Sneaveweedle was in his room, packing his things, when Bentley brought him the phone.
"This rum is fantastic," Sneaveweedle's mother was saying as he brought the receiver to his ear. "Rum. I love rum! It's even a fun word to say: rrrrrrrum! Why we gave up control of the Caribbean, I will never understand."
"Mumsy?" whined Sneaveweedle.
"Dear Lord! What is that insufferable noise coming down the phone?!"
"Oh moan. It's me, Mother."
"Oh, I say. So it is. Hello, darling. How are you?" shouted the voice on the other end.
Sneaveweedle's mother spoke with the vigour of a pantomime queen. The casual observer might expect her to shout things like, "We are not amused," or, "Off with her head!" She was blue-blood aristocracy through and through, but had come off the rails since Sneaveweedle's father had met his untimely death seven years earlier.
The relationship between mother and son had never been particularly close, but after Lord Grivelsby's demise, Lady Grivelsby had made a valiant effort to raise young Sneaveweedle through his teenage years. After six months of this, she chose instead to pursue a life of heavy drinking in exotic locales.
"Hmmm, I'm alright," Sneaveweedle answered. "At the moment I'm.."
"Hold on a minute, darling," Sneaveweedle's mother said. She then shouted at someone in a slow, loud, pronounced voice. "Excúseme, Huriel, darling, fetch us another of those fabulous rum drinks, will you? There's a good lad. Oh, my, he is a pleasure, isn't he? These Cuban gentlemen are devious fellows, but one certainly does enjoy the view. Were I a shade younger, I think I should be ravishing him in one of those beach huts. Not that 52 is so old, mind you. But since that embarrassing episode in a Tibetan monastery I've tried to be a little more judicious in where and when I remove my clothing..."
"You're in Cuba?" Sneaveweedle asked.
"Great interrobang, what was that noise?!" shouted Lady Grivelsby. "Oh, you're still there. Yes, darling, a group of us decided it would be fun to see what might happen when Fidel dies. It could be rather exciting. Although, on the face of it, that seems quite unlikely at the moment. There was a time not so long ago when the Americans would be hitting the beaches by now. They've lost their bottle, I say. We never should have left them to run off on their own. This is what happens when you cavort with the French, you see -- 230 years down the line and you've lost the nerve to storm a tiny island."
"Hmm, Mother, are you drunk?" Sneaveweedle moaned.
"Oh, of course, darling! I should sooner be caught not wearing makeup than suffer the slings and arrows of sobriety!" Sneaveweedle's mother shouted. Then, again to someone off the phone: "Gracias, Huriel. You are magnificent. Turn around now and let me watch you walk away in those tight trousers of yours. There you are, very good. Oh, lovely. Yes, very nice indeed. I really must speak to him privately. Dearest, is there a reason you've phoned me?"
"Hmm? You phoned me," Sneaveweedle sighed.
"Egad! That noise again! It's like a rabid monkey let loose in my ear canal! Oh, it's still you, is it? Yes, I suppose I did phone you. Dear, is there anyone else around?"
"Anyone else around the manor? I should like to speak to them. I'm afraid your voice is not mixing well with the rum, darling."
"Oh whoa," moaned Sneaveweedle. "I only see the gardener, I'm afraid."
"Stevens? That's fine. Put him on, will you?"
"Hmm, I'd rather not, Mumsy. Stevens makes me terribly uncomfortable," protested Sneaveweedle.
"Stevens?! Why, darling, he's one of the finest gardeners I've ever encountered. And not too hard on the eyes, I might add," Lady Grivelsby said. "What ever could be the matter with Stevens?"
"He thinks he's a pirate, Mother."
"So he does. That's nothing to hold against him. Put him on the phone at once."
Sneaveweedle pushed open his bedroom window and called down to the peg-legged man who had been replacing soil for roses. Despite a greying beard and only one leg, the man spun with incredible speed, brandishing a shiny foot-long knife that seemed to have come from nowhere. His one good eye scanned the garden quickly; when his gaze moved up to the bedroom window, his shoulders relaxed and he smiled.
"G'mornin' Mr. Sneaveweedle!" he shouted, returning the knife to its hiding place in his large black pirate coat.
Stevens was up the stairs in a flash. He smiled a warm, gap-toothed grin through his scraggy beard and took the receiver from Sneaveweedle.
"Who be wantin' to speak to Black Cap'n Stevens?!" he growled fiercely down the line. "Oh, hello yer Ladyship. Ye be soundin' as lovely as ever. Yar-har! Ye be too humble! If ye'll excuse me immodesty, I've had the company o' many a woman in many a port, but I never laid eyes on such a lovely creature as ye. Oh, har-har-har, yer Ladyship, ye be too generous to ol' Cap'n Stevens."
Black Cap'n Stevens sat down in Sneaveweedle's reading chair, crossed his legs, or, leg, as the case may be, and chatted a while with Sneaveweedle's mother.
Sneaveweedle sat on his bed and let out a slow, quiet moan.
"Ye be in Cuba, ye say!" Stevens growled. "I been to Cuba many a time. Yer Ladyship, if ye should meet a man by the name o' Guscar, would ye be so kind as to stab him in the eye fer me?
