What sort of place had I come to, and among what kind of people? What sort of grim adventure was it on which I had embarked?¡­ I began to rub my eyes and pinch myself to see if I were awake. It all seemed like a horrible nightmare to me, and I expected that I should suddenly awake, and find myself at home, with the dawn struggling in through the windows, as I had now and again felt in the morning after a day of overwork. But my flesh answered the pinching test, and my eyes were not to be deceived. I was indeed awake and among the Carpathians. All I could do now was to be patient, and to wait the coming of the morning.
- Bram Stoker, Dracula, 1897
The train station in Amsterdam was a familiar sight to me - I'd passed through it dozens of times. But I had never been there alone before. I had never traveled anywhere alone, and as I sat on a bench waiting for the morning express to Paris, I felt a quickening of my pulses that was not entirely trepidation for my father - a rising of sap that was simply the first moment of complete freedom I had ever known. Mrs. Clay, doing the breakfast dishes at home, thought I was on my way to school. Barley, safely packed off to the ferry wharf, also thought I was on my way to school. I regretted deceiving kind, boring Mrs. Clay and I regretted even more parting from Barley, who had kissed my hand with sudden gallantry on the front step and given me one of his chocolate bars, although I'd reminded him that I could buy Dutch treats anytime I wanted. I thought I might write him a letter when all this trouble had ended - but that far ahead, I could not see.
For now, the Amsterdam morning sparkled, gleamed, shifted around me. Even this morning I found something comforting in the walk along canals from our house to the station, the scent of bread baking and the humid smell of the canals, the not-quite-elegant, busy cleanliness of everything. On a bench at the station, I reviewed my packing: change of clothes, my father's letters, bread, cheese, foil packages of juice from the kitchen. I had raided the plentiful kitchen cash, too - if I was going to do one bad thing, I was going to do twenty - to supplement what was in my purse. That would tip Mrs. Clay off all too quickly, but there was no help for it - I couldn't linger until the banks opened to get money out of my childishly small savings account. I had a warm sweater and a rain jacket, my passport, a book for the long train rides, and my French pocket dictionary.
I had stolen something else. From our parlor I had taken a silver knife that sat in the curio cabinet among souvenirs of my father's far-flung first diplomatic missions, the journeys that had constituted his early attempts to establish his foundation. I had been too young to accompany him, and he'd left me in the United States with various relatives. The knife was of a sinister sharpness and had an ornately embossed handle. It rested in a sheath, also highly decorated. It was the only weapon I'd ever seen in our household - my father disliked guns, and his collector's taste did not run to swords or battle-axes. I had no idea how to protect myself with the little blade, but I felt more secure knowing it was in my purse.
The station was crowded by the time the express pulled up. I felt then, as I do now, that there is no joy like the arrival of a train, no matter how disturbing your situation - particularly a European train, and particularly a European train that will carry you south. During that period of my life, in the final quarter of the twentieth century, I heard the whistle of some of the last steam locomotives to cross the Alps on a regular run. I boarded now, clutching my schoolbag, almost smiling. I had hours ahead of me, and I was going to need them, not to read my book but to peruse again those precious letters from my father. I believed I'd picked my destination correctly, but I needed to ruminate on why it was correct.
I found a quiet compartment and drew the curtains shut along the aisle next to my seat, hoping no one would follow me in there. After a moment a middle-aged woman in a blue coat and hat came in anyway, but she smiled at me and settled down with a pile of Dutch magazines. In my comfortable corner, watching the old city and then the little green suburbs trundle past, I unfolded again the first of my father's letters. I knew its opening lines by heart already, the shocking shapes of the words, the startling place and date, the urgent, firm handwriting.
