Chapter 12 here … Chapter 14 here
Time for Janine and Hugh to talk.
He related almost exactly what Emma and he had been talking about, she affirmed that that had been part of it but not completely.
'I resented you both at first but understood that things change and that you two were the natural leaders on the island. S wanted it that way and I do agree with him. No, it's Sam really. There's something a bit wild, maybe too sexualized about him, not unlike a Latin. I think it's me, then I think it's something else. I don't feel easy with him. It's not that I don't want - he wants too much. He says nothing, he makes love to me when I agree, he’s good looking all right, is Sam but I don't love him, he knows that, he doesn't love me, not deep down and he wants a more ... girlish type ... whom he can fuss over and be outrageous with. I'm just a little too ... dull for him. And there's one more thing - I might be pregnant to him.'
He whistled softly. 'Dear oh dear.'
He thought for some moments. 'How pragmatic are you, really?'
'I don't know - not when feelings and babies come into it. You see it now, don't you?'
'If no one had come down, I might have come into this pod or maybe let myself wash out to sea. I don't want to die and if I were washed out, I'd try to swim back, of course but I'd half hope the sea would be too much for me.'
'That's a horrible death. In my earlier days, I came very close to it - minutes away. Don't even think of that for a second.'
'You seem to understand, Hugh and yet you can't find me a solution.'
The solution is that we’re stuck with realities. We're in a position then where we have to take the least worst options, the least worst combination of things. Sophie for example - our kissing and cuddling keeps her this side of the line. We know she goes down to Susannah for the other thing. She could get it from Nick if she could bring herself to but she doesn't choose to. I think she holds out hopes that I will go with her once or twice and that cannot be.'
‘Emma of course.’
‘Would you make love to me?'
'I've been waiting for that. It's crossed my mind. No, for two reasons. Emma and I are rebuilding, I can’t afford anything going wrong. Secondly, you come into this yourself.'
‘Look at our list. You’re obviously not right with Sam but Sophie is, so we’ll come back to that. We want to break the Sophie nexus which puts her back onto us and the pressure on me but in the end, she’s our responsibility, the two of us. We have to find our own solution. Making love to you, Janine, especially if you’re with child, just makes it all fall apart. We simply can’t do that at this time.’
‘Meaning you don’t want to.’
‘I’ve always wanted to, as there are feelings. I said this to Emma – I can only do it if there are feelings but those feelings lead to relationships and that is unfair to Emma.’
‘I see. What will you do about Sophie if I stay with Sam?'
He released the breath slowly. 'I don't know.'
'If there was no Emma, would you? You're the only one who can handle her.'
'Emma can handle her better than I ... but I take your point. There's trouble ahead.'
'We all know it. Everyone on the island, including Emma but not you, knows you will make love to Sophie – oh yes you will, Hugh, as night follows day - and once it starts, it can’t stop. Would you see that as a sort of bigamy or as a sort of Eastern harem thing.’
‘I see it as an ‘I don’t need this’ thing.’
There was silence a while.
'Janine, changing the topic, if I were to come over there now, we could squeeze onto one reclined seat and rest for a while. As we did in the hut.'
'If you wish.'
There was a hoy from above and it was Sam. They threw back the hatch and climbed out - the tide had gone out and Sam was now at the pod with a big grin on his face.
'Ho ho, what's all this then?'
Hugh looked skywards and Janine was poker-faced. They all climbed back up top and made their way back to Moran's, where afternoon drinks were in the process of being poured. Emma gave her husband a quizzical look but he chose not to answer it for the present.
'People,' he addressed the gathering. 'We're all in here except Laurence - Mandy, would you?' They suspected it involved Janine and they were curious. Laurence came through with Mandy and he began.
'We're in an end-of-world scenario - we could be snuffed out in five minutes or in five years and Janine and I were discussing this.' There were muffled sniggers at the 'discussed'. 'There are two things we're meant to be doing – both propagating and doing it in a Judaeo-Christian way.
Against that, we have five men and six women. Not good. Not only that but I estimate that only two of those women are settled in any way and therefore two of the men. Unstable situations lead to covetousness of someone else's partner and in that, there is always a winner and a loser. The loser gets savage.
