the smooth cheeks, the pale skin. Under his gaze Rooke saw how strange it might be to have such hair, such skin. To cover the body with fabric and small shiny objects.
His eyes met Boinbar’s and he felt a bubble of laughter in his throat. He saw his own excitement reflected on the other man’s face, the same eagerness to enter the unknown, to be amazed by difference.
But now the governor was turning back towards his house,putting a hand under Boinbar’s elbow.
‘Come, my friend, we will eat now.’
He made large champing motions and hand-to-mouth actions, and Boinbar went with him willingly enough. Silk had to urge Warungin to follow, going so far as to touch his arm, but Warungin withdrew it. Shuffling in the fetters, his face rock-like, he walked up the road, a muscular nugget of disapproval.
Several times in the two weeks following, Rooke found reasons to go down to the settlement, hoping to see more of the native men, but they were never about. Young Timpson told him they spent most of their time at the governor’s house, being shown how to sit on a chair and eat off a plate. But poor homesick Timpson was not much interested in anything that was not about his Betsy, and he had no other information.
Rooke had wanted solitude, had schemed to be cut off from the settlement. He had congratulated himself on achieving it. But, like Midas, he had his riches and was the poorer for them. His isolation was robbing him of the chance to stand beside Silk and exchange words with the native men.
He put his mind to some pretext for calling at the governor’s house. The ledger was all he could think of. He might request a meeting with the governor and pretend to ask his advice about any improvements that His Excellency might suggest, beforehe filled in too many of its pages. Should he, for example, be recording the height of the tides as well as the wind and weather?
It was a shallow ruse, but who knew how long it would be before he could see more of those new planets Boinbar and Warungin?
He was transcribing his most recent readings into their columns, planning to take the ledger down the next day, when he heard someone hallooing outside: Captain Silk, picking his way down between the rocks.
‘Rooke,’ he called. ‘A visitor to your enchanted isle!’
Silk jumped athletically down the last few yards, lost his balance, nearly tripped, did a quick to-and-fro with his feet and had arrived.
‘By God, you are secret out here,’ he cried, suppressing his panting. ‘A man needs to be a goat to pay you a visit!’
Sure of his welcome, he did not wait for an answer, but went inside.
‘Well, my friend, will you not offer me something cheerful to wet my whistle?’
Installed at the table with a cup of brandy-and-water in front of him, he leaned back so that his chair creaked alarmingly.
‘So, what news?’ Rooke asked.
‘Ah, we are sad down at Government House. The governor and I. It is a blow, I will say. Perhaps you heard? The nativeshave gone, last night, slipped their fetters and made off.’
‘Sadly yes. Warungin had never reconciled himself to our company. Boinbar seemed happy enough—you remember, the taller cheerful chap. The governor is vastly disappointed. We were making excellent progress with the language.’
Silk made a show of hesitating. Rooke recognised the signs that he was preparing a bon mot .
‘Our friend Boinbar was quite the devil of a fellow, he was at pains to teach me the words for such important notions as pissing and shitting and the other thing as well. Propagating the species is how I decided to gloss it for the governor.’
Rooke laughed, thinking of the governor primly accepting this form of words.
‘Other than those exceedingly useful notions we have an extensive vocabulary. We know, for instance, that the north wind is boor- roo- way .’
He separated the syllables out carefully.
‘Wait, or was the north wind bow- wan ?’
Silk pulled his