Tuesday, May 5, 2009

France 16 - New start



Chapter 15 here ... Chapter 17 here

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I

‘Fire away,’  said Hugh.

'You mean begin?  How did it start with Ksenia?'

‘It started in Britain when I was with Anya.’

‘So you did cheat on Anya.  And you cheated on Nikki with me.’

He looked at her.   He looked some more.  'What is it with you this evening?'

'Haven't you worked it out yet?  I'm serious about you.'

He sighed. ‘It had been bad with Anya and me before I left for Britain. At first I refused to have sex with Ksusha in that hotel room and slept on the divan.  I worked out Anya had been cheating on me -’

‘One moment.  You took a hotel room with Ksenia?  While you were still with Anya and were planning to marry her?’

‘If you want to put it that way.’

‘I do.’

'Ksusha was in security, as you know and was using me at that point.  We went north from London and it was the only room available.  I thought I could stay with her and not have to cheat on Anya.’

‘You really thought that?’

‘Yes.  I can easily stay with a woman and not do that.’

‘You’re not in the real world but I bet she was.  I believe that deep down you were hoping it would happen.  And Anya?’

‘Anya’s very complex.  There are things which complicated us and made it not possible in the end.  I made love with Ksenia when I knew Anya was cheating - I know that's not a good excuse.  At that point, I decided to try to make Ksusha mine.’

‘Do you still love Anya?’

‘Yes … yes I do.  And I know you still love Michel.’

‘Good, then we understand one another.  Can you wait one more night?'

'I can wait weeks but I'm not sure about months.'

'I'm talking about tomorrow night.'

II

The next morning, they all went for a walk to the point and looked out over the flat sea, about half a kilometre below.

‘What’s over there?’ asked Geneviève.

‘Probably New Zealand, a few thousand kilometres away,’ answered Hugh.

‘Anyone know how to sail?’

‘It’s my pastime, my sport, Genie.’

‘Really?’

‘I design boats to fill in the time.’

‘You mean you could build us a boat?’

‘With help, yes, not a problem.  Plenty of materials here, we just need the tools.’

‘What about the sail?’ asked Jean-Claude.

‘Rush matting, as the natives do.  I prefer Pacific hull designs but the lug’s a nice sail for cruising – easy to handle.’

.o0o.

About fifty metres from the point, Emma saw something in amongst the trees, found a path in and took it, nodded to herself and called the others.  She pointed proudly at a very large fallen tree, one which had clearly crashed over some time ago although it was still relatively free of things growing on it.

Hugh climbed up and explored it to the end, jumped off and looked back down its length, nodded and came back to them.  ‘Might do,’ he said. ‘We need at least ten metres.’

‘This is about fifteen,’ judged Jean-Claude.

‘Yes,’ said Hugh. ‘It might just do the trick.  Supposedly we’ll need the head-man’s permission.’

They wandered back, the girls went to Genie’s hut and the men went in search of the head-man, about half a kilometre up the track, past various huts, past curious children, past farm animals, until they found the Big Hut in the ‘centre of town’.  If they’d wondered how to find him, they needn’t have bothered because he came out himself and invited them in.

Once inside, he bade them be seated and drinks were brought – the local brew. The great surprise was that his English was excellent, something Hugh now commented on.

‘I was educated at your York University, in the 70s.’  The penny clearly hadn’t dropped that three of the four were French. ‘Now, what brings you to the village so urgently?’

They told him about the tree trunk, about the plans to build a boat and the man nodded his understanding, interested that Hugh had a design in mind.  He agreed to help and of course knew the men who were skilled in these things.  Then he got onto more delicate matters.

‘Gentlemen, we’re a poor village, as you can see but we live not badly, despite that.  Constructing a boat such as this is the work of only three weeks and it shall be done.  However, we have more pressing problems here.  You may know of unrest on other islands and we fear that this unrest is going to visit our island.  We cannot defend ourselves against their western weapons.’

‘Ah,’ said Hugh.

The head-man continued. ‘We are also short of vital medicines but our central government sends nothing.’

The deal was sealed in a short space of time.

.o0o.

In the evening cool, head on her grass-padded cushion in the dark hut, Genie compared Jean-Claude to Thierry in her head.  She knew she shouldn’t but she couldn’t help it.

