Jean-Claude Beauvais, a story
Book 05 - Marseille The Boys
Chapter 85. The Story of Heracles
Dashiell was in the shower.
I waited for Ollie on the deck outside his stateroom; we went to the dining room together. Louis was already at the table, talking with Monsieur Laurent about his post card collection. Ollie and I sat down and waited for Dashiell.
Dashiell arrived, all smiles and good cheer.
“That Jacuzzi is such a charmer,” he said.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well. I got in it to spend a few minutes, relaxing, after a hard time at the easel, and an hour and a half later, I dragged my bones out. I could have stayed there for the rest of the day.”
“It’s good for you,” I said, “you work too hard, anyway.”
He laughed. “I never worked a minute in my life. I just make art.”
After he said that, he looked at me, wondering if I was going pick up after him.
“Do you want to hear it again, Dashiell?” I said, looking him in the eye, so he knew I meant it.
“No,” he said, “Sorry. I forget, sometimes.”
Louis asked, “What are you talking about? Dashiell.”
Dashiell looked back to me for approval.
“Go ahead,” I said, “I’d rather have the air cleared… so we are all on the same track, the same wavelength.”
Dashiell explained to Louis, and in so doing, to the Tissots and Monsieur Laurent, too, about being a prodigy and an artist. He delighted me when he told about me. He knows me as well or better than I know me. In his explanation, he added some details, which I didn’t know. He told about when he was in kindergarten and how he got in trouble for drawing a flowerpot with a flower in it. The teacher liked it. He added a drawing of the teacher planted beside the flower in the flowerpot. The teacher did not like it. He never knew why, but she didn’t.
I told a few stories of my life as a musician and prodigy and how easy it was to get in trouble and wonder why.
Dashiell spoke warmly of how we found each other by accident.
“We hold on to each other,” he said, “to this day.”
I added, “Yes. To this day.”
Ollie touched my arm. I looked away from my platter to him. “I need you, too,” he said, in a wee voice.
“I need you, too, Ollie,” I said, “and you, too, Louis.”
Louis got the swing of the conversation and added, “We are family.”
Dashiell chimed in, “Yes. We are family.”
With that final affirmation, silence befell the dinner table for a few minutes, as if Dashiell had served a morsel, on which his guests were still chewing.
The stillness was broken when Ollie burped. Louis laughed. The laugh spread around the table.
“Say, ‘Excuse me.’ Ollie.”
“Excuse me,” he said, still laughing.
“Better out than in,” Louis said.
“That’s enough,” I warned.
Louis put on his sorry face.
Ollie asked, “Are we going for a walk this evening after dinner? I want to talk to you about something.”
“Yes. We will,” I said.
Dessert arrived. Dashiell beamed. The kitchen learned quickly that Dashiell loves desserts and they cater to his weakness, unashamedly.
Louis asked, “When will we arrive in America?”
“The captain said he expects to arrive Sunday,” I responded. “Are you going to develop your film and pictures, tonight?”
“Yes. After dinner, Henri and I are going to work on them.”
“We’ll probably be on the aft deck star gazing, when you get done. Make sure you show Ollie and me your pictures.”
“I want to see them, too,” Dashiell said.
“And me, too,” echoed the Tissots and Monsieur Laurent.
Dessert finished, as we sat in the glow of a delightful dinner, Monsieur Laurent asked, “Are we going to leave the yacht in Brest?”
“I have no idea,” I said. “Why do you ask?”
“Planning on buying some postcards, that’s all,” he said.
“Ask the captain. He takes care of all that kind of stuff.”
Jacob came to me and asked, “If I may?”
“Certainly,” I said.
“Let the Captain know you want to leave the ship and he can make the proper arrangements. The captain will have your papers in order for the harbor officials, but he has to know you want to go onshore.”
“Thank you, Jacob,” I said, “I should call you Jacob, the knowing.”
We all applauded Jacob, who simply smiled and backed into the deepening shadows by the door.
We all as if on cue, pushed away from the table, rose and went our separate ways. Ollie and I were going to walk about the promenade deck for a while. Louis was going to find Henri. Dashiell left in the direction of his studio. The Tissots left and went toward.
Ollie and I walked. I waited for him to talk, about whatever it was that he said he wanted to talk about, but he didn’t say anything.
