THE FORK LIFT
The M.S. Orion was tied up at Savannah, Georgia.
Simon Renier, hands in the pockets of his old-fashioned grey shorts, looked at the small white ship with mounting excitement. He would be spending the next week on the Orion en route to Venezuela and already, standing on the pier in Savannah, he was farther away from home than he had ever been in his thirteen years.
It was chill this February day, with a thin rain and a biting wind. In a more sheltered part of the dock stood his cousin, Forsyth Phair, with whom he would be traveling, and his great-aunt Leonis Phair, with whom he lived, and who had come with them on the train from Charleston to see them off. Simon looked at the two of them standing under the shelter of the shed and their umbrellas and thought that if he were traveling with Aunt Leonis instead of Cousin Forsyth he would be perfectly happy.
Aunt Leonis was comfort and all-rightness in a precarious world; Cousin Forsyth he had known for barely a month, and while the distinguished-looking middle-aged man was courteous and pleasant he was not outgoing and to Simon he was still a stranger. He lookeddamp and uncomfortable with the rain dripping off his large black umbrella, and the collar to his dark raincoat turned up. Even the corners of his waxed moustache seemed to droop. The old woman, on the other hand, stood straight as an arrow, unperturbed by the downpour.
"Can't you come, too?" Simon had begged her.
"I'm too tired, child," the old woman had said. "At ninety I've earned the right to my rocking chair and my books. Besides, I have to stay home and take care of Boz." The old dog in pointer years was almost as old as Aunt Leonis. His proud skeleton showed under the still-glossy liver-spotted body, and Simon felt a tightening of his stomach muscles as he realized that the old hound might not be there when he returned.
He turned his face into the rain and moved farther away from Aunt Leonis and Cousin Forsyth, past the gangplank of the Orion, and on down the dock. All around him was activity, the tall yellow arms of the Orion swinging sacks of seed and grain and rice up onto the ship, to be stored in the hold. Simon watched in fascination as a large station wagon was carefully hoisted up from the dock, swung loose for a moment high in the air, then was lowered gently onto the foredeck.
On the aft deck stood the passengers who had already embarked at Brooklyn or Baltimore, eagerly watching the business of loading the freighter. A few of them waved at him, and he waved shyly back. Then he turned to watch the orange fork lifts buzzing rapidly up and down the dock, the two long tines of their forks fitting neatly into the small wooden platforms onto which bags and bales were piled. Great yellow arms swung out from the Orion, dropping heavy ropes which were looped around sacks and platform; the crane raised its burden to the ship's foredeck, and the highly mobile fork lift darted away, moving far more easily than an ordinary tractor,turning on a dime to reach for another load. The sailor managing the long-angled pincers from his glassed-in cab high up on the Orion swung the bags and sacks with easy accuracy. Everywhere was bustle, and men's shouting, and the smell of wet wood and the salt wind from the sea. Simon would be almost sorry when they boarded, so fascinating was the loading procedure.
He jumped as he heard a horn, and a Land Rover drove onto the dock, full of children who kept piling out, like clowns out of a car at the circus. Simon found it difficult to keep count, but it appeared to be a mother and father and seven children. After considerable shouting and laughing, the two older children, a girl and a boy, sorted themselves out, managed to get two battered suitcases from the Land Rover, and came to stand not far from Simon. The mother urged the younger children back into the car, out of the rain, and the father, rain dripping off his cap, stood leaning in the window, talking to the mother.
The girl, banging her old suitcase against her knees, dropped it by the gangplank and came on down the dock toward Simon. Her brother followed. She was, Simon guessed, maybe a year older than he was, maybe fourteen, and probably would resent being called a child. The boy looked younger, although he was as tall as Simon, who guessed him to be no more than twelve. Both brother and sister wore yellow slickers and sou'westers, and were considerably drier than Simon, whose fair hair was slicked wetly to his head.
"Hello," the girl said. "Are you going on the Orion?" Her accent was not quite foreign, but it was certainly more precise than the soft Southern speech Simon was accustomed to hearing.
"Yes'm. Are you?"
"Yes. At least, Charles and Daddy and I are." She smiled, a swift spreading of sunlight over her face. "Hownice to have someone our age. Daddy warned us that freighter passengers tend to be ancient. I'm Poly O'Keefe, pronounced Polly but spelled with one /. I'm fourteen. And this is my brother, Charles. He's twelve."
So he had been right. "I'm Simon Renier, and I'm thirteen."
Again Poly smiled, a shaft of light lifting the drab day. "You're not traveling alone, are you?"
He indicated the man and the old woman. Suddenly Cousin Forsyth stepped forward as one of the fork lifts picked up a large flat wooden crate. He watched anxiously as ropes from the Orion were looped around it. "Be very careful," he fussed. "It's extremely valuable. It contains an irreplaceable portrait."
The dock hands nodded indifferently as they went about their business. The fork lift backed away from the crate, which was then lifted up in the air and hung swinging between the ship and the dock.
"What's in there?" Poly asked Simon. "Your father looks as though he's about to have a heart attack." The horn of the Land Rover tooted before Simon could answer or correct her. "We have to say goodbye!" Poly cried. "We'll be back in a minute, Simon!" and she and Charles ran across the dock, dodging loading trucks and fork lifts.
Simon watched rather wistfully while there was a tangle of hugging and kissing goodbye. Then he looked up at the Orion just in time to see the great crate with the portrait being safely lowered onto the deck, and Cousin Forsyth mopping his forehead with his handkerchief as though it were hot.
Aunt Leonis was still standing in the shelter of the shed and her small, not very waterproof umbrella. Simon ran over to her, skidding on the wet boards. "Where's Cousin Forsyth going?"
"He's off to make sure the portrait isn't going to getbanged or crushed. I certainly can't complain about his care of it. He's overzealous, if anything." She put her gnarled old hand on his head. "You're soaking, Simon!"
"You'll be boarding in a minute or two. You're old enough to take care of yourself without me, aren't you?"
"And don't let Forsyth overprotect you. He can keep that for the portrait. I want you to have some fun."
He leaned lightly against her. "I'll miss you."
"It's time you got out of the nest, child. A nonagenarian is hardly a fit companion for a boy. I'm glad there are other young persons on board."
"I'm going now, Simon. I have a train to catch." She was still taller than he was. She bent down, and he kissed her softly on each cheek. For a brief moment she held him to her. Then she stood upright and gave him a little shove. "Run along, now."
Tears filled his eyes. He did not want her to see. Moving in a blur of tears and rain, he crossed the dock. He paused at the gangplank but the tears would not be held back. Poly and Charles had said their goodbyes and were hurrying along the dock toward him.
No one must see him cry.
He moved on past the gangplank, past the stern of the Orion, on to the very end of the dark, slippery dock. He did not see the fork lift, out of control, hurtling toward him.
Someone on deck screamed.
He felt a shove, and then both he and Poly O'Keefe were in the water.
The fork lift ground to a screeching halt, barely avoiding crashing off the dock after them.
The water was icy cold. Their clothes dragged them down.
From the deck of the Orion round orange life preservers were thrown into the water for them, but both Simon and Poly had managed to grab on to the pilings of the dock and were clinging to them safely. Dock hands pulled them up out of the chilling water, and they stood dank and dripping in the February rain.
The driver of the fork lift kept explaining that his accelerator had stuck.
The shivering boy and girl were surrounded by the entire O'Keefe family, by sailors and dock hands. Aunt Leonis used her umbrella to get through the mob to Simon. Through chattering teeth he said, "I'm all right, Aunt Leonis. Please don't miss your train."
