By Richard Carter
Excerpt from Young Adult Novel
Chapter One: “Sans Peur”
Pendarvis was an unlikely hero. To begin, there was his name: Arthur Pendarvis, Jr. Why didn’t adults realize it’s dumb for two people to have the same name in one family? One of them always gets called something else, and it’s never the adult. Why not give the child his own name in the first place?
He could have been Lancelot Pendarvis, or T. Rex Pendarvis, but no. He was Arthur Jr., which meant he would never be called Arthur, a noble name, like King Arthur. His Great Aunt Malkin had even hinted that King Arthur might be a distant relation.
Pendarvis despised being called “Art,” or worse, “Artie.” He had been known to punch grown men in their fat stomachs when they said, “Hi, Artie!” Boof! His two year-old fist jiggled their bellies. So when at age five, other children began calling him “Pendarvis,” and he didn’t punch anyone, his parents began to call him Pendarvis too. Eventually, he let people call him “Pen.”
“By Ap, Tre, Con and Pen, you know the Cornishmen.” This was the phrase Aunt Malkin recited to Pen more or less from the day he was born. It meant that anyone whose last name began with these letters was descended from the people of Cornwall. Pen-Darvis. Tre-lawney: these names told you where you came from.
Aunt Malkin was the family historian. It was she who inspired in Pen the feeling that he might somehow be related to King Arthur. At the very least, some ancient Pendarvis was likely to have lived in the part of Britain known as Cornwall in the days when King Arthur was said to have lived there.
Such thoughts often swirled through the head of young Pen, and when he daydreamed, he imagined a green hill with a white tent; he saw thick, soft sheepskins on the floor, and a stone fire pit in the middle, with smoke rising from red embers, escaping through a hole in the top. He had visions of damsels – young maidens – who would bring him food and drink. He knew they served a Lady – perhaps even a princess – who would one day reveal herself to him.
In the meantime there was reality to face, which included his brother, Quentin. Barely four when Pendarvis was born, Quentin seemed to know instinctively that Pen was different, that there was no hope of competing with him, and so he turned to mischief. From Pen’s perspective, Quentin was perpetually trying to kill him.
He would sit on Pen’s chest until Pen turned blue. He would lock Pen in the windowless basement and put out the lights. He learned that he could distinguish himself by being contrary, and in particular by trying to snuff the life out of young Arthur Pendarvis, Jr.
It was in these moments, alone with terror, that Pendarvis imagined he saw the face of the Lady. He almost thought he could hear her, speaking to him softly in a language he didn’t understand.
Then something would rouse itself deep within him; he would find courage he didn’t know he possessed. He would descend steep stairs into the darkened basement, and grope for a key he knew was hidden there. Or with his last breath, he would slug the gloating Quentin astride his chest – slug him someplace vulnerable – gaining his release. He knew, deep down, he must survive.
By the time Pendarvis was six, he had the reddish curls and round cheeks which prompted older women to pinch his face and call him a “cherub,” and sometimes inspired rude boys to cry out, “Fairy!”
“A cherub,” sniffed Great Aunt Malkin, “is a little boy with wings, who exists only in works of art. Faeries, if they still exist, live in the woods and fields and lakes, which you do not. Have I ever lied to you, Arthur?” She was the only person who called him Arthur.
“No, Aunt Malkin.”
“Well, then. Don’t give those foolish names a second thought. Let’s have some tea.”
This was good enough for Pen. He had a sense of what he was, and what he was not. He understood, on some level, that he would have to be patient to find his place in the universe.
When Great Aunt Malkin came for the last time, she was ninety-two and Pen was eleven. On a warm spring afternoon they sat in the garden beside the house, which had been built by Aunt Malkin’s father. They drank iced tea with lemon and mint. The azaleas were in bloom. Aunt Malkin planted them with her father more than eighty years before.
Pen and Great Aunt Malkin sipped in silence for a long time. Finally Aunt Malkin said suddenly, “We all want the same things, Arthur: love, dignity . . . more than we want money; even more than freedom. Love and dignity.”
“What’s dignity?” asked Pen.
“The feeling that we have value,” she answered. “That we are worthy.” After another silence she went on: “Do you feel worthy?”
“Sometimes,” he replied.
“You must try to feel worthy all the time. Then you will be worthy. I’m going to give you something to help you.”
The old woman raised her withered arms and lifted a fine leather cord from around her neck. At the end of the cord was a medallion, with an image that looked like a star. Pen had always known it. He could remember it hanging from her neck when he was still in his crib.
“This has always been in your family,” she said, setting it in his pink palm. He couldn’t help but notice her gnarled hands: they resembled the branches of the old azalea.
“Should I give this to my parents to keep for me?” he asked.
“No,” said Aunt Malkin. “That’s not necessary.”
Pendarvis turned it over, and saw that there was writing on the other side: two words he didn’t understand, spelled S-A-N-S and P-E-U-R. Aunt Malkin pronounced it “sawh purr,” letting the R float in the air for a long time. “That’s French,” she said. It means “without fear.”
She closed his hand around the medallion, and closed her hands around his. Then she let her eyes drift, as she breathed in the fragrances of the garden, and smiled.
Not long afterward, Great Aunt Malkin suffered a stroke and was confined to a nursing home. To those who had known her, it seemed a cruel end to a majestic woman. She was no longer the person Pen would remember from the garden. She stared into space, and she drooled. One whole side of her body was useless. Very soon no one had the heart to go see her.
But Pendarvis would go. He rode his bike three miles to the nursing home, and when he got there he would remind the caregivers that Aunt Malkin required only two things: love and dignity.
They would smile indulgently, and some would muss his curly hair. They’d remind him not to expect Aunt Malkin to respond. She didn’t recognize anyone, they said, and she couldn’t be understood when she tried to speak.
But when Pendarvis came within sight of the old woman, she recognized him from across the room, and though it was an effort for her to speak, she did. She would wait until he was very close, and then whisper into his ear, “Sans peur. Sans peur.”
Chapter Two: Good Friends
The events which were to shape Pen’s life were now close at hand. They began when his parents decided to send him to sleep-away camp. Quentin was devising ever more devious ways to torture him, like the time he lured Pen onto the roof to suntan, then left him out there with the windows locked.
Pen turned the color of cooked lobster before a neighbor heard him screaming and called the police. His parents, normally oblivious, took notice when they were called to the Emergency Room. He was slathered in aloe and could barely move. They decided some time apart would do the boys good.
Quentin was sent to Destiny Ranch for Troubled Teens, a fate he richly deserved. It would have been comforting to think this experience broadened his outlook but with every stall he mucked, with each survival hike he survived, one thought occupied his mind: revenge
Pen, meanwhile, was packing his duffle bag for International Camp, owned and operated for three generations by the Tibbals family, on an island near the Canadian border. “Where two nations meet and other nations gather,” said Mrs. Pendarvis, reading the brochure. “That sounds nice.”
“Do I have to go?” asked Pen for the umpteenth time.
“Yes,” said his mother. “Your father and I will be in Europe.”
“I could come with you,” he urged. “We could go to Cornwall.”
“No, dear. We’re not going to Great Britain. The food there is awful.”
“Probably better than at camp,” said Pen.
“Try to keep an open mind,” said his mother, packing the last of his underwear. “Jenny McCloskey’s mother recommended this camp. I don’t think she’d send Jenny where the food wasn’t good.”
“Is Jenny going?” Enthusiasm crept into his voice in spite of himself.
“Yes, Pen,” sighed his mother. She zipped the duffle and left Pendarvis to contemplate this new piece of information.
Jenny McCloskey was one of the few kids at school he really liked. She wasn’t a friend exactly – his only real friend was Andy Freeman – but Jenny had been nice to him from the day she first arrived. She had moved to Portland, Oregon from Detroit the year before.
Jenny was one of those girls whose beauty, adults would say, lay on the inside. It was true that her nose turned up and her eyes were slightly askew. Her skin was dark, with freckles, but her features weren’t exactly African American. She had been taken for Jewish, Italian, Arab, Gypsy, and Navajo. She didn’t mind.
