"..Jamey....JAMEY!! you son of a sea hag, where in blazes are you boy!?"
First mate John Hendricks' voice echoed across the decks and through the spars of the docked USS Constitution. It was August, 1815, and the powerful frigate, pride of the American fighting fleet, had put in at the Port of Baltimore earlier that day to repair storm damage, and, with half her crew on shore leave, was relatively quiet.
"Damn that boy's eyes, where the devil is he now?" The mate looked up.
Someone was singing a familiar tune. A lilting youngster's voice was drifting down from high on the foremast:
"....I'll tip my hat,
and blow a kiss,
to the girl I left behind me..."
The mate shaded his eyes against the afternoon sun. He could see two tanned bare feet hanging over the edge of the fighting top, the toes comically waving back and forth like a bandmaster's hands, keeping time to the music.
"Jamey-boy! I know that's you up there...", the mate yelled.
The singing stopped abruptly, and the feet disappeared. A smiling, but concerned face took their place, poking out over the edge of the platform, nearly 60' above the deck.
"Sir!" hollered the boy.
"Jamey, come on down here now, if you wouldnt mind..."
The mate stared up in awe as the boy leapt from the broad fighting top platform into thin air, nearly 10 feet, deftly catching onto one of the mainsail sheets, the stout "running" lines used to haul the yards and their enormous sails into proper trim. He hung from the line by his strong arms, and quickly worked his way along the rope down to the deck. A piece of paper and a pencil were held deftly between his limber toes.
Jamey reached the deck and snapped to attention. With a salute he said, "Sir! Sorry sir, the seaman warn't ignoring the First Mate. Well...I mean, not on purpose sir..."
The mate smiled, "I know Jamey, never mind. Your pa, uh, I mean...the gunnery sergeant, wanted me to keep an eye out for you, that's all. What were you doing up there anyway, other than singing?"
Jamie looked down at his paper, "Oh, looking at the big town, and drawing me a chart, see?" The boy held up a well drawn map of the Baltimore harbor.
"My, oh my...I do believe we may have a future pilot on our hands..."
The boy beamed, smiling from ear to ear.
"You can draw, yes indeed, I'll say that for ye. But the proper usage is 'wasn't' Jamey, not 'warn't', you illiterate scamp!"
Jamey scraped his big toe along the deck, "cross that line there Sir, and I'll whup the English teacher outta ye..."
The mate grabbed the boy and lifted him off the deck, "Oh you will, will you? you salty little rascal!" and he started digging his fingers into the boys bare sides, tickling his ribs, "threatening an officer, eh?", Jamie writhed and squirmed. He was strong enough to break free, but he didn't really want to.
"I surrender...hahahaha..pleeheheheeze-hahahahaha..I've struck my colors..., lemme go hahahahahaha...I surrender, I surrender!!! Gimme quarter!!!", the boy squeeled and shook his head back and forth with mock panic.
"Now that's better", said the mate releasing the boy, who brushed imaginary dirt off himself with a playful flourish.
"Jamey, I don't know how many times I've seen you do it, but your gymnastics up in the yards always make my heart jump. What if you miss one of these days?"
Jamey's face turned stern, "I did miss one time" he said, " but I done fell in the water and got myself a bath for my troubles! Got the stink washed off'n me right fine though...", he said with a renewed smile, "but then again, I didn't stink as bad as you do!", he said laughing, cuffing the officer gently and with a quick evasive dash placing the foremast between himself and the mate...just in case.
