Early Summer 1860
(The day after the events in ‘Pirate Games’)
EARLY SATURDAY MORNING
“You do realise just HOW worried we all were?”
“Yes ma-am,” murmured Jed.
“We were only…” began Hannibal. He met Mrs. Curry’s eyes. He changed his mind. “Yes ma-am,” he amended.
“How COULD you? Didn’t you THINK? I blame YOU Hannibal…”
Hannibal opened his mouth to protest at this blatant injustice. He took another look at the blue gaze darting daggers at him. He shut it again. Sheesh! Last night Mrs. Curry had been so kind! Hugging and kissing them both. Telling Mister Curry and his own father to let the boys sleep before questioning them about their raft adventure. Now … now she was a… What was the word? Er…Hannibal gave up the search. She was one of those women that blazed away, went on and on and on and glared at you whenever you opened your mouth. One of them. All that stuff about just being glad they were safe. Well! Now they were clean and warm and well fed after ten solid hours sleep, it seemed Mrs. Curry did not seem so glad! She seemed to have forgotten all that!
“…You’re older, Hannibal! You should know better. Jed listens to you. You shouldn’t lead him astray.”
The two boys exchanged a glance. Jed looked apologetic and shuffled in his seat. He was too wise to interrupt his Ma, though. He kept his head down and reached for another muffin. His mother pushed the butter over to him without pausing for breath.
“Really Hannibal – I can’t imagine WHAT you were thinking! You must have known the river current would carry you downstream. You must have! What did you think you were DOING?”
Once again Hannibal opened his mouth. He felt his foot pressed under the table. Looking up, he met his father’s eyes and received a tiny shake of the head. He shut his mouth again. Maybe his father was right.
After all, Hannibal had already explained about finding the raft and really having no choice but to see if it worked. He thought ANYONE could see the sense in that? He had explained how – through no fault of his AT ALL – they had drifted. No one – NO ONE could blame him for that, huh? He had recounted all the level-headed decisions he had taken; scientific depth testing, the controlled grounding of the raft in a safe spot, finding the bridge, working out the direction of home, deciding to let Jed rest while waiting for first light… He had been REAL sensible! ANYONE could see he had done the right thing ALL the time! And, had Mrs. Curry listened? No! Just kept going on and on and on like a… Well, like one of those women who go on and on and on.
“Really, Hannibal! Do you realise how frightened I was? Wondering what had happened to you and Jed! And Jed…”
Jed looked up from his plate. Oh – his turn again?
“Yes ma-am?” A blond curly head hung guiltily, as he listened to his mother. “Sorry ma-am.” Still listening. More. A little more. “I’m real sorry, ma-am.”
The lecture went on. At one point Jed shot a look of appeal at his Pa. A minute later Hannibal shot the look of an injured party seeking redress at his father. Neither appeal had any effect. Both fathers kept their heads firmly down and concentrated on breakfast, as maternal wrath raged on.
“Hannibal should know better by now, Alex…”
Hannibal, his hand tucked into his father’s and his washed, but still damp, clothes under the other arm (he was dressed in old stuff of Zach’s), walked away from the Curry farm.
“Sheesh!” he shook his head. Hannibal thought HE could talk – but, sheesh, feminine nagging had a momentum all of its own.
“We WERE all worried, Hannibal,” said Alex.
Hannibal looked up. Yeah – he guessed it had been kinda…
“Sorry,” he said for the umpteenth time.
“Louisa was imagining all kinds of…”
“SHE’S not goin’ to fuss, is she?” interrupted a horror-struck Hannibal. “…When I get back? She’s not gonna…?”
“YOU,” interrupted his father in his ‘no arguing’ voice, “…YOU will tell Louisa you are very sorry and listen – quietly and without any eye-rolling – to anything she has to say! Understand?” A pause. “Do you understand?”
“Yessir,” mumbled Hannibal. Sheesh!
