Have any of us the tolerable notion of the depth and skill required to become a ships captain? To know that all eighteen souls-for the Hindoo Fakirs had also taken passage to the Americas-look to you to steer them to safety? With what agility with what skill and speed a captain must do his work and navigate his ship to safety in waters such as these. Even now to see the vessel attempting to steer it’s way towards a wavering sliver of light, even now to cling on for dear life as the iron-clad hull battered itself upon the savage rocks.
“A ha ha ha! You have us at the rattle!” Lord Grid-Iron chortled midst the crazed turmoil of boiling sea foam,
“Will you be quiet? T’is unnatural behaviour when our souls are in peril! Stop it! Will you stop it? Seamus make him stop it!”
“A ha ha ha! We shall all drown!” chortled Lord Grid-Iron his charcoal locks plastered flat against his skull and his watery blue eyes darting to and fro.
“Oh gawd! Gawd save us! Hail Mary……” screeched Gabriel clutching the ropes which tied him to the ship’s main mast. He had slung his mother’s rosary beads around his neck, now he clutched at these tightly and prayed fervently that the storm might abate, and the ship not break apart upon the bestial rocks.
“A ha ha ha!” cried Lord Grid-Iron once more making the hackles rise on the back of Seamus’s neck, for t’was plain that terror had made the Gombeen fiend take leave of his senses!
“Hand me a grapple hook Seamus!” cried Methuselah O’Houlihan, “I’ve a mind to join Captain Keeler-Breeze at the wheel! Sure he’ll need prodigious help saving the Resurgam from certain doom!” as wave upon violent wave breaks across the deck, Methuselah loses himself from the mast and with grappling hook in wizened hands hacks his way across the sodden deck, toward Captain Keeler-Breeze. He arrives not a moment too soon for the poor captain can scarce clasp the wheel in his frozen claws and that look, such a look! As t’would say I teeter on the precipice of desolate surrender! But Methuselah is full of pluck, with several aggressive tugs on the ship’s wheel he has her turned aft towards that broadening shaft of light, so that her hull scrapes hard against the smaller rocks, narrowly averting collision with the worst of them.
“The storm is abating!” cried Methuselah
“But the waters are infested with sharks and the hull may have sprung a leak!” the good captain cried desperately,
“Take heart! We’ll not drown! Helm there!” replied Methuselah with a salty twinkle in his eye “There! Towards that chasm of light! I’ll check what damage is done!”
With grappling hook held aloft the ancient mariner hurls himself length by length across the deck, hammering the hook into its wood and then hauling himself along, in several strides he is back alongside Lord Grid-Iron, who, clutching fiercely to Elspeth the albatross continues to cackle the crew’s impending doom,
“We shall all drown! Drown! I tell you! HA!”
Not for the first time Methuselah O’Houlihan wonders what degree of hatred could possibly have possessed the Molly Maguires, to have abducted such a one as this, bereft of all the good sense that would have made him a decent tenant landlord to his people. But he has not much time to conjecture, for soon he has bypassed the masts and now slipping below deck he spies a dim light toward the helm of the ship and thinks he hears singing.
“Om trayambakam yajaamahe sugandhim pushtivardhanam Urvaarukamiva bandhanaan mrityor muksheeya maamritaat. We worship the three-eyed One.Who is fragrant and Who nourishes well all beings; may He liberate us from death for the sake of immortality even as the cucumber is severed from its bondage”
This exotic song he has heard many a-time, sung above deck by the Hindoo fakirs as they clambered up the ropes and unfurled the sails and as he gets closer to the helm the singing continues gently on, though their voice is joined by another far less gentle and patient.
“Bismillahi! Bail faster! Faster! Hand me those croker sacks!” deftly catching sack upon sack Francis skilfully stuffs the hull breach which has rapidly filled with water, then over the padding he nails several planks of wood, torn off a storage crate of rum.
“T’is done!” he declares
“But she’s still awash!” cried Methuselah
“There’s a larger tear towards the bulkhead!That will take some repairing, come with me!”
Murky dank and cold like an underwater tomb, the ship tilts abruptly to one side and Methuselah and Francis with it, but they abruptly steady themselves against the hull and continue on, sloshing their way through the briny overflow towards the back of the ship. There is the oddest contrast between this ancient stalwart of the sea and this sombre lithesome land lugging warrior, whose dextrous skills swiftly heal the breach in the ship’s side. Plugging it with with croker sacks and several planks of wood from the abundance of rum crates (whose contents he has, sadly, tossed overboard eager to thwart the desire of the crew to immerse themselves in befuddled depravities and at such a time as this!) stored below deck.
“Will she hold do you think?”
Francis shrugged, “We have been travelling for six weeks, the storm blew us off course costing us four days, it should take us another five days to reach port”
“New York is five days away?”
Francis nodded,”At least, if she springs a leak before then? We drown…..slowly…”
Are there words to describe the stark esteem in which Francis the indefatigable is now held by this worthy old dog of the high seas? Stripped to the waist and rippling with the lithe wiry muscle of a woodsman he has not the air of your average gentleman. So dauntless so valiant in a storm that has shaken many a courageous soul! Methuselah harbours a sneaking suspicion that Francis was not always a Pinkerton agent….
To be continued…..