Captain Whistler Goes Down

Loreley had survived storms, fires, and even being shot by cannons, but a bomb was more than she could take. Captain Marshall Whistler pulled ropes until he found the one that unfurled her sails. He rushed to the helm, wrestling with the wheel. The cargo hold was taking on water rapidly, but for the moment, the ice blue clipper ship was still afloat.

Other than the cabin boy, Alex, Marshall was sailing the ship alone. The young lad was brave, and good with a pistol, but he was a newcomer to sailing. There was little he could do to help, so he simply waited, watching silently. Despite his bulky, gray sweater, he was shivering.

“There is an island about a hundred yards to the west,” Marshall called. “Our only chance is to run her aground.” The wind rose and carried the ship across the water. “At least, I think we have a chance,” he thought. “I wish I knew for sure. …I wish I knew much of anything about sailing, really.”

As the island rapidly approached, they knew they were in for a rough landing. Alex wrapped his arms around the mast and closed his eyes.

Earlier that morning, Marshall was down in the galley. He was cutting the potatoes for breakfast when he realized something was wrong. “The ship is quiet,” he thought, the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end. “Nobody is yelling for food, nobody is drunk and singing… Where is everyone?” He put down his knife and walked to the mess deck. The tables were empty.

A hand slapped him on the back. “Good news, Marshall!” It was Captain Floyd. Despite his resemblance to an alcoholic hippopotamus, he had knack for walking quietly. “I’m giving you a promotion!”

“You are? Finally! …Wait, promoting me to what? I’m already head cook.” This was technically true, although being the only cook on the ship made his job title slightly less impressive.

“I am promoting you to captain. Unfortunately, you still won’t have any crew to manage, but the job is yours!” Captain Floyd removed his coat and hat and shoved them into Marshall’s hands. “There is a warship approaching from the east. They are flying the Jolly Roger. I have ordered the rest of the crew into the dinghy on the opposite side. You are to distract them for as long as possible, to give us time to row away unobserved.”

“But what would pirates want with us? We are only carrying tea!”

“Yes, but they don’t know that. And pirates tend to shoot first and ask questions later, while you’re laying on the deck bleeding to death. So just surrender as quickly as possible, and you’ll be fine. Remember, be polite, be respectful, and don’t tell them about the gold.”

“Gold? What gold?”

“You don’t have to worry about that. I’m taking it all with me.” Captain Floyd shook his hand. “Good luck, and may god be with you, Captain Whistler.”

Stunned, Marshall stood and watched the captain climb the ladder to the upper deck. “I could hide in the cargo hold,” he thought. “There are so many crates down there, they would never be able to find me. But if I refuse to play the captain’s game and provide a distraction, the crew may get caught escaping and be slaughtered. While Captain Floyd’s death would not be a great loss to the world, some of the crew are not entirely terrible. I could fill a barrel with some old rags and set them alight. When the pirates see the smoke, they may think the ship is on fire, and wait to see if the flames spread… Or I could just hide in the cargo hold.” He sighed deeply. “I should have taken that job at the bistro in London. But no, I wanted to travel…”

A crack like distant thunder. He was too late. They were already being fired upon. It didn’t sound like they had been hit, so this was just a warning shot. The Loreley was just a merchant ship, with no cannons of its own. He could not return fire, even if he knew how to load a cannon. The only way to avoid being sunk was to surrender, and quickly. And the only one on board to surrender was him.

At last, Marshall climbed to the upper deck. The captain and the starboard dinghy were gone. Marshall rushed to the stern and lowered the ship’s flag, signalling his surrender. A voice called from behind him. “What are you doing that for?” It was Alex. The boy drew his pistol from his belt. “I’ll just start shooting before they can board. I’ll aim for the leader. It’s usually the one with the biggest hat.”

“No, no, if we shoot the boarding party, the remaining crew will fire their cannons. And I would rather not get killed this early in the morning. I haven’t even had breakfast.” He grabbed the boy’s pistol and shoved it in his inside coat pocket. “What are you still doing here, anyway?”

“I was asleep in the crow’s nest. Looks like everyone else escaped.”

“Well, never you worry, I am sure you will be a much better lookout in your next life.”

The other ship extended a gangplank to the Loreley, and half a dozen grungy-looking men crossed over. The leader of the boarding party, whose hat was very large indeed, prodded the crew with a rifle. “Alright, who’s in charge here?”

Marshall stuck out his chest and tried to look impressive. “I am. I’m Captain Whistler. What can I do for you?”

