Bill's Diary 1949 (Part 3)
First edition: 2014
Publisher: EB Society
Illustrator: not illustrated
Category: Bill's Diary 1949
Type: Continuation Books
Publisher: EB Society
Illustrator: not illustrated
Category: Bill's Diary 1949
Type: Continuation Books
On This Page...
August 20th (cont.)
Got up to stretch the old legs and to poke around in various cracks and crevices before settling down in a shady part under the wall with a clear view of the column. Just in time - I noticed the top of someone's head showing near the edge. Grabbing my piece of wood, I rushed over and gave it a whack. A cry sounded and a thump was heard as whomever it was, fell back down to the steps. I was glad because it meant they knew I was allowing nothing at all in the way of an escape attempt. Stood there waiting for something else to happen but there was silence so I just remained nearby. Half an hour passed and then an enormous surprise presented itself. The kids trudged up the road and entered the courtyard with old Tim and Andros!
Well! Well! Well! It's that 'Lucky Star' the kids were born under what else could it be? If I were into omens I'd make the connection. I welcomed Andros and Tim as I would long lost friends and Tim explained how Andros had been hanging round the quay after being warned off the island and recognized him as someone he'd seen talking to us on the day we'd been taken as passengers on his boat. After Andros had poured out what had happened, Tim had decided he'd better take the plane up and conduct a search. I filled him in on our journey underground and what we'd found there, and was just telling him about Mr. Eppy's treachery when the sound of a bell told us that our supplies were arriving. Tim was astonished and I told him that when I'm with the kids, we're never short of food. Andros looked as if it was all quite normal when the young Greek lad trotted into the courtyard on his donkey with the panniers of food. Jack paid him, and before our courier left he had his usual spat with Kiki and the monkey. Coming off second best, he and his donkey departed rather hurriedly when Kiki scared the animal with one of her noises that sounded very much like a revolver going off. If we'd had time, I would have asked Andros to enquire of the lad as to where he was from but I didn't, because time wasn't on our side and anyway, there were far more important things to be done at that particular moment.
I kept close to the column and it was reassuring to have Tim here as well. The men now knew there was another adult here because Tim had looked down the column and spied one of them coming up the stairs to ask for food again. I threw down enough to sustain them together with some grapes and a few figs which none of us liked all that much. For our part, Dinah and Lucy-Ann became quite creative and put together a kind of Greek salad with the fruit and veges we had, and a pleasant meal was consumed in the sunshine with hardly a thought given to the 'rats' below. As we ate, I told them what I thought we should do. First Tim was to take the girls off the island because I didn't want them caught up in any rough stuff, should it occur. They wanted to stay of course but I told them that it should be plain sailing from now - just a matter of tricking Eppy's men and taking one of the boats. Andros could perform a little sabotage on the other one so that Eppy and his men would be stranded. Lucian chose to stay with us rather than face the possible wrath of his uncle, so that was settled. There was a small fly in the ointment - if the island actually did now belong to Eppy, there could be repercussions but I couldn't see it happening. Surely there hadn't been enough time for him to sort it all out so I decided we would go ahead with our plan on that basis.
When we'd finished our meal, and Andros had given me a clear plan of exactly where the boats were having seen them from the sky, he, the girls, and Tim were ready to go. Lucy-Ann hugged me so hard I pretended to be suffering from shortage of breath. She looked at me with alarm and then, seeing I was all right, hugged me 'Goodbye' once more. She also embraced Jack and Philip while Dinah patted their arms and gave me a quick hug. I shook hands with Tim who clapped me on the back saying they'll be at the Lemnos aerodrome in a twinkling but only after he's sure we've managed to make off in one of the boats. Sounded all right to me and away they went with the girls waving until they suddenly turned a corner.
My place was right here, so after I'd gone over our plan with the boys, I had to leave it in their hands and trust them. I was sure that Jack and Philip would be fine but I was a bit apprehensive about Lucian. He didn't seem a very brave chap and might well have broken down over the important part he had to play, but once again I was fairly sure Jack and Phil would work things out - they have a wealth of experience gained from many other experiences. If all went well, Lucian would simply deliver a message to the men guarding the boats saying they were wanted up at the temple, and they would make their way here. Settled down by the column once again with a clear view over the buildings that bordered the track where the men would have to pass planning to make myself scarce as soon as they came into sight. Once again for something to do I committed the latest phase of proceedings to paper. (11:04)
About forty minutes passed and then just as I was getting up to check inside the column there was a sudden scrabbling sound as if someone was jumping down from some rocks just behind a copse of trees set back from the road. Turning instantly I saw two men heading straight for me and yelling out in Greek. Obviously something had made them suspicious and they'd decided to be unobtrusive in case a trap had been set. Debated whether to take them down or not. I could have seeing they weren't carrying guns but if I wasted time putting them out of action, the men below might have been able to climb out of their prison, and I didn't feel like taking on half a dozen.
