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The Lang children went boating on the Yarra River every Saturday afternoon during summer and autumn. While their father was at the Melbourne Club, and his wife met her friends for tea and cakes at a nearby café, Emily and Daniel would hire a boat and glide up and down the river among the racing shells of the school crews training for the regattas later in the year. It was a family tradition that was only three years old, but for Emily and her brother it seemed like they had been doing it forever.

On this particular afternoon there were artists on the bank. The thought crossed Emily’s mind that the scene might soon become some famous painting, and that their boat would be included.

Daniel had the gangly, stretched look of someone who had recently grown too fast, and while Emily had the figure of a woman, she still had to wear her long, auburn hair brushed out like a girl. The artists might have waited until Daniel and she had grown up a little more, but she decided to make the most of it.

‘Look your best, Danny, people are painting us today,’ she said as she straightened her straw hat, then leaned back in the bow of the boat to let her hand trail in the water.

‘Artists?’ he asked, looking about. ‘Where?’

‘On the south bank, near the boatsheds. They are probably painting the river, with St Paul’s Cathedral in the background.’

‘What a boring picture,’ replied Daniel. He then shipped the oars, removed one from its lock, and stood up in the stern. Predictably, the boat began to wobble.

‘Danny!’ cried Emily. ‘What are you doing? Sit down!’

‘They need something interesting on the river, not just a rowboat,’ he laughed as he dipped the end of the oar into the water. ‘Now they can paint a gondola and a gondolier, Australian style.’

‘Daniel! The boat’s starting to rock, it’s … Danny!’

It was too late. The boat rocked sharply. Daniel dropped his weight to the other side, but only succeeded in rocking it more violently in the other direction. He grabbed at the side as he fell out, pulling the boat right over to capsize on top of them.

That was as much as Emily saw for some moments. There was the shock of cold water, no air to breathe, water slowing her every move, muted sounds, dim light and then she was back at the surface. She spluttered, shrieked and sank again, then her hand brushed against the upturned rowboat. She grasped at the slippery, painted wood, got a grip on the keel, managed to get her head above the surface, then coughed water and screamed. Her fingers began to slip on the slime-covered keel of the rowboat.

Daniel was nowhere to be seen, but on the bank there were people shouting and waving. While a group tried to launch another boat, Emily saw someone take off his coat, run down the bank and dive into the water. She lost her grip on the keel, then managed to grasp it again. There was still no sign of Daniel. She called his name over and over, between calls for help. Her fingers aching, Emily lost her hold on the keel yet again. She sank. For a moment she was suspended beneath the surface, with no idea of up or down. Everything was suddenly serene, and she felt oddly calm, and then a strong hand grasped her arm. Emily spluttered water as her head broke the surface.

‘Breathing, Miss?’ called Emily’s rescuer as she gulped for breath.

‘My brother!’ she gasped. ‘Save Danny.’

‘Swimming, you can?’

‘No, but …’

‘My shirt, holding. I swim.’

Emily had been towed most of the way to the bank before she realised that she was going to be safe. The youth with the oddly precise, clipped foreign accent was very strong, and swam like a champion. Ahead of them she could see people wading into the water and holding out their arms.

‘My brother, he’s back there,’ she gasped between mouthfuls of air and water.

‘Returning, rescue, for purpose of,’ called the youth.

Suddenly there were hands grasping Emily and people shouting instructions and questions. A man in a dark coat with a cigar clenched between his teeth lifted Emily from the water and began wading for the bank while others gathered around, mostly asking if she was all right. She was put down on grass, and a picnic blanket was wrapped around her. A woman came running up with a wooden folding seat, but Emily tried to push those holding her away.

‘My brother!’ she panted. ‘Danny was in the boat, too.’

Several voices answered her.

‘The boat’s still floating.’

‘That boy’s reached the boat.’

‘Can’t see anyone else.’

‘He’s dived.’

‘Been down a long time.’

‘There’s a head.’

‘It’s just the lad who rescued the girl.’

‘He’s dived again.’

Emily pushed her way through the crowd around her in time to see the youth surface, then dive a third time. The wavelets died away, and there was nothing to be seen except for the upturned boat.

It was at this point that Emily’s mother returned. The sight of Emily drenched and muddy, and everyone pointing to the upturned boat in the middle of the river, told Mrs Lang what had happened in an instant. She shrieked, ran over to Emily, hugged her daughter convulsively for a moment, then tried to rush into the river in search of her son. She was seized by several men and dragged back to the grassy bank. Emily noticed that she had lost one shoe.

