The Xanadu Adventure (Vesper Holly)
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Glad to have you aboard. He showed us to our staterooms—if they could be so designated. I occupied something like a large locker or small closet, with a hammock slung between the bulkheads. Our first evening at sea, we dined at the captain's table— the only table, but we were the only passengers. Except for The Weed horning in about his translations and the prospect of visiting Hissarlik, the occasion was not unpleasant. Vesper charmed and delighted Captain Fergus with anecdotes of our travels. However, when she came to our final encounter with that archvillain of all time, Dr. Desmond Helvitius, the dear girl was too modest to credit herself with thwarting his scheme to devastate Philadelphia, dominate our United States and the entire Western Hemisphere.
I interrupted to explain that Helvitius had conspired to assassinate our beloved President Grant, the emperor of Brazil, most of the members of Congress, and completely disrupt our glorious Centennial Exposition. Vesper, single-handed, had foiled this murderous plot. Captain Fergus shook his head in admiration and amazement, but his salt-cured features went grim.
Best be on your guard. A villain like that—he's bound to want revenge. He'll come back at you with blood in his eye. Thanks to Vesper, Helvitius had joined the choir invisible, assuming it was charitable enough to accept him. But northward, around Constantinople—Istanbul, as Brother Turk calls it—no, not with all that's going on. Don't count on that trip, nohow, no way.
The Russians and Turks had been at each other's throats for years. But the sultan's once-mighty realm had been falling into decay. The Russians scented blood. They'll give a good account of themselves. On the other hand, Brother Russki has the big guns. I am confident the war will be settled in a dignified fashion. They would excuse themselves to go about ship's business while the rest of us stayed, speculating on the war and talking about new travel plans. I did not linger after dessert but retired to my hammock.
My cubbyhole must have been directly above the engine room. However, by the time we passed through the Straits of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean, I had grown used to the endless pulsation of machinery; it actually lulled me to sleep. That night, therefore, it took some while for me to become aware of the insistent rapping, and Vesper's voice calling to me. Still groggy, I forgot I was in a hammock. In my haste, I tipped over and spilled myself onto the deck. I stumbled to open the door. In the dimness, I could barely see Vesper's features.
But what—? Aunt Mary's on deck. Better stay with her. It was then I realized the engines had fallen ominously silent. I paused only long enough to fling on my dressing gown. I dashed up the companionway. It was just daybreak. I glimpsed Mary at the railing, a traveling cloak about her shoulders. I ran to join her. How tiresome. What an inconvenience. I stationed myself at Mary's side. The vessel, powerless, was at the mercy of the swelling seas. A sheet of water crashed upon us, tearing loose our grip on the railing. My dear Mary and I went reeling across the deck, where the crew raced to break out cork jackets and rip tarpaulins off the pitifully small lifeboats.
The shrill warbling of a bosun's pipe pierced my ears. The freighter creaked and groaned as if all the bolts and rivets might give way and the hull shatter into pieces. From one moment to the next, I expected to hear the cry that mariners most dread: Abandon ship! Mary had regained her footing beside me. I saw nothing of Vesper, the twins, or The Weed. The horrible realization struck me: They could be trapped below, struggling, drowning in the flooded hold.
At all cost, I must find and bring them topside.
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I started running for the companionway. I heard Mary call out to me: "Brinnie, we are saved! I caught a quick glimpse of a sailing vessel on the horizon. Perhaps Captain Fergus had run up a distress signal sighted by one of the trading craft plying the Mediterranean. It tacked closer, although with agonizing slowness. I plunged ahead to the companionway, colliding with the twins climbing topside.
They were soaked to the skin, their faces smeared with grease. I did not see Vesper. I heard the engines throb into life; little by little, our vessel began righting itself. And here was Captain Fergus, wiping his brow with a grimy rag. The pumps had quit, and something amiss with the seacocks. Even the chief engineer couldn't figure out why. She was as sopping wet as the others, possibly more so. I'd sign her on as a marine engineer in a jiffy. Aye, without her we'd all be sleeping in Davy Jones's locker.
No sign of wear and tear. You'd almost think someone did it on purpose. Which makes no sense. A murky business any way you look at it. But, no matter. Miss Vesper kept us afloat. We went to join Mary at the railing. As best I could observe, the vessel coming to our rescue must have seen we were out of danger, for it veered away and disappeared over the horizon.
