Footprints In The Sea – Chapters 17 and 18
By Frances Penwiddy
Copyright © Frances Penwiddy 2015
Footprints in the sea is a work of fiction and any similarity to persons living or dead is coincidental.
This novel is not considered suitable material for minors and is rated X
I suggest you read Footprints In The Sea in chapter order so if you haven’t read Chapters 1 and 2, please do so.
Charlotte has a party and having already shocked herself with her uncertainty about gender, proceeds to shock everybody else as she celebrates the ‘grace, poise, fluidity and beauty of dancing.’
We found a track that descended to the lagoon but when we got there it was larger than we first thought and was surrounded by little coves, beaches, rocky promontories and even places where the trees came down to the water’s edge or overlooked the lagoon from high banks and cliffs.
“This is the place,” said Gwyneth, “This is where I want my nest built. On top of one of the smaller cliffs, in a clearing with a lawn going to the edge and a path down to a beach.”
I looked to both sides of where we were standing and there were so many places it was going to take us a full day to explore just the top section where we were standing. “We’ll have to take a day or two off and bring a boat, it will be easier than trying to walk all the way round from here, there’s miles of it. When we get back to Wanderer, I’ll speak to our captain and see if we can borrow a boat and any spare days we have, we can come round and explore. It’s going to be fun.”
“Perhaps we ought to bring Will or somebody who understands what’s required from the practical side. It’s no good picking a nice place to build a house and then finding out there is no way to get to it or land building materials and lay on water and power supplies.”
“We’ll ask Will and the captain of Aurora if we can borrow somebody, I think they’ll agree because they will want to have a look and see if it is a good anchorage. We’ll have to measure this island properly. Thus far it has only been measured by guesses and a hurried estimate by the AWAC but at the time, they had other matters to attend to. I think it’s quite a bit larger than we first thought and I’ve been thinking about means of transport. My first impression was it was little more than an hour’s energetic walk to cut across to the south side and perhaps two hours to walk the length but it’s going to take longer than that, even if we build dirt roads or tracks.”
“That means smelly diesels and petrol engines.”
“No not necessarily, we could use electric vehicles for everything except bulldozers and building machines. I mean, at a pinch a golf buggy would do most people and they do make other electric cars, vans and pick-up trucks. Even mules and small draught horses would be better than cars. Mules are sturdy, intelligent and would thrive in a place like this and a Percheron or two can pull a cart with a heavy load and that breed of horse would be very useful if we want to explore off-road.”
“We’ll need to find a vet who wants to retire like my David.”
“There’s bound to be one in New Zealand, there might be one on Orca for all we know, they are looking for new species of animals and if we’re going to domesticate any pigs or cows we find wandering about, we’d need a vet. We’ll have a chat with the scientists and see what they have to say.”
And that was the subject of our conversation as we explored our way back to Pacific Wanderer stopping every now and again to take a closer look at a clearing or a place on the cliffs or close to a beach where a house might be built. There was a well-defined track that I suspect had been built by our predecessors but now showing only evidence of occasional animal use and like Goats Cove, we identified either sheep of goat droppings, perhaps deer and as Will and I had found near the cave, signs that something had eaten bark from some of the trees and grazed off the smaller shrubs. It took us a little over forty minutes but Gwyneth thought that without constantly stopping, the journey would take about twenty minutes at a steady pace so that meant it was about a mile from my cabin, far enough away to ensure we each had privacy and space to develop gardens but close enough to pop over to see each other for a coffee and chat. “I’ll describe it all to David and perhaps he will want to come tomorrow and see for himself.”
When we arrived at the lagoon, there was a game of volley ball in progress and we stopped again to watch for a while and some of the sailors were calling out and inviting us to join in. “Not today we have to go shopping and get ready for dinner, the captain of Aurora is coming over so you’d best make sure you clean under your finger nails and wash behind your ears after the game.”
PO Victor had told my personal steward Phillips to fix up the viewing bridge for our dinner party and he had done a terrific job. We had four tables brought together and a cocktail bar had been arranged and next to that a music player was already piping out light classical music. “You’ve made it look very nice,” I told him.
“It was my idea, PO Victor was going to partition off part of the saloon but I said you would prefer this because you would have a view all round and if it turned out to be a warm evening, you could always go outside onto the promenade deck. There’s dance music available if you want to change the music and have a dance after dinner.”
I nodded, that’s a good idea, thank you. You do have help don’t you?”
“Yes, there will be two of us and one of the cooks will fetch the food up from the galley that’s why we had the tables and bar set up close to the lift.”
“I must go down to the galley and thank Victor for lending me his best man.”
He smiled at that, “I’ve already been told to act as your steward but thanks anyway. You look very nice in that dress, I’ll make sure you have a lovely evening and just nod when you want me to turn on the dance music,” and then he went off to finish laying out the tables, I felt like the Lady of the Manor and went downstairs to be ready to welcome the guests, we had fourteen plus Will, Gwyneth and David and Will must have raided the shop because he was wearing a very smart white Tuxedo and looked dishy.
So too was dinner, Victor had pulled out all the stops and produced an island salad which included things I recognised and some I didn’t but they were good to eat and that’s what mattered. We had spare ribs in a sweet sticky sauce, roast chicken and steak medallions and of course cray fish and a vegetable lasagne in case we had vegetarians amongst the guests. I had spoken to Aurora’s purser and he had arranged for me to withdraw New Zealand dollars and I had given Victor some to buy the food from Aurora, Orca and Penguin that we didn’t have in Pacific Wanderer’s larder and freezers and he had done very well indeed even when taking into account that everything was tax and duty free and after paying for the wine and cocktails he had nearly a hundred left so I gave him another one hundred and told him to share it with the people who had helped to prepare, cook and serve the meal and that made them happy.
There were three other women from Orca and Penguin, Liz Johnson a botanist and Emma Hatfield a biologist from Orca and Faye Pemberton from Penguin a geologist who had been part of the American research team on Antarctica so Gwyneth and I weren’t the only women around the table. With all those skills present, conversation was both lively and very interesting and when I was asked and admitted to having computer coding skills I was presented with enough requests to tweak up scientific research programmes to keep me busy for years. If I wasn’t careful, my island was going to become another Silicon Valley.
