The Great Galloon and the Pirate Queen (7 page)

BOOK: The Great Galloon and the Pirate Queen
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‘Mr Kollick!' he said. ‘Instruct tow party to head “Left-by-Your-Left”, please,' full speed ahead for the Rococo delta. First person to spot land gets extra trifle. Abel, ask Stanley and Rasmussen to meet me in my cabin, if you would – no, on second thoughts, in Stanley's cabin, if he doesn't mind. Thank you. Anstruther out.'

He put the tube back into its cradle. He once again had about him the look of a man consumed by one thought, and not entirely aware of anything else. But he took a moment, as he climbed out of the crow's nest, to look at Cloudier.

‘Thank you once again, Ms Peele,' he said. ‘I return to the deck. You may stay here if you wish and do what you do so well – look out for the Sumbaroon.' He handed her his telescope, hopefully.

‘Aye aye, Captain,' said Cloudier. The Captain smiled, and ducked out of sight.

Familiar feelings of pride, fear and excitement welled up in Cloudier. She put the telescope to her eye – it wasn't very romantic or poetic, but she'd love an extra dollop of trifle come dinnertime.

The Great Galloon was on its way again.

Two days later, Stanley and Rasmussen were in Stanley's bedroom, listening once again to the Examinator. They had been more or less glued to it since their meeting with the Captain, when he had asked them to keep track of any unusual goings-on on the airwaves.

Stanley found it hard to know what was unusual and what wasn't. He had been using the Examinator to communicate with his parents ever since he had become a member of the Galloon's crew. His mother gave him lessons twice a day, alongside a number of other children who were spread around the world, in places too remote for them to attend school the normal way. But this was a regular appointment, so Stanley rarely just tuned in to see what he could hear. Until now, that is. And it was an education, to say the least. He and Rasmussen were slightly starry-eyed, and surrounded by empty tea mugs and sandwich plates. She had one hand on the dial, tuning and retuning it with a glazed intensity. He was lying on his back on the floor, staring at the wooden beams that ran across his ceiling. For the past forty-eight hours, Stanley had been keeping a note of the things they had heard, in case anything turned out to be useful. It read:

00hrs 11mins Strange crunching, munching sound coming from the Examinator. Machinery of some kind?

00hrs 17mins White noise. Rasmussen very tetchy. Need restorative bacon sandwich.

00hrs 47mins Back from the mess. Definitely ready now for long, uninterrupted listening.

08hrs 47mins Wha? Jus' woke up. Woss goin' on?

08hrs 48mins Refreshed after quick 8hr nap, now really ready to listen out for anything suspect.

08hrs 49mins Nothing.

08hrs 50 mins Voices!

08hrs 51mins Turns out it was Mother. Time for lessons. Rasmussen laughing at me.

15hrs 19mins Beautiful, haunting music – must be picking up whale song somehow.

15hrs 21mins Not so beautiful music now – Rasmussen snoring. She's got no stamina.

15hrs 22mins 32nd cup of tea of the vigil so far. Best yet. That should keep me awake for agkvkjcfjhgvjkb . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

And so on. In a nutshell, they had heard nothing, except a few snippets of conversation between ships on the ocean below, some whales and dolphins, and Stanley's mother telling him all about the Square on the Hypotenuse, wherever that was. But Stanley was determined that they should continue. Rasmussen wasn't so sure.

‘We should be out there, seeking here and seeking there, seeking the Sumbaroon everywhere!' she moaned for the umpteenth time.

‘We will. But we can be a vital part of knowing where Zebediah is going. We just have to listen out.'

‘But nothing's happened!' said Rasmussen. She rarely whined, but when she did, she made up for lost time by being the whiniest person since Little Whingey Martin, the Grouchiest Boy in Moansville.

‘Well, that's perhaps true. But maybe there's a pattern. Let me see your notes,' said Stanley.

