by Constance Eilonwy
A/N: Written 12/13/2002. Posted to fanfiction dot net 10.9.2005. I actually forgot I had it on my hard drive.
The TV series Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World is the property of Coote/Hayes Productions/St. Clare/Telescene among others.
Marguerite sewed, slender fingers moving in precise, quick motions, mending the tear her camisole had sustained in a recent frantic dash from a tyranosaurus rex. She sat at the table, back straight, concentration focused on the needle. Her dark hair was pulled back with a leather strap near the nape of her neck.
Across the tree house room, Roxton sat slouched in a chair, boots propped on the seat of another chair, buried in a book. The blinds were open to the jungle, letting in leaf-filtered beams of sunlight and a faint breeze.
The others were gone for the day, off in various directions to gather needed herbs or in search of specimens. It had been decided that someone should stay and watch the tree house--it was their ship in the middle of an often hostile sea and must be kept secure. As it was deemed too dangerous for just one person to do the job, Marguerite stayed too, acerbically stating that she didn't have time to go galavanting about the jungle, she had mending to do.
The needle pricked her finger and Marguerite hissed a curse under her breath and stuck her finger in her mouth.
Roxton glanced up from his book, watching her. She caught his gaze and he quickly looked down at the page again. She continued with her sewing.
This went on for a few more minutes, and then Roxton lowered his book and cleared his throat.
It made her hesitate in her stitch, but she kept on going without looking up.
"Well, are we going to go on like this all day? Sitting in utter silence? I suppose I did something to make you angry at me, although at the moment I can't imagine what it is."
Marguerite lowered her camisole and tilted her head to one side as she fixed him with a measuring stare. "I am not angry with you. I'm concentrating on my work. If you don't mind," she added, with a sarcastic grin.
His eyes slid to the camisole in her hands. In response, she pulled it closer to her body, as if she could hide it from him.
"Didn't you just mend that last week?" He asked, sitting up, his boots coming to the floorboards of the room with a thump.
"Yes," she said, quite patiently. "Last week I tore it climbing down into a crevace to gather berries. Yesterday, my clothing snagged on a branch as we were fleeing for our lives. My life is glamorous and exciting."
He scratched his chin, which had probably been shaved yesterday, and ambled closer to her. "I assume you brought more than one of those things with you. Why constantly mend the one?"
Closing her eyes, she gave the sigh of a martyr and lowered her sewing again. Then she glared at him. "What necessaries a woman packs is none of your business, Lord Roxton. But since you ask…yes, I packed quite sensibly. I have plenty of them."
"So why keep mending the one? It must be threadbare by now." The words and tone were innocent enough.
This time, Marguerite cleared her throat and smoothed down her hair with a free hand. "I prefer this one."
He sat down across from her at the table. "How odd."
"Odd?" she said sharply. "Why is that so odd?"
He shrugged. "I would have thought…well, women care more for their appearance than men. It's surprising you would show such an attachment to a minor piece of clothing, something no one ever sees but you."
She swallowed. "Again," she said with false sweetness, "that. Is. None. Of. Your. Business." With each word, her needle jabbed through the cloth.
"Oh, of course." He puts his hands out apologetically. "You just never seemed the sort to place too much importance on some silly article of clothing."
Her hands stilled a moment.
"People in glass houses, Roxton…"
"What?" He said, genuinely confused.
"Oh, nothing," she said blandly, continuing to sew.
After watching her a bit longer, Roxton shrugged, and reached for a piece of fruit from the bowl on the table. Disentangling his legs from the bench, he bit into the fruit and wandered out to the balcony to watch the jungle.
Roxton's hat was carefully hung on a wooden peg by the door. From across the room, Marguerite's glance found the hat, and held it. Then her eyes narrowed dangerously, and she smiled.
"Have you seen my hat?"
Several hours, Lord John Roxton stood in the middle of the tree house main room, running his hand through his hair and looking flustered. Several trunks had been opened, their contents spilling onto the floor.
"You hat?" Marguerite said, looking up from the skirt she was mending. Beside her on the floor was a small pile of clothing, neatly folded, and a sloppier pile of clothing ready to be mended.
"I can't find the bloody thing anywhere. I'm sure I hung it on the peg." Roxton circled the room like a caged panther, bending over occasionally to look under chairs. "I wonder if a gust of wind knocked it down? Perhaps it drifted out the windows?" He added, with a touch of despair in his voice.
"Perhaps," Marguerite said, a smile touching her lips.
Roxton began another circuit of the room, this time peering down over the waist-high bamboo barriers to look at the jungle below.
"My, my." Marguerite clicked her tongue against her teeth. "The importance some people place on a silly article of clothing."
His body froze, rigid, his back to her. Slowly, very slowly, he turned. "Marguerite…"
"Yes?" she batted her eyelashes at him.