Quick thinking saved the day. There was nothing to be gained by staying here if the children were with the boats and these were the boatmen.
I did, and giving credit to my gym workouts, I raced across the courtyard to the road and bolted down it with Andros' instructions running through my brain cells - it was surprising how well I'd memorized them. The men hadn't stopped to see where Eppy or anyone was; they just tore down after me. Left. Right. Down some stone steps to the bottom. Sharp right, and then I was haring down a natural crevice towards some rocks with the sea just beyond. My pursuers were also fit but when I spotted a boat with figures in it I sprinted across the shore and just as Andros started the motor and the boat began moving out, three pairs of hands clutched at me and I threw myself over the rail. Kiki-bird flew around my head squawking, "Look you, whateffer!" then told me to wipe my feet before flying across to the charging men and giving them a similar instruction. They were taken aback to hear a bird talking to them but, recovering quickly, they leapt blindly into the other boat and tried to start it up. A useless exercise - Andros had put it well and truly out of action. Our boat gathered speed and soon we were zipping over the waves and out to the ocean with poor Kiki flying after us. Jack became concerned so I told Andros to slow down a little and let her catch up which she did, collapsing gratefully into Jack's arms before flying to stand on the cabin. Micky was sitting on Philip's shoulder with his arms around the boy's head - he seemed frightened at all the activity. Kiki, being an old campaigner, was a little more used to the frenzied lifestyle the children sometimes led.
We raced further out to sea and after half twenty minutes or so, a plane could be seen. We looked up - our friends nonetheless. Andros lessened speed and we stood up to wave when we saw the girls looking down at us. Tim flew as low as he dared and the boys yelled out to them above the deafening noise that made Micky jump off Philip's shoulder and try to hide in his shirt while Kiki, who had this time met her match, let out a squawk that had no effect whatsoever. The plane disappeared in the distance while Andros increased speed once more and we surged forward in a cloud of spray that cooled us down a little.
A few seabirds floated round us thinking they might obtain a snack or two from the tourists but we were bereft except for a few hemp seeds that Jack fed to Kiki so as to stop her screeching. Micky had got used to the rise and fall of the craft and had climbed up onto the cabin roof appearing quite interested in the water as it splashed onto the deck and wetted us every now and again. We took it in our stride and with Andros heading on a northerly course past one or two islands, the boys went astern and started a contest to see who could spot the most fish, and even Lucian started enjoying himself. I'd told him there'd be no more trouble from his uncle when he next saw him, if ever, and he was thankful. The boy was handy when Andros kept lapsing from his pidgin-English back into Greek and I think he felt quite proud to be called upon every now and again for some interpreting. A few hours passed and then Andros called out something that sounded like "alstratus" and pointed to a fairly large island we were passing.
"Near Lemnos!" he told us.
We were, and about an hour later the 'Lucky Star' came into view, still sitting in the harbour roughly about where we'd left her looking proud and serene as we chugged into the marina where the boys helped Andros with the maneuvering before he cut the motor allowing us to drift a little nearer the platform where Tim and the girls were waiting for us. They'd eaten and were looking relaxed as we clambered off and into a big welcome with Kiki flying over to nestle against Lucy-Ann's cheek. We had only the clothes we were in. Several log pages were safely tucked away in my pocket and it wasn't much use worrying about the scant belongings we'd left on the island - they were easily replaceable. The sun was low and tinkling Greek music could be heard from somewhere as we trooped up the pathway to the village. Tim had already reported what had happened and the police chief was apparently staying on so that we could fill him in on varying aspects.
Just off the main street was a cul-de-sac where the station was located. In we went causing not a little consternation amongst the three locals waiting for service from a busy looking officer behind the counter. What was this - a monkey, and a tame bird? A parrot no less! The boys in their shabby state looked as if they had escaped from an orphanage and I must have looked like a tramp, especially when Tim and the girls looked so clean and tidy. Dinah and Lucy-Ann had been showered and fed at Tim's hotel so they were looking pretty good. Lucian was still presentable but he hadn't been roughing it as much as we had.
We were taken into a side room where a small man with an excellent haircut, dark features, the hint of a moustache and four medals on his chest waved us to a couple of chairs. Thank God he could speak our tongue. He introduced himself as Police Chief Pagonis and started writing in a book as we gave our names. He acknowledged my status in the British Constabulary and said he has corresponded once or twice with "Commisser" (that's how it sounded) Franca.
That'd be Gianni ... 'Del,' and there's no doubt at all, he'll be interested in Mr. Eppy.