What I suggest is that we cease to be shy. In the next 48 hours, we sort out for once and for all whom we’re with. No ifs or buts – we do it and then we stick with that person.’
‘But you said yourself, Hugh, that the numbers are uneven,’ said Mandy.
‘Look, that’s not my fault, it’s not anyone’s. But we have that situation. What I’m saying is that four or five pairs will accept the solution, one person or even three will not and they are going to cause enormous trouble. I don’t have the answer, perhaps you’re the gurus, so tell me what the solution is.’
‘We all need to talk with each other,’ put in Laurence.
‘Yes, we do.’
They all drifted out, in pairs and singly. Emma came up to his shoulder and he put his arm around her - they went to their hut.
On the bed, she was waiting for him to speak. He didn’t, so she did.
‘Shall we be honest? If Sam took Sophie, that’s the end of the trouble there but we’d have Janine to entertain and include in things – and who goes with her?’
‘Janine must stay with Sam. She may be pregnant.’
‘Did she tell you?’
‘Yes. I didn’t feel it was confidential, to be kept from you but it would be from the rest until she announces it. So that puts us back where we were.’
‘I think you have to accept you’ll not win in this, Hugh. If you give Sophie a baby, there’s then a wedge between you and me, even though I let you do it, even insist you do. It’s not woman’s logic, it’s just logic if you care to think it through. But it would kill us as a couple if you don’t. It’s the good of the island as a whole and that’s your job, my job.’
There was silence, so she went on.
‘Sophie’s not actually a girl who needs a man the whole time. She’d be satisfied to have your child and be in the vicinity of us but not too close. She’d accept that.’
‘Emma, it’s wrong. That’s a fatherless child.’
‘No, you’d be there enough of the time, we’re all close. But for me to handle it, there’d have to be rules I made and everyone would have to agree.’
‘I don’t know yet, I haven’t thought about them.’
‘There’s also right and wrong, monogamy and though I don’t think you believe it, I think that it might call down some retribution from above.’
‘The Muslims do it.’
‘And look at how peacefully they live.’
‘Yes, all right, Hugh. We chose to rescue Sophie from her hell and now here she is, a newborn woman. We and Mademoiselle Genevieve share a responsibility.’
‘Not to the point of breaking us up.’
‘I accept what you say about that, about monogamy and retribution too. I also see the big picture and where we are. We are alone on an island and have to make some sacrifices to survive. We must populate. I’m telling you I can handle it if I can make the limits, the rules.’
‘Let’s say that’s fine, for now. Sophie has her baby, I fall in love with her, the baby grows up, I love him or her. There’s no point at all at which you and I could ride off into the sunset together.’
‘Yes, that’s what I’m saying to you. Many of the men I know have this you and me idea for forever. But we want children, a family, a small village, with the whole family there – grandparents, grandchildren – exactly what the Prime Minister appointed us to – the patriarch and the matriarch. Not you and me alone. It doesn’t make you less, it makes you more. You might not like that but remember, the woman thinks the way she does. You could lose her.’
‘There’s an expression – love in a cottage.’
‘We have similar. Yes, that’s what I mean. The man must see more widely, just as she does. She still needs him – he takes care of her needs and the family’s, she takes care of their needs and of him. Or if you want me to say it – she takes care of his needs and of them. Sophie fits in there.’
‘One small problem – the patriarch doesn’t give babies to other members of the clan.’
‘I know, I know. Do you have a better solution? I’ve told you what I can take and what I can’t.’
‘So I need to talk to her, yes?’
‘No, I’ll do the talking to her.’
By the following breakfast time, Emma and Hugh, Lisa and Adam had reconfirmed but all the others were still in the melting pot, including Mandy and Laurence, surprisingly. Most surprisingly to Laurence.
By lunch time, Mandy and Laurence had reconfirmed, there were intense discussions going on at different points of the island while the settled pairs relaxed and took in the welcome sunshine.
By supper, there were no further confirmations but Nick and Susannah had gravitated towards one another, with Janine still speaking with Nick but Sophie giving it up as demeaning and refusing to have anything more to do with it.
The night passed and at breakfast, the predictable occurred - Susannah and Nick confirmed. That left Sophie, Janine and Sam, as everyone had known it had to be.
