23: Ancient lineage
Sun held firm control over Shalisa Creek Bay. Weathers threats to bring an end to all the activity ashore and Fogs attempts to enter into the skirmish were rebuffed by blue Sky and warm Sea. The slightest hint of Cloud in the morning brought forth a request for gentle Breeze to clear the invader away, and Fog was held circling around outside Gap, keeping in shape by doing deep knee bends and back flips while awaiting any lessening of vigilance by the competition. Beach, with its inviting environs, seemed to be where everything was happening, and getting there had spirits and elements readied in good-natured and sparring watchfulness.
The old neglected cottages, with roofing yet to be completed, kept an anxious eye upward and outward, held tightly to the old shakes still left to them, and hoped. The holes which had been opened over their rafters as those old shakes were removed prior to replacement left them totally vulnerable to Weather. They were glad to observe that at least the spaces were being closed with rapid if not too professional efforts.
Pirates Port, having obtained Rose and Armand as volunteer project directors, started its rehabilitation with a burst of fanciful and far-flung ideas. This had the two adults dealing with the disorganised, imaginative and sometimes completely unusable input of five youngsters while trying to get the essentials of a weather-tight building in place. By the end of a days efforts the two of them were usually reduced to heaps of laughing disbelief.
The twins came forward with their idea first.
We need a lookout tower so we can see out over the bay, began Walter eagerly.
With a winding stairway up to it, added Bernice.
So we can watch for invaders and space pirates.
And a flagpole on top, came the duo.
But you already have LEGER DE MAINs turrets and spire for that, countered Rose.
Not to be discouraged that way, the doubled up objection was,
But its not ours! Its Big Ranulfs castle.
Uncle Twimby didnt enter into the equation.
The two adults hesitated, glancing at each other, new at this management business, until Armand suggested,
Sounds very nice. We could put that into the future projects file.
That brought a stymied silence until Therése broke it with,
Could we please have a music room so I can keep the violin and all the other things and the books off the floor? ELFINSHOE throws everything around, and I dont have anywhere to put my music stand.
Before that request from the floor could be dealt with Morgan opened up with his own.
Ill settle for anywhere a guy can get off by himself to read a book in peace and quietwith a door for closingso I can do some of my own things without finding them all taken to pieces by little fingers trying to figure out how they got put together.
Great future projects, pronounced Rose and Armand together, smiling, having learned the power of two from the twins.
Other suggestions, such as an aquarium, a pirates treasure cave, a library and a secret passage for escaping, also quickly found their way into the futures file.
Isabel, forced to be the practical one for so long, knew very well these things werent going to happencertainly not immediately if at all. Her hopes were simply for a warm, dry place which could be kept in better order than the swaying interior of ELFINSHOE with its many little difficult to get at crevices, all beyond the reach of short arms and a cleaning cloth. She tried to lower the expectations of the other four with the suggestion,
Maybe wed better get a roof on the place first and then we can think of these things.
Rose and Armand knew that sectioning off the large space of a bunkhouse would take time, money and effort, all of which would have to be accumulated. Sectioning, yesconstruction of one wall being a necessity to make the initial cubic footage reasonable enough to be kept warm with a small stove. While they realised that young people needed privacy they too had to be practical. Between themselves they quietly put Morgans request, and a similar one for each of the others, at the top of the do next list.
You can use the rest of the place to play in after we get around to finishing the whole roof, Rose told them, trying to mollify the effects of deflated hopes. Right now well just do the part youre going to move into.
Then can we do the lookout tower? came the inevitable question.
No promises were made, and the issue was severely fudged.
Safety seemed to be a word none of the five young people had thoroughly internalised yet, and Rose was prompted to comment to her co-director, as she warned Morgan off from climbing an unsecured ladder, that she wasnt quite sure how theyd managed to reach the bay safely by themselves, especially since ELFINSHOE was all the doubtful help theyd had, and that happy and unconcerned assistant needed help herself.
Bud became swing-shift worker, alternating between projects as his muscle was required, or his presence at the bay between business runs with WESTMAN WILL and his family commitments allowed.
Fitz was designated everybodys gopher and instant helper, with cries of quick, grab the end of that Fitz, or, oh damnforgot my hammer over there. Fitz stood back and waitednot for very long periods at a timeknowing he didnt have to offer help because the requests came often enough and sometimes two at a time.
The Doc, grinning as yet another amateur builder limped up to him, declared,
If I nailed my shingle to the stern of METHUSELAH it would be worn out in a day.
