While Ernie waited with me, Mr Carsons went on board. He disappeared for half an hour and then came out onto the deck with the captain and pointed to me. The captain stared at me for a long while, like he were debating something with himself and then the two men shook hands. Mr Carsons joined us and we drove back to the hotel. Ernie took me up to the room while Mr Carsons went off to do something. Ernie cut me hair and said that me name was Harry. I shook me head. Me name were Hannah. Mr Carsons came back with some clothes he had buyed for me. They were boys' trousers and shirts and boots. They knew I didn't like shoes or boots, but they forced them on me. They had me walk round the room many times with fat Ernie miming how I should walk. I soon picked up that they wanted me to walk like a boy. They acted out for me how to walk tough. They were talking to me about something I didn't understand when Mr Carsons said to Ernie, Show Harry. With that Ernie pulled down his trousers. I almost fainted when I seen his huge privates under a ledge of fat. Then, without warning he pulled down my trousers. They looked at me quim and shook their heads. I didn't get it. They did it again, only this time they put their hands over their eyes and shook their heads. They clicked their tongues with irritation and Ernie pulled up my trousers again and pointed to his privates. I felt like a dog being taught a trick I didn't understand the reason for. Ernie pulled up his own trousers and then yanked down mine. They covered their eyes and shook their heads again. The penny dropped - they didn't want people to know I were a girl.
They took me down to the ship as it were preparing to sail. Captain Lee were there to greet us. He shook me hand as if I were a boy and called me Harry. He said something about me father. It were obvious he had known him. Captain Lee had a grey beard and kindly eyes. Ernie told me to look at Mount Wellington and tell me what I seen. I told him I seen a stick with a piece of cloth on it on its very top. The captain were impressed cos me eyes were sharper, sharper he said than any eyes he knew. Mr Carsons led me up the gangplank onto the deck while the crew were hurrying back and forth loading the ship. Home, he said to me, This is your home now.
When I said, Me father? Becky? he said aye, that if I stayed on the ship I would find them both. I took his words for the truth. He ordered me to climb up the rigging to the topmast and onto the crow's nest. I were nimble like a native cat, I have to say. I crawled up the rigging and then on to a spot on the topgallant crosstrees. They seen I had a head for heights and me sharp eyes could see for miles past Hobart town, past the harbour into the haze of the horizon a long way away. Down below the three men staring up at me were just specks like three flies stuck to sticky paper, and I knew, as if my father were whispering in me heart, that this spot up in the clouds were to be part of me job. It was me keen eyes that Captain Lee wanted.
When I returned to the deck, Captain Lee and Ernie and Mr Carsons were grinning. I pointed to the sea and asked as best I could where Becky and me father were and Captain Lee said aye, they were out there and I would find them after a long time. I had no idea of what a long time meant so I were happy to hear it. Mr Carsons and Ernie shook me hand and left the ship.
We set sail a few hours later. Captain Lee had me sleep in his cabin on the floor under his desk. He showed me pictures of whales and told me what to do if I seen one. He said I were never to eat with the crew but only with him. He told me to s.h.i.t and p.i.s.s in the early hours of the morning when there were hardly any crew on deck. He were real fond of maps and liked to show them to me. He pointed out where the ship had been before and where there could be whales. He had me learn the names of oceans and islands we were going to next.
The first few weeks the ship were bouncing, tossing, turning, rolling, jumping through wild waves and freezing wind that were like nails spearing me face. It were not til we were moving north into the Pacific that the seas calmed and the days grew warmer. Now I could spend me days aloft. I knew I were supposed to be gazing for whales, but after a time on the top of the ship you feel awfully distant from those ants below on the deck, and you dream. I dreamed of finding me father, maybe in one of those countries or islands I seen in Captain's Lee's atlas. Captain Lee always sent me up a few hours before dawn cos he knew I could see far in piccaninny light. I watched twice a day, before dawn and into the early hours of sunlight, and an hour or two before dusk when me eyes could see further than any other whale-spotter. I took a speaking trumpet with me cos me voice were light compared to the others on whale watch. So there I were, on top of the ship like a spider in the centre of a giant web of ropes, searching, searching, searching the horizon for a spout, ever so faint. Just a tiny puff and I knew what to yell out. Sometimes it were hard not to drift off in me head. The seas seem without end, the horizon is always the horizon and you never get to it, the ship rolling from side to side like a rocking chair putting me in some sort of trance, and I were not alone, behind me were another crewman on look-out duties and he - whoever he were, cos the men could only stand the job for two hours at a time - would be in a trance too and sometimes on sultry days when we were hardly moving, the ship swayed like a pendulum but it were as if time stood still. The regular rocking rhythm put we watchers on the main and mizzen mastheads into a daze where time, place and even our bodies did not exist.
When I looked behind me I seen a wake of water at the stern of the ship and I'd watch the wake slowly vanish, and it seemed to me our ship left no mark on the sea and even our ship did not exist. I began to see the ocean had many colours from bright emerald to a dirty grey. I'd stare at the quivering water, seeing that just beneath the surface it were shivering with life, teeming with the shadows and silhouettes of fish, the fish only becoming real when they jumped out of the sea into the air and flew for a few moments or the triangle fin of a shark or dolphin cut the surface. Then there were the times just after dusk or before dawn when the sea squirmed with dots of bright lights, like thousands of tiny lamps.
Other times I felt as if I were no longer attached to the ship, but like a sea eagle drifting in an air current, unattached to the earth and sea, carefree and happy as I daydreamed 'bout Becky and me father. Oh, it's hard to remember exactly what these fancies were. I suppose if I whacked me noggin a few times I might remember in detail, but it were so many years ago that it's vague, like seeing a thing slowly emerge from a sea fog or mist and you don't know if it's a whale, a demon or a ship til it's practically within touching distance. For some reason I got it into me noggin that Becky were waiting for me on some other ship and that she had been taken on board like me. When I seen a ship pa.s.sing close by or anch.o.r.ed in a harbour I'd rush up to me possie and I'd be looking down on the deck of the other ship, trying to spot her. I had to cling to this dream just as me mind was clinging to the thought that me father had sailed down the Munro river out to sea and landed on some tropical island. You know, I seen a magician once and he put a dog in a box and when he opened the box the dog was gone. But then it barked and you know what? It were now sitting on a woman's lap in the audience. That's the only way to describe it. I were waiting for Becky and me father to appear elsewhere, somewhere, cos even a dog could appear after disappearing.
