The old man blew the tassel of his hat out of his face and searched about the table for a stray …Thank you” from the old man, but before Bartleby could take up his fork and shovel his potatoes onto it, he looked down to discover a white ghost crab scuttling across his side of the table, its legs working busily as it scampered toward his plate.slice of bread or a cracker to commit his newly made pile to good use. Something by way of a lonely wedge was soon found; the captain sacrificed a slice from his own sandwich for the price of a sepulchral “
“No!” he cried, taking up his plate and holding it away from the crab. “Go away, you vile decapod, or I shall feed you to the gulls, which are no doubt circling in search of you.”
“It does not listen to you, Bartleby,” said Danaco, the corners of his mouth curling with an arch smile. “This must be one of your Marridonian crabs, and therefore cannot understand Common at such a voluptuary level as the one you speak. It must have been taught at the Academy.”
The captain shared a sagacious grin with Rannig and sipped his tea, while Damson watched Bartleby fend off the approaching crab with a raised foot.
“You horrid, horrid predator!” the old man cried, pushing the crab away with his heel. “My plate is not your scavenging ground. Go toward the sea—that way—where there is plenty of kelp and cockles washed ashore for you to fossick. And crabs, I would remind you, while being omnivores, do not eat potatoes—ah!” The crab suddenly stopped at Bartleby’s foot and rasied a claw. “Put that claw down at once! How dare you playact threatening to pinch my foot. I have never seen such vulgar behavior at a tea table in all my life—just as bad as that lickpenny that came comassing in Sesterna who tried to cabobble me out of my change.”
“He should not have disturbed you if you had allowed me to be the designated walleteer,” said the captain, his straight brows bending in spite of themselves.
“There was a toffeeman about, and I knew you should waste our earnings by giving the giant a few coins for candy.”
“Ye sure don’t say anythin’ about spendin’ money when there’s an ice cream cart around,” said Rannig, smiling into his cup.
This was not to be acknowledged, though it was certainly true, for while the ancient librarian would make his case for ice cream being worth all the trouble of empty wallets, there was a crab threatening him, and he could think of nothing beyond salvaging the last of his potatoes. Rannig, however, soon acted in his interest: he lay down his cup and saucer, placed one hand in front of the crab, and encouraged it onto his palm with the other.
“Hullo, ghost crab,” said the giant, raising the crab to eye-level.
The crab stared at Rannig and raised its claw.
“Please don’t pinch my nose, ghost crab. I need it to breathe and all since Bartleby doesn’t like when I breathe through my mouth. He says if I keep it open, it’ll start collectin’ all the salt in the sea air.”
The crab put its claw down and danced in a circle.
“There is our meal’s entertainment,” Danaco proclaimed, gesturing toward the saltating crab. “We must give it something for its performance.”
Rannig dismantled his sandwich, plucked a cucumber slice form the middle, and gave it to their meandering visitor.
“I must say, sir,” said Damson, his teacup lingering against his bottom lip, too in awe of the crab to bother with his tea, “I have never seen a ghost crab before. I have seen the fiddler crab and the common Marridonian red crab, but as this is my first time on a beach, I have never a spices like this.”
“Never been on a beach?” Danaco exclaimed, laying down his cup. “My dear Damson, how can this be? Here is some mistake. You mean to tell me that you have never been on this beach surely. You cannot have never been on any beach at all.”
Damson glanced at the crab, which was waving angrily about for another cucumber slice, and felt somewhat ashamed. “I am sorry, sir,” said he quietly, admiring the rumbling waves beyond, “I suppose it is natural that many who have left their parents’ homes have been to see Marridon’s shores at least once, but I never have. I had always been used to think that Marridon had no beaches, as the country is relatively elevated from sea level—or, that is, no beaches visitable by land, sir. I have been fortunate to witness many of Marridon’s beauties, sir—indeed, the Bannantyne Vale where my father’s estate is situated is one of the wonders of the kingdom, being dotted over with lavender and narcissus in the spring—but I have seen been to no beaches beyond this one, sir. ”
The Lucentian canted his head and spied the knight with wonderment. “By Myrellenos, you truly must have been cloistered away to never have stood once at the sanded seaside. Being from a country which boasts of its shores, with the Sahadin to the south and the white shores to the north, all Lucentians are practically born with sand between our toes.”