Pagonis has a habit of looking at whoever is speaking then suddenly redirecting his gaze to someone else as if he expects that person to speak, then when they don't, he's looking at you again before repeating the process but we got used to it and he seemed to know instinctively if one of the kids or Tim wanted to say something, so whenever the 'look' was transferred, the recipient would speak up. He knew of Eppy all right and didn't hold a very high opinion of him. So saying, he picked up the telephone receiver and started talking rapidly in Greek. The kids were sitting in or leaning against a large comfortable easy chair in the corner. Micky had jumped off Philip's shoulder and was examining a flower in a vase sitting on the windowsill. Tim was in the other chair with Andros standing respectfully behind, hat in hand. Pagonis made a couple more calls before putting the receiver down and informing us that Thamis has not been sold. Eppy was bluffing, and when I heard that it was with considerable relief. Now the wheels could be put into motion and, providing the men hadn't been able to get the other boat going, there was a good chance their imminent arrest was only a matter of time.
We had told the Chief about immobilizing their boat and he couldn't have been more delighted. He'll personally see to it that we get a little something for ourselves once the treasure has been recovered and evaluated, so that was really good news especially for the children. The genial little chap escorted us to the door after instructing me to make out a full report when I get back to the office. There'll also be a separate one for Andros to sign and as we went out into the sunshine I told him he'd probably have his picture in the paper. He looked at us all with pleasure as if it was too much to handle, then laughed with the happy thought of bringing the clipping along one evening to show his friends in the local hostelry.
"They not believe but it will be there ... in the paper, so will have to believe, will they not?"
We walked with him down to the harbour and watched as he got into his boat. I grabbed his address and told him a man may knock at the door or visit him on his boat with a paper that he'll need to sign. Andros nodded after I'd managed, with Lucian's help, to spell out all I had to say. It would probably be someone from Regional Admin but he didn't need any details. We all shook hands and watched him move off from the dock and head away, presumably towards the place he'd written down in scrawled lettering. Lucian told me it was Pedino.
The kids, except for Lucian, took their sandals off and sat on a low section of the marina with their feet in the water, to cool down a bit. Lucian stood beside them rather quiet, probably wishing that he had a more stable life to look forward to. I had spoken with him saying that he can join us till we get back to England and then I'd make sure he was placed with one or other of his many relations. He'd told me of three that sounded as if they'd welcome a fourteen year old who wouldn't be all that much trouble, and as he had helped us, I wasn't going to let him down. The sun was low and shimmering on the sea as small waves rippled toward the shore. Attractive setting, relaxing and romantic; I was suddenly thinking of Allie and when she last looked at me as the train drew away from Croydon station. She had seemed as if she wanted to say something. I joined Tim who had picked up Lucy Ann and was holding her high in the air. She screamed with pretend horror while the others urged Tim to drop her in the water.
A small ferryboat that had left the Lucky Star, plied its way to a mooring spot nearby. It was time to go. As Tim wouldn't be leaving for another day or so I invited him to dinner and he said that if a trampish looking person like me was going to demand admittance to the dining room, then so could he. Said I'd lend him a shirt seeing he hadn't been able to find a clean one at his hotel and he jumped on board the ferry with us. After I'd told an approaching official who we were, he informed me that Lucian's guardian had left the ship in a private boat and had been taken to the mainland. It appears she thought that Lucian was still with his uncle. I told him we would be responsible for her nephew and the officer seemed quite relieved because it would have meant more hold ups if the shipping company had needed to search out a guardian for the lad.
We stood at the stern looking at the receding shoreline for the fifteen minutes or so that it took to reach the ship and when a bump was felt, Kiki left Jack's shoulder and flew to the railing. We followed up the ladder to the deck with Micky monkey climbing in his very agile way up a dangling rope and reaching the top before any of us. He chattered to as we boarded and then jumped up onto Philip's shoulder, to the amusement of a few passengers who were passing by.
The Lucky Star had been declared sea-worthy this morning and we were 'lucky' that it hadn't left in the night. Actually, it would have been all right because if we had been stranded, it would merely have meant a few more days on a balmy island and then back to Britain in the plane. As it is, Tim will be flying back to Eastleigh when his break finishes. He looked fine after I'd given him a loan of a shirt. The boys and I showered and changed before we all made a night of it in the restaurant. The kids buttonholed their steward friend and related some of the latest news although I'd told them to keep the treasure 'under wraps' for now until it has been claimed officially. It was fun and games all round as we talked over the adventure and exchanged information with Tim and the girls. Dinah said that Lucy-Ann had almost fallen out of the plane because she waved so vigorously to us as it passed over Andros' boat. Lucy-Ann denied that remark quite indignantly and said her arm had simply brushed against a catch by the window and made a blind or something zip upwards. It wasn't only Lucy-Ann who was teased. Dinah also had her share because a Latino judged to be in in his late teens had come over and handed her a flower. What that was all about I don't really know, but she smiled and accepted it whilst having to weather a stream of witty remarks that came her way from Jack and Philip's end of the table. Tim showed us some magic tricks although they were more in the line of party stunts that one might play when having drinks in the bar with friends. Micky and Kiki had been locked in separate cabins as the place was rather full of passengers, and Lucian, who'd cheered up considerably now that he knew he wouldn't have to confront his uncle again, joined in and gave the impression he can be a pleasant chap despite the rather unsavoury description passed on earlier by the others. (23:05)
The Lucky Star sailed during the night. We were dead to the world having got to bed fairly late after a memorable and entertaining meal punctuated every now and again with stirring Greek music from a small orchestra. After plenty of fond 'Goodbyes,' Tim had left with one of the ship's contractors who'd been called from the island during the emergency. Jack's not too happy about being absent when we found the treasure but he'll get a little something eventually and I'll instruct our Athens contact to keep an eye out for any photographs of the swag whether they be official or in the local newspaper. He hasn't let Kiki forget that if it weren't for her, he would have been in there for the 'kill.' The Government's Archeological department will probably request that the original map is returned to them and that might be for the best seeing it's a historical item but we'll have to see what Philip thinks about it. Perhaps he'll be happy to oblige once a precious item of treasure is rerouted his way.