‘Sixty seconds down,’ said a man holding a pocket watch.

‘That’s a long time,’ said another.

‘Where’s that other boat?’

‘They can’t find the oars.’

‘Gad, Sir, they can paddle with their hands.’

‘There’s schoolboys in a racing shell, they’re coming over to help.’

‘What can they do? The two lads have sunk.’

‘Murky water.’

‘Ninety seconds.’

‘The other lad’s been down five minutes, there’s no hope.’

‘There he is! Ninety-seven seconds and there’s another head! He got him!’

Emily managed to stay on her feet long enough to see the boys in the racing shell start to tow her brother and their rescuer in the direction of the bank, then she collapsed back into the arms of those around her. She was guided back to the folding chair. There was more splashing as men waded out into the muddy water to get her brother ashore. Again she could see nothing, but the babble of voices painted a picture for her.

‘What’s your name, son?’

‘Fox Essthree, Sir!’ the boy replied in a staccato, almost military, patter.

‘That was very brave of you, Fox.’

‘The other boy looks gone.’

‘There’s a cut on his head.’

‘The boat must have hit him when it capsized.’

‘Get him on the bank.’

‘My Danny!’ shrieked Mrs Lang above the other voices.

‘On his side.’

‘On his back.’

‘On his stomach.’

‘Let me through, I’m a doctor.’

‘He was down for five minutes and thirty seconds, I timed it.’

‘No breathing.’

‘No pulse.’

Now Emily screamed Daniel’s name and surged out of the folding chair. She struggled past the other onlookers in time to see her rescuer pushing a man in a top hat away from Daniel’s body. He knelt beside him. The youth had neatly cut hair and was heavily muscled, without being solidly built. Even at a distance Emily could see that his eyes were intensely blue. He was tall enough to pass for a man.

‘Get back there, lad, have some respect for the dead,’ said a man wearing a frock coat and a straw boating hat, who then tried to drag the youth away.

There was a brief struggle, and for a moment Emily saw the man having his arm twisted up behind his back. His mouth gaped open in either shock or pain, then the youth pushed him away. The man went stumbling off down the bank and into the shallows.

‘You, doctor, pulse, monitor!’ barked the youth, pointing at the doctor as he returned to kneel beside Daniel.

Something about the youth’s manner had established his authority over the crowd by now. He rolled Daniel on his back, checked his pulse, then pressed down about a dozen times on his chest with the heels of his palms. Next he pulled Daniel’s jaw down and breathed into it twice. Again he pumped at Daniel’s chest. The voices began again, but this time they were hushed and hesitant.

‘What’s he doing?’

‘Can’t say I know.’

‘It’s a Hindu trick. I once saw a yogi buried alive for three days when I was in India.’

‘The boy’s dead!’

‘Seven minutes and fifteen seconds without a breath.’

‘A pulse!’ shouted the doctor.

The youth sat back, then Daniel coughed. The crowd gasped with amazement, then cheered loudly. Emily fainted.

When Emily revived she could hear her mother’s voice calling Daniel’s name over and over. With the help of the woman who had brought the folding chair, Emily went over to where Mrs Lang was embracing her limp but living son. The youth named Fox Essthree was standing nearby, his coat over his shoulders and his arms folded. After some moments of embraces and tears with Emily, Mrs Lang demanded to know what had happened.

‘Our boat capsized, and Master Essthree swam out to rescue us,’ said Emily, pointing to the youth even though she knew it was rude to point. ‘He pulled me ashore, then went back for Danny. He is awfully brave.’

For a moment there was silence. Several dozen pairs of eyes turned to Fox, who still stood with his arms tightly folded, shivering.

‘Accident, observed,’ said Fox in his soft voice and unfamiliar accent. ‘Rescue, performed.’

‘Daniel was dead, but you brought him back to life!’ babbled Emily breathlessly.

‘I swear it’s true,’ said the man who said he was a doctor. ‘He had no pulse whatever, and was not breathing.’

‘Status, dying, not dead,’ explained Fox, looking embarrassed. ‘Revival, procedure, I performed.’

‘Gad, Sir!’ exclaimed the doctor. ‘I’m a physician, and I’ve not heard of such a thing.’

Fox shrugged, then stared at the ground. The doctor had authority, yet Fox had revived Daniel.

