Chapter IX.

28 Apr

How does a daughter take command of a father and extricate him from a perilous situation?

For the rest of the afternoon, that was the question in the forefront of Lea’s mind. And she could not come up with an adequate answer to it, try as she might. It was no wonder that Lea felt profound anxiety about her father and the way he acted.

Gimel Vexa was a man who often had a hard time dealing with unpleasant realities. His monomania for collecting tree leaves blinded him to the motives of those he dealt with. That was why the family business interests had been left in the hands of professional managers. Her father was an impractical man, she had concluded from her own experience. Some might go so far as to define him as naïve.

How could he be convinced to heed the warnings from Thav Samekh? Was he able to comprehend the selfish motives of their host, the plantation-owner? There had to be some way to make him perceive reality as it was and break away from his illusions about their host. How was she going to awaken him to the reality concerning their host, the planter?

Lea was pondering the complicated situation when a knock came at her bedroom door. She went to see who it was, discovering her father in a maroon silk cutaway he had brought with him from Landia. This was his first chance to wear it on a formal occasion in Tochsylvania. He was a man who had always been conscious of how he appeared both in public and in private.

Smiling with pride, she let him in, then closed the door.

“You look outstanding, father. Your suit is beautiful. I am so happy that you took it along.”

His eyes glowed brightly. “And you are even prettier,” he laughed.

The two studied each other a moment.

“I am so happy that we came here,” his voice softly said to her. “The collection is the greatest I have ever seen. There is nothing equal to it anywhere on the Continent, believe me. I am in leaf-collectors’ paradise.

“So far, Mem has turned down my offers to purchase it from him. But I am not discouraged. Not at all. My hopes are as high as they have ever been. I believe that I will in time convince him to relent and allow me to buy his great collection of leaves. That is something which has to happen, I believe.

“We will stay here and I will continue my campaign to get what I want. At some point, our kind host must relent. He does not realize the extent of the resources that I can throw into my offers for his leaf collection. My will shall become relentless in pursuit of what I am after. This will be the highpoint of all the striving that I have done.”

Gimel Vexa grinned with self-confidence.

His daughter opened her mouth, intending to puncture his illusions about the scheming planter. But, in one instant, she changed her mind.

No, this was not the moment for that. He needed some preparation before he would accept the stark, brutal reality. It was going to be a matter that demanded preparation. He had to achieve clear understanding on his own initiative. That could not occur immediately. It would take an unpredictable length of time to do with success. The process would have to be a gradual one.

But for how long would they have opportunity available to them?

Raising her right hand, Lea brushed some lint off the shoulder of the enchanted hobbyist.

“I must keep a sharp eye on you, father, before you spend all the family inheritance on new leaves. You have never been careful or cautious enough. Especially when it comes to spending your money.”

A forced laugh issued out of her mouth.

“Now, we are ready to go downstairs and await the arrival of the invited local notables,” she continued. “Later on, there will be the promised fireworks set off for entertainment. We shall see a lot of interesting things happening this evening, there can be no doubt about that.”

Her mind traveled forward to what Thav had made arrangements for.

Would two young women be able to ease the suffering of the three incarcerated and tortured workers? Could they bring some measure of relief to them? Or would their efforts lead nowhere?

The evening would provide some kind of answer to her questions, she hoped.

From the forest came the cuckooing of a touraco, Scattered calls of a junco rush could be heard when the first singer took a rest. As darkness fell, the budgerigar parakeet and kakapo parrot became emboldened enough to greet the night. A symphony of natural sounds wafted forth from the dark trees.

The first party of planters arrived at the Samekh villa. A triber driver stayed with their horse and brougham. A house servant in black and white livery led them into the building, to the large drawing-room that had been made into a reception hall for the special evening of festivities.

Mem Samekh, dressed in a silky yellow sateen coat, stood at the door beside the Vexas, introducing them to the guests as they arrived and entered the great room where a crowd of planters and their families congregated.

Crepe streamers, ribbons, bunting, and festoons hung on all sides. The flag of Tochsylvania, blue, brown, and dark green, looked out from every wall surface. An aura of celebration grew strong. The air teemed with unusual excitement. This was going to be an evening to remember, many of those present thought.