In truth, Jamey Leeds never missed. He was a true "son of a gun". He had been born on this very ship, some 14 years earlier, to the day. His father, Gunnery Sergeant Rodger Leeds, had served on the Constitution since she was commissioned. Served as a powder monkey when he was only 10 years old did he, with John Paul Jones in the first war with the English, the war for independence. Some said he was the best "gunny" in the navy. He commanded a "section" of four 32 pound "smashers", the short, widemouthed guns that lay on the upper aft (rear) deck of the ship. "Old Ironsides" as she was known, was the world's most powerful frigate, and had never lost a battle. She mounted 32 of the long range 24 pounders on her main deck, and 20 "smashers" on the upper decks. It was said that Jamey's father's skill had brought down the masts of the British frigate "Guerrier" in the now-famous battle two years before. Jamey had run powder and shot to his pa's guns starting when he was only eight years old. He had seen men cut down by musketry, and cannonballs, and flying shards of metal and planking. He'd seen the ugly face of war in all its menace and horror. Jamey was wise enough, even at his tender age, to know war wasn't "fun" or "glorious". It was bloody, and it was mean, and it hurt your friends as well as your enemies.
Jamey's mother, dead these five years, had been one of the washer women allowed by navy regulations to live aboard ship. She had had a difficult delivery with the boy. Following an old maritime tradition, the worried sailors and ship's surgeon had laid the pained woman between two of the big guns and let go with a volley. It turned the trick, the concussion inducing the great heave-ho that finally brought the little "squaller" into the light of day. So Jamey was truly a "son of a gun". Jamey had grown up on board, it was the only world he had ever known, and he loved it. There were over 400 sailors and marines that all looked on the boy as their son. True, there were other powder monkeys, as many as two dozen or more, give or take. But there was only one Jamey. He could climb, haul, run powder, swim like a fish, sing like a bird, dance a hornpipe, and cuss with the skill of an "old salt". His Welsh forebears had bequeathed him a musical, lilting voice, and his Irish mother had given him his light sandy-red colored hair, and green eyes. Even at fourteen, his strong frame and developing muscles belied a boy who would grow up into a rangy and well-built man. Jamey worked hard and earned everyone's respect. His jokes were legendary, and his smile was disarming. The whole ship was the boy's playground, and he couldn't think of any better life than was his. And now that the second war with the English was over, the one people were lately calling the "1812 War", well...it was even better.
The first mate looked at the boy, "Your pa should be back any time now. Why didn't you go into town with the other fellas?"
Jamey frowned, "Don't like the land sir. No indeed...don't like it, not the big cities. They scare me... too many people, I reckon."
"Hmmmm", the mate gave an understanding look, "well, I 'reckon' that's as good a reason as any. Listen, Jamey, I need you to go below and clean the quartermaster's berth. Now's a good time to do it, while most of the fellows are gone and all. Would you do that for me?"
Jamey straightened up into a perfect position of attention, "Yes SIR!", and he saluted smartly and ran off, his bare feet slapping the deck.
Gunnery sergeant Leeds came striding up the gangplank of the ship with several other seamen. He had been drinking a little, and was in a capitol mood, It was a warm August afternoon, and he was enjoying the respite from his normal duties. As he reached the deck a blurred shape came leaping and hollering from between two of the lifeboats and landed on his back, "Yaaaahhhhhhhh!" cried Jamey, "I've got ye! I've got ye! You're boarded now! Give up the loot or I'll force it outta ye!!"
In one deft motion the sergeant hauled the boy over his back on onto the deck in front of him, he faked like he was cutting his throat with an imaginary knife. "I got you, you little scamp", he said laughing.
Jamey got up and started poking at his father's clothes. "Whatcha bring me? Come on...whar is it??"
"Why nothing..now ain't you just the little beggar?" the man laughed and covered up his pockets.
"Ohhhh....papa!! you promised!!" Jamey looked down at the deck, saddened.
"What, what....why...what's this?", the sergeant fumbled in his pockets, "oh I forgot..."
Jamey looked up again, "Yes, indeed. I think that this is a birthday present for someone...a day early perhaps..." He handed the boy a small package. Jamey ripped it open.
"Ohhhhh.. boyyyyy!!!" His eyes went wide. A beautifully crafted jackknife was in the package. It had a buck horn handle and a fine steel blade that shone in the sun when he unfolded it. It was engraved, "To the bravest sailor in the Navy. Love, Papa".
