The Weather Eye
Part 19: Tiger Boy
by Liv

 

Chapter one:

The Carmen came to rest within half-a-mile of the Kaliakra. Capitan
Manuela Tarrega and two of her lieutenants were escorted by sail boat
to the starboard side of the Kaliakra. The sun illuminated their
backs as they approached, splaying Captain Tarrega's magnificent
silhouette onto the rippling curtains of the water.

The men of the Kaliakra took to their stations to greet their Spanish
visitors as they boarded the foreign ship.

"Captain Tarrega of the Carmen" said the Captain in the best fake
Spanish accent she could muster, as she removed her enormous hat and
bowed, revealing a luxurious head of hair that needed no hair
extensions to give plausibility to its authenticity.

"Captain Roberts of the Kaliakra" returned the British Captain,
without a hint of surprise in his greeting. Years of experience had
taught him to never underestimate his enemies, no matter how unusual
they may seem. To him, a female Captain was no more unusual than a
superior naval officer who was afraid of the water. But the men of
the Kaliakra did find her presence not only unusual because she was a
woman dressed in the role of a man, but that she was a woman. They
stood positively agog as they observed the formalities between the
two Captains.

"We have come to offer a proposition to you" began Captain
Tarrega. "Our Spanish vessels have been blockaded in the mouth of
Santo Domingo bay for several months, preventing our ability to do
trade with the rest of the free world. In this time we have
accumulated an over-surplus of wine which we are unable to export. As
you know, wine is a main staple of our economy, and we depend on its
profit as our primary source of income. We therefore propose that we
sell portions of our wine to you in exchange for a profit, which will
provide financial relief to our starving nation."

Captain Roberts raised his eyebrow at this proposal, and searched the
eyes of Captain Tarrega for any sign of a hidden agenda. She returned
his intent gaze with equal measure.

"But why choose your British enemies as the beneficiary of this
offer?" questioned Captain Roberts.

"Because I know the British Navy is thirsty for its wine, and is
prepared to pay whatever price they can get for it" replied Captain
Tarrega. That was true. It was also true that a sudden over-supply of
wine could lead to a drunken, ill-disciplined rabble who were
unprepared for whatever action may lay next. Captain Roberts was
sorely tempted to accept the offer, but he knew he had to restrain
himself. There was a formal procedure by which these things were
decided. It was usually called dinner.

"How about dinner?" offered Captain Roberts, enunciating his
thoughts. "Shall we say eight o'clock in the parlour?"

This was exactly the kind of invitation Captain Tarrega was hoping
for, but she was careful not make a rash acceptance, lest she raised
any suspicion about her motives. She appeared to meditate for a few
moments on the invitation, and then said "Very well. I shall be glad
to meet with you at dinner to discuss our offer."

*******

"I don't trust her, I don't trust her at all" repeated Hornblower,
pacing around the room.

"Mr Hornblower, she didn't DO anything, other than consider her
options under those circumstances" said Mr Kennedy.

"Why don't you trust her?" interrogated Roberts. "Is it because she
is a woman?"

"No Sirwell, yes Sir, I meanpartially Sir". Hornblower's cynical
thoughts were flying around in his brain, bouncing off whatever
triggers lay in its path. "It's uncharacteristic of the Spanish to
play the rules of war so loosely" he explained. "Once they commit to
being the enemy they are ALWAYS the enemy. You really think they'd
want to be doing US a favour by selling their wine? Surely there is a
more valuable bargaining card at stake."

"Yes, I'm afraid I am inclined to agree with you there" concurred
Roberts. "But until we know their true motives, we cannot be so hasty
as to speculate. Which is why we will extend our invitation and
assume there is no foul play in their offer to sell us wine. We keep
our friends close, Sirs, and our enemies even closer. Then, when the
enemy are complacent enough to let down their guard, we will strike
first with a prudent course of action. But at dinner I want both of
you to maintain a mask of indifference. Don't give the enemy a reason
to withhold any information that may be of vital importance to us.
Understood?"