“Water looks nice, tonight. Doesn’t it?” I tried.
“Yes. It does.”
“Nice breeze tonight.’
I got to the point where I had to ask him outright, “What is it that you wanted to talk about?”
“Oh. Nothing,” he said, “I just wanted to walk with you. Walking with you, especially like your Grandpapa did, makes me feel good.”
“Makes me feel good, too, Ollie.”
We walked around one more time. Darkness was approaching, dark enough to begin seeing the stars. We walked upstairs to my stateroom to get the star books and the special flashlight.
“Your bed is bigger than mine,” Ollie said, pushing on the comforter and mattress, as if he was testing it.
It occurred to me what he was doing. He ‘was’ testing it. I picked him up and tossed him on the bed.
He squealed in joy as he took to the air. He landed in the middle of the bed, squealed again, quickly slid to the edge of the bed, stood up, extended his arms in joy, and while hyperventilating, said, “Again. Please.”
“More. Please” from the movie ‘Oliver’ came instantly to mind. I tossed him again into the mattress and comforter, accompanied by his squeals of delight.
We returned to the fore deck, sat down with the star books and flashlight and looked for the North Star, the Polaris star.
We didn’t see it. Now there was definitely something wrong. The North Star disappeared.
I turned to Jacob, who as always was standing in the shadows, against the wall. He approached.
“There seems to be something wrong. We can’t find the North Star.”
“You’ll find it on the aft deck. The fore deck faces south, this evening. The North Star is there. You’ll see it.”
We walked to the other end of the yacht. Sometimes that seemed like a very long walk.
Ollie was ahead of me as we walked along the the promenade. Upon reaching the aft deck, which was open to the sky, he turned to me and yelled, “There it is. There it is. Jean-Claude.”
He pointed to the star.
“It’s not broken,” he said with a certain sound of relief as he dropped across the table from me, his face still in the northern sky.
I watched as his eyes captured the design of the big dipper. His lips mouthed the words, “Big dipper.” Followed by what looked like ‘little dipper…” and “Cassiopeia.”
I asked him, “Do you see Cepheus and Andromeda?”
A few seconds passed. “No. I don’t remember where they are,” he said.
I pointed to them.
“I remember now.”
“Do you remember the story about them?”
“I think so.”
“Go ahead and tell me about them, like I never heard the story before.”
“Once upon a time, the king, his name was Cepheus, and the queen, her name was Cassiopeia, had a very beautiful daughter, her name was Andromo. The queen told people that she was more beautiful than the daughters of the God of the Ocean, Poseidone. Poseidone got so mad, when he heard that, he tied Andromo to a rock and put a scary monster by her, to devour her, in case she got away, to punish Cassiopeia for her talking.
Perseus, a hero, was on his way home from a battle, when he saw poor Andromo tied to the rock. He freed her, and showed the head of the scary Medusa to the monster and scared it to death.
Perseus wanted to marry Andromo, but she was promised, by the king and queen, to marry another guy. Perseus showed the scary head of Medusa to the king, the queen, and the other guy. They all were scared to death.
Perseus married Andromo and they lived happily ever after.
Poseidon took Cepheus and Cassiopeia and threw them into the northern sky. To punish Cassiopeia, she has to turn every half year. Perseus and Andromeda are in heaven forever.”
“The other guy’s name is Phineus,” I added.
“I forgot his name.”
“Why did people tell this story?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he responded.
“It was a way to remind people that bragging can cause bad things to happen,” I said.
He looked at me and was about to say something, when I added, “You see what happened to Cassiopeia for bragging, in the story.”
“Yeah,” he said. He looked up again at the constellation. “At least Cepheus and Cassiopeia are together half a year.”
“And not together half a year, forever,” I added, “as punishment.”
“Yeah,” he said, his words slowed, “I don’t think I’ll ever brag again.”
“That’s the point of the story. It’s a lesson,” I said, “Good for you.”
“Let talk about how the sky moves,” I said.
“It moves?” he asked.
“Yes. It’s moving right now, sliding to starboard.”
“I don’t see anything moving,” he said.
“Let me ask a different question that is the same thing as we are discussing. Okay?” I asked.
“Do you know why there is day and night?” I asked.
He smiled and said, “Sure. The Sun comes up and that makes daytime, and the Sun goes down and that makes nighttime.”