‘The Chinese do things like that,’ called someone.

‘Chinese?’ exclaimed the doctor. ‘Nothing good ever came out of China!’

Still Fox said nothing. Daniel coughed and shook his head. Emily put her arms around her brother.

‘Well, you never know with those Chinese,’ conceded the doctor. ‘Somebody fetch a hot drink for these young people, else they will catch a chill.’

Someone handed Emily a mug of hot chocolate. She sipped at it once, then the doctor took her temperature with a glass thermometer and peered down her throat. One of the schoolboys from the rowing shell found Mrs Lang’s lost shoe and returned it to her. A policeman arrived, asked what the fuss was about, then made some notes in his book. A journalist from The Argus asked whether anyone had drowned, then seemed to lose interest when told that both Emily and Daniel had been rescued. Mrs Lang gave a florin to each of the boys from the rowing shell, and gave ten shillings to Fox. Finally the doctor offered to take Mrs Lang and her children home in his pony gig.

‘And, ah, have you been long in Melbourne, Fox?’ Mrs Lang asked Fox, who had been standing by quietly and saying nothing.

‘Arrival, recent,’ replied Fox.

‘Your accent sounds foreign, but I can’t place it. Definitely not French, German, or …’

‘Norwegian, I’ll wager,’ said a man behind Emily.

Fox frowned slightly, and seemed to think carefully for a moment.

‘Norwegian, I am,’ he replied.

‘Thought so!’ exclaimed the man. ‘Damn fine sailors.’

‘Able seaman, first class, ranking, mine, Sir!’ declared Fox, snapping to attention with his left foot slightly back and his fists held as if he were presenting a rifle across his chest.

Even Emily had been to enough parades to know that Fox’s salute was not even remotely like anything done on British ships.

‘Ah, so you are a sailor, then?’ asked Mrs Lang.

‘Sailor, formerly, ma’am! Status, discharged. Employment, local, seeking.’

It was soon established that Fox had arrived in Melbourne that same day, that his baggage had been stolen, and that he had lost his papers during the rescue.

‘Oh you poor boy, and now your clothes have been soaked!’ cried Mrs Lang. ‘What are you to do? You simply must come home with us!’

Brighton was six miles south of the river, and the doctor drove his gig down St Kilda Road with his four passengers crammed onto a seat designed for two. Emily noticed that Fox looked about continually, and seemed confused and puzzled. Suddenly he stared to the left.

‘Imperial War Academy!’ he exclaimed softly.

‘No, that’s Wesley College,’ said Daniel. ‘I go to school there.’

Fox glanced about nervously, said, ’Mistaken,’ then sat back and put a hand to his head.

‘There, there, Fox, the excitement has confused you,’ said Mrs Lang soothingly. ‘You will be back to your old self after a hot bath and a good dinner.’

By the time the Lang family got home it was late in the afternoon. The maid was told to start a fire in the living room grate, and to boil water for three baths. Emily bathed quickly, then dressed while the maid emptied the tub. She entered the living room to find Daniel and Fox sitting with her mother, both wrapped in blankets.

‘Next, you are,’ said Fox to Daniel as he caught sight of Emily.

‘Oh, that is very kind of you young man, but you are the guest,’ insisted Mrs Lang.

‘Being wet, am often,’ replied Fox. ‘Daniel, needs, more urgent.’

Mrs Lang left the room with Daniel, calling to the maid to fetch dry clothes for him.

‘I would be dead were it not for you,’ said Emily awkwardly.

‘To rescue, my honour,’ replied Fox.

‘You probably think us so pitiful.’


‘Daniel not knowing how to swim, and me able to do nothing but scream. He stood up in the boat, you know. I think it was just to tease me.’

‘Myself, money, home, have none. Rescuing, myself, you are.’

‘Why Fox, that is a very sweet way to put it.’

Mrs Lang returned with her sleeves still rolled up. She collapsed into an armchair and put a hand to her forehead.

‘Fox, I do apologise again for keeping you waiting in wet clothes, but as you can see, my children are, well, frail compared to someone like you.’


‘And you were a sailor …’ began Mrs Lang, then she realised that all her small talk about sailors was about how rough and dirty they were. ‘I … saw sailors at work on the voyage out here,’ she finally managed. ‘You … are the first sailor I have spoken to, however.’

‘Impression, satisfactory, perhaps?’ replied Fox.

