Friday, June 22, 2007

The dank cabin was full of rough-looking sailors. A lantern hung over top of a stout wooden table the men were gathered around. The rough voices of the men rumbled together in an incoherent babble. A small bespeckled man stood near the centre of the cluster of men and raised his hand, gradually gaining the attention of the gathered seamen.

"Gentlemen," seaman Hoskins began, "the reason I have called you here today is to discuss a very pressing problem."

Several of the assembled sailors checked their pocketwatches impatiently. Two sailors standing near the back stepped anxiously from foot to foot. A burly sailor spat a wad of tobacco into a tin can with a loud spurt of brown saliva.

Hoskins ignored it all, "You see, gentlemen, there is a hole in the bottom of our ship."

A few sailors nodded nonchalantely, there was a cough, and a low rumble sounded as conversation commenced again.

Hoskins stood up, "Gentlemen, there is a large hole in our ship and water is rushing through."

"Now wait a minute!" the large burly sailor, Smitty by name, stood up and slammed his fist angrily on the table, "I need proof before we start talking about some supposed hole in the bottom of our ship."

"You can go and see for yourself," Hoskins said, "the hole is still there."

The burly Smitty glowered at Hoskins, "What, do you think I have time to investigate these things?"

Hoskins shrugged and then leaned forward, his face etched with concern, "I'm just offering a warning."

"Well," a wizened old sailor raised his quavering voice, "if there is a hole, what do you suppose we should do about it?"

"I really feel that we should mend it," Hoskins answered.

There was a chorus of protest from the assembled sailors.

"Now wait here a minute," Smitty growled, "why should I waste my time repairing non-existent holes in ships when there's money to be won gambling?"

There was murmur of agreement from those assembled. Several sailors shuffled away muttering under their breaths.

"I seem to remember," a gangly old seaman mused, "that this ship had a hole in it on another voyage, and there was no problem then."

"That hole was not as large as this one," Hoskins explained, "and we really are carrying a lot of things with us and . . ."

"What can we do about our things?" interrupted a sailor as he leaned disinterestedly against the wall, "throw them overboard?"

"That would certainly help," Hoskins answered.

The room exploded with the sounds of angry voices. When the noise finally began to subside Yurk, a brash young sailor, stood up to speak, "I sure can throw some of my things overboard, but it really isn't going to do anything in the long run if no one else throws their things overboard."

"The deck seems especially dry to me," muttered the burly Smitty, "I don't see any flooding on the deck."

"How long until the boat sinks?" a tall nervous-looking sailor asked.

"The way I figured," Hoskins responded, "we have about half a day."

A few of the older sailors looked worried, but most of the sailors laughed dismissively.

"C'mon!" scoffed Yurk, "if we have half a day, why don't we just fix the hole at the end of the day?"

There was a roar of approval and four more sailors left, yelling out crude predictions on their next game of poker.

"Wait, wait!" Hoskins yelled, "it will be too late!"

Yurk laughed, slapping Smitty on the shoulder, "when the end of the day comes we'll know if it's too late or not. Until that time I have money to win!"

The tall nervous sailor and three other men stumbled forward to stand behind Hoskins. Chesnutt, whose fat face made him look like a young boy raised his voice, "I say, chaps! I say we make an oath!"

The word oath seemed to grab the attention of all the men in the room. There was a hushed silence, "an oath?" a voice asked.

Hoskins smiled, adjusted his glasses, and nodded in approval, "A capital idea."

"I say we make an oath to do what we can to solve this problem of the hole in the ship," Chesnutt continued.

Even Smitty was nodding his head, albeit somewhat confusedly. The room was buzzing with excited conversation. The word oath was repeated a number of times.

The gangly old sailor finally spoke, "we should probably agree on some sort of term for this oath."

"Let's call it the oath of O'Toyk!" a young sailor enthused.

"Why?" several voices asked, "why the oath of O'Toyk?"

"Well," the young sailor said, "we're in the O'Toyk sea."

There was a thunder of approval from the gathered seamen.

Yurk peered at the faces scattered about the cabin, "what, exactly, should this oath say?"

Hoskins cleared his throat, "I think we should all agree to bail twenty buckets of water each."

Most of the sailors made noises of approval. "I'll do thirty!" Yurk declared proudly.

"I still don't think there's a hole," the burly sailor muttered, "I'm not bailing water if there is no hole."

"I think the oath should say something else too," Chesnutt argued.

"What?" mocked a raucous voice, "that you get extra grub?"

Chesnutt raised his voice above the laughter, "The ship is sitting pretty low. If we each reduce our personal cargo by ten per cent it will go a long way."

There was a silent moment of sober reflection. "I'd be willing to do that," Yurk said, "I'll even do twenty!"

"Me too."

"Aye, here too."

Voices solemnly spoke out their willingness to part with their beloved belongings in order to meet the demands of the oath. Right hands upraised, most of the gathered sailors agreed to the terms of the oath of O'Toyk.

"So, we should probably get started," Hoskins cried. He looked relieved.

"Wait a minute," Smitty said, "why should I throw away my goods as ballast if I don't even think there's a hole?"

