26: Fending off
Although Evening was well in control of the bay surrounds, the spirits who rested there along Shore, Cliff, in Meadow and Forest, were still wide awake.
Something was afoot. They werent quite sure what, but whatever it was it seemed to threaten the tranquillity of bay, beach and barge and if they could be of any help in warding off such disturbance they certainly would add their input to the proceedingsat least theyd try.
Aboard LEGER DE MAIN the kettle boiled with an urgent sound, the big coffee pot sturdily dispensed mug after mugful, and conversation got passed around even more generously as those gathered in the galley tried to figure out the best way to deal with a visit from the constabulary.
Isabel and Morgan were there, but the twins and Therése were already asleep aboard ELFINSHOE and everyone figured that, considering the circumstances, it was best to leave them there. The two eldest children assured everyone that theyd fill the other three in on things come morning, and that the adults could then add anything else they felt was needed. Knowing of the way the five had made their way to the bay, there was no anxiety over that agreement.
The crux of the matter had been quickly fingered as a set of false accusations made by people who didnt seem to understand that arguments between children needed help from adults for settling with the least rancour. It did not need more fuel added to the conflict by those who should know better, and who were using this incident to further their own grudges.
True, the kids had dusted the road with some other kids but they hadnt started it, and theirs had been a typically kiddish reaction. It was determined that the dogs had barked but done nothing else.
Everybody agreed that, swimming as freshly attired as when they were born, was what a group of people much like a family, with stable minds and morals, did when they got together to enjoy Summer on a beach in this good weatherespecially when it was their own property and away from the publicor would be if the public behaved the way it was supposed to.
Squatters they werent, Rose told them definitely, because this was Shalisa land and everyone had her permission to stay as long as they liked. The pot issue, she stated, didnt even deserve another word. As for polluting the waterif the plastic detritus and other refuse which the children kept collecting from the beach after the tide threw it there in disgust was any visible sample of what was being thrown in the water elsewhere, her opinion was that the polluters were certainly not in this place.
Theres an obvious solution, Rose told them at last, Except Im very reluctant to use it. I can stand at the road and just refuse them entry by saying this is Shalisa land. That will probably accomplish a few things all right. They may not go away. It may precipitate a confrontation which Ive been trying to avoid for lots of reasons. This place has been left in peace up until now. My strategy has been to follow Grandfathers way, which is to keep a low profile, especially with the children here. The less authority hears about us the better.
Dont pinch the tigers tail when he sleeps with it over your path, interjected David, quoting the advice Li had given him. Step over it and go away quietly and quickly. Then he couldnt resist extrapolating on this theme. When the mouse hears the footfall it hides in its home. Once the hunter has searched the forest and found nothing, it looks for other game elsewhere.
Cat and mousevery well put, agreed Rose, not knowing the source of those words. If we refuse to let them in it may tend to confirm in their minds that something is going on here. Then theyll get stubborn and start investigating and theyll be buzzing all over us. I feel we ought to at least appear co-operative to minimise the scrutiny about the complaints. Weve done nothing wrong so we really have nothing to fear. Any comments, anybody?
Everybody sat quietly thoughtful until Tashakawa said,
I think I speak for all of us when I say you shouldnt confront them. Youre right. It isnt good to tweak the tail of the tiger. Let him sleep. We need to think more about this.
There was a voiced unanimous agreement to her words. Discussions began among them. The kettle, though it hissed and puffed, quickly couldnt cope with demand, making it necessary to bring out apple and elderberry juice to spell it off, and it subsided thankfully into quiet steaming.
When the bawdy house charge got mentioned the humorous aspects of the whole thing began to surface and there was a round of laughter.
Guess we all know which womanising, drinking, gambling man is going to be honoured with the title of procurer around here, grinned David ruefully, looking at Rose.
Bad boy! intoned Isabel, to the amusement of the listeners.
Well I know who his slippery lawyer is, Rose admitted, adding to the joke.
Are you two hiding secrets? enquired Bettina, interested.
Lawyer client relationship, returned Rose. False arrest and slanderand we won.
We wouldnt expect anything else, stated Fitz with approval and got a round of applause from the others for the victory.
Just who are these naughty ladies of the bay? queried Armand as he looked at the four women at the table with fun in his eyes. Do you think they floated in on the last Soggers tide and are hiding around here somewhere?
It is plain, said Dancing Water, with gravity in her face and laughter in her voice, As I am eldest I am in charge of this enterprise. While I manage, the rest must take care of commerce.
I should be so lucky, chortled Bettina. Any madam worth her house would take one look at my shape and tell me to go scrub out the bathrooms or something.
Harry threw his arms around her playfully and said,
Some fellas like em pleasingly plump.
By being charming and gracious I might make novice geisha, but I think Im too old for the western version of what they think that is. However, the way our finances look right now, if the pay is anything, I could make a good try.
You stick with being charming and gracious, ordered Shiro with mock severity, Never mind the rest of it.
Hah! Hes jealous, accused Armand. Now... , then, looking at Rose he asked, Whos left?
Guess Im stuck with the blame, laughed Rose. Im the one who got seen, and it seems taken for granted by some of the moral majority that certain types of people are prone to taking up with that condemned profession.
Condemned? challenged David, putting up what he thought was a defence for her. By whom? I object. They say you have to try it before you disparage it.
Are you telling us youve tried it? Rose asked mischievously, deliberately misconstruing his motives for the remark, Or are you making me an indecent proposition?
Colouring at the unexpected rejoinder and laughing hard enough to spill his coffee, David shot back,
Oh ho! Are you trying to impugn meor did you plan to lead me astray?
Wiping ineffectively away at his wet tee shirt with the palm of his hand, he was about to add that he wasnt as guilty as his remark intimated, but before he could, Rose replied, mimicking his tone, while keeping her own coffee in its mug,
Oh ho! Youve already been impugned and from what Ive heard you dont need any leading.
Look at him blush! came Shiros delighted observation.
There was so much laughter by then that any further exchange got drowned out in noisy table thumping, whistles, and an orchestrated demand for more coffee and juice.
When the need had been met and things had quieted down a little, Tashakawa said in a more serious tone,
Maybe we have to put on a little show here. These new people coming around seem to see us as different to them. They dont understand that were the norm here. Just because theyve arrived in the area it doesnt give them the right to transport their standards here and put them off on us. We have our own which have worked very well up to this point.
