Davies grimaced. "The mummied dog head? Sure. And it sure enough did start hissing and spinning around in its bucket of rum yesterday, and then at noon or so settled, staring hard southeast, and shifting only when we'd shift course, so we headed where it was looking." He shrugged as well as he could. "It led us to you, right enough, but it's sure a nasty-looking bit of trash. Had a time keeping the rats from chewing it up."
"Damn that lunatic Thatch," Hurwood exploded, "for letting common brigands carry sophisticated apparatus! If rats have touched that pointer, then they'll devour you entire, Davies, I promise you. You careless fool, how often do you think two-headed dogs are born? Send a man back to your vessel for it immediately.
Davies smiled and lay back on the deck. "Wellll," he said, "no. You can have the other half of your filthy pair back as soon as I've stepped ashore at New Providence Island, as healthy as I was an hour ago. If I don't recover totally between now and then, my lads will burn the goddamn thing. Am I right?"
"You said it, Phil!" shouted one of the pirates, and the others were all nodding happily.
Hurwood glared around, but crossed to where Davies was lying and knelt beside him. He looked at the bandage and lifted it and peered underneath. "Hell, you might very well recover even without my help," he said, "but just for the sake of my pointer set I'll make it certain." He began digging in the deep pockets of his knee-length coat.
Chandagnac looked to his left and behind him. Chaworth's body, clearly dead, shifted loosely back and forth in the sun as the ship rolled, and one outflung hand rocked back and forth, palm up and then palm down, in an oddly philosophical gesture. It comes and goes, the movement seemed to indicate; good and bad, life and death, joy and horror, and nothing should come as a surprise.
Chandagnac found it embarrassingly inappropriate, as if the dead man had been left with his pants down, and he wished somebody would move the hand to a more fitting position. He looked away.
Never having seen a wound worked on by a physician, which it seemed Hurwood was, Chandagnac stepped forward to watch; and for one bewildering moment he thought Hurwood was going to begin by tidying up Davies' appearance, for what he pulled out of his pocket looked like a small whisk broom.
"This ox-tail," said Hurwood in what must have been his auditorium-addressing voice, "has been treated to become a focus of the attention of the being you call Mate Care-For. If he was a grander thing he could pay attention to all of us at once, but as it is he can only thoroughly look after a couple of people at a time. In this recent scuffle he preserved myself and Mr. Friend, and since the danger to us is passed, I'll let you occupy his attention." He tucked the bristly object down the front of Davies' lime green shirt. "Let's see ... " Again he went fumbling through his pockets, "and here," he said, producing a little cloth bag of something, "is a drogue that makes the bowels behave properly. Again, you are in more danger in that regard than I am, at the moment - though I'll want it back." He took Davies' hat off and set it on the deck, laid the little bag on top of the pirate's head and then replaced the hat. "That's that," he said, standing up. "Let's waste no more time. Get the ones who are leaving into the boat, and then let's go."
The Carmichael's new owners swung the ship's boat out on the davit cranes and lowered it with a careless splash to the water on the starboard side, and they flung a net of shrouds and ratlines after it for the people to climb down on. At the next swell the boat was slammed up against the hull of the ship and took on a lot of water, but Davies tiredly called out some orders and the ship shifted ponderously around until the wind was on the starboard quarter and the rolling abated.
Davies got to his feet, wincing irritably. "All off that's getting off," he growled.
Wistfully Chandagnac watched the Carmichael's original crew shambling toward the starboard rail, several of them supporting wounded companions. Beth Hurwood, a black hood pulled over her coppery ringlets, started forward, then turned and called, "Father! Join me in the boat."
Hurwood looked up, and produced a laugh like the last clatter of unoiled machinery. "Wouldn't they be glad of my company! Half of these slain owe their present state to my pistol collection and my hand. No, my dear, I stay aboard this ship - and so do you."
His statement had rocked her, but she turned and started toward the rail.
"Stop her," snapped Hurwood impatiently.
Davies nodded, and several grinning pirates stepped in front of her.
