from a diary:
by Simon Barber
Amelia, Lady Allworthy (neé Amelia Bourne-Phipps) & her friends
(educated adventuresses all, and warrior priestesses, some)
encounter the world after Songmark Academy -- beginning July 1937.
Storm BirdsFriday 30th July, 1937
by Simon Barber
Boston at last! The past 2 days have been uneventful, basically flying straight East in formation with Miss Jenks and her brothers, stopping only for sleep and fuel. Last night was Toronto, and this morning we crossed over the Northern end of the Appalachian mountains with the city of Albany passing by six thousand feet below our starboard wing. It is a long time since I have seen the Atlantic. Three years almost to the week, and eventful ones at that. I am returning rather more lightly-laden than I went; thirty pound steamer chests belong on steamers rather than aircraft, and my lunar topi hat stayed on Spontoon. I never got much use out of it.
We had filed full flight-plans from Toronto, so the Customs folk were expecting us. Having a Spontoonie-registered and a British-registered aircraft landing together might cause some suspicion of East and West conspiring against the city that admittedly proved its very poor taste in Tea Parties. As it happened, we had no trouble – back in Prohibition I expect they would have turned our aircraft inside-out, but these days I doubt there is much in Canada that they worry about getting imported, Winter blizzards aside. Maria has told us how Italian Schneider racing aircraft had turned up on the Eastern seaboard to race (before Spontoon took the trophy home permanently) with float fuel tanks filled with nice chianti anticipating a need to celebrate that sarsaparilla or “near beer” would not satisfy. I recall Molly’s sarcastic comments about whoever gave “near beer” its name must have been such a poor judge of distances he would never pass a driving test. If there were any “G-Men” hiding behind the customs sheds watching out for the infamous gangster Molly Procyk, they seem to be playing a waiting game.
One thing the Storm Bird does not have is a radio-to-land telephone link; as soon as we cleared customs Miss Cabot headed towards the telephone booths and was soon in touch with her adopted family. I recall the vixen Karla Gillium; she is still on Spontoon with her family shipping interests and new cub, but her mother is very keen to meet Miss Cabot. Naturally Gillium is Karla’s married name, and as Captain Granite left her old name behind when she took up her unsavoury career, it seems our Miss Cabot is now the youngest in her immediate family to carry that name. I cannot really think of her as Molly, despite that being the name on her passport.
Had I seen a “talkie” describing Miss Cabot’s situation – having been adopted as a daughter by Captain Granite of all people, and thus being adopted as grand-daughter by her mother – I would have thought it rather unlikely. Molly being named as Granite’s wife would be if anything less strange considering what they did – and something I could sympathise with. In fact I would willingly swap positions with her; being named as Leon Allworthy’s heir would be better by far than being named as his unwitting bride! Any details of Molly Procyk and Captain Granite’s time together would only be filmed by that rather radical director Miss Melson, I am sure. And although the Spontoonies might like it, I doubt the film would play in Boston.
Inside twenty minutes a large black Packard limousine with uniformed canine chauffeur had arrived for us – it seems that despite the crash and depression the Cabot family are not short of a few shillings. Helen is not too familiar with this part of her country but murmured a rhyme about “The land of the bean and the cod / Where Cabots speak only to Lowells, and the Lowells speak only to God.” Before the Wall Street Crash evaporated so much Wall Street cash one heard that such families employed secretaries to arrange appointments with absolutely everyone, presumably including God. Five minutes later we were driving through scenic Boston, away from the modern docks and industries and through narrow streets towards the older-established part of town. We have the address and telephone of Miss Jenks’ hotel, and hope to see her before she heads back to England.
Helen was marvelling at the old town, amazed at seeing American buildings more than a century or two old. Ancient crooked chimneys, half-timbered walls, classic diamond-paned glass windows and indeed an occasional gambrel roof were not something one sees in Texas, apparently. I had to “translate” into her terms to see it as anything out of the ordinary – I know streets in some perfectly ordinary English towns where half the houses are far older than anything ever built in Boston, and I have to work hard to marvel at Boston as a place of real antiquity. Still, it looks very scenic even if many of the older houses are somewhat run-down. Indeed, I noticed evidence of some rather less traditional enterprises – a “Bronstein’s Reading Rooms” and a “Myanshev’s coffee house” that were presumably new arrivals in town.