“That’s how it looks, sitting on the Earth. The Earth is where we stand when we look at everything. Let me help you with that, a little. You know in your room at home, you have your globe?”
“Did you notice that it spins?”
“The side nearest the light is lighter and the side away from the light is darker?”
“Yes. Of course.”
“The Earth turns around once a day. As it turns, the side nearest the Sun gets the light and heat from the Sun. The side, away from the Sun, doesn’t get any light or heat from the Sun. Because the hidden side doesn’t get any light, we can see the stars. Once the Sun is shining, the stars are too faint to see.”
“In New York, we will go to the Planetarium and you will see how it works. Seeing it is much simpler than trying to understand from words alone.”
“I like to hear you talk to me, anyway,” he said.
My heart melted.
“Like I was saying, all the stars are moving in a circle around the North Star. Put your fist up, like this.” I made a fist and held it on the end of my arm in front of me. He did the same, grinning. “Tuck your thumb into your fist.” He tucked his thumb. “Now, look at the stars near the horizon. You are using your left arm. Hold your fist next to a star, so the star is touching your pinkie. In an hour, the star will appear to move behind your hand to come out of your thumb.”
“No. They don’t move that fast.”
“They don’t move. We move as the Earth, we are sitting on, turns around.”
“Really. You’re not kidding me, are you?”
“No. That is what happens. It looks like the star goes into your hand and comes out your thumb.”
“My arm is getting tired of being stuck in the air.”
“Well rest your arm.”
I leaned back to Jacob and asked for help.
“Perhaps if you and he were sitting on the deck, you could line up a star with the railing upright.”
I turned back to Ollie, “Want to do an experiment?”
“Sure,” he said, with a big smile and a gush of enthusiasm.
“Put your seat cushion on the floor, over there, by the railing upright pole.”
“Okay. Now sit down on the cushion, so you can put your arm up to the railing… the part that goes up and down.”
He sat on the cushion, wiggled a little to settle into the cushion, and said, “Okay.”
“Now touch the upright railing. On the other side, the side of the pole nearest to you.”
Jacob helped put him in the right position.
He extended his finger to the inside of the upright.
“Okay, from where you are sitting, are there any stars near where you touched the railing?”
“Yes. There are three of them.”
“Pick one out of the pattern… Are you sure which one you picked out?”
“Okay. Put your hand down, but don’t move your bottom on the cushion. It’s important that your bottom not move on the cushion and that the pole doesn’t move.”
“I won’t move.”
“Here’s what is happening. Remember I told you to make a fist and tuck your thumb inside?”
“Yes. Well that’s almost as far as the star will move in an hour.”
“Wow. That far?”
“Yes. And in five minutes, it will move as wide as your pinkie.”
“Look up at that particular star again. You will see it has already moved away from the pole a little. Almost as wide as your pinkie.”
“It is moving. It is moving. Wow. It’s moving.”
I was so proud of Ollie’s astronomy experiment and his successful finding.
He sat there for the longest time, just looking. Occasionally, he would raise his fist or fingers to measure.
“I think the star bug gave you a little bit.”
“What does that mean?”
“It’s an expression that means that the stars have captured your interest. Saying the ‘star bug’ bit you, is just a funny way of saying that you are attracted to the stars.”
Ollie went back to his star viewing.
I asked Jacob for a glass of wine, ‘half and half and half.’ He left along the starboard side for the lounge bar.
Without choreography, but totally in step, Louis arrived from the port side.
“My pictures are done,” he said. “They are drying.”
“When will they be done?”
“About an hour, but Henri has to go to bed. He has to get up early tomorrow to do his watch.”
Louis sat with me, on the lounge cushion and looked at Ollie on the floor.
“He said that I could get them about ten o’clock, tomorrow morning.”
“Terrific,” I said. “How did they turn out?”
“My picture taking is not the greatest in the world, but my picture developing is very professional. That’s what Henri said.”
“Good for you,” I praised him. “You picture taking will improve in time.”
“I hope so,” he said. “What is Ollie doing on the floor?”
“Astronomy,” I said.
“Astronomy?” he queried.
“Ask Ollie. He’ll tell you why he’s on the floor. You may want to get on the floor with him, so you can see what he sees.”
