CHAPTER SIX

They were prisoners!

It had all happened so fast that Stuart's head was spinning. He had gone from gardener to prisoner to pirate and back to prisoner in less than thirty minutes. And this time it was much worse -- he had heard of Madame X.

After only five minutes of being her prisoners, Stuart and Felix and Captain Brannigan were swabbing the deck with toothbrushes. Even the toucan had a toothbrush of his own. The only good thing about any of it was that they were together and had time to plan their escape.

“Oh, woe!” Felix moaned. “Oh woe! Oh woe is me!” He dipped his toothbrush in a bucket of soapy water, then scrubbed at a dark spot on the splintery deck. He sounded like the situation was hopeless. His toucan squawked from his perch on the edge of the bucket.

Captain Brannigan paused, his toothbrush in his hand. “Don't you mean woe is us, Felix?”

“Oh, yes, of course,” Felix said readily. “Woe is us. This is the end. We're doomed. I just know it! We'll never see the beloved farm or have one of Sweet Sarah's Caramel Chocolate Cookies ever again!” he wailed. Then he started to cry.

“Oh, Felix, don't cry,” Captain Brannigan said. He patted Felix on the back. “It will be all right. You'll see.”

Felix wiped his eyes and sniffled. “I'm just so nervous! I mean, I've heard of Madame X! She's scary!”

“We know!” the captain answered in a whisper. He didn't want to attract any attention. “That's why we have to escape.”

“Escape?” Felix squeaked in dismay. “What if she catches us? We'll be drawn and quartered! We'll be flayed and flogged! We'll be --”

“Felix!” whispered Stuart. “Shh! She'll hear us. Now scrub!” He kept his eye on Madame X while they all went back to scrubbing the deck planks. When he was sure nobody was watching them, he scooted closer to Felix and the captain so that they could hear him. “What we need to do is think of a plan of escape,” he whispered. “We'll have a better chance of escaping if we have a plan first.”

Felix perked up at that idea. “Yes, a plan. That's what we need.” His eyes brightened. “I know!” he exclaimed.

“Shh! Not so loud!”

“Okay, right, right.” Felix started over again in a loud whisper. “I have a plan! Listen: We'll take one of the hanging lanterns from the hold and set the ship on fire! Then, when everybody is running around, we can jump overboard! Yeah, and then --”

“Felix!” Captain Brannigan hissed fiercely. “We can't jump overboard! I can't swim. You can't swim!”

That stopped Felix's excitement. “Oh, that's right. I forgot,” he said.

Suddenly there were footsteps close by.

“Someone's coming!” Stuart warned. “Quick, scrub!”

They started scrubbing energetically with their toothbrushes. A minute later the footsteps went away again. They stopped scrubbing.

Felix glanced at Madame X, then looked back at Stuart and the captain. “I have another idea,” he said. “First we wait until everybody is asleep. Then we sneak up on Madame X in her cabin and clunk her with her compass. Then we --”

Captain Brannigan shook his head. His pirate hat with the big 'B' on it bobbed back and forth. “We can't do that, Felix! We don't want to break our compass. We may need it later if we ever want to find that treasure.”

“Oh, right. But, then what are we going to do?” Felix wailed in a whisper. He looked like he was going to cry again.

Stuart put out a hand to stop him. He kept one eye on Madame X and looked at Felix with the other. “Now, Felix, don't give up just yet. I think there's a way out of this.”

“There is? How?”

Stuart started to grin, pleased with himself. “Well, just so you know, I hid the treasure map right before we were taken prisoner.”

Captain Brannigan and Felix gaped at Stuart. Then they turned to gape at each other. After a moment, they started to smile.

Stuart went on. “And in case you haven't noticed, now that we're prisoners, there's nobody left to man the ship. Madame X will have to let us loose for a little while just to hoist the sails and change course, stuff like that. When the time is right, we can perform a counter-mutiny and take over the ship again!”

Captain Brannigan beamed at Stuart. “Oh, excellent idea, young Stuart! Excellent!”

As if she knew they had invented a plan of escape, Madame X stalked over to them. She was even scarier up close. The toucan squeaked a warning instead of squawked.

Madame X walked around them, her hands clasped behind her back. She raised her eyebrows at them. She glared at them. She snarled! She growled! She showed her teeth!