“Louisa tries very hard not to fuss over you, Hannibal,” said his father, more mildly. “…But, on this occasion you have only yourself to blame, okay?”
A reluctant nod.
“She feels guilty for not noticing you’d gone straight away. She…”
A set of brown eyes widened and looked up.
“Wasn’t her fault! I only went out to do chores and then to play – same as usual. She couldn’t have known. Besides…” Hannibal gave a wriggle, “…she has enough to do watching Samuel! And now she’s got David to look after…Even if she was SUPPOSED to watch me – which she ISN’T, ‘cos I don’t need it – she can’t be ‘spected to…” Hannibal tailed off. He was not quite sure he had said what he meant there. His father seemed to understand though. His face softened a little. “It wasn’t supposed to get everyone all upset,” said Hannibal. “We thought we’d just – y’know – go for a sail and then come home.”
“I know,” said his father. Hannibal’s hair was ruffled. “Don’t worry, son. I’ve got so many extra chores lined up for you today, there won’t be much spare time for you to be hugged and kissed and fussed over!” Hannibal’s shoulders drooped. Still, he thought philosophically – and aptly – worse things happen at sea. Father and son strode on together, cheerfully enough.
Then, Alex stopped. They were at the fork, which led to the Heyes’ farm. Alex squatted down. “Now, before we go home, Hannibal, is there anything you want to give back to me?”
For a moment, Hannibal looked puzzled. Then, he remembered. Hoping against hope, he took the blue bandana from the pile of washed clothes. “This is yours, Pa. Sorry,” he tried.
“Thank you, Hannibal,” said Alex. Hannibal resisted the urge to cross his fingers. He felt his cheeks burn red. A pause. “Anything else?” prompted Alex.
Hannibal guessed he should have known. His father did not miss much. Very reluctantly, he pulled the pocket knife he had rescued from his muddy pants pocket and kept safe under his pillow all night. He handed it back. A silence.
“I wasn’t stealing it!” blurted Hannibal. “I only borrowed it! I took real good care of it! I was gonna put it back!” He ventured to meet his father’s eyes. He gulped. That was not quite the point was it? “I shouldn’t a took your stuff without askin’.” The voice dropped to a mumble, though a sincere one, “I’m sorry, Father.” Even more quietly, “I was REAL careful. Didn’t lose it even when we was wrestlin’ in the mud!”
“I was only worried about losing you, son,” said Alex. “But – no more taking things, alright?” Hannibal nodded, still looking crestfallen. Alex smiled, “And – I was very, very pleased you’d remembered what I’d told you about not trying to swim somewhere you don’t know – because you never know how strong the currents are. That was very sensible, Hannibal.”
Hannibal pulled his shoulders back. He HAD remembered that. “I couldn’t risk swimming anyhow, Pa,” he explained. “…’Cos Jed can’t swim – not really – and if I’d tried to pull him and THEN found the current WAS too strong…” he shook his head and thrust out his bottom lip in an attitude of serious responsibility.
“Good boy,” praised his father. “Now, Mister Curry and I were having a talk about that while you were being…” he chose his words carefully, “…instructed by Mrs. Curry. We decided that as part of Jed’s punishment – he has to learn to swim properly; and, as part of your punishment, you have to help teach him.”
Hannibal beamed. That sounded very, very fair! “When?”
“Tomorrow, after church,” his father told him.
Hannibal nodded, “Punishments should always be given out without delay,” he intoned, wisely.
“…Sure and isn’t this the way I used to fish, so?” said Nathanial, as he and Alex pulled the first of the long basket weirs from the back of the wagon. “…Back when I was a boy…”
“Back in dear old, green old Ireland,” finished Hannibal.
Alex shot a sharp look at the dark haired youngster. That had definitely come out with a brogue! Hannibal looked up from the second long basket weir he and Jed were lifting down. The brown eyes were cheerfully innocent. Alex decided to let it pass.
