Rupert stared curiously at his brother as he bent down to pick up a toy doll laying in the yard. Oblivious to the fact that he was being watched, Alistair flipped the strands of long yellow blonde hair over and fixed her dress, righting the doll. “They’ve got children”, he said quietly, glancing back at Rupert. The two young men stood for a moment taking stock of the sight before them. It all seemed so ordinary.
The little bungalow stood haphazardly on a half-acre site, dense foliage shielding it away from the rest of the world. Thick green ivy smothered the walls of the house and a trellis, which perhaps once sported a fragrant array of roses, sat weather beaten and neglected. Echoes of children long gone were etched on a tree just inside the yard, their initials ‘S’ and ‘J’ carved into the gnarled bark.
Alistair gave his brother an almost imperceptible nod and they both began making their way up the gravelled driveway. Two large oak framed windows sat astride the front door, their dusty sashes indicating the house had long since been abandoned. As the gentlemen neared the bungalow, both were struck by how silent it was, no birds chirped in the distance nor insects buzzed around the small scrub rockery they could now see by the side of the house.
With trepidation, Alistair raised his fist to knock on the door, the eerie quiet of the surrounding countryside getting to him. “Maybe we shouldn’t have come”, he started to stutter, looking sideways at his older sibling. But Rupert wasn’t paying any attention to him, instead, his eyes were trained on one of the windows. “Did you see that!” he whispered in an excited voice. Wary, Alistair leaned across his brother to peer through the window’s thick film of dust. “What am I looking for?” he asked, only aware of the vague outlines of an old television set and three piece suite. “Right there”, Rupert nodded urging him to cast his gaze lower.
Curiosity piqued, Alistair pulled his spectacles from his breast pocket and arranged them neatly on the bridge of his lightly freckled nose. He leaned closer still. Sure enough, just above the sill lay a fresh hand print. “They couldn’t be still here”, Albert exclaimed incredulously. “Not after everything that’s happened, Rupert I…I didn’t think this was a reconnaissance mission, maybe we should abort”, Alistair trailed off.
Oblivious to his brother’s cautionary pleas, Rupert grim-faced, stepped back and rammed his shoulder against the door. After several attempts, amid the cacophony of hinge groans and swearing, the warped wooden door finally swung open. The two men entered the dwelling, stepping over musty old boxes filled with clothes, bubble wrapped Delph and books. “It looks like they were trying to leave in a hurry!” Alistair whispered peering through the gloom. Old fashioned wallpaper lined the walls of the foyer, celling to floor, only broken up by three adjoining door frames. “Let’s split up and do what we came here to do”, Rupert said, steely determination evident in his voice and dark grey eyes.
Sometime later, after much banging and rummaging, the two men fell to the sitting room floor exhausted and empty handed. Their mission that day was simple, they were to reclaim a very valuable family heirloom- the Melanchthon watch. A time piece dating back to the 16th century, this was no ordinary watch. Its spherical case was made from a gilded metal and bore the inscription GOTT. ALEIN. DIE. EHRE between its three circular feet. The watch had stayed under lock and key in their grandfather’s study for many years, dusty and neglected, until very recently when it had been sold at private auction at their Swinton home.
“What are we going to do? It’s not here”, Alistair said nervously looking to his sibling for direction. He noticed the strained look on Rupert’s pale face and took in his seemingly uncomfortable stance. His brother’s long legs were crossed and shoulders hunched as if the room were simply too small to accommodate his tall frame. “It’s not your fault you know”, Alistair muttered hearing the emptiness of his words hang heavy in the air. He knew of course that this was indeed a fallacy for it had been Rupert that had taken the notion to sell the watch in the first place.
Rupert surreptitiously glanced at him, offering a half smile. He stood up and propped his long body against the wrought iron fireplace. “It’s getting dark in here. Are those light switches working?” He inquired as he reached for the battered pack of matches he had spied on the mantelpiece. Alistair shook his head regretfully. “Fine grab me some of that newspaper, we’d better make a fire if we’re to camp out here tonight”, Rupert said.
Half an hour later, the two men were comfortably sitting on some old woollen blankets they’d found under the stairs. The entire room was awash with a blaze of flickering light, warming their cold cheeks and hands tempting them to sleep. Lost in thought, Rupert gazed into the hearth thinking about Yorkshire.
He had returned to Swinton House shortly after graduation, with the express intention of taking over the day to day running of his family’s estate. Unfortunately instead of finding the house he had known so well as a child and the man he had called sir still standing in splendour, he found a bed-ridden old man and an home left to wrack and ruin. His grandfather-George Digby languished having suffered a stroke with no one but Susan, a kindly matron from the village, to tend to him. The austere gentleman that had once inspired both fear and respect in equal measures had been replaced by a slack-jawed invalid.
It was then that he realised how little he knew the elderly man before him. Whatever secrets George Digby had would die with him, of that Rupert was sure. With his sole benefactor unable to communicate his wishes, the young man was faced with the impossible. Did he sell up and salvage what was left of the family’s good name or did he take a gamble and try to restore the estate to its former glory? Refusing to be battered into submission by creditors or leaky roofs Rupert chose the latter, though often he had lamented that decision. He supposed looking back, either choice could have lead them to where they now stood…
Alistair watched his brother sit entranced by the dancing flames and wondered what was going through his mind. An awkwardness had existed between the two of them since as far back as he could remember though he could never put his finger on why. It wasn’t something they had ever really discussed, yet Alistair intuitively knew that his brother shared his sentiments. Maybe their rather separate upbringings were to blame he pondered. Rupert, being two years his senior, had been sent off to a rigorous boarding school at the tender cusp of adolescents while he had remained at home with mother until her untimely death.
Alistair shivered thinking about it. In that moment he became once again the quiet child, coming home from school, spectacles askew from running with beads of perspiration on his brow. The gut wrenching feeling of opening his grandfather’s study to see her lying there, unmoving with that velvet pouch and its gilded contents flung from her hand… Alistair shook himself, no use thinking about that now.
Oblivious to the world around him, Alistair stood up, dusted himself off and made to leave the room. His hand momentarily rested on the smooth doorknob, flinching at its cool metal touch. “I’ll just be out here”, he said.