Whales were hard to find, that much were clear. We had been sailing for two or three months and the sea were empty of them. We seen dolphins, sharks, flying fish and stingrays. We seen natives in canoes, and whaling ships returning to the United States full as a goog with sperm oil - they were easy to spot at night cos they used the whale oil for their lamps and torches. We seen them pa.s.s glittering like fairy lights in the night. Captain Lee hated those ships cos he said they were skiting with all their lamps and were trying to make whalers like us seem like failures. He used to grumble and turn away from the cabin window when he seen such braggart whalers. I knew to say nothing while he'd sit in his chair, sighing and lost in thought. Sometimes he'd talk to me, not wanting me to talk back, you know, how you talk to a dog. He were in pain. I had seen that stare on a man before. It was the look of Mr Carsons when he despaired of me and Becky becoming human again.
I kept me distance from the other crew and cos I slept in the Captain's quarters they knew I were under his protection. It were a crew of men from across the world: Australians, Maoris, Hawaiians, Americans, English, Poles, you name it. They'd sing when drunk and I'd hear their voices echoing through the whole ship as they sang of women, drinking and longing for home, whatever home they came from. I'd sit on deck and watch the crew show off their tattoos, some with pictures of naked women or anchors or dragons or hearts with arrows through them. Captain Lee asked Specky his cabin boy to teach me to talk proper. Specky was short for speck, Flyspeck - he were small. Like me he couldn't write or read but he would take me round, inside, on top of the ship, teaching me the names of objects. Sometimes I looked down from me possie on the topgallant and seen him grabbing some fellow and pointing up at me in me heavenly nest and laugh, like he thought I were funny and he'd twirl his finger round the side of his head and laugh again. I knew he were poking fun at me and sometimes I thought of whacking him just at the memory of him taking the mickey out of me. It would be easy cos he were 'bout my height and skinny like he were a skeleton with only a paper-thin skin wrapped round his bones. Once when we were anch.o.r.ed near an island the crew undressed Specky and threw him into the lagoon cos he were so on the nose. I swear that when they dragged him back onto the ship and he flopped on the deck gasping for air that I could see his heart beating, like he were one of those geckos whose heart you can see under their thin pale skin. I felt sorry for him then - I knew what it were like not to be seen as human.
But he could be a pest, that Specky. One day he found me below deck getting a pineapple for Captain Lee. He came up behind me, held me tightly and said he wanted to play a game. He made me watch him pull down his trousers, then asked me to do a rude thing. I said no. He threw himself on me, kissing me roughly. The pineapple was still in my hand so I smashed it on his head. He fell to his knees and pa.s.sed out, his face and hair splattered with pineapple gunk and juice. The rest of the crew called me Little Man Harry and would make jokes 'bout me and Captain Lee I didn't understand but cos I were the best whale-spotter by far they knew they had to treat me good or I would tell the Captain.
Captain Lee drank by himself. When he were in a good mood he would talk and talk to me, not expecting an answer but telling me of times, years before, when the oceans were filled with whales and fortunes were made just from one voyage. The best times were when he spoke about me father and how he were a great whaler with a deadeye-d.i.c.k aim with the lance. There were one time when me father got tangled up with the rope attached to the lance and he found himself being whipped out of the boat and for a few terrible moments he were pinned to the whale's back as it were frothing in agony before submerging. He only survived cos he had a knife and cut himself free of the rope just as the whale dived down into the deep. When he had drunk too much Captain Lee would fall into a black mood and tell himself why did he bother any more and what was the point - the oceans were huge, the number of whales tiny. He said it were like looking for a diamond in seven seas of s.h.i.t.
One morning I woke up and seen Captain Lee, not in his bed, but curled up in the corner of the cabin covered in his own vomit. He were so still I thought for a moment he were dead but he were snoring softly, the empty whiskey bottle rolling back and forth across the cabin floor. It were two hours before dawn and, after filling me pockets with bread, I grabbed me trumpet and inched me way up into the sky.
It were near dawn and the sun were creeping up from the grey sea when the first rays spread over the water and me heart suddenly went ping! A few miles ahead I thought I seen the black hull of an overturned boat. I peered closer and seen it were moving. I knew what that meant. I were so excited that I instead of shouting out I found meself making warning coughs. Then I seen the trumpet in me hand and I yelled into it, There she blows! There were only a couple of blokes on the deck. They looked up at me. I pointed and shouted down at them again: There she blows! In a blink, men poured out from below deck, running, shouting, stumbling. Where away? I heard Captain Lee call out to me. I pointed ahead of me just as another tiny puff rose up from the whale. How far? he cried out. Captain Lee looked through his telescope at where I were pointing. He started to bark orders, Calling all hands! Get the boats ready. Even now I can hear me excited voice - There she blows! - really loud, really shrill, so shrill it cut the muggy air so everybody below heard it.
Captain Lee ordered the helmsman to keep the ship steady in the direction I were pointing out. Can you make out more than one whale? Captain Lee shouted. I seen the flukes of two other whales near the first one. The ship bore down on the whales. Me body was tingling and me heart were beating fast like I were back with the tigers hunting down our prey. The chase had begun.
As we neared the beasts I counted five of them. Captain Lee's were the only voice coming from the deck as he shouted his orders, Keep her steady! Steady at the helm! There steady . . . 'bout half a mile off. Then he went silent. I could feel the excitement and keenness of the crew as they stared at the giants just ahead. Captain Lee cried out, Hoist and swing the boats! Three boats were lowered into the water and the men rowed silently, creeping up on their prey. Captain Lee were in the first boat. As he neared the whales, they saw him, snorted loudly, slapped the sea with their flukes and dived. The crews stopped rowing and waited for the whales to reappear. Captain Lee smoked his pipe and watched the water for half an hour, then there were a ripple of white water, a loud sighing, whistling spouts, the air trembling, the water troubled. There were a hollow roar and a black ma.s.s rushed up only a few yards from Captain Lee's boat, bouncing it like it were a bath toy. The whale were 'bout twice the size of the boat, maybe more. I seen the barnacles and white blotches of sea lice on its skin. Captain Lee jumped up after tumbling down and aimed the harpoon. He threw it and it sunk deep into the creature's back. The whale dived again and cos the lance were attached to a rope it towed the Captains boat over the horizon and out of sight. We set off after it.
By the time we caught up with the boat the poor monster were rolling, tumbling in a flurry of its own blood. It seemed mad with pain and its flukes lashed out at the boat, as if trying to smash it. Its spout hole were opening and closing til finally there were a rush and gush of clotted red blood that shot into the air - like its heart had burst.
