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Then the Laughing Stopped

"Ginny! Ginny! Ginny, my dear! Bring me a dram and I'll nibble your ear!"

Ginny rolled her eyes at the barkeep as he filled cups with claret. "Loud for a small lot," Henry snorted.

Thomas Godby and his mates were few in number, still, the room vibrated with their song. Ginny returned to their table and plunked the tankards on the thick wood. A stray hand reached her thigh, drunkenly missing its mark and getting only a handful of her apron.

"Don't you be grabbing at me, ya lout!" Ginny snapped, threateningly waving an empty pewter mug at Godby's head. She was in no mood to be groped and prodded this evening. And she could tell by the look on Henry's face he was in no mood to witness it. Godby laughed, turning his attention back to the raucous table. Ginny gathered up plates and mugs and backed away from the table, ensuring that no one would have a chance to swat at her back side.

Ginny saw to the other patrons, who shared drink and camaraderie, if not the bawdy jokes of Thomas and his friends. It was turning out to be an easy night, all things considered. Ginny returned used dishes to the prep kitchen for washing, then took a moment to gossip with Henry. Leaning against the bar, she listened to Henry weave tales of his seaman days. Days long past after he lost that damn leg, he would growl. He professed a love of the sea and a desire to return to ship, but somehow Ginny thought it was all bluster.

The door of the public house swung open, banging forcefully and startling the room into silence. The silence lasted only a moment.

"Goddam ye!" he yelled. He was a huge man, full of beard and muscled thick from hard work. His booming voice nearly shook the tables. The fire in his eyes could have burned the place down. Ginny snapped to attention and she noticed Henry take a glance at the barkeep's lock anticipating the need to secure them both for safekeeping.

"We be out there screaming for ye help and nothing! Ye too deep in your cups and ye singing to bother to help a man!"

Ginny noticed now the wet trousers and muddy boots. Behind this bear of a man, fellow boatmen began to stream in, pathetic and exhausted. Several stumbled to a table in the corner and Ginny made haste with ale. Something had gone wrong for these men.

"My kind friend!" A new voice entered the mix. "I be William Parker, owner of this here public house. Find a chair and let my Ginny bring some comfort."

William Parker, spindly and aged, had been calming raging drunks for years. Ginny relaxed a bit and tended to the waterlogged seamen.

"I be William Bently and had I been given' help I wouldna need comfort!" The bulk of a man made two large steps toward Parker. Tense again, Ginny made eye contact with Henry. Parker stood unflinching, secure in his experience at maintaining an orderly establishment for more years than anyone could remember. Bently seemed momentarily confused that the small man before him did not waver, then raised his arm.

Ginny winced and looked away, but the blow she expected to hear never came. Thomas Godby had grabbed Bently's massive arm before his fist could make contact with poor Mr. Parker's head. Bently whirled around, first surprised then enraged by the interference. He took a swing at Godby, but missed as the smaller man lost his balance and stumbled back. Henry took the distraction as an opportunity to shuffle Parker into the bar, Ginny following close behind. From the relative safety of the locked bar, they watched, horrified, as violence ensued.

Godby and his mates were far too drunk to fight with any success. Bently and his shipmates, though tired, wrestled and punched. Tables were overturned, pewter dished bent, ceramic mugs shattered. As the fight roared on, patrons backed against the walls until only Bently and Godby faced off in the center of the room.

Godby took a swing at his opponent, missing his mark and losing his balance. Bently sauntered about, letting Godby get close then swaying easily out of reach. Like a cat with a mouse, he taunted and cajoled, landing a random punch here and there just to keep Godby engaged. But drink and fatigue finally fell the smaller man. For a moment, it seemed the fight was over. Godby lying prone on the floor, Bently hovered over him laughing.

Then the laughing stopped.

A dark shadow crossed Bently's face. His leg swung back and his boot violently connected with Godby's unsuspecting ribs. Godby gasped and rolled over, curling into a protective position. But Bently kicked again, hitting Godby's stomach. Vomit trickled down his face and stained his collar. Another kick, this one directly at Godby's face, which exploded in blood and mucus.

"Enough!" William Parker stepped determinedly toward Bently. The room was silent, patrons watching the scene in disbelief. Even Bently seemed bewildered by the rage that had exploded from him.

Ginny rushed forward to help Godby to a seated position. The wounded man moaned and vomited again. "Help me get him home," she implored his friends. The suddenly sober group pulled Godby to his feet and dragged him from the room. Ginny followed. No one tried to stop them.

With effort, the men got Godby home, undressed, and in bed. Ginny washed his face and applied a compress of herbs to his clearly broken nose. He would be in a great deal of pain the next morning. She made a mental note to return with ginger tea and a cooling compress to help with the healing. By the time she arrived back at the public house, Parker had shuffled the boatmen to the back lodging rooms and Henry had cleaned up the front room. Exhausted, they stumbled to their own beds.

The sun rose bright and red the next morning. Ginny felt well-rested having slept few hours, but slept deeply in that time. As Henry opened windows to air out the main eating room, Ginny prepared tea and a poultice for Thomas Godby. Arriving at Thomas's house, she slowly opened the front door and called softly into the one room home, "Thomas?" Receiving no reply, she tip-toed into the darkened room. Thomas lay in the bed where his friends had left him. Ginny opened shutters letting in the morning light and pushed open windows to let fresh air wash away the stench of vomit and blood and what she soon recognized as human excrement.

She set the tea and poultice on the rickety bedside table and gently laid a hand on Thomas' shoulder. He did not move. Slowly she rolled him to his back and gasped. Blood caked his nose and his left eye was purple and swollen shut. His right eye, glazed and open made it clear…Thomas was no longer of this world.

Vaguely, Ginny heard movement behind her. She looked up to see William Bently's huge person standing in the doorway, backlit by the rising sun. For an instant, Ginny feared more violence. Then she saw recognition in William's eyes. He lowered his head and wordlessly walked away.


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