49: Lost and found
Movement and sound and aches all over. His sagging old mattress had somehow turned into a board and had given him a stiff back. He slid his eyes open slightly, the way he often did when he was unwilling to meet the morning, and was met with confusion.
<It has happened at last. During the night the ceiling has fallen from its crumbling vault and is resting not far above my head.>
He opened his eyes a little farther and found there was a woolly grey blanket over him and that he had slept fully clothed.
<So! All my efforts have been for nothing. I have been caught and thrown into jail at last.>
As memory brought returning reality he sat up slowly, and a sudden poignant pang of unexpected homesickness for the old chateau spiralled within him.
<What have I done!? All my shabby, familiar old things are gone and Im left with an aching head and an aching heart and the cold company of strangers who care only for my money and the work my two hands can do.>
He closed his eyes again, thinking of his sagging old comforting bed, of café au lait and croissants for breakfast, of the cold morning bath in the fountain, of Mathieu and Giselle and their children, of.
<Ah yesdebt and harassment and grasping lawyers, penury and never ending evasion and humiliation, half truths and outright lies and the scorn and neglect of friends who were not friends when the need arose, and loneliness and desperation and, hovering at the end of it all, disgrace and incarceration.>
He lowered his feet to the cabin sole and found he was in his socks. Someone had removed his boots and covered him with this grey woolly blanket.
<At least they take a little care of the paying passengers.>
He remembered then that he had not yet paid his fare. He felt his money belt, into which hed packed a large amount from his recent sale, and in doing so put his hand on the cause of the ache in his back.
There was the friendly old revolver he had practised with, out of boredom and a large amount of determination as his situation had deteriorated at the chateau. Hed thrust it through his belt the evening before, thinking he might be robbed on his way to the boat. Times were rough and he intended to move with the times if necessary. Also, he had never had so much money on his own person in his whole life and it made him insecure worrying about itthis necessity of commerce which was supposed to bring him peace.
He laughed a little to himself at the thought, took the gun out, massaged the spot, pushed the weapon back into place and pulled his sweater down over it again. It made him feel a bit adventuresome, snugged there beside his sheathed seamans knife. He would leave it there for the same reason it had first been secreted away, except next time it would be an English waterfront he would pass through.
He rubbed the nape of his neck, twisted his head about a little and stood up, longing for his usual morning bath, but the fountain of refreshing water was not outside this door.
He was committed to taking the consequences of his actions.
<I must make the best of it. It will be infinitely better than what I left behind.>
Straightening his clothes and working his stiff muscles, he decided he should simply wait until they were across the Channel and then take care of his needs there. He was supposed to be crewing and he hadnt even met the captain yet. He pulled his boots back on, ran his fingers through his wavy black hair a couple of times and stepped out of his cabin.
Unaccustomed to the swaying motion of the boat, his progress as he made his way aft was a series of lurches from port to starboard until he got to the companionway and went up into the pilothouse.
The young woman was at the wheel and there was no sail set.
Good-morning, Montmorency, she greeted him, without turning, and he wondered if her senses were so attuned to everything around her that she could tell the difference between his step and that of her fathers, not needing to look. It was that way with himself after a short time aboard a boat.
Good-morning, Miss Wilkinson, he returned, feeling a little awkward. I have missed our leave-taking of France.
Yes. If youd like a bit of breakfast you can take over and Ill get you something.
That would be fine.
His stomach certainly was demanding something.
Just hold the course. Would you like your coffee black? she asked as she stepped aside for him.
You do not make café au lait I suppose? he asked a little wistfully, as he took the wheel, ignoring her oblique reference to what might be the cause of his having oversleptas well as his aching head.
No. Just plain old coffee.
Then, honey and cream please.
He didnt see her eyebrows go up and her face registerlah-de-dah!at that reply, because his eyes had just hit the compass, and the heading, according to his reckoning, was well off for a Channel run.
He waited until she was gone before he corrected. It seemed to him that METHUSELAH might not like bad seamen but apparently put up with bad sea women.
In spite of his headache and his angry stomach he found his situation pleasing. Here he was at the helm of a fine little ship, with all his troubles behind him. The small matter of the manner in which his departure had been engineered seemed, at the moment, an insignificant detail. He had the expansive feeling of now being free to do as he pleased for the rest of his life.
<Maybe Ill simply buy one like this for myself. I could take on a crew and sail to Canada in my own boat instead of booking passage, or turn into a rover of the sea, going where I please and doing what I like.>
The wonderful dreams of a young man suddenly released from worry, and with a large amount of wealth unexpectedly at his disposal, presented themselves as he looked out at the water, narrowing his eyes against the dazzle of bright morning light there. He could see no landfall, but there was haze on the sea so he figured they must already be halfway across. He regretted a little not having been able to say goodbye to the land of his forefathers, but then, he reflected, it was appropriate. That country had not been good to him. Why should he bid it a civil farewell.
When she came back with a deep basket tray he returned the wheel to her and stood at the chart table drinking, from a very large mug, very bad coffee with honey in it and, if not cream, canned milk, while he doubtfully regarded a large bowl of porridge with brown sugar on it, drowned in the same creamy white liquid, but he was not too occupied to notice that no sooner had she taken over the helm than the shadows in the pilothouse moved, raising doubt in his mind.
<She has put the boat back on the incorrect heading!>
Armand swallowed a mouthful of the porridge because his stomach seemed to require something more than insipid coffee, and then asked,
At what time did we leave, please?
Around zero three hundred, with the tide.
He looked at his watch then. It was sixteen minutes to eight.
He finished the porridge quickly, more from politeness than esteem for its homely goodness, bolting it down to get it out of the way.