Jenny would wear mismatched clothing to school which, she was told, offended the dress code. She would grin and say she had put on whatever was on the floor that morning. After lunch she would belch loudly, and she didn’t stifle her farts in class. She’d say, “Excuse me,” without being embarrassed, and never laughed when someone else let one slip.
When Jenny McCloskey did laugh, everyone knew it. She snorted, she said, because she was part pig. As proof, she would pull down the top of her shirt far enough to reveal the large, vertical scar on her chest. This invariably provoked a gasp from Mrs. Zalutsky, the fifth grade teacher: “Jenny!”
“I’m proving I’m part pig,” Jenny would say. “See? That’s where they cut me open and put in part of a pig’s heart.” She had had surgery to replace a bad valve in her heart. The new valve came from a pig. “I think his name was Wilbur,” she’d say, eyeing the copy of Charlotte’s Web in Mrs. Zalutsky’s hand.
“Jenny!” the teacher would gasp again, and Jenny would laugh and snort.
These images raced through Pen’s head as he considered his current fate. If Jenny McCloskey was going to camp, he might survive.
When the fateful morning came, families gathered in the school parking lot to await the chartered bus that would drive the children four and a half hours to the Canadian border. From there, it was another half hour by ferry to the island where International Camp was located.
As the assembled camper families waited, some children literally jumped with excitement; others held their stomachs. Parents made last-minute adjustments to luggage, some nervously rechecking the official checklist of what to bring.
Pendarvis was hugely relieved when he saw Andy Freeman’s car drive up. He had told Andy he was being sent to camp, and Andy in turn had asked his own parents if he could go too. He was that kind of friend. There was a waiting list to enroll, and space had only just opened up for Andy.
Pen and Andy were friends since preschool. Andy was much more outgoing and more athletic but he was smaller than Pen, and not as good in school. Together they made one relatively confident person. They had a lot in common but above all they had Plastic Baseball, a game Andy had invented in his back yard.
Every weekend in spring, Andy and Pen could be found on “Freeman Field.” The beauty of Plastic Baseball was that it required only two players – one on the pitcher’s mound, the other at the plate – each embodying an entire team. Pen didn’t know much about baseball but he knew enough to choose the Yankees as his team. Andy was only too happy to try to clobber them, week after week. His favorite team was the Red Sox.
Freeman Field had a short fence in left, where home runs were easy. Right field was tricky because there was a tree, which knocked down fly balls. Anything off the house, in center, was a ground-rule double. Andy’s mother would squawk whenever a ball hit the window but the worst that could happen was it would leave dirty spots on the glass.
Another mother would have patented plastic baseball but Mrs. Freeman would one day clean her windows and sit drinking martinis as the landscapers obliterated Freeman Field. Today, however, was not that day.
Today Andy was arriving in the parking lot, his cowlick sticking straight up off his head, baseball glove firmly attached to his hand. His parents were squabbling in the front seat as usual, when Andy leapt from the car.
“Hey, Pen!” he called out.
They met on the sidewalk. “Did you bring bug spray?” Andy asked eagerly. “My mom says there’s all kinds of bugs at camp. You can get diseases from them.”
“I don’t think you’re supposed to kill the bugs at camp,” said Pen. “They tell you to bring insect repellant.”
“You can spray them,” Andy continued. “With a match, you can light them on fire.”
“I don’t think you’re supposed to bring matches either, “ grimaced Pen.
Someone tapped him on the shoulder. When he turned, no one was there. Immediately he heard a familiar laugh, ending in a snort. He turned the other way and said, “Hi, Jenny.”
“Hi guys!” Jenny grinned from under a Detroit Tigers baseball cap. Her navy blue sweatshirt was emblazoned with the International Camps logo: two hands meeting, inside a world globe. “You’re going to love camp,” she beamed. “The food is so good!”
Pen’s heart lightened as Jenny jabbered away about the activities at camp, like kayaking and archery. She spoke of places with intriguing names like Octopus Cove and Sea Parrot Bluff. Very soon it was time to board the bus.
Two counselors wearing shirts like Jenny’s stood by the door, checking everyone’s names. The first was a tall young man with wild blond curls. Pen heard him say his name was Fred. The other was a dark-haired young woman with freckles and a funny accent.
“Bonjour,” she said. “My name is Giselle. And oo are you?”
“Pendarvis,” said Pen.
She scanned the list. “Ar-tur?” she asked.
“Yes,” he answered, “but nobody calls me that.”
“What do they call you?”
Giselle raised one eyebrow: “Eets an unusual name. A little ard for me to pronounce because I’m French. Eez it ok if I call you Ar-tur?”
“Ok,” said Pen. His mind was working: when Great Aunt Malkin gave him the medallion she had said the motto was in French. Suddenly he blurted out, “Do you know what ‘sawh purr’ means?” He pronounced it exactly as Aunt Malkin had.
“Bien sûr,” replied Giselle, her face lighting up. Tu parles français?”
Pen’s face went blank. He didn’t understand these words.
“Do you speak French?” she asked in English.
“No,” said Pen.
“Then ow do you know this, ‘sans peur?’ Eet means ‘without fear.’”
“I know,” said Pen. He pulled on the cord around his neck, producing the medallion from under his shirt.
“Oh-la-la,” exclaimed Giselle. “I think eets very old. Per-aps you should leave it eer, with your mom and dad.”
“That’s not necessary,” said Pen.
Giselle gave the boy a puzzled look. “Ok, Ar-tur. But during the swim test, you let me old it for you, ok?”
“Ok,” said Pen. Something in her manner made him trust her immediately.
“Ok,” repeated Giselle. “I think you and I are going to be bons amis. Do you know what that means?”
Pen shook his head.
“Eet means good friends.”
Chapter Three: Sense Memory
Everyone had gotten up early to meet the bus, so after the initial adrenaline rush of excitement, most of the thirty-five kids on board the bus fell asleep, including Andy and Pen.
Giselle and Fred were tired too. After a week of staff training at camp, they had flown to Portland the day before, then stayed up late with friends of Fred, who attended college there. Now they dozed in the front of the bus, until the driver pulled into the pre-arranged rest stop for a break.
Pendarvis awoke with the slowing of the bus and nudged Andy. As if on cue, all the other campers started chattering and poking each other. Soon everyone tumbled out of the bus and onto the grass for a picnic. The weather was perfect.
Fred, with his wild hair and beat-up guitar, was a kid magnet. A dozen returning campers immediately gathered around him, begging him to sing familiar songs. He tried to teach the lyrics to new campers, between bites of his own peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Fred could even improvise songs, and made up a hilarious one about peanut butter sticking to the roof of his mouth.
Giselle was very “spor-teef.” She organized an impromptu soccer game, which she called “football” because, “in Europe when you play ball with your feet, eet’s called football. I don’t understand American football.”
There was a pleasant breeze, and something different in the air: a fresh, briney smell. It was the smell of the sea. They had traveled far enough north to reach the Puget Sound, a long inlet from the ocean which thrusts itself nearly halfway through Washington State. The scent roused something in Pen. He closed his eyes and lay back on the grass, drifting into a vision of the white tent on the green hill.
“The sea!” he said to himself, sitting up suddenly.
“Holy sha-moley!” exclaimed Jenny McCloskey, standing right behind him. “How did you do that?”
“Do what?” asked Pen, startled to find her there.
“How did you know to sit up just before I was going to sprinkle these on you?” She held a handful of dandelions, poised to rain down on his face. “It was like you knew I was there.”
“I didn’t,” said Pen.
Jenny cocked her head to one side. “Why did you call out about the sea?”
Pen was embarrassed. He’d never been caught in the midst of his daydream before.
Jenny added, “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”
Pen looked up at her. Something about her goofy looks was so sincere.
“It’s no big deal,” he said. “Sometimes I imagine I see this place. The same place, over and over. I never realized before, it’s near the sea.”
“Sense memory,” said Jenny, sitting down beside him. “I love it when that happens.”
“What’s sense memory?”