“Your ship is trespassing on my land, it is! Isn’t that right, boys?” The rest of the boarding party grunted in agreement.

“Land?” Alex laughed. “What land?”

The pirate reached into his coat and produced a large nautical chart, with the words “I own this” scrawled over the middle of the ocean. “Why, my family’s ancestral land just happens to have water on top of it, it does! Nothing wrong with that. Not at all. Now, if you want safe passage through my land, you have to pay a toll. I will, of course, have to confiscate everything of value on board.”

Before Marshall could speak, Alex blurted out, “There is nothing on board of any use to you! Our only cargo is tea from China, and we’re taking it to Morocco!”

“Well, if you can’t pay the toll in gold or valuables, you can pay by giving us some entertainment. And our favorite kind of show is fireworks. Boys, get the gunpowder!”

Alex gasped. “Sorry, boss.”

“It’s not your fault,” Marshall sighed. “Although, our insurance would have covered theft…”

The pirates held Marshall and Alex at the stern of the ship, while their leader rolled a barrel of gunpowder down the steps to the cargo hold. Running across the gangplank, the boarding party returned to their ship, which quickly hauled anchor and headed out to sea. As soon as the pirates’ cannons no longer faced the Loreley, Alex rushed for the cargo hold. “I’ll throw the bomb overboard!”

“Don’t go into the hold!” Marshall cried. “You don’t know how long the fuse is! Get to the port dinghy, now!”

A dull thunk shook the ship. “I don’t get it,” Alex said. “Why aren’t we dead?”

“Be patient, my boy. We may be soon enough. They blew a hole in our hull. We will sink soon, but we may have time to pack some supplies. It will take three days to row to Morocco. You will need plenty of food.”

“I will? Aren’t you coming?”

“The pirates may try to end your escape. You’ll need guns and ammunition, as well as food. You will have more space for supplies if I stay with the Loreley. ”

Alex looked close to tears. “No man should die alone! Let me stay here with you.”

The crash nearly threw Marshall overboard. The hull cracked and splintered, wood groaning angrily. He picked himself up and retrieved his hat. The ship had stopped moving, but Alex was still clinging to the mast. “Help me get the crates out of the hold!” Marshall said. “We mustn’t let the water ruin the tea!”

Alex and Marshall spent the next several hours unloading the cargo. The ship’s cabin had been largely destroyed, so the two men took the crates and sails and built a crude shelter. They would have preferred to build a boat, but most of the ship’s tools had been lost in the wreck. Also, they didn’t know how.

That night, Marshall couldn’t sleep. He kept replaying the events of the day in his mind, over and over, wondering what he could have done differently. “I still don’t understand why I let the boy stay,” he thought. “I should have sent him on to Morocco with the rest of the crew! Captain Floyd finds the boy at the Port of London, promises him he’ll see the world, and the only thing he’s seen is a port in Beihai and how quickly I can wreck a ship. Some captain I turned out to be. …Well, at least we’re alive. The beach is warm, and the sea is peaceful.”

But something in the water screamed.

Marshall rushed to Alex’s shelter and shook him awake. It took the boy a moment to open his eyes, and a moment longer to remember where he was. “I dreamed I was back in London. Pollution, crime, streets ankle-deep in horse excrement… How I miss it!” He folded back his blanket, yawned and stretched. “What’s happening?”

“There’s something in the water making a horrid noise. It sounds dangerous. Go investigate.”

“Should I get a rifle from the ship, or do you think my pistol is big enough to kill the crocodile or alligator or manatee or whatever it is?”

Marshall sighed. “Just go see what it is, and ask it to be quiet so I can get to sleep. If it keeps screaming, then shoot it.”

“Oh boy!” Alex pulled on his sweater and rushed down the beach. Marshall decided to head back to his shelter and make some tea. That usually helped him relax. Just as the water began to boil, Alex yelled. “Sir! Come quick!”

Alex was standing at the edge of the sand, staring out at the sea. The moon was dragging in the tide. Bathed in its sickly light, something was standing in the rising water, struggling against its bonds. “There’s a man out there,” Alex whispered, “wrapped in chains. Someone wanted him to drown, and slowly. Now what do you suppose he did to make someone that mad?”

“Let’s go ask.”

“Go ask!” Alex gasped.

“Why not? It’s the best way to learn anything. Now follow me.” Marshall rolled up his pant legs and walked into the knee-deep water.

