"And Memory Takes Them"
was nearing twilight when he threw his line in for the last time.
Darkening skies come early in October, and Convict Lake was no
exception; once the sun disappeared behind Laurel Mountain the dividing
line between day and evening would appear on the ridge opposite, the
temperature would plunge -- the lake was at 7,850 feet, after all -- and
it would be time to take bucket, pole and catch back to the cabin.
And catch 'em Harry did. It
had been said that he could find fish in a puddle, and half the time he
believed it himself. The four Rainbows he’d managed to land from the bank were
testimony to that, the fishing good today despite the wind.
was the next-to-last day of a one-week vacation.
Jamie had been insistent that he take some time off, and protests
that there was too much work to be done had fallen on deaf ears.
Dr. Jamieson had come close to pointing his Chief Medical Officer
finger at the main gate, so Harry called his old friend Charlie Higgins to
book a cabin, packed up his gear and made the drive to the eastern side of
the Sierras. Though he’d
never admit it, he was glad he had gone.
This particular trip had given him a chance to unwind from his
latest foray to Washington, an arduous round of congressional hearings and
in-briefs with government bigwigs who seemed to delight in creating
obstructions. One more stupid
question from those fools and... good thing his two senior officers had
been there to run interference and stave off any serious confrontations.
Lee and Chip had done double duty as welcome distractions,
important whether the audience was a
Capitol Hill committee or a gaggle of newspaper reporters and camera
cut an impressive figure himself in his dress uniform with its shiny gold
stripes and chest full of ribbons, but the CO and XO of the Seaview
were handsome men, and their presence always made a splash,
particularly with the females in the audience.
aside, the two were a formidable team.
Aided by a crack crew they kept Seaview
at peak efficiency, pushing the boundaries of science while oh so quietly
keeping the world safe from harm. Harry
had worked the two men hard on this trip, sending them all over Washington
to meet with as many officials as possible, reinforcing the importance of
their mission. It had paid
off; in the closed-door sessions at which such matters were discussed
there had been pats on the back and hearty “well dones” from senior
executives and cabinet officers. It had given Harry a great deal of
satisfaction to watch as Lee and Chip took it all in their stride.
They were intelligent and competent individuals, and he was proud
of them. He had not
articulated these feelings, of course.
There were some things four-star admirals did not do.
up this morning, he’d known it would be a good fishing day.
The air was cold and crisp, sky clear as the proverbial bell.
When he’d stepped out of the cabin there’d already been a sharp
breeze blowing the fallen leaves across the path to the lake, so he’d
picked a spot near a line of thick scrub brush that would provide some
shelter from the wind. Underneath a nearby cottonwood tree a picnic table held his
gear and a Thermos. He was
seated at the table now, keeping an eye on his pole and enjoying a cup of
strong, dark coffee. The
drink felt good as it went down his throat, soothing and warm.
rested his elbows on the tabletop and stared across the lake.
He well knew the history of the place, knew that this idyllic
setting had been the scene of a bloody gun battle in 1871.
Six brutal criminals had broken out of the Carson City jail and
fled across the state line to this obscure part of California, called then
Monte Diablo Creek. Cornered
in a canyon they'd turned on their pursuers and fought it out, killing the
posse's Indian guide and a local merchant, Robert Morrison while losing
two of their own. It had been
the eager storeowner who’d been the first to spot the crooks as they
took cover among the rocks, and leading the charge, he’d been shot to
death. “Mono Jim” was
buried on the spot, but a gentler fate was in store for Morrison; his body
was taken back to his family and fiancé in the small town of Benton and
buried in the suit he'd planned to wear for his wedding.
lake and the creek that fed it soon acquired descriptive new names, but
inevitably, the passage of years obscured the past.
Convict Lake was famous now not for a dark moment in time but for
the lunkers hiding in its deep waters and postcard views of mountains and
trees and endless blue sky. This
day’s picture was different, though; today it was lowering clouds and
waves that were pewter colored, skipped up by gusts of wind into powdery
bursts. It reminded Harry of
conditions he’d often encountered at sea.
thoughts skittered away to memories of those voyages, some made during
wartime conditions, where the safety of nighttime was a blessed relief to
hours of foul air and oppressive heat, hours of waiting and praying that
the enemy destroyers circling above would miss with their depth charges. Countering that were the watches spent under a blinding
peacetime sun, the ocean smooth as glass, resembling nothing so much as a
vast platter of sparkling highlights.
