China Boat

Chapter 28

Monday, April 26th, 1937
S.S. President Hoover
at sea

Dear Jack:

I think, old man, that I'm going to try something a little different, with this letter. Rather than ending it tonight, and starting a new one tomorrow, I think I'm just going to keep this one open, and add to it over the next five days; until we reach Shanghai.

I miss you especially, just now. I'll tell you the reason, when next we actually meet.

In any event — I thought that writing you a longer letter, would be like having a longer conversation with you; which is something I'm particularly craving, just at the moment. And who knows, I might even succeed in making this screed a little deeper, a little more substantive, than my usual scribbles. Stranger things have happened!

Anyway. Please know that, fair or foul, I will have spent the last five days wandering around the ship, composing this in my head, and writing it down as I can. It's one way of keeping my best friend close to me.

I knew that when Jack read these words, he'd be concerned for me; he'd know something had happened.

But he'd also know how much I love him. And that's what counted.

First off, of course — thank you, thank you for your reply to my cable. The information was, and is, useful; hearing from you, in the middle of the Pacific, was wonderful … 

I had to keep this part a little vague; I left out any reference to dates.

I assumed our classmates knew of my cable; or at least, that I'd sent one. But I guessed, Jack might have cut class, to get to a telephone in the village, so he could call his brother Tony. And then cut class again, to send his reply to me. The less specific I was about the timing, the less likely I was to cause talk, and maybe trouble.

Would you thank Tony for me, please? You already have all my thanks, and gratitude.

And now, a special request, J.

I've been doing my best, writing about what I'm experiencing, trying to share this whole voyage with you. That was our deal, after all.

Could you do something similar, from your side, for me?

Oh, I know, you've been doing it; and I so appreciate it; hearing about Coe and Harris practicing their waltzing turns in the Common Room was beyond price. And I expect you've done more reporting, in the letters you've lined up to send me in Shanghai. You've always been thoughtful.

So, I suppose I'm just saying, keep it up? Paint me a picture; A Day In The Life of J. J. P. B. Van Doern, perhaps? I would appreciate it, so much. It would be a way of traveling back there in my mind's eye, anyway.

And, is there a way you could send me an occasional photo or two? Of you, especially, and of Charles … but, whatever else comes to mind? School, your family's place, some of our friends — ?

For my part, I promise to send some prints of Yours Truly. I haven't been very good at that; it's hard to remember to take photos, of one's own self … 

It's not like I'm going to forget what you look like, anytime soon! It's just that I'm feeling very far away, right now.

I winced, a little, as I re-read the words. I sounded plaintive, even to myself.

Still. I would so appreciate the letters, and the new photos; I so would. I craved them.

And now, on to the Very Latest Edition of the regularly-scheduled, Earth-Shattering, shipboard news.

We have finally had a tour of the ship! A very late, tour of the ship; our Captain is apparently quite taciturn, and does not enjoy having passengers underfoot. (He rarely dines with us, too.)

My young shipmate Tom, with his enthusiasm for all things nautical, was practically quivering with excitement.

It was a very small group; Tom, and myself, and two girls aged nine and seven, and their mother. Ship's tours, it seems, are ordinarily given only to young people; and as we are far from full on this trip, and perhaps also due to chance, there is a shortage of us to go around.

(Well, but then there is Tom's very small brother, Mickey; I've written you about him, before. In terms of noise and activity, he tries to make up for the lack, all by himself. Poor Tom.)

It was an interesting tour, old man; we saw quite a bit of the ship, including many places which are off-limits to mere paying passengers. We saw the engine-room — all humming turbines, no clanking pistons or open steam or the like, although it was certainly hot — and, we went through the kitchens, and store-rooms, and the wireless office — 

Tom was especially quivering, for that stop. But it was anti-climactic. (You'll understand, when I explain.)

We ended up on the ship's Bridge; and that, for me, was the most interesting part.

