Rooke puzzled about that idea as he puzzled at his primes. He had never seen a black man, so the issue was abstract, but something about the argument did not cohere. Think as he might, though, he could not find a path around Lancelot Percival's logic.
In Euclid's company it was if he had been speaking a foreign language all his life, and had just now heard someone else speaking it too.
To understand any aspect of the cosmos was to look on the face of God: not directly, but by a species of triangulation, because to think mathematically was to feel the action of God in oneself.
He saw others comforted by their ideas of God...what comforted Rooke, on the contrary, was the knowledge that as an individual he did not matter. Whatever he was, he was part of a whole...
That imposed a morality behind the terse handful of commands in the chaplain's book. It was to acknowledge the unity of all things. To injure any was to damage all.
The slaves were utterly strange, their lives unimaginable, but they walked and spoke, just as he did himself. That speech he had heard was made up of no sounds he could give meaning to, but it was language and joined one human to another, just as his own did.
Of course their hair would grow back and they would continue to walk about, and breathe and eat: they were not dead. But they might as well be. They would never again have a place in the world.
The firing, the reloading, the ramming, the priming, the firing again: all that was familiar from having been practiced so often. The theory of it was tidy: men firing and then calmly dropping to one knee to reload. What was happening on Resolution bore no resemblance to that.
It was foreign to Rooke, the idea of taking the real world as nothing more than raw material. His gift lay in measuring, calculating, deducing. Silk's was to cut and embellish until a pebble was transformed into a gem.
A man on this promontory would be part of the settlement, but not in it. Present, but not forgotten. Astronomy would make a convenient screen for a self that he did not choose to share with any of the other souls marooned along with him.
Gamekeeper! The word suggested the society that Lancelot Percival James had boasted of at the Academy: pheasants and deer in a park artfully planted to enhance the prospect, cheerful peasantry tipping their caps to the squires riding by.
But New South Wales was no gentleman's estate...and the gamekeeper was a criminal who had been given a gun.
Unrelenting newness made for something like blindness. It was as if sight did not function properly in the absence of understanding. Without his pack and his notebook, he hoped that his eyes might begin to make distinctions among all those trees and bushes.
Rooke could see that there was a dangerous ambiguity to the presence of a thousand of His Majesty's subjects in this place. No such understanding was possible without language to convey it, and persons to whom the news could be delivered. And yet it seemed that the silence might continue indefinitely.
Rooke said nothing more. There was a question forming in the back of his mind, which he did not want to hear. It was: What would I have done in the same place?
But language was more than a list of words, more than a collection of fragments all jumbled together like a box of nuts and bolts. Language was a machine. To make it work, each part had to be understood in relation to all the other parts.
Language went in both directions. Without the benefit of notebooks or pencils repaired with string, the natives not only knew many words of English, but had already made them part of their own tongue, altering them as their grammar required. Bread was now breado, not simply borrowed but possessed.
What had passed between Tagaran and himself had gone far beyond vocabulary or grammatical forms. It was the heart of talking; not just the words and not just the meaning, but the way in which two people had found common ground and begun to discover the true names of things.
Warungin was not thinking punishment, justice, impartial. All he could see was that the Berewalgal had gathered in their best clothes to inflict pain beyond imagining on one of their own. Seen through his eyes, this ceremony was not an unfortunate but necessary part of the grand machine of civilization. It looked like a choice. When those fine abstractions fell away, all that remained was cruelty.
He had made that choice, because he was a lieutenant in His Majesty's Marine Force.
There it was, in the very words. Force was his job. If he was a soldier, he was as much a part of that cruelty as the man who had wielded the whip.
He must tell, otherwise what up till now had been simply private would take on the dangerous power of a secret. The task was to tell, but to minimize.
He had written as in despair in order to indicate that her despair was feigned. To him it had obviously been a joke. What native, even a child, would believe that washing would make them white? He had failed to record the joke on the page, in the same way he failed to note that they were breathing, or that their hearts were beating.
They all knew what he had turned his face away from: like it or not, he was Berewalgal. He wore the red coat. He carried the musket when he was told to. He stood by while a man was flogged. He would not confront a white man who had beaten his friends.
But to shoot a piece of metal out of it that could penetrate a shield or a human body and expose the shambles within: that was of another order of experience. Another language. What it said was, I can kill you.
He did not want her to learn that language. Certainly not from him.
But written down like that, with its little full stop, the possibility of doubt was erased. The meaning would never be questioned again. What had felt like science was the worst kind of guesswork, the kind that forgets it is a guess.
What he had not learned from Latin or Greek he was learning from the people of New South Wales. It was this: you did not learn a language without entering into a relationship with the people who spoke it with you. His friendship with Tagaran was not a list of objects, or the words for things eaten or not eaten, thrown or not thrown. It was the slow constructing of the map of a relationship.
It was the simplest thing in the world. If an action was wrong, it did not matter whether it succeeded or not, or how many clever steps you took to make sure it failed. If you were part of such an act, you were part of its wrong. You did not have to take up the hatchet or even to walk along with the expedition.