9: Winter warmth
Being alone and being lonely became two different things for LEGER DE MAIN. Although she lacked human associations there was plenty of other companionship.
She and Full Moon watched migrating waterfowl fronting long lines of themselves across that bright face of light as birds left for warmer waters, and as Moon turned New they listened, on dim and dark watches, to whispers and rustlings when Alder, Maple and Willow began casting summer leaves during cold and colder nights as deciduous trees drew into themselves behind thick bark and deep down into earth-covered roots for coming winter.
Sun rose and shone early on the barge during clear weather, and afternoons on her decks were warm and inviting for Cormorant and Gull or any other similar visitors who gathered there then, as they too looked for sheltered places to shield them against coming hard days.
Resident Kingfisher took to perching on one of her miniature turrets, using it as a platform for watching the waters below in search of a meal, and Great Blue Heron, hunched into his old, frayed, grey-blue plumage, spent much time pretending to be a reedy plant in shallows close to the barge, waiting for unwary lunches to swim by.
Crow was always bringing gossip about things going on ashore, while dropping clams from aloft to break them open on the barge decks, and from Bay and farther afield around its rocky arms Bald Eagle gathered and fished, extolling in shrill whistles about what a delight it was to see the world from an elevated viewpoint, while Raccoon family, keeping a wary eye on this airborne, swift and deadly neighbour, would often arrive at low tide to collect mussels left exposed on the rocks and half-submerged, permanently stranded soggers there. That larder, it seemed, was always full, for indigo shells covered the low tide rocks like a blanket in places.
Jellyfish in hectic crowds of untold numbers, no longer resisting Tide as it battered them against rock and shore, crowded Bay for a last weak hurrah, palpitating their transparent, bowl-shaped, fringed cloaks around the shelter LEGER DE MAIN afforded from wind and wave, still determinedly sweeping water for food as River Otter, who had their home under the roots of Cedar close to the edge of Creek, used the spit where she was beached as a favourite place to play, and swim.
Harbour Seal hauled out on rocks beyond the arms of Reef to sun and rest, barking and quibbling over who would get the best spot, fattening up before moving on while close by, once, a small pod of Orcas danced a leaping, fin-flashing, tail-splashing, breaching performance as they went past farther out in deeper water, heading south, singing their own resonant songs to Sea and each other for accompaniment.
By the time December arrived, Bay residents had become accustomed to having everything to themselves, and when an early and unusual snowfall came overnight, heavy, wet and deep, LEGER DE MAIN felt new again. All her tatters were covered under a drapery of glistening, dripping snow, and she sat there in the sunlight which followed, looking like a diminutive castle set up in holiday splendour, which someone had prepared for a troop of richly caparisoned young knights-at-arms who were expected to jingle down the old logging trail with their horses and retainers and set up their pavilions in the last light of the late afternoon.
- - -
The knight who actually did arrive didnt come on horseback, nor was he young, but he was brightly dressed in a yellow exposure suit, his sailboat wore baggy-wrinkle in her rigging, giving her a festive appearance, ratlines added further interest to the display of sails, shrouds, stays, running gear and lazy-jacks, a faded but brave house-flag flew from her mizzen masthead, and a large red and white ensign fluttered on her stern jack-staff. Her equipment was that of a blue-water traveller, and she looked as though she had been far, handled much and come out of it well.
All sail except bonnet was set on the gaff-rigged ketch because there was not much wind, and she stood offshore a long time, waiting out Tide before she was finally able to tack through the Gap, motor assisted, into the sheltered bay to let go her anchor.
Guardian Spirit had regarded this Stranger, noted that she didnt try to rush Tide, set her course for the exact middle of gently rippled water which indicated where deep passage through Gap was, and decided that this one knew what she was doing and where she was going. The chances of snagging her were small indeed.
She let the sailboat pass through into her precinct peacefully.
The middle-aged wooden forty-footer had been tied up at a government wharf only that morning, but necessity had forced it away. The skipper had paid the wharf fee which allowed him to refuel, renew his water supply, charge his boats batteries and use the showerthe luxury of standing under running hot water itself seeming almost worth the pricebut the necessity of having to pay another days berthage would have been, to his way of thinking, an expense his budget wasnt capable of contemplating.
The skipper himself, though, was capable of all sorts of things. When owners of other small craft tied up around him had expressed concern about his leaving in late afternoon with bad weather threatening, hed told one of his cheerful little fabrications, which actually held more truth than fiction.
This time it was the one about a day in port always being one too many, how he was forever wanting to see new waters, that he was just going around to the next little bay, and with those reassurances to them hed shoved off, keeping his tight budget and his pride intact.
Out into the cold weather which was sifting snow hed motored, away from the safety of the wharf, and well out beyond the breakwater and the village before his trusty old diesel was turned off.
The wind was getting up, which pleased him. He wouldnt have liked to drift in that rock-cradled channel, which led to deep water, long enough for a tide to set against him while his motor was inactive, but he was an experienced seaman and he used his motor mostly to thread his way through busy commercial waterways as required by law, or to help him in and out of crowded small-craft harbours as he had just done.
Main and mizzen were hoisted, self-steering was set so that the JOLLY ROSE kept her heading without tending and, with a glance around at empty waters to make sure no one was heading his way, he went quickly below to bend over the chart table in the cabin to check his course.
A big tabby cat got up from her nap in the pilot berth, and came over to sit on the chart, ready to offer expert advice.