Thats good thinking Tash, agreed Harry. We have our rights too. When the police come maybe we should look like were the ones doing the complaining. Get in the second word firstattack the attackers. Thats my approach.
Sometimes that just ends up in a brawl, disagreed David.
You should know, smiled Rose, as Fitz suggested,
Sometimes its best to play along and appear just like everyone else. Disappear into their background of respectability. It seems if youre perceived as poor and do things which other people think are unconventional, they call you crazy and come after you but if they figure youre rich and you do those same things they call you eccentric and put up with you, or even appreciate your presence. I know that when Ive gone ashore some places, dressed in a jacket and tie, and hit people with my real name, everyone has fallen all over themselves to make me welcome, but just let me try it in my old sneakers and jeans. Ive been ordered off yacht club wharves while on my way to see friends until I identified myself rather vigorously.
Your real name? queried Armand, surprised and curious like some of the others. A minister of the realm in hiding from his past?
Lord, actually, returned Fitz, laughing. And not of this realm. A pauper by any other name is still one.
And Im King Bozo, added Shiro, taking the remark as a joke, Also a pauperfrom outer space.
Think you both got spaced out on too much beer at the pub, suggested David, shaking his head.
The curiosity about Fitzs name faded into giggles.
Too bad were not all rich, righteous and appreciated, instead of broke, sinful, and expendable, Armand commiserated. We must form a club.
Back to business, ordered Rose quickly, tapping her mug with a spoon and hoping to forestall the deterioration of the matter at hand into a comic production. I really cant see anything here they can complain about. Nobodys done anything illegal. I think Fitz and Tash are right. The best thing we can do is present ourselves as perfectly normal people and let them leave with that impression.
In their eyes were not though, put in David, And whats normal? Stuffing yourself into a suit and tie so you look like a clone of the latest walking robot in the investment scene? Every so often I have to do that, because thats what the money men expect, and if I dont fall in line they wont do business with me.
From what I see right now youre not having too much success at falling in are you? grinned Rose, regarding his wild hair, his young beard and his old tee shirt with the damp coffee stain on it.
He threw her a youre getting me again big sister look and accused her with a laugh,
If Im not its your fault. Youre the one who coached me on how to present my squeaky clean image in court. Guess you didnt teach me well enough, but if they want clones lets give em clones.
Its a good idea, said Harry, backing the rising tide for the proposal. Well all get brushed up, put on our Sunday-go-to-meetins and theyll see were just plain folks like they are and theyll go away and then people will quit bothering us.
Look like well-to-do models of decorum and cleanliness, remarked Armand drily, a bit sceptical that the idea could be put into effect.
Thatll take some doing, groaned Morgan. I dont think we have any clothes without holes in. Everythings worn all nice and comfy.
You can look clean and scrubbed in your old jeans anyway, Tashakawa encouraged. Kids always look like they just picked their clothes out of a dumpster and put them on. Yours look pretty good compared to some Ive seen.
Right, seconded Bettina. You kids can be good for an hour or so, Im sure. Just dont say anything, and look dumb.
That should be easy for you, jibed Isabel, poking Morgan with her elbow.
Huhyoure a genius of coursebut sure we can do it, agreed Morgan. Us dirty old Soggers are a lot smarter than they thinkor you either Isabel. Well show those Hillers a thing or two.
We Soggers corrected Isabel, catching him with his own words.
Oh pooh! rebelled Morgan, Us, wewho careswell show them.
Shiro, sitting next to Armand, murmured,
Bud was right. Hillers against Soggers.
Guess we can handle that, eh? grinned Armand in a responsive undertone. Hope Bud gets back here before the fun starts. He wouldnt miss this for anybody, including his wife.
The group agreed that maybe they were on to something, and if the kids couldnt be angels they could at least be quiet, and everybody else was capable of playing along as well.
By the time the meeting had broken up and everyone had headed for bed the whole affair was being regarded as somewhat of a fun thing, to be got through with good grace and better results whenever the law enforcers should show up.
The bay Spirits, hearing the conclusion of the meeting and seeing its members leaving with laughter, felt reassured that no drastic action was needed in the immediate future, but figured theyd just hang around anyway the next day to see what happened, and add their own bit of fun to the occasion if possible.
Deciding that the situation was under control at least until morning, bay spirits relaxed, spread calm serenity around and listened to the music of a flute coming from under a large fir tree away down Beach, as the sound of an improvised ode to Evening floated over Bay, soothing the surroundings into restfulness.
- - -
When the twins awoke in the morning they were given an intensive priming about the situation, Isabel explaining that it was much the same as when they had taken off in ELFINSHOE and that their future together depended on their behaviour when authority arrived.
Remember our pirate oath, she told them. We all stick together, and we do what Rose and the others expect us to because they know more than we do about these things. Anyway, all she wants us to do is tell the truth if were asked, otherwise just shut up and dont say anything. Being able to keep on staying here in the bay depends on how we act. Now remember, were her nieces and nephews, and Daddys up north working.
Wish hed come back home, murmured Therése wistfully.
He will when he can, Isabel told her firmly. Meanwhile were safe here until he does, so dont blow it by talking too much. Just let Rose tell us what to do.
Isnt thatsort ofa lie? asked Therése, voicing the doubt in her mind. I mean, about shes our aunt?
No, Morgan told her. Rose says with the Shalisa everybodys brothers and sisters and that makes us her relativesthe same with Uncle Twimby and everybody.
I didnt know that, answered Walter seriously. I kind of like that.
I like that real goody, elaborated Bernice.
Sometimes, Isabel told them, knowing herself how true her words were, People have to do something which others think is wrong, but its not. Sometimes, like Rose says, wrong seems to be right and laws arent made to take extenuating circumstances into consideration.
Whats ex...things? enquired Walter.
Like that woman would have split us up and sent us in all directions because our parents werent right there, explained Isabel.
There was a quiet pause and then the twins said together,
We wont say anythingwe know our oats.
I sure am glad weve got an aunt like that, said Therése with deep sincerity. Lets have breakfast.
- - -
It was close to eleven in the morning when a hefty four-by-four van bearing a familiar crest on the doors and a red, white and blue rack of flashers on its roof, made its way leisurely and carefully down the old logging road to Shalisa Creek Bay.
