This is but a draft. This is part of the next book I am currently working on. Hope you like it.
The water of the Dart had a slight chop to it. It was the colour of a rich indigo. Its contrast to the sky’s blueness was striking especially when measured against the rich green textures and hues of the surrounding deep foliage of trees and flowers. God’s natural palette. Thousands it seemed of trees and flora, of many colours and descriptions. They graced the hills above the harbour from the beaches, rocks and crevices of the shoreline. Very lush. Looking north up the river this landscape of trees and foliage that hugged the shoreline and hung over parts of the Dart presented an aura of peace, tranquility and contentment. It was heaven, sleepingly so. To the south you could see how the Dart narrowed at the mouth of the estuary before spilling out and into the English sea or channel, with its entranceway guarded on both sides by rocky crags and cliffs as well as the artillery forts of Dartmouth Castle on the west bank with Kingswear Tower on the east side. Both of these castles were built hundreds of years ago as protection from foreign invasion, primarily from the French.
We sailed south and then altered slightly to the southeast following the contour and lines of the course of the Dart. It was interesting for me to look out to the east at Kingswear. I could even make out my house on Church Hill just to the right of and up from the lower ferry slipway that connected Kingswear to Dartmouth. I could just detect the small window of my bedroom where I spent many an hour looking out at the very scene from which I now enjoyed this view-scape. There, looking out of my bedroom window, idling my time and dreaming of a better life from the cruel existence of living with my father.
Before long we were abreast of Warfleet Creek Road. We altered to starboard and made our way to a small landing on the south side of the little bay that was fed by Warfleet Creek. With our help Mr. Sommers had Lilly secured along a small wharf. We disembarked, secured our belongings and made our way up to Castle Road. From there it would be a short half mile walk to Dartmouth Castle.
Ruth was excited and beside herself as she ran up the shallow slope to Castle Road. Looking east and then south she became enamoured by the sight of a long dark tree tunnel that was formed by a canopy of leaves and deciduous bushes and hedges that lined both sides of the road, as if they were, according to Ruth, ancient guardians and sentinels of the medieval castle itself. A broad imagination Ruth had.
“Oh daddy, daddy look. Look at this.” she said. “A wondrous tree tunnel that goes on and on forever and ever. To our magical castle estate. “Oh King Sommers.” lowering her voice. “Come your highness, King of Wessex itself. And I am Queen Matilda, or Empress Maud, a woman who would be King of all of England.”
“Yes you are my darling Ruth.” Mr. Sommers said, laughingly, looking at me with a high browed grin.
“But who am I your Highness?” I mocked at her.
“Oh, oh” she paused, unsure of herself for the moment. “Well never mind you…you…you are just my servant boy, my peon of east Meon. You shall do as I say…as I order you or you shall curse the day that you were born. To the chopping block and off with your head if you refuse my bidding” She laughed then giggled and then ran down the shadowing laneway. Happy and excited, exuberant. I followed suit while Mr. Sommers walked slowly behind us, enjoying this moment with his daughter.
You could see the shadows dissipate as the tree tunnel ended with a burst of brightness of the mid afternoon sun. There we were, at the entranceway to the castle. In the gathering area just outside of the main gateway…or drawbridge as Ruth would refer. We were the only ones there. She ran ahead as we followed her into a narrow passageway that was lined with ancient stone walls, ramparts and buttresses. It was almost 600 years old and along with a castle on the Kingswear side Dartmouth Castle protected the entrance to the Dart estuary from French invasion. It held an array of cannon in its tower as well as a mechanism to use a cable that was used in conjunction with Kingswear on the opposite bank to halt the ingress of enemy shipping.
The castle was imbued with many passageways and lookouts that were focused on the entrance to the Dart and approaches to the estuary from the channel beyond. There were gunrooms and powder-rooms, storerooms, quarters, cooking houses and various laneways. Many of the rooms were connected by narrow, dark passageways with low hanging stone ceilings. It was very cool, almost cold in these dark and damp rooms that were only lit by the natural light that came in from the outside through cracks and doorway openings. In one spot Ruth became frightened and held on to my arm. As her anxiety lessoned with my presence beside her she moved her arm down until she could feel the warmth of my hands. There, she entwined her fingers through mine. We were holding hands. I felt a slight tinge and weird sensation through my entire upper being. It felt strange but wonderful.