“You see the fish can swim in right enough, but…” Nathanial started to pull off his boots, preparatory to wading into the water. “With the one cone inside the other, can they be finding their way out? Indeed and they cannot!” He gave the nested willow cones a shake to free the inner layer.
“Why don’t we set these in the creek at home, Pa?” asked Jed, releasing the mass of wicker he could barely see over.
“Sure an’ they’ll be needing deeper water an’ more of a current than we have back home,” explained Nathanial.
“Won’t we disturb the fish? When we’re swimmin’?”
“We’re not swimmin’ HERE,” scathed Hannibal. “…The current’d be too strong HERE!” He squared his shoulders. “Too strong for you, anyhow. ‘Cos you’re only a beginner and, ‘cos you’re only six…”
“NEARLY seven,” put in Jed. “…Nearly, nearly, nearly, nearly seven! An’…” he squared his own shoulders. “…Ev’one’s gotta START as a beginner!”
“Quite right, Jed!” approved Alex, as he emerged from the shirt and Henley he was tugging over his head. He stepped out of his pants and began to stride – or at any rate step gingerly – into the river. “…If you want to choose the best spot Nathanial, I’ll go under and fix it.” A moment or two later Alex took a deep breath and disappeared beneath the surface to fix the first set of wicker cones in place.
“…And it’s right you are about not disturbin’ the fish, son,” agreed Nathanial. “…We’ll be away downstream to where there’s calmer water and a natural pool, so – and leave these weirs for a good five or six hours…”
Alex reappeared, spluttering and nodded. Nathanial waded back to fetch the second weir. Shaking of wicker. Nathanial returned to the deeper water, cast an expert eye at flow and then took up ‘holding steady’ position. Another breath, Alex went under.
“…THEN…” Nathanial widened his eyes impressively and looked from one small face to the other, “…won’t we be seeing if we’ve caught the Kansas great, great, great grandson of the original Finn Finnegan?!”
Alex, surfaced once more, breathless, but triumphant.
“Done it!” Gasp, cough. “Sheesh, though! I can’t stay under the way I could ten years ago!”
The two men waded back to the bank.
“Who’s Finn Finnegan?” persisted Hannibal.
“You’re not telling me,” said Nathanial, in mock disbelief, “…that you’ve never heard of Finn Finnegan? Alex…” a stern look, “…is it neglecting this boy’s education you’ve been? Never telling him about the mighty race of Finn Finnegans?”
“You ain’t never told ME, Pa!” protested Jed.
“Sure an’…” Nathanial, after a rough rub down, began to pull his pants back on, “…isn’t it telling you now I am?” He reached for his socks. “Finn Finnegan, is the original ‘one that got away’. Whenever you hear a fisherman talkin’ about the one that got away…”
“Which,” put in Alex, shrugging on his shirt but leaving it unbuttoned since it would be coming off again in five minutes when they reached the swimming hole, “…you do hear pretty often.”
The two boys considered that. They HAD heard both their Pas – AND quite a few other men – talking about the one that got away.
“…you know you’re hearing about one of the descendants of the mighty Finn,” finished Nathanial. “…AND,” he continued, as he climbed back onto the wagon and shot a glower back at the fast flowing section of river, “…don’t I know, sure as eggs is eggs, one of the wiliest of the Finnegans lives right here? Has he not teased and taunted me for years? That he has! Three summers running…have I not been this close…” A distance equivalent to a modest fisherman’s medium boast was indicated by Nathanial’s freckled hands. “…THIS close to netting the Kansas Finn? I have! And once, did the wily one not go so far as to nibble me toes? Indeed he did!” The wagon began its short trip to the nearby swimming hole.
“How d’ya know?” asked a sceptical Hannibal. “I mean … how d’ya know it’s the same fish?”