<Five hours motoring and were not in sight of land yet? The weathers fine although hazy, the sea calm, the wind in our favour. Could it be that this young woman knows nothing of navigating? Are we going around in circles?>
Concern came to the fore. Picking up the coffee mug he quickly swallowed what was left, standing there thoughtfully.
Thank you for breakfast, Miss Wilkinson. I am ready to take over again, he suggested then.
Oh dont bother right now. I rather enjoy the helm, came the reply.
That, he thought glumly, relegates me to chief cook and bottle washer.
I will take the tray and wash up, he surrendered meekly.
Just leave it, she told him. Ill get it later.
A little surprised, he stood there, with nothing to do, feeling quite useless, and wondering how to draw her faulty navigating tactfully to her attention.
Then, I would like to speak to the captain now, if it is convenient, about my fare.
Youre speaking to her.
The answer jolted him.
<That is a bit of an arrogant and grandiose claim. Captaincy doesnt come simply because youre at the helm. It requires knowledge and experience and if her practical navigating at this moment should be brought to bear on the matter, then shes a long way from it.>
I mean the captain your father, Hilaire Wilkinson, he replied with quiet firmness.
I am Captain Hilary Wilkinson, she replied. Dont worry about the fare. Well settle it later. Im sure youre not going to jump ship and swim off.
At this unexpected reply he fell silent and the conversation took a breather.
He became more convinced in his mind that he should speak to the father of this young woman.
<Shes becoming a bit irritating with her exaggerated claims and enigmatic replies. At least I should introduce myself. However, she seems intent on preventing me from doing so.>
He could sense some sort of tension between them. It made him uncomfortable and ill at ease, and he felt she was trying to keep him there in the pilothouse.
<Is it meant to be a protective barrier for her indisposed father orperhaps she fancies herself as a siren. I want none of that, even if I did feel tingly when we shook hands yesterday.>
You have taken over command from the captain your father? Armand asked then, thinking that perhaps she had spoken figuratively and that it was the logical explanation, since the man was not well and probably was unable to continue his duties.
Yes. I should... .
Ah. You are qualified then.
He spoke quickly over her words to cut off any evasion.
Of course. For years now.
Armand was reluctant to voice his doubts about what she had just said, but he did want her to know that she was holding stubbornly to an inaccurate course.
I should tell you... , she began again, but he decided on that instant not to be put off this way any longer. He picked up the tray and started out of the pilothouse, interrupting her with,
Pardon me, but I have celebrated too much last night. I will get some aspirin from my cabin, and more coffee if there is some.
Montmorency! Im talking to you! Get back here!
He ignored her authoritative voice and kept on going.
Leaving the tray in the galley he went to his cabin, found aspirin in his duffle bag quickly, went forward to the head for water, swallowed the tablets, used the head, and on his way back, intending to speak to the captain despite the daughters persistent delaying, he had a thorough look around below.
He found no one.
There was no one else on board but the two of them.
The young mans stomach muscles tightened around his just swallowed pills.
<There is definitely something wrong here. Why did she not simply tell me her father was not aboard? What kind of foolish woman would sail off alone with a man completely unknown to her? Some romantic silly girl having a fling while her father is ashore?>
His anger rose as he went to the galley to refill his mug, more to cover his excuse than from the idea of drinking the stuff.
<Enough of this. If she continues on the course she holds now well wind up on the African coast. No more of this pussyfooting. Ill set her straight about the navigating and get some answers.>
Returned to the pilothouse, mug in hand, he set it on the chart table and asked drily, trying to keep his annoyance in check,
Miss Wilkinson, are we heading for Morocco?
I wondered when youd get around to asking, she replied. Were for Portugal.
Portugal! he echoed, shocked, I believe I came aboard for a Channel crossing to England.
There was honest indignant astonishment in her voice as she turned her head to look at him, replying,
I believe no such destination was mentioned by me! Im quite positive of that. Whatever gave you that idea?
Armand thought back. It was true. The skipper who had recommended METHUSELAH was the one who had mentioned a Channel crossing, and he himself had taken it for granted. On further thought, he hadnt been told it was leaving for England at alljust that it was leaving in the morning.
While he stood pondering the young woman at the wheel said,
And I guess you didnt find my father the captain anywhere down below decks either.
Now he felt like a fool. She had seen through his ruse and was probably laughing to herself at him. His anger took over.
<I will not be treated this way. Ill put an end to her silly girlish flirtation.>
He told her sternly, in the tone of a parent lecturing an unruly juvenile,
Young woman, do you realise that you are on board this boat by yourself with a total stranger who is larger and stronger than you are, who can take over the running of this boat whenever he pleases, and who might even..., he couldnt think of the correct English word, so he concluded, ...ravish you?
Unfortunately, the pause made his words sound ominous instead of paternally instructive.
Oh, I dont think so, came the calm reply, as she pulled a small handgun from under her jacket and aimed it steadily toward him at about the height of his heart and just a little to his left. Anyway, not a total stranger. Im disappointed in you. I didnt think that was your stylethreatening a womanDoctor de Marincourt.
Armand jumped, inwardly.
<Cest la ruine! She knows who I am. What else does she know? Does she also consider blackmail? Or will she sell me to the highest bidder?>
Armands eyes were now as wide open as his mouth might have been had his jaw not already been firmly set from his unproductive tour below and the jarring information about their destination.
<Whats going on here? What have I got myself into?>
As he stood there thinking over his arrival on board and the conversation they had engaged in at that time, her strange quote of the night before about waking Malcolm came to mind.