We're heading back and now I'm not sure what kind of a reception I'll be getting. In a way, I've let Allie down I suppose by allowing the kids to embark on another of their 'adventures' - a treasure hunt. Sure it jelled, but my sponsorship could have invoked serious consequences. OK, there were consequences but a certain amount of 'good' resulted from the excursion, the cache was located, the undesirables who threatened the children have been brought to justice, and we're all fine. This of course might not alleviate the situation in Allie's eyes but I'm prepared to take things as they come.
August 22th Monday
Haven't really needed to update the diary because life on the ship is much the same from day to day although in a different category from the landlubber life. No matter where one goes, one is still on the ship, but as we're being waited on hand and foot and can take part in the activities, it's quite a treat for hard workers like us whether it be school or office. This afternoon I was called to the radio counter where a cable had arrived for me. Thought it must be from Allie or else a Bow Street colleague but No. It had been sent by one Flora Eppy thanking us for taking Lucian under our wing and as she cannot possibly return to the boat, would we be able to drop him at a friend's place. It's all been arranged and she and her husband would be much obliged if we could deliver him and his luggage to ... she had supplied a name and address. I wouldn't know how close the Eppys were to Lucian's parents but I can only put their rather laissez faire attitude towards the boy's well-being, down to 'culture.' She further stated that Lucian would be housed by family of his best friend at school but they're not home until later in the evening as both the parents work and their boy goes to other relations during the day. The Mediterranean families can be large and extended I know but it still seems a bit loose. I sent a reply saying that I would do what she asks seeing it wasn't very far out of our way and I hope things turn out all right for her. One can always 'hope,' but I have a feeling Mrs. Eppy will also end up lodging with relations because it looks as if her husband will be loosing his freedom and assets for a quite a time in the near future.
The children seemed a little depressed after we had started for English shores again but I put it down to their thoughts about having to attend school again and swat for exams. They cheered up later, once we'd got into the swing of things and I joined them in several of the events the shipping company had on offer to pass the time away. There have been swims in the pool and games with some other youngsters on the cruise. Small romances have blossomed and the girls have been teased on and off because of attention that has come their way - one boy took an interest in Lucy-Ann when he saw here walking with the others on the deck one morning. Lucian had to be called in to interpret his remarks and whether or not he revealed 'all' to Jack and the mystified Mannerings, is anyone's guess.
The passengers were allowed one day in Naples and while the kids went off sightseeing after arranging to meet me at a cafe which I marked out clearly for them on a map supplied by one of the pursers, I went to make a 'phone call. At a telegraph office I ensconced myself in a booth and rang across to Pembrokeshire feeling pretty confident that Allie would answer. Took a while getting through as it always does and after several minutes of clicks and buzzes, I considered ringing Bow Street communications and asking for an emergency line. Could've done it but it was risky seeing an emergency call may have been blocked so I just held on, and then, unexpectedly, Allie answered.
How great to hear her voice again and I imagined her at the Sullivan's cottage going to answer the call and perhaps thinking it might be a wrong number... or had she been expecting an involved talk with their doctor? When I spoke she sounded quite excited and I heard her calling out to someone telling them who it was.
I asked after Polly and when she's expected to get better and after I'd told her what we'd been doing on the ship and been informed of the news from her side I felt that I'd like to keep talking on and on but the subject of our little trip on the side had to come up because in a only a day or two, she might well read some mention of it in the daily paper although as yet, because of our mobility, no reporters had been at our heels. I told her to listen while I gave a very brief report of our sojourn to the Isle of Thamis and subsequent search in the tombs and vaults for the treasure indicated on the map. Wasn't going to place any blame whatsoever on the children but simply told her we'd thought that, as the ship was being repaired, there wasn't much else for us to do but go for a trip somewhere. There had been some unforeseen danger near the end but, unlike other times we knew of, not once had a gun appeared in the scenario and, if the worst had come to the very worst, I would probably have been able to put Eppy's three cronies of action - at a pinch. Eppy would have been no threat physically, in fact the children would probably have been able to handle him - Philip and Jack are pretty sturdy.