‘Oh indeed. A good impression, a wonderful impression. But tell me, young Fox, you seem very well spoken, and, ah, well-mannered for a sailor.’

‘Acknowledged, ah, on target.’

Odd, he does not seem to know how to express his thanks to people, thought Emily.

‘And your family?’ asked Mrs Lang.

‘Family? No target.’

‘Your mother and father, your parents.’

‘Kensington hatchery.’

‘Ah, they were poultry farmers? But Kensington does not sound like a Norwegian name.’

For a moment Fox looked really tense, and he frowned slightly in thought.

‘Ship sank, all died,’ he declared, as if he wished to terminate the subject.

‘Oh, I am so, so sorry!’ exclaimed Mrs Lang with genuine horror, swaying a little, as if about to faint. ‘How terrible. But how did you survive?’

‘Can swim.’

‘Ah, now it all makes sense!’

‘So when you saw Daniel and me in difficulties, it reminded you of how your own parents died?’ asked Emily.

Fox gave her an uneasy, deferential glance.

‘Parents, yes,’ he replied, nodding slightly.

‘Such a fine young man, and all alone in the world,’ said Mrs Lang, dabbing at one eye with a handkerchief. ‘Well, perhaps we can be a family to you, Fox.’

‘Family?’ asked Fox. ‘You?’

‘Yes. You simply must accept our help while you get your life in order. You could visit us here, and play with Emily and Daniel.’

‘Play?’ asked Fox, as if he had never heard the word.

‘Oh goodness, you really have lost your childhood,’ said Mrs Lang. ‘Never mind, first things first. You must have a bath, and while your clothes are being scrubbed and dried, you can wear something from Daniel’s wardrobe and have dinner with us.’

Daniel called out that he was done with the bathroom, and now Mrs Lang sent Emily to have the maid bring more hot water and dry towels. Fox and Daniel were roughly the same height, so the fit of Daniel’s clothes was not much of a problem.

With the change of clothes and the towels under her arm, Emily burst into the bathroom … to be confronted by Fox already undressed and sitting up in the bath. Emily saw lurid red stripes criss-crossing his back. He looked around as Emily gasped.

‘I … I brought you a towel, and, um, clothes,’ she stammered, so mortified and embarrassed that she stood frozen to the spot. ‘Danny’s clothes.’

Fox nodded, his face blank. ‘Thank you, Miss.’

Suddenly Emily realised that the strange, striped pattern on his back was not an undershirt.

‘Fox, your back!’ she exclaimed.

‘Scars, Miss.’

‘But how?’

‘Flogged, I was.’

There was a brief silence as the words registered with Emily. Flogged. That was something that only happened to sailors who misbehaved.

‘I, um, yes, flogged,’ she managed. ‘That happens to sailors. I’ve read of it in Danny’s adventure books. I’m not supposed to read adventure books, so I do it in secret.’

‘Floggings, happen,’ said Fox.

‘But you’re a child … well, a youth, that is, a young man. I mean, like Daniel.’

‘Discipline, on ships, strict.’

‘Goodness,’ whispered Emily, still staring at the scars. ‘What did you do?’

‘Insolence. Fifty lashes.’

‘Fifty! Goodness. You must be awfully brave. Daniel once got six strokes of the cane at school, he could not sit down without a cushion for days. How old were you when it happened?’


‘I … goodness! Fifteen. My goodness, I’m so sorry.’

‘Apologies, not required.’

Suddenly remembering that she was alone with a naked youth, Emily snatched up Fox’s wet clothes and backed out, then pulled the bathroom door closed behind her. For some moments she stood very still with her back to the door. Fox had been flogged while the same age as Daniel.

‘Three reporting, serial K37WCB0542. Trans.’

The words had come from within the bathroom, and the voice belonged to Fox.

‘Accident, boating, saved children. Maintenance facilities, courtly family, offered. Feeding, also. Currency, supplied, shillings, ten. Supplies, medical, available. Returning, estimate, twenty-two hundred. Trans.’

Another pause. It was as if Fox were talking to someone at the other end of one of the speaking tubes like they had in the big emporium stores.

‘Status, neutral. Status, self? Trans.’

Emily remembered that Fox had referred to himself as Three. There was definitely something military about him, she was also sure of that.

‘Understood. Trans end,’ concluded Fox.

Emily waited until she heard the bath water begin to splash again before she tiptoed away.

