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Update 7 March 2005

The 1,001 Mornings of Reggie Buckhorn
Character by EO Costello in collaboration with Simon Barber

"Nesting Season"
April 1936

Reggie meets the Priestess Wakawana

Nesting Season
April 1936
Transcribed by S.Barber

A Reggie Buckhorn Tale. Reggie, Lodge, Doc Meffit  & Po’na © E.O.Costello, Reverend “Beefy” Bingham © Stu Shiffman, Lady Pamela Fenwick © R.Bartrop, remainder free for Spontoon usage.

“Lodge,” I expounded to that worthy as I relaxed in one of the luxuriously deep hot baths that Shepherds Hotel provides for its more appreciative customers who can afford it, “I have decided to take my lamented nurse’s advice, and Count My Blessings.”

    That worthy appeared, with one of those beaded curtains from the doorway. “Certainly, Sir! This may serve as an abacus. If Sir would indicate when the number exceeds its scope, I will endeavour to bring in the one from the next room.”

    “Pish. Lodge, be happy you are not a fellow Old Etonian of my class, or wet towels would swing your direction for that.” I relaxed, but took a strand of the curtain and began shuffling beads regardless. “I have a loving Mother, a wealthy Father who is on the far side of the globe and liable to remain there, a healthy body and a fun-loving disposition that rarely leaves me time to be bored.”

    Lodge made a sound rather reminiscent of trying to cough up a pinecone that had gone down the wrong way. “Indeed, Sir. And a generous nature to go with it.”

    “Why, thank you indeed, Lodge! Be assured your Christmas Box will have a generous log in it this year.”

    Another rather choked sound came from the fellow. “At the risk of forfeiting that, Sir, I must point out that your “generous nature” and varied escapes from boredom often leads to the local Riot Squad finishing the month with generous overtime payments.”

    I grew mellow in the sandalwood scented steam, and refrained from practical replies involving the wet sponge that was so temptingly to hoof. “It is their job, Lodge, their chosen vocation which I support as I do so many others… let a painter paint for me, a tailor sew, and a Riot Squad … presumably riot, though in truth they take a dim view of others doing so. Rather selfish of them, one might say.” I idly touched another bead and considered my original tally “so, what other blessings can I list? Aha! You bring Inspiration, Lodge, even with your dim view of my adventures. Whatever happens I have so far come out of it quite unscathed; yes indeed. Unfortunate events may happen from time to time, but they do not stay and dampen my spirits. They just roll off like …”

    “Like water off a Duck’s Back, Sir?” Lodge ducked the large wet bath sponge that whizzed past his ears, and humming a merry tune tail-slapped his way out of the room, in fine fettle. A beaver can really grin quite unnervingly when he puts his heart into the exercise.

    When young I used to have a rubber duck in the bath that I was rather fond of. Had there been one in paw reach at that moment it would have followed the sponge towards my infuriatingly smiling valet, who dodges with a skill born of long practice. Not that I would let even a rubber duck in the bathroom with me these days, since the events of last week.

    They say that no good deed ever goes unpunished. They also say your sins will find you out, so what is a fellow to do, I ask you? As ever, it had all started SO promisingly …

“April in Paris was never like this!” I announced to the surprised public from the terrace bar of Shepherd’s Hotel, leaning out over the low rail that overlooks the road some six feet below. It is a fine view, with the Casino and the Rainbow Bridge off to one’s left and the beach spreading out in the middle distance.

    In truth, April in Paris may have its moments but they are generally well interspersed with days of fog and rain sweeping in from the North and West; the Parisians call it “English Weather” and blame us for it. Considering we get ours from Ireland, it is rather infernal cheek. We, naturally, blame the Irish.   I'm sure if I had paid more attention to my geography master, I'd know who the Irish could blame. Perhaps each other, but I digress.

    The thing to remember is, it was an absolutely scorching day for April, and much the best I had seen since my arrival the month before. My previous stop had been Samoa where I had arrived in something of a typhoon and left under something of a cloud, but that too is another story.

    I stood out on the corner of the garden terrace like a sea captain on the prow of his vessel in promising new waters; down below me the traffic moved with surprising pace on the seafront road. One thinks of the Spontoons as being rather a sleepy hollow between tourist seasons and on the Native islands that is true enough; contrastingly on Casino Island there is extensive goods traffic with docks and warehousing, distribution and trans-shipping all over the place. I was expected to learn about such things being the Buckhorn of Buckhorn’s Reticulated Rhubarb fame (recipe booklet available at 1/6 d); I always found commerce rather a bore but never managed to wholly cleanse the unwanted knowledge from my bean despite many strenuous attempts and frequent applications of alcohol based solvents. It is like the soldiers reminiscing about the Great War; it may have been years now since they saw an artillery barrage and they have no ambition to be intimately mixed up in another, but they certainly recognise one if they see it.

    The traffic, I repeat, was surprisingly heavy, and unlike more tourist-laden times of year there were few of the famous volunteer crossing patrol furs in their conspicuous leis of bright orange blossoms. Just under me, the wall supporting the terrace had a notice board with various local advertisements on it (“Beeko for beautiful Beaks!” and similar) and I noticed a feathered person just below me avidly reading it. One second later I noticed an old White lorry of Great War vintage barrelling along the road, its load of timbers having come askew unseen by the driver and now overhanging the pavement, guillotining along at thirty miles an hour.