“We learned about it in theater class. It’s when you may not remember something, but your body does. A sound, a smell; taste, touch. It’s cool.”
“I smelled the sea,” said Pen.
“That’s why you remembered the other place.”
“But I’ve never been there,” he replied. “It’s just a place I see in my mind.”
“Maybe your body remembers,” said Jenny. “Maybe there’s a reason you see it,”
The bus engine roared to life and Giselle went around collecting stray campers, while Fred once more checked off their names as they boarded.
“Ar-tur!” she called out. “Jenny! Allon-zee. Let’s go!”
“Ar-tur?” echoed Jenny..
Pen let an elfish grin cross his face. “I guess that’s my name in French.”
They both stood up and brushed the grass from their butts, then headed for the bus.
On board, the noise level was prodigious. Recharged with food, the boys and girls now talked and squirmed and threw things at each other. Fred tried to lead more songs, but this rapidly degenerated into a chorus of “Ninety-nine Bottles Of Beer On The Wall.” A few determined souls sang to the last bottle.
The bus passed through Seattle and continued north. In another hour the broad plain of the Skagit Valley spread out before them. Fred called out over the bus microphone, “Only half an hour to the ferry!” Everybody cheered.
At the ferry landing, two more buses were already in line: one with campers from near Seattle, and another with everyone who had flown into the airport. An enormous white and green ferry, three levels high, with gaping mouths at both ends, soon swallowed the buses and a hundred cars besides. The door of Pen’s bus opened like a vacuum-sealed can, and a burst of salt air rushed in. Fred spoke into the microphone.
“Ok, everyone. We’re going to get off single file and go upstairs. If you need to go to the bathroom, just ask, but the vending machines are off limits.”
A chorus of groans greeted this news. Fred continued: “For the next four weeks you can say goodbye to junk food, television, and computers. Welcome to camp!”
A huge cheer erupted, and thirty-five eager young bodies flowed out of the bus like a stream of toothpaste, continuing on up the stairs and onto the upper deck. As the wind hit their faces, it blew their hair every which way.
Pen couldn’t help but smile now, even though he was nervous. There was something about this air. It was so fresh. It seemed to awaken a place inside him that had been asleep his whole life. The sun was sparkling on the water, dancing on the tips of each wave, forming a sea of stars. He had never seen anything so beautiful.
The ferry slipped out of the dock and another, bigger cheer flew up from the camp contingent. The huge propellers beneath the boat started to churn. The car deck below began to rattle rhythmically, like a great steel drum.
Arthur Pendarvis, Jr. sat down in a circle of twelve boys and two counselors, to make introductions and learn about the new world which lay ahead, on an island in the sun-dappled sea. For the first time in his life, he felt as if he were coming home.
Chapter Four: Arrivals
To arrive by ferry at Chauncey’s Island for the first time has a singular, startling effect, because the ferry landing is operated by nuns. One has the sense of docking at the gates of Heaven. The campers and staff had assembled on the car deck to walk off, because the hill ahead was considered too steep for loaded buses.
“Uh-oh,” said Andy Freeman when he saw one of the brown-clad sisters walking down the roadway toward the approaching ferry.
“What’s wrong?” asked Pen.
“I don’t think my parents knew this was a Catholic camp. We’re Jewish.”
A counselor, who went by the nickname of Zeek, laid a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “They don’t run the camp,” he smiled, “just the ferry landing.” He waved to the approaching nun. “That’s Sister Monica.” She smiled and waved back.
The gray-haired sister pushed a button on a panel, then pulled on a large lever. The entire roadway upon which she stood began to lower toward the car deck. The forward propellers of the ferry churned in reverse, making the water bubble and swirl. The huge vessel slowed to a crawl, then nestled itself between two creaking walls of pilings, as the roadway descended to meet it.
Sister Monica pushed the lever back into place, then pushed another button, and the metal ramp at the end of the roadway swung down onto the car deck.
“Perfect landing,” said Zeek. He turned to his campers. “Sometimes the boat loses power and smashes those pilings like matchsticks.” Andy’s eyes grew wide. “I mean, like, once,” Zeek added quickly. “And not here. On another island. It was a long time ago.”
Too late. Andy’s face had gone pale. Between the image of the splintering dock and the thought of his battered Jewish body being picked up by nuns, he was having second thoughts about going to camp. “Can I call my parents?” he asked.
“Uh, not right this second,” said Zeek, his mind churning. What was it they’d taught him in staff training? To avoid homesickness, keep the campers busy. He eyed Andy’s glove. “How about in a little while. After you and I play catch.”
“You like baseball?” Andy perked up instantly.
“Sure,” smiled Zeek.
“Who’s your favorite team?”
Zeek knew almost nothing about baseball, but the smile never left his lips. “The, uh . . . Yankees!”
“Hey, Pen, he’s a Yankees fan!” Andy nudged Pendarvis, then started a chorus of, “Yan-kees suck! Yan-kees suck!” Several other boys joined in, and Andy immediately found two new friends. His homesickness evaporated before the ferry was tied to the dock.
Zeek sighed to himself, his confidence returning. He had handled his first crisis.
“Let’s go, boys,” he called out. He and Fred led Pen, Andy, and the other ten boys off the ferry and up the hill to re-board the buses. The entire camp population streamed off the boat, filling the roadway.
As Giselle passed Sister Monica, the nun greeted her: “Bonjour, Giselle! They’re always so clean when they arrive.”
“Yes,” said Giselle, “but not when they leave!” She was swept on by the current of bodies pushing forward.
Now the long journey was almost over. Another fifteen minute ride would bring them to the gates of International Camp.
Chauncey’s Island was roughly the same size as Manhattan, but instead of skyscrapers and millions of people, it boasted one tiny village and a resident population of about fifteen hundred. There were more sheep and cows than people.
The main road went down the center of the island, through dense stands of evergreens and open farmland. This time of year the hay fields had just been cut, and the landscape was dotted with large, rolled bales. To Pen, it looked like a place out of the past. If he hadn’t seen cars and the occasional satellite dish, he would have thought he had spent the day traveling through time.
The buses rolled down one last hill, rounded a bend, and there they were: sign at the end of a narrow causeway proclaimed, “Tibbals International Camp.” Across the causeway lay the camp property, on a peninsula. It was virtually its own island. They crossed over and came to a gate where a dozen different flags fluttered in the breeze.
Something about this image was familiar to Pen. He could hear Jenny’s words: “Sense memory.” His eyes sent the image to his brain, and for an instant he thought he saw another place, with flags he didn’t recognize. They had strange creatures on them. He felt as if he should know what they were.
“We fly flags here for all the countries campers and staff come from,” Zeek interrupted his daydream. Pen tried to hold onto the vision, but it was gone as quickly as it had come.
Beyond the gate was a parking area under the trees. The buses came to a stop and once more released their vacuum-sealed contents. This time Pen noticed the scent of fir trees. Their needles were all over the ground. The air was damp and cool. It was delicious.
The luggage was unloaded by a human chain of counselors, efficiently reading nametags and sorting the bags. Experienced campers knew the routine and watched patiently, as if standing at an airport baggage carousel. They talked excitedly. Girls squealed, and ran to hug friends they hadn’t seen since last summer.
New campers like Pen and Andy, who knew only each other, stood close together, watching this play unfold. Some new kids had already made friends with returning campers, who were only too happy to explain everything to them. A couple of children stood forlorn at the edges. One, a little boy named Damien, without even his suitcase to hold onto, quietly wept.
Giselle spotted him, sat down beside him and began talking in that musical accent. Pen couldn’t hear the words, but before long the boy was laughing.
At the center of this organized chaos was a great bear of a man, lifting duffle bags as if they were filled with cotton candy. This was Maurice Tibbals, one of the camp’s directors. In these woods, swinging his great limbs to and fro, Maurice was poetry in motion. Put him behind a desk and he suddenly looked too big, as if he would break everything he touched. Here he was in his element, tossing bags one-handed which took two counselors to catch.
Near him, elevated on a stump, stood a small, alert woman with short, salt and pepper-colored hair. “The brains of the operation,” Maurice liked to say.