In general, it looked very much as one might expect. There is a great deal of polished wood-work, and polished brass. The engine-room telegraphs look just as they do in the movies; except, somehow, they seem heavier, more real … Perhaps it's seeing them with the pointers on 'Ahead Full', and knowing that the setting is responsible for the faint vibration under our feet, and the rush of water as we push through the waves … 

All is not so traditional, though.

It is true, that the helmsman stands on a kind of wooden grating; apparently that is a maritime tradition so old, that no one dares break it. But the wheel he mans, while quite large, is metal, or enameled-metal-and-bakelite, rather than wooden; (although it does, indeed, have protruding spokes). And the whole back-wall of the bridge is simply covered with switches, and electrical equipment, and voice-radio gear, and cork-boards with pinned-up notices — 

I found some of those notices more interesting than the exotic gear. Imagine, old man; Notice Boards on the bridge of an ocean liner in the Pacific, just like they are in our Common Room! They seem very similar in both places, too; mostly lists of names, in both cases, although on the President Hoover they are watch-bills, meaning duty schedules, rather than grades or team assignments. But it all seemed very familiar.

I had sneaked a quick look for Mister Molloy's name; and I'd memorized his watch schedule. I had not yet had a chance to speak to him.

The best part of the tour, though, came on the wing of the bridge; you know, the open platform that extends out past the wheel-house. We got to Shoot the Sun!

With your aviator's interests, I expect you are way ahead of me. First Officer Voigt — he was our guide, for the entire tour — showed us how to use a sextant, to measure the angle of the sun relative to the horizon. It is an extremely interesting, and exacting procedure; and by use of tables, and trigonometry, it allows one to calculate the ship's position with surprising accuracy … (Oh, and one needs a highly accurate chronometer, too.)

It was interesting, that I understood the mathematical processes involved, so well. Perhaps our class last term wasn't a complete disaster, after all.

Tom was very good, at shooting the sun. I could see that Mister Voigt was impressed with the accuracy of his measurements; and of his understanding of the whole process … 

* * *

Jack is fond of saying, that it was the funny way I talked, that first attracted him to me. There may be a very little bit of truth, to that; but, really, we both know better.


I remember the first time I laid eyes on him.


It was the Welcome Day for incoming Third Formers at our School; a hot, fine day in early September, 1934. Grandfather and Grandmother and I were seated, along with the other boys and parents, in folding chairs on the lawn outside the Chapel, waiting for the Headmaster to start his Invocation; and like most of the boys, I was looking around, discreetly, at my new classmates … 

I saw a boy looking directly at me, from the end of my row.

I was struck by him, immediately. He looked to be about my size, with pale, blond hair, and strikingly-pale, clear blue eyes, and an open, honest expression — 

And that is a deeply, and wholly inadequate, explanation for my reaction to him.

All I can say, is that there was something about this face … there was something right about his face; something that was right for me, even though I knew I'd never seen it before. There was a kind of recognition at work, without real recognition.


Jack has said, many times since, that he had the same reaction, on first seeing me.


I would not call it love at first sight; although the love followed on, soon enough.

I still do not know what to call it.

I peeked over at him, again.

"Friends of the ______ School; New Boys, and Old Boys, and Families; I bid you all, Welcome!" The Headmaster, in his cleric's collar, beamed out at all of us, his broad face shiny with perspiration in the sun. "Now, will you all please join me, in the Lord's Prayer — ?"

A respectful pause, and a sound of shuffling.

"'Our Father, who art in Heaven … '"

I looked down and away from the strange boy, quickly and guiltily. I could feel myself flushing.

"'Hallowed be thy Name … '"

Exactly why I should be blushing, I didn't know. I hadn't thought anything sexual, about our exchange of looks; at that age, fourteen, I as yet knew nothing of the homosexual sub-culture, of meaningful glances, of pick-ups.