< Wake Malcolm with your knocking. Isnt that the line from Shakespeares Macbeth which was to be delivered some time after Malcolm the king had been murdered in his sleep? Where is her father? Mon dieu! Im shanghaied by a madwoman!>
His elbow rested reassuringly against the revolver butt under his own sweater, but the next moment he felt shame.
<Fagh, Armand de Marincourt! Afraid? And of what? Decidedly better to be here dealing with one strange, headstrong woman than being harried by that pack of hounds baying around back at the chateau. Here you have at least a chance.>
He began to assess his situation.
<This is ridiculous! Unless she shoots me at once there is no way she can hold me until we reach port. She must get me with the first one or not at all, now Im warnedand maybe she doesnt even know how to use itI hope. Maybe she just uses it to scare people. Enough of this nonsense!>
Ha-ha-ha! he exclaimed scornfully as he carefully and deliberately pulled out his own revolver and laid it on the chart table, Let us bring out the artillery then. I do not need mine. It was not a threat I gave, but a statement of fact, and if I should take a woman it comes of its own. I do not require force.
The response was unexpected. He realised that in English it did sound conceited. It wasnt what hed meant. He just wanted her to know he couldnt care less about her femininity and that he wouldnt be pushed around by her or frightened by silly melodramatic gestures.
She regarded his gun for a moment, where it rested on the polished wood, then asked,
Is that the revolver you used to kill the man who tried to molest your secretarys wife? Its very old. I dont suppose you even have any ammunition for it now.
He was startled again. How did she know... ? He took up his gun slowly and carefully by the barrel, so as not to excite her into using hers in a panic, and emptied it out, listening to the satisfying little clinks as the bullets hit the table, then he put it back down again, stating,
Very old. Also very accurate.
Their eyes met and neither flinched. Both wills held firm as they tried to outface each other.
Suddenly the whole situation struck him as ludicrous.
<What has happened to my fine, simple plan? My head aches. My stomach is protesting about that awful porridge I pushed into it. All I want to do is get to England, but now here is this mad young woman waving a gun at me and telling me were going to Portugal. Its plainly and ridiculously absurd!>
Days of anxiety and strain while hed worried about being caught before he could put the plan into effect, along with his present uncertainty and his physical discomfort, finally caught up with him.
He started to laugh, softly at first, and then with growing momentum as it got out of control, and he laughed and laughed until he laughed himself out of the pilothouse. Along the deck, out onto the bow and then farther out along the bowsprit he fled, as far away from her as he could get, while the porridge was arguing vigorously with his stomach now, and was not laughing.
He straddled the bowsprit, wrapped an arm around a jib stay, and there he and the porridge, the aspirins and the insipid coffee bade each other no fond adieu, and there he remained, getting misted by the pluming cutwater of the bow until he was wet and cold, his stomach had settled, and he had himself in hand again.
Then, with no choice but to remain there and freeze, or go back to the pilothouse, he returned the way he had come, noting that his revolver was still on the chart table beside its ammunition, and hers was now out of sight.
Are you feeling better? she asked in a voice which he thought held sympathy rather than sarcasm.
Thank youyes. My stomach is not usually so delicate at sea.
He felt humbled, knowing that she had been witness to his entire undignified scramble and ordeal on the bowsprit. He pulled off his wet sweater, realised he had a knife on his belt, removed that and set it beside the revolver, then said,
I must apologise, and beg you to forgive me. I did not mean to frighten you and I do not have my gun here for you, or your father. The wharves shelter ruffians as well as boats. A man must be prepared when he travels the waterfront alone at night. Also, I expected to arrive in England shortly, where I know no one and there are also wharves.
Oh, you didnt frighten me, she told him in the same steady voice with which she had handled his mistakenly perceived threat, I know the waterfront, and I dont mind admitting that my gun is here for you. The last crew we took aboard tried exactly what you suggested. We towed him back to port in the tender after wed patched up his arm.
<So she does know how to use the gun.>
Please believe, I am not that sort of man.
So I was told, she answered with something of willing acceptance in her voice, then, glancing at revolver and sheathed knife, And I dont know what you have which needs so much protection, but its safe here at least.
He regarded her with growing amazement.
<This woman is no fragile flower, even though she looks as harmless as one. She doesnt make idle gestures. She means every bit of it. She really would have shot me if Id done something she didnt like. I have no need to point out whats going on here. Shes well in control.>
I would like to knowyour fatherhe has left the boat? he asked, since she said nothing more.
Yes. Since you wouldnt listen... .
Pleasedo not get off the subject he broke in with frustration and impatience, Only explainwhere is he?
Ohwell all right, if thats the way you want ithes two days out of Le Havre.
And what does that mean? he asked, even more puzzled.
There was a pause, then,
It means he died in his sleep and I buried him at sea just about there.
He eyed her with growing tension and in utter disbelief.
<First Portugal. Now this. I should have let myself get thrown in jail.>
As the silence between them lengthened, something about her facial expression made him ask,
Is it true, this, about your father the captain?
She nodded, not looking at him.
Confusion took over his mind for a moment.
<Im under great stress and not seeing clearly. I must try to think straight. What has she just told me?>
Looking at her averted face, which was plainly showing emotion now, he was forced to the conclusion that this young woman had actually lost her father only two days or so before reaching port, and that she had committed him to the sea by herself. Now here she was heading for Portugal in a sixty-foot schooner with a stranger for crew.
His compassion came to the fore.
I am deeply sorry. Forgive me again. I did not understand. What you say seemed so... . He almost said bizarre, but concluded with, I am sure he was a fine man. It must have been very difficult for you. Dealing with authorities for such matters is not easy.