Emily felt very self-conscious as she emptied the pockets of Fox’s clothes. The fact that there was something very, very odd about him made her curious to know more about who he was, but it felt like spying and nice girls were not supposed to do that sort of thing. The pocket of his shirt contained a silvery thing about the size of a pen, but there was no nib. In his trouser pockets were a few coins, a handkerchief with IWA embroidered on it, and some type of clasp knife. His jacket pockets were empty, but in three places there were faint, brownish singes in the violet material, as if someone had pressed the tip of a red-hot poker into the cloth for a moment. The jacket had a double row of silver buttons with some sort of crest embossed on them. Emily bundled everything into the damp handkerchief, but as she picked up the trousers again, her fingers felt something else in a hidden pocket. She took it out.

The thing was like a block of smooth, black rubber, trailing black cords and inset with coloured glass that looked like jewels. The word ’Sony’ was embossed in silver along one side. A Sony? she thought, feeling that the name might apply to a toy. She began to examine it, turning it over in her fingers. One of the tiny jewels clicked as she touched it, and a bright light flared in Emily’s face. She dropped the device on the table in front of her.

A patch of light about a yard square lit up the blank wall beside the table, and it suddenly became a moving picture like in the new cinemas … except that this picture was in colour, and sounds were coming from somewhere within the Sony. Emily stood frozen with astonishment.

On the wall, images of young soldiers in violet and black uniforms like Fox’s were dashing about. They were carrying short, stubby rifles that shot fire with a squeaking, hissing sound, like a cork being drawn across a bottle. The scene was a blur of flashing lights, running figures, bodies, blood, smoke and flames. Voices shouted orders in the same clipped, precise English that Fox used, and the soldiers referred to each other as numbers. The leader was a thin but stunningly handsome youth with dark hair. There was a long cut down the right side of his forehead, and it was bleeding.

For all the smoke, confusion, blood and death before her eyes, the sight of the youth that the others kept calling BC drew Emily’s eyes more than anything else. He shouted the precise orders, led the way, and sprayed fire from his strange rifle as they ran. Dark figures appeared at the end of a corridor, figures that fired pretty sparkles of light that began to cut down BC’s soldiers. BC stood his ground, shooting back at the attackers as one more of those beside him fell.

‘Squad! Go! I cover!’ he barked, then there was a bright flash and he fell, still shooting. Someone else charged past him, there was a blast of fire, then all was silent.

Emily suddenly realised that she was watching the scene from the perspective of someone who was one of BC’s own soldiers. It was like the time she had acted in a school play, watching the story as one of the characters would see it. This was definitely no play, however. The watcher glanced about, saw nobody else standing, then hurried through the swirling smoke to where BC lay.

‘Three, go!’ cried BC, clutching his bleeding stomach.

Three! Emily remembered from the conversation heard through the bathroom door that Fox had called himself Three. Three. Fox Essthree? FoxS3? Three bent over BC, who tried to push him away with bloodied hands. Although contorted with pain and smeared with blood and soot, his face was still strangely handsome, almost beautiful.

‘Leave me!’ cried BC. ‘Temporan machine, plan follow, NineFive, prevent.’

‘Bombs set,’ shouted Fox’s voice. ‘Temporan machine, for two, have configured!’

‘Leave me, am dying!’ cried BC.

‘Timeslip, in three, detonation, in five!’ replied FoxS3. ‘One, two, three!’

The scene suddenly changed to the words ’battery low’, then winked out.

Drained, shaken, unsteady on her feet, and fighting the urge to be sick, Emily added the device to what was bundled in the handkerchief. Next she rushed off to the toilet and vomited up her lunch, the mug of chocolate, and some river water. She was washing her face in a hand basin when the maid arrived.

‘Yer father’s ’ome, Miss Emily, and young Danny’s telling him rare, wild stories ’bout Master Fox an’ the rescue,’ she warned.

‘I shall go to him too, Martha. Now here are Master Fox’s clothes. Wash them quickly, and put them in the drying cabinet.’

‘They’ll be hours dryin’, Miss. Ooh aye! Expensivelookin’ threads, the young master has.’

‘He is a sailor,’ replied Emily, confused by the maid’s opinion.

‘Odd cut about ’em, too. I reckon ’e’s an officer.’ ’He has just recently arrived, on a foreign ship. They must dress like that in, um, Norway.’

‘’Ere, there’s no buttons on ’is trousers! Only … well, they looks like little teeth.’

