Pass the Pen: Part 4
In Which Oldroyd Hears a 'Who'...
One of Archie's first lessons as a powerful deity was that,
he had almost no power at all. Yes, these natives would bring him
food and drink, indeed they were willing to see to his every physical
comfort judging by the very young miss brought to attend him. He had
been appalled upon realizing the purpose of her presence, for surely
the girl could not be a day older than ten-and-four years. If Te'wa,
for such was her name, was puzzled by his rejection of her as a
sleeping companion, at least she was not offended. Withal, she was a
congenial creature, with rich chocolate skin, expressive eyes, and a
shy smile framed by enormous dimples, and had diligently applied
herself not only to overseeing his creature comforts but had also
managed to learn a few words of English from him. This helped him
feel not so entirely alone, for no matter how much these good people
claimed to worship him, no matter what reverences and obeisances were
displayed, no matter how he yelled and demanded -- he had even tried
sulking -- no one would say what had happened to Horatio.
The men who had dragged Horatio away from the little village
returned for three full days. Surely if their intent had been to kill
Horatio the matter could have been handled in less time? Archie
shuddered and resolutely turned his mind from the shriveled heads and
skulls that adorned the ceremonial pool where they had first
encountered the tribesmen. Styles and Matthews were becoming
restless, he recognized the signs: They wanted to escape. All the
Petrels did of course, for they were being used as a kind of slave
labor to build huts, tote water, dig roots, collect fruit, cook and
generally wait upon the locals. The fact that their labors were by no
means as strenuous nor as dangerous as those ordered by His Majesty's
Navy, and that contrary to life aboard ship they were getting fresh
foods on a regular basis was an irony that in their zeal to return to
the life and culture they knew, seemed to escape them. If, as Archie
surmised somewhat ruefully, it was the lack of grog and the
opportunity for drunken revelry they missed, the celebration slated
for the following day of "Ah-chee" as the newest god was about to
make up for that lack.
Through a combination of baby English, signing and charades,
explained to Archie that in return for a full day's homage to him,
which was to include feasting, music, dancing, and one or two rather
bizarre rituals which he hoped he did not fully comprehend, he was
expected to make rain. Make rain? Him? Archie Kennedy? Oh, very
likely! And what would they do to a failed god? The speculation made
him shiver and the hair on the back of his neck stood up. Spying his
uniform jacket, he scooped it up and tugged it on over his bare
chest, with little Te'wa wanting to help but puzzled by and
disapproving of the many loops and button holes.
"Why in the world do your people require a rain god on
an island so
lush as this?" he inquired of her. She responded with a blank,
worshipful gaze. "It seems to me," he rambled on just as if she
understood every word, "you get plenty of rain here. Everything grows
in abundance and heaven knows the humidity is past bearing." And yet
I feel absurdly naked without the blue horse blanket which the
Admiralty is pleased to call a jacket, he thought.
She only stared at him quizzically until he finally resorted
series of absurd charades himself. "Why?" He cocked his head to one
side and shrugged. "You." He pointed at her in so exaggerated a
fashion that she giggled and said "Oo" and pointed back at
him. "Yes!" he said enthusiastically, "why -- you -- want -- " and he
was lost for a sign for that word but looked hopefully skyward and
made wiggling gestures with his fingers outstretched before
A mere ten minutes of this primitive communication and Archie
exhausted himself trying to make her understand. When he finally
sighed with frustration and pushed damp curls from his forehead,
Te'wa quickly took up a palm frond and began fanning him. Chattering
away in her native dialect, she fanned with one hand and tugged at a
button on his uniform, saying, "Baht. Baht. Ne uwa baht. Ne uwa Ah-
chee." Archie just closed his eyes and for a brief moment wondered
how Oldroyd was managing with the local dialect. Oldroyd, whose idea
of speaking any foreign language was merely to add "ee" to an English
"Ah-chee!" came the offended cry.
His eyes popped open. Te'wa was obviously unhappy that he was
paying due attention. Again she tugged at the button on his
jacket. "Baht!" she declared softly.
"Yes," Archie nodded. "Baht. I've got that all
right. Lots and lots
of bahts!" He pointed to each button in turn, and she nodded
vigorously, then surprised him by tugging at the lace points on his
lapels and whispering, "Baht!" Finally she reached out shyly and
stroked his hair. "Baht!"
"No, love, that is only gold lace, these are buttons --
baht," and he
pointed to a button.
She nodded, pointing to a button and the lace in turn. "Baht,"
nodded insistently, "baht." She pulled his hair a trifle sharply, as
if that might better make him understand. "Baht!"
