The Bluff

Captain Langdon, the long-dead grandfather

of my long-dead grandmother, held

a telescope to his eye. A feather

    on the horizon told

him quite clearly that a pirate

ship was approaching, and that it would be

able to outspeed the converted frigate

    aboard which he

and a cargo of settlers were sailing

to Van Diemen’s Land. There was time to call

a meeting of the ship’s company, detailing

    the situation. All

of the passengers were soon agreed:

there was no escape, in all that ocean.

Best to surrender peacefully, and plead

    for mercy. The notion

of surrender was foreign to the captain,

though. Instead, he proposed a scheme

no-one else thought at all certain

    of success; it would seem

far too risky. Still, he ordered the crew,

and all the male passengers, to dress themselves

in a set of uniforms, scarlet and navy blue,

    from the storeroom shelves

below deck, and had some canvas hung

over the gunwales to imitate the form

of a row of gunports. A bell was rung.

    In uniform,

the men on deck were commanded to march

about executing the drills that they would

if they were a troop of marines. Much

    depended on a good

and convincing performance. Next, he turned

the helm toward the pirate’s course, and sent

flags up in the signal all mariners learned

    to show an intent

(or what should appear a warship’s intention)

to make chase and then to board an enemy.

Of course it was a bluff. The tension

    as they waited to see

if the bluff would succeed seemed to draw

air from the ship’s sails, yet still the captain

held his nerve. The other ship, as he foresaw,

    yawed about, and then

with its greater speed began retreating

toward the horizon. The passengers

cheered. The captain enjoyed the fleeting

    yet real pleasures

that come with being a hero. A farm

on the fertile banks of the Clyde River

in Van Diemen’s Land was given to him

    by the Governor

as a reward, and he soon retired

from the sea. He became a prominent

citizen, respected and admired

    wherever he went,

except for the fact that all his decisions

on land were hopelessly wrong. Elected

to the legislature, he made its sessions

    seem shipwrecked

as he opposed every form of progress

the Industrial Revolution brought.

Conservative and cantankerous,

    he alone thought

that the first railway line should not be allowed.

This time, his bluff was doomed to fail.

For his funeral, there was a grateful crowd

    who arrived by rail.

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