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By the time he got to Queen Charlotte City, Scott thoroughly regretted his decision to take the ferry. He could have flown. He realized by now that he should have taken the jet from Vancouver to the Queen Charlotte Islands.
Instead, he had taken one ferry to Vancouver Island and another to Queen Charlotte, thinking that it would be better for the baby. That was before he discovered that Robin Scott Alexander was subject to violent attacks of seasickness. Incredible that he and this baby could share blood, yet take to the sea so differently.
Sitting in the aft passenger lounge of the ferry, Scott crooned at the baby. Robin Scott howled back at him. Scott made rocking motions with his arms in hopes of enticing the unhappy infant into silence, perhaps even into sleep. During all his own years at sea, Scott had secretly believed that seasickness was psychological, a physical symptom of fear. Yet here he was, saddled with a two-month-old bundle of screaming, whimpering agonies, and a twenty-six hour ferry trip. Psychological? He had always tried to be patient with his seasick crewmembers, but he vowed in future to be more sympathetic.
"Easy, kiddo," he crooned, shifting the baby up to his shoulder.
Behind him, an irritable voice muttered, "Shut that bloody kid up, for God's sake! I'm getting sick of this!"
So was he! Scott stood up with Robin in his arms and grimaced wryly at the amused stare of the matronly woman sitting opposite. Earlier, he had nursed the futile hope that she might offer to hold the baby, might silence Robin with some magical motherly touch. Unfortunately, his wishful thinking had been pure fantasy. The matron had smiled sympathetically, but showed no sign of wanting to take over Scott's problem.
Walking, pacing between the rows of passenger seats on the Queen of the North, Scott finally soothed the infant into stillness.
Silence, then the faint moaning, then the stiffening of the little body. He recognized the warning signs, knew he had only seconds to avert disaster. He dodged around two slow-moving, elderly men and dashed through the cafeteria, then around three businessmen and a young mother with a toddler. He ran desperately for the men's room and-this time-got there before young Robin threw up all over yet another clean shirt!
A day and a night on the ferry and Scott had worked his way through three shirts and two pairs of trousers. And this was supposed to be simpler than taking the jet?
But it had seemed such a good idea. Robin Scott Alexander had been an angel back in Vancouver. Too young to realize he had lost his mother, to worry that his future was very uncertain, the baby had slept through the funeral, and had gurgled happily in his crib while Scott sorted through Donna's possessions, crating up the personal things that the baby might want some day, sending them on by courier to his own home on Cortes Island. Sorting, throwing out, saving, he had learned more about Donna than he had known during her short life.
While he sorted through the souvenirs of Donna's life, he had wrestled with the problem of this baby, Donna's child by a man she had never been willing to name. He did not want to leave the child to the whims of the social welfare system, orphaned and alone, and yet-
Then he had found the letters, just as Robin opened his throat and let out a mighty wail. A new diaper-thank the lord for the public health nurse who had come and shown Scott about diapers and formulas! Then a bottle, and with Robin sucking contentedly on his bottle, Scott had read the letters that gave him the answer to little Robin's future. One phone call and he was sure baby Robin's father would be flying to Vancouver to take charge of his son.
The Queen Charlotte Islands, those ancient bits of land in the cold Pacific waters of northern British Columbia. Scott had seen the hills and mountains from the decks of various ships over the years. Always passing by, he had never set foot on their shores. His memories held scraps of information gathered from magazine articles and film documentaries, an impression of ancient forests, of quiet, good-hearted people, a world apart from the rat race. A good omen, he had thought. A home for young Robin amid the sounds of sea birds and the love of people close to nature.
Robin. Donna had named the baby after its father.
But there was no telephone number to match the name on Donna's letters. There could be any number of reasons for that. The man might have his number under a business listing. How the devil had Donna, a pure city girl, met a man from those remote islands? Scott had frowned down at the baby, staring into dark eyes that seemed black in most lights. A stranger, this baby, with dark hair and dark eyes, with none of the fair coloring of the Alexanders. Although young Robin Scott Alexander had never been exposed to the hot sun, his skin was darker than Scott's own weathered fair skin, certainly unlike Donna's smooth, pale flesh. Perhaps the father was Haida Indian, or part Haida. It was certainly a possibility, if he lived on the Charlottes.
Reading the letters Donna left behind, he had realized guiltily that he had been too busy with his own life, that Donna had needed him and he had not been there for her. And now little Robin needed someone. Scott frowned, realizing he was planning to hand the infant over to a name on a piece of paper.
What other choice had he? Sylvia, Donna's foster mother, was too frail to take on a child, and there was no one else. Caroline would be shocked if he suggested she look after this child, and rightly so. He shied away from the idea of asking Caroline to marry him and give Robin Scott a home and a family. Marriage had never had a place in Scott's plans for the future, and it was unlikely he'd have any aptitude for fatherhood.
No. It was impossible for him to give the baby a home. A man could not look after a child by remote control from a ship in the Beaufort Sea, even if his year's work was usually completed in the eighteen weeks or so when those northern waters were navigable.
So the answer lay in Queen Charlotte City, a mere hour by commercial jet from Vancouver. But Scott had rejected the idea of the jet, not wanting to disembark at Sandspit airport with an infant baby, dependent on local transportation to get him across the harbor from Sandspit to Queen Charlotte, to find an address that was only a number on a piece of paper. He disliked the idea of being ejected from a taxi, complete with baby and diaper bag, to confront a stranger, yet knew he could not dump little Robin alone in a hotel room while he checked things out.
