Fergus looked out the large picture window at the Norwegian tundra rolling by. The morning sky was still dim, with a faint splash of dusty rose dawn chasing the train. The sea was behind them now, the sea: his longtime friend.
Before he’d left home, the water had been like a playmate, a brother on lonely days. He’d take the rowboat out into the bay, which was just steps away from his family’s home, and visit the shoreline features he knew so well: that boulder, this inlet; the small tide pools with families of tiny bright orange crabs. Then there were the craggy outcroppings along the bay, lush with luminous green lichen, each indent providing homes for nesting birds. Some days he would climb up and nestle himself onto a rock shelf, and watch over the chicks while the mother bird left the nest in search of food—sometimes a long wait, until dusk. Then he’d scramble back down to his rowboat, and paddle gently home, the last light of the day mirrored in the calm water below him.
The bits of Norway he had seen so far—from the water, on the ship—had been familiar to him. Small fishing villages, mountains carving out steep chasms, verdant valleys, waterfalls.
Did every place in the world look like Scotland?
The MS Friendship was approaching its last port, returning to where it began 12 days ago, in Bergen, Norway. As the ship approached the dock, passengers could see bright colored balloons swaying in the breeze, and there was a small band in traditional costume playing an upbeat tune. A giant banner read “Welcome Home” in English and Norwegian. It was a festive and celebratory scene.
The boys were ready to leave the ship, and sat on their luggage near the disembarkation point. They were leafing through their passports, studying the watermarked images and tiny words on each page; Fergus’ was stiff and smelled of vinyl; the pages crisp and new: a blank slate. Fergus ran his finger across the embossed United States of America lettering on the cover. He wasn’t really sure what this small booklet truly was, but it had been presented to him with great fanfare, so he knew it was important. He studied his photograph, which was underneath a glossy coating. How the photograph appeared here in this small book was something he also wondered about. The color of the photograph was mystifying; it was so bright, and clear, like looking in the mirror at himself. Was it like the pictures he’d seen on the television? Those had this bright color too. The only photographs Fergus knew of were black and white, and they were very soft, not sharp and crisp like this picture.
Dashiell showed Fergus the pages in his passport that contained stamps: here was the stamp from his visit to Canada, and here was his entry into Norway.
“They’ll stamp yours too when we leave, Fergus. You’ll see!”
Mrs. Pierce sat up in bed, suddenly awake. She wasn’t a sound sleeper–she hadn’t been since she’d had her children in her twenties–and the smallest unusual sound would inevitably disturb her. She looked over at the clock to see that it was 12:47 am. What was that she’d heard? A door cabin door closing, she realized now, the veil of sleep fading. The metal catches were quite stiff on these cabin doors, and if one didn’t turn the handle as the door closed, the metal pushed against the strike plate and made a very distinctive clanging sound.
It was an unusually warm evening and their cabin (suite!) was stuffy, so Dashiell and Fergus were unwinding on the balcony deck chairs. The sun was dangling low on the horizon, not quite set, balancing on the edge of the view, like a lemon slice wedged on the rim of a cocktail tumbler.
In between yawns, Fergus said, “I wonder if tomorrow, we can go to the bridge, and locate my father’s vessel on the radar? Then, we could send him a telegraph message.”
“What’s the name of his ship?” wondered Dashiell aloud.
“I’m not sure. It’s new and it’s going to be the mightiest battleship ever built! It’s likely still in its dry dock. I think he said they would name it the HMS Intrepid.“
“Intrepid, what does that mean?”
“Brave, and invincible.” Fergus paused to consider this more. “Like him, really.”
The Major’s evening plan had all gone wrong.
First of all, Mrs. Pierce had already chosen her dining companions by the time the Major arrived in the dining room, and despite the dim lighting, he could see she was deep in animated conversation with that odd American family and their two sons, who were always running around the ship getting up to who knew what. Really, thought the Major. How irritating they were. His ships would have a strict no children allowed policy–in fact, he would impose a minimum age of thirty for his passengers. That would eliminate the risk of any youthful holiday-makers, who would no doubt talk far too loud, dress inappropriately, and drink too much then be sick in the pool. Even better, now he came to think about it, perhaps he would disallow women as well. They were always gurgling away at each other like fountains, and besides, would not likely be interested in the fine intellectual pursuits his ships would offer. They were, after all, only women.
