The American Dream
by Rosey Collins
Lancelot Fairmont's family had become destitute since the disappearance of his mother Elizabeth, and the young bat had been charged with paying off his grandfather's many debts. He and Galahad, his father, had graciously handed over their home and the last of their money, and now had to get by in a church belfry. Lance, as he liked to be known, was still a yearling when he made the decision to leave England for America. His father had been shocked when he heard of his son's plans.
"Will you not come with me, Father?" Lance asked.
"Will you not stay?" was the curt reply.
"Father, how can I make a decent life for myself here? You know what they say about America."
"Yes, yes, it's the land of opportunity," Galahad said grudgingly, and then he managed to calm himself. "You are right, of course. What sort of a life could you have here?"
"I knew you would understand. But Father, I wish you would consider joining me."
He did consider it, but not for long. After but a few seconds he shook his head sadly.
"I am sorry, Lance, but there seems little point in me joining you. You, a young man, have every reason to journey to America, but I must live out my life here. Do you plan to fly all the way?"
"Indeed, it is cheaper than the fare for passage on a ship."
"Then there is another reason why I must not join you; I should never survive the journey."
It was a tearful goodbye, and for a while it looked as though Galahad would never free his beloved son from his wings, but Lance eventually took off and began his long journey. He had with him only a map and a compass, which he kept in a small satchel around his neck.
The young bat stopped to rest in an old barn once he had reached the coast of Ireland, for only now had he realised his mistake. He had set off from a small town relatively close to London, it had been several miles' flight and already he was exhausted.
"The space between here and America is many times greater," he murmured to himself, "and there are no lands in between. I shall die from exhaustion before I am halfway there."
"Aye, that do present a problem, lad," came a small voice from behind him, and Lance spun round to see a small white rat grinning up at him from the ground. He was extremely skinny, and he smelled awful. Lance guessed that the poor creature hadn't had a meal or a wash in days, but his patience was too short to show the wretched animal any sympathy.
"If you're here to cause trouble..." he began, threateningly.
"English, are ye?" the rat continued. "Aye, that figures. Any Irish folk trying to get to America'd hitch a ride on a boat, but it be just like an Englishman to try and fly the whole distance. Heh! And you lot say we're the daft ones!"
Lance glowered at the rat as he sidled over to the other side of the barn and started picking at a pile of breadcrumbs on the floor.
"O' course," the rat continued, "ye could always go the other way; you know, fly back over England and then over Europe, taking a rest every few miles. That's the advantage of flying over dry land. There's plenty o' dry land to rest on."
"Are you trying to be funny?" Lance demanded threateningly.
"Nay, lad, I'm trying to help ye," the rat defended himself. "If you did that, though, you'd be dead of old age 'afore ye made America, especially if ye skipped the big gap in the land by flyin' over Russia. Nay, lad, I reckon a boat's your best bet."
"I'm afraid I have to disagree."
"Why's that, then? Got no money, 'ave ye?"
"Don't you worry 'bout that, lad. See, me older brother's sailin' his ship to America this afternoon. I'm sure, if I asked him nicely, he'd let you work for passage."
"Do you really think so?" Lance asked hopefully.
"Oh, aye, lad. He's a good man, is our Ralph. O' course, it b'ain't just anyone he'd be doin' this fer. You're lucky you ran into me."
"Indeed I am," Lance said, and he flew down to meet his benefactor. "Whom do I have the honour of addressing?"
"The name's Kennet'," the rat replied, grabbing hold of Lance's wing and shaking it violently. "And how are you known?"
"Aye, but there's a nice name if ever I heard one. Short for Lancelot, I don't doubt. Are your folks keen on them old human legends, are they?"
"Actually, it's kind of a tradition," Lance explained. "My father's name is Galahad, and my grandfather was Percival."
"And your sons'll be Kay and Bedevere, I don't wonder," the ugly creature grinned. "I'll tell you what though, Lance, we'd better be off and find me brother or the boat'll be leavin' without you."
Ralph was on the beach, hoarding a few latecomers onto the huge ship. "Come on, all of you," he was yelling frantically as various small mammals scrambled aboard. "Don't you worry about those human people, they expect a few rats. Just get on the boat or she'll be leavin' without us!"
"Some boat," Lance muttered as he stared up at the magnificent contraption.
"Ralph!" Kenneth called, frantically waving his arms. "Ralph!"
"Well now, Kennet'," Ralph said. He was a lot bigger than his younger brother, and quite handsome for a rat. "Have ye changed you're mind at last? Will ye be coming to America wit' us?"
"Nay, Ralph, you won't be changin' me mind there, but this here bat would like a lift. He has no money, I'm afraid, but we was hopin' you'd let him work for ye."
