'I understand that ..." the author began. But it was clear to Rigel that he didn't.
'We must go,' he said to Capella, and got up from the table. He went to the bar, paid the check and joined the author at the door.
'I'm surprised that you listened to me just now,' Richard Rigel said as they walked toward their boats at the dock. 'I didn't really think you were capable of that.'
As the boats came into view they saw Lila standing on the deck of his boat. She waved to them. They all waved back.
In Kingston Phaedrus' boat had been a tethered home from which the dock and harbor seemed like a local neighborhood. But here, out on the broad river, the 'neighborhood' was gone and that below-decks home was just a storage area in which the chief concern was that things did not shift and crash when the boat heeled in the wind. Now, above deck, his attention was given to sail shape and wind direction and river current, and to the chart on the deck beside him folded to correspond to landmarks and day beacons and the progression of red and green buoys showing the way to the ocean. The river was brown with silt and there was a lot of debris in it but nothing he couldn't avoid. There was a nice running-breeze, but it was gusting and shifting a little, probably from deflection by the river valley.
He felt depressed. That Rigel had really gotten to him. Someday, maybe, he would develop a thick enough skin to not get bothered by someone like that, but the day hadn't arrived yet. Somehow he'd gotten the idea that a sailboat provided isolation and peace and tranquillity, in which thoughts could proceed freely and calmly without outside interference. It never happened. A sailboat under way means one hazard after another with little time to think about anything but its needs. And a sailboat at the dock is an irresistible magnet for every conversation-making passer-by in sight.
He'd gotten resigned to it, and Rigel, when he'd met him, was just one of the hundreds of here-today-gone-tomorrow people that cruising causes you to meet. Lila was in that class too . . . and there was a lot to be said for the kind of wandering life where you never knew who you would be tied up against - or sleeping with - the next night.
What depressed most was the stupid way he had let himself be set up for Rigel's attack. He had probably been invited to breakfast just to receive that little sermon. Now he'd brood for days and go over everything that was said and recycle every word over and over again and think of perfect answers that he should have said at the time.
A small power boat approached, coming the other way. As they passed, the helmsman waved from inside the cabin, and Phaedrus waved back.
The weather was turning out better than he'd thought it would. Yesterday's stiff north wind was dying and warm southwesterlies would probably take over, which meant a few days of good weather. The river was broad here and the current would be with him for most of the day. This would be a nice day if it hadn't been for that scene this morning.
The feeling left was one of enormous confusion and weariness, a kind of back-to-the-drawing-board, back-to-square-one feeling you get where you're thinking you're making great progress and then suddenly some question like this comes along and sets you back to where you started. He didn't even want to think about it.
There are so many kinds of problem people like Rigel around, he thought, but the ones who go posing as moralists are the worst. Cost-free morals. Full of great ways for others to improve without any expense to themselves. There's an ego thing in there, too. They use the morals to make someone else look inferior and that way look better themselves. It doesn't matter what the moral code is - religious morals, political morals, racist morals, capitalist morals, feminist morals, hippie morals - they're all the same. The moral codes change but the meanness and the egotism stay the same.
The trouble was, pure meanness didn't completely explain what happened this morning. Something else
was going on. Why should Rigel be so concerned about morals at that early hour in the morning? It just didn't scan right... Not for some yachtsman-lawyer like that. Not in this century anyway. Maybe back in 1880 some church deacon lawyer might have talked like that but not now. All that stuff Rigel was referring to about sacred duties and home and family went out fifty years ago. That wasn't what Rigel was mad about. It didn't make sense for him to go running around sermonizing people on morals ... at eight o'clock in the morning ... on his vacation, for God's sake.
It wasn't even Sunday.
It was just bizarre . . .
He was mad about something else. What he was trying to do was catch Phaedrus in the old trap of sexual morality. If Phasdrus answered that Lila had Quality then he would be saying sex was Quality which was not right. But if he said Lila had no Quality the next question was, 'Why were you sleeping with her?' That had to be the world's oldest guilt trap. If you didn't go for Lila you're some kind of prissy old prude. If you did go for her you were some kind of dirty old man. No matter what you did you were guilty and should be ashamed of yourself. That trap's been around since the Garden of Eden, at least.
A broad lawn rising back from the bluff above the water's edge led to a grove of trees that partly concealed a large Victorian fin de siécle mansion. The lawn had the same deserted look he'd seen yesterday - uninhabited. No children or animals played anywhere.
He noticed again, as he had coming down here, how this old Hudson River valley looked like paintings of it made more than a hundred years ago. The banks of the river were steep and heavily forested, giving the river a quiet and tranquil look. Things seemed to have been the same here for a long time. Since he'd entered the Erie Canal system he'd noticed how things seemed older and more tired. Now that feeling was even more dominant.