“You are definitely going to make this your permanent home, Charlotte?”
The captain of Aurora, Harry Fellows and I were standing at the front of the viewing bridge looking out at the island and watching the sun rest on the Pacific horizon waiting to say goodnight to his girlfriend the moon before going to bed for the night. “Can you blame me, look how beautiful it is here, how peaceful. No towering blocks of offices, no factories and no pressing crowds filling the pavements of exhaust polluted streets.”
“Won’t you miss the theatres, shops and restaurants of London?”
I chuckled, “I’ll tell Victor you said that.”
“No don’t, he’ll be serving two year old pickled pork and ships biscuits in the ward room if you do.”
“I’ll miss that side of things a little but I’ll still go to London regularly and to New Zealand, Australia and the States, they are just down the road a bit and I have Pacific Wanderer but unless the scientists find something really nasty and life threatening here, this is where I want my home to be and other people will be coming here as well.”
“You are going to have to organise that a little better. I hear you are thinking of inviting a hundred or so people to join you but have you thought that through.”
“Some of it, yes, the obvious things like the need for houses or cabins, roads, shops and medical care but there will be other things to take into consideration I know that.”
He nodded, “As long as you are aware. You will need to raise money if you want the island to be self-sufficient, charge taxes and rent otherwise you won’t be able to build the things you will need. The New Zealand Government, UK, Australians and the Americans will be expecting to pay rent for the land they will be leasing from you, what about the other people, the civilians, they won’t expect to live here free of charge and still receive the necessary services they have become used to.”
“Somebody to collect the dustbins, keep law and order, look after the roads or tracks, yes I know and when I go to New Zealand I will have to meet people there, experts and see what they have to say.”
“Would you like me to arrange that for you?”
“Can you. I need to speak to all the people who can tell me what’s required, what I must do but I don’t want the island to change too much, I want to look after the birds and animals who live here, keep the island as a haven but at the same time, let it be used as a research centre, a place where ships can shelter, somewhere where scientists can work.”
“I’ll see to it. Aurora will be returning to Auckland in two or three weeks and an inshore patrol ship will be taking her place and Orca is staying though some of the crew and research staff will be leaving but others will be brought in so the various facilities being built will continue and so will the research projects already started. We’ll talk some more before we leave and I’ll speak to my bosses and arrange your meetings.”
“You’ve done a lot for me and I am grateful, very grateful for your help but don’t get into trouble because you are spending too much effort here and not chasing enemy pirates or submarines.”
He laughed, “Don’t worry about that, New Zealand have told me to paint the trees a different colour if you ask for it, they are more than interested in the island it is a valuable international asset and there are other countries interested in keeping it safe. The Antarctic alone justifies it and this far south it is also a launching place for other projects, the South Pacific is still virtually unexplored. I have it on good authority that it is going to be suggested that a landing strip be built subject to the scientists giving it the green light so that’s another name you’ll have to think of Charlotte International perhaps?”
“Oh no, I don’t want the island ruined with an airport!”
“No, I was kidding, it will be a landing strip large enough to allow inter island aircraft to land, not massive airliners and its purpose is to allow aircraft to land where something is too urgent to delay with a sea voyage. Medical emergencies, very urgent goods, that sort of thing.
“If that’s all, okay but if they’re thinking of building another Heathrow here, definitely no. Have you been told about the new lagoon Gwyneth and I discovered today?”
“Yes, it is very interesting and I would like to send my first lieutenant and a couple of men with you to explore it if I may.”
“Yes that’s fine. I want to name the new lagoon the Aurora Inlet as a way of thanking you and your crew for being so kind and helpful, would you mind?”
“We would be honoured and the crew will spend their days in the bars of Auckland bragging about how they saved the Mermaid and had a place named after their ship. They will expect a naming ceremony though and a party afterwards.”
“It’s about time we had a party, we’ll look for somewhere inside the inlet and have the ceremony and a beach party there and invite the people from Orca and Penguin so we have a few girls.”
I turned to see who had joined us, “I’ll invite you Emma so there’s no need to volunteer. You as well, Liz you can share a cab with Emma. What about you Faye, will they let you have an evening off from Penguin?”
“I’ll tell them I want to look for indium or manganese on this side of the island, can you put me up for a few days?”
“I can put all of you up, Pacific Wanderer will definitely have a couple of spare cabins.” I returned my attention to the captain, “There you are captain, we’ll have women so we can have a dance as well.”
“I’ll ask the crew for volunteers. Now if you will excuse me ladies, I need to have a word with one or two of the gentlemen.”
“Rugby World Cup I expect,” said Liz, “A war wouldn’t stop them from discussing that.”
“In that case we’ll go out on deck and chat about beach volley ball and London Fashion Week. If none of you have to get back this evening, I can show you the cargo, there’s loads of fashion stuff in the holds.”
“That’s settled, Liz and I can radio Orca and ask if it’s okay if we stay a day or two and take a look at the flora and fauna on this side.”
“I’ll get in touch with them, both ships will want their boats and crews back so I’ll let them know we can return you,” offered the captain.
“I think Penguin is leaving in seven days now that the island business is sorted out,” said Faye, “I’m having a month’s leave in the States and coming back for another tour so if you tell my boss I’m going to have a look for ore bearing rocks, he’ll agree. They love people who volunteer to give up their own time and I’m on travel time at the moment so have no official duties other than catching up on a bit of paper work so he’ll go for it. Strictly speaking I’m cargo not crew.”
“Is that what they call passengers on a supply ship?”
“Passenger! They probably have me listed as livestock unsuitable for human consumption.”
Laughing I turned towards the bar, “I’ll get us some drinks, white wine suit everybody?”
“No champagne?” asked Emma hopefully.
I saw Phillips walking rapidly in our direction. He stopped and looked uncertainly at the others, “Commander Broughton, can I get you something?”
“These are friends of mine, no need to be formal, is there any chance we could have a bottle of champagne out on the deck?”