It took hours to tie the dead animal up to the side of the ship, which groaned at the weight of the beast. Sharks attacked the whale and the men standing on the monster's back drove their whale spades deep into the shark skulls. There were gore, blood and frenzy as sharks turned on their own kind, and tore out the intestines, livers and stomachs of each other while the seabirds screamed overhead as if they too were crazed by the killing and gore. The thick blubber were cut off in long strips like peeling an orange. There were men, blubber, gunk, blood and grease sloshing back and forth cross the deck. There were constant shouting and men sliding across the deck like they were skating across the blood and muck. The cutters tried to stay perched on the whale's slippery back as it hanged on the side of the ship while they hacked into the blubber and all the time keeping an eye on the ferocious sharks foaming up the sea and snapping at the whalers just a few feet away.
Two great try-pots were set up on the deck as twilight came and with it the cry of Fire the works! The bowls became two furnaces and by the time it were night they were aflame as the crew throwed the chunks of blubber into the burning pots, the blubber burning with a hiss as if the whale were protesting his death piece by piece. Soot and smoke rolled across the decks and out onto the ocean. Everyone were sweaty and black with soot. The smoke burned our throats. The hunks of blubber were boiled down into oil and poured into casks. The din of the hissing, shouting, laughing and yelling were deafening. Far into the night the spouts of flames soared up into the yardarms, warming me into the very marrow of me bones. More blubber were chucked into the fire and the whole ship were hazy with clouds of greasy black smoke. The men's faces and clothes were coated in soot, smoke, grease and blood and they stinked of cooked blubber. They looked like they were savages or demons dancing round two sacrifices. From me eyrie up top, the burning pots looked like two demon's eyes. Even with the b.l.o.o.d.y horror, the smell and the rancid smoke, I were happy cos we had finally made a killing.
I were watching all this when I seen a bloodied crewman hand Captain Lee something he had found in the whale. It were about the size of a football. He smelt it. I knew immediately what it were and I scrambled down the rigging as fast as possible. By the time I were on deck Captain Lee had gone to his cabin. I rushed there only to see him come out, closing the door behind him. When he seen me he smiled and tapped me on the shoulder. Good work, Harry, he said and went back up on deck. I made sure no one were watching and I crept into the cabin and seen what I were after on his desk. It were ambergris. I sniffed it. It smelt both of stink and something spicy and sweet. I knew I were stealing, but I didn't care. I ripped off a piece about the size of an egg and returned to my possie on top of the mast. There, while the men toiled below me, I slowly chewed a small piece of the ambergris; it were awfully smelly but underneath that stink I smelt the scent of flowers.
And as I nibbled at it the past came back to me - a storm of memories, good and bad. There were Mr Carsons telling me that me mother and me father were dead. And in remembering that terrible moment - like me flesh were pierced with the lance of truth - I knew that I would not find me father. He were dead. He were a ghost. But all the smells, the whale, the try-works - it all seemed to be saying to me that me father's ghost were part of the ship. When I thought that his ghost were part of the ship it became a big comfort to me. There were other memories: me, me mother and father and Becky in the boat on the Munro river, the picnic and almost drowning. But there were also good stuff of Becky and me and the tigers, hunting down prey, running barefoot through the snow, sleeping together, lazing in the sun, tasting fresh blood and Becky and me, like two kids in a fairytale, following the tigers to their den and safety. And us on the beach, our minds tingling as we ate the ambergris, our flesh alive as it could ever be. And then, one memory came back that still stanged me like the first time - Becky turning round in the gig to wave goodbye to me as she headed off into the mist, leaving me in that Hobart hotel room. Maybe the ambergris made me giddy, but up there above the smoking, fiery deck I felt closer to the heavens, closer to her, almost as if she were beside me, inside me, and she thinking of me at that moment. And I had this feeling deep in me that we were bound together forever and I would see her again.
I only ate a bit of the ambergris and hid the rest in a tobacco tin, knowing Becky would like it and I'd give it to her once I tracked her down.
I were good at me job and we killed several more whales. When we were returning to Hobart I seen one of the Maori crew tattooing his mates. He were real good at it, and at scrimshawing too. I asked him if he would tattoo me. He laughed and said that I were just a kid and I'd cry if he cut me skin. I said I wouldn't and I didn't. How I put up with the pain is a mystery but I were determined to show them I were a man. He gave me a piece of bone to bite on, which were just as well as I were in lots of pain. But I weren't going to show it. I were so proud when he finished. My arm were sore but the crew knew I were no coward. Me tattoo may be a little fainter now but you can easily see her name - Becky. Later I were p.i.s.sed off when I found out the mistake the Maori made but I got to laugh. I didn't know how to spell and the Maori didn't either. What can I do? B E K C Y is there on my left arm til I kick the bucket. I knew it said Becky, though, no matter it were the wrong spelling.
When we were heading back home I were glad. P'raps I could find her back in Hobart. We docked one summer morning. I don't know what I expected. I s'pose I thought Becky would be waiting for me. But there were only the wives and friends of the crew. No Becky. No Mr Carsons. I were sorely down in the dumps when I seen a sulky arrive and in it were Ernie, plump as a cow bloated with cloverleaf. He waved to me. I were happy to see someone I knew. I ran down the gangplank and into his warm arms. He hugged me and then stepped back to examine me. Hannah, how you've grown, he said. He told me that Mr Carsons couldn't come cos it were sheep-shearing time. He asked me some questions but I only had one thing on me mind and I asked him where Becky were. He frowned, which threw me. Why were he frowning? Was something wrong? You will hear her when we're back at my place, he said.
Ernie had a long meeting with Captain Lee while I waited in the sulky, jiggling with impatience, for I had got it in me silly young mind that Becky were at Ernie's house. I thought it were going to be a surprise. It didn't take us long to get to Battery Point where Ernie lived. When he pointed out his house I jumped from the sulky and ran up to the door and tried to get in. But it were locked. I knocked and knocked and called Becky's name til Ernie arrived, panting with effort as usual, to open the door for me.
I ran inside, whirling in and out of rooms, but she were not there. I kept on asking where she were. Ernie put his finger to his lips to shhhh me and told me to follow him. He went to the end of the corridor, and opened a narrow side door. Me heart were pounding in excitement at the thought of seeing Becky. I followed Ernie down the stairs into the bas.e.m.e.nt. At the bottom of the stairs he turned on a switch. Dozens of globes lit up, like it had become high noon, it were that bright, but what astonished me were all the machines and technical equipment he had: wiring, screws, bells, saws, piping, copper plates, cylinders of all sizes, metal boxes. I were stunned by all these strange objects, but I also had Becky on my mind and she didn't seem to be in the bas.e.m.e.nt. I were looking under a table in case she were hiding when Ernie led me to a bench. I recognised the machine. It were like the one at Mr Carsons's farm. He turned a tiny bra.s.s handle and placed a needle on the hollow black cylinder. There was the sound of a girl's voice, as if she were singing from a faraway room. It were Becky's voice and she were singing a song without words I had never heard before. It were a simple tune but sung in a throaty way, where you make more than one pitch at a time. It sounded ancient like a dark green forest full of tree ferns at twilight, their fronds catching the last rays of the pale sun.