Hundreds of years ago these old waterways were the only way to travel in this continent. For a while he had wondered why his boat always seemed to stop in the oldest part of each city it came to, and then he realized that small boats stopping right there is what got the city started in the first place.
Now there's a sadness that attaches to these old river and lake ports that were once bustling and important. Before the railroads took over, this Hudson River and Erie Canal system were the main shipping route to the Great Lakes and the West. Now there's almost nothing, just an occasional oil barge. The river is almost abandoned.
A depression always came over him when he came East like this, but the oldness and abandonment weren't the only reasons for it. He was a Midwesterner and he shared the prejudices of many Midwesterners against this region of the country. He didn't like the way everything gets more stratified here. The rich start looking richer and the poor start looking poorer. What was worse, they looked as though they thought this was the way things ought to be. They had settled for this. There was no sign it was going to change.
In a state like Minnesota or Wisconsin you can be poor and still feel some sense of dignity if you work hard and live fairly cleanly and you keep your eye on the future. But here in New York it seemed as if when you're poor you're just poor. And that means you're nobody. Really nobody. And if you're rich you're really somebody. And that fact seemed to explain 95 per cent of everything else that went on in this region.
Maybe he was just noticing it more because he'd been thinking about Indians. Some of these differences are just urban-rural differences, and the East is more urban. But some of these differences reflected European values too. Every time he came this way he could feel the people getting more formal and impersonal and . . . crafty. Exploitative. European. And petty too, and ungenerous.
Out West among the Indians it's a standing joke that the chief is the poorest man in the tribe. Every time somebody needs something he's the one they go to, and by the Indian code, 'the generosity of the frontier,' he has to help them. Phaedrus didn't think you'd see much of that along this river. He could just imagine some strange riverboat man pulling up at Astor's mansion and saying, 'I just saw a light on and thought I'd stop in and say "hello".' He wouldn't get past the butler. They'd be horrified at his impertinence. Yet in the West they'd probably feel obliged to invite him in.
It just got worse and worse around here. The rich got glitzier and glitzier and the poor got scuzzier and scuzzier until you finally got to New York City. Homeless crazies hovering over ventilator grates while billionaires are escorted past them to their limousines. With each somehow accepting this as natural.
Oddly it's this valley that's the worst. If you cross into Vermont or Massachusetts it starts to weaken. He didn't know how to explain that. Something historical maybe.
New England was settled by a completely different pattern of immigration. That was it. In the early days New England was all one big WASP family staying put, but this valley was everybody on the move. Dutch, English, French, German, Irish - and their relations were often hostile. So right from the start there was this aggressive, exploitative atmosphere. Maybe they had just as much class distinction and exploitativeness in New England, maybe even more, but they muted it so as not to upset the family. Here they just flaunted it openly. That's what these 'Castles on the Hudson' were: an open flaunting of wealth.
He supposed maybe some of Rigel's 'morality' this morning was Eastern too.
. . . No, that wasn't it. It was something else. If he were a true Easterner he would have just kept quiet about it and increased his distance. Why did he want to get involved? He didn't have to. He was angry.
. . . The celebrity thing maybe.
Once you become a celebrity it satisfies some people to try to tear you down, and there's not much you can do about it. Phaedrus hadn't seen any of that all summer: where someone suddenly jumps on you for no reason at all just because they think you're a celebrity. Maybe that's what it was. In the past when it occurred it was usually at parties when someone had a few drinks in them. Never at breakfast.
Usually you get a warning when they're all over you with praise. Then you know they've got some false image of you they're talking to. Rigel was that way in Oswego, but it had been so far back Phaedrus had forgotten about it.
That celebrity business is another whole phenomenon that's related to Indian—European conflict of values. It's a peculiarly American phenomenon, to catapult people suddenly into celebrity, lavish praise and wealth upon them, and then, at the moment they at last become convinced of their worth, try to destroy them. At their feet and then at their throat. He thought the reason was that in America you're supposed to be socially superior like a European and socially equal like an Indian at the same time. It doesn't matter that these goals are contradictory.
So what you get is this tension, this business executives' tension, where you're the most relaxed, smiling, easy-going guy in the world - who is also absolutely killing himself to beat the competition and get ahead. Everybody wants their children to be valedictorians, but nobody is supposed to be better than anybody else. A kid who comes out somewhere near the bottom of his class is guilt ridden, self-destructive, and he thinks, 'It's not fair! Everybody's equal!' And then the celebrity, John Lennon, steps out to sign an autograph for him. That's the end of the celebrity, John Lennon.
Spooky. Until you're the celebrity you don't see how spooky it is. They love you for being what they want to be but they hate you for being what they're not. There's always this two-faced relationship with celebrity and you never know which face will appear next. That's how it was with Rigel. First he was smiling because he thought he was talking to some big shot and that satisfied his European patterns, but now he's furious because he thinks the big shot is acting superior or something like that.
