. . . and so, it worked, Rhys, it actually worked! I honestly feel like throwing back my head, and crowing like a rooster! I also feel like telling everybody — you know me — but I can't, you're the only one to whom I could tell the full story of my little triumph. So here it is.
It involves Elliott's girl, Grace.
Well, she isn't exactly his girl. Still. He's still desperately in love with her, and over the Spring term, he seemed to be making progress with her. He was very hopeful, right up to the time of Summer Vacation.
But she went back home for the summer, (of course). And she lives in California, in a place called Woodside, not too far from San Francisco; I gather it's something like back home, like the Hudson River Valley, I mean; there are big houses, and estates, and there is a social scene there, and horseback-riding is important — you know.
It seems there's a boy-next-door in the picture. One of those affairs where everybody, both families, just knew that they'd get married some day; they'd always gotten along well, and it would be advantageous for both families, and they make a charming couple. All the things that give the both of us the heebie-jeebies.
It seems this boy-next-door found out about Elliott; and so, for the first time he began aggressively wooing Grace, himself.
And, he was making progress. Elliott told me that her letters started cooling, a bit, and were full of Richard this, and Richard that, and going out on long horseback expeditions together; that sort of thing.
It drove poor Elliott almost mad. Here he was, three thousand miles away, unable to do anything except write her — (I know that feeling of helplessness, oh, so well; although our circumstances were different, thank God). And even with writing, he didn't want to sound too desperate, or plaintive, or anything like that. All he could do was be amusing, and that only goes so far.
He decided he had to get out to California, to press his own case. But he's still not-quite-yet-twenty; and Father absolutely refuses to let him go off by himself; and Father and Tony are both too busy with work, to take him.
I (of course, out of the goodness of my heart) — (actually, it WAS out of the goodness of my heart, I'd have done it in a flash, even if I didn't have an ulterior motive) volunteered to accompany him. My hope was that with the two of us, Father would feel better about letting him go. No luck.
Poor Elliott was pretty close to making a run for it, regardless.
I think we both know that feeling, too.
Then your wire came, with the dates for your return. And I asked myself, what you would do, in my position. I honestly did, old man.
Can you begin to guess, yet, what I came up with?
You know that both of my sisters know Mrs. F_____ . They dine together, and socialize, quite frequently, they are actually quite close. And they were all in Newport, for a few weeks, at the time.
Well, I just happened to write a long letter to Emily, telling her all about poor Elliott's predicament.
And I also just happened to mention, in passing, the date of your return.
Oh, I wasn't explicit. I only commit my literary indiscretions with you, old man. But the way I arranged it, made what I was asking very clear.
And it worked!
Mrs. F_____ sent a letter to Mother — Mother is much more sympathetic to Elliott's plight, than is Father — mentioning that as it just, so, happens, she will be visiting a friend in Atherton, (which is near Woodside), in mid-July, and that she would be happy to have company, on the trip. Oh, and that her old friend lives in a large, comfortable old house, with lots of extra bedrooms.
There was even mention of the fact that we boys would have the loan of a car, if we wanted to ramble about, out there.
So, it's settled.
Elliott's over the moon, except that he's nervous as anything. His original idea was to show up at Grace's door, unannounced, with a car filled with as many roses as he could beg, buy, or cut for himself; I think I've persuaded him not to. I mean, what if this boy-next-door is there, or what if both are out, somewhere, and he just ends up making himself look like a fool to her parents — ? So, he's going to settle for just calling her, once he's there, without having told her that he's coming. I think that will be surprise enough.
I'm coming along for propriety's sake. And as moral support.
And for one more, very, very important reason. Of course.
Mrs. F_____ has already booked a room at the St. Francis Hotel; for seven nights, I understand, starting the 15th. I've booked a room, under both of our names. I made sure it won't be close to hers. I hope it won't be close to your father's.
I expect she's already wired and written your father. I certainly hope so. Wire me, when he tells you about the arrangements? Please? I know they'll want to be discreet, and I can move our room to another floor, if necessary, if I know ahead of time.