The old woman turned her sharp eyes on Poly. "I saw. You saved him. If you hadn't thrown yourself at him and got him out of the path of the fork lift he'd be--" She looked at the vicious prongs of the fork lift and did not finish her sentence. She turned to the father of the family. "You will watch out for him, sir? I am gravely concerned."
Dr. O'Keefe replied, "Of course I'll keep an eye out for him. But I don't think you need worry. It was only an unfortunate accident."
Aunt Leonis looked at him sharply, but all she said was, "Where is Forsyth? If he's going to worry about the portrait to the exclusion of the boy--"
The captain of the ship came running down the gangplank, followed by a youngish man with officer's bars on his dark sleeve. "I am Captain van Leyden, and this is my first officer, Mynheer Boon."
Mynheer Boon smiled and draped heavy blankets over Poly and Simon.
Van Leyden said, "Boon will get the children aboard and help them. Order hot tea, too, please, Boon."
Simon held out his hand. "Goodbye, Aunt Leonis."His voice faltered slightly. He hoped that this would be attributed to the cold.
Aunt Leonis shook his hand formally. Then she said to Dr. O'Keefe, "I do not think that I am being just a foolish old woman." To Poly she said, "I am much obliged to you, Miss--"
"Poly O'Keefe. It wasn't anything."
Aunt Leonis said, "It was."
To Simon's surprise Charles O'Keefe looked directly at the old woman and replied, "Yes. It was."
Miss Leonis's old eyes were clouded with more than age as she watched Simon's dripping, blanket-covered form trudge damply up the gangplank. Poly O'Keefe and her brother and father were ahead of Simon; Forsyth Phair, who had emerged from the ship just in time for farewells, was behind, fussing over Simon in much the same nervous way he had fussed over the portrait. It was apparent that the boy was being taken care of. The nice Dutch officer would see to it that he got hot tea and changed to dry clothes. There was nothing more she could do. She walked slowly along the dark, wet boards of the dock.
Mrs. O'Keefe was trying to herd her excited younger children into the Land Rover. She saw the old woman struggling along, wind tugging at her ancient umbrella. "Is there anywhere I can drop you? A Land Rover's not the most comfortable vehicle in the world, but at least you'll be out of the rain."
Miss Leonis looked at the younger woman, and at the children, who had stopped their chattering and were staring. "Thank you. I should be much obliged if you'd take me to the railroad station. I think I may not have missed my train."
"Sandy, Dennys, help Mrs.--" She paused.
"Phair. Miss Leonis Phair. I can manage quite nicely myself, thank you just the same, young gentlemen." With the help of her now-furled umbrella she pulled herself briskly onto the high seat of the Land Rover.
Mrs. O'Keefe asked, "Can we drive you any farther than the station?"
"Thank you, no. I am taking the train to Charleston."
Mrs. O'Keefe turned around in the car and looked back at her children, then smiled at the old woman. "What with all the excitement at the dock I think it very likely that you've missed your train, and I've been promising the children a visit to Charleston for ages. We'd be delighted to drive you there. Now that my husband has gone off for a month with Poly and Charles, surely everybody else deserves a special treat."
There was a loud noise of agreement.
Miss Leonis looked at Mrs. O'Keefe, who was now smiling serenely. "I am much obliged to you. You are very kind."
"Not at all. It's you who've given us the opportunity for sightseeing, and the weather report promised sun late this afternoon, and the rain's beginning to slacken off already. Do you live right in Charleston?"
"Out in the backwoods." The old woman's next words seemed to be audible thinking, rather than conversation. "I hope I have made the right decision. It is not normal for a young boy to live all alone with an old woman." Then she pulled herself together and spoke briskly, "I would be delighted to give you a conducted tour of Charleston, and then perhaps you will drop me off on your way home--you do live north of Savannah?"
"Yes. Benne Seed Island."
Leonis Phair turned around and stared solemnly at the children. "I hope you young ones have stamina. You may find me difficult to keep up with." There was stifledgiggling as she asked Mrs. O'Keefe, "Your husband will keep an eye on Simon?"
Mrs. O'Keefe turned the car away from the dock area and onto the highway. "Of course he will. He's used to having a mob of children to keep track of."
"It will make me easier in my mind. Simon has never been away from home before. And that was not a propitious beginning."
Mrs. O'Keefe said lightly, "If he and Poly needed an introduction, that was sure-fire. They're probably the best of friends by now."
Miss Leonis was silent for the next mile. Her gnarled hands held the umbrella handle, and she tapped the steel tip thoughtfully on the floorboards. Then she spoke quietly. "Your daughter saved Simon's life. I shall not forget that."
On the M.S. Orion, Simon and Poly in their separate cabins were changing out of their soaking clothes. Simon, alone in the double cabin he was to share with Cousin Forsyth, wondered if Dr. O'Keefe or Charles was helping Poly.
Forsyth Phair had said, "Take a good hot shower, Simon, and wash your hair. That water by the dock in which you chose to swim can hardly have been very clean."
Simon did not reply that the swim had not been of his own choosing.
"And dress in warm clothes. I don't want you coming down with a cold right at the beginning of the trip. I am very susceptible to colds."
"I must go tend to the portrait now. One of the boards on the crate came loose as it was being loaded. Captain van Leyden says that since cabin 5 on the port side of theship is unoccupied until Caracas, the portrait can be stored there. I certainly wouldn't trust it with the rest of the cargo." And off he fussed.
Simon stood for a long time under the hot shower, not so much to wash off the oily waters as for comfort. The noise of loading and unloading continued outside his portholes; the ship was still safely berthed in Savannah but he felt very far from home. What had seemed like a great adventure only a few hours ago now gave him a cold feeling in the pit of his stomach and an ache around his heart.
He wanted Aunt Leonis.
Not that Cousin Forsyth wasn't kind. But Simon found it odd that it was the middle-aged bachelor who had suggested that the boy accompany him on this voyage.
He got out of the shower, dried, and put on his seersucker bathrobe. Cousin Forsyth had said, 'There's no point in packing winter things. After the first or second day at sea it's going to be summer.'
Simon shivered. His soaking blazer was the warmest thing he had. "Come in," he called to a tap on the door.
It opened to a young man, barely out of boyhood, with dark hair and eyes, who was wearing a white coat. He bore a small tray with a pot of steaming tea, and some buttered rusks with Gouda cheese.
Simon smiled his thanks and asked the young man's name.
"Geraldo Enrique Armando José Ramírez. I am the assistant steward, at your service. You are Sim6n Renier?"
"Simon Bolivar Quentin Phair Renier. We have the same number of names. I pronounce Simon the English way instead of the Spanish way."
Geraldo poured tea for Simon, put in lemon and sugar. "But you are named after the great General?"
"Yes," Simon said, and shivered.
Geraldo looked at the boy in his inadequate cotton robe. "You have nothing warmer?"
Simon pawed through his suitcase and pulled out a lightweight sleeveless pullover.
Geraldo shook his head. "That is not enough, and it will be tomorrow before I have your wet things cleaned and pressed." He sounded like an old man. "Drink your tea, please, while it is hot. I will return."
The steaming, lemony tea warmed Simon inside and out. He sipped and unpacked and ate the rusks and cheese and unpacked some more, taking care to leave most of the drawer and wardrobe space for Cousin Forsyth. He knew that Cousin Forsyth would have preferred a single cabin, but when they had booked passage the two single cabins on the Orion were already taken, one by Poly.
There was, however, plenty of room for two. The bunks were divided by a sizable chest of drawers, and Simon took the bottom drawer. Cousin Forsyth had already put his briefcase on the bunk on the inner wall, so Simon had the bunk under the two portholes. This would have been the bunk of his choosing, and he would not have felt free to take it if Cousin Forsyth had not established himself on the other.