Sam looked at the two choices and decided that Sophie would give him the action, the fun but Janine would give him a quiet life, she was already certainly with child and she’d be a loving companion. It was inexorably moving to the point though where Sophie was going to be the one left over and she knew it.
Emma knew it too and was ready.
Lunchtime saw the last pairing confirmed and thus Sophie was the unattached female. She went down to her fields and Emma followed, as Sophie knew she must.
They lay face down on the grass and Emma outlined it. Sophie was truly stunned. The thought had crossed her mind to do it behind Emma’s back now and then but now she saw that as unworthy and here was a chance, just a glimmer. It gave something, whereas the other gave nothing.
‘D’accord, Emma. Your rules.’ There were tears in her eyes.
‘Can I be certain of that?’
‘Yes, you can be certain.’
They both fell silent and reflected on what had been decided.
On the way back up, Emma pointed out the area to the left, after the last rock gate and they stopped. Basically, it would need some hewing but it was a ledge and sort of on an angle on the left was a natural basin but open at the far end. It did slope down the hill a bit but not overly.
It would make a great pool. They had one bag of cement only from the supply sub and were loathe to use it unless it was in a good cause.
This seemed a very good cause. They dropped into the basin and walked to the other end, not too close to the edge because it was a steep drop the other side - not sheer and it was broken by trees here and there but still - steep.
'We'd need to put two boulders in there, fill the gaps,' said Sophie. ‘I want to be in charge of this project. I know about these things – my father, you see.'
‘We’ll ask the others but it should be fine. We’ve left it very late but if we can do it in a couple of weeks, it might be all right. Weather’s unseasonably warm for the month.'
Everyone thought the Pool a grand idea and it had the effect of easing the Sophie situation for some time.
Realizing they were running out of time and mindful that they needed to tend the vines as well, the whole crew mucked in, the boulders were brought on short rollers hewn from the branches of trees and it was quite a job, taking four days, Sophie asking for this to go here, those to go there, checking over the work and praising when deserved.
The cement was brought and mixed, gravel from the hewing of bits of rock filled it out and the wall at the end was slowly formed.
Filling the pool was not an issue because it was the rainy period in these parts and the basin had been slippery anyway. They didn't want it to fill until the cement had dried into concrete but as Adam pointed out, it was going to take weeks that way.
At her suggestion, they'd laid a bit of conduit - another item brought on the supplies sub - through some of the rubble and cemented around it, at basin floor level and created a plug for the near end. The plug wasn't perfect and water would seep out, as it was replenished by the rain and Sophie suggested they make brooms from the natural brush to sweep the basin floor every two days, they could then discard them and get new ones.
It should keep the pool from becoming fetid. Now, what were they going to call it?
She again came up with a brilliant suggestion - The Pool. All applauded and The Pool came into being – not full but filling.
The day of the dedication of the Pool arrived and though it had been a wettish summer and the autumn chill was in the air, spirits were high.
The most discrete underwear was worn and the rules of The Pool were laid down. They'd driven six pegs into the rock above the ledge, for robes or saris and as they had no towels, per se, these garments would be the distant early warning of who was in The Pool at any time.
This would preclude the need for underwear so, if Couple A came to The Pool and saw the robes of Couple D, then they could decide whether to stay or not - maybe they wouldn't wish to but with Couple C, they might not worry about being naked. It would work itself out.
Slowly the Pool filled, in the deeper parts up to the waist now and the sun which did shine had the temperature of the water at an acceptable level for some time. The regulation of the plug was tricky - to allow out just about the amount which came in from precipitation but not enough to stop the Pool filling.
People were coming down in pairs and the rule seemed to be knickers when more than one pair were present, not if only the two were there. They began eating and drinking poolside but decided it was too much of a problem cleaning up, with Moran's not so far away, so they gave the eating away.
Nick and Susannah were almost always at the Pool, Laurence and Mandy tended to go over to the Court, Sam liked being with Janine on the clifftop, overlooking the pod caves, even with Sophie now and again. Adam and Lisa seemed to like reading and other things in their hut, Laurence liked his walkway, Emma liked Louis Quatorze and the Grotto, Hugh didn't mind where, Sophie tended to stay in the field on the hillside, not where there were crops under cover but under an overhanging rock which kept her from the rain - and also from surveillance from above.