"Do you know where my hat is?" He stalked towards her, voice a quiet menace.
"Hm. Let me see…" she cocked her head to one side, placing a finger to her chin.
"Perhaps you should look outside," she said cheerfully.
He stared at her a moment, pointed an angry finger in her direction, opened his mouth, then snapped it shut. He turned and stalked towards the door, gathering up his shoulder holster and pistol as he went. He had shrugged into the holster before he even reached the elevator inside the massive tree trunk.
Marguerite wisely waited until he had reached the ground before she put down her sewing. Humming a cheerful tune, she took her own pistol and holster, fastened it around her waist, and hauled the elevator back up and followed him.
The afternoon was hot, the sun past its zenith but hours until sunset. The jungle itself seemed to breath with its own peculiar heartbeat--distant birdcall, the buzz of insects, the faint cries of dinosaurs.
Roxton paused to wipe his sweating forehead. The sleeves of his shirt were rolled up against the heat of the day, There was an outcropping of rock nearby. He stalked over and peered into the cracks.
"I wouldn't look so low to the ground if I were you."
He spun around to see Marguerite leaning lazily against the trunk of a sapling, ankles crossed, head to one side in that way she had. Her hair fell over one shoulder as she nonchalantly looked up at the blue sky.
"Enjoying yourself?" he asked sarcastically, stalking past her.
Switching his quest from rocks and bushes to tree branches, Roxton moved with his head craned back. He tripped on a root, stumbled, and caught his balance.
Marguerite made a small sound, quickly choked off. When he looked at her, she gave him a wide-eyed, innocent look.
There was a broad trail, trees arching over it. Roxton took this path now, still peering upwards but watching his footing more carefully. Marguerite followed at a leisurely pace, hands clasped behind her back demurely, genuine curiosity on her face as she watched him search.
He searched for his hat the way he hunted and acted as guide--decisively, but not without a certain caution. To a casual eye it would look as if he were going for speed rather than thoroughness--except closer inspection revealed the way his eyes scanned each branch above him. Occasionally, his glance would flicker to the surrounding jungle. Always alert.
"Well," he called back to her, "at least tell me if I'm on the right track?" There was no venom in his voice now; he seemed resigned to the situation.
"Why, Roxton, are you accusing me of taking your hat and hiding it in the jungle?"
"Why, Marguerite, I suppose I am," he said, eyes on the trees.
"Not that I could say with certainty," Marguerite answered, "but if I were your hat? I'd be somewhere along here. Hung on a branch, just out of reach, perhaps."
Roxton reached the bend of the trail ahead of her. He spied his hat in a tall, slender tree, dangling over a small branch, an offshoot from a thicker branch.
"Ah-HAH!" he shouted in triumph, and ran to the tree. The branch was too high, the hat out of reach. "How did you manage to get it up there?" he asked her. He turned, and spotted something else through the trees. His back went rigid.
She was some twenty paces behind him when suddenly he was running towards her.
"What on ear--"
He took her by the arm and propelled her towards the bushes at the side of the trail. "Dinosaur. MOVE."
Game forgotten, she obeyed immediately. They darted off the trail, Roxton in the lead. Several times branches snapped back behind him, almost slapping her in the face, but her quick reflexes saved her. Roxton stopped and looked behind him to make sure she was there, then led the way to a large rock that offered shelter.
They crouched behind it, listening. The ground shook a bit, and there was a steady thudding noise, the sound of breaking branches. Then relative quiet except for a sigh that could have been rustling leaves or dinosaur breath, and a munching sound.
At Roxton's signal, they carefully stood and peered over the rock.
There was a sauropod in the trail. It stomped one of its stumpy legs, getting rid of flies, long tail trailing behind it, away from them. Its small head at the end of its impossibly long neck was partially hidden by leaves.
It had chosen Roxton's hat tree for its lunch. The hat trembled on its perch as the dinosaur nosed around for more leaves, but didn't fall.
"Come on…" Roxton murmured under his breath. "Knock my hat down, finish eating, lumber away…that's a good dinosaur…" A bird fluttered out of the branches, startling the sauropod, which lowered its head sharply. When the dinosaur realized there was no danger, it began eating again.
The motion dislodged Roxton's hat, which slid neatly onto the sauropod's head.
Marguerite bit her lip to keep from laughing out loud, which wouldn't do with a dinosaur nearby. Roxton's eyes had gone huge with astonishment.
Finished with its lunch, the dinosaur turned, it tail sweeping the trail, missing their rock by inches, and lumbered away, Roxton's had on its head. The beast jerked its neck a few times in irritation. It seemed aware that something was amiss, but not overly concerned that it was wearing a hat.
