Remember Me(14)

By: Lesley Pearse
Chapter fourteen





It was late that same afternoon when Will sailed the cutter into a harbour. None of them knew or even cared if it was Kupang. It had buildings and people, which meant food and water, that was enough.

They were all in a pitiful state. Their clothes were ragged, their skin and hair stiff with salt, their skin peeling from long exposure to the elements. They sagged in their seats, too weak and exhausted even to smile at the prospect of salvation.

Mary’s tongue was swollen from thirst and she barely had the strength to hold Emmanuel in her arms, but when she saw the throng of people gathered on the wharf looking curiously at the unkempt occupants of the cutter, her mind sharpened again.

‘Whatever happens, remember to stick to the story,’ she hissed at the men. ‘If we let the truth slip we’ll be sent back there.’

She didn’t think this could be Kupang, as Detmer had said it was owned by the Dutch. She couldn’t see anyone white, they were all brown-or yellow-skinned, but at least they bore no resemblance to the savage natives back in New South Wales.

‘Water!’ William Moreton called out. ‘Water!’

His cry, whether actually understood or not, had a galvanizing effect on the bystanders. One man came forward with a hooked pole and guided the boat into a berth. A small, half-naked brown man leaped down on to the boat, taking the rope and throwing it back to his companions on the wharf. Then, miraculously, a wooden bucket of water was passed down.

All the men lunged at the bucket, rocking the boat furiously. But Will filled a mug and passed it to Mary. She let Charlotte have the first drink, and she glugged it down so fast that much of it ran down her chest. Emmanuel was almost unconscious, so Mary had to coax him by dipping her fingers in the water and getting him to suck them until he rallied enough to drink. Finally Mary got some, and nothing in her whole life had ever felt so good as the sensation of cool water running over her parched, swollen tongue and throat.

Although she couldn’t understand a word of what the crowd were saying, she sensed by their frantic gesticulating and the tone of their shrill voices that they were in total sympathy with her, her children and the men. She tried to stand but she was so weak she fell back, and from then on everything became disjointed and hazy. She sensed rather than felt arms lifting her. It seemed to her she was laid down on solid ground, and then more water was given to her. Something pungent-smelling was thrust close to her face. She could hear a babble of voices around her, then she was lifted again, to be put down on something softer, and she could no longer see the sky above.

‘Charlotte, Emmanuel,’ she called out in panic.

A brown-faced woman was leaning over her, wiping her face with a cool, damp cloth. She spoke in a foreign tongue, yet whatever the words meant they were as soothing and kindly as the cloth, and Mary felt that at last she was safe enough to sleep.

She woke some time later to find herself lying on a mat, Emmanuel on one side of her, Charlotte on the other. A candle was burning on a low table, and she raised herself slightly to see a woman with glossy dark hair and brown skin asleep on another mat across the room.

Although the candle shed little light, Mary sensed by the peaceful way the children slept that they had been fed and washed. The room appeared to be a hut, larger than the one she and Will had lived in back in Sydney Cove, but similar. Tears of gratitude welled up in her eyes. A stranger had taken them in and cared for them, and she wished she knew this woman’s language to be able to thank her.

The following days were something like being lost in a fog, which now and then cleared enough for Mary to know she was being fed drinks and soft, mushy food. Through the fog she heard voices and dogs barking; she smelled food cooking and sometimes she even thought she heard Charlotte laughing. But she couldn’t quite manage to open her eyes and look around her.

She was finally brought out of it by Will. She heard his voice and that of James Martin.

‘She must get better,’ she heard Will say. ‘Wanjon wants to see her.’

‘She’s just worn out,’ James said. ‘There’s no hurry, he’ll wait.’

Mary had no desire to see or talk to anyone, she was happy in her little twilight world where no pain and anxiety could touch her. But Will’s voice struck a chord somewhere inside her, reminding her that she had responsibilities.

‘Will?’ she muttered, trying to focus her eyes and see him.

‘That’s my girl,’ he exclaimed, and knelt down beside the mat and took her hand in both of his. ‘You’ve been scaring us all. We thought you were lost to us.’

