The Memories of Dr. Goodman Narrison II
Dr. Narrison and Paul Hamilton were walking away from the Green Valley Retirement Home, each eating a bagel. Dr. Narrison asked the other man,
"Did you get down to see Rosie, Paul?"
"Oh yes, she's really beautiful, Doc. My wife was never like that. Rosie's nice, too."
"She is nice. I wouldn't say she's beautiful because there's no mystique about her. But she's attractive and pleasant looking. And very accommodating too, didn't you think."
"Yes. I'm not up to much these days, but it went fine with her. It amazes me how she can charge so little."
"Well, she's no longer fully professional, you know. She has mostly men like us, and there's not the demand there would be if she took just anyone. That means less money for her, but, with her waitress job, she's able to put something away."
"Doc, don't look back, but I think I hear Ursula and Rebecca."
"I can hear someone screaming, but I can't make out the words. I could turn around and wave."
"Better not. Particularly with the hand that has the bagel in it. They have sharp eyes."
"Yes, probably sharper than some of the lookouts I had at sea."
"I wish I could have gone to sea. I wouldn't have been a captain, of course, but I could've been your lookout. I've always had good eyes."
Dr. Narrison was inwardly somewhat amused at his friend's tendency toward hero worship. Paul, sharp eyes or not, would certainly not have been what the young Captain Leif Thostolfson needed or wanted. But Dr. Narrison had the trick of being able to tell Paul the sorts of sea stories he expected while, at the same time, indulging his own memories of the reality that those stories skirted.
The day after the episode of the cruiser, there came the peculiar combination of a northwest gale and a heavy fog. It was impossible to see the long parallel combers much before they hit, and, attempting to steer a straight course, they rolled and pitched and wallowed. Leif could hear the water pouring through a jagged shell-hole in the superstructure below him, and the steward who came up with a mug of half- spilled coffee said that water was sloshing up and down the corridor. The pumps could easily handle the water when it finally made its way down to the bilges, but Leif took the wheel himself at times to ease the ship through the crashing seas.
The thick weather took them unseen all the way up the Norwegian coast and north of the Faeroes. By the time it cleared, there was only an hour or so of subdued Arctic twilight each day. They once saw smoke on the southern horizon, probably of a British patrol from Scapa Flow, but night closed in before they could be pursued. Then, as they approached Iceland, Leif had a choice.
Iceland belonged to Denmark, and Denmark was neutral. In their neutral guise they had every right to put in to a port for coal and supplies. Then, having landed, Leif could go to the customs house and declare the ship as a German warship. She would then be interned for the duration of the war. Leif could himself abandon his German citizenship and go back to being an Icelander.
The first part was easy. They dropped anchor in an isolated fjord on the north coast of the island to repair the damage from the shells. Working with lights in the placid cold water between two black volcanic ridges, the noise and commotion of their hammering and rivetting made no more impression on the world at large than the proverbial tree falling in the jungle.
It took two days to make the ship look presentable, at which point they wieghed anchor for Reykjavik. The crew seemed to be aware of nothing unusual as Leif took the ship around the tricky and deeply indented coast in the almost perpetual darkness. Then, finally, when they rounded the last peninsula and saw the lights of Reykjavik, the choice for Leif drew closer.
It was hard to explain it to Paul Hamilton. He had never really had to make choices. He had become a teacher because there were teachers in his family, and because he had no special aptitude for anything else. His wife seemed to have chosen him rather than vice versa. And then, when there were no children, it was just one year after another. Dr. Narrison tried to give him some idea of the chance that had been thrown up. He said,
"It seemed as if fate had conspired to kill the captain and first officer of a German ship with an Icelandic second officer, and to then cause that ship to pass right by Iceland. It was obvious that there wouldn't be any second chance."
"Did you have family left in Iceland."
"Probably. But we'd never communicated, and I certainly didn't want to go back to them. They had nothing, and were nothing."
"Could you have had a good life in Iceland?"
"I suppose that's what I went ashore to find out."
Looking back, it wasn't surprising that Leif had never been to Reykjavik, the capitol city. Boys from poor families weren't taken on excursions of that nature. Landing in the late afternoon, Leif walked from the docks to the central square of the town.
After Hamburg, London, and Amsterdam, the town seemed toy-like. There were banks, government buildings, and a little ornamental lake, but the young Leif wondered if he were not too big a man for such things. He would be a captain, no doubt, but the ship might be small. It might only be a large fishing boat.
It was just when he had finished eating at the Hressingarskaelin restaurant, and was standing on the sidewalk, that everything changed. The woman who came out of the restaurant and passed him was young, and she had on a rich fur coat which came to her ankles. Unlike most Icelanders, she had dark hair, glossy black hair swept up and topped with a little hat. His over-riding impression was that she moved with speed and energy. He briefly saw a striking rather sharp profile with a young smooth brow and slightly parted lips.