Going to help with the navigating, Charm? he asked as he gently pushed her tail aside. Shall we head for that interesting bay I heard about? It might be just the thing. Now lets see. Weve left Shalisa Creek Villageright here. We can always come back for stores now weve seen itand this must be the bay farther along. Pilot Book says we have to hit the entrance of Soggers Gap with a high tide to be sure we get through with our bottom intact. Safe bay once were in but dangerous stuff there. Dont go in without local knowledge. Oopswell, Ill have to use my own. Got a natural marker ashore to align ourselves with thougha rock face with a vertical cleft, it tells me. Interesting. Now, if the wind keeps up we should make good time. Its not too far for the three of us. Maybe well just take it easy. Its still early and Im sure well get there before dinner time. Looks like the snows stopping and we might even get some sun if that bit of clearing on the horizon is any indication.
The mate gave a purr of approval and the skipper continued his running conversation with her as she added her own comments occasionally in the way people who are happy with each others company do.
A quick trip from the cabin to check the tiller and sail trim and to scan for other shipping, and the skipper was in from the cold again. No other small craft were out in such miserable weather, and a freighter in the distance posed no threat, so they settled down to their cruise.
Back in the cabin, he gave Charm a dish of munchies and put the kettle on the little oil cooking stove. He would have preferred to use the wood stove but theyd run out of wood before reaching the government wharf, and his hopes of finding something lying around hadnt been fulfilled. Everyone else had apparently worked over the same idea and the beach above high tide had been picked clean except for salt-soaked driftwood which he wouldnt use, well aware of its corrosive properties. He respected his little stove too much for thatand should it give up on him it would be expensive to replace.
If it hadnt been for the necessity, they wouldnt have put in to the Shalisa Creek wharf at all, because he knew only too well that ports cost money. It was his usual custom to anchor off and row in, but this had been a fishermans wharf and he enjoyed the kind of company he could meet there, so hed decided on a blowout as it was some time since hed had one and, here it was, Saturday night approaching with a lively pub at hand.
Theyd tied up instead, attending to all the other things a wharf had to offer.
That evening hed allowed himself the pleasure of joining some of the men at the wharf for a beerjust one, mind, because I have to get back to Charm before she gets too coldwhich comment raised a few eyebrows and a few laughs until he explained that his cat didnt like being left without heat in the cabin for too long.
This, although true, was an excuse often used to cover his economies. He and Charm backed each other up in their little tales of face-saving. In the summertime the wording changed todont want to leave Charm cooped up too long in the nice weather. The men accepted his words, for they knew pets and boats often hold the hearts of those who sail alone.
The pub had the interesting name of Throw the Rascals Out!, which told him something of the political mind set of the publican. He found it to be an older kind of establishment, without formality, still accommodating, comfortable and friendly for the locals, and he thought it was especially community-minded when he learned from those he was invited to sit with that the rough board pulpit in the cornercalled The Soap Boxwas an invitation to democratic freedom of expression about local issues.
The pulpit had been erected around the box so that those who were brave enough to air their opinions in public had something to duck behind when booed and pelted with peanuts, pretzels, potato chips and other small, harmless missiles when the ideas expressed were not popular.
Users of heavy artillery, such as mugs or ashtrays, were strictly dealt with by immediate eviction from the pub, often by the indignant patrons themselves. Difference of opinion was one thingviolence was another. They seemed to hold to the time-honoured maxim that they might not agree with what was being said, but theyd damned well defend the right of the person to say itunless it was so odious an address no defence was offered.
This evening no one expounded on any contentious issues, or anything else. Both the owner and regular patrons had learned early in the life of the box that Saturday night was an inappropriate and much too explosive time for anyone to use it. Besides, people seemed willing to express their ideas loudly and vigorously enough then without a box. Even so, this made for some interesting evenings when discussions heated up, which sometimes required the understanding and forbearance of the constabulary, who waded in and sorted out the two sides like old-style teachers grabbing kids on the schoolground by the collars and seats of their pants to separate themthat is, if no serious weaponry or wounds were present. Villagers didnt pack such heavy intentholidaying visitors who didnt know or heed the law, and the prevailing attitude against such arming, sometimes carried knives or came loaded.
In order to avoid too many visits from uniformson weekends, crowded holidays, or any other time considered top-heavy with controversial opinionsthe publican hung a checkered tablecloth over the dais, topped by a gavel, to indicate that the forum was out of order, as it was this evening.
The connotations of the name for the place had made the newcomer smile. He thought he might like to utilise the privilege of the soapbox himself, one day. The old parliamentary cry of Throw the rascals out!, coming from The Loyal Opposition, accompanied with boot thumping and desk banging, which in time had filtered down to the general population, held familiar threads for him. It was one which he felt could still be an effective tool of harassment even in this day and age if politicians would just get up their guts and gumption to use it, instead of the crude tools of physical threat and coarse language which he knew were in vogue at the moment. He was of the opinion that debate seemed to have deteriorated into dispute, and order and oratory into outcry and offence, none of which seemed aimed at solving anything, and rather incited the Members to boil up more problems instead of dealing with the ones they already had.
The pub had been warm and companionable and hed listened to the talk which comes over a beer, about weather and gear and fish and narrow escapes from rough seas, until his attention had been led astray by the conversation of another group of people at a table close to him.
