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Saturday, 24 November 2012

Brother Mine (Part 2)


November has done it again. We usually think of Adelaide’s hot weather being in January and February but I reckon you can count on one week of November giving us a foretaste of it. This is the week: 35+ degrees Celsius forecast for at least four days of this week. As long as the garden doesn’t suffer from it, I’m okay with that. I think the feijoa likes it. This is its first flush of flowers since we planted it a year ago. My tastebuds are already preparing themselves, but the flowers are my favourite feature of this small tropical South American tree.

Now for the conclusion of the story we began last week, a historical fiction of an undervalued son and a strange visitor.

Brother Mine (Part 2)

'Richard, my dear fellow! You're ready by the look of it. Let us depart immediately before—' and he peered towards the dining room with one eye and up the stairs with the other, a peculiarity no doubt made possible by his wall eye. Grabbing my sleeve as I stood firmly clenching my teeth to prevent my jaw dropping like an imbecile, Bryant linked arms with me and almost dragged me to the carriage awaiting us. The livery was unfamiliar; everything was as incomprehensible as my apparent imaginings the previous evening.
            For the first mile or so, Bryant said nothing but looked out of the window to one side and then the other, casting me an occasional smile or a wink as his gaze shifted.
             I sat looking sideways at him, trying to recall if I had ever heard of him. I had spent some time in London the previous year, but none of my acquaintances had intimated the existence of such a person. Surely I would have heard some rumour about a fellow of his odd appearance and outfit. City gossips have nothing better to talk about.
            After a time, when I was beginning to wonder if I had been rash in following this character without an explanation, he sighed loudly and took off his wig, scratched his near-bald scalp, and tossed the wig aside, where it slid off the leather seat and onto the floor.
            'I take it you received word last evening of our plans for your future? And that you are not unwilling?' He looked me in the eye most impertinently, or so my father would have judged, and then turned away as if he had seen the answer. I answered nevertheless, since I had no idea what he thought he had seen.
            'I – I was – uh, visited l-l-last night, it is t-t-true. Excuse my ret-my ret-reticence, but I had b-been wondering if I had s-simply drunk too much brandy. Even n-n-now, I confess, I am s-s-struggling to comprehend.'
            He nodded briefly as if that was a matter of course, and I relaxed a little. Whatever was happening to me, it appeared that my understanding was not essential, merely my acquiescence. What did I have to lose? I asked myself. The unlikely proposal of the previous night had seemed to offer more hope than I had experienced since my brother's demise on the Continent seven years earlier.
            'We will be at the port in a little over two hours, so I will begin your instruction immediately. You will cease to be known as Richard from this moment; you are Jack.' And you will address me as, in fact, I am – your mother's second cousin, Frederick Schwingenschloegl.' At this point he took off his outer garments, bundled them tightly and threw them, together with the wig, into the river we were at that moment crossing on a narrow bridge. He pulled out a box from under the seat and proceeded to dress all in black, a respectable German traveller.
            I had not imagined it. This improbable man was offering me the impossible and now I grasped it with fervour. If I could not have my brother, I would be my brother. One day, in the future planned for me by my mother's German relatives, I would return to England to claim the inheritance of the father who would not recognise his younger son. I only hoped my mother would live long enough to enjoy her victory.

Until next week…
Claire Belberg

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