His hands were rough and callused, but the tenderness in them touched something deep inside her. ‘Charlotte, Emmanuel, are they dead?’ she asked.

‘Would I be sitting here grinning at you if they were?’ he replied.

She saw his grin then, the same cheeky one which had made her smile on the Dunkirk, but it was a minute or two before she realized what was different about him.

‘Your beard,’ she exclaimed. ‘It’s gone!’

He rubbed his bare chin. ‘A change was in order,’ he said.

He looked much younger without it, and although his face was very bony and gaunt, he looked much better. His eyes had regained the sparkle she had noted so often in the early days, and apart from flaking skin, he looked none the worse for their ordeal.

‘Where are we?’ she asked.

‘In Kupang, where else? Aren’t I the wonder boy getting you here?’

Mary smiled weakly, for his bragging assured her she wasn’t dreaming. ‘Where are the children, and the others?’

‘All close by, nothing to worry about,’ he said. ‘Emmanuel’s still weak, but he’s getting better by the day. You’re the one that had us in a spin.’

Mary sat up gingerly. She looked down at herself and found she was wearing a kind of shirt, long, loose-fitting and striped.

‘How long have I been here?’ she asked in bewilderment.

‘Ten days now. You’ve been waking and taking food, then going off again. But you’ve got to take notice now. The Dutch Governor, Wanjon, wants to see you.’

Will and James helped her up and took her outside. Mary stared around her in utter surprise. Although she hadn’t consciously formed any picture of the surroundings beyond the walls of the hut, she’d assumed by the amount of noise that she was in a town. In fact it was just a group of round huts, the roofs made of broad leaves. They were encircled by tall trees and thick bushes, like nothing she’d ever seen before. Around a dozen or so small, naked, brown-skinned children were playing together, and a few chickens, a couple of tethered goats and a group of old people sitting together completed the picture of a peaceful village.

‘That’s jungle,’ James said, pointing to the trees. ‘Through there,’ he pointed to a well-trodden track, ‘is the beach, as pretty as a picture.’

‘I thought there was a town.’ Mary frowned in bewilderment. She vaguely remembered warehouses and brick-built houses at the wharf. Lots of people, hustle and bustle.

‘There is, back there.’ Will waved his hand vaguely. ‘You and the children were brought here after you passed out.’

Will helped Mary to sit down on a log, and then, sitting with her, he and James explained what had happened. After being given some food and drink and a night’s rest, they were taken to see the Dutch Governor, Timotheus Wanjon. They told him the story they had rehearsed while at sea, that their whaling ship had been wrecked back in the reef, and they’d taken to the cutter and sailed here.

‘He swallowed it,’ Will grinned. ‘Like I told you, being first mate of a whaler, I could have my wife and kids with me. I told him I thought the captain and the rest of the crew were in the other boat and maybe they’ll turn up too before long. I told them my name was Broad, wouldn’t do to use Bryant in case they get to hear of the escape from Sydney.’

James then went on to say that Wanjon, who seemed an understanding, decent sort of cove, had agreed they needed clothing, food and accommodation, and as Will was a merchant sailor he could sign for whatever he needed and all bills would be passed on to the English government for payment.

‘This place is heaven on earth,’ Will chortled with unconcealed glee. ‘Everything a man could want is here for the taking.’

For some odd reason that remark made Mary feel a moment of disquiet. She asked Will to get the children and bring them to her, and the moment he’d gone she turned to James.

His beard was shaven too, but apart from that he looked exactly as he always had, skinny, wild-eyed and mischievous.

‘I hope Will has been behaving,’ she said.

‘He’s very full of himself,’ James admitted. ‘Especially when he’s got the drink in him.’

‘He’s been getting drunk?’

‘So would any red-blooded man who’d expected to die,’ James replied.

He had said just what she expected, yet she sensed a faint note of sarcasm in his voice.

‘Has he been bragging?’

James shrugged. ‘Only to us. We humour him mostly. We all know who really got us here.’