********

Captain Tarrega joined Captain Roberts, Lieutenant Kennedy,
Lieutenant Hornblower and Max Sterling at the scheduled time of 8pm.
She arrived without he two Spanish Lieutenant's in tow.

"Unfortunately, the two of then are suffering from seasickness aboard
the Carmen" explained Captain Tarrega for their absence.

Lieutenant Hornblower smiled politely at this anecdote, for that was
something he could definitely relate to.

"Would you like a drink before dinner?" offered Roberts. "I'm afraid
all we have is brandy, though by the end of the evening we hope to
have some wine."

"Thank you, Captain" said Captain Tarrega, and was intrigued to think
the British really thought the Spanish would be coming on board to
sell them wine. But perhaps they were not as gullible as they seemed.

Dinner consisted of plump chicken, roasted pumpkin, new potatoes,
glazed honey carrots, and baby corn. The golden light from the lamp
romanced dancing shadows in the far corners of the cabin, giving the
room a sense of secrecy and confidentiality.

Captain Tarrega surveyed her hosts with a keen eye, waiting for the
right moment to disclose her identity. If she revealed herself too
hastily, they might become complacent, overbearing and wanting to
take charge of her mission. It was better to keep them on their toes
in the guise of the enemy.

They began by asking her to outline her proposal.

"For months we have been harbouring in the mouth of Santo Domingo
Bay, searching for a suitable trading partner. We were hoping
initially to do trade with the French or the Portuguese to buy our
wine, but since we have been under siege, none of our ships have
dared to pass this area. It was fortunate, therefore, that we should
have spotted a British vessel in our waters. Our enemy, perhaps, in
war, but our allay, we hope, hen it comes to the value of good wine.
As Captain of the Carmen I am under strict orders to sell all our
excess stock of wine to our closest bargaining partner at a
reasonable profit."

"Is that all" queried Captain Roberts. "Forgive me, Senorita, for
playing devil's advocate I merely express a prudent interest in
your offer. Surely the Dons would not be sniffing out some
information while being is such close proximity to an enemy vessel?"

"And what would you do, hypothetically, Captain Roberts, if you
suspected this to be our intention?"

Roberts replied: "Then, hypothetically, I would immediately withdraw
our acceptance of your offer and begin firing on you as the enemy."

Tarrega: "But surely, Captain Roberts, you could hypothetically use
the situation to your advantage? Would you also not be in an ideal
position to gain information?"

Kennedy raised an eyebrow: "What are you suggesting, Captain
Tarrega?" He had horrid feelings that Tarrega was not only implying
mutiny of her own ship, but collusion with the enemy as well.

Tarrega: "I make no suggestion, Mr Kennedy. I merely put the
hypothetical question to the Captain as well."

Roberts: "I am a man of principle, Senorita Tarrega. I do not betray
the confidence of my men by having the ship's secrets leaked out of
her."

Captain Tarrega was satisfied that this showed these men were not
idiots after all. She could reveal her true mission with confidence
that they would not bungle it all up by trying to take charge and
thereby alerting the enemy.

"I am glad you said that Captain, for it expresses the same view that
I hold." Then, in an British accent more fake than her Spanish one,
she said "Down with the Dons!" The four men just looked at her, not
catching her meaning. "Down with the Dons!" she said
again. "Commander Natasha Alibrandi from His Majesty's Secret
Service" and she flashed her secret agent insignia which was pinned
to the inside of her jacket to prove it. "I am doing top secret
intelligence work for the Admiral in communicating progress about the
Don's war effort."

Kennedy was flabbergasted. "You'reyou're a spy? A real undercover
spy?"

Max Sterling suddenly had a flash of insight as to where he left his
locket with the star-shaped flower pattern. With the haste of Judas
at the last supper he sprang out of his seat, muttering excuses that
he suddenly had something very important to do. In his haste a piece
of chicken bone that was about to leave his mouth lodged itself in
his oesophageus and he began choking violently.

Roberts, Kennedy and Hornblower momentarily forgot Tarrega-turned-
Alibrandi as their attention was diverted to saving Max Sterling.
Hornblower battered him between the shoulder-blades, but the bone
refused to come out, causing Max's face to turn as crimson as turnips.