"My dear daughter: "If you are reading this, forgive me. I have gone to look for your mother. For many years I have believed she was dead, and now I am not certain about that. This uncertainty is almost worse than grief, as you may someday understand; it tortures my heart night and day. I have never told you much about her, and that has been a weakness in me, I know, but our story was too painful for me to relate to you easily. I'd always intended to tell you more as you grew older and could understand it better without being terribly frightened - although, as far as that goes, it has frightened me so much, so unendingly, that this has been the poorest of my excuses to myself about the matter. "During the last few months, I have tried to compensate for my weakness by telling you little by little what I could about my own past, and I intended to bring your mother gradually into the story, although she entered my life rather suddenly. Now I fear I may not manage to tell you all you should know of your heritage before I am either silenced - literally unable to inform you myself - or fall prey again to my own silences.
"I have described to you some of my life as a graduate student before your birth and have told you a little about the odd circumstance of my adviser's disappearance after his revelations to me. I have told you also how I met a young woman named Helen who had as great an interest as mine in finding Professor Rossi, perhaps a greater one. At every quiet opportunity I have tried to advance this story for you, but now I feel I should begin to write down the rest of it, commit it securely to paper. If you must read it now instead of listening to me unfold it for you on some rocky hilltop or quiet piazza, in some sheltered harbor or at some comfortable caf¨¦ table, then the fault is mine for not telling it quickly enough or sooner.
"As I write this I am looking out over the lights of an old harbor - and you sleep undisturbed and innocent in the next room. I am tired after the day's work, and tired at the thought of beginning this long narrative - a sad duty, an unfortunate precaution. I feel I have some weeks, possibly months, in which I will certainly be able to continue my tale in person, so I will not retrace all the ground I have already covered for you during our strolls in so many countries. Past that stretch of time - weeks or months - I am less certain. These letters are my insurance against your solitude. In the worst case, you will inherit my house, my money, my furniture and books, but I can easily believe that you will treasure these documents in my hand more than any of the other items, because they will contain your own story, your history.
"Why have I not told you all the facts of this history at a blow, to get it over with, to inform you fully? The answer lies, again, in my own weakness, but also in the fact that an abbreviated version would be exactly that - a blow. I can't possibly wish you such pain, even if it would be a mere fraction of my own. Furthermore, you might not fully believe it if I told it at a blow, just as I could not believe my adviser Rossi's story fully without pacing the length of his own reminiscences. And, finally, what story can be reduced in actuality to its factual elements? Therefore, I relate my story one step at a time. I must hazard a guess, too, at how much I will have managed to tell you already if these letters come into your hands."
My father's guess had not been quite accurate, and he had picked up the story a beat or two beyond what I already knew. I might never hear his response to Helen Rossi's astounding resolution to go with him on his search, I thought sadly, or the interesting details of their journey from New England to Istanbul. How, I wondered, had they managed to perform all the necessary paperwork, to clear the hurdles of political estrangement, the visas, the customs? Had my father told his parents, kind and reasonable Bostonians, some fib about his sudden plan to travel? Had he and Helen gone to New York immediately, as he'd planned to? And had they slept in the same hotel room? My adolescent mind could not solve this riddle any more than it could avoid pondering it. I had to content myself at last with a picture of the two of them as characters in some movie of their youth, Helen stretched out discreetly under the covers of the double bed, my father miserably asleep in a wing chair with his shoes - but nothing else - off, and the lights of Times Square blinking a sordid invitation just outside the window.
"Six days after Rossi's disappearance, we flew to Istanbul from Idlewild Airport on a foggy weeknight, changing planes in Frankfurt. Our second plane touched down the next morning, and we were herded out with all the other tourists. I had been to Western Europe twice by then, but those jaunts now seemed to me excursions to a completely different planet from this one - Turkey, which in 1954 was even more a world apart than it is today. One minute I was huddled in my uncomfortable airplane seat, wiping my face with a hot washcloth, and the next we were standing outside on an equally hot tarmac, with unfamiliar smells blowing over us, and dust, and the fluttering scarf of an Arab in line ahead of us - that scarf kept getting into my mouth. Helen was actually laughing next to me, watching my amazement at all this. She had brushed her hair and put on lipstick in the airplane and looked remarkably fresh after our cramped night. She wore the little scarf on her neck; I still had not seen what lay under it and wouldn't have dared to ask her to remove it. 'Welcome to the big world, Yankee,' she said, smiling. It was a real smile this time, not her customary grimace.