Me heart beat fast, and me mind was filled with the ecstasy of hearing her. I knew she were singing to me. Where is she? I kept on asking, but all Ernie would say were that Becky were far away. Where were far away? I asked but Ernie just shrugged and said it were a long way away. He explained that Becky had made the recording just for me. There were no need for him to tell me that; I knew it. I knew by the beautiful tune that she were saying to me, I still think of you. You are not my friend, you are my sister. We have an unbreakable bond forever.
I were so excited I asked Ernie to play it again and again til he said if I played it any more the song would vanish. He asked me if I would like to send her a song. Would I? Course I would. Ernie took me outside where he set up a recording machine with an enormous horn about the length of a man and which I were to sing into while the needle put me song into the wax cylinder. But what would I sing? The only song I knew all the way through were one that I heard on the whaler. The crew sang it when they were working round the windla.s.s and capstan. It were called *Hurrah, my boys, we're homeward bound'. The last bit went: *We're homeward bound,' you've heard us say, *Goodbye, fareyewell, Goodbye, fare-ye-well.' Hook on the cat then, and rut her away.
Ernie played it back to me. I didn't recognise me voice. It sounded like a boy's. There were also the sounds of the crickets and birds when I were singing. Ernie said he would send it to Becky so she could hear me and know I were thinking of her. It were then I remembered what I had in me bag. I ran up the stairs and returned with a handkerchief tied in a knot. I undid it and showed Ernie the last bit of the ambergris, about the size of a marble. I told him to give it to Becky when he gave her my song. He promised he would.
The days were long while I waited for an answer. There were nothing for me to do. I watched Ernie build his phonographs and telephones. His fingers were chubby but he were so delicate when he worked, even fixing the tiniest parts of a machine. It seemed a miracle to me the way he put everything together to become a phonograph or telephone. To test the telephone he asked me to go upstairs where he had set up a receiver. He told me to answer it when he rang from his phone in the bas.e.m.e.nt. I jumped when the bell rang and when I picked it up and put the tiny trumpet against me ear I heard nothing except a faint grumbling noise, like it were the sea. Then I heard Ernie's voice saying h.e.l.lo, like he were next to me. I jumped in surprise. It seemed a miracle that his voice would go all through the wires and pop out of the hearing horn. Now, of course, people take telephones and record players for granted; but Ernie, who were an inventor and obsessed by voices one might say, whether it be on a wax cylinder or coming through the telephone wires, were one of the few people in Hobart who knew anything about these novelties, for that's what they were at that time.
If he didn't need me he became so caught up in his work he hardly knew I were there, if at all, so I'd go out into the back yard and lie under the apple and almond trees looking at the sky, daydreaming and growing bored. I were used to doing things. I didn't like doing too much thinking cos I ended up feeling low 'bout me mother and father drowning and Becky being so far from me. Some times as I lied in the long gra.s.s I'd find meself remembering Dave and Corinna and in remembering I thought that those times were a kind of paradise. I know we were cold and hungry sometimes but mostly it were good times. I liked Ernie, but I liked whaling better. Hunting agreed with me. I liked feeling the sudden pumping of me blood when I seen a whale and the cry of Lower the boat! as the ship moved in on a monster.
In the evenings Ernie and I walked down to the harbour. He called me Harry cos I were still pretending to be a boy. When I seen girls my age I were puzzled as to how fragile they seemed in their pretty dresses and long curly hair. Their lives were not for me. Ernie didn't cook much and we ate at one of the seamen's hotels. He ate huge til he would go puce in the face and burp a lot, especially when he'd had a few beers. He were like me - he hated vegetables and he'd say to the cook when he ever attempted to put even a potato on Ernie's plate, I am an animal. All humans are animals and if it's good enough for animals only to eat meat, then it's good enough for me.
One night as we were polishing off our meals I overheard a couple of blokes talking about a whaler 'bout to set off on a voyage in two days' time. The news stayed with me and when Ernie and I were making our way back to his old house on the hill I stopped to look back at the whaler. It were blazing with lights as the crew hurried to finish restocking. I looked up at the top of the mainmast where I imagined meself sitting, keeping an eager eye out for any signs of whales. Then I seen Captain Lee come on deck. I ran down to the water's edge and called out to him. He seen me and waved back. Ernie and I joined him on the ship. Captain Lee were like me, he had no family in Hobart and he were bored too. He had hired a new crew and were keen to have me on the voyage. I were the best spotter he had ever had.
Ernie could tell I were very excited to be returning to the sea. The strange thing about ships is despite them being crowded and stinky and at the mercy of Nature, most times they are like wooden islands of freedom, free from petty concerns and the laws of the land. All we did were hunt and if we were not hunting we were preparing to do so. There seemed a purpose that I didn't find on land. Perhaps it were also me father's spirit that were snuggled inside me.
After agreeing I would return to whaling with Captain Lee, Ernie helped me pack and took me down to the docks. He said he would see me off the following morning. I put me trunk into me spot in the corner of Captain Lee's cabin then crawled up the rigging to me possie and sat there rocking softly as the strong tide came up through the Derwent River. You could call that small wooden seat me home, if I had a home. Next morning as we prepared to set out I seen Ernie arrive and slowly, with puffing effort, get out of his gig like a slug leaving behind its sh.e.l.l. He waved to me to come and say goodbye. I clambered down the rigging and were heading to the gangplank when I seen a lean, bearded figure gallop up on a piebald horse.
It were Mr Carsons. He began talking ten to the dozen into Ernie's ear. Ernie shook his head once or twice and then nodded a lot til finally the two motioned me to come and talk to them. I ran down the gangplank. I were awfully glad to see Becky's father cos I thought he were there to take me to her. I were asking him to take me to her when he suddenly shouted at me to shut up. He looked stern and his eyes were cold and bright like someone 'bout to throw a harpoon into a whale's side. Now, listen to me, he said, grabbing both me arms and squeezing them and covering me face and his beard in spittle, We have a big adventurefor you. You are going to find Rebecca. I didn't quite undera"stand and Ernie repeated what Becky's father had said.
