Chapter 3

Coming to Armorica

 Monday, Week 1

 

         By the time Robin’s eyes next opened the sun was shining in on the far wall and there was a general early-morning hubbub all around him.  Looking up he saw his parents drinking out of cups similar to the one his hot chocolate had been in, talking very quietly.  “Are we almost there?” he mumbled, stretching as he pulled himself up.
         “Well, why don’t we go and take a look!” said his dad, and within a couple of minutes they had their bits and pieces packed up and were on their way down reverberating stairs to the main deck.  Once outside, Robin was struck frozen to the spot.  For there, in front of him and stretching off to his left, was what he knew had to be the island of Corentin.  White cliffs rose up on the island’s corner, tapering down quickly to the left and hidden as they went to what Robin assumed had to be north.  Atop of the cliff sat a low brown structure, while all around dominated a rich green.
         For the next forty-five minutes Robin watched intently as the southern coastline unfolded before him, the cliffs giving way to a rocky shore.  A mansion arose at one point and as they passed more closely Robin could make out what he was certain was the hole of a golf course.  As the density of buildings increased the shoreline took a sharp right hand turn, the ferry following as it headed into Armorica harbor.
         Passing by large ocean front homes, they approached the long promenade that dominated the face of the town, backed by two and three story shops and restaurants that seemed cobbled together from leftover toy building bricks.  Waiting on deck until the ferry announced its arrival at the dock with a loud clunk, Robin and his parents made their way back inside, heading down the stairs to wait with the other foot passengers as the cars and coaches rolled off.

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         Making their way through the streets of the old city of Armorica, Robin was captivated by the feeling of age given off by the light stone that dominated the architecture, feeling as though he was walking directly into the 19th century as winding passageways led off in random directions.  Waiting at the bus stop he studied the tiny church opposite, and its even tinier graveyard, seeming oddly out of place in a city center.  The bus soon rolled up, exhaust fumes noticeable by their absence, and Robin boarded with his parents into a very clean interior.
         Their ride to the city’s outskirts lasted twenty minutes, dropping them in front of a small parade of shops that occupied a long two-story brick building.  “Marie’s Hair Salon, Marie and Harry’s Fish & Chips, and The Giants Newsagents,” read Robin aloud, peering up at the grimy windows looking out from the second floor.
         Beyond the shops a couple of large houses emerged on their left, before a sign half hidden in the bushes indicated a turning onto Orchard Drive.  Partway up the road Robin couldn’t help himself any longer, sprinting off ahead and skidding around the corner of the driveway of number 19.  The house, which was bathed in morning sunshine, loomed large and grand, spread wide across the grounds.  High windows occupied both of the two main floors, accompanied by three smaller windows above.  Robin was spellbound as he made his way up the forty foot driveway that rolled into a sweep in front of the house, a grassed area stretching to his right that in the middle of which stood a single tall horse chestnut tree.
         They were met at the front door by a lady dressed in a beige cardigan, her mixture of gray and cherry brown hair up in a bob.  “You must be the Pembrokes,” she said with a slight hint of an Irish accent as she ushered them inside.  “So nice to meet you all at last – Mrs. Chavalier used to talk about you all the time.  I’m the housekeeper, Mrs. Fitzgerald.”
         “I’m Andy,” said Robin’s dad as he followed her into a yawning entry hall backed by a curved white staircase that disappeared into the floor above.  “This is Angie, and this here is Robin.”
         Led through a room filled with laden bookcases and deep leather chairs, Robin emerged into the largest kitchen that he had ever seen, copper pots and pans hanging down from the ceiling, where they stopped for toast and Mrs. Fitzgerald’s homemade jams.  “I'm here in the mornings, Monday through Friday.  If there's anything you need, just let me know.  Then Mr. Carpenter is here Tuesdays and Wednesdays to take care of the gardens and any odd jobs around the house.  He's been away for the last two weeks unfortunately, so I apologize for the state of the shrubs.  You'll meet him tomorrow though, and I'm sure it will be looking better in no time.”  Robin responded in amazed silence, thinking about how pristine the front garden already appeared.
         Continuing their tour, the third floor contained the bedroom in which Robin would be staying, together with its own private bathroom.  With sloped ceilings to accommodate the roof and a window that looked out of one of the gables on the front of the house, Robin thought it couldn’t have been more perfect.

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         Changing into an orange t-shirt with a race car on its front, Robin spent time investigating the house and grounds.  From his bedroom he could see right across to the fields beyond the houses on the other side of the street, gazing for a moment at two horses, one gray and the other black, in a paddock off to the right.  Checking the drawers in the dresser his only find was a 2 pence piece, which was 2 pence more than was offered up by the small wooden desk that was covered with unfathomable graffiti.
         When his parents left to stock up at the supermarket, Robin went out to take a look around the back garden, which began with a paved patio upon which an oblong wooden table and matching chairs sat, before the area opened onto thickly-woven grass.  A large shed stood padlocked a little way down on the left hand side, and peering in through the narrow cobwebbed window Robin found it too dark for him to be able to make out much inside.
         A path down the middle of the garden led to a fountain in the form of a man with a hand raised to the sky, although no water was flowing.  Plants of multiple shades of greens and yellows and reds fashioned a border, ending at the start of a large vegetable garden.  Various plants grew in uniform lines, and at the back by the fence beanstalks wove around a trellis.
         Beyond the vegetables were a number of small trees and a lot of prickly blackberry bushes.  Following an overgrown path through, Robin heard a slight murmur and in an instant he was on top of a narrow stream that was gurgling by, its waters a see-through blue.  Sitting down on the bank he tossed in a few twigs, watching as they bumped and span their way over small rocks and miniature rapids before traveling out of sight.
         Rising after a while from the tranquility of the spot he made his way back through the undergrowth and up towards the house.  The rest of the afternoon Robin spent inside, exploring the many rooms and hallways that he had quickly passed through that morning, at every turn finding something new to investigate.  By the time his parents arrived home, heavy laden with shopping bags, it was late into the afternoon and he was in the middle of studying the array of family photos that lined the staircase, focused on a faded black-and-white picture of four men all dressed in broad hats and ridiculous looking mustaches.
         Eating outside that evening in the warmth of the fading sun, Robin finished off his dessert of flan feeling a very long way from home.  It was a sense that he was not one bit sad to have.