Dancing games are particularly popular in Marridon, where they are played by both children and adults alike, the latter of whom play them while bleezed and therefore do worse at them than spry young children ever could. Docking is long at times for the crew of the Myrellenos, and when they have done tormenting their guests, they resort to a round of Creep-Colour, one of their favourite pastimes:
|The first of this year's birthday cards|
The three moved toward the upper end of the deck, where the crewmen were just ending the second round of their games.
“’Ere, where yew gawn, captain?” Mr Malley called out to him. “Brogan’s needin’ a partnerfor the next round.”
“I did say I should come and dance with you for a set, if you were short,” said the captain pensively. “What are we playing for?”
Bartleby was about to refute the captain’s doing any such thing— nonsense to be frolicking about the deck of a ship when there were potatoes promised, and he was still hungry after all. Nobody was to dance when a second round of dinner might be had—nobody-- and that was an end of it—but a giant hand covered his mouth, and the old man could only emit a few strangled noises as he flailed about.
Mr Malley riffled through his pockets. “Bit o’ Marridon lemonjelly, still wrapped.”
“Is it powdered or sugared?” Danaco asked, with a suspicious look.
The boatswain turned the lemonjelly about. “Powdered, Aw think.”
“I shall certainly take it off you, if it be powdered. One set, and you shall be very sorry you ever asked me to a dance when you are crying over the lemonjelly you foolishly relinquished to the most capital dancer aboard this ship. Rannig, go and take you Brogan’s hand. You are large enough for it. The two of you shall suit very well, and I shall dance with Bartleby.”
This was to be repeated before it could be intelligible to the old man. He was in the middle of his remonstrances of there being Creep-Colour or any similar game allowed when there was a galley to be swept and bunks to be cleansed, when the captain’s profession of his dancing with Bartleby caught his ear. “And I have seen the stains on some of your sheets. They look as thought they have been used to wipe the coal out of a furnace—what! Captain, you cannot really mean to—and after I said I would not—no!” pulling his hand away as the captain came to take it. “This is cruelty—absolute cruelty! There was to be no dancing—no dancing, do you hear me?”
“Oh, do not be so sullensick, Bartleby,” said Danaco, taking the old man’s hand and leading him to the set. “I want that lemonjelly, and I will need a partner for my conquest. You see Brogan needs a partner with a greater breadth than what I can provide, and Rannig will do for him much better.”
“I do not care if he needs someone with better breadth or better breath!” the old man cried, trying to free himself. “I will not dance, absolutely will not—“
“Very well, then. You may find the tatti-pratti man yourself, and we will be along after you.”
The old man’s hand was released, but instead of leaping toward the plank and fleeing for his life, Bartleby remained where he was, surrendering to the sudden dread that being left to fend for himself in a forgien country afford. “You mean for me to go into the Sesternese markets by myself, captain?” said Bartleby, in a fit of the gapes. “To walk the alleys alone, when there might be all manner of ruffians mantling about?”
“You shall not be alone, surely. Your friends the dancing caiques shall accompany you. I am sure they are in the trees awaiting your return. They may guide you, if you cannot wait a few minutes for us.”
Barlteby contended that birds, regardless of how well they were trained, could not save him in case of a ambush, nor could their olfactory senses lead him to fried potatoes, but he was rather losing ground throughout his argument: the captain would stay, would dance, would win the last powdered lemonjelly, “And when I said that Mr Malley should be relinquishing his prize to the best dancer on board, Bartleby, I did not mean me,” the captain added. “I will need your steps, if anything is to be won. Do stop flumping and come over here to the game. We will win in five minutes, and then be off to the tatti-pratti stand. Put your flute in your pocket and give me your hand. We will dance circles around the rest, and you will show everybody what an exquisite saltation you commit yourself to. You are too magnificent for them, your tripudiary prowess shall offend their talents, and you always like offending those who have hurt your feelings.”
Reprisal for past injuries was all Bartleby’s delight, and as he was being so well cried up, his capabilities being lauded and expatiated upon-- and altogether, it was for an excellent cause, to silence Mr Malley on the subject of his wretched dancing forever-- that Barlteby owned himself somewhat persuadable at last. His flouts relented, he watched Rannig take up Brogan’s hand very readily, and as the captain was beckoning him, pleading to him with a gesture, he must surrender his reservations on the side of prudence immediately. “Oh, by my hat,” he grunted, tucking his flute into his pocket. “You are forcing me, captain—threatening me—into this operation. It is extortion to say you will leave me to the street-crows unless I dance with you—extortion and exaction every way, do you hear me?” He snuffed and marched toward he captain. “I will concede to be your parter on the condition that I receive at least half that lemonjelly-- at least half, you understand. And it must be a good half, not the half that is missing the powder or that is pinched and climped by soiled fingers. It must be a clean and substantial half. I will have nothing less.”