Trailing dust, and a few branches of broom which had been caught under its chassis, attached in transit by Spirit of the Forest, it drove up to the front of Roses rambling residence and parked, disregarding the fact that the space of wild grass and flowers there was not a driveway. Having come with the idea in mind that these were the dwellings of squatters, using the weight of authority had been chosen as the best approach.
Grass and Flowers felt that weight. In spite of their disapproval, Spirits held their peace, knowing that everyone had agreed to do that.
Two young officers got out, carefully donning and adjusting their visored caps to declare their right of office, and went over to Roses door, but no one answered their knocking.
Finally, after waiting a minute or so, they looked around and began to take stock.
There was a man leaning on the stern caprail of a big old tug berthed at a rickety wharf some distance away, but his back was turned because he was occupied in scanning the horizon out to sea and didnt seem to have heard their vehicle arrive.
There was another man on a fishboat moored behind the tug, but he was plainly dozing on the deck in the sunshine with his feet up against the trawlers cabin bulkhead.
A third very old two-masted sailboat also had an occupant, also with his back turned, who was deeply engrossed in fishing over the side of his vessel, leaning there as though hed been at it a long time, obviously having no luck.
This might have been because there was nothing on the end of the line except a lead sinker, but that interesting anomaly wasnt visible to the observers, even with the keenest of scrutinies, so they were left unknowing.
There was also a garish old sailboat which looked more like a fun centre rather than anything which might go to sea. It had a collection of colourful everything flapping about its rigging, probably for the amusement of the children they had come to investigate.
A little closer, aboard an old barge with a curious structure built on it, there was a woman making a charming figure with her white head kerchief and apron as she watered the potted flowers on the deck from a small, dainty, copper watering can with a very long spout.
It seemed like a somewhat inadequate container with which to provide the amount of liquid requirement for these masses of blooms, considering the size of the planters, but Tashakawa had decided that it looked normal. It had been a gift from a daughter-in-law and had been intended for house plants, but she went about her task with the little container, doing her best to looknormal.
Someone was harassing a barcarolle with a violin somewhere within the barge, and they heard the faint drone of a young voice in the same vicinity which, by its measured rise and fall, sounded like someone giving a poetry reading, rather woodenly.
The representatives of the law turned their eyes toward the bay where three other boats were anchored out and saw a couple of people swimming off the beacha round couple, the man wearing bright red trunks and a tee shirt, the woman, an expanse of blue bathing suit, and on the shore awaiting their return from the dip weretwo large towels and a picnic basket.
As the two officers hesitated, a man topped with a big straw hat, dressed in navy blue shorts and white shirt, hands in pockets, looking straight ahead as though deep in thought, strolled into sight far down the beach, with two white samoyeds to heel at his left side.
The dogs quickly took note of the visitors, turning their heads to look, but they kept their place and pace with the man as he walked along, and remained silent, so he too was left apparently unaware of the presence of the uniformed pair.
At the appearance of this individual trailing two dogs the officers gave each other a significant glance and started toward the beach, but as they came out from behind the buildings a woman wearing a curiously tall, woven hat which curved gracefully from narrow crown to ample brim without a break, flowered print shirt and spotless, barely broken in jeans, stood up from where she had been kneeling to weed a garden, fenced in with old fish nets, which was off to the side of the houses.
Seeing her they changed direction.
As she stooped to brush invisible dirt fastidiously from her knees with her gloved hands, throwing the long shining black braid of her hair over her shoulder, she saw them approaching and came toward them, a small garden trowel in her right hand. She was pretty, and neither man withstood the disarming smile of this nice young woman, surrounded by the bountiful garden full of flowers and rows of green growth which smiled as brightly as they could, adding a friendly atmosphere to the occasion.
Morning maam, both men said, touching the visors of their caps, as the younger of the two smiled appreciatively back at Rose.
Im Corporal Lawson and this is Constable Penniworth, from the detachment in town.
How nice to meet you, officers. Im Rose Hold, and youre trespassing.
Rose had decided that from the outset the Law should know on just what ground they stood. After all, it was to the advantage of the bay dwellers.
The two were taken by surprise with this greeting. It had been said in such a casual way, and with a delightful smile to accompany it.
I beg your pardon maam? begged the corporal, puzzled.
This is Shalisa land and I havent sent for the law.
Shalisaoh. The corporal grabbed at that one. I understand ownership of this land is still in dispute, he corrected her.
Yes, and Im quite capable of disputing it. I am Leader here.
Corporal Lawson wasnt quite sure how to field this statement. The woman was still smiling and he wondered if this was her way of joking or not, but the way in which the words had been delivered and the firm look in her eyes gave him no reason to doubt them, so he figured that if she happened to be telling the truth, any more talk in that direction would lead to dangerous territory which he knew little about and might even result in a request for them to leave, which would then lead to unnecessary unpleasantness.
He knew his own laws very well, but the laws of ancient rights were an expanse of shifting sands to his way of thinking. The charge of squatters was immediately set aside as too dicey an issue to be argued here and now. Maybe later, after a little research.
Deciding to open up on the rest of the business of their visit immediately, he began his inquisition.
These boats, here, sweeping his arm with authority toward the boats at the wharf and continuing on to include the barge, JOLLY ROSE, TJUTELA and CRUSTY LADY LILY, anchored just beyond it. Are they permanently moored in this bay?
Most of them, replied Rose, still smiling and offering nothing else, which threw the onus of the conversation back where it had started.
Well, maam, weve had a complaint that theyre polluting the waters around here with their effluent andthere are a couple of other things wed like to take up with you.
Surprise showed in Roses dark eyes.
How very odd. They cant possibly pollute. They all have holding tanks and theyre pumped regularly away from hereandyou surely cant mean our facilities ashore. Theyre plumbed to septic tanksunless you mean oil or something, but thats not likely either. Harry, who owns the CRUSTY LADY LILY over there, is a diesel engineer and he always keeps all our machinery in top shape so theres never any leakage, and Doctor de Marincourt whos also a resident is always checking the water. We have a commercial oyster bed here, you see, so we cant have anything like that.
Then, as an understanding look came into her face,
Ohyoure probably referring to all that garbage which comes in on the tide.
