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On Rough Seas

2:59 PM, Nov 20, 2009 • By RACHEL ABRAMS
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What's become of Captain Silvertongue Goldenvisage, bewitcher of men, mascot of children, icon of fools, fetish of knaves? His ship's afloat, but barely. His sextant's faulty. His rudder's sluggish. His port side's taking on water. His officers await his orders, flirt with mutiny. His crew is scurvy. Rats who followed him aboard as if he were the pied piper are clambering off. Grumbling is heard in the meeting rooms of his patrons. His coffers are shrinking, his debts increasing. The shores he seeks grow ever more distant. His dreamed-of spice route's come a cropper. Pirates threaten. Shots fly across his bow. Disaster looms.

He has the boat but seems so terribly to regret it, to be averse to steering it, that well might his passengers be wondering: Where is he? What is he thinking? Holed up in his cabin, he's scouring the pages of his predecessor's log looking for a place to put the blame. It's only human-the recourse of children and lesser men. But a captain must be more than only human. He must love the sea as much when it's rough as when it's glassy calm.

Is he less than he was? Was he good enough before but now, having gone off course, has he changed his mind in a surge of remorse? Or was he always less-his idolaters worshipping a chimera-just more enough, like so many of the other madly over-praised and pampered members of his class and generation, to desire the ship but not the captaining of it? Will he get it back on course, guide it away from the shoals, while there's still time? Or will he, like the antecedent captains he is coming increasingly to resemble, Notacrook and Rabbitproof, sink it-and his passengers-in disgrace?