“I don’t think so,” he said, smugly.
“So, Ollie. What are you doing sitting on the floor?” he asked.
“Astromedy,” Ollie said.
“What do you mean?”
“I checked and figured out the stars all move. They all move, except the North Star.”
“No, they don’t,” Louis dismissed.
Ollie gave his older brother an astronomy class to Louis’ amazement.
I had another glass of half and half and half to water the salt away. The boys were busy looking and measuring. I never realized what a wondrous learning environment, the stars were, until that night. Eventually Dashiell arrived and sat beside me. The boys didn’t notice his arrival.
“What are they doing on the floor?”
“Ollie. Louis. Tell Dashiell why you’re on the floor.”
My little scientists explained their experiment, asking Dashiell to sit with them on a cushion and watch the stars move.
My brother, the ham, cheerfully sat down and went through the whole procedure and arrived at the expected conclusion, to the delight of the Louis and especially Ollie.
Ollie’s words from earlier went through my mind, “We are family.”
Jacob mentioned to me, “It’s eleven o’clock.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“Time for all astronomers to go to bed,” I said.
Ollie and Louis said the usual, “Ah’s and Oh’s,” but they got up, straightened their clothes, and were about to leave.
“Where do those cushions belong?”
They returned the cushions to the lounge seat and then headed along the starboard side to the stairs to the staterooms. Dashiell followed them; I followed Dashiell and Jacob followed me.
The boys went into their stateroom, leaving the door open for me. I closed the door behind me, putting the star books and flashlight on Louis’ desk by the door.
Once in bed, the boys curled around me and asked if I would read a star story to them.
I retrieved the star book with the star stories.
I looked for a good story.
“Now, let’s see, you already know the story of Cassiopeia. Let’s try the story of Heracles.”
I began reading the six pages of the story of Heracles; by the end of page two, my sweeties were sound asleep.
I closed the book, kissed them both, turned off the light, and went to my stateroom.
Dashiell was waiting beneath the comforter.
He didn’t say anything until I was in bed, wrapped in his embrace.
“You are doing very well with the boys,” he said.
“Thank you for that,” I said, “I am winging it, all day, every day.”
“You’re good at winging it, then, Jean-Claude.”
He gave me a little squeeze and said, “Good night, Jean-Claude,” into the nape of my neck. His lips gave me a gentle kiss.
“Good night, Dashiell.” I kissed his hand, as I do every night.
When the horn blew in the middle of the night, I woke. Dashiell needed to go to the toilet. I stirred him and told him to go to the bathroom. When he got up, I sat up to look outside to see if there was anything to see.
There was a ship, passing us in the opposite direction off our port side. Apparently, we ‘said’ something to that ship. In the distance, I heard a toot of a ship’s horn. Mon Grandpapa tooted back in reply.
“What’s going on, Jean-Claude?”
“I don’t know, really. We seem to have shared a boat horn toot with another ship that’s going the other way. You can see it, out the port side.”
Dashiell went to the windows on the port side to look outside.
“That’s a big one,” he said, as he turned to get back under the warmth of the comforter.
I snuggled against him for warmth. My skin, from my waist up, was cooled, being out from under the comforter. “That’s better,” I said.
“What’s better?” he asked.
“I was cold.”
Dashiell snuggled against me, maximizing contact to warm me as much as possible.
“Love you, Jean-Claude.”
“Love you, too, Dashiell.”
In the morning, I had forgotten the nocturnal shenanigans, until Ollie mentioned the toot at the breakfast table.
“I heard something last night. I sat up in bed to look outside and there was a ship outside, whizzing by in the opposite direction, going back home to Marseille.”
“How did you know it was going to Marseille?” I asked.
“It was going the other way,” Ollie responded, to all the adults delight.
Ollie had no idea what was funny about what he said, but he knew what he said was somehow funny.
“Why was that funny?” he asked.
“The other ship might have been going to a lot of other places, besides Marseille,” I answered.
He simply said, “Oh.”
I didn’t want him to think he was stupid, so I added, “When we are near the bridge, we can go inside and ask the Officer of the Watch about ships going in the other direction. He can explain, better than I can, all about that kind of stuff.”
Ollie brightened at the thought of visiting the bridge, again, possibly, his favorite place on the yacht.
He returned to working on his sweet roll and coffee.
