Extracts from a Diary
by Amelia Bourne-Phipps
-edited by Simon Barber-
14 July, 1937 to 15 July, 1937
Wednesday 14th July, 1937
Decidedly damp, and not a day for gardening although the plants will appreciate the rain. I hope Helen and Marti have a snug hut in the Kanims, though indeed it is generally drier there away from the rain-inspiring Spontoon highlands. Mount Kiribatori and the rest of the ridge definitely generate a lot of their own weather.
The tourists on Casino Island can relax with their newspapers and listen to the hotel orchestra on damp days, but in a longhouse with the rain streaming off the thatch there is rather less to do. Depending on the company, of course. With Mrs. H there is always to learn about the islands, and about how to keep a longhouse tidy and well-run. She is very pleased at having gained Helen for a daughter, as technically she lost one when Saimmi became High Priestess and Moeli’s kittens are not going to grow up in a longhouse. That leaves only Oiaroani of her actual daughters, and she has not lived at home for a long time. She says she misses having kittens in the place, and it is up to Helen and me not to disappoint her.
It was rather a wrench having to get back into Euro costume and trot over through the dripping forests to take the Penningtons over to meet Nuala on Casino Island where she has a plan arranged that might hopefully sort them out. These are things I could do jolly well without in my last days on Spontoon, especially a soaking wet one. The Songmark uniform is comfortable, sturdy and practical but nobody ever called it glamorous; most furs tailored theirs more or less to try and improve its looks but as Helen says “you can’t polish a brick.” Missy K never bothered but with a figure like a Samoan wrestler she was proud of her filling out the costume.
I left them to it and met up with Maria – she has been told there are “important dispatches” arrived at her embassy and a personal new code book she has to sign for. Into the lion’s den, indeed as this looks very likely to be a ploy to get her captured. We both had a good luncheon in a restaurant by Ferry Square Market, not a tourist place but rather the sort of place the ship’s engineers and other respectable professional furs dine at. There is a definite lack of ornamental Tikis and “authentic” ceremonial masks on the wall, but the cost saved on décor is reflected in the menu price. In Maria’s case it might be her last decent meal in awhile. I tried one last time to talk her out of it, but it was no use.
Back to South Island, packing my bags for Friday! There is little to be pack, to be honest, and we have been accustomed to travelling light – as Mr. Phinneas Fog declared on completing his record-breaking round-the-world trip fifty years ago, “a well-used minimum suffices”. It is also a lot cheaper on air freight. I was amazed to see Miss Cabot trying on the maid’s outfit she very gladly took off after our Macao trip saying she never wanted to see it again – or at least, Molly did. Miss Cabot says a Lady should have at least one maid, and she was trained for the job at Madame Maxine’s. Which may be so, but is definitely nothing I ever expected to hear. Having got used to self-sufficiency at Songmark I do not need a maid as such, but on the other paw Lady Allworthy would be expected to have one and if we immediately start off across Europe I can hardly drag an untrained stranger with us fresh from the Hiring Fair. Modern high fashion is much easier to get into than the hook-and-eye back fastenings plus corsets previous generations had to cope with, but still needs looking after rather than just being thrown in the laundry basket as we have become accustomed to with our rugged Songmark outfits.
It was the last chance I will have in awhile to talk to Miss Cabot on her own; tomorrow night Helen will be back from honeymoon and then we will get ready to retrieve Maria. She is very keen on travelling and seeing the world – and she does want to see her adopted parents, the Cabot family. There is hardly time to track down Captain Granite’s sister on Casino Island before we go, but she wants to and we will give it a try tomorrow.
An early night, with little to do after singing Sunset Song. Sleep! It is a luxury we have learned to appreciate in the past three years, and once on our travels who knows what will happen. We could have returned to Songmark one more night just for the sake of it, but a Spontoonie bed is so much more comfortable even with the traditional wooden head-rests rather than pillows. Maria has not returned – so although Helen is presumably having a fine honeymoon, Maria is presumably having – rather less so.
Thursday 15th July, 1937
A definitely brighter day, as indeed the Summer rains do more of a hit-and-run on Spontoon rather than the sustained barrages of Winter. I had sent off a postcard yesterday to this Mrs. Karla Gillium (Née Cabot) care of the shipping agent her family is associated with on Casino Island, and just after breakfast I was called to the village telephone. Naturally it would not do to have scenic traditional longhouses festooned with telephone poles and wires, and the necessary links across South Island to public telephones, police shacks and such have the cables discreetly buried underground. Six feet deep with large concrete slabs on top and with plenty of slack in the cable loops to absorb the ground deformation of a nearby shell or bomb, just as I recall the layout specified in Father’s military engineering manuals for signals installation.