There was another silence, then,
I didnt tell the authorities.
<I am a fool. Of course she didnt, or the Barkers wouldnt have spoken of Wilkinson as though he still lived. Worse and worse.>
Why did you not tell them?
As she didnt reply he decided that openness on his part might be his best tool, whatever her plan might be, since she knew who he was, and it seemed likely that she had other information about him from whatever source, so he told her,
Miss Wilkinson, it matters not to me what you are up to, or whether we cross the Channel or an ocean. Only that we arrive safely, the tide does not wash on the beaches of a French possession, and you do not turn me over to authorities.
I thought so, came her answer.
He wasnt quite sure what connotations that remark might have but he didnt like the sound of it, and he thought he had better find out.
You seem to know very much about me, he ventured.
Well, when a man comes looking for passage and doesnt ask for the captain, doesnt question the cost of the fare and doesnt even ask where the boat is bound, I wondered, although I knew John Barker wouldnt send me just anybody and must have thought you were all right, but then when your baggage arrived I wondered even more. Most people who have that amount of luggage arent just vagrants and usually want at least a weeks notice of the sailing date. The porters who brought it were very thirsty from their hard work, so I gave them a little food and drink to tide them over to the nearest bistro, and in return they gave me all the information I wanted to hearand then some.
<Damnthe local porters! No wonder she goes armed.>
So that is it. You have been listening to ridiculous gossip. I did not kill the man, asserted Armand, Although I should have. I removed but a small piece from him and frightened him very well by telling him a more essential part of his anatomy receives my attention next, which will prevent him from any such future cowardly attacks on ladies. He fainted only, and so they carried him away dripping his execrable blood like dead.
The version I got was quite enhanced, then.
I hope you are happy for that.
Yes, actually. I dont like homicide, for whatever reason.
<She is not mad. Perhaps only anxious, as I am.>
Then I also am happy, he told her with relief in his voice.
Oh, I wouldnt have killed you either, she assured him. Just removed a piece from your anatomy. You seem to inspire admiration in the kind of men like the ones who brought your luggage. The idea of someone who deals with trouble the way they do seemed to appeal to their every day sense of justice. They told me something about you and your problems. That took care of my surprise that youd shown such lack of curiosity about where you were going and with whom. They werent surprised. They were sorry to see you go. Youre something of a famous bad boy in your home town it seems.
Notorious is undoubtedly a better description, confessed Armand.
<Damn them again! They probably filled her full of puffed up stories and made me out to be some sort of idealistic revolutionary hero helping poor sick people while I did a bit of larceny and mayhem on the side to finance myself.>
I did not ask all those things you speak of, he explained, Because I was told by John Barker where he thought you were bound, and who was captain, and the fare across the Channel could not be much.
Weve had a bad misunderstanding then. I have no intentions of returning to England, she informed him.
It is my mistake.
Theres not much we can do about it now. You cant go back to France and I cant go back to England, so unless you want to try a mutinyI guess its on to Portugal.
It is as I saidnowhere Frenchand I am not a mutineer.
Fine. Thats why when we left so early I thought maybe youd be glad to get away under cover of darkness and without attracting attention.
Her words about their manner of departure led him to infer that she was on his side, and her comment, You cant go back to France and I cant go back to England, got his attention. He came to the understanding that there must be a reason for why she had acted so strangely which was not purely reserve or stupidity on her part. It seemed that she hadnt told anyone about her father for some other underlying cause. He decided to be totally up front with her.
We must now be honest with each other, he suggested, So we will know what lies to tell in Portugal if we are to continue being free. Since you know everything of me perhaps you would be so kind as to tell me something of yourself. Why are you leaving home?
Hardly home, she corrected. My mother wanted METHUSELAH sold for the separation maintenance he was behind in. Shes never liked our wandering sea life. Im not even sure she liked my father. I was eighteen when they decided to live apart, and I chose to go with Dad. I love the sea. Its part of me just as it was with him. Shes in England now, waiting to hear hes dead, so that she can claim the boat. Thats why I didnt tell them. We left before she could stop us. We thought we could get to Canada, but he was too sick. She nagged and harried him to death. It was too much for him.
Canada! he exclaimed, It is my own final destinationbut you have only bought a little time by withholding information. Lady Macbeth has done Malcolm in and will have the boat taken in Portugal when we arrive and likely the two of us with it. They will check your papers and find it is not registered to you. They will ask where is the captain. How did you get away with it in France?
There was another silence which Armand was beginning to recognise preceded every outrageous thing she told him. He braced himself and waited.
METHUSELAH is mine now. I am Captain M. Hilary Wilkinson and thats the name on the registration.
You have falsified the papers, he stated with conviction.
Only a little, she qualified. Dad always managed to get the better of my mother somehow. We were going to have the boat made over to me but he died before we could do it, so it really is mine anduntil I tell someone otherwisehes still alive and were still sailing. I just changed a few details which were going to be changed anyway.
Oiy! We are for it. Armand took a deep breath. You have taken your fathers place and because of your names and your own qualifications it is not difficult to boil the books with a small piece of jig and poke.
Cook themand its jiggery pokery.
We will learn to live with this language disparity, he told her, feeling a little put down. You are quite amazing. You are here on a stolen boat, having lost your father and told no one, with an outlaw for a passenger and yourself perpetrating who knows what other breaches of international law, and you are still calm, sane and reasonable. Any other person would have gone to pieces long ago, as I almost did because of my own problems.
Maybe Ill do that later, she offered. I admit I was getting close to the end of my rope when you came along.
I am not surprised. Now I understand. You are also outside the law like myself. I cannot turn you in because you will turn me in, yes?