“I’ll fetch it and have a table and chairs taken out for you. Would you like some finger snacks as well, I’ll get them brought up from the galley,” he answered his own question before I had a chance and went away to arrange it.
“Whose that?” asked Liz, “He was falling over to help you and what’s that about commander, are you in the navy?”
“No, well not really, Aurora’s captain told everybody I was to be shown the same courtesies as a commander and now they all salute me and welcome me aboard and stuff like that and that chap Phillips is my personal steward.”
“Bloody Admiral Hyacinth Bouquet next,” said Emma, “But it’s handy, no wonder the captain didn’t object when you told him you wanted a beach party and dance.”
“I’ll go and get Gwyneth, she’s stuck with all the men and I doubt she’s all that interested in Rugby.”
I found Gwyneth talking to Will and David, “Gwyneth, we’re outside on the promenade deck and leaving the men to talk about man things like rugby, are you coming out with us, we’re having champagne.”
Gwyneth nodded enthusiastically, “Don’t wait up for me, David,” and taking my arm she guided me out onto the deck where Phillips was just placing an ice bucket with two bottles of Dom Perignon on the table alongside six flutes. He stepped back and then reached forward and moved the candle to the centre of the table and said, “I’ll fetch the finger snacks when you are ready Miss Broughton,” and went off to give the men a bottle of port.
“It’s very nice out here and we even have a candle but he forgot to open the champagne.”
“Well Faye is a geologist, she can do that,” and I took one of the bottles and held it out to her.
“What’s being a geologist got to do with opening a bottle of champagne?”
“The cork is held on with wire isn’t it and that’s metal which generally comes from ore found in the ground mixed up with dirt and stuff.”
“I don’t know how to open it, you’re an officer, you’ve been trained in the use of high explosives, you do it.”
I twisted the wire and eased the cork up and it popped and the three girls ducked but the cork arced up into the air and went over the side and the three of them rushed to the rail to watch it land in the sea.
“Do they know about me?” I asked Gwyneth.
“I’m not sure, Liz and Emma may because they are on board Orca and you’ve been there for your medicals and chat with Raymond but I don’t think Faye will have heard of it. I don’t think it’s a secret though from what David has been saying but nobody on Aurora or Orca seem to be bothered about it unless you take into account a certain amount of curiosity. Have they said something to you?”
“No, they’ve treated me as just one of the girls, not mentioned it.”
“Don’t forget they are scientists, Liz may ask you something because she’s a botanist and would want to compare you with plants that are hermaphrodite and perhaps Emma but I suspect their curiosity will be from a scientific point of view. I remember David when he had his intersexed patient a few years ago, he became very curious and spent hours reading up on it despite being a GP and probably only meet about four people in his entire career who were intersexed. I must admit I find it fascinating as well so tell me when I start asking too many questions and get nosey.”
I smiled, “It fascinates me as well now I’m not scared of it but I do worry how it might affect my relationships with other people. I would prefer people knew about me rather than find a friend and lose them later because they thought I was trying to deceive them. But so far, where the ships and their crews are concerned, I’m more surprised by their apparent acceptance than by fear of them being abusive, calling me a freak and things like that.”
“Be prepared for that, Charlotte, it will happen occasionally.”
“I know that and am still not unduly worried about it, everybody experiences that type of rejection in their lives and for all sorts of reasons. The other thing I’ve thought might happen is that people who take a liking to me and would like to be friendly and have a chat will hold back because they become afraid of what others will think of them.”
“You jumped that hurdle when you went into the sea and rescued David. I’ve listened to some of the talk on board and there are a lot of men on board the ships who readily admitted they wouldn’t have done it but you did and when they learned you are intersexed that probably added to your stock. They will think, ‘Blimey mate can you imagine it, he thought he was a bloke and dived in and then becomes a girl and she doesn’t care and still goes after the man in the water. It’s more than I would bloody well do!’ They are sailors and the crews and scientific staff are a pretty cosmopolitan crowd and get used to each other’s traditions and ways of doing things and as long as the ship stays afloat and gets them safely into harbour, they’re not much bothered about the idiosyncrasies of their shipmates.”
The girls came back from the railing, “It’s still floating about down there, when the tide goes out we can get it,” Liz reported.
“It is more likely to go out with the tide,” I answered, “If you want it, you can borrow my wetsuit and jump over the side and get it.”
“You’re the expert at jumping off ships, why don’t you do it?” protested Emma.
“No, she’ll probably change her sex again…” Liz stopped and placed her hand over her mouth, “Oh God, I’m sorry, that just slipped out, I didn’t mean to be offensive.”
“I’m not offended, don’t worry about it and it had nothing to do with the wetsuit, well I don’t think it did but now you mention it, it might be caused by a chemical reaction between neoprene, sweat and sea water, I’d better write a report for the diving magazines and warn everybody.”
Liz sipped her drink, “You really don’t mind, I feel so bad about saying it.”
“Honestly, Liz, I don’t mind. I’m going to get my leg pulled a lot more than that. I know you didn’t mean it spitefully, you were joking and it’s okay but I’m still not going to recover the cork, one of you will have to do it.”
They relaxed when they realised I meant what I said until Faye said, “Does it hurt sometimes?” and everybody started laughing. Gwyneth smiled at me and whispered, “I told you so.”
We started on our second glasses of Champagne when Phillips arrived with our finger snacks but by now it was growing a little chilly so I asked him if he could put them on a table inside and what were the men doing.
“Telling jokes in between discussing the island, the Rugby World Cup and cricket, Miss Broughton.”
“Nothing important then. Do you think this is a good time to put the dance music on?”
“Ideal time I reckon, you want anything special?”
“Ballroom of course mixed up with something lively and definitely something romantic.”
“I’ll stick Glen Miller on then, that always gets people tapping their feet.”
“You don’t know if any of them can jive do you?”
He thought for a moment, “There’s a sub on Aurora, name of Martin Andrews who does a bit of dancing I’m told.”
“He never told me and he was my guide when I went over there to speak to the passengers.”