Then, when the young lady stopped tantalizingly on the curb in front of him, her remarkably white neck showed above her turned-down coat collar. It reminded Leif of an exotic game-bird poised for flight, and, as much as he wanted to reach out and touch it lightly, he knew that such an action would be, in its different way, as difficult as touching the neck of the bird.
A carriage rolled up, and the coachman hopped down and opened the door dramatically, perhaps aware of his minor role in a performance which threatened to unhinge the young onlooker. When the lady stepped up into the carriage, catching up her skirts with her hands, Leif, staring but helplessly immobile, got a glimpse of her ankles below the lace of her petticoats. Even in her insubstantial and impractical little high-heeled slippers, they were shown to be strong and nimble, like those of a dancer bounding and leaping.
A man who might have been the young lady's father got in afterwards. He was heavy and slow, but his top hat shone in the dim light of the street and his bearing was of a sort Leif had seen only on the continent. He would certainly be an obstacle.
Leif, running through the light night mist, easily kept up with the carriage and its slowly prancing horses. It went up a low rise, and then stopped in front of a house. It was one of the better houses in the city, but, like the others, it was made of corrugated metal. Leif stopped at the corner, and he was able to see the woman from a better angle as she emerged from the carriage.
It was at this point that Dr. Narrison asked his friend,
"Have you ever been entranced just by the way a woman looked, even though you didn't know anything about her?"
He expected a negative answer. Paul was too cautious and too stolid to have ever reacted in such a way. He was then surprised when Paul answered,
"Oh yes. I was completely mad over the mother of a school friend, even before I'd ever spoken with her."
"Really? I suppose nothing came of it?"
"Well, it did. I wouldn't have, I guess, but she liked me. She arranged everything. The experience went far beyond anything I'd ever imagined. And then she ended it. She was very elegant and respectable. I cried, but she laughed and told me it didn't matter."
"And I gather you did get over it?"
"What happened to me in Iceland didn't go nearly that far. I was too confident and too stuck on myself. I thought a young sea captain could have anything he wanted. I was too crude in my approach."
The approach had consisted in knocking on the door and asking the father for his daughter's hand in marriage. The father had been, first amazed, and then amused. The daughter peeped around a corner, and Leif saw her as she half stifled a giggle and disappeared. She appeared to be about seventeen. All this took place in the front hall. Leif never got beyond it. A big arm was thrown around his shoulders, and he was advised that he had been at sea too long. He was even, at his departure, given an address near the port where his needs could be met. Not, the man assured Leif, by a woman like his daughter. But, nevertheless, by a woman who was clean and would be sympathetic.
The woman who would be clean and sympathetic turned out to be three women, all of whom were clean and sympathetic. It was, they told Leif, a slow night. While two of the young women undressed him in a titillating fashion, the prettiest, who was really quite pretty, began to shed her dress. After that came the many petticoats of a respectable woman, and, when she was down to her corset and stockings, she approached Leif. He took her in his arms and kissed her repeatedly as the other two unhooked her in back. They wound up sprawled on a low day-bed with a thick crimson quilt.
The resulting good feeling was so general that Leif bought all the ladies drinks in the little front parlor which served as the bar. As he now said to Paul,
"I was so happy that I was pretty well determined to go to the authorities and have the ship interned. I was convinced that, even if I wound up as captain of a fishing boat, I could enjoy myself in Reykjavik. And, besides, I still had the girl I had seen in the street in my mind. I hadn't given up."
"You couldn't have courted her if her father knew you'd been to a prostitute."
"But he was the one who sent me. Anyhow, in those days, I thought that almost anything was possible. It seemed to me a simple matter to announce to the authorities that I had brought in a disguised German warship and hand over the crew."
"How would they have felt?"
"Some would have liked it. They would have been safe and fairly comfortable for the duration of the war. Of course, the patriotic Germans would've felt betrayed. I didn't like them much, and I was looking forward to seeing their faces when I came on board with a squad of Icelandic policemen."
"But you didn't do it?"
"I was close to it, but a funny thing happened."
The funny thing was the arrival of a British officer at the bordello. He was welcomed as a regular and introduced to Leif. They talked easily for some time and became quite comfortable, so comfortable that Leif was about to tell him who he really was and what he was going to do. Just then, the Englishman said,
"We were quite suspicious of your ship. We thought she might be a German raider. In fact, we were going to follow you out of Icelandic waters, and then demand to search you. But I can see now that you're a real Icelander, not a German."
Dr. Narrison now explained to Paul,
"It never occurred to him that a German ship could have an Icelandic captain."
"You were probably the only one in the whole German navy."
"I was, to be sure. But it seemed to me to be another intervention of fate. It was a golden opportunity to slip away through their fingers, and I couldn't resist it."