Chapter IV.

21 Apr

The gossoon finished removing the remains of the chicken rissoles that the Varzeans in the kitchen had spent the afternoon preparing.

A samp pudding of jungle corn served as dessert for the four diners.

Mem Samekh had been silently thoughtful all through the meal. He had an idea that he intended to spring on his sister and the two guests. The moment appeared appropriate, so he began to present it to them.

“Why don’t we hold a soiree for Lea and Gimel?” he suddenly asked his sister. “We haven’t had any occasion to hold a party in many years. Why not invite the planters of the district to an open house reception here? I think our guests would like to see how our friends and neighbors have a good time when they all get together. It would be an exciting and interesting occasion for everyone involved, wouldn’t it?”

For a moment or two, Thav was speechless. Then she turned to Lea. “What do you think? I put it up to you, my friend. We have not done anything like that in many years. This would be a most appropriate occasion, with our visitors from Landia. What do you think of the idea?”

Lea hesitated for a few seconds.

“It sounds very interesting,” opined her father, sitting to her left.

“Good!” said Thav, a squeal in her voice. “That is settled, then. An evening reception here at home it will be. But there is a lot to be done in preparation. Will you help me with the arrangements, Lea? It will take many hours of work. There will be a lot of important details to see to. I believe you will find the preparations for the event most interesting.”

Her mind in a spin of surprise, the guest smiled and nodded her head.

Mem made a proposal he had thought up much earlier.

“You will have to go to the landing station for needed supplies, Thav.” He paused as if considering a new idea. “Why not take our two visitors with you? They haven’t seen what the general emporium holds. It is a small settlement, hardly large enough to be a town. But our friends might find it an interesting excursion they could make with you there. What do you think of spending an hour or so at the station?”

Thav turned to look Lea in the face.

“I think it might be fun,” said the latter with a smile. “I am curious to see where you and your neighbors out here go to shop for things. It would be very interesting to see what kinds of merchandise are being offered to the latifundia planters.”

“Yes,” agreed her father. “You could have a look about the place, and so could I. There would be a lot of things of great interest to see, I am sure.”

“My sister will be an informative guide for you, I am certain,” chuckled Mem, his calculating gray eyes focused on Thav.

The shopping team rode to the landing in an open drosky pulled by a pair of aged horses. The speed was neither fast nor slow, but somewhere in-between.

Thav sat in the middle of the carriage bench with Lea on one side and Gimel on the other. An old Varzean in long gray pants and red ramie shirt served as the driver. The man has handled horses since the time of our grandfather, Thav had assured her fellow passengers. The ride promised to be safe and comfortable, she told them with conviction. The horses were old and well experienced. Their trip would be a pleasant one.

Not much was said on the rough, bumpy ride to the district commercial center. Lea and her father gazed with interest at the thick jungle forest on both sides of the narrow, unpaved country road. Gimel saw species of trees he had never looked at before and was unfamiliar with. He was in raptures upon seeing so many plants for the first time. He could identify only a fraction of them.

The forest included rainbow gum, umbrella trees, tulip trees, seagrape, baobar, macaranga, rain trees, coral trees, poinciana, cecropia, asoka, dao trees, as well as tropical pines and palms.

“Here we are,” finally announced Thav as a number of small buildings came into sight. The Toch River’s dusky waters became visible at the end of the road they were on. This had to be the river landing, the two Landians surmised.

After giving the driver orders where to stop, Thav and her group climbed out of the low-axled vehicle, stretching their legs and moving about. Their bodies became mobile again.

Lea and her father examined the dull front of the general store, then glanced at each other. The place was unimpressive, the eyes of each said to the other. Shelves held varieties of canned foods imported from elsewhere on the Continent. Barrels contained local bulk products. Favorite foods of the planters of the region made up most of what was on sale.

The old building’s pale red paint had peeled off decades before, it was apparent. The structure had a depressing, stolid air about it. The emporium was thoroughly uninviting. There was a depressing aura of decay about it. The store appeared to be a forgotten relic from out of the historic past.

“Let’s go in and see what they can supply us with,” proposed Thav, sensing the disappointed expectations of both Vexas.

Gimel stepped forward to open the door of the store for the two females, when a man’s voice called out from behind the small group entering the place.

“Hello. Miss,” it boldly said to Lea. “If you remember, we met on the riverine just the other day. How are you enjoying your stay here in the rain forest? Have you seen much of the local landscape yet? How have our tropical trees impressed you? We have a unique ecological system not found anywhere else on the Continent, I dare say.”

All three shoppers stopped and turned around to see a tall figure in white coat and pants. Lea at once recalled her encounter with Resh Zayeth, the dendrologist. All at once, she beamed him a shining smile of recognition.

“How are you, and how is your work going?” the young woman from Landia asked him with a friendly smile.

“As well as expected,” he replied. His eyes turned to Thav. “Miss Sameth, how are you? We met last year at the New Year’s Ball in the station theater. Do you remember? I myself had a very good time there that evening. It was a most enjoyable event for everyone fortunate to have attended.”

Thav gave him a cool nod of her head.

“And how is your brother these days?” he continued.

Before an answer could be made, Lea began to introduce the naturalist to her father.

“Your daughter told me that you collect tree leaves, sir,” grinned Resh. “I invite you to our tree station. Visit us at any time. You will be amazed at many of the species I have brought to our forest from elsewhere on the Continent. My fixed idea has been and continues to be that we Tochians have been too restricted and limited, too parochial in what we plant in our tree forest. My work centers upon adapting imported varieties to the conditions here in Tochsylvania. The hope, of course, is for an arboreal renaissance, of a sort. New wood products for which the Continent will have strong demand, that is my aim and ambition. This country must diversify its forests in order to keep up with the markets of the other countries. That is the only way that we can possibly progress.”

“It sounds extremely interesting,” said Gimel. He then turned to Thav. “Perhaps we shall have enough time after our shopping to take a quick look at these trees that Mr. Zayeth is so enthusiastic about. They may hold a lot of interest for you and me.”

The tall young woman with the milky blue eyes started to redden with sudden embarrassment. What would her brother think and say about such an unscheduled excursion to a location that he loathed so much? She was able to foresee his burning anger if they proceeded with such an idea. It was plain to her that the invitation had to be turned down at once.

“We will have to see,” she weakly muttered between her teeth, stepping toward the emporium entrance. “Good-bye, sir,” she said curtly to Resh Zayeth.

Her two companions took swift farewells with the young man from the forest station and followed her into the store’s interior.

Lea gave the dendrologist in white a warm, pleasant smile before entering the central section of the emporium.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s