As the whaler neared the shore, they passed another at a cable’s length, rowing out into the bay. In many ways, the image of their own, there was one conspicuous difference. Instead of a nervous man of letters gripping the gunwales, there stood a fearless midshipman, his brass buttons ablaze in the setting sun: for all the world, General Washington Crossing the Delaware.
They looked upon him with admiration.
“That’ll be our new officer.” remarked Bananas, spitting into the wind for luck.
“What a splendid young gentleman.” said Ayres, “he‘ll shake up the ratings for sure.”
McShae, who had the keenest sight of the three and was examining the young man closely, simply nodded.
In a half dozen strokes the whaler had beached, and Ayres leaping out with the little wooden box, managed to put a buckled shoe in the salty water as he always did.
The other two followed and soon they were surrounded by the nets and spars of Sam’s Chandlery.
McShae was pushed and prodded over to the counter to arrange things with Mistress Sam while Ayres and Bananas wandered the store, innocently examining binnacles and cleats.
“Fine open weather we’re havin’ if it wasna for the fogs.” he said.
“What can I get you? We’ve some Jamaica just new arrived.” said Sam, ignoring preliminaries.
“No, I’m not right wanting a drink today.” he said, blushing.
“Are you well McShae?” asked Sam in genuine concern.
“Look I’ll come to the point.” said he, “We’ve a friend of ours called Foot Eater who we haven’t seen for a week and who’s not in the jail and our botanist, that‘s him over there wi’ the wet foot, thinks he may be drow-ned. He’s cook on the Shannon, not him over there, the one that’s missin’, could you not throw one of those trances for us and ask Bloody Mary whether he’s on deck or under hatches?”
A bargain was struck and Mistress Sam led them to an airless store room where she lit a sooty lamp and turned it down to a peep.
From a shelf, she took down a green glass fishing float and stared into it, occasionally parting unseen mists with elaborate waves of her hand.
“You are seeking a friend.” she said at last, “He is a sailorman. He has the initials F. E. He has travelled a lot in boats. Whiles he drank and his language was coarse.”
“Holystone the decks! That‘s him exactly.” exclaimed Ayres in amazement clutching the little box.
“Did ah not tell ye?” beamed McShae, “Pure science. None o’ yer hurdy gurdys here.”
Satisfied with how things were going, Sam now pulled a small table and four chairs into the middle of the floor.
“Help yourselves,” she said, indicating the seats.
To the eternal embarrassment of McShae the shipwright, bo’sun Bananas misunderstood but spoke up for all three:
“Please Mistress, there’s no need to put yourself out. We’ve just had a splendid tea…”
“It’s a séance you're getting, not your dinner,” she interrupted, ”now, all of you, sit down with me and join hands.”
The men were reluctant. It was one thing to cross the threshold of the occult and risk their souls, but to sit holding hands…
“How else can I contact the other world?” cajoled Mistress Sam. “Now do as I say; we don’t want to make Her angry.”
“We maybe shouldn’t vex her at all.” suggested Bananas, “Bonnie Mary of Argyll is too grand for the like of us. Is there not somebody cheaper? A plain dead sailor would do.”
“Man, yer makin’ a cod o’ the whole thing!” exclaimed McShae in disgust, “will ye no’ sit yersel’ down bo’sun and stay at peace.”
“It’s too late anyway!” intoned Sam, shutting her eyes, “She’s comin’ through…quick everyone, shut yer eyes tight, and keep yer hands joined…good evening your majesty…”
And in a startling Scotch accent, using Mistress Sam as her earthly conduit, the tragic queen related the fate of poor Foot Eater who had indeed drowned the week previous. It had been merciful quick and he was now at rest among Drake’s Drummers.
There was silence in the room at the dreadful news.
“He had the lend of my penknife, did he take it wi him?” Asked McShae.
“Now that I remember, he had a half crown off me.” said Bananas.
Mistress Sam hesitated and opened an eye to check on her clients, but they were still eyes shut and gripping each others’ hands as if their lives depended on it.
“He doesnae say,” she continued, “all he says is, you’ve no’ tae worry aboot sich matters and that he’ll be suppin’ wi’ one o’ ye, afore the month’s oot!”
“Holy frost! Stop there Mistress!” said Ayres in a panic, before adding - “how much do we owe ye?”
For whatever reason, both the bo’sun and the shipwright tried to kick Ayres under the table, but it was the little mahogany box that took the blows. At any rate, the séance was over. As Mistress Sam tidied up her spiritual accoutrements, the three men withdrew to a corner, where with a bitter argument conducted in whispers, the one and ninepence was made up between them.
It was a sad little trio that climbed aboard the Shannon that night. They were subdued not only by the loss of their shipmate but also by the grim reality that one of their number would soon be joining him. They were therefore astounded when who should they see but the cook himself, large as life and sitting on a barrel peeling potatoes.
“Great God Almighty! where ye been Eater?” asked McShae.
“Oh, just perusin' the docks o’ Dublin." said the cook mildly, “I fell in wi’ a lot of chaps. Did you not see me rowing out wi the new officer?”
“Of all the cheating, conivin’, lying tricksters, ” exclaimed bo‘sun Bananas, stamping on his pipe in a fury,
“the worst by far is that Mary Queen of Scots.”