Hurwood permitted himself another laugh, but it turned into a retching cough. "Let's go," he croaked. Chandagnac happened to glance at Leo Friend, and he was almost glad that he'd been forced to stay aboard, for the physician was blinking rapidly, and his prominent lips were wet, and his eyes were on Beth Hurwood.
"Right," said Davies. "Here, you clods, get these corpses over the side - mind you don't pitch 'em into the boat - and then let's be off." He looked upward. "How is it, Rich?"
"Can't jibe," came a shout from aloft, "with the spanker carried away. But this wind and sea are good enough to tack her in, I think, if we get all the lads up on the footropes."
"Good. Elliot, you take a couple of men and pilot the sloop back home."
Beth Hurwood turned her gaze from her father to Leo Friend, who smiled and stepped forward - Chandagnac noticed for the first time that the fat physician's finery included a ludicrous pair of red-heeled shoes with "windmill wing" ties - and proffered an arm like an ornate, overstuffed bolster, but Beth crossed to Chandagnac and stood beside him, not speaking. Her lips were pressed together as firmly as before, but Chandagnac glimpsed the shine of tears in her eyes a moment before she impatiently blotted them on her cuff.
"Shall I take you below?" Chandagnac asked quietly.
She shook her head. "I couldn't bear it."
Davies glanced at the two of them. "You've got no duties yet," he I s".:.told Chandagnac. "Take her up forward somewhere out of the way. You might get her some rum while you're at it."
"I hardly think - ," Chandagnac began stiffly, but Elizabeth interrupted.
"For God's sake, yes," she said.
Davies grinned at Chandagnac and waved them forward.
A few minutes later they were on the forecastle deck by the starboard anchor, shielded from the wind by the taut mainsail behind them. Chandagnac had gone to the galley and filled two ceramic cups with rum, and he handed one to her.
Line began buzzing through the blocks again and the spars creaked as the sails, trimmed and full once more, were turned to best catch the steady east wind; the ship came around in a slow arc to the north, and then to the northeast, and Chandagnac watched the crowded lifeboat recede and finally disappear behind the high stern. The sloop, still on the port side, was pacing the Vociferous Carmichael. From where he now leaned against the rail sipping warm rum, Chandagnac could see the mast and sails of the smaller vessel, and as their speed picked up and the sloop edged away from the ship to give it room he was able to see its long, low hull too. He shook his head slightly, still incredulous.
"Well, we could both be worse off," he remarked quietly to Beth, trying to convince himself as much as her. "I'm apparently forgiven for my attack on their chief, and you're protected from these creatures by ... your father's position among them." Below him to his left, one of the pirates was walking up and down the waist, whistling and sprinkling sand from a bucket onto the many splashes and puddles of blood on the deck. Chandagnac looked away and went on. "And when we do manage to get out of this situation, all the sailors in the boat can testify that you and I stayed unwillingly." He was proud of the steadiness of his voice, and he gulped some more rum to still the post-crisis trembling he could feel beginning in his hands and legs.
"My God," Beth said dazedly, "all I can hope for is that he dies out here. He can't ever go back. They wouldn't even put him in a madhouse - they'd hang him."
Chandagnac nodded, reflecting that even hanging was less than what her father deserved.
"I should have seen his madness coming on," she said. "I did know he'd become ... eccentric, taking up researches that ... seemed a little crazy ... but I never dreamt he'd go wild, like a rabid dog, and start killing people."
Chandagnac thought of a sailor he'd seen killed at the swivel gun, and the one Hurwood had shot in the face a moment later. "It wasn't done in any kind of ... frenzy, Miss Hurwood," he said shortly. "It was cold - methodical - like a cook squashing ants on a kitchen counter, one by one, and then wiping his hands and turning to the next job. And the fat boy was at the other end of the ship, matching him shot for shot."
