The ride on a shark
The “Fantoma” made its path through the dark green waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Her full sails were blindingly white in the sun. The flagship had four fast well armed frigates in her wake. The ships were sent by the Holland – West Indies Company to transport five hundred soldiers to Paramaribo in Dutch Guyana. The troops were to relieve the soldiers in the fort. The soldiers were distributed among the five ships.
The commander of this little war flotilla was Cyprian Amadeus Count Caprioli.
The Count, standing at the bow of his ship, watched an albatross circling the ship with barely a movement of its giant wings. His huge black personal servant “Habakuk”, stood behind him with crossed arms. With his red wide pants, blue jacket with gold embroidery and the expertly turned turban, he gave the impression that he came from a fairy tale world.
Leaning against the foremast, Pelegrin, the Counts old personal servant, was having a discussion with Borromaus the chief gunnery officer.
“With six dice he managed to get 36 points” said Borromaus. “if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes....!”
“When you are near the Count you will have to get out of the habit of being surprised dear Sir” Pelegrin told him thoughtfully. His speech still had the melodious sound of his Hungarian background.
“I am not a Sir but a Senor, as I am originally from “Cartagena” in the Caribbean Sea! Do you know this Spanish fort maybe?” Borromaus replied proudly.
Pelegrin shook his head and slowly continued “ Those who spend time with my master, find out that reality changes to a dream and a dream becomes reality. The Count is wonderful senor. I am telling you in advance, you will never forget this journey!”
“I’ll stick with my cannons, they are reality and do not dream” Borromaus replied.
Pelegrin smiled quietly.
“Even with your cannons you could experience unusual things when the Count is on board. I could tell you some stories....!
The loud cry of a sailor brought the gunnery officer to the rail. Pelegrin followed him slowly. Caprioli and Habakuk also came along.
In long green foaming mountains the waves crashed and seemed to be boiling. Hundreds of dolphins played around the ship, chasing each other and leaping high out of the water.
Sailors and soldiers excitedly threw lines baited with chunks of meat, in the hope of catching some of these beautiful mammals. The men had to hold on as the continuously increasing wind and waves made the “Fantoma” bounce around like a wild seahorse.
One wave higher than all the others raced towards the ship and as it broke plucked the Count and Habakuk of the deck as if they were just flies.
Pelegrin only received a good dousing and could still see his master being swallowed by a wave after a strangled cry.
The gunnery officer’s vision was temporarily darkened; the breaker had deposited the Counts three cornered hat on his head. He ripped it off, saw Caprioli appear from a wave and shouted hoarsely “ Count, your hat...!” He threw the hat in a wide arc at the Count and grinned with satisfaction when he saw that the Count had caught the hat and pushed it on his wig. However, suddenly he regained his senses and hit himself on the forehead, “Madonna, I threw him the hat – am I crazy?” he stuttered to himself confused.
Pelegrin was dumbfounded from fright, then heard himself say “Mann overboard! Maan uber Boord....!
Captain Bull also saw the accident from the bridge. Like a wild bull he gave the command to put a boat over the side, turned the “Fantoma” and signalled the rest of the fleet about what happened.
Pelegrin thought that his master and servant were lost forever. The little boat could barely make headway through the huge waves and the flagship could only turn in a wide arc because of the pressure of the wind.
In despair he took the spyglass which he always had to carry for the Count and searched the waves. There, he discovered him, but couldn’t believe his eyes. He took the spyglass from his eye, cleaned it with a corner of his coat and leaning far forward on bent knees, once more looked into the waves.
“Oh, tejo isten!” – “Oh my God!” he cried. Caprioli was in the middle of the school of dolphins and to save himself did the next best thing. With a powerful kick he swung himself onto the back of the nearest animal. Pelegrin saw him riding on one of the huge dolphins. He laughed and waved to the ships as he rode past at high speed. Habakuk followed his example and raced along next to him on another dolphin. His black face was almost grey with seasickness from the unusual motion of his mount. For quite some time the school of dolphins swam alongside the ships. Suddenly there was unrest in the school. As if by command, the school turned away from the ships and the silver black arrows shot off to a common goal.
While Caprioli was thinking how to get back to the ships, he saw the reason why the school had suddenly changed direction. A huge shark along with a smaller one, probably his mate, had been attracted by the smell of the meat the sailors had attached to their fishing lines. Because of their greed they ended up in the middle of their worst enemy. The mighty triangular fins ploughed through the water at great speed. But the dolphins were quicker; with fantastic force and speed they rammed the sharks with their snouts. They did not bite, because that lesson had been learned by experience, the incredible toughness of shark skin was impossible to penetrate.
