Chapter 1. How It All Began
ONCE UPON A TIME - many yesterdays before yesterday - there was a young girl called Teak. She was almost seven years old, sturdy but small for her age. Her hair was the color of wheat, and always looked as if the wind had tousled it, no matter how hard it was brushed. She had thoughtful brown eyes, and no wonder, since already she had seen so many different places and people. If she seemed a rather unusual girl, it wasn't because she looked different, but because she lived a rather unusual life. And these were the reasons:
First, although Teak had a nice father and a beautiful mother, she saw very little of them, because they were always having to go somewhere else - and this meant having to say a great many good-byes. Second, she had no brothers or sisters. Third, although her family was American, they lived abroad and always stayed in hotels. Teak could not remember ever having lived in a home, a real house, that is, with a kitchen that had a potted geranium in the window and a real stove with a kettle on it, hot and steaming - a house where you could have your very own room, your very own bed, your very own pillow, and books and toys and lots of boy stuff like cars to go MOM (She secretly wished she had been born a boy because it was her observation that boys had a lot more freedom and, therefore, more fun.) Lastly, Teak had no friends to play with. Not that she couldn't make friends, but she was always traveling from one place to another all over the world, so she always had to say good-bye to the ones she did meet. Just the sight of an open suitcase on a bed gave her a lumpy feeling in her middle. Another good-bye would be looming.
No, Teak was not a gypsy, though she had met a few.
She didn't travel with a circus, though she often wished that she could. (She was torn between being the lion tamer or a flying-trapeze artist.)
Nor was she the daughter of an army officer or a diplomat. Her father, whose name was Thaddeus King, Junior, was a very important businessman, a Vice-President for Overseas for a big company in the U.S.A. This explained all that traveling. It also explained Teak's name, for her real name was Thaddea King, TK for short.
Her mother's name was Birdie, and she was a writer. Sometimes Teak would see her stories in magazines; there would be pictures and the words "by Birdie King" under the tide.
Often the hotels they stayed in were huge and fancy ones with long, long carpets down long quiet halls, and lifts - that's what the elevators were called that were like open brass cages. These were run by elevator boys in brass-buttoned uniforms and pillbox hats. If they were friendly they would letTeak push the buttons for the required floors. Sometimes Teak would not take the lift, but would race it instead, flying up or down the carpeted stairs to arrive red-faced and panting and triumphant when she won, which she usually did. Nanny did not approve.
On other trips, the family might stay in small and quaint inns tucked in the mountains or overlooking the sea, or they might stay in in-between-size hotels called pensions (pronounced funny, like "ponsy-ons"). Wherever they stayed, Mother and Daddy would settle into their room, get out their portable typewriters, and start pecking away at them furiously. A little bell would sound when one of them came to the end of a line. Ping, and then another ping, never two pings at once. Teak would stand quietly and hopefully at the door, but usually her mother would put her finger to her lips and say, "Ssshh!" and Teak would have to trudge back to her room or go to Nanny's.
Which brings us to Nanny. Teak's parents couldn't possibly find baby-sitters everywhere they went, so Nanny had been hired to take care of her. She was a fixture in the family, the one person Teak never had to say good-bye to. She was British, hearty, and roly-poly, with red cheeks and blue eyes - and she had a grip of iron. She was older than Mother and both kind and strict - very strict. But Teak felt safe with her and knew she was fortunate to have her.
There were only a few things wrong with Nanny, but they were not really her fault: She was not another child, and she had no imagination, which meant you couldn't talk to her about ideas or ask her important questions like "Who invented time?" or "What do cows think about?" or "Who decided the first Tuesday?" or even simple ones like "How many grains of sand are there in the world?" or "How many times have you breathed in and out in your life?" Teak's mother was better at those kinds of questions.