She made a motion toward a small pile of deteriorating plastic sitting at a distance which the children had collected after Tide had thrown it ashore in disgust.
Has someone come in and seen it? Thats not ours of course. We collect it off the beach. Well dispose of it when we have enough to make a load for the village facility. It is terrible how people throw garbage around and pollute our beautiful bay isnt it? Weve thought of complaining about it ourselves.
Corporal Lawson decided there was plainly no point in pursuing that topic. He chose a different subject.
We understand there are some young people here.
Yes, said the smiling Rose again.
I wonder if we might speak to them?
Uhhow young did you have in mind? asked Rose innocently.
Children, qualified Lawson, feeling just a little bit used.
Oh?! What about? asked Rose, anxious concern in her face.
There was an alleged attack on some children here yesterday. Wed like to check it out with them.
Oh, yes indeed. They did get attacked, replied Rose, deliberately turning the words back on the speaker, But we had decided not to do anything about it. The others were strangers and have probably left the area by now anyway. They didnt seem to know that they were trespassing, Rose reiterated her ownership, So we dont expect any further trouble. How ever did you hear about it?
The parents of the other youngsters contacted us, returned Lawson.
Isnt that interesting. I wonder why?
She hesitated just a moment as though pondering her own question, then said,
Maybe they wanted to apologise or somethingbut they really dont need to. Kids will be kids wont they, and we forgive them. Our children are doing their lessons right now butI suppose it wont take too long will it? They like to keep up their studies in the summer to make sure they dont fall behind because they have to get their schooling by correspondence. Theyre all excellent students. Were very proud of them. Theyre in the community hall right now.
She turned and indicated the barge where the lessons by mail intended for the brilliant recipients were as yet non-existent.
We use it as our school room too. Come along and well go over there.
The two men exchanged questioning glances behind her back as she came out of the garden and closed the gate, then Penniworth gave a shrug and made a wry face of amusement. They followed her to the bow of LEGER DE MAIN, climbed the old metal ladder there and went into the big ex-gambling hall.
Over by the galley stood Therése in front of a music stand, violin under her chin and bow at the ready, marking time with her tapping toe while Fitz pointed out that she had missed a rest in the last part she had played.
Seated in front of what had been the bar, Morgan was busily keying in on the computer.
At Fitzs handmade table, getting a helpful and critical assessment from Dancing Water, Heron was busy carving away at a piece of wood which didnt quite look like anything yet but had produced a good quantity of shavings from his earnest attention.
By the fireplace the twins sat, one on either side of Isabel who was reading out loud.
She left the web, She left the loom, She took three paces through the room... in three quarter time.
Her voice trailed off with hopeful relief as Rose and the officers entered. She knew the piece by heart and was thoroughly bored with repeating it. Everyone stopped what they were doing and regarded the two young men.
Sorry to interrupt, said the corporal, taking in this scene of industry, and the well-scrubbed and combed students, But wed like to speak to the children.
This is FitzRanulf, Lord Griffiths-Greville-Jolliffe, introduced Rose, taking them over to where Fitz stood by the galley. Hes our head teacher here. Hes staying with us while he studies the songs and fables of the Shalisa before theres no one left who can help him record them. He wants to take them back with him.
She didnt elaborate on where back was.
This most recent Shalisa fable was news to Fitz, but he took it in stride and heartily shook the hands of the officers, looking down on them, benignly lordly. With his greying hair, clipped beard and moustache, dressed in grey flannels and a crested navy blazer, white shirt and school tie he looked very distinguished although somewhat dated and somewhat folded in clothing. They in turn looked up at this man who was taller than they were and wondered what the next surprise would be.
It was Tashakawa, with yet another watering canful, who backed out of the galley to save hitting the long spout on anything as she contemplated just how long she was going to have to keep this pretence up, and as she backed and contemplated she bumped into the side of the corporal, hitting the watering can against him and spilling water onto the front of his crisply pressed shirt and trousers.
OhI am so sorry! Here, let me get it.
She went at him with the skirt of her apron as he tried to encourage her not to bother, while his constable stood aside, trying not to laugh at the sight of his stiff superior getting wiped down like a kid who had just wet himself.
If he found it a trial, the children were doing heroics by keeping their faces straight as they had been orderedexcept for the twinsthey laughed with the delight of children who saw something they considered to be funny.
Tashakawa took off her apron and gave a final couple of finishing swipes.
I dont think it will show when it dries. Its just water. The flowers need so much in this dry weather, especially those on the deck. Did you see our nasturtiums? Theyre really outstanding this year. Ill have to give you some before you leave. Theyd contrast beautifully with your uniformsbut Ive forgotten my manners. Im Tashakawa Kamisaki. Would you like some tea? It wont take a minute.
Uh, no thank you maam. Were on duty right now, explained the corporal, while Penniworth regarded this lovely woman and imagined how gorgeous she must have been in her youth.
Tashakawa smiled right up into Lawsons face as she patted his shirt smooth, saying,
Such a fine uniform, and it fits you so well too. You do look nice in it.
She swept an imaginary bit of lint from his shoulder with her fingers.
The corporal felt as if his mother had entered the room and was about to straighten his collar next, before she gave him a kiss on the forehead, handed him his lunch in a little metal box with a rattly handle and painted dinosaurs on the outside, and sent him off to school like a good boy. He wanted to get back to business but had to acquire yet another introduction, this time to Mrs. Kamisaki, Captain Kamisakis wife.
As Tashakawa went back for a refill, he took a good breath and walked away from the line of fire over toward the fireplace, followed by Penniworth who didnt want the same thing happening to him the next time the watering can backed out of the galley.
Giving a surreptitious pull at his shirt himself, Lawson began again.
About the children... .
Ah, said Fitz, breaking in on his words, Thats Therése our musician, with the violin, Morgan over there whos our computer expert, Isabel the artist in more fields than one. Herons our historian and is interested in archaeology as well as being a pretty proficient carver. Dancing Water is our expert in those disciplinesand here are Bernice and Walter, who havent made up their minds yetbotany or marine biology I think.
In spite of all the cautioning hed received about sitting still and not saying anything, Walter couldnt resist. He got up, sidled over beside the corporal, put his hand over his head and measured himself against the bright, straight stripe on the uniform trouser leg, then declared,
See, Im not so small. Im almost half as tall as a policeman already. Thats what Ill be when I grow up.