Stuart tried to stay calm, but he was too nervous. His tongue darted to his loose tooth, and he worked the tooth back and forth, back and forth. He knew he looked silly with his tongue moving inside his mouth, but he couldn't stop himself.

“Attention prisoners!” Madame X suddenly yelled.

It was too much for Stuart. He wiggled his tooth so hard that it popped out! Stuart shouted in surprise.

Madame X whirled to face him. He instantly jumped to his feet with Felix and Captain Brannigan.

Madame X continued. “You will now notice the new crew of the pirate ship Vengeful Revenge!

Felix looked up, bewildered. “New crew?” He looked around. “What new crew?”

Captain Brannigan groaned and pointed. “That new crew!”

Felix looked. At least twenty pirates stared back. “Oh,” was all he could say at first. Then he squinted. “Hey, they look a lot like our old crew. Only they've changed their clothes.”

Every member of the crew was now dressed in black, just like the pirate who had raised the new jolly roger when Madame X took over the ship.

“What happened?” Stuart wondered.

Captain Brannigan knew. “They're traitors!” he declared. “It's treachery! We've been surrounded by turncoats and cutthroats the entire trip!”

Stuart stared at the captain. “Didn't you know what kind of crew you had when we set sail?”

Captain Brannigan waved his arms helplessly. “They came with the ship! I thought they were farmers just like us!”

“Oh brother!” Stuart groaned.

“Oh dear!” Felix moaned. “I can't take this! I need to lie down.” He slid to the deck in a heap.

“Enough talking, prisoners!” Madame X growled. Then she ordered, “New First Mate, step forward!”

One of the pirates rushed to her side. He wore a black shirt with sleeves that billowed in the wind. His pants were black. His boots were black. His beard was black. The patch covering his right eye was black. The only thing he was wearing that wasn't black was the scarf tied over his head. It was a bright, scarlet red. It reminded Stuart of blood,

The pirate stood up straight next to Madame X. He yelled, “First Mate Henry Cornelius, also known as Thug, reporting for duty, ma'am... uh, Madame... uh, Captain X! Sir! Ooog-argh!”

Other than not knowing what to call his captain, Stuart thought this first mate was an impressive pirate. He certainly looked like a pirate!

Madame X glared at her first mate. “Thug, you will examine the prisoners!”

Thug saluted. “Yes, sir!” But he hesitated. “Uh... examine them for what, Captain?”

Madame X glared at him again. Her eyes were dark and beady. “The treasure map, of course!” she said angrily and leaned close to Thug. “One of these landlubbers hid that map right after I took them prisoner. There's an item of great value in that treasure, and I need that map to find it.” She leaned even closer. “So examine the prisoners!” she yelled.

Thug saluted smartly at his furious captain. “Yes, Captain!” he said, then turned quickly to the prisoners. “Examining the prisoners now! There are two....” He noticed Felix heaped on the deck, and corrected himself, “No, three prisoners -- two standing and one sitting on the deck.” He looked at Felix more closely. “This one looks tired, Captain. It's no wonder, sir -- he's sitting on the `poop' deck.” Thug laughed loudly at his joke.

Stuart smacked his hand to his head and groaned.

Madame X was not amused. She snarled, “Thug, this is no time for jokes! We need to find that map before we sight land or --”

Suddenly the ship jolted hard against something. Everybody toppled over sideways, then slid backwards as the ship tilted unsteadily. The ship's wooden planks creaked and groaned, and the canvas sails snapped and whirled. The ship rocked one way, then rocked the other way. The crew slid backwards, then slid forwards. Then they stopped dead. They had hit something!

Stuart crawled to the railing and looked across the ocean. His mouth dropped open in surprise.

There was an island out there!

Thug jumped to his feet. “Land!” he yelled in excitement. “We've run aground, Captain! I'll rally the men!”

Thug ran off to organize the pirates.

Captain Brannigan leaned over the rail and tried not to get seasick.

Madame X heaved aside the rope that had buried her in the grounding. “Lower the sails!” she yelled to the pirates running around on the deck. “Prepare the boats!” she ordered next. “Batten down the hatches!” she said, then hollered, “And somebody find that treasure map!”

Felix climbed groggily to his feet. “Are we there yet?” he asked hopefully.

Stuart hauled him up. “Hey, the coast is clear! I've got the map -- quick, everybody, this is our chance... run!"

Go on to Chapter 7.


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