Happy #NationalComingOutDay: The Two Carpenters
There are many across the Two Continents who are proud to express their inclinations, and while Nidello and Arkestino, Vathrasta and Hathanta, and many other such couples are glad to openly proclaim their affection for one another, there are none so proud as Ujaro and Brogan, the two carpenters on Captain Danaco's ship:
Danaco took a small book from his vest pocket and held it up, and instantly Bartleby was interested. His ears twitched, his eyes blazed in grim curiosity,the tip of his nose quivered, and he had quiteforgot about the slight that Rannig and Brogan had laid against him. He sniffed and sniffed again, his eye following the direction of the scent, his mind everywhere awake to the joys of a book unblemished. He inhaled, the dust of knowledge untouched pervaded his senses, and as he turned and reached for the volume, it was swiftly retracted and hidden behind Danaco’s back.
“An unread book?” said Bartleby, with beseeching aspect, frantically snuffling about with eyes closed. “Where is it? Where is it? Let me see it, captain. I know you have it.”
Bartleby’s nose led him to Danaco’s hand, and the captain moved away, gliding back with an insinuating smile.
“No, my blithesome share-penny,” Danaco crooned, holding the book away from him. “You shall never have it unless you promise to leave my carpenters to their work.”
Bartleby opened his eyes and stopped sniffing. “But they will mend my ceiling wrong,” he impored, dithering toward the captain and reaching for the book in tremulous desperation. “They will make it so it creaks just to plague me, because they are low and illegitimate and like to harass me as a great joke, and I will not have any creaks!”
“Aye, you’ll get plenty o’ creaks fer callin’ me and Ujaro two-arsed sheetdancers,” Brogan murmured.
“You are what you do, sir,” Bartleby asserted, “and when all you do is make merry with a bed-jig every time you are not on deck, you cannot be anything more than two undulating bottom eels, slithering against one ano—“ He was silenced by the scent of something familiar. His nose wiggled, his neck itched, and his skin began to prinkle. Another sniff, and the old man turned to the captain with furious fervour. “You have a volume of Attenburrow in your hand-- is it Attenborrow or is it Ambrys?” He sniffed. “No, it is Attenburrow. I can smell his handwriting—his curled Os and his ridiculous Hs that go on for half a page—It is a manuscript.” He sniffed, lifting his nose in the air. “A manuscript on his discoveries in Gallei. Yes, that’s it. The one about his journey through the mires, with all his studies in mycology. How did you get it? All of his manuscripts are locked away in the vaults at the Grand Marridon Library. Did someone steal it and ask you to retrieve it? Did they give it to you for your collection? How did you convince the curator to allow you to keep it?”
“I shall answer no questions, Bartleby, until you agree to leave Brogan and Ujaro to themselves,” said Danaco, waving the book at him.
“How long have you had that manuscript?” said Bartleby, in a desperate accent, his feet going where his heart must follow. “Let me see it—delicious, delicious book-- You know what an admirer of the man I am. Why have you never shown it to me before? Have you been purposely hiding it from me, captain? I will know—I will know why you have kept it hidden from me—such an exquisite, sumptuous-- It is cruelty, absolute cruelty, to keep such a secret from me. Tell me this moment how you got it!”
“I shall tell you the whole story, and what an excellent tale it is, if you will only come away from the hole.”
The captain opened the book and fanned the pages at him, and Bartleby instantly flung himself into a violent panic.
“NO!” he cried, in a fever of agony. “You will brush the dust off the foreedge! A man does not joss an ancient manuscript about like some nanny’s poppet! It is madness- madness!—to fan dust so old off a foreedge! You will spoil the vintage, if you faff it about like that! The ink is fermented to a fine hue and the pages have rotted to a perfect fritinancy pitch when plucked properly. A manuscript must not be glaumed like a cheap dratchel’s petticoat-- it must be caressed like a well-tuned harp—and the corners, captain! You will ware down the corners! A manuscript cannot have rounded and callow corners like any common calfskin. It is preposterous for a manuscript to have anything but sharp and cut-inducing corners! Give that manuscript here to me, captain, and I will handle it properly.”
Bartleby lunged for the book, and as the old man careened forward, the captain swiftly moved it out of his reach and to the other hand, leaving Bartleby to meet the deck with his cheek.
“I think I have quite done with holes in my deck, Bartleby,” said Danaco, raising a brow, “and if you have just made one, I will be using your nose to mend it and gibbeting the rest of you on the mizzenmast.”
“Mmf mmp -- give me the book!” Bartleby bibbled, lifting himself from the deck. “I can smell the opening remarks from here! ‘Some madness must have gripped me to send me to the south!’”
“How can he smell someone’s handwriting?” said Ujaro, taking a few pegs from the woodpile and began carefully measuring them against the breadth of the plank.