Captain Fergus, I am certain, had been resolved to go down gallantly with his ship. He seemed, nevertheless, relieved that he was not obliged to do so. I'm bound for Athens, but I'll sail you straight to Crete. But The Weed had forgotten to reserve lodgings in advance. We could only haul ourselves and our luggage into town and seek out whatever accommodations were available. We did, at last, engage several rooms in a hotel a few years younger than the ruins of Knossos. Having escaped drowning, I would have been glad for a nap.
The Weed, postponing his work in Crete, wished to go immediately and hire a boat that would take us to Hissarlik. I assured him it was my pleasure. Left to his own devices, The Weed might have chartered a canoe. But not so much as a canoe seemed available. I would have been lucky to find anything that floated. I continued to the end of the dock, where one remaining boat was moored.
It bore the name Ariadne. The aroma of deceased fish assaulted me. Nets, tubs, and buckets cluttered the deck. The paint had blistered and peeled, the brightwork was green with tarnish. For all that, Ariadne looked a cut above the ordinary: tall-masted, with sleek lines, teakwood decking showing through the grime.
Before its presently humble occupation, it had seen happier days. The captain, wearing a short-visored cap and bearded like a king in Homer's Iliad, leaned on the taffrail. I addressed him in Greek, telling him I desired transportation to Hissarlik. He bobbed his head cordially. I went on to explain that my traveling party wished to charter his vessel for a week. I inquired if he had suitable accommodations for six, including two ladies, and asked how much he would charge. He kept smiling and nodding.
I paused. I switched to Turkish, then Italian and French and received the same yaw-yaw response. I resorted to gestures, with an occasional simple word thrown in, and showed him a handful of money. He brightened remarkably, repeated my gestures, and otherwise made it clear he understood perfectly. Mary had stored most of our luggage with the proprietor. Vesper, expert at traveling lightly, had already packed; the twins likewise. The Weed still dithered, trying to decide what to take and what to leave.
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All were delighted by my success. I urged them to retire early for a good night's sleep. Which we did, except for The Weed popping in and out to make sure we were ready. At dawn, after a quick breakfast, we made our way to the dockside. Captain Yaw-Yaw—I had no better name for him— awaited us as agreed.
He beckoned us aboard Ariadne, where the fishy aroma had ripened overnight. He ushered us into what once might have been the master's cabin, fairly spacious but now crammed with coils of rope and piles of nets. He indicated we all were to reside there. Dismayed, I protested and made signs that we desired additional quarters.
He gave a couple of yaw-yaws and left us where we stood. I wholeheartedly—and a little sheepishly—apologized for the lack of comforts. Mary, undaunted, prepared a burrow of netting. The twins, used to roughing it, sat with their backs to the bulkhead. The Weed poked about here and there. Vesper, usually uncomplaining, put a hand on my arm. It makes my flesh creep. Something else. So have you. Brinnie, don't you remember? Persian carpets. A globe in a wooden frame—" Of course, The Weed had to come and horn in. Something disagreeable tugged at my memory. See the pale spaces where they used to be?
What about that? The dear girl was upsetting me more and more. I had struggled to blot the whole horrible episode from my memory. I could no longer do so. Vesper was right, beyond my attempts at denial. Yes, it had been that luxurious yacht; and, in this very cabin, Helvitius had held us captive. I'm going on deck. I want a little talk with the captain. Vesper stepped up to him. Vesper, frankly and directly, asked how he had come into possession of the vessel, when, and in what circumstances.
Few can withstand Vesper's polite though incisive questioning. But, no matter how she pressed, she got nothing more from him. It also makes me wonder—what if Helvitius is alive? As you recall, our police force, Philadelphia's finest, combed every inch of the area, dragged the whole length of the river, and found nothing. A brigade of our shrewdest detectives analyzed the case in microscopic detail. They unanimously concluded he had been swept out to sea and perished. Alive, he would never have let it slip from his clutches. Such confiscated vessels were usually sold at auction, and, by some chain of events, it had eventually come into the hands of Captain Yaw-Yaw.
He, or a prior purchaser, had changed the name. The once-elegant craft had been reduced to a fishing boat. Toby," said Smiler, as Slider nodded agreement, "it's an education to hear you expostulate. I felt sure my analysis was correct, and found nothing to suggest otherwise. Though our quarters were uncomfortable and odoriferous, Captain Yaw-Yaw proved himself attentive to all our needs to the best of his abilities and resources.