Some men may have taken a moment to stop and curse roundly. The moment the sauropod moved out of sight, Roxton was off like a shot, cursing as he ran.
It took Marguerite a moment to recover herself and follow him. She was preoccupied laughing.
He tracked the dinosaur, (which was easy enough to follow, being lumbering and long-necked) for perhaps a mile before he realized Marguerite was still following him.
"What do you think you're doing?" He turned and folded his arms, blocking her way.
She smiled. "If you're going to make a jackass of yourself crashing through the jungle after a dinosaur who is wearing your hat, I want to be around to see it."
"Go back to the treehouse."
Ahead of them, the sauropod made a snuffling sound.
"Marguerite…" he said, in a voice like something about to explode at any moment.
"Your hat is getting away, Roxton," she pointed out, grinning.
"Oh, bloody hell." He turned and ran after the sauropod.
At a more sedate pace, she continued after him.
After a short way further, they heard the sound of running water. The forest cleared to reveal the sun-drenched banks of a river. A hundred feet downstream a medium-sized waterfall thundered, leading to a valley below.
On the banks of the river was the dinosaur, long neck snaked down to the water so it could drink. Roxton had paused at the edge of the trees; almost involuntarily, he reached out and took Marguerite's arm to prevent her from stepping out in view of the dinosaur.
Irritated, Marguerite shook her arm free and watched the beast drink.
As it drank, a small gust of wind disloged the hat, which fell into the water and began to float downstream. Roxton clutched at his head with both hands. His body tensed to move, but the dinosaur was still there. Surprised, Marguerite touched his shoulder just before he impulsively stood up. She shook her head.
They waited. Three minutes later the sauropod lumbered across the river, crashed through the bushes on the other side, and vanished into the jungle.
As if released from a slingshot, Roxton ran to the waters edge, where there were deep, round depressions in the mud from the dinosaur's footprints. He ran downstream and stopped at the edge of the cliff. Marguerite was right behind him. Together, they knelt and peered over the waterfall. The water was thunderously loud beside them and their clothing grew damp with the spray.
Ferns grew out of the cliff-face, which was rocky. About halfway down the drop, was Roxton's hat. It had caught on a sharp point of rock.
They knelt there a moment, just listening to the waterfall and looking down at the hat, which now looked rather forlorn.
Finally, Marguerite let out a long breath. "Roxton," she said, quietly, "I-I'm really sor--what are you doing?" She stood up, astonished.
"Getting--" he said through gritted teeth. "--My--" He yanked a vine down from the trees. "--Hat--" He pulled down another vine. "Back." And another vine. He picked up each one, tugging at it experimentally, until he found one that satisfied him, then coiled it.
"You aren't going to…"
He didn't answer, but instead starting looking about the bank for a rock to tie the vine around. He found one, a dry, stout boulder, and shoved his weight against it, testing its sturdiness. Finding the rock to be sound, he knotted one end of the vine around its base.
"Roxton, this is ridiculous. You've proved your point."
Continuing to ignore her, he let the rope out a bit, then tied the middle part around his waist.
"We could lower the rope to it," Marguerite said, desperation making her voice clipped. "Dislodge it."
"And have it float down to god knows where?" Roxton gestured with his free hand. "No. It's there. It will stay there until I come down and get it."
They had to shout to be heard over the waterfall. Neither seemed to realize it.
He hefted the rope in his right hand, assessing, right foot braced behind him, studying the top portion of the cliff for the best way down. He put his left foot squarely on a protrusion of rock a foot below the edge.
"Roxton, don't do this." Her eyes were damp, no doubt from the spray of the waterfall. All mockery was gone from her voice.
That made him hesitate. Then finally, he shook his head. "It's my hat."
Marguerite let out a snarl of frustration. "Stubborn man! Explain it to me. Is a hat worth your life? Just a silly article of clothing?"
He smiled at her gently, with a hint of the condescension reserved for those who mean well, but who will never quite understand. Then he softly chucked her under the chin with his finger, put his other foot on another toe-hold, and started lowering himself down the cliff face.
"Fine!" she yelled, fury radiating from her whole body. "Go ahead, get yourself killed. I'm not going to wait around here and watch you do it, you idiotic, bull-headed ass. And don't expect me to feel guilty about it, either!"
There was no response. She was alone with the spray of water and the sound of the waterfall defeaning her senses.
"Oh, curse him!" Marguerite stomped towards the trees, snatched up another vine, and stomped back to the waterfall.
On her knees, she peered over the edge, holding her breath.
He was there, about halfway to the hat, clinging to the rock face. Marguerite breathed again. He hadn't seen her; he was concentrating on his hands and feet.