One can see how the town grew up around the harbour, with the oldest buildings there and layers of newer streets rising up above on the city’s hills except where new waterfronts have replaced them except for a few strange survivals. So the oldest surviving whole streets seem to be about a third of the way up the hill; Knob Hill itself is a mile inland and the houses are tasteful late Victorian in style.
The Packard pulled up in front of a fine town-house that looked about a hundred and twenty years old, when grace and style was still remembered. It had fine classical pillars on the front, a cupola dome and elegant Georgian proportions that would not be looked down on anywhere in Europe. Standing in front of it in flying-kit felt distinctly odd – but then the Cabots are historically famous as a practical seafaring family, and no doubt some of the wealth to build the town house came from furs who were more comfortable with sea-boots and cutlasses than periwigs and lace handkerchiefs. That was the cutting edge of progress then, especially the cutlasses, and I suppose we are that today.
Mrs. Teresa Cabot turned out to be a surprisingly small vixen, scarcely five feet tall including her ears. She is quite greying around the muzzle, but looked stately enough and welcomed us to her home graciously. We were shown up to definitely home-like rooms (in my case anyway) with square-paned sash windows and high ceilings with elaborate plaster mouldings. One can imagine crinoline-wearing ladies sweeping down the stairs on the way out to balls and dances - though not the modern lindy-hop in a crinoline; the aerodynamics would be against it. Crinolines are against most activities except parachuting, and as one would probably land head-first like a shuttlecock, even that is hardly advisable.
Certainly, we are a long way from Spontoon. Dinner was announced at seven, and after a thorough fur-grooming and changing into our respectable best we checked each other over for stray oil-stains and the like. Miss Cabot of course cannot act as my maid here, as she is here as a member of the family and is indeed assigned a maid of her own. Helen muttered that the cuisine would probably not be Boston baked beans, and indeed she was quite correct.
Dear Diary - I spent a lot of time in the past three years trying to impress some of the social graces to Helen and Molly, and am glad to record that some of it seems to have rubbed off. At least Helen did not turn the chairs round and sit straddling it, as she did in our first year! She kept fairly quiet, having no real flair for social small-talk which she always claimed was a smoke screen for small minds. Recalling some of the socialites I have met, she may all too often be right. At least she recalled which cutlery to use and in which order; I persuaded her to memorise that in the same spirit as we studied the flying handling of a Gee Bee racer – one may need to know these things regardless of whether or not one thinks it completely stupid.
Miss Cabot sat on the right hand side of her “grandmother” who is evidently a widow though I did not spot any of the expected portraits or photographs of her with her husband. The only pictures of a tod-fox on the walls were in the costume of a previous generation. I have to say, Miss Cabot seemed far more at ease with this than Molly Procyk would have been. Not that Molly would have come within a mile of here except perhaps to loot the place as part repayment for her treatment at the paws (and other parts) of Captain Granite.
After a week of living mostly on canned food and basic lumberjack “chow-house” cuisine, sitting down to a four-course meal off silver was certainly a welcome contrast. There was a very fine clam chowder to commence, followed by hickory-smoked canvasback duck and fresh asparagus despite the season. Decidedly not baked beans and molasses. Dessert was fresh figs; not uncommon in Spontoon but there one can simply walk into the fields in due season and climb a tree for them.
It was a very pleasant evening, with Miss Cabot talking animatedly with her “grandmother”. Molly Procyk’s actual mother was a chorus-girl who ran off when Molly was at a tender age, and she has no idea whether she is even still alive. Thinking about it, only Maria still has a full complement of parents and she is not on the best of terms with them.
Well! I recall our Vostok trip where it was “Maria Inconnutia and party”, and now we are “Molly Cabot and party”. I expect I shall get to host the party in England. Helen is supremely indifferent to such things; she has quoted her father as saying that wherever he takes his boots off is home.
Saturday July 31st, 1937
It is certainly a contrast, having arrived in Boston and not waking up to our alarm clocks set at some early hour. Having a large, comfortable bed with fine cotton sheets was a change from the hammocks or basic hotel rooms we have been used to so far, and I had the rare luxury of simply sleeping till I woke. My rooms adjoined Maria’s, and well before breakfast we were talking over the trip.