"Call for the surgeon!" barked Roberts, but it was no good.

Within two minutes, Max Sterling was dead.

**************

Natasha Alibrandi became hysterical at the loss of Max Sterling.
Without the life of Max Sterling, the mission was doomed to fail.
Both she and the Spanish knew Max was an enemy spy his sudden death
was now sure to raise the alarm that the British were onto their
plot. Max was due to secretly report to the Spanish Lieutenants on
board the Carmen at dawn sharp. Any delay any would immediately
signal that something had gone wrong, and they would never never
believe that his death had been caused accidentally by something as
insignificant as a piece of chicken bone. Natasha imparted these
details between gasps of air never had she felt so trapped in all
her life.

Kennedy tried to console her and told her not to panic they would
find a way to turn the situation to their advantage.

Roberts ordered Hornblower to call all hands to the watch and report
what they saw. Hornblower got no further than opening the cabin door
before he shut it again quickly.

"What the devil is the matter?" roused Roberts.

"SShhhhhh" whispered Hornblower. "The Spanish Sir they're
everywhere on board the ship. Everywhere."

The only other exit in that cabin was through the window. There was
no telling if the Spanish military were waiting for them round the
corner. They would have to take that risk or be slaughtered in that
cabin.

The four of them could feel their hearts pumping madly with the
thrill of the chase. They linked arms, and with a
mighty "Rahhhhhhhhhhhhh!!" from the men and a shrill scream from
Natasha Alibrandi, they leapt straight for the window, smashed
through the glass with an almighty crash, and landed just behind the
railings. It took a moment or two to realise what they had just done,
but there was no time for admiration or to ascertain any injuries.
The Spanish came hunting round the corner as expected, but the four
were ready with firing pistols, the multi-dextrous Kennedy holding a
pistol in each hand. Furiously but surely they fired, watching the
Spanish fall at each well-targeted bullet, but an overhead shot could
have revealed what was happening the Spanish were closing in on
them fast. They were outnumbered and outgunned. To not surrender
would be suicide. They could have also jumped into the freezing water
as a last desperate attempt to escape, but to do that would be worse
than suicide. Lieutenant Carlos yielded a cutlass straight at
Roberts' heart and interrogated if he surrendered. Roberts did, but
not before belching out filthy black blasphemies about the Spanish
rotting in hell with their women and children. He was not a man to go
quietly.

***********

The survivors from the Kalikara, including Hornblower, Kennedy,
Roberts and Natasha Alibrandi were rounded up by the Spanish guards.
There was full moon that night, giving each face a luminescent
quality. Lieutenant Carlos gloated over the surprise Spanish attack.

"We have known about you, Natasha Alibrandi, all along. You could
never pass for a true Spaniard; your eyes are too almond and your
nose is too skinny. You should inform the British government to send
us the genuine article if they wish to fool usnot cheap imitations."

Natasha Alibrandi blinked away bitter tears with the humiliation of
it all. She could feel the men of the Kalikara staring at her with
daggers of hatred for leading them to this catastrophe.

"What do you plan on doing with us?" demanded Roberts.

Lieutenant Carlos sneered: "You and Senorita Alibrandi will be
subject to a trial to determine your fate. The rest of the men will
be put ashore."

Oh dear God no! thought Kennedy. Not again!

"In Spain?" queried Hornblower.

"Not in Spain you be will be put mainly on the plain. There you
will stay until we have decided what to do with your Captain."

*******

Chapter two:

The men were escorted at dawn to the plain, and what plain it was!
There was not even the greetings of a jeering crowd throwing food at
them. There was just nothing no buildings, no infrastructure, no
people. Just a plain with lots of grass and trees.

The Spanish were benevolent enough to leave them with a supply of
food to last them three weeks other than that, it was up to the
captors to manage their own shelter and hygiene affairs. They were in
exile, totally removed from the rest of civilisation.

