A/N: Consider yourself forewarned: this chapter is not for the very squeamish. ;)
Of Chickens and Spilled Milk
By Kayden Eidyak
The next few days went much the same. Jack got somewhat better at all his tasks, but by the time the fifth day had passed, he spent every waking minute that he wasn't doing chores or fixing things around the farm praying Anamaria would come back with his ship.
On Saturday, Bryan helped Jack hitch the horses to the plow. The boy set him to work, turning the dirt in the small strip of land they called a field. The pirate soon found that it was infested with rocks and hillocks of stubborn grass with root systems that went six feet down.
According to Bryan, he was supposed to make nice, neat, straight furrows. The horses had other things in mind, however, and by the time he was done, it looked like a dire attempt to turn the dirt to waves.
Bryan had Jack start chores early while he fixed the "lines."
Glad to be through with plowing, Jack swaggered down the barn isle to feed the animals first, rather than milk the cows, because Bryan said that they had to be kept on a schedule for them to give the most milk.
As he tossed hay into Nessley's pen, he noticed a distinct lack of her head hanging over the gate. Leaning the pitchfork against the wall, he looked into the pen and saw Nessley in the corner, lying partly on her side, her flank heaving with heavy breaths.
"What's the matter, lass?" he asked, slipping inside and kneeling by her head. He patted her side. "Has that kid of yours decided it's a mite too cramped in there?" he asked her with a glint of golden teeth.
Then Jack got up and ran full speed back to the field to fetch the expert on cows and their ways.
Bryan pushed back his straw hat and wiped his brow. "Something wrong, Nathan?"
"Nessley, I think she's gonna pop."
Bryan grinned. "Well, it's about time. Hold on, I've only got a couple more strips to do."
Jack stood around nervously, glancing over his shoulder down the hill to the barn every twenty seconds.
"Calm down there, Nathan," Bryan said with a mischievous grin. "You act as if it was your own child."
Jack scowled as Bryan turned the horses around to do the last furrow. At last he was finished and they led the horses back to the barn. He helped Bryan unhitch and rub them down.
"All right. Let's take a look at the mama-to-be," Bryan said at last, brushing the dirt off his hands.
"Oh, yep. She's going have it today," the boy agreed, surveying the cow that was now standing and pawing at the straw in agitation. "Keep an eye on her. I'm going to get the goats and cows."
Jack nodded nervously. "What if something happens?" he asked to Bryan's retreating back.
"Just come get me if anything goes amiss. I'll only be a moment."
That somehow didn't comfort Jack.
Bryan came back a few minutes later with the cows ahead and four goats in tow. While Bryan penned the goats, Jack leapt nimbly off his perch atop Nessley's gate and tied up the cows.
"Where's the other goat?" Jack asked.
"I don't know," Bryan panted. "I have to go look for him," he added, turning to leave.
"Wot? You're going to leave me here with her?" he asked, jerking a thumb towards Nessley.
"It'll be fine," Bryan assured him. He noticed Nathan didn't look convinced. "Look, if it starts to come out you'll see two hooves and a nose. If there's only one foot, or no feet or both feet and no nose it's probably stuck."
Jack's jaw dropped. "But that's not going to happen is it?" he asked, a note of panic touching his voice.
"No, of course not. I'll be back way before then," Bryan said. "But just in case." He turned to go again.
He turned back, looking as though he was about to start screaming at the older man for delaying him while his goat may be injured or dying.
"What?" he shouted exasperatedly.
"What do I do if that happens?" Jack asked desperately.
Bryan rolled his eyes and slipped through the gate back to the pasture. "Just reach in there an pull it out."
Jack was rendered speechless.
"You mean, like inside!"
Bryan came back and stood right in front of Jack so he understood everything perfectly.
"If something goes wrong," he began very slowly, Jack hanging of every word, "Stick your hand in carefully and reposition the calf so ideally, it's got both feet and nose coming first. All right?"
"What if it's backwards?" Jack asked, the idea suddenly occurring to him.
"Nathan, I don't have time to sit around discussing calf birthing to you. Now, it'll be fine. Don't worry, I'll be right back!"
And before Jack could protest, the boy left, running out into the pasture as though his life depended on it.
If Mr. and Mrs. Sunders had been there, he would have run to the house as though his life depended on it to tell them what was going on. But they were intown at the market so Jack was quite alone.
To pass time, he began milking the cows. Every little moo or moan from Nessley had him up to check on her. An hour or so passed and all the cows were milked, and the calves fed. Bryan wasn't back yet.