Mary blushed, knowing he meant her. ‘He did get us here,’ she said staunchly. ‘Maybe I bullied him, but it was his knowledge and skill that did it.’

‘The loyal little wife to the end,’ James said, giving her a wolf-like grin. ‘Will’s a lucky man.’

The moment Mary saw her children and held them in her arms again, she began to recover. Charlotte was just like any other four-year-old again, lively, inquisitive, full of mischief and prattling away about anything and everything. As the native women found her utterly beguiling she led a charmed life, being constantly fed with titbits, played with and petted. Although still very thin, she had colour in her cheeks again, brightness in her eyes, even her hair was beginning to thicken and shine. She seemed to have forgotten what she’d so recently come through.

Emmanuel took much longer to recover. His stomach could only cope with the blandest of food, and he slept erratically. Before they left Sydney he had been taking a few hesitant steps, but this was arrested by being on the boat, and he still preferred just to sit rather than try to crawl or pull himself up on anything. But he was a very happy baby, smiling broadly at anyone who made a fuss of him, and everyone adored him because of his blond hair and blue eyes.

As for the other men, they had all recovered. Nat and Samuel Bird still had scars from sunburn, and Jamie had been weakened further by dysentery, but was now on the mend. Bill and William Moreton looked particularly well, for their darker skins had turned a rich brown, making them look almost like the natives. They were happy too, working in the dock, loading and unloading ships by day, coming back to the peaceful village by night where the native women would giggle flirtatiously as they cooked for them.

It seemed to Mary that God had not only answered her prayers and got them all here safely, but was showering her with extra blessings. The climate in Kupang was perfect, hot but not overpoweringly so, there was an abundance of food, and its people were happy and generous. It was so beautiful too, with the white sandy beaches, crystal-blue sea and lush green jungle.

Yet over and above the kindness and comfort they enjoyed now was the admiration and respect shown to Mary. Word had got around that it was she who had provided the men with the will to make it here, and everyone, from Wanjon right down to the poorest of the natives, had taken her and her children to their hearts. She had never known admiration before. As a girl in Fowey she had been constantly rebuked for being unfeminine. When she went to Plymouth she was laughed at for being so unworldly. Then, after her arrest, she was treated with utter contempt and cruelty. Even when Will became something of a hero in Sydney, she was vilified as being in some way unworthy of him.

All at once she was a person in her own right, considered brave, steadfast and intelligent. When the Assistant Governor’s wife gave her some new clothes, she was even told she looked beautiful by several men. Mary couldn’t put into words what it meant to put on a pretty pink dress, to wear a petticoat soft as thistledown beneath it. She might have lost her peachy bloom of youth through the sun and wind, she might be as skinny as a stray dog, but she no longer looked like a felon or a beggar.

She felt feminine now, somehow worldly-wise and special. These good people who smiled at her with such warmth didn’t know she had been in chains, or forced to barter her body just to stay alive. And she could forget that too, for she had saved her children from a life of hunger and degradation. Her plan to escape from New South Wales had worked, without loss of life. She had achieved what most people would consider impossible.

To Mary, Kupang was everything she’d ever dreamed of and more. The busy port had much in common with Plymouth, in as much as ships came in from every quarter of the globe. Because it was a major trading centre for the Dutch East India Company, it also had a rich and diverse brew of every nationality and religion. Up on the hills were grand houses where rich merchants’ wives sat gossiping in beautiful exotic gardens. There were elegant townhouses where Mary saw dusky maids with almond eyes and snowy-white aprons polishing the door knockers and sweeping the steps. And while it was true that there were far more of the crudest of shacks for the workers than grand places, and disreputable boarding-houses, brothels and bars frequented by the sailors, it all gave the place more colour and vibrancy.

She would remind herself when she saw the many beggars here that at least they weren’t cold and wet like their counterparts back in England. They could sit in the sunshine smiling at those who dropped alms into their bowls, they could sleep on the beach in comparative comfort, and fruit grew in abundance, free for the picking.