Captain Lee were sad to see me go. It was only when we were at the stables packing the horses with food, camping equipment, ropes and rifles that I realised we were going on a long journey and something inside me made me heart beat fast like when I were afeared in the bush and I sensed danger. From what I could understand - and let me tell you, Mr Carsons were a man of very few words - Becky were lost somewhere and we were off to go searching for her. I were told she were far away. A fear gripped me - were they going to take me far, far away so that I would not be heard of again like her? I told them I had sanged to her but she hadn't come. They asked me again to come with them. I shook me head like it were going to fall off. I felt dread in the pit of me stomach. I wanted to return to the ship and Captain Lee. The ship would help me find her, not Mr Carsons, who seemed loony. His eyes were shiny with a mad purpose. I said I weren't going and I were going back to Captain Lee cos I didn't believe they were going to find her and how come they lost her?
I started to walk back to the ship, Ernie told me to stop. Sing to her this time, he said, and she will come back to you. I were unsure, but I trusted Ernie. He sat me down on a bale of hay and said, I will tell you the truth about us and your Becky. Mr Carsons stood against the wall of the stables puffing on his pipe, leaving Ernie to tell me the truth.
Ernie told me he knew what Becky had gone through cos he and Becky used to spend time together and yabber a lot. Then he flabbergasted me by saying that the real reason why Becky were far away were cos of the ambergris I gave him to pa.s.s on to her.
He said that, like me, Becky thought every day of that morning in Hobart when we were separated. As she were driven away in the buggy she looked back and seen me staring out the window and in her heart she felt something awful was going to happen to the both of us. She had a slimy feeling in the pit of her stomach that we were going to be separated for a long time.
Mr Carsons had decided to tear us apart. He thought that Becky and I were not good for each other, that we were not learning what we should and our bond meant that I were holding Becky back. That misty morning Becky were taken to a boarding school where the headmistress, Miss Davis, were told that Becky had been schooled on the farm and it were now time she were taught properly. Mr Carsons and Ernie told Becky that I were being sent to a school on the mainland to get special education cos I were more backward than she were.
Becky were sent to a Church of England school for girls. It's still there. It were once on the outskirts of Hobart almost swallowed up by the bush. Over the years the city has surrounded it so that its gardens have shrunk and the bush gone. I visited it once, years after Becky went there. It's built of sandstone and has narrow windows that makes it seem like a gaol. I stood at the closed iron gates and tried to imagine just how Becky were feeling as she were driven up the long driveway to the main house. She had been taken from me and now she were to live and learn at the school. Mr Carsons thought that she needed to be with girls her own age and teachers who would educate her properly. After warning Becky that she must never tell anyone 'bout me and her living with the tigers, Mr Carsons went back to his farm. The only person she knew in Hobart were Ernie, who would visit her every weekend. He knew she'd be lonely cos all the other girls had visitors or went home for the weekend.
It were hard for her to fit in. She sleeped in a dormitory with the other girls. They teased her cos of the way she'd sniff them or the funny way she spoke. For the first few months she found it difficult to sleep at night. She'd sit for hours in her bed looking out the window, watching the night animals move across the school gardens. If she didn't do that she'd get up and walk through the dormitory watching the girls sleep and wondering why they didn't like her. One day it occurred to her that she had to find a way of fitting in and the way to do it were to mimic the other girls. She'd copy a girl's way of talking, someone's way of making hand movements and someone's way of walking. When she began to walk with a limp the poor girl she were copying thought she were being teased and attacked Becky, who on being hit jumped on the girl, tearing at her hair and biting her arm. It took several teachers to pull her off. The headmistress wanted to get rid of Becky but Ernie promised she would behave. Becky told Ernie why she was copying the girl with a limp - cos she wanted to walk like the other girls and be thought of as one of them. He told her to copy a normal student's walk. He were good for her, that Ernie.
Sometimes he'd take her to his house and record her singing on the phonograph. But he kept lying to her. Every weekend she'd ask Ernie where I were, what I were doing and when we'd see each other again. He told her that I were enjoying me own learning at a special school far away and that he were sending her phonograph songs to me. He also said that we would see each other soon. Soon! It were always soon! But it never happened.
After the incident with the limping girl, Miss Davis and Ernie tried to find different ways for Becky to mix with the other students and become more normal, I s'pose. Her English were really going great guns, but she were still awkward round other girls and they didn't like the way she'd stare at them with what they said were a strange look. I know what they meant. People still say that 'bout me. When I go to the local store the shopkeeper, Mr Dixon, says I stare at him as if he were food. But it's not that. It's not even that I'm listening to his words. What I am doing is closely watching his body and his eyes to see what he's thinking of doing next or what he's actually thinking. It's what me and Becky learned when we were with the tigers. It's the body and eyes that tell what a person is thinking or going to do. That's why I stare at people down the village or on the track when I run into them. I can tell when they're interested in what I'm saying or when they're curious or when they're nervous. Mr Dixon said me gaze were putting off his customers so he gave me a pair of sungla.s.ses to wear when I visit his shop. Even years after me and Becky were with Dave and Corinna, this ability or curse, name it what you will, were still there.
One day Miss Davis seen Becky with the gardener's hound. It were a big dog and all the girls were scared of it but in Becky the dog recognised a kindred spirit and one where she were its master. The girls and Miss Davis were amazed at how the dog would roll over on its back and expose its belly to Becky. One day as she were nuzzling the dog Miss Davis asked Becky a question that had obviously been on her mind for some time. Who are you, Rebecca?
I am Becky, she replied. Why are you like this? asked the headmistress. Becky didn't understand the question. Then Miss Davis said - and Becky told Ernie she found this a very difficult order to understand or even obey - You are not to go near this dog again. Those words stanged Becky. She said the dog were her friend. Miss Davis told Ernie that Becky must mix with the other girls, other people, rather than dogs - and there were a solution. She said that Becky must perform in the school play, which they did every year with the boys from a school down the road.
She were told to act in one of several little plays based on fairy stories. The teacher who were doing the plays got Becky to play Little Red Riding Hood. It were hard for her to work out how to pretend. She could easily remember the lines, Easy as pie, she said to Ernie when he asked her how she were handling it. The problem were that it were difficult for her to know exactly what were going on. One girl were pretending to be a grandma and a boy were pretending to be a wolf. This were truly hard for Becky to figure out. Plainly the boy were not a wolf. He didn't even act like a real one. It were easy for Becky not to be afeared of him cos he were so not like a wolf or dog but what puzzled her were how the boy became a wolf and a grandma at the same time. And when Becky said, Oh Grandma, what big eyes you've got, she could not understand why she were saying it cos the boy had tiny eyes, nothing like a tiger's eyes, for instance. Other things confused her. During rehearsal she had to pretend she had food in her basket but there were no food in it. The teacher kept on saying that she had to pretend. That didn't work. It were only when she said it were a game that Becky sort of got the hang of it.
