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Chapter 2


The thing that hath been, it is that which

shall be, and that which is done is that

which shall be done, and there is

no new thing under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:9

THANK HEAVEN ships use a consistent numbering system. Stateroom C109 was where it should be: on C deck, starboard side forward, between C107 and C111; I reached it without having to speak to anyone. I tried the door; it was locked - Mr Graham apparently believed the warnings pursers give about locking doors, especially in port.

The key, I thought glumly, is in Mr Graham's pants pocket. But where is Mr Graham? About to catch me snooping at his door? Or is the trying my door while I am trying his door?

There is a small but not zero chance that a given key will fit a strange lock. I had in my own pocket my room key from the Konge Knut. I tried it.

Well, it was worth trying. I stood there, wondering whether to sneeze or drop dead, when I heard a sweet voice behind me:

'Oh, Mr Graham!'

A young and pretty woman in a maid's costume - Correction: stewardess' uniform. She came bustling toward me, took a pass key that was chained to her belt, opened C109, while saying, 'Margrethe asked me to watch for you. She told me that you had left your cabin key on your desk. She let it stay but told me to watch for you and let you in.'

'That's most kind, of you, Miss, uh-'

'I'm Astrid. I have the matching rooms on the port side, so Marga and I cover for each other. She's gone ashore this afternoon.' She held the door for me. 'Will that be all, sir?'

I thanked her, she left. I latched and bolted the door, collapsed in a chair and gave way to the shakes.

Ten minutes later I stood up, went into the bathroom, put cold water on my face and eyes. I had not solved anything and had not wholly calmed down, but my nerves were no longer snapping like a flag in a high wind. I had been holding myself in ever since I had begun to suspect that something was seriously wrong, which was - when? When nothing seemed quite right at the fire pit? Later? Well, with utter certainty when I saw one 20,000-ton ship substituted for another.

My father used to tell me, 'Alex, there is nothing wrong with being scared... as long as you don't let it affect you until the danger is over. Being hysterical is okay, too... afterwards and in private. Tears are not unmanly... in the bathroom with the door locked. The difference between a coward and a brave man is mostly a matter of timing.'

I'm not the man my father was but I try to follow his advice. If you can learn not to jump when the firecracker goes off - or whatever the surprise is - you stand a good chance of being able to hang tight until the emergency is over.

This emergency was not over but I had benefited by the catharsis of a good case of shakes. Now I could take stock.

Hypotheses:

a) Something preposterous has happened to the world around me, or

b) Something preposterous has happened to Alex Hergensheimer's mind; he should be locked up and sedated.

I could not think of a third hypothesis; those two seemed to cover all bases. The second hypothesis I need not waste time on. If, I were raising snakes in my hat, eventually other people would notice and come around with a straitjacket and put me in a nice padded room.

So let's assume that I am sane (or nearly so; being a little bit crazy is helpful). If I am okay, then the world is .out of joint. Let's take stock.

That wallet. Not mine. Most wallets are generally similar to each other and this one was much like mine. But carry a wallet for a few years and it fits you; it is distinctly yours. I had known at once that this one was not mine. But I did not want to say so to a ship's petty officer who insisted on, 'recognizing' me as 'Mr Graham'.

I took out Graham's wallet and opened it.

Several hundred francs - count it later.

Eighty-five dollars in paper - legal tender of 'The United States of North America'.

A driver's license issued to A. L. Graham.

There were more items but I came across a window occupied by a typed notice, one that stopped me cold:

Anyone finding this wallet may keep any money in it as a reward if he will be so kind as to return the wallet to A. L. Graham, cabin C109, S.S. KONGE KNUT, Danish American Line, or to any purser or agent of the line. Thank you. A.L.G.

So now I knew what had happened to the Konge Knut; she had undergone a sea change.

Or had I? Was there truly a changed world and therefore a changed ship? Or were there two worlds and had I somehow walked through fire into the second one? Were there indeed two men and had they swapped destinies? Or had Alex Hergensheimer metamorphized into Alec Graham while M. V. Konge Knut changed into S. S. Konge Knut? (While the North American Union melted into the United States of North America?)

Good questions. I'm glad you brought them up. Now, class, are there any more questions

When I was in middle school there was a spate of magazines publishing fantastic, stories, not alone ghost stories but weird yarns of every sort. Magic ships plying the ether to, other stars. Strange inventions. Trips to the centre of the earth. Other 'dimensions'. Flying machines. Power from burning atoms. Monsters created in secret laboratories.

