The Old Swimmin' Hole

By Linda Mooney


"Move it, furbutt."

Vincent sighed with weary, patience. "Don't call me that, Devin. I don't like you calling me that."

"Why not? You got one." Devin responded and prodded his younger brother with the toe of his shoe before plopping down beside him.

Vincent gave him a disgruntled glance as he scrunched over and tossed a piece of the hemp rope he had been unraveling into the pit below their feet, but refused to rise any further to the unspoken challenge.

Sitting on the edge of the bridge which spanned the Whispering Gallery, a definite no on Father's unending list of rules for growing boys to follow. The boys lapsed into a silent peace to listen to the faint and sometimes ghostly echoes of life above bouncing around the walls of the chamber. On this particularly lazy Saturday afternoon, laughter and thin strains of rinky-tink music filtered to them,
reminding Vincent of the carousel in the park, the bright lights, the smell of enameled wood and polished brass.

"Hey... wanna know a secret?" Devin dropped his voice and prodded his brother with an elbow.

A secret? Suddenly, the prospect of dying from boredom evaporated with the idea of being in on one of Devin's important discoveries--but as a veteran of many of the older boy's schemes, and usually the brunt of whatever trouble he subsequently get them into, Vincent decided to play it cool this time.

"Yeah. What?"

"No. You gotta spit 'n swear."

"Devin..."

"Hey, if you don't wanna know..." Devin scrambled to his feet and pretended to walk away with his precious knowledge And, as always, Vincent relented.

"Okay," he replied, and spit in the palm of one hand, smashing it with the other fist, and swearing,

"Never tell, never tell, 'cause if I do I'll go to hell. Now, what's your secret?"

Devin grinned satisfied. Squatting back down, he asked conspiratorially, "How would you like to go swimmin'? Huh? Just you 'n me and no one else? Like Huck and Tom?"

A wary look. "Where, Devin?"

The older boy jumped back up and gestured for Vincent to follow. "C'mon. I'll show you."

Together, the youngsters started off down the back tunnels, and at the first junction Devin cut to the left, away from the main hub.

"Hey," Vincent realized, "We're heading for the falls."

"So?" Devin challenged him.

"Father will whip us good if he finds out we went to the falls without an adult. You know what he said about..."

"Yeah, yeah, I remember what the old man said. But wait'll you see it! I tell ya, Vincent, you're not gonna wanta share this with nobody."

"Anybody," Vincent automatically corrected, and sighed. Perhaps just this once without an escort wouldn't be too bad.

On the way, they had a near-discovery when a group of women passed them on the way back from the springs. Wedged in one of the many, tiny crevices in the tunnel walls, the boys watched as the tunnel folk, carrying their dripping jugs and pitchers of the pure water, sauntered past them, too engrossed in giggles and gossip to notice. If spotted this close to the falls, their secret game would have been over before it had begun, and Vincent waited until he could no longer hear their chatter before giving Devin the all-clear sign.

Sneaking around the last comer, sure they had made it, the boys were nearly run down by Molly. The eight-year-old, panting from her run, slid against the earthen wall and gave them her most adult stare.

"Where are you two going?"

"It's a secret," Vincent replied.

"Yeah, and no girls allowed," added Devin.

Astute and long-knowledgeable of this couple's reputation, Molly tossed her bright hair back over her shoulder in a perfect imitation of Roseann, her mother, and commented, "That's okay. I know you're going to the falls and that's breaking one of Father's rules."

Fear tugged at Vincent s young heart, and he whispered, "Are you going to tell on us?"

"Hey, hey, hey..." Devin stayed his sibling with an open hand. Turning to the girl, he inquired smugly, "If it's breaking the rules, then what are you doing here?"

Molly took her most adult stance. "I got to come along to get water. But I forgot my outer sweater then I took it off to help fill the con.., con.. containers."

"But," she added, "If you let me come with you, I won't tell."

"Aww, that's blackmail!" Devin whined. "Take it or leave it, Mr. Big Shot." Crossing her arms over her chest, Molly waited for her answer, but already knew what the outcome would be.

Vincent tugged on his brother's sleeve. "It's all right with me, Devin, if she comes along. Besides, might be more fun if more of us shared it."

"Shared what?"

"Devin's found a place for us to go swimming."

"At the falls?"

