Into the Jungle of Ghosts
The Eastern Princess chugged steadily towards the Mission Station. Jack had a load of supplies for the station as usual as well as several passengers.
The first was Captain Reginald Harris a cavalry officer of Her Majesty’s Quazistan Light horse. He was in his early thirties and quiet handsome. He was tall with jet-black hair and piercing blue eyes. Jack had heard the women whisper about him to each other on his stays in Port Victoria.
He was a charmer and good at it Jack had to admit. He was always welcome in the best homes of the best families in the colony.
He also had the infuriating talent of undeniable snobbery that was so common amongst the British ruling class. He had little patients for the “natives” or the “Quazzies” as he continuously called the Quazistanies. To him they were simple tools born to help the English expand and consolidate their vast Empire.
The second was also a British officer by the name of Lieutenant Thomas Bisby. He was second in command to Captain Harris on this mission. Bisby was an infantry officer and had tricked his way into obtaining a post here in Quazistan. He was a great admirer of “The General”, the acting Governor of the British Colony here on Quazistan.
He was very different from the Captain. Bisby was the son of missionaries and had been raised to respect all people as God’s children. He treated his men with fairness as well as the local people. He was reasonable but unwavering once he made a decision.
The third was a Quazistan woman that was well known in Port Victoria. She went by the name of Tera Chase. She insisted that her father was an American sailor and that he gave her that name but most people that knew her growing up remembered her being an orphan that was raised by Hermes Styles, an American merchant that had been killed several years ago along with his son.
His son had been married to Elizabeth Josephine Styles, more commonly known as Betty Jo Styles, who had inherited everything including the family business.
Tera had been like a daughter to Hermes but had a wild streak that kept causing her to runaway to live with her people in the jungle villages. She wound up being a creature of both worlds and never belonging to either.
Tera and Betty Jo have become great friends and count on each other very much. Tera was about twenty three at best guess and had a reputation as a bit of a wild child in that she dressed in hand me down clothes consisting of a loose fitting tank top shirt and cut off trousers. Her favorite article of clothing is her adopted fathers hat that by now is weathered and frayed around the edges. Her clothing isn’t that unusual by Quazistan traditions as it is not that uncommon for them to wear discarded clothing no longer wanted by the Europeans and Americans in the colony.
Jack knew Tera and liked her. She was a free spirit and an excellent guide and tracker. She could speak most of the local languages and was able to move freely as a friend to most of the local villagers and fishermen.
“How much longer to the mission station Mr. Copper?” Captain Harris asked. He smiled and was polite but at the same time Jack could feel that he was seen a inferior.
“Not long Captain, ‘bout another hour I’d say.” Jack answered smiling back. He disliked this Captain but he did get a lot of business from the British military and he had to try and remain on good terms no matter what he thought of this man.
“I say that creature down below is really quiet the disgrace. I mean walking around shamelessly half naked like she is. You would think that someone would force some clothing on her.” The Captain said trying to joke with Jack about Tera.
“What’s the matter Captain? That little girl strutting around like that set your mind to thinking things it shouldn’t?” Jack asked grinning.
“Certainly not sir! To think a British officer would bed a wild creature like that is beyond a civilized response!” the Captain replied.
“You’re right Captain, most British officers I know wouldn’t be able to handle a girl like that.” Jack said lighting up his cigar.
“Mind your insults sir, that is if you enjoy the patronage of Her Majesties business. I am a man of some influence and I could have your contracts revoked.” Harris threatened.
“Easy Captain, it was just a little joke. I’m sure there are plenty of Brits that could handle her just fine.” Jack said patting the Captain on the shoulder as if they were fast friends.
The Captain turned and stormed off down below to the main deck.
Tera climbed up the side of the boat and went to the cabin.
“Thanks Jack.” She said looking out over the river.
“I guess you heard what he said?” Jack asked.
Tera nodded. It was obvious she had been hurt by his comments.
“Don’t pay him any attention Tera. He’s not like us. He’s British. He ain’t an American like us.” Jack said pushing her hat down over her head playfully.
Jack always pretended to believe Tera’s father was and American sailor like she said. He knew it wasn’t true when he saw a book in the Styles house about America that had been read many times till dog eared pages were hanging out. The writer was a woman named Tera Chase.
Tera grabbed her old hat and smacked Jack with it several times laughing.
“Yeah, us Americans must stick together.” She replied smiling.
“Jack will you take me to see the red Indians in America some day?” Tera asked.
“Sure, sure. Just as soon as we get some money I’ll take you back with me and we’ll spend all of it. We’ll be real big shots when we get back!” Jack said smiling.