    “Duck!” I shouted, and a curious broad-beaked face looked up at me, a pair of surprising blue eyes meeting mine some two feet under the edge of the terrace railing. Without time for further polite introductions I reached down and grabbed the person under the wing-roots, and with every ounce of strength heaved them up. The lorry swished by with its timbers missing a pair of broad yellow feet by inches, and I toppled backwards with the sudden weight of my rescuee to land with a thump on the lawn.

    Two seconds later there was a crash as the load fell off the lorry causing no casualties except for a lamp-post, and the police began to converge with notebooks ominously unsheathed. But I barely noticed, as I took stock of the person I had saved.

    Sitting on the Buckhorn chest with rather inelegantly straddled legs was a small and decidedly female avian lady, yellow beaked and web-footed but with jet-black feathers and those same surprisingly cornflower-blue eyes that I recall mentioning.

    Suddenly those feathered arms were hugging tight around me with surprising strength. “You have saved me!” The accent was Spontoonie enough but with some differences, vocally about as far apart as Barsetshire and the adjoining Mummerset back home. “You my hero!” I almost expected the lyrics to be flashed in wall-high lettering as silent film title cards, with tinny piano music as backing.

    “I say, it’s quite all right,” I reassured the lady, doing my best to get at least half-way upright. “I wasn’t going to sit there and see that lorry make a hash and a scramble of you, after all!” Were I the sort to cast aspersions I might have mentioned it was a lucky break that Lady Pamela Fenwick had not been in my place, as a vested interest in mincemeat and chopped poultry slices might have slowed her reflexes. Besides, though she may be a fit and hale vixen for her size, in these circumstances the Buckhorn brawn was what came in handy and just in time.

    Just at that moment two other ducks in Native costume scrambled up onto the terrace, feathers bristling out in concern. They bowed hastily to the rescuee (ignoring me for the nonce) and asked of her something in Spontoonie; the lady now sitting in my lap wriggled somewhat indecorously there, looked up at me and commenced a monologue, with a warm smile on her beak. How rigid avian beaks actually smile is one of the wonders and mysteries of nature, but there you go. Had I only paid attention to my comparative anatomy teacher!

    In a minute or so they were all off, the two older avians looking back my direction with doubtful and surprised expressions. The rescued lady waddled off in high style, her tail feathers most jauntily angled, quite preening herself. An interesting happening, I told myself as I refreshed my glass, and prepared to mentally file it away under traffic hazards. Getting a rickshaw might be safer in this traffic; the drivers are reputed to be steady sorts on the road and that is something I must admit I occasionally lack at the end of a lively evening out.

It was later on that evening when the first birds of ill omen crowded what had been a cheerfully sunny day.    I had dressed for the evening and had strolled out to the Madston Hotel where their chef puts on a very theatrical production: there is an open-air kitchen where vegetables are sliced left right and centre with the sort of speed and dexterity one sees in those Musket-deer films where folk show off their dice and slice skill with the rapiers.

    Spontoonie cooking quite fits the ticket as far as I’m concerned; with the exception of a sour and lumpish slush rather reminiscent of the Eton dish which sparked the Great Tapioca Revolt of ’23, I suit it and it suits me. There have been no unpleasant surprises since an unexpectedly kindly waiter pointed out exactly what a Sea Cucumber was, just as I was about to order it. So I was looking forward to a finely prepared and choreographed meal when the two tables on each side of me suddenly filled with half a dozen feathered fellows apiece, all of them definitely hefty types with expressions as they looked my way more usually found on hawks than flat beaks.

    “What ho!” I raised my glass to the nearest one. “Fine day for a flight!” It might not have been the most tactful thing to say, I reflected a second later, recalling that legend has it their ancestral families had to give up flight somewhere before the year dot and they might be somewhat sour about it still.

    The largest of them glowered at me. “Priestess Wakawana of Orpington, she invite you to dine.”

    I gestured with my menu. “My dear Sir, please extend your Priestess, whoever she may be, my fondest regards. But I have already ordered. Perhaps tomorrow night? I really must decline.”

    There was a surly muttering amongst the assembled avians, and their spokesman bowed with ill grace. “So be it. But what Priestess Wakawana asks for, one way or another she gets.”

    Things looked unsettling for a second, but then one of the rearmost of the flock whispered something in Spontoonie in an urgent tone, and in a feathery flurry they departed at high speed just as a Spontoonie constable proceeded past with measured tread. A most reassuring sight for once, for me to be on the side of the angels as a dozen pairs of flat feet beat it at the sight of a flatfoot. And the banana blossoms cooked in coconut milk were simply divine.

“Lodge,” I asked on my return, cautiously checking that the feathers sticking out from behind the door really did belong to a duster “you have the knack of absorbing local knowledge and lore in a sponge-like fashion. Have you heard anything of this Orpington Place? There is little mentioned in the tourist brochures, and I believe I met some of its denizens today.” And with that I described my two encounters.

    Lodge’s tail twisted somewhat, a sure sign the fellow’s agitated. “Sir,” he ventured when I brought him up-to-date “I gather the Orpington Islanders are not so … domesticated, in a Tourist sense as the Spontoon locals seem to be.”

