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Authors: Maryrose Wood

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BOOK: The Unmapped Sea
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Meanwhile, the others tried to agree on what sort of game to play. Beowulf proposed a chess tournament. But the hotel had only one chess set, and Boris and Constantin sheepishly admitted that chess was not their strong suit; they would simply fight over who would play the white pieces and who the black, accuse each other of cheating, and so forth.

“We could play at being Eskimaux,” Cassiopeia suggested. But the Babushkawoos said that snow and ice made them think of Siberia, an especially cold and sad part of Russia to which people were sent as a punishment for crimes, or sometimes merely for having
unpopular opinions. (For those of you who have never heard of it, rest assured that Siberia was a brutal place. The people sent there were likely to freeze or starve to death, or perish out of sheer boredom and misery. If
weltschmerz
were a place one could find on a map, it would doubtless be Siberia.)

Then Constantin had an idea. “Let us play at being judges,” he said. “We could sentence people to hang!”

“Yes! We could send them to jail for stealing loaves of bread,” said Boris.

“Or for no reason at all,” his brother proposed.

Penelope held up a hand. “How do you know so much about judges?” she asked, deeply unsettled. The twins stared at the floor and shrugged and would not answer, and turned their name signs around, too, as if that somehow rendered them invisible.

“Naughty savages! If you ask them a question about anything, they think they are about to be punished, for they have always done something to deserve it. Papa has a friend who is a judge,” Veronika explained. “What a frightening man! His eyes are black as lumps of coal, and he wears thick blurry glasses, so you can never be sure where he is looking.”

Penelope's heart lurched in her chest. That could only be Edward Ashton, posing as Judge Quinzy!
“Veronika, this friend of your father's . . . what is his name?”

The girl shrugged. “I don't remember. He is a new friend. Papa met him here, in Brighton. He was at the bank this morning, too. Papa said he needed to do something with money and sign some papers, and his friend the judge was there to open the bank on a Sunday and advise him on important business.”

“It was
sooo
uninteresting! It took
sooo
long!” the twins complained.

“Stop whining, please!” Penelope's tone was uncharacteristically sharp. To Veronika, she said, more gently, “What kind of business?”

“I don't know, but Papa said he was using the money to get us something we would like very, very much.” Veronika hugged herself in excitement. “I hope it is a pony! A snow-white pony to match my coat. Or a sable pony to match my other coat. Or an inky-black pony to match my other coat. . . .”

Under normal circumstances Penelope would rather talk about ponies than about nearly any other topic, but not now. A slow chill crackled its way up her spine, like a skin of ice forming over a pond. So Edward Ashton
was
in Brighton! Thank goodness Simon was with Great-Uncle Pudge at the HAM;
she need not worry about the old man's safety—but what business could Edward Ashton have with the Babushkinovs?

Her brow furrowed as it always did when she was deep in thought, for this unexpected new piece threatened to upend the whole puzzle. “If Edward Ashton has befriended the captain, as Veronika says, he must have been here in Brighton for some days already. In that time he has not revealed himself to us, or to Great-Uncle Pudge—but he
has
sought out the Babushkinovs! Why? Dear me! I fear I may have underestimated him. Perhaps he has not come to Brighton to see Pudge at all, but for some other, unknown reason. . . .”

Clearly, she needed time to think.

“Playing at judges is an unpleasant game, best saved for never,” she said to the children. “Upon reflection, I believe the afternoon ought to be spent in educational pursuits. Who would like to recite the multiplication tables? Boris, Constantin, surely you are able to count by twos?”

The twins looked at her in disbelief. Fortunately, Cassiopeia was always eager for a math lesson. She clambered upon a chair in the middle of the dining room, stood straight and tall, and cheerfully began:
“One times Boris and Constantin is two Babushkawoos, two times Boris and Constantin is four Babushkawoos, three times Boris and Constantin is six Babushkawoos . . .”

T
HE
E
LEVENTH
C
HAPTER
A long-awaited tale is told.