Without looking up, Rasmussen tossed him her notepad, which was purple and smelled of lavender. He flipped the page, and saw what she'd written:

All listening and no adventuring makes Stanley a dull boy.

All listening and no adventuring makes Stanley a dull boy.

All listening and no adventuring makes Stanley a dull boy.

All listening and no adventuring makes Stanley a dull boy.

All listening and no adventuring makes Stanley a dull boy.

All listening and no adventuring makes Stanley a dull boy.

All listening and no adventuring makes Stanley a dull boy.

All listening and no adventuring makes Stanley a dull boy.

All listening and no adventuring makes Stanley a dull boy.

All listening and no adventuring makes Stanley a dull boy …

‘Is it all like this?' asked Stanley.

‘Yes,' said Rasmussen. ‘Except for some of page fourteen.'

Stanley turned to page fourteen. In the middle of the page, alongside the same sentence repeated over and over again, was a picture of Stanley, with a speech bubble coming out of his mouth. He was saying ‘What am I? A monkey or a unicorn or an alien or an abominable blue snowman?' Stanley was used to this from Rasmussen, and he was about to close the book and give it back, when he noticed something at the bottom of the page.

‘Hello, hello, anybody out there?' it said.

‘What's this?' he asked Rasmussen. He showed her the page.

‘It's you, wondering whether you're a monkey or a …' she said.

‘Not that! This!' snapped Stanley, unwilling to have the ‘what creature is Stanley' conversation for the seventy-second time.

‘Oh,' said Rasmussen, picking crumbs off a plate she found under Stanley's bed. ‘That's nothing. Just a conversation I heard over the Examinator while you were asleep.'

‘Wha?' said Stanley, agog.

‘What are you doing?' asked Rasmussen.

‘I'm being agog!' said Stanley.

‘No you're not. Agog means “very eager to hear something”. What you're doing is more “astonished”.'

‘Oh. I'm both astonished and eager to hear something. Is there a word for that?'

‘Yup. Agognished.' Said Rasmussen. ‘It looks like this.'

She pulled a face of astonishment while cupping a hand behind each ear.

‘Okay. This?' said Stanley.

‘Yup. That's agognished alright.'

‘So?' said Stanley.

‘So what?'

‘I am agognished to hear that you heard a conversation on the Examinator while I was asleep. Let's read it.'

‘Oh, right. Yes. I'll be the girl. She seemed nice.'

Stanley held up the book and they read the conversation.

Girl: Hello, hello, anybody out there?

Boy: (grumpily) Of course there's no-one out there. We're forty fathoms underwater. Come away from the window.

Girl: Okay, let's try the wireless again then.

Boy: I could have sworn I heard someone snoring just then.

Girl: A snordfish?

Boy: Maybe. Hello, hello, is there anyone out there who isn't a fish?

Girl: Nope, nothing again. Best cover it up again in case the Boss comes in.

Boy: Captain Zebediah? Or … her?

Girl: No, she's too busy on the bridge, poring over that map of hers. Looking for El Bravado, and getting cross with everyone no doubt.

Boy: Well, they do call her the ‘Irate Queen'.

Girl: ‘Pirate Queen', Ragnarsson. They call her the ‘Pirate Queen'.

Boy: Oh. Right. That makes more sense. Sorry, Sidney. Cup of tea?

Stanley put down the notebook.

‘Corks,' he said. ‘We'd better tell the Captain about this. The Parrot Queen indeed. We'll have to watch out for her stealing our nuts and so on.'

‘“Pirate Queen”, Stanley Crumplehorn. It says “Pirate Queen”,' said Rasmussen.

‘Oh. Right. That makes more sense. Sorry, Rasmussen. Cup of tea?' said Stanley.

‘Yes,' said Rasmussen, ‘but then we definitely should go and tell the Captain, straight away.'

‘Oh yeah!' said Stanley. ‘Straight after tea.'

‘And a biscuit,' said Rasmussen.