"My amazement increased during the taxi ride to town. I don't know exactly what I had expected of Istanbul - nothing, maybe, since I had had so little time to anticipate the journey - but the beauty of this city knocked the wind out of me. It had an Arabian Nights quality that no number of honking cars or businessmen in Western suits could dissolve. The first city here, Constantinople, the capital of Byzantium and the first capital of Christian Rome, must have been splendid beyond belief, I thought - a marriage of Roman wealth and early Christian mysticism. By the time we found some rooms in the old quarter of Sultan Ahmet, I had received a dizzying glimpse of dozens of mosques and minarets, bazaars hung with fine textiles, even a flash of the many-domed, four-horned Hagia Sophia billowing above the peninsula.
"Helen had never been here either, and she studied everything with quiet concentration, turning to me only once during the cab ride to remark how strange it was for her to see the wellspring - I believe that was her word - of the Ottoman Empire, which had left so many traces on her native country. This was to become a theme of our days there - her brief, pungent remarks on all that was already familiar to her: Turkish place-names, a cucumber salad consumed in an outdoor restaurant, the pointed arch of a window frame. This had a peculiar effect on me, too, a sort of doubling of my experience, so that I seemed to be seeing Istanbul and Romania at the same time, and as the question gradually arose between us of whether we would have to go into Romania itself, I had a sense of being led there by the artifacts of the past as I saw them through Helen's eyes. But I digress - this is a later episode of my story.
"Our landlady's front hall was cool after the glare and dust of the street. I sank gratefully into a chair in the entrance there, letting Helen reserve two rooms in her excellent but weirdly accented French. The landlady - an Armenian woman who was fond of travelers and had apparently learned their languages - didn't know the name of Rossi's hotel, either. Perhaps it had vanished years before.
"Helen liked to run things, I mused, so why not allow her the satisfaction? It was unspoken but firmly agreed between us that I would later pay the bill. I had withdrawn all of my sparse savings from the bank at home; Rossi deserved every effort I could make, even if I failed. I would simply have to go home bankrupt if it came to that. I knew that Helen, a foreign student, probably had less than nothing, lived on nothing. I had already noticed that she seemed to own just two suits, which she varied with a selection of sternly tailored blouses. 'Yes, we'll take the two separate rooms side by side,' she told the Armenian lady, a fine-featured old woman. 'My brother - mon fr¨¨re - ronfle terriblement.'
"'Ronfle?' I asked from the lounge.
"'Snores,' she said tartly. 'You do snore, you know. I didn't get a blink of sleep in New York.'"'Wink,' I corrected."'Fine,' she said. 'Just keep your door shut, s'il te pla?t. '"With or without snoring, we had to sleep off the exhaustion of travel before we could do anything else. Helen wanted to hunt down the archive at once, but I insisted on rest and a meal. So it was late afternoon before we began our first prowl of those labyrinthine streets, with their glimpses of colorful gardens and courtyards.