It might have been difficult to hear what was being said over there while still retaining his place in the amusing exchange which was just then circulating around his own company, except that the speaker at the other table had a hearty voicethe kind which could move a stone deaf dog at a hundred paces if requiredhelped along by good pints of beer, so the listener did manage to hear about a bay where a rogue barge with a ridiculous shake castle built on it, spire and all, had been beached during a storm.
She was something of a heroine it seemed, in spite of the derision sent her way. She was in a bay where the speaker had put her, and fishermen seldom went that way if they could help it unless they were certain of good weather and a worthwhile catch, a seldom happening for both elements to get together. They all seemed to know the location from its terrible reputation, and the barge appeared to be well known too and was just a fun thing to talk about.
Apparently a city fellow had bought her from a bankrupt logging company, and hed built the wooden castle on her which turned her into a casino, but that owner had been put out of business by the law. Then shed become a public nuisance when local and imported kids had taken her over to raise hell in and had wrecked her. After that shed broken loose in a storm and had almost run into a Coast Guard cutter whose crew had found shed saved the lives of three people whod managed to climb aboard. Then a young couple from away had used her for growing marijuana after shed been beached, which crop had been slipped past the local police force by a days grace just the past Fall, and the two had disappeared.
Getting thoroughly interested in this tale, the eavesdropper had pricked up his ears a little more.
There was a lot of laughter over the telling of the last escapade, and law enforcement, along with its officers, seemed to be the focus of it. The gardening going on at the barge house had apparently been well publicised in at least one sector of the population from the village near the bay, and some of the laughers there in the pub might possibly have been suspected of sampling part of the hasty harvest after it had worked its way down toward Shalisa Creek Village. The barge, it was concluded, was a real, large-sized Soggerthe survival kind. She had a heart.
Do you think shes still there Bud? asked one of the group. Maybe shes taken off again and been wrecked somewhere else. Weve had some more pretty bad weather since then.
Those words brought an explosive protest from the man whod been telling the story.
Shed better still be there because Im likely the next lucky owner. My dunnings havent been met since I towed the thing in from that storm so I may just have to claim her as salvage for payment. Id go get her now except Im not sure whats going on. The man who actually owns her is still in trouble with the Law for running a gambling hall, and they seized the barge and are holding her until the outcome of the case.
Dont think its come up yet. Guess if they stall long enough it never will. Itll get lost in all that paper and bull that gets shovelled around when lawyers and officials get hold of you. Nobodys quite sure if shes still his, if the Crown is keeping her as evidence, or if everyone except the lawyers involved has forgotten all about her and shes just another piece of shipping flotsam which everyonell disown pretty damned quick if theyre asked to remove her from the beachmaybe even including myself.
Id rather have the money for my towing. The things a big hefty damned nuisance and probably doesnt have any value on the market if I do get stuck with her. Im leaving her alone and hoping to go some other waymaybe small debts court, though I hate to get officialdom in on it. Probably lose more time and money that way than whats owed me.
Getting her off the beach if I have to isnt going to be anything to celebrate either. When I ran her aground the incoming tide was such a bloody high one that it gave her an extra lift I hadnt figured on. Guess I should have known, what with the wind and all, but it was such a hairy night I was too busy staying afloat and getting rid of the thing before she boarded me, and I wanted to make sure the boot I gave her in the stern would hold her hard and fast for awhile.
Well, she got held too hard I guess. I went past once after that and Im pretty sure she aint going anywhere, but Im not about to admit that I did it on purpose if anyone gets to asking. Ill tell them she must have cut loose from her mooring again and got hung up on that spit.
Hey, maybe I can bill the government if she sinks. I sure as hell dont want her if I can get my money some other way. Id just as soon never see her again, like everyone else. Ill just wait awhile. Mebbe do something come Spring if nothings happened by thendamned things dont usually go down by themselves thoughjust sit and rot for years.
You going to sink her? grinned one of his companions.
Dont give me ideas Mac, came the reply, but then the conversation broke up into shouts and laughter, as somebody swiped somebody elses beer, and a penalty was demanded.
The ketch skipper had been intrigued. So much so that when hed found his glass empty at a crucial point in the tug captains story hed allowed himself the extravagance of ordering another in the hope of hearing more about the barge.
He was a romantic at heart. That was one reason why he was sailing around in a hand-built boat at an age when most men retire to more leisurely pursuits, deck chairs, gardens, and hobbies less strenuous, but for him this wasnt a hobby. It was a way of life which had started with his first small daysailer in boyhood and had fashioned his future from that point on.
He fell in love with Sea.
His ancestry had left him a long illustrious name, but he retained little else of that legacy, and since the length of the name became more of an embarrassment than a help at times, he hadnt hesitated to shorten it until hed become simply Fitz Jolly except on what he thought of as tedious bureaucratic forms which required precision.
His life and his money had been spent on boats, in whose company hed acquired a happy, solo, rambling history, and hed just recently settled in what he thought of as a pretty cold country because hed figured hed better have somewhere to call home and cadge a pension from.
Time was telling him to slow down. A few broken bones from his earlier, more rambunctious days were beginning to complain, and he knew that the acuteness of his vision as well as his agility were not what they had been in his young days.
Using his intelligence in concert with his hands, hed always supported himself by finding things to do for others around marinas, usually as little as possible, because earning income interfered with sailing time, which meant that there had never been any surplus left over from his boat expenses and his unpremeditated use of money. If he had it he spent it and if he didnt he economised.
Economy had become a habit which grew over the years until hed developed it into an art of which he was master. Hed learned how to get by without money and had done so, many times.