Alex placed his pistol on a rock, to keep from soaking the gunpowder in the water. Stepping forward into the sea, he drew his dagger. The man in the water was still trying to scream, but his voice was weak. Rusted, black chains held a huge ship’s anchor to his back. Alex grabbed Marshall’s shoulder. “Is that… Is he one of the pirate boarding party?”

“I do believe he is. What a fascinating development!”

“It looks like just an hour or two before he drowns, but can I slit his throat anyway?”

“Revenge is suicide disguised as murder.” Marshall put his hands to his mouth and called to the man in the water. “Hello! Who put you here, my friend?”

The man coughed and spat and, at last, appeared to regain his voice. “You did! I knew a merchant ship like yours would be carrying valuables. When you claimed to have nothing but tea from Morocco, my captain decided to punish me for my mistake, so he left me here to die with the coming of the tide. I demand that you free me at once, so I may punish you for your lies!”

Marshall shook his head sadly. “Alex, are you hungry? I’ll make us something to eat.” The two men climbed back up the beach, walking to their campfire. Marshall sliced some mangoes, mixing them with the rice leftover from that day’s supper.

They carried their meal back to the edge of the beach. “We shall enjoy watching you drown!” Marshall called. “There’s nothing better than a little dinner theater! Oh, but I never caught your name! Who is the star of this one-act tragedy?”

The man in the water spat. “Billy Black. Remember it well, for it is the name of the man who shall choke the life from you!”

Marshall swallowed a mouthful of rice and reached for his cup. “This tea seems a little bitter. Perhaps it needs to steep a little longer.”

As the sun rose, so did the sea. The water covered Billy’s waist, then his chest, then his chin. As the sea swallowed him, he screamed louder and louder, demanding to be freed and cursing the world for its failure to do so. At last, he had to stretch to keep his face above the water. “Release me! …Please!”

Marshall smiled. “My boy, I do think it’s time. I have a pickax from the ship, but this may take a while. Find me some bamboo for us to breathe through.”

By the time Marshall sawed through the chains, he and Billy were under three feet of water. Exhausted, they swam to the surface and dragged themselves onto the beach. Billy clasped Marshall on the back and smiled weakly. “I owe you my life.”

“Yes, but only from this day forth. Your past is yours to do with as you like.” Scratching his chin, he examined Billy’s scarred, bruised, and well-muscled frame. “Now, what exactly do you do?”

“A little bit of everything – punching, kicking, biting, you name it.”

“Well, I may need your – ahem – talents, if your compatriots return. In the mean time, let us return to the campfire. There are wild animals about.”

Alex stopped a few steps behind, retrieving his pistol from the rock. “I can’t believe this… He might not have personally thrown the bomb into our cargo hold, but he’s still dangerous. Asking for help isn’t repentance. He didn’t change. No one ever changes.”

“This is horrible.” It wasn’t a good thought to have first thing in the morning, but Alex could hardly help it. Yet another day trapped on an empty island. Marshall said they were in the Canaries, wherever that was. All Alex knew for sure was that he hadn’t seen any passing ships. So there they were, stuck.

Alex grabbed his hat and headed up the hill, where Billy was waiting. Marshall had sent them out to get more wood, while he stayed behind to cook breakfast over the dwindling fire. Marshall refused to let Billy cook, as he only knew how to make Scotch eggs, and he made them with real Scotch. “And he won’t let me cook, either,” Alex thought. “He doesn’t trust me with his cooking knives, just because I like to juggle. Well, Billy’s the one he shouldn’t trust.”

“Hurry up, boy!” Billy called. “Let’s get this done before it gets hot.”

Alex scowled. “Yes, let’s finish collecting wood before it gets hot, so we can go sit around a roaring fire, you chicken-brained buffoon.” Out loud, he said, “Coming!”

As they headed back to camp, the sky turned black. Alex wiped his forehead with the back of his hand, nearly dropping the pile of sticks in his arm. Billy laughed. “Careful, boy, you might hurt yourself.”

“I can’t help it if I can’t carry as much as you. You’re as strong as a gorilla, and almost as handsome.”
Billy’s next words were drowned out by thunder. The sudden storm chased them down the hill, feet pounding, sticks scattering. When they made it back to camp, they threw their wet wood next to the fire and dove for their shelters.

The sky took a deep breath and was calm. The rain stopped, and only the sound of the sea remained.
“I should change clothes,” Alex decided. “There was a good spot in the woods to hang my things up to dry.”

