The Dirty Duck (revision)

Any closet novelists, short story writers, script-writers or prose poets out there?
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Macavity
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Sun Dec 05, 2021 11:25 am

revision

Bess pushed the bowl towards him.

“Take this broth boy, while it’s hot.”

She was the barmaid at The Dirty Duck, skinny and snappy, but strangely warm hearted about the orphan. Anthony's spoon dived in, but there was no meat, just root veg. He burnt his tongue, but believed he was too much the man to admit it. He was just fourteen, but tall for his age. He paid her the compliment of a winning smile. Smiles were currency. Folk like to be appreciated. She’d taught him well.

“I’m going to Jake's cove…there’s a shipment,’’ he bragged.

She scowled. Such boasts cost lives. He was still too much the child. She had lost her man to transportation one year into marriage, better than the hangman the gossip wisdom said, but none came back. Australia was crawling with widow spiders they said. She cared for the orphan, but he needled her conscience. She watched the boy as he chased the last of the broth in the bowl with a scrap of bread. He has the lungs to run from the Excise, she thought, but not enough wit to hide. All the scrawny village of Holcombe were desperate and greedy with talk. Her quiet ways fed more.

A tinker stood alone at the bar. He had a drinker’s belly and a vacant grin. He tipped his glass gently to a level where the grog flowed easily into his mouth. He wanted to show how he appreciated his drink.

“So there will be a lugger shipment tonight?” he asked Bess.

Bess kept her head down and shrugged. She knew him, knew his coin.

“I wouldn’t know, sir.”

“No? Just chatter I guess.”

He nodded. He understood her well enough. He finished the grog and set the empty glass down quietly.

“I’ll be off. The wind has the devil’s tongue tonight.”

It would be less than an hour to the cove.

Bess went to the window and watched the tinker hurry down the path. The moon behind him cast menacing shadows and lit the hamlet as if seeking the guilty. Then a cloud shrouded the moon. It was a sign. All would be well. Anthony would have the legs to outrun an Excise man.



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original


“Take that broth boy, while it’s hot.” Bess gestured towards the steaming bowl.

She was the barmaid at The Dirty Duck, skinny and snappy, but warm hearted about the orphan. Anthony‘s spoon dived in, but there was no meat, just root veg. He burnt his tongue, but he was too much the man already to admit it. He was just fourteen, but tall for his age. He paid her the compliment of a winning smile. Smiles were currency. Folk like to be appreciated. She’d taught him well.

“I’m going to the cove…there’s a shipment,’’ he bragged.

She scowled. Such talk cost lives. He was still too much the child. She had lost her man to transportation, better than the hangman most said, but none came back. Australia was crawling with widow spiders they said. She cared for the orphan, but he needled her conscience. He had the lungs to run from the Excise, but not enough wit to hide. All the scrawny village of Holcombe were desperate and greedy with talk. Her quiet ways fed more.

A stranger stood alone at the bar. He had a drinker’s belly and a vacant grin. He tipped his glass gently to a level where the grog flowed easily into his mouth. He wanted to show how he appreciated his drink.

“So there will be a lugger shipment tonight?” he drawled.

Bess kept her head down and shrugged. She knew him. He had paid enough to ease her conscience.

“I wouldn’t know, sir.”

“No? Just chatter I guess.”

He nodded. He understood the code. He finished the grog.

“I’ll be off. No point waiting. The wind has the devil’s tongue tonight.”

It would be less than an hour to rendezvous.

Bess went to the window and watched the man hurry down the path. The moon behind him cast a menacing shadow and lit the hamlet as if seeking the guilty. Then a cloud shrouded the moon. It was a sign. All would be well. Anthony would have the legs to outrun an Excise man.
NotQuiteSure
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Mon Dec 06, 2021 1:22 pm

Hi mac,
enjoyed the tale. Appealing title and the ending does the job nicely. Biggest weakness is the ubiquity of pronouns, and the 'clutter' surrounding the ending.


“Take that broth boy, while it’s hot.” Bess gestured towards the steaming bowl.

She was the barmaid at The Dirty Duck, skinny and snappy, but warm hearted about the orphan.
(A tart with a heart cliché?)
Anthony‘s spoon dived in, but there was no meat, just root veg. He burnt his tongue, but he was too much the man already to admit it.
(I wonder if Anthony needs to have a name. 'The boy' might be a more interesting choice?)
He was just fourteen, but tall for his age. He paid her the compliment of a winning smile. Smiles were currency. Folk like to be appreciated. She’d taught him well.
(Not keen on 'dived in', doesn't convey the searching that the 'no meat ...' suggests was going on. Just a thought

“Take the broth boy, quick, while it’s hot.” She pushed the bowl towards him and waited until he began to eat. Bess had been the barmaid at The Dirty Duck going on X years; skinny, ill-tempered and strangely considerate towards one particular orphan. (I'd like a bit more of a description of her, perhaps the 'quiet ways fed gossip line could come here, somewhere?) The boy's spoon dived in, but there was no meat, just root veg. He burnt his tongue, but was too much the man already to admit it. fourteen, tall for his age. He paid her the compliment of a winning smile. Smiles were currency. Folk like to be appreciated. She’d taught him that.)

Carelessly loud he told her, “I’m going to the cove…there’s a shipment,’’ he bragged. (I think you need a bit more, and better, than just 'bragged'. Something to suggest/explain why he's telling her.)
She scowled. Such talk cost lives. He was still too much the child.
('too much the man', now 'too much the child' - not keen on her thought being a reworking of the narrator's). Why not have her say it?
She scowled. 'Be quiet child, do you know every ear in this place?")