"Oh, I have good reason, yer Ladyship. In the port o Havana, Guscar sold me a mirror. The back o' that mirror, he said, contained a map -- a map to treasure! More treasure than any man can imagine! Beyond even the greediest pirate's dreams.
"But the treasure, he said, were guarded by hideous beast. A beast so hideous, so awful, so gruesome, so horrific, so terrifying, so dreadful that nary a man dare to look upon it. If ye look upon the beast directly, he said, ye'll rip yer own eyes out in disgust and run cold steel through ye own skull to chase away the memory. The only way to battle the beast, says he, is to look upon it indirectly -- through the mirror...
"What? Is that so? Well, I'm afraid I never saw 'Clash of the Titans,' yer Ladyship. Thar not be many opportunities for Black Cap'n Stevens to visit the cinema these days...
"What's that? No, I haven't heard about the new pirate movie... Ha! 'Rated Arrrr.' That be a good one. How about this: 'What do a pirate say when he has a heart attack? Arrr! Me heartie!'
"Anyway, as yer Ladyship can well imagine, thar be no monster. The map at the back o' the mirror were just to the IKEA in Bristol, where I found several o' the same mirror -- a KOOFKUP, it were called. It were reasonably priced at £7.99. But that mangy bastard Guscar had charged me 20 doubloons!"
Sneaveweedle was no longer paying attention. He had busied himself by checking to make sure he had the train and ferry tickets for the next day. He then used his new mobile phone to check that both the train and ferry were expected to run on time.
"But what is it that ol' Black Cap'n Stevens can do fer yer Ladyship?" Stevens asked. "Eh? Well, he be right here. Ye want me to put him on the phone? Oh, I see. Agreed -- tis an ingratiating tone to be sure! Right. Really? OK, I'll be askin' him."
"Mr. Sneaveweedle!" Stevens shouted, suddenly stepping toward the young man.
"Oh!" cried Sneaveweedle, dropping a handful of travel pamphlets.
"Lady Grivelsby be wantin' to know if it be true what she heard from Bentley, of your findin' a job?"
"Hngh?" Sneaveweedle bleated. "How did she hear that from Bentley? He doesn't speak."
"He speaks, young Mr. Sneaveweedle; he doesn't speak to you," Stevens said. "An' stop trying to avoid the question. Are ye or are ye not gainfully employed?"
"Hmm, well, yes," Sneaveweedle stammered.
"Hello? Hello? I think yer mother fainted," Stevens growled, cupping his hand over the receiver. "Ye be a cruel man to do such a thing to yer poor sweet own mother."
"Oh moan," Sneaveweedle cried. "What did I do?"
"Hello, yer Ladyship? Be ye OK?" Stevens said, his attention back to the other end of phone. "Yes, well thank goodness ye were already reclining in a beach chair, yer Ladyship."
Stevens again directed his attention to Sneaveweedle.
"How can ye be doin' this? Yer mother asks," Stevens hissed, keeping the receiver pressed to his ear. "No member o' the Grivelsby family has held a steady job in at least five generations. Are ye tryin' to shame ye own family?"
"Oh, Mumsy, erm, Captain Stevens, it seemed like a good idea at the time..." Sneaveweedle moaned.
"If yer father were alive to hear this, he'd have a fit, she says. The Grivelsbys are above filthy common labour," Stevens reported.
Then again directing his speech away from Sneaveweedle, he said, "Oh, no offence taken, yer Ladyship. I agree that the life o' a pirate-gardener ain't no kind o life for young Mr. Sneaveweedle. Do ye want me to run him through for ye? No? How about I just wound 'im -- take a finger or somethin' like that? To teach him a lesson. No? Sure? 100 percent? OK, I understand."
Stevens' eye darted back up to Sneaveweedle and he asked in a low, gravelled tone: "What kind o job be ye havin, yer mother wants to know."
"I am a travel assistant to..."
"ASSISTANT?!" screamed Lady Grivelsby loud enough for Sneaveweedle to hear.
"Avast!" yelped Stevens as he winced and extended the phone to arm's length.
"Oh moan! Yes, Mumsy a travel assistant to..." Sneaveweedle tried again.
"GREAT BANG SCREAMER!! CAN'T YOU JUST BE GAY OR SOMETHING?! HURIEL! BRING ME A DRINK, RÁPIDAMENTE! AND NOT THAT FRUITY CANDY IN A CUP -- A PROPER DRINK! ASSISTANT? ASSISTANT! AN ASSISTANT TO WHO?"
"Oh moan. His name is Sir Percival Artemus..."
"Percy?!" Sneaveweedle's mother gasped, going quiet.
Black Cap'n Stevens gingerly tested placing the phone close to his ear again, looked at Sneaveweedle and asked: "How be dear ol' Percy? yer mother be wantin' to know."
"Hmm? Mother knows Sir Penhill?"
"That be none o' yer business, says she," Stevens reported. "But she be givin' ye permission to keep the job."
The above is a work of Flickr Fiction based on this photo by Flickr user Iguana Jo.
Also taking part this week are: Donal, Elisa, Tadmack and more to follow.
This is part three in a series about Penhill and Sneaveweedle. You can read the other parts by going here. As always, I would love to hear any comments -- good or bad -- you might have about the story, and I would love to see where you think it should go. Since the story is being written week to week, your input helps determine what happens next.