Posted on Saturday, 1 March 2008
Sir Walter Elliot was weary of the London scene. "Same old thing, year after year," he complained to the fellows at the club. "I need a change." What he did not say was that he could not afford a trip to the Metropolis that year.
One morning he saw a travel ad for a tour of the Amazon rain forest. The rates were reasonable. "Just the thing!" said Sir Walter. His chums would think him a fine, adventurous fellow ... and at very little expense, too. "Anne! Elizabeth!" he cried. "Start packing! We're going on Safari."
Sir Walter's youngest daughter, Mary, got wind of his plans. She came rushing over. "What about me?" she said. "You must take me with you! I'm always left behind. No one thinks of me!"
And so Sir Walter and his three grown daughters set out. The accommodations aboard the freighter were not what Sir Walter was accustomed to, but he made do. This was, after all, an adventure. Each evening he dined at the captain's table. The captain was an amusing sort of man and very handsome, so Sir Walter did not complain. Neither did Elizabeth. She was quite taken with Captain McGillvary, in fact. One day the ship encountered foul weather. Captain McGillvary ordered the passengers below, including Elizabeth. She left his side reluctantly, but not before she'd seen the wicked wind rip the shirt from Captain McGillvary's back. When the ship drew near to Manaus, Elizabeth refused to get off.
"Captain McGillvary has asked me to marry him and become his cabin mate," she announced. "I believe I shall."
Sir Walter was surprised, but after thinking about it he decided that he did not mind at all. Now he had only two daughters to pay for. What a wonderful savings! "You see," he told Anne, "I DO know how to economize."
Anne said nothing. How like him to congratulate himself at Elizabeth's unexpected good fortune! Whereas when she, Anne, had had a proper proposal from Frederick Wentworth, also of the Royal Navy, her father had turned up his nose. Frederick Wentworth had been well beneath the family's station and social expectations. Anne took another look at the handsome, but scruffy, Captain McGillvary. It seemed that economies shifted depending on the times and participants.
The evening breezes were refreshing, particularly after her father excused himself to become more intimately acquainted with his new protégé. Admiral McGillvary was the man who would cut the family's yearly expenses drastically, and, because of McGillvary's profession, would be the source of free vacations for the rest of their lives. Anne knew she might as well become enamoured of the jungle, as it was likely to become a standard part of her existence.
Taking up a place in the bow, she watched the silky, dark water slip silently past. The water, the quiet, and the news of her sister's engagement made it impossible not to think about how things might have been had she and Frederick married. If she were to be always sailing with him, she would consider the jungle a green, steamy, primordial wonderland. Her thoughts wandered further still to their sharing a tiny cabin similar to the one she occupied below. Anne sighed heavily. It was useless to speculate. Still, she gazed longingly at the horizon. Oh, that Frederick Wentworth's ship would appear there!
But there was nothing. "Oh, Frederick," Anne said, sighing some more. "Why won't you come?" There was nothing in this vacation for her but memories and heartache. She decided to retire for the night.
Soon enough the ship arrived in Manaus, and Elizabeth and Captain McGillvary were married. "Farewell!" cried Elizabeth. She waved to her family from the bridge of the ship, and once they descended the gangway she turned away and never looked back.
"Well, I like that!" cried Mary. "What are we, chopped liver?"
Sir Walter took the situation in stride. "Off we go to the outfitters!" he sang out. "And then our safari adventure can begin!"
"Safari," muttered Mary to her sister. "Of all the things! Everyone knows a safari is supposed to be in Africa. How like him to get the wrong continent!"
"Never mind, Mary," said Anne. "He's using his Frequent Buyer miles for this trip. I don't suppose he had much choice as to destination." She looked at the noisy dock. "I have been so few places in my lifetime. I might as well be here as anywhere else." Except in Frederick Wentworth's arms, she added silently.
At last they reached the jungle. Sir Walter Elliot put on his pith helmet and snappy safari coat. There was no proper mirror at the outfitter's, but Sir Walter knew he looked every bit the Big Game Hunter. This was adventure, indeed!
Mary and Anne trod after him along the jungle path. Behind them trailed a long line of porters carrying Sir Walter Elliot's trunks. Leading the way was their native guide, a ferocious-looking man clad only in a leopard skin.
"Drat," whispered Mary. "That skin would be just the thing for a fine winter coat. Charles has been such a tightwad about my clothing budget! Do you suppose the man would trade it to us?"