Nothing quite as devious as that. I thought, since the two of us are obviously in trouble we might team up for awhile until we get out of it, was her explanation.
Once more, forgive me. I have misjudged you. I see pursuers where none exist. It is like meeting an honest politician. I have dealt so much with the other kind that I do not know how to treat with you. Let me try. I am just right for your purpose. Not only because I also am ultra vires and need to leave immediately like yourself, but when you hear what the porters have to say about me you think of Portugal. We will escape together. You have a boat. I have money.
Thats about it, she admitted. I was unhinged enough at the time to think it was feasible, except I didnt know that damned fool Barker had told you my father was aboard. It caught me by surprise when you asked about him. Youre right of course. I dont know you. I should have taken off by myself, butI needed the fare. In fact I did come down last night to tell you Id changed my mind about sailing, to get rid of you, only you were dead to the world by then and I could hardly haul you out on deck and throw you off. So I thoughtthe hell with it, well go, and Ill explain it later somehow.
Only, when it came to it I just didnt know how to. I thought of telling you Id taken him ashore to hospital but then youd wonder why I was leaving. I just hoped some opening in the conversation would come up, but you were so damned lordly and overbearing and wouldnt shut up, and then when you went below decks I knew Id had it, so when you came up with that bit about ravish I figured Id better get set for a rough time. Sorry. Lying isnt my forte. I guess I did make a mess of it.
On the contrary it seems to me you have managed such a bad situation rather well, he told her, admiration showing in his face and voice. You were right to leave. I myself was in no shape to choose but, had you told me the truth, very likely I would have said let us have cognac for a toast to it and bon voyage.
Im glad you feel that way, she responded, sounding relieved herself now. Anyway, it would have made quite a row hauling all your luggage off again. Besides, when I went below to kick you off I found you dead to the world and you had such a relaxed, trusting look on your faceso I took the chance and opted for believing what the porters said about your being a real gentilhomme. I just pulled off your boots and put the blanket over you.
I thought you were quite a fool, coming aboard drunk and falling asleep like that. You could have been hit on the head and robbed and dumped overboard if youd got on some of the other boats I can think of which were around the wharf there. At least Im glad to know youre not the complete idiot I first thought you were.
He felt sheepish, hearing himself described in those terms.
I was indeed a fool, but it was such a relief to arrive aboard, and you seemed so kind. I am told you are both so charming and that your father is not well. The name Hilaire pleased me also. It is one of my own, and when I see this fine boat, METHUSELAH, I think to myself, this is right. It is safety I felt on board, like not since I was a child.
You dont think so now.
I am not sure what to think.
I must seem very hard to you, but I have to be sometimes, she explained herself. The sea and its seamen arent often gentle.
As he watched, tears came into her eyes and slid silently down her cheeks. She wiped them away with her palm, saying, with a perfectly composed face and voice, while more followed the first,
Dont worry. Im not going to cry.
We must all take care of ourselves the best way we can, he comforted. Tell me. You have plainly been awake since last night, and perhaps all the day before. What have you taken? Benzedrine?
There was silence from the wheel.
You should not swallow such things, he admonished. You will make yourself very ill. Your heart will seem to jump out of your body. Let me have the helm, and as she hesitated he told her, I will not change course, truly, and I will not harm you. As I said before, I want only to go anywhere, as long as it is not French territory.
She looked at him then and surrendered the helm.
You should go to your cabin and lie down, or if you still doubt, stay here on the pilot berth. I am a physicianwhich of course you already know. I can give you something to help, if you wish. No? Then we shall talk. This is better. We understand each other now. These namesMalcolm, Hilaireyou are not Malcolm as well as Hilaire, surely. Captain Barker and his wife were having an altercation. She would call you Marie and he Hilaire and your father was both Hilaire and Malcolm. What is your name please?
They were both right, actually. Im Merry Hilaryem-ee-ar-ar-wye. My father gave me the name. He told me that when he first saw me I was kicking up such a fuss that he said, Shes raising merry hellery, and thats what well call her. He thought it was a great play on words, so I became Merry Hilary, which is partly Dads name, Malcolm Hilary.
The confusion is gone at last.
There was another silence which continued until she began speaking again.
My grandfather had this boat built in Nova Scotia, doing some of the work with his own hands. He told my father he wanted a boat which would live as long as Methuselah, so that his son and his sons son and maybe beyond that would have a means to make a living carrying freight. He didnt think how things can change in a lifetime. That there would be a granddaughter instead of a grandson. That a wife from another country would interfere.
Tears ran down her cheeks again, but she was quiet and controlled. He was enormously impressed with her courage now. To comfort her he told her,
Let us not concern ourselves further with such problems. We are two birds with the same feathers. We have both accomplished what we set out to do. For the moment you and METHUSELAH are safe from the Lady Macbeth your mother, and I am safe from France. Let us back each other up in our efforts. Two such wily people can surely outwit the blunderings of establishment. We should indeed be celebrating.
Goodjust one thing though, she warned. Dont you ever walk out on me like that again when Im talking. I am the captain here. Im not saying this out of arrogance. The ship depends on orders from one head only and we depend on the ship. I know this vessel and can run it blindfolded in a roaring gale. I dont want to be tripping over an ignorant deckhand in an emergency. We cant operate at cross purposes.
He grinned at her then, and there was impudence in it.
It is not easy to give up directing ones own life. What is the penalty for disobedience?
Ill have you in irons.
You have irons too?!
