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Authors: Madeleine L'engle

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“And after you left?”
Cook placed leeks and carrots in a large, flat pan. “Friends are forever, Miss Vicky. When I knew Seth was going to recover and I came back to the States, I was restless. I had a job in a good restaurant, but I was not happy. Nothing seemed very real.”
“Well, then—why are you with Aunt Serena now?”
“Miss Vicky, did no one tell you it is not polite to ask direct questions?”
“Sometimes it's the only way to find anything out.”
“After Adam died, I called Clovenford occasionally, just to keep in touch. One time, when I was working in New York, Madam's voice sounded terrible. So I came up on my day off and she was ill with pneumonia. Her cook and maid had picked that day to vanish. Your father had nurses for her, but they weren't interested in cooking and cleaning, so he had to put her in the hospital. The first thing I did was find Stassy and Owain. They'd been working for an elderly lady who'd died not long before, so they knew how to take care of older people. Then I wandered around in the acreage behind the house and discovered a cabin which Mr. Eddington had built for himself as a getaway from the world of business. He'd done it well, with electricity and running water, and I fell in love with it. I realized that I was bored out of my mind in New York, tired of the rich and famous I cooked for, tired of the stresses of the city. I knew Adam would have been horrified at his mother's condition, so I moved into the cabin. I loved Madam then, and I love her now. We're a happy household, and if we have griefs, as who does not, we share them without words. There, Miss Vicky. That is the longest autobiographical speech I have ever given.”
“Thank you.” My voice was small. “I didn't mean to pry.”
“I don't think you were prying, Miss Vicky. You and I will be taking a long journey together, and you wanted to know something about me, and that is quite understandable and not necessarily prying.”
“Thank you,” I murmured again. I rocked back and forth and pondered Cook's story. There was no sign of disquiet in him now. His spirit pervaded the kitchen in a gentle way. I wondered if he might not have gone back to the monastery if it hadn't been for Aunt Serena.
 
I went up to the attic and finished my homework. Then I took Adam II's letter out of
The Jungle Book
and put it with Adam III's letters and card. And the weird card from my locker.
 
Then I wrote Adam. I'd mail the letter to LeNoir Station, because that's where he'd be by the time my letter reached him. I knew mail was delivered there only sporadically, whenever a ship stopped by, but it still seemed the best address. I told him about Adam II's journal, his unfinished letter, and the unmailed letter I'd given Cook. I told him I'd had his letters, and both Cook and I had received strange postcards. Then I told him about the card stuck in my locker at school, and that I had no idea who it had come from or why anybody would want to warn me off.
I went downstairs as I heard Daddy's car drive up. He was coming directly from the office. I met him in the sitting room, and the photograph album was open and on the table, waiting. Stassy said she'd bring Aunt Serena right down, and
for us to make ourselves at home. We bent over the album and looked at snapshots of penguins, the babies huddled together in what Aunt Serena had told me were called crèches. They were balls of fluff, and very cute.
I turned to my father. “I'm actually going to see them!”
Aunt Serena, leaning slightly on Stassy, came in and joined us. “You will find that penguins are totally communal creatures. If one penguin heads for the sea, two or three others will follow. If they stray from each other, they become easy prey for their predators.”
“Who are their predators?” I asked.
“Skuas, which are large, brown, carnivorous birds. Raptors. And seals. But while penguins are communal, living in community, they have no intimacy. They are dutiful with their babies, but they do not love.”
“Why?” I looked at a snapshot of a line of penguins which seemed to be hurrying down to the water.
“Life is too treacherous. If you become intimate with spouse or child who may be eaten in the next hour, you are too vulnerable. You cannot afford affection.”
Something in her voice made me shiver. “Penguins,” I said. “But human beings can't live that way.”
“Sometimes they have to,” Aunt Serena said. “When parents knew that they were going to lose their babies and young children to scarlet fever, diphtheria, measles, they could not afford the kind of secure love that exists between parents and children today.”
My father said, “It's only in the past few generations that
parents have been able to count on raising their children to adulthood. Modern medicine has changed a lot of things.”
“But people still loved each other, I mean, they always have!” I cried.
“True,” Daddy said. “But we allow ourselves to love more easily now that we have a greater hope for a reasonable life expectancy.”
I looked at a fluffy grey ball cuddling up to a grown penguin. “But mothers nursed the babies! How could they help being intimate?” I'd watched Mother nursing Rob. I'd watched Daddy watching Mother nursing Rob.
“They couldn't help it,” Aunt Serena agreed, “but you already know, Vicky, that the more people you love, the more vulnerable you are.”
Yes, that was true. If I hadn't loved my grandfather in a most deep and wonderful way, I wouldn't miss him so much. If I didn't love Adam, I wouldn't be hurt because he'd signed his second letter “All the best,” instead of “Love.”
I said, “Maybe our intimacies are more precious if we know they may be taken away.”
Daddy looked at me and smiled and nodded slightly.
Aunt Serena said, “You are wise, my child. I do not regret my intimacies, no matter how expensive, not with any of the people I have loved: my husband, Adam. I loved him with great utterness, and when he died my life was split in two as though by lightning. And then my son—” She caught her breath. “I have known people who have drawn back after one devastating hurt, but that is a kind of suicide, at least to my
mind. I am very fond of you, my dear, and I think you are fond of me.”
“I am! I love you!”
“But you know quite well that I will die long before you do.”
I whispered, “I know it's a—a statistic.”
“It's what being mortal is all about. I believe that Antarctica will awe and delight you, but you will be glad that you are a human being.”
“I
am
glad.” Then I added, “But I don't think I like statistics.”
Aunt Serena nodded. “Statistics help free us from the compassion that is part of intimacy. Statistics do not understand that until we accept our mortality we cannot even glimpse the wonder of our immortality.”
Before I had time to digest that, Stassy came in to announce that Mother had arrived with Suzy and Rob. They had come in the back way, so they could chat with Cook, and would join us in a moment.
We could hear voices and laughter from the direction of the kitchen. Then Mother and Suzy and Rob came in, and Rob hugged Aunt Serena, and Suzy turned right to the photograph album and the pictures of the penguins.
“I'm green with envy,” she said to me. “Promise me you'll keep a list of everything you see.”
“Sure. There isn't that much wildlife, but I'll do my best.”
“There are lots of different kinds of penguins,” she said. “What's this?” And she pointed to a picture of a church outside which was a very large double arch.
“The jawbones of two whales,” Aunt Serena said. “It gives
you an idea what enormous creatures they are, the largest in the world.”
We moved into the dining room. Stassy helped Aunt Serena into her chair. “Meanwhile, my dear Vicky”—Aunt Serena reached for a crystal glass and took a sip of water—“we need to double-check that you have all the right clothes for Antarctica.”
We'd checked and rechecked my wardrobe several times. “Two pair of lined jeans. Long johns. Thick socks.”
Mother said, “And I think we'll get Vicky a new pair of boots, because the treads on her old ones are worn down.”
Stassy came back in with a cheese soufflé, high and puffy and golden.
“Aunt Serena,” Suzy asked, “why did Adam—your Adam—want to go to Antarctica?”
Aunt Serena smiled. “He had an inquiring mind, like you.” Suzy smiled with pleasure. Aunt Serena continued, “He loved marine biology. And he'd traveled to the Falklands with Adam Cook to visit Seth, Cook's brother. Seth had been to Antarctica several times and waxed lyrical about it, and the two Adams were always ready for adventure.”
“Two Adams?”
“Adam Eddington and Adam Cook.”
I could tell that Suzy had a lot more questions, but she let Aunt Serena talk about some work Adam II had done with ice-fish, fish which adapt to the low temperature of the water by becoming transparent. The conversation was mostly about marine life, which kept Suzy happy, and it was an okay
evening, though I realized that I was used to having Aunt Serena to myself.
 
