(This excerpt is from the opening of chapter one: Mutiny of the Bounty)
This being my second outing on a plank that eventful year, I
at least had some idea of what to expect: sheer, unmitigated terror. Only this
time, it was a good deal worse. On the first occasion, I’d been perched seventy-five
feet above the open sea, with my wrists tied, and wearing nothing but a tattered
union suit. At present, I was six thousand feet over the rocky shores of Maine,
with both wrists and
ankles tied, and wearing nothing at all. Even the
plank was inferior: barely ten inches wide and not one thick.
I believe the dissimilarities in circumstances can be attributed
to two things. First, my prior foray had been on the luxury liner S.S. Paris
and the cord that bound me was silk. This venture was aboard Lucy’s Revenge
a run-down airship named for a venereal disease, and it was rough jute digging into
my wrists and ankles. Second, my tormentors on that earlier occasion were
middle-aged men—undeniably disagreeable, but overweight and slow-moving. This
time, they were five of the Mortal Sins—all quite deadly, and all in their
prime. And while I’ll grant that Sloth didn’t put much into the tormenting, her
sister Wrath happily took up the slack.
I suppose an opening such as this begs some explanation. If
you’ve read the previous installment, you know that I’d recently rescued Sesbania,
the woman I called my wife, from Jean Lafitte’s auction block in St. Pierre
(the French island just south of Newfoundland). And, a couple nights before
that, been wedded to the Muses Clio and Melpomene and their half-sisters Pride,
Avarice, Envy, Wrath, and Sloth, in a Mormon ceremony conducted by their
father, the mad pirate Captain Bonnet. You also know a good deal else I won’t
waste time recounting.
If you haven’t
read the previous installment, you
really don’t have much of a chance at all. Better go pick it up before it falls
out of print.
We made our escape immediately after the rescue. The sun had
risen by the time we boarded and we made excellent time, as steam-powered
airships are wont to do on clear days. After setting us on course for Louisiana
and the Lafitte brothers’ base at Barataria, I retired to my cabin and napped
beside Sesbania until just after noon. When I emerged, Horatio—my executive
officer and only crewman who could read a compass—informed me that my wives (Sins
and Muses) had arranged to have the gun deck turned into a bathhouse.
I suppose I ought to have seen this coming. You see, along
with their trousseaux, the girls had brought aboard a steamfitter named
Percival. He was to make improvements to the ship’s primitive bathroom
facilities. Anticipating that seven wives would make some serious demands on
the plumbing, I voiced no objection. Nor did I object when they turned the oar
deck into their harem. The oars were meant to power the ship at night, or when clouds
occluded the sun. They performed this feat via some mysterious property which
had nothing to do with rowing per se, but merely the work going into it.
As it happens, your average Sin puts a great deal of work
into bickering, bad-mouthing, and badgering. Place several in close quarters,
and you can add backbiting (both figurative and literal) to the list. Why, just
setting a plate with an odd number of doughnuts before Avarice and Envy would
be enough to create a perpetual-motion machine.
So the oars I considered expendable. The gun deck, however,
I felt vital. Apart from a few cutlasses, it held our entire arsenal: a dozen
steam cannons. They could shoot a variety of projectiles, but our magazine now
held only offal. (Yes, that’s right, rotting entrails.) Not quite as effective
as a dreadnought’s sixteen-inch guns firing high-explosive shells, but I currently
resided in a fictional world where high explosive—or even gunpowder—seemed not
to exist. And as they say, when in Rome, one must do as the Romans do. (Though
whether even fictitious Romans fire offal from steam cannons is a question I
With only this meager weaponry as defense, we sallied forth
into a veritable sea of lethal hazards. As I mentioned earlier, we were then on
our way to the base of the ruthless Lafittes, pirate brothers whom we’d already
quite thoroughly annoyed. What’s more, we’d absconded with a good deal of loot
belonging to my father-in-law, the quite incontrovertibly insane Captain Bonnet.
Lastly, there was my apparent abandonment of the swashbuckling Jack Tigue, a
man who made evisceration of the ignoble into something of a hobby. So, three
bloodthirsty pirate bands to be reckoned with.
Needless to say, proceeding without our main armament would
be utter lunacy. I went up to the gun deck to nip the foolish idea in the bud. And
with such determination that I ignored Pride’s attempt to distract me with her
charms—a matched pair, which she displayed to their full advantage whilst accosting
me in the passageway.
I put my foot down, ordered Percival to cease work, and told
the girls they’d have to make do without a bathhouse. That was about a minute
and thirty seconds prior to where I began my account, out on the plank. When
their interests are aligned, Sins work with a startling efficiency. All except
Sloth, of course.
Avarice, who had plans to make further use of my resemblance
to her brother-in-law and Bonnet’s number two—a man named Smedley—suggested
some inconspicuous amputation. Envy and Wrath voted with her, with Sloth naturally
abstaining. But their proud sister’s vanity would not be so easily slaked. When
you spurn an offering of Pride’s, you do so at your peril. It was she who
suggested the plank. Wrath warmed to the idea quickly and, with a little
hair-pulling, Sloth made it a majority.
The situation could have been resolved much earlier, but
even before stripping me naked and binding my wrists and ankles, the girls had gagged
me. They stuck one end of a plank out a gun port and then Avarice, who by that
point was caught up in the spirit of the thing, produced the horsewhip she kept
ever handy. A few cracks, and I hopped up onto the board. I had to duck to make
it through the gun port, which made it doubly difficult, but by then Wrath had
taken control of the whip and the lashes were biting my flesh with conviction.
I looked back at them entreatingly, but their sole reply was a cascade of
cackling. (They were
half-pirate, after all.)
