The boy was called Arran. A long time ago he’d been a ship cabin boy but now the waves had calmed him and his life long ambition was now to be the captain, but no-one took him seriously, no-one really cared for this little scum of an urchin who had carried beer barrels down the shafts, climbed the rigging, mended holes in the great white sails and been scrubbing the scullery. This boy was just a boy, just a boy in a make=believe world who thought himself bigger than he really was. People laughed at him when they heard of his dreams. He stopped telling them. He dared not speak now in case his tongue was cut off for good. Little Arran had his own private dreams that he did not speak of for fear of ridicule. He had been made a laughing stock at the great temple even and thrown out for having had dreams beyond his years, beyond his station in life. He had been given scrubbing jobs and kitchen jobs, brick laying jobs and saluting jobs. All his life he had been given the thing to do that no-one else wanted to do, so as not to get their hands dirty. But little Arran had other plans, he just didn’t tell anyone any more. He was just 14 when he did his last ship deck crewing then made his way to another town. Here he hoped to find some kind of salvation amid the chaos in his mind. Here, he thought, if no-one knew him they may give him a chance to do something better with the rest of his life. He’d worked solidly from the age of 7 filling in old men’s socks and blankets and scrubbing decks. He all the money back home to feed his household: 6 brothers and sisters and an ailing mother. The money didn’t go far but because of his strength and capabilities he had been given this task and was able to accomplish much at a young age.
That was back then in the 1930’s or so before the new regulations came in. Now he was 17 and had found a means of escape. It wasn’t easy and he had to run off in the middle of the night when all the family were asleep. He wasn’t going to go on the voyage he was set to go on this time round. They were all expecting him to leave the following morning on the Mary Rose to drink tea with the captain and then embark on the next trip. His hands were now numb and cold from washing them in the cold ship’s water. His back ached from the many times he’d been whipped as a boy for not working fast enough. They said he was a tough cookie and could take anything but he’d had his dues. If the family couldn’t survive without him then they’d just have to try. He had wasted enough of his own energy on them and now he was going to live for himself for a change. He was good looking and knew the ways of the world now. He’d had little childhood and no time to play. As far as he was concerned he was due play time.
Arran scrubbed decks and bars for a good few years hence. He met a girl in a nearby port, Isabella. They eloped and got married at Gretna Green. But first he savoured his time as a cabinless boy. In those days it was hard to see through the sea mists sometimes and his own life had been one of mists and maizes and hard trenches to dig. Now at 18 he was his own master and one day he would be a captain of a great ship. He played with the girls, bought them trinkets and stole bread sometimes to keep him alive if money was short. But he was a wise and strong lad and was readily able to take any job going. He slept in porches and ship yards to start with, but then found friendly farmhouses along the way who would take him in for working but just a few hours a day for lodging and food. That way he was kept but it was nothing like the cabin boy days. Here he felt a part of the family, one of the happy farm workers and being outdoors in summer filled him with great joy. On his days off he would play catch with the butterflies and watch the tadpoles swim and die in the pools. He would paddle with the farm children and splash one another til they were wet and flat on the ground in hysterical laughter. He would push and tease the girls til they all swooned after him and most he would then push away, not wanting to get too involved with it all. The chaffinches sang, air was light with merriment as all the farm people met at sunset and sunrise during seasonal times and made music and danced. He was one of the country folk and loved it. He soon forgot about his own family and life on board ship. But then times of the past are never quite forgotten. They somehow come up to haunt you when times are tough and when you’d rather forget. But for now, Arran was enjoying his new youth and fell in love with Isabella, the youngest of four in a farmhouse family.
They played and laughed together under the yew tree often, telling verses and singing. He, who had never attended school, was taught many things by wise Isabella who had never come across a boy like Arran before. She had been taught from an early age by a private tutor and then attended the local school as well. She tried to teach Arran as much as possible of what she knew. He listened with delight and watched as she drew diagrams and drawings as they sat under trees in the bright summer sunlight and drew and wrote verses together in the dim evening candlelight. Soon they were lovers and Arran had never known such great happiness could be found such as this. He wrapped Isabella around him like a giant blanket to keep him warm deep inside, a place that had never felt the warmth properly before, not since he had been fed at his mother’s breast, and that had been with many others fighting for the same source of nourishment.