It wasn't as if I didn't believe all that but it was now up to Allie. I think some of the things I said were taken as truths and others may not have been but in the end she sounded rather uncertain in her attitude. Her voice was full to the top with emotion but it had a kind of 'caressing' note to it despite containing an element of reprimand.
"Oh, Bill! After what I said ... the kids did tell you?"
"Allie, I'm trying to think of an excuse."
There was a pause and then when she spoke her voice conveyed resignation ... almost as if she regarded me as incorrigible but at the same time, salvageable. Didn't sound 'anti.'
A brilliant idea came to me right then.
"Allie, I'll ring you from Lisbon. I've something I want to ask you!"
"Why should I answer the telephone?"
I was in. I was sure of it!
"Allie, just wait! Trust me! Bye!"
I must have left her holding the receiver in astonishment, but that didn't bother me. I knew what I was going to do.
Managed to get my hands on an English newspaper that had been left by the bin and glancing through it I saw reference to an operation that had taken place on the isle of Thamis. The details were scanty but there was a photograph of one 'Isaak Pagonis' smiling at the camera and also a stock shot of Mr. Eppy who's well known in the islands. I kept hold of it for the children, knowing they'd be interested. The treasure has been retrieved so I thought a call was worth making. Went into another booth and after consulting my book, I dialled up our liaison man in Athens.
Spoke with Maurice for twenty minutes and received an outline of what had taken place on the island after we left. Eppy and his men had got their hands on an old rowing boat which they'd found in a shed further along the coast but instead of casting off to see if they could get to one of the larger islands such as Kyra or Grammeza, they had tried first to take away some of the more valuable items of the cache and that was their undoing. The police detachment sent to round them up was able to get there before the birds had flown and they were taken into custody.
Searched out the kids at the marked venue and after a coffee we toured a large group of shops. They bought a few souvenirs and things with their pocket money and I invested in a large box of chocs for us to open after supper that evening. I felt good and my attitude must have been infectious because they all looked very contented and we enjoyed ourselves until it was time to find our way back to the ship.
The Lucky Star has taken a more direct route and our days have been full what with deck tennis, quoits, swims, entertainment by an M/C in the lounge every evening, and the kids have even been dancing in the ballroom. They're good and Philip said they all took it at school as part of the curriculum Allie had arranged for them. I think that was a wise move because the kids are growing up and they'll retain a social advantage that many of their friends might not have considered necessary. Philip's particularly good and it was just as well because one night I watched him ask one of the few young ladies on the trip to accompany him. She looked about fourteen and as they started gliding along the floor we stood watching and cringing slightly because if the girl wasn't a Gold Medal candidate in the terpsichorean arts, she must have been pretty close to it. She flitted around with such expertise that a few of the couples stopped dancing to watch and, to his credit, Philip kept up with the play and managed to perform all the moves very well. Bet it was a struggle for him though. They received a round of applause and after the M/C had congratulated them it was then that we learnt Philip had taken part in an impromptu dance contest for the younger passengers and they had won first prize. Each received a small silver cup.
The younger set, seven altogether, went up on deck afterwards to watch the moon or something, all chattering nineteen to the dozen and I left them to enjoy their independence seeing that adults can queer the pitch for teens especially when it's mixed company. I went to the bar for a drink or two and struck up an enjoyable conversation with a man and his wife who live in London not all that far from my patch, so a good time was had by all.
Sailed into Lisbon this morning and at breakfast I asked the kids if they'd like to go off by themselves and explore. They wanted to visit the Belem Tower because Lucian had extolled its virtues' and besides, a tour of the dungeons was included. They've got dungeons on the brain, so I told them they could go along with a few of their friends from last evening.
We all filed through the hastily rigged awning and onto the docks where a tour bus was parked. Lucy-Ann took my hand and asked if I'd like to go with them but I told her I've got a few things to do and one of them was to get a haircut. Gave Jack some local currency and told him and Philip to look after the girls and not to stray too far from the docks as we had to be back on board by 18:00. One of their companions could speak pidgin-Spanish so he was deemed their official translator even though we were in Portugal. They left, with Kiki flying round the group and addressing the lad and two girls who were with them as "Mistersir, Mistersir!" Micky clung to Philip's neck as usual - don't think I could put up with such close contact from an animal, but then I'm not Philip.