His lovely sailboat had never acquired that skill. JOLLY ROSE had been his final love affair with boats. He had built her himself and shed taken all his time for three years of concentrated work, both on her and in various occupations while he found the money to pay for materials with which she was fashioned, but to him shed been worth every bit of it when hed got to sailing her around.
At first, like himself, shed had the best he could afford, but gradually, as casual work became more and more difficult to obtain, he and she had settled for less and less until her paint job now was of the most economical pigments and the majority of his clothes were of the second-hand variety. This didnt bother either of them. Theyd grown old together as they went their independent way, and still loved it as much as before.
It wasnt until JOLLY ROSEs needs began to require more spare cash than he could get while still continuing his unhampered lifestyle, that Fitz began to think of changing his habits. Things were becoming expensive to the point of getting beyond his reach. Money was shaping up as a necessity. Everything required money these days. Even his modest way of living couldnt escape that fact any more. He needed a base from which to operatesome place where he could make a niche which would let him get by with a minimum of cashbut he had to have cash.
Besides, hed found that cruising his old haunts was not what it had been. The quiet places hed known earlier were crowded now with sleek new boats, rental boats, big boats, charters, owners who didnt do their own skippering, huge cruise ships. Previously ignored harbours and beaches had been discovered by the new universal mobility. Free places had been taken over by monied interests. Old seamen who couldnt afford the berthage were barred from shores theyd once been welcomed to and had enjoyed without hindrance. Even anchorage there was becoming forbidden except for pay.
He regarded most of the new people as noisy, assertive, and ignorant of maritime knowledge, traditions and courtesy. He felt that they regarded him as a museum piece to be brought aboard out of curiosity and for amusementa colourful old relic from another age whod been around the world, and could tell entertaining stories to liven up a dull collection of people who were thoroughly bored with too much of everything. Hed quickly decided that their invitations had a price attachedhis self-respect. Once that came home to him he politely let them keep their questionable hospitality.
Sea, that eternal refuge of adventurous hearts, was being bent to electronic tracking, satellite weather reports, efficient machinery, the press of ever expanding industry and commerce, the whims of wealth. While those who earned their keep crossing oceans lauded these improvements as life-saving and the lessening of labour, living aboard on small boats, in Fitzs eyes, was becoming a game used by the unknowing and the impulsive, who seemed to operate on the premise that ignorance was bliss and technology was everything else. This growing body of novices ignored Sea, and all the basic knowledge which had been acquired by those who had passed over it from the beginnings of travel by water. Sea retaliated occasionally by claiming a few of such upstarts as toys to be played with, broken, and cast aside, and Fitz didnt want to be mistaken for one of those.
As well, almost everyone he met now, plus some who lived at a distance, managed to get around to suggesting, one way or another, that maybe it was time for him to sell his boat and go ashore. They might just as well have told a whale to live in a fishbowl. He knew the monetary worth of his boat, but he also knew its intangible value to his heart could never be replaced by money, nor could he begin to imagine what life would be like ashore.
He gave his boat some thoughtful consideration. He would suffer any privation to keep her in shape, for he couldnt bear the idea of seeing her fall apart from neglect or lack of paint and fittings the way hed seen so many others. Like himself, she also was feeling the strain of years. How much longer could they push themselves across the rough paths of blue water? There were limitations to everything, and although tropical seas were a joy to him, they were death to a wooden boat if it couldnt be constantly and expensively maintained. Northern climates were kinder that way.
Circumstance had given him dual citizenship. Why his mother had decided to have him while on a business trip with his father, just a week before they were ready to return to their own country he knew better than to question. That event had given him a wider choice when it became necessary to decide on a home port.
It had become time to find one, although the term home didnt enter into the debate. JOLLY ROSE was home. Both alternative countries though, seemed cold and wet most of the time, compared to the places hed been used to hanging out in. He knew not much at all about one of them, having regularly made short, fast visits by air to it only to keep up his citizenship but, if he chose the other, old conventionalities hed avoided for so long would surely creep back into his life as soon as he reached a harbour close to where his family had their seat.
He thought of having to deal with the problems he felt hed had the sense to escape early in life. He didnt want to go back to that. He wouldnt fit in now any more than he had then. Better to stay away.
Freedom to continue his way of life seemed more obtainable in the long stretch of northwest Pacific seacoast which one passport claimed was his right as a citizen. It would also be kinder to JOLLY ROSEand their budget.
Choose! Scylla and Charybdis, a monster on a rock and a vortexa devil and the deep blue seaa rock and a hard placeone cold climate or the otherexcept one of them was free from hereditary care.
The choice was made. Back to the land of his birth, but not that of his ancestors, he had sailed with his two companionsCharm and JOLLY ROSE. He would have preferred a warmer climate but hed waited too long. His lack of long range planning meant becoming an emigré somewhere else was out. No one else wanted a cat and a boat and an aging mariner who was close to becoming a burden on government social plans.
He willingly accepted being labelled that way, as well as admitting to the fact that in truth hed contributed nothing to those plans, but neither had he received any of the benefits supposedly accruing to a conscientious taxpayer. He took the pension when it came due simply because it was money and he needed money to keep his boat, himself and his four-footed crew alive.
He was grateful to his country of birth for supplying him with a stipend for the rest of his life. He would have liked to regard it as a gift from the gods of that place, who had chosen to care for the elderly, the sick and the poor, but he had the uneasy feeling that wily politicians were behind it and, should expediency ever dictate that this was not the way to get votes, he would speedily be penniless again, legislated out of his wealth in a most ungodlike mannerbut for the present he revelled in his good fortune.