I used to buy them and hide them inside copies of Youth's Companion and of Young Crusaders knowing instinctively that my parents would disapprove and confiscate. I loved them and so did my outlaw chum Bert.

It couldn't last. First there was an editorial in Youth's Companion: 'Poison to the Soul - Stamp it Out!' Then our pastor, Brother Draper, preached a sermon against such mind-corrupting trash, with comparisons to the evil effects of cigarettes and booze. Then our state outlawed such publications under the 'standards of the community' doctrine even before passage of the national law and the parallel executive order.

And a cache I had hidden 'perfectly' in our attic disappeared. Worse, the works of Mr H. G. Wells and M. Jules Verne and some others were taken out of our public library.

You have to admire the motives of our spiritual leaders and elected officials in seeking to protect the minds of the young. As Brother Draper pointed out, there are enough exciting and adventurous stories in the Good Book to satisfy the needs of every boy and girl in the world; there was simply no need for profane literature. He was not urging censorship of books for adults, just for the impressionable young. If persons of mature years wanted to read such fantastic trash, suffer them to do so - although he, for one, could not see why any grown man would want to.

I guess I was one of the 'impressionable young' - I still miss them.

I remember particularly one by Mr Wells: Men Like Gods. These people were driving along in an automobile when an explosion happens and they find themselves in another world, much like their own but better. They meet the people who live there and there is explanation about parallel universes and the fourth dimension and such.

That was the first installment. The Protect-Our-Youth state law was passed right after that, so I never saw the later installments.

One of my English professors who was bluntly opposed to censorship once said that Mr Wells had invented every one of the basic fantastic themes, and he cited this story as the origin of the multiple-universes concept. I was intending to ask this prof if he knew where I could find a copy, but I put it off to the end of the term when I would be legally 'of mature years' - and waited too long; the academic senate committee on faith and morals voted against tenure for that professor, and he left abruptly without finishing the term.

Did something happen to me like that which Mr Wells described in Men Like Gods? Did Mr Wells have the holy gift of prophecy? For example, would men someday actually fly to the moon? Preposterous!

But was it more preposterous than what had happened to me?

As may be, here. I was in Konge Knut (even though she was not my, Konge Knut) and the sailing board at the gangway showed her getting underway at 6 p.m. It was already late afternoon and high time for me to decide.

What to do? I seemed to have mislaid my own ship, the Motor Vessel Konge Knut. But the crew (some of the crew) of the Steamship Konge Knut seemed ready to accept me as 'Mr Graham', passenger.

Stay aboard and try to brazen it out? What if Graham comes aboard (any minute now!) and demands to know what I am doing in his room?

Or go ashore (as I should) and go to the authorities with my problem?

Alex, the French colonial authorities will love you. No baggage, only the clothes on your back, no money, not a sou - no passport! Oh, they will love you so much they'll give you room and board for the rest of your life ... in an oubliette with a grill over the top.

There's money in that wallet.

So? Ever heard of the Eighth Commandment? That's his money.

But it stands to reason that he walked through the fire at the same time you did but on this side, this world or whatever - or his wallet would not have been waiting for you. Now he has your wallet. That's logical.

Listen, my retarded friend, do you think logic has anything to do with the predicament we are in?

Well

Speak up!

No, not really. Then how about this? Sit tight in this room. If Graham shows up before, the ship sails, you get kicked off the ship, that's sure. But you would be no worse off than you will be if you leave now. If he does not show up, then you take his place at least as far as Papeete. That's a big city; your chances of coping with the situation are far better there. Consuls and such.

You talked me into it.

Passenger ships usually publish a daily newspaper for the passengers - just a single or double sheet filled with thrilling items such as 'There will be a boat drill at ten o'clock this morning. All passengers are requested -' and 'Yesterday's mileage pool was won by Mrs Ephraim Glutz of Bethany, Iowa' and, usually, a few news items picked up by the wireless operator. I looked around for the ship's paper and for the 'Welcome Aboard!' This latter is a booklet (perhaps with another name) intended to make the passenger newly aboard sophisticated in the little world of the ship: names of the officers, times of meals, location of barber shop, laundry, dining room, gift shop (notions, magazines, toothpaste), and how to place a morning call, plan of the ship by decks, location of life preserver, how, to find your lifeboat station, where to get your table assignment-

'Table assignment'! Ouch! A passenger who has been aboard even one day does not have to ask how to find his table in the dining room. It's the little things that trip you. Well, I'd have to bull it through.