Thierry had always been one for the candlelight, the ambience and the extended foreplay.  He never could just do the job and leave it at that.  Jean-Claude now, though he understood the efficacy of foreplay, didn’t draw it out and dwell on it like Thierry which, quite frankly, she was thankful for.  She had to admit she was one for the main course, nice though the appetisers and desserts were.

Jean-Claude did actually enjoy the candlelight, the ambience, the slow build and the celebration but he noticed that Geneviève could take it or leave it and so he now usually left it off the agenda or at least reduced it to a minimum.  Combined with Geneviève's natural artlessness and awkwardness with limbs, there was something quite at odds with the sophistication of their usual manner with everyone else and even with each other.

She had to admit that Jean-Claude was a 'keeper' - she saw a very long life with him stretching into the future and as the years ticked over, she would increasingly need this sort of certainty.

She looked at him and decided they needed to talk. ‘Jean-Claude?  May we discuss things?’

He smiled at her quaintness and confirmed to himself for the umpteenth time that he’d made the right choice in chasing Geneviève to the ends of the earth.  ‘Speak.’

‘Are you satisfied?  Because I am,’ she added anxiously.

‘Are you truly?’

‘Oh yes.’  She detailed to him all she’d been thinking.  ‘What about children?’

He looked blankly at her and blinked.  ‘Er ... yes.  Children.’

‘You haven't thought about them?’  He went to answer but she answered for him, ‘No, I see you haven’t thought about them at all.’  He didn’t reply.  ‘I shan’t force you and I could live without them if it was a big issue ... ’

‘But you’d like.’

‘Well, I’m not an old maid yet,’ she smiled.

‘It’s a question late in the day for me - you know my history, of my wife.  I’m not against, truly I’m not.  It’s just so sudden.’

‘Well, let’s think about it for some time and talk about it in a few days if you want. Now, will you tell me about Francesca or is it too painful?’

‘Francesca. This moment always had to come, Genie, didn’t it?  Once in a man’s life, he loves someone so much that when she’s taken, nothing ever matters again for the remainder of his days.  It’s a dangerous thing, a mad thing - it can only end in tragedy.

My wife had lung cancer.  It took its normal course and then her suffering stopped.  I went out of my mind, not knowing how to cope, never having learned how.  That’s why all this killing is so upsetting.  In my apartment in Paris, in our apartment, she was forever there and then, when you appeared in the distance, I resented you, on behalf of Francesca.  That’s silly, isn’t it?’

‘Not in the least.  I understand every word.  Go on, if you feel you can.’

‘That’s it, Genie.  Hugh came to us, he came to an understanding with you, then something went wrong with you two and I did not sympathize with him, I still don’t and I told him that – that I saw hope again.’

‘You then had Sophie-Fleury.’

‘Oui, oui.  We had plans, big plans in fact.  Your star was low on the horizon at that time, in my eyes.  And then …’

‘Oui, we won’t dwell on that.  And here we are and I have no regrets.’

He drew her across to him on the bed and cuddled her.  She murmured something into his chest he didn’t catch. ‘Pardon?  I didn’t hear what you said.’

‘I was wondering if Emma has told Hugh about her situation yet.’

‘What situation?’

‘That’s not my place to say, Jean-Claude.  She’ll have to say it or not at all.’

‘D’accord.  But tell me – could it change things with them?’

She looked up at him. ‘It might, it might not.  It didn’t with Nikki and him but I suspect he’s fallen head over heels for Emma now – men often do.  It might shatter his illusions and if it does, he’ll be looking around again.’

‘I see.’

‘I want to say to you now that our relationship, yours and mine, is not dependent on what happens between another man and woman.  I can sympathize with Hugh but it doesn’t alter anything between you and me.’

‘Merci, Geneviève.’

‘I think Hugh is fair-minded enough to just accept what happens.  I hope he doesn’t react that way because it would hurt her very, very much and it would unbalance everything. She’s been making her position clear to him, so she told me but never so that she’d lose him.  She doesn’t know it but I know it – she’s already very dependent on him, emotionally.’

‘Maybe she shouldn’t tell him.’

‘Oh come, Jean-Claude, what relationship can survive that kind of deception?’

...

'Time to discuss making love,' she said, lying back on the matting cover of the bed.

'May I ask something first?' he asked.  She waited.  'What may I call you?’

She was puzzled.  ‘Emma, of course.’