Ralph and Shirley from last night waved to me as they joined other passengers who were going on the guided tour and after I'd double-checked the sailing time in the nearby office, I walked up the avenue adjoining the wharf and set off into the more central part of the city. Found a barber and after looking through the pictures of a month old Esquire magazine, I was given an excellent trim. After tipping the man rather well, I caught a bus to the police HQ that was about ten minutes away and a sergeant at the counter who could speak English, spoke into an intercom. He then directed me through a door to a small communications room where an officer seated at a console was speaking in Spanish to someone. In line with a policy that allowed vice-versa favours between our particular locales, he directed me to a telephone sitting on a nearby shelf and after he'd pushed and pulled a few plugs, I was able to ring Bow Street.
Pete was paged and in no time at all, his voice came on. He was just off for morning tea in the canteen but he stayed to hear a few details of the latest 'Mannering Operation.' Eppy's charge sheet had been sent to the Yard where there was also a file as he has English connections. Asked him if anything had come up with my own portfolio but he reassured me things were fine in that department. Jim's been down from the north and stayed with him a few days. Scottie's hardly been seen at all. He rang and spoke with Matt the other day. "Things are humming." We talked on for a little longer and the conversation was brought to a close with Pete telling me to pass on his warm regards to the kids.
I thanked the officer in Spanish and he smiled, saluting me as I left the station. Strolling along in the sunshine I stopped at an attractive looking café for a bite to eat and a coffee then lounged around for a while briefly to gather my thoughts very carefully. I left and walked on and on and eventually, looking at a signpost with the name Calcada Santo Amaro emblazoned on it. Kept on going and finally reached a very grand place called 'Pestana' - a kind of refurbished monument that's a venue for reasonably well off visitors. I entered the foyer and showing my police card, purely to elicit a little service, I asked the counter clerk for the use of a telephone. He got quite excited but I said it would be just a routine call so he got a page to show me the way.
I was taken to a private booth and entering, I dialled the Sullivans once more, and waited. The 'phone rang on and on and on, then once again a voice that I can never hear enough of, broke in on my thoughts.
"It's me again."
Despite my being in the Doghouse, the "Bill" was a mixture of interest and enthusiasm.
"Still mad at me?"
"Bill, where are you and have you rung me just to ask that?"
Indeed it was a firm 'No.'
I told her where we all were and described a part of the city where she and the children had been just a few weeks ago.
"The kids are all right aren't they Bill? You haven't left them all alone somewhere? No madmen pursuing them?"
I didn't know quite how to answer that. Inspiration took its cue.
"Allie, they've gone off to see the St. Vincent Tower and the Monastery and a few other sights but they're all together and with some friends. They have their instructions ... Allie it would have been good to have you here for backup. Sometimes I think I let them have a slightly freer life than maybe they should."
Had I gone too far?
She was silent for a moment and then came on again with the slightest touch of exasperation.
"Bill. I know you mean well. I know you love them and I'm sure you'd do anything for them but ..."
"Bill, it's just that being ultimately responsible for the four of them, perhaps I'm a tiny bit protective. It's difficult to know whether or not I'm giving them the right amount of leeway. It's hard to gauge things properly, and fairly, when there's only one opinion to go on. Can you understand what I mean?"
I nodded then realizing I was on the 'phone, told her that I understood fully.
"Needs at least two people to form the right opinion," I said, in a matter-of-fact way.
I floundered for a second.
"She's responded really well although she's still quite weak but the doctor says she needs a period of rest and mustn't travel. She'll have a fine time once she's up and about. It's a close-knit community and everyone's very friendly. Bill, my leanings, and the spectacular view they have of the sea have borne fruit. Polly's decided to dabble in the artistic life seeing she can't move around all that much at present. I cadged a lift to Cardigan with one of the neighbours and managed to pick up an easel and watercolours, and I've given her some grounding. Jocelyn's taken an interest in the new hobby and gave her first attempt the thumbs up when he laid eyes on it. Pretty awful actually, but it was a picture of his beloved coast so she couldn't miss, and she's improving. Between now and next week when I'll be off, I'll teach her as much as possible."
That was interesting news.
"I'm really glad for her and it's good she has something constructive to do ... and bravo for Jo. He might even take it up himself if he can get away occasionally from his boring books and maps."
"Don't tell Polly I thought her first picture was terrible."
"Only if you don't tell Jocelyn I called his books and maps boring!"
I was speaking for the sake of speaking.
A rush of blood to the head and then it came when I wasn't quite ready.
"Would you marry me?"
'Would You, Will you, Would you, Will you - What should it have been? Heart pounding! Please, please, don't say 'No!' I Can't Live Without You! That sounds pathetic but isn't it what they always say? Cannot! Can't! Can't! Cannot! Can't live without you. No way! No way at all! Suspense, go away! Unbearable! What will she say?'
Silence, and more silence! Then
"Bill. Did you just say what I thought you said?"
"Allie, I think you got it correct."
"Have you just asked me ... ?"
"Allie, I want to marry you!"
The tension builds. If she'd just say 'Yes!'