As Alex vanished up the hill, Marshall called to Billy, “Go back and get more wood. Dry, if you can find it.” Billy grumbled, griped, and groused, but did as he was told. He trudged across the beach to the hill, picking up the sticks he and Alex had dropped earlier. A stray branch grabbed at his face, but he pushed it aside. He stepped through the trees and froze.

“Alex is a what?” Marshall said, confused. They were still without dry firewood, but he had disassembled a spyglass and was using the lenses to focus the sun’s rays on a pot of water.

“He’s a girl. I mean, she’s a girl. An adult grownup female.”

“My friend, you have been out in the sun too long. Why don’t you go to bed and rest.”

Billy glanced back at the hill. “Well, here Alex comes now. Why don’t you ask him if he’s a she or is him’s a her?”

Alex was carrying a dead bird and whistling tunelessly. “Look at this!” he called. “I nailed it with a rock between the eyes. Seagulls are good to eat, right?”

Billy gestured at Marshall, but Marshall shook his head. “Fine, I’ll ask. Alex, are you a woman?”
The bird dropped into the sand.

An hour later, Marshall’s lenses had finally heated the water to boiling, and they were sitting in a circle around the fireless fire pit. Alex poured another mug of tea and took a deep breath.

“My real name is Alexandra. I was named after my mother, or so I am told. She died giving birth to me. My father is a Lord. He hired a series of nannies and governesses to teach me to be feminine, graceful, and refined… I guess it didn’t take. They told me I should be interested in ribbons and bows and dances and flowers, but I just wanted to go fox hunting with my father. But you can’t ride a horse in a dress, not really.”

“Finally, I found a solution… I read The Life, Adventures and Piracies of the Famous Captain Singleton. I was stuck at balls and box socials, but Captain Singleton got to travel the world and have adventures. I wanted to travel, but real sailors think the sea is no place for a woman. Also, being a young woman alone with thirty men in the middle of the ocean could be… dangerous. So, I decided to dress as a schoolboy and look for a ship’s captain who needed an assistant. And that’s how I met Marshall. Er, I mean Captain Whistler.”

Billy tossed his empty cup in the sand. “You’ve known her for much longer than I. You never suspected a thing?”

Marshall laughed. “Well, there was one time when I told her to go down to the cargo hold and look for rats…”

The next morning, Marshall woke with the sun to find Billy was already awake. He was walking down the beach, collecting starfish.

“Good morning,” Marshall called. “Usually I’m alone at this time of day. Collecting the starfish before the seagulls get them?” Billy seemed embarrassed, and said nothing. “You know you can’t eat them, right?”


“Something tells me you went looking for flowers first, and didn’t find any.”


Marshall sighed, and put his arm around him. “My friend, you need to think carefully about what you are about to do. We are trapped on this island. How do you think Alex would feel if you pursued her here? She wants to know that you choose her because of who she is, not because she is your only choice. When do you love a flower more – when it’s the only rose in a desert, or when it’s the most beautiful one in a field filled with blossoms?”

“So I should wait.”

Marshall looked out at the sea. “Yes, but you might not have to wait very long. There is a ship approaching.”

Marshall swirled the tea in his cup, watching the leaves dancing and turning the water a deep yellow. “We were so close. So close! That ship in the distance… Why didn’t they approach the island? Surely they would have seen us! I don’t even know who they were. Couldn’t see their flag, or even if they were flying one.”

The three castaways were gathered around the fire, waiting for Marshall’s marinade to finish cooking. It was a delicious, spicy sauce, but the only meat they had to put it on was seagull. At least they had the tea. Marshall had mixed the tea with juice from some mangoes Alex had found. She was leaning against a tree and eating one of the leftover fruits, the juice shining on her mouth. She took a bite from the mango, licking the sticky sweetness from her lips.

Billy had a bowl of rice steaming in his lap, but he was ignoring it. Instead, he was watching Alex, his mouth open slightly. Marshall cleared his throat. “My friend, a woman is like the sun: beautiful, but you shouldn’t stare.”

Alex laughed. “Also, if you get too close, I’ll set you on fire.”

The night exhaled its hot, sticky breath against the back of her neck. Alex groaned. She was exhausted, but it was far too hot to sleep. “Billy passed out pretty quickly. I wonder how he deals with the heat. – Wait, where is he?”

Billy’s shelter was empty, his blankets folded. Alex pulled on her sweater and instinctively grabbed her pistol, tucking it in the waistband of her trousers. She followed Billy’s footprints up the beach and through the trees, eventually coming to a part of the island she had never seen before. The footprints vanished into a black hole in a hillside. “Now, what would he want in a cave?” she thought. “A sudden, late-night craving for bat meat? Or did his pirate friends store something in there?”