The welcome-aboard booklet was tucked into Graham's desk. I thumbed through it, with a mental note to memorize all key facts before I left this room - if I was still aboard when the ship sailed - then put it aside, as I had found the ship's newspaper:

The King's Skald it was headed and Graham, bless him, had saved all of them from the day he had boarded the ship... at Portland, Oregon, as I deduced from the place and date line of the, earliest issue. That suggested that Graham was ticketed for the entire cruise, which could be important to me. I had expected to go back as I had arrived, by airship - but, even if the dirigible liner Admiral Moffett existed in this world or dimension or whatever, I no longer had a ticket for it and no money with which to buy one. What do these French colonials do to a tourist who has no money? Burn him at the stake? Or merely draw and quarter him? I did not want to find out. Graham's roundtrip ticket (if he had one) might keep me from having to find out.

(If he didn't show up in the next hour and have me kicked off the ship.)

I did not consider remaining in Polynesia. Being a penniless beachcomber on Bora-Bora or Moorea may have been practical a hundred years ago but today the only thing free in these islands is contagious disease.

It seemed likely that I would be just as broke and just as much a stranger in America but nevertheless I felt that I would be better off in my native land. Well, Graham's native land.

I read some of the wireless news items but could not make sense of them, so I put them aside for later study. What little I had learned from them was not comforting. I had cherished deep down an illogical hope that this would turn out to be just a silly mixup that would soon be straightened out (don't ask me how). But those news items ended all hoping.

I mean to say, what sort of world is it in which the 'President' of Germany visits London? In my world Kaiser Wilhelm IV rules the German Empire - A 'president' for Germany sounds as silly as a 'king' for America.

This might he a pleasant world... but it was not the world I was born into. Not by those weird news items.

As I put away. Graham's file of The King's Skald I noted on the top sheet today's prescribed dress for dinner: 'Formal'.

I was not surprised; the Konge Knut in her other incarnation as a motor vessel was quite formal. If the ship was underway, black tie was expected. If you didn't wear it, you were made to feel that you really ought to eat in your stateroom.

I don't own a tuxedo; our church does not encourage vanities. I had compromised by wearing a blue serge suit at dinners underway, with a white shirt and a snap-on black bow tie. Nobody said anything. It did not matter, as I was below the salt anyhow, having come aboard at Papeete.

I decided to see if Mr Graham owned a dark suit. And a black tie.

Mr Graham owned lots of clothes, far more than I did. I tried on a sports jacket; it fit me well enough.. Trousers? Length seemed okay; I was not sure about the waistband - and too shy to try on a pair and thereby risk being caught by Graham with one leg in his trousers, What does one say? Hi, there! I was just waiting for you and thought I would pass the time by trying on your pants. Not convincing.

He had not one but two tuxedos, one in conventional black and the other in dark red - I had never heard of such frippery.

But I did not find a snap-on bow tie.

He had black bow ties, several. But I have never learned how to tie a bow tie.

I took a deep breath and thought about it.

There came a knock at the door. I didn't jump out of my skin, just almost. 'Who's there!' (Honest, Mr Graham, I was just waiting for you!) -

'Stewardess, sir.'

'Oh. Come in, come in!'

I heard her try her key, then I jumped to turn back the bolt. 'Sorry. I had forgotten that I had used the dead bolt.

Do come in.'

Margrethe turned out to be about the age of Astrid, youngish, and even prettier, with flaxen hair and freckles across her nose. She spoke textbook-correct English with a charming lilt to it. She was carrying a short white jacket on a coat hanger. 'Your mess jacket, sir. Karl says the other one will be ready tomorrow.'

'Why, thank you, Margrethe! I had forgotten all about it.

I thought you might. So I came back aboard a little early - the laundry was just closing. I'm glad I did; it's much too hot for you to wear black.'

'You shouldn't have come back early; you're spoiling me.'

'I like to take good care of my guests. As you know.' She hung the jacket in the wardrobe, turned to leave. 'I'll be back to tie your tie. Six-thirty as usual, sir?'

'Six-thirty is fine. What time is it now?' (Tarnation, my watch was gone wherever Motor Vessel Konge Knut had vanished; I had not worn it ashore.)

'Almost six o'clock.' She hesitated. 'I'll lay out your clothes before I go; you don't have much time.'

'My dear girl! That's no part of your duties.'

