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The Rime of the
Infant Mariner


bat dac js pgb-w srz

Rules
 
Players were obliged to use three of the following words in each game

egregious    bayonet   albatross    gang   rattle    plunger    toady    villain    mistress    bleeding    quarter    gutter

without repeating a word within an episode, though it could be used again in another episode.

[js] While Mr Midshipman Critchley related what had happened when he had asked the First Lieutenant for the key to the keelson, guffaws and hoots of merriment rang around the Midshipmen's berth. He affected a high degree of unconcern, but his efforts lacked conviction. His was a trusting nature, which had been much abused since he joined the Surprise. As his sea-time had increased from days to weeks, he had grown prodigiously in scepticism and guile, but he had so wished to impress William Reade that his new-found wisdom had quite deserted him.

David Critchley was grandson to the famous Admiral; in fact, he was possessed of so many powerful relations that he would be unable to avoid being made Post by the time he was twenty... unless he was devoured by sharks while still so tender. Just now, however, he wished that he had never seen the sea; that he was back in Tunbridge Wells with his mother, his sisters and the dogs. As he struggled out, oppressed by his greatcoat — which the shopman in Portsmouth had assured Mama he would grow into — and clanking with no fewer than four dirks, three pocket knives and a cutlass (pressed on him by a loving grandparent) his self-control broke and he cried out to Reade: "You villain!"

On deck, Jack informed Stephen that his bird had disgraced itself on the quarterdeck again, and had been obliged to be led away. The bird (in fact an albatross), tame from the egg, had become so accustomed to human companionship that it chose rarely to exercise its powers of flight. It could be seen creeping about the waist, looking repentant... Stephen, knowing that brutish superstition still governed the minds of most seamen, had taken the precaution of dipping the creature in waterproof ink before bringing it aboard, and announcing that it was a Giant Blue Swiss Seagull, one of the rarest of avians... On reflection, he wished he had named a country with a coastline. He was about to ask Jack whether it had been treated with consideration when it was led away — its feelings could be delicate at times — when a voice called out from above:

"On deck there! A sail, fine on the starboard bow!"

[dac] The penetrating bellow of Awkward Davies' call drifted down the gratings to the Orlop and brought to a sudden halt the "duffing up" young Critchley was receiving at the hand of his peers. The resultant sudden flurry spurred on by the possible acquisition of prize money not only rid the midshipman of his assailants but also of most of his armoury, as they grabbed something to board with and ran up on deck. Dusting down his jacket he went over and opened his sea chest; after a moment of indecision caused by the selection available, he chose a large razor sharp sabre, a new "Zimmermann's patent telescopic spring powered boarding pike" and a bayonet for a Baker rifle, he then followed his messmates up on deck.

"She's of a rare old size Sir" said First Lieutenant Trinque to Jack as he peered through his strongest telescope.

"She is indeed Mr Trinque" replied Jack, "A hundred gun first rate if I'm not mistaken, probably the Spanish Santa Maria. Too rich for our blood in a calm sea and a light wind"

"I'd hazard the Dons ain't seen us yet Sir... Ah there you are Mr Critchley. I do hope we didn't disturb your leisure. Attend to the signals"

"Aye Aye Sir", said the small midshipman saluting the First Lieutenant with his sabre. His error of judgement concerning both the length of the weapon and the proximity of his captain, somewhat undermined the impressive flourish however since it came close to unmanning Jack in the process.

"Christ!" Exclaimed Jack, staring at the slit in his trousers, whilst the others looked on in shocked silence. "Put that damn thing away boy and get to your post". Then "Someone get me some fresh breeches".

Killick stomped off muttering, his words carrying on the breeze. "Which they was a brand new pair... bleeding midshipmen, ought to be bloody hung, drawn and quartered for mutiny so they ought, who needs the bloody Dons I ask you, with jumped up bloody squeakers waving murderous bloody swords about"

"Mr Trinque", Jack continued in a slightly shaken tone, "I believe you have the right of it, the Dons seem unaware of us. She may be heading for St Lucia to take on water. We'll keep our distance for now. Hoist the Spanish colours Mr Critchley just to be on the safe side. ...NO! the Spanish Colours damnit.... I'd be obliged to you sir if you'd listen when I give you an order! You will report to me after the watch".

"We'll see if we can cut her out under cover of darkness if we get the opportunity gentlemen. Inform me if the situation changes Mr Trinque, I'm going below. Now Doctor, if you can put aside your concerns about the albat..(cough) blue seagull may I interest you in a large brandy?"

One watch later a small wretched looking midshipman waited outside Jack's cabin. In a single day he realised he had not only nearly castrated his captain but endangered the ship by almost signalling "Close Action" rather than the Spanish colours. One thing was clear to him, the only way to extricate himself from this mess and get back in his captain's good books was to do something unspeakably brave in the next engagement with the enemy.

