Looking out the window of my small shop, I smile as the local children run through the crowds being careful not to bump the adults as they go about their business. Turning from the window, I place the last of my bowls and stirrers away on their shelves and sweep the fine brown powder off the grinder on the bench. Having cleaned all the traces of chocolate off my tools, I stretch out the ache in my back, glad the preparation for tomorrow’s job has been finished. As I hear small feet running down the passage behind the store front, I turn and smile as my young daughter runs in through the door.
“Papa, Papa. Guess what happened?” Chuckling I bend down and squat so I can look into her bright blue eyes.
“What happened dearest?”
“I saw magic.” As the words leave her mouth a loving warmth spreads over me at the look of awe on her young face. With another laugh I scoop her into my arms and place her on the bench.
“Where did you see this magician?”
“At the market. I and Mama…”
“Mama and I.”
“Mama and I went down to get the delivery of beans from Samuel for tomorrow. And he was in the market square. He could breathe fire.”
“Fire! That sounds scary.”
“It was amazing.”
Laughing at the look on her face, I lift her off the counter and place her on the floor as heavier footfalls come from the hall.
“The fire was amazing, so I have been told.”
Smiling, she walks in and places the bag of cacao beans on the ground floor shelves before straightening her apron and coming over to the pair of us.
“It was Marcus. He had little in the way of Lords parties to attend today so he plied his trade in the market square. We stopped for a moment while Sam readied up the order.” Pulling her close I place my arm over her shoulders and gently place my head against hers. Pushing in between us Violet stares at Annette and I with a slightly disgusted look. Smiling to my wife, I lean back and gaze over the shop once more.
“So, your brother had no issues with the beans this time?”
“No, the trade ship from the Caribbean arrived a few days ago so he will be well stocked for a time.”
“Well, at the very least, it means we will have plenty of chocolate available for Lord Gasper’s engagement ceremony and Lady Finche’s yearly salon. Seems the shipment arrived just in time.” Sighing to myself, I turn at the sound of the shop door opening. Stepping inside, a young man with a sailor’s uniform turns and stands rigidly.
“How can I help you sir?” Fiddling a note free from a carrycase at his side, he reads the front of it carefully and looks towards me before addressing me.
“I’m looking for Master Rémi DeBotrel, are you he?”
Stepping over to the man I stand tall as I address him.
“I am. How may I be of service sir?”
With a saddened look he hands over a letter to me.
“I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news Master DeBotrel but your Fathers ship, the Halifax Hawk, has been confirmed as lost at sea. He penned this letter before he left on the most recent voyage with strict instructions that it should be given to you in case anything were to happen.”
As I take the letter from him, the man bows a deep bow to me.
“I am truly sorry for your loss. Now if you will excuse me good sir, I need to be on my way. Good evening Madam.” Bowing his hat towards Annette the young man turns and leaves the store without another word. Standing there in silence I turn the letter over in my hands and look at the seal on the back. Running my hands over the wax, I recognise the family crest pressed there. As a touch lands lightly on my arm, I turn to find Annette looking at me with concern.
“Are you okay Rémi?”
“I am fine my love. Now, let me close the store and I shall be up shortly.” Nodding at my words, she gathers Violet and heads towards the back of the shop. As the pair’s footsteps retreat, I flip the sign on the window at the front and throw the bolts in the door. Turning away I cross the shop and enter my residence. As I reach the end of the hall, I stick my head in to the kitchen area where Annette is currently busying herself.
“Annette darling, I will be up in my study for a while.” With a smile she gestures towards the stove.
“Okay darling. I will send Victoria along once supper is ready.” With a quick word of thanks, I dash up the stairs and find myself in my study moments later. Placing my father’s letter on the desk, I open the window of the small room and look out over the city. From there I can just see the tall masts of ships docked in the harbour. With a sigh and sense of trepidation growing in my stomach, I sit at my desk and carefully break the seal on the letter. Opening the folded pages within, I begin to read.
To my dearest son,
If you are reading this, then it means that the worse has happened and I am deceased. I am writing this now as I do not want the last words said today to be the last things ever said between us. This is hard for me to admit, even in writing, but you were right. I did abandon your mother and you many years ago in favour of spending my time on the open sea. And even though I used the excuse that it was for your Mother and you that I left, it was for me. I love everything about being on ships and sailing the ocean, and as I am being honest, home always felt stifling for me. When you left home at sixteen to study, it angered me that you seemed to have no interest in becoming a seafarer like me. As the years went on and you grew older that anger grew to become resentment. And now, it has turned to regret. I hope that these words will never find you and I may get to discuss this with in person, but I have a sense of foreboding about this next trip.
I stopped by your shop before our meeting and saw your wife and daughter. I wish now that I had said that I am proud of everything you have accomplished and the man you have grown to become whilst we were talking. But alas, as always, we turned to old wrongs and the failing of the past. I wish that we could break this endless cycle of not speaking followed by arguments but in my heart, I fear that this may never be the case. I am a fool and far too stubborn to admit when I am wrong. The words written on this paper may come across as shallow and a series of excuses, but I want you to know that it was with a heavy heart that I walked away from our meeting this afternoon. I am sorry that I left you and your mother to look after each other for all those years. And I am even sorrier that I was so angry that you never followed in my footsteps. If I could have anything in this world, it would be to change how things are between you and me. You may never believe any of this, after all they are but mere words on paper, but please know one thing, I love you my son. I wish more than anything to be able to hug you and for things to not be estranged between us any longer.
P.S If there is one thing I have learned in all these years that I would pass onto you, it is this: Life is too short not to tell the people you care for the most that you love them and every day with them is a blessing. Please do not make the same mistake I did. Do not let your work come in the way of your family. It will never be worth it.
Putting the letter down, I wipe the tears flowing unbidden from my eyes and move away from the desk. With heavy footfalls that resonate with the sorrow coursing through me I make my way slowly into the kitchen. Catching sight of Annette busying herself at the kitchen counter I go over and wrapping my arms around her waist, I kiss her softly on the cheek.
“I love you.” Placing her hand on the side of my head, she smiles and with a twinkle in her eyes turns and kisses me properly.
“I love you too.”
Moving away from Annette I head to the sitting room and take a seat by the fire. As the old leather chair groans, Violet looks up from where she is playing. With a gesture from me, she comes and sits by the fire. Wiping away a tear that runs down my cheek she looks at me.
“Are you okay Papa?” Smiling I shift her to sit on my lap.
“I am fine dearest. Now I am going to tell you a story about your grandfather, the great Captain Gérald Debotrel.”