"And what will you offer in return?" Anne whispered back. "For he cannot go through the jungle wearing nothing!"
Mary's eyes grew round. "Why ever not? Have you seen his abs? He's a fabulous specimen of manhood."
"Good gracious!" said Anne. "First Elizabeth, then you!" She eyed the guide. "He's nothing special." Anne had rather higher standards for male beauty. "Oh, Frederick," she whispered.
"You're such a numbskull, Anne," said Mary. "Everyone knows that the jungle inspires passion!" And then she gave a scream. "My necklace! My beautiful silver necklace!" She immediately dropped to her knees.
What's wrong?" cried Anne. "Mary, get up! You'll be covered in mud!"
"My silver pendant is gone!" wailed Mary. "It fell just now, I could feel it go. Hurry, look in the water. I think I heard a splash." Mary pointed to the stream beside the path. "Do you see? The silver shines just there!"
"I don't see anything."
"It's right there, Anne. See the silver disc? I can reach it, too." Mary plunged into the water. It was deeper than she expected, but she did not turn back.
"You're soaking wet!" cried Anne. "You'll catch your death!"
"Do be quiet, Anne." The water came up to Mary's neck. She hunted on the bottom of the stream. "Drat this mud. My necklace is here, I know it."
"Stop! Stop!" Anne called to the porters, but they wouldn't listen. "Hurry it up, will you?" she said to Mary. "I don't fancy being left alone in the jungle. There's no telling what creatures live here."
"I've almost ... ow!" Mary slapped at her thigh. "Something bit me! Ow! Ow!"
Suddenly the surface of the water was boiling with activity. Muddy water and silver flashes mingled. Mary screamed; Anne stood petrified and helpless. It was not the silver of Mary's missing pendant she had seen, but the bodies of silver fish! Thousands and thousands of fish. Piranha!
"Father!" shrieked Anne. "Come back! You must do something! Mary's being eaten alive by fish!"
But Sir Walter Elliot was too far ahead to hear properly. "Fish?" he called. "There's no need to fish. Our meals are included with the tour package. We should reach the village shortly; catch up at your leisure."
Anne struggled in vain to save her sister, but it was too late. Mary's bones settled into the muddy river bottom. Sobbing, Anne staggered down the path after her father. First Elizabeth, then Mary. How would her father bear the loss?
"Poor Mary," was what Sir Walter said when he heard the news at dinner. "Most unfortunate. And yet, I must suppose that it's all for the best. Mary would not have liked these rustic accommodations." He wrinkled his nose. "Neither do I. I shall have something to say to the travel agent when I get home."
"IF you get home," said Anne. She stared at her plate, which was a leaf. Her dinner consisted of a collection of grubs and the charred leg of what she hoped was a bird. She pushed the leaf away.
Their host, obviously a refugee from the States dressed as a native, looked up, chewing. He stripped the meat from the bone and tossed it over his shoulder.
"They do not stand upon ceremony here, do they?" whispered Sir Walter. "What brutes these faux natives are!"
"Hush, Father. He'll hear you."
At last Anne could stand it no longer. She left the "dinner table" and wandered away from the camp seeking solitude. Her feet found a path that led uphill. Soon she was on a treeless knoll overlooking the sea. Her heart gave a leap. All this time they were beside the ocean and she'd not noticed it. In fact, a small bay lay before her. "Oh, Frederick," she said, sighing heavily. The sun was setting, and as usual, Anne's eyes searched the horizon. She saw no ship. There was a large boat anchored in the bay, but Anne was too disappointed to pay much attention to it.
Anne stumbled over a creeping vine and took a seat on the huge, gnarled roots of a tree alongside the path. She rubbed her ankle and listened to the night sounds of the rainforest. Amongst the calling birds, snorting beasts, and rattling vegetation, she could hear the sounds of high hilarity.
"It sounds as if Father and our host have drunk deeply of an after dinner drink." She rose and followed the sounds of men's laughter. When she came to the clearing, she noticed it had changed since her departure. It is a trick of the jungle, she thought. And the voices she thought filled with merriment were actually swelling with hatred. When she was about to part the thick growth of vines and fronds, she heard a voice not her father's nor the guide's.
"You must understand, sir, I am the chief of my men, just as you are of yours." Anne froze. The man was obviously English. And, if she we not certain the jungle was playing a horrible joke on her, she would swear in any number of courts of law that the voice she heard was that of Frederick Wentworth, Captain.