Danaco’s lips wreathed with the broadest smiles. “Not a moment ago, he said he should never dance,” he announced to his crew, “and now only look how he snurls at us.”
Bartleby huffed and held out his hands. “Well, when the only choice is between having my spleen excavated by some Sesternese guttermongrel or dancing for a lemonjelly, there is hardly any choice at all.” He took the captain’s hands in his and positioned his arms accordingly. “And I will lead. I don’t care how tall you are or who has the weaker left leg. I do a better country dance than you.”
“There I agree with you, my old friend.”
“Well,” said Bartleby, somewhat embarrassed, “you don’t have to look so pleased about it. Go on, Mr Malley. Go on! Begin your set, and let’s have this over. I am still hungry and am likely to be hungier after this dance. And I want that lemonjelly. I have not had one in ages, and as it is the last one on the ship, I will have it to spite you and this whole company. A man has no business keeping a perfectly good lemonjelly tucked away in his pocket. There are things hidden away in the folds of your breeches that might contaminate it. Your pocket lint is infamous for being atrocious and possibly sentient, and you will examine that lemonjelly to make sure that no dust or dirt has got in. And you will be sure that it has not been sat on. A lemonjelly crushed and warmed by a seat is one no one should be having.”
“Aw didn’t sit on it, professah,” said the boatswain. “Aw had it in maw safe box and jus’ puts it in maw pocket before our first round.”
“Well, we shall see when I win it—and I will do a thorough inspection, and if there is any lint, or if the lemonjelly is even slightly incalescent, I will have the captain flog you.”
The rest of the partners took their places in a circle around the coloured mats, and when Mr Malley gave the order, the musicians, who were seated off to the side, began to play. A lively country dance was struck up, the first eight bars were played out, the six couple waited in bounding anticipation, and when the last measure before the melody was played, the dancers rose up in anticipation, and they were off, whirling round the mizzenmast with joyous animation, Rannig noggling round in circles with his partner, and Danaco and Bartleby gliding across the deck, the old man’s steps light and lively, and the captain jaunting about in perfect answer to his lead.
“What do you there, Mr Malley?” Danaco called out, as he whirled by his opponent. “Kick up your heals, man. What are you about?”
“Yah tryin’ tah distract me, captain!” the boatswain cried.
Danaco whirled around and laughed. “When you cramble about like a broken table leg, I am right to tell you your faults.”
“One, two, three, and back, and one, two, three, and back,” said Bartleby, repeating the movements more from memory than he was leading the captain about. “And hop, down, hop, down, one, two, three, and back—“
The music stopped, a colour was called out, and instantly the six couple raced to stand on the coloured mats. Some flounced about in confusion, having heard one thing and done another, some let go of their partners and each half went to another mat, instantly disqualifying them, and everyone with a keen eye and quick mind danced onto the red mats. Bartleby and Danaco shifted smoothly onto the mat nearest them, Rannig followed Brogan’s lead, and three couple were out, leaving Mr Malley and his partner, Danaco and Bartleby, and Rannig and Brogan left in the game.
“Well, go on!” Bartleby indignantly cried. “The others are out and will not be getting back in this round. Play, and let’s be done with this!”
The music again began, this time at a more spirited pace, and the three couple twirled around the mast, holding to one another and performing their one-two-threes as best they could, Bartleby nearly singing the steps as he kicked about, Danaco happily being whirled around, and Rannig trying desperately not to step on any of Brogan’s other toes.
“Sorry, Brogan!” the giant cried, recovering and hopping away from Brogan’s feet.
“’S ‘o right, lad. I’ve dancin’ on a broken toe before. Just keep goin’!”
He moved Rannig around, though with some difficulty due to size, but when the music stopped again, they were directly in front of the blue mat and hopped onto it, giving Mr Malley and his partner no where to stand. They floundered and hastened toward the second blue mat, but Danaco and Bartleby were just drifting onto it, and there were now only two couple left in the set.