He made it clear that he welcomed our presence on deck; we gladly accepted his invitation to enjoy the fresh salt air. Vesper, however, seemed pensive, no doubt recalling our captivity on this selfsame vessel. The Weed grew only bounder: "Can't you just imagine, sir, we're part of the Greek fleet heading for Troy? Painted sails bellying in the wind—" I told him I had difficulty relating the Greek armada to our present mode of transportation.
Even so, Ariadne was making splendid headway, scudding over the waves as if regaining former grandeur, skimming past the islands dotting the Aegean—there must have been hundreds of them, as if Zeus had flung down fistfuls of Olympian-sized gravel. Indeed, many were hardly bigger than large rocks, with some green patches, and white, pink-roofed houses clinging like barnacles to the slopes.
Paris, after all, ran off with his wife. A power struggle, like the Russians going at it with the Turks?
I was glad when dinner was served. Then sorry. It gave me indigestion, and I slept badly that night. The underdone fish swimming in a sea of olive oil probably set it off, but Helvitius loomed large in my thoughts: the shock of white hair, the false, blood-chilling smile. Worse, the creature's overbearing arrogance—apart from being a ruthless killer. Vesper and I had encountered him in Illyria, where he claimed to be a historian.
His attempt to annihilate us with dynamite bombs raised serious doubts regarding his character.
I had never trusted him since. We made landfall the next morning and prepared to disembark: Mary in a fashionable travel costume; the twins in workman's garb. Vesper and I wore our usual and very practical canvas knickerbockers. The Weed had somewhere acquired high socks and a pair of sand-colored short trousers like two stovepipes barely reaching his excessively knobby knees.
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He was first to leap off Ariadne when we tied up at the narrow little pier. The rest of us followed at a more deliberate pace. I lingered behind a moment to confirm our arrangements: We would sleep ashore—bad enough to be herded into that stifling cabin during the return voyage—while Ariadne awaited us at dockside. Our shipboard host gave his invariable reply: "Yaw, yaw," he said. The Weed, flinging himself about, gestured toward the wide apron of sand on either side of the harbor: "Look there, sir. That's where the Greek army would have camped, with all their ships riding at anchor just offshore.
I could easily envision the Greek encampment crowding the beach; and one tent perhaps set a little aloof, where sulked wrathful Achilles, peeved that he had not been given a captured maiden and a larger share of plunder; and, farther inland, where he boastfully dragged the desecrated body of noble Hector. As I came to think on it again, The Weed had a point. The Greek invaders were hardly a charming group. The famous walls and topless towers, of course, were long gone. I did see a large mound showing signs of excavation. Vesper was making her way in that direction. The Weed and I followed—I, lagging a few paces behind.
The wind weighed on me like a heavy hand; I was already perspiring. Vesper had reached the site of the dig, which was neatly staked out, with lengths of cords crisscrossing into a grid. A crew of workmen shoveled and sifted the crumbling earth. Their efforts were overseen by a short, dumpy figure in riding breeches and boots, a cork sun helmet crammed onto his head.
No sooner aware of Vesper's presence than he approached—in some vexation, I thought. He had a round, fleshy face with an aggressive mustache. He did not remove his sun helmet. Vesper, with her unfailing graciousness, extended a hand: "Herr Schliemann, I presume? His lips twitched, his mustache did gymnastics. How dare you interrogate me regarding that—that person? Careless dirt-grubber! He destroys all he digs up. An obsessive monomaniac!
Does he think himself a scholar? He has no grasp of his subject, he could not pass the most elementary examination—" Since he was carrying on so, I naturally assumed he and Herr Schliemann were colleagues, and I said as much. Ill educated—no, uneducated. He has not an hour of higher learning, no advanced degree—the ignoramus barely graduated from kindergarten. What are his credentials, certifications, diplomas? He presumes his fortune can buy admission to the noble groves of academe. Are you aware of the source of his tawdry gains? Profiteering in the Crimean War, selling dyestuffs to the Russian army, and whatever else he could do to turn a penny.
No better than a common tradesman, a grocery clerk, as in fact he was at the start of his career. Therefore, he is not here. Simple logic. You are in Vissarlik.