"You are all enemy of tribe!" was the gruff reply from the other side of the deep green blind. "You pay for bad man!" The air now was full of screaming and cursing. She could not help herself. Anne parted the leaves to see a large group of men clad only in leopard skins scuffling with a small group of sailors. In the midst of the brawl, her eyes locked on just one man.
He was wearing only a tattered shirt, his well-muscled arms flashing from between the shreds of flimsy linen. His hands were tied behind him, and he was being jerked by a vine around his neck. He fought the vine and was rewarded with a severe caning by his captors. They were driving him toward a large rock, glistening in the firelight. A native man, obviously the Chief, was standing before the rock, pointing to it with a crooked stick. Tied to the stick were feathers and the feet of various animals swung crazily around the pole. The man was pushed to his knees before the rock. One of the natives turned his head to lay flat while another put his foot on his neck.
She could now see the face of the man. It was, indeed, Frederick.
"You pay b-i-g price." He pointed at Frederick with the sceptre. "Men pay price as well." He pointed to the crew standing nearby.
Frederick jerked against the ties and the man holding him down. "Release my men! They are under MY orders and should not be punished." At that, the sailors began to struggle against their captors and shouted they would rather die than leave their captain.
Anne could not move. There was nothing for her to offer in exchange for the man she loved. She looked about, hoping to see something of a weapon she might employ. Well back from the Chief and the turmoil, Anne noticed a woman holding a wailing child in her arms. The woman's expression was riddled with grief and fear. Trails of tears glistened in the light of the fire. She swayed with the child and stroked its forehead. It would not be comforted, no matter how intensely its mother tried.
The Chief made a sweeping motion, and another native appeared with a large rock raised over his head. The rock glistened and dripped with something Anne feared to name. At this sight, all the men, native and sailor alike, were screaming and struggling. Without thinking, Anne broke through the fronds. They cut her face and arms as she passed through their green, leafy veil. None of that mattered. She ran the short distance from her hiding place, and threw herself over Frederick.
Everything stopped. There was no noise or movement. In fact, to Anne there was only she and Frederick; their faces so close she could kiss him if she dared. She looked up at the Chief. He was staring at her in shock; as were the others around the clearing.
Suddenly she could realised Frederick was breathing heavily, in perfect rhythm with her own. She looked down into his hazel eyes and saw his gratitude.
Even in the dire circumstance surrounding them, Frederick was smiling. "You don't know many times I've dreamt of this, Annie." His cheek was resting on her heaving bosom.
She jumped up. "You swine! How could you think of such a thing at a time like this?"
He raised up on his knees. "Sorry, love, they say men think of such things about 30 times a second. I guess they're right."
Just then the fierce crying of the child broke the spell. Everyone looked to the woman.
Harsh words came from the Chief, and the woman began to sob. Another native, ancient with feathers knotted in his hair, approached the woman. The child struck the man's cheek and continued to bawl. The old man berated the woman and pulled the pair towards the forest surrounding them.
"From what we've gathered, the Chief's son is ill and they can't cure him," said Frederick. "That man is their healer, and he has told her the child must be taken away from the village to keep evil from the camp."
Anne turned to him. "How do you know this? Do you speak the language?"
Fredrick was crawling towards her. "No, but they speak a wonderful lingua franca that is easily understood. We were actually welcomed by the natives, at first. Unfortunately for us, one of my stupider men decided to play slap and tickle with the Chief's daughter. That's what's left of him on the rock."
The spectacle of the rock was exactly as she had feared. She quickly dropped to her knees and took advantage of the heart-rending diversion to untie the vine from round his neck. Though bent on freeing Frederick, she could not help but scold. "See where male thinking like that so often gets you?" He nodded and shrugged. She took advantage of their close proximity to whisper, "I have thought of you frequently these nine years."
As he was about to respond, someone grabbed Anne by the hair, yanking her to her feet.
"You one of them. You die as well." The Chief pulled her closer. His warm breath assaulted her cheeks. "Sorry to use Killing Stone on pretty woman--" Just then, both of them were knocked to the ground. Frederick rose and threw himself directly at the Chief. Immediately he was grabbed and pulled back to the rock. The man with the Killing Stone stepped closer.
"No," Anne screamed. "I can cure your son!" The Chief raised his hand. Again, everything stopped.
