The Frigate 2
As they wrestled their prisoner to his feet, a priest bustled into the cell and pushed his way through the soldiers to the front.
He strode up to the major.
“Last rites for the condemned. You surely won‘t deny him the Holy Offices Major?”
The major, annoyed by the interruption, looked the cleric over. Beretta, rosary, cassock, prayer book.
“He’s not dead yet,” said the major, after a pause adding, “Padre.”
“Good.” said the priest, “I have time to hear his confession then.”
Without waiting for permission, he turned to the captive and continued in the professional business of a parish priest preparing a man for execution.
“Son,” he said, “your soul is in mortal jeopardy, I will hear your Last Confession now.”
Barnacle, First Lieutenant (Acting), the ‘Cap’n Barney’ of long repute, looked at the priest. A more sanctimonious devil he had never seen in his life.
“I’m, I’m not sure Father,” he began, “I wouldn’t know where to start.”
The priest nodded, clasped the prayer book in Barney’s hands and made a cross on his forehead with a thumb as rough as a rasp.
“ipso facto…incognito…modus operandi…“ he began, and led the Captain into a dark corner of the cell to hear his confession in as much privacy as the situation would allow.
* * *
Outside on the street, two men of seafaring bearing were pushing a handcart towards the fretful sentry at the gate. A small crowd of women had gathered at the news of Captain Barney’s imminent demise and were milling around in shawl worrying despair. As the two approached, they heard the sentry assailed for news.
“Is it true they’ll be shooting Barney this morning?
Why can’t they hang him like an honest Catholic?
With some shoving, they got through to the gate and the sentry.
“We’ve come for his remains.” said one of the sailors. And a broader, hairier, swarthier master of sail, was not on this earth.
“Who’s would that be?” asked the sentry, staring.
“Our captain’s. Have they shot him dead yet?”
“Ah, No. They have not.”
“It’s gone half past nine, I thought they were shooting him at dawn.”
“There was a problem with the shooting party.”
“What sort of problem?”
“There was none of the regulars that felt up to shooting him. The major had to grab the first six recruits he could lay hands on. They’re as raw as mutton.”
“Oh Oh” said Ayres, the ship‘s botanist, “that could upset the plan considerably.”
“What plan?” asked the sentry.
“The plan for the wake of course!” said bo’sun Bananas smoothly, “we wanted an open coffin you see.”
“Oh Right. Well you can wait over by the wall. You’ll see it all from there.”
“Well thank-ee colonel,” said Ayres touching his three cornered hat.
“All right, don’t overdo it man,” hissed the bo’sun, as they scampered into the barracks.
* * *
Major Twenty watched as the priest continued his liturgy, sprinkling the holy water on him, anointing him, making rapid signs of the cross, and finally adjusting the captain’s uniform jacket and two pointed hat, the better to be shot in.
His mission accomplished the priest stood back to admire his handiwork.
“Oh, eh,…quid pro…status quo…amo amas amat.” he said with a nod.
“Padre, I couldn’t help but notice you’re a Scotchman.” said the major.
“I am indeed, but none the worse for that. There’s some of us keeps the true flame burning over there yet.” replied the priest.
“Forgive me for asking,” smiled the major, “but I also notice you cross yourself from right to left.”
“God has blessed you with a keen eye my son.” answered the priest, “God bless us all, I must remember that, yes. I’m a Knight of Saint Columba Major Twenty. We always do it that way. It’s a papal dispensation.”
To prove the point, the priest crossed himself again, saying as he did so;
“Ace, king, queen, jock. You see?”
Major Twenty, a staunch Anglican and unsure of his ground, nodded. “Hocus pocus.” he muttered, then turning to his marines, he gave the order. “Right lets get this over with. Take him out men!”
As the ragtag line of marines lined up to take their aim, Barney stood like an admiral on an unseen deck. Legs apart, chest out, his hat into the wind. He looked magnificent. From the corner of his eye, he saw the waiting handcart, the priest beside it, and Ayres giving him an encouraging double thumbs up.
In front of him, Major Twenty took out his sabre and raised it to the sky.
So far so good.
In the nature of these events, time slowed like treacle for the condemned man…Never had the air smelt sweeter, the muskets being heavy, and the shooting party being terrified new recruits, their barrels swung and wavered, in the silence he heard the beautiful screeching of the gulls, he saw the wonderful glitter of the sabre as it fell, he saw the softest puffs of smoke from the muskets…then it speeded up again.
On the command to fire, they let out the most ragged fusillade the captain had ever heard. He felt a musket ball pass between his legs, heard another smack the wall by his head, another took his hat with a swipe, but one, at least one, struck home.
As he plunged into the dark, he heard the evil major shout “Bulls-eye!”
* * *
He shuddered as the nightmare that was the last few days came slowly back to him, the shudders themselves causing even more pain to his tormented body. Using his fingers he forced first one eye, then the other, blinking painfully as he tried to focus in the darkness until a dizzy nausea overcame him and he lapsed into unconsciousness
* * *
The force threw Barnacle against the whitewashed stonework like a rag doll, where he lay, quite lifeless. First on the scene was the priest who swooped down upon him like a crow, opening his jacket to reveal the red stain spreading over his heart.
The major stooped to look then waved the handcart over. “He’s all yours” he said, and turning on his heel, marched the shooting party off the ground.
A half hour later, back in the privacy of his office, Major Twenty threw the letter with the Admiralty Pardon for FL (A) Barnacle, onto the fire and watched thoughtfully from his window as the trio in the distance rushed over the cobbles to the dock with their corpse, First Mate McShae’s cassock flying in the wind, for all the world just like a padre’s.
A knock on the door brought him back to himself. It was another priest.
“Father Doherty,” he puffed, “I had a sudden death, have I missed the shootin?”
“You’ve missed it this time I think Padre, but not the next. We won’t miss that one.”
On board the Shannon riding peacefully at anchor, Barney lay in trussed up pain, but in his own berth, on his own ship.
Close by on his nightstand was a prayer book, all but obliterated by musket fire.