Captain Idiot! I had told him our destination; the dunderhead had brought us here instead. Our interlocutor folded his arms and eyed us as if we were a classroom of dunces. Ariadne can sail us there in no time. And am. Do you imply familiarity with my Short Dictionary of Classical Antiquities?
His massive, three-volume magnum opus held a place of honor on the shelf of every classical scholar. When Vesper revealed that she had pored over this compilation, the effect was nothing short of miraculous. Professor Dionescu's features turned instantly radiant, color bloomed on his cheeks, his mustache relaxed. He was, before our very eyes, transformed into a model of benevolence.
Vesper presented us, emphasizing my own professorial title. He gave me the disdainful, walleyed stare that one academic bestows on another. I judged it best not to question him further; but then The Weed had to step in. We're all eager to read them. Can you give us the titles? She assured him she understood why it took precedence over generating further publications. I assume your endeavors are being carried out under the aegis of that noble institution.
My investigations are conducted privately. I am not obliged to justify my expenditures to dull-witted reviewing boards and penny-pinching accounting departments. She's put out to sea. I had made it absolutely clear that the vessel was to wait for us. Captain Yaw-Yaw was merely seeking a better anchorage. Smiler pointed beyond the harbor. Ariadne was, in fact, cutting with all possible speed through the waves. He sees no point wasting time in idleness when he could be pursuing his fishing activities.
I commend his diligence. His absence is only temporary. Her explanation was generous-hearted, sweetly reasonable. And wrong. At the rate he was skipping along, Captain Yaw-Yaw would be past returning at any time in the foreseeable future.
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Vesper understood the hard truth of the matter. I turned away in despair. We were, for all practical purposes, castaways. Professor Dionescu stepped forward. I understand that you have been inconvenienced, but it is only a small contretemps. A packet boat is due to arrive from Athens with provisions. It will, I am sure, transport you wherever you wish.
She explained our urgent business regarding the mysterious script The Weed was attempting to decipher; and, as expected, The Weed broke in to babble about vowel frequencies, recurring suffixes, and would have rambled on forever had I not encouraged him to stop. Professor Dionescu appeared greatly interested. It would, however, require a certain amount of time. But we have difficulties more urgent than beans. First, where and how do we live for the next couple of weeks?
You shall stay here at the site. You shall be my guests," Dionescu said. He bustled around eagerly unfolding canvas camp chairs and summoned a couple of his crew to prepare trays. He also instructed his foreman to pitch several tents for our exclusive use. Though a scholar of the highest distinction, Dionescu could not have been more attentive to our comforts. True, during our exchange of small talk, I did let slip—yes, deliberately—that Vesper was the daughter of the eminent Dr. Benjamin Rittenhouse Holly.
Which, I believe, carried added weight with him. That fraud! That individual is a fool, a liar, or both. Do you seek Troy? You are there already. Dionescu hurried on: "As I was about to reveal when you first arrived That jumped-up grocery boy! No, no, it is in Vissarlik. You were brought to this place by a misunderstanding, but a most fortunate one. Troy is precisely here. I would rather have stayed behind to recuperate from the shock of being marooned.
Vesper, always curious, could not resist; nor could The Weed, especially after Dionescu's thunderbolt announcement. So, nothing for it, I had to tag behind Mary and the twins. Armed with a riding crop serving as a blackboard pointer, and bursting with pride, Dionescu indicated the areas he expected soon to uncover. By my calculations, the famous walls would have enclosed this perimeter. Here, the forecourt, the interior hallways—" "Why, that could be the very spot where Pyrrhus killed old King Priam. With Queen Hecuba wrapped in a blanket and rags around her head instead of a crown?
The palace in flames, the Trojans all put to the sword—" "Tobias," I said, "we agree the slaughter was brutal. I suggest to you that Shakespeare, certainly not present at the scene, may have overdrawn the picture. Dionescu herded us along on his guided tour. He kept at it until nearly dusk. Truly unique. I know of nothing like it.
Passavant," he went on, turning to The Weed, "should find a visit there most profitable. I believe you will discover valuable clues to your translations. The site is not far. I estimate less than a day's travel up-country. Dionescu sensibly advised waiting until morning. Take only the barest essentials. My stores can provide sufficient food and water. The Weed was jumping out of his skin with impatience, which did not affect his appetite. Vesper, Mary, and the twins were likewise eager.
