The Deverells, Book Five
© 2017 by Jayne Fresina
"Trust nobody. Remember, there is no soul on earth who has your best interests at heart more than you."
Remembering his father's stern advice, Damon Deverell, at just ten years of age, proudly kept his small chin up and his lips pressed tight, speaking to nobody, as the mail coach trundled slowly along the bumpy coast road, carrying him off to boarding school for the first time.
With a wide, dry-eyed gaze, he peered out through the grimy window and quickly sought the little island that jutted up from the sea. There, clawing its way out of that rock, stood his father's house— the stark silhouette of a hunch-backed ogre, against the pink yolk of sunrise. Once the coach turned, the boy knew he wouldn't be able to see the familiar turrets any longer, so he stared now until his eyes were sore, taking it in and storing it within the young, but very orderly, vaults of his memory
Somber-faced, he sat quietly, bouncing in the seat, his booted feet swinging, legs too short to touch the floor of the coach. In his lap he held a stack of school books and a package tied with string. Pushed into his hands at the last minute by Mrs. Blewett, his father's cook, he knew it contained an entire seed cake. It was her way of wishing him well on his journey, without making a fuss, without words or soppy gestures of which his father would be scornful. Nobody ever wanted his father's contempt or disapproval, for he was the greatest, wisest, strongest man in the world, the undisputed ruler of that little kingdom on the rock.
Soon the bend in the road would come and the castle over the causeway would disappear. His breath misting the glass, Damon pressed his face closer to the window, watching.
There she was, standing on the edge of the cliff, her small, thin shape lit by the awakening sun, her long hair blowing slowly in the breeze off the sea— so slowly, the gently curled locks seemed to be reaching into the air, like tentacles, lamenting this goodbye, begging him not to leave. She raised her hand as if it were heavy, and waved.
He knew, in his heart, this was the last time he'd ever see her. They'd both have to get used to the idea.
Together they'd enjoyed many escapades along these cliffs and beaches, but this adventure was one he must undertake alone, leaving her behind, even if she was the best, most loyal first mate a bloodthirsty pirate captain ever had.
He had to give her up. Damon didn't have time for those games anymore.
His father said he was a clever lad and that great things would come his way if he worked hard at school. Other folk told him he was the most like his father of all the Deverell "cubs".
Although he might be nothing more yet than a "thwarted stump"— as his sixteen-year-old brother called him— one day he would grow tall enough that his feet would not only touch the floor of this carriage, but he'd be able to stretch his legs right across to the other seat, the way he'd seen his father do. People would have to curve their necks back to look up at him.
So what use would that little girl be to him then? Boys weren't little forever, and grown-ups didn't have make-believe friends. Had no one told her that?
Still she waved, not ready to lose her friend yet. And now she ran, barefoot in the long, reedy grass, stumbling and tripping, trying to catch up with the mail coach.
Daft 'apeth, as Mrs. Blewett would say.
Damon turned sharply away from the window, remembering how proud his father was that he never cried.
He wouldn't look back at her again, he decided.
The small boy rubbed his chest where it felt hollow and achy. The new shirt and waistcoat itched under his smart, blue cutaway, the sleeves of which were too long for his arms, coming to a halt just short of his fingertips. His father said he must grow into it. His father talked a vast deal about what must be for his fourth son, as if there was never any doubt.
Here came the bend now, and after that the coach horses would pick up speed. Damon gritted his teeth, his jaw hurting, his throat tight, as he felt the thunder of hooves sweeping him away from her, away from childhood games and into manhood, which was not only a black tunnel of intrepid mystery, but also a place of stern expectations to be fulfilled. Anxiety thumped hard through his small body as his legs swung from side to side.
He took a deep breath and, rather than fall prey to the warm, sympathetic smile of the elderly lady seated opposite, he closed his eyes tight.
Mrs. Blewett's cake did not survive the journey. It was crushed to crumbs beneath his sweaty, determined grip. But that resolute little boy endured. And he did grow into his coat. Indeed, within a year he'd outgrown it, setting a remarkable pace for achievement in everything he did. The other coat, with its pockets still full of all the usual schoolboy treasures, such as conkers, marbles and bits of useful string, was set aside for one of his younger brothers. Only one item was transferred to the new coat, where, folded neatly, it was tucked inside a notebook.
It remained with him ever after, a solitary keepsake of a long lost childhood.