Nathanial turned a face of reproach towards the dark-haired youngster. “Sure an’ – would I not know one of the Finn Finnegan’s anywhere? Was I not first bested by one of the Finnegans when I was no more than eight summers old? When I was as green as the grass in dear, dear old Ireland? Indeed and I was! There was I, no higher than you are now, Hannibal, a new fishing rod in me hand … and wasn’t I proud as proud of it? Down goes I to where the abhainn joined the mhuir …”
“…That was real good, Jed!” praised Alex. “Well done!” He set the youngster back upright.
Jed brushed back his curls.
“I ain’t ‘sactly swimmin’, Mister Heyes!” he demurred. “…You’re holdin’ me!”
“Not really,” temporised Alex. “…It’s only to give you confidence you can’t sink, while you practice kicking. Can’t you feel the water supporting you, Jed? You’re doing real, real well. Just – don’t try QUITE so hard, huh? More gentle with the kicks. I’ll lower my hands a touch next time…so you can see you really don’t need them. And try not to hold your chin quite so far up.” A reassuring smile. “You’re going to crick your neck, son! Just relax and breathe out through your nose the way we practised if it goes under. Okay?”
Jed nodded. Mister Heyes had told him the way he had put his head all the way under the water first time was real brave. And, the ‘bubble blowing’ practice had been kind of fun. But, he didn’t think he’d EVER be able to put his head down and swim flat, the way Mister Heyes could. The water was bound to go up your nose. Stood to reason. Han still kept HIS chin up as HE splashed around. Still, a small pair of shoulders squared and a small – slightly cricked – neck was rubbed, Jed guessed he could try his head just a shade lower.
“Good boy!” encouraged Alex. “Another try then. On the count of three. One, two three …UP!”
With a little jump, Jed stretched his legs out behind and his arms out in front. He kicked hard sending spray arcing over Mister Heyes. Jed remembered. He kicked a bit less hard. He could feel Mister Heyes hands, one flat under his chest, one flat under his belly… but, yeah…Despite lips tightly clenched against swallowing the water, Jed managed a grin. Mister Heyes was right! He was not exactly holding Jed up. Jed was – almost – floating above Mister Heyes’ hands. He was – kind of – swimming. Kind of! Mister Heyes was walking very slowly across the swimming hole, towards where the water was deeper and Jed was going with him. Not carried – swimming!!
“Look Pa! I’m…” A wavelet caught Jed’s opened mouth. The rest of the natural, but unfortunately timed, boast was lost in spluttering. The small arms stopped paddling and flailed. A little foot reached for the… Oh no! He couldn’t reach the…
“It’s okay, Jed,” reassured Mister Heyes. “…You can’t go under. I’ve got you!” It was true. He was being held up by the waist. Jed relaxed. “Let’s start again where it’s shallower. You were doing SO well! You were swimming!”
Sparkling – if watering – blue eyes looked up. “I WAS, wasn’t I Mister Heyes? I WAS swimming, huh? Huh?”
“You sure were! You’re doing fine!” smiled Alex. “Got your breath back? Okay…Nice and steady, on three…”
“…So this fish – one o’ the Finnegan’s…” pressed Hannibal, “…he not only – y’know – taunted you by getting away – he swallowed your shillin’?”
“That he did, so!” confirmed Nathanial.
“And…” checked Hannibal, who liked to get these things straight, “…that’d be worth ‘bout half a dollar?”
“Sure an’ to me wasn’t it priceless?!” milked Nathanial. “Wasn’t it my LUCKY shilling?! Indeed it ‘twas!” A sad shake of the head.
Green eyes met deep brown ones. Nathanial gave a twitch to the fishing rod he was holding over a tributary just upstream of the swimming hole. Hannibal gave a mirroring twitch to his own, smaller, fishing rod. Hannibal HAD been helping with the swimming lesson as – proud swelling – demonstrator. And he HAD joined in the bubble blowing. But, it wasn’t much fun splashing around in the shallows by himself while Jed concentrated hard on his lesson. And, it wasn’t much fun swimming properly, without his father making up games and races and stuff, because he was all busy with Jed. So Hannibal had decided, very kindly, to help Mister Curry fish. Hannibal’s father always told him NOBODY knew more about the habits of fish and how to catch them than Mister Curry.
