The crew of the Flying Dutchman discover the dangers of leftovers.
While many of the men had no such compulsions, the Captain was not one to wallow in his drink and so preferred fresh water for as long as it was available. Several casks of water laced with citrus juice remained sealed in the hold and would not yet have taken on the flat, wet wood taste of drink gone stale. Wedging a tap into the bunghole of one of the casks, Jeshua stooped to fill the Captain’s pewter tankard.
“Oi! Haddy! Chuck me a biscuit!” Wheelback, the ship’s carpenter, hollered over the din. Old Haddy, the ship’s cook, did not appear to notice. He had been elderly when he signed on, and more than a little deaf. When in his more frightening form, tube coral sprouted from his ears, further impeding his hearing. Now, however, the wiry old man continued to stir the copper pot of stew, completely ignorant of the request.
“Bah,” Wheelback groused, only mildly annoyed at the deaf old cook. “It’s no use. Clanker, you’re closest, toss me a biscuit.”
“Right,” Clanker agreed, amiably reaching into the half-empty biscuit barrel and producing a white chunk of bread about the size, density, and taste of a large pebble. “Here y’are, watch yer heads!”
With that he wound up and lobbed the bit of bread over the heads of the crew and across the cabin where the carpenter sat. Jeshua chose that moment to rise, turn, and begin his trip back up toward the deck.
“Look out, boy!”
Too late. Jeshua turned just in time to see the biscuit hurtling toward him. It struck him squarely between the eyes, knocking him backwards. The captain’s pewter cup went sailing, tumbling to the floor and spilling its contents, its hollow ring echoing the dull “clunk” of Jeshua’s head bouncing off the floorboards. Dead silence reigned for several minutes as the crew gaped at the cabin boy sprawled on the floor.
“Lord above,” Clanker muttered, “I’ve killed ‘im!”
“Now you’re in for it,” one of the deckhands warned.
“None of your wit, Crash,” the gunner snapped, “unless you’d care to run up an’ serve the captain yourself.”
The idea did not appeal to Crash and he hurriedly backed down. While not an unkind man, the Captain was very particular and like things to be as he liked them. It was Jeshua’s job to serve the senior members of the crew and if he suddenly disappeared in the middle of captain’s feast…
“You think he’s really dead?” the Bo’sun asked, prodding the boy with the handle of his whip.
“Stand aside you louts,” ordered the short and barking voice of the ship’s surgeon. “He’s no more or less dead than the rest of us, just knocked senseless.”
“That hard-tack were three month old at least,” Clanker consented.
“Probably rattled his brains nicely, then,” the doctor agreed. “Jeshi, lad? Jeshua? Can ye hear me?” He smacked the boy’s face lightly and shook his shoulder. Jeshua’s eyes continued to roll in his head as if he’d spent an overenthusiastic night sampling the wares of Tortugan taverns. Reaching for the half-empty mug, the surgeon dashed the remaining contents in the cabin boy’s face. Jeshua coughed and spluttered, finally rousing to life. A collective sigh escaped the previously clenched throats of the crew.
“Good, you’re still alive,” Clanker grinned, hurrying to refill the mug and press it into Jeshua’s hands. “Get along now, lad. The Captain’s waiting.”
Jeshua started blankly until Clanker shoved him towards the stairs. He staggered unevenly towards them, slopping much of the water out of the tankard and onto his hands.
“Is he all right?” queried Finnegan. The surgeon waved a hand dismissively.
“Just a little punch-drunk is all. He’ll find his legs again in an hour or so, never fear.”
The diagnosis, however, did not lessen the gunner’s apprehension.