‘No, I mean as a term of endearment.  You call me Hugh when you’re formal but you’ve been calling me Bebe too.  I like it.  Nikki called you Em.  I want something to call you when I’m being soft.’

‘Fayette.  That’s what my family used to call me - every time you use that name, it will remind me of my childhood.  Call me Fayette.’

‘The fairy?’

‘Oui.  Em's fine too but Fayette is special.’

‘Done.’ 

Her face became serious.  ‘I have something to tell you.  Do you remember my 'interview' with you at Fontainebleau?’ 

'How can I forget?'

'That's when I fell in love with you.  That's when I thought, if things ever changed - and remember I would never have divorced Michel if he'd been true to me, to us - if things ever changed, I thought, then having your child would be nice.'

He looked across at her with the faint light flickering on her face, his ears having just heard her beautiful voice say that.  'Gosh,' was all he could think of to say.

'Are you shocked?'

'Very.  Immensely flattered ... gosh.  How did you feel about Genie and me?'

'I was married.  She was your best chance and you were the only one who could get her away from Philippe - we knew he was bad.  Also, that would have kept you close to me.   Now I'm going to answer your question before you even ask it.  If Michel had worked with me, cared for me, loved me, then I would have thought you very nice and even felt soft thoughts but I'd never have done anything with you.  Are you getting what I'm saying to you?'

'Loud and clear.'

'It's in your hands.  You don't have many complexes for a man - perhaps a slight one about your size but it must be obvious from the women over the past couple of years that that is not an issue to them.   Other things are an issue but you know those.'

'I do have one or two complexes about you.'

'Oh?'

‘To explain it, I have to mention Nikki.’

‘All right.  That’s fine.  Will you hurt me?  Are you going to compare us?’

‘If I was, would you wish to hear it or not?’

‘Be as diplomatic as you can.  I love you.  I’m ready, I need to know these things, as long as you tell the truth and not what you think I want to hear.  But be diplomatic.’

‘Nikki had a strange beauty – she wasn’t for everyone and that frustrated her.  To an Englishman, that beauty was very Gallic, very French and very feminine.  But she was also crazy, as you said in bed with us that last night.  Be honest, would you have called her beautiful or pretty?’

She looked across warily but the evening gloom was too dark. ‘Pretty.’

‘I’d say that too but also sexy – that’s what got those men in, in her work – she did her thing and they fell.  She and I became very idiosyncratic.’

‘You’re telling me?’  She laughed.

‘Now you.  You’re one of those small brunettes whom any man would want at any time.  You know it too and can use it to advantage.  I didn’t always like that.  What was worse was that the deeper a person gets with you, the less he can resist you and he fights that, as he sees warning signs.’

‘I know.’

‘The warning signs are the oldest ones in the book - man has beautiful woman, whatever has actually means, men always want her, she is used to it but still enjoys it, a beautiful woman always has male company, she learns to be flirtatious and then everything becomes her reaction.  So, a man comes onto her and she has stock replies - oh thanks you, oh please tell me more, making a joke of it and then I've seen a beautiful woman enjoy that attention from the other men so much that her own man doesn't know when cheating starts and when it's still innocent.  Let me just finish this.’

'Fine.'

'I know I chat to any woman but I don't plan to bed them.  There are some women who always leave that question open with any good looking man - for some reason, they need this multiple lover idea - so that that man never sees her as no chance.  He always sees her as a chance and she has tens, hundreds of these male contacts with the question always open if he's a good boy.  What I detest is saying I don't like this and she says, 'Oh don't be jealous.'  That is nothing but a move in sexual politics.

Nikki played games but she never played that game.  For that woman who leaves the question open, her man's life is hell.  He is so hot for her, loves her so much but she is constantly flirting that way.  But I've seen the opposite situation, where the stranger, the acquaintance, is in no doubt that there is no chance for him and he goes away grateful that he even had those few minutes.  Do you see the difference?  One is a happy life for her man, one is hell on earth.'

‘Ah, right.  OK.’  She had to think. 'I know the sort of woman you're talking about. Look Hugh, for me, it's where I am in life.  Yes, I flirted with you in the forest and at other times, I wanted to get you into a position where I was always going to be the one if things changed - I was thinking of Michel at that time, not Nikki.  But all men except those I have my eye on never get anywhere.  So yes, I can say no.