Feeling immensely wealthy with his unearned pension, he continued to sail unattached and unencumbered, relying mostly on the still free wild wind of this Pacific west coast for power, travelling with his two companions.
- - -
Much of Fitzs ocean wanderings had been done solo, with only JOLLY ROSE as company, until hed come across a boy who had never been taught the difference between an inanimate object and a living creature, and who was busy tormenting a little kitten on a wharf in sunny southern waters where the JOLLY ROSE had put in.
After only a minute or so of seeing the poor animal get dragged about by the neck, dropped, thrown into the water and fished out again by its tail, Fitz, never one to hesitate in an emergency, had stepped off JOLLY ROSE, walked softly barefooted over, and from his considerable height sent down such a look that the boy had dropped his wet plaything and run in silent terror back to his parents on a boat several fingers away.
By the time that safety was reached Fitz had picked up the skinny, shivering victim, returned to his own boat, cast off the mooring lines and was motoring out of the marina.
No one pursued them.
It had taken three days to convince the kitten that all people are not alike, but she had finally ventured out from the locker hed presented to her as home, and given him her trust.
He called her his charming little lady and she became Charm for short, long names not being too popular aboard JOLLY ROSE. Soon she was playing imaginative little games like any other young cat and seemed to quickly put her unhappy beginnings behind her.
After that they went through good and bad times together, figured out all sorts of innovative things to accommodate the new arrangement of two aboard, and never had a bad word to say to each other. JOLLY ROSE was happy with the new addition of crew and the three companions sailed peacefully on.
They quietly shared the guilt for her illegal entry into Fitzs reclaimed country. Hed figured one small healthy cat with papers from a veterinarian to prove it, was not going to bring about the fall of a government or endanger any other species, so hed put her aboard a friendly local boat which hed met before in his travels, until hed cleared customs, and then had retrieved her a little later when no one requiring cautious surveillance was lookingwhich usually means at nightand it was.
This separation had not pleased Charm, since she felt she was royalty in her own right and governments had no business telling her what to do. She had to stay shut below decks on a strange boat with strangers, because they knew that if she got out she would certainly run off looking for Fitz.
She put up with this generous hospitality by using a haughty disdain on her benefactors, refused their food and friendly advances, and didnt even say goodbye when she left, jumping quickly into her basket when Fitz came to get her and settling deeply into the bottom of it.
It was left for Fitz to show the appreciation. She didnt really care what country she was or was not a citizen of, just as long as they got back quickly to JOLLY ROSE. That was her homeland.
Once there she ate two dishes of food, bounced into her locker, smacked the little ball of wool around there, polished herself up to get rid of strange odours, then lay purring loudly for a long time. She hoped there would be no more absences from Fitz because, although she wouldnt admit it, she had been very worried. Home was here, wherever they sailed, and this was where she belonged, with Fitz and JOLLY ROSE. Tell that to the government officials.
- - -
Now, as they rode to anchor in the quiet bay, they looked over at the snow-covered LEGER DE MAIN, admiring the lettering of her name which was still bright and clearly legible on her hull, and felt that something new and different had come into their lives from their visit to the fishermans wharf.
They didnt hurry to go aboard the barge. The snow still lay thick and heavy on her roof and decks, and Fitz had been hard put to it when hed removed the snow from his own decks that morning after his overnight at the wharf. It was getting dark and he didnt want to go climbing around unknown old structures, sea-going or otherwise, without enough light to see where he was putting his hands and feet.
He also thought that some of the snow might melt by the morning or, more likely, it would rain overnight since the wind had changed direction, bringing the cloud cover from southwest and he could feel it was warming up a bit. A good rain could always beat his old turks head at removing snow, and it would certainly be less strenuous.
He and Charm sat on their excitement and decided to wait a bit. They contented themselves with looking over at the old buildings which they saw ashore and with speculating as to when they could get out there to find some wood for the stove. Wet wood wouldnt burn too well, but after a couple of days it would probably dry out enough to be usable. The little oil stove did its best, but it was really intended only for cooking and it had its limitations. True, he could run the motor for heat butthat was an extravagant expense.
Fitz had yet to realise that his accruing monthly arrival of free money might offer all sorts of possibilities, and without his having really become aware of it, a backlog was beginning to accumulate. Quite a few cheques hadnt even been cashed yet because he still had money left and he hadnt needed anymore on his visits to the small ports he put in to. Maturity, it seemed, had lessened his urge to have empty pockets. He was beginning to like the security of full ones, but that didnt hamper his long tendency to thrift.
His exchequer was contained in a watertight aluminum box which held what he considered to be his important papers, but apart from these it was actually crammed full of what other people would have regarded as irrelevancies.
Crowding out his uncashed cheques, his passports, boat documents and other papers which hed found necessary to acquire just to stay alive in a world now seemingly over-run with certification requirements, were old letters and Christmas cards, many of which were the last messages hed received from longtime sailing friends who had apparently simply evaporated from the sea without further word.
Elbowing those was a collection of stamps from almost every country in the world, some of which had arrived as an added bonus on his junk mail, satisfying his desire to gather something more solid than just good times and memories over the years. These were now stuffed into a couple of large brown envelopes without order, and occasionally he would glance through them because he found the majority of the stamps were artistically pleasing, and they revived recollections of places hed been and people hed known there.