<How does a man act stern after being cut down to size in that fashion?>
Lawson decided not to be.
Maybe one of you could tell me just what happened yesterday with some of the children from the village, he requested, regarding each youngster in turn.
The children returned his scrutiny with wide eyes and remained silent. He looked again into each earnest face and figured hed better pick a volunteer, preferably a weak link, one who would probably tell the truth under a little calculated pressure.
How about you? he asked Bernice, who was sitting there in front of him gazing with fascination at his shining cap badge.
So unexpectedly fingered, Bernices eyes flew to Rose, her lips shut tight.
Its all right Bernice, Rose reassured her. Just tell the officer what happened.
He hit me with a stone, began Bernice at last, in such a small voice that the corporal said, not unkindly, but without smiling,
Im afraid youll have to speak a bit louder, which succeeded in intimidating his witness, who began to get tears in her eyes.
Constable Penniworth, who had a happy personality and liked children, knelt down on one knee before the little girl, folded his arms across the other bent one, smiled at Bernice and told her,
He didnt mean to scare you, honey. Just tell us what went on yesterday with the other kids you met.
Heartened by that gentler approach, Bernice took a big breath, raised her voice to very loud and began again.
We were walking on our road to look for bugs cause weve got magnifying glasses Uncle Twimby gave us and there are lots around and we met some big boys and Ulf and Gurth said Woof cause they like people but the boys started throwing stones at them and Isabel told the boys to stop but they didnt and they hit me.
Here she stopped for breath and rubbed the little bruise on her forehead which was getting her so much attention.
Uh huh, and then what? prompted the constable after a pause.
Bernice took in another big breath and continued,
Then Walter ran over and pushed the big boy who hit me and then a bigger boy came and hit Walter and pushed him and knocked him down and hurt his knees and then some others came and everybody started pushingand thingsexcept me cause I was crying and ran away.
Here she stopped, her blue eyes holding the constables brown ones.
Uh huh, commented he again, seeing no untruth in those eyes. Did the dogs start pushing and things too?
No, they stayed with me because Isabel told them tolike this.
Here Bernice took her hand and made a motion, ordering,
There was another pause, then she added,
They did too, only we forgot to tell them not to say Woof and they dida lot.
Penniworth couldnt help letting a little laugh get away from him.
Okay Bernice. Thank you.
He was about to stand up when Bernice, whose eyes had now fastened on the polished cap badge again, summoned up her bravery and asked, remembering all Isabels corrections,
May I try on your hat, please? which brought Walter over, wishing he had thought of that.
The young man removed his cap and settled it carefully on Bernices copper hair, saying,
Guess its a little big though, as both she and Walter held it up off her face by the visor.
Therése, who could sense that the interview was ending, decided shed better add her own information before the chance to deliver it passed.
One of the ladies who came along slapped me, she said, And screamed some awful things at usthings my mother told me no lady should ever sayand they were trespassing too.
She hit you? What things did she say? enquired Lawson.
Oh, I cant repeat them, Therése told him in honest revulsion. Its too awful!
The corporal, who was beginning to wish hed never come on what he now considered to be such a fools errand, carefully took the toe of his boot and gave a slight sharp tap to the constables heel, saying,
Thats fine thank you folks. We wont keep you from your studies any longer. May we speak to you outside Miss Hold?
Penniworth retrieved his cap with a hasty,
Sorry, got to go now Bernice, stood up, and got marched outside with Rose.
Once there, Lawson asked Rose,
Are you responsible for these children? and knew immediately what a semantic blunder he had made when he saw the absolute deviltry in her eyes as she replied,
No corporal, I havent had the pleasure of being a mother yet. I had no idea I looked so matronly.
Penniworth found the toes of his boots needed a thorough examination as his colleague corrected himself.
What I meant was, whose... .
Before he could get well into the question which might lead to other dangerous queries such as legal guardianship, Rose broke in with,
Ohtheyre my sisters children.
There was a profound silence after that until the corporal took his eyes away from her steady and unyielding gaze which had no trace of raillery in it now, and cleared his throat for another round, with visions of red-haired, blue-eyed twins and brown-haired, grey-eyed brother and sister in mind.
<Theres the boy called Heron of course, but the only other child who might remotely come close is the one named Therése with her black hair. However, maybe if the father happened to be Caucasian and the mother maybe halfI give upI dont know what the hell is going on here!>
Once more, before he could begin questioning again, Rose explained, as though sensing his doubt and wanting to clear up the problem to his satisfaction,
She had two husbandsshe divorced the first oneand their father now is up north working. Theyre staying with me until he can get enough money to buy a house so they can all be together again.
I see, said Lawson, not quite sure if he did.
<Should I take that to mean that the husbands came with children already appended or what?! I wont ask. The whole things a farce already without getting into more complicated inanities which undoubtedly this woman will explain in much the same genre, and at my expense.>
And where is their mother?
She died this spring.
Caught totally off guard, Lawson reverted to his innate humanity.
Oh!thats a hard thingIm very sorry, maam.
Yes. She loved the children very much. We all miss her.
Well, thank you for your help, he concluded, wanting to get away from this awkward situation which seemed to leave all of the control in the hands of this bay resident. Sorry to have bothered you but we have to check these things out. Well just get a bit more information from you and then go down and have a word with the fellow we saw with the dogs. They are his dogs arent they?
Uhif youre talking about the owner of them, yes, they are, affirmed the smiling Rose.
Lawson decided not to talk at all for the moment, and started his constable on the way with a slight bump in the right direction, because that young man was standing seemingly rooted, regarding Rose with something more than objective interest in his eyes.
Down to the beach went the two officers without a word between them, tramping out onto the sand, their polished boots sinking in and giving up dusty little puffs of protest as they walked.
Beach, wanting to be part of the normalcy role-playing, managed to throw a lot more over the polish before they reached their destination.
They found the picnic farther on had been joined by three other men, who looked like the ones from the boats. As the two officers approached, the man with the dogs came up from the other direction and the dogs, their tails up and wagging started to say Woof, but a motion from the neat, clean-shaven man in the white shirt had the two of them sitting silently at his left side.
Good morning folks, opened the corporal again.
The three men were seated together on a tide-worn log. Wearing casuals, they might have been taken for weekenders, just come from the city for a stroll on the beach in the pleasant weather, except that the officers had seen them on the boats.