In the safehouse with Francine, it was clear you were Nikki's.  I had to try different men, I had to have a partner and stepfather for my child, this was not playing, it was very real.  What looked to you as if I was a whore was me doing anything I had to to secure such a  man.  But I have him now, so all those things are finished with.  If we get back to civilization, then it becomes a question again.  And you will see me not doing those things, taking compliments, yes but not 'leaving the question open', as you say, because there is no need.  But I can only wait until you see that, Hugh, I can only tell you this for now.'

‘Of course.’

'I'm not on the pill, Bebe, I have no other precautions and I don't like condoms.'

'Ah.'

'I'm not entrapping you but I am making demands in a way, aren't I?'

'Yes and no.'

'I'm ready, as Nikki was.   I had a child inside me, I was ready.   And now that child has gone ...'

'Is it just having a child?'

'Truth?   Up to a point but more important is to have the right man.   So I am forcing your hand this way.   You think of me as calculating - I am looking to our future together.  The lovemaking won't stop in any way because I see you as my future, not just as some pleasure for now.  Please understand what I'm saying. I want a serious Hugh, not an irresponsible Hugh.   Am I being unfair?'

'Not at all.   It needs to be.'

'And Hugh - I treat you as you treat me.   You play straight, I play straight.  You play games, I play games.  What you have is a woman on your hands.'

'I thought it might be that way.'

'You'll have space, because I'm arrogant enough to think you'll come back to me but the thing is, Bebe - will I still be there when you come back?'

'Phew.'

'Should I stop or go on?'

'Go on of course.'

She paused and got her breath.   'All right, Bebe, it's like this - everyone knew you and Nikki would just do it anywhere, at any time - there didn't need to be a reason or even a mood.  It seemed to us that Nikki developed a ... well ... a taste for unusual sex ... everyone said you encouraged her.  So you see, with me not being Nikki ...'

'May I?   She and I had a moment once which will put all this in perspective.  I was seriously wondering if I could keep up the pace with her - she seemed to want more and more and more sex, she was like a machine.  I tried to bring the topic up by mentioning my age and she was shocked that I was even thinking that way.  You see, Fayette, she was going at that pace to keep up with my pace, or so she thought.  She thought I wanted that.  Truth was, we did enjoy a fair amount of it and we both developed a taste for the way each other did it.  That was true.

I'm going to tell you about her test at the end.   She said I had to make a choice between sex twice a week for a month but not sleeping with her or sleeping with her every night for a month but no sex.   I thought it might have been my punishment for Nadine.'

'Nadine, yes.'

'When I chose her arms, she nearly squeezed the life out of me.  It was those arms I really wanted.  I couldn’t do without her in my arms.  You get the picture?'

She touched his cheek.  'You don't know how relieved I am.' She reflected for a few moments.  'As I told you, I'm affected by my surroundings - very much so - and the mood is important.  I don't mean I'm capricious - I wouldn't suddenly go into a mood and stop.  I wouldn't do that to you.  But sometimes it's really not going to happen and sometimes it simply has to happen.

There's one more thing.  I long ago lost the ability to orgasm.  Don't try to force it, don't look for it because the more you do, the further I'll be from it.  One day, one night, with the right ambience, it might happen.  That's all I wanted to say.'

'I understand.'

'What I'm saying, Bebe, is that I'm worried you'll be looking for those love arts of Nikki -'

He put a palm to her face. 'Why, Emma?  We've been through all that.  The night you lay between Nikki and me, I told you this.   Yet I have some other worries too.'

'Tell me.'

'My second wife - we were having what I thought was good lovemaking, then one day she suddenly asked what was wrong.   There was nothing wrong at all, really there wasn’t.   What it was, was that I am sensitive sometimes in some parts of my body, not always but the skin might jump, it might not.    It was never an issue for any woman but her.'

'You think me insensitive?'

'It's more than that.   There'll be nights I can't come, just as you can't orgasm.  There's no rhyme or reason with me.  Sometimes I just can't.   Other times I can't stop.  Please don't think there's something wrong with you.  And I don’t consider there’s something wrong with me – that’s just me, how I am.  There's no pattern.'

'OK, I have that.  Is there ever a time it doesn't go hard?'

'If she's a pretty woman and I like her, never.  It always rises to the occasion.'