Oh, and there's one other thing, old man —
We're flying out, to San Francisco! We're actually going to make the trip, by air!
As it turns out, Mrs. F_____ is actually quite adventurous; and when I suggested it, she smiled in this way that you probably (certainly) know better than I, and agreed right away. Poor Elliott doesn't care, he just wants to go.
I think it might impress Grace; and I'm pretty sure that Mrs. F_____ does too, and that's why she agreed to it, so quickly.
Oh, Rhys old man, I am already very fond of Mrs. F_____; and I'm looking forward to getting to know her better …
* * *
Father did not in fact inform me of our San Francisco arrangements, until the day after we left Hawaii.
This did not entirely surprise me. For two people who are trying to be discreet in their relationship, letters are much, much more private than telegrams.
I had better reason than most, to know it.
We'd been leaning against the railing, looking out to sea, when he'd told me.
"I have decided, Rhys, to take a few days to rest in San Francisco, before we start back. My business in Washington is comparatively urgent … but not that urgent." He glanced at me, sideways. "Neither of us has had an easy time of it. I believe we're both due."
I considered my response.
"That would be very welcome, sir," I said, evenly.
A silence between us, for a few heartbeats.
"Perhaps we could spend a little time together, exploring the city?" This he said, a little wistfully.
As we were still speaking German and French to one another, as we used to in Europe, it had an impact on me.
"I would like that very much, sir." I said it firmly. And I would.
Another pause. A group of four passengers strolled behind us, shoes clipping on the teak deck, chattering loudly and excitedly, trailing a cloud of cigaret smoke.
Once they had passed, Father cleared his throat.
"Our lodging arrangements will be a bit unusual. I had booked our old suite, the Sequoia suite, in the St. Francis Hotel, before we left Shanghai … but I understand, that other arrangements have since been made, for you — ?"
I felt him looking sideways at me.
I took a breath.
"Well, sir … I received a letter from my friend Jack, when we stopped in Hawaii. It seems that he and his brother Elliott will, by coincidence, be in San Francisco when we get in; so he booked a room for the two of us, in our names. I hope you don't mind — ?"
"Oh, not at all," he said, neutrally. "Not at all."
Another pause. We both knew that Mrs. F_____ would be staying at the St. Francis, as well. We both knew what the new lodging arrangements meant.
"I will expect you to continue taking your milk of magnesia compound, though, Father." I said it, lightly; to ease the tension, a little. "I will check the levels in your bottles, every chance I get."
Another pause, at this. An upturned corner of his mouth, in my peripheral vision.
"I may have a sterner task-master than you, to whom to answer. I believe that my friend, Mrs. F_____, is accompanying your friend and his brother to California … she is a terror, when it comes to my milk-of-magnesia regimes. She is relentless."
I all but openly gaped, at this. He had never, ever, spoken so familiarly of Mrs. F_____ to me, before. It was astonishing.
"I am very glad to hear it, Father," I managed to say. After a few seconds.
There was another long pause, between us. A door opened somewhere behind us, to our right, and the sounds of the ship's jazz trio came wafting faintly out. The ever-present sounds of the ship's hull, pushing through the water, surrounded us.
"It is rather curious," he said at last, "that Mrs. F_____ should be in San Francisco, when we dock. I did not happen to inform her of our travel plans." He kept his eyes out to sea, not looking at me.
Another astonishingly familiar reference, to his friend.
This was all approaching dangerous territory.
"Well, sir, I wrote Jack about our sailing dates," I said; accurately, if incompletely; not mentioning my wire to him. "'I imagine word got back to her, from someone in his family … People do talk." I tried to keep my tone nonchalant.
I wondered if he thought I had somehow arranged the whole thing, in a conspiracy with Jack? Oh, a nice conspiracy, to be sure, from his and Mrs. F_____'s perspective … but one which also resulted in Jack and I sharing a hotel room? One which perhaps hinted at the true nature of our relationship — ?
