My lords, ladies and gentlemen, my name is Samuel Bullivant and I am here to give an account of my adventures, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say misadventures, in the southern ocean. My task, as you are aware, since you sent me, was to explore the islands, in terms of geography, fauna and flora, vegetation, geology, as well as history and mythology, to see whether they were inhabited, and if so, to make contact with these tribal groups and attempt to communicate with them. I was also to act as a cartographer and delineate the region as accurately as I could from the information I was given by the indigenous inhabitants. The sinking of the ship called Magdalene, which was to be the conveyance for me to that region, made it impossible for me to fulfil your mission which you had entrusted into my hands. I regret deeply that I have failed in my part of the contract which I signed with you here in this very chamber one year ago. I hope my account of what has happened will go some way in alleviating the disappointment I share with you.
As far as the aforementioned event of the ship’s demise is concerned, I cannot say very much in order for you to come to any firm conclusion as to the cause or causes thereof, since I can remember very little. First of all, there was a sharp jolt which woke me up as I was sleeping in my hammock on deck, and then an explosion ensued somewhere probably down below near the engine - at which juncture I passed out. I think I must have been flung some considerable distance away from the downward draft of the boat as it sank, because the next thing I remember was lying on some debris. It could have been a part of the hull, scattered in pieces across a wide expanse. Apparently I was the sole survivor of the catastrophe, as I looked around and saw no-one - not even bodies, floating on the surface. I then suddenly realized I was near to land. In truth I had very little strength left within myself, but fortunately I did not have to exert too much energy, because the tide was taking me ever closer towards the shore, where I was eventually deposited onto a sandy beach in a state of utter exhaustion. I must have fallen asleep at that point, and remained unconscious for a considerable length of time.
I was suddenly woken up by something being poked in my back. At first, I could not fathom out my whereabouts nor my condition, but I was soon apprised of both in an instant. I turned round and faced what it was that had rudely interrupted my slumbers. He was holding some kind of pole, which had the resemblance of a staff of office, not dissimilar to any found in this very building. However, the first words he uttered soon dispelled any notion I might have had of a worthy alderman from one of the trade guilds of my own fair city.
“Howdy, pardn’r!” It was a small, moustachioed man who uttered this salutation in a somewhat twangy, sing-song voice, the sound of which seemed to emanate from inside his bulbous nose, and I could not help but think was slightly comical. However, I managed to curb my wish to laugh out loud, feeling that an appropriate and perhaps polite reply was required from me.
“Ugh! Oh! Good day to you, sir! Could you please tell me my exact location?”
“Why, you’ve landed in the best place in the world - Pelagonia. (He produced a broad grin on his oval face, as he uttered this magnificent and unproven statement!) Or at least the part we consider the best which is the southern - the rest don’t count! My God, you look all done in! We’ll soon fix you up with a nice juicy steak and you can take advantage of our tradition of southern hospitality of which we are so proud. It is well-known that we are experts at entertaining.”
I must say, I found his way of talking very odd. It was what I might term a drawl - slow and deliberate, as though he wanted to emphasize every syllable, and ensure I did not miss anything he said. I knew it would take me a while to get used to this way of talking. I also hoped I did not mimic his drawn out speech, although I was very afraid it would be too much of a temptation for my talents as an accomplished impressionist.
Let me tell you about how he was dressed, because I was also struck by his attire. The first thing that drew my attention was his wide-brimmed hat which was indented in the middle. He would often take it off and wipe his brow with his sleeve. I have never in my whole life seen such a hat. I asked him about it, and he told me it was the kind of hat that a cowboy wore. Who on earth was a cowboy, I asked. He kind of peered at me, as if I had lost my senses. He took his hat off again, scratched his brow and stared at me. He did not say anything, but just shook his head as we both moved off away from the beach. Let me tell you about his clothes. He was dressed in breeches which seemed to have tassels down both his legs. His shirt was white (or I would say, dazzling white, as though it was constantly in sunlight) with a frilly or perhaps over-elaborate design down the middle of it. It looked as though he thought his attire gave him a certain status, because as we moved off, with me dragging my feet like a half-dead skeleton, he was almost swaggering.
Suddenly we were joined by a few other natives, who stopped right in front of us, so we could not continue our perambulations. They must have been his wife and children of all ages from young adults to the baby carried by the eldest girl in her arms. The woman wore a long, flowing dress. Dress is probably too fine a word to describe it, because it looked colourless and shabby. Her face was careworn. She was not smiling. She also stared at me, as though I was from another time and place. I returned her gaze with equal force, even in the pitiable state in which I found myself.
“Who’s this?” She pointed her gnarled finger at me in my wretched condition, her face fixated in a look of utter contempt, thus dispelling the theory from her husband that they were hospitable people of world renown - the world, as he suggested, being restricted to the area of their acquaintance only.
“Hush, my dearest. Show respect to this unfortunate specimen. We are going to look after him.” He had decided I was to be given the benefit of the doubt, as far as my unannounced arrival in their midst was concerned. I suddenly realized how strange it was I did not have to make signs to communicate with these indigenous people, since they spoke my language, albeit in a somewhat hilarious fashion. While she was thinking of a suitable reply, I did object most strongly to being called a “specimen”, as though I could be looked at through a microscope, but I kept my counsel. I knew I was dependent on their suspect hospitality. I had nowhere else to go and seek help for the time being.
“Well, husband. I will go along with this for now. I will give him meals and provide him with a place to sleep. but only for a few days. Then we will enquire of the Grand Council as to how best to proceed with this matter which has unfortunately been thrust upon us without our consent.”
