James Carson has received news from Ireland. His sister Claire has sent a package with a letter and a box containing personal items from his mother; items which bring back poignant memories for him.
That night, while disembarking in Surabaya, the spirit of the crew was magnificent. After a skirmish with a pirate ship from the island of Madura, they returned happy and excited by the treasure they had uncovered; the famous skulls carved from deer antlers that the privateers wore around their necks as a symbol of their ferocity; similar to what Juan de Mengíbar kept in his leather sack. At the port, they entered a tavern.
“I have something for you, Irishman”,, said Marcus Stanley, an exotic wood tradesman, old friend of Carson and whose office the small letters and deliveries sent to the Europeans operating in Java ended up.
A carefully tied and sealed package arrived, with Claire’s unmistakable handwriting on it. Carson took a seat and drank next to his men, who were telling of their encounter with the pirates to those who dared to listen. At dusk, they returned to the ship. When it grew dark, sat next to the Mast, Carson opened the package; a box and a letter. For a moment he was unsure. Then, he opened the box.
In the dead of night, with scarcely a flicker of light, Carson once again held his mother’s mirror. Made of solid silver, it couldn’t reflect back the emotion that welled up in his eyes. An album of family photographs lay at the bottom of the box; well-known faces largely forgotten. He quickly flicked through them until he came across a portrait of Claire all set for her first dance; so happy she could hardly contain a smile. The white part of her dress emphasised the garnet necklace her mother gave her for the occasion. For a few moments, he couldn’t take his eyes off it. When he did, he tore open the envelope with shaking hands and felt the voice of his sister upon reading:
“My dear brother, Lord Brian Carson has died. One morning he never woke up. I couldn’t call him my father; he wasn’t one. The tears shed were never because of pain. I cried for mother, for you and for me; for the efforts that the three of us brought to bear in an attempt to limit us from his influence. I send you some of the old photographs I wish not to see. You decide whether the best place for them is the bottom of the ocean. My life, from this moment on, will be full of happy landscapes and smiling faces. I want you to keep mother’s mirror with you; that same mirror she would let us look into as children, saying it only reflected all that was good. Good look to you my brother. Yours affectionately, Claire.”
What appeared to be saltpetre from the sea on his lips, turned out to be tears. Warm and gentle tears caused by the memory of Claire soon gave way to harsher ones.
Lord Brian Carson, Count of Down, never had friends. He never bothered to try, nor did he even miss having any. He preferred to create around himself a dark circle of hate and fear so as to make sure the people submitted blindly. His family were no exception. His belated marriage to Dorothy O’Connell was more a result of calculation than of any other consideration. The O’Connell’s were ruined and he was rich and wanted descendants to prolong his name. Her hand in marriage was reduced to a business conversation with his future father-in-law and the engagement was sealed with a cold handshake without the presence of the future bride.
Dorothy accepted her parents’ consent that assured the survival of her family, and after a cheerless wedding with no guests, moved to what would be home for the rest of her life; an enormous but lifeless mansion. If there was an advantage of having a husband with such an insane and brutal character, it was to evoke the sincere devotion of those who knew her well.
After the birth of his first-born Claire, Lord Carson became even more aloof. He wanted a son. He felt disappointed and refused to pay the minimum attention to that smiling soul who while making her first steps never found the arms of her father awaiting her. The arrival of James three years later did not lessen his disposition one bit. What’s more, he wanted to turn the child into a replica of his own obsessions, remoteness and strictness. James grew up being watched constantly by his father, who never failed to take advantage of imposing the hardest challenges on young James, or to use the strictest severity.
The mornings represented the only opportunity for happiness for the rest of the family during which Lord Carson would dedicate his time to the administration of the estate. Dorothy, Claire and James would play, laugh and embrace the certainty that this time was a stolen moment against what amounted to misery during the rest of the day.
At the same time as providing young James with study arrangements Lord Carson decided to turn the boy into a gladiator, who in his opinion was showing a worrisome attachment to his mother and sister. Rugby and Boxing were the selected disciplines. Sometime later it was fencing; a growing fashion and a special privilege amongst the higher class. James enjoyed the rugby games and the company of other young people during the long training sessions, along with the intelligent art of Fencing. But he never felt comfortable boxing while under the watchful eye of his father, who beyond the rules, demanded he behave like a bloodthirsty beast; as though the only acceptable end result of combat was the humiliation and annihilation of ones adversary.
The atmosphere in the Gymnasium was suffocating. A few dozen spectators had gathered for the evening show and having placed their bets, smoked from their pouches and drank leisurely from their flasks. There was one more fight. Only Lord Carson, angrily clutching the ropes in what appeared a desperate measure, was shouting:
“The left! Use the left! Are you blind? Kill that useless Maturin! Deck him now!”
The regulars, accustomed to his behaviour, hardly noticed him, but to James his voice was all he could hear. His head exploded. He wanted to stop listening to the shouts that fell on his ears like a bad dream; he longed for his father to be forever silenced once and for all.
He threw a left with all the strength he could muster. When the fresh blood of Henry Maturin splashed against his shoulder, James seemed to recover himself just in time to see his friend collapse fatally to the canvas.
James never loved his father, but he tried to remain indifferent. The death of Henry awakened in him a pent up rage that had been latent for some time. That tyrant had turned him into a being without resolve; a being without sufficient courage to say no.
James abandoned everything. For the next few months, two or three gaming houses of ill repute now became his home along with the company of a handful of unemployed companions. He yelled at his father all that had been silent during those years, threw the boxing gloves in his face and for the first time in his life Lord Carson did not have an answer. Shortly after, Dorothy died and James decided to escape; to a boat; to other places; to another life…