A small handmade canvas bag filled with curious coins of various denominations which had accumulated as he travelled, and some pieces of poetry cut from magazines and newspapers, leafed in among some of his own attempts, sat on top of a dainty, empty, carved ivory ring case from which the ring had been absent since the time JOLLY ROSE had needed a paint job and some repairs, and the treasury had been devoid of purchasing power.
The little container was a piece of his past which Fitz hadnt thrown out simply because he liked the beautiful workmanship of it, although the romance once surrounding it had faded when he was a young man of thirty.
The purchase of its contents had been important enough to get him considering leaving Sea, which had flabbergasted his friends when theyd heard about its serious intent, but before hed had to execute that momentous decision She had said no without even knowing what he might have planned for the future.
The ring had been offered along with himself to various other women in a definitely cavalier fashion after that, but none of the understudies had wanted, either to compete with Sea, or to join it and share him with it, along with his reckless, penniless, wandering ways, and the rejections had only added thickness to the original scar rather than opening new wounds.
Later reflection had led him to conclude that maybe it had been the best thing after all to have been left at liberty, although when he saw other cruising couples, sometimes with their sons and daughters along, hed caught himself half wishing that the first offer of the ring had been accepted.
His lifetime of making do with nothing had continued its uninterrupted progress until Charm, who was now telling him that it was time for dinner, had added immensely to his joie de vivre in recent years.
They had a rather hasty dinner because they were both tired after the cold afternoon of sailing and the excitement of having reached their destination and, after eating, they sat quietly looking out the ports at the sun setting on LEGER DE MAIN with colours of gold and orange brightening her snowy, dripping little turrets.
This castle of a boys world which had come into being from the mind of a man hadnt disappointed them. Fitz was a little surprised at her good condition. From what hed heard, hed expected something more of a wreck, but from what he could see, although she presented the face of a child she had the sturdy frame of a well-built adult and seemed to have withstood the assaults of humans and weather admirably.
Fitz looked at her big stone chimney a lot. He hoped it was in as good condition as it appeared to be. If so, he was sure it would have a hearth below to match which would accommodate a lively great fire. Fireplaces always made him sentimental. He was reminded again of what hed given up for so many reasons. Maybe over on the barge he and Charm could have a big cheerful blaze where they could sit and be warm, as though they were in front of a welcoming castle hearth the way it had been at holiday times when he was young. The barge did, after all, have at least the appearance of such an edifice, even if it happened to be in somewhat reduced dimensions.
Both he and Charm loved to be warm, and having found it necessary to put up with the kind of winters they now encountered made them both wish hed been born somewhere else. The little wooden castle invited them to do a bit of dreaming in another dimension, removed from the here and now, so they pretended they were in a sunnier portnot in the middle of a wintry bay, but somewhere on the coast of Attabiya which was the ancient home of Charms ancestors, and Persia is known for its warmth.
True, LEGER DE MAIN had a more northern architecture, but imagination supplied much in the way of arabesques, minarets and palms, and they daydreamed together until the snowy turrets and little spire turned purple, then black and, at last, barge and building disappeared entirely into evenings simple outline of bulk alone.
Fitz went on deck then, checked the boat over for the night to make sure everything was in order, and ready if needed, then went below, lit a lamp and made himself his usual toddy of rum, hot water and honey, and filled Charms dish again.
They lingered over the evening mug and munchies, glad to have found that the bay hed heard about seemed to be well protected from Wind. Then they turned off the oil stove, blew out the lamp, jumped quickly into the bunk together before it got too cold, Charm curling up under her own wooly blanket beside Fitz, and they fell asleep anticipating the adventure which would come in the morning when they would go aboard the LEGER DE MAIN and see if she really held anything more than the empty ruin which the men in the pub had suggested.
- - -
It rained during the night as Fitz had rightly anticipateda heavy, warm, drenching rain which they half heard as it splashed into their sleep, pounding and washing on the coachroof and decks, and the warm wind which came with it raised the temperature of the cabin ten degrees.
They slept well and long because Fitz had assessed the bay as a safe one, so he didnt even make his usual middle of the night check to see that everything was still secure, leaving it up to his well-developed seamans instincts to be on guard for anything out of line.
When they finally awoke in the morning and looked eagerly toward the barge, the magic of snow had vanished, leaving LEGER DE MAIN showing all her tatters and tarnish once more. The plastic tacked onto her window frames was drumming in a light breeze and the silver grey of her weathering cedar shakes couldnt be seen as anything else but wear, neglect and inevitable aging, although the casino structure was still young.
Fitz and Charm werent discouraged a bit by this honest exposition. They knew all about those things and for them it just added friendliness and understanding to their attitude.
They hurried their breakfast just as theyd hurried their dinner the previous evening and, regarding the rain which was still falling, Fitz got into his foul weather gear. They lowered ROSEBUD, Charm jumped into her basket which Fitz slung over his shoulder by its canvas straps, the two got into the dinghy and it was rowed energetically and enthusiastically over to LEGER DE MAIN.
They made a semicircle around her just to get a look at her, noting that her boarding ramp, on the starboard side was up, and locked. Fitz decided on the stern ladder, a logical choice for a man of the sea, since the bow of the barge was well up on shore, just as hed heard it described by the tugboat captain, and he didnt want to get his boots muddy. He fastened ROSEBUDs painter to the ladder, put the straps of Charms basket over his shoulder again and climbed aboard.