It were a couple of days before the performance when Ernie told Becky an audience were coming to watch the plays. She became excited by that cos she were hankering after her father and Ernie said he would be there. The theatre night were held one spring evening on the school lawns. The parents and visitors were seated at long tables lit by hundreds of candles. A stage were built on the lawns. There were three plays, one about Cinderella, one 'bout the Pied Piper of Hamelin and Becky's play which were to come between the other two cos they had more actors in them, especially the Pied Piper which had dozens of girls from the lower forms who were playing the rats.
After Becky got dressed in her red dress, cloak and hood, Ernie took her aside and explained that her father would not be able to get to see the show in time cos he were marooned inland due to a flood. As a gift to ease her disappointment Ernie gave her me ambergris. She were over the moon. It meant everything to her cos it came from me. She were so thrilled cos she thought I were going to see the show too. Ernie had to tell her I were not going to be there. Why can't Hannah and I see each other? she pleaded. Ernie said she'd soon find out. But when was soon?
Ernie sat down with the rest of the audience, which were a considerable size cos the parents were from both the boys' and girls' schools. While the Cinderella story were on stage Becky didn't watch it cos she were so caught up in smelling the ambergris. It brought back memories of me and Dave and Corinna. It were as powerful on her as it were on me. Then she did something that Ernie were to regret. As she waited to go on stage he saw her eat the ambergris. It didn't take long before her face were filled with bliss. I knew the feeling; all her senses were alight and alive and sparkling with the rush of memories.
She was so caught up in her bliss that one of the teachers had to push her on stage. When she was up there she stopped, rooted to the spot. She seen all those people sitting at the tables - and it striked her that they were staring at her, which made her very nervous, so much so that she forgot her lines. The boy who were dressed up as a wolf came towards her. She tensed, placed all her attention on him, and lost any sense that she were on stage in front of an audience. It were like she were really in the woods and she were not afeared of the big bad wolf. In fact, she laughed. Her blood were now hot and pulsating and forgetting where she were, she moved in on the boy like he were the prey rather than the other way round. His tiny eyes were firefly-bright with fear and he moved away but she circled him, waiting for the wolf to make his break when she would pounce. She could smell his fear - and that only made her even more thrilled. Stay away! Stay away! the boy were yelling. Becky stopped for a moment cos she heard some of the audience laugh and she were annoyed cos she were serious and she gave them a threat yawn which silenced them. Then she went back to herding the boy into a corner. A teacher must have realised something were wrong cos she rushed on the stage and grabbed Becky, who turned on her growling and giving the threat yawn. The boy ran off the stage and Becky yanked herself free to give chase. She ran through the dozens of girls dressed as rats. They all screamed and ran away but Becky only had eyes for the boy. In her mind she were now hunting prey.
The boy ran down the lawns to the tables crying out for his mother and father. Teachers tried to stop Becky but she snarled and spit at them and chased the boy round a long table. There were so much panic that people knocked over the candles. Soon the tablecloths were on fire. There were screaming and shrieking and crying. But Becky were laughing cos she were having the time of her life. As she continued after the crying boy she suddenly seen Ernie coming towards her. He lunged at her but she easily jumped out of his way and then she was off. She ran through the screaming, burning mayhem and the squealing, panic-stricken rats and raced through the gardens out to the back of the school into the bushland, never looking back. She ran and ran and ran and vanished into the night.
We think we know where she's gone and we think we know what she's looking for, Hannah, said Ernie finishing his story and getting up from the bale of hay he had been sitting on. He motioned to his packhorse near the stable door. I recognised one of his phonographs with a huge speaking horn strapped to its side. Do you believe me now? he asked. I looked at his gentle face and then at Mr Carsons. .h.i.tting his pipe against the wall. He looked tormented and I knew I had been told the truth and we were truly going to search for her.
Mr Carsons were in a hurry and we set off right away in a drizzling mist, through the streets of Hobart and out of the city. Mr Carsons didn't give me a horse so I rode with Ernie. During the rough sections of the bush I'd try to wrap me arms round his stomach, which were so fat me fingers couldn't meet, so I put me hands into his jacket pockets. That first night, after we had made camp and eaten, Mr Carsons tied me to Ernie's leg so I wouldn't run away, which were stupid cos I had no idea where Becky were and I needed the men to help me. Ernie had a flask of whiskey and as he sipped it he stared at the flames like someone looking at tea-leaves trying to see the future. I listened to the night birds and animals hunting for food, snuffling, grunting, snarling, crunching bones, crackling dead leaves. It were like I were coming home. I knew what the sounds meant. I could see in me mind what the devils, possums and owls were doing. I thought I heard the cough of a tiger and I spun round in the direction of the sound when Ernie leaned over and touched me hand, tapping it like he were doing Morse code of apology, saying to me how sorry he were to take me on this trip. I said I were fine with it cos we were going to find lost Becky. He asked me how might Becky survive. I said most likely she'd eat berries, catch creek crayfish and baby animals. It might take a long while, he said, glancing across at Mr Carsons sleeping in his bag. It took years to find you and Rebecca in the bush. Everyone else gave up, but not Mr Carsons.
Over the next few days and nights as we headed west into the highlands he told me the story of how Mr Carsons came to find us living with the tigers.
When the news came that me family and Becky were missing, searchers went looking for us. They found the smashed boat, me father's body dumped on the river's edge and me mother, still caught up in the branches of the tree that had carried her downstream. For weeks they searched for Becky and me. Eventually they gave up cos they thought we had drowned too. But Mr Carsons wouldn't give up. He went out in all weather, whether it be snowing, raining or burning hot. He didn't give up hope, because he weren't a man of hope. He wouldn't even think of the idea of hope cos that meant there were a chance we were dead and he could only keep on going, keep on driving himself on his quest if his only thought - his single thought - were that we were alive. He became a lonely, stick-thin figure forever seen on his forlorn horse riding through the main streets of small towns or across fields and paddocks. He were a man who didn't talk much and he reeked of loneliness, as Ernie said, but he made himself start up a conversation with everyone he met, thinking they might have some clue or rumours about his daughter and me. Some people said he were so filled with dreams and thoughts of finding us that he became not so much a man as an idea of one dressed in human form.
It were in his second year of searching when he were in a country pub that he overheard two loggers talking about a rumour they had heard 'bout two tigers that had killed a sheep with the help of two humans. It were too dark for the shepherd who said he saw this to be sure if they were children or midgets or even some strange new human-type creature - after all, it were a different time then and most of Ta.s.sie were still an unknown land and who knows what creatures or monsters lived there? Mr Carsons tried to find out where the rumour came from but the loggers didn't know. They guessed it were from the highlands in the north-west, a long way from where he had been searching along the length of the Munro River.