“Me lucky shilling lost to the wily Finn Finnegan,” went on Nathanial, enjoying his appreciative audience. “Sure an’ haven’t the whole race of the Finnegan’s always been known for having a taste for money. Me old grandfather told me…”
Oh! Ooooh! Nathanial lost Hannibal’s undivided attention. To be accurate, he lost ALL Hannibal’s attention.
“Got one!” yelped Hannibal. “I got one! Mister Curry!”
“Well done, Hannibal!” praised Mister Curry. A wiggling fish was lifted clear of the water, by a beaming small boy.
“…Not the Finnegan, though,” deprecated Hannibal. “Another crappie. You said the wily old Kansas Finnegan was a bass.”
“Sure, and there’s nothing wrong with landing a crappie!” said Mister Curry, firmly. “They’re real good eating! Won’t we all be having a fine meal when your Pa’s finished the lesson? AND – a fine supper for everyone tonight? And, won’t there be plenty over for the ladies to be salting down? Indeed and there will. Let’s get him in the holding basket with the others, so. There he goes! And…let’s be getting another worm on your hook…”
“We were pirates y’see…” Jed informed his Pa and Mister Heyes.
“Hannibal did mention it, Jed,” replied his Pa, stretching out in the afternoon sunshine. “…Sure and it’s a dry, hot summer we’re going to be having, or my name’s not Nathanial Curry.”
The wagon ride over had been enlivened with the boys’ – well, mainly Hannibal’s – account of Friday’s adventure.
“I was the pirate captain – I mean, Cap’n,” explained Hannibal, not for the first time. Not for the second time either.
“I was first mate,” chipped in Jed.
“Uh huh,” nodded Alex. He too was basking, as he digested freshly caught pan-fried fish and a picnic. A very generous picnic, as both Elizabeth and Louisa appeared to have catered for four.
Over the meal, Jed had fully briefed Hannibal and his Pa on his newfound swimming prowess – “…Well, nearly swimming – just a couple more lessons Mister Heyes says!” He had also proudly displayed the intense puckering on fingers and toes.
In return, Hannibal had pointed out exactly which of the fish haul were down to him and insisted they be the ones to be cooked now!
Both boys were inordinately pleased with themselves, with each other and with the day.
“I…” Jed swelled out his chest, “…I took care of the details!”
“Uh huh?” Without going to the effort of opening his eyes, Alex gave Jed an encouraging smile. “…A captain relies on his first mate, Jed. It’s a key role.”
“I was Cap’n by the consent of my men,” expanded Hannibal. “Like – like Blackbeard! That’s how it worked! Pa was tellin’ me ‘bout REAL pirates last night.”
“Have you no mercy, Alex?” murmured Nathanial under his breath. With a happy grunt he rolled over to let the sun toast his back for a while. Alex smothered a laugh and, deigning to open one eye, shot his friend an apologetic look.
“I …” more swelling from Jed, “…I hadta hoist the Jolly Roger! That was after we made the cap’n – not Han, the OTHER cap’n – walk the plank!”
“Uh huh,” contributed Alex.
“…’Course…” Hannibal frowned, “…if’n I’d known more ‘bout Blackbeard BEFORE we took the raft out, we wouldn’t a made anyone walk the plank!”
“Why?” blinked Jed.
“’Cos Blackbeard – who was one o’ the most sess’ful pirate leaders ever – in all the ships an’ freighters he robbed, he never killed no one…”
“Anyone,” corrected Alex, automatically.