Jamey hugged his father hard, and then looking straight into his strong eyes said, "I love you pa!"
"Not more than I love you son...", squeezing the boy for good measure and landing a tender kiss on top of his head.
The night watch went smoothly that evening. Nothing extraordinary but a few drunk sailors to deal with. The ensign on duty walked the length of the ship, taking the cool night air. It had been a warm day, and the city still was disgorging the smells that were characteristic of a large town in the early 19th century. Food, smoke, hog pens, and offal, all stewing in the summer air. An unfamiliar set of smells for someone who had spent several months at sea.
Suddenly, the ensign heard a strange sound, it sounded like boys singing.
As the ensign approached the noise he crept stealthily, so as not to make a sound. Sure enough, there was Jamey, and three other poop deck powder monkeys. They were sitting between the skiffs that lay below the mainmast, obviously trying not to be seen. But the sound of rummy, slurred tunes had given them away. The boys were drunk!
Ensign Smith listened to their songs, trying not to give himself away. Then he heard young Ben Landers say quietly, "this is a fine birthday party Jamey, mighty fine, I must say. But ain't you afraid of gettin' caught, I mean breakin' into the grog stores and all?"
"Oh no, no...they'll never find out Ben..."
"Yeah, Jamey's too smart for 'em..." said one of the other boys. They all laughed.
"Oh you are, are you?" said ensign Smith, suddenly appearing between the boats.
The boys' eyes went wide, and their faces went pale with fear. By instinct they all stood and snapped to attention.
"You boys come with me."
Captain Isaac Hull was busy working in his cabin when the ensign knocked on his door and appeared with the four boys in tow. He looked up and frowned, "well ensign, what have we here? This had better be important enough to demand MY attention..."
"Begging the captains pardon sir, but the ensign would like to report an infraction of the watch rules."
"Well," he turned towards the four boys, "these boys were found, uh..well, uh"
"Drunk sir, they were found drunk..I mean they ARE drunk...I mean they've been drinking grog sir..stolen grog it seems...begging the Captain's pardon..."
The Captain's gaze set upon the four rascals, freezing their blood in their veins. He growled, "call the gunnery sergeant in here, NOW!"
Jamey's skin crawled...
Gunnery sergeant Leeds, the first mate, the sergeant at arms, the quartermaster, ensign Smith, and the four boys all crammed into the Captain's cabin. Jamey's father stood stiffly at-ease, but ramrod straight. He glowered at his son in feigned disappointment, but he was trying his best not to laugh. In reality, he was proud of him. He had pulled the same stunt when he was a year younger than Jamey!
"Yes sir, rum's been taken sir," said the quartermaster, "and sugar as well, spilled all over the place it seems."
Captain Hull stared icily at the boys, he too was trying his best not to break a smile. "Well, we need to determine who among you did this. I mean, who stole the key to the fo'ward hold?"
The boys remained silent. The sergeant at arms leaned forward and laid his hand on Ben's shoulder,
"Perhaps young Ben here knows. Do you Ben?" The boy clamped his jaws.
The sergeant moved to his friend Johnny Ridings, to his right, "maybe Johnny knows, eh Johnny?"
Still no answer.
"How 'bout you Isaac?"
The young negro boy stiffened, his lips quivering with fear, but he wouldn't betray his friends either.
"Alright then. If you won't tell, then we'll have to force it out of you. Sergeant, prepare to clear the deck for the 'gunner's daughter', start with Ben, and we'll get the truth soon enough.
The boys all went pale. They had only heard about the punishment called "kissing the gunner's daughter". It was used in the British navy for youngsters who'd misbehaved. They would be laid across a gun, and repeated licks with a strap or rod would be well laid onto their behinds, back of the legs and bare feet. It was exquisitely painful, and if done with skill could be kept up for a long time without causing any lasting (or crippling) harm to the victim. Be that as it may, the prospect of such punishment horrified the frightened boys, who glanced at each other with anxious stares.