“Gets ribbed a bit by the other younger officers so keeps it to himself.”
“Do you think the captain would give him permission to join us, I need a partner and Will won’t be able to jive.”
“He won’t if I ask him but he’d never dare refuse you.”
“Right,” and I walked over to where the men were still sitting at the table. “Captain, can I ask a small favour?”
“Of course Miss, Broughton,” he answered standing up.
“Can you send for sub lieutenant Andrews, I need him for a dancing partner.”
“Have you gone off me?” asked Will.
“No, I’m keeping you for the smoochy dances, unless you can jive.”
He grinned, “No, I can’t but I’ll settle for the smoochy bits.”
The captain turned to Andy Bryant the acting captain of Pacific Wanderer, “Andy, phone Aurora and get young Andrews over here and warn him to wear civvies and shoes suitable for dancing.” turning back to me he asked, “I trust you’ll save a dance for me.”
“Of course, is your foxtrot good?” and then I returned to the girls, “Come on, I’ve broken up their boy jokes session and they’re on their feet waiting to dance with us.”
And dance we did and had all of them on their feet and when I did the rumba with Will, I really hammed it up and it’s a wonder I didn’t dislocate my hips and later we were having a smoochy waltz down at the far end of the bridge and I suddenly stood on tip-toe and he was caught unawares and his hand which had been just above my waist now found itself on my bum, I looked up at him, “Your hand is on my bum.”
He grinned, “You won’t get away with that you deliberately went on your toes so my hand slipped.”
“Are you going to leave it there?”
“I’ll lower myself slowly then,” and I did and his hand followed me in perfect time and shortly after that he gave it a gentle squeeze, “You have a nice bum, soft and shapely.”
“Wait till the hormones start to have an effect, you’ll be able to use both hands then,” but the music stopped before he had a chance to experiment.
“I’m going to vanish for fifteen minutes. I want to go to my cabin and change for the jive with Martin, will you mind if I flash my legs a bit?”
“No, I’m getting used to your flashing.”
“I’ll shock the captain.”
“He’s getting used to it as well.”
We returned to the others and Emma had just gone onto the floor with the Captain and Martin was dancing with Faye so I grabbed Liz by the hand and said, “Come with me, I’m getting changed for the jive, I’ll need help to get out of this dress and into the jive skirt.”
She looked puzzled as we went down to the cabin level in the lift, “Why do you need help?”
“I still haven’t mastered getting the hook and eye undone at the top of the zip on a dress and I don’t have a lot of time and I want you to check I’m okay after I’ve changed I’m going to give them a demonstration.”
She grinned, “Don’t tell me you’re wearing a full skirt and going to spin like crazy.”
“Yes, a very full skirt and double tiered petticoat, Will just called me a flasher so I’m going to flash.”
We got to my cabin and Liz was impressed, “Is this yours, all of it?”
“All of it and if we’re quick I’ll show you one of the other cabins and you can have it whilst you’re still here.”
I was out of the little-black-dress in a minute and took off my heels, “There’s some flatties in the bottom of the second wardrobe,” I said as I opened the first and grabbed a white blouse and pale blue full skirt and the two tier petticoat and started dressing.
I slipped on the shoes and sat at the dressing table, “Can you do a high ponytail for me in a rush?”
“Easy,” and she set to work while I touched up my makeup.
“What do you think?” I said when we were finished and I was standing in front of her.
“That skirt is going to go horizontal with that petticoat underneath it if you spin fast.”
I grinned and nodded, “I told you I’m going to flash it.”
“But don’t you think you ought to change the stockings for tights!”
“Not bloody likely,” and I grabbed her hand and pulled her out of the cabin and she was laughing, “I just can’t picture you in pair of trousers or believe you were a man a few days ago. You sure you weren’t a tranny and have been getting some practice in!”
“I’ve been practising all right, practising wearing women’s jeans, men’s don’t fit me.”
“I bet they don’t, I can’t believe you didn’t know about yourself before this.”
“I didn’t have a clue, honestly Liz, even when I was on the island and knew something wasn’t quite right, I hadn’t a clue about the intersexed thing until Randolph and Duncan told me.”
We walked out of the lift and Will was waiting, “You were quick.”
“Wait a bit, it gets quicker in a minute or two,” and Liz went over to Emma and Gwyneth giggling.
I found Phillips, “Give me a minute or two and fix the music for me please.”
“Anything special?” he asked eyeing me over and looking at my skirt suspiciously.
Glen Miller, American Patrol, Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy and finish with Bill Haley and Rock Around the Clock. Do you have all three on there?”
He grinned, “Bet on it, I’ll give you the nod when it’s ready to rock.”
I went to Martin next and he looked surprised, “You changed your clothes is the party over, we haven’t danced yet?”
“No, our bit is about to start, can you jive fast, Martin?”
“Yes, the bloke doesn’t have to do that much, it’s the girl that really does the dancing.”
“Then we have to jive our socks off, I’m going to draw attention to myself.”
He grinned, “Okay.”
“We’ll start with a couple of Glen Miller numbers, the second faster than the first and then finish with Rock Around the Clock and then I’m going for it and when I start my spins in the last number, give me a bit of space, I’m going to make this skirt fly.”
“Give me a nod and I’ll drop your hand and give you the room to fly like a bird.”
Martin had a touch of adventurous spirit, I liked that. “Give me the full length of your left arm, one turn underarm and two free spins across you and catch my left with your right at waist height and I’ll spin in to finish, can you do that?”
He nodded, “Keep the catch at waist height but do you want to spin in under arm?”
“No, I’ll do one turn with a wrap and then we’ll finish it and if you’re good, I’ll hire you for pleasure cruises on Pacific Wanderer as the cabaret’s main feature.” I saw Faye, Emma and Liz separate and walk to different sections of the bridge with their phones in their hands, “Look at those cows.”
Mark glanced across, “What are they doing, have they had a row?”
“No, the sneaky witches are going to video this and probably stick it on the internet. You’re family are going to get a shock, they’ll think you spent the night in a sleazy nightclub not fighting the Queen’s enemies.”
