A Tall Ship Tale #67: A Man For Awl Seasons

Paul DeAnguera continues.

Captain Quid paced the H.M.S. Legume’s gundeck, glancing at his watch; the drill was not going well. The embarrassed crew wrestled a massive gun-carriage away from its port, their feet slipping on the deck. Almo Sather rammed gunpowder and wadding into the cannon’s mouth, and Owen Anatu heaved a ball in after them. Then they shoved it back to the gunport again. By this time the deck was so slippery from spills and sweat that they were falling all over each other. The cannon went off with a deafening roar. But Quid, frowning at his watch, ignored it. “Thirteen minutes! You’ll have to cut that in half to survive a real battle.”

The First Mate took him aside. “If I might suggest a modification, sir, we could cut grooves into the deck so the men didn’t slip about so much.”

“Capital idea! Get some of those pointed chisels and set the men to work. But it will be a tedious job. Perhaps some music…?”

“Do we have anybody on board who can sing?”

“We could try Udayana, that Balinese fellow who joined on as we were passing through the Sunda islands. He has what you might call a very dramatic vocal style, although of course it’s not for everyone.” Like Horatio Hornblower, Captain Kattenzamer Quid was tone-deaf, but he was happily ignorant of this fact.

The men grumbled amongst themselves. But the First Mate would have none of this and said firmly: “You heard the captain!…”

“Awl the decks with howls of Bali!”

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