EXTRACT: Walk by James Whyle

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Monday the 5th of August

With the coming of daylight the mates mustered all hands. Although there was some confusion as to the exact numbers of the Lascars, it was surmised that fifteen souls had been lost. The boy was sent out with a party which found a washed-up mizzen topsail with its yard. They conveyed this to the place where they had slept, and erected a tent. In the small bay to the north they found a pipe of wine and a barrel of arrack and casks of flour and a tub of salt beef and pork. These were carried to the tent and placed under Captain Coxon’s supervision.

By midmorning most able-bodied castaways were searching the seashore for items of use. The boy looked up from the rocks and saw groups of men and women approaching. They were tall and powerful and they moved easily across the hillsides and their faces were painted in ochre masks. The men were armed with iron-tipped lances and they carried oval shields of hard cowhide. They consigned their arms to the care of their women and then they commenced to search along the tide mark.

The boy’s party found some copper saucepans and carpenter’s tools and two small firearms. They came to the northern end of the beach and they turned back and they were intercepted and surrounded. The boy was holding a saucepan and a man reached out and grasped it. The boy held fast and swore. The agitation became violent and some of the ochre men darted off and returned with their lances. The sailors were ready to do battle wielding whatever they had in hand. The boy stood with his pan held like a club but Mr Shaw shouted that their spoils should be given up.

The sailors were reluctant but Mr Shaw insisted and the man ripped the pan from the boy’s grasp like an indignant citizen retrieving an object from a thief. The people moved off with their spoils and the castaways stood and watched. One man held a flintlock pistol which he turned in his hands and examined and then he shook it next to his ear and listened for anything it might contain. He lifted it by the barrel and held it close to his right eye and he stared keenly down the bore. He shook it again next to his ear. He felt at the frizzen and seemed puzzled by its action back and forth above the pan and he tried to twist it off and failed. He handed the weapon to a companion who turned it in his hands and shook his head and returned it. The man took the pistol by the barrel and squatted and hammered it against a stone until the wood splintered. He picked the shattered woody fragments from the mechanism and then he weighed the remaining metal in his hand.

The castaways made their way along the beach. The boy was despondent and failed to watch his feet and he kicked his toe against a protruding rock. He dropped down onto the sand and clasped his foot and cursed. Mr Shaw stopped and turned and watched him. After a time the boy rose and they proceeded.

They reached the tents and found there a group of Lascars and sailors who shouted and sang and the boy could smell on their breaths the liquors they had consumed. Other parties returned with stories of disturbing encounters with the people. Many castaways argued for immediate reprisal and the encampment became a maelstrom of fear and shouting and complaint and threat. Mr Shaw spoke with Captain Coxon and the captain gave the order to muster all hands and some kind of official assembly was achieved. Captain Coxon offered an urgent warning against provoking any misunderstanding with the natives. All provisions and implements useful to the commonweal were then handed in and placed under guard in the tent.

The shoreline was dotted all about with burst bales of silk and cotton and from these bales and their contents more tents were erected so that the castaways could spend the night in one consolidated position. The officers distributed to each survivor a small portion of flour and some arrack and some salt beef. Two saucepans which had been hidden from the people were used to make a stew for the women and children. At eight o’clock more arrack was shared out and the able-bodied men were divided into watches and a guard was set over the provisions. Throughout the night the Lascars discussed their intention to part from the company and proceed by themselves to the Cape of Good Hope.

Tuesday the 6th of August

At sunrise the captain assembled the crew and addressed the Lascars whose demeanour was much changed. Many were suffering from an aching of the head and they squinted and shaded their eyes from the light. Coxon stood in his bedraggled coat with his hair all awry and he gestured with passion.

If you leave us and walk to the Cape the Dutchmen will thank you for delivering yourselves and accept you as slaves. You will become the possessions of the Dutch and you will not experience liberty again in this world. If you stay with me and accept my authority, I will provide you with a passage to Bengal when we reach the Cape.

The Lascars spoke among themselves and reached a swift consensus. They would remain. Coxon then ordered all uninjured males to search the shoreline for items of use.

The boy went out with Mr Shaw’s party and they scrambled over the rocks where the silks and cottons lay twisted and draped in bright swathes in the gullies and black crabs scuttled over them. They found two pieces of salt beef in the remains of a cask and they moved onto the beach and the boy saw a shape on the tide mark. He stepped towards it and it moved and he saw that it was a hog from the ship. He shouted to Mr Shaw and ran towards the animal which stood and stared about as if astonished and then hobbled on three legs up the beach and scrambled up a bank and into a fringe of dune forest. The boy followed and came through the trees and saw the hog standing at bay in the undergrowth. He turned to shout again and heard a sound and when he turned back there was a lance that protruded from the hog at the point where the neck met the shoulder. The boy stared at this wonder and the hog shrieked and sought escape. The shaft moved with it and struck a tree trunk and the hog froze. Five men came out of the trees with lances held ready at the shoulder and they surrounded the hog. It shrieked as the lances went in and its spasms had not entirely ceased when they turned it on its back and eviscerated it.

That’s ours.

One of the men lifted the red mask of his face towards the boy. He held his lance close to the blade and blood ran down it and onto his hand.

That’s not your hog. It came from the ship.

The man turned to his companions and he spoke and some of them smiled in their red faces and grunted in affirmation and then they continued with their work. Mr Shaw came up with Mr Taylor and Mr Williams. They stood with the boy and they watched the butchering of the hog and then Mr Shaw took the boy by the shoulder and they went back onto the beach and carried their pieces of salt beef to the tents.

Walk by James WhyleIn the afternoon the captain consulted with the officers and the passengers and they decided that given the disposition of the people and the scarceness of provisions obtained, the party would set forward towards the Cape next morning. They were confident of reaching the first Dutch Settlements within sixteen days. They would walk.

Extracted from Walk, published by Jacana and available from Kalahari.com.

 

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