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Authors: Madeleine L'engle

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T
he seal slid off the ice and into the water, barely making a splash. He did it so unexpectedly and so quietly that I hardly realized what was happening until he had disappeared.
I watched the small ripples in the dark water where he had vanished. The sky was still high and blue, but there would be no night, as I thought of night, until well after midnight. The seal's leaving probably meant that he was going fishing, because seals fish at night. What is night to a seal? Six o'clock? Ten o'clock? Or just whenever he's hungry?
I wrapped my arms about myself, not so much because I was cold, though I was, as because I was so alone.
And frightened.
I suddenly realized that, like Adam II, I might never get home.
 
I had my sixteenth birthday. Adam called. That was nice. He was taking a Shakespeare course, too. “We've just read
Measure
for Measure
,” he said, “so I'll quote to you from it. ‘
The hand that hath made you fair hath made you good.
' Don't change because you're sixteen, Vicky. I like you the way you are.”
“I'm still the same me,” I assured him, “even with a driver's license. And I don't think I've ever been very good.”
“All depends on how you define it. This is just a happy-birthday call. I'll see you after Thanksgiving when I come to Aunt Serena's.”
John called, too, and said he'd give me my present when he got home Thanksgiving weekend. I managed to keep Suzy and Nanny quiet at school about my birthday. And afterwards I went to Aunt Serena's for tea.
Her eyes were bright. “I had a letter from Adam III today. He tells me this is your birthday.”
“Yes.” I looked down, feeling both pleased and slightly embarrassed.
“Your sixteenth.”
I nodded.
“He says you're going to have your celebration on Thanksgiving.”
“John will be home then.”
“And Adam is coming to Clovenford on Sunday. Can you come for a post-birthday dinner that evening?”
“I'd love to. John will have to leave sometime in the afternoon to get back to Boston, so I'm sure it will be fine. Aunt Serena, where are you going to be on Thanksgiving?”
“Right here, my dear. Stassy, Owain, and Cook will have the day off to visit family and friends, and I will enjoy my solitude. Do you have homework?”
“Some.”
“Get it done, then, and we'll have another cup of tea before you go.”
I went out to the kitchen. Cook had never referred to the letter I had given him, or to his extraordinary reaction, and I did not feel I could ask him about it.
“Cookie,” I said, “can Aunt Serena go out?”
He turned to me questioningly. “She does go out, and fairly frequently, to the hairdresser, her lawyer, and so forth.”
“What about the evening?”
“She no longer enjoys evening functions.”
“What about Thanksgiving? Do you think she could come to us for Thanksgiving? We don't eat dinner till evening, because Mother usually has a solo in church, and she doesn't like to be rushed about cooking. This year we're celebrating my birthday, and I'd love it if Aunt Serena could be there. Would it be too much for her?”
Cook thought for a moment, rubbing his hand slowly over the bald top of his head. “I think it might be a good thing. Ask your father, and let him make the decision. He's the one who could convince her.”
 
He did, to my joy.
Aunt Serena seemed really pleased at the idea, and she said that, like John, she would save her birthday present for me till then.
I went out to the kitchen. Cook, Stassy, and Owain were sitting at the kitchen table, drinking tea and talking, but greeted me smilingly.
“It was a good day when Master—when Mr. Adam brought you here,” Owain said. “Madam was losing interest, and now it's back.”
Stassy said, “She can't read as much as she used to, despite what she calls her new eyes. She's had time on her hands.”
Cook nodded. “We were worried about her loss of
joie de vivre.
She used to do a great deal of entertaining, and the house was always full. But she's at an age when many of her contemporaries are dead.”
“I'm glad she's coming for my birthday party,” I said. “It won't really be a party, just my family and Aunt Serena, but John will be home. I guess my best birthday present is my driver's license.”
Owain asked, “You won't be needing me to drive you home anymore?” He did not look pleased.
“Oh, yes. I mean, I'll still be getting off the school bus in Clovenford, and we don't have an extra car, anyhow. But I'll be able to run errands for Mother and do things like that.”
“Good, then,” Owain said.
“I'm going up to the attic. Aunt Serena said to tell you we'd have tea a little later, when I come down, if that's okay.”
I left the sweet-smelling warmth of the kitchen and went up to the attic and sat on the green sofa and wrote Aunt Serena a poem. Poetry had not been flowing that early winter, but finally words came. I looked out the attic window at the great maples. Their last leaves were slowly drifting down, and their bare branches darkened the sky. I didn't do any homework that afternoon, just spent time on the poem, and then copied it in my best italic writing.
In winter structure is revealed.
Water and rock, root and tree
In summer are by green concealed.
Now bare branches reach out free
To lean against the snowy sky.
Your structure, too, shows through the skin,
And wisdom is uncovered in your face.
When I am with you, then I can begin
To learn from all your years of grace.
You touch me even when I'm bruised
And bathe me with your quiet gaze.
And somehow, too, I am transfused
By love's accepting, warming ways.
It was getting dark; the days in November were shorter and the nights longer. Cook had plugged in an old bridge lamp for me, but the shadows in the attic seemed to draw in closer, and I knew it was time to go downstairs, have a cup of tea with Aunt Serena, and tell Owain I was ready to go home.
But I wasn't ready. Not quite.
I picked up Adam II's journal.
We are all awed by the proliferation of diatoms in these frigid waters, which is, Tim remarked, to the rest of plankton like the Milky Way to the other visible stars in the sky. This particularly intrigued Cookie, the non-scientist in our party. Dirk pointed out that there are, in the sea, somewhere around ten billion billion diatoms, little particles of energy invisible to the naked eye, and each as individual as a maple
leaf or a snowflake. Ten billion billion is about the same order of magnitude as all of the stars in the universe. Cookie took this information and went off to meditate on it, his own face as luminous as a star.
I liked the glimpses Adam II was giving me of a Cook who was far more complex than the quiet man I saw in Aunt Serena's kitchen. Cook's kitchen.
 