“Good heavens Lodge, I’m glad I got the young lady off my chest when I did, in that case.”

“I fear you misunderstand, Sir. They are substantially original and unbowed Polynesians, and the Duck Tribe is said to be the most troublesome of all.”

"Troublesome in the sense that they don't pay their tailor bills, or troublesome in that they like a good punch-up of a Saturday night?"  I felt a brief twinge, recalling Samoa and its sturdy inhabitants all too vividly. “Perhaps I have saved the life of this Priestesses’ daughter, and she wishes to thank me over cocktails? Yes indeed, something like that I’m sure.”

Lodge treated me to a look as if he felt that this was so much lemon custard pie in the sky.   "I fear, Sir, that that is taking an altogether optimistic view of the situation At least your actions of saving the young lady should have put you in a good light with her compatriots. Saving lives is rarely looked down on.”

    “Umm.” I could hardly disagree with Lodge, but unsettlingly recalled viewing a ripping adventure film where the hero rescues a damsel from being cast into the volcano, and the clergy and congregation take issue with his interrupting the service. At least in this part of the world it seemed unlikely there were any cults practicing sacrifice by speeding vehicle; downtown in Gnu York at rush hour is of course quite another story. “Well, being summoned to the local equivalent of tea with the vicar should at least be more interesting than the same at home.”

    A truer word I have rarely spoken. And more’s the pity.

By the next day the islands seemed to have used up their week’s ration of fine weather, and to be working through the next month’s supply of rain as fast as the clouds could pour it. The terrace outside was flooded hoof deep, and even the bar inside was almost unusable with the deafening rattle of the rain on the glass roof just above. Happily the bartender knows my needs by now, and there was no need for me to semaphore a two-page instruction on constructing improbably elaborate cocktails, as one frustrated weasel was attempting.

    I looked up at the clock, and noted the time for my appointment was nigh. “It looks like rain stops play for today, pitch washed out and all that. There’s many a quailing team that’s been glad to hear that.” A small quail in a waiter’s outfit looked up at me reproachfully. As I relaxed and looked around, my ears suddenly went right up at the vision approaching through the rain-streaked glass.

    There’s a lot of fine old paintings in the ancestral home of gentry being carted around in sedan chairs between watering holes. A most civilised form of transport I always thought, though should my sire decide to take it up finding a matching team of bears or rhinos to carry the load would be troublesome. Something similar was approaching, carried on the broad backs of half a dozen sturdy drakes in Native costume.

    The expression on the bar-tender’s features was one of shocked surprise, much as if one of the volcanic cones across the water had suddenly rumbled into life with no advanced warning right in the middle of Tourist season.

    “Oh no. Charley, get the Manager - and if you can find a constable it’d be good.” He urgently waved to the waiter. “Here comes trouble.”

    Whatever my sire says, I am not one to always run from trouble; often enough I meet it half-way, like the old friend it is. “Fear not!” I finished my ration of liquid courage and stood up straight “I believe it is me they want. I will meet them outside.”

    There was a universal sigh of relief, and I heard one awed voice whispering something about “’tis a far, far better thing I do …” as I straightened my jacket and walked towards the door. Nice weather for ducks, as they say.

    Outside the rain was just as heavy as it looked, and the suit had no pretensions about being a fisherman’s oilskins. The six burly drakes had put the covered litter down on seeing my approach, and stood impassively the way one sees great hulking Sultan’s Guards do in those Oriental adventure films. They seemed to be conspicuously lacking the traditional curved swords, but that was the only reassuring feature. One of them looked at me and gave a very small bow. “The Priestess awaits.” With that he held open the side door.

    I had been expecting some huge plump old bird bedecked in regalia, whose wingtip I could respectfully kiss while she thanked me for my efforts on saving her niece or granddaughter. What I had not expected was to be bodily pulled into the snug interior by a small but surprisingly strong feathered arm, and have a flat beak passionately pressed to my snout!

    “I say!” I broke off, breathless as my eyes adjusted and stared into a matching set of blue ones that were gazing deep into my own. “I mean, I’m dashed glad you’re all right, but we could have just booked a table!” It was the Priestess Wakawana herself, she of the ebon plumage and now sporting a sort of Native tiara of oddly coloured gold carven with jolly strange marine and submarine motifs.

    She laughed, and called out something in her local language. I felt the chair being picked up and carted off; evidently I was being “taken for a ride” but hopefully not as they do it in Chicago. The lady looked up at me adoringly. “You save me! Is Will of the Duck-Spirit that brings us together.”

    I’m not sure exactly how she managed the manoeuvre in such tight circumstances, but two seconds later she was sitting in my lap with evident contentment. A short maiden to be sure, her head-feathers barely up to my collarbone, but exceedingly active and sure of herself. Her perfume, oddly enough, reminded me of orange sauce.

    It was a rather disturbing situation for a Gentleman to find himself in. I mean, doubtless it was a dream come true if one’s idea of the ideal of beauty involves flat webbed feet and an entrancing waddle, but honestly I have always been quite willing to leave that to other gentlemen equipped with feathers of their own. I recalled what the drake had said the day before, of how the Priestess generally getting her way … and though she might be without tearing talons and a flesh-rending beak, I felt a decidedly ancestral reaction coming on that usually gets triggered at the sight of teeth and claws.

