A routine for a decade, waking up, preparing breakfast for Mr. Landall, setting up the dining area for the morning, feeding the dog, and bringing the morning paper from the derelict mailbox which stood there even before I was here.
I sauntered around the vicinity of the mansion. The weather was clear, but humid, summer was hitting sooner than I had expected. I pulled out the bundle of newspaper as I reached the mailbox. Swish. A piece of paper had slipped out of the newspaper and fell unto the grass.
It was a letter, brown coating. I picked it up, saw smudges of red streaked across the letter, illiterate was I, the letter gave me jitters about the prominence of a misfortune that was laying ahead.
My knees jellied as I walked back into the mansion, a hunch of some foreboding peril slunk into me. I shoved the letter along with the newspaper into my coat, found myself in the kitchen preparing some bacon and eggs for Mr. Landall. The eggs were not sunny-side up, the bacon and the bread were charred. I still served them on the plate without realising it due the letter which was troubling my thoughts.
The dining hall was cavernous, the portrait of his son sitting in the center of the hall, sandwiched in between a Picasso, and a Van Gogh. Mr. Landall was smoking in his usual spot, opposite his son’s portrait, awaiting for his breakfast.
I served him as usual. Mr. Landall looked into the unappetizing platter of mess, peered into me, I was in distrait noticing him. He ate in silence, as it was most of the mornings.
“John, where’s my paper?” he spoke casually, breaking the lull, I did not respond, “John?”
“Yes… Mr. Landall… What’s the… matter?” I stammered, still bothered by the letter.
“I’m asking you for the morning paper.” monotonously spoken by him.
“Oh.” I removed the morning paper from my coat, the letter slipped out, falling on the ground that of a dried russet leaf falling from a tree during spring. I stretched out the morning paper for Mr. Landall, his complexion was convoluted. “Is there anything wrong, Mr. Landall?” an idiotic question.
“This question should be for you.” he riposted, “Is it about the letter?”
I nodded my head, picking up the letter for him. He froze after the letter was in his hands, as I had expected. He ripped open the letter frantically, his hands quivered after reading the content of the letter.
“Mr. Landall… Is ever…” He convulsed, exuding grief, throes of sadness pervaded the dining hall. The cigarette he was chewing dropped unto the terrazzo floor, so was he. “Mr. Landall! Mr. Landall!” I shook him, hoping to see signs of life, but ended up in despondency, dejection in his eyes as if he had lost the will to live in a sweep of a view.
Chester… Chester… Ches… his last breath were his beloved son’s name, the final will of clinging unto his very life, the thin strand of hope of his life snapped. Gone. His eyes were hollow. A pang of bereavement hit me that of a train, I cried my heart out, sitting on the floor, not knowing what the next moment ticked for.
I shut his eyes, uttered a prayer to send him off, covered him with a white cloth, scrambled to my feet with the letter in my hand. I dashed to my neighbour for help, and to decipher this letter to me.
“… Lieutenant Chester is reported K.I.A (Killed In Action) during the upfront assault against the regime of Belgium. All the condolences are sent to the patriot, his family, and his sacrifice is embedded in the hearts of the nation.” there was a long pause, I was lost of words, “John? Are you fine? Is anything wrong?”
“No… Nothing… Thank you for reading this to me.” I snatched the letter from his hands and sprinted back to the mansion, my neighbour called me but I kept running.
The dining hall was where Mr. Landall’s body was, I knew what struck him down, I carried him beside the burial ground of his wife, buried him side by side with his deceased wife, place a lit cigarette on the ground, scattered a few white daisies athwart both burial grounds. I kept my composure, but a deluge of nostalgia flooded my thoughts, sinking myself into a reverie.
I was borne an orphan, living in an orphanage, waiting for a somebody who was willing to take me away from this dreadful place. Child abuse was a norm in the orphanage, nobody made a move, nobody dared. The children in the orphanage lived in the claws of fear every day.