P
ENELOPE SLEPT FITFULLY THAT NIGHT.
“Seven sevens is forty-nine Edward Ashtons . . . ,” she mumbled, dreaming. “Seven eights is fifty-four—no!—fifty-six Edward Ashtons. . . .”

But the hours of the long night passed, as hours always do, and soon enough it was morning. Monday, at last! A cold rain fell, and the sky was thick with clouds. It would have been a good day to stay under the covers, snug as a hermit crab in its cozy shell, but a great many things had to happen before the sun set, the dinner guests arrived, and Tuesday's full moon rose in the sky.

The Incorrigible children were more well rested than their governess, and jumped out of bed with purpose. They inspected their artwork, now dry, and added whatever finishing touches they deemed necessary. Then they inquired if they might ask the Babushkawoos to help with the decorating.

Penelope had already thought about this, given the Babushkinovs' unhappy history at the Left Foot Inn. She had briefly considered not inviting them at all, but with Edward Ashton up to no good, she thought it best to keep the Babushkinovs in her own sights for the evening. In any case, it would have been frightfully rude to exclude them from the party, after the children had sworn bonds of eternal friendship.

“Let us not spoil the surprise,” she replied. “After the Babushkinovs arrive, you may find other ways for your friends to be helpful. But look, it is nearly nine o'clock already, and we have breakfast to think of, and all these invitations to address, after which we must meet Lord Fredrick and Old Timothy downstairs for a, well . . .
unusual
adventure. Now, who would like to help me seal these envelopes with wax?”

M
EANWHILE, AT THE
HAM, a metaphorical boatload of ancient mariners and one dashing, perfectly nice
young playwright were having their morning meal of hardtack, salt beef, and sauerkraut. The sauerkraut was meant to prevent scurvy, which was a problem during long sea voyages but hardly a risk at the HAM. However, old habits die hard, and the men liked the taste of it. As they ate, they drank black coffee out of tin cups and spoke, as sailors often do, about the weather.

“Awful rain out there, eh, lads?”

“Aye, and howling winds, too! It's not fit for man nor beast.”

“Only a fool would put out to sea on a blustery day like this!”

Simon's conversation took a different tack, which is a sailor's way of saying he followed a different course. “Come, dear Pudge!” he said, pushing away his untouched plate. “It's not healthy to sit inside. Let's go for a stroll on the boardwalk.”

“It's raining cats and dogs, nephew,” Pudge answered. “Now, are you going to eat your sauerkraut, or not?”

“I'm more of a bacon-and-egg man myself, Uncle,” he answered. Poor Simon had eaten enough hardtack, salt beef, and sauerkraut for a lifetime while he was a pirate. “Let's go outside. You know how you like the fresh sea air.”

In fact, Pudge did like it, and was not seriously opposed to bad weather, as he had seen his share of it. He shrugged and let Simon help him into his invalid chair. In the closets, Simon found each of them a hooded oilcloth slicker to wear against the rain. The other sailors laughed and called them loony for putting out to sea in a storm, but Simon ignored them and wheeled the old man outside. The sky was a cold, dark gray, the color of crucible steel.

The empty boardwalk unspooled like a ribbon that lay between the shore and road. The sea's low roar and the occasional gull cry were the only sounds, at first. As they rounded a curve that took them out of sight of the HAM, a luxurious clarence carriage pulled by two fine gray horses came clattering down the road. As it neared them, it slowed.

“Hey-ah, hey-oh!” Old Timothy called from the driver's seat.

“Ahoy, did you say? Ahoy! Pirates! Scurvy knaves!” Pudge shouted, and clambered out of his chair. “Out of my way, Simon! This time I won't let those ruffians take you without a fight!”

Simon held back the old man without difficulty. “Easy, Uncle. I don't think these are pirates. For one thing, pirates don't travel by horse and carriage.”

“Yes, you're right about that,” the old sailor conceded.

The carriage stopped. Old Timothy jumped to the ground and opened the door. Inside sat a tall, lanky seaman, dressed in an admiral's uniform that smelled faintly of mothballs. A bicorne hat straddled his head, only partially concealing his gently but unmistakably pointed ears.

