Da Capo al Coda
Maccus was in his berth.
His bare feet stretched up comfortably above the level of his head, the sturdy worn canvas of his hammock cradled his stiff back, he was—if not dry, for not much of the ship was ever dry lately—warm enough, and he swayed steadily with the rhythm of the waves. The Captain had finally stopped his racket, and he was ready to sleep—not a necessity, but the thought seemed a delicious one this night.
Captain Turner's racket had become a fixture as much as Captain Jones' music had been, once those crates left from the Birdie had all been opened, and that fireplace in the organ room finished. As Turner had explained, with heedless enthusiasm as Maccus nodded and pretended to follow, he had managed to route the airflow from the organ's water-driven bellows to flow through the small, thick-walled box he had constructed from bricks, sand, and holystones. The wind let the wood fire inside glow to a hellish golden heat, though how blowing on a fire would make it hotter was beyond Maccus' understanding.
"I have nothing suitable to temper an edge with, yet," Turner had explained over the din of his hammer on a curl of blood-glowing steel pressed against what appeared to be an iron brick, "but there is more to forge than blades." The captain would turn bits of scrap into hand tools, often, and sometimes odd little decorative eye plates, marlinespikes with ornate forged handles, and hinges. "Good hinges are difficult to forge," he had said. "There must be an easier way to secure a door."
Bootstrap had been fairly floating. "My son," he had remarked proudly, "a tradesman. Would never 'ave thought."
The piercing tink, tink, tink, tink of the small hammer had ceased when the Captain had gone up to run the starboard watch. Maccus' eyes were shut, when a lilting, waltzing hum intruded on him. "More o' that fancy fiddle music, navy boy?" he growled.
A few hammocks away, Norrington stopped. "That was Purcell," he informed him. "No one does not like Purcell." And he continued humming.
"Clam up with Purcell," he snapped. "I was sleeping."
"Bugger off," said Norrington, and hummed another little scurling air.
Maccus rolled to his feet, and stomped to Norrington's hammock. "What'd ye say t'me?"
"Bugger," said Norrington, rolling his legs to the deck in a sitting position, "off." The nearby men were stirring up in their hammocks, watching. "Is this worth a fight?"
Maccus blinked, glaring at the man. Norrington had a bruised jaw from an earlier scuffle, but Ogilvey, a fighter in his own right, had been considerably more damaged, and the navy boy was taller than Maccus. On the other hand, Maccus, as first mate, could never let any man out-bully him. It was his duty to the crew.
"Who thinks Mr. Norrin'ton 'ere should stow it and give us a bit o' peace?" he demanded to the dark.
A few aye's sang out.
"Guess it is worth a fight," said Maccus, baring his teeth and steeling himself for a broken nose if he failed to blackjack Norrington on the first blow.
Norrington shrugged and settled back into his hammock, flickering his fingers over his breastbone as though playing a phantom flute, and Maccus, shaking his head, returned to his berth.
He could not sleep.
After an hour awake, he rolled from his hammock and stomped from the berths to the mess, where Pip Finn and Tom Sorrel slumped shoe-to-shoe against the hull, snoring in unison. He felt with his feet along the corner of hull and deck, and in a little bed of muck—he would have someone scrape down the room the first thing next bell—found a narrow nickel cylinder: the organ's whistle that had been rolling around for the past few months. He shook the slime out of it, earning a grunt from Tom as a glob of it hit him on the ear, and blew hard into the narrow end.
The whistle sputtered wetly for a few seconds, then shrieked. Pip and Tom woke with cries of alarm, Tom snapping his arm into a salute and shouting, "Sir, yes, sir!"
"As you were," said Maccus, glad they could not see his red face in this darkness, and he plodded from the forecastle to the relative privacy of the gun deck, where he seated himself beside a cannon, opened the gun port, and used the starlight to examine the silver pipe in his hands. He pulled his steel marlinespike from its lanyard around his neck and tapped it to the metal, and then as though watching himself in a dream, he firmly punched a small hole in the flute, and then, a finger's width away, another, and another, feeling all the while that he had done something like this before—perhaps as a boy on land. He realized how little he remembered before Davy Jones.
The holes punched, he gently smoothed the flanges of metal away, and put his lips again to the end of the pipe, playing one gentle note after another, and scraping and adjusting until the flute played clean. He ran a few scales, stumbled, and fell into a half-familiar melody, repeating an air over and over, gradually building after it, until a bold, waltzing old tune swelled in the night.
Above him, he heard a man sing softly.
We'll rant and we'll
roar like true British sailors,
We'll rant and we'll roar across the salt seas,
Until we strike soundings, da-da-la da-da-lee-da
Da-da-dum da-dee-dum da-lee, thirty-five leagues.
Maccus played on, fingers thrilling, fluttering, the tune and the words teasing at his memory—not lost, merely peeking through the fog, and perhaps if he followed the current, he would see the shore. The tune to the verse came to him, and he began to turn verse over chorus, listening to the rising churn and harmony of half-remembered words filtering down from the deck above—by God, the whole crew must have woken, he must be mad, but still he played, and the voices above began to fill each-other in, singing of Spanish ladies, ports and lights, fleets, the sights and navigation of the living sea, drink and melancholy.
A baritone joined strong, leading through the verse.
Then we hove our ship
to, the wind at due north, my boys,
We hove our ship to, a sunk tree for to see;
So we dropped out our launches and hauled up those flounders,
And then we went whaling, and caught Captain's knee.
Maccus snorted and almost dropped the flute, but the tune was still rolling through the boards over his head, and he tapped his foot in time and caught along again.
We rant, and we roar,
as proud Dutchman sailors,
We rant, and we roar, through all the salt seas,
Until we sight poor souls for to haul 'em and beach 'em,
Defying Calypso, if you give us brandy!
Maccus played until the flute began to sputter, and then in the silence while he cleaned it, someone else hummed a tune that the rest of the crew caught up, and soon he was playing along to Drunken Sailor, Dead Horse, the Oyster Girl, Haul Away, and more tunes than they knew the words to—though the men who thought themselves clever would throw in their own lines—and the hours spun by and Maccus realized that he must once have loved to play the flute.
And so the Flying Dutchman had music again.
Henry Purcell (1659-1695) was an English Baroque composer I have never listened to, but I found him on Wikipedia and he was evidently quite popular. The tune that Maccus first strikes up is called "Spanish Ladies," and if you listen at www. contemplator. com/ sea/ ladies. html you will find it hauntingly familiar. I don't know if it is possible to make a recorder out of an organ whistle, but I don't see why not. The other songs are real songs you can read online, and listen to, if you don't mind the horrible synth organs and bagpipes used to play them.
D. C. al Coda is a music term that means "go back to the top and play to the end bit." Which this is. The end of what amounts to a comic-book origin story, come to think of it.
Thank-you all so much for reading.