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Alexander White and the Pirates (and Goblins)

Chapter 7


Goblin stories by Zsolt Kerekes

The people who worked in Portsmouth harbour were well used to seeing unusual ships of every shape and size:- from giant sea grey battleships down to pretty white sailing yachts... from tall ugly multi-decker ferries which looked like they could capsize at any minute down to sleek low profile speedboats which were the watery equivalents of Harley-Davidsons. So when Captain Feary's pirate ship sailed in through the wide harbour mouth very few heads were turned. They had seen it all before. Even when the pirate ship swept elegantly in to berth at Gunwharf Quays the shop assistants and waiters in the shops and restaurants overlooking barely blinked an eyelid.

True, they might have been more surprised if the pirates' giant shark had been towing, but Sharky always cut the shark loose in open water before they got into port. It was the pirates' secret engine and he didn't want any other pirates nicking it. The shark always came back when they returned to sea - attracted by Sharky's special shark slop soup. The pirate ship always smelled a lot nicer after the buckets of stinky sharp soup were tossed over the side. Sharky never said what was in it. The ingredients were secret. The pirates never allowed him to do any of the cooking for them - just in case he didn't know any other recipes.

"Shivermitimbers!" said Shivermitimbers as they came into dock. "They must have had a bad storm here Cap'n. The old place be full of wrecks."

"That's cos a lot of these here modern ships got no proper masts and sails" said Captain Feary. "It don't signify nothing."

He got out the mobile phone which Joanna had lent him. "Now, which button did she say I got to press? Ah - this be her." It was scratched with a tiny cross. Joanna had set it up to speed dial her home number. "When you hear me stop speaking - you just say something" - she had told him. That way she would get the message even if she was out at work. "Whatever you do, don't get off the ship until I come along. I don't want you getting lost or arrested." Captain Feary heard her voice coming through the phone and then settled down to wait.

It wasn't more than half an hour before Joanna came alongside in a rented jolly boat. As he stepped ashore and walked to the waiting car a little boy said to his mother, "Look mum! That's a real pirate."

"He's probably an actor from one of them films" she said and tugged him towards the sign saying "Royal Naval Museum."

He tugged back. "But the pirate ship looks real."

She tugged back. "It's a replica." He tugged again, but she retorted with "We're going to see some real old navy ships. Now come along." She tugged harder.

The boy thought that the pirate ship looked real enough but his pull weakened because his mother had planted the seeds of doubt in his mind. Then he saw the pirate get into a car with a lady. It wasn't a shiny limo but a muddy four by four, not the kind of car he thought would greet a film star or a pirate. So he gave up the struggle and his hand went limp. He was right about the pirate ship being real but his mother was bigger and could always tug harder. So he got to see the Victory and Mary Rose as planned and would have to wait till another day to see the pirate ship.

It was only a few minutes drive to the imposing Tudor buildings in Southsea which were the headquarters of the venerable law firm of B and C. Joanna took Captain Feary into reception and buzzed Andrew's secretary.

"You just wait here. Sorry I can't wait" she said , already starting to feel itchy. "I've got to get the car fumigated."

Joanna's husband, Andrew was still recovering from his knee injury and had kept his work schedule light. So Captain Feary was collected and escorted almost straight away to see the senior partner in B and C. You can picture the scene when they met. Andrew on crutches, Captain Feary in his best pirate suit with an eye patch and polished tricorner hat. The only thing missing, thought Andrew's secretary, Marion, was a parrot squawking - "pieces of eight."

"Is there anything I can get?" she asked.

"Er yes. Just that special tea that we discussed earlier. I think I'll have a little glass as well."

Marion went to get the bottles of rum and the two men sized each other up. Andrew held out his hand. Captain Feary spat on his palm, wiped it on his coat to clean it and then clasped Andrew's hand in a firm handshake.

"Andrew White" said Andrew "Alexander's father. Jolly good to see you. Thanks for rescuing my son." He squeezed hard.

White? I thought Alex said his name were Woyte. My hearing ain't what it used to be - the Captain said to himself, mentally pronouncing 'White' as 'Woyte' in a strong Hampshire accent just as young Alex had done. Like all the young children who went to the village school in Privett Alex had picked up a coarse rustic accent which only the passage of time and later (more expensive) schools would eventually rub off.

