by Eric Thomson
"Imagine that," said my sister, "Pine Island all booked up for the season by an ecology group!" She turned the car brusquely and the tires threw gravel into the brook which ran alongside the island's dirt road. The day was unseasonably warm and I was looking forward to some cooler weeks before summer came, with its oppressive heat and humidity.
"Well, maybe there is something decent over on Spring Island," I said, knowing that we were heading to the inter-island ferry point.
"You know, Eric, you're a stubborn cuss. You're perfectly welcome to stay with us and you know our house is big enough for you to get away from everyone, so you can do your writing." She applied the brakes expertly and swerved to avoid a deer which darted suddenly across the road in front of us.
"I know, Martha, but it would give me a writer's block, thinking you were all tip-toeing around and trying to be invisible as well." A car coming in the opposite direction was raising a dust cloud, so we quickly rolled up our windows.
"Now, Eric, you know the children wouldn't mind. They love to hear your stories." The dust cloud subsided and we rolled down the windows to get a little breeze into the car.
"Tell them I'm working on some new ones and I want them to be a surprise," I replied.
We parked the car as close to the ferry landing as was possible and Martha helped me carry my belongings onto the little dock. She glanced at my battered old portable typewriter and pursed her lips, the way she always did when she had some critical thoughts she was not going to say out loud.
"I know what you're thinking," I said. "Why don't I get a desktop computer?" I laid the typewriter on top of my biggest suitcase and checked to see that we had left no essential items in the car.
"I can repeat your arguments word for word," she said, placing the two smaller suitcases and the rucksack next to the large suitcase. "So you don't have to repeat them to me, Eric Thomson."
"Well, the electricity does conk out," I said, defensively.
"Of course it does, silly, yet you insist on going to a place where there is hardly any electrical service at all." Martha shook her head in disapproval, but her light blue eyes twinkled with fond amusement.
The airhorn of the approaching ferry, actually a converted fishing boat, stopped our conversation for a moment. One of the crew motioned for me to come to the end of the dock. I did so and he threw me a mooring line which I secured to one of the dock's pilings in as seaman-like manner as I knew how. The captain swung the stern toward the dock and the crewman made fast the stern mooring line himself.
The planks rattled and bounced as a pickup truck backed right up to the edge of the dock. The driver and his young helper let down the tailgate and began passing boxes, bags, and other containers of supplies and mail for the Spring Islanders. A crewman wearing a well-worn ship's officer's cap called to us: "You the only ones going to Spring Island?" We looked around and, seeing no one else, nodded in the affirmative. "Well, let's get aboard, then." He motioned one of the crew to help us with our luggage, actually my luggage, and we came aboard. The airhorn sounded, lines were cast off and we churned away from the dock.
The sudden transition from the stationary shore to the gentle swells of the calm waters gave me the brief illusion that we were riding upon the sinuous back of some gigantic beast. Martha and I stood close to the rail as a precaution until we began to get our sea legs. We watched the dock recede rapidly in our frothy wake, and shouted to one another over the throaty roar of the powerful twin inboard engines.
"Are you sure they have a vacant cottage?" asked Martha.
"That's what they said on the phone." I leaned to avoid the spray from an errant wave which slapped the side of the boat. "It's funny..." "Can't hear you!" I shouted, cupping an ear in her direction.
"I said, it's funny that you should be the first Thomson to set foot on Spring Island since our great grandfather's family lived there."
"That's not strange," I shouted. "Grandmother said that it was so hard to make a living there, most islanders left the place as soon as they could paddle or sail a boat. And those who stayed supplemented their fishing with privateering and the odd bit of shipwrecking."
Martha grimaced, "Now, don't go repeating THOSE old family fables to the children."
"No, I promise I won't."
Soon we saw the island and our captain steered us smoothly up to the dock. "Spring Island!" he shouted. "Hey, over there, take the line, will ya?" One of the young men on the dock caught the hawser thrown to him by a crewman on the bow, and skillfully made it fast to the mooring cleat. We stepped onto the dock with some of my luggage and the crew-members passed us the rest, along with the island's groceries and mail. We passed along everything to the three Spring Island boys who packed it neatly into the back of their pickup truck.
"Is there room for both of us?" I asked the pickup driver, a young man whom I judged to be in his mid-twenties, with fair skin, dark hair and light blue eyes, exactly like mine.
"Sure, Ziggi and Freddie can ride in the back and you two can sit up front with me."
"Ziggi?" I said as casually as I could. "Is he Jewish?"
"Naw," said our driver with a laugh, "his full name is 'Siegfried'. Mine's Eric."
"And that's my name, too," I said. "This is my sister, Martha."
"Glad to meet you, Eric," said Martha. "We came to see the guest cottage we heard you had vacant."
"Oh, you're the people who phoned."
Eric looked at the ferry captain who raised two fingers at him. "The boat goes back to Pine Island in two hours, so that gives you enough time to see the place. If you don't like it, I'll take you back to the dock and you can go back to Pine this evening. The place is close to the general store, so you can look it over while we unload the supplies."
We drove past the charred, overgrown ruins of what had once been a large building. "What was that?" asked Martha, who was sitting next to the window.
"Oh," said Eric, "that was the Protestant Church. I forget now if it was Baptist or Presbyterian. I was just a little kid when it burned down. They say lightning struck it and before the volunteer fire department could respond, it was past saving."
"What happened to the minister?" I asked.
"I don't know," said Eric. Just then he had to hit the brakes and sound the horn, for there was a cow ambling in the middle of the narrow dirt road.
"Swensen's cow got loose again," said Eric. "Yeah, that's her, all right." The cow took her time getting off the road. We watched as she chose a path which led to a large wood and stone structure which stood in a clearing in the woods.
"What's that place?" Martha asked.
"That's the haybarn," said Eric, putting the pickup into gear.
"It looks like a church without a steeple," said Martha.
"You're right," said Eric. It was the Catholic Church."
I looked at Eric, "It was, you say?"
"Yeah," said Eric.
"Well, what happened to it?" I asked, with great curiosity.
Eric looked pained for a moment, visibly took a breath and said, "The people found out what the priest was doing to the kids, so he had to leave." Eric stopped in front of the general store before adding, "That was the church I went to as a kid."
I didn't need to hear any more. "I'm sorry," I said.
"That's terrible," said Martha.
Eric brightened, "That's all over now. The people had a meeting and decided that the churches weren't helping us get along, weren't making us better and were taking our money, too."
"What happened to the cross and the steeple?" asked Martha, who should have been an architect, I thought.