"But it's a secret," Devin demanded, relenting (but just this once!). You gotta spit n swear..."

"That's stupid boy stuff," Molly said, wrinkling up her finely freckled nose in disdain. Drawing two lines on her vest with a finger, she intoned, "Cross my heart and hope to die, I won't tell. Now, can we go on and show me before Mom comes looking for me."

Devin proceeded with the others in tow, and soon they emerged into the grand concourse of falling water that threw thunder and mist at the rocks at the base of the miniature lake. "This way," He pointed, and they followed the narrow path that skirted the high cliff, past the cold artesian spring that bubbled to the surface, where many of the tunnel dwellers came for the fresh carbonated water, and down a steep embankment.

The lake swirled and eddied into a current, forming a small tide pool on the far side of the chamber, undetected and unseen from the entrance to the falls. The children slipped and slid on the marble size rocks, and finally ended up at the edge of the pool. A tiny sandbar ran halfway around the water, and the distant motion of the falls sent a constant ripple of waves to lap at the dark soil.

"Ain't it neat?" Devin was filled with pride at his discovery. "And it's not real deep."

Vincent leaned out to dip a hand in the pool, then tentatively sucked on the tips of his fingers. Mmmm ... it's fresh.., and it's warm!" Surprised, he looked over at the person who knew all the answers. "Why, Devin?"

"The hot springs are off in that direction. See where all the fog is? I guess they flow into this swimmin’ hole just like the falls do, and the hot and cold water together make it just right," he guessed.

"So we can swim here?" Suddenly, all Molly's thoughts of her mother coming after her disappeared with the idea of having a place to play in the water.

"Sure! You ready?" without further ado, Devin dropped to the beach and began untying his boots.

Vincent watched with growing horror as Molly followed suit and started to remove hers, also. "But Devin, what are we going to wear?" Father had taken them to the mirror pool a couple of times for swimming lessons and they had worn a pair of old pants with the legs cut off above the knees. If he had known that was what they were coming to do, he would have brought along his bathing trunks. And towels.

"Don't be a sissy, fuzz. Take your clothes off."

"All of them?"

Throwing his boots and socks at the rocks behind them, Devin pulled his layers of sweaters over his head. Nearby, Molly was unbuttoning her pants.

"Fraidy cat, fraidy cat, Vinnie is a fraidy cat," Devin intoned, just to watch his brother rile, and he smiled victoriously as Vincent angrily jerked his boots off and reached for his belt buckle.

Molly beat them and was the first to dive headfirst into the pool with a shriek of joy. She bobbed up about the middle, and they could see where the waters reached her chin.

"Can you touch bottom?" Vincent called to her as Devin raced past him to join her.

"Just barely," she answered before the older boy surfaced beside her and dashed a spray of water into her face. In retaliation, Molly went after him, thus beginning an impromptu game of tag.

Not to be left out any longer, Vincent shed the last of his clothes and jumped in.

Shouts of laughter rang in the rock enclave, sounds of children still young, naive, and unaware of the differences that would divide them later in life. Devin found a boulder a few feet above the tide line that made an excellent diving spot, and he demonstrated the fine art of cannonballing.

"Genronimoooo!"

Not to be outdone, Vincent and Molly took turns climbing the limestone rock and throwing themselves out into the air with abandon.

"Devin! Vincent! Come out of there this instant!"

Uh-oh. The voice of doom.

Heads hung contritely, the children climbed out of the water, and the women who had followed Father in search of the missing Molly gasped out loud to see the trio wore no clothes. Without another word, Roseann bundled her daughter up in her shawl and herded her back into the tunnels.

"I'll deal with each of you when we get back to your chambers. In the meantime. I want you both to get your clothes on right now, and you will meet me in my library in fifteen minutes. Do you understand? Fifteen minutes."

"Yes, sir," the duo whispered, and trotted off to find the clothes they had left scattered haphazardly on the rocks.

Knowing their punishment would surely fit the crime, nevertheless Vincent thanked his brother for bringing him.

"Yeah, but our gooses are cooked, but good," Devin observed glumly.

Vincent smiled. "Perhaps, but the pool will always be here.., and we won't be kids forever." Devin brightened at this bit of wisdom. "Yeah, that's right?

And throwing their arms across each other's shoulders, the pair trudged up the slope and into the main tunnels, prepared to meet their maker.