"Captain Feary at your service. 'T'were nothing. He's a good lad. Make a fine pirate."

I hope not - thought Andrew - but didn't say anything.

Captain Feary squeezed back. It was a contest. Captain Feary could squeeze hard because of all the exercise he got wielding his cutlass. Although we have seen in an earlier story that Andrew himself was a dab hand with a cutlass, his grip was not as strong as it used to be. It had weakened from years of gripping the reins of a horse. But he could still give as good as he got. They were still squeezing but hadn't reached the crunchy stage when Marion came back wheeling a drinks trolley on which stood a dozen assorted litre bottles of rum. The two men nodded to each other and let go at the same time.

"Would you mind opening the bottles Marion, and pouring please" Andrew said. His hand was feeling a bit numb and he didn't think he could unscrew the tops. As previously instructed, his secretary filled a vase with rum and also a small sherry glass. Then she left both men on their own.

Andrew motioned to Captain Feary to take the vase, as it needed two hands to lift, while he took up the glass for himself.

"Your very good health" said Andrew raising his drink for a toast.

They clinked glasses and as Andrew sipped his rum, he watched in admiration as the pirate captain swallowed the whole contents of the vase in one easy fluid motion. Feary thought the rum tasted good but was a bit on the weak side. He gave a polite burp of satisfaction and shook the last few drops out onto the carpet.

"Do help yourself to some more" said Andrew "and take a seat."

Feary did help himself to a refill but instead of sitting down, as expected, he paced slowly around Andrew's office studying the old pictures on the walls and the faded patterns in the wallpaper. It looked like he was searching for something.

There was a small Victorian painting of a shepherd and nymphs hanging on the right of the door frame. Feary put down his vase and carefully removed the painting. But he wasn't looking at the artwork - but at the dark patch of wall behind - in the centre of which there was a small black hole. With a grunt of satisfaction he carefully replaced the picture, lining it up with the outline of the faded wallpaper. Then he retrieved his drink and sat down.

Andrew was intrigued by this odd behaviour. As far as he knew that painting had never been moved in living memory - or even longer. The decor, including his desk, went back into the mists of time. This room, with its furnishings, had always been the office of the senior partner of B and C. It was a tradition of the old firm - going back to the days of its founding.

"The old place ain't changed much" said Feary at last, and then he genteelly and slowly sipped just half a vase of rum while elegantly crooking his little finger out as if drinking a cup of tea. Andrew waited for him to elaborate, but Feary seemed to be enjoying a private joke. He smiled and remained silent for a minute or so. Then he broke out of his reverie.

"The old place ain't changed much" he said again. "I thought it might be when I came in. But the street is all different. Couldn't be sure. But that mark behind the picture settles it."

Almost bursting with curiosity Andrew got to his feet and hopped to the door. Then, leaning against the wall, he pulled the nymphs aside and looked at the stain behind. He ran his finger along the dark patch in the middle.

"Bullet hole" said Feary, by way of explanation. "That be the place where Mr B's bullet struck when he fought his duel with Mr C."

Andrew eased the picture back and started looking behind another one.

"No point in looking any further Mr Whoyte. The other ball went out the window. Mr B and Mr C were both lousy shots. But they were the best lawyers a hard working pirate like myself could ever wish for."

It was the old story - Feary explained - of two young men smitten in love with the same girl. Matters had come to such a head that the two founding partners of B and C fought a duel over her, here in this office. Being lawyerly minded, they had first made out signed statements to absolve whomsoever survived from any harmful consequences. The surviving suitor would have a free rein to pursue the object of his affections without intereference from the law and would also inherit the business. They had both fired once and missed. One shot hit the wall, the other went out the window killing a rat in the street.

On hearing the shots their chief scribe rushed into the office to see what the commotion was all about. On learning this information he agreed that the partners should both reload and fire again, contiuning in this vein till they reached a terminal conclusion.

"But wait a minute" said the scribe before proceeding. "Pray tell me the wench's name."

Messrs B and C both declined. Honour was involved. But the scribe pressed his case. "If either of you is shot dead then the other is free to woo her. But what if both of you are killed? She may never know what happened or why."

