Part the Fifty Sixth: Kissing the Gunner’s Daughter
The call of “Sail” raced through the Raging Gale like a fire and drove all hands to deck. Captain Sanders was on the quarterdeck with her spyglass set on the prize Hope had discovered.
“She’s going fast relative to us, lateen sail, a bit short,” she said to her crew as she lowered the glass. “How be we to the point?” she asked the watch in the rigging.
“We be at beam reach,” came the reply from Saxe, who had climbed up in the rigging and was better able to see the pennant from there.
“She looks closed hauled,” said the captain. “It may take us some effort to claim her if she’s what I believe she is.”
“What be she, cap’n?” asked van Herck.
“She looks from here a pinnace, the way she’s rigged. Clever, them…”
“Full sail!” commanded Captain Sanders. “Put ye taut and ready, and hold your positions when ye set. We douse all lights and run silent. Any man who gives us away by sight or sound will kiss the gunner’s daughter!”
Hope turned to Collins and asked, “Why would kissing your daughter be a punishment?”
Collins didn’t reply, he just kept his mouth shut as he took aside Andrews and Mesnil to confer with them.
“That’s not what she means,” Charles said to Hope in a quiet voice.
“No?” said Hope as she turned to look at Charles, barely catching a good look at his face before all lights were put out.
“No, to kiss the gunner’s daughter is to be placed over the cannons sans pantaloon, exposing you to the crew and the air.”
“Sounds uncomfortable,” said Hope. “And embarrassing.”
“Which is only the start. Once they have exposed votre derrière, then you are at the mercy of the quartermaster, who then can introduce the cat to your backside as harshly as he feels is warranted.”
“That sounds harsh.”
“Indeed, it is. Your captain, she threatens the crew a lot with that?”
“N-no,” Hope tried to say without raising her voice. “This is the first I’ve heard her threaten anyone with that. Is it a common threat?”
“On some ships yes. And it is not a pleasant sight to behold.”
“Has that happened to you, ever?”
“Cher Dieu, non! I would not be able to- I mean, such a threat makes one behave, no? After all, if she threatened you with that, you would certainly be better behaved, would you not?”
“Even that would not…” Hope started to say.
“That would not be a good punishment,” Hope came up with on the spot, “no matter what you had done.”
Charles leaned in closer to her. “Perhaps we should be discreet with what is said, less mon Capitaine decides to have us kiss the gunner’s daughter for our peu d’indiscrétion, no?”
“Talking when we are not supposed to?”
Hope gave a relieved giggle. “Yes, yes of course,” she said before she moved away.
She watched Charles move on in the darkness, trying to focus on him as the ship went silent in pursuit of the pinnace…