Pt. I: Jack Webley
April 17th, 1800, in the backends of the quiet English countryside, little Jack Webley let out his first cry. A remarkably small child, though one very much larger than life. In the now not so quiet countryside, the young fledgling aimlessly roamed the backends of woods, meadows and hills. By day disturbing Birds, Badgers and Beavers. By night, his parents, Popsy and Harold.
Webley endlessly babbled on about the days exploits ‘I broke the dam at the brook! Fish were stuck in there they needed to escape!’ He exclaimed, seconds later declaring the discovery of some beautiful berries in the forest, which looked too good to not try, alas, they did not taste as good as they looked.
‘Probably the Fox ’ Harold remarked snidely.
Always one far more concerned with the wellbeing of others than himself, most of young Webley’s chronicles were met with a slap on the wrist from his mother and stern words.
These scolding’s were usually closely followed by a mutter of ‘stupid boy’ from Harold – or something similar depending on the severity of the young boy’s crime.
In young Jack’s mind no offence had been committed “what harm is done in saving the lives of a few fish after all, they were going to die” he said, retreating into his shell.
‘Should the field flood tomorrow you’ll be taking the place of those fish, master Webley’ Popsy snapped back.
Jack’s parents were hard workers, making ends meet on their quaint farm was difficult, though locals tended to refer to Coggers Farm as ‘that dim, dingy shed down the road’. Despite life’s beautiful simplicity, it was never easy for the Webley’s.
On the odd occasion Popsy’s brother, Uncle James would visit, returning from his voyages as a merchant trader.
‘My dear Popsy, I’ve no clue why you endlessly chunter on about the state of Coggers, life is pure and simple here’.
Suspiciously, James always made a remarkably swift exit when the cows and sheep needed tending to. Jack was both blissfully unaware and unconcerned with such struggles, consistently occupied with figments of his imagination which were after all, far more important to indulge than the monotonies of life, in young Jack’s mind at least.
By 15 he had grown into a thin, tall stick of a boy. Mousey brown hair and dark eyes, Webley had come to possess the demeanour accustomed from a childhood of dejection. As the years had gone by he’d slowly been warped by his contemporaries, uninterested in sharing or allowing him his nonchalant view of the world he so desired.
Far easier was it to crush young Jack’s spirit, one which had no place in a small village after all. He had come to not care for people much, malevolent intent had got the best of the young boy a number of times. His solitude an excuse to indulge his own imagination, still, the dreamer ardently burned within him.
The world had more to offer him than his own vivid imagination could ever construct.
Pt. II: The countess
The rare trip down to Uncle James’s at Birling Gap always filled him with anticipation, a world of unexplored opportunity lay before him.
‘New tastes, new smells, new things to see’ he boasted to his parents, who for the life of them couldn’t work out why the boy was so keen to spend time with his Uncle.
‘Listen here boy, there is to be no nonsense this time, no wandering, sit down, be quiet and be normal’.
Caught in his own thoughts Webley cried out ‘That boat! I’ve never seen anything like it!’
The Countess was marvellously etched into the back of the clipper. She skimmed the water, effortlessly glazing over the ocean, waves bowing, enamoured by her presence.
‘Who’s is it?’ Jack asked inquisitively.
‘Not our business, and what did I just say, no more of this daydreaming nonsense!’ declared Harold.
‘But likely an entitled fool with nothing better to do than rub their wealth in everyone else’s face…’
As they drew up to James’ house the Countess bowed out of sight to Jack’s great sadness – back to the reality of being stuck on an island, in turn teased by both his imagination and the vast ocean, his eyes fixed upon the infinite stretch of blue.
Webley was seldom exposed to topics of conversation outside of farm life. He could have sworn he once overheard the local Priest Father Thomas proclaim at the village green tea party ‘Those Webley’s… it’s hard to tell the difference between Popsy, Harold and their cows!’. The Priests quip was met with thunderous laughter from what sounded like half the village.
It was clear the deeply pious Father Thomas revelled in preaching outside his weekly Sermon, specifically about the Webley’s.
James’ offered Webley the escape his mind craved, regaling tales of his explorations, the Napoleonic War’s from which James had recently returned following his conscription to the Waterloo.
‘You’ve no doubt heard about Bonaparte, Harold. Awful man. Fell short of world domination for a second time’ James said, revelling in his perceived wit.
‘I’ve no interest in travel, politics or your sense of humour, James’.
Falling short was a penchant Harold and Napoleon had a mutual taste for.
Outside, a carriage came to a screeching halt.
‘I wasn’t expecting any other company this evening” James muttered with confusion as he stood.’
‘Forgive us dear fellow, I don’t mean to intrude’ the gentleman said softly as James opened the door.
‘Laurus!’ James crowed with an incredulous smile.
He was a seasoned man between 40 and 45, tall, well built, charming with an enigmatic air about him. English but not English. Noble yet humble.
‘It’s been to long dear fellow’ said Laurus, greeting James fondly.
‘How were your travels on the Countess’ probed James.
‘Magnificent James, at times I missed beloved England, but you of all people know the wonders the orient has to offer’ said Laurus.
At the mention of the Countess, Webley snapped to attention
Could this be the owner of that captivating vessel he thought to himself, his eyes locked on Laurus and James.
‘I have something for you dear friend, spices from our travels, the French were on our tail for weeks! The only thing I’ve been able to smell is Gunpowder’ Laurus exclaimed, brandishing a beautifully enamelled golden box.
Neither Gunpowder nor spices were smells Webley had any comprehension of, his curiosity was growing as each second passed.