Bewildering Stories

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My Brother’s Keeper

by Norman A. Rubin

1805, the year of our Lord. Jubilation was in the air in the king’s realm; the news of a great naval victory off the coast of Spain was proclaimed throughout the land. Yet, through the air of superiority of the might of arms, there rumoured a shocking report of a murderous act. The disclosure was revealed and gossiped in tongues. It spoke of an incident in the West County of death inflicted to its reigning Lord by the hand of one of the king’s brave men at arms.

Captain Martin Engle had no intentions to murder his elder brother Charles. Yet it came about in all its evilness and blackened the name of the officer. It changed radically the honourable name of the Captain Engle’s character to be one of scoundrel and murderer.

“Death came through accident,” were the emphatic words spoken through honest tongues. Others, with a bit of knowledge, scoffed derisively and said the brutal act was through a fit of jealous rage; and they swore it was God’s truth. Malicious rumours spun through the air with its speculations. All agreed that envy was pronounced after a heated argument between the two brothers that fateful night which sparked the murderous act. True, the argument and the murder were of interest to the curious; but the remembrance of the frightful event of devilish haunting which befell after the act of murder, overshadowed their thoughts.

Captain Martin Engle chose the military, not of choice, but of the need of a livelihood. His flamboyant Hussar uniformed appearance was of upright bearing which emphasized his well-built body. Martin’s features showed the distinction of his command, from a thin upturned moustache set above stern lips to the well-groomed black of his hair. His tired and gaunt expression was the only signs of the hardships of fate he bitterly endured.

Throughout the passage of time in his majesty’s realm the inheritance of the title and property fell to the eldest son upon the death of the reigning lord of the royal commissioned estate. The law, by king’s command, was fully applied and the elder brother Charles claimed the right. Thus a pittance of an inheritance was foisted upon Captain Martin Engle, the younger of the two brothers. Even a provision in the division of the will demeaned the officer; it indicated that the captain can only apply to the goodness of his brother Charles for any allowance of monies that was kept in a small trust in his name. A rift grew between the two brothers and only a thin veneer of gentility hid the animosity between the two.

The playing of cards and the admiration of a well-turned ankle were Captain Martin Engle’s weaknesses. His luck at gambling was not lucrative, and the cost of love for a pretty damsel was demanding; his officer’s pay was not ample to meet the needs. Thus, he was forced to turn to his brother Charles for funds to meet his debts; a distasteful task as his considered his corpulent brother a rapacious country squire. Captain Engle saw his brother Charles arrayed in the role from the silk and soft wool of his dress to the correct manners of a well-born.

That fateful night was one of howling rainy storm mixed with fury of the flash of thunderbolts and the crashing peals of thunder. The setting in nature’s wrath pictured the two brothers in the library of the large manor house set on the grounds of the Lord Engle estate. They were engaged in their favourite habit: arguing for the release of funds from the trust to cover Captain Martin’s debts.

Charles, now gross from the pleasures of life through the years, laughed with an inebriated glint in his squinty eyes when there was mention of monies needed. Flashes of lightning highlighted his slovenly appearance and the fury of thunder punctuated his words. His face was reddened with drunken mirth when he spoke. With a slurred lilt to his tongue he blurted out explosive words, “Money, there is no money... the trust is empty, finished...” Derisive laughter, capped with the roar of thunder, echoed through the room.

Captain Martin Engle was stunned at the words, and he exclaimed that it was not true. “You must be mistaken,” he blurted out in an argumentative rage. The more Martin raved, the more his brother Charles laughingly told of his plight, “No more money, poof goes the cards, whoosh goes the pretty ones... Debtor’s prison awaits you.”

The fury of the storm’s drumming rain blew their temper in the open grounds and added to the tension in the room. It pelted threateningly on the glass-panelled doorway till it forced the opening of the lock. Howling winds blew their rage into the salon and drove the covering velveteen curtains into a devil’s dance.

The shocked Captain reeled back by the derisive words slurred by his brother in the drunken dregs of drink; the heated phrases gripped the officer to the fear of encroaching debt and ruin. He shuffled backwards on trembly legs till he felt the heat of the warm hearth; his feet tripped slightly over the ornamental ironwork. Captain Martin Engle’s nervous fingers gripped the hardness of the stone shelf to hold him steadfast. After a momentary pause to assure his stance he moved a few steps backwards till his feet touched the nearby stand of bronze fire tools. His right hand reached out to the implements and nervous fingers toyed with their hardness.