"That's a good point" agreed both B and C who had been too emotionally involved to think about this logical possibility. They told him the address of the lady in question.

"I think I know the address - but can you not tell me the girl's name?"

"Trixy" said Mr B.

"No, Dixy" said Mr C.

"I'm sure it was Trixy I saw you strolling out on the beach with on Monday" said Mr B.

"And I'm sure it was Dixy I saw you promenading down the street with on Tuesday" said Mr C.

"I didn't realise I had a deaf lugs for a partner" said Mr B.

"And I didn't realise that my partner was an imbecile" said Mr C.

They both went to reload their pistols and were about to start shooting again when the scribe bravely stepped between them.

"You're both making a terrible mistake" he said. "Has either of your worships ever asked your intended whether she has a twin sister?"

No they hadn't. And they agreed to suspend the duel while they waited the outcome of this inquiry.

"It turned out" said Feary "Trixy and Dixy were twin sisters. Both pretty. Both jealous. Trixy never told Mr B about Dixy and Dixy never told Mr C about Trixy. Both feared the other sister might nab her man. But in the end it turned out alright. Mr B and Mr C settled their quarrel, married the sisters and swore never to let anything interfere with their partnership. And as a reminder lest they forget - that mark in the wall where the bullet was lodged should never be filled in. And sometimes when they were in their cups they said that the firm of B and C would last as long as the hole in the wall remained."

"That's a good story" said Andrew. "But what was your connection with the original Messrs B and C?"

"They were my lawyers" said Feary "and I entrusted them to keep me from hanging, leastways here in Ponty, and to keepsafe some monies of mine."

The cellars beneath the old houses which joined to make up the head office of B and C contained miles of archive shelving going back hundreds of years. It had never been thought necessary to electrify the oldest passages when the place was rewired in the 1960s, so it was not possible for the cleaners to enter these dark recesses. Andrew had been taken to the start of the gloomy tunnel which housed the oldest records when he had come to join the firm about twenty years ago, and even then the entrance had looked dark and was festooned with cobwebs. Like most lawyers, Andrew had a good memory so when he sent his secretary down to find the oldest customer ledgers she could find he gave her some practical advice.

"Marion, before you go down, take some money from petty cash and buy a torch and a walking stick."

"What's the stick for?" she asked, thinking - uneven floor.

"For clearing a path through the cobwebs" he said, then a kindly paternalistic afterthought. "Oh, and when you come back - take the rest of the day off. Go home and put in an expense claim for dry cleaning all your clothes."

If you have ever had a kitten you'll know that when they are very little they sometimes explore under furnitures that hasn't moved in years. When it resurfaces it looks quite unlike the charming silky smooth creature which went in to explore - covered in dust and cobwebs, dried moths and crinkly leaves. But it looks happy because it's found a mysterious world where no one else has been. It would be stretching the truth to say that Marion looked happy when she re-emerged from the vaults. She looked quite unlike the smart legal secretary who had set off on this errand and looked more like a human duster covered with fluff and ickie bits. She had lost the walking stick which had got stuck in something and wouldn't come out. But she had found the oldest ledger. When she thumped it down on Andrew's desk the leather tome sent up a burst of dust. She sneezed and a cloud of white puff hovered around her. Andrew and Captain Feary stepped back out of the way.

"Thank you Marion. Take tomorrow off as well" said Andrew. "And charge the firm for a hairdo and manicure too."

His secretary had a mummified moth in her hair as she would find when she looked in a mirror and sticky white clods were clinging to her shoes.

"And buy a new pair of shoes too." Andrew believed in keeping good staff relations. When she had gone he started leafing through the heavy pages.

"Ah here we have it. Pirates - accounts." Andrew was surprised to see how many clients the old firm had in this category. Most of the entries looked like any ledger - but where there was a final balance there were little symbols against some of the names that he couldn't quite make out.

"Any idea what these mean?" he asked Captain Feary, who couldn't read normal writing but adjusted his eye patch before having a look see.

"Ah that be Mr B's symbol for - lost at sea. And that be Mr C's symbol for hung."