The pirate leaned against the gate watching Nessley pushing and straining, her sides heaving. Jack was to the point of nail-biting and hair-pulling when Nessley stood up and, just as Bryan had said, her could see a nose, a foot and…
"Oh, bloody hell," Jack muttered, slapping his forehead. He knew this would happen.
He waited several more minutes but there was no progression. Jack ran to the gate and peered out into the dusk, praying that Bryan would be coming up the hill with his goat, but he saw no sight of him.
"Damn!" he hissed, rolling up his sleeve past his elbow.
Grabbing a length of rope, he fashioned a sort of halter the way Bryan had showed him a couple days ago and slipped over the cow's head, tying it to a beam in the wall. He stood behind the cow where still a single little hoof and most of a nose poked out.
There was no room for his hand, let alone his entire arm. He was sure of it. He took hold of the slippery hoof and pulled experimentally on it. Nothing happened. That obviously wasn't going to work. There was nothing for it except to go in. Noticing the ring on his finger, the idea suddenly occurred to Jack that he should take it off, lest it get lost inside. He pulled it off and stuffed it in his pocket, before slipping his hand down along the side of the calf's nose.
Nessley shifted uncomfortably.
"Easy there, lass," Jack said soothingly.
He closed his eyes and felt around desperately for the baby's other foot. After what seemed like hours, he found the leg tucked under its chest, wedging the calf tightly against the cow's pelvis.
The cow strained again, and Jack felt his arm being smashed on all sides by warm slimy muscle.
On the brink of panic, Jack wondered if that was normal and grimaced as the feeling sent shivers up his arm and down his spine.
When his arm was once again free, Jack started easing the calf's foot out as carefully as he could. Progress was incredibly slow and sweat was pouring down Jack's back and dripping off his nose before the tiny hoof emerged. Grabbing hold of both feet, he pulled very slowly, the calf starting to slip forward slightly.
"Yes, come on there, little fella," Jack encouraged, as its head followed the feet.
The shoulders passed with only minimal resistance. After that, the entire calf slid out at a speed that surprised Jack to where he didn't have time to catch the creature before it hit the ground.
Jack dropped to his knees and pulled the calf's head out from under its body. It lay there motionless.
"Come on," he whispered to the little brown wet thing that lay in front of him.
What should he do? Jack wondered, desperately wracking his brain for a solution.
An image flitted through his mind: A woman sitting on the floor near a fireplace, a cat with a litter of newborn kittens before her. The woman rubbed vigorously at the kitten with a cloth. Jack smiled slightly at one of the few remaining memories of his mother long since dead.
Flinging his hat off, Jack snatched his headscarf and began wiping briskly at the calf's nose. Tossing the scarf aside, he removed his shirt he began rubbing the calf's chest for all he was worth.
The calf jerked. Then it kicked, coughing and spluttering. Using the sleeve of his shirt, Jack wiped out the inside of the calf's mouth. It continued to sneeze and cough, trying to clear its airway of fluids.
Nessley mooed and tugged at the rope. Jack crawled over and untied her. She swung around and began licking at her baby.
Finally the tawny creature lifted its head and mooed pathetically. Jack breathed a sigh of relief and fell back against the wall, panting.
Jack struggled to his feet as Bryan peered over the gate.
"Everything all right?"
"I swear, I'm going to kill you," Jack gasped, wagging a finger at the boy.
Bryan caught sight of Jack's bloody and slimy hands, shirt and headscarf and grinned despite himself.
"Don't you smirk at me young man," Jack said in mock anger, raising his arm and cuffing the boy playfully on the head.
Bryan laughed and stepped back. His laughter ended abruptly and he stared at Jack's arm.
Jack followed the boy's gaze and saw that his sparrow tattoo and pirate brand were in clear view.
"Oh, dammit," Jack groaned, whacking his head against the wall.
"You're a pirate?" the boy asked, eyes wide.
"Aye lad. That I am. Now you're going to run off and tell you daddy, aren't you?" he asked, sliding down to sit on the straw.
The boy hefted himself up so he was hanging on the gate looking down at Jack. "Nah, I won't tell him. Always thought there was something funny 'bout you. You're all right, though."
"Didja find your goat?"
"Oh, yes. He went through some brambles and stuck his head through the fence, so it took me forever to find him and even longer to get to him, and then I still had to free him."