Pressing my ear hard up against the receiver I imagined her standing in the living room that overlooks the sea. What was she thinking? I listened and then I heard the receiver clicking and Allie's voice came on sounding quiet but emotional
"With all my heart!"
It was just as well I noticed someone walking past the booth because I almost let out a War Whoop worthy of Geronimo himself!"
Confirmation! I needed confirmation!
"Allie, you accept me?"
"Someone needs to take you in hand."
I sensed we were both so full of emotion that it would be useless to carry on. The mountain had been climbed and I was now looking into Heaven. Allie would have a husband. The kids! My kids? Goodness, what a handful - Allie and the kids!
"Allie, are you there? I love you!"
"Bill, I've loved you longer!"
That was such a surprise. Perhaps I should have asked her earlier. Why didn't I?
"I'll have to get down on one knee and ask you properly one day."
"You do that. The kids need to be told, Bill?"
"I'd like you to be there. We'll figure something out."
"... or perhaps we could wait until the opportunity presents itself."
"I'll still have to tell you off though for disobeying my instructions Bill, otherwise the kids might think I'm getting soft."
'Bad example, eh?"
"You know what I mean!"
Anything else could wait and after whispering a few things to each other. I walked out of the booth and went straight to the bar down the passage for a couple of whiskies after which, I moved out into the sunshine in an almost dreamlike state. It was just after 16:00 so thought I'd wander down towards the Belem Tower and it was enjoyable in my present state to stroll the avenues running alongside the Tagus and an hour or so later I neared the Tower where it was my good fortune to catch sight of the kids waiting at a bus stop. I joined them and cries of surprise greeted me before I was given a running commentary of all they had seen. It had been an enjoyable time all round and I feigned horror when Lucy-Ann began describing their trip through the dungeons. I was going to get us a taxi but then decided it would round the day off to experience a typical Portuguese bus ride so we all piled in when one came along and the passengers were treated to six youngsters holding forth with loud conversations in a foreign language. Big grins lit up their faces and several of those nearby appeared to understand what was being said.
We reached the quay round 17:45 and in no time at all had joined other passengers who were once again boarding the Lucky Star. Usual ship's entertainment in the lounge and then we all felt like an early night, even Kiki! (21:40)
Sept. 2nd Friday
The last few days have been great and the kids have taken advantage of everything on offer. Lucian seems like one of the 'mob' now but as we neared Southampton after a fairly smooth crossing, the atmosphere became a tiny bit muted with the kids wondering how their mother will react to our unexpected 'Adventure' and Lucian was also rather quiet. I'd thought about him this morning while relaxing with a book on one of the reclining deck chairs and thought that he'd soon settle down to his new life. He's still young enough to begin again. The children had gone to see a 'Punch and Judy' show 'With a Difference' - that's what it said on the notice in the lobby. Kiki was sitting on the seat beside me snuffling into a container of seeds supplied by her loving master who'd thought it best she didn't accompany them in case her odd remarks upset any patter that might be part of the show. Kiki knew she had to stay with me although every now and again, she'd spread her wings and fly up to one of the masts for what looked like an 'I Spy' session. (10.:05)
The Lucky Star was guided gently into its mooring by a couple of tug-boats and at about 11:20 the kids and I were waiting with the other passengers to disembark. Filed through customs and everything else with only one holdup when a young officer started questioning the boys about their pets. I had gone with Lucy-Anne and Dinah to retrieve the luggage and on our return, the boys were still being third degreed. I stepped in and was able to quote a section of the Act that dealt with birds, animals, fish, deadly diseases and anything else related to the importation of livestock. Of course the chap didn't know I'd gone through a briefing course when attached to the Police Customs section and he started arguing until his superior in the form of Sidney Price ex of Saltmarsh Lane, appeared. He greeted me very warmly, sent the junior inspector packing (not in an unfriendly way), before being introduced to my charges with whom he shook hands and he even held Kiki's clawed foot briefly although Micky, who seems a little affected by all the changes of scenery in his life, kept holding tightly onto Philip's neck. The monkey had already been examined and inoculated onboard by the ship's vet and after a few more words with Sid, we were off and away to immerse ourselves in the English Way of Life once again.
Lucian was still rather silent and the kids who'd more-or-less got over their depression tried to cheer him up. Jack asked him if he was looking forward to seeing his friend again and he nodded.
"I often go there," he said, " ... and it looks as if I may have to live with him from now on because of what's happened to uncle."
I joined in in and told him that I thought it would be far better for him to stick with his friend, and there was no reason why he'd ever be put into the care of Mr. & Mrs. Eppy ever again. He thought for a few seconds and then said he hadn't seen it like that. He'd always believed he had a duty to spend most of the holidays with his uncle and Aunt but why should he? I seem to have said the right thing because he perked up a bit and said that he gets on well with his friend's family and on several occasions they'd hinted that he was welcome to come and stay with them permanently.