Mary had fallen in love with Kupang for giving her and her children back their health, for the kindness she’d received. She wanted nothing more than to stay here forever, to live the simple native life, fishing, collecting honey, swimming and bringing up happy, healthy children. She felt drunk on the aroma of sandalwood, which wafted through the village on the lightest of breezes. It clung to her clothes and skin, and she heard it was the island’s main export. She felt she and Will had a future here, and they could live happily forever.

‘Pssst!’

Mary was just putting Emmanuel down to sleep in the hut she and Will had been given to live in, and she jumped at the hiss from the doorway. She turned to see James Martin beckoning to her. ‘I’ll be with you in a minute,’ she said, assuming his reluctance to come inside was from propriety. ‘Has Will sent you with a message?’

Will had been absent a great deal in the past three or four weeks. He usually claimed this was through work in the port, but she knew perfectly well he was in a bar somewhere getting drunk. She just hoped James hadn’t come to tell her that he’d signed on a ship and left her. That was what he’d threatened to do several times.

‘No. But come outside.’

Mary bent to kiss Emmanuel, and after tucking a blanket around him she joined James outside. Her smile froze when she saw James’s expression. He looked haunted.

‘What’s wrong?’ she asked.

‘Everything,’ James snapped, and taking her arm pulled her away from the hut towards the jungle surrounding the village. ‘A group of English sailors came into port just now in open boats,’ he whispered. ‘They were shipwrecked back in those Straits we came through.’

‘So?’ she exclaimed.

James rubbed his hands over his face distractedly.

‘Don’t you see? As soon as they are taken to Wanjon, he’s going to assume they are the rest of the crew from our supposed wreck. Bloody Will, he could never tell a story without adding some embroidery.’

Mary winced. She had been cross with Will when she heard he hadn’t stuck to the exact story they’d planned while out at sea. He should have said that the whaler sank and they were the only survivors. That way it would all have been cut and dried. But once Will had Wanjon’s sympathy he couldn’t stop embellishing the story and added there were other survivors in another boat. Why he said this Mary didn’t know, but as a result Wanjon would be duty-bound at least to make inquiries about the missing men.

Mary’s heart skipped a beat. James was right, this was likely to be their undoing.

‘Have they come from Port Jackson?’ she asked.

‘No. From Tahiti in a ship called the Pandora. Captain Edwards, the master of the ship, had been out searching for the mutineers from the Bounty. He’s still got ten he captured. The rest went down with the Pandora.’

Mary gasped. They had all heard about the mutiny on the Bounty from Detmer Smith back in Sydney, and they were even more intrigued when they arrived here in Kupang to discover that coincidentally this was where Captain Bligh and eighteen of his men landed two years earlier, having been cast adrift in an open boat by the mutineers.

While Mary had no way of knowing whether Captain Bligh deserved his plight or not, one thing she did know was that if the English Navy had sent out another ship to bring the mutineers in, the captain wasn’t going to be a soft touch like Wanjon.

‘We’ll be called in for questioning,’ she said, her stomach turning over. ‘Oh God, James! What are we going to do? It’s easy enough to fool someone who doesn’t speak much English, but it won’t be so easy with an English sea captain.’

James half smiled. One of the things he liked most about Mary was how quick she was to grasp things. ‘If we just stick to our story, we might be all right. Four months is far too short a time for the news of our escape to have reached England, and I doubt this Captain Edwards could have heard it anywhere else.’

Mary thought for a moment. If James did the talking, she was pretty certain he could convince anyone they were the crew of a whaler. But an English captain would want to know where the ship came from, the name of its owner and a great deal more information than they could plausibly invent. Then there was Will!

‘What if Will gets drunk and starts bragging?’ she asked.

‘That’s what I really came to talk about,’ James said, putting his hand on her arm. ‘Mary, you’ve got to take him in hand, make him stay away from the bars, and the port too, until these men sail off.’

‘And how am I going to do that?’ she asked.

‘You’re a clever woman,’ he smiled. ‘You’ll find a way.’

After James had gone to round up the other men and warn them of the danger they were in, Mary called Charlotte, who had been playing with some other children, and put her to bed with Emmanuel.