Archie's eyebrows slowly rose in astonishment as he stared
Te'wa then at his jacket. His sapphire eyes glowed. "D'you mean --
gold?" He was half whispering now as well. Her dimples flashed and
softly she said again, "Ne uwa baht." And she accompanied this phrase
with Archie's own charade of wiggling fingers moving from above her
head to the ground.
"The rain brings gold? Is that it? Are you sure? God,
why am I asking
you? You're the only one of us has a clue, aren't you, pet?" Archie
had to laugh at himself as he tried to understand just what "the rain
brings gold" could mean. "Ne uwa baht?" he questioned.
Swiftly Te'wa covered his mouth to quiet him. She nodded. "Ne uwa
baht. Ne uwa Seem-sun. Ne uwa Ah-chee." Then she made a gesture that
indicated sleeping and another sign that he Took took to mean she
would show him after everyone was asleep. The idea that she might
unintentionally also show him a way of escape made him too tense to
sleep for a long time. The rain brings gold, he pondered. The rain
brings Simpson. The rain brings Archie. Gold. Lying awake in the
darkness his thoughts turned to Horatio, then the Petrels, to rain
and gold again, and finally to Simpson. At long last he slid over the
precipice of consciousness into sleep, and his last coherent thought
before doing so was that as reigning rain god it might be possible to
persuade the natives to shrink Simpson's oversized head. He smiled in
his sleep. No fits tonight.
Matthews flicked one eye open. Without moving another muscle
body that one rheumy eye rolled up and around, back and forth, seeing
no sign of any their captors. Sometimes the guards came and prodded
them to see if they were really sleeping. His sense of time, well-
honed over two dozen years and hundreds of watches aboard ship, told
him it must be past midnight. The only sounds he could distinguish
were night sounds of jungle creatures he had no least desire to
encounter and the light snoring of Oldroyd behind him. As he thought
on't, he wasn't sure there was much difference betwixt the two sounds
as once in a while Oldroyd gave little shrieks and moans as he
dreamed. Assured no guard was hovering above him, his other eye
flipped open and just as cautiously he reviewed as much as could see
in the deep gloom of the hut. That hulking shadow in front of him was
Styles, he was certain-sure of that: The great lummox was blocking
what little air might otherwise be stirring.
There were four other men in the hut, none of whom Matthews
served with prior to the Petrel, but all were as eager to quit this
place as he was. Hastings was a Yank, a quiet, balding bloke, who had
been pressed against all regulations from a John Company ship a year
earlier, but had taken his fate almost philosophically in stride.
That information had surprised Matthews as he had heard summat else
about the nature of those Americans.
Mercer was a thin, wiry chap out of Bristol. He knew no other
than the sea, and had, at least according to him, the "best eye
in 'is Majesty's 'ole bleedin' navee." Jorgenson was a giant Swede,
slow of temper and even slower with his English, but quick enough
with his fists when it counted, and could scale the ratlines as
nimbly as any of the smaller men.
And then there was Taylor, Morgan Taylor. At only five-and-twenty,
the raffish Taylor gave every appearance of having been around the
world and then some. He was an educated lad though, and handsome,
too: Had the ladies flocking about him like flies to treacle back at
Bengal. What disturbed Matthews about Taylor was his care-for-nothing
outlook; that attitude of his was not the fashionable front so many
brash young men assumed to cover their worries and fears. Taylor
simply did not give a tinker's curse for anything or anyone,
including himself, and seemed always ready to risk life and limb for
no better reason than that the opportunity to do so had presented
itself. He was cheerful enough, though, and easy company, but he
seemed to be afraid of almost nothing. Matthews knew little of the
man's history, but he well knew when a man had been rode by the
Devil. A man like that, who didn't fear Death, could get every one
else killed without half trying.
Cautiously, Matthews rose up and nudged Styles. Without a sound
Styles sat up as well. In turn he nudged the man on his other side,
who did likewise, until at last all seven men were awake and sitting
up. Their plan had been fixed earlier, in cautious half-whispers and
mutterings and hand signals over meals and before sleeping, as the
island people had prodded them sharply with spears every time they
were caught speaking to each other. Jorgenson had volunteered for the
the task of knocking out the guard just outside the entrance to their
hut but as he started to rise, he was pulled back by Taylor.
Matthews felt his heart stop. They hadn't even made their first
and Taylor was changing things to suit himself and not a word to
anyone else. Still, to try and stop him now would be to alert the
As quiet as any predator Taylor eased through the opening of
The six men sat tensely waiting for an outcry or a sharp word, but
the heavy silence held. Then a shadow eased back into the hut.