His splinter-removing efforts were constantly in demand. Hammered fingers and thumbs got soaked in cold water and witch hazel. His remark that,
If you cant even see to hit a nail on the head maybe you need glasses, was brushed off with an indignant look, and his advice of,
Stay off that ankle for a week, was totally ignored.
The housing effort was turning into something better than an old-fashioned barn raising. Even a bit of rivalry entered into it as Shiro and Harry kept a laughing and lively contest going as they tried to outdo each other, flailing about with hammers and saws.
Tashakawa and Bettina, on the other end of board and batten, received orders such as,
Here, hold this and get me another board from over there, and I need some more nails, and if you keep banging on the roof while Im doing this itll really move things along.
The two women, giving each other understanding and encouraging asides, decided that in this case a little friendly metaphorical arm-wrestling would get things done faster, which was all to the good.
The day came when all three roofing projects were finished up in a very close race. Rose and Armand quickly admitted that they trailed, although Therése called foul because she said theyd have won easily if she hadnt tripped and fallen flat on her face, causing Armand to stop for repairs involving the cleansing of the wound to her cheek and the application of a butterfly adhesive.
At the termination of the competition Harry and Shiro carried on a farcical debate as to which one had been the last to bang in a nail, coming up with all sorts of spurious evidence to back up their case, and trying to draw in witnesses who refused to take sides.
Morgan, shaking his head at the ongoing ridiculous arguments for and against suggested, between his laughter and the exchanges of wit, that maybe a draw was in order. This finally resolved the issue, as the two proponents of winner gave in quickly because they were running out of ideas for backing up their claims.
Three cheers were given by everybody to everybody else as they concluded that they were just glad that the roofstops at leastwere weather-proofed and they could all go and nurse their wounds until the next bout of work.
I think we need a celebration, declared Bettina, taking off a work glove and throwing it down into the circle of people like a challenging gauntlet. Lets host a topping off party on the barge. Well all go clean up and see what we can get together.
This proposal received unanimous approval and Harry and Shiro both ran for the bath house together, yelling, Me first! and trying to trip each other up on the way until Tashakawa shouted,
Peaceget in together and share it!
It was late by the time the gathering aboard LEGER DE MAIN broke up. Discussions by Harry as to whether they could soon get some beer brewing in their chosen domicile, plans for plumbing and heating devices, and more youthful, involved ideas for the lookout tower were thoroughly chewed over.
When everyone finally hit their bunks that evening sleep took over quickly from the topping-off celebration as everyone concerned, tired from working all day, glad to have the roofing projects almost finished, and replete with good fare, settled into well-deserved and needed rest.
Fog dozed offshore, not quite ready to give up the struggle for possession of Beach, but Moon and clear Sky watched over Gap and Bay, and stars shone in their uncounted numbers, demonstrating that the next day was a certainty for fine weather. The small houses with their new roofs sighed with relief, glad that Moon and Star would now look in only through as yet unrepaired windows, welcomed their new shakes and went to sleep without further worry about wet incursions from above.
Night carried its usual soft sounds of small animal foraging, as deer nibbled climbing beans and swiss chard which had been luxuriously reaching out into space which was not theirs, and those outside the fence reminded them of their trespass.
Raccoons tried their usual scaling efforts on the barrier to the garden but were repelled by the purposely insubstantial deployment of the old fishing nets. These tangled in their slender, sensitive fingers, waggled and wobbled and refused their weight by swaying back and forth, waved loosely at an outward angle around the top, and defeated even these determined raiders.
Hunters on swift and muffled wings scanned Meadow looking for a Fool in the mouse population, that ubiquitous, busy, four-footed clan seemingly appropriated by all users as Fish of the land.
Small brown bats, leaving chimney chase homes, plied their ultrasonic passage, sweeping back and forth through the insect hordes which went their fluttering way in the allure of moonlit night, ever questing for their other half, pushed onward toward this goal by the press of time which governed their short, frantic lives.
- - -
It was not only the nocturnal population of the peninsula which was out and about that evening. Somewhere around midnight, sleep ashore was disrupted when Rose was awakened by the sound of a motor rattling across the water, sounding close enough to be inside the bay.
She got up and stood looking out into the darkness, watching a small light winking slowly in toward shore far over at about the location of the old log skids. It stopped at last, remaining steady in its place, then the motor was cut, the light went out and darkness and quiet returned to the bay.
Her curiosity was aroused by the fact that a stray had managed to make its way through the Gap into sheltered water without an argument from Guardian, in the dark. This made her wonder who had come up with the temerity and even the knowledge to thread their way at night into the safety of the bay.