"Rossi had not named the archive in his letters, and in our conversation he had called it only 'a little-known repository of materials, founded by Sultan Mehmed II.' His letter about his research in Istanbul added that it was attached to a seventeenth-century mosque. Beyond this, we knew that he'd been able to see the Hagia Sophia from a window there, that the archive had more than one floor, and that it had a door communicating directly with the street on the first floor. I had tried cautiously to find information on such an archive at the university library at home just before our departure, but without success. I wondered at Rossi's not giving the name of the archive in his letters; it wasn't like him to leave out that detail, but perhaps he hadn't wanted to remember it. I had all his papers with me in my briefcase, including his list of the documents he'd found there, with that strangely incomplete line at the end: 'Bibliography, Order of the Dragon.' Looking through an entire city, a maze of minarets and domes, for the source of that cryptic line in Rossi's handwriting was a daunting prospect, to say the least. "The only thing we could do was to turn our feet toward our one landmark, the Hagia Sophia, originally the great Byzantine Church of Saint Sophia. And once we drew near it, it was impossible for us not to enter. The gates were open and the huge sanctuary pulled us in among the other tourists as if we rode a wave into a cavern. For fourteen hundred years, I reflected, pilgrims had been drawn into it, just as we were now. Inside, I walked slowly to the center and craned my head back to see that vast, divine space with its famous whirling domes and arches, its celestial light pouring in, the round shields covered with Arabic calligraphy in the upper corners, mosque overlaying church, church overlaying the ruins of the ancient world. It arched far, far above us, replicating the Byzantine cosmos. I could hardly believe I was there. I was stunned by it.
"Looking back at that moment, I understand that I had lived in books so long, in my narrow university setting, that I had become compressed by them internally. Suddenly, in this echoing house of Byzantium - one of the wonders of history - my spirit leaped out of its confines. I knew in that instant that, whatever happened, I could never go back to my old constraints. I wanted to follow life upward, to expand with it outward, the way this enormous interior swelled upward and outward. My heart swelled with it, as it never had during all my wanderings among the Dutch merchants.
"I glanced at Helen and saw that she was equally moved, her head tipped back like mine so that her dark curls fell over the collar of her blouse, her usually guarded and cynical face full of a pale transcendence. I reached out, impulsively, and took her hand. She grasped mine hard, with that firm, almost bony grip I knew already from her handshake
. In another woman, this might have been a gesture of submission or coquetry, a romantic acquiescence; in Helen it was as simple and fierce a gesture as her gaze or the aloofness of her posture. After a moment she seemed to recall herself; she dropped my hand, but without embarrassment, and we wandered around the church together admiring the fine pulpit, the glinting Byzantine marble. It took me a mighty effort to remember that we could return to Hagia Sophia at any time during our stay in Istanbul, and that our first business in this city was to find the archive. Helen apparently had the same thought, for she moved toward the entrance when I did, and we made our way through the crowds and into the street again.
"'The archive could be quite far away,' she observed. 'Saint Sophia is so large that you could see it from almost any building in this part of the city, I think, or even on the other side of the Bosphorus.'
"'I know. We've got to find some other clue. The letters said that the archive was attached to a small mosque from the seventeenth century.'
"'The city is filled with mosques.' "'True.' I flipped through my hastily purchased guidebook. 'Let's start with this - the Great Mosque of the Sultans. Mehmed II and his court might have worshipped there sometimes - it was built in the late fifteenth century, and that would be a logical neighborhood for his library to end up in, don't you think?'
"Helen thought it was worth a try, and we set off on foot. Along the way, I dipped into the guidebook again. 'Listen to this. It says that Istanbul is a Byzantine word that meant the city. You see, even the Ottomans couldn't demolish Constantinople, only rename it - with a Byzantine name, at that. It says here that the Byzantine Empire lasted from 333 to 1453. Imagine - what a long, long afternoon of power.'
"Helen nodded. 'It is not possible to think about this part of the world without Byzantium,' she said gravely. 'And, you know, in Romania you see glimpses of it everywhere - in every church, in the frescoes, the monasteries, even in the people's faces, I think. In some ways, it is closer to your eyes there than it is here, with all of this Ottoman - sediment - on top.' Her face clouded. 'The conquest of Constantinople in 1453 by Mehmed II was one of the greatest tragedies in history. He broke down these walls with his cannonballs and then he sent his armies in to pillage and murder for three days. The soldiers raped young girls and boys on the altars of the churches, even in Saint Sophia. They stole the icons and all the other holy treasures to melt down the gold, and they threw the relics of the saints in the streets for the dogs to chew. Before that, this was the most beautiful city in history.' Her hand closed in a fist at her waist.