“I don’t care, it’ll make me Numero Uno with my friends in New Zealand and stop the people on Aurora calling me ‘Fuse’.”
“Come on, let’s dance before anybody else gets on the floor and I nodded at Phillips and as we got to the centre Glen Miller started and we jived. Martin was good and paced it beautifully and I managed to keep the skirt at about a third of its potential and as the last bar of American Patrol started it suddenly switched to Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy and we notched up the speed and a couple of times as I reversed a spin with me going one way and the skirt the other, the skirt wrapped itself around me high enough to expose a bit of stocking top and the audience started cheering but when that closed and Bill Haley boomed out, Martin and I went for the speed record and the skirt flew and the cheers almost drowned out the music. His timing was perfect and as our hands slapped together after the triple spin I was able to reverse reasonably gracefully and turn slowly back to him and he was laughing and punched the air. “Bow to them,” I whispered and went into a curtsy and they were still cheering and trying to get us to carry on but I took his hand firmly in mine and we trotted back.
“That was a superb demonstration Miss Broughton and you Andrews can start normal duties, you’ve found your sea-legs it would seem.”
“So has Charlotte,” said Will, “Really nice sea legs.”
“You’ve seen me in a swimming costume, they’re the same legs.”
“Bet he hasn’t seen them in stockings before,” chipped in Emma.
“And the colour of her knickers matched the stockings perfectly,” added Liz.
“Gypsy Rose Lee would be proud to call her daughter,” Faye put her two cents in as well, “And you can teach me to jive like that so I can kill them at our Country and Western nights back home.”
And then Philips put a tango on the music machine and David rescued me, taking my hand and leading me onto the floor, “Don’t spin, I’ll get giddy and fall over,” he smiled, “Sorry I haven’t a rose you can hold between your teeth.”
“Thanks for inviting us last night,” Liz smiled, “We had a terrific evening.”
“And letting us use your cabins, they’re much better than the ones on Penguin.”
“And Orca. We’ve been told we can stay here full time unless we have night work to do or something that requires us to work very late on our own ships,” Emma added.”
“Are you sharing or did you take one each?”
“One each is that okay?”
“It’s fine as long as Aurora doesn’t need any for visiting dignitaries or sick blokes but we still have empty cabins so for the moment anyway, it’s okay to have one each,” I rubbed my hands together, “Unless we put to sea.”
“What difference does putting to sea make, we can stay if we’re not needed on the island or we can go back to Orca and Penguin if we are.”
“But when we put to sea, I will have to charge you first class cruise rates, that’s £120 per day.”
“We’ll act as waitresses or cooks in that case but if we get waylaid by pirates and have to help repel borders then we expect mercenary fighters rates of pay. And before you think of it, we are rated as civilians on our own ships so you can’t flimp us by saying we are service personnel and as such must fight for free.” Emma nodded with satisfaction at her own cleverness and gave me a smug grin.
“And we get a share of any prize money,” Faye pointed out.
“I’ll make you move to the crews quarters then.”
“She can share with me,” offered the coxswain at the tiller. I’m bunking with an engineer petty officer, we’ll look after her.”
“I’ll be chaperoning all of them, you as well,” said Gwyneth smiling sweetly, “Especially after that dancing demonstration last night.”
I was about to answer them when Will called out from the bow where he had been discussing something with Lt. Bryant, “Charlotte, do you and Gwyneth want to be put off at this end or continue with us down to the other?”
I looked at Gwyneth for the answer, “Do you want to have another look at the place you took a liking to yesterday?”
She shook her head, “I can walk there from Pacific Wanderer in twenty minutes, let’s go with the others.”
“We’re coming with you,” I called back.
He raised his arm in acknowledgement and started speaking to Lt. Bryant again. “Will,” I called again, “We have to turn here, the inlet is between the cove and that spur.” I watched then look towards the cove and they obviously couldn’t see the entrance to the inlet, even we had missed it the first time we came this way. “Turn to stab’d and head to clear the point by four chains, cox’n. Reduce speed to revs for four knots,” I said in my best Commander before God voice.
“Aye, aye, Commander, come to stab’d and speed for four knots, head to pass the point by four chains.”
“You was in the bloody navy in your past life,” insisted Emma.
“Get her to dance a hornpipe,” said Faye.
Will and Andy had turned to see what I was up to and I pointed, “Over there, it’s just coming into view,” and as I spoke the entrance to the inlet began to open up and everybody stood and looked open mouthed.
“It’s well hidden, none of our blokes spotted it,” said the cox’n, “Want me to head straight in?”
“Wait a sec, I’ll have to ask Lt. Bryant.” I walked up the boat and stopped halfway, “Are you going straight in, Andy.”
“Yes but ask the cox’n to keep the speed like this, the entrance looks to be near a hundred and fifty metres wide but there may be rocks close to the surface, we’ll have to feel our way in.”
“I’ll go up and stand on the decking at the bow if you like.”
“No, Will and I will do that, can you stay with the cox’n.”
I went back to my post, “Stay as we are for the moment, the Lieutenant and Will are going to watch ahead for rocks and stuff. There’s a cove on the stab’d side as we go in and cliffs to port, we were up the top yesterday, that’s how we spotted it.”
“Good place for pirates to hide,” the cox’n replied, you’d never know the entrance was there unless you go into the cove.”
“Did they have pirates this far south, I wouldn’t have thought there was much here for them.”
“Whalers. They’d shadow a whaler until it had filled its tank with whale oil and then attacked it and some may have brought the stuff in here to store. Ambergris as well, that was worth money at auction. We caught one about three years ago about a hundred miles south of Wellington and the ship stank like a sewer but the stolen cargo was worth more than twenty five grand on the black market.”
“Treasure hunters as well,” Faye said. They might not be looking for gold, silver or oil so much but the Pacific is a treasure trove waiting to be harvested. Manganese is one and there’s manganese nodules lying about all over the sea bed. All they need is to find a large amount of indium and they’d be down here like a pack of wolves tearing everything apart.”
“Never ‘eard of that, what’s indium?”
