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“You did WHAT?”
Mrs. Jessica Raynott loomed over her son, her eyes flashing.
“First you allow- no, you assist my Oliver in running away from home, and then you abandon him alone on the ocean? He’s barely sixteen! What were you thinking?”
Declan fidgeted with his shirt, worn and stained from weeks of travel. His mother hadn’t even given him a chance to change clothes before sitting him down for questioning. Declan’s mind raced as he weighed his options. He could either try to explain the situation to his mother, and most likely be shouted down, or he could sit and let his mother finish her accusations. He usually decided on the latter, but, weeks of travel had changed that. If he could live alone in London for two weeks, he was skilled enough to defend his own case. And, skilled enough or not, the part about abandoning his brother had irked him.
“And especially after convincing us all that you were reliable- “
Mr. Rauch: The problems on our next test (this weekend) will come from the following lessons:Mr. Rauch: 15, 20, 49, 60, 64, 67, 71, 73, 77, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 81, 82, 82, 83, 84, 84
Declan broke in as respectfully as possible.
“Madame? I’m not sure you understand what happened. We were searching for Great Uncle Ruben’s sugar farm; we had even found a rough estimate of where his last letter came from. I had full intention of going, but I caught chicken pox, and Oliver crept off without me. He took our map though, so if he follows the directions we ought to get a letter from him, in about a year. “
In the corner Declan’s father murmured a quiet wish that his uncle had never set off for Africa.
“Three members of our family, not including Oliver and yourself, have been lost searching for the fool. I thought you knew that, Declan.”
Mrs. Raynott spun towards her husband.
“Oh Robert! We all thought he knew better! ‘Rough estimate’ indeed. Gambling my son’s life on a ‘rough estimate!’”
Robert opened his mouth to agree, but a knock on the door interrupted him. Declan’s older sister Cara, who had been desperate to leave for some time, seized the chance by running to the door, closely followed by her younger brother Thomas. After a few minutes of tense silence, the pair returned. They looked nervously at one another for a moment then, upon perceiving that Thomas was not going to speak, Cara began.
“Mother, there’s a message from a Madame Violette. Who is she?”
“I don’t know, dear. Maybe Declan does.”
Her eyes, desperation in their depths, landed on Declan. He knew she longed to hear that this was a long-lost friend who’d safely received Oliver in Africa. As much as he wished he could tell her that, Declan shook his head. He had never heard of Madame Violette. Jessica closed her eyes for a moment then reached out her hand.
“May I have the letter, Cara dear?”
Cara silently handed it over, her hands shaking with apprehension.
Slowly, Jessica broke the seal and pulled out a single sheet of white paper. She read it for a moment, and then, very calmly, as though too amazed at its contents to react in any other way, handed it to Robert. Putting down his pen, Robert read it, and then, with the same eerie calm of Mrs. Raynott, began to speak.
“Children, your brother Oliver’s ship sank a little over a week ago. Two days later, his body was found by Madame Violette’s servants. They identified him by his jacket. He is buried in Southern France. I’m very sorry.”
Declan didn’t understand for a moment. He understood his father’s words, that his brother’s ship had sank and that Oliver had been buried, but he didn’t immediately realize what they implied. Then as the facts came together, Declan stood and abruptly left the room.
The Raynott’s lived on a rocky stretch of beach, which ended in a little bay of grey ocean. There were some paths on the sandy part, down to the shore and to a miniature river where younger children often played. If you turned left from the gate, however, one would find a few acres of sandy wilderness, thick with plants and tangy with the smell of sea salt. This is where Declan always went to think. Why hadn’t he been allowed board the ship? He had planned to up until the day before they were due to leave. Then, barely twelve hours before they were scheduled to go, Declan had developed so extreme a form of chicken pox that he hadn’t been able to leave his bed. Two days after Oliver had left, the sickness had disappeared, leaving no harm. Declan had been rescued from the ship, and, as he realized this, he resolved not to waste the life which had been spared.