He might be able to rent a car at the airport, but he had been in enough small, northern communities to know that he could easily end up stranded at the airport with a telephone number for a car rental outfit, and no one answering at the other end. Far better to arrive with his own transport. After all, the Queen of the North made regular trips to the Queen Charlotte Islands. A big, modern, roll-on, roll-off ferry with staterooms and dining rooms. Better, travelling with a baby on the ferry, driving off in his own truck. Especially as Robin was such a placid young thing. The baby would sleep the voyage away.
In fact, Robin did sleep, all the way from Port Hardy across the Queen Charlotte Sound, to Bella Bella and across Milbanke Sound. Throughout the journey, Scott stayed at the baby's side, chained by his unaccustomed role as nursemaid.
Normally, Scott would have looked up acquaintances among the crew. He had caught a glimpse of the captain, had recognized him, and would have liked to make his way up to the bridge and share reminisces of their days as seamen on the coastguard's Alexander MacKenzie. Instead, he had stayed with Robin, appreciating for the first time how much a child could trap a young mother.
Then, in the middle of the night in Princess Royal Channel, the southeasterly winds had hit. Nothing dangerous, nothing he would have thought about twice, but enough to upset passengers with frail stomachs.
And Donna's baby.
When Scott went into the men's room to rinse out his first shirt, all he could see was the soles of shoes through the spaces below the cubicle doors. Sick passengers. Sick baby.
Robin alternated between screaming and throwing up all through the night, falling into a fitful sleep as the ship docked in Prince Rupert. Then, at noon, when they set sail again, Robin whimpered. As they crossed Chatham Sound, windy but not terribly rough, Robin writhed in Scott's arms. They cleared the islands into Hecate Strait, and the baby gave up any pretence of calm.
Queen of the North, big and sturdy though she was, shuddered as she crashed down on the steep waves of the Hecate Strait. A southeaster, with all the anger of the Pacific flooding into the big, shallow strait. The waves were steep and violent, miserable going in the most seaworthy of vessels.
After changing out of his third shirt, even Scott couldn't face the thought of supper in the cafeteria, and in fact the kitchen had closed. Scott got himself a hot chocolate from the dispenser, then took one of Robin's bottles down to have it warmed. Robin rejected the bottle in any case, and Scott didn't finish his chocolate.
Finally, they cleared the markers at Lawn Point and turned to make the run into Queen Charlotte harbor. Sheltered from the south wind by the mass of Moresby Island, the Queen settled into calm water. Robin fell asleep just as the announcement came on the loudspeakers. All passengers to the car decks.
The matronly woman from the passenger lounge stopped Scott as he started down the stairs to deck C. "Next time," she advised in husky, expert tones, "Give the poor thing a bit of Gravol before you take him onto a boat. He shouldn't have to be so sick. A bit of Gravol and he'd sleep the whole trip away."
"Thanks," he muttered, knowing there would be no next time. His custody of this child was purely temporary.
She bent to look at the baby, stroking his cheek with a gentle finger. Robin opened dark eyes and stared at her without expression and the woman looked from the baby to the man holding him. "Takes after his mother, doesn't he?" she decided. "He certainly doesn't look much like you."
Melody tried the amateur radio Sunday night, but conditions were bad. She could hardly hear the Vancouver net control, much less the Pacific ship stations. Nevertheless, she gave her call sign.
"Go ahead, Mel," net control replied. "Call your station."
She called Robin's high seas call sign.
"He's answering you," said net control. "Do you copy him?"
"Nothing at all. I've got a lot of interference here."
She heard net control informing Robin, "She's got QRM. Try again."
Robin called again, but she could hear only the distorted Spanish of a Mexican station riding in on sky wave. So she sent a brief, impersonal message to Robin via net control, and he passed back his position and his weather. Ten knot winds. Clear skies. Everything's fine.
Amateur radio was too public for private messages, but she was glad to know that he was still out there, that if he had problems, they were too small for him to mention.
She signed off and threw the power switch on the noisy radio, then plotted the new longitude and latitude on her map of the Pacific Ocean. She stuck in one more pin, this one with a little red button on its head. If Robin wanted to get away from it all, he was surely succeeding. There was no land within six hundred miles of that pin.
She went for a moonlit walk, looking out over the harbor from her hillside vantage point. Earlier, she had seen the ferry coming in, had known that tomorrow there would be milk in the grocery store again. Thursday's ferry had not arrived due to bad weather, so the island residents hadn't had fresh milk in the stores for five days.
A cloud slid over the moon, throwing darkness around her. Below, lights streaked across the harbor. A gusty wind twisted down the hill where Melody stood. She shivered in her thick jacket. It was cold for April, fresh sea air on the wind.
She turned to go back home, clear-headed now, ready to work.
She locked the front door as she closed it behind herself, discarded her shoes and went around locking up the rest of the house for the night. Then she went upstairs to the sound room Jeff had helped her build. Tonight she closed the soundproof shutters on the dormer window. She was going to record and she needed to shut out the sounds of the wind and the night. And old Mr. Edgley, who lived across the creek, complained when she polluted the air with music after nine at night.
She turned up the thermostat against the chill, although she would rather have lit a fire in the fireplace. She loved the warm crackling of flames licking on dried wood, but the noise would contaminate her recording.
For a moment she felt her own solitude, had an unaccustomed image of herself as a woman alone in an old wooden house on an empty hillside, her empty life filled with only the fantasies of music. It was an unpleasant image, not true, but it was the cruel vision Peter Hammond would have had if he could see her.
With the soundproofing shutting her away from the world, and the synthesizer turned on, she forgot time. She forgot Peter, who no longer had any rights over her mind. She forgot Robin in his little ship on the big ocean. She forgot everything but the music that possessed her.