The group of 15 bare-chested men set about building a makeshift
shelter for themselves, under the sullen but watchful eye of Mr
Hornblower. What had started as a crew of 60 on that ill fated voyage
on board the Petrel had rapidly shrunk to a team a quarter of that
size. Hornblower knew that going to war meant a life of adventure and
adversity, but never had he expected total abandonment. Even in Cadiz
there was the faint glimmer of hope that someday he would be
returning to the Indy; even in Muzillac there was the Indy ever ready
with outspread decks to welcome back its prodigal (and some would
even say prodigious) son. But here his own Captain was in serious
danger of being hanged as a spy and there was nothing he could do
about it. Nothing.

*********

Archie Kennedy was hunched over by a whirlpool, rinsing the sweat
from his grimy face and bare shoulders. He thought he heard rustling
in the bushes and looked up sharply to see who his visitor was, but
he saw nobody.

"Hmmm" he thought to himself. "I must be hearing things again" and
went back to rinsing his face. He cupped large handfuls of gurgling
water and poured it over his oily blonde hair. He looked down to see
his reflection in the settling disturbance of the water, and then he
saw it. The face of a young boy, no older than 12, was looking at him
upside down. Archie looked up and saw the boy staring at him across
the bank, standing bare-chested with scratches over his pale body. He
had large, dark brown eyes and jet black hair.

"Oh hullo" said Archie, and started forward to greet him. But the boy
became startled by this sudden movement and with lightening speed
darted off to take refuge in the bushes.

"Oh, wait-wait-wait!" pleaded Archie, but to no effect. The boy had
already disappeared.

How very odd, thought Archie, that there should be another living
soul in this place.

***********

The boy reappeared late afternoon the following day, with a most
unusual companion. As the men of the Kalikara were laying down stumps
for the foundation of a makeshift house, they suddenly heard a loud,
piercing scream, followed by the appearance of the boy Archie had
seen the previous day. The boy came tearing down the shore line,
screaming and laughing his head off in primitive tones, with a tiger
chasing after him in hot pursuit. The men watched, horrified,
reaching involuntary for pistols they forgot they no longer had.
Hornblower desperately reached for stones and threw them at the
tiger, hoping to either distract him or slow him down, but his aim
was clumsy. With two bold strides the tiger leapt upon the boy, and
all the men turned away at the awful horror of watching the boy be
devoured by a tiger. All the men but one, who had a voyeuristic
interest in watching the men die in agony. But he was disappointed.

"Sir" he said, tapping Mr Hornblower on the shoulder. "Look"

And Mr Hornblower reluctantly looked to find the boy rolling around
on the shore, laughing his head off as the tiger licked his face with
wet kisses. It was most bizarre.

Eventually the tiger pawed off the boy, and the two of them raced
each other back into the bushes.

***********

"We must look for him" said Hornblower, with the interest of a kitten
chasing after a piece of string.

"Why" asked Kennedy. "With respect, Mr Hornblower, what's to be
gained?"

Hornblower was about to explain how the boy might know something or
somebody that would lead to their rescue; that even if he didn't
speak English he would be able to communicate sufficiently enough to
identify some useful clues as to their whereabouts, and that the boy
probably knew where to find decent food and shelter and how to take
refuge from danger. He was about to explain all these things when a
thought struck him: Kennedy had deliberately questioned his
authority; there was no reason why Hornblower should justify his
decision to him. "Those are my orders" he snapped, and Kennedy was
offended that Hornblower should speak that way to his subordinate
Lieutenant.

***********

The party of five men, consisting of Hornblower, Kennedy, Styles,
Matthews and Oldroyd crept through the dense vegetation, keeping a
keen eye about them for any signs of wild animals. As they had no
pistols and no swords, they could only arm themselves with flinted
rock and heavy sticks. Occasionally an eagle would caw high above the
trees, making them feel like Gulliver in the land of Lilliput.

The plateau they were stumbling across (for there were many rocks in
their path) gradually grew steeper, until they reached the rim of an
enclave. They crouched down to observe what nested in the mouth of
this part of the land: and then they saw it. A pride of tigers,
sprawled out taking their afternoon nap, with the boy curled up in
the middle, fast asleep.