Small groups of friendly neighbors took part in minor small talk.

On a long table sat a buffet of canapés and delicacies. Bowls of tropical fruit, marmalades, and deserts offered a variety of tempting tastes: plantain, atraphaxis, avocado, apelsin, guava, durian, papaya, tangerine, tamarind, tangelo, muscanado, shaddock, pomelo, balanite, yams, mammee fruit, sapodilla, quince, mango, pomegranate, betel nuts, capri figs, caper sauce, taro, arum, and manihot. Dishes of cassaba, manioc, and tapioca were numerous. Sweetsop and maypop charlotte lay in ramequins. Solanum, ipomoea, rheon, orach, skirret, and rocambole offered themselves to the guests.

The scent of capsicum pepper spread from the crowded table of vegetables and smallage, attracting curiosity and attention.

A large punch bowl held a rumbullion of molasses and palm sap. A smaller one contained iced sherry cobbler. Drinkers poured themselves large glasses of the attractive beverages. There seemed to be no end to either the supply or the demand for more to drink.

As the crowd grew larger, a mood of joviality took hold among the guests. Laughter flowed from diverse mouths of individual guests. The level of noisy sounds rose ever higher. More and more space was filled with men and women. Unoccupied space grew hard to find. Heat appeared to rise from the assembly of so many human bodies.

“There will be a spectacular exhibition later, with fireworks outside.”

“Mem always has a brilliant tourbillion show at the end, a memorable finale to the evening’s festivities. A real tamasha attraction is promised for all to see and enjoy. This is going to be something to remember, indeed.”

“This is going to be an outstanding soiree, that’s for sure.”

“I understand that you plan to sell a load of soapberry fluid in the next few weeks. That is what everybody is saying. Is it true?”

“What can I do? Every price I know of has fallen this year.”

“The dacoits are infecting our tribers with bad ideas.”

“Notice how surly they’re getting. Just the other day I discovered a crew of my dammar tappers snoozing under a deodar. Do you know what they told me? It is an ancient Varzean custom to nap under the leaves of the divine tree of their gods. The loafers claimed what they were up to was a form of worship that they had a right to carry out. I soon put an end to that. My overseer gave each of these shirkers a good caning, for lying if nothing else. You can’t be soft with the skellums. They are unruly as children, that’s what they are. They must be continually watched and disciplined. Who can afford to trust them? They are impossible to keep your eyes on all the time.”

Lea and her father stood beside the Samekhs until Mem informed them that all the people invited were present. “Let us help ourselves at the buffet,” he suggested, “and circulate among the neighbors who have come here tonight.”

Thav took Lea by the arm. “Come with me, dear,” she said under her breath.

The two women moved toward the table of food and drink. Several planter wives clustered about them, complimenting them on their dresses.

“We don’t see enough of you, Thav,” smiled a matron in dark blue tarlatan.

A friend standing beside her told how delicious she found the breadfruit and baobab pastries on the tables of food.

“You must get me some of your casaba seeds, Thav. This melon is the sweetest I’ve tasted in many a year. And the sillabub is so rich and creamy. The wine in it is so delightful. Everything is tasty and excellent, my dear.”

Eventually, the pair worked their way to the end of the long table. Carrying their plates of selected pieces of food, they moved toward the outside veranda, where the crowd was much sparser. Thav pointed to two vacant chairs available to them.

Eating while conversing with a series of passing guests, the pair allowed time to pass as if it did not matter.

“You’re from Landia, I understand,” sighed one elderly man. “They don’t have these lazy Verzeans there. I’ve had a terrible time gathering up my current crop of jipijapa leaves. You know what they are? Summer straw hats are woven out of the material. You will see them around here everywhere. They remain in fashion, almost like our national symbol.”

On and on flowed the small talk, till both young women had finished their plates.

Thav checked her horologe ring, then whispered to her companion.

“The fireworks will start in a short while. Come with me. We’ll tell anyone who asks that our destination is the kitchen, to see that more food is ready and brought out to be eaten. Let us go at once.”


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