Friday 18 – Tuesday 22 February 2011
It was never going to be . . . nice.
Whistler’s decapitated body rested against a large upright stake, atop of which was his head. Two of the others lay in similar poses on either side of him. The fourth man, a Native American tracker dubbed James, had clearly attempted to run away from their attackers. His dismembered body was strewn over a distance of about sixty yards, Hardacre estimated.
He cautiously walked closer to the first body. It was Edwin Prince. His wife and two children were back onboard the ship. Hardacre bent down to look at where Prince’s head had been removed from his body. The cut was almost clean. He turned to look at Simpson.
‘Whatever was used to do this was very sharp,’ he whispered. Simpson could barely hear him.
Fear began to overtake Hardacre. He quickly examined Whistler’s body, and that of the eighteen-year-old Spanish boy, Juarez, who had joined the crew the previous voyage. All appeared to have been killed in the same manner. He didn’t bother looking at James; his body was in too many pieces, and they had too little time to get back to the encampment and erect their shelter.
Hardacre scanned the area. They were out in the open, vulnerable to attack. They needed to move fast. Whistler’s party had apparently managed to find several large pieces of wood that would be useful in building the shelter. By the time Hardacre turned to tell Simpson to get the wood, he and the two junior crewmen had already commenced collecting it. Hardacre quietly thanked God that Simpson had the smarts to get moving.
Grabbing two pieces of wood as he made his way back to Simpson, Hardacre moved low and quick. The four of them, swiftly moving, headed back the way they had come. Stopping at the opening to the clearing, Hardacre turned and scanned the area one last time. He sensed that they were being watched, but could see no movement.
‘Jonathan. Jonathan. HARDACRE, for God’s sake, hurry up man!’
Simpson’s voice drew Hardacre’s attention back to their task, and he bolted to catch up with the others.
‘This is not a safe place to be, Simpson. We need to get the hell off of this island,’ he said, his voice filled with fear.
Unable to shake the sense that they were being watched, Hardacre pushed ahead of Simpson. He didn’t want to be the last man in the party. It was a vulnerable position, and he had a wife and child back home in England to consider.
When they were almost back at the camp, Hardacre called for them all to stop.
‘We need to decide upon what to tell the others about Whistler, Prince, Juarez, and James. They’ll want to know.’
Simpson dropped the lengths of wood he was carrying. His hands were beginning to blister, and cramp. He flexed his fingers, stretching them out as far as he could, and then balled them into fists. He had no idea what they should tell the others, but it certainly should not be the truth. The truth would send them all into a frenzy. They would be panicked, and a panicked, already frightened landing party would be mutinous.
‘We can’t tell them the truth,’ Simpson’s voice was barely audible.
‘Agreed,’ said Hardacre.
The two juniors, David Bell and William Smith, looked at each other and then back at Hardacre. They were not going to argue with either man. They would do whatever they were told to do or say, for as long as was required. Both knew that whilst Hardacre appeared to be a soft man, he was brutal on those who failed to follow his orders.
What to say? thought Hardacre. Whatever they came up with had to be plausible, and they had to come up with it fast. Night was falling, and by the time they made it back to camp, the mist would be upon them. There would be little time to set up any sort of decent shelter tonight, if they didn’t get moving.
It was Simpson who came up with the idea. ‘We could say that they volunteered to go find food and water. Whistler was a good marksman. James was a tracker. It could work for a while.’
Hardacre considered Simpson’s option. He was right; it could work for a while. However, they’d have to be very careful not to allow people to wander away from the site.
‘Agreed. They’ve gone hunting. Bell? Smith? Got it?’ Hardacre barked at the juniors. They nodded their understanding.
‘Let’s move. We’ll have a little time left to try and build a shelter. We can’t spend the night out in the open again.’ Simpson picked up the planks of wood and juggled them so they sat comfortably in his arms. The others followed his lead, and they made the short journey back to camp, where they were inundated by questions about the whereabouts of the other four men.
. . . To be continued . . .