I resented being talked about in the third person. I had every right to speak up for myself - which I intended to do at the first opportunity, which would become available to me before such a supposed august body as the Grand Council. However, at the first mention of this mysterious group, which clearly determined matters for the indigenous people, I felt a chill go through me. How was I to know if they would be well disposed towards me or not? And could I ingratiate myself with them, and if so, how? Again, I kept these thoughts to myself, but my cluttered mind was aching so much my head felt as though it was being squeezed by a vice from both my temples.
I was tired and hungry. “My good sir,” I implored the man. “I would be very grateful for both some food and a bed on which to lay my weary head.”
He suddenly ordered his two adult sons to take me bodily to their house. As we approached it, I could make out through my half-closed eyes a straw-covered building, which was circumscribed by a veranda and had by way of entrance a flight of steps leading up to the said veranda. I was dragged like a heavy-duty sack to a divan-type chair, where I was practically dumped and left there to my own devices.
It was not long before I could not keep my eyes open and fell into a deep slumber. They must have left me alone, because when I eventually woke up, it was pitch dark and apart from the cacophony from the invisible crickets (about which I was told later!) and the snoring, which rose and fell at different beats from several places within the dwelling-place I could say that all was quiet - but by no means silent!
I could not get to sleep again, so I just listened and considered everything that had befallen me up to that point. My stomach was joining in the night-chorus, as the emptiness inside me rumbled with a yearning for food - any food. I could do nothing to assuage my hunger, since I had no idea where the kitchen (or to put it more accurately, the place where the food was prepared and cooked!) was located within the house, and I was not willing to inadvertently wake up the whole household and make myself even more of an enemy than I already was. Certainly I did not want to disturb the one who wielded the ultimate authority in the family. I hasten to add that in my estimation thus far, it was not the man!
So until dawn broke, I suffered the pangs of hunger which soon developed into thirst, as the temperature rose with the clammy humidity in the air. Suddenly out of the dense forest or jungle behind the house a sound which I had never before heard in my entire life rose to a crescendo. I had of course been used to the kettledrums and the snap-drums of our armed forces as they marched in glorious parades. These were of a different order. Their booming was deep and thunderous and constant like the hammer-blow of life, reminding us all there was but a hair’s breath twixt day and night, when death comes stealthily but surely to one or two or more. The noise was supposed to have the effect of instilling fear or at least awe.
As soon as it started up, the family ran out of the house. One of their number grabbed me by the arm and I was propelled along a well-worn track which led through the dimly lit canopy, composed of overhanging foliage, soaked in the damp heat. We were caught in this web as we pushed through, our bodies, wet with sapping perspiration .
As we lunged deeper into the forest, others, equally anxious in their striving to arrive on time, joined our band of followers. I was completely bewildered and weak from lack of food. I even wondered whether I was not dreaming, or sleepwalking.
Suddenly we all emerged into a clearing where other dwelling houses stood in a circle round a kind of assembly point, which is where people were congregating and waiting in anticipation for what they (but not I) knew what they were about to hear from their great Leader. From the time we were at the house until this moment the thundering drums had not missed a beat, and as we approached the clearing, the volume of this call grew to a deafening crescendo.
Just as I was about to put my hands up to my ears to stop the invasion of sound, it ceased in an instant. At that moment, a tall man, dressed in a dinner jacket and bow-tie and white shirt and patent leather shoes, emerged from what looked like the main house. Someone whispered to me: “There is he! Our esteemed Leader! Make sure you do what we do, otherwise you will certainly get into trouble.” I was obviously a stranger in these parts, as they would say, and he was very kind in telling me.
As I looked at the so-called Leader, I had an irresistible urge to see the ridiculous nature of the situation and would have let out a belly-laugh, if it was not for the fact that I reminded myself diplomacy was the better part of valour. I am not sure if I have quoted the expression correctly. It did however fit the situation perfectly. So I bit my tongue, just as the aforementioned Leader raised both arms and everyone (including my humble self) bowed for what seemed minutes, until his voice boomed out across the assembly.
“The flag will now be raised.” As one we all turned to the left, where beside the Leader’s dwelling-house, a whitewashed pole of about seven feet in height stood like a sentinel, watching over the proceedings. Then two of the Leader’s cohorts (I could not think of a more appropriate name to call them!) marched up to him, saluted and were handed the aforesaid flag, wrapped up in what appeared to be a pre-ordained fashion. They took two paces back, saluted once more, and then marched towards the flagpole.
Everything was done with perfect precision. I was impressed. Then the flag was attached to the pole and gradually raised, as the drums rolled and the people began to sing their anthem. When I say that they sang, I mean that it sounded more like a growl or low moan. I was able to make out the words as a consequence. I just opened my mouth and hoped for the best. I had no notion of the patriotic nature of the song or its linguistic worth. It was never even explained to me afterwards. No-one seemed to think it important.
As I watched and mouthed the words, I looked as closely as I could at the flag itself. The overall colours were red on a white background, with some shapes set as stars in a criss-cross design. As far as I can tell, I have never in my life seen anything like it in my life.
I was suddenly snatched from my daydream of the flag, as the Leader’s voice boomed out across the parade-ground. “Sit, my people”. Instantly, down we all went and sat cross-legged on the ground, facing the Leader. All eyes were then fixed on him, as though we were children, eagerly awaiting what their teacher was going to impart to them from his or her reservoir of sacred knowledge. Silence swept through the crowd like a sudden gust of wind, which all in one gasp seemed to inhale! His gaze flowed up and down the ranks, as a general would, before going into battle. He smiled and lowered his arms. At first he said nothing, he just looked. Then the voice spoke in hushed tones. You could hardly hear him. However, the words were delivered in a stage whisper, so that no-one would miss their meaning.