Meanwhile Caprioli also became seasick and a wish for a calmer ride became stronger and stronger. Suddenly he saw the larger of the sharks speed directly toward him. He let him come really close, made half a handstand with his right hand held on to his hat with the left and elegantly swung himself on the new mount. This huge shark didn’t seem to notice the extra weight of the count; he only had eyes for the dolphins. These intelligent mammals avoided the legs of the Count while ramming the shark, however he had no inclination to participate in this battle any longer than he absolutely had to. He took the long gold chain of the award from his neck and the moment the shark rolled sideways to snap at a dolphin, he swung the chain into his gaping jaw and adjusted it like a horses bridle. Frightened, the monster wanted to dive but Caprioli jerked up with such force, that like it or not he had to stay at the top. He practised a few manoeuvres he had learned in the riding academy and soon the shark realised that he had to obey. Habakuk had followed his masters example and rode along beside him on the smaller shark. He steered his mount with his belt, having wedged the two parts of its buckle in the corners of its jaw. He was happy to have smoother ride under him, wiped the salt water from his face and grinned from ear to ear about the fantastic mount he now had. Now the Count dug in his spurs, waved to Habakuk to follow him and like brides of the wind, the giant fish shot through the waves towards the fleet. Their speed was so great that the bow waves rose like mountains on either side of them. The dolphins temporarily confused, stopped their attack on the sharks. But now they understood. With giant leaps in the air, they pushed and herded the sharks in exactly the direction the Count wanted.
The captains of the fleet watched the approach of the Count and Habakuk with their spyglasses. The sailors and soldiers stood by the railings and looked speechless at the spectacle.
Caprioli steered his shark towards the stern of the last frigate, made a slight turn to pass along side the whole fleet. A loud trumpet sounded over the squadron – as if they were all attached to one string – a jolt went through the many gaping sailors and soldiers. They all came to attention and ripped their hats and caps from their heads and held them with outstretched arms to their sides.
In reply Caprioli removed his three cornered hat and waved back. Riding on his shark in the middle of the ocean he held parade.
Proudly Habakuk followed behind him. Arriving near the flagship the count tightened his hold on the chain and looked for a likely spot along the hull of his ship. Then he lowered his hat very low in a formal salute. As Caprioli passed the ship the whole company went berserk throwing hats in the air and behaving like crazy people. Luckily no one thought of firing off the cannons or it would have panicked the sharks. Captain Bull stood with spread legs on the bridge. Caprioli yelled out to him to lower a rope ladder. As soon as that was done the Count, who had passed the flagship by now, guided his mount back to the ship. As he came close to the ladder, he ripped his gold chain out of the jaws of the shark, took hold of the ladder and swung himself over.
Habakuk copied him.
With thunderous applause and cries of happiness the two of them were welcomed aboard. Habakuk however did not give them much time. With his enormous bulk he made a pathway through the crowd to their cabin as they were both soaking wet and cold. With shaking knees from all the excitement Pelegrin followed them. He could barely stammer a word, but Caprioli understood him even without words.
Captain Bull with clenched lips watched in awe from the bridge holding the railing in his fist like a vice.
The fishing lines with the bait were still hanging in the water. The sharks suddenly released from their captors, got the scent again. None of the dolphins had taken the bait, but these voracious predators couldn’t resist. They devoured the bait and were caught. The sailors and soldiers were jubilant – after all, a juicy shark steak was nothing to complain about.
Borromaus leaned against the post leading up to the bridge.
Captain Bull and helmsman Nieselpriem were climbing down on deck, when the gunnery officer heard the Captain growl:
“what does such a sophisticated land lubber understand about real seamanship; The deck of a ship in these conditions isn’t a promenade after all, it’s a shame that the baptism didn’t last a bit longer!”
Nieselpriem spat a mouthful of chewing tobacco in a wide arc over the rail and said:
“He does seem to understand a lot about dolphins and sharks though, I would have been eaten by them or at the very least would have drowned!”
“Boulder dash” answered Bull angrily, “ with him it’s all luck and chance, nothing else”
The helmsman stuffed another wad of tobacco in his cheek.
“That’s exactly it: everyone is lucky once and chance is cheap. He however makes luck out of chance and grabs the luck full on. I would love to see you ride on a shark Captain!”
“I also think that the count did better in the water than you Captain on top of the water. You must have learned the turning manoeuvre to pick up the count from a ships boy. Or maybe not...?”
Bull cursed, but did not dare to attack the gunnery officer. The look in his eye was like a naked dagger.
Nieselpriem turned away smiling.
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