"I was silent. The city was still beautiful, with its delicate, rich colors and its exquisite domes and minarets, whatever atrocities had occurred here long ago. I was beginning to understand why an evil moment five hundred years ago was so real to Helen, but what did this really have to do with our lives in the present? It struck me suddenly that perhaps I had come a long way for nothing, to this magical place with this complicated woman, looking for an Englishman who might be on a bus trip to New York. I swallowed the thought and tried instead to tease her a little. 'How is it that you know so much about history? I thought you were an anthropologist.'
"'I am,' she said gravely. 'But you cannot study cultures without a knowledge of their history.'
"'Then why didn't you simply become a historian? You could still have studied culture, it seems to me.'
"'Perhaps.' She looked forbidding now, and would not meet my eye. 'But I wanted a field that my father had not already made his own.'
"The Great Mosque was still open in the golden evening light, to tourists as well as to the faithful. I tried my mediocre German on the guard at the entrance, an olive-skinned, curly headed boy - what had those Byzantines looked like? - but he said there was no library within, no archive, nothing of the sort, and he had never heard of one nearby. We asked if he had any suggestions.
"We could try the university, he mused. As for small mosques, there were hundreds of them.
"'It's too late to go to the university today,' Helen told me. She was studying the guidebook. 'Tomorrow we can visit there and ask someone for information about archives that date from Mehmed's time. I think that will be the most efficient way. Let's go see the old walls of Constantinople. We can walk to one section of them from here.'
"I followed her through the streets as she traced our way for us, the guidebook in her gloved hand, her small black purse over her arm. Bicycles darted past us, Ottoman robes mingled with Western dress, foreign cars and horse carts wove around one another. Everywhere I looked I saw men in dark vests and small crocheted caps, women in brightly printed blouses with ballooning trousers underneath, their heads wound in scarves. They carried shopping bags and baskets, cloth bundles, chickens in crates, bread, flowers. The streets were overflowing with life - as they had been, I thought, for sixteen hundred years. Along these streets the Roman Christian emperors had been carried by their entourages, flanked by priests, moving from palace to church to take the Holy Sacrament. They had been strong rulers, great patrons of the arts, engineers, theologians. And nasty, too, some of them - prone to cutting up their courtiers and blinding family members, in the tradition of Rome proper. This was where the original byzantine politics had played themselves out. Perhaps it wasn't such an odd place for a vampire or two, after all.
"Helen had stopped in front of a towering, partly ruined stone compound. Shops huddled at its base and fig trees dug their roots into its flank; a cloudless sky was fading to copper above the battlements. 'Look what remains of the walls of Constantinople,' she said quietly. 'You can see how enormous they were when they were intact. The book says the sea came to their feet in those days, so the emperor could embark by boat from the palace. And over there, that wall was part of the Hippodrome.'
"We stood gazing until I realized that I'd again forgotten Rossi for a whole ten minutes. 'Let's look for some dinner,' I said abruptly. 'It's already past seven and we'll need to turn in early tonight. I'm determined to find the archive tomorrow.' Helen nodded and we walked quite companionably back up through the heart of the old city.
"Near our pension we discovered a restaurant decorated inside with brass vases and fine tiles, with a table in the arched front window, an opening without glass where we could sit and watch people walking past on the street outside. As we waited for our dinner, I was struck for the first time by a phenomenon of this Eastern world that had escaped my notice until then: everyone who hurried by was not actually hurrying but simply walking along. What looked like a hurry here would have been a casual saunter on the sidewalks of New York or Washington. I pointed this out to Helen, and she laughed cynically. 'When there is not much money to be made, no one goes rushing around for it,' she said.