The old Indians knew how to handle it. They just got rid of anything anybody wanted. They didn't own property, they dressed in rags, some of them. They kept it down, laid low, and let the aristocrats and egalitarians and sycophants and assassins all look on them as worthless. That way they got a lot accomplished without all the celebrity grief.
This boat was good for that. When you're moving along like this on these old abandoned waterways you can relate to people on a one-to-one basis, without all the celebrity business standing in between. Rigel was just a fluke.
Some noises came from the cabin. Phaedrus wondered if something had broken loose. Then he remembered his passenger. She was probably getting dressed or something.
'There's no food on this boat,' Lila's voice said.
'There's some down there somewhere,' he answered.
'No, there isn't.'
Her face appeared in the hatchway. She looked belligerent. He'd better not tell her he'd already had breakfast.
She looked different. Worse. Her hair wasn't combed. Her eyes were reddened and lined underneath. She looked a lot older than she did last night.
'You didn't search around enough,' he said. 'Look in the icebox.'
'Where is that?'
'That huge wooden lid with the ring in it by the post
there.' Her face disappeared again and soon he heard some more noises of her rummaging.
'There's something near the bottom, it looks like,' she said. There are three boxes of junk food and one jar of peanut butter. The jar is almost empty . . . That is all. No eggs, no bacon, no nothing ..."
'Well, we're under way now,' he said. 'We have to use this current while it's with us or we lose a whole day. Tonight we'll have a big meal.'
'Yeah,' he said.
He heard her mutter, 'Peanut butter and junk food ... Don't you have anything at all? . . . Oh, wait a minute,' she said. 'Here's a half a bar of chocolate.'
Then he heard her say 'Ugh!'
'What's the matter?' he asked.
'There's something wrong with it. It tastes stale . . . How about some coffee? Do you have any coffee?' Her voice sounded pleading.
'Yes,' he said. 'Come on up and steer and I'll go down to make some.'
As she rose from the hatchway he saw that she wore a white T-shirt, skin-tight, with the word, 'L-O-V-E,' printed in large red block letters.
She saw him stare and said, 'Summer clothes again. Pretty good weather.'
He said, 'I'll bet you never expected yesterday it would be like this.'
'I never know what's going to happen next,' she answered. 'I thought I was going to have breakfast next.'
She moved to sit across from him. The four letters of 'L-O-V-E' shifted around in provocative directions.
'Do you know how to steer one of these boats?' he asked.
'Of course,' she said.
'Then keep to the right of that red nun-buoy up there.' He pointed to make sure she saw it. Then he stood up, stepped out of the cockpit into the hatchway, and went below.
He started to search through some storage bins for food, but after looking for a while he saw that she was right, there wasn't any food on this boat. He hadn't known his supplies were so low. He found a box of cheese crackers that looked about a third full.
'How about some cheese crackers and coffee?' he said.
He tried again. 'With peanut butter . . . sort of a "Continental breakfast.""
After a while her voice said, 'All right.'
He unlocked the gimbals from the stove so that it levelled itself against the boat's heel; then from a shelf he brought out a propane torch to pre-heat the stove's kerosene burner.
This burner was a real problem. It had delicate brass needle valves attached to doorknob-sized handles which meant that one normal turn wrecked the whole mechanism.
'How soon until we get somewhere?' Lila asked.
'We can't stop,' he said. 'I told you. That would get us out of phase with the current and we'd have to buck it down around West Point." He wasn't sure if she knew this river flowed backward twice a day.
'Rigel says there are moorings at Nyack,' he added, 'and from there it's an easy sail into Manhattan. I want to keep that last distance short . . . Leave some margins . . . There's no telling what's down there.'
With a match he lit the propane torch and then directed the flame onto one side of the burner so that it would become hot enough to vaporize the kerosene. These stoves could not burn kerosene liquid — they could only burn kerosene gas.
'Is Richard going to be there?' Lila asked.
'Where we stop.'
'I doubt it,' Phasdrus said. 'In fact I'm sure he isn't.'
When the burner was red hot from the propane torch he turned its doorknob handle a crack. A hot blue flame took hold. Phaedrus shut off the propane torch and put it on a shelf where the hot tip couldn't touch anything. Then he filled a kettle of water from the galley sink and put it on top of the burner.
Lila said, 'How long have you known him?'
Too long,' he said.
'Why do you say that?'
'I just like to be by myself,' he said.
'You're a loner, eh?' Lila said. 'Just like me.'
He went up the ladder halfway and looked out to see if she was still on course. It was all right.
'It must be nice to have a boat like this all your own,' she said. 'Nobody ever tells you what to do. You just move on.'
'Yeah,' he said. It was the first time he had ever seen her smile. 'Im sorry about breakfast,' he said. 'That was a working dock we were at. We were right next to the crane. We had to get off so they could use it.'