It was growing dark now, and she sat with the children until Charlotte fell asleep. As she looked down at their peaceful little faces, tears trickled down her cheeks. She had put them through so much, taken them almost to the jaws of death, and now there was a further threat to their safety.

Was she jinxed? Had some evil spell been cast over her at birth that meant her whole life would be an endless round of suffering and anguish? She had reconciled herself to the fact that Will might leave her. She didn’t want him to, for despite his faults she cared deeply for him, but she knew she could cope with that. She had also realized that she was unlikely ever to get back to England, with or without Will. But that didn’t seem to matter either. The only really important thing to her was to keep her children safe, happy, healthy and well fed. Until now she had believed she could do that here, with or without Will, for she knew that the other men, particularly Sam Broome and James Martin, held her in high regard.

It was strange, considering she wasn’t a real beauty, that she had some kind of inexplicable power over men: Lieutenant Graham, Tench, Detmer Smith, and Will too, though he fought against it. Was it likely to work on this Captain Edwards, or even Wanjon?

She went outside later and sat down on a low stool by the door. It was dark now and very quiet, just a few people sitting by their fires, talking in low voices. A crescent moon hung above the palm trees, and Mary could hear waves breaking on the shore in the distance. It was paradise here, and until James had told her this disturbing news, she would have been only too happy to stay for ever.

Should she go now and try to find Will? She glanced back at the hut and decided against that. It was too late to ask someone to keep an ear out for her children, and if Will was drunk he would only be abusive.

She wondered if he had a woman in the port, as he often didn’t come home at all. Now she came to think of it, he hadn’t made love to her once since they arrived here. Was that because she had been sick? Because he was afraid she might get pregnant again, or just because he felt he wasn’t the big man now she was the one who was admired and respected?

Mary had never been above using sex as a lure to get Will to fall in with her plans before, but she wished she had some other option now. Why should she have to appease him just to get him to listen to her? Surely any decent man faced with a potentially dangerous situation for his wife, children and friends would happily stay sober, lie low and keep quiet until it had gone away?

It was some hours later that Mary heard him stumbling down the path into the village. She knew by the unsteadiness of his feet that he was very drunk, and it would be wiser to wait until morning to tackle him. He fell into the hut, crashing down on to the floor, not even making it to the sleeping mat, and was out cold within seconds.

Birds singing and squawking woke Mary up. It was barely dawn, but just light enough to see that Will was stretched out on his back, a few feet from her. He stank of sweat and rum, and his shirt and breeches were filthy, perhaps, as he so often claimed, from unloading a ship.

Swallowing her revulsion, she moved nearer to him and snuggled into his chest, unbuttoning his shirt and running her fingers over his chest.

‘Get off,’ he growled. ‘Can’t a man sleep in peace?’

‘Take your clothes off and come on to the mat with me,’ she whispered, kissing his chest and moving her hand down to the buttons on his breeches.

‘Leave me alone, woman,’ he snapped, pushing her away harshly. ‘If I wanted that I could get it in the port.’

‘So this is just a place to sleep, is it?’ Mary retorted angrily. ‘If you don’t come back here to see me and the children, bugger off for good.’

Even as she said it she knew it was a mistake. He leaped up and kicked out at her, sending her flying back to where Charlotte and Emmanuel lay asleep.

‘You’re a she-devil,’ he yelled. ‘My luck ran out when I got stuck with you. What you want is a lap-dog. But I’ll never be one. I’m off on the next ship to be free of you.’

His boot had caught her in the ribs and it hurt badly, but it was the venom in his voice which hurt more.

‘Shut up and listen to me,’ she insisted. ‘There’s some English naval men arrived in open boats. Didn’t James find you last night to warn you?’

She saw a flicker of something flash across his face, and knew James had found him, but Will had probably been too drunk to take in what he’d said.

‘We’re all in danger,’ she went on, her voice cracking with fear. ‘This is no time for being spiteful. We’ve got to plan what we’re going to say. You’ve got to stop drinking and keep your head clear.’