"I see. Well, I better get cleaned up and my shirt washed, so no one else learns me secret, savvy?"
At the dinner table that night, Bryan animatedly told his parents of Jack's first calving experience, while Jack tried unsuccessfully to disappear behind his hair in embarrassment. True to his word, Bryan did not mention a word about Jack being a pirate.
Jack had been there for ten days and was really beginning to wonder where Anamaria and Gibbs and the rest of his crew were. As well as he was settling in, the sea was his home and he was beginning to miss it.
During a moment of spare time, Jack set off at a trot down the hill to survey the ships in the harbor, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Black Pearl. He stared off into the horizon, a slightly forlorn look on his face, willing himself to see smoky sails.
He saw none.
He trodded back up the hill, somewhat dejectedly, when a horrible thought occurred to him: Suppose Norrington had decided to capture the Pearl's entire crew even if he didn't find Jack on board?
Jack stopped and turned back around and set off to the pub where Mr. Sunders worked. The door still squealed when he opened it and both Tom and Mr. Sunders looked up.
"Cummins? What are you doing here?" Mr. Sunders asked.
"Oh, I was just in for a bit o' rum and the latest news."
Tom poured Jack a glass of rum.
"I suppose you have been up on that hill for a while without coming down," Mr. Sunders mused.
Jack nodded agreeably.
"As for news," Mr. Sunders scratched his chin thoughtfully. "I haven't heard much. Have you, Tom?"
"No, not a scrap of news from anywhere," the old man wheezed. "We never hear anything out here on this little island,"
Jack finished off the rest of his rum.
"Ah well. I best be off." He tipped his hat to the two men and left the little building.
After another week had passed, Jack was getting very close to telling the Sunders that he could stay no longer, and set off in search of the Black Pearl himself.
Another thought then struck Jack and it filled him with memories of terror. What if this had all along been some elaborate plan for mutiny? Over two weeks he had sat here biding his time, while his crew could be half way across the ocean.
Jack flopped to the ground under his usual tree in a state of utter despair.
"Jack Sparrow, is that you?"
Jack's head whipped up and spun around to see none other than Anamaria, Gibbs and Mr. Cotton come striding over the crest of the hill. His jaw dropped and he was completely speechless.
The first thing out of his mouth ended up being one of his most stupidest thoughts: "You didn't mutiny," he managed to say.
The three looked oddly at him.
"You actually though we…" Anamaria's voice trailed off. "Jack Sparrow, I should slap you!"
"The entire crew's been looking for you for the last three days!"
"But I've been here the whole time," Jack insisted. "You said you'd come find me!"
The three crewmembers shifted guiltily.
"It seems that Mr. Sanders has a brother," Anamaria began.
"Aye, and he usually ran the pub," Gibbs noted.
"Yes, usually, but he was taken ill a few weeks ago and his brother, James, has been filling in for him."
Jack gulped, willing himself to stay calm. "You mean you sent me to the wrong person!" he gasped.
"We're sorry, Jack, we didn't know. But you should have realized something was amiss when you met a Mr. Sunders waiting for his farmhand. I can't believe you thought we'd put you through that," she finished.
"But I thought that was part of the disguise," Jack protested.
"Honestly, Jack. You should know me better than that."
Jack stood up and brought himself up to his full height.
"Do you have any idea what I've been through?" he practically shouted.
"I can only imagine, but we don't have time to talk about it. We have to go before someone sees us."
"But I can't leave. I have to help Bryan with chores when he gets home from school."
"Oh, come on, Jack. We don't have time for this, let's go."
"No, just go back to the ship. I'll be there later this afternoon."
Anamaria pursed her lips and glared at him. "You're impossible Jack Sparrow. Three weeks ago I couldn't get you off the ship and now I can't get you back on it." She sighed. "All right. We have to leave first thing in the morning though."
"Excuse me," a voice from behind said uncertainly.
Jack's rescuers whirled around and Jack stood on tiptoe to see over their heads.
"I'm looking for a Mr. James Sunders," a young man with tousled brown hair and pale blue eyes said, peering closely at a scrap of paper.
"Ah, you must be the new farm hand," Jack said pushing past his crewmates. "We were expecting you two weeks ago."
"Yes, the ship I was on got wrecked in a storm and it took me this long to get here."
"Ah yes. Well, let me introduce you to Mrs. Sunders."
He led the man to the house while Anamaria, Gibbs and Mr. Cotton watched with some amount of disbelief before setting back down the hill.
"Are you Mr. Sunders?" the man asked.