She let him go for a while then. She had her school work to complete and wanted to be a great designer or architect. They had told her that women did not do such things which she did not understand. She wanted to study more but Arran was taking up her time so much she was not carrying on with her own pursuits. ‘Go away for a while dearest Arran and let me be alone for just 6 months. That way I will know if this union is right for me and I will be able to study for myself and decide what to do.’ Arran was sore inside and didn’t know what was happening to his world. They had been like 2 birds in the same egg and now she was sending him away. ‘I love you Isabella. Can you not reconsider? Will you not come with me?’ But Isabella was well decided and she kissed him strongly on the cheek. ‘I need to be alone for a while Arran and then I will give you my final answer. I will always love you no matter what.’ And that was how it was. Arran packed his bags as if he was just off to school or to scrub decks again. Isabella had been his life, the farm his family. Never could he find such a thing again. The others on the farm were sad to see him go and willed him to stay on. But he shunned them and said he was doing what was right. There seemed a coldness in Isabella that he had not seen before, a detachment of sorts as if she was entering her own world where he did not belong any more. His heart felt heavy. It was time to leave but where to he was not sure. She packed a bag of fruit, nuts and bread for him with a bag of money from her weekly allowance. He pushed the money back at her, ‘I don’t want your money Isabella.’ but she put it in his pocket anyway. They stared at each other’s eyes for the final time as the sun rose steadily in a clear blue sky. He was 19 now and more than ready for the world ahead of him though would have preferred it if Isabella had accompanied him.
They looked back at each other once more, then departed ways. It at once felt cold and Arran felt that barren, bare feeling once more where he was alone in the world without a home, without mother, father or lover. Nothing existed except himself in an outside world that did not even know who he was. Isabella was the first to see and know him but even she had not wanted him around any longer. It was a long haul. It was a trudge up a dark hill to a world he did not know any more. It was a barren landscape without Isabella and he knew that times were caving in on him like a lost dragon in this world where knights loose and kings reign. Underneath his coat of rags he knew he was in reality a knight, a captain, a body of steel, but now in his thick jerkin he felt like a lost boy of 7 or 8 again when he was put inside a ship’s dark cabin for the first time and made to work. The responsibility was already on his tiny child shoulders to make money so his family could survive and eat. Yet he had not even eaten himself and it was Isabella who had given him his first meal. Now that had been taken away from him.
Arran trekked and trekked over the hills and dales, eating bread and picking apples along the way. This cold Autumn morning had at least brought him to an apple orchard and he stayed for a while munching and crunching until he noticed a tiny bug crawling out of one of the apples and he stopped eating them. He clutched his rabbit like face and clawed his fingernails from his head down to his chin, feeling his thick stubble and pimply face. What other girl would ever fall in love with him again? What other girl was there except for Isabella?
Just then he was approached by a gypsy man from a nearby cart. ‘Hey, you got yourself a job or do ya’ want one?’ There was something about Arran that meant he was always offered jobs wherever he went. It was as if he was known from miles around as a hard and diligent worker. ‘I got non’ he replied staring at the man in his rough dark jacket and muddy boots. ‘Then I got you one if you want it young ‘un!’
‘What is it?’ he asked with genuine curiosity. ‘I got a horse needs taking to yonder side of town but me wife’s got sick and I can’t leave her. If you take her over to market I’ll feed you a good meal back at the camp. We need a good price for her but she’s old and no good for us no more. She’s an old workhorse who can’t work no more. She’s carried us for miles and miles along these tracks, from London to Newmarket and across the plains to Dover. But she got fed up of the life somehow and now we got others who are better. Take her and sell her or buy her and she’s yours.’