‘Of course! And maybe a quick game of snakes and hopscotch.'

‘But then we'll tell him straight away.'

‘Definitely. Won't waste a moment.'

As she spoke, Rasmussen twiddled a nob on the Examinator. Stanley knew she meant to turn it off, but it went the wrong way, and a noise caught their attention. A rhythmic thumping noise. It was like the sound your heartbeat makes in your ears when you're embarrassed or worn out, except that it changed tempo, and occasionally paused, in a way that would have sent Stanley running to a doctor if his heartbeat had done anything similar.

‘Thump-a-Dang-BonkBonk. Thump-a-Dang-CLANK Bonk. Thump-a-Dang-BonkBonk.
Pause
Ker-Dang-Bonk Bonk-DerDUNK!'

‘Hmm,' said Rasmussen, her ear pressed to the little square of mesh where sound came out. ‘It sounds almost like …'

‘STANLEY DEAR, ARE YOU THERE? IT'S YOUR MOTHER CALLING! TIME FOR LESSONS!'

This last came through at an earsplitting volume, because Rasmussen had turned the heavy brass knob round to eleven. She flung herself onto Stanley's bed, and slapped her hands over her ears. Her face was a picture of terror for a second, and Stanley laughed aloud.

‘Oh there you are, dear,' said his mother. ‘Something funny?'

‘Yes, Mum,' said Stanley, as Rasmussen's face took on its familiar look of thunder.

‘Good af'noon, Missus Crumplehorn missus,' she said, in a quick, polite mumble.

‘But, Mu-uuum,' said Stanley. ‘I'm too busy for lessons! We've got to find the Sumbaroon, and work out what the “Thump-a-dunk noises” are, and who we keep hearing on the Examinator!'

‘Very nice, dear, I'm sure,' said his mother. ‘But that sounds like the kind of thing the Captain is very good at. We need to run through some lessons. Map reading, traditional percussion music of forest peoples, the geography of river deltas, and electronic engineering, specifically as it pertains to radio waves.'

‘But, M­u­u­u­u­u­u­u­u-u­u­u­u­u­u­u­u­u­u­u-u­u­u­u­u­u­u­u­u­u­u­u­u­u­u­u­u­u­u­u­u­u­u­u­u­m­m­m­m­m­m­m­u­u­h­h!' groaned Stanley. ‘When am I EVER going to use any of that stuff in REAL LIFE!?'

Nevertheless, he opened his text book, and turned to a new page.

‘Be a good boy, and just listen, dear. Other children are very grateful you know …' And so began the familiar litany of the lesson. Stanley knew there was no way he could just sneak out, as Mrs Crumplehorn was good friends with Ms Huntley and a number of other crewmembers. His life would not be worth living. His mood was not brightened by Rasmussen beaming widely at him as she left the room, signing at him as she went.

‘I'm going to get a sausage and strawberry sandwich. Enjoy your lesson!'

She closed the door, and Stanley turned back to the Examinator with a sigh.

Later that evening, in the Galloon's warm and cosy canteen, known to all as the mess because of its comfortingly shambolic air, the crew of the Galloon were gathered. There was very little difference in practice between the crew, i.e. those who were involved in flying the great vessel, and the passengers, i.e. those who lived and worked onboard, but didn't actually pull ropes, consult maps, and so on. But the difference was understood by most, and when the Captain called a meeting, as he had done now, everyone onboard seemed to know whether they should attend or not. So of the thousands of people, animals, creatures, and other things that made a life on the Galloon, a few dozen people were present. Stanley and Rasmussen, though not officially crew, would not miss out on such a thing for all the world, and had doggedly ignored Abel's remarks about ‘minors loitering about the place'. They were making themselves useful by helping Cook hand out glasses of iced punch. The ovens had all been switched off days ago, but the heat in the little room was oppressive nonetheless.

BOOK: The Great Galloon and the Pirate Queen
8.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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