The door to the Captain's cabin opened and Bonden came out. "The Captain will see you now lad" he said not unkindly. He looked at the telescopic spring powered boarding pike still clutched in the midshipman's now trembling hand and winced. "Better let me look after that" he said. "Now go on in, best get it over with".

[srz] Jack sighed heavily and looked up from the papers strewn across his writing desk. The wind-dappled swells visible through the glorious curved bank of panes right aft sparkled in the sunlight, and the great cabin was awash with light. It was a sight that rarely failed to delight him, but this was no ordinary occasion. 'Eh, what is it, Critchley? Oh, yes, I asked you to come see me, didn't I.' Noting the midshipman's pallid demeanor, he leaned forward in a manner calculated to put his young charge at ease and inquired, 'I trust you paid not more than eight and six for your telescopic spring-powered boarding pike?'

This however had precisely the opposite of the desired effect. Critchley looked deflated; he hung his head and offered, sotto voce, 'Two crowns it was, sir, if you please.' Suddenly, indignation replaced defeat: his face flushed and he burst out, 'Oh, Captain, the bleeding toady what accosted me in the gutter down by the dockyards spun me such a yarn. Said it was the latest thing, to be found in every young gentleman's sea chest; perfect for boarding, stows easily in the meanest accommodations — one just like it carried by Nelson himself at the Nile...' Jack merely rocked back in his chair and turned his head slightly, waiting for the sad tale to come to an end: miserable buggers, preying on inexperience — would serve him out if met again — no end to hazing in the midshipmen's berth...

Critchley's lament wound its way slowly to a halt, and he was left to utter a pathetic, 'I ...I must seem the perfect dunce to all the men, sir. It won't happen again, I swear it.'

'Yes, well, see it doesn't: crowns don't grow on trees, as you well know, and I did promise your great aunt Babs...there, now, don't blubber; things will be looking up presently.' Critchley had begun to grizzle quietly, having reached the unwarranted, if understandable, conclusion that his wretched life was no longer worth living, and praying silently for a sudden bolt of Divine lightning to release him from his earthly torment. Jack had seen this sort of thing before, however, and had little patience for it under the circumstances. 'Mr. Critchley, I require and direct that you shall cease this insipid caterwauling at once. I have need of you for an errand of the highest importance, and it will simply not do for you to set about it damp-faced and shriveled up like some God-damned prune, not with so much riding on the outcome.'

He fixed his young midshipman with a stern look; Critchley straightened and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. 'I have directed Bonden to see to the provisioning of the launch; you are to report to Lieutenant Trinque at once. He will tell you what's afoot, and rehearse you in your role in the caper. Ha, ha! It will be the neatest stroke, the completest thing of this age: that is, it will if you mind your

[bat] p's and porridge ... this is, to say, mind your pot three days old which will never boil if you watch it, as Admiral Nelson once said. Now off with you, lad."

Five minutes later the diminutive midshipman stood before the First Lieutenant on the quarterdeck. Can it be, Lieutenant Trinque asked himself, that the mere presence of young Critchley actually caused the deck planks around him to immediately begrime themselves and the brass of the gunlocks to tarnish? He hadn't seen any squeaker quite so miserable and, well, thoroughly squalid since old "Stinker" Bramwell in his own days in the midshipmen's berth of HMS Inconsiderable. True, "Stinker" was today Patrick, Lord Wesley, Captain of the Royal Yacht Ostentatious,, so perhaps there was hope for the boy yet, presuming he was spared by cannonballs, yellow fever, and the pranks of his seniors. "Are you up for this task?" he asked Critchley, without bothering to describe what the task was. Giving subordinates too much information too soon was not what made Britannia mistress of the Seven Seas and it only confused them, anyway.

"Aye, aye, sir," the youngster piped, fully aware that neither Lord Nelson nor Jack Aubrey would ever refuse any assignment. He just hoped it didn't involve scraping the albatross, er, seagull doo-doo from the port fore chains where the great blue bird roosted after generous meals of fish heads and ship's biscuit (it particularly relished the weevils in the latter and Critchley had found great comfort in feeding the bird especially delectable specimens, much as in happier times he had fed the chickens at the Yorkshire estate of his Aunt Babs).

"You'll enter the launch just before sunset," the lieutenant continued. "I'll give you three hands — Macduff, Macbeth, and Caliban, prime seamen all. You are to raise a dark lantern to the head of the launch's mast and, once the sky is fully dark and the signal is given from the poop, you are to unmask your light and cast off from the tow line. Keep your tiller steady and maintain your heading for three hours. You have a watch, don't you?"