The thought of debt and ruination drummed feverishly through his mind; the mocking laughter chortled by his brother Charles added its blight to his misery. Martin screamed maddeningly and raved like a lunatic at his brother’s mockery, but to no avail; the cursed laughter and the damning phrases of his blood kin, fuelled by his terrified thought, increased in its derision. Captain Engle grabbed a bronze poker in a fit of rage and charged his mocking brother. A desperate fight ensued but the officer, the stronger of the two, succeeded in driving the gripping bronze shaped piece swift and hard on his brother’s balding head.

A servant sounded murder when he entered the library at his duty. Candlelight shone dimly throughout the manor as the cry of murder was echoed. Captain Martin Engle was forced by the terror of discovery to flee from the scene of carnage. He quickly dashed through the opened portal into the fury of the storm. The driving rain beat on the cloth of his dress, thunder drummed the terror in his heart, and the flashes of lightning pictured his desperate bid. Captain Engle continued his flight by running breathlessly through the vast grounds; at each step the soft mud sucked his boots, trying to hold him steadfast.

Those who were witnesses told in frightened tongues of ghosts that haunted the air that stormy night. It told of the fugitive in the guise of the uniformed Captain Martin Engle fleeing, under the fury of the elements, through the muddy fields. Lightning bolts slashed brilliantly through the sky; the clamorous roar of thunder deafened the air; the driving rain beat a drumming tattoo. Their words told of the beleaguered figure’s desperate flight as he continued in his mad dash, slipping at times by the wet of the ground.

Terrified tenants claimed that they saw the fleeing figure chased by a herd of large black howling creatures, larger that the hounds of hell. The terrified witness carried on in their tale. Word mixed in terrified phrases told of how the creatures of hellfire yowled horribly as they sprang on the fleeing figure trying to reach and claw his throat. Their words were of horror as they stated that the devilish hounds howled and bayed horribly; that the demoniac animals snarled viciously as they tried to ensnare their quarry with their fangs. The peasants gasped in the fury of their tale as they related that the fugitive tried, as he ran, to defend himself from the furry creatures of hell, but the hellish brutes continued to tear his body savagely despite his desperate efforts.

The words continued. The ghostly procession was followed by a bloody corpulent figure, saddled on fiery black steed, luminous in the brilliance of the thunder flashes. The rider tugged mercilessly on the reins and flecks of spittle splattered the mouth of the beast. The peasants knew the image of the ghostly figure, featured with horribly bright eyes and with blood flowing from the skin of his head; The mounted creature called out hideous peals of drunken laughter drummed to the beat of the horse’s hoofbeats. The onlookers watched as the frightful chase disappeared over the vale. Some told in their terror-stricken tongues that after the apparition left their very sight, a horrible deep-throated scream followed.

The king’s men, called in from their watch the following day, were told of the act of murder and the unbelievable tale of the guilty fugitive’s flight from ghostly apparitions. Yet, they only accepted the words that told of argument that led to the terrible deed, but discounted the tale of the ghostly chase. Then, in curiosity, they searched the area noted, but they found neither a sign or trace neither of Captain Martin Engle nor of the ghostly apparitions. The ground, partly dried from the fury of the storm, now tamed to threatening clouds, yielded no visible prints from either from man or beast. The king’s men did not agree to the jumbled phrases of the tenants and put it down to superstitious tongues. Yet, Captain Martin Engle never reported to his command nor was he ever sighted. To the minions of the law, his disappearance was put down to flight.

The funeral of Lord Charles Engle, after a delay in calling the mourners, was conducted with all the pomp and trappings given a royal citizen. The solemn day, clouded with threatening greyish black, called in its holiness amidst the gloom. Close friends and intimate members of family with the prominent black band on the sleeves on their foppish dress paid tribute; and the servile tenants doffed their caps. A king’s envoy was there together with a few noted figures of the royal sphere, all bewigged and adorned. The bishop of the crown eulogized the deceased, calling him a great man in the service for god and country. Tears flowed and the gentility wiped their tears with the silk of their handkerchiefs in the proper manner of their class.

As the elaborate casket was lowered solemnly into the ground, the pulled sounds of the lowering ropes whispered the refrain of murder. Only those with rumoured tongues heard the damning word of the straining ropes.

Suddenly a scream arose from one of the mourners. A charming damsel, shaking from the horror that met her sight, screamed as she pointed with a tremulous finger to a small knoll that bordered near the churchyard. All eyes turned in horror and they saw as an upright figure in a torn and bloodied Hussar uniform; one of its bloody sleeves empty of limb. He was marching on muddy booted feet making his way slowly and painfully towards the burial site. A woman fainted, then another. The gentlemen gasped at the sight of horror and were frozen in their stance: They gazed at the figure with its mangled face blinded by a bloody eye, and whipped by the grey of his wild dishevelled hair. The creature of the damned approached nearer and nearer...

Copyright © 2003 by Norman A. Rubin

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