This was the other director, his wife of twenty-seven years, Lottie Tibbals. She held a clipboard, and her sharp eyes darted across the scene: here a misplaced piece of luggage, there a camper wandering off into the woods. She took in every piece of information, processed it, and issued a response.
“Maurice, that suitcase has a red tag. It goes to the girls’ side, not the boys. Fred! Go catch that boy running up the trail. Giselle, what happened to the one you were with? Is he with his counselor? Good.” A young girl tugged at her leg. “Hello, Rita, welcome back. Did you have a good year? How’s your mother?”
It was said that Lottie could sit at a table full of campers, ask one her first name, then rattle off not only the camper’s last name, but those of her parents, her siblings, even her dog. On a good day, she could say where the camper came from, the school she attended, and how many years she’d been coming to camp. She was likely to know if the camper had a birthday to be celebrated at camp, with whom she lived – mom, dad, both, or neither – and any special needs, such as asthma medication.
Lottie and Maurice were everyone’s summer parents, and they fit the mythology of what most young people imagined parents should be: a couple who had lived together for a long time, who knew each other so well that they completed each other’s sentences. They were famous for speaking in unfinished phrases that no one else could follow. In the evenings, when they walked around the camp property, they could be seen holding hands. It was easy to aspire to grow up to be like Maurice and Lottie.
Still, it was a given at International Camp that people came from different backgrounds, and it was instilled in the staff that families existed in an infinite variety of shapes and sizes.
Pendarvis knew none of this as he stood with Andy under the canopy of evergreens. He did have a sense that the staff here was friendly; that they were somehow different from the adults he knew at home. It was all a bit overwhelming. Time seemed to have accelerated.
Was it really just this morning he had left home, or was it days ago? Was he still living in the same century? The journey down the island had made him wonder. And there was something else: when the luggage was distributed and the crowd of campers and staff began to disperse, their voices rang through the woods and over plateaus, long after they were out of sight. It was almost as if the land itself had life.
Yes. That was it: something intangible had been slumbering in this place. It was awake now.
Chapter Five: Knights of the Round Table
International Camp was divided into two sides: boys and girls. When it was founded, nearly a century before, it had been for girls only. One lasting result was that the girls’ groups continued to occupy the premier campsites, above a beach and surrounding a cove, which was sheltered from the prevailing wind.
The boys, on the other hand, had to scramble over rocky outcroppings or descend through the forest to reach their groupings of wood-framed tents. The view from the boys’ side was tremendous, across open water all the way to the Olympic Mountains, but the wind came up every afternoon and it could raise goose bumps, even in July.
Pen and Andy were given a tent with two returning campers: Jack Duryee, who was from Los Angeles, and Miguel Montoya, who came all the way from Spain.
Miguel was of Moorish descent, and strikingly good looking. His parents had read about International Camp in a magazine and thought it sounded perfect for Miguel, who they predicted would one day be an ambassador. Everything about Miguel was impeccable, including his English, which he spoke with a slight British accent. He was also fluent in French and German.
Jack was fluent in Hollywood. He had a thousand tales to tell about celebrity children he supposedly knew. That he and Miguel were friends was one of the miracles of camp; in the “real world” they would have appeared to have little in common. Jack was boisterous and crude, Miguel polite and reserved. Miguel was a neat-nik, Jack a slob.
Only in personal grooming did their worlds collide. Before the weekly camp dances, while some boys had to be coaxed into the showers, Jack and Miguel could be found before the mirror, already washed, applying gel and cologne. They argued over who would be the first to have facial hair.
On arrival day they had hit the showers almost as soon as they moved in. They planned to make an impression on the girls at dinner.
“Did you see Alicia Rogers?” said Miguel, running a comb through his hair.
“You mean that she has boobs now?” smiled Jack.
Miguel frowned. “I meant her haircut.” Miguel had an old-world sense of propriety, which was easily offended.
“Ok,” Jack relented. “Don’t go all Spanish on me.”
“Come to Spain and we’ll teach you how to treat a lady,” said Miguel.
“Come to L.A. and we’ll teach you about cosmetic surgery,” replied Jack, squeezing a pimple on his neck.
Miguel winced: “You are so gross.”
Pen and Andy came up to the shower house to put their toothbrushes, soap and shampoo into one of the cubbies on the wall. All four boys had met on the ferry but didn’t remember each other’s names. Miguel took the lead.
“Bienvenido,” he said. “I’m Miguel. I’m from Spain.”
“I’m Jack,” added Jack, still at the mirror. “Hang on, I’ve got a zit.” He popped it, then came over, extending his hand.
“Jack!” cried Miguel.
“Oh, yeah.” Jack wiped off his hands on his pants.
“Don’t mind him,” said Miguel. “He’s from L.A.”
Andy’s eyes lit up. “You like the Dodgers?”
“The Dodgers rock,” said Jack, offering a high five.
“What’s your name again?” Miguel asked Pendarvis.
“You can call him Pen,” said Andy.
It turned out that the boys were all assigned to the same tent. When they went back together, Jack’s stuff was on the floor so Andy threw his down likewise. Pen gravitated toward Miguel’s highly organized side: sleeping bag neatly rolled out, shoes in a row under his bed. A line was established down the center of the tent and christened “the Great Divide.”
It was agreed that Andy and Jack could live however they wanted on their side, except for Inspection each morning, when they had to clean up. Miguel also warned everyone not to bring any food into the tent because it would attract raccoons.
“Cool!” said Andy.
“Not when they’re in your tent at 3am,” warned Miguel. “They’re not afraid of anything.”
“And their eyes reflect in your flashlight beam,” added Jack. “It’s creepy. Last year I thought it was Johnny, come to get us.”
“Who’s Johnny?” asked Andy.
“The camp ghost,” said Jack. Andy got that look on his face, like he wanted to call home again.
“Don’t worry,” smiled Miguel. “It’s just a story. But the raccoons are real. You don’t want to mess with them.”
A bell rang in the distance.
“Time for flag,” said Miguel. The other boys followed him out of the tent and up the trail to the camp gate, or Gateway of Nations, as it was called. It was a tradition at International Camp to raise flags for all the represented nations each morning, and to lower them before dinner. Each group of campers would take turns doing this, along with other camp chores such as setting the tables in the dining hall.
This evening they gathered at the Gateway for the first time: six groups of girls and six of boys, each with a counselor or two. Most of them were already wearing the camp sweatshirt they’d been given on arrival. This was always an exciting moment, especially for Maurice and Lottie, who had worked all year to make it happen. It signified that camp had really begun.
The flags were all lowered at the same time, except for the American flag, which came last. Today the oldest boys did the honors. One of them, Pete Stewart, from Canada, explained that everyone had to be quiet while the flags came down, and were folded.
“It’s a camp tradition,” he told them, and he said it with such quiet authority that no one questioned him or made fun. They all sang, “Oh, beautiful for spacious skies,” as the American flag was lowered. Pete held up a large copy of the words, which reinforced the notion that not everyone here was from the States.
Overhead, the skies were certainly spacious. In the distance Pen saw the “purple mountain majesties” of the Olympic Range. He had the same nagging feeling he’d had ever since first smelling the salt air: that he’d been somewhere like this before.
After flag, everyone headed down the trail from the Gateway of Nations toward a combined dining hall and office complex known as the Lodge. It was a long, low building, nestled into a rocky hillside overlooking the bay. It was open-air, with a wide deck on the water side.
A huge stone fireplace was built into the hillside wall, near the center. Rows of handcrafted wood tables lined the interior. There was an ancient grand piano at one end, near the office door, and at the opposite end, elaborately carved doors marked “In” and “Out.” These allowed access to a walkway through the kitchen, where the food would be set out on the u-shaped counter.
The Lodge looked much as it did when Maurice’s grandparents founded the camp, right after the First World War. Maurice was the third generation of Tibbals family to be the camp’s director. His mother, Grace, still lived at the camp.