“Yeah…big shots.” Tera said smiling back. Tera knew Jack was never going back to America. His home was here now and he was happy.
The rest of the trip was uneventful. They reached the Mission Station by noon and Jack had Abdalla and Zefa unload the boat while he made sure everything was okay at the Mission.
He walked through the gates and saw twenty British soldiers milling about getting their equipment together. He had seen their motor launch when he pulled up to the dock and they must have arrived the day before. The soldiers all wore the standard bright red jacket and navy blue trousers with the iconic white pith helmet.
They were going somewhere and the Captain and Lieutenant must be the ones leading them.
Jack looked up and froze in his tracks. On the balcony over the main door to the Downe home was Vanessa. She was wearing a brilliant white dress and had her hair done up high on her head like a colonist woman. She hadn’t seen him and was looking for someone it seemed.
Jack put his fingers in his mouth and gave a quick whistle to get her attention.
“Mr. Copper! Are you whistling to my daughter like she was your favorite dog?” the Parson said storming up to Jack.
“I…I…no sir it’s just that…” Jack stuttered.
“Father! Leave poor Mr. Cooper be. I’m sure he didn’t mean any disrespect. Hello Jack.” Vanessa said smiling and waving.
The good Parson gave Jack an evil look and then stormed off to over see the unloading of provisions.
Jack couldn’t get this half cast girl out of his mind since the day he met her. She was the perfect mix of east and west. Her looks were exotic and mysterious but she also had the refined attitude of an English education and upbringing.
Jack took off his hat and smiled.
“Hello Miss Downe.” Was all he could think to say. Jack was no novice when it came to the fairer sex but Vanessa was different. She had class and an education.
“Oh hello Captain!” she called. Her face lit up when she saw Captain Harris walk into the compound. She must have met him during the two months she had been here.
The Captain took off his helmet and smiled.
“Miss Downe. I see you received the dress I sent you. I’m afraid your beauty makes it seem as though it didn’t come all the way from Paris.” He said.
“Yes thank you so much. I just had to wear it so you could see how wonderful it looked.” She said flirting.
“Jack, the Captain and Lieutenant are joining us on our expedition into the jungle. There have been reports of slavers operating to the northwest. There are also rumored to be some ancient ruins in the area that me and Tera are going to explore isn’t it exciting?” Vanessa said.
“That’s the place the locals call The Jungle of Ghosts! You shouldn’t be going there Vanessa.” Jack said concerned.
Before Vanessa could respond Captain Harris turned to Jack.
“My dear Mr. Cooper, Miss Downe will be escorted by a platoon of the Queens Sussex rifles and myself. I hardly think that there is anything to be concerned about.” He said politely.
“Does Tera know about your destination?” Jack asked.
“Yes one of the villages that was raided was one that she had friends in. I’m sure we’ll be fine Jack I have the Captain’s assurance.
“The Captain doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He’s a Calvary officer. He doesn’t know anything about the jungle!” Jack insisted.
“Really Mr. Cooper I must insist that this expedition is none of your concern and that you go back to your boat and see to the unloading.” Harris said.
Jack looked Captain Harris in the eye. Both men stared at each other waiting for the other to do something.
Jack suddenly smiled.
“You’re right Captain, none of this is my concern.” Jack said. He nodded to Vanessa and walked back down to the dock.
The Captain smiled with the knowledge that he had won this round.
He turned back towards Vanessa.
“I’ll just see to my men’s sleeping arrangements and come back to the house this evening. We’ll be sure to get an early start first thing tomorrow.” He said beaming.
The next morning the Captain came down to the dock only to find his men trying to start their motor launch.
“What seems to be the problem Bisby?” the Captain asked the lieutenant.
“It seems that one of the pieces to the motor is missing.” Lieutenant Bisby said saluting.
“So how are we supposed to go up river Lieutenant?” The Captain asked.
“Having trouble with your motor Captain?” Jack shouted from his boat. He had spent the night as well.
Captain Harris realized that it had been Jack that had sabotaged the motor launch.
“Cooper! If I find out you have sabotaged this mission I’ll have you up on charges as an agent working for the slavers.” Harris growled.
“Easy Captain. I didn’t touch your dingy.” Jack said. Abdullah and Zefa leaned over the rail of the Eastern Princess grinning.
Vanessa had reached the dock as well followed closely by Tera.
“What seems to be the problem Captain?” Vanessa asked.
“This man has sabotaged the motor launch! It seems the expedition will have to be called off.” Harris said fuming.
“Why don’t we take Jack’s boat Vanessa?” Tera asked shooting a knowing glance at Jack.