Molly had told me a few months ago of her interview with Mrs. Gillium at Song Sodas, where she rather shocked and horrified the poor vixen who had gone there expecting to meet some kind of saint whose love had pointed her erring pirate sister back towards salvation, as the Sunday-school texts would put it. Not that I recall any Sunday-schools quite mentioning what Molly and Captain Granite were doing, let alone recommending it as any sort of salvation. Prudence and co would beg to differ, no doubt.
Anyway, Casino Island seemed the place to meet, and on such a day the Rainbow Bridge is a rendezvous that nobody can mistake. According to the films, it should be full of secret agents hiding “in plain sight” dressed as tourists and postcard-sellers. I suppose one should not get too twitchy and start imagining them all over the place – except we have reliable word that on Vostok a quarter of the population are spies of one persuasion or another if only to the extent that all churchgoers were expected to keep a sharp eye out for heretics and denounce them to the Inquisition. The key to recognising them supposedly is to drop a harmless piece of paper and see who jumps at it – except a park keeper, though secret agents can be disguised as them too.
We reached Casino Island without incident, and indeed we were somewhat early. Punctuality is another ingrained Songmark habit that will probably stick with us for life. I took the chance to relax on one of the benches and use one of the rituals Saimmi taught to focus on finding Maria. She is definitely alive, nearby and Helen and I could find her even if we did not have a good idea where she is being held.
Miss Cabot woke me from my trance to indicate the arrival of someone she recognised, and I recognised a vixen wearing respectable Euro dress from her description. Or nearly so: Mrs. Gillium was very large with cub when Molly met her awhile ago, and now she is happily pushing a perambulator.
It was a strange meeting; I explained more or less what had happened to Molly, and that she is not exactly the person either Mrs. Gillium or her sister met before. Miss Cabot remembers everything Molly did but thinks quite differently about it. Certainly she was recalling that Captain Granite took pity on her and arranged the possibility of her escape – with a crew like the Three Moons had, any open show of weakness such as just letting her go was nothing even Captain Granite could afford to risk. Given an unlocked cell door and land a mile and a half away, a Songmark girl needs no more to make a breakout.
It was certainly an interesting morning. I rather got the impression that Mrs. Gillium thinks her adoptive cousin (Molly having oddly enough being adopted as Granite’s daughter rather than wife despite what they did) is much improved since their first meeting, and was very keen to telegraph back to Boston for her mother to expect to see her. Molly’s adopted grandmother? This IS getting confusing. She cautioned that the American police have been enquiring whether Miss Cabot and Molly Procyk were in fact the same doe – the claim has been denied, but getting through the main Customs shed in Boston might be difficult with a posse of determined G-men sniffing for gangster does. “Jumping ship” from the commercial CA60 when it refuels at Disko Island before strolling across the Baffin Bay territory and in towards Boston through the lax Canadian border might be possible but would take a great deal of time.
I must say the Gilliums are a thorough couple, though as they are in the shipping profession that is nothing too surprising. They had heard of Megan, Captain Granite’s other “girlfriend” who lives in the bush on Main Island. More than that, they engaged a lady Guide who then spent two days searching till Megan was found so they could meet her. She is not much of a conversationalist but very friendly despite that, one might say. It was rather a shock to the Gilliums meeting her especially considering she is not the only one to have been left in that state – though possibly the only one still surviving.
Mrs. Gillium seemed a most respectable vixen indeed. It came as something of a shock when her cub woke up and she proudly showed it to us – to judge from appearances her husband is evidently a feline. She must have spotted my reaction, as she gently pointed out that was one of the reasons they had moved to Spontoon while the howls of anguish from high on Boston hilltops subsides a little. I suppose it is rather odd to think about it – the more traditional folk dislike her and her own husband having children, but had she selected a suitably handsome young Todd-fox to give her a pedigree cub nobody would raise an eyebrow. It would have been listed as her husband’s on the pedigree and birth certificate and that would be that, as tradition dictates.
Actually, it is a fairly unusual family in that feline males tend to be perceived as … incompatible with non-feline girls. A Todd-fox groom and a feline bride must be ten times commoner a combination; a feline girl is generally adaptable to most other types – for which I am grateful – but others find feline males too abrasive to ever get accustomed to, not referring to their personality.