It wasn’t until I was on the very precipice that Pride asked
if I wanted to reconsider my decision. I nodded—carefully, given the
precariousness of my position, but quite unmistakably. I wasn’t entirely sure
which decision she meant, re her charms or the bathhouse, but my regret was
complete enough to cover all three.
Once they allowed me to hop back in, all seemed forgiven. We
even shared a laugh. Well, they shared a laugh. The best I could manage was a
weak smile. But I don’t want you to get the idea I let them walk all over me.
After some tense negotiations, they agreed to open the bathhouse to adult men
on alternate Wednesday afternoons.
On my way out, I whispered a suggestive comment to Pride. She
looked at me with disgust, then slapped me so hard my head spun. I took that to
mean I’d repaired the damage I’d done earlier. It was imperative that she
do the spurning.
Licking my wounds, I retired to the relative serenity of the
control room. But the respite was brief. Soon hideous noises pierced the calm from
above. Melpomene had found the calliope. If you remember your mythology, she’s
the Muse of dramatic tragedy. Her singing lamentations a cappella
been bad enough, but the steam-organ accompaniment took the misery to a whole
new level. I’d never harbored any illusions about married life, but neither had
I imagined anything like this.
I looked in on Sesbania and saw she was still sound asleep
in my bunk. Given her recent ordeal, waking up to Melpomene’s gloomy cacophony
might well prove too much for her fragile condition. Valiantly, I made my way
up to the loft that held the malevolent instrument of torture. (Calliopes may
be de rigueur in a circus parade, but they really should be banned from all
I found the mournful Muse weeping uncontrollably. She was
nearly always weeping uncontrollably, but now she combined it with chant-like
songs in what I took to be Greek. Mercifully, on seeing me she paused the
infelicitous performance. Even the weeping became somewhat measured.
“What do you think?” she asked, but fortunately didn’t wait
for an answer. “I had Percival make some adjustments to facilitate playing the
pentatonic scale. I’ve been working on arrangements to accompany the chorus in Antigone
It really brings out the pathos, don’t you think?”
“Yes. Almost too well. I’m just afraid Sesbania might not be
able to take too much pathos at the moment.”
“Oh. Yes, I see. That poor girl! One can hardly imagine what
she’s been through…. I don’t suppose she’s shared any details yet?”
“No, and it seemed best not to ask.”
“Of course…. But should she later, you wouldn’t mind jotting
down some notes? We really could use some new plotlines.”
“But you don’t write the stuff yourself, do you?”
“No, just inspire. Though it’s been rather difficult finding
prospects lately. I do have one I think might work out. Have you seen any of
Eugene O’Neill’s plays?”
“Not that I recall.”
“I’m testing him out now with the old Phaedra plot—you know,
stepmother falls in love with stepson. I think he has potential. An admirably
bleak outlook on life…. By the way, Clio stopped by earlier to ask my
forgiveness. Said the Sins were giving you a rough time.”
“Why would she need your forgiveness?”
“Her destruction of Titus Andronicus
, of course.”
“A favorite of yours?”
“Are you kidding? Betrayal, murder, rape, savage revenge….
What isn’t to like? Anyway, I did forgive her…. Poor kid. Father really did use
her.” She’d been teary-eyed throughout the conversation, but now the floodgates
reopened. “She’s so lucky to have escaped to you! …Of course, you
her…. Do you think you will? Or me?”
“Betray you how?”
“Oh… Yes. Nothing’s happened to betray, has it? No real
wedding night… Sad… Not that I’m blaming you…. Your hands are full, aren’t
She was looking decidedly forlorn. And, I might add, curiously
fetching in the process. That may sound difficult to believe, given her pale
complexion and waif-like figure—not to mention the constant sobbing. But unlike
with other girls, the weeping somehow became her. Her eyes never became puffy.
Instead, the tears gave them a glow. And her lips quivered in a way one could
easily interpret as anticipation. Her long dark-brown hair fell straight and
looked perpetually damp. Not normally attractive in a woman, but it worked in
her case. I sat on the bench beside her and she fell into my arms.
She responded to my every kiss and each caress as if they’d
saved her from the very brink of despair. So you can imagine how she regarded
my work under the robe. I flatter myself I’m a bit of an expert when it comes
to giving a girl’s gondolier a workout. But I can honestly say I’d never taken
a woman to such heights of ecstasy—and I’m including the episode when I’d given
Sesbania a whiff of the aphrodisiacal perfume [Ed. note: see Book One].
Melpomene didn’t conjugate Greek, or recite the Athens
telephone directory; she just moaned. But that girl knew how to moan. She put
body and soul into it. It would start with a quick, uncontrollable shiver, from
the toes on up. Then the moan proper began, with a monosyllabic “Ahh!” followed
by a rapid crescendo, which immediately led into a climactic trochee, the first
syllable a sustained “Ohhh!” and then the finale, delivered in a higher
octave—another “Oh,” though this one much shorter, and appreciably quieter.
Afterward, the coda: another quick shiver, this one starting at the head and running
to the feet.
When I ventured inside, I thought her tremors of delight
would kill us both. Either our anatomies were somehow perfectly matched, or
this was one very sensuous young lady. Whichever, I felt pleased to have her as
a member of the harem.
The moment things were over, she pulled me close, then
whispered in my ear, “Go. I know you must….”
“No hurry, really.”
“There’s no avoiding it! So go now!”
She shoved me away, and immediately took to bawling. I began
then to understand her psyche: the lovemaking needed to be perfect so my
departure would be all the more tragic.
Well, just so she was happy.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
Them Shes Be Pirates
To be continued…
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