My father turned and assisted the dazed brother to his booted feet but although intimidated, he then quickly dismissed any request for a refreshment. And instead with a deep bow to lady Louisa, he returned to his temporary dispensary. Still desperate somehow if possible to delay the now expected decline of the duke’s fragile health and find a suitable medicine or poultice to aid the dying duke.
Now the flickering dying candles needed to be quickly replaced by the servants, the brother now noticed as the light faded. He did not care for the uninvited gloom that had now settled within and around the cloying room. He would be pleased that the lengthening shadows would soon be chased away with the arrival of the new high candles when lighted.
Heather, that young Scottish lady in waiting, quickly withdrew from her fawn embroidered cloak, a small sketching pad with a cluster of coloured sharpened pencils and charcoals. She then whispered a few inaudible words into her lady’s ear and waited for a response. And then with a nod of consent from her mistress, she began to exhibit her remarkable artistic talents.
She placed herself gently by the bedside and began to sketch deftly the duke’s drawn lined face. Her long silent strokes of her pencil were then highlighted by the burnt charcoal. When she had quickly finished she arose and displayed the almost completed portrait to her mistress who nodded her approval saying: “Very good, excellent likeness … now finish it … and quickly!” After a few minutes her representation of her husband’s suffering face was completed. And preserved forever on paper. Lady Louisa carefully examined the sketch and whispered: “Thank you Heather I am very pleased with what you have achieved and under such difficult conditions.” Then this Scottish faithful lass curtseyed twice and quickly returned to her standing permanent position behind her beloved mistress.
Now the darkened room had turned even chillier and all were aware of the unusual changing atmosphere. Quickly lady Louisa turned to a waiting nervous footmen and ordered them to “build up a fire NOW… and quickly!” The men scurried away like demented mice to carry out her command and collect the kindling. And within minutes a roaring crackling fire had benefited all by its welcoming warmth.
Now the brother would search in vain in his treasured books for an elixir from his own library to hopefully – if possible -to ease the pain of the dying duke. The lady had now returned to her husband’s bedside, gently wiping his fevered brow with a cool cloth. Some of her faithful ladies in waiting had collapsed due to exhaustion to the floor in open exhaustion and desired sleep. Except for the loyal Heather of course, stoic as always who remained vigilant to what her mistress might require or ask for.
My nervous father now watched the seated, sombre lady Louisa gently stroke her husband’s ashen lined face. Yet somehow death was clinging all around him but when it would strike and claim him none knew in that unhappy room of death. Occasionally my father noticed as she glanced at him and smiled. But of the two footmen who had lurked in the shadows, only one now loyally remained. The other had departed quietly and quickly rather suspiciously.
My father later learned from Heather that the man was a paid spy for Wilfred and would be quickly informing him of the drama now swiftly coming to a conclusion in that stifling bedchamber. It was as if time was now static, with even the dogs now silent and still but acutely observing all movement in the room and perhaps aware of what was happening before them.
The brother meanwhile would continue to do all he could to prolong the life of the expiring duke. But I suppose my father knew all was now in vain in the brother’s futile quest.
Minutes later the duke departed from his prison of pain. His life with its triumphs and blunders had expired. Now he faced – the brother knew – awaiting judgment that all will also face alone one day. That being stated in the book of Hebrews chapter 9:27:
“And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the the judgment.”
Then lady Louisa turned to the brother sobbing while knowing the answer anyway: “Is it finished?”
“Sadly yes my lady, he has sadly expired. But I am confident he did not suffer in those last troubling hours and you were very brave and loving to remain by his side.”
Then he gently closed the dead man’s eyelids with his thumb. And lady Louisa when he had stood back kissed both of the closed eyes and paused as if in prayer.
Then the pitiful dogs started their awful whine as the intermittent rain that had assaulted the windows suddenly ceased creating calm. But uncertainty in the room now remained.
The duke’s expected demise had staunched any hope now of survival for the brother and certainly if Wilfred had anything to do with it, it would happen quickly.
Lady Louisa now leaned forward and carefully removed a green gold-rimmed Waterford emerald ring from the duke’s withered finger and pressed it into a surprised brothers hand saying quietly: “Thank you, dear brother … take it. It might be useful one day. But please be very careful for your life, which I fear is now in great danger” she said looking pensively into his tired eyes.
Brother Jerome protested as to this kind but unusual gift she offered to him, but she insisted and he finally accepted this unexpected gesture placing it safely in his singlet. Then she turned again towards her dead husband and removed a small pair of silver nail scissors from her silk dress. She then carefully cut a lock of his hair and placed it into her silken handkerchief. Then she placed it against her chest and silently recited some unheard words. Her seated ladies in waiting had now stood and gathered themselves up and silently stood around her as if like frozen sentries on an exposed battlement.
Then Heather sincerely spoke in a strange Scottish lament. And from these words addressed to no one in particular: “He has departed for the borderland where all will arrive one day unexpectedly, but none will ever return. This is an old and known saying from the glens and highlands of Scotland that I learned as a wee girl.”
She then closed her eyes saying softly:
“Ar dheis de go raibh a anam.”
This being an ancient Gaelic salutation for the journey of the dead the brother was informed as he kindly passed its meaning to my father.
If lady Louisa bore comfort from these haunting words she did not respond. But instead, she leaned over to kiss her dearly departed husband’s now serene face. He seemed to her as she looked down at him. As being once again the young man of long ago when she had first been introduced to him and all the worry and pain from his face had been banished somehow from his face.
“Goodbye, my love” she whispered. Then the dogs began to moan in misery as she ordered the footman to remove them from the chamber but very gently as they too must be suffering for the loss of their beloved master, she thought.
She would later insist that the heavy flag of the principality be fetched and placed over the body but NOT to cover the face. Six tall lighted candles would be brought to the bedside and placed on either side of the bed. When the final candle was snuffed out later, the deceased would be ceremonially removed to the prepared crypt to welcome his body. There to finally join the entombed crumbling bones of his many ancestors as they too lay waiting for their own resurrection and deserved judgment still yet to arrive for them and many others as well.
To be continued….
(C) Copyright G. Patrick Battell