"That got struck by lightning," said Eric, as he opened the door. "The steeple and the cross got buried where they fell, 'cause you don't need them on a barn."
"No, I guess not," said Martha.
"The guest cottage is just over there, right across the road," said Eric, pointing in its direction.
"There?" I pointed.
"Yes," he said, "just back of those trees."
"Thanks," I said. "Come on, Martha, let's do an inspection tour."
"I'll leave your luggage in the truck in case you decide not to stay," said Eric.
"That's fine," I agreed.
We walked across the road and followed a footpath which meandered behind a line of trees which served as a screen or windbreak. A mockingbird performed a wondrous medley of songs for us, with no two alike.
"Isn't this place beautiful?" I asked Martha.
"Yes, it certainly is," she agreed, "but it seems kind of strange. There doesn't seem to be any vacationers or tourists. Everyone seems to live here permanently."
"Yes," I replied, "I do seem to be the odd man out."
We came up to the front of the cottage. It was a modern A-frame structure, single-story, with a large picture window which was divided into two portions, one of which served as the door.
"Oh, blast it!" I said, as I just remembered that I had asked no one for a key.
Martha was already on the veranda which was just two steps above ground level, so she tried the door. "It's unlocked," she said. "That's funny."
"What's funny?" I asked, as I watched her slide the door open on its aluminum channels.
"I don't even see a lock."
"I don't' either," I said, as we walked in. I noted that one could see through the whole place, from front window to back porch, which took in the living area, dining area and sleeping area. The bathroom, a large closet, a utility room and a small kitchen were off to the side and enclosed by partitions. The open area could be screened and divided into sections by drawing cloth curtains which hung from overhead tracks. The picture window-door combination had a translucent, louvered blind which could be opened, closed or slid entirely out of the way when one wanted to enjoy the superb view of the sea, framed by stands of pine.
Martha investigated the utility room. "Wow!" she exclaimed. "Everything's electric."
"Don't worry," I said, "I brought some candles, but it really is annoying if the power goes off and there's no hot water." Still, I reflected, the place was an artist's or writer's dream. The cottage complemented the beautiful setting and had all the conveniences and comforts one would require in order to have an enjoyable and productive stay on the island.
Martha studied me as I surveyed the premises. "So, you really like it," she said.
"Yes, it even beats the place I had picked out on Pine Island," I replied.
As we left the cottage and walked back toward the general store, Martha said, "I wonder who the owners are. The furniture reminds me of a motel."
"Maybe they have their own personal furniture stored somewhere," I said. "Anyway, I don't like an overpowering sense of someone else's presence in a place where I live; no heirloom monstrosities like grandfather clocks, porcelain dragons or huge swordfish mounted on the wall..."
"Well, as it turns out," said Martha, "I happen to like Great Grandfather's souvenirs, especially the ones he brought back from China and India as a sea captain."
"And I'm glad you like them, because I would not like to get rid of them and yet, I wouldn't care to live with them. It's lucky I have you for my sister," I chuckled. We entered the general store and saw a bearded man, about my age, whose bushy hair was going gray like mine.
"Mr. Lutitt?" I asked.
"Why, yes," he said, coming around the counter to greet us, "you must be the Thomsons who phoned about the cottage." We shook hands.
"I'm the one who will take the cottage," I said. "Martha must return to the mainland."
Mr. Lutitt called to Eric who was stacking groceries in the back of the store with the assistance of a striking blonde girl who wore bluejeans and work boots, "Eric, can you drive this lady back to the ferry?"
"Sure thing, Dad," said Eric, who stopped his work immediately and came over to us. We went outside and I noticed that it was cooler and a breeze had come up, making a gentle sighing sound as it went through the pines.
"Is it all right if I ride back with you and Martha to the dock?" I asked.
"Sure," said Eric. "We might as well leave your luggage in the back. That way, it'll be easier for us to move you into the cottage."
"Good idea," I agreed, letting Martha get in first this time, so I could look out the side window. Maybe I could catch something of interest too, although, I thought, we had probably run out of old church buildings on this island.
The breeze was freshing and was now a wind which bent the tops of the trees slightly, causing them to sway. "Look's like another little storm," said Eric. "Well, the island needs some rain and this pickup needs a wash, so that should do the trick."
"When do you expect it to hit the islands?" I asked, a little anxious about Martha's safe return on the ferry.
"Maybe in an hour or so," said Eric, quickly glancing at the sky. "You should make it to Pine Island safe and dry, ma'am," he assured Martha, who nodded with an unworried expression. It reminded me that we had come from a long line of seafaring folk, though neither of us had done much sailing or seafaring, except as passengers. Still, I thought, we had a certain feel for the sea which others seemed to lack. To them, the sea was a foreign language, but to us, it was our mother tongue, a way of life, a means of living and a way to get to far off places. It seemed with us not so much a matter of learning, but remembering. Then I saw a glimpse of a large log and stone house some distance from the road and almost hidden by the trees. In that instant I saw, or thought I saw, a large set of antlers mounted above the entrance, which had two very tall and massive wooden doors.
"Eric," I asked, "What's that place over there, the big log house?" Eric slowed down a bit so that a rabbit could make up its mind about crossing the road.
"That's our community center where we have meetings and indoor festi... er, parties , things like that," he said. I chuckled, "I'm sure I should have let Martha sit beside the window, so she could give me a better description of the place. You know, she really has an interest in architecture."
"Oh, Eric," said Martha, "Not you. Eric," she said to our driver, "This Eric," she nudged me in the ribs. "You know it's just my hobby."
"Well," I said, "you saved your family a whole lot of money by designing the plans for your house and you have a beautiful place which is just to your liking."
"You actually designed your own house?" marveled Eric, the driver.
"Yes, I did," said Martha, "after discussing it with my husband, we made a few small changes in the plans. It's hard to think of everything, but that was the very first time I had made a complete and detailed house plan from top to bottom."
"I think every architect has to do that," I said. "When you have one client he can change his mind and when you have a company or a married couple for a client, you may find that they never can quite make their minds up."
Eric nodded wisely, "Sometimes they never make their minds up about much of anything."
I watched the foliage alongside the road as we drove on toward the dock, nagged by a thought in the back of my own mind. I thought I had made my mind up to rent the cottage here on Spring Island, but I had vague doubts. I felt a peculiar sense of uneasiness within myself, something I had rarely, if ever, experienced in my recollection. I felt as if I were standing on a threshold or a crossroads in my life which would be represented by my decision to remain or to return to Pine Island with Martha. What could be the matter? I thought. I was entirely a free agent. Although I had agreed to take the cottage, I could still change my mind. I had put no money down, signed no lease agreement. My luggage was with us in the back of the pickup. I could return on the ferry with Martha this evening.