"What an interesting shorthand, yes I can see you're right. Yes here we have some entries for a Captain F."

"That were my alias" said Feary. So the law couldn't hold nothing against me."

"Most ingenious" said Andrew. "Well it appears that we are holding for you a box in our safe. It's been moved a few times in the last few hundred years, but it should be quite easy to find. I'll need your signature though as proof of identity." He handed the pirate a chit and a goose quill pen. Feary signed his name with a flourish. Then Andrew compared the new signature with the old one in the ledger. Apart from the colour, the old one being faded brown, and the new one being jet black, the two X's looked identical. "No doubt about it" said Andrew. "Do you want to check the contents? I'll go and fetch it, then we can discuss what to do next."

The walk in safe was on the ground floor due to the fact it was so heavy, it had not been thought advisable to place it any higher or prudent to locate it any lower. Andrew had the key and the combination and he was quickly able to find a small box marked with the registration numbers from the ledger. It was very heavy and he had to call for assistance to have it carried back to his office. The box was placed on his desk and inside was another smaller box which was black and made of iron. It was locked.

"I have the key" said Feary. He reached under his shirt and pulled it out. It was sticky and wouldn't turn. So Feary dipped the key in his rum. That seemed to loosen the mechanism. "An old pirate trick" he said. "When you're at sea things often rust up."

"I shall have to remember it" said Andrew.

The key turned with a click but the lid stayed stuck. Feary turned the box so that its hinged side was sitting on the desk. Then looked around the office.

"Mind if I borrow this?" he said lifting a legal tome from the shelves.

"Be my guest" said Andrew.

Feary took out a dagger from underneath his coat and inserted the wicked blade into the crack of the box under the lock.

"Just need to ease her a bit" he said by way of explanation. Then he wacked the handle of the dagger with the book. The blade spun around and flew across the room burying itself in the carpet. But it had done its work. The lid was open. And out poured a heap of gold coins.

"Very impressive" said Andrew. "I'll have to remember that trick too - when I have trouble opening a tin of biscuits."

Feary pulled his knife out of the carpet and put the heavy book tidily back on the shelf.

"Are you going to count them?" said Andrew.

"No need." said Feary putting the spilt gleaming disks back into the chest. "I knows the count off by heart. One hundred and twenty four gold sovereigns and a few small trinkets."

He picked out the largest diamond Andrew had ever seen in his life, dipped it in his rum to wash it and wiped it on his sleeve. He held it up to his good eye facing the light from the window. "It were my pension. Not sure what it's worth now." He put the diamond back and relocked the case.

"Quite a lot I should think. Not as currency - but the gold must be worth a small fortune. Normally that would create some difficulty. You can't just walk into a bank and say I've got a stash of gold that's mysteriously appeared out of nowhere. We've got new laws aimed at money laundering so the banks would immediately notify the authorities. But, as your gold has been locked in our vaults these last few hundred years, and we've got the records to prove it - there shouldn't be any trouble at all. Your pirate gold through the miracle of bookkeeping and the passage of time has become legitimate."

"I'm pleased to hear it - but that brings me to a painful matter" said Feary suddenly realising that his vase was nearly empty.

"Oh do help yourself. There's plenty more. And I'll have another drop too."

"Thankee" said Feary. But he struggled with opening the new bottle's screw top which hadn't been invented in his day. So he got out his knife again stabbed a hole in the cap and twisted it round to create a good sized pouring hole. Before pouring he swished the contents of his vase round and emptied the dregs on the floor.

"Germs" he said. "Your wife told me about they little buggers. Don't want to catch no germs off that dirty old diamond."

"A wise precaution" said Andrew. "Cheers." And they had another toast to each other's good health.

"Yes, Joanna, she said I should talk to thee about two important matters, the first of which is - what be our chances of getting off being hung? In my day it used to take a goodly amount of gold to pay off the judge - on account of the pirating we done. We was famous pirates me and the lads. And the more famous we were the more it cost to get let off. I mean would the contents of that little box there be enough to get a pardon for me and my crew?" At this he winked. "Or would it just be enough to get one of us off? If you catch my drift. I needs to know."