“…Anyone,” accepted Hannibal. Hannibal assumed a would-be menacing glower. “… He prevailed by fear alone!” A wily raised eyebrow was added to the glower. “…An’ by guile an’ cunnin’! ‘Course…” he added, having been well instructed on the point, “…he shouldn’t a been a pirate ANYHOW, ‘cos it was still just bullyin’ folk so he could take their stuff an’ that’s wrong. BUT – he still never killed anyone.”
“Well – according to some accounts,” temporised Alex.
“We coulda pre-pre… we coulda done it by fear alone,” accepted Jed. “…Couldn’t we Han? ‘Cos we were real fierce!”
“An’ – cunnin’” inflated Hannibal. “An’ – an’ guiley!”
Alex suppressed a smile and contented himself with another, “Uh huh?”
“We had swords, y’see,” chirped Jed. “Real fine swords! Han made ‘em. He sharpened ‘em with…”
“Pa,” interrupted Hannibal, hastily. And loudly. “…Do you reckon it’s ‘cos he never killed anyone that the Gov’ner gave Blackbeard a pardon?”
Alex did open his eyes then. Two matched deep brown gazes met. Alex raised a quizzical eyebrow, just to remind his son – he didn’t miss much. However, all he said was, “It might have helped. Still, they gave a lot of pirates pardons – they were pretty hard to catch. If the pirates wanted to stop being pirates, which most of them did soon enough – and the governors wanted them to stop being pirates, which ALL of them did – it made sense.”
“Why did they wanna stop, Mister Heyes?” asked Jed. “…The pirates I mean, not the gov’ners.”
“I guess playing pirates is more fun than the real thing, Jed,” said Alex. “You get the exciting bits without the long days of nothing happening while you’re cooped up in a cold, damp, smelly boat, with lousy food and all the other pirates picking dull, dreary fights about nothing just to pass the time.”
Jed mused on that. Maybe?
“The fun bit was when we boarded the other Cap’n’s ship an’ had a sword fight,” he confided. “I mean – I knows we shouldn’t a sailed off – and if’n we try again, we hafta fasten the raft up safe to a tree or – or drop an anchor or some’n first…”
Alex and Nathanial frowned, slightly. While there was undoubtedly rational good sense in Jed’s artless chatter, that had not been, exactly, the nature of the ‘don’t do it again’ injunctions given. Someone – and both fathers suspected the same source – had been editing.
“…that bit WAS fun!” carried on Jed. “…We had real good swords. Han sharpened ‘em with…”
“Pa,” came the rapid voice of the wily one, “…why do you reckon Blackbeard became a pirate? I mean – at first?”
Once again, an eyebrow twitched at Hannibal to mark the timely drowning out of Jed’s innocent recounts of pocket-knife blunting.
“Edward Teach – or, Blackbeard, if you give him his alias – like many privateers suffered when the War – that’s the War of the Spanish Succession – came to and end,” began Alex, eruditely. “Maybe a lot of young men didn’t see much difference between what they had seen going on all around them in the Spanish West Indies and along the Spanish Main and piracy…” Enjoying, as always, the sound of his own voice, Alex settled in for a long monologue.
“…Mister Curry,” interrupted Hannibal, after less than fifteen seconds of remembered extracts from ‘A General Historie of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates’. “…Why’re you shakin’ your head like that.”
Nathanial, once again, gave a slow shake of his tawny head.
“D’you not think Mister Heyes has got it right, Pa?” queried Jed, reaching for another one of Louisa’s strudels. He was not being greedy. Mrs. Heyes was REAL pleased if you ate all her stuff. It was polite!
Nathanial met Alex’s eyes and drew in his breath in an exaggerated suggestion of doubt.
“…Sure and I’m not saying Hannibal’s Pa and this book he’s read don’t have SOME of the tale right, so…” A mute conversation, taking the place of a wink, was exchanged between the two fathers. “…But has he told you WHY Blackbeard first went to sea? Has he? Indeed and he has not! What was it made young Edward leave dear old, green old Erin? What…”
“Pa!” protested Hannibal. “…You never said Blackbeard was Irish! You said he came from England – like your folks!”
