They took another drink before leaving the Barbary Shark.
The boy stood facing his pursuers - he was trapped, with no place to run, his back to the sea. Bjornsen's three big sons closed in on the edge of the wharf, where their victim stood gasping for air and trembling in the fogbound night. Reaching out, the tallest of the trio grabbed the lad's shirtfront.
With a muted animal-like grunt, the boy sank his teeth into his captor's hand. Bjornsen's son roared in pain, releasing his quarry and instinctively lashing out with his good hand. He cuffed the boy a heavy blow to his jaw. Stunned, the youngster reeled backward, missed his footing, and fell from the top of the wharf pylons, splashing into the sea. He went straight down and under the surface.
Kneeling on the edge, the three brothers stared into the dim, greasy depths. A slim stream of bubbles broke the surface. Then nothing. Fear registered on the brutish face of the one who had done the deed, but he recovered his composure quickly, warning the other two.
"We could not find him, nobody will know. He had no relatives in the world. What's another dumb fool more or less. Come on!"
Checking about to see that they had not been noticed in the dark and fog, the trio scurried off home.
Standing at the gangplank, the Dutch captain watched the last of his crew emerge from the misty swaths which wreathed the harbor. He gestured them aboard.
"Drinking again, jah? Well, there be little enough to get drunk on 'tween here and the Pacific side of the Americas. Come, get aboard now, make ready to sail!"
The blue scar contracted as the Burmese smiled. "Aye, aye, Kapitan, we make sail!"
With floodtide swirling about her hull and the stern fenders scraping against the wharf timbers, the vessel came about facing seaward. Staring ahead into the fog, the captain brought the wheel about half a point and called, "Let go aft!"
A Finnish sailor standing astern flicked the rope expertly, jerking the noosed end off the bollard which held it. The rope splashed into the water. Shivering in the cold night air, he left it to trail along, not wanting to get his hands wet and frozen by hauling the backstay rope aboard. He ran quickly into the galley and held his hands out over the warm stove.
The boy was half in and half out of consciousness, numbed to his bones in the cold sea. He felt the rough manila rope brush against his cheek and seized it. Painfully, hand over hand, he hauled himself upward. When his feet touched ship's timber, the boy pulled his body clear of the icy sea and found a ledge. He huddled on it, looking up at the name painted on the vessel's stern in faded, gold-embellished red. Fleiger Hollander.
He had never learned to read, so the letters meant nothing to him. Fleiger Hollander in Dutch, or had the lad been able to understand English, Flying Dutchman.
Reprinted Castaways of the Flying Dutchman by Brian Jacques by Permission of G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2000 Brian Jacques. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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