“I do hope my inexperience does not make me appear ignorant, sir. I should not wish you to think me unappreciative of the shoreline’s wonders. Indeed, I marvel at all of it, now that I have had time to properly recollect and realize my never having been to a beach before.”
“And your innocence and your amazement at what many take for granted is to be lauded, sir knight, but you need not fear, for as we are gratulating your coming to us by this repose, we need only add your first visit to the beach—and subsequently your first ghost crab-- and propinate in your honour.” He raised his cup to the knight and fleered at his drink. “It is undignified to propinate with teacups, but as we have not done a wrong thing in clinking them together and possibly chipping the varnish, Bartleby will not discipline us and I can be easy. Do tell me, sir knight, that this is not your first time seeing the sea.”
“I have been to the docks in the capital, sir, when I came to the arena at the castle for the first time, and I have seen the sea-- before my being thrown nearly into it, sir. I must own, sir, that this does feel a most strange first, sir, as I am not properly dressed to honour it, though I am in fine cloth, but it is a most extraordinary first notwithstanding. My first sitting down to tea,” smiling at his cup, “my first dreadful wounds,” marking his broken body, “my first beach, and my first ghost crab.” He observed the small crab alternately lifting its front legs and narrowed his gaze. “They really are astonishing creatures, sir. They are so oddly coloured—they appear nearly transparent. Is this type of crab usually so friendly, sir?”
“It is when there is a giant pandering to its whims, sir knight,” the old man snuffed. “Absolutely nonsensical to feed a crab anything—a mockery of nature! It has pincers with which it might hunt for itself. You, my boy, are ruining its instincts by giving it a ready source of rations.”
“Do be quick, Rannig, and take Bartleby’s plate from him,” said Danaco. “We shall see how his instincts lead him to do an ungracious thing by forcing him to eat a sandwich from his fork.”
The old man sniffed at the Lucentian and held his plate away from the giant. “I cannot understand how he freely coddles a crab when he runs away from all other arthropods. Crustaceans are merely insects of the sea, and yet he invites them to dinner and asks for a dance.”
“They don’t look like bugs, Bartleby,” said Rannig, watching the crab stab at another cucumber slice.
“Merely because they do not look like arthropods…” but the old man left his remonstrance there feeling himself being lured into a heated debate. He inhaled, smoothed his hair around his ears, and said, with forced calmness, “What you consider them to be is irrelevant. Their families are marked out for them regardless of—no, don’t give it another cucumber slice. You have given it enough already. You will make a pet of it. I see the mechanical workings of your feeble mind already scheming to put it in your pocket.”
Rannig moved his hand away from his pocket and looked ashamed. “I can’t keep any animals on the ship, Bartleby, but we’re not on the ship,” said he, in a doleful tone. “And I don’t wanna have him as a pet. I just wanna carry him around for a while so the gulls don’t hurt him. I’ll put him down once we’re in a safe place.”
“My boy, there is no safe place in nature—that is the very meaning of nature, for a thing that is meant to happen to happen without anybody’s interfering. Nature is at times atrocious and unforgiving, and if the crab is to be eaten, that is how it must be as part of ecology. It is a wild creature and must be left to itself to do wild things. No one has any business domesticating a crab—And stop calling it a him. You do not know whether it is male. You haven’t turned it over to examine it’s abdomen—it is a female, see the wide lines? A male would have made a triangular shape-- And besides, if you make a pet of it, you will kill it somehow accidentally. You will sit on it or you will smother it or both.”
“I won’t smother it, Bartleby.”
“Of course he would not harm it, Bartleby,” said the captain. “I trust Rannig to water it and polish it every day. He does nearly as much by you while you are gown dessicated and fusty when you are not enough out of doors.”
“Ha, ha!” the old man rasped. “Let the boy have a coconut crab as a pet, and then he will learn why crabs should not be domesticated. I should love to see him waking up from a gentle doze to discover the crab endeavouring to gnaw his head off.”