If so, it was deeply ironic; since it had all come as much of a surprise to me, as to Father. But, I was sure he had memories of other times, when I had manipulated things, just slightly, to get my own way; usually, in order to spend more time with Jack …
I thought of the gaffe I'd made, back in Shanghai, back when I'd been exhausted, injured, bloody. I'd been thinking of it a great deal, ever since the words left my mouth.
'Oh, don't you see? I used him, Father. I love him almost as much as I do Jack, and I used him … '
I held my breath.
"Hmmm," from Father, noncommittally; as he reached into his pockets, for his pipe, and his tobacco.
* * *
And so, it was with a somewhat heightened sense of — not fear, exactly; apprehension, I suppose — that I approached our next, evening stroll on the decks.
The fear came, soon enough. Along with a degree of shock.
Whether that fear was warranted, I am now no longer entirely sure.
It was after dinner, again; and somewhat later in the evening, than was usual for us. We had lingered over dinner, talking with our table-mates; San Francisco was close, now, and spirits were getting high.
Father and I made a number of circuits around the Promenade Deck in silence, before coming to rest at the railing. We were on the leeward side, with comparatively little wind; and Father took out his pipe, and his tobacco, and began preparing a bowl.
"Rhys," he began, as he scooped his pipe into the tobacco-pouch — "I have never mentioned this to you, before; it was a rather painful subject. It still is, in fact."
He paused, deliberately; taking a breath.
"But you should know, it was your mother's wish, that you and I should go to Switzerland, for a time, if anything — happened — to her, in giving birth to your sister."
He extracted his pipe, and began tamping down the tobacco into the pipe's bowl. A thunderous silence, broken only by the sound of the water against our hull.
I said it, a little weakly. I was shocked; I just blinked at him.
"Yes." He did not look at me, concentrating instead on his pipe. "In fact, she made me promise. You see, we knew it was to be a difficult delivery … which is why we went to a hospital for the event, rather than stay at home, as is normal. Although, I, at least, did not realize how much danger she was truly in … "
His face, in profile, was bleak, with old and deep pain.
He took another breath, and brought out his match-case. He continued, speaking quietly.
"Your mother was very aware — much more aware, than I — of the, shall we say, negative aspects, the disadvantages, of growing up, in Society; in the kind of circles, in which she, and her parents, traveled … She said that she dreaded that happening to you, particularly if she were gone, and unable to help you … "
This time I said nothing. Still stunned; and all at once, feeling the stab of Mother's loss all over again, so sharply, so acutely —
Father struck his match on the match-case, shielded his pipe-bowl with with hands, and puffed on it to get it going. He exhaled, at last, and then went on, in the same quiet manner.
"She chose Switzerland as a destination, partly because she was aware of my own field of expertise; but more importantly, to her, because it was the place she was happiest in her life, during the years she spent there at school." He paused, for a moment. "Actually, she said she was happier at her school than at any other time in her life, up until the day you were born." He finally glanced sideways at me, briefly, and with kindness. "She loved you very much, Son."
I could not trust myself to say anything. But I felt a great deal. Love, for Mother; love, and sorrow, and pity, for Father, that he should have had such a loss …
A rather long silence, then; for second, after second, after second, as Father puffed on his pipe, and we both looked out at the sea.
"Of course, her experience was not exactly yours … I suppose I could have found a better school for you, than the one I did — "
"My school was fine, sir," I said; finally breaking my silence. I thought of the friends I'd made there, at last. I thought, vividly, of Emile. "At least it was, after you forced it to change."
Another sideways-glance; this time with an ironic expression.
"I would not have known to do so, if it hadn't been for your grandparents' visit to you … any credit, devolves to them. Incidentally, your grandparents were very aware of your mother's wishes. I sincerely doubt I would have been allowed to take you out of the country, if they had not been."
Another, in a series of shocks.
A puff on his pipe. Another, longer silence; filled with the sounds of the water, and the creaking of the ship.
I could feel Father's hesitation; and I could feel it, when he decided to plunge ahead.
He cleared his throat.
