Professor Stewart and I talked to the rest of the Saucier family in the presence of their current patriarch. Celeste and Steve's maternal grandfather, Nils Gunderson. A wheelchair-bound veteran of World War II who acted as the circus' chief advertising executive.
English translation: he "put up paper" (posted hand bills) of all its upcoming appearances during their season on the road.
I have to give him credit. The old gentleman listened to our story with a straight face. Not once showing any disbelief. Not once interrupting us with any rude scoffing out-of-hand. And, when we were finished, he massaged his chin with his right hand, in genuinely serious thought, before finally answering us.
"Tell me, professor. How old do you think I am?"
Professor Stewart considered carefully before venturing his own reply.
Mr. Gunderson nodded: "Right the second time. Which means I was twenty when my father died. While he, himself,...lived to be ninety."
The professor's eyebrows shot upward, so fast, you would have thought they were the payload of a Cape Canaveral rocket.
"Incredible!" he whispered half-aloud.
I silently echoed that sentiment, You see, even in 1980, late-in-life parenthood wasn't as commonplace as it is today. So, for Cookie Gunderson to have fathered his only son at the same age the latter was now? Back in 1910, that must have seemed both miraculous and scandalous!
Mr. Gunderson was continuing, however.
"My father lost the use of his right leg at the Battle of Mobile Bay.* Relegating him to ship's cook for the rest of his life at sea. Yet, while that jellyfish sting might have robbed him of his height, it also--somehow--restored his full mobility. As well as his fertility! How do you explain that?"
"Well," the professor slowly began: "...it was recently discovered at Kubota University, in Japan, that a certain species of jellyfish (scientifically known as Turritopsis dohrnii) can periodically rejuvenate, itself. Effectively making it immortal! It could be that this previously unknown subspecies of lion's mane jellyfish has evolved similar capabilities."
"If that's true," Mr. Gunderson replied: "...that must make you all the more eager to find this island. Correct?"
Professor Stewart nodded.
"Well, then," Mr. Gunderson continued: "...I'll make a confession. I lost the use of both my legs, at the Battle of Tarawa, in the Pacific Theater. So, you might say I have twice as much reason as you to find this island!"
The professor looked at me before cautiously asking:
"What are getting at, Mr. Gunderson?"
"I'm going to make you a proposition. If you can get fifty percent of the funding you need, for your expedition, from one of those big scientific outfits (like the National Linnaean Society)? I'll provide the matching half...along with my father's personal diary. But, on one condition!
"That being?" I blurted out (in a more growling tone of voice than I'd intended).
"That my granddaughter go along with you as our family representative!"
There was an instant clamor of denial and disapproval from the rest of the Flying Sauciers. But, they immediately fell silent when he raised his right hand (like some authoritative school teacher).
"I'm not talking about breaking up the act just before the start of the season. I know enough about logistics to realize it will take at least a year for Professor Stewart and his young associate, here, to organize their expedition. Isn't that right, professor?"
The latter nodded: "At the barest minimum, yes."
"Then, we'll most likely be back on winter break by the time you're ready to leave for the South Pacific."
"That is also correct."
"Very well, then. What do you say to my terms? Do we have a deal?"
Professor Stewart looked at me, before we both looked at the Flying Sauciers, who stared right back at us with equal intensity. The professor then held out his right hand.
"It's a deal."
Next Up: "One Year Later" (give or take six months).
Battle of Tarawa (Nov. 20, 1943): notorious for a poorly-coordinated amphibious landing by the USMC.