IN THE DARKNESS OF the wreck of the Sweet Judy, a match flared. There were some pings and scraping noises and at last the lamp was alight. It wasn’t broken, but she had to be sparing with it because she hadn’t found any more oil yet. It was probably underneath everything else. Everything was under everything else. It was a mercy she’d wrapped the mattress around her before the Sweet Judy tried to sail through trees. She’d remember the snapping and the screams as long as she lived. She’d heard the hull split and the masts crack, and worst of all she had heard the silence.
And she’d climbed out into a steaming morning full of birdsong, with most of the Judy back on the smashed trail behind her and one word in her head.
The word was Calenture.
It meant a special kind of madness, brought on by the heat. First Mate Cox had told her about it, probably hoping to frighten her because he was that sort of person. Sailors got calenture when they’d been becalmed at sea for too long. They’d look over the side and see, instead of the ocean, cool green fields. They’d leap down into them and drown. First Mate Cox said he’d seen grown men do it. They’d jumped into a meadow full of daisies and drowned or, as he put it, drownded. And he’d probably pushed them in, too.
And there she was, stepping off a boat into the middle of a green jungle. It was like the… opposite of madness, in a way. She was quite sane, she was sure of that, but the world itself had gone mad. There were dead men back on the track. She’d seen dead people before, when her uncle had broken his neck while hunting, and of course there had been that terrible accident with the harvesting machine. Neither of the dead seamen was Cookie, she was shamefully glad to say, and she’d said a quick prayer over them and had run back to the ship to be sick.
Now she rummaged in
the mess that had been a neat cabin and found her writing box. She balanced it on her knees and opened it, taking out one of the gold-edged invitation cards she had gotten for her birthday, and stared at it for a moment. According to her book of etiquette (another birthday present), there should be a chaperone present if she invited the young man to visit, and the only person she could think of was poor Captain Roberts. He was a real captain, which counted for something, but he was unfortunately dead. On the other hand, the book didn’t actually say the chaperone had to be alive, only present. Anyway, she still had the sharp machete stuffed down behind her bunk. It had not been a happy voyage after First Mate Cox had come aboard.
She glanced at the blanket-covered shape in the corner, from which came a continual muttering. She had to keep it covered up or else it’d start to swear again. Some of the words it came out with a respectable young lady should not know the meaning of. The words she didn’t know the meaning of worried her even more.
She had been unkind to the boy, she knew. You weren’t supposed to shoot people, especially if you hadn’t even been introduced to them, and it was only a mercy the gunpowder had got wet. It was sheer panic, and he’d been working so hard burying those poor people in the sea. At least her father was alive and he would come looking for her, even though there were more than eight hundred places to look in the Mothering Sunday Islands.
She dipped her pen in the ink and crossed out Government House, Port Mercia at the top of the card, and carefully wrote underneath: “The Wreck of the Sweet Judy.”