Ahand I know you will use them. I will try to keep my insurrections down to a minimum. He was still smiling as he continued, Why are we motoring on such a day for sail? We should save fuel every chance we get. Let us dress our ship as befits a brigand who shows her heels to the pursuers. Take the helm again. I will raise sail. Portugal or Africawho cares?
<Our ship? Take the helm? Did I tell him to raise sail? Ohto hell with itwho cares is just about right at the moment!>
Captain Merry Hilary Wilkinson resumed charge of her ship, wondering how many challenges to her authority she would have to meet and put down before they reached Portugal.
- - -
METHUSELAH swung to her anchor in the bay of a small Portugese village, basking in the sun. Her sails were neatly flaked, her decks cleared and orderly, equipment stowed, the crew relaxing.
After two days lying in these quiet waters there was nothing in her appearance nor in that of those aboard her to indicate that before shed reached this haven it had been necessary to pick up the gauntlet thrown down by the Bay of Biscay, something no captain looks forward to.
They had been tested there, but not unduly, as though the waters knew that the crew were young and troubled and didnt need further aggravation, and the presence of METHUSELAH, so sturdy and willing and ready, might have made the necessary exuberant trial of the boat too strenuous for those whose hands guided her, so the Bay had relaxed its usual ferocity a little, letting them pass unscathed with only a stern reminder that vigilance and courage should always be readied at sea.
Merry Hilary was singing as she did a bit of laundry.
Armand lay idly on his back on the foredeck with his eyes closed. Sun was warm, spreading itself over him like soothing balm. His stomach was happy with the good dinner they had just eaten. It had been good because he himself had taken a hand in it. Hed agreed with Merry Hilary that she was certainly correct in her opinion that oatmeal was very nourishing but, hed told her, it palled on the palate very quicklyat least on his. There were other things just as nourishing which tasted better.
Hed been surprised at her pleasure over what he considered an ordinary tasty meal. Economy and thrift, it seemed, had always dictated what she and her father had eaten. Good, solid, time-tested ingredients, very well thought out by Merry Hilary to provide the most nourishment for the least outlay of money.
Why was it, he wondered, that these things also seemed to provide the least taste? Perhaps it was because her spicing consisted of salt, pepper, vinegar, sugar, and lemons and limes. Other things were considered luxuries.
He had decided to give the sound but basic cooking skills she possessed the benefit of his sophisticated culinary tutelage. While they ate, and drank a bottle of wine from the cellars of that rascally vintner de Marincourt, they had laughed a lot as hed told her of his last encounter with the attorney and the collapsing chair, which had convinced a camel that it was the last straw.
<Strange. It hadnt seemed so amusing at the time.>
They had been into the village earlier and had strolled along the sun-warmed old streets, buying this and that for their stores, using English, French, Spanish, and a lot of sign language to get their needs known. She was surprised at what she took to be his impulse buying of things which she would never have considered purchasing herself. Hed had to assure her that garlic and origanum were necessities, and avocado vinaigrette could add a delightfuland nourishingtouch to a meal.
Hed made her stop for a drink at a wayside restaurant. She and her father, he learned, occasionally treated themselves to a beer. Rum was kept aboard for illness or celebrations or a hot toddy on cold night watches.
They had returned to the boat satisfied with their efforts.
There was so much time to be enjoyed now. He turned over onto his stomach in contentment, leaning his chin on his forearms as he watched Merry Hilary hang the clothes out over the railing. The flowers a vendor had presented her with were still tucked over her ear where the man had put thema big orange marigold and a white daisylike her own personal sun who had a smiling white moon with a golden heart for a companion, he thought.
My favourite colours, she had said.
She was wearing a loose white cotton dress which theyd seen at a stall in the town and Armand had insisted on buying it for her. She hadnt wanted people to stare at her in trousers, so shed worn the only dress she owned, which was outdated in the extreme, even by comparison with Armands old shore clothes, but shed put it on for town anyway, so that shed been stared at for all her trouble.
The new one was embroidered around the neck and sleeves with bright, happy flowers, and was nipped in at the waist with a cotton belt, tied at the side. He looked at that small waist and fancied, as almost every other man fancies when he sees a small waist, that he could encircle it with his two hands.
Yet Merry Hilary was not small. She was of medium build and height, with strong lithe muscles acquired from a life of sailing and the effort which goes into helping with the operation of a sixty foot schooner.
<Its perhaps her suppleness and quick movements which give the impression of diminutiveness and which allow her to walk as though shes on little springs.>
He closed his eyes again as she went below, turned his head on his arms and was almost asleep when her voice beside him said,
Ive made some lime juice. Its good for relieving the heat.
He cracked his eyes open ever so slightly and saw her ankles to his left. As she bent to set the glass beside him her hair, that long wavy brown agent of mischief, fell across his bare back, and desire, sudden, swift and intense, ignited in the long dormant dried kindling of his carefully and ruthlessly defused passion.
He closed his eyes tight and murmured,
Thank you, Merrie Hilaire.
Nothing more. He moved not at all, willingly, but the involuntary response of his body betrayed him to himself.
<Please, go quickly away before I destroy this beautiful day with some idiocy on my part.>
Unknowing, she walked to the bow of the boat, sat down with her own glass of juice, dangled her bare feet over the side, swung them back and forth, and began another song.
The imagery in the words she sang fondled his passion. Hot sands and cool waters, the memories in a warriors constancy, and the love of the woman who waited with red lips and aching arms. It ended at last, upon the soldiers return, with happy sighs and embraces somewhere in an arbour which trailed sweet scented flowers around the promised undying love.
Armand almost wished that the faithful maiden hadnt been waiting.