Mr Carsons had to stop searching when winter came, as the highlands were freezing cold and the snow so deep that it were impossible to travel through. Once spring came and lambing were over he were out searching again. Mr Carsons were certain that we were alive and no amount of chiacking from people who thought he were growing mad with grief could stop his quest to find us. Near the end of autumn in the third year he met a farmer who Mr Carsons thought were a bit simple. He spoke in whispers of what he had seen. It were a story that he had told no one else cos he didn't want to be made fun of. He were riding 'cross his paddocks just after twilight when he seen two tigers and two human figures crouched over a dead sheep. All four were bent over it, their faces buried deep within it. He yelled out and rode towards them but they fled into the darkness. When he examined the sheep he seen that they had torn open its throat and crushed the skull in order to eat the brains. There were blood everywhere. The four had been drinking blood from the throat. So horrified were the farmer that he thought the two humans were vampires. No wonder he didn't tell anyone 'bout it. Though I suppose when you think 'bout it, in a way we were vampires. The farmer were relieved to hear Becky's father talk 'bout the girls being real and not vampires, but he could not imagine or conceive that two real human girls were living and hunting with tigers. The only way he could understand what he had been told were that the two girls were really the ghosts of drowned Hannah and Rebecca. Mr Carsons, who were practically a ghost himself the way he haunted the highlands and the west, didn't believe in spirits but he were now absolutely certain we were alive.
It were in the late autumn of the fourth year and he were riding through the hills just after dawn when he heard a man's voice, as clear as a bird, singing somewhere in front of him. When he eventually caught up with the singer he discovered his name were Ernest and he were travelling through the valleys, plains and highlands recording songs on his phonograph. They were all sorts of tunes: sea shanties, drinking songs, love songs, ballads, folk songs. He were recording the songs of farmers, shepherds, drunks and old women. He thought these songs would soon die out and be forgotten and believed it were his mission to make sure this didn't happen. His father had been an opera singer and Ernie, as I heard many times, was no mean singer himself. He had a lovely clear voice like a boy's, and when you first heard him, the soft voice didn't seem to sit square with his big, round body. When he saw Mr Carsons for the first time, he thought he looked like a wraith on a stick. Mr Carsons had a long, black, unruly beard and were starvation thin, and looked as ancient as any prophet in the Old Testament. Before even introducing himself, Becky's father asked whether Ernie had seen two girls out in the bush. Ernie thought Mr Carsons crazy. How could two girls survive in that wild countryside? When Carsons told him how long he had been searching and that he believed the girls were living with tigers, Ernie thought him, what's the expression - that he had a couple of kangaroos loose in the top paddock.
Ernie were about to set off again when Carsons asked him where he were heading. Ernie said he were going to record a bounty hunter. When he heard this Mr Carsons said he might tag along, but Ernie were having none of that. He were afraid that this lunatic might rob or kill him. Mr Carsons demanded to accompany Ernie and refused to take no for an answer. Ernie led the way, but during the next several hours he had the creepy sensation that Mr Carsons were going to shoot or jump him from behind.
When they dismounted at the bounty hunter's shack, Ernie told Carsons that the man were part blackfella so he were hoping he knew some Aboriginal songs cos there weren't many blackfellas left. The tiger man were at home. He had to be. He had put an axe through his leg a few weeks before and it were in a splint. His walls were covered with curing tiger skins. Once he were fit again he were taking them to Hobart to sell. He were one of the few professional hunters left cos there were less and less tigers.
The blackfella knew a few songs from his ancestors and sung them for the phonograph. Carsons asked the hunter if he had heard stories 'bout two girls with two tigers. He said he had. He didn't believe they were two ghosts, as some rumours had it. Carsons asked him why. Cos I seen them with me own eyes, he said. He had seen an eastern grey, a boomah, hopping through the bush and were going to shoot it when he seen two tigers chasing it down with the help of two humans. Mr Carsons showed him a map and asked him where he had seen them. He pointed to a place near a large lake and also marked an area where he had spotted several lairs and just missed killing the largest tiger he had ever seen.
When the two men left the hunter's shack, Mr Carsons said goodbye to Ernie and prepared to ride off towards the lake. Now it was Ernie's turn to say he were going to join Mr Carsons and he wouldn't take no for an answer. He were so keen to see if the girls were real and told Mr Carsons he might need someone to help him. So they set off together, sometimes riding, most times walking their horses through the dense bush. It took them four days to cross the tablelands to where the lake were. For the first two days Mr Carsons did not talk to Ernie, who suspected that the driven father were annoyed that Ernie were so fat he were slowing him down. On the third morning Ernie began to talk aloud to ease the silence. He knew all of Shakespeare and began quoting him. To his astonishment Becky's father, riding ahead of him, began quoting from Shakespeare too. He knew Shakespeare, as Ernie said to me, backwards, frontwards, sidewards and upside down. For hours all they did was recite Shakespeare so that, Ernie said, our quest seemed to take on an epic quality as we went through the History plays. By the time they got to the comedies on the fourth day they were laughing and joking. It was the first time Ernie had seen Mr Carsons laugh.
They reached the lake just before dusk on the fourth day. It were high where the air was cold and crisp and behind them were the hills covered in snow. It were heavily wooded, so the men had to leave their horses by the lake in order to make their way to the area where the bounty hunter had seen a tiger den. As they made their slow way up Ernie suddenly cried out to Mr Carsons that he had seen something on the ridge in front of them. Mr Carsons took out his binoculars and seen four silhouettes against a setting sun. They were two tigers and two small humans. Ernie heard Carsons say Oh, my G.o.d, and he handed Ernie his binoculars. I remember Ernie still with astonishment in his voice, when he told me his stunned reaction on seeing Becky and me through the binoculars - we were naked, scrawny, covered in dirt and moss and with long, matted hair, and walked with a strange gait more animal-like than human and occasionally we'd move on all fours to catch up with the tigers. You didn't look like two girls but a nightmarish version of them. The four of us were making our way down the snowy hill to the lake. Mr Carsons and Ernie decided to cut us off as we headed to the south of them.
The two men reckoned we must have seen them cos by the time they came out into the clearing we were gone. It were Mr Carsons who spotted our foot- and hand-prints in the snow and he realised we were racing back to the other side of the ridge. Those aren't ghosts, he said pointing to our footprints in the snow. It weren't long after that they catched us. The next morning they tied us to the horses and we began our journey back to Mr Carsons's farm and civilisation.
That were what happened way back then, and now I were returning to the country where we had been found years before.