While the kids were having soft drinks at a little refreshment bar, I found a telephone and rang the aerodrome then, when we were ready, I thought it might be a good idea for the kids to ring their mother and say we were on our way. Dinah got the number and the children had a few excited words with Allie. I told them I'd have my turn when we reached the house and went off to find a taxi and before very long we were on our way to Eastleigh. Took us about twenty minutes and as we walked through the terminal Kiki suddenly became very talkative as we steered our way through the curious and admiring stares of travellers who were coming and going. I think she must have known that Lucian was about to leave us because she sat on his shoulder all the way to the car park, and even Micky had jumped up to be with him once or twice.
The car had been brought out for us from the aerodrome's secure garage facility and piling in, we headed north with four of the kids looking forward to seeing their mother again and becoming quite excited at the thought of sleeping in their own bedrooms, not to mention getting stuck into a good English meal after sampling the sometimes quite alien fare in foreign parts. Passed through Bishop's Waltham and then in East Meon, I thought it might pay to ensure Lucian had a decent meal in the larder if his friends were late home so we stopped at a restaurant and the boy was allowed to order himself a meal of choice. I asked the waitress if we could take it with us and after about fifteen minutes or so she reappeared carrying a box with string tied round it. Inside was what we presumed was Lucian's favourite meal corned beef and cabbage, with other assorted vegetables and there was even a dessert packed in a separate container. Lucian was very grateful and thanked me profusely. Next it was along to a dairy because the kids wanted to buy themselves ice creams they'd spent very little of their holiday money due to the circumstances in which they'd found themselves. We all got back into the car and were off again but this time in mainly silent mode for the first ten minutes while everyone licked at their ices. Micky had one to himself and Kiki shared Jack's.
Another half hour passed and we entered the picturesque town of Petersfield where Lucian directed us to a tree-fringed cottage with a high tiled roof on a corner of Tilmore Gardens. He got out and the kids crowded round to say 'Goodbye.' Jack handed him his case from the boot, Kiki fluttered round his head, and Micky, feeling a 'momentous occasion' had come, broke into a high chatter and actually held out his paw for Lucian to shake.
"Oh I say!" Lucian took the hand rather gingerly and shook it, then turned to thank us all and even said he was sorry if anything had happened that wasn't up to standard.
I told him that anything his uncle had done was not reflected on him and he looked at me gratefully. Lucy-Ann gave him a hug and the boys shook hands. He stammered a bit and said quite plaintively that he wished he could live with us and that he'll often look back on the time we were on Thamis and voyaging together on the high seas.
"Feels a bit like a dream," he said. "The McDonald's have a key hidden at the back of the house so I'll be all right," and clutching his bag and boxed meal and stammering out a final 'Goodbye,' he turned, and followed a path round to the back. The kids all waved once more to him and then we were on our own once again.
"I saw him give one last wave as he turned the corner of the house," said Lucy-Ann.
"He'll be all right," I said "... and we could perhaps get in touch with him sometime in the future seeing he's not all that far away."
Now that was settled, we were off again after Philip had called Micky down from a tree where he'd been running back and forth along a branch, with Kiki telling him he was a 'naughty boy,' from her perch higher up. Got the car revs up, as the kids weren't the only ones looking forward to seeing Allie. We sang songs and all took turns coming in on the refrains and the result was a mish-mash of lustily sung verses that strayed so far from the actual tune and lyrics, that the song itself was unrecognizable. Then Jack started up a game of 'I Spy' and the time passed quickly as we all had a turn. One subject caused much laughter when Philip had spied something With His Little Eye beginning with 'L' and when no one could get it, Lucy-Ann asked for a clue. Philip thought briefly, then said,
"It's tall, and rhymes with amp oaste!"
Lucy-Ann was warmly congratulated when she got it! All smiles, she accepted a sweet from me as we entered the outskirts of Overton and made our way along to the children's home. The car had hardly come to a halt when three doors opened and four kids rushed madly down the drive to the front door of the house, which happened to open at that very moment.
There was Allie, smiling at them with her sweet face alight as first one and then another, and still another, tried to summarize their adventures before running out of breath. I joined them.
"Hello, Bill. Nice to have you all back again."
Unnoticed by the children, she gave me a brief but dazzling smile because she wouldn't have got away with anything less. I was in love and she knew it, although, in keeping with her duty to follow through her apparent displeasure at our extra-mural meanderings, that was all she said but the briefness didn't escape the children's attention. Lucy-Ann looked as if she wasn't sure whether or not I was about to be reprimanded and the others pretended that nothing was amiss as we made our way into the dining room where there was a meal that took up all our attention for the next forty minutes.
"I don't think Aunt Allie would prepare such a fine meal if she was really upset about our time on the island," Jack whispered to me when Allie left the room briefly with the girls to fetch the bowls of soup. Philip nodded.
"Mum's moods don't last long, Bill. You'll see."