Chapter OnePART I - May 1935
"Childish fantasy, like the sheath over the bud, not only protects but curbs the terrible budding spirit, protects not only innocence from the world, but the world from the power of innocence" Elizabeth Bowen
"Prepare to fire!"
The next command followed quickly.
The barrel was sponged. A 12-pound charged round was placed in the muzzle, and rammed down into the chamber. The vent, above the chamber, was covered with a blackened leather-clad thumb. This would reduce the chance of a pre-ignition in the chamber.
Initiated the puncturing of the powder bag with the vent prick. The lanyard was attached to the friction primer and inserted in the vent.
Finally, Tim yelled, "Fire!"
The lanyard was yanked. The powder in the chamber ignited. With a thunderous roar, the projectile flew from the muzzle, as it filled the air with acrid white smoke.
Like a hawk circling in the sky, Tim looked over the conflict and squealed with delight as his marble came crashing down on his foe's firing line knocking out key artillery pieces. All that was needed now was to order an immediate cavalry charge, follow up with infantry and rout the enemy. An offer of unconditional surrender would be the final undertaking.
Amongst the yelling and rustling of sabers, wild-eyed horses chafed at their bits as the sounds from numerous bugles called to order, another sound penetrated through the battle smoke. Tim tried to ignore it but its persistence grew stronger, until finally it overran his mental skirmish line.
"Timmy, lunch is on the table. Wash up first," called his mother from the back steps. "And make sure you scrub your hands well."
Tim had learnt from experience it was not worth putting up a defense, was somewhat irritated by the reality of it all. However he was hungry, so with a reluctant sigh got up, wiped sand from his arms and legs and walked to the washhouse. He looked back at his battle in progress. Lifeless two-dimensional figures now frozen in time, patiently awaiting the return of the special magic that only he could inject to bring them back to life.
That night Tim, tucked in bed, with the sound of distant surf booming from the coast and with strict instructions that lights would be out in thirty minutes, read his favorite book, Heroes of the American Civil War. Given to him by his Uncle Paul for his eighth birthday, it had been read and reread countless times. He looked at his favorite pictures. Pictures of Generals, stout and resolute. To be one of them, or to just to meet one, would be his next birthday wish he had decided.
Timothy Miles Jeffries, the only child to a lighthouse keeper and his wife, lived on St. Agnes Island. One of the few inhabited islands that made up the Scilly Isles off the Cornwall Coast of England. His father once shared the lonely lighthouse keepers' watch, tending the oil lamp on the infamous Bishop Rock Lighthouse, isolated four miles southwest of St. Agnes. Bishop Rock took the worst buffeting from heavy seas of any lighthouse in the world. It is a fortress in itself constructed of interlocking granite blocks with a solid drum base. Timmy's impregnable castles keep, as his mother once called it.
Due to the strong winds and king waves which at any time would unexpectedly claw out of the swell to snatch you away, the keepers were transferred to and from the lighthouse by boat and line, which was at best uncomfortable, and on some days difficult or impossible. It was on one of these difficult days that the lifeline supporting Tim's father snapped. His body plummeted onto the rocks below and disappeared in the swell. He was never found. Tim was three then, seven years had passed. Helen, his mother, a clerical officer in the post office, had stayed on at St. Agnes.
A shy, sensitive artistic woman, she still felt comfortable being part of the massive watery grave that surrounded her. As for Tim, he was unquestionably the most affected. Not so much as being able to deal with the tragedy at the time, but more the subconscious loss of not having a father to support and provide the necessary life foundation that all boys need for healthy psychological development.
One of a handful of children on the island, Tim largely had to contend with making his own amusement. With an imagination forged from many solitary days, he had mastered the task well. An intelligent and efficient child, Tim's daily schoolwork, done by correspondence, was usually finished by noon. This allowed him more time to focus on the things he loved best.
Fair haired with bright blue eyes, slim build and an inquisitively friendly face, Tim had been greatly influenced by the disappointingly short and scarce visits of his Uncle Paul. A man who enjoyed matters military, he would entertain Tim for hours with stories from the Crimea, Boer, and First World Wars', but in particular The American Civil War.
Tim had not taken to the Great War's sepia toned, mud groveling, waterlogged trench warfare images that were presented to him by stark unattractive photographs. That limited interest also extended to the Crimean and Boer theatres. Except for the charge at Balaclava, the Crimea didn't offer much else of genuine boyish interest. As for the Boer War, the name said it all.
It was to the more colorful painted battle scenes and the romantic spectacle of the American Civil War that took part between the Blue and the Grey that attracted Tim the most.