She had lost her man to transportation (when?), better than the hangman most said, but none came back. Australia was crawling with widow spiders they said. (Don't think the spiders add anything.)
Just a thought.
It was more than ten years since she'd lost her man to transportation, and with him gone the chance of children of their own. Better than the hangman, was what passed for local wisdom, but it did nothing to console her. ...
(I think you need to explain why she hasn't remarried)

She cared for the orphan, but he needled her conscience.
(We know she cares because of the soup, and the 'needled' rather preempts the ending. Could you cut this line?)

She watched the boy as he chased the last of the gravy in the bowl with a scrap of bread. He has the lungs to run from the Excise, she thought, but not the wit to hide.

(I like the next lines, just not sure how you got to them)
All the scrawny village of Holcombe were desperate and greedy with talk. Her quiet ways fed more.

A stranger stood alone at the bar. He had a drinker’s belly and a vacant grin. He tipped his glass gently to a level where the grog flowed easily into his mouth. He wanted to show how he appreciated his drink.

“So there will be a lugger shipment tonight?” he drawled.

(lugger got me searching, type of boat, yes? But is it a detail you need? What is going on that is particular to lugger?)
Bess kept her head down and shrugged. She knew him. He had paid enough to ease her conscience.
(If she knows him, how is he 'a stranger stood alone'? Why not just describe him physically?
Three stools down the fat man with the drinker's belly and vacant grin tipped his glass ...
"So, there will be a lugger shipment tonight?"
?)

“I wouldn’t know, sir.”

“No?" He nodded. "Just chatter I guess.” He finished his grog
and set the empty glass down carefully.
He understood the code. (The 'nodded' give me 'code')

“I’ll be off. No point waiting. The wind has the devil’s tongue tonight.”
Love 'devil's tongue. Would the 'lugger' require 'waiting'? Either way, why does he feel the need to explain?

It would be less than an hour to rendezvous.
(Comes out of nowhere)

Bess watched the man hurry down the path,
(how can she see if she's behind the bar/in the pub?)
the moon behind him cast a menacing shadow and lit the hamlet as if seeking the guilty.
(like the idea of the moon being a searchlight seeking out the guilty)
Then a cloud shrouded the moon. The witches played her the chance card. It was a sign.
(not sure about any of this. Where do the witches and signs and cards come from? She'd made no mention of them earlier. But the fat man did. Oh, and the chance card sent me to Monopoly, which is hugely anachronistic. )
All would be well. with a full belly the boy would surely have the legs to outrun an Excise man.


Regards, Not

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Macavity
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Mon Dec 06, 2021 3:31 pm

enjoyed the tale. Appealing title and the ending does the job nicely.
Some positives then Not :D As regards the negatives, I've tweaked here and there and some more, but got rather lost :lol: Too many words in this story lark :?

As always thanks for the pointers and options.

cheers

Phil
NotQuiteSure
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Mon Dec 06, 2021 4:17 pm

Hi mac,
Macavity wrote:
Mon Dec 06, 2021 3:31 pm
Too many words in this story lark :?
Aren't there just!

Like most of the changes ('one year into marriage', 'gossip wisdom' - though should that be the 'wisdom of gossip'?) but not sure about 'Tinker' (if it turns out Excise men disguised themselves thus, then ignore me, but ... I suppose I'm having a bit of a hard time picturing him, or any of them.)

I think you might reorder the opening line.

Bess pushed the brimful bowl towards him. “Take this broth boy, while it’s hot.”

Makes her the focus of the story, not the boy.

Wondered about,
Bess kept her head down and shrugged. She knew him, knew his coin, knew that he paid just enough to ease her conscience.
Or does it have a prostitution subtext? (You have 'paid her the compliment' and 'paid enough').

Still troubled by the ending. What's the origin of her superstition (in terms of the story you're telling)? I'd like some earlier instance of her seeing 'signs', rather than just the one (the conveniently placed one) at the close.

Would an Excise man have a horse?

(Oh, and two 'shipments'?)

Regards, Not

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Macavity
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Mon Dec 06, 2021 7:44 pm

Thanks Not. I like you 'coin' idea. Tweaked the beginning and other bits. Time to let this one rest now.

cheers

Phil
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Mon Dec 06, 2021 7:54 pm

Hello MacPhil,

Sorry I'm a bit late to this. I like it a lot; it took me out of myself, which is cool. I note you're resting, so I shan't make any suggestions, not that I had much anyway, lol. I don't have much experience when it comes to prose, but I enjoy trying to write it myself sometimes. Note 'trying' :lol:

Best wishes,
Fliss
Macavity
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Mon Dec 06, 2021 8:08 pm

My first dabble at story writing Fliss (actually it was, in part, a collaboration with a friend). Pleased it took you elsewhere. Have you read 'Jamaica Inn' or Moonfleet?

Phil
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Mon Dec 06, 2021 10:05 pm

Collabs are great, MacPhil! I often wish poetry worked that way. I haven't read Moonfleet, but I read Jamaica Inn in my late teens, I think. It was one of those books that kept popping up on reading lists at school :)
Macavity
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Tue Dec 07, 2021 6:33 am

Moonfleet was my school read :D
NotQuiteSure
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Tue Dec 07, 2021 12:03 pm

Macavity wrote:
Mon Dec 06, 2021 7:44 pm
Time to let this one rest now.
Indeed, until someone prods you. Before you do, though, you might want to take a look at lines 18-19 (the 'knew his coin' lines) - I think you've a copy/paste glitch needs sorting.

Regards, Not

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Macavity
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Tue Dec 07, 2021 12:42 pm

8) Duly prodded :D
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