Alex stepped into the cave, wishing she had thought to bring a lantern. She felt the walls with her fingertips, moving forward slowly, cautiously. In the silent darkness, her breath was a rolling wind. A light flickered in the distance. Her hand moved to the handle of her gun. She walked faster, and rounded a corner.

Billy screamed, dropping his torch. Fortunately, the light didn’t go out.

“Why are you skulking around caves in the middle of the night?” she demanded, jabbing a finger in his chest.

“For weeks now, I’ve been sleeping in a lean-to made of crates and burlap. I thought I would look for a cave to sleep in instead. I would move my things in here tonight, if the floor weren’t covered in a six-inch layer of guano.” Billy reached into the muck and retrieved his torch.

“That’s what that is? I thought it was mud. And I’m in my bare feet, too. …Wait, what was that?”

A strange snuffling came from the back of the cave. He took a few cautious steps forward. There, at the edge of the light, was a tiny, brown bear cub. “Look,” Billy said, “the little thing has a cold.”

Alex let out a few carefully-chosen obscenities. “Billy, let’s go. Now.”

“Why?” he laughed. “Are you afraid of a little baby bear?”

“No,” she said, “but I don’t want to wait for mamma to come home.”

Alex and Billy turned and ran, but they were too late. Standing in the cave entrance was a seven-foot, three hundred-pound black bear. And they were between mamma and her baby. The bear snarled, saliva dripping from its teeth. Alex drew her pistol, but Billy grabbed her arm. “You might as well smack its knuckles with a ruler. You’ll just make it eat us faster.”

“If I can’t shoot it, what do I do?”

“Try to look bony and full of gristle.” A familiar face appeared outside the cave entrance. “Marshall? What are you doing? Run! You’ll be killed!”

Marshall’s response was a loud grunt, something like “Hoo-ah! Hoo-ah!” Startled, the bear turned to stare at the screaming lunatic. Marshall reached into his jacket and produced a large, steel tube. Aiming at the bear’s head, he sprayed it with a thick, brown liquid. The bear howled and ran off into the woods.

Alex gave Marshall a grateful hug. “Thank you thank you thank you!” She looked down at his shirt, which had a few drops of brown splashed across the front. “What did you spray her with?”

“When I saw you were gone, I grabbed the leftover spicy marinade.” He wiped off one of the drops, licking the tip of his finger. “Add enough hot peppers, and it doubles as bear repellent. …Or a man repellent.”

Alex nodded and glanced in Billy’s direction. He was staring back at the cave, and didn’t appear to be listening. “The bear left a cub behind,” she said. “When do you think she’ll come back?”

“Let’s not stick around long enough to find out.”

The footprints stretched across the sand like the trail of a slug. “I know you’re going back to the cave,” Alex thought, running down the beach, her breath pounding, “and this time, I’m going to catch you!” For the past few days, Billy had been vanishing suddenly, reappearing a few hours later with no explanation of where he’d been. Where else could he be going?

His footprints lead into a clump of mango trees, where a cloud of bees was dancing around a pile of half-eaten fruit. She followed the trail back out of the trees and to the shore, where Billy’s footprints joined some others. The footprints covered half an acre of sand near the water, where a pair of dinghies were waiting, and then proceeded single-file up the beach, headed towards the cave. She crept up the hill, listening for any approaching assailants. She stopped at a cluster of boulders and held her breath. Voices in the distance, someone arguing. A warm hand grabbed her mouth.

The hand dragged her down behind the boulders, twisting her neck to face her attacker. Billy. “I found some footprints on the beach,” he whispered, “and I tracked them up here. There are some of my old crew about twenty yards away… Grunt twice if you promise not to scream and shoot me.” Reluctantly, Alex grunted in the affirmative. Billy released his grip and gestured for her to peek carefully over the rocks.

Around a dozen men were gathered in the clearing. The leader, who was wearing an even bigger hat than usual, was standing atop a crate and haranguing his men. “…didn’t find him, but we’re not going back empty-handed! Spread out and search the island! If you don’t find me a dead sailor, I will make one!”

“The first thing to do is head for the outcropping of rocks,” Marshall said., pulling on his jacket. He picked up a large, wooden bucket and placed it under his arm. “They were just there, so they will search it last.”