Lighting a lamp she waited, thinking someone might come when seeing the glow from her house, but no one appeared, and it became plain that those aboard the late arriving boat had settled in and intended to stay for the night. Whomever it was, they were safe and quiet. She went back to bed, satisfied that no help was needed, as none was asked for.
A light sleeper at all times, Armand had also heard the arrival. He looked out from METHUSELAH, and saw nothing except a single dim white light at tideline. A foundling limping into the bay, he decided. Trouble had brought them in, no doubt, from the sound of the motor. He too had waited but no one had come off the boat to ask for assistance, and then the light was extinguished. He decided the occupants apparently were going straight to sleep, probably figuring nothing could be done until daylight anyway, so he had gone back to sleep himself, just as Rose had.
The sound of its badly running motor had been heard by almost everyone, but since the operator had shut it down quickly after tying up to the dolphins by the log dump and there had been silence thereafter, nobody had felt it necessary to investigate or offer help at that point. It seemed plain that the boat was staying for the night, so the newcomers had been given the polite courtesy of being left to themselves, with the idea that assistance could be given in the morning if necessary.
When Armand glanced out again early in the morning light he saw an old aluminum fishing skiff with an outboard astern, sporting an orange plastic tarp rigged amidships over the loading boom as a tent. No one was in sight aboard it. He went to the galley and started getting breakfast.
Rose walked outside soon after awakening and took a look toward the old logging skids to check on the boat which had come in the night before and seeing the same thing Armand did, with no sign of anyone up and about, she too turned her thoughts toward a good breakfast.
Regarding the same marine outfit a little later, Rose watched from a window as a small boy, about seven years old she guessed, marched bravely up the skids, looking neither to right nor left, and headed up the beach. Barefoot, and wearing a mans large tee shirt which hung down past his knees, he was carrying a bucket and short-handled shovel.
Rose was not the only one who saw him. He had begun to dig diligently along the low tideline and had captured two clams and placed them in his bucket when the twins, rowing mightily from ELFINSHOE, beached themselves with a bump, jumped out and ran over to the clammer.
Hi, Walter greeted him, Im Walter an this is Bernice.
The newcomer stopped his efforts without looking up, clutched his shovel and bucket, and said nothing.
Youre not supposed to be digging clams, Bernice told him, as though dispensing friendly information which everyone landing on the shore should have. Its against the Shalisa way.
We dont eat things that live here, added Walter, We protect them.
The digger looked up then, regarded them out of large, dark eyes and drew his bucket a little closer. There was a pause as the three youngsters looked at each other, then Walter said, gentle but determined,
Well just put them back, and he knelt down, taking hold of the bucket which the other boy still held on to.
Steady blue eyes met uncertain dark ones until the battered article of contention was surrendered at last as the newcomer stood up, but when Walter lifted the two clams out and began to bury them in the wet sand again, the sight of his hard work being brought to nothing seemed to release the boys vocal chords, and he said with a slight quaver,
Walter, patting sand over the second clam, looked up, and Bernice said with prompt assurance,
Oh, well we can fix that. Well go see Rose. She always has apples an things for us. Come on.
She reached out, took one of the thin hands which were hanging alongside the big dirty tee shirt, and began to pull her new companion along.
Whats your name?
Heron, came the reply, as the owner of the name retrieved his bucket and shovel with his free hand before a persistent pull from Bernice could take him out of reach of them.
Thats a nice name, said Walter, trying to mitigate the severity of his confiscation.
Rose saw the little procession coming, Bernice in front, hauling boy, bucket and shovel, with Walter bringing up the rear.
As they came in the door Bernice said,
This is Heron. He was digging clams but he didnt mean to be bad. Hes hungry. I guess he didnt get his breakfast.
As he looked at Rose there was relief in the small face with its downturned mouth, and something of hope came into the boys eyes as he noted that she didnt have copper hair or blue eyes. She resembled himself.
Rose smiled down at the thin little boy, seeing his crop of stiff, straight black hair standing up at all angles like the sheared quills of a porcupine, his lips compressed and turned down at the corners, and as she looked into his face she saw in his troubled eyes the question,
<If Im not allowed to clam or fish how can I eat?>
Everyone gets breakfast in Shalisa Creek Bay Heron, she told him. Come and sit down and Ill get you something.
He looked at her earnestly for a few moments, then went obediently and sat in a chair at the end of the table closest to the door, but he held on to his bucket and shovel.
<Anyone that attached to such worn utilitarian articles must either be very much in need or be very wary of strangers, or both.>
You can leave your things over here, she suggested, holding out her hand for the articles so protected.
Two small hands held firm.
Theyll be quite safe. Bernice and Walter will take care of them for you.