I can imagine the new Miss Cabot getting along well with the rest of her adopted family; Captain Granite had no children (not surprisingly, given her tastes). I hardly liked to mention that if there is any way of getting Molly Procyk back I will do so. I have talked this over with Helen and Saimmi but not with Miss Cabot, who does not feel there is anything wrong with her. She has shown no signs of wanting to set anything on fire or use up any ration of unused ammunition she feels Songmark owes her, and did not turn a whisker when I told her I would be donating my T-Gewehr rifle to Songmark. It is technically mine after all, and not the sort of thing one wants to explain to Customs officials! Besides, finding the ammunition would be exceedingly difficult away from Rain Island whose engineers seem to be reverse-engineering it and indeed producing updated versions.
It was a pleasant two hours chat, and if at all possible we will visit the Cabot family in Boston in a week or two. I confess my ears dipped somewhat as a few possibilities crossed my mind – what if Miss Cabot wants to stay in Boston with her new family? I could hardly drag her away with me, and indeed she has nothing to return to in Spontoon. There are dangers wherever she goes and whatever she chooses. After tomorrow she will no longer be a Songmark girl and reverts to her previous citizenship; if J. Edgar Hoover wanted to snatch her off Casino Island there is little even Mr. Sapohatan could do; at least he would be hard pressed to legally prevent it. It may be just as well we will be a “moving target” for awhile.
Our last leisurely afternoon on Spontoon! Four tickets are all ready for us at the Shawnee Pacific Airpaths terminal, and we have our bags packed and ready to go. I even managed to wrap up one more loose end, having checked with Nuala that the Penningtons are suitably … taken care of. I think after their experiences with Nuala and friends they will be staying well clear of the Kuo Han embassy. It is awfully embarrassing that folk come to me for solutions to such problems – it was bad enough with Florence Farmington who is staying on Spontoon this Summer working as a pilot for that severe mare Nikki.
Being respectably dressed in the Euro style Miss Cabot and I passed for tourists and some Spontoonies (more likely seasonal workers from the Kanims or somewhere, who do not know us) even offered to sell us souvenirs! I must be one of the very few folk who can actually read the inscription on the straw hats offered me – though my ears blushed when I saw the one selected. “Hot tail - would set a grass skirt on fire” is possibly a complement, certainly far more so than most of the inscriptions in stock, but I declined to buy. Probably the vendor had been following my gaze and reaction to the limbo dancers performing on the sea front to a shocked and delighted crowd. It is quite a sight, but not one that one would send accurate postcards of home – unless of course it was respectably labelled “ethnographic research” when anything goes. Rather in the way some jolly strange film plots can be presented as “classical” to get around the strictures of the Hayes Office, providing it was originally written in Latin or Greek. Cecil “Beady” Milne produced that rather infamous tale about a Roman equine who upsets the Gods and was transformed into a non-anthrop form, although it was not as severe a curse as it might have been; he remained what one could call a popular and handsome fur in whichever shape.
Although we turned down the straw hats, we did take in more of the tourist experience watching a matinee at the Coconut Shell. I recall back in September watching that extremely funny Whitehall farce where Jasbir danced in the chorus-line suitably disguised with fur-dye and a disposable identity to avoid the official veto our Tutors had put on her stage ambitions. After all, Songmark has a reputation to maintain and a provider of chorus-girls is not it. Today there was a similar revue show, titled “They even stole the Detective!” One assumes Crusader Dorm will not be watching it, except perhaps to take notes and criticise.
I must say, it was splendid to be able to relax and just let other furs entertain us. It is only beginning to dawn on me just how hard we have been working; comparing ourselves with the furs around us who have strolled off a tour-boat after a week’s voyage sun-bathing in deck chairs and whose most critical decision of the day is which restaurant they will be dining at, I feel definitely foreign. Father often mentioned that returning troops in 1918 had grave difficulty adjusting to a peacetime life especially those who had joined up straight from school and had known no other life but the army. Now I can quite understand it - although I would be surprised if our next year will be particularly peaceful.
Some things have certainly stayed the same since our first year; on the way back to the ferry slip I saw again that Agnostic missionary preaching to an enthralled if puzzled-looking crowd. It must be a thankless mission, to go about the world spreading doubt and uncertainty to replace Faith in whatever furs believe in. Still, his argument that much of the world’s main religious persecutions were caused by furs blindly believing in whatever they were told. Had the Conquistadores been more equivocal about who was in the right, there might be Aztec pyramids holding traditional style worship in many a European city to this day. Hmm.
A final leisurely Nootnops Blue for two at the Topotabo Hotel on the way back, then home to Haio Beach for supper. At least a few things got done today – though we are planning on an early night and plenty of sleep. Tomorrow should be – back to interesting times, as the Chinese call them.