‘Just get along and wash them, Martha!’

Emily picked up the things wrapped in the handkerchief and made her way to the bathroom. Reaching the door, she hesitated for a moment as something nagged at the back of her mind. She examined the coins again. There were ten shillings in florins, all from the 1890s. An 1897 sixpence looked familiar enough, as did the pennies and halfpennies. She picked out another silver coin, stared at the writing, then very nearly dropped it in surprise. The writing on it declared the monarch to be Charles III. Was Charles the king of Norway? Emily wondered. At that moment there was a clack from the latch of the bathroom door. She dropped the coin back into the handkerchief as Fox emerged. Emily blinked in surprise to see someone else wearing her brother’s clothes.

‘Um, Master Fox, I emptied your pockets before giving your things to the maid to wash!’ she stammered as Fox stopped before her.

‘Thanks, to you, Miss,’ Fox replied softly, as he accepted the little bundle.

Over dinner, it was Mr Lang’s turn to question Fox about his background.

‘And how did you survive the shipping accident that claimed your family?’ he asked.

‘Can swim,’ Fox reiterated.

‘Ah, quite so, quite so. And now you are alone in the world, as my dear wife and I would have been were it not for you. How do you cope with the sadness?’

‘Training,’ replied Fox simply. ‘Was distraction.’

‘Quite so, sensible attitude. Bit of a jog around the football field does wonders to clear the mind and lift the gloom, what? Do it myself. Now, what about work? I could have a word to old Aitkinson, the grocer. He needs a smart boy to do deliveries. Can you ride a bike?’

‘Norton 750CC, cadet standard, liaison class, all-terrain …’ began Fox, before he suddenly caught himself and forced his face into a blank expression.

‘A bike, lad, a bicycle. Two wheels, you pedal, it moves.’

‘Cycle!’ exclaimed Fox in relief. ‘Yes, cycle, for use, am trained.’

‘Ah, good, good. Now look here, Fox, I think that the best course is for you to work for old Aitkinson for a few weeks, delivering groceries. It will earn you some shillings to get by while you look around for a proper apprenticeship, so that you can better yourself. Where are you staying?’

‘Room, in hostelry.’

‘Ah, splendid, but there is a spare room here, bear that in mind. What profession takes your fancy?’

‘Electricity, is future.’

‘Electricity, eh? Smart lad, smart lad. Good prospects in electricity. But you know, I’ve been thinking. You could do better.’


Mr Lang got up and walked over to the mantelpiece, above which several guns were mounted. He selected a stubby pistol.

‘David!’ exclaimed his wife. ‘Keep that horrible thing away from the dinner table.’

‘Please dear, there is no need for formality,’ Mr Lang said as he held the pistol out to Fox. ‘What can you tell me about this, young man?’

Fox took the weapon and examined it briefly.

‘Lancaster, 1882, thirty-eight calibre, four barrels, brake action striker, unjammable, effective usage, close quarters.’

There was a short silence.

‘Astounding,’ breathed Mr Lang. ‘All perfectly correct. And tell me, Fox, what is its use?’

‘Circumstances, extreme danger, when needed quickly, fire with certainty, close range.’

‘Yes, yes, all quite correct. I knew it! You have an interest in weapons. You are as brave as a lion, as fit as a bull, and you have a natural military bearing about you. Young man, you should consider a career in the army. Once you are a British citizen why, you could become a captain in no time at all.’

‘Army, Sir?’ responded Fox suspiciously.

‘Oh yes! You have an education, in spite of your halting English. That’s a big plus next to your name. Mind you, people need connections to get ahead in today’s military, but I have those connections. It would be the British army, mind, no future in our stupid little colonial militias. You would have to go to England, but I know people who know people.’

‘Am grateful,’ replied Fox with deference. ‘Your offer, shall consider.’

After dinner Mr Lang retired to his study, and Mrs Lang sat with Fox and her children in the living room, before the fire.

‘Fox, would you really go to England and join the army?’ asked Emily as she stared into the hot coals.

‘If ordered, Miss.’

‘But you are not on your ship now, there is nobody to order you to do anything.’

Fox looked as if he were about to say something, then frowned. ‘Correct,’ he conceded. ‘Habit, discipline, persisting.’

‘Your speech really is very precise and, well, military sounding,’ observed Mrs Lang.

‘At sea, years,’ replied Fox slowly. ‘Ship discipline, like military.’