Another sailor piped in, "Yeah, what about the twenty men who aren't here?"

"Ten of those men are just as cantankerous as this big fellow here," the gangly old sailor slapped the burly Smitty on the back, "and the other ten are too weak to bail anything."

Yurk's puffed-out chest appeared to be deflating, "maybe I'll just throw away five per cent."

"But you promised ten!" whined Chesnutt, "you have to throw away ten because you took the O'Toyk oath."

"Well, how can I gamble with the other guys if they have more stuff than me?" Yurk protested.

"I know what you can do," the wizened sailor whispered in Yurk's ear, "just buy some of the poorer sailors' stuff and throw that out."

Yurk nodded slowly; it sounded good to him.

"I still say there is no hole," Smitty mumbled.

"I have something to say," a balding sailor cried, "I have something important to say."

"Go ahead."

"You know the man who designed this ship was a master ship-builder," the balding sailor said, combing his hand through the greasy locks which hung to his shoulders.

"It's true," the wizened old sailor quavered, "a master ship-builder."

"I'm going to see if there is a hole after all," Smitty interjected as he left the cabin.

"I really don't think there was any master ship-builder," Chesnutt argued, "I don't think that arguing that there was helps us in any way." A few sailors grunted in agreement.

"I happen to believe that this master ship-builder was quite good," the balding sailor's pate shone in the light of the lantern swinging from the ceiling.

"Quite good," echoed the wizened old sailor.

"I don't think the master ship-builder would design a ship that would sink," the balding man explained, "I mean, he is such a good ship-builder and he wouldn't allow for a hole."

"I believe we created the hole," Hoskins said, "not the ship-builder."

"Well, the ship-builder wouldn't allow the ship to sink just because it has its hull is stuffed with our things," the balding man argued, "I mean, don't you think it's pretty arrogant to believe that the actions of a few men could affect the fate of a humungous galleon?"

The wizened sailor nodded and a few men voiced their agreement.
"The ship was not designed to carry this much weight!" Chesnutt spat in annoyance.

"He was quite a good ship-builder," the balding man repeated.

Smitty returned, his pants soaked to the hip, "There is a lot of water, perhaps there is a hole."

"You see?" Hoskins said, "Something must be done."

"Of course," the balding man said, "I don't think we caused the hole. Think about it. The ship is so wide and majestic and we are like fleas on a lion in comparison to this mighty boat. I am an insignificant speck on a great wooden galleon designed by the masterful hands of a skilled ship-builder," the balding man paused pointing wildly about the cabin, "how can we be so arrogant as to think that we can affect the condition of such an amazing piece of craftmanship?"

"We may seem small compared to this boat, but we definitely caused the hole," Chesnutt declared.

Yurk frowned, "I'm not so sure that we caused the hole. I mean, maybe it just happened."

"Having so much weight on the boat with all this water rushing in definitely does not help," Hoskins asserted.

"I think it's rubbish to say that we caused the hole!" a young pimply-faced sailor shouted.

There was a babble of marked disagreement among the sailors. Some sailors were convinced of the need to keep the oath, while others argued that their gambling needs were just too important.

"Well, there just might be a hole," Smitty said, "but I'm not convinced that all the water coming into the ship will cause it to sink."

"Absolutely!" agreed another man, "I mean, I love the sea. Just imagine how comfortable it will be for us to swim whenever we want to."

"Tell that to the men who need to sleep in the lower cabins," Hoskins said drily.

The man shrugged, "Meh, what can I do for them? None of them are here, anyhow."

"Hey old-timer!" Yurk called out to the gangly old seaman, "Didn't you say that this happened before?"

The gangly old sailor nodded, "Yep, they say tell that this boat was filled with water before on a previous voyage, long before our time. They say tell that there was a couple of flooded areas all over the ship."

"Now see here," said Hoskins, "the last time the ship took on water it was during a storm and it was only parts of the ship. Also, last time there weren't any sailors pulling up boards to use as firewood and gambling chips."

"Were you there?" pressed the gangly old man.

"No, were you?"

"No, but I knowed a man that were."

"As did I."

"If everyone would stop being so imbecilic!" called out Chesnutt, "we could . . ."

"Who are you calling imbecilical, Charlie?" Smitty reached across the table and jut a thick finger into Chesnutt's chest.

"All of ya."

The cabin exploded into a raucous argument and soon fists and bottles were flying through the air. Above the din of breaking noses, smashing bottles, curses, grunts, groans and insults Hoskins tried in vain to gain the attention of the room once more.
If they had cared to listen he was attempting to point out that the ship was beginning to list sharply to starboard. His warning, however, fell on deaf and bleeding ears. Yes, it seemed the ship was doomed to sink.


Suzanne said...

Hmm, are you really discussing something else? :) I always enjoy your dialogue John.

PietHarsevoort said...

Excellent, but bleak. Is there no hope for humanity?

John den Boer said...

Thanks Suzanne, I appreciate that.

Hey Piet, you know me: very bleak. No, I believe there is hope, I just liked the story better this way. It was really nice to see you this past weekend.

Who deh?