"There is a point to telling you all this, though; beyond just clearing the air. There is one result, of our having gone to Switzerland, and staying there for so long, and the lives that we have led, since. And it gives me pause."
He cleared his throat, again.
"You have been in school, Rhys — boys' boarding schools — from a very young age. More than half your life, now." He paused, for just a moment; his pipe down. "And you have had no mother, and no sisters, at home, during holidays … You have had very little contact with the opposite sex, to speak of … "
My stomach clenched. I kept my face carefully schooled. I felt a stab of fear.
A long, and dangerous silence, for second, after second, after second. I forced myself not to speak.
At last, Father sighed, and looked down at the white water, rushing past our hull.
"I have wondered, lately, Son, if I have in some measure failed in my responsibilities to you. I have wondered if I should have remarried, in order to provide you with a more normal family life, a more normal household … "
I was startled. Shocked all over again, actually. It was the last thing I expected him to say.
I considered my response, for a long moment. I chose my words very carefully.
"If your concern is over me, sir, I wish you wouldn't worry. I am fine with things as they are; and I have Grandmother and Grandfather, after all, we are very close … "
I thought it wise to mention my grandparents, quickly, under the circumstances.
I turned my head, to look at him, directly.
" … but in any case, sir — when it comes to your personal affairs — I would strongly prefer that you follow your own heart. I would very strongly prefer it."
I was referring to Mrs. F_____, of course. We both knew it.
A sideways-glance from him, meeting my eyes. A shrug, then he looked back down.
"I have certainly done so … But things need not have worked out this way. Marriage for love is a rather new and revolutionary idea, in our civilization. Until very recently — and in fact, to a certain extent still, in Society — marriages have been arranged, for practical reasons of property, or family alliance, or power. Or for the raising of children." Another sideways-glance, from him.
I said nothing.
"The truth is, that when two people do marry for such practical reasons … the practical needs are met, certainly; but the hearts of the participants usually follow, to a lesser or greater extent. They almost always follow; it is the secret that our ancestors knew."
Another sideways-glance, from him; and a pause.
"It is a thing you may find out for yourself, one day." He said this last, gently.
My stomach clenched down, again. I looked out to sea, and breathed, for a long stretch of seconds.
"You married for love, Father. Both of you." I said it at last, into the silence.
I knew it. I remembered them together, even though I had been very young. Their love for one another had been palpable. And there were the letters from their courtship, and the photos, and Grandmother's stories … But it was the memory of their love, that made me certain.
Father said nothing, for a long moment; staring downwards.
"Yes," he said at last, softly. "Yes. We did."
We remained in silence for several minutes. Some few minutes. It seemed longer. The sounds of the water, being pushed aside by our passage, surrounded us.
"I have no regrets, Father," I said. Eventually. As evenly as I could. "I have turned out well. I am happy. And, I still would strongly prefer that you follow your own heart, when it comes to — such matters."
Another silence; not as long, this time.
"And I would prefer that you do the same, Son." A pause, from him. "I would strongly prefer it."
* * *
At first, the implications of this last exchange terrified me. They terrified me, deeply. I thought of little else, over the last days of our voyage home.
Father had, I thought, all but come out and said that he knew of my true nature. And by extension, Jack's; and, presumably, Tom's.
I was, right then, a month shy of my seventeenth birthday; which meant I had five years, and more, until I reached my majority. Until then, Father had almost limitless legal control over me. He could theoretically send me anywhere, say, to a new school, far away. He could force me to undergo psychoanalysis. He could hospitalize me.
He could forbid me to see Jack. For five years and more.
I almost panicked, later that same night. I almost wired Jack, with some word of warning —
But then, striding around and around on the Sun Deck, in the darkness and the wind — I forced myself to think things through. It was an almost physical effort.
There were my grandparents to consider. As a brake, on his possible actions. A powerful one …
But there was more.
He had not, in fact, asked me directly if I was homosexual.
He had not even offered me some form of psychoanalysis, or therapy, much less hinted at ordering it.
