He had by now declined any food that my father had secretly brought to him to be passed through those cold iron bars. He would shake his head saying simply: “I’m just not hungry Rory.”
There was little my father could say or do but only watch with sadness in his heart at the daily deterioration of this man he had come to know and I suppose love in the coming weeks.
One morning the brother quietly asked my father to retrieve a hidden canvas bag then being stored away in the brick wall of his little room in the village.
His final request of my father was offered one May morning and it was clear and concise: “I want you to retrieve if you can from my room my worn canvas bag that is stored in the brickwork. There if you look very closely my boy you will notice several bricks with the numerals VII scratched upon them. Then carefully remove them and you will see my old faithful bag wrapped in a blanket. When you lift it out of its place, open it with care and you will soon see several paper envelopes inside with the names Rosemary Peg and Castor Beans and with a drawing of each of them for you to recognise.” Sadly for father then his reading was poor with little comprehension of the meaning of many words, but he hoped he could recognise the pencil drawings.
“Now I want you to be very careful,” the brother had warned him, “when you tip out the contents from the envelopes into a saucer, then use the pestle that I showed you how to use and grind them slowly down to a fine powder. When you have done that then boil some milk but do not let it boil over just simmer that is important. And pour it carefully into an empty bottle using the shaped funnel I showed you. Then pour the powder from the saucer, again with great care, into that bottle. But be careful you do not touch or taste it. That is very important. When you have finished look into my pack for a small green packet containing some powder. That too is to be shaken gently through the funnel into a milk bottle, then cork the bottle securely and then please bring it here at dusk. But be very careful of the soldiers. Can you do that for me?” he asked kindly.
He stared through the bars at my father, his face pale and drawn and devoid of any hope of release and hardly resembling the man my father had once known then full of life not so long ago. Years later my father was still emotional as he related that tale to me many times.
My father naturally nodded at this bizarre request. He had always been very proud to be of simple service to this man that he so admired and had been honoured to do so. Had not the brother selected him from all others in the village to act as his willing medical apprentice. But my father was sadly unaware of course that he was helping to prepare a deadly concoction by his own hand. That would bring death and swift release to brother Jerome from his inflicted cage of misery and pain.
The old man paused in his commentary then suddenly half a dozen obedient sheep or maybe more had arrived and congregated around his feet, coming from nowhere it seemed. He then sipped from a cup of warm water (he had earlier declined all other refreshments) then stroking his dog’s head with affection he continued. The sheep silently listened to his tale it seemed.
That night as the village lay slumbering the villagers were awakened with the consistent ringing of that warning bell. My father knew immediately of course that it had come from the cottage where the brother was still falsely imprisoned.
Some raced to where the noise was coming from and in fact my father was the first to arrive at the door. To his amazement, the lock had been broken and removed and the door was wide open. And most surprising that the ship’s brass bell had been broken from the brickwork and been skilfully removed by someone.
When my father entered the interior by the dawn’s breaking light he could see the now still form of the dear brother seeming almost to be resting.
He lay peacefully on his cot with his hands placed over his chest and already a look of peace and repose was displayed upon his serene face.
But who had rang that bell that was now no longer seen and who had smashed the lock leaving the door splintered? That was a mystery that was never solved.
The worried villagers had by now arrived and stood around the bed surveying the still-warm body. Many prayed being unaware of what else to do or say. My grandmother had departed and later returned with a bowl of water and a towel. She knelt by the body and washed the hands and face of the brother with affection and awe. A lament of saddened words from the Holy Bible came from her chapped lips:
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures”
She finished that beautiful Psalm as if in silent prayer.
From the castle kitchen, several of the serving staff and maids had also arrived concerned by the commotion of that chiming bell.
Later a grieving lady Louise with her ever-faithful Scottish maid arrived with several of her serving ladies in waiting who had now returned to be by her side. My father with many who had now assembled silently stood back clearing a path for her as she walked over to the body to survey the dead brother. Minutes later they watched in fascination as the lady with Heather’s assistance gently wrapped the brother’s cold body in a long black silk shroud. When she had finished her loving task with tears in her eyes, two of the burly chefs from the kitchen were ordered by her to lift the body and transport it gently back to the castle.
The villagers were for some reason not allowed to follow and were held back by the soldiers. But my father learned later that the body had been placed in the castle keep being then prepared with assorted essences for burial. Then the shroud with the body of the brother had been placed into a box then lowered into one of the open sarcophagus inside the vault. But none of the villagers ever learned which one was chosen for this special purpose or where it had been located.
They say important events always arrive in threes, and with the lamented death of the brother, to our delight, we later heard that wicked Wilfred had fallen down in one of the notorious drinking taverns in Nuremberg and it seemed he had broken his neck.
For several months life was rewarding for the villagers, with all privileges that had been withdrawn now fully reinstated by the saintly lady Louise.
The third serious event happened one midnight when a ship of unknown pirates – maybe from Morocco – arrived, landed on the beach and looted the castle of much of its treasures. They then put a sword to the occupants of the east wing and all others who stood in their way. Then using fire to destroy what remained. But sudden rain thankfully prevented too much damage to the interior of the castle.
Some of the villagers were sadly killed in the process as the pirates escaped to their waiting ship. As far as I know, lady Louise escaped and returned to England. But how and when I never knew.
Soon afterwards the castle gradually descended into open decay with many of staff and villagers departing to nearby towns.
Many years later the prepared foundations of the new sanatorium were eventually sunk within the ruins of the old crumbling castle which you can see today. If you look hard enough. Much of the overgrown land and foliage was gradually hacked back but that special cottage where the dear brother died has remained and is still standing today. He paused to collect his wandering thoughts saying: “I am not sure if the original crypt with the families’ remains along with the brother has survived? Who knows. So I am sorry dear ladies I cannot be more precise” he apologised with moist eyes as he gazed at his beloved still sleeping sheep.
But the aged pages of his mind had not closed because he now continued his tale.
To be continued…….
(C) Copyright G. Patrick Battell