Ralph eyed Lance up and down for some time. The bat did not know what to think, for the rat seemed to know show feelings about him one way or another.
"How competent are ye?" he asked at last.
"Competent enough, I should imagine," Lance replied, cautiously.
"I see. But ye won't be able to do no work wit' your hands though, will ye, on account of y'ain't got none."
"I find my wings adequate substitutes," Lance assured him. "I am sure I can work for you as well as any mouse, vole or shrew."
He and Kenneth waited expectantly, and Ralph nodded.
"Aye, I'll take ye, lad, but I hope for your sake you're a good worker."
Lance assured the rat that he was, and followed him aboard the ship. Once below deck he was issued with the task of sweeping the already filthy floor, which he found far from easy at first; not surprisingly it is quite difficult to hold a broom in wings.
"Are ye all right there, lad?" Ralph asked him. "You're wings are causing ye no bother wi' that broom, I hope."
"No no, I'm fine," Lance replied, lying through his teeth.
By doing such chores as these, and having to endure long hours, Lance earned his place on the ship as well as one decent meal each day.
The journey to America was, of course, a long one, and Lance soon grew impatient for it to be over. One night, when the ship was about halfway through its tiresome journey, Lance was able to steal a few moments and wander up on deck. Here he watched the massive stretch of the black sea for several minutes. He might have stayed all day, but very soon he was approached by a young female bat.
"Shouldn't you be working?" she asked. She spoke with a French accent. Lance had seen her many times on board the ship, and thought her very attractive, but they had never spoken before now.
"Yes," Lance admitted, in answer to her question, "but I really would rather not. It's such a lovely night, I just couldn't resist."
"Why are you going to America, Englishman?"
"Why does anybody go to America?"
"We all have our own reasons. Now me, I want to be famous. I sing, but where I come from a woman does not seem to be able to perform before people and still keep all of her clothes on."
"Really? I thought that was just a legend."
"Oh, I do not think it applies to my whole country. So, why are you going to America?"
"My father and I were completely destitute."
"I am sorry to hear that. Is your father with you?"
"I'm afraid not. I asked him to join me, but he insisted on staying behind."
"That is too bad. My mother was the same."
"Do you have a name?"
"Of course. It is Lucy Becker, but my family likes to call me Lily."
"Why is that?"
"Oh, I do not know. I was called that once when I was a baby and it seems to have stuck. Tell me your name."
"Fairmont," Lily repeated. "That is a very nice name. It is better than Becker."
"I wouldn't say that. It interests me that you are known by the name of a flower. My mother was the same. Apparently my father used to call her Rose."
"Apparently? Did you not know your mother, Lancelot?"
"I'm afraid not. She ran away when I was a baby. No one knows what became of her."
"That is very sad. I am sorry to hear it."
"My father blames her for our situation. He says that she ran away and left us with her father's debts - her name's pretty much mud now."
"Mud?" Lily looked puzzled.
"Um... it's a figure of speech."
After that Lance and Lily were firm friends, and Lily would sometimes help with Lance's chores if she thought that nobody was looking. To Lance the time seemed to pass a lot more quickly now, and before he knew it the ship was docking in America.
"You have done well, lad," Ralph said to Lance as he made his way off the ship with Lily. "I am grateful for your help."
"I am grateful for the lift," Lance replied. "Thank you, Ralph."
He and Lily managed to push their way through a bustling crowd of newcomers and were finally able to leave the harbour and venture into the streets of America. They were disappointed.
"It is not much different from France," Lily observed as she looked at the many feet walking through puddles and odd bits of discarded rubbish.
"Or England," Lance added. "Some say the streets here are paved with gold."
"Then they lie," Lily said grudgingly, "but perhaps it will be better for us somewhere else."
Lance said that the first thing they should do was to find a church to sleep in for the day. They soon did, but it was full of other bats from goodness-knows-where. One was muttering in what sounded like a Russian accent. The other bats, however, seemed to have no trouble sleeping through it, so Lance thought that he would try and do the same.
It was some time before Lily found her singing contract, but she eventually got a place performing in a small club at weekends. Until then Lance supported them both working as a waiter, and he put a little aside each week to pay for their wedding.
"It's nothing I couldn't have done in England," he said to Lily on the eve of their wedding.
"Ah, but if you had stayed you would not have met me," she reminded him. "Have you noticed how everything in America is much bigger than in Europe - or in your case England?"
"You're right there," Lance agreed.
Time saw the birth of their son, Gawain, but apart from this triumph Lance never really prospered the way he had hoped. Still, he was happy enough, and of course he had many more adventures throughout his life but that, as they say, is another story.
|M A I N P A G ED I R E C T O R Y|