Groundskeeper Alan, a slouching old man from a bygone era, roamed the gardens protecting me from any intruders. Being of noble blood, but living so far from the common people. Thus, I didn’t understand why Alan was walking around the manor in the cold, dragging that brutish dog with him.
“Isabelle? What are you doing?” my mother asked from the corner of the room.
I looked over at her shadowy form whose dainty fingers continued to embroider. I focused on the face till it was clear to me, but the features were so aged that shadows played with the face.
“Alan must be cold, mother,” I replied so innocently. It was easy to play innocent at that age, but now it only makes me appear more suspicious. “Why does he have to guard us outside?”
“Isabelle, you know it isn’t safe out there,” mother replied. “The common folk are not taken with who we are, thus we are not so taken with them either.”
Her words were beyond my understanding, but I got the meaning. It was something I would understand some day, but until then, I was to stay indoors. I never left, just woke up and stared longingly at the outside world. I don’t miss those days.
“Sounds like hell,” Henry murmured, pouring me a glass of wine.
We sat in a busy pub, a pub for all people, not that it mattered to me anymore. I wasn’t so noble anymore, just another woman, another commoner. If anything, I felt less than everyone else. I used to have it all, but now I had nothing.
“It was,” I replied, taking the glass gingerly from Henry’s warm hands. He sat across from me, grunting as he did. “Still, Alan was the one I felt the most sorry for.”
“The groundskeeper?” Henry asked.
“So you are listening,” I smiled. He placed a hand on mine and smiled with me.
“Always, now, what happened to Alan?”
“Alan was always the oldest man there, despite the visits from my grandparents. However, he was a strong man, served in the first war in his fifties.”
“Wow, how did they let him?”
“He was still a military man before he became groundskeeper. There wasn’t much opportunity for him anywhere else.”
“My father was more than happy to hire him, he had a passion for the military, although I feel he would have never made it as a soldier. I think when we all saw Alan pushing himself so hard, in his incredible age, it made us all feel weaker, softer.”
“Reminds me of my old man.”
“I think almost every family had an Alan. A man too stubborn to let the world beat him down, age or not. He treated his job as groundskeeper seriously and it showed. Everything within the walls was immaculate, not a pebble out of place.”
Henry raised his glass to his lips, only to lower it when I fell silent.
“He passed?” Henry asked softly.
Mother was sewing this time, but rather sadly. Father had left for work, but she knew better. We all did. There were five of us in that manor. A chef, a maid, my mother, me and Alan. We were one maid short thanks to father, but we were managing. At least physically.
I believe we all felt drained by the miserable season. Rain plagued us, clouds stole the warmth of the sun and the nights were noisy. That day, there were clouds and a dense fog. The cold snapped at us, but once every fire was going, the manor warmed up.
I placed my book down, a story of ignorant adventure and I walked to the window. The sight was not a pretty one, but it was made worse with one major difference. There was no old man who patrolled the yard, no old man who made me smile with a cheeky wink and smile.
Alan was missing and I made it clear to everyone. I first told mother, who ignored me at first, but eventually broke with a sigh,
“Devin!” mother yelled, calling the chef.
The portly man entered, his hair thin, but moustache thick.
“My lady?” he asked.
“Please, take Isabelle to Alan,” my mother ordered.
My mother wished to be alone more than anything. She was even willing to let me walk the grounds with the chef if it gave her some minutes peace.
I didn’t like Devin much, however, that was because I hated the vegetables he served. I was so fussy, so I only made his work difficult. However, he never seemed to mind, he had children just like me. Devin was the one who comforted me that day.
We circled the manor, but found no sight of Alan nor his dog. Eventually, Devin decided that we should visit Alan’s room. A small building separate from the manor, but just as cosy. We were perplexed to see that the chimney didn’t have smoke billowing from it. It had to have been cold.
Devin knocked on Alan’s door and when there was no response, Devin told me to wait outside while he checked. I waited there for a only a minute as something caught my eye at the corner of the house. While Devin searched the house, I approached the show sticking out of a bush.
Alan was dead, torn apart, chewed on and disfigured. Near him lay his precious dog, with a fat stomach and bloody teeth poking from it’s lips. It slept peacefully until I fell back in horror, crying terribly. The hound woke up, it’s black eyes focusing on me and with evil intent it ran towards me.
“Devin saved me, killing the dog,” I finished. “He was already on his way out of Alan’s room and when he heard me, he ran.”
Henry sat there, as stoic as stone, pondering darker thoughts.
“Poor man, he didn’t deserve such an ending,” Henry murmured.
I watched Henry avoid my eyes, finishing his drink. I suppose it was my expression that scared him, perhaps the way I spoke, but the disgust I filled him with was apparent. Nobody understood, but I was really hoping Henry would. I left him in that pub and returned home without a word.
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