    “I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, or anything,” I tried to summon up what tact I had in the ready-use magazine, “but aren’t you getting a bit uncomfortable? We bucks have been mistaken for hat-racks before now, but we’re not exactly sofas. A panda might suit you better for that task”

    Her reply was a sound that might have been the equivalent of a feline’s purr, as she nuzzled her beak up under my muzzle. “Is fine here! Don’t worry; handsome-outlander get plenty of time to get used to me.”

    Given that she was nestled in my lap much the way one sees a chorus-girl with a millionaire just as his wife bursts in on the comedy films, this was hardly reassuring. Happily, it was only another minute before the litter came to a halt and a wing-tip outside respectfully tapped on the door.

    As I discovered when Wakawana slid off my lap with a regretful sigh and opened the door, we had arrived at a large Native-looking house somewhere on the Northern side of the island. She led the way inside it (the six large and alert drakes following me at a four-yard distance) and I discovered it was decked out in Native finery with elaborate carvings and a treasure-trove of works of art.

    Wakawana beamed at me. “Is Duck-Cult house on Spontoon. We come and go, but house stay and nobody can do anything against.” I had gathered from the bartender that the Duck-Cult tended to be rather boisterous types who were rather too keen on pressing their opinions for the Spontoon authorities; indeed I had formed the impression that their usual end to a Spontoon trip was being escorted off by the constabulary. For once, my being with fellow sufferers from the Law was not exciting the usual camaraderie and sympathy.

    There were half a dozen servants of some description to judge from their plain costumes and deferential air, who fussed around as Wakawana relaxed contentedly in a rather nest-like pile of cushions and brought in a meal. The meal, I was pleased to discover, was a rather fine mash of Manioc with ginger and lemon-grass, to which Wakawana applied herself with great energy and gusto before relaxing completely stuffed. I nearly commented on my favourite meal like it involving sage and onions, but caught myself just in time.

    “Duck-Spirits are great and powerful,” she began, leaning forward to where I was perched on obviously feather-stuffed cushions. “I Priestess five years now after Mother fly to hunting-ponds in skies, find self in need of Consort. Nest is empty, feels emptier every year. Pray to Duck-spirits for guidance, next day go Spontoon shopping and -“she waved a wing expressively “they bring us together!”

    I blinked. “Umm, I hate to point it out to you, but … we’re not exactly a perfect match in the nesting department. You see, fawns aren’t hatched out of eggs, and not everything really mixes as well as an aperitif, so …”

    She laughed, and suddenly flung her feathered arms around me again. Definitely a girl of energy and spirit, I noted, and one of high social standing. That was the plus side. One always looks for a silver lining in such matters.

    “Duck-Spirits fix all! You will see.” She lowered her beak, and looked down modestly. I have no doubt she had a very pretty beak as such things go, and remembering the attitudes of the drakes outside had sudden doubts as to how the rest of the tribe would take it if she really did take me home with her. A stag hardly likes to be thought of as a trophy, don’t you know.

Princess Wakawana & Reggie Buckhorn (art by Simon Barber)

    I felt rather like one of those film star chappies must when their characters are tied in the path of an oncoming express train. “But … my family aren’t Duck-spirit worshippers! In fact I’ve never been to one of your Sunday-schools even!”

    A wing waved disdainfully. “I Priestess, no problem is. Priestesses make converts.” With that, her blue eyes twinkled most alarmingly, and I recalled other phrases about things happening when one was a twinkle in one’s parent’s eye. The room suddenly seemed rather hotter, and I was not unhappy to still be soaked to the fur from our meeting out in the rain.

    To my great relief she smiled, and stood up rather than hopping into my lap again. Though she was definitely no doe, she had her fair share of feminine appeal and every intention of using it full-throttle. “You see! Next week we go Orpington, introduce to Spirit-temple and flock. They have surprise, you bet!”

    I found myself agreeing for once with the web-footed charmer, as she waddled in close formation with me to the door to bid me au revoir. The rain had hardly slackened by the time I left - which provided me with a good excuse to run like a startled deer, right across the island to the bird (free) sanctuary of Shepherd’s Hotel.

    I expect the estimable Lodge deduced my luncheon date had not gone smoothly when I entered the rooms in top gear, braced my hooves against the suite door and double-locked it, while insistently calling him to close all the windows and check there were bars in the chimneys.

    “Lodge,” I panted while getting my breath back, while without needing further prompting he fixed me a generous gin and tonic “I have heard of duck hunts, often enough. I assumed there are duck huntresses. But I have never been in the sights of one before!”

    If Lodge was the type to get easily alarmed, now would have been a good time to practice it. As it was, his eyebrow raised somewhat higher than usual. “Indeed, Sir?”

    “In word and deed and more importantly in intention, Lodge.” I accepted the life-saving cordial and administered emergency treatment to the nervous system. “She wants to carry me off to her Island and make a convert of me. To feather her nest with Buckhorn fur, to be precise.”