I did not finish my meal and begged to be excused. Several canvas pyramids had been pitched during our absence. Dionescu pointed out the one Mary and I were to occupy. I was glad to crawl into it. The night chill, which sets in so quickly after sundown, had seeped into my bones.
I flung myself onto a thin pallet and fell asleep instantly. Mary shook me awake. She had already packed our bags. Frankly, I muttered, I was not overwhelmingly interested in the excursion. I did not mention my nagging headache, since I did not wish to worry her. My joints creaked in protest as I dressed and crawled from the tent.
Everyone else looked hale and hearty: the twins, with rucksacks on their shoulders and bandannas around their heads; Vesper, bright-eyed, chatting with The Weed; and Dionescu, displaying professorial eagerness to lead us on our way. And so, set off we did. Dionescu had provided two donkeys for the ladies, but Vesper preferred going on foot beside The Weed. Mary declined to burden her rawboned animal and strode along vigorously.
As a point of pride, I, too, would have walked. But after we crossed the scraggle of the lowlands and entered the foothills, I was grateful to climb aboard an unoccupied donkey. The air freshened as we gained the higher ground, which I found to be a great relief. However, I became aware of two things. First, Dionescu had no sense of time, distance, or terrain. What he led us to believe would be a short hike proved otherwise. Noon was long past. By his own admission, we had only gone halfway. Second, I became ill, and sicker with every jolting step. I blamed myself.
I should have recognized the warning symptoms. My ailment was a cousin—a vicious, virulent cousin— of breakbone fever. I had acquired it when Vesper's father and I visited Benares to observe the funeral pyres, the famous ghats on the banks of India's legendary River Ganges. We chose to take a cleansing dip in the mystical waters. I emerged hopefully purified in spirit but with the physical agonies of what is vulgarly called "Shiva's Revenge.
If only I had taken it before now. The heavy, debilitating winds of Asia Minor had no doubt brought it on. But that was beside the point. The sum and substance: I could go no farther. The fever was rampaging through my limbs. I was giddy with pain. The twins lifted me from the donkey and let me lie on a stretch of turf.
I pleaded to return to Dionescu's camp. To my surprise and dismay, Dionescu grew close to peevish. He argued it would take as long to go back to the seacoast as it would to press on to our destination. I was too sick to debate with him. I barely had strength to ask Mary if she had brought my medical kit. You cannot mistake it. Are you certain you packed it? The Weed! Even in my feverish state, I remembered, with crystal clarity, the morning The Weed had come to hurry me along, disordering my carefully arranged medicines.
In the eye of memory, I clearly saw the flask sitting on the dresser. Distracted by The Weed, I had left it there. I slid into unconsciousness. When I opened my eyes again, I met the critical gaze of a large billy goat. I realized then that my mind had flown me back to an old face-to-face encounter with Illyrian goats. This one apparently was a resident, along with some chickens I heard clucking around me. I sat up from a straw mattress.
Here were Vesper and Mary beside me, watching with relief. The room itself was much like others throughout the Aegean—pleasantly airy, with white plaster walls. The lady of the house, a kerchief on her head and wearing an embroidered vest, was nodding and smiling. I smiled back. I had no idea where I was. You're going to be fine. You know the old philosophical problem. A logical dilemma. How could he decide which one to choose?
Or did he starve to death trying to make up his mind? Now it fell into place. Shiva's Revenge, my medicine left at home. Oddly enough, I was in such good spirits that I said not a word of reproach to him. I had benevolent feelings toward the world at large, including the goat. The twins, meantime, had come forward to have a look at me. We found a young lad with a herd of goats. He told Miss Vesper his village was close by, they had a doctor who'd set you right in no time. I could still feel it bubbling happily through my system. I glanced around.
I did not see Dionescu. I asked where he was. On the one hand, he wasn't pleased when we turned off and took you here; he's still fidgeting to be on our way again. On the other, he's met some of the village elders, he's seen a few things, and can't tear himself away. Still, The Weed roused my curiosity. I made an effort to stand up. The only Chiron I could think of was the mythological old centaur. After so many strange turns of events, I would not have been overly astonished to see a half-man, half-horse come trotting up. Chiron is their word here for a doctor.