For a moment she thought he was going to calm down, but instead an angry red flush swept across his face. He had put on weight in the two months they’d been here, and he looked like a giant as he glowered down at her.

‘I’m sick of you telling me what to do,’ he snarled. ‘You can lead the others round by the nose like prize geldings, but not me. I’m not afraid of some arse of an English officer. No one’s going to put me in chains again, especially you.’

He wheeled round and left the hut, taking a swipe at the door post as he left, which trembled from the force. She could hear him muttering as he went off up the path to the port, and her heart sank.

For the next few days Mary lived in acute fear, expecting at any moment to be summoned to Wanjon’s house. He had been very kind to her at their only meeting after she had recovered from her sickness. He had praised her for her fortitude, made a fuss of the children, and asked her to come to him if she needed further help at any time. She felt he was the kind of honourable man who, if she had been able to admit the truth about herself in the first place, might very well have protected her now. But men like that weren’t likely to feel much sympathy when they felt they had been duped in the first place.

To make matters worse for her, Will continued to stay away. The other men told her he was drinking even more, swaggering around the town as if he was a ship’s captain. James Martin, William Moreton and Samuel Bird had all tried to make him see sense and retreat back to the village and keep out of sight as they were doing. But Will would have none of it; he even said that he’d completed his sentence so no one could touch him.

‘The bastard doesn’t care that he’ll bring us all down,’ William Moreton admitted to Mary one evening. ‘I wish to God we’d left him stranded in White Bay.’

Mary looked at each of the men grouped around her and her heart ached at their fearful expressions. They had become like brothers to her in the weeks at sea, each sharing some personal story with her, whether about their mother, the crime for which they were sentenced, or a girl they loved back home in England. They had behaved like gentlemen to her, and Emmanuel and Charlotte would go to any one of them for comfort as easily as they went to Will. They weren’t bad men, just boys who went astray for a while and had surely paid the full price for their crimes. They had been semi-starved, savagely flogged and sent to the other side of the world in terrible hardship.

Mary knew she couldn’t just watch and wait while her husband, their so-called friend, acted like a fool and put them all in jeopardy. She had to stop him.

‘I’ll try to talk to him again,’ she said. ‘Stay here with the children. I’ll go up to the port.’

Mary found Will in the third bar she looked in. He was sprawled on a bench, a half-empty bottle of rum on the table in front of him, and several days’ growth of beard on his chin. There were five or six other men near him, yet from Mary’s viewpoint, looking through a dusty window, they didn’t look like real friends, just drinking companions.

It was the first time she’d been to the port after dark, and her heart was pounding with fright, for she’d already been accosted twice by foreign sailors. She knew that most if not all of the women out on the crowded streets were whores. She was frightened to go into the bar, for she couldn’t count on Will protecting her.

Taking a deep breath and tightening her shawl over her shoulders, she walked in and went straight up to Will.

‘Please come home, Will,’ she begged him. ‘Emmanuel’s ill.’

She knew he would be angry when he discovered this wasn’t so, but it was the only thing she could think of which might make him come with her without an ugly scene.

He looked at her suspiciously, his eyes barely focusing. ‘What’s wrong with him?’

‘He’s got a fever,’ she said quickly. ‘Please come, Will, I’m worried about him.’

There was a titter of laughter from the men he was drinking with. Mary realized they probably didn’t speak English and therefore they might think she was a whore offering herself to him. ‘Please, Will,’ she pleaded. ‘Come now.’

His lip curled back disdainfully as he glanced at his companions and the bottle of rum. Thankfully it seemed his son had a greater value, for he got up unsteadily.

‘I’ll be back,’ he said self-importantly to the other men, and they grinned, showing rotten teeth. One made a crude gesture with his fist.

Out in the noisy, crowded street, Mary sped on ahead so Will couldn’t question her, leaving him lumbering along behind. But when they reached the narrow path to the village, Mary had to slow down in the pitch darkness, and it was only then that she became afraid of how he’d react when he found she’d dragged him away from his drink on false pretences.

