It was his eyes. The color of blue forget-me-nots, piercing, like two novas in a sky of dying stars. Profoundly melancholy, yes. Except when James was angry, at which time two red spots appeared in them and lit them up horribly.
James stood before the Burning Bush at the Crossroads of the Eton campus. Lean and blackavised, his hair hanging in long, raven-dark curls, twisted like candles. Collegers and Oppidans in their Eton suits, consisting of long trousers, tail coats, tall stovepipe hats, and starched white collars, hurried by in all directions. A few wore brightly colored waistcoats, marking the privilege of membership in the Eton Society, or Pops, as they were called, their long tails flapping behind them as if propelling them along like fish fins. James studied their faces, all giving him the various as they passed by.
"How can God claim credit for this place? This is hardly Paradise. Hades. Bloody Hades. I hate Eton," he said.
"You were thinking maybe of Eden, Jimmy?" answered his aunt Emily. "Don't you be talking that nonsense and saying you hate it. Your father had to niffle you into this fine institution at great expense and greater risk to his reputation. You should be thankful."
James gazed at his aunt Emily and thought her beautiful. Gentlemen were forever turning to look back at her as they passed. James thought her worthy of a place in the Queen's court, worthy even to be the Queen herself.
Two upperclassmen, members of College Walk, reached out and thumped James' black curls cascading over his ears.
"And here I thought we were King's scholars, not Queen's," said one.
"If he scugs for me, he'll be bald soon enough."
Before Emily could stop him, James rapped his umbrella across the nearest Colleger's back. When the Collegers wheeled, James stood posed in the en-garde position, the tip of his umbrella in their faces like a sword. There was nothing playful about his action. His position and stance were those of a skilled swordsman. Survival was instinctive with James-that and a keen sense of good form.
"Oppidan," James corrected. "I am an Oppidan scholar. Honoris causa."
"Oh, an Oppidan and a Scholar? I've never met one of those," the lesser said.
"A little less noise there, Oppidan, when addressing your superiors." The tall Colleger with the dashing good looks directed the tip of James' umbrella toward his lesser colleague.
"Sorry, scummy-chum, but that O.S. after your name does not mean 'Oppidan Scholar.' In your case it clearly means 'Obnoxious Scug.'"
The lesser smiled with an apologetic bow to Aunt Emily, who, of course, immediately attempted to apologize for James, but he would have none of it.
"Might I have your names, as it is my first day and I want to remember everyone I meet," James asked ever so politely. The blues of his forget-me-not eyes were beginning to flash red, causing the Collegers to squirm. The lesser tried to hurry the taller one away, but he would not budge.
"Darling," the taller one replied. It was not a term of endearment but his name. "Arthur L. Darling. And yours, Oppidan? You do have a name?" James recalled the words of author Mary Shelley, the wife of the famed Eton graduate Percy B. Shelley, that his absent father had quoted in his letter informing James of his acceptance into this worthy institution: "Here were the future governors of England ... the beings who were to carry on the vast machine of society; here were the landlord, the politician, the soldier ..."
"James Matthew ..." As his mouth moved to form the words of his father's name, his courage failed him. And in that split instant, the Darling boy suddenly knew to whom he was talking. Everyone had heard about Lord B's bastard son coming to Eton.
"Right, James. Well, you might have to add a 'B' to the 'O.S.' after your family name then, won't you?"
"B" for bastard? Bad form, James thought, watching Darling and his accomplice join the stream of Eton Blues.
James entertained the mental image of his umbrella passing cleanly through the Darling boy's brisket and out his backside with a perfectly executed cappo ferro thrust. The fencing master who had tutored James in the skills of the sword during his childhood would have applauded his good form. Even with an umbrella.
Excerpted from Capt. Hook by J. V. Hart Brett Helquist Excerpted by permission.
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