“Today……(he paused) Today I have instructed my Grand Council to put us all on a war footing against our enemy. We must defend ourselves from this moment on. We have had enough of the taunts and jibes of this vermin. We will climb the mountain and attack them in their homes and fields. We will not allow a single one escape, because this island belongs to us - to us, the Southern-Crossite people! Long live the Southern-Crossites! Down with the Rainbowians!” At first his voice was delivered almost in a monotone, but from the word “defend” he became more animated and agitated. The words -“taunts and jibes”- were like dagger thrusts, as he punched the air with his fist. His face grew puce with incandescent rage, as he proceeded with his call to arms.
The crowd became restless and then rose as one man at the word - Southern-Crossite! The shout (or was it scream!) went up. “Southern-Crossites to arms! Down with the Rainbowiansl!” As an outsider I was intrigued by this display of public hysteria, which I had never before encountered in my life. I followed the instructions which my unknown friend had given me - that I was to blend into the background and make myself as inconspicuous as possible. This I found took a great deal of effort on my part, because I was constantly having to watch what my companions did and then follow suit. There was no time for any moral scruples I might have had. Or at least I managed to get away with not having to do anything I might be completely ashamed of later, as I reflected on my participation in what I considered just a pantomime.
As I witnessed the spectacle, I could not help thinking that these Rainbowians must be such terrible people to have caused all this anger from those around me who were now stamping their feet and raising their fists in the air, as their Leader looked on with what I could only now describe as a smirk of cunning intent, just as I imagine a wolf to show, as it prowled towards its prey.
Ladies and gentlemen, you must be as shocked as I was by this performance of otherwise sane people being injected with such frenzy so as to do whatever was asked of them - even to kill. I decided there and then I would try and extricate myself from this tribe, which I considered a dangerous threat to civilisation, and if necessary, I would ensure that you, ladies and gentlemen, would institute a plan to assist an invasion force to take that part of the island in order to bring order to the people and to educate them into the ways of peace. However, I had to defer my inclination upon such a course of action until a more apposite time.
I could however seek to discover what the other people were like who inhabited the northern portion of the island, and so that was my determination at the next opportune moment. After the demonstration of mutual solidarity on the part of the Southern-Crossite tribe, in whose midst I had unfortunately found myself bound through no fault of my own, except for being the sole survivor of a shipwreck, for that was how I viewed my state at this time.
I was soon plunged into a deep depression, as we dispersed to our various dwelling-places, once the brouhaha had died down. I was only too aware the embers of that fiery cauldron still remained inside every heart of that hapless people. I felt very much as a stranger, unused to such violence of emotion, which could easily presage disaster for many.
The family, who had taken me into their dwelling, returned home with me. I remained silent the whole time we walked along the downtrodden path. No-one was running back. Words were spoken in hushed tones, as though it felt the very trees were acting as spies for their enemies, listening to every word spoken, and sifting through them, in order to discover any seditious talk. Above all, I know the people had no idea what was going to happen nor what was expected of them. They were in a unique situation, and what was worse, they had probably never seen a single Rainbowian, so they had no notion as to what their enemy looked like - whether they were taller or shorter than they, whether they were warlike, what weapons they possessed, if they too were preparing to wage war on them at that precise moment, whether they were even now on the march towards their own village to capture and enslave them. Thoughts have a habit of dragging you down an inevitable spiral into a chasm of fear and then terror of the unknown.
I watched with the detached air of an amateur psychologist. I was not part of this. I had no enemies - not even in my imagination! At least if I did, it was not of my making. I think I had made peace with those with whom I needed to be at one - especially with members of my own family and colleagues, who had considered my journey to be a most reckless undertaking for someone of my age. I explained my reasons for making this journey into a region, of which I had little knowledge and it turned out, that others were in the same position as myself, including most of you, my lords, ladies and gentlemen, who had sent me on this voyage.
If you will excuse me, I must return to my narrative, ladies and gentlemen.
I was determined that, if the moon was absent, I would escape that night from the bonds of my unjustified detention, and attempt a journey over the mountain range to the other side of the island. Unfortunately I had no compass, so I therefore had to change my mind and risk using the light of the moon as the means of guiding me to my as yet unknown and therefore strange destination.
Thus after the family had retired to their sleeping quarters, and having said I would prefer to bed down alone on the veranda, I waited until well after the midnight hour to make my move. Was I foolish not to have confided in at least one possible co-conspirator among the people, in order to aid me through the dense forest up to the foothills beneath the mountain? I concluded that I had been wise not to take such a potentially catastrophic step, which could have put me in serious danger, especially given the volatile atmosphere of the cantonment, which had been stoked up by their so-called “Leader”, who may perhaps prove to be even more unpredictable and cruel than I could imagine.
I was not going to wait to find out. So I rose from my bed, making sure every gesture and step was as soundless as I could possibly make it - which therefore caused my progress to be agonizingly slow. Every now and then as I ventured further away from the place, I stopped in my tracks, listening for any movement from the others. I was fortunate, for nothing stirred.
I then disappeared into the trees, making sure the light of the moon was emanating from a certain direction at various times, at which without any means of checking, not having a timepiece to indicate these, I had to guess. So somehow by trial and error and I should say luck, which was definitely on my side, after a number of hours of toil and sweat, I finally reached a cliff-face, which I presumed to be the lowest formation of the mountain. By now the dawn was breaking, and thus enabled me to take stock of my situation more clearly.