“A rare earth metal that’s used in computers and computers are an indispensable resource. The modern world would grind to a halt without them.”
“That’s where we were on top of those small cliffs when we discovered this place yesterday,” I pointed to where the clearing could be seen and the path leading down to the beach. It’s one of the places where Gwyneth may build her house.”
“It’s a beautiful place,” said Emma, “I could live here and being isolated the way it is, think of all the new species of animals and plants that might be living here. Researching them could be a job for life.”
“I think I saw a lizard thing the first time Will and I landed on the island. It was near the waterfall but I didn’t say anything because it hid as soon as it saw me and I was busy looking at the trees and then we discovered the cave but it was large about the length of my arm but as I say, it vanished when I appeared. It may have been a crocodile for all I know, I only saw it for a second.”
“You must show me exactly where you saw it,” said Emma, “I’ve already found a new butterfly, there’s bound to be other new species, remind me to show you the pictures I took. Look at all the stuff they’ve discovered on the Galapagos, when Darwin started his researches and made all his discoveries he stood mankind’s beliefs on their head and this place is further away from civilisation.”
“They are talking about exploring the hill with ground penetrating radar back on Orca,” Liz looked up at Faye, “That would be right up your street, “One of the geologists thinks it may be honeycombed with caves. There’s no telling what metals might be down there.”
Faye shook her head, “Not really, I think the best chances are under the sea and along the coast line. I think they’ll discover that the hill was originally the volcano but it changed its mind and picked a different route through the lagoon. If the hill is honeycombed, the caves may have been old lava pockets that emptied but I reckon that it is more likely to have been created by the action of water. We could all go underwater pot holing and get lost and emerge a million or so years in the future as human fish. But when we land, if it’s a stony beach keep an eye open for diamonds and sapphires, stuff like that.”
“You didn’t mention rubies, can we take your instructions as a signal that your interests lie only in bedecking yourself with priceless jewellery?” asked Emma.
“I’m not ashamed of being seen at my best and stinking rich with it. But if you want, why not keep a look out for rubies but give them to Charlotte to make lasers for her computers unless of course they’re large rubies, I’ll wear them for you on my diamond necklace and if they’re really large, I’ll make them the centrepiece.”
Liz was looking at Faye with an appraising eye, “Rubies would go well with your eyes, how many glasses of champagne did you drink last night.”
Faye shrugged, “Lots, I lost count when Charlotte did her jive, I was in a state of shock.”
A call from the bow ended our conversation, “Cox’n I don’t recall asking to be put ashore on the island!”
“Oh Christ,” mumbled the cox’n and swung the tiller hard over to port.”
“Sit down, Faye,” I said in a loud voice, “You’re obstructing the view from the helm.”
“Thanks Miss Broughton,” he muttered once the boat’s bow had swung and we continued around the island rather than over it and the Lieutenant returned to the view ahead.
“Would you prefer we moved forward and don’t impede your ability to keep us on course, cox’n?” I asked, still in a loud voice.
“Why are you shouting,?” asked Liz.
“Because we’re distracting the cox’n and he nearly wrecked the boat on the island and Captain Bligh up there would have him keel hauled or given fifty lashes so I’m making out it was your fault.”
“He’s a sailor and four birds are not enough to distract sailors until they go ashore. He shouldn’t have been paying attention to us,” scoffed Liz.
I shrugged, “You know what sailors are…”
“No,” said Emma, we are far too busy, “Go on tell us what sailors are like, you were marooned on an atoll with some for over a week, what did they do?” She leaned forward with a smirk on her face. “Go on, and don’t leave out the details.”
“She always stands in front of the bridge,” said the cox’n “That way if there’s a bit of a breeze, the downdraught flips her skirt up.”
I glared at him, “I’ve just saved you from being hung from the yardarm and that’s the thanks I get.” I stood up, “I’m going forward and telling the lieutenant that every time I stand up, you pinch my bum.”
“He won’t believe you,” said Faye, “Not if he saw you dancing yesterday evening with Will and kept manoeuvring so his hands rested on your bum.”
“Will was supporting me in case I fell over.”
“Was he, I thought it was the way the waltz was always danced,” said Gwyneth.
I thought it was disgusting,” said Emma, “They’re not even married yet.”
Before I had a chance to answer Will called out; “Land ho! Dead ahead,” and Andy Bryant came down, “Steer for that small cove just of the stab’d bow cox’n, it has a sandy beach.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
“Do I need my wet suit, Lieutenant?”
He grinned, “Ankle deep, commander, your call. Are these ladies causing you problems, cox’n.”
“As good as gold, sir and the conversation has been educational.”
“I bet it was.” Returning his attention to me he said “Wait until we go over the side and we’ll pull the boat up and Will said he’ll carry you ashore if you wish.”
I smirked at the girls, “My complements to Commander Devonshire and I do wish,” and gave the girls the finger.
“Over his shoulder with a protective hand on her bum to prevent her from slipping off,” Emma advised.
The lieutenant smiled and walked back to the bow and spoke to the two seamen who promptly came down to our end and sat either side of the engine. “Why didn’t you come down here earlier?” I asked.
“Boss said we were to stay up there and keep the load even and we had to keep our eyes peeled once we turned into the cove in case there’s any Russian or Chinese submarines down there. He sent us down now so the bow lifts higher and we can get further up the beach.”
“That’s to prevent us getting our feet wet,” explained Liz “But now you’re down here you can carry us ashore.”
“If you drop them I’ll give you fifty quid each.”
“I bet she would to,” said Faye.
The boat slid up the beach and the bow was clear of the water but the sand was wet so whilst the others jumped over the side I sat down on the covered section of the bow and dangled my legs over the side. “Aren’t you coming?” Emma called.
“I’m waiting for Will to carry me over the wet sand,” I called back and she said something and he came back but he had a broad grin on his face, I should have smelled a rat but didn’t and lifted my arms so he could lift me but he grabbed hold of my waist and threw me over his shoulder and put is left arm over my thighs and rested his right hand on my bum and carried me all the way, right up to the tree line before putting me down and kissing me.