She came to see it, and so did everyone, as her field. The sloping glade where it fell away from that overhanging rock was perfect for lying on and gazing out to sea. Because of the undulations and outcrops, there was only really this section of slope they could use and it fitted about six people at a pinch.
Sophie quite liked their visits and there was always that other, upcoming matter which kept them close.
One day she and Emma spoke of it, while Hugh was away on his tour.
‘When?’ asked Sophie.
‘When I finish telling Hugh about his past. He’s in this too and he needs to make some personal decisions. But he must know all first. It won’t be too long, a matter of days, a week.’
‘Well, I’ll go to Sam and Rachel now and let you start doing that.’
Emma watched her moving up the slope and she really was like a large cat.
Sam and Hugh found some of that rare time to chat and the former was in his favourite spot on the north cliff edge, feet dangling over the side. Hugh had joined him and brought drinks.
‘Cheers,’ grinned Sam. ‘So what’s the state of the island, gallant leader?’
Hugh groaned. ‘Don’t say things like that. How do you see it, Sam?’
Sam was one of those men of middle height, always cheery, which disguised his less than moral approach to life – perhaps doctors were susceptible to that. They’d seen it all, done it all. His education had smoothed his laddishness to a point but only to a point.
And in Sam’s eyes, he and Hugh were the two naughty boys, plus Hugh was about to do the deed with Sophie, as he now put it to the other man. ‘Naturally, you see it in higher and more spiritualistic terms, gallant leader.’
‘Gee, why does everyone want me to bonk Sophie?’
‘Because you love her?’ was the mischievous reply. ‘I don’t think anyone,’ Sam became more serious, ‘will resent it, it’s up to Emma. But as the doctor responsible for the island’s health, let me prescribe it for the health of everyone on the island. Seriously, Hugh, that one is going to be a handful otherwise. You brought her, your responsibility.’
‘Is that everyone’s view?’
‘I’m not sure the others think about it all that much. It will shock some, maybe half the island, the straight half. I think the others will understand. Can you give her a child?’
He laughed. ‘Apparently so, from my history Emma’s relating to me in dribs and drabs. We seem to be near the end of that, I’m told. What about your colourful past, Sam?’
‘Well, old boy, not a lot to tell really. Bomber crew, switched services, not the usual thing, not the done thing, feet were always better on the ground, I’d begun as an intern, now went back to it, trained up, went out into the personnel and wreaked my havoc and here I am.’
‘Ah, yes.’ He got up, went over to the bushes on the left, facing out to sea, rummaged in the undergrowth and extracted one of the bottles. ‘Always better in company.’
Hugh grinned. ‘I didn’t actually mean that but seeing as how you’re offering ...’
‘I’m well aware, old boy, what you meant. Cheers.’
After a period of sipping and gazing out to sea, he was more forthcoming. ‘Medical man, knew the signs, saw them, am able to keep it under wraps. I keep one bottle there and two glasses. I prefer both glasses to be used. Did you know Bacall said of Bogart that he wasn’t an alcoholic, that he just drank a lot?’
‘And you subscribe to that?’
‘It’s better to, I’ve found. I can leave it for some time. Never a drop before my medical rounds of the ladies.’
‘You’re pretty vital, Sam. I know they swear by you.’
At that, he was, in Hugh’s eyes, inordinately pleased, right chuffed in fact. ‘Well, one tries.’ He poured another and Hugh saw why everyone loved Sam so much – he was precisely the antidote to gloom an island population needed. If only he could be warmer towards Janine.
He asked. ‘Janine?’
‘Not all my fault, old boy.’
‘N-o-o-o but your ultimate responsibility.’
It was near the end of October when something happened which postponed the first ‘meeting’ with Sophie and Hugh and almost derailed the whole way of living on the island – for all of them.
Janine swarmed up their eastern rope ladder and breathlessly announced, ‘Company!’
Sam immediately went for Hugh and the two ran to the Command post. Laurence, who’d been snoozing, now came swiftly along the walkway, still buttoning up his loose shirt.
‘How many?’ asked Hugh.
‘One. It’s a girl,’ announced Sam.
‘No signs of others?’
‘Not as far as I can see – she walked round from the point.’
‘Early twenties, dark haired, not Caucasian, looks Asian but also not Asian, something else.’