The cliff proved not to be sheer, for which I was thankful. I could see there were periodically indentations in the rock, where I could place my feet and hands, as I climbed up to a plateau, which was situated not far from the ground. And so it was, that I could utilize the mountaineering skills I had perfected in my own country for reaching a summit, from which to view the expanse of heights and valleys. However, this time I did not have the assistance of any colleagues or ropes or crampons. I was therefore somewhat at a disadvantage, but nevertheless my former experience did enable me to rely on my professional skills, which kept at bay any fear of falling.
The mountain turned out to be a series of cliff-faces and plateaus until I reached a point where I knew I could then descend. Having arrived at the point, where I could review my progress thus far as well as a clear picture of the dwelling places of my former companions, I then looked beyond into the other part of the island. It did not seem to be any different from where I had emerged. Just dense forest. I could see smoke rising in the distance and assumed that to be the location of the Rainbowian village or villages. It appeared to be a tranquil scene, from which no violence could be threatened against a neighbour.
As I beheld this magnificent panorama, I also noticed a movement in the bushes in front of me. “Ahoy there! Can I help you?” I know it was a somewhat ridiculous question to ask, because it might have been an animal, and besides that, what could I possibly do to help anyone? I was the one who needed assistance. For some reason something caught my eye behind me as well. It was the sight of dozens of people in the far distance and they were coming this way, but had as yet not reached the foothills. They looked just like ants, and I was therefore able to put their movements in perspective.
A figure emerged from the bush in front of me. “They will never get this far, my friend. They’ve tried before. The mountain always gets in their way. They are a rum lot, those Southern-Crossites! Who might you be, my fine fellow? Pleased to meet you”. He held out his hand to shake mine.
This was progress, compared to my first encounter with the other people, who seem to me suspicious of all newcomers. I willingly offered my hand, and smiled back at him. I took a long look at this youngish man. He had the air of someone, who was totally at ease with himself. He did not have to prove anything to anyone. You took him on face value or not at all.
“I am so pleased to meet you, young sir! I assume you are a Rainbowian?”
His smile never left his face. “At your service, sir! Anything you want to know about us, yours truly will be happy to tell you. You have only to ask.”
I did have many questions, but I sensed that these could wait until we were down in the village which was not that far away. It was going to be a walk rather than a climb down, so we would not take too long to reach our destination.
He indicated to me to follow him down a gentle slope. As we descended, I then began to wonder how it was he was there just as I arrived at the summit. Had I been watched? It did not really matter, because if the rest of the tribe were as friendly as he was, I would have no trouble in trusting them as well as learning about their lives.
I suspected they were by no means the warlike creatures which the Southern-Crossites made them out to be. As I climbed down, I considered how easy it was for a despotic leader to find a scapegoat for his people, as he indoctrinated and brainwashed them for his purpose of conquest and subjugation of his and their perceived enemies.
Then I wondered how an otherwise pacific people could turn to arms to defend themselves, when it was against their nature to do so. I obviously had much to learn about human nature and its perversions as well as its glories.
Ladies and gentlemen, you will see I have reached what you might call the halfway mark. I no longer wished to see any of my former associates from the south of the island. However, it seemed as though I might be destined to do just that and in the heat of battle, knowing I was on the victory side, despite all the temporary hardships and griefs which come when you stand up against evil.
As I said, the way down proved to be less arduous than the climb I had had to endure from the southern side of the mountain, which I discovered from my comrade was called the “Holy Mountain”. It seemed that his people almost venerated it as a place of deep spirituality. He explained that often groups would go up to a certain place, hidden away, for periods of contemplation and prayer.
My eyes were widening with each revelation about his people. It turned out that my comrade’s name was Philip. So I addressed him as such, although he did most of the talking, and I was on a learning curve, hoping I could remember as much as I could.
The path down to the valley suddenly began to become steeper and more difficult to negotiate with the shale and rocks scattering everywhere beneath our feet. Philip was scampering like a goat, while I scrambled and stumbled my way awkwardly over each obstacle. He looked back constantly to check on my progress. I appreciated his concern. Sometimes he would come back and holding my arm, help me along. Was this kindness natural or a learned behaviour? Why did I bother to speculate? Ladies and gentlemen, he and I were set on one course, and that was to reach the village before nightfall.
As I said, I was almost certain that my arrival was expected, and there had been scouts who had located me on the ridge. Did they need a telescope or was their eyesight sufficiently acute for that purpose? Besides that, where were the lookout posts? They must have been somewhere near the summit of the mountain.
As we descended further, suddenly Philip turned to me and asked me: “And what shall I call you, my fine fellow?” He seemed to like calling me in that familiar way, but he was curious to know my actual name.
“Well, my full name is Samuel Bullivant.” I all at once realized that no-one in the other village knew my name nor ever enquired after it. “However, you can call me Sam, just as my close friends do.”
“Then Sam it is”, he said. He then took my hand, and almost skipped down the path. I was hard-pressed to keep up with him, but I did not mind the extra exertion. I felt a lightness in my step. My spirit was gradually rising further and further with every moment I was in his company. He seemed to be someone without guile or conceit, and I began to trust him, even though as yet the only thing he knew about me was my name.