Hi there, greeted Harry, wet tee shirt drying nicely on him with the warm sun, half-eaten sandwich in hand. He swapped hands with his sandwich, extending his right one up as corporal Lawson identified himself, replying, Im Harry Currie.
The officer, feeling unable to ignore the gesture, got his palm mayonnaised for his trouble. The constable was wise enough to just nod an acknowledgement. There were names all around and Bettina invited them to join in with the resulting apologetic refusal again.
Directing himself to David, Lawson asked, remembering the twig from Rose,
Are you the owner of these dogs, sir?
I guess you could put it that way, answered David with a smile, Actually, were friends. Theyre great, arent they? Everyones interested in them.
Ulf and Gurth, hearing this tone of praise, perked up their ears and looked up at Friend David, which made them appear even more attractive.
Lawson, appraising the samoyeds, really was attracted, but he jerked himself together sternly.
We came about a complaint concerning your dogs, he told David, finally getting one piece of business straight out, as he regarded the two well-behaved samoyeds while rubbing his thumb and fingers against his palm with distaste in an attempt to dissipate the creamy coating it had received.
Oh? Really?! asked David, in a surprised and concerned tone.
We were given to understand, here the corporal tried to choose his words carefully, That they were involved in a fight which your children here and some others had yesterday.
I dont have any children, returned David with complete honesty, looking bewildered.
I mean the children who live here, Lawson corrected himself, holding his irritation in check. We were told the dogs attacked them.
Ulf and Gurth?! returned David with immense shocked disbelief in his voice, accompanied by similar murmurs from the others. Thats impossible. These two love children. The twins play with them all the time.
Besides, laughed Bud. Theyre whimps. Theyd probably run and hide if somebody broke into your place wouldnt they?
David looked appropriately offended.
Well, its true theyre not exactly guard dogs, but they can sure bark up a storm sometimes, which is maybe better. Who wants dogs which chase the postman?
The two samoyeds sat smiling, their tongues lolling happily, pretending not to have heard the word guard which they knew very well, since it wasnt accompanied by any directing toward anything which might need that attention. The difference between two dogs guarding something and being labelled guard dogs was beyond their ken.
The corporal, who had been a dog handler, raised his hand swiftly as though to swat a mosquito. Gurth looked interested, thinking that perhaps a game of stick throwing was coming up, but Ulf, not seeing anything in the mans hand, just sat there and let the corporal swat, neither dog ever having been threatened with physical violence by Friend David or anybody else.
Also, Davids lowered open palm told them to stay put. The corporal took note that the silent order was obeyed.
It was not the reaction he would have expected from a couple of vicious dogs. He knew the dogs he had trained would likely have reacted in the same way these two had just done, without cowering or offering retaliation, not having been victims of maltreatment, which might spark such an attack.
Why, Fitzs cat ran them off their own boat not long ago, didnt she, Bettina added. Charm is a big cat of course, but... .
Everybody laughed at the remembrance except the two officers. Lawson didnt because he felt hed already lost enough dignity, and Penniworth didnt because he knew if he did hed get dressed down later for not maintaining proper gravity about the situation.
Im sorry if somebody maybe got scared, offered David. I guess kids can get the wrong idea about dogs, but I dont believe theres any way these two would go after children. Theyre just too sweet-natured. Theyre well trained and when our bunch takes them along for a walk Im sure they always behave. Ive taught the youngsters the correct commands and how to use hand signals as well, so the dogs will do what they want them to. Who complained?
The parents of the other children involved. Dogs can be pretty scary, especially big fellows like these, even if they just bark.
David made a motion with his hand, Gurth went forward, sat down and held out his paw. By this time the corporal had just about reached his frustration tolerance level, so he ignored the offer and his constable quietly accepted the goodwill gesture. Meanwhile, David had Ulf playing dead as he asked,
Surely the parents didnt say they bit the kids or something?
No, there were no signs of that, but we have to check out these complaints. If youll just keep the dogs under control in the future there wont be any problem, suggested Lawson, realising too late what a dumb remark that last one was as he saw the two dogs return to Davids side when they heard the double snap of his fingers. Well just get a bit of information and be on our way.
As the two officers were about to leave, a helicopter, flying low enough to make pilot identification almost possible, swept across the bay.
Sergeant Winfield, commented Penniworth in a detached voice, as everyone looked up.
Is that the Sergeant Winfield whos been stationed in the village for awhile now? asked Armand casually as the noise of the aircraft abated.
Yes. You know him? enquired Lawson, his suspicion arising.
Ive met him at the village hospital, smiled Armand. He is indeed a very good person.
Well, thanks for your help, the corporal told them, disappointed hopes dashed, as the helicopter flew out of sight.
Tide, wanting to get in on the action, snuck up on two pair of boots, splashed over them and ran quickly away, as Cliff softly echoed the chuckle which accompanied the retreat.
Oh! exclaimed Bettina, seeing the water coming in so close, Wed better move our things back before we all get washed away.
Well, enjoy your swim, came the strained good wishes of parting from Lawson as the two officers hastily stepped away from the tideline.
Off they marched in their now thoroughly dusted and muddy boots, back up to the four-wheel drive, backing out quickly as Rose and Tashakawa waved at them from the barge.
As soon as they were sure the vehicle was gone everyone headed for LEGER DE MAIN.
Rose, watching her friends come aboard, asked,
Well, how did we do? I think I dropped every title we have here except lawyer, and I didnt do that because it probably would have tipped them off.
Maybe you should have, David told her a little glumly as they all went into the barge. You remember Sergeant Winfield?
Not that Sergeant Winfield! exclaimed Rose.
Yeah. That one. He was flying that helicopter. Seems hes their chief in town. Bud and Shiro and Armand know him too.
Oh sh, began Rose and ended up with, ucks! because everyone was looking at her, never having heard her swear before. Just our luck. Do you think we overdid it?
Probably, said Bud and Shiro together.
We thought we had it made when we saw those two fresh young faces, sighed Armand. We should have known he wouldnt go away.
Whos Sergeant Winfield? enquired Harry.
Just one of the smartest cops around here, Shiro informed him.
Ill second that, stated David with conviction, as he took off his hat, releasing his wadded up hair from under the crown of it, and untying the cord which had held his wealth of curls in place.
