t’s been cynically stated that there are only two true plot lines, those being (a) a man comes to town or (b) a man leaves town. The Powder Monkey sees both of these come to play.
Seaman Jack Jeens plods into our story along a countryside road, his dear ol’ mother at his back (he’s just given her half his wages, d’ya see, to keep the poor ald lady whole and hale), his schooner at anchor in nearby Torquay*. And that’s when he comes upon a poor little lad weeping in the lane, his mum and da passed on, his uncle abusive, and he on the run. Jack, of course, after some bellowing and be’damning, hoists the sleepy little lad over his shoulders, intending to pass him on to the innkeeper’s wife the very next day before he sails.
Of course, that night the press gang shows up.
Some nautical stuff for you land lubbers – a press gang is a group of enthusiastic fleet recruiters, generally operating at night, usually by force. And a powder monkey is a child on a warship whose job was to fetch bags of powder and lug them to the guns. And one spark, one cinder, and it’s lights out laddy. So you can see where this is going.
Now aboard the HMS Victory (Nelson’s flagship, and boy, can we see where this is going), young Phil (that’s the wee lad’s name) turns on his charm. And charming he is. From the illustrations, he looks like he’s made of pewter. Soon all the grog-swirling tars are moony over the lad. Nelson gives him the nod. The gruff ship’s tomcat follows him around. And when the other monkies try to sort him out and someone gets hurt, young Phil is there to wait at the injured boy’s bedside. It’s too bad the lad couldn’t have been introduced to the frogs – perhaps Trafalgar could have been avoided.
This was an interesting read in that it captures the hundred year archetype of the spirited young hero who everyone adores. I wrote about this same sort of thing in One of Clive’s Heroes and read it in Daughter of the Regiment. Sure, hundreds of stories all followed this heroic ideal, but then again, are our own stories any more imaginative (or lack thereof) than these?
Hey, it’s short and FREE from Project Gutenberg, an easy sea yarn that was fun to read. Sure, go ahead and have a look. Or perhaps a squint through the brass scope, ‘ere me lad.
* = Setting of Faulty Towers. Small world.