Oh, there'd been a few whispers and jokes, at my old school, in Switzerland. And Emile and I had managed a very limited amount of mutual exploration, before he'd moved to the United States … 

"'Thy kingdom come, thy will be done … '"

But on the whole, I knew more about the homosexual sub-cultures in ancient Athens, and in ancient Sparta, than I did about the one in my own time … 

"'On earth, as it is in heaven … '"

I couldn't help myself. I glanced over at the blond boy, just quickly — 

His face was down, his head bowed, in proper prayer … 

His profile was very beautiful, to my eyes.

And once again, that feeling that there was something right, about his face. Perhaps, I thought, it's something about his cheek-bones — ?

"'Give us this day our daily bread … '"

I saw his head move, starting to come up; and I looked down again, quickly. And I knew I was blushing, again.

"'And forgive us our trespasses; As we forgive those who trespass against us … '"

I was in my school uniform, of course; the jacket was of very fine wool — it had been run up for me in Paris, in a very good shop in the Marais, before we'd taken the ship home — but it was still wool. I was uncomfortably warm, in the hot sun. The air smelled of the green grass under our feet; I surreptitiously reached up, and loosened my necktie, just slightly.

"'And lead us not into temptation … '"

I kept my eyes down, resolutely.

"'But deliver us from evil … '"

I made the impossible effort, not to perspire.

"'For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory … '"

Another, quick flick of a glance, towards the end of the row — 

I met his eyes, again. He'd been looking at me.

We both broke the look, after a split-second's freeze … and my head went down, again.

"' … for ever, and ever. Amen!'"

"'Amen,'" we all repeated, dutifully.

* * *

"Hello … My name is Van Doern."

It was the hour after dinner. The blond boy had come up beside me, as I was walking the path around the Oval, the big open lawn that fronted the grounds.

He held his hand out to me.

"Oh … hello. I call — um, my name is Williamson. Rhys Williamson." I took his hand, hoping he wasn't noticing the fierce blush. "You can, uh, call me Rhys?"

I saw him blink, as we shook hands.

It was my first mis-step, actually; although it was a happy one. In my school in Switzerland, use of Christian names — first names — was common. But American preparatory schools copied the British custom, of surnames only — except among close friends.

I was to make many, less pleasant, mis-steps, in the days to come.

"Call me Jack," he said, firmly, still squeezing my hand; then he let it go. We fell in walking, side by side.

"So," he said, after a moment: "Do you have any people, here — ? Any brothers, I mean, of course; unless you have family on the teaching staff, which seems pretty unlikely. But, if you do have a relative on-staff, no offense — ?"

I was to find, over time, that Jack likes to talk … But when he is anxious, or nervous, he is prone to talk a little more.

"No … no, I have no brothers, here." I hesitated, a moment. "Have you — ?"

"Oh, yes!" His beautiful face brightened, as we walked. "My brother Elliott is here; he's a Sixth Former, he'll be graduating at the end of the year. Well, at the end of the school year, I mean; next year. But he's in a different House than ours. He says they don't put brothers in the same House, here, unless they're twins, or something … "


He went on in this way, for some time. It was entertaining; and it allowed me to cover my morbid shyness. I made just a few replies.


"And so, who's your family — ? My people have a place on the Hudson, in New York," he said, as if it was all the explanation needed; as it in fact, essentially was.

"Oh," from me; and I paused. Then: "My family — um. We have a, a place, in Connecticut, and a flat, in the City … in New York, I mean. But I have been staying in the house of my grandparents, on — in — Long Island … ?"

I winced, to myself. I could hear how it was coming out, all mangled.

I fell silent, for a moment. Head-down; tongue-tied.

We reached the top of the Oval — it is on a gentle slope — and started back down. The light was slanted, and golden; the beautiful oak and sycamore trees still had their leaves, although their colors were starting to fade, before turning. The air was warm; there wasn't a pine tree in sight; it was nothing at all like the School In The Sky.

I felt the blond boy look at me.