Grace was eighty now, and when Pendarvis saw her, she reminded him of his Great Aunt Malkin. Not physically – she was much rounder and softer – but her presence was equally arresting.
She saw Pendarvis, too. Her eyes widened and her lips parted for an instant. Or was that his imagination, Pen wondered. As quickly as he looked at her, she looked away, and carried on as if nothing had happened.
“You look very pen-seef, Ar-tur,” said Giselle, laying a hand on his shoulder. They were both on the deck, waiting for the bell to ring for dinner.
“Who’s that lady over there?” asked Pen.
“Grace? She is Maurice’s mother.”
She was very small, Pen thought, to have produced a son as large as Maurice. Still, he could see the resemblance. She had the same high forehead as Maurice, and prominent cheekbones. She looked comfortable in her tweed pants and loose-fitting sweater; much less formal than Aunt Malkin.
“When she saw me just now,” Pen continued, “I thought for a second she knew me.”
“Ah,” said Giselle. “I understand. Don’t worry. She does that with many people. She as a gift. Ow do you say in English: cy-keek?”
“Psychic?” answered Pen.
“Yes. She sometimes knows what will appen before it arrives, or sees what is not there. It’s like er eyes and ears ave something more than yours and mine.”
At that moment a crusty-looking character in a white hat, with food-stained apron hugging his round belly, leaned out the kitchen door and clanged a brass bell half a dozen times. He vanished as quickly as he had appeared, muttering to himself. This was Slim, the head cook. His signal initiated a stampede to the tables, and a chorus of, “Walk!” from the counselors.
“Hey, Pen! Come eat with us,” called Jenny McCloskey. “I’ll save you a place.”
“Oh-la-la, Ar-tur. Already you are invited to sit with the girls? Jack and Miguel will be jal-ouse.”
Pen smiled and waded into the stream of campers jostling for places at tables. Jenny stood on a bench and waved to him, impervious to what anyone might think of her. Miguel was looking for Pen too, and joined him on the way to Jenny’s table. Jack and Andy found places at the next table over.
The noise from a hundred and fifty voices in the Lodge was tremendous. Maurice stood in the center and raised his hand, the signal to be quiet. Immediately dozens of other hands went up and the crowd grew still.
“It’s our custom to say grace before meals,” he began, “and also to share our different cultures. Tonight, Giselle will lead us in a grace from France.”
Giselle had written out some words phonetically, in large letters on a white board, which she and Fred held up so everyone could see.
“Repeat after me,” she said. “Ben-ee-say suh re-pah. Eet means, ‘bless this meal.’”
In this way she lined out a short blessing, and everyone learned a little bit of French that night. Tomorrow it would be Spanish, or maybe Japanese.
“That’s one of the cool things about International Camp,” Jenny whispered to Pen. “You actually learn something useful. By the end of last summer I could ask, ‘where’s the bathroom?’ in six languages.”
When the blessing was finished, introductions began around the table. Jenny said: “Everyone, this is my friend Pendarvis. You can call him Pen.” Miguel nudged her from her other side. She smiled, “I think most of you know Miguel.”
“Buenas tardes,” he said, making it sound very suave.
Jenny added, “Pen and I go to the same school. Most of the kids there think I’m weird, but not Pen. He’s cool.”
Pen blushed. He had never heard anyone call him “cool” before.
“Pen, meet Elizabeth, Ellen, Latonya, Kit, and our counselor, Andrea,” said Jenny. “Andrea’s from South Africa.”
“Hello, Pen,” said Andrea. “Pendarvis: that’s a British name, isn’t is?”
“Yes,” answered Pen.
“I thought I’d heard it before,” Andrea went on. “My mum’s family came from Cornwall.”
“Really?” asked Pen, his eyes lighting up. “So did my family.”
“Cool!” said Andrea.
Pen was suddenly at ease. “Did you know that Cornwall is where King Arthur was born,” he asked Andrea.
“I did,” she replied. “Did you know that the theme for this session is Knights of the Round Table?”
Pen didn’t know the session had a theme at all. He shook his head.
“It’s really fun,” said Jenny, joining the conversation. “There are all these challenges and quests, and you can become a knight.”
“Girls can be knights too,” added Kit, with emphasis. She was from Texas, and had both the drawl and the gumption to prove it.
“Do you know a lot about King Arthur?” Andrea asked Pen.
“Not really,” he answered. He tried to remember stories Great Aunt Malkin had told him. “I know he was born in Cornwall, which is part of England, in a castle called Tintagel. When he was young, he pulled a sword out of a stone.”
“Actually it was an anvil,” corrected Kit, who seemed to speak with authority about everything.
“What’s an anvil?” asked Latonya.
“One of those metal things a blacksmith pounds on,” answered Kit. She passed the lasagna to Pen. “Try this. It’s the best you ever ate.”
“Told you,” smiled Jenny. “Slim is an excellent cook.”
“Slim is awesome,” added Kit.
“He’s kind of a character,” said Elizabeth, who had long brown hair and an air of intelligence.
“That’s putting it mildly,” said Miguel.
“He’s not exactly slim, is he?” observed Pen.
“He talks to himself,” offered Latonya.
“That’s because you guys are all afraid to talk to him,” chided Kit. “I spent a whole afternoon with him at the Art Barn last summer. He’s amazing.”
“Did he tell you about Johnny?” asked Miguel.
“Can we tell the Johnny story at campfire tonight?” Latonya tugged on Andrea’s sleeve. “I like to be scared.” Her eyes were so big they lit up her whole face.
“Not tonight,” she answered.
“We have to save it for the end of the session,” said Kit.
“I don’t like the Johnny story,” whimpered Ellen, moving closer to Andrea on the bench. She was a year younger than the other girls, who had all finished fifth grade.
“It’s just a ghost story,” said Jenny. “It’s not real.”
“That’s not what Slim says,” sang Kit, arching her eyebrows.
“All right,” Andrea weighed in. “I think that’s enough about Johnny for the first night.
Who else knows something about King Arthur?”
Elizabeth began as if she were reciting from a paper she had written: “He pulled the sword from the stone when no one else could.”
“Anvil,” muttered Kit.
“Not even the strongest knights could do it,” Elizabeth continued, ignoring her. “Arthur was only a teenager, and when he pulled it out, he was named King of all Britain.”
“How did a sword get stuck,” Latonya wanted to know.
“Merlin put it there,” answered Kit. “He was a magician.”
“An enchanter.” Elizabeth corrected Kit this time.
Kit made a face, then continued: “It was a test. Arthur was actually the son of King Uther.”
“Uther Pendragon,” added Elizabeth.
Pendarvis, who had been concentrating on his lasagna, suddenly perked up. In his head he heard Aunt Malkin’s familiar refrain: “By Ap, Tre, Con, and Pen, you know the Cornishmen.”
Kit went on: “Merlin had cast a spell so that only Uther Pendragon’s heir could pull the sword from the stone.”
“Anvil,” whispered Latonya.
“What-ever!” snapped Kit.
“That doesn’t seem fair,” observed Elizabeth, who was always brokering peace amongst the girls. “The contest was rigged.”
“That’s a good point,” said Andrea.
“Maybe it wasn’t really a contest,” offered Pen. Everyone looked at him. “I mean, if Arthur was younger and smaller than everyone else, he needed some way to show his worth.”
To his amazement, no one disagreed.
Andrea said, “Let’s finish up. We’re a little behind.
As if on cue, all through the Lodge people had finished eating. At each table, leftover food was being scraped onto one plate, then the dishes and silverware were collected and carried back to the kitchen by Runners, campers whose job it was to wait on their table that day.
In the kitchen, Slim was handing out bowls of fresh apple crisp, which had been made specially by Robin, his assistant and the camp baker.
“One per table,” Slim would growl. “Hey, you with the hat: put the dirty forks in the bin marked ‘forks.’ See? F-O-R-K.”
“Hi, Slim!” Kit waved to him as she passed through with her table’s dirty dishes.
“Hey, Texas!” He was terrible with names, but could remember where someone came from. “What’d you do to your hair?”
“I dyed it green to bug my mother,” she grinned. “What do you think?”
