Captain Hamlyn, recently merely Acting Captain Hamlyn, was not so quick with
the lash nor stern with the make-work as many a captain in the Navy. He had
yet to learn the benefits of a crew too exhausted to converse amongst
themselves. Still, it was a rare thing for the three of them to pull the
same watch off-duty. Gibbs, Cotton, and Mahon lolled on the gun deck,
chattering about nothing as sailors are wont to do in the long hours on a
"I tell you true, I've a certain knack for these things, John," Gibbs
grinned at his boon mate. "A sixth sense, if you will."
"Sixth sense!" Cotton snorted derisively. "You're lucky if you can manage
two senses most days, Joshamee. Put away those blasted cards, and I'll tell
you what your future holds! Holystoning the aft deck on the morrow, and
tarring the rig on the day after. How's that for prognosticatory, aye?"
"Yer afeart I'll speak truth," said Gibbs.
"I'm afeart you'll tell me too much about what you wish my future to
be," Cotton replied in a similar serious tone.
"Fine, suit yourself." Gibbs turned away and called to the other crewmate,
"Ho, Mahon! Looky what I got at the dockside fair. Rub your palm o'er this
deck, and let me tell you yer future!"
"Bunch of bleedin' bollocks..." Still, Cotton managed to position himself
close enough to eavesdrop on the proceedings.
"First, I need a hair from your head, and one from your beard," Gibbs
murmured solemnly to his willing subject.
"I ain't takin' down my queue fer this," drawled Matthew Mahon. "Ye kin jest
"A little one..." Joshamee's deft fingers darted out to the base of Mahon's
neck and tugged hard on a wisp there.
"...from your neck won't be trouble. You can pull the beard yourself."
John Cotton stifled a laugh. Wouldn't do to mock too early, or there woudn't
be a fortune-telling to jibe at later.
The two sailors crouched on the decking in the dim light of the gunports, as
the third looked on while trying to seem as if he was doing anything other
than looking on. Hands were passed over, hairs were flourished, and several
cards were dealt out. Finally, Mahon's hairs were dropped among the spread,
and closely examined like tea leaves in a cup.
"What? What is it? What do you see?" Mahon's eyes grew big as Spanish gold
Gibbs just stared at him, hostile and silent.
"Ah, he's just having you on, Matthew!" John Cotton tried to lighten the
tension. This was going too far.
"Shut yer gob, Cotton. This be solid certainty," Gibbs growled. "Will you do
this, Mahon? Will you?"
"What? What are ye on about?" Mahon's nervous laughter suddenly rang out.
"Ye think me fool enough put faith in this bunkum? I'll show ye what a bunch
o'tommyrot it be!" He kicked at the cards, scattering them over the deck.
"Mark my words, Matthew Mahon. Mark them well. You choose this path, and
you'll be dead inside a year," Gibbs said.
"And what of it? Better dead than this!" Mahon cried.
"Pipe down! You'll bring the officers, both of you!" and as if in response
to Cotton's summons, feet began to pound on the decking above them.
Then, a drum.
Sail had been sighted. They were in Spanish waters. They beat to quarters.
The smoke and the sting of the cannon's char took away all thought of what
may have been shown in the cards.
It wasn't until after Mahon deserted, that Cotton understood.