Alex shook her head. “There’s a way we can avoid all of this. Why don’t we just put Billy back where we found him? We’re not safe around him. Nobody ever changes.”

“Perhaps some people don’t, but maybe that’s because no one believes they can.” Billy returned from his shelter, carrying some maps and a burlap bag filled with food. “Alright, let’s go.”

The island was tiny but, in that moment, it seemed endless. The castaways each wanted to run as fast as they could, but the Company men could be anywhere. It was better to fall into a trap than run into it headlong. At last, they made it to the rocks.

Marshall tossed the bucket into the sand. “Billy, put all the fish from our supplies in here. Alex, do you know how grapes are crushed to make wine?”

“Yes, why?”

“I need you to do something. Please don’t hate me…”

“I feel like I’ve been holding my breath for an hour,” Alex thought. “When is something going to happen?” She and Marshall were sitting in the center of the clearing, facing opposite directions, watching the trees. The caves blocked the south side of the clearing, and the rocky outcropping blocked the north side. Marshall had built a small fire to the west. This, he said, guaranteed that the pirates would try to sneak up on them from the east. “I hope he’s right.”

The dinghies were only a few dozen feet beyond the rocks, but they were useless. There were only a dozen men on the island, so it was a safe bet that the rest of the crew was nearby on the main ship, watching for any attempt at escape.

The wind rose, and the fire swayed like a flag. Wherever the main ship was, the smoke would certainly be visible. This plan had to work, and fast.

The pirates appeared at the edge of the clearing, rifles stabbing the air like spears. The big-hatted leader laughed delightedly. “Well, look at this! We may not have found our escaped prisoner, but I’m sure your bodies will make the admiral just as happy! Men, our hunt is at an end! …Ready… Aim… Fish!”

Indeed, someone hiding in the trees had dumped a bucket of pureed tuna on their heads. The leader was soaked, and the splatter had covered most of his men. He threw his hat on the ground, wiping the muck from his shirt. “Shoot them! Kill the bloody fishmongers!”

Marshall threw up his hands. “I think you fellows have a bigger problem. In the cave over there is a large, rather vicious bear. I imagine she would find fish-coated pig quite a treat.”

The leader laughed, not quite as delightedly as before, but still with quite a bit of mirth. “This is your brilliant plan? Cover us in fish sludge and hope we run from your imaginary monster?” He gestured to one of his men. “Sneed, go into the cave and look for their bear. If you don’t find one, you may shoot the captain and do what you like with the girl.”

Sneed nodded and, grinning perversely, strolled into the cave, leaving puddles of fishy goo behind him. Seconds later, he returned, flying out of the cave, across the clearing, and through the trees.

The leader’s eyes grew until they nearly swallowed his face. “Run! If you get eaten by a bear, it counts as this month’s shore leave!”

The sailors scattered, heading back to the east. Billy half climbed, half jumped down from the tree, and the three castaways ran to the south, past the rocks and on to the shore. Billy pushed one of the dinghies into the water. “Marshall, do you want me to sink the other one?”

“No, we have to give them a way to get off the island.” Marshall attempted to help Alex into the boat, but she pushed him away, climbing in and throwing the bag of food into the rear of the dinghy. Marshall and Billy climbed in behind her.

“Where are we going?” Alex asked, unfolding the map.

“One hundred feet south,” Marshall said, “and then back to the shore.” Before Billy could open his mouth, he added, “Do it, or get out and walk.”

Billy considered protesting, but he had spent enough time with Marshall to know he meant it. He grabbed the oars and propelled the ship along the shoreline, and then back into the sand. At Marshall’s direction, the castaways dragged the boat up the beach into the trees, and then buried it under some leaves and tree branches.

Marshall tossed his jacket into the sand and opened the sack of food, spreading some bread and mangoes on it like a picnic blanket. “Lunch, anyone?”

“Marshall!” Alex gasped. “How can you eat while… while… while the bear is eating them!”

Laughing, he picked up a mango and took a bite. “Bears rarely attack people, even people covered in fish. They’ll be fine. The important thing is, it was enough of a distraction for us to steal their dinghy – or, to pretend to steal it. When they come to their senses, they will run for their boats, see one is missing, and assume we are on our way to the nearest island. They will return to the main ship and the whole crew will sail off after us. But we’ll be headed in the opposite direction, onward to Madagascar!”

Billy unfolded the map. “That’s around… sixty or seventy miles. In a dinghy.”

Marshall finished his mango and found another. “Between the three of us, that’s only twenty-three miles each!”

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