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Authors: Madeleine L'engle

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BOOK: Troubling a Star
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Dear Cookie,
Oh, how I wish you weren't off at the monastery being a monkey! Plans are nearly complete for this new excursion to Antarctica, and I am being beautifully politic, planning to spend two weeks at the Brazilian station, two weeks at the Vespugian, on to the Argentinean, and so forth. If the Gued-ders know that I suspect them, I am in deep trouble. El Zarco wants me to see if he is correct in his assumptions of what they are up to, and get word to the U.S., to the UN, so they can be stopped before irreparable damage is done. When that first atomic bomb was exploded at Alamogordo, no one knew quite what a tiger had been unleashed. But we know more now. And we know more about the part the Antarctic ice cap plays in the world's weather. No matter what riches are underneath it,
if another ice age is started no one will be able to enjoy the riches. But greed is always nearsighted.
You will be desperately missed. Have you thought that, without you, we might have to eat penguins? Penguins are wonderful creatures, and it is probably one of their safeguards that they are so unpalatable. Thinking about penguin stew is a digression from my real concerns. I haven't told the others just how far I think things have gone at the Vespugian station, things that have to be stopped. The camouflage is beautiful. They have collected every kind of starfish found in Antarctic or sub-Antarctic waters, and they have two fine marine biologists at the station. Cookie, I wish you were here to advise me, because—
There the letter broke off.
I felt cold.
I shouldn't have read it. It was private. But it gave me an idea of what might have been in the letter that caused Cookie to behave so strangely.
I shut the unfinished letter in the book. I needed to think. If Adam II had neither completed it nor mailed it, perhaps he didn't want anybody to know what he had written. Perhaps I had blundered into a secret that had better stay a secret. On the other hand …
I went downstairs and out to the kitchen, grateful to find Cook alone. “Cookie, why did Adam II go back to Antarctica on the second expedition?”
“It's an addictive place. Very few people go only once.”
“But about his death—
was
it an accident?”
Cook turned from the sink, leaving the water running. “What makes you ask that?”
“I don't know. I just wondered.” My words sounded lame, and my voice drifted off.
Cook turned the water off. “The exploitation of Antarctica has been a concern for a long time. After his first expedition, Adam managed to prevent drilling for oil on the peninsula, and he was not loved for that by those who were ruled by greed.”
“Who?”
“At that time the Communists were the enemy, but they were by no means the only enemy.”
“You mean, ‘We have met the enemy and it is us'?”
“That's always part of it. Did Madam say anything to upset you?”
“No, oh, no.”
“Suspicions are ugly things, Miss Vicky. Accidents do happen in that wild and nearly empty space.”
“But do you think Adam II's death was an accident?”
He did not answer me. The silence grew between us. Finally he said, “Go say goodbye to Madam, and I'll call Owain and tell him you're ready to go home.”
 
When I got home, there was another letter from Adam waiting for me, and that pushed my anxiety about Cook and Adam II out of my mind. The envelope had the Falklands address, but inside he had written “San Sebastián, Vespugia.”
Suzy was helping Rob with his arithmetic homework, sounding bossy. But she's good at arithmetic and Rob's lucky
to have her help. Anyhow, she wasn't paying any attention to me, and Mother was studying the open page of a cookbook, so I slipped quietly into my room and shut the door.
Dear Vicky,
I'm mailing this from the Falklands. I'm told mail service is more reliable there. San Sebastián is certainly another world, though you can tell it's the end of the twentieth century by the pollution. However, they're handling it well. Trees are being planted, and people are allowed to drive six days a week. Then they have to take a day off, buses as well as cars. New York would do well to do the same.
The soldier who was my guide to the pyramids is named Esteban and he's an oboe player and will be playing in the San Sebastián Symphony when he's out of the army. Everybody has to serve two years. He thinks Vespugia is the most wonderful country in the world. He's a cousin of the present dictator, Medex Guedder, and believes he's an enlightened despot who will bring Vespugia out of the dark ages.
I paused. From what I'd learned of the history of Vespugia, it did not seem to have been in the dark ages under El Zarco.
Esteban was an excellent guide at the pyramids, which looked just the way they did in Aunt Serena's pictures, but bigger and more mysterious. I climbed to the top of the tallest one and there was a magnificent view of the entire complex, at least the part that's been excavated. Some of it is still covered by jungle. It was worth seeing, despite the
heat and the bugs, just for the architecture. The stones aren't huge, like the ones in the Egyptian pyramids. These are small enough so they could be carried by one or two people, and you can see how these enormous edifices could have been built by a civilization that didn't have any machinery.
That evening Esteban took me to a coffeehouse where some of the younger soldiers hang out. Several played guitars, neat stuff, and then Esteban played his oboe. He's really terrific, classical things mostly. He's eager to get out of the army and back to his music, full-time.
This is a really tiring trip, I just want to warn you. Be prepared. “But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue.” Hamlet.
All the best,
Adam
There was something wrong with this letter, and not just the warning words at the end, or that he'd signed off with “All the best,” instead of “Love.” It was chatty and informative, like the other letter, but there wasn't anything in it especially for me, except maybe the warning, and I wasn't at all sure what he was warning me about. I might not have paid it any attention if it hadn't been for the letter I'd just read of Adam II's.
This second letter from Adam III, which I carefully put in my Shakespeare book with the earlier letter, was somehow more careful, as though he thought somebody else might read it.
Adam hadn't said he missed me, or that he was looking forward to my coming.
I went to the kitchen to make the salad, which was my
job for the week. Suzy was on pot duty, and I'd wash the dishes, and Rob would help me put them away.
 