‘He’s coming,’ she said as she got into the clearing where the men were sitting by the fire waiting for her. Nat’s big eyes were even bigger with fear, Jamie was white-faced, and even Bill, the tough one, was chewing on his knuckles. Mary made a kind of hopeless gesture with her hands, hoping that would warn them she hadn’t yet had an opportunity to talk to Will, and she didn’t expect him to be receptive.

‘Will!’ James exclaimed as he came staggering out into the clearing. ‘Where’ve you been hiding? We need to talk to you.’

‘Not now, Emmanuel’s sick,’ Will retorted, his face tightening to see them all there.

‘He’s not sick,’ Mary said quietly. ‘I said that to get you back here.’

‘You did what?’ Will said, glowering at her.

‘I had to, it was the only way,’ she replied, taking a step back from him in case he took a swing at her. ‘We’re all worried. It isn’t just your freedom you’re risking, it’s all of ours.’

‘That’s right, Will,’ James agreed. ‘We’re all in this together. Or so we thought.’

Will looked slowly round the group of men, then shrugged. ‘I promised to get you away from the camp. I did that, brought you here. Do you expect me to wetnurse you forever too?’

‘None of us need wet-nursing,’ Bill growled at him, getting to his feet and clenching his fists. By the light of the fire he looked menacing, but Will didn’t appear to notice. ‘There’s questions being asked about us all around town,’ Bill went on. ‘You’re drawing even more attention to us all by getting drunk and shooting your mouth off. You should be staying here with Mary and your children.’

Will turned to Mary, his face dark with fury. ‘You bitch,’ he spat out. ‘Thought you’d trap me here by getting them all to side with you, did you? Can’t you get it into your thick head I’m sick of you? Next boat out I’ll be on it.’

Without drawing breath once, Will embarked on a cruel verbal onslaught. That he wasn’t legally married to her, that she was a nag, a whore and she brought him down. He claimed he could have sailed off with Detmer Smith but he didn’t because he’d promised to get his friends to freedom. ‘And I did,’ he finally roared out. ‘It was me who sailed us here, and you’ve even robbed me of that by making out you planned the whole thing and kept us all going.’

‘I’ve not said a word about anything,’ Mary said truthfully. She was afraid of Will now, she’d never seen him quite this angry before.

‘That’s right, she hasn’t,’ Sam Broome spoke up. ‘But we all know the truth about what went on at sea, Will. We couldn’t have made it without her. She might not have navigated, but she sure as hell gave us the spirit to keep on. You’re a bag of wind, Will. And that wind will get us all hanged.’

Will drew back his fist and punched out at Sam, knocking him to the ground. ‘Let’s see who’s a bag of wind,’ he yelled. ‘You want her, then take her, you’re welcome to the scheming little witch. Like I said, I’m off on the next ship.’

Bill and Sam grabbed Will, both of them desperately trying to hold him fast until James could talk some sense into him. But Will shrugged them off and backed away towards the path to the port.

‘Don’t come near me,’ he roared. ‘I’m sick of the lot of you, clinging to my shirt-tails one minute, doing me down the next. I can sail out of here, my skill is in demand. None of you have anything without me.’

He turned and went off up the path, and Bill started off after him. ‘Don’t,’ Mary said, putting a restraining hand on his arm. ‘It will only make him more determined.’

‘What shall we do?’ Jamie Cox asked, his voice trembling.

‘Let’s hope he does get the next ship out,’ Mary said, and went to help Sam up off the ground. ‘He’s more trouble than he’s worth.’

*

It was two days later, soon after dawn, that Mary heard the ominous sound of tramping boots coming towards the village.

She had woken earlier with a strange sense of foreboding, and when she heard the sound she immediately recognized it as soldiers marching. There was no other plausible reason for them to come to the village, it had to be for her and the men.

Her first thought was to grab the children and flee into the jungle, but she quashed this desire immediately, for it would only confirm they had something to hide. So she put on her pink dress, put her feet into the shoes she’d been given and never yet worn, and quickly brushed her hair. Then, picking Emmanuel, still sleeping, up in her arms, she went out to greet the soldiers with what she hoped was an innocent-looking smile on her face.