Then there were the days when the boat shook and shuddered through
waves breaking high on the bridge, when the roiling saltwater tearing
along the sides matched the grayness of the skies above.
As gray as the water and sky was today.
looking near to winter, wouldn’t you say?”
coffee sloshed over his hand as Harry jumped.
Swinging around on the bench, he stared up at a young woman
standing besides the tree. He
centered in on her smile first, a smile set in a pleasant face highlighted
by a small nose and brown eyes. A
paisley shawl covered her hair and she was
wrapped in a long black duster, a band of ruffles from a white dress
peeking out underneath. The
wind was taking the tails of the shawl and tossing it around her
shoulders, and she reached up with a pale hand and smoothed the edges
down, holding the scarf across her throat.
sorry,” she said, her smile turning to an embarrassed grin.
“I didn't mean to frighten you!”
waved that off with a quick “Not at all, not at all,” covering for his
momentary shock at her sudden appearance.
“I just didn't hear you walk up.
I was lost in thought, I guess.”
do tread softly. And the lake has a habit of taking your mind away to
you had any luck?” she asked, leaning slightly towards the large paint
can that served as his fishing bucket.
nice ones today, counting the one I'm about to catch,” Harry said,
grinning. “I'll have a
couple for dinner and add the rest to my cooler for the trip home.”
you're a good fisherman. Everyone
else has given up, seems like,” she added, looking up and down the bank.
enough for today. Are you
staying up here, too?”
shook her head from side to side and tightened the shawl. “Just looking around.”
nodded and took another sip of his coffee.
He glanced over at his line, bowing in a great half-circle as the
wind swirled it around in the current.
No fish there yet.
woman had moved up to stand sideways from him, gazing out over the water.
He could see the tips of nose and chin inside the shawl, lips
slightly parted as she mouthed something he couldn’t hear.
She turned her head and looked towards the mountains at the head of
the lake, their surfaces darkening as evening took hold of the day.
for someone?” Harry slid
around on the bench and his eyes swept the parking lot below the
resort’s store, thinking perhaps who ever she was with was inside.
But Charlie’s battered Jeep was the only vehicle in the lot.
she said softly. “It’s
sure blowing a gale. Don’t
you mind the cold?”
had dressed for the outdoors with an Annapolis sweatshirt under his thick
parka. His hair was hidden
under his lucky hat, a battered floppy bucket draped with old fishing
lures that he’d pulled down around his ears.
Corduroy pants kept his legs warm enough.
The coffee helped. And
then there were all those years of being exposed to the chilling bite of
used to such places,” he answered.
“Best thing to do is just remind myself I’m working for my
dinner. And every so often I
hide behind the tree.” His
eyes crinkled up in another smile, and he was gratified when she did the
there’s a reason you’ve not left yet.
I’ll wager it’s the quiet.
Even with the wind, it’s peaceful.
You’re comfortable here, like you are in other places, aren’t
was startled once again. He had
been thinking about how he felt at home here, how there was something
about the whole Owens Valley area that called to him, just as the sea sang
its siren song. He’d realized it from the minute he’d first driven up
from Los Angeles those many years ago.
It had been right after a friend from Academy days had been killed
in a hit and run accident. He
had visited with the family and attended the funeral, then decided to use
the rest of his leave time to do some fishing in an area he’d heard so
much about. The moment he’d
gone past the old hotel at Little Lake and found the mountains of the
Sierras looming over the small town of Lone Pine, the same sensations he
felt in the middle of an ocean that stretched from horizon to horizon he
felt here, too. It was a place where the vastness of life was actually
physical, where human beings were dwarfed by the rocky masses rising above
them. People who believed
themselves the center of the universe had to be humbled by the sight of
these peaks, their lofty heads hidden in the clouds.
Or at least they ought to be.
He knew it worked for him.
find priorities rearranging themselves out here. It takes a while, but
eventually I find myself truly relaxing, wondering why I go so long
between visits,” Harry admitted. “Then
reality sets in and I recall that I have research projects and a myriad of
responsibilities and duties to come back to.