When I got home, bearing the usual package of cookies, there was a letter from Adam waiting for me. I took it off to read in what Rob calls
privatecy.
Dear Vicky,
I need to take a break from preparing for my next Spanish literature lesson. I'm pretty fluent in Spanish—my best friend in high school was Puerto Rican. But my street vocabulary is very different from that of the great writers, and it's not as easy as I thought it was going to be. I comfort myself by thinking that brushing up on Spanish before my trip is a good idea, though I'm not sure why. I'll be in Vespugia only a night or so, and everybody at the station will be English-speaking and most of them will be American. Aunt Serena says the Puerto Rican accent and the Vespugian accent are very different, but she thinks I could get along if I was dumped alone in the middle of Vespugia. It's an interesting country, but right now politically troubled.
Hope all goes well with you. Did you say Suzy was taking Spanish? My favorite non-science course is Shakespeare.
I think my parents are right, and that I need to keep my horizons as wide as possible. I guess these are our “salad days, when we are green in judgment.” That's from
Antony and Cleopatra.
One of the men on my hall has a good Shakespeare book of quotations and I enjoy leafing through it.
I'll see you Thanksgiving weekend, and I look forward to that.
Love,
Adam
That was a really nice letter. I put it carefully in my school copy of
Hamlet.
I'd look up some quotations to send to Adam when I answered his letter.
Suzy came home then, and I was glad I'd read the letter from Adam in privatecy and put it away before she could see it. She began talking about the next school dance, the Christmas dance, in mid-December. I had Adam's friendship. That was more important than any school dance.
John came home on Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and I was amazed at how glad I was to see him. I no longer felt put down or overshadowed by my big brother. It was snowing lightly, but he suggested, “Want to go for a walk with Rochester and me?”
“Sure. Love to. Let me get my boots.”
We struck off across the field and then went into the woods, where it was protected enough from the snow that we could sit on the stone wall, with Mr. Rochester lying beside us, lowering himself a little arthritically so he could put
his head down on John's feet. John bent down and scratched between the big dog's ears.
I asked, “What do you know about South America?” Adam was going to expect me to be a lot more literate than I was about Vespugia and all the places he was going. Adam II's journal had helped fill me in, but I still needed to know more.
“Not much. Lots of unrest. Lots of problems. Why?”
“Adam's going to be there.”
“Antarctica isn't South America. It's another continent, and a big one.”
“Aren't a lot of the South American countries interested in Antarctica?”
“The whole world's interested in Antarctica. We're running low on fossil fuels. We're going to need another source of energy. Messing around with Antarctica would be a bad idea. Just because it's nearly empty is no reason to think of it either as an untapped mine or as a potential dumping ground. Adam's written me about it. Have you heard from him?”
“I had a letter. And he's phoned a couple of times.”
“Don't let him be too important to you, Vic. You're too young.”
Too young. How I hated the way everybody rubbed that in. “I'm sixteen.”
“You're still too young. You don't want to be like the girls who get pregnant and married and drop out, do you?”
“It takes two to get pregnant or married.”
“Good. I'm glad you realize that.”
I asked, “John, have you seen Izzy?”
Izzy Jenkins is my friend Nanny's older sister, and she and John used to see a lot of each other. She goes to the local branch of the university in Clovenford. John moved his foot from under Rochester's head, then bent down to scratch the grizzled muzzle. “Yes.”
“And?”
“Not that it's any of your business, but she's dating some guy from Clovenford, and we didn't have much to say to each other. It happens.”
“Sorry. I didn't mean to pry. Nanny used to be my best friend in Thornhill, and now she's pretty much my only friend, but it isn't the way it used to be.”
“Things change. Going to M.I.T. has changed me. The year in New York changed you.”
“But everything around Nanny just seems to be going on and on, the way it always has.”
A small shower of snow fell through the branches onto Rochester's nose. He jumped. His ears went down and he growled, then sighed, and went back to sleep. But John stood and stretched. “How about some hot cocoa?” he suggested.
 
Adam II's unmailed letter that had upset Cook stayed stuck in the corner of my mind. I almost told John about it, but it was Cook's private letter. I couldn't just out and out ask Cook what was in the letter that shook him so I thought he was going to pass out right there in the kitchen. I was sure it had something to do with Antarctica, and maybe at least a hint of why Adam II had gone out in his Zodiac and never come back. But that might well have been my usual imagination exaggerating
everything. Whatever it was, it was important enough to upset Cook in a way I'd never seen before.
BOOK: Troubling a Star
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