Dashiell’s Mom and Dad were crowded into the area around the ship’s disembarkation point (that’s a ship’s foot passenger exit, you see), where, along with several other passengers, they were preparing to leave the ship for their Cold Water Scuba Diving expedition. It turned out this was a very popular excursion, and so it was a somewhat chaotic scene. The 2 diving instructors leading the group were quite occupied shuffling paperwork and clipboards, while also handing out heavy-duty wetsuits, along with protective and warming booties and hoods, and face masks with snorkels, and so the excursion attendees were coming and going from the nearby restrooms, emerging clad in all black neoprene.
Major Cecil Greenfield-Smythe was in his cabin, dressing for dinner. He took stock of his image in the closet full-length mirror, tucking in his freshly starched white shirt, just-so. Earlier in the day, the maid had returned the laundered shirt with wrinkles, and he had was forced to have a firm word with her in order to get the shirt properly pressed in time for the early dinner seating.
He had noted this oversight in his leather-bound notebook and then locked the notebook back up in the cabin’s safe, where he kept it contained, lest its contents accidentally–or otherwise–be viewed by unauthorized eyes. He had filled more pages that he’d expected, and truth be told, most with positive notes about his experience on the Friendship. He had one more essential entry to make before the journey was concluded, however, and accomplishing this would not be easy.
He needed to see the Bridge.
Dashiell and Fergus were seated on the ship at a small wooden round table in the observation lounge, near giant windows overlooking the sea. The sunlight was gathering itself in small pools at their feet, casting long shadows.
They were having what Fergus would call Afternoon Tea—their table was crowded with a tiered serving tray stand, its polished chrome glistening, a silver teapot, and two cups and saucers depicting climbing roses.
The bottom level of this magnificent tray displayed an array of finger sandwiches: delicate and precise squares of crust-less, with egg salad, watercress, turkey, ham or cheese nestled between them. The middle level contained fluffy scones and clotted cream, with a small pot of strawberry jam. The top tier—easily both boys favorite—contained the cakes: tiny chocolate opera cakes, and miniature fruit tarts.
After Fergus had come aboard, the Captain had followed up with all the necessary paperwork and procedures the governed the way a vessel could allow a shipwrecked passenger to embark. These paper forms had to be submitted to all the proper authorities, and they sat on his desk now, waiting to be faxed or mailed to their bureaucratic destinations. But there were some slots on these somewhat foreboding papers that he simply could not fully complete since the boy had no passport, no birth certificate; in fact, he had no identification whatsoever.
The Captain had made some discrete inquiries with his counterparts on land. He’d phoned the police in Scotland, but they were unable to match the name of Fergus MacDonell with any missing-persons reports. It was at this point, realizing he might set off unnecessary alarm bells, and cause a spotlight to be shone on the case, that the Captain decided to tell the Scottish police to put the matter to rest, and assured them that he would take the matter up with the local Norwegian authorities instead.
But the plain fact was he intended to do no such thing, at least, not yet because while he was waiting for a reply from the Scottish police, he’d done a little digging on the Internet.
The two boys were now inseparable. Their days were filled with ping-pong, soccer, Duck on a Rock, unlimited refill hot chocolates and running. They also spent a good deal of time in companionable silence, each reading a book, or paging through magazines that had been abandoned, wrinkled and dog-eared, their crosswords half completed by a previous owner, in quiet corners of the ship.
Occasionally Dashiell would look over at Fergus to find he had fallen asleep, his head propped on the wing of the wingback chair, his nose snoring gently. He was used to sleeping every 3 hours or so you see, from his days as a lone sailor, when he alone was responsible for the steering and safe passage of his little ship. Dashiell had come to expect these sudden nod-offs and in fact tried to time their major activities in such a way that Fergus could sleep afterward in a convenient location. Dashiell had learned the wisdom of scheduling their days early on when Fergus fell asleep in the dining room before dessert arrived. The dessert was Baked Alaska, and Fergus missed all the fun of seeing the ice cream and cake dessert with its meringue topping flambe.