"You look as if you forgot something," said Martha. We drove onto the dock.
"No," I said. "I think I've remembered everything that I need." Some fishing boats, accompanied by seagulls, were coming into the inlet which served as the island's harbor. Whether they had made their catch or had come in to avoid the storm, I did not know.
We got out and stood on the dock. Martha knew me so well. She gazed with an expression of concern into my eyes. "You can come back with me, Eric," she said, "there's lots of extra space at home. You wouldn't be in the way a bit."
What was I worried about? I thought to myself, with a touch of annoyance. "That's all right, Martha," I heard myself saying, "Remember, successful people come to decisions slowly and do not change them often. Failures make decisions quickly and change their minds often. This is my plan and I'm sticking to it."
"Now you're stuck with it," said the voice of my mind.
The ferry's airhorn sounded. "Phone me when you get to Pine Island," I said. "I'll hang around the general store so I can receive your call." I quickly kissed her on the cheek.
Martha strode toward the ferry and stopped to gaze at me once again, the expression of concern on her face becoming almost that of worry. "I'll phone you as soon as I arrive," she said, and boarded the ferry just as the lines were being cast off. The engines roared as the boat left the inlet and Martha waved to me from the stern. I waved back at her until the boat rounded the promontory and was lost to view. I was surprised at how very much alone I felt. A big raindrop broke the spell by hitting me squarely in the face, followed by others, which splattered on the planks of the dock.
"We'd better get back to the store," said Eric. "Help me cover the back of the truck with the tarp, so your things don't get wet."
The raindrops pelted us as we struggled with the heavy, oiled canvas which we cinched up to the steel hooks on the side of the truck, using the stout cord which ran through metal grommets in the canvas. We finished the job before the rain had soaked us and drove back to the general store. Eric drove slower, now that the road was becoming slippery with mud.
"You're a good driver," I said. Eric grinned as he kept his eyes on the road.
"Thanks, but I really don't want mud splashed on the truck while I get it washed." The rain really came down as we left the truck and ran into the store. Some of the Islanders had come to purchase groceries and other items, but now they stayed to avoid the sudden downpour. They chatted to one another around a large old wood-burning stove which apparently was used to heat the store in the winter. A few children played with the overgrown house cat which presided over the store when the proprietor was out. "No mice in this place," I thought. I waited for one of the customers to complete a purchase so that I could speak to Mr. Lutitt about renting the cottage.
My doubts and vague worries had subsided and even if they hadn't, I thought, there was nothing I could do about them, short of jumping into the ocean and swimming all the way back to Pine Island. The vision of me churning through the waves, holding the end of a rope in my teeth, to which was tied all my luggage, like a tugboat trailed by barges, made me smile to myself. I almost laughed out loud when I thought of the islanders' amazement and consternation at seeing a visitor running down the road, followed by a train of suitcases, as if he were being pursued by, what...? Once again, I felt those vague doubts and that uneasiness.
I watched as the customer collected her purchases and signed an entry that Mr. Lutitt had made in a large, old-fashioned ledger. It appeared that no cash or credit cards were involved in the purchases which the islanders made at the store. In fact, there was no cash register at all, just an old manually-operated adding machine which sat, unused, on a table behind the counter. If the place were not kept so tidy, I would suspect that it would have been quite dusty, from lack of use.
The woman put her purchases into a large hemp bag with shoulder straps. No plastic or paper bags were in evidence, so the islanders must carry their own reusable bags and boxes to and from the store. Come to think of it, I saw no discarded containers of any kind as trash or litter on the island, nor was there a scrap of paper or even a cigarette butt anywhere that I had seen. Either the island had a mighty good cleanup service or the islanders did not throw anything on the ground. "Extremely odd, but certainly aesthetically pleasing," I thought, although the strange, disquieted mood that hovered over me fed upon every difference which I perceived. I was beginning to become annoyed with myself. Like the thrifty Scot who bought a ticket to an opera, I was going to enjoy this vacation even if it killed me. That little joke usually cheered me up, but this time it only added to my vague and therefore ominous misgivings.
"Mr. Lutitt?" I asked, seeing that the woman customer was leaving the counter, "May I pay you for my stay at the cottage?"
"Certainly, Mr. Thomson. I'm glad you chose to stay with us." He pulled the ledger over and opened it at one of the alphabetical tabs.
"I brought the full amount in cash, as you requested," I said, reaching into my pocket to make sure the wad of bank notes was still intact.
"Fine," he said. He looked up at me with blue eyes which could have been my own, but I could read no message in them. It was as if I were seeing my own eyes in a mirror. "As I explained, we prefer to avoid dealing with cash, but the owners insist upon it."
"Strange people, I guess," knowing that I had made a gaffe as the words came out of my mouth.
"Of course," said Mr. Lutitt, clearing his throat, "relatives of mine, you know."
"I'm sorry," I said, "I didn't mean to sound critical."
"Not to worry, Mr. Thomson," he said with a wry hint of amusement, "we're all a wee bit strange."
Once again, I felt that peculiar surge of uneasiness. "It must be caused by fatigue," I counseled myself. "It's been a long day." I unfolded the hundred dollar bills and quickly checked the amount before handing them to Mr. Lutitt, who did a very strange thing. Without counting the money, he put the little stack of bills into a battered shoebox, replaced the cardboard lid and shoved it back under the counter. In my momentary confusion, I happened to glance in the direction of the islanders clustered around the stove and I saw they were all looking in my direction. When they saw that I had noticed them, they quickly resumed their conversations, as if they had no interest in me. Perhaps I was becoming paranoid. Of course, local yokels all like to gawk at strangers and they tend to avoid contact with them, mainly out of shyness. But these islanders were not yokels, it seemed to me. If Mr. Lutitt's son, Eric, were any indication, these people were pretty well-educated and one might even say, cultured, at least from what I could see and hear of their speech, their appearance and their behavior.
"You're not going to count it?" I asked Mr. Lutitt.
"No, Mr. Thomson. I trust you." Again, he looked at me with that mirror gaze that told me nothing. "Would you like a receipt?"
"No," I said, "I trust you too."
Mr. Lutitt nodded and said nothing. I didn't look around, but I had the feeling that the group of islanders was looking at me again. I sought to break the peculiar spell, which I was pretty sure emanated from my own mind, by introducing some more practical matters. "I notice the cottage is all-electric. What's the electrical power like on the island?"