    “Oh dear, Sir. Shall I pack Sir’s waterproof leggings? Or the morning suit? Very fashionable for weddings these days, I am told.”

    “Highly amusing - I don’t think.” Suddenly a ray of hope dawned. “I say! She is a Priestess, and should pay attention to the scriptures and strictures, even if they are not her own. I couldn’t wed a Duck if I wanted to! I’m sure there’s something written down about it somewhere. I went to Sunday School, in fact to every one within range that would have me.” It was a time in my fawn life that I recalled with some embarrassment, but some of the ideas seemed vaguely familiar still.

    Lodge closed his eyes and concentrated. “I believe you will find it in Leviticus, sir, the list of proscribed types.” He was silent for a few seconds as his card-index of a brain shuffled accurately. "And these you shall detest among the birds;” he began to recite, “They are detestable: the eagle, the bearded vulture, the black vulture, the kite, the falcon of any kind, every raven of any kind, the ostrich, the nighthawk, the sea gull, the hawk of any kind, the little owl, the cormorant, the short-eared owl, the barn owl, the tawny owl, the carrion vulture, the stork, the heron of any kind, the hoopoe, and the bat.”

    The Buckhorn ears drooped. “No ducks in the list?”

    “No, as you so accurately say Sir, ducks. They are not even in the list of general marine creatures that are held to be detestable.”

    For a second a ray of hope struck me. “Bats aren’t birds, Lodge; that much I do remember. Might some translator have turned two pages of the dictionary at once and written “Bat” when he very clearly meant “Duck?”

    “Sir would have much trouble at the Vatican proving it, even if such was the case.”

    My ears drooped further at hearing that ducks were A-1 at Lloyds in the priestly line-up. There was no point in pursuing this line further if Lodge said so; I had visions of a young version of him on Sunday School outings with his class gathered round a sea urchin and Detesting it with prize-winning fervour.

    “Dash it all, Lodge, I had just got settled here and all. I don’t want to be chased out of the Spontoons if I can help it … but I’m not jolly keen on being hauled off to be made assistant verger of some fowl temple, either.”

    It was just then that I felt an irritating tickle in the muzzle. A second later I sneezed deafeningly, almost spilling my medicinal drink with the force of the reaction. A few seconds later came another sneeze, and then another - my eyes began to water like that day at Eton when the pepper booby-trap scored an own goal as the wind changed at the last minute. It happens to the most qualified of military planners, as anyone who survived Second Ypres would tell you.

    Lodge looked on, most concerned. Although he frequently sees me feeling exceedingly ill, there is usually a good and sufficient explanation for it; being suddenly stricken is not my style at all. By the time I had gone into about the two dozenth sneezing fit I was collapsed exhausted on the sofa, and he was ringing for the hotel doctor.

     “Allergic reaction,” the nattily dressed skunk medico pronounced an hour later, as I squinted at him through eyes that were almost squeezed shut and weeping like a maiden aunt hearing of the death of Valentino. “I see so much of this around here; tourists come out from homes in the middle of Chicago and wander through the flower groves all day, then wonder what’s wrong all of a sudden.”

    I tried unsuccessfully to hold back a sneeze. “I’ve been - ah-shoo! I’ve been here weeks in the spiffiest of health, and today it’s poured down! Bad prospects for pollen, I might have thought.”

    “Hmmph, that is so,” the doctor contemplated his pinstriped trousers. “If not pollen, then perhaps seafood? No, not with your species, I take it. Any new clothing of unfamiliar fabrics? A new feather pillow perchance?”

    “Feathers!” I exclaimed, catching on. Every now and then an idea does hit the bull’s-eye; then again the same would happen eventually if you threw the darts blindfold with no idea at what point of the compass the board was to be found. “I had a dinner engagement with an avian lady, who was decidedly feathered.”

    The two-tone tail twitched in suppressed amusement as I failed to suppress a further sneezing bout. “Ah, the course of true love is always rocky.” He shook his head. “I’ll write out a prescription but to be honest it won’t help matters very much. You’re allergic to pin-feathers it seems, and that’s that.”

Entrusting Lodge to get the prescription from the chemist, I sat and contemplated my predicament. Even if the lady Wakawana dropped one of those fabled Love Potions in my gin and tonic and dragged a miraculously willing Buckhorn off in triumph to her family nest, the prospects for happiness were not great if I sneezed my muzzle off every time we met.

    Looking out of the window, I glimpsed two burly drakes sitting on the otherwise empty beach opposite the hotel entrance. Their lack of buckets and spades, and the fact that the rain was still pouring down on their feathers seemed to indicate that these were not casual tourists.

    “The course of true love may indeed be a rocky road,” I reminded myself as I ducked out of sight, “but with enough energy rocky roads can be flattened with steam-rollers and bulldozers - such as are parked out there right now.” The Lady Wakawana was obviously taking no chances with me flying the coop, and I had no intention of finding out exactly how much enthusiasm her retainers would put into bringing down a deserting deer.

    When Lodge returned with the potion we held a council of war. The prospects did not seem encouraging. In fact General Custer in his final punch-up would have received better odds from the average bookmaker.

    “I fear, Sir, that from what I have gathered the lady has every right to use all available means to her end - from her own Island’s point of view. But I regret that suitable informants as to the genuine Native culture are hard to find and proving unwilling to talk.” Lodge poured me a measure of the potion and looked closely at the bottle. “Oh dear, Sir.”