Suddenly Jamey blurted out, "It was me Captain! Me I tell ye! Please, don't beat them poor boys. Beat me if ye have to, but don't hurt my friends!" The boy was nearly in tears, yet he held them in for his pride's sake.
But it was Sergeant Leeds who was even more proud of his son. There was no doubt Jamey was courageous, but this selfless act made his heart swell with warmth. He smiled, ever so slightly, in spite of himself.
The captain looked shocked, he had no intention to let any harm come to the boys, but this confession was much more expeditious than even he had expected. He looked at the Sergeant at Arms. "Take these rascals below, and put them in irons. Let them sleep off their drunk down there.
Assemble the crew tomorrow morning at nine bells to witness their punishment!"
Then the downcast youngsters were herded out and taken down the rear hatch to the aft hold.
Gunnery Sergeant Leeds looked straight ahead, and spoke, "May the Sergeant have a word with the Captain, sir?"
"Yes, and informally so sergeant. Speak freely old friend..."
"You don't intend to...I mean, you really wouldn't flog the boys? Would you sir?"
Captain Hull smiled sadly, and then walked over to his credenza. He poured the sergeant a drink of whiskey, from the bottle the captain kept for his own use, "Gunny, come now. Sit down and take a draught with me." He handed a small cup to the sergeant. They both took a sip and toasted the ship and its crew. "Now Rodger...have you ever seen me have a man flogged?"
"Well...why, no sir, no...now that I think upon it."
"And thus, would you think that I would have these brave boys flogged? And for such a piece of childish tomfoolery? I'll not have a man's flesh torn for the sake of discipline, not at any rate, not for any offense."
"I had hoped not sir..." the sergeant suddenly relaxed. His whole frame softened it seemed.
"Of course not. By Christ's Blood man, the gunners daughter...you think me a Barbar? or the Sultan of Tunisia? Damn his gold, to have our good boys' feet whipped? I'd pound the man myself, and throw him over the side for good measure, who would ever hurt those youngsters. Lord no, not by your eyes."
"But, the boys did do wrong sir...and Jamey, well, he shouldn't have stolen into the stores like that..."
"Yes, I agree. And punished they shall be, I promise you that. But how?
Extra duty at their chores would certainly be in order. No free time for a week perhaps?"
"Sounds like a capital plan sir, but..."
"Oh I know...yet again, the boys work hard enough already. I sometimes think harder than the fully grown crewman, though most of them are little more than boys themselves, or act the part it seems." Both men laughed. The captain continued, and he looked at ensign Smith who was standing by. "Ensign, you say the boys were laughing about their little caper, were they?"
"Quite so sir, quite so..."
"Well, perhaps they need to have something to laugh about eh? I remember when I was a boy, serving on the merchant ship 'Osprey'. We had made a voyage to the Orient, to India and Cathay. We saw a boy punished there for playing one too many practical jokes on his mates. Punished in the Chinee manner was he. It was really quite funny actually. Now perhaps...", the captain paused thoughtfully, "gentleman, the sergeant and I will need to have a word in private, if you wouldn't mind."
With that the others left the office to the two men, and the Captain poured his friend another drink. As the ensign walked down the hall towards the gun deck he could hear the two old friends making plans and laughing quietly.
Alexander, the ships chief cook and steward, unlocked the door to the hold where the boys were sleeping. He smiled as he saw the four youngsters, twined together on top of the new straw that had been heaped up for them by the sergeant at arms. They were "scroonching", the old fashioned term for snuggling up together for warmth and comfort. No irons had been placed on the boys' wrists or ankles. The various manacles and wrist bars still reposed quietly in their storage boxes, as the sergeant had considered it unnecessary.
Alexander walked up to the four boys and placed a large, cloth covered bowl down near their heads. The smell coming from it caused Jamie to "stretch and gap". His sleepy eyes cracked open and he smiled at the enormous black man. Then his face went sullen when he reflected on his pitiful condition.