“No,” swivelled Alex, with a glance at Nathanial. “I said the BOOK I read when I was a boy said that.”
“And who would be the writer of this here book?” asked Nathanial.
“Supposedly some character called Captain – or should that be, Cap’n – Johnson. But most folk reckon it was Daniel Defoe using an alias,” said Alex.
“And Defoe would be English?” mock-challenged the son of Erin.
“And Defoe would be English,” admitted Alex.
“Sure and would the English be giving the Irish credit for anything, even being successful pirates? Indeed and…”
“Ma’s English, Pa,” protested Jed.
“And do you ever hear her giving me credit for anything?”
A small brow furrowed.
“Your Pa’s only joshing, Jed,” reassured Alex. “…About your mother anyhow.”
Nathanial ruffled the blond curls to back this up. “Sure and would I josh about Blackbeard being an Irishman though?”
“Why would you josh about that?” equivocated the accomplice teaser of small boys.
“So…” Hannibal decided to return Mister Curry to the point, “…why DID young Edward leave…” again a – perhaps involuntary – brogue, “…dear old, green old Erin?”
“Was he not driven to it be the very first – by the original – by the great great grandfather of all the Finnegans? By Finn Finnegan himself? Did the mighty Finnegan not taunt and belittle him? Did he not mock him? Did he not goad him? Did he not swallow down young Edward’s one and only doubloon? His lucky doubloon! Did that lad not see the Finnegan flick his tail and head out into the ocean with his very own talisman? His precious gold? Did he not? Indeed and he did!”
“He swallowed a – a doubloon?” queried a wide-eyed Jed.
“Sure and – aren’t the Finnegans known for having a taste for money? Indeed and they are!” put in the pre-briefed and retentive Hannibal, who loved nothing better than to instruct.
“Young Edward set to sea after the Finnegan – and after his lucky doubloon – chasing him through the seas…Chasing him all the way to the balmy seas of the West Indies…Chasing him to…”
Nathanial accompanied his tale with appropriate dramatic gestures. And sound effects. And – blarney. Hannibal certainly paid due credit to the blarney. But – as the mighty Finn sported amongst the coral, teasing the basking sharks – a qualm struck him.
“Mister Curry,” Hannibal interrupted, “…you’re not pulling our legs are you?”
“Would I?” indignated Nathanial, eyes wide.
“Would he?” equivocated Alex. He sat up and brushed a little grass off his shoulders. “…A man can become obsessed chasing a wily and mighty creature of the deep, Hannibal. You know that!”
The well-read Hannibal joined Jed in a little brow furrowing. The brow under the blond curls relaxed almost at once. The brow under the dishevelled dark fringe retained its ‘two years less credulous crease’ a moment or two longer. But, yeah – Hannibal guessed this story did have some kind of – er – pressy-sea-dedant. He returned a modified benefit of the doubt to Mister Curry.
“And in all the doubloons Blackbeard stole…was he not looking for his own? Hoping against hope that some other sailor had caught and captured the mighty Finn…”
“How would he know?” Hannibal interrupted Mister Curry again. “…I mean how would he know even if he found his doubloon?”
“Sure and wasn’t I telling you how it was his precious one? His LUCKY doubloon?” stressed Nathanial, his mild eyes speaking for his artless simple honesty. “…Was not me own lucky shilling etched with a four leaf shamrock, by me own hand before the wily Finn filched it from me? Indeed and ‘twas! Hadn’t Blackbeard etched his doubloon with the same? Can you be doubting that he had? Indeed and you cannot!” A large freckled hand slapped the ground in emphasis. “Mind you…” temporised Nathanial, “…would I be telling you that Blackbeard didn’t develop a taste for other folk’s golden doubloons? That I would not! Indeed and he began to chase doubloons for their own sake, so! But all the time – as he fingered through his booty – was he not looking for that first – that special – that lucky doubloon? Sure and…”
“Hey, Pa!” exulted Jed, as the first basket weir was lifted clear of the water by Alex and Nathanial and carried – wriggling and writhing – to the bank. “It worked! It worked!”