‘That’s a relief.  We saw that at your flat a couple of times, didn't we.  So, Bebe, are we finished with the talking?  Where shall we go – onto the beach, here, where?’

.o0o.

They chose a place they'd seen - not where he'd farewelled Nikki but there was a little recess in the dune round to their left, further up the beach and it had possibilities.   For a start, she could lie inclined and look over the water, it had scrub behind it which acted  like a screen. There was also a large tree stump to put the makings of the supper on.  

The night was fine, the temperature about 25 Celsius, the sand cool and there were no mosquitoes, they'd come out in robes, she in sandals and he in boat shoes.   The robes were dropped and went down as a rug, she wanted him to lie down first. Lying perpendicular to him, she took all of him in her mouth, went back to playing with it with lips, tongue and hand, then went into long strokes with her mouth and he was gone, she let it drip out on the sand, wiped her mouth with the corner of her robe and moved up beside him, lying on her side.

'No more foreplay. We can do that later - afterplay. Lift my leg.'  The feel as it went in caused her to gasp and for him, it was the obvious feeling.  Slowly she turned on her back and though it was orthodox, almost textbook, it was exquisitely pleasurable because of all those years they'd waited for this.

'Hugh, I want to do our safehouse again.'  Problem was a cushion under her neck.  'Roll up my robe,' she said.  He did, it was in place, he kneeled above her head, she guided it in and the slow thrusts began. With some moves of her tongue, he was over the top and as he moved to withdraw, she held him there with her hands.  He looked down and saw it everywhere over her head again.  She released him.  She turned her head and it went onto the sand, she coughed.

'Again.'

.o0o.

A bit after midnight, they'd been at the water's edge, back to the robes, frontwards, backwards and now she lay on her side, him behind her, his arm around her and lying inside her.  She leant her head back and kissed him, then covered his hand with hers.

'What are you thinking?' It was he who asked.

She smiled.  'So glad we're finally here.  So much uncertainty, so much trouble.  So glad we talked it all through, so glad we know where we are.'

'Do you want to sleep here or is it a bit chilly?'

'It's a bit chilly now.  Let's go back.'

II

Jean-Claude said to Hugh, around midday next day, in the shade of the forest canopy, ‘It could have been worse yesterday with the head man.  The medicines will be just a kindness and the weapons make sense.  Will you train the locals?’

‘They know how to build.  We only need to give our specific requirements.  How about the cost of the weapons to you?’

‘That’s not the issue.  The issue is telegraphing our presence to Europe … and our purpose.’

‘That would depend, would it not, on what kinds of weapons we ordered in.’

‘True.’

They collected the ladies and went to look at the boat.

Basically, as he now explained, imagine large waves coming at them as they pressed on.  A normal boat with rounded bottom would crash up and down, making the motion wearing but with their design, the main hull [or boat] was long and thin, with a rounded V section to make motion through the waves more comfortable. They had speed and comfort in one package.

Jean-Claude saw the concept but noted that, with more vertical height than width, the hull was unstable.

‘That’s why we have the long outrigger three metres away, to the right or starboard - to give balance.  And we have a pontoon closer on the port or left to stop us going over too quickly that way.’

‘Ah.’

‘We keep all our supplies in the long ama and we have two cabins in the main hull, one fore, one aft for the two couples.’

'Where are we going?’ asked Emma.  'Why such a big boat?'

‘It’s to take us long distances safely, in big seas, in comfort, with the minimum of fatigue and with one person controlling the boat.  Their boats are great for short sails, very fast but using crews of dozens.   Ours is for long distances.  ‘We’ll need to get off this island, the head-man knows that, so we’ll probably need to sail in the direction of New Zealand but what we’d do then is anybody’s guess.’

Now he put his request to them.  ‘In two days is the fortieth day. I suppose in Catholic and atheist France it’s not remembered but maybe for our fallen colleagues and friends, we can do something.’

‘I’ll get onto it,’ said Geneviève. ‘Will you help me, Emma?’

‘Of course.’

.o0o.

Geneviève and Jean-Claude were sitting on a rock at the end of the island, staring out to sea.  He'd made a small cushion from bracken for her, resplendent as she was in her long, linen ‘tropical’ dress, her bare feet the only giveaway.  He only had the one kind of clothing with him, quite formal, so in fact they made quite a dashing couple, unlike the two other semi-natives.