‘What’s she doing in the Atlantic?’
‘Bit far-fetched, no?’
‘Hasn’t the whole story over the past months been equally far-fetched?’
‘For what purpose?’
‘To infiltrate us, starting with when we go down to the beach to rescue her.’
‘You mean we should leave her down there to starve?’
‘Yep, that’s exactly what I mean. Did she look distressed?'
From what I saw, no.'
'Sam, she would have starved by now if she was on the level – think how remote our island is. We need to observe, that’s all. When we feel absolutely certain she’s above board, we’ll take the appropriate measures and look after her.’
‘I agree,’ said Laurence. ‘Her behaviour – grief, self-assuredness, fear – they’ll say a lot. Where did you say she was now, Janine?’
‘Last I saw, she was below on the eastern beach, just near the trees.’
‘Well, let’s have a look at her then,’ concluded Emma, who’d just arrived.
They couldn’t glimpse her from the Command post but Janine found a point from the walkway where two could observe at one time. Emma and Sophie had second glimpse, looked at each other and smiled, backing away to allow some of the others to look.
They let Hugh and Sam have next look but those two didn't want to give anyone else a turn until Mandy and Susannah insisted - they stepped back up the walkway red-faced.
Eventually, everyone had seen.
The girl below was stark naked except for a garland around her crown like a halo. Sitting on the beach, hands behind her in the sand, she was showing no signs of distress whatever. Instead, she was, if it could be believed, sun-tanning in the last of the weak sun.
Hugh went and sat in Moran’s, his eyes narrowed, thinking it out. A new report came in that she’d gone off on a trek in the direction of the southern bulge of the island. She was fit, athletic and seemed well fed. It would be interesting to observe how long it took her before she attempted to come up the ridge to the Citadel.
It would be interesting to see if she went back to sea this night, suggesting a reconnaissance report. Or else she’d rendezvous somewhere else on the island.
Reports were now coming in thick and fast.
She was indeed seeking a way up to the heights – not a bad test of their defences and that would necessitate her scaling the rock face. As the intruder had no equipment and as the rock could only be moved aside from behind, she was in a quandary.
Then she had a brilliant idea and Mandy saw her climb one of the indigenous trees and quite agile she was too. She dug her toes into crevices in the bark and clawed the trunk with her two hands on either side, sort of shuffling up until she’d reached a branch.
Now she sat on the branch to get her breath and could see over the rock to the next barrier. They knew from experience that she couldn’t quite see the Citadel from here, as the rock face curved round but Mandy knew that if she made it through the second barrier, it would be the end of the ballgame.
Nor could Mandy move from her observation post – any movement would now be picked up by the girl. Adam, observing her from a distant tree, noted that she’d frozen and he did the same himself.
The girl seemed to have made a decision and was going to try the rock. Bit by bit, she first let herself down from the tree, then scoured the rock for possible hand and footholds. She went to the only possible spot which would give her a sporting chance of going over the top and began the gruelling process of climbing.
She almost made it too but then could go no farther.
Realizing it had defeated her, she laboriously made her way back down the rock face until, with a last little jump, she landed on her feet on the hard path, then made her way downhill and, some twenty to twenty-five minutes later, rounded the eastern side of the hill and began to traverse in the direction of the rope ladder points.
This was also not good, as the disturbance the rope ladders made each time they were used had damaged the undergrowth and sharp eyes would observe how they'd tried to repair that. If she looked up, she would see possible signs on the edge of the precipice as well.
She did stop at one of the ladder points, thought carefully, didn’t look up but moved along and stopped at the next one. Again, she never looked up and Adam concluded that she was either not very observant or else she was as sharp as a tack.
By not looking up, observers might be lulled into thinking she’d noticed nothing and she could then make good her escape. These were the two key points – had she noticed and would she return to the sea?
The question of ‘taking her out’ occupied Hugh’s and Laurence’s minds inside the Command post.
‘Take her out and there are two considerations,’ Hugh murmured, stating the obvious. ‘If she’s innocent, we’d have killed a human being in cold blood. On the other hand, if she’s one of them, she’ll be expected to report and if she doesn’t, that will look suspicious.’