"The waiter brought us chunks of bread, a dish of smooth yogurt studded with slices of cucumber, and a strong fragrant tea in glass vases. We ate heartily after the fatigue of the day and had just moved on to roasted chicken on wooden skewers when a man with a silver mustache and a mane of silver hair, wearing a neat gray suit, entered the restaurant and glanced around. He settled at a table near us and put a book down by his plate. He ordered his meal in quiet Turkish, then seemed to take in our pleasure in our dinner and leaned toward us with a friendly smile. 'You like our native food, I see,' he said in accented but excellent English.
"'We certainly do,' I answered, surprised. 'It's excellent.'
"'Let me see,' he continued, turning a handsome, mild face on me. 'You are not from England. America?'
"'Yes,' I said. Helen was silent, cutting up her chicken and eyeing our companion warily.
"'Ah, yes. How very nice. You are sightseeing in our beautiful city?'
"'Yes, exactly,' I concurred, wishing Helen would at least look friendly; hostility might appear suspicious somehow."'Welcome to Istanbul,' he said with a very pleasant smile, raising his glass beaker to toast us. I returned the compliment and he beamed. 'Forgive the question from a stranger, but what do you love best here in your visit?'
"'Well, it would be hard to choose.' I liked his face; it was impossible not to answer him truthfully. 'I'm most struck by the feeling of East and West blending in one city.'
"'A wise observation, young man,' he said soberly, patting his mustache with a big white napkin. 'That blend is our treasure and our curse. I have colleagues who have spent a lifetime studying Istanbul, and they say they will never have time to explore all of it, although they are living here always. It is an amazing place.'
"'What is your profession?' I asked curiously, although I had the sense from Helen's stillness that she would step on my foot under the table in another minute.
"'I am a professor at Istanbul University,' he said in the same dignified tone.
"'Oh, how extremely lucky!' I exclaimed. 'We are - ' Just then Helen's foot came down on mine. She wore pumps, like every woman in that era, and the heel was rather sharp. 'We are very glad to meet you,' I finished. 'What do you teach?'
"'My speciality is Shakespeare,' said our new friend, helping himself carefully to the salad in front of him. 'I teach English literature to the most advanced of our graduate students. They are valiant students, I must tell you.'
"'How wonderful,' I managed to say. 'I am a graduate student myself, but in history, in the United States.'
"'A very fine field,' he said gravely. 'You will find much to interest you in Istanbul. What is the name of your university?'"I told him, while Helen sawed grimly away at her dinner."'An excellent university. I have heard of it,' observed the professor. He sipped from his vase and tapped the book by his plate. 'I say!' he exclaimed finally. 'Why don't you come to see our university while you are in Istanbul? It is a venerable institution also, and I would be pleased to show you and your lovely wife around.'
"I registered a faint snort from Helen and hurried to cover for her. 'My sister - my sister.'
"'Oh, I beg your pardon.' The Shakespeare scholar bowed to Helen over the table. 'I am Dr. Turgut Bora, at your service.' We introduced ourselves - or I introduced us, because Helen kept obstinately silent. I could tell she didn't like my using my real name, so I quickly gave hers as Smith, a piece of dull-wittedness that drew an even deeper frown from her. We shook hands all around, and there was nothing for us to do but to invite him to join us at our table.
"He protested politely, but only for a moment, and then sat down with us, bringing along his salad and his glass vase, which he immediately raised on high. 'A toast to you and welcome to our fair city,' he intoned. 'Cheerio!' Even Helen smiled slightly, although she still said nothing. 'You must forgive my lack of discretion,' Turgut told her apologetically, as if sensing her wariness. 'It is very rare that I have the opportunity to practice my English with native speakers.' He had not yet noticed that she wasn't a native speaker - although he might never notice that in Helen, I thought, because she might never utter a word to him.