With that he let go, but his eyes watched as Rose put the bucket with the shovel inside it by the door. She felt he thought that was good, as though he figured if he had to run he could get them quickly.
He waited with growing apprehension in his face until Walter sat down beside him and Bernice went to the cupboard to take things from Rose, bringing them over to the table.
Heres some bread an butter an cheese, Bernice told him. Its good. Rose made the bread, an Aunty Flower made the cottage cheese, an Walter an I shook up the butter. We took turns. Its from a cow who lives close to the village. Shes real pretty. Her names Daisy. At least I think thats her first name. Somebody called her Jersey once, but thats sort of another name, like her family one I guess. She got chased by something once but shes all right now.
Rose watched the interest rising in Herons eyes as he looked at the food which had been put on the table, but he didnt touch anything, until she came over with a basket of fruit and offered,
Have an apple, Heron.
His enquiring eyes regarded her again, as though asking whether she really meant it, and when she finally chose an apple herself and put it in his hand he was a believer. He reached out and took another, dropping both into the front of the tee shirt, which he turned up like a pouch, revealing that this was the only piece of clothing he was wearing.
He hesitated, his eyes still holding Roses, then he took an orange. When she nodded and smiled he took another. Two bananas followed, then, without a word he got up, turned and ran from the room, snatching his bucket and shovel as he went.
The twins watched through the open doorway as he ran all the way to the old skiff, holding the shirt together with one hand while the bucket and shovel rattled and banged in the other until he disappeared under the tent-like covering.
His tee shirts got dirt on it, said Bernice, with sympathy rather than criticism.
He doesnt say much either, commented Walter. Is he coming back?
I think so, Rose told them. Put something on your plates so he wont feel hes being treated differently than you when he comes back. Hes just hungry.
Bernice and Walter looked at each other.
Oh, they said in unison, with sudden understanding for their new friend.
So it wasnt just breakfast he had missed. Hunger they knew. There had often been spartan meals before theyd come to Shalisa Creek Bay. Each put a slice of bread on their plate.
As they watched, Heron came from the tent, climbed up the skids and ran back to the house again. Breathless, he reappeared in the room, went back to the seat he had occupied before and reclaimed his place at the table, breathing double time.
Rose noted that the downturned mouth was now merely a straight line.
Have some of Daisys butter an cheese, urged Walter again. Its good on bread.
This time there was no hesitation. Heron took bread without butter, spooned cheese onto it and ate.
While Bernice buttered her bread carefully and thoroughly and nibbled on a corner of it and Walter slowly cut his slice in half, their hungry little guest went through three pieces with cheese on. Then there was a slight pause while he looked at Rose again, seeming to ask if he had eaten too much.
Rose smiled at him, cut more bread and put a jar of Bettinas grape jelly on the table in front of Bernice, who took a little and then lifted the jar with both hands and put it in front of Heron.
Youll like this, she introduced it. We had lots of fun helping Aunty Betty make it all up.
Rose laughed to herself remembering the helpyoung purple people all over the place.
Heron went at it, holding his knife like a spear, got some jelly onto his bread, folded the slice and ate, getting oozing purple stickiness onto his chin, which he wiped off with his fingers, licked them thoroughly and then continued.
Bernice and Walter didnt stare, the way Isabel had taught them not to, but they were impressed by the breach of manners at the end of the table.
Heron stopped eating after two slices of bread and jelly. This time Rose asked,
Are your mother and father with you?
He turned his eyes quickly to her, his mouth bending down again, and she thought he was about to bolt out the door like a frightened fawn, but as he saw only friendly sympathy in her face he replied,
Thats good, she replied and, saying nothing else, walked away and returned with half a dozen cold, shelled, hard-boiled eggs.
Two of them went into Heron quickly, along with a glass of apple juice, then, as though his hunger had been satisfied for the moment, he took some slices of bread and two more eggs, put them in the front of his tee shirt, got up from the table and hurried toward the door, evidently about to leave again.
Just a minute Heron, said Rose, Im sure your grandmother likes tea. Will you give this to her?
Rose handed him a package of tea and a small jar of honey. He took them from her gravely, deposited the package of tea in the tee shirt pouch and holding the jar carefully in his hand he turned and left.
Come back an play with us, Bernice invited as he ran off, holding the jar high in his left hand and protecting the contents of his tee shirt with his right.
This time, as they watched, they caught a glimpse of a greying head poking cautiously out from the tent when Heron boarded and went in, then the woman disappeared inside again.
Finish eating, and maybe by that time Heron will be back, suggested Rose.