Laurence replied, ‘On the other hand, if we don’t take her out and she discovers us, then we have to make a series of rapid decisions, as things unfold.’
Hugh thought about it. ‘We’ll observe some more.’ Then he returned to the other topic, ‘Why is she Polynesian?’
‘She might be Indian Ocean – perhaps from Mauritius or Madagascar.’
‘Whatever. The point is, she’s not from the Atlantic, where we are. Plus, she’s attired for a tropical island and it’s going to be damned cold for her tonight.’
‘She’s very compact, Hugh. Despite that angelic face, she strikes me as a hard nut.’
The girl now went further down towards the beach – a long descent along the only track and now they could move freely up above. Mandy and Adam returned to the Command post and reported and Janine was now in place observing, with Sam as the relay.
It was reported by semaphore that she was heading for the sea. Decision time. All eyes went to Hugh. He indicated for everyone to wait.
‘She’s gone into the water,’ was the report.
Next came, ‘She’s washing dust and debris off herself.’
Then, a little later, ‘She’s come back to the beach.’
What was puzzling everyone was the nonchalant way she was behaving - no thought of shelter, of danger or of sustenance. She was also fit and he felt, probably highly trained. The body language of agents was always different.
Suddenly he asked Mandy an outrageous question. ‘Could she be concealing a weapon?’
‘Hugh, she’s naked.’ Then she admitted, ‘Yes, it’s possible.’
‘Front or back?’
Mandy went bright red but still answered the question. ‘It would take great muscle control, virtually the whole time, in the front. The way she was climbing, I can’t see it.’
‘So, it could be as a suppository?’
‘Yes, possible. But why not just wear something and then it would be much easier?’
‘This way, it allays our suspicion, doesn’t it? That would mean we’re dealing with a dangerous person, to whom personal discomfort is as nothing, compared to her mission, someone who’s trained her muscles to a fine edge. Next question, Mandy. Why is she in such pristine condition, if she’s just travelled across the ocean and been shipwrecked on this island? It’s a great pity we didn’t see her emerge from the ocean.’
They were silent, thinking.
He asked Mandy to ask Sam to take a pod out together but to stay submerged, round the north-west of the island until the signal to take out her mother ship came. Adam would take over as Janine’s relay for now.
‘Now a report came in, even as Sam and Mandy were scurrying down to the pods, that the girl had indeed extracted something from her behind. She seemed to have shaken whatever it was and held it to her ear, as if it was a watch which had stopped.
Then she’d replaced it and lain on the sand, on her front, for some time, had then sat up, clutching a stalk of one of the shrubs, keenly checking herself up and down, as if making sure that all was in order with her.
Satisfied, she now got up and walked up the path again to the cliff face, near the rope ladder point. Now she seemed to be gathering some bracken and such like and appeared to be making a bed of sorts.
She was gathering loose wood which they’d never touched, wanting to keep the area as natural as possible and she was making herself a lean-to.
Resourceful, Hugh nodded.
It became clear that she’d taken care of her accommodation, with absolutely zero fear of any predator, but what of food?
The question was answered very quickly. She began plaiting long fronds of sword grass into a seamless rope, then worked a piece of torn-off bark onto the rope towards the centre.
Aha – a sling shot.
She stood patiently under a clump of trees, looked up and yes, there would had been birds somewhere round there. Janine saw her put a little stone in the bark holder, she tensed and waited. Suddenly she gave a high pitched screech, ‘Yi-ee,’ some birds took fright and the slingshot whipped the stone into the upper branches.
Cursing in a language Janine couldn’t recognize, she made ready again. The birds, which must have been either incredibly stupid, very trusting or both, returned to their trees and the process began again. This time she hit one and it dropped to the ground.
She placed it in her ‘hut’ and went further afield to try again.
There were two more hits and she brought the birds back to the hut, making her way back to the sea with a stick, breaking the remains of twigs off until she had a handy weapon.
Now she waded to the little rocky outcrops near the point and waited, water lapping at her knees.
Her spear was raised and she was motionless.
Suddenly she struck and came up with what looked like a flathead. Wading across to a rock, she bashed the fish’s head on the jagged edge, pulled it off the stick and returned to her position. She took one more fish then strode to shore, up the beach, up the path and back to her little hut.
