight ‘ears, I ‘ave. Nae, har’d yeh come from? And, yeh got a name? Or do yeh even speak English? Yeh look like the devil’s stolen yer tongue, boy!”
I was gaping, bewildered by this giant standing before me, still shaking my hand and barely speaking English. I swallowed hard.
A version of this originally appeared in
The Teller November 2019 Issue #8
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