    “Oh dear is right.” But then I followed his gaze. “Is there any special “Oh dear” not relating to feathers and passionate Native maidens who wear them?”

    In reply, the fellow simply pointed at the warning notices on the bottle. “Dosage: four times a day,” I read. “Well, that’s not so bad. Wait, what’s this about … Do not consume alcohol within six hours of treatment? Ye Gods, Lodge, what HAVE you brought me?”

    The fellow wisely held his peace as well as the bottle. My eyes were still watering like an Olympic onion-peeling champion, so I swallowed the beastly stuff and scratched the only consolation there was to be found in more inviting bottles downstairs at the bar. Less of the Gods, I told myself - but decidedly I found myself between the Devil and the deep blue sea.

In the morning my sneezing had stopped and I could see again; unfortunately my restored vision included a new shift of drakes camped out on the beach outside. Getting out of here without a duck escort might prove to be difficult.

    “Sir?” Lodge helped me into the linen suit; it promised to be a pleasant day outside if I could just duck my “tail.” “I have taken the liberty of ordering a rickshaw to arrive at the kitchen entrance by ten. A covered rickshaw, I thought, might solve some of the admittedly difficult problems.”

    “Brilliance, Lodge, sheer brilliance! I will give them the slip and then …” the Buckhorn treasure-chest of prize-winning ideas rang with a discouragingly hollow sound. “Well, I’ll give them the slip anyway, and that will be step one. Opportunities will arise and be seized mercilessly.” With that I sat down to my breakfast of toasted muffins with a renewed appetite. My eyes wandered over to the allergy medication. “All I have to do is keep out of her way till she’s cooled off which might not take long; a volatile lady unless I miss my guess, always in a flap about something. And then the matter of medicine will be moot.”

    As I ate, I strained the Buckhorn bean to think of a plan. Just telling the Lady Wakawana that she was not up to cervine standard and my idea of beauty had fur rather than feathers, would be a last resort. For one thing, a Gentleman should always do his best to let a lady down gently if needs must, and I worried also about how much fowl play she would authorise from her hefty supporters if suddenly jilted. “No,” I mused aloud, “I must find some way of proving our match impossible. Regretfully impossible. Something that even her enthusiasm and the heavy-handed force of the Duck-spirits and her very solid choirboys cannot get through.”

    Such was Plan A. In retrospect it may have been like saying “Being a millionaire is easy, all you need is the money.” All well and good, but the trouble lies in finding it.

One of the problems bucks face with having such a nobly distinctive silhouette is that is so jolly … distinctive. Most species are easier to disguise, although last week I did see a young anteater lady in some sort of Girl Scout-type uniform who might have had even more problems that way. Since the demise of the top-hat there have been few items of headgear that are much use in hiding anthers, and that’s a fact.

    At ten o’clock sharp I was down at the service entrance; strictly speaking it is off-limits to guests and if Andrė had spotted me there would have been trouble. But Lodge used his diplomatic below-stairs contacts and with suitable financial lubrication the way was eased for my escape.

    The rickshaw was awaiting, a curtained affair pulled by a very solidly built fox in Native costume. He looked as if he had been brought up wrestling sharks for his supper without much unsporting aid in terms of spears or et cetera.

    The fellow bowed deeply. “Self is named Po’na, gentledeer. Direction gentledeer is requesting?”

    Well, the fellow probably hadn’t had the benefits of my grammar teacher, though remembering what a pill old McCrimmon was I had to chalk that one up as a mixed blessing. After I had decrypted his question I thought hard while he waited patiently. As my nemesis was awaiting on the beach, the further away from any beach I could get on this small island, the better. “Tower Hill Park, if you please, and don’t go round the front of the hotel. There’s folk watching there I’m trying to avoid.”

    I climbed in and drew the curtains except for a crack, and the driver bent forwards to pick up the strain. He seemed pleasantly surprised there was less strain than he apparently expected; a lot of these tourists are chunky types and plenty of tennis and such keeps my shape tolerably trim.

    All went well and the getaway succeeded; at least by the time we reached the park there was not a feather to be seen. I got out and stretched, examining the charming vista. Delightful though it was, it inspired no brilliant plans in the Buckhorn bean. Whenever I returned to the Hotel, the problem would be there still awaiting me.

    “Gentledeer further travel desiring is?” The voice of the rickshaw cabbie jolted me out of my reverie. I fished in my pockets for change, then hesitated.

    “Yes, I mean no, I don’t know where to.” This was obviously not a particularly useful answer, so I tried again. “I say, can I hire you for the day? I’m not sure where I’ll want to go, but I don’t want to be seen going there.”

    The fox bowed. “Five shells Po’na-self gentledeer ricksha charge sundeath, ten shells additional moonbirth until.” He looked at me with an appraising gaze. “Gentledeer in trouble is being?” Really the fellow could have used a grammar class; he’d never get a radio announcer’s job at the BBC at this rate. Still, his heart seemed to be in the right place though that was more than I could say for his verbs.