Rather, he had seemed to wonder if he was in some ways responsible for what I was … The theme of responsibility; again. The central pillar, of his life.
In the end, he had even said that he wished me to follow my own heart; as I had wished him to follow his. That this could mean that he in any way accepted my true self, I could not believe; it would be far too dangerous to believe it. No.
But. Disaster had not struck.
Over the next two days, I thought the whole thing through, more deeply than ever.
I tried to see everything, through his perspective; as an adult, with his set of experiences, his view of me, and of boys my age —
And I began, slowly and cautiously, to unwind the knot of fear in my gut.
Father, I thought to myself, is not a naïf. He is a sophisticated man; he is aware — perhaps, even probably, better aware than I — of the existence of homosexuals in the adult world. We exist, even in Society; there were, I dimly knew, the Confirmed Bachelors who would never marry, but were always available to escort a single woman to the Symphony or the Opera; or the married men who lived, comfortably, in their own flats, across town from their wives —
But he was also aware of life in an all-boys, boarding school. The society of boys who live in close quarters, sleep in close quarters, who bathe together in close quarters, the sexual tensions that arise —
I did not think Father's school was anywhere near as free-wheeling as ours, in such matters. And I did not for a minute even like to think of Father, as a boy, in such a setting; it was rather grotesque — but I made myself do it. And the conclusion was worth it.
Perhaps Father wasn't so certain about me, after all.
It made sense. I was sixteen — well, seventeen, very shortly. I had been, as he said, in boys' schools, for more than half of my life, now. And, even apart from the dead-certain love that Jack and I share, passionate friendships do exist, among our heterosexual friends, we'd both seen it, often enough …
This much was reassuring. Father could tell himself, that it was all just a phase, on my part.
But then, there was my gaffe. " … I love him, almost as much as I love Jack … "
The word 'love', as I have said, is slippery, in French; it can mean different things, in different contexts.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized, that the same was true in English. There is the love of one's family. There is the love of one's brother; and a very close friend can be like a brother, after all … that was the most reassuring thought. And then, there is the Shakespearean, Elizabethan sense of the word, which is perhaps even more slippery than the French one —
No, I thought; after very careful reflection. Very careful, because my life — my life with Jack, anyway, and that was my life — depended on it.
Perhaps Father knew, or thought he knew, my true nature. Or guessed it.
But I was 16. He would, I thought, not act upon his guess … yet. He would see how I developed; he would see whether I grew out of it. In the meantime, I thought, he would not act.
Or so I thought; anyway.
Oh, we would need to continue to be careful. We could not risk providing him with any more direct evidence of our true relationship …
And what would come, later — ? What would come, once I became an adult, who did not marry, who stuck very close to his best friend, who perhaps slowly became one of those Confirmed Bachelors, in Society — ?
I did not know.
I knew, though, that I loved him. And I hoped, very much, oh, I hoped very, very, much, that I did not lose his love in return. Oh, I hoped it …
* * *
Two days out, from San Francisco.
I began to pack for shore, feeling a little as though I were in a dream.
I shined all of my shoes, carefully. I selected the clothes I would wear, when we went ashore; and I brushed the jacket and trousers, thoroughly.
I also redistributed Jack's letters, with great care, among the books in my book-trunk; leaving each letter inside a book, as if it were being used as a bookmark.
It was probably unnecessary. We had no spies aboard, on this trip; and taken individually, or even a few at a time, the letters were harmless enough, as I've said, it was the picture they presented when gathered together, that was dangerous …
Well, all except for the last two of Jack's letters to me. These were dangerous enough, even taken individually. But I couldn't bear to just destroy them.
Instead, I made encrypted copies of them, using the Vigenère cypher; and then I burned the originals, and put the encrypted copies in Jack's original envelopes.
And then, I copied out the text of Jack's first letter to me, the one that I had memorized; and I made an encrypted copy of that, and put it away in the proper envelope, too. The whole effort took an astonishingly long time, most of a day.