"It doesn't go on how famous you are any more. The law has moved on in that respect. Knowing you were coming I looked up the law on piracy etc. But it wasn't very clear on all the particulars of your case. So I took the liberty of talking to a retired judge, good friend of mine. We go hunting together from time to time. Anonymously of course, I didn't mention your name, just said it was hypothetical. I said - what if someone turns up out of the blue after stealing a bunch of ships and treasure and making the passengers walk the plank and all that sort of thing - where does he stand with regard to the law?

Well - we don't hang 'em any more. He says. But it sounds very much like a clear case of piracy to me. Probably mean life imprisonment. No chance of parole.

Ah - says I - just what I thinking - but there is a complicating factor.

Go on - he says.

What if? - He turns up. Admits it all - no doubt about it - just the sort of chap who would do it. But what if there was a legal loophole involved. Could he get an amnesty - and get off scot free?

Loophole? He says. Eyebrows lifting. What loophole? Piracy is piracy. He's going to jail. Bollocks to an amnesty. Not with any court I know. I know the law's been going soft but murder is murder. And from what you hinted at on the phone earlier this chap's done a lot of murdering. If he came into my old court he'd get hard labour too and a good flogging.

But what if - this anonymous chap I'm talking about - was doing it in sixteen hundred and something - when pirating was the normal thing for a chap like him to do. No doubt they'd hang him if they found him then?

No question about it -says the judge. Probably wouldn't even get to court - if the navy got him at sea. String him up in a flash.

OK, now let's suppose that this pirate was frozen in a block of ice - but then he wakes up a few hundred years later - walks openly down the high street and says - I was this here pirate in sixteen hundred and something and I admit I did wrong - but I'm not going to sin no more. Can the law touch him today?

Interesting - says the judge.

Very - say I.

Hypothetical? Says the judge.

Well he's not walking the streets of Portsmouth today. But he might be soon. And he'd like to know how safe it would be to walk about without fear of getting arrested.

How do you know he won't go back to being a pirate again?

I think he could be persuaded that his old trade wouldn't work today. Instead I could help set him up in a new trade and he could see out his days as a reformed character.

Hm - says the judge. So you'd be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

He's done a good deed already - says I. Saved a boy from drowning.

Very commendable - says the judge. But the law is blind. There's only one sentence for murder and the statute of limitations doesn't apply.

Just what I thought - says I. Doesn't matter how many years ago a murder was committed, it's still murder. Doesn't matter if you're an old age pensioner you're still liable to be prosecuted.

Except - says the judge.

Except? - says I.

Witnesses! - says the judge. Did any of them get frozen too? If there aren't any witnesses - everything else is circumstantial.

Yes - but there's still the problem of the evidence - says I.

But you know I don't think much evidence collected even fifty years ago would stand up to the rigourous tests we apply in the courts today. If the evidence in this case goes back hundreds of years I think it's more a case for the history books than the law courts. No I think you'd better tell your pirate friend when he sails in that provided he keeps his nose clean from now on the crown prosecution service won't touch him.

I'm sure he'll be relieved to hear that. But there are a few minor complications remaining - says I.

Such as?

What if he did a few minor misdemeanours since he thawed out like making someone walk the plank and firing cannon balls at a nuclear submarine?

I've heard rumours about some funny goings on with a submarine and battleship from my navy contacts - says the judge. The navy won't take up the case. They'd be a laughing stock.

But what if someone was accidentally made to walk the plank and then got eaten by a shark?

Can't prosecute the shark - says the judge. It's just death by natural causes. But your anonymous pirate friend should start feeding his shark fish or beef. No more people.

Thank you - says I.

Is that it? Says the judge. You know Andrew I look forward to meeting this mysterious client of yours. I'll tell you what. When your hypothetical pirate comes to Portsmouth bring him down to my club. Sounds like an interesting chap."

"So what do all that legal prattle mean?" said Feary. "We be in the clear or no?"

"No witnesses!" said Andrew. "You be in the clear - to use your vernacular - unless your crew mates want to testify against each other."

Captain Feary laughed. "I be their Captain. My lads'll say whatever I tells 'em. "

"And what will that be?"

"I'll tell 'em that our pirating days they be over. That we're going to become law abiding Hampshire squires of the parish and keep our noses clean."