A new mansion was built over the yonder of the orphanage. I seized the oppourtunity, nothing could stop me, I had nothing to lose, I fled the orphanage, hid in the mansion. A search team was sent from the orphanage that ended a day after. I kept myself concealed after all the ruckus was past.
I crawled out of my hiding spot. A towering figure stood in front of me. Am I busted? I trembled in fear. He stretched out his hand, smiled to me serenely, he was sinewy, dressed in a soldier outfit. I reached out for him. “Little one, how did you get in?” He was good at conversing with children. I was shell shocked, and syllabuses were not getting out of my mouth.
The soldier brought me to a senile couple, they greeted me warmly, asking me about my name, and how did I get here. After my description, they knew my fear, they kept me as a butler, and took action against the orphanage. The family gained fame over this incident, they were all over the papers, distinct over all the negativity that was happening at the time.
Mr. Landall was a renowned hoarder of exquisite pieces of arts, after the incident, people donated to him tonnes of arts, he gained wealth, and a name over an instance of a good heart. I served him as butler, stalwart as I could be, he treated me as one of his family members.
The family lived happily, chattering, lively. Until one catastrophe cast down on this joyful family, the wife of Mr. Landall, the mother of the soldier, passed away as she stepped on a landmine set by the war-fighters. The soldier was outraged with anger upon war, he became heavily affiliated in the impending war.
Before any thing set place, Mr. Landall called a painter to draw a portrait of his son, to be hung in the center of the dining hall, the atrium of the mansion, so that he could see his son if he was gone to serve for the nation.
It was a war to end wars, they said, but I only witnessed more deaths, more worlds were destroyed in every radius of life. Mr. Landall waited for his son’s letter every fortnight, he would recite it to the portrait once he received the letter, and wrote a reply on that spot. War brings destruction, not peace. I saw him worrying about his only child, his only hope to cling on that was susceptible to be broken without a moment’s notice.
That unprecedented moment happened as expected, he found no meaning to live any more, he succumbed to death itself, he stopped fighting as he had lost the only thing to fight for, the last of his worlds.
Days passed swiftly after a proper funeral was carried out after the war commemorating the demise of Mr. Landall. There was an exhibition, and an auction to sell all of Mr. Landall’s collection of art. I was invited to bid, I went to it, re-entering the mansion of the joyful family, the saviour of my life, defeated, decimated by war.
I found a nook to sit down. “Ladies and gentlemen, a very good morning, in the commemoration of Mr. Landall’s demise, he had ordered me to hold this auction.” the auctioneer’s booming voice reverberated the hall. “Without further ado, I would start of with the first piece of art.” the auctioneer revealed the first piece of art, it was the portrait of Mr. Landall’s son.
The crowd grumbled as if they were infuriated by the auctioneer’s decision. “All of this was ordered and scripted by Mr. Landall, please remain silent.” the crowd shushed for a moment, “the portrait of Mr. Landall’s son, the starting bid is a hundred, any bidders?” there was a silence, an ordinary price for an ordinary piece of art holding the most worth memoirs of Mr. Landall.
I think I can dig up a grand, just want to buy this as a trail of bread crumbs to the past. “One hundred!” I shouted. Silence.
“One hundred from the bidder at the far left end.” there was still silence, “any more bidders…?” A minute passed, two, “first call… second call… final call… SOLD. The bidder at the far left end, Mr. John, the former butler of Mr. Landall, please come up on the stage.”
I got up, walked to the stage to receive the portrait. “The auction has officially ended.” What? This is preposterous? There were bursts of fury from the crowd. Absurd. Have you lost your mind? I was riveted to the ground.
Thum! Thum! Thum! the auctioneer silenced the crowd and continued, “the auction is only for one portrait, whoever that bought the portrait of Mr. Landall’s son shall be bequeathed with his whole inheritance as it is written in Mr. Landall’s last will.” the crowd was uncontrollable, “thank you for your time ladies and gentlemen.”
The words shook the crowd, they left, I stayed.
Thank God for this blessing.