“Looks like lime jello,” he grumbled, handing her a bowl of crisp. As she started out the door, he called after her, “I like lime jello!”
Kit turned and flashed another big grin, then returned to her table, where the conversation turned to other subjects: would they have smores at campfire tonight? Did they have to take the swim test in the morning?
“Everyone takes the swim test,” Andrea insisted
“What if you took it last year?” Ellen asked hopefully.
“Then you can show us how much your swimming has improved,” answered Andrea “Don’t worry,” she reassured Ellen. “I’ll be one of your lifeguards.”
Pen tried to follow the ins and outs of the camp routines as he listened, but his mind kept drifting back to the theme of the session – Knights of the Round Table – and to the names of the two kings they had talked about over lasagna.
He had always known the world’s most legendary king was named Arthur. What he hadn’t known until tonight was that Arthur had a father, whose name began with Pen.
Chapter Six: Swim Test
The next morning dawned cool and overcast: less than ideal weather for swimming test, but as Andrea had said, everyone had to do it. A few years back, Maurice and Lottie had changed the official name from “swim test” to “swimming observations,” but the word “test” clung to the event like an unwanted booger.
Each half hour, starting at 9:30am, a group of campers arrived at the pool and stood shivering in the breeze, while Andrea and the other lifeguard, Mike, gave instructions. Mike was from Australia, and greeted each group with a hearty, “G’day, mates!”
Jack Duryee leaned toward Andy and whispered, “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”
It was true that Mike made English sound like a foreign language. “Evryone as ta swim in plyce fuh three minutes, then swim ayt layngths of the pool.”
“Any stroke, added Andrea,” whose accent was mild by comparison. She was on the lookout for timid or inexperienced swimmers.
The swim test could be one of life’s more awkward moments: standing amongst strangers, wearing very little, performing an activity which most participants weren’t very good at. Andrea had seen it all before, last season, and like Giselle who stood nearby, she had a knack for identifying campers who were feeling overwhelmed.
Mike said he would count backwards from five, then the boys could jump into the water. He said it would come as a relief because the heated pool was warmer than the outside air.
“Getting out will be another matter,” he added.
He knew the wind would immediately cool the water droplets on their skin, and suddenly no one’s towel would seem big enough. Fortunately the shower houses weren’t far, and International Camp had yet to lose a camper to hypothermia.
Mike led the chorus of, “Five, four, three, two, one!” and the twelve boys, along with Fred and Zeek, gave jungle yells and jumped in all at once. The water boiled and gushed over the sides of the pool.
As soon as Pen hit the water he realized something was wrong. The medallion Aunt Malkin had given him was still around his neck. He’d forgotten to give it to Giselle. In his mind he knew that wasn’t a big deal, but something in his body told him otherwise. He had to get out.
He didn’t want to get out of the pool. He knew the others would think he was afraid, or couldn’t swim. Someone would make fun of him. These thoughts raced through his head, but the feeling from the medallion was strong. It almost weighed him down.
Pen grabbed onto the side of the pool, and Giselle immediately came to help him out.
“Are you ok, Ar-tur?”
“Something’s wrong,” he said. “Someone’s missing.” The words popped out of his mouth. He didn’t know why.
Across the pool, Andrea was counting heads. She got to thirteen, including Pen. Twelve boys and two counselors should have made fourteen. She started counting again, but Mike was already diving into the water, carrying a red foam float. A dark-skinned boy was drifting toward the bottom of the pool. At first Andrea thought it was Miguel, but then she saw him, laughing and shouting.
In an instant, Mike had the float wrapped around the boy and was kicking toward the surface. Andrea was waiting with a spine board, which they slid underneath him, and in one swift motion he was on the pool deck. Mike jumped out. Giselle took over watching the other boys, who making so much noise they didn’t realize anything had happened.
Mike and Andrea were ready to begin CPR when they realized the boy was breathing. He opened his eyes, and looked up at them.
“I can’t swim,” he said.
Mike was speechless.
Andrea, trembling, managed to smile at the boy: “Do you think you might have told us that before?”
“I didn’t want anyone to know,” he answered.
Tyrone Keller had arrived at camp without his paperwork complete, and when asked what level of swimmer he was, he had lied and said, “I’m on the swim team.” He had carried his bluff to the bottom of the pool.
Andrea caught her breath. “What’s your name?” she asked.
“It’s ok, Tyrone,” she insisted. “We can teach you.”
“Yeah,” said Mike, beginning to breathe again too. “You and me, mate. I’ll ave you swimmin’ like a fish.”
“It looks like Pen got out, too,” observed Andrea. “Let’s all go to the nurse’s office and get warmed up.”
Andrea bundled Pen and Tyrone into their towels and walked with an arm around each of them, to the health center. She believed she had one near-drowning victim and who was just frightened. She knew nothing about the medallion, and Pen said nothing.
The Health Center, adjacent to the pool, was warm, and smelled of camphor. Mai-Lihn, the nurse, was originally from Vietnam. It was her custom to rub Tiger Balm on everything, from sore muscles to homesickness. Today she had a fire going in the woodstove. She sat Pendarvis beside it, while in the next room, she examined Tyrone from head to toe.
Pen was happy to warm himself. The coolness he felt was deep inside. He held the medallion away from his skin, as if the object in his hand was the source of the cold. It had surely been a source of weight in the pool. Inside his palm now it was light, and warm. The cold was something deeper.
He had known Tyrone was sinking in the pool. He hadn’t seen him. It was a feeling. Then he had heard himself say, “someone’s missing.”
He looked at the medallion now: a star inside a circle. Aunt Malkin had said, “This has always been in your family.” He turned it over. There was the motto, and an image of what looked like a hand stretching out of the water.
“Are you warmer now?” asked Mai-Lihn. She had returned, satisfied that Tyrone was not injured.
She asked, “Will you let me rub some Tiger Balm on your chest? It will warm you inside.” Her voice had a strange, soothing quality. Very different from the Western accents he’d been hearing.
Pen nodded again, and Mai-Lihn took some of the orange paste from a jar and put it on his chest and back, rubbing it in with her delicate, firm old hands. Soon he felt heat coursing through his body. The scent rose to his nostrils, clearing his sinuses.
“Better?” smiled Mai-Lihn. He had never felt so warm. She wrapped him in a blanket for good measure.
Giselle appeared in the doorway: “Eets ok if I come in?”
“Yes,” said Mai-Lihn. “They are both fine.”
Giselle stepped inside the room. “I want to visit mon amie, Ar-tur.”
“Oui, ça va,” said Mai-Lihn, who had learned French in Vietnam as a child.
“Merci,” said Giselle.
Mai-Lihn went back to check on Tyrone. Giselle sat on a stool beside Pen’s bed.
“We are amie, now? Friends?” asked Giselle. “Because I want to ask you a personal question.”
Giselle continued, “I think you are not afraid of the swimming. I think eet was something else.”
Pendarvis looked at her. He didn’t know what to say.
She persisted. “You said to me, ‘Something is wrong. Someone is missing. Did you see Tyrone under the water?”
“No,” answered Pen.
“Then ‘ow did you know?”
“I didn’t. I mean, I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what. The words came out by themselves.”
Giselle made a clicking sound with her tongue. She reached toward Pen and gently opened his hand, which was still holding the medallion. “You know what is this sambol?”
He shook his head.
“In Brittany, where I come from in France, we call this a pen-tack-luh. In English you say pentacle. Eet is very old, used by the ancient people in Britain and also in my region. Brittany is very close to Cornwall.”
“That’s where my family comes from!” exclaimed Pen.
“From Cornwall? Then per-aps we are related,” smiled Giselle. “A long time ago, the peoples in these places were the same. They are called Cel-teek. Everyone knew this sambol. That’s why I said to you, I think eet is very old.”
“My father’s aunt gave it to me,” said Pen. “She’s really old.”
Giselle laughed out loud. “I don’t think she’s older than one thousand years. ”
Pen’s eyes grew wide.
Giselle said “After the Roman Empire, between one thousand and two thousand years ago, was the time I mean. The time of Mare-lan and Lawnce-low.”