"Let's drink to that" said Andrew. And so they did. And when the rum ran out they took a taxi back to the pirate ship and carried on the celebration there.

The next day Andrew woke on the deck with a headache. At some stage during the evening before - he had lost his crutches. He looked up and saw them tied to the top of the mast.

"How did those get there?" he said to himself.

"Thee did that thyself." Said Feary patting him on the shoulder. "When you started drinking our rum you said it made you feel better. You climbed up the mast like a barrel monkey and tied the crutches to the forsal. And then you scrambled down and celebrated being able to walk better. But the walking better didn't last long before ye fell over again like the rest of us."

Andrew got to his feet. They were a bit unsteady. But the pain from his knee injury had gone.

"Do you still have my wife's mobile phone?" he asked. The Captain handed it over.

"Joanna? It's Andrew. Everything's sorted out with the pirates, my knee's better and I'm coming home."

"You're not going back to office today then?" she asked.

Map of Privett etc

"I think I might need to stay out of Marion's hair for a few days. I'll tell you all about it when I get home."

"Are you bringing the pirates with you too? Alexander and the goblins are dying to meet them again."

"We'd love to come" said Feary who had heard that.

"Take a taxi" said Joanna. "And go the stables first. I'll take some clean clothes round there and you can all have a scrub down before coming to the house. I don't want you giving fleas to the children. Oh - Alexander want to say something on the phone to the Captain."

Andrew handed the phone to Captain Feary.

"Shivermitimbers!" said Alex. And they all had good laugh at that.

A few months later it was the school summer holidays and a new attraction had opened in Portsmouth harbour to provide entertainment for the thousands of visitors to the historic old port. The freshly painted black sign with the jolly roger was nailed below the old navy sign pointing to the Royal Naval Museum. It said "Pirate Ship Excursion" and a skeleton finger pointed the way.

The young boy and his mother who had tussled over whether to see the genuine old navy ships or the pirate ship earlier in this story were reading about the new pirate ship trip in the tour brochure. As they climbed on board a green arm could be seen shutting a door closed. There was the sound of a lock being bolted."

"Look mum! That's a real goblin. I saw a real goblin in that door."

His mother looked at the sign -which said "Private. No admittance."

"Don't be silly" said his mother. "There's no such thing as goblins. Now let's go on and enjoy our tour." She tugged him away to follow their guide - a pretty young women with a foreign accent and a Greenpeace T-shirt.

"My name is Helga, and I am your tour guide. Please come with me."

"Excuse me miss, I saw a goblin. he went in that door."

"Don't mind him" said his mum. "He sometimes sees things that aren't there. He's got an overworked imagination. Doesn't get enough exercise."

"Oh but we do have some visiting goblins" said Helga. "But they aren't part of the tour. Now please come this way to see the pirate cannons. we will be firing them at the navy ships in a few minutes."

The navy ships were parked on the other side of the dock.

"Don't they mind?" asked the mother a bit surprised.

"They always bounce off" said Helga. "The navy men say it is a good test of their armour plating and if we ever manage to make a real hole in their battleship they will take us out for a party. They don't know that today we are putting in extra gunpowder - so they might get a big surprise."

"That sounds smashing" said the boy and forgot all about the goblins.

The boy was right about the goblins of course. Alexander and his goblins were visiting the pirates that day and they would all come out on deck later for a cruise when the tourists had all gone home. His parents knew that in the care of the pirates and goblins he wouldn't come to any harm.

the end

About the story. I started writing this story in March 2001, with the idea of creating a short story length sequel to Alexander Woyte and the Goblins. But it got completely out of control and became novel like in length as I fell in love with some of the characters. It also changed from being a children's story to one which is more suitable for older children and adults. I kept picking up the story over the years and leaving it - at the same time starting others - which will appear one day on this website. So I was mightily pleased to finish it on August 30, 2004 - which is when it appeared here. I hope you've enjoyed it and will tell your friends to come to goblinsearch.com to read more of my scribbles.

goblinsearch.com, concept, stories and text copyright © 2000 to 2004 Zsolt Kerekes

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This is a work of fiction. All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to actual goblins living or dead is purely coincidental or due to ensorclement beyond our control