Thursday, December 15, 2011

the pantisocratic pirates, part the 2nd

"We first came together in London in 1753," Wilberforce began. "This was after the Great Comb Riots and alien dissenters were being interned under the Sedition Act, that was us, you see. We were Poles, Prussians, Serbs, Dalmations, any nation you care to think of . Even a Frenchman. Anyroad, we all fetched up together in Newgate jail and waited for the business to blow over. Only it didn't. More tea?" Peter Rathkael-Herbert shook his head. "Very well, we thought, so we wait to be charged. Standard procedure, you see. Get charged, plead guilty, be deported, three days at Boulogne and you're back within the week. But time wore on and we still were not charged. In the meantime we kept ourselves busy, political debates, discussions, a little dialectics. We look back on those days as the birth of Pantisocracy. It was the only compromise we could reach. You see, when you've got dia-hard Anabaptists and Thuringian ultramontanists in the ranks, take it from me, you need something broad. Pantisocracy is broad, if nothing else."

Wilberforce reached for his pipe and began packing it with a gluey substance. "All men are equal," he said as he lit the pipe, and Peter Rathkael-Herbert smelt a sweet scent familiar from the Tesferati. "That's about it, really. The stuff about land ownership doesn't really apply aboard ship. Anyway, in the end we figured out the delay. The section of the Act we'd been charged under had yet to be passed, and with the threat of revolt over, no one was very interested in getting it onto the statute books. We couldn't be released until we'd been tried, and we couldn't be tried because the law didn't exist. We rotted there for over a year until the magistrate who'd arraigned us in the first place chartered a ship. This ship, in fact, though it was called the Alecto then."

Wilberforce sent clouds of sweet blue smoke wafting toward his guest. "The idea was: Stage an escape, hop aboard this ship, be charged with the escape, plead guilty, be deported to France and back in a few days. The only problem was the Magistrate. He retired that very week, leaving us aboard the Alecto. There we were, suddenly fugitives from justice with nothing and nobody between us and the gallows. Technically, we were already pirates. After a quick debate we decided to go the whole hog. We put the master and his crew in the pinnace, hoisted the Jolly Roger, and set sail that night for the Barbary Coast. It's been thirty-odd years now and I can tell you truly that not a man jack of us has looked back since. I still think of that magistrate and each time I do I raise my glass and toast him: 'Happy retirement, Henry Fielding!' Without him, we'd all be living under the English boot, but here we are and here we stay. It's the rover's life for us and a damn fine life it is too, right, lads?"

"Right, Cap'n," replied a trio of hoary-headed tars from the quarterdeck.

Wilberforce van Clam passed the pipe to the Internuncio. "Suck on that, m'boy."

Hot sweet smoke curled in Peter Rathkael-Herbert's throat. Small metal centipedes raced around the insides of his kneecaps.

"Nn," he said, exhaling and handing it back.

The sky was a vacant eye, massively blue. The sun flared low over the sea. He coughed and thanked the captain.

"Only for today," Wilberforce explained to him. "Wilkins is captain tomorrow, then Schell, we rotate, you see, all being equals 'n' all. Gets a bit confusing sometimes."

His head was spinning, slow half-rotations which blurred the ship and its aged crew, somehow making them even more fabulous than they already were. "Pirates," he slurred. The chair was so enveloping, a whole world.

"Look at it financially, morally, politically, however you like," Captain van Clam leaned across, "we're the most succesful pirates these seas have ever known."

--from Lempriere's Dictionary by Lawrence Norfolk

many of the characters from norfolk's novel are real, including the title character john lempriere, who did indeed write a dictionary of mythology. henry fielding, of course, as any english major knows, is real, although remembered here for his legal work rather than his satire. peter rathkael-herbert might be a twist on baron peter herbert-rathkael, who apparently had something to do with the breakout of the first world war. anyroad, to quote the fictional van clam, the point is the pantisocratic pirates who are an inspired creation.

No comments:

Post a Comment