“You say Merlin, and Lancelot.”
Pen could scarcely believe his ears. He had heard these names – who hadn’t – but suddenly they sounded real. He shivered.
“You are cold again?” asked Giselle.
“No.” He couldn’t have been much warmer. “It’s just . . . you think my medallion could be that old?”
“Eet looks very ancient to me. That’s why I ask you if you don’t want to leave it at ome.”
“My Aunt Malkin said it wasn’t necessary.”
“Did she tell you anything about it?”
“She said it had always been in my family.”
Giselle clicked her tongue again. “I don’t know, Ar-tur. I think eet is very special.”
Mai-Lihn returned, asking, “Are you warmer now?”
“Yes,” answered Pen. “How’s Tyrone?”
“He’s fine,” she said. “He tells me he did not run out of breath. He let out a little bit at a time, and waited at the bottom of the pool. He says he knew someone would get him. He was not afraid.”
“Il était sans peur?” asked Giselle in French.
“Oui,” answered the nurse, and she padded out of the room repeating, “Sans peur.”
Giselle turned over the medallion in her hand, and together she and Pen looked at the words: SANS PEUR.
Chapter Seven: Gifts
Down the trail from the Health Center, Pen’s group was finishing their showers. Some of the older boys were there too. When Pen and Tyrone approached shower house, a strangely high-pitched voice rang out: “Here comes the scarecrow!”
The voice belonged to Byron Dawson, a third-year veteran of International Camp. “How about a little water, scarecrow?” he went on, trying to sound like the Wicked Witch in the movie, The Wizard of Oz. Then, in a whiny falsetto, he added: “No, don’t throw water on me! I’m afraid of water!” Several other boys laughed.
Pendarvis had known someone would make fun of him for not finishing the swim test. He ignored Byron. It was Jack Duryee who spoke up, stepping from the shower stall wrapped in a towel.
“You idiot, Dawson,” he chided. “The scarecrow isn’t afraid of water. He’s afraid of fire.”
“Duh,” smirked Andy Freeman.
“Shut up!” snapped Byron. It was one thing to have Jack embarrass him, another to hear it from a new kid.
“Why don’t you make me shut up? Replied Andy. He was used to being smaller than everyone else – his head reached the middle of Byron’s chest. What he lacked in size, he made up for in attitude.
Jack stepped between them. “It’s not his fault you know squat about movies, Byron.”
“You talk big for a dude in a towel,” said Byron threateningly.
“It’s a big towel,” answered Jack. He knew Byron and his friends might easily grab his towel and his clothes, leaving him to run naked down the trail. They had done it to another boy last summer. If he was scared, he didn’t show it.
Pen stood some distance away, watching the scene unfold. He possessed neither Jack’s cool humor nor Andy’s scrappy defiance. He wanted to do something. He felt responsible. He said, “You can call me scarecrow if you want. I don’t mind.”
“I do,” came another voice behind him. It was Tyrone. He ambled toward Byron. “You got a problem with what happened at the pool, Fat Head?”
It was true, Byron’s head was oversized for his body, but no one ever dared say it to him.
“Because if you got a problem, then we got a problem.” Tyrone continued. “If he’s a Scarecrow, what name have you got for me? Huh, Fat Head?”
Byron Dawson was used to having his own way because he was bigger than all the other upper middle class white boys he knew. He had never been challenged like this. Tyrone pressed his advantage. “What name you got for someone like me, who can’t even swim?”
“I . . . I don’t know,” stammered Byron.
“Pendergrast got out of the pool to ask someone to help me. He told Giselle somethin’ was wrong. Does that make him a scarecrow?”
“Then what got that into your fat head?”
Byron was backed up against the sink by now. Jack and Andy could scarcely keep from laughing. Even Pen wanted to smile, but instead he said, “It’s ok, Tyrone. He won’t call me a scarecrow again, will you, Byron?
Byron’s lip curled. He wanted to spit on Pen. He wanted to pound him into the dirt. Pen’s coming to his aid only made it worse.
Tyrone persisted: “You won’t call him Scarecrow again, will you?”
Byron looked around. His buddies, Todd and Keith were still there. That made three of them against the four other boys. Normally he would have taken these odds, but Tyrone was something out of his experience. Byron grit his teeth and said, “No.”
“I won’t call him Scarecrow.”
“All right,” said Tyrone. “Tell Pendergrast you’re sorry.”
Everyone, including Byron, wanted to correct Pen’s name, but no was prepared to challenge Tyrone on the smallest detail.
Byron muttered, “Sorry.” Tyrone took one small step aside so Byron could slip out. Together with Todd and Keith, he moved off toward the older boys’ campsite. Within seconds they were laughing, talking amongst themselves. The embarrassment was past, but not forgotten.
“Dude, that was awesome,” said Jack, offering Tyrone a high five.
Tyrone slapped his hand casually. “It was all right,” he shrugged. “You cool, Pendergrast?”
“You watch your back. Ol’ Fat Head and his friends are gonna be lookin’ for us.” Tyrone slung his towel over his shoulder and headed for the shower.
By dinnertime, the story of the swim test and the confrontation at the boys’ shower house had circulated throughout camp. It grew with every retelling. Jenny McCloskey heard that Pen had dived down to the bottom of the pool and rescued Tyrone himself. Kit heard that Tyrone knew martial arts. Someone said he had fought Byron and five other boys.
The Lodge deck buzzed with such conversations, as Slim’s white-capped figure leaned out of the kitchen and rang the bell. “Walk!” came the usual chorus of voices. Campers scurried for places at tables with their friends.
Pen went to a spot next to Miguel, who was sitting next to Jenny. Pen noticed she had saved Miguel a seat tonight. They were nearly complete opposites, he thought: Miguel so refined, in his izod shirt with his hair neatly combed. Jenny, as usual, was a polyglot of styles and colors. An image of the two of them holding hands crossed Pen’s mind.
He sat down, and suddenly a gentle hand rested on his shoulder. It belonged to Grace Tibbals, Maurice’s mother. Pen remembered that she was the lady who had given him the strange look the night before.
“Is this seat open?” she asked.
“Sure,” he said.
“Hi Grace!” Jenny stood up and gave the old woman a hug.
“Hello, Jenny. Good to see you again.”
Grace slipped her round figure onto the bench beside Pendarvis, and Jenny once again made introductions, ending with Pen.
“Ah,” said Grace. “Pen of the swim test adventure?”
“Don’t worry,” she said. “Tomorrow everyone will be talking about something else.”
He could see now that Grace’s eyes were pale blue in color. She looked at him with the same, penetrating gaze as before.
Everyone’s hands went up, and silence descended. The blessing of the meal was led in Spanish by a veteran camper from Mexico, Maria Guzman. Afterwards, Grace picked up a large bowl of mashed potatoes and held it for Pen to serve himself.
“What do you think made you climb out of the pool?” she asked directly. “Giselle said you were very calm.”
“I don’t know,” he answered. “Something just told me to get out.”
“Something, ah. Were you frightened?”
“No.” He helped himself to the potatoes. It was hard not to feel self-conscious, having this conversation at the table.
Grace leaned closer and said, “The one advantage of this noisy dining hall is that no one else can hear anything anyone else is saying.”
Pen looked around. Lots of people were leaning close, speaking into each other’s ears. Grace looked at him with her pale blue eyes, and Pen would have sworn he heard her say, “It’s all right,” but her lips never moved.
He thought back to this morning, to the weight of the medallion around his neck, and how the words, “someone’s missing” had come out of his mouth.
“Sometimes,” he said. “I kind of see things. Like daydreams, only my eyes are open.” Grace nodded, still fixing her eyes on him. “Other times,” Pen continued, “I hear words, but I don’t understand them.”
Grace spoke again, and this time it was as if he could hear only her voice amidst all the other voices in the hall. “Which was it today?”
He reached up, and without meaning to, put his hand on his chest where the medallion lay under his shirt. “I had this feeling,” he said, “like I couldn’t breathe. Like I would run out of air if I didn’t say something.”