"It's 220 volts, a.c.," said Mr. Lutitt, "at sixty cycles."
"No, what I mean is, how reliable is it?" I suspected that he knew what I meant all along, but was having a little joke.
"We have our own powerhouse, so it's probably more reliable than you get on the mainland. We've never had a major power outage. Our main working generator is a diesel which came from a U-boat and if that should ever break down, we can quickly fire up its mate and if times really do get tough, we still have Old Betsy."
"Who or what is she?" I asked, momentarily forgetting to ask him how the island came by the two U-boat engines.
"She's a beauty," said Mr. Lutitt, "a fine working steam engine we salvaged off the wreck of a fishing trawler, back before the war. We got her some marine boilers from a couple of other ships before they were scrapped, and they can burn wood if we can't get coal or bunker oil for them. So you see, Mr. Thomson, you needn't fear that your computer will go down through any fault of our generators."
"I don't have a computer," I said. "I'm only concerned about the supply of hot water."
"Oh, you'll find plenty of that," said Mr. Lutitt.
Maybe that's what I was becoming afraid of, I thought to myself, "ending up in hot water."
There was an uncomfortable moment of silence as I waited for Mr. Lutitt to volunteer some further information about Spring Island, but he did nothing of the sort. The phone rang and he answered it. "It's for you, Mr. Thomson." He handed me the receiver.
"Martha?" I asked. There was a loud thunderclap outside and more flashes of lightning, followed by even louder reports, as if we were being ranged in by heavy artillery. The static on the line made her voice barely audible. "I can hardly hear you," I shouted. I could just make out that she was on Pine Island, where the storm was lifting so that she could take the ferry back to the mainland. Or, at least, that's what I thought she had said. Then we were cut off. I shouted into the receiver a few times, but there was only loud static on the line. I handed the receiver back to Mr. Lutitt. "I guess the phone is out," I said.
"The telephone often acts up, especially in stormy weather, as you can see," he said, "but if there's a real emergency, we can get through on one of the short-wave radios."
"Is this the only telephone on the island?" I asked incredulously.
"Until somebody wants another one, it is," he said.
Eric came to the counter, "Mr. Thomson, the rain seems to be letting up. Can I help you get your things into the cottage?"
Taking advantage of a convenient gap in the cloud cover, we backed the pickup fairly close to the front porch of the cottage; then we carefully removed the water-filled tarp and hustled everything under cover of the porch roof. Aside from being moistened by the drizzle in the minutes it took to transfer the luggage from pickup to porch, my belongings were virtually dry. Now there was no hurry, but Eric volunteered to help me put everything in the front living room area, just inside the picture window.
"Aside from me, you don't cater to tourists, do you?"
"No," said Eric, "the islanders want to live here, so there wouldn't be room for tourists. Most of the islanders earn their money elsewhere, but they treat this place as their real home. Some even commute in their private planes." I placed the last suitcase next to the others and made a mental check that nothing was missing.
"So you have an airport here?" I asked.
"Yes," he said. "There's a small airfield and a seaplane slip on the other side of the island."
With that mundane revelation, I suddenly felt more at ease and less like a prisoner under enforced isolation. It also served to lessen the uncanny feeling I had that I was slipping back in time. "Why bother to rent this cottage at all to non-islanders?" I asked.
"The owners can stay here for only a couple of months out of the year, but when they retire they'll live here year 'round. Meanwhile, they want to make some money to recoup what they spent to build this place," said Eric.
"Sounds reasonable, provided they don't get some lowlife renters who wreck the place," I said.
"That's our job," said Eric, "to screen out such types."
"I guess I passed the exam," I said.
"Oh yes," smiled Eric, "you'll do just fine. Well, I have to get back to the store."
"Hey, wait a minute," I exclaimed. "Don't you deserve a tip? You did a whole lot more than any bellboy."
"No," he laughed, "it's all part of the service."
"Oh, I'd better go back to the store to get some edibles."
"Sure, come along," said Eric.
As we left the cottage I suddenly remembered: "By the way, how do you lock up the place?"
"You don't," said Eric, "unless you want to put a lock on it yourself, but the owners might not like it. No one has locks on Spring Island."
"Well, then, I am happy to abide by that custom," I said. "Never have I lived in a place where you didn't need to lock your doors."
"That's one of the little things I like about Spring Island," said Eric, as he started the pickup for our short drive back to the general store.
"Then there must be some bigger things you like about this place," I conjectured.
"Yes, there are," he said with assurance, but he did not tell me what they were.
The rain had resumed, but more gently. It looked as if we were in for a wet evening. We entered the store and wiped our shoes on the hemp floor mat just inside the door. There were about the same number of people in the store as last time, but it seemed to be a new group. One little girl wore a 'peace' emblem, which I mentioned to Eric.
"What war is she protesting?" I asked. Eric laughed and went over to a woman with the same blonde hair as the little girl and when she turned toward me, I had no trouble discerning the resemblance.
"Gretchen wears the death rune," I heard Eric say to the little girl's mother. The woman shook her head and, smiling, knelt in front of the little girl. Deftly, she unclasped the chain which supported what I thought was a 'peace' symbol and turned it upside down, so that the three prongs now pointed upward. She quickly threaded the chain through the medallion and closed the clasp. She kissed the little girl and patted her on the head. Mother and daughter gathered up their purchases and accompanied some other customers outside. Through the window, I watched them climb into a horse-drawn surrey whose driver flicked the reins upon the ample rump of a big draft horse. The Surrey passed in front of the rain-streaked window, creating the effect of a shimmering, silently moving image.
"That's the bus the people use when they want to save gasoline," said Eric, "They live in Woolcroft Village near the airport."
Seeing that Mr. Lutitt was unoccupied, I went over to the counter and asked him what the store had to select from in the way of food. Mr. Lutitt looked at me in astonishment and called to Eric: "Did you not show Mr. Thomson the food in the freezer, the fridge and the cupboards?"
"No, Dad," he said, "I thought he had seen it."
"That will teach you to think," said Mr. Lutitt, shaking his head.
"I really am the one at fault," I said. "It never even occurred to me to look for food already on the premises. All the places I've ever rented were like Mother Hubbard's cupboard."
"Well, then," suggested Mr. Lutitt, "why don't you see what is there and then, if there is anything further you need, you can ask me and I'll do my best to get it for you."