So I’m good for about a week and then it’s time to go back,
back to work I enjoy very much. I
begin to miss the excitement too, I guess. Sometimes there’s too much
excitement. It’s certainly never boring.”
To his surprise, Harry found himself talking easily to the young
woman, his usual reserve absent.
eyes bored into his as she studied his face, then she allowed another
smile to emerge on her features. “It’s
pleasing to hear that you are happy and content.
Happiness is a gift that so many never receive.
It helps that you are surrounded by people that admire and care for
you. I know that they do.”
laughed at that. “Happy?
Yes, I suppose I am. But
the rest? I think you’d get some arguments there. I doubt if I’ve made many friends among the people that
work for me, past or present. My
standards are very high and I expect the utmost from them.
Not everyone measures up. And--”
you train them up in the best way you can.
They are reflections of you, sir.”
gave him pause, too. In his
long military career he had done all he could to insure that those who
served under him were human beings first and superior naval officers
second. He did not find the two to be incongruous.
Military service did not mean that the ability to wage war negated
your responsibility to be answerable for your actions.
Later on, these standards had been extended to Seaview.
The submarine’s nuclear capabilities made it necessary, indeed
imperative that those in charge understood that the decisions they made
had possible world-changing consequences.
he found himself thinking of Lee and Chip.
Lee Crane had completely settled in as captain, had proven himself
to the crew after a shaky start. He
was everything the commanding officer of Seaview
needed to be, and more. Harry
had had some qualms about giving Lee the command over Chip Morton, Lee’s
Academy roommate and best friend, but if Chip was unhappy he never gave a
sign of it, and the way the two placed professionalism first soon made his
fears groundless. They had
been pushed beyond the usual limits of human endurance many times and had
survived, and had seen to it that those around them did, too.
Harry could not have asked for better officers, or better men, to
oversee the boat’s operations. Whether
in Washington facing a table-full of congressmen or below the surface of
the world’s oceans confronting all manner of enemies, they never gave
less than their maximum effort. He
could say that the success of everything he was involved in, from the
Institute to Seaview herself,
owed much to these two young men. How
easily they fit into his life now. If
he had had children, this is what he would have wanted his sons to become. If they were in some small measure like him, he could think
of no greater legacy.
brought himself back to the moment. The
way the girl was looking at him... it was as if he’d spoken aloud.
Impossible, he thought to himself.
Why, this young woman was a complete stranger!
“All I’ve done is given the people who work for me the chance
to showcase their abilities,” he said gruffly.
“The rest is up to them and--”
a muffled yell, he broke off talking to look up in the direction of the
store. The lights were off in
the building and Charlie Higgins was just getting into the Jeep. Charlie
waved towards Harry, flashed his lights and drove off.
Harry waved back and glanced at his watch.
It was almost an hour after sunset.
Just a few more minutes and he’d have to pull in his line.
-- you've got a fish!”
turned and looked at the water. He
took a second to put down his coffee cup and then strode over to the
water's edge, just in time to see a good-sized trout break the surface of
the lake. Grabbing the pole he gave the line a strong yank and set the
hook. “It’s a good one,
from the way he's pull--” Turning around, he realized he was once again
alone. The girl was gone, departing as quietly as she had appeared.
A vague sense of disquiet passed over him, and then he was
distracted by another strong tug on the line.
Turning back to the work at hand, Harry reeled steadily in.
mere seconds the fish was landed and went directly into the bucket.
Harry sat back at the table and finished off his coffee, staring up
at the clouds forming themselves over the peaks, locking the picture into
his senses once more. These
mountains gave him a feeling of... belonging was the word that came to mind. It was the same feeling he felt on the bridge of his boats.
Joseph Conrad had written about the sea that it
had “its irresponsible consciousness of power.” Harry thought that
extended to mountain ranges, too. If
he could assign anthropomorphic characteristics to ocean or rock, he would
say that neither cared who you were or what you thought you can do.
It was necessary only that you bow to their will, and then you
could take your place honestly and fairly.
And he had done that, he thought, in his life and in his career.
up his gear Harry walked to his cabin, then took his time cleaning the
fish and getting dinner ready. The
wind was making the aspens around the cabin sing, and Harry was grateful
for the fireplace and the warmth it provided.