Arran looked at the horse and the man and somehow felt his own feelings in the old horse, though he was only 19. ‘I’ll take yer horse mister and get you a good price. Then I’ll come back for the meal. Won’t be til the morning though as its a fair way to Canterbury.’ They made the deal and Arran took the horse though he knew little about them except for the ones on the farm which he had often ridden with Isabella. So in a way he knew a lot about horses.
The track was gentle and somehow having the horse on his arm felt better than being alone. He started talking and almost heard the horse talk back, just one or two sentences but he became a good companion. ‘Hey, what about a ride mister? Might get us both there a bit quicker.’
‘Don’t ride me. I’m worn out.’ he seemed to hear the horse say, and so he left it and led the horse right the way to Canterbury market. The horse was sold at a good price as Arran had the gift of persuasion, ‘this horse will give you something you’ve never had before. This horse is old and wise though maybe not as sprightly as the younger ones. Take her and she’ll be your friend for life.’ A young woman took the horse. ‘Thank you kind man, I’ll take this fine horse for my little girl. She needs a gentle one to start with. She’s only 6 but it will be so splendid to have such a fine looking mare in the field. I thank-you once more.’ And she filled Arran’s money with gold. It did occur to him that any unsavoury character would have taken the money and run off. But somehow the gypsy man had trusted him even with his own takings. Why was that?
Arran was trustworthy and he trundled off in search of a barn for the night, then made his way back to the gypsy camp the next morning. He found himself kicked by a young calf in the early hours and that he believed was his warning to leave before being seen by the resident farmer.
He meandered back through fields and farms, dales and valleys to the point where he had first met the gypsy man. However, there was no sign of any gypsy camp and no sign of the gypsy. Arran’s memory and sight was good and he knew he was in the right place. He looked in the field where the gypsy wagon had been. Instead of the wagon was an empty field with hoof marks and a pile of horse dung in a corner. Instead of the gypsies were a few sheep and crows pecking at the remains of meals long gone. Arran was astounded. He felt in his pockets the gold given to him by the kind woman. It was enough to build or buy himself a small boat. Arran decided he needed a work space, some timber and tools to carry out his work, then he would have his own boat. With the sums and diagrams he’d learnt from Isabella he knew how to calculate now so he would make the right sized pieces for his boat. The dream in his mind continued until he had it all worked out.
He bought himself an axe and chopped wood in the local forest. He asked a local farmer if he could use a barn for his work in exchange for farm help. The farmer agreed since all those looking for workers saw Arran as the best and he was trusted wherever he went. And all farmers needed farmhands. Some were laid off for scavenging or lazing off their work. Arran was given an old shed not used for anything in Autumn. There were a few bails of straw which he slept on at night. He was cold yet warm enough. His grand task began.
Arran built the strongest, most sturdiest of boats you could imagine. His love of Isabella was growing and with her in mind he wanted to make it the grandest boat possible. He called her Isabella 2 and wrote this in strong red paint across her body. Isabella was laid outside the barn now, and even the farmer and his family were impressed and brought their friends and family round to view the spectacle of the boat. Food and other gifts were brought to Arran daily and he was never poor again. Soon it would be time to test out his boat on smooth and rough waters. But first he was to visit Isabella. The 6 months was almost due and he couldn’t wait to bring Isabella to see his masterpiece.
He turned up at the farm to see Isabella climbing onto her black mare and riding across the field towards him. Her face lit up brightly as soon as she saw him. ‘Arran, you’ve returned! I didn’t think you would. I know I hurt you so.’ But Aaron rushed up to her hugging her tightly. ‘I’m so glad you’ve returned my love.’ She took his hands in hers and kissed and squeezed them with delight. ‘Come in and meet my new puppy Aaron!’ They climbed hills and trees together, played with the puppy and sat down to a big feast until Aaron curled on top of her in the hay barn and they fell into a deep sleep together.
It was not until the morning that he told her he had a surprise for her and they must go and view it near Canterbury. ‘Oh, tell me what it is Aaron!’ but he made her wait. They took 2 horses and cantered off to see the boat.