"Do you mind if I ask you something — ?" he said, a little hesitantly. "I mean — if it's impertinent, or too personal, or anything, you can just tell me so. Lots of people tell me, when to shut up."

I kept my face down.

"Um — no; no. Go ahead."

"Are you from around here? America, I mean. You sound a little … foreign, maybe."

I glanced at him, sideways. I could feel myself wincing, anxiously.

"Do I have an accent — ?"

It was my greatest fear; and I couldn't really tell, anymore, if I had one or not.

The blond boy — Jack — looked embarrassed.

"No! No … nothing like that. It's just the way you put your words together, I suppose … " His expression became one of chagrin. "Look, it's none of my business — "

"No, that's — all right," I managed, with only a minor stumble. I thought, for a second; and then I went on. Looking down, again; not meeting his eyes. "No, I was born in Connecticut … but I have been living in Europe, for the last seven years."


"Yes … in Switzerland, for the plus — um, the most part. And I am not used to speaking English, again. Yet," I finished, confusingly.

It went well beyond that, of course.

I had been living in a primarily French-speaking community, since the age of seven. I lived in French, I thought in French; French was the internal language of my mind. And now, back home in America, when I spoke in English, I was translating from French.

It showed.


"Well, I shouldn't have said anything; that's just me, shooting my mouth off, as usual. I like the way you talk; it's interesting … But, Switzerland! You have to tell me more! Where in Switzerland? I mean, what part — ? Not that I've ever been … my parents have promised a Grand Tour for me, when I graduate from here; but of course, that's four years away, it seems like forever, doesn't it — ? But when we do go, I so want to see Switzerland, especially the Alps … "

When Jack is embarrassed, he prattles on even more than when he's anxious.

Eventually, I managed to tell him where I'd been, in Switzerland.

"I was at school, a boarding school called L'École dans le ciel. It is in the hills — no, the mountains — above Geneva."

I was proud of myself, for saying 'Geneva', rather than Genève. My grandparents and I always use the latter version of the name, in our conversations.

Jack's face shone, with enthusiasm.

"Geneva! How interesting! Is your father involved with the League of Nations — ? Is he a diplomat? You know, we — our school, I mean — we graduate many diplomats, it's rather our specialty — well, aside from Cabinet Secretaries, that is … "

"No; no. Father is a banker."

A brief pause, at that. A sideways-smile, from him.

"Oh! My oldest brother, Tony, is a lawyer; but he does most of his work for banks, and with banks. He's an alumnus of this school, too … and so was my father." He looked at me, a little uncertainly; his last direct question had embarrassed both of us, after all. "Um … may one ask, did your father go to school, here — ?"

This one was easier.

"No; but my grandfather … the father of — I mean, my mother's father — did … "


The golden light shone on his face. As the hour wore on, as we walked on, it became increasingly difficult to concentrate, properly, on what we were saying.

Eventually I found myself telling him the whole story; how Grandfather had approached Father and Mother just days after I'd been born, about putting my name in, for when I reached the age of fourteen — 

I left out the part about the endowment, though. Grandfather had been a major benefactor of the School. An important one.

I told him later, of course. Jack and I tell each other, everything.


At long last, we reached the top of the Oval, again; and we both stopped, without saying anything, to look around us. At the stately buildings, and the beautiful trees, and the sky, shading from blue to the faintest hint of red, as the sun slowly sank down, lighting the clouds … It was time to go back; but we went on looking, for moment after moment.

"You know," from the blond boy, eventually; "My brother Elliott says this is the best school in the country."

I felt him look sideways at me, quickly. An hour with him and I was already sensitive to his looks, his glances. His expressions.

"He also says … that there isn't any real bullying, here. He says the other students won't tolerate it."

I shrugged, at that; with a gesture, and a posture that I later realized was purely Gallic. A wordless expression of non-committal fatalism.

Silence for a few heartbeats, then; the sun sparkling on the windows, below us.