‘You are wonderfully well spoken for a foreigner, even if you do sound a little formal,’ said Emily. ‘What are you interested in?’

Fox froze for a moment. ‘History. Natural philosophy.’

Suddenly Emily realised that Fox never said ’um’, ’ah’, or ’er’. He thought about what he had been asked, his face blank, then he replied.

‘Oh I know all about natural philosophy,’ said Daniel, pleased to discover something in common with his rescuer. ‘Can you name the planets?’

‘Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, asteroids, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, the double planet Charon and Cerebus, and Terminus.’

‘Gosh!’ exclaimed the youth.

‘Daniel!’ his mother exclaimed. ‘Language, please! Fox, I can tell the maid to prepare the bed in the garret for you. Would you like to stay here for the night? You must be exhausted.’

‘My thanks, no.’

‘Daniel, kindly show Fox to his room … oh! Sorry, did you say no?’

‘Tonight, expected, at lodgings. Friends, worried, will be.’

‘Oh. I see. Well, ah, would you come here for lunch tomorrow? We have a roast on Sundays, you would love it. We might even be able to give you introductions to people, you know, help you become established in Melbourne.’

Fox considered this carefully before answering. It was not yet late in the evening, but the last train was due soon.

‘Shall return, tomorrow, if clothing wet.’

Half an hour later Fox went to the laundry with Mrs Lang, to check on the progress with drying his clothes. Daniel had already been out of the room for some time. Emily and Daniel had spent their lives reading about heroes in the classics that they studied at school, and in adventure novels. Now they had actually met one, and he had rescued them. Fox was everything that a hero should be, as far as Emily was concerned: brave, strong, well-mannered, modest, yet … there was something very strange about him. His manner was distant and withdrawn, like that of a dog that had been beaten too often, and had learned to avoid trouble. He was highly intelligent, yet he took a lot of care to disguise the fact. He said nothing funny, and even missed jokes made by others. Fox did laugh, but only when others were laughing. Emily felt sure that the mistakes he made were not really those of a foreigner. Try as she might, however, she could not think of anyone that he resembled.

As Emily sat staring into the fire, she found herself daydreaming about BC. Annoyed with herself, she switched her thoughts to Fox. Moments later her thoughts drifted back to BC. He was shooting at dark shapes in the smoke, his skin pale, and his hair dark and wavy. Again Emily tried to think about Fox. It was he who had rescued her, after all. Moments later she found herself dreaming about nursing the wounded BC back to health. Slowly the day began to catch up with Emily, and she caught herself starting to doze. Daniel came back into the room with a book.

‘I was just checking what Fox said about the names of the planets,’ her brother announced. ‘He got them right, except that he put in three make-believe names at the end.’

Once again something unsettling began batting about like a moth at the back of Emily’s mind. She shivered.

‘Can I see?’ she asked as casually as she could.

‘Yes, but be quick about it. You know how Mother and Father feel about girls learning science.’

Emily quickly turned to the book’s chapter on astronomy. She was surprised to learn that some planets had not always been known. Uranus had been discovered in 1781, and Neptune in 1846. There were many asteroids, but the first had only been discovered in 1801. Charon, Cerebus and Terminus were definitely not mentioned.

‘Tomorrow’s Sunday,’ said Daniel. ‘You know what we do on Sunday?’

‘We go to church, have a roast for lunch, then spend the rest of the day being bored.’

‘Well, I think that if Fox’s clothes are not dry, he might have to come back for them. If he returns early, he could come to church with us before lunch. Mother did invite him … well, sort of.’

‘Why not ask him, silly?’

‘It … it sounds, er, sissy, a boy asking another boy to go to church. I thought you might ask him instead.’

‘No!’ exclaimed Emily. ‘He might think that I had, ah, an interest in him. Danny, just make the suggestion yourself.’

‘But only girls make those sorts of suggestions.’

‘Oh, nonsense.’

‘I still think a girl should ask that sort of thing.’


‘Look, why don’t we both ask him? That way I don’t look like a sissy, and you don’t look like you’re courting him.’

Emily considered this. Push Daniel too far, and he would drop the subject. Daniel clearly wanted to be more of a friend to Fox, while Emily was intrigued by him. Now Daniel was offering a compromise. With careful, casual questioning, Fox might talk about BC, and the very thought of that quickened Emily’s pulse.

‘I’ll go with you, but only if you actually speak to him,’ she conceded.