The boy knelt on the bunk and peered through the glass. Cabin 3 was on the dock side of the ship. Sacks of grain were still being loaded deep in the hold. Sailors and dock hands shouted back and forth. Fork lifts skittered about like bugs, beetles with long sharp mandibles. He was not feeling very happy about fork lifts and he turned away. He took his small stack of paperback books out of the bottom of his suitcase and arranged them in a rack where they would be easy to reach from his bunk. Then he put out his face cloth, toothbrush, and toothpaste.
Over the two washbasins was a fan, for which therewas no present need. In the radiator the steam was clanking. By the side of each washbasin was a thermos flask in a holder; Simon uncorked his and peered in: ice water. He corked it again, sat down in one of the two small chairs, and poured himself another cup of tea. Then he heard a loud, deep honking: the ship seemed to shake from the vibration, and he realized that the Orion was indeed throbbing; the engines were being revved up; they were about to sail.
He knelt on his bunk again and looked out.
On the dock the longshoremen were unhooking the great ropes which held the Orion to the pier. Two dark-uniformed sailors pulled the gangplank aboard; two others leapt across the dark gap of water between dock and lower deck. Slowly the dock seemed to recede from the ship; the dark expanse of water dividing ship and land grew wider and wider. Sea gulls swooped about, calling in raucous excited voices. Deep within himself Simon felt an echoing response of excitement. He was at sea, on his way to Venezuela.
He began to whistle, softly, a minor, haunting melody, and then to sing,
I met her in Venezuela, A basket on her head . . .
He was still looking out and singing softly when Geraldo returned with a heavy navy-blue sweater and a fisherman's cap. "Mynheer Boon is lending you the sweater till it is warmer. The cap is for you to keep. You will need it to keep the sun off your nose as well as the rain off your head." He knelt on the bunk beside Simon, not much larger than the younger boy, and they looked at the activity on the dock becoming small and almost unreal as Savannah drifted farther and farther away.
In schoolboy Spanish, Simon tried to thank Geraldo,and was interrupted by a bang on the door and Poly's voice, "Here we are, Simon!" and she burst in, wearing a long plaid bathrobe which undoubtedly belonged to her father; her short, carroty hair stuck out in spikes from being rubbed dry. Charles, in jeans and a red turtleneck, followed her.
"All right if we come in?" he asked.
"Oh, please do come in," Simon welcomed them, indicating Geraldo. "Do you know--"
"Oh, yes, Geraldo brought me hot tea, too, like a Herald Angel--that's what Geraldo sounds like. I used to spell it with an H instead of a G." Then she burst into a stream of Spanish so fluent that Simon found it difficult to follow.
Geraldo spoke slowly and carefully to Simon. "You understand that Geraldo begins with a G, which is pronounced like an H in Spanish? And the other passengers are all having tea in the salon. Mr. Phair would like you please to join them as soon as you're dressed."
At Geraldo's grave courtesy, Poly flushed, the red beginning at her neck and moving up her face to her forehead. "I'm sorry, Simon. I didn't think."
Under his breath Charles said, "Don't show off ..."
Poly flung around as though to flash a reply to her brother, then stopped herself.
"It's okay," Simon assured her, "really, it's okay. And just as I was feeling smug about my Spanish, too. Teaches me how nonexistent it really is."
"We used to live in Portugal," Poly explained, "on Gaea, an island off the south coast. If you learn Portuguese, which is a stinker, it's easy to learn Spanish. Whereas it's most difficult for someone who speaks only Spanish to learn Portuguese, and--" She broke off. "Am I showing off again?"
Charles sat down on Cousin Forsyth's bunk. "It's second nature," he said, not unkindly. Then he bestowed asingularly sweet smile on his sister, on Simon and Geraldo, a slow blooming of pleasure quite different from Poly's flash of light. "Did you see us sail? Our cabins are starboard, so we almost missed it, what with you and Poly having been so suddenly in the soup."
Simon glanced at the porthole through which he had watched the land, rather than the ship, move slowly away. "It was exciting. I've never been away from home before. Even coming to Savannah was a journey for me."
"Where's home?" Poly asked.
"Charleston, South Carolina?"
Simon's surprised look said as clearly as words, 'Is there any other?' Then he indicated the sweater and cap. "From Geraldo. He's lending me Mynheer Boon's sweater and he's giving me the cap."
Poly spoke to Geraldo in Spanish, but this time it was slowly and carefully so that Simon would understand. "Geraldo, would you tell them, please, that Simon and I'll dress and be right along. And it's a lovely cap."
"I will tell them, Miss Poly." Then he referred to a slip of paper he pulled out of his pocket. "On the passenger list it says Pol--Polyhymnia."
"Poly, please, Geraldo."
Charles grinned. "Polyhymnia's a muse. The muse of sacred music."
Poly pulled the belt to her father's bathrobe tight in a determined gesture. "If any of you calls me anything but Poly there'll be--there'll be murder."
"Not at the beginning of the trip," Charles said.
Geraldo picked up Simon's tea tray. "I will tell them."
"What?" Charles asked. "That there'll be murder?"
"That you will shortly be in for tea."
"Okay." Poly followed Geraldo out, but turned at the door. "I won't be more than five minutes. Hurry, Simon."
Charles asked, "Shall I stay and talk?"
"Please. Please do." Simon took clean underclothes, navy-blue shorts, and a blue cotton shirt from his drawer and went into the shower to dress.
Charles reclined on Cousin Forsyth's bunk. "If you had all the brothers and sisters Poly and I have, you wouldn't have room for modesty. But you're an Only, aren't you?"
Simon compromised by leaving the bathroom door half open. "Yes."
"How come you and your father are taking this trip?"
"Not my father." Simon pulled on his shirt and emerged.
"I didn't think he seemed terribly fatherly. At least not like our father. I get the feeling he's not used to children."
"I don't think he is." Simon sat on the edge of his bunk and pulled on navy-blue knee socks.
Charles, his hands behind his head, looked up at the ceiling of the cabin. "How do you happen to be traveling with him, then?"
Simon pulled the heavy sweater over his head. The rough wool felt comforting. He pulled Geraldo's cap over his still damp hair. His shoes were with his other wet things, so he took a pair of worn sneakers from the bottom of the wardrobe. "Cousin Forsyth offered me the trip, and Aunt Leonis thought it would be good experience for me, since I'm a country bumpkin. I guess you've done a lot of traveling."
"Oh, some, but mostly we've lived on Gaea--the island; the younger kids were born there. Last year we came back to America and moved to Benne Seed Island, but most of us still think of Portugal as home."
Poly appeared in the doorway, now dressed in a plaid skirt and a burnished-orange sweater which just managed not to conflict with her hair. "Daddy's a marinebiologist, so islands are very good for his work. C'mon. Let's go brave the lions' den."
Charles rose from Cousin Forsyth's bunk and Simon smoothed the coverlet, almost as anxiously as Cousin Forsyth had supervised the loading of the crated portrait.
Poly helped him. "What would he do if he found Charles had sat on his bunk? Beat you or something?"
"No, oh no, he's very kind."
"It's okay." Charles glanced impatiently at the bunk. "You'd never know anybody'd even sat on it. Let's go. We're expected to meet everybody."
In the salon Geraldo was replacing one teapot with a fresh one. Poly led the way in; Charles slipped past her and sat on a sofa beside his father. Simon held back at the doorway, shyly looking at the people sitting on sofas and chairs around the tea table. Cousin Forsyth did not greet him; he seemed concentrated fully on the woman pouring tea, a dark, handsome woman, very Spanish-looking, though she turned out to have the incongruous name of Dr. Wordsworth. She and her traveling companion, Dr. Eisenstein, were professors on sabbatical leave from their university. Dr. Wordsworth taught Spanish--so she must be at least half Spanish, Simon thought.
