14. Hill & Dale; Home & Dry

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.”

“And the H-M-S?”

“That stands for His Majesty’s Ship, for King Edward, you see.”

“You have a King?” Dashiell was incredulous now.

Fergus proceeded to explain that his country did have a King–a new one, in fact: Edward VII, the King of England. But, Fergus pointed out with emphasis, that there was also a Parliament for making laws and that the King was a moral and cultural figure more than a legal one.

“But I thought you were…Scottish?” asked Dashiell.

“Aye, but we Scots are part of the Great British Empire now. We did once have our own Scottish clan Kings and Queens, but that was long ago before I was born.”

“What about the Lad that was born to be King, that you sing about at night sometimes?”

“Aye, Bonnie Prince Charlie, he was one of the greats. He tried to fight the English army, to make Scotland free from the English oppressors, but he was badly outnumbered, and they lost.”

Fergus looked out into the gray sea distance. “My father, he’s a king in his own right.” In his mind, he pictured his father being bestowed a royal honor at court, a heavy and bejeweled crown being placed upon his head.

“I’m cold,” said Dashiell, who was often cold when others were hot, owing to his hummingbird-like physique.

The boys went inside and sat on the floor, among Dashiell’s toy trains that were scattered about the floor. Fergus, still intrigued by all the modern conveniences of this strange vessel, switched on the bedside radio, and was welcomed to the BBC World New broadcast with the chimes of Big Ben.

Fergus’ eyed widened in delight. “Why, that’s the Clock Tower, in London. I’d know those chimes anywhere. But how are they coming through that box?”

Dashiell shrugged his shoulders as Fergus added, “Now, I’ve heard of ships communicating with onshore transmitters. This is called telegraphy. Is that what this is?” Fergus tried to look behind the radio but it was built into the nightstand console. He traced the wires into the wall and looked back at Dashiell, mystified. He sat next to the speaker, as the BBC announcer continued to deliver the world news, “on longwave,” whatever that meant.

Accepting that, for now at least, some of the world’s more difficult questions were simply unanswerable, the boys embarked on constructing an elaborate path for the trains, which grew in complexity and engineering technique as the news of the world was read aloud to them. The lower bunk bed became a vast and dark tunnel, made more mysterious by heavy blankets, which were hung on either side to make a narrow opening, just so. The leather ottoman became a sturdy bridge over a rushing river, from which, if you leaned out the train window at the right angle, you could see salmon below, and look, a bear on the shore!

Inevitably there were derailments, for which emergency vehicles were summoned (“owwee, ohwee, weeeee-oh”), and hastily, hospitals were constructed to receive the (only mildly) injured passengers. Engineers were summed to repair the tracks and all was well again, so the Intrepid among them could brave the treacherous journey through the wilderness once more; perhaps they were seeking fortunes in logging, or gold nuggets from the river, or maybe, just maybe, they were there for the ride.

The BBC broadcast ended, and the radio transmission ceased, leaving a dull electronic hum in the cabin. The boys brushed and washed, and slipped into sheets cool and smooth (how did the cabin stewards manage to tuck the bedsheets in so tightly?).

As the boys were drifting off, the radio broadcast began again, opening an evening music program with a song Dashiell knew, but he wasn’t sure how. The words came easily to him, and he sang softly along to the radio, as Fergus began to snore gently.

Free as a bird
It’s the next best thing to be
Free as a bird
La, la, la, la
Home and dry
Like a homing bird I fly
As a bird on wings
Whatever happened to the life that we once knew
Can we really live without each other?
Where did we lose the touch
That seemed to mean so much
It always made me feel so
Free as a bird
It’s the next best thing to be
Free as a bird
La, la, la, la
Home and dry
Like a homing bird I fly
As a


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3 Responses to 14. Hill & Dale; Home & Dry

  1. Beverly Pape

    Must be quite an adventure for Fergus to find these puzzling new gadgets aboard ship. Time knows no limits when it comes to two young boys playing together and using their imagination. Thanks for more historical puzzle pieces to unblock the mystery of Fergus’ past. How fun to have the added dimension of sound…the London Clock Tower and the radio broadcast of a familiar song.

  2. Lori

    Love the imagery of the sun resembling a lemon slice wedged on the rim of a cocktail tumbler! Your writing is so evocative of the time and place. I am drawn into each chapter! This format is neat – allowing us to read a wonderful tale, and hear Big Ben and the Beatles. What could be better?

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