The uniform, the ears, the long, sloped, typically Ashton nose—even a person with superb eyesight might easily have mistaken him for Admiral Percival Racine Ashton. Or (to be precise) a somewhat younger version of the same long-dead admiral who gazed coldly from the ancestral portrait that hung in his great-grandson's study, unblinking among the taxidermy.

“Get in, Pudge!” cried Lord Fredrick, patting the seat. “It's been a long time, what?”

Pudge's eyes grew wide. “Admiral?” he cried. “Bless my barnacles, Admiral! It's you!”

S
IMON HELPED
P
UDGE INTO THE
seat next to Lord Fredrick and sat across from them. But these three men were not the only passengers of this carriage. Hidden in the luggage compartment were Penelope and the Incorrigible children. To learn the exact wording of
the curse was their goal, which meant that Penelope had to be within earshot to take notes with her pencil and pad. But with Edward Ashton lurking around Brighton for nefarious reasons yet unknown, she dare not leave the Incorrigibles behind.

The children did not mind the close quarters, especially when Penelope suggested they pretend to be hermit crabs trapped in a shell that had grown too tight. Crammed into their hiding spot beneath the seat, they could hear every word spoken between Lord Fredrick and Pudge. Such shameless eavesdropping would previously have posed an ethical dilemma for Miss Penelope Lumley, who, as a schoolgirl, had once stitched
A Swanburne Girl Minds Her Business
onto a pillow, but no more. The stakes were too high.

Old Timothy moved the horses along at a lazy walk. “I'd nearly despaired of seeing you ever again, Admiral,” said Pudge, wiping a tear from one crinkled eye.

“Well, it's good to see you, too, Mr. Pudge!” There had been no time for even a brief acting lesson with Simon, but Lord Fredrick was clearly doing his best. He spoke in a bold, deep voice and slapped Pudge on the knee in a friendly fashion. “I was hoping we might reminisce, what? About a particular voyage. Our final voyage, in fact! You know the one.”

Pudge nodded. “Indeed I do, Admiral. I've waited a long time to be able to relive this tale with you, sir! I'll never forget it. There we were, in the easternmost part of the westernmost Indies, when came that terrible storm that smashed our boat to splinters on the shore of an island that was nowhere shown on any of our maps. It was a pretty place, and a peaceful one—or so we thought. The inhabitants called it Ahwoo-Ahwoo.”

“Ahwoo, ahwoo!”
The Incorrigibles softly howled in echo from their hiding spot. Penelope shushed them at once and hoped that Pudge had not heard.

“Yes, Ahwoo-Ahwoo! The sound of it tolls like a church bell in my ear, to this very day,” Pudge went on. “The natives were kind to us at first, we strange fair-haired men who came from the sea. They shared their papaya fruits freely, and taught us the lilting songs of their tribe. I think I remember a bit of one. Raise your voice with me, sir!” He threw back his head and sang: “Ahwoo, ahwoo-ah! Ahwoo, ahwoo-ah!”

Penelope clapped her hands over the boys' mouths and shot a warning glance at their sister. Cassiopeia managed only a tiny squeak before covering her own mouth.

“You're in fine voice as ever, Pudge,” Lord Fredrick
said. “But I'm not much for singing these days. Let's stick to the tale.”

“As you wish, Admiral! The weeks passed sweetly on Ahwoo-Ahwoo. It was a peaceful, tuneful, papayaful time. Until that dreadful day.” Pudge's face grew dark. “The day when you—well, you know what you did, sir.”

“Haven't a clue! My memory's not what it was, I'm afraid. Do go on, Pudge, my old friend!” Lord Fredrick slapped the old sailor's knee once more.

“You went hunting, Admiral.”

In the dark of the luggage compartment, the children yelped, and their eyes grew round as six full moons. Penelope had the sinking feeling that it may have been a mistake to bring them after all, but now it was too late.

Even Lord Fredrick seemed taken by surprise. “Did I? Blast!”

“Sure you did, Admiral! You arranged a hunting expedition for the whole crew. You thought it would cheer them up.” Pudge shook his head. “Those poor cubs.”

