Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Aye, sometimes ye wear the red shirt, but...

"On Deck There! Two sail ahoy, two points off the larboard bow!" cried the lookout from the maintop.

His skipper, Commander Sir Jeffrey Ronald Hawke (Bart.) of His Majesty's Brig of War Gryphon, took a glass from the duty midshipman and sprang up mightily into the mizzen shrouds. The ships came hull-up over the horizon and then, the crowded decks, numerous gunports, and death-head flags revealed them to be dreaded pirates.

Back on the quarterdeck Sir Jeffrey called to his cabin boy: "Lad! Fetch me my red shirt!"

In the savage combat that ensued, Sir Jeffrey and the crew of the Gryphon took one pirate ship, with the other outlaw ship escaping, but with great damage and chastisement. Although the combat was desperate, with grievous losses on both sides, the crew of the good ship Gryphon prevailed and many pirates were slain in combat or hung from the yardarms afterward. Afterward, Sir Jeffrey's men wondered about the meaning of his calling for the red shirt. Was it some sort of ritual or good-luck charm? Finally, the youngest midshipman timidly asked the captain about the shirt.

"My lad, you wondered about that red shirt?" replied Sir Jeffrey. "Ah, I was concerned that, were I to be wounded in battle and seen to bleed, my crew might become fearful and lose heart. So, just as the deck is painted red to hide the sight of blood, so too was my shirt red that I could receive wounds without fearing for my men's courage."

Later during that same cruise, again the lookout cried out when swift pirate ships again came into view and raced downwind toward the still-battle-scarred Gryphon. But this time, the heroic Sir Jeffrey was faced with not two, or even three or four, but rather a great, devastating fleet of ten pirate ships!

"Boy!", he roared. "Fetch me my brown trousers!"


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