by Nicholas P. Snoek



Chapter Fifteen


Brother Andre has asked the four parents to meet with him at a terrace cafe. The children are in a park area below the dzong, playing in a grove of willows and alders, where there is a creek and a foot bridge, a pretty setting.

"Mr and Mrs Schuurman, Mr and Mrs Spiets, thank you for joining me here. I have something important to discuss with you, and I must be careful how I handle it.

First let me confirm that you have all agreed that Jack should go to Holland with the Spiets, and become part of their family as an adopted son. Is that correct?"

Siem, "That is correct." All the others nod.

"Good. You've all heard, from Jack and from me, that he was a foundling, and that nothing is known about his parentage. But the exact truth, as is often the case, is a bit more complicated.

Jack is going far away, and I cannot be sure of contacting him at any given time in the future, so I now have to inform you of the following: I came into possession of a letter, in 1946 I believe it was, which purports to describe some circumstances surrounding his birth. Jack himself knows nothing of this.

The material as I say, is circumstantial, and it does not contain any clue which can be used to identify his parents. As a matter of fact, there is a warning in it not to attempt that."

Bertus, "But if that is the case, what could it contain of any significance?"

"I cannot comment on that, except to say this is all we've got, about Jack, and I believe it will be important to him when he's older. So I wish to ensure that he will someday read it. To that end, I have made a copy for myself -- this is the original." He gives a sealed brown envelope to Mr Spiets.

"Mr and Mrs Spiets, I ask that you place this package in the hands of your family solicitor in Canada, when you retain one, and instruct him to send a letter to me, in care of the King at Thimphu, stating that he undertakes to give the documents to Jack on or just after Jack's eighteenth birthday. Would you do that?"

Marie, "Of course we will."

Siem, "Yes, certainly. And Jack must not know till then?"

"Right. Thank you. This takes a big load off my mind."

Bertus, "Maartje, do you have the feeling that we've just been manoeuvered into being unofficial witnesses here?"

"Yes, I do. It's like a Gothic novel, isn't it? Secret documents, long term confidence contracts, uncertain circumstances surrounding a mysterious birth. Kind of exciting! Are you sure you can't tell us a bit more, Brother Andre?"

"Believe me, Mrs Schuurman, if I could I certainly would. But I cannot do that, I really can't. Please forgive the dramatics but I can think of no other way to accomplish what I felt I had to do. I owe this to Jack."

Maartje, "Will we ever know what happened here today? Will the Spiets, or Jack, tell us after he is eighteen?"

"I don't know. It should really be Jack's decision, and he cannot make that decision until he sees this material. Until then, I feel my hands are tied."

All that remains now is for Brother Andre to tell Jack. A delicate task; he's not looking forward to it.

At supper he announces he must leave for Thimphu the next day, and suggests to Jack they go for a walk. Jack, oblivious to what is in the air, agrees with alacrity.

"Well, Jack. We've come full circle here. It's my turn to go off into the sunset. Not on a white horse either, exactly. I must see what happened to my good monks, and the best place to start, I think, is with some searching enquiries from the foreign affairs people. I believe the King already has a letter of protest from my bishop. It just may be that since the monastery was abandoned, the whole incident could be labelled a mistake, and some of the consequences might be reversed."

"Could I go with you, Brother Andre?"

"No Jack. That's not possible. I'll tell you why. The four parents and I have been doing a lot of talking about what would be best for you. So let me explain what we agreed on. I hope you'll understand.

You remember telling me about Ietje's asking you what religion you were, when you first met her? And that she walked away when you told her Roman Catholic?"

"Yes, I will never forget it."

"She was acting on the training the Schuurmans used, as many families do, to prevent their children from getting involved with young people of other religions; to minimize the likelihood of mixed marriages. When a son or daughter marries into another faith it creates a whole set of complex problems. So, many families try to avoid that by just not associating with people of other religions."

"I understand that, more or less."

"Good. Because that's the background here. You've commented on some friction between you and Mrs Schuurman, not so much lately, but earlier, when you first arrived. That was the reason. She was worried for her daughters. Since then she has come to accept you, not as a Catholic but as Jack. You see? But the problem remains. You are Catholic, they are Christian Reformed."

"But what can be done about that? Are you telling me I'm going to start learning to be Protestant?"

"No. But something almost as radical. The Spiets have offered to adopt you into their family. They do not have the same difficulties as the Schuurmans, being Catholic themselves. And, as they are leaving for Holland very soon, so will you. Which is why you cannot go with me to Thimphu."

"What? Wow! That makes my head spin! I'll be a Spiets before I hardly get to know the Schuurmans.

But why would they want to do that and then take me to Holland with them, after I killed Viktor?"

"What? What are you saying! You killed Viktor?"

"Well, if I hadn't played the big hero, wanting to get a look into the monastery from a better spot, Viktor would be alive now. I caused that to happen."

"Jack, you cannot do that! You cannot and you must not take the blame for Viktor's death. I mean it! It was an accident, which you could not foresee. And therefor not prevent. Do you understand? Get that out of your head, right now!"

When Jack and Brother Andre return, everyone is gathered in the front room. They look at the two anxiously.

Bertus, "Jack, I understand Brother Andre has told you what we've worked out about your future. While you two were away we told all the children about it as well. So now we're all up to date. And how do you feel about all this?"

"I don't know what to say. I will do what you wish."

Marie, "Jack, you don't need to worry. We understand. This has all come about so suddenly. You must be dizzy from all these changes, everything happening so fast.

We should really give him some time to get used to the idea, and then talk again."

Siem, "She's right. But what you should know right now, Jack, is that you are more than welcome to be part of our family. Marie and I and the children are all agreed on that, and you have the blessings of the Schuurmans and Brother Andre too."

"Thank you, everybody. I think I'd like to go to bed now."

"Good night, Jack."


Well, if that doesn't take the cake. I was the last one to know. They all just arrange and rearrange the bits and pieces of my life like tokens on a chess board. When they're all done, and everyone has had his say -- except me -- and all have satisfied themselves about the probable best outcome as they see it, that's the time to tell Jack.

Jack, you're going to Holland.

Jack, you're going to have six new sisters.

Jack, you're going to have a younger brother.

Jack, you're going to be part of this Catholic family.

Jack, you're not going to be with the Schuurman family.

Jack, you're not going to be growing up here in Bhutan.

Jack, you're not going to see Brother Andre again.

Jack, you can kiss Truusje goodbye... or not.

So maybe I deserve it. I think Mr Spiets saw me kissing Truusje. But if that's a problem for him he wouldn't be wanting me to join his family -- he would be worrying about his daughters.

But why didn't anyone think of talking it over with me while this was going on? No one thinks I should have any say regarding my future? Am I a baby? Do I look like an idiot?

Oh yes, they allowed me the opportunity to approve it.

Here you are, Jack. We talked it over and this is what we've come up with. Aren't you happy, Jack? We've decided for you, you see. Oh you don't need to worry your little head about it, it's all settled. Just say yes, Jack. That's all you have to do. Just smile and say yes.

And it would be nice if you said something pretty about how happy you are.

Oh, by the way, would you like to go to Canada? Of course you would.

Yes, I'm grateful to the Schuurmans. I owe them more than I can ever repay. Yes, I appreciate the honor of being offered a place in the Spiets family. I do not deserve it.

But why was I left out of all the planning?

I am not a baby. I am not an idiot.


Chapter Sixteen