That was the first time I ever saw the Captain. It was during one of his routine inspections of the deck and I was the sailor in charge of making sure the deck was spotless. He came down from his cabin and looked up and down the deck with a toothless grin. A feeling of unease washed over us and we each shuddered in turn as the Captain marched towards us. The clunk of his iron right leg echoed on the damp wood and every time he let out a deep breath, we could see the condensation on the air. He wore a dark grey eyepatch over his left eye and I had heard numerous horror stories over what actually lay beneath it.
Old Bobby Marlowe would whisper about it after he’d had a few too many drinks and we all knew his claim, that he was the only living man to have seen below the eyepatch. We didn’t know whether it was just the idle fantasy of an old man or if there was some truth to his stories. Of course it was well known that Old Bobby had lost his mind decades ago; I guess that’s what will happen to the rest of us if we serve as long as he has. Nearly fifty years without a single day on land but then Old Bobby was one of the lucky ones. Each time the Captain came down to inspect our slavery, one of our number would vanish and no one ever heard from them again. Nothing gets in the way of a good story of course and we could rely on Old Bobby to weave us a good yarn.
“An’ der yer knows where thay git tekken?” Old Bobby would say, his wrinkled lips curling upwards into a sort of smile. “Thay git tekken below dekks an’ this is ner werd of a lie,” Old Bobby paused and looked at each one of us in turn. “Thay git fed.” At this, Little Henry let out a roar of contemptuous laughter.
“Fed? What the bleeding heck are you gabbling about now Bobby?” Old Bobby wasn’t put off by this and he merely stared at Little Henry, wide-eyed.
“Yer’d der well ter listen,” Old Bobby warned. “Thay git fed an’ fed ’til thar bellies can’ tek ner more an’ tha’s when he gits them. Mark ma werds. Yer don’ wan’ ter hear what he does ter them.” No matter how hard we tried, none of us could get Old Bobby to say any more.