Maria has had much the same thoughts as I have; there is a chance that Miss Cabot might decide to leave us here. I could hardly blame her - she has nothing awaiting her back on Spontoon, not even a Songmark graduation certificate, and has a great deal in Boston as long as the G-men do not put a spoke in the wheel. At least she may decide to do as Helen has promised, and stay with us for the trip before returning here. It is a far brighter prospect than being my maid, especially as I am not planning to be Lady Allworthy any longer than I can help! Still, apart from Prudence’s dorm we are the only ones of our year to stay together this long. Madeleine X was famously out of Spontoon as fast as the first French aircraft could carry her.
It is all rather a shock to have servants escorting one down to breakfast; decidedly the Cabots are “not short of a few beans” as Beryl used to put it. Miss Cabot and Mrs. Teresa Cabot were down there already, tucking into a finely scented bowl of kedgeree.
I could spot that they have much to say to each other, and the weather being fine enough I suggested taking a look around old Boston with Helen and Maria. After two days in the Storm Bird we could use the exercise, and the city looked quite intriguing. Mrs. Cabot offered us the use of the Packard, but Knob Hill is quite central and I politely declined. So half an hour after finishing breakfast we three were in our respectable travelling clothes again and out on the pavements with a map and guidebook and all day to explore.
Although the guidebook says the town was only founded in 1630, it has grown quite considerably and risen over many of the surrounding hills. By lunchtime we were crossing the Charles River over the Longfellow Bridge, and spent an hour or so exploring Beacon Hill and the old North End. Certainly a lively place. Back at Songmark I heard from Jane Ferris that the area is a sink of crime and depravity since the ancient (and often sadly run-down) buildings now shelter a rather mixed population, evidently the most recent arrivals to these shores. Certainly many of the dilapidated stores had hand-scrawled signs in half a dozen alphabets, let alone languages – and the species mix was decidedly not the same as those who laid out the first streets. I spotted jackals, camels and even a pangolin gentleman hurrying through the narrow streets.
We encountered no real trouble, but I can see it might unnerve some people. Even in broad daylight there are hints of strange activities; odd echoes half-heard through cellar gratings that might be distant folk-dancing or religious celebrations of somewhat unorthodox styles. On Beacon Hill we found the only clear space available to get a good view of the old town – that open space being a graveyard, with stones going back to the 1700’s. Helen was rather impressed. Maria, of course, knows Rome, where there is so much ancient work still standing that it rather gets in the way of doing anything – her Uncle has driven a few clear streets through some of the less valuable ruins, remarking the ancient Romans did such things all the time.
Back to Knob Hill, this time taking the “elevated” – a rather nicely engineered local light railway, that towers over houses on pillars and trestle supports. One would almost think the locals were worried about building an underground system for fear of what they might find down there!
Sunday, August 1st 1937
Decidedly a different Sunday than we have become used to – at breakfast Mrs. Teresa Cabot asked us which church we will be attending. Although it seems the furs inhabiting the fairly ancient warrens of North End streets have alternative religions, on Knob Hill folk attend conventional Churches. It must be two years since I was last in one; the Reverend Bingham’s church on Casino Island seems to have been managing well enough without me the last time I saw it.
I hate to imagine Molly’s reaction if anyone had asked her to attend; she would probably point to some suitably sharp spire and … recommend they imitate a weathercock. Miss Cabot was happy to accept the invitation, and the next subject was suitable clothes. We have nothing formal enough with us, certainly by Knob Hill standards.
Miss Cabot vanished for half an hour with her grandmother and Hetty the dark-furred jaguar maid, and reappeared in a sober dark blue dress of a slightly old-fashioned cut that nevertheless was pronounced suitable. I almost fell off my chair when I found out whose it had been. The name “Elizabeth” meant nothing to me at first – but the penny finally dropped with something Mrs. Cabot said about it being fitting that Molly should wear her mother’s dress as well as stay in her room. Molly’s “Mother” in this family being the vixen we all knew as Captain Granite. It somewhat floored me, and Maria looked much the same. The last time we saw anyone in such a surprising outfit was when Molly dressed as my maid in Macao – although that was a legitimate disguise, and she hated every minute of it which surprised nobody.