“You see! They’re in it together.” The Captain said pointing at Tera.
“Captain, I must insist you stop these allegations. There is no proof that either of these people had anything to do with this unfortunate turn of events.” Vanessa said calmly.
“As a matter of fact Captain I am available at the moment. If you want I can take you up river if you’d like.” Jack said lighting up his cigar.
“There you see? If Mr. Cooper was trying to sabotage this expedition then why would he volunteer his services?” Vanessa challenged innocently.
Captain Harris rubbed his face in frustration. He knew Jack’s boat could easily carry the entire platoon and all their gear. He also knew the Eastern Princess had the reputation as the best boat on the river.
Harris took a deep breath calming himself. He had a responsibility to finish his mission regardless of his personal feelings towards Jack Cooper.
“Lieutenant Bisby take all of the provisions and equipment and have your men put them on Mr. Coopers boat at once.” Harris said angrily.
“Very good sir.” Bisby responded followed by a crisp salute. The soldiers all jumped and began grabbing the equipment and loaded it on the Eastern Princess.
“Alright everyone on the boat and quickly now! That’s a nice bunch of lovely soldiers! Keep moving. Lively now!” The master sergeant screamed.
Within moments everyone was loaded on the boat. The soldiers all found places in the rear half of the boat on top and below.
Vanessa, and Captain Harris made space in the lower deck forward along with Lieutenant Bisby in front of the boiler and maintenance room.
Jack was at the wheel in the cabin on the upper deck. Tera played cards with Zefa on the upper fore deck while Abdullah stoked the boiler below.
Jack knew the area were they were headed. There were only a few villages left this far north of Port Victoria anymore. The British had enticed the Quazistani locals to move closer to the colony by giving them jobs on the local British plantations and in the Tin and Copper mines. It was also a way to make them less self-reliant and more dependant on the British for their survival.
“How long now Jack?” Tera asked not looking up from her hand of cards.
“Just before dark I think. We should spend the night on the Princess and start inland at first light…much safer that way.” Jack replied.
“I don’t think the Captain will have a problem with that Jack. It’ll give him more time with Vanessa.” Tera said smiling at Zefa.
“Aw he ain’t so great.” Jack mumbled. He wasn’t sure why he was so mad at the thought but he didn’t like the Captain getting too close to Vanessa.
They continued on all day without incident. Jack decided to anchor the Eastern Princess in the middle of the river. He dropped the mosquito nets down enclosing the lower part of the boat. The Captain posted four men on the upper deck as sentries.
The night was uneventful and everyone had turned in early. Then one of the men on watch spotted something in the jungle.
“Lights sir! Lights in the jungle!” one of the sentries called out.
Jack looked out into the black jungle. Then he saw it, a faint bluish light floating slowly through the trees.
“There… I see it. Look another…and another.” Lieutenant Bisby exclaimed.
“What are they?” Captain Harris asked.
“Ghosts.” Tera said.
The Captain looked at her with distain.
“Balderdash! Ghosts indeed.” He said.
“It’s true. There are many spirits in the jungle. This place is an ancient place. It is where our…I mean the Quazistani forefathers lived. It is where they had their last big war.” Tera said seriously.
“Superstitious nonsense!” the Captain said grabbing his binoculars.
Captain Harris looked through his binoculars at the lights. He was shocked to see fist sized balls of light floating above the ground in the jungle. At first they seemed to be drifting aimlessly around then he noticed they began to circle a certain spot farther inland.
“What is it sir? What do you see?” Lieutenant Bisby asked. He could see the look of bewilderment on the Captains face.
Harris put away his binoculars and composed himself.
“It’s nothing Lieutenant, just swamp gas or some sort of firefly…It’s nothing. Certainly not ghosts.” He said giving Tera a look that said she might be right.
“It’s nothing men! It’s just a simple trick of the night. Go back to sleep. We’ll have to set up camp on shore in the morning.” Harris said rather unconvincingly.
“Ghosts.” Tera said pointing a finger at Harris.
“Who were they Tera?” Vanessa asked.
“The first ones…the ones who built the great places. They are trapped here because of the evil they brought to the world.” Tera said almost whispering.
“Will they harm us?” Vanessa asked.
“No they will let us pass but we cannot disturb their burial grounds or their treasure.” Tera replied.
“Treasure?” Jack asked. He suddenly found himself very interested in local history.
“Yes, it is said the first ones had many riches and the kings all had huge treasure chambers filled with gold and jewels from the many countries they conquered.” Tera said to Jack.
