Sunday, November 26, 2006

Chapter 6

‘Do we have to rescue them?’ said Kieran. ‘It’s been fun without any grown-ups.’
‘You’re so mean,’ said Kia. ‘They might die if we don’t get them some water.’
‘Well can’t we take them some water and a few coconuts, and then come back?’
‘Without them?’ May stared at him.
‘Well,’ Kieran looked at his feet. ‘OK. I guess we have to rescue them. But they have to follow our rules, right?’
By the time it had been agreed what to do, Scarlet was reappearing on the beach with Trigger about two metres behind her. Over their shoulders they carried a huge bundle of cut bamboo stalks. They threw them down.
‘There’s your boat,’ said Trigger. ‘We’re going to lash it together with this twine.’
When Jessie picked one up and tried to bend it, she could feel how strong it was.
‘It’ll be like a raft,’ said Scarlet. ‘Then you can go off on your stupid fishing trips and leave the rest of us in peace.’
‘Actually,’ said David Casket. ‘We’ve got a rescue mission we need it for.’
‘We’ll all give you a hand,’ said Rachel. ‘We need it rather quickly.’
Scarlet kept saying, ‘I can’t believe I’m helping make a boat that’s going to bring teachers back into my life!’
But Jessie could see that the punishment didn’t seem so bad to Scarlet with all the extra help.
‘The teachers might be different after this,’ said Dennis. ‘If they’ve nearly died and then we save them. Mr Barker might never shout at us again.’
They lashed the bamboo tightly together until it made a big square raft. Jill limped around in the trees and found a couple of long poles they could use to punt it. She’d seen boatmen do it in Venice. Her leg was getting a bit better now, but she kept out of the sea. Lizzie Huston was well enough to sit up and watch what they were doing from the shelter under the trees.
Then they tried the raft out in the shallow water. It floated, but it rose up and down rather scarily as the waves came in and out.
‘It needs some weight on it,’ said Ali.
‘Who’s going to get on it?’ asked Scarlet.
‘Won’t it sink?’ said Jessie.
‘Only one way to find out,’ shouted Trigger, and he waded out and pulled himself onto it. It tipped suddenly, and looked like it was going to flip over, but he flung himself flat across it, and it righted itself. He sat on it cross-legged. It bobbed and swirled as the sea, like a wild horse, carried the raft on its back. ‘Who else is coming? Rachel – you know where this island is.’
Rachel waded out and climbed on in the same sort of way. The raft still floated as she settled herself onto it.
‘At least one more,’ fog-horned Trigger to all the watchers on the shore.
Jessie stood next to Callum. She noticed how since the Judgement, he’d kept quiet. He hadn’t told anyone what to do, or made anyone have a meeting. And he didn’t seem to be trying to organise this expedition, or even offering to go on it. Jessie herself had never been on a boat, not a small one like that. She’d always been too afraid of the water. But, she thought, maybe she was growing less afraid. She’d been next to it and paddling in it for several days now, even though she hadn’t actually swum in it yet. And she wouldn’t have to swim, would she, if she went on this trip?
Suddenly she was wading out too, towards the boat, and Rachel and Trigger were offering her hands to pull her up. She knelt on the raft, fingers gripping at the bamboo. The other two started pushing with the poles. Jessie watched the shore through her blurred glasses. All the other twenty-six children with their smiling faces and waving hands were getting smaller and smaller. She hardly dared to breathe as the raft skirted the edge of their big island, passing the skeleton of the plane with just its tail-fin poking out of the water. They floated around the corner, into unfamiliar territory.
Jessie listened to the swish of the poles. She looked over the edge of the raft and saw turquoise water and underneath it the white sand. It looked very shallow. A shoal of yellow and black striped fishes wafted beneath the boat. She smiled to herself.
‘There it is!’ said Rachel.
They stopped poling and all looked in the direction of her pointing finger. A small high island poked out of the sea in front of them. It didn’t look far, but in between, the water turned from turquoise to a deep purpley blue, and you could see white peaks splashing on it. Her stomach tightened.
‘Great,’ shouted Trigger. ‘Won’t take long. Do you think they can see us?’
‘No,’ said Rachel.
‘They’ll hear you though,’ said Jessie. ‘If you shout.’
‘MR BARKER,’ yelled Trigger. ‘DUCHESS.’
‘She doesn’t know she’s called the Duchess,’ said Rachel.
They waited, but there was no reply, and they started to pole towards the small island again. The raft started to rise and fall more steeply now as they got to the rougher water, and Jessie could hear the gulps in her own throat.
‘What happens?’ squeaked Jessie. ‘If the water’s deeper than the poles are long?’
Rachel and Trigger both stopped poling and looked at her. Trigger looked over the edge of the raft. They had no answer.
They were quite close to the high knobbly rocks of the small island’s shore, when Jessie noticed she was getting wet. At first she thought it was the splashes from the tops of the waves. But then she realised it was coming from underneath her. When she looked down, she saw that the bamboo poles were coming away from each other, parting to open a great hole through which she could see deep, blue water.
The next thing she knew, she was tumbling backwards with water shooting up her nose, into her ears, pushing her spectacles all squint. She surfaced, saw rock, saw blue sky, her own hands splashing and smashing at the water. She gurgled and spat and coughed, arms and legs frantic. Her head was full of noisy breathing. She saw two other heads in the water. Swimming. That was what they were doing. And Trigger was on his back, towing the remains of the raft behind him.