He was exceptionally excited this night, because Uncle Paul was arriving the following morning.
As he lay in bed, eyelids stubbornly fighting off sleep, he saw himself on a Confederate gray, riding back and forth along the lines, rallying his men with a call to arms and an honor to duty.
Amongst the shot and shell he peacefully let the book drop as he let go of the imaginary cliff. Now freefalling, softly, looking, looking, into the darkness for the keepers light that would mend the lifeline.
Tim ran down the path as Uncle Paul walked up to the front gate.
"Timmy, is that you!" he said with an enormous grin.
Tim's eyes grew as wide as his smile. He stopped next to Uncle Paul with an awkward hesitation of, what do I do next? Paul rescued the stilted moment and bent down, enveloped him in his strong arms and lifted him up to his hip.
"How are you Timmy, my boy? You sure have grown. Have you been behaving yourself?"
Tim's nostrils widened as his legs locked firmly around Paul's waist. Uncle Paul's familiar mark of fine tobacco and cologne filled his senses.
"Of course Uncle Paul," Tim answered as his eyes craved for approval.
By now Helen was at the gate. She smiled and gave Paul a kiss on the cheek, "Good to see you again Paul. Thanks for making the effort even if it's just for a short stay. Tim has been so much looking forward to your visit."
"And I've been looking forward to it too, Helen. How long has it been? About eighteen months?"
Helen nodded with a smile, "Let's get you inside and unpacked."
With eyes bulging and feet on tiptoes, Tim tried to pick up Uncle Paul's suitcase.
"That's too heavy for you, my boy," Paul said. "Here, you carry my satchel."
The three of them walked up the path and into the house. Within half an hour Paul had unpacked and stood in the kitchen with a mug of coffee in his hand.
He was a handsome bachelor, with beautifully crafted high cheekbones that supported piercing blue eyes. Tall, well proportioned, fair hair and gleaming white teeth. He looked older than his thirty years. There was more than a bit of Paul in Tim, Helen would often remark.
"So how goes it Helen?"
"Much the same. The people here are great, the job at the post office suits for now and the weather is the best in England."
"The 'fortunate isles' is what people call the Scilly's. And it's a pretty good description," Paul said. "That's why I like to come here at spring time, because it starts here."
"And eventually walks it's way up to Scotland," Helen added as something caught her eye out the kitchen window.
"Quick Timmy, come and look at this!" she said.
Tim ran to the window and exclaimed, "Wow, they're back! Come and look Uncle Paul."
Through the window they saw huge formations of birds maintaining holding patterns in the sky. Hundreds of others were descending and landing on the beaches.
"Sanderlings touching down for their first English bed and breakfast", Helen said. "The first landfall since they migrated from Africa."
"They must be hungry," Tim said concerned.
"And exhausted too," Paul added.
"I'll take you over there tomorrow Uncle Paul. By then there will be lots and lots of them on the beach."
'You've got a deal Timmy," Paul agreed.
He smiled at Helen, "Talking about the beach, I'm off to do some marine collecting."
Helen and Tim looked puzzled.
"You know, the glass variety," winked Paul.
Helen's head went back with a smile as she picked up the cryptic clue. Tim went blank.
"What do you mean Uncle Paul?" Tim asked.
"Oh you just wait and see. In fact, do you want to come with me?"
"Yes," was the loud reply.
As Paul walked to the general store, Tim skipped beside and around him, and pointed out things of local interest mixed with things of personal delight.
That evening Helen prepared a superb Scilly meal of local fish, shellfish and new potatoes. Washed down with the only bottle of Bollinger Paul could find at the general store.
Later, Paul put Tim to bed.
"Can't you stay a few more days?" Tim pleaded.
"Sorry Tim, I'm only here for two nights. I'm due back in London for business the day after tomorrow."
Paul saw the pleading in Tim's eyes. It was a look of desperation fostered by abandonment. It was too strong and Paul turned away for a moment and thanked himself that he was quickly able to move on from the awkward moment.
"Look what I've got for you," Paul said as he reached under Tim's bed and brought out from its hiding place the long awaited present. Tim's mood changed as he immediately showed his approval. With little fingers he tore at the wrapping. Then a cry of delight. Another book. Another American Civil War book. And from a quick page flick it had lots of color pictures.
Helen stood at the bedroom door and gave Paul a smile with a nod of thanks. Tim offered up his prize for inspection. Written on the inside cover in Paul's handwriting, 'To the Strategist, with love from all who love you - May 1935'. Helen looked at the title; 'The Gettysburg Campaign' then passed it back to Tim.