‘Do you think Hugh can make this boat, Jean-Claude?  Can he sail it?’

‘Yes, why not?’

‘Just asking, that’s all.  I shouldn’t imagine it would be too comfortable.’

‘It won’t be comfortable, Genie because it will be small.’

‘And we’re expected to just go out in it … out there?’

‘What would you suggest?’

‘I don’t know.  I just want to be back in Paris with a normal life and go down to the Lodge.’

‘Geneviève, you were one of the most pragmatic women in Paris, you know very well what’s possible and what’s not.  This is the way off the island.’

‘Why can’t we fly?  There’s an aerodrome on the main island.’

‘Listen to what you're saying, Genie - you know very well we can’t show our faces over there.  And where would we fly to?’

‘Orly.’

‘From here?  There’d be two changes and we could be taken at either of them.  Do you seriously think the enemy will turn a blind eye and say welcome back?’

III

It was one Tuesday, late afternoon, when Emma showed her outrageous side, now that they'd been solidly making love for two weeks, giving the lie to 'only when in the mood', all this interspersed with training the natives, eating and some sleeping.

She was so far into the island life that no one had the heart to tell her, to remind her, that it all had to end, that the natives were not going to let this continue forever.  She must have known it deep down but didn't want to dwell and Hugh wasn't prepared to break the spell.

This now, however, might have been one step too far. 

Inside the hut, she'd taken to dressing only in a piece of cloth around her hips, sometimes not even that and now felt it was time to test the next boundaries.  Not all men like other men to see their women in a state of near nakedness and so she wanted to know.  The native women on this island didn't bother with tops, so it wasn't as if there were no precedent.

She suggested they go for a wander, she made for the vine ladder, he coughed.  'Er, Emma.'

'Yes?' she asked, innocently.

He looked at her evenly, took some time to make up his mind and the way she stood, not asking him to hurry with the decision, not responding to the cough in the slightest, eventually had him sighing.  'Do you want to take off the skirt too?'

'No one does that.'

She knew the thought was turning him on and that turned her on. He took his robe off, put on his one pair of long shorts and boat shoes, they slipped down the vine ladder and began to head for the shore.  Genevieve and Jean-Claude were lazing under their tree when the other two came down the ladder and immediately, Emma's naked back was apparent.

As the foot of the ladder, Emma turned and waved, then headed for the shore.

Genevieve was upset.  'Hugh wasn't comfortable with it - I saw his anxiety.  This was all Emma's doing - I know her and she's going backwards.  I'm going to have a word.'

'Why can't we just let them get on with it?   I did see her that night you know.'

'She has a history, Jean-Claude, which we helped her escape from.  She knows what she's doing.'  To his protestation, she said, 'All right, not for now but I know what comes next.'

.o0o.

When they reached their sand incline, she immediately said, 'I know you weren't comfortable.'

He weighed his words.  'I'm in two minds.  I don't mind Jean-Claude seeing you because he already has.  I'm not so sure about other people.  But it's not a major issue because of your body shape.  Some women have such huge busts and they're white that topless is a sexual act.  Genie's one of those.  It would not be natural with her.

It's natural with you - you're small and your breasts just seem right for you.  You're like one of those sea women, you know, can't think of the name.'

'I'm a sea nymph.'

'Yes. Which one?  Ione?  Maera?'

'Emma.'

'Ah, the 51st.'

'Yes, the pretty one.'

He burst out laughing.  'There's no doubt about that.  Tell me, Nereid Emma, has anyone ever NOT been attracted to you?'

'Many people, Hugh, most of them women.'

'No, come on, be serious.'

'Serious, serious, on an afternoon like this?'  She turned to face him.  'Yes, of course there've been such men.  Plenty of them in fact.   Some find me too independent, too ready to answer back, not taking them seriously.  I liked when you said that all men found me irresistible , I didn’t contradict you and that was my vanity - I wanted to enjoy it for awhile.  But Bebe, not everyone finds someone my size and my shape as attractive as you do.  I told you, I’ve only ever let anyone close who can’t resist me – and now, only you.'

'I think I'm seriously in love with you.'

'That's another thing I love in you - you have good taste.'

He looked at her, she grinned that grin and it was on all over again.

IV

It was one Saturday, in the late afternoon, after the edge had gone out of the sun, that they got the shock of their lives.  In the process of circumnavigating the shoreline for the first time, they heard a hubbub in the trees, went to find out what was going on and there, in a clearing, was a replica of their own boat. 