“Bartleby can smell the vintage of a good book just the vinter can sense the ages of his wines,” said Danaco, lifting the book as the old man jumped for it. “It is all operated by subliminal communication. A clouted old sauce can easily distinguish a bosom friend, Bartleby and this manuscript are one in the same: fusty, crumbling, and about seventy.”
Brogan laughed into his teacup, and Rannig chortled into the front of his shirt.
“Non—sense!” Bartleby huffed, jumping to reach the book between his syllables. “This—book—is—much—old—er—than—I—Oh, captain!” stomping his foot and shaking his fists at his sides. “Will you stop all this ragtaggery and give me the book, because I am reaching the very end of my—oh, thank you.”
The book was handed over, and all the old man’s snarling qualms were instantly quelled.
“You are far enough away from my carpenters now,” said Danaco, delicately guiding Bartleby away from the hole, “and you will keep far away from them, if you should like to keep that volume long enough to read it,” but Bartleby was hardly listening; he was too busy cradling the manuscript and lavishing it with the unbidden affection of a fawning adherent.
“Oh, happy, happy manuscript!” he crooned, crushing his wrinkles against the cover. He held it to his nose, gave it a firm sniff, and kissed the book from his heart. “It is beautiful, captain,” he cried, in a reverie. “It is so old—so very, very old!” He crushed the book against his nose, inhaled, and sank to the ground in dollop of shuddering ecstasy. “Look at the gold leaf on the edges!” he languished, caressing the gilded pages. “Look at the watermark on the frontspiece! Look how the stitching in the gutter has been preserved-- Is this the original cover? Yes, it is. It looks only as though it has been restored. The cover has been kept, but all the glue has been stripped off and redone with a new lining-- Oh, isn’t it wondrous, Captain!” he breathed, holding the book to his lips. “How I will love you! How I will take you back to my room and peel your over pages with a feather pin! How I shall fall asleep over your delicate little spine—“ He stopped, a grim realization surmounted him, and all the wrinkles that had been suspended in a smile began to sag. His shoulders tensed and he turned back toward the hole. “That is, I would do all these things,” said he heatedly, “if a giant and two pudding-plungers weren’t so busy hammering away at my room!”
“Puddin’-plunger?” Brogan said, confused.
Ujaro could not help laughing. “Well,” he simpered, “the sound is similar.”
He gave Brogan a suggestive look, and while the two carpenters laughed to themselves, Rannig stared in confusion at the floor, wondering about the musical prowess of pudding.
“Now, now, old-un,” said Feiza, who was walking over from the dice game and could not but hear. “Us’n don’t like to be hearin’ that kind o’ talkin’.”
“And I am equally as sure that nobody likes to hear your kind of taking,” said Bartleby sharply. “When you find your Gs and put them back in the proper places, then you may speak to me, you pulicose knuckle-scaper.”
Feiza frowned and looked offended. “Don’t know what that meant, but sure you meant it mean-like.”
“Of course I meant it mean-like, you soiled cabbage. Your barn of a drawl makes my ears bleed. Every time you open your mouth and say Us when you mean to say I or Me, you should be slapped with a sea wrasse and tied to a drying wrack until you can remember there are more many pronouns available for use in Modern Common.”
“He’s from Glaoustre, auljin’,” said Brogan, putting his tea cup down, “they’re not born with pronouns.”
“Us’n sure knows a few,” Feiza pronouned. “Learned my lessons at the church same as the rest.”
“Yes, well, there is the problem,” was Bartleby’s grumbling answer.
“Just like to use the easy fer shortenin’ and tidyin’ the talk a bit.”
A sudden noise caught Rannig’s ear, and his nose scrunched. “Ye hear that, boss?” said Rannig, looking curiously about. “Sounds like a flour mill’s grindin’ somethin’.”
“There are none of your great flour mills here, Rannig,” said Danaco. “That is the sound of a fractious old man using his teeth as a quern.”
Danaco glanced at Bartleby, and shrill shrieks of agony cried out from between his clenched teeth, with the phrase “Hang your querns,” just intelligible amidst the attrition of frothing indignation.
“Here, Bartleby. Is this any way to behave by Attenburrow? You have barely had him in your hand these three minutes, and you greet him with such discourtesy. I could not have believed it of you, to be so begrumpled when your old friend is at hand.”
“I am not begrumpled,” said Bartleby instantly, and after a pause, he added, “and if I am begrumpled or miscomfrumpled or whathaveyou, it has nothing to do with me. Nothing at all. These three woodfrotters are standing in my living quarters. Where am I to read my book now, captain? I ask you, where am I to read now?”
“You might read on the upper deck, if you can endure the squalls of the gulls from the wharf. Only take care that they do not mistake your hat for a house of office.”