But Chiron the centaur was a sort of doctor, too; he knew all about healing herbs, plants, roots. I wondered how these village folk had picked it up. It was hardly an uncommon language in this part of the world. Ancient Greek! Brinnie, it's as if we went to some town lost in the Drexel Hills back home and found everybody speaking Old English.
They call their marketplace egerun—that's agora in Greek. The village chief's the vassilos, nearly the same as Greek basileus, the word for 'king. Put them together, they turn out to be an ancient Greek wine jar—" She stopped, for here came the chiron himself, a hale old fellow in something like a nightshirt tied around his waist with braided cords. His full head of hair, and his beard in curls, gave him a striking resemblance to the bust of Herodotus in my study.
Then, in the way of physicians no doubt since the days of Hippocrates, he thumped my chest and peered down my throat and up my nose, all the while muttering "Hmm" and "Aha. I had some difficulty understanding him, but Vesper was right: Along with infusions of Turkish, there were shadows and echoes of ancient Greek behind his words. I thanked him profusely and asked about the remarkable medication he had given me.
He only smiled mysteriously, which I took to mean it was a professional secret. He did promise to give me a pouch of the dry ingredients, which I could steep in water if needed. All in all, he was as brisk and efficient as any Philadelphia specialist. The chiron went off on his rounds. Following his advice, I did get up. Sure now I was completely well, Mary and the twins turned their attention to the clever design of the oven and vented cookstove, and the various implements of what the chiron's wife called the oikos, recognizably Greek for "household.
The Weed was already loping down the wide stretch of gravel, doubtless the main street of the village. As soon as they caught sight of him, half a dozen youngsters left off their games to skip after him. I had no idea what so attracted them, unless it was that he had the longest, boniest shanks of any individual they had ever seen. The Weed, to say this much for him, took it in good spirits. He actually scooped up one of the small girls and set her on his shoulder. With the others, he performed that tired old trick of pretending to catch their noses between his fingers and made them whoop and giggle as if he had done some sort of miracle.
He laughed as much as they did, with no sense of adult dignity, and generally made a fool of himself. Vesper, however, beamed at him. Mary and the twins caught up with us as we reached the largest building, which I took to be the equivalent of our City Hall, though of course smaller and plainer than Philadelphia's noble edifice. Dionescu was there at a wooden table among what I assumed were village elders, perhaps the municipal council. I gave him only a nod of minimum civility; his suggestion of flinging me like a sack of grain on a jackass continued to rankle.
He did not inquire about my health, nor did I inquire about his. In any case, he was entirely absorbed in conversation with the authorities. They're friendly chaps, glad to help us any way they can. He invited us to look at an array of clay tablets. I did get the general drift. The tablets had been treasured up as venerable objects. It would take some days of study to decipher The Weed's inscriptions, but the vassilos was sure it could be done.
Having one's city invaded and burned would tend to stick in the memory. His colleagues, something like a local Chamber of Commerce, smiled proudly and nodded agreement. They all appeared sincerely delighted by our interest. As for Dionescu, I saw that he was torn between wanting to stay and wanting to go. His eyes lit up at the sight of the artifacts. Still, he fidgeted and kept muttering we should be on our way. Vesper and The Weed, I am sure, would have accepted the invitation to remain for days on end.
I raised the question of the packet boat. Vesper shrugged this off. Miss one, there's always another. We were not far from our destination, he told us. If we left now, we could be there before nightfall, camp at the site, and be back at the village two days later. The Weed's inscriptions would be deciphered; if not, we would wait until they were. He himself was most eager to examine the village archives and artifacts. Vesper and The Weed agreed with his plan. I had to admit it made sense.
I hurried to find the chiron and obtain more of his excellent concoction. We packed hastily, leaving nearly all our gear in the good hands of the chiron's wife. The village youngsters trooped after us, waving and calling to The Weed. Though feeling completely well, I climbed aboard one of the donkeys at Mary's insistence. I did comment to Dionescu that I preferred riding astride to being flung over the creature's back. My barbed remark went unnoticed. Dionescu, this time, got his bearings right.
We made our way briskly through the foothills to a wide, level expanse. Well before sundown, we halted at the site.
I confess I was astonished. I had expected ruined columns, shattered arcades, the toppled portico of a once-stately structure. But the edifice stood in perfect condition, and was the strangest I had ever seen. It had a dome to match any in Istanbul; a couple of slender towers, like minarets; buttressed walls; iron-latticed balconies.