“Cubs?” Lord Fredrick exclaimed. “Surely he—I mean, I—didn't go around shooting cubs? That's not very sporting, what?”

“Five little wolf cubs, cute as can be. As I recall, you thought their pelts would make a nice soft lining for a new buckle-back vest you had in mind. Oh, if only you'd known!”

Lord Fredrick glanced at Simon. “Known, yes—known what?”

“That the wolf was the sacred animal of Ahwoo-Ahwoo! These were highly unusual wolves, Admiral. I mean, how many tropical islands have wolves on 'em to begin with, am I right?”

“Good point, Uncle,” Simon interjected, to give Lord Fredrick a moment to compose himself. “This story is giving me goose bumps!”

“It's no story, lad. It's what happened.” Old and frail as he was, Pudge seemed to gain energy in the telling. “The mother wolf came roaring down from the hills like a flood. She chased the admiral back to the village and howled a fearful curse upon his head! We couldn't understand it, of course, as we didn't speak her sacred wolf tongue, but the leader of the tribe was more than happy to translate.” Pudge paused. “What a dreadful, horrible curse it was. Oh, she was mad, that wolf!”

“Quite understandable.” Lord Fredrick scratched at his head; it seemed his bicorne hat was beginning to
itch. “Remind me, old friend. What did she say?”

Pudge nodded. “First, I'd like to recite a poem.”

Simon interrupted. “I thought you said the curse was not in the poem, Uncle.”

“It builds up to it! Just listen.” Pudge closed his eyes and recited.

“The wolf threw back its head, and howled!
And then the monster said,
‘I lay this curse that I will curse
Upon the admiral's head.'

The wolf pronounced the curse, and lo!
The clouds ran o'er the moon.
Then darkness fell, too thick and deep
To cut it with a spoon.”

Pudge paused. “I never liked that bit, ‘cut it with a spoon.' Should be knife. No one cuts with a spoon. But I couldn't think of another rhyme for moon.”

From the luggage compartment came suggestions: “June, spoon, macaroon . . .”

“Hey!” Pudge knocked hard on the compartment. “Who's hiding in there? Come above deck, knaves!”

Guiltily, Penelope and the three children climbed out.

Pudge peered at Penelope. “Why, it's Pete the cabin boy, freshly shaved and dressed in a skirt. You aren't trying to get in a lifeboat by posing as a girl, are you? Men have been hanged for less.” He turned to the children. “And what do you three stowaways have to say for yourselves?”

“Loon, pontoon, gold doubloon,” they helpfully offered.

“Blast, that's enough poetry for one day.” Lord Fredrick scratched furiously at his ears. “Never mind the stowaways, I'll deal with them later.”

“Will we have to walk the plank?” Beowulf yelped in fear.

“Maybe!” Lord Fredrick bellowed. He was very much in character now, or perhaps the itching was making him cross. “Now finish telling us what happened, old man. Just the highlights, please.”

“Aye aye, Admiral! Well, the wolf had barely done cursing her curse when our former friends from Ahwoo-Ahwoo revealed themselves to be cannibals! They'd been fattening us up with those papaya fruits the whole blessed time! Our crew raced back to the ship, but it was naught but a splintered wreck. The cannibals arrived, laughing and rubbing their bellies! Some of the crew got caught, more's the pity. The rest
jumped into the ocean and swam; they decided they'd rather drown than be eaten.”

“At least they didn't throw the bride to the cannibals,” Alexander observed, and his siblings nodded.

“Let me finish, if you don't mind, lad! I'm just at the best part.” Pudge paused, clearly relishing the tale. “But all along, brave young Pudge, the cabin boy—the hero of our story, you might say!—had been secretly building a raft out of the ship's wreckage. A beauty it was, too. Some planks of wood, a coat of tar, a sack of fresh papayas to prevent scurvy . . .” He closed his eyes, lost in the memory. “This way, Admiral!” he cried, in a boy's soprano voice. “It's our only chance!”

BOOK: The Unmapped Sea
3.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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