I thanked Eric and Mr. Lutitt for being so helpful and strode back to the cottage, unmindful of the steady rain that gradually soaked me to the skin. As I entered the cottage, I noticed that I or Eric had somehow left the kitchen light on, although I could recall neither of us having been in the kitchen. I was hastening to switch off the light when my nose caught a very appetizing aroma. There on the kitchen table, I saw a beautifully prepared dinner of baked salmon, mashed potatoes sprinkled with parsley, fresh green beans, a fresh green salad and homemade pumpkin pie, along with a bottle of excellent wine. I quickly searched my new abode for any sign of my benefactor, but I saw no one at all.
Without a further moment of delay, I sat down and devoured the wonderful meal in what one might call a feeding-frenzy. The wine was good, in every respect; so much so that I was just able to peel off my wet clothes and fall into bed. I would not like to say that I 'passed out', but I certainly slept soundly until the mockingbird managed to awaken me around ten the next morning. The sun was bright outside and I could see no clouds, so I quickly shaved, showered and grabbed a snack for breakfast. I pulled on some clean, dry clothes and my old hiking boots, planning to make a little tour of this strange and beautiful island. I went over to the general store to obtain a map so that I could choose the points of interest that I would first like to see. Mr. Lutitt greeted me as I entered.
"Good morning, Mr. Thomson. I hope you slept well and that you found everything to your liking."
"I certainly did," I exclaimed, "and I want to thank whoever prepared the delicious meal that I enjoyed."
"No thanks are necessary," he said, "it's part of the service."
"Amazing!" I exclaimed,"but there is something you might be able to supply me with: a map of the island."
"You'll find the chart right over there." Mr. Lutitt pointed to a faded map pinned on a bulletin board in a corner of the room on the other side of the stove.
I walked over to it and saw that it was indeed a mariner's chart of the shoals, rocks, depths, beacons, buoys, channels, etc. It showed Pine Island, Spring Island and more islands than I cared to know about. As for Spring Island, there were no details other than elevations and topographical configurations. I had some idea of where I was on the island in relation to the harbor inlet, but no roads, buildings, villages, airstrips or other landmarks were shown.
"Excuse me," I said, "there are no details on this map in regard to landmarks and ways of getting to them."
"Mr. Lutitt briefly raised his bushy eyebrows at me, "And pray, what would you be needing those for, Mr. Thomson? I don't believe you can get lost and as for the ways to see all there is to see, you're standing on both of them."
I laughed, "Yes, it's just a habit of mine."
"And a very good one," agreed Mr. Lutitt, "if you're exploring a continent."
I looked once more at the map, thanked him and began the first part of my Spring Island tour. Remembering the elevations, I was heading toward one of the highest points on the island, for that would likely give me a good view of many places all at once. I took the road toward the dock.
A strange combination of robins and seagulls treated me to musical accompaniment in which some large ravens provided counterpoint. I walked past the erstwhile Catholic Church now the island hay barn, but it held no interest for me. In fact, I felt a distinct sense of repulsion, first, at the revolting image of Aryans abasing themselves before an Asiatic deity, and secondly, at the pious hypocrisy of the pederast priest. My feelings toward the ruined Protestant Church were similar to those I would have felt toward a ruined used car lot.
The way I had chosen led past the log and stone house with the antlers over the great doors. I saw children playing on the grass in front of the building, while others were looking at some farm animals which were penned nearby, supervised by a young woman. From inside the building, as I walked past, I heard the pleasant song that other children were singing. To me, this made the warm, fragrant, sunny day even more cheerful. The path which I was taking seemed to lead directly where I intended to go, and soon I noticed that I was ascending a gentle incline.
After passing between two large stones which were over six feet in height, the path became a switch-back, but even as I gained altitude, I still remained surrounded by trees. Hence, there was no view except of the nearby foliage. I quickened my pace and came to a well-built granite wall which had a single entrance. Within this enclosure I found more trees, and after I had climbed on top of the wall, I could still see nothing more than trees and sky. It was pretty, but not very informative about what I would find on the island. I had apparently invaded the territory of a bluejay, judging by its raucous cries. It was perched on the wall near the entrance, and when I turned around to look at it, I noticed that the stones were nearly all engraved with some peculiar markings which looked at first to me like cuneiform writing. On closer inspection, however, I saw that they were runes. On each stone there appeared what I had heard Eric call "the death rune", preceded by its opposite. I had found the island's cemetery. Fortunately, I had my 'inspiration notebook' with me, in case I were to have a sudden spell of creativity, so I copied the characters on some of the stones as accurately as I could.
There was what appeared to be a frieze of larger runes that ran around the top course of the wall. A tree had been split and felled by lightning and its shattered trunk obscured a portion of the frieze. Nevertheless, I copied what remained visible. It was with a sense of excitement that I returned to the cottage, to find that my clothes which I had cast off the night before were now laundered and neatly folded upon the bed, which someone had also neatly made. What service! There were also some hefty sandwiches waiting for me on the kitchen table, but I left my hunger in abeyance for the moment it took me to unpack my unabridged dictionary and turn to the page on which the runic alphabet was inscribed with its roman equivalents. I studied these while I ate. The sandwiches were delicious, undoubtedly made with home-baked bread. Even the mustard on the roast beef was tastier than that which I normally encountered. There were obviously some gourmets on Spring Island. "Well, you gourmet chefs, you've finally met your gourmand," I thought, as I ate every crumb and washed it all down with a cold beer from the fridge. I quickly cleared the table and laid the notebook beside the dictionary so that I could decipher the penciled copies I had made of the inscriptions by writing the roman equivalents beneath the runes. The first entry, at least, was in English: "Captain James William Thomson, born 1835. Returned to the Deep 1885." It was my great grandfather. His ship had gone down with all hands in the Irish Sea. He had lived to be fifty years old, just as the inscription read.
Suddenly, the room seemed very chilly. I quickly turned to see if the door was open. Not only that, but I felt that someone was in the cottage with me, although I heard nothing. I got up to see that everything was secure and found no one there, just as my common sense had told me. I sat down at the table again and noticed that my palms were cold and sweaty. "You're frightened, old man," I said out loud to myself, and quickly smoothed down the hair on the back of my neck, wondering what could be the matter. How coincidental that I should first record the death of my great grandfather, I thought. Then the chill gripped me again, for I realized that I was born in 1935 and that this year was 1985, the year I turned fifty. I stared, unseeing, at my note-book as the realization sank in. "Correlation is not causation," I told myself. "Besides, you're lucky you lived to be fifty, after some of the situations you got yourself into."