"Follow me," Taylor's tone was low, a less noticeable
sound than a
sibilant whisper would have been.. "Soft now, not a peep or we're all
done for." And he was gone again.
Outside the hut, Matthews was beyond astonished, for the light
the thin crest of moon revealed Taylor standing next to one of their
guards, his hand on the man's arm. Styles and Matthews exchanged a
wary look, not certain whether their mate had betrayed them.
With no sign or sound, the guard turned and padded away into
encroaching jungle growth. Taylor gestured them all to follow, then
disappeared into the blackness of forest behind him. Again Matthews
and Styles exchanged a look, shrugged simultaneously, and followed.
Jorgenson, Hastings, and Mercer trailed after them, and Oldroyd,
nearly bug-eyed with fear, brought up the rear.
Matthews estimated they had walked more than a mile from the
before anyone spoke. Taylor had brought the little troop to a halt,
and still speaking softly, as sound seemed to carry strangely through
the jungle, he apologized.
"Sorry I couldn't let you lads know of the change in plans.
here is Laamu, at least I think that's what his name is. Laamu and I
struck a deal this evening, when I went to the latrine. There wasn't
time to let you know."
"What kind of deal?" Styles demanded.
Taylor's grin flashed whitely in the gloom. "Well,"
he drawled, "it
seems the lad quite fancied my gold watch. Got a yen for all things
gold it would seem."
"You haven't got a gold watch," Matthews pointed out bluntly.
Taylor had the grace to look embarrassed. "I took it off
body down at the beach. I knew he'd not be needing it again."
Matthews snorted at this breech of sailor's etiquette, but
it was a
breech that happened all the time, for sailors died all the time, and
he was not terribly surprised that Taylor would be one to engage in
the practical practice of robbing a corpse.
"Lucky I did, too, for it turned Laamu's head enough to
get him to
lead us through this jungle," Taylor went on. "I couldn't quite make
out where he's taking us, but he drew me a nice little picture in the
sand, and boys, it was a picture of a ship!"
Excited whispers greeted this proclamation before Styles calmed
"Is that so? Why didn't he just take the watch from you?
He's got the
spear and you've got none."
Taylor grinned again. "I think stealing must be against
He wanted to haggle for the watch so between my powers of
persuasion and his natural greed, we came to an agreement. But I have
to tell you now, lads." And his bright smile faded. "Old Laamu's
after more than just the gold watch. Before he'd agree to take us to
find the ship, if that's what it is, he wanted something else. I'm
afraid one of you is going to have to be the sacrifice. Laamu's made
Stone silence fell among the group.
"You bastard!" stormed Styles, grabbing a fistful
shirt. "You gave one of us up to them? It'll be you, ya --." Matthews
and Jorgenson pulled Styles off him.
"Gad, what a temper it has!" Taylor was undaunted
by Styles's attack,
was almost amused in fact. "I didn't bargain away anything you'd be
likely to miss, Styles."
"Who?" demanded Matthews. "Who's to be the sacrifice?"
"Sorry, didn't I say? It's Oldroyd, of course.
The sacrifice had been made.
At last the quiet little band of Petrels resumed their march
the forest, each man strangely energized by what he had just
witnessed. Matthews and Styles wore what Mr. Hornblower would have
recognized as guilty smiles, but would not look at each other, as if
each was a trifle ashamed of his behaviour. Walking ahead of the
other Petrels, Taylor could not repress an occasional soft chuckle.
Jorgenson, Mercer and Hastings all seemed lighter of step, while in
the lead the light-hearted Laamu was inclined to skip once in a
To his credit, Oldroyd had put up a fierce struggle but even
and Styles had at last seen the necessity of it and had not
challenged the giant Jorgenson's hold on the smaller man, while
Taylor had smothered his anguished screams. Laamu grinned with a
demonic delight as he flourished a razor sharp shell before Oldroyd's
horrified gaze. The pearlescent blade was mere inches from his neck
when Oldroyd finally fainted from fear.
Laamu had merely growled out a few words, possibly of satisfaction,
before carefully lopping off all Oldroyd's golden curls and tucking
them into the same bag of skin which contained Taylor's gold watch.
The revived Oldroyd now marched with sorely injured dignity,
as considerably shorter locks, well behind the others, but not so far
that he did not hear the irrepressible Taylor's comment on Oldroyd
having his head shrunk. With stunningly accurate aim all the more
remarkable for being achieved with so little light to see by, he
slammed an unidentified fruit into the back of Taylor's head.