I didnt realise he was still in the village, mused Bud, loosening the neck of his shirt. We thought theyd transferred him somewhere else last month.
Maybe he insulted some superior officer again and got banished to his favourite office chair one more time, laughed Armand, pulling his shirt out of his trousers and flapping the tails of it around to cool himself off. Hes as bad as we are. Cant behave.
Maybe he was just on holidays, speculated Shiro. Anyway, theyre gone and none of us are in the strongbox so maybe we did all right.
Certainly the children did, agreed Rose. Ourselvesthat depends what goes into their report. Not much we can do about it now.
Hope they cant spell our names, grinned Bud.
Hope they cant write, added David, as he took off the white shirt hed been wearing and held it out to Armand. Thanks for the loan. Want me to put it in with my laundry?
Thank you, no, laughed Armand. I have seen your laundry, and it is all shades of blue from being put in with your jeans. This one I do myselfto keep it white.
Geezeparticular, grinned David, and surrendered the shirt.
- - -
Spirits of the bay watched the four-by-four leaving along the old logging road, shaking their heads at the tire marks left on the grass in front of Roses cottage. The crushed daisies and rose campion there also shook their heads, and tried to lift them up again. Watching Spirits felt that such thoughtlessness was unforgivable, even if the grass did look like just wild space. After all, it was what Rose had chosen to have growing outside her door. It was fortunate that the rose cutting David had brought had been planted closer to the house, out of the way.
The two officers, unaware of this disapproval, were busily engaged in trying to ignore each other. When they had opened the doors of their vehicle theyd found a little bouquet of vividly coloured nasturtiums and blue lobelia, fastened neatly with twisted grass, placed on each mans seat and the reception of the little gift had received mixed reviews.
Penniworth had waved back out the window with his handful of flowers as they drove off, but Lawson had tossed his aside onto the floor as dust, stones and more broom branches, contributed by Shore, rattled along behind the vehicle as it took a precipitate departure.
When they got onto the main road the corporal pulled over, slammed on the brakes, yanked off his cap and threw it furiously on the dash, opened his window wide and hurled his innocent little bunch of flowers onto the side of the road where they looked back with surprise at this unexpected treatment. However, they were instantly mollified by a couple of honey bees who took immediate advantage of this nectar bonanza and made them feel welcomed to the ditch.
That damned Winfield! fumed Lawson, Sending us out on these domestic fiascoes while he runs around in that chopper! Id like to... .
You forgot about the bawdy house charge, Ollie, Penniworth informed him quietly, polishing small fingerprints off the visor of his own cap with the knee of his trousers.
What kind of a joke is that?! retorted Lawson. There was nothing there worth paying for unless it was Rose Hold andlooking at herforget it. Probably grew up in a convent. Those damned people from the outside come here and dont understand a damned thing. They think theyre still in the city. Every time somebody looks at them the wrong way they call the police and we get to go chasing around like bloody fools, asking about garbage and dogs and kids.
Better than getting shot at by every corner grocery bandit who comes along, observed Penniworth, whod been through that experience and hadnt enjoyed it.
Id rather take on bandits, returned Lawson, more from anger than reason, and started the engine again. Lets see if we can get back before Winfield does so I can get out of these wet clothes. That s.o.b., checking up on us again.
Nice lady, Rose Hold, remarked Penniworth, ignoring his companions bad humour and putting his flowers up to his nose as they pulled away. Seemed like a decent bunch of people.
The hopes for illiteracy and illegibility voiced by the two participants who had helped stage the little performance back at the bay were not fulfilled once the corporal had changed his clothes and the two men sat working on their reports. They both wrote well and the names, which they compared, came out correct, so when Sergeant Winfield landed the helicopter on the pad next to the station on his return trip they were ready for him.
As he walked in, his eyes and nose were hit by the jar of flowers on Penniworths desk.
Nice touch Randolph, was his opinion. Brightens up the place.
Sissified simp! growled Lawson scornfully, looking at Penniworth.
Beer belly! scoffed Penniworth good-naturedly back at him. Pretty soon youll have to have your shirts made to order so you can button them up.
Better than hunting around the boys department because youre suffering from anorexia.
Nothing wrong with keeping trim, interjected Winfield, hoping to end the exchange and, because he knew Lawson pumped iron with dedication, continued, But there are a couple of weight lifters I know who could scare the skin off a prize pumpkin and I wouldnt want to take a punch at that part of their anatomy.
Yeah, returned Penniworth, And I know a couple of karate experts who dont look like balloons and they throw weight lifters over their shoulders.
Anytime, pipsqueak, anytime, invited Lawson.
Youd blow up if I stuck a pin in you, Penniworth declared.
You dont even contain enough juice to make you worth squashing, came the retort.
Will you two pack it in?! demanded the sergeant. Just shut up! All I ask is that when we get out there in public you buckle it up and present it front and centre and if rocks bounce off it without causing damage so much the better.
He threw a glance at his own desk as he took off his cap, and asked,
That the bay complaint report?
They knew that he knew it had better be, because hed flown a few round curves into his usual straight line, going over the bay just to make sure the two were there checking things out as hed ordered, and not sitting drinking coffee in the Sea Urchin, pretending, like the last time hed sent them off together.
Rubbing the top of his curly black hair, he lifted the papers from his desk, sat down and began scanning quickly, commenting aloud,
Kids and dogs. Theyre always fighting. Lets see. HuhLord who? Probably the contemporary equivalent of a remittance manprofessional pittance man. And I didnt know Leader Hold had a sister, much less a bunch of nieces and nephews. Thought she was the last of her people, butGrandma Dancing Waterwhere did she come from? Oh wellextended families being what they are these days. Currie and wifediesel engineerdont know that one. Captain Kamisaki, Captain Westman, Doctor de MarincourtOooooh yeah. Wondered where theyd got to. Missed their boats at the marina. Godwinpresident ofGodwinDavid Godwin?got it.
He lowered the papers and looked across at his two underlings.
Dont you two know when youve been snowed?