Cousin Forsyth said, "It was indeed a pleasant surprise for me to find the lovely Inés Wordsworth on the Orion. We knew each other many years ago when we were both young in Caracas."
Dr. Wordsworth replied with distinct chilliness, "It was not that many years ago, and our acquaintance was slight. Very slight."
Cousin Forsyth raised his fine eyebrows, but made no comment, and Dr. Wordsworth went on to explain to the children that Dr. Eisenstein was an anthropologist, going to the Lago de los Dragones in Venezuela, to make what Dr. Wordsworth called an in-depth study of theQuiztano Indians who lived at the far end of the lake.
Poly said with interest, "We're getting off at Puerto de los Dragones, too, and going on to the lake. Daddy's been asked to--" She caught a warning look from her father and hurried on. "I think it's lovely having a town and a lake be places of dragons. I'm very interested in dragons. Of course, one always thinks of St. George and the dragon, and he's my favorite, but did you know that Margaret of Antioch had a dragon, too?" As always when she came close to blundering, she talked too much about something else. "Fork lifts look a little like dragons, don't you think?"
After a slight pause among the company, Cousin Forsyth said dryly, "I hadn't noticed the resemblance."
"Maybe they don't spout fire," Poly said stubbornly, "but they can be as dangerous as dragons. Right, Simon?"
Simon nodded, and continued to observe the passengers and listen to the conversation. He learned that afternoon tea was not usually served on the Orion; this tea party was an impromptu affair; some of the passengers, seeing Geraldo brewing tea for Simon and Poly, had suggested that tea in the salon would be a pleasant and informal way for new and old passengers to meet.
Dr. Wordsworth did not offer tea to the children but began to refill the adult passengers' cups. Simon looked at her hands, which had long, scarlet nails. They were not young hands, and the flashing rings and bright nail polish accented rather than minimized their age. Aunt Leonis did not wear nail polish, and though her nails were horny with age, Simon compared Dr. Wordsworth's hands unfavorably with the old woman's.
Dr. Eisenstein appealed more to Simon--a brown mouse of a woman, brown all over, suit, eyes, the shadows below the eyes; there was considerable brown remaining in the greying hair, which she wore braided ina thin crown on top of her head. Her smile was friendly, Simon thought, and did not exclude the children.
He turned his regard to the three other passengers, two old men and one old woman--all three probably considerably younger than Aunt Leonis, but nevertheless old. Mr. and Mrs. Smith were both plump and beaming; they were from New Hampshire and were en route to visit their granddaughter and great-grandchildren in Costa Rica, and were obviously thrilled at the prospect. Mrs. Smith was knitting a blue baby's bootee, and with her pink cheeks and curly white hair she looked like a magazine illustration of the perfect grandmother.
The last passenger bore the formidable name of Emmanuele Theotocopoulos, and Simon was relieved when they were told to call him Mr. Theo. If Dr. Eisenstein looked like a friendly field mouse, Mr. Theo was small and frail as a sparrow, but he emanated enormous vitality, and he had lively dark eyes and a mop of yellowed white hair which stood out in a thick ruff around his head; he looked, Simon decided, not in the least like a bird, but rather like an aging lion.
Cousin Forsyth's words caught his attention. " ... a portrait of Simon Bolivar which I am taking to Caracas as a gift to the Venezuelan government."
Simon's shyness was overcome by Cousin Forsyth's proprietary air about the painting. "The portrait has been in our family always. It is the greatest portrait ever painted of the General--and I'm named after him. Simon Bolivar Quentin Phair Renier. The portrait was given to my ancestor, Quentin Phair, by Bolivar himself, and it belongs to my Aunt Leonis--" He stopped short. Cousin Forsyth had bought the portrait from Aunt Leonis, the portrait which otherwise would one day have belonged to Simon. It was no longer Aunt Leonis's. It would never be Simon's.
The grownups had started playing the "Since it's a small world, do you know?" game. Cousin Forsyth and Dr. Wordsworth had once known each other, so it was likely there might be more connections between the passengers.
Mr. Theo asked Dr. O'Keefe, "I suppose this is a very long shot, but one of my oldest friends was in Portugal a couple of years ago, and got involved with a marine biologist there. Could you be the one? Do you know Tom Tallis?"
Poly precipitated herself into the conversation. "He's my godfather! He's one of our very favorite people in the world!"
Simon felt excluded from the excitement shared by the O'Keefes and the old Greek. Who was this man who was so important to them that Poly should be dancing with joy?
Dr. O'Keefe said, "I don't know what we'd have done without Tom. For a priest, he does get himself involved in some extraordinarily sticky situations."
Poly turned to Simon, drawing him in. "He knows everybody in Interpol and Scotland Yard and everything. He's not really a detective, but whenever there's big trouble he gets called in to help."
Dr. O'Keefe said wryly, "Let's hope there'll be no cause on this voyage to send for him. For once in his life he's living quietly as a canon of St. Paul's and being allowed to be a priest."
Mr. Theo nodded. "It would be splendid to have him along just for fun--but I've had my share of excitement --enough to last me for a long time. My doctor was very firm that this is to be a quiet voyage for me. My heart won't take much more wild adventuring."
Dr. Wordsworth came into the conversation. "That's exactly what freighter travel is for--peace and quiet.Ruth and I are exhausted. We slept the clock round last night and feel much the better for it. During the normal academic year I have precious little time for myself."
The tea party was breaking up. Mr. Smith tucked The Wall Street Journal under his arm, remarking that they would not see another newspaper until they reached Port of Dragons, and there would probably be only Spanish papers there; it was not a port which attracted many tourists.
Mrs. Smith held up a blue bootee to hide a yawn. "I think I'll have just a wee little rest before dinner. We were all so distressed at the accident. Coming, Odell?"
Mr. Smith helped her up. "I could do with some shuteye, too. You youngsters may have had the dunking, but it was quite something for us oldsters, too. What a mercy that no real harm was done. Patty and I'll see you later, folks." Arm in arm, walking with legs slightly apart so that they could balance themselves against the slight roll of the ship, Mr. and Mrs. Smith moved like storks out of the salon and into the first cabin on the starboard passage.
Forsyth Phair looked at Simon. "Have you unpacked?"
"Pretty much, sir."
Poly jumped up. "I haven't. Charles, have you?"
"Sort of. I was waiting to see which drawers Daddy wanted."
"Come along then, Charles," Dr. O'Keefe said, "and we'll get things sorted out."
Simon, again feeling somewhat lost, watched them leave.
Dr. Eisenstein rose. "I think I'll check my notes on the Quiztano Indians until time for drinks. We usually meet in here for drinks before dinner, Mr. Phair, and of course as soon as it's warm enough we'll sit on deck for our pre-prandial libation."
"That will be day after tomorrow," Dr. Wordsworth announced in her definite way.
"You are quite sure of that." Forsyth Phair smiled.
Dr. Eisenstein started out and turned toward the port-side passage. "Coming, Inés?"
Mr. Theo retired to the farthest corner of the salon with a book. Simon went close enough so that he could see what it was: a complete Shakespeare, with print so small that he wondered that the old man could read it. But he had put on steel-rimmed spectacles and was smiling at what he was reading, totally engrossed.
