29. March 2022 · Comments Off on Another Snippit from Luna City 11 · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Luna City

(In which we go back in time to the 1930s, when Letty McAllister and Stephen Wyler were young teenagers, and together with their friends were peripherally involved in international intrigue and a political murder…)

If anyone – such as Dym’s mother – worried that the boy would be the odd one out among his new schoolfellows, such fears were allayed within the first week of school. Of course, the sponsorship of Stephen Wyler, son of the wealthiest landowner in the county, and the ready friendship of Douglas and Letty McAllister, might have had a lot to do with it. But left to himself, Dym Marcus was adept at ingratiation – intelligent, charming and with wide-ranging enthusiasms. Madame Katya Marcus should have nothing to worry about – and the walnut-shaped and sweet-cream-filled cookies, and the many-layered jam-filled pastries that she made for the children would have ensured a welcome among his peers for a child less socially-skilled. Within the space of that week, he was accepted as one of the unofficial club, even though their established meeting place and club-house, the teepee constructed out of river wrack had been demolished a year or two ago in a spring flood, all the bits and pieces that had made it their little refuge washed away. If they couldn’t go to that place anymore, there was always the wide acreage of the Wyler ranch … and then there was Dym’s house, with Madame Marcus, Pilar Gonzales, the Mexican housekeeper, the hovering older brothers, and Professor Marcus.

“Mr. Hyde told us all about ancient sieges,” Douglas remarked one day, as the four of them walked from school to the Markus house, tagged along by Artie Vaughn and shadowed by Dym’s older brother. “Back in the old days, they built enormous machines to batter down walls. The ancient Romans had all kinds of keen stuff to break into enemy strongholds and throw stuff at their enemies. I never heard about all this … have you ever seen any of them, Dym?”

“No,” Dym admitted, sounding regretful, but his face brightened. “But I’ve seen pictures in books, and Papuch says he built scale models of them, when he was a boy. A battering ram, and a ballista … I’ll bet he and Mikhail would help us build ones that would really work.”

“That would be a keen school project for Mr. Hyde’s history class!” Douglas sounded terribly excited. “And we could bring them to school and demonstrate how they really work … do you really think your Pop would help us build them?”

“Oh, for sure,” Dym replied, and Stephen enthused,

“There’s an old shed at the ranch with the roof all busted in. Pop’s been talking about knocking the rest of it down since forever! We could try out the battering ram on a real wall, if we can make it big enough!”

Letty sighed, to herself. Boys – all about building things and bashing things down. But still – she was intrigued at the thought of building something historic and mechanical. She and Douglas often built model airplanes together: Letty was exceptionally skilled at painting the tiny details. Sometimes Letty wondered about herself – why she wasn’t really interested in doing girl-things, like embroidery, fussing with her hair and clothing, giggling about the attentions of boys, and trying inexpertly to get the attention of a certain boy. Letty already had the attention and respect of the boys that she knew; she liked doing the things that they did, and was interested in a lot of the same things they were interested in. She didn’t want to be a boy – she just wanted to go places and do things, adventurous things, just like her brother and Stephen and Dym did. Mama often sighed and said that Letty would be a confirmed bluestocking, whatever that was. But Papa chuckled at that, saying that Letty knew her own mind very well, and that he always liked women who knew their own mind and spoke in their own words. Which made Letty feel so much better. And actually, she really did want to see how a life-sized model battering ram, or a ballista would really work.

It turned out that Dym’s father was just as interested himself, although Madam Marcus tut-tutted under her breath. Professor Marcus was lean and gnomish, almost the age of Letty’s grandfather as she remembered him, but with a turn of enthusiasm for projects of a nature such as the one to build an almost-full-scale battering ram and ballista which seemed to transform him into a boy hardly older than Stephen, Dym, Artie, and Douglas. Upon hearing about this latest enthusiasm over lemonade and those sweet walnut-shaped cookies, the professor announced,

“Then we shall build it, my lads! To my workroom! I have some books – Katya, bring me the book from the study – folio-sized, red cover, second from the left on the bottom shelf under the window … yes, yes – it’s about siege warfare in the medieval era…”

The Professor hustled off to in the direction of his workshop, leaving Letty hesitating, as Madam Marcus rang a small silver bell, resting on the table in the cluttered dining room. In a moment, Pilar appeared from the direction of the kitchen, wiping her hands on a dishcloth.

“Pilar, you may clear away the tea things,” Madam Marcus sighed. “I will bring the book to him – his library is organized on methods that are only apparent to his closest. My husband has been overtaken with yet another enthusiasm.”

“Yes, Madam Marcus,” Pilar replied, although Letty sensed that the younger woman’s countenance was carefully blank, even as Madam Marcus went off to search for the particular red-covered folio.

“Let me help,” Letty suggested – the McAllisters didn’t have servants of any sort, although there was a woman who came to help with spring cleaning, sometimes. She and Mama always worked side by side. Madam Marcus looked faintly shocked, but Pilar nodded an assent, as she tucked the towel into the waistband of her apron, and took up the tray upon which the teapot, milk pitcher and sugar bowl sat, with the empty plate adorned with crumbs which had contained cookies and little squares of frosted cake. Pilar added the empty cups to the tray, and Letty stacked the abandoned plates and added the dirty silverware to the top plate and followed Pilar into the kitchen.

Letty was intrigued by the Marcus’ housekeeper. She didn’t look like a housekeeper or a maid at all. Instead, Letty thought she seemed more like who Letty imagined to be the something-heroine in the opera Carmen. Pilar was young, slim, with her dark hair pulled back into a bun high on the back of her head. Pilar had hazel eyes and a fair complexion; she didn’t look in the least like the Gonzales and Gonzalez kin in Luna City. Perhaps she was a distant cousin since Pilar looked … exotic. Letty could imagine her, with a bright red flower tucked behind her ear, singing in a vibrant contralto about her many lovers; soldiers, smugglers and bullfighters alike. Letty’s parents loved listening to radio broadcasts from New York on Saturday afternoons, from the Metropolitan Opera company. Stephen’s parents had even gone to the opera house there and told them all how splendid it was to see in person! The spectacle and the music! Letty’s parents could never in their lives afford – or even want to travel all the way to New York for anything, let alone to see the opera. But they loved listening to the radio; a touch of the wider world, Papa often said – and what a blessing it was! When he was a boy, he often told Douglas and Letty – all they had was the magazines and newspapers which might be anywhere from a week to a month late! What a miracle, the modern age and technology!

As Letty set the stacked crumby plates down in the kitchen sink, she turned to Pilar, and inquired in all seriousness, “Are you really kin to Don Jaimie, of the Rancho? Everyone here in Luna City called Gonzales with an s or a z hereabouts is kin to them. They have been here since forever, my Papa says.”

“Your papa is correct in that,” Pilar answered, as she took the various elements of the tea service and plopped them down in the metal sink, careless of whether she chipped the fine China or not. “I am indeed a very distant cousin to your Don Jaimie – my father is Don Pedro Rodriguez of Morelia. He was the Alcalde there, for a brief time. It was all very complicated…”

“I know complicated,” Letty replied, and then she heard someone calling her name from the little yard in back of the house. “I have to go, Pilar. The boys want to show off to me … or have me help work something complicated, I think.”

“A familiar feeling, hija!” Pilar responded with a smile, as Letty went off towards the workshop shed, across the little garden in back of the house, where Professor Marcus and the boys were pulling odd bits of lumber from behind the sturdy shed which seemed to serve as his workroom/laboratory, while her brother and Stephen were intensely studying a picture in an enormous red-covered book.


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