"Why Alexander! Good morning to you! Lordy, what time is it? I never done slept this late in my life I'd wager!" said Jamey, trying to be as cheerful as possible.
"The sun's up marse Jamey..."., the black man looked towards the upper deck, "I reckon it be gettin' on ready to strike eight bells, or so abouts."
"Oh Alexander, don't call me 'master', I ain't your master, nor anyone else's, doggone it!"
"Now dat's jes a force o' habit marse Jamey..."
Jamey cringed melodramatically, to show his displeasure at being called 'marse'. The other boys began to rouse, rubbing the sleep from their eyes. Alexander set a bucket down next to the bowl. "Heah young gentlemens, dis here bucket a cold water is fo' y'all to wash with, it'll help y'allto wake up. Dey's food in de bowl as well."
The hungry boys pulled back the cloth that covered the top of the bowl. Hot biscuits, filled with bacon, a big lump of sugar cane, a pile ofdried apples, literally brimmed from the bowl. And a pot of coffee wassetting by its side as well. Jamey looked thankfully at Alexander,
"My Alexander, ain't we s'posed to get jes' bread and water and such?"
"Well, now marse Jamey...what IS you saying? Is you accusin' ol'Alexander of breakin' da rules? Dem biscuits is bread, ain't dey? Imean, what is a biscuit 'cept water, flour, some salt, as little lard, and rising powder? De bacon, well it snuck in between them rascals whenI wasn't looking, jes crawled up inside of 'em, sez I. Bacon can bemighty hard to control at times. Its got a mind of its own. How de fruit'n cane got in dere, I'll never know. An de coffee, well dere's yowater, jes dat de beans jumped in de pot. Wouldn't listen to Alexander fo nuthin'. Jes jumped in dere dey did...",
All through his speech, Alexander comically pantomimed his battle with the boys' breakfast, which got them nearly doubled over with laughter. As they dug into the food they temporarily forgot their troubles.
After a few seconds, Ben looked at Jamey, then at Alexander, "Alexander, what's it like...I mean, being a slave and all?"
"Well now, I ain't a slave no more."
"Oh I know that...but I mean before. Was it all that bad?"
"Why don' yo ask marse Isaac dere? Don' he know?"
The fourth powder monkey looked up. Isaac's dark skin shone in the light of the day streaming in from the upper hatches, "I ain' a slave Alexander; my pap was, but I ain't", Isaac said, quizzically.
Alexander frowned, "Nor am I, at least not anymore. I d'ruther not ponder on dem days as well. Do you ever ponder bein' a slave Isaac?"
"Why no...I reckon I don't..."
"Yo' see. And dat's what freedom does to you."
But Ben persisted, "But was it that bad Alexander? I mean, did they whip you?"
"Lord no child, my marse was a kind man. But being a slave is 'nuf of a'beatin'up' in and of itself. And don' fool yo'self a'thinkin' it ain't all dat bad, jes cuz you hear ol' Alexander a'tellin yo' it warn't dat bad", the black man glared straight at the boys, "les face it... yo' don' see any white folks volunteering, do you now?"
The boys all started laughing again. Jamey dearly loved Alexander. He was the wisest man he had ever met; except for his papa, of course.
Alexander had also provided Jamey with much of the love and warmth he had missed since his mother had died. Jamey looked at Alexander with a sad smile, "Is they gonna beat us Alexander? I mean for what we did?"
"Is dat why you boys askin' me 'bout all dis here slavery 'n such? Lord in heaven no, chile! Marse Hull?! Beat his young gentlemens? Oh my...", Alexander laughed heartily..., "Yo' are some simple chuckleheads, ain't yo' now!!!" he said grabbing up the empty bowl. Alexander shook his head and walked out, smiling and mumbling to himself, "white boys...hmmmph..dey is all dummer den a box'o'rocks...".