Simon did not know what he was supposed to do. Cousin Forsyth was looking through some papers on one of the tables. Dr. Wordsworth was gathering books and embroidery into a needlepoint bag. He felt very young and inexperienced, standing uncomfortably in the middle of the salon. When Cousin Forsyth continued to read, Simon wandered across the room, bumping clumsily into a chair as the ship rolled, and returned to the cabin. It did not seem courteous to Cousin Forsyth to close the door, so he left it open and pulled flowered curtains across the opening; these, he assumed, were for use when the weather was hot and every available breeze was sought. Now they let in a draft which would have been unpleasant had he not been comfortably warm in Mynheer Boon's sweater.
He knelt on his bunk, his cheek to the porthole glass, and gazed out. The rain had stopped but the light was beginning to fade. Land was a dim purple shadow on the horizon. The ocean was dark and mysterious and speckled with white bursts of spume. The sound of water was all around him. The small ship creaked as it pressed through the waves. From somewhere below decks Simon could hear orders being shouted in a guttural Dutchvoice; there was male laughter, solid and reassuring.
Outside the open cabin door he heard voices; he had been aware of them for some time without focusing on them.
" ... have nothing to hide." That was Cousin Forsyth, speaking in a warm and intimate way Simon had not heard before.
"Oh, do we not?" Simon recognized Dr. Wordsworth's strong, slightly harsh voice.
"Are you still dwelling on that, my dear? I had almost forgotten. No, I was not referring to that. But I was thinking that the fact that a young man should have fallen in love with a beautiful young girl is nothing that need be hidden. I am charmed that our cabins are adjoining."
"And I am not." Dr. Wordsworth's voice did not soften. "I waited because I wished to speak to you."
Simon cleared his throat, but evidently not loud enough to call attention to his presence, because Cousin Forsyth continued, "Lovely! I wish to speak to you, too."
"And I do not wish that. What I want to say to you is that I will not let you bring up the past. It is dead and buried and I want it to stay that way."
"Are you ashamed to claim acquaintance with me?"
"Acquaintance, F.P." She emphasized the initials. "Nothing more. And I would not speak of shame if I were you."
Simon felt acutely uncomfortable.
Dr. Wordsworth's voice shook with emotion. "I prayed that we might never meet again. I left Caracas and made a new life in a new world. I never should have come with Ruth--"
"Come, come, Ines. It's not so extraordinary that our paths should cross again. Can't this be an opportunity for a new understanding between us?"
She had difficulty keeping her voice low. "After what happened? I haven't forgotten."
"Can't I help you to forget? Can't you? After all this time?"
"I had forgotten, until I saw you. I will not allow you to presume on the past," Dr. Wordsworth said with icy control. "We are mere acquaintances. No more."
Phair's voice was tolerant. "How intense you still are, Inés. That has not changed. I hope that before the voyage is over, you may be willing to forget. Meanwhile, of course, I defer to your wishes, though I fail to understand."
"I gave up expecting you to understand anything a long time ago. The past is past. I'll kill you if you rake it up. Have I made this clear?"
Simon heard the door to the next cabin open. "Ines!" called Dr. Eisenstein. "I thought I heard your voice. Have you seen my green notebook?"
Dr. Wordsworth sighed. "Dear Ruth, you're always misplacing things. I'll go look in the salon."
Simon, too, sighed, and looked out to sea. At the horizon the light was soft and rosy, pulsing into green above, and then deepening to a blue almost as dark as the sea. It occurred to him that if he went down to the deck below and walked around or climbed over various pieces of cargo, he could get to the very prow of the ship and pretend to be his ancestor, Quentin Phair, who was indirectly the cause of Simon's being on the Orion now, sailing to Venezuela with the portrait of Bolivar.
He huddled into Mynheer Boon's heavy sweater and took courage. Quentin Phair may have been nineteen, a grownup, a man, when he left England to go to Venezuela to fight with Bolivar, but Simon had the same adventurous blood in his veins--he hoped. If Aunt Leonis had been with him, thirteen would have seemed agreat deal older than it did when he was with Cousin Forsyth.
The tall radiators were too hot to touch. It seemed improbable that in just a few days the sun would be warm and they might even need to turn on the cabin fan.
"Hello, Simon." It was Cousin Forsyth. "What have you been up to?"
Simon got down from the bunk and stood politely before his cousin. "Looking at the ocean, sir."
"All settled in?"
"Yes, sir, thank you, sir. If you don't mind I think I'll go out on deck." He could not explain to Cousin Forsyth --he would not have needed to explain to Aunt Leonis --that he was going to take a journey into the past and pretend to be his own ancestor, Quentin Phair, setting out from England to the wild and glamorous new world of South America. Quentin was Simon's hero and model, and it was far more splendid to make believe that he was Quentin Phair, the white knight in shining armor, than Simon Bolivar Quentin Phair Renier, who was only a thirteen-year-old boy.
"Be careful," Cousin Forsyth warned, "and be sure that you're in time for dinner. Ship's meals are served promptly."
"Yes, sir. I'll be on time."
He left the cabin and as he walked along the passage he heard the cabin door shut behind him with a firm click. It was difficult suddenly to accept Cousin Forsyth as a man with the complete fabric of a past. Until a few minutes ago Cousin Forsyth had been for Simon only a month old. Before a month ago Simon had never heard of this tall, grave, suave man with whom he was traveling. It seemed unlikely that this close-mouthed, middle-aged person had once been young and in love.
He started down the steps, remembering that only a few hours ago Mynheer Boon had hustled him, blanketedand dripping, across the foredeck with a high sill over which he had tripped, past the crew's quarters and up these same steps which Mynheer Boon had told him were properly called a ladder, though they looked like an ordinary staircase.
From the crew's quarters came sound and smell, both delightful: someone was playing a guitar; someone else was rendering the melody on a flute or recorder. Through a partly open curtain he saw two young sailors lounging on a double-decker bunk. A delicious scent of baking wafted toward him as he passed the galley, and he could see the chef, a young man with round spectacles and a high white hat, taking a tray of steaming pastry out of the oven. The loveliness of the music and the comfortableness of the cooking cheered him. He remembered to step high over the sill and went out on deck into the clean raw wind. Most of the doorways on the Orion had sills far higher than those in a house, but the sill to the foredeck was even higher than the others, to keep out the waves in rough weather.
The boy stood on the gently rolling deck, breathing salt air, listening to the music coming sweetly from within the ship, punctuated by the sound of men's voices; he picked his way through the cargo, pausing in the clear evening light to look at the writing on the wooden crates. If it was Dutch he had trouble even in guessing; if it was Spanish he could usually decipher it; there was a lot of equipment for oil wells and refineries. He guessed that most of the bags of grain and seed he had seen being loaded were now stashed away down in the hold.
He moved through the narrow walkways left open between cargo, past the station wagon, two cars, and a large black hearse. He did not like the idea of having the hearse aboard. It was five years since the death of his parents, and he loved Aunt Leonis and was happy withher; nevertheless, the sleek dark hearse was a reminder of death, of grief, of the terrifying precariousness of all life. As he hurried past it he saw a rayed-out shattering in the windshield that looked as though it had been made by a bullet.
Simon shivered, only partly from the blustery wind, and hurried on until he came to the prow of the ship. By standing on one of the bales he could look out to sea. The cold wind blew through the heavy sweater. He pulled the cap down over his eyes and crouched so that he was protected from the wind. If he tried hard enough he could visualize the Orion's great yellow masts holding billowing sails which slapped in the wind, as Quentin Phair must have heard them ...
But he couldn't. Usually he was able to move deep into a daydream, the intense daydream world of an only child, so real that he heard nothing of what was actually going on around him. But the fact that the Bolivar portrait no longer belonged to Aunt Leonis, that it would never belong to Simon, that it had been bought by Cousin Forsyth, made it difficult for him to plunge deep into his favorite daydream of being the brave and heroic Quentin.
