For the grieving brother Jerome, all he could now do was watch these pre-funeral rites being performed before him while believing he had simply failed his patient. His own future he knew was uncertain and frightening. His coming fate would soon be revealed to him but until then he could only wait and suffer uncertainty.
From outside in the hallway, I heard the sound of heavy boots approaching the chamber. Wilfred then arrived sullen and sulky flanked by six grim-faced armed guards. He stood and scowled and surveyed the scene revealed before him with displayed anger. Now his day of reckoning for the brother had arrived and he would cherish its outcome and prolong the agony as long as possible.
“You wish for something, Wilfred” demanded lady Louise angrily?
He walked over to her looked at her with contempt then turned and faced the brother saying with malevolence: “Well witchdoctor, your influence in this chamber and MY castle has now ceased with the death of my dear brother. So listen to me and listen carefully, my friend.”
He poked him brutally in the chest to emphasise his accusing words: “You will now prepare and gather your meagre belongings and depart from this abode. And to show my generosity you will be quartered outside this castle and there placed into the grounds of the old leper infirmary.” He smirked at these last words. “I hope you find it agreeable.”
He looked around at those standing before him and then his eyes settled on the ladies in waiting, now nervously arrayed before him like scared sheep. He smiled and nodded firmly to them saying: “If any of you do not wish to leave with the lady Louise you will be very welcome to stay here in MY castle. I’m sure I will be able to use some of your services.” He smirked with a wink at one of the youngest of the handmaids.
Then he turned and walked over to the brother saying with menace: “And as for you my friend sadly we must part ways and you must prepare yourself to leave as we prepare to celebrate the arrival of the new occupant of the castle …myself.”
He turned to lady Louise adding with an exaggerated bow. She began to protest at his boorish behaviour but she was immediately silenced with a wave of his gloved hand. She glowered at him but to no effect. His demeanour remained hostile as they parried words over the dead body and when and where it should be removed. Finally now exasperated he shouted: “Shut up woman. And now just GO …. NOW!” Then turning to the waiting guards he ordered them to: “Escort this lady to her chamber immediately to collect her belongings.”
He then ordered his master at arms saying: “And then.” He paused for dramatic effect which was not lost on those who waited to hear what he was about to say: “Detain her afterwards and bring her into the castle keep. And I will decide where she will be lodged.”
My father recalled that lady Louisa slowly turned to her handmaids and spoke to each something that was almost inaudible. Then they consulted with each other. Then one by one they agreed to something then bowed towards their former mistress, and all departed in a single file without a backward glance. Wilfred watched with a smile of cruel satisfaction as they quietly left the room. He was more than happy with the outcome that he had expected. This man knew no shame or had ever courted its forgiving nature.
Now only remaining standing alone in the now deserted hall with the lady Louisa was that young brave Scottish girl who starred defiantly at Wilfred. But he ignored both the womens’ faces and summoned a guard: “Take them both away now.”
Lady Louisa with all the dignity she possessed paused, then gently touched her husband’s head with her forefinger. She whispered a faint goodbye to the duke and then with her surviving maid departed the great hall forever.
Within hours all traces or remembrances of the lady Louise had been removed and later desecrated with disgust in the courtyard being consigned to the creeping flames.
Now only remaining in the hall was my father and brother Jerome, who stood facing each other. Yet the brother seemed calm and almost serene.
“And now brother Jerome or whatever you claim your foolish name to be … what have I prepared for you?” He paused as he thought about it then announced in a mocking fashion: “You” poking his finger repeatedly into the brother’s exposed chest. “You will be domiciled into the infected quarters or to the house of the incurable. And I doubt you will ever depart alive … well I hope not. Guards take him away. Get this fool out of my sight.”
My father was also dismissed with a sharp clip around the head, but not before Wilfred threatened my father with a snarl saying: “I don’t know what to do with you my boy but don’t worry … I will soon think of something …. so now get out of here.” He laughed and then ruffled my father’s hair then slapped him brutally swiftly across the face with the back of his hand.
We later learned that that aged infirmary on the cliff top a year before had once had a warning bell attached to its outside structure. This was to hopefully inform all who journeyed by of the presence of the lepers. But now in recent years, it had been used to quickly warn the castle guards (for there were now no lepers) of a possible invading sea pirates attack or other invaders who would attempt to land on the exposed stretch of beach below the building. Wilfred was always paranoid that this would happen one day and posted several unfortunate armed watchmen to carry out these duties on that desolate unforgiving dangerous clifftop.
Later from a distance standing behind an aged oak tree, my father watched anxiously as the brother was taken under chained escort to that isolated cottage that still stands even today as you ladies both know. And then he was shoved unceremoniously inside its dark damp cellar of confinement. The brother was sadly never to leave it alive.
My father remembered that a heavy lock had been quickly secured to the only door and to his surprise, a new brass ship’s iron bell had been fixed to the wall beside the bars.
Almost immediately all welcomed privileges recently offered to the grateful villagers by the late still lamented duke were suddenly withdrawn. They now realised that their future fate was already sealed and signed by the hands of the conniving stepbrother Wilfred.
It was by then the cruel month of October and as my father recalled the cold fingers of winter were approaching and far too quickly for our comfort. Few then would later survive its scourge of hunger and cold as it journeyed across the land claiming many victims. Those who were fortunate would later migrate if possible from their country cottages and journey into unknown hostile cities. Never to return.
When and where possible my family would secretly visit the brother and bring him much needed food and liquids while conversing with him by whispering. But the watching castle guards would frequently patrol close to his confinement and some even kindly turned a blind eye when they saw us talking to the brother and passing much-needed sustenance to him, while just ignoring us.
Enclosed within that confined cell the brother had somehow retreated into his inner self. There he had managed to search and find a secret strength that would sustain him through those long imposed lonely hours that brought pain and hunger and desolation to him. Frequently he would speak words of encouragement to my father through the iron bars of his cramped cell. He used so many strange words that my poor father could not understand their meaning. He spoke of the need to always care for the downhearted and to minister to the sick and suffering and search for inner peace within yourself. This he had attempted himself so often to achieve by his concern and in his usage of the medicines over the years in his travels. These he had concocted usually with success, both for the villagers and the late duke.
He had no regrets nor any personal animosity towards Wilfred or with those colluding castle servants. Simply by hating he said we become like our enemies and cursing them, we curse ourselves. Yet life is never easy or bountiful to any of us and no river ever runs in a straight line. It never has been, and certainly never will be. It is the lasting legacy of this fallen wicked world he explained to my father who grasped very little of what he heard or understood. Only years later would he comprehend some of the meaning of what he had tried to listen to through the rusting iron bars of that desolate cottage so long ago.
“But I tell you, dear boy, sadly for Wilfred his coming hours or months are truly numbered; he is now a lost man.” He usually spoke frequently with my father when possible. He would then finish by joining his chapped hands together in silent supplication and my father knew it was time for him to depart.
To be continued…..
(C) Copyright G. Patrick Battell