“You there! I want no more talk about ancient treasure on this expedition. This is a military mission sent to assess the missing villagers and to look into reports of slavers in the area. Now my men need their rest so please all of you go to sleep.” Captain Harris said.
None of the others particularly liked Captain Harris ordering them about but he was right about his men needing sleep.
They all climbed into their hammocks or bunks and drifted off into sleep.
The next morning Abdullah made every one some fresh breakfast and coffee before Jack took the Eastern Princess up to the bank of the river. The boat was made fast with the help of the soldiers and the supplies were quickly unloaded.
Once the camp was set up Jack told Zefa and Abdullah to take the boat back out into the center of the river and wait.
“Are you certain your boys will still be there when we get back Mr. Cooper?” Captain Harris asked.
“They ain’t my boys Captain they’re my crew and we’ve trusted each other with our lives on this river more times than I can remember. As I see it I trust them a Hell of a lot more than I trust you. So yeah, they’ll be there…no matter what.” Jack replied angrily.
“I hope you’re right Mr. Cooper. Miss Downe’s life is in your hands as are all of my men if they do run off.” The Captain replied dismissively.
Jack walked away from the Captain and towards Vanessa’s tent. They almost collided when she suddenly stepped out. She had changed her clothes and was now wearing a khaki blouse and a long skirt that was buttoned half way down to allow for easier movement. She also had a pith helmet that was common to the tropics.
“Mr. Cooper! I’m terribly sorry. I didn’t notice you standing there.” She said apologizing.
“Sorry Ma’am I guess I should of called out to you” Jack stammered.
Once again this woman was making him tongue-tied. She was the prettiest woman he had ever seen.
“I just came by to see if you needed anything is all.” He said.
“Oh how sweet of you to think of me. I’m afraid there is nothing I need at the moment. Captain Harris was good enough to see fit I had everything moved into my tent. It was really quite considerate of him don’t you think?” Vanessa asked innocently.
“Yeah he’s quite the gentleman isn’t he?” Jack snapped and stormed off.
Tera walked up to Vanessa who was standing in front of her tent with a puzzled look on her face.
“Well what’s gotten into him?” she remarked as Jack walked away.
“He likes you.” Tera said.
“It certainly doesn’t seem that way.” Vanessa said crossing her arms.
“I mean he likes you Vanessa. You know?” Tera said nudging Vanessa.
“No, he’s not from here.” Vanessa said. She was referring to the fact that most westerners didn’t allow themselves to have feelings like Tera said to the indigenous population including half casts like her; the Quazistanies weren’t white whereas a Quazistani native wouldn’t care.
“He’s not like the rest Vanessa. This is his home now. He’s never going back to his country.” Tera said looking at Jack.
Vanessa turned and watched Jack walk away.
“I’m sure you’re wrong Tera. Jack is just a friend and nothing more.” She said still watching him storm off.
The morning was full of commotion and preparation. The Soldiers had set up the camp in short order and had made ready to begin the trek into the jungle.
Lieutenant Bisby had assembled the twenty or so men and were waiting for the Captain to arrive.
The Captain stepped out of his tent and surveyed his surroundings. He was dressed in full uniform including his saber.
“That swords going to make a lot of racket hanging low like that Captain. You might want to cinch it up some.” Jack remarked.
The Captain knew Jack was right. He was used to wearing his saber cavalry style hanging low. He looked at Jack and noticed he was carrying one of the new Winchester American rifles. They could fire repeatedly without reloading as often.
“I see you intend to join us Mr. Cooper. Your rifle is certainly welcome to join us at any rate.” The Captain knew the advantage of having such a weapon in their party.
“Thanks Captain, I thought you might not want me along since I don’t take orders that well.” Jack replied.
“You’ll take orders from me or you’ll stay behind.” The Captain stated flatly.
“I didn’t say I don’t take orders, I said I don’t take them well.” Jack smiled as he made his way towards Tera at the front of the column.
The Captain went directly to the head of the column and ordered them forward.
“I assume we’re heading to the first village Captain.” Vanessa asked.
“Yes Miss Downe. I want to see why we haven’t heard anything from them for so long. Let’s just hope they weren’t spirited away by ghosts or phantoms.” The Captain said smiling at his own joke.
Tera began to speak up but Jack quickly put his arm around her and pulled her close.
“Easy there Tera. He ain’t worth it. Besides something tells me the good Captain will find out about this jungle soon enough. The good Lord has a way of punishing know-it-alls.” Jack said calming Tera down.
If you have enjoyed these stories please check out my first all original book series at Amazon.com. The title is Beyond the Crystal Heaven.
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Last Updated (Tuesday, 10 September 2013 01:37)