"'How did you come to specialize in Shakespeare?' I asked him as we began to eat our dinners again. "'Ah!' Turgut said softly. 'That is a strange story. My mother was a very unusual woman - brilliant - a great lover of languages, as well as a diminutive engineer' - Distinguished? I wondered - 'and she studied at the University of Rome, where she met my father. He, the delectable man, was a scholar of the Italian Renaissance, with a particular lust for - '
"At this very interesting point, we were suddenly interrupted by the appearance of a young woman peering in the arched window from the street. Although I'd never seen one, except in pictures, I took her for a Gypsy; she was dark skinned and sharp featured, dressed in tatty bright colors, black hair raggedly cut around penetrating dark eyes. She could have been fifteen or forty; it was impossible to read age on her thin face. In her arms she carried bunches of red and yellow flowers, which she apparently wanted us to buy. She thrust some of them at me over the table and began a shrill chant I couldn't understand. Helen looked disgusted and Turgut annoyed, but the woman was insistent. I was just getting out my wallet with the idea of presenting Helen - in jest, of course - with a Turkish bouquet, when the Gypsy suddenly wheeled on her, pointing and hissing. Turgut started and Helen, usually fearless, shrank back.
"This seemed to bring Turgut to life; he half stood and with a scowl of indignation began to berate the Gypsy. It was not difficult to understand his tone and gestures, which invited her in no uncertain terms to take herself off. She glared at all of us and withdrew as suddenly as she'd appeared, vanishing among the other pedestrians. Turgut sat down again, looking wide-eyed at Helen, and after a moment he rummaged in his jacket pocket and drew out a small object, which he placed next to her plate. It was a flat blue stone about an inch long, set with white and paler blue, like a crude eye. Helen blanched when she saw it and reached as if by instinct to touch it with her forefinger.
"'What on earth is going on here?' I couldn't help feeling the fretfulness of the culturally excluded.
"'What did she say?' Helen spoke to Turgut for the first time. 'Was she speaking Turkish or the Gypsy language? I could not understand her.'
Our new friend hesitated, as if he did not want to repeat the woman's words.
'Turkish,' he murmured. 'Maybe it is not the better part of valor that I tell you. It is very rude what she said. And strange.' He was looking at Helen with interest but also with something like a flicker of fear, I thought, in his genial eyes. 'She used a word I will not translate,' he explained slowly. 'And then she said, "Get out of here, Romanian daughter of wolves. You and your friend bring the curse of the vampire to our city."'
"Helen was white to the lips, and I fought the impulse to take her hand. 'It's a coincidence,' I told her soothingly, at which she glared; I was saying too much in front of the professor.
"Turgut looked from me to Helen and back. 'This is very odd indeed, gentle companions,' he said. 'I think we must talk further without ado.'"
I had almost dozed in my train seat, despite the extreme interest my father's story held for me; reading all this the first time, during the night, had kept me up late, and I was weary. A feeling of unreality settled over me in the sunny compartment, and I turned to look out the window at the orderly Dutch farmlands slipping by. As we approached and departed from each town, the train clicked past a series of small vegetable gardens, growing green again under a cloudy sky, the rear gardens of thousands of people minding their own business, the backs of their houses turned toward the railway. The fields were wonderfully green, a green that begins, in Holland, in early spring and lasts almost until the snow falls again, fed by the moisture of air and land and by the water that glints in every direction you look. We had already left behind a broad region of canals and bridges and were out among cows in their neatly delineated pastures. A dignified old couple on bicycles rolled along on a road next to us, swallowed the next minute by more pastures. Soon we'd be in Belgium, which I knew from experience one could miss entirely on this trip in the course of a short nap.
I held the letters in my lap tightly, but my eyelids were beginning to droop. The pleasant-faced woman in the seat opposite was already dozing off, magazine in hand. My eyes had closed for just a second when the door to our compartment flew open. An exasperated voice broke in and a lanky figure inserted itself between me and my daydream. "Well, of all the nerve! I thought so. I've been searching every carriage for you." It was Barley, mopping his forehead and scowling at me.