He felt lonely and lost. Poly and Charles were safe with their father; they had forgotten him. He closed his eyes tightly, forbidding tears, and withdrew inside himself, not onto a sailing vessel en route from England to Venezuela, but back to the known world of South Carolina and Aunt Leonis, back in time to the difficult decision to sell the portrait.
This time his concentration was deep. The sounds of the M.S. Orion no longer reached him. He was reliving a heavy, humid August evening at Pharaoh, the small cottage on an acre and a half which was all that was leftof the once great plantation. Simon and Aunt Leonis sat on the tiny porch to their house--"shack" would have been a more realistic word, though it had once been a solid cottage--fanning themselves in slow, rhythmic movements with palm-leaf fans, rocking in quiet and companionable silence. Boz, the ancient pointer, snored contentedly at their feet. It was not yet dark, and Simon could see an expression of grief move across the old woman's face.
As though his awareness had been a blow, she put her hand up to her cheek. "Night soon," she said quietly. "There'll be a breeze later."
"Aunt Leonis, couldn't I get a job?"
"You're too young."
"But, ma'am, I could work as a field hand or something."
"No, Simon. Education is a tradition in our family, and I am going to see to it that you have yours."
"With you for a teacher, don't you think I'm educated enough?"
"No one is educated enough," Aunt Leonis said. "I am still learning. When I stop learning, you will bury me."
"That will be never, then."
"I'm an old woman, Simon, and ready to meet my Maker. I look forward to it with great anticipation. But I would prefer to be certain that you have mastered Latin, which you are not being taught at school. And next week I intend to start you on Spanish, a language I have forgotten, and which both of us surely should know."
Simon scowled. "I'm not apt to go to Spain."
"You have an ancestor who helped liberate the South American continent."
"And I'm not likely to go to South America."
"I realize that you are insular, child, but things will change, and meanwhile I will not permit you to be lazy."
"No, ma'am. But you've already taught me French."
"Next week we will start Spanish. I still have my old books."
"Buenas noches, senorita," Simon said. "¿Cómo está?"
"That is hardly adequate, and you are speaking with a French accent. And you are being ugly. Is something wrong?"
They lapsed into silence, and darkness fell with the abruptness of the subtropics. Around them a light wind emerged from nowhere and stirred the Spanish moss in the live oaks. Aunt Leonis's fan moved more and more slowly until it stopped and rested lightly on the faded black of her dress. "Simon, I will have to sell the Bolivar portrait."
"But, ma'am, you can't! It's your most treasured thing." He was shocked and incredulous.
"It is only a thing, my son, and we must not be bound by material things."
"But, Aunt Leonis--"
"You think that I would let you go undernourished in order to hold on to some oil paint on an old, already decaying piece of wood?"
"Oh, Aunt Leonis, ma'am, let me get a job, please."
"Simon, you are not yet thirteen, and I made a promise to your parents."
"They wouldn't have wanted you to sell the portrait."
"When one nears a century, one surely should have learned not to depend on that which will rust or decay. You are the only person left in my life who has not crossed to the other side of time. I have survived much death, the loss of my only brother, of Pharaoh, of all the other things I used to believe made up the woman who is Leonis Phair. But we are not our possessions. That is one thing I have discovered. I am not sorry that I will be leaving you with no material goods. But I must leave youwith enough education so that you will be able to choose the manner in which you will earn your living, and you are not getting that from the local school, particularly if you continue in your wish to be a doctor. You must be able to pass examinations and earn scholarships. I have to supplement your education. You are a good student, Simon."
"Yes, ma'am, but you're easy to learn from. You make it all fun."
Miss Leonis picked up her fan. "I will put a notice about the portrait in the Charleston papers and in The New York Times. I am not rushing into this unadvisedly. We have enough money to get us frugally through one more year, and by then we should have found an appropriate buyer." The summer dark was so thick that Simon could no longer see the old lady, but he reached over and took her hand in his. Her hand felt as thin and warm and dry as an old leaf. He knew full well that if she said they would start learning Spanish next week, start they would. He understood with a corner of his mind that Aunt Leonis was an extraordinary old lady, but she had always been part of his environment; now she was home, the rock on which he stood, and he could not look without flinching on another change of life which would be even more radical than the change that followed his parents' death. Without Aunt Leonis, where would he go? Who would he be?
As though following his thoughts, she said, "Quentin Phair's journals, his letters to Niniane, and to his mother in England, are in my jewel box. You might be able to sell them one day. When you are twenty-one they will be yours to read, even in the unlikely event that I am still alive, and who knows what you will learn? They are all that you will find in the box, but they will stand you in good stead. I have honored Quentin Phair's written request not to read letters or journals for six generations,which I consider a wise precaution. Even the most innocent of journals, if they are honest, contain pages which could hurt other people. It will be interesting for you to learn whether you are like him in spiritual as well as physical characteristics."
Simon demurred, "I'd rather read them with you."
"No. My memory stretches back a long way. There may be things in journals or letters which I'd rather not know."
Each month Aunt Leonis put the notice about the portrait in the papers. "We will not sell it to just anybody. It must be somebody who will appreciate and honor it."
On a cold evening in January, Cousin Forsyth Phair appeared.
Simon and Aunt Leonis were indoors, keeping warm by a lightwood fire. The resin-saturated wood burned so brightly that Simon was studying by it. He had finished his regular schoolwork and was doing the Spanish lesson Aunt Leonis had prepared for him. Together they could speak slowly but with moderate fluency, although she still deplored his French accent.
A knock on the door took them both by surprise. Aunt Leonis reached for her cane, and Boz growled deep in his throat. Simon went to the door.
They had learned to do without electricity, so he saw the man at the door only in the glow of the fire. Aunt Leonis rose rheumatically to her feet and turned on a lamp by the round table which served them as desk and dining table.
"Good evening," the man said. "Is Miss Leonis Phair in?"
"Yes, sir. Who is it, please?"
The man moved past Simon into the circle of lamplight.He was tall and thin and dark and elegant, despite stooped shoulders; his dark hair was greying at the temples and about the ears, and he held a dark hat in his gloved hands. "Miss Leonis Phair?"
She stood facing him, holding her cane as though it were a weapon. "Who are you, sir?"
"I am your cousin, Forsyth Phair. I saw your notice about the Bolivar portrait in The New York Times, and I have come to inquire about it."
"Hey, Simon!" It was Poly's voice.
Simon stood up, out of the protection of the lee of the ship. "Here!"
Poly and Charles were halfway across the foredeck and came hurrying toward him. Charles said, "We've been calling and calling."
"I didn't hear you. I'm sorry."
Poly asked, "What are you, deaf or something?"
"I guess I was concentrating."
Charles clambered over a bale and jumped to where Simon was standing in the Orion's prow. "What a great place, Simon! How did you find it?"
"I came looking for a private place. Cousin Forsyth was in the cabin, and I thought people would be coming into the salon."
Poly put her hands on her slender hips and looked around. "You've found it, all right. We'd better check with the captain for protocol's sake, but this is it, Simon, this is absolutely it. I was wondering where we could go to escape the grownups. You're marvelous."
Simon felt himself flush with pleasure. "It's a little cold here unless you crouch down."
"It won't be cold in a couple of days. Hey, did you see that hearse with a bullet hole in the windshield?"
Simon spoke shortly. "Yes."
"Who would want to be driven in a hearse with a bullet hole in the windshield?"
"Who would want to be driven in a hearse, period?" Charles countered.
Simon did not laugh. Instead, he gave a small, involuntary shudder.
"Someone walk over your grave?" Poly asked.
Simon did not answer. He looked out at the foam breaking whitely about the prow.