Wordlessly, Critchley pulled out a fine old repeater, given to him by his grandfather upon his twelfth birthday. The admirable admiral had solemnly explained that he had once intended to give the gold watch to his eldest son — young Critchley's father — but in the circumstances it was best it went directly to his grandson. It was unnecessary that his grandfather elaborate on exactly what those circumstances were, of course. Just thinking of it, the midshipman's cheeks burned with embarassment. What would Lieutenant Trinque think — what would the other midshipmen say — if it became known in the Surprise that he was the son of

[js] the man who had called the Prince Regent "an egregious cheat and a lard-arsed scrub" to his face. The fact that both parties were shockingly drunk, that Prinny had just gone back on his word and claimed that it was only in jest he had bet ten thousand guineas that Captain Critchley couldn't eat an entire, full-grown, Leicester Longwool in one sitting, and that an impartial mind would be unable to deny that the Regent had one of the lardiest arses in the country — all these counted for nothing. "Chomper" Critchley had been forced to resign his commission and had retired to Tunbridge Wells, his health broken. The word "sheep" was never mentioned in his presence; until he went to sea, young Critchley had never tasted so much as a mutton chop.

Later, Critchley stood on the deck of the launch as it shouldered its way through the inky water, listening to the wind in the sails and the creaking of the rigging. He was managing to look at his watch only every minute or so now. His heart was filled with uncomplicated joy at the thought that he was actually in charge of the vessel, his first command! His pleasure was only slightly diluted by the consideration that one quarter of his crew was an albatross. The bird had followed him aboard and no amount of persuasion, bribery or brute force could induce the obstinate creature to leave. Rotten haddock had been arranged enticingly on the deck of the Surprise; Macduff, Macbeth and Caliban had privily offered the bird many cuffs and blows when Crichley's attention was elsewhere, but it had merely gripped the rail ever more tightly with its webbed feet, kept its beak tucked under a blue wing and ignored them all. Crichley had been forced to depart with it aboard, and had assured his crew that Giant Blue Swiss Seagulls were prodigious lucky birds indeed.

Aboard the Santa Maria, Admiral Don Esteban Ricardo Del Cuarto y Hombre was playing chess against his unusual passenger (who was setting about the task of losing gracefully and convincingly) when

[dac] their peace was disturbed by a commotion on deck. Don Esteban excused himself, and for a while his guest was left alone with his thoughts. Truth be told Captain Christie-Palliere was not enjoying himself. Loosing his frigate to a submerged iceberg in the lower latitudes had been unfortunate but being cast adrift in the jolly boat without the services of his chef had, he decided had been far worse. His subsequent rescue by the Santa Maria had been embarrassing. Christie- Palliere was a good chess player but an unenthusiastic one possessing a temperament that preferred cards the exertion of the hunt or the thrill of an enemy engagement. His current confinement was therefore excruciating to him.

Don Esteban emerging on deck found his men in various stages of hysteria caused by the sudden appearance of an azure albatross that had landed on the starboard anchor. A superstitious breed the Spanish seamen took this to be an ill omen and had it not been for the marines (always looking for an opportunity to fix bayonets) Don Esteban would have been in possession of an empty ship.

The predicament of these protagonists was however nothing to that of a small midshipman and his crew holed up in their jolly boat fast to the stern praying no one would look down from the quarterdeck of the Santa Maria. Everything had gone well for the first half an hour but then the boat's painter had been caught on a killer shark and dragged at high speed, and they had ended up far nearer the Santa Maria than they would have liked. "There was nothing for it" thought Critchley but to "take the dilemma by its horns and board the ship".

"Come on chaps" he whispered "we'll follow the seagull's example"

"Lead on Sir" said McDuff dryly.

[bat] Young Critchley grasped one of the lines hanging down from the stern of the great man-of-war — a shocking piece of nautical sloppiness which never would have been tolerated in the Royal Navy — and began to haul himself up. "Wait here until I get to the top, and then follow me, one by one," the midshipman hissed through his teeth clenched tightly on the blade of his dirk. This was a remarkable achievement in itself, as it is notoriously difficult to successfully hiss a sentence which doesn't contain a single "s", teeth clenched or not. Pulling himself up, he attempted to quell his terror by thinking what Jack Aubrey or Lord Nelson would do at such a moment and wondered if either of them would have secretly wished himself back safe with his Aunt Babs.

Don Estaban sneered at the group of officers clustered on the Santa Maria's foredeck. "You cowardly dogs," he jeered. "You call yourselves officers of His Most Catholic Majesty's Navy and yet you shrink from the gaze of a mere albatross."