Standing at the stove in the small kitchen, ignoring the sizzle
coming from the frying pan where his dinner was cooking, Harry recalled
the encounter with the young woman. That
the girl -- ruefully, he recalled he had never asked her name -- had
caused him to think, no, even talk about himself, he found hard to
believe. It was an odd
sensation, one that he wasn’t at all used to.
turned the fish over in the pan, realizing he was working up to berating
himself. His solid New
England upbringing had instilled in him a reluctance to display his
feelings. They were to be
kept inside, where they belonged.
It had served him well in wartime, when death was a constant
presence, when friends could be taken in an instant.
It had also led to a solitary existence.
He had determined early on not to go to war leaving loved ones
behind; in submarines the chance of dying was just too great, and it was a
burden he was unwilling to leave to a wife and family.
As the years went by he’d found no reason to modify his decision,
concentrating instead on building a future in the Navy.
had been women in his life, of course, many whom he remembered with
fondness and a few with longing and desire.
Edith had worked on him for a while with a succession of friends
and associates, but his sister had had to acknowledge eventually that he
was a lost cause. The women
had all drifted away, unwilling to compete with the females in his life
whom he seemed to value above all else -- his beloved boats.
and the “silent service” had thus defined his life. He’d enjoyed a long and gratifying career complete with
honors and distinction, rank following rank until he’d retired as a full
admiral. Along the way he’d
also gained a reputation of being stand-offish and unsociable.
A prickly personality, many would say, if they felt like being
polite. There were plenty of
people who would use even stronger words to describe him.
retirement came a determination to leave the world a better place.
Founding the Nelson Institute of Marine Research had accomplished
that. It had taken thousands
of hours of work and millions of dollars, but the Institute was now
world-renowned, present and future generations benefitting from the work
the Institute’s scientists and researchers conducted. And one of the Institute’s proudest achievements was a
fantastic submarine. From
stem to stern Seaview was his,
built to specifications that only a great mind could visualize and
pop of sizzling oil brought Harry back to the present. He set the table and grabbed a cold beer from the
refrigerator as the thoughts churning in his mind settled.
Perhaps it was a good thing he was leaving tomorrow; there’d be
no chance to run into the young woman again.
Though he would ask Charlie about her when he checked out.
Just to satisfy his curiosity.
a few minutes the fish was done and on the table.
He picked up his knife and fork and dug in. It had been a very good vacation.
* * * *
the door of the store open, Harry advanced with his hand out and a big
grin on his face. “Glad to
see you’re here, Charlie! How’s
your day going, Chief?”
Higgins reached a beefy hand out and they shook hands.
“As right as rain, Admiral!
Checking out? I’ll
be sorry to see you go, sir!”
was a friend from diesel boat days.
Harry had told him about Convict Lake, and after retirement Charlie
had found a job at the resort, where he enjoyed visiting with his old navy
buddies and swapping both fish and war stories.
He was a big, well fed fellow with a crop of snowy white hair and a
drooping white mustache, his blue eyes matching Harry’s in their
stood together catching up on each other’s business as Harry turned in
the key and took his receipt. He
waited while Charlie dealt with a couple of fishermen buying bait and then
as soon as the door shut behind them asked the question that had been on
his mind since the previous evening.
you have anyone staying in the other cabins, Charlie?”
shook his head, mustache ends swinging from side to side.
“You’re it, Admiral. We’re
getting ready to close. If it hadn’t been you calling for the
reservation, nobody’d be here this week.”
He laid a finger alongside his nose and winked.
“Gives me the chance to have some peace and quiet, get some
fishing in all by myself before the season ends.”
Grinning, he rubbed his hands together and said, “‘Course, I
never mind fishing with you, sir. Sorry
I didn’t get a chance to walk down last night.
Missus had a chore waiting for me when I got home.
You looked mighty lonely down there all by yourself.”
flashed a grin of his own, eyes twinkling.
“But I wasn’t alone. Had
a nice conversation with a young woman.
She was standing there talking to me when you came out of the
store. I didn’t ask her
name, thought you might know.”
expression sobered and he looked questioningly at Harry.
“Admiral… there wasn’t anybody down there with you
chuckled again, and rubbed the back of his ear. “Now, Chief, I know your eyes are getting old, but you
weren’t 75 yards from me. She
was standing there right beside the picnic table.