“Emma put you up to that didn’t she?”
“I think they all did.”
“Okay, you can do it like that every time from now on, I enjoyed it.”
He laughed, “So did I. Right, Andy and I are going to take a good look around but Emma and Liz want to explore for unique species of flora and fauna and Faye is going with them to see what ores are in the rocks. We’ve told them not more than a couple of hours and then back here for lunch, what about you?”
“Gwyneth and I are having a look for places to build her house so I suppose we’ll all stick together.”
“Good, it’s safer that way. The Navy lads are staying to build a fire and get lunch ready but if you think you’ll need an escort Andy will detail one of them to accompany you.”
“We don’t need an escort, not with five of us.”
“Faye is carrying a browning pistol and I’ll give you a couple of flares in case you get lost.”
“We don’t need flares, Will, we only have to find the water’s edge and we can find our way back easily enough and what does Faye need a pistol for?”
“We can’t be sure there are no dangerous animals about and if you refuse to take the flares and pistol, Andy will make the cox’n or one of the men go with you.”
I didn’t worry about the escort, if we needed one, we needed one and by the same logic, Will was right, the island had not been properly explored and just because we had seen no evidence of dangerous animals in the areas we had explored, it didn’t mean there were none here. Like most Europeans I thought of dangerous animals as mammals but in places like this I had to start thinking outside the box; dangerous animals also included giant iguanas, crocodiles and alligators, snakes and even wild boars, we had seen some evidence of pigs here and even domesticated boars would be dangerous if they thought their territory was being invaded. “Okay Will, you’re right, let Faye bring her gun and I suppose I’ll have to swallow my prejudices against firearms and get you to teach me how to use one soon.”
“I’ll get the gunnery officer on Aurora to teach you. Have a nice day and I’ll see you at lunch unless you want me to come and collect you and carry you back?”
“I might do that if you promise to act improperly on the way.”
Which way shall we go?” I asked as we set off. Will and Andy are going off to the right, shall we go left.”
“Left suits me but it means a climb up to the top of the cliffs,” Faye said, “It’s okay down here on the beach, no more than a steep hill but after that it’s hidden by trees and bushes.”
“There’s animal droppings over there, they look like they were left by some sort of small deer so there are probably animal paths to follow,” Emma was pointing to a clump of undergrowth and there were places where the ground looked disturbed.
“The undergrowth seems to clear further along,” Gwyneth was pointing to a spot on top of the cliffs about a hundred meters further off to the left, “But the cliffs come right down to the water’s edge so we’ll have to go up and make our way along the cliffs.”
“Let’s go up and have a look, it’s a bit difficult trying to see much from down here,” I looked at them for agreement and getting nods I led the way. Making for the spot where the ground had been disturbed by the wildlife I found an opening in the underbrush almost immediately and started to climb. At first it was gentle but then the animal track began to wander around obstructions a little and it grew steeper and then there were outcrops of rock every few meters and the path steepened again until I felt myself leaning into it so I stopped and turned to see how the others were doing. Emma and Liz were only a couple of meters behind me but Gwyneth was a good ten metres further down with Faye right behind her. “Hurry up Gwyneth, Faye is right behind you and she could let fly with her pistol.”
Gwyneth looked up and grinned, “She’s more likely to hit you, she just told me she’s only fired one once before.” I looked at Emma, “Fat lot of good she’s going to be if we meet a poisonous snake or something.”
“Don’t worry about it, your screaming will scare it off.”
“Dam right it will. You okay or do you want to rest for a bit?” I asked Gwyneth when she joined us. “I’m okay, it’s not running out of breath that’s slowing me down, it’s that my leg muscles have atrophied from lack of use. I’ll have to practice walking a bit more if I’m going to live here.”
I looked back up the slope, “It seems to level of up there another fifteen or twenty meters, you best carry on if you can or your muscles might tighten and start cramping.” She nodded so I started up the path again but took things slower and stayed with Gwyneth and let the other three go on ahead.
“Your dancing is keeping you fit, I was watching last night and you hardly lost your breath and David told me he nearly dropped you when you leaned right over and lifted a leg in the air with your back arched in the tango. You don’t care do you, you enjoy teasing the men.”
“I do, I admit it, it’s my way of compensating for being scared of them.”
“Men scare you?”
“Not in a ‘men are dangerous’ way, it’s Will I think, I love him like crazy but I’m scared.”
“Scared of letting it go too far?”
I looked at her but she had that soft look in her eye, “Yes, too far when I’m kissing him and he has me pressed up close with his arms around me. I want him to take it further but I’m scared.”
Is he putting pressure on you?”
“No, none, he seems to sense when I’m getting nervous and eases off. God, Gwyneth, what am I going to do, I want to go to bed with him but I’m terrified of doing it.” I looked at her again, the soft look was still there and she was nodding her head slowly, “I only made love to a girl twice before all this, I liked it but I can’t pretend it was anything like the earthquakes and lightning or the trips into the stars that women seem to have if the books I’ve read are any guide. I know it’s going to hurt me a lot if I let him do it and I want to let him but the idea of the pain makes me hold back. I don’t want to start something and then have to stop him because I’m scared or in too much pain to go on.”
“Yes, I understand that, you’re frightened that if your first experience is bad it will put you off from wanting to do it again.”
“Yes, that’s exactly it. I suppose I’ve allowed romantic ideas take over my thinking and forgotten the practical side, especially as I am now neither male nor female.”
She reached out and took my hand and squeezed it, “You’re not that Charlotte, never that, you are all girl in your head, all you need is a snip and tuck and you’ll be all girl physically. Can’t you wait until you’ve had your SRS before making love to Will.”
“I suppose I’m going to have to but I will have to find other ways of letting him know how much I love him.”
“And he’s never coerced you, said things like ‘You don’t really love me because you won’t share my bed?”
I shook my head, “Never and never even made me think that was what he was thinking. He always lets me make the pace and doesn’t even frown when I pull back.”
“Want me to get David to have a word with Duncan or Raymond? They can tell you what to expect, what to prepare for both emotionally and physically and perhaps recommend whether you should follow your desires or wait until after your operation.”