I was sure that when the time came for us to share our respective stories, there would be an understanding between us, which would grow with the telling and living.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am digressing. I need to continue my tale. We arrived at the village of the Rainbowians at just before sunset. In fact the shadows were beginning to form, as we encountered those dwelling-places situated on the edge of the village. Many were outside, busy with finishing off their daily chores or preparing the evening meal for the family. All without exception were smiling or laughing. Jokes seemed to breaking out all over.
It soon became apparent to me that these were peace-loving people, who had no desire to hate anyone, let alone go to war.
All this time, Philip was keeping hold of my hand, but this time with his other arm steered me towards the centre of the village and, as it turned out, his own dwelling-place. “Look, everyone! See who I have brought. Come and meet him. His name is Samuel Bullivant but you can call him Sam, because we are his close friends.” He blurted this all out so innocently.
We were suddenly surrounded by children of varying sizes, all wanting to get a sight and touch of me, grabbing my arm, pinching and stroking me, perhaps to ensure that I was real. It seemed as though I was at that very moment the centre of attention, and everyone without a single exception was pleased to see me. The contrast between this experience and what I had encountered when I first arrived on the island could not have been greater. These friendly people did not know me, and yet they were welcoming me as though I was a long-lost relative. Time would tell if that assumption was correct or whether it did not matter anyway.
The mother of the family came out of the house, dressed in an apron and holding what looked like a ladle. A smile from ear to ear was beaming across her face, as she quickly came up to me, and gave me a hug - which I certainly did not expect. Inwardly I was somewhat embarrassed, because I am not used to such displays of affection, even among family members. Nevertheless, I accepted her embrace as her way of showing what she thought of me as her guest, soon to be a member of a loved and loving family.
“My dear, our home is your home, your place is here with us, you are most welcome to stay as long as you wish - even for ever! Now that is an offer you can’t refuse, is it, my fine fellow!”
There it was - that expression again! Philip interrupted her. “Mother, his name is Samuel Bullivant but we can call him Sam. Didn’t you hear me say?” He chuckled, as he held my hand. “Of course I did, dearie. I am not deaf yet! Mind you with all this kerfuffle going on it may not be long before I am. Oh how I long to get some peace and quiet around this place!”
Frankly when she said that, I really was not all that convinced she meant what she said, but it looked as if she had a mischievous twinkle in her eye, as she looked around at all her offspring, whom she clearly adored.
“Well, dearies, let us all go in and have some supper. You are hungry, aren’t you, my… Sam”. She corrected herself just in time. And we all trooped in, some cradling the babies in their arms or holding the hands of the younger children. I eventually counted all eight of them. I would have to wait to learn their names. When we eventually sat at the table, everyone’s eyes were fixed on me, and everyone had a broad grin on their face. It seemed as though they expected me to make a speech or say something about my arrival in their midst.
Mother took the initiative, came up and whispered in my ear. She suggested I said a prayer for the food we were about to consume. I was almost grateful not to have to make a speech, but suddenly was afflicted with what an actor would describe as an attack of stage fright.
“Hmmmm.” Then I remembered from some deep recess in my mind words spoken by all of us scholars when we stood at table, looking at the fare set before us - such as it was. “For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful!” I almost breathed out a sigh of relief, which I hope no-one else noticed. I could have tried a blessing in Latin, but I know I would have got tongue-tied half-way through.
“Thank you, dearie. That was really nice of you, wasn’t it, everyone!” The children suddenly burst out clapping and screaming at the tops of their voices. “Hush, my dearies. Sam has been on a long journey to get here to be with us this evening, and he must be a very tired lad. So we are going to be as quiet as mice while we eat, aren’t we, children?” Her voice was so gentle, as she looked round the room at each of her children, who all nodded in agreement with her suggestion.
I was going to be able to have a relaxing meal among my new-found friends, who were so quiet that if I could not see them I might have been tempted to think they had suddenly all disappeared, but they were all munching away at their food in comparative silence, because they wanted to please their mother, who they all knew was their protector and comforter at all times in this physical world.
Eventually the meal was finished and all the children went to prepare for the night. Only Philip and I were left at the table. We did not talk. I was sleepy, and it showed as I looked at him, and he watched me closely. He was smiling, or rather the smile had never left his face, since our first meeting high up on the summit. I cannot explain it, but he and I were connected with each other in a deep way. We could see it in our eyes. Without revealing ourselves in words, we somehow knew each other intimately. A bond had been formed which we sensed would not be broken. We would probably need to rely on that, in the days ahead, as we faced challenges to our relationship.
Ladies and gentlemen, I crave your indulgence, as I describe concepts which may seem strange, even unnatural, to you. I can understand your reticence at hearing certain events, considerations, and ideas relating to my account which do not accord with your own traditional ways of thinking and behaving. I would only ask you to open your minds and hearts to the possibility that freedom may have a greater and more worthy scope than we are prepared to give it for the good of humanity.
I have already told you of a warlike tribe, which did not enquire of their presumed enemy, to ascertain if the latter was indeed an implacable adversary or if they had misconstrued this assumption and not realized the latter’s intentions were entirely peaceful. Sometimes peace comes with a price, because one group refuses to listen to reasonable argument.
As I sat there with Philip, I hoped with all my heart that they could continue to live in peace and perhaps harmony with their neighbour, but dark clouds were gathering not just on the other side of the mountain but also in my own mind as a consequence. I wanted so much to protect Philip and his family and the other members of his tribe from the destruction which may very well be meted out on them by the evil forces, ranged against them.
I suddenly woke up from my half-conscious state, and gripped Philip’s hand. I looked into his eyes, which were so gentle and loving. I began to weep - which caused him to become very upset. “What is wrong, Sam?”