The first thing he noted as he stepped onto the barge was her dowelled cedar decking, and the quality of wood and workmanship surprised him because it was unexpected. He took hold of the sturdy stanchions, with their white lines now heading toward a preference for grey-green, and found them firm and unmoving.
Then he looked over at the door which was at the top of three broad steps and knew it was not original workmanship. It was a rough construction of old boards nailed together with crosspieces. It served the purpose and had its own rugged attractiveness, but it wasnt a thing of beauty as were the decks and other woodwork.
He walked over and went up the three big slab steps, hesitating a moment before he lifted the wooden latch, then pushed the door open and went in.
Cats are supposed to have all sorts of patience, but Charm hadnt heard those tales so she asked to be put down immediately, wanting to make her own investigations now they were out of the rain. Fitz set the basket on the floor and she hopped out, whiskers and ears forward at the ready, but he didnt follow her right away. There was so much to be seen just from standing there by the door.
Having built his own boat with the best wood hed been able to find, and possessing the skills to turn it into a little ship which was admired everywhere, Fitz was impressed with what he saw. The strength and massiveness of the post-and-beam construction, the wood itself, the big split-stone fireplace in the middle of it all at the far end, which pleased his sight immensely, the imaginative, attractive way in which everything had been used, made him esteem highly the unknown architect of such a project and the hands of the men who had worked to put it together.
Scarred as it was from the abuse of other hands which were too untaught to know better, the place still gave out its welcoming smile just the way it had been intended. Empty window frames covered with plastic, holes covered with paper in the plaster walls, and carved initials on posts didnt detract from that at all. He could see that the floors had once been well-varnished, although now weather and abuse had left their marks.
For a moment longer the man waited, feeling a bit like an intruder, because there was still everything around which went to make up a home. He was surprised at this. It was still a complete, tidy, well-kept place, much like the ones hed been invited to so many times in the pastitinerants dwellings, meant for transitory occupation, costing mostly nothing except scrounging and effort, to be abandoned with a light heart when the next practical requirement arose and brought the decision to move on. It wasnt Fitzs way but he understood it well. He could raise anchor and take his home with him. They simply picked up their feet and walked away toward another one which would turn up along their future path.
It seemed a little odd to his mind, this mixture of rough furnishings and the truly fine finish of the structure itself. A jar of withered flowers sat in the middle of the big round of fir which was plainly intended to be a table in front of the fireplace. He was sure some lady had picked those, fresh and bright and beautiful once, and he thought they looked welcoming and cheerful, even in their dried state. He was almost prompted to call outAnybody home?but he remembered the talk in the pub and he could see no sign of recent habitation.
As he walked a little farther into the room he looked at the two beanbag-shaped chairs made of unbleached cotton canvas which were placed on either side of the table and then he went over and sat in one. As he settled himself into it a fragrance of sweet summer grass, clover and lavender came up around him.
<Ah yes, this lady was a romantic too, stuffing her chairs with dreams and handgrown enchantments.>
His eyes rested on the fireplace, moved to the rock enclosed space which was there to house firewood.
<Firewooddry firewood! A neatly stacked high pile of it, probably collected by thrifty people like myself, and its been sitting there drying for months. A big, blazing fire in a massive, heat retaining rock fireplace will be just the thing for chilly eveningsor cold winter days. A home for the taking, and such a fine spacious one.>
Fitz could hardly believe his luck.
<There has to be a hitch somewhere. There always is. When will the owner return to claim his property? From what I heard, not for some time. Maybe neverand from the sound of that same conversation, nobody else wants her either.>
Right now though, with the idea of that big blazing fire in mind, he didnt care to think that far ahead. He and Charm could sit here and soak up warmth for awhile. He hoped the couple whod left this place were somewhere warm and safe too now.
Thank you, everyone who contributed to the making of this delightful, irrational, abandoned, soon to be warm again home, said Fitz gratefully and aloud, throwing out his arms in an embracing gesture.
LEGER DE MAIN heard and was delighted. There would be company once more. Shed never had a cat before. Shed known two friendly dogs. She held her judgement of cats in reserve and waited to see what would happen next.
What happened next was that Fitz got up from the chair, took off his exposure suit, draped it over the burl table to dry, then went over to the fireplace and pulled the draft a few time to make sure it worked and wasnt blocked. Having satisfied himself that it was clear, he took neatly folded papers whose dates indicated no one had been on board for some time, squashed them into airy, crumpled heaps, added pieces of pine branches which still held tight within them the resin of their last summer, with crisp little twigs on their ends ready to break into laughing crackles at the touch of a flame, laid readied kindling over the pile, and then topped it all with light pieces of wood.
He stood up and admired the beauty of his potential to indulge in a little beneficial combustion, and then realised he had no matches on him with which to carry out his intentions.
Hed given up smoking some years back, deciding then that it was an indulgence he could no longer afford. As a prudent seaman though, he usually carried matches and his knife with him, but this morning had seemed like a holiday from care, and he and Charm had been in a hurry to start.
He reproved himself.
<Thats no excuse for getting careless. Sea is always waiting for someone to forget one little thing which will be discovered and used for mischief. Though there seems to be no danger here its still an inconvenience and Id better not be so irresponsible again.>
He looked longingly at the readied fireplace, thinking of the matches his haste had made him leave behind by the stove on JOLLY ROSE, not quite willing to row back through the rain just yet. His eyes and his thoughts both moved to the galley at the same time when the concept of stove entered his mind. There was the original built-in stainless steel propane stove, looking clean and useful, but with a jury-rigged small gas tank sitting off to one side attached to a smaller camp stove. If he needed matches to start a fire then so did other people.