'No, it's my pleasure.' She opened a drawer, took out a dress shirt, placed it on my/Graham's bunk. 'And you know why.' With the quick efficiency of a person who knows exactly where everything is, she opened a ' small desk drawer that I had not touched, took out a leather case, from it laid out by the shirt a watch, a ring, and shirt studs, then inserted studs into the shirt, placed fresh underwear and black silk socks on the pillow, placed evening pumps by the chair with shoe horn tucked inside, took from the wardrobe that mess jacket, hung it and black dress trousers (braces attached) and dark red cummerbund on the front of the wardrobe. She glanced over and a fresh the layout, added a wing collar, a black tie, and a fresh handkerchief to the stack on the pillow - cast her eye over it again, placed the room key and the wallet by the ring and the watch - glanced again, nodded. 'I must run or I'll miss dinner. I'll be back for the tie.' And she was gone, not running but moving very fast.

Margrethe was so right. If she had not laid out everything, I would still be struggling to put myself together. That shirt alone would have stopped me; it was one of the dive-in-and-button-up-the-back sort. I had never worn one.

Thank heaven Graham used an ordinary brand of safety razor. By six-fifteen I had touched up my morning shave, showered (necessary!), and washed the smoke out of my hair.

His shoes fit me as if I had broken them in myself. His trousers were a bit tight in the waist - a Danish ship is no place to lose weight and I had been in the Motor Vessel Konge Knut for a fortnight. I was still struggling with that consarned backwards shirt when Margarethe let herself in with her pass key.

She came straight to me, said, 'Hold still,' and quickly buttoned the buttons I could not reach. Then she fitted that fiendish collar over its collar buttons, laid the tie around my neck. 'Turn around, please.'

Tying a bow tie properly involves magic. She knew the spell.

She helped me with the cummerband, held my jacket for me, looked me over and announced, 'You'll do. And I'm proud of you; at dinner the girls were talking about you.' I wish I had seen it. You are very brave.'

'Not brave. Foolish. I talked when I should have kept still.'

'Brave. I must go - I left Kristina guarding a cherry tart for me. But if I stay away too long someone will steal it.'

'You run along. And thank you loads'. Hurry and save that tart.'

'Aren't you going to pay me?'

'Oh. What payment would you like?'

'Don't tease me!' She moved a few inches closer, turned her face up. I don't know much about girls (who does?) but some signals are large print. I took her by her shoulders, kissed both cheeks, hesitated just long enough to be certain that she was neither displeased nor surprised, then placed one right in the middle'. Her lips were full and

warm.

'Was that the payment you had in mind?'

'Yes, of course. But you can kiss better than that. You know you can.' She pouted her lower lip, then dropped her eyes.

'Brace. yourself.'

Yes, I can kiss lots better than that. Or could by the time we had used up that kiss. By letting Margrethe lead it and heartily cooperating in whatever way she seemed to think a better kiss should go I learned more about kissing in the next two minutes than I had learned in my entire life up to then.

My ears roared.

For a moment after we broke she held still in my arms and looked up at me most soberly. 'Alec,' she said softly, 'that's the best you've ever kissed me. Goodness. Now I'm going to run before I make you late for dinner.' She slipped out of my arms and left as she did everything, quickly.

I inspected myself in the mirror. No marks. A kiss that emphatic ought to leave marks.

What sort of person was this Graham? I could wear his clothes ... but could I cope with his woman? Or was she his? Who knows? - I did not. Was he a lecher, a womanizer? Or was I butting in on a perfectly nice if somewhat indiscreet romance?

How do you walk back- through a fire pit?

And did I want to?

Go aft to the main companionway, then down two decks and go aft again - that's what the ship's plans in the booklet showed.

No problem. A man at the door of the dining saloon, dressed much as I was but with a menu under his arm, had to be the head waiter, the chief dining-room steward. He confirmed it with a big professional smile. 'Good evening, Mr Graham.'

I paused. 'Good evening. What's this about a change in seating arrangements? Where am I to sit tonight?' (If you grab the bull by the horns, you at least confuse him.)

'It's not a permanent change, sir. Tomorrow you will be back at table fourteen. But tonight the Captain has asked that you sit at his table. If you will follow me, sir.'

He led me to an oversize table amidships, started to seat me on the Captain's right - and the Captain stood up and started to clap, the others at his table followed suit, and shortly everyone in the dining room (it seemed) was standing and clapping and some were cheering.

I learned two things at that dinner. First, it was clear that Graham had pulled the same silly stunt I had (but it still was not clear 'Whether there was one of us or two of us - I tabled that question).

Second, but of major importance: Do not drink ice-cold Aalborg akvavit on an empty stom`ach, especially if you were brought up White Ribbon as I was.




Chapter 1 | JOB: A Comedy of Justice | Chapter 3



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