I translated another entry which I had made much further on, after I had copied the frieze, but this was in German. It, nevertheless, had the same format as my great grandfather's: "Kapitän-Leutnant Siegfried Schmidt, born 1912. Returned to the Deep 1984." I noted that this pattern seemed repeated for everyone, even the women. All had "returned to the Deep."
"They bury them at sea," I murmured, "and a good idea, too, otherwise the island would become a cemetery, with no space for the living." I quickly wrote the roman letters which corresponded to the frieze runes: "This Sacred Grove is dedicated...n whose Destiny shall not tire, nor shall It be broken, and whose Mantle of Strength descends upon those in Its Service." The fallen tree had obscured the missing words of the dedication. I regretted not bringing an ax with me, for I had brought nearly everything else, including my own cooking pots, which were certainly unnecessary in this seemingly enchanted cottage. The word "haunted" also came unpleasantly to mind, but it occurred to me as a would-be writer that a ghost might well provide me with the makings of a bestseller. The problem was that this modern cottage did not seem to have the proper gothic atmosphere that ghosts in novels apparently preferred. It looked as if I would have to find my own inspiration to conclude some of the unfinished manuscripts I had brought along with me. Suddenly, I remembered the telephone. I should call Martha to see if she had arrived home safely. I thought it wise, somehow, not to mention my discovery of the Sacred Grove to anyone. These Islanders seemed very jealous of their privacy, so I thought it best not to appear too inquisitive. I went over to the store and found the usual half dozen or so customers, among them, another little girl wearing the forked rune symbol, but she had the fork pointing upwards, as I had seen on the stones in the Sacred Grove, preceding the year of the person's birth, just as the fork pointed down preceding the year in which the person "returned to the Deep."
When Mr. Lutitt was free, I asked about the telephone.
"Oh, it's fine now," he said. "The line is free if you want to make a call."
Somehow, it seemed almost too good to be true, but I had no trouble getting through to Martha and her voice was so clear that she could have been phoning from the next room.
"Now, that's better!" I exclaimed. "Is everything all right?" she asked.
"Couldn't be better!" I replied. "I couldn't enjoy it any more, unless there were two of me."
"I know when you're troubled about something, Eric, you sound too cheerful." Obviously, I couldn't fool Martha, but how was I to explain what troubled me if I couldn't explain it to myself? Nor could I say how lonely and isolated I felt, not with Mr. Lutitt within earshot. Besides, I had refused her offer of hospitality precisely because I wanted to be alone in order to write, so I would be silly to complain about lack of company. Loneliness, however, was the only cause of my uneasiness which I could identify, the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps I was suffering from what anthropologists call "culture-shock." Unless I can find some reasonable basis for a mood, I tend to distrust my feelings and I certainly distrusted them now, which made me feel worse.
"I was worried," I told Martha, "about you in that storm."
"I don't see why you stay worried, then," said Martha, logically, "since I'm safe at home. Are you eating all right?"
"Oh, yes," I said. "It's 5-star accommodation, all the way. I feel as if I'm getting fattened up already."
"Are you getting acquainted with some of the islanders?"
"Only a couple," I said. "It takes some doing, I think. Anyway, I came to get lots of writing done and they give me plenty of leeway for that."
"You sound as if they are shunning you."
"No, not exactly," I said. "I just find the hospitality a bit odd, that's all."
"Oh, Frank's coming up the driveway," said Martha, in an urgent tone of voice.
"You'd better feed your husband before he starts growling," I said. "I'll let you go."
"Bye," said Martha. The connection was so good, I could hear Frank come in and shut the kitchen door.
"Now, that's quite an improvement," I said to Mr. Lutitt as I hung up the receiver. "What do I owe you for my call?"
"You've already paid, Mr. Thomson," he said. "It's part of the service."
"Well, thank you very much!" I said with delight, thinking that I had paid very little for all the service I was getting. No one had told me that my rental fee for the cottage would include food, cooking and laundry service, plus a free telephone. Spring Island was being very good to me, I thought.
As I half-turned to leave the counter, Mr. Lutitt asked, "Did you like the view from Grove Hill?"
I looked at him with surprise. "Why, yes, it was most interesting." I realized that anyone at the log-house could have mentioned that I was seen heading up to the hill, especially since that was the only place the path went. Now that my little secret was out, I was emboldened to ask him about the runes.
"Those," said Mr. Lutitt, "were insisted upon by the eccentric multi-millionaire who paid for the whole thing. What he did, basically, was to duplicate the island's Birth and Death Register in stone, and he left adequate funds to continue the recording in the same way."
"Do you mind telling me who this eccentric benefactor is or was?" I asked.
"Not at all," he said. "His name was Frederick Thomson Lewis. They say he recovered a large treasure on Cocos Island which was bequeathed to him by a pirate named Thomson. All rumors, of course."
"Yes, you wonder how such stories get started," I said. Mr. Lutitt looked at me out of the corner of his eye and excused himself to attend to a customer.
I returned to the cottage and found my supper of corned beef and cabbage being kept warm in the oven. I spent the remainder of the day unpacking, and I selected several manuscripts that I thought most likely to be concluded during my stay on the island. Yet, I wondered how much I would accomplish if my mind continued to be agitated by these recurrent feelings of uneasiness and apprehension, which seemed to have no concrete justification. Before I went to bed, I studied the portion of the frieze-runes that I had been able to copy off the wall surrounding the Sacred Grove. I attempted to fit the name of the "eccentric multi-millionaire" into the dedication, but that made no sense. The Sacred Grove could hardly be dedicated to one man, unless he was so eccentric that he thought himself to be a god.
I lay in bed, thinking of various ways in which the fallen tree trunk could be removed, and gradually drifted off into an unsound sleep, fraught with dreams full of sound and fury, which signified nothing to me, except that I seemed to be involved with others who were fighting a kind of civil war. It was with unaccustomed gratitude that I greeted the sunrise the next morning, for I seemed to be getting little rest in bed. What I needed, I thought, was a good, long hike. Obviously, I wasn't physically fatigued enough to enjoy a really sound sleep, and if I didn't sleep well, I knew I would have little or no creativity with which to write.
I ate a hasty breakfast of hard-boiled eggs and delicious buttered toast, accompanied by strong instant coffee, and started on my way, in the alleged direction of Woolcroft Village. I had not caught the islanders actually telling me fibs, but I was doubtful that they were being entirely candid with me. Although I was told that the road led to Woolcroft Village, I really had no idea what I was going to find.