"Friend, yes," she said. "There's always been something hateful about him. No doubt he led my poor father into this scheme, whatever it is. But my father is insane. Listen, just before we left England last month, he stayed out all night, and came back all muddy and hatless in the morning, clutching a smelly little wooden box. He wouldn't say what it was - when I asked him, he just stared at me as if he'd never seen me before - but he hasn't been without it since. It's in his cabin now, and I swear he whispers to it late at night. And my God, you read his book! He used to be brilliant! What explanation besides lunacy could explain the author of The Vindication of Free Will babbling all that nonsense about oxtails and two-headed dogs?"
Chandagnac heard the note of strain and doubt under her carefully controlled diction. "I can't argue with that," he conceded gently.
She finished her rum. "Maybe I will go below. Oh, uh, John, could you help me get food?"
Chandagnac stared at her. "Right now? Sure, I guess so. What did you - "
"No, I mean at mealtimes. It might be even harder now to avoid the diet Friend has prescribed for me, and now more than ever I want to stay alert."
Chandagnac smiled, but he was thinking again about the consequences of throwing scraps to stray dogs. "I'll do what I can. But God knows what these devils eat. Friend's herbs might be preferable."
"You haven't tried them." She started toward the ladder, but paused and looked back. "That was very brave, John, challenging that pirate the way you did."
"It wasn't a challenge, it was just ... some kind of reflex." He found that he was getting irritable. "I'd got to like old Chaworth. He reminded me of ... another old man. Neither one of them had any goddamn sense. And I guess I don't either, or I'd be in the boat right now." He bolted the remainder of his rum. "Well, see you later."
He looked ahead, past the bowsprit at the blue horizon, and when he looked back she had left. He relaxed a little and watched the new crew at work. They were scrambling around up in the rigging, agile as spiders, and casually cursing each other in English, French, Italian and a couple of languages Chandagnac had never heard, and though their grammar was atrocious he had to concede that, in terms of obscenity, blasphemy and elaborate insult, the pirates got the most out of every language he was able to understand.
He was smiling, and he had time to wonder why before he realized that this multilingual, good-naturedly fearsome badinage was just like what he used to hear in the taverns of Amsterdam and Marseille and Brighton and Venice; in his memory they all blended into one archetypal seaport tavern in which his father and he were eternally sitting at a table by the fire, drinking the local specialty and exchanging news with other travelers. It had sometimes seemed to the young Chandagnac that the marionettes were a party of wooden aristocracy traveling with two flesh-and-blood servants; and now, seven years after quitting that life, he reflected that the puppets hadn't been bad masters. The pay had been irregular, for the great days of European puppet theaters had ended in 1690, the year of Chandagnac's birth, when Germany lifted the clergy's ten-year ban on plays using living actors, but the money had still occasionally been lavish, and then the hot dinners and warm beds were made all the pleasanter by memories of the previous months of frosty rooms and missed meals.
The pirate with the bucket of sand had apparently finished his job, but as he was stumping aft past the mainmast his heel skidded. He glared around as though daring anyone to laugh, and then he dumped all the rest of his sand on the slippery patch and strode away.
Chandagnac wondered if the blood he'd slipped on had been Chaworth's. And he remembered the night in Nantes when his father had pulled a knife on a gang of rough men who'd waited outside one wine shop for Chandagnac pere et fils and then had cornered the pair and demanded all their money. Old Francois Chandagnac had had a lot of money on him on that night, and he was in his mid-sixties and doubtful of his future, and so instead of handing over the cash as he'd done the couple of times he'd been robbed before, he unpocketed the knife he carved marionette faces and hands with, and brandished it at the thieves.
Chandagnac leaned back against one of the unfired starboard-side swivel guns now and, cautiously, basked in the realization that the sun was warm on his back, and that he was slightly drunk, and that he wasn't in pain anywhere.
The knife had been knocked out of his father's hand with the first, contemptuous kick, and then there had simply been fists, teeth, knees and boots in the darkness, and when the gang walked away, laughing and crowing as they counted the money in the unexpectedly fat purse, they must certainly have supposed they were leaving two corpses in the alley behind them.
In the years since, Chandagnac had sometimes wished they'd been right in that supposition, for neither his father nor he had ever really recovered.
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