No sooner than the cook had cleared the door, than the boys could hear the firm and strident footfalls of an "official" party. Eight stern looking marines came in though the door and ordered the boys to their feet. They brushed the straw off themselves and assumed a position between the soldiers. Before long the boys were standing on the sunlit deck, near the center of the ship, facing the Captain and other officers and NCO's.
Captain Hull looked at the boys and spoke, "Men, you all stand convicted of stealing grog from the hold and getting drunk last night. Jamey confessed to taking the key, and you all went with him, isn't that so?"
As one the boys answered, "SIR, Yes Sir!"
Hull continued, "Now I could have you flogged, or keel-hauled, or hung for thieving", a slight titter passed through the onlookers, "but that wouldn't do. You are young, and I know the temptations are great living among all these 'models of virtue' here on board this ship...", a noticeable smile passed over the Captain's face as he mock-seriously scanned the crew wih squinted eyes. "So, myself and the officers have decided to suspend any court martial hearings against you of an official nature. You are forgiven this time. I trust it will NEVER happen again?"
Again, in a firm voice the boys answered simultaneously, "Sir, NO SIR!!"
"Good, well then, all that's left is to hand you over to your section crews to let them deal with you rascals as they see fit!"
Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, the crew of sailors parted, and the members of guns' crews that Jamey serviced during battles descended upon the smiling teenager. He struggled, but not too hard, as they literally hoisted him into the air and carried him bodily towards the aft deck, their normal duty station. The other boys were treated to the same surprise, and carried to their sections as well, spaced evenly around the rear of the ship's upper deck.
Jamey cussed and laughed, and damned the sailors for being cowards and blackguards. Soon enough, they deposited the boy squarely on top of one of his father's beloved "smashers". The gunnery sergeant materialized suddenly, and stood inches from the boy's face. He grinned and evil grin at the youngster, and hissed, "Get this young rascals shirt off!"
Jamey's loose fitting linsey-woolsey shirt was hauled off over his head. Then two of the sailors held his arms out stiffly so he couldn't move too easily. Jamey's father held out his hand and ordered, "Paint!"
A sailor handed the sergeant a small can of blue paint, and a little brush. He dipped the brush into the paint can, and started drawing three inch tall letters on the boy's bare chest. Jamey squirmed as the brush tickled his skin, "Hahahaha..papa..papa!! hahahahaha, stop it...that tickles!! hahahaha..."
"Oh it does, does it? you little rum stealin' rascal you!.."
The boy tried to wiggle away, but it was no use. Soon enough, the words "grog thief" had been drippily painted on the scamp's chest. The sergeant stepped back to admire his work, then he nodded to the men, "raise the yardarms gentleman!"
They lifted Jamey up again, and deposited him between two of the guns, his back against the gunwale of the ship. The boys wrists were hoisted above his head and made fast to two lines that were connected to the gunwale rail and the gun chocks. Then his ankles were raised and rested on the tail of either gun, stretching his legs out to either side. Ropes had been affixed to the iron wheels of the cannon, and they were wrapped around the boy's ankles, tying them fast in place. The whole time Jamey was mock-seriously cursing the proceedings and complaining loudly, calling the sailors "damn cowards", and "cutthroats".
Now, a small company of Jamey's best friends among the gunners took their place at his sides, knees and belly, and began to wiggle their fingers along his ribs and under his bare armpits. They squeezed his knees, and tickled the backs of his thighs. The boy could barely talk, as his sides, legs, and stomach convulsed to try to escape the ticklish sensations the leathery fingers were producing. When they would stop to give him a breather, he would recover his composure, and stick out his tongue at them, cursing them anew. This would only start the tickling and prodding and poking again. All through this rowdy treatment, the men would shout encouragement to the boy, and he returned it with renewed comical arrogance and feigned displeasure. As much as he tried to pretend he didn't, Jamey was enjoying himself capitally, and everyone knew it. He was exactly where he wanted to be, in the middle of a gang of his best friends, making a scene and being the center of attention, albeit, some ticklish attention.
