No. 9.—The Monster Galleon, concluded.
(Continued from Part 1.)
I WAS ASSIGNED a fleet of eight frigates and one brigantine (for luck), and after a scant week’s preparations we set sail for the green waters of the North Atlantic. All I took with me personally was my uniform, my logbook and pens, and the shepherd’s pie I had received from the Minister, which tradition dictated I should keep next to my heart until my safe return.
On my own flagship, the Mercurial, I had just about the finest crew with whom it has ever been my privilege to sail. Brave to a man, they were so completely committed to the cause of freeing the Greenland traffic from the unknown supernatural menace that, once we were rolling among the billows in the open sea, many of them turned green themselves in sympathy. The other ships in the fleet were similarly manned; and it is a tribute to their hardy crews that, in spite of the imminent danger, there was not a single full-scale mutiny in the fleet. It may also have been of some assistance that, with the exception of the captains and the navigators, the sailors were under the impression that we were headed for a three weeks’ holiday in the still-vex’d Bermoothes:—a small deception which I believe was amply justified by the hearty good spirits of the crews.
By the time the first icebergs began to appear, however, it was obvious to the crews that we had made something of a deviation from our planned course. There was a great deal of nervous mumbling among the crew of the Mercurial, and looking toward Captain Blanderson’s ship, the Fractious Nellie, I saw a number of lifeboats receding toward the horizon, which suggested that discipline had been somewhat eroded among his crew.
I was about to turn and address my crew, knowing the value of an inspiring oration in restoring a proper sense of proportion, but at that very moment there was a mighty splash, and in the middle distance arose the most appalling apparition.
From the front it appeared to be, but for its monstrous size, something like the Viking ships of yore, with a dragon figurehead whose gaping jaws seemed ready to swallow us all. I turned to order my crew to battle stations; but I might as well have been speaking to a sculpture gallery, for they were all petrified with fear and rooted to the deck.
But then the horrible monstrosity turned aside to pursue the Dieffenbachia, Captain Rumbaker’s ship, and I nearly burst out laughing. It was not a “monster galleon” at all. In fact, it was not even a ship. It was nothing but an ordinary sea monster of the serpentine variety. At once the mystery was explained, and the apparently supernatural manifestation reduced to the most prosaic of marine phenomena.
Sea serpents of the North Atlantic have a voracious appetite for frigates, so I thought it best not to dally too long in those seas. Thinking quickly, I removed the shepherd’s pie the Minister had given me from the coat pocket in which I had been storing it. By means of the extraordinarily loud two-fingered whistle I had been taught by a native of the Canary Islands, I attracted the beast’s attention; then, summoning all my force, I hurled the shepherd’s pie as far away from our fleet as I could manage. With a mighty splash, the monster turned and pursued the flying pie until it hit the water and sank, the undulating serpent diving in after it.
In the mean time, I had ordered the fleet to come about, and we sailed off as fast as the wind would carry us. Turning northward, we put in at Godthaab, and the men enjoyed a rollicking good time at the Royal Greenlandic Opera hissing the villain in Goetterdaemmerung.
Since that time, our fleets have been careful to supply themselves with large quantities of shepherd’s pies; and I understand that the creature has become quite tame, performing some rudimentary but amusing tricks for its treat, much to the delight of the simple sailors who ply those waters. It seldom eats frigates these days, and when it does the sailors severely admonish it, whereupon it displays all the symptoms of a guilty conscience, and sinks back under the water with its head held low.