The World Turned Upside Down
MAU AWOKE. A STRANGE woman was spooning gruel into him. When she saw his eyes open, she gave a little shriek, kissed him on the forehead, and ran out of the hut.
Mau stared up at the ceiling while it all came back. Some bits were a little blurred, but the tree and the axe and the death of Cox were as clear to him as the little gecko watching from the ceiling with upside-down eyes. But it was as if he was watching someone else, just a little way in front of him. It was another person, and that person was him.
He wondered if –
“Does not happen!” The scream was like lightning through his head, because it came from a beak about six inches from his ear. “Show us your” – here the parrot muttered to itself, then went on, rather sullenly – “underthings.”
“Ah, good. How are you?” said the ghost girl, stepping inside.
Mau sat bolt upright. “You’ve
got blood all over you!”
“Yes. I know. There goes the last good blouse,” said Daphne. “Still, he’s much better now. I’m pretty proud of myself, actually. I had to saw a man’s leg off below the knee! And I sealed the wound with a bucket of hot tar, exactly according to the manual!”
“Doesn’t that hurt?” asked Mau, lying back on the mat again. Sitting up had made him dizzy.
“Not if you pick it up by the handle.” She looked at his blank expression. “Sorry, that was a joke. Thank goodness for Mrs. Gurgle; she can make someone sleep through anything. Anyway, I think the man is going to live now, which is more than he would have with that terrible wound in it. And this morning I had to cut off a foot. It’d gone all… well, it was awful. Those captives were treated very badly.”
“And you’ve been sawing the bad bits off them?”
“It’s called surgery, thank you so very much! It’s not hard if I can find someone to hold the instruction manual open at the right page.”
“No! No, I don’t think it’s wrong!” said Mau quickly. “It’s just that… it’s you doing it. I thought you hated the sight of blood.”
“That’s why I try to stop it. I can do something about it. Come on, let’s get you up.” She put her arms around him.
“Who was that woman who was feeding me? I’ve seen her before.”
“Her real name is Fi-ha-el, she says…,” said Daphne, and Mau clutched at the wall for support. “We used to call her the Unknown Woman. And now we call her the Papervine Woman.”
“Her? But she looked completely different – “
“Her husband was in one of those canoes. She went right up to it and dragged him out by herself. I’m blessed if I know how she knew which one he was in. I sent her to look after you because, well, it was his leg I had to saw off.”
“Newton was greatest!” screamed the parrot, bouncing up and down.
“And I thought the parrot was dead!” said Mau.
“Yes, everyone thought the parrot was dead,” said Daphne, “except the parrot. He turned up yesterday. He is minus one toe and a lot of feathers, but I think he will be fine when his wing heals. He runs after the grandfather birds now. They really hate that. I’ve, er, started doing something about his language.”
“Yes, I thought you had,” said Mau. “What’s New-Tan?”
“Newton,” Daphne corrected absentmindedly. “Remember I told you about the Royal Society? He was one of the first members.