At dinner Suzy said, “So you had another letter from Adam.”
“Um-hm.”
“Any news?”
“It's evidently hot in Vespugia at this time of year.” Outside, a cold wind was dashing at the house, and I had on a turtleneck and a sweatshirt. When the wind blows from the north in the winter, our house is never quite warm enough.
Suzy said, “He's quite the letter writer.”
“Well, he knows I'm going next month, so he's preparing me.”
Warning me. About what?
Suzy looked at Daddy. “I'm really surprised at your letting Vicky go all the way to the bottom of the world with someone you hardly know.”
Daddy looked back at her and smiled. “I know Adam Cook pretty well, Suzy.”
“I suppose. It's still far away. And Aunt Serena's son got killed there in an accident.”
Without stopping to think, I said, “I'm not sure it was an accident.”
“Vicky!” Mother exclaimed.
Daddy asked, “What makes you say that?”
I wished I'd kept my mouth shut. “Oh, just a feeling.”
Suzy's eyes were eager. “What kind of a feeling?”
“Just a feeling,” I repeated lamely.
Daddy said, “Unless you have something to substantiate such feelings, they're best not talked about.”
“Sure. Sorry.” I changed the subject. “Adam seemed to indicate that Vespugia's sort of a police state.”
Daddy said, “It's ironic, but police states are usually the safest for the ordinary traveler.”
“Strange, isn't it,” Mother suggested, “that democracy seems to bring out crime.”
“Ned says—” Suzy could not get through a meal without mentioning Ned. “Ned says that Vespugia has some really fine physicists at their station on the Antarctic peninsula. Señor Tuarte told him. Señor Tuarte never tells our class anything interesting. Just verbs and idioms and grammar and dull stuff.”
“But are you learning any Spanish?” Mother asked.
“Some, I suppose. Not enough to speak.”
“Not yet,” Mother said. “Give it time.”
So the conversation got safely onto Spanish and what a dull teacher Señor Tuarte was, versus the brilliant Ned.
I went to town to get my passport. It gave me more of an understanding that I was really going to Antarctica.
A couple of days later I had a postcard from Adam. It was a little battered-looking, and the postmark was San Sebastián, Vespugia. I had a feeling it had been written before the second letter mailed from the Falklands. All it said was, “
There's something rotten in the state of Denmark, but I don't know what. Love, Adam.

“Something rotten in the state of Denmark” is from
Hamlet
. I was glad I'd studied
Hamlet
thoroughly enough to recognize
it. I put the card in my backpack with the two letters and scowled. I had no idea what was going on.
 
The Monday before Christmas, when I went to school, there was something stuck in my locker. I pulled it out, an ordinary white index card, the kind we're encouraged to keep notes on. Someone had written in careful capital letters: THOSE CONSIDERING FOREIGN TRAVEL HAD BETTER WATCH THEIR TONGUES.
What?
Suzy was with me, and I handed her the card.
She read it. “What's this about?”
“I have no idea. Do you?”
“Nope. Sounds like someone doesn't want you to take your trip. Crazy.”
“Do you recognize the writing?”
“It's all capital letters. Forget it.”
I tried to, but I didn't like it. Suzy didn't seem to think it was important, but who wouldn't want me to go to Antarctica?
After school I went over to Clovenford. Aunt Serena had asked my family, except for John, of course, to come for dinner. Stassy let me in and told me Aunt Serena was resting so she'd be fresh for the evening. Cook was in the kitchen, she said, or I could go on up to the attic and do my homework.
I went first to see Cook. The kitchen, as always, smelled marvelous, a mixture of ginger and cinnamon and garlic and onion—at least, that's what my nose told me. Cook handed me a big mug of steaming cocoa, with whipped cream on top, and I sat in the rocker by the window, adding the smell of the geraniums in their pots to the cooking smells.
“No cookies today,” he said. “I don't want you spoiling your appetite.”
I sipped and rocked and watched Cook cutting up leeks and carrots. After a while he turned and asked me, “Have you heard from Adam?”
“A couple of letters and a postcard.”
Cook said, “I had a rather odd postcard, too, in this morning's mail.”
“What did it say?”
Cook closed his eyes and quoted, “
There are a kind of men so loose of soul that in their sleeps will mutter their affairs.

“Shakespeare?” I asked.

Othello,
I think.”
“Mine was Shakespeare, too.
Something rotten in the state of Denmark
.”
“Hmm. Not like Adam to be cryptic.”
We were silent, and finally I spoke. “Cookie, you never tell me anything about yourself unless I ask.”
He turned from the sink. “My monastic training, probably. During my time in the monastery we were taught never to talk about ourselves unless directly confronted, and that was discouraged.”
“Even with your friends?”
“My close friends already knew me pretty well.”
“Like Adam II?”
“Yes.”
“Did you see each other when you were in the monastery?”
“He visited us quite often. He was popular with the brethren.”
BOOK: Troubling a Star
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