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And by the starboard hances, Fat Arse Jenkins was unfurling a whispered yarn of nautical misadventure and supernatural terror to a transfixed landsman "No mortal ship" he was relating with relish "no
Meanwhile, Pullings was gazing through his telescope. He was sure that there was a ship there, approaching fairly rapidly, but it seemed to be glowing with a ghostly light. He wondered whether he had eaten too much toasted cheese last night. He thought he heard a distant cry:
It was not the song of the wind in the rigging but Stephen's
new curiosity, a mechanical Scot, which he had acquired after a
tense evening of piquet in one of the lesser royal establishments.
It had bested the better known Mechanical Turk in a game of chess
inside four moves, the last move consisting of a head-butt.
As far as any of the officers present could tell the
creature, McTosh by name, was authentically clad in the full
traditional garb of his race, from lead brogues (a daily trial to
the holystoning crew) to ginger Tam o' Shanter.
The internal humours of the mechanism were impelled by an
ingenious device, a cloth bag held under the armpit and pumped by
inward pressure from the elbow, the whole sending compressed air as
required through a tube held in the mouth. McTosh was endowed with
a vocabulary encompassing several antic Scotch expressions, as well
as the ability to generate new ones.
'Crivvins!' he boomed, unexpectedly.
Jack thumped the table. 'Bless you, Doctor! He is as
realistic as any Scotchman I have seen in all my nautical career.'
Just then Killick burst into the cabin, less pleased. 'Which
cook has lost half his stores and is ready to sew hisself into his
hammock with two round-shot and tip hisself over the side. If the
blow keeps on there won't be no condiments for the captain's
Stephen handed him an ingenious device composed of glass, cork, rubber and wire. 'Sure, that will clap a stopper over his capers.'
Killick adjusted his trousers and assumed a nonchalant air
"You ever seen the ghost in the bread-room?" he asked the
"What? And I just heard one in the machine the doctor
brought aboard? A ghost in a machine. It talked." Looking around
and then in a hoarse whisper "It said 'Crivvins'".
"What's this old German Ocean then?"
"It is whit is nou mair aften kent as the North Sea"
"Who said that??"
Later, Pullings couldn't believe his eyes. A shimmering
ship was now following a parallel course to starboard, seeming to
pulse gently in and out of focus. "Call for the Captain!" cried
McTosh stomped out from behind a mast and declaimed
fearlessly, "A maun dree my weird!"
"I fear that the Doctor's machine is broken," said the
Master. "It is making no sense."
"Stop your havers! A'm gaun for the ghaist gailey."
Pullings turned to the officer of the watch, not three feet
away, and shouted, 'Mr Nicolls, hail that vessel!'
The officer of the watch called out to the mate of the watch
at his side, 'Hail that vessel!'
The mate of the watch, getting into the spirit of the thing,
called out to no-one in particular, 'HAIL THAT VESSEL!'
The gently swaying figure of McTosh waved in the direction
of the ghostly ship now gliding a cable's length away and called,
"Whit dae ye cry thon yin?"
An eery, high-pitched reply wafted over the uneasy waters:
"Away an' bile yer heid!"
Jack frowned. 'Very well. Mr Pullings, let us beat to quarters.'
To the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty
It is with honour that I apprise your Lordships that His
Majesty's uncommonly-commodious-as-it-turned-out Brig Ariel under
my command has taken in tow the Flying Duck, a privateer in the
Scottish service that foundered in these waters some centuries
past. We came upon her seemingly abandoned, in x degrees of Latitude
and y degrees East.
The Duck was proceeding with all sails unfurled, galley fire
alight and open lit portholes, manned only by a phantom crew. She
surrendered, while under the gaze of our cannons, after an exchange
of remarks between a Scottish guest of our surgeon and her numpty
captain, the MacDuff of that ilk. Pending our return, Captain
MacDuff is being held captive in the spirit room.
I have the honor to be your most obedient humble servant,
Stephen bowed and said, 'Indeed.' Together they gazed
sombrely into the puddle on the dining table caused by the
oversetting of the breakfast pot, the cross-swell causing the
liquid to shimmer in a manner very like that of a flashback, the
coffee lending a suitable sepia tinge to the reflection.
MacDuff's surrender of his sword to Jack on the quarterdeck of the prize... the conference in the ghostly cabin, with the ear of MacDuff's shrewish, disagreeable servant McKillick plainly visible through the translucent door... the rapid passage, with not a moment to be lost... Elsinore looming up on the starboard bow...
"Why, yes," said Jack, reflecting that perhaps there might
be wiser places to have chosen.
He wonders how the plot is going to work out....
Jack and Stephen came on deck in time to hear a muffled
'Scheiße!' as the mysterious visitor collided with the
Ariel, then in the gloom saw the figure place an ear-trumpet
to one of the portlids.
At a nod from Captain Aubrey Awkward Davies fetched the man
up on deck with the aid of a boat hook under the collar.
'Mr Pullings, we shall crack on for the Baltic without the loss of a moment. Now who are you, sir, and why are you listening to my vessel?'
He spoke passionately in German. Towards the end, to the
amazement of all hands, he bellowed out a strangely familiar tune
and gestured wildly with his ear-trumpet towards the decks below,
in the direction of the spirit room. He finished his peroration
with a bow to Jack.
Jack looked back at him with a perfectly blank face. "You
have the German, I recollect?" he asked Stephen.
"Alas, not a sufficient grasp to understand that tirade."
McTosh, who had joined the group as quietly as his shoes allowed, chimed in. "Yer crackit auld bampot! Yon jessie wants
After an astounded pause Stephen shrieked "I have been duped
as though I were just off the mountain or the bog, for shame. I
purchased the machine on the understanding that it was mechanical
and, what is more, Scottish".
Actually, your honours", gulped McTosh, exploded, "I was
born of woman. Ermmm (and here his voice rose several octaves) I am
a soprano myself. Ever since I heard the tale of the Flying Duckman
I have been infatuated with him and it is my ambition to redeem
Captain MacDuff by my love – for which purpose I needed first to
become acquainted with the melliflous Scots tongue on its native
Everybody went below and made themselves comfortable as they
listened to the tale of the faux automaton. Wagner took notes. Her
name was Senta and she was the daughter of an itinerant Norwegian
chess-master. When she heard of an opening in the Mechanical Turk
chess-playing line, she had seized the chance to tour Scotland, and
later the rest of the kingdom, under the same guise. Now it only
remained to introduce Senta and the object of her devotion.
Theirs was a brief encounter. Captain MacDuff caught one
glimpse, gibbered, and tottered back to the spirit room where he
commanded the Marine sentry to bolt him in or he would howl for
evermore. Senta cast herself into the North Sea in her lead brogues
and sank straight to the bottom. But Richard Wagner rowed back to
Elsinore in a creative trance, elaborating the snippets of the
Duckman's invention Johohohe! Johohohe! Hoo! etc.
Steuermann, Lasst die Wacht! etc. into something new and
As Wagner paddled he sang the central leitmotif that he had
learned by rote at the spirit room door, the language unfamiliar to
him but the rich, evocative sounds no doubt expressing deeds and
themes born in the very roots of the Earth, and the song drifted
over the waters to the bemused crew of the Ariel:
I belong tae Glasgow,