****************

"What now sir?" questioned Styles. He had no intention of rousing the
tigers from their sleep.

"We will wait until they have woken up" replied Hornblower. "And then
we will calmly approach the boy."

But hours passed and still there was no indication of the tigers
waking up; it was as if time had frozen and only the moving sun was
giving testimony to the passage of hours. After five hours of laying
perfectly still and quiet, the party of five had grown weary of lying
down doing nothing. The golden sun caressed their faces and the napes
of their necks, seducing them to sleep. And one by one, they closed
their eyes, and slept.

 

Archie had the unconscious sensation that something or someone was
tickling him. He waved his hand around, trying to fend off the fury
object. But then he felt it again, and he waved harder, irritated by
the disturbance. Then, the sound of a deep growl echoed in his ear,
and with a start he remembered where he was. He snapped his eyes open
and to his horror he saw the head a tiger 5cm away, flashing his
enormous teeth at him.

"Don't panic-don't panic-don't panic-don't panic-don't panic-don't
panic" Archie told himself, feeling his legs twitching madly which
guaranteed a fit was coming on.

The syllable "Yall!" was shouted, and the tiger withdrew its menacing
head, and turned back to its master. Archie turned his stiff neck to
see who had shouted the command, and saw it was the bare-chested boy,
standing like a man with a determined look in his eye. The other
tigers were sniffing around the other sleeping members, who had not
been awakened by the predators.

"Yall! Yall!" commanded the boy, and the other tigers fell to his
command. Archie roused his other companions awake with an urgent
nudge.

"What the-?" cried Matthews, and the five of them recoiled in fear at
their fury predators. But the boy only continued to stare at them, as
if demanding to know what they were doing there.

Hornblower rose to his feet, and something registered in the boy's
mind that this body looked similar to him, only much taller.
Hornblower patted his chest and introduced himself: "Horn-blow-er"

"Hun-blaw-a?" repeated the boy. It was obvious he did not speak
English.

One by one the men introduced themselves.

"Kennedy"

"Kan-i-di?"

"Styles"

"Stals?"

"Matthews"

"Mat-hoos?"

"Oldroyd"

"Uld-rad?"

But the boy did not have a name, or indeed, any kind of identity.
Funnily enough, though, he could distinguish the tigers by name,
which, as far as the men could make out from the boy's pronunciation
were Shebah, Seth, Tess, Magba, Bamba and Jet.

The boy was highly intelligent and understood the men had come from a
place far away, and needed to be orientated with their surroundings.
By now, the sun was settling fast, pretty soon it would be dark and
perilous for the party of five to make their way back. The boy
indicated he would come and visit them when the sun rose again.

 

*******

chapter three:

*******

The remaining captors listened in disbelief that that scouting party
had discovered the native boy had been raised by tigers. It was the
stuff that ingenious fairy stories were made of.

"Wha' should we call `im, Sir?" asked Styles.

"We can call him Tiger Boy, Sir" suggested Matthews.

But `Tiger Boy' did not fit in with Hornblower's grand plan of making
him a gentleman. "No" refuted Hornblower. "We will call him Mr
Wellard."

`Wallad' from the Arabic word for `boy.' It reminded Hornblower of
the time he visited Oran as a 22-year-old man and the locals all
referred to him as `wallad.' `Wellard' was a variation on `wallad'
and had a nice English ring to it.

Mr Wellard showed up later on the day with one his tigers in tow.
Kennedy guessed by the size of its belly that it must be Bamba. Mr
Hornblower wasted no time in indoctrinating Mr Wellard with his new
name.

"You" said Hornblower, pointing at him. "Wellard."

"Wallad?" Even the boy pronounced it the way Arabs did. Tiger Boy
seemed to like the idea of having a name he could call
himself. "Wallad, Wallad, Wallad" he said over and over again, and
laughed.