Since Nanny was old, she couldn't bend in the middle very well or walk fast in the park or at the zoo, so there were strict rules about not disappearing around corners. Teak would run in circles around her as second best, but she always felt as if she lived with her brakes on. Also, Nanny seemed to be devoted to only two great causes, keeping spotless and good manners, neither of which stood anywhere near the top of Teak's own list. To be sure, she was always squeaky clean herself in blue or white starched uniforms, and she was respectful to Teak's parents, saying "yes, sir," or "No, madam." She wore her grey hair up with a bun on top, which Teak sometimes thought made her look like a sea lion with a cow patty on her head. She knew this was probably a naughty thought, but she didn't mean it unkindly.
Of course, Teak herself had no idea how hard it was for Nanny - how very hard it was for her to climb up on a camel in Egypt or to rush into the waves at the beach on the Riviera to keep an eye on her charge. Teak had no thought that Nanny might be lonely too, or that she might ever be tired or have a headache or wish that she could wear a red dress with flowers on it. Nor did Teak realize that she was the apple of Nanny's eye, that Nanny secretly loved her to pieces though she felt she had no right to. To Teak, Nanny was just tbere.
So Teak's world was mostly filled with grown-ups. They might look down at her and see only a small girl in short smocked cotton dresses and matching bloomers, with scuffed red knees and a determined look about her, but she saw them as equals, only bigger and more powerful. Well, to be sure, they didn't chew their fingernails.
One of the problems of traveling so much was that everything you owned had to fit into suitcases, so she had hardly any playthings or picture books. Teak had to use her imagination a lot. The first thing she would do in a new hotel room was open the doors of the large mahogany wardrobe, which somehow always had the same varnishy smell but nevertheless had to be checked for monsters. Also under the bed. And under the covers, in case of stray reptiles. Each room had a night table next to the bed with a big china potty in it, and each room had its own washbasin, though the pensions sometimes only had a big china basin and a big pitcher of water. (Teak was always interested in waterworks.) Then, if Nanny was not around, she would climb onto the bed and jump and jump or, if it was a puffy featherbed, she might climb up the headboard and swandive into it. Kerplopf! It was a delicious feeling, but only to be done at night.
Teak also had a secret family of very small paper cutouts that she had drawn herself They were a German family, and their names were the Pumpernickels. There were four of them, for Herr and Frau Pumpernickel had been blessed with two children, a girl, Brigitta, and a boy, Hans-Peter. They lived and traveled in an old tortoiseshell cigarette box that had been Teak's father's. Teak would spend long hours lying on her stomach, listening to the imaginary troubles and squabbles of this family. Nanny tolerated and maybe even enjoyed this game, often listening in while she knitted in a corner.
A balloon was a special treat. Teak could lie on her back and throw it, catch it with her feet, and throw it back, over and over. It often was tiresome, though, to be alone. But there certainly was lots of time to think, and thinking was what Teak did best.
On this particular day, Teak and Nanny were alone at the Hotel Galilee in Paris. The previous day, Teak's mother had received a telegram from her father. It came in a folded yellow paper with tickertape pasted on it and said - all in capital letters
Translated, Teak knew this meant that her mother was to catch the train to Rome, taking her trunk, called Dromedary because it was bought in Egypt and humped when it was full, and Daddy's two suitcases, the Turkeys, but she was to check their trunk, the Dragon, at the Gare du Nord in Paris for Nanny and Teak to pick up when they joined them. Each piece of luggage was given a name. Teak had a small leather case they called the Fiumerol (because it came from Fiume in Italy) and a leather pouch on a strap called the Spy Bag, in which she kept her very special treasures.
So Mother had left once again, kissing Teak in a hurried way, promising a reunion in Rome sometime soon. Teak had fought back her tears of disappointment while Birdie and Nanny consulted over her head. It was always nicer when Mother was around.
The Hotel Galilee was a pension with high ceilings and tall windows now flecked with raindrops, which meant Teak and Nanny were stuck indoors with nothing to do. In those days, there were no radios or televisions. Usually Teak found watching people the most entertaining thing she could think of, but looking at Nanny mending her stockings, squinting in the poor light, did not amuse Teak. She was bored and out of sorts.