‘I know how to swim,’ she tried to convince herself. She remembered doing lengths of Annan swimming pool with chlorine up her nose, feeling cold and frightened. But this water wasn’t cold. It was warm and salty and floated her up to the surface.
‘Alright, Jess?’ called Rachel.
She thought about it for a moment, took a deep breath of air, not water. ‘Yes,’ she called. She opened her arms in a big sweep of breaststroke, and started following them towards the shore.
It was very different to their own island – so barren and steep and there was very little shade. There was no sign of any people on the island. Rachel led them on a scramble up the rocks to start a search.
‘Here!’ Rachel called, and the other two hurried to join her.
Three people lay in a huddle in the shade of a tree, but Jessie didn’t know any of them. They were very dirty, and the man had a beard and reminded her of a rather wiry terrier that her uncle had. He sat up slowly when he heard their voices. He seemed to be very sleepy and had insect bites and scratches on his face. Rachel, Trigger and Jessie stood and stared. Were these people savages?
‘Thank goodness you’re here,’ the man said faintly. The voice was weak and slow like someone who had been hypnotised. A zombie. But there was also something a little familiar about it, Jessie thought.
Then the woman sat up and rubbed her eyes as if she was seeing things. ‘You came,’ she said, and broke into a smile. ‘Have you got any water?’
‘God,’ whispered Rachel. ‘She looks like a shaggy cat - her hair’s gone all frizzy.’
‘That’s not Ms Chess is it?’ asked Jessie. When she looked at the man again, she could just about see that he was Mr Barker. But he had obviously lost the tie he always wore, and become much hairier. And he wasn’t telling them what to do at all.
The third man was slow and thin. Jessie could see from the remains of stripes on his once-white shirt, that he must be the pilot. The three children pulled water bottles out of the bag that Trigger had carried over from the island down his shirt-front, and opened them for the grown-ups. The pilot slurped his down noisily.
‘We have plenty of water on our island,’ she said to reassure him. ‘We’re going to take you back there.’
‘Kids,’ the pilot said. ‘Rescued by Kids! You seem to know what to do in an emergency. You must have had good teachers.’
Mr Barker managed a laugh.
They helped the grown-ups back to the shore, but then they remembered the problem with the raft. They looked at the pieces on the rocky shore and wondered how they would lash it together again. From the position of the sun, they could see that they only had about two hours’ daylight left. They needed to get going.
The pilot suddenly took off his shirt and started to tear it into long strips. Trigger began to lash the bamboo back into place with it. But another problem had started to occur to Jessie. They had one small raft and now there were six of them. Would they all fit on it without it sinking?
Jessie stared at the sea. The waves on the shore of the island had retreated. It was low tide. She picked up one of the poles they had used to punt them across, and stood it next to Mr Barker. He wasn’t much shorter than the pole.
‘Do you know what?’ she said. ‘I think the water will be shallow enough for some of us to wade across if we have to.’
‘Clever you!’ shouted Rachel.
‘Not just good teachers,’ said the pilot. ‘Brilliant ones.’
The grown-ups went on the raft first because they were weak, and the three children waded and pushed. When the water came up to their chests, they swapped places. There were a few stumbles and splashes, but soon they were through the deepest part and could swap places again. Jessie suddenly realised that she hadn’t thought at all about being afraid of the water. She hadn’t even worried much about jellyfish.
As they rounded the corner of the island and saw their beautiful white beach again, Jessie heard two things. First she heard rattles and bangs and whistles and squeals.
‘Look!’ shouted Rachel. ‘Scarlet’s got her island orchestra together to welcome you.’
‘Welcomed?’ said the Duchess. ‘By Scarlet?’
They could see all the children waiting on the beach, with their drums and whistles. They were jumping up and down, waving and cheering. Callum, the tallest, was clearly visible, joining in. They were all getting bigger as the raft moved towards them, back to safety.
‘And Ali’s getting some coconuts and mangoes ready for you by the looks of it,’ said Trigger. ‘You can see my penknife flashing in the sunlight.’
Jessie looked at Mr Barker. It might have just been a splash from the sea, but she could see a wet streak trailing across his cheek. It looked just like a tear.
Jessie had heard something else too but she ignored it at first. It was a noise she knew and yet she didn’t seem to have heard it for years and years. She couldn’t think what it was.
It was quiet at first, a low hum like a bee. But it was getting louder, closer, turning into a throb. And then it became more like a steady chug-chug-chug.
‘Look!’ she said, and pointed out towards the horizon. The tall white hull of a boat was coming towards them. There were people on the deck in sunglasses with cameras in their hands. They were waving and leaning over the railings. Right at the front a man was raising to his mouth a big white trumpet.
‘Oh my god,’ said the Duchess ‘We’re being rescued. We’re all being rescued.’

To be continued…..


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