Story for the Day: The Ghost Crab Pt.2
Rannig continues in defense of his new friend:
“Crabs don’t harm people voluntarily, Bartleby,” said Rannig. “Sometimes they pinch if people step in their holes, but they’re not mean. They’re just scavengers.”
“And yet they will eat a kitten if it means they are to live another day. It has mandibles and pincers and is a merciless predator, and yet you coddle it as though it were a guppy. The centipede that crawled behind you earlier is far less harmless than that crab.”
“What centipede?” the giant cried, instantly tremulous, looking about in a fever of terror. “Where’s the centipede? I don’t like centipedes, with their legs movin’ so fast and their mouths twitchin’ and all.”
“There is no centipede, my darling giant,” the captain softly, in a conciliating tone. “Look about you, and you will see there is none, only the trail of where it once was, and it probably scurried along much before we even sat down to tea.”
Rannig, still under the reign of his own horror, held the crab close to his chest and glanced cautiously about.
“Bartleby,” said Danaco, with gentle reproach, “you will please not to plague my giant when he has done us such a service. If you distress him further, when we return to the ship I shall allow him to use my paper adhesive to attach your forehead to your desk again.”
“Bartleby fell asleep with his face down against his desk, with his books layin’ all over the floor,” Rannig told Damson, in a half whisper, though Bartleby could hear. “He was snorin’ so loud the boss let me sentence him to have his forehead stuck to the desk.” Rannig chortled to himself. “Took him a whole pot of solvent to get himself unstuck.”
“I will thank you not to remind me, my boy,” the old man gowled.
A confused aspect, a glance to the side, a blink, a bent brow, and at last, once he had thought about it three times over, Rannig said, “But why’d ye thank me not to remind ye when I just reminded ye?”
“Because that is precisely why I will thank you not to do—oh, never mind, never mind! Send that crustacean away. It’s crawling for its freedom, and I want to finish my potatoes without the threat of its walking all over my plate.”
The crabs legs were creeping furiously about as Rannig held it upside down to examine its abdomen, and just as he determined that it really was a female crab, he must acknowledge that the crab did seem to be in want of returning to the sea. His heart wrenched and he sighed. “Aye, boss. I know I have to let it go.” He placed the crab onto his upturned palm and passed his fingertips along its shell, which the crab seemed to enjoy.
“How affectious you are,” the captain declared. “You will make anything a pet, if it be only to express your powers of paternal love. You would make an exemplary crab father to any crab orphan, but this crab must have a home, if it wish to leave.” He raised his cup and peered at Rannig from over the rim. “It must be released, despondent as you shall be to do so. It it a crab and has crab affairs to go about, scurrying round the reefs and snapping at intruders, just as you have giant matters to attend, your tea to finish and an old man to plague. Everything must eventually be left to its own way of life and return home.”
There was a general demurred discomfort at this, and while Rannig considered his crab, each of them thought of their own home and how they had been expelled from it. While Bartleby and Rannig were at liberty to return to their respective homelands anytime they should wish, though they would both stay with their captain, Damson must wait on Danaco’s help to return to Marridon, and though the captain appeared content to be master of the seas and ruler of his crew and vessel, there was a something like private longing in his tone which the knight must be sensible of. Notions of asking the captain again for his assistance in saving her ladyship soon revived, but there was a ghost crab crawling across the table, and his thoughts went very much from, How shall I go about asking the captain if he would help me? to, Oh, the ghost crab is coming toward me. Is it the same one as the one that was in the giant’s hand? Yes, I perceive it is. He has let it down and it must have turned from the sea toward me. I shall welcome it anyway. Here it comes—oh, it has decided to turn toward the old man. It appears to like him very much, though he does not seem disposed to treat it with the same cordiality. It appears to be endearvouring to pinch his toes. No, I see. It is only trying for his plate.
The crab stopped in front of Barlteby and raised its claws as Bartleby lifted his plate from its setting. “No!” he yelped, holding his plate close. “The sea is the other way! I have nothing you want. There are no cucumbers or dead marine creatures on my plate—no, don’t climb up my leg!” In his panic, he thrust his foot out, sending the crab careening through the air and back into Rannig’s hand, which was outstretched and expecting to salvage their visitor from the old man, and sending the rest of Bartleby’s potatoes into his lap. His horror of being scaled by the crab made him forgetful of his plate, and he turned it over in aspiration of using it as a weapon only to be vexed into indignation over ruining his robes and wasting the dear dill and potatoes he was so desirous of finishing. He scowled at the hateful crab, slowly return his plate to the table, and festered in simmering hatred for decapods, arthropods, and everything that spawned from the vile seas.