I finished my breakfast and was going about setting up the day. I looked over my shoulder to Jacob, who seeing me look, came to my side.
“Yes, sir?” he whispered.
“When will we be going by Morocco?”
“About ten o’clock tonight,” he said.
“Could we gas up in Tangier and go straight to America?”
“Certainly. We can go directly to American without stopping for fuel,” he said.
“Could you fix that up for me?”
“I am sure the captain will want to hear it directly from you. I will ask him to see you about that.”
Jacob went out the dining room door and up the stairs to the find the captain.
Shortly the captain arrived, with Jacob behind him.
“Excuse me, Jean-Claude,” he said.
“Yes, Captain,” I returned.
“You want to go directly to America, without stopping in Brest?”
“Yes. Is that possible?”
“Of course… just a matter of letting the authorities know that we will be going directly to New York and not stopping over in Brest.”
“Not a big deal, is it?”
“No. Just a few radio contacts, one to the French authorities in Brest, and one to the American authorities in New York, letting them know our course has changed. I simply tell them we are not going to stop over in Brest. We are going directly to New York from 5 miles offshore from Tangier, Morocco. Mon Grandpapa’s new expected arrival date and time. That’s all… just two phone calls.”
“What would our new arrival date be?” I asked.
“I would estimate Saturday, early Saturday,” Captain Collard said, “as long as we don’t have to dodge any ugly weather.”
He thought for a second and continued, “If you want a more definite time, we are actually too far away from our destination to determine a precise time. Ask me, Wednesday, I will be able to give you a time, plus or minus an hour.”
“Saturday is fine, Captain,” I said. “When we get there, we get there. No hurry. New York isn’t going away and neither are we.”
The captain extended his hand for a handshake. We shook hands and he left.
I looked at Louis.
“You are going to do photography, this morning?”
“Henri said the prints will be ready at ten, when he gets off watch.”
“You and Oliver can do your piano practice, after breakfast. I will listen to you, when you’re done practicing. Come and get me on the fore deck.”
I looked at Ollie. “You got that, Ollie?”
“Yes. Practice and then get you to listen to my practice.”
“Where will I be?”
“On the foredeck?”
“Off you go.”
They left the dining room.
The Tissot left right after the boys.
Monsieur Laurent sat at the table, nursing a cup of coffee.
Dashiell tipped back in his chair.
“You know you can hurt yourself doing that.”
He straightened up the chair. “Old habit…” he said, and laughed a little.
“What are you up to today?”
“No push to do much of anything. I was thinking yesterday of doing the boys at night, sleeping in bed, snuggled together, in the style of a Norman Rockwell painting. What do you think?”
“They would be embarrassed by it,” I said.
“I wouldn’t paint, looking at them, like a model. I would just take a peek, some night, when they go to sleep, all snuggled up together, and use the memory as a basis for the piece. Memory tells more about me than reality. I like that to be reflected in all my work.”
“Tonight,” I said, “you should ask to hear whatever I am going to read to them as a bedtime story. When they fall asleep, you will see them at their angelic best, two cherubs, recharging their batteries, for tomorrow’s adventures.”
“That’s your editorial, mixed in that metaphor, Jean-Claude,” he said, adding a little smile.
“Perhaps I burnish the image a bit.”
I smiled, too.
“I’m off to the foredeck, to read about Heracles, so I am not totally dumb tonight, when we are looking at the stars.”
“I’ll go with you. I need some brother time, anyway.”
“Oh. Yes. Nothing to fret about. I just need to be with you more, on some these days.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” I said, rising from my chair. We went to the boys’ stateroom where I picked up the book with the star stories from Louis’ desk. Arriving on the vacant foredeck, we sat back in recliners and I began to read the story of Heracles.
“Please read it out loud, Jean-Claude, so I can appreciate it, too.”
“Heracles was the son of Jupiter and Alcmene. His jealous stepmother, Juno, tried to murder the infant, Heracles, by putting a serpent in his cradle. Luckily, for Heracles, he was born with great strength and killed the serpent. By the time Heracles was an adult, he had already killed a lion. Eventually, Juno, his stepmother, drove Heracles insane. Due to his insanity, Heracles killed his wife, Megara, and their three children. Heracles exiled himself because of the shame that he had brought on himself through his lack of sanity.