Fortunately, the road had firmed up after the rain and there was no traffic, so I made good progress. At times, the road meandered near the sea, but then it would abruptly turn inland. As I peered into the woods on either side of the road, I would glimpse the occasional house or barn. There were wooden fences and stone walls to keep livestock in or out of the fields. The island had cattle, sheep, horses and goats. Some of the animals were quite tame and stuck their muzzles over the fence, apparently expecting me to give them a handout, but I had brought nothing with me.
The road began to ascend a promontory, and as I came around a curve, I saw a large, solidly-built stone structure with a corrugated metal roof. Against one wall of the building was a tall stone chimney. Nearby was a steel water tower next to a windmill and the wires, insulators, and steel girders of an electric power distribution facility. As I approached the building, I could hear the chugging of a diesel engine, accompanied by the high-pitched whine of a generator. Mr. Lutitt was perfectly accurate: Spring Island had a real powerhouse. One of the double wooden doors was open, so I looked in. Sure enough, there were two big diesel engines, one of them working, and behind them, next to the boilers on the chimney side of the building, was a four-cylinder, triple-expansion marine engine. A man around my age, in coveralls, was escorting half a dozen teenage boys and girls, also in coveralls, around the dormant diesel engine, indicating various parts to them with a wooden pointer. Speaking loudly, so they could hear me above the noise of the engine, I asked, "Can I come in?"
The man turned toward me and nodded. I accompanied the group into a small control room in which we could speak in normal tones. "Good morning, Mr. Thomson," said the man with the pointer. "I'm Hans Schmidt and these are my student assistants who are learning the theory and practice of heat engines and electrical engineering."
Some of the students greeted me with curt nods in my direction and the others merely smiled at me.
"I hope you don't mind if we continue our lesson," said Mr. Schmidt.
"No, please do. Is it all right if I stay and listen for a moment?" I asked.
"You are welcome to stay as long as you like," he said, and immediately began to lecture the students on the finer points of diesel engines, using a blueprint to illustrate what he had evidently been showing them on the actual engine outside. I could see that the blueprint was entirely in German. On the bottom right-hand corner of the blueprint was a faded rubber-stamped notice: "Geheimreichssache." Beneath the word, which meant the equivalent of "Secret", was the faded but still visible Eagle and Swastika emblem of the Third Reich. This was a historical document. Mr. Schmidt gave the German word, which the students repeated in a chorus, and then had each one say the word individually. He checked the pronunciation and accent, then he would give the English word for the part and explain its function, after which he would ask if the students had questions. I was favorably impressed. I caught Mr. Schmidt's eye for a moment, mouthed the words, "Thank you!" and unobtrusively took my leave.
As I left the powerhouse, I reflected that I had seen no such excellence in education on the mainland, neither on the part of the teachers, nor the students. Spring Island obviously had much to teach me, and I was willing to learn. Then it dawned on me: Hans Schmidt, the son of Kapitän-Leutnant Schmidt? A U-boat commander's son, teaching a new generation what his father had taught him about his ship's diesel engines, of course, I thought. But that created a much greater mystery: how had a U-boat commander brought the engines to the island, if not on his own U-boat? And what was going on in this place during and after World War II? Had the U-boat's crew settled on the island? Certainly, one of them had become an islander as well as his son. Perhaps I would learn the answer by copying more inscriptions on the wall of the Sacred Grove. There was one other thought that struck me, although by now, I was becoming accustomed to it: everyone on the island seemed to know me by name, whether I had ever seen them or not. Certainly, I had not been introduced to anyone other than Mr. Lutitt and his son, Eric. Yes, I reflected, Spring Island was indeed "a wee bit strange."
I followed the road which dipped gradually, until it ran level with a beach on which I saw children and adults who appeared to be gathering flotsam and driftwood which the tide had left on the sand. This material they were loading on various wheelbarrows and four-wheeled handcarts. As I came to the opposite side of the dip, where the road crested the heathered rise, I not only smelled wood smoke from the chimneys of the village, but I could see Woolcroft's houses with their dark slate roofs and gray stone walls. The dirt road soon yielded to cobblestone pavement and I found myself in a village which, aside from the evidence of electric wiring, must have looked no different than it did over three hundred years ago.
The people in the street appeared to pay me no particular attention as they went about their business. I noticed that the houses' doors and windows were decorated with runic arrangements of pine boughs and garlands of oakleaves. Although there was no tinsel, crepe paper or colored lights, the freshly-gathered foliage and wild flowers were undeniably festive in appearance. I guessed that our ancestors must have made such decorations many thousands of years ago.
In a few minutes, I had traversed the village and could see that the cobbled main street ran right down and into the sea, perhaps as a means of facilitating the launching and beaching of small boats, and later, small amphibious aircraft, one of which was parked on the beach nearby.
The sun had passed its zenith and my legs informed me that I had gone far enough, so I retraced my steps through the village. Coming along the street toward me were some children who pulled a couple of handcarts loaded with driftwood. They seemed full of the expectant exuberance one would believe of them on Yuletide Eve, anticipating the opening of presents the next morning. At least, I saw in them the same kind of spirit which I would have felt as a child, many years ago. But it was not Yuletide, for it was early May.
"Hi!" said one of the youngsters.
"Hi!" I replied with enthusiasm, grateful for not being politely ignored.
"You're coming to the Mayfest!" the boy said. It sounded more like a declaration than a question.
"Sure," I replied, as if I knew what I was talking about. What or when the Mayfest was, I did not know. Perhaps Mr. Lutitt could shed some obfuscation on the matter, I reflected with wry amusement. I stood aside to let the handcarts rumble past and observed the merry children with a happy, yet wistful feeling. I was happy for them that they were able to enjoy such a wonderful childhood, seemingly free and safe from the dangers and evils of the mainland. How I wished that such a childhood had been mine! I sighed to myself and resumed my trek back to the cottage.
The sun was low on the horizon when I arrived, and although I was more tired than hungry, I entered the cottage and went directly into the kitchen, expecting to find a meal prepared. I found nothing in the oven and nothing on the table, except for an old issue of National Geographic Magazine, dated November 1977. A sprig of pressed mistletoe protruded from the pages. Out of curiosity, I opened the magazine to the page that it marked and found an article by Colin Renfrew which reported the latest scientific, archeological findings on Western Civilization, which was much, much older than anyone had thought. It used carbon-dating, corrected with bristlecone pine chronology on various artifacts and stone structures and came forth with the startling revelation that the Cradle of Civilization was not the Southeast, that is, Mesopotamia and Egypt, but the Northwest from whence flowed civilization, culture and invention to the Southeast and the world beyond. I read the article first to inform myself and once again to discover why someone would have left this magazine and its prominently-marked article for me to read. The article, of course, was most significant. Aside from reversing the generally-perceived course of history, it revealed the Judeo-Christian Bible, which purported to relate the most ancient of events, as being little more than a comparatively recent work of fiction; that the Egyptian builders of the Pyramids were relatively 'Johnny-come-latelies' on the civilized scene; that ancient Greek culture had come from the Northwest and so on.