Teniente Scotto Regina y Montalban hesitantly raised his hand to ask permission to speak to his irate capitano. "I most humbly and cravenly beg your pardon, your most excellency, but I think that is instead the dreaded Blue Seabird of Unhappiness of which my old nurse would tell me as a nino when putting me to bed, easing my way into the realm of slumber with her quaint tales of witches, torture, mayhem, and the Inquisition."

"Hah," Don Estaban scoffed. "I have no fear of your old nurse's stories, you miserable villain. Look, I will show you. You there," he said, pointing at a midshipman — a guardiamarina — "wrench that wretched bird from the anchor and dispose of it!" The midshipman burst into tears, a sight which might have softened Don Estaban's heart, had he had one and the midshipman not been 37 years old. But before Don Estaban could select another, more resolute man to demonstrate how unafraid the captain was of any bird of ill-omen, the creature suddenly spread its great wings and sprang from its perch.

Grimly, Critchley pulled himself higher and higher towards the stern windows. For the first time, he understood the truth of his grandfather's words about responsibility weighing heavily upon the shoulders of a commander. Then, glancing at his shoulders, Critchley saw the two large, blue feet and realized the counterfeit seagull had retreated to a more congenial refuge. Undeterred, the young midshipman resumed his climb.

Captain Christie-Palliere glanced out the stern windows and felt his blood congeal in shocked horror at the apparition which greeted his eyes — a white-faced demon wearing a terrifying azure headdress. The Frenchman turned from the vision and cursed himself for accepting a second helping of Barnacle Paella at dinner. He regretted the loss of his chef more than ever. The last time he had suffered such waking nightmares was when Jack Aubrey had introduced him to that quivering, glutinous mass called "bouilli bebe" — or was it "repere chien"? He would have suspected the English captain of attempting to poison him had Aubrey not shown such egregious enthusiasm in consuming a third and even fourth serving of that gastronomic catastrophe.

Christie-Palliere resolutely turned again to the stern windows in the firm conviction that the horrid mirage would now be dispelled. No, it was still there, but looked somewhat less intimidating now. A rather bedraggled demon with a very odd headdress, indeed. Christie-Palliere bent closer as he noted letters embroidered in gold on the demon's hat: H - M - S - S - U - P - R - I ...

[pgb-w] Throwing open the stern window, and almost dislodging Critchley's tenuous grip on the taffrail-rope, the French Captain seized the apparition, and drew it across the window seat into the great cabin.

"Turrender, Tur! Eee de dame uf de Kling!" Critchley commanded.

"Mr Critchley, is it not?" Christie-Palliere responded. "And do take that silly little dirk out of your mouth young man."

Critchley froze: should he bear the shame of his martial stance dissolving into ridiculous farce, or should he try bluff his way out? And how did this Frenchie officer know his name?

"You do look so like old Chomper, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in London during the short peace," Christie-Palliere continued, solving Critchley's dilemma.

"You — you knew my father, Sir? Oh, topping, topping, Sir!"

"Quiet, Don Estaban, my captor, is just above us and the skylight is propped open. Yes, I knew your father, and Jack Aubrey and I go back many years. Listen, boy, is your vessel close? The Surprise?"

"I do not know, Sir," Critchley replied, manly lower lip threatening to tremble, "I — I seem to be lost".

At that moment the crew of Critchley's first commend came swarming over the stern sills. Macduff, a marlin spike in his teeth; Macbeth, a caulking hammer in the same place, and Caliban, unarmed, but scowling as ferociously as he could — a shudder went through Christie-Palliere at the sight.

"My men, Sir," Critchley exclaimed.

The French officer considered calling for Don Estaban's men at that moment, for all seemed lost. A thundering of feet and loud commands in Spanish gave him pause.

"Quick, boy, up, up and see what is going on above". Macduff and Macbeth hoisted their commander to their shoulders and Critchley peered through the propped-open skylight. A moment and he was down.

"Oh Sir, Sir, they have all gone forward to try to scare the, the — Seagull off the bowsprit.

"Now, lads, follow me!" Christie-Palliere cried, and vaulting onto the cabin table he hoisted himself through the skylight and onto the deck above.

It was the work of a moment for the soon-to-be famous five to unship the swivel-guns and point them down the length of the Santa Maria.

"Captain Estaban, consider yourself boarded and seized", Critchley cried. "Macduff, strike that Spanish flag down!"

________

"Thus did I take a great prize, save a French nobleman, and impress Mr Reade no end"

"Oh Great Grandfather," Lettice Critchley yawned, "your stories of when you were little are so — so — (yawn)"

The candle began to gutter, the great-grandchildren's eyes grew heavy. Admiral Sir David Critchley continued to mutter to himself as the children, one by one, fell soundly asleep: "Damn Spaniards: all show and bluster, even a damned albatross put the wind up them, fancy it — mind, mind now — that Maturin-Blue used to rattle even the strongest of the old-time Surprises!"