<Why couldnt she listen to the latest songs on the radio and pick up on thoseabout the latest dance craze and white rabbits and contemplating philosophiesinstead of voicing these sweet, sentimental, timeless ballads about love?>
Afraid to look in her direction now, he sat up slowly and turned his back toward her.
It had come upon him so unexpectedly, erupting like spontaneous combustion in a haystack, and with such force it was almost a faintness. Until now he hadnt been affected by Merry Hilary that way. Hed looked at her in an objective clinical manner, noting only that she was well-formed and unblemished, and moved like a dancer.
It had all been so serene and uncomplicatedbut now this.
His last woman had been someones wife who had consumed him. He hadnt sought it. Rather, he had tried to avoid her, but it had happened and, then, after awhile, she had laughed at him, brought his poverty abruptly into focus, and told him she couldnt really be seen with a man who wasnt even able to afford a new suit.
<Fool! She didnt see you. She saw only a young man to be used for her own purposes. Perhaps she told her friends that she had the young de Marincourt for a lover, and what a pity that he had no money to maintain himself in the proper circles, and everyone laughed.
<No doubt she thought, how can a woman show off a new lover in a worn-out old suit. He doesnt even have a car. Not even an old one which could be passed off as an antique collectors item. He has an ancient bicycle. Too embarrassing. Disappointing of course, but, never mind. There are others who do have the required glitter and it has been fun. Perhaps the others are not somanlybut... .>
He remembered that word, manly. He had thought it a compliment at the time she had said it to him. Later hed realised it meant only that he had ended her search for something to satisfy her less demanding priorities for awhile. He couldnt afford a new suit. The standard of wealth was of more importance than manliness.
He had sworn to himself then that he would never again lose himself that way in future, and that he would allow no woman to ever use him simply for her own ends.
The long hair whispering across his back, arousing his desire, unintentional though it had been, had also awakened his wariness.
He drank his lime juice quickly and went over the side for a swim. Whether Merry Hilary might use him or not he didnt know, but he did know his own limits, and they were now, suddenly, very close to being reached. He could not and would not take the chance. Having so recently escaped from one imprisoning and humiliating situation of his own compliance, he didnt want to throw his freedom away so quickly and completely again.
He climbed back aboard and sat on the stern deck, letting the late heat of evening dry him. The breeze was warm and the sky was a glorious light of departing sun. Merry Hilarys voice as she sang held him almost to the point of surrender, but at last he got up and went below.
He lowered himself slowly onto his bunk and clasped his hands behind his head. A feeling close to sadness settled on him, which had more of resignation in it than misery.
<It must be done. I must leave this boat.>
He stared out the port a long time before he heard her come below. There was the sound of two glasses being deposited in the galley, then that of her bare feet padding to his cabin.
She leaned in, smiling, and asked,
Do you want more juice?
No thank you Merrie Hilaire.
He tried half-heartedly, but it came out as an eelery.
I love the way you say my name in English. Its like a laughing song. Merree Eelaree. I hope you never learn to pronounce it the ordinary way, she told him, laughing as she finished speaking.
Then he said,
You know we have reached our destination. Tomorrow I must go ashore and find passage to Canada. We will find you another crew.
Well, Im not sure where Ill find anyone as good as... . She stopped, then said, But dont worry Armand, I can find my own way around the world. I was thinking I could get some sort of dishwashing or housekeeping work here, or teach somebodys children English. Nobody here cares who this boat belongs to and if they ever do, Ill just leave again. After all, I am a certified captain even if my ownership papers are a bit bent. I can haul freight like Dad and I did before. It was wonderful having your help just when I thought Id have to give up, but its all right. You dont have to worry about me anymore.
It is not worry about you I am concerned with right now, he admitted.
She looked at him steadily and finally said,
I see, and he knew that she did. I thought so. I felt it there on the deck, when you acted so strangely, not asking me to go for a swim with you and going below so quietly. Dont take it so seriously. This happens when two people are left alone together too long under trying circumstances. We begin to think we love each other. At least we want each other. Thats all it is.
You feel it as well? he asked, surprised at her understanding reply.
Of course. Why do men always think theyre the only ones who feel and need? Anyway, no problem. It all becomes a crashing bore for one or the other after awhile, so why bother.
You know about this also.
Mmhm. He was a navy man with his own command. He was so handsome, especially in his uniform. Then he told me about his wife. Im not sure which one, or if he even had any. He just wanted to get rid of me, but I was hard to dump. He finally told me he couldnt endure my raw, blunt, uncivilised attitudes any longer. He didnt like to hear the truth. I was a bottle of country wine and he was used to more refined, elegant, expectedly transient things, not so down to earth and serious. Yours?
She was a wife with no better thing to do but spend money and degrade young men. She objected to my suit. It was not new enough. I will leave tonight if you wish.
She smiled, took the flowers from behind her ear and tossed them onto his chest.
I think you should leave tomorrow. If youre still aboard tomorrow, leave the next day. If youre still aboard thenleave when you please, onlyravish me tonight. We can get bored later.
He wrestled with her shining eyes, faltered and took his gaze away only to have it fall on more offerings, tore his now seeing sight from her, brought his naked willing want back to her as their eyes met again.
Then I am lost.
Thats a nice way of putting it, she told him ironically. I would like to think Im found.
He took his right hand from behind his head and held it out to her. She came into the cabin and bent over him and her long brown wavy hair, which had started it all, tumbled down onto his chest, tangled in the flowers there, and finished the matter.
Waitwaitlet us not crush the flowers.
He put them to his lips and then dropped them carefully onto the floor.
Two gentle people who had been forced to be strong and hard by circumstances returned now to gentleness.