"Where I come from, I am a healer. I am asked very often to cure people. I have cured many of my own family members."
The chief's fierce expression softened. She turned to the rock. Frederick winked at her and his smile warmed her heart. It was a stretch to say she healed anyone, but to save Frederick, his men, and now likely herself, Anne was willing to tell whatever tales might be necessary.
"Pardon me!" Sir Walter Elliot's reedy voice carried through the air. He approached the Chief, waving a travel-worn coloured brochure. "I have a bone to pick with you," he announced. "It says here that the accommodations are rated five stars. Which they are not! The roof's full of holes!"
"Five stars?" The chief looked at the leopard-clad guide and said something Anne did not understand. One of the chief's henchmen took off running.
"I fail to see how these accommodations can merit such a rating!" continued Sir Walter, with a glare to the leopard-clad guide. "It is a pack of lies!"
Before long the henchman returned with his report. "Eight stars," said the Chief to Sir Walter. "Him see eight stars through holes. Better than five."
"What?" shouted Sir Walter. "You call that a rating? Just wait until I get back to England. I'll have that travel agent's hide!"
The Chief's brows went up. "Hide?" he said. "You offer hide?" He looked Sir Walter over. "Old meat tough," he said. "No good for food. Only good for rug."
Sir Walter put up his chin. "You, sir, are an idiot."
Apparently this term was known to the natives. A roar went through the crowd. The Chief turned to the henchman. "Him pay," he shouted, gesturing toward Sir Walter. "To the Killing Rock!"
Rough hands seized and bound Sir Walter Elliot. "Oof," was the mortifying sound which escaped his lips when he hit the ground beside Captain Wentworth.
"Good day to you, sir," said Captain Wentworth. "Long time no see." He cocked an eyebrow. "Nice coat."
Sir Walter sucked in his breath. "Canaille!" he hissed. "How dare you address me? No, wait, I know you. You are that Lieutenant Wentworth fellow my daughter was so crazy after."
Sir Walter raised a brow. "Ah, yes. You have advanced like so many of your sort that have gone before you."
"Like my illustrious predecessors, such as Nelson and Cook." Wentworth was feeling only slightly less hostile towards the man who completely smashed his hopes for a happy future.
The Baronet sniffed. "I was thinking more along the lines of Captains Kangaroo and Crunch. But I am sure those other fellows are good at what they do as well."
Wentworth turned away. If only he had just one limb free!
In the meantime, Anne had made her way to the mother and child. She held out her arms. "Poor little lamb," she murmured.
The child's mother was hesitant to hand him over. "That's all right," said Anne. "You hold him, and I shall have a look." She began a methodical examination. And then he kicked her. Anne took hold of his foot. He wailed in pain.
"Aha!" said Anne. "Frederick," she called over her shoulder, "do you have a pair of pliers?"
"As a matter of fact, I do," he said. "Right front pocket."
She knelt and hesitantly put her hand in his pocket. He strained to draw closer to her. "I hope this is not the first and only time I can be of service to you."
She drew back. "How dare you, sir. That is despicable!"
He drew away. "What is wrong now?"
Anne crossed her arms. "That was a vile thing to say---considering our circumstances."
He realised how it sounded. "I did not mean THAT! What sort of man do you think I am?"
"I think you are a sailor."
He thought for a moment. "Well, there is that. But I meant it innocently." Frederick leaned closer again. "I would never knowingly embarrass you, Annie."
Anne smiled; her taut posture softened. She fetched the pliers and happily received a kiss on the cheek from the Captain.
Sir Walter screeched. "How can you allow this plebeian---"
"Do be quiet, Father," said Anne. "I'll attend to you later. You know I can handle only one crisis at a time."
At last Anne was able to pull the thorn from between the boy's little toes. "This is the trouble, I would imagine," Anne said, holding the thorn for his mother to see. Immediately, the child ceased screaming and began to gently pat his mother's cheeks with his chubby hands.
The mother grabbed the thorn, threw it to the ground, and spit in its direction.
"That's all right, my shoes need a good polish," said Frederick Wentworth.
Sir Walter craned his neck to see. "You can say that again," he muttered.
The Chief now had his son in his arms. He beamed at Anne. "No Killing Rock," he said.
"Oh!" cried Anne, clasping her hands to her breast. "Do let these men go free! If you please!"