The following day was one that Tim would never forget. He spent the majority of it with Uncle Paul. The whole afternoon was spent at Tim's favorite place above the shoreline near the cliff edge. It was a fine-grassed circle, about twenty feet in diameter, surrounded by granite boulders. Framed between two of the largest boulders, out to sea, stood the solitary white tower of the Bishop Rock Lighthouse. There was a sense of security within the circle of stone. Outside you felt desolate. The unwelcoming cliff face seemed to go on forever.
Tim had brought along his new book and asked Paul to read to him. Paul abridged from selected chapters and succeeded in giving an excellent summary. This, no doubt, was intended to entice Tim to read it all.
Paul started with describing General Robert E. Lee's huge risk in taking 70,000 Confederate soldiers to invade the Union State of Pennsylvania. If the gamble paid off, maybe the War could end.
The confused early weeks. The lack of strategic information. Lee's frustration by the loss of contact with his 'eyes' - JEB Stuart's cavalry. Then the news of General Ewell's initial and indecisive contact with Union cavalry, on the outskirts of the little crossroads town of Gettysburg. As Lee listened to the booming of the cannons outside the Inn at the small hamlet of Cashtown six miles away, it will never be known if his presence on the field may have resulted with a much more decisive day. Either way, this contact heralded in the first day of battle. The first of three. And each new day would be bloodier than the one before. The final day would culminate with one of the most heroic infantry charges in military history - Pickett's Charge.
Tim's eyes were glued on Paul, who occasionally glanced over the top of the book to see that Tim was captivated by the unfolding story. He was totally immersed, as if under a magician's spell. Paul detected a strange inner strength that Tim was drawing on. He seemed different. More relaxed; yet very attentive.
He read in detail from the last day of the battle. About gray-haired Brigadier General Lewis Armistead who, in a moment of uncommon valor, stuck his saber through his hat and waved it high to encourage his men forward. The breaching of the stonewall at the Angle by Armistead's men was the deepest penetration of the Union line that day. The high tide of the Confederacy, they called it. Armistead's men were killed, captured or driven back. The battle was over. The heroics. The adventure. The color. The duty.
Tim relaxed and felt more secure on his imaginary cliff face. Childish fantasies derived from war related valor and heroics 'protects not only innocence from the world, but the world from the power of innocence'. It also gives substance and strength to those who have missed out on the natural pillars of early life. Walking back home, Tim didn't hear the surf, the wind, or the gulls. He was deeply entranced with the images that pulsated his mind. He saw the strength and servility of men at war. He saw that only a few moments of conflict could result in an amazing chronicle of litany. He let go of the edge just for a moment and drifted softly into the pageantry and camaraderie of his heroes in the ranks of the Blue and the Gray.
Paul watched him as he walked ahead. He was concerned at being unable to spend more time with him. He knew that Tim needed male company, and even more so, fatherly input. He was disappointed that Helen had decided to stay on at St. Agnes and not move back to the mainland. Tim needed a role model that was closer. And for that matter Helen could do well to meet someone new and in turn reevaluate her life. Both of them weren't developing.
Paul looked out over the soft rolling swells to the Bishop Rock Lighthouse. The white granite tower stood majestic against the deep turquoise backdrop. He thought of Tim's father and the lonely career he had chosen. Was it because he was the first born that he decided to follow in his father's footsteps? Paul knew it was. He too had the opportunity but chose commerce instead. The devotion to guiding seafarers in the night was admirable, but not for him.
That night, with Tim asleep in bed, Helen and Paul shared the warmth from the reception room fire. On the mantle two crystal vases brimmed with freshly cut spring flowers. Nearby the framed photograph of John and Helen's wedding day. From the many small telltale finger marks on the glass, it was easy to deduce that the photo was scrutinized often.
The shot of John was not the most flattering. He wasn't the photogenic type. For a man in his twenties, his hair was receding and starting to gray, but in a distinguished Napoleonic way. As was his close cropped beard. His most distinguished feature, his bright blue eyes, were not given their due reward in the black and white snapshot. But those eyes he had passed onto Tim. They radiated life. John was a true gentleman in every respect.
Paul, John's younger brother and best man, was in another photo nearby.
"You need to move on Helen. Timmy has great potential. He needs a challenging environment. He needs to be in London or at least nearer to London where he could also spend more time with me. He needs a father figure, and I'm prepared to be that."
"Paul, I know you're right, and I've been selfish staying here on St. Agnes. But when John died a bit of me died also."