She was right. By the time Bernice and Walter were outside again, Heron had reappeared on the beach. The twins went down to meet him and Rose saw the three of them rowing out to ELFINSHOE.
Feeling now that her two visitors were not of the usual stray boater type, she puzzled as she cleared away the dishes, wondering about the woman on the skiff. She thought of going to the skiff with an offer of help but decided she should wait.
<Somethings strange here. Anyone else would have been up and aroundand Heron seems really wary of everything. I guess his grandmother has her reasons and maybe shell come in her own timeor maybe theyll just leave and well never know, like, mind our own business. They tied up far enough away from everyone else, seeming to want to be left alone. Maybe I should go and speak to heror maybe not. If theyre from somewhere up coast shes probably quite independent. Im sure Herons told her Im here and that there are others around. Pride and protocol. That must be it. Children are allowed to be children but elders dont beg or be precipitate in need, even when it might be urgent. Well have to be patient.>
Glancing out the window as she washed up, she saw that the three children had returned to the beach, were throwing their clothes onto the sand and were heading up the pebble path to the new bath house. Shortly after that, Therése swam ashore, went to the clothes, picked them all up, and as she went past Roses door heading for the laundry she said,
I just think Ill wash these.
Rose saw that Herons shirt was being held well at a distance in the girls left hand. She figured that the excursion to the bath house had probably been prompted by a sisterly whisper. The twins, she thought to herself, were becoming very good diplomats. The invitation for this practical adventure had probably run,
Come and see the bath house. Its beautiful. Uncle Hero and Aunty Flower did a lot of it along with a nice laundry place which everyone helped make.
By the time the three younger children had come back from the bath house Therése had the clothes flapping on the line.
Fitz came ashore in ROSEBUD and strolled up to Roses door.
What do you make of our visitors? he asked, leaning against the jamb. I know all children look alike when theyre around that age and seen from a distance with not so sharp eyes, but I think hes the young carver I met when I was up the coast a bit. You recall I told you he said his grandmother had been here when she was young. He certainly looks better now hes scrubbed up. Rather thin little fellow. Do you think I ought to speak to him? Maybe he hasnt seen JOLLY ROSE because shes on the other side of the barge. I dont want to interfere if Im wrong.
Do you think its the same boy? Some coincidence here. He did say he was with his grandmother. He calls himself Heron.
Thats the boy! exclaimed Fitz. Maybe they just came to see old familiar places.
I dont know Fitz, Rose replied doubtfully. I feel something else herehes very hungry, they came in the middle of the night and that doesnt look like a boat youd take a cruise in. If you dont mind , I think we should wait to meet his grandmother. Politeness and all that, if you understand what I mean. I know it seems a bit odd, but either theyll leave soon or shell probably arrive in her own time. She has some reason for waiting, Im sure. Id appreciate it if youd pass the word on.
They glanced toward the skiff where a puff of steam was issuing from a tear in the side of the tent. Rose was glad the tea had been acceptable.
Fitz walked off to pass the word.
A little later the children came to claim their clothes, now dried by the morning sun and wind. Heron pulled his clean shirt over his head, patted it against himself with obvious satisfaction and once again ran off to the skiff.
Curiosity ran high when he returned carrying a bundle which he deposited carefully inside Roses door. She gathered from this that Herons laundering had been such a hit that Grandmother now risked the same treatment herself. She pretended not to notice right away until he was gone, but once he was down the beach with the children again she went over and picked it up.
Tied inside a home-made denim skirt were two pieces of old fashioned cotton underwear, a flannelette plaid shirt, a colourful head scarf, a pair of long wool socksand a heavy linen garment rather like a straight, side-tie-on pinafore, with beautiful embroidery of the kind Rose had seen her mother do. She recognised it as a ceremonial piece, worn for occasions of importance. It was clean and still folded up neatly as though it had been packed away somewhere.
<This doesnt need laundering. Its for me to see and understand.>
Rose realised that this visitor was someone out of the ordinary. The graphics depicted by the bright threadwork were not of flowers, but of a definite hereditary style which she had seen worn by responsibly placed individuals at gatherings she had attended when young. Herons grandmother, it appeared, had deliberately chosen to make herself known in this way if the recipient of such a notice were aware of its intent.
With the exception of the piece of embroidery, she took the things and washed them up immediately, hanging them out in the now brisk breeze. She could see Heron sending a glance toward the line every now and then, so to save him the problem, she checked on the things and when they were dry she took them down, folded them neatly and put them inside the door, with the embroidered linen on top. The next time she looked they were gone.
Bettina and Tashakawa arrived, as curious as Fitz had been.