He lirks around Bartleby’s eyes revolted, and he gowled. “Fubbery! A man does not crack the pages of a manuscript in the open air! Madness, absolute madness, if he can think of it. I must be inside somewhere, if I want to read this, and the room must be cleansed and prepared for such a venture. A table must be laid out, all the reading instruments polished and cleaned, you understand, and there must be a few napkins about, to keep any dirt and grime from the fingers from getting on the pages. It is a serious thing, captain, inspecting a manuscript, especially one that has not been thoroughly read through these many years. Read it in the open air—ha! Where Mr Malley and his mop can disturb me whenever they like?”
A sudden cry of, “Aw down’t loike bein’ called a mop!” echoed from the crow’s nest.
“Aw think he meant the cleanin’ mop, Moppit,” Mr Malley called out.
“No, I meant the draggletail scout,” said Bartleby.
There was a tootling sound from above, and Moppit returned to his business in in the crow’s nest, murmuring, “…Better than what the ole git called me last time…”
“You may read your book in the hold, if you will be such a putterpout about exposing the pages to the sea air,“ Danaco continued. “There is a bunk next to Rannig’s where you might set up shoppe, and there are tables and chairs enough for your project, I’m sure.”
“Read a manuscript in the bunks, captain?” Bartleby exclaimed, aghast. “And tell me how is it to be done in peace with the rigmutton and him rompingstall posting away on one another at all hours?”
“It’s he talking about us?” Ujaro quietly asked Brogan.
“Aye,” Brogan replied, climbing into the hole, “he’s talkin’ about us. Don’t know what a rompin’stall is, but guess that’s either me or you.” He canted his head and inspected his partner. “Probably you.”
“Oh. What’s a rigmutton?”
Brogan shrugged and took up a mallot. “Dunno, but sure sounds delicious, whatever it is. Could do with a bit o’ mutton right now.”
He pressed his chest against Ujaro’s back and blew gently on the back of his ear.
“No, no, no!” Bartleby cried, waving at the carpenters. “There will be none of this nate-mandering while you’re standing in my room! You have a bunk to do that in. You will keep your marriage music there in the hold and lock it away. No one wants to see or hear about your cubicular theatricals—nobody at all-- just as no one should ever want to see any mating rituals of any species without any idea of cataloguing them.”
Brogan grinned at Ujaro, and Rannig had little idea why any two persons in love should not like to have their affection for one another canvassed and recorded by so esteemed a historian.
“Nay, my old friend,” said Danaco subrisively, “say you should like to catalogue the mating rituals of two such exquisite specimens, and Brogan and Ujaro should be happy to perform for you.”
“Aye,” Brogan chimed, “and we can do it right here in yer room, so you’re close to all yer measurin’ instruments and such.”
“Inpalo,” said Ujaro, in a dreadful hush, “not that I want to disagree with you, but if you don’t stop teasing him, he’s going to poison you.”
“Rubbish!” Bartleby cried. “The only thing you two ursine mancoddlers will be doing in front of me is fixing my ceiling, and I’m sure I don’t care about your mating rituals or fundamentals or what have you.”
“Well, if he’s gonna be such a hoe in the bucket about it,” Brogan humphed, returning to his work. “If somebody told me I’d be gettin’ a showin’ o’ you, mho ludhan, I’d be in the front row with a trough and a piggin.”
“Inpalo,” said Brogan, colouring and looking demure.
“There, you have made my carpenters crimson over, Bartleby,” said Danaco. “There shall be no mending of any deck or ceiling if you do not leave them at their ease. Get you into the hold, and take a lantern with you, that you may have enough light for your book. The evening is nearly over, and the moonlight will not be enough for you to read by alone.”
“Can us play Luninata, cap’n, the moon bein’ come out?” asked Feiza, his nose wriggling.
“Only if there is no frog pelting as there was the last time.”
“Us’n meant no ‘arm by it, cap’n, no harm innit. Just a bit o’ gamin’ fer the dinner. Good batch o’ frogs’ legs Us caught that time.”
“There’s good eatin’ on those,” Brogan agreed.
“Very well, you may play your game,” Danaco conceded, and the moment Feiza called out their next round of evening gaieties, Danaco added, “Come, I want in. Magochiro positively thrashed me last time, and I will have my reprisal.”
Feiza sidled the captain, and said, in an audible whisper, “Want one o’ my special throwin’ rocks, cap’n?”
“No,” Danaco replied, with a careless sigh. “I have no need of them as of yet. I do get by tolerably well on my own. I have an amazing accurate throwing arm, but between our three Ruvani, Magochiro always finds a way to conquer us all.”
They went to the railing, to line up their throwing rocks and, in Feiza’s case, to change some of the collected stones for some of his own, and the rest of the crew joined them, to skip their stones across the lunanata reigning over the water and cross the ripples made by them to score points, and Bartleby was left to either join them in a game and leave his book for a later hour, or descend to the hold, where he might begin the long endeavour of debate with Attenburrow about fungi long expired and argue himself to sleep.