- - -
He was still aboard when they reached the Azores. He was still aboard when they sailed up the St. Lawrence River and back down the Atlantic again heading for the Gulf of Mexico. He was still aboard when they passed through the Panama Canal and cruised the Mexican waters of Baja California. He was still aboard when they enjoyed the coast of California, heading north. He was still aboard when they reached the Canadian waters of British Columbia.
So many years later he was still aboard when... .
Auvoir, Armand Hilaire.
Goodbye, Merry Hilary!
- - -
At first I did locums up and down the coast and we continued to carry freight when I wasnt doing that. When the children came we took a small house near the wharf. She was busy at home. I was busy with my newly established practice. It was then we began to find things in each other which, when there had been just the two of us, had not been points of contention, but now became so. I was too involved with the pressure of work to be able to have much time with my family, but when I did it was with lots of laughter and noisy fun and she felt my boisterousness and breaking of rules she had set up were at odds with her idea of bringing up children to be quiet and reserved and self-controlled, as she is.
METHUSELAH languished. Sometimes I would go aboard and stay to get away from the stress of my medical duties and she thought it was because I was angry with her for some reason. Even though I explained this to her she didnt understand that I just needed to be left alone for awhile to sort myself out.
Often, to ease the stress of it all, when a day had not gone well or a particular patient had been lost, I would go to the pub and raise hell with others who also had a lot of stress, simply from keeping themselves and theirs going from day to day. It was a much needed release and it helped to numb my seared sensitivities. It didnt help her. She was embarrassed by what she called my flamboyant behaviour. She saw a part of me which had always been there but had never come to the fore as it did then from the anxiety and concern for other peoples troubles and sorrows, and she didnt like it.
When the children finished university my daughter married a musician from Montreal. Theyre both dedicated, serious intellectuals enjoying their interests in Vienna now. She is a botanist and they are growing music and flowers together and enjoying the café society there. It suits them well.
My son, though, has led a troubled life. Malcolm is impulsive and immediate and has ambitious ideas, not all of them good. His first marriage was a disaster and he lost everything. My second daughter-in-law seems to understand him well and she lets him do as he pleases, following along and encouraging him as he tries first one thing and then another.
I think perhaps his problems grew from the restraints Merry Hilary tried to impose on his extrovert nature from the beginning. In spite of this they have such a close relationship. He is her fine son who is at last forgiven everything in spite of admonitions and advice and failure. I think he needs such checks as she gives in his life, and I myself was not always there to give them, if indeed I would have.
For myself, when I finally realised that our marriage was falling apart, I made an effort to pull it together, suggesting I should give up my practice and we could move back aboard to become coastal freighters again. We had both loved the sea as I still do and I longed to experience that once more, but it seemed she had listened to my son who had a better idea. He wanted us to go to France to resurrect the vineyard and she backed him up. I was shocked. She knew I couldnt go back there.
They had made many trips back and forth during the years, vacationing at the old chateau, and my son was enchanted with it from childhood and the succeeding visits with his mother and sister. I finally agreed to go into partnership with him and they returned together, he and his wife and our grandchildren, and she with them.
They run it now as a tourist attraction bed-and-breakfast affair. What the father would not do the son was more than willing to take on. Theyre very happy. He hopes to make enough money to restore the vineyards one day, and on this I wish him well. I keep the property in my name because Malcolm would be hard pressed to pay the taxes. That is my responsibility. Besides, it is alI I have to remind me that I was once free to do as I pleased and that I gave up that freedom for another. I dont know what Merry Hilary lost by our marriage, but Im visited now by those old words of hers, that it all becomes a crashing bore after awhile for one or the other. It seems that it did, and I was not that one.
Perhaps it was my fault, but we had come to leading two different lives and I didnt see it that way until it hit me in the face. For me it was always Merry Hilary, the children and my practice. It gave me stability, but she had changed. I believe we all doits inevitablebut must it always be to our detriment? Can we not change and accommodate as we go along?
Armand gave Rose a long look and then confided,
I have never told the children or anyone else why I dont return to France. They think its because Im foolishly proud and stubborn, but what we did when young was between only myself and my wifeand now, yourself, then after a pause he added, I will tell you I felt at last that there was a man there in France whom she was interested in.
He took his gaze from hers then, and looked out the window again.
Rose stood up, went over and made more café au lait, brought out a bottle of Bettinas blackberry cordial and poured two, handing him his with a look that told him how deeply she felt for him and wanted to comfort him.
After a few moments she said,
What youve told me stays with me. As for this problem with the law here, Ill research it further. There must be something I can twist arms with.
They looked steadily at each other again, until he said with a close smile,
Thank you Rose, but dont feel disappointed if it goes against me. Even if I should never be allowed to travel outside of this countryfagh!why should I when I now live in paradise? I have found myself once more, here in this bay which you also found after many years lost, and whatever happens Ill know where to return. I will never lose myself again.
The bitterness in his last statement made Rose realise how much Armand had been hurt. She herself had made a similar vow of rejection after her first youthful visit to the waterfall with Chanting Breeze, even though she had tried to forgive him later, but she knew now that in making that vow she had taken the ever-widening circle offered so joyously by Waterfall and closed it into a very small circumference. That constriction, she had found, gave only an irretrievable loss of time which might be shared happily with anotherif you will, if you can, if you dare.
The two of them sat quietly in the late afternoon, looking out over the bay, one who had found it recently, and one who had found again what she had lost years before, hearing the sounds of the children laughing in the distance accompanied by the barking of Ulf and Gurth.
Tide, never lost, began moving toward Beach, lapping around the grounded barge, welcomed as it had always been, there along the warm shores of the quiet, sheltered bay.