“My dearest Philip, you are all in great danger.” I almost hated myself for disturbing the equilibrium of this beautiful place and people, but I could not avoid telling him my news of possible impending disaster, unless preparations for the unthinkable were made by such a peace-loving tribe.
“I have been to the other side of the island, and seen that the Southern-Crossite tribe have become so crazed with violent thoughts about you Rainbowians, that they may be about to launch an attack upon you in the next few days and if they reach your village, they are determined to kill every single member of the tribe, man, woman and child.”
I was shocked by Philip’s reaction. He continued to smile, and then hugged me. His lips almost brushed my cheeks as well. He then looked at me, full in the face. He had no fear in him whatsoever. I could sense it.
“My dear Sam, we all know of their hatred for us. We have known that for a long time. They do not scare us at all, because in fact they will never reach this village. You were lucky, because you had the skills of a mountain goat and you were protected along the way here, even though you weren’t aware of it. Let us just say that the Holy Mountain protected you. Now, my dear, there is something I want to tell you about us - which might explain why we are not afraid.”
He paused, and gave me a kiss on the cheek. I somehow knew that what he was about to tell me was of the utmost importance and it would be wise for me never to forget it.
“Have you wondered why we are called Rainbowians, Sam?”
I had to confess I was somewhat ignorant of the reason, and so I waited for the answer to his question.
“Tell me, what do you often see after there has been a storm - after it moves on to another place to pour out its wrath there?”
“The sun comes out?” I hazarded a tentative suggestion, which seemed possible.
“Yes, and?” He waited for a further more obvious response.
I suddenly remembered their name, and it was like a coin which had fallen into a pool to form ripples on the surface. “A rainbow!” I answered with confidence.
“Exactly. Now, my dear Sam, after it has rained, we often see a rainbow shining over the mountain. The rainbow, as you know from your bible, means promise - promise for the future! For us it also has an extra significance - protection. For that reason we call the mountain holy. Now that mountain lies between us and the other tribe. Therefore we are not afraid. Do you understand now? We also have a flag, which has stripes of all the colours of the rainbow as a constant reminder to us, as if we needed it.”
“The Southern-Crossites will never be able to climb the cliff-face, because they do not have the correct skills for mountaineering. You demonstrated the art of perseverance and fearlessness. Above all, fearlessness. Until they desist from their warlike games, they will never be rid of their fears. So therefore, we are aware of their existence but never encountered them and the same applies to them. They have never seen us, but have ill-conceived notions about us, which they cannot relinquish, because they have not met us and become acquainted with us, as you, my dear Sam, have. You know us to be a welcoming, loving tribe, who never turn away the stranger. He or she becomes part of our family, and as for you, Sam, I can honestly say without a shadow of a doubt that you have become flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone. You know that.”
With those last words, we kissed each other on the lips and hugged each other. It seemed so natural, as my former inhibitions were dispelled like mist in the sunshine. In the days ahead while I stayed with them, he and I would get to know each other as brothers in a way which went beyond filial ties. These were ties of love - a love which was indestructible, because it was pure like a mountain-spring, even perhaps one emanating from the Holy Mountain.
Ladies and gentlemen, you will no doubt be shocked by my turn of phrase. Some of you may be tempted to walk out of this room, and refuse to hear the rest of my account. I must admit that I have failed to fulfil most of the work I was supposed to carry out on this expedition. However, it is my desire to return to the region after securing further sponsorship and this time, take Philip with me, teaching him the various accomplishments of my profession, so he can assist me in the completion of the plan as originally laid out before this honoured assembly.
I make no apology for being frank with you about my impressions, observations and reactions to the experiences I had during my entire time on the island. As you can appreciate, when I came into contact with the Rainbowian tribe, I received a particularly special surprise which has impacted my life ever since, and that is my relationship with the young man, Philip.
As it so happened, he was to become my tutor into the ways of his people. The morning after my arrival amongst his own family, we walked into the centre of the village, his own dwelling-place being on the fringe and out of sight. I was introduced to the rest of the villagers, who without exception were especially courteous and friendly towards me, as they looked up at me from their labours, whatever they may have been. Philip had clearly decided with his mother’s permission to be excused his tasks for the day in order to act as my guide.
We went from dwelling to dwelling, encountering the same open greeting towards myself. However, I soon realized from the exchanges between Philip and others that his own mother had in the village hierarchy a position of some considerable importance and honour. Whenever her name was mentioned, it was almost in reverential terms. Unlike the other “Leader”, she had earned the people’s trust and love, because she viewed them as an extension of her own family.
What I did not see was any flag waving ceremony nor great speeches, just people quietly getting on with their lives, undisturbed by any potential outside threat, because they could not conceive of any. It was beyond their understanding to believe in hate or war.
I was so happy among this people, that I soon became involved in their daily lives, working with them on whatever was needed to do for the betterment of the community. In my former existence in the old country I almost prided myself on being a handyman, so the skills I had perfected were placed at the service of my new friends, not in a superior way as though I knew best, but in a spirit of cooperation - where if a new skill was needed to complete a task more effectively, then I would teach my comrades, who had for that time become my willing and eager students.
I stayed with the Rainbowians for I think about two months. I am not certain about how long. It could have been more than two. I was so contented that I lost track of the time, until there came the day, when I knew I would have to leave and return to give you, ladies and gentlemen, an account of my journey (partial though it would be, in terms of what I had or had not accomplished!) to just one solitary island, which lay in the southern ocean, as yet discovered only by your humble servant, as far as I can tell.