"Um, no. Definitely not. I'm just the old farm hand."
"Oh, I'm sorry to have kept you waiting."
"Not to worry, no harm done. I do believe Mr. Sunders is also inside having lunch, so you'll be able to meet him straight away as well."
"Oh, good," the real Nathan Cummins said cheerfully.
Jack opened the door. "Your farmhand's here at last," he called in the door.
Penny and James stopped eating and stared. Something they seemed to be doing a lot since the arrival of this outlandish man.
"What are you talking about, Mr. Cummins?" James asked, getting a very odd look from the newcomer.
"Honestly, mate. You didn't really think I was your farmhand, now did you? I mean, I couldn't even milk a cow before Bryan showed me how. But I do want to thank you because without my time here, I never would have got quite the experience that I've had, so I really am grateful. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm sure this lad here is absolutely famished and I do believe he has quite the tale to tell."
Jack tipped his hat to the trio. "'Ta!"
He stepped through the door and closed it behind him, leaving the Sunders and new farmhand still staring at the spot Jack had been.
Jack set off at a run to the barn. He had to say goodbye to the cows, of course. He patted each on the head in turn and even accepted a sticky kiss from the calf he helped deliver. He tipped his hat to the goats, the horses, sheep and pigs and even the chickens.
"G'day, Pirate," Jack said waving to the dog, at his usual post under the porch.
Down the hill he went as fast as his feet could go. He ran up the steps to the schoolhouse and opened the door quietly. The teacher's explanation of six hundred and twenty two divided by eighty-seven was cut short when she noticed a bedraggled, longhaired creature poking his head in the door.
"May I talk to Bryan? I've a message from his father."
The teacher nodded to Bryan, who got up and looked at Jack questioningly. He followed Jack outside, sitting on the bottom-most step next to him.
"Something wrong, Nathan? Is Da all right?" He asked, worried.
"Yes lad, everything's fine. That was a lie" Jack toyed with the end of his sash, wondering how best to put this. "You know how I'm a pirate, right?"
"Well, I came here on accident. I was never supposed to be your farmhand. My crew came today and I'm sailing out first thing tomorrow morning." He glanced at the boy who had a rather expressionless look on his face.
"Who's going to help with chores?" Bryan asked.
"Well, this works out perfectly, because the real farm hand arrived today. So you'll have a new one to train," Jack added with a twisted smile.
"You never milked forty cows a day, did you?" the boy said with a smirk.
"Lad, before I came here, I had never even touched a cow."
"Well, that's all right. You turned out just fine."
"Well Bryan, I best be off." He stood up and patted the boy on the shoulder.
"Wait, can I see your ship?" Bryan asked.
"'Fraid not, lad. You've got long division to finish from the sound of it," Jack said, wrinkling his nose in distaste.
The boy sighed. "All right then, Nathan. Maybe we'll see each other again someday."
"Maybe," Jack agreed with a wink.
"Wait," the boy said again. "What's your real name?"
Jack bent over so he was eye level with the boy. "You swear to me on pain of death that you shall never tell a living soul my real name as long as you live?"
Bryan nodded enthusiastically.
Jack stood up straight and looped his thumbs through his sash.
"I'm Captain Jack Sparrow, savvy?"
The boy's mouth formed an 'o' and he mouthed the word 'sparrow.'
"I've heard of you," he said excitedly, trotting after Jack as the pirate started to wend his way down to the harbor.
Jack turned around abruptly, stopping Bryan in his tracks.
"No, you haven't. You've never seen me," he reminded the boy.
"Now, back to school with you," Jack said gesturing towards the grey building.
The boy sighed. "Goodbye then, Nathan."
Bryan stood there watching until Jack disappeared into the crowd before turning back to the schoolhouse to continue his lessons.
Jack found his Pearl anchored amidst the other white sailed ships. Anamaria was waiting for him next to a longboat.
"It's good to see you again, Captain," she said, smiling slightly. "The Commodore's inspection went without a problem, but it was good you weren't there."
Jack got into the boat and rowed back to the Pearl. Once on deck, he looked around at his ship. He stroked the railing fondly and fixed Anamaria's with a stern gaze.
"You know you're never going to hear the end of this, don't you?"
His question was met by Gibbs and Anamaria sniggering uncontrollably.
"Aye, aye, Cap'n."
Jack's smile glinted and he went into his cabin to make a lengthy entry in the ship's log and take a much-deserved rest on a real bed.