She would have enjoyed talking to her very old friend, Mr. Rathbone, who had white whiskers and was very good at answering questions, but he was in Vevey in Switzerland. Mr. Rathbone had once suggested that what Teak needed was an encyclopedia, which Teak wrote down and brought to her parents' attention, but they said no. Encyclopedias came in twenty-six volumes and where would she pack them?
Teak almost wished her redheaded cousins, Jessie and Justin, would turn up. They were twins, just her age, and the children of Uncle Amyas King, her father's older brother and Aunt Bessie MacLean, who was also a redhead and verry, verry Scottish. (You weren't ever supposed to say Scotch!) Whenever Jessie and Justin appeared, Teak's world was turned upside down.
It was still raining when it was time for lunch. Teak wasn't a bit hungry, but she and Nanny went down to the dining room and sat at the table for two. She rolled breadcrumbs, fiddled with the salt and pepper shakers, and kicked her chair rungs and sulked. Nanny was cross and even crosser when Teak made a face at the brussels sprouts. However, by this time the rain seemed to have stopped, and the sun began to shine weakly, so Nanny bargained a trip to the park for three brussels sprouts down the hatch. The deal was made.
Paris was actually one of the places Teak liked. The hotel was close to the Champs Elysées headed by the great Arc de Triomphe, where the eternal flame burned to the French Unknown Soldier. She liked the big toy store with scooters and trucks in the window. She secretly loved the small park with the merry-go-round, and the Guignol, the Punch and Judy puppet show, where husband and wife whacked each other over the head with big sticks. And going to the park meant thatTeak could try out the new wooden hoop and stick that the concierge, the nice lady in black at the front desk, had given her to use while they were staying in the hotel. The hoop belonged to the concierge's children, but they had gotten too old to play with it, so it was now kept in a broom closet for use by special young guests. Teak wanted one of her very own, but how could you fit it in a suitcase?
Now Teak could hardly wait. She might even get bread and chocolate for her snack, or gouter ("goo-tay," as the French children said). She raced up the stairs, leaving Nanny to struggle up behind her.
"Teak!" Nanny called. "Wait for me. Don't you dare try going down these stairs with that hoop! Do you hear me? You could fall and break your neck."
Teak sighed impatiently. Nanny was always saying things like that. It made her feel like a baby. She knew perfectly well that she could carry a stupid old hoop down the stairs. Anybody could carry a stupid old hoop down the stupid old stairs. She would show Nanny, and that would be that.
Well, that was that all right. Somehow, in switching the stupid old hoop and stick from hand to hand, the hoop got tangled with Teak's stupid feet, and before she knew it, she was somersaulting down a flight of stairs after the hoop, which had shot away and was bounding down the steps five at a time. Teak wound up on her head on a landing, and by the time the concierge had come flying up from below with cries of alarm and Nanny had come puffing down from above with cries of dismay, she had a huge bump on her forehead - a real goose egg. She tried hard not to cry, but it really hurt!
What a fuss and feathers! The concierge clucked and kept exclaiming, "0 la pauvre petite! Ze poor leetle girl!" Then she rushed off to get an ice pack. Nanny was not so sympathetic. She dragged Teak back up to her room with a chorus of "I-told-you-so!" and announced decisively, "And no park for naughty, disobedient girls!" Then it was off with her dress and on with her dressing gown and into bed for a rest, the final insult for a seven-year-old. Bustling about, Nanny puffed the heavy draperies, closing out the now beautiful sunny afternoon and the smell of chestnut blossoms. Teak was to lie there stiff and hold that ice pack to her forehead or else. After reminding her several more times how lucky she was not to have broken her neck, Nanny slammed the door shut. Bam!
Teak couldn't help it. She could feel the big hot tears streaming down both sides of her face. If only her mother were here! If only, if only!

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