words were released into the air. The lieutenant who had twirled at the end of the rope that day in English Harbour had not got as far as disobeying. Nor had the other two, the ones Rooke had watched being sent into oblivion. The words had been enough. Here, where all that stood between the governor and chaos was a handful of officers, no hint of insubordination could be tolerated.
‘Our duty,’ he began, ‘our duty as soldiers,’ but his friend had already drawn back. Gardiner drank off his cupful and screwed a grin onto his face that stretched his sunburnt sailor’s lips.
‘Yes, Mr Rooke, I know. Yes, we are all servants of the governor here and the Devil take any man who says different!’
Rooke said nothing more. There was a question forming in the back of his mind, which he did not want to hear. It was: What would I have done in the same place?
E arly next morning Rooke went down to the settlement. He felt disloyal to Gardiner, but he was consumed with curiosity about the captured natives. He wondered by what stratagem he might get a glimpse of them, but none was necessary. As he passed the parade ground he saw the governor walking down the hill with two men shuffling in fetters. Captain Silk was looking sprightly at the governor’s elbow, a notebook and pencil in his hand.
The bigger of the natives was a finely made man, perhaps thirty years old. There was a roguish sparkle to his eye. It made Rooke think that if Silk were to have been kidnapped, and became the guest of some unimaginable chief of the natives, he would look around in just that way, with eyes that found everything interesting, and the smile of someone having thegreatest adventure of his life.
The other was a person of different make, shorter and sterner, a compact mass of outraged dignity. Being here was not an adventure for him, Rooke thought. It was an affront to his sense of himself.
The governor’s narrow face had changed overnight, broadening and beaming. Today he was not nearly so much like the Mathematical Bridge. He held up his hand to the cheerful captive and turned it.
‘Now, Boinbar. This is what we call “hand”. What is the word in your tongue?’
Bo-in-bar. Rooke saw it as if written, committed it to memory. His first word of the native tongue.
Silk licked the end of his pencil and made ready to write the native word for ‘hand’. The quickest jack- in- the- box in the regiment . How had Silk got himself there with the notebook in his hand, Rooke wondered. If one wanted a linguist in New South Wales, would one not ask for Lieutenant Rooke?
Perhaps the governor enjoyed the company of an officer of his own size, he thought, and was shocked at himself. There will be time , he told himself. Silk is no linguist, and then they will remember me .
Now the governor was trying to gain the attention of the other man, holding up his thumb and waggling it.
‘Warungin? Warungin! Here is my thumb, we say “thumb”, now tell me what you say.’
Wa-rung-in. Two words of the native tongue.
But Warungin would not meet the governor’s eye and had no interest in his thumb. Even though hobbled by the fetters he walked upright and stared into the middle distance as though the governor were not there.
These men were like, but not like, those Rooke had seen in Antigua. They were not as tall as the slaves and their skin was not that black that was almost blue. Theirs was a warmer, browner black. Nor did they have those swollen lips, fascinating in their fullness, that the Africans had.
As well as those differences they were born with, there were others that he thought life might teach. These two men of New South Wales carried themselves proudly erect, yielding to no one. Isolation had saved them from becoming like those uprooted Africans he had seen in English Harbour, expressionless black cogs in the machine of empire.
Boinbar looked straight at Rooke, at the red wool coat, the brass buttons, the gold braid, at the straight hair,