While the Cabots headed out to the First Boston Church (Episcopalian) that I could see half a mile away I headed out with Helen to “enquire for a suitable place of worship” though we did not elaborate much on what that was. It would have been bad form to upset our hosts by refusing to go to church, of course. Maria joined us, as although there are certainly Catholic churches somewhere in the city she has rather given up on attending. A Spontoonie shrine is not something we are expecting to find around here – and although it seems like there are quite a few “minority” religions around the recent immigrants to the North End, we are not planning on being here for another Sunday so have no need to search too hard.
Knob Hill has some small but well-maintained parks and town squares which in other parts of town might have been grabbed for building years ago as the City expanded – but one gets the impression the Bostonians who make the planning decisions live around here, and are keen to preserve their neighbourhood in the genteel style their grandparents were accustomed to. We found one that was quite empty, and while Maria kept her eyes open for wandering police-furs practiced some of our more discreet Warrior Priestess rituals. It would never do to get hauled in for Disturbing the Peace, in this neighbourhood.
Maria was still staggered by the sight of Miss Cabot wearing Captain Granite’s clothing – I pointed out that technically they have never met, as the clothes were worn by Elizabeth Cabot when she was the respectable eldest daughter, before she went off the rails. “Church-going” outfits tend not to change much over the years, and with some fabric rearrangement mostly around the tail a doe can wear one made for a vixen. The doe wearing them is not Molly Procyk either, so there is really little to be amazed at.
In one of our rituals I got the definite sensation that we are being watched – I pointed out the direction to Maria, but even with the handy pair of folding opera-glasses she had borrowed from her room she could not spot anyone. Helen agreed, and noted that there was someone of a distinct Talent involved. Perhaps our exploration of the old North End yesterday drew some unwanted attention amongst folk who can spot a Warrior Priestess or similar – always a risk. Using any of the abilities Saimmi taught us makes the equivalent of a noise that other such folk can hear; I recall meeting Professor Schiller’s two talented researchers, Max and Moritz, who were about as discreet as a pair of lighthouses with beams shining out for miles – and they hardly seemed to realise it. Perhaps that is one reason why Professor Schiller hinted his colleagues’ teams have a certain casualty rate.
Nothing alarming followed, however, and we returned to the Cabot townhouse for luncheon. An excellent Sunday lunch of roast poultry with all the trimmings (woodcock and snipe, I believe) indeed – in Spontoon we would have gone straight down to the kitchen and complemented the cooks, but in this part of Boston I have the feeling that it is not done. We certainly praised the meal to the heavens – and mentally pencilled in some more severe exercise for the day to burn it off.
In the afternoon we took advantage of Mrs. Cabot’s offer to borrow the Packard, and with Helen at the wheel drove back down to the seaplane slips to check on the Storm Bird. All was well, and we spent a vigorous hour in our flight suits cleaning and checking our aircraft. Apart from the security office and fuel pumps, everything was shut being Sunday – again, very unlike Spontoon. Tomorrow we will have to start looking for charts heading towards Europe – at the seaboard we are currently suiting on the edge of our existing maps.
Back into “respectable” dresses and up to the Cabot mansion, spotting again that presence of someone specifically watching us from somewhere in the crowd. Boston is a big city, and although we are strangers here there are all sorts of reasons furs might be taking an interest. Anyone arriving in their own aircraft is almost certain to be well-off and a potential target for thieves, who might have useful talents on our own lines. We will just have to keep our wits about us, as ever. Helen and Miss Cabot may not be a long way from home, but Maria and I am, to be sure.
An interesting evening followed; Molly Cabot we left talking to her grandmother and retired up to my room to quietly exercise and listen to the local radio. Being Sunday, we tuned into a show Helen has mentioned – the famous Father Coughlin, “Conscience of America”. By Helen’s accounts he is a great friend and supporter of President Long, and indeed has some distinctly radical and right-thinking (as they call it here) ideas. I would have liked to hear some of the hard evidence behind the more right-leaning of his ideas, myself – it is one thing to say that one’s country is being subtly attacked by secret conspiracies and another to prove it. Yet there are secret conspiracies, and just because one catches brief glimpses of them like a shark deep underwater rather than hauled thrashing into daylight for the cameras, does not mean they are not down there.