Castle Trethergowan

(1100 words)

Every morning, come rain, come shine, I’d walk the cliff tops, watching huge waves thundering against the rocks and hearing the cries of gulls being thrown across the sky. There, across the strait, in the far distance were the twins’ cottages. The twins who’d taken something of mine. Something very precious. Through binoculars, I could see thin white spirals of smoke from their chimneys. For now, they were still breathing. Then, past the broken and missing windows of Castle Trethergowan, its ancient greenstone weathered and pitted by the centuries and now surrendered to the unstoppable force of ivy.
Today, a very special day, I resisted the temptation to climb its creaking staircases to huge, empty chambers, there to gaze through moulded glass out at the moorland and heather of the lonely island. Instead, I made my way back to the farm to collect warm freshly laid eggs from the chicken run.
“Tom, wait for me!” my little sister Hannah called, as I raced up the stone steps of Castle Trethergowan for the very first time.
Then, hearing her shrill cry and small feet pattering behind me, I ran into the grand entrance hall. “Hannah, look at this!” Tapestries hung from balconies, suits of armour stood on plinths and stern ancestors stared out from cracked glaze and enormous gilded frames.

Matilda made a gentle clucking sound as I lifted her soft feathered body to reveal two brown eggs. “Thank you, my broody hen.” There was my breakfast-to-be, accompanied by crispy bacon and two plump sausages, bought from the village store on my weekly trip to the mainland.
I put the eggs into a pouch and proceeded to the cowshed, where Freda and Hermione awaited my hands for the milking. I stroked their black necks and patted their white rumps. “Good morning, girls.” I took a pail and put it below Freda’s swollen udder, feeling her warmth as I gently squeezed a teat at the top with my thumb and index finger. Slowly, I worked my way down, adding a finger at a time until all my fingers were on the teat, hearing her milk squirt into the bucket.

I sat in the great study, watching Hannah on the lawn with her young man, Claude. A handsome couple, I thought. Nearby, stood a waiting carriage. In the nursery, the twins, William and Roberta, played with their comely nanny, Matilda.
“Tom,” said my father.
“Your mother and I have business in London, we shall be gone for four days. See that Jerome tends to the garden with proper regard to the flower beds. And that he keeps an appropriate distance from Matilda at all times.”
“Yes, father,” said I.
I watched as my mother and father were helped into the carriage by the footman before it was pulled down the drive by four white horses.
Back in the farmhouse kitchen, I put the eggs and milk on the side, whilst sweeping the floor and clearing the table of papers. Then I took out a sweet-smelling loaf of brown bread and a tub of creamy yellow butter, before laying three rashers of bacon on a hot griddle.
I had been trusted with the key to my father’s study on the top floor of the castle. There, at the end of a red carpet lining a long gallery, was a stout oak door. Inside, were cabinets full of deeds to the island and adjacent land on the mainland. Certificates on the walls attested to my father’s achievements in the Merchant Navy where he had commanded the position of captain on numerous important cargo vessels. A locked glass-topped desk displayed precious stones. Emeralds, rubies, diamonds even. And necklaces fashioned from gold and silver with fine filigree decoration.
My parents never returned from their visit to London. Their conveyance collided with a tram, turned over and rolled down an embankment and into the river Thames. They were both drowned.
I took it badly, Hannah even worse. Many a night would I hear her sobbing herself to sleep. The twins were only five and didn’t really seem to understand what had happened to their mother and father. As long as Matilda was there, they seemed unperturbed.
“Tom,” asked William several years later, “may I look in father’s study?”
“No, it’s private. There’s only one key and Hannah and I have charge of it.”
“Please, Tom,” said Roberta, with a cheeky smile dimpling her cheeks.
Hannah appeared. “It can’t do any harm, Tom. “Let them have a peek.”
“What, are you sure?”
“Don’t be an old stick-in-the-mud, they’re only kids. They won’t make off with any jewels.”
Maybe not, but when they were sixteen, the key disappeared. The twins swore blind they didn’t have it. But truth be told, Hannah and I had become lackadaisical about keeping it in our possession, often leaving it in a desk drawer in the library. A locksmith examined the lock, pronouncing it to be of a most unusual and singular design. He told us it would be necessary to break the door down to gain entry.
“Let’s just wait for the key to turn up, eh?” said Hannah, “the solicitors have copies of all the important documents.” But it never did.
The twins left for university and started families of their own. Then, to my great astonishment, following the death of my dear Hannah at the age of 78 from septicaemia, they returned to the Trethergowan Estate to live in cottages on the mainland across from the island.
In the intervening years, Roberta and William had little to do with Hannah and me, and now continued to keep themselves to themselves, only half-heartedly acknowledging me when it was necessary.
I got it into my head that they were biding their time there, waiting for me to die. Waiting to get into father’s study. I enjoyed a simple life, farming on the island, and had never married. I had no need of great wealth and had never wanted to see that ancient oak door battered down for the sake of a caseful of baubles. My wish, and Hannah’s too, had been to leave the study for the time being as a shrine to our parents’ memory. But now I saw a way to recover the key to that hallowed chamber.
I took down a square, white cardboard box from a cupboard, then a syringe from my briefcase, and injected a tiny amount of botulinum toxin, procured with no little difficulty, into a splendid cake. The mail boat would arrive shortly. I took a birthday card and wished Roberta and William an unforgettable sixty-fifth birthday, then cracked an egg open onto the griddle.

Leave your thoughts