“Would you, I think it would help. You don’t think badly of me talking about it, think I’m being too promiscuous?”
She chuckled, You’re twenty six, I was seventeen when I went to bed for the first time, you’re just normal. Talk to me anytime about it, I know you’ve missed puberty as a girl but that mentally is what you’re going through now and if it helps; it hurt me the first time, hurt a lot, I think my hymen was made out of cowhide and I remember I was punching David’s shoulder and calling him I don’t know what sorts of names.”
“Oh God, what happened?”
“I was just at the point when I was going to throw him off me when my hymen broke and then I went off on a trip to the stars,” her face wore a smile now, “David told me after that he thought I was having a fit and it’s a wonder I didn’t set fire to the bed,” she chuckled. It’s not like that every time unfortunately but it happens enough to keep me interested even now I’m much older I still have trips around the universe.”
I was smiling now, “That’s what I want.”
The path levelled out and we found ourselves standing on a grassy lip that slowly descended into a shallow valley surrounded on three sides by dense woodland, “It’s like being back in England,” said Gwyneth, “There’s even daisies growing amongst the grass. How strange; here we are on the opposite side of the world and looking out at a corner of England. All we need are the tall Tudor chimneys of the manor house and we could be living in Sussex or the Cotswolds.”
“We even have the milk maids sitting on the grass and Faye is chewing on a stalk of grass.”
The sound of our voices made them turn their heads, “Oh, you’ve arrived,” Liz said, “We were discussing whether or not it was worth going back down the track and try to recover your bodies.”
“And we were wondering how much longer you three were going to sit there before you went off to milk the cows.”
“Be careful of what you wish for,” and Emma pointed to a spot a few metres in front of where we were standing. We took a pace forward and looked down at the turf and there looking like a mine was a circular cow pat. “Cows!” exclaimed Gwyneth looking up and scanning the meadow, “Where are they?”
“Sitting on the grass, we’ve just spoken to them,” I replied. “Have you three seen any?”
Liz nodded, “We’re not sure but we thought we saw the backside of one vanishing into the trees on the far side.”
“Can’t be cows then, they would have wandered over to say hullo.”
“I doubt if these will yet, they have to be the descendants of some that were left here by whoever it was that lived in your house and will not have any experience of human contact.”
“Can cows survive without humans to look after them?”
“Of course if they have access to food and water which they do and somewhere to shelter and be safe from predators. Some may have had problems with mastitis if they weren’t being milked but if the people who owned them realised they were going to leave they may have allowed the cows to dry up and then all they would have needed was a bull.”
“We’ll have to organise a round up, this is one place we could use for grazing and there are bound to be others and it would solve the milk problem.”
Emma just stared at me, “You’re going to organise a cattle drive, herd up the cows and nest them down here without horses, dogs, cowboys, barns and everything else.”
“Not me, you’re the biologist and you like it here and will probably want to retire and build a nice little cottage or ranch house, you do it.”
“I’ll live here as well and show her how to do a bit of selective cross breeding with the grass so she can get a good crop of hay and thatch for the cottage.”
I looked at Faye, “What about you, Faye, are you going to make the stuff for the wire fences?”
“I might as it happens, it is so nice here, I’ll see what my fiancé says, he’d probably go for it, he can ride and that’s half of being a cowboy.”
Gwyneth was smiling at everybody, “I know you’re having a joke about it but you know it could be done and Charlotte thinks there may be goats, pigs and sheep here if we can find which parts of the island they’ve settled in.”
“And what are you going to do Gwyneth, spin the fleece?”
“Good Heavens no, that’s a job for an unmarried maiden, a spinster, that’s Charlotte’s job, she can be the milkmaid as well.”
“Excuse me, the unmarried maiden bit is only temporary and my field is computer programmes.”
“So build a computer controlled milking machine,” said Liz.
“Come on, we have to get on with the exploring and see if we can find edible plants, precious metals and a nice place for the ranch house.”
“I’m going over to the other side of the meadow,” said Liz, I think those smaller trees may be bread fruit and they’re not supposed to grow in this climate, it may be a new variety.”
“What about stuff that’s good for salads, Liz?”
“Loads, chickweed, onions, peppers all grow happily in the wild and there’s probably quite a bit around where the old house allotments were. I’ll have a look for you. I’ll take some soil samples and we can work out what seeds we need to start up anything you think you’ll need.”
“Potatoes and lettuce?”
“Definitely potatoes, they’ll grow almost anywhere but wild lettuce?” she grinned, “Going to chill out are you? “It’s a mild narcotic and was once used by doctors if opium wasn’t available. But the lettuce you are thinking about will probably be around the area where the house stands and was introduced by the previous inhabitants. We’ll see but none of you pick and eat any unrecognisable fruits, seeds or leaves until you’ve checked with me or Emma. I’ll print out some lists and pictures of things that are safe and those that are not. If you want marijuana and stuff like that, I’ll get some but it’ll cost you.”
I looked at Emma, “You going in with her, a pair of drug barons?”
“I would but at the moment there’s nowhere to spend all the money I’d earn. Think I’ll stick to booze and barter with you for the fashions in the ship’s hold.”
“There’s plenty of raw material available, I’ll speak to Will about setting up a distillery and brewery in one of the ships holds or better still, we’ll keep a look out for a suitable cave.”
“I don’t think he’ll approve,” said Gwyneth.
“Yes he will, I’ll appeal to the inner man and say we need to make beer so that there’s yeast available for bread and cake making and the distillery is needed to produce alcohol for medicinal purposes. If you speak to David and get a list of the ailments that can be treated with whisky and gin, that should convince him.”
We separated then, Emma and Liz to cross the meadow and search for unique flora and fauna and Gwyneth and Faye came with me to look for nice places to build houses and discover geological samples for making essentials like diamond encrusted gold earrings.
In chapters 19 and 20, Charlie invites a visitor into her bedroom and is touched by the magic of Charlotte Island and a comet explodes!
Volume 2 is nearly complete and should be available on Amazon before the 22nd December.
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