Heracles decided to ask the Oracle, at Delphi, what he should do to regain his honor. The Oracle told Heracles to go to King Eurystheus and serve him for twelve years. Now, King Eurystheus couldn't think of any tasks that might prove difficult for the mighty son of Jupiter. So Juno, you remember the Heracles’ evil stepmother, came down from her palace on Olympus to help him. Together, the twosome came up with twelve tasks for Juno's mortal stepson to complete.
These tasks are the twelve labors of Heracles. Heracles' first labor was to kill the menacing Nemean Lion; Heracles strangled the creature and carried it back to Mycenae. The second task was to overcome the nine-headed snake known as the Hydra; Heracles' cousin Ioloas helped him out by burning the stumps of the heads after Heracles cut off the heads; since the ninth head was immortal, Heracles rolled a rock over it. The third task was to find the golden-horned stag and bring it back alive; Heracles followed the stag around for one full year; he finally captured the stag and took it back alive. The fourth labor was to capture a wild boar that terrorized Mycenae's people; Heracles chased the boar up a mountain where the boar fell in to a snow drift, where Heracles subdued it. The fifth task of Heracles was to clean the Augean stables, where thousands of cattle were housed, in a single day; Heracles diverted two rivers so that they would flow into the Augean stables. The sixth labor was to destroy the man-eating Stymphalian birds; Heracles drove them out of their hiding places with a rattle and shot them with poison-tipped arrows. The sixth task was for Heracles to capture a Cretean savage bull; Heracles wrestled it to the ground and took it back to King Eurystheus. The eighth labor was to capture the four man-eating mares of Thrace; Heracles threw the master of the mares to them; the horses became very tame, so Heracles safely led them back to Mycenae. Heracles' ninth labor was to obtain the girdle of the fierce Amazon warrior queen, Hippolyta; Hippolyta willingly gave her girdle to Heracles, but Juno steps in to help. You remember her? She’s Heracles’ evil stepmother. She convinced the Amazons that Heracles was trying to take Hippolyta from them, so Heracles fought them off and returned to his master with the girdle. The tenth labor was to capture the cattle of the monster, Geryon; Heracles killed Geryon, claimed the cattle, and took them back to the king. The eleventh task was to get the golden-apples of the Hesperides; Heracles told Atlas that if he would get the apples for him, he (Heracles) would hold the heavens for him; when Atlas returned from his task, Heracles tricked him into taking back the heavens. The final labor of Heracles was to bring the three-headed watchdog of the underworld, Cerberus, to the surface without using any weapons; Heracles seized two of Cerberus' heads and the dog gave in. Heracles took the dog to his master, who ordered him to take it back. Finally, after twelve years and twelve tasks, Heracles was a free man.
Heracles went to the town of Thebes and married Deianira. She bore him many children. Later on in their life, the male centaur, Nessus, abducted Heracles’ wife, Deianira, but Heracles came to her rescue by shooting Nessus with a poison tipped arrow. The dying Nessus told Deianira to keep a portion of his blood to use as a love potion on Heracles if she felt that she was losing him to another woman. A couple of a months later, Deianira, Heracles’ wife, thought that another woman was coming between her and her husband, so she washed one of Heracles' shirts in Nessus' blood and gave it to him to wear. Nessus had lied to her, for the blood really acted as a poison and almost killed Heracles. On his funeral pyre, the dying Heracles ascended to Olympus, where he was granted immortality and lives in heaven among the gods.”
Dashiell didn’t stir, when I finished the ending.
“That’s the short version. Each of Heracles’ tasks are described in more detail in other poetry and texts.”
I never saw Dashiell so taken by anything. He, like Ollie, was on my shoulder, listening to my every word, until Louis arrived, abruptly, and asked me to listen to his practice.
“Oh,” he said, realizing he was interrupting, “Sorry.”
“It’s okay, Louis,” I said, “I was just reading some stuff and sharing it with Dashiell.”
I sat forward in the recliner, turned to the side, and swung my feet down to the deck. I rose, stretched, and left behind Louis going into the lounge to hear his practice. As I left, I heard Jacob and Dashiell start a conversation.
Louis did well. He played a little too fast, but he played well, otherwise.
“What were you reading to Dashiell?”
“The story of Heracles,” I said.