Charles stuck his elbow into Poly's ribs, and she said quickly, "It's cold out here tonight, all right. Let's go in, Simon. I'm starved. How about you?"
"I'm pretty hungry, I guess."
"Charles and I looked in the galley and spoke to the cook. Dinner is going to be good. He's a super cook. I don't speak much Dutch, but enough to find out what we're eating. Come on."
"Poly thinks she speaks every language in the world," Charles said.
"I like languages!"
"Just stop bragging about them. Pride goeth before you know what."
Simon followed the amicably arguing brother and sister. As they approached the doorway they met the captain, dressed in a dark serge winter uniform, who greeted the children with paternal friendliness.
Poly pointed to the prow. "Captain van Leyden, is it all right if we go up there and sit sometimes? We'll be very careful, and we won't be in anybody's hair, and of course we'll stay out of the way when we're in port."
Simon added shyly, "And we can pretend we're setting out to help Bolivar free South America."
"It is all right," Captain van Leyden replied in his precise, guttural English, "as long as you disturb nothing. Do not climb into the cars, or try to open the crates."
"Oh, we won't, we promise, we'll be very careful."
The captain smiled down at them. "We do not often have children aboard."
"Why is that?" Charles asked.
"To be free to take a freighter trip means leisure, and for most people this leisure does not come until after the time of retirement. We usually have no one under sixty-five."
"Our father isn't anywhere nearly sixty-five," Charles said. "He isn't even fifty."
"No. We have a very young ship this time. There is not much for young peoples to do. I hope you will amuse yourselves."
"Of course we will," Poly assured him. "Everything's marvelous, Captain."
"It is cold, now," the captain said, "and you and Master Simon were chilled this afternoon. You had best go in where it is warmer."
"We're just on our way. Thank you, Captain."
They stepped over the high sill and made their way along the passage and up the steps. Dr. O'Keefe, Dr. Eisenstein, Dr. Wordsworth, Mr. Theo, and the Smiths were in the salon, with Geraldo passing drinks and nuts. Simon did not see Cousin Forsyth.
"Let's go out on the aft deck," Poly suggested, "at least for a few minutes."
They walked down the port passage, past the professors' cabin, past Simon's and Cousin Forsyth's. At cabin 5, Simon paused. "This is where the Bolivar portrait is."
"Is it really famous, Simon?"
Simon pushed the fisherman's cap back on his head. "I never thought about it being famous before Cousin Forsyth came along."
"We have a portrait of our grandmother when she was young and beautiful, but it isn't famous. It's--" She stopped as a voice sounded loudly from cabin 5.
"I will not tolerate carelessness or curiosity." It wasCousin Forsyth's voice, followed by a low, indistinguishable murmur, then, "But you were trying to look at the portrait, don't deny that." The murmur came again, and then Cousin Forsyth's voice was lowered, as it had been while he was talking with Dr. Wordsworth.
"Is there any reason people shouldn't look at the portrait?" Poly asked.
Simon shook his head. "Not that I know of. But it's all crated, so you can't see it."
"He certainly sounded mad at someone. Who do you s'pose?"
"I don't know."
"And wouldn't anyone have to pry open the crate to see the portrait?"
Simon shook his head again. "Beyond me."
"It's made me curious, at any rate," Poly said, but she moved on and rested her hand lightly on the handle of the fourth door. "For those like me who don't like showers, there's a bathtub in here. Geraldo says he'll unlock it for me tomorrow."
Simon asked, "Why is it kept locked?"
"Oh, things are always kept locked in ports, and he's been so busy this afternoon, what with us falling in the drink and all, that he hasn't had time to do anything else." She started to open the door to the back deck, which was reserved for the passengers; there were lights strung up under the canvas awning, and it looked cheerful, if cold.
But just at that moment Dr. O'Keefe called from the head of the corridor, "Dinner's ready, kids. Come along."
The passengers sat at two tables: Cousin Forsyth, Simon, Mr. Theo, and the Smiths at one; the O'Keefes, Dr.Wordsworth, and Dr. Eisenstein at the other. At a third table sat Captain van Leyden, his first officer, Lyolf Boon, second officer Berend Ruimtje, and chief engineer Olaf Koster. The essential second language for these Dutchmen was Spanish, and their English tired easily, so it was simpler for the officers to sit apart from the passengers.
The captain's table was waited on by Jan ten Zwick, the chief steward; Geraldo tended the passengers. Poly was right: the food was plenteous and well prepared.
"I believe," Cousin Forsyth said in his lightly ponderous way--very unlike the way in which Simon had heard him speaking to Dr. Wordsworth--"that the chief reason freighters carry passengers is to afford a good chef for the officers. This is as good a rijstafel as I've ever tasted."
Whatever it was, thought Simon, it was delicious, and very unlike the nearly meatless diet he was accustomed to. He ate with appetite. He would have been happier at the table with Poly and Charles, where conversation was lively, with little bursts of laughter. Poly looked over and winked at him, and he winked back.
"What was that, Simon?" Cousin Forsyth asked.
Simon rubbed his eye. "Nothing, sir." He looked down at his empty plate, then across to the table where the officers were eating. Mynheer Lyolf Boon, the first officer, folded his napkin, said something in Dutch to the captain, and left.
Simon's table had finished dessert, a delectable mixture of apples and flaky pastry, well before the second table, and everyone had moved out of the dining room into the salon for coffee. Simon sat at the far end, on a long sofa under the fore windows. Mr. Theo settled himself in a chair not far off, with his volume of Shakespeare. Cousin Forsyth was talking to the Smiths, and pointingto a card table in the corner of the room near the door to the foyer. Simon closed his eyes, suddenly overwhelmed with sleep.
"Simon ..." It was a whisper.
He jumped. Poly and Charles stood in front of him. "Oh. Hi. I was just sleepy for a minute."
Geraldo came up with a small tray of half-filled demitasses and a pitcher of hot milk, put it down on the table, and then bustled back to the other passengers.
Poly sat down beside Simon. "I'll pour. Have some, Simon?"
He nodded. "I've never had coffee before. Aunt Leonis and I drink tea."
"You may not like it, then. Put lots of sugar and milk in; then it tastes sort of like hot coffee ice cream."
Simon followed her instructions, tasted, and smiled.
"Oh, Simon," Poly said, her long legs in green tights stretching out under her plaid skirt, "I'm so glad you're you. Suppose you'd been some awful creep? Whatever would we have done, all cooped together like this?"
Simon nodded in solemn agreement. "I'm glad yawl are you, too." Now that he was relaxed, his voice was warm and rhythmic.
Poly flashed her brightest smile. "I like the way you talk, Simon. It isn't all nasal and whiny like some of the Southerners we've met."
"I was born in Charleston." It was a simple statement of fact.
Poly giggled. "Snob."
Simon blushed slightly. "I like the way you talk, too. It isn't British--"
"Of course not! We're American!"
"--It's just clean and clear. Aunt Leonis loves music more than anything in the world, so voices are very important to her. Her voice is beautiful, not a bit cracked and aged. Somebody compared her voice to Ethel Barrymore's--I guess she was some kind of famous actress in the olden days."
Poly poured Simon some more coffee and hot milk. "Hey, look at all the grownups over there, nosing each other out. And we knew about each other right away."
"Well, they didn't almost get drowned together," Simon said. "You saved my life, so that means--"
"It means we belong together forevermore," Poly said solemnly.
Charles was looking across the salon at the adults. "They've forgotten how to play Make Believe. That's a sure way to tell about somebody--the way they play, or don't play, Make Believe. Poly, you won't ever grow too old for it, will you?"
"I hope not." But she sounded dubious.