It was a foolishly sentimental thing to do; and I would have to find a very safe place for them all, at home. Another safety-deposit box, I thought. Still; I wanted to keep his letters, the same way Mother had kept all of Father's letters, over the years, for the same reason …
Come to think of it, the letters in the safety-deposit box would make good company for the French and Swiss passports which Monsieur Simonov had manufactured for me. They would need a secure storage space, too.
I was of course not thinking of using either one of them, not anytime soon; but it was always good to have options, in the event of an emergency. In the event of some final disaster, which Jack and I both, still, feared. Had reason to fear.
I would keep the passports.
* * *
The Last Night Out.
The mood in the First Class Lounge was boisterous. As I mentioned, a number of the passengers had been together on an around-the-world cruise. There was a great deal of toasting; a great deal of proclaiming undying friendships — and perhaps they would be, who was I to say? — and a great deal of enthusiasm displayed by the jazz trio, which played a bit too loudly.
Father and I escaped through the doors to the Promenade Deck, which was blessedly quiet; and we walked our usual circuits, in the fading light, and then the red sunset.
Neither of us mentioned our fraught conversation, of two nights before. Rather, we reminisced about places we'd seen together in Europe — not Berlin, of course — and, some of the amusing things that had happened to us, in this city, here, in that village, there —
It was warm, and comforting, and a relief. For the both of us, I think.
* * *
There was no question of my actually eating anything for breakfast, of course; not even a piece of toast. But the coffee was very welcome.
We were due to enter San Francisco Bay at the height of the tide, around three in the afternoon, or so. The hours until then dragged like torture. I had never known anything like it.
Staying in my cabin, in our suite, would have been pointless; everything was packed up, our steamer trunks had already been taken to the First Class lobby. In any event, I could not stand being below decks; instead, I roamed the ship, walking the Promenade Deck, then up the stairway to the Boat Deck, then higher up to the Sun Deck …
Father stayed in the First Class Smoking Room, puffing on his pipe, and reading through back issues of the 'Honolulu Advertiser'; a model of composure.
I had some idea of what seeing Mrs. F_____ again, meant to him.
Father, as I have said, is very good at keeping still, and controlled, under pressure. It is a thing which I have tried to emulate, and to some extent I have succeeded. It was very difficult for me to follow his example just then, though.
I roamed the ship. I could not read.
The feeling of dreamlike unreality, grew again. I would be seeing Jack, in person, in the flesh, in just a few hours.
I would hold him in my arms, in our room, that night.
After luncheon — which I barely picked at — we ran into fog.
It wasn't the pearly, warm, opalescent fog that we'd encountered outside of Shanghai; this was the thick fog which I remembered from our departure from San Francisco in the President Hoover. It was a cold fog, briskly cold, shading in color from white to almost bluish-gray.
And yet at the same time it was still July; we would steam through gaps in the fog, and the sun would be shining down brightly, dazzlingly, on the choppy waters, and I could feel the warmth of it, up on the Sun Deck, in spite of the fresh breeze … and then we'd plunge back into a blue-gray fog-bank, and the world would turn chill, again.
We slowed. We slowed a great deal. The foghorn started up. In spite of myself, it startled me.
I would have been more concerned, even frantic, about the delay, if I hadn't heard the Captain speak of it at dinner the previous night.
"We expect to encounter heavy fog as we approach San Francisco," he'd told us, "and we have factored it in to our schedule. Fog in San Francisco in July is a given; and there is no cause for concern." He'd paused, and looked around at us, dryly. "In the summertime, the Chamber of Commerce places advertisements in newspapers around the country, claiming that San Francisco is 'The Air Conditioned City'. They are correct. If you are unfamiliar with the city, and if you plan to spend any time there, once we dock, I recommend that you keep a sweater or a coat with you at all times. You will need it."
We slowed, still more.
A smaller boat came into view, and came alongside; I recognized it as the pilot boat. It pulled away, and the deck vibrations picked up, somewhat, again.