As we followed the river Mr Carsons asked me if I recognised the place where Becky and me had nearly drowned. I shook me head cos it were all vague to me til one day, just before we stopped for lunch, I felt the slam of memory hit me. There it were - the bend in the river, the bank where we were saved by the tiger and, lo and behold, in a tree were the remains of me father's boat. Is this your father's boat? Mr Carsons asked me and at that moment I seen in me mind me father struggling under water and me mother gone. The sight of the boat told me like no words could that me mother and me father were now ghosts. I began to weep. Ernie hugged me til I was cried out but I noticed that Mr Carsons looked at me without a skerrick of pity or grief. He had the dead eyes of a harpooner aiming for the heart of a whale.
After we had eaten, Mr Carsons asked me which way Becky and I had gone with the tiger. I pointed the way into that forest and its trees so high that you'd strain your neck to see their tops which were a tangled darkness blotting out the sun, cloaked in moss and vines and giant tree ferns - it were a land for giants. It were obvious that Mr Carsons thought Becky in running away from the school had taken the path along the river and were following the trail we had taken those years before. Ernie suggested we take a short cut and make for the lair, which meant continuing straight upstream til we got to the clear country, but Mr Carsons were of the mind that his daughter might be starving and ill and unable to make her way to the lair and he didn't want to go the easy way just in case we accidentally bypa.s.sed her.
But we found no sign of her by the time we rode onto the tablelands. As he had done the previous three days, Mr Carsons woke up early and spent the hours before breakfast calling out Becky's name. He never got an answer except when it were an echo that seemed more desperate than the actual cry of her name. I knew he were hoping that his daughter were making for the lair, but had she made it that far? In the late afternoons when the air were still and crisp Ernie would unpack his phonograph and set it up in a clear s.p.a.ce and he'd play the cylinder with me singing the sea shanty. He did not play it too often cos he said my voice and her voice would wear away til the songs were lost forever.
But something were happening to me that I only gradually noticed - I stayed awake most of the night, me hearing becoming real keen, me eyes sharper too. I heard the slightest rustle of animals looking for prey. I heard the squeal of animals being killed. The sounds of their struggle for life made me tingle with fear and excitement. I felt meself one with the night. I were reliving the thrill of setting out with Becky and the tigers on a hunt, the sense of the four of us being at one with our purpose and the sheer, juicy thrill of the chase, our thumping hearts, the way we each knew without words what to do, the tigers running ahead in a circle to turn back as Becky and I run after the quarry yelling and shouting and scaring the bejesus out of the prey who did not see the tigers waiting for them til the last moment when it were too late and the last thing the victim seen were the gleaming eyes and jaws that opened so wide that to the prey it must have seemed they would be swallowed whole. Oh, it felt good to see a fresh dead animal. We'd all be panting with effort and Becky and I would be smiling with pride cos we had helped in the kill. And then, I make no apology for this, there were the taste of the blood or b.l.o.o.d.y meat and it were like the first time I tasted seal gristle and my nerves tingled cos the blood and meat were so fresh that it were like we were tasting life even though the prey were just dead. And I knew that the owl felt the same thing after killing a mouse or quoll. I knew that the Tasmanian devils - which were easy to hear of a night cos of their spitting, hissing and snarling - didn't feel the joyful surge like us girls and the tigers, cos they ate putrid dead animals. That's why I didn't like the devils - they always feasted on death and didn't have the nous to hunt down prey like we did. I could smell when they were afeared cos they stink, but when they're not afeared they smell like lanolin. An animal afeared is a dreadful thing cos their whole body is scared, even their blood is afeared. Even now, I can't help it, but the squeals of an animal being killed is something that makes me blood run hot on hearing the sounds and me flesh shiver with antic.i.p.ation. Me flesh wins over me heart.
There were something else going on in the night as we headed towards the lake and that were a different sound, like a heavy animal circling our camp, snapping twigs and heavy of footsteps. The first night I heard this creature I knew not what it were, but the second night, I thought it were Becky. Maybe it were, maybe it were not, but Mr Carsons woke and grabbed his rifle. He asked me if it were Becky that were making the noises. I said I didn't know. He asked if it were tigers. I said I didn't know cos the wind were blowing the wrong way and I couldn't smell them. Ernie were awake and he said something that stayed with me. He said to Mr Carsons, Just what do you intend to do with Rebecca when you find her? Mr Carsons did not answer. I noticed he had his finger on the trigger ready to shoot at a moment's notice.
By the time we were ready to ride out, a mist were moving through the ferns and trees like it were a creature smothering everything, so that we could barely see a couple of yards in front of us, but that didn't stop Mr Carsons, cos he were on his mission. It were the sort of mist that soaked into your flesh, into your being, so it were like you were one with it and it made me keenly aware of the smells of the earth, the ferns, flowers, s.h.i.t, and all sounds were clear and sharp so I could not only hear the breathing of the horses but even feel the heartbeat of the horse I were on. In such a heavy mist you can hear a currawong stretch its wings and a rat scurry across damp leaves. I also smelt something the mist carried - a tiger's scent.
We rode closely together so we wouldn't lose each other and Mr Carsons must have noticed me sniffing the mist cos he asked what I were smelling. And I told him. I said I smelt a tiger, a female one. We must be getting close, he said and then fell into his dark silence again til in late afternoon when the mist drained away and birds began to cry and screech again and he got Ernie to set up the phonograph.
It were strange to hear me voice echoing through the valley and to hear me singing, Hurrah, my boys, we're homeward bound. *We're homeward bound,' you've heard us say, *Goodbye, fareyewell, Goodbye, fareyewell.' Hook on the cat then, and rut her away. I thought to meself - just what will Becky think when she hears it? Will she recognise me voice? Will she know it's me?
Mr Carsons were in a funny mood, funny peculiar, and he demanded Ernie play it again and again til Mr Carsons came to his senses when even he realised that the grooves in the wax cylinder were becoming smooth and me voice was draining away to nothing.
We were now heading straight for the den where the men had found Becky and me last time. We camped overnight and shivered in our tent as we tried to shelter from the freezing rain. In the morning it were really sunny and I had to squint cos the sun were reflecting off the wet, stony tablelands and almost blinding me. We didn't stop for lunch but rode on til we came to a clump of trees near the den. I were twitchy with expectations of seeing Becky. And there were something else - I could smell a tiger nearby and it stank of Corinna.
Mr Carsons told Ernie and me to make sure we didn't make any noise. The phonograph was set up and the horn pointed to the entrance of the den. Before playing the song Mr Carsons did something that flooded me whole body with dread. He took off his neckerchief and tied it round me mouth. He looked at me with his burning eyes and told me not to say a thing. But the panic were pouring through me and me heart felt like it were going to burst through me ribs. I were afeared he were going to do something awful to Becky. I struggled and tried to bite through t
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