Simon pushed back a lock of fair hair from his face. "My Aunt Leonis is very good at it. Actually, she's my great-grandaunt, or something. When people get ancient they seem to remember how to play again--although I don't think Aunt Leonis ever forgot. She says you can tell about people--whether they're friend or foe--by your sense of smell, and that most people lose it."
"Fe fi fo fum," Charles intoned, "I smell the blood of an Englishman."
"It's probably our pheromones," Poly said.
"Our what?" Simon asked.
"Pheromones. They're really quite simple molecules, eight or ten carbon atoms in a chain, and what they do is send out--well, sort of a smell, but it's nothing we smell on a conscious level, we just react to it. For instance, a female moth sends out pheromones at mating time, and a male moth comes flying, but he doesn't know why, he just responds to the pheromones, and we're not any more conscious of it than moths. At least most of us aren't. Charles is, sometimes." She stopped, then said, "It's obvious that we're children of scientists. MaybeAunt Leonis's sense of smell is simpler and just as good." She sniffed delicately, and looked with quick affection at Simon. "You smell superb, Simon."
He sniffed in his turn. "You smell right lovely yourself. Maybe it's your red hair."
But Poly sighed. "I haven't worn a hat in years because I keep hoping that if I keep my hair uncovered and let the salt air and wind and sun work on it, maybe I'll bleach out and turn into a blonde. It hasn't shown any signs of happening yet, but I keep on hoping."
"You look right nice exactly the way you are," Simon said firmly.
He might be a year younger than she was, but Poly felt a warm glow. "Look, your Cousin Forsyth is playing bridge with the Smiths and Dr. Eisenstein. That's a funny combination."
Simon looked at the card table. Bridge was another unexpected facet in Cousin Forsyth, who was shuffling with great expertise.
"At any rate," Poly said, "we're certain about Mr. Theo."
"Certain?" Simon asked.
"That he's all right. He's a friend of Uncle Father's and that means he's okay."
"Uncle Father?" Simon asked.
"My godfather. Canon Tom Tallis. You remember, we were talking about him at tea."
"Why do you call him Uncle Father?"
Poly gave her infectious giggle. "Rosy, our baby sister, started it when she was just beginning to talk, and we all took it up. We see more of Uncle Father than we do of our own grandparents, because we live so many thousands of miles apart, but Uncle Father was in and out of Portugal for a while, so he's a sort of extra grandparent for us. And I guess I trust him more than I trust anybody in the world."
Charles said, "But he warns you about that, Pol. He says that no human being is a hundred percent trustworthy, and that he's no exception."
Poly shrugged. "I know, but I trust him anyhow. Trust isn't a matter of reason. It's a matter of pheromones. I trust Simon."
Simon beamed with pleasure. "My Aunt Leonis says that it isn't proper to ask personal questions. But yawl can ask me anything you like."
Poly asked immediately, "How does it happen that you have a portrait of Simon Bolivar in your family, and why're you taking it to Venezuela with Cousin Forsyth?"
Simon's eyes took on the pale grey stare which meant that he was moving back into memory. Aunt Leonis lived as much in the past as in the present, and the games of Make Believe she played with Simon were usually forays into time remembered. Simon, his voice low and rhythmic, said, "My favorite ancestor is Quentin Phair. He was the youngest son in a large family in Kent. In England. In the olden days the eldest son got the title, then there was the army or the navy or the law or the church, and after that the younger sons had to fend for themselves. So when Quentin Phair was nineteen and announced that he was going to South America to help free the continent, his family didn't even try to stop him. He fought with Bolivar, and became his good friend, and the portrait is one painted at the time of the freeing of Ecuador, when Bolivar was at the height of his greatness. Aunt Leonis said that in going to Venezuela the way he did, Quentin really gave up his youth for others."
"But how did you get the portrait?"
"Not me, and it won't ever be mine, now. It came to Aunt Leonis when her brother died, because he didn't have children."
"Yes, but Quentin was English, wasn't he?" Polyasked. "How did the portrait get to South Carolina?"
"Well, when Quentin finally went home to England, his mother had just inherited a sizable hunk of property in the South of the United States, so he offered to come over and see about it for her, expecting to stay only a few weeks."
"But he took over his mother's property and stayed forever," Charles said, as though he were ending a fairy tale.
Simon smiled. "He met a young girl, Niniane St. Clair, and they fell in love and were married."
"What a pretty name," Poly said. "Niniane. She was beautiful, of course?"
"We have a miniature of her. It's very faded, but yes, she was beautiful. And when Aunt Leonis was young she looked just like her. Quentin built Pharaoh for Niniane, and all their children were born there. The landscape must have reminded him of Venezuela, especially in the spring and summer, with all the same kinds of flowers, bougainvillaea, oleander, cape jessamine, and the great, lush, jungly trees. It wasn't tamed and cultivated the way it is now."
"Pharaoh," Poly mused. "It's sort of a pun, isn't it?"
"I like it." Simon was slightly defensive.
"Well, so do I. And the portrait?"
"It's been handed down from generation to generation. It's a very special treasure. Since Aunt Leonis never married, it was to come to my mother as next of kin, and then to me. Only we had to sell it."
"But why on earth would you sell it?" Poly asked.
"We needed the money."
"Oh." Poly flushed slowly, as she had that afternoon when speaking Spanish to Geraldo over Simon's head.
"It was the last of the portraits. Aunt Leonis sold most of them when she had to sell Pharaoh--the big house and most of the furnishings and the silver and the grounds.Her father tried very hard to keep Pharaoh going, but he got into terrible debt, and when he died Aunt Leonis had to sell everything, even the portrait of Quentin Phair. But at least it stayed in the house, over the mantelpiece in the library where it's always hung. I look like him, my ancestor Quentin. I hope that when I grow up I'll be like him."
"If you had to sell Pharaoh, where do you live?" Poly asked.
"Aunt Leonis kept an acre and a bit, and we live in an old cottage. If there's a heavy rain from the northeast, the roof leaks in exactly eight places, which is a powerful lot for a small house. Aunt Leonis has various buckets and pots and pans which she puts out to catch the leaks, and she's managed to work it out so that as the rain hits each pot it plays a different note of the scale, and we have a mighty fine time listening to the different tunes the rain makes."
"Your Aunt Leonis," Charles said, "sounds like the kind of aunt everybody would like to have. Who else would have thought of making something magic about eight leaks in a roof?"
"I sometimes think Aunt Leonis doesn't enjoy it nearly as much as I do, but she never lets on that she'd really rather have the roof repaired. We have a purty little garden patch behind the house, and we have live oaks and water oaks all around to give us privacy--not that we need it; the Yankees who bought Pharaoh are only there a couple of months a year. Sometimes Aunt Leonis and I pretend that we're visiting our cottage, bringing turkey broth and custard to a sick child, and that we really live in Pharaoh, the way Aunt Leonis did when she was young. We have a right fine old time together."
Charles said slowly, "I think I love your Aunt Leonis."
"She's a great believer that all things work together forgood. It's Cousin Forsyth who's come to the rescue now. And maybe that's good, but I didn't want her to sell the portrait."
Charles spoke quietly. "I'd guess that she sold it because she loves you more than she loves the portrait."
Simon nodded, and looked across the salon to where Cousin Forsyth was spreading out his cards with a flourish.
Poly's regard followed his. "How does your Cousin Forsyth come into it?"
"Out of the blue, you might say," Simon replied, and told them.
"So you really don't know him very well."
Simon looked across the salon, and thought of the conversation he had heard between Cousin Forsyth and Dr. Wordsworth. "I don't think I know him at all."
DRAGONS IN THE WATERS. Copyright © 1976 by Crosswicks, Ltd.