He went quickly and with hope to the cupboards and found not only matches but salt as well, the two sitting companionably side by side on a shelf in that age-old tradition of consideration for the next wayfarer, which made him wonder once again about the two who had lived here.
Fire and salt, essentials of life, in airtight jars. Flowers on the table and scented cushion chairs. Herbs dried and packed carefully in rows of old glass jars on the shelves. Dried beans and peas and other garden produce. All this spoke of thoughtfulness, economy, and a love of the good things nature could offer, qualities Fitz was much at home with. They would be people whom he would have liked to know.
He took one of the wooden matches out of the jar, only one, because he felt sure it was all hed need, and screwed the lid on tightly again. Back to the fireplace he carried his magic little fire stick and struck it smartly against the inside of the rock hearth to call forth the dancing, red, eager little genie from its resting place, who responded at once, immediately took hold of the paper Fitz had set so carefully, found it an acceptable offering and began to consume it quickly. The whole dry pile was soon going briskly and Fitz carefully laid on a few heavier chunks, returned to his scented chair and called Charm.
That inquisitive traveller had already investigated much of the main floor in a quick and cursory way, taking note of many interesting items and places which would get a more thorough going over later, and shed been just ready to start up the stairs into one of the turrets when she heard Fitz call.
There was something of excitement in his voice which made her decide not to hesitate. She headed back to the big room with the fireplace and at once saw the bright blaze which was already beginning to take the chill away from in front of the hearth and the damp from the air there.
What do you think of that? Fitz asked.
She gave him a look of delight, walked quickly over to the fire and sat down in front of it, pleased and fascinated.
Now this was something worth paying attention to. The fire in the stove on JOLLY ROSE crackled like this but it was always contained within its iron confines and the flames could only be seen through its little screened and barred glass windowand the warmth! It was every bit as fine as that on the boat.
Very shortly she found it was even better, because she had to move back a little from the gathering intensity of the hot flames in the big fireplace. The area of smooth stone on the floor before the raised hearth began to soak up heat and Charm started to purr, then she saw the empty beanbag chair next to Fitz, hopped into it, laid herself happily down on the warmth of it, stretched out full length and went to sleep.
Fitz, watching her, smiled and leaned back into his chair, liking the idea that it was his chair now.
<My chair. Its regrettable that the young people who put such a charming home together were forced to leave it, and under such unfortunate circumstances, but at least now it wont go to waste, and I have no doubt that somewhere else the two of them have already constructed another such place. Ive met so many of those irrepressible new-age gypsies in my travels and most of them seem well able to land on their feet when they suffer an unexpected fall.>
He considered himself to be a bit of an ancient-age gypsy now, more cautious, less rash, wary of consequences and the vicissitudes of life, and certainly more conscious of the theory of cause and effect. He had done foolish and reckless things at times and had no doubt that he was still capable of getting in and out of scrapes, but now he was more inclined to sit back and reckon up the cost first before he offered his neck for breaking, acting more on reason and reflex than on instinct and impulse.
He sat gazing into the flames, considering his new situation.
<This old seaman has a lot of tricks left in his duffle bag yet and I certainly havent lost any of my enjoyment of the world I live in. I want to grow old in a sensible way, letting go of what I have to when I have to, but that doesnt mean Im going to lie down and die before Im ready to be sewn into a hammock.>
He was pragmatic enough to admit that even the ablest of people must sooner or later contend with years and the limitations which that puts on many activities, but he didnt regret his age. He was only too aware that many good friends hadnt been given the privilege of getting older, and he himself was still wiry and able.
<The worlds a sweet place and Im ready to hang on to it with everything I can bring to it. Maybe my physical abilities have declined a bit but I like to think Im getting better as I get older, rather like antiques become more valuable the older they getless roughly used but more treasured. BesidesIm not that old yet. I figure I can find new things along the way as replacements for old pleasures.>
The Shalisa Creek barge seemed to fit into that category. Warmth from the fireplace made Fitz drowsy and comfortable. He leaned back and allowed himself to dream a little. This place for the winter and JOLLY ROSE whenever they wanted to do a bit of sailing. It was a precarious dream, he knew, because only the JOLLY ROSE actually belonged to him, but there were times now when he wished for something a little less strenuous, a little more relaxed.
<Well take a winter holiday here as long as we can in this warm, hospitable barge and its sheltered bay until we have to move on.>
He looked fondly at Charm sleeping so contentedly in the warm beanbag chair. Shed quieted down some too as she got a little older.
<Maybe tomorrow Ill move JOLLY ROSE over and raft her alongside LEGER DE MAIN for comfort and convenience, and that way we can have the run of both and put in some good time here. Maybe well go ashore tomorrow if the rain stops, and take a look around at the old buildings.>
Meanwhile, the fire was busy, the wood was dry and free, and his thoughts ran just as freely on future good times until he too dozed in front of the blaze.
The pleasant glow from the flames made colourful rivulets of the rain running down the plastic windows as Fitz did a bit of dreaming by the fire, and somewhere on shore a little flock of Chickadees conversed in their animated way about the new tenants of LEGER DE MAIN, taking note that Cat had arrived because Mouse, who had been foraging on board when Fitz and Charm had come in, had hastily fled over the side to hurry back into the underbrush at the intrusion and to pass the word around.