. 1935 .
"Don't rock the boat; sit down as soon as you can," Bob added as an afterthought, "Not on his hand."
A moment later, all three were in the boat. One in the bows, one at the stern and one on the middle thwart.
"I hope you know how to row this thing, Bob." The one in the bows said, "I've heard it isn't as easily as it looks."
"It isn't, and I'm out of practice." Bob said, fending off from the dock. The rowboat glided out onto the silent water. Dusk was falling. A moment later, he dipped his blades and began to pull towards the middle of the lake, leaving the town behind. He looked over his shoulder, pulled hard with his port oar and made for a distant flagstaff on a promontory. The union jack rippled proudly.
"Where's our destination?" the man in the bows asked.
"Look over my shoulder; you can just see the flagstaff. Pity the light's going."
There was silence except for the dribbling of water from the oars and the gentle sound of the bow cutting through the lake.
"Will she recognize you?" The man in the bows asked the question they all had been secretly wondering.
"Don't know," Bob said shortly, pulling hard, "She hasn't remarried, that's all that matters. I asked the boat builders' when we hired the boat."
"I can imagine you don't look the same. Siberia tends to have that effect."
Siberia...Gulog...sixteen years...A shade suddenly seemed to drop over Bob's eyes...there was cold, a terrible, bone-eating cold, flashes and the hiss of hot bullets in snow. Bob shook his head to clear it, pulled at the oars especially savagely, very nearly sending his friend in the stern overboard.
"Easy there old chap, I almost got dunked," the man in the stern said, "What if there are sharks?"
The man in the bow laughed.
"Sorry." Bob grunted.
The lake brought back so many memories. The smells were the same, the Old Man, the hill he had dubbed the Matterhorn when he was a boy still hunched on the skyline.
"Someone's taking the Union Jack down on the flagstaff." The man in the stern remarked and the man in the bow turned around to have a look.
"Night's coming." Bob said, glancing over his shoulder.
The mouth of a river opened up to port and Bob swung the rowboat around and headed up it.
"I can see the house."
"Is it gray?" Bob asked
"Can't tell, the light's too bad."
"There's the boat house…I say, it has a death's head on it." the man in the bow said.
"Jolly looking, eh?" the man in the stern said, looking over his shoulder.
The man in the stern laughed and said for no particular reason, "It's good to be home again."
Bob spun the boat around and nosed her into the bank next to the boathouse. The man in the bow grabbed some reeds, holding her there while Bob made his way forward, grabbed the coiled painter and climbed ashore. He made fast to a tree and turned to look at his friends as they climbed out of the boat.
"You'd better go in alone, Bob," The man who had been in the bows said. Bob nodded, though they could barely see it in the gathering gloom.
"All right, wait here, don't let the boat drift away."
Bob set out towards the house. It had not changed. The windows glowed and for a moment Bob felt as if he were twelve again, coming to call on the Turners.
"I wonder why there's a death's head on the boat house."
"Maybe they keep toxic wastes in there."
The voices of his friends brought Bob back to reality and he stopped, looked up at the front door, and realized that he was nervous. For weeks, months, years, he had waited for this moment and now it had come.
Finally, he took a deep breath and rang the bell, wondering what they would think of him in his cheap, ill fitting suit. He waited in silence for a few seconds before he heard footsteps pounding down the hallway and a clear ringing voice calling, "I'll get it!"
The next moment the door opened and light from the hallway fell on him. He found himself looking at a young women in a royal blue evening gown and a blue glass necklace with little gold beads that looked vaguely Egyptian. He caught his breath, startled, for she looked so much like the lady he had come to see. He knew it couldn't be, of course, she was far too young, and perhaps slightly taller.
"Are you one of the Blackett girls?" He asked hesitantly.
"Yes, I'm Nancy."
"Nancy?" He asked, "I thought there was only a Ruth and a Margaret. At least that was how I understood it."
"Properly I'm Ruth," Nancy said.
"But improperly you're Nancy?"
"What are you most often?" Bob asked, "Properly or improperly."
Nancy laughed, a clear ringing laugh. "Most times I'm Nancy, that probably tells you quite a bit."
He nodded, "Is your Mother in?"
"Yes, would you like to see her?" Nancy momentary became Ruth, "May I ask your name?"
"Tell her it's an old friend, tell her it's Bob."
"Well, if you're an old friend, would you like to come in? You can wait in the drawing room; shall I rouse Uncle Jim out of his study?"
"No-no, not just yet."
Bob followed her down the hallway, half noticing that she had bare feet.
"Here's the drawing room, you can switch on another light," Nancy said, "I'll go find Mother."
She closed the door and he heard her retreating down the hallway.
Bob turned to survey the room. The wallpaper was different and the furniture had somehow migrated to different parts of the room then he remembered, but mostly it was the same. There were yellow roses in a glass vase on the table in the window. On the floor was a box with tissue paper and a pair of blue shoes. Bob stooped down to pick up a card on the floor.
This gown is for your Eighteenth Birthday, try it on the moment it comes. I must know how it fits.
Bob grimaced, dropped the paper and watched it flutter down and land on the tissue paper. Bob turned to look at the roses, there were eighteen of them. Yellow roses were his favorite, and he went over to look at them.
He remembered the first time he bought yellow roses for a girl. It was a long time ago and he'd only been able to afford six. Curious, he picked up the card to see who the boy was that could buy eighteen yellow roses.
'To: Miss Ruth Blackett.
Many happy Returns on you birthday.
From: Thomas Jollyes the third.'
Thomas Jollyes the third? The grandson of Colonel Jollyes. Bob turned to sit on the sofa, Why he was only a fat baby last time...
The only light in the room was a lamp on the piano, illuminating a row of photographs in front of it. Bob found himself standing up again and walking over to look at them. There was dust along the top of the piano and someone had written a word in it, P-E-G-G-Y, Peggy. Bob smiled and looked up at the photographs.
There was a card sitting on the piano with roses beautifully done by hand in watercolors. In was on an envelope posted from Alexandria, Egypt. Bob picked it up.
'A girl's only eighteen once, Happy Birthday!
Love, Lt. John, Mate Susan, A.B. Titty, A.B. Roger, A.B. Bridget, Ship's Boy Andrew and Captain and Mrs. Walker.
PS: Do you like the roses? Titty.
PPS: Do you like the necklace? I helped pick it out at the Bazaar. Bridget
PPPS: I'm learning to fly. Roger
PPPPS: there's no room left on this card. John'
Next to the card were the photographs. The first photograph was of two boys…girls actually…in knickers and dark stocking caps in a small white sailed dingy. 'Amazon' was painted in large white letters on her stern.
The next photograph was of two boats this time, one with a white sail and the other with a dark sail. Only the dark sailed one had a good deal more children in it. The third photograph was of four children alone and after careful comparison, Bob surmised that they were the same four in the dark sailed dingy. A post card with a drawing of a small Bermuda cutter in enormous waves was leaning against the frame. He picked it up, turned it over and the words, 'now we are going to SAIL!' stood out to him.
Bob turned to the next picture. It was a professional photograph of a young man in a naval uniform, looking immensely proud of himself. Thomas Jollyes the third, perhaps? Beside it, lying down, was a card with an important looking seal on the front.
Bob opened it up.
'The Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth is pleased to announce that cadet John Walker will graduateon the twelfth day of May in the year one thousand nine hundred and thirty four.'
Bob dropped the card and spun around. The door was opening. His fate was nigh.
August the 2nd. 1901.
We climbed the Matterhorn
"That's Mother and Uncle Jim," said Peggy in a queer voice.
"Who is Bob Blackett?" asked Susan.
"He was father," said Nancy.