When the coffee was done he brought it up, and sat across from her and took the tiller.
'This is nice,' Lila said. 'That last boat I was on was too crowded. Everybody was in everybody else's way.'
'That's not a problem here,' he said.
'Do you always sail alone?' she asked.
'Sometimes alone, sometimes with friends.'
'You're married, aren't you?'
'I knew it,' Lila said. 'And not very long, either.'
'How do you know that?'
'Because there isn't any food on this boat. Real bachelor men always cook. They don't just have junk food in the icebox.'
'We'll have the biggest steak in town when we get to Nyack,' he said.
'It's just a little way from Manhattan, on the New Jersey side. From there it's just a few miles.'
'Good,' she said.
'Do you know a lot of people in New York?'
'Yes,' she said. 'Lots.'
'Did you use to live there?'
'What did you do?'
She glanced up at him for a second. 'I used to work there.'
'Lots of different jobs.'
'What did you do?'
'Secretary,' she said.
'Oh,' he said.
That sort of exhausted that. He didn't want to hear about her typing.
He tried to think of some other topic. He wasn't any good at small talk. Never was. Dusenberry should be here. This was getting like the reservation again.
'Do you like New York?' he asked.
'The people are so friendly.'
Was she being sarcastic? No, her expression didn't show it. It was just blank. Like she'd never been to New York.
'Where did you live?' he asked.
'West Forties,' she said.
He waited for her to continue, but she didn't. That, apparently, was it. Real chatterbox. She was worse than the Indians.
What a change from last night. No illumination today. Just this kind of dull face staring ahead not looking at anything in particular.
He watched her for a while.
It certainly wasn't an evil face, though. Not low quality. You could see it as pretty if you wanted to.
Her whole head is wide, he thought. Brachycephalic, a physical anthropologist would call it. A Saxon head, probably, judging from her name. A commoner's head, a medieval yeoman's head, good for cudgeling, with the lower lip ready to curl. But not evil.
The eyes were out of place somehow. Her whole face and body and style of talking and action were all tough and ready for anything, but those eyes when she looked right at you were something else, like some frightened child looking up from the bottom of a well. They didn't fit at all.
This was a beautiful valley, spectacular valley, the day was great, but she wasn't even noticing it. He wondered why she had come sailing in the first place. He supposed all that break-up with those people on the previous boat was depressing her but he didn't want to get into it.
He asked, 'How well do you get along with Richard Rigel?'
She seemed a little startled. 'What makes you think I don't get along with him?' she said.
'Last night when you first came in the bar he told you to shut the door, remember? And you slammed it and said "Does that suit you?" and I got the impression you knew each other and were both angry.'
'I know him,' Lila said. 'We know some of the same people.'
'Well, why was he mad at you?'
'He wasn't mad at me. He just talks that way.'
'I don't know,' she said.
She finally said, 'He's very moody. One moment he's very friendly and the next moment he acts like that. That's just the way he is.'
To know that much about him she had to know him very well, Phaedrus thought. Obviously she wasn't telling everything, but what she said certainly rang true. It explained Rigel's attack this morning in a way that had never occurred to him. Rigel was just cranky and quixotic and attacked people without any explanation.
But something in him didn't buy that explanation either. There was a better one. He just hadn't heard it yet. All this didn't explain why Rigel was attacking her and why she seemed to defend him. Usually when one person hates another the feeling is mutual.
'How is Rigel regarded back in Rochester?' he asked.
'How do you mean?' Lila said.
'Do people like him?'
'Yes, he's popular,' Lila said.
'Even though he's moody and turns on people who haven't done anything to him?'
'Would you say he's a very "moral" person?' Phaedrus continued.
'No, not particularly,' Lila said. 'Like anyone else.' She looked really annoyed. 'Why are you asking all these questions? Why don't you ask him? He's your friend, isn't he?'
Phaadrus answered, 'He seemed to act awfully stuffy and moral and preachy this morning, and I thought that if you knew him you might be able to tell me why.'
'He seemed to object to my being with you last night.'
'When did you talk to him?'
'This morning. We had some conversation before the boat got off.'
'It's none of his business what I do,' Lila said.
'Well, why should he make such a fuss?'
'I told you, that's the way he gets sometimes. He's moody. Also he likes to tell other people what to do.'
'But you said he was not especially moral. Why would he pick on morals?'
'I don't know. He gets it from his mother. He gets everything from his mother. That's the way he talks sometimes. But he doesn't really mean it. He's just moody.'
'Well, what . . .'
A really angry glare came into Lila's blue eyes. 'Why do you want to know about him so much?' she said. 'It sounds like you're trying to get something on him. I don't like your questions. I don't want to hear about it. I thought he was your friend.'
Her jaw clamped shut and her cheek muscles were tense. She turned away from him and stared down over the boat's bulwark at the passing water.