“Philip, my dear, dear Philip”. One morning we were sitting at the table on the veranda, and I could not hold back my emotions. I drew him to myself and embraced him. I admit tears were flowing freely down my cheeks. I had to tell him of my decision.
“I will have to leave this place and go back to my own country, my love.” He was so shocked that he too shook uncontrollably, as I held him in my arms. His voice was small and almost inaudible. “My dear, I don’t want you to go.”
Nothing more was said for what seemed a long time. We held each other close. And no-one came to interrupt us - which was in the circumstances a blessing. Eventually, we released each other, and I looked at his tearful face, him looking so distraught and unable to speak.
I then proceeded to attempt to explain to him I needed to report back to a committee of some esteemed ladies and gentlemen who had sent me out on a kind of mission to discover the islands of the southern ocean, of which Pelagonia was but one of them. I told him my return was long overdue, but I would come back to fetch him and we would work together on my next assignment.
At first he demurred, citing the fact he was needed by his family. In fact, we left our conversation, with him not certain he could accompany me at that time. We both got up from the table, uneasy and sad about the future. He left me there to go to work in the fields. It was almost like a dismissal for me. I understood. He needed time to absorb everything and make sense of it.
I decided to go for a walk into the forest to calm my nerves and try and find some repose from the tumult in my troubled mind. I espied a large tree-trunk, lying on its side, obviously having fallen during a past storm and now at the mercy of the elements. I sat down to collect my thoughts and come to some fixed purpose - including how I was to leave this island. It was clear I would have to construct a boat of substantial proportions, which could be fit for the purpose of conveying me back to my starting point, if it was at all feasible.
I would need the skills of an understanding carpenter as well as labourers to carry heavy branches which could then be made into planks. Since iron was not to be found on the island, we would have to fashion out round or square pegs to join the planks together to build the entire structure of the boat as well as carve out two oars. I hope the women would be prepared to part with pieces of cloth to sew with twine with which to form a number of sturdy sails. I would also ensure I had needle and thread in order mend these if they were torn by the fierce winds which were notoriously prevalent in the southern ocean, and of which you, ladies and gentlemen, are only too aware, after the disaster of the Grandison on Whitelands Rock a few years ago. I was not aiming to join that unfortunate crew who all but a handful perished far from home.
I lingered for a while beneath the canopy of trees, completely taken up with the conflicting thoughts which were assailing my mind. I had not noticed a figure approach me, until I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. “You seem concerned, my fine fellow! Can I be of assistance?”
An elderly gentleman, whom I remembered seeing in the village during my initial introductory peregrinations throughout the area with Philip at my side, was leaning on a gnarled walking stick. As he looked at me intently, he seemed to be offering me a chance to avail myself of his reservoir of wisdom, which he had gained over many years of struggle and joy.
I decided to explain my predicament to him. He did not interrupt the flow of my discourse. At the end, he just stood there in silence. I sensed he was contemplating the right response to my questioning thoughts. He continued to look at this young fellow with studying eyes, almost like a professor with his uninformed but eager to learn student.
He cleared his throat and stood up to his full height. “Young man,” he said with a voice of calm authority, it seemed. “You must do what you think is best, not just for yourself, but also for you and your friend, Philip. He has responsibilities which he needs to fulfil towards his family. Once they have been discharged, then there is no reason why he cannot accompany you on any future expedition which you and your committee have planned. I wish you and Philip success and happiness in your life together.”
No sooner had he finished his speech than he disappeared into the forest. I have to say that from that moment on I never set eyes on him again. I almost began to think he had been a figment of my imagination - that I was mistaken in supposing I had seen him before. Perhaps this was my way of sorting out the confusion in my mind.
I freely admit to you, ladies and gentlemen, that I was tempted to consider I had lost my senses at that moment. I decided not to move off suddenly but to wait and be still - above all. I began to think of Philip and how I had hurt him with the news of my intention to leave. He had clearly not expected this. It had come as a shock to him.
I resolved to try and help him realize my leaving did not mean I was abandoning him. In fact, this was far from my mind. I was determined on my course of action for future plans, which would definitely include him. I wanted him to understand there was no doubt about this eventuality. At the same time, he would do what was needed for his family - for their protection and well-being. He had long been the replacement for his own father, who had died at such an early age, leaving his mother with so many little ones to feed. Tragedy had struck the family, but Philip had become what his own father could no longer be.
Now he had met me, and wanted to be mine but also continue to be the “father” to his family. I waited for an hour or two, deciding if I should speak to Philip first or his mother. I was in a quandary. I wanted to do the right thing. His mother had been so kind to me, it would almost be churlish of me to say that I was having to leave, even if I explained the reasons, which for her might be difficult to comprehend. On the other hand I had already upset Philip, and wanted to make it up to him. At that moment I had no idea how I would accomplish that task.
I decided to bide my time, and not to make any comment about the future. I lived as a beloved member of my adopted family. I worked, ate and slept with them. I realized debate on any particular subject, which might cause friction, was not exactly frowned upon, just ignored, avoided. However, conversation on their daily lives was conducted in a constant, excitable and merry hubbub of chattering. Everyone had a smile at all times on their faces.
My lords, ladies and gentlemen, I began to understand how we could learn from these peace-loving people, who were just getting on with their daily round of tasks and free time. I began to question whether we might have lost equilibrium in the pursuit of wealth and position in this hierarchical society of ours. I know this may seem a revolutionary idea which strikes at the very core of all we have built up for ourselves, but let me ask you if it has all been worthwhile.