He could feel the medallion between his hand and his chest. It was heavy, just as it had been in the pool. He looked into Grace’s eyes. “It was weird,” he confided, “because I was breathing fine.”
“Someone else wasn’t,” said Grace. “Someone was running out of air.”
Pen’s eyes grew wider and he said, more to himself than to Grace, “Tyrone! How did I know that?”
“It’s a gift,” said Grace.
She smiled and opened her mouth to say more, but just then a voice called out, “Pen.” He heard it as if from far away. “Pen!”
It was Jenny. She was staring at him impatiently from across the table. “Pass the potatoes!”
The commotion of the dining hall returned all at once, like a wave crashing over him. His hand came down from his chest and reached out to pass the bowl of mashed potatoes. Jenny smiled and gave him a thumbs up.
“It’s really noisy tonight,” said Fred, who was sitting across the table. “I think everyone’s excited about the campfire.”
Grace leaned over and patted Pendarvis on the hand. “Don’t worry,” she said. “You’ll understand more soon.” And with that she turned her attention to the others at the table.
Chapter Eight: Lights in the Lake
The first all-camp campfire was an event of considerable significance because it announced the theme of the session: in this case, Knights of the Round Table. Everyone knew in advance what the theme would be – it was one of the reasons many of them came to camp – but the characters and storyline adapted by this year’s staff would begin to unfold tonight.
Tales of King Arthur are many. Certainly no one at camp claimed to be an expert, but if there was one person who knew the legend better than others, it was Giselle. This surprised many campers because she was French, but as Pendarvis had learned, she came from that region known as Brittany, which shared many of the same ancient legends.
Tonight everyone gathered at Forest Theater, a natural opening in the woods that sloped toward a level stage area. Because there were so many rocks on Chauncey’s Island – deposited there by a glacier during the last ice age – campers and staff in the early years had built stone seats into the side of this hill. The effect was like a Roman theater plunked down amidst firs and cedars in the Pacific Northwest. Now, many years later, mosses and lichens dotted the stones, and grass grew between the cracks.
Off to one side, a little distance below the stage, was Spirit Lake. Small for a lake, but too large to be called a pond, it was very beautiful this time of evening. Swallows swooped low over the surface to pluck insects from the air. Later, bats would do the same. Rings from surfacing trout showed that they, too, were feeding. Maurice Tibbals liked to call this system, “Nature’s mosquito repellant.”
When the entire camp population had assembled, Fred led them in singing. He had an amazing ability to play his guitar and line out words to a song at the same time. He’d call out, “If I had a hammer, I’d hammer,” and everyone would sing it. Then, “I’d hammer in the mornin’,” and they would sing that. He made it possible for everyone to sing along, whether they knew the song or not.
Next came the introductory skits. Every group had to invent an entertaining way to introduce themselves – each camper by name – all in less than five minutes. Slim was the official timekeeper.
Everyone dreaded being “gonged” by the crusty cook, so even if the results were mixed, the show ran like clockwork. If a group boasted someone like Jack Duryee, it had a better chance of coming up with some genuine entertainment.
Jack was a born actor. He relished the limelight, and everyone assumed one day he would be a movie star. Tonight he played a television host, and instead of waiting anxiously for Slim to ring the bell, he incorporated Slim into the skit. Jack introduced each “contestant,” – his fellow campers – Slim gonged them all, and the entire skit ran in under five minutes. It was brilliant, and Slim was hilarious, doing a parody of himself as the crabby old guy who never laughs.
True to tradition, all the skits together took just an hour, and now it was dusk. After leading a couple of quiet songs to set the mood, Fred observed a mysterious figure down by the lake. Everyone followed his gaze. Some of them giggled, but others hissed, “Shh!” This was the moment they’d been waiting for.
The figure wore a long cloak with a hood, and carried a staff, illuminated at the top. It walked slowly toward the stage, stopping in the center to gaze at the assembled audience. Bats fluttered above, adding an eerie quality to the scene. In the woods, a bird called a Varied Thrush sang a swirling song, as the darkness descended.
“Mayz amee,” said the hooded figure. “I ave come to tell you ow the enchanter, Mair-lan, came from the west country to become adviser to great kings. Eet was said is mother was mortal, but is father was a spirit, and this is why ee ad the gift of prophesy.”
Everyone knew now that the cloaked figure was Giselle, but like a good actress, she grasped their attention completely. A few nervous giggles escaped, then the audience fell silent.
“Mair-lan foresaw the return of a mighty warrior, Uther, from a country now called Brittany. It was Mair-lan who led Uther to Ireland, to move the great stones called Dance of the Giants. They set them on Salisbury Plain, where today they are called Stonehenge. When Mair-lan predicted that Uther would be king, a very bright star appeared in the sky, with a fiery tail in the shape of a dragon. Afterwards, Uther was called Pendragon.”
The hairs on the back of Pen’s neck stood up as Giselle concluded: “Mair-lan foresaw that a son would be born to Uther; that this son would become the greatest king of all Britain. Is name would be Ar-tur.”
The hooded figure walked slowly across the stage, illuminated only by the light at the end of her staff. No one seemed to care that it was a flashlight wrapped in a paper bag.
“When Uther was king, ee was at war with the Duke of Tintagel, in Cornwall. The Duke ad a beautiful wife, and Uther wanted er for is own. Mair-lan disguised Uther to look like the Duke, so ee could sleep with the Lady Igraine.”
This was as close to a PG rating as camp stories ever got.
“That same night,” Giselle went on, “the Duke of Tintagel was killed in battle, so Uther took Igraine for is own wife. Before long, their son was born. In time, Mair-lan said to Uther, ‘My lord, I ave seen that you will become very sick. If you should die, your son will not be safe. Give im to me, so that I may watch over im until ee is old enough to be king.’ And so Uther died, and for many years after, there was no king.”
Nearly everyone in the audience was familiar with what came next. Pen had first heard the story from Great Aunt Malkin: how Merlin magically set a sword into an anvil, atop a great stone; how on the stone it was written, “Whosoever shall pull this sword from the stone is the true king of all Britain.”
As Elizabeth had said, Arthur was then but a young man. He had been raised by another, noble family, who knew nothing of his true parentage. No one but Merlin knew.
“There was a great tourn-wa in London,” said the hooded figure. “I mean, tournament. The strongest knights came from all the lands to test their strength. Ar-tur was squire to is brother, Sir Kay. When Sir Kay broke is own sword, ee sent Ar-tur to fetch another.”
The storyteller walked slowly across the stage once more. “The young squire could find no sword, except the one which was set on the stone. Ee did not read the words that said about the true king. Ee just wanted a sword, so ee pulled, and eet came out.” Giselle paused to let the image take hold.
“When everyone learned what ee had done,” she went on, “the other knights were very jal-ouse. They wanted to be king. They tried to put the sword back, but only Ar-tur could do it. They tried to pull eet out again; only Ar-tur could pull it out. Finally Mair-lan came, and explained that Ar-tur was the son of Uther Pendragon, so ee really was the true king.”
Giselle paused in her story. It was nearly dark now. The campfire, which had crackled to life nearly two hours earlier, was now a circle of glowing coals. The stones of the theater were hard, and Giselle recognized the squirming signs of “Forest Theater Butt.” She prepared to bring her story to a close.
“Ah, mayz amee,” she said, “the story of King Ar-tur is full of adventures. You will come to know them yourselves, as you seek to become Knights of the Round Table. Eet will require the best from each of you. You will be faced with many challenges.”
“Remember that Ar-tur needed only honesty to pull the sword from the anvil. Remember Uther Pendragon tried to move the stones called Dance of the Giants, but ee could not do it alone. Mair-lan told im, “You will discover which is greater, strength or skill.” It was not strength which caused the stones to be moved.”
At that moment, Fred poured a full bucket of water onto the hot embers of the campfire. A cloud of steam erupted. The light at the end of Giselle’s wooden staff went out. Stepping through the billowing cloud of steam, the hooded figure disappeared.
©2008 Richard Carter