    “Yes, gentledeer is definitely in trouble being - I mean, I am definitely in trouble. Dash it, you’ve got me doing it now!” But a smile stayed on regardless of the odds. “It’ll take something like divine intervention to throw that lady off the track.” Suddenly an idea struck me. “That’s it! I know where to try next - and it’s downhill all the way.”

The Anglican rectory on Casino Island is built startlingly like a vicarage back home; it looks rather odd to see it bathed in brilliant sunlight with tropical orchids climbing around in the gardens rather than cowering in the shelter of the glasshouse.

    I arrived outside with some trepidation, not having attended morning services for awhile. If the Mission church put its services at a more reasonable time, say that uncomfortable gap in the day just before the start of cocktail hour, it might see a lot more of me.

    “Ah, Mister Buckhorn.” A large hoof landed between my shoulder-blades with a hale and hearty thump that all but winded me as the cleric in question arrived from an unexpected quarter. “So good of you to drop by! Are you interested in any raffle tickets for the Church Roof fund?”

    It always pays to start things on the right hoof, so I subscribed generously. If everyone dropped so much in the hat I think the Rev would have more roofs on his church than he knew what to do with. I braced myself for a troublesome interview, even so. “Reverend, I’ve come for some advice that I hope might be in your department.” And with that I imparted the sorry duck tale to date.

    When I finished, the Rev scratched between his horns, thinking hard as I hopefully awaited some Solomonic quality judgement. Just having a rowing and boxing Blue and a forehand tennis smash like a battleship shell is no reason not to have a sound chunk of the old grey matter as well.

    “Well, old chap,” he looked at me and smiled heartily. “Just because she’s a different religion, doesn’t mean you can’t get married. We can have one wedding here and she can arrange the other side of it. Happens all the time out here! Anyway, if you’re worried about the differences between you, the Good Lord will find a way. I’ve performed some christenings that on paper you’d never expect to see.”

    “Good Lord!” I echoed, my ears sticking out rigidly. “That isn’t my problem!”

    “Jolly glad to hear it. You bring the lucky lady along here a few weeks before the happy day, there’s a good chap, and we’ll make the arrangements. Everyone ought to get married, don’t you know.” With that and another encouraging slap that would not have disgraced a welterweight boxing champion he left me to it.

    I returned to the waiting rickshaw with my tail and ears drooping. Po’na looked at me, and raised an eyebrow. “Just drive,” I told him sadly. “Anywhere except a duck pond. Especially an Orpington duck pond.”

    “Gentledeer  neighbouring water-birds trouble having is?” Po’na asked sympathetically. I nodded, and as he hauled me around to the North coast I recounted my woes for the second time that morning. Any more of this and I would be better with one of those sandwich-boards so the curious could read my predicament at their leisure and spare the old voice-box.

    We pulled up opposite some industrial plant that seemed to be busy with carts full of superannuated palm thatch and kitchen wastes; there was a strong scent of fermenting fruit in the air that reminded me of many a bathtub gin distillery. As regards scale, it was not a bathtub but a full-sized swimming pool.

    The vulpine fellow relaxed, drumming his fingers on the shaft of his rickshaw as he contemplated. Between Lodge and Reverend Bingham I had tried keen wits and clerical Authority without avail, and I could only hope that local knowledge and Native cunning could do better.

That evening I had Po’na drop me off behind the hotel so I could walk around to the front door. It would annoy the watching wingmen that they had missed me leaving, and avoid tipping them off to look out for rickshaws. As expected, at Reception there was a note for me inviting me to dine the following night, with a single dark feather “plucked from above my heart” as the missive proclaimed. I am sorry to say that I lost it in the sneezing fit that followed; it was a nice gesture and any avian gentleman who appreciates such things would be sure to appreciate it. Or sentiments to that effect.

    “Lodge!” I entered the room in first gear rather than fourth this time, to find him carefully locking shut the windows “tonight I must martyr myself with Nootnops Blue. I believe it is not Detestable in the eyes of the allergy potion-masters. Tomorrow night I dine with a duck damsel at her request.”

    “Sir?” It is hard to surprise Lodge these days, but on that occasion I think I came close to blowing his turret off, as my cousin Captain P would say. “If I may make so bold, although the Native drink may not be alcoholic as such, it has certain other … ingredients that a European wine merchant could not offer to the public due to its effects. And the avian lady…” he broke off in some confusion. “I was under the impression, Sir, that her pressing her suit with you was proving most unwelcome.”

    “That’s as maybe, Lodge. But as to pressing suits, I believe the seersucker would be the most suitable outfit. Be warned that the lady may throw things at it. Though not, presumably, eggs.”

    With that I took a dose of the allergy medicine and headed down to the bar, where any secret agents employed by my favourite gin distillery would be thrown into a panic and urgently telegraph for instructions as necessity forced me to change my tipple. I put my trust in Po’na and reverently hoped that he had the answer. If not - to coin a phrase more appetising to the likes of Lady Pamela Fenwick, I feared my goose would be cooked.

    They say that being sentenced to be hung concentrates the mind marvellously; much the same is true for having to await other hideous fates. Anyway, the next day saw me up surprisingly early and out on the tennis courts; eight straight sets managed to clear away the rainbow-coloured cobwebs that were crawling messily over the landscape. Lodge was right about the blue Nootnops, by the by.