I think shell pay a visit shortly, Rose told them, and repeated what Fitz had told her about Heron, explaining the patience bit. The two other women agreed to make themselves scarce until the much awaited visit was paid.
It was soon after that when Rose saw a slight, tall, thin figure, dressed in a denim skirt and a plaid shirt, leave the skiff and walk slowly, but with a carriage upright as a vertical board, in the direction of her house.
She quickly put the kettle on, set one cup and plate as though for herself, then after a moment of hesitation, thinking of the embroidered linen, she went to a drawer, took out Grandfathers shell necklace and put it on.
<Shes obviously expecting some sort of recognition, so maybe Id better find out what.>
Rose didnt pretend that she hadnt seen the approaching visitor but, instead, walked out to wait in front of her door.
The woman came and stood before her, the now clean kerchief tied over her combed-back hair, which looked to be still damp from just having been washed, and which was fastened behind at the nape of the neck. As she stood there she touched the collar of her shirt with one hand, a gesture of friendliness and appreciation, and as she did so Rose saw that the fingers of her hands were swollen and the skin was raw and red, appearing to have been burned recently.
Then the older woman spokeand the words were in the Shalisa tongue.
I thank you for myself and mine.
Rose felt something close to awe go through her as she heard the familiar words, sounds which she had expected never to hear again except from her own voice. Then she returned an old traditional greeting in the language she herself hadnt used for years,
You and yours are welcomed to the home of the Shalisa.
The womans eyes showed pleasure and she returned haltingly,
We are grateful for this kindness.
Which guest is this who speaks the Shalisa tongue? asked Rose.
The woman returned,
I am Dancing Water Who Sings. I am daughter of a Leader now gone. As a child I learned many words when a guest here in summer. You must forgive if memory fails. My grandson, Heron Who Wades by the Shore, tells me you are Leader here.
Her quick eyes had already seen the necklace Rose was wearing.
<So thats it. She still holds to the old ceremonial etiquette. Ill have to watch my words, if I can remember them at all.>
Yes. Im Rose Who Always Holds the Sunshine in Her Face.
Smoothing the denim skirt, Dancing Water said, in English then,
Forgive me if I do not continue in Shalisa. My words of such are limited, and her eyes held Roses in the earnest manner which the grandsons had earlier. Again, my thanks for this. It is that my hands cannot work well this time.
Rose realised she was receiving an explanation for the neglect of cleanliness the boy had shown, and which the grandmother herself must have endured unwillingly.
<That must be why her visit to me was so delayed. She was ashamed to come ashore that way. It must have been awfully painful to wash that long grey hair, and even to dress.>
Rose smiled, and replied, still retaining the formal wording, although in English now,
It was a happy task which made the heart glad.
A pleased light came into the face of the visitor.
Here is a daughter who understands the old ways, she observed. My grandson did not know it is forbidden to seek clams here. It is I who told him to do so. I regret I did not ask permission first. I did not know the Shalisa still held their homes here. I heard they had gone away.
Rose knew that the woman was apologising for having trespassed and was taking the blame herself. She thought it was unusual in these days of beach stripping and disregard for the rights of others that anyone should apologise for a few clams taken by those who were hungry. To let the other woman know she understood and forgave she decided to carry on with the ancient way of handling things, replying,
The young are blameless in their innocence, and it isnt easy to know all rules of all people. Weve been away a long time and its only now weve returned.
You are well named, returned Dancing Water with her eyes holding steadily to Roses. May we speak together, young daughter?
It would be a privilege. Please, come in. Ive just put the kettle on for my morning tea. Will you join me?
The woman nodded her acceptance and smiled as Rose stood aside to let her walk in, motioning her toward a chair. When her guest was seated she went to the cupboard and brought out another cup to indicate that the visitor wasnt disturbing the ongoing daily routine with her unexpected arrival.
She would have liked to stuff this guest the way shed filled the small one earlier, but she didnt want to insult the woman, so she took out a date cake Bettina had baked, which was filling and nourishing but acceptable as a treat, and put that on the table instead. Then she made tea and brought it along, putting it between them before she sat down.
As she did so Dancing Water took from the pocket of her skirt a large, polished moon-snail shell, with the operculum in place.
Setting it carefully on the table before Rose, she said,
It is but a small gift. It is powdered iris root. I grow many in my garden.
Rose managed to keep the surprise out of her face. She well knew the work which must have gone into the preparation of the fragrant violet-scented powder, and the careful sealing with beeswax redolent of honey, which kept the cover of the round spiralled shell closed.