Now she did a reconnaissance, to see if there’d been any disturbance near her hut. Satisfied, she dismantled her slingshot, took the bark and put it near her stick. Now she gathered dried grass, twigs and such like; it was clear what she intended.
Thus Janine reported and Hugh now felt the girl was indeed an agent and not just a native – she wasn’t primitive enough to tear the birds and fish open and just eat them. It was a risk for her to light a fire and yet she seemed to have it in mind to do so.
Hugh took over the observation, to the protests of Laurence and Adam, who’d also selflessly volunteered to keep the next watch. The girl was building some sort of earth container about half a metre long, twenty centimetres wide by twenty centimetres high. Into this she placed grass, twigs, sticks and finally a couple of larger pieces of wood.
Next the bark was put in and the twirling stick routine started - patiently, patiently, until the first wisp of smoke emerged. She bent down to blow it, keeping her eyes circling for signs of danger.
Quickly she built up the fire and then broke the coals down as soon as they were created.
Some big pieces of wood had been kept to one side and two were now laid longitudinally in the ‘oven’, the birds and fish were placed on these, the oven was covered with the other pieces of wood and now she sat back and smiled for the first time, revealing an attractive, pearly smile.
Laurence reported, by degrees, that she’d left the food in the oven, knowing that the heat would naturally dissipate.
Forty minutes later, she lifted one of the covering pieces of wood, pushed the end of another stick in and lifted out one of the birds. This she placed on top of the oven and proceeded to use a stone to slit the end of the skin and then pulled at it until it came away.
Lifting the meat from the bone, she had a filling supper, then found more wood to put across the oven. Satisfied, she now sat, looking down the path towards the beach, hands clasped around her knees.
There’d been no savagery. You could have called the bashing of the fish on the rock savage but actually, it had been quite humane. She could have flung them on the sand to die a slow death. Ditto with the birds.
For the first time, he became unsure this person was a foe. Somehow, she was too calm and secure. If she’d been a turned or traumatized automaton, her body language would surely have been different. But no, he couldn’t trust his instincts on this one – she still had to be foe.
One thing she was, though, was a pain in their collective necks.
They couldn’t move about normally, the night would heighten any sounds of movement, plus they couldn’t use any light, not that they ever did. All the men were snorers in varying degrees as well, therefore there would be precious little sleep for them.
No, she was clearly a nuisance.
Night fell and her behaviour would now become more interesting. It was almost impossible to make her out down below but Sophie had the notion that she’d placed the ferns and other padding over the fireplace area and had moved her lean-to over there as well. She was going to sleep there, where the earth might still be a little warm.
Sophie couldn’t understand her nakedness, as she was clearly no savage. Why did she not at least put something on for the cold of the night and the days were not all that warm either? Looking out to sea, in the vain hope that a submarine light would show through the clear water, there was nothing of note.
If anyone could have laid claim to being closest in temperament to the intruder, it was herself and yet she was in awe of the resourcefulness of the castaway. She detected no movement of any kind down below, in the half light of the moon, and in fact, in the evening quiet, she thought she detected the girl sleeping.
More than puzzling.
It was time to change watch – they’d accepted they’d have to observe her 24/7 and the change would have to be silent. There was a certain amount of forest noise, creaking trees in the breeze, the call of night birds, the wind itself, the lapping waves far off and yet they still had to be careful.
This was their training – to increase vigilance the more tired and the more blaise they became. Adam took over the watch and was asked to look for any movement anywhere, of any kind. She could easily slip away and start snooping, right under Adam’s nose.
The sun rose about 06:50 and the nightwatchman, Laurence, could report to Hugh, who now took over, that she’d gone nowhere for three hours, that she’d woken, had gone to the sea to wash, had then returned, dismantled her bed, taken a fish from the oven, eaten it and then, most amazingly, had actually cleaned her teeth with a blade of sword grass she’d torn into strips.
Now Hugh was privy to a most amazing thing.
She went some distance from her little camp, carrying the pieces of her hut with her and reconstructed it against the rock in such a way that observers from where Hugh might be could not see her.
Maybe she’d wanted some sort of barrier between her camp and this place. Maybe she was actually modest.