The most ancient discoveries relating to European Civilization were found on the Orkney Island and the Hebrides, from whence my own ancestors had come, including my great grandparents who had settled here on Spring Island. Indeed, my mysterious host had given me a great deal of food for thought.
I pulled off my boots and socks and flopped on the bed, thinking that I would have a brief nap before I got something to eat. I immediately fell asleep and once again dreamt of tumult and civil war. Our side wore khaki uniforms and young soldiers, male and female, were addressing me as "Captain". I supervised a group of soldiers who were setting up a field piece, a German 88 millimeter flak gun, on what seemed to be a L.A. freeway. Jet aircraft swooped low overhead, in the direction of huge columns of black smoke that rose from the center of the city. Automatic weapons rattled in the distance, accompanied by the sporadic crash of grenades. The tapping of the machine gun continued, even as I began to wake up, realizing that something or someone was tapping an the front window. I had slept longer then I had intended, for I could see that the light was dim outside, but it was strong enough to reveal, silhouetted against the translucent blinds, what appeared to be a man-size crucifix. In my not yet awakened state, I did not know whether to be annoyed or afraid of this unpleasant apparition, so it was with a mixture of fear and annoyance that I strode to the door in my bare feet and opened the blinds. What had appeared to be a crucifix, was in fact a smiling young man, who stood on tiptoes with his face close to the window. Because of the flowerbox at the base of the window, he had to steady himself by extending both arms to reach the window frame on either side.
"Can I help you?" I asked, although that seemed a strange thing to say, I thought.
"Are you coming to the Mayfest? You're invited!" said the young man.
In the light of the full moon, I saw other man and women strolling past the cottage in one direction. "Why yes," I said, with surprise and renewed misgivings. "Let me put my shoes on." As I pulled on my socks and laced up my boots, my vague foreboding suddenly took shape with frightening clarity: I was the only stranger on the island. Aside from Martha, no one knew I was here. There was no record of my coming here, no letter, check, lease agreement or even a boat ticket in my name. If I were to disappear, it would be the islanders' word against... no one's. The words used by Mr. Lutitt and his son, Eric, suddenly came to mind with a totally different meaning. "It's all part of the service." The Mayfest on the night of the full moon. Was this the night of the service? Would this service require a sacrifice? And what or who might this be?
"You'll do just fine," said Eric.
I unpacked my machete and quickly passed a leather thong through the belt loop on the scabbard. After tying the thong as a noose, I was able to hang the machete under my left arm by passing the noose over my shoulder. To conceal the weapon, I put on my old bush jacket. Better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it, I thought. Although the outcome would not be in doubt if my foreboding were correct, at least I would sell my life as dearly as possible.
I went out onto the porch and was greeted by several attractive young women, all of whom were dressed in what I would call 'peasant costumes' and wore garlands of wild flowers in their hair. Two of them come on either side of me and grasped my arms, with sensuous firmness. "Can you do the Maypole dance?" asked the girl on my right.
"No," I was sorry to say.
"It is fun. We'll teach you," said the girl behind me, poking me in the back with her finger.
If these indeed were my captors, I felt in that moment no wish to escape. We followed the others down a path leading to a wooded glen which had the form of a natural amphitheater. In the center of the grassy circle was a Maypole decked with red, white and black ribbons. At the far side of the circle was a barbecue pit, its glowing coals fragrantly roasting carcasses spitted above them. Nearby were picnic tables laden with vegetables, bread, cakes, pies and liquid refreshments. Although dozens of people had arrived, no one ate or drank. Everyone seemed to be waiting for someone or something.
"You have no wreath," said one of my smiling hostesses.
With giggles of merriment, my escorts half led and half carried me past the barbecue pit, whose heat I felt even at several yards' distance. We went down a short slope where a yew tree stood and the girls broke off twigs which they quickly plaited into a wreath for my head, while I admired the work of their strong, nimble fingers. Suddenly, I knew what I had to do. Was I being guided by another entity? Was I possessed? Or was I responding to the racial cry which resided at the very core of my being? It did not matter. I needed a sign. I broke away from the girls with a sudden shrug and strode toward the glowing pit, clutching the wreath in one hand. Watched by one and all in the glen, I drew my steel-handled machete and thrust it into the white-hot coals. I turned to face the gathering and as I placed the wreath upon my head, I said out loud the words which entered my mind: "These twigs are of yew, and I am of you. There is one thing to do: To Odin be true!"
"Hail Odin!" shouted many in agreement, as everyone applauded.
"I bring you a sign," I said. "Would anyone among you care to take the sword from the fire with his bare hands?"
"No!" shouted some, as others shook their heads.
Once again, I recited as the words came to mind from some cerebral prompter: "I know why you have brought me here, but I am not the Spring Sacrifice. I am the reward for all your sacrifices of Spring."
Calmly and deliberately, I stooped and grasped the red-hot handle of the machete and pulled it from the bed of coals. The blade glowed cherry-red and the perspiration on the palm of my hand turned to steam, but it felt as if I were holding cold steel. I held the glowing blade high and heard many gasp in amazement, then I thrust blade and handle into a cask of mead, which sizzled and smelt of burnt honey. Triumphantly, I brandished the dripping machete above my head. "The sword I have quenched in mead shall be slaked with the blood of the enemy, the $ervants of the $erpent. We must cleave each coil which binds us, to free ourselves to strike its head with a well-aimed deathblow. Brothers and Sisters, there is much work to do. Let the festival now begin toward the happy results of our work this season. Hail Odin!"
A smiling Mr. Lutitt came up to me and we shook hands. "Welcome back, Captain!" he said, with affection. I could see tears in his eyes. "We always believed you'd return one day."
He turned to face the gathering and recited the now familiar words: "This Sacred Grove is dedicated to The Nation Of Odin, whose Destiny shall not tire, nor shall It be broken and whose Mantle of Strength descends upon those in Its Service."
There resounded in my mind a clear, calm voice: "The sleeper has wakened!"
END of THE BEGINNING.