‘Can I say that it was your idea?’ asked Daniel eagerly.

‘You can say it was our idea,’ Emily said firmly.

‘I suppose that will have to do … but I still say boys are not supposed to ask other boys to church. Girls do that sort of thing.’

‘Fox was brave enough to rescue us, so you must be brave enough to ask him to church.’

The mention of bravery changed everything as far as Daniel was concerned.

‘All right, all right, I’ll do it.’

Just then they heard Fox returning from the laundry with Mrs Lang.

‘I cannot think why the clothes were still so wet,’ Mrs Lang was saying as they entered. ‘It’s almost as if they had been rinsed again.’

Emily shot a suspicious glance at Daniel, who looked sheepish.

‘No matter, shall return, for lunch,’ responded Fox.

‘Fox will be returning tomorrow, his clothes are not dry yet,’ Mrs Lang announced as she and Fox entered the room.

Emily tried hard not to smile. ‘Oh Fox, seeing that you will have to return, Daniel had something to ask you,’ she said.

‘Yes, yes, of course,’ said Daniel at once. ‘Ah, Emily wanted to ask you to church with us. But she didn’t want to embarrass you, in case you, um, don’t go to church. I thought I’d ask, er, in case you did. I mean, if you don’t go, then just forget I asked.’

Emily bristled at Daniel’s little betrayal, but she said nothing. Once again, Daniel looked sheepish.

‘Chapel, yours, will attend,’ said Fox. ‘For invitation, thanks.’

Soon after that Fox was gone, hurrying away to catch the last train. Later, lying in her bed, Emily thought over the day’s events, and of what she had learned about Fox. Her father was always saying that modern sailors were too soft, and that the flogging should be brought back as shipboard discipline. Brought back. On Fox’s ship flogging was still practised. Fox had been flogged. Perhaps they still do that sort of thing on Norwegian ships, she decided.

Fox’s accent was really odd, too. It was curiously cold, hard and precise, and everything that he said was always perfectly clear. It was almost like some dialect of English, she thought. Fox also knew a way to bring drowned people back to life. Some person in the crowd on the river bank had said that it was a Chinese trick. Perhaps Fox’s ship had visited China. Perhaps the strange cinema device from Fox’s trousers also came from China. Perhaps the fighting in which BC had died had been in China … yet the soldiers who had shot BC did not look like Mr Wu at the laundry shop. Emily’s thoughts returned to BC, and for a time she again fantasised that he was not dead and that she was nursing him back to health.

Emily sat up in bed, trying to regain control of her mind. Whenever she thought of her rescuer, she was as suspicious as Sherlock Holmes investigating a murder, but when it came to the dead BC, her heart began to hammer and she felt feverish. BC had done nothing for her. BC had died before they had even met. Fox had saved Emily’s life, on the other hand, so why could she not worship him? Emily visualised Fox’s face. Somehow his neat hair and sad, serious eyes did not spark any sort of romantic feelings in her. BC was a leader, Fox was not. Being a leader was what made BC so special, she decided. Emily knew that she was a good leader, too, but she had nobody to lead. Every time she told Daniel to do something sensible, he did the opposite unless she forced him to do otherwise.

‘You’re being just like the silly girls at school,’ Emily whispered to herself. ‘Especially the artistic ones with put-on French accents like Muriel Baker. They lose their hearts to boys from the grammar school just because they dance well, or are sporting heroes. Stop it! Girls like you don’t do that.’

It was a hopeless fight. For the first time in her short life, Emily had toppled, and was now falling out of control.

‘Well at least I am losing my heart to a brave, handsome, young man, not some stupid schoolboy,’

Emily muttered to herself presently. ‘Why, oh why, does he have to be dead?’

At last Emily gave up the battle with the obsession, turned up the wick of her bedside lamp, and gazed at her collection of dolls and bears. Much to her mother’s distress, more than half the dolls were of sailors, soldiers, or knights in cardboard armour. Emily did not like dolls, but her mother insisted on giving them to her, so she fought back by dressing them in ways that would annoy her mother. Taking a purple scarf, Emily began cutting out the pattern for a pair of trousers and a coat. Within half an hour one of the dolls was dressed in a hastily stitched purple uniform, and with a scar inked onto its forehead. Emily bandaged its stomach, giving the implication that BC was wounded, not dead.

Finally, with bandaged doll placed at the centre of her collection, Emily blew out the lamp and drifted into sleep.

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