And don’t get any ideas. I’m
just curious, that’s all.”
folded his arms and regarded his old boss, then nodded his head
decisively. “Was she
wearing a long black coat and a white wedding dress?”
had on a long black coat, but I don't know about the dress part,” Harry
it's a wedding dress alright. She
was gonna wear it for her wedding to Robert Morrison.”
Morrison… what are you saying, Charlie?”
saying that you got to see our resident ghost, Admiral. Jenny Bell's up
here looking for her husband to be, poor old Bob Morrison who was killed
by those rotten outlaws from the jailbreak in Carson City, so long ago.”
ghost. That's impossible.”
shook his head. “That's
what they all say. Everybody
figures it’s a prank, a sick joke by some of the bored kids around here. But I've checked. There's
no girl in the valley or up at Mammoth that looks like the one you saw.
Except for the girl in this old photo.”
Charlie turned around, plucked a picture off the wall and handed it
to Harry, who took it and looked down, ready to argue.
words died on his lips. In
the center of the photograph was a young girl standing with her hand on
the shoulder of a seated young man. The
man was looking off to the side, looking solemn, but the girl was staring
into the camera, smiling. It
was the same smile that he had seen the day before, the same eyes.
The sepia coloring of the print kept him from knowing the color of
the dress she was wearing. But
he did not need color to recognize the shawl around her shoulders.
was taken a week before Bob went up the mountain after the convicts.
They were going to get hitched as soon as he got back.
Jenny spent the rest of her life alone, living in Benton and
grieving. These days, she's
up here looking for him. People tell me they’ve seen her late in the day, walking
towards the creek. They get
closer, she’s not there anymore.”
fiber of Harry’s scientific training was rebelling against this.
“I just can’t accept it, Charlie.
There’s got to be another explanation.”
took the frame and placed it carefully back on the wall.
“I figured that too, sir, ‘til one time when I was out there by
myself.... You and me must be
special, Admiral. She’s
talked to us. Knows a kindred
soul when she sees one, I guess. Lost
a lot of shipmates, we have. Sudden-like,
sometimes. She got me
to thinkin’ about all those guys on eternal patrol.”
Charlie’s sun-darkened face reddened and he cleared his throat.
“I like to think that maybe, some day, I’ll see them again.”
stared at the old chief, seeing a history of the service flash before his
eyes. The friends, the
crewmembers, even the men he’d never met but who were fellow shipmates
just the same. The violent
death of so many, whether by enemy action or accident, was hard to forget.
Like Tom Sheppard, killed by a driver that hadn’t had the guts to
stop. Much as his rational
mind railed against it, Harry would not be surprised if some of them
roamed the world, intent on remaining involved with the living.
is it that John Donne said? ‘No
man is an island, entire of itself’,” Harry mused.
who, Admiral? What boat was
laughed, and clapped his old friend on the shoulder. “Never mind, Charlie.
If you say it was a ghost, I’ll believe you.
After being on Seaview, I’m pretty much up for
another round of handshakes and well wishes Harry left the store and
headed for his car, taking one last look at the lake.
There was a lone fisherman standing on the bank.
Harry watched as the man took a mighty swing and heaved his line
far out into the water. Silently
he wished him luck.
opened the trunk of the car and carefully put away his belongings and the
cooler full of fish. He would
make plans to come back when the season opened next year. Maybe he’d see Jenny again, after all. As he’d told Charlie, service on the Seaview had convinced him that nothing was impossible.
Then again he hoped that there would be no sightings of her, hoped
that in the meantime she’d find what she was searching for.
thought back to what she had said about happiness being a gift.
Had he actually told her that he was happy?
He had to admit, he had. He
toyed for a few moments with that, his analytical, no nonsense brain
looking for ways to contradict it, and had to conclude there were none.
At another time and another place he might have said something
else, but here, in these mountains, to concede that he was happy was a
certainty he could not deny. And
then, what she had said about the people around him.... maybe that was
something he needed to accept, too. In
Santa Barbara, two young men who had enriched his life awaited his return.
Perhaps it was time to let them know how much he appreciated their
forbearance with a grouchy old sailor.
the trunk on his gear, Harry started up the car and drove down the road,
heading for home.
“Friends depart, and memory takes them
To her caverns, pure and deep.”
Thomas Haynes Bayly, “Teach me to forget”
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