She was also aware of the timing of the gift. It had not been presented as a bribe to excuse herself or Heron for their mistake, nor as payment for aid which she had received or might still get, but as something from a visitor of stature. It was a dainty and elegant offering, and Rose hoped this was not the last of Dancing Waters stock.
She decided there had been enough of formality. Friendliness was now needed.
My thanks, Dancing Water. This will be valued and shared here at Shalisa Creek Bay. Although we have a good garden, its still young and produces first, food. In two years time maybe, the iris will be high and the roots large.
Dancing Water liked this reply.
<This is one who has consideration for all. Future needs are also being cared for here it seems, as well as present ones. Here is good leadership.>
It comforted her, letting her feel able to say what was necessary.
There was silence as the two women sipped and nibbled, and Rose waited.
Then Dancing Water said,
It was one from here who decided us to come.
Rose gave her an enquiring look.
It was one who came in a large sailing boat with a name as yours. He was kind to my grandson.
Oh, smiled Rose, figuring out the reference, That must have been Fitz Jolly in JOLLY ROSE. He was off sailing for awhile but hes back now.
That is the name Heron told to me, and it was my grandson who reminded me of this place and its kindness. He is always carving small boats with the dream of sailing away to a better place, and this man who came from here gave much to his imagination.
There was a long silence and Rose knew it to be the pause before Dancing Water would begin her monologue of explanation. The cake was nibbled, the tea sipped, until the woman put down her cup with a certain air of finality and began,
In the old days things were better. There was happiness in family, much love for young ones and respect for age. Now it is not so. It is not for myself I come to speak, but for my grandson, Heron Who Wades by the Shore. He is a good boy and will be a fine man one day.
I have visited this bay many times with my family as a child. The people were happy and friendly. It was said that good and powerful spirits lived here and cared for this place. I was too young to remember all its language, but I remember well its heart of caring and generosity which we were told came from so many peoples of every nation living here and giving of their best. I learned then many songs and stories and much history of the Shalisa.
The place we leave has much unhappiness for my grandson and me. His father, my son, is with the Old Ones this three years and more. His mother changed after this happened. Her good heart died with him and her kind ways also went. Her own self is lost, wandering somewhere in loneliness and grief. She lives now with a bad man who does not care for the old ways. She herself forgets. She does not care for her son any moreonly this man. He lives from my daughter-in-laws money. They drink much. He shouts much and wishes my grandson and myself gone, for he says the old and the young are useless and do nothing but eat.
There was a silence while the woman looked into her teacup for awhile as though collecting herself to tell more. At last she spoke again.
My own money I used for food, and to save for my grandson. Sometimes her man took the food and traded it to others for drink. Sometimes they stole my money and I must find new places to hide it. I do not keep it on myself anymore. He would shake it out of me as he once did.
Now this time there is much drinking all one night and day. My daughter-in-law and her man were very angry with Heron and myself because I would not give them money for drink. They said we should go out and care for ourselves if we would not help them with money. He tells me food is not enough. This man begins to throw food into the stove. When I try to stop him he says I should also burn.
Dancing Water spread her swollen hands on the table for Rose to see.
He pushed me to the fire but the spirit of my father helped me to be strong and break away. I and my grandson left that night. I put things on the boat in stealth before we went. Although he is a carver Heron comes with nothing but himself. His few tools he must leave behind.
There was another silence as Dancing Water paused again, and Rose thought of young Heron with nothing but himself, enveloped in the large tee shirt.
<Plainly the two have been afraid to go ashore for food along the way, maybe because they might be recognised and made to go back. What she put aboard must have been minimal necessities and they probably fished along the way. They likely travelled as fast and as far as they could.>
Dancing Water took a deep breath, sighed heavily as though the painful story must be voiced, however distressing to herself, and began speaking again.
We left in haste, not to return. The boat is not mine. I took it while the owner was away. I would like to return it, but to do so would be to tell those we went from where we are now. I am troubled over this.
What had been a recitation of domestic discord, similar to so many other sad histories she had heard in her practice before, suddenly became something else in the lawyers mind.
<Good grief! Shes just told me she stole a boat! Lets see. If Dancing Water and Heron disappeared, and a boat went missing at the same time, it would be taken for granted by those around who knew the situation that boat and people had left together. Family arguments often end with participants absenting themselves for awhile.
<The couple likely hadnt wanted or expected Dancing Water to leave with her grandson, only to give up her money, but they underestimated the willpower and determination of this woman. They pushed her too far.
<Taking a boat which belonged to some member of the family, even a cousin or friend, wouldnt be unusual. Its not the fishing season so a missing skiff very likely wouldnt constitute hardship. Thered be a period of restraint, of waiting in the hope that boat and people would return of their own accord before it was reported missing.