"You know," from him, again; quietly. "I've never been off to school, before … To a boarding school, I mean."

I felt him turn his face towards mine. I glanced over at him; his eyes were down, not meeting mine.

"But, you have," he went on, softly.

Another, smaller shrug, from me.

"It isn't such a … big thing," I managed, eventually. The original French had started, 'Çe n'est pas … ' in my mind.

"Maybe … " His blond head turned, to look back down at the buildings below us. "But Elliott says, that I talk too much; that I can talk too much, about silly things … " A pause. "And, he says it's important to start off on the right foot, with one's classmates … that the reputation one gets in the first week of school, can follow one, for years, and years … "

Well. I was living proof, of that.

"That is true," I said, at last. "About the reputation. I think."

His blue eyes looked at me, then dropped, shyly.

"Could you, perhaps, do me a favor — ?"

"Yes — ?" I blinked at him.

A pause.

"Could you, maybe — warn me, if I start talking too much — ? Or, just basically, whenever I start making an ass out of myself — ?"

I just blinked at him, for a second.

"Oh," he said, into the silence; "It's not as though I want to Be Popular, or anything like that … I hate that kind of thing, actually. It's just that, I don't want to make a complete and utter fool out of myself, right off." He looked at me, briefly. A little shame-facedly. "My Family says, I can be amusing … but they're my family, they have to put up with me, after all." Another pause. "Right?"

I gaped at him, for a moment.

"Uhhhh … yes. I mean, no; no, I'd be happy to, to, look out for you … "

It was my turn to drop my eyes, shyly.

"And could you, perhaps, do a — favor, for me — ?"

The blond boy was smiling at me, happily.


My eyes went back down. I hesitated, as I found the English words.

"I have been back in America for only six days, now … Could you tell me, when I am saying something, the wrong way — ? Or when I am doing something, the wrong way — ? The wrong way for an American, I mean — ?"

Something in his face was just shining.

"I told you, I like the way you talk … but, of course I will. Sure!" He held out his hind. "Deal — ?"

I took his hand.


It was our first partnership. It was our beginning, as a team.

Jack and I have reminisced about that day, that hour, since. As it turns out, we both knew even then that it was the beginning of something much more important, to the both of us, than just a deal.

* * *

I fell in love with Jack, hard.


It is remarkable, isn't it, how the words we use for describing the act of falling in love tend to be — well, violent — ?

There is 'falling', in itself, of course. I found the term very appropriate; perhaps it comes from the thrilling, fearsome feeling in the pit one's stomach, that comes from either kind of falling, the literal stumble, or the emotional swoop … 

But then, there are the common clichés. 'It hit me like a ton of bricks'. 'I went head over heels, for him'. 'I didn't know what hit me'.

I have been lucky enough, eternally blessed enough, to know what it is to be 'in love'; to know what it is, to be a lover, to be someone else's partner, his beloved. Falling in love is much different, and it happened two years ago.

I remember it all, vividly.

All the wonderful, rushing, thrilling clichés applied to me. To us.


It was not, as I've said, love at first sight; no. No, it took at least a day. Less than two, though; I remember that, quite clearly.

There was a span of about a day, actually, during which Jack and I were inseparable, instant-best-friends, as can happen at the beginning of any school term — if one is lucky, and not as shy as I am, generally.

Jack was outgoing, gregarious and ebullient. In short, he was everything I was not, and wished I could be. We formed a bond, somehow, immediately; and we spent the time, talking. He was very good at drawing me out.

But even for that day — something special was happening; something different. I remember it, quite well; there was something — different — in the way Jack, my new blond friend, looked at me; I could see it — 

I can only imagine, how it worked, the other way around. I thought he was stunningly beautiful. I believe I stared. But it was much more than just his physical beauty; it was him, it was his soul, I thought, shining out of him, through his eyes, through his expressions, through his voice … 


We grew shy, with one another.