I had been nearly alone, on the Sun Deck; clutching my much-battered school atlas, looking at the detailed inset map of San Francisco Bay, the one showing the dotted lines of the steamer tracks threading through the shoals and rocks and into the Golden Gate. Now people began to drift up, in ones and twos and threes, clustering around the rails, and peering through the fog, expectantly.
We continued steaming through pockets of clear air and blue sky, surrounded by walls of blue-white fog.
At last, we steamed through one more belt of fog, and emerged into the bright sunlight —
And there it was; close. The Golden Gate. To the left, hugely tall, massive cliffs, presenting almost-sheer walls, plunging directly into the water; to the right, shorter cliffs, bluffs, really, crowned by green forest —
And running between, the bridge; soaring up and out of and over the water. Fog swirled around the base of the tower on the San Francisco side, reaching up and over the roadbed; feathers of it twisted in the breeze and the sunlight, high up, high, making a fantastic, ethereal, beautiful display, the dazzling light, the blue-white of the fog, the blue of the sky and the water …
"Oh, honey, look," came a disappointed, female voice, to my left. "I thought it was supposed to be finished by the time we got back."
"Well … " came a male voice; hesitantly. Then; "I think it is finished … look, you can see cars and trucks driving on it. It must be finished. I don't see any scaffolding, and the net's gone."
"But aren't they going to paint it — ?"
"Maybe they liked the color … It is a pretty thing, I have to admit, but I will miss the view, the way that it was before … "
Just at that moment, I missed my Leica, intensely; this would have made a fantastic shot, a beautiful photograph. But my Leica was far, far better off with Tom, and I was still very glad to have given it to him.
Father had asked me to come get him, when we made landfall. I went to the First Class Smoking Room, to tell him; and then, together, we staked out positions on the Promenade Deck railing, on the starboard side of the ship, clear of the glass windows.
Together, in silence, we watched as the city slid by; the piers, the comparatively low and graceful buildings, the steep hills … it was nothing like Manhattan, but I was struck, again, by the beauty of it all.
Or at least, the part of me which was capable of thought, was struck by the beauty.
My mind was whirling. A larger part of me felt as though I was living a dream. Everything seemed a little unreal. The trip was ending; the whole, long, mostly-misadventure was coming to an end, my exile from American soil was ending, my exile from Jack was ending …
The engines stopped, completely. The vibrations under our feet, died. The tugboats started whistling to each other, in odd staccato bursts.
"This", said Father, drily, "is always the longest part."
It seemed to take years, before the tugs did their work, and the President Taft was pointed correctly into the slip. It seemed to take another decade, and more whistling, before the pier appeared to be coming any closer, slowly, slowly, slowly …
There were people waiting, on the pier.
Not many; sailing is when the crowds really appear, it is much more fun waving and celebrating and catching streamers as a ship departs to an exotic destination … plus, there is usually alcohol involved, in toasts in the passengers' staterooms. But still, loved ones will gather to welcome a ship coming in.
There was one small group, in particular, right at the pier side.
We slowly, slowly floated closer. Close enough, to begin to distinguish between individuals, on the pier …
I saw Mrs. F_____, first. She is striking; and there has always been something about her carriage, her posture, which is unmistakable —
Next to her, Elliott; and on his arm, leaning in to him, was a tall, slim girl with dark hair, and even from this distance, I could tell that she was smiling —
And next to her, a slender boy, with hair the color of autumn sunlight; leaping up in the air, enthusiastically, high up, over and over again, waving his cap above his head, scanning the railings of the ship, looking for me —
And then, I was doing the same thing; leaping high up, waving my cap in return, calling out his name, heedless of Father, of what he might think —
Our eyes met, across the water; Jack's, and mine. I could feel it, almost like a shock; I knew it. We both subsided, but kept waving our caps, to one another, gazing at one another, eyes locked upon one another —
And I felt my face screw up; and my eyes filled, and some tears rolled down my cheeks, and I couldn't help it, I couldn't possibly have helped it, I was just filled to overflowing with the joy of him, the joy of seeing him again, oh, the joy of him, the joy of him …
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