I was living a life of which I was unfamiliar but which I increasingly grew to savour - particularly with the undemanding help of Philip. He never referred to our discussion about my impending flight from the island, and I never gave utterance to my thoughts on the matter either. I loved each member of the family who had taken me in and received me as their own in an unspoken pact which I knew would never be revoked as far as they were concerned, and to which I wholeheartedly assented silently within myself.
Dark days of rain were interspersed with those of bright sunshine so that the crops, upon which the community relied, would yield their rich harvest to fill empty stomachs as well as the storage barns for the times of want. Winter did not show its true face as in the old country. They had no conception of the white expanse of snow, covering the frozen ground like a heavy blanket. I often described it to them, but they saw it as part of my imaginary thinking, and they would smile at me in a kindly way, as if to humour me.
The rainbows did appear from time to time to remind everyone of the purpose of their life and destiny. Sometimes they came in double measure, almost to reinforce the message of hope for the future, which for all was unshakable. On more than one occasion even I would marvel at a complete semicircle, encased in dazzling colours, from one side to the other of the landscape and through the sky, etched with the black, receding clouds.
Truly, ladies and gentlemen, I was indeed tempted to cancel my intention to return to my country, where I would possibly be faced with new and difficult challenges which I did not relish. Nevertheless, I knew I had an obligation to the committee, comprising of your good selves, to report back on what had transpired during my absence from you and during the time of my sojourn on the solitary island of which I made but a fleeting acquaintance and which has held my attention ever since I set foot on its shore. As I have already assured you, I intend to return and make up for the deficiencies in my achievements, such as they are, so I can complete the assignment to which I placed my signature before your very eyes in this hallowed chamber.
Let me return to the account, especially to that part of it, where I make plans to return to my own homeland. After some while, I came to the inevitable conclusion that I could not put off my journey.
The final decision was made on the day when Philip and I were working in the fields together, helping in the harvest with others from the village. I realized I should bring back here the portion of my discoveries to you, ladies and gentlemen. I called Philip over to me. He had been working on another row some distance from mine.
“My dear, I have something to tell you. Something I have been trying to put out of my mind, but am unable to avoid facing up to. You know what it is. It is my homecoming.”
The poor boy lowered his gaze, and I could see tears in his eyes. How I wished I was not the cause of his grief! He said nothing, but waited for my further explanation. He was choked up from the pain that was now torturing his inner soul, I could almost see it at work before my very eyes.
“My darling. I want you to know that even though for a short while we will be separated from each other by time and distance we are as one flesh and that will never change. I will return, so we can be together for the rest of our lives. I will make preparations for us to complete the work I came here to do. You will be my companion and confidant in this endeavour.”
I embraced him and covered him with my kisses to wipe away the tears. We held each other close for a time which seemed thus appointed for us, so we lingered there to feel the full force of our love for one another.
We then looked into each other’s face and I told him of three things we possess - faith, hope and love. I told him what he already knew - that the greatest of these was love!
“Philip, I would like us to construct a boat big enough for me to sail across the southern ocean, in order to reach a port, where I can continue my voyage to where I was born. Will you help me, my darling?” My words were gentle and soft as I looked at him.
Even though he had not quite finished his weeping, he agreed. We hugged each other as a sign of our commitment in the present and to our future.
I explained to Philip everything the old gentleman had said to me and what I had planned. This time we were in total agreement. It did not take us long to build a boat of such sturdy proportions we felt confident it could withstand all but the worst of storms. Perhaps we overreached ourselves in our faith. I know that prayers were being uttered throughout the village for my safe voyage to my own country and for my equally secure journey back to my other home among these loving and gracious people. I cannot remember how long it took to construct the boat (or perhap it resembled more like a ship in its dimensions!), but the day came when it was dragged across the sand to the beach. The whole village attended and there was a special ceremony, which my adopted mother performed in blessing both myself and my conveyance. They even placed garlands of the most beautiful flowers around my neck. Philip came up to me and gave me a present which I have treasured ever since. With an almost reverent air he handed over to me a conch of such vivid translucence that it dazzled in the sunlight of that early afternoon, when the tide was at its peak. I placed the conch up to my ear and heard the whoosh of the sea which seemed to be welcoming me towards it.
We embraced and kissed, even in this public arena, knowing we would not see each other for some years perhaps. Both of us could not keep our emotions in check. I freely admit I shed many tears as I boarded the boat as it bobbed up and down in the spray. Then with the help of most of the villagers I was swiftly taken out with the current away from my adopted home. I began to row out towards the open sea, and then once I was well away from the shore, I hoisted the two sails. Once the wind was caught within their folds, the boat suddenly jolted forward, only to pick up speed as it skimmed over the surface of the water.
I need to make the story of my voyage short from this point. Suffice to say that apart from being becalmed on several occasions and buffeted on others during violent storms, I survived in my ship of safety and somehow by the sun and moon reached a port, from where I could embark in a larger vessel which took me to London and thence here to you.
With this I conclude my evidence to your august selves, my lords, ladies and gentlemen, and I hope that once I have drawn up plans for my second voyage when I will complete all the tasks laid down in the memorandum, a copy of which you hold locked away in this chamber and the other I keep on my person as a reminder of my obligations to this esteemed company. I trust that once you have read my report of this expedition, you will first of all be encouraged by what I have discovered in my wanderings, and you will be persuaded to consider funding a further exploration of the same region, but this time taking all necessary measures to ensure that nothing is left unrecorded or uncharted, so that future generations may benefit from the knowledge and wisdom thus gained.
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