We held hands and felt our way back up a flight of stone steps and then out and into a small open square that was surrounded on all sides by old stone walls. They were only about four feet high except on the southern side where the wall formed part of the gun tower. We walked over to the east side of the square where we could look out at the expanse of the English Channel. It was so bright and clear that you could almost see across to France or Guernsey. But not really. We looked around and back up where we could see Mr. Sommers above us on a stone rampart. We waved.
“Let’s eat.” He yelled down at us. “Meet me outside the gate.”
Ruth and I left the square to make our way back up through the various rooms and passageways to the outlying path that led to the entranceway to the castle. On our way, Ruth abruptly stopped and turned toward me then gave me a peck on my cheek, and then another. She smiled at me and said. “You may be a poor peon from East Meon Nigel but you are my peon and I like you very much. You may be my knight Mr. Filtness. Rise Sir Nigel.” as she tapped me on my shoulder. And with that she ran off ahead of me giggling and excitable like the young schoolgirl that she was to meet with up with her father.
We spent the next hour or so having a picnic of mutton chops, some salad, chips butty, tea sandwiches and some tea. I could not remember how that went or if the food was good for my mind was racing with that short memory and sweet innocent embrace from Ruth. I may have only been thirteen years old but it did not feel as yucky to me in the least. I was smitten.
As we sat down to our late lunch on a grassy embankment close to the outer western wall of the castle, Mr. Sommers told us about the history of the place and the role it played during the many wars with France including our most recent past of World Wars I and II against Germany. It was a fascinating account of adventure, bravery, fools, pirates, kings and queens, smugglers and rogues. He also touched on the varied history of Dartmouth and Kingswear as well as the advent of the Royal Naval College and Britannia. Ruth would look at me from time to time during this discourse to steal a glance from me and to share a smile. I was beginning to see Ruth in a different light. It was wonderful to know her and Mr. Sommers. Indeed it was wonderful be alive I thought if even for a short respite on this perfect, sunny August afternoon in Dartmouth. For soon reality will bite me squarely in the ass as I make my way home. I tried not to think about it.
We sailed back hardly saying a word. We were exhausted. The wind had come up somewhat but ours was a run before the wind, so it felt as if it was a nice comfortable leisurely sail. A few times Mr. Sommers had to grasp the tiller firmly in this wind and following sea so as not to lose control. Nevertheless the strength of the wind never became apparent to me until we altered directly into it as we came to the mooring buoy on the Kingswear side. It was brisk. Finally, safe and secured to our buoy, Mr. Sommers guided the punt to take us ashore one by one. Saying goodbye to Ruth and thanking Mr. Sommers for everything I made my way home.
1953 was a seminal year for me. I was fourteen years old. My father had come down with a serious disease from the booze. Cirrhosis they called it. I thought something may be amiss for his tendency to hit me or strike me was beginning to wane. He seemed to be tired all the time. Even the verbal abuse and taunts lessened somewhat. He was sick. His skin had a yellowish hue to it all the time. He hardly ate. A putrid sickly smell permeated throughout the house. At times his gut seemed to expand in size, round and very hard to the touch. But he kept drinking.
I do not know how he did it but he would go to the clinic on his own accord from time to time for help. They must have done something for his gut, drained it of fluids perhaps, for it was a normal size when he returned home. But that cure was only temporary for the size of his gut would grow again. Expand to a large ugly mass of skin and putrid flesh marked with red sores. You could almost watch it grow on its own.
One time he did not return home. Concerned, I made it up to the sanatorium to check on his whereabouts. A nurse met me at reception and took me up to his room, or dorm, as there were at least ten men in beds clustered in that one room. My father was down at one end by a window that looked out and over at the hills above Kingswear. I walked down the middle of the corridor that separated the rows of beds and stood at the end of his bed. There was a pan at his right side that was overflowing with a sickly, stinking yellow fluid. I could hardly stand the smell or look of it. I went over to his left side and pulled a sheet over that separated his bed from his neighbour who was also unconscious.
I did not know what to say. I didn’t know why I was even there. I had only known cruelty and neglect from this man. No love. He was not deserving of any love or attention on my part, yet here I was looking down on a decaying, repulsive corpse, barely alive. Yet whatever his failings as a man, as a human being, as a father, he was my father. I felt pity for him. I felt sorrow for what might have been. I also felt self pity and grief for a man who was my lot in life. He was my gift from God. And I for him. Ours was a gift that was considerably flawed but a gift nonetheless.
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