The Chief said something, and his henchmen untied the sailors. With yelps of joy, they ran into the forest, presumably heading for their ship. However, Captain Wentworth and Sir Walter remained securely tied.
"And these men, too!" said Anne.
The Chief scowled. "Them die. Them insult Chief. No man insult Chief and live. Tribal law."
"But this is my father!" cried Anne. "And the other one is my ..." She hesitated. What should she call Frederick? She drew back her shoulders and took a deep breath. "The other," she said bravely, "is my sweetheart!"
The Chief considered her words. "He you sugar man! Get drift." He looked over to Wentworth and arched a brow. He then shifted his son to his left arm. "You save son," he said slowly. "You have reward. Men go free. One more reward I give." He pointed. "Pardon father," said the Chief. "Blood relative. Tribal law." The henchmen knelt and began working at the vines that bound Sir Walter.
"It's about time," said Sir Walter.
"But the other man?" cried Anne. "He must die? But I love him!" Tears coursed down her cheeks.
The Chief looked pained. "Not blood relative," he said, shaking his head. "Not husband."
Anne's head came up; hope surged through her heart. "If he was my husband, you'd pardon him?" She rushed to Frederick's side and took his bruised hands in both of hers. She looked pleadingly at the Chief. "Then you must marry us this instant! For if he becomes my husband, your tribal law will be satisfied!"
The chief smiled broadly. He passed his son to the henchmen and clapped his hands. "You married."
Two men approached bearing needle-like objects and a bowl of some dark substance.
"What now?" said Captain Wentworth, rubbing his wrists.
"You pardoned," said chief. "Need mark now" He nodded at the men with the needles. "Tribal law."
"A tattoo?" Frederick Wentworth sat up and bared his arm. "Already have one of those, as a matter of fact." Anne Forever was emblazoned there.
Sir Walter screamed. "Mark my perfect body? Never!" He turned to Anne. "What would the fellows at the club say?"
"Father," said Anne urgently, "it's tribal law! You must be marked. Be glad they aren't insisting on killing you! Or tattooing your face!"
"Anne's right," said Captain Wentworth. "Choose a place they won't see. How about your bum?"
Sir Walter was horrified.
"You won't be able to sit down for a space," agreed Captain Wentworth, "but at least the fellows at the club won't be able to see." He looked narrowly at Sir Walter. "Or will they?"
Anne looked at Frederick with narrowed eyes. "Frederick ..." she said.
In the end, poor Sir Walter had no choice. He submitted to the marking, but not very manfully. "Oh, the pain! The agony!" he wailed with each prick of the ink-filled needle.
Anne paid no attention to his cries. She only had eyes for Frederick. "Actually," she said, "that location was a very good idea, dearest. I can't bear to have the rest of your person spoiled by a dreadful tribal mark." She touched his arm. "Anne Forever is very sweet, of course. How could I object to that? But as for the other ..."
Wentworth was laughing. "All right, sweetheart," he said. "I'll have my bum marked like your father. But only if I'm able to add a few words in English. In case my fellow sailors see it." He pulled a scrap of paper and a pencil from his pocket.
"Not Anne Forever, Frederick," said Anne. She enjoyed seeing her name on his arm as it flexed over the deeply cut muscles, but the idea of her name emblazoned on his backside was more than she could bear. She would offer herself, but--
"This will do the trick, my dearest." Frederick wrote on the paper, and then passed it to the native tattooist. "You'd better spell it right," he ordered, and rolled over on his stomach. He reached out and took her hand. "I know what is ahead. You owe me at least the comfort of your gentle touch."
She took his hand gladly. The comfort was mutual, but her curiosity began to get the better of her, as the process seemed to go on and on. Frederick would on occasion bow his head with the pain, and Anne would try to catch a glimpse of the artist at work.
He caught her once. "Hey, none of that, dearie! This is embarrassing enough. Besides," he whispered, "eventually you'll have full view of it."
He handed her the paper. "I have loved none but you!" she cried. "Good heavens!"
"Ouch, this smarts!" said Frederick. "Methinks it would be better written numb butt at this moment."
And so it was that Sir Walter Elliot returned from his Amazon safari with a tan, a svelte waistline, and no dependents. But it was some time before he was able to sit down on a dining room chair.
"Do you know, the Bard said it best," remarked Captain Frederick Wentworth to his wife. "So far as this botched safari is concerned, All's well that ENDS well."
© 2008 Copyright held by the authors.