 

Mr Wellard took the scouting party around the land. He showed them
where they could get fresh water from the whirlpools, secret hiding
places of rabbits and squirrels, huge caves that made great
sheltering houses during the heat, and trees that bore good fruit and
poisonous fruit. But it was the last visiting place that Mr Wellard
was particularly excited about, noted by his noisy native chatter.
Then a reverent hush fell over him as he parted the thick bristly
branches with his handsand lo and behold! The men gasped in
wonderment at the spectacular waterfall that lay behind the trees.
One by one the mean squeezed through the thick grisly branches and
stood in awe before it.

Mr Wellard ran ahead with Bamba and they both plunged themselves into
the gurgling stream. Mr Welalrd seemed to have the universal concept
that splashing water about was great fun, which he did with amazing
frivolity.

"Sir?" asked Styles with longing. "It's awful hot"

"Very well" agreed Hornblower, and the five of them joined Mr Wellard
and Bamba in the stream. It was an odd thing, to be sharing a bathing
ritual with a tiger, but nevertheless it was a nice end to an
exhausting day.

 

Mr Wellard became inseparable from the party after that, with Mr
Kennedy taking a real shine to him. As Mr Wellard grasped basic
English words, Kennedy told him all about the wonderful things that a
gentleman could do in a civilised world; how he could ride horses and
wear luxurious clothes and eat like a king at dinner parties. Mr
Wellard listened with intent and then he asked "Me gentleman?"

Kennedy was about to say "no" but stopped himself short from that
ethnocentric remark. "Yes, yes you ARE a gentleman" he affirmed "and
if you ever come to England you will meet my family and my beautiful
sisters. They will make a delicious honey cake for you."

Mr Wellard smiled even though he didn't know what England, family,
sisters or cake were, but he imagined `sisters' were Kennedy's
brightly coloured birds. He should very much like to meet Kennedy's
sisters.

******

"Owww!! Jesus Christ!!" shrieked Styles loudly, taking the Lord's
name in vain as a heavy piece of rock landed on his foot.

"Jeh-sus?" asked Mr Wellard, and looked around. He had heard the men
talking about a man called Jesus who could do great things, but for
the life of him he couldn't comprehend who they were talking about.
And only then did it occur to Hornblower that Mr Wellard had no
concept of Jesus or God; the whole time he was living in sin as a
pagan. He would have to rectify that.

*********

"Heavenly Father, in your love you have called us to know you"
intoned Hornblower, while Matthes, Kennedy and Styles submerged Mr
Wellard's head underwater. Mr Wellard shrieked with despair; the poor
lad thought they were trying to kill him. Mr Kennedy felt no better;
his protest that Mr Wellard should go through a baptism on his own
accord when he was ready fell on deaf ears.

"Again" said Hornblower, as he continued with the passage "Fill him
with the Holy Ghost and receive him into the family of your church.

"Easy, easy" said Kennedy, trying to maintain a firm but gentle
grasp on Wellard's wriggling body as his head was submerged a second
time underwater.

"that he may walk with us in the way of Christ, and grow in the
knowledge of your love. Henry James Wellard, I baptise you in the
name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen." When Mr
Wellard was lifted again, the men loosened their grasp, and Mr
Wellard tore himself away and flung himself on the muddy grass bank,
waiting to be dried up by the heat of the sun's rays.

He had discovered time, and death and God.

**************

Mr Wellard, though resentful of this experience, remained with the
group of men for the sake of having a chance to go to England.

"We're not really taking the lad back with us to England, Horatio?"
questioned Kennedy.

"Of course we are, Mr Kennedy. That is the plan."

Kennedy threw down his tools in disgust. "For God's sake, Horatio,
the lad will be dead within a year" he prophesised. "He can't defend
himself in high society let alone in a war, and besides, he's happy
where he is. It isn't right to take the boy out his natural habitat."

"Mr Kennedy, may I remind you that I am your commanding officer here
while we await the fate of Captain Roberts and Natasha Alibrandi, and
until then you will do as I say and prepare Mr Wellard for his
passage back with us to England. Is that understood?"

Bitter pause.

"I SAID is that understood, Mr Kennedy?"

"Aye aye Sir." Kennedy said finally. For not the first time in his
life, Kennedy found himself giving in to the demands of Horatio
Hornblower.

***********************