“Sure and of course it worked!” confirmed Nathanial. “Now…you boys need to get these fellas in the covered pails with the ones meself and Hannibal caught earlier. Keep them alive and wet until we get them home to be salted down. Mister Heyes and meself, we’ll be fetching the other haul, so.”
Handing over of the swarming cone. Busy and cheerful transferring of fish.
“Not the Finnegan, though,” called over Hannibal. “Not a single bass!”
“Well,” called back his father, bracing himself for his last underwater task, “…the Finnegan’s are the ones that get away!” A dark head disappeared beneath the surface.
Hannibal frowned as he thought about that. If the Finnegan’s ALWAYS got away – how could he ever be completely certain sure Mister Curry hadn’t been pulling his leg? A sharp little brain wrestled with that problem in circular logic.
The second set of cones was unfastened and pulled free of the water. There among the small fry…There!!
“Look Pa! Look!”
“Pa! Is it him? Is it? Is it?”
“You said the Kansas Finn was a full twenty pounds,” remembered Hannibal. “An’ – an’ measured more’n two foot six from lip to tail tip…”
“Sure and you’re a fisherman to the core, Nathanial,” grinned Alex. “Show us again – how enormous was it?”
“This ‘un don’t look ‘sactly big enough,” demurred Hannibal.
“It’s shuge!” protested Jed.
“Didn’t say it wasn’t real BIG,” clarified Hannibal. “Just is it big enough to be the Kansas Finn?”
Mister Curry waded out of the water.
“Sure and I reckon you’re both in the right of it,” he said, lifting the bass out. “THIS…” he flashed a grin at Jed, “is one BIG fish! BUT…” an acknowledging lift of the eyebrows at Hannibal, “is it big enough to be the mighty Kansas Finn?” A regretful shake of the tawny head. “I’m thinking he is not. I’m thinking the mighty Finn has escaped me again and is laughing at me now.” Alex by now was also out of the water and standing beside the proud fisherman. “Of course, even if this is not THE mighty Kansas Finn – it could still be one of the wily, thieving Finnegan clan. Alex…?”
“Sure and shall we put it to the test? Would you be having your fine sharp pocket knife with you?”
Once again, the eyes of the two friends met in mute conversation. In fact, the eyes of two sets of friends – from two generations – met in mute conversation. Alex padded over to his pants and rummaged in first one side, then the other. His pocket knife was held aloft in a curled fist.
“What are you gonna…?” began Hannibal. His own quick mind answered the unfinished question. “Oh! I see! You’re gonna find out if…”
Two fathers and two sons squatted around the impressive – but not quite mighty Finn impressive – fish. A set of unreservedly curious blue eyes and a pair of half-sceptical, half ‘wanting to believe’ brown eyes, watched Alex slit open the bass. As the tanned hand moved aside… Two boyish gasps.
“It WAS a Finnegan!” chirped Jed. “Musta been!”
Hannibal stared at a couple of shiny wet nickels, which had – apparently – fallen from the fish’s belly. His brow puckered. He scanned his father’s face searchingly. The brown eyes were wide and shining with innocence. The dimpled smile was the picture of artless simplicity. Hannibal looked again at the two coins. However ‘fishy’ this was, Hannibal decided there were advantages to occasionally suspending disbelief. Picking up his share of the booty, he grinned at Jed.
“I guess I won’t argue with evidence like that,” he gave in.
“A General Historie of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates” appeared in 1724. The book was released by a Captain Charles Johnson, but was probably – though not definitely – actually written by Daniel Defoe. It is a mixture of historical evidence and fiction woven together in a way nearly impossible to sort one from the other.