It was an abrupt change. As I became aware of him, as his essence started to fill my heart — I grew shy with him; and he, with me.

Oh, we still were together, physically; we made every effort to stay side-by-side, whenever possible, and woe betide the unfortunate classmate who tried to sit between us at dinner, for instance. We stepped on a few toes — literally — in our determination to cleave to one another's side … 

But, we grew shy with one another. Our conversations grew a little — awkward. Our glances at one another, grew even more so … 

Jack's glances at me, were gentle. Luminous.

And even as the days and weeks wore on and the awkwardness was slowly replaced with a touch on the hand here, a special smile, there — 

Even then, Jack's glances at me kept their special quality. Their gentle, and luminous, quality.

They retain them to this day, actually.

* * *

Oddly enough, even as Jack and I navigated the head-spinning process of falling in love with each other — our Deal remained in full force. It actually worked very well, for the both of us; although I profited, far more.

As I came to understand, quickly enough — Jack is intelligent; he is very intelligent. But more than that — he is fast. His mind works more quickly than anyone I have ever met; sometimes, a conversation with him feels like careening across the countryside on a galloping horse — 

Jack's mouth is as quick as his mind. In fact, sometimes it can get just a little bit ahead of him.

And while I may not have been fully comfortable speaking American English — with a Third Former's colloquial vocabulary — yet, I was still able to see when a potential pitfall loomed; I was still able to read the expressions, on our classmates' faces, well enough. And when it happened, I would give Jack a little nudge under the table with my knee, or my foot, or I would cough a little, discreetly — 

And the quick, momentary flash of comic dismay that would cross his face, then, always left me torn between laughter, and deep sympathy … 

Not that I would ever laugh at Jack. I could laugh with him; I could never laugh at him.


As I said, Jack helped me, more than I helped him. He helped me fit in, at school; he helped me learn how to be an American schoolboy.

And he did it in a direct, straightforward way, which I was to learn was typical, of him.


"Okay," from Ralston; one of our fellow third-formers. "How do you say 'shit' in German, then — ?

"'Scheisse'," I said.

A muttered chorus of 'scheisse', 'scheisse', 'scheisse', as our classmates repeated the word after me. Their faces were gleeful; fascinated.

"And in French — ?"

"'Merde'," I said. "It's almost the same in Italian; 'merda'."

More muttered recitations; along with some stifled snickers.

It was Jack who had artfully arranged the impromptu class, out on the lawn in front of our House. He'd casually mentioned, to some of our schoolmates, that I'd been out of the country for a long time; and that I'd been teaching him some useful dirty words in other languages.

In one stroke, he'd turned my being different into an asset. There are few things more respected by fourteen-year-old boys than dirty words; particularly those of a sexual nature.

"Could you say something really wicked, in French?" from Worth; with a gleam in his eyes.

"Um … " I thought for a moment — 

Then, without fully realizing it — I braced my shoulders a certain way, and cocked my head, and put one hand on my hip; and I delivered a stream of invective, towards an innocent plane tree, a few yards away.

Language, after all, is about more than just words. I don't think one can be properly profane in French, without being French, or native French-speaking; at least for a moment.

Ralston applauded, hugely. "That was great!"

"What did you say — ?" asked Worth. "I got a little of it, but … " His face screwed up.

"Um … oh." I glanced at Jack, and then I looked down, a little; embarrassed. "Um … I said, 'Go fuck your sister, go fuck your mother, go fuck your dog, and then go fuck yourself!'"

A small, shocked pause.

"Woo-hoo!" from Worth; more applause, this time all around. Cries of, 'Great!', and 'Wicked!' from some of the others.

"Did you ever actually use that — ?" from Ralston, in a tone of delighted awe.

"Um … " I hesitated again, translating the answer, in my head. "Some times. A few times, I mean." Another French-to-English hesitation. "But the last time, we were all laughing."