The next day was the last day of school before Christmas vacation. There was another card stuck in my locker. Capital letters. TOO MANY ADAMS. TOO MANY QUESTIONS. KEEP OUT OF IT.
Suzy was hovering, so I showed it to her. “Wow, not nice,” she said. “Who on earth do you think it could be?”
“I don't know. I don't like it.”
“Are you going to tell anybody?”
I thought for a moment. “Yes. But I'm not sure who. Don't worry Mother and Dad. Okay?”
“Okay.”
 
John came home for Christmas. He hadn't been in the house more than an hour when I got him alone in his room. “John, I need to talk to you.”
“Sure.”
I spread Adam's letters, his postcard, Adam II's unfinished letter, and the two cards which had been stuck in my locker out on my bed. “Read these, please. They're in chronological order.”
I stood anxiously looking out the window at the bare branches of a willow tree, still holding a touch of golden color, as my brother read.
He looked up from Adam II's letter. “What about this?”
“I found it up in Aunt Serena's attic.”
“Have you shown it to anyone?”
“Not yet.”
He finished with the two cards from school. “Vicky, what is all this about?”
“That's what I'm asking you.”
“Who knows about all this?”
“Nobody. Well, I wrote Adam, and Suzy saw the cards that were stuck in my locker, but that's all.”
“Adam seems to be warning you about something.”
“Yes.”
“And these two cards—”
“Suzy thinks someone doesn't want me to go to Antarctica.”
“Who? And why not?”
I shrugged.
“You haven't shown Adam II's letter to anybody?”
“No.”
“You obviously think it's important. Why?”
“Oh, John—Adam II's death strikes me as—as—”
“Ambiguous?”
“Yes. Something's wrong. I'm not sure Cook thinks it was an accident.”
“How well do you know Cook?”
“Enough to think he's wonderful. I'll show you Adam II's journal. It's made me know Cookie a lot better than I would otherwise.”
“Do you trust him?”
“Completely.”
“I think you ought to show all this to Mother and Dad.”
“No. Please no.”
“Do you think if they saw it they wouldn't let you go to Antarctica?”
“I don't know. I don't want to show them until I can make a little more sense of it all.”
“Vicky, who would know all of this well enough to want to stop you?”
“I haven't the faintest idea.”
“What about Cook?”
“Cookie! No. No!”
“There's nobody else who has all this information.”
“But why would he want to stop me?”
“I don't know. But I'm asking the question.”
“John, Cookie has—he has
integrity
.”
“Somebody's threatening you.”
“Do you think it could be a joke?”
“Who'd want to play that kind of joke on you?”
BOOK: Troubling a Star
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