They saw that there were some differences and one was in the accommodation.  The Jensen boat had two cabins, each with its own roof and aft hatch. The natives had paddling benches all the way along and the only accommodation was a reed tarp, which could be pulled up against the wind. This made the native boat considerably faster but not as suited to long voyaging.

They backtracked to the beach again.  ‘Well, what do you think of that!’ muttered Geneviève.

‘Curiouser and curiouser,’ said Hugh.

Walking on about another half kilometre, a long haul round the second point, there it was again – the same sort of hubbub.  Jean-Claude came to the conclusion that they were building another damned boat and so it turned out.  Looked like they were constructing a fleet.  But for what?  And why now?

Emma was feeling a little tired, so they thought they’d return to their treehuts for a lie down.

V

Sunday was the 40th day and it was seen by the natives as a chance to put the guests into more debt to them but Jean-Claude thought why not, from their point of view?  The natives had suggested the evening but Hugh remembered, from Orthodox tradition, that it had to be before midday.

He’d cobbled together a service and the native women had embellished the singing with a chorus, speeches were made and then they were invited to the head man’s hut for the wake, for want of a better term.

The man had the sense to make no new demands on this day, their tradition here was to revere the deceased and so came the end of the ceremonial part of the day.

.o0o.

The wind picked up about 23:00; the natives had warned them during weapons training that morning but they’d put it out of mind.

Larger branches of surrounding trees began creaking and that was more frightening in itself than the risk of trees or branches coming down but gradually the wind picked up even more and the upper branches of their own trees were beginning to sway up and down by the sound of it, sounding as if they'd crack at any moment and indeed, they'd seen just such a situation all over the island - there were trunks and branches everywhere.

The darkness was the main problem and when Hugh and Emma heard the tearing sound above their wash area as a branch seemed to be bending up and down on the hut wall, they huddled together on the bed, then came the crash of that branch, the tearing of the matting wall and it had to be assumed that the side of the wash area had been torn away.

They themselves weren't too badly off unless the whole tree fell because they were virtually above the fork of the branches and yet the creaking became almost unbearable.

...

In the other hut, Jean-Claude held Geneviève.  They heard the tear above them in good time and both leapt for the washing area as a ragged series of branch ends hit the roof and made their way through, finally crashing to the bed. 

The problem now was where to put their feet.  Jean-Claude felt that under the branch itself was best and that’s where they huddled together, the wind outside now of such ferocity that the howling was heard through the whole forest, rising and falling.

It crossed his mind that the head man had let them have this experience when he could well have taken them to a safer place, further inland.  Yes they'd been warned but hadn't been warned about how severe it could be, especially down near the sea.  He'd speak with Hugh about it tomorrow but it did seem that these people might not be all that friendly after all. 

Or perhaps it was just the head man.

...

Some hours later, they all felt the first signs of the storm diminishing, it did ebb away and all four were able to grab some hours of sleep around 03:00.

About 08:00, Emma was first to step off the ladder onto the land, Jean-Claude followed, the other two in the next five minutes.  They gathered in the centre of the cleared area, now not so clear with the debris.  The place looked a war zone.

They went of in pairs for their own wander and saw that it had uprooted whole trees further up the beach.

Emma came out with it when she saw their dune.  'It's been lovely, Bebe but we have to go ... don't we?'

'It's getting close, Fayette.  There's a chance it could start to turn sour once we've outstayed our welcome - it could turn nasty.  It's getting close, my love.  This is a bit of a puzzle, we got no really adequate warning from the natives.'

.o0o.

'It's time to go, Jean-Claude.

'Will Emma accept it?' he asked.

'Oh, I think she has all along.  She's a pragmatic person.  So, off on the new adventure, I suppose.  It would be nice if one day we could just stop moving, stop running, just have a life.'

'That will come, Genie.  Not just yet but it will certainly come.'

.o0o.

They came back to the clearing and sat down, all four.  Jean-Claude raised the question of the lack of warning and Hugh agreed it looked puzzling.  The question was whether they were in any real and immediate danger or that that might come later.


Actually, there were quite a few things worrying Hugh about it all but he felt it not the time to be bringing them all up.

Chapter 15 here ... Chapter 17 here

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