Marguerite withdrew from the edge and tied her vine around the rock. She tested its knot, pulling at it, certain it was secure, then gingerly touched her finger to Roxton's rope, which was pulled taut as a harp string. The knot appeared to be holding. Holding the second rope, she returned to the edge and tied the rope around her waist, as he had. Then she knelt again and peered over.
He had reached the level of the hat. His fingers stretched out, but the hat was just out of his reach. Roxton stretched his arm further. The bit of rock under his left foot broke free.
"Roxton!" The cry escaped her lips before she knew she had uttered it.
At the sudden sharp weight, the knot around his waist tightened, catching him. The taut rope running along the ground beside her sang with tension. He swung back and forth a few times, wisely keeping his body limp and still, then grabbed a bit of rock and found his footing again.
He looked up, saw her peering down at him, and winked. With assurance, he grabbed the rope, letting go of the cliff, and pushed off gently with his feet. Swinging, he grabbed his hat, jammed it hard on his head, swung back, and grabbed the rock face again.
Marguerite bowed her head, shoulders slumping with relief. Below her, he began the arduous and delicate climb up. When he drew near the top, she extended her arm down towards him. He grasped her hand with his tightly, and she helped pull him up.
They collapsed to the ground side by side and lay there a moment, catching their breaths. Finally Marguerite sat up and began to untie the rope around her waist.
"What were you planning to do?" he asked, eyes watching her fingers as they worked. His gaze traveled up to her face. "Go over the edge yourself after me?"
"If necessary," she said in brusque tones. "You seemed to handle yourself just fine. But were you to die, I might feel guilty. And guilt--" she rose to her feet, "--is an inconvenient emotion."
"Oh, ho. So you admit you took my hat?"
"It was only what you deserved."
"Ah, yes. My remarks about your camisole."
They walked along the riverbank, and reached the trail.
"Very well, Marguerite. With the use of my hat, you proved your point nicely. I only have one question."
"What?" She said impatiently.
"I know why my hat is important. But why, specifically, that camisole? This," he said, patting the brim, "is my only hat. While, as was mentioned earlier, you have several camisoles. But the one you were mending earlier has been mended and patched many times. Why? Why that one?"
She walked on in silence. They reached the tree house and rode up in the elevator together. It was only once he had sat down that Roxton hissed between his teeth and winced.
Without a word, Marguerite left the room. She returned a few minutes later with a bowl of water, a clean cloth, and a box of healing herbs from Challenger's laboratory.
The fabric of Roxton's slacks were torn. In a business-like way, Marguerite propped his leg up on a second chair and widened the tear. There was a deep gash in the front of his calf, about three inches long. She sprinkled some of the herbs in the water, then wet the cloth and dabbed it on the cut.
Roxton winced again but didn't move. He endured it as she cleaned the cut, sitting on a third chair. The bowl of water rested on a fourth.
"That camisole," she spoke finally, cutting a strip of bandage with her sewing scissors, "is the one I was wearing the day we arrived on the Plateau. Maybe I believe it has magical powers and I have to be wearing it if I want to find the way home," she said, voice bitter with self mockery, tears in her voice. "And it has had to be mended so frequently because I seem to have narrow scrapes whenever I am wearing it. It gets torn because we get shot at with arrows or spears, or get caught in a rockslide, or it catches on a branch as we're running from dinosaurs, as it did yesterday, or it gets torn in a battle. But every time, I survive to mend it. So it's as if…if I'm wearing it, I'll survive yet another disaster."
She tied off the bandage and began cleaning the cloth, soaking the blood out in the bowl of water, then wringing it. Roxton lowered his leg, still wincing slightly. He reached out his hand and caught hers, stilling it as it twisted the wet cloth. She dropped the cloth into the murky water, and let his dry, warm hand clasp her damp, cool one.
"You weren't wearing it today," he said quietly. "And we both survived."
"But I didn't actually do anything dangerous," she said, avoiding his eyes. "I didn't climb down the cliff--although I would have if needed."
"No," he said thoughtfully. "But the dinosaur, though less menacing than our friend the T-Rex, could have startled and stampeded, trampling us to death. You could have been bitten by a poisonous snake in the bushes. The earth at the lip of the cliff could have given way, killing us both. Every day on the Plateau is a risk. But you're still standing, camisole or no camisole."
"Is that how you feel…about your hat?" She asked, now meeting his gaze.
"Similar." He smiled. "It looks as if we have some things in common."
She suddenly seemed to become quite aware that his hand was holding hers, and pulled away from his grasp. Briskly, she began gathering up the herbs and bandages, putting them neatly away.
The sun was starting to set, the long beams filtering through the leaves and making a pattern on the floor of the tree house room. From outside came the sound of voices, some of the others returning--laughing at some joke.
Roxton limped over to the chair he had been sitting in earlier and picked up his book. Marguerite returned to her piles of clothing, and continued to sew.