Chapter 24 Azalea Island
Jimmy was to look back on that summer as one of the busiest and most eventful of his life. When he and Harry became old men they often would say to each other, “Remember that summer . . .?” and the reminiscences would begin. So much happened that one summer that there was a lifetime of memories all stored and ready to pass an idle moment in pleasant recollection, or to tell to an eager, wide-eyed child sitting on one's lap.
Yes, much happened that summer and the boys did work hard. So hard, in fact, that Mr. Mac insisted that they have all day Saturday off. Miss Mel was to leave late Saturday afternoon on the night train to New York. He and Miss Mel had planned to spend a quiet day with her mom and dad but things didn't work out that way. There was a telephone message waiting at Jimmy's house for Mr. Mac that Friday evening
Mrs. Day met the boys and Mr. Mac at the curb, message in hand. It seems the rector of the Episcopal church in San Mateo had called in a panic . Something about some stuck notes that had to be fixed before Sunday because the bishop was visiting and everything had to be in top form. The nervous priest had also requested a “touch up” tuning for the organ.
Jimmy could see that Mr. Mac was disappointed. He used the Day's phone to call Miss Mel.
“Bad news,” he told her, “I have to go to San Mateo to do a quick repair and tune tomorrow so our morning shopping trip will have to be canceled.”
“That's OK! I was hoping you'd call before too late. Daddy had to go to the hospital on a call. Mr. and Mrs. Maxwell, from the church, were in an automobile accident -- no, you don't know them, but no, they're not hurt too badly -- well, he seems to be all right though she is not doing real well, shook up, you know. Momma has gone with him because Mrs. Maxwell is in her Sunday School class. They will likely be there most of the night. You know how it is with pastors having to be there and all. They probably will sleep all day when they do get home. No, Keith, don't be too disappointed! I have an idea. We can do the job, have a little outing and be back in plenty of time for an early supper and still get me to the terminal on time for the train.”
Miss Mel had helped Mr. Mac when he tuned the organ at her church and she had since “volunteered” to assist anytime Mr. Mac would let her go along. He was happy to, of course. This, too, was quite OK by Jimmy and Harry who were happy to see something developing between two of their favorite people. Besides, with Miss Mel leaving that night to go to New York to attend the Theatre Organists School, this would likely be their last chance to spend time together until her return.
As for their day off the boys decided to go fishing. It was Harry's idea and for once Jimmy readily agreed, much to Harry's surprise. It usually took a bit of persuasion to get Jimmy in Granpap's boat. Once Harry positioned the boat at one of Granpap's preferred spots neither boy seemed to have his mind or heart in fishing, however. Nothing was biting anyway. The reason for their preoccupation was just across the river from where they were. Squinting and peering Jimmy could just barely make out a roof line of a big house through the trees on Azalea Island.
Harry, who had been watching Jimmy, said; “Yeah, I see it too.”
Jimmy jumped, “What? See what?”
“The house. Azavilla. That's why you said you'd go fishing without a fuss, isn't it?”
Jimmy started to challenge this. He looked at Harry's grin and with his own face turning red said, “Well it is a mystery, and I know how you like a mystery. Why'd you choose this spot, anyway? Huh!?” he laughed as he took a swing at Harry with his hat.
It was Harry's turn to be red faced. Throwing up his hands and laughing too, he said, “OK you caught me! But since we aren't catching anything we might as well have a closer look. Do you think?”
Jimmy, grinning as he grabbed the oars, said, “I think!”
As they approached they could clearly see the iron fence built just beyond the beach of the island. Rowing parallel to the shore they could see how futile it would be to try to climb such a fence. Along the top of it on both sides were sharp spikes pointing up and curved spikes pointing down. That would be sure to keep someone out, or someone in.
Once Harry pointed and said, “Did you see that! I thought I saw something in the bushes behind the fence.”
Jimmy started looking for signs of movement among the bushes and trees and sure enough he saw something. So absorbed was he in looking he let go of the oar, not realizing it until it began to slip through the lock. As he turned he had to lean way over to grab it. His lurch to catch the oar probably saved his life.
At the moment Jimmy made his grab for the oar he thought he heard three sounds. Later he could not remember in exactly the order he heard them. There was a whipping sound along with the vibration of something hitting the bottom of the boat hard, and then something that sounded like the crack of gunfire. But the sound he reacted to was Harry who yelled for him to get down and stay down.
For a moment everything was very still. Harry was beside Jimmy on the bottom of the boat. Neither of them moved. Jimmy still had the oar handle in his hand with the blade sticking up in the air.
Harry, whispering, said, “Are you all right?”
“I think so.” Jimmy said in a shuttering half whisper. “Are you?”
“Yeah, I'm OK, but I'm mad.” Harry said in an oddly quiet voice.
Jimmy said, “I'm wet. I think we're sinking. There's a hole the size of a silver dollar right here in the bottom of the boat”
At this both boys sat up straight. Sure enough the water was rising in the boat. Worse, the current was pulling them to middle of the channel and they would soon be in the middle of the great wide river, possibly too far to swim for shore. Without a word the boys each manned an oar and with hard long strokes pulled closer to the island. Then, just a few yards from the shore, the boat floundered leaving them swimming the few feet to the beach.
Now soaked and shivering, but not from the cold, Harry said: “It's going to be dark soon. Somebody tried to kill us, you know. I think I'd like to go home now.”
“Well, we won't be going home in your Granpap's boat, will we?” drawled Jimmy.
This brought an incredulous look from Harry, who started to say “Hmph!” but began to laugh instead.
“We almost get shot and then nearly drowned and you're laughing?” said Jimmy who began to laugh himself. After the laughter settled into chuckles Jimmy said, “"All right, clown, how are we going to get off this island?”
“Well, why don't we walk up to the front door of that big ol' house and knock and ask to use the telephone?” said Harry in a sarcastic voice.
“OK,” said Jimmy, “That's exactly what I'm going to do! There must be a way into this fence.” he said getting up and walking.
“Are you nuts? Somebody on this island tried to shoot us. Do you think they'll invite you in to tea?” exclaimed Harry, following him.
“I'm sure it was an accident. We'll see once I find a way through this fence. Anyway, I figure if we make enough noise they'll either shoot at us or welcome us. I don't want to spend the night on this beach with the skeeters and the gators.” Jimmy was looking with interest at something just ahead.
“Well, I'm right behind you, boy!” chuckled Harry. “What do you see?”
“I think we've found our way over the fence!” said Jimmy.
Harry saw what he was talking about. An enormous oak tree had fallen across the fence, the bole of which made for an easily negotiated bridge right into the enclosure. Just a few yards beyond was the house.
Jimmy said, “Well, there it is.”
“Azavilla.” said Harry. “Spooky looking enough, isn't it?