The two looked back, trying to hide their consternation as he continued,
Well, of course youve only been here a very short while, so how should you know? It takes a little perspicacity too. Let me tell you about that lot down there in the bay. Westman, de Marincourt and Kamisakimay you never have the pleasure of trying to sort that trio out from a pub brawl. Kamisaki gives free lessons in the martial arts to picked-on underdogs. Think he has a dozen black belts, or however many can be acquired. The Doc, as de Marincourt is known locally, can punch in all directions at once while using his feet to kick with, and if that big fellow Westman stood close to me and just took a deep breath he could knock me over with his chest expansion.
Those three were raising hell on the coast here before you were born and they dont seem to be slowing down any as they get older. In their younger days the Doc used to dance on the table while he played a mandolin and his two buddies sang along as they all drank the bar dry. Fortunately a lot of the songs were in French and Japanese and not too many pub patrons understood themthe other ones should probably be permanently censored from the English language.
Dont know how their wives put up with them. Ive been wondering why it took the Docs lady so long to leave home. Mrs. Kamisakis practically royalty and she married that fishboat skipperand Bud Westman doesnt seem to know how to appreciate the fine woman hes got. People call the three local colour in the village.
As for that GodwinPresident nothing. I picked him up some time back for running a posh gambling establishment on that very same barge community-hall school-house you just visited. Half the big names from the big city got collected with him. Makes a deck of cards behave like live things in his hands. Dont gamble with himin any sense of the word. Wonder what hes up to back here. Never did find out who was behind that marijuana field our detachment burned, down by the bay. Sods made off with most of it before we got there too. Did you get a good look at the garden?I guess that silence means no. Dont worry about it. I took a look myself when I flew over.
It figures. That nice Rose Hold smiled at you didnt she? Scrambled your wits at a glanceand Ill bet she hardly said ten words before she told you to quit trespassing on her land.
He paused, which gave both men a chance to silently tote up twelve, counting Im and youre as one word apiece.
Youd be wise to walk softly around that lady. In fact, you should hope you dont ever have to face her in a courtroom, because shell be up one side of you and down the other before you even know youve been run over. Shes a lawyer. Yes, gentlemen, a lawyer, and a damned good one. Made confetti out of me last time around. Should have done more homework before I ran that Godwin in and then saw who he had for counsel. Guess you didnt find any butterflies of the night down there either. Not with Rose Hold there. Tough on the town. The last one left in a hurry when I got back from leave.
Youre right about one thing though. Those dogs could sweep the field at obedience trials, but they wont listen to anyone else unless their handler is there to give them permission. I know. I got to look after them for two days until Godwin made bail and took them away. They whined for him like lost kids all day and wouldnt shut up when I asked themnot even when I told themand then they slept on my bed all night without my permission. I tried to kick them off but the two of them together outwitted me. By the time I ordered one down the other one was back up with his head on my pillow. Damned overgrown puppies. Smart-asses, like their master.
Winfield got up from his desk, tidied their papers into a neat rectangular sheaf, then quietly and deliberately tore it in half.
Maybe you could make it a little more brief, like you investigated and found no cause to lay charges, something like that.
He put the torn halves on top of each other and tore them again, then deposited an equal heap of paper on each mans desk, saying,
Well, got to go pick up some pompous prince from across the water who wants to come check out how were doing here. He figures I need some help since Harvey wound up in hospital, and if they think we make a good team, and I slip in a few nice words about how happy we all are together, you get to stay here for awhile, you lucky fellows. Better hide the flowers before I get back though Randolph. Higher-ups might get the idea were going soft. See if you can watch the shop while Im gone without getting mugged.
He took his cap and went out and as he passed by the open window he saw Lawson slap himself on the forehead with his open palm and heard him groan,
Perspicacityballs! I should have joined the bloody navy! What did I do to deserve this?
As young Constable Penniworth sat fingering his share of the torn papers, with a smile on his face and his eyes on the flowers, his voice carried out to Winfield, on his way to the helicopter.
Its what you didnt do, and if this were the navy wed both have been flogged through the fleet for insubordination a long time ago. Hes not so bad, except that hed be suspicious of his own mother. I still think they were pretty nice people. A lawyer huh? Some lady.
As Lawson watched morosely, the helicopter rose and sheared off at a risky angle because the sergeant flying it was too busy laughing to care.
Merciful Percival off on another jaunt. When the hell does he do any work? Im going to hit the pub tonight and blow my mind, declared Lawson with definite decision.
Dont waste your time and money Ollie, grinned the young constable, opening a drawer of his desk and stowing the jar of flowers safely inside. A light puff of wind through the holes in your head can do it for you cheaper and faster.
He ducked swiftly, letting the corporals pen whizz over his head.
Merciful Percival, on his way to pick up his superiors, viewed the scene below him, with its blues and greens and greys of water, foliage and rocky cliffs, and enjoyed the beauty of it as he always did.
<Sure looks clean and kind and lovely down there when a person isnt getting a close up view of all the ugliness and nastiness the human race which lives there exhibits. Guess I shouldnt complain. Some of them Ive met have been pretty damned decent.
<So what am I going to do with this pair theyve foisted off on me? Wish theyd quit sending me their problem cubs. I hate having to sort them out. Olivers not a bad type. Dont know where they got the idea hes of the other persuasion. I havent seen anything to indicate thatand so what if he is. Doesnt stop him from being a good cop. After all, hes made corporal already. Think the real problem is his mouth. He knows what he wants to say but he just doesnt say it. He never seems to get out the right thing in a straight way.
<And Randolphquite the opposite. Randy he is. Cant keep his eyes and other things off the ladies. Good intelligent kid butsurely he should have known better than to use the closest woman around for range practise, especially when it was an officers wife, although from what I heard she was the one who hit the target. He gets snagged on every skirt he comes across. Not sure if theres much can be done about thatexcept hope the guyll get married early and his wife will keep a tight rein on him. Domesticity does seem to slow some of them down in that department. Guess Im stuck with the two of them for awhile. Interesting times.>
Looking down at Earth lounging in the warm embrace of August, with its water rippling and glinting invitingly, Winfield switched thoughts deliberately.
<Sure is great weather. Wonder if I could sail my little catamaran as far as the bay? Have to try it some time.>
Bay, having come through the perceived crisis with its colours of blue and green flying in happy success, returned the congratulatory hug of surrounding Cliff, while Tide distributed friendly pats to Barge and Beach, as all declared their future readiness to fend off any and all comers who might be seen as threatening the peace of the peninsula, whatever direction they might come from.