Worth looked at me, a little more seriously.

"I'm supposed to know French; I thought I was pretty decent at it. But I only got words, here and there. And you were so fast."

I shrugged. "That is … how we talk, uh, talked, at my school. In Switzerland."

Jack spoke up.

"Why don't you say something to us, as if we were your classmates in Switzerland? Just the same way, the same speed, and everything?"

A blink from me, and a shrug; and then, I slipped into French, real, conversational French, with a feeling of relief.

"Well; I don't really know what to say. Um … except, maybe, that it feels strange to be back in America . . And, uh, that I wish I'd spoken more English, while we were in Europe." I blinked twice. "My father and I, when we were together, we mostly spoke French, and German … He wanted to practice his French, and I wanted to practice my German. Although, at the end, I didn't really need to. Practice my German, I mean; it was the second language at my School."

And all at once, I dried up; and I looked down, a little mortified. I realized, I'd just revealed quite a bit about myself.

Silence, for a few seconds. Then — 

"Well, I guess that's a little better," from Worth. "I almost understood, almost half of it. Cripes, does everyone talk like that, at your old school — ?"

I shrugged again, and switched back to laborious English.

"Yes. Yes, well, they told me I sounded like everyone else."

"I'll never be that fluent," from Worth; with a woeful expression on his face. "Not in four years. Not in twenty."

"Did you know," put in Jack, "that when Rhys started at his school in Switzerland — what were you, Rhys, seven years old — ?"

He knew, perfectly well. He just wanted the others to hear it.

"Yes." Another shrug, from me. "I had just turned seven."

A silent look of astonishment, from the others. In American — meaning, East Coast — Society, boarding school usually starts at age fourteen; although a few schools take students as young as twelve.

"When he started school in Switzerland," Jack went on, "they called him 'L'américain'. Because he was the only one of us, there. And they made fun of him, because his French wasn't up to par."

"Did they, really — ?" from Ralston; and he frowned, darkly. "That's rotten! Nobody has any business, being mean to a seven-year-old! Especially for something he can't help!"

Ralston — his Christian name is Andrew — has a very good heart; and he has since become one of our closest friends.

I shrugged, yet again. "No … no, it became … it got, better. And, I have some good friends, there, now. I need to write to them, this term, actually … "

I glanced at Jack. His expression was enigmatic.

"Well, still," from Worth. "You're back home, safe, now." He said it firmly; and then, his expression grew a little wistful. "Your school was in Switzerland, you said?"

I blinked. "Yes … "

"Have you ever been to Paris — ? I went when I was very young, and I barely remember it; and I've always wanted to go back and really see it, this time … " His expression grew more wistful, still.

"Um … Yes. Yes, I have been some time, in Paris … I mean, I have spent — quite a bit of time, there." Another French-to-English pause. "It is the most beautiful city in the world," I finished, simply.

"Ohhh … " An appreciative sigh, from Worth.

I glanced at Jack.

He'd done this, I realized. He'd set up the whole conversation; and then, he'd mentioned how I'd been ostracized at first, for being an American … all to win our classmates' sympathy. All to win them over to my side. Well, to our side, actually.

Something in my face must have, just quickly, shown my feelings; Jack looked down, and I thought he blushed. Blushed, in a good way.

"What about London — ?" from Dunstan; another new Third-Former. "Have you ever been to London?"

"Umm … yes. But only twice. No; three times. It is very … impressive."

"Is it as foggy, as they say it is?"

"I would say it is … smoky." I paused, to search for the word. "Yes; it is very smoky … "

I glanced at Jack, again; I couldn't help it. And his look, for that moment, was back to being gentle, and luminous; and now, it was my turn to blush.

"Tell us a little more about Paris," from Worth, again. "Where did you stay, when you were there — ? What was it like … ?"

I shrugged, and drew my breath.

"Well … "


I learned a great deal about Jack, on that day. And what I'd learned had only made me love him, the more.

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