Then, from within the noisy crowd, Alexander appeared with two packages under his arms. He walked up to the cacophonous spectacle, and amidst the din, and said to the sergeant,
"Here's what yo' asked me fo' gunny..."
"Oh good..good, wonderful Alexander", the sergeant looked thoughtfully, scratching his scraggly chin beard, "why don't you do 'the honors?' eh?"
Alexander bent down in front of Jamey's bound feet. The sailors had stopped tickling his ribs, and he recovered his sanity quickly. Now Jamey looked with a mixture of curiosity and a little fear at what Alexander was busying himself with. The cook produced a pot, and proceeded to remove two fingerfuls of a sticky, greasy liquid. He rubbed it all over the boy's right foot. Jamey immediately recognized the odor of bacon fat. As the cooks strong fingers stroked the soles of his feet, the sensations of the slick liquid began to cause the boy to jerk and writhe in even more exquisite tickle agony. But Jamey tried to hold back his laughter this time, and bit his tongue. Now Alexander moved to the other foot, repeating the ticklish process. Soon Jamey could now longer suppress his laughter, he started giggling and yelped, "Alexander! You son of a black whore! What the hell is that stuff?! Gosh a'mighty that tickles!!"
"Oh, marse Jamey, you do carry on. N' dat mouth of yours...my, my. Well dis here, why its only some bacon fat... from dat bacon you enjoyed so dis mornin'. Mixe it wid a little cream de mate picked up for me in town today."
Jamey looked worried, "well what are you painting my feet with it for, you devil?"
Alexander opened the other package. The sound of hungry 'meows' was coming from within, "Oh dat...cuz dese heah cats is hungry as well...", said Alexander placing the two cats at the boy's feet.
Jamey began to panic, "What....wait, ohh...OHHHH Nooo! No you wouldn't, you CAN'T, not that!! Don't let them cats lick my fee-heheeheheeehe HAHAHAHAHAHA-STOP! Hahahahahaha, not that!! HAHAHA NOOOOO!! Make em stohahahahahaha..."
"Sorry marse Jamey...but you oughtn't had stolen dat grog I reckon; shame you is such a ticklish son of a gun!"
The sergeant spoke up, "and...you really oughtn't had laughed about it afterward. Anyway..we reckoned you needed a reason to laugh, eh? Well now you got one boy!"
Jamey could barely catch his breath to try and protest. The cats rough little tongues darted and lapped at his horribly ticklish, broad feet. And Jamey was a growing boy, so there was a lot of foot there for the feline tormenters to clean off. Jamey's laughter gained a higher pitch whenever the cats would reach the tender spot at the base of his toes, and then start to clean between them. It seemed like forever, but after a few minutes the cats finished cleaning off the first coating, and a new layer was applied.
Sergeant Leeds knelt down beside his laughing son, "Now Jamey, we can't let this torture go on too long eh?"
The boy laughed hysterically, but managed to shake his head in agreement. He didn't know whether to shake it 'yes' or 'no'. The sergeant patted the boy on his head, "well, how 'bout we keep you laughing for the length of a tune?"
"Hahahaha..ye-hesheeeheheee...alRIGHT, ahahahahahahaha, ALRIGHT!!!"
"What's that one you love so much, 'the girl I left behind me', isn't it?" The boy shook his head in agreement, between laughing and jerking about. "Musicians?", Jamey's father barked.
Four sailors, one with a fiddle, two with fifes, and the last with a squeeze box, stepped up, "What shall it be sir?"
"For my son's birthday...let's have 'the Girl I Left Behind Me', shall we? By the way, how many verses can you play for that song?"
"How many would you like sergeant?"
"Well, the boy is fourteen as of today...make it fourteen then?", he said with a wink.
"Fourteen it is sir..."
Jamey looked up at his father, eyes wide through his laughter and hysterical tears, "Awwwww.....PAAAA!!!!"