<No one would want to call in authority if it could be avoided. Authority never understands these things. Thered also be the problem of having to explain just why Dancing Water had left in such a precipitate manner, taking her grandson with her.
<How long would the wait stretch before some sort of concern seeped into the alcohol befuddled minds of the two who caused this, or a search was prompted rather by the owner of the missing boat than by the relatives of the fugitives? Maybe three or four daysno more.>
How many days has it been since the boat left? asked Rose at last, presuming from the long silence which now occurred that the monologue was finished, having reached its intended and most urgent purpose.
There was a hesitant silence. To tell time would be to tell distance, and to tell distance would be to tell from where the boat had come. Dancing Water thought it would be apparent to Rose that the two would have put as many miles between themselves and their former home as possible with such a serious purpose as leaving permanently in mind. She had also not expected that the owner of the boat Heron had told her about would be here in the bay. He would know from where they had come.
Sensing the reluctance, Rose told Dancing Water with firmness,
You must tell me. We at Shalisa Creek Bay are always willing to help those in need. There are good people here, but we must know truth before we can be of assistance.
Dancing Water looked with desperate eyes at Rose. She was tired, and in pain from her burned hands, and had run the boat night and day except for a little sleep and refuelling. She and Heron had received nothing but kindness and understanding here. She must now trust.
The boat is gone four days today, she admitted at last.
Rose sat thoughtfully.
<That makes it tight. Suppose this has already been reported and the police are on the lookout even now? Worse, if thats so, what if the police helicopter happens to fly over Shalisa Creek Bay and spots the skiff? Theyll have no choice but to take skiff, Heron and his grandmother into custody and back to where theyve come from.>
With these thoughts in mind she told Dancing Water,
I know youre tired and need rest but, if youll agree, well go now and speak with the others here wholl help. I think theres little time and we have to do this quickly. There are those in authority close by with keen eyes and even-handed justice who are sworn to serve only the letter of the law. Theyre not allowed to be judges. Its true that occasional blindness is visited on their sight by the justness of a cause, but they know nothing of this trouble of yours. We have to act before theyre forced to see that which they would rather not. We also have a kind doctor here. Hell be glad to help heal your hands. Well have our tea, then well speak with the others.
With a hopeful look the woman willingly began on her cake and tea now. Rose, watching her careful and gracious behaviour, seeing the thoughtful gift shining there on the table before her, and thinking what it must have been to have lived her life for the past three years, being maltreated, perhaps constantly under the threat of physical violence as she watched her grandson growing up in want, said,
If its your wish to stay here youll be welcome. We extend our hospitality and friendship to those who would live in the way of the Shalisa.
We would be grateful, returned Dancing Water. It is only that, now I am here, there will be no more money. Only by staying in that place did I receive it. I hope to take work as house helper somewhere.
Rose understood that the woman was telling her of their dependent and poverty stricken position should they stay, and there was the reluctance of a proud woman to live from charity once what money she had saved ran out, even though it now seemed necessary to accept such help. Rose tried to ease the hurt spirit.
Someone who knows iris root must also know other plants. Its a skill which takes the passage of years to gain. It would be a wonderful thing to have a person living here who knows so much about plants helping us learn and to teach the children about it. As well, someone whos a story-keeper must love to tell them to others. You must have seen so much of our history and heard the old stories retold here. Such a knowledgeable person has always been treasured by the Shalisa. I myself was young when I left and Ive been away until recently. Ive lost much of my own history because of this. You could help us remember. As for money, those beyond a certain age are guaranteed a small income by authority, and if you havent reached that age there are other ways. Im a lawyer. Well talk about this later.
Dancing Water raised her eyes, now full of hope and gratitude, as she looked at Rose.
Ah, she said, How fortunate are those here to have one so young yet so wise to care for them. It will be a gladness to once again meet others of the Shalisa.
Dancing Water, except for myself, those you see around us are not of the Shalisa. Theyre visitors like yourself. There are no others. Im the last one.
The two women looked steadily at each other until Dancing Water replied,
We are all as one these days. We fall like the petals of summer flowers, taken too early by hard and unseasonable frost. Few blossoms remain to show where we have been. I am taught that the Shalisa have brought knowledge and the wish for peace from many places of the world. I, Dancing Water Who Sings, and my grandson, Heron Who Wades by the Shore, who are also of ancient lineagewe will be your people if you so wish.
At this Rose smiled, that smile of optimism and kindness which David Godwin had told himself could raise the lowest of spirits, replying as she reached out her hand to the older woman,
Be at peace, Dancing Water. Youre home.