Either way, she hadn’t completely covered the view and Hugh could make out what she was doing, without actually seeing the graphic detail. What she did was squat down and slip the thing again from her posterior, she answered the call of nature, wiped herself clean with some grass, then replaced whatever it was she’d kept in her hand.
She went over to a clump of grass, cleaned her hands, went to the rock face and the next he saw, she was lifting a piece of bark to her lips – she’d collected moisture during the night.
They decided to observe until late morning.
Around midday, with no warning, she turned in the direction of the Citadel and called out in a loud, clear voice, in reasonable English, ‘Help me, peas.’
The company in the Command post froze and stared at one another. This was a direct challenge. She put the challenge beyond doubt when she called out again, in a lilting voice, ‘Peas, I need help.’
Was she simply trying it on or did she know, for certain, that they were there? Everyone looked at the other and all shook their heads. No, the girl was going to have to do better than that.
She did. She called out, ‘You good people – you not hurt me two days. Fink you need this.’
Then, reaching inside herself, she extracted a little capsule – seemingly made of plastic, with a screw-on cap. She held it up, did not gesticulate at all but just kept her head and waited.
She’d won the day.
Hugh’s eyes asked the question and once again, Sophie volunteered. She’d appear from the southern bulge and traverse the hill, then try to draw the girl away to the deserted native village and hear what she had to say.
Sophie disappeared and reappeared from the south thirty five minutes later, the naked savage again. The girl never reacted but waited until she was close, then nodded.
‘Come to my hut,’ said Sophie and turned south again.
‘Stop. Your hut there,’ she swept an arm towards the Citadel.
‘No, no, I come from the village. Follow me.’
Again the girl said, ‘Stop.’
Sophie paused and waited for the girl to explain. ‘I know your hut there, more than four of you, ladder here,’ she indicated exactly, ‘and here.’
The girl recognized immediately that Sophie was now in her dangerous mode but she wasn’t the least bit fazed. ‘You want go native village? Orright, you go, but it not where you live.’
Too late, Sophie paused, undecided.
It was a critical mistake; the girl immediately picked up on it and smiled. For the first time, Sophie had been outwitted and yet she could still counterattack. ‘Who are you, where are you from, why are you naked, why did you have a capsule up your bum, where are the people who brought you by boat and what do you want from me?’
‘Many question. You pretty girl – pretty body,’ and at that, she went up to Sophie, running one hand along her curves. You thing I pretty too?’
Sophie nodded and waited for her to continue. ‘You need capsoo.’ She handed it across, and Sophie wasn’t at all sure she wanted to touch anything extracted from an orifice but still, she took it and opened it, holding it away from her.
When it didn’t explode, to the girl’s amusement, Sophie became bolder and extracted the contents. It was microfiche wrapped in clear cellophane.
‘Where’s your transmitter then?’ she asked the girl. ‘You communicated with your ship.’
She was genuinely astonished. ‘Why you ask? You know I came raft.’ They didn’t know. ‘You know raft north side. What ship you say?’
If this was an act, it was a mighty good one and Sophie had seen some in her time. She began to trust her and that was dangerous - was she becoming soft in her old age? ‘You know very well – the enemy.’
‘Yeah, yeah, they bomb our island - boom – all gone.’ There were tears in her eyes. ‘Three of us fish, three girl. We diving girl –’
‘You’re a highly trained agent. I’ve been observing you.’
‘Of corr, I toll you – microfiche for you. You agent too. Hard body.’ Miri ran her hand approvingly down Sophie’s chest.
‘So what about diving girls?’
‘We diving girl, yes. Hemia and Maire both die at sea.’
‘You killed them and ate them?’ Sophie asked before she could stop herself.
‘No, corr not. Hemia lost leg, Maire head broke.’
‘Why not you? How did you escape?’
‘I underworta at time.’
‘Your whole body is brown. Listen to your accent. You’re from the southern hemisphere.’
‘So what are you doing here?’
‘I toll you – we agent. Send help Azori government.’
‘But you’re not Azori.’
‘No, we Tahiti.’
‘Tahiti! And what’s your name?’
‘Beautiful name. You’re a beautiful girl too,’ but Sophie kept her hands to herself.
The girl beamed with inordinately more pleasure than the remark had warranted – perhaps this was the highest accolade where she came from.
Chapter 12 here … Chapter 14 here