The main entry was in the Imperial Chinese style. It could have been the dream of some deranged architect. Dionescu was delighted to see us staring open-mouthed in wonder. He led us to the heavy portal. I glimpsed some sheds and outbuildings; and workmen, no doubt an archaeological crew, trundling wheelbarrows and otherwise going about their business. To my added astonishment, the building was inhabited.
Dionescu must have been a familiar visitor, for a manservant in Turkish garb beckoned him inside with many salaams and courteous gestures to all of us. We followed down a high-ceilinged corridor decorated with tiles and mosaics—museum pieces, all of them. Great swags of silken draperies hung all around. Rich carpets covered the floor and walls. On a low divan, a figure wearing a jeweled turban and billowing pantaloons lounged amid a pile of embroidered cushions.
At sight of us, he made no effort to rise but merely waved a hand glittering with precious stones. But here he was before my eyes, in solid flesh, in full health and vigor. I was disappointed to see him looking so well. Vesper always keeps her composure in the most horrendous circumstances. Though I knew she was as shocked as all of us, she held her unwavering gaze on Helvitius.
For once, however, the sight of him left her momentarily speechless. Coming face to face in the backlands of Asia Minor with someone long dead is bound to produce awkward moments. Helvitius obviously relished our discomfort. He leaned back on his divan, nodded cordially to each of us, then returned his glance to Vesper. The Weed, that lunatic, started forward as if to fling himself at Helvitius; Smiler and Slider gave signs of boldly supporting his assault. But Helvitius raised a hand; his eyes went toward the rear of the chamber.
I turned to see four or five burly ruffians. All bore gleaming scimitars thrust into their crimson waistbands. Passavant, I urge you to forgo pointless heroics," Helvitius said pleasantly. For serious work, these gentlemen prefer modern weapons. They are equipped with excellent Colt revolvers. You are, naturally, bewildered, wondering how it was possible for me to have survived those fatal events in your native city—" "I'm not really interested in the details," Vesper said. Vesper shrugged and sat down on one of the cushions.
We followed her example. What else could we do? We were tired; it was late in the day. Yet I knew her mind was racing at top speed, analyzing every avenue of escape. I had never seen him in better spirits. Simple, but intriguing in its simplicity. Your City of Brotherly Love has an unrivaled system of public transportation; thus, I boarded a horsecar that carried me close to my destination: a haven among certain individuals who provided accommodations and secrecy. My agents bought it for a pittance, and I regained possession. It suited my purposes to disguise the craft as a fishing boat.
I renamed it Ariadne—" "Captain Yaw-Yaw! That ignorant, ill-spoken oaf! He is one of my most reliable operatives. He accomplished his mission exactly. My blunder had set all our lives at risk. I bowed my head. The blame is mine alone. Did you not mention that Ariadne was the only transportation to be had? An ironic coincidence. A dreadful one, but a coincidence nonetheless.
Some can be arranged in advance. I saw to it, at no small expense, that Ariadne alone awaited you. Professor Garrett, you were no more than an unwitting pawn in a game beyond your comprehension. Passavant booked your passage. From that moment, the fate of Miss Vesper Holly was in my hands. His orders were to sink the freighter. He failed to do so. I have made sure he will never fail again. Smiler nodded. Incidental expenses, if you will. Whether the crew survived was a matter of complete indifference to me.
As for yourselves, I sent Ariadne to rescue you. But only minor adjustments were required, with the same result. Unsurprisingly, the Rasputin of this series, Dr. Desmond Helvetius, resurfaces, undiminished in his ruthlessness. With a violence I thought existed only in the realms of higher education. Throughout The Xanadu Adventure, Alexander foregrounds this sort of eye-twinkling wit. As our heroes escape Xanadu through an air duct, Brinnie and Vesper share what could be their final moments.
Their exchange is the banter of dear friends:. The Xanadu Adventure abounds with references to classical literature and Shakespeare that promise a celebratory, comic ending, but misleadingly; this is still, in part, a novel about aging by an old man who survived war and mourned the loss of loved ones. I suspect he came back to the Vesper Holly series not only to conclude it, but also to point out that genuine endings are bittersweet in ways that children may yet comprehend. Thanks as always for these reviews. I just bought a few used Alexander books, inspired by these posts. I never understood the Rope Trick as a young adult.
Now I want to track down your own writing, so — good job.