    “Wakawana is a lovely girl, after her fashion,” I reminded myself “she is devoted, determined and of high social standing. Such are her known good qualities; more may come into view on longer acquaintance.” As I stood on the terrace after tennis looking down over the road where it had all began, I began to count my blessings. Running out of same, I turned to the other side of the coin, “unhappily for me, through no fault of hers she strikes me down with a hay fever on the scale of endless steppe and unending prairies of grass combined. Longer acquaintance would only make that worse. Plus, she is a duck. There is no getting round the fact. Longer acquaintance would probably only confirm it.”

    It was with some trepidation that I spotted the litter being carried towards me by the stalwart and sturdy drakes. I took a deep breath and a deep draught of my allergy medicine. Zero hour had arrived, and scorning the stairs at the end of the terrace, I went over the top.

    Fortunately for me, Wakawana had waited at the Duck Cult house rather than cramming into the litter with me this time. The litter was full of her scent but by keeping the windows open and poking my muzzle out I reduced my suffering to a mild sniffle until I reached the destination where I saw her awaiting me outside. She was not alone, in fact there were three other duck ladies there in oiled plumage wearing those odd golden tiaras with the marine life motifs. Evidently her fellow Priestesses had come to look me over; by her account she had no surviving parents to take me back to tea with so these seemed to be filling the posts.

    The litter swayed to a halt and I emerged, noting there were quite a few Spontoonies of other species on the street, tidying the flower-beds and the like. Some looked like Guides, others looked more like those wrestler chappies one sees throwing each other about on the beach before appreciative audiences.

    Wakawana beamed, waddling down the steps to greet me. “Is wonderful day you visit me! Here we meet with Grand Priestess Dakkadadana and sisters! Make plans you-me go Orpington.” She pressed herself close to me, hugging with surprising vigour.

    “What is THAT?” Came a rather commanding voice from one of the senior ladies. In her enthusiasm Wakawana had rather disturbed my tie, revealing a coral pendant that I was wearing around my neck underneath it.

    I looked down modestly. “It’s just a good-luck charm I picked it up yesterday for a shell. Funny you should ask about that! I had to repeat some Native verses before the fellow selling it said it’d start being lucky. Then the fellow gave me a feather I had to run along from nose to tail-tip with. Jolly odd souvenirs you folk have out here, I must say.”

    There was a collective gasp of horror and loathing the like of which I’ve not heard since some diners in Shepherds’ restaurant ordered pie and were served poi by mistake. One of the senior fowl pointed at my pendant in horror. "He wears the sign of the sea-bird cult and has taken their oath!"

    I blinked, ears up as I looked down at a scandalised Wakawana. "I say. You didn't object to me going to my own church."

    "That's an Outlander one, it doesn't count. But the Seabird Cult - it is unclean to us!" She turned round to her superiors. "Isn't there anything you can do?"

    "No. He has taken the talisman, the words and the feather. He is gone to us. The sea-bird cult have defiled the chosen of our Priestess." As one they tuned away.

    Just then one of the gardeners who had been beavering away (one of Lodge's distant relatives no doubt) at the flower bed stood up and cast a glare in their direction. "I'm in the Sea-bird cult. We don't defile anything. Never have, never will."

    "So am I!" "Rotahoa-self, seabird-spirit worship!" Five or six of the folk within hearing took immediate umbrage and began to converge on the scene. Priestess Wakawana clicked her beak and gestured her six big drakes forward, with scarcely another glance at me. Reggie Buckhorn, that discreet deer, exited stage left before the lines of battle were formed and civilian onlookers got caught in the cross-fire.

    As I said to Lodge a little later on, Riot Police must like their jobs or they would go off and be engine-drivers or something. And even without me being listed as a combatant, I think they would thank me had they known who was responsible for that month's generous overtime bonus.

    "The wedding's off? That is such a shame." It was tea-time the next day, and I had felt obliged to pop round to the rectory and squash any rumours that might be flying around like hurled ducks. I had seen enough hurled ducks recently to be able to make an accurate comparison. The Reverend Bingham looked most disappointed.

    "Afraid so." I tried to look suitably downcast, but my tail was high.” My driver Po'na sold me a good luck charm that actually worked - like a charm. I'm afraid it made me an instant pariah to the lady Wakawana and her folks, though. And after the ensuing, umm, religious debate they were all deported back to Orpington till next year. So unless I go there, it looks like I'm bowled out for a duck." The chances of me willingly going to that island were about the same as a good snow report in a Hades skiing resort.

    The revered Rev furrowed his brow. "I can't really approve of good-luck charms and amulets. I think you're better off without it."

    "Right-oh!" With the air of one making a small sacrifice I removed the offending artefact. After all, when one has been pulled out of deep water onto dry land one can take off the life-belt. "I'll give it back to Po’na; I'm considering making him my permanent driver. Creates employment, you know. He had me saying the ritual almost right - but not quite right as I skipped a bit. So there's no fear the Sea-bird spirits are going to fly off with me, Rev."

    The dog-collared bull nodded, relieved. "Do you know what part of the ritual you left undone?"

    "Why, yes, Reverend. I didn't use the feather. Do you know, I believe I'm getting allergic to them."